Tag Archives: Lakers

NBA Season Preview Part II (Teams from 30-16)

The NBA season is upon us and with that, its time to preview the season.  You can find part one here.  For this preview I decided rather than write some long winded thing about how Kobe Bryant is ruining the Lakers franchise (more on that later), I would rather structure it in a crowd pleasing way: go reverse order in rank of all 30 NBA franchises heading into the season and list one player to watch and one subplot over the course of the season.  Hope you enjoy it and hope you learn and hope you care enough to curse me out over the internet and tell me I don’t know crap.  Here is part I:

30. Sixers logoPhiladelphia 76ers-

Player to Watch- Nerlens Noel (C)- Noel is in his second year out of the NBA training academy in Kentucky known as the Wildcat collegiate program.  He’s a long armed, afro-d rim protector sent to the Sixers to play with the emotions of players hoping to score in the paint.  Obviously this season is lost in the midst of the biggest, most open tanking party known to sports (as the NBA Twitteratzi will have you believe), so the most important story on the court will be Noel’s development along with MCW’s development playing with Noel and then maybe if we’re lucky we may even see a Joel Embiid sighting!

Major Subplot of the Season- Tankapalooza- Technically the Sixers won their first game of the season when major lottery reform was shot down by a vote of 17-13.  Zach Lowe of Grantland expertly outlined what was at stake for this vote.  The NBA and its righteous police will surely devote thousands of words and twitter memes to symbolize what a horrible thing this is, but I’m all for any careful, thought out process of becoming good again.  Fans will come back once the team starts winning.  Suffer for a few years, but beware when the tag of losers are ripped off.  That’s when the fun starts.

29. jazz symbol Utah Jazz-

Player to Watch- Dante Exum (PG?)-  I put a question mark because the Jazz and rookie coach Quinn Snyder will likely use him in a variety of roster spots.  But he’s a natural point guard.  Exum is the baby of a youtube highlight clip, reared by Twitter GIF’s and raised by the blessing of the NBA Twitterverse.  Which is to say he’s a completely digital creation.  Now comes the human element: actual games.  I like what i’ve heard, and I’m more intrigued by the few highlights I’ve seen from Jazz preseason games.  I’m not going to venture a guess on his ceiling because nobody knows, but a point guard that can fly and has court vision?  Should be fun.

Major Subplot of the Season- How Toure Murray and Steve Novak will save the Jazz!  Young and the Restless- The Utah Jazz have the youngest roster in the NBA.  Twelve of the 15 players that will suit up for the Jazz are 25 and younger.  Talent wise, they have three Top 5 Picks (Exum, Kanter, and Favors), six lottery picks (+ Hayward, Burks and Burke), and nine first rounders (+Booker, Hood, Govert), pedigree which suggests they should be good.  They are like Philly three years into their tanking program, but the feeling is that there will be more losses piling on for the Jazz.  They play in the ultra-competitive West where there are legitimately 10 teams vying for the 8 playoff spots.  So it gives Utah liberty to continue piling on assets before they have to make their first big move, which likely will mean either Kanter or Favors is on their way out.  Bet on Kanter, but definitely lay money on the fact that the Jazz will look very Spurs-ian on offense (don’t we all aspire to) while running exciting rotations which should keep hoop nerds in the East up long hours watching this young 20 something line up explore themselves like a young teenager watching porn for the first time.

28. Lakers-Logo Los Angeles Lakers-

Player to Watch- Kobe Bryant (SG)- C’mon, as if there was anyone else.  I honestly don’t know how Kobe’s season will play out but after this article by Henry Abbot (a journalist of the highest order) where he lists anonymous sources within the Lakers organization who believe that Kobe is the reason they are bad and will continue to be bad.  Not helping matters was Jeannie Buss going all Steinbrenner-ish by publicly criticizing these anonymous sources and calling any player who doesn’t want to play with Kobe a loser anyway, I can’t help but feel uneasy about predicting anything but a ton of back and forth between Kobe’s fan base (long one of the most fierce in NBA history) over Twitter that could get nasty.

Major Subplot of the Season- Byron Scott and the National Advanced Stats legion- Not only are advanced stats here to stay, but they have crept into every crevice of NBA operation and major NBA writing which will likely skew your thoughts on the matter.  Fact is, Byron Scott is wrong based on all the statistical evidence we’ve seen (see!  its happening to me!).  To be fair, Scott came to Cleveland on July 2nd, 2010.  We all know what happened on July 8th when Lebron tap danced on Cleveland fans hearts and went to Miami.  Well, he comes to Los Angeles, the place of his greatest trumps RIGHT as Kobe is entering a “prove you’re still great” season where he’ll launch a ton of shots while playing a bunch of one on two or threes and giving below average defense and demanding minutes.  Also, the best free agents the Lakers got were Jeremy Lin, who will now be pushed into more minutes with Steve Nash being done for the season, and Carlos Boozer who’s biggest contribution the last few seasons was this.  Things could get bad in Tinseltown fast.  But hey, at least they will sell out!

27. bucks logoMilwaukee Bucks-

Player to Watch- Jabari Parker (SF)- Carmelo Anthony clone.  Number two draft pick in a loaded draft.  Thought to be a franchise player.  There’s tons of things here to like, but let’s call it what it is.  Here is the season for the Bucks right here:

Major Subplot of the Season- Jason Kidd dealing with a young roster- In Brooklyn he was a rookie coach trying to get the most out of a veteran roster.  He flipped the script, jumped ship (there’s really no other way of saying it) and went to a team with a bunch of young pieces.  Kidd had plenty of lows in Brooklyn but the fact is, he did it his way which is how you can accurately describe his NBA career.  He’s a natural leader and he will be the voice the players turn to when they are down in a crunch time situation and youth and inexperience will drive them to the Fountain of Kidd.  This may not be a good team, butut expect them to be hungry and give teams a good scare down the stretch.  Expect them also to be very busy come trade deadline.  Shoutout to John Henson who I saw give everyone elbows because he still hasn’t figured out how freakishly long his limbs are.  You can’t teach that.

26. Magic logoOrlando Magic-

Player to Watch- Elfrid Payton (PG)- Many expect Payton to challenge Jabari Parker for the Rookie of the Year.  Payton is that mix of rangy athleticism with a good body that compares well to Exum, only he played in the States.  While he did play in the Sun Belt Conference, the experience of playing States-side players is very critical when seeing how he projects and he’s proven in both Vegas (7.2 APG) and in 27 MPG in the preseason (5 APG) that he’s up for the challenge.  It also helps that everyone has been glowing about how mature and wise beyond his years he is.

Major Subplot of the Season- They can play but can they shoot though?- The stats suggest not.  Jacque Vaughn is in a weird spot.  They already have lost Victor Oladipo for an extended stretch when he broke his orbital bone.  They brought in Channing Frye to help spacing but you can almost make the case that 60% of their starting lineup not only can’t shoot, but are historically bad.  Aaron Gordon doesn’t project well as a shooter, and neither does Tobias Harris who the Magic have to make a decision on whether to extend.  How can you create space for Payton to drive, or Oladipo to drive or Gordon to roll to the basket if NOBODY is afraid of them from 10 feet and beyond?  That’s the question for them to  ponder.

25. CelticsLogoBoston Celtics-

Player to Watch- Rajon Rondo (PG)- In my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season, I wrote that Rondo would not be traded and that Jeff Green would be.  Most may think I dislike Rondo which is far from the truth.  I love Rondo.  I think having a competitor like him can only help your team and he has the playoff chops to take your team over the top.  Even if he isn’t a fit in the triangle, I would welcome him to my Knicks.  But this season the Celtics, who drafted Marcus Smart specifically to take over the mercurial yet talented point guard of the Celtics mantle that Rondo held firm for so many years,  are continuing their rebuilding and transition.  They have quality pieces to give away in trades and Rondo being the big chip.  I just don’t see it happening, unless the Celtics find a very anxious bidder who’s willing to overpay which is exactly how Danny Ainge wants to play it.  But Rondo isn’t the cookie cutter and he comes with hard edges that will make him a very tough add to any team hoping to add Rondo to their team easily.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Danny find a home for Rondo?- I realize I’m doubling up on this but let’s face it, the Celtics will try like heck to trade him.  Getting back value will be completely up to Danny Ainge.  Will he hold on to Rondo even though he knows retaining him will take repairing their relationship?  We still have yet to see Rondo and Brad Stevens collaborate in an 82 game season which is something that could be fascinating.  But Ainge’s responsibility first and foremost will be to trade Rondo and get back draft picks, salary relief, and young players.  I don’t know that he will accomplish that goal but the season will likely be in limbo until Ainge either trades him or pays him. You know who’s the x-factor on how this plays out?  Rajon Rondo.  Who knows if he wants to stick it to Celtic management?  Who knows if there’s resentment or bitterness on how the Celtic saga ended with the smearing campaign when Ray Allen left?  Coming to NY won’t help that but you can see how a change of scenario will help.  If Ainge has Rondo after the trade deadline, all the leverage will return to Rondo and that’s the scenario that Ainge does NOT want to see played out.

