Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sunday Slams: NBA's dynamic duo, Deng, MVP and more!

I’m sick. I hate being sick. However, being sick gives me a license to lie in bed and watch basketball, and this makes me happy. It’s probably not the most exciting way to usher in 2007, but anyone who knows me knows I’m not very exciting.

Anyway, I’m watching the Suns play the Chauncey Billups-less Pistons, and I can’t get over how well Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire run the pick and roll. I know that I’ve written about this before, and this isn’t exactly news, but Nash and Stoudemire have become the John Stockton and Karl Malone of the current NBA. The play is unstoppable. It’s being run so well by this duo that I can’t figure out why Phoenix doesn’t run it every time down the floor.

Steve Nash can always just pull up and shoot. If he’s not feeling that, he dumps it to Stoudemire, who is back to 100% and is dominating people one-on-one.

So, defensively, do you double Amare? How about doubling Nash? You can’t do either. What makes the play so lethal is that it invariably leaves Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa or someone else wide open for a three-pointer.

Thankfully, I’m not an NBA head coach, because I have no idea how you defend this for an entire game. I expect that when it comes to playoff time, Phoenix will pick and roll even more. That’s the main reason why I picked them to win the NBA title this year.

DENG…HOW ABOUT THE BULLS?

Luol Deng is playing like he wants a fat, new contract. This is a smart decision, since he’s in line for a fat, new contract.

While Ben Gordon gets a lot of love for his instant offense, Ben Wallace grabs the boards and plays the tough defense, and Kirk Hinrich is lauded for leading, it has been Deng who has been the Bulls best overall player this season. Deng is averaging a career-high 18 points and is shooting a career best 54%. Last night, he carried the Bulls to a huge victory over the Cavaliers, scoring 32 points on 15 of 19 shooting.

I think at this point the Bulls and Pistons are the two best teams in the East, and considering the Ben Wallace factor, that could make for an interesting time in the spring.

But regardless of how good they end up being, Chicago is going to have to seriously consider locking Luol Deng up long term with a big money contract, and that could cause a whole different set of interesting circumstances this spring.

Will John Paxson move Deng to get Kevin Garnett? Will the Bulls decide they can win it all with what they have, a seemingly legitimate question based on how they’re playing? Can the team afford to pay all of their young talent, or will they trade someone to stay under the luxury tax?

Luol Deng isn’t exactly making the decision an easy one for the Bulls upper management, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have it any other way right now.

THE MVP RACE

I know we’re only a third of the way through the season, but the MVP race is going to be controversial again.

Steve Nash, the two-time winner of the award, is having his best NBA season statistically. I would consider him the front-runner again at this point, and he deserves it. He’s actually getting better as he gets older. In my opinion, he finally deserves the MVP award (I wouldn’t have given it to him two years ago or last year).

But Steve Nash can’t win this award again. He just can’t. There’s no way you can argue that for the last three seasons he’s been the most valuable player in the league. Phoenix has way too much talent around him. Would they be as good if he were lost for the year? No. Would they drop off completely? No.

And I suppose that’s the crux of the award. Those criteria are mine and it’s how I would base my vote if I ever had the chance. But that’s not to say all writers feel that way.

Regardless, we have a long list of early season candidates. Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Tim Duncan are all right there so far.

But the one player you have to watch out for in this race is Dwayne Wade. Have you seen how bad the Heat is without him? Plus, you know that once Shaq gets back, Miami is going to make a run. How strong of a run they make could go a long way towards impacting the MVP race.

Amazingly, it’s Steve Nash’s award to lose again.

PUTBACKS

-The new ball is done after tonight. How long before the players complain about the switch taking place in the middle of the season? I’m going with Saturday.

-How can fans and coaches possibly be expected to pick the All-Star forwards for the West? Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Zach Randolph are all deserving of a trip to Vegas this year, and I’m not even including Elton Brand or Josh Howard in that discussion. This is one deep conference.

-I feel bad for Mike Fratello. He never had a chance this year when Pau Gasol got hurt. At least the Czar of the telestrator will find TV work immediately, and it’s likely he’ll rarely draw an assignment in Memphis.

-Can you believe that Ron Artest for Corey Maggette trade didn’t happen? Again, use common sense with rumors and the outcome is clear. I can’t stress this enough.

-HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Let's get caught up

I've embarked on a little holiday vacation with the family, and the big news that I keep reading about is that the Clippers and Kings are talking seriously about a Corey Maggette for Ron Artest swap. Sure they are.

