Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Dwayne Wade’

Dreaming of a Larry Bird Kicker…

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

If you were playing a poker game with the modern U.S. Olympic team and the Dream Team members as the cards, would you rather flip over LeBron or a Magic? A Stockton or a Paul? A Kobe or a Jordan?

Last month, in a pair of BS Reports, Grantland Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons asked Chris Mullin and Magic Johnson what would happen if the famed 1992 team was sucked up into a time portal vacuum and deposited into the modern day to play this year’s U.S. Olympic team – think of it like Terra Nova, but with actual viewers.

Bill felt that despite the Dream Team being, uhm… well, the Dream Team, they would fall at the hands of the modern squad. He lays the foundation for this on two principles:

  1. That despite their gaudy names, Bird and Magic weren’t exactly Bird and Magic.
  2. That Derrick Rose and Chris Paul and the rest of their cohorts would create match-up problems that the Dream Team couldn’t overcome.

Frankly, that sounds logical. Bird’s body was older than Moses, and Magic was barely beyond the Announcement. And there is no denying that this year’s Olympic squad is going to be otherworldly. By my count, there are 14 locks for a 12 man roster:

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard*, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, and Russell Westbrook.

That is an obscene collection of basketball talent, and I can see how it might induce one into thinking that this is an unbeatable team, but is that really the case? Could the 2012 team defeat even the vaunted Dream Team as Bill suggests, or would the Dream Team prevail as Magic Johnson contends?

*This was written before the news broke yesterday that Howard will miss the Olympics, so for the purposes of this piece, we’ll pretend he isn’t a whining, coach sabotaging, quitting on the team” super” star injured.

As Bill points out, the Dream Team wasn’t really a full 12 man roster: they had a crippled Larry Bird and an overmatched Christian Laettner. There is no doubt that by 1992 Bird’s body was being held together with bobby pins and scotch tape. In 1990-91 he played in 60 games and in 1991-92 he managed a barely standing 45; the 1992 Olympics were his swan song. So, ostensibly he’s not really on the roster, at least not as LARRY BIRD, Basketball Jesus. But, there is a place for him and we’ll get to that in a couple thousand words.

For reasons unknown, or at least for reasons I don’t give a crap about, the Dream Team brass decided to hand a free trip to Barcelona to a token college player; selecting Christian Laettner to serve as the team’s gopher and lame duck whipping boy. Obviously if the Olympic committee had been selecting the most talented collegiate player, they would have picked a sprightly young giant by the name of Shaquille O’Neal, but they instead paid tribute to then assistant coach – and current head coach – Mike Kryzyzzzzzzzzzzyzski by taking his best player.

While it’s obviously an absurd decision in hindsight, Laettner was the star player on the two time defending champs and he was the collegiate player of the year. In the context of the era – and of wanting a collegiate player – it’s defensible; in hindsight it’s as dubious as making Ozzie Guillen the face of your franchise, but here’s the thing: if the 1992 Dream Team was playing a serious 7 game series, there’s no point when coach Chuck Daly would look down the bench and call upon the 12th man. Nope, Chuck would go ten deep and even then, only for brief spurts.

With the 11th and 12th men out of our way, lets get to the meat of the debate, by breaking down the starters. Other than Michael Jordan, no player started every Olympic game for the Dream Team, but if they were transported to today and forced to play in a barbaric Hunger Games style death match, I think we can safely say, that this would be their starting five:

PG – Magic Johnson

SG – Michael Jorden

SF – Scottie Pippen

PF – Charles Barkley

C – David Robinson.

In contrast, we can reasonably assume that the 2012 team will start:

PG – Derrick Rose

SG – Kobe Bryant

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Lebron James

C – Dwight Howard.

There is no denying that the 2012 team is a monster, but better than the Dream Team?

One of the pieces that makes the 2012 team seem so unstoppable, is that other than Kobe, those starters are all at the peak of their powers, but guess what? So were the Dream Teamers. Sure, Magic was 32 (a year younger than Kobe), but Robinson and Scottie were 26, while Barkley and Jordan were 28.

Lets start with a pair of obvious match-ups: center and shooting guard. Dwight Howard is the no-brainer, go-to best center in the NBA, but how great is he historically? Doesn’t his standing as the preeminent center have a little more to do with the paucity of quality pivots? Really, look at the landscape of the league, guard play is out of control, but I’m starting to believe that my Grandma could make the Eastern All Stars as a center, and she’s a 4’11” Scottish lady.

