Here are a few thoughts on the NBA and the Toronto Raptors this Monday morning.
1. MELO TO NY?: Lots of chatter out there that the Nuggets will deal Carmelo Anthony to the NY Knicks in a 3-way deal, with the T'Wolves being the third team sending Corey Brewer and a No. 1 draft pick to them with Wilson Chandler and possibly Eddy Curry and Danilo Gallinari all part of the trade. We'll see. It's pretty obvious that the heat will be turned up as we get closer to the NBA trade deadline on February 24th. The Nuggets don't want Melo to walk at the end of season for nothing or a trade exception (ask Cleveland and Toronto how they feel with their main guys LeBron James and Chris Bosh departing with - at this point - nothing to show for it).
2. JOAKIM NOAH (Bulls): The Bulls were 7-2 when Noah and Carlos Boozer played together and have been 24-6 in Noah's absence. Very impressive numbers on both sides of the ledger. With Noah getting closer to returning this month, it will be truly interesting if there is 'another gear' that the Bulls can get to. Boston and Miami are the cream of the crop in the East but if the Bulls are 100 percent healthy come playoff time, do you think either team will relish playing them in a second round series?? I'd say both would much prefer a team like Atlanta or Orlando at this stage.
3. TOM IZZO (Michigan State): Izzo's Spartans team is really struggling right now, losing five of their last six games, and have fallen out of the Top 25. This was a team a lot of folks were saying was a Final Four team. I'm sure he's glad he's not coaching the Cleveland Cavs right now even though they offered him a ton of money. I think he's a guy that can make the transition to being an NBA coach and if I were a general manager looking for a guy this off season, I'd take a run at him again. You never know what a frustrating season does to someone's outlook and desire for professional change.
4. DAHNTAY JONES & FRANK VOGEL (Pacers): Jones is getting a chance to play for his new coach after being buried for previous coach Jim O'Brien, and Vogel's got his club at 4-0 since taking over for O'Brien last week. Not sure if the Pacers have enough to catch Charlotte and Philadelphia but it's pretty clear that the coaching change has this club playing with lots of enthusiasm right now. For an organization that's taken its lumps since the 'Detroit Brawl,' it's a good story.
5. UDONIS HASLEM (Heat): Haslem will be starting rehab soon to come back from injury. You put his energy, toughness, respectable offense and rebounding/leadership back on this club later in the season; this group will take another step in the right direction. You gotta have him if they're going to be a serious contender in May/June.
1. AMIR JOHNSON: Johnson is putting up consistent double-doubles right now and his confidence is rising. He's been very effective and much improved this year when healthy and out of foul trouble. He plays hard and his overall offensive game is blossoming. His work-ethic is sound and his approach and willingness to pay the price is showing now. A good story in a frustrating year.
2. HOME SWEET HOME: Eight of the next 10 games are at home. That's far from a guarantee that the Raptors will win a bunch of them but as the schedule starts to tilt back in the favour, this would be nice time for them to settle down, have productive practices, get healthy and win some games.
3. LEANDRO BARBOSA: Barbosa should be back this week. He was playing his best before he got hurt and I'm looking forward to seeing his creativity at the back end of the Show Clock bailing his team out as the clock expires. He's the best on the team at that and it's been pretty obvious that without him, the consistency of the offense goes down dramatically.
4. LINAS KLEIZA: Kleiza is out for 9-12 months with micro-fracture surgery; a tough blow for the organization. The club gave him a sizable 4-year deal this past summer and now this. He was quite inconsistent this season after a great summer at the Worlds and excellent pre-season. He's a worker and he'll really need to bust his tail to hop on the 'moving train' when he's ready to play next season. The organization definitely has to plan for the possibility that he might be out for a year and cover themselves and be in the market for more help at the three spot.
5. BAND: I worked the ODU at George Mason NCAA game on television on Saturday and it was a wonderful atmosphere; 10,000 fans in a sold out building. The best factor - and I love it every time I work these games - is the fact that George Mason has an incredible band of about 60 kids and the joint is rocking. I would love to have a night in Toronto where we put a band in the ACC and I guarantee you the place would have an even better atmosphere than the piped in music. No NBA teams do this, they don't want to give up the money on the seats being utilized by the band, but in my opinion it's less fun. Go to an NCAA game and I think you'll agree with me.