The Clippers need some serious help, but turning to Ron Artest in desperation is not the route I would go. You're telling me that Artest coupled with Sam Cassell, Tim Thomas and the always bizarre Chris Kaman is going to make for a winning combination? Uh, alright.

Speaking of Kaman, was anyone else totally shocked that he cut his hair? I couldn't believe it.

Elsewhere, injuries are really taking over the 2006 season. Yao Ming goes down right as Tracy McGrady is getting healthy. Dwayne Wade sprains his wrist last night in Chicago. Rashard Lewis goes down for the Sonics right as Ray Allen is coming back. The entire Hornets roster. Too bad.

How about Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards? First place with a bullet. Arenas is making a pretty strong case for an All-Star bid, and I can only imagine how motivated he'll be if he is snubbed. Let's hope he makes the team, because otherwise he's going to shoot for a 100 point game.

Oh, and don't look now but the Knicks are a game out of first place. That playoff bandwagon might be starting up again.

Is Lawrence Frank about one more week away from a complete and total meltdown? He seems to be losing it from what I have seen.

That's enough rambling for now. I'll be back with much more frequent updating in 2007. Have a happy new year everyone!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Iverson trade

According to the fine folks at ESPN.com, Allen Iverson is on his way to Denver to play for the Nuggets.

From the Mile High side of the table, I have mixed feelings on this one.

On one hand, the thought of Iverson playing with Carmelo Anthony is tremendously exciting. After all, they’re the league’s top scorers. Plus, I don’t necessarily buy into the notion that Iverson will shoot, shoot and shoot. He’s averaging more than seven assists a game right now, and with potent scorers like Anthony and J.R. Smith, this marks a change for The Answer. He can actually rely on someone else to do some scoring when he wants a break.

Now, does that mean I think this will work? No. I’m not saying that it won’t, but I’m a little concerned about what this will do to Carmelo Anthony once he gets back from his sabbatical. Anthony has been The Man in Denver for three years, and he signed a max contract in the off-season to continue that role for years to come. How will he handle being the Co-Man with Iverson? That’s a question that can’t be answered yet, and his suspension complicates matters a bit.

What happens if Iverson and the Nuggets start rolling without Anthony, and then face major re-adjusting again when Anthony returns from suspension? Will chemistry be affected when he comes back?

For Denver, there’s no way out of this plan since they’ve moved draft picks and they’ve eaten up their cap space by trading for A.I. However, I like that Denver is going for it in an already loaded West. I think George Karl has the ability to make this work, but there’s a lot of questions that ironically must be Answered. Sorry, that was horrible.

Now, from the Philadelphia side of things, I don’t care for the trade at all. Billy King could have gone any direction he wanted here, and he wasn’t in a hurry as of two days ago. Suddenly, boom, it’s over.

What does he get for his patience? An expiring contract (Joe Smith) and a point guard who arguably may have had his best days behind him (Andre Miller). Sure, the Sixers get two first round draft picks in this year’s deep draft, but both picks are likely to be in the 20s, so big deal.

Is Joe Smith’s expiring contract and two first round picks enough for Iverson? King doesn’t come out of this with any All-Stars or lottery picks, and while the Sixers appear to be in the driver’s seat for Greg Oden’s services, they would have been in that position regardless of what they got back for Iverson.

By not holding out for Randy Foye, Shaun Livingston or J.R. Smith, it feels to me as though Philadelphia got less than what I was expecting them to get, and I wasn’t expecting them to get enough in the first place.

We’ll see what else happens here, as Billy King may just be getting started in the rebuilding phase. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and see how he uses his three first-round picks. However, if I’m Joe Sixer Fan, I’m not happy right now.

So, the saga is finally over. Denver, on paper, joins Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio and Dallas as the frontrunners in the Western Conference. Are two superstars enough to win a championship? Absolutely. Will this move translate to a title? We shall see, but one way or another, the ride is going to be a fun one.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Slams: Brawl, Iverson, Injuries and much more

There has been a fair share of classic fights in Madison Square Garden.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier battled in 1971.

In 1985, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. took on Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff at the first Wrestlemania.

However, Saturday night’s brawl between the Knicks and Nuggets was not a fight for the ages at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Sadly, I didn’t see this live, so I’ve only have highlights to go off of, but it sure seemed that everyone was in the wrong here. Why were the Nuggets starters still in? What was Mardy Collins thinking with that horribly unnecessary flagrant? What was Nate Robinson doing jumping J.R. Smith, sending both of them flying into the front row?

