Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ben Gordon-Bulls Breakup

Bad news for the Chicago Bulls organization.

Ben Gordon, who led the team in scoring for four years now, has signed a 5-year, $55 million offer from division rivals, the Detroit Pistons.

The Bulls were an up-and-coming team with a bright future. Despite having a core that had not yet hit its prime, and a rookie franchise player/point guard and head coach, this team snuck into the Eastern Conference playoffs as the seventh seed and gave the defending champion Boston Celtics a scare. They had the rookie of the year, and one who is envisioned by many to be a perennial all-star someday soon, in Derrick Rose. They had a frontline of second-year Joakim Noah and third-year Tyrus Thomas. This was a team that was looking forward to the return of starting forward Luol Deng, who missed the end of the regular season and the playoffs. They had two draft picks in 2009 draft, too.

Now, the future doesn't look much of anything. Not that this team is going to stink next season, no. It's just that, you're not really sure where the franchise is headed at the moment. Sure, they're bringing back a solid group with Rose, Noah, Thomas, Deng, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons, Brad Miller and maybe #16 pick James Johnson. That's not a bad team. But it doesn't have the same kick without the pintsized 20-point scorer, Gordon.

To be fair, Bulls fans should've seen this coming. We endured two, three years of negotiations with Gordon, when he turned down offers of $50 and $54 million the previous two offseasons. We heard the rumors that the Pistons made an $11 million promise to Ben. We knew we could keep him if really wanted to; Gordon stated he wanted to remain a Bull. But we also knew the price had to be right, and the price the organization wanted and the price Gordon wanted would be far apart.

Now, resigning Gordon would've meant compromising some flexibility in 2010. Only time will tell whether the Bulls did the right thing by not overcommitting to Gordon. Rashard Lewis was overpaid, too, but look where that brought the Orlando Magic.

If there was a plan behind this - if keeping Gordon meant giving up on a solid plan that the organization was working towards, then I can live with this decision. Say, a plan to trade for Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire and have the flexibility to resign them and add another free agent next year. But if the plan is to let Ben walk and see if this current roster can win without him, then this would be a very sad loss.

Thing is, only time will tell. Much like the seemingly sound Billups-for-Iverson trade of Joe Dumars, we can only really judge this in retrospect. If Rose and Amare take the team to the playoffs, we'll look back on this day with kindness. But man, this is going to suck if this turns out to be a step back for the Bulls; not after the strides it took last season.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Melo has Arrived

In 2003, the basketball world was anticipating the arrival of two young stars-to-be in the NBA. Some even dubbed this duo as the next Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry. A high school phenom that has a more NBA ready body than half of the league, and a college freshman that carried his team to the National Championship. Their names are LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. But after a year of pitting these two against each other, Melo disappeared. LeBron James continued to wow the basketball world. He would be included in MVP talks with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, while Melo would fail to make the All-Star team every season. The rivalry was dead.

The NBA wants to see a Kobe-LeBron finals. But after seeing how Denver is playing this post-season, I think it is better for the NBA to see a Melo-Bron showdown. This is what they were dreaming of in 2003. And it is not like Carmelo is just chillin' like he did the past post-seasons. He is dominating the playoffs...especially the Lakers. If not for 2 bad plays by Denver in the end game of Game 1, the Nuggets might have been up 2-0 right now. Chauncey Billups has been a big reason for Denver's success, but in my opinion, its Carmelo's decision to be a "Superstar" that changed Denver's attitude. Now, the series is tied at 1 apiece. The series shifts back to Denver where Carmelo will announce to the people that he has arrived.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rubio to Enter 2009 Draft

Ricky Rubio's agent said that the Spanish Sensation will enter this year's NBA Draft. Rubio will have until June 15 to withdraw his name from the draft. However, his agent sounded confident that he's staying in.

Rubio has been in the No.2 spots of most of the draft sites online. Rubio showed in the last Olympics that he can play with NBA point guards such as Chris Paul and Derron Williams.

Rubio has been a starter in the European League since he was just 16 years old.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Bulls Are Going All Out in Playoff Push

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls were struggling in holding on to the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Yes, they were actually defending a spot that isn't worth anything. Fast forward to today, and the Bulls are now 7th in the East playoff picture with a realistic chance of catching up with the Miami Heat. The Bulls won their 6th game in 7 tries by beating...the Heat. Dwyane Wade's 31 points was no match to a Bulls team that had 6 players in double figures. John Salmons top scored for the Bulls once again as he is beginning to make the Bulls front office look good by acquiring him during the trade deadline. Since the arrival of Salmons and fellow former King Brad Miller, Chicago's offense improved a lot in terms of flow. Miller's perimeter game and his ability to drive to the basket gives Rookie Sensation Derrick Rose so much options now. And at times when their offense didn't look pretty, they now have Salmons to give the ball to and create something out of nothing.

