Clippers-Celtics Blockbuster Trade (Step 1)

23 06 2013

Before the NBA Finals even had a chance to make its way onto NBATV, the first blockbuster trade of the 2013 NBA summer is upon us. Lob City just became Destination City.

It seemed to be an impossible dream of swapping pieces. Then it suddenly became something actually happening that was only a few pieces from successfully occurring. Then it all died away due to a mutual interest for a certain backup point guard. Then we seemed to be on the doorsteps. Then the Clippers backed off because they felt like they were giving up too much. Then Los Angeles’ star point guard stepped in, said to continue the trades talks and scared his organization half to death. Then the league had questions about the proposed deals and the connections between the two since there can’t be trades with contingencies or side deals. But now, we have a deal. Partially.

The Boston Celtics have begun the destruction of their “Big 3+Coach” core and traded head coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2015 unprotected first-round pick, according ESPNBoston’s Jackie MacMullan.

Coach Rivers isn’t technically a part of a trade since teams can’t trade coaches involving players. These two organizations came to an agreement that will give L.A. the coaching rights to Doc after Boston has released their coach and then give Boston draft pick compensation. MacMullan says the length of the deal is still being worked out.

The original deal was for the Celtics to trade Rivers and power forward Kevin Garnett to the Clippers for center DeAnde Jordan and two first-round draft picks. The league intervened, though, because certain contingencies and side deals (which is what Rivers, a coach, would have been) can’t be accounted for under the league’s cap rules, making the trade illegitimate. For the deals to take place, the NBA would have to be convinced that the Rivers deal is completely separate from any player discussions. Well, they were sold.

So that’s where we stand. We’re halfway there…or so we’re not supposed to think. But since the Rivers deal has been completed, we must play dumb and play the waiting game for Garnett to be traded to L.A. If a third team has to join in on the trade, it will happen. The Clippers will do what they must to snatch KG. Trust me—it’s inevitable.

Doc-Garnett L.A.

(With Doc leaving Boston, other than Gregg Popovich, the NBA now has no coach that has been with his team for more than five years. Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle were each hired in 2008. The NFL has nine coaches and the MLB has ten managers that have been with their team more than five years. In terms of security of a job, I would not want to be a coach in the NBA at the moment.)

The Clippers first didn’t want to give up rising guard Eric Bledsoe, and then once he was taken out of the picture, they didn’t want to give up two first-round draft picks. So talks were supposedly “dead.” But once unrestricted free agent (emphasis on unrestricted) Chris Paul twisted his team’s arm to make this idea a reality, the organization started talking to the Celtics again and made the trade discussions start to move forward. And they’ll probably still get to keep Bledsoe.

My initial reaction to all of this is “how long before Garnett is traded and Paul Pierce is bought out by the Celtics and joins his buddies?” (Answer: very soon.) My second is realizing the impact this will have on two All-Star point guards.

Lucky Paul. Poor Rajon Rondo.

This most assuredly guarantees that CP3 will re-sign with the Clippers as he now got his way and his superstar coach of choice. Once the next step of this trade goes through (Garnett), Paul will have a supporting cast ready to seriously compete for a championship right away. (Just look at how quickly the C’s core meshed in 2008 in order to win a championship during their first season together.) Sorry Dallas and Atlanta, looks like CP3 is staying home.

It will also be interesting to see the impact Garnett can have on Blake Griffin once the nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player heads on over. Will the highlight of all highlight reel dunkers find a way to finally become a defensive force due to the guidance of one of the best team defenders in the league? Or will he shut out Garnett’s serious influence due to his desire to have fun and make KIA commercials?

And on the other end of this trade, you have to feel somewhat bad for Rondo. Not only has he been given the raw end of this deal since he will soon be the sole leader of a team in full rebuilding mode (LaMarcus Aldridge feels his pain), he will likely have one of his worst NBA seasons since his play—and assists per game—is bettered with a strong cast around him. No. 9 isn’t the type of player that can take over a game, team and season without quality help from his teammates.

