Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Help Wanted: Mavericks Need More Reliability On Offense To Contend

In the not-too-distant future the Dallas Mavericks are going to need some help on the offensive end. This is admittedly a bizarre statement to make on the heels of an thrilling come-from-behind home win in which the Mavs scored 112 points, but in light of their injury woes, a look at Tuesday night’s box score provides cause for concern in Big D.

The problem with the way in which the Mavs beat the Clippers (112-105, after trailing for much of the first three quarters) is that it’s totally unsustainable- not so much the always-fun 50-90-40 (FG/FT/3-pt), though you don’t want to count on it- but the hot hands that made those shots and lack of viable alternatives on the nights when they go cold. Yeah, Dirk and Jason Terry characteristically combined for 48 (though Dirk’s 20 came on an uncharacteristic 6-15 FG) and Shawn Marion made four of seven shots and scored 10 points (about what you’d expect), but the other two Mavs to crack double figures played, VERY generously, a bit over their respective heads.

First off, we have Tyson Chandler, who was perfect from both the field (5-5 FG) and the free throw line (11-11!) en route to 21 points. While Chandler is a fantastic all-around player in the midst of an excellent season, he’s only averaged more than his current 9.6 points per game (on an impressive 68% FG and 78% FT) once in his career (11.8 with the Hornets in 2007-08) and, well, dude didn’t miss a single shot! If he’s less than perfect and merely turns in an outstanding 4-5 FG, 9-11 FT performance, there’s no guarantee that Dallas comes away with a win. Plus, as great as he’s looks this year, Chandler only suited up in 96 games over the past two seasons, so the Mavs might want to be careful about putting too many eggs in his basket, lest injury strike.

Funny thing is, despite Chandler turning in the fifth perfect 20+-point game of the season, the honor of “most uncharacteristically heroic Mavericks performance” goes to goes to Jose Juan Barea. Normally just an elfish nuisance with hair gel, Barea was unstoppable, making 9 of 12 shots (including 3 of 4 3-pointers) and all four of his free throws in lighting the Clippers up for 25 points in 33 minutes. Now I’m not gonna say that this performance is an outlier, but how comfortable can the Mavs be relying on a 5’10” 8-point per game scorer and 40% shooter to hit three-quarters of his shots and play a starring role in a seven-point comeback win at home over a 3-13 (now 3-14) road team?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mo' Than Fo' Fo' Fo'

998 points from now, Shaquille O’Neal will pass him for sixth place on professional (NBA & ABA) basketball’s all-time scoring list. With another 2,668 points, Kobe Bryant will do the same.

Kevin Garnett trails him by 862 defensive rebounds for third on the all-time list.

Until Kevin Love scored 31 points and grabbed 31 rebounds against the Knicks on November 11, he was the last NBA player to record a 30-30- and he last did it 1982. Also, if Love is able to maintain averages of 20+ points per game and 15+ rebounds per game (he’s currently at 21.4 and 15.6), he’ll be the first player to achieve that feat since our mystery legend did it- in 1982-83.

These days, everybody’s gunning for Moses Malone.

Unfortunately, however, while Malone stands in the way of every active player and the top of the record books, most fans are woefully undereducated on the body of work of one of the six greatest centers in basketball history.

Over the course of a 21-year career (19 in the NBA) that epitomized the term “blue collar,” Malone put together as impressive a resume as any big man in the last 40 years. He retired in 1995 with career averages of 20.3 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game, 13 All-Star selections, four All-NBA First Team nods (four Second Teams as well), three league MVP trophies (1978-79, 1981-82, 1982-83), two Finals appearances and a championship ring- with the accompanying Finals MVP trophy. In nearly 50,000 minutes in 1,455 regular season games (5th all-time), Malone scored 29,580 points, 9,018 of them (second all-time, behind Karl Malone) in the form of made free throws.

More impressive than Malone’s ability to put points on the scoreboard was his ability to crash the boards. He grabbed 17,834 career rebounds, more than anyone other than Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, and according to Bill Simmons’ “Book of Basketball” (and verified by me), in 1978-79 he grabbed 38.4% of the Rockets’ rebounds- a higher percentage than Wilt or Russell ever achieved in their respective careers. Six times Malone led the NBA in rebounding average and total rebounds. During his career, he ranked in the NBA’s top five in Total Rebound Rate and his 19.8% career rate is good for fourth all-time.