Worst of all was Carmelo Anthony’s sucker punch on Collins. The punch was bad. The retreating as quickly as possible was way worse. I’d suspend him an additional game for that cowardly act.

I hope the Nuggets and Knicks are appreciative of David Stern’s generosity in bringing back the old ball because he’s about to go Dictator on everyone involved in the ugly fight. I expect some swift punishment tomorrow, and every single person who took place in the brawl will deserve whatever Mr. Stern hands down.

It’s disappointing that once again we have another horrible, unnecessary, flat-out stupid incident that will again mar the league’s image, but I’m realistic enough to know that this won’t be the last one. I hope I am wrong. There’s no place for any of that in the NBA.

A.I. IS STILL A SIXER

So, how will all these forthcoming Denver suspensions affect their ability to get Allen Iverson? And are they really in the running for Iverson?

Who knows?

As of print time (ha!) Sunday night, Iverson remains out of action, waiting for his fate to be determined. Although the Sixers have lost 11 in a row and are fading deeper into the cellar of the worst division in basketball, they appear to be in no hurry to move Iverson.

Denver, Minnesota, and Boston appear to be the frontrunners for his services if you believe reports or rumors, but Billy King just keeps listening.

The best rumor of the week was that Miami was a player in all of this. Can you imagine? Iverson, Wade and Shaq running around trying to co-exist with Jason Kapono, Gary Payton and Wayne Simien. It’s hard to comprehend. Personally, I don’t think it would work. There’s still only one basketball, and unless Shaq is out for the year, he’s not going to be happy as a third option. Plus, Miami would be crazy to get into the luxury tax for that lineup.

However, I’d be glued to the TV to see every game. I didn’t think Pat Riley’s moves would work last year, and boy did the Heat prove me wrong.

Anyway, fantasies aside and writing without any sources, I still think Iverson is going to Minnesota because deep down I think that’s what everyone wants. Philly doesn’t need multiple draft picks if they’re headed towards a top three pick this year. Rebuilding could come very quickly with Randy Foye, Greg Oden and cap space. Let’s make this happen.

INJURIES ARE PICKING UP

Nothing can ruin an NBA team’s season faster than a star player being injured for a long period of time. It’s happening all over the place.

Kenyon Martin is out for the year in Denver.

Tracy McGrady’s back is acting up again in Houston.

The Lakers’ Lamar Odom is out at least a month with a sprained knee.

Ray Allen is sitting for the Sonics with a sprained tendon in his foot.

Shaq has missed a ton of time with a bum knee in Miami.

Steve Francis, Peja Stojackovic and Hedo Turkoglu are all on the sidelines as well.

Some teams will get by because they have elite players to help get them through this time (Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming).

But others like New Orleans and Seattle will find that missing their star players for an extended period of time will also probably mean missing the postseason.

It’s the nature of the NBA, and it shows just how important guys 3 through12 on your roster really are to the overall success during the season.


PUTBACKS

-I hope we get a Lakers/Rockets playoff series because the teams played two of the most entertaining games of the year this week, even though Lamar Odom and Tracy McGrady missed the majority of both of them.

-Is Phoenix ever going to lose again? I don’t see it happening this week as they host Toronto, head to Denver to face a scrub-heavy version of the Nuggets and then shoot it out with the Wizards? Circle December 28th on your calendar for the Suns against the Mavs in Dallas on TNT. That will be fun, and it very easily could be a Western Conference preview.

-Ben Wallace is back to being Ben Wallace, and low and behold, the Bulls are streaking. Wallace played his two best games of the year this past week, recording 20 rebounds on Wednesday against the Sonics and then topping himself with 27 on Friday against Milwaukee. The Bulls look poised to be in the mix for the top seed in the East.

-Who is my pick for most disappointing team in the NBA at this point? New Jersey. How is it possible that they’re not winning the Atlantic Division by at least five games? I I feel back for Lawrence Frank. Those Larry Brown rumors are only going to get worse.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lakers hang on for victory

The Lakers survived a wild comeback by the Houston Rockets to win 102-94 on Tuesday night.

