Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trades That Won’t Happen But Should Because They Are Awesome, take one.

With perhaps the most discussed free agency class of all time coming up in the summer, and an economy that necessitates cutting costs, many predict that the NBA trade deadline, only a few weeks away, will produce an inordinate amount of movement. While we have already been treated to some bombastic trade rumors, though, history shows that deadline deals tend to be a disappointment. Rarely do we get the deals we want, with many teams preferring to take the safe route and stay put, and maybe cut a little salary.

Still, a fan can dream.

Therefore, I hereby announce the debut of everybody’s favorite segment (though nobody knows it yet): Trades That Won’t Happen But Should Because They Are Awesome. In this segment, I will throw out random trade ideas that I like, and will never happen. The criteria: the trades must be somewhat realistic for both teams (no Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown here, though I’m sure the Pistons would love that); the trades can’t be realistic enough to have a chance of happening; and at least one team has to come out of the trade with their roster look totally awesome.

First up, a sweet three team deal with the Jazz, Warriors and Mavericks, and an unnamed cameo to be declared.

Golden State sends Monta Ellis to Dallas, Speedy Claxton and Devean George to Utah, Utah sends Andrei Kirilenko and Kyle Korver to Golden State, Dallas sends Josh Howard to the Utah.

Why this is realistic: The Warriors are reportedly listening to Monta Ellis offers, while contemplating whether he works well with Stephen Curry; the Mavs are one of a select few who are willing to add on long term salary for a chance to contend; the Jazz want to save money in a desperate way.

Why this will never happen: Come on. Just look at the names involved. NBA GMs just don’t have the necessary cojones.

Why Golden State does this: Because Andrei Kirilenko was born to play Nellieball power forward. It’s as simple as that. He has more value to the Warriors than he has to any other team in the league. Also, the Monta Ellis era is going nowhere – he is not a franchise player in any way, and will refuse to be anything less as long as he is on this team. He may be putting up monster numbers this season, but there is just too much bad blood between him and the Warriors for them to keep this charade going. What line-up scares you more, Curry-Ellis-Maggette-Radmanovic-Biedrins, or Curry-Morrow-Maggette-Kirilenko-Biedrens? They also get to add another sweet shooting rotation player for two throw ins with Korver. Not to mention, that with Kirilenko’s contract (16.4 million this year, 17.8 next year) coming off the books in the summer of 2011, the Warriors will either have actual, honest to god cap space in said summer, or a workable trading chip in a huge expiring contract.

Why Utah does this: The Jazz are the tricky part with this deal, since the team is playing some of the leagues best basketball lately, with a rejuvenated Kirilenko playing a big role. Moving Kirilenko to help a fellow borderline contender in Dallas is risky. But how far can this Jazz team actually go? Second round of the playoffs, at best? How can you go into win now mode when you aren’t going to win now? With this deal, the Jazz take a flyer on Josh Howard, a former all-star with an expiring contract, who is playing some terrible basketball. If he finds new life on a new team, he is a better player than Kirilenko, albeit not as well-rounded. If not, they just let him go after the season. With Kirilenko’s contract off the books, the Jazz are only committed to 38 million dollars in payroll, giving them enough cap space to resign Carlos Boozer, or replace him with a near-max free agent. Not to mention the immediate financial help – this deal saves the Jazz 4 million this year, and that’s before including the luxury tax (which they will now be under), and Speedy Claxton’s insurance paid (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong) contract. The long term/financial benefits are just to big to ignore here, even if it means going one round less deep in a meaningless playoff run.

Why Dallas does this: Now, this is where I really like this deal. The Mavericks are in full win-now mode, with their top five guys on the wrong side of 30, and two more guys not far behind (Drew Gooden is 28, Howard 29). This deal gives them a young stud in Ellis, who is already a very good player, helping both their immediate plans and their dark, Dirkless future. Furthermore, Dallas is probably the best fit for Ellis in the entire league: they already employ two shot first, defensively inept, shooting-guard-in-a-point-guard’s-body guys in J.J. Barea and Jason Terry. Ellis does the same things as both of these guys, only better. And with a veteran team that doesn’t need him to run the offense, Ellis can go back to being an efficient scorer (20 ppg on 58% true shooting during his breakout 07-08 campaign), and not just a high-volume one (26 ppg on 52% TS this year). It’s a perfect fit. Just plug Ellis into the starting line-up for Barea, and you’re good to go.

