Friday, February 22, 2008

The Stretch Run

As I mentioned, the All-Star has passed, and the stretch run for the playoffs is starting, with most teams having ~30 games remaining. This is also the time for fantasy players to start figuring out how their teams are going to look going into the playoffs, assuming your team is still in it (mine are in all 5 of my leagues; current standings in them are: 1st/1st/2nd/2nd/5th). With that said, this thread isn't about fantasy. As much as I don't really like to speculate about the end of the season, I will go ahead and give out some mid-season awards. I'll go ahead and give my favorite at this point and my close 2nd:

GM/Front Office: As ridiculous as this would have been last season (for both teams I'm about to mention), these two teams have gone from the potential bottom of their respective conferences to probable favorites. With that said the best front office goes to the Lakers. There are quite a few reasons for this too. Even with the relationship between Jerry Buss and Kobe Bryant at a low, the Lakers still never folded and kept their former unhappy superstar through the bad times and made this team a favorite again with a young core, great talent and depth. Keeping Bynum was also a key component. He looks like the next great Laker big man. He's only touched the his potential as he's been a great post presence on both offense AND defense this season, up until his knee injury. If he comes back healthy before the playoffs and gets back into game shape, the Lakers could be looking at a healthy, fresh Bynum going into the playoffs. Now that's scary. We obviously can't overlook the move in early February that put these Lakers over the top IMHO, that was getting Gasol for .00000000001 cent on the dollar. That was one of the MOST LOPSIDED deals I have ever seen or heard of. Enough said, the Lakers take this. The close 2nd would be Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics, who not only made the bold acquisitions of aging Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but surrounded the PGA with great defensive players and surprisingly good depth with rookie Glen Davis, James Posey and Eddie House. They made great moves, but I still think Boston is 2nd to LA in this situation, not to take anything away from the C's.

COY: Phil Jackson. No doubt in my mind either. He's got 9 titles and looks poised to make a run for a record 10th. He's gotten everything anyone could have out of this Laker bunch that no one really expected to do much this season. Now they're sitting 2nd in the West and are just going to get better when their young stud Andrew Bynum returns. If this team wins 60 games, there will have been a total of 0 people who predicted that and Phil Jackson will be a bigger reason for that than people will give him credit. People have always said he's had the talent. Well, most people thought coming into this 2007-08 season, the Lakers didn't have too much talent or potential (Kobe quite clearly made his feelings known as well), yet Phil's got this team playing like a team and they are contenders. Whoever is 2nd isn't really close in this discussion, but I would have to put Byron Scott in there for consideration. I don't think he's a genius as a coach by any means, but he does have this team in a spot no one thought they'd be as well.

ROY: Reluctantly Kevin Durant. This award is honestly just a stats award and Durant's putting up 20ppg, while no one else is even close. This rookie class has also been a weak one so I'm barely even gonna call this an award. Durant's putting up 20pts while shooting a pitiful under 40% on the season. He's the most talented rookie so he should have the best numbers on a team that has basically no scorers, who can create their own shot. Al Horford is #2 on my list since he's got the 2nd best numbers and his team is in contention for the playoffs after a loooong layoff and he's starting at center for that team.

MIP: Rudy Gay. This award usually goes to a young, up and coming player and Rudy Gay fits the bill in every way. He didn't play that much last season, his rookie year, but this year he has emerged as the Grizzlies' building block and basically "untouchable" guy. The man has all the talent to be a perennial All-Star and has seen his scoring average increase from 10 to 20 this season. The Grizzlies aren't good by any means, but this guy is. My close second is Andrew Bynum, despite the extended time missed because he's been a beast while he was playing and definitely played a role in that Laker winning percentage before the injury and the Gasol trade.

DPOY: I think Marcus Camby has to get this award for the 2nd season in a row because without him, I don't see the Nuggets being able to play their crazy uptempo offense. He creates deflections, blocks shots, gets steals and rebounds at an amazing clip. All of these factor into being able to run. I love Kevin Garnett, who's impact has made the Celtics the hands-down best defensive team in the league, but Camby plays in the West and that's where the tougher competition is. This is probably the closest 1st vs. 2nd award for me since I love KG's impact in Boston, but I'm going Camby for now because of his arguably similar impact and his defensive numbers are better.

