Sunday, May 15, 2011

The 2010 Offseason: What Should Have Happened (The Knicks and Nets edition)

July 2, 2010

"Start spreading the news... I'm leaving today..."

Rumors began to circulate that free agent power forward Amar'e Stoudemire was in negotiations to sign a five year, $80 million contract with the New York Knicks. The Knicks, seemingly aware they were going to miss out on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki (the four prizes of the 2010 free agent class), decided to go all in with Stoudemire and make him the king of the hill in New York.

Good move, right?

Afterall, it was Donnie Walsh and Knicks' management who began to clear cap space three and a half years ago to land one of those four men in 2010. Just one day after the free agency period began, it was clear that Spike Lee's favorite team were not going to be home for James, Wade, Bosh or Nowitzki.

Wait a New York minute, though.

The Knicks had enough cap space to sign Raymond Felton to a three year deal, and also traded David Lee to the Golden State Warriors. In return the Knicks receiving promising young forward Anthony Randolph, the walking human generator Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike.

But it was Carmelo Anthony who decided that his little town blues in Denver were melting away. That he wanted to take his talents in New York like LeBron took his to South Beach. Carmelo said that if he could make it in New York, where he was born, he could make it anywhere.

'Melo left it up to New York to get the deal done.

New Jersey, also coming off an offseason that wasn't too pretty, tried to beat NY to the punch and entered trade negotiations with the Nuggets. But Melo would never commit to signing an extension in New Jersey, and in the end it was the Knicks who sent Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and the Knicks' first round draft pick in 2014, and second round picks in 2012/2013.

And cash. Straight cash, homey.

Let's recap:

The Knicks miss on three certifiable franchise players (LeBron, Wade, Nowitzki) and decide to throw all their money at Amar'e. Now, if your plan is to sign Amar'e and only Amar'e, it's a good plan. Amar'e fit the Knicks and undoubtedly was their leader and was an MVP candidate for part of the season. But it's not a good plan if you're going to add another small forward whose primary function is to score and plays very little defense.

The Knicks spend $7 million to rent Felton for half of this season before finally offering enough to Denver for Carmelo after months of talks. The Knicks also receive Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman (who was ironically drafted by the Knicks during the Isiah Thomas era).

My question is -- why didn't the Knicks just target Anthony? I realize the Knicks spent years telling their fans - just wait until 2010 when we get LeBron. But they also knew anything short of LeBron would probably disappoint their fan base anyways. Coached by Mike D'Antoni, who I'm convinced has never instructed a player on how to play defense in his life (I'm kidding), New York gambled and paired two players not known for their defensive prowess.

Meanwhile, in the conference finals, two of the league's top defensive teams are determining who will compete for this year's championship.

Go figure.

If the Knicks are standing by D'Antoni, then they should have told their fan base -- look, we're not going to spend all that cash. We're going to keep our young guys. We're going to try to get Carmelo Anthony, but we're not going to overpay for him. The Knicks had basically $23 million in cap space to acquire Melo and take on some bad contracts from the Nuggets.

Carmelo could have told Denver -- "The only place I'm going is New York. And if you don't trade me now, and leave them with some pieces, I won't agree to a sign and trade. I'll go there in 2011. You won't get anything back for me."

Even if Carmelo didn't bring that, uh, topic up like Chris Paul did at Melo' wedding, Nuggets management had to at least have that in the back of their heads.

Who wants to look like Toronto & Cleveland did after Bosh & James left for MIami?

NY should have basically said that for Melo if Melo didn't say it himself. Do the Nuggets say no to a deal that involves the Knicks sending back Toney Douglas, Anthony Randolph, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov , a 2014 1st round pick, and a 2012 2nd round pick if they're also shedding Chauncey Billups' contract and the contract of Chris Andersen?

Probably not. It also would keep them from signing Al Harrington as a last ditch effort to keep Melo. The Nuggets would enter the 2011 offseason with a roster consisting of Ty Lawson, Chandler, Randolph, Douglas, Balkman and Mozgov still on the books. If Nene' stays, and they extend the qualifying offer to Aaron Affalo, the Nuggets have all the flexibility to make some moves and position themselves to be a player in 2012.

July 1, 2010 - Let's try this again, shall we?

