Thursday, December 13, 2012

Links of the Week

Our favorite links of the past few days:

  •'s Adrian Wojnarowski on Kendrick Perkins's influence upon the locker room in Oklahoma City.
  • Wojnarowski, on a roll, lands a brutally honest interview with Minnesota's Kevin Love.
  • Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal addresses Dwight Howard's free-throw problem, and provides some personal testimony as to how it might be fixed.
  • Howard Beck of The New York Times files a subtle indictment of Mike D'Antoni (and make sure you click on the article by Zach Lowe linked therein).
  • Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    The Ageless Kidd

    See that image above, freshly downloaded from my scanner? (You may need to click on the image for a clearer view.) I found this advertisement inside United Airlines’s “Skymall” catalog while on a flight last summer from Chicago's O'Hare Airport. I meant to scan it earlier but have been lazy during these past few months. Explaining the economics of this ad requires a lot of exposition, so please stay with me. During the offseason of ’12, Jeremy Lin was on top of the basketball world, after a crazy Tebow-like win streak with Lin as the starting point guard in February and March. His coach in New York, Mike Woodson, proclaimed Lin the point guard of the Knicks’ future… until Lin signed a three-year, $25 million contract with Houston that would have ruined the Knicks’ salary-cap management plan. In the end, New York chose not to exercise its right to match the Rockets' steep offer. published a six-part (really) series of articles about why the Knicks chose to let him leave. Many fans were devastated when New York chose Raymond Felton as its new starting point guard over Lin.

    Meanwhile, during the same weeks of July, Jason Kidd had a handshake agreement to re-ink his name with Dallas whenever his golfing buddy Deron Williams chose to sign with Dallas as a free agent… but then Mavs owner Mark Cuban no-showed the pitch meeting with Williams in favor of taping a reality television show, D-Will chose to stay with New Jersey, the miffed Kidd signed with New York planning to mentor Lin instead, but then, as already mentioned, Lin signed a too-rich contract with Houston that Knicks management chose not to match, and Kidd suddenly became a backup to the overweight Felton. Got all that?

    So, with Lin a new star commanding a billion eyeballs and Kidd a 39-year-old afterthought, it is little wonder that a basketball signed by Lin could fetch $400 and a Kidd-signed ball went for a quarter of that. Jason Kidd, the former Rookie of the Year, MVP runner-up, and future Hall of Famer.

    Yet here is Kidd, still (after similar jobs with the Nets and Mavericks earlier in his career) improbably willing a team with less-than-elite talent to outstanding performance. Sure, Carmelo Anthony is a fantastic scorer and Tyson Chandler is a very stout defender, but the rest of New York ’s roster is either comically old (Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby), one-dimensional (J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Ronnie Brewer Jr.) or too injured to play (Amare Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert). Kidd even led an Anthony-less team to a 20-point win over Miami last Thursday. Kidd is defending wings, as he did to great effect in the 2011 NBA Finals, dishing, stealing, and hitting three-pointers at a 50% rate. And Lin, for all his ferocious talent, is struggling to share the ball with James Harden.

    (Did I mention that, when I visited the U.C. Berkeley campus in 1994, more than one person mistook me for Jason Kidd? I think it was the close-cropped hair, prominent nose, and ethnically ambiguous features. So I have long felt solidarity with the guy.)

    Last night Kidd sank 6 of 8 three-pointers to help top the Nets. On most of them, his Net defender (usually Deron Williams or Joe Johnson) left him unguarded for an obvious count of one… two… sometimes three beats. To be fair, Carmelo Anthony with the ball often invites a hedge or an earnest help, sometimes making recovery difficult, but the Nets know that Kidd is a deadly three-point shooter. After he made his fifth shot from long range, why did they leave him so open for the sixth and final, game-winning 3-ball? A Ronnie Brewer or perhaps Ray Felton (if priorities must be drawn) can be ignored on the perimeter, but Jason Kidd?

    Here above is Kidd's game-winning shot. The equally old Jerry Stackhouse, assigned to guard Kidd, foolishly stays near the painted area, waiting to oppose a potential drive by Felton. But Stackhouse strays too far from Kidd, Felton sees the opening, and Kidd lands a wide-open three-ball (and uses his leg to draw a foul too, though that probably should have been an offensive foul, as Jeff Van Gundy observes on commentary).

    At times like these, the overused acronym "SMH" is apt.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    The ER All-Stars

    Frack it! Sprains, breaks, and tears have delayed or significantly hindered the season debuts of numerous All-Star caliber players. Injuries happen every season; indeed, a year ago some thought the number of injuries –- to stars including Zach Randolph, Al Horford, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Eric Gordon, and Andrea Bargnani –- was higher than normal after the lockout, though the statistics were typical of any season. But with at least 12 top guys out in 2012-13’s first month, NBA fans have good reason to feel antsy. Below, a review of the most prominent denizens of the disabled list:

    STEVE NASH Nash played just six quarters for the Lakers before breaking a bone in his leg in a collision with Portland’s rookie phenomenon Damien Lillard. He has missed three weeks thus far and the Lakers have declined to offer a specific timeline on his recovery. With the recent recruitment of Mike D’Antoni as the new Lakers head coach, Nash’s signature ball-on-a-string, feinting, looping offensive attack will find full bloom in the Staples Center -– in contrast to the planned offensive system of Mike Brown, who wanted Nash to stand in a corner and occasionally receive skip passes from Pau Gasol. With Dwight Howard returning to full health, Kobe Bryant healed from the knee and wrist injuries of the past two seasons, Ron Artest (er, M. World Peace) lurking in the corner, and Gasol able to play any offensive role asked of him, the Lakers should be unstoppable in half-court sets with Nash.

    KEVIN LOVE Minnesota has missed the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, dating to the MVP season of Minny's last great Kevin in 2003-04. Following that year’s foray to the conference finals, Garnett captained three straight lottery teams, culminating in his trade to Boston in 2007. After a year of ignominy, Love, the nephew of a Beach Boy and the son of an NBAer, arrived via the draft, but the Timberwolves have still stubbornly stayed playoff-free in Love’s four seasons.

    Love first showed the utmost of his abilities in the 2010 FIBA world championship, pairing with Kevin Durant to bring home the top prize for the US men’s team. This past summer at the London Olympics, Love overcame early skepticism from his coaching staff to earn more PT as the tournament progressed, tallying 9 points and 9 rebounds in the successful gold-medal game against España. With a refurbished roster including Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko, Minnesota looked poised to finally nab a playoff spot this season, but Love broke bones in his hand in October while doing knuckle pushups and will be out until sometime in December. Without him, the Wolves have started the season 5-4. (UPDATE: Love surprisingly made his season debut on November 21st, several weeks ahead of schedule. Love posted 34 points and 14 rebounds, but Minnesota lost to the well-rounded Nuggets.)

    ERIC GORDON Dating to the second half of the 2010-11 season, Gordon has missed 93 of his last 117 possible regular-season games on the Clippers and Hornets. Nonetheless, Phoenix presented him this past July with a $58 million contract offer over four years, and New Orleans exercised its right to match the deal (despite Gordon’s plaintive bleats that he really, really wanted to play in Phoenix). The Hornets’ reward? No Gordon, as he still is rehabilitating the knee injury that sidelined him for nearly all of 2011-12. A young core of Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Anthony Davis could combine deadly shooting with insuperable paint defense, but right now the backcourt in New Orleans consists of Greivis Vasquez and Austin Rivers.

    JOHN WALL The top draft pick from 2010, Wall has so far failed to distinguish himself among the NBA’s point guards, posting a terrible field goal percentage of 42% (and nailing only 3 total three-pointers) during his second season. This is the third season after the Wizards jettisoned nearly every decent player from their 2009-10 pseudo-contender, including Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller, and Gilbert Arenas. The third season is when rebuilding projects normally show sparks of vigor -– see Oklahoma City challenging the eventual NBA champion Lakers in 2010’s playoffs –- but Washington is still terrible, and Wall has yet to play this fall with a knee problem. Wall, surprisingly, has been outplayed in his NBA career thus far by his old Kentucky teammate Eric Bledsoe.

    ANDREW BOGUT Another former #1 overall pick, Bogut came to Golden State last March in a trade for GSW’s best scorer, Monta Ellis. Warriors management hoped to improve the team’s defensive play after approximately 30 years of run-and-gun futility. Unfortunately, Bogut was still recovering from a horrible arm injury suffered in April of 2010, and he suffered an ankle injury late last season that necessitated surgery. He continued to rehabilitate both injuries during the summer, but thus far in the 2012-13 campaign, Bogut has played only twice due to his ankle problem. The Warriors are presently 6-5, a respectable mark for a young team, but Bogut's low-post play on both ends could help them solidify a playoff spot.

    AMARE STOUDEMIRE Stoudemire practiced with Hakeem Olajuwon this past summer (incidentally, I was slightly surprised when I read that Olajuwon, who has tutored numerous stars over the past few years, charges $50,000 per week; perhaps I naively believed that the Dream gave these lessons for free out of love for the game) and reportedly showed up to training camp in excellent shape. Unfortunately, he ruptured a cyst in his knee towards the end of October, requiring surgery that will put him out of action until sometime in December. In the meantime, the Knicks have started strong with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith supplying most of the team's needed offense; Stoudemire may return to the club to find that he is expected to anchor the bench unit.

