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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…)

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The NBA, it’s FANtastic. Well, except in Miami…

November 19, 2010 1 comment

When LeBron decided to go to Miami I was disappointed. Not in a he disgraced all of humanity and should be burned on a stake in Salem kind of way, more like, huh… Miami? Really? Her? It wasn’t that he made the wrong choice, it’s just that he didn’t make the choice I’d have made. I’m sure Miami’s nice and everything (I hear it’s got a great personality), but if I were the greatest basketball player in the world, 25 years old, a free agent with the chance to take my talents (and the talents of one of my uber talented friends) anywhere in the basketball Universe, I’d have taken those talents straight to Madison Square Garden.

Whatever else you want to say about New York City, it is the center of the sporting world (North American edition). And while Football rules everywhere, and the Yankees are the greatest thing since moldy sliced bread, New York is a hoops town. New York City is the center of the basketball world and while it wasn’t created there, it was created there. On the playgrounds, in the Garden, it didn’t matter, basketball was interwoven with the street culture in a way I couldn’t hope to understand or explain. But, basketball rules in New York not just because of its history, but also because it’s the only one of the big three sports that’s actually played on Manhattan. It’s not in the Bronx, it’s not in Jersey, it’s in Manhattan. When Mark Messier led the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994, he became a GOD in New York. And that was hockey.

If you were young and great and you took your talents to MSG, you’d have the greatest City in the world eating out of your hand. You’d be playing in front of a packed house, with extremely savvy, rabid fans, hungry for some success, any success. Their energy alone would power you through the doldrums of January, when the schedule starts to look longer than Greg Oden in the shower. You would be their King. And that’s just for showing up, if you led that team to a title? Well… damn. You’d be bigger than Oasis, who were Bigger than the Beatles, who were BIGGER than Jesus.

So, that’s why I would have chosen New York, but instead James chose Miami and while I’m sure he doesn’t regret it, thus far it’s been somewhat underwhelming. And I don’t eve mean the team and their 7-4 record. When I’ve been watching Miami Heat home games, the whole proceedings seems to lack the sort of sizzle you’d expect form the most hyped team ever. At this point, I’ve watched four Heat home games this year and frankly, I’ve seen more excited crowds at a scrabble tournament. The arena has looked half empty, with whole sections barren and fans walking the aisles while the play is live. And the sound… well, lets just say that the crowd isn’t exactly reaching rock crowd decibels. It’s more like something you’d expect from a Rafi concert (who actually has something in common with LeBron, as he also turned the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden).

So, it was with some amusement that I heard on today’s PTI that the Miami Heat have sent out a memorandum to their fans, asking them to be, ahhh, well, fans. No, seriously. The Miami Heat have recorded a video asking their fans to “fan up.” Alongside that, they’ve also put up a banner on NBA.com:

FAN UP, Miami

Now, I can’t really blame Heat management, I mean you manage the coup of signing the top three free agents (two of whom are arguably the biggest free agents of all time), something that’s never been done in basketball and your fans reward you by arriving for the last half of the second quarter… and leaving before the end of the third. I’d be pissed too. I’d want to rile up my fans and give them a kick in the ass, but on the other hand, it’s Miami. Since when do the Heat have fans? Or the Marlins for that matter. Or the Or whatever the heck their hockey team’s called (I kid, I kid, I know it’s the Cougars…).

Outside of Dan LeBatard, the Dolphins and the Hurricanes, Miami is a TERRIBLE sports town. Their arenas are always empty, fans either arrive late and leave early, or don’t arrive at all and even those that are in attendance can’t be bothered to cheer. I get it, honestly, I do. If I lived in Miami I probably wouldn’t go to the games either. I mean, it’s Miami, there are freakin’ nice things you can be doing outside in the lusciously warm weather surrounded by hot people. Still, it’s pretty sad when an NBA team that doesn’t exist in Minnesota and isn’t owned by Donald Sterling has to remind its fans to “stand up and make some noise.”

