Friday, July 30, 2010

Atlanta Hawks: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

While it’s been 50 years since their last Finals appearance and it’s now been 53 years since Bob Pettit led the Hawks to their lone NBA title, the Hawks are another team that has completed the NBA “bucket list”:

Multiple Finals trips? Check.

An NBA title? Check.

Hall-of-Famers? Eleven members of the Hall have suited up for the Hawks, four of whom (Bob Pettit, Lenny Wilkens, Cliff Hagan and Dominique Wilkins) built most or all of their respective resumes with the franchise. Dikembe Mutombo may follow.

Spectacular superstars? How’s Pistol Pete and the Human Highlight Film?

Memorable moments? Sadly, not many coinciding with team success, but Wilkens’ playoff duel against Bird, as well as his and Spud Webb’s performances in the Slam Dunk Contest are etched in fans’ minds.

Sounds great, right? Well, almost. For all that the Hawks’ franchise has achieved in its 61-year history, for most fans in Atlanta, virtually none of the success took place a) in their city or b) in their lifetime.

All the same, this is a franchise that is no stranger to immensely talented players.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Milwaukee Bucks: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

For an often-overlooked, “small market” franchise tucked away in the Northern Midwest, the Milwaukee Bucks are awfully accomplished. In 42 seasons, the Bucks have won their division 13 times, played in seven conference finals, made a pair of trips to the Finals and won a title- led by two of the ten best players in NBA history.

Speaking of which, quite a few outstanding players have suited up for the Bucks, including three Hall-of-Famers (Lew Alciondor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Bob Lanier), a future Hall-of-Famer (Ray Allen) and a deserving franchise great who’s likely to miss out (Sidney Moncrief).

While the early 1970s marked the franchise’s high point, the Bucks have hardly been anonymous since. You which team had the third best winning percentage for the decade of 1980s, trailing only the Lakers and Celtics? Yep, the Milwaukee Bucks. And they made the conference finals three times.

While the 1990s were pretty tough, the Bucks bounced back to reach the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals. And sure, there have been a few lean years since, but if the 2009-10 season is any indication, Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings have sparked a new era of NBA prosperity in Milwaukee.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Indiana Pacers: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

For most of the past two decades, the Indiana Pacers have been one of the NBA’s more successful organizations, reaching six conference finals, and finishing just win shy of a ultimate prize in 2000. During that stretch, the Pacers fell to the best the league’s had to offer- the Finals-bound Knicks in 1994, Shaq’s Finals bound Magic in 1995, Michael Jordan’s sixth title-winner in 1998, and the first of the Shaq-Kobe winners in L.A.

Along the way, the Pacers came to establish themselves a something of a “large small market” team, surpassing all of the NBA’s so-called “small market” franchises (Utah’s an exception here) in terms of consistency, success and relevance.

As you read on, you may notice that this group is a bit 1990s-heavy. Well that’s what happens when the overwhelming majority of a franchise’s success is concentrated into a decade and a half, most notably a six-year stretch.

Despite a difficult past decade that’s included the Palace Melee (and accompanying suspensions), some really bad character guys (Jamaal Tinsley, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson Shawne Williams) and a slide back to the Association’s lower half, this status is not necessarily gone. With an awesome fan base, one of the league’s best buildings, some upcoming cap flexibility, and pretty talented roster, the Pacers have reason for optimism going forward.

Here’s the blueprint.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Detroit Pistons: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

The Detroit Pistons have an interesting identity. Despite having some fantastic offensive players through the years, this is a franchise in which individual achievement has had little correlation with team success.

Not one of the Pistons’ nine all-time scorers (by scoring average, minimum 100 games) possesses a ring from one of the franchise’s three championship seasons (1989, 1990 & 2004). In their title runs, the Pistons have been defined by toughness, rebounding and defensive intensity. The franchise was led in the late 80s by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, perhaps the most hated player in league history, and later by defensive stopper and workhorse Ben Wallace.

The Pistons’ biggest offensive threats- Dave Bing, Bob Lanier, Baily Howell, Grant Hill, among others- never had the kind of team success that their defensive-minded counterparts enjoyed, while the likes of Rick Mahorn, John Salley, Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace- hard workers but hardly super-skilled- have achieved the ultimate team success and a remembered as champions.

