Tayshaun Prince’s buzzer-beater [video]

Watch as Prince’s shot rolls around the rim FIVE TIMES before falling though.

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The top 10 first round steals of the last 10 years

Everyone loves to focus on the lottery, but there are good players to be had in the late first round as well. A while back, I put together a list of the top second round picks of the modern era, so now I’m going to focus on those players that were drafted between pick #21 and pick #30 in the first round. (Note: If a player was drafted in the second round, even if they were taken with the #29 or #30 pick overall, they are ineligible to make the list. Sorry, Gilbert.) Since there are more star-quality players available in the 20’s, I’m limiting this list to the last ten drafts (i.e. 1999 through 2008).

It is sometimes tough to rank older players with newer players, but even if a younger player holds more trade value right now, I am going to take into account each player’s entire career. For the young guys, I have to project a little bit, so keep that in mind as you read and react. I feel great about the top eight guys, but there are a few players that missed the list that are pretty interchangeable with #9 and #10.

On with the list…

10. Aaron Brooks, Rockets
26th pick in 2007
I had to decide between Brooks and Nate Robinson here and went with Brooks given his fine performance in the playoffs this season (16.8 ppg, 3.4 apg, 42% from 3PT) and how Robinson’s numbers are a little inflated playing for Mike D’Antoni. Brooks is not a natural point guard, but his sharpshooting is a good fit given Houston’s inside-out attack. He’s small, but he’s quick and is able to score at the rim when given some daylight. The Rockets feel good enough about Brooks to trade Rafer Alston away midseason, so you have to like his upside.

9. Kendrick Perkins, Celtics
27th pick in 2003 (drafted by the Grizzlies)
In the world of “big” guys, I also considered Boris Diaw here, but it’s tough to pass on a 6’10” 24-year-old who averaged 8.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game on a team loaded with vets. Without Kevin Garnett in the playoffs, the C’s needed Perkins to step up his game and he responded with 11.9 points, 11.6 boards and 2.6 blocks per contest. He also did a pretty good job on Dwight Howard, who had his worst numbers of the playoffs against the Celtics.

8. David Lee, Knicks
30th pick in 2005
Isiah Thomas couldn’t make a good trade to save his life, but he could spot talent in the draft. Lee has turned out to be a steal with the last pick in the 2005 draft. He’s an athletic lefty whose best traits are his hustle and smarts. In just his fourth season, Lee averaged 16.0 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, which made him one of the most consistent double-double guys in the league. His stock is so high right now that the Knicks might be able to use him as trade bait in order to land Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. Maybe they’d be better off sticking with Lee…

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Tuesday’s NBA action just “so-so”

There were three games last night and the best one was on NBA TV, so nobody saw it. The Cavs beat the Pistons (Cavs lead, 2-0), the Lakers beat the Jazz (Lakers lead, 2-0) and the Blazers nipped the Rockets (series tied, 1-1). Here are a few random observations about Tuesday’s action:

– It’s a bad idea by the NBA to schedule both 1/8 matchups on the same night. Moreover, TNT aired both games while the best action (Blazers/Rockets) was relegated to NBA TV. The Jazz made a game of it against the Lakers, but could never quite get over the hump. Deron Williams was outstanding (35 points, nine assists, four rebounds, four steals, two blocks), nailing six threes but turning the ball over seven times. Six Utah players scored in double figures, but when you allow the Lakers to shoot 60% from the field, you’re going to have a tough time winning. (Sorry, I just channeled Hubie Brown’s third-person shtick there for a minute.)

– Where in the world is Jordan Farmar? He played just four minutes last night, and has seen his playing time decline from 20.5 minutes per game in November to 16.1 minutes in April. Year to year, his PER has fallen off a cliff — 15.29 last season vs. 9.93 this season — and he’s being outplayed by Shannon Brown. Farmar is battling some tendinitis, but he’s looking less and less like a future starter and more and more like a career backup.

