July 9, 2012
Last week, the first blockbuster of the NBA’s offseason was announced as the Phoenix Suns declared their intention to deal star point guard Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers. Detractors of the deal from the Lakers’ standpoint will be fast to point out that, at 38, Nash is no longer the player he once was. That’s true, but this deal is still an ideal one for L.A.
On the surface, it appears the Lakers didn’t give up all that much to get him. In particular, the team traded away none of its current talent. Getting Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard has been a goal of the franchise, but would presumably come with the price tag of dealing either All-Star forward Pau Gasol or center Andrew Bynum (or even both, as some reports have suggested). Howard is, of course, one of the league’s top centers, but it’s difficult to gauge how much his presence would help when it comes with the absence of a talented big man in return.
Los Angeles did give away a pair of first- and second-round draft picks to get Nash, but assuming they finish near the top of the league’s standings, those picks will be low ones. And here’s the thing – want to know the last time the Lakers drafted a player that contributed as a significant starter for them? Other than Andrew Bynum in 2006, who was a lottery pick, you have to go all the way back to 1996 when they selected Derek Fisher as a late first-rounder. You can never base future draft success based on what a team has done in the past, but the fact is that the Lakers generally don’t do very well in finding talent late in rounds. Guys like Jordan Farmar and Devean George have helped along the way, but Los Angeles hasn’t been able to spot considerable talent where they’ve drafted.
The issue of Nash’s age is sure to come up a lot this offseason, but even though he’s been slowed down a bit, he’s still been incredibly effective. Playing for Phoenix last year, he averaged nearly 13 points per game and his 10.7 assists each contest was still one of the best averages in his career. Even at an advanced age, he still should have a few more seasons ahead of him if he can stay healthy. At one point in his career, Nash was able to score nearly 20 points a game. He’s not doing that now, but the Lakers don’t need that from him with so many stars around.
Nash brings two specific things to the Lakers that should make them a better team right away. He has shot 49% from the field over his career and last season, his 53% was a career high. The Lakers have desperately needed a shooter that can knock down shots and Nash should be that guy. Without him, Kobe Bryant has forced attempts and hasn’t had as much help in the backcourt as he’s needed. But with Nash there, defenses won’t be able to key on him as much and that should only help Bryant’s game.
The other thing that Nash has is the ability to facilitate and simply run offenses. He will almost instantly make those around him better as he can set them up for open shots. In particular, the Lakers’ big men will benefit as Nash has an uncanny knack at delivering the ball at just the right moment. And his ability to get into the lane will draw defenders and leave Los Angeles’ frontcourt players with some easy baskets.
While this all sounds good, though, there are some concerns. Even though Nash has played a relatively healthy career, the age factor shouldn’t be discounted completely. Injuries can always happen and at Nash’s age, he will likely take longer to heal. Then there’s the issue of his defense. While Nash can run a half-court offense with great effectiveness, he’ll have some trouble keeping up with opposing point guards that are younger. The one that immediately comes to mind is Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who was nearly impossible for teams to stop in the playoffs this year. If the Lakers find themselves in a matchup with the Thunder again in the postseason, they could find slowing Westbrook down hasn’t gotten any easier with an aging point guard.
Even with those negatives, the Lakers are a significantly better team with Nash aboard. The question is, will they be able to win a title with him running the offense? Time will tell.
June 19, 2012
Oklahoma City and Miami are battling it out in the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, the rest of the league has its attention on next weeks draft. For those of you who won’t be able to watch the draft and want to know what will go down, keep reading. For the rest of you its *SPOILER ALERT* time. Continue reading at your own risk.
2. Charlotte Bobcats – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky
MJ begins rebuilding his team with another Michael. It worked out pretty well for Chicago in the 1984 draft.
The Kings need a small forward that can put the ball in the basket and find a solution to their problems getting an arena deal done with the city. Barnes can help in one of those areas.
6. Portland Trail Blazers Andre Drummond, C, Connecticut
Here we go again. Drummond has got to be crossing his fingers and anything else he can find hoping that he doesn’t go to Portland considering the string of injuries that have taken out Blazer big men.
7. Golden State Warriors - Perry Jones III, PF, Baylor
The Warriors already got lucky in the lottery when this pick didn’t go to the Jazz. They push their luck and take what could be an all-or-nothing player.
8. Toronto Raptors – Jeremy Lamb, SG, Connecticut
The Raptors could improve quickly by adding a good pick here to go along with last year’s lottery pick, Jonas Valanciunas.
