Third Prize Is You’re Fired (2008 NBA Training Camp)
October 6th, 2008

“Anybody wanna see second prize?”

“Second prize is a set of steak knives.”

Milwaukee signed Ron Howard, T.J. Cummings, Matt Freije and Kevin Kruger for camp. If you’re wondering who Ron Howard and T.J. Cummings are…well, you have yourself a valid question, but both are represented by Elfus-Siegel Management, an agency quite adept at landing their players places on training camp rosters. (If you were wondering, this is how Garth Joseph rolled up on the Bulls training camp back in 2003, for one beautiful week.) Be very careful when you Google-search T.J. Cummings’s name. Freije gives the Bucks a weak-defending jump-shooting power forward, as they only have two right now, which just isn’t enough. And Kruger gets to spend a couple of weeks in the NBA, even though he has little chance of making a roster that sees Luke Ridnour, Ramon Sessions and Tyronn Lue ahead of him, whether he likes it or not. Sham’s prediction: The Bucks told Damon Jones not to report, and they’ll try to trade him, but he will probably be waived if that can’t be done. That would open up a roster spot for someone, but what would be the value of any of those four filling it?

Minnesota made me a happy man this summer. Their camp signings were Kevin Ollie, Blake Ahearn and Rafael Araujo, while Chris Richard accepted his qualifying offer. Blake Ahearn is a nice player. Kevin Ollie is a moustachioed legend with something of a Brunson complex. But….Araujo? There’s so much right about that move. Part of it is the way that Rob Babcock won’t let go, part of it is the fact that it’s Rafael Araujo, but also because his signing allows for the existence of this picture. Only Rafael Araujo could use training camp media day as an excuse to pull an unhateably funny face such as that, while sitting in a brand spanking new home jersey that he’s already managed to dribble on. The NBA needs Rafael Araujo.

Sham’s prediction: Unfortunately, it probably won’t get him. These moves give Minnesota 18 players under contract, 16 of which are at least partially guaranteed (except for maybe Richard; notice I said maybe). The two that aren’t are Ollie and Araujo, which doesn’t bode well for Hoffa, as much as we want him to make the team. As things stand, Minnesota has the unrivalled Frontcourt Fivesomeā„¢, with Araujo, Brian Cardinal, Calvin Booth, Mark Madsen and Jason Collins all on the roster. I want this to continue on forever and ever. But it won’t. (Ahearn makes the team, by the way, and Booth gets cut. This is the prediction that I promised you, from the website that occasionally keeps its promises.)

New Jersey are good sports. With 15 guaranteed contracts already, and with Keith Van Horn still technically a member of their team, the Nets signed four players for camp anyway. One of them – Awvee Van Storey – has already been waived, but Julius Van Hodge, Keith Eddie Van Gill and Keith Van Brian Van Hamilton survive. The Nets could really use a third point guard, and Gill fits that bit. Hodge does, too, sort of. And one of them may well make it. The Nets still have 19 players on their roster, but one of them is Van Horn, who isn’t in camp, and who only survives on the roster should a trade opportunity arise that needs his unguaranteed salary. Hamilton is another easy cut, for his minimal offensive skill level isn’t needed on a forward-heavy roster. And Maurice Ager’s sole leverage is his guaranteed deal, for his play these first two years has been poor. With the depth chart against him, he too is an easy cut. That leaves a spot free for one of the two, if the Nets choose to add a third point guard. Given that they don’t really even have two right now, they should. Sham’s prediction: Gill.

New Orleans has done the bench-with-veteran’s-minimums thing that Denver so enjoys, and all but Sean Marks ($200,000) are guaranteed. With 14 players on a largely-completed roster, the Hornets’ only camp signings were point guard Jared Jordan and centre Courtney Sims. Sims was in the NBA last year at least, as Indiana signed and waived him about 40 times, whereas Jordan spent the year on the continent. Working in Jordan’s favour, though, is the fact that MVP candidate Mike James is the only point guard option behind Chris Paul that the Hornets have. Sham’s prediction: Jordan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was neither.

