Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maybe He Tried to Hit David Stern With His Car

I know it is probably too soon to make jokes about NBA officiating conspiracies, but I'm starting to wonder what it is exactly that Amare Stoudemire has done to piss off every single referee in the league. Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets hosed more than Amare when it comes to bad calls. Tonight was no exception as he was whistled for a completely bizarre phantom offensive foul on a fast break and sent to the bench just two minutes into the game.

It never fails - whenever I watch the Suns, Amare gets in foul trouble without seeming to foul. Amazing stuff.

Rondo is the Realness

There has been a lot of chatter about Boston adding point guard help for the playoffs - most of it centered around Sam Cassell and a possible buyout in L.A. That sort of speculation is totally understandable whenever there is a second-year point guard manning the controls and the one-dimensional Eddie House backing him up. However, the irony here is that the rumors are heating up while Rondo keeps getting better. A month ago I would have said, yes, Boston needs to add a veteran point guard. But now I don't think that is true, because the man with the E.T. hands is really coming along.

He's showing more confidence, is becoming a vocal leader, is proving to be a true difference-maker on the defensive end, and is now adding a fairly devestating dribble-drive game to his arsenal. It seems like he's making at least one highlight play every game while doing all the "little things" that Boston is going to need in aid of KG, Pierce, and Allen.

Tonight against the Mavericks, Rondo put on one of his most impressive displays yet. Despite being limited to 27 minutes by foul trouble (a combination of a few bad reaches and a couple of terrible calls), Rondo hah the best +/- of either team in Boston's 96-90 win over Dallas, clocking in at +13. He also nabbed an astouding 12 rebounds, despite the limited minutes and being the smallest guy on the court for most of the game. No rebound was bigger than the offensive board he grabbed with 42 seconds left, as Rondo slipped behind Dirk Nowitzki and tore the ball away from the big German on a Pual Pierce miss. Then, when it appeared he had his foot pinned down by a defender, he tossed in an underhand bank shot that looked like something you might try in a game of H-O-R-S-E. It proved to be the game winner and it gave Rondo 14-12-4 for a final line. Not bad.

(Oh, and for the record, I admit that I'm happy to see Rondo playing so well, as I predicted big things for him over the summer.

Holy 11 Turnovers!

The Lakers started a nine-game road trip tonight in Detroit, never an easy task. And they suffered a heart-breaking 90-89 loss when Tayshaun Prince drained a three with four seconds left and then Odom tossed up an airball at the buzzer (in fairness to Odom, he'd taken just four shots the entire game prior to that heave). One wonders if the task might not have been so difficult had Kobe Bryant managed his triple-double in more conventional fashion. Indeed, while Bryant went for 39 points and 10 rebounds, he also tallied a whopping 11 turnovers. I can't remember the last time I saw somebody rack up that many TO's. Amazing.


Brandon Roy has made the All-Star team.

Blazers fans everywhere are rejoicing and I am basking in the glow of accurate predictions (I emailed my buddy Stump last year and predicted that Roy would be an All-Star by year two) and successful bets (steak dinner coming my way).

Several weeks back I laid out the blueprint for Roy to make the team and I think it went down pretty much as it needed to. T-Mac lost his starting spot to Iverson, which opened up a reserve slot. The Spurs guards split the vote (or just lost out because of San Antonio's recent slump). And while the West coaches didn't completely shut out forwards from the wild card spot (David West snatched a spot from Baron Davis), they did choose a 5th guard over a 3rd center (Camby, Chandler, Kaman, Jefferson). So things worked out perfectly.

Good job to all those Blazers fans who went out and voted for A.I., because that got the whole thing started.

And congratulations to Brandon Roy, the first Blazer to make the All-Star game in seven years and proof positive that a college senior can still come into the NBA and be an elite player. Roy represents everything good about the direction of the Portland franchise and the NBA in general, so this is great news.

(The steak dinner is nice to, I admit.)

No Baron

The All-Star reserves have been announced and for the most part, they turned out like I had expected. I thought Gerald Wallace and Jose Calderon should have made it for the East, but Rip and Jamison are fine. In the West, the first six reserves (Brandon Roy!) turned out just as I had hoped, but David West nabbed the last spot, edging out the likes of Baron Davis, Deron Williams, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, Manu Ginobili, Shawn Marion, and a host of other Western Conference stars.

Davis is the snub that shocks me. Because no matter what criteria one uses for determining worthy All-Stars, Baron deserves a spot. Seriously, run down the angles:

- One of the best 12 players in the conference: check. Davis is 14th in the NBA in scoring at 22.3 per game. He's 7th in the NBA in assists at 8.1. He's the only guy in basketball averaging 22 points and 8 dimes. He's the only guy averaging over 2 steals (second in the league) and 2 threes per game. His turnovers are down, his shooting is up across the board, and he's second among all point guards in rebounding (4.8 per). His stats, combined with his fourth quarter heroics, put him in the top 10 in the NBA right now, easily.

- Team success: check. The Warriors are currently in the playoff picture in the brutal Western Conference, yet they have no representative. In fact, of the 10 teams in the West fighting for the playoffs, Golden State is the only squad that doesn't have an All-Star.

- Past performance: check. Nobody shined brighter than Davis last year in the playoffs. He was larger than life and carried an 8 seed to a shocking first round win over Dallas. His play in the first half is certainly not a fluke.

- Ability to entertain: check. Not many people consider this factor, but just in case, Davis is one of the most entertaining players in the league and a natural for an All-Star setting.

- Showcase games: check. He ended New Orleans' 9-game winning streak last night, single-handedly beat the Spurs a few weeks back, shredded the Lakers a few months before that, and has probably had more huge fourth quarters than anyone in the league not named LeBron James.

Add it all up and this guy was a no-brainer. Of course, someone from the West will wind up nursing an injury and bow out, so Davis will probably get a spot on the roster before it is all said and done. But for now, this is a bit of a travesty.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Do NBA Analysts Watch NBA Games?

It is halftime of Blazers-Cavs and I am currently settling in for what should be a good final 24 minutes of basketball (provided LeBron's ankle is okay). I do have a question though: do NBA analysts actually watch the sport that they presume to cover?

I've heard four different people in the last hour say that Portland is crazy to make this reported Jason Kidd trade because they are giving up "their entire team" and "an amazing young talent in Travis Outlaw" in exchange for "nothing." What? As I've mentioned before, I love Outlaw, but Devin Harris is better than he is. A top flight point guard who is 24 years old and has a decent contract has far more value than three reserves. Portland has the chance to add the missing piece for a misfit backup point guard (Jack), a reserve forward who will hardly play next year (Frye), and an admittedly valuable and exciting reserve combo forward (Outlaw). It's not like they're trading Roy here!

Honestly, I'm not sure which sentiment is more confusing: that the Blazers are giving up a bunch of key guys or that Harris isn't worth anything. All of these ESPN characters seem convinced that both facts are true. Have they seen a Mavericks game this year? Did they not watch Harris decimate the Suns and Spurs in the 2006 Playoffs?

I give up.

[Update: According to this piece by ESPN's Marc Stein, the deal might be dying on the table. Too bad. Note also though that Dallas' Brandon Bass was rumored to be going to Portland in addition to Harris. To me, that makes it even more attractive for the Blazers as they would be getting a young, talented big to fill the hole left by Frye and Outlaw. Additionally, I found the last bit in the article interesting - Stein quotes a source regarding the potential damage of lingering trade speculation. We definitely saw that tonight with the Blazers. Outlaw had some nice moments and hit a big jumper late, but Frye was out to lunch and Jack played even worse than normal. This Portland team typically plays with a poise beyond their years, but tonight the trade rumors really seemed to shake them.]

