17 Apr
2014

The Stepback Three-Pointer (Games 70 to 82)

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Sorry for the utter lack of posts! Yours truly is in school, after all, and the last couple of weekends have been spent cooped up in my room trying my darnedest to come up with something semi-coherent for essay assignments. I haven’t had the time to do or think about anything else in this time, although I did manage to catch a few of the games.

There should be quite a few more posts coming up soon after this one as I’ve hit the mid-semester break (so I’ve got more time now) and we’re now on the verge of the playoffs. Anyway, let’s get to it:

The Games

70) Nuggets 106 – 122 Mavericks
71) Nets 107 – 104 Mavericks
72) Thunder 119 – 128 Mavericks
73) Clippers 109 – 103 Mavericks
74) Kings 100 – 103 Mavericks
75) Warriors 122 – 120 Mavericks
76) Mavericks 113 – 107 Clippers
77) Mavericks 107 – 95 Lakers
78) Mavericks 93 – 91 Kings
79) Mavericks 95 – 83 Jazz
80) Spurs 109 – 100 Mavericks
81) Suns 98 – 101 Mavericks
82) Mavericks 105 – 106 Grizzlies

The Points

1) PLAYOFFS PLAYOFFS PLAYOFFS. Of course this is point number one! I watched the Phoenix game and I was hootin’ and hollerin’ throughout. When Monta splashed those consecutive wing 3s, I was roaring. When Dirk grabbed a rebound, took it down the floor himself then pulled up and knocked down a 3 of his own, I was jumping all over the place. And those Brandan Wright blocks, oh me oh my.

What a match. Definitely one of the best I’ve ever watched, and what was at stake only multiplied the effect a thousand times.

What a season it’s been. The team really turned it around, and rewarded the faith of us fans. At the beginning, it just felt good to watch a team that at least looked like it had a direction, a purpose. Then it became good to watch a team that won the majority of the games it was ‘supposed to win’, instead of throwing away games to the likes of the Jazz or the Bucks. And towards the end, wins over the Pacers and the OKC showed us that this team was way more than the sum of its parts. It’s got tons of flaws but it also competes at a level which, on paper, should be way beyond this squad’s capabilities.

It’s far from being the best Mavs team we have ever or will ever have the privilege of watching, but it’s definitely one of the most special ones nevertheless :)

2) The loss to the Grizzlies was a real downer though, especially since it means we’ll be playing the Spurs in the playoffs, pretty much a guaranteed knockout and a likely sweep. However, in trying to offer a positive note, I must say that I felt the same way about facing the Thunder until our recent two wins against them. Before those two victories, we’d lost like 700 consecutive games against them and didn’t look like changing that anytime soon. It seemed like we were giving Durant career nights every time too.

But two wins against them and suddenly we’re all talking about how we stand a chance against them and match up well against them. Maybe we can change the narrative with the Spurs a little too, eh?

At least win a game or two, is all I’m asking. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything in this year’s playoffs, it could help in reshaping potential free agents’ perceptions about us. It’s pretty much all we’ve got to go on right now, with relatively few trade assets (even after we’ve been freed of the burden of owing a pick to OKC) to work with. Which brings me to the last point of this post:

3) What can this team do in the offseason? You might say it’s a little soon to be thinking about the offseason when the post-season hasn’t even begun, but considering the likelihood that it’s going to be a short playoffs and the current team is, in the big-picture view, a work-in-progress anyway, I don’t think it’s too early to look ahead.

There could be some big money coming off the payroll this summer, and there are some big holes in this roster, despite the encouraging progress this season. What could possibly be done to keep building this roster? I’ll be taking a closer look at the available options and have a post about it up soon.

Well, it’s playoffs time! I have to admit it’s a little hard to get hyped since we’ll be playing the Spurs and it certainly feels like we’ve got close to a 0% chance of even denting their armour, but the symbolism of playing in the postseason should matter more than anything else. If nothing else, we’ve showcased the fact that we’ve got a terrific coach, a superstar who ain’t done yet, and now we can add a new and improved Monta to that mix. That’s way more than some other teams can even hope to have.

I’ll enjoy the postseason, however long it goes for. It’s a sign of progress, and after the last couple seasons, to have a light to look forward to is good enough in and of itself.

20 Mar
2014

The Stepback Three-Pointer (Games 53 to 69)

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The Games

53) Mavericks 89 – 114 Bobcats
54) Mavericks 81 – 73 Pacers
55) Heat 117 – 106 Mavericks
56) Mavericks 124 – 112 76ers
57) Mavericks 113 – 102 Pistons
58) Mavericks 110 – 108 Knicks
59) Pelicans 89 – 108 Mavericks
60) Bulls 100 – 91 Mavericks
61) Mavericks 106 – 112 Spurs
62) Nuggets 115 – 110 Mavericks
63) Trailblazers 98 – 103 Mavericks
64) Pacers 94 – 105 Mavericks
65) Mavericks 85 – 108 Warriors
66) Mavericks 108 – 101 Jazz
67) Mavericks 109 – 86 Thunder
68) Celtics 89 – 94 Mavericks
69) Timberwolves 123 – 122 Mavericks

The Points

1) God I hate the Nuggets and the Timberwolves. Those two losses, along with the Bobcats and Bulls losses to a lesser extent, were the ones that caused me the most grief in this slate of games. Somehow we just match up really badly with them and can’t beat them to save our lives. I suppose it’s just as well neither of them are going to make the playoffs; it’d really suck to have to fight so hard to get in only to have to face the prospect of losing to one of them.

