Monday, February 28, 2011

Under Review: NBA Trade Deadline

Some trade deadlines arrive with a ton of hype and coverage, but rarely a trade that’s actually interesting, *cough* NHL *cough*. The NBA trade deadline is not one of those deadlines, and 2011 was no different. In fact, 2011 gave NBA fans one of the craziest trade deadlines in recent memory, with 14 trades, involving 17 draft picks and 49 players, ranging from the Carmelo’s and Deron’s of the world all the way down to the Luke Harangody’s.

There were the blockbusters, one expected, one not, which completely removed all the star-power from Mountain Time…other than Gordon Hayward, obviously. Other deals may have involved lesser lights, but their impact on where the trophy ends up in June for the next few years could be huge. Finally, on the Timberwolves end of the spectrum, there were a number of trades which could have only served to depress fans worldwide as they acquainted, or reacquainted, themselves with the reality that their team is hopelessly irrelevant and, perhaps, will be for quite some time.

Let’s begin at the top. After all the Melodrama, the New York Knicks finally got their man, acquiring F Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets, along with G Chauncey Billups, F Renaldo Balkman, G Anthony Carter and C Shelden Williams from the Nuggets, along with F Corey Brewer from the Minnesota Timberwolves. In return, the Nuggets got F Wilson Chandler, G Raymond Felton, F Danilo Galinari, C Timofey Mozgov, C Kostas Koufas, the Knicks’ 2014 1st round pick, 2nd round picks in 2012 and 2013, both originally belonging to the Warriors, and 3 million dollars cash. As part of the deal, the Timberwolves picked up C Eddy Curry’s expiring contract and F Anthony Randolph from the Knicks, the Nuggets’ 2015 2nd round pick and 3 million dollars.

So after wading through the details of that monster deal, what does it all mean? What it means is that the Knicks will be starting two of the best players in the league, in their prime, for at least the next 5 years or so. I read a lot of articles from various sports media outlets leading up to and after this trade about how Carmelo wasn’t worth the price, how he was just a volume shooter who couldn’t, and wouldn’t, play defence. That’s bogus. That opinion is, as the kids say, an epic fail. Carmelo Anthony is not, “the best scorer in the league.” Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Amar’e Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade are all averaging more points per game and all shoot a higher percentage from the field. What Carmelo Anthony is, is the most versatile scorer in the league. Carmelo Anthony is faster than you and if he’s not, then he’s stronger than you. He might be stronger, taller and faster than you. He can play with his back to the basket and he can kill you from the outside. He can get to the line, where he shoots better than 80%. When you need a bucket, say…I don’t know, sometime in May or June, Carmelo can get it for you any way you want it. That kind of skill-set is rare and invaluable. If you can get Carmelo Anthony, you do it. Throw in the fact that he’s a New Yorker who wants to play in the Garden more than anything and it’s a slam dunk. Yes, the price was steep, but it was absolutely worth it, and let’s not forget that Carmelo didn’t arrive in the Big Apple alone. Flying in with him, somehow under the radar, is a former Finals MVP, Chauncey Billups, who is a definite upgrade at the point-guard position over Raymond Felton. And don’t sleep on Corey Brewer, who joins the Knicks from Minnesota. He is definitely capable of filling in some holes on the stat-sheet and he can give you defence, athleticism and effort, attributes that are always welcome.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Denver either and I think, given the circumstances, the Nuggets came out of this in pretty good shape too. They avoided getting Leboned, Boshed, whatever you want to call it, by getting the most they could for their want-away superstar. Along with draft picks, the Nuggets got a couple of nice young players in Danilo Galinari and Wilson Chandler, a promising big man in Timofey Mozgov and either a really good backup guard, or a good trade chip in Raymond Felton. They’ll have to make a decision on whether to resign Chandler after this season, but the rest are signed for at least next season. Remember, these guys made up the majority of a starting line-up that had already begun New York’s resurgence and they’ve already started well in Denver, beating the Celtics in the home-opener of the new-look Nuggets before losing by one, on the road in Portland, the very next night. Pretty good start. Nuggets fans should feel good about where they’re at right now. Kenyon Martin’s $16 million salary comes off the books after this season, meaning they should be able to resign anyone they want to keep among their list of expiring contracts (Martin, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Aaron Afflalo) AND, as part of the Anthony deal, they have a $17 million trade exception they can use to sign a marquee free agent if and when they choose.

