Thursday, October 15, 2009

Part One, Season Predictions: Atlantic Division

The Atlantic Divison

For my money, this is the least compelling division in the league. Hedo's addition to the Raptors makes them an interesting watch, and the clusterfuck of perimeter players in New York could (continue to?) progress under Mike D'Antoni. Or it could devolve into a nightly contest between Larry Hughes and Al Harrington for who can miss the most shots. I'd love to see Elton Brand get healthy and win over the hearts of Philly fans, but at this point, I'm not expecting much mobility out of him, and with Dre gone, they're not about to take the next step. I'm excited about the Nets, and pretty sure that no matter how broken KG looks, the Celtics will wrap up the division with very little drama.

1. Boston Celtics, 55-27

By January, I think we'll hear an onslaught of stories of how great an addition Sheed has been for the Celtics. We've seen him join a great team before, and Sheed was a perfect role player for the '04 Pistons. He's older now - a lot older - but he's still long and agile. He recognizes what Boston has going and he'll do everything he can on the court to contribute to their system.

Nonetheless, I think Boston takes a step backward this year. Kevin Garnett isn't healthy, and it's foreboding that he has taken so long to heal from an injury that did not require surgery. Which is why I think he's going either miss a significant amount of time this season, or play worse. I'm expecting a big step forward out of Rajon Rondo, but we saw what Boston looks like with a depleted defensive unit in the playoffs last season. For every brilliant scoring performance Ray Allen had, or every triple-double Rondo put up, the Bulls made them look old, unathletic and slow defensively, and the Magic outmanned them (I should note that Paul Pierce's miserable postseason doesn't signify any decline in his game, to me). The Celtics are still a great team, and a postseason threat, but I think that over 82 games, they're due for a few more losses at this point.

2. Toronto Raptors, 38-44

The Raptors are here almost by default after a terrible offseason. What area of weakness does Hedo's addition address? This team still can't defend or rebound. I like the idea of an uptempo offense with a healthy Calderon, and a progressing Bargnani, but Bosh is a pure half-court player, and unfortunately was reduced to mostly being a jump-shooter last year. Hedo's skills are also best served in a half-court set. He's a stellar one-on-one player and a great passer, but he can't run.

At the end of the day, even if Bosh and Calderon return to form, and Bargnani becomes a great scorer, the Raptors have no depth and below average defenders at every position. Their idea to play Bargnani at the 5 sums up what I think is the flaw in their philosophy. They want to have a unique offense,and they have a wonderfully skilled starting unit, but there's a difference between being interesting and being good. The Raptors have designed an interesting team, one with no hope of defending or rebounding well, and one destined to flounder if one of their starters goes down.

3. Philadelphia 76ers, 37-45

The Sixers have an athletic, deep group of guards, but a group of declining bigs and no true point guard on their roster. I think Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young are two spectacular wings who can play inside and out, and are a great duo on both side of the court. I really see star potential in Young, and Iguodala is all but there.

But Elton Brand hasn't played at full strength for two seasons, Samuel Dalembert is disgruntled, and Andre Miller is gone. Jrue Holliday isn't ready to play point guard (he won't ever be), and Lou Williams and Willie Greene are a couple of nice combo guards that are pretty poor at making plays for their teammates. Between Iggy, Greene, Holliday and Williams, they may have serviceable ballhandling (see: someone to bring the ball up), but I'm expecting their offense to be pretty stagnant with Dre's playmaking ability.

4. New York Knicks, 34-48

No. They will not take any significant steps forward this year. This team, man for man, excluding Wilson Chandler (and eventually Toney Douglass), is inept defensively. Larry Hughes, at this point talentless, will waste minutes and possessions for them all year long. Al Harrington is anything but efficient. Chris Duhon is a sound PG, and very capable in the pick-and-roll, but he has no durability and is asked to do too much.

As far as the Knicks' youth goes, I like Wilson Chandler. I think he will step up more consistently this year. He is developing his drive and has become a good shooter. He can defend and rebound against most small forwards. I like Danilo Gallinari. I think he has a lot of offensive potential and could someday be an average defender. But he's a project. I look for him to average double-digits this year, but I think his impact will mostly be based on if he's hot certain nights. David Lee is a very smart offensive player and a great rebounder, but he's a miserable defender and has shown the Knicks his best basketball. Same for Nate Robinson - he's a talented, limited, and known quantity. Jordan Hill has done nothing to earn minutes, and Toney Douglass will be a nice backup point guard very soon.