2) After a season of beating teams we should beat (for the most part) and losing to teams we should lose to, suddenly we’ve turned up the heat and beat the likes of the Pacers (TWICE), the Thunder (albeit without their starting backcourt) and the Blazers. I’m not sure what changed (most likely improved chemistry with no injuries to deal with currently), but this is refreshing. On our day, we can hang with the likes of the Clippers and the Blazers in the West, and certainly anyone in the league aside from the ‘Likely Champions’ group of OKC/Spurs/Miami (except for the two @#@#^$#$^ teams I mentioned in point number one). It’s exciting to watch and at least gives me a little throwback feeling to being considered one of the league’s elite once again.

That said, I don’t really care who we beat, so long as we get into the playoffs. It’s that time of year where I keep checking the standings after every round of games. It doesn’t help that it seems all our closest rivals (the Suns, Grizzlies and Warriors) all seem to have lots of games against the league’s cannon fodder while we have to fight tooth and nail against the likes of the Nets, Thunder and Clippers in upcoming games.

As Sir Alex Ferguson once famously said, it’s squeaky bum time.

3) It’s also time to start looking forward to the offseason. I’m not sure if it’s just a typical fan’s optimism, but there’s a chance for us to really do something this time, instead of just waiting on the whims of one big-name guy.

Dirk’s about to take a big paycut (hopefully he accepts something along the lines of 10m/year), VC and Marion come off the books, and in my opinion, unless they both take the veteran’s minimum, we really shouldn’t look to bring either of them back. They’ve been great (VC almost made me shout in celebration in the school library with his late block against the Celtics), but Marion’s had a pretty invisible season, though he remains our best defender by a country mile, and VC isn’t going to be able to keep this up for much longer. We should sell high on him this offseason, perhaps some sign-and-trade for whatever we can get in return.

I have a feeling neither of them are leaving though, and they probably aren’t gonna accept the veteran’s minimum too, so I’m not sure how that all plays out. I do hope we can attract some solid contributors though. We have a much more attractive team to join now, with Monta’s refurbished image and Dirk showing he’s not done yet. Add a smart sharpshooter like Jose and an athletic freak in BWright, and that’s a pretty good option for free agents, right? At least, I hope so.

It’s the final stretch now. I totally believe we can make it into the playoffs (barring a total collapse), but I’m definitely looking forward to the offseason. It’s been a pretty decent season, but to be frank, it’s just a stepping stone on the way back to, hopefully, contender status. Let’s see whether we can reload again in July.

14 Mar
2014

Tanking: Much Ado About Nothing?

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There’s been lots of talk about tanking lately, with this season seeing perhaps the highest number of teams all trying to purposely mess up at the same time than ever before. I mean, sure, there have been examples of tanking before (the Celtics trying to get Timmy D, the Cavs successfully getting LeBron), but this is probably the first season where so many teams are doing it so blatantly, no matter what they say in public.

That said though, is the uproar really commensurate to the scale of the problem at hand? Is it even really a real problem?

In my opinion, while SERIOUSLY tanking increases the odds of getting a high pick/the no. 1 pick, it’s not actually COMPULSORY if the team has the right scouts/front office personnel who can evaluate prospects properly.

Even if a team is merely ‘bad’ instead of ‘76ers’, they’ll still get a decent pick, somewhere in the top-7 or 8, easily. And we’ve seen tons of examples of good-to-great players being picked at the mid-to-late lottery [Andre Iguodala (picked at no. 9), Paul George (10th pick), Brook Lopez (also a 10th pick)], and even a few at the end of the first round and also in the second round [Rajon Rondo (21st pick), George Hill (26th pick), Monta Ellis (40th pick)].

Therefore, unless there is a consensus number one pick in an upcoming draft (and nos.2 and onward is pretty much a total crap shoot, ala the Anthony Davis draft [2012]), a system or idea like Bill Simmons’ or David Aldridge’s would work just fine. You’d get, on the whole, more competitive teams and better games.

In short, it’s more important to scout properly than to throw away games. If your team isn’t good enough, it will show on the court. We need a system that rewards playing hard AND punishes poor front office decisions. Look at the Cavs for example. A boatload of high picks and only Kyrie is a certified superstar.

If you can’t take advantage of high picks, and sully the integrity of the game by virtually throwing games to give yourself those high picks, it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone. You gotta help yourself before others can help you.

Also, to me, it’s totally okay if a good team (occasionally) gets a high pick or the no.1 pick even. Can you imagine a team like, say, the Grizzlies luck into a high pick? They can revamp their roster and inject new life, just like that. Or why not the Mavericks eh? Can’t forget my guys!

In short, the bigger problem the league has is too many incompetent front offices. We can’t possibly keep trying to help those who can’t help themselves. It’s like that old saying, ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat everyday’. Only in this case the man is perpetually trying to drown himself and he’ll only stop doing so if you serve him a gourmet meal.

1 Mar
2014

Hilariously Misguided, Blind and Uninformed – The Southwest Division

San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks

We’re back home in the Southwest to finish off the HMBU series for this season, and this will probably be the least blind of them all, if only because the Mavs are in it. Let’s dive into it!

