Let’s Change the Conversation
Five issues most people won’t bother to consider going into the new NBA season.
by Allen Powell
We’re all tired of talking about the “big” stories in the NBA. LeBron, Melo, the Lakers, who cares?
Those overhyped topics may still pique the interest of casual fans, but hard-nosed NBA watchers want to discuss things a little farther off the beaten path. Here are some new topics of conversation to keep you arguing until the season starts for real.
1. Should Jeff Green See Green?
Drafting well is crucial to obtaining and sustaining NBA success. Unfortunately, stockpiling talent requires ducats.
Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti was fortunate these past two years because his best players had some of the team’s smallest contracts. That’s all changing now.
The team made the no-brainer decision to extend Kevin Durant this offseason, after he dominated the world and replaced LeBron as the League’s most popular wunderkind.
Now Presti has to find money for deals with Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Oh yeah, James Harden is going to want to get paid soon too.
Green seems like the odd man out. He’s a prototypical small forward, but he’s being asked to do the work of a power forward because Durant already plays the three. Unfortunately, Green has never averaged seven boards a game and he shot more three-pointers than free-throws last year. Plus, he had a dismal playoff series against the Lakers’ big front line.
Green, like most NBA players, wants a big payday after toiling under his rookie contract, and it’s unclear how much OKC thinks he’s worth. Will he start to pout this year when asked to sacrifice his body, or does he continue to be a good soldier? Will envy rear its head when Green considers Durant’s new deal and the one certainly waiting for Westbrook in two years? It could be a constant problem for the new chic pick in the NBA.
2. Warrior Rebirth?
Tim Hardaway isn’t walking through the door. Neither are Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond.
But, that doesn’t mean the Golden State Warriors won’t shock some folks this year.
Monta and Steph have squashed the beef, David Lee is paid and still irked, and most importantly, Don Nelson and his aura of disillusionment are gone. Nelson is a good coach, but he always seemed like the beer-soaked uncle who sprinkles occasional pearls of wisdom among lengthy diatribes about how the world is filled with bums.
The pure scoring punch in the Warriors backcourt and a new coach who doesn’t abhor anyone taller than 6-9 increases the likelihood that Warriors will be competitive. A starting five of Curry, Ellis, Dorell Wright, Andris Biedrins and David Lee seems solid. Add a bench featuring rookie Ekpe Udoh, Brandan Wright, Louis Amundson and Vlade the Impaler and that looks like a team with an outside shot a the Playoffs.
It all depends on new coach Keith Smart and his ability to get his players to buy in to working on the side of the ball that Nelson forgot. Don’t be surprised if the Warriors are in a dog fight for the seventh or eighth seeds.
3. Donnie’s and Mike’s Departures
How’s Isiah Thomas looking now Knicks fans?
Most Knicks fans still hate Thomas for his bad trades and even worse managerial decisions, but weren’t Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni supposed to usher in a Golden Age of Knicks basketball? Seems like the ushers must have gotten the venue wrong or something…
Walsh appears secure, but Lord Voldemort, excuse me, James Dolan, did briefly bring back Thomas as a consultant, which was fairly insulting given Zeke’s reputation in the League and media. Thomas is a master drafter and decent talent evaluator, but just sucks at weighing the pros and CONS of deals. Hello Eddy Curry.
For Dolan to bring back the man that Walsh was hired to replace sends an ominous message. In addition, Dolan has ignored Walsh’s entreaties to hire Chris Mullin to be his third general manager and might be having a bit of buyer’s remorse.
The Knicks’ owner is known for hasty decisions, and it feels like Walsh might be on the clock. Unless the Knicks make a significant improvement it wouldn’t be shocking to see Walsh shown the business end of Dolan’s wingtips. Stranger things have happened in New York.
4. Fear The Deer! Or Not.
Here’s what we know: Scott Skiles is a good coach. Brandon Jennings is a good point guard. Andrew Bogut is a good center.
After that things get shaky.
The Bucks see themselves as championship contenders. The team went out and spent money like crazy this offseason, and players feel confident they will make serious noise in the retooled Eastern Conference. I don’t see it.
The talent is there, without a doubt. Besides their big/little combo, the Bucks have legit slashers in Salmons and Maggette, solid role players in Keyon Dooling and Chris Douglas-Roberts, and great energy and glue guys with surprising offensive talent in Ersan Illyasova and Larry Sanders. On paper, this team seems kinda, sorta stacked.
But, in reality, Bogut will be hurting the entire year. He’s really the only legit big on the team. (Yes I know Drew Gooden is on the roster. And? ) Skiles is going to have his hands full finding shots for Jennings, Maggette and Salmons, and minutes for everyone on the squad.
How will Jennings, who likes to shine, react if Dooling starts stealing his minutes like Ridnour did last year? Is Maggette even capable of playing defense anymore? When will Douglass-Roberts alienate the entire team on Twitter?
These issues, and others, are lurking beneath the surface for the Bucks and it’s not clear if the team has a leader who can keep them on the straight and narrow. Skiles is great, but his coaching style tends to grate on players rather quickly.
If this team isn’t careful the entire League could bag a 40-point Buck this “hunting” season.
5. Can The Clippers… Oh Nevermind.
Maybe there really is some sort of curse on the Clippers. A quick glance at the talent on the team’s roster and it’s clear this should be a good team. In fact, last year the Clips got off to a decent start, but collapsed after news broke that Blake Griffin was done for the year.
It’s tempting to wonder if this is finally the year Griffin, Diddy, Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon start smashing unsuspecting foes nightly. It’s mighty, mighty tempting.
Don’t give in to the temptation. I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I predict that investing any sort of hope in the Clippers is a horrible move.
Despite their talent, Vinny Del Negro is the coach. He did such a poor job with a young, pliable Chicago Bulls team that his own general manager wanted to shoot a fair one with him. In Los Angeles, Vinny will deal with a Baron Davis who has stopped talking to Jenny and a Kaman who is still crazy. Plus, Griffin is raw and Gordon might be feeling himself after showing out in Turkey.
Combine all those volatile elements with the fact that Donald Sterling is easily the worst owner in professional sports (Yes, even worse than Dolan), and it feels smarter to just wait for the Clippers to show that they’re ready to be respectable. Be smart.