Archive for June, 2008

Maloof family now own music label

The Sacramento Bee (Chris Macias) reports: At the Rain nightclub, go-go dancers are gyrating on platforms, flames are shooting above the crowd and the Maloof family is rolling the dice on an up-and-coming band it believes will successfully kick-start its record label. Rev Theory is rocking at the Maloofs’ Palms resort to promote the band’s major label debut, “Light It Up.” But more significantly, the concert earlier this month marks the inaugural release from Maloof Music, a partnership between the family and Interscope Records, home to such pop stars as U2 and Gwen Stefani. Risks come with this new territory, despite the backing of one of the world’s largest recording companies. The owners of the Sacramento Kings and Monarchs are venturing into the challenged music industry, where storied and long-established labels have seen overall revenue drop… Maloof Music is operating as a boutique label under Interscope. Along with Rev Theory, Maloof has one other artist on its roster: Ali Lohan, the younger sister of actress and gossip girl Lindsay Lohan. Ali Lohan is also the focus of “Living Lohan,” a reality TV show produced by Maloof TV that follows her burgeoning recording career.

The Boston Herald (Mark Murphy) reports: Kevin McHale has said he wants to set things right in Minnesota before he steps down, and judging from what he has brought onboard thanks to Memphis’ all-out desire for Mayo, this may be his best move yet. In sending Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric, Greg Buckner and the rights to Mayo to Memphis for Love, Mike Miller, Jason Collins and Brian Cardinal, the Timberwolves unloaded two horrid contracts that were about to take up $15.8 million of cap space alone next season (Jaric and Walker) and one malcontent (Walker). In return the ’Wolves get Miller, who may be the best shooter that organization has ever had, a solid post defender in Collins, and what they are now selling as a great locker room guy in Cardinal.

Cavs offered Nets Wally for Vince

The Bergen Record (Dave D’Alessandro) reports:  The Nets may seem to be in the process of blowing up their roster, but if they truly wanted to experience a true demolition job, they had their chance Wednesday night. As they were putting some of the finishing touches on the Richard Jefferson-Yi Jianlian deal, the Nets received a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers, who offered them Wally Szczerbiak and his expiring, $13.2 million salary for Vince Carter. According to two Eastern Conference executives, who asked for anonymity so as not to spill Rod Thorn’s secrets, the Nets considered it — but not for very long.

Raptors may not keep Delfino

The Toronto Star (Doug Smith) reports: The one player who seems to be on his way out is restricted free agent Carlos Delfino. Because of financial constraints, and the desire to give coach Sam Mitchell a chance to establish a regular rotation, Delfino doesn’t appear to have a future with the Raptors. And because of those same issues, it’s unlikely Toronto would entertain a sign-and-trade proposition for Delfino, who may end up heading to Europe, where he’s sure to command a greater salary than he’ll get in the NBA.

Nets happy with Draft

The New York Post (Fred Kerber) reports:  The Nets are nowhere near a finished product, but in one draft night containing a very significant trade, the Nets addressed most of their often-glaring needs. In short, they liked their draft. Team president Rod Thorn and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe drafted 7-foot center Brook Lopez for size and toughness, 6-10 forward Ryan Anderson for shooting and 6-6½ swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts for scoring and depth. That was after they landed 7-0 big upside project Yi Jianlian and 6-6 veteran Bobby Simmons from Milwaukee for Richard Jefferson. With the $22 million they will save, (Jefferson is due $42.4 over three years, Simmons gets $20.4 over two) the Nets can make a spirited run in 2010 at free agent LeBron James.

The New York Post (Marc Berman) reports: In wearing jersey No. 8 for Armani Jeans Milan, Knicks rookie Danilo Gallinari had a legacy to fulfill. A former Italian League point guard star, Mike D’Antoni, also wore 8 for Milan. “Mike D’Antoni’s a legend in Milan,” the 6-foot-10 Italian Stallion said yesterday during a press briefing at the Knicks’ practice facility. “So playing in Milan with that number, there’s some pressure about that.” Gallinari can’t begin to know the pressure awaiting him now. The 19-year-old, 6-10 forward will wear No. 8 for the Knicks, not to honor his favorite player Kobe Bryant, but because his birthday is Aug. 8, 1988 (8/8/88).