It is mind-blowing what one free agent signing—CP3—has done for this Clippers’ franchise. Once a place that every budding star wanted out of has transformed into the landing spot for players/coaches who want one last shot at a title. (Well, the city hasn’t changed. The franchise has.)

Doc, Garnett and Pierce will soon get that shot in L.A.

And the Lakers will just have to watch.

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Beards Be Gone

27 03 2013

Take a good look at the image above. This face will look a little different very soon.

From starting out the first third of the season without their superstar, to having six different starting centers at different points, to losing seven straight overtime games, the 2012-2013 NBA season has not been kind to a Dallas Mavericks franchise that is so used to it being nicer the past 12 playoff-filled seasons.

Nothing has come easy. This isn’t to say that the blame shouldn’t be on their shoulders, especially since they have allowed plenty of games to slip right by them countless times. However, the basketball gods have made it clear they want the Mavs to work for their 13th consecutive playoff appearance.

The Mavericks showed that they are willing to work for that milestone Tuesday night. And they showed it in a big way.

The Dallas Mavericks inched past the Los Angeles Clippers 109-102 in overtime as Dirk Nowitzki not only pushed his way past Patrick Ewing for 17th on the all-time scoring list but also pushed his team one win away from a .500 record and from some clean-shaven faces.

American Airlines Center clearly had a playoff atmosphere right from the opening tipoff. It started with the ceaseless boos for LamLam Odom and ended with the chants of “Air Ball” after Matt Barnes air-balled a wide-open three-pointer with 22 seconds to go in overtime that would have tied the game.

In between these two events was a game filled with plenty of cheering for the home team. The Mavs and Clippers simply put on a fantastic basketball game that remained close throughout. If you haven’t heard at this point, Chris Paul is pretty good at basketball and is statistically one of the best clutch players in the game. The Clippers opponent had a player just as clutch with a completely different array of skills. And much, much more facial hair.

Paul and Dirk played some of their best basketball of the season, each setting season-highs with 33 points. Chris Paul made two different shots that could have been game-winning shots. However, due to O.J. Mayo finally deciding to show up when it matters most and Dirk scoring the Mavs first eight points in overtime, Paul had to settle for two pretty good shots and another loss.

This big-time offense from the Mavs stars was clearly a huge reason they came out on top, but the defense down the stretch was just as important. And it started with Elton Brand and his never-ending motor. Not only did he collect eight points, five rebounds and four blocks in 25 minutes off the bench, but the 13-year veteran shut down All-Star Blake Griffin.

BrandGriffinIn the first five minutes of play while Brand sat on the bench, Griffin went 3-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 from the free-throw line and had eight quick points. Once Brand entered the game, Griffin had no field goals until late in overtime when the game was already over.

It may be in a completely different way, but Brand has found a way to replicate the type of energy off the bench that Jason Terry brought to the floor and hard-nosed defense Tyson Chandler has made a living off of. When he guards big men on the block, he rarely is sucked into pump fakes and firmly holds his ground. This intelligent defense kept the Mavericks in the game when the offense couldn’t find a rhythm on the other end of the court. No other Dallas big man can do what Brand does night in and night out.

There’s one more old man that has to be mentioned. (That’s not counting Vince Carter, who simply needs to forget about this horrible night filled with a multitude of mistakes.) This is the old man that had one more assist and six fewer turnovers than Chris Paul. That’s right – Mike James.

After making a worst first impression than Manti Te’o did on the NFL, James (10 points, six assists, four rebounds, one turnover) has figured out his role, and the team’s 9-3 record since he became a starter is proof. No longer do people have to wince when James begins to dribble; instead, they can become excited for what he’s going to do with the ball. He is playing smart basketball and creating for his teammates as a starting point guard is supposed to do.

