Posted May 13 2010 10:50AM
NBA.com's Sekou Smith answered questions from some of the nation's top basketball bloggers on Wednesday. Here is a transcript of that session:
Should the Atlanta Hawks resign Joe Johnson at any cost? Should they offer him a max contract?
Sekou Smith: No, they should not. Anytime you talk about handing out a max contract it has to be a guy who moves the needle for you in the post season. In the last two years Joe Johnson has proved that he's not capable of doing that.
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Why do you think most NBA teams opt for re-tread coaches and GMs instead of thinking outside the box, like the Rockets did with Daryl Morey?
SS: I think the biggest problem with that is -- and I don't know that it's a problem so much as a phenomenon - so many teams want what they know. They want a known quantity - they want somebody they can look at and say "this is what he gives us, even if it's not championship caliber." Too many teams worry about taking the risk on the unknown to really stick their necks on the line for a guy who may or may not be able to get the job done as opposed to a guy who has a proven track record of competing in the league.
Even if he's not a championship caliber coach, or a general manager who's lead a team to a championship, you know what you're getting in a retread of a coach as opposed the unknown factor is with somebody's that's not.
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In these playoffs we've seen Manu play with his nose taped to his face, Steve Nash finish a game with his eye swollen shut, and we've heard enough about LeBron's elbow and Kobe's finger to fill a book. Have injuries legitimately shaped the course of this postseason, or are they just an interesting subplot?
SS: I think they're an interesting subplot. We haven't had an injury that keeps a major a player out of action ye. I don't want to jinx any body, - knock on wood.
But they are certainly a mitigating factor for teams like Portland, who had numerous injuries throughout the regular season that prevented them from probably playing to their capacity.
But we never had Kobe, LeBron, Steve Nash, any of the major players have an injury sideline them long enough to affect their teams' ability to compete for a championship.
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If team chemistry is the issue for the Hawks from going deeper into the playoffs each season, then which two players should the Hawks keep to build a better team around and why?
SS: The two players they have to keep are Al Horford and Josh Smith. They're 24 years old, they both still have their very best basketball ahead of them and they're also front court players which incidentally are easier to build around back court players.
It's so hard to find quality front court players be they power forwards, centers, or what have you. They also have the least amount of wear and tear on them. Among the Hawks very best players Joe Johnson is 29 years old -- he's onto the 2nd stage of his career Jamal Crawford is 11 years into the league. He's not a guy you can build around so much as he is a complimentary piece. In Horford you have probably your best leader in terms of your locker room. In Josh Smith you have your most talented player who no matter how enigmatic he may seem, is the one player on your roster who's a true x factor in terms that he can play at a level higher than anybody else.
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After the Suns' advancement to the Western Conference Finals, it seems the Lakers are favored to come out of the West. Between Orlando, Boston, and Cleveland, who would be the Lakers' most favorable opponent in order to repeat as champs?
SS: I think "favorable" is an interesting word to use because I'm not sure that any of the three you would hand pick to compete against. In terms of just principal matches and how you can attack a team the Lakers have best chance against a team like Orlando because they have two seven-footers that they can throw at Dwight Howard. They can compete on the perimeter all the way around - as opposed to Boston or Cleveland who both have players that match up against their best player Kobe Bryant, and Orlando does not.
I think you saw it in the finals last year Against Kobe Bryant, who plays at an MVP level in those situations. I don't know if "favorable" is the right word in that circumstance but if you look at it from purely a match up standpoint, Orlando presents fewer problems for the Lakers on a player by player basis than the other two teams.
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The Hawks were one of the top offensive teams in the regular season, but they've suffered a steep drop in the postseason. What do you think is the main reason for this?"
SS: The main reason is I think is that the Hawks rely so much on isolation offense. During the regular season you don't have time to sit and dissect that and prepare for it night after night over the course of a seven game series as you do in the playoffs. When you don't have a movement-based offense - that means you're not swinging the ball to open shooters, you're going into one spot, you're allowing the defense to set up. [Joe Johnson] is not making shots with a really high degree of difficulty [which] allows you to have success on the offensive end. The offenses lack of production in the playoffs fuels their defensive insecurities.
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What's your dream NBA Finals match up and why?
SS: The dream match up this season to me would be, obviously, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers because we've played out the scenario many times in our imaginations, of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James matching up on the biggest stage. but we've never actually had the chance to watch them do it. Even if you harkened back to the Michael Jordan era of the NBA, you never had the chance to see Jordan go one on one with the next best guy for the biggest trophy, which is the Larry O'Brien trophy.
This would give us a chance to see Kobe Bryant, who's in the championship stage of his career still and LeBron James, who's on the rise in what could be a championship stage of his career. To see these players square off against each other in the NBA finals, I think is ultimate match up to a lot of people just from an individual standpoint. I think team wise you wouldn't go wrong on with those two either Certainly you've had the Lakers take on Celtics two years ago, but also the Magic last year. Good matches - but certainly not the kind of excitement and attention you'd get from a Kobe Vs LeBron NBA final.
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Do you think teams that make midseason trades that are supposed to fortify them for playoff runs are doing more harm to the new players' confidence because of struggles fitting in? (i.e. Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, etc.)
SS: I don't think so. If you look at what Dallas did this year, after they traded for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, they rounded up 13 straight wins and looked like a championship contender. Of course, they got to the playoffs and all that fell apart [and in] the first round [they[ lost the series, to the San Antonio Spurs but I think when you're talking about trading for high level players, elite level players, all-stars, they're easily let into a new team because they're great players. It's not like you're taking a guy who was a role player on one team and making him a starter somewhere else. You're basically taking a high level player on one team and transferring to another team in the same position.
It's not like you're taking a guy and really trying to make him into something that he's not. I think it's different for all teams, - whether or not trades work out or whether or not a guy is the right fit. In reality, when you're doing it you're making a deal -so it varies. I don't think it's an issue for the team when the player comes up. You want the best of the best.
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Do you feel Rajon Rondo has pushed himself into the conversation as one of the Top 5 point guards in the NBA?
SS: That's a great question -- we debated it on our podcast yesterday. I don't think he's vaulted himself into the top five just by playing really well in the playoffs. I think he was already in the hunt for one of those spots, but I don't think he's reached the level of Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash or even Derek Rose . And there are other veterans like Chauncey Billups that still in my eyes have an edge over Rondo mostly because he's not a great shooter at the position. What Rondo is, I think, is arguably the best defensive point guard in the league and one of the most complete when you talk about playing both ends of the floor,.
But in terms of the game impact and being able to take his team and guide them to the highest level, with him being the person responsible, with it being completely on his shoulders - I think he is still a ways away from that. Rajon Rondo will benefit from playing along side three future Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. I'd argue that Derek Rose and some of the other young point guards in the league -- had they been afforded the opportunity to play in the same system would have similar or better success.
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