The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 23, 2009 2:56 PM EDT
Is what we're seeing real?
Charlie, here's the issue - the Rockets beat the Spurs on Sunday to take over first place in the Southwest and the No. 2 overall seed in the West, but San Antonio was missing Manu Ginobili. The Celtics seemed to have conceded the No. 1 seed in the East to the Cavs, but they've been playing without a full strength Kevin Garnett for weeks. The Lakers haven't seemed to miss Andrew Bynum much (except for the Suns game when Shaq torched them), but you have to think they'd want Bynum around if and when they face the Spurs, Rockets, Cavs or Celtics.
The bottom line is that the NBA's playoff structure (everyone gets in), and the length of the season (82 games plus best-of-seven playoff series) are making this last month meaningless. Sure, it's good to have that extra home game in a seven-game series, but if you're the Spurs or Celtics, are you really going to sweat that at the expense of getting your best players back? Of course not, so you're going to compete with an incomplete roster, and anything that happens is not indicative of anything that might happen in the playoffs. Moreover, it's not even that important.
What if the division winners made it, and then the next two best teams played a wild card round - like they used to do in the NFL. That would be five teams from each conference making the playoffs, and two thrilling best of *five* series that were the only thing going on the first week of the postseason. Right now, that would be Miami-Atlanta in the East and Spurs-Hornets in the West. As a result, the teams below them (in the West at least) - Portland, Utah and Dallas, would be fighting tooth and nail right now to get into the playoffs instead of everyone having a comfortable cushion over the Suns and merely jockeying for relatively meaningless position. If the standings in the West stayed the same, would it really matter to Utah that they drew Houston rather than Denver?
The problem with the NBA is that it's a lot more physically demanding than baseball (for non-pitchers at least), and it's not as rough as football. So while the latter is forced to reduce its season to 16 extremely meaningful games and baseball can keep up the quality of the product more easily over a long season (though September can be a wasteland there, too), basketball has the long season, but the product suffers down the stretch.
The other question I have is one I asked every year: Would you rather have two among the Lakers, Celtics and Cavs or the field? I think it's a no-brainer to take all three versus the field, but two of the three is a closer call. I'd probably take the field - what about you?
And if the Cavs were to win a title this year, does that make LeBron James the greatest player of all-time - at least when we're talking peak value? Because Michael Jordan didn't win until he had a veteran Scottie Pippen (top-50 player of all time) and All-Star Horace Grant. I know Mo Williams was an All-Star this year, but wouldn't this be the worst supporting case ever to surround a superstar on a championship team? I actually bet against the Cavs winning it for that reason, but seeing what's happened lately, I'm not so sure I won't lose that bet. Then again, anything that's happened lately means nothing for the reasons I've gone into above, right?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 24, 2009 4:35 PM PDT
I tend to give Gregg Popovic and the Spurs credit for the epidemic that “rest your guys for the postseason” has become. I don’t know if they were really the first to do it, or if they’ve been most guilty of it since I’ve really been paying attention to such things… but why let actual facts get in the way of the discussion?
With that in mind, I was sort of pleased to see that San Antonio has come back to the pack in the last few weeks. In an ideal world, all the “giving extra rest to Duncan and being super-conservative with Manu’s various injuries” would drop the Spurs from the playoffs entirely… and then maybe we’d see teams keep the pedal to the metal through March.
Of course, it’s not nearly as unlikely as a playoff scenario that involves less games. There’s no money to be made doing that, Chris… even I know that.
The sheer impossibility of it aside, I like your idea. As we’ve said in this space on more than a few occasions, I’d love to go back to the five game series for the early rounds… less games means more upsets, and more upsets means more drama. Drama is good. That’s why I like the college game – though March Madness has been somewhat drama-free this year. (It was sort of amusing… and sort of sad… when ESPN started running announcements that President Obama had picked all the games correctly on the first day of the second round. All the favorites – except one – won, and the only “upset” was a five seed beating a four. Way to go out on a limb, big guy. Chalkiest tournament ever.)
Do I get to choose my two in the “two against the field” proposition? If I can have the Lakers and Celtics, I’d be sorely tempted. I’m liking the Lakers more and more as we get closer to the playoffs… and one of the big reasons at this point is that I think the Eastern Conference Finals is going to be an absolute war. After the Cavs and Celtics get through beating each other up, the Lakers may well be a much fresher team. (I realize I’m assuming a lot.)
The supporting cast question is an interesting one. But let me counter… is LeBron’s supporting cast really THAT bad? Sure, he doesn’t have Superstar 1a – a Pippen to his Jordan, or a Kobe to his Shaq (or a D-Wade to his Shaq) – but does that make them worse players?
To me, the Cavs are a lot like the Larry Brown Pistons. The Chauncey Billups/Rip Hamilton/Tayshaun Prince/Rasheed Wallace/Ben Wallace teams were outstanding as a group – but as individual players, do any of them stack up with the Jordans and Pippens and Kobes and Shaqs? They won because they played so well together – their individual games complemented each other perfectly. I think there’s an element of that with today’s Cavs. That team is remarkably efficient… and players like Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West and Anderson Varejao and the rest really know their roles and play them well.
And for added fun, they have an all-time great playing on the wing.
Championship teams always seem to have a few guys like that. Guys like B.J. Armstrong and Derek Fisher and Steve Kerr and Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen – who wouldn’t be nearly as valuable on other teams but who are perfect fits on title winners.
