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Paul to the Clippers, Too Much? Too Little? Too Soon?

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I think, maybe, just maybe, that Chris Paul has finally been traded. The news broke Wednesday, it hasn’t yet been rescinded, so perhpas we can assume it’s good. Although, you know, at this point I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to wait until July 1st before making any firm proclamations.

Oddly enough, the hold up stopping this deal from going through earlier in the week was Eric Bledsoe… uhmmm… ok. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bledsoe, I think he’s got some real upside potential, but he’s a backup point guard. Still, I guess that was the breaking point for the Clips, so the league backed off forcing him to be in the deal and accepted a package of Eric Gordon, Chris “About to be Flipped Somewhere Else” Kaman, Al Farouq Aminu, and an unprotected Minnesota T-Wolves draft pick.

Now, first of all, I like this trade for the Hornets. I like it, I don’t love it. There are still a couple variables in play before I can give it the all important “blogger thousands of miles, that nobody’s ever heard of,” nod of approval. First, what’s Stu Jacks, er… I mean Dell Demps going to do with Kaman? The Cro-Magnon center is a free agent after this year, which means if they aren’t flipping him, then it’s really a two player plus pick deal. Second, where’s that Minnsota pick end up?  The last first round pick the Clippers traded away ended up being the first pick in the draft (more on this in a second), and of course the Wolves have a propensity for picking at the top end of the draft – from 1989 through last year the Wolves drafted in the top five nine times. Twenty-three drafts nine top five picks and, oh yeah, they lost three #1s at the start of the millennium because of Kevin McHale’s free agent subterfuge – so, that’s a pretty good chip in a loaded draft, except…

I’m not convinced the Wolves will be so horrible this year. Despite David Kahn’s desire to stock his team with 37 point guards, there’s actually a solid chance the Wolves are respectable. They fired the overmatched Kurt Rambis and replaced him with Rick Adleman, who is a seasoned, professional coach. They have the makings of a decent roster, and they have a slim-fit Kevin Love. Lets be clear, I’m not suggesting they’re a playoff team, but I wouldn’t be horribly shocked to see them finish .500 and provide the Hornets with a 11-14 pick, instead of a top five pick.

If the Hornets don’t flip Kaman for anything, then a year from now their package for Chris Paul could be the 13th pick in the draft, Aminu, and Eric Gordon (more on this too).  At that point, I’m not sure its a win for the Hornets. Of course, if they flip Kaman to Sacramento for a pick and Minnesota sucks, then it’s a different story.

I’m not sure I love it for the Clippers either. Well, no, that’s not true.  This is a major win for the Clippers. They’re bringing one of the top five players in the game to the Staples Center. They basically snatched him out of the Lakers finger tips, and he’s a player who will work perfectly with their current star Blake Griffin. So, it’s a big, BIG win, but… did they really have to give up Gordon?

Now, lets not make Gordon out to be the second coming of Pete Maravich. He’s good. He might even, as Bill Simmons keeps saying, be the best shooting guard  in the league under the age of 25, but that statement says more about the dearth of great young two guards than it does about Gordon. He’s a borderline all-star who’s never sniffed the playoffs. Great players take their team to the playoffs, even if they don’t go far after that (see Paul, Chris). Like I said, Gordon’s good and he’s young enough to get better, but his upside is more Joe Johnson than Kobe Bryant.

That said, I’m not sure that the Clippers had to give Gordon up for Paul – and if they don’t lose him in the deal, well… damn.  The Hornets had to deal Paul, and since the league had already sabotaged one good trade, there just weren’t a lot of other deals out there for the Hornets.  First of all, PG might be the deepest position right now. Second, most teams are afraid of putting themselves in the same position the Hornets were in.  So, you basically had the Clips deal, the Warriors offering pieces that weren’t Steph Curry, and…?!? I mean, if Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Lamar Odom wasn’t enough, then the Knicks weren’t getting Paul with Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, and James Dolan’s band.

It seems like the Clippers could have told the NBA’s negotiating team that the deal was the T-Wolves pick, Aminu, Bledsoe, Kaman another Clippers 1st and take it or suck our left… That’s how it seemed the Clippers were going to play it earlier in the week when they balked at the league’s asking price and then put in a bid for Chauncey Billups.  Billups wasn’t going to be a long term replacement for Paul, but LA certainly could have gone into the season with a backcourt rotation of Chauncey, Eric Gordon, Mo Williams and waited for the Hornets’ panicked calls around the trade deadline.

