News and Notes From Around the NBA

February 16, 2009

This past week in the NBA featured a little bit of everything, including trade rumors, possible coaching changes in Phoenix, and even a lawsuit. So, while little guy Nate Robinson put on his best show Saturday night, and Kobe and Shaq enjoyed their mini-reunion yesterday, all of the All-Star weekend heroics still could not divert attention away from some of the real stories going on around the Association. Here's a sample:

The Lunatics Are Running the Asylum

Last year Steve Kerr watched a blossoming Andrew Bynum dunk all over Amare Stoudemire and the smaller Phoenix Suns in a nationally-televised game, and quickly came to a realization - the Suns could not win the West without more size.

The assessment was correct, and to his credit, Kerr rolled the dice and brought in Shaquille O'Neal. That gamble failed however, as the Suns lost a competitive series to San Antonio.

This season the Suns again have struggled to meet expectations despite a productive season from a rejuvenated O'Neal. In an effort to stem the tide, the Suns made a midseason trade for scorer Jason Richardson. Thus far, that move also has not brought significant improvement.

Various theories are being offered as to the cause of the team's struggles. Most recently, O'Neal himself stated that the rest of the players had failed to commit to head coach Terry Porter's new system.

Now owner Robert Sarver has thrown his elbows into the mix, which is usually a bad sign.

In most cases, the smartest thing that the owner of any sports franchise can do is to shut up, stay out of the way, and sign the checks. Ultimately, basketball decisions should be left to basketball people. It is the operational model that Jerry Buss utilized with GM Jerry West in successfully guiding the Los Angeles Lakers. Sarver should take notes from Buss' example.

Typically, in situations such as these, the coach usually gets the axe. It is the easiest move to make, as sometimes that simple change of personality at the top can revitalize a team. In the alternative, perhaps a trade can be made with one of the team's lesser players. But, rarely does a team choose to deal away its core young nucleus.

So what has Sarver chosen to do? Something good and something insane.

Although he has now fired Porter, Sarver is still looking to make a deal. And instead of dealing one of the older members of the team, such as Steve Nash, Sarver is inexplicably trying to trade young superstar Amare Stoudemire.

Stoudemire finally seems to have overcome his past knee injuries. No longer merely a raw dunker, Stoudemire has developed into a reliable face-up jump shooter as well. So now that he is finally realizing his potential, why deal him away?

In fairness, part of the reason for dealing Stoudemire is that nobody will take on Shaq's contract. Nevertheless, a Stoudemire deal will not improve the team from a basketball standpoint because the Suns will not get equal talent value. Instead, they can only hope to benefit by acquiring expiring contracts and cutting their financial costs.

Good luck selling that story to the Suns' fans.

Lakers-Bobcats Deal

Last week the Lakers traded Vladimir Radmanovic to the Bobcats for Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison. While the move figures to hurt the Lakers on the court this year, it will prove successful if the added salary savings allow them to hold on to Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom, both of whom will be free agents.

At the time of the deal, Radmanovic was shooting an outstanding 44% from three-point land. His three-point shooting helped space the floor, and provided game-changing potential anytime he stepped on the court. The Bobcats witnessed this ability immediately in his first game for Charlotte, as he made three fourth-quarter treys to lead them to victory. One game later, he tallied 21 points.

Despite that outside shooting, Radmanovic drove Laker coach Phil Jackson nuts. Radmanovic's blown defensive assignments and quick trigger shots compelled Jackson to call him a "space cadet."

Moreover, Laker brass probably still held a grudge toward him after he lied about his snowboarding injury two years ago.

But perhaps the biggest reason Radmanovic is gone is because no team in their right mind would trade for Luke Walton's multi-year contract. As a result, the Lakers chose to deal Radmanovic instead. Radmanovic is owed approximately $13 million over the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, Morrison and Brown don't figure to do too much this season. Brown produced some incredible highlights while at Michigan State, but has struggled to make the transition to the NBA. He is an outstanding leaper and finisher, but too undersized to be a starting 2 guard in the NBA. Because his contract expires this year, the Lakers could let him walk at season's end.

Morrison is a former lottery pick who thus far must be viewed as another Michael Jordan-selected bust. At the professional level, he has proven to be athletically average, which has only been exacerbated by his ACL injury from last year. Worse yet, he has lost some confidence in his overall floor game, as he often has been content with simply drifting to the three point line to spot up.

Even if Morrison never regains his college form, he at least could replace some of the outside shooting lost from the Radmanovic deal. If he proves ineffective in this role, the Lakers are obligated to pay him for only one more year.

For Charlotte, Radmanovic provides Larry Brown with a solid weapon off the bench. The loss of Morrison and Brown will have little impact on the Bobcats, as both contributed minimally to the team.

A Legend Seeks Justice

Last week former Clipper GM and Laker Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor filed a lawsuit against the Clippers. The suit alleged racial discrimination on the part of owner Donald Sterling, claiming that he ran the organization like a Southern plantation.

The reaction from most of the media has been typical, essentially rolling their eyes at the discrimination claim by arguing that if it was so bad, then why would he stay for 22 years with the team?

Ironically, many of these same reporters probably have their own unique complaints about the editors, management, and other higher-ups that they deal with on daily basis. Yet, they seemingly do not quit their jobs either.

It would be easy to view the suit as mere bitterness from an ousted employee. That type of assessment is the lazy way out. However, when one actually decides to dig up facts, a closer look reveals some truth.

First, Sterling has had two other suits filed against him alleging racial discrimination. Both involve his refusal to rent apartments to certain minority groups.

