Good Isnít Good Enough
Posted Jan 23 2007 6:58PM
This past week, the division's GMs told CI to stick it.
From top (Cleveland) to bottom (Milwaukee), we've begun to see considerable chinks in the Central Division armor. Oh sure, all five teams made the playoffs last year, and with four of the five teams above .500 as of last night's contests, you could say the Central Division is the NBA's finest. But the NBA is so much more than just playing just better than average ball and making it to the playoffs.
It's about hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June, having your photo taken with the gleaming golden grail by Andrew D. Bernstein and then riding shotgun in a convertible with your arm around The LO'B as your car leads a huge parade down the main drag of your town, the streets lined with adoring throngs.
Beginning with Milwaukee's acquisition of Earl Boykins last Thursday and ending (for now) with Indiana's participation in an eight-player trade with Golden State, it became clear the men who man the division's front offices believed the vehicles their players would be riding in come June weren't cool convertibles but golf carts.
Yet, have any of the moves made this past week, including Detroit's big splash with Chris Webber, brought any of these teams closer to a ride down memory lane?
No, no and maybe.
That last one's pretty definitive, right? Let's take a quick spin through the moves, starting with Webber choosing Detroit. Mayce (MAY-cee) is the maybe.
C-Webb in the Palace
I can understand how some people say this move puts the Pistons in the driver's seat in the East. With my confidence in the Cavs and Bulls waning (more on that later), with the Heat playing better, but not exactly setting the world on fire, and me taking a wait-and-see attitude with the Magic, I am ready to hop aboard the Pistons' wood-paneled station (band) wagon to the Finals. And, as of now, I'll still say they're the favorites to represent the East.
But questions abound surrounding Detroit's newest player. How's his health? How's his attitude? Will he be able to subjugate his ego for the sake of the team? Will he be able to handle the press, which hammered away at him at his introductory press conference? Who's the odd man out? Who's just plain odd? And can he make the No. 84 as cool as he helped make baggy shorts and black socks? These are important, important questions, people.
The consensus seems to be C-Webb may be more trouble than he's worth. SI.com's Marty Burns thinks Webber won't help. One of our Eastern Conference scouts concurs.
"He's on the downside of his career," said our scout. "He hasn't been playing well the last few years and he needs to be a go to guy. If he can fit in role player, a spot player, he'll help. But if he tries to win games for you down the stretch, it won't happen. He needs to fit in like Gary Payton and Antoine Walker did in Miami last year.
"He doesn't need to be a star."
Doesn't need to be the star, you say. But he's been a star for going on nearly 20 years, even to the dewey-eyed dot-commer Dengate. So, how does one who's accustomed to being the alpha dog finally get that dog to heel? Or maybe that old dog can learn some new tricks?
"He's settled for jump shot a lot," our scout said. "He doesn't take ball to basket. He's never defended and now he defends even less than before. He can post guys up, but he's not effective or explosive enough to do it. He needs an open shot now to be effective. It's not like he can go past a guy any more with that strong move he used to have, that up-fake."
Um, so, can he still do anything well?
"He's still a pretty decent shooter from the short corner, especially on the catch and shoot," said our scout. "He can still post up against much smaller guys and is still a decent passer, that doesn't diminish with age. And he still has some of the best hands in the NBA."
He used those hands to score two points and grab five boards in 17 minutes off the bench in the Pistons 100-99 loss to Utah on Wednesday. The Pistons even had Chauncey Billups back on the floor, but they still couldn't stem the tide. Billups asks for patience.
"I think you saw a glimpse of what's to come," Billups told the Detroit News. "This is going to come together."
From Billups to the basketball gods' ears.
Four New Pacers
About a week ago, Jermaine O'Neal sparked a mini-furor in Nap Town with these 24 words: "If I can't take this team to another level, I truthfully believe we should go our separate ways at the end of the season."
On Wednesday, the Pacers stopped just short of starting over. O'Neal's still in whatever uniform the Pacers have this season (they seem to change every season), but he has four new teammates: Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod.
And today, another layer has been added to this trade. The Akron Beacon-Journal's Brian Windhorst joined Rich Ackerman's and Frank Isola's "Tip Off" on NBA Radio, Sirius 127 this morning and said this: "I've heard the Pacers would take Mike Dunleavy and flip him right back to the Clippers for Corey Maggette."