The Knicks announce to their fan base that they're not going to go after any of the free agents -- Carmelo Anthony has made it known he's not re-signing in Denver, and thus, the Knicks are going to target him. It's not tampering, because they're in negotiations directly with his team, and not the player.

December 24, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year, as the Knicks & Nuggets FINALLY complete the swap outlined above. The Knicks lay out the plan to Melo that they may not be a contender this year, but they are in position to add more pieces around him in 2011 and 2012. Melo is the king of New York, just like he wanted. Merry Christmas, Knicks fans.

------------------------------------------------

As far as Amar'e goes... well... he ends up with the Nets. Instead of spending their cap space on the likes of Jordan Farmar ($3,750,000), Travis Outlaw ($7,000,000!!!!!!!!) and Johan Petro ($3,250,000), the Nets throw $80 million at Amar'e.

Suddenly, the Nets aren't having the most disappointing offseason, the Cavaliers and Raptors are.

(I don't know many Nets fans, but how could they get excited about going into 2011 targeting LeBron and ending up with Farmar, Outlaw & Petro? Seriously? Who is going to fist pump for that? Even Snooki would think that's a bad offseason. How the hell did HOV sign off on those moves?)

But, I digress.

Amar'e becomes the center piece of the franchise. And the Nets aren't done.

February 23, 2011

The Nets send Derrick Favors, Devin Harris & two first round picks to the Utah Jazz for All-Star point guard Deron Williams. With Amar'e (and Brook Lopez) in place, New Jersey is able to convince Williams to sign a three-year extension.

February 23, 2012

Exactly one year later, the New York Knicks send the expiring contracts of Chauncey Billups & Ronny Turiaf along with Danilo Gallinari & Landry Fields to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul & David West . Paul, like Williams did a year earlier in NJ, signs a three-year extension.

And then...

July 1, 2012 12:01AM

The long awaited free agency period has begun. But it's clear there is only one name on the market who really matters.

Dwight Howard, who was asleep in his Superman cape, opens his front door and sees a group of people.

From the Nets organization -- owner Mikhail Prokhorov, minority owner Jay-Z, head coach Avery Johnson, general manager Billy King, leading scorer Amar'e Stoudemire & MVP candidate Deron Williams.

From the Knicks organization - owner James Dolan, general manager Donnie Walsh, Carmelo Anthony, David West & Chris Paul. Standing behind them is a face familiar to Howard -- Knicks' legend and the new head coach, Patrick Ewing.

From the Lakers organization - owner Dr. Jerry Buss, team consultant Jerry West, team consultant Phil Jackson, general manager Mitch Kupchak, head coach Brian Shaw, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant and newly acquired power forward (as the result of a draft day trade with the Clippers), Blake Griffin.

And then...

?

Monday, May 24, 2010

No Longer His Chosen One: Mike Brown Out

272-138.

66%

That's what Brown can do for you.

That's what Mike Brown did for the Cleveland Cavaliers in five years.

Doesn't matter.

Brown was relieved of his coaching duties. The move saved the Cavs $4.5 million dollars. It may have saved them a lot more though, and not just in terms of dollars.

Despite all the games Brown won for Cleveland, the Cavs clearly are sending the message to LeBron James that they will do whatever it takes to win a championship. This is the same message they've sent since LeBron has been in Cleveland. More importantly, since Danny Ferry was hired by Dan Gilbert to run the franchise in 2005.

Shaquille O'Neal. Mo Williams. Delonte West. Ben Wallace. Wally Szczerbiak. Daniel Gibson. Antawn Jamison. JJ Hickson. Anthony Parker. Jamario Moon. Leon Powe.

Those are some of the names Ferry has brought to Cleveland to surround James. Ferry handpicked Brown to be the head coach. Brown was an assistant in San Antonio. In case you weren't aware, San Antonio has won 4 championships since 1999. Brown was an assistant for 3 of those rings.

Ultimately, Ferry (and Gilbert, and maybe LeBron too) made the right move. Brown took this particular team as far as they were going to go. The Cavs won 127 games the last two regular seasons. However, it's what they didn't do in the playoffs.

They didn't make it past the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite having homecourt last year, they lost to Orlando. Despite having homecourt this year, they lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2nd round.

