Thursday, February 19, 2009

Portland Should be Looking to Deal

The transformation of the Portland Trailblazers in recent years, burying the harsh memories of the “Jailblazers” era and reinventing them as one of the NBA’s most likeable young teams, has been nothing short of incredible. In three short years, the Blazers have gone from an unlikable, overpaid 21-win team to a near-50-win team in serious contention for not only home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but a division title as well. Since taking over the Blazers’ GM post in early 2007, Kevin Pritchard has positioned the Blazers to once again be a contender in the Western Conference in the years to come. Pritchard’s done a fantastic job of assembling a core of talented young players, all of them “character guys”, led by Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.

And while this current incarnation of the Blazers has been a breath of fresh air, winning back the hearts of the fans of Portland (possibly the league’s best), Kevin Pritchard, with less than 100 minutes remaining until the NBA's trade deadline and with a full complement of assets at his disposal, should be looking to make a bold move that will catapult the young Blazers from “up-and-coming” to legitimate title contenders, lest one of the NBA’s best young teams inch ever-so-slightly toward becoming a sequel of the Chicago Bulls of this decade- loaded with good, young players, and seemingly always accumulating more, but too in love with their own assets to recognize that another step needed to be taken. Those Bulls never came close to fulfilling their potential.

It’s been mentioned before, most recently by ESPN’s Bill Simmons, that in addition to being a
very shrewd executive with a phenomenal sense of the big picture, Pritchard is particularly gifted in the area of guiding the perceived value of his players to rather lofty heights. However, as any stock trader from the late 1990s will tell you, those paper profits are meaningless if you can’t realize the gains.

One advantage the Trailblazers have over the Hinrich-Deng-Gordon Bulls is that, for all the talent and potential on the roster, in Brandon Roy they have an undeniable primetime player, helping to avoid any potential ambiguity when trying to integrate new pieces into the roster. Roy has the look of a player who’s ready to go deep into the playoffs, but, despite his absurd ability to carry a team, the Blazers, as presently constructed, don’t have the look of a team that could potentially play in June. They do, however, have a few assets that could be parlayed into a leap to the next level:

Raef Lafretz’s expiring contract- Hey, it’s everyone’s favorite piece of paper! At just over $12.7 million, Raef’s deal will deliver a massive dose of cap relief to someone this summer. In a normal year, this expiring deal would be a valuable chip, but right now, in the midst of an economic crisis that has hit some NBA owners pretty hard and has some teams hemorrhaging cash, it is an absolute jewel. Portland, a team with a well-funded owner that is more focused on the product on the floor than on financial relief, should be looking to capitalize on this scenario, potentially bringing in a Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter or Gerald Wallace (just to name three), without sacrificing much on the floor.

Travis Outlaw- The captain of the Kevin Pritchard All-Stars. Travis Outlaw is a fantastic athlete with a great contract ($4M this year and next) and a nice inside-outside game, but just how high is his ceiling? Just how much better is he going to get? His deal expires next summer, and he’s likely to command a significant raise, and in a world where there’s only one Manu Ginobili, probably a spot in the starting five. At $4 million sixth-man scoring 12 a night, Outlaw is phenomenal, but how do you like him as a $7-9 million starter? This may be the ideal time for the Blazer to “sell high” on Outlaw, as virtually every team covets him, and pairing him with Raef’s contract could net Portland a top-10 player.

Nicolas Batum/Sergio Rodriguez- A pair of talented young players, either of which, if paired with Lafrentz’s expiring deal, could bring back a top-flight swingman to team with Roy and Aldridge. As young and cap-friendly (Batum is making ~$1M and would cost less than $5 million over the next three; Sergio is due $1.9M next year and his 2010-11 qualifying offer is $2.8M) as this duo is, neither has been a major factor in Portland’s success this season (each is averaging under 20 minutes/game), and neither has a ceiling that would warrant “untouchable” status.

C'Mon D-Wade! You (and I) Are Better Than That!

What’s up with D-Wade?

Adulterer? STDs? Deadbeat dad? Sleazy business partner? Closet pothead?