While the past two seasons (and probably a few to come) have been less-than-stellar, thanks to the epic failure that was the Darko Milicic era, choosing of Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stucky over Chauncey Billups and some lackluster free agent signings (what would Isiah, Laimbeer and Mahorn have thought of Charlie V??), the Pistons have put together a pretty solid legacy.

Cleveland Cavaliers: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

What is it with guys in #23 jerseys breaking Cavs fans’ hearts?

As counterintuitive as this sounds, the Cavs should simply retire LeBron James’ #23, if for no other reason than to move one step closer to having it removed altogether from the NBA.

For their first two decades, the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the help of criminally incompetent owner Ted Stepien, were among the NBA’s bottom-dwellers, having won more than 43 games in a season just once. In many ways, the last two decades (22 years actually) have been kinder to the Cavs, with 11 seasons of 47+ wins, seven seasons of 50+ wins, two 60-win seasons, and the franchise’s only trip to the NBA Finals.

However, for various reasons - most involving serious injury or some dude in a #23 jersey, even the best of seasons have ended in heartbreak. In the deciding game of Round 1 of the 1989 playoffs, Michael Jordan hit “The Shot." In the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, Michael hit “The Shot: Part II." The franchise won the lottery (literally) in 2003, and with it the right to draft local prodigy LeBron James, only to have its best-ever run end in tears, as their local hero chose not to make good but to seek greener pastures elsewhere, but only after publicly toying with the only professional franchise he’d ever known.

Is Cleveland cursed? Probably not. Really unlucky? Definitely. On the ropes? For the time being. Is there hope? Always.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chicago Bulls: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

The Chicago Bulls have the third most championships (6) among NBA franchises. On two separate occasions, this franchise has celebrated three consecutive titles. The greatest player in NBA history plied his trade in Chicago for over a dozen years. By his side, another of the NBA’s best-ever perimeter players. What’s funny is, all of this greatness took place over a decade and a half that was sandwiched between extended periods of mediocrity. It’s bit strange- and a testament to certain #23- to see a franchise so consistently reach the pinnacle of the game over an extended period of time, while accomplishing nothing of note before or since. In recent years, the Bulls have show great potential and may change this thanks to Derrick Rose’s truly special talents, but the fact remains that there has never been a truly great Chicago Bulls team that did not take the floor between 1991 and 1998.

PG- Norm Van Lier (12.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.4 spg in 535 games)

By the All-Star break, this spot will probably belong to Derrick Rose, but I figured the best PG of the franchise’s first four decades deserves a little love. The recently-deceased (he passed February 26, 2009, at age 61) Van Lier was an outstanding defender and teamed with current Utah coach Jerry Sloan to form the what was, by all accounts, toughest backcourt in NBA history.

Van Lier was the Bulls’ #3 overall pick in the 1969 draft, and was immediately traded to the Cincinnati Royals, where he led the NBA in assists in 1971. He rejoined the Bulls the next season, and went on to be selected to three All-Star teams and eight All-Defensive teams (three 1st Team selections) in six and a half seasons with the team.

Less of a pure point guard than Norm Van Lier, Reggie Theus has the highest scoring average among Bulls’ PGs (18.8 v. 18.7 for Rose), made three All-Star teams and averaged a fair number of assists (5.6). But Theus played for some terrible pre-MJ teams and didn’t make much of a mark on the organization.

An interesting side note- the Bulls’ all-time leader leader in assists per game? Not listed above. It was Ennis Whatley, who averaged 7 apg in 150 games.

SG- Michael Jordan (31.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.4 apg in 930 games)

Do you really require an explanation?

All right, just for fun, let's run through the credentials- six rings, six Finals MVPs, five regular season MVP awards, 10-time All-NBA 1st Team, 14 All-Star appearances, three All-Star MVPs, nine-time All-Defensive 1st Team, 1988 Defensive Player of the Year, 1985 Rookie of the Year, a pair of Olympic gold medals and viewing experience the likes of which we’ll never see again.

The best ever.

SF- Scottie Pippen (17.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg in 856 games)

An awesome all-around player whose legacy will gain steam with time. He’ll be remembered as much more than MJ’s sidekick. Pippen is maybe the greatest perimeter defender in league history and was a superstar in his own right. Could (Should?) have been in the 1994 Finals- as the league MVP.

