2010 NBA Preview: A dozen players ready to break out

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love backs into New York Knicks forward Ronny Turiaf during their NBA preseason game in Paris on October 6, 2010. The Timberwolves won the contest, part of the annual NBA Europe Live tour, by the score of 106-100.  UPI/David Silpa Photo via Newscom

The 2010-11 NBA season starts tonight (Miami and Boston tip things off tonight at 7:30 ET on TNT) and while most eyes will be on one-name superstars like LeBron, Wade, Kobe and Melo, it’s fun to try to predict who this season’s breakout players will be.

It takes more than just talent to succeed in the NBA. It takes opportunity as well, and each of the 12 players I’ve listed before figure to play a more prominent role than they did last season. I didn’t include any rookies (or Blake Griffin, who qualifies as a rookie) because in order to break out, you have to have a baseline season to start from.

1. Kevin Love, Timberwolves
After spending most of last season coming off the bench, Love has started all eight preseason games and has averaged 18-11 while shooting 14-of-24 from long range. Neither Michael Beasley nor Darko Milicic are aggressive rebounders, so Love has a chance to lead the league in boards this season. I suspect Love will be in consideration for the All-Star team in January.

2. Darren Collison, Pacers
Indiana’s best move this offseason was to acquire Collison from the Hornets. He had a very nice rookie year, but the starting gig is his now and he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder wondering what’s going on with Chris Paul. He averaged 13-3-4 in the preseason, but I’d expect those numbers to rise with bigger minutes. He should be good for 16-4-6 this season.

3. Jrue Holiday, Sixers
Doug Collins is really high on Holiday, predicting that he’ll be a Top 5 point guard in the league sooner rather than later. He averaged 13-4-6 in March of last season and posted 12-6-5 in the preseason.

4. Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Hibbert averaged 12-6 in 25 minutes per game last season, but in seven preseason games, he has increased those averages to 17-9, though he’s shooting just 43% from the field, which is a little worrisome. Still, with Troy Murphy gone, there are a lot of minutes available on the front line, and Hibbert should get his fair share.

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Heat ‘coming hard’ after Stoudemire

Just two days away from the trade deadline, Marc Stein says that the Miami Heat are stepping up their efforts to acquire Amare Stoudemire.

The Heat emerged from the All-Star break even more determined than they were before to find a third team to help them broker an Amare deal before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

Miami is “coming hard” after Stoudemire, one source said.

Although the Heat have first-round picks available to sweeten any Stoudemire deal — with the Suns hoping to come away with at least one first-rounder if they decide to trade Stoudemire this week — sources say Phoenix has no interest in taking back Jermaine O’Neal’s hefty expiring contract because, at $23 million, it requires more players to be worked into the deal than the Suns are comfortable with.

Yet one source insisted Monday night that the Suns have not ruled out taking back forward Michael Beasley as part of a Stoudemire deal.

The Suns seem to be more interested in J.J. Hickson than Beasley, which is a little odd. Beasley does have some off-court issues, but he seems to have straightened those out and he’s having a very nice sophomore campaign (16-7 on 46% shooting). His 3PT touch has mysteriously disappeared — 41% last year vs. 28% this season — and he is still a work in progress defensively, but he’s one of the best young scorers and rebounders in the league.

Ric Bucher writes that the Suns aren’t alone in their disinterest in Beasley.

“While other pieces would’ve had to be included, the trade essentially would’ve sent Beasley to Philadelphia, Iguodala to Phoenix and Stoudemire to Miami. The deal broke down, sources say, because Philadelphia wasn’t overwhelmed by the prospect of rebuilding around Beasley. This isn’t an isolated case: the Heat appear to be the team most enamored with Stoudemire, but their trading chips are Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal, aka, a big, fat expiring contract. So far, no one has been willing to bite — underscoring why the Heat tried so hard on draft night in 2008 to trade down and take the player they really wanted, O.J. Mayo.”

That last sentence underlines an interesting point. The Heat felt obligated to take Beasley with the #2 pick because he was widely considered the second-best talent in the draft. But if they really wanted Mayo and couldn’t find a trade partner, then they should have drafted the guy they really wanted.

According to Stein’s source, the Suns haven’t ruled out a Beasley-for-Stoudemire swap, so that still may end up being the best deal that Phoenix can get.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Cavs close to acquiring Stoudemire?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are closing in on a deal that would bring Amare Stoudemire to town, according to Chris Broussard’s sources.

The Cavaliers would send Zydrunas Ilgauskas and J.J. Hickson to Phoenix in exchange for Stoudemire, one of the league’s most dominant big men.

While Cleveland remains in talks with several other teams, the club, from management down to the players, has settled on Stoudemire as its first choice.

The ball is in Phoenix’s court. The Suns are mulling whether the financial relief provided by Ilgauskas’ $12 million contract and the young and talented Hickson are enough for them to part with Stoudemire.