If his soon-to-be ex-wife and former business partner are to be believed, as reported by the AP, Dwyane Wade ’s off-court behavior hardly qualifies the Miami Heat superstar as a role model.

What exactly has Wade been accused of? Well…

  • Siohvaughn Wade, Dwyane’s high-school sweetheart-turned-estranged wife, is claiming that in 2007, Wade infected her with an unspecified sexually transmitted disease, which he himself contracted from a woman that was not his wife. She has since withdrawn the claim from the couple divorce proceedings, but still stands behind it, and retains the right to re-file it in the future.
  • Future-Former-Mrs.-Wade, the mother of D-Wade’s two sons, also claims that Wade is an absentee father who often goes “weeks at a time” without speaking with his children.
  • Additionally, Richard Von Houtman, a former business associate, has filed a breach of contract suit against Wade, who’d allowed the use of his name in the name of a handful of bars named "D Wade's Sports Grill", claiming that Wade hasn't promotion requirements.
  • In addition to the lawsuit, Von Houtman also claims that Wade rented an apartment in Miami, which he used to smoke pot and host sex parties. Frankly, that sounds like a blast, but maybe not the best behavior for a married father of two whose with as much riding on image as D-Wade.

Through his lawyers, Wade has denied all of these claims, asserting that both his wife and Von Houtman are looking to ruin his good name. He’s even gone so far as to file a libel suit against both parties, reportedly seeking at least $50,000 from each. Whether these claims are factual (and if so, to what extent?), remains to be seen, but the damage is already being done. For Dwyane Wade, having his name linked with stories like this (and all at once!), and this incident looks like it may have some legs, is about as bad from a PR perspective as anything not involving an arrest.

One nagging part of this story persists- Dwyane Wade is not the first high athlete to get divorced, nor is he the first to have a falling-out with a business partner, but those situations normally work themselves out without too much hoopla, which begs the question: is Wade just really unlucky to have fallen in with two really nasty characters? Or is some of this stuff true? How much?

I am frankly not happy with myself for writing about this. I believe that celebrities are no better than you and me- just as flawed, and susceptible to the same pitfalls- if not more so. And they are entitled to lead their own lives however they’d like- and as long as they’re not running afoul of the law, they don’t owe us an explanation for anything. It’s just that, for some reason, this one surprised me. For some reason, because he can throw down a mean dunk, I developed the opinion that "that doesn't seem like Dwyane Wade”. And that’s another thing I’m not happy about. I thought I was smarter than this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heat and Raptors Strike a Deal- JO for the Matrix

In the first significant trade of “Deadline Week”, it’s been reported that the Toronto Raptors have agreed to send Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon to the Miami Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.

It takes some time to determine a trade’s winner and loser from a basketball perspective, but this trade, and presumably several more this season, was financially motivated, and from that standpoint it’s much easier to assess its effect on each team.

Obviously the Jermaine O’Neal experiment in Toronto didn’t work out, and unloading his massive contract ($44.3 million this season and next) is the NBA’s version of a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. Also, by swapping O’Neal for Shawn Marion (and his expiring $17.2 million contract), Bryan Colangelo not only positioned Toronto to be comfortably under the cap by the summer of 2010, potentially allowing the Raps to pursue a primetime free-agent to either a) give Chris Bosh a top-tier partner-in-crime, persuading him to stick around, or b) fill the void left by Bosh (if he leaves) by pursuing multiple quality free-agents. Additionally, the NBA’s revenue will reportedly be hard hit by the current economic crisis, resulting in a lower salary cap (under $60 million next season). Against this backdrop, financial flexibility and the reduction of large, long-term commitments are more important than ever, and by reducing their by 2009-10 payroll by more than $18 million (Marcus Banks will make $4.4 million next year), the Raptors look to be the winners in this deal.

