L.A. Fashion Statement Pales in Comparison to Celtic Domination

December 31, 2007

I’ve found my next Halloween costume.

With Rajon Rondo wearing several different outfits on the Boston bench against the Los Angeles last night due to a balky hamstring, the Celtics, playing their 4th road game in only 5 days, appeared ripe for the picking.  But, while this Los Angeles bunch has looked great recently and came out dressed to play the part of the ’80s Showtime Lakers, looks proved to be deceiving (a complete non-sequitur, but I would like to go on record as having predicted the change of shorts at halftime).

Tony Allen filled in as well as could be imagined in Rondo’s place at the point, racking up 42 minutes of play, 16 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, several awkward missed lay-ups, and only 4 turnovers–a low total considering my 89-year-old grandmother has a better handle than Tony.  Contributing to Tony’s reasonable job at the point was the lack of pressure placed on the NBA’s worst dribbling guard by the the listless Lakers.  I have no idea why L.A. didn’t press other than Phil Jackson went comatose when he realized he was getting outcoached by Doc Rivers or perhaps was busy thinking of some new material for his budding career in comedy.  Not sure.

Paul Pierce put up 33 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals, which should come as no surprise considering he got his nickname in Los Angeles from none other than Shaquille O’Neal.  The Truth grew up in Inglewood and always brings it when the Celtics head out to his old stomping grounds.  KG showed skill, toughness and grit (attributes L.A. could have used), picking up 22 points, 12 boards, 6 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, and a couple stitches along the way, while the only sound heard from Ray Allen (19, 6, and 1) all night was the swoosh of nylon.

Kendrick Perkins rounded out the starting five’s night with a workman-like performance, shutting down a disinterested Andrew Bynum on the defensive end and supplying the Celtics with 7 points and 7 boards on the evening.

Kobe managed to sabotage any chance his team had by putting together a vintage ball hog night, notching fewer points than field goals attempted–very impressive considering he scored 22 (The Semi-Sex Offender went 6 of 25 from the field).

No one was particularly impressive for the Lakers in this match-up, well, except for Sasha Vujacic and Derek Fisher (above), who looked like 11-year-old boys from in their vintage ’80s outfits.

This was an outstanding victory for the Celtics, who won all 4 games on their west coast trip, especially noteworthy considering they played these games in only 5 nights and the most recent back-to-back included a tough victory at Utah before dismantling the Lakers at The Forum.  Coming through without their floor general, Rajon Rondo, against one of the top 4 or 5 teams in the entire NBA was quite a statement.  The Lakers looked lifeless against the intensity of the Celtics, and Lamar Odom’s tackle at the end of the game was classless.  The fact that the refs called it a double technical on Odom and Ray Allen will never cease to amaze me, similar to the time referees decided that an opposing forward punching me in the mouth in youth basketball warranted a double foul and no further action.

Of note, after perusing the Boston schedule for the remainder of the season, with no major injuries I would now expect this team to win at least 65 games, with a real chance to win 70 or even break the all-time wins record of 72, held by the Chicago Bulls.  As absurd as it sounds, in analyzing the road ahead, I could find only 4 remaining games that I would expect Boston to struggle to win (one is the match-up at Detroit next Saturday).  This is truly a remarkable team, one that prevented the passing of a legend, at least for one more night.  Red is surely puffin’ on a victory stogie somewhere.


Calling for Change: Shorten the College Shot Clock

December 30, 2007

35 seconds is an eternity, one that needlessly puts control of the game into the hands of time-wasting coaches instead of the talented players we tune in to watch. 

The NCAA shot clock has long been 5 seconds longer than its high school counterpart, the 30 second shot clock.  As we’ve seen every March, college basketball is plenty exciting, with countless games coming down to the wire.  So why do I want to mess with a good thing?

It’s simple: 35 seconds is too long.  As exciting as games are, they could be even better.  Teams milk the clock at the end of the game, passing the ball around 30 feet from the basket with no intention of making any sort of move toward the basket.  That’s boring.

