Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quick Reaction to Purdue v. Virginia Tech ACC Challenge

With the game tied at 47 in the second half, VT scored off an offense rebound. Immediately two guys came off the bench to sub in. A few minutes later, with the lead just 1, a VT miss on a break was followed by the trailer for an offense rebound jam, and Purdue immediately called timeout. I like Coach Painter's style: teams absolutely cannot give up offensive boards (see Duke basketball last year), and when they do, they get killed. Way to coach the right fundamentals, even in the game.

NCAA decision on Newton opens Pandora's box - College Football -

NCAA decision on Newton opens Pandora's box - College Football -

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Jazz Defeat the Heat and the Magic. Wait, What!?

You read it right. The Utah Jazz have gone East for the first time this season and knocked off two juggernaut teams in two days. This was the. same Jazz team many left for dead this summer after new of the prolonged absence of Mehmet Okur and the forever absence of Carlos Boozer and Wes Matthews.

So why this resurgence? Well, let me refer you to my theory, that of the dual big man. It is my contention that successful teams are built around two starting level post players. By my definition, a post player is not a center or  even a power forward. A post player is someone who plays in the post. In a day where the stretch four is all the rage, I contend that having two post players is better than having someone that can spread the floor.

World Series Post-View

Great Pitching. That's it. Great pitching beats great hitting. Great pitching wins championships. The Yankees won last year because they were willing to pitch their best on short rest, getting the most out of them. The Giants won this year because throughout their lineup, they have great pitching.

I don't know that there was much the Rangers could do about this one. Obviously, Games 1 and 2 were complete meltdowns, but still, I just don't see their lineup matching up. Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerrero, all basically o-fer against the Giants. Vlad Guerrero was especially atrocious, with terrible defense and a hitting slump that didn't magically rectify itself.

And so congrats to the Giants. They pulled together at the right time. They learned this year to fight through adversity, to play together. And of course, they had great pitching. Is that why they won? You make the call.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The World Series, 2 Games In

This is unbelievable. Even when I came up with my initial analysis, I didn't have the Giants this far ahead on paper. Relative value things can be a bit iffy anyways, but even then, the Giants were just ahead. And if you compared their lineups on paper, I would have taken Texas. (By the way, I believe relative results in the last series is more indicative of future success)

So how do you digest 20 Giants runs in two games, more than their total during a six game series against the Phillies. And its not like the Rangers have gimps for pitches. I know some of the bullpen decisions were questionable (at best), but still, 11 runs one night, 9 runs the other, in the World Series? With a litany of errors? With Josh Hamilton unable to get hits (1 for 8)? I mean, what the heck is going on. Obviously the Giants have taken charge with the opportunities they've been given, they've played professionally, hard, mentally tough. But aren't the Rangers tough? They beat the Yankees off toughness, and now all that's gone? What the heck?

Maybe its the baseball gods. Maybe they're finally rewarding a franchise for suffering through Game 6 against the Angels. Maybe we're finally leaving the shadow of the Bonds era. Maybe Texas will get its due next year. But for all intents and purposes, we don't know why or what is happening now. Right now, it is largely believable that San Francisco can win in 4. I really don't know, so you make the call.

Monday, October 25, 2010

World Series Preview

To start off, I'll admit that I'm a Giants fan. I loved them because of my nonsensical attraction to Bay Area sports, loved them through the good years (Bonds homering off everyone) and the bad years (a wrenching Game 7 WS loss to the Angels after a crushing Game 6, followed by Bonds' steroid farce). But I've loved them, even when their best player was one Jason Schmidt.

So there is not a chance that this column is going to be non-biased. But hey, in the end, I can make my arguments, but you make the calls.

As far as the calls: I'm going to say Giants in 6, and here's why:

  • Hitting the Phillies seems to be more impressive than hitting the Yankees. Sure the Yankees have CC, but the Phillies have Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels. I know that the Giants never dominated their games like the Rangers did, but I think that is more a testament to the Yankees' bullpen than anything (and by testament, I mean condemnation).
  • Calming the Yankees lineup seems to be more impressive that taming the Phillies. Jeter, A-Rod, Tex, Cano, Granderson. But Tex was injured and ineffective. And Victorino, Utley, Werth? I mean, these guys are no slouches. They are (to me) the foxhole guys, guys that find ways to contribute. I know that the Yankees traditionally turn things on in October, but I think a WS hangover and the crumbling confidence down the stretch ultimately took a lot of the bite out of the lineup, making the Rangers wins less impressive.
  • Candlestick park. Read the story on Yahoo! Sports about sending Guerrero to the outfield in order to get him in the lineup. I think the Rangers have to deal more with the whole defensive issue. I know other AL teams have succeeded in the past without their DH, but I think here, it makes things interesting because really, do you want Vlad chasing up that deep fly?
And that's it. I don't know that either team really has an advantage, but in the World Series, I see pitching ruling, and I think the Giants have a little extra. I think the Rangers are going to be well prepared (especially with Molina catching), but when the games get close, you need to have aces.

All in all, this should be fun. I like the history (or non-history, if you will) behind these two teams. I love Lee v. Lincecum. I love this time of year. I want the Giants, but who knows: you make the call.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Harrison v. Meriweather

If James Harrison wants to retire because he doesn't know how to hit, far be it for me to stop him. I don't know what he's all up in arms about. He led with his helmet, made a dangerous play, and the NFL fined him (and should have suspended him). If he wants to walk away because he can't wrap up, cut him loose.

On the flip side, Brandon Meriweather handled this the exactly correct way. He said he was sorry for causing injury, and said that he had spoken to Heap (whereas Harrison goes into games trying to hurt people). He said that it was an instinctive play (it was), and that in the future, he has to be more careful about hitting lower. He accepted his punishment and moved on to the Chargers game. It's kind of funny that the Patriots organization, while not all class-acts, do things professionally, and usually for the benefit of the team on issues where other teams would choose to fall apart. I don't even like the Patriots.

Should Harrison retire? Should he be suspended? You make the call.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on NFL Week 6

So the NFL is finally getting serious about concussions, eh? Good. We'll see if this emphasis on flagging for dangerous behavior works. For all the so-called football "purists," I want to say this: eliminating the helmet to helmet contact brings football back to its roots. Only in the modern era have helmets (especially in the secondary) become such a weapon. And blows to the head in the secondary are happening more and more because of the emphasis on the passing game. Football has changed, and rules need to change with the game. I second Gregg Easterbrook's notion that tacklers should see what they hit. I think that if the do, defenders will find themselves making more tackles due to seeing the offensive player and properly wrap up. You can still hit hard. Ed Reed is a great example of a tough player who hits hard and who I don't think is dirty. He hits people hard in the chest with a full view of what he is hitting--exactly how it should be. Can you be more "pure" than Ed Reed? You make the call.

Twins at Yankees, ALCS Game 3

I had a feeling that not pitching CC was a mistake. In the top of the 7th, it has been. Not because Burnett really stunk, but because he only lasted 5 innings. What that means is that for the last 4 innings, the Yankees have had to rely on their bullpen. And their bullpen sucks. It has since last year, and has tonight. They just can't get through innings 6, 7, and 8, and that is a huge mistake. They need CC available 3 times every series because there simply are not 2 other wins in the rotation. Pettite will get one. But Hughes? An enigma, especially after Game 2. And this guy has never been huge in the post season. So they need CC. You make the call...Girardi has the benefit of every doubt, but still, you make the call.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Xing Li Coaches Fantasy Football: Auction Drafting

Yeah, I know, I'm behind the times. This year was my first year participating in auction drafting for fantasy football. I know that the national sports czar (Bill Simmons) has preached the virtue of the auction for years, but I've been reluctant, mainly because I've been crazy effective at snake drafts. I admit that I was afraid of going away from something that would give me 1-2 titles a year (out of 3 teams).

But I wanted to try it. Just one couldn't hurt. And you know what? I loved it so much, that I drafted 2 more auction teams (2 on ESPN, 2 on Yahoo! Sports). I loved it because I got a team that I fell in love with and could really support my guys. Sometimes in snake drafts, guys luck into players (like CJ) via their draft position, and there is nothing you can do about it. Or maybe I've done my homework on a guy, and think he is a value, but because I can't pick for 21 selections, he's off the board. I can't draft at just the right time, instead needing to find value at my position. And usually I do (which leads to titles), but still, I'm not in love with my guys.

With the auction, all that changed. I am in love with my teams. They are the right guys at the right values. I have full confidence in my homework and that what I am doing is right. So what about my results?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thoughts on NFL Week 4

First, I have to get this off my chest. TJ Ward is an idiot and a dirty player. He should be fined and suspended. Instead, because the league doesn't really care about concussions and because his coach has no decision making power (really, you think Mangini holds the reigns over Holmsgren?), he will get away with little punishment. He even had the brashness to go to the media saying he would do it again. Roger Goodell should see that a raise his suspension from one to three games.

Why this outrage, you ask? In case you didn't see, TJ Ward laid a vicious hit on fellow rookie Jordan Shipley, when he aimed directly for Shipley's head. There is a video of it on YouTube; I have not put it up because the owners of said video apparently thought hitting an unprotected receiver in the head is some form of bravery (they are sick). Anyways, Shipley came out of the game with a concussion, and will miss the next game as well. I hate football players getting injured. There are some legit plays where defensive (or offensive) players play hard, make good hits, and sometimes, those lead to injuries. But when you are playing with malice in your heart, you shed that level of professionalism that entitles you to play the game.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thoughts on MNF, Packers at Bears

This is what a year without Brian Urlacher will do to you. You forget his greatness. I know he's lost some speed, that he doesn't cover the field like he used to. I know that the Green Bay offense line is more sieve-like than anything. I know that the Packers have no running game to speak of. I know the team they played made horrendous, awful penalties. But they won. They won with a great defensive effort and just enough offense to wear one of the NFL's better defenses down. 