[Update: More madness. J.A. Adande of the Leader wondered aloud about a deal between Portland the Sixers that would send Steve Blake, Outlaw, and Frye to Philly for Andre Miller. This is somehow a better deal for the Blazers? Not only is Blake better than Jack (making the ransom higher), but Miller is older than Harris, worse than Harris (especially as a catch and shoot player, which they need next to Roy), and has a terrible contract. Good call! I especially love the fact that he uses Miller's "slightly better stats" as the justification. All of this takes me back to my original question: do these guys watch the games? I am honestly starting to wonder if anyone has seen Harris play? Does he really exist or is this highly skilled point guard with blinding quickness perform only in my imagination?]

Defending the Western Conference

In my previous post, I made a case for Portland pulling the trigger on the rumored Devin Harris/Jason Kidd trade and bringing Harris over to run the point for the next six years. Part of my rationale was that Outlaw might need to be traded on general principal so as to prevent a logjam at the 4 down the road. However, the bigger reason is that Harris seems to be the perfect fit to play next to Roy in the Blazers' backcourt. He can catch and shoot, he's quick, and he can guard the league's fastest and most skilled point guards.

As promised, here is a breakdown of every backcourt in the Western Conference and how a proposed Roy/Harris pairing could defend virtually any combo of guards currently in existence:

New Orleans - Chris Paul and Morris Peterson. The Blazers currently have no answer for Paul's quickness, but Harris actually does a nice job on him. Peterson is one of the better guys in the league to put on Roy, but the reverse is also true. Harris is also much better suited to guarded Jannero Pargo than anyone on the Blazers' current roster. Portland is far more capable of defending the Hornets backcourt after the trade.

Phoenix - Steve Nash and Raja Bell. The Suns actually present a lot of the same problems as the Hornets for the current Blazers. The starting due of Blake and Roy does a decent job against Nash and Bell (as with Peterson above, Bell guards Roy fairly well but can also be guarded easily), but Nash and Leandro Barbosa is a handful. Adding Harris upgrades Portland's quickness and he can guard either Nash or Barbosa. Major upgrade after the deal.

Dallas - Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. I presume this will be the Dallas backcourt after such a trade and if so, Portland would match up great. Roy destroyed Kidd at both ends of the court in a recent game in New Jersey and Harris matches up well with Terry (and knows all his tricks). Eddie Jones looks to be the third guard with Barea getting some run, but those two aren't scaring anyone. I keep saying this, but what are the Mavs thinking with this trade?

Utah - Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer. As it currently stands, Roy guards Williams and the Blazers play Jack a lot against Utah because he's a little stronger and can keep Brewer from posting up or hitting the glass. After the trade, Portland might need to play James Jones or Martell Webster some at the two and limit Harris' minutes if Brewer were to get loose. Williams is too strong for Harris, so Roy will have to continue guarding the Jazz' brilliant point guard. Kyle Korver is just a shooter so when he plays the 2 it shouldn't effect the defense much. This is probably the only team in the West that will continue to present matchup problems even after the trade (although I don't think they are significantly worse).

L.A. Lakers - Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are a bit like the Jazz in the sense that they don't have a ton of burners in the backcourt, so adding Harris doesn't necessarily erase any preexisting issues. In fact, his slight build could present a problem against the physical Fisher and the taller Sasha Vujacic off the bench. Still, the Lakers backcourt is all about Kobe, so the challenge of stopping them rests with Roy, now as before.

San Antonio - Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. I know that Finley actually starts, but lets be real here. Parker was going to give Portland a ton of problems and was one of the primary reasons why I wrote yesterday that I don't think the Blazers can beat San Antonio this year in a series. I still don't think they can even with Harris, but their odds are a whole lot better. He might be the only guy in the league as fast as Parker from end to end. Roy would draw Manu, as he does now. Big upgrade (and if you don't believe me, find yourself some footage of Blake trying to guard Parker in the playoffs last year).

Denver - Anthony Carter and Allen Iverson. Roy can't guard Iverson (at least not without getting into serious foul trouble), so bringing in Harris frees him up to destroy Carter, Chucky Atkins, or J.R. Smith. Harris has done a nice job on A.I. in the past and has the speed and tenacity to bother him. Big upgrade.

Golden State - Baron Davis and Monta Ellis. Adding Harris would be huge on this front. Roy can guard the bruising Davis and Harris can check the blur that is Ellis. Right now, Golden State has a significant speed advantage, but that would be largely negated through this trade.

Houston - Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady. New team, same old story. Alston is quick and McGrady is tall. Harris and Roy are the perfect foil.

Sacramento - Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin. See Houston.

L.A. Clippers - Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley. After the Jazz and Lakers, the Clips probably have the third "biggest" backcourt in the league. Cassell plays a physical style, Mobley likes to work in the post, and someday Shaun Livingston may return as a big point guard. So Portland may have some tricky matchups here, but it is largely irrelevant because the Clippers suck.

Memphis - Mike Conley and Mike Miller. As with Paul, Ellis, Parker, Iverson, and others, Portland currently has mediocre options for checking Conley but would suddenly have the perfect defender in Harris.

Seattle - Earl Watson and Kevin Durant. Yawn. By the time this matters, Seattle will have Derrick Rose manning the point and Durant playing a forward spot.

Minnesota - Sebastian Telfair and Randy Foye. Even if the Wolves were to go big with Foye at the point and McCants at the 2, Portland would be just fine.

As it currently stands, the Blazers have serious matchup issues against several teams with quick point guards, most notably Denver (Iverson), Golden State (Ellis), San Antonio (Parker), Phoenix (particularly when Nash and Barbosa play together), and Dallas (Harris himself). They also have potential matchup problems with Houston (Alston) and Memphis (Conley), although neither of those players are quite deadly enough to exploit them. Adding Harris would help solve all those problems. And on the flip side, the "big backcourt" challenges posed by the Jazz, Lakers, and Clippers wouldn't really get any worse.

So yeah, I still think this is a great trade for the Blazers.

The Kidd Trade

Yahoo has reported a possible three-way trade involving the Nets, Blazers, and Mavericks, and Henry over at True Hoop has done a terrific job of breaking it all down.

Like Henry, I'm a vocal Blazers fan and my first instinct was to analyze this trade from Portland's perspective. I know that many in P-Town are kind of freaking out about this deal, because it involves sending Travis Outlaw to the Nets. Look, I'm the biggest Outlaw fan there is (seriously, when we watch Blazers games and Outlaw scores, my brother looks over, nods, and says, "Nice, you're boy just scored." People actually call me now when he has a big night or hits a game-winning shot. So I'm the last person who wants to see Outlaw traded. That said, Devin Harris is a unique player. He has great hands, tremendous quickness, and an innate ability to get to the rim. Once he stops trying to take so many charges (thereby avoiding foul trouble), he's going to be a true game changer. And for all the chatter about Dallas (and therefore Harris) being unable to defend big guards (like Baron Davis), the truth is that small guards still run the West. Aside from Deron Williams or Baron (both of whom could be checked by Brandon Roy), who is Harris going to be guarding? Last time I checked, it was a bunch of little guys named Nash, Paul, Parker, and Iverson. (Seriously, go through every team in the West and try to find a backcourt that Harris/Roy couldn't adequately defend. Utah is the only team that can go really big, but Brewer isn't an offensive threat. You know what, I'll spare you the trouble. Expect that to be my next post.)

