July 2004 - Posts
This offseason has seen a slide in the lineup of the Dallas Mavericks, a slide that has continued unabated for the past several years. Mark Cuban is known for making bold, dramatic moves in the offseason. He brough on Nick Van Excel when nobody else wanted him, turning him into the Sixth Man of the Year. And just a year later, he dismantled his team, and brough aboard 'Twane and 'Toine. This offseason, though, Cubes is losing his key players and getting nothing in return.
It started off with the departure of Steve Nash, who signed for max money with the Phoenix Suns. Mark has his reasons for not matching the Suns's offer - solely a business decision, as Mark described in this blog entry - but it still hurts to lose a veteran player who causes no rifts in the locker room and hustles for 48 minutes a game, even if he is getting older and has had some haunting injuries from the past. And now it appears that Cubes may lose Antoine Walker for next to nothing. 'Toine still has a year on his contract, but he's angling to get out of Dodge, or Dallas as the case may be. Rumor has it he may be traded to the Knicks or 76ers, for Kurt Thomas, perhaps, or Glenn Robinson. In either deal, I think the Mavs are getting the short end of the stick.
David Aldridge recently ranked the 30 NBA teams as to how productive their offseason had been - the Mavs were ranked 26th. Personally, I'd put the Mavs at the bottom of the League's 30 teams, I don't think they've done anything but take a big step backwards. And in the West, with Denver and Minnesota emerging to clamor for top billing with the Spurs, the Mavs can ill afford to take anything but a big step forward. Next year will be an exciting one for teams in the West, and while the Mavs might hang around the 7th or 8th spot in the Western Conference, I don't see them being a serious threat, at least not until their younger talent develops further.
Of course, the offseason is far from over, and Cuban may surprise us all with a blockbuster move in the coming months, but, as each day passes and as each available marquee superstar gets settled into new teams, the likelihood seems less and less.
It sounds like Vlade Divac will join the L.A. Lakers for the mid-level exception ($4.9 million). Divac was quoted as saying:
"I called [the Lakers] and said, 'Let's do it,' "
Vlade Divac, at 7-1” and 260 lbs. will bring some size to the Laker's frontcourt next year, as well as some wily veteran skills. Last year Vlade netted nearly 10 ppg, and over 5 rpg and 5 apg, although all of those numbers (save the assists) are lower than his career averages. Divac is not a young guy, either; he's 36, which is ancient for centers. The Kings, in a bid to lower their payroll, offered Vlade a shade over $2 million.
Hopefully Vlade will be able to sign with the Lakers and make a strong impact. He'll definitely bring some bulk and veteran capabilities that the Lakers are sorely missing since Shaq's departure. Assuming Vlade signs with the Lakers, he'll likely end his career there, which, coincidentally, was the team he began his NBA career with in 1989.
Interestingly Karl Malone urged the Lakers to pay Divac the mid-level exception. This means that if the Lakers do sign Divac, Karl will likely only be offered slightly more than the $1.5 million he made last year. I hope the Lakers get Karl back, but it might be time for him to retire. (He might even end up in Miami or San Antonio.) He's undergoing knee surgery this offseason, so we'll all probably have to wait until he's recouperated from that before he'll make his move, be it retirement, resigning with the Lakers, or jetting to another team.
Fisher - as many other Lakers from the early 2000s - was a free agent this year. I assumed, perhaps naively, that there was a decent chance he'd resign with the Lakers. This doesn't really make sense for him in the end since G.P.'s staying in town and will likely be the starting point again. So, it makes sense for Fish to hit the road. Today it was announced that he'll be heading to the Golden State Warriors, set to collect $36 million over six years.
Best of luck, Fish. I wish you would have chosen a better team, though. Fisher would have been a good fit in Miami or Houston, both of which were teams courting Mr. 0.4 Seconds. But I imagine the Warriors were able to offer the best deal, fiscally.
So what will the Lakers lineup next year look like? There may be some more trades or free agents coming, but right now it's looking like:
Center: Brian Grant (maybe Ho Grant, don't know if he's still planning on playing)
PF: Malone(?), Butler, Walton, Cook
SF: Odom, George, Fox(?)
SG: Bryant, Rush
... assuming he stays a free man.