The Miami Heat, on the other hand, approached this trade from a basketball perspective, seemingly replacing Marion’s production (12 ppg, 8.7 rpg in 36 minutes/game) and addressing a need for a paint presence as they look to make a run at the playoffs (and keep D-Wade happy). It’s no secret that Pat Riley is fan of big men, and he’s obviously betting that’s what he’s getting in whatever is left of Jermaine O’Neal, who, to be fair, has played well, if not consistently, this season, but has been banged up. He should be a factor on defense and on the glass, but hardly represents a decent value. At just under $23 million, O’Neal’s on the books for more money next season than any player except Tracy McGrady. In the current environment, not many teams are likely to trade for a role player with that big a price tag, even one with an expiring contract- like it or not, the Heat are stuck with J.O. through next season.

On a brighter note, Miami’s new starting small forward, Jamario Moon, who makes about 1/30th of O’Neal’s salary and is playing for a new contract, could prove to be a bigger factor down the stretch for the Heat. In just 25 minutes per game with Toronto this season, Moon, who’s younger and every bit as athletic as Marion, has averaged 7.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and more than a steal per game- numbers which are likely to get a boost from more minutes, especially those spent playing alongside Dwyane Wade.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Not An All-Star, Huh?

Kevin Durant thinks he should have been an All-Star- and he’s absolutely right.

Now, he never actually came out and said this, but his dominating performance in Friday night’s Rookie-Sophomore game delivered the message loud and clear. From the game’s opening tip, it was obvious that Durant had brought an intensity to the floor that was absent in the game’s other seventeen participants. Durant wasn’t just happy to be there, not for this game at least, and nor should he have been. Ordinarily a guy who, through 53 games, has played all but 469 of his team’s minutes, averaged 25.5 points and nearly seven rebounds per games, and shot 47.9% from the field, 42.9% from 3-point range and 85.7% from the free throw line, would be an absolute lock for the All-Star Game. Throw in the fact that Durant’s just 20 years-old, the NBA’s defending Rookie of the Year, and a budding superstar, averaging almost 29 ppg (on roughly 50% from the field, 44% from 3, and over 87% from the free-throw line) in his last 20 games, and this shouldn’t even be a conversation.

However, for reasons that are only apparent to the Western Conference’s assistant coaches, KD was deemed unworthy of a spot in Sunday’s game. That it’s likely to be the last time in at least a decade that this happens is no excuse- though this slight obviously lit a fire within Durant, who took center stage on Friday night and delivered an offensive display that was reminiscent of his superhuman freshman season at Texas, scoring 46 points on 17-for-25 from the field (he made 4-of-8 3-pointers), and all eight of his free throw attempts in just 31 minutes (that’s almost 1.5 points/minute!), and providing a glimpse of the kind of work he’ll be doing in the Association for the next dozen years.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ramon Enjoying Some Great Court “Sessions”

Ramon Sessions is the real deal.

The second-year point guard, selected ahead of just four players, in the 2007 draft, is not only establishing himself, along with Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey, as one of the two best point guards (a pretty impressive feat for the tenth PG selected), but has also emerged as a top-ten player from that draft- and is threatening to crack the top-five. Sessions joined the Bucks in March, after spending much of his rookie season in the NBDL. He didn’t get consistent minutes until the last month of the season, and once he did, he began showing flashes of becoming the steal of the 2007 draft, averaging over eleven points and eleven assists, highlighted by a 20-point, 24-assist explosion against the Chicago Bulls in the season’s next-to-last game.

Sessions’ late-season performance was a fantastic surprise for the Bucks, earning him the backup point guard role behind (gulp) Luke Ridnour. After a strong start to the season, averaging 15.6 points and almost six assists in 33.7 minutes per game in November, and failing to hit double-figures just once, Sessions saw a dramatic drop in his minutes, seeing the floor for just 16 minutes a night from the start of December through January 19, most likely a reminder from coach Scott Skiles (one of the NBA’s best) to maintain his commitment to defense as well.