To avoid having to pay Brown his $4.5 million salary (which the team would have, had they not fired him before midnight tonight), the Cavaliers decided to go in another direction. But the direction is the same one they've been heading in since they drafted #23 (coming soon to an arena in year in a #6 jersey - team yet to be determined) in 2003.

Had the Cavaliers retained Brown as coach, maybe LeBron would have left? To me, it comes down to four simple things for LeBron.

1. Loyalty. By all accounts, he's extremely loyal. He always says the right things about loving Cleveland, loving Ohio, loving Akron, etc. He fired his agent and created LRMR marketing, also ran by 3 of his childhood friends. Even though LeBron could have told the Cavs to find a new head coach after last year's disappointing loss to the Magic, he didn't. The Cavs would have, and everyone knows they would have. They'd be foolish not to. Loyalty, for LeBron, will play about a 25% role in whatever decision he makes.

2. Winning. LeBron wants to win. As it stands, outside of joining forces with one or more of the following in any city - Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowtizki, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard - Cleveland is his best opportunity to win. The team has, for the most part, good chemistry. This depends on whether you believe the Delone West rumors and Game 5 (if you don't know what I'm referring to, please look it up). Winning will play about a 25% role in whatever LeBron decides.

3. Legacy. LeBron wants to be a global icon, whatever that means. The man already has countless awards and has won a lot of games. Everyone knows he's one of the best two players in the league. But LeBron wants to play basketball, win a lot of games, make a lot of money, and have his name attached to a lot of brands. Until he wins a ring, which will tie all of those things together, many detractors feel he doesn't deserve to be mentioned amongst the greats. His legacy, and desire to be a global icon, will play about a 25% role in whatever decision he makes.

4. Control. LeBron wants control. It's pretty clear. Give LeBron more of a say than your general manager, and he'll sign on the dotted line. Cleveland knows this, they realize that despite the fact they're willing to do whatever it takes to keep LeBron, the real key to keeping LeBron is giving him control. Ferry can still announce the trades and his title will still be general manager. But if LeBron stays, he's the one calling the shots. He's the one that called the shot w/ Brown. Control will play about 25% role in whatever decision he makes.

Three of those four factors are in the Cavs favor already. I'm assuming the conversation went like this.

Ferry: "So yeah, we're thinking of firing Brown... but we wanted to get your thoughts..."

James: "He's a good coach, but we've gone as far as we can go with this guy. I'm tired of dribbling the ball for 20 seconds and having to create something. I'm tired of his funny expressions. Charles Barkley is right... if I stay here, we should be pushing the ball."

Ferry: "Okay, I'll fire him, if that's what you want."

James: "Yeah, okay, whatever, I've got to go ice my elbow."

--click--

Tonight, the Cavaliers gave LeBron control.

The next move(s) is/are his. Will he remain in Cleveland? If he does, will Delonte? Doesn't he try to trade Jamison (cap relief in 2012), JJ Hickson (young big man the Raps covet), "Boobie" Gibson, Delonte and a future number 1 for Bosh? Does he tell Shaq that as fun as it was to have him in Cleveland, his services are no longer needed unless he's willing to accept about $1 million a year and a reduced role of about 6 to 8 minutes a game?

Who does he pick as his next head coach? Avery Johnson? Dwayne Casey? Mark Jackson? Jeff Van Gundy? Doug Collins? Oh, wait.

We've waited for the summer of 2010 to see what LeBron James will do. Did any of us ever think we'd be wondering what he'd do as the GM of the Cavs?

That's basically what happened tonight.

Ferry will let LeBron pick his roster, his coach, and whatever else he wants.

Likewise, Ferry also gave LeBron complete control to decide where he wants to play next year. "If you stay, you call all the shots. If you go, just make sure you do a sign and trade which will bring us back enough to save some face and remain competitive until 2012 when we have cap flexibility."

It may be the smartest deal Ferry has ever made.

It will be if it works. And it will save the Cavs a lot more than $4.5 million.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What If The Wizards Trade The #1 Pick?

I'm going to go into Hubie Brown mode for a moment.