The New Jersey Nets have extended a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Nenad Krstic, Nets President Rod Thorn announced today.  The qualifying offer allows the Nets to retain the right of first refusal in regards to Krstic.  As a restricted free agent, Krstic is able to sign an offer sheet with any team, however the Nets will have the right to match the offer.

Krstic, a four-year NBA veteran from Serbia, was the Nets’ first round selection (24th overall) in the 2002 NBA Draft.  Since joining the Nets in 2004, Krstic has played 226 games over four seasons with New Jersey, posting averages of 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds.  In 2007-08, Krstic appeared in 45 games, averaging 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds.

The Denver Nuggets have made a qualifying offer to restricted free agent J.R. Smith, Nuggets Vice President of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien announced today. Per team policy, terms of the offer were not released.

In accordance with the league’s collective bargaining agreement, in order for a team to retain its right of first refusal with respect to a restricted free agent, the team must tender the player a qualifying offer prior to June 30. A restricted free agent may sign an offer sheet with any team, but is subject to a right of first refusal with the team for which the player last played.

Smith, 6-6, 220, has averaged 12.6 ppg while shooting .396 (306-772) from three-point range in his two seasons with the Nuggets since being acquired in a trade with Chicago on July 20, 2006. This past season, he averaged 12.3 ppg in 19.2 minutes in 74 regular season contests and 18.3 ppg in 27.0 minutes in four playoff games.

Kidney issue causes Darrell Arthur drop

Kansas forward Darrell Arthur sat and sat, finally selected no.27 in the first round by the Hornets. (A trade may send him to the Blazers soon.)

An alleged kidney issue caused his drop, according to ESPN and some other outlets. Arthur was not going to be a top pick but he was expected to go in the teens.

I asked Arthur after he was selected how it felt sitting and waiting and he seemed level-headed and calm about it.

Arthur also said that recent tests revealed his kidney is not an issue, and then remarked that word of the good results must not have spread.

Roundup of first 15 picks

Raw, unedited blog live from NBA draft by editor Jeff Lenchiner.

Fans booed David Stern when he came out. Stern responds by breakdancing and telling them that it’s ON. No, not really. But that would be cool.

Fans also booed being told that the Bulls are up first and have five minutes to make their selection.

During the wait some fans started chanting ‘OJ Mayo.’

Pick 1 in the first round: Bulls take Derrick Rose, as expected. So will Chicago now try to trade Kirk Hinrich? If so, they still need a legit shooting guard. Ben Gordon is unsigned and better off the bench.

Pick #2: Heat take Michael Beasley, as expected. So he can play small forward, Shawn Marion can keep doing his undersized power forward thing, and Dwyane Wade gets some help.

Pick #3: Wolves take OJ Mayo, as expected. He is a new building block alongside Al Jefferson

All good, logical picks so far.

Pick #4: Sonics take guard Russell Westbrook. So will they trade him to the Clippers? Or keep him and trade Luke Ridnour or Earl Watson?

Pick #5: Grizzlies pick Kevin Love. Now Mike Miller and Rudy Gay have a big guy worth giving the ball to. Love can bang and be a true power forward yet hit from outside when open.

Pick #6: The Knicks take Danilo Gallinari. Fans boo, VERY loudly, for a long time. They wanted Jerryd Bayless. Some fans start chanting ‘USA’ - clearly not fans of overseas talent, which has not met expectations. And in the interview after being drafted he seemed unphased by the boos and said it’s part of the game. He also smartly didn’t offer an explanation as to how he is different from other international players.

Pick #7: Clippers took Eric Gordon. They really needed a point guard - Eric is a scorer and shooting guard - but they must have felt that he was the best overall talent available. They did also need a two so this does make sense.

Pick #8: The Bucks took Joe Alexander, a small forward with insane hops. They just traded for Richard Jefferson, though. Perhaps Joe wil pretend to be a power forward for limited stretches.

Pick #9: The Bobcats, led by new coach Larry Brown, apparently do not believe Raymond Felton is their point guard of the future, because they took tiny, scoring floor general DJ Augustin.