As dominant as Howard is, is he appreciably better than a pre-glomerulonephritis (and yes, I copy and pasted that) Alonzo Mourning? In Zo’s last season with a fully functioning liver, he averaged 21.7/9.5/1.9 on 55% shooting, with 3.7 blocks and a 25.8 PER. In contrast, last year old wishy wash Dwight’s line was 22.9, 14.1, 1.4 on 61% shooting, with a 26.0 PER and 2.4 blocks per game. Both men won Defensive Players of the Year awards, Howard was obviously a far superior rebounder, but Zo was the better shot blocker. Overall, the numbers are pretty close. And, here’s the rub: as good as Zo was, he resides on a tier well below the peak of 1990s centers.

It was just a different era. Throughout his career, offensively, Robinson had to score against preeminent defensive centers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Mark Eaton, and Mourning. Defensively he had to battle the Dream, Patrick Ewing, Brad Daugherty, and that precocious young kid, Shaq. In contrast, Howard has made a name for himself defending such offensive luminaries as Brook Lopez, Al Horford, and Andrew Bynum. As good as Bynum has been, I don’t think he’s a threat to drop 71 as the Admiral did to win the 1993-94 scoring title. On the other end of the floor, Howard’s had to throw down on defensive stalwarts like Kendrick Perkins, Joakim Noah, and Tyson Chandler. We all love Chandler’s tenacity and Noah’s pluck, but nobody’s confusing those two for Mount Mutombo or the Dream.

As ESPNs John Hollinger continually points out, one of the reasons that Orlando has had so many problems with Atlanta in the playoffs the past few seasons is the presence of the big bodied Jason Collins. Let me repeat that for effect: JASON FREAKIN’ COLLINS. If Howard can’t lead his team past the Atlanta Hawks because Jason Collins is thwarting him, what the heck is he going to do against David Robinson?

Howard’s great, obviously, but his offensive game has all the elegance of a Republican debate: big slams and one way spins. Robinson spent his days dealing with Hakeem’s myriad shimmies, spins, twists, floaters, and, of course, his Dream Shake. After Olajuwon, Robinson could guard Howard with one hand, while saluting the flag with the other.

At shooting guard you have Michael Jordan against Kobe Bryant. And to that, all I can say is… DAMN. The greatest player of all time against the modern incarnation of his game is worth the price of admission all on its own. Kobe’s awesome. He’s a five time champion, an MVP, a two-time finals MVP, a 2 time scoring leader, a nine time All-NBA Defensive 1st Team selection, and a better 3pt shooter than Jordan, but Michael’s a six time champion, a five time MVP, six times Finals MVP, a ten time scoring champion, a nine time ALL-NBA first team selection, and a defensive player of the year winner. And, sure, Kobe was a better three point shooter, but ask Clyde Drexler how well Jordan was shooting the 3 in 1992.

Kobe’s a career 45% shooter (who is currently shooting 43%), Jordan’s a career 50% shooter (who shot 51% in 1992). You know the old song, “anything you can do I can do better?” Well, Michael would just be walking up and down the court singing that to Kobe, while dropping 37 on him on one end and forcing him into a 6 for 24 on the other. Seriously, Kobe’s a top ten player all time, but Jordan’s a top ONE player all time. Plus, we’re talking about 1992 Jordan (28) against 2012 Kobe (33). It’s a no brainer, so lets put this one to bed.

Now it gets interesting: at power forward, you have LeBron James who is the best basketball player alive. But, lets be honest, despite being the best basketball player alive, LeBron has demonstrated a flaw or two. Namely, he shrinks in the moment and despite being the biggest boy in the playground, he can get bullied into taking crappy jump shots. So, who does the Dream Team have to cover him? Well, if Jordan wasn’t on Kobe duty, that might be an interesting challenge for Mr Air, and Scottie Pippen is probably the greatest perimeter defender of all time, so he’d get some run, but the man to shut down LeBron is none other than Charles “After losing 70lbs I can finally wear color again” Barkley.

This is where living in the moment does us a disservice. Today, April 12, 2012, LeBron is the best player in the NBA and Barkley is the goofy, opinionated, still overweight, SNL hosting, tortured golf swing having, TV pundit. We think of him as a small whale, or large seal, racing a 97 year old referee. We forget that before LeBron was a once in a generation athletic marvel, there was Charles Barkley.

