No Manu, No Win

Forget the non-foul call on Brent Barry in the final seconds – seriously, when was the last time you saw that call made in that situation – the Spurs role players and spark plug lost this game. That they stayed as close as two points midway into the fourth quarter amazed me way more than the fact they lost. Yes, Manu Ginobili did actually play in this game before the end of the fourth quarter. If you missed him, you weren’t alone. Whether hampered by injury, or having a bad night, the Argentine was a non-factor, scoring two points the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game, finishing with only seven points.

The usual suspects, Parker and Duncan, played solid games. Barry had the playoff game of his life, almost single-handedly accounting for the team’s 3-pt production. As for the rest of the team – in a word, pathetic. How many games do you win when two starters, Michael FInley and Fabricio Oberto in this case, fail to score. Robert Horry officially traded in the Big Shot Bob moniker for No Shot Robby. Poppovich was forced to stick with his top three and the hot Barry almost the entire second half to erase the Lakers lead. By the fourth quarter, the Spurs looked winded and old.

Unlike the Spurs role players, LA received solid contributions across the board. Lamar Odom scored 8 of his 16 in the fourth, and grabbed nine rebounds in the game. Down the stretch, it appeared that Odom could score at will, or at least get to the basket whenever he wanted, no matter who was guarding him. That’s the type of scary talent he has. It’s the inconsistency, like his Game 3 performance that prevents him from becoming a star. Derek Fischer recovered from a poor outing to play a solid game, combining with backup
point guard Jordan Farmer for only two turnovers in 47 combined minutes. Not flashy, just solid, fundamental playoff basketball.

Almost unnoticed, Pau Gasol played decent defense on Duncan for the first time all series. The Big Fundamental shot 10-26 from the field, bothered by Gasol’s length and extra aggression. He still dumped in 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, but was not much of a factor late in the game, and had to work much harder for those points than the first three games. On offense, Gasol only took seven shots to score his ten points. The unselfish big man finally dug his hells in, grinding inside with Duncan, fighting for position and forcing Duncan to commit fouls. Then adeptly, when his shot was not there, he setup his teammates. Not many 7-footers notch 6 assists.

All this without mentioning Kobe. You assume those 28 points from Bryant almost every night. Everyone is investigating the zero foul shots – first postseason game since 2004 without a free throw. It’s no surprise, he didn’t attack the hole often, mostly settling for jumpers. His big stat was ten rebounds. LA killed San Antonio on the glass, especially the offensive boards. Poppovich said as much in his timeout huddle that aired on TNT. Allowing second chance opportunities build leads and kill comebacks. Each time the Spurs made a defensive stop and the Lakers grabbed an offensive board, more time off the clock, more energy spent on defense, less momentum. A vicious cycle. Detroit suffered the same fate in Game 3 against Boston and never came back. San Antonio tied the game five times, but never took the lead.

Up against the wall, the defending champs need to pull a rabbit out of their hat to win this series. Thursday night is shaping into the next step for this Lakers team. The Spurs are never dead until they lose four times, but the casket is in the ground.

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TNT-NBA Live Stream Not Ready for Primetime

Credit the NBA and TNT for taking the huge leap of faith by streaming a nationally televised playoff game on the Internet. Another sign the future of digital media is now. This particular partnership, after completing a groundbreaking television contract that included digital rights earlier this year, and building a dedicated Internet video portal during the season (TNT Overtime at NBA.com) has a chance to set the trend for the major leagues.

Trailblazers – not the kind from Portland – benefit from being ahead of the curve, and fail by being ahead of the credit, because they encounter problems. TNT’s experiment with the Western Conference Finals is filled with shortcomings that prevent the experience from fully engaging the user, frustrating enough to push experimental viewers back to the TV set, and just downright irritate users with no television option.

