Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Happened To NY Basketball?
























Here I sit just hours away from what was supposed to be a huge game early in the NBA season between the New York Knicks & the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately as we all know by now, what was once thought to be a game that would indicate which team was better, will only serve to decide which team is actually worse.

If recent games are any indication then the Nets may be the worst team, as they've been getting blown out with some regularity. So one would think this will be a game the Knicks can win. On the other hand though, we are talking about a Knicks team that seems to have forgotten how to win as they have lost 7 in a row in NY. Granted those games have taken place at Madison Square Garden of course, but when you combine the fact that they have also lost 5 straight on the road & 9 in a row in total, the chances of them winning this game seem dim also. It's a good thing there are no ties in the NBA.

For the Nets, their problems are both on the court & on the sidelines. While everyone was talking about how great a move getting Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce & Jason Terry was, I was very skeptical from the beginning. First off, it instantly made them one of the oldest teams in the league or at least a team with a ton of mileage on their top players. Teams have taken to getting out & running on them which is exasperated by their poor rebounding. At the same time, 2 of their starters from last year have had a hard time staying healthy in Brook Lopez & Deron Williams. Lopez when healthy has proven to be one of the better young centers in the NBA, at least from a scoring aspect. His rebounding has been so poor though that last year they were forced to play Reggie Evans starters minutes because of his rebounding prowess.

Deron Williams meanwhile has become one of the biggest mysteries in the league over the past 2-3 years. He has seemingly gone from being arguably one of the top 2 point guards in the league along with Chris Paul, to being called a coach-killing, out-of-shape diva. His ankles have been a major issue for him & while they have kept him off the floor for most of this season, the reality is, even when he's been healthy the past couple of years, he has looked nothing like the star he was with the Utah Jazz.

When Jason Kidd was hired, which I will get into in just a moment, he talked about wanting Williams to return to his old dominant self. The problem with that is, he's now playing with a bunch of vets who have made a career out of having the ball in their hands. He struggled at times last year adjusting to playing with Joe Johnson & this year they brought in Paul Pierce who likes the same spots on the floor as Johnson. When Williams has been out there with the full roster, he's looked unsure & indecisive at times.

Which brings me to my other point: the hiring of Jason Kidd. It was at least 3 years too soon. If they had hired Kidd after this current roster had run its course & they were in rebuilding mode with a bunch of young players I would've been supportive of the hiring. But to bring Kidd in with a veteran team & 3 players who just played for one of the best coaches in the league in Doc Rivers was a huge mistake. It reeks of a PR move. With a roster full of big name vets, you need a coach that you are certain they will have a strong amount of respect for. I couldn't help but wonder, if they had set their sights on Garnett & Pierce why not also go after Rivers?

Had they completed a clean sweep & brought Rivers along with KG, Pierce & Jason Terry, does anyone actually believe the Nets would be in the shape they're in now? I highly doubt it because Rivers has the one thing Kidd has none of: a track record as an NBA head coach.

Whenever Kidd's inexperience was brought up though, everyone seemed to fall back on him going out & bringing Lawrence Frank with him. Frank was skeptical about returning to the bench because of some family issues but Kidd pushed hard enough & convinced GM Billy King & owner Mikhail Prokhorov to offer Frank a 6 year $6 million deal making him the highest paid assistant in league history. Then, just 18 games into the season Kidd & the Nets announced Frank was being reassigned to video breakdowns & analysis. Obviously the only reason he wasn't completely fired was because of the huge deal he got. For Frank, that has to sting.

So Kidd, who had been known as a coach-killer himself during his playing career, hired a guy who wanted to take time off for personal reasons only to essentially fire him not even 20 games in. This took place of course just a few days after Kidd initiated the cup spill incident during the Lakers game which got him a $50k fine from the league. I only bring that up because I was at that game & at the time had no idea what happened so when I heard about it the next day I had to see the video of the incident. When doing so I couldn't help but notice the look of disgust on Frank's face when it unfolded.

Regardless to all the salacious stories about their falling-out, the point to all of this is, Jason Kidd is not ready to be an NBA head coach, let alone one with immediate championship aspirations. While I don't think Prokhorov or King want the public relations hit that would come from firing him, I can't help but think they would want Kidd to stepped down on his own. Good luck with that though.

For the New York Knicks, the season got off to an auspicious start with both the 5 game suspension of JR Smith & the firing of then-GM Glen Grunwald just days before the start of training camp. Things then got a little more pressure packed when owner James Dolan publicly declared this Knicks team to be championship contender material. As if that wasn't enough pressure, Carmelo Anthony, when constantly asked about his possible pending free agency flip-flopped between saying he wanted to retire a Knick to saying he was going to test free agency.

Of all the NY sports teams, playing for the Knicks may be the most pressure packed. The spotlight doesn't get much brighter than playing 41 games in Midtown Manhattan on Broadway every season so adding to that pressure doesn't really make much sense. Not to say they can't handle it, but there's no need to add to it because there will always be plenty going on but at times it seems the Knicks just can't get out of their own way when it comes to the drama.

The timing of Grunwald's firing was odd to say the least but before he was reassigned, he did draft Tim Hardaway Jr, traded for Andrea Bargnani & signed Metta World Peace. The roster he assembled is not one flush with defensive minded players but Mike Woodson has continued his quest to make the Knicks into a good if not great defensive team. In my estimation though, this has helped create the situation they're in now.

All of the pundits & fans go back & forth on what the Knicks bigger problem is; the defense or the lack of ball movement. What I have been saying since last year though is, when you have a roster full of offensive minded players, many of whom are gifted scorers in different ways but who also are below average to flat out poor defenders, trying to make them into a defensive juggernaut, is a complete waste of time.