This deal has just one clear shortcoming for the Mavs: it leaves them short at the small forward position. As bad as Howard has been this season, Dallas’ other 3s are two tweeners in Shawn Marion and Tim Thomas. Which is where the Mavs now get some assistance from our special guest:

Dallas sends Erick Dampier, Drew Gooden, J.J. Barea and James Singleton to Philadelphia for Andre Igoudala and Samuel Dalembert

“Wait a minute, why would the Sixers do that?!” Because they are going absolutely nowhere. This isn’t as far-fetched as it seems: the Sixers seem willing to move Igoudala if they can get rid of Dalembert’s contract, and reportedly already had discussions with the Houston Rockets involving those two for Tracy McGrady. Well, why not, instead of bringing in a broken down primadona, when you can bring in 3 rotation players that make less money? This deal saves the Sixers 5 million this year, before luxury tax, and then a whopping 24 million next year, with 4 expiring contracts replacing Dalembert and AI2 (technically, Dampier has conditionally unguaranteed contract and not an expiring one, but the effect is the same). It’s obviously a salary dump, but Philly was headed that way anyhow – Igoudala is not a franchise guy, and this team is not a playoff squad. Simple as that. Might as well build round quality youngsters Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thadeous Young and Marreese Speights, while bottoming out for draft picks.

As for the Mavs, well, this is where these two deals go from “intriguing” to “AWESOME”. Dallas immediately becomes a bonafide contender. Imagine Jason Kidd running the fast break, with Monta Ellis/Andre Igoudala/Jason Terry/Shawn Marion streaking down the court, and Dirk following from behind for the trailer jumper. That’s some mouth watering stuff right there. This team has everything now: defensive stoppers (Iggy and Dalembert are very underrated defenders, Marion can practically guard anyone, and even Quinton Ross can get them some stops off the bench); long range shooting (Ellis and Iggy don’t have great percentages, but they will knock them down if open, Kidd has been lights out since joining the Mavs, Terry is Terry and Dirk is Dirk); a traditional lineup (Sammy, Dirk, Marion/Iggy, Iggy/Ellis/Terry, Kidd/Terry) and a small ball one (Dirk, Marion, Iggy, Terry/Ellis, Kidd). Not to mention, suddenly this team has a long term core, with Igoudala, Ellis, and the Tricolour Turbo, Frenchman Roddy Beaubois. Add another buyout bigman after the deadline, and this team can definitely win a title – not only win it, but win it with some truly amazing basketball.

And there you have your answer to the third criteria. With these deals – deals that won’t happen, but that aren’t utterly preposterous – you get a brighter financial future for Philly and Utah, a better fit for Golden State, and a staggeringly awesome team in Dallas that blows the Western title race wide open. These are trades that will never happen, but should, because they are awesome.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Not Awards Watch

If there is one thing I hate, it is early season award watches. In a regular season that stretches for almost six months, the need to pass the time is understandable. What isn’t understandable is giving out awards two weeks into the season. While there are certain trends early on in the season – no one in their right mind would argue that Lebron James or Kobe Bryant aren’t at or near the top of the MVP race – it’s easy to get carried away with what already happened, forgetting that the last 50 games are just as important as the first 32.

Therefore, you won’t hear about the MVP frontrunners, or the leading Rookie of the Year candidates from me, because it’s simply too early to tell. Too much can change. Whar I can say pretty certainly at this point, is who will not win awards. The reasoning: although there is still a long way to go, all teams have played more than 30 games so far, a decent chunk of the season. The last 50 games can change things at the top of the rankings, but these awards are the results of season long excellence, and the first 30 games count just as much.

So without further ado, here are the players that should not be taking home any hardware come April. There is one catch: to be eligible, a player must be considered in the race. I can guarantee you that DJ Mbenga will not be the MVP, but that isn’t much news. All of these players can, under the right circumstances, garner some underserving votes from talking heads that don’t watch games. Just don’t forget that they shouldn’t. Also, no coach of the yea. Just too many candidates to mess with.

(P.S. It’s absolutely possible that at the end of the day one of these players will deserve to win an award. Just not probable. When one of these guys rips off 40 points per game after the all-star break, don’t blame me for not calling it).

Not MVP: Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets

One of the games top scorers has taken that ability to the next level, displaying an ability to score from more or less everywhere and in anyway. Melo started the season on a tear, averaging 31 points per game in October/November, leading his Nuggets to a 12-5 record. Melo was so good to start the season, that he was a popular early-MVP choice, and many-a-columnist wondered out loud if he has entered the “best player in the game” discussion. However, since then Melo has slipped off, his team going for a mediocre 12-9 since the beginning of December. It should be noted that the Nuggets have suffered from injuries – both Anthony and Chauncey Billups missed five games a piece – but when compared to the all around brilliance of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, the late career blossoming of Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, and the statistical dominance of Chris Paul and Chris Bosh, Melo is still not in MVP territory. This could change later in the season, but it would require a dominant record for Denver, and a newfound intensity on defense from Melo that I just don’t see happening.

Also Not Receiving Consideration: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

After an MVP caliber season couldn’t push his team over the top last season, Wade seems to have taken a step back. His stats, though still huge, are down from last year, most notably his shooting percentage (only 44.3% after 49.1% last season), and his team’s record is an unimpressive 18-16. He seems to be pacing himself, which he has every right to do considering his team is going nowhere until this summer, but that’s just not MVP material. Not this year.

