Tuesday, August 10, 2010

NBA Offseason Review: Part 2

First of All let me take this opportunity to introduce Achyut (our resident baseball expert) and Rizwan (hockey), the newest contributors to the site. You can read their pilot works here and here. Secondly, if you missed Part I make sure to check it out here. Moving on then...

15. Allen Iverson: Don’t tell me that there isn’t a team that could use him. I get that he’s regressed. Severely. Well guess what? 50% of classic AI is STILL better than a whole lot of guys in this league. You’re telling me that the Heat couldn’t use someone to be the go-to guy for the second-team offense? Honestly, just as a gate attraction he’s worth it to at least 45% of the teams, and I’m still convinced that he can provide some sort of punch off the bench as someone’s backup point guard. In any case this is not how a legend deserves to go out.

14. Carlos Boozer: Still not sure if you can win a title with him, but a good signing nevertheless. He’ll rebound, run the floor, work the pick and roll with Rose, and allow the Bulls to jump a level in the east.

13. Richard Jefferson: Dear RJ: you are a genius. You hooked the smartest organization in basketball into giving you $25 million more than you would’ve commanded on the open market and $30 million more than you deserve. Can I borrow you’re financial advisor?

12. Adrian Wojranowski: Always was a good basketball writer, but this was the summer when he broke out and put his stamp on the blogosphere. Seriously, check out his columns from this summer, especially the ones regarding Lebron – they’re pure gold! Congrats Woj for becoming a slightly more coherent and articulate version of Charles Barkley. You could make a case for calling this the Summer of Woj – in fact I think I just did.

11. Cory Maggette: On paper this is FANTASTIC; The Bucks always defended and played hard last year, but had severe deficiencies in terms of scoring (especially getting to the free throw line). Problem solved with Maggette (not to mention a full year of John Salmons). He’s capable of having individual quarters in which he scores more than the Bucks sometimes did during those same 12-minute stretches last year. All for the cost of Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.

That’s the good. The bad: Well, let me put it this way – there’s a reason Clippers and Warriors fans weren’t exactly shedding tears the day Cory left those franchises. They know his issues. They know that he’s capable of being one of the two or three most selfish guys in the league. They know that he can shoot you out of a game just as quickly as he shoots you into one. They know that once the ship starts sinking he’ll be the very first one on the lifeboat. They know that he may be the most un-Scott Skiles-like player ever created. They know.

So here’s my verdict: this was easily the ballsiest move of the summer, and personally I like that John Hammond was willing to take that chance to push his team to the next level. Yeah this could blow up in his face, and it does hurt the incredible cap flexibility that they had (though they still have the Michael Redd card; either he’ll return to being the old Michael Redd or he’ll be a massive expiring contract/possible trade chip). At the same time if gives them some upside that they didn’t have before. Let’s say Bogut comes back healthy, Jennings makes the leap, Cory is on his best behavior, and they flip Redd for a blue chipper – it’s conceivable that the Bucks could sneak into the conference finals, which is a lot better than being one of the other 20 teams with no shot at the second round.

10. Tracy McGrady: Similar to the Iverson corollary. Look, even if you think T-Mac is totally washed up wouldn’t you much rather take a chance on him than on a player with an eighth of his talent? I get that he’s lost a great deal of explosiveness and has the same lingering injury problems from his Orlando and Houston days, but still T-Mac can absolutely run the show for the second team and . His union with the Heat just makes too much sense not to happen.

While we’re here, let me take a moment to defend Tracy’s legacy: To me he’s the Pete Maravich of our generation, someone who could never reach the pantheon due to lack of team success but at the same time did things with the basketball that no one else could ever dream of, redefined the limits of individual skill and excellence, and captured the imagination of basketball fans everywhere. I’ll always remember T-Mac as the most individually skilled player that I’ve ever seen, a sort of cross between Scottie Pippen and George Gervin. He was like Lebron with a jumper and post-up game. One day people will look at his inability to get out of the first round and conclude that he was the most overrated superstar of the aughties; and in a way they’ll be right – no way was T-Mac better than Duncan, Kobe, Shaq, Iverson, etc. At the same don’t tell me that he wasn’t a great player; he was.

9. Tiago Splitter: I honestly haven’t seen him at all, but thanks to the great writers at The Painted Area I have a decent idea of the player that Splitter is, and let me say that if Tiago can somehow live up to the hype then there’s no doubt in my mind that the Spurs, if healthy for the playoffs, will easily make the conference finals and could sneak past the Lakers with the right breaks. Here’s the scoop: Splitter’s the best center in Europe; he’s a GREAT defensive player, strong enough to handle the best bigs down low but quick enough to cover guys on the pick and roll; offensively he’s got a good jump hook and turnaround jumper going in either direction, though by no means Pau Gasol or Yao Ming; his biggest weakness is rebounding, which he simply isn’t great at. Think of him as the Brazilian Kendrick Perkins; in other words, if he’s as good as advertised then the Spurs have officially jumped ahead of all the challengers in the West and now have a legitimate shot at dethroning the Lakers. Stay tuned.