Isiah Thomas, the Master Narcissist…

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

While drinking my Cup of Joe this morning, I almost showered my darling wife in coffee when I came across Ian O’Connor’s ESPNNewYork.com article, Exiled Isiah Itching for an Encore.  Now, leaving aside the fact that my wife was not at all pleased to have her shower with cream, lets look at some of the more salient points of this piece for insight into the state of Thomas:

Exiled in Miami, haunted by his proximity to LeBron James, Thomas embraces his articles of blind faith like one would a baby in a storm

Huh?  Haunted by his proximity to LeBron James?  What?!?  Why?!?

Isiah believes James (and perhaps Dwyane Wade) would be starting for the New York Knicks if Isiah had remained president of the team.

Really?  REALLY?  Wow.  You have to love the narcissism of Thomas.  I think that Pat Riley deserves credit for reeling in the three big fish to the Heat, but really his greatest work this summer was how he assembled a team around those three.  Do you actually think that LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were going anywhere other than Miami?  This wasn’t about Pat Riley (although he surely helped), it was about the three of them wanting to play together in South Beach.  What does Isiah think his presence would have meant?  Would he have made it a sunny 85 degrees all winter long in New York?  Would he have turned the Hudson turquoise?  Would he have convinced all the women in suits walking down fifth avenue to wear bikinis instead?  Well, actually given his history he might have tried that last one (too low?).

Even if I’m wrong, even if the location was only a minor factor in their decision and the Big Three could have been swayed somewhere else, whose presence is getting the attention of LeBron and Wade:  Is it Pat Riley and his 5 NBA titles, with his 17 seasons of 50 or more wins (including 7 above 60)?  Or would it have been Thomas with his spotty record in Toronto, his destruction of the CBA, his five coaching seasons in which he compiled a .456 winning percentage, and his lost sexual harassment suit?  Seriously Isiah?  Seriously?

Speaking of that sexual harrasement suit, O’Connor writes,

The sexual harassment trial amounted to the final, fatal hack. “I think if you take away that trial,” Thomas said, “I’m still there, we make the playoffs a couple of times … and I don’t know if Miami has LeBron or Wade. We may have had LeBron and Wade.”

This paragraph shows just how deeply Thomas doesn’t get it.  Not only is he prattling on about how they’d have gotten LeBron and Wade, but he blames the trial for his undoing in New York, not realising that the whole point of the trial was… finding him culpable of sexually harassing Anucha Browne Sanders.  That’s not the trial’s fault Isiah, that’s YOUR fault.  That’s why your boss had to pay Sanders 11 million.

Instead of admitting guilt, or accepting any form of culpability, Thomas continues to deflect,

“If the things that she alleges did happen in her daily working environment, I have great sympathy for her. If those things happened in her daily working environment, then yes, she is a victim, and I do have great compassion for her.

Unfortunately Isiah, that’s not how this works.  You were found guilty, which makes her the victim.  Even if you don’t believe it, the best thing you can do at this point is to be penitent.  Instead of saying, “if these things happened…”  Say, “I am so sorry for everything that happened to Anucha.  Nobody deserves to experience what she went through and I am sorry.”  Whether you believe she suffered or not isn’t relevant.  At least not publicly.  If you truly believe yourself innocent in the affair, then that’s fine, but publicly be repentant, and show sorrow for what she suffered.  In this case, it isn’t about your experiences, it’s about hers, but Isiah continues his vain outlook,

“My wife and kids and I, we were persecuted like I’ve never seen anywhere in sports. [The criticism] just got so mean and … as a family we were just hanging by a thread every single day. We were just hanging by a thread and just trying to hunker down and weather the storm. My mother was dying at the time, and it was the most awful time in my life. We were going through hell.”

I imagine it was hell for your wife and kids and obviously the passing of your mother is tragic, but again (with the exception of his mother’s passing) that’s a hell perpetrated by Thomas, not Sanders, not the trial, not the media in New York.  Isiah himself.