    RICKY RUBIO The 2011 draft class largely did not impress last season (the absence of summer-league ball or training camp following the draft were certainly hampering factors), and only Kyrie Irving looked like a budding superstar. However, Irving faced real competition for the honor of best rookie, as Rubio -– originally drafted by Minnesota in 2009 -– finally left Barcelona and joined the world’s best basketball league. Rubio consistently passed the ball to teammates like it were a trained falcon:

    While Rubio shot the ball terribly, he did average 8 assists and over 2 steals, very strong numbers for a rookie. Unfortunately, Rubio ripped his ACL (the same injury that befell Derrick Rose, mentioned immediately below) last March, and the Timberwolves promptly lost 20 of their final 25 games, ruining a strong (for them) 21-20 start. Rubio is still recovering from the ligament tear and may return next month. When the Timberwolves finally get back Love and Rubio together, they should be as good as several other lower-tier playoff aspirants like Utah, Dallas, and Golden State. (They also will have an unusually high quotient of players with European ancestry: 10 of 15, by my count.)

    DERRICK ROSE After his spectacular 2010-11 MVP work, Rose was hobbled by numerous injuries in the post-lockout season, missing nearly half the season's 66 games and averaging only 22 points (down from 25 in the previous season) and seeing a dip in all his shooting percentages. Despite his problems, Chicago still compiled the East’s best record and expected another conference finals battle with Miami. Unfortunately, Rose tore a knee ligament in the first game of Chicago’s first-round series against #8 Philadelphia and dropped that frame in front of a stunned Madison St. crowd. Joakim Noah subsequently injured his ankle, and without their two best players, the Bulls succumbed to the Sixers in six. Rose had surgery to repair the ligament a couple weeks later and has been recovering for the past six months. Rose will likely return to the league around March of this season. In the meantime, Bulls management declined a 2012-13 contract option on Ronnie Brewer; traded Kyle Korver; and allowed Omer Asik to sign with Houston, where he is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player. Shorn of Rose and their excellent bench, the Bulls have started this season playing only .500 ball.

    ANDREW BYNUM The precocious Bynum was drafted at age 17 to be the Lakers’ savior and won two championships before the age of 22. One of the largest men in the league, he likes to do everything big: nights at the Playboy Mansion, summer vacation in South Africa, a blown-out Afro haircut, a devastating clothesline to J.J. Barea. Unfortunately, his injury woes are also big: he missed half of 2007-08 and 2008-09 due to separate knee injuries, and then he played with severe limitations in the 2010 NBA Finals due to meniscus and Achilles’ problems. Bynum also missed the beginning of the 2010-11 season recovering from offseason surgery to the meniscus. Bynum was able to return to the Lakers in December of 2010 in top form, and he avoided injuries during the balance of that season and the next one. This past August, after over 12 months of trade rumors, Los Angeles finally exercised a chance to upgrade from the NBA’s second-best center to its greatest, trading Bynum in a complicated four-team deal for Dwight Howard. The trade routed Bynum to Philadelphia, which, while giving away Andre Iguodala, hoped to combine the giant with its talented youngsters like Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner to build a juggernaut. Unfortunately, Bynum suffered another knee injury in training camp last month, and recently divulged that he also injured his other knee while bowling. Good luck, Sixers fans.

    DANNY GRANGER Indiana is the league’s most disappointing team thus far; after pounding on Miami in a tough six-game second-round series last May, the Pacers shuffled their roster and expected to challenge the Heat as their young stars like George and Hibbert continued to grow. Unfortunately, Hibbert has played terribly thus far after signing a new contract in July, shooting under 40% from the field, under 60% from the line, and posting only 10 points per game. Indiana's lone advantage over Miami is the strength of its big men, but David West is an old 32 years old, and without a top-flight center, the Pacers will combust in the presence of too much Heat. Granger is the Pacers' best player, and he does not quite fit in a starting lineup that also boasts 6'10" Paul George, a smooth-moving natural small forward. Granger's absence might give George the space he needs to grow, but he, too, has played like a putz thus far, averaging just 40% from the field and scoring only 15 points each night. The Pacers, 5-7 entering tonight and reeling from losses to the Bobcats and Raptors, badly miss Granger.

    DIRK NOWITZKI Nowitzki had knee problems last season, requiring him to take a week off from game play in January to rest and strengthen his joint. The same problem recurred in this season's training camp, leading Nowitzki to open up his knee for arthroscopic surgery. Dallas's G.O.A.T. Maverick will likely return sometime in December. In the meantime, former #3 overall draft pick O.J. Mayo has emerged as Dallas's leading scorer in Nowitzki's absence; while the Mavs failed to acquire Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, Mayo may blossom into the star they need to attack foes next to Nowitzki in his final seasons.

    CHAUNCEY BILLUPS Mr. Big Shot may not be quite as agile as he used to be, but this five-time All-Star and former Finals MVP steadied the Clippers early last season after their former wings, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu, departed to New Orleans via trade. Unfortunately, Billups tore his Achilles’ (shouldn’t that be Achilles’s ?) tendon after just 20 games last February, forcing the Clippers to trade a draft pick to Washington for Nick Young to fill the hole in long-range artillery. The Clippers have started strong this season and are starting Willie Green at shooting guard, but Billups will strengthen the squad's passing acumen, leadership, and marksmanship when he returns, likely in December.

    Meanwhile, second-year stud KYRIE IRVING has started the season strong, but broke his finger a few days ago and will miss one month of action. Oy!

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Links of the Week

    Our favorite links of the past few days:

  •'s Rob Mahoney on Jeremy Lin's learning curve as a non-lead guard in Houston. (And here is a related story on
  •'s Jonathan Abrams on the tumultous life and times of Zach Randolph.
  •'s Kevin Arnovitz on Utah's experiment of playing Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, and Paul Millsap together.
  • Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe chronicles the Celtics' odd endeavor to give Rajon Rondo ten assists.
  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian addresses Damian Lillard's late-game dunk against Chicago on Sunday night. Here is the video:
  • Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Links of the Week

    Here are the best links of the young season. An encouraging trend in the last month is less commentary about trade rumors and sex scandals, and more analysis of the glorious game of basketball as it is played on the court.

  •'s Rob Mahoney on the incomplete skill sets of several young talents.
  • Yahoo's Kelly Dwyer on Doug Collins's taste (or lack thereof) for statistical analysis.
  • Zach Lowe of ESPN's Grantland analyzes James Harden's defensive deficiencies.
  • Sunday, October 28, 2012

    Season Preview and Other Thoughts

    The NBA is back! At JPO, we have been watching the league’s doings with a half-dreamy and half-jaded eye since the Heat hoisted the O’Brien trophy last June. The coming season will be exhilarating, as the Heat try to repeat (which would constitute a ninth NBA championship ring for Pat Riley and a third for Dwyane Wade, quietly pushing the latter up the list of all-time great shooting guards); the Lakers try to unite four Hall of Famers for the second time in a decade; young players like Curry, Wall, Cousins, Irving, and Davis seek to fulfill their potential; and mid-tier teams like Chicago, New York, Indiana, Philadelphia, Memphis, Denver, and the Clippers aim to either leap to greatness or possibly dismantle their roster. For the record, I like Miami to win the title again in a rematch with Oklahoma City.

    I want to address a distressing trend that continued this summer, however. For years several commentators have cried for the contraction of weak NBA teams that are generally terrible year after year, like Charlotte, Minnesota, or Golden State. The nature of basketball –- a 5-on-5 game potentially dominated by one side that fields the two best players -– makes it easy for a couple squads to collect most of the treasure year after year, and very hard to build a winning team, because the number of dominant studs (perhaps 10 or 15) is very small relative to the pool of all pro players (around 500 who are either rostered or hoping to regain a roster spot during a given season). Thus, the NBA sees the widest variance of results of any of the top North American sports leagues: the best two or three teams regularly win 75% or 80% of their games, while the worst teams win 20%. In baseball, say, the best team wins 60% of its games (winning 100 of 162 regular-season contests is a rare and historic achievement). Pro football often sees superlative (14-2) or putrid (2-14) records, but -– because (1) aggregate talent is more evenly matched in an 11-on-11 game, with separate platoons for offense and defense, and (2) non-guaranteed contracts make it easier for management to manipulate the roster each offseason -– the correlation of success from one season to the next is relatively weak. To consider the NFL’s NFC Central division, Green Bay finished 15-1 in the 2011 campaign and now is 4-3 in 2012. The Detroit Lions, which started last season 10-5, subsequently lost 6 of 8 games in calendar year 2012. The Chicago Bears were 8-8 in 2011 and now stand at 5-1; Minnesota was a lousy 3-13 last year but has started this season 5-2. (The low sample size that comprises the NFL regular season –- only 16 games –- contributes to the seemingly sharp swings of performance from one year to the next. Within a given NBA season, many teams might experience something like a 3-13 stretch and a 5-2 stretch.)

    If a few NBA teams could be eliminated and their best players handed to middle-class squads like Utah, Milwaukee, or Atlanta , the league might have greater equity of talent distribution, which would make more games 50-50 affairs. This past summer saw several trades that amounted to the fruits of a putative dispersal draft: Orlando dealt Dwight Howard and Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson, Phoenix contributed Steve Nash, Atlanta shipped out Joe Johnson, and Houston gave away all their veterans. And lo, the Magic, Suns, and Rockets are poised to be terrible this season; few fans aside from locals in those metropolises would mind if the teams disappeared. This experiment might be worthwhile if it helped some fringe playoff teams rise above their past mediocrity. But the recipients of these players were mostly not playoff hopefuls or the near-contenders like Memphis and Indiana mentioned above; rather, it was championship-caliber squads who swelled their ranks with top guys. Boston picked up former Finals starter Courtney Lee in a one-sided trade, Los Angeles added likely Hall of Famers Howard and Nash for only the weak-kneed Andrew Bynum and future draft picks; Brooklyn (née New Jersey) added Joe Johnson to a roster that already included past All-Stars Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace; and, just yesterday, Oklahoma City took perennial 20-point scorer Kevin Martin and two future lottery picks off Houston’s hands. (To be fair, Houston picked up budding star James Harden in the trade, so the deal was fair, but the Rox will struggle for a couple years with a bevy of young players. 22-year-old Harden similarly struggled in the Finals last spring.)

