Monthly Archives: January 2012

Setting of a Sun

Steve Nash sidelined with a bruised thigh against the Dallas Mavericks January 30, 2012.

On March 29, 2010, the Lakers defeated the Suns 111-103 in game six of the Western Conference Finals.  The loss marked the end of another disappointing season for Phoenix.

It was an unlikely journey to the conference finals for the Suns after they had defeated Portland in the first round (4-2) and completely swept San Antonio in the conference quarterfinals.

However, despite how recent that playoff run was, it may seem very far away to Steve Nash and it should.  He takes the court now with only a few players left from the D’Antoni era of seven seconds or less.  Meanwhile, Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd and rookie Markief Morris are sitting in the seats that once cradled the talents of Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Raja Bell, Kurt Thomas, Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa.

Since that loss in the Western Conference Finals, Steve Kerr resigned probably out of embarrassment over the Shaq deal and they dumped $80 million into Hedo TürkoğluJosh Childress and Hakim Warrick to replace Stoudemire. On December 19, 2010, the Suns acquired Vince CarterMickaël Piétrus, and Marcin Gortat from the Orlando Magic, along with a low draft pick and cash considerations. For this acquisition, the Suns traded Jason RichardsonEarl Clark, and the recently acquired Türkoğlu. On February 24, 2011 the Suns acquired Point guard Aaron Brooks(Currently playing in China), trading first round (Lottery Protected) draft pick and Point guard Goran Dragić to the Houston Rockets.

Only three of the players mentioned above still play for the Suns.

Enter the rebuilding phase for the once most dangerous offense in the league and a tough decision concerning the face of the franchise…

What the hell to do with Nash?

At seasons end, Steve’s contract ends with the Suns who have supposedly received several offers from other teams in the league for the 37-year-old point guard.  None of them have impressed owner Robert Sarver who fully plans on throwing a two-year deal at Nash in order to retain him for one last “run.”

Sarver has stated: “”I don’t know that I can sit there for four years and watch a terrible team play.”

Team demolition isn’t on the owner’s mind just yet.

If they use the amnesty clause on Childress, they should have $33 million in cap space.  Primetime free agents Dwight Howard and Deron Williams are most certainly not looking to play out in the desert, which leaves them with only Nash worth throwing a max deal at.  This will free up money for them to pursue players such as O.J. Mayo or Nicolas Batum both of which won’t turn this team around.

But what about Nash?  What does he want?

TV analyst and former player Chris Webber made his opinion known on NBA TV just over a year ago:

“I’m getting a ‘Free Nash’ T-shirt. You know how when people go to jail, you get a ‘Free Tyson’ T-shirt? A ‘Free Nash’ T-shirt, because I want him out of Phoenix. He has 15 points, seven assists — he cannot do any more than what he’s doing. He’s a hard worker, he plays hard. Free Steve Nash.”

Since, a #FreeSteveNash movement has formed and the point guard himself, has kept him mouth shut.  He’s on the verge of becoming the team’s all-time assists leader here soon but his future does not need to be in Phoenix.

Some use the word “ring chaser” but this falls more in line with “self-respect” chaser since the Suns lost theirs a while back.  The rotation of crap players through the Suns’ locker room clearly shows that this franchise is clawing at relevance in a Western Conference that has done nothing but grown stronger.  Depending on where Dwight and Deron end up, the West could be getting even more powerful.

A desperation deal for 2 years, $8 million to Nash isn’t enough to have him close his eyes as Sarver continues to bring in less-than-stellar talent to Phoenix.  Instead, Nash needs to look elsewhere for a deal.

Lakers: they would be willing to spend the money for a new point guard.  It’s yet to be determined if the money is there but they would spend it.  Kobe Bryant knows that his window is closing for another ring and Nash could help them squeeze one last championship out.

Mavericks: a reuniting of Nash and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas would spell championship.  The team did free up some cash by not throwing a max offer at Tyson Chandler and it would be easy to fit him into the lineup by rotating Jason Kidd to shooting guard.  What about Roddy Beaubois?  It’s yet to be determined if the guard can stay healthy.

Knicks: no question: New York would spend the cash and do anything in order to get a veteran point guard on their roster.  Ball movement is a big problem in NYC with a group of players that just can’t seem to create their own shots and get the ball to each other.  Also, I’m sure Nash wouldn’t mind playing for D’Antoni again.

As this tortuous season continues for the Suns that will most certainly be an irrelevant team once the postseason begins, Nash needs to sit back and consider his options.  Continue to be the face of an ailing franchise or take his talents where they will be fully used for a title run.

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Kendrick Perkins, Welcome to Blake Griffin’s Poster

Contributor Travis Huse and I discuss the merits, historical connections, and effects of Blake Griffin‘s monstrous dunk on Kendrick Perkins last night.