He owns the same six rings as Michael, and he put his stamp on the Bulls’ dynasty- stifling Magic in 1991, creating problems for Stockton in 1997 & 1998, crashing the boards in the East Finals against Indiana and playing through a serious back injury in 1998. Jordan didn’t just lean on Pippen in the aftermath of the “Flu Game”, he depended on his wingman for the entirety of their respective primes.

As the world lines up to slam LeBron James for surrendering alpha dog status, we should remember Scottie Pippen’s championship performances, without which the greatest ever would never have reach such heights. Scottie Pippen may not have been the quintessential superstar, but he’ll be remembered as the epitome of a champion.

PF- Horace Grant (12.6 ppg, 53% FG, 8.6 rpg, in 546 games)

This is an extremely strong and deep position. Charles Oakley averaged a rugged 10.6- 10.6 in the early Jordan years. Bobe Love averaged 21- 7 in almost 600 games in the 1970s. Elton Brand averaged 20-10- the only Bulls’ PF to do so- over his first two seasons. Dennis Rodman plaed incredibly tough defense against bigger opponents (remember his battles against Karl Malone?) and grabbed more than fifteen rebound per game during the Three-peat Repeat.

As impressive as all of these guys were, this spot belongs to Horace Grant, a guy whose stats barely stack up against any of them. A tough defender and rebounder with a great mid-range jumper. More importantly, Ho Grant grew up with the Bulls’ dynasty, battled the Pistons and the Knicks, and learned to become a champion, earning his first three rings as MJ did. While there’s a case to be made for a handful of other Bulls’ PFs, Horace Grant was there as the Bulls found their way to the top.

C- Artis Gilmore (19.3 ppg, 58.7% FG, 11.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg in 482 games)

Unfortunately for the likes of Bill Cartwright, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley, the Horace Grant Corollary does not apply here. While stockpiling rings certainly helps one’s case, numbers do still matter, and none of Chicago’s title-winning centers delivered statistically. Only two centers in Bulls’ history have averaged 10+ points (Artis Gilmore and Cliffird Ray), and only Gilmore averaged a double-double. Despite spending his best seasons in the ABA, Gilmore established himself as one of the NBA’s top centers upon joining the league in the late 70s. Although he played on some brutal teams, Gilmore put up some fantastic numbers and was a force in the middle.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toronto Raptors: All-Time NBA Starting Fives

Not really sure how to sum up the fifteen year-old Toronto Raptors. By the numbers, this is a totally unremarkable franchise- just five seasons with a record of .500 or better, never eclipsed 47 wins (done twice) and five postseason appearances (11-20 playoff record). But this organization deserves to be thought of as more. More appropriately, its fans, some of the NBA’s best, deserve more. This is a group that’s seen Isiah Thomas actually make GOOD choices as GM (in the draft, at least), Vince Carter (when he gave a crap) create some of the greatest highlights we’ve ever seen, Tracy McGrady show glimpses of his potential, the end of Hakeem Olajuwon’s career, Vince Carter (when he didn’t give a crap) egregiously urinate on his home fan base, and Chris Bosh telegraph his intentions to blow town.

This fan base was on the right side of VC’s other-worldly 2000 dunk contest performance and on the wrong side of Allen Iverson’s 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Kobe’s 81 and “Hedo Turkoglu: Free Agent”. In the most complimentary way possible, it’s tough to find a team that’s accomplished less but meant more to the NBA in the past decade and a half.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Philadelphia 76ers: All-Time NBA Starting Fives

Despite mainstream media portrayal as one of America’s more tortured cities/fan bases, I, with all the credibility of someone’s who’s never set foot in the city (scale of 1-100, maybe a 6?), tend to think the sports suffering of the city of Philadelphia is either overblown or, at the very least, rapidly fading into the past. Truth is, Philly fans have enjoyed a fantastic decade, with each of the city’s major teams at least once reaching the final rung of the ladder, with the 2008 Phillies succeeding in bringing home the prize. While getting close and falling short may sting, there’s a town in Northern Ohio that… never mind.

