When you’ve been on the job for less than a week, indecisiveness reigns supreme. Just ask Magic GM Rob Hennigan or newly appointed Atlanta Hawks boss Danny Ferry. Both were named General Managers for their respective teams with little time to prepare for the draft and it is showing.
Both teams have players in Josh Smith and Dwight Howard who have been shopped around for almost a year, but neither is ready to pull the trigger. With Houston trying to send two top-10 picks to Orlando and multiple teams showing strong interest in Smith, now is the time to make a deal. In what is considered one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, Atlanta and Orlando could both bring back young talent for their outgoing stars, but neither Hennigan nor Ferry feel comfortable shaking up a roster they’ve had only a few days to mull over.
And honestly, you can’t blame either one of them for being gun shy.
The mistake here lies with the owners and management in both Orlando and Atlanta. When the Magic decided to part ways with GM Otis Smith on May 21 there should have been a contingency plan in place. Instead, Orlando performed their due diligence and considered every option available, taking over a month to find the right guy to run their basketball operations. Unfortunately for Orlando, time was a luxury they did not have.
It is safe to assume that the fates of both Otis Smith and former head coach Stan Van Gundy had long since been sealed. Therefore, Orlando should have been preparing for their departures long ago. They should have been ready to find a replacement for Smith in 2 weeks or less. By hiring Hennigan days before the draft, they have put him in an awful situation. Now may be the best time to deal Howard, but without giving him ample time to assess the lay of the land, Hennigan is not prepared to trade Howard for what may ultimately be the best package offered to him this offseason. Realistically this would take some creativity on the part of Rockets GM Daryl Morey, but if Houston could offer two top-10 picks, Kevin Martin, and Luis Scola for Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu, is that not likely better than any package Brooklyn, Dallas, or Los Angeles is going to offer in the foreseeable future?
Likewise, Atlanta knew that the contract for Rick Sund was set to expire June 30, but instead waited until three days (yes, 3 DAYS) before the draft to bring in Ferry. How could anyone expect him to be prepared to flip Josh Smith for draft picks when the ink on Ferry’s new six-year contract has barely even dried?
None of this is to say that Hennigan and Ferry are not prepared for the draft this evening. No, I expect these two to be among the most prepared in the league. They will surely know the available players backwards and forwards; it is just that their lack of familiarity with the rosters they just inherited is limited and, because of this, so are they. Their respective owners have not put them in a position to wheel and deal on a night when they ought to be most flexible. The draft presents the best time in the year to make a trade as team’s try to set themselves up for long-term success with young talent. Bad timing likely will stop these two new GMs from making much noise tonight.
In the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ ouster from the playoffs, fans of all allegiances are calling for the Lakers to shake up their roster if they want to compete for a title any time soon. Naturally, the first name to be mentioned is Pau Gasol. As important as Gasol was for this organization in bringing two titles to LA, he has struggled mightily in the past two postseasons (13.1 points per game on 42.0% shooting and 7.8 boards in 2010-2011 and 12.5 points on 43.4% shooting this year). The Lakers are a team that desperately needs multiple consistent contributors to add depth to a roster than saw their bench score a meager five points in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. So if the Lakers choose to deal Gasol, where might he go and what might a potential deal look like? Here are six teams that would most likely entertain the thought of adding Pau for the 2012-2013 campaign, in order of least to most likely:
6. NEW YORK KNICKS
How it could happen: The question really becomes: how desperate are the Lakers for change? If down the road they are in fact reeling after being ousted in the second round, losing GM Mitch Kupchak, and looking like a team without a plan, the New York Knicks may sneak into this conversation. Why? Two words: Amare Stoudemire. Again, this is highly unlikely, but New York may, in Stoudemire, be able to offer a star who could use a change of scenery to resurrect his career as much as Gasol does. Rather than adding more depth to their bench, the Knicks could potentially send star power in return, something that few other teams can offer. The risks are obvious here, but gambling that Amare may bounce back to his 2010-2011 levels (25.3 points per game and 8.1 rebounds) after a rollercoaster 2011-2012 season might be worth it.
