This article is part of our The Give and Go series.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: February 18, 2008 12:56 PM PDT
The Atlanta Hawks made a deadline deal -- taking on salary -- in the hopes of making a playoff run this year.
Everyone who saw that coming, raise your hands.
OK. Put your hands down.
Have to say, Chris, this is the most interesting trade deadline in years. As I'm writing this lead, we've already seen Pau Gasol, Shaquille O'Neal, Shawn Marion and Mike Bibby change teams -- with Jason Kidd apparently next to go. And there's still enough time before the deadline for a couple more big names to be fitted for new unis... Vince Carter, Eddy Curry, Zach Randolph, Jermaine O'Neal, Wally Szczerbiak and several others have town cars waiting to take them to the airport.
I don't want to analyze the pros and cons of the latest deal -- I've got that covered in this week's barometer. What I think is interesting is the fact that these deals are happening at all. I think I know the reason.
For the last few years, we've had a clear inner circle of teams with a shot to win the title. San Antonio. Dallas. Miami. Detroit. Phoenix. The teams outside of that group were playing for second place, tops.
But this year, that inner circle is a whole lot bigger. I'd be willing to argue that this year's champ will come from a group of around 10 teams: the Lakers, Spurs, Suns, Mavs, Jazz, Hornets, Celtics, Pistons, Cavs... OK, that's nine. I'm not quite prepared to put the Warriors, Blazers, Magic or Nuggets in that group just yet, but I reserve the right to change my mind if, say, Orlando gets a point guard. And of that group, I really don't think you can call any one team the favorite. Maybe the Lakers, if they were healthy... but with Kobe apparently risking surgery every time he takes the floor, I'm not even sure the Lakers aren't going to fall to the bottom half of the draw.
Personally, I think this is great for the game. Dynasties, to me, are only interesting for the fans of the team doing all the winning. I love the idea that so many teams are still playing for something (though I wish my team was on the list). Do you think this is where the league is headed? Or is this just a fluke season, with a couple of great teams getting old and a couple of up-and-coming teams that aren't quite ready yet?
And assuming you accept my premise -- which I expect you will, because it's freakin' brilliant -- what can the league to do to make sure we see this same sort of parity in upcoming seasons?
(My number one request -- simplify the trade rules. Significantly. We should never have a major trade held up because a throw-in exercises a no-trade clause no one knew he had... or have retired players re-signed from coaching jobs and/or golf courses to make the dollars work. And I shouldn't need a set of actuarial tables and a team of accountants to figure out which trades work under cap rules.)
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: Feb 19, 2008 10:11 AM PDT
You didn't mention the Rockets - one of the hottest teams in the league and one that's benefitting (like the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs) from having a top-notch defensive coach replaced by a top-notch offensive one. Jeff Van Gundy's defensive work ethic is still with those guys, and now they've caught onto offensive guru Rick Adelman's system and become another dangerous team. (In Tampa it was Tony Dungy/Jon Gruden that got them the Super Bowl win).
But overall, I agree - this is a tremendous season for the league because there are so many good teams, and hence so many good matchups. If Denver plays Houston, it's a great matchup. If Golden State plays the Lakers, that's a great matchup. San Antonio against the Hornets - I'll watch that, too. The entire rest of the season is going to be filled with interesting clashes between contenders who could go deep into the playoffs or get knocked out in the first round if they don't bring their "A" games - exactly what basketball should be about.
It'll get even more interesting if the rumored Ron Artest to Denver deal goes through - they'd have two of the league's top-10 offensive players (Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony) and two of its top-10 defensive ones in Marcus Camby and Artest. I can't imagine a team like New Orleans or Dallas or Phoenix being thrilled to face that bunch in the first round.
I'd still say San Antonio's the team to beat - Tim Duncan is arguably a top-5 all-time player, and Manu Ginobili is by some statistical measures the best defender in the NBA. (Not to mention that he outdueledLeBron James by hitting eight threes and scoring 46 points in the Spurs' win over the Cavs) this past week. Tony Parker, a legitimate all-star, is also coming back, and the team is exceptionally well-coached and filled with role players who fit the system to a tee.
But, just as the favored Mavericks were knocked out a year ago by their former coach's Warriors, the Spurs have trouble with their former point guard who knows Gregg Popovich's system and now coaches the Mavs. So a lot will depend on how the seedings shake out. If Golden State or Phoenix get to Dallas before Dallas gets to the Spurs, I like San Antonio. But if Dallas beats San Antonio, they'll be tough especially with Jason Kidd running the show. Don't forget how close this Mavs team came to winning the title two years ago, and that was before Dirk won MVP, before Josh Howard became a bona fide star and without Kidd.
The Lakers will also be very dangerous if Kobe can play through his sprained finger and Andrew Bynum can return to full strength. And Utah, New Orleans and Phoenix are capable of beating anyone as well - keep in mind that the Suns gave the Spurs all they could handle last year despite Tim Donaghy's cheating and the back-breaking suspensions of Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire.
So yes, parity is great - especially because, in my opinion, it's driven by quality play around the league rather than a regression to mediocrity. I think the current Spurs (when healthy) or Suns are very close to last year's versions - it's just that a lot of other good teams have emerged as well.
I don't know what the NBA can do to keep this going - there will be an ebb and flow to it, and largely it's up to individual franchises to stock their teams with good players and good coaches. And to be patient. A good example of this is the Lakers' not caving into Kobe Bryant's demands and trading Bynum for Kidd last year. Their patience with Bynum paid off, and no one's happier than Kobe that the Lakers didn't listen to him. A bad example of this is the Knicks, of course, who have tried all manner of quick fixes and in 2008, still haven't bounced back from the terrible Allan Houston signing. (Instead Isiah picked up where Scott Layden left off, and extended the misery indefinitely).
Subject: Give and Go
Date: February 19, 2008 8:52 PM PDT
I left out the Rockets on purpose. I've been talking them up all year -- I'm not going to jinx them now that they seem to be coming together. But yeah, you can probably add Houston to the mix of potential champs.
Of course, there is a problem with all these great matchups: they're all in the West. Now, personally, I don't much care about that from a competitive balance perspective, any more than I care that the American League is stronger than the National right now or that the AFC is better than the NFC -- Super Bowl results notwithstanding.
I do think it's potentially a problem for the long-term health of the league, if only because all the best games at playoff time will be played after 10pm on the East coast. I don't think near enough hoops fans saw last year's epic Golden State/Dallas series -- mostly because a lot of the games were ending in the middle of the night.
These things move in cycles, sure... but right now you could easily make the argument that nine of the league's top ten are out West... as well as the team everyone seems to think is the next potential dynasty. Is that a problem?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: February 20, 2008 12:18 AM PT
Well, eight of 10 because you have to include Detroit. And Orlando and Cleveland aren't terrible. But I hear you - the west is where I'll be focused, and living in California (and being single), the time is perfectly convenient for me. But it will cost the NBA some viewers, and that Dallas-Golden State series was one for the ages - in terms of the level at which the Warriors played, and how shocking it was. (I still remember Baron Davis throwing a half-court alley-oop to Jason Richardson on Dallas' home court - made you realize the Warriors could care less about which team won the most games in the NBA).
But it's a good problem to have - a tremendous dogfight in the west meaning unlike last year injured stars like Kobe, Shaq and Tony Parker and can't just shut it down and see what happens in the playoffs. If you miss too many games, your team might not make the playoffs. Compared to last year when half the league's stars sat out the final month or so - I'm sure the NBA is thrilled right now.
Article first appeared on 2/20/08