July 31, 2010

IMG Academy selects basketball players for scholarship

After spending two days holding camps with 50 of the most talented sub-junior players in the country, coaches from the IMG Basketball Academy have announced the names of eight youngsters who have qualifed to join the academy in Bradenton in Florida, USA as full time scholars.

The players selected are (in no particular order):


Pooja Ambistha (Chhattisgarh)
A. Kavita (Chhattisgarh)
Soumya Babbar (Delhi)
Barkha Sonkar (Uttar Pradesh)


Sanjeev Kumar (Chhattisgarh)
Satnam Singh (Punjab)
Dinesh Mishra (Chhattisgarh)
Ashiv Jain (Madhya Pradesh)

All the selected eight are currently at camp in Bhopal.

BFI anticipates that the children will leave India on August 28th, in time for the start of the academic semester at the IMG Academy on September 1st. The children will be accompanied on the trip by Ravishankar Pathanjali as chaperone. As a former tennis player himself, who went to college in the US, Pathanjali is well suited to this role. He will be supported by the full network of world class coaching and pastoral staff at the Academies.

All travel, accommodation and tuition costs will be borne by IMG Reliance. BFI will now start the process of informing the parents and organising travel and other required information.

July 28, 2010

Atanu Banerjee - The first Indian referee to officiate the Final of a World Championship

Atanu Banerjee, the experienced referee from West Bengal, made the country proud as he became the first India referee to officiate the final of a World Championship game. Banerjee was one of three referees officiating the final of the FIBA U17 World Championship for Women (Toulouse/Rodez, France), which was held on July 15th in Toulouse.

"This was a dream come true for me," Banerjee said, "I had officiated a final in an Asian championship before, but the final of a World tournament is a whole different experience."

Banerjee became a licensed international referee in 2006 – he has taken part in several Asian Championships since, including the final of the 2007 Asian Championship in Bangkok. He was also one of the officials that travelled to Russia for the Women's U-21 World Championship in 2007.

In France, he officiated eight matches in total, including the finals. "This is a great honour for any ref," he said. The Final was held between USA and France, and the eves from USA won the game in a blowout, 92-62.

Banerjee feels that one of the most important lessons he picked up as a referee in the European atmosphere was taking part in post-game referee reviews, with a special ref instructor. "We used to watch the game tape and review the actions or the refs," said Banerjee, "It was good to see how we have performed and thus improve our job. This is normal in Europe and must be introduced to Asia/India as well."

July 26, 2010

Former NBA player Marty Conlon assists the Mahindra Challenge in Bangalore

After spending a decade as a hard-working journeyman around the NBA and around the world, Marty Conlon is back in India to share some of his experience and wisdom with hoop dreamers in India! Conlon has been brought in for the Bangalore edition of the Mahindra NBA Challenge to hold coaching clinics with the basketball players in the city. Additionally, he has also been holding coaching clinics at schools and other venues around Bangalore.

“My job is to work with the league here in Bangalore and make sure that it runs professionally,” Conlon said. The Mahindra Challenge in Bangalore was launched on the 17th of June, but the games got underway over the last weekend. “Over 70 teams are competing,” he added, “The players and coaches are very excited, and it was an explosive start to the league with some hard-played matches.”

A six-foot-ten rebounding expert with a penchant for hard work and rebounding, Conlon played for several NBA teams, including the Seattle Supersonics, Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Bullets (now the Wizards), the Milwaukee Bucks (where he spent the most distinguished years of his career), the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and the Los Angeles Clippers. At the end of his NBA career he took his game abroad to play in several countries in Europe including Italy and Greece. He has worked with basketball training in several countries around the world, and this is his second trip to India, after coming here for the ‘NBA Hoop School’ two years ago.

“It has been great working with different age groups and with players of both genders,” said Conlon of the participants in the Bangalore NBA Challenge, “It has been a great experience for me so far. There is a real hunger amongst the players here.”

Conlon was known for his intelligent play and he looks for some of the same traits amongst the Indian players that he is now working with. “I’m impressed by the skills and the smarts of some of these players,” he says, “I like hardworking, hustle guys. Athletic talent is important, but I’ve seen Indian players who have great intelligence also being able to compete – this is what makes basketball a great sport.”