This occurred to me, admittedly in largely NBA-centric sense, as I sifted through the history of the Philadelphia 76ers (and Syracuse Nationals, as they were previously known) in order to assemble an all-time starting five. There’s little argument that only the Lakers and the Celtics occupy the NBA penthouse, both in terms of teams success and quality of talent through the years. However, as we move past these two, it’s tough to avoid placing the Philadelphia 76ers at the very top of the next tier, given the franchise’s 9 Finals appearances (trailing only LA & Boston), 3 Championships (1967, 1983 and 1955 in Syracuse) and laundry list of superstars and legends. Though the years, this franchise has been stacked with talent.

Monday, July 19, 2010

New York Knicks: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

Funny thing about the Knicks. If it’s possible for a franchise to be simultaneously overrated and underrated, the New York Knicks are that franchise. This is a franchise draped in past achievement and self-importance – 2 championship teams, the most recent being 38 years ago, 2 utterly unwatchable trips to the finals since, local media attention that far outpaces anything warranted by on-court achievement and despite what Tony Kornheiser and Mike Lupica try to tell you, no more than 3 or 4 truly GREAT players in their history.

However, I’ve lived in Manhattan for the last 5+ years, during which I’ve had an opportunity to observe up close the Knicks’ relationship with the city, and I must say it’s fascinating and frankly difficult not to root for. While the Knicks are pretty much irrelevant to today’s NBA landscape, the franchise’s glory days fortuitously fell in the Yankees’ post-Mantle, pre-Reggie days, capturing a generation of fans. To hear true Knicks fans (not the media!) relive experiences with their team – and not just in the best of times – is to realize that there’s something special here. If you ever get the opportunity, as an older Knick fan about Walt Frazier, Micheal Ray, Bernard King or young Ewing. While the Knicks’ glory days as far, far in the rearview, I find myself rooting for a Knicks’ renaissance because, man, I wanna see what this town’s like when the Knicks are good!

New Jersey Nets: All-Time NBA Starting Fives

Yesterday I kicked off a month-long series in which I’ll be looking at each of 29 NBA franchises (excluding the Charlotte Bobcats) and determining each team’s All-time starting lineup. First up were (coincidentally, but deservingly) the Boston Celtics, as storied and legendary an organization as there’s been in the NBA, and a franchise whose fingerprints can be found through the pages of NBA history. Today, the New Jersey Nets. Yikes. Sorry Jersey, but if yesterday was a Smith & Wollensky porterhouse, today’s leftover cold-cuts.

Sadly, with the notable and fleeting exception of the Jason Kidd era just after the turn of the last century, the Nets’ history is chock-full of mediocrity and irrelevance, with the franchise’s most noteworthy “accomplishment” being the atrocious 12-win 2009-10 season. And while the emergence of Brook Lopez as an elite big man, combined with the ambition and seemingly endless wealth of new owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, provide optimism for the future, the franchise’s present remains grim after a fruitless free agency period, and its history is anything but “storied”.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Boston Celtics: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

There have been countless books, articles and barroom debates aimed at determining the greatest teams and greatest players in NBA history, assembling the greatest starting five or twelve-man NBA roster in history. I’ve had lots of fun debating these topics in the past and cannot promise that such an article, authored by me, will not make its way onto this site. However, the problem with these simple debates is that they neglect an entire universe of star players who fall short of the top fifteen or twenty in the game’s history.

To address this, I’ve put together an all-time starting five for each NBA franchise (I’ve omitted the Charlotte Bobcats), consisting of players who suited up in at least 200 games (a bit of wiggle room was used here) for a franchise. I tried to adhere to a strict C, PF, SF, SG, PG line-up, not just 2 guards, 2 forwards and a center – though this rule was bent on occasion.

I didn’t invent a convoluted, John Hollinger-esque formula to determine these line-ups – this is based on statistical productivity with some consideration given to the era in which a guy played, and contribution to team success, with presence during high points in franchise history and “face of a franchise” status playing a big role. Many results are as expected, but some forced me to stare at the numbers and admit that my initial perception had changed.

Rather than go nuts and give you 29 starting fives to consider in one sitting, I will post these one at a time, over the next month. We’ll start with teams of the Atlantic Division. Have fun reading and debating. Whether you agree or think I’m an idiot, don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m eager to hear your opinions.

Leading off this series is the Boston Celtics. As a lifelong Lakers fan that grew up in L.A. in the 1980s, there are a handful of guys here that are very easy for me to hate, but with their talent and toughness, there’s no way to avoid respecting them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

NBA Ownership - The Money's In Cashing Out, Right?