"You're the Washington Wizards, you had a pretty disappointing season, there was the locker room gun incident with Gilbert Arenas, Abe Pollin, sadly passed away, you cleared a bunch of cap room to prepare for the 2010 offseason, alright? We're talking 365 days of bad luck. Now, you enter Tuesday night's lottery with a 10.5% chance of landing the top pick in the draft, the 5th best chance in the league, alright? You have to feel good about your chances.

You end up winning the whole lottery and end up with the chance of drafting John Wall, who is a heckuva player. Now, you go into the 2010 NBA season with a lot of optimism. You have Wall as your point guard, you have some terrific young players like Al Thornton, Andray Blatche - who really started to come into his own last season - Javale McGee, Nick Young, and if you re-sign Randy Foye, you have a young core that any top free agent is going to want to play with.

The only question mark is what about Gilbert Arenas?

Now, it's sad because Arenas is a top 15 NBA talent, who has suffered some injuries the last few years, and he had the locker room incident last season which resulted in a 2394792304 game suspension. But what if you draft Wall and put him the backcourt with Gilbert, you hope that in several years, those two and whatever top free agent you add, is going to turn the Wizards into a contender and lead them to a championship."

What if?

Washington hoped they would win the #1 pick, and they did. Washington also hopes they can move Gilbert Arenas to any team in the NBA and get anyone in return. Seriously. Doesn't matter the contract. Doesn't matter the player. If Orlando offered Rashard Lewis (who has 3 years and $75 million plus left on his deal) after this season for Arenas, Washington would do it despite the fact that when healthy, Arenas is one of the better players in the league and Lewis is, well, one of the highest paid players in the league. Sorry, I couldn't think of anything nice to say. Perhaps Rashard needs to get back on the PEDs, judging from his performance in the conference finals.

That said, it's unlikely any team at this point takes a chance on Arenas and his baggage unless Washington offers up the number one pick. Or offers to send them $300 million without the NBA's knowledge. If I'm Ted Leonsis, I'd go with the first choice, but that's just me.

So what are the Wizards' options to dump Arenas? Who would be the best trading partners?

WASHINGTON RECEIVES:
#3 & #27 picks, Devin Harris, Yi Jianlan & Courtney Lee
Washington would be incredibly young this year (and thus guarantee a lottery pick next year as well). In fact, if the Wizards played on national TV this year, Mike Breen would mention the Wizards youth several times per quarter. "Ah... another mistake again. The Wizards are just so young, so much talent, so much potential... so young... they really have a lot to learn... they're just so young... just several years removed from high school... so young..." You know, just like when he calls Lakers' games and talks about their size. I walk away from their games feeling like I just watched a team consisting of guys all the same height as Gheorge Muresan. I'd walk away from Wizards games walking away wondering if they all were up past their curfew and if they would be grounded for the rest of the season. I would.

It'd be a great trade for the Wizards, though, and they'd have plenty of cap space to do whatever they wanted the next three years.

NEW JERSEY RECEIVES:
#1 pick & Gilbert Arenas
Wall + Arenas + LeBron + Lopez = championship?

WASHINGTON RECEIVES:
#4 pick, Ricky Rubio & Corey Brewer
Washington gets Rubio next year. DeMarcus Cousins this year. Corey Brewer is a great glue guy who is not scared to take shots at the end of quarters or games and is a maniac on defense. Throw in plenty of cap space to lure Carmelo back near his hometown of Baltimore, another year at developing Blatche at the 4 spot, and Washington will return to greatness in 2012.

MINNESOTA RECEIVES:
#1 pick, #10 pick (from the Pacers), Gilbert Arenas & TJ Ford's expiring contract (which they immediately waive)

David Kahn makes up for fudging up the Wolves' draft in 2009. Minnesota receives the #1 & #10 picks (they also have the #16), TJ Ford's expiring contract & Gilbert Arenas. What's not to like? With Love & Jefferson already on board, all the Wolves have to do is draft John Wall, Greg Monroe (to back up Love), and Gordon Hayward at the #16 spot. Instant contender. Kahn would be NBA Executive of the Year and can forget the name Ricky Rubio.

INDIANA RECEIVES
Jonny Flynn & #23 pick

Bird gets his point guard and makes up for trading for TJ Ford. Now if he can only make up for this trade.