Of course, Isiah’s neurosis run deeper than just the trial.  On the topic of how talented the Knicks’ roster was,

But there were 24 All-Stars last year,” he said, “and I left New York with two of them, David Lee and Zach Randolph. Jamal Crawford became a sixth man of the year.

No Isiah, you didn’t leave the Knicks with two future all stars and a sixth man award winner, you left them with disparate pieces that did not work together.  Randolph had averaged almost 20 points and ten rebounds a game during in his six years in Portland, everyone knew he could score, but he couldn’t stop a donut, and together with Lee all you had was too much of the same thing.  On top of which, while Crawford did have a nice year last season, he remains a fundamentally flawed player who still jacks up too many shots, doesn’t defend, and doesn’t get IT.  In the Basketball Bible, Bill Simmons credits Thomas with giving him the secret to NBA success, but none of the primary guys acquired by Thomas (Stephon Marbury, Vin Baker, Crawford, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Randolph) were guys who understood the “secret” of how to win a title in the NBA.  Not a single one, got IT.

Thomas has gotten some credit for his talent evaluation and his draft record is good.  Obviously his best pick was David Lee with the 30th pick in the 2005 draft.  Lee’s a scoring machine and he’s a good rebounder, so even though his defense is weak, he was superb value at 30th.  There were other successes (for instance, in his first draft with the Knicks Thomas plucked Trever Ariza with the 43rd pick), but lets not make it out like he was the modern day Red Auerbach or anything.  In 2005 with his first pick, Thomas took Channing Frye 8th; Frye has been a solid pro, but since I tore him apart last week and since Andrew Bynum was picked two spots later, well… The year after that he took Renaldo Blackman 20th, right before the Suns took Rajon Rondo.  Wilson Chandler and Nate Robinson are fine, but they aren’t exactly world changing talents.

What about the picks he traded away?  Because there was Thomas’ greatest crime to the New York Knickerbocker franchise.  In the Eddy Curry deal he sent away the picks that became Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge.  Wow, how good might the Knicks have been with that front line?  And, of course, there’s the possible number one pick that terrorized Knicks fans all of last year, as Utah looked like it might really benefit from Isiah even after he’d gone (instead they ended up with just the 9th pick).  So, yeah he can identify talent, but he still missed on draft picks, and he had no idea of how to put the pieces together and no idea about how to protect assets.

Of course, Thomas blamed Larry Brown for trading Ariza and he blamed James Dolan for hiring Brown.  As for the Curry trade, in a frightening sign, he still thinks that was a good idea,

“There was a method behind the madness,” Thomas said. He was confident Curry would opt out in 2010 to clear the necessary space for a fellow client of Leon Rose, name of LeBron James… “They were just all friendly, and they were all on the AAU circuit,” Thomas said.

Really, he was confident that Curry would opt out?  But he also thought that Curry and James being AAU buddies would help?  So which was it Isiah?  Were you confident Curry would lure LeBron?  Or were you confident he’d opt out?  Because nobody else was, Curry’s contract was lampooned as a bad deal the second it was signed, and how close were Curry and LeBron as AAU friends considering that when Curry was a high school senior LeBron was in grade nine?  So, looking back now, it’s easy to say that you planned to bring LeBron to the Knicks, but it’s hard to see how the attrocious Curry deal helped you accomplish that mission.

Which brings me to my final point, how exactly was Isiah going to acquire LeBron?  He showed NO ability to manage the salary cap, acquiring one overwhelming, onerous contract after another.  The only way he was able to add talent was by trading expiring deals for other team’s poisonous contracts.

Hired as president of the Knicks in December of 2003, Thomas said he targeted James as the centerpiece of a future title winner in New York “from the first day he got in the league, as soon as I got the job.”

The notion that he identified LeBron back then as a piece that would be great for the Knicks is wonderful.  Likewise, when George Steinbrenner passed away, I decided that it would be a good idea if I bought the Yankees.  All I need is a billion dollars and a dream.  Unfortunately, whether or not Isiah identified LeBron as the piece he needed to win a title in New York, in reality you need more than a dream to make something happen.

