August 2005 - Posts
There's a great article over at ESPN.com by Ric Bucher about the mess Miami has gotten itself into during this off-season. In 2005 Miami was one W away from a trip to the NBA Finals, but in 2005/2006 Ric sees nothing but pain for this team burdened with a lame duck coach, new “me first” additions, and an aging Shaq. From the article:
The Heat aren't vying for a title no matter what happens, but at least they'll provide plenty of drama. The personalities are too fractious, the points of friction are too numerous and the expectations are ridiculously too high for anything more. Or less.
The main points Ric brings up are:
Riley's lack of confidence in coach Van Gundy - after the Game 7 loss in the ECF Shaq bemoaned that coach hadn't gotten him enough touches in the final quarter. With Riley's two-year coaching sabbatical and the Heat's dramatic turn around in the past two years, the coaching itch has likely returned. This was made evident by Riley's slick “political” comments made during the off-season, questioning Van Gundy's coaching abilities. Ric spells it out better in his own words: “I'm not saying Riley is purposely sabotaging Van Gundy's chance at survival, although I have to wonder what the basis of their mutual devotion really is. After all, Pat abruptly handed Van Gundy his first coaching job less than a week before the season began. For the following season, he reworked the team to land Shaq and did nothing to tamp down expectations until after the fact (recently claiming he believed all along that last year's team wasn't a championship-worthy unit).”
The new off-season pickups
- one W away from the NBA Finals last year would make most GMs pause, keep the core intact, and pick up a promising role player or two whose personality was guaranteed to mesh with the existing team's chemistry. (Look at Dumar's moves this off-season. While he did lose his head coach, he replaced him with a competent, veteran coach; rather than going trade-crazy, Dumars kept his core nucleus in place and added a solid, big body in Dale Davis
Bug what did Riley do this summer? Jettisoned Eddie Jones for Walker, Poise, and Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, three players who are going to want their fair share of touches. Walker and Williams, too, are more offensively minded players, whereas Van Gundy is more focused on D. And, as rumor has it, if Finley comes aboard it's just another once-great player who's going to need his minutes and touches, too.
And will these new players submit to the orders of their coach? After all, the man whose voice really
matters has given a not-so-subtle “no confidence” vote in his coach. Can Shaq keep these personalities in line? That's the argument, and if anyone can I think Shaq can due more to his personality than his basketball prowress, but Ric brings up a good point on that matter, too: “The explanation I've heard from those who dismiss the potential chemistry concerns for Van Gundy is that Shaq will keep everyone in line. Nobody messes with the Big Po-Po. Only they did that final year in Los Angeles, if memory serves, and again last spring in Miami, if Shaq's complaints that he didn't get the ball enough are correct. The sad truth is that no matter what a player's credentials might be, once he can't single-handedly carry teammates where they otherwise couldn't go, the bark loses its bite. Michael Jordan knows that from his experience in D.C. Magic tasted it in his comeback in L.A. It happens in every walk of life. When the star or the boss loses his magic touch, the rolling eyes and behind-the-back jokes around the copier begin.”
The new Heat squad lacks the team chemistry needed - as NBA history has shown time and time again, great teams win championships, not great players. A team needs at least a few seasons to meld, to have its players and coaching staff build the necessary trust and intimate knowledge of one another in order to bring home the rings. The Heat should have left their core intact, but instead they have gone on a personnel replacement binge. From Ric's article: “Title-caliber chemistry requires collective playoff trials and tribulations. It might sound quaint, but teams have to grow together through hard times. I've never seen one that didn't. Adding Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell to the Minnesota Timberwolves made them better, but it didn't make them champions (and then it made them much worse). This very same Shaq-centric experiment actually failed two years ago with a better surrounding cast. Are the same people who have anointed the Heat the best in the East the same ones who had the Lakers with Karl Malone and Gary Payton waltzing to a title? I guarantee you this: More teams were intimidated by the '03-04 Lakers than will be by the '05-06 Heat. One reason: No one can picture this Heat team playing anything remotely close to championship-caliber defense.“
Needless to say it should be an interesting season for Heat fans. Ric states that he has trouble seeing Van Gundy keeping his job past Christmas, which I'm inclined to agree with if the Heat stumble out of the starting blocks.