MVP: This would seem like the most controversial spot, but I'm going with Chris Paul. Maybe the Hornets hit some bumps before the end of the season, but they're in 1st place right now. No one even thought this team would make the playoffs, much less be in 1st place in the deeeeep West. You can call me out on the fact that I love Chris Paul and his game, but the way he's played this season and his impact on his team's record is undeniable. He's putting up 20+ppg, 11apg and 3spg. Those numbers are unheard of. NO ONE has ever done that. We can talk about how good that team really is and how "other teams have taken them lightly", but that doesn't deny the fact that they're in 1st place through 50+ games. Portland couldn't keep it up, but this Hornets team has. Honestly, people want to put Lebron, Kobe and KG into the equation as well, but IMHO it's not really close at the stage of the season we're at. I'll give my close second, but realistically it's a tie at the 2nd spot between KG and Kobe, although I may lean more towards Kobe. I have to put KG in there for his impact on the C's record and defense. Those defensive numbers are almost unprecedented in the modern era of basketball (I'd say past 1980, the Celtics as a team that is). The strongest argument for Kobe would be the fact that his numbers are obviously once again through the roof, but also that he's been deserving in the past, but has never won it before. For some reason, however, I don't think the media would be all that sentimental for Kobe and he won't get votes that way. Kobe's 28-5-6 line is great and his team has been great (2nd place in the West, just 1 game behind Paul's Hornets) and any of these 3 guys are fully deserving. I wouldn't be surprised if the media completely screws this up by the end of the season though and throw the award at Lebron James.

Like I said, I'm not a big fan of all this speculation and considering they don't give out midseason awards, this is almost pointless. A lot could happen between now and the end of the season considering there's about 30 games left, especially this season when nothing has been guaranteed by any means. It will be an exciting finish though and should be fun to watch which potential 50 game winner gets bumped from the playoffs, while half of the Eastern playoff teams might end under .500. Good stuff from the NBA.

Trades I've Missed

Sorry about the long layoff even after the AS weekend in NO ended, but I had other responsibilities to attend to. There are quite a few exciting things to note though as the trade deadline passed yesterday afternoon. With it being over, we saw one of the most exciting deadlines in recent memory. Many teams made moves to try and contend for a title, basically a trickle-down effect after LAL made their huge move for former All-Star Pau Gasol. Many of the resulting trades I've already commented on, including Jason Kidd to Dallas, Shaq to Phoenix and Bibby to Altanta. There have been quite a bit of movement after those blockbusters as well however.

San Antonio made their under-the-radar move that could push them into contention as well. For Brent Barry, Francisco Elson and their 2009 1st rounder, they got Kurt Thomas, a guy to play alongside Tim Duncan and help defend the suddenly big frontlines of the West (Gasol/Bynum, Shaq/Amare come to mind). I think the move definitely improves the Spurs, who don't need Barry anymore IMHO with the emergence of Ime Udoka (a better defender and decent shooter in his own right) and Kurt Thomas is definitely an upgrade over Elson. I like the move a lot for the Spurs, but honestly, I don't think this aged team is as good as some of the other younger, improved teams in the West and even a couple of teams in the East. I don't usually disrespect/overlook the Spurs, who are there every season simply because they know how to win... but they don't win in consecutive years, and I don't see that changing this year. Needless to say though, the Spurs are chugging along and making their strides quietly like they always have. Before we know it, they'll probably be back in the conference finals yet again.

The Rockets and Hornets made the 1st move closing in on the deadline yesterday by swapping Bobby Jackson (to the Rockets) for Bonzi Wells and Mike James. This deal wasn't nearly as big a splash that many other trades have been this season, but it was still a big move for New Orleans. The biggest knock so far this season on the 1st place Hornets has been their youth and bench. They seem to have covered some toughness issues and depth issues. I think Wells will replace Mo Pete in the starting lineup at the wing. Peterson's been absolutely awful on a great team this year and you can't score 10+ppg with Chris Paul setting you up... not sure what you can do. Wells will bring a tough mentality to a team that wasn't lacking, but his presence in the post won't hurt. James will get more PT in New Orleans rather than the crowded small guard situation in Houston, who seemed to have no use for James anymore for whatever reason. New Orleans got James at a bad price (2 years left for $10+ million), but he brings depth and scoring to that bench, which they can use as much as they can get even though Jannero Pargo has been emergin recently. Houston gets rid of 2 guys who weren't playing that much, although I liked Bonzi as a backup to the oft-injured T-Mac. They still have role playing bench guys like rookie Aaron Brooks, Luther Head and rookie Carl Landry, who do very similar things as Wells and James and took on an expiring contract in Bobby Jackson, so overall the deal doesn't hurt them, but they did lose some depth. Bobby Jackson also has a good rep for being a tough guy, winning the sixth man of the year in the past as a guy who could hit clutch shots so he may actually improve a Rockets team that's now won 10 in a row and streaking.

