Saturday, July 25, 2009

NBA Trade Machine Fun

The NBA Trade Machine gadget on ESPN is incredibly fun to play with. It has all the stipulations of current NBA contracts and abides by all rules set forth by the Association. However it does not take into the ability of the actual players in question. So you can feasibly trade Larry Hughes for LeBron James.

In a recent Bill Simmons mailbag, a reader boasted that he was able to improve the Knicks 58 wins according to the ESPN Trade Machine. (After the most recent trade machine update, his trade has since failed).

Simmons came back with this trade and said he was able to add 66 wins to the Knicks.

Well, after playing around with the trade machine this afternoon, I added 73 wins.

What would their roster look like with this trade?


PG- Jameer Nelson [16.7 pts, 5.4 ast, 3.5 reb]
SG- Brandon Roy [22.6 pts, 5.1 ast, 4.7 reb]
SF- LeBron James [28.4 pts, 7.2 ast, 7.6 reb]
PF- Rashard Lewis [17.7 pts, 5.7 reb, 2.6 ast]
C- Dwight Howard [20.6 pts, 13.8 reb, 2.9 blk]


6- Mo Williams (PG) [17.8 pts, 4.1 ast, 3.4 reb]
7- LaMarcus Aldridge (PF) [18.1 pts, 7.5 reb, 1.9 ast]
8- Darko Millic (C) [5.4 pts, 4.3 reb, 0.8 blk]
9- Jordan Hill (Rookie)
10- Toney Douglas (Rookie)

Not to mention they could still land Nate Robinson and David Lee in free agency. And after September 25th, Darko can be traded for Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum, which should add at least 8 more wins.

I'd be willing to bet that Knicks team would win a championship.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hoping for Healing

Today I bring you Yao Ming, the oft injured center, who is one of the most fundamentally sound centers to ever grace the basketball court. His greatest asset, his size (Yao stands at 7'6" and weights 300 pounds), has also become his greatest liability, and he has been marred by injury problems his entire career. It was announced recently that Yao will have foot surgery this off season and will miss the entire 2009-2010 season, leaving his career in jeopardy. One can only hope that he will return healthy in 2010, because his presence will surely be missed.

Yao Ming 
Image Credit: Sydney Morning Herald

If Eddy Curry is a behemoth, then Yao Ming could simply be described as monolithic. The 7'6" Ming was initially scrutinized before becoming the first overall draft pick by the Houston Rockets in 2002, as a lumbering giant, destined to be posterized by the Association's most formidable dunk artists, the likes of which had not been seen since Shawn Bradley.

After Yao's second full season as pro, Yao had asserted himself as one of the league's next great big men. He was a legitimate 25-12 threat after his third season, who did nothing but help the team. He made his free throws (his 83.2% career mark almost equals Kobe Bryant), passed well out of double teams, had a reliable outside shot, did not turn the ball over, avoided foul trouble, and played solid defense. He was on his way to becoming one of the 10 greatest centers to ever play.

Putting his basketball skill aside, Yao Ming was also funny. He was personable off the court, he spoke English well (better than many of his American born brethren), and he was a good teammate. Yao was so much more than anyone could have imagined. He was truly on his way to becoming something special.

However his body did not agree with his ascendance into the pantheon of great centers. Like many great big men before him, the constant pounding of the NBA season began to take its toll. He has broken both his feet (on separate occasions), and suffered a fractured knee.

In his first three full seasons Yao played 244 of a possible 246 games (99.1%). In the 4 seasons since, he has played 231 of a possible 328  games (70.4%).

As tragic as it may be, this is a story that is all too common in the NBA. There are countless stories of other big men who have faced injury problems and have never lived up to their full potential (Bill Walton comes to mind), Yao is just another name to add to the list.

But Yao is so much more than a talented big man. Yao was the NBA's medium through which it truly became a global game. With all apologies to Wang Zhizhi, Ming bridged the gap between the NBA and the world's largest market, China. He became the gateway to connect the NBA and the far east.

This was no more evident than on November 9th, 2007 when Yao's Rockets played the Milwaukee Bucks, the team of countryman Yi Jianlian. The NBA estimated that over 200 million Chinese watched the meaningless regular season game in the middle of November.

Yao Ming was the reason that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other "Redeem Team" players were treated like royalty at the Beijing Games last August. Yao Ming was the reason that the Cleveland Cavaliers sold 15% of their team to Chinese businessmen. He's the reason that eight NBA preseason games have been played in China.

The legacy he leaves behind is already so expansive, that he has transcended the sport like only one other before him (Jordan - 23).  He means so much more to basketball than anything he would be able to produce on the court. He has opened the NBA to a market that is three times the size of America, a market that is growing exponentially.