In the middle of the second quarter, it was getting iffy. The defense looked like it was wearing down, and the Pack was running just enough to make play-action a great threat. But they held just enough, limiting Green Bay to field goal attempts (1 blocked)  for a good chunk of the game, while their own offense got on track (cue Devin Hester). And that final fumble? Urlacher, whom we haven't seen for a year. Welcome back, Brian.

Thoughts on Weeks 1-3 of the 2010 NFL Season

What is up with the quarterbacks? I don't think I've ever really noticed this before, but there are a LOT of crappy quarterbacks in the NFL. I don't know if it's because of the ever-increasing focus on passing games, greater disparity between great QB's and average ones, or the type of development (or lack thereof) happening in college and in the offseason, but it seems like the numbers of good quarterbacks has shrunk drastically. I mean, there are thee guys I feel I can go a whole season with: Peyton, Brees, Brady. There's another couple I think could win the Superbowl with, namely Rothlisberger (when he returns he should be right back up there), Rodgers, Rivers, Eli (his teams struggles are not really related to him, though he could show more leadership), and Schaub.

After that, there are a couple of guys that can make some noise, Ryan, Favre, Vick, Flacco, Cutler, and McNabb. These guys, I trust with the ball down by 4 with 5 minutes left. Well, maybe not Favre, but the dude is a warrior and he receivers through the first two weeks have been atrocious. Sure, some of the picks have been bad, but when your receivers can't fight for balls, you will throw bad picks. Beyond that group the QB's get worse and worse. Sure Romo, puts up gaudy fantasy stats but he doesn't win, and this jury is pretty convinced about his future winning potential. Ditto to Orton (I was admittedly high on Orton at the beginning of the season, but now, I can't wait for Tebow to be ready, though deep down, I know they should keep Tim on the pine until next season). There are a few young guys that can grow, like Stafford, Bradford, Kolb, Young, but they are all REALLY raw. Take a guy like Stafford, for instance. People love him. Lots of people point to that 5 TD game against Cleveland where he drove the team to a winning score in the waning seconds, while playing hurt. Great, that's a great story. Outside of that? He really hasn't shown much. I'm sorry if I'm being overly critical, especially considering the team situation before he got there, but I am very hesitant to think Stafford is going to make it after one good game. I mean, Young had a pretty good season and still looks like he can't read a defense. I mean, the guy has been in the league for years, and he can't read when defenses disguise coverages? Either that or he loves throwing into double coverage. I can't figure it out. Kolb is another guy who has shown only greatness against sub-par defenses.

Wait, it gets even better. You've got a whole slew of game managers. I love when people say that QB's can manage a game well. What is that supposed to mean? From what I've seen, it means the total inability to make a play other than one to a wide-open receiver. Or in other words, the guy would be great on a college team where the receivers can out-run the corners and you play pitch and catch. Dump passes, screens, passes to the halfback in the flat can only get you so far. And in the modern NFL, that is sub-.500 ball. Guys like Henne, Alex Smith, Garrard, Palmer, Hasselbeck, these guys have either never really grasped an offense, or are past their prime. Their only saving grace is a whole slew of clubs that have absolutely no clue at the game's most important position. I'm thinking of you, Ken Wisenhunt. Everyone loved you when you took a darling Cardinals team to the Super Bowl, but honestly, you couldn't tell in 3 years that Leinart wasn't the answer? You had to wait until the week before the season, where your only remaining option was Derek Anderson, or heaven forbid Max Hall? I mean, have you seen Derek Anderson play? He was so bad the Browns opted not to have him. Not that they're doing any better. I think they will be a weekly -2 on possession after Delhomme throws his requisite interceptions. I shake my head at this. Buffalo, Oakland, Carolina, all seem like they are completely in the dark.

So what do we have? By my count, we have 3 Super Bowl worthy QB's, another 4-5 who can contend, and 4-5 on top of that who have teams good enough to make a run. Which means a good two-thirds of the league either has an untested commodity, or a proven disaster at quarterback. Yahoo! Sports had a recent article blaming the demise of NFL Europe and B-leagues where quarterbacks (like Warner) can develop. I think that's true. But at some points, you have to look at how the league develops its own quarterbacks. I don't know that I have a solution. So I'll let you make the call.

Team Rankings:
1. Green Bay Packers. Great defense, good enough offense, waiting on the running game.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers. Great defense, good enough offense, waiting on Big Ben.
3. Indianapolis Colts. Manning still getting it done.
4. Atlanta Falcons. I don't care about luck, they knocked off the champs.
5. Philadelphia Eagles. Vick is showing a return to form.
6. New York Jets. A good two games following a bad loss. We'll see if it can continue.
7. Baltimore Ravens. Need to get that offense on track. Ray Rice needs to do more.
8. New Orleans Saints. The offense shows it can shuffle playmakers in and out. The defense might not have any.
9. Houston Texans. Still a dangerous team, but that was a bad loss to Dallas.
10. New England Patriots. Still consistently good, I see them moving up in the next few weeks.
11. Chicago Bears. Surprise team so far, Martz has been good to Forte (in my fantasy teams, I rated Forte high because of what Faulk did under Martz). We'll see after they play the Pack.
12. Kansas City Chiefs. They beat patsy teams, but I have to reward 3 straight.
13. Tennessee Titans. The defense is good again, but can Young show consistent effort and leadership?
14. Cincinatti Bengals. Is '09 Palmer anything like '05 Palmer, except in name?
15. Miami Dolphins. What happens when the run game isn't working?
16. Arizona Cardinals. Barely beat Oakland, yet they play in the NFC's worst division, which could yield a playoff spot.
17. Seattle Seahawks. Ditto.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So they beat some crappy teams. No playoff ambitions here.
19. Denver Broncos. Orton can throw for yards, but he needs to throw for scores. They were ugly every time they got in sight of the endzone.
20. San Diego Chargers. Miss Vincent Jackson now?
21. Minnesota Vikings. Need Vincent Jackson now?
22. Washington Redskins. McNabb is an upgrade and their division is weaker than in year's past, but that loss to Saint Louis was ugly.
23. Dallas Cowboys. Romo will never win a Super Bowl.
24. New York Giants. Coughlin needs to get his team back.
25. Oakland Raiders
26. Saint Louis Rams. Bradford showing some promise.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars. Garrard is not.
28. Detroit Lions. They should have won the Chicago game.
29. San Francisco 49ers. Crabtree curse in full effect. Alex Smith needs to improve in a hurry, and playcalling is only part of it.
30. Cleveland Browns. At least they know who their starter is.
31. Buffalo Bills. And they just found out who their starter is.
32. Carolina Panthers. They still have no clue.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Xing Li Coaches Basketball: Floor Spacing

Ok, I'm going to clear some things up. I am not a basketball coach. I am not qualified to play on even a high school basketball team. But I do know how to play basketball. I've watched enough basketball to know what works, even if I'm unable to replicate it. And for you pro's, no, this stuff isn't genius-level, it's mainly for beginning/pickup ball players that want simple things they can work on to get better, immediately.

So I was playing a pickup game the other day, a regular series we have with guys from the apartments where I live. There was one stacked team of close friends (you know what I'm talking about, guys that know where their teammates will be at all times), and my team would do well just to stay close.

But one thing I was consistently struggling with was with spacing. Every time I brought the ball up (I play PG/SG), we had three guys in the lane. Now, in their fairness, they were all in the lane for a reason, namely they're bigger guys who can't really shoot. So they know their limitations (which is huge), and they play where they can be effective.

Problem is, when you have three guys in the lane, you decrease the effectiveness of everyone else on the court. You make it almost impossible to drive and enable the defense to cover three guys with two, letting them double everyone else. I will write more on correct spacing in future issues, but today, we'll start off with this: there should never be more than 2 offensive players in or within one foot of the painted area. If you're one of those guys, even if you can't shoot or make good basketball moves away from the basket, moving out of they key is still the best option for your team.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spain v. Lithuania, Group Play, August 31

What a game. Zach Harper on ESPN's DDL chat was calling this as a better game than Greece/Turkey. After watching it, I don't think any of us can argue. I feel like this game was straight out of the NCAA men's tourney. I mean, this had a college feel. The fans, the atmosphere, the basketball being displayed (hard driving, a lower level of skill than NBA, missed shots, disappearing superstars-Linas Kleiza, anyone?-, tough defense, and sheer grit. And the last-second finish. Great stuff.

Spain, as you may know, had a good lead in the first half, played like the Spain we're used to seeing, got lots of guys involved. Then, somewhere bridging the 3rd and 4th quarters, they fell apart, got tight, and then couldn't get in the game. First, let's give credit to Lithuania. They didn't get much from Kleiza, but guys like Jonas Maciulis and Martynas Pocious really picked it up, getting to the line and getting points when they needed it. Not that Kleiza was invisible: he really kept Lithuania in the game in the first half and in the second, Spain draped Garabajosa all over him and didn't let his defender help at all. The announcer (who was fantastic, I mean, Bill Walton-esque) said that he should have demanded the ball more, and he is right, but Spain really built their defense to stop him. He didn't really help spread the floor, but it is tough in FIBA play when Spain has enough size inside to rotate well on the other 4 guys when Kleiza's defender never leaves his side. So I'll give him a pass because they got the win.

Spain. Oh boy. The first team came out well in the first half. Lots of creative stuff. Even in the 3rd quarter, where they had leads of 18 and 16. And then coach Scariolo took his starters out like he should when he needs to rest his guys. And then the bench (Raul Lopez in particular) proceeded to clog the offense like a toilet, and let Lithuania back in the game piece by piece. And here is where Spain went wrong. Right when you're lead is under 10, you need to think like a college coach, call time, get a couple of your starters back in, and start running good stuff. I'll have to see it again, but it seemed like they were in full-on choke/panic/tight mode. What it seems like to these eyes, is the 2010 Spanish team has a disfunctional soul.