Conlon agrees that the Mahindra Challenge is a big step for the players here to become competent with the level of basketball in the US, but he says that there is room for improvement in the player’s athleticism and their cardiovascular training.

Conlon will be in India for one month, after which he will be replaced by his colleague Greg Stolt.

The Mahindra-NBA Challenge has been launched as a multi-city community based recreational league in India. It will run for seven weeks every year in youth and senior divisions for men and women. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is working with the NBA to implement and oversee league operations. After a successful league in Mumbai, the Mahindra-NBA Challenge opened in Bangalore on July 17th and is set to open in Ludhiana on July 31st.

July 24, 2010

Moulding the stars of tomorrow

IMG-Academy coaches train with talented youngsters

Seated amongst the anxious and excited parents of 50 sub-junior basketball players a few days ago, Andy Borman, the director of Basketball from the IMG-Academies in Florida (USA), warned, "We are going to really make them work. Make them work hard."

Two days later, after hours of practice, litres of sweat, and miles upon miles run by squeaky sneakers across the Sanskriti School basketball court, the young athletes knew exactly what Borman meant. They were pushed harder than ever by Borman and his colleague, professional trainer and coach Dan Barto, their conditioning tested, and their skills examined.

And now, all that is left is for the IMG Academy coaches to choose eight youngsters amongst the 50, who will get the enviable opportunity to get a full scholarship to go and complete their education at the IMG-Academies campus in Bradenton, Florida, and to graduate from school as student-athletes.

"This is a great and memorable step in the history of Indian basketball," said Harish Sharma, the secretary-general of the BFI, "With the IMG-Reliance now set to work with the BFI for the next 30 years, we will project these first set of youngsters as the faces of the future professional basketball league, which we are hoping will be launched in India within four years."

These are exciting times indeed for basketball in the country. And exciting times for the sub-junior players, most of them still hovering around the age of 14. But once on the court, the jitters ended, the nervousness faded away, and the players had their game-face on, ready to compete for the final eight.

The youngsters, hailing from 14 different states in the country, were shortlisted as per their performance from the from the Sub Junior National Championship held in January at Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. They included of 25 boys and 25 girls. After registration on Thursday, the girls were first to get a taste of the hoop action on Friday (23rd) morning at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi. After warm-up, the girls started the session with basic athletic evaluation work with Borman, Barto, and Indian coaches. They moved on to do drills on their technical and fundamental basketball skills, before being divided into five teams to play quick-fire four minute games against each other.

One of the best performers in the games was 14-year-old guard from Chhattisgarh, Saranjeet Kaur. "The teaching style of the IMG coaches is great, it's very different," said Saranjeet, "This is the first time that any of us are taking part in a programme like this - I hope to keep trying hard so I can be selected!"

Saranjeet did indeed play her role as a successful floor general in the games, being vocal both on the offensive and defensive ends of the. She hounded the ball defensively, and was involved with everything good her team did on attack - her prettiest move came when she slid off a screen and scored a little tear-drop from the top of the key.

The boys followed the same schedule with the coaches after lunch, and at the end of an eventful first day, both the trainers and the students of the game were hungry for more.

Things got a lot more technical on Saturday - the girls preceded the boys in a similar schedule, but this time, the warm-ups, stretching, and skill evaluations were more advanced. Before the boys took centre-stage, the IMG coaches also welcomed 30 Indian coaches who came to observe the drills and ask questions. One of the first points that Barto stressed that the sessions will pay priority to the importance of the kids' physical training and conditioning.

"These aren't exactly new drills, but the IMG coaches are using new ways to implement them," felt NS Rathod, who has been a basketball coach for over 30 years and currently coaches at a private school in New Delhi, "They have correlated warm-up and drills together for ball handling exercises to be more efficient. In basketball, conditioning is absolutely necessary to cope with the speed and stamina needed for the game."

Several of the boys continued to stand out, including Satnam Singh, the seven foot giant from Punjab, who commanded all of the attention on and off the court. Satnam is a few years older than most of the other kids in the programme, but his explosive talent made his attendance essential for this opportunity. He earlier was one amongst three Indian youngsters to have attended the NBA's Basketball Without Borders - Asia programme at Singapore earlier this month.

The IMG Academies are the finest multi-sport training facility in the world, with alumni including NBA players such as Renaldo Balkman and Michael Beasley. Other stars who have trained at the academy include Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Vince Carter, Loul Deng, Al Harrington, Brendan Haywood, Kevin Martin, and Tayshaun Prince, and Joakim Noah.

