The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: December 8, 2008 1:35 PM PDT
Another two coaches were canned this week, with Toronto's Sam Mitchell and Minnesota's Randy Wittman getting the axe. With Oklahoma City's P.J. Carlesimo and Washington's Eddie Jordan, that makes four firings this season... and according to a number of reports, more will soon follow. Based on what I'm reading, Memphis' Marc Iavaroni might be gone by the time we're done with this column... and Reggie Theus also seems to be on exceptionally thin ice.
C'mon, NBA general managers. This is not helping the unemployment situation.
My take on the departures...
Carlesimo was sort of an strange choice for that team anyway. Various reports have suggested that Sam Presti - an old Spurs guy - was talked into that hire by Gregg Popovic and company, and I suspect there's some truth to the story. Carlesimo is a real old-school defense-first task master... he always seemed an odd fit for a team that was obviously in rebuilding mode.
Eddie Jordan, I think, got jobbed. Sure, the Wizards have been horrible this season - but Jordan's not the one who built the team around Gilbert Arenas' shaky knee.
Sam Mitchell has been on borrowed time for years now. I think Bryan Colangelo wanted to bring in his own guy all along - but the Raptors' surprise run to the top of the Atlantic Division - and Mitchell's resultant coach of the year trophy - tied his hands for a while.
And Randy Wittman never had a chance. I'm sort of glad Kevin McHale is going to be the interim coach... that strikes me as a sort of "you made this mess -- you deal with it" gesture from T-Wolves' ownership.
Now, as I've written on a number of occasions - in this column and elsewhere - I firmly believe that coaching is one of the most significant factors to consider when analyzing players for the purposes of fantasy hoops. The example that's so obvious I shouldn't even use it is Mike D'Antoni... look what D'Antoni's system has done for Chris Duhon and David Lee... look what playing without it has done to Steve Nash and company. But predicting that marginal players will suddenly look a whole lot better playing in a D'Antoni system is easy; D'Antoni's track record is well-established. How does the smart fantasy player react to these other changes, with relative unknowns taking over?
My big takeaway - teams don't fire the coach because they're pleased with the way things are going. (Aren't you glad you pay me for this sort of analysis?) By that I mean - when a new coach comes in, look for other changes to follow. That can mean opportunity for fantasy owners. We've already seen a move to make the Thunder younger, quicker and more athletic under Scott Brooks - Nick Collison and Earl Watson have been pushed to the side, Chris Wilcox and rookie Russell Westbrook are getting more run. We're seeing more production out of the youngsters in Washington, too - Ed Tapscott seems to be getting a lot more out of the talented but inconsistent Andray Blatche than Jordan did. But those are teams that are essentially out of contention already, so a "play the young guys and look to the future" decision was the obvious move.
But Minnesota is already neck-deep in a rebuilding effort - for the most part, their young guys are already playing. So value changes on the T-Wolves are tougher to predict. I suspect we'll see another shakeup with that team shortly... there have been a number of trade rumors involving guys like Mike Miller or Rashad McCants of late.
Toronto is even harder to peg. The Raptors thought they'd be contenders this year... but right now they're in 11th place in the Eastern Conference (but just a half-game behind Chicago for eighth.) I don't anticipate major changes - I think they're more hoping that new coach Jay Triano will shake them up a little. They may attempt to implement a more open, D'Antoni-style system now, but that won't happen over night.
What's your take on all the changes? Do you see any players emerging as major fantasy values as a result of the latest shakeups? What about Sacramento or Memphis - Theus or Iavaroni get canned, who benefits?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 8, 2008 4:38 PM PDT
A few things jump out at me. First, while coaching affects player value to an extent, it's only the extreme outliers, e.g., D'Antono or ex-coach Jeff Van Gundy, that make a huge difference. Think of D'Antoni as Coors Field and Van Gundy as Petco Park. Maybe Don Nelson and George Karl are Arlington and Citizens Bank Ballpark, but most coaches are close enough to the middle that it will only make a small difference for two or three players on the team at most. Not that it isn't worth accounting for - it is. But I just wanted to put the concept into perspective.
