April 27, 2011

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NBA Playoffs: Lessons Learned So Far

By: Rick Jarrell

With less than a quarter of the NBA playoffs complete, it may be too early to rush to judgment. There’s a lot of competitive basketball to be played, and as we’ve seen so far in the Memphis/San Antonio series, anything can happen. But a few of the first round match ups have made for some fairly concrete, if not obvious, conclusions.

Hold on D-Rose, CP3 is Still Here

The second half of the regular season brought the rise of Derrick Rose. As I’ve said before, Rose took his game to a whole other level the first half of the season. Then with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer back from early injuries, Rose took his game to yet ANOTHER level to lead the Chicago Bullsto the best overall record. His performance was tantalizing to casual and diehard basketball fans alike. A lot of people, including myself, saw him as the best point guard in the league – with good reason. But with the regular season over, and the playoffs underway, a lot of people are watching with their foot in their mouths as Chris Paul makes professionals look like amateurs.

Despite playing at a high level all season, Paul’s serious knee injury seasons ago left him without his quick first step, and caused many to question the longevity of his career. Still hands down the best pure point guard in the league, it was amazing to watch him adjusting his game accordingly after the injury. But something was still missing. Apparently, that something was stored away for the playoffs.

CP3 has led the New Orleans Hornets against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, currently down 3-2, all without star power forward David West, lost to injury. His ability to manage the game, draw defenders just far enough toward him to seed the pass into the lane for an easy bucket, or nail the mid range jumper if left open, is magical. As for the knee? This video of Paul crossing up Andrew Bynum shows as visual proof CP3 can still break your ankles. If he’s on his game, New Orleans will win the series. Let’s see what he can do with his team facing elimination for Game 6 back in New Orleans.

Brandon Roy is Still Here, Too

The Portland Blazers, perhaps the most trendy upset pick this year, were on the verge of going down 3-1 to the Dallas Mavericks. That is, until Brandon Roy came to life. In the process of being blown out, the Blazers began to slowly pick away at the lead after halftime. Then, in the fourth, Roy took over, hitting shot after shot for the otherwise anemic Portland offense, carrying his team to victory. Impressive for a franchise player, but Roy’s story is different.

Coming out of Washington, he had two severely injured knees. No one knew how long his career would be able to go. After early success, more knee issues emerged, and Roy was forced to miss a ton of time, including the majority of this season. He can’t even play in back to back games in some cases. His knee is essentially a series of bone-on-bone connections. I can’t imagine living with that, let alone running up and down a court and colliding with physical specimens. But Roy was able to get past his problems, and rise above them to a truly inspiring performance. I don’t usually gush over comebacks like this, because he making millions of dollars a year, but Brandon Roy is a classy guy and great teammate. Makes me feel like I should take my fully function knees to the gym immediately. The Portland crowd was ecstatic for their hobbled superstar. The city deserves their first playoff series this decade, and hopefully Roy’s performance will provide momentum toward an upset over the Mavs, who now hold the series lead at 3-2.

Grizzlies Rewrite the Rules

Speaking of unexpected performances, the Memphis Grizzlies are on the verge of upsetting the Western Conference’s top seed, the San Antonio Spurs. A playoff mainstay and three time champion over the past decade, the Spurs usually make lunch meat out of inexperienced, young teams like the Grizzlies. But inspired play from Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and OJ Mayo has fueled the athletic Griz past the veteran Spurs to a 3-1 series lead.

Memphis has managed to make the Spurs look inept. Usually a well oil machine, turnovers and lack of defensive presence have so far doomed the powerhouse. There’s still a small chance the Spurs can come back, and if there’s a team out there with that drive in them, it’s definitely San Antonio, but the Griz still hold the reigns. Not only is a first round upset a possibility for Z-Bo and the gang, but a favorable match up with Oklahoma City in the second may wait, depending on the outcome of that series. Memphis has a serious opportunity for the Grizzlies to make some noise.