(PS: Stephen Jackson & Al Harrington's contracts would have expired this year, giving the Pacers cap space to team 2009 NBA Most Improved Player Danny Granger up with a legitimate superstar & probably retain both Harrington and Jackson for pretty cheap. Instead, Troy Murphy & Mike Dunleavy are still on the books until 2011. Somewhere, an Indiana Pacer fan just typed "FML".)

(PSS: The best part about the trade is that John Hollinger said the Pacers won the trade cause they received Ike Diogu. Diogu was the 9th pick of the 2005 draft for the Warriors and never really panned out. Ike signed with the Hornets last year but did not play. Diogu's full name is Ikechukwu Somtochukwu Diogu. Which breaks one of the rules in life - you never acquire a guy who's real name is "Ikechukwu" and consider it a win. You just don't.)

WASHINGTON RECEIVES:
#5 pick, Tyreke Evans (2009-2010 NBA Rookie of the Year, in case you missed it) and Carl Landry (whose teeth once collided with Dirk Nowitzki's elbow in December- Landry is a legitimate tough guy). The Wizards then break the bank for Amare Stoudemire (at center, with Cousins as his back-up), Landry, Blatche, Evans & a re-signed Randy Foye. (The Wizards would likely also have enough money to sign Melo next year to insert into the line-up where Blatche is. If Blatche has a great year and Melo tells Denver he's going to Washington, wouldn't Denver want something in return? Blatche, Al Thornton & Nick Young and a future #1 would be enough to get it done, wouldn't it?)

SACRAMENTO RECEIVES:
#1 pick & Gilbert Arenas

Geoff Petrie redeems himself for trading Chris Webber in 2005 and not receiving anything other than Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson & Brian Skinner. Who? Seriously. Does anyone other than me remember this trade? I remember thinking "Okay, the Kings got a future unprotected pick in the deal, right? Right?" The Kings also sent Matt Barnes & Michael Bradley to the 76ers. Out of all the players in that deal, only Barnes is still playing! How did Petrie not get Billy King to sign off on an unprotected pick in 2010? The Kings would have had two picks in the top five. Instead, Petrie gets Webber's contract off the Kings' books but gets nobody in return. I'll never understand how Petrie wasn't killed for this deal more than he was.

WASHINGTON RECEIVES:
#6 pick, Stephen Curry, Andris Biedrins, Ronny Turiaf

Love this deal. Doesn't matter who the Wizards draft. You sign Melo next year and surround him around the guys above, and still have the young bench. (Cue Mike Breen here.)

GOLDEN STATE RECEIVES:
#1 pick & Gilbert Arenas
Nellie gets his dream backcourt. Arenas returns to the Warriors - the team he shunned - back in 2003. Warriors fans may revolt, or they may be very happy to be rid of the long term deals of Biedrins & Turiaf. Or they may pee-their-pants in excitement that they're getting John Wall. Nobody really knows, but one thing we know is:

No matter what the Wizards do with the first pick (draft Wall, trade the pick & Arenas, surprise everyone and take Evan Turner), the Wizards need to think about how they can separate themselves from Arenas. If moving the #1 pick will get that done and bring the Wizards back enough talent to be competitive this year while giving Washington cap space to sign someone this year & Carmelo next year, the Wizards need to do it.

Wizards management doesn't want or need an empty Verizon Center - the Wizards may draft Wall & keep Arenas, but that doesn't mean fans aren't sick of Gilbert's shit and it doesn't guarantee people are going to show up to watch them play next year.

However, trading the pick & Wizards to relieve themselves of Gilbert and receive plenty of talent in return may absolve Ernie Grunfield of signing Arenas (and Antawn Jamison) in 2008. Grunfield's legacy as the Wizards' GM will ultimately always be tied to Arenas. Grunfield signed Arenas in 2003 and re-signed him in 2008.

If Grunfield can severe those ties and quickly turn Washington back into a contender, all will be hailing the chief in Washington. If not, the Wizards will likely still have John Wall. But they'll still have Arenas. And fans will still wonder what would have happened if Grunfield didn't re-sign Gilbert, just like Pacer fans wonder if Bird kept Jackson & Harrington, like Wolves fans wonder if Kahn had drafted Evans and Curry, like Kings fans wonder what might have been had Petrie gotten that 2010 unprotected from the 76ers in the Webber deal back in 2005.