As good an overall rebounder as he was, Malone did the majority of his work on the offensive glass. He is, without a doubt, the greatest offensive rebounder the game has ever seen. Nine times- once in the ABA, as a 19 year-old rookie, and eight times in the NBA- he led his league in offensive rebounds. His 7,382 offensive rebounds (not kept as a statistic in the NBA until 1973-74) not only top the all-time list, but are a ridiculous 53% more than Artis Gilmore’s second place total of 4,816. For 15 consecutive seasons, he averaged at least 4.5 offensive rebounds per game, with four seasons of 6+ offensive rebounds per game and two of at least 7 offensive rebounds per game. It should come as no surprise that Malone is the owner of the top three (and five of the top 10) single-season offensive rebound totals, as well as four of the top nine seasons for Offensive Rebound Rate. He ranked in the top four in Offensive Rebound Rate 16 times in his career and ranks third all-time with a career rate of 16.3%.

In each of 12 consecutive seasons beginning in 1977-78, he averaged at least 19.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. During his seven-year prime (1978-1985), Malone averaged 26- 14.8- including seasons of 27.8- 14.8 (1980-81) and 31.1- 14.7 (1981-82)- and never averaged worse than 22.7 points or 13.1 rebounds.

In the postseason, where legends are made, Malone was no less a beast. Most fans are at least somewhat familiar with his work in 1983- if you’re not, stay tuned- but in 13 postseason games in the spring of 1977, at age 21, he averaged 18.8- 16.9, as the Rockets came within two wins of a conference title. Four years later, he led the Rockets to within two wins of their first NBA title, averaging 26.8- 14.5 in 21 postseason games.

So, what was it that kept Moses Malone from the household-name status his resume warrants?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blake Griffin's Brought Back The Old-School TV Experience

Blake Griffin is Johnny Carson.

Well, sorta.

In his 2006 book, “Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas,” Klosterman reveals that despite not being a huge fan or even a regular viewer, he was profoundly saddened by the late night legend’s January 2005 passing. In the same piece, he marvels at the number of obituaries in which he read that “there will never, ever be another Johnny Carson.”

He goes on to argue that while this is not so much true of Carson himself, it’s undeniably true of the idea of the man. Carson was certainly funny and clever and cool, but he was not blessed with these qualities to such an extent that the world will never again see his comedic peer. For 30 years (1962-1992), as the host of NBC’s Tonight Show, Carson was a fixture in American households. Whether you loved him or simply didn’t have anything better to watch, at 11:30 PM, you were either “watching Carson” or you weren’t- and most were. It is in this ubiquity, bred from a lack of viable alternatives, that Carson delivered to the viewing public what they craved from him- a shared experience.

Someone who was watching Carson, whether alone or with family or friends, could be certain he was sharing that very experience, at that very moment, with tens of millions of other people. In today’s on-demand/DVR age, with cable providers offering customers hundreds of channels- many aimed at satisfying niche viewing cravings- it’s increasingly rare to have a large number of people watching the same program at the same time.

Not unlike the overall television experience itself, in recent years the experience of viewing NBA basketball has changed profoundly. No longer are TNT Thursdays and post-Super Bowl Sunday afternoons the only opportunity for NBA fans to watch a game, knowing that other fans nationwide are watching the same game. Now, for approximately $1.10 per day, NBA League Pass offers access to every game for every team. On most, nights, fans will multiple options in the same time slot! It’s glorious. Laker fan in New York City? No worries! Don’t want to wait until Christmas to see Derrick Rose slice into the lane? Watch him against the Washington Wizards on the 22nd. Suffering from insomnia? The Kings are on! You get the picture.

This is where Blake Griffin comes in.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

20 Questions From The Association - Halfway Home

Is it just me, or…

Is the trend of well-compensated NBA players turning into indignant pricks and refusing to pay their gambling debts just as troubling as the NBA’s “gambling problem?”

With Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups both possibly heading out of Denver, is J.R. Smith about to become must-see TV?

Despite all the talk of just how “average” a player Caron Butler is, might the Mavericks want to show more of an interest in replacing his 15 ppg, 4 rpg and 1 spg with something?

Does Marcin Gortat get an awful lot of attention for a guy with six career starts and career averages of 4 ppg and 4.4 rpg?

Would it make more sense to give the #1 seed in the East a first-round bye than to allow one of the teams in spots 8-11 (Charlotte, Philly, Milwaukee and Toronto- all within three games of #8) into the playoffs?