The trade: New York receives Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts
Los Angeles receives Amare Stoudemire
Trade analysis: Los Angeles is not going to pull the trigger on this deal without receiving additional depth, salary cap relief, or draft picks from the Knicks. By trading away McRoberts, who had fallen out of favor in LA, the Lakers not only shed a contract, but preserve their amnesty to use on another player. LA would surely have to do some retooling of their offense to incorporate Stoudemire’s skill set but, considering the way Gasol struggled to fit in, that might not be the worst consequence. New York surely has to be thinking about ditching the idea of making a contender out of the Carmelo Anthony-Stoudemire pairing. Gasol certainly knows he is a second option and would not have as difficult a time coexisting within the same offense as Stoudemire seemed to.
5. ORLANDO MAGIC
How it could happen: There is only one person who has the power to make this trade happen: Dwight Howard. If Howard says that he would be open to signing a long-term extension with the Lakers then a Howard for Gasol trade immediately makes sense for both teams. However, the Magic are likely to ask for more than the Lakers are willing to give up, so this trade is still a long shot.
The trade: Orlando receives Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, and Christian Eyenga and future draft considerations
Los Angeles receives Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu
Trade analysis: Unfortunately for the Lakers, they may have to give up Bynum and Gasol to get Howard, something that may not be worth it for the Lakers. Hypothetically, a trade that has Orlando receiving Gasol and Bynum while LA brings in Howard and Turkoglu seems to be just too perfect for Orlando to ever happen. Instead, LA is more likely to offer something more along the lines of the above package for Howard. If Orlando is comfortable giving up Howard for Gasol, cap relief, and future draft picks, then this trade makes sense for both sides. The Lakers would then be able to flip Bynum, who is proving to be a major headache, for players to complement the Bryant-Howard pairing.
4. BOSTON CELTICS
How it could happen: With Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett becoming free agents this summer, Boston may be looking to revamp its roster. Rondo has got to be untouchable, unless an elite PG is coming back, so that leaves Boston with little else to offer. But again, if Los Angeles desires another star to pair with Kobe Bryant before his window slams shut, Boston should be getting a call from Lakers management about the following trade.
The trade: Boston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Paul Pierce
Trade analysis: If LA could ever convince the Celtics to give up the face of their franchise, this might be the trade that makes the most sense. Sure, it would be interesting to see how Pierce and Bryant would coexist on the same court, but along with Bynum, they would form quite possibly the third best “Big Three” in the league behind Miami and Oklahoma City. Boston could then attempt to re-sign Allen and/or Garnett, or pursue other free agents to build around Rondo, Gasol, Brandon Bass, and Avery Bradley.
3. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
How it could happen: Minnesota figures to be aggressive this summer in an attempt to make the jump from rebuilding team to playoff contender. The Timberwolves were slotted as the eighth seed out West before Ricky Rubio’s injury and in order to guarantee a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, they need to improve the roster. Gasol would be a natural fit in Rick Adelman’s offense as a big man who can pass, knock down open jumpers, and create his own offense.
The trade: Minnesota receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Luke Ridnour, Nikola Pekovic, and Michael Beasley
Trade analysis: In order for this trade to work, Minnesota would first have to re-sign Beasley at approximately $6.4 million. Granted, this gets tricky as Beasley is a restricted free agent and would have to agree to be signed-and-traded to the Lakers. But if the Beasley signs on, this trade could have the desired effect on both teams. Minnesota would get a player Rubio is extremely familiar with who A) would compliment Kevin Love’s game reasonably well and B) would thrive in Rick Adelman’s system. The Lakers, on the other hand, would obviously add some much needed depth. Ridnour could easily compete with Ramon Sessions for the starting spot and, at worst, would be a great back up, thus freeing the team to amnesty Steve Blake. Beasley would add some scoring off the bench that the Lakers desperately need. Pekovic is one of the rising stars in the league who, although he may not have a obviously clear role with the team, has a bright future as a solid contributor. With this trade, the Lakers would address several needs by adding point guard depth and consistency, another scorer, and a big with a high motor who can score and rebound.