Thomas guessed James would ultimately sign an extension with Cleveland that would keep him with the Cavaliers through 2010, but went about acquiring players he thought would appeal to LeBron, anyway.

Really?  He identified that James would sign a short extension with the Cavs instead of the full one?  A style of extension that until James, Wade and Bosh signed theirs nobody had done?  Really?!?  Sure you did there slugger.  I believe you, thousands wouldn’t, but I do*

*Too bad for Knicks fans, the only other person who believes Thomas is Knicks owner James Dolan…

NBA What Ifs…

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, a week into the season, the NBA is chugging along without any great surprises.  After their opening night stinker, the Heat have looked good, the Lakers are destroying people, and the Suns couldn’t defend a chair.  So, there’s not much really to talk about, except… some what ifs!

1) What if the Miami Heat had drafted OJ Mayo instead of Michael Beasley with the number 2 overal pick in the 2007 draft.

This summer the Miami Heat gave away the number two pick in the 2007 draft and 3 million in cash for a 2011 second round pick.  Think about that for a second, the Heat selected a player two years ago with the second pick who was so irrelevant to their future that they paid Minnesota to take him.  Pat Riley is going to win executive of the year for this season and deservedly so, but that’s a colossal waste of a high pick.  What makes it particularly galling, is that Riley knew it was a bad pick at the time.  He did everything he could to trade out of that pick and kept threatening to pick OJ Mayo… So, what if he had picked Mayo?  At the time, the problem with Mayo for the Heat, was that he was too similar to Dwayne Wade (albeit nowhere near as good), now however that’s exactly the player the Heat need.  With LeBron James acting as the de-facto point guard, the Heat don’t need a traditional point guard, they need someone who can defend and shoot.  Carlos Arroyo has been manning the position, but… come on.  Mayo’s a good defender and a great shooter.  In his two years in the league he has comfortably averaged 18 points a game on 45% shooting from the floor, with 38% three point shooting.  Of course, by dumping Beasley’s contract, the Heat were able to squeeze out enough money to offer Mike Miller his deal, but a) with Mayo they wouldn’t have needed him and b) if they really still wanted the long haired sharp shooter, I’m sure they could have found a way to make it work.  Now, the Heat are going to win 64+ games anyhow, so at some point it’s just an embarrassment of riches, but Mayo is exactly the kind of guard that the Heat want starting next to Wade and James.

2) What if the Knicks had not traded Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill to the Rockets last February?

Desperate to get Jeffries contract off their books in hopes of landing LeBron, the Knicks gave Hill (meh), money, and draft picks in 2011 (swap) and 2012 for Tracy McGrady.  The move did allow them to clear enough salary cap space to grab a second max free agent, but when Joe Johnson re-upped with Atlanta, Bosh (made irrelevant by Amare’s signing) and Wade joined in Miami, all the Knicks’ eggs were in the James basket… We all know how that ended and for all their efforts, the Knicks ended up Raymond Felton as their second banana…  Making matters worse, Hill and those picks are exactly what the Knicks need as they desperately pursue Carmelo Anthony.  If the Knicks had not made that deal, then they could offer up a package to Denver that involved their 2012 pick, Jeffries and Curry’s expiring deal (which would allow Denver to shed a onerous contract along with Carmelo) and a couple of young prospects out of A. Randolph, J. Hill, D. Gallinari, and K. Azubuike.  At this point, when Denver knows that Carmelo’s gone and nobody really wants to offer them much for him, that looks like enough to bring him to MSG (where he might need a hard hat, but that’s another topic for another day…).  Instead, the Knicks will have to hope that the Nuggets get desperate as the trade deadline approaches, because as it stands they don’t have the pieces to pull a Carmelo trade off.

3) What if the Zombie Sonics had drafted Joakim Noah and Steph Curry?

