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Monday Afternoon Basketball Housekeeping…

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Did you hear that sound? Fifty thousand rapid fire pops? It was the sound of champagne bottles popping from San Jose, to the Golden Gate Bridge to Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors, hit by a Semi and left for dead on the side of the road, are being given CPR… Current Warriors’ owner Chris Cohan has spent much of the last decade battling Donald Sterling for the ignominious title of Worst Owner in Sports, but in the first savvy decision he’s ever made for his franchise, today he announced his intention to sell. If Cohan was the Semi that hit the Golden State Warriors, then President Bob Rowell was driving, and coach Don Nelson was the passenger in the front seat distracting Rowell with the sounds of his snores. The small glimmer of hope for this franchise is that this news means that all three of these morons will no longer be making basketball decisions for Golden State Warriors.

Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, has already made it clear that he intends to purchase the team, which means that he’s the one administering CPR. For fans of the Warriors (the family chewing their nails in the hospital waiting room) this is the first positive sign they’ve had in a long time.

Trust me when I say that Golden State has some of the NBAs best fans, perhaps even second to those diehards who’ve filled MSG every day through the Isaiah and rebuilding era. Warrior fans, come out to Oracle Arena every night, and cheer. These aren’t fair weather fans, and they aren’t “fans” attending the games to be seen. These are hardcore basketball fanatics, with high hoops IQs and they’ve stuck with this team through all of Cohan’s strange decisions (like rewarding Chris Mullin building a playoff team, by allowing Rowell to force him out). Finally, fifteen years years after Cohan purchased the team, they might get an owner who actually wants to build a winner. I know that they’re waiting on edge now, hopping, praying that the Dr. will come out of the operating room and say, “I have good news..”

The NBA Stretch:

There is very little intrigue as the NBA hits the stretch run; the playoffs in both conferences are all but sowed up, with only some minor seed jockeying left to determine. As I look at the conference stadnings, I can’t really see any moves that will help determine more than who survives to the second round. I mean, in the East we know the Raptors are first round fodder for the Cavs. Charlotte and Miami are struggling to get out of Orlando’s path, while Atlanta and Boston are jockeying to meet the winner of that outcome in hopes of avoiding lightning hot Milwaukee. Boston in particular has to fear the Bucks, but beyond that I think we can be sure that the second round in the East will see Cleveland, the Magic, and the Hawks.

The West has slightly more intrigue, just because Denver as the two seed and Portland as the eight seed are only separated by five games, but with only 12 games left, we basically know that LA, Denver, Dallas are the top three. The real trick in the West is the fight for the fourth seed. Utah is holding court right now, but Phoenix is nipping at their heals. Both teams play superb basketball in their home court, and desperately want to get that homecourt advantage. Ideally, they’d love to catch Dallas for third, to avoid the Lakers in round two, but not getting that fourth seed, virtually ensures that there wont be a round two.

For the Suns, that third seed is a tantalizingly close two and a half games, but with 12 to play closing that gap is asking a lot. To maintain any hope at all, they have to buck their road woes and take four of five games on an upcoming trip that sees (winnable) visits to: Minnesota, Chicago, New Jersey, Detroit, and Milwaukee. After that, their final five are significantly harder: a meeting with old friend San Antonio, a trip North to Zombieville, and then hosting Houston and Denver, with a potential playoff preview in Utah to close out the season.

The Madness:

The weekend was a doozey for March Madness fans. Surely you heard about the Kansas game, which destroyed many a bracket, including this guy’s. Sports on the Brain has been lucky thus far, as all the crucial upsets have either been predicted by us (if you read Thursday’s prediction, you know we called both St. Mary’s and Cornell making the Regionals), or failed to crush our bracket (Kansas wasn’t in our final four, nor was New Mexico). We were strongest in West, where Syracuse, Butler, Xavier, and Kansas State made us look smart (we aren’t, but lucky’s almost as good…). On the other hand, the Midwest escaped us, as only Ohio State stayed strong. Still, 10 of our 16 survive, including all of our final four teams.

Timing Out on the Tournament:

My only complaint about this weekend’s basketball? Time outs. It’s a problem in both college and the pros that the coaches have too many opportunities to bring the team to the sideline and work on their white board skills. Here’s a great example from the weekend’s first game, St. Mary’s classic upset of Villanova.