This is the problem: Rubio is a creator. Sure, he's good in the pick-and-roll. But he is a creator that needs a fluid system. Navarro is great isolated at the wing, and in the pick and roll. Gasol is good in the pick-and-roll, as well as in isolation. But the common denominator is the pick and roll. And that's what they ran when the starters came back in. This is the problem: with Lithuania started begging the Spanish perimeter players to shoot over the pick and took away the drive with tremendous help defense, you started seeing a lot of missed layups, guys standing around, not much action besides the pick and roll. So you have a team that wants to create, wants to involve a lot of guys, and only two are in the play. Or you have iso guys that can pass. And that's the other problem. Navarro is kind of Maggette like in that once he's driving, he's gonna shoot. Same with Marc Gasol: he's not the post passer that Pau is. And Rubio isn't a good enough shooter to kind of play off that. He wants to create, but the others are more individual. And when the going got tough, there was no unified strategy they could pursue to get solid points. No KBJ sky hook.

Can Spain get this figured out? Yes. They can get guys moving on the perimeter around the play, maybe gamble and get guys in for offensive boards. But it's harder than it looks, and who knows if they'll be around long enough to try.

The Hightop Fadeaway - A Hoops-Hiphop-NBA Blog, Leandro Barbosa aka The Brazilian Blur breaks...

Fantastic article about Leandro Barbosa:

The Hightop Fadeaway - A Hoops-Hiphop-NBA Blog, Leandro Barbosa aka The Brazilian Blur breaks...

Monday, August 30, 2010

USA v. Brazil Final, Group Play, August 30

Man, we got sloppy in the 4th quarter. Same type of thing that happened in the second quarter against Slovenia, only this time, they had the horses to score and make it extremely close. Even luckily close. Let's look at what happened:

Chauncey Billups. He was terrible in the 4th. I know he scored the layup that got us to 70 points, but overall, it was a disaster. In the 3rd, I was writing on how his veteran presence and moves helped open the floor, but he seemed to sense that and proceeded to chuck up 3's, turn it over, etc. What I think coach K needs to do is play more with Durant/Rose bringing the ball up, allowing us to attack from the get go. I think this will help us bust the zone by initiating the ball differently and will change the pace that we go at.

Turnovers. These were ugly. Some of them, too ugly (see the section on refs). I think a lot of our guys tried to play faster than they should, and some of them tried to dribble through guys. We have had problems with turnovers the last few games, and if it weren't for our defense, this would be a loss. The big knock is that our bench guards, guys with handles (Westbrook, Gordon, Curry) are turning it over. Not good.

The referees. These guys can't ref NBA players. Even NBA refs don't have the skills to ref NBA players. Over the last 3 USA games, there have consistently been bad calls because the refs are not used to the speed these players go at. Most blatant are the travelling issues: I know our guys sometimes raise the pivot foot before the ball is dribbled, and the refs know that, but I think sometimes they preemptively whistle the balls dead 2-3 times a game (especially on KD). I just think our guys are too fast for these refs to watch. Other issues are with block/charge calls, though I can't really complain on this because it is a debated call no matter what league you're in.

Defense: I was actually impressed with our interior defense on Splitter. Of course, if we can't play with him, then Spain/Greece are going to eat us alive, but we showed we can at least play with him. Great defense.

Kevin Durant. Need I say more?

USA v. Brazil 3Q, Group Play, August 30

Chauncey Billups. That's all I can say. He is getting in the paint, getting guys room. He is taking it on the break. He is using veteran moves, not speed, to burn his guy in a game where there isn't much burning. Drawing free throws and getting looks.

Tyson Chandler. Played tough. People (including me) have ragged on him a lot. But he is getting it done on defense, drawing fouls against Splitter, who is sitting with 4 fouls (you can only have 5 in FIBA play).

USA v. Brazil 1st half, Group Play, August 30

Kevin Durant is doing it all. He is keeping us in the game all by himself. All around great, but especially the scoring. Some shots are just ridiculous in terms of difficulty, but he has a knack of making it look easy.

The other guys, not so much. I mean, they're not playing poorly, a lot of our guys are being efficient, but they just can't get any good looks. There isn't a lot of movement with the ball or without the ball, and there are no spot-up open looks.  We need one of our penetrators to get hot and free up the jump/set shooters. We need something to spread their defense out and give our guys room.

Defense has still been good. Tiago Splitter can take us to the paint any time he wants. Brazil is playing very smart against our man-to-man, they haven't turned it over and given us the chance to run.

Second half updates to come.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

USA v. Greece Exhibition, August 25

Russell Westbrook can draw a foul any time he wants.
Kevin Durant is still everywhere.
Our shooters are doing well (outside of Iggy): Billups, Gordon, KD. Adjusting to the international line well.
We might have trouble with screens on the perimeter. We're obviously not showing how we're going to defend it. But these Euro shooters are so good that we have to go over screens and as a by-product, they're able to collapse the defense and get a few good looks.
Our guys know how to run a fast break. It's surprising how many fast breaks are ruined in the NBA.
Coach K knows how to use his guys in a one-game tourney setting. NBA coaches don't understand how to use the whole roster, to get more than 7-8 guys involved to save your key guys. Coach K has gotten everyone in the game.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

USA v. Spain Exhibition, Aug 22

First of all, this was a relatively sloppy game. Sloppy on both sides. Sloppy with TO's, rebounding, defensive sets. With the amount of talent on the USA side and the amount of chemistry that Spain possesses, this could have been much cleaner.

On the other hand, this was a great game. We saw a glimpse of a potential gold medal matchup, we saw what different players could do around each other, and yet, there was enough withheld that when the play is for real, there will be many new things we have not seen.

First, I want to talk starting lineup. I think this is our lineup. I know that some are pining for Rondo, but I think this is our lineup because it combines aggressiveness with wisdom, enough energy to start a game strong, but enough discipline to not get too hot-headed. From the way we see coach K run his teams, he likes players to play through tough moments, and this starting five can do it. Against Spain, Derrick Rose proved he is unstoppable. Sloppy, but unstoppable. And I'm not talking just about the last 2 possessions. He was doing that the whole game. Needs to cut down his turnovers, but I'm glad that Krzyzewski has realized that he is a 2 in this lineup and needs to create for himself.

Which is why I'm glad Chauncey is here. Defensively, he guards the 2, but on offense, he is the point. Good shooting, good passing. What we need. Iggy is the shutdown defender. We put him on their best wing, and let Durant roam. Which saves Durant's legs, letting him kill offensively. And I like Odom, if only for the fact that Chandler is atrocious. I mean, Chandler can't even start for his own NBA team (Brendan Haywood is the projected 5 in Dallas next year). What Odom gives up on defense (Marc Gasol can eat him alive when he wants), he gives you in increased floor spacing on offense. And while no one wants to see him shoot that corner 3 ever again, he is at least a viable mid-range player.

So I like the starting five. And I like Westbrook/Curry being the first guys off the bench. I think we'll miss Rondo (would rather have him than Granger), but Westbrook can play some mean defense and can shoot mid-range. And Curry comes off the bench as instant offense. This guy was on the bubble, and I think he has proven his merits. I mean, he didn't have a great game statistically, but the shots that he made were huge. And when Spain plays for real and puts the zone in, I think he'll be better than Granger/Gordon.

One thing I'm concerned about is Kevin Love's inability to get in the game. He's a great high post, which fits the international game (he doesn't need to be in the key), is a board machine, and is an above-average passer. I just don't know what the coaches see in Chandler. And I know that Rudy Gay has a good all-around game, but I think that Granger is better (we'll see when he fully comes back from injury). Though most of us thought that the coaches were tinkering with the lineup and the actual minutes for the World's will be different than what we saw against Spain, a lot of us thought Rondo would still be around. In 5 days, he went from starter to third string to gone.

Other than that, I think we have a competitive team. It was only an exhibition, but we showed that we can beat Spain, in Spain. We showed we have a guy that you can't stop. And we showed that Kevin Durant can take over any game, quarter, possession, he likes (on offense or on defense). I think we'll be okay: you make the call.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Wash My Hands of These Crazypeople | Hornets Hype

I Wash My Hands of These Crazypeople | Hornets Hype

Another fine NBA team destroying itself.

Video: Chris Webber does not want to be compared to Darko - Ball Don't Lie - NBA� - Yahoo! Sports

Video: Chris Webber does not want to be compared to Darko - Ball Don't Lie - NBA� - Yahoo! Sports

This is great. C-Webb hit it on the head. Make no doubt: C-Webb is not a foxhole guy, but he has been on a winning team, and Darko has not (in fact, Kahn misses the fact that Darko's role on a winning Detroit team is the role best suited to him). Great bead on the summer league.

Warriors Sold!

A day in which Bay-area and all NBA fans should rejoice: the Warriors are on the path to becoming relevant again. It is no secret that a good owner is a requirement for success in the NBA. While some fans may be disappointed that Larry Ellison, the Oracle CEO, didn't win even though he was long favored, I think they are lucky that two partners agreed to pay the greatest price ever for this franchise.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

NBA free agency: Reckless offseason spending driving league toward lockout in 2010-11 - ESPN

NBA free agency: Reckless offseason spending driving league toward lockout in 2010-11 - ESPN

This just emphasizes a law of the modern NBA: Teams in small markets absolutely can not overpay for role players. Anything more than $3-4 million for role starters is too much. Like I mentioned in my last post, if you get the superstars, you can fill up your team easily. At $5 million, that is MLE-type of money, and spending all that on one player means he is good enough to put you over some sort of hump. I don't see any of these guys being that guy.

I May Have Underestimated Miami

There are a lot of lower tier free agents that are flocking to the Heat. When the Olympic Three signed, I assumed that they would only have cap space to add bit players at minimum salaries, guys that would be nothing more than warm bodies and slightly negative adjusted +/-'s.

But now, we have confirmed reports that Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas will join the team. What that gives them is rebounding, post defense, shooting, passing, and most importantly, 12 fouls to use on Dwight/Gasol. I didn't really expect this. Those three are solid role players on a championship team.  Throw in the Heat's second-round picks, Dexter Pittman, Jarvis Varnado, and Da'Sean Butler, and you have even more size and fouls. Don't get me wrong. Pittman disappears, it is unclear whether Jarvis and his shot-blocking can get off the bench, and Da'Sean Butler is the steal of the draft (like some have called him) only if he gets healthy and can learn to play behind James.