Sure, he wasn’t as big as LeBron, but Chuck was a bulldog. Conservatively 6’6″, Barkley was one of the leading rebounders during an era of dominant big men. He fought for balls, his tenacity around the hoop and dogged determination evidenced by his grabbing 2600 offensive rebounds in his first 8 seasons (or, about 400 more than Dwight Howard has grabbed over the same time span). And Sir Charles could score; known as the Round Mound of Rebound, Charles was an athletic freak. Sure, he wasn’t on LeBron’s level, nobody is, but in the five seasons leading up to the 1992 Olympics, Charles averaged 26 points per game, on 58% shooting. His PER ranged from 24.5 to 28.9 and he led the league in True Shooting Percentage in four of those years. Charles was a beast.

And here’s the thing, was Barkley as good as LeBron? No, but he sure as hell would annoy the crap out of the King. This is the first year that LeBron has taken advantage of smaller defenders and shown some semblance of a post game, but do you think he’s backing down Charles Barkley? Really? No, I didn’t think you were that foolish. He’s going to have to drive past him and at some point in the first game, as LeBron went past Charles, he’d end up with an “unintentional” mouthful of knuckles, and in the same way that Jason Veritek emasculated ARod in July of 2004, LeBron would spend the rest of the game settling for 18 footers; shots that will fall in quarters 1-3 and then roll out in the 4th. If I were doing advantages, this is a win for the 2012 team, but not an overwhelming one.

When Bill was talking to Mullin and Magic, he guessed that against Derrick Rose, the Dream Team would have to hide Magic on D. He mused that the Chuck Daly would play Scottie on Rose and Magic on Kevin Durant. This would make sense (as would using Jordan on Rose, and Magic on Kobe – who’s by far the least athletic member of the modern Olympic squad), but I don’t think you have match up that way the whole game. Rose is awesome, no doubt, but he’s still not a lights out shooter. And at 6’9″ Magic TOWERS over him. Looking at the 2012 squad, Kevin Durant’s their scariest scorer and I’d rather force Rose to beat me. I’d put Scottie on Durant (which would be an awesome battle, the game’s best current scorer against its greatest defender) and have Magic sag off Rose, daring him to shoot. Even sagging off of Rose, is Magic going to get beat sometimes? Sure, but this is where the presence of David Robinson and the 4.5 blocks a game he averaged in 1992 come into play.

With Scottie and Jordan locking down Kobe and Durant, with Barkley annoying LeBron, and with Robinson negating Howard, you’re left with Rose attacking Magic, and that’s fine, because it’s a two way street. Assuming that Kobe covers Jordan and Durant covers Scottie, the 2012 team has to decide between LeBron guarding Magic and Rose being ABUSED by Barkley, or LeBron shutting down Barkley and Rose having to cover the six inch taller Magic.

Now, you could argue that a recently HIV diagnosed Magic wasn’t Magic, but go back and watch the 1992 all-star game, or find tapes of the Dream Team games. Magic was just fine. As the man himself said to Bill, “sure, we’d have problems with Rose, but we’d just come right back at them on the other end.”

Both starting lineups are awesome and the match-ups are drool inducing, but ultimately, this battle becomes about who’s going to flinch first. And who are you picking to flinch? The starting five that has five rings (all from Kobe), or the starting five that has 19 rings? (admittedly, they only had 11 in 1992, but still). A starting five where the no-brainer best player is Michael Jeffrey Jordan?  Or a starting five where the best player is LeBron “2011 NBA Finals 4th Q LVP” James? A starting five where LeBron, Dwight, and Durant have all shown themselves to be a little too interested in pre-game photos, capes, and post-game backpacks, or a starting five where Magic, Scottie, and Michael cared only about demoralizing you as they drove their foot into your ass?

Seriously, who you got? Yeah, I thought so.

With the starters out of the way, lets take a quick look at the pine. The second unit of the 2012 team will look something like:

Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and Tyson Chandler.

The most obvious edge for the 2012 squad is at the two guard spot, where Wade would be going against Clyde the Glide Drexler, but we’ll get to this one in a minute.

At the point, it’s Paul against John Stockton, which would have been a solid “W” for the 2012 team three years ago; yet as great as Paul remains, he’s playing on a knee and a half, and there’s no disputing that he’s lost a step. Stockton’s a five time ALL-NBA 2nd team defender, who throughout his career covered Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Mark Price, Gary Payton, and Allen Iverson.

Is Paul a harder match-up than Hardaway or the Glove, let alone Thomas? Don’t be fooled by the fact that he looks like a choir boy in short-shorts, Stockton was tough as snot. He wouldn’t shut Paul down, but he’d make Paul work. Besides, Paul would also have to stop Stockton and here’s the thing about the Dream Team:

Stockton to Malone is COMING OFF THE BENCH! D-Wade might be the greatest sixth man ever, but that’s in large part negated by the Dream Team just having a two man, automatic, punch the clock, two point machine on their bench.