Pick #10: The Nets got a fairly decent steal with Brook Lopez, who said he will bring energy and toughness to the Nets. He admitted to be pretty surprised that the Nets took him, especially since he didn’t work out for them.

Pick #11: The Pacers are expected to trade for TJ Ford soon, and now they have drafted Jerryd Bayless, a scorer who is the size of a point guard but has the game of a scoring two-guard.

Pick #12: The Kings need size and took Jason Thompson, who a few weeks ago was not considered a lock to go first round. He had good workouts.

Pick #13: The Blazers have shooting guard star Brandon Roy and they have drafted shooting guard Brandon Rush. Will they use Roy at the point? Rush can play undersized small forward but only for stretches. And will Martell Webster be traded?

Pick #14: The Warriors took Anthony Randolph, a lanky forward who is still refining his game. I guess he is a Don Nelson type of player. Or something. He is talented though.

Pick #15: The Suns take Robin Lopez, a big man role player who can back Shaq up and bump into people and stuff.

Sonics deny Clippers trade rumor

The Seattle Times reports: The Sonics steadfastly denied an earlier ESPN report that they would send their fourth pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 7 pick and a first-round pick in 2009. And now ESPN has backed off, saying the deal is off.

Chit-Chat: 2008 NBA Draft

6:50 PM Seems everyone is waiting for this thing to get rolling, though it’s almost that time. Please check back as we will be yapping draft this evening.

Derrick Rose has been the Bulls’ pick for several days. No chance of a trade-out. Chicago has their man. The fun begins at #2 with Miami. Lots of talk centering around OJ Mayo and clandestine workouts, but when the dust settles we believe Michael Beasley will be the Heat selection.

7:50 PM If only the NFLDraft moved this briskly. No idea what the Sonics do here.

Hardly breaking news there, we know.

Draft stock: Joe Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and Courtney Lee seem to be climbing. DeAndre Jordan, the big man from Texas A&M is dropping like a rock.

We all know about the Toronto/Indy deal with teams swapping TJ Ford & the 17th pick for Jermaine O’Neal. Ditto the Richard Jefferson for Yi, Buck/Net deal. Now the Memphis Grizzlies are rumored to be shopping the 5th overall pick - perhaps as part of a package - to maneuver upwards in this draft.

The flurry of trades are almost a certainty to continue this evening. We are now under 3 minutes until the commissioner takes the podium.

7:45 PM Ok, so we are looking at the T-Wolves pick coming up. OJ Mayo anyone? Best player on the board according to many out there. Could even be dealt before the evening is over.

7:53 PM Not sure what the Sonics do here, but we will take at stab with Eric Gordon.

So much for that. The pick is Russ Westbrook out of UCLA. Once again, could be traded. To the Clips maybe?

8:00 PM That’s about as far as I go with the draft forecast. It could get really ugly if I continued down that road. Memphis just nabbed Kevin Love from UCLA.

Personally, I am not a fan of the player. A heady plodder who will need to rely on everything but his athletic ability. I’m not sure that will be enough to guarantee Love will be anything but a bit player throughout his career.

8:10 PM And what’s not to love about Knicks fans lamenting their pick of Gallinari? You knew it was coming. This selection has the fingerprints of D’Antoni all over it. Don’t know much about the kid, but I do trust Donnie Walsh. The same can not be said of former Knick brass.

8:15 PM Love the pick by LA. Eric Gordon is a go-getter. Attacks the rim, outstanding athleticism, and can score the ball. Does this mean anything for Corey Maggette or am I reading too much into the pick?

Mark Jackson making no bones about it, in not so many words, questioning the Knicks’ selection of Gallinari. “Better go with a guy who can step in and help right away.”

Joe Alexander wanted to go to Milwaukee. Sounds a lot like Yi last year, eh? Hah, ok. Maybe not.

I do like this pick a lot. Alexander has not been playing the game long. This is a kid who averaged less than a bucket per game three years ago for the Mountaineers. Last year, he was right at 17 points per contest. Decent enough rebounder and a seemingly quick study. Given his athletic ability, a risk definitely worth taking considering the upside.

8:28 PM As if it weren’t obvious enough: Larry Brown not the biggest Raymond Felton fan out there. DJ Augustin of Texas to the Bobcats.

