The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and with about a third of the season remaining teams are gearing up for a post-season run. I for one am in full playoff mode, taking in as many games as I can as teams jockey for position. Here are some of my observations from around the league.
I took two things away from Sunday night’s Knicks-Heat game: Dwyane Wade is a lot more comfortable with the ball in his hands down the stretch than LeBron is and now I see what Danny Ainge was thinking. LeBron has always preferred to pass to the guy who takes the winning shot, rather than take it himself. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s just is game. He took the clutch shots for the Cavs because he was by far their best player and was crucified when he didn’t. Now he has another superstar on his team who’s more comfortable in that role. Wade should be the finisher.
Everybody knows that the Heat lack size and it was believed that the way to beat them was to pound the ball down low. That’s part of the reason it was so surprising that the Celtics traded their starting center Kendrick Perkins. However, the Knicks showed that the way to beat the Heat may actually be to go smaller. New York’s smaller lineup enabled them to switch on pick-and-rolls and stay in front of LeBron and Wade. Bosh never made them pay for their lack of size. He’s not a low post back to the basket type of player.
Even without Perkins, the Celtics are bigger and more physical than the Heat. Neither team is particularly strong at center and Garnett is much more assertive than Bosh. By trading Perkins for Jeff Green, the Celtics got younger and more athletic on the wing, which should help them keep LeBron and Wade out of the paint as the Knicks did. If the Celtics face the Lakers in the finals, that’s a different story.
There will be a few players hitting the market in the next 24 hours. After being traded from the Hawks Mike Bibby reached a buyout agreement with the Wizards, under which he forfeited the entire $6.2 million he had guaranteed next season. Bibby will clear waivers on Wednesday and wants to play for a contender. Sources say that he’s headed to Miami, where he’ll be a perfect fit. At 32, he’s lost a step since his days in Sacramento and is essentially just a jump-shooter now, but that’s exactly what Miami needs from its point guard. They have Wade and LeBron to create off the dribble and Bibby can knock down the open shots when they do. Plus, his playoff experience would be invaluable down the stretch.
Troy Murphy reached a buyout with Golden State after being trading to the Warriors from the Nets. The big fella languished on the bench in New Jersey this season, but just last year he averaged 14.6 points and 10.2 rebounds with the Pacers. He’s said to be interested in joining the Heat or the Celtics. He would add much needed depth to a Celtics team that’s too dependent on Shaquille O’Neal after the Perkins trade and his outside shot would set up pick-and-pops with Rajon Rondo.
Jared Jeffries also agreed to a buyout with the Rockets and is expected to sign with the Knicks today. D’Antoni liked his defense during his first go-around with New York and the Knicks could use him on their depleted front line. To make room for Jeffries and former Bobcat Derrick Brown, the Knicks waived Kelenna Azubuike and the recently acquired Corey Brewer. The Mavs and Celtics are among the teams who have shown interest in Brewer. The Pistons have stated that they have no plans to buy out disgruntled shooting guard Richard Hamilton.
Every time I watch Oklahoma City play I think they should have selected Stephon Curry. The Thunder opted for James Harden instead with the third pick in the 2009 draft. Harden was spectacular at Arizona State and is developing into a solid all-around player (He played great defense on Kobe on Sunday) but he isn’t the ideal fit for that offense. Harden is a slasher and OKC already has one of the best slashers in the league in point guard Russell Westbrook. What they need is a spot-up shooter to make teams pay when they double-team Westbrook or Durant. Curry would have been perfect for the role and his ball-handling ability would also have allowed Westbrook to work off the ball at times.
Forget about a franchise tag. Owners and fans of small market teams are up-in-arms over the recent migration of star players to big market teams. They’re rightfully concerned about holding on to their marquee players and maintaining a level playing field with the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks and Heat of the world. Therefore it’s expected that many owners are going to push for a franchise tag in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) this summer, like the one that exists in the NFL.