Now, we can’t forget about the man that goes by the name Dirk. Tuesday night showcased a vintage Dirk that reminded the nation why he is so unguardable. Head coach Vinny Del Negro threw Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and even a smaller Barnes at the bearded power forward in order to find some way of stopping him. Dirk and his one-legged fadeaway jump shot gladly showed all of these players just why he can still play at an elite level. There’s no question.

Nowitzki performed this way during the Mavericks’ biggest regular season win since last year when they took down the San Antonio Spurs in overtime. This one is even bigger due to the fact that the playoffs are less than a month away and because this is the Mavs first win against a top 4 Western Conference opponent (Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Nuggets) in 12 tries this season.

“It’s a good time to be playing your best basketball of the season,” Nowitzki said.

So, even though it’s nice to see this team playing so well and coming into form, why would they want to push for a playoff spot when they will inevitably be bounced in the first round just like last year?

Pride. Pride in the Maverick and what it represents.

At three different points this season, Dallas had a record of 13-23, 20-28, and 25-32. Tanking could have been initiated at any of these points and Mark Cuban could have started watching March Madness to see what lottery-bound player would be coming to his team. This isn’t an outlandish idea as NBA teams will commonly do this once they realize there’s not much more to play for.  But the Mavericks aren’t finished.

“Our work is not done. … The motivation is clear. This has been a winning franchise for a long time,” Rick Carlisle said.

As a Mavericks fan and a sports fan, I find very few things more respectable than the grit and grind this team has shown in order to get to where they are now and where they will end up. There were plenty of excuses they all could have given in order to mark this season as a lost cause. I mean, this was a team that had Eddy Curry start a basketball game…. Eddy Curry. Yeah.

But through it all, they never gave in and never gave up. And this attitude starts right at the helm with their head coach and franchise player. Carlisle and Nowitzki have made it clear to the media with their interviews throughout the season that they believe in their team. They will always believe. Because of this relentless optimism, they find themselves on the doorsteps of basketball in late April…again.

No matter the outcome of this season and possibly postseason, the Dallas Mavericks have given DFW sports fans a reason to not lose all hope in pride for their sports teams. The Cowboys seem to be obsessed with mediocrity and collapsing at the end of the season. The Rangers…let’s not even go there.

The 2011 NBA Champions have shown that they will not give up on their city. They will not give up on their franchise. They will not give up on Dirk.

The Los Angeles Lakers may seem like the logical choice to grab the eighth and final playoff seed with their star-studded roster. The Utah Jazz may also seem like the more probable choice with their strength of schedule and amount of home games they have left to play. But with the Lakers losing their last three games and the Jazz losing nine straight on the road and nine of their last twelve, the surging Mavs can see the playoff-light at the end of the tunnel. The path is filled with difficult playoff teams as opponents, but it’s there.

The Mavericks are clearly a team that will continue to fight for their lives and improve their chemistry until they have no more games to play, but this murky path will still be difficult to follow and conquer; however, with a healthy Dirk leading the way, this team is about to prove their doubters wrong one more time.

Get out those razors, Mavs.

And get ready for the playoffs.

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Griffin Dunks on Perkins’s Friend

12 04 2012

Even though Blake Griffin seems to have a posterization every single time he steps on the court, it shouldn’t take away from his highlight reel dunks, especially when one of them occurs on a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Kendrick Perkins probably didn’t mind guarding DeAndre Jordan when Griffin took flight this time

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Griffin Hurts Gasol…and His Feelings

5 04 2012

Victim: Pau Gasol

Suspect: Blake Griffin

Yet again, Griffin jammed his arm into a big man’s shoulder and annihilated his pride along with the rim. After the crime, Gasol finds some sort of reason to complain (as he normally does) which doesn’t help his case in this posterization. Even though ESPN’s Top 10 will showcase this dunk throughout the day, the Lakers got the more important honor: the W (113-108). If the posterization child of the NBA cannot find a way to make more of an impact on the game when it matters most to bring his team the win, then Griffin can enjoy watching his highlight reel as Perkins and Gasol live to play another day deep into the playoffs.

