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Rick Welts and the Road Less Travelled…

May 16, 2011 Leave a comment

After almost two years of residing permanently on my left ring finger – surviving through every sloppy burger, every time the dishes were done, every time I worked in the garden – my wedding ring has transformed from the smooth, glistening white-gold band it was in its youth, to a tarnished and scratched bronzed-silver relic.  So yesterday, with nothing better to do on a Sunday morning that felt much more like February than May, my wife and I took my ring back to the store from which it came to get it re-dipped.

It was a simple enough procedure: I gave them the ring, they gave me a receipt, we went on our way.  Yet, an hour later, as we sat at lunch, my wife could tell I was upset by something.  I was fidgeting, I was distracted, I was… missing my ring.  It’s not just that in two years I had grown used to the feel of it against my skin, it’s that I liked what it was: a symbol of my marriage and the woman I love.

I’m proud of my marriage; I love my partner; I love the lives we have and the lives we are building.  I want people to look at me and know that I am married, even if they cannot see my wife.  So it is that I sympathize with the difficult decision made by Phoenix Suns’ executive Rick Welts this week, when he contacted a newspaper reporter to declare that he is gay.

I make a very conscious effort with this blog to avoid the overt morality that is often engendered in sports.  In general, I believe that my morality is my own and I have neither the desire, nor the wherewithal to proselytize my readers.  Yet on this topic, I feel the need to pull the old soapbox out of the garage and climb up.  Put simply, Rick Welts has every right to live his life as I do.  He has every right to wear a ring on his finger that proclaims his love of another human being, whether that human be man or woman.

If we have learned anything over the last 15 years – from OJ, to steroids in baseball, to Kobe in Colorado, to Tiger’s Thanksgiving accident – it’s that athletes are not super heroes, nor are they worthy of a pedestal.  They are human beings, fraught with all the foibles that engulf the rest of us.  Yet, the decision of Welts, which is some corners might be deemed a choice of morality, is a watershed, heroic moment.  Not Jackie Robinson taking the field against the Braves, but important nonetheless.

Sports remains one of the last barriers to be broken down by a world increasingly accepting of homosexuals.  As NBA commissioner David Stern says of his conversation with Welts,

What I didn’t say at the time was: I think there’s a good chance the world will find this unremarkable,” Stern told The Times. “I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts with my hopes.

The world may well find it unremarkable, and I certainly hope that they do, but that doesn’t make the challenge of coming out any less daunting for Welts.  He works in a field of overt masculinity.  A world in which manhood is constantly being defined, challenged, and postulated upon.  Yet, somehow, it is often in the places of outward masculinity that true manhood is hardest to discover.  Where insecurity over the sexuality of another still exists and people become discomfited by a man who wants nothing more than to be open about his life.

And why shouldn’t Welts be able to stand openly with a partner whom he loves?  Why is it that some people still believe there is inherent evil in homosexuality?  How have we not yet moved beyond that?  How do we still believe that being straight is a choice that can be made?  It is far too easy to look at someone else and tell them that what they are doing is wrong; to say that their life is immoral, their feelings fallacious, their needs specious.  As a culture, we would benefit from more people looking introspectively, asking themselves hard questions about who they are, how they live their life, and what they do to improve our world.  These are the questions that Rick Welts has surely asked himself over the past few weeks, months(?), years(?).

The answers that Welts has chosen from those introspective conversations, is that he wants to live openly, to help other young gay men or women find their way in sports, and to help the conversation of homosexuality in (male) sports become part of the public discourse.  It is a long, lonely road to trudge, yet Welts is in many ways in the perfect position to make this first step.

He plays for an owner who has already shown fortitude to take a public political stand, even if it is a controversial one.  His team’s coach is comfortable with his sexuality,

To me, what does it matter? I know he’s great at his job; he’s very organized and he does a brilliant job. To me, [his sexuality] is irrelevant.

“I’m happy for Rick because I think it takes a ton of weight off his shoulders,” Gentry added. “I’m glad for him because it puts him in a more relaxed state. Do I look at him any differently or judge him any differently? Not in a million years. I’ve dealt with Rick for the last seven years and he’s a great CEO and a great person.

And the franchise’s star player is far from your stereotypical jock.  Steve Nash doesn’t have a problem with Welts’ orientation,

Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up,” Nash said. “He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor.

Well said, and to the point.  Welts is doing everyone a favor, by making his life the sledgehammer that takes the first real swing at the wall built around sexuality in men’s sports.  As we slowly move towards a culture in which gay men and women may marry whomever they like, splintering one of the last strongholds of intolerance is imperative.

Of course, Welts is not an active player and that remains an obtrusive barrier yet to be broken.  It seems to me, that within the next few years, an active male professional will come out of the closet and he will have been helped to do so, whether directly or indirectly, by Rick Welts.  And one day soon thereafter, another player will come out, and then another, and another, and soon nobody will care.  And why should they?

