by Zagrieb Zano
It is amazing what kind of fan response has occurred from the original three episodes of this preview. Circulation has gone through the roof, basically requiring that I write three more parts to finish the story, even though I probably should have started Eastern divisions first. I can’t promise that these next three parts will be as good or as satisfying as the original three. But either way I’m getting paid.
The only team to call Canada home. Based in the greater Toronto area, the city clings to their beloved Dinos. And you would too if you lived in the snow 9 months out of the year. Guillermo Thomas’ eye for talent is superseded perhaps only by Patrick Fullum. Let’s being with the obvious, Walk Jackson was the Top pick only 3 seasons ago to the now defunct Roswell club. This kid had it all. The once in a generation kind of skill. A rich man’s Wayne Taylor if you will. But only Toronto was able to do what was needed to acquire him. Walt Jackson has the potential to dominate this league for the next decade. The fact that his contract is a mere 8.99 million for the next 2 years. His potential is off the charts. He can score from inside to three-point land along with strong rebounding. Granted he could improve on the defensive side, but at 25, the world is his oyster. A one-man team does not a champion make. Pat London is a sharp shooting downtown threat that may be the best three-point shooter in the league. At 23 years old the 6’6” SG will be a staple for this team. Timmons is a major drawback for this team. His huge contract will plague the team’s ability to take advantage of free agency.
If Toronto has a weakness it has to be t heir front court. It may take some time for starters to appear down low. I expect when it is all said and done, Stromie Watson will get a lot of playing time mostly at the 5. Dontae Evans can hold down the fort for this year but he is not a long term solution. Oddly enough as good as Walt Jackson is, Coomas Neetar and Abdullah Chande are incredible small forwards. They could cause havoc with a little small ball moving one of them to the four spot. This team has the ingredients of a champion and one that can potentially take over the league for a dynasty. They play defense down low, and they have plenty of scorers. Dinosaurs are no longer extinct and they are hungry.
When you have the winningest GM in the league running your team you always have to like your chances. Rondal Reynoso has been able to see talent in almost a seer like way. He is ruthless enough to cut top players who are fan favorites as they no longer serve his needs and people ask how he sleeps at night. With two blankets, a comforter and 3 pillows … that’s how he sleeps. Mario Bailey may be Reynoso’s biggest wins for talent. How is it that nobody drafted Bailey? And let’s be honest we didn’t know his work ethic. Coming into the league 6 years ago he had solid stats. His meteoric rise to stardom before our eyes is nothing short of of a basketball miracle. The sky is the limit for Bailey as he enters in the peak of his career. It’s one thing to score, but to be at the top of your game defensively, that is where the great ones distance themselves. Mario is greatly helped by his good friend Omar Jefferson. Omar was taken one year earlier by Oregon late in the first round. He is another player who has thrived under the Brooklyn way of doing things. While he is a touch behind overall talent then Bailey. He runs the offense and his ability to pass the ball creates a lot of easy shots. Brooklyn ins a bit unique in that they have multple players who can pass well. Jarius Miles at 6’”10 is brilliant in the passing game. Allowing a lot of motion for the offense that tires defenses out. Miles has yet to hit full-fledged stardom, but a 5-year veteran at the age of 23, he is the next key player in the Rage’s future.
With the youth on this team it would be easy to think that the focus has been to simply grab the young players. Well that may very well be the case but don’t tell that to Shane Strom starting his 11th season with Brooklyn. He has been a corner stone for this franchise since the league’s inception. With an icon like him keeping the young guys in line you would expect Shane to finish his career with the Rage. No so fast, my sources tell me Reynoso is looking to move the teams most iconic player. Seriously! Yeah, I think I told you how he sleeps at night. The future is also set for Brooklyn have acquired 10 picks over the next three years. No doubt Rondall has taken lessons from Fanatic’s GM Brad Bangerter who has notoriously being a Draft pick hog. The rage will be good again, but as their division gets tougher, they may need to make some moves to truly make it out of the east and contend for a championship. Perhaps the biggest concern is reports that Reynoso chooses to do most of his work in California, this absentee style could anger some of his players during free agency, perhaps this is why he’s only won a single championship.
New York Liberty
Mark Hameleers is trying to become the first GM to guide two different franchises towards immortality. Having resigned from Colorado several years ago. The need to compete brought him back into the big easy. He certainly has his work cut out for him, though his club has some nice pieces to the puzzle. No longer are the days of Boom Boom Casey pounding out wins from the Dutchman. The liberty is led by Darond Lyons. He is young and can score. He is not much of a fan of passing the ball. And most of the fans would prefer he shoot the ball. New York has a few legit scorers. Bohm towers over other shooting guards. Jevon Carter has been a staple since he escaped Montana early in his career. Tom Kinsey is a terrific power forward. With all of these shooters one would expect them to shoot teams out of the gym. Make no mistake they will put up some gaudy numbers periodically through the season. But there is only one ball, and not everybody can shoot it at the same time. Team chemistry is going to be a key task for the coaching staff. This team is simply some talent players but nobody wants to play a specific role, unless that role is scorer.
The Liberty lacks toughness. Nobody wants to bang bodies and fight for rebounds. When they run into teams that are willing to do the blue collar work, they will find that only being able to shoot will not always pull them through. For this team to truly be able to compete they will need to sacrifice some shooters to pick up quality big men. Despite these flaws, the Liberty are very good. They are on a ship to success that has a hole in the boat. Plug the hole and they will get to their desired destination. Fortunately, there are advantages of being in the big apple. Endorsement deals make players happy. Players like to make extra money on the side. So if they can’t trade for some tough players, they can certainly sign someone off the free agency market.
Long Island Mayhem
How many teams can New York City support? Well apparently three. Michael Esposito (Espo to his colleagues) has managed to accumulate 375 wins against 425 losses in his career. Starting originally in the northern reaches of Montana. Amazingly he is the 14th winningest GM in the league with his losing record. Espo may be a lot of things, but one thing he is not, is a GM who is afraid to make trades. His deals have not always worked out well for him, but it is his ability to negotiate that brought him Wayne Taylor. While Taylor is slowly passing his prime, he is worth the price of admissions. A large part of Taylors continued success in his twilight years is due to Danny Hainge who can throw down dimes a dozen when he’s not striking from long distance. Hainge the former Boston star has really come into his own with the Mayhem. Kurt Beck is a serviceable Power Forward, and along with Gorman and Wright the Mayhem have the players that are strong re bounders. I wonder if the Liberty have noticed this?
The Mayhem are among the best defensive team near the basket. Regardless if it’s a starter or a backup. While they will struggle against teams with strong back courts. Perhaps the biggest weakness for this team is there lack of depth. They currently have six point guards on the roster and one shooting guard and one center. While one of their point guards can play the two spot. It will be an instant mismatch in the other team’s favor. However, if Espo can figure out how to utilize the small ball look. Perhaps they will able to take the league by surprise.
Dave Williams knows what it takes to put together a great team. He his teams have made the playoffs 10 times. Oddly enough his teams have never won a division title, conference title or championship. Instate rivals Brooklyn can be blamed for a lot of those frustrations. On paper, this year’s club could be one of the best balanced Raider teams they have ever had. Dave Williams (the player not the GM) is the scoring focal point. Williams has never found a shot he doesn’t like. He was asked once why he shoots so many three pointers, his response “Because they don’t have any four point shots.” Van Brandt is the glue that keeps this team moving. The unselfish small forward may be the best passing forward in the league. Teamed up with Jayonte Bolk who is a start that is suffocated by William’s shadow. He will challenge for the top assist player for the season.
The draft was very beneficial for the Raiders, they snagged the best big man prospect in Hugo Gutierrez, this 19-year-old kid is going to tower over the league for years to come. Along with fellow rookie Lane Saunders who is already showing how dominating he can be down low. His defensive game still needs to work, but these two rookies filled huge holes in the Raiders boat. Rochester has a terrific blend of scoring to rebounding to defense. The north eastern division has been put on notice. Despite their nickname of the Raiders, this team is going to win a lot of games. And while some would argue that this division is the toughest in the league. There is clearly a lot of talent, but each of these teams are thankful they don’t play in the World division.
1: Rochester Raiders 66-16
2: Toronto Dinos 64-18
3: New York Mayhem 59-23
4: Brooklyn Rage 57-25
5: New York Liberty 42-30