Looking at one long summer

Jun 28
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In the face of a lockout, NBA teams surrounding Arkansas still prep for next season.

It’s time the Sports Seer closes his eyes.

For a moment, let’s be blind to the looming likelihood of an NBA lockout. That, before the collective bargaining agreement expires Thursday, the 450 members of the players’ union and the league’s 30 franchise owners will gather to announce one giant “Gotcha” moment on basketball fans worldwide.

No arguing between millionaires and billionaires about “hard” salary caps replacing “soft” ones, the shortening of contracts and the truth of reports that 22 teams lost money last season while, overall, the league lost $300 million.

No more need for Little Rock native Derek Fisher to toe the line as players’ union president, maintaining the players would rather strike than sign a shaky new agreement. Let’s believe everything will pan out before Friday, when this lockout would begin.

Because, after a massively entertaining playoff season, it’s likely more Arkansans care about NBA basketball than ever before. The three teams closest to Arkansas each had franchise-best seasons. For the first time, the Memphis Grizzlies tore into the second round, where they were upended by Oklahoma City. The Thunder, in turn, were vanquished by the eventual world champion Dallas Mavericks. The Grizz and Thunder, among the league’s youngest teams, are poised to make the finals next season. The Mavs, meanwhile, will try to match the multiple titles won by Houston and San Antonio in the last 17 years.

Unlike the collective bargaining negotiations, these three teams are only looking to fine tune this summer. After last Thursday’s draft, that process has begun. Here’s how:

Memphis Grizzlies: If there is indeed a lockout, I believe Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol should immediately capitalize on their impressive postseason performances by starting what would become the preeminent big man’s camp in the Mid-South. Maybe throw UALR assistant coach Joe Kleine in there, too. For sure, local bigs such as Trojan Gus Leeper and Razorbacks Hunter Mickelson and Michael Sanchez would benefit.

The Grizz’s top priority is signing the 7-foot-1 Spaniard Gasol, but they also must address anemic shooting from behind the arc. Fortunately, they have Rudy Gay, a likely future All-Star, primed to return to the lineup after missing the second half of the season with an injured shoulder. The Grizz also expect their lottery pick last season, shooting guard Xavier Henry, to recover from injury and vastly improve. Gay and Henry’s contributions are critical because they would replace the two Grizz most likely to leave — Shane Battier and sixth man O.J. Mayo, who last season was suspended by the league and fought with teammate Tony Allen.

The Grizz drafted Josh Selby, a very talented but inconsistent guard during his only season at Kansas.

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder’s biggest needs are more experience, which is taking care of itself, and a consistent third scoring threat behind superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. After steadily improving the last two years, shooting guard James Harden looks ready to own that role. But Harden starting over stopper Thabo Sefolosha late last season would have left the Thunder without any semblance of bench scoring punch outside of Nate Robinson. With Robinson likely gone this off-season, first round draft pick Reggie Jackson looks to step in as the man who lets Harden finally start.

Jackson, an extremely athletic 6-foot-3 guard out of Boston College, has the scoring skills to become Oklahoma City’s bench spark plug. He’s a bit of a mystery since he played for a bad team and didn’t go through pre-draft individual workouts, but given Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s track record for finding gems in recent drafts, it seems more likely than not that picking Reggie Jackson will prove yet another home run for the organization. (Lord forgive me, I tried to resist.)

Dallas Mavericks: This veteran-laden team doesn’t need a rookie. The Mavs are already developing young talent such as Rodrigue Beaubois and J.J. Barea as successors to Old Man Kidd.

So, Dallas traded away its draft pick. After the dust cleared from a three-way with Portland and Denver, the Mavs were left with two young but seasoned Euros.

Common sense dictates that three-point marksman Rudy Fernandez is the only one who really matters since he will likely replace the offensive production of Peja Stojakovic and possibly DeShawn Stevenson.

But I want to talk about the guy who will probably never play serious minutes for Dallas. Yes, I’m talkin’ ‘bout Petteri Koponen, a 6-foot-4 point guard drafted four years ago who has since marinated abroad. In Finland, Koponen played for the Honka Playboys. It’s a shame this Espoo-based team doesn’t have an owner quite as entrepreneurial and far-sighted as the Mavericks’ Mark Cuban. If it did, the team would try to erect merchandise kiosks all over Memphis. Think about it: After checking out Graceland, what basketball fan could resist buying a foam finger for the Honka Honka Playboys?

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