With 45 seconds left and the game close, here’s a transcript, minus score, with the occasional thought or action from yours truly:

– Foul
Time Out (Really, you needed a time out before free throws? What could you possibly be saying. “Ok, guys, don’t get a line violation here”)
– Foul Shot
– Foul Shot
– Turn Over (30.5 seconds left)
Time Out
– Inbounds
– Foul (28.3 seconds left… so basically, that last T/O was to tell your team to foul, which I think a) they should know, and b) you can shout from the sideline)
Time Out (no, really, again? We JUST had a time out, what possibly changed during the inbounds and foul?)
– Inbounds (here we go again…)
– Foul (23.3s)
– Foul Shot
– Substitution Break (Maybe I should check the fridge for leftovers?)
– Foul Shot (Digging week old chinese out of the back of fridge, hhmmm ‘smells kinda funny…’)
– Actual Basketball Play (Villanova 3 pointer. 12.6s… Eating Chinese…)
Time Out (Hhmmm… I wonder what boogers I have right now)
– Inbound
– Foul (Yawning…)
– Foul Shot (still yawning)
– Substitutions (picking up computer)
– Foul Shot
– Inbounds (Feeling some strange indigestion…)
– Actual Basketball Play (missed Villanova shot)
– Rebound
– Foul (3.8 seconds left)
– Foul Shot (Rushing to bathroom…)
– Foul Shot (Returning from bathroom…)
– Inbounds
– Game (I wonder if women’s curling is on?)

This whole sequence, that consisted of 45 seconds of basketball, took eleven minutes of real time. Why? Because basketball teams have twice the timeouts that they actually need. And coaches, not wanting to be “seen” as not coaching, make sure to use every freakin’ one that they’re given. Villanova needed to take a timeout to know that it had to foul? St. Mary’s needed to take one to know that they needed to inbounds the ball to their best foul shooter? Seriously, can’t coaches teach their players these things before the game? I mean, I’m pretty sure that 98% of the fans watching at that moment knew both those points.

The repeated timeouts that sent the telecast to commercial after commercial had me go from the edge of my seat to checking my email and picking my nose. I know I probably don’t have the world’s longest attention span, but I don’t have the shortest either. Like most sane people I hate the whole “foul, walk, walk walk, shoot, substitute offensive guys for defensive guys, shoot” routine that makes up the end of close basketball games, but at least it’s a necessary evil. The timeouts though? They’re utterly useless.

Moving Amare…

February 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The conventional wisdom for the last year has been that the Suns were looking to move Amare Stoudemire, lest they lose him for nothing next summer. However, what if the reality is actually the opposite? What if the Suns are looking at moving Amare for fear that in June he decides to stay?

Yes, this summer there will be a litany of teams who strike out on the LeBron-Wade-Bosh troika and hastily rush to spend their money elsewhere, settling instead for the “Joe Dumars special”. And yes, until the market crashed Amare was seen as a max contract player, but… The NBA is different now.

Teams are legitimately more concerned with their bottom line than with their talent. Franchises are really struggling, not just to make money, but to avoid hemorrhaging money. Plus, there are also serious fears over what the next labor negotiations will do to the financial landscape in general and the cap specifically.* Amare, with his injury history, his questionable attitude and practice habits, and his severe allergy to rebounding and defense, is not the stud he once was.

*(For an excellent recap of the fears GMs have over what will happen to the salary cap after the current collective bargaining agreement expires, check out Ian Thomsen’s article on the pending labor negotiations.)

If teams start pinching pennies, Stoudemire might have real difficulty getting a max deal. Assume that Stern succeeds in implementing a hard cap (doubtful) or reducing the current cap (basically a guarantee) and simultaneously reduces the maximum contract dollar and length (both probable). All of the contracts signed this summer will be grandfathered in, but if the max number is going to significantly drop, then you’d better be sure you signed the right guy to be your grandfathered contract. I think there is a strong possibility that a GM will seriously rue having committed six years and a 130 million to a diminishing Amare.

Now, five years ago there was Isaiah Thomas, Kevin McHale, Rob Babcock, Billy Knight, and Wes Unsled who all would have ignored the signs and dropped a buck fifty on Amare, but now…? I don’t know. Maybe Chicago doesn’t get one of the big three and, wary of the PR hit of not using their cap space, dumps the truck in Amare’s yard. Yet, after the public lambasting that Dumars has taken for doing something similar last summer, GMs seem to understand better than ever the implication of cementing your cap space on the Charlie Villanueva’s of the world.

So, if Amare isn’t set up for a big pay day, might he take a one year deal and try to improve his stock for 2011? Because here’s the thing, Amare has a player option with the Suns for 16 million next season. Phoenix, the George Costanza of NBA teams, is well known for cutting costs at every corner, so what if the Suns are assessing the NBA landscape, seeing that the offers that Amare’s expecting might not exist, and fearing him picking up that option?