Their motto is 'Rise to the next level' - and Barto believes that he can help the chosen youngsters from India to do so. "The kids here need to get a true understanding of their lower body conditioning," Barto said, "If they are able to get the connection of speed, movement, and conditioning right, they can really elevate their game to 'the next level'."

He commented that there are still many things that the kids could improve on, including their precision on outside shooting. But Barto did find positives in the youngsters' aggression and ability to make an attacking finish around the basket.

"I have worked very hard to get here, and would love to be selected and join the Academy," said Yogesh Kanderia (13) from Jaipur, "The style of coaching was good and we have really enjoyed training here."

Once Borman, Barto, and others make their decision, eight of the youngsters will be invited to join the Academy, starting their school year from the end of August. But there are positives for the others, too, because a major part of the IMG-Reliance (IMGR) union with the BFI includes setting up several basketball academies for youngsters in India. In addition, IMG Basketball Academy will continue to recruit young players from India in a similar programme every year.

Basketball is India is poised to explode exponentially, and the scholarship selection for the first batch of young stars is an important early step in shaping the talent that will form our future leagues.

Read this article on the official website of Basketball Federation of India

July 19, 2010

Hoopistani joins the Federation!

Hold back your brickbats if you feel that there has been a shortage of India basketball news here lately - it's because I'm now officially collaborating with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). News and features relating to BFI and other basketball stories out of India will now be featured on the BFI website: www.indiabasketball.org

Along with the latest breaking news involving camps, tournaments, and BFI special events and deals, the website also contains a database of all the BFI registered players, coaches, and referees, as well as photo galleries to catch your favourite players in action.

July 14, 2010

One Decision, Three Kings, and Trading Places

I have waiting patiently before finally sitting down to write this. Most of the memorable Free Agent class this summer, dubbed the legendary 'Summer of 2010' have finally found their homes, some old and some new, and set up a whole host of excitement for the 2010-11 NBA season.

Unless a) You have been living under a giant rock, b) You are a monk somewhere in a cave in the Himalayas without internet access, c) You've been distracted too much by the FIFA World Cup and the sound of vuvuzelas has made sure you don't here any news ever again, or d) You're from Bangladesh, you've probably heard that Miami Heat ended up becoming the second-biggest story of the off-season after bringing back Dwyane Wade and signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to their roster, to assemble perhaps one of the greatest trios to ever land on an NBA team together (on paper, at least). With 'King' James joining the crew, the new Miami roster was introduced as the 'Three Kings' of Miami (or 'Miami Thrice'. Last I checked, only one of them, Wade, has any sort of a crown (or a ring), but hasn't had a whiff of it in four years.

The biggest story of the summer, of course, was of LeBron's shameless self-promotion and attempt to overshadow everything else in the basketball (and otherwise) world by flirting with at least six teams and finally making his cringe-worthy 'Decision' through a one-hour special on ESPN on the 8th of July.

A lot more decisions were made, most of them not as important as LeBron's, but still crucial to the new shaping of the NBA geography. With the NBA Draft having introduced a new crop of future stars and the free agents beginning to settle into their new homes, here is my list of the winners, losers, and those still squatting in purgatory after the Summer of 2010.

The Miami Heat made the biggest splash, but nay, I feel the biggest winner were actually the Chicago Bulls. Yes, they lost out on LeBron, Wade, and Bosh (as did everyone but the Heat), but the Bulls chose to use their cap space to make a ton of smart moves and bolster their squad. Unlike the Heat, the Bulls already had a stable backbone led by former-best-PG-in-the-league Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and talented youngster Taj Gibson. They've since added Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver from the Jazz, and are on the verge of getting their hands on Magic sharp-shooter JJ Redick. The Bulls could end up with a formidable looking and balanced line-up of Rose, Redick, Deng, Boozer, Noah, with Korver, Gibson, etc off the bench. It's my early bold prediction that they will actually be the team to beat next season.

