Monday, May 25, 2009
Before delving too deep, I have to concede that the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement is a very complex and confusing agreement, and the rules for trades and free agent signings are not easy to understand. In fact, it would be beyond disingenuous for me to hold myself out as an expert on these issues, and it is almost an absolute certainty that I've overlooked some obvious possibilities in my analysis. That, of course, isn't going to stop me from chiming in.
Let me start with a question. Have you ever traveled to Vegas with your boys, gotten off the plane, waited in the cab line for an hour, spent another hour checking into your room, and then raced down to the casino floor with a wad of cash in hand and visions of wealth in your head? Sure you have. We've all been there before, and we all know that unique excitement we feel when we walk into the blackjack pit for the first time. Unfortunately, however, we all also know how it feels when we hit the pit only to realize that there are no open spots at the table we want to play. You were seconds away from completing the cross country journey, sitting down, ordering your first Jack and Diet, and placing your first $25 bet. Now, however, since there are no seats at the $25 tables, you have three choices: 1) You can go kill some time at the craps table and patiently wait for a spot to open up; 2) You can try to convince one of your buddies to walk to another casino with you in search of a $25 table (this is only an option if you aren't staying at the Palms or Hard Rock); or 3) You can decide not to delay your gratification and somehow justify to yourself sitting down at the $100 table. If you've ever been in this situation and you've chosen option #3, you will understand when I say that you NEVER sit down at the $100 table just for the sake of placing a bet.
Now, you are probably asking yourself, "what the hell does any of this have to do with the Hawks?" Fair question. The answer is that, for the Hawks, this off-season looks and feels an awful lot like a full blackjack pit. In other words, we would all undoubtedly love nothing more than to run out this off-season with our wad of cash (counting our first round pick, the Hawks have only about $43 million in committed salary for next year with the cap likely to come in around $57 million and the luxury tax trigger likely to come in around $71 million) and make a big free agent signing or orchestrate a blockbuster trade that will vault us from a nice 4-seed to a legitimate contender along with Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando. This urge is completely understandable. The past two years, we have tasted a measure of playoff success, and now we want more. Unfortunately, however, we've walked right into probably the worst free agent class of the decade, which is full of potentially disastrous decisions. So, it's my belief that, much like the guy walking into the full blackjack pit, Rick Sund would be very wise to exercise some patience, go play a little craps, and wait it out until a spot opens up. Fortunately for Sund, his spot would open up in the 2010 free agent class, which, in complete contrast to this year's class, may be the best free agent class we've ever seen. Since most of you are aware of all the big names in the class of 2010, I won't bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say, however, that the class of '10 doesn't begin and end with Lebron and D. Wade. For a full listing, click here.
All that being said, just like there is opportunity to make a few dollars at the craps table while waiting for your blackjack seat, there is opportunity for the Hawks to better themselves this summer. I, however, don't think it's realistic to think that there are any free agent moves out there that will immediately vault us to the next level, and, with one wild and far fetched exception, I don't see any trades that will do the trick. In fact, I can only craft a single trade that made any sense for the Hawks that also remotely made sense for the other trading party that would make the Hawks markedly better. And, even this trade, doesn't really make sense for the other party and requires you to make some big concessions and assumptions. Let me explain.
