It’s that time of the month folks, when I chime in with 10 observations from the previous month’s NBA action. Let’s get straight into it.
1. Chris Bosh Needs To Get His Hands Dirty
For the Miami Heat to reach their enormous potential (complete domination) Chris Bosh will have to undergo the same transformation as Paul Gasol – that is, removing the softness from his game. Gasol is still a finesse player in style, but he’s added grunt to his play on both ends of the floor. I acknowledge Bosh’s strong play of late, but in a seven-game playoff series an aggressive team like Boston with a big front line will expose him, as they did to Gasol and Odom in 2008.
Let’s not sugar coat it; Chris Bosh is a powder puff, a 6-11 jump-shooter who shies away from physical contact. But he can adapt. Instead of taking stand-still jumpers from the top of the key, rebounding and establishing a presence down low must become his priority. As was the case with Gasol, until he can make this transformation the scrutiny will be immense and the criticism harsh.
The reality is that Miami would have been better served with David Lee as their power forward; his heart and hustle would have been the perfect complement to LeBron and Wade. The price tag would have been $20-30m less, which would have allowed them to sign another role player (ex. Raymond Felton).
I am not saying that Miami’s success depends on Chris Bosh, in fact, far from it. I think they will go as far as LeBron and Wade will take them. But if Bosh wants to assist the cause and make this team unbeatable, he needs to roll up his sleaves and get his hands dirty.
2. Otis Smith Gets Desperate
I can understand the Arenas trade, I have been advocating for it for months, but in taking back Turkoglu Otis Smith got sloppy. In 2009 they made the right decision to let him walk because at his age he was not worth a $53m contract; that became painfully obvious this year and last. So having seen him warts and all and making that judgement, they now back-flip and decide he is the answer? It smells of desperation to me.
And forget this nonsense that with Hedo they were a Finals-calibre team. When they made the Finals in 2009 an injury ravaged Boston (with no KG) took them to seven games in the second round, and they beat LeBron and a bunch of scrubs in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were there by default.
But the central issue here with the new acquisitions is that they are all below-average defenders. As good as Dwight Howard is, he can’t cover for the whole team. And with Pietrus gone, who’s going to guard the likes of LeBron, Wade, Pierce etc.? This will come back to bite them against elite competition in the playoffs.
Like it or not, for the next four years Orlando’s fate rests in the very expensive hands of Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas. This may cost them Dwight Howard in 2012.
3. Mike D’Antoni Needs To Find Some Faith In His Bench
Like most people I have been impressed with New York’s play, but there is an area of concern. In his Phoenix days Mike D’Antoni was notorious for having a short rotation during the regular season, basically flogging his starters to death. He’s doing the same thing in New York. And when you’re talking about Amar’e Stoudemire and his injury history, you’re dicing with death. If he goes down, the Knicks are screwed.
All New York’s starters are averaging over 30 minutes per game, with Felton at a league high 39.0mpg and Stoudemire at 37.9mpg. And having a 7/8 man rotation during an 82-game regular season is not only short-sighted, but completely ridiculous. It doesn’t benefit the starters (fatigue/injury risk) or the bench (out of sync).
I pity the poor buggers in D’Antoni’s doghouse. It’s probably the worst place to be in the NBA because you’re not getting out.
4. The Blazers Should Shut Down Brandon Roy For The Season
It’s quite sad to see Brandon Roy hobbling up and down the court these days. At his best he’s a stone-cold killer, a player that is truly worth his max contract. But in the current state Roy is a shell of himself, unable to get by his man or to the rim, thus stripping him of his strengths.
The Blazers owner Paul Allen and GM Rich Cho need to make what will be an unpopular decision (with Roy and the fans), but one that will be essential to preserve the future of the team. They need to shut Roy down for the season and do what is necessary to get him right; whether that be extended rest or a surgical procedure.
This year is a wash for the Blazers due to Oden’s injury and Roy’s struggles, so why risk his long term health? Do they want this to become a Penny Hardaway/Grant Hill type situation, where he’s cut down before his prime? He’s in the first year of a max extension, so like it or not the Blazers will go as he goes for the next five years. If he’s injured, they will either miss the playoffs or be first round and out, at best. But with a fully fit Roy the Blazers are a dangerous team in the west.
If they were to go down this path of sitting Roy then some other moves need to be made, as the overall philosophy changes from ‘win now’ to a ‘second phase rebuild’. Dependable vets Miller and Camby should be turned into younger players or draft picks, and they must continue to develop their other young guns Aldridge, Batum and Matthews. That is the goal in Roy’s absence; to turn these guys into top level players, so when Roy returns they’re ready to rumble.
The next five years for this franchise depends solely on the health of Brandon Roy. If I am running things in the Rip City (and signing the checks) I am not taking any chances, I am protecting my investment, the fallout be damned. Brandon Roy would not be playing another NBA game until the 2011/12 season.