They're more than capable of struggling no matter how well Lee and Robinson play. This is a team with a lot of offensive potential, a lot of bodies that deserve rotation minutes, but the parts don't add up to a playoff team by any means. And they will continue to lose until they pluck Chris Bosh or Amar'e.

5. New Jersey Nets, 27-55

I want to back this team. Devin Harris is becoming an elite point guard in this league. He is one of the few talented defensive point guards left in basketball, and his jump shot is now as dangerous as his drive. He needs to be more of a playmaker for his teammates, but isn't exactly surrounded by offense in New Jersey. However, the Nets do have some very talent young pieces.

Brook Lopez developed a lot in the second half of last season. He became more confident in his jump shot, and set better screens, but needs to be a better defender and work harder for rebounds, but he's one of the most talented young big men in the game. The Nets' swingmen are just as promising. I think Courtney Lee is going to be an elite shooting guard if he becomes more aggressive. Chris-Douglas Roberts is a scorer, no matter how unimpressive his first step or how awkward his release is. I love Terrence Williams' versatility and size.

The foundation is there for a very good young team. But the Nets are struggling their way through the preseason. Their offense has no continuity, Harris is hurt, and Yi is at this point a forgettable piece, but seems in prime position to clog minutes and shot attempts. They are very, very weak upfront, and are one of the rawest teams in the league. I'll give the Nets 27 wins, which is a lot more than I've heard anyone else forecast for them, because I'm not impressed by their division opponents and I think their wings will surprise. Most importantly, though, check out this nugget from Brook Lopez:

“Usually I have no clue what they’re talking about: I recognize words like ‘If’ and ‘The,’ and that’s about it,” center Brook Lopez said. (
It happens every October. The NBA season returns, and I have an itch to get my thoughts down. Usually, I'm able to suppress this itch with the help of midterms, holiday breaks, and general laziness.

Now, though, I've found the solution. Every time I've dusted off this blog for a few posts, they've been profound, challenging, insightful and engaging.

No, they've been long-winded and time-consuming, and every time I think of coming back to ramble, I can't work up the commitment to spend half a day on 1500 words.

And so I won't. But, I want to think out loud and discuss NBA basketball, and for once I think I could maintain this with a commitment to brevity.

Starting now. As in, this post is over!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pete Thamel Spreads Misinformation

Just have to give a quick shout-out to my beloved Binghamton Bearcats basketball program, which landed itself as the lead story in the Sunday fricken' Times. Shady recruits, suspect academic records, reducing standards, crime, more crime, no apologies from the arrogant head coach. Hey, who's on top of the America East?

If you follow the Bearcats, there is nothing new here, and it is hardly a comprehensive article. Kevin Broadus takes on the high risk, high reward guys with mixed success. The article gives him no credit for the successes. Plus, the angle is flat out ridiculous. The move to Division I was never in question before Broadus. Binghamton has one of the best facilities for a mid-major in the country, and the basketball program is massively popular in town. The conversation should have been limited to Broadus and the shift in the program since he was hired. The scope was too broad, and it led Pete Thamel to depict a situation that does not exist. There will generally always be a level of dissent when a program moves to Division I, but the writer pretends such dissent is prevalent or even existent at Binghamton.

Tell me, what school doesn't have a professor who isn't happy with the work ethic of an athlete or two? Thamel emphasizes that anecdotally mentions that the team has a top 20% GPA among Division I programs.

Look, Broadus has taken on a lot of guys who have made and continue to make mistakes. And guys he didn't take on have also made mistakes. But to pretend there are regrets about the move to Division I? On whose part? One guy who focuses only on the basketball program? You know what other teams moved up to Division I? Every varsity team at the school! The move has been a positive for the entire community.