2. CHICAGO BULLS
How it could happen: We wrote earlier about how, after the Derrick Rose injury, Chicago needed to seriously look at bringing in another star to compliment Rose. Considering Gasol had been on the team’s radar at the trade deadline, with Rose supposedly advocating for his team to acquire him, Gasol is a natural choice.
The trade: Chicago receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Carlos Boozer, CJ Watson, and a draft pick (No. 29 this year)
Trade analysis: This is very similar to the rumored trade discussions that happened around the deadline this year. Chicago would do this trade in a heartbeat for obvious reasons, mainly the fact that they could add Gasol without breaking up much of their core group of players. Los Angeles certainly would be a little more hesitant. However, Boozer is a guy who put up 15.0 and 17.5 points a game, respectively, in his two seasons with the Bulls despite the perception he has been a let-down. Watson, likewise, could add offensive fire power off the bench to a Lakers team that had very few contributions on the wing outside of Kobe.
1. HOUSTON ROCKETS
How it could happen: It is well documented that the Rockets have been zealous in their pursuit to add both a star and a big man. With Gasol, a player they have long coveted and almost landed before the start of this season, they could accomplish both tasks. They certainly have plenty of assets to offer the Lakers; it could simply come down to how much they are willing to give up in exchange to bring Gasol to town.
The trade: Houston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, and two draft picks (No. 14 and 16 this year)
Trade analysis: Houston is even more attractive because they possess two picks in this year’s stacked draft. Not only would this trade provide the Lakers with a satisfactory replacement for Gasol to start at PF and give them an intriguing prospect in Lowry, but they would be able to further add to the roster with these two picks. There will be an abundance of wing players who will still be on the board that could come in an contribute right away. This trade gives the Lakers a great deal of depth while replacing Gasol with Scola, a player who is only one season removed from a campaign in which he averaged 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. The Rockets would be ecstatic to add Gasol while holding onto key pieces such as Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Patrick Patterson, Samuel Dalembert, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, and Chandler Parsons.
5. Rose vs His Body
Well, this matchup has already been decided. The main concern for the Bulls during the post-season was going to be keeping their star player healthy in an effort to maintain their title hopes. Unfortunately for Chicago fans those hopes were all but dashed last night when Rose tore his ACL while driving into the lane. In spite of their recent success without Rose it is highly unlikely that the Bulls will make it far in the absence of their best player.
4. Roy Hibbert vs Glen Davis
Without Dwight Howard the Magic have a distinct size disadvantage in this series and Roy Hibbert will look to exploit that. Both Davis and Hibbert were pretty inefficient offensively last night going a combined 11 for 31, but the discrepancy becomes immediately apparent when you look further into Hibbert’s stat line. The Pacers’ big man grabbed 13 boards and swatted away 9 shots giving Indiana an inside presence that will pay off in this series, even if it did not carry them to victory in the first game.
3. Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson
If the Hawks want to make it past the surging Celtics they will need Joe Johnson keyed in on both sides of the court. Johnson finished the last 4 games of the season shooting 61.67% and averaging 23.8 points, numbers he will need to continue to put up against the 2nd best defensive team in the league. His task on defense is to impede Paul Pierce, a man who has averaged 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 110 career playoff games, not to mention one of the most clutch shooters in the league as evidenced here. Good luck to the both of them
2. Luol Deng vs Andre Iguodala
Both Deng and Iguodala are underrated players who excel on the defensive end and contribute in multiple ways offensively. Iguodala has taken a dip in scoring in favor of a more team-oriented style of play for the Sixers but continues to spread the ball around (5.5 assists per game) crash the boards (6.1 rebounds per game) and pick pockets (1.7 steals per game). Deng, on the other hand, now becomes the Bulls most important offensive player with Rose out for the rest of the playoffs. With Rose attracting most of the defense’s attention Deng contributed 17 points on 8-14 shooting last night, but the game will be completely different with Iguodala focusing all of his efforts on Deng.
