NBA Potpourri: Phoenix' Big Trade, Melo's Big Night, Big Ben's Impact, Agent Zero's Lament, New York's Addition by SubtractionHere are some quick takes on several notable NBA topics:
1) Suns' President Steve Kerr is certainly not risk-averse; since taking over the reins last year, he has acquired Shaquille O'Neal, let successful coach Mike D'Antoni walk and now he has traded two of the key rotation players who contributed significantly to Phoenix being one of the West's best teams the past several years. Kerr shipped out 2006 Most Improved Player Boris Diaw and two-time All-Defensive Team member Raja Bell, plus rookie point guard Sean Singletary, in exchange for Charlotte's Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley.
Bell and two-time MVP Steve Nash are best friends but Bell clearly was not happy with Coach Terry Porter's new program in the Valley of the Sun. As for giving up the versatile--but recently underachieving--Diaw, Kerr said, "Boris' contract just didn't fit into our salary structure. I feel much better paying Jason Richardson to play 35-40 minutes a night as a starter than to pay Boris to come off the bench and play a limited role."
There are several ways to look at trades. Nowadays, salary structure is a major consideration but in this case the Suns only obtained moderate salary cap relief. Another thing to consider is which team received the best player overall. Clearly, Richardson--a career 18.8 ppg scorer who has averaged more than 20 ppg three times and is shooting .458 from three point range this season--is the best player in this transaction. The Suns' have acquired an athletic wing scorer who will fit in perfectly when they want to run and who can make three point shots in the half court set when they slow the game down and give the ball to Shaquille O'Neal in the post. Charlotte was not going anywhere this season, so going to a Western Conference playoff team is like a get out of jail free card for Richardson.
Diaw has never been the same player since he got a big contract, while Bell's best days are probably behind him. Charlotte Coach Larry Brown gave Bell his first shot in the NBA in 2000-01 in Philadelphia and Brown is surely hoping that adding two veterans from a winning program will set a good example for the young players on his team. That said, it is hard to discern any semblance of a coherent building plan when looking at the roster moves and draft selections that the Bobcats have made in the past few years. Michael Jordan seems to be treating being a team executive as a part-time hobby as opposed to a full-time job; he never would have achieved the success he did as a player with the kind of attitude he has displayed while running the Charlotte franchise.
The acquisition of O'Neal last year cured the Suns' size problems in the paint and gave them at least the theoretical possibility of beating the Spurs in a playoff series. I don't really expect the Suns to win the West but if their players stop whining and start playing defense then they could be a tough out come playoff time. They certainly have enough talent on their roster to make some noise but Amare Stoudemire needs to stop talking about being the man and start grabbing more rebounds and playing defense, while Steve Nash needs to stop talking wistfully about the good old days with Mike D'Antoni (when the Suns never once made it to the NBA Finals) and he needs to show that he really can, in fact, make players better by finding ways to bring out the best in Stoudemire, O'Neal, Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa and Jason Richardson. Do you think that Kobe Bryant or LeBron James would complain if they had that nucleus? I'm not saying that the Suns have more talent than the Lakers or Cavs--and they certainly don't have as much overall depth--but the Suns have more than enough talent in their seven-eight man rotation to get the job done.
2) Carmelo Anthony tied the NBA record for points in a quarter by dropping 33 on Minnesota en route to 45 total points in a 116-105 Denver victory. Some people tried to diminish Kobe Bryant's 81 point game because it happened versus Toronto but that is nonsense; Bryant's outburst played a crucial role in the Lakers winning that game and the same is true of Anthony's performance, which helped the Nuggets overcome a 12 point deficit. Anthony now shares the record with George Gervin, who scored his 33 points in a 63 point performance on the last day of the 1978 season to clinch the scoring title; Gervin's Spurs lost that game and they were clearly going out of their way to force feed him right from the start so, if anything, Bryant and Anthony's efforts are more meaningful. Anthony shot 12-15 from the field, including 4-5 from three point range, in the third quarter and he shot 16-29 overall while also grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing off for three assists and getting four steals.
3) Cleveland improved to 19-3 with a 101-93 victory at Philadelphia. The Cavs have now won 10 games in a row. Their starting power forward is Ben Wallace, who was the starting center for the Detroit Pistons when they won the 2004 NBA championship and lost in seven games in the 2005 NBA Finals. When the Pistons let him go to Chicago I said that they would have a hard time replacing his paint presence and would not likely make it back to the Finals, a prediction that has been correct so far. Wallace, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, is not the same player that he was when he played for the Pistons but it is interesting to look at the kind of production that he is giving Cleveland in just over 23 mpg (he played 34-39 mpg in his six years as a Piston): Wallace is averaging more offensive rebounds per minute for Cleveland than he ever did in Detroit and his overall rebounds per minute average is only about 10% lower than it was during Detroit's championship season. He, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao are almost evenly dividing the center/power forward minutes for Cleveland and that frontcourt trio is a major reason that the Cavs rank first in the NBA in rebounding differential, first in scoring differential and first in defensive field goal percentage. This season, Detroit ranks 17th in rebounding differential, 16th in scoring differential and 21st in defensive field goal percentage. Allen Iverson is a favorite whipping boy for a lot of "stats gurus" and media members alike but if you want to look for transactions that hurt the Pistons, start with losing Coach Larry Brown and then look at the departure of Ben Wallace. Wallace may not be a 34-39 mpg bellwether performer now but three years after he left Detroit he is still good enough to be the starting power forward on a team that is on pace to win 70 games.
4) The Washington Wizards have the worst record in the East but are only five games out of the eighth playoff spot with three fourths of the season remaining. Considering that they have two All-Star forwards and are supposed to get All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas back for the second half of the season, one would think that a team that only a few months ago talked smack about beating Cleveland in the playoffs would be confident about earning a playoff berth and then making some noise. Instead, Arenas said that it would not be a bad thing if Washington misses the playoffs altogether--and he made that remark not long after the season started, when the Wizards had more than 70 games remaining on their schedule! Quoting Agent Zero, "That's what happened to San Antonio and that's how they got Tim Duncan. If that happens with us, it's for the better." Tim Duncan is obviously a franchise player, arguably the most significant and accomplished player of the post-Michael Jordan era--but the Wizards just signed Arenas to a six year, $111 million dollar contract, meaning that he is supposed to be their franchise player. Arenas already has two All-Star sidekicks but by acknowledging that even with their help he still needs a true franchise player to lead Washington anywhere he is basically admitting that what I have said all along about him is true: the Wizards (or any other team) will never go past the second round of the playoffs with Arenas as the featured player.
5) Even with a roster in flux and having to make the adjustment to a new coach, the New York Knicks are just a half game out of the last playoff spot in the East. The best move that they have made is the one that I have been advocating for years: banishing Stephon Marbury. Just by removing his presence from the court and from the locker room they have become a more cohesive and less selfish team.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:30 AM