Big Three Non-existent in NYC

That was fast. All of the media fire surrounding the so-called revival of the Celtic-Knicksrivalry was extinguished before it even had a chance to spread. For the second year in a row, Boston stumbled into the playoffs only to show us, again, that a veteran team doesn’t necessarily have to perform at the highest level during the regular season. And the optimism for New York fans that the Carmelo Anthony trade would finally bring playoff success after a decade of dismal play was squashed, just like that.

In all fairness, this should have been a better series. New York could have won the first game, and probably would have if not for a questionable offensive foul call on Carmelo. If that outcome had come to fruition, the Knicks could have used that momentum towards an upset. But instead, we saw Boston adjust to the Knicks game plan and cause them to panic into late game Carmelo isolations rather than go to Amare Stoudemirein the post. The injuries to Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups weren’t exactly catalysts, either – the downfall of assembly a “big three” surrounded by veterans and minimum contract players.

But is the Carmelo-Amere-Billups combination even really a “big three?” The trifecta do not complement each other like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allendo, nor are they individually as talented as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. It’s clear the Knicks have a lot of work to do, and even more clear the “big three” euphemism is being thrown around WAY too much. Toward the end of the regular season, my local media outlets began referring to John Wall, Jordan Crawford, and Andray Blatche as a “big three.” The NYC application of the term is nowhere near as presumptuous as the Washington Wizards, and may be slightly off topic, but you get the point.

Look on the bright side, Knicks fans. The NBA draft is quickly approaching us. Oh wait, no draft picks… let the Dwight Howard watch begin!

Demise of the Orlando Magic

Speaking of which, look how far the Orlando Magic have fallen. From a surprise Eastern Conference powerhouse to an athletic superhuman surrounded by shooters who can’t seem to shoot. The team has only seemed to decline since their surprise domination of the Cleveland Cavaliersa couple years ago. From letting Hedo Turkoglu leave, the Vince Carterexperiment, reacquiring Turkoglu, and trading away Rashard Lewis for once upon a time Agent Zero in Gilbert Arenas, General Manager Otis Smith appears to be chasing Howard out of town on purpose.

The Atlanta Hawks, a team that Orlando has historically man handled, largely in part due to Howard’s dominance in the paint, have taken control of the series. Journeyman Jason Collins, Atlanta’s cure for Howard, has kept the big man from taking over. Aside from Howard’s 46 point, 20 rebound performance in Game 2, which Orlando lost anyway, Collins and the Hawks have held their own in the paint. And when Howard does kick the ball to the wings, Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Jameer Nelson are unable to knock down open jumpers. Sharpe contrast to what we’ve seen in the past.

Some highs, some lows, but an exciting beginning to the 2011 NBA playoffs for sure. Non-NBA fans point to the long post season as one of the negatives of the league, but I’m thankful we get two months of the highest level of competitive basketball. Honestly, it’s hard to get anything productive done during this time frame, unless you count watching the playoffs as productive. Which I do…

February 28, 2011

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2011 NBA Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

By: Anson Whaley

As expected, there was a flurry of moves before the NBA trade deadline. Some teams legitimately improved their chances of winning a championship this season and others planned for the future. An important aspect of some trades is the ability to take on players with expiring contracts to increase salary cap space in future years. But because free cap space doesn’t guarantee teams will necessarily be able to sign the free agents they want, that part is essentially impossible to consider when evaluating these deals.

With that said, it’s time to break down some of the more significant trades and find out who got the better end of each deal.

Knicks-Nuggets-Timberwolves

New York Knicks receive: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, and Corey Brewer

Denver Nuggets receive: Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, Knicks’ first-round draft pick, Two Warriors’ second-round draft picks, and $3 Million cash

Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph

This was the blockbuster deal of the year and the Knicks finally made the big splash that everyone expected. Not only did they land one of the NBA’s best players, Carmelo Anthony, to pair with All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire, they also secured Chauncey Billups to give New York a legitimate trio of stars. While Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, and Anthony Carter are lesser talents, Corey Brewer is a young player who could develop into a solid sixth man down the line. Brewer came from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who played a small part in this deal.

