Points in the Paint 02.18.09: All Star Edition (Part I)
Posted by Rob Bonnette on 02.18.2009
The league business right now!
Hello everyone, and welcome to Part I of the Post All-Star edition of Points in the Paint. In this part I'm reflecting on league goings on right now. Part II will be my first half recap and predictions for the second half. That'll be up soon. Anyone, dive in and enjoy!
The trade deadline cometh!
Note: I will update with instant react should any more major deals go down after this is posted
By the time you read this, the trade deadline may have already come and gone. As of right now, the only big to take place is the trade that went down between Toronto and Miami where the Heat sent Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Raptors in return for Jermaine O'Neal and Jamario Moon. This could work out well for both teams, but we'll see. The Heat must feel that rookie Michael Beasley is ready to be a full time starting small forward, and clearly had no intent of giving Marion the extension he was hoping to land. They also needed someone to put at center so Udonis Haslem could go back to power forward where he belongs. O'Neal isn't much of a low post banger but he can hold his own against the other centers in the league, assuming he remains healthy. Moon can back up Beasley and Haslem, so there's no loss of depth. GM pat Riley must smell some blood in the water, and there is some now that Orlando is reeling; the third best record in the East is within reach if all works out well. The Raptors, on the other hand, needed somebody who could back up point guard Jose Calderon; Banks is OK at best but he's better than nothing. Marion will slide in at small forward; with Chris Bosh and a suddenly improved Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors have their four/five combo now. O'Neal was insurance against Bargnani becoming Darko II; since that looks to no longer be a worry he wasn't needed anymore. The Raptors are stuck near the bottom of the East, and are lottery bound even after this deal.
The big losers from this trade look to be both O'Neal and Marion. They were part of the gang that was paid like franchise players even though they weren't, and now their oversize contracts are both coming to a close in the next two years (Marion is up in 2009 and O'Neal in 2010). The likelihood of them getting paid in the $15 to $20 million dollar range like they have been is pretty much zero. O'Neal is a number two guy who occasionally produces like a franchise player, and Marion is a third banana who fooled people into thinking otherwise by playing with two of the better point guards in the league (Steve Nash and pre-flameout Stephon Marbury). Other members of this crew include Marbury, Steve Francis, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby, Lamar Odom, Andrei Kirilenko, Zach Randolph, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, and Amare Stoudemire. A look at the salaries some of these guys are getting will astonish you. They have a combined five trips to the finals and zero championship rings, a long list of coaches who got fired, and multiple trades after signing their big deals (nine total, maybe more in the next few days. What happened is that they all put up numbers, made highlight reels (and a few All Star teams), and achieved some level of popularity in their home cities. Some even had a little playoff success (Carter, Bibby, Martin & Jefferson). And so, when their contracts begun to run out their GMs had to choose between signing guys who looked like potential franchise players like they were already there, or letting them leave and incurring the short term (possibly long term) wrath of their fanbases. In all cases, they chose the former and lived to regret it.
And where will he end up?
Amare Stoudemire's name is the one that is being bandied around the most likely to be dealt before the deadline. Seeing as how he's on that list I just did, I think it goes without saying that I wouldn't go near him. It's good that he puts up numbers (21 points and 8 rebounds to date for this season), is only 26 years old, and spectacular to watch. But it's bad that he wants bigger numbers and to be the man seemingly more than winning, plays no defense OK, and is what I call a Mirage Rebounder. That is, his rebounding numbers look good on average but the numbers hide that he doesn't get a lot of tough boards and would rather get 28 points with 5 rebounds than to get 14 points with 20 rebounds. He's part of a group that includes Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowitzki. Everything he brings to the table is countered by an equally bad thing. So if you want to win big, you may not want him around. He's like that slightly used Ferrari that looks brand new but only costs $20,000. At first glance you think ‘Ferrari for $20 grand? I want it!' But then you realize there's a reason a fairly new Ferrari only costs $20 grand. And then you get it anyway, hoping that you can maybe squeeze a year out of it and get a few really hot girls to ride in the car with you before it inevitably falls apart or spontaneously combusts. Now in this case the falling apart would simply be getting in a playoff series and seeing all of his faults exposed on the big stage. But there's no guarantee that will happen. If you bring him in thinking that he'll be your franchise player and carry you to victory then you're wrong. But if you bring him to provide offensive production, and leave the intangible leadership stuff to someone else, you can do well with him. You would need a Stockton/Malone kind of situation; Malone scored the points and got more attention, but in retrospect it was obvious that Stockton drove the train there. I think that if Amare can get his numbers and be seen as the man, even if it's by fans more than by real basketball experts, he'll be fine. The problem in Phoenix for both he and Shawn Marion is that they were to most consistent finishers on the team, but the credit and attention was always going to Steve Nash. And while that is very selfish you have to remember that before last season people were laying down palms at Nash's feet when he walked in the room; that can hard to deal with when you're the one turning his passes into points.