But still, this is better than what I expected. It looks like players, seeing the lead of the Olympic Three, really want to be part of a special team. Championship worthy? Perhaps. But it's up to you to make the call.

Al Jefferson to Utah

Boozer out, Jefferson in. I think this is a done deal, so I will comment on it, first from a basketball perspective, then a general one.

Jefferson is younger, a bit taller, and longer than Boozer. He gets slightly fewer boards, but more offensive ones. While he isn't much of a one-on-one defender, he does block significantly more shots. Also, some of his defensive inabilities may be because of the defensive system (or lack of a system) that the Timerwolves ran. Okur is not going to help clean his mistakes, but with two shot-blockers on next years roster (Al and AK), the Jazz can be tougher inside. His defensive rating is significantly worse than Boozer's (108 to 102), but I think Sloan can help him get back to his Boston days when he was a 103. The Wolves really had no defensive personnel, so that could be part of it (defensive rating is a measure of how many points a player gives up per 100 minutes, the lower the better).

On offense, Al scores more, but has a worse shooting percentage (Carlos has the 56th best effective field-goal of all time). Again, I think this will increase as a result of Utah's best-shot offense and better passing from the point position. Free throws are a problem, but they are for many bigs. I think the starkest immediate difference is that Carlos is a superior passer, but you can see that in his first year in Sloan's system, he increased his assist average 50% and his assist % by 6 percent. Al has slowly become a better passer, and he is comparable to pre-Utah Boozer.

So you get a younger, longer Boozer, with the ability to go up against bigger players (he has played the 5 before). He is signed through three years, with his salary going up to $15 million. The best part is, because the Jazz got a trade exception from the Boozer deal (they can trade for players without sending back equal salary), they only give up picks (which Minnesota prefers). And any time you can add a starting big for a few non-lottery future draft picks, it's a good deal.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Quick Takes from Sacramento v. Detroit Summer League Game

1. Demarcus Cousins. Dude can ball. Soft touch between 10-15 feet, great hands, good passing, and can run the floor. He looks good. Needs to be tougher defensively (doesn't foul, which is good). Monroe is scoring on some cuts and drives, but Cousins has outperformed his competition.

2. Hassan Whiteside. Dude can ball. Looks way better than Hasheem Thabeet, great shot-blocking instincts, good hands on rebounds. And Dalenmbert will help him get better. The Kings are gonna have a good frontcourt with Dalembert, Cousins, Thompson, Whiteside.

3. Omri Cassipi. Dude can ball. Working on things other than the 3.

4. Ryan Thompson. Jason's brother can ball. Dude is scoring at will.

5. Greg Monroe. Dude can ball. Great on offense, has been blocked a few times, but is finding other ways to the basket. Need to see better defense.

6. Austin Daye. Dude looks uncomfortable. I think he's trying to play too far from the basket.

More later.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Miami It Is

Well, the news is old. LeBron to Miami, Beasley gone, just one player on the roster, and a backup PG at that. Where do we go from here?

Well, let's take a look at where we've come from. Cleveland was an impossible situation. Not just the team makeup, but the whole way Dan Gilbert has bungled his way the last 6 or 7 years. The only thing the team did right was drafting LeBron with the first pick. They thought that throwing a couple bit players around James would win them a championship. They are paying now, after never finding a Pippen to play alongside their star. I mean, some of these teams, New York, Chicago, Miami, have completely dissolved their teams over the last two years to get LeBron, and all Cleveland could do was (in 2009) sit on their lapels and (in 2010) get Antawn Jamison? I love Jamison's versatility, but he is not a playoff player. He is maybe the 3rd best guy on a championship squad, at best.

Then, there's Dan Gilbert. What a way to use that 20/20 hindsight. People have been saying for years that the Cleveland management needs to demand more accountability from James. Dan HIMSELF said it, when he talked about having these feelings inside of him for years. So why didn't he say a word? Because he is a coward. Cowards only fight when the fight is somewhere else. Cowards fail to make the bold moves to get All-Stars to play alongside their guy (Mo Williams? Are you kidding me?). Would you want to go back to a team run by a bunch of cowards? I mean, I understand deriding the dude for leaving his home and for the way that he did it, I really do. And really, it's the fans that kill me. They deserved better than this. But to blame it all on LeBron is not right: leaving Cleveland was the right choice.

So Cleveland is out. I mentioned in this blog that Chicago would have been a better alternative, and I stand by that. You have closers on that Bulls team. Sure, none to rival Wade, but I trust Rose/Boozer in the last seconds with the ball. Bosh and Wade didn't want to go there because of money, and money only. All that "can't play with this guy" crap is a smokescreen. LeBron didn't want to play there because of who know's what, maybe MJ's ghost, maybe because Miami can offer more money. I don't know. I think his brand would be better there, and he can win better there.

So we're left with Miami. They say the Heat want to add a Mike Miller with the money they get from the Beasley trade. I think that's an OK move: you can have Dwayne play point, Miller at 2, LeBron at 3, Bosh at 4. Thing is, they have Mario Chalmers, who is at least serviceable. I think for me, looking at a championship formula, you have to get a defensive big first. Maybe Brad Miller. But no team has ever won a championship in the modern era without a defensive big. So that's what I would do. And after that, you are still lots of players away from a solid rotation.

As far as contention goes, I think Miami can contend. They won't have the best regular season record because the regular season is too long and grueling. But this is the thing: with those three, they can match up with any team for one game. And the playoffs is much more of a game-to-game mentality. They don't have to have the best record, but just win 16 games in the playoffs, and even with the trio logging heavy minutes, I think they can do it. I think this is a potential championships squad. I'd still have L.A. over them, and Chicago will be tough, Orlando may be tough, but they are right there. We'll have to wait and see how it plays out.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I've heard this over and over, and it simply ain't true...

There is a lot of opinion out there that Derrick Rose can't play with LeBron. Most people that say this generally believe these are two players that need the ball in their hands to initiate plays, and that there won't be enough possessions for the both of them. And it is completely unfounded and untrue. Here is the analysis.

LeBron James, finisher. He is great a cutting and moving off of other people's offense. One of the best Cavs' plays from last year was a play where LeBron hung out past the three-point line on the right wing. Mo Williams took the ball and got a ball screen from a big on the left wing and drove hard to the hole, drawing the interior of the defense. Simultaneously, LeBron cut to the rim and got a screen at the elbow. Bam! Ally-oop. Also, LeBron scores a lot of easy buckets in early or late transition, where it doesn't matter who initiates the offense.

Derrick Rose, finisher. On the Cavs, after a LeBron drive, he had no one to dish to that would then take it to the hole over the collapsed defense. When he passed out, it was usually for a long jumper. Enter Derrick Rose. After LeBron is stopped by the rotation just outside the key, he passes it to Rose at about 18 feet. Rose then proceeds to slam the ball home because the defense can't leave LeBron/Noah alone.

LeBron James, creator. LeBron has one of the best passing eyes in the league. Rose will get his shots.

Derrick Rose, shooter. Rose has developed a deadly mid-range game. If the defense completely turtles in, Rose takes the 18-foot jumper and bangs it home.

These are some major reasons that LeBron/Rose can work. But why talk when we can look at a real example: Pierce/Rondo in Boston works just fine, and they have even more hungry mouths to feed. Pierce has no problem letting Rondo take the reigns from time to time, knowing he will get his shots. And LeBron is way better than Pierce, especially in the way he sees the court and makes passes. Rondo may be a step above Rose in his all-around game, but I don't think there's much argument that Rose has a higher ceiling and already owns the better jumper (Rondo from 18 feet? Not so much).

So there it is. The announcement is coming quickly, you make the call.

Caution! NBA Free-Agency Misinformation is Lurking

There are multiple reports out there citing sources "with knowledge of the situation" that point to LeBron going to Miami. And they very well may be true. But the sources seem to hinge on calls the James camp has made to various and players about who would want to take a minimum salary to play with the potential Big Three in Miami, and to various teams about trading Beasley for complementary players. My response: of course they would do this. No way LeBron jumps ship without knowing what he's getting into, and among Cleveland, Chicago, and New York, Miami is the most mysterious. I chalk this up to due diligence and not anything of substance. Be cautious when believing these reports.

D-Day 2010

Tune in to ESPN tonight to hear what's going down. For those that are sick of this process and see the show as purely a display of LeBron's avarice, know this: people will watch, and that's why they are having it.

Looks like my Chicago/Boozer angle was right. I think with LeBron, Chicago easily defeats any Eastern Conference team.  Think about it: they will own Miami's bench, and Miami has no one to stop LeBron. They will own the Celtics because of legit, young playoff bigs and a PG to match up with Rondo (Mo Williams was no matchup). They will own the Magic because they can single-cover Dwight, and there is no Orlando can stay in front of Boozer/LeBron/Rose. And against L.A., they won't give up the glass as easily as the 2010 Celtics did, and will eviscerate L.A.'s point men. It works. Credit the Bulls for drafting real well the last few years (really, if you look at the team's history of draft picks, they are not bad dating back to Jordan who was a no-brainer. In some cases, guys didn't pan out because they weren't developed correctly (Tyrus Thomas) or suffered freak injuries (Jay Williams)).

Now for a new angle: the New York Knickerbockers with LeBron


PG: Toney Douglas/FA/Trade Player
SG: Danilo Gallinari
SF: LeBron James
PF: A'mare Stoudemire
C:  Eddy Curry/FA/Trade Player


Wilson Chandler, Sergio Rodriguez, Bill Walker.