24. Timberwolves logo Minnesota Timberwolves-

Player to Watch- Andrew Wiggins (SF)- He said all the right things about how he was looking forward to the challenge.  How he’s motivated.  How he wants to play for a team that wants him.  Those are all fine and well.  He and Anthony Bennett will be compared in the impossible microscope of the Kevin Love trade.  That’s tough for any rookie, no matter how heralded.  Now comes the proving ground.  There’s no question about the defensive ability already.  His offensive game still needs a lot more work and he will get plenty of minutes to develop it.  Now’s the time rook.  Now.

Major Subplot of the Season- How does Flip Saunders deal with making a good deal?- Look, when you’re losing the quality of big man in Kevin Love, the fact is, there is no such thing as equal value.  So reality has to set in and accept the best deal possible.  Saunders did as decent a job as he could given the position the team was in.  They got a guy in Wiggins who could wind up being a generational talent, another number one pick who could be who knows what, and wound up with a quality NBA big man in Thaddeus Young.  Its not perfect, but its something.  They drafted Zach Lavine.  The Love departure will open up minutes for Gorgei Dieng who in limited minutes and then in international competition opened eyes.  There’s plenty to like about what the Love trade did for the franchise, but really it opened things up for a young group.  Now, Flip has to make sure Flip can coach them up.  This is the roster Flip gave Flip.  This is the roster that Flip will die with even if Flip doesn’t like it.

23. Kings logoSacramento Kings-

Player to Watch- Boogie Cousins (PF/C)- Count me in on the Boogie bandwagon.  The question becomes: is he a franchise player?   The Kings extended him, but that’s a referendum on a small market team desperately holding on to its best talent by offering him the most any team can offer, rather than the seal of approval by a brand new ownership/front office.  Talent has never been the question.  Its his inability to keep his emotions in check or be a leader that folks can draw from.  Well, I’m all in on the Boogie breakout season, which is saying something because he’s one of 5 players to average 20 and 10.  I’m all in on the goal of ONLY drawing 5 technicals.  Let’s go Boogie.

Major Subplot of the Season- Does Mike Malone have the pieces and/or time to make this work? Malone was a highly regarded assistant and son of Brendan Malone who served as a Knicks assistant in the Warriors when Vivek Ranadive, majority owner of the Kings, was a minority owner in Golden State.  So, it seems curious when the Kings head honcho came out and said now its about wins and losses. Regardless, the Kings will struggle by sheer virtue of geography (maybe they should’ve moved huh?).  They won 28 games and while improvement would be winning 30, that’s not the kind of improvement this Kings team wants.  Their cap is pretty clean and they have all their draft picks which is the good news.  The bad news is again, they play in the Western conference.  Dave D’Alessandro, the Kings GM, has turned this roster over aside from two players, and sees the turnover as a way to get better.  Losing Isaiah Washington was tough but I understand them not wanting to devote too much cap room for too many years to him.  Rudy Gay posted some of his best numbers playing alongside Boogie and they didn’t want to kill each other which is a major plus.  The Kings are a match for the Celtics if they are looking for draft picks and salaries to throw in a trade without too much of a long term commitment.  Add in the fact that Rudy Gay and Rondo are buddies, there’s definitely smoke there to start a full on fire.  But adding Rondo without the assurance of a contract being signed would be silly.  But with an edict like the one given to the Kings from ownership- do they have a choice if Ainge comes calling?

22. Hawks logo Atlanta Hawks 

Player to Watch- Al Horford (PF/C)- He’s quietly been one of the best PF/C’s.  People forget that he came from back to back national titles in Florida playing alongside Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah on those great Gator teams.  But he’s playing on a team that has been playing for the 6th-8th spot in the league since the days of Iso Joe offense.  Horford is due $12M this year and the next.  It will be interesting to see how both the Hawks and Horford play contract negotiations after a terrible winter.

Major Subplot of the Season- Change is coming- The Hawks under Danny Ferry have done a good job in retaining flexibility while signing solid veterans to decent deals.  How Danny Ferry’s racist rants and owner Bruce Levenson’s racist email plays into the Hawks future is clear: change is coming and its going to come quick.  Once Levenson’s email was leaked, and audio of Ferry making racist remarks were made, the clock officially began on their collective tenure expiring in Atlanta.  But this is a particularly interesting case.  Atlanta is a semi-big market that players love coming to because of its, umm, night life, and when the salary cap explodes in two years, this will be a team with almost 3 max salary slots available- one of them that will likely be filled by Horford unless something funky happens during negotiations.  There will be plenty of offers from more rich white guys (including a group headlined by Chris Webber) and a presence by Dominique, the former Hawk great, which is all but a certainty given how much positive press that would generate for any incoming group.  Until there is a new owner, plenty is up in the air about this franchise.

21.Pistons logoDetroit Pistons-

Player to Watch- Josh Smith (PF)- With Stan Van Gundy as the head coach and GM, its likely that Josh Smith will really have to mind his P’s and Q’s.  But here’s where Stan Van has the edge.  He’s already dealt with Josh Smith’s old pal Dwight Howard and knows how to get the most out of a talented big man who may just need direction.  Smith signed a 4 year contract worth $54 million last year when Detroit threw money around like a 24 year old with daddy’s new Black card.  Smith will be asked to play closer to the basket which goes against Josh Smith’s version of events that sees him as a stretch 4.  Of course real world statistics don’t bare that out, and that’s Stan Van’s mission: to convince Smith of who he is. There are talks about putting Smith as a sixth man In the end, this is more about developing Smith so that Stan Van can develop Andre Drummond into Dwight 2.0, only one that’s nicer to Nickelodeon stars they have relations with.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Stan Van the exec agree with Stan Van the coach? SVG has long been regarded as one of the brightest minds in coaching.  His looks and personal style have left much to be desired but we haven’t minded.  He singlehandedly outed Dwight Howard as the biggest D-bag on the planet after we were duped with all the stories of farting and those big smiles that made us all think he was a swell guy.  So he has a history in player management.  But a coach can convince himself that he can right a player.  This is Stan’s first go-round as the top of the food chain.  No longer will he be told from execs within the organization about a player’s dislike of him, the information will have to be funneled through him.  Don’t think that teams won’t reach out to pull a fast one on him either.  Greg Monroe signed a qualifying offer but only because nobody else came calling with a max offer which shouldn’t shock him.  Nothing about Monroe’s game screams max-contract guy.  His skill set takes a backseat to the stylings of Andre Drummond and Monroe may seek greener pastures elsewhere where teams don’t have an Andre Drummond to shine light on his physical failings.  Bringing him in as a sixth man to help spacing, which was discussed as well with Josh Smith, could be the final nail unscrewed to make Monroe walk through the door, but there’s reason to believe he was headed out anyway.  Plenty of decisions for Stan Van the coach and Stan Van the GM, but can they both agree to help the team?

20. Pacers logoIndian Pacers-

Player to Watch- Paul George (SF) Roy Hibbert (C)- Last season’s fun ride and good times stopped because Roy Hibbert forgot how to be Roy Hibbert from the Knicks series.  The Great Wall of Roy who swatted everything with ferocity the likes of which had not been seen since Patrick Ewing roamed the center position for the Georgetown Hoyas.  So it goes without saying that this season will be extremely important to his development.  This season will likely feature Hibbert a whole lot (possibly in hopes that they can deal Hibbert for some financial freedom).  Frank Vogel may even run the offense through him.  If he wants to procure a big contract during the suddenly scorching Summer of 2016- he had better develop this year into the guy he showed in the Knicks series in 2012.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the band be broken up?  My guess is that they will trade pieces, go for the lottery and then try their luck with a young piece next to a recovering Paul George.  George is their everything.  So if they go this route, it will allow Indiana to bring George back slowly rather than rushing him back.   They have seen in their division how a roster full of complementary pieces without a bona fide superstar and a very good coach can only achieve so much in the Chicago Bulls. It remains to be seen what it would do to a fan base that was only beginning to fill up the stands again, but its understandable and in my opinion the right move.  My guess is that David West gets moved and they shop Hibbert  as well, dangling George Hill with both players to net the best possible return.