Video was solid, slightly jumpy and a touch grainy at times, but overall high quality. The multi-camera view immediately caught my attention when first announced. That’s what will separate the online experience – and eventually interactive TV – from regular television. Interactivity – allowing the user to create the experience – is at the crux of digital media. Rather than user’s choosing from using any camera deployed around the court, they picked from the regular feed, a player cam that followed one individual player from each team as voted by the fans each quarter, the “robo” cam from overhead, or a mosaic that had all four views. Alternatively, users could use a view from the Arena jumbotron. I see more options in the future, a good start nonetheless. Unlike most streaming video applications, no option exists to switch the view to full screen. Grainy screen or not, some users buy big screen monitors for a reason.

Multimedia means media from multiple sources – notably audio and video. TNT delivered the video, not the audio. Users are exposed to the ambient arena noise, enough to hear the fans and PA announcer. Without the broadcasters its difficult to follow the game, especially if you watch the player cam and can’t follow the ball. As annoying as some broadcasters can be, they are there for a reason. Hearing the foul situation, the coach’s strategy, the interviews between quarters, the numerous other stories that develop throughout a game, its part of the experience. TNT failed to deliver.

In-line with audio possibilities, TNT should consider using the player mic – a smashing success when used on an entertaining player like Rony Turiaf, evidenced with his various histrionics on Friday night. Give the fans something. The broadcasters, player mics, even fan commentary from people at the game. Delivering a combination of all three is optimal, again allowing the user at home to create the experience, something television cannot accomplish.

Compounding the lack of commentary, the player provided no access to stats or a boxscore. Instantaneous access to information is another cornerstone of digital media. Fans want stats, lots of them. More than just points and rebounds, shot charts, the ability to look up season stats, the interesting trends that broadcaster routinely cite (points in the paint, 10-0 runs, etc.). All that is possible online. TNT could replace the upcoming schedule on the left column with a box score and have miscellaneous stats pop up during the game, or provide links to get more detailed stats. At least give users the option to add a stats section somewhere on the screen.

Chat is another perfect application for streaming live games. Let the fans interact. TNT and the NBA got one part right, creating three channels, one each for fans of the two teams, and a general one. Only problem, users had to use a completely separate window to chat, preventing them from watching the game. Even though it required a separate window (or tab), the chat window only used the left quarter of the screen, leaving the entire middle blank. Chat and message boards during live events are tough to monitor and keep up with, making it difficult to use it as a forum to ask announcers questions, yet its a key interaction that people use. They are already online watching, engage them further, keep them on the site. This chat application was not user-friendly or as engaging as I envisioned.

Overall, nice to see a major league and major broadcaster take a stab at advancement. Now, the key is to learn from these shortcomings and continually make it better, and expand the coverage.

Spurs Give One Away

San Antonio had a myriad of excuses heading into this game. A tough seven game series ended with a draining road win only two nights earlier, the lack of rest, the wear and tear on the aging team, then throw in the airplane debacle that cost them a good night’s sleep before a cross-country flight. With the rested top seed Lakers waiting at home, why even play game one.

Well, they played, and San Antonio jumped Kobe’s crew, a 20 point blowout into the third quarter. Then the walls crumbled. LA mounted the second biggest playoff comeback since 1998, overcoming the deficit to win by four. Actually, LA did not comeback so much as the Spurs retreated and Kobe, by himself, charged ahead.

13 points in the fourth quarter in a playoff game is terrible. Call it fatigue, call it good defense, the reason the Spurs scored 13 points was Phil Jackson adjusted to Duncan’s dominance, and nobody stepped up. Ginobili, who carried the team in the New Orleans series as Duncan faced a tough matchup, played awful, shooting 3-13 for only 10 points. He missed big shots down the stretch, and turned it over four times. The Sixth Man of the Year turned starter must play well for San Antonio to win. Once LA adapted to Duncan inside, the Spurs offense shutdown.