Now, when saying that, I'm assuming that the Bulls do better than all other teams that were ranked higher than them in the playoffs... Let's go through them one by one, shall we.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Oh... Cleveland! The city which had the worst luck, found their saviour in the form of hometown boy LeBron in '03, and after seven rosy-yet-ultimately-unfruitful years, lost him to the Heat in the most unceremonious way possible: Live TV. If only LeBron had been gentler (and more prompt) about his decision, the city wouldn't be reacting in pain as it is now. For now though, I predict a historical downfall for the Cavs, in which they will return to their pre-2003 days as every LeBron fan jumps the bandwagon to become a Heat fan and no one cares about Cleveland any more. Shaq's gonna leave. Big Z has already joined LeBron in Miami. Their best players are going to be Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, and LeBron's replacement, Kyle Lowry. Ouch.

Orlando Magic: Magic get Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson, will lose Redick. Dwight will be the same, so will Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Jameer Nelson. Squatting on purgatory.

Atlanta Hawks resigned Joe Johnson, but he's peaked. Josh Smith and Al Horford will improve, the Hawks won't. Purgatory.

It's hard to believe that last season's Eastern Conference Champions Boston Celtics finished fourth in the regular season. Celtics have made a smart move in bringing in Jermaine O'Neal to replace Rasheed Wallace, and their best off-season move definitely was re-signing Ray Allen. But as much as I respect KG, Ray, and Paul Pierce brought last post-season, I feel that the Finals Game 7 was the end of the road for these old cats. Rajon Rondo, on the other hand, is going to be a superstar.

And then there's the Heat. Winners, definitely. No matter how much someone hates the process of how LeBron became a Heater, there is no doubt that now that he's there, he helps elevate them immediately into the NBA elite. Watching LeBron and Wade together in the Dream Team and the All Star Game had everyone's wildest fantasies salivating, but it was hard to imagine them actually playing together, in the same team. Well, here they are, as team-mates, along with all star big man Bosh. Miami will always be Wade's team, and LeBron will benefit from being spectacular while not being entirely responsible, just the way he would like it. The responsibility will fall on Wade, who is no doubt the ultimate winner of the free agency - he got to stay loyal to his team and he was able to coax the league's best player and one of the best men to join him to now attempt another shot at the title. This is the best set of team-mates any of them has ever had, and their chemistry together will be crucial when predicting how they will end up.
I do feel this team has titles in them - they will have a backing squad of Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Udonis Haslem, and I'm hoping a few more, but I don't think that they will see the ring their first season together. It will take some time, but when it happens, it is going to be devastating. Until then, I'm excited just with the possibility of seeing these three go at it together.
And oh, let me not skip LeBron James the winner/loser/most wanted/most hated person in the world right now. LeBron's shameless flirting with the Cavs, Heat, Bulls, Knicks, Nets, and Mavericks had team-owners begging around his arrogant self to join them, and in the end, the world realised that the decision was never about what team LeBron wants to play for, it was about what LeBron can get out of this situation. He turned it into a marketing ploy, broke a million hearts, and in the end, chose the one situation in the Eastern Conference that would make life easiest for him by joining Wade and Bosh. Sure, this classifies as 'wanting to win', but more than that, it classifies as 'not wanting to be his own legend'. Starting from the shambolic end to the Celtic playoff series back in May, the last two months have taken LeBron from being one of the most admired to one of the most hated people in sports right now. How's that for successful self-promotion. His only redemption? Stop acting like a 'Chosen One' and a 'King' (he won't) and quietly stack up NBA Championships (quite possible) like Number 24 out west in LA.

And the other Eastern Conference playoff teams? Bobcats made a few moves but aren't getting anywhere. And does anyone even remember that the Bucks were a game away from the 2nd round?

Raptors are done, Pacers and Pistons are pretty much the same, and the Sixers and Wizards got a couple of exciting rookies but won't be shaking the world any time soon.

Which leaves the Knicks and the Nets, two teams hungry for the LeBron sweepstakes. Knicks made the smart early move and didn't wait for His Royal LeSellOut to sign Amar'e from the Suns. Not the biggest of upgrades, but a force on the block nonetheless. I'm saddened by the loss of my Knick favourite David Lee, but the team received three good players in the form of Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike in return from the Warriors. The addition of Raymond Felton at the point helps to complete a starting five of Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar'e, and Randolph, with Azubuike, Turiaf, Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, and newly signed Russian big man Timofey Mozgov off the bench. Not the best team, yes, but definitely a playoff team. The Knicks win.