Not Rookie of the Year: Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves

The number 6 pick in the draft has been given the keys to his team, and has delivered with mixed results: while he’s averaging a handy 14 points (3rd amongst rookies) and 4 assists (4th) per game, and already has his first career game winner ( capping of a 28 point outing against Utah), he has done this on 42.9% shooting and in 29 minutes per game (per 48 minutes, his assists drop to 9th amongst rookies). Also, his team is a dreadful 8-30. It seems a little unfair to penalize Flynn for being thrust into a bad situation and asked to lead, but fellow rookie point guards Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, who have been put in charge of their respective teams as well, have both been able to produce a jump in the win column, keeping Flynn out of the discussion.

Also Not Receiving Consideration: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

I hate writing this, because it’s just unfair. Cliché or not, injuries truly are a part of the game that nobody wants to see, and I can’t wait to finally see Blake on the court. Unfortunately, this year’s number one pick has missed too much time to be in the running for ROY hardware. The other rookies in a much-stronger-than-expected draft class just have too much ground on him.

Not Most Improved Player: Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets

After helping the Lakers win the NBA title last season, Ariza is putting up big numbers for the Houston Rockets (15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals). A closer look reveals a different story. His rebounds and steals per minute are down. His assists per minute are up, but his assist ratio is about the same (i.e. the jump in assists is a result of having the ball in his hands more often). And his increased scoring is migitated by his shooting being in the 30s. When looking at Ariza’s stats, all you need to look at is minutes per game: 24.4 last year, 38.1 this year. Ariza the player really hasn’t improved all that much, if at all, he’s just been given the oppurtunity to showcase his skills. For people just looking at points, rebounds, and assists per game, it seems Ariza has skyrocketed, which will probably result in him getting more than a few MIP votes from various talking heads. You can rest assured that they are not deserved.

Also Not Receiving Consideration: Joakim Noah, Chicago

Noah is a lesser case of the Ariza syndrome: while he has improved since last season, his per minute stats indicate a much smaller improvement that his per game stats. With his minutes bumped up from 24 a game to 33, Noah’s rebounds per game skyrocketed from a respectable 7.5 per game to 12.2, trailing only Dwight Howard for the league title. Per minute stats show an improvement in rebounding as well, though not as substantial (from 12.5 per 40 minutes to 14.6). His scoring is up – from 11.1 points per 40 minutes last season to 12.9 – yet much less efficient, with his shooting percentage down from 55.6% to 49.2%. Noah has developed into one of the best defensive big men in the East, and might even get some all-star love, but the biggest thing for him has been finally getting playing time, and not improving his skills.

Not 6th Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Denver Nuggets

This award is often just given to the highest scoring bench player. As a bonafide scorer coming off the bench, Smith will always be in the discussion by that virtue alone. However, Smith is mainly a chucker: he puts up 14 shots per game, and scores 15 points. For someone that does little else (he’ll throw in over a steal a game, but is hardly a good defender), that’s not good enough. He will throw up the occasional 40 point explosion (one so far this season), overshadowing the much more frequent 3-12/4-13/5-14 stinkers that don’t appear on Sportscenter.

Also Not Receiving Consideration: Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix Suns

The 2007 6th man of the year winner is usually a candidate for this award based on reputation alone, having been a pace changer off the bench for quite a while down in Arizona. This season, though, he has been slowed down by injuries, playing only 19 minutes per game (the lowest since his second season) and shooting a career low 44 percent. With the emergence of Jared Dudley as a 3 point sniper and hustle-play-extrodinaire, the Brazilian Blur might not even be the best bench player on his team. In all fairness to Barbosa, it should be pointed out that pretty much anybody who isn’t named Carl Landry could easily fit in this category. If only the NBA gave out an award for best Lionel Richie cover

Not Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks

Josh finally made the mental switch that every basketball fan around the globe has been waiting for, and is putting up ridiculous defensive numbers (2.2 blocks per game, good for 4th in the league, and 1.5 steals per game, 19th in the league). However, he accumalates these numbers by helping off the weak side and playing the passing lanes. While he does those very well, Josh just isn’t much of an on-ball defender. He’s not quick enough to stay in front of small forwards, and not strong enough to bump in the post with big power forwards. Sadly, DPoY usually goes to the player with the best stats, not necessarily to good defenders (see: Camby, Marcus), so Josh will get plenty of love, but I’d much rather have the less glamorous, more effective defenders over the spectacular stat collector.

Also Not Receiving Consideration: Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Lebron was a legitimate DpoY candidate last year, finishing second to Dwight Howard in the final voting. This year, he seems to have taken a step back intensity-wise, entering that Kobe Bryant territory of saving his strength for the offensive end and locking down on defense only in crunch time (see Tyreke Evans and Joe Johnson in their respective 4th quarters against the Cavs). He is still the best defensive player on a top defensive squad, and a great defender when he applies himself, just not consistent enough to be considered.