Additionally, I believe Harris fits better into the big picture in Portland than Outlaw, Frye, or Jack (the three guys rumored to be traded). Jack doesn't fit at all. Frye is giving them good minutes but clearly has a ceiling and is going to be the odd man out next year when Oden comes back. And while Outlaw - as Henry pointed out - clearly retains value on this roster going forward, I worry that he could stunt Aldridge's development. Portland's best shot at winning a title is giving their own version of the "Big Three" (Roy, Oden, and Aldridge) maximum breathing room. Several months ago I marveled at Outlaw's play and decided that Portland had to include him in its long-term plans. That said, if they want to play a shooter (Webster or Jones) at the 3 (and I think they do), then it means Outlaw will be getting most of his minutes at the 4. Thus, at the expense of Aldridge. And that just won't work, because Aldridge needs to be a 35 mpg, 18-22 ppg, 10-12 rpg guy - a poor man's Tim Duncan. Titles are going to be decided by his growth and evolution. And if Outlaw is going to crowd that development by virtue of his own spirited play, then Portland might have to move him simply to prevent the logjam.

If all that is true, then why not trade Outlaw when A) his value is sky high and B) a terrific point guard can be acquired in the process? It's a genius move. Blake is a nice piece and Sergio (or Taurean Green) may very well pan out, but Portland is shaping up to be a title contender in the next three years. Doesn't it make sense to aggressively seek out the needed point guard now? It's not like they are getting Derrick Rose in the next draft or something.

Oh, and one other thing. The Blazers have Rudi Fernandez stashed overseas and he's going to need minutes at the 3 when he comes over and does his Manu Ginobili impersonation, so dealing Outlaw opens things up there as well. I always thought the Blazers had all the needed pieces to be The Next Spurs, with one lone exception: their version of Tony Parker (Sergio was always a stretch). Now they have all the key ingrediants and the chance to roll out the following roster:

PG - Devin Harris
SG - Roy
SF - Webster/Jones
PF - Aldridge
C - Oden
6th - Fernandez
B - Webster/Jones
B - Blake
B - Prezbo (I've decided to give Przybilla this nickname in honor of The Wire)
B - McRoberts/Green/Player X

Ladies and Gents, I present your 2010 NBA Champions.

As for the Nets, this trade makes quite a bit of sense as they get to start over.

But the Mavericks? I have no idea why they would make this deal. Harris is the right guy to man the point for them already and Kidd is just going to bring his nasty jump shot, bloated turnover stats, and inability stay in front of any guard under the age of 35 to Dallas and bog down a sneaky good Mavericks team. They lose financial flexibility, speed, youth, and Jerry Stackhouse's bench scoring. Honestly, I have no clue why they would make this trade.

Luckily, I'm a Blazers fan.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Are the Spurs Done?

In light of San Antonio's 88-85 loss at Seattle tonight - its third in a row and seventh in their last 12 - the question must be posed: are these guys done?

My answer: I wish.

Look, I've never shied away from stating my true feelings about San Antonio. They feature a brutal combination of suspiciously favorable officiating and incomparable complaining that makes them a viewing nightmare. I'm not sure how many more springs I can take with this team playing 25 times while Charles Barkley gushes about their ball movement. So if this really is their demise, I would be perfectly okay with that.

Sadly, I'm afraid that is not the case. Every year we read too much into the regular season failings of the Spurs, only to watch them kick into gear for the playoffs. There are still few answers to Duncan. Not many point guards can stay in front of Tony Parker. All those graybeards on the San Antonio bench no doubt retain their ability to make threes all day once the playoffs start. The Spurs are like vampires - you have to drive a garlic-covered wooden stake into them to kill them.

That said, I do think 2008 will differ from 2007 in several ways. Last year the Spurs were able to shake off a poor first half to finish strong and win the West in part because there were few legit challengers in their way. Phoenix and Dallas were the only teams that had real shots at knocking off San Antonio and the former was robbed by the league while the latter got knocked out by Golden State in the first round. The Nuggets lacked cohesion, the Jazz lacked experience, and the Hornets lacked a playoff appearance. This season, all three of those teams have a very real chance of beating San Antonio in a seven-game series. You can throw the Warriors and a healthy Lakers team into that mix as well. (Note: I don't think Portland or Houston could beat the Spurs this year). Add it up and there are a whopping seven teams in the Western Conference that cuold reasonably hope to defeat the world champs in a series. Plus, the Celtics and Pistons both present problems in the East. So the road to a title should be far more arduous this time around.

Furthermore, I do think Father Time is finally catching up with this squad. Robert Horry, Michael Finley, and Brent Barry are all at various stages of decline and - most importantly - Bruce Bowen has lost about nine steps this season. We all know that Bowen gets away with murder in the playoffs, but this year he might literally have to commit a homicide against NBA superstars to stop them from scoring. Tonight Kevin Durant had his best game in weeks and it came (with relative ease) at the expense of Bowen. About a month ago I watched Pop go with Ime Udoka on Baron Davis down the stretch in a loss to the Warriors.

Of course, the mere fact that the Spurs haveUdoka is reason enough to think they could still defend their crown. This front office is among the best in basketball and they know what it takes to maintain excellence. They saw the signs that Bowen was slipping before anyone else and promptly spent the money to bring in his heir apparent. Furthermore, there are reports that San Antonio has won the rather bizarre Damon Stoudamire sweepstakes and will be bringing in Mighty Mouse to bolster the backcourt. If they get everyone healthy by May, they are still going to be a tough, tough out.

Western Conference, get your wooden stakes ready.

All-Star Choices

Given the amount of attention that everyone is paying to the All-Star selection process this year, it would be a shame to remain silent regarding my own choices. While the coaches ultimately get the final say regarding the All-Star benches and will undoubtedly mangle the selections with their flawed alchemy of "team success" and rewards for past successes, that doesn't mean that I can't dream a little.

A quick note on my personal criteria. All-Stars should be the best players in the league and the most likely to perform in an entertaining fashion during the actual game. Period. The All-Star game should not stand in for year-end awards or All-Pro teams or any other method by which we recognize the most "valuable" players in the league. That means no to Ray Allen in the East or Tyson Chandler in the West. It means no to Shawn Marion, who has played at an All-Star level for many years in a row but this year appears to be barely even trying. Deron Williams' play in the postseason last years matters not. Then again, neither does Portland's huge winning streak. None of it matters. All that counts, in my mind, is whether a guy is one of the 12 best players in his conference and will put on a good show.

Also, let me address the starters. There is always much hand wringing over the fan vote and the unfair results that come about via this method of selecting the starters. I would argue that when the dust settles, we will have more true All-Stars represented by the fan vote than by the coaches' selections. Just take a look at the list of starters. You could safely argue that eight of the 10 are the best at their position, in their conference. In the West, Yao and Amare are neck and neck at center, but I have no problem with Yao as the starter. Duncan is the best power forward, Melo is the best small forward, and Kobe is the best shooting guard. Only Iverson comes up short, as A) he's not a true point guard, and B) Chris Paul and Steve Nash are better at the position, but even the Iverson pick has merits given his terrific season (quietly one of the best of his storied career) and great track record as an All-Star performer. AI has two All-Star Game MVP awards and has morphed into a "get everyone involved" passing wizard on more than one occasion. He belongs on the team.

And in the East, four of the five picks are clear choices. Howard, KG, LeBron, and Wade are clearly the best players at their respective positions in the East. In fact, Howard, KG, and LeBron are probably the best players in the entire league at those positions. Only Jason Kidd is undeserving, as Chauncey Billups deserves the starting point guard spot.

So for all the whining about the fan vote, they landed somewhere between 80 and 90 percent. Pretty good. Again, I doubt the coaches do that well.