Early yesterday afternoon, CNBC reported that Joe Lacob, managing partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins (early investors in Google, plus 150+ companies that have gone public), and Peter Guber, chairman of Mandalay Entertainment, will purchase the Golden State Warriors for an NBA-record $450 million. The previous mark was the $401 million paid by Robert Sarver paid for the Phoenix Suns in 2004. The pair won the bidding war despite reportedly being outbid by Oracle CEO, billionaire Larry Ellison, although it should be pointed out that Ellison’s final bid was submitted after the deadline for bids had passed. The Warriors franchise was bought by Chris Cohan in January 1995 for $119 million, and valued at “just” $315 million by Forbes in December 2009. However, apparently the Warriors' monopoly on the NBA in the Bay area, along with a rabid, non-fairweather fan base, played a role in the franchise’s premium valuation.

Now one might be compelled to ask why, in a sluggish economic recovery following the worst recession in more than half a century, a pair of presumably intelligent and wealthy businessmen would shell out more money than anyone in history for a franchise in a corporation that claims to be on the heels of a year drenched in red ink – commissioner David Stern has estimated that NBA teams will lose $370 million from the past season – and staring down the barrel of its second work stoppage in roughly a dozen years after next season. And one would be hard-pressed to come up with a reasonable answer. Toss in the fact that – with the notable exception of their playoff upset of Dallas Mavericks in 2007 – the Warriors ranked near the very bottom of the NBA in terms of on-court performance in the 16 years that the criminally fan-unfriendly Cohan owned the team (NBA’s second worst record, after the Clippers), and a price tag approaching half a billion dollars begins to look a bit crazy.

Now I’m by no means saying that no one with the means and the desire to purchase a team should do so, but given the current economic climate in the NBA, but it might be more prudent to engage in a bit of bargain-hunting, a la Mikhail Prokhorov, who purchased his 80% stake in the New Jersey Nets at a valuation of ~$270 million – and last I checked the Nets aren’t terribly far from a good-sized metropolitan area, one capable of supporting two teams in a given sport, to which they will be relocating in a couple of years. This figure took a bit of a hit in the aftermath of LeBron James’ “Decision”, falling in value from a reported $269 million to $250 million, but remains a virtual lock to eclipse $300 million, provided sales of premium seating and sponsorships at the team’s forthcoming Brooklyn arena are strong, according to Forbes.

An interesting note – according the same report from Forbes, the value of the Miami Heat increased by 12.6% on LeBron’s decision, rising from $364 million to $410 million, with the potential to go much higher in the coming years, should LeBron and Wade begin stockpiling championships. It should be noted, however, that the team and owner Micky Arison, Chairman & CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, still have a great deal of corporate (~$9 billion in debt for Carnival) and arena debt (undisclosed, but said to be considerable) to repay. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers, owned by jilted LeBron lover Dan Gilbert, lost nearly a fifth of their value (yeah, I’d slam a few tequila shots and send a venomous email too), plunging from $476 million to $390 million.

For years we’ve heard owner after owner whine about losing money year in and year out, only to ultimately watch these guys cash out a decade or two later, and book a nine-figure gain. However, if we delve a bit deeper into Chris Cohan’s windfall, we see that, yes, he did nearly quadruple his initial investment in 16 years, but some basic math show that his investment only compounded at a rate of 8.67%, roughly ¾ of 1% more than he would have received had he simply purchased 30-year U.S. Treasury bonds at the start of 1995. That's a lot more risk for not much more reward.

However, these returns simply will not fly in the world of venture capital, where Lacob’s firm has raised and invested billions and billions of dollars. In this world of illiquid investments – not unlike an NBA team – the required rate of return for most investors never dips below 20%, and commonly approaches 30%, with each winning deal making up for a dozen or more losers. The success of all investing comes in buying the right asset at the right price, and where it looks as though Mikhail Prokhorov has exemplified this with the Nets, Lacob and Gruber appear to have aggressively paid up for a subpar team in a premium region.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Repreat The Three-Peat? Deja-Vu For Phil Jackson

While the new crew in Miami attracts the lion’s shares of headline this NBA offseason – and deservedly so – with Dan Gilbert’s sobbing diatribes (less deserving) not far behind, the two-time defending champions have been enjoying a beautiful L.A. summer, largely devoid of headline fodder, resting and preparing for another title defense, one with the potential to settle scores and define legacies throughout Lakerland.

