Monday, July 30, 2007

Talking Celtics

It should have been a sleepy Monday morning in NBA land, as the Kobe stuff has totally dissipated, the ref scandal is still looming large enough to cast a pall over any actual roster moves, and the U.S. national team has closed up shop until mid August. I mean, at the end of last week, the biggest stories dealt with Juan Carlos Navarro's eventual destination and whether the Heat might want Rafer Alston. Not exactly the stuff of a PTI lead in.

But now the KG-to-Boston rumors are popping up again, which means we might be in for a fun day of refreshing web pages and reading flimsy speculation. Personally, I usually just check True Hoop 10 times a day to get the needed info (seriously, all anyone needs from ESPN to follow hoops these days is ESPN news and Henry's blog), which is how I first heard about the renewed talks and also where I learned that there is a version of the deal that doesn't involve Al Jefferson.

A few thoughts:

Ray Allen in Retrospect. First, I realize that I was in the minority in regard to the Ray Allen trade. It probably didn't make much sense to many people to mortgage the future for an aging All-Star when the roster couldn't make a run at the Finals. And certainly Danny Ainge had made enough bad moves and course corrections in the past five years to eliminate any benefit of the doubt. That said, for some reason, I was quite sure that there would be more to come from the Celtics. Even after the trade they still had future picks, some young talent (Gerald Green always seems to excite people who haven't seen him play defense), and Theo Ratliff's expiring contract. Not to mention the ultimate trade chip in Al Jefferson. So to think they were "stuck" with Pierce and Allen and a bunch of kids was ridiculous. You certainly couldn't assume that Ainge would put the whole thing together, but their dealings were clearly incomplete.

KG Rumors. Now there are reports that Boston might have a shot at KG in a variety of deals both with and without Jefferson. Obviously, Boston fans are hoping for the latter and I've even heard some C's fans say that they would rather keep Jefferson than get Garnett. Which is crazy.

Jefferson is a good young player who put up great numbers last year. I enjoyed a great deal of success in my fantasy leagues thanks to him. However, before people start saying he's better than Dwight Howard or untouchable, it is important to remember the issue of context. Jefferson had been an underachiever and a guy who couldn't quite "get it" right up until the moment that Pierce went down with an injury and Boston decided to tank the season last year. So all of a sudden Big Al is running around with a bunch of rookies and playing glorified summer league games. I'm not saying he didn't improve, but I am saying that all that improvement came in pretty carefree circumstances. It wasn't exactly Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals whenever he stepped on the floor.

Not only that, but Jefferson is a mediocre defender at best. He doesn't do a particularly good job of denying post position and he always seems a step slow with his help defense. For a team that defends the paint like they are allergic to it, Jefferson isn't exactly the guy you want anchoring the interior.

KG on the other hand has done his thing in every imaginable situation. He's come up big in the playoffs, he's played through injuries, he's dominated international play and All-Star games. There isn't a scenario out there that I could imagine throwing him for a loop. So you can actually pencil in his numbers as opposed to projecting some garbage time stats and then crossing your fingers, as you would have to do with Jefferson. Not only that, but KG answers all of Boston's questions on the defensive end. He would be a dramatic upgrade over Jefferson on that end of the floor and a guy who can help teach a player like Kendrick Perkins. Much like when Greg Maddux joins a pitching staff, you are basically getting both a player and a coach for your younger guys.

All of that explains why I think Boston should pull the trigger on a KG deal even if it includes Jefferson. I think Jefferson is becoming overvalued right now and since Boston has mortgaged their future for "right now" anyway, there is no need to cling to a young guy who might take a step backward right when you need him to become an elite post player.

If I'm the Celtics, I hang on to those future first round picks and offer up a package of Jefferson, Green, Telfair, and Ratliff's expiring deal (a package Minnesota should happily take, by the way) and move forward with the goal of winning the NBA Finals.

Eventual Celtics Roster. How would such a roster look at that point?

Well, the deal outlined above would enable Boston to retain promising young point guard Rajon Rondo, recovering stopper Tony Allen, Perkins, and capable young bigs in Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis. Having only Gabe Pruitt has a backup point guard is a problem, but every team in the East has holes. Besides, Boston can still use its midlevel to round out the roster.