So why not just shorten the clock to the 30 seconds high schoolers are already used to?  This quickening of the pace would create at least another 11 possessions per game, and most likely many more than that.  At 35 seconds the absolute minimum is 69 total possessions per game, while at 30 it’s 80.  As seen in the NBA, the more possessions, the more entertaining the game, generally.  A long shot clock is like the neutral zone trap in hockey, it slows down the game and enables the winning team to simply waste time instead of continuing to attack–the most exciting part of any game. 

No one likes to see teams dribbling out the clock, just as no one enjoyed watching the ’90s and early 2000s versions of the New Jersey Devils dump the puck into the opponent’s end and stack the neutral zone, making any sort of engaging play extremely difficult.  Winning is fun for the winners, but great play is fun for fans of the sport, regardless of team affiliation. 

If we shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds teams will still have time to run an offense and involve all their players–the purpose of having a longer time limit than the NBA–but the games will be more entertaining and ultimately, because of more possessions and therefore more foul trouble, will involve additional NCAA athletes, perhaps giving the walk-on twelfth man a chance to make an impact in a game that counts. 

I can’t say there’s anything I’d rather see than that.


New 76ers GM Strikes Fast with Korver Deal

December 29, 2007

It looks like Philadelphia finally has some hope based on their new hire’s initial major move.

Ed Stefanski, the newly-named General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, made his first substantial move today, trading Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz for Gordan Giricek and a future first round pick.

Neither player in the deal is much more than a decent option off the bench who can occasionally step in and start for a few games at a time on a good team. Korver is an exceptionally limited player, his lone skill being the long-range shot off a catch, while Giricek can score enough to be of some service at the off-guard position when he’s motivated to play his best defense–which, even then, is far from great. Both play the wing position, but Giricek is slightly more versatile, as he can more easily step in at both the 2 and the 3, whereas Korver is a bit slow to play at the 2 with any sort of regularity.

So far this season both have struggled. Korver is currently posting his worst season since his rookie year, with an extremely low 10.88 PER. In Utah Giricek has been even worse, managing only a 7.40 PER and carrying quite a bit of excess baggage. Just a short time ago the former Yugoslavian star was kicked off the Utah bench and suspended from the team for arguing with Hall-of-Fame head coach Jerry Sloan. Needless to say, this sticky situation made moving Giricek a prerogative for Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor.

Given the obvious need for a deal, the Jazz did OK for themselves. Giricek has little value as a player, so a team like the 76ers, which should be fully immersed in rebuilding, was the perfect dance partner. Korver fills Utah’s need for a perimeter shooter and should help strengthen the Jazz rotation, which had lost some of the depth previously boasted in past seasons. The Jazz can now feature Korver, Matt Harpring, and Paul Millsap off the bench, with less intriguing options at the back-up point and center positions.

Essentially, Utah has decided to roll the dice with Korver in order to attempt to save their foundering season, having lost 10 of 13 and fallen to 9th overall in the West despite an impressive +4.4 point differential on the season. The problem with this trade is it makes any further moves not involving core members of the team increasingly difficult. Giricek’s contract was the lone expiring deal of any significant value on the Utah roster, which makes acquiring a back-up point guard or another big man nearly impossible as complementary pieces instead of replacements for current key contributors.

For Philly, this deal could prove to be a steal. Giricek will make no difference for the Sixers in terms of wins and losses, and his contract can either be traded again before the deadline or simply allowed to expire this off-season, giving Philadelphia even more cap space with which to pursue an Elton Brand or Gilbert Arenas type. Due to Korver’s limited abilities and the three seasons left on his contract at $4.5 million per year, this deal would have been addition by subtraction alone; however, the Sixers also netted themselves a future first round pick, further swaying the trade in their favor.