I fidget uncomfortably not being able to wear a ring that symbolizes my marriage, I cannot imagine the pain that exists when you have to hide that relationship entirely. Thanks to Rick Welts, hopefully one day soon, athletes who are gay will not be forced to hide their own wedding rings, but will be able to wear them as I do; a glistening, white-gold symbol of their love.

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Jays Trying to Fly Higher Than the Sun(s)…

April 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m going to make a strange comparison.  This weekend, while watching the Jays take two of three from the Twins, I could not help but marvel over how much I like their team this year.  They’re young, which I always like in a baseball team.  They have solid arms in the rotation – in the opening three games, their starters went 18.1 innings, with 17 Ks and only 5 earned runs – and play good enough defense (well, except at third…). And they can hit the ball… far.

Jose Bautista has looked good thus far, as has Arencibia behind the plate and Snider in left.  If you think that Adam Lind and Aaron Hill can rebound to something near their 2009 numbers, then there is little reason to think that the team cannot be solid.  Contenders though?  No, no I don’t think so. They are just missing something.  As I watched on Sunday, what I was struck by, isn’t their lack of talent, but rather their lack of blue chip talent.  That upper level talent that propels a team from good to great.  It’s the sort of talent that Mike Lombardi ranks in his NFL coverage. Guys who are in the upper echelon at their position. The Jays have all the pieces to be good, but they lack those blue-chippers to make them great.

This reminded me of the Suns.  As their season imploded after that triple overtime loss to the Lakers a couple Tuesdays ago, I was struck by the same thing: the Suns are a really good team. In Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic (until that idiotic trade that cost the Suns a first round pick this year), Mikael Pietrus, and Robin Lopez (since Gortat always played starters minutes anyhow), the Suns have one of the leagues best benches.  In Grant Hill and Steve Nash, they have two veteran warriors, whose games so perfectly translate to wins, and in Marcin Gortat they have that rarest or rare NBA entities: a center.

What the Suns don’t have, is any blue chip talent.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Nash is amazing, but there are two things to consider with him: first, he is 37 years old, which in athlete years makes him ready to start collecting his pension and in NBA point guard years makes him ready to be dug up, dusted off and immortalized in an exhibit somewhere.  This isn’t a knock on Nash, rather a commentary on how remarkable it is what he’s accomplished this year.  No other point guard has been as good this late in their career, not even John Stockton, but that said, Nash IS 37 years old and thus asking him to be your team’s best player is asking your team to be .500.

Second, is that Nash should never be a team’s primary offensive option anyhow.  He’s not that style of point guard.  His game works better if he’s feeding a primary scorer, finding other options, and then hitting open jumpers when the ball comes back to him.  Obviously that’s what made him and Amare so successful.  And there’s the piece that is missing: Amare Stoudemire.  Last year when the Suns made their surprising run to the Western Conference Finals, they had Amare as their leading scorer, while Nash was a distant second and Jason Richardson a close third.  Thus, no matter how good the Suns are from players 3-12 on their roster, they lack that blue chip punch at the top.

I’m not even saying it needs to be Amare and Richardson, imagine how different this season would be if you swapped out the 17.3 million the Suns are paying Vince Carter for the 17.2 the Mavericks are paying Dirk Nowitzki?  What then if you replaced the money they are spending on Josh Childress (6.5m) and Hakim Warrick (4 m) with the money San Antonio’s paying Manu Ginobili? *  Those are two no doubt about it blue-chippers who would fit in with the club and their style of play.  Sure, suddenly the Suns would be starting four white guys, which is frightening, but adding those two pushes Frye to the bench where he belongs and removes three deadweights (Vince, Warrick, and  Childress) from the roster. The Suns would have a rotation of:

C – M. Gortat
PF – D. Nowitzki
SF – G. Hill
SG – M. Ginobili
PG – S. Nash

 

Bench: G. Dragic, J. Dudley, M. Pietrus, C. Frye, and R. Lopez.

That’s what blue chip talent does for you, it allows your good players to show their stuff in the roles they were meant to play.

*( Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting these as trades, obviously Dallas and San Antonio wouldn’t make these deals even if they were drugged… I’m suggesting them as an example of squandered value and how better resources at the same price would make the Suns dramatically better.  Obvious, I know, but that’s sort of what we’re about here at Sports on the Brain…).

The blue chip idea is stronger in basketball than any other sport.  We all know that basically if you don’t have one of the seven or eight best players in the league (LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Howard, Dirk, Durant, probably Rose, possibly Carmelo, Paul before his knee went), then all the bright moves in the world, will still leave you the Houston Rockets.  Yet, while not as dramatic, the same still applies to baseball.