Despite falling short against the Clippers, are the 2010-11 Miami Heat the best team you've ever seen at erasing a 20-point deficit?

Is there a legitimate case to be made for Blake Griffin as the best big man in the NBA?

Is LeBron James discovering that not only is karma a bitch, she’s kinda fickle too?

Considering his return from foot surgery is not expected to come for at least a couple more weeks, might Brandon Jennings want reconsider his participation in the slam dunk contest on February 19?

Is the Washington Wizards’ 0-19 road record- despite playing an Eastern Conference schedule- as improbable an achievement as any in the NBA thus far in the season?

Prior to this week, did you think Zach Randolph had as a good chance of winning a Pulitzer Prize as he did of receiving the NBA’s Community Assist Award?

In exchange for having to suffer the indignity of attending games at the Power Balance Pavilion, do fans in Sacramento deserve some sort of a guarantee that their team is going to stay put for a while?

Is limiting Marcus Thornton’s playing time- despite a 4-0 record when he plays at least 24 minutes- because of a lack commitment on defense, only to start Marco Belinelli, not really great for Monty Williams’ credibility?

Does Josh Smith seem to be falling off the shot selection wagon, with 17 3-point attempts (he’s made six) in his last six games, after attempting just seven in 2009-10 and 59 in the first 34 games of this season?

Is it absolutely crazy to think that the Cleveland Cavaliers actually won three of their first four road games this season?

Is it sad that, despite starting the season with the Bobcats, Gerald Wallace may actually be heading significantly lower on the NBA food chain than?

As much as he deserves to once again play for a contender, does Steve Nash not really fill a need for any of the NBA’s top teams?

After EVERYONE in the basketball world lined up this summer to shower him with praise, has Kevin Durant somehow managed to fly (a little bit) under the radar through the first half of this regular season?

Does it seem like Jrue Holiday puts up too many big stat lines to be averaging just 14.7 ppg and 6.6 apg?

With all the stinkers he’s put up, is it somewhat surprising to see that Evan Turner has managed to average 7.2 ppg and 4.2 rpg thus far?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hardwood Hype's As Yet Unnamed Links Collection - January 12, 2011

A refreshing move on the heels of a humiliating 132-98 loss in Devner, as Suns' President of Basket Ops Lon Babby apologizes to the team's fans for an uninspired performance.

From The Basketball Jones, longtime Laker fan Holly Mackenzie addresses Kobe Bryant's basketball mortality and reflects on a decade and a half well-spent.

On HoopSpeak, Sherwood Strauss contends that LeBron was totally justified in taking a post-game Twitter dig at the Cavs- and makes a pretty compelling case.

Speaking of the Cavs' thumping in L.A., the Plain Dealer spoke with a beaten-down and incredulous Antawn Jamison, while Cavs: The Blog's John Krolik gave a firsthand account of a fan's view from rock bottom.

Hardwood Hype would like to join Peachtree Hoops in wishing a very happy 51st birthday to one of the greatest small forwards in NBA history, and one of the most electrifying players ever, the Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins.

Despite the Celtics' mounting injury woes, CelticsBlog's Jeff Clark offers a "thanks, but no thanks" to the prospect of Rasheed Wallace coming to the rescue.

Meanwhile, Knicks' surprise second-round rookie sensation Landry Fields has been blogging on the team's official site- very entertaining and light-hearted, but clearly written by a Stanford man.

Finally, at Sactown Royalty, more arena-related shenanigans involving the Maloofs and the city: first, the venue formerly known as Arco Arena will be known for the next half-decade as the Power Balance Pavilion (that is one high-quality sponsor!), while the Maloofs angle for a nine-figure loan with which to threaten a move down I-5.

LeBron James: Say Goodnight To The Bad Guy

Almost exactly six moths after he was unwittingly cast in the role, LeBron James is embracing the idea of being the NBA’s arch-villain.

Sunday night in Portland, LeBron unleashed as dominant a second half performance as you’re likely to see in an NBA game. After a “quiet” 12-point, seven-rebound first half, he shifted into attack mode, scoring 10 in the third quarter and 14 in the fourth, as the Heat erased a seven-point Blazer lead with 1:46 remaining to force overtime. In OT, he scored eight of Miami’s 14 points, including a pair of backbreaking 3-pointers. The first of these saw LeBron somewhat inexplicably slap himself on the ass on his way back down the floor. After the second, which sealed the game, he took a more scenic route back to the Heat bench, stopping to stare down the Portland crowd and welcome their jeers.