San Antonio Spurs

They’re so consistent it’s boring. But it’s totally the kind of boring that only affects fans of other teams. As a (now not so much) fan of Manchester United, I totally know what I’m talking about.

Until this season, United have been downright untouchable in England for the past 20-odd years. Countless league titles and other trophies have seen them be the very definition of ‘dominant’. And isn’t that what the Spurs are?

They’ve been one of the best the league has to offer since they drafted Timmy D back in 1997. And in basketball, where player turnover is way higher compared to European football (soccer) clubs (thus leading to inferior chemistry, cohesion and consistency, amongst other things), this sustained period of success is all the more impressive.

I don’t like them. As a Mavs fan, I’m obligated to dislike them as a matter of course. But, similar to my views on LeBron, it doesn’t matter what your personal feelings on them are. At the end of the day, you respect them.

And it’s the same this season. Despite a raft of injuries to key personnel and lots of rest time for Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs machine keeps humming along. Only in their system can you replace Tony Parker with Patty Mills and hardly notice any differences at all.

They’re going to quietly cruise to at least the 2-seed in the West and then continue wreaking their understated havoc on their opponents in the playoffs. They’re boring, if not in their play style nowadays then in their sustained success, but hell if you can argue with their effectiveness.

Houston Rockets

Put simply, I don’t like the Rockets very much. Harden is a flop-machine whose beard is supposed to be some cool/marketing thing, but to me just screams ‘attention seeker’ as well as ‘HOBO’, Howard’s lack of maturity (at least as a person/off the court) is well-documented, and their GM has got to be one of the most smug-looking ones in the league.

I don’t like them man. And although they’re better this season and have two great players (in other words, a great foundation for a future championship contender), they’re still clearly not there yet, and I’m happy for it.

I guess I just really dislike their two best players. The rest of the team is alright. Chandler Parsons is quite possibly the ultimate bang-for-buck player in the league right now, with only Isaiah Thomas coming anywhere close to challenging him on that front.

The rest of the team are solid role players, but there’s really no one special. I wonder what they’ll do in the offseason, but with the Rockets you can always expect a canny move or two.

Oh man maybe I’m just jealous of their front office :’(

Dallas Mavericks

My guys! They’re flawed in so many ways. They’re a veritable sieve on defence, they’re a pretty old team who seems like they’ll never care about the draft (a HUGE source of frustration for me), and seem set to toil away at the lower end of the playoff seedings until Dirk calls it a day.

Dirk though. And VC putting up games like these (7-of-12 from downtown?!?!?). And B Wright’s elite finishing skills and got-to-be-telepathic chemistry with VC. And Devin Harris playing a huge part in this team’s recent success.

I don’t know man. This is just an entertaining team to watch. It’s not going to win any titles, but it’s won my heart (I’m biased, I know). I love Caldy’s surgical efficiency from downtown. I love Ellis’ insane drives into the paint (not so much the recent spike in turnovers though). I love Jae Crowder being the ultimate ‘no-traditional-stats guy’, who somehow contributes to our success anyway.

(I’m only half-kidding; although I would definitely prefer he knock down some threes and grab more rebounds, and, generally, average 8p-5r, there’s a part of me who wishes he keeps not getting stats while playing significant time, all with the Mavs winning anyway. I love it because it makes absolutely no sense.)

This is my team, and it’s been my team since 2009. I’ve detailed before why I love them, and those reasons still ring true.

I’m both nervous and excited for the post-Dirk era; it could be utterly horrible or it could be fresh and interesting as Cuban and Donnie no longer have the reason/excuse that they have to maximize Dirk’s last years to explain trading away all our draft picks.

Who am I kidding? No Dirk means it’ll never be the same. But it’ll be interesting regardless.

As for this season, the 6-seed is a distinct possibility. All I’m hoping for is a strong postseason showing. I’m not expecting to win a series, though that’ll be nice. All I asked for prior to this season was some proper basketball to watch (especially after the trainwreck that was last season), and they’ve thoroughly delivered on that front. So I’m happy and satisfied.

Let’s see what they do this coming offseason.

Let’s go Mavs!

Memphis Grizzlies

Last season was their apex and they’re now tumbling down the standings, both as a result of trying to be clever (firing Lionel Hollins, trying to play a different style) and, simply, old Father Time scoring another victory, this time on Zach Randolph.

Injuries, especially to Marc Gasol, haven’t helped, but I have a feeling the Grizzlies’ time has come and gone, just like that. They’re still a tough team to play, but they’re not making it back to the Western Conference Finals any time soon.

Their window was super small because of the age of their key players. It’s likely we’ll see them dismantling the team (trading Gasol and Allen) sooner rather than later.

A sad and quick end to Grit N’ Grind.

New Orleans Pelicans

Young, exciting, yet without a clear path to success just yet. Davis is amazing, but the Evans and Gordon contracts are hard to deal with if you’re trying to build a team with a bright future.

The two of them have inched closer and closer (and might have reached it already) towards ‘over-paid role-player’ territory (nos. 16 and 7 on this list, in fact). Their huge contracts are gonna be huge stones around the Pelicans’ neck. Maybe in a year or two their contracts would be easier for another team to swallow, but I’m not betting on it, especially since the two of them have been on such a steady decline.

