Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Embracing Change

To err is human. Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, it just happens. In sports, as in life, the best way to resolve these issues is to admit fault and address the matter head-on.

Too often, general mangers will suffer through disappointing seasons and waste the best years of the talented, highly paid, highly drafted players that are supposed to be “the face of the franchise.” Was it this type of passive, non-decision making that landed these guys the coolest job in the world to begin with? GMs need to honestly assess their rosters, not just see what they wish they had or do nothing for fear of being wrong. Plenty of guys score 20 points a game, but teams only have success when talented players are asked to play roles that suit them. Talent alone doesn’t translate to superstardom; the right system and supporting cast play just a big a part in a player’s success.

In the wake of Allen Iverson’s trade to Denver, a burning question emerges: what other NBA stars, as well as their teams, could benefit from a similar change? Rather than trying to squeeze every productive season out of a guy that is obviously not the best fit, GMs needs to take a more proactive, “solutions oriented” approach. The Nuggets acquired a future Hall-of-Famer with plenty of gas left in the tank and the 76ers acquired a solid point guard, a little bit of cap relief and now have 3 first round picks in what is being called the deepest draft in a decade.

There is no shame in admitting that a draft pick or a free agent signing hasn’t worked. Just man up and fix it! With that in mind, the first ever “It’s Just Not Working Out” Team:

G- Ray Allen: When he was traded for Gary Payton in 2002-03, Payton was still superstar. Yeah, it’s been that long! In Allen’s 4th full season with the Sonics (11th of his career), it’s starting to look like a change of scenery may be in order. Allen is definitely still a star, but he’s never thrived as a "carry the team" type of player. The Sonics are not a contender in the West and don’t look to be all that close. Stubbornly trying to make it work will ultimately lead to the worst possible fate for both the Sonics and Ray Allen: irrelevance.
How about? Taking on the last half season of Grant Hill’s contract ($16.9M this year) in exchange for the services of Ray Allen makes sense for Seattle. In a draft year that is being touted as the best in years, why fight to be below average? Tank the season! Start over! You’re not gonna win anything this year, so why struggle just to roll the dice with the #12 pick when with Hill’s expiring deal (cap space!) and a full commitment to rebuilding, you could simply draft a new “face of the franchise” with a top 5 pick. And Orlando, much improved and looking like a force over the next few years, is simply not “there” yet. Hill’s contract could bring the Magic exactly what they need to be an instant contender in the East: a proven, perimeter threat. How scary is the thought of having Dwight Howard dominating the post, Jameer Nelson slicing through defenses with Ray Allen spotting up beyond the arc?

G- Mike Bibby: Bibby ran the show for the NBA’s best team of the past 10 years NOT to win a championship (or even a conference title). Unfortunately for the Kings, the winner of the 2001 Western Conference Finals was not crowned after the 3rd quarter of Game 7. After their 4th quarter/overtime collapse, it was obvious the Kings missed their best shot at a title. They’re still somewhat competitive, but with C-Webb, Peja, Vlade and Rick Adelman all gone, it’s time to admit that, as good as they were, that era’s over.
How about? The last time the Kings and the Washington Wizards consummated a trade, the Kings sent a slightly-past-his-prime Mitch Richmond to DC and landed Chris Webber who, for a time, became the NBA’s best inside/outside big man. Now, trading Bibby (and what’s left of Mo Taylor’s contract) for Antawn Jamison will allow the Kings to add a legitimate 20-point scorer to an aging front line while trading a good, but not great, point guard from the team’s previous era. From the Wizards’ perspective, they would be adding a clutch, talented backcourt mate for Gilbert Arenas without having to part with young talents like Caron Butler and Jarvis Hayes.