1. LeBron James vs Carmelo Anthony
After Game 1 it’s already advantage LeBron. Last night was a perfect example of a worst-case scenario for this matchup. Carmelo couldn’t get his shot going (3-15 from the field) and LeBron was aggressive on offense going 10-14 from the field and 11-14 from the line. Carmelo is going to need to continue shooting an exorbitant amount if the Knicks are going to have a chance against the championship hopeful Heat. He’s already shown he can be an efficient scorer (29.1 points per game over 16 games since 3/26) but LeBron’s DPOY candidacy can and will effectively stop both him and the Knicks.
Now that the playoff field is set, let’s take a look at how teams stack up in their chances to win a title. Below are my rankings of the each team’s chances to win the NBA Championship this postseason:
16. Orlando Magic
With Dwight Howard ruled out for the entire playoffs, this team has to turn to Ryan Andeson, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, and JJ Redick as their primary scorers. There is absolutely no way this team, without Howard can knock off any team here in a 7-game series. And to be quite honest, I don’t think they would be much higher on the list even if Howard were playing.
15. Utah Jazz
Yes, they made an incredible run to the playoffs. The team should be commended for being able to rebuild and win all at the same time, something very few teams in the past couple years have been able to do. But no, they are not getting out of the first round.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Despite busting out of the gate at 20-9 the Sixers managed to go a mere 14-21 since then. This team relies on its superior defense, which is 2nd in the league in opponents’ points per game, and team play, with 8 players playing over 24 minutes per game and averaging at least 8 points per game. Unfortunately their defense will only get them so far against a healthy Bulls team or the star-studded Miami Heat. Expect this offense to struggle against the playoff-level intensity their opponents’ defenses are likely to impose.
13. Atlanta Hawks
After a season that saw teams play 66 games in roughly 120 days, depth is going to be big come playoff time. That’s bad news for a team without arguably its best player, Al Horford, and a terrible second unit.
12. New York Knicks
I just don’t see it with this team and I don’t think I ever will. Amare Stoudemire is not the player he once was. JR Smith drives me crazy every time he touches the ball. Carmelo is playing out of his mind right now, but he will come back to Earth sooner rather than later. However, with Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense and Steve Novak and Smith able to knock down threes, they can give any team a run for their money…just not a run at a title.
11. Denver Nuggets
This team will certainly cause its first-round opponent some headaches with its depth and blistering pace of play. Ty Lawson has been playing great all year, Arron Afflalo is firing on all cylinders right now, and Danilo Gallinari is finally healthy again. Although their model of star by committee is unprecedented, letting whoever is the hot hand take over in crunch time, it is also unproven. That and the fact that they give up 101.2 points a game, second-worst in the league, truly hinder their chances at making a deep playoff run.
10. Indiana Pacers
I love this team, absolutely love them. They roll 10 deep and play great team basketball. They don’t lean on any one player too much, so any guy can be their lead scorer any night and even if Danny Granger is cold, they can win. But this team is still a couple years away from being a title contender. They simply do not have that one player who can take over at the ends of games. Every other team ahead of them has what they don’t: a player who will take over in the fourth quarter and carry them to wins. Until they have that superstar, they will continue to simply be a good team, nothing more.
9. LA Lakers
Metta World Peace. It’s all been said, he’s clearly not sane. Fortunately for the Lakers, despite the impressive April World Peace was having, their playoff hopes do not rest on the far from level head of that man. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they have plenty other problems, their lack of depth chief among them. Also, their 3-7 record against the five teams above them in the standings (Oklahoma City,San Antonio,Chicago,Miami, andIndiana) is disconcerting. Having said all that, anything is possible with Kobe Bryant leading your team. And don’t forget they haven’t lost any of that length that gave them an advantage over every team they played en route to winning titles in 2009 and 2010.
8. LA Clippers
I know the Clippers haven’t been to the post-season in a long time, but the fact still remains: they have Blake Griffin, and more importantly, Chris Paul. If you’ve already forgotten what Chris Paul did to the Lakers last year in the playoffs please reintroduce yourself. He took the series to 6 games on his own, averaging 22 points, 11.5 assists, and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 47.4% from the three and 54.5% from the field, utilizing his tear drop in the lane to perfection. Just imagine what he will do with another legitimate star and some solid role players (Jordan, Butler, Foye, Young, and Martin). They have a shot at making a deep run, but that inexperience certainly knocks them down on our list.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
Everyone is scared to play this team in the playoffs and they should be. They have the most complete roster out of any team here with players who contribute in big ways at every position. On any given night they can kill you with their size (Marc Gasol), their speed (Mike Conley), or their perimeter length (Rudy Gay). If Zach Randolph, their best player from last year’s run, can get back to his old ways, this team is downright scary.