Still though, Anthony Davis is incredible. And having someone like that to build around is of paramount importance. Not every young, rebuilding team has such a sure thing to build around. The Pelicans need to realize this and get to work.

Even in their best case scenario though, they’re still a couple years away, at least, from being a real problem for other teams.

So that concludes the HMBU series, for this season at least. I think I’ve been quite frank about which teams I can’t stand (the Nets and Rockets) and which teams I love (THE MAVS, DUH. Also, Indiana and Orlando).

The season’s coming to an end soon, and I’m just hoping the Mavs manage to secure that 6-seed, if only to avoid a guaranteed exit/sweep at the hands of OKC or the Spurs. We might not fare too well against the Clips or Portland, but we’ve got a better chance against them at least, I think.

Here’s to the final 20 games or so!

22 Feb
2014

Let’s Talk Trades: Special Trade Deadline Edition

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Sorry for the 10-day hiatus; was signed to a 10-day to play the point for the Lakers, they were that desperate for guards.

Seriously though: I just moved to Melbourne for my university studies and it’s been a helluva few days, settling down and such. I’ve been dead on my feet for three days straight and I’ve only just found the time to write again.

So! Trade Deadline Bonanza! I won’t be doing what I did before, breaking the trades down in-depth. I’ll just be giving my quick opinion on each of the deadline day (and the day before) trades.

There weren’t any blockbusters, but at least some relevant players (quite a generous term to describe some of them, really) were moved. Here we go then:

1) Nets receive: Marcus Thornton
Kings receive: Reggie Evans and our old friend, JET

Thornton’s been crappy, so I just think this is the Nets trying to find something, anything, to try and beef their rotation up a bit. With a little work, you can always talk yourself into believing he gives you more off the bench than Reggie “Rebounds-and-nothing-else” Evans and Jason Terry, who, I’m sad to say, hardly resembles a professional basketball player anymore.

Given the Nets’ complete lack of assets, I guess lateral movement’s the best they could do.

2) Lakers receive: MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore
Warriors receive: Steve Blake

This is all about the Warriors trying to get a dependable ball-handler after struggling without one since Jarrett Jack left in the offseason. Toney Douglas and Jordan Crawford couldn’t cut it (nice work there, Danny Ainge), so they’re hoping Blake can help them out. He’s not spectacular but they don’t need him to be. He should be able to give them good minutes off the bench, which sucks because I’m obviously hoping Dallas can overtake them (and the Suns) to get the 6th seed.

The Lakers… get two guys who can’t do much? Brooks must feel super dejected; the Lakers are his fourth team in about one-and-a-half seasons (Nets-Celtics-Warriors-Lakers). He’s being used more for his contract than his basketball abilities at this point.

Anyway, maybe the Lakers are finally throwing in the towel on this season (not that trying to win was getting them anywhere).

3) Wizards receive: Andre Miller, Philly’s 2014 second-rounder (protected)
Nuggets receive: Jan Vesely
76ers receive: Eric Maynor, 2 second-rounders

Andre “52-points” Miller finally gets out of the weird situation in Denver and could possibly be a valuable contributor to a young Wiz team trying to get into the playoffs. I’ve always liked wily vets, and he’s one of the wiliest around, so I’m glad for him.

The Nuggets get another big man who can’t shoot, so… hooray? Man I’m not sure what the point of this trade is from their point of view. Guess it was just to save a little cash and to move the disgruntled Miller off the team.

The 76ers get the disappointing Maynor, but I think they could care less. “All the better to tank with, my dear!” Also: they’re trying to draft a whole second-round or something. Just check out the next trade:

4) 76ers receive: Earl Clark, Henry Sims, 2 second-rounders
Cavaliers receive: Spencer Hawes

I’d love to see the 76ers hold like a billion second-rounders and throw them out willy-nilly. “You want one? Here you go!” Seriously though, it’s gonna be interesting to see what they do with all those picks. Can they really get value in return for them? Even the Rockets dealt with first-rounders to get Harden and Howard. Can the 76ers be as effective with their truckload of second-rounders? That’s something I’m legitimately intrigued by.

Also, the Cavs continue on their ‘playoffs or bust’ journey. Hawes will help spread the floor, for sure, and in the toilet that is the Eastern Conference, this should be enough to get them in. But I just don’t see much of a long-term point to do so.

Oh well, I guess this is what happens when you promise to win a title before LeBron does. You go a little nuts.

5) Bobcats receive: Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour
Bucks receive: Ramon Sessions, Jeff Adrien

Role-players galore! The Bobcats could do with some shooting (they’ve attempted only 916 3-pointers this season, good for 28th in the league), and Neal will definitely give them that, even if he’s a little too heat check-y for my liking. Ridnour is also a solid backup PG, so I guess it doesn’t hurt to take him into the team.

The Bucks have been a, no wait, THE tragedy of this season, and this trade won’t do much to improve their performances. Sessions is pretty good, and should help them out a little, but he’s not exactly someone who’s going to move the needle much.

If I’m going to pick a winner of this trade, it’s the Bobcats, if only because they received players who could marginally improve their performance. But overall, this is as lateral a movement as possible for both teams, in my opinion.

