February 2008 - Posts
The Los Angeles Lakers are looking like the best team in the entire NBA since their blockbuster trade for Pau Gasol. Tonight's victory against the Seattle SuperSonics made it eight in a row, and many of these wins have been blow outs. 117-92 against Minnesota. 122-93 against the Hawks. 113-95 against the Clippers. And 111-91 against the Sonics, tonight. Granted, these aren't elite teams, but during this stretch they have bested the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic.
Lamar Odom has been lights out, netting double-double after double-double. Tonight he notched up another one, ripping down 11 boards along with his 19 points. Gasol has been efficient and a top scorer. Tonight he led all scorers with 22. Sasha Vujacic is shooting 43.4% behind the arc, and is clearly not afraid to hoist up the long distance bomb when he's open; he's averaged near 14 points in the last five games. What's really impressive is that there are so many threats on this team. Tonight 7 players had 10 or more points. In their wins against the Clippers and Hawks, six players scored in double digits.
It's so much fun to watch this team play. Even when they are blowing out a team by 20 with minutes to go, I keep the game on, just to watch the second unit perform. And all of this is happening with Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza sidelined with injuries. Amazing.
I was looking through some of my old blog entries here and stumbled across one from February 2004 commenting on an article (whose link is now dead) where TNT analyst Steve Kerr was commenting on Shaq.
Steve Kerr: "I don't know if Shaq has that killer instinct, but it's probably a good
thing he doesn't, because there would be a lot of dead people lying
around the floor."
Shaq's Reply to the Quote: "You have to know what killer instinct is to comment on it. (Kerr) has
never had a killer instinct, he's just been a lucky guy on the end of
the bandwagon, several times. He doesn't know what killer instinct is."
What makes this deliciously funny is that Steve Kerr, as GM of the Phoenix Suns, is now Shaq's boss. Moreover, he's the one that instigated the trade with the Miami Heat. Too funny. This reminds me of Shaq's quote about Steve Nash's winning of the MVP award being "tainted."
Here's a piece of free advice, Shaq: don't bad mouth other players because you never know where you'll end up in this business. Of course, it seems that no one holds Shaq's comments against him. Everyone seems to view Shaq as that goofy guy who jokes around a lot and, at times, doesn't know when to keep his yapper shut, but really means no harm.
Tonight Shaq played his first game with the Phoenix Suns, facing the Los Angeles Lakers on ESPN. It was a very exciting and entertaining game. The Lakers lead most of the way, but it was close through much of the game, especially in the 3rd and 4th quarters as the Suns kept crawling back to within 2 or 3 points. In the end, the Lakers prevailed, winning 130-124, with a great game from Kobe - 41 pts, 5 boards, 3 dimes, and 2 picks.
Shaq logged 29 minutes and looked fairly spry and active throughout the game. In fact, he appeared to be a bit overactive late in the game, diving for a couple of loose balls, one that resulting in a costly foul on Pau Gasol. Shaq had a nice dunk, lobbed to him from Nash, and a couple of good 4 to 6 foot baby hooks that dropped. He also picked up 3 assists, with a couple of nice entry passes from the high post.
The Pau-er of Pau (Sorry)
Having Pau Gasol join the Lakers has been like a dream come true. Sure, he's not a dominant big man. He plays away from the basket often and, as a result, pulls in far fewer boards than you'd expect from a seven footer. He also isn't the strongest player, so he doesn't box out as well or take up the necessary space to guarantee the board. In tonight's match, there were a couple of times when he had inside position on Shaquille, but wasn't able to stop Shaq from overpowering him and getting the ball. Despite his shortcomings on the glass, he has a nice 15-18 foot spot up jump shot, decent handles, and he knows how to move without the ball. Because he plays further out from the basket, he has many opportunities to cut to the basket away from the ball, and he does this with great speed and finishing ability. Kobe might be backing the ball in, or Lamar making a cut to the basket, and WHAM, here comes Gasol swooping in from the backside, catching his defender watching the ball handler, and he gets the pass and dunks it home.
Pau contributed 29 points, 2 assists, and a block in tonight's win. He only brought down 3 rebounds (and one was putting back up a short layup he missed).
Best Player Who Receives the Least Attention - Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom plays in the shadow of Kobe, but he really is talented. His length, speed, and strength help him rack up double-double after double-double. Tonight was no exception. Despite a frustrating game in the sense that he missed a handful of layups that should have gone down, Lamar still managed to score 22 points and grab 11 boards. Lamar is in a great position with this Lakers team. He has the best basketball player in the League on his team, who commands so much attention from the other team. Gasol's away from the basket play keeps the other team's big man further out, and Lamar is usually matched up against shooting forwards an inch or two shorter and certainly not as long. The net result is that Lamar is able to pick up many defensive rebounds, score clean up points, make cuts to the basket without the ball, and so on. And just wait until Bynum gets back and starts demanding double teams down on the block.