Contrary to Game Seven on Monday night, the bench produced a meager 11 points for San Antonio. No clutch shots from the Finleys, the Horrys, and the Udokas of the world. No 3-point barrage. No big secondary performance. Duncan will not go quietly this series, proving last night with a vintage 30 point, 18 rebound effort that nobody on the Lakers can guard him in single coverage. The rest of the team needs to step up now. If Ginobili shoots 3-13 and can’t get to the line, San Antonio has no chance, none what so ever. He is the spark plug for this team.

Not to be outdone by Lebron, Kobe showed that he is still the best playoff performer in the league. After a quiet 2-point first half, he decided to take over – yes, he actually said, he knew he could just flip the switch on at will, how great is that. Bryant scored with ease in the second half, the Lakers as a team played under control but at their pace. They never panicked and they operated like a well oiled machine on both ends of the floor.

If any team can overcome blowing this game, its the Spurs. The same way we said the Spurs could overcome the 0-2 hole against New Orleans. The loss hurts, hurts a lot, Poppovich said as much. With Ginobili struggling the Spurs offense disappeared, reverting exclusively to Duncan in the post. When the Lakers finally took that away with double teams the Spurs fizzled – and it showed. The Argentine, and backcourt compadre Tony Parker hold the key. Bryant will get his every game, Duncan will get his, Parker and Ginobili need to make the difference or the Spurs are in trouble.

Kobe Bryant Grab First MVP

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant officially won his first NBA Most Valuable Player Award, confirming reports that leaked out late last week. Commissioner David Stern will present the Maurice Podoloff Trophy to Bryant prior to Wednesday’s Western Conference Semifinal Game Two against Utah at the Staples Center.

Bryant finished the season averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists, playing all 82 games despite battling a torn ligament in his pinky finger since February. He becomes the first Laker to win the award since former teammate Shaquille O’Neal was the unanimous selection in 1999-2000. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson are the only other Lakers to win MVP awards – each with two.

The 29-year-old collected 82 of the 126 first place votes, finishing with 1105 points beating out New Orleans guard Chris Paul (889 points) and Boston forward Kevin Garnett (670 points). Cleveland’s LeBron James (438 points) and Orlando’s Dwight Howard (60 points) round out the top five. Bryant led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons, but his best previous MVP finish was third place, both last year and in 2002-2003.

After a well-publicized trade demand following last season’s playoff loss, Bryant led the Lakers back to the top of the competitive Western Conference. The Lakers swept Denver in the first round of the playoffs, their first series win since the 2003-2004 playoffs, O’Neal’s last season. Los Angeles holds a 1-0 series advantage heading into tomorrow’s game with Utah.

Aside from winning an NBA Title without Shaq, the MVP award is the culmination of a great comeback for Bryant. Five years after rape charges cost him five major endorsement deals, Bryant has completely reinvented his image. His jersey is atop the NBA in sales again, he’s featured in Vitamin Water ads, and manned the cover of EA Sports NBA video game last season. In transforming from team killer to model teammate, and disappearing from the public eye off the court, Bryant is once again a coveted marketing tool for brands to associate with, especially the NBA.

Western Playoff Stampede

San Antonio, Utah, and New Orleans have a chance to end the most lopsided Western Conference playoff round in recent memory. Bad enough the lower seeds have only won three games, six of the 12 games have been decided by double figures – three happen to be in the Utah-Houston series. So much for the anyone can win the conference claim.

Denver never gave Los Angeles a match. The Nuggets self-destructed, losing every aspect of the game except technical fouls. Combined with the Laker discipline and execution, with Denver’s selfish play, lack of discipline and lack of ball movement, it adds up to a sweep. Carmelo Anthony was right – his team, top to bottom, quit.

Dallas traded the farm for 7.3 points, 6.3 assists, and a nice view of the Chris Paul show. Oh yeah, forgot that ejection. That sums up Jason Kidd’s performance in this series. Paul makes Kidd look old, totally dominating him on both ends of the court at will. Less prominent, though as imposing, Dallas has no equal for David West either. Josh Howard disappeared into a cloud of smoke that only thickened after his untimely comments. The coach is on the hot seat, the star point guard doesn’t belong on the same court as his counterpart, the Small Forward lacks any judgment, throw in two superstars on the other team, adds up to New Orleans coasting in five tonight.