Yes, the Giants won last year’s title with Tim Lincecum as their only clear blue chip talent, but Matt Cain is borderline and Buster Posey is in the process of establishing himself in the club. Plus, if you look back at the last decade’s worth of winners, you will see a preponderance of big names:

WS Champ Season Blue Chip Hitters Blue Chip Pitchers
New York Yankees 2009 A. Rodriguez, M. Teixeira, D. Jeter C. Sabathia, M. Rivera
Philadelphia Phillies 2008 C. Utley, J. Rollins, R. Howard C. Hamels
Boston Red Sox 2007 D. Pedroia, M. Ramirez, D. Ortiz J. Beckett, J. Papelbon
St. Louis Cardinals 2006 A. PUJOLS, S. Rolen C. Carpenter
Chicago White Sox 2005 P. Konerko (?) M. Buerhle
Boston Red Sox 2004 M. Ramirez, D. Ortiz C. Schilling, P. Martinez
Florida Marlins 2003 D. Lee, M. Lowell J. Beckett
Anaheim Angels 2002 D. Eckstein I’m kidding…
Arizona Diamondbacks 2001 L. Gonzalez R. Johnson, C. Schilling
New York Yankees 2000 Jeter, B. Williams R. Clemens, Rivera

The baseball playoffs are a funny endeavor, unlike the NBA, any team can get hot and win once they are in the dance.  You saw that last year with the Giants and you saw it in 2005, when the White Sox capitalized on the Sox and Yanks having beat the tar out of one another for two straight years.  But still, each of those World Series winning teams, save the Angels, had at least two blue chip players.  Most had three.  You can win without stars, but you have to be very, very good.  That Angels team didn’t have any blue chip talent, but they were strong enough top to bottom to win 99 games.  I’d hate to be a cliche, but they were scrappy.  They played defense, ran bases, pitched well across the board, had a great pen, had Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon on the bench…

Plus, the other seven playoff teams that year were Atlanta (Chipper, Andruw Jones, G.Sheffield), St. Louis (Pujols, J. Edmonds, M. Morris), San Francisco (B. Bonds, J. Kent, and B. Bonds’ head), Arizona (see 2001), New York (Jeter, Williams, J. Giambi, M. Mussina), Minnesota (no idea?), Oakland (M. Tejada, E. Chavez, T Hudson, B. Zito, M. Mulder).  You know what I mean?  While you can argue that you can win in the playoffs by being really good and getting on a roll, to get there, you basically need those blue chip guys.

To bring it back to the Jays, how would their chances look this year if you gave them Evan Longoria, Josh Hamilton and, oh I don’t know, lets say… Roy Halladay?

Suddenly, this is their batting order:

1) Y. Escobar (r), SS
2) T. Snider (l), LF
3) E. Longoria (r), 3B
4) J. Hamilton (l), CF
5) J. Bautista (r), RF
6) A. Lind (l), 1B
7) A. Hill (r), 2B
8) J. Rivera (r), DH
9) J. Arencibia (r), C

With J. Molina, E. Encarnacion, R. Davis, and J. Nix (or J. McDonald) making up the bench. Aaron Hill’s no longer being asked to be a middle of the order presence, Encarnacion and Davis become excellent bench pieces, Mike McCoy bolsters the Las Vegas 51s and the Jays are suddenly contenders.

Similarly, the starting staff looks far more impressive:

R. Halladay
R. Romero
B. Morrow
B. Cecil
K. Drabek

As with the Suns, this just pushes guys back into roles they should be. Romero isn’t a number one starter, he’s just not. Kyle Drabek’s a stud, but he’s also a baby, lets let him grow as the fifth starter, rather than throwing him into the fire as the number 2. And while every Jays’ fan has a soft spot for that redheaded, left handed step child, Jesse Litsch, it’s hard to see him having any meaningful success this year. Having a blue chipper at the top would mean that Litsch could be an insurance policy, rather than him being counted upon as part of the rotation.

Unfortunately, just as the Suns don’t have Dirk or Manu, the Jays don’t have Longoria or Hamilton; and, despite what I tell myself every night as I fall asleep, they don’t have Doc. So, rather than competing for a title in 2011, they are fighting to be respectable, to keep things interesting through the summer, and maybe, just maybe, to fly a little higher than the Sun(s).

