In The News: September 20, 2007

A day after Andrei Kirilenko demanded to be traded through a Russian blog post, both his agent and the Jazz tried to downplay the situation as much as possible. Agent Mark Fleisher told the Salt Lake Tribune that Kirilenko, though unhappy with his current role on the team, will report to training camp when it opens in early October. Kevin O’Connor, senior vice president of basketball operations for the Utah Jazz, also expected Kirilinko to be in camp, saying that he hopes the forward honors his rather substantial contract.

"I'd like to think Andrei recognizes that the Utah Jazz have helped him in his career,'' O'Connor told the newspaper.
But O’Connor also said, “I think what we would be remiss in doing, is not exploring every option to make our team better, and that includes everybody and we've always talked about that."
Things don’t look too rosy for Kirilenko in Utah, which would be just fine with AK-47.

Soccer goalie kicks ball boy on the shin

The life of a ball boy, or girl, seems like a fun and carefree one. You get to go to every game, hang out with the athletes and generally have one of the best seats in the house. Life is good, just as long as you’re not applying for the ball boy position in the Peruvian soccer league. Apparently a Peruvian league goalkeeper, who also plays for the International squad, simply couldn’t take the heckling from a ball boy any longer and kicked the poor lad on the shin. The goalkeeper was of course kicked out of the match and taken to the police station, for, well, abusing a poor, helpless kid. You can read more about this saga on the Guardian Web site.

Olympic torch aspires to be the first torch ever to scale Mount Everest

Since the close of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, the Olympic torch has been on a long and winding journey to its final destination of Beijing, China for the 2008 Olympic event. Apparently, the torch has just now reached a very crucial stage, as it will in fact journey to the summit of Mount Everest and back down on its route through Nepal and China. It’s pretty cool in general that the torch is passing up to and through the summit of Mount Everest, but the “free Tibet” folks don’t seem too thrilled about a Chinese icon passing through Tibetan land.

Houston contemplates comeback. NY hoops teams contemplate crappy rosters

The Nets and the Knicks are dueling for the services of one Alan Houston. But, the story here really isn’t the fact that Houston may be coming out of retirement, it's that both the Nets and the Knicks are desperate enough to covet the services of an over-the-hill jump shooter, who never played defense even in his prime and is entirely too intimate with the surgeons table to be considered even the least bit reliable. Goes to show the state of the Nets and Knicks respective rosters.

Race horse becomes the Tiger Woods of losers

We generally don’t write about horse racing, but this nugget of news was too good to pass up. Apparently, a Puerto Rican horse has set some kind of world record for futility. With its last place finish this week, the infamous horse named Dona Chepa became the losingest steed in horse racing history. And you thought the Chicago Cubs had it bad. All is not lost however. Apparently, Dona Chepa’s jockey received a very nice plaque for his completely and utterly uninspired life-long losing efforts. Great success.

The LeBron James project reaches critical Stage 3

“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first Bionic Man.”
Apparently, the research to build the most potent basketball player ever, or otherwise known as the “LeBron James experiment”, is still in full development. Coming off a star performance during this summer’s FIBA America’s tournament, LeBron has ballooned up to 255 pounds (from 240) on the same 6’8” frame, while gaining zero body fat. The 22-year old also underwent recent Lasik laser eye surgery and has better than 20/20 vision.

On the flip-side, the research to build the perfect big man has hit a snag.

There really is only one downside to all this experimentation however, and that’s premature aging. See Exhibit 1, 22-year old LeBron James, and Exhibit 2, 19-year old Greg Oden. Right.

Go to sleep for a couple of weeks and wake up to the glory of the NBA

If you’re a basketball fan, remember these dates: October 1, 6 and 30. The first date is the official start of NBA training camps. October 6 is the start of the NBA preseason schedule, which includes the NBA Europe Live tournament kicking things off. And of course, October 30 is the start of the 2007-2008 regular season. Can you feel the excitement? The NBA is back!