Karl Malone might be overrated, gaining a career boost by outlasting the golden age of players (ie. the Dream Teamers and their ilk) and dominating the late 90s “Me-Stars”, and he obviously wasn’t clutch, but for 20 minutes a game? You’re telling me that with 3 minutes remaining in the first and third quarters and for the first half of the second and fourth, you couldn’t bring in Stockton and Malone and run that pick and roll until the 2012 team is dizzy? Malone, coming off a season in which he averaged 28 and 11, wouldn’t have to be clutch, because when the game gets tight and late, he’d come out and Jordan, Magic, Scottie and the rest would take over. He could just roll to the basket, take the easy pass from Stockton, throw some elbows and count the bucket.

Kevin Love is awesome and what he did before getting hurt, with a 51-14 and 30-20 in the same weekend, is straight up stupid, but he has yet to play on a team that finished .500 in a season and he’s not exactly known for his lockdown D. Are Paul and Love stopping the Stockton to Malone pick and roll? No, I didn’t think so.

Even if the Mailman is waylaid, Stockton has other options. Ewing is being guarded by Tyson Chandler (PUH’lease), Chris Mullin is out on the wing to drain open threes, and if they need someone to create a basket, Clyde could get into the lane.

Defensively, this isn’t a lights out unit, but Ewing, Malone, and Stockton were above average defenders, and while Mullin was a turnstile, so is the man guarding him: Carmelo Anthony (and wouldn’t that just be another delectable match up). Sure Anthony might drop 40 on Mullin, but as Mullin showed against Magic in the 1991 playoffs, he’ll just come right back with 40 of his own.

So, as I said above, the only spot in the second unit that the 2012 team has a clear advantage is at the two, but a) The Olympic pay scale might preclude Wade from even showing up; b) Clyde’s probably a little underrated because he played in Jordan’s shadow; and c) if push comes to shove and this spot’s killing his team, do you think Chuck Daly’s really leaving Jordan on the pine? No. He’s going to bring in Jordan (or even Pippen) to neutralize Wade.

In a tight game, the starters are going to play the lion’s share of minutes. A coach will really only go eight, maybe nine deep. So, assuming that Jordan’s going to play 38 or 39 minutes and that Scottie might take a couple minutes covering Wade, Clyde’s only going to play 8ish minutes. Same thing really for Mullin. So the Dream Team can survive the Wade mismatch without Daly losing any sleep.

All of which brings me back to the 11th man on the bench: Larry Joe Bird. Sure, he was a broken down version of himself. His prodigious talent betrayed by a decaying back, but… on this team, even to win a seven game series over the 2012 team, Larry wouldn’t have to play meaningful minutes. He’d be a veteran presence on the pine, a co-captain, and source of the Basketball Son of God like wisdom. But… if the game was tight and the Dream Team needed a basket, a floor spacing shooter, or a decoy, you’re telling me that there’s someone better than the Legend?

Honestly, lets put the question to the man who started this whole thing: Bill, in the closing minutes of the game, with one team needing a basket and Coach K or Chuck Daly looking down the bench for the 11th man to drive a dagger into the hearts of the opponent, who’d you rather have, a barely standing Larry Legend, or Chris “I’m Getting a 115 million to be an inferior version of Horace Grant” Bosh?

Yeah, I thought so.

A seven game series between the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and the Dream Team would be epic and the 2012 team has perhaps the best chance to beat the 1992 squad as any other collection of basketball talent in history, but in the game of trumps, there’s just no getting around the fact that whoever you flip over in 2012, the Dream Team can always come back with a little Magic, a lot of Michael and a Larry Bird kicker.

Wade and LeBron All Cough, No Class…

June 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I like Dwayne Wade.  I mean, I think most people do.  He’s well spoken, well dressed, he’s done those great T-Mobile ADs with Barkely, and he’s been one of the five best players in basketball for the last five or six years.  Wade just seemed to have class.  LeBron?  Well, I’m a little less wild about LeBron.  I mean, I do think he’s the best player in the NBA, his last two games aside, but personally?  He seems a little narcissistic for my tastes.  I’ve been pretty clear that I don’t have a problem with James going to Miami, I mean it wasn’t the (cough) decision (cough) I would have made, but it was a perfectly within his rights as a human: to live and work with people he likes and in a city he enjoys.  It’s the same right the rest of us get and in his particular profession he’d earned it by serving out his first two contracts and becoming a free agent.  Yet, not telling the Cavs in advance was tacky and the Decision was, well… the Decision was a little like this picture:

