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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Will the Answer and Melo Bring an NBA Title to Denver?

No. That was pretty simple, wasn't it? Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will not win an NBA championship this year because the Denver Nuggets are still not a better team than the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks or Phoenix Suns. I doubt that they are better than the L.A. Lakers once Lamar Odom returns to the lineup. The Utah Jazz are the mystery guest in this year's Western Conference playoff picture because it remains to be seen (1) if their key players can stay healthy for an entire season and (2) how well those players will perform in the postseason, regardless of what kind of regular season record the team has. If Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are both healthy at playoff time, I'm not sure that the Nuggets would beat the Rockets in a playoff series, either.

Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson are ranked 1-2 in the NBA in scoring this season but Iverson has gone further than the first round in the playoffs exactly once since he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001. Anthony's Nuggets have won three playoff games in his three seasons. Compare that postseason track record with the playoff resumes of the Spurs' Tim Duncan (three championships, three Finals MVPs), the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (one Finals appearance, two Western Conference Finals appearances) and the Suns' Steve Nash (two straight Western Conference Finals appearances with the Suns plus one with Dallas playing alongside Nowitzki).

Does that mean that the trade is a bad move for Denver? Of course not. Trading Andre Miller, a decent NBA point guard, for a future Hall of Famer greatly increases the team's talent level and makes it almost impossible for opponents to double team Anthony. The worst thing that you can be in the NBA is mediocre: you either want to be contending for a title or making an appearance in the Draft Lottery hoping to acquire the franchise player who will help you contend for a title. You do not want to get stuck in the purgatory of winning 40-45 games, getting your doors blown off in the first round and then picking 25th in the first round. The Nuggets have been stuck in purgatory since Anthony arrived and acquiring Iverson is their bid to move into championship contention. I don't think that will happen this year but there will probably never be another opportunity to trade Miller for a player of Iverson's caliber. The Nuggets simply had to pull the trigger on this deal and see how far the Iverson-Anthony duo takes them in the next two to three years; their only other choices were to stay in purgatory--which is unacceptable--or do a complete rebuilding process, which does not make sense when you have a player like Anthony who is just entering his prime.

How will the scoring be distributed now in Denver? J.R. Smith is the odd man out, because there is no question that he is going from the second option to the third option. Iverson will have the ball in his hands all the time, so it is really up to him whether he or Anthony leads the team in scoring. Anthony will miss the next 14 games because of his suspension, so Iverson will hit the ground running in Denver and put up his customary 30-plus ppg for the next month. I think that this makes the dynamic a little different than if Iverson and Anthony played together right from the start. Everyone says that Denver is Anthony's team but by the time he plays his next game Iverson will probably have been the team's leading scorer the previous 12 or so games (it is not clear when he will play his first game for the Nuggets). I think that Iverson and Anthony will make the adjustment more smoothly than Smith will because they are better players and they have more experience. This is the first year that Smith really got to play and I don't think that he will relish having to reduce his role now.

I doubt that either Anthony or Iverson will lead the league in scoring this year. For one thing, Kobe Bryant is going to go on a tear for the next month or so with Lamar Odom being out and may very well have claimed the scoring title anyway. Also, regardless of who becomes the first option in Denver, it is unlikely that either player's scoring average will go up.

For the record, it should be noted that, contrary to what you may have heard on SportsCenter, two teammates have each averaged 30-ppg for a season. In 1961-62, Jerry West ranked fifth in the NBA in scoring with 2310 points (30.8 ppg; the NBA ranked scorers by total points, not average, until 1969-70) and his Lakers teammate Elgin Baylor ranked eighth in the NBA in scoring with 1836 points (38.3 ppg). Baylor only played in 48 games because of a military commitment but he scored enough points to be ranked among league leaders even under current rules (1400 points or 70 games played), so West and Baylor are officially the only teammates who each averaged 30-plus ppg in a season. Incidentally, Baylor has said that because he missed so many games he was fresher than other players during the playoffs. The Lakers made it to the Finals that year, losing game seven in overtime to the legendary Bill Russell Boston Celtics. Baylor averaged 38.6 ppg in that postseason and scored a record 61 points in game five of the Finals. West averaged 31.5 ppg in the 1962 playoffs. Anthony and Iverson are getting Baylor-like rest this season (for different reasons) but that will hardly be enough to vault Denver into the Finals.