What if?

"You're the Washington Wizards, you drafted John Wall and you have plenty of young talent, but you still have Gilbert Arenas. You play in the Verizon Center, but nobody shows up because you are unable to trade Agent Zero, alright? Your team is bleeding money, and President Obama is looking at a Washington Wizards stimulus plan..."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Still The King, But Still Mortal

TRUE OR FALSE W/ LeBron James

"I missed a lot of open shots that I normally make," he said with little emotion. "You don't see that out of me a lot so when it happens, it's a big surprise."

TRUE


"Our backs are against the wall," James said. "We've won on that floor before and we've got to get it done."

TRUE (see last Friday)

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out be great and the best player on the court," James said. "When I'm not, I feel bad for myself because I'm not going out there and doing the things I know I can do. But I don't hang my head low and make excuses, because that is not the type of player or the type of person I am."

TRUE

"I spoil a lot of people with my play," James said. "When you have three bad games in a seven-year career, it is easy to point that out."

TRUE (even if James was being sarcastic OR being honest)

While following Twitter tonight, people were talking about how Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant would never have games like LeBron had tonight (bad playoff game offensively at home in which their team lost by a wide margin) - well, I did a little research.

Michael Jordan:

May 21, 1992 - Chicago Bulls 81, Cleveland Cavaliers 107. Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan: 22 points, 7-22 from the field, 6 turnovers.

Kobe Bryant:

May 15, 2003 - San Antonio Spurs 110, Los Angeles Lakers 82. Western Conference Semifinals. Bryant; 20 points, 9-19 from the field, 7 turnovers

LeBron James:

May 11, 2010: Boston Celtics 120, Cleveland Cavaliers 88. Eastern Conference Semifinals. LeBron: 3-14, 15 points, 3 turnovers

The moral of the story? Even the great ones have a bad playoff game, even at home, every once in awhile.

PS - The Kobe game was an elimination game.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Goran Dragic vs. LeBron James: Ranking The Performances



What a night.

We're spoiled, aren't we?

In the first part of the double-header on ESPN, LeBron James came out with a vengeance. James scored 21 of his 38 points in the 1st quarter, and the Cavaliers never trailed as they defeated the Boston Celtics 124-95. LeBron made 8 of the 10 shots he took in the first quarter.

You may as well have called tonight's performance LeBron's own personal Boston Massacre, cause he was killing it out there.

James also tallied 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Interestingly enough, James didn't grab a rebound after halftime -- but he didn't need to. The Cavs were up 65-41 at halftime.

I hope we can stop talking about LeBron's elbow, even if @LeBronsElbow is one of the most entertaining accounts on Twitter.

As good as LeBron was in the first game, his scoring outburst wasn't the only great performance of the night.

Don't sleep on Goran Dragic.

Dragic went Sleepy Floyd on us in the fourth quarter (Floyd holds the all time playoff record for points in a quarter with 29), pouring in 23 points in a variety of ways, including the most ridiculous "And 1" I've ever seen. On the left side of the court behind the three point line, Dragic threw up a ridiculous shot with his left hand and was fouled by George Hill. Like (nearly) everything Dragic shot tonight, it went in.

With Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson on the bench, the Suns came back from 14 down to win 110-96 behind Dragic' unlikely heroics. Dragic had scored 4 total points (all coming in Game 1) in the series before tonight.

"I think it's safe to say that may have been the best fourth-quarter performance I have ever seen in a playoff game." - Grant Hill

You expect the performance LeBron gave tonight. Dragic, on the other hand, is a different story -- but one many will never forget. Twitter instantly blew up after the game:

@ jadande: Yes it's late, but it can't go unsaid: Goran Dragic?????
@sportsguy33: Great reaction by Dragic's teammates at the buzzer. Gotta love this Suns team, this continues to be a fantastic story. A true team.
@ RicBucher: Pop in last Xout got on team about stopping drives (Dragic), but you could tell his heart wasn't in it. The Slovenian was simply on fire.
@russbengtson: LeBron James is going to sign with the Suns for the minimum just to play with Goran Dragic.