19. Knicks logoNew York Knicks-

Player to Watch- Iman Shumpert (SF)- Phil likes him.  We know this because he told Charley Rosen as much.  Shumpert’s athleticism helps him play on both ends.  His defense is at times overrated and his offense is nowhere near where it is.  Last season his minutes began to get slashed because of some reported rift between he and Coach Woodson so its important that he get off on the right foot with rookie head coach Derek Fisher.  Entering Restricted Free Agency, Iman could play himself into bigger bucks, a trade that could bring back a huge package or an enigma that has the tools to be great but none of the actual stats to back that up.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the Triangle be a success in NY?- There are enough questions about Derek Fisher being able to handle the media spotlight of New York, and handle a star laden lineup that features several players that think they should have the ball a lot, but implementing a system that has been a failure everywhere else but when the current GM was the coach?  I worry for Fisher.  He played in Los Angeles which is a different type of pressure than the one that New York presents.  But if Fisher is going to be successful, and believes 100% in the triangle, and I believe he does, he will have to be patient.  Yes, players are who they are and many won’t change, some like JR Smith may even find the transition a lot more difficult than they ever thought,  and there are others in the basketball community who believe that it isn’t about system that its about the players at the end of the day.  All are true and a reality of the Knick season.  How quickly they adapt to the system will be the true test.

18. nuggets logo Denver Nuggets-

Player to Watch- Jusuf Nurcic (C)- He’s 20 years old, from Boznia and he’s got the Nuggets fan base buzzing along with several personnel folk.  Zack Lowe gave a shoutout during the Grantland NBA hour.  He’s intriguing enough but this speaks more to the rest of the roster more than Nurcic’s potential.  There’s so many B+ guy with one A- in Ty Lawson that its tough to pinpoint one player, so we go with the unknown here in the spot.  At some point these Eastern European giants will put together a season right?

Major Subplot of the Season- Is now the time to break up the roster or do we keep playing this game that the Nuggets can be a contender in the West?- Judging by the level of snark in that sentence you get the sense of where I’m going with this.  I don’t think so.  As a matter of fact, I think that the Nuggets with all of their traceable pieces could go so many different directions.  They could make a trade, and still be a mid-tier contender status.  They could trade a Gallinari and Foye for a pick that could eventually be a lottery pick if things end up right.  There’s so many different ways this could play out for the Nuggets a.k.a. the Knicks of the West, but the truth here is that in a stacked Western Conference, it will be very difficult for THIS version of the Nuggets to make noise.  Just so its clear, I tried really hard NOT to put Wilson Chandler and Danilo Galinari in the players to watch section.

17. Brooklyn-Nets-logo Brooklyn Nets-

Player to Watch- Brook Lopez (C)- No team’s destiny is tied to one player’s health like Nets to Lopez.  If he’s healthy, and the rest of the roster, this is a playoff team that can give a top 4 seed a scare in the East.  They have a solid front line in Garnett, Lopez and Plumlee that can cause problems.  But if Lopez doesn’t play, this is a lottery team.  Again, the Eastern Conference is chock full of mediocre to below average teams that could eventually make this a moot conversation.  But Lopez’s health will ultimately decide the fate of the Brooklyn Nets.

Major Subplot of the Season- Are there bigger shakeups in store?-  They don’t have the assets to get a big superstar so they may have to stand pat.  But there are enough signs that point to a major shake up of the entire organization including rumors popping up that Mikhail Prokhorov has begun gauging interest in selling the team in the wake of Steve Ballmer paying $2 Billion for the Clippers. I don’t blame him.  He has political aspirations for 2016 and sees the NBA’s latest TV deal as a sign that he could fetch a very healthy sum for his team.  Add that to reports that the Nets lost $144 million due to operating costs and there’s motive.  Prokho has been silent for some time which leads people to believe that he’s already planning his exit.  If so, it could potentially lead to large scale changes.  Billy King might be asked to sell off assets to make the books look a lot cleaner than it is and who knows what could be had and for what.  King has never struck me as an awesome deal maker, save for the Deron Williams trade which was an all time hammer move.  Either way, Brooklyn’s activity come deadline time could be a sign of potential ownership changes to come.

16. Suns logoPhoenix Suns-

Player to Watch- Eric Bledsoe (PG)-  All that needs to be said.  And to think, they were playing a staring contest over a contract extension:

Major Subplot of the Season- Can a two point guard system work full-time?  The Suns are betting on it.  Big time.  They re-signed Eric Bledsoe.  They signed Isaiah Washington, and drafted Tyler Ennis.  Initially you could’ve said that the last two moves were in case Bledsoe left, but when the restricted market was a dry patch of pavement, Bledsoe came back to the Suns at a reasonable price for both sides.  Looking at that contract from the perch of a huge TV deal that could make the salary cap explode to close to $100M that means the Suns could be major players for free agents with all the assets they have and the cap space.  Consider they still have Minnesota’s 1st rounder protected 1-12 in 2015 or 2016 and the Lakers 1st round pick protected 1-5 in 2015 and 1-3 in 2016.  Add to that the miracle workers that is their training staff, and a young smart head coach its easy to see why this can be a destination for would be free agents or a good trade partner for teams trying to get young guys and unload veterans. The Suns who streaked their way 48 wins running a fast paced offense surrounded by shooting might want to look at the advanced stats that show that when Bledsoe or Dragic played with Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, PJ Tucker, and Gerald Green, their offense flew.  Maybe they see another market inefficiency that they can exploit and try and go two point guards and pick up the pace.  Either way, Hornacek’s rotations, coaching and outright defiance against tanking have led me to lay upon them the unenviable title of my favorite Western Conference team.  Let’s see how this plays out!

Part II coming soon.

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Talking up Phil and seeing if he’s down

So it has come to this.  In an attempt to bring some relevance to this team and legitimize its operation the Knicks have attached its most famous wandering son to a front office position.  Not that any deal is finalized, but something is in the works according to a Daily News report.  If Phil Jackson were to accept the offer made by the Knicks to come back to the team that introduced him to winning NBA championships, it would send several ripples throughout an organization that has been mismanaged from top to bottom for far too long.

To be clear, I don’t know if Phil Jackson would make a great executive.  We know he can coach.  We know he enjoys being in the spotlight.  We also know that he loves LA.  But my personal hunch is, from my detached far away from success standpoint, that people like Phil don’t just suddenly give up the opportunity to win.  Its why management often throws piles of money at guys who have seemingly past their prime as if there is a cut off age for everyone to stop what they are doing.  They know that while money is motivation, its the love of winning and perhaps just as important, the stench of losing that drives these men.

Larry Brown, Knick fans remember him, is 73 and he’s currently leading the SMU Mustangs to its first NCAA tournament appearance in more than 20 years.  Guys like Brown don’t just love the fame and the money, they love basketball for reasons that go beyond the superficiPhil_Jackson_3_croppedal.  I’m not waxing poetic on a guy like Larry Brown who’s been known to leave one place for greener pastures elsewhere, but one thing can’t be understated: don’t think its all about the money.

I sat thinking about three things in regards to this Phil Jackson rumor:

1. What would it take for Phil Jackson to come to the Knicks?

2. What would be the reason Phil Jackson took this position?

3. Why are the Knicks constantly coming to the well of the old master Phil everytime there’s uncertainty going on about the organization?

Let me preface this by saying I have no insider information and this is just one man’s humble opinion but Phil would need to be given certain guarantees in his contract to consider working for the Knicks.  Let’s first start with control.  If Phil were to come, it would be under the condition that he would have complete unilateral control of the Knicks which would be a huge give by James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks.  Its also a well known fact that CAA, the agency who has almost every big superstar in basketball signed to their company, has the ear of the owner of the Knicks as well.  More on them later.