8:35 PM With Jason Collins out of the fold, the Nets felt compelled to fill their vacant twin-from-Stanford slot. Seriously, good value for Jersey here.

And there goes Jerryd Bayless to the Pacers. Solid pick for a team that desperately needs explosion and point production from its backcourt.

Jason Thompson would be the first real surprise of the draft, going a lot earlier than many thought. The Kings taking the Rider big man a year after drafting Spencer Hawes in the top ten.

8:50 PM Blazers take Brandon Rush. Great shooter, good defender. Still nothing solid at the point.

The Warriors select Anthony Randolph. Saw several of his games in high school. Same with Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge. Randolph’s game compares favorably with the Portland power forward. And he will turn 19 yeard old in three weeks.

9 PM The second of the Stanford twins - Robin Lopez - goes to Phoenix. Amare’s days as a center are long gone. Or that seems to be the plan anyway.

Marreese Speights to Philly.

Roy Hibbert to Toronto. Talk about a guy whose draft stock took a hit by going back to school.

JeVale McGee heading to D.C. And we are cruising along here.

9:15 PM Not exactly a revelation here, but Kevin Pritchard, the Portland GM, is fast becoming known around NBA circles as a thief. Not sure how this Bayless/Diogu for Rush/Jack deal will work out, but count me in the Blazer corner for now.

JJ Hickson goes to Cleveland. Very good talent, but whispers abound about his attitude. Word is, the folks close to the team in Raleigh were not sad to see him leave.

9:30 PM Award for the rawest looking talent to this point goes to Alexis Ajinca, who just went to Charlotte. Mix in a ribeye, kiddo.

Ryan Anderson to the frontcourt-heavy Nets. This was the pick received in the Kidd deal. A self-made guy who has worked hard on his game since going to Cal. Good shooter, rebounder.

Courtney Lee is a Magic. Solid at this point of the draft. Hurt himself with a shaky NCAA tourney.

Kosta Koufos winds up in Utah. Fitting.

Seattle up next, once again, with another of their half dozen or so picks courtesy of Kurt Thomas. Another project big? Absolutely. Ibaka is the pick.

10 PM The Darrell Arthur slide continues with the Nicolas Batum selection by Houston. Reports of a kidney issue are out there.

Mitch Kupchak might just be moving on this selection. George Hill drafted by the Spurs. Word out there: Lakers LOVE him and the Spurs allegedly sent out a league-wide email shopping this pick.

Darrell Arthur drafted by the Hornets and traded to Portland. Outstanding value here. More frontcourt depth and arguably a lottery-level talent with the 27th pick.

Did Memphis sell the pick? Hard to know. Donte Green taken.

10:30 PM D.J. White and J. R. Giddens round out David Stern’s turn at the podium.

Blazers jumping into the trade waters again. This time, reportedly to send Arthur, whom they just traded the rights for, and a second rounder to Houston for Nicolas Batum.

And now, the second round. Thought I would write it off after 30 picks? “Hoped” is more like it, eh?

Nope, not so much. Still chugging along.

10:45 PM Detroit and Seattle just pulled a deal. DJ White for 32 & 46. White goes to the Pistons.

Nikola Pekovic and Walter Sharpe go off the board to Minnesota and Seattle to start the round.

The brutish Joey Dorsey goes before Douglas-Roberts. Free falling.

10:55 PM Mo Chalmers of Kansas goes to the Timberwolves and now DeAndre Jordan finally comes off the board, going to the Clippers.

Portland, Milwaukee, and Charlotte make picks. Asik to the Blazers. Kyle Weaver, the Washington State guard, to the Hornets. The Bucks took a sure-fire Scrabbler hall of famer. I won’t even attempt to spell it.

Sonny Weems is a Bull.

CDR to the Nets. For my money, great, great pick there.

11:15 PM Australian Nathan Jawai (Pacers) and Pat Ewing, Jr. (Kings) are gone now.

As if you couldn’t tell, I am kinda mailing it in right now. Not entirely, but…yeah, we have definitely fallen off.

11:30 PM Bill Walker and Richard Hendrix are gone now. Walker was once a super athletic prospect who played last year in the shadow of Michael Beasley at Kansas State. Three ACL injuries later, he is now the 47th selection of the 2008 draft.