That’s the reason I hate the “if Player X is your starting power forward, you’re not winning a title” argument.
This came up recently when I was discussing the pro potential of North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough with another NBA guy. He said, “You can’t have Hansbrough as a starter on a playoff team.”
If he had said, “Hansbrough can’t be your best player” or “Your go-to scorer” I’d agree… but I think a guy like Hansbrough could work very well alongside a shot-blocking center on a team that primarily gets its scoring from the wings and backcourt. With the exception of a select few superstars – I’d place the list at around ten guys – I think most basketball players really need to be judged in the context of the other guys they’ll be playing with.
For example… David Lee and Nate Robinson are both restricted free agents at the end of this season. The big NBA discussion in this area is, “If the Knicks are going to sign one or more of the 2010 free agents, they probably can’t afford to re-sign both.” Both players obviously have their strengths… and some pretty significant weaknesses. If you’re Donnie Walsh, looking for players you can put around one of the 2010 superstars… which one do you keep? Do you keep either of them?
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 24, 2009 5:25 PM EDT
If the supporting cast for LeBron isn't as bad as I say, then why are you taking the Lakers and the Celtics as your two teams? The Cavs have the best record and the league's best player, but for all their usefulness as Horry/Bowen/Fisher/Armstrong types, where's the Pippen and Grant, where's the Ginobili and Tony Parker and where's the Pau Gasol? They don't have one. I agree that many NBA players can thrive in the correct role - Tim Thomas was totally useless on the Knicks, but quite useful on the Suns a few years back, but you don't want those guys in four out of five spots. Typically a championship team has something like the following: one superstar, one star, one semi-star, two good role players and two or more solid role players coming off the bench. If you have two superstars, even better, but I've never seen one superstar, three good role players and three solid role players win a title.
The Pistons are an odd example because they won without a true superstar, but I don't think you can compare four-time defensive player of the year Ben Wallace to the current version, or anyone else on that Cavs team. Likewise, Prince and Wallace are better than any of the Cavs role players, and Hamilton's a more consistent scorer than anyone they have. I know I'm short-changing All Star Mo Williams a bit here, but one solid season playing next to perhaps the greatest player ever (impossible to say now, but if LeBron wins a few titles and MVPs, he'll be in the conversation starting with last season) puts him at the Hamilton-level at best.
As for the Knicks, I really like Lee and Robinson - they're the main draw of that team. But I'm not sure I'd give either one big money. What hurts you the most is having substantial money (not necessarily max contracts) tied up with players whose skill sets are not that high above replacement value. The Corey Maggettes, the Jamal Crawfords, etc. It's painful to let home grown guys like Lee and Robinson walk, but unless they come at a discount I'd probably let them. I think you win by drafting/signing superstar talent, paying what it costs and then filling in the rest of the pieces. Having sizable midlevel contracts interferes with that. Only add those once the superstar is in place, and you have a missing piece. If you add the pieces before the superstar, you can get stuck. Lee is an especially tough call because he's like a hybrid role player/semi--star - he doesn't interfere with the guys who need the ball all the time, i.e., he's a role player, but he's a semi-star in that he puts up double-doubles routinely (and did when given full minutes even before Mike D'Antoni arrived).
Maybe I'd go five years and $45 million for Lee, which I think is a decent deal for the Knicks. But if it takes a lot more than that, I think you have to let him walk and be patient. The real sin of the Layden/Isiah era was a terrible lack of patience in digging out of the hole they were in. The wanted immediate results, so they flailed about and delayed the recovery further. The Knicks need to be patient - they're still the country's biggest market where the league's most ambitious stars will want to play
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 24, 2009 10:56 PM EDT
The fact that I’d take the Lakers and Celtics in a fictional bet doesn’t mean I don’t like the Cavs’ supporting cast. I’m just going with my gut… you offered me two teams, and I took last year’s finalists. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the Cavs can win the championship… I just think the Lakers or Celtics are a (slightly) better bet.
Hey, if picking all the favorites is good enough for Barack Obama, it’s good enough for me.
Of course, the Cavs did reach the Finals just two years ago, but a) they got stomped in four games and b) that team relied heavily on the likes of Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall. (If you want to talk worst supporting cast by a Finals team ever… the 2007 Cavs might be a good place to start.)
And I do think you aren’t giving Mo Williams enough credit. Yes, he’s probably performing at better-than-expected levels because he shares the court with King James – but so what? We can only judge him based on what he’s been asked to do… and this year, he’s been a legit all-star.
On the Lee/Robinson question, I’m undecided. I’ve soured on Lee of late, partly because he plays such hideous defense. But it’s hard to really tell how much of that is his fault… like last night, when D’Antoni asked Lee to cover Dwight Howard. I think he can be an effective player in this league – but not as a center, and not as the team’s biggest/most physical player.
Ironically, the ideal player to put next to Lee would be Eddy Curry – if Curry ever played to his considerable potential.
If I had to choose one or the other right now, I’d probably go with Krypto-Nate. As with Lee, you probably need to put some specific types of players on the floor with Nate for him to be really successful… like a big guard that can defend reasonably well. But a) the Knicks have one of those under contract right now in Larry Hughes and b) Robinson’s unique skill-set seems like a better fit for D’Antoni ball than Lee’s
Article first appeared on 3/25/09