It’s that time again folks, when I chime in with 10 observations from the previous month’s NBA action. Let’s get straight into it.

1.         Melo Did Good For Melo

He’s a one-trick pony and a very VERY bad liar, but you have to hand it to the guy. Through all this mess (that he created) he achieved the best possible outcome (for  himself); a max extension with the New York Knicks. Notice the theme here? Melo’s all about Melo and always has been. But for the sake of the Knicks, let’s hope he grows up in a hurry because that mentality is going to be a problem in New York, where a first round exit will get you drawn and quartered.

The Billups acquisition was a masterstroke. He’ll be the glue that holds this thing together early and makes them a very good team from the get-go.

But as we all know defense wins championships, so let’s not delude ourselves here; as currently constructed they can’t seriously contend. The elephant in the room is Melo’s and Amar’es defense, if you can call it that (I love the way George Karl called him out on it).

And for those of you clinging to the Miami game and saying “but look, they can defend”, well sure they can, when the mood strikes them (rarely). But defense has to be a collective mindset and something you just do, not something you say you do. Remember, over the course of a seven-game playoff series weaknesses will always be exposed (by good teams).

For the New York Knicks to become championship quality, the following must happen: In the same way that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen became solid defensive players when the ‘Big 3’ came together in Boston, Melo and Amar’e must make a genuine commitment to improve at that end of the floor. I believe this is possible, but only after they get their tails handed to them in the playoffs and then come to that realisation. But with these two, it may take a while for the ‘penny to drop’.

They must be surrounded with rock-solid defensive types. Fields and Turiaf are a good start (I don’t understand the Brewer buyout), but a tough defensive center is key (Joel Przybilla would be a nice pick-up in the offseason if he comes back). And the addition of a third ‘star’ will be required to replace Billups in 2012 to tie this thing together (which I believe will happen).

Succeed on these fronts and the Knicks become a legit contender and perennial powerhouse.

2.         Get Your Facts Right

I was going to lay off the commentating for a while, but when the so-called ‘experts’ continually feed you bogus information that’s simply not possible.

Maybe it’s just me, but does anyone get annoyed when they overstate someone’s height in order to pad their argument? For example, Reggie Miller constantly marvels at Lamar Odom’s versatility (pity he doesn’t bring it in a tough playoff series), and how special he is for a ‘7-footer’. Only thing is, he’s not a 7-footer, he’s 6-10. Since when do you round-up 6-10 to 7-0? So the question is; does Reggie actually think that Odom is 7-0, or is he just exaggerating for the sake of his argument? Either way, you look like a fool Reg (he was also calling Serge Ibaka a 7-footer during the dunk comp; he’s 6-10).

But he’s not the only one to do this as it seems to be a common practise. And guys like Kendrick Perkins (6-10) and Dwight Howard (6-11) are routinely grouped into the ‘7-foot’ category as well.

I know I am somewhat splitting hairs here, but if a guy like me sitting at home on his couch in AUSTRALIA knows this, so should an expert (I use this term loosely) like Reggie Miller.

3.         Respect To The Utah Jazz For Trading Deron Williams

What a magnificent coup for the New Jersey Nets (I’d rather have D-Will over Melo any day), but for mine the real story here is the gravitas shown by the Utah Jazz. Very few teams (if any) would have had the guts to trade away their young superstar this early in the piece.

While most teams are stuck in denial about losing their star player, Utah saw the writing on the wall and acted immediately, and full credit to them. But make no mistake; it was their incompetence that got them here. In the last few years they’ve botched the draft (their last four first rounders were Hayward (role player at best), Maynor (traded), Koufos (traded/stiff) and Almond (Siberia)), they’ve made poor free agent decisions (Okur’s $10 million per year extension, going cheap with Bell over Matthews) and just failed to surround Williams with the right mix of talent to get them over the hump. As a consequence they were mediocre, and that was going to cost them Deron Williams.

But they were proactive and dealt him away before the sharks could start circling and that was a heady move, and other teams should take note. They cut a good deal and got some nice pieces for the future (although they have to sort out their power forward logjam).

If other teams were as switched on as the Utah in this regard, you wouldn’t have the absolute train wrecks that are Cleveland, Toronto and soon to be New Orleans.

In regard to William’s long-term future with the Nets, they’ll need to acquire another star by 2012 (probably via trade), that’s a given, but there’s one thing that would concern me. He seems like an intelligent guy and wants to win in the worst possible way (a recent quote: “Winning trumps everything. It could be North Dakota for all I care”). So will he look at the power shift to the east and decide that the west is his best chance at success (he’d look great next to Griffin and Gordon in LA)? Time will tell but one thing’s for sure, the Nets are on the clock.