Interesting, no? Pacers coach Rick Carlisle had his say with Ackerman and Isola as well this morning in which he said Ike Diogu was the key to the deal. Also, at the 4:45 mark, Ackerman asks Carlisle if the Pacers are done dealing: "You never know. There's nothing that I know is imminent, but these things go in waves."
Yes, as in wave buh-bye. Anyway, another Eastern Conference scout thought Golden State got the best of the deal. But our scout also thought that Jackson and Al Harrington demanded the ball too much on offense, and that Murphy and Dunleavy (if he stays) will be good complements to O'Neal because they won't demand the ball. It's clear the Pacers have put their immediate future on O'Neal's considerable shoulders. But can he shoulder the load of being The Man?
CI likes O'Neal. He's thoughtful, he's active in the community and he's an All-Star. But now the onus is squarely on him. It's his team. It's his duty to take this team to the next level. Now.
Careful what you wish for, J.O.
Boykins on the Bucks
This was a nice move by Mr. Larry Harris. When CI talked to him last week, we suggested maybe the waiver wire or the D-League, and possibly (jokingly, people, jokingly) Milwaukean Latrell Sprewell. (We actually forgot about Toni Kukoc, who also lives in the area and is still available. Anyway...)
Harris showed he was way ahead of the game by picking up Boykins and Julius Hodge for Steve Blake. Nice work, Larry. The 5-5 guard can fill it up and will provide scoring relief until Michael Redd, Mo Williams, Charlie Villanueva and Brian Winters return to the lineup. But no one can think that Boykins is anything more than a stopgap move for now and energy off the bench when everyone else returns.
And Bucks fans, if you've noticed, Boykins likes to have the ball in his hands. A lot. He treats it like a security blanket. And when father time, in this case the shot clock, demands that Boykins give it up, the ball usually heads to the basket.
While you'll get an occasional 30-point game from Boykins, you'll also get a 17-point effort in which he needs 17 shots to get those 17 points as he did in the Bucks' 99-90 loss to the Bulls on Wednesday. And for Andrew Bogut to get only six shots and only four trips to the charity stripe in 39 minutes, well, that's just wrong. Bogut's a seven-footer who can use either hand around the hoop and your only viable offensive option in the post. Get. Him. The. Ball.
Free Andrew Bogut.
Cavs in Trouble?
I'm with Bill Simmons on this one, and I mentioned it on "Tip Off" with Ackerman and Isola Monday morning on NBA Radio: Cleveland's loss to Phoenix last Friday in which the Cavs had to outscore the Suns by 13 in the fourth just to get within 20 points horrified me. As a matter fact I felt like the kid in the red and green shirt in this Simpsons clip: "Stop, he's already dead!"
Couple that with back-to-back losses to Seattle and Portland, and the Cavs have a lot of work to do. I wonder if Danny Ferry is working the phones.
Bulls Back on Track?
Although I sang their praises as of late, and they've won three straight, their loss to the Nets last Friday left a bad taste in my mouth.
That being said, Nets coach Lawrence Frank mentioned the Bulls and the Suns in the same breath, and he wasn't talking about the '93 Finals.
"They're very, very persistent in that, along with Phoenix, they're two of the better drive-and-kick teams in the league," Frank told our own John Schuhmann. "They do a great job of getting to the middle of the floor. Where many teams settle on that one penetration and will shoot it, they'll make an additional penetration. So, I think they're very, very persistent in their attack.
"They have four guys that can shoot the three extremely well, and they're really the only four who take the three. The fifth guy being [Thabo] Sefolosha, but he's only shot 12 of them. So, I think they're a very good offensive team and defensively, they're obviously very good.
"Even though their numbers aren't as good as they were last year, it's a little bit misleading because of the strength of their schedule early. But, they're forcing a great deal of turnovers. They're second in the league. I think their defense allows their offense to get easier buckets at times, because they're forcing those turnovers. They're very active, long and athletic.
"They've put together a very, very good team."
I still think one of the things the Bulls need to find is a consistent third scorer. Luol Deng has emerged as the most consistent Bull and Ben Gordon the most explosive, but Chicago needs a third man to alleviate the pressure on Deng and Gordon.
Is there someone in red and black who plans to step forward and assume that role or will John Paxson need to trade for the guy to fill the role he played with the Bulls' first three title teams?