The Timberwolves got what they got out of the deal and, to be honest, no one really cares, although it’s kinda funny that one team now has Eddy Curry, Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley. Unfortunately, Minnesota is one of those teams I mentioned in the intro: hopelessly irrelevant, their fans can only count the days until Kevin Love inevitably leaves, without even the comfort of knowing that Clippers fans understand their pain. They do, or they once did, but now they have Blake Griffin, so they don’t care anymore.

The big question during the Carmelo trade saga was would Carmelo go to the Knicks, or become a part of the Nets (eventual) Brooklyn revolution. He went to the Knicks and the Nets missed out on the first big splash of the Prokhorov era…or so we thought. In what was maybe the biggest surprise of deadline day, the Utah Jazz sent All-Star point guard Deron Williams to New Jersey for F Derrick Favors, G Devin Harris, the Nets’ 2011 1st round pick, a 2012 1st round pick originally belonging to the Warriors and cash considerations.

The immediate reaction to this deal was that, if you’re going to have to settle on a consolation prize, Deron Williams is a really good consolation prize. That is absolutely true, but this deal marks a huge risk for the Nets organization, and here’s why. Deron Williams, who unlike Carmelo Anthony did not sign an extension after being traded, will be a free agent after the 2012 season. The Nets basically have the rest of this season and next to convince Deron that New Jersey/Brooklyn is the place to be, and I think they could have a hard time convincing him of that. As a Net, Deron Williams will get to play with Brook Lopez and…that’s it. The Nets are one of the least talented teams in the league and the 2011 free agent class is hardly sparkling, so it’ll take some creative wheeling and dealing to make that roster attractive. Yes, Deron is a superstar point-guard, the kind of player other stars want to play with, but teams aren’t giving away players for free, unless you’re the Lakers and you’re offering Javaris Crittenton, and the Nets don’t have a single attractive trade chip. Ultimately, I think Deron only resigns with the Nets because A) they can offer him the most money, B) there’s nowhere better he can go, or C) he’s a huge Beyonce fan. In the meantime, there are going to be a ton of teams plotting a way to sign Deron away from the Nets and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of them manages it.

There were a couple of moves made at the deadline that made sense, I can see the logic and they could very well work out spectacularly, but they don’t sit well with me. First, G Baron Davis was sent to Cleveland, along with the Clippers’ 2011 1st round pick, for G Mo Williams and F Jamario Moon. I can see why the Clippers did it. Mo Williams is going to give you, pretty much, what Baron gave you, but for $3 million less. Plus, he never showed up for work completely out of shape. But, Baron had been reinvigorated by Blake Griffin, he was motivated again, motivated Baron is awesome, he was sveltening by the day. The Clippers just had a lot of feel good energy going this season and, as a fan, I can tell you that this trade kind of killed the momentum a little bit. Everything else aside, this trade has to go down as one of the worst ever from a player’s point of view. Baron was fat and unhappy and then Blake Griffin came along and basketball was fun again, Baron got in shape and the Clippers started winning. Baron went from the moon roof of a car in his hometown of LA, throwing a lob to his teammate, the most exciting player in the league, who was about to win the dunk contest, to Cleveland and a historically bad team, in a matter of days…that sucks.