Forever the playoff goat, Tracy McGrady unfairly shouldered the blame for his teams inability to win a playoff series prior to this year. However, he earned that blame against Utah, scoring 1 point in the combined fourth quarters of Games 1 and 2. Yes, the Rockets are banged up . Yes, Utah has a solid team up and down the roster. But if they hang in the game until the final minute, McGrady has to close it out. More and more it looks like he’ll never live down that comment about the Pistons, up three games to one in 2003 while with Orlando. If Houston extends the series, Utah will not lose at home twice.

The mother of all first round series, San Antonio and Phoenix. Last week I wrote about a scintillating Game One that the Spurs pulled out in double overtime, best game of the year. Phoenix responded with a strong start in Game Two, then went on vacation for six quarters. Always consistent, ready to pounce on the opponent, San Antonio erased a a double-digit deficit in Game Two to win easily, before blowing the doors of the arena early in Game Three. Nash and company recovered in Game Four, but beating San Antonio four straight in the playoffs, without home court is daunting.  Unable to stop the penetration of Parker and Ginobili, the Suns become susceptible to easy shots, and kick outs for three. The defending champs took Sunday off, expect them to rebound tonight. Shaq has played pedestrian this series, failing to make a significant contribution on either side of the floor. No longer an offensive threat, too slow to play consistent defense. Losing Grant Hill, forever injured, hurts Phoenix tremendously on defense, its best answer to the younger, quicker Parker. Prior to Sunday, the Suns role players – Barbosa and Diow – failed to show up, players they need in order to win. Of any team trailing 3 games to 1, this team has the best chance to at least extend the series. They need a full team effort, and someone needs to control the perimeter on defense to slow down the Spurs attack.

Round Two is shaping up with two intriguing matchups, then again, we thought Round One was too.

For the Record: NBA Playoff Picks

This year’s NBA playoffs has it all – except the Knicks. Los Angeles and Boston at the forefront, All-Stars galore, to go along with the most competitive conference in league history. Lakers-Celtics is the NBA’s dream matchup, David Stern TV ratings and dollar signs float through his head just thinking about it. Unfortunately for the Commissioner, I envision a repeat of 1988, not 1986. Enough hype, let’s get it on.

Eastern Conference

36 win teams do not belong in the playoffs. They don’t deserve to collect a playoff share, or even get the chance to pull an upset. Boston dominated the NBA – not just the East, proving it with a 22-5 mark vs. Western Conference foes. KG and company swept Atlanta in the season series, expect much of the same in round one – Celts in 4.

Rarely do 59-win teams fly under the radar, especially one with five consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances and a chip on their shoulder after losing to an inferior team last season. Welcome to the Detroit Pistons world. Ripe with a rare mix of veteran leadership, playoff experience, and young energy off the bench, this Pistons team goes deeper than years past, though questions remain on how youngsters Rodney Stuckey, Amir Johnson, Aaron Afflalo, and Jason Maxiell will handle the playoff intensity. Philadelphia had a phenomenal season, outliving expectations. But Mo Cheeks maximized what he could from this team, a few late season losses cost them the sixth seed. Detroit’s advantage in playoff experience, and lock down defense should make this a quick exit for the surprising 76er’s, not a series with the intensity to test those Piston youngsters – Detroit in 5.

Dwight Howard arrived this season. No longer the next big thing, Howard is an almost automatic double-double every time he steps foot on the court, yet the key to Orlando’s ascension to 50 wins was Hedo Turkoglu. A potential Most Improved Player Candidate, the 28-year old from Turkey increased his scoring by over 6 points, and both assists and rebounds by more than 1.5 per game. Off-season acquisition Rashard Lewis teams up with Howard and Turkoglu to form arguably the best frontcourt in the league, one that can beat you from inside and out. Point guard remains Orlando’s weakness, playing right into the strength of the disappointing Toronto Raptors, with a two-headed monster at point that most teams would kill for, TJ Ford and Jose Calderon. After emerging to win the Atlantic last season, Toronto regressed, falling apart when an injury forced Chris Bosh out of action. Bosh vs. Howard is a great matchup of contrasting styles, power and finesse, but the Raptors surrounding cast does not play tough and does not match up with Orlando – Magic in 6.