10. New Orleans Hornets - Damian Lillard, PG, Weber St.
The rebuilding continues with one of the nation’s most prolific scorers.
11. Portland Trail Blazers - Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina
The Blazers breathe a sigh or relief when neither Lillard or Marshall are taken in the first nine spots because they really need a point guard.
12. Milwaukee Bucks – Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina
There is a big hole to fill in the middle after the Bucks traded Andrew Bogut last season.
15. Philadelphia 76ers - Terrence Jones, PF, Kentucky
After a surprising playoff run, the Sixers look to take the next step by adding a big man to help matchup with the Eastern Conference powers.
16. Houston Rockets – Terrence Ross, SG, Washington
The Rockets make NBA history as this is the first time two players named Terrence have been drafted back-to-back.
17. Dallas Mavericks - John Hensen, PF, North Carolina
Dallas gets some help for Dirk Nowitzki and takes the best available player left on the board.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves - Moe Harkless, SF, St. John’s
Timberwolves go with a replacement for the possibly leaving free agents Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph.
19. Orlando Magic – Fab Melo, C, Syracuse
New GM. New coach. Dwight Howard is probably gone. Melo can block shots and shoot free throws like Howard but lacks in the scoring department. Two out of three ain’t bad.
22. Boston Celtics – Quincy Miller, SF, Baylor
If he gets back to 100 percent healthy, he has a lot of upside.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers – Arnett Moultrie, PF, Mississippi St.
Here’s an athletic player that would be another piece of the rebuilding puzzle.
25. Memphis Grizzlies - Evan Fournier, SG, France
Memphis is looking for more scoring to compete with the top teams in the Western Conference. The Frenchman can do that.
26. Indiana Pacers – Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky
The Pacers are on the rise and Teague could help out the second unit while getting to play close to home.
27. Miami Heat – Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt
The Heat struggled with the size of the Pacers. Ezeli will make them much bigger.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder – Draymond Green, SF, Michigan St.
He can do some of everything, making him a great fit for a team that isn’t lacking anything.
30. Golden State Warriors – Doron Lamb, SG, Kentucky
The first round ends the way it began….with a Kentucky Wildcat.
July 7, 2011
This remainder of the summer will not be kind to NBA and NFL sports fans. Instead of words like “free agency” and “training camp” being tossed around to arouse our appetites, we hear “lockout” and “if and when the season starts.” It’s tough on us fans and doesn’t seem fair – without us, the players and owners would be out of work anyways, right? But sports are not just a hobby, but a business. So what do the players and owners disagree on that allowed the collective bargaining agreement to expire last week? Here’s a few of the key topics.
Hard Cap vs. Soft Cap
The most previous CBA had a soft cap, meaning teams could go over the salary cap but pay a luxury tax as a penalty. This created more revenue coming back from the teams to the leagues, but also hurts competitive balance. Small market teams, like Oklahoma City, find it hard to compete with big market teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers, even with revenue sharing.
The owners are pushing for a hard cap, partly to foster higher competitive balance, but also to prevent teams from over spending beyond their financial abilities. The question many have in mind is how teams that are well over the former salary cap, like the Lakers and Orlando Magic, will be affected by a hard cap.
The League is Losing Money
Despite the NBA being at arguably it’s height of popularity, the league claims they lost $340 million for the 2009-2010 season. The players, however, maintain the number is well below that. There’s no way for the public to know for sure what the true losses are, and a decent amount of people don’t care, but it seems certain that the league is incurring losses either way.
One of the methods to fix this issue – which is most likely the biggest issue – is lowering the revenue share between the owners and players. But the players believe they deserve an increase in revenue share, and as the most charismatic and personable players in professional sports, I can’t blame them. The NBA’s adoption of new media, i.e. social media and online videos, is far and above the NFL and MLB, largely due to the player’s willingness to buy in.
Under the former CBA, the majority of player contracts were guaranteed. All-Stars, role players, rookies, veterans, other than a few exceptions (like 10-day contract), would either live out the remainder of their contract or be bought out by the team. This created an interested dynamic unseen in other sports, where at the end of their contract, players would become more valuable. Not because of their skills on the court, but for their expiring contract. Teams would use it to free up cap space or just save money.