(For more Dragic on Twitter, search for #dragic)

The Suns are now up 3-0 heading into Game 4 on Sunday in San Antonio. The Cavs have re-gained homecourt advantage.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams: The Battle For Point Guard Supremacy Rages On

Nike vs. Adidas

Microsoft vs. Apple

Coke vs. Pepsi

Montana vs. Marino (vs. Brady)

Jordan vs. Bryant (vs. LeBron)

And now, Paul vs. Williams.

Really?

Really.

Since the beginning of the playoffs, analysts, bloggers & fans of the NBA have debated over who the best point guard in the league is. Deron Williams is having a "Are you f-----g kidding me?" playoffs, the same type of playoffs Chris Paul had in 2008. Williams started the postseason off with five straight games of at least 24 points and 10 assists. Jameer Nelson has taken his game to the next level after missing most of Orlando's run to the finals last season, averaging 22 points, nearly 5 assists and 3 rebounds per game for a stacked Magic team, and hitting mutiple end of quarter shots against the Bobcats & Hawks. Rajon Rondo is playing out of his damn mind as well -- setting the Celtics playoff record for assists in a game (19), and posting numbers that would make any point guard envious (16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 11.7 assists and 2 steals per game).

And what about Steve Nash? At 65 years old, Nash has the Suns just two wins away from the conference finals, averaging 17.4 points and 9.4 assists per game. Nash opened up the series against San Antonio with 33 points and 10 assists, as if he were daring the Spurs to bring back Robert Horry for some fisticuffs later on in the series.

Even though Derrick Rose didn't lead the Bulls out of the first round, Rose did his best to openly invite free agents this summer to join him in the Windy City. 26.8 and 7.2 dimes per game. Who wouldn't want to play with that? Dwyane Wade, your point guards since JWill left have been Mario Chalmers, Carlos Arroyo, Chris Quinn, Rafer Alston (temporarily), etc. Are you sure you want to stay in Miami, Dwyane?

What about the series Russell Westbrook had against the Lakers? Westbrook torched Derek Fisher most of the series, until Kobe Bryant took it upon himself to guard the second year pro. Westbrook averaged 20, 6 and 6 against the defending champions and had a number of jawdropping highlights, including a dunk on Lamar Odom that was replayed on ESPN and You Tube for a week.

Rondo, Rose, Williams, Westbrook, Nash and Nelson are just some examples of how stacked the league is at the point guard position. Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker (still balling against PHX), Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, Baron Davis, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Devin Haris, Mo Williams... the list goes on and on. And you have guys like Ty Lawson (Billups' replacement), George Hill (Parker), Rodrigue Beaubois (Kidd) who are waiting for their chance. Darren Collison showed what he's capable of while Chris Paul was injured this past year.

And Agent Zero, all of his quirks and off court controversies, will be back next year, too.

The hardest position in basketball to play is also the deepest. You could fill a roster of all of those names and have a stellar (albeit undersized) team.

But the consensus seems to be that the best point guards in basketball are DWill and CP3.

And it appears everyone has forgotten about the latter, because the Hornets did not make the playoffs.

The same guy who finished second to Kobe in MVP voting in 2008 after leading his Hornets to one win away from the conference finals, and was named to the All NBA 1st Team. Williams was named to the 2nd Team.

The same guy who has a career PER of 25.80, good for sixth all time behind Jordan, LeBron, Shaq, David Robinson & Wilt Chamberlain.

The same guy who lead the league in dimes and thefts two consecutive years (2007-2008, 2008-2009).

The same guy who in 45 games this year averaged 18.7 points, 10.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 steals while shooting 49% from the field, 84% from the line and 40% from the 3 point line.

Williams averaged 18.7, 10.5, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals while shooting 46% from the field, 37% from the 3 point line and 80% from the charity stripe.

Their numbers were nearly identical. If one thing separated the two, it was the assist to turnover ratio. Paul's assist-to-turnover ratio was 4.29, good for 1st in the league. DWill? 3.17, good for 9th. Paul averaged 2.5 turnovers per game, while Deron averaged 3.3, nearly 1 more per game.

Career-wise, Deron has played 386 games while Paul has appeared in 345. Williams has logged 13,623 minutes, while Paul has 12,881.