Since working his way back into Skiles’ rotation, Sessions has played at least 25 minutes in ten of eleven games (the Bucks are 6-4), scoring at least 15 points eight times, dishing out at least seven assists five times, including a season-high 17 assists in a February 11 win over Indiana. As injuries have ravaged the Bucks roster in recent weeks, particularly in the backcourt (a torn ACL ended Michael Redd’s season on January 24 and a broken thumb on February 5 knocked Ridnour out of action for a month), Ramon Sessions quickly became the team’s most significant player, asked to shoulder the greatest responsibility of his young pro career.

If the early returns are any indication, he’s definitely up to the challenge. In eight games since Redd went down (the last three without Ridnour as well), all starts for Sessions, the Bucks have won four (their season win% is .473), and Sessions has been their rock in the backcourt, averaging 20.8 points, 7.5 assists and almost 2 steals in 38+ minutes per game, looking like a man with no intention of returning to the bench, putting up a career-high 44 points (on just 18 field goal attempts) and handing out 12 assists in 47 minutes in his first game following Ridnour’s injury.

Sessions’ 2008-09 stats compare very favorably with Ridnour’s, despite playing nearly six fewer minutes per game, but his numbers in eleven starts this season (18.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.9 steals in 39 minutes per game), easily outpace Ridnour’s, showing that not only is Ramon Sessions not padding his stats against second-string defenses, he’s actually thriving when placed front and center. Sessions’ performance this season has created a legitimate point guard controversy in Milwaukee- and has given the Bucks a difficult decision to make this summer. Then again, maybe not…

Much like Gilbert Arenas in 2003, Sessions stands to benefit handsomely from slipping into the second round, avoiding the shackles of a guaranteed first round contract (3 years, with a team option for a fourth), as his current deal expires at season’s end. He’s earning $722,000 this season and is in line to reap the rewards of his recent form, as well as his strong play as a starter- if not from the Bucks, then from a variety of other teams. Sessions is likely to receive two things this offseason- a long-term contract paying him at least $6 million per season, and a starting point guard spot, and considering he’s a lightning-quick young point guard who’s capable of hitting for 40 points or dishing out 15 assists, the Milwaukee Bucks have no excuse for not giving him both.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Suns Likely to Move Amar'e- But Where To?

The mood surrounding the Phoenix Suns, not to mention their effort, is heading further south by the day. On the floor the Suns have no discernable identity, having traded in Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo “Seven Seconds or Less” system for what was supposed to be a defense-centric approach under Terry Porter. Instead, following the trade of wingman Shawn Marion, one of the catalysts for the team’s success in recent years, and the departure of D’Antoni, what’s happened in the desert is the deconstruction of a contending team that was tailor-made for its system, in favor of a directionless collection of talent, whose last flickering hope of a NBA championship has vanished.

The problem? Well, there’s more than one. For starters, Terry Porter seems to have lost the team’s respect (if he ever had it to begin with); Steve Nash is noticeably crestfallen every time he takes the floor; Shaquille O’Neal and Amar’e Stoudemire can’t stay out of one another’s way on the offensive end; and Shaq is the better of the two on the defensive- not exactly cause for optimism.

Complicating matters further is that Stoudemire’s heart no longer lies with this team. Despite his seemingly limitless potential, Amar’e was never a dominant force on the glass or on D, but he always fought for his team. Now, with D’Antoni gone, and Shaq replacing the departed Marion as Stoudemire’s frontcourt rival, that fight seems to be gone, leading to speculation that he’ll be dealt before the NBA’s February 19 trade deadline- speculation that management’s done little to dispel, admitting that “many calls” have been fielded for their talented power forward.

With the Suns’ decline now seemingly in full swing, and Amar’e, who, despite holding a $17.7 million player option for the 2010-11 season, is widely expected to opt out and join the much-anticipated free agent class of 2010, no longer showing the effort and dedication expected of a high-priced star, his value on the open market has taken a serious hit. Not only is Amar’e no longer considered untouchable, his status is no longer lofty enough to necessitate the inclusion of a top-ten player in any trade offer. With the team’s play and his attitude gradually worsening, the Suns will have to accept the reality that no one’s going to bowl them over with a monster offer, and that a good-to-very-good offer will have to do.