Andrei Kirilenko asks to be traded

Leverage and timing. Although Andrei Kirilenko – or the Ivan Drago clone, for you Rocky IV fans – generally speaks in broken English he seems to have no trouble grasping the importance of those two key English words, particularly when it comes to NBA negotiations. Kirilenko has apparently asked the Utah Jazz to trade him, or else, through a Russian blog entry. We say apparently because it isn’t 100 percent confirmed just yet whether Kirilenko is actually the one who penned the blog post. But really, what better time for Kirilenko to ask for a trade from his current team the Utah Jazz, than when he’s coming off a MVP performance at the recently concluded Eurobasket 2007 tournament, where he shot a scorching 54% from the field while averaging 18 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks.

Kirilenko has been sulking all summer about the way his 2006-2007 NBA season with the Jazz played out. More specifically, throughout last season AK-47, as he is nicknamed, was upset with the way Jazz coach Jerry Sloan used his considerable skills. On the cusp of becoming a perennial all-star coming into the season, Kirilenko took a massive step back in terms of performance and the perception of his talent level last season while playing in the shadows of new Jazz stars Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur. So, the Eurobasket tournament success was almost cathartic for AK. Following the finals win against a stacked Spanish club, Kirilenko only had the most glowing praise for the Russian team coach David Blatt. He went on to say that the tournament win was “the best achievement” in his career.

Drago throws a left jab, followed by a right hook…Jerry Sloan is reeling.

Andrei Kirilenko simply doesn’t fit the Jazz roster as it is currently composed. The presence of Boozer on the block and on the boards has left little real-estate for Kirilenko in the paint, while Mehmet Okur’s pick-and-roll play and outside shooting has relegated AK to being the fourth or even fifth offensive option. On the Jazz team as it is constituted now, Kirilenko is no more than a stand-still jump-shooter, which incidentally is also the weakest part of his game. The 4 years and $63 million remaining on his contract left the Jazz with no other option but to try make a square peg fit into a round hole, and thus the experimentation last year. But, judging from last season’s results it seems crystal clear that the Jazz, who made the Western Conference Finals without much help from AK, don’t need Andrei Kirilenko and Kirilenko can’t thrive on the current Utah team.

The Jazz should leverage the success Kirilenko had at the Eurobasket 2007 tournament and strike a trade while the iron is hot. The team is in dire need of a big shooting guard that can knock down the 3-ball on a consistent basis. We’re sure there’s a team out there that will gladly accept Kirilenko’s services, and contract, in exchange for such a player. The Jazz will also get the cap relief they desperately need to sign young stars like Paul Milsap and Deron Williams to long-term contracts.

Given Kirilenko’s seemingly saavy use of leverage and timing, if he isn’t traded by the start of the season, his message to Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz will be loud and clear: “I must break you!” And that distraction could be devastating for a young team like the Jazz going into the new season.


Five things to watch this NBA season

Today is September 17, 2007, and with more than a month left before the start of the NBA season – though we’re eagerly counting down the days to October 30 – it’s still a bit early for a full season preview. Oh yes, we’re definitely writing one though. The season will be previewed for all, with our own unique take no less. What fun would a blog be if we didn’t throw in our own Nostradamus-like predictions along with the rest of the horde? We did it for the NFL season, so it’s only fair that the NBA, which at the end of the day gets the lion’s share of love on Grey Matter, gets its own season preview.

But, we digress.

What is appropriate at this relatively early stage, before training camps starts on October 1 & 2, is a sneak peek into the season ahead with a look at the 5 things to look for during the 2007-2008 NBA season. Our Top Five list vacillates between the intriguing to the outrageous, so here goes:

  • You don’t need the NBA National TV schedule to tell you this (although a quick glance shows no less than 3 televised games with these 2 teams involved during the first week), but all eyes will be on Boston and Los Angeles when the NBA season finally gets going around Halloween. Boston for the 2007 version of the Celtic trio, and Los Angeles for week one of the “Kobe/Phil giving up on Lakers management and leaving town” watch. You’ll feel like it’s 1987 all over again. The stock market will be up, up, up, the New York Giants will win the Super Bowl while actually playing defense, Gary Hart will re-visit an old flame, the history channel will run a 42-hour retrospective on the Iran-Contra affair, and you’ll get an awkward desire to listen to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” repeatedly on your iPod. All things will be right with the world. Whatever the reasons this time around, in October, Boston and Los Angeles will be the centers of the basketball world once again.

