Failed Experiments?

30 04 2008

First round of the playoffs are done, and given their first round exit Dallas has to be wondering what they have to do to get back to being a top-flight unit. Whilst Phoenix managed to be competitive against the Spurs, it was evident that they cannot beat San Antonio in a close game.
With both series over, and although the Mavs managed to beat New Orleans in game 3, and Phoenix the Spurs in game 4… the pendulum has swung away from these franchises. Both are old, and don’t look like having what it takes – as they stand – to be competitive in the now ultra-competitive West. Surprising that they’ve reached this point – given the mid-season trades that both franchises made, supposedly to address key concerns on each roster.

Time’s fast approaching when the question will be asked: were these trades mistakes?

Hard to credit much in the losses to Shaq. O’Neal’s numbers have been relatively ok, if not amazing. Shaq brought a little over 15 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game on average.
Additionally, although Tim Duncan’s first game was great, in games 2 and 3 – Duncan wasn’t the reason the Spurs won. Shaq has of late been playing better basketball than he has for quite some time.
Yes, in game 1 it was Shaq who didn’t rotate out to take Tim Duncan’s 3 point shot away – but that’s a shot you give Timmy time & time again, and he doesn’t even take it, let alone hit it.
And yes: Duncan had his way with the Suns bigs in game 1 – most notably Shaq, whose 11 points/5 rebounds did read very poorly. Still, didn’t the Suns bring O’Neal to Phoenix to be better than Tim Duncan? Aren’t they paying more than they got in return?

However – I don’t really see Phoenix doing much better with Marion in the line-up. One of the big stories about Shaq’s presence has been the liberating of Amare Stoudemire… and but for Stoudemire – the Suns don’t even compete against San Antonio. 33 points in game 1, and the same in game 2. The fact that he can play at power forward has a helluva lot to do with that, and of all the big men on the market, Shaq was probably the guy that was ‘most available’ to do what the Suns wanted. Slot Marion back into the unit, and Amare back at center, and I don’t think Phoenix get as close.

For a very long time, I was against the Suns acquiring O’Neal – truth be told I’m not still sure that it represents the best thing that the Suns could do as far as personnel acquisition goes. O’Neal represents a fairly hefty chunk of change, and the Suns are hardly notorious for what they get in the draft.
This doesn’t work – and it’s going to take some fairly shrewd negotiating on the part of the front office to get the Suns to a position where they’re going to be competitive. Nash is 34 this year. O’Neal and Hill 36… Bell is 32. Only Amare Stoudemire of their key positions is what one would term ‘youthful’.
Trading Marion – who might have attracted quite a bit of attention as trade-bait – blew away a piece that could’ve been used to get younger, to put pieces around Amare – but find someone to take O’Neal? Forget that. Will not happen, especially now Isiah’s had the boot. O’Neal’s not going to get better, the best thing that Phoenix could hope for is that he stays plateaued. But of recent years, that’s something Shaq hasn’t done too well. Stuck with in excess of $20 million a year going to the big Shaq-tus, for 2 more years post this one. That’s one helluva millstone. Nothing, absolutely nothing we’ve seen in this post season would indicate that he’s worth anywhere near the money he’s getting.

Jason Kidd averaged 6.3 assists with 7.3 points throughout the series against New Orleans. His direct opposite, Chris Paul, averaged 11.3 assists with 24.8 points. Quite a gap there.
One could argue that it’s unfair to compare Kidd to Paul, but that’s currently where the benchmark is set, and the reason that Dallas traded to get J-Kidd. The Mavs hierarchy felt they needed to upgrade at the point, and dealt Devin Harris to the Nets to get Kidd. And markedly, Kidd’s been singularly unimpressive since joining the Mavericks.
At the time, many felt that this wasn’t an altogether wise move – the amount that they had to give up to get Kidd was just way too much. Not only Devin Harris, but DeSagana Diop and 2 draft picks – all of which will have a marked impact on what Dallas can do in the future, and it clearly had an impact on how the Mavs played this series.
Harris represented a much better defensive option on Paul, at least Harris has the pace to be able to keep up with the Hornets phenom. And Harris certainly couldn’t be worse than Kidd’s been on the offensive end… it’d be hard to imagine that Harris would be less creative than Kidd’s been too.

As with O’Neal’s contract in Phoenix, Kidd’s become the elephant in the room… no-one wants to talk about it, but everyone knows it’s there. That’s a large slab of cash going out of the Dallas coffers into his pockets, for very little in return.

As it now stands, Phoenix bowed out in 5 to what’s fast becoming their kryptonite, the San Antonio Spurs. Dallas had no answer for Chris Paul & his band of merry men. Bad news is, it’s only going to be worse next year. The young, talented squads in New Orleans, Utah and LA are already playing at a level perhaps beyond Phoenix or Dallas, and then you have to add Portland to the mix, who looked very good at times during the regular season and will add one of the better young big men to come out of college in recent years – Greg Oden. Include the Spurs, who whilst fitting into the ‘aged’ range, still seem to have what it takes. Denver have the youth, but lack direction.

What can these two traditional powerhouse (at least, of recent times) franchises do, once it becomes obvious that the squads as they are aren’t going to get a championship?
Phoenix at least have Amare. He’s young, and a very good base to build upon.  Add Boris Diaw & Leandro Barbosa to Stoudemire (all born in 1982), and that’s the basis of a strong roster.
Could be a few lean years (or less), but the Suns can make a relatively quick transition… if they pull the trigger on some difficult situations, and manage to find something to do with O’Neal.
Make no mistake tho’ – some hard decisions are there for what to do with their tradeable pieces… dare I say it – Steve Nash?
It would be a mistake for Phoenix to depart from Mike D’Antoni, as if they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to replace him with anyone better. D’Antoni is one of the very few truly elite coaches in this league.