Another trade that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way was the Celtics sending C Kendrick Perkins and G Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for F Jeff Green, C Nenad Krstic and a future 1st round draft pick. Again, I get it. The Celtics need to start thinking about life after the Big 3 in the long term and they needed to be deeper at the forward spot to deal with the Carmelo’s and Lebron’s in the short term. This deal will help them do both. The Thunder didn’t really need Jeff Green, but they needed a big guy to deal with Bynum, Duncan and Chandler out West, this deal did that for them. What I don’t like about this deal is on the Celtics end. Kendrick Perkins was a big part of their title winning formula, a formula that had yet to fail when all the players were healthy. Perkins was drafted by the Celtics, who watched him grow and develop into the player he is. Where’s the loyalty? The reality is that it’s professional sports and there isn’t any loyalty, but that doesn’t make it sting any less for Perkins, who reportedly cried all day when he found out he’d been traded. On a side note, I’m really tired of teams, fans and the media trying to label want away stars as selfish. It’s such a double standard. Carmelo’s somehow ruining the NBA by going to New York, but the Celtics are just making a smart move. Come on.

Really quickly, some of the other notable deals and their ramifications:

F Gerald Wallace to the Portland Trailblazers

The perpetually rebuilding Bobcats sent Wallace to Portland for Joel Pryzbilla, a couple of 1st rounders and a couple of scrubs. I love this deal for the Trailblazers. They weren’t getting a lot of Pryzbilla and in Wallace they get a high energy guy who’s a great rebounder at his position. The Blazers can roll out Wallace, Marcus Camby and Lamarcus Aldridge and have three guys who could all average 10 rebounds a game. If Brandon Roy can get right and he’s showing signs that he can, this Blazers team is going to be a really tough out in the playoffs. As for the ramifications for the Bobcats, there’s no time…see above re: the Timberwolves, etc.

G Aaron Brooks to the Phoenix Suns

The Suns swapped point guards with the Rockets, sending Goran Dragic and a 1st rounder to Houston for Aaron Brooks. Both of these guys have regressed a little bit this year and they will both need to be resigned after the season. I think Phoenix got the better player in the deal, but how much these two end up costing with their new contracts will give us a better picture of how this shakes out. For now, the Suns have a talented scoring guard who will take pressure and minutes away from Steve Nash’s aging legs and the Rockets probably save some money and get a pretty good point guard prospect.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Derby Days: Part Three

Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City

I’ll end with a brief mention of some of the players who caught the eye today. For United, Chris Smalling was very, very good in his first Manchester derby. There was a touch of nerves in his early touches, but he was more and more assured as the match wore on. To go from playing non-league football to standing out in this derby in such a short time is really an incredible achievement and an example to anyone not on the fast track to playing for the club of their dreams. (Note to self: do some push-ups or something soon.)

From a man playing in his first derby to one who’s played in a few, Ryan Giggs continues to amaze at the age of 37. He started slowly, but after the first United goal he burst into life. The best part about Giggs is that he get’s older and his game changes a bit, but he still has those moments where he’s flying down the wing and no one can get near him. He had an advert for a fitness DVD at half-time, and I can’t think of a better product for him to sell. How he plays like he does after all these years is anyone’s guess. I think, when it’s all said and done, he retires as the greatest United player of all time.

Nani finished the game with a goal and an assist, further pushing his claim as United’s most important player. He really has become a fantastic player. He can shoot with power on both feet, he’s quick over any distance, great feet, strong, delivers quality service, can play on the left or the right, scores goals, sets them up and most importantly, does all of the above consistently. He is no longer the next Ronaldo, or the other Ronaldo…he is becoming the one and only Nani.

For City, I think the best player on the pitch was Vincent Kompany by a mile. He read the game really well and was never really beaten to anything. City are very hard to break down and he is the reason why. If it wasn’t for a moment of genius, we would all be talking about how invisible Rooney was under his watch.

Ifs and buts aren’t worth much, but another City player could have easily grabbed all the headlines, with a little luck. I am talking about David Silva, who missed out on opening the scoring by inches. Despite that miss, Silva was brilliant for City, pulling all the strings in the midfield, but he wasn’t alone in that area. United won the match, but it was City who looked the classier side in midfield. Silva gives them all the guile and movement you could want, while Toure is a huge presence. To be honest, I think Gareth Barry brings them down and needs to be replaced, but two-thirds of that midfield is as good as they come.