6) Kings receive: Roger Mason Jr., cash considerations
Heat receive: 2015 second-round pick

The Kings get some money (they waived RM Jr. as soon as they got him), the Heat save some and open up a roster spot for a potential buyout victim. Straightforward and clear-cut.

7) Nuggets receive: Aaron Brooks
Rockets receive: Jordan Hamilton

I don’t know a ton about either player, but I’m gonna say the Nuggets won here. Brooks is a proven NBA player, albeit not a very good one in recent times, and Hamilton hasn’t actually done much of anything so far in his professional career.

Maybe Hamilton still has some upside, but this trade seems pretty redundant to me.

8) Spurs receive: Austin Daye
Raptors receive: Nando de Colo

As Zach Lowe said in this column, the Spurs have an abundance of ball-handling guards, so to move one of them for some SF/PF depth can’t hurt. And it’s the Spurs. I think we can expect Daye to dump 30 on some unsuspecting team soon and we’ll all be saying ‘Yup. Them Spurs have got the formula down pat.’

9) Pacers receive: Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen
76ers receive: Danny Granger

YOOO, finally a trade that doesn’t make the casual fan say ‘Who?’.

The 76ers continue Operation Tanktastic by moving their top scorer and a good bench player in return for post-injury-issues Granger. If it wasn’t clear enough that they intended to tank this season, it’s got to be super obvious now.

The Pacers moved an expiring for two players who might be able to help them out a little. Turner’s usage rate is going to plummet, and so will his inflated stats (due to being the best player on a BAD team which runs at supersonic speeds), but he might be able to help them in spots. Allen will also be a useful big man off the bench, but he’s probably not going to play much, especially in the playoffs.

10) Clippers receive: Future second-round pick
76ers receive: Byron Mullens, conditional second-round pick

Did I mention the 76ers would like to draft a whole second-round? I did? Okay.

The Clippers free up a roster slot for buyout purposes, and I think every single Clips fan is hoping they get a serviceable defensive big man. To depend on Ryan Hollins and Turkoglu coming off the bench is like depending on Mike James to be your starting PG.

… Why did I do that to myself? Brb, gonna curl up into a fetal position and sob for a bit.

11) Clippers receive: the draft rights to some guy named Cenk Akyol
Hawks receive: Antawn Jamison

Okay, I’m back. Um, so the last trade of the 2014 trade deadline is… the last trade of the 2014 trade deadline. No one cares about this trade. I think even Clips and Hawks fans couldn’t care less.

So, with GMs valuing picks as if they were manna from the heavens nowadays, I think we can see much less activity at the trade deadline from now on. Contending teams are just gonna be freeing up roster slots for buyout candidates, and bad teams are just gonna take on a bad contract or two for some second-rounders. That sucks, cos I love trades, but this probably also means draft-days are about to get a whole load more interesting as teams move up and down and all over the place trying to position themselves as best they can.

That said, I hope the 76ers get like 20 more second-rounders this offseason and draft the whole second round. Let’s go Philly!

11 Feb
2014

The Stepback Three-Pointer (Games 40 to 52)

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The Games

40) Mavericks 127 – 129 Clippers
41) Mavericks 110 – 107 Suns
42) Trailblazers 127 – 111 Mavericks
43) Mavericks 102 – 97 Cavaliers
44) Mavericks 85 – 93 Raptors
45) Mavericks 106 – 107 Nets
46) Pistons 106 – 116 Mavericks
47) Rockets 117 – 115 Mavericks
48) Kings 103 – 107 Mavericks
49) Cavaliers 107 – 124 Mavericks
50) Mavericks 110 – 96 Grizzlies
51) Jazz 81 – 103 Mavericks
52) Mavericks 102 – 91 Celtics

The Points

1) Dirk is an All-Star again, after a one-year hiatus! That’s great news and all, and it’s well-deserved.

We’re talking about a 35 year old posting a 54% Effective Field Goal percentage. That’s believe it or not, just 0.4% off his career high. We’re talking about someone who couldn’t jump over a sheet of paper posting 38p-17r in one game and scoring 40 in another.

What makes it all the sweeter is that this, unlike his last selection in 2011-2012, isn’t a ‘lifetime achievement award’ kind of thing. He deserves it. He had a poor year last season, hampered by injuries and playing on a bad team. So many people thought he was done.

No biggie, he’ll just come back this year and post amazing numbers across the board.

I said it in my last post, and I’ll say it again. Dirk is THE MAN.

2) The return of Devin Harris from injury and his integration into the team has been instrumental in our recent win streak. Jose and Monta are defensive sieves, to say the least, so to be able to see some proper defense from our backcourt is a heckuva breath of fresh air.

Devin can also attack the basket and is at least a threat from deep, so in many ways he’s both Monta- and Jose-lite, just that he can, well, defend.

In that sense he’s a great piece to have, capable of playing alongside either Monta or Jose, and providing what they can’t.

Let’s hope he doesn’t get injured or misses any significant time. His contributions will be absolutely necessary if this team is going to make any sort of noise in the playoffs.

3) Monta has struggled quite a bit recently. In the games I’ve watched, he’s committed a few totally-unforced turnovers, and I think it’s all about fatigue.

I don’t have the numbers, but I think he’s played the most minutes of all our guys, even including Dirk. I think it’s because we simple didn’t have anyone else who could really penetrate a defense until Devin’s return, and getting penetration is absolutely vital to any offensive gameplan, in my opinion. After all, it’s only when a defense breaks down when trying to contain a drive into the paint that perimeter shooters become open. Also, if you don’t drive, you’re not gonna draw many fouls.