If you are willing to concede that Al Horford is never going to give us more than we've already seen, and if you are willing to concede that we've seen the best of Joe Johnson (two concessions I'm not sure I'm willing to make), then you might consider offering Al, Joe, and Acie Law to New Orleans for Chris Paul, David West, and Julian Wright. Now, you are probably asking yourself, "why would New Orleans even let you finish making this offer before they hung up the phone?" Well, if you believe what you hear and read, the Hornets are in dire financial straights and will have no choice but to dump salary wherever they can this off-season. And, you have to imagine that a salary dump will inevitably lead to Chris Paul consulting with Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury on the best way to escape a sinking ship of a franchise. So, if New Orleans is completely honest with itself and recognizes that its window with Paul has already closed before it even opened, they should jump at the chance to unload the $24.9 million they've committed to West through the '11-'12 season and the $63.7 million they've committed to Paul through the '12-'13 season for $21.5 million of Joe, Al, and Acie that all come off the books after next year. Right? Even better for New Orleans is that if Al takes the leap, they can exercise a team option in '10 and keep him for only $5 million. Honestly, when I started typing this, I actually thought this would be a horrendous deal for the Hornets, but the more I type, the more I am talking myself into this. Again, if New Orleans was honest with themselves, this deal makes a lot of sense. But, it's never going to happen. Why? Well, no matter how dire it's financial situation is, the one thing New Orleans can sell its fan base on is Paul. When you have a special player like CP3, you are going to put butts in the seat on that alone, not to mention that you can still convince your fans that you are trying to win, even if you aren't. If the Hornets trade Paul, they will have 2,000 fans/game next year, and they might as well pull the moving truck up to the front door. And, there isn't a deal the Hawks could put together that would allow the Hornets to unload Tyson Chandler's deal, and the Hornets aren't going to make a deal unless they can rid themselves of that contract. Oh, and for the record, if I was Rick Sund, and if this deal were actually possible, not only would I do it in a heart beat, I would help Joe and Al pack. And yes, I love Joe and Al, but it's just business, baby.
Okay, so with the unlikely blockbuster trade discussion out of the way, in a nutshell, if I were Rick Sund, here's what I would do while I was waiting for the blackjack table to open up:
1) I'm a big Mike Bibby fan, but he made $15 million this past season. He will undoubtedly sign for less, but how much less? $10 million? $8 million? Frankly, it doesn't matter to me. The first thing I'm doing is signing Jarret Jack to an offer sheet at the qualifying amount of $2.9 million. With T.J. Ford on the books at $8.5 million through '11, are the Pacers going to match? I just don't see it. Then, I take some cash, and I take a real gamble. Specifically, I give Stephon Marbury a chance to redeem his career. Sure, he was a disaster in New York and Boston, but he's a 32 year old former all star that has averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 assists/game in less than 900 total games. The real question here is not whether Steph is worth taking a risk on, it's how much will it cost us? Well, the league minimum for a guy with 10+ years is $1.352 million/year. I simply can't imagine anybody paying Steph more than twice that amount. Plus, he has strong ties here in Atlanta, so it's a natural fit for him. So, at the end of the day, you can have two Georgia Tech point guards for around $6 million. And, at least in theory, you have two guys that can attack the rim, draw defenders away from and create open looks for Joe, while also creating easier offensive opportunities for Al.
2) We have to re-sign ZaZa. We need his size and intangibles, and he is cheap. This is a no brainer. If you look at the big men on the free agent market, you will understand. Then again, you can grab Rad Nesterovic or Adonal Foyle if you want! No? Yeah, I didn't think so.
3) Also, you have to re-sign Flip Murray. If you let Bibby go, you can't afford to lose Flip's shooting ability. Plus, in this economy, Flip isn't going to command an unfair wage.
4) Finally, Marvin is a restricted free agent, and somebody will sign him to an offer sheet at the qualifying amount of $7.355 million. You absolutely have to match this. I'm not even going to argue about this. Marvin has improved every season, and while he will never be Chris Paul (deal with it, Hawks fans!), $7.355 is a fair price for what he brings to the table.
As I conceded up front, there may be deals or signings out there that I'm overlooking, and if so, I would love for you to bring them to my attention. However, given what I see on the free agent market, and given our current roster situation, I think the above plan is a prudent way to attack this off season. If you bring in JJ and Steph, you have a real chance of upgrading the PG position, and you stand pat everywhere else. You win 50 games next year, and most importantly, you position yourself beautifully for the summer of 2010 when you can make a run at a big time free agent and when you have to make a decision on whether to try to keep Joe around for the remainder of his career.
