The trade deadline is passed, and the season is winding down. Itís time to check out the state of the East Coast and the West Coast again, with Philip Maymin and Chris Monjoy.
Chris Monjoy: Letís start with the East Coast. Whatís going on with Chris Webber in Philly? Wasnít he supposed to be their savior? Was Philly the team that ended up getting the raw end of the deal?
Philip Maymin: I don't know about the "raw" end. Webber does not fit O'Brien's system very well. O'Brien needs hustle and blitzing and fronting defense from his forwards, and lots of long range bombs on offense. That is not really Webber's game.
If Miami had traded deadweight for Webber, we'd be talking about dynasties. He would fit perfectly alongside Wade and Shaq with his ability to find the open man, hit the open shot, and play a reasonable amount of man-to-man defense.
Who was the last veteran power forward O'Brien coached? Wasn't it Vin Baker? He had a terrific run to start the season last year but eventually he found he didn't fit into the system well either. Of course he had other issues. But O'Brien's system overall requires young, fresh, quick legs and long rangers from the forwards. Why did Walter McCarty always get so many minutes? O'Brien green-lighted the Antoine Walker trade, primarily, because he thought Raef LaFrentz was a better three-point shooter than Walker and would still be able to do his share of blitzing and fronting on the defensive end.
So Philly does look like it made a bad deal, especially with the injuries Webber is facing, but don't be surprised for them to separate either Billy King or O'Brien at some point if they can do it without losing too much money. You can't play O'Brien's system with the kind of guys King likes, even if King is really picking up good talent, which Webber undoubtedly is.
The tension will remain there for a long time.
CM: Iíve heard a ton of rumors about Orlando moving Steve Francis in the offseason. Do you think heíll be a part of the future of the team? Who are some possible trade partners?
PM: He's probably one of the hardest players to trade. Every time it's a prima donna act as the acquiring team has to convince him to agree to the trade, and it doesn't always work. It's been like that throughout his career. It would essentially be up to him or his agent to put together something he likes, and then bring it to Weisbrod. On the other hand, Weisbrod is not afraid to make bad trades in terms of talent to bring in the kind of players he wants (see Drew Gooden and Cuttino Mobley for examples). In other words, Weisbrod is not afraid to dump Francis for cheap if he can get back exactly what he wants. If he feels Jameer Nelson can take the starting reigns and mega minutes starting next year, and he can move Francis for a premier two-guard who can run point for some spells, there's no saying he won't. This suspension thing is not going to help either his trade value or his locker room value either.
CM: Amazingly, the Boston Celtics appear to be much better now that Antoine Walker is back in the fold. How has he helped the team?
PM: They got him for essentially nothing. What he's done is bring back almost 20 points, almost 10 boards, and lots of assists, but even more it's his veteran fire and Celtic pride that pumps people up. He's a guy that everybody loves playing with. He's the loud, charming, charismatic guy that every guy on the team looks up to.
But it's not really all that amazing. The Celtics had been improving beforehand as well, and are a terrific team. They had some rough patches but a lot of that was growing pains. Jiri Welsch was being tried out at point guard, for a long time. Then eventually his minutes vanished and he was traded.
The real story of the Celtics has been Ricky Davis. Sixth man of the year candidate and a terrific teammate. Or maybe the real story has been Gary Payton. Reluctant over the summer, he ended up joining the Celtics twice in one year. Or maybe the real story is how Pierce has upped his shooting percentages now that he's less often double-teamed. Or maybe it's the development of one of the best Celtics drafts in decades.
Or maybe, just this once, the story is all about the team. They fit. They play well together. They have the elusive chemistry. They're a team that has a chance to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
CM: Chicago has been pretty steady throughout the season. Do you think theyíll make some noise in the playoffs? What will it take for them to advance?
PM: No, I don't. They have great youth and talent but I don't think it's enough to get them anywhere deep into the playoffs. Depending on their opponent, they might win a game or two, and that in itself would be good as it would give their youngsters a solid 5-6 games of playoff experience, which is unmatchable.