Phoenix’s Season is Stretching Just out of Reach…

March 8, 2011 Leave a comment

When the Suns set out on their six game road trip, it felt like they needed to go at least 4-2 to stay afloat in the bloated Western Conference race.  With two Channing Frye overtime buzzer beaters the Suns did win four, which – I guess –  makes it a successful road trip, but looking at their remaining 21 games, it’s fair to wonder whether wins over Toronto, Indiana, New Jersey, and Milwaukee were enough.  On Sunday night in Oklahoma, the Suns almost won, while their chief rival for that last playoff spot almost lost.  That would have left the Suns half a game up for the eighth spot.  Unfortunately Zach Randolph hit a last second shot to give Memphis the win, while Vince “Not Quite Clutch” Carter missed two free throws sending the Suns’ game to overtime.  The Suns lost in overtime, probably because Channing Frye had been forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury that will keep him sidelined for a couple weeks.  Or maybe it was just because Oklahoma’s a better team.  Who can say?

After another Memphis win last night (in successive nights they beat the Mavs and Zombies, I don’t think they’ll be relinquishing their playoff spot), the Suns sit two games out with 21 to go.  Of course, because the West is so clumped in the middle, the Suns are still only 3.5 out of fifth, which means they don’t have to catch the Grizzlies.  The Suns could catch up to any one of Denver, Portland, or New Orleans, for that eighth spot, but…

Of the Suns’ final 21 games, 14 are against opponents who currently sit at, or above, .500; this includes two games against the Spura and Mavs, and a deadly five game road trip begining in April that sends them to San Antonio, Chicago, New Orleans and Dallas.  The Suns currently have a 14-23 record against .500 teams, which presents a fairly ominous barrier to the playoffs.

Perhaps most concerning for Suns fans is whether Steve Nash is running on fumes.  Robert Sarver’s idiotic stripping of the team has meant that even at 37, Nash is the team’s single most important player.  And Nash hasn’t shied away from that role; he’s been putting up numbers to rival his MVP years, except, that is, until this recent road trip:

Fri 2/25 Raptors – 30 min, 2-12 FG, 0-3 3FG, 11 A, 7 P
Sun 2/27 Pacers – 43 min, 5-14 FG, 0-4 3FG, 13 A, 10 P
Mon 2/28 Nets – 40 min, 3-13 FG, 0-3 3FG, 15 A, 10 P
Wed 3/2 Celtics – 27 min, 3-7 FG, 1-3 3FG, 7 A, 8 P
Fri 3/4 Bucks – 28 min, 3-7 FG, 1-1 3FG, 13 A, 8 P
Sun 3/6 Thunder – 40 min, 5-11 FG, 0-2 3FG, 14 A, 11 P

So, over the last six games, the man some have reasonably dubbed the greatest shooter in NBA history has shot 33% from the floor and 12% from three.  Trust me when I say that those numbers are down a touch from his career norms.  Now, over those games he did average 12.1 assists, so it’s not as though he wasn’t still pumping the engine, but if those 37 year old legs are leaden and his shots falling short, the Suns playoff hopes will remain stretched just out of reach…

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Winners and Losers of the Carmelo Siege…

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Finally, the endless siege is over.  The poor, deprived hostages in Denver can return to their normal lives, a little scared, a little worse for wear, but ultimately capable of a full recovery.  The rest of us, held hostage waiting for a resolution, can turn our attentions to other teams, other players, and other potential trades.  But first, before their can be healing, their must be closure, which means it’s time to proclaim some winners, deride some losers, and just generally come to understand what the heck happened over these last 7,894 days.

Winner – New York Knicks

The NBA is a fairly straight forward league.  If you have one of the five or six best players in basketball, you can win a championship.  If you don’t, you can’t.  It’s why every year there are five or six teams in contention and then a bunch of also rans in the middle fighting for some room to dance.  In my lifetime (a shade or two over 30 years), there has been only one exception to this rule: the 2004 Detroit Pistons.  Yes, they lacked a top five talent, but they probably had four guys in the top twenty and their fifth might have been top forty.  Plus, frankly, they only won because the Lakers allowed the Shaq-Kobe turmoil boil over.  So, yes, that’s the exception, but it’s the only one and it took some pretty exceptional circumstances.

Yes, the Knicks are a winner, because of the 12 players being exchanged in this trade, only one is the type of talent that could propel a team to a championship.  And that man, landed with the Knickerbockers.

Loser – New York Knicks

On the other hand, this deal cost the Knicks two starters (Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari), six million dollars cold hard cash, four draft picks (three picks and Anthony Randolph), and a boatload of flotsam in salaries.  The swap from Felton to Billups is a wash, but Billups is eight years older and significantly more expensive.  The roster outside Carmelo, Amare, and Billups makes the Miami Heat look like the 86 Celtics, and despite what everyone is salivating about, this deal basically eradicates any chance the Knicks had of acquiring Deron Williams, Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard.

Still, the Knicks do have that scintillating Carmelo-Amare front court.  Of course, even within that there are questions.  How will those two co-exist?  Are either of them really capable of leading a team to the promised land?  Is Amare going to resent being a second banana?  Can the Knicks, with Mike D’Antoni as coach and Carmelo-Amare as their core, play enough defense to topple the Heat, Celtics or Bulls?