    Let us consider Las Vegas’s odds** on particular teams to win the 2013 NBA championship:
  • Miami – 9:4 (31% chance)
  • L.A. Lakers – 11:4 (27% chance)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder – 17:4 (19% chance)
  • Boston Celtics – 16:1 (6% chance)
  • Chicago Bulls – 16:1 (6% chance)
  • San Antonio Spurs – 16:1 (6% chance)

  • The Clippers have roughly a 4% chance in this scheme, and every other team has yet slimmer odds. If I am a typical parochially-oriented fan and my favorite team’s chance of a championship is consistently less than 5% (and the Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs have hogged those odds tables for the last five years, while the Thunder will likely receive generous odds for the rest of this decade), why should I care? It is clear that without at least two All-NBA-caliber talents on a squad, a team’s goose is headed straight for the roaster. The Detroit Pistons of 2004 are commonly presented as the rare starless team that won a championship and managed to sustain contendership for several seasons, but they featured Ben Wallace (four All-NBA selections), Rasheed Wallace (four All-Star selections), and Chauncey Billups (five All-Star selections and three All-NBA selections).

    If a team cannot snag a Hall of Fame-level player via draft or free agency, it has little hope of winning. Consider, for example, the Toronto Raptors. They won the NBA’s top draft pick in 2006, when the best players available were Andrea Bargnani, Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and Randy Foye. Had they won that pick in 2003 (James, Wade), 2004 (Dwight Howard), 2005 (Paul, Bogut, Williams), 2007 (Durant or even Oden, who likely could have seen a promising career with better medical treatment), 2008 (Rose, Westbrook, Love), or 2009 (Griffin), the Raptors might be building a championship squad now. They have never been able to draft a superstar, instead choosing secondary stars like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh who could not alone lead the team to relevancy and left the cold climes of T.O, barren of basketball lucre, at the first opportunity. The Raptors’ poor draft timing was not the “fault” of the organization, but the result is just as maddening. But that’s basketball, right? It’s a five-on-five game and a couple top guys are necessary and nearly sufficient to win. That has been true since Russell and Cousy clambered across the parquet in Boston .

    A few prescriptions have been thrown out to prevent too much clustering of talent: a “franchise” tag, as the NFL uses, to deny free agency to one star per team (but this seems arbitrary and mean); financial incentives like the “luxury tax” to discourage high aggregate team salary (but the threshold for punishment has been set high enough relative to individual salaries so that three great players can still comfortably sit on one team’s payroll); and removing the cap on individual salaries. It is this final step that I am beginning to favor. Without an individual cap (the “max” rule), LeBron James would command at least $30 million in an open bidding war instead of $16 million. Adding Dwyane Wade next to him would put aggregate salary close to $60 million just for those guys, and even if the luxury tax line were retained at its current level (around $70 million) rather than reduced, no team could field a profitable and effective squad around these two players. Stars like James and Wade (or Durant and Westbrook) might agree to take a small bit less than $30 MM for the organization’s benefit, but the haircut would not be enough to make the union of two of these guys feasible. 

    So those are my thoughts on an owners' agenda for the next collective bargaining round in a few years. The union would likely oppose this, because with the total nominal dollars of league-wide player salary essentially fixed by the CBA (it is a linear function of revenue, which no clever agent can do much to change), increasing salaries for a few superstars would mean a reduction of salary for everyone else.

    At any rate, let's play ball! =========================================================
    **These are not necessarily Vegas’s best guesses of probabilities, but rather the lines that bring in equal money on both sides of the respective bet. Perhaps bettors with parochial allegiances consistently over-rate their team’s chances, inflating the Vegas odds above the “true” value. I mention this largely to explain why the numbers sum to over 100%.

    Monday, June 4, 2012

    In Miami, "Still The Same" Not Just A Bob Seger Song

    Sebastian Pruiti of Grantland has a great illustrated article this morning analyzing the Heat's offensive action on their final play of overtime in last night's Eastern Conference Finals Game 4.  In peering at the tiny images of black-jerseyed men, what I found interesting is that, with Chris Bosh injured and LeBron James disqualified with 6 fouls, the Heat's remaining lineup in overtime was essentially their 2009-10 pre-Decision squad: James Jones, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, and Dwyane Wade, with a newcomer, Shane Battier, ably filling the lanky silhouette of Michael Beasley.  (Another player from the 2009-10 roster, Joel Anthony, started the game at center for Miami last night and played 15 minutes.)  Boston, with the same four stars that they now field, made short work of that Miami squad two springs ago, winning the first three games and finishing the Heat in the fifth.  The stat lines of Boston's top guys have not changed much since 2010's Game 4:  Rondo delivered 23 and 9 then, 15 and 15 yesterday.  Garnett posted 18 and 12 then, matched by 17 and 14 this year.  Pierce and Allen scored 16 and 15 then; they put up 23 and 16 last night.

    What is worth marveling at is that Miami's holdover supporting players from 2009-10 -- Anthony, Chalmers, Jones, and Haslem -- were not even starters then on a mediocre team.  Miami's starters from the 2010 playoff series -- Jermaine O'Neal, Beasley, Quentin Richardson and Carlos Arroyo -- have long since been jettisoned.  Miami's overtime squad last night consisted of Dwyane Wade and a bunch of nobodies.  (Well, and the No-Stats All-Star.)  It would have been embarrassing, really, if the Celtics could not finish them off.  Yet Miami almost won, succumbing at the end when Wade's open three-pointer rimmed out.  Coach Erik Spoelstra, also a mainstay since before James and Bosh came aboard, has succeeded in inspiring these lesser players to play with the ruthless aggression modeled each night by the Heat's two star wings.

    Friday, May 25, 2012

    The 2011-12 All-NBA Teams

    The All-NBA Teams were announced yesterday.  Below is a review of the results and my commentary.

    First Team: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul
    Second Team: Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker
    Third Team: Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade

    Comment: Paul played excellently in lifting the Clippers -- a motley bunch of very young players and old hangers-on -- to the status of a fringe contender.  Bryant played well, but took too many shots and made too few of them, averaging 10 of 23 from the field and posting the second-highest usage rate of his career (behind only his 2005-06 campaign, the season of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown).  Parker, who led San Antonio to the best record in the West, probably deserved a spot on the First Team.  Otherwise, the list is unimpeachable: Steve Nash and James Harden could have made a case for inclusion, but it is difficult to remove any of the six honorees from their spots.  Westbrook was a freak, Wade was great, and Rondo brought the Celtics back from despair after they entered the All-Star break with more losses than wins.  Rondo actually ended up leading the league in assists per game.  Several former mainstays of this accolade -- Joe Johnson, Derrick Rose, Manu Ginobili, and Deron Williams -- were either injured or lethargic or both this season and did not distinguish themselves.

    First Team: Dwight Howard
    Second Team: Andrew Bynum
    Third Team: Tyson Chandler

    Comment: Who can argue with this list?
    Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Marcin Gortat, Al Jefferson, and Kevin Garnett also deserve mention.  Hibbert, alone among these gentlemen, has the towering stature that David Robinson and Patrick Ewing carried throughout the '90s.  If he can harness his build with the jump-shooting and intimidation skills of the former Spur and former Knick, his place on the All-NBA team will eventually be sealed.  Garnett nominally played center after Jermaine O'Neal left the team; the fairly wiry Bass-Garnett frontcourt was their most common and also most effective.  Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins showed tons of promise on offense, but a 45% field-goal percentage mark is not enough to invite double-teams and properly power an offense.

    Tim Duncan played like an All-Star in his 28 minutes per game this season; his per-game statistics (18 points, 9 boards, 2 blocks, and nearly 80% from the free-throw line) would have been transcendent if he played, say, 36 minutes per game like a star center in his prime.  However, I cannot choose a half-time contributor for the All-NBA list.

    First Team: LeBron James, Kevin Durant
    Second Team: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin
    Third Team: Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki

    Comment: JPO would probably put Andre Iguodala and LaMarcus Aldridge on the Third Team ahead of Anthony and Nowitzki.  Anthony shot a low percentage all season and missed several games in February during Jeremy Lin's rise to fame.  Nowitzki played poorly in January (15 points, 6 rebounds) and averaged only 21.6 points for the whole season, hardly matching his usual standards.  This was also the seventh consecutive season in which his per-game board numbers dipped from the previous season.  Love was a monster producer on the offensive end, and he ranked twelfth in the league in Adjusted Plus-Minus, showing that his defensive efforts are not as lackluster as commonly advertised.  Griffin was very good offensively, though his defense needs work: witness how Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter ate him for breakfast in the just-completed Spurs-Clippers series.  

    Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Josh Smith, Chris Bosh, and Paul Millsap also deserve mention.  Ultimately, the two-way ability of Iguodala and Aldridge puts them in my top six in this category; Deng and Smith also balled hard on defense, but the Sixer and the Blazer balled a bit harder.

    Other than all the players I mentioned above, other players receiving votes from the official panel include Monta Ellis, Luis Scola, David Lee, Danny Granger, and Serge Ibaka.  Sorry, but these votes must be a joke.