No one knows who else has Dolan’s ear but its clear to almost every Knick fan that whoever does has zero interest in building a solid product here in the “basketball mecca”.  I always joke around that if the Knicks had an iota of intelligence in that front office, superstars would be lining up to play at the Garden.  Say what you will about how overblown the concept is to today’s NBA player, but the Garden is a recognized commodity within the basketball intelligentsia who saw more than its fair share of great high school and college games played here.  It was also the home to many sporting events outside of basketball that are forever a part of America’s storied sports past.  Basically the name rings out in the streets.  It is however, painfully clear that there are far too many voices in James Dolan’s head talking at once and he has to cede his control to someone he absolutely trusts.  Phil Jackson, for all we know, may be friends with Dolan and there may be a level of understanding between the two that go beyond just basketball.  But if there isn’t, Phil would need assurances that he would not be effed with when making a basketball decision.  And why shouldn’t Dolan cede control?  Its clear that even in the last decade of futility the Garden was making money hand over fist so there shouldn’t be a fear of losing money even if, at first, the Knicks may have to reset.

Phil’s health is also a major concern.  We don’t know how many surgeries Phil has had and whether he would consider relocating from Los Angeles where he lives with Jeannie Buss.  Would Phil give up 70 degrees year round for a foot of snow every so often in the Northeast?  More on that later.

The idea of Phil taking the position makes a ton of sense.  Like I stated earlier, guys like Phil Jackson don’t take jobs like this at this stage of their lives for the money.  Jackson’s legacy is set.  He’s won 11 championships as a head coach and won two as a player in New York.  If anything he could say that he achieved the task of winning in New York.  But for guys like Phil maybe the idea that his legacy isn’t complete eats up at him.  Maybe going back to New York would energize him and give him purpose.  I mean how long can you fly fish in Montana or ride your Harley in LA in perfect weather for?  Even if that sounds like a slice of heaven?  Ok, I’m not helping I know.

Finally, we all know why the Knicks are approaching Phil.  There’s plenty of reasons.  Look at the current Knick three game winning streak?  Maybe the players are under the illusion that Phil is coming and are viewing this time as an audition?  The Knicks aren’t a good team and yet are showing glimpses of the 54 win team they were last year.  There’s that Carmelo Anthony guy we’ve been hearing attached to Miami and Chicago recently.  His decision this summer will ultimately guide what the Knicks do next year.  If he leaves, they will definitely trade Tyson Chandler to a contender and try to carve out more cap space for 2015 even though merely letting Amar’e walk and not having a $23M cap hit on Carmelo would probably do the trick.  But if Phil comes Carmelo will feel like the Knicks are moving in the right direction because that’s what Phil represents.  He represents championships and winning and Carmelo can get down with that.  And you know who else can get down with that?  Other superstars who still view Phil in high regard.

While there are a ton of reasons why this would be good for the Knicks one thing is clear, the Knicks are star gazers.  Wishing on any shooting star that passes, hoping that their wish will come true.  This shooting star has a ton of questions surrounding his health and ultimately the power he will be given to make decisions.  Maybe he won’t be good at being a GM.  Look at Michael Jordan?  The power with being that good at one thing is that you start believing you’re good at everything and Mike fell into that trap.  He’s the guy who drafted Kwame Brown number one ahead of guys like Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Joe Johnson etc.  He’s the guy who has never produced a .500 or better team in his tenure as GM or owner.  Nothing is promised to guys who go on to try things other than what they are known for.  I truly believe God put us all on this earth for one thing, and one thing only.  Some, like Mike and Phil found their niche.  They worked hard and achieved the impossible.

In the end, I don’t think God put Phil on this earth to run the Knicks.  The devil put James Dolan here to mock all of us Knick fans for believing the rumors.

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The Mystery and beauty of not knowing…that’s Showtime

The news this morning that Mike D’Antoni took the job as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers certainly raised eyebrows across the Association’s landscape.  For one, it was NOT the name that Los Angeleans had expected to hear be announced as the replacement to Mike Brown.  Most thought that Tuesday morning, when they held the press conference, Phil Jackson would come limping into the room and commandeering the super team that the Buss family and Mitch Kupchack had assembled.

Most NBA fans know that there’s only ONE guy who is truly qualified to deal with this many egos and one, Kobe Bryant.  There’s only one guy who can go death stare for death stare with Kobe and there’s only one guy that can truly hold Bryant accountable for his demeaning attitude towards teammates.  Phil Jackson has made a career of coaching the best and intertwining their massive egos and massive talents into a championship concoction and most automatically assumed that this was the perfect job for him.

But as we all know, sometimes the best laid plans wind up staying in the meeting room, never to see the light of day.  Most Laker fans assumed Phil would be their coach because usually this kind of stuff just falls into their lap like pigeon droppings do for others.  But the most interesting part of the next few days will be figuring how this all fell apart and why.  Because in the end, there are too many characters in this drama for it not to be a fun reconstruct for the avid basketball fan.

First, Mike Brown.  Brown was hired after Phil Jackson left the Lakers in 2010 winner of back to back championships the year before and having gone to the Finals 3 years in a row.  He won five titles in two separate stints with the famed franchise and was revered in L.A. as the guy who was the missing piece and quite possibly the greatest head coach in all of basketball.  Mike Brown was the guy who had won a ton of games with Lebron, but no NBA championship.  Brown came from the San Antonio Spur organization, a franchise run so well that I’m ESPN’s 30 for 30 crew is already working on interviews set for five years down the road when we will be seeing all the links to that team talk about how they became champions as a result of being a part of that organization.

Immediately from the start, many questioned LA’s hiring.  Curious to many since the players, fans and even Phil gave the head nod to Brian Shaw, longtime assistant head coach and Triangle disciple.  What many didn’t know is that Jim Buss, brother of Jeanne (Phil’s long time girlfriend) and son of Dr. Jerry Buss, wanted to move away from the slow down pace of the Triangle.  An offense too boring for a town too hip.  Its why they hired Rudy Tomjanovich the first time Phil left and its why they hired Mike Brown the second time Phil left because both promised a different style of basketball.  A more fun style.  Except, neither performed the task ownership set them out to do: recreate showtime and win championships.

Brown was known as a defensive minded coach, except the stats don’t bear that reputation out.  The Lakers went from the 8th best defensive team in Phil’s last season to 15th best defensively in Mike Brown’s first full year.  This season, Brown decided to change the offensive philosophy to play the Princeton offense.  There was a good news/bad news aspect to this change.  The good news is that philosophically it could have worked given what the team had: the Princeton offense’s main goal is to keep the ball moving and for points to be made through players taking advantage of the mismatch by doing back door cuts and executing flawless passing.  They had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant who all are above average passers (Kobe haters, stop laughing at the notion that Kobe’s not a good passer.  Now, whether he wants to pass or not is a discussion for another day), and they had Steve Nash, a former two time MVP and top 5 point guard on the roster.  In the Princeton offense, there aren’t PG’s, G’s F’s or PF’s.  The concept is to keep passing the ball until there’s an open man found.  It depends on the passing ability of its players.  They hired Eddie Jordan, the guru of the Princeton offense, to run it.  The bad news was that meant limiting the ball in the hands of Steve Nash which is maybe NOT such a good idea considering he’s one of the best ball handlers in the NBA.  Even at age 38.

Brown came into the job on a work shortened season.  And then lucked out by having this super roster and even more super expectations placed on the team by both its fan base and its impatient ownership.  The Buss’ wanted a winner and an exciting one to boot.  Brown failed to do that and as they saw the team suffer they couldn’t continue watching it.

The next character is Phil Jackson.  As the Lakers opened the season up at 1-4, the fan base and the media began buzzing for Phil to return.  Looking at the roster, it was immediately clear to everyone that only Phil Jackson could come and save this team from itself.  Phil, for his part, had built a reputation for being able to coach the best players and guide them to titles through his Zen-like qualities.  His ability to massage egos and win at a remarkable rate was all the cred he needed to deal with those who came to clash with the super coach.  The spin from the Laker end will be that he asked for an ownership stake and for more say in personnel decisions, undercutting Jim Buss’ authority, and the spin from Phil’s side (already released) would be that he was willing to take the job as long as the money was right.  But the more I read it, the more it comes down to that the power struggle between he and Jim Buss would be too much of an elephant in the room for even Phil to figure out.  The Zen master does indeed want more power in his next location but perhaps asking for it from the Laker franchise was just a tiny poke at Jim Buss and to see how desperate they were to make this team work.