Not as strong as what Chicago can trot out, but they have favorable matchups in three spots. The biggest concern remaining is an athletic center, but there isn't one right now. Brad Miller is available, but...yeah. I see this team mucking around, trading Curry's expiring contract at the deadline, and then making a run for it. Or they could wait next season out and get a guy like Nene after dumping Curry. The good news is that James will make things infinitely easier for guys like Sergio, Toney, and Danilo, and the offense should run well. I'm not sold that Danilo is a star, but I think he can be a Ginobili-type on a championships squad. And I'm not sold that Bosh is hands-down better than A'mare. I know A'mare has had Nash. But Bosh hasn't done anything. He's not a winner. He didn't win at GT, and he hasn't won in Toronto. A'mare is misguided, has had great pieces around him, but also hasn't shrunk in the playoffs. And with the truly complementary pieces here, N.Y. may be a better basketball spot than Miami for LeBron. You make the call.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another LeBron Angle

I'm hearing Chicago is out. But look at this:


PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Mike Miller
SF: LeBron James
PF: David Lee
C:   Joakim Noah


PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Mike Miller
SF: LeBron James
PF: Carlos Boozer
C:  Joakim Noah


Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, James Johnson

Right now, the Bulls are sitting north of $22 million for next year.Add $20 million for LeBron, $10 million for Lee, $2-3 million for Miller to play on a winner, and then the MLE to spend on another shooter off the bench and a backup point man. This team has a shooter, great rebounding, a couple of superior defenders, and many pick-and-roll options. David Lee could be better defending with Noah back to protect the rim. Heck, maybe Thib turns Lee into a defensive beast (he did a good job with Baby). With Boozer, he struggles a little defending big 4's, but again, with Noah behind him in Thib's system, I see this being a really tough team, defensively. Perhaps much better than the last two regular season champs. Just an option: you make the call.

NBA FA Update: Wade and Bosh in Miami

I refused to comment on this before something was consummated because I was sick of the sheer force of speculation rampant in the sports reporting world. But now that the two have made a decision, here I am with some instant analysis

So, why Miami? First, I think some of these free agents realize that this may be their last max contract under the current CBA, making the dollar amount more important than ever. Miami has the most cap space and was the only place they could go without a sign and trade. Miami has no state income tax.

The other thing has to do with that thing basketball players occasionally do, you know, win championships. On this front, I trust Dwayne more than any of the other big 2010 free agents because he not only has done it, but is one of the only ones that seems all that interested in winning. Sure LeBron talks about winning, but the 2010 Miami Heat played Boston about as tough as Cleveland did, all while in salary-dump mode. It was 2008 Dwayne Wade that took a seat on the U.S. bench and led that bench into crucial situations. I love LeBron, but when it comes to winning, I listen to Wade.

From a basketball perspective, Chicago and New Jersey offered defensive centers, and New York offered shooters. I think New York took themselves out of it with the A'mare signing because I think Bosh has a higher ceiling than A'mare and didn't show it because he was playing with bit players. I think the issue with Chicago is, even though they have a lot of existing talent, do they mesh? Noah is a valuable asset on any team. But Rose and Wade are very similar players, and Rose, Wade, and LeBron all need the ball in their hands to be effective. Of those three, Wade is the best shooter, but I still think you would dare him to shoot 20-footers (unlike a Kobe, who you don't dare to do anything unless it's game 7 of the Finals). New Jersey has the same problem: Devin Harris is a scoring point guard, and there is no evidence that you can win the Finals with one of those. I think Brook Lopez is an upgrade over Noah (OK, I know so), but does that make it worth 2 years of basketball purgatory in Newark?

Meanwhile, Miami is talking sign and trade with Beasley (now completely expendable and an utter waste of a draft pick) and Chalmers (ditto, though it wasn't so clear at the time). They are looking at Andre Miller, who is good, but I would be more comfortable with a younger point, if they can get him. Actually, for some reason, I really like Luke Ridnour's potential with Wade/Bosh, or if they get him, Wade/Bosh/LeBron. After that, you need a defensive big (Haywood?), and then some shooters off the bench, and from a basketball perspective, you are not that far behind Chicago/New Jersey, even those teams have established stars.

Of course, it all hinges on whether LeBron joins them. From a money perspective, it's either Cleveland or Miami. Cleveland offers almost no basketball hope. From a basketball perspective, I think the best teams now are, ironically, New York, and Miami. New York has shooters and A'mare can score. Whether they can play defense is another story. But that option is there. I don't know. I hope he goes to Miami and realizes that his brand will grow by championships won more than the city he plays in. I don't know, so I'll wait for him to make a call, which should be sometime tomorrow. Or, as always, you can make the call, too.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Steve Blake to the Lakers

On paper, this looks good. Especially when you look at per-minute stats. In almost all categories, Blake far out-paces incumbent Derek Fisher, even though he played last year as a backup PG on two teams. Effective FG%, assist %, average assists, 3-point shooting, defensive rating, all point to Blake as the superior player. Oh, and he's 6 years younger. And he's only going to cost you $4 million a year. He's enough of a vet that I think Phil will trust him with the offense and I think he will help their ball movement more than Fisher. Not that Fisher was bad, obviously, he proved last season he has some major playoff chops, but Fisher expends so much energy on defense and is getting to the point where, on the offensive end, the ball is really put into play by Kobe. So like I said, on paper, it works.

I just don't have a good gut feeling about this. I'll give you one stat. Win shares. Fish's last year's were the worst since he was in Utah. Last year, he was at a 3.9. But guess what Blake had. For the Clippers, he was at 0.9. These are numbers from (plug!). You can look them up. Fine, you say, the Clippers flat out didn't win. Well look at Portland: and that with what he had in L.A., and he comes out at 3.3. And you look at his history, and that's pretty much his ceiling (outside of one good season, his previous season in Portland). I don't know what it is about this guy, his stats tell a good tale and I'm sure he's a great guy, but the dude just isn't a winner. It's like asking someone the difference between Patrick Ewing and Robert Horry. I know that is an absurd comparison, but Horry has eight rings.

And that in with Fisher's playoff chops, and I don't know if L.A. didn't find someone who's not even as good as Fish, much less a replacement. I don't know. And even though he's 6 years younger than Fish, he is still 30. What you see is what you get. And do know they could have had Luke Ridnour for cheaper? I understand that at this point, Luke is regarded as a backup PG, but his win-share was 6.2 last year, and 3.4 the year before on an absolutely MORIBUND team, I mean, they lost Redd that year, they fired their coach, it was a mess. And he had a higher win-share than Blake.

I don't know. To me, Blake is a backup PG, and L.A. is overpaying for him when they could have had Ridnour. Of course, what they really need is someone to step in and be the PG of the future, and Luke is 29. What about a 26 year-old who had a win-share of 6.5 last season? That would be Raymond Felton, someone else who's regarded as a marginal starter. But he is only 26.  And who knows if Brown developed him right. Or a 28 year-old who had a bad year last year for a dysfunctional, but otherwise is around a 5 win-share? That would be Chris Duhon. Or a 24 year-old with a 4.3 win-share last season? That would be Kyle Lowry. I mean, I hate to look at just one number and tell the tale of a guy. But I have a hard time understanding how L.A. came to the conclusion that Steve Blake was their guy.

Chicago, Where It's All Going Down

Dwayne Wade was reportedly not high on the Bulls brass, deriding them for spurning old legends like Scottie Pippen from front office openings. But all of a sudden, Chicago is in their second meeting with the superstar, and there is talk of a Rose-Wade-Lebron-Bosh-Noah starting five. I mean, look at that again. That is 4 All-Stars and one heckuva defensive center. What gives?

I think there is an elephant in the room that no one is speaking about. And that elephant left Chicago professionally about 12 years ago. Yup, that's right. Michael.

The Bulls are Michael's team. He is the past, present, and sometimes, it seems like he is the future of the team. Every achievement will be measured against what Michael accomplished. Every championship will be compared to the ones Michael won. Every clutch shot, every post-season performance, every memory will conjure memories of what Mike did. That's why we all assumed Chicago might not get LeBron. Why go there and deal with MJ's ghost for the rest of your career.

But with this new power-play, I'm beginning to see something different. If Wade, Bosh, AND James all go to Chicago, they will wrest the team, the franchise, the city from MJ's hands and recreate the dynasty in their image. Make no doubt, with that nucleus and some bench shooting, defensive veterans, and a few more big bodies, you will win the next 5 championships, straight. But it's the manner that you did it. No one will have to compete with Michael alone, because all will be competing together. Each night is a night someone different can shine. Each post season can have it's own story. How well will Michael's ghost hold up then? Will people begin to forget the monotony of Jordan taking over every playoff game and start remembering a different scintillating experience from a different superstar each night? Could the Greatest Of All Time be replaced so easily by the Greatest Lineup Of All Time?

I think it could. I think that's what's at stake right now. Forget Cleveland and Miami. If these players are seriously considering taking an extra $30 million over the chance to play for the team of all teams, they are more myopic than I realized. They are all filthy rich. Let them win. Let them write their dynasties in stone. Michael can have his statue. We'll have ours, all of ours.

Stoudemire to New York. A sweet deal?

I think this is a decent transaction, but I think that at this point, both sides are kind of settling for each other. The writing has been on the wall for the Knickerbockers for some time. When Chicago dumped Hinrich, Prokhorov and J-Z went to LeBron’s house, and Dwayne Wade started to work his Team USA buddy, it became clear that LeBron is not going to New York. And so the Knicks had to sign someone to justify whatever they did last season.

As for A’mare, I think he realizes that he is not the PF everyone wants, but I think this move so early in the process is curious. I mean, if LeBron and Bosh go to Chicago, he still has the option of teaming with Wade in Miami, an infinitely more attractive option than what New York’s roster can offer. Which then begs the question: have all three of the big three been spoken for? Because we are seeing quite a bit of action before any of those three say anything, which is contrary to reports that everything hinges on LeBron. Think about it. Paul Pierce returns (mostly a given, but still, happened early). Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson, all re-signed. I thought free-agency would start with LeBron, but it kind of looks like he is already packed and started without everyone else.

Well, speculation aside, there are basketball reasons for this move. From A’mare’s standpoint, it is clear that this is a money grab. He not only signed for a max contract now, but ensures that he will get the most touches on a high-octane offense. In five years, his stats will be completely overinflated by D’Antoni’s system, and he’ll be in line for another major payday. It’s clear from his actions that money trumps winning, and he has made the best decision for himself there.