Second, RotoWire's Peter Schoenke, a Minnesota native and our T-Wolves' beat writer, told me the reason McHale hasn't been canned yet is in part because he fell on the sword for the Joe Smith debacle which was really owner Glen Taylor's idea. So maybe he'll have to clean up the mess, and maybe not. Schoenke also told me Kevin Love's gotten good grades early on from sabermetric types, so the Love-O.J. Mayo deal might not be as bad as it looks. But it's hard to find a silver lining in the Randy Foye/Brandon Roy trade - if the Wolves had Roy and Al Jefferson, that would be a nice nucleus. As it stands, they have the defensively challenged Jefferson and a bunch of spare parts. I'm not sure what else McHale can do with the current roster. Foye's not a point guard, and so they'll either have to give Sebastian Telfair significant minutes, or make a move (Kevin Ollie is not a viable solution). There was a rumor the Grizzlies were looking to move Mike Conley to Portland for Travis Outlaw, so maybe Conley's available.
I'm not the least bit surprised Carlesimo didn't work out. I remember him as an announcer, and he was borderline intolerable. Everything was negative, negative, negative, and it occurred to me that perhaps Latrell Sprewell showed restraint in not finishing the job. Seriously, though - a negative coach is probably not a good fit with a bunch of young players trying to gain confidence in the NBA. (Incidentally, Carlesimo is only the second-most gratingly negative coach I've heard speak - Larry Brown, with his perpetual whiny and weary disappointment takes the cake).
Toronto has an interesting roster - Bosh, O'Neal and Calderon is a nice core, and point-guard, power forward and center spots are always the most difficult to fill. To make another baseball analogy, it's like a team that has quality bats up the middle (catcher, second-base, shortstop and center field) and just needs to fill in at the corners. But if Bargnani can build on his decent start, and O'Neal can stay reasonably healthy, I think this team will make the playoffs at least - though I'm not sure what its ceiling is. As for who benefits with Mitchell's departure, maybe Jamario Moon - an athletic forward who can shoot the three and block shots. He was a big surprise during his rookie year but had fallen out of favor early on. If you're going to speculate, it might as well be on a player with box-score-filling skills.
As for Theus and Iavaroni, I don't know what else could have been expected of them to this point. In Iavaroni's case, management gave away his best player last year, and the team is very thin in the front court. And Theus has missed Kevin Martin for most of the season so far, and that's after losing Mike Bibby in the middle of last season and Ron Artest over the summer. Teams without LeBron James/Kobe Bryant/Tim Duncan-level talents take time to develop and usually fail in any event.
What about some of the teams that aren't in need of a shakeup? Are you buying the Cavs' fast start? Are they in the same tier as the Celtics and Lakers? And how do you handicap the brutal Southwest? And have Portland and Denver joined the list of serious contenders in the Western Conference? If so, are the Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets and Blazers locks for playoff spots? That would leave the Suns and Mavs, two perennial Western powers, fighting for the eight seed. Have you ever seen an NBA conference where seeds 10 - 15 had less of a chance to move into the top-9, just a month into the season?
Subject: Give and Go
Date: December 8, 2008 7:38 PM PDT
I might be overstating the impact of coaching... but I think you're understating. There are lots of factors - from pace to emphasis on the three point shot to substitution patterns to which player initiates the offense - even things like "what sort of player does he typically like to use at this position" - that I'd lump under "coaching," and all of them impact fantasy value. Like... Larry Brown is unlikely to be happy with a shoot-first point guard running his team. Jim O'Brien loves the three-pointer. Phil Jackson's teams typically don't rely on the point guard to initiate the offense all that much. Don Nelson's substitution patterns are maddening.