In my opinion, they need to play to their strengths which is scoring. When you're a poor defensive team, you better make sure that you can score because you already know the other team is going to get at least a handful of easy looks each game. When scorers are off of their game, generally they don't play defense well. It doesn't help that they have no identity on offense as even Woodson himself has stated. They lack any continuity on offense that a structured system would provide.

Woodson & every single one of his assistant coaches have said on multiple occasions, "we'll figure it out" when discussing the offense. Not only have they not figured it out but a team with an over abundance of scorers has become one of the least efficient & lowest scoring teams in the NBA. Then, to compound their poor shooting & rebounding, on the defensive side, they switch on nearly every single movement of the ball.

In every Knicks game this year you see multiple mismatches of bigs covering guards & guards covering bigs on defense.  Teams are now designing plays to create confusion & mismatches based on all of the defensive switching they do. On top of that, switching everything gives poor defenders an excuse to let their man go & make someone else responsible instead of fighting through screens & staying with your man. It's a little thing called accountability. Something they lack sorely defensively.

For Knicks fans, they face the prospect of losing their best player & scorer in Carmelo Anthony at year's end to free agency. While many Knicks fans have been critical of Anthony's style of play, bare in mind, he is playing for a head coach who runs an iso-heavy offense. For Anthony though, he has fallen victim to an issue that has plagued the Knicks ever since the franchise's last championship: never getting their superstar a legit 2nd scoring threat. Ask Bernard King & Patrick Ewing about it.

While people have been hyper critical of Anthony's chances at winning a title, they seem to forget, since he has been in the NBA the one time he played with another legit scorer it was Allen Iverson. Probably the only guy in recent history who played more one-on-one iso-ball than Anthony himself. The best PG he played with was Chauncey Billups & that happened to be the one time Anthony made it to a Conference Finals. I often hear fans complain about Melo not being more like LeBron James. Problem is people, there's only one LeBron James & even he needed another superstar in Dwyane Wade to win his 1st title so to expect Anthony to do better is just silly.

MJ had Scottie, Magic had Kareem & James Worthy, Bird had McHale & Parish & Dr.J needed Moses Malone before he finally won. Until Anthony has a legit 2nd scorer to play with, you can forget about him or the Knicks winning a title. The question for Anthony will be does he trust the franchise can & will get him one. Amare Stoudemire was supposed to be that, but they apparently knew his knees wouldn't last much longer but still decided to hitch their wagon to Tyson Chandler instead of waiting for Chris Paul who allegedly was planning on coming to NY to play with both Anthony & Stoudemire.

If the Knicks are to somehow get out of their doldrums, two things need to happen. For one, Raymond Felton needs to begin to play as he did at the start of last year by pushing the tempo, even after made baskets & breaking down the defense with penetration in the half court. Second, Mike Woodson needs to show that he can be more than a Rex Ryan all-defense-no-clue-on-offense-type of head coach, & create an offensive system that gets the most out of the types of players his roster is laden with. They have some players who can play defense well but they too have fallen into some of the same bad defensive habits as the rest of the roster which falls directly on Woodson.

If neither of those things happen then they better make some kind of trade to land a piece like Zach Randolph &/or a better PG option than Felton. Randolph would give them a strong inside presence & would open up lanes & shots for Anthony as well as their shooters. He also would bring a career 9.3 rebounds per game average to one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. There's been chatter about the Knicks going after Rajon Rondo but I just can't see Celtics GM Danny Ainge trading their best player to the hated Knicks. A guy like Goran Dragic from the Phoenix Suns could be a more realistic option if they chose to upgrade.

I've heard so many people attempt to excuse both teams' poor play with talk about injuries, but I'm not buying it one bit. Both teams were playing poorly when their injured stars were on the court. They didn't both start to play poor after losing a Tyson Chandler or a Deron Williams. No, the multiple issues I just broke down were already in place & were already taking shape to help form the losing teams we now see.

For both teams, the popular elixir you hear from fans is often about replacing the head coaches. Well, for once the fans may be right, especially when you factor in that guys like Lionel Hollins, both Van Gundys, Jerry Sloan, George Karl & even Nate McMillan are available right now. All of whom are head coaches who have had success. And if you're wondering how a new coach can change the team's fortunes, a guy like Rick Adelman is a perfect example. He has never coached a great defensive roster, yet everywhere he's been, his teams have excelled at scoring, while still managing to play some decent defense.

One thing is for certain though, the losing coach of this game could very well be on the hottest seat in the league afterward & could even end up getting fired if it's a lopsided loss. The funny thing is though, because of the rivalry, it wouldn't shock me if both teams came out & played their best ball of the season which is what both coaches should be hoping for at the very least. That could save both of their jobs as easily as a win would.


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Sunday, October 6, 2013

2013-14, The Most Compelling NBA Season Ever?




I will admit, I often criticize people for over-hyping things way too often. People nowadays tend to make over-the-top statements about a subject, forgetting things that happened in the past & only focusing on what they've seen most recently. I don't think however that I'm overstating things by saying that this coming NBA season may be the most compelling ever. Think about it,  when was the last time you had this many big story lines going into the season? For instance, when was the last time you had 3 players who could vie for best in the league at their position, all returning from injury? I'm talking of course about Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook & Rajon Rondo.

I'll start with the Westbrook since the Thunder start the NBA pre-season off with a game in Turkey versus Fenerbahce Ulker. Westbrook will be out for another 4-6 weeks after having a 2nd surgery on his meniscus recently to reduce swelling in the knee. If you're OKC, the preseason will be huge as they will get a chance to see what the team will look like for at least the first couple of weeks of the season, without Westbrook. While its possible he'll only miss the first 2 weeks, with the West as stacked as it is, a few losses early on can be the difference between being the top seed or the 4th or even 5th seed come playoff time.