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012

    LeBron James and the Men of Causeway Street

    With Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami all leading their respective series 3-1, chances are that we will eventually get another pairing of LeBron James against the Boston Celtics later this spring.  (While there is no guarantee that Miami will knock off the Knicks, Boston will best Atlanta, the 76ers will defeat Chicago, Miami will take out the Indiana/Orlando winner, and Boston will eliminate the Sixers -- in fact, the compound probability of all these events happening is probably under 50 percent -- this is the likeliest of the various possible scenarios.)  Below, JPO takes a look back at the last three meetings of James's teams against the men in green.

    2008: The 66-win Celtics had an awfully hard time defeating their Eastern foes this year on their way to an eventual championship, requiring seven games to get past sub-.500 Atlanta and barely eking past James's Cavaliers (featuring the decidedly mediocre Delonte West, Joe Smith, Wally Szcerbiak, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and an aging Ben Wallace).  James, though, shot only 35 percent from the field for the series and could not master the parquet floor at TD Garden: Boston won all four of its home games.  While the first six games were largely defensive struggles (Cleveland averaged 84 points through the first 6), James and Paul Pierce set precedent aside and combined for 86 points in the deciding Game 7.  Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett, who was Defensive Player of the Year that season, contributed 13 and 13.  Thanks to a better free-throw performance (82 percent out of 34 tries, versus 71 percent out of 35 tries for Cleveland) the Celtics won the game by just 5 points.  After the contest, James was oddly unfazed by what was surely a crushing loss, referring to himself as a "fan of the game" and a "winner".  Boston later took down the Pistons (making the last of their six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances) in six games and the L.A. Lakers in six, celebrating the Larry O'Brien Trophy in the middle of June.

    2010: After easily defeating a very young, eighth-seeded Chicago team (featuring the same core players -- Rose, Deng, Noah, Gibson -- who would finish with the East's best record in each of the next two seasons) James's Cavaliers met Boston in the conference semifinals again.  Until that point, Boston had looked sluggish all season; I recall that Kevin Garnett, still recovering from knee surgery after the 2009 playoffs, could barely keep up with Orlando's Rashard Lewis (hardly a noted speedster) in one mid-season televised contest.  The Celtics began the season 23-5, but then won only half of their remaining games, finishing 50-32.  They were hardly a good bet to make noise in the playoffs.  But against Cleveland, the Celtics were able to recreate their fire of '08, nabbing Game 2 in Cleveland and then Games 4, 5, and 6 to finish things.  Cleveland's loss to Orlando in the 2009 conference finals was surprising but still valiant; in this 2010 series, though, complaints about James "quitting" first arose.  I watched the pivotal Game 5 with my former co-blogger (who still lurks on this site and lobs idle chatter my way over email) on my sofa while he visited my town for some professional pontification.  We gaped as Boston piled up a 26-point margin in the second half alone (building on a slim 6-point halftime lead) to embarrass the Cavs on their home court.  James shot only 3 of 14 and looked uninterested at times (sparking speculation that he just wanted to end the season with failure so he could more easily leave Cleveland as a free agent); meanwhile, Ray Allen hit six three-pointers as the Celtics rolled.  In Game 6, James delivered 27 points and 19 rebounds, but his teammates did little; ballyhooed trade acquisition Antawn Jamison produced only 5 and 5.  20-10 games from both Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo paced the Celtics as they defeated Cleveland 94-85 in a game that was never quite that close.  Following Game 6, James poignantly referred to his second loss to the Celtics as a "nightmare" that was impeding his dream:

    2011: By this time, James had migrated down to Miami, bringing Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, and Ilgauskas with him.  (As I noted in a post at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Miami had more continuity in that campaign than has been usually recognized; they returned their head coach and 7 or 8 roster members from the desultory 2009-10 squad.)  In yet another second-round matchup last spring, James finally felled the proud Celtics, quickly dispatching them in five games before moving on to face Chicago in the conference finals.  Injuries to Shaquille O'Neal (heel, calf) and Rajon Rondo (elbow) truncated this series from what could have been another all-timer.  Boston's February trade of center Kendrick Perkins proved to be a bad gamble, at least in retrospect, as neither of Boston's O'Neals could contribute much in the middle, and Jeff Green proved ineffective against Boston's wing threats.  In the Heat's clinching Game 5, James and Wade simply outraced Green, Allen, and Pierce all over the court, pouring in 33 and 34 points, respectively.  Following the game, James knelt briefly on the court, likely overtaken with emotion after finally defeating his inveterate tormentor.  His vindication, though, did not lead to a championship last spring, and he may need to do everything one more time in late May and early June if his team and Boston advance to the conference finals.

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    C-Webb's Refreshing Commentary

    I am a big fan of Shaq the basketball player, Shaq the personality, and Shaq the philosopher. I am less a fan of Shaq as the fourth member of the TNT studio crew.  It's not that Shaq has done a particularly poor job.  My concern is that his dominating personality interferes with the legendary chemistry that Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley shared for so many years.

    However, one welcome collateral effect of Shaq's arrival in the studio has been forcing Chris Webber -- a frequent guest on the TNT studio crew in years past -- to slide down to courtside to provide gametime colour commentary.  C-Webb has thrived in this role.  Although a relative novice, he may be the best colour commentator on the national broadcasts.  He is articulate, charming, humorous, and most importantly, he provides REAL analysis. Many of the other colour commentators (e.g., Hubie Brown) merely recite cliches, read off the stat sheets provided to them by the producers, and/or describe what has just happened on the floor (a redundancy if you have been either watching the game or listening to the play-by-play announcer).    C-Webb actually provides real insight into teams' strategies and as to what players and coaches might be thinking at a given moment.  His unique ability in this role may be partly due to being a recently retired player himself.  Or it may be due to the fact that he actually respects the intelligence of the fans watching the game.

    Either way, it's another reason to prefer the TNT telecasts over ESPN...

    Sunday, April 29, 2012

    HOSS Thoughts On Day 1

    1. LeBron James Has Resurrected His 2007 Self

    Everyone remembers where they were when LeBron James went into Super Human mode against the Pistons in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007.  In that shocking display of offensive brilliance, LeBron poured in 48 points -- including his team's final 25 and 29 of its final 30 -- and singlehandedly carried the Cavs within a win of the NBA finals against a much more talented Detroit Pistons team.   

    The stakes were not quite as high in yesterday's Round 1, Game 1 match-up against the New York Knicks.  But yesterday was the closest I've seen James -- in the playoffs -- replicate his 2007 self.  The game was over by the end of the second quarter due in large part to James.  I'm convinced that in the 2nd quarter LeBron could have played 1-on-5 against the Knicks.  He went for 23 in the first half on a ridiculously efficient 6-for-7 shooting from the field and 10-for-13 from the line.  He also dominated the defensive side of the ball, taking charges, blocking shots and helping embarrass Carmelo Anthony into a very poor performance.

    2. Magic vs. Pacers

    This was the only game yesterday that I did not DVR.  I should have.  Who would have thought that the Dwight Howard-less Magic would steal Game 1 on the road against new darlings of the NBA?  I love this game.

    3. Thunder vs. Mavs

    This will be a GREAT series.  Rarely do we get such a treat in the first round.  Forget the seeding.  The Mavs are the defending champs with about 560,000 games of combined playoff experience among Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.  It's the consummate battle of the old guard against the new kids on the block.  Talent vs. experience.

    And how can one not root for OKC?  The nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka is not only insanely talented, but also seem like a very classy and unselfish bunch of young men.  

    All that said, I agree with my brother-in-blogging Bhel Atlantic that the Thunder were very fortunate to escape Game 1 with a victory.  I expect each game of this series to be just as exciting.

    4. Bulls vs. Sixers

    Ouch.  Sad day for the NBA when one of its most exciting young players is taken out of the playoffs due to injury.  JPO wishes Derrick Rose a speedy recovery.

    Thoughts on Day 1

    Some thoughts on the first day of the NBA playoffs:

    * Joakim Noah was a French-Swedish-Cameroonian-Yankee-Gator terror for Chicago, grabbing every board in sight and jamming home dunks with a ferocity that must have scared Spencer Hawes, his fellow 2007 draftee.  Sadly, Derrick Rose suffered a devastating injury in the final two minutes of the game.  Rose's body has been unsturdy all season, and poor muscle alignment may have contributed to his ligament tear.  With Dwight Howard and Rose out of the Eastern playoffs (and Ray Allen hobbled), the Miami Heat should have a relatively easy team breezing through the first three rounds.

    * For the skipper of a battered team, Orlando's Jameer Nelson appeared oddly confident in the TV interview closing the first half, and this joie de vivre carried through the whole game.  With Hedo Turkoglu back in action, the Magic have their whole squad intact without injured center Dwight Howard.  Forward-sized Glen Davis put up big numbers in the middle for Orlando, and Indiana's smallish guards could not conjure any offense in the closing minutes.

    * Save for the Western finals of '09, this is the biggest series of Carmelo Anthony's career, yet he allowed his longtime friend and rival LeBron James to repeatedly outplay him yesterday afternoon, capped by a long straight-on three-pointer that James drilled in the fourth with Anthony attempting to face-guard the bigger man.  With Iman Shumpert also tearing a knee ligament, sadly, in yesterday's game, Knicks are now down two talented young guards.  Still, Baron Davis and J.R. Smith are gamers and can at least match the combined scoring output of Wade and Chalmers.  The Knicks' front line should be able to dominate Chris Bosh and company; let us see if they can vindicate their fat contracts.