With that in mind, it’s seems appropriate to consider some possible destinations for Amar’e. Thanks to some quality time on the Trade Machine, here are nine potential deals involving Stoudemire that would stand to benefit both sides (at least from where I sit):

Stoudemire to the Chicago Bulls; Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni and cash to the Suns.

One of Stoudemire’s rumored destinations. Chicago’s been in search of an inside presence for some time, and Amar’e, could help take the Bulls back to the top half of the East. Amar’e thrived playing with a dominant point guard in Phoenix- Derrick Rose could play a similar role. In Ben Gordon, whose $6.4 million salary comes off the books this summer, the Suns would get an explosive scorer and another perimeter threat, and in Nocioni they’d get a big man would can spread the floor, put the ball on the floor and fill the lane- a good fit for any big playing with Steve Nash. And the cash? Well, we all know where Robert Sarver stands on that.

Stoudemire to the Chicago Bulls; Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni and cash to the Suns.

If, rather than adding another perimeter scorer, the Suns are looking to shore up their front line, Drew Gooden, a solid, near-double-double paint presence with an expiring $7+ million contract, along with Nocioni and Sarver’s BFF (cash) would give Phoenix some much-needed depth on the front line.

Stoudemire to the Miami Heat; Shawn Marion to the Dallas Mavericks; Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse and Daequan Cook to the Suns.

The Miami Heat share the Bulls’ strong interest in a strong inside presence. Not only would Stoudemire fill their void in the middle, his presence would go a long toward placating Dwyane Wade, another member of the 2010 free-agent class. Shawn Marion, whose $17.8 million deal expires this summer, would not only bring improved rebounding and on-the-ball defense to Mavs, his game is perfectly suited to combine with Jason Kidd’s, making Dallas a force on the break. The Suns would receive a solid trio of wing players, with no one under contract past 2010. Josh Howard would give the Suns the gifted swingman they haven’t had since Joe Johnson left for Atlanta. Daequan Cook is a lights-out shooter who would open looks all day playing with Nash and Shaq. As for Stackhouse, his expiring $7.25 million contract would make him a hot commodity next year, and his experience could be attractive to contending team this season, making his stay in Phoenix a very short one, and allowing the Suns to turn him into some frontcourt help.

Stoudemire to the Golden State Warriors; Brandan Wright, Corey Maggette and Marcus Williams to the Suns.

The Warriors have a strong interest in Amar’e, and with Andris Biedrins banged up and little viable depth on the front line, it’s with very good reason. Even with Biedrins back in the lineup, Stoudemire would be a great fit, with his athleticism making him a major threat in golden state’s up-and-down style. Maggette would give Phoenix a Marion-esque wing player with a talent for getting to the free-throw line. In Wright and Williams, the Suns would receive an athletic big (built similarly to Stoudemire) and young point guard (Nash is not getting any younger), both of whom were considered top-ten talents coming out of college.

Stoudemire to the Indiana Pacers; Mike Dunleavy and Jeff Foster to the Suns.

By acquiring Stoudemire, Indy could team with Danny Granger and assemble one of the league’s best duos who, teamed with Troy Murphy, Marquis Daniels and TJ Ford, would make up one of the East’s best starting units. Throw in $15+ million of cap space from the expiring deals of Daniels ($7.3 million team option; not likely to be exercised) and Rash Nesterovic ($8.4 million), and the Pacers look like a legitimate playoff team in East. In acquiring Dunleavy and Foster, Phoenix would replace Stoudemire’s scoring, as well as his rebounding, particularly on the offensive end, where Foster’s among the league’s best offensive rebounders.

Stoudemire to the New York Knicks; Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson and Jerome James and cash to the Suns.

By acquiring Stoudemire, the Knicks would finally add a legitimate star, who loves playing for their coach, to their lineup, without committing money beyond the magical Summer of 2010. If the Knicks’ pipe dream of LeBron is not realized, they will still be in a position to offer Stoudemire more money than anyone else, and build around a talented young big man. By adding Robinson, whose deal is up at the end of the season, the Suns could team with Nash, who would also be able to mentor him as their lead guard of the future- or try and work a sign-and-trade involving him in July. Richardson thrived in his one season with Nash in Phoenix and would be a nice scoring option off the bench. And James’ expiring $6.2 million deal and some cash should bring smile to Mr. Sarver’s face.