8. Gilbert Arenas: Ok, so maybe you feel like McGrady and Iverson are mirages and that I’m overrating them. But I will defend Agent Zero to the death. With the other guys it’s like “Why not? What’s the harm in taking on the Iverson/T-Mac lottery tickets?” With Arenas it’s more like “Are you crazy?!!!! How can you not take that chance?” How often can you get a legit top-25 player for 10 cents on the dollar? To borrow a phrase from Wojranowski in reference to Chris Paul, “Five nickels don’t add up to a quarter in basketball trades.” Well by this analogy Gilbert Arenas is a 20 cent piece that can be had for a couple of pennies and a handful of sunflower seeds. I understand why Washington would trade him at all costs – they’re a rebuilding team that needs to create as much cap flexibility and good PR as possible, so Arenas must go. But if you’re a team stuck in limbo how can you not try and take advantage of that situation and try to get a guy that can either make a bad team relevant or potentially push a good team over the top? Maybe he’s not a superstar on the Lebron-Wade-Kobe-Carmelo level, but he’s also 28 years old and averaged 22.6 ppg last year while only 75% healthy. You don’t think Cleveland could use a gate attraction to keep them from falling completely off the map? You don’t think the Mavericks could desperately use an elite scorer to pair with Dirk to try and compete with the Lakers? For the Lakers, Celtics, Heat, Sonics (and maybe the Kings and Blazers) it would make absolutely no sense to take on Gil’s albatross contract. But for every other team in the league how can you not be willing to take that risk, especially if you’re a lottery-bound team with no upside or buzz surrounding you’re team?

7. David Kahn: What is everybody talking about? I thought he had a great summer! First he passed up on the franchise center that he desperately needed in Demarcus Cousins to take Wes Johnson, an inferior player who fills a smaller need at a less important position. Brilliant. Next he managed to flip the best young low post scorer in the game for a nifty trade exception, which they can use to acquire a blue chipper like. Perhaps they could use it for someone like Al Jefferson! He then complemented that by overpaying for Luke Ridnour, a pick-and-roll point guard being signed to run an offense that utilizes anything but the pick and roll.

Then of course he re-signed Darko Milicic. Now I always thought Darko was just the European version of Michael Olowokandi, but I guess he’s actually a hybrid of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber, making his $20 million dollar price tag a steal

(Side note #1: No freaking way would I ever pick the T-Wolves as a sleeper in last year’s NBA preview had I known that their definition of progress included serving lunch and dinner and creating a modernized players lounge).

(Side note #2: Out all the millions of point guards Kahn has hoarded, the two best ones, Ricky Rubio and Ty Lawson, are the ones that are NOT with the team. Interesting)

(Side note #3: Kahn reminds me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, at least until the Witch of the South told her the secret of the ruby slippers. He inherited a bunch of assets when he took the job – Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, the 5th and 6th picks in the ’09 draft – the other general managers’ fears dissolved when they realized that he had absolutely no idea how to use them. Wow, I think that’s the first time in history that a sports figure has been compared to a character from a classic work of literature. That was fun).

(Side note #4: Isiah Thomas was just as bad with trades and free agent signings but at least had a stellar draft record that I will defend. Kahn has absolutely no redeeming qualities – how does he still have a job? I am 100% confident that a team of bloggers could run a tighter ship)

(Side note #5: Did you ever think we would be saying that the Timberwolves would have been better off had they NOT fired Kevin McHale?)

(Side note #6: In all seriousness I do feel bad for KAHHHHHHN. He’s seems like a genuinely nice and smart guy. He’s just totally in over his head with this job. It’s getting to the point where it just feels awkward to make fun of him, sort of how you would feel awful about making fun of a kindergartener struggling to tie his shoelaces. On that note it’s really time to move on to a less depressing subject).

6. Chris Bosh: Say what you want about his dorky twitter feed. Give him credit for recognizing his limitations and accepting his destiny as the right-hand man to South Beach’s biggest talent (whoops, I think that may have gone a little too far). But seriously, now he’ll thrive and everyone will finally realize how good my favorite player is at basketball.

5. Carmelo Anthony: I like Carmelo a lot now that he’s really matured the last two years. There simply isn’t a better pure scorer and end-of-game assassin in the game today. But you already know how awesome Melo is on the court, so let me talk about something else. As you know, all of the big three on Miami signed deals with three-year opt-out clauses. Carmelo didn’t do that, instead making sure to get an extra guaranteed year. Look I can’t blame him for his decision then – you’re shelf-life as an athlete is very short compared to people in other professions, and having not come from the most financially secure background I can understand why he made sure to get that extra year. However I think in retrospect he might have been better off signing a similar deal to the rest of the 2003 guys. Lord knows he would have commanded a max contract had he been on the open market this year, whereas if he opts out next year he might not get as much with the lockout looming and with not as many teams having cap space. Obviously he couldn’t have predicted a lockout, but you do kind of wonder how cool it would be to have Carmelo join the free agent frenzy.