Overall this is a short-sighted, partially panic-stricken decision for the Jazz, who are in desperate need of a spark, and a fantastic, building-approach trade for Philly GM Ed Stefanski. Based on his first major move, Stefanski appears to be the perfect man to fix the mess left behind by the recently fired Billy King.


Assorted Ramblings on 12/28

December 28, 2007

When I Google image-searched “ramblings” this came up, and that will be the only connection to the rest of this post. 

Pakistan is a mess.  Being a world leader is both dangerous and taxing; it’s a wonder so many folks constantly strive for the highest posts–then again, I’m a lucky American so take my previous statement with a grain of salt.

Watched Mystic River today.  Great acting.  If you want to cry give that one a viewing, or you could try North Country.  I prefer Superbad.

Apparently former World Series hero Jim Leyritz killed a woman in a drunk driving incident.  The whole situation really bothers me, because driving under the influence remains a huge issue across the nation.  Yet, I know many good people who don’t care about it at all.  Many friends of mine constantly drink more than they should and don’t care at all about the inherent risk.  I have lots of anecdotal evidence to prove the irresponsibility of operating a vehicle in any other condition than sober and seatbelted (or helmeted).  My uncle died in a car accident when he was not wearing his seatbelt.  A helmetless friend of my mother’s was hit by a car while riding her bike and entered into a coma; she still struggles with many different tasks and hasn’t regained full functionality years after the incident and ensuing stint in the hospital.  On the other hand, one of my best friends survived flipping his car (completely sober) with only a cut on his hand because he chose to buckle-up.

Drugs, including marijuana, are not acceptable either.  I’ve had people tell me smoking weed heightens one’s senses, which makes driving high fine.  That’s a contrived argument by an intelligent person and simply not true.  You can do what you want to yourself so long as you don’t inflict harm upon others.  Please be responsible when leaving sobriety behind under any circumstances.  The rewards may not be visible, but as proven time and time again, avoiding the pain that one selfish move can cause is priceless.

OK, back to less touchy subjects.

Ed Wade rocks!  Darin Erstad?  Seriously?  Too good to be true.  I really feel bad for Astros fans–there’s nothing worse than having a crappy front office running your favorite team. 

The Sports Gal is probably funnier than her husband.

After watching the Celtics take on the Sonics last night I’m quite disappointed.  P.J. Carlesimo is wasting Kevin Durant’s talents.  How can P.J. not find KD easier shots and use his post-up skills on smaller defenders?  I know he’s weak so getting proper position isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean you just sit him on the perimeter and do nothing with a talent like that.  Try some coaching!  Maybe set a pick or teach him how to use his body to make up for a lack of strength.  The dynamic player that Durant was at Texas, despite a lack of coaching creativity in Tejas as well, has disappeared.  Durant’s diverse offensive abilities must be employed to give the guy some easier opportunities than jacking a long two-pointer off the dribble.

Smart move by the NFL to allow the Patriots-Giants broadcast tomorrow night be aired on every station ever.  While forcing cable companies to add the NFL Network would be nice for the bottom line, alienating customers has yet to prove a great strategy for any organization.


Message to the Nets: Build for Brooklyn

December 27, 2007

It’s time to split up this Jersey trio. 

Put frankly, the New Jersey Nets are a mess. 

Jason Kidd, owner of a 36.7 field goal percentage and a startlingly low 16.79 PER, is no longer worth anywhere near $20 million a year.  Vince Carter has packed it in till his next contract year.  Richard Jefferson is playing at his peak right now, wasting his efforts.  Sean Williams is the only other player on the Nets’ roster worthy of anyone’s time.

It’s time to build for Brooklyn.

The Nets are set to move to the former home of Dem Bums in time for the start of the 2010-2011 season.  By then their roster could, and should, be totally remade with promising youngsters and cap space as staples of the franchise in order to facilitate a major free agency run at LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, or Carmello Anthony.  Jay-Z’s partial ownership of the team will be quite an asset in terms of attracting one of the NBA’s top talents come the summer of 2010, and Brooklyn’s place in America’s number one market should help to attract any potential “global icons.”