The Bulls have been playing inspired basketball lately because of the new acquisitions. But one thing was revealed lately during the Bulls' run -- Kirk Hinrich is still valuable to the Bulls. Some critics said that with Rose's arrival, Kirk was a dispensable player. Kirk has proven this to be a fallacy. Kirk has been the stabilizer of the Bulls lately when things get out of control. Plus, when D-Rose was sidelined because of his wrist, Kirk stepped in and gave Vinny Del Negro an All-Star performance at the point.

The Bulls' future is looking bright. So much brighter compared to 2 months ago. Plus with playoff experience just around the corner, I expect to see more maturity in the games of Derrick Rose, Tyrus Thomas, and Joakim Noah come opening night next season. The Bulls are still far from being a contender, but adding one key piece and some post-season experience for the team might just get the Bulls back to the glory days.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thunder Bring The D without KD

The Oklahoma City Thunder franchise is defined by Kevin Durant. When they picked up 'Durantula' (hehe.. is that seriously going to stick?) as the #2 pick in last year's draft they immediately decided to build around him. The then-Seattle Supersonics traded away Ray Allen for someone who could fit better (essentially, Jeff Green) and let Rashard Lewis walk for nothing. So the fact that KD is their franchise guy probably needs no further establishing.

And the kid has responded, averaging 26 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this year. He's in the running for Most Improved honors this year, which is rare for players as highly regarded as this guy. Just goes to show how good he's been this year.

But advanced stats pundits have noticed that, well, for someone who's so important to his team, he's been kind of a detriment, especially on defense.

So I guess it's interesting to note that since he went down with an injury during the OKC-Dallas game last February 27, the Thunder have gone 4-1 without him. How? Well, they've held opponents down to 92, 87, 83 and 74 points in their four wins. That probably says good defense about as much as it says that the teams they beat kind of sucked (included Memphis, Washington and Philadelphia, a team that hasn't been very good of late).

They also played the last four without Durant's running mate Green (OKC is 3-1 without him on this stretch). The one loss was an 18 point blowout by the Hornets. Why? Chris Paul, probably. But here's another reason. Recent acquisition Thabo Sefolosha sat out the game.

I'm not saying Thabo is the savior of this squad (even though I've been a fan of his from his Bulls days), but he does have a rep for being a defensive stopper. And the team has been playing better defense of late. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Well, he has averaged a respectable 13.5 points and 7 boards, with 3 assists, 2 steals and 1.75 blocks. More importantly (maybe), he's accumulated a plus-minus of +58 in Durant's absence. That says something that the team plays so well when he's on the court.

Still KD is undoubtedly the cornerstone of this franchise. But two things could be worth noting. Thabo Sefolosha was a darn good pickup for the Thunder. And if Durant starts playing more defense, this could be a very dangerous team.

No KG, No Problem. No Rondo...hmm...?!

The Boston Celtics had a pair of tough games this past week taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic. They got by Lebron and the Cavs, but lost big to Superman 2 and the Magic. Without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics are 5-3 but they do not look like a worse team. However, the game against the Magic showed one important thing: The Celtics wouldn't win a title (or win the East) without Rajon Rondo.

Without Rondo, Boston's offense just didn't flow. Starbury started in place of the injured point guard but was just not close to being a point guard. Paul Pierce had to really work for his shots. Ray Allen connected with shots, but that's Ray Allen. The C's just had no offensive flow, and if there is someone they need to stay healthy come playoff time, its Rondo. The C's could survive without Garnett, or even Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (ofcourse not all at the same time), but if you take away Rajon Rondo away from this team, it will make them the 3rd best team in the East for sure!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rafer Alston Sent to Orlando

Rafer Alston was sent by the Houston Rockets to the Orlando Magic. In exchange for Alston, the Rockets received Kyle Lowry from the Memphis Grizzlies, and Brian Cook from the Magic. The Grizzlies received Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks and the Magic's first round pick in the 2009 draft.

This trade, in my opinion, is huge for the Magic. Alston is not only a player who can fill in the void left by Jameer Nelson's injury, but he also is one who can do an amazing job at it. I think Alston is one of the underrated players in the NBA. I don't think people realize how good Alston can run a team. He is a good point guard in addition to being a good shooter. This would help the Magic spread the floor more by adding another shooter to the mix. With Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and now Rafer Alston being threats on the outside, Dwight Howard will find himself more space to operate inside. If not, he can just pass the ball to one of these shooters to knock-in the three!