The Suns might be legitimately looking at moving Amare from a talent standpoint, but… I’m just saying that if you see Stoudemire traded before the deadline for Brad Miller and Jerome James, well…

Lament of the Phoenix Part Two…

January 27, 2010 2 comments

(I got a bit wordsy and had to split my last post in two. If you haven’t read part one, you can find it here, or you could just scroll down, down again, just a little further, a touch more, you’re almost there…)

All of which brings us to the Big Kahuna. For Garnett, Minnesota’s former GM Kevin McHale took a package of Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebation Telfair, the expiring deals of Theo Ratliff and Grant Green, and two draft picks. Would a package of Rajon Rondo, Leandro Barbosa, Shawn Marion, the Rudy Fernandez pick and a future number one have been a more enticing offer for McHale? I’d have to think so. The talent in the latter package is a lot better.

Remember that we are talking about things back in 2007, when Barbosa was still thought of as a potential game changing sixth man, and Marion’s (Nashless) offensive shortcomings had yet to be made clear. It would not have offered the immediate cap relief, but Minnesota isn’t a free agent destination, so the cap space is less important than the talent.

I don’t know if McHale takes that deal… I mean, it’s Kevin “I think trading Sam Cassell for Marko Jaric is a good deal, but I’d better sweeten the offer with a draft pick” McHale, who the heck knows what he does. Predicting that is like trying to predict whether Ron Artest is going to be wearing pants today. It’s possible that he would have done the deal without Fernandez, but who knows. So, lets just assume that they do it as is. Why? well, it just makes the rest of my post easier.

Had Suns management utilised those draft picks, they could have still given Raja Bell the midlevel exception, they could have re-signed Eddie House, Grant Hill would still have signed for the veteran minimum. Obviously we aren’t going near Marcus Banks, the Gordan Giricek trade isn’t particularly likely, and the Big Cactus would never have sprouted, but if Phoenix had walked this path, here’s what their roster would have looked like for the 2007/08 season, versus what it looked like when the 2008 playoffs began:

Starters                         Starters
PG – S. Nash              PG – S. Nash
SG – R. Bell                 SG – R. Bell
SF – J. Johnson        SF – G. Hill
PF – K. Garnett          PF – A. Stoudemire
C – A. Stoudemire      C – S. O’Neal
Bench                            Bench
G – E. House               G – L. Barbosa
G – S. Rodriguez        S – D.J. Strawberry
S – G. Hill                    S – G. Giricek
S – J. Jones                 S – L. Johnnson
B – B. Skinner             B – B. Skinner
B – B. Diaw                  B – B. Diaw
B – M. Gortat               B – S. Marks

Is that a championship difference? I think so, the starting five is awesome. Bell, Johnson, and Garnett are all plus defenders who could help cover for Nash and Amare’s shortcomings. In 2007, Garnett over Shaq is a massive upgrade. The Diesel was running like an ’82 Volvo, while KG was at the height of his powers that season. His commanding presence and defensive energy were the biggest factors in Boston’s revival. Would he have had the same effect on the Suns? It think he would have. He basically does everything Marion did for the Suns, but better. Well, he doesn’t shoot threes quite as well, but then he doesn’t really shoot them and since Marion never shot threes quite as well as he thought, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Johnson replacing Hill in the starting lineup, and thus Giricek overall, is also obviously a massive upgrade. Johnson is the perfect basketball player for the D’Antoni system. He’s a strong defender, he passes almost as well as a point guard, and, most importantly, he shoots the rock.

The bench is also stronger. Mike D’Antoni only ever goes three deep on his bench and House did yeoman’s work off the bench for the Celtics that year. So, a Hill, House, Diaw bench would have offered a change of pace guy, a savvy and smart swingman, and a guy who likes French food. What? Sure Diaw has spent most of his career a little on the soft side, but I’m the last guy who’s going to criticize a Frenchman for knowing the importance of butter…

If the team needed to bang, then they could have thrown Gortat out there, if they needed a shooter off the bench they’d have had Jones, if they’d needed an overwhelmed rookie to buy donuts, they’d have had Rodriguez. Really, they had everything they needed. I honestly think that that squad wins the title that year and quite possibly another last year.

Instead, only two years latter, as the Suns look to move Amare Stoudemire for ten cents on the dollar, we are left singing,

Great God! is this our certain doom?
And are we still secure?
Still walking downward to our tomb,
And yet prepare no more?

The Suns are doomed and the right move probably is trading Amare, so let us mourn the death of the Suns… but what are the chances of the franchise writing that “eulogy” and moving Nash somewhere better?

Lament of the Phoenix Part One…

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The Suns lost another road game last night. It was their sixth loss in their last eight games and it dropped their road record to 9-15. The loss means the Suns currently sit in seventh place, with Memphis half a game behind, and another three teams a single game out of that final playoff spot. Granted, the Suns are also just a game away from being in fourth place in the conference, such is the nature of the Western Cofnerence this year, but they’re moving in the wrong direction.