(And if there is any way they could possibly do it, Boston should try to trade for Toronto backup Jose Calderon. Maybe, just maybe, the Raptors undervalue him and would give him up. Maybe.)

Here is the roster I see taking care of business in the East next year:

PG - Rajon Rondo
SG - Ray Allen
SF - Paul Pierce
PF - Kevin Garnett
C - Kendrick Perkins
B - Tony Allen
B - Ryan Gomes
B - Big Baby Davis
B - Leon Powe

I honestly think that team is in the NBA Finals next year.


Don't Call It A Comeback

Actually, okay, you can call it that.

Many (read: a handful) of you are wondering where I've been, why I haven't commented on the referee scandal, and what the future of this blog looks like. Here are answers to those three questions:

1. Where I've Been. I believe it was mentioned in previous posts, but I've been busy preparing for, taking, and recovering from the California state bar exam. I think it went well (the dreaded multiple choice leaves you with no idea whether you passed or not), but won't know until November. While preparing, I couldn't pursue my other interests and hobbies without feeling guilty, so I just studied all day long. But now it is over.

2. Why I Haven't Discussed the Referee Scandal. For starters, see above. This whole thing happened during my hiatus from blogging, which meant there was no chance I would be talking about it at length on this space. However, I probably would have passed anyway. The coverage of this was oversaturated to begin with and it all seemed too depressing to really sink my teeth into. I will say that my gut reaction when I first heard was "suck it, Stern." I'm not saying that the NBA should have prevented this or that it is David Stern's fault, but I do think he deserved to get a nice, juicy scandal dropped in his lap. He's become so drunk on power the last few years and so completely ignorant about domestic issues in his fan base that he officially reached the point where he deserved to get crapped on. If this whole scandal humbles him or forces major changes in the way the NBA is run and administered, or even provides us with a new commissioner, it will be well worth it. I know that sounds messed up, but that's just how I feel.

(As for the NBA games being rigged ... of course they are! We've all known this for years, haven't we?)

3. The Future of This Blog. Those of you who also read the columns over at WhatifSports will note that my column doesn't exist anymore. The process of leaving the site has been in the works for a while and we were communicating about the best way to end things ... and then suddenly they stopped communicating and just eliminated any trace of my existence. Yeah, weird. So the first step will probably be to change the web address of this blog, which shouldn't be a huge deal since I think I drove away all but 3 or 4 readers with the extended absence.

Beyond changing the IP address, the future of the blog is a bit up in the air. As mentioned above, I finished the bar, which means I start working at a law firm in a few weeks. No longer living the glorious life of a student means fewer hours in the day to write, which is a problem because now I have far more writing projects than I can handle. The blog might be a casualty of the new schedule. We shall see.

For now, I am going to keep throwing up some posts when the mood strikes. I'll be gone all of next week and am unlikely to post much during my first few weeks at the new job, so the next month makes for a good test run to see if the page can survive in a diminished capacity. It may require bringing in co-bloggers, or coming up with a gimmick to support a one-post-a-day kind of thing, or it may result in official retirement from the blogging game.

If the blog does survive and thrive, it will officially become an all-NBA blog, because I think the only way to post content that is in any way worth reading is to pick your favorite sport and specialize there. Over time, with enough quality insight, lucky predictions, and humor, people will eventually start clicking on the link to get your take. So even though it pains me to abandon other sports in a year where I have a legitimate shot at picking every MLB playoff team (right now the Cubs are a half-game out of first in the NL Central and the Phillies are two games back in the Wild Card - all other picks are correct), I feel there is no choice but to focus on basketball, and to use the NBA as the viewpoint for all things basketball (including the NCAA tournament).

That was probably too much information, but I'm convinced that blogs are only worthwhile these days if there is specialization and transparency. I already explained the former and this whole post explains the latter.