I sort of touched on this in my NBA Preview blurb on the Zombies, but I think I’m going to elaborate a little more and toss Curry in as well.  As I said then, I think that Sam Presti is easily one of the five best GMs in basketball, but there are two glaring examples of mistakes he made in the draft, that are holding back what could be a dominant franchise.  First, in 2007 he took Jeff Green fifth instead of Noah.  As I said two weeks ago, Green’s a nice player, but Noah’s the sort of hustle, rebounding, defense, unselfish player that helps teams win championships.  People are always talking about the Scottie Pippen to somebody’s Jordan, well Noah’s would have been the Dennis Rodman to Kevin Durant’s Jordan.  Only, you know, without the wedding dress, tattoos, and tantrums.

On top of that, the Zombies could have picked Steph Curry to pair in the backcourt with Russell Westbrook.  Look, I think it’s too early to throw James Harden under the bus, he’s only 21 and may still develop into a solid NBA player, but looking at him right now his ceiling seems more dependable rotation player than perennial all star.  Curry on the other hand is the sort of incredibly gifted, incredibly intelligent player who would pair perfectly with both Durant and Westbrook.  As John Hollinger points out in today’s PER Diem (Insider, sorry), the Thunder have underperformed people’s expectations this season in large part because nobody besides Durant can shoot.  Curry came out of the womb knocking down threes and he would help cure what ails the Zombies.  I know that Russell likes being a point guard and that’s fine, because with him, Curry would just slide into being the shooting guard (and what’s in a name anyway?); a position from which he would bomb threes hand out dimes, and make opponents pay for doubling Durant.  It would be awesome to behold and they’re all so young that it would just be a really fun decade of hoops in Seattle (what, if I’m changing their picks, I’m dam sure changing Howard Schultz selling them to an ownership group that was obviously moving them to Oklahoma.  Shame on you Howard, shame…).

The Zombies’ lineup (or, in this case, should I say the Sonics’ lineup) would be:

PG – R. Westbrook

SG – S. Curry

SF – K. Durant

PF – N. Collison

C – J. Noah

Bench: N. Krstic, S. Ibaka, T. Sefolosha, D. Cook, E. Maynor, C. Aldrich

Solid.  Too bad Presti missed out on those picks (and Shultz sold to Bennet and company), because that is a squad I really would have enjoyed watching…

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly Knickerbocker style…

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

So, we are now 22 days from the culmination of a two year plan to revive the New York Knicks. I could wax poetically about how terrible the past decade has been for Knick fans, but really… if you don’t know how much s**t they’ve had to deal with, then I’d rather not be the one to subject you to it. Lets just say that things at MSG have been so bad for so long, that you’d think that BP was involved in the cleanup. Now however, is the breaking point. You might even think of it as Groundhog day for the Knicks’ franchise.

If James Dolan crawls out of his little cave and sees his shadow, then surely the Knicks are in for another long, cold, nasty winter. However, if Dolan comes out and sees LeBron James putting on a Knicks uniform at a packed press conference with 2000 flash bulbs popping like champagne corks, well, then Knickerbocker fans might actually be in line for a (seemingly) endless summer.

As we all know, for a team that wasn’t playing, the Knicks had a superb second round of the playoffs. The Celtics upset of the Cavs increased the likelihood that LeBron James might leave Cleveland. Some, like this short, bald scribe, would argue that it opened the door and stamped his passport, but others caution that while that might have been James’ initial reaction, cooler heads will prevail. Still, for the Knicks’ hopes, the Celtics win was the best news they’ve had since Mike D’Antoni chose New York over Chicago.

It’s clear that for NY, this summer is all about the King. If they get James to join them in the Big Apple, then these two excruciating years will just be a hazy memory. If however he chooses to play elsewhere, well then things could get real ugly, real fast. In fact I would argue that this summer is actually kind of a spaghetti western for the Knicks. It could be good, it could be bad, and it could be ugly. Lets work backwards, just because Knick fans deserve to end on a high note, even if it is hypothetical.

