NBA Midseason Report
We're at midseason, so it's time to take a look around at the big guys in bigger shorts.
Best Team: Utah -- maybe not night after night, but when they need one, you get the feeling they'll win. The war with Miami last weekend was an example.
Best Record: Portland -- great coaching job by Mike Dunleavy, the acquisition of Jimmy Jackson has given Isaiah Rider a jolt, as well as a valuable backup off the bench. Dunleavy's use of his bench has been great for a season with that many games bunched together. In the playoffs, the benches tend to shrink, so their advantage may not hold
Surprise Teams: Besides the Blazers, Orlando's 19-8 record has been a surprise, but Chuck Daly has always been able to get the most out of his team, as well as judge talent. Penny has revived his career, and Darrell Armstrong has been a revelation off the bench.
Philadelphia has managed to go 15-11 with a roster that looks like an expansion team. Larry Brown has parlayed Allen Iverson and a tough defense into a playoff team. He is truly an amazing coach.
A mention has to be made of Toronto's progress. They're only 12-13, but they've made great strides. Vince Carter has been a brilliant draft choice, while Butch Carter has coached a team of veterans who weren't thrilled to be there to begin with and made them into a solid team. They are yet another proof of the NBA success formula of the 90's -- older is better.
Disasters: Round up the usual suspects. Yes, it's the Nets and Clippers, talent be damned, these teams can be assumed to stink until proven otherwise. The Nets managed to get their coach fired, because they were supposed to contend. The Clippers seem to be headed for one of the worst seasons ever -- Chris Ford won't get fired because that would require paying someone else to steer this death ship and Donald Sterling isn't about to waste that money. The Nets are more disappointing because they were expected to contend. Yet both of these teams have the same basic problem -- youth. Much of success in the NBA seems to be based on having experienced players to lead you through the tough times, to hold you together when push comes to shove. The Clippers, since their best players leave constantly, are always very young. The Nets tried playing without a point guard for too long, waiting for Sam Cassell to return. Now they have Stephon Marbury, they have the leader for the future -- maybe. They're still the Nets.
The Wizards are also a mild disaster, as is their recent history. They rarely are horrible, never are good, just wander around the vicinity of mediocre, with a touch of promise thrown in. The promise is hard to find these days.
Good Deal: Charlotte's deal with the Lakers. They got rid of a player who wasn't playing and picked up two regulars who are playing very, very well. Maybe they have a future there after all. The Nets' pickup of Marbury may prove a good one as well, talent like his is hard to find. Let's hope he cares more about winning than he does about money and "respect."
Bad Deal: The Lakers' acquisition of Glen Rice. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe he'll return to form, average 27 points a game and the Lakers will simply overwhelm everyone. On the other hand, I see a team that can't play defense. Who is supposed to guard the quick guards? Old Derek Harper? Surely not Kobe, because if he starts chasing top guards around the court, he'll get worn down and won't be there in the fourth quarter, when they need him. Eddie Jones is badly missed on defense, but the trade has caused another problem. I am convinced Kobe's best position is small forward, not shooting guard. He is an excellent low post defender and is an excellent rebounder (averaging nearly 10 a game when playing up front.) Taking him away from the boards has made them uncomfortably dependent on Dennis Rodman's showing up. Against the Sixers, they were outrebounded and everyone pointed to the absence of Rodman as the key. If we look at the boards of the small forwards and big guards, we see Rice with 5, Bryant with 2, and Fox with none. Compare that with the double digits Kobe was getting on his own at small forward and you see the cost of moving him to the back line. In the long run, the Lakers may rue the day they jumped at the chance to rid themselves of Eldon Campbell.
MVP Choices: 1. Allen Iverson, 2. Karl Malone 3. Shaquille O'Neal 4. Alonzo Mourning
I have a letter I haven't gotten around to answering and this seems as good a time as any.
Back in January, I wrote a piece on the Top Ten players in NBA history, which prompted this response:
Wayne (in LA) wrote:
"If "winning championships" is a key component: How is Isiah Thomas not
here? He won "two" without any "Top 50" players to help him. Also Jordan, Bird , and Magic
were in the league at the time. West and Robertson both claimed only "one" championship.
Remember early on Robertson played with Jerry Lucas (Top 50). And West's teammates are legendary.
That's it, otherwise a pretty good list."
To refresh your memory, here's the list:
At the time, I had mentioned that I thought winning was an important component of NBA greatness. Wayne's points about Isiah are well taken, he was the best player and unquestioned leader of a two-time champion, and looks quite similar to Hakeem in his qualifications. Isaiah has always been a bit underrated, and that is one of the problems I have in making up this list. Comparing him to Oscar is impossible, as there were many who considered the Big O the best player of his generation and his statistics are awesome. Yes, he didn't win championships with the Royals, but his best teams kept butting heads with the Celtics. As for West, he was first team all-NBA nine times, second team twice. Isiah was all-NBA three times, second team twice -- is that lesser recognition indicative of his talent, or his underrated reputation? I guess his peak just wasn't long enough, or maybe high enough, but in this very high level race, I give the edge to the other two. Hakeem, as a point of reference, has been first team six times, second team three times. Thanks for writing.
I'd love to hear from more of you guys out there, if I had more letters, I'd make answering them a regular feature.