Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lopsided Trades and Round 2

With the Nuggets surging into the second round of the playoffs with their complete dismantling of the New Orleans Hornets, there's a lot of talk of how lopsided a deal the Iverson for Billups trade was. I've gone over the Pau for Kwame/Marc Gasol/Darrell Arthur/J Critt deal many times before in this blog and my others, so I'll just briefly recount why that wasn't such a bad deal for the Grizz.

The Grizz freed themselves of Pau's huge contract saving over $30 million, got back their conditional first round pick from the Wizards by trading Crittenton and added two starters in Marc Gasol, one of the best most consistent rookies in a deep rookie class, as well as the upside of Darrell Arthur. Depending on who they draft with their conditional first round pick, in a couple of years, the trade could look nearly even.

The same can be said about Iverson for Billups. Has Mr. Big Shot been Big for the Nugs? Of course he has. Is he the sole reason for their ascension (which, in all honesty was only four games better than last year in a conference riddled with key injuries: Chandler, Ginobili, Parker, Bynum, TMac, Boozer, Williams, Amare, Monta Ellis, Terry, Howard etc.)?

No way in hell.

A healthy Nene is just as big. The more than pleasant surprises of Dahntay Jones and Chris Anderson (who was second in the league in blocked shots despite only playing 21 minutes a game) and the continued health of Kenyon Martin have also been major contributing factors.

Everyone talks about how much better Billups has made this team, but few mention how Melo had his worst shooting percentage (44 percent) since his sophomore campaign after having a career year in that area (49 percent) last season playing alongside Iverson.

Also, the thing about trades is that year one only tells a fraction of the story. Shaq for Odom/Grant/Butler looked horrible at first, but it turned into Odom and Gasol which, from the way the Lakers are playing, looks to be even better than anything Shaq would be giving the Lakers right now. Similarly, Kidd for Harris is looking more and more like a pretty decent, as opposed to a horrifically awful, deal.

If the Pistons get Chris Bosh or Dywane Wade or Amare Stoudemire this off season or the next, they'd look pretty damn smart for trading for Iverson this season, in a year when they had little hope of beating the Celtics or Cavs. After Sunday's (May 26) inevitable thrashing, all that delicious AI salary, all $21 million of it, is no longer on their books.

On the flipside, the Nugs will have a hard time keeping this group together seeing as how Kleiza might be snagged away and Dahntay Jones and Chris Anderson are unrestricted free agents who were both making $750 grand. Those salaries are sure to at least triple, and for a team that was doing everything it could to get under the salary cap, those two vital cogs might not be back, especially if the Nugs get manhandled by the Lakers, if they even make it that far to begin with.

Let's not get it twisted. For all this new hype surrounding the Nugs, people are forgetting that they faced a hobbled New Orleans team that had absolutely no bench, and maybe 2/5ths of a starting five worth a damn.

The Mavs, meanwhile, faced a hobbled Spurs team, who was similarly without a bench (though, I'd take the Spurs bench in a heartbeat over the Hornets bench) and with or without key injured players. The Mavs, in their four convincing victories, won by an average margin of 13 points. That's against the 4-time champion Spurs, the best team of the new century.

I mean, if the Spurs had matched up against the Hornets, who would have been favored in that series? It would have been close, but I'm still picking the Spurs. I mean, what have the Hornets even really done? They have never made it past the second round. Parker is not quite Chris Paul, but he's close and even a hobbled Duncan is better than West. I'd also go with Pop over Scott.

All that to say that the Mavs played and beat a tougher opponent than the Nuggets and aren't getting nearly the hype the Nugs are because they only beat blew out the Spurs by 21 in their most lopsided victory.

So, for the Nugs to cruise through their first round series is a good sign of a team gelling at the right time, but a 58-point beating of an already beaten team does not convince me that the Nuggets are a vastly superior squad to the Mavericks (as Charles Barkley continued to state during last night's Inside the NBA). In fact, this Nuggets team could very much lose to an equally hot Mavericks squad.

And, if that's the case, then is this Denver team really worth $70 plus million? And if it isn't worth $70 million and doesn't have true championship aspirations, then wouldn't it have been better served to keep AI for one last season and aggressively pursue a player that could put them over the top in the West with the extra $21 million?

Don't judge the trades in their first season. I'd give them at least three years. Being a GM is about patience and planning as much as it is about being in the moment.

Round 2, as much as round 1 did, will show everyone how much influence the blockbuster trades of the past two seasons have had.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Men from the Boys

Loved this comment by Byron Scott,

"This is still pitty-pat basketball to me. This is not physical and aggressive basketball the way it was in the '80s and '90s. This is so watered down compared to then that it's unbelievable. I think Kobe (Bryant) said it best: some of the things that (Utah Coach) Jerry Sloan used to do and some of the things we did in the '90s, they wouldn't allow you to do now. From that standpoint, it's not really a physical game. I wish they would go back to some of those rules from the '90s. It would separate the men from the boys."