New York brought back Allan Houston, signing him for camp. Houston won’t make the team, and neither will Dan Grunfeld, but at least they get some free coffee and the attention of passers-by for a few minutes. Even minus those two, the Knicks need to make a cut. They have 16 players, with Patrick Ewing Jr on the outside looking in. The sentimentality factor of him making the team might be nice, but he’s the only one without fully guaranteed money ($200,000 guaranteed only), who plays a position where Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Jared Jeffries and Quentin Richardson all play ahead of him. To get Ewing on the team, either Ewing has to play so well that the Knicks are willing to cut Anthony Roberson (despite his guaranteed contract and skillset useful to the team), the Knicks have to hope Stephon Marbury reignites all the bridges he’s trying desperately to rebuild, or the Knicks have to cut their losses and pay Jerome James to leave. Sham’s prediction: The latter one is his best hope.

Oklahoma City need a third point guard, and managed to find one with local ties in former Rocket and fan of trilogies, John Lucas III. They also signed former Sixer and MP for Tyneside North, Derrick Byars, as well as minor league star and former giraffe, Chris Alexander. Sham’s prediction: Why they signed Alexander is a mystery. Alexander’s a late bloomer with massive bounce-flavouring numbers in the D-League, and so another shot at the league seems fair, but the Thunder don’t have many players under 6’9, and adding one more seems unnecessary. Byars doesn’t really add anything that Kyle Weaver and Damien Wilkins couldn’t sort out between them. Lucas has the best chance to make the roster on depth chart alone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they cut all three.

Orlando’s three signings all represent good value and fringe NBA talent – forward Jeremy Richardson (who the Hawks seem to let walk unchallenged for some reason), big man Dwayne Jones (who is one of my favourite offence-free centres, if mainly for the moustache and crooked smile), and Mike Wilks (the point guard version of Zendon Hamilton – an NBA calibre talent who everyone overlooks, and who bounces around for a few years getting looks with many teams, yet who never gets the multi-year guaranteed contract that the law of averages should provide for them). Sham’s prediction: Jones and Richardson picked a bad team to sign with, particularly Richardson, who has the ability to play in the NBA, but who is now on a team already heavy with small forwards. Jones offers no improvement over Marcin Gortat, so he won’t make it either. Wilks should stick.

Philadelphia committed like the camp champions that they are, signing Justin Reed, Maureece Rice, Jared Reiner, Antywane Robinson and Andre Emmett. Reed was then almost instantaneously replaced by minor league journeyman and author Cory Underwood, without a word as to why Reed didn’t turn up. Underwood, Emmett and Rice have already been waived. Sham’s prediction: An extra small forward wouldn’t go amiss in Philly, who have the class of Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young at the position, but who have no emergency third stringer there. However, they could also use a quality shooter, and Robinson isn’t it. He just plays like he is. Reiner’s best hope is for the Sixers to suffer another frontcourt injury, who have already lost J-Smoove Jason Smith for a hundred million years. If that happens, he can play emergency backup to the emergency backup incumbent, Theo Ratliff. Robinson probably has the advantage, but you need a guard that can shoot. There’s plenty out there. Look harder.

Phoenix brought in Robert Hite and Trey Johnson, to battle Sean Singletary for what will almost certainly be only one spot on the deep bench. This is assuming that the Suns only run with the minimum of 13 players, which history suggests that they will. They also brought in big man Coleman Collins, but I’m not sure what they want from him. Sham’s prediction: Singletary will win. He’s the slightly better player than Hite, and also the finances are in his favour. Singletary has $200,000 of his $442,114 guaranteed, and Hite is a second-year player. So, if Hite were to make the team, it would cost Phoenix roughly $1.8 million (Hite’s salary of $711,517, doubled for tax, plus Singletary’s $200,000 guarantee also doubled for tax), more than double what it would cost to keep Singletary alone. And also because he’s better.

Portland’s 15th and final spot is between rookie point guard Jayson Tatum, Luke Jackson, Shavlik Randolph and the mountain man Steven Hill. Again, points are to awarded for box ticking – between those four players, the Blazers have managed to cover every position, all manner of standards (ranging from “fringe NBA talent” to “complete project” via “who is that?”), while also bringing in a hometown guy in Jackson. This is how you play the game. Sham’s prediction: There’s not a great deal of purpose in any of the signings, to be honest. I would like to see quite where the talented Shavlik Randolph could do after two wasted seasons, but the Blazers don’t need him and never will. The depth chart favours Jackson.