The look on his face was unmistakable- “Go ahead! Dissect me, judge me, hate me… just know that you can’t beat me.”

And it was pretty awesome. (This tweet, directed at the Cavs after a 112-57 obliteration at the hands of the Lakers, a bit less so… but only a little)

Despite what “sporting purists” (and Colin Cowherd) might have to say on the matter, this is what had been missing from LeBron James’ on-court persona. F#@k you mode. That’s not just referring to the ability to drop 20 in quarter and close out a game- he’s always had that- but the ability to step out in front of an extremely hostile crowd (as they all are for him these days) and to return all the vitriol that rained down on him during the game by not only demoralizing his opponents and their fans, but by reminding them of it as well.

It’s not that his on-court game has improved dramatically- he’s a 26 year-old, two-time reigning MVP that’s a constant threat to score 50, grab 15 boards, post a triple double- or some combination of the above. He’s always been great. Even at the height of post-Decision anti-LeBron sentiment, his physical skills were never called into question. His biggest flaw was presumably some shortcoming in his personality or a “weakness of character” that kept him from getting over the hump and leading a team to a championship.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hardwood Hype's As Yet Unnamed Links Collection - January 10, 2011

With progress being made toward a deal, the New York Post takes a look at the Denver Nuggets' inability to commit to an increasingly inevitable Carmelo Anthony trade, with a pretty funny headline.

More on matters of Melo: an excellent breakdown of the potential deal and the post-trade state of the Nuggets from Roundball Mining Co.; Piston Powered takes a look at the financial benefits of a trade; and in Jersey, Net Are Scorching offers some perspective, with a look at the Nets' track record with megadeals in recent years.

While I can't speak to the financial status of either the Palms casino or the Maloof family, having private equity firms buy up your debt with designs on parlaying it into an equity stake is generally not an encouraging development.

Speaking of private equity, and the Detroit Pistons, buyout mogul Tom Gores (founder & CEO of Platinum Equity) has emerged as the preferred candidate to buy the team, and has an exclusive 30-day window in which to cut a deal.

What do you do when one of 30 stakeholders in business is a notorious cheapskate and a racist slumlord? Well, nothing, obviously. A great appeal from ClipperBlog to David Stern, urging the Commish to take a stand against Donald Sterling.

A nice breakdown of Miami's 13th straight road win (from Hot Hot Hoops), and ESPN's Brian Windhorst (the biggest non-"Heatle" beneficiary of the summer of 2010) on LeBron's latest decision- to embrace the villain role.

And, from the side, a characteristically excellent collection of thoughts on Sunday night's OT thriller at the Rose Garden, from Blazersedge.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune, an excellent profile on rebounder extraordinaire Kevin Love, including details on his development as a young player and his rebounding philosophy.

More from the New York Post: I'm ordinarily not a fan of Peter Vecsey, but this piece from last week exposes certain NBA teams' despicable treatment of longtime employees, while shining a deservedly favorable light on San Antonio's Gregg Popovich.

In light of the meniscus tear that (unofficially) will sideline Matt Barnes for ~8 weeks, Forum Blue & Gold examines the Lakers' options- all of them in-house- for filling the void.

For anyone who thought the Cleveland Cavaliers' season couldn't get any worse, check this out. With that said, in recent games the Cavs have begun fielding a younger and more athletic team, not an unwelcome site, according to Cavs: The Blog.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Western Conference All-Stars: A Bold Move At Center Will Boost Excitement

By simply taking a look at the latest voting returns for the 2011 NBA All-Star Game, one can fairly accurately predict a majority of the stars that will take the Staples Center floor on February 20.

Almost certainly, the forwards fort he Eastern Conference will be LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Amar’e Stoudemire, Paul Pierce and Chris Bosh, with Josh Smith a likely replacement if Garnett remains sidelined with a leg injury.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin (take that one to the bank) and Pau Gasol will almost certainly represent the West, with the possibility of Tim Duncan or Lamar Odom sneaking in and the likelihood of Kevin Love being left out.

The backcourts present more suspense, but aren’t exactly nail-biters. In the West, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Manu Ginobili will be joined by Steve Nash, Monta Ellis (25.4 ppg, 3rd in the NBA, on 47.4% FG), Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook.

