Friday, July 31, 2009

Trades That Should Happen

The NBA offseason is becoming duller by the second, with the last big-name free agents finding teams, and with very few moves being dissected from every angle. Since I agree with almost everything that has been written around the web regarding Lamar Odom resigning with the Lakers, Andre Miller signing with the Blazers, and the Emeka Okafor-Tyson Chandler trade, allow me to avoid writing the same things myself, and instead write 2 new ideas for trades that absolutely, positively should happen.

The Los Angeles Clippers trade Marcus Camby to the Chicago Bulls for Kirk Hinrich:

A trade option that is getting no mention, yet in my opinion is a coup for both teams. The Clippers have a very crowded frontcourt, with Chris Kaman, No. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin, the newly acquired Craig Smith, and the young, promising DeAndre Jordan. With four players already vying for minutes, the 35 year old Camby seems both redundant, and too old for the teams youth movement. Hinrich, on the other hand, has been in trade rumors for years now, especially this summer. With Derrick Rose poised to man the point for the next decade, last years trade deadline acquisition John Salmons expected to start at the 2, and the return of Jannero Pargo, Hinrich seems expandable.

Enter this switch. Both teams get what they want: The Bulls have been starving for a decent center for years, and though Camby isn't a very strong low post scorer, he has a decent mid-range shot (upping his shooting percentage last year to 51%), and is a shot blocking and rebounding machine. This gives the Bulls a very solid frontcourt rotation of Camby, Brad Miller, Joakim Noah, and, if they wish to keep him, Tyrus Thomas. Perhaps more importantly, this unloads Hinrich's 3 year contract, with Camby's deal coming off the books next summer, enabling the Bulls to make a run for Chicago native Dwyane Wade.

The Clippers, on the other hand, sort out their frontcourt logjam, fully committing to their youth movement. The addition of Hinrich then strengthens their backcourt, which currently doesn't consist of much more than Eric Gordon and Baron Davis. Hinrich can give the Clippers a well needed boost of veteran know how, as well as an option to replace Davis at PG if his injury issues continue. And while this deal does hurt the Clippers' cap space in 2010, I really don't believe that they have a decent chance of signing a marquee free agent, given the owner Donald Sterling's reluctant to overpay, and the franchise's well-chronicled streak of failures.

The Dallas Mavericks trade Eric Dampier to the Detroit Pistons for Rip Hamilton

As I explained here, the Mavs' inability to pry Marcin Gortat away from the Orlando Magic would suggest that they are best built to play Dirk Nowitzki at the 5 and Shawn Marion at the 4, and play Phoenix-Suns-style run and gun next season. The Mavs' signing of Tim Thomas, who thrived in Phoenix in the 2006 playoffs, and the signing of Drew Gooden, an athletic 4 who could play center in a small-ball system, strengthens this notion. Seeing how well the Mavs are built for this style of play, Dampier, a slow, traditional, center is unnecessary. Hamilton, however, is an extremely good shooter, who would thrive in a high octane offense, especially with Jason Kidd providing him with shots. Hamilton would give the Mavs a very strong, albiet old, six man core, with Nowitzki, Marion, Kidd, Josh Howard, and reigning sixth man of the year Jason Terry. Together with Thomas, Gooden, and J.J. Barea rounding out the rotation. Though this move doesn't put the Mavs over the top, it more or less solidifies their position as 3rd in the West, and gives them a chance to make some real noise come May.

The Piston's, on the other hand, get to undo Hamilton's terrible 3 year, 34 million extension that Hamilton signed last November, with Dampier's expiring deal (Dampier's deal has another year, however it is fully guaranteed. I wasn't able to understand the conditions under which Dampier's deal becomes fully guaranteed, however, from what I understand there is very little chance that will happen). This gives the Pistons some cap space next summer - though not as much as they had this year, it should be enough for a strong addition. The Piston's would also be fully committing to the newly signed Ben Gordon at shooting guard, and moving further ahead in their rebuilding. As for this season, Dampier gives the Pistons a legitimate starting 5 ahead of the infamous Kwame Brown, completing a solid, if slightly underwhelming offseason.