It has to be somewhat troubling that Westbrook had the second surgery & if there's a chance he's out even longer than expected, don't be surprised if they look to make a trade for a veteran scoring option. Ironically enough, I can't help but think that if Rondo weren't coming back from an injury himself, the Thunder would possibly make a run at him. That would be a very scary lineup with Kevin Durant, Westbrook & Rondo together.

For Rondo, his timetable hasn't even been laid out yet because they still don't know when he'll be ready to go full throttle but the hope is he's be back before the All-Star break. For the Celtics there will be plenty of time to see what they have minus Rondo in order to make the decision to keep him or not. I still subscribe to the belief though that they will trade him at some point if for no other reason than the Paul Pierce trade exception that they have.

Rondo is arguably a max contract player making less than the max so in a league where trading money is as important as trading talent, the amount of money in that trade exception when added with Rondo's contract makes it possible for the Celtics to get fair value for him. For Celtics fans, the dilemma may be, do you trade Rondo in hopes of landing no lower than the 3rd pick in the draft or do you play it out & try to make a run to the playoffs. The draft this year was a step in the right direction though as I believe Kelly Olynyk will show enough to make them worth watching.

The next big deal coming into the season, & would probably be far & away the biggest story any other year, is the return of former league MVP Derrick Rose. Stories were abound last year that he looked healthy enough to return towards the end of the season & he faced, in my opinion, unwarranted criticism from some in the media & even from Bulls fans. Some even foolishly suggested that they should trade him. Fans...you gotta love 'em sometimes.

The interesting aspect of Rose's return is some of the things that have been going on behind the scenes with the Bulls. There was the firing of one of Mike Thibodeau's trusted assistants by the GM as well as the contract situation of Luol Deng. The Bulls under Jerry Krause were known to be somewhat contentious when it came to those matters but somehow it seems that that attitude from their management team has returned with Gar Forman. Rose returning to the court can be an elixir to some of that behind-the-scenes drama but it will be interesting to see how Thibodeau manages players' minutes this year.

Rose's health is of course the key to whatever success they have this year, but the health of Joakim Noah is also a big deal. As great a coach as Thibs is, one of the criticisms of him has been how hard he pushes the team over the course of the season. They will need to lean on the growth of players like Jimmy Butler & Taj Gibson as well as vets like Carlos Boozer & even a Mike Dunleavy Jr in order to keep Rose, Noah & Deng healthy come playoff time. You can also expect to see guys like Marquise Teague & even rookie Tony Snell to get some looks during the year as Thibs have never been shy about using young players.

Now in any other season, those stories would be more than enough for a compelling season but there is plenty more to look forward to this year. The list is extremely long. You have Dwight Howard going to Houston to play with one of the best young players in the league in James Harden. You have the Nets with the huge trade they made for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce & Jason Terry. And as if that wasn't enough, they also will be incorporating a rookie head coach in none other than the recently retired Jason Kidd. The Golden State Warriors let the NBA know last year in the playoffs that they will be a force to be reckoned with given the play of Steph Curry & they also added one of the best on the ball defenders in the league in Andre Iguodala. They'll finally have a healthy Andrew Bogut & David Lee will be back at full strength to go with young studs Klay Thompson & Harrison Barnes.

The Nets off-season alone would dominate the story lines almost any other year with the trade for Garnett & Pierce, the addition of Andrei Kirilenko & the hiring of Kidd. Kidd will miss the first 2 games of the regular season because of a suspension stemming from a DUI arrest prior to last season. For some reason though, in my opinion not many people are talking about Kidd's lack of coaching experience heading into the season, but to me that is a huge story on its own.

How Kidd manages the veteran egos in the locker room will play a huge part in the team's success this year & already we may have gotten a glimpse of things with his discussion he had with Garnett about sitting him on the 2nd night of back-to-backs. Garnett was quoted as saying "it didn't go too well" & that he doesn't "want to be told anything". Now Garnett has never been accused of being anything less than a team player but that could be a bad sign of how things could turn if the team struggles, especially early on. How will guys react if they're not winning like they expect to & certain guys are not getting the usual amount of touches they feel they need?

Again, all of that is more than enough to build intrigue for the season, but there's still plenty more! You also had Doc Rivers, widely considered one of, if not the best coaches in the league going across the country to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clips have added a couple of the best three point shooters in the league in JJ Redick & Jared Dudley while also bringing in Darren Collison to backup Chris Paul.

The Knicks made some interesting moves by bringing in Andrea Bargnani & Metta World Peace while keeping most of the rest of the roster in tact. That should help them early in the season but the fact that reigning Sixth Man of the Year JR Smith is both returning from late off-season surgery & will also have to sit out the first 5 games due to a drug suspension could slow their progress.

While it seemed they were done making headlines, just days before the start of training camp, Knicks owner James Dolan decided to essentially fire GM Glen Grunwald & bring back Steve Mills who was an executive with the team during the worst 10 year stretch in the franchise's history. The move caused many Knicks fans to worry that it was a pre-cursor to Isiah Thomas returning as well. Fortunately for all of those fans, Mills quickly put that idea to rest by emphatically stating that Thomas would not be brought back. The collective sigh from Knicks fans could be heard all over the tri-state area.

For me, the team I am most curious to see is the Cleveland Cavaliers. On paper, injuries aside, they will put a team on the floor that should compete for one of the bottom three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. They of course still have one of the best young PGs in the game in Kyrie Irving & they brought in Andrew Bynum, who before last season was easily the 2nd best center in the NBA. If he can somehow stay healthy, he may turn out to be the best off-season acquisition in the league.

They also once again somehow landed the top pick in the draft & surprised many, (not myself though as I stated in my NBA Draft Preview) & selected Anthony Bennet out of UNLV. Unfortunately for Cavs fans, much like his new teammates, Bennett is coming back from injury as well so he'll fit right in at the start of camp spending plenty of time in the trainer's room.