F- Kevin Garnett: There is really something to be said for a superstar spending his entire career with one team and becoming the face of the organization and the community. At age 30, Garnett is still one of the top three power forwards in the league, is extremely durable and only has 5 (give or take) superstar caliber seasons left. It’s easy to say that he’s happy only because of his contract, but KG is beloved in the Twin Cities and he genuinely loves the community and kills himself trying to win every game for his decidedly mediocre teammates. There is a lot to be said for that kind of dedication, but with Allen Iverson off the market, KG in Minny no longer makes sense. It is highly unlikely KG’s Wolves will rejoin the NBA’s elite any time soon.
How about? If Garnett's ever going to play for a championship, it’s unlikely to be in Minnesota. Had AI not ended up there, Denver would have been an ideal destination for Garnett. Now, looking around the NBA, a deal sending KG to Boston in exchange for Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff (cap-relief!), Al Jefferson and $4-5 million would net the Wolves a young, playmaking point guard, a veteran big man (cap relief!) and a potential stud of a power forward, filling several needs. As for the Celtics, the opportunity to team Kevin Garnett with another superstar in Paul Pierce, a solid young point guard in Delonte West and a potential star in Gerald Green is far too good to pass up, especially in the highly mediocre Eastern Conference. The Celtics’ hesitance to trade Jefferson, who they believe will develop into a star, is understandable until you consider that if Al Jefferson lives up to every last bit of his potential, he is still unlikely to be the player that Garnett is.

F- Pau Gasol: The next two months of the season leading up to the NBA’s trade deadline should be an audition for the sixth-year Spaniard. Jerry West’s collection of young talent, led by Gasol, began to emerge in recent seasons, but never made the leap into the West’s elite. The team, as currently assembled has yet to win even a single playoff game. Gasol is still a solid inside/outside threat in his prime with plenty of trade value. Holding on to him would not only waste the remaining years of his prime, at the end of his prime, the team will be saddled with a depreciating commodity. Memphis, you have a problem. It’s time to look for a new approach.
How about? A change of scenery might be just what the two of the top players in the 2001 Draft needed to invigorate their careers. The Golden State Warriors have repeated tried for years to land a versatile big man (see the draftings of Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Adonal Foyle, and most recently Patrick O’Bryant), so why not Pau? Sending Jason Richardson and Dunleavy to Memphis for Gasol and Chucky Atkins will address two of the Warriors' needs: a versatile, of not overpowering big man (basically an upgrade of Mike Dunleavy) and veteran leadership at the point. Baron Davis has been in the NBA for a while, but seems to lack veteran savvy, and emerging preps-to-pros stud Monte Ellis has tons of talent but virtually no experience. Chucky Atkins could provide a calming influence for the pair, not to mention giving the Warriors 10-12 quality minutes a night.

C- Jermaine O’Neal: J.O. helped ease the Pacers’ transition into the “post-Reggie Miller” years and has been among the Eastern Conference’s best big men since his breakout season of 2001-02, his second in Indiana. Since then, Miller has retired, Ron Artest has come and gone, attacking fans in Detroit, releasing a flop of an R&B album and getting suspended and traded in the meantime. With J.O., who is in his 11th NBA season and approaching his 30th birthday, an amicable split may be in everyone’s best interest; it would give the Pacers a chance to retool for another title run, and Jermaine O’Neal another much-deserved shot at a championship again.
How about? Sending O’Neal to New Jersey for Vince Carter and Bostjan Nachbar? J.O. would be the Nets’ low-post anchor, allowing Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson space to operate on the perimeter. Nenad Kristic, the Nets’ promising big man with a strong mid-range game would also clear up the paint, giving O’Neal plenty of room on the block. From the Pacers’ perspective, bringing in Carter would preserve Indy’s star power while allowing the Pacers to take advantage of a roster full of athletes like Marquis Daniels, Danny Granger and Al Harrington.

6th Man- Jason Richardson: Still young and spectacular, J-Rich has so dramatically improved the range on his jumper, he is now a legitimate threat from 3-point range (and all points closer). The team has failed to show any significant improvement during his 5-plus seasons and whatever improvement the Warriors have shown has been with Richardson playing only sporadically. This, coupled with J-Rich’s injury problems, is an indication that it just may not work out for J-Rich in Oakland.
How about? A Jason Richardson and Mike Dunleavy for Pau Gasol and Chucky Atkins would put both teams on the right track. J-Rich would be a great compliment to Mike Miller, Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick in Memphis. Even Damon Stoudamire, who’s in the twilight of his career, would find 2-3 more productive seasons running the break with this group of horses filling the lanes.

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