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.
-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.