On its face, this is a slam dunk win for the Knicks, but it also has the hollow ring of a flashy deal that garners BIG headlines but doesn’t actually make the team appreciably better.  Which brings me to the real reason this trade seems like a loser for the Knicks…

Winner – Isiah Thomas

With word flooding the inter-web that the disgraced former Knicks GM was at the forefront of this trade, Knicks fans had better be terrified, I mean Return of Chucky scared.  Whether or not you like the Carmelo deal, if it was brokered in any fashion by Thomas, that is a harbinger of doom for the franchise.  That will ensure that when his contract expires at seasons end, Donnie Walsh will resign and Thomas, the man who traded away half the franchise for such star talents as Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, and Jalen Rose will be walking back through the MSG door.  Any guesses how that one will work out?

Loser – Donnie Walsh

Whether or not Thomas was involved in this deal, it’s clear that Walsh was overruled.  That his strategy of waiting out the season to see what happens was deemed flawed and with it, Donnie quite possibly irrelevant.  Frankly, I’m not sure that his strategy was wrong.  Basically, Walsh was calling Anthony’s bluff:  That Carmelo truly wanted to play for the Knicks and that he intended to sign there no matter what.  Why give up three or four future rotation players to get a player you were going to acquire anyhow?  What made Walsh’s strategy sage, was the probability the even if Carmelo took the sure money with Denver (or New Jersey), Paul, Williams, and Howard weren’t just fallback options, but superior options.  Each pairs better with Stoudemire and each is more likely to lead his team to a title.  While it would have required another year of waiting, the Knicks would have been stronger for the deferment.

Winner – Denver Nuggets

Look, did they want to lose Anthony?  No, not really.  But the writing wasn’t just on the wall, it was the wall.  The Nuggets’ only hope of keeping Anthony would have been to hold on to him into the Summer and then push for a Franchise Tag in the labor negotiations.  Of course, then they’d have had to live with a cranky, pouting Anthony.  Considering that when James left Cleveland and Bosh Toronto, all those teams were left with was a giant (useless) trade exception and a couple crappy first round picks,* Denver worked New York like a champion boxer; using the interest of New Jersey and the possibility of keeping Carmelo to extract an extremely favorable package from the Knicks.  Are they better today than they were yesterday?  No, but they’re certainly better off than Cleveland and Toronto.

*Incidentally, we need to stop talking about 1st Round picks as though they are all the same thing.  The picks that Miami gave up for Bosh and James will never be higher than 28th.  Mostly they’ll probably be 30th.  This isn’t the same thing as getting a lottery pick.  And getting a lottery pick at 8-14 isn’t the same thing as getting a pick in the 5-7 range, which isn’t the same as a top 4 pick.  Know what I’m saying?

Loser – Mikhail Prokhorov and the New Jersey Nets

When he came into the league, the Big Russian arrived with a bang, toting hot women, private jets, and a swashbucklers mentality.  Now, a year later, he’s swung and missed on LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amare, and Carmelo.  Maybe it’s not his fault, maybe it’s the stench of Jersey.  Heck, maybe his – and his team’s – fortunes will improve when they relocate to Brooklyn, but right now you have an underachieving center who forgot how to rebound; you have a mercurial point guard who isn’t much of a passer; you have a young power forward who has promise, but also is averaging 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds, and you have a roster full of rejects you overpaid after being spurned by James.  So, the Russian Mark Cuban Prokhorov is not.

Winner – Phoenix Suns(maybe?)

Right now, with the stretch run about to begin, fifth through tenth in the West is separated by a measly four games>  The Suns sit at the bottom of that pack but there is cause for hope.  Directly ahead of the Suns are the Memphis Grizzlies, who just lost their best player for a month.  Ahead of them are the Utah Jazz, who after the shocking resignation of some coach who wasn’t particularly well known are in free-fall.  Above them are the Nuggets who just acquired Timofey Mozgov.  Above them are the New Orleans Hornets, whose best player acutally only has one knee.  And, finally, above them and sitting fifth are the TrailBlazers, who despite churning out win after win after win, are actually a travelling MASH unit.

The Suns have played better lately, going 12 and 6 to close out the break.  If they could get anything, ANYTHING, out of the corpse that used to be Vince Carter, then they could make a serious push, not just to the playoffs, but to a top six seed (the top four are beyond their reach).  Considering where things looked on the morning that they pulled off the Jason Richardson-Hedo Turkoglu trade, this is a surpirsingly rosy outlook.

Loser – Steve Nash

The Suns still aren’t title contenders (despite what I tell myself at night), but this trade ensures that whatever slim chance there was of the Suns moving Nash to a title contender has evaporated.  There’s no reason to trade him when you have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.  Even if your chances of surviving to the second round are pretty slim.