    * The Thunder were fortunate to pull out a victory in the day's final contest.  Jason Kidd, who has looked remarkably slow and ineffective all season (this was his first season without a triple-double), was just as spry as he looked last spring while defending Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and James on the Mavs' path to a championship.  Recall his hustle play late in the fourth quarter last night to beat James Harden to a loose ball, then fling it cross-court to a teammate from a seated position before Thunder defenders could swarm him.  The Thunder's top four players put up 19, 22, 25, and 28 points on the ticker, but the team still needed a lucky bounce with 2 seconds left to put away the Mavericks.  An early loss could have deflated the Thunder; Dallas's moral victory may propel them to more success.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Phoenix is, er, Moving Up In The World

    The Suns, previously scorned as a lottery consignee not worthy of Steve Nash's talents, are now 23-22 after defeating Houston by 13 tonight. The Suns have won 11 of 14 games and are now just 1 win back of Houston, which holds the 8th playoff position in the Western Conference. Lost earlier in the season, Coach Alvin Gentry has whipped his charges into shape by sitting free-agent disappointments from 2010 (Warrick, Childress), running his offense around pick-and-rolls with Marcin Gortat, and letting Jared Dudley bother opponents at both ends. Gentry, like Gregg Popovich in South Texas, wisely sits his older players at opportune moments; Nash and Grant Hill did not touch the floor last week in a road game against the Clippers, the middle frame of a back-to-back-to-back set. Stupendously, the Suns found a way to win the game anyway. And for Phoenix owner Robert Sarver, who values financial performance a bit more than other owners who crave a championship, a fringe playoff contender with Steve Nash on the roster puts more butts in seats than Sebastian Telfair and Markieff Morris would.

    But Phoenix is not the only Western team to defy expectations. Utah, which was, following the February 2011 trade of Deron Williams, billed as a rebuilding team featuring four rookies or second-year players, also sits at 23-22 and will likely battle until late April for that final playoff spot. The Jazz's decision to sign veteran free agents Raja Bell and Josh Howard, and not to trade veterans Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Devin Harris, looked questionable in the frenzied fortnight of roster building last December after the lockout. With so much young talent, Utah need not worry so much about winning games, went the thinking. But the strategy has paid off: Hayward, Favors, Burks, and Kanter are beginning to thrive, and occasional (but not daily) starts have helped them ease into stardom. Better to develop them in a winning culture than a Bobcats-like woebegone culture. And the flip side of amassing FOUR lottery picks is that more top young talent would do more harm than good, messing with floor chemistry and team economics. So Utah has no need to "tank" this season. And with the NCAA men's basketball tournament running this month, let us not forget that Hayward came within a few centimeters of leading his team to the national championship two years ago. That guy is really good!

    Tuesday, February 28, 2012

    Shaq Wants to Retroactively Adjust Some Hardware

    Shaquille O'Neal has become remarkably outspoken, even by his standards, since retiring from active play last June. Unfortunately, his outbursts are too often colored by personal spite rather than sober analysis. For example, last month he labelled Andrew Bynum the league's best big man, forsaking Dwight Howard, whom every other observer considers the strongest 5. Shaq's pique likely stems from Howard's appropriation of the "Superman" nickname, which we discussed at length in this 2009 post. O'Neal has a "Superman" tattoo on his arm and considers himself the original owner of said moniker (I don't know if any actual intellectual property is involved, as was the case in Jeremy Lin's situation that we discussed yesterday).

    Today an interview emerged in which O'Neal suggests that Steve Nash did not deserve the MVP awards he won in 2005 and 2006. O'Neal is likely still miffed that he did not win the 2004-05 prize (indeed, contemporaneous scribes back then hinted that racism might be responsible) after he arrived from the Lakers and turned Miami into a championship contender. But let us turn to the numbers.

    Phoenix: 29 wins
    Miami: 42 wins

    Phoenix: 62 wins
    Miami: 59 wins

    Evidently, Nash's arrival in Phoenix (holding constant the previous core of Marion, Johnson, and Stoudemire) resulted in 33 more victories, while O'Neal's introduction to Miami (joining a holdover group of Wade, E. Jones, and Haslem) led to 17 more Ws. Let us recall that Phoenix was putrid the previous year (to be fair, they traded Stephon Marbury early that season and had no point guard for most of the campaign) while Miami without Shaq (and with Caron Butler + Lamar Odom) was a solid team that reached the '04 playoffs' second round.

    We could probe the change in fortunes of the Lakers (O'Neal's former team) and the Mavericks (Nash's former team) but too many factors there changed from 2003-04 to 2004-05: the Lakers lost Karl Malone, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, and Gary Payton, in addition to the big LSU alum. The Mavericks traded away Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker for Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry, respectively. Examining those teams' transitions would not tell us much about the causal force of O'Neal or Nash.

    In 2006, O'Neal was not an MVP candidate, as his performance slipped while Dwyane Wade became a superstar, and his team's performance dropped to 52 wins despite a revamping of the roster with several accomplished veterans. Meanwhile, Nash steered his team to 54 wins with Amare Stoudemire injured the whole season and Boris Diaw manning the center position. To be fair, several other players including Nowitzki, James, Bryant, Wade, Brand, Duncan, and Billups did just as much that season to push their respective teams to a high level of play. But Shaquille O'Neal had no claim on the award that year.

    It appears that Nash was incredibly valuable on Phoenix (and the regular-season success proved to be no chimera, as the Suns easily made the conference finals twice) while O'Neal's boost to Miami was not as robust. O'Neal did help to deliver a championship to South Florida, but most valuable player of the league? Didn't happen.

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    Linsanity Runnin' Wild at the USPTO

    Jeremy Lin apparently is caught in a trademark battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over the term "Linsanity". Some enterprising lads (or "trademark trolls", depending on one's view of government-granted economic rents) already filed to own the term soon after Lin took a starting role for the Knicks several weeks ago.

    A search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office's online database shows an entertaining set of hucksters who filed the term "Linsanity" in the month of February. (Some of the text below for Proposed Use includes my paraphrasing from the original.)

    1. Owner: John S. Yuan, Lexington, MA. Filing date: 2/20/2012. Proposed use: Eyeglasses, spectacles

    2. Owner: Parace, LLC (a New York company**). Filing date: 2/20/2012. Proposed use: Sports drinks, advertising services, action figures, head bands, wrist bands, watches, visors, sporting towels, back packs, duffel bags, thermal flasks, computer gaming software, social networking internet platforms, virtual goods, and more...

    ** A further internet search reveals that Parace, LLC was organized in 2004 and is based in Westchester County, New York. This company has filed, successfully and unsuccessfully, for several other trademarks over recent years, including Xopod (whatever that is), Achieve the Ultimate, Teeped, and Snoopermarket.

    3. Owner: Parace, LLC again. Filing date: 2/19/2012. Proposed use: Computer game software, computer software platforms, downloadable electronic game programs, computer software to enable uploading for virtual communities, blah, blah, blah...

    4. Owner: Empioneer Corp.** of California. Filing date: 2/19/2012. Proposed use: Cell phone backplates, cell phone cases, cell phone covers, cell phone faceplates.

    **A further internet search shows that Empioneer Corp. was organized in 2006 and does business in Los Angeles as an importer of Chinese-manufactured sunglasses.

    5. Owner: Empioneer Corp. again. Filing date: 2/19/2012. Proposed use: Sunglass cases, safety eyewear, sunglasses, spectacles, etc....

    6. Owner: Roger Montgomery. Filing date: 2/14/2012. Proposed use: Business management of sports people.

    Note that Roger Montgomery is Jeremy Lin's agent (and has been since the beginning of Lin's pro career). According to the USPTO, Montgomery filed an abandonment form soon after initially filing this application, so his claim is apparently null and void now.

    7. Owner: Yoonsoo Stephen Kim of Duluth, GA and Wesley Kwong-Yew Tang of Los Angeles, CA. Filing date: 2/14/2012. Proposed use: Jewelry, namely, bracelets, wristbands and necklaces that also provides nitification to the wearer of a pending medical-related task; rubber or silicon wristbands in the nature of a bracelet.

    8. Owner: Jeremy Lin himself, filed by his attorney from the Arent Fox LLP law firm in Washington, DC. Filing date: 2/13/2012. Proposed use: A bunch of stuff including duffel bags, knapsacks, cups, mugs, aluminum water bottles, plastic water bottles, insulating bottle sleeves, T-shirts, jackets, hooded jackets, coats, headbands, sweatbands, belts, shoes, slippers, sandals, toys, drinks, beverages, and so on and so forth...

    9. Owner: Andrew W. Slayton of Los Altos, CA. Filing date: 2/9/2012. Proposed use: Athletic apparel.

    Slayton was the men's basketball coach at Lin's Palo Alto high school after Lin left Palo to matriculate at Harvard. Apparently Slayton, likely without Lin's permission, has been operating a website at the domain name (a solidly constructed site, actually) since 2010. While he might have the best basis for filing of any claimaint, as he is already commercially exploiting the term "Linsanity", his claim will fail (like all the other filings save Jeremy Lin's) due to the statutory principle that a trademark cannot refer to an actual person without that person's permission.

    10. Owner: Yenchin Matthew Chang of Alhambra, CA. Filing date: 2/7/2012. Proposed use: This list is a doozy, including apparel for dancers, baseball caps, button-front aloha shirts, camouflage shirts, chef's hats, fishing shirts, golf pants, hunting shirts, leather hats, moisture-wicking sports shirts, paper hats, rugby shirts, toboggan hats, triathlon clothing, turtleneck shirts, woolly hats, yoga shirts, and much more.

    As a side note, other recent trademark filings in the USPTO database include "Linning Is The Only Thing", "Linspiration" (also advanced by our friends Wesley Kwong-Yew Tang and Yoonsoo Stephen Kim), "I'm A Linner", "Be A Linner", and "Lin-credible".

