The NBA trading deadline was pretty sobering to those who really enjoy parody: there are a handful of teams really gunning for a championship this year, while the rest are willing to wallow in their mediocrity or even sell off good players for cap space to look ahead for next year (see Knicks, Clippers, Wizards). If you’re a fan of one of those elite teams this is fun for you or if you have a young core that is exciting to watch (only Oklahoma City, Sacramento and Chicago qualify) you can have fun too, while fans of the rest of the teams that have no shot of doing anything get an introductory course of Crappy Basketball 101 on a nightly basis (like me and my beloved Sixers).
But the economic realities make this possible and definitely unsustainable in the future if the NBA wants to continue to be successful. It’s no fun knowing that two-thirds of the league doesn’t have a chance at sniffing the second round and watching teams just giving good players away for 10 cents on the dollar. What’s worse is that you get angry at your team for not engaging in auctioning off players for expiring contracts (like I am with the less beloved GM of the Sixers, Ed Stefanski). But, you can’t win when you’re paying two non-franchise guys, franchise money, in today’s NBA where that takes up so much of your cap. I’d be fine with Andre Iguodala being the 3rd guy on a championship team, running the wing for a team like Portland with an established crunch-time guy/alpha dog in Brandon Roy, legit big guy in LaMarcus Aldridge, and steady point guard like Andre Miller. But Iggy as my number one guy making $80 million over 5 years, I’ll have to pass (Which, by the way, makes Stefanski’s decision to stand pat even more infuriating. He knows he can’t go anywhere with this team as presently constructed, there was interest in people taking our terrible contracts off our hands, yet he wanted to continue with this group. But when you can be a fringe lottery team for the next few years and barely fill half the seats in your arena, you have to do it).
This is the NBA today. Take on one or two really bad contracts for non-franchise guys, and you’ll be forced to either be terrible, or make terrible trades for expiring contracts, so you can do it again. Something’s gotta change: either we get better GMs, change the way the cap works (higher figure, hard cap, like the NFL), or shake up the contract structure.
Enough with the morbid stuff (and crappy Sixers talk), let’s get to the action on the court.
What I like:
· Depending on how things continue to develop after the Butler/Haywood trade, the Mavericks could create problems. I was watching them play Orlando and they went on an impressive run where they played some fantastic defense on Dwight Howard and Jason Kidd really controlled the tempo offensively and got them any shot they wanted and I thought. They now have a guy who can defend the Kobe/Carmelo types in Butler, a point guard who is playing at a high level (I’m actually really shocked that he’s actually shooting a solid percentage and not getting torched on defense the way he used to. His renaissance was about as likely as curling becoming entertaining, so applaud his accomplishment), plus they have one of the best crunch-time scorers in the league (Dirk), and a nice bench. If they went on a mini-run and challenged for the two seed, I wouldn’t be surprised.
· If you are Facebook friends with me or in one of my fantasy leagues, you already know about my man-love for Kevin Durant. But even I did not see this coming. He should be no lower than second on any MVP ballot and you won’t convince me otherwise. He’s carried the Thunder from a dreadful season last year (23 wins), to potentially a home-court advantage in the first round. He’s been as consistent as anyone in the league, evidence being his 29 straight games of 25+ points. He’s efficient offensively, doesn’t bog down the offense, and the other guys stay involved. He’s gotten better defensively. He’s become one of the best guys in crunch time. Really, the only thing this team is missing is a low-post presence and they could seriously contend. And I’ve gained all this from the four games of theirs I’ve watched. I don’t care if it’s not a big sample. I know what my eyes saw. The Thunder are legit and Durant is the reason why. Now excuse me while I visit the Durantula shrine in my room.