This is a plan that the Knicks should follow as well, but given their current leadership fiasco, I would put more stock in the Nets following through with such a concept.  However, should either of the tri-state area’s struggling franchises find themselves with sufficient cap space to offer a max contract in the summer of 2010, fans in Cleveland, Miami, and Denver will surely be looking to the skies for some help in keeping their favorite sons where they are right now.

Back to the Nets’ current situation.

The Nets have only two players under contract beyond 2009: the aforementioned Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter.  Luckily both have value, and should the team decide to move either over the next few years, draft picks and expiring contracts could be had in return.  Were I running the Nets I would let fellow GMs know that any player on my roster could be had and actively look to move Jason Kidd and Vince Carter as soon as possible.  Jefferson has more value, and therefore shouldn’t be shopped like the other two-thirds of New Jersey’s triumvirate.

With some shrewdness and any luck the Nets could march into Brooklyn in November of 2010 with a roster headlined by the King, RJ at his wing, and some young talent instead of a spoiled Kidd, the apathetic artist formerly known as Vinsanity, and a collection of misfits.


The Celtics’ PG Crisis and an Al Jefferson Update

December 27, 2007

While Tony Allen can be a force when healthy, he certainly cannot play the point. 

If you watch the Celtics at all, you’ll notice they have one glaring need: a true back-up point guard.  They don’t need a stud–fans have been hoping for the arrival of Sam Cassell for quite a while–, they just need someone who can come in and play 10 minutes when the other team’s pressure gets to Eddie House.

Now, clearly, should the team be able to acquire a better back-up than say a Lindsey Hunter-type, it would be a move worth considering–imagine the struggles Boston would face should Rajon Rondo go down with an injury for more than a few games.  The Celtics are actually better equipped to handle the extended absence of Ray Allen or Paul Pierce than they are of their young point guard.

So, what should the team do about this?  After trading almost all of its assets away this summer and using most of its cap space on Scott Pollard, Eddie House, and James Posey, unless the team feels Gary Payton would be a worthwhile pursuit (a move I’m not in favor of), a trade is the logical route.

First of all, what do the Celtics have to offer?  The ideal situation would find Chris Webber deciding to forgo his almost certain return to Detroit to sign with the Celtics for little more than the veteran’s minimum, making Glen “Big Baby” Davis available.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Webber will be joining the Boston Three Party, making Davis a vital cog in the front court.

That leaves us with a combination of Tony Allen, Gabe Pruitt, Leon Powe, Brian Scalabrine’s contract, and future draft picks.  Not too appealing a package.  That’s why netting Cassell, the perfect man for the job, is nearly impossible.  Not only do the Clippers most likely not want the porous package the Celtics could throw together–one that would have to include Brian Scalabrine’s contract to work–but they have no reason to get rid of the guy for meager portions; Cassell has been playing great and if he leaves after this season then more than $6 million comes off LAC’s cap number next year.  Essentially, if you want Cassell, you better have something good to offer.

Assuming Cassell is not an option, who else could the Celtics target?

Kyle Lowry is an intriguing young player whose contract would be no issue at a little more than a $1 million for 2007-2008, and Grizz GM Chris Wallace certainly knows the Celtics considering his previous post was as Boston’s General Manager.  An offer structured around Tony Allen and some draft pick compensation might be enough to get it done, and a deal could be further expanded should Memphis so desire.

Another possible team worth talking to, ironically, is the Clippers.  While Cassell might be too difficult a match for Boston, Brevin Knight or former Celtic Dan Dickau could be less costly solutions.  After all, the Celtics aren’t looking for a guy to come in and make waves, they just need someone to get the ball over half and into the offense when Rajon Rondo’s on the bench.

