Thursday, June 01, 2006

Stir Fry

Sorry about this, but it’s going to be another casserole entry. I swear there are singular topic write ups coming in, but it’s been a month of upheavals for me. Which brings me to topic #1 – my nose is adamant that Bill Simmons is closing up his ESPN shop. In the last couple of years when an NBA loser plays above his head right before becoming a free agent, Simmons has cheerfully mentioned that he’d be stuffing the site with columns come 2006, the final year of his ESPN contract. Now that we’re here, we’ve witnessed something more along the lines of the American budget surplus-to-deficit swing, with only the occasional topical columns and a seeming reliance on mailbag responses. What happened? I am inclined to think that Bill is looking to head in a new direction once his obligations are complete. He’s hinted in his writings that achieving his ultimate goal (covering a Boston championship in person as a professional sportswriter) has left him searching for new inspiration. Considering how his own columns last year began to become to drift into a shtick, I wouldn’t be surprised if Simmons is feeling like a writer for a sitcom 3 years past its prime. He may have further hinted at his tuggings by experimenting as an ESPN radio host about a year ago. Maybe he’d like to become the solution to his oft-described dislike for Boston sports radio by joining the scene on the airwaves. Maybe this has to do with the success of his first book or newborn daughter. No matter what, it would be nice to continue to enjoy the Sports Guy for a good while longer, in whatever form that may be.

Continuing with information I’m relaying from my nose, I’m becoming more and more certain that a story will break in the next few weeks about what’s really been going on with the Pistons. Their offensive decline has been far too stark and the struggles against the inferior Cavaliers and uneven Heat simply haven’t been explained well enough by a single expert or pundit yet. No, this is bigger than a tender Rasheed Wallace ankle (3-point individual drop off versus the team’s 15-point drop-off) and was present several games before he turned it. The theory that the team is worn out from several years of extended play doesn’t seem right either: no one has had the nagging injuries that come from wear and tear, and their defense, always the first to go with fatigue, is as solid as it’s been all year. They aren’t collapsing and allowing teams to ring them up each night, they just aren’t clicking offensively like they were three months ago. Billups has gone from a near-MVP season to ho-hum, not taking advantage of the porous Heat perimeter defense to the same degree as Kirk Hinrich or Jason Kidd did, either as a scorer or playmaker. The fastbreak that was their new-found strength has vanished, and Flip’s imaginative offensive schemes have fallen to the wayside. Have they turned on a coach with no Finals experience? Has Ben Wallace decided to mail it in after 4 years of being the thankless hero? Does the team simply not have a fire in them anymore? Their elimination game survival aside, Joe Dumars should be concerned when he looks down on the team he built.

Like the nose previously predicted, Clemens has resigned with the Astros to what I continue to believe was a no-bid contract. Clemens clearly broke down last fall and knows how much help it would be for all involved if he were to come in midseason to avoid meaningless wear and tear. Additionally, the silence from the Sox and Yankee camps was deafening. Despite all the media and fan based talk about interest, Steinbrenner and his rivals made almost no public pitches to lure the Rocket back to the Northeast, far from their normal practices. I take that as a clear sign that he was never really on the market.

Fun scoop of the moment: the Miami Herald reported that Vince Carter partied until almost 4 a.m. on South Beach at B.E.D.that night before the Nets were eliminated by the Heat. He was so close to rehabbing his poor playoff reputation…

Speaking of reputations, I still can’t quite decide if Dirk has emerged as a postseason warrior or if he still suffers from a shrinkage problem. One thing is clear, though; the Mavs follow his cue. When he’s sticking out the tongue and killing teams, they’re all systems go. When he disappears, so do they. Last night, he disappeared. His last no-show was the 4th quarter of Game 6 in the Spurs series, but he turned things around to get Dallas into the Conference Finals. What happens when they head back to Texas for Game 5? My guess is we’ll see Diggler again. I hope we’ve seen the last of his Peja impersonations, if only because the league could always use another hero.

From my favorite Congo export:

If you were the Knicks owner, who would you fire between LB and Zeek and why?

A: Both of them.

Neither of those two are ideal for this situation and both have actively made things worse for the Knicks. Larry Brown is as sharp a basketball mind as you will find, but he’s a notorious roster tinker-er and has proven to only be loyal on a per minute basis. As this season finished, he reportedly made a long-anticipated play to take control of the roster decisions by undermining Isiah Thomas. Today, he’s playing the now-familiar tune of an bewildered innocent victim, claiming he doesn’t understand why the Knicks have so suddenly turned cold on him. To bad we had less than a year to forget this exact same song and dance he put on with the Pistons. Larry knows he can force the team to pay him $40 million to leave after creating the mess himself, and he will.

Isiah is far from blameless, still heaping million-dollar band aids on a hemorrhaging wound. His foolishly desperate grab as left him a goat now that the Chicago Bulls have what would have been their #2 pick in the draft and will almost certainly have the Knicks’ pick again next season. Every player on the Knicks roster today was brought in by Isiah directly, and there is not a single 17-point scorer, 7-rebound grabber, or 7-assist man among them. Words cannot express how poor a return that is for a team with a $123 million payroll. Isiah has turned New York into the NBA’s garbage dumb.

If I were to take over this team for the summer, this is what I would do:

  1. Fire Isiah, fire Brown. The severances represent a third of the money they wasted in the past 8 months alone.
  2. Hire a steady, if unspectacular, GM to clean up the roster over the next 3-4 years. John Nash is a recently released guy that might work well. Keep in mind that a general manager is first and foremost a negotiator that seals deals, not necessarily the decision maker. Impress upon the GM that quick fix moves are off limits. Hold onto draft picks and expiring deals (Rose, Taylor) with clenched fists and push hard to lose the max deal guys (Marbury, Francis) even if it’s for poor value. Stephon plus cash for Blount, Jaric, and Hudson? Jump on it. In today’s NBA, it’s impossibly rare to bring in a young top tier talent via free agency or trades. You need lightning to strike in the draft, as it might next year with manchild Greg Ogden. Then, you make your big plays to surround him with talent.
  3. Hire a steady, if unspectacular, coach to maximize the potential if the unfinished roster until it is ready to contend. The Doug Collins’ caretaker to the Phil Jackson closer, if you will. Paul Silas might work if he can stop feuding with players. Rick Adelman is available. Isiah is too much of a politicking cancer.
  4. Pray.

Two rumors have been butting heads in the wake of Toronto winning the draft lottery. Rumor 1, which pre-existed the #1 pick, holds that Colangelo and the Raptors are going to focus on more Canadian-friendly foreign talent to side step any bolting by American stars (Vince, McGrady). This points to a Andrea Bargnani selection. Rumor 2 has the Raptors shopping the top pick in the draft since they don’t need a frontcourt player next to Bosh as much as a backcourt stud (shades of Orlando’s Webber for Penny draft). It’s always tough to tell what to believe, especially since half of the game is leaking misinformation.


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