I have to say that this year's Laker team - especially with the Gasol pickup - is very exciting to watch. I haven't been this jazzed about the Laker lineup since 2004, when Gary Payton and Karl Malone signed up. The Lakers really have a solid roster with great depth at every position. As I noted earlier, their second squad could outplay most teams in the East.
This is shaping up to be a truly great NBA season! So many great teams. So much talent. So much fun basketball being played. I can hardly wait for the playoffs!
After a bunch of false starts, the Dallas Mavericks will be landing perennial All Star guard Jason Kidd. The original trade would have involved Devean George and Jerry Stackhouse along with Devin Harris, but with George exercising a no-trade clause in his contract and the League frowning upon Stackhouse's claims that he would be released by the Nets and resigned with the Mavs, the deal appeared to have fell apart. But Cuban opened his wallet and traded the rights to Keith Van Horn at the tune of an extra $11 million dollar hit this year from the luxury tax. Ouch.
In a nutshell, the Mavs get:
- Malik Allen
- Antoine Wright
In return, the Nets get:
- Devin Harris
- DeSagana Diop
- Trenton Hassell
- Maurice Ager
- Keith Van Horn via sign-and-trade
- Two first-round draft picks (2008 and 2010)
- $3 million in cash
At first glance, it looks like the Nets are getting the better end of the deal here. They're clearing up cap space, getting a promising young and speedy point guard in Devin Harris, a decent center in Diop, and are freed from Jason Kidd and his annual trade demands and occasional "mailing it in" games.
The Mavs take a financial hit this year, which Cuban can afford. This trade also shortens their Championship window, as Kidd ain't getting any younger. Phoenix is in a similar predicament with signing Shaq. Should make for an intense and interesting postseason! For an insider's take on the trade, check out Mark Cuban's comments on the trade: Doing the Deal and Dishing the Dirt:
"The annoyance. One agent who made a truism of the
saying that "no good deed goes unpunished". That said, I have nothing
but respect and admiration for Devean George. He told me that he would
trust his agent as he had done for the last 10 years and take whatever
may with that decision. He had the balls to stick to it. Even with
people yelling and screaming at him. That said, as I write this, I
really have no clue why the agent made the decision he did."
I pity George and wonder what the locker room chemistry must be like right about now...
In the past several years, NBA execs have been too cautious to make any big-deal trades. However, this year we've already seen many such transactions, from Garnett and Ray Allen joining the Celtics and Pau Gasol joining the Lakers. And then Steve Kerr, and now Mark Cuban, have stepped up to plate, brining Shaq to the Suns and Kidd to the Mavs. I hope this trend of big name trades doesn't abate at the end of this season. Let's face it - the NBA is at its most boring time in the winter months. These trades have helped spark some interest in these otherwise ho-hum times.
Today the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat squared off in South Beach and on national TV, with the Lakers winning the contest 104-94. Today's game was the first for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks since they were traded to the Miami Heat for Shaq. For some reason, ABC loves scheduling the Heat on national games, so I've been able to see the Heat play more times than I care. With Shaq and Mourning as their lumbering centers, the Heat have traditionally been a half-court set offense, a team that walks the ball up after a basket or turnover, sets up, and then runs the offense through Dwayne Wade.
With Shaq out of the picture, and with the addition of the incredibly athletic Shawn Marion, the Heat have a new style of play about them, as evidenced by this afternoon's game. There were many fast breaks, a lot of quick passes, a lot of cuts to the hoop. The Heat came out running, gunning, and scoring, and played competitive basketball through the first half of the game. But in order for a run and gun offense to work properly, the team needs to be in tip top shape. In the second half, the Heat's pace slowed, their D softened, and the amassed a double-digit deficit heading late into the 4th quarter.
This was the first "fun" game to watch the Miami Heat play since the 2006 playoffs, when D-Wade was breaking ankles. It was great to see this level of play, but it leaves me wondering what to expect in the future. There's no way the Heat can dig themselves out of this 9-40 hole to make the playoffs this year, and Marion's contract ends this year (and Wade's ends the year following that). This should be an interesting off-season for the Heat and its fans.
The Phoenix Suns have stunned their fans by giving up on the admittedly disgruntled, yet talented Shawn Marrion, trading him (and Marcus Banks) for the once dominant, but now pedestrian Shaquille O'Neal.
Shaq's physical prowess and dominance peaked in the 2000/2001 season, where he was a man among boys. If you watched the Lakers much that season, you knew their go-to play. Get it low to Shaq, let him bang the opposing center, and then dunk the ball. He was a force of nature back then. But time waits for no man, and it is especially impatient for NBA centers, who have a knack of hitting a wall in the early to mid 30s and going downhill quickly. Shaquille O'Neal is no different. After the Lakers first championship this century, Shaq showed signs of slowing down. Yes, the Lakers won two more rings in the subsequent years, and made it to the Finals in 2003/2004 only to lose, but the game was increasingly being played through Kobe. Shaq had his moments, and he still commanded special attention from the defense, but gone were the days where he could physically dominate any opponent at will.