Another good article that echos this same sentiment is History Says Miami Won't Make It, from HOOPSWORLD. “When teams go about making their own "dream teams", things don't necessarily end up in a championship. It almost never does. Stars tend to get in the way of each other and, unless there's a lot of humility and ego management, they clash.” And with Van Gundy's future in question, he's going to be struggling to manage the egos. Maybe Phil Jackson should have passed up his coaching gig with the Lakers this year and instead come in to help in Miami.
I've started a new section here on NBAWebLog.com - NBA News. The NBA News site has blurbs from a wide variety of news outlets with the latest NBA headlines, along with a sentence of two of commentary from yours truly. If you use a news aggregator you can subscribe to the NBA News feed at http://nbaweblog.com/nbanews/atom.xml.
Well, Michael Finley has been waived by the Dallas Mavericks, the biggest 'star' to have faced the amnesty rule in this off-season. By waiving Finley Cuban estimates it will provide cash savings for the Mavs of $90 million dollars over the next three years. Yipes, kind of hard for anyone to turn down that deal, regardless of how friendly you are with a player or however many billions of dollars you're worth.
In any event, Mark has written up an interesting blog entry with his take on waiving Finley. It starts off as you'd expect - I liked Fin, it was hard to do this but was good for the team, blah blah blah, all the kind of things you expect to hear - but Cuban rarely gives you just what you want to hear (which is probably why he's so interesting to listen to/read about). What really piqued by interest was his comments about the process he has used in the past for bringing in new talent to the Mavs (emphasis mine):
The difference going forward today vs the past is that Avery and Donnie are putting in programs and structure that will allow us to better evaluate players and choose those that put our team in the best position to succeed. We never did that in the past.
We made trades because we thought we knew players. Im embarrased to admit, but this summer was the first time we actually brought in non rookie Free Agents that we were interested in to work out. Before, we just called the agents of guys we liked and tried to work out deals.
You didn't read that wrong. Previously, the Mavs signed vets sight unseen. This, to me, seems insane for anyone to do, especially someone like Cuban who ought to know better. Mark, would you buy a stock without investigating the company, just because the stock had done well in the past? Of course now, you're too smart for that. So why do the rules change for basketball players? And shouldn't Don Nelson know better? From his bio page it says the dude has “more than 40 years of NBA experience as a player, coach, and general manager.”
This leads me to think that it's pretty standard to not test out vet talent before signing on the dotted line. Is this really the case in the NBA? It's hard to fathom, but stranger things have been true before...
Bye bye, Mr. Grant. The Lakers released forward Brian Grant today using the new amnesty clause agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement. This means that they'll still have to pay the remaining $29+ million dollars on Grant's contract, but that bill won't be counted against the team come luxury tax time.
From the article: Grant “averaged a career-low 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds last season while bothered by chronic tendinitis in his knees. He also had a neck injury in training camp and spent a month on the injured list because of the tendinitis.” Grant, as you'll recall, was brought over to the Lakers in last summer's blockbuster trade, sending Shaq to Miami in exchange for Butler, Grant, and Odom. I wonder if Dr. Buss ever wishes he could take back the trade.
I mean, when you look at it, Dr. Buss was faced with the following pros and cons for trading Shaq:
- Shaq's monster contract
- Shaq's age / out-of-shapedness
- Kobe is younger / more athletic / has more high-caliber years ahead of him
- Three decent players in Grant, Odom, and Butler
- Trading the self-professed Most Dominant Ever player.
- 'Betting' the franchise on an egotistical, talented youngster who still was facing a civil rape suit.