CM: The Bobcats actually werenít bad, considering it was their first year. They played hard every night. Whatís their offseason plan?
PM: They're not planning to be playoff contenders at least for another year or two. Their plan is to find undervalued assets where possible, accumulate draft picks, and use their scarce commodity of playing time to showcase and develop players into tradeable assets. The summer of 2007 could see them start to think about dipping into free agency. So the goal of this offseason is to create a roster that's at most one or two clearly defined pieces away from being a playoff caliber team. They are set at the power forward position until Emeka Okafor retires. Everything else is fairly open, depending on what kind of offers they can receive from the talent they have developed this year (Brezec, Wallace, etc.), or possibly they will continue to develop next year.
The other thing they will do is continue their unselfish offense and stingy defense philosophy so that all new players feel the energy from the remaining players. Bernie Bickerstaff is laying a foundation this year and next. After that, he'll hopefully only be tweaking.
PM: Now some West Coast questions for you. What happened to the Lakers? Why are they doing so poorly? On paper they still have a roster many teams would be envious of. Bryant, Odom, Butler. That's a solid base. What gives?
CM: Unfortunately, this is a Laker team, that while it has a few good names, is woefully unbalanced, and has gotten worse, defensively, as the season has progressed. Currently, there are so many problems with this Laker team, I donít know where to begin. But hereís my two cents:
1) They have worst defensive point guards in the NBA. Chucky Atkins can shoot, but he couldnít guard my fifteen month old son. Tierre Brown, his back-up, who plays 15-20 minutes a game, really doesnít have the skill set to be playing at the NBA level, and heís a worse defender than Atkins. Both players get easily beat off the dribble, routinely leave their man, resulting in wide-open three point looks, and canít even compensate by drawing charges like Derek Fisher used to do. The constant breakdown, defensively, at the point leaves the whole defense disjointed. Kobe Bryant is constantly leaving his man to help out, so he ends up giving his man open shots. Their center, Chris Mihm, is a decent shot-blocker, but opposing guards are in the paint so often, and so easily, that heís always in foul trouble. This team desperately needs a point guard who can play defense.
2) Lamar Odom is a good player, but heís been forced to play power forward all year, when heís clearly more suited to play small forward. As a result, heís always in foul trouble, because heís not strong enough to effectively body up the fours out West, and he doesnít get as many opportunities to create (one of his strong suits on offense). Unfortunately, his back-up are Brian Cook (whose only skill is jacking up three pointers), Slava Medvedenko (whose only skill is jacking up mid range jumpers), and Brian Grant (who, at this point in his career, has no knees left). This team also desperately needs a legit power forward.
3) Rudy Tomjanovich, although a nice guy, was a horrendous coach. His offensive sets were limited to ISOS for Kobe and all the three point shots the rest of the team could handle. He didnít even bother to teach defense. Frank Hamblen has taken over, and is trying to install the triangle, but this has resulted in a muddled offense, at times, as not everyone is on the same page. Worse yet, Hamblen has been open about the fact thatís he just ďkeeping the seat warm on the bench,Ē which certainly hasnít inspired the playersí confidence.
4) At the trade deadline, a local reporter, Jack Haley announced on TV that the Lakers were 99.9% going to trade Caron Butler (and others) to Utah for Carlos Boozer. This was news to Butler, who had been nice spark on offense, and had been a great energy for the team. When the trade didnít go down, after it had been written about for a solid week, Butler slipped into an understandable funk that really sapped the team. Heís just now starting to come out of that funk.
5) Kobe Bryant is wearing down. A combination of shouldering such a load for the whole season and now pressing as he realizes that missing the playoffs is a likelihood, heís exhausted in the fourth quarter when the team needs him most, and his shooting isnít as dependable as itís been in the past.
So while the team has some good parts, all of their best players (Kobe, Lamar, & Caron) could play the same position, and they have such glaring weaknesses in certain areas (ie defense at the point) that they need to make some major changes in the offseason.
PM: Is Golden State golden now or what? Most of Chris Mullin's wheeling and dealings have been questionable at best, but snatching Baron Davis was quite a coup... or was it? Are we all missing something?
