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Friday, May 11, 2012

Kevin Ding Once Again Hits the Ball out of the Park

Kevin Ding is one of the few NBA beat writers who not only can write a basic game recap but also uses his close access to the NBA to provide genuine insight about the sport. Ding's latest column explains the major difference between an all-time great like Kobe Bryant and Bryant's talented but not elite big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol:

It's precisely what the Lakers' brass feared after the humiliating end to last season: Gasol and Bynum--along with Lamar Odom--having made their safe deposits of multiple championship-ring boxes ... and just not wanting it enough anymore.

It's why the Lakers were so right and so ready to trade Gasol and Odom for ringless Chris Paul before the season and plotted the follow-up trade-deadline swap of Bynum for ringless Dwight Howard.

As wrong as it seems to condemn people for having proved themselves already, it's human nature to let up after difficult accomplishments. In this regard far more than even the mental toughness of playing hurt, Bryant is superhuman. Frustrated by a second consecutive game of missing killer instinct from his teammates, Bryant lifted his flame up to the light Thursday night for a rare moment of full disclosure about his drive.

"Psychologically, you have to put yourself in a predicament, in a position, where you have no other option but to perform," Bryant said. "You have to emotionally put yourself with your back against the wall and kind of trick yourself to feel that there's no other option but to perform and to battle. When you have that, when you put yourself in that mind state, then your performance shines through."

Ding also makes the same observation that Jeff Van Gundy repeatedly stated last season and that I have mentioned as well: the Lakers' bigs "have jogged slower instead of racing faster to get back on defense," something that Ding attributes to the flagging motivation levels alluded to in the preceding paragraphs. Ding concludes with words that must alarm any Lakers' fan:

A better effort back home should be enough to win Saturday night, but how many mind games and magic rabbits can Bryant pull if Gasol and Bynum already have hats in hand and Oklahoma City truly wants it more?

Here in the first round, Bryant is already down to his final trick.

He has to take one must-win game ... and make all the complacency of Gasol and Bynum suddenly disappear.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:21 PM

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Kobe Bryant Feels Like the Old Eric Carmen Song: All by Myself

"When I was young, I never needed anyone."--Eric Carmen, "All by Myself"

The last time Kobe Bryant looked this lonely on the basketball court, Bryant was muttering about being armed with "butter knives" in a "gun battle" while Kwame Brown and Smush Parker stumbled and fumbled around. As Pete Vecsey might quip, if the flu-ridden Bryant had not been nauseous prior to game six of the Lakers-Nuggets series he surely was sick to his stomach after that debacle. Bryant scored 31 points on 13-23 field goal shooting in 37 minutes before Coach Mike Brown waved the white flag and sat Bryant down early in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets buried the Lakers under a barrage of fast break layups and wide open three pointers. Bryant could have easily scored 40-plus points even though he needed multiple bags of intravenous fluids to replenish his body after spending the day vomiting because of gastroenteritis. The oddsmakers and various pundits classified the Lakers as legit title contenders before this season began but I wrote that the "Lakers look a lot like the 2006 and 2007 squads that needed superhuman efforts from Bryant just to win games." While I picked the Lakers to win this series--and I still expect them to do so (the Denver role players who thrived at home will not likely repeat those performances on the road in game seven, while Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum surely will compete at least a little harder)--I also noted that "this matchup has more than a slight whiff of upset in the air."

Bynum and Gasol shrank right before our eyes during Denver's 113-96 win. The "stat gurus" and various misinformed media members keep saying that the Lakers' strength is their size--but if that is true then how is it possible that these two supposedly elite big men are being outplayed, outhustled and embarrassed by a frontcourt led by an undersized rookie power forward (Kenneth Faried) and a raw prospect (JaVale McGee) whose most (in)famous NBA play prior to this series was running back on defense while his team still had possession of the ball? Gasol scored three points on 1-10 field goal shooting and grabbed three rebounds in 29 minutes in game six, while Bynum sleepwalked his way (literally, as he loped up and down the court while various Nuggets sped past him) to 11 points on 4-11 field goal shooting in 30 minutes. Bynum, who is significantly bigger and stronger than anyone else playing in this series, did manage to snare 16 rebounds, though several of those caroms came as he gained control of his own point blank misses. Bynum's overall numbers during this series may not look bad on a "stat guru's" spreadsheet but as a purportedly dominant big man he is supposed to be dominating McGee, not watching as McGee dunks on him from various different angles.