The Cost of Hedo…

December 19, 2010 Leave a comment

After Friday night’s loss, the Suns are once again on the wrong side of .500 and on the outside looking in on the playoffs. They’ve lost four of their last five, two of those to the team that they’re battling for eighth, and they seem incapable of rebounding against a team of grade eight girls. While it’s never a good idea to make declarative statements about teams 30 games into the season (see the hyperbole that surrounded the Miami Heat’s demise three weeks ago), I think we could have definitively said that these Suns are at best a first round sweep and at worst a 14th pick in the first round – which is basically the worst pick to have. Too late in the process to get a great player, but just early enough to mean you missed the playoffs. Honestly, who could have seen this coming… Actually, everyone. Everyone, except, apparently, Robert Sarver.

I think that I’ve made this point a couple of times: I’m less than impressed with some of the moves the Suns made this offseason. With Amare tearing up New York, it’s hard not to think the Suns erred in not bringing him back. Worse though, is that the money they could have spent on Amare they instead spread amongst Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, Channing Frye, and Hakim Warrick. That’s like saying, hey waiter, can I trade this fillet mignon for a corn dog, a moldy banana, three cheerios, and some processed cheese. You could make the case that given his injury history, the Suns were smart not to bring Amare back, and that’s fine, but… After the Turk’s pathetic performance last year, you just cannot trade for Hedo Turkoglu. You can’t.

Yesterday, that boneheaded move ended up costing the Suns Jason Richardson. So, if you’re counting at home, after making the Western Conference finals last year, Robert Sarver’s cheapness has now cost the Suns GM Steve Kerr, star Amare Stoudemire, star Jason Richardson, and two bench players (Leandro Barbosa and the surprisingly useful Louis Amundson). Ouch. Of course, ultimately the player that all these maneuvers will possibly cost Phoenix is Steve Nash. Just don’t expect that to happen this year.

Sadly, I actually like the trade for the Suns. I say sadly, because I hate that they had to trade Richardson (and not just because he had such a great given name). Still, once they’d made that boneheaded Hedo acquisition, they were always going to have to give up something valuable to get rid of the smoking Turk. No doubt, Vince Carter has his flaws, and he’s also four years older than JRich, but there’s a good chance that playing next to Nash helps Vince recover enough to at least resemble what Richardson did for them. On top of that, they add a good defensive wing in Mikael Pietrus and an actual real, live, center.

Marcin Gortat is the reason that the Suns might be better off after this trade. Assuming that Vince can replace most of Richardson’s value – which given the success he had playing next to Jason Kidd in New Jersey is a reasonable expectation – and that Pietrus wont (can’t?) be any worse offensively than Hedo was, then the Suns come out neutral before considering the addition of Gortat. Once you factor in that the Big Pole brings some of the rebounding, shot blocking and post defense that the Suns sorely needed, it’s hard to conclude that they are any worse than they were yesterday morning. Now, between Gortat and Robin Lopez the Suns actually have a real center rotation. It’s not quite Bill Walton backing up Robert Parish, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the famed Earl Barron – Channing Frye combo that the Suns were using last week.

So, the Suns are better today than yesterday, even without Richardson. Of course, there’s no reason that they should have had Hedo and his bloated contract in the first place, so while I like this trade, the Suns are worse now than they were at this time last year.

Opening the floodgates of the 2011 NBA Trade Season…

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Last weekend the Raptors and Hornets completed a five player deal that sent Peja Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless to New Orleans for Jarret Jack, David Anderson and Marcus Banks. I would spend some time breaking it down, but ahhh, seriously the trade involved Jack and Peja, who cares. If you really want some analysis, here’s John Hollinger’s take (insider, sorry).

No, what interests me isn’t the trade itself, but rather that it was the first deal of the NBA season, which is exciting because the NBA is a trade happy league and it usually requires one deal to break open the flood gates. This year should be a particularly interesting trade campaign, as the looming lockout means teams have divided into two camps: prepare for the lockout by minimizing salary and shedding long-term contracts. On the other side of the ring, are those teams that have decided “F*** it, they’re still awarding a title for 2010 and we’d like to win it…”

We all know that Carmelo Anthony might be moved, but also look for Philadelphia to strongly consider dumping Andre Igoudala, watch for Orlando to be aggressive in upgrading their roster, Dallas and Houston cannot help but make an in-season trade, and with the luxury tax expected to be around 68 million, you have 12 teams that will be looking to shed some salary. So, with all of that in mind, it’s time to do my first trade column of the season. As usual, these are based on nothing but the strange voices in my head; they aren’t rumors; they aren’t whispers; they probably aren’t even good ideas, but now, thanks to magic of the interweb, they’re being read by you.