The Nets, for their efforts, got talented big man Derrick Favors from the draft and replaced LeBron dreams with Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar. Yes, losers.

On to the west coast then, which was relatively quieter from the drama. Mavericks made the right moves by re-signing Dirk Nowitzki and also getting Tyson Chandler from the Bobcats. They will be better, but still no Laker-beaters. Nuggets scored with former Knick Al Harrington, but will not be a better team. They should keep their eye out on keeping next year's big free agent Carmelo Anthony happy. Jazz lost Boozer and Korver, but have made up for it somewhat by getting Al Jefferson from the Timberwolves for shits and nickels.

The Suns will have a new-looking roster next season. After losing Amar'e, they signed Hakim Warrick and smartly, signed Hawks/Olympiacos swingman Josh Childress, who could become the underrated signing of the summer. The team is also close to replacing Leonardo Barbosa with Raptor flop Hedo Turkoglo. Steve Nash has given new life to many has-beens before, and I actually believe that Turkoglo, Childress, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Frye, Warrick, Robin Lopez, etc will flourish with the star point guard's final season in top-tier relevance.

Blazers stay pretty much the same (but will improve with the return of Oden, if he returns), Spurs stay the same (except for a maybe genius signing), and the Grizzlies wasted a bit too much money on keeping Rudy Gay.

Now, how about the Thunder? The young, exciting team that toppled the Laker ship in the playoffs will be the squad to watch next season. Kevin Durant is a bonafide superstar, finishing as the league leader in scoring and second in MVP voting last season. He also made the anti-LeBron gentlemanly move of the off-season when he quitely extended with his team, giving a clear sign of loyalty to his talented teammates Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and others. By not changing much, the Thunder have improved.

Houston will be better if Yao returns, worse if he does not. Hornets and Chris Paul are going to spend a season (or two) in a lot of pain before Paul eventually gets frustrated and (probably) leaves for the Knicks. Clippers will improve with the play of Blake Griffin, but will still be the Clippers. Warriors should enjoy the improving Stephen Curry, along with David Lee and Monta Ellis. And the Kings will just hope that former ROY Tyreke Evans continues to improve and incorporates talented but troubled rookie DeMarcus Cousins.

Now, where do I start my Minnesota Timberwolves rant, a failure in management that is starting to make Isaiah Thomas' reign with the Knicks look flourishing. David Kahn has made some confusing moves over the past two off-seasons, and has now finished with a roster that refuses to improve. Sure, Jonny Flynn, Kevin Love, new signing Michael Beasley, Corey Brewer, Darko (gulp!), talented rookie Wesley Johnson, and soon-to-be-new-point-guard Luke Ridnour are good players, but the team was supposed to be done with young-maybe-potential-talents by now. Instead, they continue to be where they always were, still giving false hope. They still own the draft rights to Spanish phenon Ricky Rubio, but I'm willing to bet Darko's new 20 million dollar contract that Rubio's never putting on a Minnesota jersey.

But in the end, the real Kings remain the Kings. Not the Sacramento Kings, or the Miami Heat Three Kings. I mean back-to-back NBA Champions, the Lakers. Phil Jackson is back, Derek Fisher is back, Steve Blake was smartly added to this team, and of course, Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Bynum, Odom, etc are still there, still dangerous.

After a lot of noise and shifting and rumours and flirting and talking and moving and all that, the Lakers are still the team to beat, still looking favourites to make it a three-peat.

July 13, 2010

Mahindra Satyam tie-in with the NBA

I watched a lot of the FIFA World Cup the last month. A lot. As a matter of fact, I'm still trying to survive that feeling of emptiness every evening now that the matches are over.

And while my eyeballs were glued to the action on the field, I regularly noticed perhaps the only Indian influence on the world football stage. No, not Sunil Chhetri, or Vikash Dhorasoo - I mean those giant advertisements by the side of all the fields with the words 'Mahindra Satyam'.

The company was the official IT-partner for the World Cup, working on the tournament's technology backbone situation. Mahindra Satyam has now bagged a deal to work with the NBA in the US, too.

From Business-Standard:

The company has bagged a deal for the Singapore Youth Olympics, scheduled to be held from August 14 this year, for which it has already started doing some part of the work. Also in place is a tie-up with men's professional basketball league in North America, the National Basketball Association (NBA), according to an official privy to the development.