There are some things you don’t do, then just shake your head when someone does it. DeShawn Stevenson went there. He called out Lebron James. Mind you, this is not Kobe or Duncan making statements, championship rings to back them up, this is DeShawn Stevenson. Calling the NBA scoring champion who carried his team to the NBA finals overrated, a brainfreeze, calling the rest of the Cavs underachievers though, on the money. If Stevenson didn’t light the flame, Washington enters the series playing much better than Cleveland, and they add Gilbert Arenas to a team that learned to play without him. Now, the Wizards must beware of the King taking out his frustration and single-handedly winning this series. Before Stevenson, Washington in 6, now – Cavs in 7.

A two horse race all season, its only fitting the conference championship comes down to Detroit and Boston. The Celtics bring the star power – KG, Pierce, and Allen – with a surprisingly dominant defense and home court. After failing to reach the Finals each of the past two seasons Detroit is on a mission to get back. None of the Celts stars have played big in a big game yet, Detroit’s have. They want the big shot. Point guard is the difference, while Rajon Rondo exceeded expectations, he’s not Chauncey Billups. That matchup will be the difference in this classic series – Detroit in 7.

Western Conference

It happened last season, the eight seed knocking off the top seed in the West, this year only 6 wins separate the two, could it happen again? Not unless Denver suddenly learns how to play defense. Kobe has the running mate he begged for in Pau Gasol, a legit All-Star who fit right into the Lakers system like a glove. Hidden as a third option, don’t underestimate Lamar Odom, an immense talent that quietly averaged a double-double. Odom creates match-up problems for opponents, and can take over a game. The Lakers won’t need him to do that in Round One – LA in 5.

Rarely is the second-seed viewed as an underdog in the opening series, especially one that boasts an MVP candidate. Not quite the underdog in Vegas, a Hornets first round exit would still surprise few. The knock on them, never been there before. Well, Utah’s current cast never did it before last season, and ran to the conference finals. I’m not saying New Orleans won’t pay some playoff dues before contending for the title, but they deserve the second seed and will live up tot that expectation. Chris Paul dominated Jason Kidd all season, the only addition to a Dallas team that choked away the NBA Finals and a first-round series the previous two seasons. The Kidd trade did not provide the big lift a struggling Dallas team needed. Nowitzki injury aside, Dallas was inconsistent all season, with and without Kidd or Nowitzki. They have gaping holes on defense, in the post, and despite their mid-season acquisition, a mismatch at point guard in this series. Byron Scott would love to send Kidd crawling home four years after the outspoken point guard helped get Scott fired in New Jersey – NO in 6.

A heavyweight tussle made for the conference finals, not the first round. Forget the build up and hype, we all know the history between San Antonio and Phoenix by now, we know all the major players, buckle up for a classic. Amare Stoudemire played as good as anyone in the NBA after the Shaq acquisition freed him up on both ends of the court, the Spurs need to find a way to contain him off the pick and roll with Nash to slow down the Suns offensively. Duncan will play big, he always does in the playoffs, San Antonio needs a healthy Manu Ginobili. The lanky Argentine posted career numbers coming off the bench most of the season. A game changer on both ends of the floor, Ginobili makes the plays that win playoff games, a steal, a driving score in the fourth, he does it when it counts most. Expect a fierce battle, the stars will shine, Manu will rise – Spurs in 7.