Stoudemire to the Sacramento Kings; Brad Miller and Francisco Garcia and cash to the Suns.

The Kings could team Stoudemire with Kevin Martin and rookie Jason Thompson (he is nice!), giving them a solid young trio for the foreseeable future. Miller is a big man that better suited to play alongside Shaq- plays on the perimeter, can shoot the 3 (46.5% on 43 attempts) and is a gifted passer. Garcia is a talented candidate to fill the Suns’ ever-present backup point guard role, and possibly earn the post-Nash starting spot. And the cash, well, you know…

Stoudemire to the Washington Wizards; Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood to the Suns.

Let’s face it, the Arenas-Jamison-Butler trio is not going to contend for a championship, and the Wizards’ massive financial commitments to Jamison and Agent Zero make them untradeable. Adding Stoudemire to this roster makes the Wiz much more interesting, and Butler is really the only prize asset that can make that happen. From the Suns’ perspective, this is the perfect deal- Butler is a beast at both ends and will give Phoenix some much-needed toughness, and Haywood is a solid big man who can complement Shaq, and maybe start in the post-Shaq era.

Stoudemire to the Detroit Pistons; Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell and Kwame Brown to the Suns.

A pair of one-time contenders, now both unmistakably in decline and in desperate need of a shake-up. By adding Stoudemire now, the Pistons could be in position to make a very speedy return to contention, given the $46+ million in salary set to come off the books by next summer (Iverson and Rasheed Wallace this year, Rip Hamilton next year)- allowing the Pistons to lock up Amar’e and still go shopping for a running mate in the Summer of 2010. The Suns, on the other hand, would be able to add Prince, a great two-way player and a solid teammate, on the wing, as well as beefing up the front line with Maxiell and Kwame, whose $4 million deal expires at season's end.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Amar'e: I Am Not A Leader

I’ve speculated in the past that perhaps Amar’e Stoudemire is not a true franchise player. While talented, there has been little evidence to suggest that a team could thrive with Stoudemire as the face of the franchise, and we now have proof- thanks to Amar’e himself. When asked by the Arizona Republic about his role with the inconsistent Phoenix Suns, Stoudemire, who in all likelihood will pursue a $20+ million per year contract in 2010, and whose current annual salary exceeds $15 million per year, assumed the requisite level of responsibility for a wealthy young celebrity:

"Half the time, it's pretty much on me, but I'm not a captain. So you can't put too much of the blame on me. It's not my job to rally the troops and get everybody on board. It's the captains' job to do that. I pretty much play my position. I go out there and play hard and try to lead us in scoring and try to do the intangibles. I try to get better defensively, and I have gotten better defensively."

So a 6’10” defensive liability who doesn’t hit the boards very hard, who’s biding his time at just $15 million per year, and waiting until he can demand $20 million on the open market, openly admits that he is absolutely not a leader and has no interest in doing any more than the bare minimum for his team? Stoudemire was captain last season, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that his teammates did not vote for him as one of their captains again this season, opting instead for Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal.

Before slamming Amar’e Stoudemire too hard, consider this…

There’s never a shortage of elite athletes showing their fallibility, but Amar’e’s done something particularly interesting- he’s acted his age. If we look past the celebrity and the money, Amar’e Stoudemire is just a product of "Generation Y", feeling that his "special" talents should transcend his shortcomings. While he is blessed with the physical tools to excel in an exceptionally lucrative field, without a basketball in his hands, he’s nothing more than an all-too-human 26 year-old guy- one that, while very talented, carries with him an immense, long-engrained sense of entitlement and nothing higher than a high school education.

And since it’s unlikely to affect his starting spot on an NBA team, or his future earning potential, why the hell should he care?