The Ugly:

So, assume that LeBron returns to Cleveland. Then assume that Stoudemire re-ups with Phoenix, while Joe Johnson takes the Clippers money. Finally, assume that Bosh takes Chicago’s olive branch and that Carlos Boozer decides to join forces with Wade in Miami. All plausible yes? Good. Now, what are the Knicks going to do? They can’t go into next year with only four guys. They can’t go into next year with a roster that looks like an Olsen twin. They need to flesh it out. They need bodies and more importantly, after selling their fans on this waiting for 2010 plan, they need names.

Enter the Washington Wizards. The maligned capital franchise just had its name selected by the lottery Gods to be the future home of John Wall. The worst thing that the Wolves could do for Wall – the Clipper move if you will – would be to pair him with Gilbert Arenas. The Wiz are going to say publicly that they believe that Wall and the Gunslinger can co-exist in the backcourt. And of course on paper they can, but even Ernie Grunfeld isn’t stupid enough to believe that Arenas will be a good tutor to Wall. So, the Wizards will try to move mountains if it allows them to move Arenas.

That of course makes for a Jesse James’ style marriage. There’s some tattoos, some guns, strippers, an epic party or two, and a whole lot of dysfunction. It could be as simple as Toney Douglas and a second round pick. BANG! Just like that Gilbert’s a Knick.

Of course, the Knicks would not be finished there. They could also call the Sixers and say, ok, you want to clear Elton Brand off your cap, well then we’ll need Andre Igoudala. We’ll give you Wilson Chandler and Eddy Curry’s expiring deal. Done. The Sixers have Evan Turner or Derrick Favours coming in. They have Jrue Holiday developing. They need to get rid of Brand and that number two pick should have made Iggy disposable. If it takes him to clear off Brand, then seal the deal.

And, just because Knick fans sold their soul to the devil during the NBA’s first draft lottery, Donnie Walsh will decide that he saw something in Jermaine O’Neal that makes him think the former MVP candidate, and a player who was Walsh’s star in Indiana, might have something left in the tank – never mind that O’Neal actually died in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills five years ago, but has been carried around like Bernie Lomax ever since.

Add in some cheap pieces around the fringe and suddenly the Knicks’ roster looks like this…

PG – G. Arenas, S. Rodriguez,
SG – A. Igoudala, B. Walker, J. Giddens
SF – D. Gallinari, T. Thomas
PF – E. Brand, C. Wilcox, S. Marks
C – J. O’Neal, T. Battie

I know, I know, it’s nausea inducing. You say to yourself there’s no way that that’s possible, but hey, “Gilbert a Knick” is a very real, very scary proposition. It’s like them making an A-Team movie. You know it’s a terrible idea, they know it’s a terrible idea, but somewhere along the way you both talk yourselves into it and next thing you know, they’ve made the movie and you’ve bought advance tickets online. Not that I’m saying I’ve bought advance tickets online or anything, just that, uhmmm… ahhh… lets move on.

The Wiz need to get rid of Gilbert, the Knicks need something to show for all of this waiting and seeing. It’s long been my favorite style of management, “first we show up, then we see what happens.” Of course, if “what happens” is a big pile of poop in a shoe, then that’s just plain ugly…

The Bad:

There are other scenarios for the Knicks that aren’t so Cormac McCarthy post-apocalyptic, but still leave you with that sharing an elevator with someone who just farted feeling. What about if LeBron and Bosh join forces in Chicago, Wade and Stoudemire in Miami, but the Knicks walk away from the NBA game of free agent musical chairs with Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer. How would that sit for you?

Both are good players. Together they have six allstar appearances, seven seasons of averaging better than 20 points per game and last year they combined to average 40.8 points and 15.8 rebounds, but if you believe that a core of Johnson and Boozer is getting you past the second round, well, I’ve got an amazing waterfront investment for you in the Gulf Coast.