With just him really able to do that for the majority of the season so far, I can understand Rick keeping him out there for extended periods of time, but I think it’s worn him out quite a bit, which explains the recent careless mistakes.

This further highlights the importance of having Devin healthy and available. Hopefully, going forward, Monta gets some rest and can get back to being the offensive firecracker he was earlier this season.

The team is doing pretty well, and for the most part is still beating the teams it should beat. So long as we keep that up, and win the games against the teams around us in the standings (the Grizzlies, Suns and Nuggets especially), we should be able to get into the playoffs. I just hope we don’t completely fizzle out in a first-round sweep.

29 Jan
2014

Hilariously Misguided, Blind and Uninformed – The Southeast Division

Blindfolded-game

Stumbling into the Southeast, it’s HMBU time!

Miami Heat

Per my (obsessed with storylines) standards, the Heat are much like the Thunder; boring.

Now, don’t get me wrong. They’re good. They’re really good. They’re far from firing on all cylinders but are still comfortably 2nd-place in the admittedly-awful Eastern Conference. They’re doing it with Dwyane Wade playing only every other game. They’re doing it after having amnestied key rotation piece Mike Miller and fitting in the walking injury billboard, Greg Oden (no offense to the guy; his story is heartbreaking and I hope he gets his career back on track).

But there’s really nothing more to say about them, from a ‘fresh storyline’ perspective. They’re gunning for a three-peat, and there’s parts of me which don’t want them to do it (lingering feelings of them being ‘the bad guy’, plus Wade is probably the player I dislike the most in the league) and parts of me which do (you don’t see a team have an opportunity to three-peat very often; LeBron is the best player in the world and the best deserve to win).

But other than that, there’s nothing to talk about. Any and all discussions breaking down their recent displays and how they don’t look as polished as we are used to seeing from them are nitpicky in nature, but that can’t really be helped, I think. It’s simply because there isn’t much to say about them from a big picture point of view.

They’re the reigning champs, they’re strong enough and ready to go for three-in-a-row, and we’ll just have to wait to see if they can do it or if it’s a step too far for a team whose players have had to endure long and hard playoff series (Boston 2012, Indiana 2013) on top of the usual grind of the regular season.

Atlanta Hawks

The thing about the Hawks is… are they really going anywhere?

This is a team who has recently seen their last resurgence hit their ceiling of a 2nd round playoff exit, and hit it hard. The general perception of the team went way down once it became clear that Iso-Joe offense and Josh Smith 3-pointers would get them nowhere.

So they had to restart, and Danny Ferry did a helluva job, moving first Joe Johnson and his massive contract, then letting Josh Smith go and signing Paul Millsap to The Best Contract of the OffseasonTM to replace him.

So what’s the future of this team now?

They have a few good or really good players on the team (Al Horford, Millsap, Lou Williams, Jeff Teague), but none of them seem good enough to be a number 1 option on a true contending team to me. And the rest of the team is made up of role players who are distinctly, um, ‘role-player-ish’ in nature.

I mean, look at the roster. The likes of Elton Brand, Kyle Korver and Gustavo Ayon will do what they were brought in to do, and do it well, but nothing more. You won’t see Brand exploding for a 30-point, 15-rebound game. As for the rest, they’re uninteresting names such as DeMarre Carroll and Shelvin Mack. No names who are interesting, even in the role-player class.

The only bright spot is that this team has hardly any restrictions with its cap space in the years to come. Only Horford, Korver and Teague have any guaranteed money going to them in 2015-2016. This gives them lots of flexibility in trades, where they could take on a couple bad contracts in exchange for picks or something. Flexibility! That’s the key word.

So we’ll have to see with this team. Right now, they’re not terrible but certainly not very good, especially with Horford out for the rest of the season.

Washington Wizards

I… like them? I like John Wall! I kinda like Nene! I like Jan Vesely Stats! I’m kinda meh on the rest of the team though.

They have pieces! Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are good young guns, Al Harrington and Eric Maynor are two of the better role players in the league, and Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza can be serviceable/good starters for just about any team. But, for a team very much focused on the future, I don’t feel like the ceiling for this group is very high at all.

Wall is a superstar in the making, but I don’t know if any of the other players are good enough (or can develop to be good enough) to be key players on a real contender.

I think Washington belongs in the group of teams who are trying to break out of their old, losing ways and are somewhat desperate in how they go about it (giving up a first-round pick for Gortat). The other teams in this group are, in my opinion, Cleveland and Detroit.

(Desperation and lack of success, and they’re all from the East. That’s depressing.)

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that I think they are the best-positioned of the three to properly break out of their losing funk. Cleveland looks likely to miss the playoffs despite all their chest-thumping and desperate signings/trades, while Detroit still hasn’t figured itself out halfway through the season. Washington at least looks like a decent team, and are currently at .500 and 5th in the East.

Given all their struggles over the past few years, that’s got to be refreshing for their fans, at least. I’m just not optimistic about how high their ceiling really is, even if they manage to reach it.