Trade 1:

Philadelphia sends A. Iguodala and L. Williams to Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City sends M. Peterson, J. Harden, and E. Maynor to Philadelphia.

Why it Works For Oklahoma: The framework of this deal was proposed by Simmons in a BS Report chat with Joe House a few weeks ago. What the deal does, is give the Zombie Sonics that legitimate third piece around which a championship squad can be built. It’s the piece that most observers think that the Zombies missed out on when they picked Harden over Steph Curry. Of course, as I’ve pointed out in the past, it’s also the piece that they missed out on when they took Jeff Green over Joakim Noah. Iguodala is a great defender, he can score, but in Philly he’s been pressed into being a number one option, which he isn’t. For Team USA this summer, Iggy showed what he can do when a team has a clear number one option and he’s only required to defend and make open shots. And, of course, I don’t need to tell you who Team USA’s number one option was…

Why it Works for Philadelphia: This deal saves Philly 8 million dollars in what is shaping up to be a long, lost season in the City of Brotherly Love. It also sets them up well for a post lockout league with a reduced salary cap, as they shed two deals worth a combined 56 million past this year. Finally, the 76ers get two young pieces to add to their developing nucleus of Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, and Thaddeus Young. So, if the cap is prohibitively decreased, they would be in good long term shape.

Why it Doesn’t Work for Anyone: Despite their early season struggles, I doubt that Oklahoma executives want to take on any salary that might complicate their post lockout future. And, despite their early season struggles, I doubt that Philly executives want to tell fans they’ve traded their best player for James Harden. Even if it does make long term sense.

Trade 2:

Memphis sends O. Mayo to Chicago
Chicago sends K. Thomas, K. Bogans, Chicago’s #1 this year, and the #1 Charlotte owes the Bulls.

Why it works for Memphis: Well, I wouldn’t do it, but then I think Mayo’s got a solid career in front of him as a strong defender and shooter. Memphis probably does too, but they did drop him from the starting lineup, so who knows… What this trade gives them, is a veteran presence in Thomas who might help their youngsters. Likewise, Bogans is a tough defender and has played for Stan Van Gundy and Greg Popovich, two coaches who know a thing or two about winning. So maybe they help bring some accountability and toughness as the Grizz try and make their first playoff appearance since 2006. Then there’s the money, this deal saves Memphis 2 million this year and chops about 3 million off of next year’s cap. And, we know that Memphis’ owner Michael Heisley is cheap, so that might get the deal done by itself. Finally, there is the picks. The one from Chicago isn’t of much value, but that one from Charlotte has decreasing protection which leaves it unprotected in 2016. With Charlotte, that could turn out to be of real value.

Why it works for Chicago: Hundreds of words have been spilled over the Bulls bringing in Carmelo Anthony, but I don’t think they need Anthony. When Carlos Boozer returns, the Bulls will be able to generate enough offense from him, Derrick Rose, and Luol Deng, that I don’t see the need of upgrading Deng to Anthony. What they do need, is to upgrade at shooting guard, where right now Bogans and Kyle Korver are the primary players. Mayo is exactly the type of guy the Bulls want. He’s capable of being a good defender and while he’s not always that right now, with the help of Tom Thibodeau, I imagine he’d get there, plus he can shoot. The Bulls already look formidable, but with Mayo, I’d give them a real shot of knocking off the Celtics or Magic in the Conference finals.

Trade 3:

Orlando sends M. Gortat, M. Pietrus, V. Carter, and a future #1 to Denver.
Denver sends C. Anthony, K. Martin, and R. Balkman to Denver.

Why it Works for Orlando: It might only be a rental for the playoffs, but this deal upgrades the Magic from Vince Carter to Carmelo Anthony. Making that upgrade costs Orlando a lot of money (see below), but doesn’t cost them much off their actual roster.

Why it Works for Denver: This deal saves Denver six million in salary, which since Denver is well into tax territory, means that it actually saves the team 12 million. If Orlando tossed in the maximum 3 million in cash considerations, Denver has now saved 15 million, basically meaning that they get Vince Carter free for the rest of the season. Marcin Gortat is seen as a young center with great potential who’s only major fault is that he isn’t Dwight Howard. This probably isn’t a deal Denver makes today, but if in February the Nuggets know that Anthony is gone, then they will probably look to get something, anything, for him. Each day that passes, the offers for Anthony lose a little value, especially if he’s unwilling to sign an extension when traded. So, by February it will be about who’s willing to trade for Anthony even though they know he might leave in four months.

What makes it even better: This trade is a win for Orlando and it’s something Denver would never consider if they weren’t staring down the barrel of the losing your star for nothing gun, but think about how much better this deal would be for Orlando if they followed it up with this move…

Trade 4:

Orlando sends J. Nelson, R. Anderson, D. Orton, Malik Allen and the draft rights to F. Vazquez to Phoenix.
Phoenix sends S. Nash and G. Hill to Orlando.