A Rod Kissing Mirror

Photo: Details Magazine

Everything James does seems a little too polished, a little too conscious of how it will be received – which of course makes it all the more ironic when it’s received negatively.  Still, despite my reservations about him, I’ve been vaguely cheering for the Heat all season, simply because I’ve found the vitriol around what he did to be disproportionate to the crime.  We want our athletes to sacrifice their personal stats and money to pursue championships, except that we don’t.  We don’t seem to care when our athletes drink and drive, or abuse their wives, or get in barroom brawls, but heaven forbid they take their talents to South Beach.  I don’t know, it just seemed unnecessary that they be villified in every arena and have sportswriters basically drooling for the opportunity to anoint first Kevin Durant, then Derrick Rose as the anti-LeBron.

On top of that, I found all the “Alpha-Dog” rhetoric, that you couldn’t win with both Wade and James to be a little silly.  I mean, do you really think that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wouldn’t have figured out a way to make their talents work together?  James and Wade are both unselfish players capable of scoring in bunches, while also controlling the games with their playmaking.  So, to think that they couldn’t play together is just asinine.  All the crunch-time stuff is just silly as well… when they lose some regular season games, it seems like a really big deal who the crunch time finisher will be, but when they’re wiping out Chicago in successive fourth quarters that narrative falls by the wayside.  Now, as they lose to Dallas, it becomes a story again.

It’s like saying Peyton Manning doesn’t have what it takes to win the big game… oops, until he does.  Same for that guy having a special moment with himself in the above picture, he’s not clutch, right up until the moment he has a .976 OPS as his team wins the World Series.

It’s a tired storyline and so once Phoenix’s season ended (sometime around Thanksgiving), I started vaguely hoping that Miami would win.  I mean, I didn’t have any great heart behind it that conviction.  The Heat losing wouldn’t have sent me into a tailspin of self loathing like after Jennifer Jones’ team lost the 2011 Scott’s Tournament of Hearts, but… you know, if they won it would (temporarily) end the nonsense.

So, for most of six months that’s been reason enough to cheer for the Heat.  In the finals, against a Mavs team whom I’d really like to see win, I’ve largely felt neutral.  Dirk deserves a title, and certainly him winning one would eliminate some of those same tired narratives that surround him (great scorer, not great player; soft European, etc.).  Plus, it’d be so sweet to see David Stern handing over the trophy to Mark Cuban… I’d probably be cheering for the Mavs against any other Eastern Conference team, but deep down I’ve felt a pull for the Heat…

But god, those boys sure aren’t making cheering for them easy:

Wade, who referred to Nowitzki’s sinus infection Thursday as “the fun-loving story of him being sick,” claimed Saturday that he didn’t pretend to cough.

“I actually did cough,” Wade said. “And with the cameras being right there, we made a joke out of it because we knew you guys were going to blow it up. You did exactly what we knew.

“We never said Dirk’s name. I think he’s not the only one in the world who can get sick or have a cough. We just had fun with the cameras being right in our face about the blowup of the incident, and it held to be true. You blew it up.”

Really Dwayne?  Really?  It’s the media’s fault that you and LeBron were being asses?  Really?  Stop, just stop… You guys are clearly making fun of him, while you know full well that a camera crew is filming you.  Whatever did you think was going to happen?  Don’t blame the media for doing “exactly what we knew.”  That’s asinine.  If you cough and that’s it, just  a cough, then guess what?  Everybody’s going to assume you were clearing your throat, but that’s not what happened.  You ask, “did you all hear me cough?  I’m sick.”  While you and LeBron cackle like catty 14 year old girls.  LeBron, then followed suit, which sort of seems like his go to move right now.

I might have ignored the initial incident, it was as Dirk said, “childish,” but what really annoys me is Wade’s reaction.  Rather than saying, “yes that was dumb and we apologize to Dirk who played a great game while sick”, Wade blames the media, proclaims that they did it only because they knew the media would make a big deal of it, and thinks it’s not his fault.

It just makes him seem so petulant, juvenile, and – yes – classless.  And that’s been the problem with the Heat all season long, a complete lack of class.  From “the Decision,” to their pep rally, to all of their chest pounding “poor me” press conferences, they’ve lacked any semblance of humility, graciousness, or class.  Making fun of Dirk being sick shouldn’t have surprised me, and it didn’t, not really, but it was disappointing.