While China may be tuned in now, it is more than reasonable to think that if Yao leaves the game prematurely, then their interest may wane, and it may be impossible to captivate and capture that audience again. That would be an incredible blow to the league, one that they might not be able to recover from.

And that would be the real tragedy. 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Defending Allen Iverson

In part two of the much maligned NBA player series, I present to you Allen "The Answer" Iverson, harbinger of the hip-hop image problem of the NBA, connoisseur of cornrows, tattoos, headbands, and general thuggary. Enjoys press conferences detailing his habits during practice (or lack of). Also happens to be one of the best guards to ever hit the hardwood.

Image Credit: Dime Magazine

Allen Iverson has always been somewhat of a pariah on the NBA landscape. His image dominated the post-MJ era. His tattoos, slight frame, and cornrows perpetuated the idea that the NBA was driven by selfish, "me first" players who enjoyed rap music, do-rags, and baggy sweat pants.

This was an image that turned off many casual fans. He was the poster child for the NBA's marquee stars and best players from the earlier years of this decade that did not resonate with the wider American public.

What has largely been lost in this translation, is Iverson's basketball prowess.

For example, here are the career per game stat lines of two players. One of them is Iverson.















886 41.4 27.1 6.2 3.7 9.4-22.1 42.5 1.2-3.8 31.3 7.1-9.1 78.0 2.2 0.2 3.6















948 36.4 25.1 4.6 5.3 8.7-19.2 45.5 1.3-3.7 34.1 6.4-7.7 83.1 1.5 0.6 2.9

Player 1? Iverson. Player 2? Kobe Bryant.

Both were drafted in 1996, and their legacies could not be any different, although they are more similar than anyone may be willing to admit.

AI has won 4 scoring titles, and 1 MVP award. Kobe has won 2 scoring titles and 1 MVP award. Last time I checked, I haven't heard anyone putting Iverson in the discussion as one of the greatest's of all time. Which is complete undue praise that has been lobbied Kobe's way in recent months.

Sure Kobe has 4 championship rings, but Allen Iverson has never had the supporting cast that Kobe has. When the two met in the NBA Finals in 2001, Kobe had Shaq, Horace Grant, Derrick Fisher, Isaiah Rider, Rick Fox and Robert Horry. AI? Dikembe Mutumbo, Aaron McKie, Eric Snow, and Tyrone Hill.

Kobe has had disputes with coaches (Phil Jackson - 2004). Demanded trades (Summer 2007). Quarreled with teammates(Shaq - 2004, Andrew Bynum 2007). Not to mention he was also accused of rape.

But he's competitive, and he just wants to win so bad.

Iverson has had disputes with coaches (Larry Brown - 2002). Demanded trades (2006). He's never had (public) rifts with teammates. And he was charged with possession of a firearm and marijuana after his rookie season in 1997.

But he's a thug, and a team killer.

Because it's one thing to be accused of rape. But it's an entirely different (and more severe apparently) thing to have a pistol for protection after growing up the son of a 15 year old unmarried mother in one of the poorest places in the country in Newport News, Virginia. His biological father was never around, so his mother's boyfriend dealt cocaine in an effort to provide for the family.

His high school coach was quoted in a 2007 ESPN article as saying "There were times when Allen never knew where his next meal was going to be. Here's a kid who couldn't take a bath because he had no running water because it had been turned off."

Kobe Bryant grew up in Italy while his father played professional basketball. His family then moved to a wealthy Philadelphia suburb that allowed Bryant to showcase his basketball ability on a national stage. He went to his senior prom with R&B sensation Brandy.

Yet somehow the two have managed to become the most iconic (and polarizing) guards of the last decade in the NBA.

Now why is this post relevant today? Well news has been circulating that the two could become the equivalent of basketball neighbors, as it has been speculated that AI might be signing with the Clippers.

The perpetually awful Clippers and Grizzlies seem to be the only teams in the league that want the free agent Iverson.

Although he is clearly no longer the player that he once was, I find it hard to believe that only the two worst franchises in the league have called for his services. I recognize that he is no longer the player he once was, and comparing his game to Kobe today is ludicrous, but the fact remains that he can still contribute.

Hopefully he will just be contributing to franchises that are more viable and desirable than the Clippers or the Grizzlies. With Eric Gordon (LA) and OJ Mayo (Memphis) asserting themselves as phenomenal young 2 guards, I find it hard to believe that there will be enough minutes to go around in either situation.

It is most likely if he signs for either team, someone will be unhappy, and he will again be branded as a cancerous prima donna, who only cares about individual accomplishments and not team success.

Meanwhile Kobe will be playing for one of the best teams in the league, and enjoying all of the benefits that success reaps.