CM: If Davis can stay healthy, it might have been one of the best trades in the history of the NBA. Getting Baron Davis, essentially, for free, IF he remains on the court is highway robbery. Pairing Davis with a dynamic scorer like Jason Richardson, a smart role player like Mike Dunleavy Jr., and a quality power forward like Troy Murphy makes this team playoff contender. If, somehow, this team is able to pick up a player like UNCís Sean May, or even Utahís Andrew Bogut in the draft, they suddenly become a very formidable team. Davis is a dynamic scorer and playmaker who can defend, rebound, and snatch steals in bunches. Really, the huge issue with this team is whether or not its players can stay on the court. Davis has a well documented injury history, and hasnít always been the best at offseason conditioning, so thereís always the potential for injury there. The hope is that being back on the West Coast (heís a UCLA product) and having a fresh start will motivate him to stay healthy and in shape. Trouble is, Troy Murphy, another important piece to the puzzle has an injury history, as well. Heís stayed mostly healthy this season, and is averaging a solid 15 points and 11 rebounds. If Murphy and Davis stay healthy and this team picks up a quality big in the draft, they should be a force to be reckoned with next year. However, health is a BIG IF.
PM: Would you rather be the GM of the Nuggets or the Wolves right now? What moves do you make? What moves CAN you make? At what point does KG do the T-Mac/Air Canada/Shaq thing and demand a trade? Would he ever do that?
CM: Most definitely the Nuggets who now have the right coach in George Karl to go along with a good nucleus. Truth be told, the Nuggets are a sharp shooting two guard away from being a serious contender. Nene, when healthy, can definitely hang with the bigs on the West Coast, Carmelo Anthony is a terrific scoring threat, and Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin are both great defenders who can also score. Andre Miller and Earl Boykins have been a great point guard duo, as well. The Nuggets are pretty well capped out after last summer, so they should probably look for a reasonably priced shooter, like Kareem Rush of the Charlotte Bobcats, in the offseason. The Wolves, on the other hand, need to start from scratch. I really donít think KG asks for a trade, though. He loves Minnesota, and more importantly, Minnesota loves him. Heís been injured all year, which has affected his play, so I donít think the fans blame him. However, I do think he forces Kevin McHale to make some big moves in the offseason to rebuild the team around him, which is their only real option.
So what do they do? Unfortunately, even with Latrell Sprewellís massive salary coming off the books, theyíre still not really under the cap, so they can only really afford a mid-level exception type player, so to really upgrade the team, theyíre going to have to trade. Who are the possible trade baits? Sam Cassell and Michael Olawakandi who both have a final year contract, and as always, Wally Szcerbiak. Thatís $22 million in potential trades. This team is in need of a major shake-up, and with all the discontented star give-aways that have been occurring, lately, why not take a stab at Steve Frances? Offer the Orlando Magic Sam Cassell & Michael Olawakandiís final year contracts and a number one draft pick in exchange Steve Francis, whose stock has plummeted so much, lately, that the Magic just might do it to get the cap space and the future trade bait. Jameer Nelson has done so well at the point, that the Magic might like the idea of bringing in a smart vet like Sam Cassell to help tutor him. Letís face it, no oneís taking Wally Sczerbiakís massive contract, especially with so many years left. As a result, if I were the Wolves, I would use part of my midlevel exception to sign a decent stop-gap center, Jerome James of Seattle, and see if he takes it. The Sonics are probably more interested in keeping Reggie Evans, so they could steal him away. If all works out, you have a starting five of Steve Frances, Trenton Hassell, Wally World, KG, and James, which at least on paper, looks pretty good.
PM: Any clarity on what the Sonics will be doing with all their free agents this summer? Who will they look to keep, who will they look to pursue among other free agents?