Not exactly Indian-at-the-NBA news, but definitely, of India, at the NBA.

July 7, 2010

50 players to show up for IMG-Reliance trials

The world of basketball in India has been on fire ever since the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) signed a 30 year deal with IMG-Reliance to promote the game and eventually, launch a pro basketball league in the country. One of the first steps in this process will be basketball try-outs for 25 men and 25 women players in New Delhi from 22-24 July. At the end of these try-outs, eight players will be selected by a team of visiting foreign experts.

The 50 players that have been chosen for the try-outs will also be accompanied with coaches and technical experts. "Most likely the training-cum-selection camp will be housed at the YMCA basketball stadium," said Harish Sharma, president of the BFI. Sharma also clarified that he BFI will have no role in the selection process, which will be done entirely by the IMG-Reliance-sponsored experts.

IMG Reliance will provide the foreign experts to coach, train and give technical guidance to the selected few.

From SportzPower:

The foreign experts will have their own sets of criteria in the final selections. The training will be followed by internal matches by dividing the 50 players into separate teams. But winning or losing the matches will not be the deciding factor. Rather, there will be clear weightage for each aspect of the training and overall performance.

The question is, YMCA does not have an airconditioned indoor stadium, which is compulsory in international level matches, so will the foreign experts agree to this?
The BFI does not till date have its own playing field, let alone an indoor, air-conditioned one. The indoor stadium built prior to the 1982 Asian Games at the Talkatora Complex has been taken over for two disparate activities: table tennis and political meets.
Sharma says that there are many good courts in some of the top private schools in the Capital. “We are looking into hiring one of them for the camp,” he said.

Last week, the BFI did take a positive step and laid the foundation stone for its own official playing field at Ajmal Khan Park in New Delhi.

July 4, 2010

Knicks' fashion sense comes from India

So if us Indians can't make it to the NBA, at least we can hope to dress it up. I stumbled across an amazing story today of Mohan Ramchandani, a tailor from Ahmedabad, who immigrated to the US in 1972, and after a stroke of luck, got a big break (literally) when he was given the opportunity to design a suit for then-Georgetown University star Patrick Ewing. Ewing went on to become the first pick in the NBA draft and joined the New York Knicks, and was probably the greatest Knick in franchise history. Ramchandani went on to become the choice tailor for many New York celebrities including Knick players.

Ramchandani has worked with Ewing, Walt Frazier, Charles Oakley and others. He owns the successful Mohan Custom Tailors brand in New York.

From One India:

He became well known after retired basketball player Patrick Ewing's mother called him up to get a suit made for her son.

"I didn't know who he was. I wasn't following the basketball," Ramchandani admitted.
Despite his reluctance to fork over 29 dollars for a People's Express plane ticket to measure a 7-foot-tall kid in his dorm room for a 150 dollars silver herringbone suit, Ramchandani did it anyway and it changed his life, the Post said.
Once Ewing started playing for the Knicks, Ramchandani became his permanent tailor, and Ewing became the official face of the brand, championing it all around town.
NBA legend Walt "Clyde" Frazier, who has been coming to Ramchandani twice a year since the '80s for new threads, has more than 500 eclectic suits made by the tailor.
"I've been voted best-dressed athlete a lot of times," Frazier said.
"I come here and tell them to show me the stuff no one else wants. I know I'll like it," he revealed.

Awesome. Knicks' royalty getting threaded up an Indian. I wonder if he was part of the Knicks' presentation to LeBron. "Not only will we make you the biggest star in the world, but we will also make sure to dress you up like a King. Indian style."

July 1, 2010

The Summer of 2010

July 1, 2010. 00:01 US Eastern Standard Time. One of the biggest moments in NBA history. While the Mayans civilization, film director Roland Emmerich, and a bunch of other apocalypic nerds would have you believe that 2012 is the end of the world, everyone else (that matters) knows that the end is already here. Or the beginning. Or the most important middle part.

The Summer of 2010. Where Free Agency Happens.

As of the aforementioned hour, some of the biggest names in NBA basketball have become free agents. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, etc, etc, etc. It is the time of the year that more than half the NBA teams have saved money for, raised fans expectations for, based their future on. Franchises like the Cavaliers, Heat, Raptors, Suns, Jazz, Hawks, Mavericks, Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Bucks, Timberwolves, Clippers, and many, many more have been waiting anxiously and excitedly for this moment. Many will lose their best players and be forced to start building up from scratch. Many will add the right pieces around their squad to elevate themselves to the next level. Some will strike gold and win the sweepstakes, bringing drastic changes to their roster for success.