Charlotte Bobcats

People questioned the wisdom of signing Al Jefferson to a big-money deal on the eve of what has been touted as the best draft class since 2003. Big Al’s good enough, on his own, to drag a team to respectability, and that meant that the Bobcats were effectively giving themselves a lower pick than they probably would have without him on the team.

And yet… I support the move. Just because the Bobcats have been so, so very terrible over the past few years. I don’t know the numbers, but over a 3-year span their record must be close to if not historically bad.

It’s one thing to be bad, but I can’t imagine being a supporter of a team that has looked as futile as the Bobcats have the past few years. So, out of a feeling of pity for their fans, I’m glad they decided they were going to really try and win this season. And what do you know, they have been winning.

They still can’t shoot (27th in FG%) and their offence is pretty bad (28th in PPG), but they’ve built their success on their defence, which has been pretty darn good.

Steve Clifford has righted this ship and I hope this is the first step towards respectability for this poor franchise.

Orlando Magic

Lastly, the tank-tastic Orlando Magic! It must be frustrating for fans to know, from the very start, that this would be a season of unexplained absences and mysterious injuries, of players playing out of position and unorthodox lineups, all for the sake of a high draft pick, and they STILL can’t manage to be the worst (take a bow, Milwaukee).

That said though, this is a team which has promise. Oladipo looks like the Rookie of the Year runner-up right now, which isn’t half-bad, Vucevic is still a young and solid big man with tons of potential, and Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are all also youngsters to keep an eye on.

So they basically already have a starting lineup of young, promising guys they could put out there, save for a point guard. The big names in the upcoming draft are mostly non-PGs, but the Magic can always select the best player available and then trade for a PG when they finally decide to try to win on the court instead of just off it.

This team just feels like it’s close to bursting with promise, and sometimes when I think about them I have to remind myself not to get ahead of myself. Just because they all look like they could become very good players at their respective positions one day, doesn’t mean that they definitely will. And just because the Magic are well-positioned in terms of their cap room and trade assets right now, doesn’t mean they’ll make the right moves with them.

All signs are positive right now, though, and if I were a Magic fan I’d be highly anticipating the offseason, and a chance to finally get to winning.

We’re almost done! Next I’ll be heading home to Dallas, along with the rest of the Southwest Division!

26 Jan
2014

Let’s Talk Trades: Boston Tanking Harder; Golden State Adds a New Weapon

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So, not long after saving money by trading away Courtney Lee, the Celtics make progress on their tanking mission by sending away the newly-reformed Jordan Crawford and the once-promising MarShon Brooks for the highly-overpaid Joel Anthony and a few draft picks.

In summary:

- Boston gets Anthony, a 2016 second-rounder from Miami and Philly’s conditional first-rounder (via Miami)
- Miami gets Toney Douglas
- Golden State gets Crawford and Brooks

I think this was some great GM-ing from Danny Ainge. As surprisingly good as Crawford has been this year, I have a feeling he’s never going to be that good of a player, and I think Ainge sold high here. The timing was great.

And to get 2 draft picks in return? That’s some solid work right there, even though they do have to deal with Joel Anthony’s contract now. Similar to my indignation over John Salmons’ contract, why would ANYONE give Anthony $18.25m over 5 years???

What was the point of adding a player option? Was Joel Anthony, superstar, not going to sign that ridiculous contract without having an option to cut himself free from all that free money? What???

Anyway, I think the Celtics came away from this trade with a good haul, overall. How about the Heat?

They got Toney Douglas. Not a bad player, but not exactly someone who’s going to be a huge plus off the bench either. The Heat have some decent guard depth; beyond Wade and Chalmers, they still have Norris Cole and Ray Allen coming off the bench to play suffocating defense and knock down 3s, respectively. They even already have Roger Mason Jr chilling at the end of the bench to provide depth and veteran savvy.

So what’s the point of Toney?

Well… he saves them money. He makes about $2m less than Anthony does this season, and isn’t under contract next season either (Anthony isn’t either, technically, but that player option is as good as exercised already). That extra cap space could make a whole lot of difference in the offseason (when the Heat have half the team entering free agency), either in re-signing their own guys or going out to get new ones.

Aside from that… Well he’s a decent player I guess. But I don’t think he was acquired primarily for his on-court abilities.

Lastly, the Warriors. What do they get out of this deal?

They get the aforementioned newly-reformed Jordan Crawford! They probably felt like they needed a proper backup point guard behind Steph, with Toney Douglas being mostly uninspiring. Crawford’s improvements have been well-documented, and although I think he just bought in/flipped the switch at Boston, there’s enough there for the Warriors to see him as a marked upgrade over Douglas.

So all in all: Boston loads up on more assets, the Heat save money, and Golden State tries to improve their roster. I like the move from the Celtics’ point of view, am neutral about the Heat position (saving money is always good though), but not that high on it for Golden State, mostly because I don’t believe Crawford can keep up his high level of play this season.

There’s every chance it was a ‘right place, right time, right environment’ thing with him in Boston with opened-up playing time and no immediate need for success. As a backup on a team with win-now aspirations, I’m not sure whether he does as well. We’ll see, eh?

23 Jan
2014

Let’s Talk Trades: Courtney Lee Finds a New Home in Memphis

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This is the first LTT which features no big names. No Rudy Gay, no Luol Deng, no Andrew Bynum. Instead, we’re dealing very much in role-player land here, where the biggest names are Courtney Lee and Jerryd Bayless.