A unique side story there also is the fact that Tristan Thompson is doing something that I don't believe has ever been done in the NBA if not all of the three big sports, as he's switched his shooting hand in the off-season. He'll be going from being a left-handed to right-handed shooter. So far, according to reports, he has improved both his free throw shooting & his 10-15' jump shot. All of this, plus the hope of some fans that LeBron James' possible free agency brings him back to Cleveland. I personally think that has almost no shot at happening but only time will tell.

The top of the East bares watching with the Miami Heat & Indiana Pacers. The emergence of Paul George as a superstar & the physical decline of Dwyane Wade will be something to keep your eyes on. While Wade of course has the legacy, now with 3 titles on his resume, George showed the NBA world in the Eastern Conference Finals last year that along with James Harden, he is one of the best SGs in the league. Wade's competitive nature suggests however, that unless he is completely broken down, which I don't believe he is, he will remain in the conversation for at least the next couple of years.

The Pacers organization meanwhile, has made it clear that they are planning on ending the Heat's run this year by adding to their bench by adding guys like Luis Scola, Chris Copeland & CJ Watson with Danny Granger also returning from injury. It remains to be seen whether or not they will keep Granger, but without him, they still managed to push the Heat to seven games last year & they figure to be even better this year.

Back out West, even the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be an interesting story. With their roster, it looks likely that they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. With Kobe Bryant returning from a torn Achilles tendon, the loss of Dwight Howard & the health of both Pau Gasol & Steve Nash, it may be a long year in LA.

In addition to all of that you have some real Hollywood drama behind the scenes with the hiring of Mike D'Antoni seemingly still a hot topic within the organization. Chief officer in charge of Business Operations Jeannie Buss, wrote a book suggesting a rift between her & her brother Jim Buss. If the Lakers & Celtics don't make the playoffs this year it would mean that the NBA's 2 winningest organizations will be lottery teams with the Lakers future looking bleak. Howard's departure was a cold dose of reality for many in Lakerland as they are not used to players walking away from the team in free agency.

The San Antonio Spurs meanwhile very quietly added a couple of pieces that will keep them in the conversation as a contender after having the title within their grasp only to have it snatched from them by Ray Allen & poor foul shooting down the stretch in the Finals. The play of Manu Ginobili had many wondering if he would retire as some have suggested that he was the biggest factor in them losing to Miami. What seems to be forgotten by many though is the fact that Tony Parker was injured for most of the series & was missing his explosiveness off the dribble.

All of these factors plus even a few more is why I truly believe this will be the most compelling NBA season ever. Will Kevin Durant reclaim his throne as the leading scorer in the league given the health of Russell Westbrook or will Carmelo Anthony defend the title now that the Knicks have added some pieces that will give him even more space to operate.

Will the rebuilding of the Celtics mean that Rondo becomes a piece that changes some contender's fortunes & will the Detroit Pistons return to the playoffs after adding Josh Smith & Brandon Jennings to a roster that already includes Greg Monroe & the very large & athletic Andre Drummond? Will the now New Orleans Pelicans make a run at the playoffs with their extremely young but talented roster? Will Dallas have a drop off so dramatic that it could spell the departure of Dirk Nowitzki? Will the Portland Trailblazers finally stay healthy enough to make a serious run at the playoffs this year?

In Philadelphia & Orlando you can expect both teams to be in competition for worst in the league with Phoenix not far behind. Even Charlotte Bobcats fans have reason to be excited about the upcoming season with the addition of Al Jefferson to a young roster. The Minnesota Timberwolves will finally have Ricky Rubio & a slimmed down Kevin Love at the start of the season & very quietly in Memphis, will the Grizzlies move Zach Randolph before the trade deadline with his impending free agency around the corner?

So as the leaves turn colors & fall approaches every fan of the NBA will have some kind of story to keep a close eye on. LeBron James will have his hands full this year if he hopes to win his 3rd title in a row to further solidify his place in NBA history but one thing is for certain, by the end of the season, whoever is crowned champion they will most certainly have earned the right to be called the 2013-14 NBA Champions.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Let's Make A Deal Part II







We're back for part 2 of Let's Make A Deal where last time I laid out a couple of trade ideas, most of which involved LeMarcus Aldridge. Apparently there has been some additional discussion on that matter but nothing appears serious. In my second installment I have a couple more ideas, one of which I'm certain is to illicit some debate.

My first trade this week is Rajon Rondo along with Paul Pierce's trade exception to the Indiana Pacers for Danny Granger, George Hill & a couple of draft picks. I'll start with why the Pacers make this deal, which I think is pretty obvious, Rondo. As long as he can return close to his former self, they'd be getting one of the best PGs in the entire NBA, that's reason enough. In my opinion, the Pacers biggest weakness is starting PG. Hill is a nice player but not dynamic enough for my tastes. Against a team like the Heat where PG is one of the few places you can have an advantage over them, Hill isn't that much better than Mario Chalmers.

If you're the Celtics since you're trading damaged goods it's not unreasonable to be expected to receive damaged goods as well. While much of this deal does hinge on the health of both Rondo & Granger, if they both return to full health then the Celtics are getting back a player who age-wise should just be reaching his prime & is a top 20 scorer in the league. If healthy, they should be good enough to make the playoffs. Even if they miss the lottery, they have enough draft picks to make additional moves come next years draft to add to a core of Granger & Jeff Green. If he's unable to come all the way back from injury, then they could continue with the rebuild process & still be in line for a lottery pick.

If nothing else, they could showcase Granger for the first half of the season & attempt to move him before the trade deadline depending on what their season is looking like. Since he's entering the final year of his deal there would be plenty of teams that would potentially be interested. Perhaps a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder would take Granger before the deadline for some of OKC's young talent & a couple of draft picks.