I think this trade has been the biggest in terms of impact on the team. I think with Rafer Alston on board, the Cavs now has a big challenge in the Orlando Magic. With Nelson's injury, the Eastern Conference was pretty much a two-team race between the Celtics and the Cavs. Now, they are back to three.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who's Afraid To Pull Off A Blockbuster Trade? (Suns-Bulls-Raps Proposal)

With the trade deadline fast approaching, and a number of teams at a crossroads, I’m looking forward to seeing a blockbuster deal that can alter a franchise’s course completely. Of course, you’re always looking for a win-win deal (unless you’re Memphis GM Chris Wallace – man, that Pau Gasol trade is one-sided). But since you probably can’t trust NBA GMs to have the guts to pull them blockbusters off, I’m just proposing my own (and hoping Steve Kerr, John Paxson and Bryan Colangelo are reading this right now).

*note: salaries match on ESPN’s trade machine, but I couldn’t find a way to incorporate the Bulls’ 5-million plus trade exception or draft picks into the system. The deal I made works fine without the exception, but I’m throwing in a draft pick for good measure.

Suns get: Tyrus Thomas, Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah

Suns lose: Amar’e Stoudemire

Why I do this deal: Amar’e is a star, but he hasn’t fit in well with Shaq this season. He’s disrupted team chemistry, said all the wrong things, and hasn’t been producing. Plus, there’s that fact that the Suns risk losing him for nothing in 2010. Phoenix gets two young prospects that fit in with the team in the long term. Tyrus Thomas plays a bit like Amar’e on the offensive end though with considerably less efficiency. He does have plenty of upside though, because of his age. He also displays a willingness to play defense never seen in Amar’e. This makes him a valuable player and potential franchise cornerstone. Of course, these are all based on his performance for the past few games, an admittedly small sample size. Still, he seems to have ‘turned the corner’ of late and Suns management has expressed much interest in him, as well as a strong desire to move Stoudemire. Joakim Noah is a solid big man who can play big backup minutes so as not to strain Shaq. Noah also has that upside and can potentially replace Shaq when he retires. He’s a much better option than Robin Lopez, though his hair is just as goofy. The Suns also get another solid big in Drew Gooden, but he’s more valuable for the 7.1 million cap relief he offers next season. You know Suns owner Robert Sarver likes him some cap relief.

Bulls get: Chris Bosh, Jason Kapono, Marcus Banks

Bulls lose: Tyrus Thomas, Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha, Chicago 1st round pick

Why I do this deal: The Bulls are not a championship team, and won’t be with this lineup. As the Celtics have proven, championship teams need superstars on the roster. Right now, the Bulls have one potential superstar in Derrick Rose. It’s hard to see anything of value past him. Bulls management have been hesitant on the Amar’e trade because of the doubts on Stoudemire’s ability on the defensive end but it’s hard to pin any kind of criticism on Chris Bosh. Bosh is almost certainly the best player involved in the deal. I would willingly trade anyone on the roster, and even gut it if necessary (which is essentially what I’m doing), to acquire a player of that caliber to pair with Rose. Role players are easy to get, superstars are not. If you get a chance to trade for one, you do it. Rose and Bosh will be left with a lousy crew of teammates, but with both of them wearing the same uniform, they’ll both be closer to winning a championship than they ever had in their careers. If they are somehow able to clear enough cap space (don’t resign Ben Gordon in 2009, allow Larry Hughes to expire in 2010, or find a way to trade the long term commitments to Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni or both), they might also have enough star power to attract another superstar in the summer of 2010. Possibly, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, a Chicago native and good friend of Bosh’s.

Raptors get: Amar’e Stoudemire, Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha, Chicago 2009 1st Round Pick

Raptors lose: Chris Bosh, Jason Kapono, Marcus Banks

Why I do this deal: It will hurt to lose Chris Bosh, but I would have to seriously consider the risk of losing Bosh in 2010. The team stinks right now, and that increases the chances of losing Bosh. In fact, rumors say that Bosh has already informed Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo that he will refuse to resign with the Raps. With this deal, I get a superstar in return. And though Stoudemire’s contract expires in the same summer, chances are better that he’d resign with the Raptors. For one thing, the addition of Luol Deng and Chicago’s possibly high 2009 draft pick (as well as their own 2009 draft pick) to the team that already has Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani and Shawn Marion makes this a more talented team than the one Bosh will be leaving behind. Thabo Sefolosha can potentially fit in as well, but it depends how well the Swiss prospect develops. With the Eastern Conference being as bad as it is in the lower playoff seed race, though, I see this team as a playoff contender. Amar’e also has good relations with Colangelo, who drafted him as an executive at Phoenix in 2001. This could also potentially increase the chances of the Raptors landing Canada native Steve Nash in 2010. The SSOL-era Suns have all done considerably worse since their breakup and a redux in Toronto with some decent players them and in the Eastern Conference could give them a shot at redemption. All that would be missing is New York coach Mike D’Antoni. While this team is not a lock as a deep playoff team, this could gain the Raptors a level of popularity unprecedented in the only non-US team in the NBA. Not a bad deal for a bad team in very real danger of losing their franchise cornerstone.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pacers Beat LeBron on a Make-up Call

Heh. These referees.