Does the university's Athletic Department need reform? Is it babying a coach and standing by idly as he and his players embarrass the school? Yeah. But Thamel throws anything and everything negative about the school's basketball program against the wall in the hopes that it will stick (Broadus shoved a UAlbany assistant coach?) and pretends there is reason to regret Binghamton's rise to Division I.

The article, incidentally, only discusses basketball, and only discusses changes undergone in the last two years. So the basketball program needs reform. Great. Thamel's attempt to extend the story beyond that much is pathetic, and makes the story unfocused. He should have charged the basketball program as having a dangerous culture and paid more attention to Alvin's lack of punishment, or Minja's assault, or even bringing in guys with attitude problems in general. I wouldn't have agreed with it (at all, really), but the article would have at least had a valid scope and a foundation for its argument. Pete probably didn't spend a minute watching the Bearcats play at the Events Center, but maybe he can catch them when they win the conference tournament at Albany. I wonder if he'll be disgusted by their criminally good full-court press.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

We Want Patrick!

Rejoice! Twenty-four hours passed and David Lee is still a Knick. Now all it will take is 40 million dollars in the offseason and I can be at ease. But today is an exciting day for other reasons. Who would've thought the Knicks would be going after playoff rentals? That's exactly what Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox are. They aren't stars, but two seasons ago, when the Knicks were fighting for the 8th seed and David Lee went down, wouldn't it have been nice if Wilcox were around to fill in? Adding talented bodies that aren't on bad contracts (past this season) is never a bad idea. It was disappointing to see the Nets keep Vince Carter, but that 8th seed is there for the taking, nonetheless, and today the Knicks made two moves to get better.

Wilcox has a limited game--he's inconsistent and is mostly interested in scoring--but is the backup big man the Knicks have not had this season. This adds a whole new kind of body to the rotation, and I think the Knicks will be able to work the pick-and-roll now even when Lee sits (watching Danillo set a pick and beg for the ball for a three just isn't the same). In general, it's nice to see the Knicks solidify their frontcourt for the duration of the season. Maybe Lee can slide down to the 4 a bit now. Wilcox has shown serious flashes of his talent, especially in the half season after being traded for Vladimir Radmanovic. He's probably a better rebounder and worse defender than Jared Jeffries, but he wins out big time on strength and offensive ability, and is a welcome third body to the frontcourt

Now, I hate Larry Hughes. But he can steal a few wins for this team, and that's all it takes. He's a headache of a player, but he goes off every now and then for a big game. Plus, he's the only legitimate 2-guard (size considered, Nate) on the roster right now. He'll overdribble, he'll force bad shots, he'll make boneheaded plays, he'll go so cold that I'll get angry when he shoots, but Knicks fans are used to that. Nothing Al Harrington isn't prone to doing, just like Jamal Crawford was before him, along with a younger Nate Robinson. Duhon is going to break down if he doesn't get more rest, whether it's due to back spasms, a bad ankle or fatigue. So Hughes and Nate will handle ballhandling duties a bit more. Hughes is an upgrade to the team's perimeter defense, as long as Chandler doesn't lose minutes. Overall, it can't hurt. This team takes perimeter shots in volume, and Hughes can get hot and provide offense often enough. He's solid in the passing lanes and is just another guy who fits the system and can fill a hole in the rotation for 25 minutes a night. If this means Danillo and Q each miss out on 10 minutes that previously were theirs as Chandler slides to the 3, I'm not complaining.

I will say, though, that Tim Thomas' second stint in New York was impressive. He clearly grew up in the four years since he last was a Knick. Thomas was all-smiles and looked to be a great teammate. He stopped forcing shots big time, was accurate from three, and even worked harder on defense. And the tears of Anthony Randolph are on his hands for an unforgettable dunk.

But look, Thomas would've been gone just like Hughes and Wilcox won't last past this season. The real importance here? The Knicks now have a second roster spot open. No more nonsense about saving room for a backup guard. Jannero Pargo found a new home, Carlos Arroyo is worthless, and even if he weren't, there would still be room for Patrick Ewing Jr. to be called up.