Since Danny Ainge was gifted Kevin Garnett by his old Celtics teammate Kevin McHale, maybe he should return the favor to another former teammate, Larry Bird, & send Rondo to conference rival Indiana.

The next trade, I just mentioned is the Oklahoma City Thunder trading Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, DeAndre Liggins & 2 of their trade exceptions for Danny Granger. The Pacers may need to throw in a draft pick, be it a 1st or 2nd rounder to sweeten the deal. Having said that though, the trade is essentially Granger for a couple of young players that may take too long to develop for a team like the Thunder who are in win-now mode.

The key pieces the Pacers would be taking back are Lamb & Jones. Neither player has proven yet that they can be a reliable contributor for a team that has championship aspirations. In Indiana, Lamb can be brought along slower, with a chance to prove himself while coming off of the bench. For Jones, he  may not get huge minutes but it would probably be more than he was going to get in Oklahoma City. He'd also get a chance to play behind 2 of the better bigs in the game in Roy Hibbert & David West. 

If you're Indiana, after taking the Miami Heat to seven games in last year's conference finals without a healthy Granger, you already know you can win without him. Plus, with the pieces the Pacers added this off season in Luis Scola & Chris Copeland, they've improved their biggest weakness, their bench. By picking up Lamb & Jones, they're getting a couple of young guys they can develop, who strengthen their bench & are both still on their rookie contracts so the cap hit is reasonable.

Meanwhile, for the Thunder, they need Lamb to blossom now so he can help fill the void left by Kevin Martin's departure who was filling the void left by James Harden's departure. No offense to either player but Martin was a step down from Harden & Lamb will be another step down from Martin as this stage of Lamb's career. That's a trend in the wrong direction. 

Lamb can still become a reliable 3rd scorer but since he hasn't actually done it yet, it's not guaranteed that he can. However, if Granger is healthy, there is no doubt he can do just that. It would require an adjustment as he'd probably have to play at the SG position at times or possibly come off of the bench. The biggest factor would be health of course, not just the health of Granger but of Westbrook also. It could be a risky trade for the Thunder to make before the season begins without knowing for sure that both players have proven they're healthy. Therefore, this is a deal that would make more sense around the trade deadline.

The next deal I'd like to see is the New York Knicks trading Tyson Chandler to the Golden State Warriors for Andrew Bogut & a couple of draft picks. On the surface, given both players' recent history, it would seem to be a downgrade for the Knicks but for all of Chandler's defensive prowess he's pretty much limited offensively to alley-oops. After alley-oops, his next best attribute is the tap-out rebound. Mike Woodson though has said that he'd like to see him convert more of them into baskets instead of always looking to tap it out to the perimeter.

It appears that Woodson sees it what I've been saying since they acquired Chandler, he needs to expand his offensive repertoire. Oddly enough though it doesn't seem that Chandler agrees with that notion. Over the last 2 summers there's been talk from the Knicks about him working out with Hakeem Olajuwon like so many other current NBA players have in search of a low post game. In both instances though, Chandler balked at the idea, each time with varying reasons. He has the physical tools to be a decent offensive player with his height & length but for whatever reason, he seems to be content with his game as is. Granted the Knicks do have plenty of offensive fire power already but because of Chandler's limited offensive skills, he actually can make it more difficult at times for them to get their shots off. For a three point shooting team like the Knicks nothing would open up those shots, plus driving lanes, like a 7 footer with a legit post game.


The Knicks did just go out & get Andrea Bargnani who is also a 7 footer that can post up, but the problem is, he too likes to shoot threes. This is where a guy like Bogut would be valuable to the Knicks. He can both post-up & hit a 12-15' jumper. There was a time a few years ago where you could argue that he was on his way to being the 2nd best center in the NBA after Dwight Howard until he sustained a nasty elbow injury that threw his career off track.

Admittedly, Bogut isn't as good an all-around defender as Chandler, but per minute he is a better rebounder & shot blocker. The biggest reason to make this deal though is his offensive skill set. He would give the Knicks a legitimate low post threat who is also a decent passer out of the post. His field goal percentage isn't as good as Chandler's but that can easily be explained by the fact that he shoots jumpers as well while again, almost every shot Chandler takes is an alley-oop or right at the rim. That's not a knock on Chandler but the reality is, Bogut is athletic enough that, when healthy, he can take & make those same types of shots while also being used in more ways offensively than Chandler.

One person who would benefit from a Chandler for Bogut swap is Amare Stoudemire. Since Chandler came to New York he supplanted Stoudemire as the Knicks primary pick-&-roll screener essentially because Chandler doesn't possess a jump shot that teams have to honor. With him on the floor, running pick-&-rolls through Stoudemire allows teams to sag off of Chandler & clog up the lane for the roller. For all the talk about Carmelo Anthony & Stoudemire co-existing, it's actually the Chandler/Stoudemire pairing that creates the most problems for the Knicks. With Bogut on the floor, both he & Stoudemire could play the role of screener in pick-&-roll situations. When he was on the floor last year Stoudemire's primary role was that of a low post threat. A role which he was thriving at until his second knee injury of the year. He also managed to improve his defense some last year as well in limited time.

For the Warriors however, Chandler is exactly what they need in the middle. With all of the shooters they have, Chandler would be required to simply man the paint & grab rebounds. His veteran leadership along with the newly acquired Andre Iguodala would also be a huge factor. With both of them on the floor, you would have two elite front court defenders to help cover for weaker defenders like David Lee & Stephen Curry. On the offensive side, Lee can post up on occasion so you're not losing much there. Besides, much of the success the Warriors had last year was sans Bogut so they too already know they can win without him. Adding a player like Chandler though would greatly improve their chances of going deeper into the playoffs.