Today Kobe Bryant announced that he was resigning with the Lakers for a seven year deal worth over $136 million - that averages to nearly $20 per year. Bryant supposedly was listening to offers from Chicago, Denver, New York, and the Clippers, but decided to stay with the Lakers, and why not? I mean, this whole team was restructured with one thing in mind: placate Kobe. Not only have Buss and Kupcheck shipped off Shaq and given Kobe a coach who will give him the ball, but they've also payed him more than any other team could afford. Top it off with Bryant's popularity in La La land, and it doesn't make sense for him to go anywhere else. (Although there is a neat piece by Ray Ratto about how Bryant could have turned the sports world on its head had he signed with the Clippers...)
This offseason has been a pretty busy one. We've seen Shaq go to Miami; earlier McGrady and Stevie traded places; and Nash hit the jackpot in his trade to Miami. And now the Denver Nuggets have K-Mart at the cost of three first-round draft picks. This is officially a sign-and-trade, so Martin will be first signing an estimated seven year deal for $90 million with the Nets, which the Nuggets will then inherit. Quite a bit of movement this offseason, and movement of big names.
Remember a few years ago, how “cap space” made offseason movement so hard? All stars would become free agents, and get money that in the mid 90s bench warmers were seeing. But now, it's been reversed, teams are spending like crazy. I don't know why that is, I imagine maybe a number of teams have been building up their cap space over the past three or four years? For whatever reason, it's making for an exciting off-season. Can't wait for the 2004-2005 season to get underway, and see how these moves pan out.
It's no longer speculation: Shaq has been traded to the Miami Heat. This is a tough day for Lakers fans, like myself, who liked the Big Fella and was hoping to see him wrap up his career here in L.A. In a perfect world, Shaq would hand the torch over to Kobe, like Kareem did with Magic back in the early 80s, but neither of these two megastars seem to be able to put aside their egos and pride long enough to realize that doing so would be in their mutual best interests.
It's not a perfect world, and the Lakers front office knows that. It's a bit frustrating to see how they squandered Shaq's good will to the point where he is demanding a trade. It's ludicrous that they're betting the entire franchise's history on a 25 year old who might be serving time come November. But what choice do they have now? Shaq wants out, and Kobe's the money maker for this oganization, the guy who moves tickets and sells merchandise, in face of his current legal troubles. Plus he's got a good seven years on Shaq.
The stinger is what the Lakers are getting back for Shaq: Odom, Grant, and Butler. All decent players in their own right, but combined I still think Shaq is a better player. Bigger. Stronger. More dominant. Let me put it this way: even in a loaded Western conference, Shaq could create mismatches and demand a double-team. When he gets position, you know he's going to score. Can't say these things about the three players headed for L.A. As I blogged about earlier, these three players make the Lakers smaller and create a jam in the front court. Too many players, not enough minutes, nor enough talent. And with Shaq out the door, might G.P. follow? And Fisher, too, might be headed to another team, as he's a free agent himself this year.
But Kobe's still around, and that's the money maker, right Buss? Oh wait, Kobe might not be around; after all, he's not signed with any team yet, and that includes the Lakers. Even if he does sign with the Lakers, Bryant might find himself behind bars before the season even begins.
Big Breakup, Big Mistake, by Sam Smith. Definitely worth a read. Sam's thesis is that together Kobe and Shaq were the greatest, but apart they'll both be good, but not what they were together. Sam blames the breakup on two things: Kobe's self-centered attitude and Shaq not willing or ready to start giving control to Kobe (as it's time due to Shaq's aging). I especially like the article's closing paragraph:
Here are two guys who need one another and had so much going for eachother. They were the perfect basketball complement, the ultimate Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, the ideal guys to pass the baton and keep ahead of the field. Now both are back in the pack trying to poke their heads out front again. It's going to be difficult, it not impossible. And hard to fathom either equaling the success they shared.
What a huge mistake they've both made by not only allowing it to happen, but insuring that is has.
What an offseason.
So Shaq might be headed to Miami in a trade that would send Shaq to the Eastern Conference for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, and Brian Grant. I'm not quite certain how I feel about this trade, there's too many negatives on both sides to be too excited about it for either team.
For the Heat, they are inheriting two years of Shaq's monster contract, and are faced with declining performances by Shaq as he ages and as his injuries become more commonplace and season-shortening. Too, in order to get Shaq they are giving up three solid players, good players by Eastern Conference standards, players who, combined, contributed for just about 37 ppg and over 24 rpg on average - that's some big shoes for Shaq to fill, especially considering this past season Shaq's numbers were 21.5 and 13.2. (Of course, with a smaller Eastern Conference and fewer offensive options, Shaq will likely up his scoring and rebounding numbers.) With this move, the Heat are basically betting big that Shaq will be able to push them over the hump and get them to the NBA Finals this coming season and, hopefully, the next one. There are only a small number of players who could plausibly give such hope, and Shaq is one of them, so hopefully things work out for the best for the Heat.