Finally, here are my choices for reserves:

Eastern Conference

Guard - Chauncey Billups. Billups is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, hands down.

Guard - Joe Johnson. It hasn't exactly been a banner year for Johnson, but he's still the second-best shooting guard in the East, behind Wade. Rip Hamilton plays for a better team and Michael Redd is a better pure shooter, but Johnson can shoot, post, handle the ball, and play defense.

Forward - Caron Butler. People are finally starting to notice just how good Caron Butler is. He's been fantastic for a while now, but with Arenas out, the spotlight now swings his way. Maybe now everyone will remember that the Lakers traded him for Kwame Brown. Had they not done that, L.A. would probably be favored to win it all once Bynum came back. Whoops.

Forward - Paul Pierce. Pierce's numbers aren't flashy, but he does everything for the Celtics. Most notably he plays a lot of the old Scottie Pippen point-forward, takes the big shots down the stretch, and guards the opponents' best perimeter player. That's an All-Star, no doubt.

Center - Chris Bosh. Thank goodness Bosh can be a center, because after Dwight Howard it gets ugly in the East.

Utility - Jose Calderon. Six months ago I thought either the Celtics or Cavs could realistically acquire this guy and round out their rosters. Now he's clearly the second-best point guard in the East behind only Billups.

Utility - Gerald Wallace. There are a ton of guys that could get this last spot, from Josh Smith to Rip Hamilton to Antawn Jamison. That said, I am using "game potential" as the tie-breaker. Wallace has the athleticism of Smith and the scoring ability of Rip or Jamison, so he seems most likely to bring some actual value to the game itself. Plus, while many probably haven't even noticed, he's arguably been one of the 10 best players in the game over the past month (24, 8, and 5 with steals, blocks, and threes).

Apologies to: Josh Smith, Rip Hamilton, Antawn Jamison.

Western Conference

Guard - Chris Paul. Best point guard in the league right now, and it really isn't even close.

Guard - Steve Nash. Well behind Paul, but the best of the rest. Nash's shooting ability continues to amaze me and get overlooked due to his passing skills.

Forward - Carlos Boozer. He's a double-double machine and is anchoring Utah's recent 9-1 blitz. If the Jazz had kicked it into gear just a bit earlier, they would have two guys on this list.

Forward - Dirk Nowitzki. His rep has been damaged by the last two postseasons and the rough November, but lately he's been back to his old, deadly self, going 24, 8, and 4 while shooting a ridiculous 54% over the past month.

Center - Amare Stoudemire. Chris Kaman has been terrific but gets a ton of stats in garbage time, Marcus Camby can't defend a pick-and-roll if his life depended on it, and Al Jefferson is an even worse defender than Amare. So while the "big man is back" in the West, Stoudemire still gets the nod for his efficient offense (nearly 60% shooting with only two turnovers per game) and underrated ability to catch and finish on the pick and roll (seriously, no other big man can do what he does on the receiving end of Nash's passes). Plus, his defensive shortcomings have become more myth than reality at this point. He still does a poor job or denying his man position and is foul prone, but he does an adequate job of protecting the rim and hitting the defensive glass.

Utility - Baron Davis. These last two spots are sure to be a bloodbath given the depth of quality players in the West this year, however, for me they are pretty easy. Baron in particular is an easy choice. His numbers are great (only 22 point/8 assist guy in the league, second in league in steals, only guy in NBA to average over 2 steals and threes per game, etc.), his impact on the Warriors is undeniable, and his talent is singular. The All-Star game would be robbed without Baron's presence.

Utility - Brandon Roy. Roy is another pretty easy choice for me. I know Deron Williams is deserving, but there are plenty of guys to run the point in the West. Roy gives the squad a versatile player that can man three spots, operate on the block, and play defense. Plus, he's quickly becoming one of the most unstoppable one-on-one players in the NBA. Throw in his remarkable pace and feel for when to take over and he's a no-brainer, in my opinion.

Apologies to: Deron Williams (if only Atlanta had drafted Paul, Williams would be an All-Star this year), Manu Ginobili (deserves a spot, even if he is a faker and a baby), Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, and Al Jefferson.

No apologies to: Shawn Marion (living on his rep this year and barely trying. Turn that frown upside down, Shawn), Tony Parker (is still being discussed in this context despite approximately 19 consecutive crappy games), Josh Howard (went from underrated to overrated in one season).

Don't Look Now

As recently as three weeks ago, the Jazz were well outside the NBA playoff picture and looked dead in the water. A young team just a year removed from the Western Conference Finals, Utah prompted a great deal of hand-wringing on the part of pundits and Jazz fans alike. I even took a shot at them when they made what appeared to be a panic trade to acquire Kyle Korver and rid themselves of malcontent Gordon Giricek. However, what most people didn't realize when this team was barely above .500 is that Utah was playing a murderous schedule and was dealing with significant health issues.

What a difference 10 games makes. Since losing at Portland on January 5th, Utah has gone 9-1 and (with Denver's loss tonight) vaulted into first place in the Northwest Division. Suddenly, if the playoffs started today, they would be the #4 seed. Not only that, but they once again resemble a true title contender. The Jazz is back to dominating on its home floor and boasts a +11.4 per game scoring margin over the past 10.

Tonight they picked up a win that should put the rest of the league on notice as they beat San Antonio 97-91. Andrei Kirilenko looked as good as he has since the Warriors series last spring, Boozer battled Duncan to a draw in the paint, and Deron Williams absolutely manhandled Tony Parker. Ronnie Brewer didn't fare well against Manu Ginobili, but Utah can otherwise feel great about the matchups against the Spurs, across the board.

I still like Dallas to quietly come out of the West when it is all said and done, but make no mistake, Utah is right back in the title mix. In fact, I like them better than either Phoenix or San Antonio at this point and you have to like their chances against upstarts like New Orleans or Portland. Throw in the way they manhandled the Warriors in the second round last year and there don't seem to be many teams in the West that Utah couldn't beat in a seven-game series. I'd probably take Denver, Dallas, and maybe a healthy Lakers team. Otherwise, I like Utah.

The West gets crazier by the day.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Busy Sunday in the NBA

It was fitting that today was the launch point for network NBA coverage, because it was an extremely busy day in the league. All 10 games were within 11 points, and a whopping seven of them were decided by three or less. The Bucks beat the Wizards in overtime despite Caron Butler going for 40 and Michael Redd missing the game. The Suns got a W despite scoring just 88 points (in fact, they had the largest margin of victory with 11 over the Bulls). LeBron out dueled Kobe. Turkoglu sunk the KG-less Celtics with a ridiculous turnaround three. The Blazers stormed back from 19 down for a big win over the Hawks. Al Jefferson went for 40 and 19 in a win over New Jersey. Andris Biedrins snared 26 rebounds in a 106-104 victory over the Knicks. Chris Webber was rumored to be returning to the Warriors. Oh, and the Lakers-Cavs game was delayed because supposedly some wet rain gear was dripping on the court. That's a lot.

