Sunday, July 3, 2011

NBA: Looking Forward

After a fantastic season, the NBA now finds itself in an unfortunate situation: a lockout.  I'm not going to discuss the specifics of the lockout (there's plenty of articles around that can do that).  All I'll say is that it needs to be resolved before the start of the season and the league needs more revenue sharing.  I'm not just saying it needs to be resolved before the start of the season because I want to watch basketball.  It needs to be resolved before the start of the season because if the league cancels games next year, they could very well undercut all the momentum they built this past season.  And it would be a shame for the league to take a huge hit while it's rising in popularity.  As far as revenue sharing goes, I think the league needs more of it because a well-managed small market team shouldn't have less financial flexibility than a big market team that's horribly managed.  The current system basically punishes small market teams that do too well at drafting and assembling teams.  Oklahoma City should be able to afford keeping Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden etc. at their market value.  The same goes for Memphis.  As a basketball fan, I would love to see Memphis be able to keep Randolph, Gasol, Gay, Mayo, Conley, Allen, Arthur, Vazquez and Battier.  That's a championship caliber team that should be able to remain intact.  If the Lakers or Knicks would be able to afford keeping that team together, then Memphis should be able to as well.  Bigger payroll flexibility should be the result of quality draft picks and good management, not market size.  Personally, I'd prefer if the teams with the highest payrolls were the teams that were built organically (like Memphis and OKC).

Another big thing that could make the NBA even more enjoyable next season is less foul calls.  After the horrendous flopping by Wade in LeBron in the third and fourth game of the Finals (which I previously wrote about), the refs refrained from blowing their whistle on every hint of contact during the final two games.  Somewhat surprisingly, the games were noticeably better when the refs let them play.  I wasn't surprised that the games were better with less foul calls, I was surprised by how much better they were.  It made a huge difference in the quality and flow of the game.  Now I understand the league's desire to keep things in control and civilized on the court, but that doesn't mean the refs need to blow their whistle on every smidgen of contact.  If the league cracked down on flopping and the refs weren't so whistle happy, the quality of the games would improve tenfold.

In addition to the practical things listed above, I also have a wish list of players I'd like to see moved around that I think would make the league better.  But before listing those, I'd like to address some trades that did happen before the lockout.

J.J. Hickson to Sacramento-  This was a surprising trade.  I assumed that Cleveland didn't draft Derrick Williams because of they already had Hickson, then they go and trade him for Omri Casspi.  I'm not really sure why Cleveland made this trade, but it could be a really big steal for Sacramento.  I think Hickson and Cousins could be a really formidable frontcourt duo for years to come.

George Hill to Indiana-  I like this move for the Pacers.  Hill is a good (presumable) replacement for Ford, not to mention he's younger and cheaper.  The main piece given up by Indiana was Kawhi Leonard.  Leonard is probably more useful backing up Jefferson than he would be backing up Granger, so I think it was a good trade for both parties. 

Rudy Fernandez to Dallas, Andre Miller to Denver, Raymond Felton to Portland-  This was a fantastic trade.  Fernandez should fit in perfectly with Dallas.  He's a good shooter that I think could be very productive in Dallas' offense.  Miller is a good pickup for Denver.  Instead of having both Lawson and Felton in their primes, they get a veteran who's better suited to be a backup.  And Miller should be a good locker room leader as well.  Finally, I think Portland gets the best pickup of all with Felton.  Portland needed to get younger at the point and Felton is a quality player in his prime.  Portland now only has one guy on their roster over the age of 30.  I really hope Roy and Oden can stay healthy and contribute next season, because I think that would make Portland a title contender.  Felton, Matthews, Wallace, Aldridge, Oden, Mills, Roy, Batum and Camby is a very good rotation.

Now next season is already in position to be really good, but I thought it would be fun to explore some roster moves that I think would make it even better.  Some are dream scenarios and some are more practical that I think should happen:

Aaron Brooks to the Lakers-  Most people think the Lakers need a big overhaul to return to contention.  I think they'll be fine with a longer offseason and a renewed motivation.  The one area of their roster that they could address is the point guard position.  I think Aaron Brooks would inject some athleticism to the team that's in serious need of it, especially at the point.  This is a practical suggestion, but one unlikely to happen with Blake on the roster.