I was all set to write a glowing piece of praise about the Lakers’ third quarter, in which they outscored the Rockets 30-13 by running the triangle the way Tex Winter originally dreamed it up. They used great passing and cuts to the basket to get seven lay-ups in the quarter. Defensively, they played similar to the way they did against San Antonio on Sunday night, forcing 10 turnovers in the period alone and completely taking Yao Ming out of the game.

Everything was great for L.A. They led 94-73 with seven minutes to play in the game and Phil Jackson decided he had seen enough of the starters.

Huge mistake.

(Note: This is in NO WAY an indictment of Phil’s coaching. Who wouldn’t pull the starters?)

The Rockets rattled off 19 in a row to cut the lead to two, and they actually had chances to take the lead. Phil had to put the starters back on the floor, even though he clearly wanted to rest them with the team playing back-to-back games. However, Houston couldn’t convert their free throws and ultimately came up short. It was an amazing comeback, nonetheless.

For the Lakers, they won without Lamar Odom, who injured his right knee in the first quarter. I re-wound the game to see where he got hurt, and it appears to me that he tweaked the knee on a drive to the basket. He seemed to land awkwardly after Shane Battier blocked his shot, but he stayed in the game for the next few possessions before asking to come out of the game. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious. He had an MRI tonight, and Lakers fans will hold their breath waiting for the results.

Los Angeles continues the “We’re for Real” tour tomorrow night in Dallas. They won pretty convincingly against San Antonio on Sunday, and seemed poised to do it again tonight in Houston before a near disaster was averted. The Lakers are certainly better than I thought they’d be at 15-6, but honestly, I’d feel a lot better about them right now if they had closed out properly tonight. We’ll see how they do in Big D. Instead of feeling like they’re rolling, I feel like they need to bounce back. What a difference seven minutes can make.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Year, Old Ball

Wow. Marc Stein broke the news a couple of hours ago, and I'm still in shock.

The old balls return on January 1.

David Stern admitted he made a mistake? He listened to the players? Honestly, I feel like I don't even know him anymore. This is still the man who made a 1-0 ruling in the Ron Artest situation, right? Can Sheed still call him Dictator?

I was really getting used to the new ball. There was that famous Vince Carter 3-pointer that died on the rim and went in to tie the Wizards. There was Amare Stoudemire's shot on Friday night that bounced off the rim twice, hit the top of the backboard, and then spun back into the basket.

You never knew what was going to happen with that microfiber thing.

Good for the players. Say goodbye to those nasty little cuts and hello to leather.

I need a sound bite from Rasheed Wallace immediately. If you hear of one, please send me the link.

Edit: I just had a thought. Will Kwame Brown revert to not being able to catch the ball?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Slams: Iverson, Pistons, Suns and more

The big news of the week is that the Philadelphia 76ers and Allen Iverson are set to part ways once and for all.

There are many columnists (I suggest here, here and here) who can sum up the history far better than me, but this seemed inevitable for a long time.

The last hurrah for A.I. and the Sixers was the Chris Webber trade in February of 2005. At the time, it was believed that the two superstars would be tailor-made for one another, and Philly would be set to make a deep run in the postseason. Instead, Webber turned out to be a shell of his former self, and it was Iverson who was once again left to lead the team alone.

So, here we are. He’s going to be moved. Philadelphia is not going to get nearly enough for him, and, if you believe rumors, Minnesota has suddenly gone from selling Kevin Garnett to buying Allen Iverson.

It makes sense.

Garnett doesn’t want to leave. He’s happy to let Iverson do his thing without worrying how it will affect his numbers. The combination would give Minnesota a legitimate shot at making a championship run on paper.

The only problem is what this does to the Sixers. They can get Randy Foye, a player who has Philly ties (having gone to Villanova), and they’ll take back some collection of second tier players like Ricky Davis, Eddie Griffin and Troy Hudson to make the salaries work. What else can you do when you very publically state that you’re trading your superstar?

What if Minnesota doesn’t work out? Who else is out there to deal with? Honestly, I have no idea. I can’t imagine the Sixers would hand Iverson to Boston and watch him light them up for years in the same division.

There was an interesting rumor about Dallas, with Devin Harris being the centerpiece of a package, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Dallas is good enough without Iverson to make a serious run at the title. I wouldn’t roll the dice on that one.

Regardless of where Iverson goes, the one certainty here is that the Sixers are toast for the season.

David Aldridge wrote a very interesting column today in the Philadelphia Inquirer. His basic point is that if you were going to start over, this would be the year to do it since experts are projecting this to be one of the best drafts in years.