The Firing Line continues!
I honestly thought we were done for the year; it seemed that every potential Dead Coach Walking had finally been put out of his misery once Marc Iavaroni got run in Memphis. But apparently not; Terry Porter is reported to be going gently into that good night (he'll probably be gone by the time you read this). The cause? Underachievement and the dislike of the players. The whole thing started off badly; Porter is a more defensive minded guy who was brought in to replace Mike D'Antoni, who everyone knows is Mr. Offense. Steve Nash hasn't taken too well to the change in philosophy, and there are others (Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, and the since traded Boris Diaw and Raja Bell) who weren't big fans either. When you have bad feelings like that, the only cure in winning, and the Suns haven't won enough. I figured they'd be a sure playoff team this season, but right now they'd be out. Their roster is still too good on paper for that to be the end result, so someone has to go. I don't think this will help in the long run; the Suns have been pretty healthy all season long and are trailing teams that haven't been. One would think that once Utah and New Orleans are able to field their full teams again this race will be over. Houston, despite going through it's customary injury ridden campaign, has managed to stay afloat and Dallas has gotten better as of late; somebody has to go through a prolonged absence of major players to fall far enough for the Suns to catch them. And if the seemingly inevitable Stoudemire trade happens but brings in garbage, then you Suns fans can start counting those ping pong balls.
All Star Weekend Musings
I DVR'ed the game but may not watch it; I already saw the final score so I know it wasn't close. I've watched some of the other stuff; the celebrity game sounds a lot better in theory than it plays out in real life. Globetrotters in the game? Good. Celebrities who can actually play, like T.O.? Good. Dominique Wilkins bombing away like it's 1988? Not so good. At least not at three in the morning when I watched it. The rookie-sophomore is a more of a defense-free affair than the All-Star game; I saw more matador defense there than I've ever seen in the All-Star game. Guys literally were just standing and watching while people blew them for layups. It was like watching a Knicks game for crying out loud. All that being said, it's clear now that Kevin Durant is the real deal; he actually played with some attitude in that game and dropped 46. If they luck out in the lottery and get Blake Griffin, watch out for Oklahoma City next season. I always like the shootout and the three point contests, I have to watch the HORSE contest before I can fairly judge it. And the Slam Dunk contest was pretty good as well; the keys to that are getting people who fans care about to participate and who actually care enough about it to be creative. We got that this year, so it was good.
There were two other noteworthy things; the Allen Iverson haircut and the Shaquille O'Neal send off. This really looks like we're nearing the end of an era for both those guys. Iverson is having his worst season statistically since his rookie season, and Shaq may miss the playoffs for the first time since his rookie year. These two guys have been more meaningful figures over the past twelve years than anyone else in the league. O"Neal has been the larger than life figure, the one guy who affected more games by his mere presence on the court than anyone else in recent memory save Magic Johnson. No one since Wilt altered game plans as much simply by virtue of being there; Jordan was an unstoppable force of will but physically he wasn't much different than a lot of other players. You switch his personality for Clyde Drexler's and Bulls don't win six titles. But O'Neal, even at an advanced age and nowhere near what he once was, is still effective enough to earn a legitimate All Star selection. Iverson, has been the opposite. Few men his size have been as effective; Isaiah Thomas, Tiny Archibald, and that's about it really. The guy won scoring titles, the league MVP, and carried his team to the Finals at all of 6 feet tall (if that) during an era dominated by Shaq and an entire legion of swingmen with half a foot of height over AI. Yes, it went downhill (in terms of wins and losses, not his overall game) after that MVP and Finals appearance but that was largely because his team's front offices no longer surrounded with the type of players he needed in order to thrive. For over a decade he's been the ultimate symbol of defiance on a basketball court, for good and ill. And now he's cut his hair, one of the symbols of his defiance, basically showing that he's rounding third and heading home in his career, and is a grown man now. No matter what you thought of him, you have to admire his will on the court to succeed against all odds.
OK, that's it Part I. Be on the lookout for Part II soon.