While some might think of Hamilton as worth more than an expiring contract, the fact remains that Hamilton has exhausted himself in Mowtown, and both sides would benefit from a change. And with the Pistons needing a big man more than anything else, and reportedly not interested in Carlos Boozer, a year of Dampier + cap space seems like the right move.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Do you believe in Magic?

No? Well, you should.

The Orlando Magic, less than two months removed from a 4-1 loss to the LA Lakers in the NBA finals, are finally doing what we want to see from almost-champions - getting better. No cutting back financially, no getting young and aiming for 3 years from now, just good, old-fashioned improvement. And boy, is that working great.

The Magic's offseason can be summarized to this: Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie for Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes. While Hedo shined last year in the playoffs, he isn't as good as Toronto's 55 million, 5 year offer would suggest - basically, he's a 30 year old who gives you 15-17 points, 5 red 5 assists. Vince Carter - despite all his bad rep - gives you at least a 20, 5 and 5, and is better at creating his own shot. The only thing the Magic might miss Hedo is his playmaking abilities, but Carter is a very underrated passer, and with a healthy Jameer Nelson, they should be fine.

Apart from replacing their biggest offseason loss with a better player, the Magic addressed another problem: their dependence on Dwight Howard. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year averaged for 13.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game - the whole team, including Howard, averaged 43.25 and 5.35, meaning Howard accounted for loosely 32% of the team's rebonds, and 55% of their blocks. In fact, the Cleveland Cavaliers based their whole offensive scheme in the Eastern Finals on attacking Howard with the hope fouling him out, and opening the middle. Well, no more. with the signing of Brandon Bass, the Magic get a strong, defensive, rebounding PF to play with Howard in the frontcourt. This enables Rashard Lewis to move back to his more natural position at small forward, no longer needing to guard the Dirk Nowitzki's and Pau Gasol's of the world. Combined with the Magic re-signing Marcin Gortat - even though 34 million over 5 years for a career backup seems a bit much, Gortat could probably start for most NBA teams and has played very well in limited minutes - the Magic now have a very strong frontcourt.

With the newly acquired experience of playing in the finals, the NBA's most dominant defensive force, 4 all-stars, and maybe the deepest team in the league (the Magic are 2 deep at every position, though they could use a better backup point guard than Anthony Johnson - they reportedly went after CJ Watson before signing Barnes), the Magic will be force to be reckoned with next season. And in a league where we see players being moved around for financial relief on a daily basis, their effort to improve instead of standing pat and hoping for the best should be applauded.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Paul Millsap Situation

The Portland Trailblazers have signed the Utah Jazz's Paul Millsap to an offer sheet worth around 36 million for 4 years. Since Millsap is a restricted free agent, the Jazz have 7 days to match the offer, thus retaining Millsap. However, the Jazz are trying to cut costs, and with Mehmet Okur's 2 year 21 million extension, and Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver deciding against opting out of their contracts, the Jazz are now committed to a lot of payroll. To add insult to injury, the Blazers have shrewdly added a very hefty signing on clause reportedly worth around 10.3 million to Millsap's offer, giving the Jazz even more financial headaches.

The thing is, Paul Millsap is a player I have no idea what to think about. After two very solid years off the bench as a second round energy guy, he blossomed in Boozer's injury-induced absence to the tune of 16 pts (on 54.5% shooting), 10 reb, 1.2 stl and 1 block a game in 38 starts. Monster numbers, and an absolute bargain at 7-8 million per year.