And silly as it might sound, it was just enough, the proverbial straw on the camels back, to ensure that at tip off tonight, I’ll be hoping that the big German drops 40 on the Heat’s “sick” superstars.

(and yes, I actually did drop a curling reference into the middle of an NBA finals post.  That’s right, it’s how I roll…)

Categories: Basketball Tags: , ,

NBA Preview Part 1 – It’s Getting Hot in Here, or at least Stuffy…

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

The most anticipated NBA season since Jordan retired is set to kick off with an absolute must-see game on Tuesday night, which makes this the perfect time to begin some sort of NBA preview. Of course, I also have an assignment due for my Art Education class, so maybe this is actually the perfect time to write that…

Nah.

There is no way around the reality that this offseason was the most hyped in NBA (and possibly sports) history. It was talked about basically from the moment that LeBron, Wade and Bosh signed their post rookie contrats, with the momentum swelling like a tsunami as the Summer of 2010 approached. For the NBA, the penultimate outcome of all that hype really couldn’t have been any better. After weeks of front page speculation, the “big three” free agents joined forces and, in so doing, became wrestling style villains. There have been millions of words spilled on The Decision and I don’t really have anything new to add, so I wont bother… much.

Suffice to say that we want our sports heroes to choose things like people, place and the pursuit of titles over the largest possible payday, but then when they do, we criticize them anyhow. If I had been LeBron, I wouldn’t have taken my talents to South Beach (I would have taken them to New York, where the Garden could have become the ultimate throne), but I can’t really begrudge him wanting to play with his buddies in a city that’s always hot, and always HOT.

Will this affect his legacy? Perhaps, but as Chuck Klosterman so wisely pointed out during his BS Report appearance back in July, sports is the only avenue where we criticize public figures for not thinking about their legacy. When actors, musicians, or politicians are seen chasing their legacy we tear them to shreds. When Jordan suits up for the Wizards, Emmet plays for the Cardinals, or LeBron chooses to take his talents to Miami, we criticize them for ruining their legacies. We, the public, are a hypocritical and conflicting audience, which is why LeBron made the absolute right choice (albeit in the absolute wrong way): he did what he wanted. That’s all that really matters, he’s the only person he needs to satisfy. The rest of us? Well, we’d have found a way to criticize him no matter what he did.

Of course, the Heat will be villains this year. In the aftermath of The Decision, I heard Simmons alternately compare LeBron to Hollywood Hulk Hogan and to Alex Rodriguez. Both were (are) despised, but that’s fine, because it allows the Heat to play the proverbial US against the World card. Perhaps even more importantly, it allows the NBA to market a super villain and believe me, every league wants a super villain. There can’t be a Superman without Lex Luther, Spiderman without Green Goblin, or a Professor X without Magneto. And, there certainly cannot be a Dark Knight without the Joker, so the Heat will play 41 games this year in their liar where they are protected by their fans (at least the ones who arrive on time) and they will play another 41 where the fans want their blood. Every team is going to bring the best version of themselves with the intention of knocking the Heat off a perch to which they’ve yet to climb. It will be great theatre and it will be great basketball. I, for one, can’t wait.

A big pile of M’eh… Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the NBA Trade Deadline…

February 20, 2010 1 comment

So, it was a blustery storm and yes, a branch or two were relocated, but in the end… m’eh.  The big, capital B, capital I, capital G, BIG winner was Cleveland, because they’re the only title contender that improved. However, beyond that for the second season in a row, the deadline felt a little flat. That multiple teams could have improved their playoff chances by making a move, was mitigated by many of those same teams being hamstrung by the luxury tax, so as it always does in the NBA, money ruled the day and talent was a distant, distant second. Whatever, lets break it down:

Winners:

Cleveland – This was an easy slam dunk for the Cavs. They acquired Antawn Jamison and the corpse of the prospect known as Sebastian Telfair, for a month without Zydrunas Ilgauskas (It’s a guarantee that Washington will buy him out), a guy who will never play in the NBA (Emir Preldzic), and the last pick in this year’s first round… Jamison isn’t as good as Pau Gasol, so this wont be looked at in quite the same light, but the Cavs stole Jamison the way the Lakers stole Gasol two years ago. They didn’t even have to include J.J. Hickson to make the deal.

Some believed that the Cavs should have been targeting Amare Stoudemire over Jamison, but as you know, I felt Jamison was a better fit. We already know that the Shaq-Amare frontcourt partnership was a dubious one. Plus, Amare needs the ball in his hands more than Jamison, and when you have LeBron you want the ball is his hands as much as possible. Also, Jamison is a better shooter, which allows the Cavs to have better spacing. Finally, Amare, for all his prodigious gifts, operates in the lane where LeBron needs to get, and where Shaq already clogs.

