May 16, 2011

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Why The Lakers and Celtics are Heading in Different Directions

By: Anson Whaley

With the early second-round exits suffered by the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celticsthis past week, much has been made about the shrinking window of opportunity for more championships for each team. The Lakers and Celtics have combined to win the last three NBA Championships and in two of those seasons, have faced off against each other for the title. So why is everyone down on their chances to win more hardware?

Age.

Boston and Los Angeles have two of the oldest rosters in the NBA. Even the 1996-97 Houston Rockets team of aging vets such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Kevin Willis, Sedale Threatt, and Eddie Johnson (all of whom had played at least 11 years at the time) think these guys might be over the hill. So are these two franchises, the most storied ones in league history, effectively done winning championships with the same group of players? Well, one of them is.

Last week, I heard plenty of analysts draw parallels to these two teams. But the fact is that they’re both in entirely different situations.

The Celtics are, for all intents and purposes, finished. The team’s triumvirate of stars, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce are all getting up in age. While all three were durable this season, they are also past their prime – and by several seasons. The Celtics have a few nice pieces in guard Rajon Rondo and forward Jeff Green, but (and with all due respect to Rondo who is a very good young point guard) those are supplementary players. Shaquille O’Neal’s absence in the series against the Miami Heatproved that age is catching up to him and without the recently-traded Kendrick Perkins, Boston was extremely light in the frontcourt, needing to rely on Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic.

Boston simply doesn’t have enough to compete for future rings with this group of players. If they’re to get back to the top, the Celtics will need to reshape their current roster. The greatest need will be to add another skilled rebounder in the middle to complement or even replace Shaq. In the words of Yoda: several mediocre rebounders do not a frontcourt make. Adding a quality guard would also be a good idea as the Celtics are very thin after Rondo and Allen. Boston’s greatest problem lies in the fact that due to their age, the team cannot expect to make it through a full season healthy.

The Lakers, on the other hand, still have enough in the tank for a few more runs. Despite the embarrassing sweep to Dallas, there’s plenty left on this team. Kobe Bryant is still the best closer in the game and one of the NBA’s top players. After Bryant, you’ve got Pau Gasol. I know, I get it – he disappeared against the Mavericks. Fact is that he was dealing with some off-court issues and probably just needed a break from the game. The only problem for the Lakers was that he took it during the most important time in the season.

And here’s the thing about Gasol – even though he vanished faster than Houdini in the Mavericks series, he has a good track record of succeeding in the playoffs. His numbers in the postseason over the past two years actually exceeded those of his regular season stats. Because of that, I don’t expect Pau to shrink again next season and Los Angeles will be a better team for it.

In case the Bryant/Gasol duo isn’t enough, the Lakers also can throw Andrew Bynum, one of the best (and here’s the key) young centers in the game and Lamar Odom, who seems like he’s been in the league forever, but is only 31.

Los Angeles’ key pieces are simply younger than those of Boston’s. Four of the five Celtics starters are at least 33 years old while the only Laker starter that old is Derek Fisher. And while Fisher has been an integral part of the Lakers winning five championships, he’s not relied on nearly as much as any of the Celtics starters. The Lakers would be a better team if they could add a younger point guard in their starting rotation, but they could get by with Fisher for the next season or two if need be.

Not only is Los Angeles younger where it counts, but they’re also better than Boston – which is why a couple more title runs with the same team might not be out of the picture.

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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