However, I'm not sure that Millsap can keep this going on a regular basis. A look at his season splits show that his absolutely monstrous number for December and January went way down as the season progressed. Since Millsap is such a high energy guy, he wears and tears very quickly, and one must wonder if he can play with the same effectiveness over 40 minutes as he can over 28. This is why I think the Blazers are making such a smart move with Millsap - adding him to a rotation with 3 other bigs, including Lamarcus Aldridge to start in front of him at the 4. Paul Millsap is best used as a 6th man, someone who can energize the second unit, and then stay on the court in crunch time. Perfect fit for Portland.

However, if the Jazz aren't keeping Boozer - and they are reportedly trying very hard to get rid of him - Millsap doesn't make sense by himself. He simply can't hold the fort alone at the PF position. He doesn't have the stamina. If he gets it, he's a borderline all-star, but as of now, the Jazz either need someone else to fill in minutes in their frontcourt rotation, and allow Millsap to get his rest, or, they need to give up on Millsap and move Boozer for a better fit. Which brings us to a segment I like to call - Trades That Should Happen:

The New York Knicks sign David Lee to a 5 year, 50 million contract, then trade Lee and Jared Jeffries to the Utah Jazz for Carlos Boozer and Matt Harpring

Great trade for everybody. The Jazz save some money (Jeffries and Harpring make the same, Boozer's 12.6 million is more than Lee's first year would be), rid themselves of Boozer, who has worn out his welcome, get a budding young PF who will thrive next to Deron Williams. Harpring at this point in his career is no more than a fringe player, and while Jeffries' contract has one more year on it, he may provide decent minutes. The Jazz can now decide whether they retain Millsap and run a very strong 3 man frontcourt rotation with Lee and Okur.

The Knicks get loads of cap space (both Boozer and Harpring come off the books at the end of the season) for 2010, unload one of their two preposterous contracts that continue after 2010 (the other being Eddy Curry's), and get an all-star caliber PF for the following season. Not to mention the possibility that Harpring may retire due to injury, leaving insurance to pay his contract. Finally, and maybe most importantly, they don't lose Lee in free agency without getting something in return.

Trades That Should Happen will be featuring regularly from here on out - just my humble contribution to a fascinating offseason so far.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Israel is a tennis empire!

Taking a break from the NBA offseason just to say how great Dudi Sela has become, leading Israel (together with Harel Levi) to a 2-0 lead over Russia - yes, THE Russia - in the Davis Cup. You getting any expert opinions on tennis, but Israeli pride man! After qualifying to the Wimbledon final 16, Dudi seems in great shape. We might finally have a sport we're good at here in the holy land!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Latest Offseason moves

Cleveland signs free agent Anthony Parker, resigns Anderson Varejao:

I love the Parker move. Love it. Many fans will see it as a low-profile signing, one that could have been replaced by a bigger name, but in this free agent market, Parker is top notch. As one who lives in Israel saw Parker on a regular basis when he was playing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, I can tell you that Parker is extremely underrated: excellent defender, creates his own shot, very good rebounder for his position (led Maccabi in rebounding as a SF). He wasn't the Euroleague MVP just because he's american. Great signing.

As for Varejao? Look, Cleveland had to resign him, and he had to resign. Both parties are perfect fits - there is no system better for Varejao than Cleveland. But at 6 years, 50 million? In this market? For a role player? I have no idea how Danny Ferry can defend this one. Good general thinking, terrible negotiating.

Antonio Mcdyess to Spurs

The Spurs do it again. After bringing in Richard Jefferson in a deal whose only downside was frontcourt depth, the Spurs use free agency for... wait for it... frontcourt depth! Perennialy one of the few franchises in the league who actually know what they're doing, the Spurs continue to retool around their big 3 in an attempt to get Tim Duncan his 5th championship. And they're great at it. Mcdyess is a legitimate starting center for any team in this league, and completes perhaps the best 5 in the NBA (I don't say starting 5 because Ginobili is a "bench player").