As is the case with some of the other trade ideas, much of this deal hinges on health. Bogut has played in only 44 of 148 regular season games. He did play well in the playoffs last year after returning from  injury & averaged 11 rebounds in just over 27 minutes per game. As was the case in the Rondo-Granger deal I mentioned, it would probably be best to do it some time during the season to give everyone a chance to see how healthy Bogut & Chandler for that matter are.

Let's not forget, Chandler missed 16 of the Knicks final 20 regular-season games because of a neck injury last year & has had a history of injuries himself. He has remained relatively healthy since coming to New York but you can't run from that fact either.

Because of Bogut's own health history the Warriors should have to include a couple of draft picks although it seems that the Knicks are trying to avoid any guaranteed rookie contracts in the immediate future as evidenced by the Bargnani deal. Contractually though, the deal works for both teams as Bogut is on the last year of his deal at roughly $13m while Chandler has 2 years left at around $14m per year.

A deal like Chandler for Bogut is one that would probably bring heavy criticism to the Knicks, (though they should be used to that by now) because of Chandler's place on their roster as both a leader & as their defensive anchor. Adding a healthy Bogut would help them on both sides of the ball. With the acquisition of Metta World Peace & having Iman Shumpert healthy for the start of the season, that should help defer some of the loss of Chandler on the defensive end. Make no mistake though, Bogut is as tough as nails & is no slouch on that end himself.

With training camp less than a month away, any potential trades that teams have interest in should start to heat up in the next few weeks. Most teams have finished putting together their rosters though & all that's really left are some training camp invitees for some squads. Any potential deals that may have been discussed probably won't be made until we get much closer to camp so teams have a newly acquired player at the start. Until then though, all we're left with are the speculations & suggestions of an NBA junkie like myself.




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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Let's Make A Deal!

































This is the first in a two part series of my NBA General Manager dreams & aspirations. Since I was a little boy watching & playing basketball I've always fantasized about being a GM & did the, "they should trade so & so there for him & him & that.." you know the average thoughts of a young NBA fan. With all the trades & free agent signings as teams rebuild in anticipation of next season, it inspired to come up with some interesting trades that could benefit all teams involved.

There are various reasons why the deals haven't been made or probably even broached for that matter. Now I'm not basing any of this on rumor or innuendo, it's just my opinion on how some teams can alter their positions in various ways if they have the guts to do it.

Let me get right into my two biggest deals since they involve the same player; LaMarcus Aldridge. There's been stories floating around that he wants out of Portland. They've been refuted by teammate Nicolas Batum & GM Neil Olshey recently but if I'm Olshey, I'd pick up the phone & make 2 calls. The first one is to the Los Angeles Clippers to start a conversation based around Aldridge for Blake Griffin. Keep in mind, Olshey was the Clippers Assistant GM when they drafted Griffin so he knows the organization well even after Doc Rivers has come aboard.

Before you shake your head wondering why in the world the Clippers would ever consider trading Griffin, you have to keep in mind, while he is an absolute freak of nature on the court, he lacks 2 major pieces to his game: a face up jumper & a low post move. If you read enough of my articles you know I'm a firm believer that the low post is synonymous to winning titles. Aldridge however is easily one of the best low post players in the game. While you won't get all the highlight Lob City plays out of him, you will get an effective & efficient scorer who would fit perfectly with the Clippers star, point guard Chris Paul & all their outside shooters.

Listening to Paul lately, it sure sounds like he is aware that Griffin needs to expand his game & fast. In a recent interview, Paul was quoted as saying that, "the franchise will go as far as he (Griffin) takes us". He also spoke publicly last year about a closed door meeting between the two of them in order to get on the same page. That sure sounds to me like Paul is putting Griffin on notice about expanding his game. Griffin in fairness has manned up to Paul's comments & agreed he needs to take the next step in his evolution. Bare in mind also, based on all of the moves they've made so far this off-season, it is pretty clear that Clippers management has been listening to Paul. Getting one of the top low post players in the game in Aldridge would fit the style of play it seems Paul's been hinting at.

The Trailblazers on the other hand have a great PG as well in Damion Lillard & Griffin would be able to do pretty much the same thing he's done to this point in LA. They could utilized all their speed & athleticism with those two & promising rookie CJ McCollum. Griffin obviously would be a big draw for the club & would generate huge revenue as well. He'd instantly become the Blazers most dynamic player since Clyde "The Glide" Drexler.

The next phone call I'd make if I'm Neil Olshey is to the Sacramento Kings. I would have to at least inquire about DeMarcus Cousins. I'm not a fan of bringing young head cases into an environment with a young roster but Damion Lillard seems to have such a good head on his shoulders that I'd have to think long & hard about the prospect of teaming them up. Cousins hasn't played with a top flight PG since his Kentucky days with John Wall. Along with CJ McCollum, the Blazers would have the makings of a solid young core. Cousins has to mature a great deal & his behavior on & off the court is why his trade value is probably less than his talent level. Coupled with the Kings new ownership situation, they may want to move Cousins now while they can get something for him since he's entering the last year of his rookie contract.

The Kings would have to add some money to fit it into the salary cap, so you might need a third team to get involved to make it work. If you're Sacramento though, you could rid yourself of a talented but troublesome player in Cousins for a model citizen in Aldridge. Even if they're reluctant to take on the remaining money on Aldridge's contract, it only has two years remaining. You could keep him long enough for his leadership to rub off on a young locker room & still be able to move him going into the final year of his deal. Aldridge may not be happy about a deal to Sacramento since according to Batum who in a tweet dismissed the idea stating that Aldridge just "wants the team to get better".