6. Dallas Mavericks
Sure, I am going out on a limb here putting the Mavericks this high. Most likely, they are going to face the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and more than likely they will be knocked out in the first round. However, there remains a sliver of hope here that I see as greater than any of the teams I have already mentioned. Dirk Nowitzki, as he proved last postseason, has the ability to absolutely dominate a playoff series and that cannot be overlooked. If Dirk can catch fire, do not be surprised if the Mavericks shock the world again and make a run at the finals.
5. Boston Celtics
Everything about this team reads old. Old stars, old school, and, most importantly, old swagger. That’s right, this team has that hop in their step that they did back when they won the title in 2008. Their defense has been great all season long, currently ranking as the third best in the league limiting opponents to 89.6 points per game. But it has been their offensive output lately that has them thinking about a title. Avery Bradley has emerged as a reliable threat, Rondo has been playing out of his mind, KG is showing flashes of his former self, and Paul Pierce still has the ability to take over games. Their biggest issue right now is their rebounding. They currently rank No. 28 in the league in rebound differential at -4.4 a game. This team’s ability to corral crucial defensive boards at the end of games will be instrumental in any run they make.
4. Chicago Bulls
I want to put the Bulls higher on this list (read No. 1), but I just can’t do it until I see more out of Derrick Rose. Yes, I know, the team has played great basketball with Rose out of the lineup. But there is no way this team can compete with the elite in the NBA without their superstar. They cannot possibly expect Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, and Joakim Noah to hold their own over a 7-game series with the Heat. If Rose plays like the MVP he was last season, it is a completely different story. If that were to happen, the Bulls become my favorite to win it all with one of the three players most capable of taking over a game and a stingy defense.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
No, I do not think the blow to James Harden’s head knocks them down on this list at all. I am hopeful that he is going to bounce back just fine from the injury. However, OKC has other issues. Russell Westbrook is playing just poorly enough recently to make us all think that he might not be the best partner to pair with Kevin Durant again. In the month of April, Westbrook is shooting 38% from the floor. In the last five games he is 25-82 (30.5%) from the floor. Not exactly the numbers you want to see from your second option, especially when his shot selection indicates a first option mentality. Having said all of that, the Thunder have maybe the most talented roster top to bottom. They certainly have grown over the past couple years. Something just tells me that they are still a year away from knocking down the next two teams on our list…
2.San Antonio Spurs
It is shocking to me that the ole reliable Spurs have come to the forefront of the Western Conference. Just like every other year, I counted them out at the beginning of the season and said that this would be the year it all fell apart. But thanks to great moves by the front office, this is the deepest team in the playoffs. After an exhausting regular season, that depth may be more important than ever. And don’t you for one minute forget about Tim Duncan. The man is still a force to be reckoned with in the paint. Don’t let his numbers fool you, they are down because he is playing a career low 28.2 minutes a game. Yes, he is getting old, but he gives this team an inside presence that can cause huge matchup problems for lots of teams. And I haven’t even mentioned that Tony Parker is playing like he is 22 again, Manu Ginobili is bouncing back slowly but surely, and they’re second in the league in scoring at 103.5 points a game and first in three-point shooting (39.5%). Be afraid, be very afraid.
1. Miami Heat
I hate to say it, but to me the Heat are the favorites to win it all. You can talk about LeBron James’ inability to close out games all you want (and believe me, that is one of my favorite talking points) but the fact remains that this team simply has the most talent of any in the playoffs. They are certainly far from perfect, as I have my own doubts about their bench. But quite honestly, they are better than they were last year in all aspects and I do not see a team out East that can contend with them in a 7-game series. Try to name one team that can match up with this group. It’s not possible. LeBron James is a matchup nightmare all by himself. The one knock on the guy continues to be his performance when it matters most. I truly hope that storyline never dies, but right now, the odds say this is the year he overcomes that obstacle and claims a ring.