Not only would a successful title defense in 2010-11 would give the Lakers their 17th title (tying Boston; the tally is 10-4 in the Lakers’ favor since Bird & Magic entered the NBA, just sayin…); Phil Jackson would add an unprecedented 12th ring and a staggering fourth three-peat; Kobe’s second three-peat would earn him his MJ-tying 6th ring; Derek Fisher would become one of just a dozen players (and one of just six since 1970) to win six rings and would join Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant as the only post-merger member of two different three-peats; and finally, we have Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom Andrew Bynum and Sasha Vujacic (stop laughing!), all of whom would enter their names in the history books as wire-to-wire members of a three-peat, not to mention the fact that Gasol would likely become an undeniable Hall-of-Famer (and he just turned 30) and Bynum would have three rings at age 23.

Despite all of the historical implications, what’s striking about the offseason preceding this particular title defense is the way the team’s gone about it – no big free agent splash, no trade talk. Last year, on the heels of the 2009 title, the team swapped (effectively, not formally) Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest, sparking countless debates about “fit” and “chemistry” in the process. Not so this year. Other than a bit of a facelift at the point, the core of this team remains the same – with the possibility of added depth on D and on the glass in the form of an unsung defender (Raja Bell, if he signs with L.A.) and a pair of still-unsigned 2nd rounders (Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter).

Anything about this seem vaguely familiar? Not the specific moves, but the underlying philosophy? Think back a dozen or so years. Phil Jackson-coached team, legendary 5-ring alpha dog, top-shelf #2 guy, looking to complete a three-peat? Yup, these Lakers look an awful lot like the 1998 “Last Dance” Bulls, whose top eleven scorers – Jordan, Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Jason Caffey, Scott Burrell, Dennis Rodman, Randy Brown and Bill Wennington – consisted of ten holdovers from the 1997 title team, with Scott Burrell replacing the late Bison Dele. The current financial structure of the NBA makes it nearly impossible to achieve that level of stability, but the 2010-11 Lakers will return at least seven (maybe eight, depending on Shannon Brown) of their top nine scorers from this past season, with NJ-bound Jordan Farmar being replaced like-for-like by perfect-fit Steve Blake.

As for any other potential tweaks to the rotation, there are just three names to keep in mind:

Raja Bell. Another perfect fit for this Laker team. Bell’s tough as nails, has loads of experience on contending teams, can hit the 3, is a committed defender and, perhaps most importantly, is NOT afraid to stand up to Kobe Bryant. However, if signing Bell guarantees Shannon Brown’s exit, the team might want to think twice. At this point in their respective careers, Brown’s more athletic, a decade younger, can guard quick PGs and plays with the same hard-nosed attitude as Bell.

Devin Ebanks. Was inconsistent in college (at West Virginia), struggles to hit the outside shot and has yet to develop his left hand, but his strengths – great size (6’8”, 215), rebounding, defense and filling the lane – will help Ebanks carve out a niche for himself in the NBA. Will thrive in run & gun games and as the season progresses could be able to help lighten the defensive load on Kobe and Artest.

Derrick Caracter. Not a sure thing, but potentially a monster. This guy defines the term “upside” at the third-to-last pick in the draft. He’s had issues with weight and motivation, but has trimmed down to 265 lbs (from 300+), and will likely play himself down to 250-255 once the season gets rolling – pretty ideal size for a 6’9” PF. Caracter produced double-doubles in his first three summer league games in Vegas, and is averaging 16.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg and shooting over 60% in his first four games. Coming off the bench, Caracter could be a perfect frontcourt complement to either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

20 Questions From The Association - Hot Stove Edition

Is it just me or….

Is Chris Bosh the most pathetic – but possibly the smartest – social climber in NBA history?

Is Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and the specter of “Isiah: The Sequel” about the worst that Knicks’ fans could have expected from the Summer of 2010?

Will the addition of Steve Blake to Lakers’ roster be viewed as the summer’s best under-the-radar move by midseason?

By leaving Steve Nash, is Amar’e Stoudemire destined to become Shawn Marion 2.0, only slightly better, but slightly pricier?