This is the second subpar postseason in a row for Gasol; it is no accident that the Lakers tried to trade him prior to this season and it is obvious that his value will only continue to diminish. Since the "stat gurus" are so in love with Gasol perhaps the best hope for the Lakers is that they will find a way to peddle Gasol to Houston's Daryl Morey, who apparently believes that Gasol can be a first option player for a Rockets team that has yet to advance past the first round despite Morey's much-praised mastery of "advanced basketball statistics." Bynum appears to have overcome the physical problems that dogged him early in his career but it is far from certain that he will ever develop the appropriate mental/psychological outlook to be a primary contributor to a championship team. Bynum put up Luc Longley numbers--6.3 ppg/3.7 rpg in the 2009 playoffs and 8.6 ppg/6.9 rpg in the 2010 playoffs--during the Lakers' last two championship drives; now his role on the team has greatly expanded but even though he made the All-Star team this season he has consistently struggled to be productive against double teams and his effort on the defensive end of the court varies wildly from game to game, which is unacceptable for someone who the Lakers are hoping will be their franchise player at some point.

I am sure that some fool will declare that Saturday's game seven is the defining moment of Bryant's career or the most important game of his life--I even have more than a vague idea who is dumb enough to express that sentiment--but that is not even close to being true. Kobe Bryant is a 33 year old veteran with more than 50,000 combined regular season and playoff minutes on his odometer; he came within a final night of the season scoring outburst of becoming the oldest player other than Michael Jordan to win an NBA scoring title and during this series he became the only Lakers player at least 33 years old other than Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three times) to score 38 or more points in a playoff game--a feat that Bryant has now accomplished twice versus Denver. The list of shooting guards who have had career-defining moments at 33 years old and/or in their 16th seasons is exceedingly short; Bryant established his legacy during his prime by being an All-NBA caliber performer for five championship teams, by setting many individual records and by perennially being selected to both the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team. If Bryant leads this weak Lakers' team to a game seven win that will add another line to his lengthy Hall of Fame resume but failing to win a title as an older player with a non-championship caliber team is hardly something that will diminish Bryant's legacy in any way--particularly if he continues to shine individually even as his teammates shamefully shrink from the challenge.

It is hardly an encouraging sign for the Lakers that Bryant says that Metta World Peace--whose seven game suspension ends just in time for him to participate in game seven--is "the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with a sense of urgency and play with no fear. So, I'm looking forward to having him by my side again." That comment will no doubt result in some backlash against Bryant for being a bad teammate (apparently no one remembers--or cares--that Larry Bird once called his teammates "a bunch of sissies" after a blowout loss in the playoffs).

Longtime NBA assistant coach Johnny Bach once described a young Michael Jordan's playing style to me by saying that Jordan would "attack the citadels": Jordan would go over, around or through any obstacle. Kobe Bryant has had more than a few "attack the citadels" moments--including scoring 62 points in three quarters versus a championship caliber Dallas team and pouring in an astonishing 81 points against Toronto--but no one can "attack the citadels" forever and Bryant himself is the first to admit that the Lakers will not win the 2012 championship if they expect him to score 40 points night after night; now would be an excellent time for the 24 year old Bynum to attack some citadels, particularly since he is hardly matched up against legendary individual opponents--and this would also be an excellent time for Gasol to make his presence felt in some tangible fashion.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:29 AM

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Boston Versus Philadelphia Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#4 Boston (39-27) vs. #8 Philadelphia (35-31)

Season series: Philadelphia, 2-1 

Philadelphia can win if…the 76ers are able to limit their turnovers, force Boston to turn the ball over and then score in transition.

Boston will win because…the Celtics have three future Hall of Famers plus a top notch point guard who is probably their most valuable player now; the Celtics simply have too much talent and too much championship level experience to lose to an inexperienced team that lacks a true superstar and struggles to score in a half court set. Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams lead a nice cast of solid Philadelphia players but with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo the Celtics can use multiple options/looks both offensively and defensively.

Other things to consider: Derrick Rose's injury cleared the way for the 76ers to upset the Chicago Bulls in the first round but even with Rose--and then Joakim Noah--sidelined by injury Philadelphia hardly won convincingly. Doug Collins is an excellent coach who has squeezed the most out of his team but it is not realistic to think that the 76ers can defeat the Celtics in a seven game series unless the Celtics suffer a rash of injuries.