The third character would be those Buss’.  Its hard to figure who’s on Phil’s side and who wasn’t, but one thing is for sure:  Jeanne is still his girlfriend making her on his side.   That’s all we know, everything else is purely hearsay but there were plenty of whispers that Jim Buss and even Dr. Jerry Buss wanted to move away from the slow paced style of the Triangle to a more Showtime-esque offense that dazzled the NBA and the greater Los Angeles area in the 1980’s.  Of course it was led by Magic Johnson, who at 6’9 was as unique a point guard as there was in the NBA.  Dr Jerry Buss is as close to George Steinbrenner as you will get in the NBA.  An owner used to winning; accepting nothing less and paying whatever the cost to field a winner was not happy with the landscape of the NBA.  The Lakers seemed to be heading into the sunset of the Kobe Bryant era without being close to title contention, and that wasn’t acceptable.  So he, through Mitch Kupchack engineered the stunning Dwight Howard trade (as a result of the Nets falling out), and got Steve Nash for a bunch of second round picks and a bunch of basketballs.

And yet, even as the roster constructed seemed to put the Lakers in the drivers seat in the Western Conference they had entrusted Mike Brown to do so.  The moves may have started the clock on Mike Brown’s tenure because of the next two characters:

The next two characters are time and Dwight Howard.  This time last year, it seemed as though Dwight Howard was headed to Brooklyn one way or the other.  He was excited about teaming up with Deron Williams and playing out their careers together.  The Lakers wanted in on Dwight but were getting lukewarm responses from the former Orlando center.  Of course, as fate would have it and somehow it manages to all the time, Dwight put himself in a situation where he gave his team very limited time to work out a deal with Brooklyn, and ultimately wound up going to Los Angeles in a three team trade that saw the Lakers give up their own young big man, Andrew Brynum, but keep Pau Gasol.  Suddenly Dwight was in LA, and the Lakers had assembled a team capable of battling the OKC’s and the Miami’s of the world and were thrust into the championship chatter.

The problems are three fold:  Dwight is not a 100% at the moment.  Its clear that he hasn’t recovered from offseason back surgery and will probably require more rehab before we see the real dominant Dwight Howard.  Second, he’s a free agent in July of this year having not signed an extension with Los Angeles just yet.  Which makes this a probationary period in Los Angeles for Dwight.  With an 0-8 preseason and a 1-4 start, the early reviews were probably not good.  Third, the Lakers know that Dwight is the link to another great run.  They can’t afford to let him walk this offseason given the advanced age of the rest of their roster.  Kobe is in his 17th season, Pau is 32 and has been playing internationally since 18, and Steve Nash is 38 going on 51.

That leads us to the obvious character of time and time is NOT on the Laker’s side.  Time was cut short on Mike Brown thanks to a quirky 66 game schedule that was more a game of attrition for an old team like the Lakers.  Many people had fun poking at the Knicks for their advanced age and yet, the average age of their starting five is 30.4 (that’s without Amar’e, which would ultimately alter their line up and replace Kidd who’s 39 with Amar’e who’s 30 on 11/16 and would give them an average age of 29) while the Lakers average age of their starting five is 32.8 (that’s with Steve Nash, but even replacing him with Steve Blake would still make them 31.6).  That’s significant when understanding the urgency to win a championship this year which would convince Dwight to stay for the long term.  If all Dwight knows is complete and utter chaos, then his Laker career will be short lived and all those good tidings that came with his trade to LA will disappear.  We’ve seen how Dwight can flip flop between allegiances and loyalty and anything is fair game.  Besides, judging by their advanced age, they have a two to maybe a three year window to win.  Oh and by the way, that window coincides with Lebron James entering his physical prime, which by the way could also result in the greatest statistical 5-7 year run in all of basketball.  EVER.

And in my opinion, Dwight’s future is the impetus in all of this.  The coaching change so quickly into what promises to be an 82 game marathon showed the Lakers inability to wait for the team to adjust to each other.  The Lakers signed a brand new lucrative television deal that will ultimately pay them royally thanks to the Kobe Bryant era.  In order to keep them interesting and keep the rising Clipper team in their place, the Lakers have to ensure that the transition from the Kobe Bryant Lakers to the Dwight Howard Lakers go as smoothly as the other ones have: with rings.  The Lakers are at another moment in their franchise’s history where they had to make an important decision for the sake of the team.

But ultimately this will show that as much as winning is a priority in the Staples Center, its not the ONLY thing.  Its about selling tickets and merchandise and keeping them relevant in a very crowded marketplace.  In a few years a football team will join Los Angeles and with their co-tenants having two superstars in tow, the pressure is mounting on a very old Laker team to be champions again.  Was Phil Jackson pricing himself out?  Or was it that the Buss’ were tired of being held up by Phil without a gun.  Any opportunist would see this moment in Laker history and understand the significance of having a winner.  While the Lakers will be good without Phil, everyone knows they can be world champions WITH him.  And that was done WITHOUT the kind of star power they have now.  So what to make of the D’Antoni signing?

Simple.  In the end, ownership is always the final say.  Forget the fans.  Forget the players.  While the influence can be strong, a very strong ownership can ultimately override all of them.  The Buss’ were not willing to give Phil what he wanted because what he wanted was theirs.  All of the credit, and all of the love would have gone to Phil had this pre-assembled lineup won a championship.  And that in the end was not something Mitch Kupchack, or the Buss’ wanted.  This ownership group survived one power struggle with Phil and Shaq against Kobe and they feel they can survive another.

Mike D’Antoni will open up the offense and will utilize the team’s talent to make them into a great offense.  It will make them into as close to the Showtime teams used to be which should appease the fanbase. They will win a ton of regular season games, but that goes without saying.  But what will they do when they get into the playoffs and teams with great front court depth begin wearing them out and slowing down the pace.  We’ve seen this with the D’Antoni Suns of the mid 2000’s.  The only problem is, they were dealing with an early 30’s Steve Nash leading the break and had young, quick playmakers who could run up and down the court and wear teams out.  Who’s running this team at a breakneck pace?  Kobe Bryant with his young legs at 34?  Maybe Antawn Jamison at 36 off the bench? Maybe its Dwight with the bad back.  Or Metta World Peace who will somehow be confused into letting go of this self held notion that he’s a prolific 3 point shooter and he’ll run.

Unfortunately the statistics have held that the problem was not the offense.  It was the defense.  The problem is they gave Mike Brown 5 games in the regular season to make them into a team when that’s never going to work especially given the team they’ve assembled.  The problem is that Dwight’s not at 100% and Steve Nash has played exactly one game with this team.  So before people begin to wonder about the Lakers and Phil Jackson, remember that the problems don’t end because they shut the door for Phil to return.  No, they opened the door to the more obvious problem that now circles the Lakers should they be unable to win a title this year, and lose Dwight Howard in free agency (which would be worst case scenario): maybe the Lakers don’t want to win anymore.  May be they are just ok with competing and being competitive and selling out their arena and collecting the rewards of all those Phil Jackson-Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol-Shaquille O’Neal titles.  Maybe the Buss’ don’t want to give control to a guy that knows how to work around their present problems.

Or maybe Mike D’Antoni will re-work this line up and figure out what he did wrong in Phoenix and NY and become a great coach.  Maybe this will work out for the Lakers like it always does.  Maybe Dwight will re-sign with the Lakers and the Lakers will have one more major move to make before the trading deadline that will make them younger and more dangerous.  Who knows?  The fantastic part is, the less we know the juicier the story becomes.  At the end of the season, none of the build up or the hype will matter because we will know the ending.  The best part of the story is now.  The best part of the story is not knowing how the movie ends.  That’s LA!  That’s Showtime!

 

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Daily Rounds 12/29

The Knicks were tied heading into the fourth quarter but lost 92-78 to the Warriors.  Mike Vacarro says that the Knicks are still working out the kinks and so it may look like this for a while.  Mark Jackson got the last laugh against the team that almost hired him says Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News.  Howard Beck of the New York Times says that IF the Knicks superstars could’ve saved them they would have.  Meanwhile the Knicks newest import found the court yesterday and Jeremy Lin’s journey has been tumultuous to say the best in the last 18 months but at least he didn’t have to travel far to reach his newest team, says Howard Beck of the New York Times.  