CM: If you noticed, the Sonics didnít get any deals done at the deadline. It appears there really is a one and done feel with this team. Now, management just wants to see how far this current squad (which has excellent chemistry) can go in the playoffs. The truth of the matter is, it might be an incredibly different Sonics team next season. The only players under contract in 2005-2006 are Rashard Lewis, Luke Ridnour, Nick Collison, and Robert Swift. It looks like Ray Allen will most certainly bolt. According to Hoopsworld.comís Mike Halford, the latest rumor has Allen either going to the Milwaukee Bucks if Michael Redd goes to Cleveland, or to Cleveland if Redd sticks with the Bucks. Either way, Allen is gone. It also looks like Antonio Daniels, a sixth man of the year candidate will be headed to the Bucks, either way, as the Bucks are in need of point guard depth. Keep in mind, too, that Seattle shopped Vlad Radmanovic pretty aggressively at the trade deadline, and some team will throw a lot of money at him, so heís most likely gone, as well. The Sonicsí primary big men, Reggie Evans, Danny Fortson, & Jerome James will probably all garner some interest in the offseason, and at least one of them will probably take big money elsewhere. Fortson has a player option for $6mil, and he very well might take it, considering his play has dropped of late, and a couple of recent suspensions havenít exactly made him very marketable. Reggie Evans will probably garner the most interest on the open market, though James will draw some interest, too. Either way, I think the Sonics try to keep Evans and let James go if a team throws too much money at him.
Who do they go after in free agency? Theyíre set at point with Ridnour and at small forward with Lewis, but what theyíll need is a shooting guard. Theyíll probably go after a relatively inexpensive back-up point guard, like Frank Williams of the Chicago Bulls. I bet they try to keep Flip Murray, who will certainly be serviceable shooting guard, but if he gets too expensive on the open market, they might be in trouble. However, after Ray Allen and Mike Redd, Flip Murray is probably their best bet at the two, so they might be forced to pay him, because heíll certainly cost less than what Allen is asking. It will be interesting to see how the summer plays out for this team.
PM: How will the coaching change affect the Mavericks the rest of the season? What are they going to do in the summer? What SHOULD they do?
Don Nelson has been grooming Avery Johnson to be his replacement for quite some time, so this certainly isnít the drastic change some might think it is. In fact, Johnson has probably done a better coaching job than Nellie this year. It was Johnson who took Erick Dampier into his office and read him the riot act when he was underperforming, and as a result, he went on a streak of double-doubles. Right now, this team misses his inside presence tremendously. When he comes back for the playoffs, if he comes back motivated, Dallas will be a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs. Word is, Dampier might be back within a week. Right now, Jerry Stackhouse is also on the injured list, and the Mavs certainly miss his scoring. Getting everyone healthy and on the court together is probably a greater concern than the coaching change. In the offseason, they may very well stand pat for the first time in what seems like forever, but I doubt it. Mark Cuban canít help himself from tinkering with the team. With just about everyone coming back under contract and a $96 million dollar payroll, he would have to make a trade.
Truthfully, I wouldnít be shocked if he made a play for Jason Kidd, and that
might just be what the doctor ordered. This team needs a playmaker at the
point who can play some defense. Jason Terry is an excellent scorer, but
heís not much of a passer, and a very average defender. It would be
rolling the dice that Kiddís knee holds up, but Cuban is certainly a gambler.
Depending on the mood this summer in New Jersey, I bet they could extract Kidd
from the Nets if they offered a package of Jason Terry (a last year contract
player), Devin Harris (a possible point guard of the future), Shawn Bradley
(front court help), and Pavel Podkolzin (front court prospect). The new
Nets management certainly isnít averse to dumping salary, and none of the Dallas
players I mentioned have imposing contracts, so they might just do it. It
largely depends on how good a prospect they think Devin Harris is. To get
Kidd, Dallas may very well have to get a third team involved, but Cuban has
shown he can do that in the past. Matching up Jason Kidd with Dirk
Nowitzki is certainly intriguing, isnít it? A starting lineup of Jason
Kidd, Mike Finley, Josh Howard, Nowitzki, and Dampier with Jerry Stackhouse,
Marquis Daniels, and Keith Van Horn coming off the bench sounds pretty
formidable, doesnít it?