Speaking of catching the eye…Wayne Rooney. I can’t tell you what that goal means to the title race, or to Rooney personally or professionally. I can only describe to you what it meant to me. It was a moment of brilliance which burst into my consciousness, illuminating my mind, body and soul. Everything in the world seemed better and brighter. That goal made me want to be a better person. What I felt when I saw that goal is the reason I love these sports. Is the above paragraph laughably cheesy and melodramatic? Yes. Is the above paragraph absolutely the truth? Yes.

Derby Days: Part Two

Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City

It would be very unfair to talk about this latest Manchester classic without talking about how well Manchester City played. It was a harsh result for the Blues, who played very well and were unlucky not to win the game to be honest. The Citizens bossed the early stages of the match and should have score when Silva, who was excellent throughout, was put through early on only to stab just wide. It took the first United goal, which really came out of nowhere, to turn the match for the home side. Nani’s opener will be forgotten by many, but it was a brilliant individual effort in its own right. More on Nani later, but I said City’s efforts shouldn’t be glossed over and I was just about to do just that. City rose to the occasion and there is no doubt that they will be right there for all the trophies in years to come with the squad they’ve assembled. Vincent Kompany was flawless in defence, Silva, class in midfield, Tevez, all action in attack. Along with Joe Hart, Yaya Toure and the rest it is a side that will only get better the more they play together.

I’m a United fan, but I, for one, am so happy that City are in the condition they are in. In terms of spicy games, Arsenal matches have lost all the animosity which made them great, Liverpool haven’t been good enough and Chelsea was only ever a paper tiger, not in terms of quality, but the rivalry was forced and unnatural. City gets the pulse racing like few others at the moment and it’s a welcome sensation.

Derby Days: Part One

Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City

Whew! They don’t come much better than that if you’re a Manchester United fan do they? It was a massive result for the Reds and for the winning goal to come like that…there are no words.

Stunner doesn’t even begin to describe Wayne Rooney’s 78th minute winner. Three points: it was a massive win for United in the title race, especially after the slip-up at Wolves, secondly, to score like that, it’s just incredible...and so late in the game after having lost the lead. Finally, elevating that goal from stunner to absolutely-out-of-this-world-fairytale-stuff was how poorly Rooney had been playing up to that point. His touch just before the ball was moved wide for Nani to float it in summed up his match to that point: clumsy and impotent.

Rooney was never really a threat to the City defence and he looked completely bereft of confidence, never looking to attack, always going backwards and sideways. That swift change, from frustrated non-factor…to pure embodiment of footballing genius was so sudden, it made the goal all-the-more breathtaking, and it was pretty good on its own anyway. It was so good that, as Alex Ferguson noted after the game, it completely erased Nani’s quite brilliant opener from the mind. It was so good that Roberto Mancini, when asked if he had been beaten by a moment of genius could only pause for a second, shrug his shoulders and say, “Yes.” It was so good.

As incredible as Rooney’s goal was, his overall performance in the match was quite poor. It will be lost in the furor of his winner, but Rooney looked out of sorts, as has become all too common lately. He’s not in the right frame of mind, which should come as little surprise in what has been such a turbulent year for the United man. He just looks like he’s playing on edge, over-thinking everything and the instances of positive impact are all too rare. Watching Rooney this season has been watching a man concentrating on playing well instead of just playing. He rarely attacks space as he once did. He is not lacking in ability, but Rooney’s mind is not right at the moment. There are always flashes of the Rooney of old: after City’s equaliser, Rooney took off from the restart, taking on the entire City team and beating several. United fans will hope that this wonderful, instinctive goal serves as a catalyst for the man because, as crazy as it is to say now, after what’s happened, Rooney was not worth his place in the line-up over Berbatov today.