4.         Delusion In The Big D

If you believe the nonsense coming out of Dallas, you would think that the answer to their championship hopes is the return of ‘Rockin’ Roddy Beaubois. Don’t believe it. No offense to Roddy, he’s a great talent, but he’s a second year player and still wet behind the ears. Not mention, he’s a 6-0 shooting guard. If they think that his return (and the addition of Peja) will push them over the top, they’re clutching at straws.

There’s this ongoing debate in the media on whether or not Dallas is a legit contender (most end up sitting on the fence). To me the answer is real simple. Any team relying on Jason Terry as their second option (which they are) is not going to win an NBA Championship. Period.

A failure to act at the deadline has sealed their fate. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a very good team, but they’re not coming out of the west.

5.         Why Continue With The ‘Tim Duncan’s A Power Forward’ Charade?

If Tim Duncan’s a power forward then I am a care-free bachelor (I am not; I’ve got a ball and chain (wife), a carpet crawler (baby) and a hefty mortgage). He plays like a center, he defends the opposing center and the opposing center defends him. So what’s the deal here; why does everyone play along with this charade?

Where did it all start? I suspect it came about due to All-Star recognition. With Shaq (LA) and then Yao Ming (HOU) owning the center position in terms of All-Star ballots out west, the Spurs peddled Timmeay as a power forward in order to get him into the starting squad (despite him transitioning to play as a center after David Robinson’s retirement). So they were trying to get their man the recognition he deserved, which is admirable. But c’mon now, we’re in 2011. And we’re not stupid, we do actually watch the games.

I know that no one likes to question the Spurs decision making, as if everything they do is perfect (Luis Scola may disagree), but in this instance let’s call a spade a spade. To label Tim Duncan as a power forward is ridiculous and an insult to our intelligence. All you need to do is watch a Spurs game to see that.

6.         The Hinrich Addition Helps But The Hawks Are Still Flawed

The warning signs are just too obvious to ignore: Two disgraceful home losses this season to average teams, against New Orleans in January by 41 points and Philadelphia in February by 34 points. Last years pathetic showing in the playoffs, getting swept by Orlando in the second round by an average of 25 points. And just a tendency to play with this laid-back arrogance that consistently results in losses to inferior teams (talent-wise). As solid as Kirk Hinrich is, the key issues haven’t been solved.

After the New Orleans embarrassment, Josh Smith offered up this piece of tripe, “You can’t explain it, you have games like this sometimes”. I’ve got news for you ‘J-Smoove’, this doesn’t happen to good teams (let alone elite teams). It happens to a team that is fundamentally flawed.

The delusion also comes from the top. In late January the Hawks GM Rick Sund gave us this nugget about Joe Johnson, ‘Joe’s the guy….I think last year (2010) he crossed the line to all-pro’. Really? I mean, really? Did he actually watch the playoffs last year? His ‘all-pro’ averaged a paltry 11.8ppg in their second round shellacking by Orlando. For most that would have been enough evidence to suggest that with Joe Johnson as your franchise player, you’re not going anywhere. But for those clowns in charge of the Hawks, it meant rewarding him with the richest contract in the NBA.

Excluding Al Horford (he’s by far Atlanta’s most important player), there are serious issues on this roster. They don’t have a true center (in terms of size), their ‘franchise player’ is a fraud and Josh Smith’s a headcase. For mine the front court needs to be reworked, moving Horford back to his natural position of power forward (where he’d be even better than he is now) and acquiring a legit center to pair with him. This could have been achieved by trading Smith at the deadline (Nene, Perkins, Varejao?).

Structure and discipline is what this group needed, so a hard-arse coach like Avery Johnson should have been the hire. But in true Hawks fashion they went cheap on Drew, despite spending like drunken sailors on players (mostly mediocre) the last few years.

As currently constructed the Hawks will not beat an elite team in the playoffs (i.e. Boston, Miami, Chicago).

7.         The Celtic’s Decision

As some of you know I am a Celtics fan (and I love Perk) so you would probably assume that I would be shattered over this trade. Well I am not. Back in September I wrote an article proposing several win-win trades, and one of them was Perkins/Baby to Atlanta for Josh Smith. It was based on my belief that due to a variety of reasons, with or without Perkins the Celtics were not getting past LA again in a playoff series. And I stand by that prediction.