I won’t pretend to know what happens here, but a nice compromise would be a hybrid guaranteed contract, where the first half of a contract is ensured, with an option to renegotiate once it becomes unguaranteed. But I have no idea where this issue would stand, but it seems like an opportunity to save money for the owners.
No matter what the result is, I hope it comes soon. It’s early on, and there’s no need to worry unless this fiasco goes on into September, but there is a possibility we lose part of the season. It happened a decade ago, and even though I was in my sub teenage years, I remember it well. It felt like the league would never come to an agreement. The most recent professional lockout, in the NHL, was even worse, to the point people were proposing a new league formation. This idea scares me more than any non-lethal event should. I just want to watch basketball. Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Blake Griffin need to be on my television every night. Even no LeBron to see makes me sad.
Just get a deal done guys – for the fans, the kids, whoever. Let’s just ball.
June 21, 2011
Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
Ever since the Cavs won the draft lottery, the talk has been either Irving or Derrick Williams with the first pick. It has been reported that Cleveland has decided on Irving.
Derrick Williams, SF, Arizona
The Timberwolves need all the help they can get. Williams and Irving are the consensus top two players in this NBA draft.
Enes Kanter, C, Turkey
With two picks in the top 12, the Jazz have options. The Irving and Williams are pretty locked in as the top two picks, so the wheeling and dealing could start here. Utah stays put and takes a 7-footer, hoping he can become one of the few legitimate big men in the NBA.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania
With Irving on board, the Cavs look to get some help inside. If they can hit on these two picks, it will go a long way towards moving on from the Lebron James era.
Jan Vesely, SF, Czech Republic
The Raptors have a history of drafting international players. Why stop now?
Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas
The Wizards have plenty of young guns in the backcourt. Picking up Thompson would give them some help on the glass.
Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
The Kings go for another Wildcat to join DeMarcus Cousins. Adding Knight to run the point will allow Tyreke Evans to move to the two-guard.
Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas
After all the trouble in Detroit with Rip Hamilton last year, nobody would expect the Pistons to draft another Hamilton. Wrong.
Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut
The Bobcats need another scorer. Michael Jordan and company hope Walker can be that guy.
Alec Burks, SG, Colorado
Milwaukee is set at point guard and center. The Bucks need more firepower.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State
The Warriors need someone who will crash the boards and provide some toughness.
Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU
If Jimmer is still on the board here, Utah has to take him. Don’t they? The fan base will go bonkers if the Jazz pass on the Jimmer.
Marcus Morris, PF, Kansas
The Suns ought to be looking for a big man who can rebound.
Nikola Vucevic, C, USC
Yao Ming may need to be replaced. If Ming does return, the Rockets would be wise to have some insurance in case he gets hurt again.
Bismack Biyombo, PF, Spain
The Pacers could use another big man to rebound.
Tobias Harris, PF, Tennessee
The Sixers have plenty of young talent in the backcourt so they look to get some help for Elton Brand on the inside.
Klay Thompson, SG, Washington State
The Knicks add a shooter to help spread the floor with Anthony and Stoudemire.
Nikola Mirotic, SF, Serbia
The Wizards hope the Serbian can develop into a key contributor.
Chris Singleton, SF, Florida State
There is a good chance Charlotte will not pick here on NBA draft night, but if they do they will go for the best player on their board.
Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Lithuiana
Minnesota shocks everyone by not taking a point guard.
Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas
The Blazers should let the team doctor make this pick and bring in the healthiest player on the board.
Marshon Brooks, SG, Providence
Good luck finding the next Carmelo Anthony at this point. Denver has lots of free agents so they could take any position. Might as well take a guy who scored more than 24 points a game.
Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead State
The Rockets add another big man.
JaJuan Johnson, PF, Purdue
The Thunder could use a low post scorer to take some pressure off of Kevin Durant.
Jeremy Tyler, PF
Is Kendrick Perkins available?
Norris Cole, PG, Cleveland State
The NBA champions will try to find a point guard to take over when Jason Kidd retires.
Justin Harper, PF, Richmond
The Nets need to get Deron Williams another scorer.
Shelvin Mack, SG, Butler
A shooting guard who can score would really help Derrick Rose.
Jon Leuer, PF, Wisconsin
Tim Duncan is not the man he once was.
Travis Leslie, SG, Georgia
Why not take a pair of two guards and hope one becomes the missing piece?