In replacing nearly half of Amar’e’s production (pre-Nash Effect) for ~22.5% of the annual salary ($4.5M v. $20M), did the Suns do a great job of bargain hunting with Hakim Warrick?

Was it shocking and saddening to see the gall of Channing Frye’s rejection of a $5M/yr offer rewarded with a ~$6M/yr offer?

Has Pat Riley made quite the compelling case for himself as “Most Interesting Man in the World”?

Thanks to Deron Williams, is Al Jefferson going to average 25 ppg and finally play on a contender?

As bad a fit as he was last year in Toronto, is Hedo Turkoglu just that good a fit with Steve Nash and the Suns?

Did the Trailblazers wind up waiting half a season too long to sell high on Rudy Fernandez?

Did you also expect more from the start of the Prokhorov era than the accumulation of a bunch of third, fourth and fifth bananas?

Despite meeting with LeBron, does it seem like the Clippers never realized that free agency had actually begun?

By January, will San Antonio’s characteristically quiet signing of Tiago Splitter rank as one of the summer’s better moves?

Does the exile to Toronto seem like a fitting end to Leandro Barbosa journey off the edge of the earth?

After Dan Gilbert’s performance, did Mark Cuban’s statement following the trade of Erick Dampier, Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najara seem like a kid bringing an apple for his teacher?

Is it time for Boston to stop going to the veteran well after signing Jermaine O’Neal, aka, Rasheed 2.0?

As productive as Carlos Boozer is sure to be, wouldn’t you hope $16M/yr would buy the Bulls a low post scorer?

Is it a tad excessive to pay more than $13M/yr for a pair of spot-up shooter like Kyle Korver and JJ Redick?

Does 5y/$40M for Tyrus Thomas almost make $80M over 6 years for David Lee look sane?

Does intentionally not mentioning the LeBron shitshow make me as douchey as the NBA’s self-proclaimed King?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Belated Thoughts On Rudy Gay & The Grizz

On the heels of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up in Miami and just one day before LeBron James changes the course of American culture and redefines the human experience, I'd like to share some week-old thoughts on a far less relevant subject - Rudy Gay's 5-year, $82M deal to remain with the Memphis Grizzlies. Sure he's a very nice player and will be just 23 on opening night, but in what universe does Rudy Gay, parlay 19.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 1.9 apg (v. 1.1 TO/game) into max dollars? The ceiling for him had to be 30-40% below that, no? Apparently not! In the 9-10 months each year that they're not tirelessly pursuing free agents, NBA executives talk a great game, stressing points such as "fiscal responsibility" and looking for "cap-friendly contracts" - and then comes July, the one month every year that all NBA owners and GMs fling piles cash around like a bunch frat guys at a strip club with Dad's credit card. Despite massive financial downturn and near-inevitable work stoppage (or maybe because of it), not to mention the fact that serious NBA fans now have access to and knowledge of most of the information needed to make intelligent personnel decisions, evidently the era of teams "showing the fans a commitment to winning" by overvaluing and overpaying their own guys (Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton, and more recently, Joe Johnson) is not only not behind us, it's still in full swing.

More shocking than that (because, let's be honest, do you even remember a world where NBA owners didn't spend like maniacs?) is the abrupt about-face done by the Grizzlies, who 2+ years ago decided that Pau Gasol, anchor of multiple 50-win playoff teams was too expensive, despite a contract paying him roughly the same annual salary as Rudy Gay’s deal will pay him? Sure, if they didn’t move without delay, someone else would overpay and lure away Rudy Gay (you like that?), but would that really have been the end of world? Had Gay received a max offer elsewhere, the Grizz would either have stood to benefit from a sign-and-trade with his acquirer (and maybe additional teams), or Memphis would then be ideally positioned - a young team, with several young assets to trade and all the cap room needed to absorb the contracts of really good players from salary-dumping teams. As it stands now, this is a small-market, low-revenue team that’s taken a big step toward locking in a relatively modest ceiling for the next half decade.

CB4 Joins Wade On South Beach - More Help Needed

So, a pair of the big shoes finally dropped in free agency. Apparently Chris Bosh will reportedly be joining D-Wade in Miami for at least the next half decade – its not yet clear whether Bosh will sign with Miami outright (this would be for 5 years/$96M) or join the Heat via a sign-and-trade deal with the Raptors, which would net him the “true” max of $125M over six years. Glad that one's over! CB4 has been a pretty big douche during this process, so I loved Toronto's recent unwillingness to help him earn more cash elsewhere (via sign-and-trade), unless he'd accept a move to Cleveland.