And what about the Knicks? With Stoudemire, they’re looking at a payroll around $37.5 million for next year. They need a young starting point guard (maybe Shaun Livingston, he could be had for cheap), and need a defensive center. I think it’s abundantly clear that Stoudemire can’t hang with the likes of Pau Gasol, so who knows what kind of trouble he will be in playing Dwight Howard more. The problem is, they can only improve via free agency now, and that’s a big problem.

Everyone knows that over the last few years, Isaiah Thomas frivolously sent a huge cache of draft picks running. Only now are we seeing how costly that was. In today’s league, contenders must have two things: young players and cap space. Look at Chicago. Look at OKC. Heck, look at the Clippers. In an era where superstars play together for titles, you absolutely cannot spend draft picks and cap space on unproven free agents. J.A. Adande wrote on that free agency has trumped the importance of the draft, and while I agree, I would add that free agency has actually made the draft more important. You whiff on a draft and you’re Portland (not bad, but not good). You strike gold in the same draft, and you’re OKC.

That said, New York does have some pieces. I think Wilson Chandler and Danilo Galinari can play together based on their box scores from last season’s games in which both started. Danilo is going to have to be more aggressive and demand more touches when Chandler is in the game, but I think that’s a good combo. With them and Stoudemire, You can go big and have Danilo play shooting, or go small and have him at SF. Sergio and Toney are good bench scoring but not trustworthy as primary ball-handlers. But you still have needs. And it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to get a second big free agent. And you probably won’t have good picks the next few years because your team will be just good enough to not tank.

So you have some good guys. Wilson and Danilo rate offensively just behind the likes of Paul Pierce. You still have a great coach. This is probably a playoff team, and in 3-4 years, who knows what can happen. But I see this as more a need-based, satisfactory, convenient marriage.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wimbledon, Reflections on Semi Finals (Men) and Finals (Women)

First off, the men: Are we seeing Roger getting old? He seemed a step slow getting to those deep baseline shots, and didn't seem to create the angles were are used to seeing from him. I don't think we are seeing an end to his greatness, just his dominance. Traditionally, Roger has been a great tactical player, but not so good strategically. The difference is the approach to the match: some players try to impose a certain style or will on the match that makes it difficult to play them. Brad Gilbert is famous for teaching this style. I think Nadal and Murray are great examples of this. I can't really put a finger on how to describe it, but it deals with their overall approach to each match.

The counter to this is a more tactical game. Federer has refined every aspect of his ballstriking, and can react to his opponent better than almost anybody. From point to point, he doesn't really lose his cool, constantly keeps the pressure on, and consistently hits great shots. He doesn't try or press to play a certain way, but just tries to hit the best shot at every possible opportunity.

How does this explain his decline then? I think that as a player ages, it becomes harder and harder to play great tactical tennis. I mean, you look at Agassi: I think he was able to be successful at late stages in his career because he made sure that the matches went his way, knowing that he wasn't fast or powerful enough to hit the crap out of the guys he was playing. He's a guy that would make you hit one extra ball for a winner, and that would get under some guys' skins. I don't think Federer is that type of guy. I think you can kind of have your way with him, hitting some big shots, but unlike in the past when he would take your big shot and turn it into an insane angle, I think more and more guys are able to get balls past him. I know Fed is famous for not using a coach, but at some point, I think he needs to switch to a strategic game, which involves match planning and the use of some outside perspective. You make the call.

Now to the women: I love it each time someone new supplants Serena as the woman to beat in tennis. I mean, she has spent some time away, she's had a few injuries in year's past, but she has absolutely dominated the last decade. I don't buy that Henin is better. We know that Sharapova isn't as good. After Graff, she became the transcendent female tennis player, and regardless of what you think of her personally, she is the best.

Day One of the Real NBA Draft: Rudy and Joe

I'll start with Rudy. I like Rudy. I think he's a gamer, as he showed in the NCAA tourney with UConn. I like the fact that the organization is showing some loyalty and some intestinal fortitude when facing with a receding cap line (unlike whatever they were thinking when they traded Pau). I think 5 years and 80 million (which amounts to an average of 15 million a year) is about right for a player of Rudy's talent. I think the Grizzlies are smart to keep their core, try to develop a winning philosophy by gunning for the playoffs, tanking for a year when Randolph's contract expires and then nabbing a draft pick and another free agent, or just making a run for it right after he expires (maybe at Nene or even Kaman, though both are unlikely to leave their teams), and then making a run at contention just as Rudy is hitting his prime. In that scenario, you have a core at the end of 2011 of Mayo, Gay, Conley (probably will be traded), Gasol, Thabeet, Henry) that is costing you around $35 million a year. And that's what I like most about this contract: you have a team that could potentially contend when he is 28-29, and if you're not in a good position by then, you jettison him and start over. I like it.

Joe Johnson, I do not like. Kelly Dwyer posted a great blog on Y! that explains it all (;_ylt=AvkgyR7cx6iIoL_2lRXqV.C8vLYF?urn=nba,252877">link): Joe Johnson is 29 years old. Next year, you will pay $35.5 million to three players that play two positions. Your payroll next year with Joe's $20 million is sitting north of $67 million, all for a team that was not in serious contention to win a title. I mean, they're paying the tax for a second round playoff team? With really no room for growth? I mean, Horford will get better, but I don't see Bibby/Crawford/Joe really carrying your team. I like Josh Smith, but he is limited. In crunch time, how are these guys gonna score? And they're paying the tax! If this were me, I would try like crazy to trade Joe with Bibby/Marvin (you probably have to package Joe to get rid of those contracts), start Jamaal Crawford, and rebuild with your core of Horford and Smith. I know that is extreme, basically throwing away 2010-2011, but the good thing is your bigs are still young! If you start over, you can conceivably be a team on the rise with good rookie talent in two years when you re-sign Al. Then, you'll have  around $25 million tied up in two fringe All-Stars (both of whom play the post) who are just entering their primes. That is workable. Or if they're really smart and can stomach a year of losses, you trade Jamaal's expiring at the trade deadline, draft a rookie PG, and rebuild around Smith, Horford, Trade Deadline Guy, lottery Draft Pick Guy, and Free Agent signed next summer. I don't know. Atlanta's fan base is fickle and I don't know if they can survive a Nets-like tank year. But to pay the tax for a non-contender? That is unconscionable.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What the NCAA should do.

First, let's get one thing absolutely clear: no way this actually happens. This is a fantasy. But it is a workable solution to the mess that is collegiate athletics. I realize my last post might have been a little confusing. Here, I'll try to dive deeper into the issue and provide an answer rather than more questions.

I mentioned that USC has been sanctioned by the NCAA. Fine. A slap on the wrist. Here is the current scenario for the Trojans: they vacate a few wins. Still doesn't erase the fact that they were dominant between 2004-2009. They lose a few scholarships. Fine, but this hurts future players that had nothing to do with Reggie Bush just as much as it sets the program back. As much as I disdain Kiffin, he doesn't deserve to suffer for crimes commited under Carroll. I understand the whole institutional accountability thing, but this type of punishment hurts some of the wrong people in the institution. They won't be able to go to bowls for a while. Let's say they are at BCS-level for the next couple of years (which they probably wouldn't be every year anyways, given the departure of Carroll, and the rise of the rest of the Pac-10), which means they lose some millions over the few years. Yeah, that hurts, but they'll recover.

Why is all that a slap on the wrist? Because when Bush played for USC, they WON. They won national titles. They won Heisman trophies. They can take that away from Bush, but you can't take back the memory. They sold jerseys. They recruited new athletes. They made millions off of Bush, and the money that they will lose from these sanctions is a pittance compared to what the school has made the last decade.

And why does USC do all this? Well, they obviously like to win. But that is only half of the answer. And that is a problem. Sports should be about winning, but as professional leagues and now, the NCAA, have shown us, there is a nasty "business" side. Officials at USC are concerned with winning because of the money they get, from ticket sales to TV revenue to merchandise. Also, winning increases the slice that USC (and the rest of the PAC 10) get from the NCAA, especially when proportionally compared to the take of other teams (like the Mountain West). The people involved in the business of college athletics want to win, but they want to make money more. It is telling that the highest paid coach in college basketball has never won anything (but has put two schools on probation).

So that's now out in the open. Money is a big part of college athletics. And for good or bad, it is there to stay. So what should we do about it? Make it equitable. Let me explain.

In my last post, I mentioned the current conference power-plays. They are based on Big-10 commissioner's revenue system utilizing a league television contract. This article by Dan Wetzel says it all: What the NCAA needs to do is to dump the broken conference system it has now and completely restructure college football. Right now, we have a bunch of independent conferences that get together for a busted BCS party at the end of the season. Let's cut the crap. This is the National Collegiate Athletics Association. And there is nothing "national" about what I just described. So how about this:

Keep the conferences. But standardize them. Make them the same size. Make them competitively balanced. No more Boise State, Utah, and TCU on the outside. But TCU in the Big 12. Put BSU and U of U in the Pac 10. Make all the conferences 12 teams. Stage a conference championship. Have a national TV contract. Negotiating as a the entirety of college football will force networks, bowl sponsors, everyone to cave into whatever the NCAA wants. The pie gets huge, and everyone wins. Then when bowl season comes, you have a national 16-team playoff and bowl games for the rest. Why do you think the bowl games make so much money and the schools see so little of it? They are bargaining with the BCS (aka old college chancellors against hardened business veterans) as a divided group. Think of what the NCAA could do with unity.

So that's the first part of it. Massive payoffs through better TV contracts, fans can see more national games (potentially, any national game). Now, what to do with the windfall? Simple. Split it evenly. Yup, you read that right. The biggest argument against splitting the money completely evenly is that the big-time schools that play the big time games earn a larger portion of the money deserve that money. And that is completely baloney. The big-time schools have to play someone. And it is so touching that they would stoop to beat (I mean lose to) small schools like Boise State. Thing is, this isn't professional sports where good teams deserve their money. This is college athletics which in part is federally sponsored. You know all those insolvent athletics programs? Who foots the bills for that?