Maybe Batum & Olshey are right & there is no truth to those rumors but the problem with Portland is, when you look at how stacked the west is the absolute best case scenario realistically is that they're a 6th seed going into the playoffs. They'd still  most likely be a 1st round exit next year & are probably at least a couple of years away from being a top 3 team in their conference. If Aldridge is the piece that can bring back Griffin, then you do the deal. Griffin would definitely speed up the rebuilding process. While it can be argued that he is a better player than Aldridge, it isn't always just about who has the most talent. It's also about how well your talent fits together & Aldridge's skill set is a perfect fit in LA.

Stay tuned, in the next few days I'll be releasing part II of the series Let's Make A Deal. I promise you there will be a deal that will surprise you...
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Friday, August 9, 2013

What If Dumars Didn't Drafted Darko?



























Well, here it is. My least favorite time of the sports calendar. The NBA is officially over & that includes the draft, the Summer League & even free agency for the most part. Only a few smaller pieces remain to be filled out by teams. The 2013-14 schedule has been released & NBA TV is left showing reruns of vintage games. I myself have random games on my DVR at home & thankfully MSG Network shows Knicks games from the past season. It was while watching the Knicks vs Pistons game from London this past season that my mind started to drift as I pondered the question: what if Joe Dumars never drafted Darko Milicic?

It's a question I've asked myself many times over the years, but this was the first time I became almost consumed by the what ifs. What if he drafted Carmelo Anthony instead or what if he went with Dwayne Wade or even Chris Bosh? What if he traded out of that spot, moved down & took a guy like David West? That's a lot of ifs but when you stop to think about it, that one decision by Dumars changed the fate of a number of players, franchises & even his own legacy as an NBA executive.

In order to fully grasp everything we have to go back in time to the couple of years before that moment on June 26, 2003 when Milicic was drafted. Dumars had taken over the Pistons before the start of the 2000-01 season. Before he got there the previous regime made a trade in 1997 of Otis Thorpe to the then Vancouver Grizzlies for the rights to their #1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Dumars himself took over at a time when the team's best player, Grant Hill, was a free agent & would eventually sign with the Orlando Magic. This forced Dumars to work a sign & trade with the Magic in order to get something back for Hill.

























At the time the deal seemed to greatly favor the Magic, even though Hill was coming off of a serious ankle injury, since all they gave up was veteran big man Chucky Atkins & a young defensive rebounding monster in Ben Wallace. As things unfolded of course, Hill was never the same & Wallace became the anchor on a perennial Eastern Conference contender. That was significant because it was the 1st of many moves that would garner Dumars Executive of the Year for the 2002-03 season. By the time he drafted Milicic he had built enough of a track record that many attempted to explain the logic behind the pick as opposed to explaining the risk.

What Dumars had done was gone against one of the most basic rules when it comes to the draft: take the best player available regardless to need. The reason being is, when you draft more on need than talent, you can make the mistake of reaching on a player. I think it's safe to say at this point that Milicic was a reach. If you just look at the pick of Milicic on it's own without ever mentioning who immediately followed him, it would still be a bad pick. After being released by the Celtics last year, Milicic's career numbers are: 6 points, 4.2 rebounds & 1.3 blocks per game while averaging 18.5 minutes a game. Not the numbers of your average 2nd overall pick of an NBA Draft.

So while those numbers alone make him as bad a pick as you can get, when you add the players who came directly after him, it becomes one of, if not the worst draft picks in NBA history. You had, Carmelo Anthony, who was coming off of an NCAA Championship in his one year at Syracuse, Chris Bosh, who would lead all rookies in rebounding & blocks in his first NBA season & Dwyane Wade, who had just taken Marquette University to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament highlighted by a triple-double versus the top ranked team in the tourney, the Kentucky Wildcats. Anthony & Wade are future hall of famers & Bosh has been a solid top player at his position his entire career.



























The Dumars apologists' logic was, the Pistons were already set at the SF position having drafted Tayshaun Prince just the year before. That same off-season after drafting Prince, Dumars traded Jerry Stackhouse, who was the Pistons leading scorer, to the Washington Wizards for Richard Hamilton. Hamilton was younger & cheaper while Stackhouse wanted a long-term extension that Dumars made clear he wasn't inclined to give.

He also had pulled off some smaller deals that worked well for them as he obtained guys like Corliss Williamson, Jon Barry & Mehmet Okur through trades & the draft. Dumars was well on his way to building a tough defensive minded team by that point & he was doing it with what many considered scraps from other teams. By the time he traded for Hamilton he already had signed his future backcourt mate in Chauncey Billups. Billups was coming off of arguably his best season while playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he was about to join his 5th team in six seasons.

It's important to understand the who, what, where & when of Dumars' moves because it may explain why he chose Milicic over those other guys. One has to speculate that he preferred to stay away from big time scorers as any of those three would've been counter to every other player he brought in up to that point. He wasn't just getting defensive minded players, he was also getting guys who could score but didn't need a ton of shots in order to be effective. That's exactly the type of players Billups & Hamilton were while Prince provided both great defense & spot scoring when needed. I have to believe his thinking was that Anthony, Bosh & Wade would've upset the apple cart so to speak.


























So we now see what Dumars' rationale may have been in taking Milicic but let's assume from here on out that he still decided to take one of the best players available. The next in line would easily have been Anthony. As I stated, he was coming off of an NCAA Championship & was unanimously seen as the best college player that year since LeBron James was coming straight from high school. Of all the possible scenarios, nobody's legacy is affected by that draft more than Anthony's. By falling to the Denver Nuggets, he ended up on unquestionably the weaker team who was also in the stronger conference.

People have criticized Anthony for his lack of playoff success, especially when compared to his contemporaries, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade & LeBron James. Granted, he does warrant some blame as the team's best player, but when you dig a little deeper, there were other issues as well that had a big hand in all those playoff losses. For one as I mentioned, the Western Conference was considerably stronger than the East when he entered the league. During his seven years in Denver, only the Spurs, Lakers & Mavericks went to the Finals from the West. While, in the Eastern Conference six different teams went to the Finals during that stretch.