I'm the first one to concede that this isn't an exciting plan, but we will be a lot happier after showing a little patience when we sit down at the $25 table and play all night instead of blowing all our cash in the blink of an eye at the $100 table. Trust me, I've been there.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
7) At the moment I'm writing this, the Lakers are up 8 points at the end of the first quarter in Game 2. When they play with the intensity they came out with tonight, they are tough to beat. When the officials come out and officiate the way they have tonight, the Lakers are impossible to beat. At this point, I know me complaining about NBA officiating is about as original as a young actress leaking a snuff flick so I won't make you endure another rant. Suffice it to say, the Nuggets wouldn't be any worse off if Spike Lee was wearing a whistle.
6) Speaking of Spike, SHAME ON YOU, SPIKE LEE!!!! You are one of the most accomplished, respected, and socially relevant filmmakers of all time. You are the man that brought us "She's Gotta Have It"; "Do the Right Thing"; "Jungle Fever"; "Malcolm X"; "He Got Game"; and "The Original Kings of Comedy", among many other amazing films. In other words, you are one of the all time greats, and you didn't need to make a nauseating 2 hour infomercial for one of the the most unlikeable athletes of all time as part of his relentless campaign to convince the world he is not a bad guy. Nope, you didn't have to do it. But, you did. Then, you showed up court side for Game 1 of the Conference finals, decked out in Laker gear and cheering for the Show like a life long fan. If I were a Knick fan, I would rather see Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis in the back-court next year than see Spike Lee sitting courtside. Everything about this Spike/Kobe relationship infuriates me. I have to move on.
5) I've labored over this decision, but I think K-Mart's lips tattoo edges out Steph's head tattoo for NBA Playoff Tattoo of the Year. On the bright side, I've consulted Paula Abdul and she thinks Steph's tattoo has a real chance to be a star because of its presence, originality, and ability to make every head its own.
4) We just reached the half in the Lakers/Nuggets game. Three observations for the price of one here: 1) Considering the Nuggets could not, let me repeat that in all caps...COULD NOT have played with less effort, and someone on the Lakers actually has to brandish a weapon to draw a foul call, it's not a good sign for the Show that they are only up a point at the break; 2) I really hope we see the replay of Chauncey throwing the ball off Kobe's back on the inbounds pass in Spike's next documentary, "Kobe Getting Worked"; and 3) Kobe's MJ impersonation in the halftime interview was dead on. Great job by him. He always rises to the occasion.
3) Does anyone else love the fact that John Barry calls Mike Wilbon "Wilby"? Not sure why, but that slays me. While we are here, I just have to say how much I love the announcing and studio crews during the conference finals. One night you get Marv, Doug Collins, and the TNT studio crew. Then, the next night you get the Breen, Jackson, Van Gundy triumvirate coupled with JB, Magic, and Wilby in the studio! I mean, does it get any better than that? This is just another reason why the NBA Playoffs are so much fun to watch. The NBA, where amazing announcing happens.
2) Dwight Howard went for 30 and 13 in Game 1 and was sensational. He is now giving a nationally televised interview in a wife beater. It's good to be Dwight Howard.
1) Finally, the Magic deserve all the credit in the world for coming back from a huge halftime deficit, withstanding a relentless onslaught by Lebron, and stealing Game 1. So, here you go Orlando, here's your credit. Now, enjoy the next four games and enjoy your off-season. If any of you think Game 1 is an indication that Lebron is not winning a ring, and based off many emails I received today, you do, you are wrong. Cleveland has only 10 more games to wait until they can finally have the parade they have longed for on the banks of the Cuyahoga. Unless, of course, the EPA forbids that many people from getting anywhere near the Cuyahoga.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
7) I'm not ready to declare baseball dead to me, mainly because I reserve the right to get totally wrapped up in an improbable Braves playoff run, but I'm very close. While Ken Griffey, Jr. was always my favorite non-brave through my childhood and teenage years, Manny Ramirez was undoubtedly my favorite non-Brave of the past 8 years. When I moved to NYC in 2001, I knew two things for certain: 1) I was taking out enough student loans to feed an entire third world country for a significant time; and 2) I hated the Yankees (I can never explain the hatred that arose from the Yanks stealing the Braves' dynasty in the '96 Series). There wasn't much I could do about the first thing, but as for #2, I quickly learned to embrace the Boston Red Sox, as they were my best hope for avoiding the constant and intolerable Yankee bravado that surrounded me. I quickly learned that embracing the Sox, of course, meant embracing Manny.