Howard Beck touches on exactly what was wrong with the Knicks.  If the stars aren’t hitting their shots, it will be almost impossible for the Knicks to win.  That’s the problem in a nutshell.  The Knicks don’t have a playmaker that can create offense for the team.  There isn’t a point guard on the team that will create shots for other players.  This team will look better when Iman Shumpert returns and Baron Davis too.  Those two guys slash into the basket and create offense for themselves or others.  They don’t have that kind of athleticism right now.  Amar’e is a pick and roll player.  Melo is a pick and pop player.  The Knicks don’t have the player that will generate offense right now.

Like I wrote in my post game report early this morning, Toney Douglas’ progress as a point guard has been non-existent.  He’s a few seconds late seeing almost everything which means he’s not a natural floor leader.  More and more I see him the more and more I have an appreciation for true point guards who have such excellent court vision and can see a play develop before it happens.  Good point guards can see things happen before they do and I’m rethinking this whole “we need Dwight Howard over Deron Williams” argument that is developing.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, all they need is a semi-reasonable point guard who can play the position and run a simple pick and roll.  A pick and roll because that’s ALL Amar’e needs.  That’s all Carmelo needs.  Someone to hit the man as they are running right to the hoop.  The Knicks are too much of a half court team and settled for far too many jumpers while the Warriors were getting to the hoop with regularity.  Tyson Chandler got into foul trouble and without him the Knicks were a layup line again.

There was far too many troubling signs on offense that continue to plague them  If the Knicks superstars aren’t hitting their shots nobody is trying or attempting to grab the offensive rebound and nobody is trying to initiate any offense.  The limitation the Knicks have is that too much of the offense depends on Melo and Stat.  Stat is not an offensive initiator.  He took far too many double teamed and contested shots instead of finding the open man.  Too many isolation situations where there was NOBODY willing to pass off.  It was too stagnant while on the other end, the Warriors were putting on a clinic.  This time an average point guard dominated the Knicks.  It was kind of sad to watch and its troubling that the Knicks don’t have any kind of sustained defensive intensity right now.  I get that they need more practice time.  I get that they need more time to get used to one another and the defensive schemes of Mike Woodson.  I get all of that, and I see some improvement from Amar’e but again, its not a sustained effort throughout and that’s what they need.

The Knicks will need to work on how to run plays on offense that consist of more than one guy being isolated and everyone standing around watching.  Now granted there will be few games like this where the Knicks have both stars off their games.  And right now the Knicks have two guys capable of dropping 30 on any given night and so the Knicks will overcome and have rare games like last night but here’s the good news:  The Knicks had a pretty terrible day shooting and yet they still led through three quarters of the game.  Their defense kept them in it and they were great in keeping their hands actively in passing lanes.

The final verdict:  these games will be far and few between.  The Knicks will play better.  They just need to keep their defensive intensity alive for longer stretches.  Slow and steadily the Knicks are getting better.

Osi Umeniyora returned to Giants practice right in time for the G-men who will need the waves of pass rush to stop the Cowboys and it appears, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, that he returned faster than ever.  Jorge Castillo of the Star Ledger reports that amidst the thrill of victory was the reality that the Giants passing attack has suffered in the last two weeks and will be depended upon to play well Sunday night.  

Osi is going to be key for the Giants but I agree with Jorge, the passing attack has been average.  Eli has been good, however but the receivers haven’t been making plays.  Apart from that 99 yard play, the Giants have been uneven.  I think it has to do with the reshuffling of the line.  I liked Mitch Petrus at Guard and Kareem Boothe at Center.  If the Giants hope to fly they need Jake Ballard back and they need Travis Beckum to finally show some kind of skill.  They need Hakeem Nicks to catch passes again.  They need Mario Manningham back in the line up.  They need guys to step up on offense.

The defense is tough to figure but it can only get better having Osi in it.  Osi figures to get plenty of pass rush and in the report, it says that he will probably only see action during obvious pass rush situations.  Which would move JPP into the interior and give the Giants four really good strong defensive players on the line.  That line would cause massive mayhem and given that the Cowboys will have Sammy Morris and a banged up Felix Jones, the Giants will need the athleticism to get pressure on Romo.  Add on to the fact that Romo will have a banged up arm its not looking good for the Cowboys.

Which is what scares me about Sunday night’s game.  Add on to the fact that the Giants are playing at home which has been anything BUT good.  Like I said earlier: this game is so evenly matched that it can literally go EITHER WAY.  Ugh.

The Miami Heat were in their second close game in a row and they found a way to win.  And for the second consecutive game, crunch time buckets went to player not named Lebron James and that will get plenty of the attention if its a trend that continues.  Tom Haberstoh of ESPN’s TrueHoop (who’s been fantastic by the way) covers the Heat and said that the bucket that Wade hit to win it for the Heat should not have counted according to Rob Mahoney.  On a night full of close games, another one came down to the wire between the Thunder and Grizzlies and Kevin Durant won the game for the Thunder, but it wasn’t without conflict.  According to Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, Durant and Westbrook got into a fight where both had to be restrained.  This is bad news for the Thunder.  

These are two of the most talented teams and the two that most of the expert crowd predict to make the Finals this year.  But this shows the problem with having too much talent in two different ways.  Last year, the Heat struggled with who would get the crunch time scoring opportunities and especially who WOULDNT.  The Heat this season have played 2 close games out of three and are already hearing the whispers of superstars who can’t get it done.  And again, Chris Bosh is quietly having monster games in which both Lebron and Wade are expected to step up.  Regardless of what happens, the Heat are facing similar pressure to show up every night.  In front of a sell out crowd, the Heat got the opposing team’s best game.  The Bobcats played tremendously last night and came close to pulling off the upset had it not been for the general excellence of Lebron and Wade.  Lebron had the monster game.  Wade wasn’t nearly as effective and Bosh was having a really good game as well.  The Bobcats put forth their best effort and yet the Heat’s three man team were too much for the Bobcats to handle.  Of course it didn’t help that Paul Silas chose to not play his two most effective scorers in Byron Mullens and Kemba Walker (I already know what you’re thinking, Kemba who right?) down the stretch.  But its interesting that the Heat still play in that rock star atmosphere where every single game they play they get the very best from the competition and they are surviving on pure talent.  The point though comes down to what exactly was the rationale behind giving a cold D-Wade the look at the final shot OVER Lebron who had 35 points OR Bosh who had 28 points.  Wade who was troubled by an ankle sprain that kept him out for most of the third quarter came back in and defensively played great blocking a few shots and coming back in transition to finish a few more.  But offensively the night belonged to Lebron and yet the coach decided to draw up a play for a cold D-Wade who finished the night 5 for 13.  So why would the coach give the ball to Wade if Lebron had it working last night?  And that’s the question that will be posed to Lebron every time a game comes down to the wire and the Heat require someone to hit a clutch shot or make a clutch decision.  That’s the price of being given such uncoachable talents (I promise that’s not an insult and that’s a compliment).

On the other end, this brotherly blood feud between Durant and Westbrook was eventually bound to happen but it appears that the schedule is not the only thing that’s being compressed.  With only 66 games, it appears the drama is fitting itself in pretty early with this team.  After finishing a stinking 0 for 12 and with no regard to his team’s position in the game, Westbrook kept shooting and I kept thinking to myself “uh oh”.  To me, and this is just me, Westbrook has the higher ceiling than Durant.  Durant is a phenomenal scorer and he can make plays happen and he’s a willing passer but Westbrook has the ability to be it all.  Scoring/defensive/slasher/playmaker and thus I’d rather take Westbrook’s upside more so than Durantula.  I think Durant just works on his shooting and becomes automatic like Dirk in the coming years while, if Westbrook dedicates himself he can become a much better player.  Which is why I floated the possibility of the Lakers making a run at Westbrook instead of Chris Paul.  I love Paul and to me he’s the best (pure) point guard in the NBA today BUT if they added Russell Westbrook and Kobe took him under his wing, how awesome would he be for them?  He’d give them the kind of jump athletically they haven’t had in quite some time and for Kobe having that second superstar on his team would help his old legs because he could resolve himself to be that pop and stop shooter.  Kobe’s getting up there in age and the Lakers are asking him to be the focal point of the offense and while he can manage that on some nights, its not something he can do on a nightly basis.  Its also interesting that I see a lot of parallels between Kobe and Russell Westbrook.  Westbrook has the talent to be a great, not good player in the NBA.  He just needs guidance.  Something he will NOT get in OKC.  He’s as untouchable as Durant and while Durant is more highly regarded among front office people, Westbrook is like I said more talented potentially than Durant and so keeping him in a Thunder uniform is of utmost importance.  But imagine the Lakers offer them Andrew Bynum for Westbrook and Nazr Mohammad.  Imagine what that does to the Thunder?  That front line would be beastly.  Kendrick Perkins and Bynum down low and Durantula playing the three.  AT 6 feet 11.  How tough a match up would that be for opposing teams?  Meanwhile the Lakers get a good developing young player WHILE still preserving precious cap space for Dwight to supersize their front line WHILE still having Pau Gasol for next year.  Imagine THAT team in LA.  How does this not work out well for both teams?  Please.  Someone tell me?  Oh wait.  You can’t.