    Saturday, February 25, 2012

    Reviewing The Rookie-Sophomore Game

    A few thoughts on last night's Rising Stars Challenge among first-year and second-year NBA players:

    Early on, point guards Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio were throwing up three-pointers like Craig Hodges. Why? Shooting from distance is not their strength.

    And Lin has been the most celebrated player from this group in recent weeks, and the NBA is surely trying to promote him to viewers around the world, yet he barely played ten minutes. Why? Perhaps some of his comrades, who have worked in relative anonymity to put up equal or better regular-season numbers to Lin (DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving, Greg Monroe, Paul George) are tired of his wattage and didn't want to play with him. That is only my rank speculation, of course. Or perhaps Lin is just fatigued by all his sudden on-court and off-court responsibilities.

    I thought former Kentucky teammates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins might connect for some sweet plays, but I saw little of that. Cousins did appear to be trying hard, as I saw sweat covering his face.

    Paul George is just as smooth and agile as fellow 6'9"ers Kevin Durant or George Gervin, though not yet as accomplished. A first-half spin move and dunk by George had me standing at my kitchen table.

    This is a bit personal, but Ricky Rubio, I'm sorry to say, has a forest growing in his armpits. Perhaps that is the Spanish style, but beard trimmers are fairly cheap at your nearest drugstore.

    I wish the "Team Shaq" players had all worn a common-colored jersey, and the same for the "Team Chuck" players. Each player wore his regular NBA team's jersey, and thus trying to follow the action was extremely difficult without constantly consulting a roster sheet. I saw a few errant passes that might have been the result of similar confusion among the players. (Or maybe it was just the same sloppy play that regularly characterizes the rookie-sophomore game.)

    Several of the players, notably Kyrie Irving (8 for 8 from 3-point land), unleashed perfectly launched, high-arcing shots that tickled nothing but the nylon net. To me, this demonstrated that most NBA players can hit baskets from anywhere on the court without defense or pressure. They have spent most of their free time since teenagedom, whether during the season or not, practicing precisely this skill. This game, of course, involved little defense, but real pro games are not like that. The great shooters are not merely the guys who can deliver the proper form with arms extended, feet aloft, and wrist bent, but the man who can run around a screen, catch, gather, and shoot with three hands in his face and an opposing coach screaming epithets from the sidelines. Having said that, Irving and others show great promise to become legitimate stars.

    Friday, February 24, 2012

    Gilbert Arenas's Next (Probably Not Last) Chance

    I want to highlight an excellent interview (Part I, Part II) with ex-Orlando guard Gilbert Arenas, published earlier this week on Arenas actually sounds like a wise, introspective guy herein, although it is hard to square these comments with the stupidity of his gun incident and his misogynistic Twitter posts from last summer. If Arenas has actually matured and semi-cured his knee problems, he could be a deadly contributor to a team with perimeter needs. At his best, five and six seasons ago, Arenas averaged nearly 30 points and exactly 6 assists, leading the Wizards to two memorable playoff series (which I reviewed in this 2009 post) against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, he has not been a top player since April of 2007. Arenas foolishly came back too early in the fall of 2007 from his initial spring '07 surgery, leading to two more surgeries, two full missed seasons, and a ruined career. He then halted his 2009-10 campaign by bringing several guns into his Wizards locker room, leading to the demolition of the Butler-Jamison-Haywood-Arenas roster and Arenas's eventual release by Orlando two months ago.

    Reportedly, the Lakers invited Arenas earlier this month to visit their team for a workout, and Kobe Bryant supported his possible signing. With Rasheed Wallace leaving retirement to join L.A. and Arenas possibly following (he says in the interview that he would like to join a team after the All-Star break), the Lakers could add some money-making talent to their squad, filling in the athletic point guard and "stretch 4" holes that have weakened the team all season. Or the two guys might just be dead weight that fizzles.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    Choosing the 2012 All-Star Rosters

    With just three days to go until the big event, here are my picks for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game:


    Derrick Rose
    Dwyane Wade
    Dwight Howard
    LeBron James
    Chris Bosh

    Tyson Chandler
    Andre Iguodala
    Luol Deng
    Paul Pierce
    Deron Williams
    Greg Monroe
    Josh Smith

    Comments: The worth of the starters should be apparent. Wade is by far the best shooting guard in the East, even after missing several games. The same goes for Rose at his position. Howard, distracted a bit by his eventual disposition via trade, is still leaps better than other centers. James is the league's best player, and this season he plays with his back to the basket. Bosh is not the dominant force he was in Toronto, but his versatile face-up game leads the East among power forwards, and he always finds a way to stick his long neck into the right spot on defense.

    Chandler has continued his awesome defensive play from Dallas, and also leads the league in field-goal percentage. He edges Roy Hibbert as a backup center, though this means Indiana will not have an All-Star representative (Danny Granger, putatively the Pacers' star, averages under 40% from the field [although curiously, he ranks near the top of the league in adjusted +/- ]). Rajon Rondo has played well, but missed too many games (including two games recently lost to suspension after a silly outburst against a referee); the same goes for Andrea Bargnani. Pierce has been the Celtics' best player; witness how they rose after Pierce recovered from an early-season heel injury. Carmelo Anthony, chosen as a starter in fan voting, has played poorly (the Knicks lost two-thirds of their games with him, before he ducked out due to injury and Jeremy Lin took over as starting point guard) and does not deserve to be near this list. Iguodala has led his team to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference with excellent two-way play, while Deng has played similarly and gutted through a damaging wrist injury. Deron Williams is still the East's second-best point guard, though he has looked languorous at times in New Jersey. Monroe has dazzled for a poor Detroit team, though one wishes he could throw his body around more viciously in the paint (he averages only 0.6 blocks and his adjusted +/- is negative 11). Smith has played too many seasons without an All-Star berth, and is delivering terrifying numbers at both ends of the court this year. If only he could fix his free-throw form!

    Key "snubs" from my East team include Rondo, Hibbert, Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee guard Brandon Jennings, and Atlanta's Joe Johnson. But Johnson's stats are sorry, and Jennings has not exceeded Williams.


    Chris Paul
    Kobe Bryant
    Andrew Bynum
    Kevin Love
    Kevin Durant

    Blake Griffin
    Russell Westbrook
    Steve Nash
    Marc Gasol
    Paul Millsap
    LaMarcus Aldridge
    Tony Parker

    Comments: The starters are, again, hard to quarrel with, I think. Bryant shoots too much, but his production through a wrist injury has stretched the Lakers to wins that they (featuring World Peace, Ebanks, Fisher, and Blake as four of their top ten players) didn't deserve. Paul has transformed the Clippers into a serious team, and Bynum is the meanest center west of Florida; he ranks 19th in the league in adjusted +/- among players who have clocked at least 800 minutes. Blake Griffin dunks and moves like a tiger, but he hardly tries on defense; Kevin Love's all-around offensive game deserves a starting spot. And what else can one say about Durant? This sequence from the end of the Lakers-Thunder first half tonight is telling:

    Three point guards off the bench may be a lot (and I had a hard time excluding a fourth backup point, Kyle Lowry), but Westbrook is a terror on both ends for the league's co-title favorite, Nash is in SSOL form, and Parker has maintained the Spurs' perennial excellence while Manu Ginobili has missed 25 of 34 games due to injury, leading a team of nobodies (well, and Tim Duncan) to the West's second-best record. LaMarcus Aldridge's excellence is undeniable this season, and Marc Gasol narrowly edges Marcin Gortat as the backup center. (Should Phoenix really get two players on the team?)

    James Harden, Kevin Martin, Lowry, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, and Gortat were worthy of consideration, but in the end I take Millsap for the final spot, after he has led Utah to respectability in a putative rebuilding year. And his stats are boss. This leaves the Western team with only one small forward, but Durant can go all day, and Kobe Bryant could try to defend LeBron James in a pinch with Westbrook at the shooting guard position.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Kris Humphries In Focus

    I noticed an article today chronicling a warm exchange of greetings between Jeremy Lin and the Nets' Kris Humphries yesterday (February 20th). Lin told Humphries to ignore fans' unyielding boos (due to his failed marriage with Kim Kardashian) and to continue playing his rebound-gobbling game. (Left unsaid in the story is that Lin and Humphries may share a bond as serious Christians.)

    Mrs. Bhel Atlantic is a fan of the many Kardashian television shows, and so I somehow have found the courage to sit through numerous hours of their pablum. One thing I noticed is that, while Kim K. is a vapid, shallow, self-centered diva who romances only athletes and entertainers, Kris Humphries was an arrogant boor of a husband. He refused to express support for his wife's career, he criticized her body shape, he made her possibly-gay friend feel extremely uncomfortable, and he tossed Kim halfway across a room onto a bed. Were they still together, I would say that they deserve each other, but in the event, they deserve the obloquy that has attended their divorce.

    Getting back to Humphries as a power forward in the Association, he ranks 12th this season in total rebound rate among starting frontcourt players. With Brook Lopez injured for the first half of the season, Humphries has provided the Nets' only board presence and helped Deron Williams stay sane. He might not complement would-be Net Dwight Howard well, however, as he might find himself fighting with the center for paint space. Humphries has also improved his per-game blocked shots rate nearly every season in the league (save one), entering 1.22 BPG this year. He never attempts 3-pointers, although that extra dimension to his game could certainly increase his value. A free agent this July, he will likely be pursued heavily by a championship-level team in need of a third big man off the bench. (The Knicks, for example, could profit from his play. I am not saying that I see the Knicks as a certain title contender, but the early results from the Jeremy Lin era look good, notwithstanding their loss last night to Humphries's Nets.)