That said, here were the two key things I noticed amidst all the excitement:

1. Dwight Howard needs a passer. Hedo's big moment aside, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching a doomed Orlando team today. Considering that the Magic has Dwight Howard manning the middle, plenty of shooting on the wings, and residence in the Eastern Conference, that shouldn't be the case. But watching them play is just extremely frustrating. That is because they have this monster of a lowpost player yet he gets the ball once every 15 possessions or so. Now, I understand that Howard still delivers exceptional value even when he's not getting post feeds, because he dominates the boards, protects the rim, and draws defenders into the paint. That said, the fact remains that he's Orlando's best player. He should be getting the ball! There was a stretch in the fourth quarter in which Howard went nearly five minutes without receiving a pass (he did snare three offensive rebounds). When they finally did throw it to him, he absorbed a double team, spun baseline, and dunked over two help defenders. "Effortless" doesn't even begin to describe the move. Yet the Magic went right back to not passing to him again. Obviously, it isn't hard to figure out why Howard is denied the rock. He's surrounded by poor passers. Some Orlando players simply lack tremendous skill in that area (see: Maurice Evans), but in most cases it is because the members of the Magic suffer from a terrible case of "get-mine-itis." Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis both carry themselves like superstars and take atrocious shots on a regular basis. Jameer Nelson and Keyon Dooling are point guards in name only, always looking for their shot first. Carlos Arroyo also shoots too much but is even more fond of over dribbling until he turns the ball over. Brian Cook heaves up shots like the ball is literally on fire. I've never seen a team with such a poor understanding of its own strengths and weaknesses. I can only imagine what Dwight Howard would do if he played with a point guard like Steve Nash or Chris Paul or Jose Calderon. Hell, even if he played with a point guard like Steve Blake. What a travesty.

(And let me just say for the record that while Turkoglu's three was impressive and a skillful shot, it was also one of the worst looks I've ever seen for a game winner, when you consider the circumstances. The Magic had the ball with 11 seconds left, at home, in a tie game and they wind up with a fadeaway 27-foot three-pointer. Yes, it went in, but that was a truly horrible shot.)

[Update: After posting this, I went back and checked the stats for the season and Howard currently ranks well behind both Lewis and Turkoglu in field goal attempts per game. Furthermore, he's only sixth on the team in FGA's per 48 minutes, which is just ridiculous. When you consider how many attempts come from his own offensive rebounds, it is increasingly apparent that he is actually thrown the ball about 10 times a game. I am growing more angry about this by the second.]

Brandon Roy is virtually unstoppable one-on-one. It was funny, because the Blazers-Hawks game today wasn't shaping up to be part of the Roy highlight reel. For the second time in less than a week, Joe Johnson was getting the better of him at both ends of the court and the Hawks appeared to be well on their way to avenging last Monday's home loss to Portland. For most of the game, Atlanta employed a very solid defensive strategy whereby they aggressively double-teamed Roy the minute Portland sent a high screen-and-roll in his direction. For reasons that I still don't entirely understand, Nate kept calling for that play and Roy kept picking up his dribble. Late in the third quarter the Blazers at least started using Channing Frye in the high post to exploit the obvious 4-on-3 advantage that the high double was creating, but Roy was still little more than a bystander. Then, just when it looked like the game was out of reach, the Blazers finally called off the pick-and-roll and just let Roy go to work. He promptly took over the game in the final three minutes, scoring on an assortment of impressive drives to the basket. The Hawks tried to put Josh Smith on him and they used Joe Johnson quite a bit, but Roy - with his exceptional ability to "be quick but not hurry" (in the words of John Wooden) - easily blew past his man and got to the rim. I think he's going to see a whole lot of double teams the rest of the year because A) it seems to work pretty well against him and B) the alternative just isn't much of an alternative. Oh, and Blazers-Hawks has the makings of a nice little rivalry going forward. Both are young teams playing hard and unselfishly and they have had consecutive thrilling finishes. Who would have thought that Portland-Atlanta would be must see TV before the season started?

Friday, January 25, 2008


As per my usual, I tuned into the Warriors game tonight. GSW at home is must see TV, because you are always going to see something exciting, emotional, and a little bit crazy (usually involving Stephen Jackson). Tonight there was an extra dose of crazy as Don Nelson instructed his team to start intentionally fouling the Nets' Josh Boone midway through the third quarter.

It was a move that inspired jokes from the broadcast booth, predictions from Vince Carter (he accurately told Reggie Miller that Boone would "make both" on one trip and "one of two" on the next), and general mayhem. The strategy didn't work out all that well, as Boone made at least one free throw each time he was sent to the line. More importantly, it completely changed the flow of the game.

For starters, telling your team to start hacking a guy in the third quarter is a poor motivational ploy. You are telling the players that they likely can't win playing conventional basketball - and this happened when the Warriors had the lead! Additionally, once the Warriors got used to not playing defense, they continued to not play defense even after the "strategy" was lifted. Furthermore, Golden State is a team that plays fast and thrives on increasing their number of possessions. They don't want whistles to blow or the clock to stop, because that just slows the pace down. There is a reason the Suns commit the fewest fouls in the league each year (except, somehow, when they play the Spurs in the playoffs) - they don't want the action to stop. Yet there was Nelson, ordering the fouls, halting the action, and then - get this - complaining after the quarter that they "lost their tempo." It was madness.

All told, the Nets scored 38 points in the third quarter, seized control of the game, and put themselves in position to steal a road win from a superior team. Of course, Al Harrington then hit four straight threes, Monta Ellis started flying all over the court, Baron Davis attacked the rim, and the Warriors managed to rip off a 22-0 run and a 25-4 start to the fourth quarter to steal the game right back. Then they gave it away again, only to rally for a wild, thrilling 121-119 victory down the stretch. What could have been an ugly night for the Warriors turned into yet another display of why no one wants to see this team in the playoffs.

Crazy stuff ... as usual.

(Two additional thoughts: 1. Watching Kidd launch a three Hoosiers-style in the waning seconds was just sad. 2. Is it just me, or could Monta Ellis score 50, 60, maybe even 70 points in a game if he wanted to?)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Roy's All-Star Bid: Step One, Complete

In a previous post, I laid out a three-step process that would get Brandon Roy to the All-Star game. Today, Yahoo posted a story revealing that Allen Iverson had passed Tracy McGrady in the voting and landed a spot as a starter in the Western Conference. This means that Roy is probably doing his best Brian McNight impersonation in regard to AI: "[Step] One, You're like a dream come true."

Of course, many things must continue to go right for Roy. The coaches must focus on guards (step two) and probably freeze out the San Antonio backcourt (step three), which might be easier considering how poorly they have been playing as of late. But even then, Roy will need to beat out a crowded field of top flight Western Conference guards. With Kobe and Iverson in the starting lineup and Nash and Paul sure to secure bench spots, we are still left with three terrific candidates for 1-2 spots (one spot if Marion or another F/C gets a spot, two if six guards make the team). They are:

Baron Davis
Brandon Roy
Deron Williams

Even if the Parker and Ginobili "split the vote" and the coaches ignore Camby, Kaman, and Marion, there still aren't enough roster spots. And the truth is that since my previous post about all this, Williams has played the best of the trio. He's not the strongest defender, but when you look at his body of work, he is awfully tough to ignore.

Three guards, all deserving of a spot. Will any of them make the team? Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Power Forward Preview

I wasn't able to watch the Kansas State-Oklahoma game today, but it sounded like a thriller, as KSU pulled out an 84-82 victory.

It also appears that fellow frosh power forwards Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin gave us NBA fans a preview of battles to come at the next level.

Everyone knows about Beasley, who is quickly becoming the consensus choice to be the #1 pick in the '08 Draft, but Griffin doesn't get nearly as much hype. The latter caught my eye in a game against West Virginia earlier this year and I think he too could be a fantastic player as a pro.

In those one, both threw up gaudy stat lines, as Beasley went 13-for-18 from the floor with 32 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals and Griffin was 11-for-14 with 27 points, 13 rebounds, a 2 steals. Both suffered in one area of the game as Beasley made eight turnovers and Griffin went just 7-for-13 from the line. But overall, you have to be impressed by two freshman going toe to toe and posting numbers like that.