In the East, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are locks, and Ray Allen, Raymond Felton are decent bets to make it, with #1 overall pick John Wall as a dark horse, though he’s likely not played enough games (21) to warrant serious consideration.

In the middle, Dwight Howard, the leading vote-getter in his conference, with anchor the East, as he’s done for the past four years and will likely continue to do for the foreseeable future, barring a Western migration. Behind him it’s a bit of a hodgepodge, with either Al Horford (16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg) or Andrew Bogut (13.3- 11.1) likely to get the nod.

However, with injured Rockets’ big man Yao Ming (754,583) and until-recently-injured Laker Andrew Bynum (493,237) dominating the voting, the center spot in the West is far more open to debate. It’s worth noting that in cases such as this, when the leading vote-getter is unable to participate due to injury, the selection is not automatically given to the second-place man, but decided upon by the commissioner- and with averages of 9.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg in just 12 games, Bynum’s not likely to be on the receiving end of that call.

At the moment, it fairly safe to assume that the center role for the Western Conference will go to Nuggets’ big man Nene, who’s third in the voting. His solid stat line (15.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg and a league-best 62.6% FG) and status as a key contributor to a high-profile team (in NBA circles, at least) should give him an edge over the competition. In addition to Nene, there are five centers in the West that are having very productive seasons and are worthy of at least a mention as All-Star candidates:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hardwood Hype's As Yet Unnamed Links Collection - January 6, 2011

The gamut of emotions in Northeast Ohio - the Cleveland Cavaliers give golden-throated web sensation Ted Williams and new lease on life, before kicking their fans in the groin with yet another uninspired performance. A nice breakdown from Cavs: The Blog.  

Predictably, the Memphis Grizzlies have banned gaming on the team plane following the recent in-flight scuffle between Tony Allen and O.J Mayo. Regardless of the embarrassment, Zach Lowe rightly argues that the incident alone should not trigger Mayo exit.

Wanna get to know Blazers' two-guard and free agent bargain (yeah, bargain!) Wesley Matthews? Check out this outstanding profile on the second-year man, from The Columbian. 

More from Zach Lowe on The Point Forward: A great look at the Detroit Pistons' willing (or lack thereof) to re-sign Rodney Stuckey before the summer of 2011. 

Remember the "freshman fifteen?" It's not limited to dorms and frat houses, as reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans can attest to.

Good news from Mavs' practice: though he's not yet ready to return to action, Roddie Beaubois is taking part in shooting contests, and faring pretty well.

An excellent breakdown of the final two minutes of the Spurs' 105-103 loss in Boston, from 48 Minutes of Hell.

A one-player-per-team slam dunk tournament? It happened in 1976-77! A slam dunk contest history  lesson, from Truth About It, with some awesome video clips.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Knicks' Spectacular Offense Topples Spurs, And A Case For Raymond Felton

On a night when the chants of “Dee-fense” were little more than wishful thinking- 36-35 after the first quarter, 72-69 a the half and 101-95 at the start of the fourth- the Knicks treated the MSG crowd to virtuoso offensive performance against the best team in the NBA, beating the 29-4 (now 29-5) San Antonio Spurs, 128-115 Tuesday night.

The Spurs, who entered the game among the league’s elite at both ends of the floor, played a strong offensive game, shooting 53.7% (44-82) from the field and getting to the free throw line (22-30) en route to an offensive efficiency rating 118.6. Although they turned the ball over 16 times and had just 18 assists on 44 made shots (41%, compared with their season average of 61.8%), the Spurs played well enough with the ball in their hands to earn a victory. Uncharacteristically, however, it was their work at the defensive end that let them down.

As much success as the Spurs had on offense, they paled in comparison to the Knicks, who hung 128 on the NBA’s eighth most efficient defense. The Knicks connected on 55% (50-91) of their field goal attempts, 87% (20-23) of their free throws, dished out 26 assists on 50 made baskets and committed just 6 turnovers. They were undoubtedly red hot, but also extremely efficient, as evidenced by their astronomical efficiency rating of 132.

Admittedly the game didn’t mean as much to the Spurs- who may have been looking ahead to Wednesday night’s showdown in Boston against the East-leading Celtics, looked “tired and uninspired," according to Clyde Frazier- but don’t let that detract from the Knicks’ accomplishment. This is a great win for the Knicks, who went toe-to-toe with the NBA’s best, and played a fantastic game, improving to an unheard-of-this-decade 20-14. More importantly, after repeatedly hearing about how their record’s been inflated by a soft early-season schedule, the Knicks answered their critics by notching a signature win over an elite opponent.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hardwood Hype's As Yet Unnamed Links Collection - January 4, 2011

- Have the Blazers been terribly unlucky with the injury woes of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden? Sure, but they can't say they weren't warned.