Sacramento signed a 26-year-old Chinese player called Zhang Kai. You’ve never heard of Zhang Kai before. There’s a reason for that. The Kings also signed Bobby Jones (YES! Chalk up another!) and Noel Felix (YES! Chalk up another!), apparently identifying the need for an athletic small forward on the end of the bench. Sham’s prediction: Depending on what happens with Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the Kings might have some wiggle room under the tax in the near future. But, if Shareef’s contract isn’t removed from the books after his recent retirement, then they won’t. In that event, the Kings won’t be able to afford neither Jones nor Felix without straying ever so slightly into tax territory. So even if either one of them did make the team, they’d be cut soon enough anyway. Jones is more likely to make it, though, because he’s by far the more complete player. Felix looked intriguing with his physical tools during his brief stint with the Sonics three years ago, but he hasn’t done much since then. He’s now 27, and still with the holes in his game that he’s always had. Jamario Moon doesn’t strike twice. Also note: Zhang Kai has about as much chance of making the roster as I do of getting a front office job in the NBA. That is to say, no chance whatsoever.

San Antonio kitted out their inactive list with some class. Salim Stoudamire ($200,000), Desmon Farmer (none), Darryl Watkins ($20,000), Devin Green (nada) and Anthony Tolliver ($200,000) all signed early to various levels of guaranteed money, and the Spurs then added to those with further camp signings in Brian Morrison and their second-round draft pick Malik Hairston. (Note: Morrison was waived almost immediately for Charles Gaines.) Those seven players are fighting against each other for two spots, as the Spurs have 13 guaranteed contracts other than they, with only Jacque Vaughn being expendable. Sham’s prediction: If only for the level of guaranteed money, Stoudamire and Tolliver are the front runners for the two spots, but Desmon Farmer has NBA talent and a modicum of experience. The Spurs don’t need both Green and Hairston, and arguably don’t need either. Watkins gives the Spurs some size and shot-blocking, but they don’t particularly need either right now. What they could use is another shooter, which looks doubly good for Stoudamire, though Tolliver and Hairston can also help there. Counting against Salim is his small stature, something which Farmer isn’t burdened with. But the level of guaranteed money infers that the Spurs aren’t too bothered about that. Gaines hasn’t a chance.

Toronto are a boring bunch, who originally vowed to go into camp with only the 13 players that they already had contract, but whom eventually plumped for a 14th in Jamal Sampson only when rookie centre Nathan Jawai was ruled out with heart trouble. Sham’s prediction: The reason they didn’t bring anyone in despite having two spots available is that the Raptors have run out of wiggle room below the tax threshold. For this reason, Sampson won’t make it, and if he does, it won’t be for very long.

Utah brought in Gerry McNamara, Britton Johnsen (quickly replaced by Gabe Muoneke after Johnsen took an offer in the Ukraine) and Kevin Lyde for training camp. McNamara gets his first shot in the NBA after a decent college career led to a less than decent European career. Muoneke is a training camp veteran of the best part of a decade who still hasn’t managed to make an NBA game. And Lyde is a stocky former Temple player who the Jazz had in training camp last year, whom they let go partly on account of his conditioning, and who has managed to subsequently get even bigger. A strange training regimen. (Isn’t it high time someone at least enquired about Michael Sweetney?) Sham’s prediction: All three had to have known that there was simply no place for them on the Jazz roster, with 15 guaranteed contracts in place and no one likely to be cut or traded.

– Finally, Washington brought in four players to fight for one spot – Linton Johnson, Juan Dixon ($150,000 guaranteed), DerMarr Johnson and Taj McCullough. McCullough seemingly did enough with his 2.2 points and 2.0 rebounds averages during summer league play to earn a camp invite. The two Johnsons and Dixon are basically squaring off for the Wizards final roster spot – Dee Brown is only $125,000 guaranteed, but with so little point guard play in front of him, he has only himself to blame if he doesn’t make it. Sham’s prediction: Dixon makes it, unless the Wizards are suitably swayed by DerMarr Johnson’s height in an otherwise small backcourt.

Posted by at 12:02 PM