On top of all that, Beasley made the winning basket with two seconds left, while colliding with Griffin in the lane. It almost seem scripted.

I for one, can't wait to see them battling it out a year from now while I put my NBA league pass to use.

Friday, January 11, 2008

How Roy Can Make the All-Star Team

There has been a ton of chatter about the All-Star picks for each conference as of late, and rightfully so, because things are shaping up to be a bloodbath in the West. We've got a classic case of too many All-Stars and not enough spot.

And because Blazermania is spreading and Brandon Roy is my favorite player on earth (see below), my primary concern is seeing the Perimeter Duncan get into the game.

This is not going to be an easy feat, given the loaded West and the plethora of guards that can make claims in the West. However, there is a series of events that can land Roy in the game:

1. T-Mac Must Lose His Spot. The All-Star voting always sucks because undeserving players get in the game based on reputation alone. T-Mac has been sitting out with his annual injury and wasn't even playing all that well before he got hurt. He has to give way. Luckily, Allen Iverson has closed the cap to 80,000 votes with one round to go. AI might not catch him, but he's got a shot. And since Iverson is a more deserving All-Star, this would help the process. (Note: Nash is another 20,000 votes back and could also make a late charge.)

2. The Western Conference coaches must recognize that guards have been dominating this year. This means that in addition to choosing the two required guards as subs, they must also use both wild card spots on perimeter players. There is going to be a fifth forward (probably Shawn Marion) or a third center (Marcus Camby or Chris Kaman) deserving of a spot, but not over the top six guards in the West. Guards rule right now and the coaches must realize that fact.

3. The Spurs guards must split the vote. There is plenty of debate over whether Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker is the second most valuable or second best player on the Spurs. Both make compelling cases, so the best hope for Roy is that the coaches can't make up their minds and wind up splitting their Spurs vote right down the middle.

If those three things happen, it would open up the door to six total guard spots with no McGrady, Manu, or Parker. And since Roy seems to have a clear leg up over Deron Williams, the list would look like this:

1. Kobe Bryant (starter)
2. Allen Iverson (starter)
3. Chris Paul
4. Steve Nash
5. Baron Davis
6. Brandon Roy

It's as simple as that.

The Perimeter Duncan

I've been in a lot of discussions lately that have taken place in an attempt to pin down exactly who Brandon Roy evokes on the basketball court. Some say Dwyane Wade, but not quite as quick or explosive. Others have thrown out Walt Frazier as a point of comparison. I've heard "Mitch Richmond but a better ball-handler and not as good of a shooter" (at that point, why even try to make the comparison?). One reader thinks Roy is a "next gen" version of Sean Elliott.

I don't feel like any of these comparisons are particularly apt. Which is why I think we have to venture outside the realm of perimeter players to find the proper point of reference. Because the guy that Roy reminds me of the most is Tim Duncan. Just a guard version.

Let's look at the similarities:

- Both are "cerebral" players that know how to play the game and maximize their own talents and those of others.

- Both are excellent defenders that dramatically improve the team defense through both their performance and the example they set for their teammates.

- They each have a unique ability to get wherever they want on the floor, regardless of what the defense tries to do and in spite of the fact that they aren't the fastest runners or highest jumpers.

- They have "old school" games that involve using proper angles, fundamental play, and taking advantage of the glass.

- Each strives for maximum efficiency with little regard for flair.

- Both players took over and transformed their teams pretty much the minute they walked into the locker room.

If you are wondering why this Blazers team is so much better than the sum of its individual parts, it is because Brandon Roy is excellent in all the ways that nobody notices ... at least not until there are championship banners hanging in the rafters.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

No Conscience

It's late and I'm tired, so my post about the thrilling Warriors-Spurs game tonight is going to be shorter than it really should be. I just have to remark on the fact that Stephen Jackson has no conscience whatsoever. The guy was having one of his worst games of the season, had thrown up multiple airballs while trying to draw fouls, and had missed about five threes in a row down the stretch and none of them were all that close.

So when the Warriors needed a big basket in overtime, what did Jackson do? He confidently backed Manu Ginobili into the post, drew a double team, and rifled a pinpoint pass to a teammate for a game-tying layup.

Moments later, he drained a huge three on an inbounds play to give his team the league. Then he hit another three. Then went down the lane and scored. Then made four straight free throws to seal the victory.

Are you kidding me?

It was a thrilling game featuring yet another epic performance from Baron Davis, big plays galore, a plethora of huge shots by Michael Finley, great play from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and some incredible hissy fits from Manu Ginobili. But the thing that struck me - even more than the Baron's 34 and 14 night, which was incredible - was the ability that Jackson showed to shake off a truly horrendous game and make the huge plays down the stretch. You have to have ice water in your veins to do that. Or no conscience whatsoever.

I have feeling that Crazy Glue has both working for him.

Monday, January 07, 2008

MVP So Far

I wasn't planning on writing about the MVP race, considering it is January, and I'm not a fan of aping other people's columns, but so many readers have been emailing me about Marc Stein's "First Trimester" report and awards that it probably warrants a response.

The irony is that because Stein named Kevin Garnett and Stephen Jackson as his East and West MVPs, most people thought I would be excited by his choice and tend to agree with him, due to the fact that I was among the first to jump on the Boston-as-title-contender bandwagon after the KG trade (and, therefore, one would assume, am now leading the charge that KG is the most valuable athlete in the world) and because I tend to give Captain Jack a lot of love on this site.

Alas, if it were up to me, neither would be the MVP of the first third of the season. Not because they aren't valuable - both KG and "Crazy Glue" are incredibly valuable - but because they rank behind guys who are simply playing too well to deny.

In the East, the only choice for MVP right now is LeBron James. Yes, KG has transformed the Celtics, but while he's the man on defense, Paul Pierce seems to be the guy making it all happen on the offensive end. Oh, and Ray Allen is spotting up dropping threes. The credit must be spread around. And while Dwight Howard has been a monster for the Magic, he still has too many holes in his game to be the MVP. Meanwhile, LeBron has led a truly dreadful Cavs team back to .500, is averaging over 7 boards, nearly 8 dimes, and almost 2 steals a game, all while leading the league in scoring by a pretty wide margin at 29.2 a game. On top of that, he's become King of Clutch and a dominant fourth quarter player, erasing the one doubt about his game that was lingering as recently as last March. Team success and intangible impact counts for a great deal, but you can't just remove individual dominance from the equation. You just can't.

Here's my top five from the East:
1. LeBron James - See above.
2. Kevin Garnett - Don't get me wrong, he's still a frothing beast that has the C's on pace for a record season.
3. Dwight Howard - Headed for 20 and 15 per and is still getting better. Look out below.
4. Caron Butler - Has quietly taken over in Washington with Arenas out. You'd be hard pressed to find a guy that plays harder night in and night out.
5. Chauncey Billups - Such a mismatch that he makes the Pistons an automatic title threat.

As for Crazy Glue (so named because Stephen Jackson is both totally crazy and absolutely the glue of the Warriors), I don't even see how you can give him the MVP of the Warriors when Baron is playing the way he is. Again, I love Jackson, and he deserves the credit for being the X-Factor of Golden State. But he's not the MVP. Come on.