OK, as unfathomable is it may seem, it is true: Dwight Howard is approaching LeBron James territory as one of the most hated and destructive players in the league. The only difference now is that James at least had the decency to leave Cleveland before dismantling the franchise; Howard is tearing the Magic apart from the inside.
Howard has transformed from one of the most beloved players in the league to one of the most hated. But this didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen over the span of a year. No, this has been brewing for much longer than that.
Surely, the fact that within the last year Howard has demanded to be traded, opted in, held an entire city hostage, opted out, rescinded his trade request in order to force his way into free agency, opted in again, and tried to get rid of his coach all contribute to this relatively new phenomenon. However, the beginning of the legend of how Superman became his own kryptonite has a definitive start date: February 14, 2009. Hell, I could give you an exact time if you pressed me hard enough.
That date doesn’t ring a bell for you? How about this?
That was the date we should have known Howard could never be trusted, would never grow into a superstar on a championship team, and that he cared much more about national media attention than basketball itself.
From the second I saw this I knew it reeked. Something inside me told me this wasn’t right. And in a matter of seconds, a seemingly harmless and undeniably popular Howard earned my suspicions. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t really articulate it well enough to get anyone else to jump on my bandwagon. More than three years later, Howard has made the argument for me.
Let us start with the obvious: Howard allowed himself to be made a spectacle on national television. Ok, yes, the Slam Dunk Contest is all about fun. I agree. But you can have plenty of fun without being the butt of the joke. Oh, I don’t know, how about you just win the thing?
Instead, Howard chose to be remembered as a prop in the show and not as the show itself. He was fine with letting someone else do the dirty work while he still got plenty of attention for it.
And the fact is that Howard still seeks that attention to this day. But he is not willing to do the “dirty work” needed to earn that spotlight. He was ready to jump ship and go somewhere where he could get more attention. Somewhere where he could more readily promote his “brand.” He does not want to commit to a franchise and develop a team the way Magic Johnson, Hakim Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and other all time greats did.
And you know what? It is not fair that Howard is held to the same standard as these legends, but by possessing such extraordinary talent that’s what is going to happen.
Michael Jordan is certainly the standard of competitiveness to which all superstars should be held. Jordan is the epitome of a player who will stop at nothing to win and, surprising as it may seem, recent stars such as Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and Tim Duncan hold up to this ridiculously high standard fairly well. Howard, on the other hand, seems to embody the exact opposite.
Can you imagine, if in a Slam Dunk contest back in the day, Spud Webb asked Jordan if he could dunk over him for one of his dunks? The conversation would go a little something like this:
Webb: “Hey, MJ, let’s put on a good show. By the way, can I jump over you for one of my dunks.”
Jordan: “F*#% no, I’m going to beat your ass.”
And Jordan’s response would have sounded eerily similar if the proposition of teaming up with another superstar came along. Jordan did not want to defer to anyone else and did not want to team up with anyone else. No, Jordan wanted to BEAT everyone else.
Meanwhile, Howard is more concerned with putting on a show and keeping the spotlight directly on himself. No, he certainly does not have to be Michael Jordan, but if Howard wants to be a franchise player, the least he could do is focus more on the game and less on the spotlight and his brand.
It began way back then on that fateful day and we should have seen it coming. We should have seen it coming when Howard allowed a lesser player to beat him because he wanted to be part of the fun, wanted to have the attention on him.
Obviously, this one event cannot explain the phenomenon that has become known as the Dwightmare. But, it was the beginning of the end for Howard. He still longs for the attention he did then and continues to not take the game as seriously as one would like.
In fact, Howard has evolved to such a point that I would not want my favorite team to pick him up. Despite his obvious and overwhelming talent, Howard is entirely unpredictable, cannot commit, has proven he will force out one of the best coaches in the league, and has turned his entire team against him. Nope, I’ll be just fine with Dwight the sideshow ruining someone else’s favorite team.