The plus side for the Lakers is that they're dealing Shaq, who wants out, and are getting solid players in return. Problem is, Brian Grant doesn't have the stature to play center in the West. Problem is, the Lakers now have a log jam in their front court, with Malone (maybe), George, Butler, Odom, Fox, and Walton. The Lakers may have their sights set on some big guys, and may be using some of these Heat players as pawns in obtaining some size up front, but as it stands right now, the Lakers got a whole hell of a lot smaller in one very quick instant.
Of course, this is all speculation, this trade might not go through at all. In fact, if the trade does go through, Payton wants out of L.A. And that speaks nothing of what Kobe might do to sabotage this trade. Kid Kobe might rather try to coexist with Shaq rather than have a front court led by Brian Grant. Again, this is all speculation - after all, Kobe's yet to sign with any team, and who's to say that he'll be wearing purple and gold next year? For all anyone knows, the only uniform he may be wearing is the prison-issued clothes.
On the coaching front the Lakers have agreed to terms with Rudy T. I think this is the best the Lakers could have done coaching-wise, other than sticking with Phil. Iinterestingly, Phil has a book contract for his diary he kept during the regular season - should be some good reading, as it'll be interesting to get an insiders take on the Lakers dysfunction.
Regardless of how this whole mess plays out, the Lakers are most definitely going to be a very different team next year than they have been for the past five.
Perhaps Coach K read my blog entry yesterday and took my opinions to heart. At least that's what I'll tell myself, as the Duke coach turned down the Lakers offer to be their head coach. Personally, I think Coach K's decision is for the best for both Duke and the Lakers oganizations.
The last sentence begs the question, Who is the best choice for the Lakers head coach? I'll dodge this question for now by answering, Phil Jackson. ;-)
This offseason, without a doubt, has got to be the most interesting offseason for the Lakers ever, in terms of drama and future consequences decisions made in the coming months will have on this Lakers team. The latest twist in this offseason full of twists, is the Lakers offerring Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. No word yet from Coach K, but sources report he'll respond by the end of this holiday weekend. Personally, I hope he declines, as I think the Lakers will need an experienced NBA coach, and not a college coach. (One need look no further than how the Celtics fared when brining on Rick Patino, an excellent college coach who spectacularly showed why the college game and pro game are so different. Add that to Patino's endorsement of Coach K for NBA coaching, and that's all the more reason to cringe at this potential deal.)
ESPN's Page 2 had the following to say about Coach K's possible hiring, and I have to agree wholeheartedly:
Newbie NBA coaches needs two things to succeed: Decent talent and at least a minimum of NBA experience, either as a head coach or assistant (or even as a player).
With that in mind, here are my interview questions:
(1) In the crummy history of career college coaches with no NBA experience, what makes you think you will be different?
(2) Why would you want to coach this team -- one that may have no Shaq, no Kobe, no Mailman, no Fisher ...?
(3) Why will Kobe -- a guy you once almost successfully recruited to Duke -- want to play for (and break in) an NBA rookie coach?
(4) Your program was built on discipline and players willing to hit the floor for you. Have you ever met an NBA player?
(5) Your four-year Duke players were generally awful in the NBA, even after the maximum of your coaching. Discuss.
(6) Did I mention you have no NBA experience?
Coach K is arguably the greatest college coach ever, and he's earned the latitude to try the NBA; but it's a set-up for failure.
Oh, and this Coach K talk hasn't placated Shaq either; the Big Fella still is demanding a trade. I think no matter who becomes head coach for the Lakers, if Shaq and Kobe are still team mates, the drama will be overbearing, to a degree not before seen. It will be entertaining, yes, but detremental to the Lakers organization. The only positive outcome I can see is that it will highlight Phil Jackson's strengths. Many folks lambast Phil, saying that he's never really had to coach, that he's always had the best players and best teams. But do you think any other head coach out there today could have kept all of the personalities Phil has had to deal with in check? Who else, other than Chuck Daly back in Dennis' more sane days, was able to work with Rodman? And do you think any other coach would have been able to handle the Kobe/Shaq dysfunction as well as P.J.? I don't...