And, speaking of Williams, doesn’t this deal make the Clippers’ trade for Williams last year even worse?  I know it was a long, long time ago, but LA gave up their first rounder to Cleveland in exchange for a league average PG.  That pick of course ended up beating the lottery odds to become the top ping pong ball.  It was a bad pick when they made it, a worse pick on lottery day, and an even worse pick now.  Don’t you think that the Clippers package for Paul could have used that #1 pick (Kyrie Irving)?

With Gordon going to the Hornets, the deal is still a win for the Clippers and it does set them up for a nice little run, but I think they could have waited and kept Gordon. A Clippers starting lineup of Paul, Gordon, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, with Billups a super sixth man, would have pushed the Clips to challenging for the Conference title.  Instead, I’d put them behind (in no particular order) the Mavs, Zombie Sonics, Grizzlies, and – for at least one more year – the Lakers and Spurs.  So, a win for LA, but in typical Clipper fashion, a bumbled victory.

The Trade that Wasn’t, or How David Stern stepped in Poop..

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Oh the NBA, how I missed you.  I mean, even when you somehow manage to salvage the negative publicity of a lost season, you still manage to shoot yourself in the foot with an audaciously absurd and stupid move to cancel the proposed trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers.  I get it, really, I do… your ownership group almost sabotaged the season on the pre-text that you wanted to implement competitive balance (which is a bit of a red herring anyhow, but that’s another story, for another day…), when in reality what you actually wanted was to ensure as much money in your pockets as possible.

Now, basically minutes after the deal was ratified, the team that you collectively own – in a small market – is trying to send its best player to basically your league’s biggest market (in terms of combined size and success).  If you let it pass, then your rhetoric about small market teams is shown to be what it was: bullshit.  So, I can see how the knee jerk reaction is to torpedo the deal – especially when you have this moron sending subversive emails.

On the other hand, this actually was a good deal for the Hornets (not to mention the Rockets), and – despite picking up one of the top five players in the league – an odd trade for the Lakers.  I don’t know that I’d go quite as far as ESPNs John Hollinger in trashing it (insider), but he’s right that leaving your team with only the unrelaible Andrew Bynum as a big man is a huge mistake.  Now, maybe the Lakers were going to swap Bynum for Orlando’s Howard, but if the Magic were going for that, then the league has bigger problems than this Paul deal.

An even greater mistake is the league stepping in to sabotage the deal for “basketball reasons.”  Honestly, I don’t even know what basketball reasons are, and if you follow any NBA writers on twitter, neither does anyone else.  It’s like David Stern just stepped in a flaming bag of poop on his front stoop, only he’s the one who put the bag there.  I’ve argued in the past that Stern, while one of the three greatest sports commissioners of all time, desperately needs to step down and I think that the last five months only compound that fact.  The best example of this was a tweet yesterday (that I can no longer find, so I apologize to the author) that compared the damage done in the last two years by Stern to his legacy to a certain narcissistic indecisive, self photographing football player.

Stern’s league now has three teams grieving the cancellation of a perfectly legal – and legitimate – trade, another team accusing a fifth team of tampering and a sixth team whose owner cannot stop sounding like an ungrateful and petulant toddler when his toy was taken away.  Worst of all?  None of these shenanigans involve Donald Sterling – which should serve to remind Stern of the words of wisdom from the great philosopher Calvin, “That’s one of the remarkable things about life.  It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse.”

Ah Calvin – the 6 year, not the protestant – always there to remind us of the salient points in life.  The NBA looks pretty stupid right now, but hey, it can always get worse!

Oh NBA, I missed you.