They should have traded Iverson years ago, but at least they’re finally going to move on. In my opinion, it’s been long overdue.

THE PISTONS TAKE BACK THEIR THRONE

Did you notice the Eastern Conference preview on Friday night? Still to early for you? Fine.

The Pistons and Magic met at the newly named Amway Arena. Although Orlando has the best record in the Conference, the Pistons reminded them they are the true beasts in the East.

It was a competitive game. Dwight Howard gave Detroit fits inside. However, when the game was on the line, it was Rip Hamilton who could not be stopped. He ran circles around Grant Hill coming off screens and hit two wide-open shots to give the Pistons the lead for good.

Also, Chauncey Billups torched Carlos Arroyo and Jameer Nelson all night, finishing with a game-high 31 points. After the game, Billups summed up the main difference between these two teams right now.

“We’ve been in a million games like this, where it comes down to the last four or five minutes,” said Billups. “We just stay poised out there.”

It was an odd week for the Pistons. They had their eight-game winning streak snapped by Charlotte, and then they lost at home to the Blazers.

However, Detroit pulled themselves together with a huge win on the road in Dallas and the win in Orlando the next night.

Maybe the Pistons need some motivation to get themselves going for regular season games after four straight deep postseason runs, but one thing seems clear—those who wrote this team off when discussing who is the best in the East made a mistake.

Detroit sure looks like the team to beat to me.

THE SUNS ARE SCORCHING AGAIN

When I got home Thursday night and checked the ticker to find out who won the Suns/Nets game, I was convinced there was an error.

Phoenix won 161-157? Someone typed the wrong numbers.

Nope, that’s just the Phoenix Suns for you.

The next night, I made it a point to see how Phoenix played at Boston. They had to be tired after a double overtime game the night before. I didn’t think there was any way they could pull out a victory, especially against a young Celtics team with very fresh legs and a decent offense.

What happened? Phoenix outlasted Boston in the final quarter for a 116-111 victory.

This team is like the Energizer Bunny. They can’t be stopped.

Phoenix has won nine in a row. What should frighten opponents is how Phoenix can win games even when they’re not playing well, as they did on this night in Boston.

In the fourth quarter, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire worked the pick-and-roll to perfection. It was so great that I’m not sure there’s a team in the NBA that could have stopped them. They used it on two consecutive possessions. The first time, Nash was double teamed off of the switch and dished to Stoudemire for an easy, driving dunk. The next possession, the defenders went with Stoudemire, and Nash calmly pulled up and drained a 17-footer. On the next trip, Phoenix worked the ball around, and Nash found Shawn Marion for a backbreaking 20-footer from the corner to ice the victory.

They were tired and sloppy for most of the night, and their weaknesses were again exposed as the Celtics dominated on the glass, but the bottom line for Phoenix is that they’ve won nine straight games, and they’re doing it by playing their style of basketball.

PUTBACKS

-How about the year Luke Walton is having? He was supposed to be a bench player after the Lakers signed Vladimir Radmanovic in the off-season, but Walton is earning his time as a starter. He’s shooting an astounding 56% from 3-point range, and he set a new career high Friday night when he dropped 25 on Atlanta to lead the Kobe-less Lakers to a victory.

-Speaking of the Lakers, we’re about to find out how good they are. They host San Antonio tonight, then head to Texas for games with Houston and Dallas before they return home for another game with the Rockets. Not an easy week with or without #24.

-New Orleans knew the gamble they were taking by bringing in Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson due to their injury histories, so it isn’t surprising to see both players in street clothes and the team struggling without them.

-If you missed ESPN.com’s Weekend Dime, then you missed this doozy of a quote from Rasheed Wallace on the new ball:

“The new ball sucks. Dictator just went on and threw it out there [without] asking guys and testing it. That ball sucks. They had some Spalding guy create quote-unquote microfiber and all that. You got guys who never played the game before who want to change the ball.”

Dictator? How much will Sheed get fined for that blast on David Stern? I hope he doesn’t because that is one awesome quote.

-Congratulations to the Clippers for finding a way to win on the road in Memphis. There may be no stopping them now.

-Shocking to see Stephon Jackson in the middle of a tiff with Rick Carlisle. You have to love the Pacers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tuesday thoughts on Kobe, Curry, Chandler and more

-Kobe Bryant’s ankle injury isn’t quite as bad as he thought it was. That is certainly good news for the Lakers and their fans, thousands of whom forgot how to breathe at the Staples Center last night.