Those in favor of Amare pointed to his age as a reason to target him over Jamison. Amare is 27, Jamison 33, so the theory goes that acquiring Amare gave the Cavs a second banana to pair with James long term. The problem with that is that while Jamison is older, he also hasn’t suffered the same major injuries that Amare has. Last year Stoudemire suffered a detached retina, which would seem like a fluke one off, but he has also had microfracture surgery and that’s definitely not a one off. So, I think the age argument isn’t as straight forward as it seems.

There are only two downsides to this deal for the Cavs. The first is that it will cost owner Dan Gilbert something like fifty million after the luxury tax, but if he doesn’t care, we certainly shouldn’t care. The second is that it colossally screws Cleveland if LeBron were to leave this summer, but of course Cleveland will be colossally screwed anyhow, so that’s hardly an issue created by this deal.

Dallas – I think the Mavs cleaned up. They improved at two positions, with Brendan Haywood a strong defensive presence and big body at center and Caron Butler taking over for Josh Howard, who was finding that basketball was getting in the way of his hangovers.

All season Butler has been playing like someone pooped in his shoe, but he’s a talented youngster and getting out of that toxic situation in the Capital will rejuvenate his play. My only concern with the Mavs right now, would be their defense at the two, where Butler and Shawn Marion will have to cover mobile shooters. Still, I think this puts them firmly in the conversation for the two seed in the West.

Houston – This is why I love the NBA deadline, because strange things happen. We knew that the Rockets were going to move McGrady and we knew that Kevin Martin was in play, but we never knew that those two could come together like they did. This deal is quite similar to the one I proposed last week in which New York used a third team to entice Houston to take Jared Jeffries, but Kevin Martin is better for Houston than Jamison. In Martin they get a shooter and scorer who should help them make the playoffs this year and pair perfectly with Yao next year.

Jeffries is grossly overpaid, but if you aren’t concerned with the money, then his length makes him a useful enough defender, especially if the playoff path in the West involves traveling through the Lakers. Plus, he’s an expiring deal next year, so that has value. Giving up Landry’s a bit of a wrench, but overall the Rockets are a much better team this morning than they were yesterday morning.

Portland – A simple move, that cost them nothing off next year’s team. Marcus Camby should help them make the playoffs and keep the franchise momentum they’re trying to build, although if Brandon Roy can’t get healthy then it will hardly matter.

Losers:

Boston and Orlando – I guess you could include Atlanta in here as well, but I don’t think they were knocking off the Cavs anyway. So, neither Eastern Conference contender did anything to get stronger (and no, I haven’t forgotten that the Celtics picked up Nate Robinson), while the Cavs added a significant piece. As I wrote last week, I think Boston is primed for a first round upset, so it’s really only Orlando who could still knock off the Cavs. They have the talent, but their chances today look worse than their chances yesterday.

Miami – Two days ago I pegged the Heat’s odds of signing LeBron James at 14.5%, but after yesterday’s action I’d drop that under five. I think they’re effectively done in the LeBron-stakes. Worse, I think they might end up in a real dog fight just to keep their own guy. The math:

– Chicago is Wade’s hometown.

– Wade is the player whose game most resembles a certain former Bulls’ player.

– Chicago cleared enough space to add Wade.

– Miami has put various poo-poo platters around Wade for three years now.

– Wade has seemed outwardly frustrated with Heat management all season.

– Miami couldn’t draw a crowd to watch Lindsey Vonn ski naked.

Add it all up and I say the Heat are in hot water.

Phoenix – The Suns are in a dog fight for the playoffs and while two of their competitors got better, they just spent two weeks dragging their second best player’s name through the mud. Bravo, guys. Brav-O.

Indifferent:

Chicago – The Bulls cleared enough space to go after a big name, but not enough for a second piece. This is a victory for them, but I think they’d have finagled the extra room without much trouble this summer and in doing so now they might have hurt their playoff chances. Both of their moves arguably made their opponents for the last two playoff spots stronger, so it was a weird deadline for the Bulls.

Charlotte – A protected one gives Larry Brown the chance to work with the talented, but enigmatic, Tyrus Thomas. It could backfire and he could leave this summer, but that’s why the pick’s protected. It’s a good gamble, but hardly boner inducing.

Milwaukee – They acquired John Salmons from Chicago to shore up their two guard spot. I like the initiative to push for that eighth playoff spot, but… Salmons? Really? Him?