This series could feature some very ugly, low scoring games, particularly if the Celtics do not turn the ball over and thus force Philadelphia to execute against an entrenched defense; the 76ers have tremendous difficulty generating points in their half court offense, so they could easily sputter their way to some 10 point quarters and/or 30 point halves against Boston. 

The Celtics do not look like a championship caliber team but if they defeat Philadelphia, win one road game in the Eastern Conference Finals and defend their home court in that series versus Miami or Indiana then the "Big Three plus Rondo" could make one last trip to the NBA Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:42 AM

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Miami Versus Indiana Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#2 Miami (46-20) vs. #3 Indiana (42-24)

Season series: Miami, 3-1 

Indiana can win if…the Pacers limit their turnovers and win the rebounding battle, thus forcing the Heat to score in the half court as opposed to thriving in the transition game. If the Pacers control the tempo of the game then they can exploit their size/strength advantage at the center/power forward positions by posting up Roy Hibbert and David West.

Miami will win because…LeBron James has a history of dominating in the first two rounds of the playoffs and this series is unlikely to be an exception to that pattern; James leads the Heat in several significant statistical categories and his dominant regular season performance that almost certainly will earn him the 2012 MVP has put to rest the ludicrous notion that he is some kind of sidekick to Dwyane Wade. The Heat have game seven at home as a trump card if necessary.

Other things to consider: On paper the Pacers look like a team that could cause the Heat some trouble: the two things that bother the Heat the most are big frontcourt players who can score and dynamic point guards who can get into the paint. In a half court game, Roy Hibbert and David West will present matchup problems for the Heat up front, while Darren Collison, George Hill and Leandro Barbosa will pose challenges for Miami's point guards. Danny Granger and Paul George have the size, length and athletic ability to provide more defensive resistance against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade than Miami's two dynamic wing players generally face.

The Heat won the first three regular season meetings between these two teams but it is difficult to know just how much to read into anything that happened in this compacted, lockout-shortened season as teams dealt with injuries and juggled their lineups for various reasons.

The Heat have the three best players in this series--likely 2012 MVP LeBron James, likely All-NBA selection Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who has made the All-Star team for seven straight seasons--but the Pacers probably have the next seven best players. In the NBA playoffs, superior talent generally trumps superior depth because the time off between games enables coaches to shorten their rotations accordingly. It will be interesting to see if Indiana can turn this series into a grind out, slow down, physical battle that will place a premium on strength, half court execution and depth or if Miami will be able to force a fast tempo and showcase the athletic skills of their three star players.

I expect that the Pacers will win two games but I don't think that they have quite enough talent to knock off the Heat, unless James decides to quit the way that he did against Boston in 2010 and against Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals; the Pacers will surely be quite happy any time that James stations himself in the deep corner as an innocent bystander while someone else handles the ball. TNT's Charles Barkley said that if Indiana has a chance to close out the series in six then the Pacers will win but that if the series goes the distance than the Heat will win; that is a very reasonable assessment but for the Pacers to pull off the upset in that scenario they would have to win all three games at home and steal a game in Miami as well, a very tall order on both counts.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:13 PM

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New York State of Mind, Part III

The New York Knicks essentially tanked multiple seasons in order to put together the poorly constructed roster that just lost 4-1 to Miami in the first round of the playoffs; instead of trying to build a competitive team from the ground up, the Knicks cleared cap space in a futile pursuit of LeBron James but after James predictably spurned New York the Knicks acquired two max contract players--Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony--who are not legit franchise players (Anthony has never made the All-NBA First Team, while Stoudemire earned his sole All-NBA First Team selection five years and several injuries ago). New York's overall payroll ranks sixth out of 30 NBA teams, yet all of that money has bought just a single playoff win--not a playoff series win, mind you, but merely a victory in one playoff game. That victory--obtained after Miami had already taken a commanding 3-0 series lead--ended New York's NBA record 13 game playoff losing streak that lasted for more than a decade; Anthony and Stoudemire were on the roster for seven of those losses and Anthony owns the worst individual playoff winning percentage in the past 20 years among NBA players who have participated in at least 50 playoff games. 

Three years ago in New York State of Mind, I warned that despite all of the media buzz about the Knicks the team would not become a contender unless then-Coach Mike D'Antoni emphasized the importance of defense and unless the front office seriously upgraded the talent on the roster:

The Knicks have not had a winning record since 2000-01. They have been bad for a long time and it may take a while before they are good again. No one should rush to judgment after D'Antoni's first season with the franchise but there are two interesting dynamics to watch with the Knicks, namely what roster changes new team president Donnie Walsh makes in the next year or two and whether or not D'Antoni is willing/able to coax a better defensive performance out of this team.