Here's my top five from the West:
1. Chris Paul - This actually isn't even close and to be honest, I would have a hard time choosing between Paul and LeBron for the league MVP. He's going for 21/10/4 with threes and great percentages and has more steals per game (3) than turnovers (2.6). That's just crazy. Oh, and he has the Hornets threatening for the best record in the West. Case closed.
2. Steve Nash - Always.
3. Allen Iverson - Is quietly having one of his best seasons ever and is keeping Denver on top of the Northwest Division (which is suddenly shaping up to be a bloodbath with Portland on the rise and Utah falling off a bit).
4. Tim Duncan - See Nash, Steve.
5. Baron Davis - Apologies to Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, and Carlos Boozer (the West is LOADED with MVP candidates this year), but the Baron has maintained his level from last year's playoffs and is one of the truly unstoppable players in the NBA.

Okay, now I'm on record with my choices and don't have to respond to each email. Feels good.

Matchmaker: Dickau to the Suns

A few weeks ago, I made a big deal out of the fact that former Vancouver, Washington high school rivals Dan Dickau and Richie Frahm were sharing the court for the Clippers. I remain convinced that this was a banner moment for my former athletic home, the Greater St. Helens League.

The problem is that they're not sharing the court anymore, because Sam Cassell is back in a Clippers uniform and Dickau has been relegated to the third point guard position (read: the bench). This is a bit of a shame, becuase he was giving L.A. some good minutes, but alas, it is the way these things go.

[Update: Hours after I posted this, I saw the announcement come across the ticker that the Clippers had waived Frahm. Now they really won't be sharing the court together.]

That said, there is still a basketball home out there for this well-traveled player. And that home is in the desert - Phoenix, Arizona.

You see, Dickau is a perfect player to use behind Steve Nash in the Suns offense. Like Nash, he is a tremendous ball-handler and passer and an extremely intelligent player. Unlike Nash, he isn't one of the greatest basketball talents on earth. But hey, that's why he'd be the backup.

In all seriousness, I often wonder why teams don't look for a "poor man's version" of a starter when they are struggling to find a suitable backup. Plugging in Dickau for Nash would certainly create a dropoff in talent at the position, but doing so would allow the Suns to continue to play virtually the same exact way. As it currently stands, they must dramatically alter their entire gameplan whenever Nash leaves the floor. Whether it is running the offense through Boris Diaw (quickly becoming a bad option, since he seems to get worse with each game) or using Grant Hill as a point-forward, or simply letting Leandro Barbosa go one-on-five, the Suns don't even resemble the Suns when they play without their two-time MVP. And since Nash is 34 years old, spends his time on the bench swaddled in heat packs laying on his back, and has come out of each of the last three postseasons looking like Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn, I think it is safe to say that they can't roll him out for 40 minutes a night in the regular season. Or even 35 minutes a night.

So what is the solution? If you've read this far, you already know, but in my opinion, the solution is to bring in a guy who plays like Nash in style, if not in substance. It is no knock on Dickau to note that he isn't Steve Nash's equal - that's just the reality. But unlike 90% of backup point guards (certainly Marcus Banks qualifies as part of that 90%), Dickau is actually smart enough to know his limitations and savvy enough to succeed in spite of them. He can run a pick and roll and keep Amare fed near the rim. He can split a double-team and pitch the ball out to Barbosa and Bell for threes. He can take an outlet pass and race it up the court to get Marion an easy dunk. And he can hit open shots. No, he probably won't throw left-handed bounce passes 40 feet across the court or make every lob with pinpoint accuracy or shoot 52% from the field, but again, that's why they pay Nash the big bucks and give him those nice trophies - NO ONE ELSE can do that stuff.

[Update: Thanks, Marcus Banks. On the very day I bash him and suggest a trade to bring in a new backup point guard, he goes for 23 points, hits 7-of-8 from three, and receives a standing ovation from the Phoenix crowd. Perfect. That said, he's been known to have flashes of brilliance in the post, only to revert back to his old ways. I stand by this trade, even if the timing could not possibly have been worse.]

You might ask: What about defense? This has always been the part of the game where Dickau has struggled the most, as he is undersized on the block and lacks lateral quickness to stop dribble penetration. Sound familiar? Those are the same issues that Nash deals with every night on D. So not only would the Suns be able to play the same way on offense (out of preference), they would also just continue to play the same way on defense (out of necessity).

On top of all that, Dickau will absolutely get better by playing against Nash every day in practice, learning little tricks from him about the position, and watching him from the bench. So Dickau will improve as he goes, becoming more reliable and successful as the season marches on.

All told, he could keep Marcus Banks off the floor, keep Barbosa in attack mode as a scoring guard, and give Phoenix 15-18 minutes off the bench every night, while allowing the Suns to play the same way they do when Little Stevie (as Bill Walton calls him) is in the game. Yes, there will be a dropoff (as there is for nearly every team, at every position, when they bring in a reserve), but it won't result in the Suns morphing from a smart, attacking run-and-gun offense into an iso-based, stagnant disaster, which is what is happening now.

And best of all, since Dickau isn't even playing right now in L.A. and falls under the minimum contract exception (he's getting $770,000 this year), the Suns could probably get him for the price of a second round draft pick. And since they never want their draft picks anyway, this is an ideal swap. They can give up a future pick in exchange for a cheap, reliable, smart player that comes off the books at the end of the year.

Best of all, through what I am here and now naming "The Doppleganger Plan," they can finally steal valuable minutes of rest for Nash without disrupting the rhythm and design of their high octane offense.

As for the Clippers, they can get a free draft pick for a guy they obviously have no intention of using.

[Update: Speaking of timing (see the Marcus Banks update above), Brevin Knight is day-to-day with a "stress reaction" in his arm - whatever that is - so maybe the Clippers are going to need Dickau after all. I was really on a roll with this one.]

I see no downside here.

As always when it comes to "Matchmaker," lets make it happen people.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

NFL Playoffs: Going on Record

This is a basketball blog and right now all my pop culture energies are invested in the NBA and The Wire but there is still a tradition of posting predictions for the Big Three sports - both regular season and playoffs - on this blog.

So here they, just because.


Wild Card
SEATTLE 27 Washington 20
New York 24 TAMPA BAY 17

Divisional Round
Seattle 31 Green Bay 28
DALLAS 24 New York 17

NFC Title Game
Seattle 27 Dallas 24


Wild Card
PITTSBURGH 20 Jacksonville 13
SAN DIEGO 31 Tennessee 13

Divisional Round
NEW ENGLAND 31 Pittsburgh 21
San Diego 24 INDY 17

AFC Title Game
NEW ENGLAND 27 San Diego 20

Super Bowl
New England 34 Seattle 24

(Note: My preseason Super Bowl pick was Dallas over Pittsburgh, so I almost just stuck with that, but figured I'd go with two new teams. That way, I have twice as many chances to be right. Then it just becomes a matter of which picks I refer to. Pretty slick, no? Oh wait, that is what everyone does - they just don't admit it. Nevermind.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Matchmaker: Big Ben to the Rockets

Bet you never thought that the Matchmaker gimmick would make a repeat appearance (since none of the previous gimmicks ever did). Well, you were wrong!

Anyway, I was swapping emails with Dritz (one of the contributors to this blog) earlier and discussing the Bulls. He's a Chicago guy through and through and while he wants to be optimistic about the Bulls chances in light of Gordon's return the bench (and corresponding hot streak) and the coaching change, he can't quite turn the corner. In an attempt to cheer him up, I suggested that perhaps the Bulls could acquire Mickael Pietrus (the Warriors are clearly trying to showcase him right now in an effort to move him), but he waved that off by (correctly) pointing out that Thabo Sefolosha could and should eventually be the same kind of player. He then mentioned that what really needed to happen was for the Bulls to get rid of Ben Wallace.