Turning to the situation in Miami - awesome day for Heat fans, confirming not only that Dwyane Wade will not be leaving town, but also the addition of a 20 ppg big man. Bosh is absolutely a massive upgrade over anyone Wade's played with in the NBA (lone exception: title-year Shaq), and by adding him Miami promises to be a hell of a lot more competitive in the East, but he's not known for his defense or for his rugged inside play, and thus cannot be the only big addition for the Heat. Bosh and can get out and run with wing guys and the pick-and-roll run by he and Wade would be outstanding, but it's frankly difficult to see Wade, Bosh, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers and and eight guys worth of filler competing for much of anything. Obviously, adding LeBron James changes this entire discussion, but almost all of the guys that would be a great complement to Wade-Bosh (Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Dirk Nowitzki) gone, and the remaining crop of quality free agents (Boozer, David Lee, anyone else? Ray Allen?) are unable to provide either the defense or inside presence to take Miami from a 50-win squad to legit title contender. If they're unable to land LBJ with their remaining cap space, which is enough for another max guy, Miami would be best served slicing and dicing the cap space and trying to parlay it into 2-3 quality role players that are capable of a) playing solid defense, b) banging inside and/or c) shooting from the outside - guys like, say, Tyson Chandler, Matt Barnes, Kyle Korver, Al Harrington and Tony Allen.

I get that he’s young and pretty good, but how Chris Bosh managed to get himself grouped with Wade and LeBron as one of this summer's Tier-1 free agents will forever be a mystery. A 2nd-team All-NBA selection, 4 trips to the All-Star Game and career scoring and rebounding averages of 20 & 9 are certainly impressive, but "superstar"? Please! Chris Bosh has no team success to speak of (211-320 regular season record; 3-8 in the playoffs), he’s not any kind of statistical wonder, nor does he have a reputation for dominating for extended stretches and single-handedly winning games. For reasons related to age and injury, it’s clear why he’d be the top pick among free agent PFs, but to consistently mention his name alongside Lebron’s and Wade’s is a joke. Had he not teamed up with a superior perimeter player, Bosh would have been a major disappointment to any team that signed him as its centerpiece. As option #2a or #3, Bosh would be among the best in the NBA. As a #2 guy, Bosh is a solid option, but hardly guarantees contention. As the top dog… well, just check out the Raptors in recent years.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Knicks Winning The Style Battle - Still In Pursuit Of Substance

In reportedly signing Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire to a 5-year $100 million deal, the Knicks have – in classic fashion – obviously overpaid for a good-but-not-great big man that plays no defense, is an underachieving rebounder and has a track record of serious injuries. After a decade of misery & 2 years of blatant salary dumping with an eye toward this very moment, the Knicks have arrived at this most-anticipated of parties only to discover that their chances of landing LBJ, Wade or Bosh have started to fizzle. So... they scramble and sign Amar'e for $100M, even though their very own David Lee represents better value for money – whatever the money turns out to be. How very New York Knick of them!

HOWEVAH… while this would a dumb and potentially crippling move for all but five or six NBA franchises, it’s actually in the Knicks best interest. Where most franchises focus on wacky things like fiscal responsibility and unearthing bargains in free agency, the Knicks deal in a different currency – glitz and glamour. Does the addition of Amar’e Stoudemire ensure greater productivity from the PF position and an improvement in the standings? Maybe. Probably a little bit. But where it does pay huge dividends is in name value and a perceived commitment to improvement - biggies in Manhattan these days - despite the years of overpromising and underdelivering. That the move from David Lee to Amar’e probably won’t have too much of an on-court impact is secondary – by spending big money on the bigger name, the Knicks have (they're hoping) assured their fans early on that the much-ballyhooed Summer of 2010, while maybe not playing out as they’d hoped, will not be a total whiff.

Only the Knicks solve this type of a PR problem with $100 million Plan B while ignoring a solution on their own roster that’s 40-60% cheaper. Sadly for the Knicks, given the city in which they play and their relationship with their fans this was the smart play!