"Defense" may be a four letter word to D'Antoni but if the Knicks want to spell a certain 12 letter word -- "championship" -- for the first time since 1973 then defense will have to become a part of their collective vocabulary, as should be obvious by watching the teams who currently sit atop the Eastern Conference, Cleveland and defending NBA champion Boston.

A moronic member of the True Hoop Network responded to my article and simultaneously proved that he lacks (1) basic reading comprehension, (2) basic writing skills and (3) any idea of how to properly analyze basketball. I refuted his nonsense in New York State of Mind, Part II. "Stat guru" Dave Berri--who might as well be a THN member considering how often he is cited by True Hoop--then jumped into the mix, misquoting my article and citing his usual nonsensical "advanced basketball statistics" to allegedly show that the Knicks were in fact a team on the rise, an assertion that looks even more ludicrous now than it did when he first wrote it.

Kissing up to Henry Abbott may have generated page views for my antagonists but in the end all that means is that a larger audience had the opportunity to find out that those guys have no idea what they are talking about; in contrast, my predictions about the Knicks have been on the mark. Here are some of the key assertions that I have made about the New York Knicks in the past few years:

1) I pointed out that the much praised Mike D'Antoni actually posted a worse won-loss record in his first season as New York's coach than the much maligned Isiah Thomas did in his first season as New York's coach and I declared that unless D'Antoni emphasized defensive execution the Knicks would not become a legit contender.

2) I predicted that, contrary to breathless media speculation, LeBron James would not join the team that I referred to as the "Gotham Titanic":

It really looks like the Knicks are essentially tanking the 2009 and 2010 seasons in order to slash their payroll and have enough money to sign LeBron James and/or another big-time free agent--but why would an MVP-caliber player want to sign with a dysfunctional team? If there is one thing that James has learned after playing for Cleveland Coach Mike Brown it is the importance of defense--and that lesson was reinforced by James' Team USA experience when he witnessed firsthand Kobe Bryant's dedication at that end of the court.

How will the Knicks be able to justify to their fans the suffering of the 2009 and 2010 seasons if the Knicks do not sign an elite player in the summer of 2010? Moreover, even if the Knicks bring in an elite player they still would struggle to win more than 45 games without doing a major restructuring of the rest of their roster and a complete overhaul of their all-offense, no-defense/rebounding philosophy.

3) Some analysts gave the Knicks a puncher's chance to beat Boston in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, crowning the Knicks as the proverbial "team no one wants to face"--but I predicted that Boston would win and I dismissed all of the hype about the Knicks:

Has there ever been a more overhyped team than this year's New York Knicks? Yes, the Heat received too much hype but they eventually earned the second seed in the East and they are legitimate championship contenders. The Knicks have been terrible for the better part of the decade and they seemingly tanked the past couple seasons in order to free up enough cap space to sign LeBron James--who I don't believe ever had the slightest intention of going to New York--but instead they ended up with Amare Stoudemire, who teamed up down the stretch with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to...drum roll please...lead the Knicks to 42 wins and the sixth seed in a weak Eastern Conference in which two of the playoff teams don't even have winning records. It is mindboggling that Knicks' fans are still grousing about Isiah Thomas while acting as if the current regime has somehow performed a great miracle.

4) Many people expected the Knicks to emerge as a top four Eastern Conference team in 2011-12 but I picked them to finish sixth and lose in the first round of the playoffs:

Are we past the point of blaming Isiah Thomas for everything that goes wrong in New York? For better or worse, most of the players Thomas acquired are no longer on the roster but--despite all of the breathless hype and despite two seasons of clearing cap space in a futile attempt to lure LeBron James to the Big Apple--the 2011 Knicks won exactly nine more games than the 2007 Knicks did during Thomas' first season as their coach. As much as some people rave about the Knicks you would never guess that three full seasons after Thomas' departure--and despite the additions of Anthony and Stoudemire--the Knicks improved less in four years than the starless 76ers did in one year. Much to the chagrin of some Knicks fans/"stat gurus," nearly three years ago I expressed serious skepticism about the Knicks' rebuilding plan and I remain far from convinced that the Anthony-Stoudemire duo will ever accomplish much more than provide ESPN's talking heads a lot of fodder for unfounded predictions of greatness that never quite become reality.

