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.         KG – Mr Cheap Shot

I am a Celtics guy so I don’t dislike Kevin Garnett. In fact, I love what he brings to the floor. But I can’t hold this back any longer; nobody does a cheap shot like KG.

It usually goes something like this. When he’s over excited from a dunk or an and-one play he’ll dish out a cheap shot, typically an elbow to the grill or mid-section (then again, he could just chop you in the balls after a jump shot; ask Channing Frye). When the guy comes at him to remonstrate, he’ll throw his arms up and back away as if he’s the innocent party. I suspect he does this because he doesn’t have the stomach for a real confrontation.

It does surprise me that very few players take him to task on it (although Bogut has on several occasions). Just once, can someone please call his bluff and snot him one because he thoroughly deserves it. And you know what; I reckon he’d go down like a sack of spuds.

Sure, you’d get suspended and fined a princely sum, but boy, wouldn’t it be worth it to see KG hit the pine. And I am sure there would be no shortage of players around the league offering to help pay the fine.

2.         A Three For The Win!

The Oklahoma City Thunder versus the New York Knicks (last week). The score is tied with 6.5 seconds remaining and Oklahoma has the ball. Kevin Durant gets it on the wing isolated against Galinari and takes a contested fade-away three and hits it at the buzzer. Great shot? Not in my book.

This happens all the time in the NBA. The game is on the line in the final seconds, the score is tied or down by one, and out of a time-out the team launches a contested three pointer. Huh? That’s the best shot you can get? I just don’t understand that. You take a time-out to presumably draw up a play, and a tough 25 footer is what you come up with? For guys who supposedly live and breathe the game of basketball, it’s surprising to me that that’s the number one option in their playbook.

It’s really quite simple. The closer you are to the basket, the easier the shot. I didn’t know this concept was so hard to understand.

3.         The Media Overreacts

Some examples: LeBron takes his ‘talents to South Beach’ and all of a sudden he’s an overrated bum. The Lakers lose some games in December and January and the wheels have fallen off. Chris Paul is now happy in the Big Easy because the Hornets are winning some. The Heat struggle early so Erik Spoelstra must go.

Ok, here’s the reality check. LeBron; in regards to not winning a championship in Cleveland, for the last few years the next best player on his team was Mo Williams, and before that it was Larry Hughes. You can’t win an NBA championship with trash like that as your second option. And portraying him as Bernie Madoff’s evil twin; he’s a young guy that’s been hero-worshipped his whole life, so he’s bound to say and do some stupid things. But he’s a decent guy (just misguided) and he’s never committed a crime, so enough already.

The Lakers; barring injury to one of their key players, the chances they get knocked off in a seven-game series out west are slim to none (the Spurs don’t have enough size to counter Gasol and Bynum). Chris Paul; with no championship potential and a disastrous ownership situation (and a high probability of  relocation), he’s as good as gone no matter what happens this season and next. Erik Spoelstra; despite their lack of talent last year, the Miami Heat won 47 games and ranked second in fewest points allowed per game (94ppg). The guy can coach.

Whether it’s the  need to create news or just naivety, the mainstream media seem to overreact to the ebbs and flows of a long NBA season. The NBA is very predictable and a lot of what happens during the regular season is incidental to what actually occurs in the playoffs (see Boston and Cleveland last year). For mine, in terms of who will be there at the end, nothing has changed and nothing will change unless a major injury occurs.

The decisions made by guys like LeBron and Paul about their futures are not based on what happens in the regular season. Playoff performance and championship potential is what now dictates these decisions.

It’s for this reason that I have speculated in the past that Deron Williams is a real threat to leave Utah in 2012, because they’re not winning anything of consequence in the next two years. But the general vibe you will get from the media is that he won’t leave Utah. Take that with a grain of salt; remember, the overwhelming consensus on LeBron was that he would stay in Cleveland. This may explain where some of the venom comes from, the fact that most of these guys were dead wrong in their predictions and looked foolish in the process (hello Charles Barkley/Reggie Miller (TNT), Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo! Sports), Ian Thomsen (Sports Illustrated), Jason Whitlock (Fox Sports) etc.).

4.         Denver Need To Lock-Up Arron Afflalo

Another Detroit blunder, letting this guy go and getting nothing in return, without even giving him a chance. Through persistence and hard work Arron Afflalo has turned himself into a quality starter at the two-guard position. Defense is his strength but his offensive game has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, especially his three ball. He’s a high character guy that every team would love to have (except Detroit that is).

The Nuggets should have no hesitation in offering him an extension; something in the $5-6 million per year range would seem to be fair market value.

5.         You Made This Bed Melo So Now Lie In It

Regardless of where he lands (he will be traded before the deadline) Melo’s strategy has been obvious from the outset. To go to a team with a better future than Denver and sign the max extension (preferably in New York), whilst protecting his image, careful to avoid a LeBron-like shellacking in the process. But when you’re getting booed on a nightly basis in your home arena, I would say you’ve failed on this front.

Let’s be honest, he’s been lying through his teeth since the whole saga began. ‘I don’t want to talk to nobody’ he said when word of the Nets meeting with him leaked. Then a few days later, ‘In the last couple of days, yes, that meeting has been set up’. And there was the constant ‘I would love to stay in Denver’ crap. The only time he was actually truthful was in late October when he let his guard down with Yahoo! Sports and confessed ‘it’s time for change’. But since then he’s been trying to protect his image by playing the innocent man, ‘it’s got nothing to do with me, I just go out and play’.