When the Lakers traded Shaquille to the Heat, I thought they were getting $0.60 on the dollar and showing disrespect to the reason they won their three consecutive rings. The day Shaq was traded I wrote:
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. ... 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.
The trade seemed lopsided. And it was not managed well, as the Lakers traded a talented and improving Caron Butler (and a washed up Brian Grant) to the Washington Wizards for Kwame Brown, a cosmic wrong that wasn't righted until their recent trade for Gasol. But I understood the decision from a financial and long term perspective. Kobe still had more years on his legs. Shaq, I figured, was done without a suitable side kick and a deep bench with talented role players. Of course we all know what happened - Shaq went to Miami, teamed up D.Wade, and the Heat surrounded them with a better than average team and they ended up winning it all (thanks, in large part, to the Dallas Mavericks melting down and losing four straight games after winning the first two).
But now Shaq is well on his decline, as evidenced by the Heats dismal record - 9-37, the worst in the league. He's still one big dude, but he lacks the hops and the speed and the physical domination that once made him the most dangerous offensive threat on the court (well, except in crunch time, when you could just send him to the foul line). Which is what makes the trade with the Suns so perplexing. The Suns whole offense is built on speed and dexterity, on being able to have Steve or Barbosa slash to the basket, draw the double, and hit the cutter or dump it out for the 3-ball, on being able to push the tempo on fast breaks and score quick, easy points in transition. I fail to see how Shaq helps this offensive scheme. He routinely gets beat down the court; his lack of an outside shot means he's going to continually clog the lane, reducing opportunities for the Suns slashers.
And I've not even commented on the financial issues here. Shaq is still on the hook for two years at roughly $20 million per year. Ick. This trade was a mistake for so many reason, but what's most alarming is that there's no exit strategy. If Shaq doesn't work out, if he gets a serious injury or just doesn't mesh with the offense that the Suns want to run, they are stuck for two years. No other team is going to assume Shaq's contract, especially if he fails miserably in Phoenix. In short, first year GM Steve Kerr is making a two year bet. I hope for his sake, and for the sake of the Phoenix faithful, that it's a bet that works out.
In closing, I think the Shaq trade stems in part from the Lakers acquisition of Gasol. The Suns saw that their small ball wasn't getting them past the other big teams in the West. They saw LA improve their front court, and they figured they needed to match suit. Maybe they did need to do something, maybe their approach will never get them to the promise land. Steve Nash isn't getting any younger, after all. I just think their direction is questionable.
It makes you wonder how hard the Suns were trying for KG this summer. A question for Suns fans: would you rather have received Shaq for Marrion, or KG for Amare?
After the stunning trade from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame and pocket lint, Pau Gasol stepped onto the court tonight for his debut game as a Laker as a starter. Despite Gasol's sore back - and a season-low 6 points from Kobe - the Lakers came away with a victory over the dismal New Jersey Nets, 105-90. Gasol had a strong game, getting a double-double with 24 points and 12 boards (plus 4 assists and a steal). Awesome.
Side note: the most points Kwame scored this season was 10 points (in three appearances). Most rebounds - 11 (twice).
This is exciting. In his first game in purple and gold, Gasol displaying strong numbers and helped the team to victory. And these numbers come after just a couple days with the team and only one practice. Wait until he picks up the ins and outs of the Triangle Offense. Wait until he has his role down as the big man at the high post and is able to either take the J, dump it down to Bynum on the block, or kick it out to Fisher, Kobe, Sasha, or Odom for the long ball.
Next up for the Lakers is the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are playing better than most people expected this year, but they're still mired in the Leastern Conference with a sub-.500 record. But tomorrow's game will be a back-to-back affair for the Lakers, so who knows how it will play out. Hopefully they'll come out energized and Kobe will feel compelled to make up for his lackluster performance in tonight's game. Following that, they play the scorching Orlando Magic on Friday and then play the Miami Heat on Sunday on national television. Will Shaq still be in Miami come Sunday?
Today the Lakers traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and two first-round draft picks for Memphis big man Pau Gasol! This is a great pickup and should help the Lakers front court fill in after injuries to Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza, and Luke Walton. Granted, Pau is not a domineering big man - he's got range and speed and plays suspect D at times - but his numbers are impressive - 18.9 ppg and 8.8 boards/game, 50.1% field goal average, 81.9% free throw shooting, and nearly 1.5 blocks/game so far this season. And best of all, they finally got rid of Kwame! So long.
I'm certain that it will take Gasol some time to integrate into the Lakers offense, but once he's worked into the system he will no doubt make important contributions. And just wait until Trevor and Andrew get healthy. I'd love to see Phil try out a "big & quick" lineup of Kobe and Lamar in the backcourt; Trevor or Luke as the shooting forward; and Bynum and Gasol in the front court. Speed and size. This lineup would cause mismatches with so many teams. Get Lamar or Kobe on the post on a small guard, and either back them down and score or pass to a cutter when the double team comes.