Doyle Rader:  Last night, Blake Griffin threw down the dunk of the year and Kendrick Perkins became the vice president of the Timofey Mozgov Get-Thunderously-Dunked-on-by-Griffin Association. That dunk was sheer power. LeBron James‘ dunk over John Lucas was all fine and dandy but it was John Lucas. Griffin destroyed Perkins. The Thunder brought him in to be a defensive presence in the paint but there is little he can do when the Blake Show has its eyes set on the rim. Not only did Griffin demoralize the Thunder but the Clippers beat the “vaunted” Thunder.

Travis Huse:  Payton-Kemp, Stockton-Malone, those are the names that play conjures up.  The feed from Chris Paul was absolutely perfect, and I’m excited to see how defenses try to prevent the Clips from even attempting side pick and rolls.  I would like to give Kendrick Perkins some credit, though, for even trying to put his body in there.  The Thunder were down 19 on the road, in a regular season game, but Perkins aimed for the contact.  I can’t see any other center in the league who would risk the embarrassment, but Perk didn’t seem very fazed in his post-game interview.  As basketball junkies, there’s nothing better than mid-air collision combat, and this was prime beef, to say the least.

DR:  I believe that Perkins said “It happens” when he was asked about being dunked on. So, on the surface he took it in stride but c’mon, his pride has to have taken just a little hit, everyone’s would. Yes, it was commendable that Perk sacrificed his body to end up on a poster but the end result was just making the play more spectacular. Scaling a grown man is damn impressive. But back to what he said, “It happens.” That is possibly the best way to describe Griffin’s play and effect on the league. It happens and it is happening more and more. He might not have the most refined post game or is a lock down defender but Griffin plays beyond himself and above the ground. Add Paul to the mix and one can only expect more show-stopping dunks.

TH:  The moral of this story is that if you give Blake Griffin 10 feet to gain speed, he’ll plow through you every time, no matter who you are.  He knows he can dunk on anyone, so even if defenses leave him wide open, he’ll still take it to the rim.  No one in the league can truly match up with him, and he plays more like Josh Hamilton as a blitzing linebacker than any active NBA player, he truly looks the most comfortable when he’s unleashing his power.  Killdozer.

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LeBron James leaps over John Lucas for alley-oop dunk

So this is where John Lucas became, in the words of Jeff Van Gundy, a “step-ladder” for LeBron James. Simply, wow. But, hey, at least Lucas knows he will be on Sports Center tonight.

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Wiz Flip Out

McGee and Blatche, giving their best Thizz faces.

With Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that the Washington Wizards have fired head coach Flip Saunders, the team appears to be headed towards a major rebuilding commitment.  While owner Ted Leonsis has attempted to improve the Wiz by small movements, it is very apparent that this team cannot be a playoff caliber team (or anything close) with the selfish trio of Andray Blatche, Nick Young, and JaVale McGee.  All three of these players are athletic and young, so it stands to reason that other teams would have desire in the raw talent in the hopes of maybe turning around their bad tendencies.

Andray Blatche

Blatche is never going to be a defensive presence, but there is something terribly off about his shot selection this season.  His FG% is down from .445 last season to .380 this year, and while he’s received the brunt of the Wizards’ ridicule, he has actually been taking 3 less shots per game than he did last year.

Could work for:

Phoenix Suns

The Suns took a huge offensive step back when they lost Amar’e Stoudemire.  Since then, their big man game has been weakened as well.  Robin Lopez has been unimpressive, and a creative trade might be an easy way of getting rid of their Josh Childress contract.

Miami Heat

I know how it sounds, but Erik Spoelstra is one of the few coaches who might be able to make Blatche an acceptable help defender.  He has the athleticism to defend, maybe putting him in a position where his offense is superfluous would be good for him.

Nick Young

Young is a prime example of how Gilbert Arenas was poisonous to this team’s mindset.  He’s wonderful with the ball in his hands, but he is cocky, selfish, and when needed to facilitate the rest of his teammates, finds himself unable or unwilling to help.

Could work for:

Dallas Mavericks

While Lamar Odom is a spectacular player, he hasn’t been playing well at all for the Mavs.  Eventually, he will be able to be his old self, a cannonball that few can match up well with, but as of now, this team could use him in order to produce in the same capacity that they employed Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson last season.

Chicago Bulls

Now, Young already plays with an excellent young point guard, but there is no chance that Young could be able to lead the Bulls in scoring like he did last year with Washington.  This could help Young to develop a little sense of humility with a team that’s not known to pander to its players.  Discipline, discipline, discipline.  Also, the Bulls are watching Luol Deng’s injury very closely, and might need some extra scoring to maintain their record.