Let me first say that I didn't realize that Big Ben was that big of a problem. I know that his play has been poor, that his contract is terrible, and that swapping out Chandler for Wallace was a gaffe of epic proportions, but lately he seems to be picking it up a bit and - worst case scenario - he can always be benched in favor of the young bigs. But Dritz was adament and once I started thinking about it, I could see his point. Right now, Wallace is like a magnet sucking the energy out of this team (which is ironic, because he used to be the energy supplier in Detroit). As long as he's around, he will remind everyone of the failed free agent move and of the fact that things are falling apart. So he has to go.

The question is: who would trade for him? I mean, we've got a guy who is getting worse every year, can barely post stats worthy of a starting role player, and who will be getting paid $15.5 million per for the next three seasons. That's not an easy contract to move.

I spent my entire lunch break trying to find a trade partner for the Bulls and ultimately found one possibility: the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets are the only team desperate enough to bring on a contract like Big Ben's and the only team that could really, really use even a shell of his former Pistons self. Houston is currently sitting outside of the Western Conference playoff picture and even when McGrady gets back, they will be hard pressed to pass two teams, which would be some combination of the improved Lakers, deadly Hornets, determined Jazz, surging Blazers, and tenacious Warriors (fun with adjectives!). The Rockets have to make a move if they are to have any shot at making the playoffs this year (let alone doing anything once they get there).

Houston's biggest weakness is at the power forward position, where they start the 5'4" Chuck Hayes (slight exaggeration). And while Luis Scola is helping a bit of the bench, the combination of Scola and Hayes at the 4 is clearly not going to get it done in a conference loaded with guys like Duncan, Boozer, Dirk, Amare, etc. There are so many agile power forwards/centers in the West and to be frank, Yao can't guard any of them (see: any footage of their first round series against Utah and Boozer last year). And obviously, neither can any of their power forwards. I know that Big Ben isn't what he used to be, but surely he'd give them more hope of defending opposing 4's than what they have now.

So I spent a few minutes on the uber-valuable ESPN Trade Machine and got the following trade to work:

To Houston
- Ben Wallace ($15.5 million per, 3 years remaining)

To Chicago
- Mike James ($5.9 million per, 2 years remaining)
- Luis Scola ($3 million per, 3 years remaining)
- Steve Francis ($2.5 million per, expiring)
- Bonzi Wells ($2.3 million per, expiring)

Obviously, I think this deal helps Chicago. It gives them a decent post scorer in Scola, who could play 25-30 minutes a night in a rotation with Joe Smith, Joakim Noah, and Tyrus Thomas. Their frontcourt would suddenly have a nice blend of youth and experience, scoring and defense. Francis would likely grow roots on the bench, but you never know. And regardless, his deal expires. Same for Bonzi, except that he could actually help them a ton. He would become the Bulls' best post scorer, a guy that would allow Chicago to run an inside-out offense, and give them a fighting chance against Detroit (what Piston would guard him? Tayshaun? If so, that would free up Deng). They probably still couldn't beat Boston, but so be it. The poison pill here is obviously James, who has a bloated deal, would be on the payroll for another year after this one, and just duplicates Gordon's skills on a lower level. But I think it would be better to have him on the roster at $6 million per for two years than Wallace for $15 million per for three. Plus, there is the outside chance that they could move him or even get something out of him at the point (very outside, but still). Overall, they would get two guys that can score on the block, clear playing time for Noah and Thomas, and drastically improve their cap situation, all while turning the page on the Ben Wallace era and getting a true fresh start.

As for Houston, the move is far less appealing considering that the opposite of everything I mentioned above becomes true for the Rockets - they would have less post scoring, less cap flexibility, etc. But they desperately need someone who can cover Yao's defensive deficiencies, pound the glass, and set some screens. Houston is probably best served loading up now with a veteran core of Yao, Big Ben, Battier, and McGrady, taking a hard run at it, and then just blowing things up in three years.

The lineups for each team after the trade would look something like this:

PG - Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Mike James
SG - Bonzi Wells, Ben Gordon
SF - Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni
PF - Luis Scola, Tyrus Thomas
C - Joakim Noah, Joe Smith, Aaron Gray

PG - Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks
SG - Tracy McGrady, Luther Head
SF - Shane Battier, Steve Novak
PF - Ben Wallace, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry
C - Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo

I like both of these disappointing teams a lot better that way. Let's make it happen, people.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Statement Game

I had to make a choice tonight and decide whether to TiVo the bowl game (Oklahoma vs. West Virginia) or Mavs-Warriors. I chose the latter and I'm glad I did, because I got to see Dallas rise up and become a contender again. I may be reading this wrong, but I feel like two years of doom and gloom and choking and baggage was alleviated in one game. Seriously.

Granted, it was a home game in January, but because it was against the Warriors, it just meant more. Adding to the effect of the win was the fact that Dallas jumped out to a significant lead, only to watch Golden State whittle it down to a one-score game late in the third quarter as the American Airlines arena got quiet and nervous. It was all so reminiscent of last year's playoffs and you could almost see it etched on people's faces - from Mark Cuban to the random fans sitting courtside. Here comes crazy Stephen Jackson and cocky Baron Davis and all the role players and we're in trouble.

But then three guys changed the course of the game:

1. Jerry Stackhouse. He never seems to get nervous or rattled, which is helpful. The problem is that sometimes his confidence generates big shots and sometimes it creates a flurry of bricks. Tonight the ball was going in. But this is a 50/50 proposition, so the Mavs can't count on Stack carrying them to a title. Therefore, we're moving on.

2. Brandon Bass. I felt very strongly over the offseason that Dallas needed to bring in some frontcourt help. Namely, an athletic, aggressive power forward type that can crash the offensive glass and finish plays in the paint. Dallas needed such a player in the worst way last year and then they made no move to acquire anyone fitting the description all summer. But I didn't realize that they already had such a player on the roster. Seriously, Brandon Bass? The former LSU star has been riding pine for the past few years and now he's suddenly a hugely important player in the Dallas rotation. He's had some really good moments this year, but tonight was a real coming out party. He was abusing the small ball Warrior lineup on the glass, he showed an ability to finish in the lane and get to the line, and move quickly to help and recover when Baron and Ellis got into the lane. He helps them solve so many problems - rebounding, attacking zones, hedging big guards, and so on. This is important stuff.

3. Dirk Nowitzki. This is the big one. Dirk has been playing this entire season like he's on the Shaq circa 2002/LeBron circa 2006 "coast until the playoffs" plan. Something about his breakdown last year, the beating he took in the media regarding his MVP trophy, and then the weird backpacking trip over the summer ... it all added up to a distant, starry-eyed Dirk. Where is the snarling German that throws his mouthpiece and screams at refs. Where is the guy that was berating teammates in the spring of 2004 and taking Duncan to the rack in the summer of 2005? For Dallas to become legit title contenders again and challenge for the crown, they need that old Dirk. And tonight, with his nemesis Stephen Jackson and the rest of the fast, physical Warriors in town, that old Dirk showed up. He hit big threes, got to the line, snared big rebounds, and had one awesome sequence where he blocked two straight shots at the rim, changed another, and then hauled in the rebound. It was very impressive. He finished 29-8-6 with 3 blocks and shot 9-for-16 from the field and 8-for-8 from the line. Now that is an MVP performance.

It was a big night for the Mavericks and now that they've vanquished the Warriors and the ghosts of 2007 and won't be encountering D-Wade and the ghosts of 2006 anytime soon, I really believe that they are right in the hunt for the O'Brien Trophy. It's Detroit, Boston, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Dallas. And if I had to pick right here, right now, I'm taking Dallas over Boston in 5 in the Finals.

Like I said, statement game.