Here's to hoping that the Answer will be able to find some sort solace around the league, and sign with a team where his greatness may actually be recognized.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rooting for Eddy Curry

Over the course of the rest of the summer and into the fall, I'll attempt to look at a number of NBA players that typically are viewed less favorably than most superstars. We'll start today with New York behemoth Eddy Curry.

(Image: ESPN)

An article in the New York Times today informed the nation that Eddy Curry has shown up to Las Vegas for off season workouts in shape. Typically that's something that goes unnoted, especially in a reputable news source like the Times, however Eddy Curry is some what of a sports enigma. And showing up to training camp in shape is quite an accomplishment for the 6'10'' 300 pound man.

Curry has been blessed with incredible size (occasionally too much) and talent, so much that the Chicago Bulls drafted him with the #4 pick in the 2001 draft out of high school.

However he has had a somewhat problematic time parlaying all of his natural skills into a successful NBA career.

This was no more apparent than last season, in which he only managed to play in 4 games due to conditioning issues and a recurring soreness in his knee. After showing up to camp out of shape new Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni quickly relinquished him to the end of the bench, something he was never able to overcome.


After hearing stories like that, it is a natural inclination to write someone like Eddy Curry off as an overweight, overpaid, enigmatic professional athlete.

But, his benching doesn't tell the entire story, and was not the end of his problems.

Curry was sued by his former chauffeur for sexual harassment, (claims he has vehemently denied) in January. Shortly thereafter he got the incredibly tragic news that his former girlfriend and child had been murdered in Chicago. And earlier this summer, news broke that his home was being foreclosed on, despite his annual salary that approaches 8 figures.

This guy just cannot seem to catch a break. Although I usually loathe players that never seem motivated enough to take advantage of the gifts that they have been bestowed with, I'll be pulling for Curry this year.

Any man that has been through that much deserves all the support he can get. Although I will not be purchasing his jersey-t anytime soon, here's to hoping that he is able to turn his life around this season.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Defending a King and his Court

(This story is based off the events described here)

The scene opens in a small gym in Akron, Ohio. A quick glance around the gym shows that this is no ordinary occasion. A large Nike swoosh adorns the walls behind the basket. There are multiple coolers filled with Vitamin Water. The court has been painted and waxed recently.

The gym is clean and the basketballs sitting in the racks are new, untouched and pristine. Clearly a special occasion is preparing to transpire; one must wonder what is going on. A look around the gym reveals no clues, yet it is so obvious something must be happening.

Something mythical...something epic.

Finally, the last glimpse reveals the occasion. A small sign sits in front of the large metal doors guarding this hall of majesty, it reads simply: Welcome to the 2009 LeBron James Skills Academy.

The next scene opens. It is one of controlled chaos. 10 human magnum opuses are running up and down the court. There are over a hundred more of these men standing and seated around the court, all with their eyes fixated on the round orange ball being thrown between the players.

A general camaraderie is evident between the men. With smiles and joking abounding plus dap being exchanged frequently on the court and in the bleachers, it is clear these men share a bond. Nonetheless there is an intensity circulating in the gym. No man wants to be seen as lesser than one of his equally skilled peers.

Even off the court, it is evident that some men loom greater than the other compatriots in the gymnasium. Although he is one of the smallest men in the gym, Chris Paul sticks out. The men he is seated around also conjure up images of basketball’s finest. Fellow Olympians Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony all loom large. Former collegian Stephen Curry can be seen chatting with fellow 2009 lottery picks DeMar DeRozen and Jonny Flynn in a corner of the gym.

Multitudes of the finest basketball players on the planet have assembled in this Akron gym to hone their basketball skills and pay homage to the king who rules this court. That man is the king of this state, but most importantly he presides over an association that they all aspire to rule one day. Unseating him on this throne will be difficult to say the least. His mythical stature is rivaled only by his basketball prowess.

The king of this court is none other than LeBron James.

One look at the game unfolding on the floor is all it takes to spot this basketball luminary. He stands taller than almost all the other participants, and has a physique comparable to the legendary Greek Titans. Approaching 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighing nearly 260 pounds, the man is one of the most intimidating men in the arena.

He is playing with passion and ability unseen before by his peers. Elegantly and powerfully he abounds up and down the hardwood. The full complement of his skill set is on display. His passing rivals that of Magic Johnson. His shooting harkens to that of Larry Bird. His defense, Bill Russell. His pure combination of skills and ability conjures up memories of the game’s greatest player, a man simply known as Jordan.

LeBron was banished from the playoffs by the Magic of Orlando and he has been determined to never let any team win another war against him again.

He has been playing like that of a man possessed. Not possessed by the devil, but possessed by a spirit of the sport’s finest players.