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Jeremy Lin Is Amazing and Banal

    I blogged before at this site about Jeremy Lin, over three years ago in January 2009. Since then, Lin finished college in June of 2010, joined the Golden State Warriors for the following season, hopped aboard Houston's roster for a few days in December of 2011, and finally found his way to New York. As the undrafted, twice-cut Lin has risen to crazy prominence with his excellent play for the Knicks this month, it is time to revisit this nascent star with some new thoughts.

    Via my personal (not my blog-based) email account earlier this week, I was approached by, separately, a New York-based talent agent and a New York-based journalist from one of the major television networks. Both of these individuals wanted to get in touch with Jeremy Lin: one to represent him in his putative Hollywood career and one to speak with him for a career-making interview. My connection with Lin is merely tenuous -- while I have never met him and I am 8 years older than him, I do know a couple of his friends and my name happens to appear on a certain webpage near his. But I was struck that the frenzy over Lin had suddenly made me important -- not for anything I did, but for my apparent indirect value in getting to Lin. (I was not able to help the entreators, as I have no clue how to contact the young Knick.) If I am getting these requests, then I wonder who else is, and what of the people who actually know Lin? Fame must be hard, and knowing a famous person must be hard, as all sorts of strangers suddenly want a piece of you, to help feed the public's thirst for heroes and demigods.

    I have not seen any other writer note that with Lin, Christianity has returned to the Knicks, evoking thoughts of the regular Bible study circles that Charlie Ward, Allan Houston, and Kurt Thomas held 10 or 12 years ago during the Knicks' last era of quality ball. The much-lampooned "Nerd Handshake" between Lin and Landry Fields (a Stanford graduate) ends with a finger pointed upwards to the glory of God. And Tyson Chandler, New York's steady center, has a crucifix tattooed on his right arm. I am not aware of any other religiously observant players on the current Knicks roster; Amare Stoudemire may or may not be a converted Jew, but aside from donning the occasional yarmulke, I am not aware that he follows the Jewish rituals. At any rate, overt religious faith seems somewhat uncommon in NBA circles (in contradistinction to the NFL, where many players besides just Tim Tebow credit their maker for touchdowns), and Lin is changing things in New York.

    I enjoyed J.A. Adande's article published today on, describing how Lin thrives in New York (but not in Oakland or Houston) because his strengths fit Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive scheme. Adande does not delve enough into the details of the "system", but D'Antoni gives his point guards freedom to dribble the ball all over the court, often moving off ball screens, waiting for something good to happen. To profit from this liberty, a PG needs skilled handle, great vision and passing ability, the ability to finish at the rim when the paint gets crowded, and deadly shooting ability for the moments when defenders hang back to deny any penetration. Steve Nash had plenty of this. Even Ray Felton had a bit last season. Chauncey Billups (at the end of 2010-11) and Toney Douglas (at the start of 2011-12) did not. Lin's herky-jerky driving mechanics are suited well to D'Antoni's plan.

    This article from the New York Times published today suggests that every Taiwanese person has paid careful attention in real time to Knick games during the past 10 days, despite the 13-hour time difference between New York City and Taiwan. Other reports indicate that millions of Chinese mainlanders are following Lin daily like a cat eyeing a laser toy. These stories simply struck me that the American self-conception as the world's "indispensible nation" may still have some currency (and that the traditional Chinese casting as the "Middle Kingdom", 中国, may have less than total salience), despite recent economic strides in other large countries. Can you imagine the same type of hysteria in the States over, say, a skinny American midfielder scoring multiple goals for Chelsea or Liverpool? It wouldn't happen, though we know the world's finest soccer is played in Europe. To the Chinese, at least, athletic success on American terms is where it's at. (China's national athletic authority has cultivated young athletes to succeed at gymnastics and hurdles, rather than traditional tug-of-war or cuju.)

    Can Lin keep up his great play from the past six games? Of course, a few players in the past have tossed aside a shroud and flashed into the spotlight with sudden bursts of greatness. Consider Ronald "Flip" Murray's play in the first month of the 2003-04 season, when he averaged 22 points per game while starting at off-guard for Seattle in relief of the injured Ray Allen. Murray never again reclaimed the same levels of performance in his career after that torrid stretch. Or, going back several more years, recall what rookie Negele Knight did for Phoenix towards the end of the end of the 1990-91 season, averaging 24 points and 11 assists in a five-game stretch while incumbent point guard Kevin Johnson recovered from an injury. And, well, who remembers Negele Knight? On the other hand, Lin could, in the event, grow into a career like that of Tom Brady, a sixth-round draft pick who became a Hall Of Fame-level talent after an injury to Drew Bledsoe cleared room for the youngster. (The undrafted Ben Wallace or the Arena Football League veteran Kurt Warner are also hopeful templates for Lin.) Who knows? Only time, the adjustments of opposing coaches, and the dedication of Lin will decide if he can sustain this play. At the least, he needs to cut down his turnovers.

    Finally, I hope that the media fuss over Lin abates if he continues to play at a high level. Russell Westbrook delivered 22 and 8 in game after game last season, but his reliable play is not deemed "magical" or "Russdiculous", even though he never manned point guard before entering the Association. That is just what Westbrook does. Similarly, we may soon need to adjust our perceptions of Lin if he sustains his big numbers and his penchant for winning. Just as Darko Milicic should not be blamed for being drafted at a position above his ability level, Jeremy Lin should not be patronized as a hard-luck, low-odds, small-school miracle merely because the best college basketball program that recruited him was Harvard. Lin, the Northern California Division II player of the year in 2006, deserved to go to a major hoops university and it didn't happen. He tore up legitimate teams like Boston College or the University of Connecticut during Harvard's non-conference games. He is still of the same caliber as other 2010 draft picks like Evan Turner or Wesley Johnson.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Commitment-phobes Rule the League

    In a normal offseason, contract extensions for 2008 draftees would have been completed by October 31st, 2011 and no later. However, thanks to the now-pummelled lockout, no transactions could be completed last summer, and the contract extension deadline has been moved to January 25th, i.e., tomorrow. Strangely, we have not heard much news of contract extensions lately: compare this to October of 2010, when Kevin Durant and Al Horford and Mike Conley, Jr. and Joakim Noah all extended their deals, or the fall of '09, when Rondo, Roy, Bargnani, Aldridge, and Rudy Gay all re-upped with their teams. Thus far, from among the 2008 draftees, only Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook have signed contract extensions, both committing through the 2016-17 season. What of the un-extended players?

    Let us consider every first-round draft pick from 2008 (different contract rules apply to second-rounders), ignoring Rose and Westbrook. I will ignore players who have not succeeded as regular rotation members: this set includes Joe Alexander, Anthony Randolph, Marreese Speights, Alexis Ajinca, Kosta Koufos, and J.R. Giddens. (Of late, Speights has earned some starting time in Memphis, but that is due to injuries to the Grizzlies' two other power forwards, Darrell Arthur and Zach Randolph. Speights earned no floor time in Philadelphia, a young team with no backup big men.)

  • Michael Beasley: This is an easy one. Beasley has proved personally and athletically mercurial. The Timberwolves have a power forward from the 2008 draft in Kevin Love (discussed below), a small forward from the 2010 draft in Wesley Johnson, and a "tweener" forward from the 2011 draft in Derrick Williams. With this array of talent, the Wolves need not keep Beasley beyond this season (recall that they obtained him in 2010 for merely a second-round draft pick, so they have little psychological investment in him). Perhaps they could try to trade him during this season, or next July in a sign-and-trade when he becomes a restricted free agent.

  • O.J. Mayo: Despite frequent trade rumors during the past 12 months, Mayo contributed to Memphis's surprising playoff run last spring and is sniping the ball with rare accuracy this season. The Grizzlies reportedly will not extend his contract this week, but they still hope he will stay around for a few more years. This is likely a wise move; Mayo will expect money worthy of the third pick in the draft, but with Tony Allen expertly manning the shooting guard position with "grit and grind" for Memphis, paying him that salary would be daft. Mayo will likely command more in the restricted-free-agent market than Grizzlies management wishes to pay him.

  • Kevin Love: Well, of course. If the insane scoring and rebounding are not persuasive, how about the unusually skilled passing and shooting for a big man? The Timberwolves reportedly will offer Kevin Love a four-year extension through 2015-16.'s Zach Lowe assesses this potential deal and finds it fair. If the Wolves' refusal to include a fifth year deters Love from signing, general manager David Kahn should be fired. At any rate,'s Steve Aschburner has a good discussion, published here today, of the negotiating dynamics between Love and the team.

  • Danilo Gallinari: After the trade of Carmelo Anthony, Gallo has emerged as Denver's best player. He scored 37 points in a double-OT win over Anthony and the Knicks last Saturday -- "out-Meloing Melo", as the Denver Post termed it. Denver has a strong young core with Ty Lawson, Nene Hilario, Corey Brewer, and Arron Afflalo already under contract (and Wilson Chandler likely returning soon). Extend Gallinari and continue developing a roster of swift young colts.

  • Eric Gordon: Gordon has been injured with a bad knee for most of this young season, and he missed 20 games in 2009-2010 and 26 games in 2010-11. His fragility can't help his case. Still, in his third season with the Clippers, he averaged 22 points and over 4 assists, dueling with James Harden for the honor of best young shooting guard in the league. He is the Hornets' best player, though he was unhappy about being pushed out of Los Angeles and reportedly felt in December like leaving New Orleans as soon as possible. More recently, with big money about to slip through his fingers and wash over the deadline cliff, Gordon has expressed interest in signing an extension. With the Hornets co-owned by the other 29 owners, however, and the joint owners trying to minimize long-term financial obligations for the next owner, team GM Demps has a difficult time negotiating and executing big transactions like this one, as we saw in the Chris Paul trade talks. If I were Demps and I had any kind of authority, I would ink Gordon to a contract extension. The injuries are worrisome, but it has been a different body part in each season (groin, wrist, knee) and he can really go when healthy.