Perkin’s injury history does play a role here as well in terms of the risk involved in giving him a long term deal, but essentially my premise was this; Boston need to start the transition towards a youthful core. That is, they need to find some young talent that will be compatible with Rajon Rondo going forward. And although he has his limitations (I see him as a small forward; he’s been playing out of position in Oklahoma), Jeff Green is a versatile young forward that fits with this idea. And Danny Ainge is clearly thinking along the same lines in terms of the future (although he believes they can still win it with this group).

With the emergence of Miami, Chicago and New York as current and future powers, the bottom could fall out of this thing real quick (perhaps as early as next season as the injury risk increases) unless they add some quality youth to this roster.

Did the Celtics improve their title hopes with this deal? No, but I thought they were going to come up just short anyway. Are they in a better position for the future? With Jeff Green and the 2012 first round pick (from the Clippers) they also acquired in the deal, most definitely. So I am ok with it.

And I am very ok with Perk getting his extension in Oklahoma; he deserved it. And as the best low post defender in the NBA, he’s probably still underpaid (when you consider what bums like Brendan Haywood, Andris Biedrins and Emeka Okafor are earning).

8.         Who Are You ‘Sacrificing’ For Now Rashard Lewis?

He was never worth his monster contract, everyone knows that, but in the 2009 playoffs Rashard Lewis kicked arse. He was a cold blooded assassin and had most teams pining for their own ‘stretch’ four. But then something strange happened; his game fell apart. He became strictly a spot-up shooter from behind the arc, he was absent defensively and allergic to the paint. Essentially, the Magic had themselves a $21m per year role player.

I don’t begrudge Lewis for the contract; Orlando deserves the ridicule for misjudging his talent and grossly overpaying. But in taking the money a certain amount of responsibility came with it. That is, to fill the team’s needs. They desperately needed someone to create their own offense in the clutch. Lewis had the tools; in a previous life he could post-up and take his man off the dribble, but these days he seemingly refused to do anything other than stand at the three point line.

To justify his performance he regularly trotted out the ‘on this team I have to sacrifice’ line, but that was a cop-out. If you’re getting paid that kind of money and absorbing more than one third of your teams salary cap, you can at least try to give them what they need.

So now that he is free from the ‘burden’ of having to sacrifice in order for his team to win, he must be killin it in Washington right? Well no, and there’s no way around this, for a guy with his talent and reputation his numbers are bloody ordinary (12.0 ppg and 6.2 rpg).

Ok, so who are you sacrificing for now Rashard? That deadbeat Andray Blatche, and the poor mans poor mans Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee?

His decline over the last two years was alarming, and it does correspond with his suspension due to a banned substance in 2009. I am just saying.

9.         It’s Official; No One’s Untradable In The NBA

Entering the season, Gilbert Arenas, Baron Davis, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Elton Brand were considered to be the five most untradable players in the NBA. Well guess what? Four out of those five guys were traded, and if the Sixers really wanted to move Brand, they could have.

The same thing has happened in recent years. Guys like Corey Maggette, Mike Dunleavy, DeSagana Diop, Shaq (when he started to stink it up with Miami and still had 2-years and $40 million remaining on his contract), Ben Wallace, Larry Hughes, Stephen Jackson, to name just a few, have all found new homes (in some cases, multiple times). By right, they should have all been untradable due to their contract grossly outweighing their talent, production or ability to play team basketball.

So to those NBA owners with loose purse strings, fear not. If you play your cards right, some cretin will eventually take that ridiculous contract off your hands.

10.       Quick Hits

* Can we please stop referring to Carlos Boozer as a ‘low post’ player. He’s predominately a mid-range jump shooter, and when matched up against length or beef, is a non-factor on the block. 

* At 5.8 rpg (Brook) and 3.6 rpg (Robin), what is it that the 7-foot Lopez twins missed when learning how to rebound a basketball? You can’t teach ‘heart’ I suppose.

* Bringing Brandon Roy back this season is an absurd risk to take. As I have previously detailed, by refusing to take the long term view on Roy, not only are they jeopardising his future, but their own as well. I’ll say it again – Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill – that’s what this could become if they don’t take the necessary precautions. And being in the first year of a five-year $82 million contract, that should scare the living daylights out of them.

* Having Blake Griffin play in both the All-Star and the Rookie/Sophomore game was ridiculous. The rule is stupid, get rid of it.

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


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