Last time he wore orange and blue, he was knocking down threes, blocking shots and throwing down about the nicest dunk you'll see a Knick have (nicer, even, than some of Chandler's best this year). Of course for some reason it was more important to keep Anthony Roberson's guaranteed contract, but it's time to make amends. Neither his surname nor his first name are going to change anytime soon. Patrick Ewing. I could see that working in a Knicks uniform.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Case for Keeping David Lee

I might turn off my cell phone for the next 24 hours. I might just altogether not open my laptop, or turn on ESPN, and hope that the next time I turn on a Knicks game, he'll be there, number 42, to set the pick for Chris Duhon and drop to the basket for an open layup. Oh, how happy I'll be to hear Clyde Frazier mention for the 325,000th time (I'm counting) that the Knicks' best player is ambidextrous. That's how desperate I am for the Knicks to hold onto David Lee.

It's silly to note, but I know where I was when I found out the Knicks had dealt Jamal Crawford. I remember my dismay, having foolishly held out hope the Knicks could hold onto Crawford and still clear cap space for 2010 by unloading Eddy Curry somewhere, anywhere. Crawford was one of the hardest working and longest-tenured Knicks, a good guy who worked hard under every coach thrown at him, and seemed prime for a huge year under Mike D'Antoni's system, which, despite what some initially believed, was a great fit for Crawford's game.

Three months later, the Knicks are probably as good of a team as they were without Crawford, and I hardly miss him. I understand that the Knicks are gearing for some huge free agent signings in 2010, and feel idiotic for lamenting the loss of a guy who never won anything in four plus seasons as a Knick.

But I won't just accept any cap casualty, and I stand firm in declaring that it would be a huge mistake for the Knicks to dump David Lee at the trade deadline instead of re-signing him in the offseason. I do not care who they can unload in the process, be it Quentin Richardson or Curry.

Look, I'm not an irrational fan clinging to an exciting player without understanding the direction of the franchise and how managements plans on getting there. I understand the huge benefit of moving Eddy Curry's deal instead of having it count against the cap the offseason when, potentially, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Steve Nash and a ton of impact players will be available. But to sacrifice Lee for the sake of trying to sign not just one, but two superstars is to forgo a great opportunity to lock up a legitimate franchise piece (not The Guy, but nonetheless, one of the most valuable big men in the Eastern Conference) to a bargain contract. And why? So the Knicks can fantasize about signing two superstars in a league where there is absolutely no precedent--if you're thinking Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, keep reading--and no likelihood of that happening.

There is simple logic, simple math, and even a little bit of basketball data behind why the Knicks will not land two superstars in the 2010 offseason, and why they should instead invest in keeping David Lee long term.

1. This isn't baseball

Plain and simple. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NBA has what's called a salary cap. So despite all the grandeur and appeal of New York and the huge money poured into its market, there's the reality that, for example, the Cavs can match the Knicks dollar-for-dollar on a contract offer to LeBron James, and they can offer higher annual percentage increases in salary.

Now, the financial counterpoint is obvious, but it's trite. Many speculate that LeBron would receive all kinds of endorsements and various other opportunities to make money by playing in a bigger market--after all, for a superstar, the non-NBA salary usually exceeds his paycheck for, you know, playing basketball. But I'm fairly certain LeBron's already been showing up in ads for Nike, State Farm, Vitamin Water to the tune of $25 million. Wherever he plays, LeBron won't need to worry about opportunities for more money. He can start his brand of whatever he wants, wherever he wants, and he'll make a lot of money. This doesn't apply to him alone. The NBA superstar is marketable wherever he is. If you don't see Amar'e, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade on TV enough, it's not because they're not signed to endorsements and doing countless commercials. Yao says eat the head!

2. The Knicks aren't the Yankees

Furthering the baseball comparison helps refute the widely-held notion that there is great appeal in playing in such a storied building as Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of basketball. What nonsense. You know what's fun to do in basketball? Win games. The Knicks haven't done much of that. What appeal is there for an established superstar in joining a franchise in a complete rebuild phase that likely will not have made the playoffs since 2004. I'd be pretending if I were to say that New York is not a sexy landing place for most stars. But in examining the case of the biggest name of all, LeBron, I don't think the Knicks have a chance.