Dallas stands pat and takes Shan Foster of Vandy. Just what the doctor ordered. Championship. Seriously, the pick and the draft aside, this team is in serious trouble.

Mike Taylor and Sasha Kaun are gone. The Lakers, Pistons, and Celtics shall end this misery for me.

Nets trade Richard Jefferson to Bucks

The New Jersey Nets have acquired forwards Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for forward Richard Jefferson, Nets President Rod Thorn announced today. reaction: This is wild. The Nets clearly want to rebuild for the future, and they have parted ways with RJ’s contract. Is Vince Carter the next to go? Yi Jianlian hasn’t proven anything yet — of course, he’s just entering his second year, so that isn’t saying much. Bobby Simmons got a decent contract from the Bucks and then disappointed them. On paper, as of this minute, the Nets will miss the playoffs again next season. As for the Bucks, this is a good move for them. They have talent up front with Andrew Bogut. Charlie Villanueva is pretty good, though probably best as the main forward off the bench. Though, he’s good enough to start in some situations. The Bucks backcourt of Mo Williams and Michael Redd was disappointing last year, but the additional of RJ will make them better. On paper, Milwaukee now has a pretty decent 1-3, and center. If they can solidify that power forward spot they could make a bit of noise. And by that I mean be a lower playoff seed in the East. Which isn’t that special. But it’s a step in the right direction.

“We feel that Yi can be a very special player,” said Thorn. “He is a 20-year old seven footer who shoots the ball extremely well, and he is an excellent addition to our frontcourt. Bobby Simmons is a veteran NBA player who has averaged 10 points for his career, and should be a rotation player for us.”

Grant Hill exercises player option

The Phoenix Suns today announced that forward Grant Hill has exercised his player option for the 2008-09 season.

Originally signed by the Suns as a free agent on July 11, 2007, the 14-year NBA veteran proved remarkably durable in his first season in Phoenix.  Hill appeared in 70 games for the Suns, his most in a single season since 1999-00, including starts in 34 consecutive contests to open the season.

The 6-8 forward averaged 13.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 2007-08 while shooting at least 50 percent from the field (.503) for the third time in the last four seasons and establishing a career-high in free-throw efficiency (.867).  Both his rebound and assist averages were his highest in five seasons.  Hill tallied four double-doubles last season, including the first back-to-back double-doubles of his career since 2002 on Feb. 20-22.

Last season, the Duke product became the first player in league history to win the NBA Sportsmanship Award in multiple seasons (2004-05) and the first Sun to garner the honor.  Hill also won the 2007-08 Dan Majerle Hustle Award.

Hill owns career averages of 19.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 14 seasons with Detroit (1994-2000), Orlando (2000-07) and Phoenix (2007-08).

The Phoenix Suns own the 15th and 48th overall selections in the 2008 NBA Draft, which begins tonight at 4:30 p.m. Phoenix time on ESPN.

Shaq rap costs him another police badge

Shaquille O’Neal’s freestyle rap in NYC the other day which mocked Kobe Bryant and included various profanities, resulted in one police badge being taken away the other day, and now it’s happened again.

The AP reports: Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown said Wednesday that he has asked the Phoenix Suns center to return a badge he was given for his work with the southwest Virginia county’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force… The decision comes one day after a sheriff in Arizona asked O’Neal to return a special deputy’s badge because of language he used in the rap.

New Rockets radio play-by-play guy

The Houston Rockets announced today the naming of Craig Ackerman as the new radio play-by-play announcer for the team. Ackerman takes the reigns from legendary play-by-play man Gene Peterson, who was the “Voice of the Rockets” for 33 seasons, after the long-time duo of Peterson and Jim Foley stepped aside from the microphones at the end of the 2007-08 season following an amazing 21 years together on the Rockets Radio Network.

“Craig has been a key member of the Rockets organization for the past 14 years,” said Rockets CEO Tad Brown. “He has some big shoes to fill, but his energetic style and passion for the Rockets will carry on the great radio tradition that Gene and Jim established over their tremendous careers.”

A 14-year member of the Rockets organization, Ackerman moves into his new role after serving five seasons as the studio host and substitute play-by-play announcer for Rockets radio broadcasts. Ackerman also filled in as radio analyst for games during both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.