The biggest obstacle to the franchise tag is that David Stern knows that LeBron’s “Decision” and this year’s “Melodrama” have only added to the league’s popularity. Another issue is that the NBA’s salary cap structure is very different than the NFL’s. In football there’s no maximum salary. If a player is franchised he’s compensated with the average salary of the five highest paid players at his position. In the NBA any player good enough to be franchised would already be in line for a maximum salary contract, so there would be no way to adequately compensate him for foregoing free agency. Individual stars wield a tremendous amount of power in the NBA and there’s no way they’ll go along with such an arrangement. The league will have to find another way to placate small market owners.
There also won’t be contraction. The subject has to be discussed because many teams have lost money over the past few seasons. There’s also a theory that’s been espoused by LeBron James and others that contraction would improve the competitive balance of the league. However, eliminating two teams would mean cutting 30 jobs and the players will take a strong stand against that. New Orleans would be the most logical team to go since they’re now owned by the league, but the NBA will want to avoid the negative publicity that would come with removing a team from New Orleans. That being said, would anybody outside of Sacramento and Charlotte even notice if the Kings and Bobcats were contracted?
This summer won’t be anything like last or next. Last year was the long anticipated “Summer of LeBron” and in 2012 Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard can opt out of their contracts. It’s likely that the biggest names to change location in 2011 did so last week, when Carmelo was traded to the Knicks and the Jazz sent Deron Williams to New Jersey. Several other quality players who might have been available this summer were traded prior to the deadline due to uncertainty regarding the CBA. The NBA draft is also expected to be very weak. There’s no consensus number one pick and scouts believe the talent pool is neither top-heavy nor deep.
The Rockets, Pacers, Kings and Grizzlies will have the most money to spend this summer. The top free agents available to them are David West (assuming he opts out of the last year of his deal), Zack Randolph, Tyson Chandler and Tayshaun Prince. Jeff Green, Rodney Stuckey and Wilson Chandler are restricted free agents, meaning their current teams can retain their rights by matching any offers they receive.
The most intriguing players on the market are oft-injured centers Yao Ming and Greg Oden. Yao, who turns 31 in September has said he’ll wait to see how the stress fracture in his ankle heals before deciding whether to call it a career. He’s made it clear that if he does play, he’d like to finish his career in Houston, though the Rockets have been non-committal on the subject. Oden, a restricted free agent, will garner more interest because he’s still only 23 years-old.
I can’t help but feel sorry for Blazers fans. They’re some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the country and have endured more than their share of grief. A few years ago the future was so bright in Portland. Oden and Brandon Roy were the cornerstones of a team that expected to be a serious contender in the Western Conference for ten to twelve years. Now it looks like both of their careers may be over. Oden has suffered three season-ending knee injuries and Roy’s knees are bone on bone. Worse yet, Oden is the third franchise center the Blazers have lost due to chronic leg or foot injuries, Bill Walton and Sam Bowie being the other two. Nate McMillan has to be in consideration for Coach of the Year for holding the team together despite the injuries and keeping them in playoff contention.
Here are a few other names to consider for Coach of the Year: Greg Popovich (San Antonio), Tom Thibodeau (Chicago), Doug Collins (Philadelphia) and George Karl (Denver). This is a tricky award because it’s very difficult to determine if the coach did a great job or the team was just severely underrated heading into the season. At this point I’d probably vote for Pop. The makeup and quality of his team was well established and he made adjustments to get more out of the same personnel.
The Nets and Raptors are playing a doubleheader in London later this week. Is this really the best the NBA has to offer its fans overseas?
It will be interesting to see if Michael Redd has anything left after his serious knee injury. He’ll be a free agent this summer and could be a great bargain for a team in the market for a shooter like the Bulls.
I still wonder how many championships Portland would have won in the late 1980’s – early 90’s if Arvydas Sabonis had joined the team when they drafted him in 1986.