Yes, Chandler's defense helped a squad not previously known for playing good defense to win a title but the Mavericks have a defensive-minded coach and several other defensive-minded players (including Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion). That foundation simply does not exist in New York, so the Knicks will have trouble doing much damage in the playoffs, though I predict that for the next several years the "experts" will annually dub them the "team no one wants to face."

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:06 AM

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Lessons Learned from Dallas' Quick Playoff Demise

The Dallas Mavericks not only avenged the Miami Heat's 2006 come from behind NBA Finals victory over Dallas with a come from behind NBA Finals victory over Miami in 2011 but the Mavericks also followed up their triumph exactly like the Heat did: by being swept in the first round the next season. The only other defending NBA champions that failed to win a single playoff game the next season are the 1957 Warriors, the 1970 Celtics and the 1999 Bulls (the latter two squads failed to qualify for the playoffs after the retirements of Bill Russell and Michael Jordan respectively).  

The Mavericks became the first team to exit the 2012 playoffs, falling 4-0 to an Oklahoma City Thunder team that the Mavericks defeated 4-1 in the 2011 Western Conference Finals. It is never easy to defend a championship; that is why the NBA went nearly two decades--from Russell's Celtics to Magic Johnson's Lakers--without any team claiming back to back crowns. Since that time, the Jordan-Pippen Bulls scored a pair of three-peats, Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets won two championships in a row during Jordan's brief baseball hiatus and two separate Lakers' squads--both coached by Phil Jackson and featuring Kobe Bryant--won consecutive titles, with the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers pulling off a three-peat and then Bryant claiming back to back championships sans the Big Diesel. Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs won four championships but never successfully defended a crown, while Boston's current Hall of Fame trio has thus farwon just one title (and made one other NBA Finals appearance).

It is very difficult to make back to back NBA Finals appearances, let alone win consecutive titles. After the Mavericks swept the Lakers in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, I put the Lakers' recent accomplishments in historical perspective:

The 2011 Lakers were trying to advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season, a feat that has only been accomplished by three teams: the 1984-87 Celtics, the 1982-85 Lakers and the 1959-66 Celtics. If the Lakers had won the 2011 championship then they would have been the only team other than Bill Russell's Celtics to advance to at least four straight Finals and win at least three championships (the Jordan-Pippen Bulls "three-peated" twice, the O'Neal-Bryant Lakers "three-peated" once and the Mikan Lakers "three-peated" once but none of those teams also made it to four straight Finals).

Think for just a moment about the facts in the preceding paragraph: the Lakers were trying to do something that has only been achieved by the greatest dynasties in the history of the sport! Then think about this for a moment: Russell's Celtics were loaded with other Hall of Famers (including Top 50 players Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bill Sharman), the 1980's Celtics had three Top 50 players (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish) plus another Hall of Famer (Dennis Johnson) and the 1980's Lakers had three Top 50 players (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy). Each of those dynasties brought current or former All-Stars off of the bench during at least some of those seasons.

Some people try to fool the public by saying that the current Lakers team is talented and/or deep but in 2009 I wrote a detailed refutation of both notions (the 2010 Lakers added some talent by essentially swapping Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest but that did not materially change the truth of what I asserted in 2009); the 2009 and 2010 Lakers were among the least talented and least deep champions of the past two decades and they were not even close to being as talented or deep as the Russell Celtics, Bird Celtics or Johnson Lakers: while the latter three teams had multiple Hall of Famers/Top 50 players, the current Lakers have one player of that caliber (Kobe Bryant), one All-Star who had not won a single playoff game prior to joining the Lakers (Pau Gasol), a solid sixth man who often had to start (Lamar Odom), a talented but raw young center with chronically bad knees (Andrew Bynum) and a collection of role players (Artest made his only All-Star appearance seven years and three teams ago and thus can hardly be compared to the perennial All-Stars who played alongside Russell, Bird and Johnson).


Dallas' ignominious title defense does not taint the accomplishments of the 2011 Mavericks but just underscores the true greatness of the teams that won back to back titles and the teams that made it to the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons. One of the ironic twists to Dallas' story is that the Lakers seemingly sabotaged the Mavericks' repeat chances by sending a Trojan Horse to Dallas, namely Lamar Odom; pro football Hall of Famer Bill Walsh consistently advocated getting rid of a player a year too early as opposed to a year too late and it certainly seems like the Lakers made a timely decision to part ways with Odom, a player who had a good 2011 regular season but did not contribute much to the Lakers' brief 2011 playoff run and who has been overrated by many commentators who act as if Odom--who has never been an All-Star, an All-NBA player or an All-Defensive Team selection--is an elite performer when he is actually just a good player who benefited tremendously from playing alongside Kobe Bryant (not only because Bryant draws double teams but also because the example that Bryant sets in terms of work ethic at least kept Odom relatively focused on the task at hand, something that clearly did not happen after Odom left L.A.).