What about Philadelphia? Any time you trade one of the premier players in the league you do not get equal value in return. That is obvious. The Sixers received a competent point guard to handle the ball and run their offense. They received a big man who is near the end of his career (Joe Smith) and whose expiring contract gives them financial flexibility for the future. Finally, they received two first round 2007 draft picks that are likely to fall pretty late in the round (i.e., well removed from being lottery picks). They also have their own first round pick but there is a complicated scenario in which it is possible that they would have to give up that pick due to the stipulations of a previous trade (that possibility is as unlikely as it is complicated, so let's just assume for now that it won't happen). After the owner of the Sixers publicly announced that Iverson would never play for the Sixers again and the team cleaned out his locker the Sixers could hardly expect to get too much more than they did. The team will not be very good the rest of this season, so the success or failure of this deal will be judged on what becomes of those draft picks and how the team uses the money that will be freed up once Smith's contract expires. The Sixers will also have to decide at some point what to do with the contracts of Miller and Chris Webber.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:49 AM



At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 8:29:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Wow you just cant leave Bryant out of the post.

The trade wont work because it is Melo's team. He wants stats and enjoys taking the big shots. Since he is out for 14 games, Iverson will do his thing then things will combust. Melo is too young to understand thats its about the ring and not numbers.

What about Philadelphia? Who cares?

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

"Wow you just cant leave Bryant out of the post"

LOL. Well, I think he's relevant to any leading-scorer discussion, no?

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 12:28:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

No. David just loves him so much that he adds him any time he can.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 4:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Whether or not the trade "works" depends on how you define "works." I said that I don't think that Denver will win the title or even make it to the Western Conference Finals. Still, when you have the opportunity to trade Andre Miller and acquire Allen Iverson, I think that you have to go for it. Otherwise, as I explained, Denver would be stuck in purgatory. Melo did lead Syracuse to a national title, so he knows something about winning.

The three things that this trade potentially affects are Denver's playoff chances, Philly's long term future and the scoring race, so I addressed each of those subjects in turn.

I mentioned in my last leaderboard post that Kobe will probably go on a 10-15 game streak of scoring 35 ppg and move up to the top spot in the scoring race (that post was made literally a few hours before Odom got hurt), so bringing that up in this post is just a logical follow up. Kobe actually looked tired last night against the Bulls, a fact that Coach Jackson mentioned in his postgame remarks, but playing three overtimes in the last two games will do that to anyone.

Like I said in a previous comment, it's easier to simply write the truth--and make predictions based on facts--than to have some kind of agenda about who the "good" and "bad" guys are. Watching the arc of Kobe's season to this point--and looking back on his Dec-Jan-Feb scoring in years past--a 35 ppg streak seems to be in the making (he was averaging close to 38 ppg over the previous five before his struggle in Chicago).

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 1:04:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

How could Philly trade Iverson and NOT get a lottery pick back? There had to have been a trade on the table where they would have gotten one.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 5:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The only way that you can get a lottery pick is to make a trade with a team that will end up in the draft lottery. Such a team is not likely to want to pay Iverson's contract, nor are they likely to be able to put together enough matching contracts for the deal to work. In an NBA trade, the contracts exchanged must match or come within a certain percentage of matching. That is why a lot of the speculation that people wrote about where Iverson might end up was sheer nonsense. Philly couldn't just call up anybody and trade Iverson for whoever they wanted; there are rules and salary cap considerations.

The Sixers got about as much as they could reasonably expect to get, but we won't know what that really amounts to until we see how the draft picks turn out and until we see how the Sixers use the salary cap room that they can free up by not re-signing Joe Smith. Miller and Webber's contracts could also provide cap room eventually.


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