The Suns’ BIG Problem…

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

There was a lot to like at the Staples Center for the Suns last night. First, they won the game. Second, they beat the champs to get their record over .500 for the first time this season. Third, there were all those three pointers, and fourth… they won the game. Still, I cannot help thinking that if I were the Phoenix coaching staff I wouldn’t be doing cartwheels this morning. Yes, the Suns won, but they won by five points on a night when they shot 55% from three point land. They aren’t always going to do that. They also won despite allowing Kobe Bryant to come a single board shy of a triple double, and despite giving up 20 offensive rebounds. TWENTY. They only grabbed 22 defensive rebounds. That means that half of the Lakers misses landed back in the hands of the Lakers. A team which shoots 49% is normally going to destroy you if you give it an extra shot every other time down the floor.

This is the Suns BIG problem (pun intended) this season. Robin Lopez was supposed to take a step forward in his third season; nobody expected him to become a dominant low post scorer, but they did expect that he would give the Suns a defensive post presence and 8-9 rebounds a night. Instead, last night he only played 6 minutes before spraining his knee, grabbing zero boards and picking up two fouls. On the season he’s playing 17.8 minutes, down two from last year, while grabbing a measly 4.3 boards.

Outside of Lopez, the Suns just don’t have an inside presence capable of keeping Gasol (17 rebounds, 9 offensive) and Odom (11, 4) off the boards. It was the same problem that the Suns had last year, when Amare Stoudemire was too passive on the glass to keep the Laker Bigs from creating second chance points in the playoffs. Jason Richardson and Grant Hill are great rebounders for their positions, which allows the Suns to compete against most teams, but they are guards, so there’s only so much they can do when the team runs into an opponent with capable bigs.

Last night showed that if the Suns’ shots are falling in record fashion that they can still beat anyone, unfortunately they aren’t going to knock down 22 threes every night, so while there was a lot to like in last nights win, it was also indicative of the fact that this season, the Suns are in BIG trouble (still pun intended).

Don’t Start Believing in the Suns…

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

At what point do you start believing? After so many years of having your heart torn out in such spectacular fashion, when does the seed of hope, the idea that maybe this year is something different, when is that borne out in your brain?

On January 27th I wrote the Suns off as dead. Sure, they were still sitting in 8th place, but they were perched there about as securely as a hippo standing on an egg. Even if they held off Memphis and Houston, they seemed certain first round fodder for the defending champion Lakers. Over their previous 30 games they were a putrid 12-18. They’d squandered all the goodwill bought by a 14-3 start and had reminded everyone of their 9th place finish the year before. To make matters worse, it seemed like a matter of when, not if, Amare Stoudemire would be sold in one of those classic Suns’ trades where all the talent goes one way and all the savings go to Robert Sarver’s pocket.

From that point, from the day I wrote them off for dead, the Suns won five straight. Then after a loss in Dallas, they won another five. A 3-3 stretch followed, before they really exploded, running their way to ten straight wins. Finally they finished the season with a 4-2 streak that landed them the Western Conference’s third seed. Add that all up and after that my idiotic article, the Suns went 27-5 to finish the season. Look, I’m not saying that I inspired them to greatness, but…

So, when they survived a tough six game series with Portland to draw the (hated) San Antonio Spurs, I wondered whether this could be their year. Steve Nash can say all he wants that these Suns and these Spurs are different than the versions that saw the Spurs rip out Phoenix’s heart in 2005, 2007, and 2008. He can pay lip service all day long, telling everyone that beating the Spurs really wasn’t slaying the dragon, but the Spurs still had Duncan, they still had Ginobili, they still had Parker, and they still had Popovich. Beating the Spurs was not just another series, this was something special. Especially after Duncan’s elbow made Nash’s eye look like Tiger Woods the morning after. So, is it now that you start to believe? That you unwrap the protective layer of disbelief that you’d cello-taped around your heart for safe handling?

Of course, next on the card is the defending Champion Lakers. Most pundits I think will be picking the Lakers, but mostly that’s because they are the defending champs and they are the Lakers. It becomes easy to pick the champs, but really winning last year actually doesn’t help the Lakers one iota on the court. It creates an aura, a myth that they now ‘know how to win,’ but ‘knowing how to win’ and $4.50 will get you a really frothy, whip cream covered drink from Starbucks.