Even though Denver lost Anthony, they did pick up some legitimate talent in exchange for him. Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler are three young developing players who could help Denver for years to come. All three are averaging more than 15 points per game and are already quality players.

Still, at the end of the day, the Knicks came away with arguably one of the league’s top ten players and a former All-Star guard in one fell swoop. In trading for Carmelo, the Knicks have lit a fire under their fan base and should be a contending team in the Eastern Conference for many years. The young players and draft picks that Denver received help make this a fairly even trade. But in the NBA, superstars win championships and without Anthony, Denver will have a hard time advancing deep into the playoffs.

WINNER: New York


Jazz-Nets

New Jersey Nets receive: Deron Williams

Utah Jazz receive: Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Two first-round draft picks, and $3 Million cash

The Nets may have missed out on Carmelo Anthony, but they did grab a nice consolation prize in Deron Williams. Williams is one of the league’s best point guards and reports surfaced recently that he and long-time coach Jerry Sloan didn’t always see eye to eye. So when Sloan abruptly retired shortly before the trade, no one could imagine that Williams would be shopped. The Jazz apparently had other plans.

In moving Williams, the Jazz gave up on a franchise player. He has the ability to win games almost single-handedly and is a bonafide leader. While the Nets didn’t give up a star to get him, Devin Harris is a proven starting point guard, and Derrick Favors was the third overall pick in last year’s draft. But the 2011 first-round pick might be the biggest piece for Utah. The Nets are one of the NBA’s worst teams this season, and, depending on which way the ping pong balls bounce when the draft order is announced, that pick could end up being one of the top selections in the draft.

WINNER: This one’s a little complicated. Part of the reason the Jazz traded Williams is because his contract expires after next season. If the Nets are able to re-sign him, they are the winners. But if Williams leaves after next season, the Jazz come out ahead. This trade falls under the dreaded ‘To be determined’ category.

Celtics-Thunder

Boston Celtics receive: Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Future first-round draft pick

Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson

The defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics made a bit of a gamble in dealing starting center Kendrick Perkins and one of their top reserves, Nate Robinson. In exchange, though, they get the versatile Jeff Green and backup center Nenad Krstic. For now, the Celtics have settled upon starting Krstic. That may change, however, as they also have the option of anointing Green as a starter and using a smaller lineup.

Perkins is a good defender, but the Celtics received a capable replacement in Krstic. While they’re now weaker in the middle, Green is another defender who will help them if they run into the Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in the postseason.

WINNER: Boston Celtics


Cavaliers-Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers receive: Mo Williams and Jamario Moon

Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Baron Davis and 2011 First-round draft pick

Since LeBron James’ departure, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been the same. They’ve gone from a championship contender to one of the worst teams in the league. With this trade, they lose two high-energy players, but pick up a one-time star in Baron Davis. The Cavs also secure the Clippers’ 2011 pick, which will be a lottery selection. So why would Los Angeles trade a high draft pick and a solid point guard for two average players? Simply put, it was all about the money. The Clippers wanted to be free of Davis’ large contract, and this trade allowed them to do that. But in giving up a high draft pick, they also gave away a chance at adding another young piece around stars Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. Meanwhile, with two lottery picks for next season, Cleveland has a chance to rebuild a bit faster than expected.

WINNER: Cleveland Cavaliers


Hawks-Wizards

Atlanta Hawks receive: Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong

Washington Wizards receive: Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans, Jordan Crawford, and 2011 First-round draft pick

This deal features two veteran point guards, and while Kirk Hinrich may be a very slight upgrade over Mike Bibby, that swap is essentially a wash. Hilton Armstrong and Maurice Evans are both marginal players, so there’s not much impact there, either. But the Wizards also get the Hawks’ first-round draft pick and a young player in Jordan Crawford, so they get the edge in this one.

WINNER: Washington Wizards

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