It’s funny how unfazed I was as a Lakers fan watching Bryant clutch his right ankle. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe missing a prolonged period of time is not something I want or would be able to handle, but I can’t get Lamar Odom’s first two games of the season out of my head. Those terrific performances without Bryant and the season long above average play of the team as a whole gives me hope that the Lakers can survive if Kobe can’t go tomorrow night. With that said, I’d prefer it if he can go.

-Eddy Curry’s play over the last seven games has writers and bloggers alike amazed, and while the resurgence is surprising considering he’s doing it with the whole heart issue, and for the Knicks, I think everyone is forgetting the corner that Curry turned at the end of the '04-'05 season. Remember, he was a HUGE part of the Bulls resurrection towards the end of that season, and when he went out with an irregular heartbeat, the Bulls playoff chances took a colossal hit. Curry has always had the potential to become a force inside offensively, and it’s nice to see Isiah Thomas realize it and work the offense through him rather than four shoot-first point guards.

-On a side topic, those who think John Paxson gave up on Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler too soon are, in my opinion, not aware of what happened in Chicago. First, neither player was a Paxson draft pick. Secondly, I don’t think Paxson ever questioned either player’s ability on the floor when he decided to move them. Pax decided he wouldn’t stand by and watch Curry play with a heart risk without gaining more knowledge, and whether you agree or not, when Curry refused to take a DNA test, Paxson felt he had to move him to the Knicks. That wasn’t a decision based on what Curry was doing on the floor. In Chandler’s case, I think it was becoming clear he needed to go elsewhere to get right mentally. If Paxson didn’t value him, he never would have re-signed him to a big money contract. From where I sit, it seemed that Chandler was never able to live up to the pressure of being traded for Elton Brand. He’s a perfect example of a player just needing a change of scenery, and the Bulls made the move they had to make once they added Ben Wallace. So, the point of all of this is that Curry and Chandler's success now doesn’t mean the Bulls made a mistake, it's just a reminder of how their plans changed. That’s just my opinion.

-What a surprise it was to fire up the HoopsHype rumors this morning only to find a story about the Clippers denying that they were shopping Corey Maggette. You don’t say?

-I’m watching the Blazers and the Pistons go down to the wire and I'm thinking about this Zach Randolph to Detroit trade rumor. Sure, he'd help the Pistons. Yes, I know what he and the Portland fans have been through the last couple of years. And yet, I don’t think I’d mess with this Portland team if I were their General Manager. Perhaps I’m na├»ve, but Randolph sounds more mature in this SI article, and the Blazers have loads of young talent around him. They are two years away from being the team everyone in the league is afraid to play.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sunday Slams: Brian Hill, Kobe, Bad Trade Rumors and more!!!

A MAGICAL RETURN TO THE TOP

The calendar has flipped to December, and the Orlando Magic is the class of the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

I’ve written a ton already on the greatness of Dwight Howard, so I won’t waste your time again.

While the inspiring tale of Grant Hill is wonderful, I’d like to focus on another former great making a comeback with the Magic this season—head coach Brian Hill.

You remember Brian Hill.

He’s the winningest coach in Magic franchise history. He led the Magic to three straight 50-win seasons from 1994-1996, including the team’s only Finals appearance in 1995.

But after the 95-96 season, Shaquille O’Neal left for L.A., and Hill was fired mid-way through the following season after Penny Hardaway and others quit on him.

Hill moved on, landing the worst gig in basketball trying to lead a horrid Vancouver Grizzlies roster. Remember the Big Country years? After that, Hill was overlooked for countless coaching jobs, instead working as an assistant for several teams.

Now, with Penny Hardaway long since a Magic afterthought, Hill is back on top in Florida. It started in the final 22 games of last season, when the Magic won 16 of them and made a startling late playoff push.

This season, the team has picked up right where they left off, and it’s looking increasingly likely that this isn’t going to stop.

Hill has the Magic playing defense again (they’re tops in the league in field goal percentage), but he’s also getting the support of his players.

In Portland Friday night, in a tie game with two seconds on the clock, Hill drew up a brilliant final play that resulted in a Grant Hill lay-up for the victory.

Afterwards, Grant credited Brian for recognizing how the Blazers had been switching defensively on screens and taking advantage of it with the play he called.