After the outlandish expectations that accompanied the Suns’ 14-3 start, it would appear that the playoffs are a rapidly fading dream. Worse, the prospect that the Suns will miss the playoffs, or at best be a first round patsy, and then lose Amare Stoudemire this summer is making the team antsy to move their mercurial forward.

We all know that the “seven seconds or less” era is dead. The Suns still play open, offensive basketball, only they don’t race up court the way that they used to, and the championship potential they had from 2004-2007 is gone, but… moving Stoudemire would be like the signing of “Hark! From The Tombs A Doleful Sound,” with only the eulogy (Steve Nash’s departure) left in the Suns’ funeral.

It’s popular to blame Suns owner Robert Sarver for the demise of the Suns and frankly, it’s also accurate. Sarver’s cheapness boggles my mind. I mean, why own a franchise, if you’re just going to let the most exciting team since the late eighties shrivel and die by selling draft picks and watching costs closer than Victoria Beckham watches calories.

Still, Sarver isn’t the only one to blame in this tragic demise. There’s also the men who make the actual basketball decisions. Sure, Sarver was strict in his demand to keep the payroll around 65 million, but that doesn’t excuse the signing of Marcus Banks, and it doesn’t excuse allowing Eddie House to leave after a season in which he averaged 9.8 points in only 17 minutes of action. Worst of all, it doesn’t excuse Brian Colangelo and his successor, Steve Kerr, from selling all of those draft picks.

Yes, the owner wanted to save money, but young players are cost effective and the job of the GM is to explain to an irrational owner why keeping Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo, and Rudy Fernandez made fiscal sense. For instance, in the summer that the Suns drafted Rondo and Sergio Rodriguez, they sold both, to Boston and Portland respectively, for approximately five million and then used those savings to sign Marcus Banks to an absurd 5 year 21.3 million contract. A year later, when he was playing a paltry ten minutes a game, they couldn’t get give Banks away and eventually used him as salary filler in the Shawn Marion-Shaq trade.

This is a full list of the draft picks that the Suns traded away during the last five seasons:

Luol Deng (7th), 2004 to the Bulls for a future draft pick (21st pick the following season).

Nate Robinson (21st), 2005 to the Knicks as a throw in of the Quentin Richardson – Kurt Thomas deal.

Marcin Gortat (57th), 2005 to the Magic for future considerations (or, in other words, nothing).

Rajon Rondo (21st), 2006 to the Celtics along with Brian Grant’s contract for cash considerations and Cleveland’s future 1st rounder.

Sergio Rodriguez (27th), 2006 to Portland for cash considerations.

Rudy Fernandez (24th), 2007 to Portland along with James Jones for… wait for it… cash considerations.

Serge Ibaka ((24th), 2008 to The Zombie Sonics for Kurt Thomas.

Unknown (?), 2010 to The Zombie Sonics for Kurt Thomas.

Now, those seven players aren’t winning you a championship (and the 2010 pick is probably not going to be John Wall), but Rondo’s a budding allstar, Deng’s a solid starter, Fernandez is a preeminent sixth man, and the others are solid to decent bench pieces. And, more importantly, each is an asset that could have been used during Phoenix’s protracted attempts to acquire Kevin Garnett.

Before we get too far, it should be made clear that many of those picks were the Suns’, because they’d previously traded a pick, so they couldn’t have had all of those guys, but with a few simple moves they could have done this:

Don’t trade Deng, well at least not for the Chicago pick. Not trading Deng would have meant the Suns wouldn’t have had the cap space to sign Quentin Richardson, which means they never trade Richardson and the Bulls’ pick to New York for Kurt Thomas (although I think Thomas was a worthy warrior, just not a 9 million a year warrior). Thus, they never have to trade two picks to the Seattle Zombie Sonics for taking Thomas off their payroll.

Now, after Deng’s rookie year, his stock was high. He looked like a superstar. After that year, if the Suns had committed to Joe Johnson, as they should have, they could have moved Deng to Atlanta for Boris Diaw and the Lakers’ pick, which Atlanta owned from a previous deal, they might have even been able to get more, but for the sake of argument we’ll just go with that deal. That pick became the 21st in the 2006 draft, which the Suns used on Rajon Rondo. Now, trading Rondo to Boston was perhaps the worst move the Suns made during this entire process, so we just aren’t going to do that.

Instead, because the Suns don’t trade Rondo to Boston, they wouldn’t have had the 24th pick in the 2007 draft, but they could have swapped their 29th choice for the 24th, a second rounder, and some other small piece (cash, future picks, whatever). Why would we do this? Because the 24th pick was Rudy Fernandez and the 29th was Alando Tucker. Just saying…

(This post was really frickin’ long, so I broke it in two…)

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