Despite less minutes and games, Paul has 422 more rebounds, 425 more steals, 221 more points than DWill. Williams is listed at 6'3, while Paul is listed at 6'0, suggesting that Paul is a better rebounder.

Deron edges Paul out in five major categories over their careers: He has him by .8% on 3pt %, more games played, more minutes played, more total assists (by 43), and more blocks.

Career-averages are as follows:

Paul: 19.3 ppg, 10.0 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.4 spg, 2.6 tov, while shooting 47% from the field, 84% from the FT line, and 35% from the 3 point line.

Williams: 16.7 ppg, 9.0 apg, 3.1 rpg, 1.0 spg, 3.3 tov, while shooting 46% from the field, 79% from the FT line, and 36.1 from the 3 point line.

Head-to-head, Williams has had the better of Paul. Williams and Paul have squared off 14 times, Williams has won 11 of those meetings. Their numbers, however, are very similar:

Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams

Paul does have a 24 point, 16 assist, 5 steal & 4 rebound game (with one turnover!) against Williams in February of 2008.

However, head-to-head Williams' Jazz has posted the better record.

On internet message boards/forums, Twitter pages and blogs, fans and the like have brought up the durability factor, pointing out that Paul has missed 65 of the 410 possible regular season games. 37 of those games came this season, when Paul was out of action due to a torn meniscus that required surgery. That means that before this season, Paul missed 28 games. So far, Deron Williams has missed 24 games in his career. A four-game difference before this past season.

While questions of Paul's health are a valid claim (even though this is his first serious injury), most of the evidence suggests that Paul is a better player. When you compare the things CP3 has done since he entered the league against what Deron has done, it's hard to argue that Williams is better than Paul.

Two years ago, the gap between Paul & Williams was as wide as the Grand Canyon. Paul was finishing 2nd to the Black Mamba in the race to determine who's most valuable, while Williams was getting bounced by the same Black Mamba in the playoffs. #8 on the Jazz has improved to be mentioned in the same race.

However, if you have a minute, look at what Paul has done since he's entered the league:

2006 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2nd in MVP voting in 2008, All NBA First Team 2008, All NBA 2nd Team 2009, 3 Time All-Star (2008, 2009, 2010), 1st in APG in 2008 & 2009 (2nd in 2010, 4th in 2006-2007), 1st in SPG (2008 & 2009). Since 2005, Chris Paul has had more games than anyone else in the league with 25+ points and 15+ assists per game with 15. Career PER of 25.80 (6th All Time). Paul has finished in the Top 6 in Assist-To-Turnover Ratio since he entered the league; has finished in the top 3 since 2006-2007 and finished 1st in 2009-2010. Paul's career high in assists is 21. Only player in the league to have had at least 20 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds more than once since 2005 (3 times). Only player to have 20 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and 5 steals in a game since 2005 (2 times). Only player to have 20+ points, 15+ assists and 10+ rebounds in a playoff game (2008 - Paul had zero turnovers). Paul has more 15+ assists games with 1 turnover or less than any player in the league the last five years (16). Paul is one of 7 players to have 20+ pts, 10+ assists and zero turnovers since 2005. Paul & Rondo are the only players with 5 playoff games to have 10+ assists and 1 turnover or less since 2005. One of six players to score 1500+ points, dish out 800+ assists and grab 300+ rebounds in the history of the league in the same season. Paul has done it twice.

The other night on TNT, Charles Barkley told Paul that he thought Paul was no longer the best point guard in the league. Barkley's explanation? That Deron is bigger and better. Paul took Barkley's opinion with class -- I'm not so sure I could have sat across from Chuck and allowed him to say that had I been Paul. But Paul was professional.

Message to Chuck: I think you just woke up the sleeping giant. And that giant's going to come back with a bigger chip on his shoulder than you've ever put in your mouth or lost in a casino in Vegas.

When it comes to the point guard position, Chris Emmanuel Paul is still the best in the business. Everyone's actin' like Deron has the throne and crown now, and it's over...

"What am I doin’? What am I doin’?
Oh, yeah, that’s right, I’m doin’ me
I’m doin me
I’m livin’ life right now, mayne

And this what I’ma do ’til it’s over
‘Til it’s over
But it’s far from over..."
-"Over" by Drake