For that reason, I wouldn’t pay either max money, but I think there are enough teams out there with cash this offseason that both will eventually receive the max. All it takes is the big four free agents (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and Amare)* to sign elsewhere and then Johnson to get a max offer from the Timberwovles or the Clippers, or Sacramento. Everybody always talks about winning, but when the chips fall, they always take the money. All it takes is one drunken David Kahn phone call and suddenly Johnson’s “worth” 16 million. So, forget about the Knicks adding Johnson, Boozer, and someone like Rudy Gay on 11 or 12 million per year deals. It just isn’t happening. (likewise, the so-called free agent summit is irrelevant, because all those guys aren’t taking 8 million per year to band together like the Justice League).

Now, with a core of Gay and Boozer, the Knicks could still use that Curry-expiring chip to fill in pieces around the fringes. They could make Detroit an offer that took Rip Hamilton and Charlie Villanueva off the Pistons’ hands for Curry’s expiring, which would save Detroit bucket loads of cash and allow them to escape from two questionable moves. With a couple other minor signings, the Knicks roster looks thus:

PG – R. Felton, T. Douglas, S. Rodriguez
SG – R. Hamilton, B. Walker
SF – J. Johnson, D. Gallinari, W. Chandler
PF – C. Boozer, C. Villanueva
C – Mystery Center 1, J. Howard

Sure, the Johnson and Boozer led Knicks are making the playoffs, they might even win a round, but they are soft, they lack leadership, and if they don’t score 110 then they’re almost certainly losing. The chances of them winning a title are about the same as the chances of me finally getting that growth spurt I’ve been hoping for. It’s not ugly, but it’s sure as heck not good…

*(I don’t list Dirk Nowitzki here, because while he’s opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent, I fully expect him to re-sign with the Mavericks. For very obvious reason, Dirk needs to get a new contract before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out, and opting out, rather than just signing an extension, allows him to negotiate a “no trade” clause into the deal. If Dirk were actually on the market, I’d have him above Amare, but below Bosh in the order.)

The Good:

LeBron supposedly wants to win RIGHT NOW, so the only way the Knicks can get him is to convince James that in this one summer they are going to overhaul their roster so completely that they will be contenders next year. Having said that, I think that there are more factors involved here than just winning. I think that LeBron’s actions have made clear that he wants to be wooed, he wants to be lusted after, he wants to be in the limelight. I think that New York actually has a very real possibility to get LeBron simply because the King wants the biggest throne possible… and folks, it just doesn’t get any bigger than ruling the Big Apple.

Of course, he’s not going to rule alone.

So, they have to get LeBron and Chris Bosh on a three way phone call and say, we want both of you, we need both of you, and if you come here, then these are the other moves we’re going to make in an effort to win a title.

After those two sign, then you want shooters, lots and lots of shooters. Before Boston’s playoff run I would have suggested signing Ray Allen as the shooting guard, but I think Boston’s success this spring will entice them to keep the gang together for one more year.

So… I make an offer to J.J. Redick. If you watched Orlando’s flameout in the Eastern Conference finals, then you surely came to two conclusions: First, Dwight Howard needs to spend six hours a day in the gym this summer working with Hakeem Olajuwon. Second, JJ Redick, yes… Duke’s own JJ Redick, who struggled in his first two years, is good, real good. He’s always been a great shooter, but his game has grown where he’s now more than just a eighth man off the bench. His defense has improved to the point that he’s not a liability and he’s learned how to get his shot off against NBA defenses. His dribbling’s improved and while I still wouldn’t have him moving with the ball too often, he’s not a turnover waiting to happen. More than just that, he’s a fighter and a smart player. I would always have a roster spot for a smart, fighting shooter.

After Redick, I poach Channing Frye from Phoenix. Frye had his struggles in the series against the Lakers, but he also showed that he’s got a sweet three point stroke. Put him on the floor with James and Bosh and watch the open J’s swish through. He has a player option for this year, but I imagine given his strong year, he’s going to opt out and look for a raise.