Cleveland believes the addition of Stoudemire would all but seal LeBron James’ re-signing with the team when he becomes a free agent this summer. The Cavaliers are also prepared to sign Stoudemire, who has one year and $17 million remaining on his contract, to a long-term contract extension once the season ends.

It isn’t surprising that the Suns are the ones mulling this over, as this is pretty much a no-brainer for the Cavs. With Shaq’s salary coming off the books this summer, Cleveland would have plenty of room to re-sign both LeBron and Stoudemire and still stay under the luxury tax threshold. The most important part about that last sentence is that with Stoudemire in tow, one would have to think that LeBron would almost certainly re-sign. I suppose if the Cavs flamed out of the playoffs that both players could opt out and go elsewhere, but that doesn’t seem likely. The acquisition of Stoudemire would also make the re-signing of Ilguaskas far less important. If something were to happen to Shaq, Stoudemire is perfectly capable of playing big minutes at center and has a nice jumpshot to help space the court.

Whether or not Hickson is worth giving up Stoudemire largely depends on what else is available. I’d much rather do a deal with Miami for Michael Beasley, but we don’t know for sure if that offer is on the table. It’s possible that the Suns leaked this information to prompt other teams to step up their offers, and the Heat, facing the possibility of a long-term LeBron/Amare marriage in Cleveland, may very well step up their pursuit.

Hickson is a nice young player that projects to be a quality starter or star in a few seasons. His PER (14.33) is solid for a 21-year-old in his second season. He has had his ups and downs this season, but is averaging 13-5 on 60% shooting in five games in February. Size-wise, he’s 6’9″ with long arms and pretty much is a prototypical power forward in today’s NBA. He already has a solid back-to-the-basket game and a decent jump shot.

However, given that the Cavs are far worse when he’s on the court, it’s understandable that the Suns aren’t 100% sold. Beasley is the more talented player, but he has had character issues in the past and that would give any team pause.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

LeBron claims he hasn’t lobbied for Jamison

After the Cavs’ 115-106 win over the Magic on Thursday, LeBron James denied ever lobbying that his team make a deadline trade for Antwan Jamison, or any other player for that matter. (Chris Sheridan, ESPN)

Do the Cavs still need what’s known as a “stretch 4,” a power forward such as Antawn Jamison who can play inside and outside, another pricey piece to add to the puzzle in an effort not only to win a championship but also to convince LeBron James to stay in Cleveland past July 1?

It’s such a good question, we went ahead and asked it of James after the power forwards currently on Cleveland’s roster, J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao, both had huge games in Thursday night’s 115-106 victory over the Orlando Magic.

“I never said we needed one,” James said, immediately putting himself at odds with what is being whispered around the league — that James has made it known that he wants the Cavs to find a way to acquire Jamison. “I think our team is built to win a championship, and with the group of guys we have here, if we continue to get better we’re headed in the right direction.”

“So I haven’t really thought about the trade deadline or what guys are on the board or whatever, so we’ll continue to play the way we know how to play,” James said.

Hickson and Varejao combined for 36 points and eight rebounds Thursday night, outplaying the Magic’s PFs Rashard Lewis (19 points, 4 rebounds) and Ryan Anderson (5 points, 2 rebounds).

That’s all well and good, but this is eerily similar to the pre-deadline position that the Cavs found themselves in last year. They were playing well and looking strong, so they elected to stand pat at the trade deadline. We all know how that turned out.

I’m not saying that trading Hickson would be the right move. We just don’t know. But in Jamison we’re talking about a two-time All-Star who is averaging 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds, even at 33 years old. I think it’s safe to say that he’s going to be better than Hickson for the rest of this season and next.

The Cavs could just be posturing, hoping to get themselves the best possible deal next week. But if they lead another deadline pass without making a move, and this season ends the same way, it isn’t going to be pretty.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Why didn’t the Cavs make a deal?

On last night’s TNT coverage, Charles Barkley and David Aldridge talked a little bit about Cleveland’s attempts to swing a trade. First up is Aldridge:

“(The Cavaliers) tried (to make a trade), they really did try. They were all over the place. They tried to get Antawn Jamison from Washington, they tried to get Amar’e Stoudemire, they tried to get Richard Jefferson, they tried to get Shaq. I can tell you this, they were more interested in Shaquille O’Neal than they were in Amar’e Stoudemire. That’s a fact. They wanted Shaq badly and they really tried to get him.”

Then there’s Barkley:

“The Cavaliers made a mistake (by not making a trade)…They should have said, ‘We’re going to keep LeBron (James), we’re going to keep Mo Williams, you can have anybody else we got.’ If they would have done anything to get a big body they would have been better off.”

Rookie J.J. Hickson is just 20 years-old and has shown great potential. He’s 6’9″ (which is the optimum size for a power forward), athletic and has a few polished moves down low…

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