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An Unnoticed Era

1 03 2012

The Era of the Point Guard.

Anyone related to the NBA over the past decade will tell you that basketball has been and is currently filled with point guards that control the trend of the association. It is the era we are in. Correct?

This notion easily has evidence flowing from team to team as most have an elite point guard leading the way.

Steve Nash. Derrick Rose. Jason Kidd. Chris Paul.

These are just a few of the veterans and young guns that have captured the media’s heart with their play on the court and leadership for their respective team.

I am in full agreement with the power a point guard’s impact has on an NBA team. To put it in simple terms, who starts the half-court offense by bringing the ball up the court? The high quality of point guards that continues to show up in the NBA can’t be disputed. (Might as well throw Jeremy Lin into that mix…)

This position has changed from a player that simply sets up the play and gets the ball in the hands of the scorer to someone that does it all. Realizing that Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker all put up triple-doubles this season puts it in perspective. Point guards are becoming an integral part of all aspects of offenses; a transformation is in full effect.

Even with this change, does it mean point guards command the current NBA era? Does it mean we should point to the many point guard stars when we think about this time in basketball 20 years from now? When I take a second to step back and analyze all positions during the past decade, I discover something different. I come to a different conclusion. I see a different era.

The Era of the Power Forward.

Sounds weird, right?

 

The Era Begins

After the Lakers won their third straight title in 2002, San Antonio decided to begin their streak of winning championships in odd years (2003, 2005, 2007). In that 2002-2003 season, Tim Duncan, who tacked on his sixth straight season averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, acted as the offensive and defensive focal point and led the Spurs to their championship. What about the other two of the big three? This core had not even been established yet since Manu Ginobili was only a rookie while Tony Parker only had one year under his belt.

The Spurs would not have made it anywhere close to the NBA Finals that year without all of those Duncan bank shots. He took the reins from David Robinson (a player from another position’s era) and pushed the Spurs to another level. He was their “player.” Even though San Antonio never played exciting, highlight reel basketball during their championship run, they sent a statement to the league with The Big Fundamental in the front seat.

Aside from this one player taking his team to a championship, the rest of the league saw a plethora of power forwards have their way.

Amare Stoudemire was about to start a new era in Phoenix.

Dirk Nowitzki was only a few years away from becoming the sole leader in Dallas.

Chris Webber was in the prime of his career with a thriving Sacramento Kings squad.

Kevin Garnett was one season away from taking the Timberwolves to not only their first playoff series win but all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

Pau Gasol was about to take the Grizzlies to three straight playoff appearances… even though they didn’t win a game in any of those first round series.

These are only some examples of the dominant power forwards playing at that time. (Karl Malone, Antawn Jamison and Juwan Howard also come to mind as some solid power forwards at the time that personified their team.)

All of these mentioned players did play well for their successful team, but it’s much more than that. Statistics can only say so much.

They led the way. They took command. Every single one of these 4’s acted as the image for his team and became an undeniable leader for his franchise. Sports fans started to identify many franchises with these main power forwards. (The fact that many of these players seemed to end up in the Western Conference is an interesting topic, but I see it as pure coincidence.)

This ascendancy was only the beginning…

 

The Era Continues

Sometimes the NBA goes through quick phases when certain positions or teams excel for a season or two.

In The Era of the Power Forward, this was in no way the case.

The Suns, Spurs and Mavericks dominated the Western Conference the next four years while fighting each other for spots in the Western Conference Finals. During three of those four seasons, they had three of the four best records in the NBA.

All three of these teams had a power forward leading the way. Dirk. Timmy. STAT. They provided the scoring, the leadership and the heart that drove these teams to success. (The argument could be made that Steve Nash had a larger overall impact than Stoudemire, but this would be the only possible exception.)

Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol - NBA Finals Game 6:  Boston Celtics v Los Angeles LakersLater on, two other power forwards mentioned in the first list went on to new teams – Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol.