So, then we need a point guard. Personally, I prefer Canadian points with hair that my wife always sees and says, “oh, that’s terrible, why’s he wearing his hair like that,” but since he re-upped in Phoenix for another two years, I’d pick up Luke Ridnour off the bargain floor. He’s sort of like Steve Nash-lite and despite a good year for Milwaukee he shouldn’t have a massive price tag.

Finally I want veterans. Some guys who’ve been through the fire and say grumbly, crotchety, inspirational things when the team is in a timeout. This was both Cleveland and Orlando’s problem when things went south against the Celtics, there was no leadership to calm them down in the huddle. Shaq could have been that guy for Cleveland, because he’s won four titles, but that’s just not who he is. Instead, I’d bring in the guy the Cavs jettisoned to acquire Shaq. If you watched Ben Wallace last year, you’d realize that he’s not as dead as we thought two years ago. He’s still a fierce defender and while he can’t score to save his life, this team needs his veteran leadership, his toughness in the post and thus for 20 minute spurts can live with his lazy eye offence.

I also want to add Raja Bell. A D’Antoni favorite from their Phoenix days together, Bell could be a perfect eighth man, giving the team 15 minutes off the pine, hitting some open treys and pestering the Kobe Bryants of the world. The only question with Bell is how the knee that kept him out all of last year is holding up, but since I can’t find that information anywhere online, I’m just taking a leap of faith. I assume that were I really running the team, we’d have some sort of medical staff that could answer this question for us, but then again we are speaking about the team that gave a contract to Eddy Curry, so… who knows.

Hey, speaking of Curry, it’s probably time to round out the roster by moving his postal code sized ass somewhere that wants out of a bad contract. You know who I’d target if I were the Knicks? Lamar Odom. You can forget about all those stories about “if Odom puts it together.” At this point, he is who he is, but I’m actually kind of fond of the player he is, and his versatility is perfect for this team. It’s convoluted and tricky, but the pieces are there for the Bulls, Lakers, and Knicks to pull off a three way deal, depending on what other moves happen. The Knicks would have to give up their last remaining asset in Gallinari and they’d have to take on someone’s onerous contract (think Luke Walton’s remaining three years at five per), but for Odom it’s worth the hassle.

Finally, just to finish it off, in the second round I’d draft Duke’s Brian Zoubek. Why? Well, I have one roster spot left, and honestly, Mikey D never goes beyond eight in his rotation anyhow, so why not just select a massive, pick setting, bone crunching body to round things out. Ok, donesville. Lets see what we’ve got?

PG – L. Ridnour, T. Douglas
SG – J. Redick, R. Bell, B. Walker
SF – L. James, W. Chandler, L. Walton
PF – C. Bosh, L. Odom
C – B. Wallace, C. Frye, B. Zoubek (with either him or Walker D-Leaguing it)

Your crunch time five is Bell (or Ridnour), Redick, James, Bosh, and Odom. Desperately need a three? Then put in Ridnour, Redick, Bell, James, and Fry. You need a defensive stop? Put in Ridnour (ugh…), Bell, James, Bosh, and Wallace. Want to go small? Ridnour, Redick, Bell, James, Bosh (or Odom). Want to go big? James, Chandler, Odom, Bosh, Wallace (or Frye). Want to throw out a really crappy fourth quarter blowout five, then you’ve got Douglas, Walker, Walton, Chandler, and Zoubek.

I like it.

I’m not saying they win a title next year, the point position is weak and they could use a stronger eighth man than Chandler, but… they’re going to be good, they’re going to be exciting, and they’re going to have the garden packed and hopeful every night. Plus, over the next three years, that squad picks up every single midseason buyout, every midlevel exception, and in two years when he’s finally ageing and decides to leave Phoenix, that squad gets a floppy haired, dead eyed shooting Canadian to give them 25 solid minutes at the point. And that my friends, that… truly is the good!

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