Why it works for Orlando: Duh…

Why it works for Phoenix: It doesn’t, I mean not really. If I were on PTI playing odds makers, I would put the odds of Phoenix trading Nash this season at less than ten percent. I understand that they’ve made terrible moves that have relegated them to somewhere between the 7th and 9th seed in the West and that Nash is really the only asset they can move to jump start their rebuilding, but… I just don’t think that Robert Sarver signs off on trading his golden ticket this year. Maybe next summer, but even then I think it’s more likely that a trade comes sometime next season. Still, if they did decide to take the plunge and shop Nash, this isn’t the worst trade in the world. It gets them a good young forward in Anderson and two projects with upside in Orton and Vazquez.

Why those moves would just be insane: Just put aside reality and picture it for a minute: After those two trades, Orlando would have two months to get all those pieces on the same page, it might be too tall a task, but if they pulled it off then their lineup would look like this:

Starters:
PG – S. Nash
SG – G. Hill
SF – C. Anthony
PF – R. Lewis
C – D. Howard

Bench:
Guards: C. Duhon, J. Williams
Wings: J. Reddick, Q. Richardson, R. Balkman
Bigs: K. Martin, B. Bass

Since teams in the playoffs only ever go eight deep anyway, then the Magic would have Duhon spelling Nash for 15 minutes in the playoffs, Reddick coming in to spell Hill and Anthony (with Hill slipping to the three when Carmelo sits), and Martin covering the minutes of Howard and Lewis.

NBA Preview Part 2 – The Setting Sun…

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

If the offseason was decidedly good for the Heat, it was decidedly bad for some other NBA franchises. Portland Trailblazers went insane and fired GM Kevin Pritchard, they then spent 32.5 million on Wesley Matthews; New Jersey cleared 79 billion in cap space to sign Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro; and the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers lost a couple guys who may or may not have had something to do with their recent success (and in the case of Toronto I use the term success very loosely), but from this completely biased outpost, the absolute worst offseason occurred in Arizona where Robert Sarver again showed himself to be one of the five worst owners in the NBA.

It cannot be overstated how bad of an offseason the Suns had. Since making all the right decisions in the summer of 2004, it boggles my mind how many moves the Suns have fumbled or outright botched. Every time they seem to take a step forward, they follow that up with three jumps back. Last year Steve Kerr finally settled into his role as GM, making some astute moves, and putting a team together that made a surprising run to the Western Conference playoffs. How did Robert Sarver reward him? Well, who knows. Kerr resigned and while he wont publicly say a bad word about Sarver, I think we can be fairly sure that something drove him out the door.

Without Kerr, the Suns allowed Amare Stoudemire to leave for the Knicks. That’s a hard decision. Given Amare’s problems staying healthy and his indifference to all things defensive, I can see the fear over giving him a 100 million deal. On the other hand, when you let Amare walk and replace him with 34 million on Josh Childress, 30 million of Channing Frye, 17 million of Hakim Warrick, and 44 million of Hedo Turkoglu, well that’s just obnoxious. It sort of reminds me of the team selling the draft rights to Rajon Rondo so that they could free up 20 million for Marcus Banks.

I don’t know, I just wish the Suns would trade Nash to San Antonio so that I could start cheering for a team that wasn’t so penny wise-pound foolish. As it stands, what’s the best possible outlook for this squad? Can they duplicate last year’s 54 win team when the their only big men are Frye, Warrick, and Robin Lopez? I’m a fan of Lopez and obviously Frye has his uses, but that’s hardly the front line of a championship WNBA team, let alone a championship NBA team.

On top of that, the Suns have four guys filling the small forward spot:

Grant Hill
Turkoglu
Jared Dudley
Josh Childress

I know that they will probably play small a bunch, with Hill or Turk at the four, but really? Really? Couldn’t you have spent part of the 108 million you spent on Turk, Childress and Frye on a big man? I don’t know, maybe a guy who could average 23 points a game, play the pick and roll perfectly with Nash, and wear a funny face mask? You know, someone like your power forward from last year?

The Suns’ guard rotation remains solid, with Nash and Richardson backed up by Goran Dragic and presumably Hill and Childress will get some burn in the backcourt, but the Suns lack that one player who can get them a basket or a foul in any situation. Further, for all the shooters that they have, who is opening up the floor for them? Who’s attracting double teams? The Suns have valuable pieces, but they are poorly put together and for all the good rotation players, they are lacking that number one scoring option. Last season’s excitement seems a distant memory, lost in haze of bad contracts, and this seems like a squad that will struggle to reach the playoffs. Sigh…

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