From what I've read, it seems the reason both Theus and Iavaroni are in trouble is that they haven't been able to establish - or settle on - a real system, and there are those who think that uncertainty is impeding the development of some of those young players. I guess we'll see. As of 10 pm Eastern Monday night, they're both still employed.
I do buy the Cavs' fast start, and I place them right with the Lakers and Celtics as the top teams right now. I think I'd rank them third of the three in terms of odds to win the championship, only because Boston and L.A. both have better individual players in their supporting casts, and everyone knows you can't win a championship with a single superstar.
And I do think Portland needs to be considered a serious contender. They might not be in that top tier yet... but they have more than enough talent and cap flexibility to make a deal before the deadline to add another piece. Denver, of course, already added that missing piece in Chauncey Billups... yeah, they're for real too.
In the Southwest, the three Texas teams and New Orleans are currently separated by a game and a half. I think New Orleans is the best of the bunch, despite its disappointing start - but all four sure "feel" like playoff teams to me. With the Lakers and Blazers and Nuggets, that makes seven playoff teams... without mentioning Utah or Phoenix.
If I had to choose a team that would be on the outside looking in, right now it would be the Suns. They just don't seem to know what sort of team they want to be. Obviously, a lot can change between now and the end of the year... but right now I feel much better about the Mavs making the top eight.
You're right... the drop-off between the ninth and 10th spots is immense. Right now the Suns are ninth in the conference. They have 12 wins and are playing .571 ball. None of the other Western non-contenders are playing better than .250...
The 10th-best team in the West would be fifteenth-best in the East. Guess that whole "balance of power" thing is shifting again, huh?
The playoff situation in the Eastern Conference is significantly more fluid. I think Boston, Cleveland and Orlando are locks for the top three seeds. Atlanta and Detroit, assuming they get themselves straightened out, are probably the next tier, and Miami will probably get better as the year goes on. I'll call them my top six.
After them, you've got six teams playing at around .500 - New Jersey (.579), Chicago (.450), New York (.450), Philly (.429), Toronto (.421) and Milwaukee (.409). I'll include Indiana, who I like a lot though they've struggled thus far (.350 on the season) in the mix. That's seven teams with a fairly legit shot at one of those last two spots. And that assumes Washington doesn't go on some ridiculous tear when Gilbert Arenas comes back... which seems unlikely, but is certainly possible.
Do you have a feel for the East yet? Want to venture a top eight prediction?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 9, 2008 3:01 PM PDT
Okay, maybe having D'Antoni as your new coach is like getting traded to Coors Field and having Mike Scoscia giving you the green light on the basepaths every time you reach. And coaches certainly differ in terms of what players they prefer - but that's a given. I'm just saying for a player that's already getting good minutes and will keep them no matter who's hired, it's not going to change their value that much unless it's one of the really extreme coaches.
And who in Sacramento should be more developed by now? Spencer Hawes? Then move Brad Miller! Kevin Martin certainly has developed, and Jason Thompson has gotten 25 mpg game for the first 21 games of his career. Sometimes I wonder what the front office expects a coach to do with a roster for of non-superstar young players in the Western Conference. What's funny about the Cavs is that everyone knows LeBron should only get better for the next few years, but it's almost impossible to imagine someone being better than he is now, so we tend to think of the Cavs having limited ceiling unless the team gets another star. But what if an improved LeBron is all they need to push them over the top?
I agree that the Hornets are the best team in the Southwest, with San Antonio second. The Rockets would be great if everyone could stay healthy. Actually, they'd be fine if everyone except McGrady could stay healthy - I don't think they need him. But even that's a long shot with Yao and Ron Artest having extensive injury histories and even Shane Battier coming off a serious foot injury.
And for me to give you my top eight in the East would be a waste of virtual ink. After the top three, I really have no idea, and I'm not sure the teams in the middle even know what they have yet. I still think Philly will come on once Brand gets healthy and integrated into the system better.
Article first appeared on 12/9/08