I think Courtney Lee is the only player involved in this deal who was acquired for what they could actually do on the court. Bayless, the only other currently-relevant player in this deal (apologies to Ryan Gomes), was acquired by Boston mainly for the fact that he’s on a $3.1m expiring deal. Boston’s not intending to win this season, obviously, so saving on the $11m left on Lee’s contract over the next two years was a no-brainer.

The Celtics also received Ryan Gomes in the deal, and he was promptly waived.

Although it’s quite obvious that Lee was brought in by the Grizzlies to provide them with some outside shooting (which they sorely, sorely need), I found it a little puzzling as to why they chose to send Bayless out. From what little I saw of them in the playoffs last season, the Grizzlies’ only players who could shoot from the outside were Quincy Pondexter and Bayless. Granted, they’ve since gotten Mike Miller to help in that, and have let Jon Leuer take some 3s, but Miller’s body is just falling apart and Leuer is still new to this (although he IS shooting 47% from downtown so far this season). Getting one outside shooter in exchange for another doesn’t seem to make sense.

It’s true though, that Bayless isn’t that much of a marksman from behind the line, and his percentages have dropped quite a bit this season. So maybe the Grizzlies made the right choice after all. Personally though, given how little shooting this team has, I would’ve tried to send someone else out instead.

Other than the players, there were a few picks exchanging hands. Memphis got a 2016 second-round pick from Boston, and Oklahoma (who sent out Ryan Gomes in a money-saving move) received the Grizzlies’ 2014 and 2017 second-round picks. I don’t expect any of these to amount to much, with the Celtics’ second-rounder and the Grizzlies’ 2017 second-rounder most likely to be the most valuable, and even then that’s only in relative terms.

(I point out those two picks because I expect the Celtics to be bad for another couple years at least, and also that the Grizzlies fall out of playoff contention within the next couple years as well, making those picks likely to be high in the second round)

Put simply, this was a trade made to save money for Boston and Oklahoma, while giving the Grizzlies a capable outside shooter, albeit at a somewhat inflated price. I don’t think Lee alone will do much to improve the Grizzlies’ fortunes, but they didn’t give up much to get him, so there’s no overpaying involved here.

Sidenote: I wish the Mavs made moves like the Thunder did here. Just sending fringe players out for the savings and a pick or two (even second-rounders) can help. The assets might come in handy in the future, and at the very least you save a little bit of money. I like that Cuban is willing to spend, but I don’t see a problem with saving wherever possible either.

That said, given the issues with the Mavs’ team, they probably could use everyone they have on the roster currently. Sigh.

22 Jan
2014

Let’s Talk Trades: Luol Deng for Bynum’s Contract

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So Bynum’s nonsense got too much for the Cavs to take and they’ve sent his unmotivated butt out in exchange for someone who can really help them. And I say this even though I’m not the biggest fan of Deng.

To me, Deng is, at best, the third option on offence for a true contending team. He’s a wing who doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer very well (33.4% for his career), and he can’t create shots for himself either. His top-level defence makes his somewhat meh offence bearable though, and it’s what will get him paid somewhere in the $11-13m range this offseason when he becomes a free agent.

Despite my lukewarm feelings on Deng as a player, this trade helps the Cavs out significantly, if for no other reason than the fact that their SF rotation was laughable before Deng’s arrival. Earl Clark? Alonzo Gee? Uggghhh. There’s no way to go but up from there, and getting Deng is a massive upgrade.

So what did the Cavs give up for him? Bynum’s immediately-waivable contract was the main thing, obviously. It helped the Bulls save tons of cash on this lost season. That’s the common sense, easily understood part of the deal. Let’s look at the picks that exchanged hands:

The second-round Trailblazers picks in 2015 and 2016 don’t need to be talked about much; if Portland continues being as good as they have been this season over the next few years (and with the strong, young core they have, they should) the picks will likely eventually end up being used on some Euro player who never comes close to putting on an NBA uniform.

The first-round pick exchanged, as well as the right to swap 2015 picks, seem to have been protected quite well by the Cavs. The first-round pick is Sacramento’s, and I believe it’s top-12 protected all the way to 2017, when it will become a second-round pick. Given how much the Kings stink at the moment, they probably won’t have to give it up in this upcoming draft, and I think it’ll take at least a couple years for them to get off the ground and be a playoff team. So chances are this pick, when it’s finally conveyed, won’t be much of a game-changer.

The right to swap picks in 2015 has also been protected decently. The Bulls can only swap picks if the Cavs’ selection isn’t in the lottery, so while they might still get a decent rotation player, at least it won’t feel like, oh, I don’t know, giving up Damian Lillard to get Gerald Wallace, I guess.

All in all, a good trade which helps both sides, although in different ways. The Cavs are desperate to get into the playoffs (however blinkered that sort of thinking might appear given the way their season’s gone so far) and getting Deng improves their chances immediately.

The Bulls see this season as a lost one after Rose’s injury, and are trying to save money and reload the team going forward. Deng was probably their best trade chip, and they cashed in. While the picks they received might eventually amount to nothing, or nothing much, it gives them more bullets to fire in the trade market in the future.

Another win-win trade! Maybe the new CBA and the existence of smarter GMs around the league has drastically reduced the number of fleecings. Oh well, we’ll always have Billy King.

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