Somehow, Houston managed to win 22 straight games, mostly without Yao Ming, surely earning Rick Adelman a few coach of the year votes. In this crazy season out West, Utah is seeded fourth, yet Houston holds home court, where they lost to Utah in a first round Game 7 last year. Despite averaging 28.5 ppg in the post-season, the inevitable question – Can Tracy McGrady win a playoff series – comes up, as if McGrady is the reason his team loses each year. Without Yao, McGrady showed signs of slowing down late in the season, hampered by a shoulder injury. Already missing point guard Rafer Alston for the first two games, Houston needs not only a healthy T-Mac, but possibly a herculean effort from McGrady to overcome a talented Jazz squad. Pencil in 3 almost automatic home wins for Utah, 37-4 in Salt Lake this year, Boozer and Williams will get at least one in Houston – Utah in 6.

After my don’t underestimate New Orleans speech, I give them little to no chance in the second round against San Antonio, to whom home court advantage makes little difference. LA and Utah has the makings of a classic, as do most series out West. When two teams are so closely matched, go with the best player on the court, in this case Kobe Bryant. On paper, you can argue the Spurs will lose each of these series, but they are the champs – five times to be exact – until beaten. Spurs in 6.

One question, will any team coming out of the West have enough in the tank when the Finals rolls around? The Spurs have an older team, having to go through Phoenix, New Orleans, and LA, in what expects to be three hard fought series may leave them out of gas in the finals. Detroit will have revenge on their mind, both on the critics who buried them after last season and on the Spurs who ended their chance to repeat in 2005. Lost in the Western Conference hype this season, nobody realizes how good Detroit and Boston actually are, the world will see in the finals – Detroit in 7.

NBA Trade Deadline Winners

What a difference a year makes. 2008 proved anything but quiet at the deadline with a flurry of past and future All-Stars, a hall-0f-famer, big contracts, and championship contenders all involved. Needless to say it impacted the playoff landscape. With the phones silenced for now, time to assess the damage. We’ll focus on the teams that made the big moves – apologies to New Orleans, Portland, Denver, Detroit, and Toronto, I don’t see the impact.

The Winners
Lakers – LA made out like bandits, landing Pau Gasol for a point guard unlikely to realize his potential in LA, and a bag of balls. Gasol and Kobe clicked immediately, forming a dynamic inside out offensive duo. With Phil Jackson at the helm, two top notch scorers, the best player in the world, the right mix of veteran and young role players, a dynamic athlete now playing under the radar in Lamar Odom, the Lakers have formed the perfect storm to ride to the top. Not to mention 7 feet of potential lingering on the bench for a return. Forget a healthy Bynum, LA is the best team in the league right now, Bynum makes them scary.
Miami – Jettison a $20 million albatross for a dynamic offensive and defensive player. Criticize Pat Riley all you want for the coaching job, but consider he removed Shaq, Ricky Davis, and Antoine Walker – three bad contracts – from the salary cap, expediting the rebuilding process. A one year trial for Marion to find out if they want to team him with Wade for the long-term, or use the cap space on another star in 2009 or 2010.
New Jersey – A young point guard with nice upside locked up until 2013 at a reasonable price, expiring contracts, and draft picks for a disgruntled, highly paid superstar that publicly requested a trade. Consider how difficult it is to get equal value for star caliber players, Thorn made out nice, opening the door for NJ to re-tool and still compete in the watered-down Eastern Conference.
San Antonio – Subtle, yet important. Like the team itself, quiet assassins, San Antonio grabbed a veteran inside defensive presence to counteract the Gasol and Shaq deals, providing Duncan with help inside. Kurt Thomas can knock down the 15-foot jumper, another offensive weapon to go alongside Horry come playoff time. Don’t underestimate his toughness in a playoff series.
Atlanta – A scary collection of athletic talent, Bibby provides the veteran presence on and off the court the young team needs. A playmaker to create shots for Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Joe Johnson, et al., Bibby improves the Hawks outside shooting and fits right into the transition game they excel in. Atlanta is close to becoming a force.
Seattle – Seattle moves into full-fledge rebuilding mode, dumping any and all veteran possible to stock up on draft picks and less expensive contracts. Since winning is not the objective, Seattle accomplished its mission.