As much as I like Tony Allen at the wing position, unfortunately he simply cannot play the point under any circumstances.  The strange part about Doc Rivers’ infatuation with placing Allen under the pressure of bringing the ball up is Tony’s incredible lack of dribbling skill, a prerequisite for playing point guard at any level.  Last night’s game against the Kings showcased this fact, as Allen lost the ball on three consecutive possessions in the first half, and committed 4 turnovers in short minutes.  While trading Tony Allen is not a move I want to see made, it may turn out to be the only option that can prevent a meltdown when Rajon Rondo is unavailable.

Spending too much time on the ESPN.com’s Trade Machine can prove a fruitless effort (just ask Bill Simmons), but spending some time checking in with other GMs around the league is something Celtics boss Danny Ainge must do in the hopes of being proactive rather than reactive with his team’s point guard issue staring him in the face. 

***

Al Jefferson update: Big Al threw down last night, posting 20 points, 19 boards (10 offensive), 3 assists, 3 steals, and a block.  Jefferson has become one of the top 5 offensive rebounders in the league, and currently carries a 22.49 PER in his back pocket.  Too bad Shira Springer’s dubious report on the KG trade NOT involving Big Al was little more than poor reporting and ended up costing Springer her job.  The Big Three plus Big Al and Rajon Rondo?  Now that could have been a dynasty.

Should ‘Sota find itself in the top two of the draft this summer, thus earning the privelege of partnering Jefferson with either Derrick Rose or Micheal Beasley (assuming they choose the one-and-done route) plus the rest of the Minny Celtics, you might see a relatively quick turnaround for the T-Wolves.


The Mark Prior Saga Heads to San Diego

December 26, 2007

Mark Prior will be taking his potentially outstanding pitching repertoire to San Diego in 2008.

Mark Prior, owner of tremendous potential and a broken down right arm, has decided to try to resurrect his tragic career with the Padres.

Since Prior’s arrival on the Cubs’ Major League roster in 2002, less than one year removed from destroying the competition for the USC Trojans, his story has been filled with promise and disappointment. 

After a dominant first full season in 2003, which saw Prior contend for the Cy Young award at only 23-years-old, things took a turn for the worse.

Most likely caused by the tremendous stress placed on Prior’s fragile, young arm during the second half of the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the kid with Hall-of-Fame talent has essentially fallen off the map.  The tragic part is that with the right franchise, one without the pressure of not having won a World Series since 1908, Prior and fellow flamethrower Kerry Wood might have been nurtured into the co-aces the Cubs envisioned during the early 2000s.

After succumbing to the incredible stress placed upon his body by an astronomical number of pitches thrown and an unfortunate collision with then-Atlanta 2nd baseman Marcus Giles, Prior’s formerly otherworldly combination of stuff and command dissapeared.  His walk rates nearly doubled over the next couple years, which raised his WHIP significantly, and Prior’s fantastic K/9 rate fell to a career-low 7.83 in 2006–the year things officially came apart at the seams. 

Some have called Prior’s mechanics “perfect,” while others have claimed his form may have helped lead to his long medical history.  I’ll let you decide, but one thing’s for sure, the extreme load placed on Prior’s body at such a young age was no help.

This brings us to the day after Christmas, 2007.  Mark Prior is set to take up residence in Southern California at the backend of a rotation that currently includes Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, the constantly improving Chris Young, the greatest pitcher of the steroid era, Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux, and fellow injury-proned rehab case, Randy Wolf.  This could be the perfect spot for Prior, who is a native of San Diego, and stands to learn much about pitching with lesser stuff from the pitching professor himself, Maddux.

At only $1 million guaranteed, there is almost no risk for the Padres, but quite a bit for Prior, who is running out of chances to re-prove himself.  If things work out, we may look back at this deal in the same light we now see the Cardinals’ heady signing of Chris Carpenter back in 2003. 

Here’s hoping past sins against the young superstar’s arm don’t prevent him from regaining his form for the Padres and rewriting an ongoing saga that could still end with a bust in Cooperstown.