This year's Cavs team is the reason why. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Cavs have made the next step in their ascendancy to the top of the league. Mo Williams has been a better addition than almost anyone expected, and the Cavs right now are as much of a favorite as Boston or LA is. This team is almost unbeatable at home, and has always been much better in the postseason than the regular season. Some would say LeBron is the only reason why, and he can bring that wherever he goes, but that does not mean Cleveland is easy to leave behind. There's a great chance the Cavs win a championship within the next two years, and even if they don't, it's hard for a competitor like LeBron to leave behind a contender for a franchise looking to get off the ground. As much as New York would view him as a savior, Lebron's home state would call him a traitor, and so would his teammates, given how close they are to winning a championship.

The fact that the Knicks are not a contender does not just hinder their chances at signing LeBron. Dwyane Wade wouldn't exactly be ditching Milwaukee for New York a la CC Sabathia. The Heat can pay him the same salary, and Miami is a big city market, too. With Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook, Mario Chalmers and cap space in 2010 to retain Wade and make other signings, he's not a likely candidate for New York.

3. It's the economy, stupid

The NBA salary cap is based on revenue. Revenue is down. The salary cap may also go down. If you don't believe the economy is going to alter the way teams spend in the NBA, then you must not think the 30-20 Hornets traded Tyson Chandler to improve their chances in the Western Conference. The NBA is a business, and teams want to make money. When they don't make as much as they expect to make, they're like to not spend their money as freely. So not only will teams be inclined to spend less, but they will also have less capacity to spend with the salary cap reduced. Per the genius of Bird Rights, the Knicks can defy the cap in keeping Lee.

And what a perfect time for Lee to the free agent market. Perfect for Lee? No, but it's a perfect market for the Knicks to retain him. Lee will probably make less than he deserves or requests (my guess is he asks for $10 million over 4-5 years and receives in the range of $8 million) even if he is one of the most appealing free agents. Not many teams have cap, and those that do may either be less inclined to give Lee a long-term contract given the economy, or they may be holding onto their cap space for the following offseason.

The Knicks probably will not match an offer sheet for above $8 million per season, but Lee may not receive this much. Carlos Boozer is a more coveted name and seems likely to relocate, as the Jazz have a lot of big contracts on board and will try to keep Paul Millsap at a cheaper price. Lamar Odom has been unhappy all year in Los Angeles, and even if his minutes increase with Bynum out and the Lakers win a championship, the team will probably have to hand out a huge contract to Kobe and let Odom walk. In light of teams holding out for the 2010 free agency class, the reduced salary cap and a few more targeted names on the market, Lee may be left without a suitor for the contract he seeks, ultimately re-signing with the Knicks for a contract they would be willing to pay him.

4. David Lee is worth the money

16 points, 12 rebounds. Numbers can be inflated. They can lie, deceive, or fail to tell the whole story. But the only other player currently averaging at least 16 points and 12 rebounds per game is Dwight Howard. Lee is at 16.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, and when you love him as much as I do, the number rounds up.
I know the reality of Lee's value. He is a mediocre defender; he has great hands and moves well, but he doesn't contest shots and is a poor post defender. But he is one of the most heads-up big men in the NBA right now. Lee sets great screens, is an awesome finisher, is learning to knock down a jump shot consistently, is a very good passer, and then there's the rebounds. Lee is the kind of rebounder who inspires the cliche about the ball finding him. He has great hands and is quicker than almost anyone he has to box out.

The rebound means a lot in the NBA, especially when Mike D'Antoni is so emphatic about maximizing possessions and long-range shooting. Lee is the rare big man with great endurance and athleticism. He is, simply, a great fit for D'Antoni's designs. His screens draw defenders to Chris Duhon, whereupon Lee can roll to the basket for his usual open dunk or contested layup (the guy doesn't miss those), or Duhon, drawing a second perimeter defender, can pass for an open three. Everything about the Knicks offense this year has worked because of Lee's presence. It's not hard to rely on stats to evidence Lee's value, though. He's tied for the league lead in double-doubles and is shooting 56% from the field. A 25 year-old with an improving game and this kind of production is a player worth re-signing.