The star player crediting the coach for a key play? It’s clearly not 1996 anymore for Brian Hill, but ten years later, November’s NBA Coach of the Month is doing what he’s always done—leading the Magic to a winning record.

THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES TAKES A NOT-SO-SUPRISING TURN

The whole landscape of the city was changing. The TV ratings showed it. The buzz was reflecting it. Hell, even Jack seemed to be buying in.

So much for that.

Sure, we’re only a month in, but the Lakers are again on top in L.A., if they ever really lost their footing as king of the mountain.

They smacked the Clippers around again Saturday night with a 97-88 victory in a game that was never in doubt.

Why are the Lakers the best in town again? Amazingly, it’s because of the job GM Mitch Kupchak has done.

I’ll admit I was wrong about Kupchak. I didn’t think he got enough for Shaq, and I questioned his decision to deal Caron Butler for Kwame Brown.

However, the Lakers are 11-5, and it’s because of the role players Kupchak has added.

The Lakers have rebuilt well through the draft, adding Luke Walton, Brian Cook, Andrew Bynum, Ronny Turiaf, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar in the last four drafts. Only Bynum was a top 10 pick.

In addition, Kupchak used draft day this year to add Maurice Evans, who is yet another former Pistons bench player flourishing for another team.

Kobe Bryant has help now, and it’s showing in how he’s playing. Sure, the 52 points against Utah looked the same do-it-all Kobe, but there was one big difference. The Lakers as a team shot 60%, and it was Kobe’s teammates who kept the Jazz honest by knocking down 53% of their shots. In contrast, when Kobe went for 81 against Toronto last season, his teammates shot 33%.

Meanwhile, the Clippers are a mess at 7-8 and in the cellar of the Pacific. At least Mike Dunleavy has a new contract to figure out how to fix it.

SILLY TRADE RUMORS DRIVE ME NUTS

OK, so if I’m to believe media reports, the Grizzlies are going to trade Pau Gasol and the Heat and Clippers have talked about a Corey Maggette for Antonie Walker swap.
I didn’t believe either one, and they’ve both been vehemently refuted since I initially read it.

The reason? GM’s aren’t completely stupid.

Memphis may be bad, but trading Pau Gasol to the Celtics isn’t going to improve the Grizz or make them more valuable for sale. Remember, the reason they’re bad is because Pau Gasol is hurt.

Antoine Walker isn’t worth half of Corey Maggette right now. Sure, their salaries are close, but why in the world would the Clippers make that trade? They wouldn’t, because it’s absurd.

I’m thoroughly convinced that Corey Maggette is never going to be traded. It’s rumored every year, and yet, he always remains a Clipper.

So, here’s my advice to you, my loyal dozen readers. The next time you read that the Lakers are going to trade Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett, think about whether that trade actually makes sense for the Lakers and don’t give it another thought. It’s not happening.

When you see the Bulls without any low post scoring, draft picks and a bevy of young talent who will need fat contracts, give some credence to Garnett rumors.

The next time you see Earl Watson’s name connected to the Miami Heat, think about how the Heat needs a point guard and Watson may want more playing time. This makes sense. This could happen.

Common sense must return to trade rumors. I love them more than anyone, but so far this year, they’re even more ridiculous than normal and it’s only going to get worse.

PUTBACKS

-Remember when the Mavs and Suns were struggling? Me neither.

-The Union’s lawsuit about the new ball and the technical fouls is really something. I understand their point and that they want control over some of these decisions, but the technicals have diminished already and I swear the complaints about the new ball have ceased. I wouldn’t test David Stern, but that’s just me.

-After the stupidity of the controversy surrounding Ben Wallace and the headband, the Bulls have won four in a row and look poised for a big two weeks with their next seven games at home against inferior teams (sorry Sonics fans, it’s not personal). This has nothing to do with the headband incident uniting the team and everything to do with not being on the road against good West teams. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

-A Jamal Crawford update. The Knicks played two more games since Wednesday and lost both of them. Crawford played 30+ minutes in each. Hmmm.

-Are the Pistons on the quietest eight-game winning streak in league history?

-In my season preview, I wondered how much playing time Dorrell Wright would get in Miami this season. It looks like more than I thought, since I can’t imagine him losing his starting role anytime soon. He’s been a nice surprise so far.

-If you’re not reading the new NBA Fanhouse at AOL.com, you really should be. It’s a great look at the league from some of the best bloggers around. Funny and insightful.