What matters far more to a champion than winning last year, is how they are playing this year. The Lakers started out like the defending Champions they are, going 37-11 through the first three months of the season, but then they showed some subtle deficiencies. Their point guard rotation is pathetic. Kobe’s played 44,000 minutes and those start to make the legs heavy and the nagging injury bug buzz. Their greatest advantage, their length and size inside, seems to be their greatest source of strife, as getting touches for their bigs cause Kobe’s brain to twitch. Ron “I rub baby oil on myself three times a Day” Artest thinks he’s a three point shooter, but he’s not. Other than Lamar Odom, who in big moments is a little like a sheep, their bench is made up of Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, and Sasha Vujacic. Those are all little things, certainly things which the Lakers can overcome, but then LA did finish the season 20-14. Certainly not abhorrent, but not championship level great either.

In the last two weeks of the season, when the West was jockeying for playoff positioning, I wanted the Spurs to finish 8th, because I felt like they had the best chance to knock off the Lakers in the first round. I still think that they certainly had a solid punchers chance. I love the Zombie Sonics, but they were just too young, too doe eyed, and Scottie “Great, I won coach of the year, that means I’m going to be fired in 16 months, couldn’t we have given this thing to Sloan, he’s had that job forever?” Brooks was too green to coach past the Zen master.

The Spurs would not have had those problems. I felt then, and I feel now, that the longer the Lakers stayed in the playoffs, the tougher they would become. Now, they’ve won six straight and swept aside the Utah Jazz. That the Jazz were missing two starters matters not. When you sweep aside a Jerry Sloan coached team, you can feel good about your accomplishment. That late season swoon is a distant memory now. The Lakers have that proverbial swagger back.

What isn’t a distant memory is the Suns’ equally impressive sweep of the Spurs. So, how do these two teams break down? Are the Suns just lambs walking toward the slaughter here, or do they have a legitimate chance to knock off the Lakers and advance to the NBA Finals. As I said above, I expect that most pundits will be picking the Lakers in a solid five, maybe six game victory. I’m not so sure.

The Lakers’ biggest strength in this – and really any – series, is their front line. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bogut, and Lamar Odom are all 6’10 to 7’1, and they all have arms that stretch from the Hollywood Hills to somewhere East of Iowa. This will be particularly poignant if the Suns are still without Robin “Sideshow Bob” Lopez. Of course, what the Suns do really well is box out and attack rebounds from a variety of different points. Amare led the team with a paltry 8.9 boards per game, but all of their wings chipped in to the cause. Grant Hill had 5.5, Jason Richardson grabbed 5.1, Channing Frye 5.3, Robin Lopez 4.9, and the great and mythical Louis Amundson 4.4. Despite having nobody who could match the prodigious rebounding talents of Tim Duncan or Dejaun Blair against the Spurs, the Suns were +29 in rebounding through the four games.

Yes, the Lakers can pound the ball inside and nobody on the Suns can stop them, but on the reverse side of the ball, neither Gasol nor Bynum can keep up with Stoudemire and Bynum’s abilities in the paint will be somewhat neutralized by Channing Frye drawing him out to guard threes. The Lakers do have Kobe and he’s still the Black Mamba, but… his fangs are a little longer in the tooth than they once were. Not drastically longer, but perhaps, maybe, just enough. The Suns will throw Grant Hill and Jared Dudley at him. They will make him work for everything. They will try and irritate him into wanting to take over the game, thereby neutralizing that size advantage.

Offensively, the Suns will do what they do… space the floor, throw shooters from every angle, run the pick and roll. Who on the Lakers is going to stop Steve Nash? Who’s going to make Steve exert energy on defense? Yes, the Suns will give up some easy put backs to Pau “I’m not soft, I’m more Squelchy” Gasol, but they will also destroy the Lakers when the second units are on the floor. And if they can dictate the tempo? If they can get Bynum out of the game and get Lamar “Wait, I married that Kardashian? I thought I married the hot one, how many Quaaludes was I on?” Odom performing his usual big game disappearing act, well… I don’t know? I want to tell you that I think the Suns will win in six. I do. I really want to believe that, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I start believing in the Suns, well, that it will end in some ignominious fashion. With Nash’s front teeth knocked out, with Amare having surgery, with Grant Hill crying in the middle of the court…

I just don’t know. If I wrote them off for dead in January and they started playing the best ball, maybe of the entire Nash-era, well, what happens if I start believing? Ah F*** it… it’s on b**ches, Suns in six.

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