I'll be back soon with thoughts on the latest KG rumors.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Summer League Shockers

I'm taking a little break from studying for the California bar exam, and here is what I discovered from the first two days of the Vegas summer league:

1. Marco Belinelli is sick! The Warriors new first round pick went for 37 bones on 14-of-20 shooting in his debut. I know that summer league is a bad proxy (Skita, anyone?) for NBA success and that Belinelli joins the ranks of Keith Bogans and Ike Diogu as the all-time top single game scorers in Vegas league history, but still, 37 is 37. Plus, he looks like a perfect fit in that offense and if I remember correctly, this is how he played against Team USA in that exhibition. (Wasn't that in Vegas as well? Maybe if the Sonics move there, they should trade for this dude.) I think he's for real and will pour in about 150 threes next year. I can't wait to take him in the 11th round of my fantasy draft.

2. Memphis is going to be pretty solid. Gasol and Mike Miller are legit, Rudy Gay is showing his promise (at the expense of Yi's face), and Mike Conley appears to be the real deal. He looks a lot like Chris Paul in the way he controls tempo and plays with both hands. The Grizzlies still need help on the frontline - which is probably why they are about to slap an offer sheet in Anderson Varejao's mailbox - but I really think they can get back to .500 next year and build for the future.

3. The Blazers are stoked. This might seem like an odd opinion considering Oden's rough first game and the fact that Rudy Fernandez is considering accepting an offer in Barcelona that will keep him abroad for years, but I think yesterday was a positive day for Rip City. That is because LaMarcus Aldridge was treating the Celtics summer league team like a bunch of kids. He went for 26 and 11 on a dizzying array of post moves, turnarounds (Hakeem would be proud), and 20-foot jumpers. He also showed no signs of that Wolf-Pakistan disease or whatever it was called. Portland knows Oden will be a beast and anchor the D for years and they know they will have the perimeter talent eventually, but I think they were really crossing their fingers with Aldridge. If he's healthy and continues to develop, he could be a dominant power forward in the NBA. And that could be the difference between contender and dynasty. And yes, I'm one step closer to being named the president of the LaMarcus Aldridge Fan Club. So be it.

4. Nice, job, Billy King! King's latest first round picks - Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith - were abysmal in their summer league debuts. And it wasn't Greg Oden "a bit out of sorts, needs to find the range" abysmal, it was "wow, that guy looks like he's never played basketball" abysmal. King is the absolute, well, king of GM ineptitude.

5. A Spurs and Cavs game is still boring. 67 to 53. In a 40-minute game. Are you serious?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lewis to Magic

It seems like just yesterday that the Orlando Magic were talking about trying to keep Darko and lure Vince Carter to South Florida. It seemed like a decent option at the time, but thank goodness for Magic fans they didn't stick to that plan. Darko is going to be wildly overpaid on his potential (certainly not for his basketball IQ or work ethic), while Carter once again showed his true colors in the postseason. Orlando would have capped out for pure mediocrity under the old plan.

I'm not sure if the addition of Rashard Lewis immediately makes them a contender in the East, but it is a start. Dwight Howard is still improving (although I'm starting to think his ceiling is lower than most people assume) and it looks like Fran Vasquez is finally ready to come help his NBA team, so Orlando has some pieces in place. Jameer Nelson needs to stop his regression and emerge as a leader and playmaker and they need a post scorer to compliment Howard (Sean May would have been perfect in the 05 draft, but that ship has sailed), but Lewis really does dramatically change their team. Orlando's biggest weaknesses last year were athleticism on the wings and an inability to stretch the floor. Lewis solves both problems and is able to go 25+ a night while staying out of Howard's way. Plus, his two problem areas - lockdown defense and rebounding out of his area (to use a Jay Bilas-ism) - are mitigated by other Magic players. Trevor Ariza can provide some needed perimeter D (when Hedo isn't on the floor) and Howard is such a tenacious rebounder that Lewis should be able to skirt that small forward duty without much of a problem. Orlando will struggle mightily on D when Nelson, Turkaglu, and Lewis are on the floor together, but mix-and-match rotations and Howard's help side defense should offset that.

All in all, I think this was the right move for Orlando. It is a bit much to spend on a second banana type player, but Lewis actually fits there team quite well. And it isn't everyday that you can add elite young talent in the NBA.