5. 2010 is an illusion

The reality is, if the Knicks do keep Lee for the remainder of this season, there still is a dollar amount which they will not match for Lee. Assuming the salary cap for the 2010 offseason is around $55 million, the Knicks are looking at around $37 million in cap space. The starting year is the same for LeBron, Wade and Bosh, and would be around $17 or 18 million. That means the Knicks could fit in two of the three. They could probably also fit one of the three and Amar'e.

This, however, is delusional. The only time in the history of NBA free agency that two superstars have bolted to join the same team was when both Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady signed with Orlando almost ten seasons ago. McGrady left to return to his home state (LeBron already plays in his...) before he had had a true superstar season. The Knicks will not be so lucky in free agency. Both left just solid teams, too, with the hope of joining a contender. To expect that LeBron and another superstar would leave their teams to play in New York is a fantasy, a delusion. Kobe didn't sign with Chicago, did he? Tim Duncan stays with the Spurs at a discount. Even KG stayed in Minnesota.

When the home team offers the most money, it's hard to say goodbye. Each player worries about his legacy, and if you're expecting LeBron to leave a contender--or better yet, the defending champs--to play in New York, you're operating under a fantasy. Hopefully, Donnie Walsh and you aren't thinking on the same plane, or the Knicks could lose their best player. Two superstars aren't going to sign with the Knicks in 2010, and the Knicks better realize that before they let David Lee walk.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Steve Kerr is a Terrible Executive

So, Terry Porter is going to be fired. Fine. He was a questionable hire from the get-go; he was 0 for 1 as an NBA head coach after failing in Milwaukee, and Alvin Gentry seemed like the more logical choice. This season has been a disappointment for the Suns, who for the past four seasons had been a lock for 50 wins. Their offense looks tame, and Steve Nash has been open about his frustrations with the changes made to the coaching personnel and to the team's offense (backed by ex-teammate Boris Diaw), and Amar'e Stoudemire's game has suffered. The team is merely afloat in the Western Conference, at 28-23 and one game back of the 8th seed.

Stranger things have happened than a coach being fired midway through a disappointing season. Some would say, given the coaching carousel that has been this NBA season, Porter's firing comes too late. And Porter is not a good coach. The Suns look relatively stagnant and his locker room seems to be quietly dissolving. But if he deserves to be fired, what about the guy who hired him?

It's hard for me to understand why it goes ignored that Steve Kerr has done, and continues to do a pathetic job in Phoenix. Forget how quick Kerr is to pull the trigger on a new direction, and that he may deal Amare in order to retool just months after trying to savage a contender by trading for Jason Richardson. That's not the worst of it all.

It would perhaps be better if we worked backwards from Terry Porter's hiring. Frankly, the main qualification Porter seemed to have for taking over a regular playoff squad was that he and Kerr were pals. It was reported everywhere before he was even given an interview that because the two were friends, Porter would get consideration. There wasn't exactly a bunch of nobodies available for hire, either. Flip Saunders had just been dropped from Detroit. Larry Brown didn't have a gig. Avery Johnson may have lost control of his team, but he seemed like the defensive-minded coach Kerr sought for his team. Leaving the big names aside, Tom Thibodeau was the hottest assistant coach on the market, the mastermind behind the dominant defense that won Boston a championship with a core built overnight.

What did Terry Porter have over any of these guys? What did he have over Mike D'Antoni? Well, working backwards from the questionable hiring, why was D'Antoni fired? Irreparable strains in his relationship with Kerr was the obvious reason. Kerr had begun intervening in D'Antoni's coaching affairs, attempting to stress improvement in the half-court set and more emphasis on defense. He wanted the Suns designed to be able to beat the Spurs and Lakers, despite the fact that there was widespread sentiment that the Suns were, in fact, capable of beating anyone the West, and would have if not for a few questionable suspensions.

Whether or not D'Antoni backed the Shaq trade really does not matter. He and Kerr were clearly in a power struggle, and the coach who had delivered 55+ win seasons, Western Conference Finals appearances and the best offense the NBA had seen in decades was essentially ousted so that Kerr could implement his philosphy on how the Suns could take the next step in the West.