These players had different impacts than the previous three.

Since the Truth left Kansas, The Celtics had never found a way to put the correct pieces around Paul Pierce – the face of that team – in order to push them even somewhat close to a championship. Pierce scored many points year after year throughout his first nine seasons with the C’s (23.3 ppg during that time period) but the losses piled up just as fast.

Sometimes the answer to any team’s consistent struggles may be a change in coaching. (It’s also a great scapegoat.) However, current head coach Doc Rivers joining the team in 2004 did not bring glory back to the town that had grown accustomed to winning basketball as their losing ways persisted.

What was the answer?

With the insertion of Kevin Garnett, along with Ray Allen, prior to the 2007-2008 NBA season, they transformed into an entirely different team.

No disrespect to the all-time leader in three-pointers made, but Garnett provided the indispensable missing piece for this team. He instilled a relentless defensive approach every game on every defensive possession that made it a challenge for any opponent to put the ball in the basket. As the overused sports maxim tells us, “defense wins championships,” and KG pushed to ingrain this correct team mentality, helping bring a 17th championship to Boston.

During the offseason when the Celtics picked up two of their big three, Kobe Bryant showed clear disinterest with the only team he had ever played for, even going as far as to say he would welcome a trade. Something needed to change with one of the most renowned NBA teams in the league or that franchise would watch yet another superstar with a unique first name walk out of the Staples Center to play for a different team.

The Lakers organization did not bite on this dissension from Bryant and eventually landed Pau Gasol in a blockbuster trade involving his younger brother, Marc Gasol, who has made a name for himself in Memphis.

Prior to this trade, Los Angeles had not been to the NBA Finals in four years and had not won it in six. Even though this doesn’t sound that excruciating, the quality of players on this franchise year in and year out should lead to continual success. (They spoiled Californians…)

Once Gasol came to town, they appeared in three straight NBA Finals, winning the last two. Even though many point to both of the Lakers two big men, Andrew Bynum being the other, as the missing parts for a championship, Gasol had the much bigger impact at this point in their careers. He averaged 11.5 more points and 5.7 more rebounds than Bynum in the playoffs during their two championship runs.

Obviously, every team since Shaquille O’Neal left has been Kobe’s team. No discussion. But after Shaq left the Lakers, that franchise went through seasons when it was apparent something was awry. Gasol provided that missing piece at the power forward position. Just as Garnett did for the Celtics, he came in and quickly helped Los Angeles become a champion’s city once again.

All of these illustrations only give a glimpse into the impact power forwards had on the game. Identifying exactly what the power forward should bring to a team can’t easily be explained since there have been an abundance of different types of players with different skill sets at this position. (Then again, can’t that be said about any position?) No matter the style of play, a multitude of power forwards emerged to take command of their respective team, and they sustained this throughout their time on the court.

 

The Era Resumes

That’s right – it’s still happening today.

Yes, I see Derrick Rose winning MVP. Yes, I see Russell Westbrook filling up the highlight reels. Yes, I see Rajon Rondo continuing to blossom into a do-it-all, do-it-yourself elite point guard.

However, does an alteration of a position directly translate into a period of time heavily featuring players of that position leading their teams?

Instead of being The Era of the Point Guard, it should be referred to as The Metamorphosis of the Point Guard. Teams are beginning to expect more from their point guards, and they are beginning to bring new skills to the court.

Now of the six key forwards I mentioned at the beginning of The Era of the Power Forward (Duncan, Stoudemire, Nowitzki, Garnett, Webber, Gasol), five of them still play today and three of them play at a very high level. By the way, the odd man out – Webber – has become a highly regarded sports analyst! Is there a better way a set of players could epitomize what “impact” means to a sports league?

While many of the power forwards from the start of this period have sustained their greatness, many more have emerged as potentially – if not already – highly forceful players.