Could Have Done Better
Cleveland – With LeBron quietly pressuring the team to make a move, Ferry made a splash with a trade involving a full roster of players. On the surface, Cleveland improves, acquiring shooting help with Sczerbiak and West, inside scoring with Joe Smith, having a solid season with over 17 ppg in Chicago, and the former defensive player of the year and rebounding monster Ben Wallace. A clear upgrade over Hughes, Gooden, Simmons, Brown, and Newble, though Gooden is much better than he’s played this season, the question remains if Wallace can rediscover his former self. Losing out on Bibby, who the Cavs could have snatched with Gooden in the package, along with the uncertainty of Wallace may leave Cavs fans – and a certain superstar – wondering what if come May.
Phoenix – Wrote about this previously, high risk, high reward trade by Steve Kerr. The type of move that can cost Kerr his job, or elevate him to genius. Phoenix was not winning the title with the team as it was, credit him for his boldness, not settling for another good regular season and tough playoff loss. On the upside, Shaq provides the toughness, rebounding, and interior defense the Suns lacked in the half-court game, liberating Amare on both ends of the court, leading Phoenix to the title. The downside, Shaq continues his downward trend, Suns fall in the first or second round again, get saddled with a bad contract for 2-3 years marking the downfall of this group. The reality lies somewhere in between, expect a rejuvenated Shaq to play well, help Phoenix develop a half court game for the playoffs, but the Suns still fall short in May and June
Sacremento – Mission half accomplished, moved Bibby, hung onto Artest. The bad boy had suitors, the Kings should have taken advantage of the opportunity.
Losers
Memphis – Can you say Fire Sale?
Dallas – Similar to Phoenix, the Mavs had to change things up to have a chance to take the next step. Kidd brings leadership and a grittiness to a team that clearly lacks the veteran presence. Dallas needs Kidd to find his former self after a sub-par season for an underachieving Nets team. His presence will benefit Dirk, Howard, and Terry offensively, but does nothing to shield Dallas from the Duncan’s, Shaq’s, Stoudemire’s, and Gasol’s of the newly West. At 35, though still playing at high level, you can make a strong case Kidd ranks behind Williams, Paul, and Nash at point in the West, all in the same Western Conference scrum as Dallas. If that proves true, Dallas loses out big time. They lose a young potential star with a good contract, become the oldest team in the NBA, tie up the salary cap with a big number for the next few years, assuming a Kidd extension, all for a player on the downside who does not solve their biggest weaknesses and does not put them over the top. The move reeks of desperation. However, give them credit for taking a chance, not settling for 55 wins and a playoff exit.
Chicago – Involved with every major trade rumor the past year – Kobe, KG, Gasol – the Bulls held their assets, watched Gordon, Deng, and Hinrich plummet in value for arguably the biggest disappointment in the NBA this season. In the end, they hold all three, acquiring the likes of Gooden and Hughes. What’s the plan in Chi-town? Yes, they end the failed Ben Wallace experiment, cutting losses. Is Chicago rebuilding, trying to make a run, planning to hold Gordon, Deng, Hinrich, Duhon, et al.? Why Hughes, who plays the same position? Will Gooden take playing time from Tyrus Thomas and Joakhim Noah, who both stood to benefit without Wallace. Too many questions.
Boston, Orlando, Houston You may ask why. All three teams need point guard help – Boston a veteran to split time with Rondo, Houston and Orlando a playmaker to setup their scorers. Houston tried by acquiring Bobby Jackson, but that does not put them over the top or out of the first round in the West – a waste of Yao and McGrady. Boston will play in the playoffs. Who do you want in a big spot, Billups or Rondo? Down in Florida, Nelson has disappointed, and Arroyo is nothing more than a backup. Still young with good upside, Orlando waits until next year without a point guard.