Now, 51 games later, Kerr's hands-on hands have deteriorated the franchise. The coach that designed their system is gone (and with it, most traces of their system), Amar'e's game has plummeted, along with Nash's. Both expire in two years, and it looks like Kerr will deal Amar'e rather than re-signing. So Nash's last year in Phoenix will be a waste, just like this one has been, because even if the Suns do make the playoffs, they probably won't take a game from the Lakers or Spurs.

That's quite a fast decline for a team that was a perennial contender with much of the same personnel, and it has all come at the hands of Kerr. He ran the coach and the system out of town, and with it, his star players' happiness. In place of the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, Kerr has assembled a team with scorers and no identity, an underperforming team soon to be without a coach, and the Suns are soon to join the rest of teams whose hopes for their franchises lay solely in the 2010 offseason. So when Terry Porter gets fired today, it couldn't hurt to take a look at who hired him--the mastermind behind the sudden decline of the Suns.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Naivete of Giving Serious Consideration to the Names Marion and O'Neal

As far as Shawn Marion being traded for Jermaine O'Neal is concerned, call me when this trade happens six years ago. There's no need to analyze what's become of Jermaine O'Neal. In short, his knees are gone, and with them, his explosiveness. No more drives or dunks, not much quickness defensively, and a whole lot of jump shots. He's a solid offensive big man who can still block shots, but he's an average rebounder and defender. With his frame and his skills, he's held back on a nightly basis by his body, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy for a long time.

Shawn Marion, meanwhile, was just confused in Miami. He's not meant to create his own shots, and in Miami's offense, is either Dwyane Wade is scoring, or he's creating a shot for his teammates, whether it's a three for Mario Chalmers or a jump shot off the pick-and-roll for Udonis Haslem. Sounds close enough to what Steve Nash did in Phoenix's offense, right? Only there are two big differences: the Heat don't run, and Marion isn't a power forward. He wasn't getting good looks from the perimeter, nor was he playing there as often as he did in Phoenix. He has absolutely no back to the basket game and just by the nature of his form can't get a jump shot off with a man in his face, and for as good of a rebounder as he has been for his career, he's not built to bang bodies in the post. Marion mostly played the 3 in Miami's starting lineup, but offensively, he was assigned the role of a player he has never been, and once Joel Anthony sat and the likes of Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn came in to space the floor for Wade, Marion was left without touches and without a specified place in their offense. His rebounds, steals and blocks were down for a simple reason: Miami's game entails way fewer possessions than Phoenix's did when Marion racked up double-doubles. The Heat plays a slower game, simply put.

For the next 24 hours, lots of sports talk, be it on the radio, TV or internet, will be consumed by this trade. Two former All-Stars, both relatively young, both extremely talented, traded for each other, with each arriving on a team struggling to build a winner around its superstar. Marion/JO to the rescue? Not quite. Plainly, the names--and the players--in this trade are meaningless. They are salary figures in a trade where each team acquires its desired form of cap relief.

The promise and intrigue of the 2010 Free Agent class is well-documented, and both Miami and Toronto have the future of their organizations at stake in the results of that offseason. The real reason for why each team agreed to this trade is revealed by analyzing its implications on their cap situations approaching that almighty offseason.


It's not clear whether or not there's any ground to the widespread (we'll call it) sentiment that Chris Bosh is one of the more likely candidates to change teams in 2010. Of course, there is no merit to Stephen A. Smith's report that Bosh has made it known to Toronto brass that he will change teams. It's really an absurd notion. If Bosh had actually done this, why wouldn't the Raptors be shopping him to get some value instead of letting him walk? And why on Earth would Bosh decide this two seasons before hitting the market, without any clue about potential suitors or how the Raptors' roster would look by then? Bosh is a smart guy who's never been accused of greed a la some of his classmates. Of course the guy will want to have an idea whether or not the Raptors can compete with guys like Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, and of course that will influence his decision. Bosh's level of unhappiness would have to be irreversible for him to commit to relocating two seasons in advance of his opportunity to do so, and there's no reason why that would be the case.

There is, however, ground to Toronto's insecurity regarding its superstar's future. Bosh has said he likes playing in Canada, but there is the obvious lure of playing for a U.S. team, perhaps especially for a pretty impressive Olympian who played with a roster really proud of what it accomplished. Besides, superstars and a whole lot of promising young guys (TMac, Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Vince Carter) have either bolted on the organization, or soured on their experiences in Toronto and wanted out.