Those that have kept up with the NBA the past two seasons have undoubtedly heard about a certain guy by the name of Blake Griffin or seen him in an awkward KIA commercial. After missing his entire first season with the Clippers due to an injury, he burst onto the NBA scene the very next season and he burst while pounding… pounding the ball down the hoop. Not only did he win the Slam Dunk Contest with quite a show, but he also handily won Rookie of the Year.

Chris Paul has made this little-brother-of-the-Lakers squad into a playoff contender. But before CP3 arrived, Griffin brought a certain level of entertainment that had never been present in any prior Clippers’ season. Not one. With his constant and embarrassing posterizations of opponent after opponent in game after game, the redheaded freak of nature will surely continue to be the heart and get-you-up-out-of-your-seat player for his Los Angeles team.

The Portland Trail Blazers haven’t won a playoff series since the 1999-2000 season. They have had constant injuries (specifically Greg Oden and Brandon Roy) derail any chance for their franchise to make significant progress toward a championship.

Aside from these negatives attached to the organization, one player has been successful every year he has put on a Blazers uniform – LaMarcus Aldridge.

Including this year, Aldridge has only missed eight games due to injury during the past four and a half seasons. He has never averaged fewer than 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in any of those seasons. Many pieces have been brought in and shipped out during Aldridge’s time in Portland, but he has remained the backbone of the team, providing those raucous fans three straight playoff appearances.

This season, he has finally been recognized for his consistent play that includes an excellent back-to-the-basket game that so few can boast these days. He became an All-Star for the first time and completely deserved this nod. Becoming the only face for this franchise, he will continue to be just that for as long as he stays in Portland.

A man that put together 53 straight double-doubles (an NBA all-time record) might be considered to have made an impact on the NBA… Kevin Love probably would agree with this notion.

Timberwolves fans seemed to have no real reason to attend games since their team traded Garnett.

No star. No energy. No wins.

That all changed when Minnesota drafted Love in 2008.

Since he came to the team with few expectations and a few too many pounds, Love has grown into one of the top power forwards currently in the league. He constantly crashes the boards by simply boxing out and does the dirty work while easily providing 20+ points a night.

During the past two seasons, he has averaged 22.4 points and 14.5 rebounds. Other than Dwight Howard, no other player can say they have done anything close to that.

Aside from the statistics, Love has put a spark back into the Timberwolves fanbase. Ricky Rubio might play a large part in this revitalization for years to come, but Love started it with his breakout season last year. He imposed his will and his boxing out on the NBA.

Similar to both Griffin and Aldridge, Love has now created an identity for his team which directly relates to him as a player and as a man.

 

In the end, The Era of the Power Forward has little to do with stats, wins or championships. Those play a factor for each player and their team, but when you get down to the meaning of an era, that’s not what it’s about.

This is about a time when the power forward position has overwhelmed the NBA with player after player becoming the face of his franchise and establishing himself as the leader for the team. Point guards have played an important role in the league’s success throughout the past 10 years, but those players have not had the same enduring impact that the power forwards have had.

When it is all said and done and every single one of the mentioned players has retired, they will all be remembered. They will be remembered for what they brought to their teams. They will be remembered for what they brought to the league. And if enough people come around to realize this, they will be remembered for what they brought to The Era of the Power Forward.

 

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Orlando Bound – Western Conference

2 02 2012

Chris Paul - 5th All-Star Appearance

Kobe Bryant - 14th All-Star Appearance

Kevin Durant - 3rd All-Star Appearance

Blake Griffin - 2nd All-Star Appearance

Andrew Bynum - 1st All-Star Appearance

 

*All pictures come from NBA.com.

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Orlando Bound – Eastern Conference

2 02 2012

Derrick Rose - 3rd All-Star Appearance

Dwyane Wade - 8th All-Star Appearance

LeBron James - 8th All-Star Appearance

Carmelo Anthony - 5th All-Star Appearance

Dwight Howard - 6th All-Star Appearance

 

*All pictures come from NBA.com.

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