May 25, 2011
Two days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had a commanding 15 point lead with five minutes left in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Durant had just nailed a seemingly dagger-three, consequently celebrating by turning to the OKC bench and miming a wrestling championship belt around his waist. But the gesture was premature, as the Thunder fell victim to a Dirk Nowitzki led comeback by the Dallas Mavericks in one of the most epic collapses in recent history of NBA playoffs.
To be fair, the Dallas comeback was both highly improbable and astonishing. No one expected them to make a run to get back into the game, let alone win, especially in the fashion they did – Dirk hitting ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot. At one point, Nowitzki pump faked to draw contact, which he clearly did, severely altering his shot, but didn’t get the foul call. But it didn’t matter. He nailed the jumper. Just Dirk being Dirk.
Even more improbable than Dallas’s Game 4 comeback is OKC coming back to win this series. That’s a tall order, especially for a young team with little NBA playoff experience. The series will likely end, in my opinion, tonight in Dallas. But Oklahoma City, team and fans, shouldn’t look on the outcome as a complete loss. For young teams, unfavorable NBA playoff losses and crushing disappointment often serve as building blocks for perennial championship contenders. The heartbreak Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka felt after Game 4 and (most likely) the end of the series will fuel their offseason routines have them more than ready for next year.
That’s part of the beauty of what OKC General Manager Sam Presti has built – a young team that’s molded together who, along with their coach, Scott Brooks, have a single goal in mind. Not fame or fortune, but a championship. Every indication coming from the NBA players leads us to believe they are in it to win it – together – for the long run.
Durant, the humble 22 year old superstar, leads the team on and off the court. During last summer’s free agent extravaganza, while NBA players LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee were being wined and dined by teams in need of superstars, holding egotistic press conferences and premature celebrations, Durant signed a five year contract extension with the small town team who drafted him. How did the public find out? He tweeted it.
The remaining young core exemplifies the same modesty, as well. Russell Westbook, Durant’s Robin to his Batman, was recently benched for the entire fourth quarter of a pivotal NBA playoff game. Most 22 year old budding stars would have been visibly upset, taking their issues to the media. But Westbrook handled it well, maintaining something along the lines of “as long as we win, it doesn’t matter.”
James Harden and Serge Ibaka, both 21 years old, have seen highs and lows in their sophomore seasons. Harden, a potential offensive powerhouse, and Ibaka, a block machine, have been benched and lost playing time for extended times this season, largely due to match ups with opposing teams. But they’ve both taken the reduced minutes in stride, as each has received more playing time since the trade of Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics. But will still sit, if needed, for match up sake.
Beyond the young core is a set of blue collar role players. Kendrick Perkins, the defensive minded center, provides toughness inside. Thabo Sefolosha starts at shooting guard, also as a defensive presence. Nick Collison spells Ibaka and Perkins when needed, providing solid rebounding, causing offensive fouls, and scoring back door layups. Eric Maynor, of Virginia Commonwealth fame, has developed into a more than capable point guard who can come in and hit shots and change the pace from Westbrook’s freight train style.
Together, the Thunder display the true meaning of the word team. They cooperate on the court, hang out off the court. Say the right things, do the right things. They’re everything that is right with sports and competition. Oklahoma City has developed a rare, but successful, organizational model that will be mimicked by other small market teams.
But even with all the right pieces in place, the Holy Grail isn’t a given. There is still work that needs to be done. OKC still has its weaknesses. Westbrook has a tendency to be a “black hole” and be less point guard, more scorer, sacrificing offensive plays and passes for kamikaze dives to the basket (good and bad, depending on the situation and outcome). Durant, while a gifted scorer, is not assertive enough with the team and lacks great defensive skills. Harden, also a capable scorer, is still very streaky and lacks a defensive presence. Sefolosha and Perkins, while strong defensive, are offensively inept. Perkins, too, has terrible knees, and often takes forever to get up and down the court (he also can’t really jump).
Clearly, they aren’t perfect. Presti and Brooks know this, as do the players. And they have the ability to improve and fix these issues, both internally through young player development, and externally, through flexibility available through draft picks and trades. As captain of the ship, Presti is more than capable of steering the Thunder even further in the right direction. So if my prediction is correct, Dallas defeats OKC in the NBA playoffs to reach the NBA finals, it’s not the end of the world (that’s scheduled for October now, right?). Unlike many teams, built for a 3-5 year run, the Thunder, assuming at least some of the team stays together, have the potential to be title contenders for the next ten years. As a Cleveland fan, I’m jealous, but also excited to see what the “good guys” can do.