With a couple of the pros being nixed in the end - Shaq working himself into shape for this last season; Shaq taking a pay cut this offseason; Grant's injuries/lackluster season; trading Butler for (ick) Kwame Brown - well, it makes you wonder if it was still in Buss's best interest to pull the trigger on that trade last offseason. Granted, I'm not really looking long term - Kobe will still be raking in the revenues for the Lakers five years from now while Shaq will be solving crimes and downing boxes of Krispy Kremes. But, shit, the Heat were at the door of last year's NBA Finals while the Lakers... well, they were honoring the Purple and Gold tradition by having a worse record than the Clippers (and tied with the Golden State Warriors!!).
Oh well, it's all fantasy, really, as the Lakers likely wouldn't have fared any better this last season with Shaq and without Kobe than the other way around, but it still hurts to see the Lakers have such an off year. Hopefully the Zen Master can get in and shake things up enough to actually get this team to the playoffs this year, although another lottery-bound season wouldn't surprise me in the least.
More drama in the Hawks trade for Joe Johnson. Shortly after the trade was announced Steve Belkin, one of the owners of the Hawks, voted to nix the deal, arguing (correctly, IMO) that the Hawks' $70 million dollar, five-year deal was not in line with Johnson's talents/market value to the team. Well, duh. At $70 million/year, JJ would average $14 million/year, which, based on that yearly average, would make him the 19th highest paid player (see a list of all salaries). He ain't that good.
What was particularly ... funny ... was the quote from the lawyer representing the Hawks owners that do want to pull the trigger on the JJ deal. From this ESPN.com story: “ James W. Quinn, a lawyer representing the other owners, compared the Johnson deal to the Celtics' acquisition of Larry Bird, a move that led to three NBA titles for Boston in the 1980s.”
I don't care how you're comparing it - even if you're just saying, “JJ's trade happened on a Thursday, as did Larry Bird's” - you really shouldn't use Joe Johnson's name and Larry The Legend's name in the same sentence.
Kwame Brown - aka, Mr. Acne; aka, Jordan's Second Biggest President Mistake (his biggest being trading Rip Hamilton for Stackhouse); aka, Mr. Been Arrested and Suspended Twice - is now a Laker. I think I'm going to vomit.
If you couldn't tell, I think this deal sucks. He stunk it up in Washington, both on and off the court, so why should he be any different in LA, a city that offers even more distractions than our nation's capital? Shit, I think he would be best suited in Portland, where he could really let his dysfunctional nature shine, perhaps even outshine the Trailblazer's cast of characters. But no, now he's a Laker. Meh.
Kwame said: “I just thank God that I'm out of Washington...” Sounds like a professional, classy statement to me, Mr. Brown. If you don't mind me saying, “I just wish you hadn't come to the Lakers.” Here's a team with a pedigree history that has had some of the classiest players of all time. Brown is a step in the wrong direction, if you ask me. At least we are back to having a strong coach with a top dollar salary, one who can't be bullied around by his players (except, maybe, Kobe). In other words, I expect Brown to see about as much playing time as Mitch Richmond saw in the 2001-2002 season, or Bryon Russell saw in the 2003-2004 season. In other words, not much. Mr. Brown, meet the bench, I think you'll remember him from your days in Washington.
Shaq just signed a 5-year, $100 million dollar contact with the Miami Heat, giving him the love, money, and commitment Dr. Buss was unwilling to pull at the close of the 2003-2004 season. Personally I think this was a no-brainer for the Heat - while last year's playoffs showed Shaq is clearly not the force he used to be, he still is a popular player in both the general NBA and in the Miami market. Too, he is well-liked by his teammates and has a rapport with the Heat's real top-dollar commodity - D. Wade.
Still, five years seems like a long time to sink money into O'Neal, who's quickly aging. Looking back among some of the greatest centers in the League one can see that there's a history showing that centers are typically the first position that succombs to age/injury, and once the decline begins is is pretty dramatic and sudden. While Shaq is only 33, he'll be 38 by the time this contract expires. How many centers have had a $20 million dollar-worth impact on their team after, say, age 35? Granted, part of O'Neal's worth to the Heat is his marketability and team chemistry, but you have to wonder if his appeal will still be as great as it is now a few years from now when he's hobbling up and down the floor, icing his knees during timeouts, and giving that great “Ewing look” as he is put on the bench and his team cruises and wins without him.