4. Chris Paul: Just stop it already. First of all CP3 has absolutely no leverage, as in none whatsoever, with at least two more years left on that contract (he can opt-out in 2012). More importantly, CP3 is above this nonsense! He’s not Vince Carter! He’s not Baron Davis! He’s not Rasheed Wallace! Kudos to the Hornets for not stupidly trading him for a pile of garbage a la Tracy McGrady or Pau Gasol, and now it’s up to Chris Paul to accept his responsibilities to the franchise. Please, just play basketball, and if you would like you can pick another team in two years.

(For fun though, if they do insist on trading him here are my favorite ideas. Keep in mind that superstars are NEVER traded for more than 80 cents on the dollar, especially the ones that publicly want out, so you have to evaluate these trades IN CONTEXT

Trade number 1: Chris Paul for Rajon Rondo, Glenn Davis, and Rasheed Wallace, who can be bought out to save money.

Trade number 2: Chris Paul and Marcus Thornton for Tyreke Evans and Carl Landry – this is my personal favorite.

Trade number 3: Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor, and James Posey for Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, and Jeff Foster

Trade number 4: Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor for Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand, and Evan Turner).

3. Kevin Durant: I remember last year when Sports Illustrated published a terrific article explaining why Albert Pujols has had the most perfect start to his baseball career out of any player in MLB history. It was a terrific read and vanquished any ill-conceived doubts about Pujols being unquestionably the best baseball player of this generation. If you believe otherwise then you should have your rights to follow sports revoked. Seriously.

Pardon the Interruption, but what does this have to do with Durant? Hold on, we’re getting there. Anyways, the basketball universe has another guy like that, someone who was banging out All-NBA and All-Defense first teams pretty much from day one, a guy who repeatedly carried decidedly suspect supporting casts deep into May and June and always came through when it mattered. If anything Pujols is baseball’s version of this guy, not the other way around. Because this league markets style over substance, and because fans prefer flashy players in big markets to consistent excellence, people will still try to erroneously argue that Shaq and Kobe, that Lebron and Wade are the best players of this decade. In fifty years historians will tell you that Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone are the greatest power forwards of all time. And they’re all wrong. Tim Duncan is undoubtedly one of the ten greatest players ever and the best player of the post-Jordan era. He always delivered the goods; he always guaranteed you a chance at a title even with the shoddiest supporting casts assembled; he won four titles without ever playing with a top-20 player (I love Manu and Tony Parker, but to compare those guys to Shaq and Pau Gasol is ridiculous. There’s no way you can say that Duncan’s teams from 2000-03 were any better than Kobe’s teams from 2004-07, yet Duncan was consistently winning 50-58 games per year while Kobe maxed out at 45); he always conducted himself with the utmost class and dignity, never even thinking about demanding a trade and taking less money in 2000 and 2005 to stay in San Antonio; At the very least he is most certainly the most flawless superstar of the past twelve years. Kobe had Eagle, not to mention the years in which he missed the playoffs and didn’t understand how to find the balance between taking games over while still keeping teammates involved; Shaq had the issue of not being able to give a shit 100% of the time; Garnett and T-Mac had major clutch-ness problems; Carmelo didn’t totally get it until these past two years (though I like him a lot now that he’s matured); Howard doesn’t quite seem to be competitive enough; Roy, D-Wil, Nowitzki, Nash, etc. are good but not quite at Duncan’s level, not superstars in the sense that having one of those guys doesn’t quite automatically guarantee you a shot at a title; Lebron, Wade, CP3…well they had that tiny little Summer of 2010 image-fiasco; that leaves Duncan as the one true superstar that has had a perfect career and that cannot be criticized in any way. To me he’s the Bill Russell of the modern era, someone who can’t be captured by stats and someone who will be defended to the death by peers against fans looking to pick apart his resume. I know that 90% of basketball fans would wonder how I didn’t select Kobe Bryant as the best player of the decade. They’ve been brainwashed by the delusional Lakers fans that are masters at propping up their own players. They’re all wrong.

Again, what does this have to do with Kevin Durant? Easy: I think KD has the best chance to be his generation’s Duncan. He’s got the game, he’s got the attitude, he’s got the competitiveness, and he’s got the right infrastructure in place. Maybe Lebron’s the better player, but Durant is the guy with the absolute perfect start to his career. All I can say to the Durantula is this: please don’t change. Don’t get caught up in the stupid politics which consumed Lebron and all the others. Just keep being the most flawless superstar of the next twelve years.

2. Dwayne Wade: Played out of his mind to bring a title to Miami in 2006; Suffered patiently through the post-Shaq years and dutifully carried D-league teams to 45 wins a year; Now he gets rewarded with the chance to play for a potentially historically great team. Congratulations Dwayne Wade; You deserve this moment.

1. Lebron James: Too much to explain here. Lebron deserves his own column.

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