JaVale McGee

If I were a betting man, I would say that McGee is the most likely to remain with the Wizards.  He’s more driven than the other stooges, he’s liked by fans (on occasion), and if the league ever allows double-dunking in games, he has a significant lead on all other players.  Not saying it’s going to happen, but Leonsis is a “forward-thinking” owner, you know.  However, with the right training and mental preparation, McGee could be a mixture of Pau Gasol and Ralph Sampson, long and lean, with great hands.

Could work for:

Minnesota Timberwolves

This team has some promise, but they’ve got to trim some fat first.  If the Wolves could find a way to pair McGee with Kevin Love, Love’s work ethic could rub off, and a starting five including Ricky Rubio, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, McGee, and Love would be rather imposing when they hit their primes.

Milwaukee Bucks

While the Bucks already have a few players of his size, they are also ranked 25th in the league in rebounds and 24th in blocks.  McGee could add something to this anemic offense, and further lock down the paint.

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James Johnson’s Defense leads the Raptors

Johnson's defensive numbers are impressive

Defense, for as much as it is touted, is a rather intangible element in basketball. Aside from a block that sails into the crowd or a steal, defense rarely shows up in highlights. Those are the visible results of defense. The rest is a form of the mundane for the casual observer: footwork, ball-hawking, boxing out, quick hands, help-side defense, anticipation, and body positioning. Offense is the flashy part of the game. That is where the highlights are made. Every player on the court plays defense, and just like offense, some are far better at it than others. However, good defenders are often overlooked in the NBA by casual observers because their contributions to the game cannot be neatly calculated in a box score.

In Toronto, James Johnson is an unsung defensive hero. Offensively he leaves much to be desired, except during a brief stint in the D-League, but that is not where he makes an impact on the game. His skills are finely honed in on defense above all else. He is doing everything he needs to, other than scoring, to keep himself in the rotation and Dwane Casey clearly approves. Through 13 games, Johnson has played approximately a third of the number of minutes he played all of last season with the Chicago Bulls and Raptors. Casey wants him in the game.

Johnson’s per game numbers are not terribly impressive, however, on a per 36 minutes basis they garner plenty of attention. Per 36 minutes he is averaging 5.3 defensive rebounds, two steals, and 2.4 blocks. These are some of the better numbers in the league for a perimeter forward. Johnson is tied for 13th in the league for total blocks and 15th for blocks per game at 1.5. It is not just his averages that are good, his percentage of defensive plays are good as well. While on the floor he grabs 16.4 percent of the available defensive rebounds, steals the ball on 2.9 percent of possessions, and has a block in 5.7 percent of the time which is good for seventh in the league. Both his steal and block percentages are the best on the team. When added together, Johnson creates a positive defensive play for the Raptors 25 percent of the time he is on the floor. These numbers translate into the best defensive rating on the team with a 97.

Despite those impressive numbers, Johnson is far from a perfect defender. He has trouble fighting through screens in order to keep pace with his man. This has the effect of him occasionally drifting through a play rather than trying to fight through the screen. However, when he does maneuver through a screen he has the ability to keep his body in front of the offensive player. Drifting also becomes an issue when the man Johnson is guarding is not in possession of the ball. In these situations, he has a tendency to watch the ball and hedge towards it rather than sticking with his assignment. This has the result of Johnson being forced to close out, when the ball is swung around to his man, over a longer distance than necessary.

Is it time to start placing Johnson in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion? That is probably premature. Yet, credit must be given where it is due. Under the tutelage of Casey, the Raptors are a much improved defensive squad. Last season they were dead last in the league in defensive rating. This season they are ranked 17th and Johnson is at the forefront of that defensive improvement. He will not contribute offensively for the Raptors, but as long as Johnson shows a commitment on the defensive end and a willingness to learn and improve, Casey will find minutes for the third year player. He might not be getting much attention for his defense now but if his play continues, it will be hard to ignore his contributions.

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Team USA Finalists Announced

Repeat?

Earlier today the 20 finalists for Team USA were announced. These players will compete for a chance to represent the United States at the Summer Olympics in London. Here is the list:

Guards:

Deron Williams

Chris Paul

Russell Westbrook

Chauncey Billups

Derrick Rose

Kobe Bryant

Eric Gordon

Dwyane Wade

Forwards:

LeBron James

Andre Iguodala

Rudy Gay

Kevin Durant

Carmelo Anthony

Kevin Love

Blake Griffin

Lamar Odom

LaMarcus Aldridge

Chris Bosh

Centers:

Tyson Chandler

Dwight Howard

The vast majority of these players have played for Team USA before. Only Griffin and Aldridge have not suited up in the red, white, and blue.  What will be interesting to see is how these players fare after a brutally compacted season. If anything, the final 12 players selected to play in the Olympics might come down to a matter of health above all else.