Chris Andersen resigns with Denver

Actually, I just wanted to talk about the Nuggets, with the Birdman just serving as a perfect example for my case. The Nuggets overachieved last year in the sense that they played much better than they were expected to. However, this was the result of basically everything falling into place for them: every single player on that team had something to prove, and every single one of them did. But what are the chances of that happening two years in a row? Look at Andersen. Last year: playing for the league minimum, after being suspended for drug use, trying to redeem himself. This year? fit for the rest of his career with a 5 year, 26 million deal which pays him until he's 36. Which player do you think will be more motivated?

Looking at the Denver Nuggets, they're virtually unchanged (Dahantay Jones left to the Pacers, Ty Lawson was brought in via draft). But inner complacency, combined with the Spurs retooling and the Blazers gaining valuable experience tells me that the Nugs will probably compete for the second round of the playoffs next year, and no more.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trying to understand the Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks have been as active as any team in the league since the beginning of free agent discussions on July 1st, reportedly resigning Jason Kidd (25 million, 3 years), signing the Magic's Marcin Gortat to an offer sheet (reportedly 30 million, 5 years), and now actively looking to acquire the Toronto Raptor's Shawn Marion in a sign-and-trade. Is there any reasoning behind this cluster of moves or is owner Mark Cuban reverting back to his days of collecting as many assets as possible?

Enough has been written about the Jason Kidd signing, so let me summarize: future hall-of-famer, 36 years old, significantly declining, still valuable as a leader, grossly overpaid. Probably covers it all up.

Moving to Gortat. The second year player out of Poland produced very will in a limited role as Dwight Howard's backup in Orlando, averaging 3.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks in only 12 minutes per game, with a PER of 17.04. Dallas' starting center, Eric Dampier, had 5.7, 7.1 and 1.2 in 23 minutes per game, and a PER of 15.72. Given Dampier's minutes, Gortat is definitely an upgrade, especially considering that he gives Dallas the privilege of never needing to play Ryan Hollins again. Overall, a good signing.

However, Marion starts complicating things. Marion can play as a 3 or a 4, but the Mavs have very good players at both position: former all-star Josh Howard at the 3, and former MVP Dirk Nowitzki at the 4. Where does Marion fit?

I see two options. The first one - Dallas goes small. Dirk at the 5, Marion at the 4, Howard at the 3, with Kidd leading the fast break (something he doesn't do as brilliantly as his reputation suggests, but is still good at). Both Dirk and Marion have had many years of small ball playing with Steve Nash, and I doubt they would be against returning to that style of play. Marion, in particular, may even re-emerge as the all-star he once was, though his recent drop probably has more to do with him than with the systems he played in with Miami and Toronto. However, there is only one problem - the Mavs are signing Gortat. There is no way that Gortat can play small ball - not only is he a traditional center, he doesn't fit in with the potential rotation described above.

Which leads us to only one conclusion: if Marion comes, then Dallas will try to get rid of Josh Howard. The Mavs aren't going to keep 3 very highly paid forwards on the team, and seeing how Dirk is the face of the franchise, and Marion is unlikely to accept a bench role with his history of bickering and alpha dog aspirations, J-Ho is the odd man out. Maybe the Mavs are tired with his injuries and bizarre interviews, maybe they feel they can progress no more with him on their team, but the writing is on the wall.

Of course, this whole article may seems irrelevant tomorrow when Marion talks fall out for whatever reason. Or when the Mavs sign Marion, keep Howard, and implode. But that's just NBA free agency for you. So if - and that's a big if - this all falls into place, don't be surprised when Josh Howard wears a different uniform next season.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rasheed to Boston

Rasheed Wallace is taking his bald spot to Beantown next season for a deal (reportedly) in the 2 year, 12 million range. While Wallace is still, at the age of 34 (35 by the start of the season), a very good basketball player, is this really what the Celtics wanted to do with their offseason?