Since 2001, I have followed Manny as closely as I've followed any baseball player, including any Brave. I've followed his highs and lows. I relished every one of his clutch hits in '04, '07, and his ridiculous closing stretch with the Dodgers last year. I relished every one of his hilarious goofs in left field. I relished his slow jog around the bases after a homerun and his dangerously slow jog after each single. Most of all, I relished the fact that this was a guy that carried himself like a big kid that truly enjoyed playing a kid's game for a living. I mean, put all the off field drama to the side, have you ever seen anybody enjoy hitting a baseball more than Manny? I haven't.
Through it all, I convinced myself that the greatest thing about Manny was that he appeared to love playing so much that he didn't really care about stats, fame, money, or any of the things that would naturally drive guys to use steroids. So, of course, I convinced myself Manny was clean. Well, suffice it to say, for the 1,789,967th time in my life, I was wrong. You know the crazy thing? I really didn't care when Bonds, Clemens, and A-Rod were exposed. I just shrugged it off as something I already knew but just didn't have the proof. With Manny, though, I was crushed. Why? I guess it's because, despite my ever waning interest in baseball, Manny gave me a reason to care about the game of my childhood. Now? I've never been so happy the NBA playoffs stretch deep into the summer and football cranks up shortly thereafter.
6) Has a player ever improved more in a shorter period of time than Glen "Big Baby" Davis has improved over the past two months? I can't think of a single guy. I mean, this guy couldn't get a shot off two months ago, and now he's hitting game winners on the road in the playoffs!!! Good job by Big Baby, and even better job by Doc in building this guy's confidence by sticking with him. These are the things that happen in great organizations.
5) The NBA must get its officiating under control. I could go on for pages pointing out the dubious and inexcusable calls we've seen in less than two rounds of this post season, but all you need to do to get the point is watch the non-call at the end of Saturday's Nuggets/Mavs game. The refs called 61 fouls during the course of the game, but they don't call the most obvious foul of the game? Were these guys running AIG?
4) Once again, can we end the Kobe or Lebron debate once and for all? Lebron is completely un-guardable, he makes his teammates better, and his teammates love him. Kobe, if not properly motivated, can be guarded (see today's 15 point performance), he rarely makes his teammates better these days, and I'll let you draw your own conclusions on whether his teammates like him. And, for all those of you that love to argue how clutch Kobe is, let me remind you that he was dreadful in the '04 Finals against the Pistons, he quit on his team in Game 5 against the Suns in '06, he was dreadful in last year's Finals, and he just threw up 15 points against a team that was playing without their best player, who happens to be a 7'6" monster that stands under the rim. In other words, Spike can make as many joints as he wants about Kobe, but his time to carry the torch as the best player in the League has come and gone, and he never fully grasped it. Lebron, on the other hand, is in the process of putting a death grip on it.
3) What is wrong with Tiger? I mean, he has played in five stroke play events since returning from major knee surgery and only has 1 win and five top 10's. This guy is done! (I really hope the sarcasm is dripping off the page).
2) Is it possible for the Rockets to advance to the Western Conference finals with Chris Rock playing point guard and Anthony Mason cutting Ron Artest's hair?