- An outstanding 2-part analysis, from Psychology Today, on the narcissistic personality of LeBron James- how it got to be this way, and how it rears its head.

- On AOL Fanhouse, Free Darko's Bethlehem Shoals perfectly sums up how Steve Nash has gotten the short end of the stick in Phoenix.

- On ESPN's Heat Index, Tom Haberstrough did an excellent job building the case for "Chris Bosh: All-Star."(Spoiler alert: yes, Bosh is an All-Star, and yes, I was wrong to dismiss him so quickly. More to come on this.)

- Scary situation for Carlos Delfino in the aftermath of his concussion. Really hope he doesn't rush himself back onto the floor.

- Darius from Forum Blue & Gold with an excellent breakdown of the 2010-11 Lakers' identity crisis.

- HoopSpeak's Beckley Mason with his thoughts on the difficulties of writing about the Lakers- an excellent read.

- From Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie, Kelly Dwyer dishes out a pragmatic assessment of the future for Brandon Roy and the Blazers.

- Stop-n-Pop sums up the frustration of Timberwolves' fans, following Monday's loss at Boston.

- J-Rich-for-VC a like-for-like trade? Not so much, say Seth Pollack of Bright Side of the Sun.

- It's been quoted on the web, but here's the entire Philadelphia Magazine piece on Allen Iverson in Turkey.

Because We Must Never Forget...

It recently dawned on me that in these, the opening days of a new year in the second decade of the 21st century, there is an entire generation of NBA fans that has grown up without knowledge of the legendary exploits of Keith Closs.

Who is Keith Closs?

Well... he's a 7'3" center that played two years of college ball at Central Connecticut State University, leading the NCAA in blocked shots both years. With 317 blocks in 54 games, Closs' ridiculous average of 5.87 bpg is still an NCAA record.

After starting his professional career with the CBA's Yakima Sun Kings, in the summer of 1997, Closs signed as a rookie free agent with the Los Angeles Clippers, with whom he spent three seasons. The best of these was this powerhouse unit's 17-65 campaign. In 130 NBA games, Closs averaged 3.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 1.3 bpg (to be fair, his numbers "per 36 minutes" were actually not bad: 11 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.6 bpg) before he was waived in May 2001.

Following his NBA stint, Closs played in the USBL, returned to the CBA and played in the ABA (not the cool one with Dr. J, David Thompson and George Gervin), before being selected with the 11th pick in the 5th round of the 2007 NBA Development League draft by the Tulsa 66ers.

After one season in the D-League, Closs signed with the Chinese league's Yunnan Bulls, with whom he averaged 16.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg and 5.9 bpg in his first season.

But what made Keith Closs special was the little things. Closs did the things that don't show up in the box score...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Yao Ming Can Help The Rockets When They Need It Most

I'm all for hope and optimism in the face of tragic (in the context of sports) adversity, but sometimes it makes more sense to be coldly pragmatic. For the Houston Rockets’ front office, this is one of those times. In the aftermath of Yao Ming’s most recent season-ending injury, it's pretty clear that his time as a productive, full-time NBA player has all but come to an end. Thanks to a variety of severe foot and leg injuries, Yao’s played more than 57 games just once in the past six seasons- and has now lost the entirety of each of the last two (the five games he played this year don’t really count).

It’s a difficult realization, and a heartbreaking end for a hardworking and supremely talented, but unfortunately snake-bitten, player with the only NBA team he’s ever known.

However, as tends to be the case in big business, matters of human interest must be placed on the back burner. Despite being unable to take the floor again this season, Yao remains one of the NBA’s most valuable financial assets. According to recent reports, GM Daryl Morey is looking into trading Yao, whose expiring contract brings with it $17.7M in salary cap relief and $8M in insurance savings at season’s end, and could return some quality pieces.

After stumbling to a 3-10 start, the Rockets appear to have righted the ship are on the ascendancy in the Western Conference. They’ve won 13 of their last 20 games and sit just a game and a half out of a playoff spot and 3.5 out of 6th place in the West- despite having gotten a total of just 90 minutes out of 23.7% of their 2010-11 payroll.