The top free agents in the Summer of 2010, from a list on Yahoo! Sports, are:

1. LeBron James
2. Dwyane Wade
3. Chris Bosh
4. Amar'e Stoudemire
5. Dirk Nowitzki
6. Carlos Boozer
7. Joe Johnson
8. David Lee
9. Rudy Gay
10. Paul Pierce
11. Luis Scola
12. Brendan Haywood
13. John Salmons
14. JJ Redick
15. Ray Allen
16. Shaquille O'Neal
17. Udonis Haslem
18. Brad Miller
19. Tyrus Thomas
20. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
21. Matt Barnes
22. Raymond Felton
23. Nate Robinson
24. Mike Miller
25. Anthony Morrow

These are just the top 25!

For the past few years, and particularly over the last season, the shadow of this summer has been hovering over the entire league. From rumours circulating damn near every day to free agents planning secret summits to teams going to great lengths to clear up roster space, there has been no shortage of speculation about this summer. There has been a no-holds-barred approach to player recruiting as well, a process that has included many, many websites, T-shirts, rallies, and the mayor of New York wrong-numbering a young Indian man. Hell, even the leader of the free world aka US president Barack Obama couldn't keep his mind of the issue, adding his own opinion on free agency. Who cares about some spilled oil when LeBron is unrestricted, right?

Speaking of LeBron, he is by far the most important pawn in the game. Wherever LeBron will go, success will follow, except, ironically, if he stays with the Cavs. When the Celtics surprised and beat the Cavs 4-2 in the second round of the playoffs, LeBron James walked off the court amidst mass speculation about his future. Kevin Garnett, who himself suffered through a major dillema when finally demanding a trade away from a Timberwolves team that he had spent his career with, approached LeBron after the closing Game 6 of the series and reminded him his choice: Loyalty vs. Legacy. Does he stay with his hometown team, the one that helped him become a two-time MVP, the team with whom he can become a true legend, or does he leave for greener pastures for success and cement his legacy? LeBron has been linked with the Cavs, Knicks, Bulls, Nets, Heat, and even the Mavs. Wherever he ends up, other stars are sure to follow, except, perhaps the Cavs, who don't have the market, money, or trade value to get other big players. One decision LeBron, the reigning, two time MVP, could cause a techtonic shift of power for the entire league, somehow similar to the shift of power when Shaquille O'Neal went from the Lakers to the Heat, or when Garnett finally shifted from the T-Wolves to the Celtics.

Then there's Wade, my favourite player, and who is only second to LeBron because of his greater age and his injury prone past. Wade is more likely to stay with the Heat and attract other stars like Amar'e, Boozer, or Bosh towards him. The world, including me, would love to see him and LeBron pair up and make the most threatening tandem in the league since the Shaq and Kobe days.

Others, like Bosh, Stoudemire, Boozer, Johnson, David Lee, Rudy Gay, Ray Allen hold the key to the developments of particularly these two, as great players will obviously be tempted to play alongside other great players. Bosh, in particular, seems to be the most important key of them all, and is sure to contribute his loyalties to one of the other stars.

Dark horse candidates like Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce will also be free agents, but unless there are some drastic developments, these two are not expected to leave their respective teams.

For my team, the Knicks, this is a time of great opportunity. They have enough cap money to sign a few big names, but the question is, will they go there? The Knicks have promoted their big stage, their ties with basketball history, their role in NBA history, their fans, their (few) remaining players, and other factors to try and sell themselves, but good players will only come to a bad team if joined by other good players. Until recently (when I heard that the Knicks offered Joe friggin Johnson a max contract), I have been fairly optimistic of the Knicks' chances of coming out of this summer with a much-improved team. I don't want to repeat the long-endured tortures of a Knick fan, but I would like to say this: Dear haters, don't even THINK of juimping on the Knick bandwagon. I haven't suffered for 11 years as a fan to share the space.

Aaah... I'm officially done with the speculation, the talks, the possibilities, the what-ifs, and the maybes. Its July 1, 2010. It's going to be a crazy summer. Let's buckle up and watch what happens...

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