With about 20 seconds remaining and the game tied at 93, the Pacers start a possession that either gives them the win or sends the game to overtime. Point guard TJ Ford, guarded by former teammate/playing time rival and newly-minted All-Star Mo Williams, dribbles out most of the clock and makes a clutch mid-range shot, leaving 0.8 seconds in the game. Classic stuff. Watch for it on NBA TV's Top 5 plays.

All the Pacers have to do is stop one hurried Cleveland shot and they've got the win. The Cavs run a play that where they lob the ball to LeBron. Pacers star Danny Granger reads it perfectly and taps the ball away. Game over.

But not quite.

Cause the referees call a foul on Danny G. Now, this is crazy stuff because Granger made a great read on the play and if there was more than the usual incidental contact, well -- it's not enough to make up for the fact that the reason why James doesn't finish the play is because of Granger's defense and not because of contact. Interesting to note is the observation of the TV commentator (gotta apologize, I'm not sure which network I was watching) that the referee doesn't call the foul until LeBron complains about it. So with .2 left on the clock, the King steps up to the free throw line to send the game to extra minutes. He makes both.

Now, by this time, I'm kind of feeling for the Pacers. I'm a Bulls fan, so it's in my best interest for Indiana (a team in contention for the same final playoff spot my Bulls are aiming for) to drop this game. But I can't help it. I feel like these guys were robbed by a superstar call.

So what do the Pacers do?

They do the same thing Cleveland does. They send a lob in Granger's direction, with James defending. There's contact, as you can expect. And the referees? They call it the same way they did on the other end of the floor. Foul on James. Free throws for Danny. He ices the game with the first one and takes an intentional miss to run out the clock. Pacers win by one.

Mike Brown was complaining about the call, but as the announcers pointed out -- how can you complain about the call when they give you the exact same one on the other end? Way to put pressure on the refs, Jim O'Brien. They had no choice but to call it that way. Great play call by the Pacers coach, great execution by Pacers first-time All-Star. Gotta love it, even if you're rooting for the opposite team.

By the way, the Pacers have beaten the Lakers, the Celtics, the Magic and now, the Cavs on their home floor. Is it fair to start calling them a good team now (though should that still come with this asterisk)?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Breaking Down the Contenders part 1, LA Lakers

Last year, when young Lakers big man Andrew Bynum went down with an injury, most NBA observers thought LA's championship hunt was over. Fortunately for Kobe and Co., their season was saved by GM Chris Wallac... er, Mitch Kupchak when he traded spare gym equipment and a couple of meal stubs to Memphis for Spanish stud Pau Gasol. The season still ended in heartbreak, though, as the Lakers were manhandled in a six-game series with the Boston Celtics amidst questions on the Lakers toughness.

It's deja vu for the Lake Show when Bynum was declared injured yet again. Initial reactions were similar to last year's, with the team's championship aspirations seemingly derailed. The Lakers, though, immediately made it clear that this was nothing like last year.

Kobe Bryant issued a clear statement with his record-breaking Madison Square Garden performance (61 pts on 19-31 shooting). There is no lack of firepower on this roster. The Black Mamba alone has enough ammunition for a whole army. The game worried head coach Phil Jackson for a bit, as the team seemed to revert back to its pre-'Kobe Nash' habits. But Kobe wasn't making a statement to his team; this was a clear warning to all their rivals, to the entire league. Everyone should stop talking about Bynum, because this team was about Bryant. The statement was loud and clear.

Any fears of Kobe being the selfish Kobe were quickly diffused with last night's Celtics game. In this game, played in Boston's home court, the Celtics were out to test LA's toughness yet again. Kobe led an all-around team performance, scoring 26 points to Gasol's 24 (and 14 rebounds). Lamar Odom chipped in 20 points as they nipped the defending champs by 1 point in overtime. Though the game could obviously gone either way, it was how the Lakers picked up the win that was so impressive. The Celtics pushed them, the same way they did in last year's Finals. The Lakers pushed back. Boston talked their trash, like they always did. LA talked right back. Boston challenged the toughness of the Lakers, who were fielding practically the exact same lineup they had when the Celtics roughhoused their way to the championship, and boy, were they up to the challenge.

There's no need for a drastic trade deadline deal, or a veteran free agent signing, or any action whatsoever. This LA team, right now, is good enough to win it all. With or without Bynum. They know it. And with these statement games behind them, the rest of the league should take notice as well. These aren't last year's Los Angeles Lakers -- and I'll say this. I've never been more scared of them than I am right now.