Had Dumars drafted him, Anthony would've wound up in the Eastern Conference on a team that the prior to him being drafted won 50 games for 2 straight seasons & had just lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Nets. They went to 8 straight Conference Finals at one point. The Nuggets meanwhile had won only 17 games the year before they drafted Anthony. He was the lone star on his team while almost all the other powers out west had at least 2 stars. Only the Mavericks won with only one star in Dirk Nowitzki but there is no denying that his supporting cast was much better than Anthony's.

Let's not forget as well that for almost Anthony's entire career in Denver, George Karl was the head coach. He was hired with 40 games left in Anthony's second season. In case you're wondering why that is relevant, check out my article on George Karl (The Truth About George Karl Is...). While Karl is often lauded for his coaching acumen, his career in the playoffs is littered with upsets & huge losses & Denver was no exception. In fairness, you have to include the fact that unfortunately during the 2009-10 season Karl left the team for the second time in his career while he battled Cancer. I'm not pinning all of the blame on Karl, but when you're the head coach of multiple playoff collapses, some of the blame will be put on you also.

It would be hard to argue whether or not the Pistons would've won that title or possibily more if they didn't draft Milicic. One thing's for certain though, Anthony would've given them a dynamic that none of their contending teams ever had: a #1 scoring option. Anthony's presence would've opened up even more shots for Hamilton & Billups. If they still go out & obtain Wallace, Anthony would've also opened up 3's for Wallace as well as allowed him more room on the low post because of Anthony's outside shooting. The fact that him & Billups had success playing together in Denver, (during that time Anthony made his only trip to a Conference Finals) suggests that they would've played well together in Detroit also.

People will look at Carmelo Anthony's game that we see now but think about this, at the age of 19, if he had gone to a veteran team like the Pistons, how different would his style of play be? If he had won a title in Detroit or at least been on a perennial contender, would he have felt the same desire to force his way to New York? It's hard to say for certain but he could've still felt like a big fish in a small pond playing in Detroit as compared to Denver. The one difference being that the Pistons have a better legacy having won back-to-back titles when Dumars played there. Perhaps though Anthony's success in Detroit would only have strengthened his desire to want to bring a title to New York also.





























The other interesting what if in all of this is if Dumars had drafted Wade instead. Wade was a little bit of an unknown to many at the time. While his draft stock was high, some of that was based on his NCAA Tournament run in his last year at Marquette. Anthony, James & even Bosh were already highly thought of based on their high school success. Bosh was a highly recruited All-American, whereas Wade was only recruited by three schools including Marquette. That may have had more to do with his grades but the point being, there's no guarantee that Wade, had he been drafted by the Pistons, would've immediately been the starter over Hamilton. In fact because of his scoring ability, it's not hard to speculate that he may have been the sixth man on that team. If so, how long do you think that would've lasted?

If Wade becomes the starting SG then what happens to Hamilton? Do they trade him? Better yet do Wade & LeBron still end up playing together in Miami or anywhere for that matter? Remember too, it was the Pistons who gave James fits before the Celtics became his arch-enemy. It would be hard to imagine James leaving the Cavaliers to go play with Wade in Detroit. Now if Wade decides to bolt Detroit to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls, that might be another story in terms of James.

Also, do the Miami Heat win any of their championships if Wade doesn't end up there? Pat Riley did a masterful job of putting together not one but two different Heat title teams centered around Wade. Does he make the deal for Shaquille O'Neal without already having Wade? If Wade goes 2nd to Detroit, Anthony still winds up in Denver & Bosh in Toronto so who then would the Heat have taken?

Knowing what we know now, the next best player in that draft was the 18th pick David West. The Los Angeles Clippers took Chris Kaman with the 5th pick but the Heat had so many holes to fill so it's up in the air as to who they would've taken. As deft a GM as Riley is though, it's hard to say he wouldn't have managed to find a way to build that team into a championship contender.




































Bosh's fate could've changed but more than likely he still winds up with a couple of titles. When you look at both his style of play & his personality on the court, he probably would've fit what Dumars was building better than Anthony or Wade. While he's not, nor has he ever been a low post threat like Rasheed Wallace could be, Bosh's ability to stretch the floor & his athleticism, were similar to what Wallace brought to that Pistons title team. Wallace was a part of the heart & soul of that team but they had been to a Conference Finals without him once already. Of course, if Bosh is busy contending for a title upon entering the league & possibly already won one, does he feel the need to join forces with Wade & James? Maybe not. When it comes to Wallace mind you, regardless to who they drafted they were still going to be able to make the same exact deal based upon what they gave up to get him.

I know I know that is a whole lotta ifs, but that's part of what intrigued me about the question. So many players & franchises had their legacies altered that night in June when Dumars made that one decision. The most compelling part about Dumars is he can be credited with making one of the best in-season trades in NBA history when he obtained Rasheed Wallace in '04, but he can also be credited with making perhaps the biggest mistake ever in the draft by taking Milicic. Granted not taking Michael Jordan was a huge mistake but at least the Trailblazers had a future hall-of-famer themselves in Clyde Drexler already while the Pistons only had a couple of solid players with Prince & Hamilton in the way of Anthony or Wade.

Since that night, Dumars has had many ups & downs, while of course, Wade has won 3 titles in Miami & now Bosh & James have 2. Anthony is still in a quest to reach an NBA Finals let alone win one & Darko Milicic is currently out of the league & will forever go down as one of the worst draft picks in NBA history. So now you know what happens when I have too much basketball on my mind & not enough to watch. I'm sure I'll have some more what ifs before the summer is done. Stay tuned...








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