1) Most importantly of all, is Jack really going to kill Tony this week on "24"? Will he look him in the eye when he does it? If so, this will be the most cold blooded and emotional killing in cinematic history, with the possible exception of Tony suffocating Chris on "The Sopranos". For God's sake, Michael didn't even pull the trigger that killed Fredo. This could be epic television. Don't miss it.
Before signing off, here's a quick update on the WAD's attempt to make use of modern technology:
1) You can join our group on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?sid=3432e724a4f4aa1dad130413dfe84ed5&gid=61570972245&ref=search
2) Yes, I've finally given in, and you can follow the WAD on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AtlantaWAD Don't worry, you won't read anything like "going to the fridge to grab a beer" or "driving to work". I will just be using this to share random thoughts about games as they happen, as well as to let you know when new posts are up in this space. This shoudl be fun, right?
Sunday, May 03, 2009
- In reflecting on Round 1, the natural place to start is with the Bulls and Celtics. As you know, many experts are referring to this as the greatest 7 game series of all time. I don't know if we should go that far, but with 7 OT periods, countless huge shots and clutch plays, more than a handful of controversial ("controversial" is a generous term) calls, and no less than a dozen questionable ("questionable" is beyond generous) coaching decisions, there is no doubt this is a series we won't soon forget. And, when it was all said and done, we learned a few things, including:
1) Derrick Rose is a truly remarkable point guard. But, more importantly, he's not even close to reaching his potential. He definitely has room for improvement. After all, we did see him get a little too careless with the ball in key situations, we saw him defer too often to his teammates in key situations, and we saw him resurrect Ghosts of Memphis past with some shaky clutch free throw shooting in Game 6. But, on the other hand, I'm not sure we've ever seen a point guard not named Isiah or Chris Paul that can get to the rim and finish in traffic like this kid. When you stop and consider that this guy can't even buy a beer yet, all you can do is shake your head and wonder. Assuming he continues to work and improve, I honestly have no idea how good this kid can be. All I do know is that I loved watching him play as a high schooler at the Peach Jam in Augusta; I loved watching him in college at Memphis; I loved watching him this year with the Bulls; and I am beyond excited at the thought of watching him for the next decade. There is a real chance Derrick Rose will become my favorite point guard of all time. Is that a bold statement? Yes. Do I have any reservations about making it? Absolutely not.
2) Dictionary.com defines a black hole as "a theoretical massive object, formed at the beginning of the universe or by the gravitational collapse of a star exploding as a supernova, whose gravitational field is so intense that no electromagnetic radiation can escape." I define it as "Ben Gordon". I know he hit some ridiculous shots and came up big in huge moments, but good grief, this guy is either unwilling or incapable of passing the basketball. It's not a problem as long as he's on fire, but if he's off and you have Derrick Rose on the floor, you have to bench this guy. And, don't get me started on his defense. Even in these economic times, some team will manage to pull together enough cash to wildly over pay Gordon this off season. I just pray its not the Bulls. Having a guy like this on the floor will only hinder Rose's growth, and at the end of the day, a guy like Gordon can win you games, but a guy like Rose can win you championships. I'll just leave it at that.
3) Say what you will about his x's and o's, and I could say a lot, no coach in the NBA gets more effort out of his players than Doc Rivers. When you see sure thing Hall of Famers like Pierce and Jesus selling out on every play the way these guys do, you absolutely have to give at least some of the credit to the guy leading the huddle. Doc Rivers is a leader of men, and it's time to start mentioning his name in the same conversations with Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich.
4) About a year ago, I wrote a column explaining why both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are first ballot hall of famers. If you didn't agree with me at the time, and if you still don't agree with me, watch Games 5, 6, and 7 again and then give me a call.
5) Brad Miller doesn't shoot free throws very well when he's missing a few teeth and has a mouth full of blood.
6) Rajon Rondo has asserted himself as an undisputed star in this league. If you happen to be a University of Kentucky fan, you should feel free to immediately light yourself on fire.