Before the 2012 season, Dallas owner Mark Cuban parted ways with Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson; Chandler and Barea in particular played key roles for the 2011 championship team. I predicted "Tyson Chandler's departure will likely hurt the Mavericks more than it will help the New York Knicks" and that turned out to be quite correct; with Chandler, the Knicks went from being a low seeded team that got swept in the first round to being a low seeded team that is currently trailing 3-1 in the first round. New York's lack of progress is not Chandler's fault but he hardly transformed the team's fortunes the way that many people foolishly expected that he would; he made a bigger impact for the Mavericks, a more well balanced team that could properly utilize Chandler's skills without being overly reliant on him.

Cuban fully understood how difficult it would be to win back to back titles and he feared that if he kept his squad together then he would be stuck with an aging roster and serious salary cap issues; he essentially abdicated the team's title defense with the idea of reloading for the 2012-13 season, hoping to acquire Dwight Howard and/or Deron Williams to provide help for Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki has had a great career and he is one of the most underrated playoff performers of all-time: he has averaged 25.9 ppg and 10.3 rpg in 128 career playoff games, joining Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon and Bob Pettit as the only players in ABA/NBA history to average at least 25/10 over the course of a postseason career. The 2012 season does not detract from Nowitzki's impressive resume but it hardly added much to it, either; Nowitzki admittedly started the season out of shape and never really completely found his rhythm, though he posted decent numbers down the stretch as the Mavericks secured the seventh seed in the West: just like it is difficult for teams to make multiple NBA Finals appearances, it is also difficult for individual players to maintain All-NBA status on a perennial basis--that is why five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and four-time NBA champion Tim Duncan deserve the ultimate respect for leading winning teams while performing at the highest possible level individually. Bryant has made the All-NBA First Team for six consecutive seasons (and nine times overall), while Duncan made the All-NBA First Team in each of his first eight seasons (1998-2005) and added a ninth selection in 2007.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:45 PM

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Julius Erving Rejoins 76ers as "Strategic Advisor"

Julius Erving scored his first professional points as a Virginia Squire and he won two championships while establishing himself as the best all-around player in the sport as a New York Net but he will forever be remembered by most fans for the 11 years he spent as a Philadelphia 76er; Erving made the All-Star team in each of those 11 seasons, earned seven All-NBA selections (including five First Team nods), became the first non-center to win the NBA regular season MVP in nearly 20 years and was an All-NBA performer for arguably the greatest single season squad in league history--the 1983 team that made a run at winning 70 regular season games before authoring the most dominant NBA postseason performance up to that time (12-1, a mark later surpassed by the 2001 Lakers team that went 15-1 in an expanded playoff format).

Erving has not been officially affiliated with the 76ers since he retired in 1987. It is unfortunate that the 76ers have tended not to celebrate their proud history; at the end of Erving's "Farewell Tour" during the 1986-87 season, the normally diplomatic Erving criticized the 76ers for failing to create a "family tradition," adding "I'm the first player from this organization able to announce that this would be his last season here. Everyone else has either been cut, traded, waived or just kind of disappeared. Too many guys leave here on bad terms."

New 76ers owners Adam Aron and Joshua Harris are moving the franchise in a new direction, one that embraces the past while also building toward the future. In the wake of Erving's record $3.5 million auction of more than 100 items from his personal memorabilia collection, Aron stated that he wanted to create a way for Erving to rejoin the franchise. Aron and Harris have now made good on that pledge by hiring Erving as a "Special Advisor."

Here is a statement from Erving:

"I have such fond memories of my many playing years with the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1970s and 1980s. I look forward to continuing that long association with the 76ers in this day. I have been impressed by the initial steps taken by this new ownership group to reconnect the Sixers with their fans, and I am confident that the future of the 76ers looks quite bright. I know that I will greatly enjoy being able to offer advice and counsel to the team and its owners. It will also be particularly pleasing to me to have frequent and sustained contact directly with the 76ers fan base, who have been so kind to me over the years. Once a Sixer, always a Sixer."

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:04 PM

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