So there's a clear need to keep Bosh happy, and a massively disappointing season that has included the firing of a coach who was popular in his locker room is not the right step towards making CB4 feel like he's in the right situation. Trading for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, however, is a potentially big step in the desired direction.

Jermaine O'Neal's contract comes off the books the same year as Bosh's. If they didn't build a winner by 2010, they risked being left with a whole lot of cap a departed superstar. Shawn Marion's contract, meanwhile, runs out after this season. Instead of having a ton of cap and a risk of completely striking out in 2010, the Raptors corner an ignored market. The 2009 Free Agent class is nowhere near spectacular, but very few teams have cap and there are a few noteworthy talents who will definitely be changing teams.

The Knicks are obsessed with saving cap for 2010, and may forgo re-signing David Lee and Nate Robinson in the process. The Pistons are almost a lock to let the failed Allen Iverson experiment last just one season. Meanwhile, Ben Gordon may be enjoying a career year, but the Bulls still suck, and still want to build around Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt, even if only because Hinrich's already been given a big contract.

With JO on the books, the Raptors would have been over the salary cap this offseason. But Marion's expiring deal, the Raptors will be somewhere in the range of 12-15 million dollars under the cap, depending on its adjustment. This year's cap is at $58.68 million, and the Raptors have under $46 million tied up in salary for next season.

This leaves the Raptors with a golden opportunity to add a legitimate pieces to its unit and increase the likelihood that Bosh stays. David Lee would be a pefect complement to Bosh's game--a double-double, ultra-athletic forward who thrives off of his skills in the post. He's not strong, but he's one of the best rebounders and finishers in the game. Ben Gordon, meanwhile, is the shooting guard the Raptors have been missing since VC's heyday. This team desperately needs a guard that can create his own shots and score without just shooting threes. Gordon lights it up from three, but would be a big addition as a guy who can theaten penetration off his dribble. Robinson could offer much the same, plus a whole lot of energy. Wherever he is, he'll increase ticket sales, and don't think playing in front of more people won't make a difference for Bosh.

Ultimately, it's a perfect chance for Toronto to take. If they can't make a signing this offseason, the cap is still there for next season. But if they are able to lock up, say, Lee, then they'll be far more competitive just in time for Bosh to believe he should stick around. Just don't be fooled into thinking this team dealt for a 31 year-old having the worst year of his career with the intentions of locking him up.


This trade doesn't have the most obvious implications for the Heat, and perhaps the player they received did have some impact on their reason for making this trade. But this is a trade almost entirely geared towards 2010.

Dwyane Wade has already won a championship in Miami and doesn't really have a reason to be unhappy. The team explored the idea of dealing for Amare Stoudemire, is playoffs-bound, and he's playing in one of the premier cities in the league. Could he leave? He openly discussed the idea of playing with LeBron James, but subsequently shot down the possibility of playing in New York. Good luck getting LeBron to go anywhere other than New York, Dwyane. Essentially, he's happy in Miami, says he's committed to spending his career there, and just doesn't seem like as big of a risk to leave.

But he could, and it doesn't hurt for Miami to give him more reasons to stay. And that's where Marcus Banks enters the conversation. Banks seems like an also-ran in this trade, given the two big names exchanged. But he's signed for $4.7 million in 2010-11, and clearing that cap off its roster furthers the possibility for the Heat to have a massive offseason.

Assuming the salary cap for the 2010-11 season is close where it is now, the Heat are staring at $41 million in spending money for the 2010 offseason. They could sign Wade and, say, Amare, with their cap. Not bad, but their situation is far more promising than that. Since Wade's potentially salary is unaffected by whatever Miami's potential cap situation may be, they could scheme to sign Wade after eating up their cap room with not just an Amare, but, for the scenario's sake, Dirk Nowitzki, too. The same planning cost the Clippers Elton Brand, but in theory, it's scary.

So, yeah, it's probably a good idea for the Heat to lose Marcus Banks' $4.7 million in time to lock up Bosh, LBJ and Wade.