Aside from the issues that Durant and Westbrook have, which are real and exist and were eventually going to reveal themselves, the fact is the Thunder have a problem that most teams would love to have.  How Scotty Brooks handles that will be something to watch.  Remember, this is what Phil Jackson used to do really well.  Great coaches know how to handle egos and massage them while making the co-existence workable for the betterment of the team.  Embedding that team philosophy in guys who clearly are looking out solely for their own stats is tough but a necessary evil in this profession.  At some point, Durant and Westbrook will have to face the prospect of putting aside their issues and working out an understanding.  Westbrook will be told he’s the playmaker and Durant will be told to shoot because that’s how this will work.  Until Westbrook can be trusted on a nightly basis to keep the plan, this situation bears watching.  How long can you trust Westbrook to set aside his ego?  How long can you expect Durant to play Mr. Nice teammate?  How long before it becomes painfully obvious to everyone involved (Sam Presti, please) that the Thunder NEED to get some value for Westbrook now before it becomes impossible to get anything good for him? People may say its too early but let’s be real, the path to a championship has been cut to 66 games and now is a better time than any to make that run start to count while you still have a chance to.

Ken Davidoff of New York Newsday finds common ground for A-Rod and the Wilpons.  Kinda.  

This shady German operation has me thinking about aging superstars and their constant need to compete with their younger competition.  Whatever happened to aging gracefully?  Speaking of gracefully has anyone put those sad puppy Coupons out of their misery yet?

Mike Pereira went postal on Jon Gruden in this FoxSports column.  

Me and Mike Pereira are FOREVER cool after this.  Does anyone else feel like Jon Gruden likes almost everything on the planet?

Finally, if women EVER wanted to understand why they feel they are being objectified on television.  They had better hope that THIS never gets shown in front of a nationally televised audience.  

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Daily Rounds 12/19/2011

After being away for two days, I come back to you to bring you Tebow down to earth, the Jets and Giants limping into their showdown on Christmas Eve.  The Baron Davis experiment.  And some fun links to get you through yet another Monday.  ENJOY!

On a day where neither team could ill afford a let down game, BOTH New York area football teams gave their respective fan bases the kind of game that can come back to haunt

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them in their quest to make the playoffs.  The Giants lost at home to the Redskins 23-10 while the Jets got blown out in Philly 45-19.  Gary Meyers said yesterday’s performance was indicative of so many Tom Coughlin teams.  They face the indignity of elimination at the hands of the Jets if they win and the Cowboys beat the Eaglehan city-wide pride.  If that’s not enough for you, in yesterday’s post game press conference Antrell Rolle called out his teammates who didn’t partake in practice during the week and Tuck answered by saying “its easy when you do it with another man’s body”.  

Here it is for Giant fans.  Win the next two games and there’s no discussion.  The Giants will win the division.  Lose next week and then beat the Cowboys and hope the Eagles lose one of two and they win the division.  EITHER WAY, that week 17 matchup comes up to be huge.  I dont know what to say about yesterday’s effort by either team but I will say this.  I’ve never been a fan of Antrell Rolle and the microphone together, but yesterday he said something that needed to be said.

I get that Justin Tuck is hurt and if he is.  If he’s really hurt, then he needs to sit out some games.  Tuck has shown me NOTHING through the last six games that he’s played that would lead me to believe he has much of anything in the tank and that’s probably due to his neck stinger.  He’s been called out all year by former teammates and now by current ones.  That has to be troubling to the defensive captain and frankly, I dont care.  Tuck has been sensitive and sissy like when it comes to addressing concerns regarding his health.  Look, I’m not a medical expert but if he’s really hurt then he needs to be handled that way.  He needs to sit out and not take up space.  He’s a valuable member of the defense but NOT at 60% which it looks like he’s playing.  Offensive linemen are handling him on one on one situations and yesterday’s game he was being tossed aside like a rag doll and the Giants were not getting any kind of pressure.  No Osi, and virtually no Tuck which leaves ONLY JPP as the real threat for the defense and he again was the only guy who seemed to play like he cared.

Rolle’s astute observation aside, this coverage unit is a liability at this point.  They were horrendous in tackling as well.  Prince Amukamara fell for virtually every single move that any receiver he was facing was throwing at him.  The kid will get better, but he was being burned at every available turn and deserved the half time benching knowing that this was basically a game they HAD to have.

IF the Giants and Jets won yesterday, Saturday’s game may not have meant as much.  The Giants have had plenty of games like that where they could’ve won.  They were on their way to victories over Seattle, the Niners and the Eagles.  Three wins that IF they had back, they could’ve clinched the division by last Sunday.  But the Giants have not played a full game where all three facets of the team have come together.

Speaking of three facets of the team not coming together, the Jets got beat up and down by the Eagles who by the way aren’t done in the NFC East race either.  SHOULD they win out and all three teams wind up with an 8-8 record, yes it will be the Eagles winning the division by virtue of a better divisional record and making all the experts look like geniuses.  Thankfully there is a very remote chance of that happening but yes, that CAN happen.  So don’t rule it out completely.  In fact, I think that’s probably the most likely scenario given how the Eagles absolutely HANDLED the Cowboys in their first meeting and how the Eagles have looked in the past two weeks: you know like the dominant team everyone expected them to be.  Either way the biggest take away from this game for the Jets: they had better fix the secondary immediately.  I mean the third level where the safeties are.  Brodney Poole is a liability in coverage and they have NOBODY there to match up with the tight end.  David Harris doesn’t have the speed and Bart Scott has quietly had one of the worst seasons of his career.  The Jets will have to figure that out quickly.  They are now in a tie for the Wild Card.  The Jets control their fate.  Win out and they are in.

All in for Saturday.  It will be interesting to see how this goes.

In the other major game yesterday, the Tim Tebow led Denver Broncos were brought down to earth by competition that they were not better than yesterday.  The Patriots, coupled with the Jets loss, also clinched the AFC East crown for the 9th time in 11 years.  What happened?  Greg Bedard says that the defense, which sunk to depths they didn’t know existed, changed the course of the game.  Dan Shaughnessy said that it was just routine for these AFC assassins.  Tebow time didn’t get a chance to start up thanks to a few costly turnovers says Don Banks of SI.com.  Judy Batista of the New York Times said that yesterday restored order to conventional wisdom that says that Tim Tebow and the Broncos can’t be successful.  Woody Paigesaid that despite the luck that seemed to hover over the Broncos for the last two months wasn’t there at Mile High, the Broncos still received help thanks to a poor showing by the Raiders who lost a lead and the game against the Lions.  Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post hit the nail right in the head when he said

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“while Tebow has earned the right to operate this team in 2012, the offense must evolve to the point where Denver can play more than one way.”  Finally, Mike Silver of Yahoo Sports said it best: Tim Tebow learned a valuable lesson at the hands of the master.  

Look, nobody’s a bigger fan of this guy than me.  As a football fan I’ve never seen anything like Tim Tebow.  I think that goes for everybody else.  But I saw this coming a mile away.  But those who want to point to Tim Tebow as the reason they lost may want to think again.  Yes, this showed that Tim Tebow can NOT keep up with a high flying offense.  This showed that unless they work out his throwing motion and develop him more as a pure pocket passer, the Broncos won’t be able to sustain good performances against good teams.  But let’s forget all that for a minute.