– Speaking of Brown, he has played at least 14 minutes in each of the last six games, averaging 8.0 points, 2.2 assists and 2.3 rebounds over that span. Brown is really athletic, plays pretty good defense and has an improving offensive game. Interestingly, he was originally drafted by the Cavs, so if he continues to play well, it might come back to bite Danny Ferry in the bum. Mitch Kupchak acquired Brown as part of the Vladimir Radmanovic/Adam Morrison trade a few months ago.

– After dropping Game 1, Portland was in “must-win” mode and they got a much needed victory to tie the series. Brandon Roy came up big (42 points, 7 rebounds) and LaMarcus Aldridge posted a nice game (27 points, 12 boards) after scoring just seven points in Game 1.

– The Rockets will be without Dikembe Mutombo for the remainder of the playoffs (probably forever, actually) after he suffered a knee injury.

– Greg Oden had a nice follow up dunk, but he’s a fouling machine. He had six fouls in 12 minutes. Wowsers.

– The trade that sent Rafer Alston to the Magic hasn’t hurt the Rockets at all. They also acquired Kyle Lowry from the Grizzlies and he and Aaron Brooks are providing good play at the point. The two combined for 33 points, six assist and five boards on Tuesday night.

– The Pistons cut the Cavs’ lead to eight with about four minutes to play, but a Cleveland 9-2 run put the game away. I get confused when I look at the box score and see the Pistons’ best perimeter defender — Tayshaun Prince — only played 26 minutes and wasn’t in any foul trouble. Meanwhile, LeBron goes for 29/13/6 — do you think Prince should get a little more run?

– In other news, there are reports flying that Derrick Rose will win ROY and Jason Terry will win the Sixth Man award. No surprises there.

Pistons’ struggles can be traced back to 2003

With the second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons select…

Darko Milicic.

This is the blackest mark on GM Joe Dumars’ otherwise solid record guiding the Pistons, but six years later, the Milicic pick is having a domino effect on the franchise. While Dumars did successfully dupe the Magic into trading a first round pick for Milicic in 2006 (which resulted in the selection of Rodney Stuckey in the 2007 draft) the Milicic pick still haunts this franchise. Just take a look at the next few selections in that 2003 draft…

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Which NBA teams project to have the most cap space over the next two years?

In previous columns, I ranked the top 10 free agents of 2010 and identified several players with expiring contracts that might be moved before the Feb. 19 trade deadline. Now it’s time to talk about cap space.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about how teams are “clearing cap space” so that they can sign a big-name free agent in the summer of 2010 (or in some cases, 2009). But what exactly does this mean?

The NBA has a “soft cap” which is currently set at $58.7 million. Teams that are over the cap can’t sign a free agent from another team for more than the mid-level exception, which usually starts at around $5 million per season. Teams that are under the cap can offer free agents whatever cap space they have up to the level of a max contract, which starts at about $14 million per season under current conditions.

HoopsHype has all the salary data for each team, but I thought it would be useful to compile it all into one table so we can easily see who will have money to spend over the next two summers.

First, my assumptions:

– Given the current state of the economy, the salary cap is likely to stay at about $59 million over the next two seasons, so I used the current cap ($58.7 million) to calculate each team’s cap space.

– Certain players have already indicated that they’re planning to “opt out” of the final year of their contracts so that they can enter free agency. For those that have not announced, I used my best judgment to determine whether or not a player is likely to opt out. For example, LeBron James is very likely to opt out of his contract in the summer of 2010, but Michael Redd, who stands to make more than $18 million that same season, is likely to play out the final year of his deal because he’s not going to get anything close to that kind of money on the open market.

– I’ll also list the major (and some minor) decisions that each franchise will have to make over the next two seasons. These are typically decisions about whether or not to re-sign a player whose contract is up (or is entering restricted free agency). For example, if the Knicks decide to sign David Lee to a long-term deal, it’s going to have an impact on the team’s available cap space.

Without further ado, here’s the table, sorted by total projected cap space in the summer of 2010.

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