Why would equitable sharing work? As Wetzel mentions in his article, the last major source of college sports revenue is football TV contracts. Every school would have more. Inequitable sharing would be like the federal government paying for better research facilities at USC than at Utah. It doesn't make any sense. Are we trying to make sure that smaller schools can never have productive athletic programs (yes)? Schools would of course be able to raise as much as they want through boosters and schools would still get stadium revenue from home games, but this would drastically even the field even while providing for the powerhouse programs. It's not like under these conditions Alabama or Texas or Florida are all gonna suck: good players will still want to play at high profile schools, except now they will be playing better competition, which is a win for everyone...except for those people in charge to whom the money currently flows.

This could work. It's simple and effective. It promises constant revenue without the need to cheat for money. And if a school does cheat? Cut its portion of the check. Simple as that. USC? You're portion of the football pie has been halved for the next 3 years. How 'bout them apples? But I digress. This is what makes sense, and is what college sports needs. You make the call.

Reflections on the NCAA and USC

The NCAA hit USC hard today. But regardless of the severity of the punishment, they are still treating symptoms of the problem. In their report, the NCAA cited USC for a "lack of institutional control," meaning that such things had a history of repeating themselves at USC. This is why the penalty (10 scholarships lost per year until 2013, vacating wins, and probation from bowls) is so harsh. But we are seeing the effects of a lack of institutional control that spans the entirety of college athletics.

It is naive to assume that a business (yes, it is a business) that generates hundreds of millions in yearly revenue would not be influenced by money. It is hard to measure the individual financial impact that athletes make on the sport and for their school, but for a high-profile player like Reggie Bush, it must be significant. Recruiting is a cutthroat business. I am by no means advocating schools cheat to get players. But when millions are on the line, it is impossible not to play dirty.

We are seeing the effects of dirty play now. Conference realignments? Just a power-grab for more money. The BCS? Glorified entitlement for the already-rich. Money is the problem (with Bush, it was improper benefits, including free rent for him and his family), and until money becomes the solution, there will continue to be such scandals.

Too much of NCAA revenue goes to outsiders (aka, the BCS). Too much is spread to inequitably. If the NCAA wants to continue to use the "National Collegiate" moniker, it must represent its member schools equally, and make sure that the money is spread evenly. This is not professional sports. The Trojans aren't the Yankees. Sure, for some players, college athletics are only pit stops to more glorified destinations, but for the vast majority, sports are a way to build character, leadership, physical strength, and all those virtues that the NCAA extols in its student-athlete ads. Sure, teams compete to win. But they should play on a level playing field, even on monetary terms.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 5

The crowd is going bonkers for Robin Soderling. He has 2 match points on serve now. First serve just outside down the middle, then Federer sends the second serve long for the match! The world number one has been defeated!

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 4

Federer is hitting with some ferocity now. It is notched 4-4 in the fourth set with the Fed down 2-1, and he cannot give an opening here. Problem is, Soderling is matching his intensity and Fed is making some unforced errors, especially on the backhand side. I think that Robin really has an advantage there. And Soderling breaks! An ace makes it a little more difficult, but Soderling is shooting the exact right spots. You can still tell the rallies Fed will win, but for some reason, some rallies get to the point where it looks like Roger is lost and he doesn't really have a plan with what to do with the rest of the rally. Soderling to serve for the match!

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 3

Soderling held, but Federer is playing more in the court, and he has the advantage here. He is dropping Soderling and moving to the net when he can. Then again, Soderling is still going for (and hitting) lines, just had an inside-out forehand to Fed's backhand line, then another forehand pass that hit a line. Neither player is blinking right now. Oh! Just had a great rally exchange for Soderling to prevent break point, and then the hold. Fed tried to drop Sod, he chased it down and played some great net defense.

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog 2

I think Fed is having trouble with Soderling's first serve. I think it's moving in ways that he doesn't expect. For a lot of big service points, Soderling likes going down the line, and Fed seems like he's able to get there, but is unable to stick out his racquet and poke it back like usual. Then, when Robin goes cross-court, he just looks flabbergasted sometimes. Interesting. Notched at 3-2 Federe with Soderling about to hold serve in the 3rd set. Man, Robin just hit a nice line for a winner.

Federer v. Soderling Live Blog

After a shaky first set without many winners, Sod is really attacking Federer, especially on serve. You can see it in the way he moves into the court on each rally. He is not afraid to punish Federer, especially with the inside-out forehand to Fed's backhand side. Heck, even Robin's backhand is working winners at this point. I think that too many players have the mentality that Federer can create something out of nothing, so if you move into the court and hit a great shot, he can all-too-often create something, and then place you out of position. But I think this is the way that you beat Fed: sure he'll get his breaks, but you have to put pressure on him. There was a rally a few minutes ago where Soderling had Fed retreating on that backhand slice, and kept pounding it, creating insane angles, until Fed could no longer hit it back. Great tennis.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One Play Tells the Tale of a Team, of a Season

One play said it all. I saw it during game action. I saw it again, replayed, over and over on ESPN after the fact. One play told us why the Magic swept the Hawks by the largest average margin of victory, ever. 

You might have seen it. It was replayed only a dozen times. Dwight is posting on the left block, the Magic shooters are spaced around the 3-point line, and Al Horford is trying to front. Horford is a good player. He works hard, and by virtue of the things he does at his position, is a great piece for a playoff time. But just look at him. He gives up at least 20 pounds to Dwight just from the looks of his frame, and to top it off, Dwight is a little taller, too. 

What's telling about this play is the way the Hawks have chosen to defend Howard. I know you have to show him different looks. But whenever you front a good post player, you have to have a contingency plan in case the offense goes over the top. In this case, the contingency plan one. That's right. Against the best big man in the NBA, the Hawks decided to forget about getting between your man and the ball. 

I understand that this was a hard series for Atlanta. They were over-matched. Jamaal Crawford was right when he said that the Hawks would need to play perfectly just to be in this thing. But to leave your center on an island against Dwight? That is inexcusably bad coaching. Dwight is good, but he is not superman (at least not to me). He turns the ball over, and even a smaller help defender can swipe it him, maybe draw a charge, something. But you look at this play, and no one is within 7 feet of Howard/Horford. I know the Magic were sizzling from range yesterday, but to me, if you are going to lose the game, you have to make them make shots. You cannot let them dunk on you. You can't do anything about them raining 3's, you can make them work for those shots.

The second part of the play is also telling. Dwight goes up, catches the 'oop, then decides he doesn't have enough body control to dunk it, lands on the ground, gathers himself in (with a pump fake thrown in), then elevates for the jam. While he does all of this, Horford does...nothing. That's right, Al just stands there, knees straight, weight on his heels, and watches the whole thing unfurl. The one good thing is that Josh Smith comes flying in from the elbow to at least contest the shot (hence the pump fake), but Dwight sees it and waits it out (This also solidifies my belief that Josh Smith is the only worthwhile player on this team. I know he takes bad shots. So does LeBron. But don't tell me if he played for LA/PHX/CLE/BOS, Orlando wouldn't be a lot more scared of him. His team just sucks). 

I know what you might be thinking. At the rim, Howard will score whether you play defense or not. Horford isn't going to alter the outcome of the dunk, so he might as well just get ready to inbound the ball. But this is Dwight Howard we are talking about. An atrocious free-throw shooter. This is the playoffs we are talking about. You have to make him work for his points!!! You absolutely have to foul him in this situation. You have to hit him so hard that his shot won't fall. Who cares that you are the only serviceable center on your team!?!? This is the playoffs! You are down 0-3! THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!! Orlando should never have gotten a clean shot within 5 feet the whole game! I am incensed! The Hawks should have been setting playoff records for most free throws allowed to an opponent, not largest average losing margin. I don't care if the whole team fouls out (a la Doc Rivers, anyone?). This is the playoffs. You absolutely must make a terrible foul shooter go to the line. Why do you think the Cavs got Shaq, then re-signed Ilgauskus when they have Varejao and Hickson? They have 24 fouls between the four of them to throw at Howard (potentially). That is the mindset of correctly-executed playoff basketball.

All in all, this was an ugly night for Atlanta fans. There were other plays that you can watch ( I particularly like the part at about 34 seconds in where Jamaal Crawford helps on Vince, Bibby helps on the wing, and no one helps on Howard inside. What is Jamaal thinking here? Wow, that lane is far away. Howard is a big man. I think I'll go head the other way INSTEAD OF GETTING IN THE LANE AND FOULING. Even when it's all over, two Atlanta players can be seen rushing into the paint just in case...while Jamaal just stands there. Fantastic. If you can bear the torture, go to 1 minute in and you can see Dwayne Wade, I mean J. J. Redick totally blow past Maurice Evans and draw three defenders on the pick and roll before dishing for the corner 3. Because, you know, J. J. Redick is a threat like that, you absolutely have to help.

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports GuyAnyways, great win for Orlando, they will deserve the rest they get before the Conference Finals (forget all this rust crap, this team is ready to play). All in all, the whole series can be summed up in that one Horford/Howard play. Is there any hope for these Hawks? You make the call.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why the Suns will beat the Lakers

First of all, I am very unsure about this prediction. I don't know who the Suns will have in terms of interior defense if Lopez doesn't play, and I don't know how he will do if he is back. By I do know this: the Suns can be an offensive nightmare for any team that plays them, and I think in beating San Antonio, they beat a team that plays very similar to L.A. So I'm going to be brash and bold, and say that the Suns are going to win this matchup, and advance to the Finals (and wouldn't you love to see Nash, a guy that's been so close, hold the trophy?).