5. Serge Ibaka’s Play Makes Jeff Green Expendable
Serge Ibaka can be a difference-maker in this league. When inserted into the starting line-up he has produced and the Thunder have been noticeably better with him in this role. At 6-10, 235 lbs (and only 22 years old) he is your prototypical power forward; he can jump out of the gym, defend, finish strong at the rim and has even developed a nice face-up jump shot. His averages of 9.6ppg, 6.5rpg and 2.2bpg in 25.7mpg, indicates he will become a starting-quality big for Oklahoma.
To take the next step and compete for titles the Thunder will need size upfront, so Durant at small forward and Ibaka at power forward should be the plan. The center position will be crucial for them and must be upgraded. Expect GM Sam Presti to make a run next summer at available centers Kendrick Perkins, Marc Gasol and possibly even Tyson Chandler (despite voiding his trade in 2009).
In the next few years Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden will be up for extension, so money will be tight going forward. Whilst Jeff Green is a fine player, he’s a tweener and best suited to a sixth-man type role. The big front lines of the west will eat the Thunder alive so long as Green is manning the four spot, and being due to get paid this summer, the time is now to see what he can fetch.
The Thunder are obviously a tight bunch and clearly fond of Green, but in order to take the next step some tough decisions will need to be made. It starts with Green.
6. Clueless In Detroit
Oh boy, have things turned ugly in Detroit. They stink and yet they persist in playing the veterans over the young guys. But the problems are many. They’ve invested too much money in one-dimensional players, the roster’s littered with retreads and they don’t have a front line.
Some of the recent moves defy logic; why add the washed-up T-Mac when you already have Gordon and Hamilton squabbling over shots at the two? Why even sign Gordon to a $55m contract when you have just given Hamilton an ill-advised $34m extension?
Joe Dumars, your time’s up; you’re just too many bad decisions removed from the 2004 Championship. The Pistons need to get someone in here who is going to clean up the mess he’s created. It won’t be pretty, but I suggest they take a sledge hammer to this roster and start from scratch. Top to bottom, no one should be safe.
7. Restructure Needed In Golden State
I know I’ve sung this tune before but I think it’s worth repeating. You can’t trot out an undersized team in this league and expect to compete with the big boys, it just doesn’t happen; it creates too many holes and mismatches. In fact, it’s incredibly naïve for the Warriors to continue to follow a formula that history shows doesn’t work (ditto for Phoenix), and not fair on their terrific fan base who deserve success.
The Warriors have two solid cornerstones at the point (Curry) and power forward (Lee) and some nice role players (D.Wright, Amundson, Williams), but the structure of the team is fundamentally flawed. For mine the problem lies with Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, and the money that’s invested in them (Ellis $11m per year, Biedrins $9m per year). Look, I don’t care if Monta Ellis averages 35 points a game, a midget backcourt will get you nowhere in this league. Ellis is a shooting guard in a point guards body, and Biedrins is too soft, a liability on the offensive end and a back-up at best.
I understand they would take a step back in the short term in trading these guys, but the problem needs to be fixed now if they are to succeed in the future. Unless they change the basic structure of the team, they will continue to be the poor man’s Phoenix Suns of yesteryear.
8. TNT Amateurs
I don’t see what all the fuss is about with TNT’s NBA coverage. Apart from a few individuals, it’s just a bunch of amateurs trying to be funny and pretending like they know what’s happening in the league. Kenny Smith, Kevin McHale, Reggie Miller, C-Webb and that clown Craig Sager, are terrible when it comes to speaking coherently and analysing the game. And even the ‘great’ Marv Albert; his childish sniping at Mike Fratello is wearing thin.
The only guys I find palatable are Steve Kerr (excellent) and Charles Barkley (in small doses). Give me ESPN’s coverage with Van Gundy/Jackson/Breen over TNT any day.
9. Semih Erden Can Play
A 7-0 rookie (especially from Europe) typically has big holes in his game. They’re either too soft, unable to guard their own shadow or can’t throw the ball in the ocean. There are no such complaints with Semih Erden. He can defend, finish strong around the basket and he just generally looks like he belongs.
Erden was the 60th pick in the 2008 draft, and it appears he could turn out to be a steal for the Celtics down the road. He adds more depth to an already stacked front line.
10. ‘Respect For The Game’ No More
Well that didn’t last long. A few months in and the players and coaches are whining like babies after every call, and getting away with it. The reality is this; basketball is an extremely hard sport to officiate, but in spite of this the NBA referees do an excellent job and get the vast majority of calls right. The occasional missed/wrong call is part of the game and that needs to be understood and accepted. Players and coaches make mistakes all the time don’t they?
I love NBA basketball but I hate this facet of the game. Why players and coaches feel they have a divine right to challenge every call, I do not understand.
To read more of JT’s stuff, check out his blog at NBAozblog