The Detroit News (Chris McCosky) reports: Here’s the thing about the Pistons and late first-round picks — they don’t generally throw them away. In the past few years they have plucked Arron Afflalo (27th), Jason Maxiell (26th), Carlos Delfino (25th) and Tayshaun Prince (23rd) out of the back end of the draft. So with the 29th pick tonight in the NBA draft, the Pistons are expecting to get another useful player. “No question, the goal is to get value, get the best player regardless of where you pick them,” Scott Perry, Pistons vice president of basketball, said. “That’s the rewarding part of the evaluation and scouting process. To be able to find a player in the later stages who can become an integral part of your rotation, that’s really the exciting part.”

Trade will move Jermaine O`Neal, TJ Ford

Ticker reports: Although the T.J. Ford-for-Jermaine O’Neal trade appeared to be on life support less than 24 hours ago, the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers have agreed to a deal Wednesday, according to a published report. ESPN reported that Toronto will send Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic and its 17th overall selection in Thursday’s draft to Indiana for O’Neal. The deal was consummated after the two sides negotiated for almost a week.

Nuggets trade No.20 pick to Bobcats

The Denver Nuggets have traded their first round draft pick (the 20th overall) in the 2008 NBA Draft to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for a future protected first round draft pick, Nuggets Vice President of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien announced today.

The Nuggets now currently have no picks in tomorrow’s draft.

The Bobcats now own the ninth and 20th picks in the first round, along with the 38th overall pick in the second round. ESPN’s live coverage of the 2008 NBA Draft begins at 7:00 p.m. ET tomorrow.

Here’s Washington Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld speaking to reporters today:

On the depth of talent available in Thursday’s NBA Draft: “I think it’s going to be a pretty deep draft.  You never know who is going to be available to you, because it all depends on who goes in front of you, but it’s going to be interesting.  There is a lot of conversation going on right now around the league.  We’ve had a lot of conversations and this is always a very exciting time of year.”

More on the depth of talent in the draft: “It’s a deep draft, but it’s also an uncertain draft, because of the youth in it.  The talent level is pretty good.  You can maybe get someone in the 20’s or in the second round that can develop for you but you’re probably not going to get someone that is going to come in and contribute right away.”

On the players that worked out for the Wizards: “We had a good group in.  A lot of the players we brought in are not only for that first round pick (18th overall), but we also have a 2nd round pick (47th overall), so there were a lot of prospects for that position…and also free agent type players that we might want to take a look at down the road.  Bringing players in is just a small part of the whole evaluation process.  The thing that I get the most out of this process is being able to talk to the players and see what type of people they really are and how they handle themselves.  It’s important to get an opportunity to talk to some of these players and really find out about who they are as people.”

On trade talks around the NBA: “There have been a lot of conversations about moving up and moving back and maybe even getting out of the draft.  Some things are contingent on who’s out there for us and who’s available.  You never know what is going to happen, but there have been a lot of conversations (amongst NBA teams), probably more than in years past.”

On the Wizards’ needs: “We are pretty deep at all positions so I’ve always had a theory to take the best available player regardless of position.”

On Washington’s young players selected in recent drafts: “Andray (Blatche) has played now for three years, and played a lot of minutes last year.  Nick (Young) got some significant minutes last year even though he was a rookie.  He got a lot experience because of the injuries we had, and had the opportunity to play and see some valuable game action.  Dom (McGuire) got some good opportunities too, and this is going to be a big summer for Pech (Oleksiy Pecherov) because he did not play that much last year because of the injury.  He had a very good preseason for us, but about five days before the season started he broke his ankle and missed about two months.  Because of that he was pretty far behind.  We are young, but I think we have a good combination of veteran players, players in their prime and young up-and-coming players that still have a lot of room for growth.”

On the Wizards: “I think this group has shown that we can compete on a very high level.  We had some great wins last year and we didn’t even have the full group together.  The last time we had the full group together we had the best record in the Eastern Conference and I think we are an improved team since then.  Our bench has gotten better.  Our young guys have gotten some valuable experience.  I think we feel comfortable if we get everybody back and everybody together I think that this team can be a very competitive ball club.”

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