· Houston and Cleveland pulled off the two best deals at the deadline. Cleveland gave up a first round pick (worth nothing since it’ll be at the end of the first) and Big Z (going to be bought out, expected to return) for Antwan Jamison, a versatile scorer, who’s a solid rebounder and a heady veteran, giving LeBron a solid second guy who’s ready to win. Houston got a bonafide scorer (Kevin Martin), a top-ten pick from last year’s draft (Jordan Hill), and two Knicks first round picks (which could be great picks if their summer of 2010 bonanza turns into the end of the Mayan calendar). I liked Houston’s trade more because it gave them a real two guard, someone who could score late in games (ending the Trevor Ariza experiment as a go-to guy and preventing him from breaking Larry Hughes’ record for most bad shots in the most important situations record set in 05-06), and gives them a good foundation in the future if they want to make trades and such.
What I didn’t like:
· The best team in the West, the Lakers, should have upgraded at point guard. The Lakers have a glaring black hole at the point guard position, with Derek Fisher (my pick for most washed-up/overrated veteran, just ahead of Sheed) and Jordan Farmar routinely sucking. It’s something that the other elite teams take advantage of routinely (Billups, Mo Williams both play well against Lakers) and something that they should have upgraded. It would have off-set the Cavs move for Jamison. A guy like Kirk Hinrich would have been perfect. He one of the better defenders at point guard, shoots the ball well, unselfish, and runs a team well. If they got him, they would be clear-cut favorites for the title, and it wouldn’t be close. They wouldn’t have any holes. They would be scary-good. But since Jerry West wasn’t running the Bulls, Mitch Kupchak couldn’t have stolen him for nothing. Now they are stuck getting abused by solid point guards nightly. Oh well…
· I don’t like the Spurs. They made me look stupid in the off-season for thinking that they would be serious contenders to the Lakers. Richard Jefferson just hasn’t worked. Manu isn’t the same player and probably won’t be. Parker has regressed from last year. And the greatest power forward ever can only carry them but so far, being 33 and all. It’s sad watching the end of their era fall so feebly. They were a great team, as sound defensively as we have ever seen. And that’s what I don’t like more than anything. Not that I’m wrong, but that I can’t watch one of the truly great teams in history at their peak. Queue up Nas and Quan.
· Mike Dunleavy. Just because.
· I’m not so sure how the salary dump strategy will turn out for the Knicks. Because if it works, they could end up with Wade/Joe Johnson/LeBron and Bosh/Stoudemire, and then they will look not bad, if they can find a point guard. If they end up with Donnie Walsh introducing Rudy Gay as the future of the franchise, they are going to be in trouble (and they will celebrate in Houston with those two fantastic picks). Lot of risk there. I hate New York, so I hope they fail.
Now before the season, I had a Cavs-Lakers finals before the season, and there is really no other reason to think otherwise. KG’s knee is keep the Celtics from reaching their potential. Orlando is too flukey for my tastes (they get into those “Dwight is unstoppable right now, but we want to have three straight possessions where Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes, and Mickael Pietrus jack up contested threes. No wonder Stan Van Gundy is grumpy). I would like the Nuggets, if they didn’t have that head-case factor (I refuse to trust J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Nene or Birdman with anything important in the playoffs. No matter how good they look the regular season, those guys are capable of derailing a series single-handedly. And George Karl is their coach, and I hope he recovers fully from his cancer, but he’s a terrible coach. The only coach in history without a viable inbounds play).
That only leaves the Cavs and Lakers. I have my reservations about both. The Lakers have Ron Artest (who has been a terrible acquisition and you won’t convince me otherwise) and the aforementioned Fisher/Farmar combo. The Cavs have a crunch-time scorer who can’t shoot free throws and falls in love with a jumper in crucial moments, as well as questionable support players who have already disappeared in one playoffs.
I picked the Lakers before the season, but coupled with the Cavs getting Jamison and the way Mo Williams and Delonte both handed Fisher his AARP card, I have to go with them (this is not even mentioning that Ron Artest may be the worst matchup for LeBron. He doesn’t have near the quickness nor the strength to stay with him. At least some people have one or the other. He has neither. Reason #421 why they should have kept Trevor Ariza.)
My Undisputed Finals Pick
Cavs over Lakers in 7. Homecourt will be huge and with the Cavs looking like they will get it, having game 7 at home will make all the difference.