Again, I don't know if this was the greatest 7 game series of all time. I simply haven't taken the time to do the research. But, I do know it was a pleasure to watch every minute of this series. Both these teams left it all on the floor and gave all of us our money's worth. Congratulations to them both.
- I can say with certainty the Hawks and Heat did not play the greatest 7 game series of all time. Considering the average margin of victory for each game was greater than Derrick Rose's age, I don't think I will find anybody that will argue to the contrary. That being said, as a Hawks fan, this was a special series. It's the first playoff series win in a decade for the home team, and as I said above, its the first Game 7 victory in franchise history. More importantly, it's another huge step along the road to redemption for NBA basketball in this great city. The first step was last year's 7 game battle with the eventual champion Celtics, with the climax coming in Game 6 when the home crowd willed the Hawks to victory. Today, the vibe in the arena was much different than it was during that Game 6. Today, the crowd did not will the Hawks to victory. Instead, we cheered, we screamed, we taunted D. Wade, but the victory belongs exclusively to the guys on the hardwood, especially Joe Johnson.
Frankly, had the Hawks not pulled off this series, this season would have been largely viewed as a disappointment and would have likely resulted in a change in the coaching staff. Now, the Hawks have officially built on last season's unexpected success, and they have taken another step towards becoming one of the elite organizations in the Eastern Conference. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, the 2008-2009 Atlanta Hawks' season is a success! And, now, house money in hand, we get to roll the dice in Cleveland and see if we can take another step. Granted, the odds of taking that step are not great, but this year was better than last, and even if we fall to the Cavs, we have something to build on in the offseason. Therefore, no matter what happens in Round 2, we will again roll into the offseason with hope and excitement. When you couple that with the excitement surrounding the Falcons right now; the expectations for Coach Paul Johsnon and the Jackets heading into next season; the excitement surrounding Derrick Favors's looming arrival on the hardwood on the Flats, and the lingering hope that the Braves' starting pitching might keep us in wild card contention, it's a very fun time to be an Atlanta sports fan.
- I know I'm in the minority on this, but I don't think the Spurs' first round exit signals the end of their pseudo dynasty. If Manu comes back healthy next year, and if they are able to judicially monitor Duncan's minutes in the regular season, I think they can re-position themselves to make one more run in the West. You simply cannot ignore the fact that Tony Parker has morphed into a dominating player. They need to go into the offseason and make one or two savvy personnel moves (i.e. not Drew Gooden!!!) to strengthen their outside shooting and toughness off the bench. If they can couple those moves with improved health, there is no reason Tim Duncan can't have his Billy Chapel "one last moment in the sun" moment.
- The Lakers have a serious problem. Specifically, they have worse point guard play than any remaining team in the NBA playoffs. Don't believe me? Well, chew on these numbers: Their two point guards, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown (Can you believe that Jordan Farmar quit the team? What? He's still on the roster?) combined for a whopping 16. 6 points and 4.8 assists/game in Round 1. Now, take a look at the remaining contenders:
Denver - Billups and Carter are averaging a combined 23.2 points and 10.4 assists/game;
Houston - Brooks and Lowry are combining for 21 and 6 a game;
Dallas - Kidd and Barea are combining for 20 points and 10.2 a game;
Orlando - Alston and Johnson are combing for 20 and 7 a game;
Atlanta - Bibby and Murray are combing for 27.3 and 7 a game;
Cleveland - Williams and Gibson are combing for 19.1 and 6 a game; and
Boston - Rondo and Steph are combining for 22.5 and 13.2 a game.
The point? I just don't believe, in this day and age, with the generous perimeter officiating, you can win an NBA championship when you are so clearly inferior at the point guard position. The interesting thing about all this is that the Cavs are actually the best point guard match up for the Lakers, and the Hawks are the worst match up. I, however, hear the Cavs have a guy that might be able to make up for their point guard deficiencies. The Lakers? Not so much. Yeah, I said it!!!