In a span of 9 offensive plays, the Broncos fumbled three times.  Twice they were recovered by the Patriots and they scored 10 points off those turnovers.  One of the fumbles also resulted in a three and out which wound up being a field goal.  That’s thirteen points that the Broncos GAVE the Patriots.  Take those points away, and its 16-14 heading into the half.  Then you put that seven on the board from the third, the Patriots are up 21-16 heading into the fourth quarter.  Imagine that game going into the fourth quarter with Tebow just a touchdown away from winning it.  You have to entertain the possibility because when the team is close, they believe.  They have unending faith.  That’s what I’ve seen from the Broncos in those fourth quarters.  They have undying faith that they will win the game and so that quarter could’ve gone either way.  If the Patriots had gained the momentum and not put that 20 spot in the second quarter, the Broncos and Patriots go into that fourth and it turns into a different game.  Who knows, the Patriots may have won but yesterday was not a shoot out.  No.  Yesterday was not about Tom Brady and the Patriots scoring more points than the Broncos by just sheer machine like efficiency.  No, it was the Broncos giving them opportunities deep in their own territory and now giving the offense a chance by keeping it close.

Most teams in the NFL won’t do that and can’t recover from that.  And that in the end is the point folks.  Let’s start looking at this team from a reasonable point of view.  Let’s not differentiate them and put them in a different class.  That they are not.  The premise behind that is wrong and is what gives talk show heads so much to talk about.  Yes, everybody is different in their own special way.  But Tebow should not get more credit for running this unconventional (by pro-standards) offense anymore than Tom Brady gets overvalued in my estimation for the Patriots Super Bowl victories.  Yes, he won them but let’s be real, he never led touchdown drives to win games, he led drives that ended up in field goals and Adam Viniatieri kicked the Patriots into history.

The fact is, this is JUST another NFL quarterback.  He’s JUST another second year QB.  And that’s how he should be evaluated.  Free from the emotion of what he represents.  He’s a great story but every story has an end.  Was yesterday the end?  I dont know.  Tebow has proven that he can answer the critics and the critics have no answers for the way he seemingly pulls games out.  No one can dispute ths 7-1 record but most want to dispute the fact that he is a viable NFL Quarterback.  But they are looking at him from the narrow minded view point of traditional drop back passers like Tom Brady.  And that’s how they should be.  There is no comparative player in this generation.  Even the Fran Tarkentons weren’t built like Tebow.  No way could Fran ever have pulled off that 9 yard TD run that Tebow pulled off in the first quarter.  But if the Broncos ever needed a wake up call from this hallucinogen that the Tebow saga has had them on, this was it.

Brady was simple.  Brady was precise.  Brady was everything we expected.  He was probably the anti-Christ in this game but he was the anti-dote for the Broncos.  They need to wake up from this dream that everyone has been swept up in.  Yes he’s a great player but there’s work to be done and now most are beginning to see it.  There’s a game against Buffalo next week IN Buffalo that will surely have people ranting and raving about him again.  The Bills have packed up and gone home and then they finish off the season against the Chiefs.  Those perfect season ruining Chiefs.  They are in the drivers seat thanks to the Lions beating the Raiders in comeback fashion.  The Broncos need only win out and then its the playoffs and if Tebow has proven ANYTHING is possible.

But yesterday was their first taste of something real.  Every week seemed to have something set up so that they would be victorious.  The Bears minus Cutler and Forte.  The Vikings minus Adrian Peterson. The Jets minus an offense and oxygen to the head on that final play.  The Broncos had victories seemingly served up and give them credit, they accepted the hand outs and rode the wave.  But anyone who didn’t see yesterday’s game coming was drinking heavily from the communion wine.  Tom Brady was not going to let Tebow have the crown and all the fun.  Brady reminded us all that it takes more than just one man to win games.  He passed, he scored and the entire Patriot team came together for that win and now they stand at 11-3.  Masters of their own fate and able to win out and get that first round bye.  Of course they will need Pittsburgh to lose tonight.  But yesterday was a dose of reality for a Bronco team that needed it desperately.

If the Broncos want to win, it will be imperative that they improve Tim Tebow.  He has all the intangibles and he’s got all the stuff that people like you or I can’t see or explain.  Now its time to see tangible results.  Things that can help the argument:  Tim Tebow is a good NFL Quarterback.  Lord knows that most Tebow-supporters have prayed for that day to come.

Baron Davis will join the New York Knicks and make it official by today.  Marc Berman says that the initial diagnosis of 8-10 weeks was meant to scare off teams that may have bid for the Baron’s services.  Knicks medical staffers took a look into his medical reports and decided that he would be able to play in about a month.  Davis only wanted to play for three teams: his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, the Knicks and the Heat.  All three of those teams would NOT have been able to bid during the amnesty auction due to their cap situation.   Also contained within this report is that the Knicks still have the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 mil to dangle and perhaps Al Thornton will be a good fit as they have spoken to his representatives.  In this report, Berman (who’s been the biggest news scooper this side of Alan Hahn for Knick fans) also says that Spike Lee began to plant the seed early on for Tyson Chandler’s free agent welcome to New York.  Mitch Lawrence is a little less than enthused by the Baron Davis signing, saying that it speaks more to what the Knicks don’t have than their trust in what Baron Davis DOES have.  

I’m in the latter category.  The Knicks have a solid core.  Yes, I don’t like Mike Bibby because he’s a liability on defense.  Then there’s Toney Douglass who’s a liability on offense.  Then there’s Imam Shumpert who outside of one impressive preseason game has nothing to show for himself.  And so the Baron Davis experiment begins albeit only by around MLK day as the Knicks are telling it.  The Knicks are a promising team.  They have a front court that makes others drool but their second team is a huge question mark and in a shortened season where they will need to rest their guys especially Amar’e for long stretches on those tough back to back night games which will be early and often, the hope here is that something pans out from that second group.  They will be counted on.  Which is why teams that are 8-10 deep are probably assured of the most success while teams that are top heavy will find the road the hardest.

The Knicks are top heavy.  Unless they get some scoring from Bill Walker and Bibby turns back the clock some, and the rookie shows more than just flashes in a preseason game, the Knicks will be woefully thin and they will be forced to play games where they will need huge performances from their superstars to maintain.  The Knicks don’t have that much size but if what we saw from Jorts Harrleson is true, then the Knicks may have some depth on the other end.  D’Antoni after the Nets game made a very interesting point: Carmelo Anthony may be their best passer.  Which tells you what you need to know.  The Knicks will lean more on Anthony to lead the team.  Amar’e is the heart and soul of this team and we give him that.  He’s the guy who came to NY when no one else would.  He led the renaissance last year.  But Carmelo is by far the best player on the team and he needs to take that next step in his evolution.  Running the offense through him will be better and give the Knicks more opportunities.  The best pick and roll I saw from the Knicks was the one he and Amar’e ran and that’s the kind of easy offense the Knicks can have when those two superstars are working in tandem.

I will get more into that in my season preview on Friday.

But this move was made, in my opinion, more as an indictment of what we don’t have than what we do have in the back court.  Baron Davis comes with huge question marks, bad back not included.  There are questions of chemistry.  Of work ethic.  Of motivation.  His defensive ability.  Of his overall ability declining.  But talent like his comes along rarely.  When motivated, Davis is a beast.  A threat to throw down 20 points dish out thirteen assists including four or five wow alley oops to willing partcipants: Amar’e and Melo (though you may want to add Shump to that list because he looks like an athletic freak too).  BUT the big question is which Baron will show up and how often will good Baron be the one that puts on the uniform and how long this love fest will last.

I’m not holding my breath.  My hope is that Toney Douglas improves as the season progresses and Shump has a monster season and proves the Knick draftniks right when they drafted him so that Davis’ presence will only be peripheral and not in the main view of the Knicks vision which currently is on a championship.

Howard Beck of the New York Times says that a New York rivalry can be revived at the drop of a Dwight, i mean Dime should the Nets make a huge acquisition themselves.  The Clippers deal for CP3 shows how quickly a city can come alive for that. 

Mark Heisler wrote one of the funniest mock letters to Donald Sterling pleading with him NOT to mess this up.  

Sending out a Praise God for the news of Celtic Jeff Green who had an aortic aneurysm treated thanks to a last minute check up.  The condition will sideline Green for the season, an unfortunate set back but wonderful news considering what could’ve been had they not discovered it.  

Ben Bolch looks at the fascinating life that IS Metta World Peace.  Thug.  Humanitarian.  Bench player for the Los Angeles Lakers.  

Just click this link Lebron Haters and enjoy.  Thanks Dallas Fort Worth Telegram.  

 

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