Far worse a situation for Dallas, who traded their best young player (I rate Harris ahead of Howard) for a shot now.

Now that Dallas are out – Cuban would have to be close to showing Avery his walking papers, and the two certainly have butted heads this season.
And even despite stating the contrary, the owner of the Mavs must be wondering if Dirk is as good as advertised. Dirk himself is probably wondering if he can win a ring at Dallas too.
Maybe the only answer is to blow the team up, and start again.
As they are now, at times this squad looks old and confused – if Dirk’s not on his game.

Both teams are going to look different soon, probably starting next season.

Interesting times…

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8 responses

30 04 2008
Steve

The Suns need to build around their 3 best young players: Amare, Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa.

Phoenix needs to think about the future rather than the present. Using older players isn’t working. The Suns are going to need to develop their rookies (DJ Strawberry, Alando Tucker) because eventually Nash won’t be around.

There is one last problem: DEFENSE

I know the Suns are a run-and-gun team, but that doesn’t mean that defense should go out the window. The reason that the Spurs are consistently championship contenders is because they play excellent defense. Boston plays excellent defense. Detroit plays excellent defense.

All the teams that advance deep into the playoffs are teams that can play good D. Offense can win games but good solid D is what wins a chip.

30 04 2008
withmalice

“…because eventually Nash won’t be around.”
Which is precisely why they should trade him now, while he’s worth something.

I think that the problem with the Suns this season was that they abandoned what was a pretty successful basketball philosophy mid-way through a season (when they did so, they were ranked #1 in the West). If the roster they have was younger, then there’d be no reason to abandon their plans, but another year on the guys they have is going to be tough.

Retain D’Antoni, hold onto Stoudemire/Diaw/Barbosa – blow up the rest.

30 04 2008
DMtShooter

If you want to win in the West, you have to — absolutely have to — defend well at the point guard position.

Dallas had Kidd, who’s a spent fighter against quick 1s; they would have been better off, though not to the point of advancing, with Devin Harris.

Phoenix had Steve Nash, who has never defended well and certainly won’t now; combine that with asking Shaq to guard the pick and roll (his second great weakness, after free throw shooting), and the rest of the Suns could play out of their minds on defense and you’ve still got a leaking ship. (Look at Game 5 — even Amare is D’ing it up.)

Denver had AI and Anthony Carter, and couldn’t stop dribble penetration and easy hoops for the Laker bigs. And Houston had no Rafer Alston in the first two games at home when they (probably) lost the series; Rafe is certainly not a stopper, but he was better than what they had, which against Deron Williams, was really not enough.

How does Dallas get past the Hornets this year? Simple. Trade for Andre Miller instead of Kidd.

How does Phoenix get past the Spurs? Stop playing games with the cap and start thinking about advancing; the fact that the Spurs had Kurt Thomas to give them fouls, minutes and hustle and you didn’t speaks volumes. Oh, and try Diaw full time at the point. So long as you’re going to go big with Shaq, go big with Shaq.

How do the Nuggets give the Lakers a series? Well, they don’t. But shooting George Karl in the head would give them enough of a coach that they wouldn’t have been in the 8 spot in the first place. Too bad Larry Brown’s already in Carolina…

30 04 2008
withmalice

Succinctly put.
Scoring well there (at the point) isn’t a necessity, neither is having an assists-machine… but defending there? Currently, with guys like Parker & Paul, as you stated DMtS, it’s a must.

Sidenote: sorry about your blog man… if you’re ever looking for a place to put something up, look no further – always welcome.

1 05 2008
khandor

According to my assessment, the Lakers and the Spurs have been the 2 best teams in the Western Conference since early in the regular Season … and I can see no reason for this perception to change in th next 2 weeks.

San Antonio vs LA … is going to be a great WC Finals series.

1 05 2008
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1 05 2008
khandor

DMtS,

While I agree with your basic premise that solid individual Defense at the PG spot is important for a team to advance in the NBA playoffs, I must also state that is only part of the equation for a team truly intent on going the distance, in conjunction with (1) a Commitment to Rebounding, (2) solid Team Defense, (3) High Efficiency Offense, (4) top notch coaching, and (5) an exceptionally deep roster filled with complimentary players who can both create and combat mis-match advantages for their team.

Without equal doses of all 5 of these crucial ingredients a NBA team is simply kidding itself – and its fanbase – thinking that it has a legitimate shot at taking home the Larry O’Brien Trophy any given year.

1 05 2008
khandor

Steve Nash is a great player … but he is also flawed in a way that Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson never were.

Amare Stoudemire is a great phyical talent … but he is also flawed in a way that James Worthy, Kevin McHale and Horace Grant never were.

Mike D’Antoni is a good NBA coach … but he is also flawed in a way that Red Auerbach, KC Jones, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich never were.

The Basketball Philosophy of “Seven Seconds or Less” is an interesting concept … but is also flawed in a way that the well-balanced tenets of ‘Celtic Pride’, ‘Showtime’, ‘the Bad Boyz’ (with their ‘Jordan Rules’), ‘the Triangle’ (with its Zen-based principles) and ‘Air Force One’ never were.

The Phoenix Suns, constructed thusly, have been fated not to win the NBA championship, from the outset.

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