The Celtics had two glaring weaknesses las postseason: lack of depth, especially up front with Kevin Garnett injured; and a failure to fill the void left by James Posey, who filled a 6th man, defensive stopper role, while also consistently knocking down the 3 and enabling the Celts to play small. The Wallace signing all but closes the window on filling that Posey role: now that the Celts used their entire midlevel exception on Sheed, they have very little flexibility as to signing another wing. Unless Grant Hill signs with them for the minimum (still possible, but unlikely since both the Suns and the Knicks are reportedly offering him more money), that void will be left unfilled.

As for frontcourt depth. As a player who can play both the 4 and the 5, it would seems that the days of Brian Scalabrine getting crunch minutes are over. But are they?

Personally, I see no way that the Celtics can keep their own free agent, Glen Big Baby Davis, now that they brought Sheed. Davis emerged as an excellent mid-range shooter, a legitimate rotation (if not starting) PF, and a crunch time contributor (including a game winner in game 4 against the Orlando Magic) last postseason. In fact, one could argue that he was the Celtics best player in the Orlando series. Do you really think he would be content on returning to the Celts as their 4th big man? Not to mention the financial burden that would be his new contract (if Paul Millsap is worth 10 million per year then Davis is worth at least 5). So basically, the Celtics are trading Rasheed for Davis. While an upgrade, it's not a big one. Last season, Sheed avereged 12.1 and 7.4 on 42% shooting, in 32 minutes per game. Davis avereged 7 and 4 on 44% shooting in 21 minutes. In terms of per-minute production, that's almost the same, and this was even before Davis upgraded his play to a whole new level in the postseason.

To summarize, there were better moves out there. Whether it was filling a need just as important with a wingman (such as Grant Hill, Anthony Parker, or Josh Chilldress), or improving internally by signing a young talented player who has proven his value to the team (Davis). The Sheed signing may eventually pay off, but I think the Celtics were to fixated on a big-name veteran, which caused them to miss out on better options.

Appreciating Roger Federer

First of all I have to make a confession: I’m no tennis expert. I’m not even a tennis fan. In fact, until this year I hardly ever watched tennis, and I still find myself struggling to enjoy the slow-paced, excessively long sport. However, even though my lack of expertise on the subject suggests that I would be better off writing about the mating habits of the bottle necked sea turtle, I would like to take some time and start off this self proclaimed sports blog with a few (or a bit more) words about the most recent of sporting events, a.k.a. Roger Federer beating Andy Roddick in a thrilling match to secure his 15 major, and his sixth Wimbledon title.

Now, many people have declared Federer the greatest tennis player of all time. I repeat: this is a statement I am not qualified to make. However, I can definitely make the statement that Federer has reached a completely different stratosphere as an athlete. Not only is Federer miles above the norm, he is also miles above the top. Federer as reached the level of those few select that we so fondly call the Greatest Of All Time. As basketball has Jordan, Magic, Larry and Kareem, as soccer has Pele and Maradona, as swimming has Phelps, as athletics have Carl Lewis – so has Roger Federer joined that elusive elite of the Tennis World.

Federer is the complete package. He dominates statistically – a record 15 major titles (including a record 20 major finals appearances), one of only three men to accomplish a career grand slam, a record 237 consecutive weeks as the #1 ranked player in the world. But more importantly, he has that attribute, that unnameable thing-a-ma-jig that makes great players incredible. The same thing that made a 34 year old Michael Jordan, few hours after being rendered incapable of leaving his bed, ring up the Utah Jazz for 38 points on June 11th 1997, is the thing that made Roger Federer keep playing with the same intensity, when he was atop the whole world with no competition for 5 years, and when he seemed on the low end of his career arc just a year ago.

Now, I am not one for gushiness. I find no joy in combining idolizing adjectives for the hell of it. But Roger Federer has completed his long-awaited introduction to the upper-echelon of athletes worldwide. The only question now is if Federer – still three years younger than Pete Sampras was when he won his last major title – will allow anybody to be above him.