Before we go way overboard in reaction to Amar’e’s proclamation, we’ve got a question to answer first- what exactly were we expecting?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hey Man, I'm In Town Next Weekend!

How much do the New York Knicks hate their home?

On an island packed with overpriced, undersized, slumlord-run pre-War walkups (that’s the “affordable” housing”), the Knick have one of the least enviable home lives. In spite of their considerable financial means, the past decade has reduced the Knicks to little more than anonymous foils, whipping boys for the NBA’s best, who seemingly live to perform at Madison Square Garden, as evidenced by this week’s visits from Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Monday night, hours after learning that a torn MCL will keep starting center Andrew Bynum out for 8-12 weeks, Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers were at the Garden. Either due to Bynum’s absence, the “mojo” of MSG, or the fact that he’s the best player of the post-Jordan era, Kobe went off, torching the Knicks for an MSG-record 61 points (eclipsing Bernard King’s 60) in just 37 minutes, and, much to the chagrin of Reggie Miller, inspiring standing ovations and “MVP” chants from the home crowd. Kobe made nineteen of thirty-one shots and all twenty of his free throws, as the Lakers cruised to 126-117 win (it wasn’t really that close).

Thanks to the NBA schedule makers’ twisted sense of humor, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers paid a visit to Manhattan two nights later, because, you know, being thrashed by Kobe
isn’t bad enough. Adding insult to the Knicks’ inevitably forthcoming injury was that LeBron arrived at the Garden motivated- this wasn’t just another game. In addition to playing in every superstar’s favorite arena, in what is admittedly his “favorite city”, against the team that has pinned its future on possibility of employing his services in two years, LBJ would have to summon forth an “appropriate response” to Kobe performance.

The source of LeBron’s motivation on Wednesday night is debatable- Kobe’s performance, the bright lights of New York, his own other-worldly greatness, perhaps the desire to win the game?- but suffice it say James did little to ease the Knicks’ pain (at least the crowd didn’t turn on them this time!), producing an epic performance of his own, scoring 52 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 11 assists in the Cavs’ 107-102 win, and also making history, as the 52 points are the most scored as part of a triple-double since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger.

Thursday’s headlines on NBA websites and in NYC newspapers will undoubtedly tout the LeBron’s “answer” to Kobe, but what will be overlooked by all is that the members of the New York Knicks are not unlike tens of thousands of other young New Yorkers- their Manhattan residences more sought-after by out-of-town visitors than their company is. While the Knick are living in New York, Kobe and LeBron came to town for just a couple of days, having saved up for a blowout trip to New York, hitting up the Knicks up for a place to crash. David Lee and Nate Robinson weren’t planning on this! But in the space of 72 hours, their buddies rolled up, hit the town until 4am, slamming $18 drinks and sleeping on the couch until 2pm while the Knicks were at the office, and took off as quickly as they’d arrived, taking their epic stories of New York City back to their everyday lives.

The moral of the story? It may seem like a good idea at the time, but DO NOT buy the hype and let LeBron or Kobe crash at your house!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bynum Banged Up vs. Grizz

Andrew Bynum went down last night following a relatively mild collision with Kobe Bryant. Ordinarily the diagnosis of a sprained knee would suffice, but in Bynum’s case, it’s difficult to keep from assuming the worst. While hoping for the absolute best for Andrew Bynum, it’s difficult to keep from thinking back to last season, when he dislocated his left kneecap, again after running into a teammate (last year it was Lamar Odom), again against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Lakers went on to get the win, their sixth in seven games, topping the Grizzlies 115-98, but one can’t help but worry about their championship aspirations if Bynum is sidelined for a significant period of time- especially if it extends into the postseason. An MRI has been scheduled, with the results expected before the Lakers take the floor Monday night in New York, and the specter of another playoff run without Andrew Bynum must be haunting the Lakers.

Rooting interests aside, hopefully all basketball fans are also hoping for a speedy return to the floor for Andrew Bynum, who looked to be elevating his game to a new level recently, averaging 20.3 points, 8.1 rebounds (13.8 in his last five games) and more than 2 blocks in his last twelve games.