Even in these improperly deemed “practice” games he has shown his full ability. Step-back jumpers are rain in, drop step moves in the post that lead to easy basket, precise bounce passes to set up teammates, lane clearing drives that nearly bring down the rim, careening rebounds to start fastbreaks, and suffocating defense that stifles opponents. His closest companions and nearest rivals are in awe of his ability.

The teams briefly stop play to catch their breath. LeBron lingers on the floor with the ball in his hand. The King cannot help but smile as he surveys his court. He gazes at a silhouette of himself on the floor. He begins to ponder his sovereignty of the game he loves.

He feels as if he is only one season away from gaining what means the most to him, the title of champion. He has yet to claim the mythical Larry O’Brien trophy, a holy grail that is only given to the Association’s most elite kingdoms, not individual kings. It is a relic coveted by all, yet reserved for a select few. The King wants nothing more than a championship ring to be placed on the hand that he uses to rule empire.

Without it, LeBron feels like a prince, clearly capable of harnessing the greatness and power associated with the Larry O’Brien, and knows that his domination will not be complete until he hoists the trophy in June. Although he may be considered the King of Basketball by many, he knows he has not fully ascended to his rightful throne.

The teams step away from the water coolers and make their way back to join the King on his court. He hands the ball off to a member of the other team. The ball is inbounded and play begins once more.

Then the play happens. Not “play” in the sense of the game invented by Dr. James Naismith, but the play, one that will define this King’s reign. Albeit unrightfully, this one singular moment, a small fraction of time, and the action that follows will be etched into the volumes that chronicled his existence.

The play begins as any other. The ball is inbounded, is dribbled up court. A player with the ball crosses the half court line and begins to facilitate the offense. Men begin moving, cutting around the maze of bodies along the baseline and top of the key. Then the ball moves into the hands of an unknown proletarian, a man from Xavier named Jordan Crawford.

After a quick pump fake the 6-4 guard blows past his defender at the top of the three point arc and barrels towards the basket. LeBron sees the action and reacts, as he too heads toward the basket. They leave their feet and begin their jump at the same time. Jordan is closer to the rim and reaches the apex of his flight sooner and he sees LeBron has not yet made it to his.

Jordan takes the ball in both hands behind his head and slams it to the rim as LeBron’s outstretched arm and body below him fails to alter the flight of Crawford and the shot.

The Play is over. The gym erupts. Madness ensues.

In a game born on playgrounds, the dunk is the most powerful assertion of dominance. Dunking on someone is the penultimate symbol of supremacy.

For that one moment suspended in time, LeBron went from King to serf. He was stripped of all power and glory, a weakness was captured and exploited. LeBron was unable to defend his court from a man who may never even be allowed to join the association that the king presides over.

It was 1 Samuel 17 reenacted. An unknown David had conquered Goliath. An Israelite took down the champion of the Philistines. The proverbial underdog had taken down the King, at least for a miniscule amount of time.

LeBron knew there was no evidence except for the faint memory etched into the minds of the observers who witnessed the occasion. He began a jog down the court, his legacy would remain intact since there would be no visual evidence of the encounter. There would only be a brief mention of the play by the scribes sitting courtside who were allowed to chronicle the happenings in the gym that afternoon.

Then one scribe in particular caught his eye. The man was holding a forbidden video camera, its lens was squarely focused on the King. He had not noticed him before. Another man close to the first caught his eye as well. He too had a camera aimed at the King.

He wondered how long they had been there. His calmness was broken, and he became uneasy. No men were to be allowed to record the undertakings on the court. How had these two gone unnoticed?

With the gym still electric from the dunk, the King called time and motioned for an assistant to the legendary Phil Knight to speak with him. The two conversed quietly and departed. As the game resumed, the men holding the video cameras were approached. They were told that they were committing a forbidden act, and were asked to forfeit their tapes.

As the King continued to play he watched the event unfold. There was no argument, just a peaceful exchange of the evidence. He knew that if that video reached the unregulated internet a domain outside of his realm, it would become viral, and the witnesses to the play would grow from under 200 to 2 million within a matter of hours.

His honor would be questioned. His ability would be challenged. And his reign would be unfairly viewed as less superior than that of other players who had presided over the league before him. A mere peasant challenged a king and succeeded? He might be dethroned faster than the dunk occurred.

He was able to stop the event from going public, and he began to play once more at peace, knowing that his legacy was safe. Little did he know that asserting his power would lead to even more questioning of his ability to preside over his kingdom.

Yet it does not bother him now, for he knows without the tape, no damage can be done. It will only be a play of mythical legend, that can be disputed since there is no evidence. He will remain King.

And rightfully or not, a king will always do whatever it takes to remain on top.