From this list of 20 there are clear shoe-ins, most of whom played on the Redeem Team in Beijing. Paul, Rose, Bryant, and Wade are the top guards in the group. Bryant expressed his interest in returning to play for Team USA long ago and Wade has stated that this will be his last run as member of the squad. However, Wade’s future with the national team is up in the air presently as he is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.

As for the forwards, where Team USA is loaded, James, Anthony, Durant, and potentially Love or Bosh will be the main candidates to make the final roster. Bosh is playing exceptionally well this season but his ability to be multidimensional will come into question if he is to make the cut. If head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s philosophy remains the same, Howard will be the only center who makes the final cut. Under Coach K, the national team has become a model of hybridization. 2010’s gold metal team at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey was a pure experiment and subsequently a benchmark for teams composed of hybrid, multi-positional players. That team started Odom at center over Chandler and it worked.

With that in mind, and assuming that none of the “shoe-in” players listed above have health setbacks, there are still three positions left to make the full 12-man roster. Williams, Iguodala, and Aldridge would be, in my opinion, the best choices to round out the squad. Aldridge, because of his size and shooting ability, would serve the team nicely as a power forward/center. Iguodala, who shined in Turkey, should be included for his defense which will lead to transition offense for the team. Williams is easily the most replaceable player that I have mentioned who has a chance at making the roster. It might be wise to go with another rangy, multi-positional forward instead like Gay or even Odom, who can play three positions on the team not including point forward.

Whatever the final makeup of the roster, health allowing, Team USA will be heavy favorites this summer in London. Hopefully, they have another catchy nickname and congeal as a team. I wonder if Bryant will be spotted in the stands at the beach volleyball tournament this time. Let’s hope so.

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Kobe Bryant continues to Burn Bright

Still hungry after all these years

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” the youth-centric Neil Young quote goes. The line from “Hey Hey, My My” became a mantra for those who felt that their lives were more important in their youth, when they were fully engaged and vibrant rather than seeing themselves age and grow increasingly irrelevant. Yet, with age, there are some that disprove if not completely smash this perceived notion of the young. Kobe Bryant is one of these people.

The Lakers were considered shaky at best as the season began. There were new faces and plenty of lingering injuries. As with all things Lakers, the biggest questions surround Bryant. During the lockout, he traveled to Germany to undergo experimental procedures on his left ankle and right knee. His right knee was the focus of much attention last season as Bryant had to have it drained to reduce swelling on multiple occasions. Then, as the current season began it was discovered that he was playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist. Bryant shoots right-handed.

It was understandable, considering the list of injuries combined with age, and going through a divorce, that some began speaking about  Bryant in the past tense. He has had a remarkable career. No one can take away his accolades and accomplishments. He was a high school kid from Philadelphia who came into the league and was immediately cast under the specter of Michael Jordan. He survived. Bryant casts his own shadow now entirely independent of Jordan’s. Perhaps this is the season that he would fade away.

To imagine that outcome is farcical. This is Kobe Bryant, the most competitive and self motivated player in the game today. Despite his quest for perfection, he is  a flawed individual, like anyone, yet no one is more intense and focused than Bryant. Not for a moment did he think he could not compete at the level he is accustomed to. If anything, the doubters fueled his fire.

The past three games, against the Suns, Jazz, and Cavaliers, showcased Bryant’s desire to steal the league and the headlines from everyone. He scored 48, 40, and 42 points respectively in those contests while shooting a combined 50.5 percent from the floor. By doing so, Bryant is now the oldest player, 33 years old, in NBA history to have three consecutive 40 point games. The most impressive game might be the one against Phoenix where none of his 48 points came from behind the three-point arc. And lest we forget, he did this all with a torn ligament in his right shooting wrist. So much for fading away.

Bryant leads the league in scoring with 406 points and a per game average of 31.2. He also leads the league in usage percentage at 40.1 and why not? Mike Brown has said that he wants Bryant to shoot the ball and he is happy to oblige his head coach. It is no wonder, even with Lob City sharing the same building, that fans flock to Staples Center and religiously chant “M-V-P” for Bryant. With the season he is putting together, it looks as though he is gunning for that award again.

Kobe Bryant will not burn out, nor will he fade away. He exists beyond that. It would be unfair to make judgements about whether he is a better player now than he was in his youth. They are two separate entities with two completely different styles of play. His mind, however, is as sharp and as focused as it may have ever been short of the NBA Finals. With Bryant there cannot be absolutes surrounding the waning years of his career. For now, he is here to stay and amaze the fans that watch him while also enduring a level of worship and vilification that few have. When Bryant eventually leaves the game, he will not be forgotten. Right now, he is reminding us of why that is.

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