  • D.J. Augustin: Augustin has played decently this season (check his numbers) but the Bobcats' drafting of NCAA champion Kemba Walker does not evince much confidence in Augustin at the point guard position. The Bobcats hardly know if their team can win more than ten games this season or next. Extending Augustin would be a mistake.

  • Brook Lopez: This one perplexes me. Why hasn't NJ signed Lopez to a speedy re-up? New Jersey wants to trade Lopez for Dwight Howard. But Lopez is of little value to Orlando if not signed beyond 2011-12. If Lopez wanted to leave Orlando, then under the CBA rules, Lopez could accept Orlando's qualifying offer for 2012-13, then sign anywhere as an unrestricted free agent in July of '13. Sure, Lopez would be leaving some money on the table in 2012-13 and risking that injury during the 2012-13 campaign might ruin his long-term value. But under league rules, a determined player can leave his team fairly readily. So again, why would Orlando trade for a player whose contract will soon end? New Jersey should extend Lopez's contract if it is at all serious about building a winning squad. He is the best player on the team save Deron Williams, and Williams looks set to leave later this summer as an unrestricted free agent if the team cannot land Howard. So if the Nets can trade for Howard, an extended Lopez is valuable; and if the Nets cannot trade for Howard, an extended Lopez is still valuable. Do this deal. Lopez's broken foot is worrisome, but this injury should not dog him beyond this season.

  • Jerryd Bayless: No. Amazing to think that Bayless and Westbrook were considered interchangeable options leading up to the '08 draft.

  • Jason Thompson: Thompson has drifted in and out of the Kings' starting lineup during the past four years. Sacramento now fields two power forwards from the 2008 draft, in Thompson and J.J. Hickson (mentioned below). They surely cannot extend both-- but could they extend one and not the other? That sounds disastrous for team chemistry, and probably not justified on basketball grounds, as neither player has consistently excelled. Put it this way: Could Thompson or Hickson be a starter on a championship-level team? Well, Hickson actually did start for a title contender in Cleveland in 2010, so I suppose anything is possible, but neither man has impressed much in Sacramento. I would wait to see how Thompson and Hickson perform with DeMarcus Cousins in new coach Keith Smart's system before making long-term decisions on their contracts.

  • Brandon Rush: Rush, the 13th pick in the 2008 draft, is a middling bench player for Golden State, having been recently traded from Indiana for "energy guy" Louis Amundson, who brings little more than defensive disruption. Rush is performing well this year, shooting the ball at 50% from the field and over 50% from 3-point range, but he looks at Monta Ellis manning his position during player introductions every night. Nor is Rush a handy sixth starter like Jason Terry or James Harden: Rush hardly rebounds or assists, and he failed to impress while starting for Indiana last season. So long as the Warriors remain committed to Ellis, extending Rush would be a mistake.

  • Roy Hibbert: The local paper in Indy reports that the Pacers will not offer Hibbert an extension. Odd decision, as the Georgetown product is killing it this season, most recently helping his team edge out the Lakers by 2 points on Sunday in Staples Center. Hibbert averages 14 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and a number of defensive intimidations every night. The Pacers have a solid young roster with Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, George Hill, Paul George, and Hibbert. (Other starters Danny Granger and David West are still solidly in their prime, but could not be reasonably deemed "young".) I can't understand why the Pacers would not want to lock up Hibbert, unless they are seeking to retain salary-cap room for a significant free-agent signing (Eric Gordon? Heck, Dwight Howard?) later this summer.

  • Robin Lopez: With Marcin Gortat excelling as their starting center, Lopez is not a vital cog to the Suns. And team president Lon Babby told a reporter yesterday that he does not intend to extend Lopez.

  • JaVale McGee: McGee is the Wizards' only young big man with promise (I exclude Andray Blatche from that category). Though his defense positioning is sometimes wanting, he averages 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks in this young season, making him statistically an apparent top-10 center. (For the curious, the others would include Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bogut, Samuel Dalembert, Marcin Gortat, Al Jefferson, and Roy Hibbert, with Tyson Chandler just excluded.) The Wizards fired their coach, Flip Saunders, earlier today after a 2-15 start. With a new helmsman taking over in DC today, perhaps McGee will further develop his offensive game. However, I don't believe McGee should be rewarded at this time for contributing to such a wretched squad. The Wizards can likely retain McGee by matching any offer sheet he signs as a restricted free agent this July.

  • J.J. Hickson: See Thompson discussion above.

  • Ryan Anderson: Another writer has already considered the question of Anderson's extension: Oh hell, yes. With Dwight Howard, Anderson is a terror on the perimeter and a solid rebounder. Extending him could help persuade Howard to stay past this season. Without Dwight Howard, Anderson's role could shrink, as he has not yet developed much of a post-up or face-up game. Anderson is a good man to have on your roster with Dwight Howard in the middle, but I cannot determine his value in the counterfactual world without Howard. (As a Net rookie in 2008-09, his numbers were poor in 20 MPG, but [A] he was a rookie, and [B] it was the Nets.) Strangely, I have not read any reports of a looming contract extension for him. The case is close, but given the uncertainty over Howard's tenure, I would not extend Anderson. Likely, the team can match a RFA offer for him next summer.

  • Courtney Lee: Lee started on Orlando's 2009 Finals team (and nearly won Game 2 against the Lakers with a spectacular inbound oop-to-layup play that tragically failed) before he was deemed expendable the following summer, traded for Vince Carter. Since then, Lee was a reliable starter for the 2009-10 Nets, but got traded again in the fall of 2010 as part of the four-team, five-man Hornets-Pacers-Nets-Rockets trade. In Houston, Lee has struggled to find playing time behind wing players such as Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Chase Budinger, and now Chandler Parsons. If you can't beat out a Chase and a Chandler, you may not be that good. And Lee, who played four years in college, is already 26 and may not have much more improvement in him. Needless to say, an extension would be foolish. Here, though, is perhaps the highlight of Lee's career:

  • Serge Ibaka: On a team with two offensive powerhouses, Ibaka plays his role very well: he cleans up missed shots and defends opposing forwards when the slender Kevin Durant cannot. He also produces about 2 blocks per game. Ibaka likely will develop his offensive game further in coming seasons (he is still only 22) but the Thunder seem to win quite well with him right now. Ibaka's contract should be extended... but actually, he will not be eligible for a contract extension until the 2012 offseason, because he did not actually debut in the NBA until November of 2009. Basketball common sense says that the Thunder should certainly extend both Ibaka and Harden later this year, but a P&L statement (with limited revenue in a relatively small market, the Thunder owners simply may not want to add so much salary and luxury tax to their payroll) may decide the team's move.

  • Nicolas Batum: A January 13th report in The Oregonian mentioned negotiations on Batum's extension, but nothing has been concluded yet (a report yesterday indicated that talks continue). Still just 23, Batum has been a sometime starter during his career; this season, Gerald Wallace has supplanted him as the Blazers' starting small forward, though the limited availability of Marcus Camby and the non-availability of Greg Oden has created starter-level minutes for Batum. (It helps that LaMarcus Aldridge can shift to center and Wallace to PF when needed.) While not a dominant scorer like other small forwards (see Gallinari, above), Batum is deadly from 3-point land and shoots free throws at a very high percentage. His long arms also make him a plus defender. With the Portland future of Camby and Oden highly questionable, Aldridge's future may be as a center-- and thus Batum should be pencilled in as the Blazers' small forward of the present and future. With Ray Felton's contract expiring this June, Portland has salary-cap flexibility. Extend quick Nic!

  • George Hill: Reports indicate that the Pacers are discussing the sketches of an extension with Hill's agent. While Hill, who shoots a stellar percentage for a guard, has outperformed Brandon Rush (whom Hill basically replaced as the first guard off the bench in Indiana), I would not extend Hill at this time; budding star Paul George already plays his position. With George's height, he appears bound for a SF role, which would mean the expulsion of Danny Granger-- perhaps for a true shooting guard. At any rate, the Pacers have been very financially careful in recent years since breaking up the Artest-Tinsley-Jackson-O'Neal team, and George Hill, while a very good player, is not worth the obligation it would cost them. They can probably lock up Hill at a reasonable price as a restricted free agent next July, after carefully considering what to do with their current roster.

  • Darrell Arthur: Arthur was a very good first big man off the bench last season for Memphis. However, he unfortunately tore his Achilles tendon last month and will miss the whole season. Were he healthy and still producing, I might advocate an extension, but his injury makes this decision clear.

  • Donte Greene: Greene has shown little excellence in any skill during his four years in Sacramento; he could not beat out Omri Casspi or Travis Outlaw as the team's small forward, and he consistently shoots over two 3-pointers nightly despite a 30% (or less) success rate. Not a chance.

  • D.J. White: White, formerly a benchwarmer in Oklahoma City, has received stepped-up exposure this season for the woeful Bobcats. White can ball (10 points and 5 rebounds in 25 MPG) but with Tyrus Thomas also on the roster, an extension for White seems ill-advised at this time, especially with only a dozen games to judge him on.

  • So to review, I am recommending extensions for six players in addition to Rose and Westbrook: Love, Gallinari, Gordon, Brook Lopez, Hibbert, & Batum. While eight extensions is more than previous draft classes enjoyed, the '08 draft was unusually deep. Why not?