Second, it appears Sterling did pay Baylor less-than-market wages for his work as GM.

Of course, the counter-argument to the wage issue is that perhaps Baylor didn't deserve more money given the Clips' poor performances.

Well, has new GM Mike Dunleavy done any better? With Dunleavy, the Clippers are lottery bound once again. Dunleavy's draft selections have not been perfect either, as seen by his hand-picked lottery bust, Yaroslav Korolev. Essentially, Dunleavy's lack of success is rooted in some of the same factors that plagued Baylor - injuries, personnel losses, and Sterling's incompetence.

Quite frankly, the root cause behind the team's failure has always been Sterling. Not too long ago he had the unusual distinction of being one of the league's most profitable franchises despite having one of the worst records. The reason? Low expenses. Sterling has always underpaid his players, and that cheapness has caused a continual revolving door of players.

In fact, since the 1980's, no team has had more big names leave than the Clippers. From Tom Chambers to Terry Cummings to Danny Manning to Lamar Odom to Elton Brand, the list goes on and on.

To his credit, Elgin has survived among the chaos, shrewdly making deals to prevent the team from looking like a CBA squad. Examples of such deals were his trade for Marc Jackson during the 90's, and his more recent deals for Elton Brand and Sam Cassell.

A typical example of Baylor's ability to work in a poisoned environment was seen in 2005 offseason. That year small forward Bobby Simmons won the league's Most Improved Player award, and immediately left Clipper hell to sign with Milwaukee. Elgin filled the hole created by that departure by convincing free agent and proven scorer Cuttino Mobley to sign with the team. Mobley's acquisition was a coup for the organization, and demonstrated Baylor's ability to excel in a topsy-turvy environment.

Although Elgin has had his share of draft day mistakes (Michael Olowokandi is one example), he has also made a number of solid picks, including the drafting of the Ken Norman-Danny Manning-Charles Smith nucleus that Larry Brown led into the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.

Furthermore, Baylor excelled over most GM's in one unusual area - finding talent from the CBA and the D-League. Examples of such finds include Ken Bannister, Simmons, and more recently, defensive specialist Quinton Ross.

But perhaps the greatest indicator of Elgin's prowess as an executive can be seen in the fact that he won the league's Executive of the Year award in 2006.

So, why exactly would Baylor choose to stay in such a hostile environment?

He stayed because of his love for the game.

Elgin was by no means a "yes man." When Dunleavy began to wrest power away from Baylor, Elgin refused to accept a figurehead position within the organization.

In fact, Elgin has taken similar principled stands his whole life, as he fought against segregation and demanded fair treatment during his playing days. It would be inconsistent with his nature to serve as a Sterling lap dog.

In the end, Elgin wanted to continue to have an impact on the sport. His love for the game was his motivation, and that love has allowed him to enjoy the challenge of trying to build a contender, even in the roadblock-filled regime of Sterling.

Elgin Baylor is a true NBA legend, and now a heroic whistleblower. He deserves justice.

All Star Break Assessment

At the break, the Lakers appear to be the odds-on favorite to win the title for several reasons:

1. The West is much weaker this year compared to last season.

New Orleans, Houston, and Utah have struggled with injuries; the Spurs are a year older; and Dallas and Phoenix are a mess. Although Denver has improved, they still haven't upgraded to the point where they can be seen as a legitimate title threat. Hence, it is the Lakers conference to lose.

2. Andrew Bynum should be back this year.

Unlike last year, Bynum's knee injury this season is more run-of-the-mill and easier to diagnose. Most likely he should return by at least the 12 week estimate, providing LA with the interior defensive presence it lacked last year.

3. The Celtics clearly are weaker this year without James Posey and P.J. Brown.

The Lakers biggest threat, by far, is Boston. No other team gives the Lakers as many fits defensively as the C's offense. The fact that Posey's clutch shooting now is no longer in the lineup, significantly evens things up between the two teams.

Also not to be overlooked is Posey's defense on Kobe Bryant.

When Bryant faced the tandem of Paul Pierce and Posey last year, he struggled enormously, and looked like a shadow of his MVP self. Now, with at least one of those guys out of the way, Kobe's chances of getting another ring have vastly improved.

4. Cleveland is no threat to this Laker squad.

While Cleveland matches up well with many of the Eastern teams, and could very well defeat the Celtics, they simply do not match up well with the Lakers.

Part of the Cavs' problem is that they are relatively easy for the Lakers to guard, despite the addition of Mo Williams. In both of their victories over the Cavs this year, the Lakers made a conscious effort to get the ball out of LeBron James' hands. Once he gave up the rock, LeBron showed little ability to move without the ball. Instead, he simply stood in the same area awaiting a return pass, making himself easy to guard.

On those occasions when he did receive kick out passes, James would take needlessly difficult step-back j's and fallaway threes, lowering his shooting percentage.

Add in the fact that Cleveland has a virtually non-existent low post attack, and their lack of offensive variety makes them much easier to defend than Boston.

Meanwhile, on defense, Cleveland may be a sound team overall, but they still are not in the Celtics class when it comes to defending Kobe.

LeBron usually draws the assignment of defending Kobe, and in doing so, he has proven that he is no Paul Pierce. Against James, Kobe generally can get any shot he wants. Until we see him play better on-ball defense, ala Pierce, we can officially end all the "LeBron James for Defensive Player of the Year" talk.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. finally, elgin taking a stand against sterling's nonsense! the worst owner in sports


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