I think this comment is hilarious considering that if the game was played the way it was back in his day, Scott's best player, the supposed best point guard on the planet, Chris Paul, would not be nearly as good as he is.

I honestly believe that Paul is struggling so much in this year's playoffs because he's not getting the calls he was getting during the regular season. Outside of Dywane Wade's miracle finals where I'm pretty sure he got a foul called against the Mavs for the wind generated from one of the ref's whistles, the playoffs are a tougher, meaner, more physical beast. That's why Nash's Suns could never make it. That's why Nowitzki couldn't win. That's why the Lakers didn't win last year.

Tough, gritty teams, like the Spurs, like the 3peat Lakers, and like the Celtics, have been the champs.

Look, I'm not trying to take anything away from Paul's toughness. Pound for pound, he's probably the toughest guy in the league (would've said AI, but he quit, and quitters aren't tough). What I'm saying is that if you could grab and hold, hand check, clothesline guys without getting suspended for half a year, then Chris Paul, at 6 feet, 180, would get creamed.

Paul is great, maybe the best, at creating contact. Nine times out of 10 he's the one who initiates the contact to draw a whistle. He's a master at changing pace, then stopping on a dime to get guys to run into him, or driving hard to the basket and putting his shoulder (and elbows) into bigger defenders to get a whistle.

But, he's not getting those calls in the playoffs.

-Speaking of not getting calls, Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant needs to shut up. He bitches after every single non-call. In fact, I'm kind of tired of all the Lakers whining about non-calls. Play the game. Pau and Bynum scream after every play like they've been raped. Kobe often doesn't get back on defense because he's glaring at the ref. STOP moaning, get back on defense, and get the ball back.

-Back to the toughness aspect of the playoffs. With a healthy Kenyon Martin, a healthy Nene, a drug-free Birdman and a swapping of the Answer for Mr. Big Shot, the Nuggets have become a nasty defensive team. Can't say enough about the defensive swagger of Dahntay Jones either. Even Melo, and to a lesser extent J.R. Smith have bought into the defensive mindset, and this post season, it shows. It's shining even.

-Rajon Rondo, I apologize for saying you were only good because of Pierce, Ray Ray and K.G. Clearly, you are the Celtics best player right now. Rondo's averaging 24 points, 11.5 assists, 10.5 rebounds (yup, a trip dub) and 3.5 steals on 48.7 percent shooting while only turning it over 1.5 times. If the C's could've pulled out that first game (I'm looking at you and your bricked free throw Paul Pierce) then Rondo would be the unquestioned MVP of this postseason so far. And for those people who think the Celtics need to win this year or their window is closed, Rondo's name should be and will soon be up there with Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Tony Parker. Add him to KG, Jesus and the Truth? That's still the best team in the East, maybe in the League.

Beides, there's no gaurantee the Cavs will be just as good or even make it to the Conference Finals in the East next year. Big Z and Big Ben will be older, and there's a possibility Varejao won't come back. And if Blake Griffin is added to the Washington Wizards, look out for that team too. Yeah, you heard me right. The Wiz could be damn scary next year with a healthy roster and Blake Griffin.

-So much for the Hawks sweeping the Heat. Yeah, Wade had a great game last night. He hit 6-10 from beyond the arc (one of which was that crazy bank shot over two guys fading to his right about three feet beyond the line), but let's see if he or his team can repeat that performance three more times. I highly doubt the Heat are going to shoot 66 percent again. I say Hawks in 6.

-This story about Tracy McGrady and then this one from ESPN's Truehoop got me thinking about why Dywane Wade can't be put ahead of Kobe Bryant or Lebron James as far as best player goes. Health is definitely a skill and Bryant and James have proven they can stay healthy. Guys like Manu Ginobili and Tracy McGrady have or had the skill/talent to be considered the best in the game, but neither player had the genes or the sheer will power to stay off the injured reserve. I remember a time when it was a legitimate argument of whether T-Mac was better than Kobe. Now, that argument seems stupid and inane, but during that 02-03 season, it was close, especially seeing as how Kobe had Shaq and Mizzy had, er, Andrew DeClercq.

For all the advanced statistics that will tell me that so and so player has per 40-minute averages of this and a rebound rate of that, if he doesn't actually play 40 minutes a game for a full season, then I can't rank that player ahead of another player who does, just because that player is not as efficient.

So, right now, Bron Bron is the best player, Kobe the most well rounded and skilled.

Wade, he's like a slightly lesser version of each mixed together.

And while we're on the topic of best player, the MVP award will be handed out soon. All those Denver fans shouting for Chauncey Billups are looking pretty smart right now, especially considering how he's handled Paul in their matchup thus far. But, as much as people want to give credit solely to Chauncey, the remergence of Anderson along with a fully healthy Nene are equally responsible for the Nugs turnaround this year.

For those people who were touting Dwight Howard as an MVP candidate, no most valuable player fouls out of a must win home game in the playoffs and then watches from the bench as his team wins anyways--winning behind the shooting stroke of a rookie no less. Orlando's in more trouble than I think they're willing to admit.