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.