  • Do you remember Clarence Stephen Johnson? If you do, give yourself a pat on the back and be content in the knowledge that you are probably one of 12 people in the world that remember this journeyman power forward. Johnson played for 7 different NBA teams during his forgetful NBA tenure from 1981 to 1991. But, he does hold one claim to fame. Johnson holds the NBA record, among those that qualify, for the highest field goal percentage, at .632 percent, for any rookie ever. We bring up Johnson because, although the NBA presumably doesn’t keep this record for futility, Seattle Sonics forward Kevin Durant could very well set the record for the lowest field goal percentage for an NBA rookie, ever. Durant shot just 33 percent during the Las Vegas summer league against his first pseudo-NBA caliber competition. So, the over under on Durant’s field goal percentage for the regular NBA season is probably at an embarrassing 25 percent from the floor. Don’t get us wrong, we strongly believe that Durant will turn out to be easily the best player taken in last season’s draft, and will develop into one of the elite scorers in the game, but in 2007, with no veterans in sight to shoulder the load, the kid, who makes Kate Moss look overweight, will put up more bricks than the Great Wall of China. So, despite his unbelievable talents, look for other rookie of the year candidates, like Mike Conley Jr., Corey Brewer and Al Horford, to challenge Durant for the ROY throne.

  • David Stern will seriously consider instituting shoulder pads and helmets for his league’s referees by the third week of the season. Disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy will have long faded from the headlines, like exorbitantly high gas prices, Don Imus’ racial slurs and hurricane season, when the NBA kicks of its 2007-2008 campaign. But, the first time an NBA referee blows a call against the home team, zealous fans will surely bring down the “Wrath of Khan” on the poor, unsuspecting referee. If you thought the infamous episode of Ron Artest vs. Pistons Fans got ugly, wait until Dick Bavetta blows a foul call in the final seconds – Tim Donaghy’s ghost will indeed be exorcised to the fullest. In all seriousness though, the way the refs call fouls, particularly during the first month of the season, and whether the frequency, or number of fouls is altered in any way through fan, and sports radio, outcry will bear close watching.

  • Look for Steve Nash to once again compete for the league’s MVP, because the charity giving, soccer playing model citizen apparently can’t do any wrong. With Grant Hill in tow and Leandro Barbosa a year better, the Suns could run through the league to claim the best record in 2007-2008 (oops, we’re predicting team results, gotta save it for the season preview), and Nash will get all the credit yet again. In terms of competition for Nash and his MVP run, you can throw in the usual names like Duncan, Nowitzki, LeBron and Bryant, but also keep an eye on Gilbert Arenas (because the Wiz will bounce back this season) and Yao Ming, and/or Tracey McGrady (because the Rockets could finish in the top 3 in the West) with an outside chance at the individual crown.

  • Finally, which one of the New York Knickerbockers do you think will be the first to get in trouble with the law, get injured, or say inane things that makes Cletus Del Roy Spuckler from The Simpsons look like a genius? Apparently, the New York players understand that they are in the media capital of the world, because they are really, really good at making headlines. Just look at what went down in Knickerbocker-land this Summer. Discount sneaker salesman Stephon Marbury decreed that dogfighting, unlike curling and pairs figure skating for example, is a legitimate sport, the 6’ 11” and 285 pound Eddie Curry managed to be robbed in his own home (you would think that he could spend some of the millions of dollars he consumes, like so many hamburgers, on a solid security system, or security guards for that matter) and the leader of them all, good ol’ Isaiah Thomas, mapped out meeting minders all over his Outlook Calendar for the court dates stemming from being accused of sexually harassing a former co-worker. What’s next? During the 2007-2008 season, watch for at least two-third of the Knicks starting lineup to spontaneously combust during the third quarter of a game against the new-look Boston Celtics.

Which brings us back to Boston and Los Angeles. Mitch Kup-cake and Jim Buss, you’re on watch. Not just by Laker fans, but by fans of the NBA in general. You hold in your hands the ability to not only keep Kobe Bryant in "Purple and Gold", but to make the Lakers matter again. NBA fans want another Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry. Despite his bumbling ways, Danny Ainge held up his end of the burden. Now make it happen on your end, because players coming back from injury DOES NOT count as a personnel move.

Umm, we apologize for the Lakers diatribe. Where were we again?