First, let's look at matchups. On defense, Nash will guard Fish (advantage, Suns). I'm assuming Grant Hill will take Kobe (big advantage, Lakers). Richardson marks Artest (even), A'mare takes Gasol (slight advantage, Lakers), and Lopez/Frye take Bynum (I can't really tell until the injury situation sorts itself out. I see Dudley taking Odom, with Dragic taking turns at point, and Amudson providing a big body and fouls underneath. I think the Suns are going to try to take the ball out of Kobe's hands, make him pass it like they played Ginobili, and live with a few easy baskets by the L.A. big men. Obviously Kobe is better than Manu, but I think in terms of what the Lakers try to do offensively, they're similar to the Spurs. Both have a great PF, decent centers, spot-up SF's, ok point guards, and a good wing creator. Both will try a combination of pounding it inside (Duncan/Gasol), or letting wing players create (Ginobili/Parker/Bryant). The Lakers can and will score, but I think this year's Suns team brings a defensive toughness (especially off the bench) that they haven't had before.

Despite their defensive improvement, the Suns' chances lie with their offensive, and I think this is where I can show Phoenix's superiority. Nash vs. Fish/Brown/Farmar? This is not going to be close. Nash is a different beast than Westbrook or Williams, and the Suns have surrounded him with different talent. Williams is so strong, and has become an elite shooter. Westbrook is pretty exciting and can do it all. But I think Nash is better in terms of getting in the paint and finding guys, or creating for himself. He's not as fast or strong, but he's more sudden, more unpredictable. Also, his guys are better at finishing at the rim, and won't get blocked like Boozer/Milsap. Finally, the Lakers switched Kobe onto Russell when the going got tough, and relied on Fish to check the offensively challanged Sefolosha. I don't think they can take that risk with the Suns because Jason Richardson has taken his play to another level in this year's playoffs. You absolutely cannot leave him alone right now. Theoritacally, you can match Kobe onto Nash, Artest onto J-Rich, Odom on Hill, Gasol on Stoudemire, Bynum on Frye/Lopez, but I think that lineup takes the Lakers out of a lot of their offensive flow, lets the Suns run and shoot all over the place (but does take away the paint), and most importantly, decimates the L.A. bench. I don't know if you'll see this lineup in crunch time, but it definitely is not a good option.

In other places, I see Kobe playing great D on Jason, Artest and Hill a wash, and Stoudemire taking it to Gasol. A'mare has been playing with zeal, and I don't see Gasol being able to check him when Duncan failed. At center, the Suns are going to probe how L.A. is going to handle Frye shooting the 3: that was huge for them against Portland when they were outmatched in the paint.

I know L.A. has been playing well, and should finish it's own series soon. I know Kobe has a few extra gears in there, and that the team is a different beast in the playoffs. I know that L.A. took the season series from the Suns, and you cannot discount that (remember Cleveland/Orlando last year). But I think these Suns are playing at a level we have never seen a Phoenix team. They are together (have you heard the B.S. report interview with Jared Dudley?). They are tough. They get rebounds and play defense (the two most telling things about playoff basketball). Nash is in the zone. Amazingly, so is A'mare. They have the better bench. They shoot better. I think they can do it. And if they beat L.A., I love their matchups with Orlando/Cleoveland, too. Maybe we will see Nash hold that trophy this year.

Mo, Mo, Mo

Mo Williams is an All-Star with an asterisk. After being snubbed from the team, twice, he subbed into the lineup in '09 because of injuries and proceeded to do absolutely nothing. At the time, his exclusion was met with derision from Cavs fans who were up in arms about their league leading team receiving only one All-Star placement. So he got in.

Going into the playoffs that year, Williams and Delonte West were considered one of the better starting backcourts in basketball. Among major contenders, Rajon Rondo was considered too young, Jameer Nelson too injured, Derek Fisher too old. Williams and West were the way of the future. Then they played Orlando, and we saw them for what they were: streaky shooters that don't scare defenses, and liabilities in terms of their ability to guard fast players.

This year, Williams is still starting. He still has the ability to hit a series of clutch shots, as shown in the Cavalier's game one victory over the Celtics. But in the two losses, all you have to do to gauge Williams' performance is to look at the player he's been marking (Rondo): 19 assists in one game, and a triple-double in another.

What does this say about Williams? To me, it validates the snubbing that he received before being included on the All-Star bench. It speaks of why Milwaukee let him go, and now has better prospects at point than Williams might ever be. It speaks of why in clutch moments, Williams, the point guard, the floor general, the supposed second option on this team, gives the ball up to LeBron at the point, while Rondo still commands his teams attention and controls the ball.

I still believe that Williams and the Cavs can beat the Celtics in 6. I don't see any sort of consistency out of anything the Celtics have been doing all season. But when they play Orlando, who has a more healthy Nelson, Vince Carter, and Barnes/Redick off the bench? Tough.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Atlanta at Orlando, Game 2, a look at Joe Johnson

This is not meant to be demeaning or demoralizing. While he will never read this post, I actually hope it serves to invigorate, to stir to anger, and then focus. But the truth is clear, and it must be known.

You absolutely can not win an NBA championship with Joe Johnson as your best player. I am hedging on whether you can win with him as your second-best. Here is why.

Joe got his start in Phoenix with the go-go Suns, a fun team that shared the ball and was offensive dynamite. He had the good fortune to play with Steve Nash for a few years, and like many other players (Quentin Richardson, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion), cashed in on their collective success. They even had playoff success, enduring a series of bad calls, and terrible injuries (broken face, anyone?), and heartbreaking losses in the postseason.

At the end of it, all of them cashed in: Quentin to New York, Diaw back to Phoenix and now on to Charlotte, Marion off to Miami, and Joe ending up in Atlanta. Their success was a by-product of their team's success, and their team's success was a by-product of Nash. But what these players received crisp passes from their point guard, none received the real education that playing with a superstar could provide.

Steve Nash is an odd fellow to be playing in the NBA. His story has been told over and again, how a small-college, no athleticism white boy from Canada could become the best player in the NBA, twice. He is a nice guy, a guy that makes funny commercials, a guy that heads basketballs to teammates in the dunk contest ( He is a fun-loving, free-wheeling playmaker that could just as soon dish 20 dimes as score 20 points.

But over the years, Nash has changed. Bill Simmons writes about it in The Book of Basketball.
Somewhere down the line, Nash went from nice to cold. You can see it in the playoffs, with the way he goes after balls, the way he attacks the rim, he way he talks to the refs, the way he talks to his team. The years of failure have worn on him and a competitive fire has slowly burned into a blaze inside his soul. He has discovered survivability. He is a survivor. He has discovered what it takes to win, that cruel, killer instinct you have to develop for the game, that makes his playoff play a spectre to behold. In short, he matches up to the Jordans, the Birds, the Duncans, the O'neals as a great playoff competitor.

What does this have to do with Quentin, Boris, Shawn, and Joe? All four filled their stat sheets with the fruits of Nash's genius, but none filled their brains with what it takes to win. All four seemed to only see good Nash, the fun Nash, but not the nasty opponent who will scratch and claw and do what it takes to win. After they left, three have digressed: Quentin and Boris are nothing more than bench players on a contender, Shawn could potentially start as a defensive stopper and little else. Joe is good, but Joe was always supposed to be good. Perhaps that's why his tale is the saddest of all.

In his fifth year with the Atlanta Hawks, Joe still puts up gaudy stats: 21.3 points on 18.2 shots, 4.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, a steal, and only 1.9 turns while shooting 46/32/87. He gets his points, gets his teammates involved, is what you would see from a stats perspective and from a number-of-possessions dominated perspective as a team leader. But he is no leader, or at least, no leader like Nash.

I first saw it in the Milwaukee series. Joe had a tendency to disappear as the game wore on. There was a fantastic rally in game 4 that ultimately came short, but you look at his other games, and you see a remarkable absence in the 4th quarter, the quarter when leaders, competitors take over. It seems like in the wins, all the buzz was about other players, Jamaal Crawford in particular. Crawford and Joe play similar positions. Both need the ball in their hands. And for some reason, Crawford is the headline.

I know chemistry is important. But so is leadership. So is having a superstar. And that is what Joe is not. If he were a superstar, he would get sick of all this Crawford crap and DEMAND THE BALL. In the last two minutes of the game, he would start every possession. The Hawks could call timeout with a few minutes left in a close game, and he would say: "I got this: everyone get on my back, space the floor, give me one good pick and get ready to either rebound or shoot the open 3." Who cares if they catch on? The great thing about superstars is knowing what they will do and not being able to stop it. LeBron has it. Duncan has it. Rip Hamilton had it. What do you think Byron Russell was thinking on that last play in '98? While Jordan was still dribbling, he was thinking: "oh crap, we just lost the game."

Last night's Hawks/Magic game is the perfect example. I'm going to compare Joe with his Orlando counterpart, Vince Carter, another supremely gifted player who does not always have his head in the game. In the first half, Joe played well as Vince went 1-4 from the field. In the third quarter, Vince heats up, and then totally destroys Joe in the fourth. But perhaps more important than shots made/missed are the way they get the shots. In the first half, Joe had two shots at the rim, one that missed, and shot four more times within the free-throw line on both sides. Vince had his own point-blank miss, and scored on a soft shot from the block. In the third, Joe is nothing but top of the key, long twos, while Vince is at the rim, inside the elbow, and hitting from range. In the fourth, Joe makes a free-throw line shot, misses a contested shot in the lane, and misses two 3's, while Vince scores at the rim, from the right block, and from distance.

By the end of the game, Vince was huge and Joe had performed another textbook disappearance, ending up as the 3rd scorer on his team. Second for the Hawks? Jamaal Crawford.

All this being said, I love Joe. I think he's a great player. You can never leave him alone on offense, and he finds ways to get his teammates involved, knowing that they are all good finishers. But he has shown through a decade of NBA experience that he is the prototypical second banana. He needs a superstar around him, a Nash with that cuthroat determination to win. Thing is, looking at a team like Orlando, I don't know how good they would be with Joe instead of Vince. I mean, Dwight is their best player, but where do the chips fall from there? Can you win with Joe as your second-best? Especially if he is getting paid max money? I don't know. I hope for Joe, that you can. But I really don't know.