Kevin Love to the Heat-  This is the most unlikely scenario of all.  Part of me is resistant to Love leaving, because he's a franchise player that's only 22.  Minnesota can still build around him; it's not like he's rotting away there yet.  But the other part of me is thinking about how perfect Love is for Miami.  He's a fantastic rebounder and is the best outlet passer in basketball.  He's the perfect player to spark Miami's fast breaks.  Also, he doesn't need the ball in his hands, like Bosh does, to be effective on offense.  Instead, he's a great 3-pt shooter that would stretch the floor.  If Love were to go to Miami, I'd like to see Bosh go to Milwaukee.  I think he would form a nice trio with Jennings and Bogut.  As much as I wouldn't want to see Love end up in Miami (making them deadly), it would be fascinating to witness such an explosive team.

Kevin Martin to Chicago-  Chicago needs a second scorer and Martin would fill that role nicely.  Instead of wasting his prime on a team that's rebuilding, it would be better if he were able to contribute to a contender.  Since this is unlikely to happen, and might cost the Bulls to give up too much, the more realistic scenario I'd like to see is Marcus Thornton going to Chicago.  He's a RFA with the Kings, so Chicago would only have to offer a good amount of money - and not have to part with valuable players - to bring him in.  Thornton is starter quality and could be the secondary scorer Chicago is lacking.  Maybe Chicago can't win a title with Boozer as its second scorer, but I think they could with him as their third or fourth scorer (behind Rose, Thornton and maybe Deng).  I'd rather see Thornton be a starter on the Bulls than to presumably come off the bench behind Evans in Sacramento.

Marcin Gortat to New York-  Gortat's a quality center that isn't as valuable to a sliding Suns team as he would be to a rising Knicks team.  I think he'd fit nicely with Stoudemire.  He would provide good interior defense and wouldn't clash with Amar'e on offense.  He'd definitely be an upgrade over Turiaf and I think a Billups-Fields-Anthony-Stoudemire-Gortat starting lineup would actually be able to win a playoff game.

Al Jefferson to Boston-  This is the trade I'm least confident in how successful it would be.  But I think Jefferson could provide a scoring presence down low that Boston is lacking and, at the very least, would be an upgrade over the geriatric centers they had last year.  I'm not sure that Jefferson is Utah's franchise center of the future (especially now that Williams is gone), so I don't think they'd be losing a critical piece.  It would also be interesting to see Jefferson return to the team that drafted him.

Chris Paul to Orlando-  This one comes with a prerequisite: that Chris Paul will leaving New Orleans.  I don't want to steal Paul from the Hornets; but if he's going to leave anyway, I'd like to see him end up in Orlando.  Why?  Because it gives Howard the All-Star sidekick he needs to win a championship. Paul's a great 3-pt shooter (which is practically a necessity in Orlando's offense) and I think a Paul-Howard pick and roll would be the lethal.  I think it would be the best big man-guard combo since Stockton and Malone.  Another addition I'd like to see is Grant Hill joining the Magic.  He's a good defender and 3-pt shooter, and it would be good to see him return to the team where he missed so much of his career.  Paul and Hill would be defensive upgrades over Nelson and Turkoglu.  I'd like to Richardson returned, albeit at a cheaper price, because I think a Paul-Richardson-Hill-Anderson-Howard lineup would be championship caliber.  And how good would the ECF be with that team against a Chalmers-Wade-LeBron-Love-Anthony lineup?  If Orlando's dream scenario and Miami's dream scenario both came to fruition, I think "where amazing happens" would actually be an understatement.

Unfortunately, most of those are unlikely to happen.  I wish they would, because I think they would make those teams better without really hurting the teams giving up players (with exception of Minnesota and New Orleans, which is why I'd only do those assuming that the future of those teams with Paul and Love were bleak).  And no, I'm not just favoring big market contenders.  I didn't suggest anything for small market contenders like Portland, Memphis, or OKC because I think they already have championship caliber teams.  The trades I listed above address weaknesses.  I don't think Portland, Memphis, or OKC have any (assuming Roy and Oden can stay healthy, Gay doesn't have to be traded, and Durant establishes himself as the leader of his team).  If those teams stay the way they are, the league cracked down on flopping, officials called less fouls, the league increased revenue sharing to keep small market teams (like Memphis) in tact, Chicago got a quality shooting guard, Boston and New York got quality centers, the Lakers played motivated, and Dallas re-signed their FAs, the league would be so much better next season.

Whenever that will be.

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