Some recent articles suggest that Melo has been used as the pawn in this process, casting him as the sympathetic figure. The fact is in 2006 Melo signed up for a four-year contract, rather than negotiating a three-year out clause like the one that Bosh, Wade and LeBron used to join forces. If he had any sense he would have done the same thing, and he would now be a New York Knick with Amar’e Stoudemire.

And if he really wanted to win titles, or at the least compete with Miami on the grandest stage, shouldn’t he be exploring options in the west? Miami will own the east for the next five years, with Chicago not far behind, so why try and compete with them every year? It’s unlikely to bear fruit.

Once the Lakers drop off in the next few years, it appears Oklahoma City will have a clear path in the west. Whilst the Thunder aren’t a viable option for Melo (they have a pretty decent small forward), if he waited until the summer he could join the Clippers (they should be able to trade Kaman for an expiring contract or trade exception, thus creating enough cap space to sign him outright) and form a formidable trio with Griffin and Gordon. And with Kobe fading into the sunset, together with Griffin they’d be the new kings of LA (I am sure his wife would be agreeable to that). I’d take my chances battling the Thunder to get to the Finals, as opposed to Miami and Chicago in the coming years.

One thing’s for sure; Melo started all this mess so he must finish it with the desired result (i.e. out of Denver and on to a team with another star player, which should rule out teams like the Nets and Rockets). It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

6. The Harrington Fiasco Demonstrates How Inept Some GMs/Owners Are

Do you see the irony here? Denver signs Al Harrington to a 5-year $34 million contract in the offseason, but before the inks even dry they’re desperately trying to force him into the Melo trade package because they want to unload his contract.

I blasted this signing in the offseason because it made no sense whatsoever. Denver were in desperate need of a back-up big, yet they opted to overpay Harrington; a ball-hog who gripes when he doesn’t get enough shots and who can’t play a lick of defense. And to add him to a team that is already chock-full of knuckleheads just further highlighted the incompetence.

Heads should roll over decisions like these because anyone who knows anything about the NBA saw this coming. For the Nuggets to give Harrington a contract of this proportion showed a complete lack of foresight (with Melo’s impending departure) and a poor understanding of the team’s needs. Talk about playing with monopoly money, or in this case, daddy’s money.

7.         The Chicago Bulls Are One Quality Player Away From Contending

You can’t have genuine title aspirations when Keith Bogans is your starting two-guard. These guys are good, don’t get me wrong, but they won’t beat Miami, Boston or LA in the playoffs until they get a quality two man. And they have the pieces to do it.

Their bargaining chip is the future first round pick they got from the Charlotte Bobcats for trading away Tyrus Thomas last season. The Bulls don’t need another rookie; they need a pro that is ready to contribute and can shoot the ball. Despite the recent controversies, O.J. Mayo has to be their dream acquisition. Surely this pick and Taj Gibson (plus filler) would get the Grizzlies to the table. If he can’t be pried loose, I would consider making a pitch for Rudy Fernandez, Courtney Lee or Martell Webster, albeit at a much lower price than you would offer for Mayo (for say just the draft pick).

I understand the implications of dealing away Gibson, in terms of their depth up front (especially because Boozer and Noah are injury prone), but a back-up big is easier to find than a starting-calibre two-guard (like Mayo).

A starting line-up that features Rose, Mayo, Deng, Boozer and Noah, would be a genuine contender.

8.         Get Off Ron Ron’s Back

For those of you taking pot shots at Ron Artest and blaming him for the Lakers ‘struggles’, you’ve completely missed the point in terms of his value on this team. Granted he’s been lousy, but he was also lousy during last year’s regular season.

Artest was signed by the Lakers for a singular purpose – to defend the elite wings in the playoffs, thus removing this burden from Kobe Bryant. And to-date, he has greatly succeeded in this role. Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t he shut down Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce in last year’s playoffs?

Come the post-season when things get physical, the game slows down and the refs swallow their whistle, that’s when you will see the true value of Ron Artest. When he can bang, claw, scratch, bite (anything’s possible with Ron Ron) and get into his opponents head. But forget about his offense, that’s clearly not his game anymore.

For anyone not named LeBron (his combination of speed and strength is too much for Ron to handle), Artest will make your life hell in the playoffs.

9.         The Local Colour Commentators Are Ruddy Awful

In December’s edition I touched on the TNT and ESPN coverage, but this month I’ll take aim at the local colour commentators for each team. There are some exceptions, but in the main they’re bad, with some excruciatingly bad.

I will single out Milwaukee, Memphis, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans and Miami (by the way, how annoying is their courtside announcer?). The words that come to mind are ‘redneck’, ‘shamefully biased’ and ‘sketchy on the detail’ (in terms of their league-wide knowledge). I understand that bias will play a role with the local crews, but when it clouds their judgement of the game it’s crossed the line. Someone needs to tell these guys that they are now being heard by a national and international audience.

I appreciate the extra coverage OneHD, but geez, if I have to listen to those Milwaukee blokes drone on much longer my TV is in danger of physical harm. They’re seriously testing my ability to watch a game from start to finish.

10.       ‘Let’s Get Out And Run’

The catchcry in the NBA these days is ‘we’ve got to get out in transition and run’ in order to be successful. It’s BS and I am sick of hearing it. Playoff basketball is when the real winning happens and ‘speed’ ball will get you nowhere but an early summer vacation. If you can’t reliably execute in the half court and defend at a high level, you may as well pack it in.

Sure, as a means of capitalising on some missed shots and turnovers the philosophy has merit, but if that’s what you’re going to hang your hat on then it’s like heading out to sea in a leaky boat. You won’t get far.

To read more of JT’s stuff, check out his blog at NBAozblog

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