By far the biggest deal yesterday occurred right at the deadline, an 11 player deal that involved Chicago, Seattle and Cleveland. Here's why I don't like how it happened. Basically, it seemed like Danny Ferry (Cavs' GM) made a huge trade happen to accommodate Lebron's "demands". I didn't like it when Kobe demanded and trade (and then retracted it and then it was on again...) and I don't like it when guys, even Lebron and Kobe, come out and call out their front office to get something done. Sure, it makes the league more exciting for fans like you and me, but it screws up the hierarchy in which the league is built. The owners and GMs are there and paid to make the decisions on who they believe fits best on a team and when you've got an All-World player like Lebron criticizing his talent around him, it just pressures the guys making the decisions, in this case Ferry, to make a rushed decision. With that said, I think the Cavs actually did win in this trade that sent Cleveland Joe Smith and Ben Wallace from the Bulls and Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak from the Supes. The trade also sent the Bulls Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons, Shannon Brown and Larry Hughes from Cleveland and sent Seattle Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall from the Cavs and Adrian Griffin from Chicago. Every piece Seattle got was an expiring contract. I think they could have tried to get a draft pick or two as well, but hell, this deal was literally done AT the deadline (3 pm eastern yesterday). For Chicago, I was almost indifferent because they got an another awful contract, Larry Hughes, for the awful contract they gave up, Ben Wallace. They got a solid frontcourt guy in Gooden for one of their most consistent guys this season, Joe Smith. Albeit Gooden is younger, but I've never been a big fan of the guy. He just doesn't seem that good. The other guys are both young and we'll just have to wait and see what they can do... probably in the D-League though because of the Bulls' ever-growing "young nucleus" of talent. There are just too many "solid" players on that team with not enough minutes to go around. At this point, I am completely certain the Bulls could have swung a better deal for Gasol, at least than what the Lakers gave up. The most intriguing part for the Bulls is to see how Hughes affects Thabo's starting spot. Either way, with Hinrich, Thabo, Gordon, Deng AND Hughes, that's a lot of wing/guard players for 2-3 positions. I think Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas will get extended minutes now to see what they've got. Now onto the Cavs. I actually think the trade was pretty solid for them, not as good as some other people might suggest, but getting another shooter in Wally to help out Gibson from the perimeter definitely helps Lebron's ability to create and kick. Delonte West is the starting point guard right away and he should put up the roto numbers that we're used to so I would grab him if I have use for a guy who might put up 11pts, 4rebs, 4assts, a steal and a three. He should be pretty consistent playing alongside Lebron too. Getting Ben Wallace for the Cavs was an upgrade considering they got rid of Larry Hughes, who just couldn't play in Cleveland anymore. The Cavs also got Joe Smith who's proven that he's still got some game. The deal definitely puts the Cavs as the legit 3rd team in the East, which still means they'd be the 11th best team out West, but I won't get into that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kidd Deal DONE.. Finally

The Jason Kidd deal to Dallas is done, this time for real. Kidd will be going over to the Mavs with fellow former Nets Antoine Wright and Malik Allen in exchange for Davin Harris, Desagana Diop, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, semi-retired Keith Van Horn along with 2 future 1st rounders (2008 and 2010). Hassell and Van Horn were the main changes in the deal because of Jerry Stackhouse and Deveon George's complications with the original proposal. Van Horn was brought out of retirement to finalize this trade and the NBA seems to have approved everything. I've already written a piece about the original trade and this one doesn't vary too much from that one so check it out if you want to know what I think about the new composition of the West and the fantasy implications of Kidd.

Now onto something else quite exciting around the sporting world. Spring training for MLB has recently started (last Friday I believe was when players began reporting), which mean fantasy baseball is just around the corner. Yahoo! has already begun its signup of leagues so you can technically join already and practice drafting your team(s). I'm already signed up for a couple and will list my roster once I've got a team drafted. I always like some practice before I begin giving my input. Amidst all the steroid talk and investigations, baseball will continue and it's just over a month before the 2008 season begins.