It's important to realize that the Rockets have managed to get back into the playoff hunt by taking advantage of a soft patch in their schedule. Of the seven loss they’ve suffered in their last 20 games, five (at home to Miami, and on the road to Dallas, Chicago, OKC and Portland) have come against quality opposition, while the same can only be said of four of their 13 wins (home wins over OKC and the Lakers, and a pair of 16-point wins over the Grizzlies) over that period.

The Rockets are about to embark upon the most brutal stretch on their schedule- over the next two weeks (beginning tonight at 9:00 PM Eastern), they will play at Denver, host Portland, go to Orlando, host Utah, go to Boston, host OKC and the Hornets, and travel to Atlanta. Yikes! If the top-shelf competition doesn’t kill you, that brutal travel schedule might. And while the schedule does ease up a (tiny) bit in mid-January, the Rockets still have to host the Magic on the 22nd and kick off a four-game-in-seven-night trip to Dallas, San Antonio, L.A. (to play the Lakers) and Utah, beginning on January 27.

The Rockets have done an excellent job of banding together in the aftermath of Yao’s injury, playing solid ball and beating less-talented teams. Heading into what promises to be a hellish month, if the Rockets plan to continue their ascent in the West- not a crazy notion given the Blazers’ (1.5 games ahead) injury woes, the Hornets’ (3.5 ahead) lackluster play after a strong start and the likelihood that the Nuggets (3.5 ahead) will be in rebuilding mode by late February- they’re going to have to get something out of their near-$18 million investment. The team’s needs are clear- defense and another big body on the inside. The time has come to trade Yao Ming and build a team around the guys that are actually on the floor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

20 Questions From The Association - No Place Like Home After The Holidays

Is it just me, or…

Does (potentially) a #4 seed in the first round of the playoffs seems like an awfully crappy prize for a Mavericks team that, thus far, has won 75% of its games?

Do I owe Chris Bosh a bit of an apology?

More than any team in the NBA, are the Lakers capable of making the game of basketball seem both absurdly easy and absurdly difficult in a 10-minute span?

Does it seem like “immature” Gilbert Arenas may actually reinvent himself as a deferential playmaker alongside Dwight Howard? (this one may just be me)

With Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Martell Webster and Wes Johnson (quietly the second best 2010 lottery pick) waiting to catch his passes, should Ricky Rubio be fairly eager to join the Minnesota Timberwolves?

Is John Wall almost as spectacular getting down the floor as Blake Griffin is rising above it?

As much as any player in the NBA- Blake included- has Derrick Rose reached “appointment viewing” status?

Is it amazing that- at 5’5”- 135 out of Eastern Michigan University- Earl Boykins is midway through his 12th NBA season and a lock for 6,000+ points and 2,000+ assists?

Might Richard Hamilton- a 12th year guy with close to 15,000 career points, a championship ring and $73+ million in earnings, with $25.3 million more to come over the next two years- want to conduct himself with a little bit more professionalism?

Does the idea of trading Andrew Bynum (and his $15.2 million contract, which expires in the summer of 2012) seem like a good one… until he catches an alley-oop 2 feet above the rim?

Should the Nets be far more willing to deal Devin Harris and/or Brook Lopez than Derrick Favors?

Do both Carmelo Anthony (“I’ll go to New Jersey if they get another All-Star.” Huh?) and the Nuggets (Five 1st-rounders and more? Get a grip!) need to reassess their respective expectations for a potential deal?

Does someone need to remind Vince Carter that he’s playing for a new contract?

Would it be cool if two of the greatest buzzer-beaters of the past half-decade (one; and the other) happened in games that people were actually watching?

Might the Washington Wizards regret committing to Andray Blatche through 2014-15?

Is Dwight Howard clearly the NBA’s second best 20-12 guy?

Is it patently absurd that the 11-22 Detroit Pistons are just three games out of a playoff spot, and just four back of the #7 seed in the East?

Given all that’s been demanded of him, is Marcus Camby (11.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg) deserving of an All-Star selection?

Having won 11 of their last 15 games to reach .500 (16-16) and sitting just 3.5 games out of 6th place in the West- with Yao’s $17+ million expiring deal as a trade chip- are the Rockets potentially one of the NBA’s scarier second half teams?

Does watching Steve Nash desperately try to keep the Phoenix Suns together make you hate Robert Sarver more by the minute?