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NBA Preview Part 3 – Rise of the Zombies…

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

One of my few complaints about basketball these past few years, is that I really haven’t had anyone other than Nash and the Suns to cheer for. I mean, I like LeBron and I love watching him play, but even before the who “Taking my Talents” thing I wasn’t feeling a lot of emotion when his team lost. I like Chris Paul, but the Hornets? Mhhh… The Raptors I should like, because you know they’re 3,000 miles away but on the correct side of the border, but they’re named the Raptors and have a stupid looking dinosaur on their shirts, so, ahhh… no. Portland? Too boring; Boston? Too pink; Lakers? Too Douchy; Orlando? Too whiny; Oklahoma? Too… well, wait a second Goldilocks, because we might have stumbled onto something here.

I shouldn’t like the Oklahoma Zombie Sonics, I really shouldn’t. After all, I’m a Northwest boy and they plundered my best source of “local” hoops. Yet something is drawing me to them, something almost like… how they remind me of… the Tampa Bay (Not so Devil) Rays. I know, I know it’s like comparing apples and milk, but I just can’t quite shake the comparison and here are ten reasons why:

1) They both are young exciting teams from small markets who have put a serious scare into much larger, flashier markets.

2) They both have players who if they aren’t already, might soon be the very best in their sport: Kevin Durant and Evan Longoria.

3) They both have what could be the best management team in their sport: Sam Presti and Andrew Freidman. Both young and well versed in both modern metric s and traditional scouting, these two young stars have assembled outstanding staffs that allow them to run intelligent operations on small budgets.

4) That management has done a spectacular job of building very competitive teams with those limited budgets by using draft picks, hungry young players and the occasional savvy veteran.

5) Despite unprecedented (ok, that might be slightly hyperbolic) draft success, they have both whiffed on a pick that seemed somewhat obvious back then and seems extremely obvious now. In 2008 the Rays had the first pick in the draft and they selected high school shortstop Tim Beckham. Now 19, Beckham just completed a season in which he hit .256, .346, .359, which would be fine for a slick fielding middle infielder drafted in the fourth round, but leaves someone wanting when it’s the top pick in the drat. The other player the Rays were considering and the one that most pundits thought should be the first pick, was Florida State catcher Buster Posey, who may or may not be the starting catcher for a team about to start the World Series. Yup, that’s a bang your head against the wall every time you think of it mistake – and believe me, I know about those kinds of mistakes, I cheer for a team that picked Ricky Romero over Tory Tulowitzki. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a wall to see…

For Oklahoma the mistake wasn’t quite as onerous. Still, in the Durant draft, The Sonics traded Ray Allen to Boston for the fifth pick and used that selection on Jeff Green.* Now Green has been a solid contributor to the Zombie Sonics success, but the ninth pick on that night was Joakim Noah, who I felt then and I feel now, is a future starting center on an NBA championship team. Green’s good and obviously given their success, he works well with Durant, but Noah would be the defensive post presence that the Zombies were looking for when they almost traded for Tyson Chandler.

* I know most observers would say that selecting James Harden over Steph Curry last year was the bigger mistake, but I’m not ready to write Harden off, so I’m still in a “wait and see” over that one.

6) They both should be located in the Northwest – sorry Oklahoma, but it’s true. I’m not saying you don’t deserve A team, I’m just saying that you don’t deserve Seattle’s team. Your passion for the Zombies has been outstanding and your owners clearly care enough to ensure that you have great management (more than we can say about other owners, cough-michaelheisley-cough), but Seattle supported that team for 40 years and all they refused to do was build a THIRD pro-sports arena in a five year period. You guys should get Memphis’ team, or maybe even New Orleans, but Durant and company should be making it rain in a city where it actually rains.

(and Tampa should be moved to Portland, but that’s a different column for a different day).

7) They both have a limited window in which to make this work. The Rays may have seen that window close, as this offseason they’ll loose Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and perhaps Matt Garza, while the Zombies have to face the inevitable departure of Russell Westbrook and their other young stars. Watch what happens with the potential labor stoppage, because that could have serious ramifications on the future of the Zombies.

8) Of course, both teams are capable of extending that window, because of reasons two and three (great players, plus great management, equals prolonged success… maybe).

9) I’m running out of things that Oklahoma and Tampa Bay have in common.

10) Even though I shouldn’t (because one competes in the AL East with my Jays and the other stole a team from Seattle), I can’t help cheering for these two teams, because they run their organizations exactly as I would want mine run, you know, if I were an owner of a professional sports team, instead of an owner of a goldfish named Blinky…

The Space Time Continuum and Kevin Durant…

February 6, 2010 Leave a comment

In Bill Simmons’ most recent mailbag, he posed a question that his father and him had been discussing:

If you could go back in time “Lost”-style and fix the 2007 lottery so the Celtics landed the second pick, would you keep what happened (No. 5 pick, KG trade, 2008 title, everything else that happened up to now), or would you switch it so that they ended up with the No. 2 pick and Durant?
–Dr. Bill Simmons, Boston

Now, you can see Bill’s answer here and while I agree with what he says, I must admit that I was a little surprised by the ease of his answer. I would almost certainly trade the 2007 championship for a decade’s worth of Durant, but it’s a purely hypothetical question for me, because, unlike Bill, I didn’t celebrate in 2007 (and yes, I realize it’s a purely hypothetical question for him too, but you smart alecks get my point). Giving up a title is a difficult proposition, because as great as Durant is,* there have been plenty of Hall of Fame players who spent a decade in a city and couldn’t bring a title there (think Malone, Ewing, Barkley, Baylor and even Kevin Garnett before he left Minnesota). So, even if Durant ascends to among the all-timers, there’s no guarantee that he would bring the Celtics a title…

*(and, if you haven’t noticed, he’s not just great, he’s phenomenal. His scoring average in his first three years has gone 20-25-30. He’s 22 and still learning the nuances of the game, but already he’s a top seven player. Within two years he’ll be top three… the other two? The King obviously, and Chris Paul).

… Still, as I read the question, I couldn’t help but remember a blog article I read somewhere a long time ago, in a galaxy… somewhat near this one. The column postulated on this very scenario. No not the part about going back in time, the part about drafting Kevin Durant in the 2007 draft. Wanting to re-read what the author said at the time, I went looking for it and sure enough you can find it here. The writing’s a bit rudimentary and the trade that he proposed for Paul Pierce doesn’t look so great in hindsight, but… I’ve got to say, I like his style and I have a sneaky suspicion that his future wife’s going to be beautiful. I don’t know why I think that, lets just call it a hunch.

Anyhow, as Simmons notes, the Celtics with Durant would have had a young nucleus of KD, Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, and Kendrick Perkins. They also had the expiring contract of Theo Ratliff and, of course, the Truth. Now, Paul Pierce was what that old column was really about. What could the Celtics do with Pierce? It was the second part of a two column look at the sagging fortunes of the Celtics. They could have kept him to mentor the kids, or — more likely — they could have moved him for cap space, young guys and picks.

And this is where things get really interesting, if the Celtics had made the right moves, they could be entering this offseason with Durant et all, and because those guys are still on cheap contracts, the Celts could also have had a boat load of cap space. So… would joining the NBA’s most important franchise, in a sport rabid city, with that impressive young core be something LeBron, Wade, or Bosh would consider? Because if it is, then that’s a future reality that is definitely worth trading the 2007 title for.

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