Sacramento – I like that they picked up the underrated Carl Landry, but why didn’t they take on Jeffries’ contract and get pieces like Hill and the 2012 Knicks’ pick? I’m not sure what they’re doing with the space this season.

LA Clippers – The Clips made a couple moves to clear some extra space for this summer, which is great, because now they have enough cap room to go get LeBron. And on an unrelated note, next week I’m asking Natalie Portman out…

Inconclusive:

New York – Wow, we all knew that the Knicks were desperate to move Jeffries and I think including Hill was the right move, but… Hill, swapping picks in 2011 and giving up your pick in 2012… Yikes, that’s a lot. For me to make them winners here it’s going to have to translate into a serious free agent bonanza. Say for instance, that the Knicks strike out on the LeBron gang and instead, desperate to have something to show for two years of misery, re-sign David Lee to a near max deal, and then sign Rudy Gay to a max deal. Then, after the inevitable mediocre seasons of fighting for the eighth spot in the playoffs, they very well could be giving Houston their lottery pick from last year, Utah their lottery pick this year, Houston a lottery pick next year, and just for good measure, Houston a lottery pick in 2012. Again… Yikes.

On the other hand if they are able to sign the King and Chris Bosh and those two guys whet the championship appetite of some others, then I’ll be singing a different tune (more cats being tortured, than say nails on a blackboard). So, with LeBron and Bosh onboard, say Marcus Camby wants to play for a title and wants the opportunity to play in New York again (which he loved the first time around). Then say, Ray Allen looks at his bank account and goes, yeah, I’ve made enough, why not… And lets assume they round out the roster with seasoned vets like Joe Smith, Raja Bell, Steve Blake, and Ben Wallace. Now, look at what they have.

PG – S. Rodriguez, S. Blake
SG – R. Allen, R. Bell, B. Walker
SF – L. James, D. Gallinari, W. Chandler
PF – C. Bosh, J. Smith
C – M. Camby, B. Wallace, (and E. Curry – not actually with the team, lest he eat LeBron)

The roster’s maybe a little old, perhaps they’d want to find some younger legs to fill the spots of Smith and Wallace, but overall I think we can agree that the Knicks are favorites in the East and giving the Lakers a run for the title. And, the most important name on that list, besides James and Bosh, is actually Eddy Curry, who despite being too fat to actually fit through the door of the arena, becomes valuable this summer as an expiring contract (at which point I’d start the “Free Steve Nash” campaign).

So, suddenly those picks the Knicks sent to Houston wouldn’t seem so bad. There would be no swap in 2011, because the Knicks would have the better record and they’d be sending the 30th pick Houston’s way in 2012.

So, you can see how this grade has to be inconclusive, right?

Washington – Bill Simmons has been tweeting like mad about how with his two trades Ernie Grunfeld got pansed while looking the other way, but I have a question for Bill: what else was Ernie supposed to do? My only real complaint about Grunfeld’s work here is that he should have received J.J. Hickson in the Jamison deal, but for all the talk of Hickson, it’s not as if he’s the re-incarnation of Moses Malone.

As I asked the other day, why would the Wizards have kept the Butler-Jamison duo? That’s the same core that lead them to 19 wins last year. They should pay luxury tax for a 19 win team? And Bill, what exactly were they supposed to get for those two? Again, they’re the best players on a team that won NINETEEN games last year. You can make all the excuses you want, but nobody was giving anything of value for either guy. Grunfeld’s mistake, besides of course giving out those contracts in the first place, was not moving Butler at last year’s deadline when the Trailblazers would have given them some talent for him.

So why inconclusive? Well, clearing the crap from the shoe is only the first step in cleaning the mess. The real question, is what one does with the empty shoe. Bill has mocked Washington creating cap space, because nobody’s going to want to join Arenas, which is true, but there are two things to consider here. First, moving Arenas is impossible now, but it might be possible this summer when the free agent dust has settled. Again, I’m not saying I’d trade for him, I’m just saying that when Miami loses Wade, strikes out on Joe Johnson and has a half empty building and nobody on their payroll, well… as Bill well knows teams often need to be saved from themselves.

Second, as the Zombie Sonics have shown, cap space can be used without signing free agents. So, Washington can use that space to take free players from team’s trying to avoid the luxury tax. A high draft pick this year and next year, and some savvy use of the cap, and the Wizards can rebound faster than people think. Now, whether Grunfeld is the right man to make those moves is an entirely different, and legitimate, question.

%d bloggers like this: