Archive for February, 2009

No ordinary Joe, no ordinary trade

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

In the vast universe of NBA players that may have been available, few would have fit better with the Celtics than Joe Smith. The veteran big man possesses just about every skill the C’s bench needs–shooting range, length, experience.

But Smith is gone to New Orleans of all places, along with Chris Wilcox and some future considerations for Tyson Chandler, and indications are the Hornets are going to keep him. That’s too bad for the Celtics, but that’s merely a sidebar to the developing story within this trade, which is Sam Presti is one heck of a general manager.

When Presti took over the then-Sonics he had an unbalanced roster with two high-priced scorers–Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis–and a collection of mishmashed talents. In a year and a half he now has one of the most dynamic rosters in the league.

Trading Allen and letting Lewis walk cleared the runway, while drafting Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook and collecting oodles of draft picks and cap space laid the foundation. But at some point Presti had to avoid the trap that so many small market teams fall into. Namely, utilizing all those assets to acquire a real-live NBA player instead of hoping for an imaginary free agent that may or may not materialize.

In Chandler, Presti obtained a still-young and still athletic shot-blocking, rebounding big man, which is truly one of the rarest commodities in the sport. And he got him for players with expiring contracts he didn’t need without surrendering any of those draft picks.

This is a bad move for New Orleans, no matter how the Hornets try to spin it. Smith and Wilcox might help, but they’re no Chandler. Devon Hardin might be a poor-man’s Chandler or he might be another Saer Sene. The rumors are out that the Hornets are having money problems and it’s hard not to see this deal in any other light.

If there is one benefit for the Celtics it’s that it significantly weakens a contender in the West, but that’s small consolation.

Joe Smith traded to Hornets

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

First Dikembe Mutombo re-signed with the Houston Rockets. The Alonzo Mourning retired. This afternoon ESPN reported the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Joe Smith to the New Orleans Hornets as part of a deal for Tyson Chandler. And like that, three potential big men acquisitions for the Boston Celtics were off the market.

There had been much speculation that the Thunder would buy out Smith, allowing him to sign with another team. However they shot down those talks weeks ago and held on to Smith for trade bait. Smith offers a P.J. Brown-like mid-range game, versatility that proved critical for the Celtics in last season’s playoffs. The Cs traded Sam Cassell today to the Sacramento Kings, making room if they decided to add another player for the postseason. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.

Pierce fighting for a cure

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Paul Pierce is reaching out to help find a cure for a five-year-old girl with leukemia. Jasmina Anema of New York City requires a bone marrow transplant for a rare and aggressive form of the disease. Pierce made a plea for donors on his website, www.paulpierce.net:

“As a father myself, it is awful to see such a little girl have to fight such a challenging disease like leukemia. I encourage the African American community to join the National Registry to help children like Jasmina.”

For more information, visit www.paulpierce.net or www.oneforjasmina.com.

Report: Cassell to Kings

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

According to a report on ESPN.com, the Boston Celtics have agreed to trade Sam Cassell and cash to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for a future second-round pick. The Celtics currently have a league-maximum 15 players on their roster and this move would allow them to make an addition for the playoffs.

Cassell’s place on the Celtics came into question as talks of Stephon Marbury heated up this winter. Even though Cassell has not played since Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 15, 2008, he told WEEI.com in January there was no agreement between him and the Celtics to step down in place of another player.

‘€œNo not at all. There’€™s nothing unwritten in this league,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™m a part of this team til the end.’€

The Kings could waive the 39-year-old veteran. Whether he winds up on the court in a uniform or the sidelines in a suit, Cassell is happy with his career.

‘€œI’€™m here to do what this team (the Celtics) asks me to do,’€ Cassell said. ‘€œI’€™ve had a great career and I’€™m cool with it. Whatever the team needs from me. I want to coach. I’€™m almost 40-years-old ‘€¦ so it’€™s going to happen sooner or later. Either this year or next year.’€

The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.

The All-Star Game Live Blog

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

PREGAME: Not sure what it means, but it means something, that the Celtics Big Three is about eighth on the All-Star game sidebar list this time around. The hot topics du jour are:

LeBron James

Kobe Bryant

Lebron James vs. Kobe Bryant,

Kobe and Shaq

The pending break-up of the Phoenix Suns

Craig Sager’s hot pink jacket

Anything else that corresponds with some variation of Kobe and LeBron.

Honestly for the Celtics that’s all good. They have spent the last three and half months as the biggest target in the league and they could probably use the breather. Kevin Garnett has already been angling to play about 10 minutes and with the glut of swingmen on the Eastern roster it wouldn’t be a shock if Paul Pierce and Ray Allen didn’t get much more than a quick look-see either. And that’s OK. They’ve got bigger things to worry about than their NBA Q ratings.

On to the festivities. I’ve been a sucker for the NBA All-Star Game since the first one I saw back in 1981. No league does a better job of melding stars, hype, celebrity cameos, and even the occasional bout of in-game brilliance as the NBA. The baseball All-Star game is still fun but they messed it all up when they tried to make it more meaningful than enjoyable.

No such issues with the NBA. Before we get started, let’s break down one man’s highly unofficial for amusement purposes only odds on MVP.

Kobe or LeBron: Even money

Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Shaq (for sentimental reasons): 2-1.

Allen Iverson, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire: 4-1.

Devin Harris, Brandon Roy: Dark Horses.

8:27: Would MLB have the Jabbawockeez, DJs and dancing girls? I think not.

8:30: Didn’t think it would be possible to love Shaq any more, but as my girl friend just said, “I’ll watch every All-Star Game if it involves Shaq dancing.”

8:35: Just so we’re clear, Tim Duncan gets booed, but Kobe doesn’t? I don’t get the fans in Phoenix.

8:40: Would have been better if Yao had popped and locked, but the opening was pretty awesome. Also, I had to make sure that my windows didn’t shatter after Jordin Sparks’ anthem. (It is NBA law that one must now reference Marvin Gaye’s edition before the 1983 game as the greatest ever).

FIRST QUARTER

– Ron Olesiak is in his 21st season as an NBA ref? Not sure what it says about him, or about me, that I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Ron Olesiak.

– Allen Iverson without corn rows. Do not want.

– Dwight Howard got robbed in the dunk contest last night. Nate Robinson’s kryptonite thing was amusing, but Howard is the best dunker in the league. Oh, and LeBron’s “announcement” that he would be in the dunk contest next year would have been cooler if there wasn’t a marketing plan behind it.

– The West has a serious problem right now in that Yao and Duncan are both bad fits for the All-Star game. Neither one of them has the game for this kind of thing.

– Love that Garnett was yelling about getting back on defense. Also love, as Doug Collins just said, that it’s not sloppy yet. Yet.

– Gratuitous shot of Sager’s outfit. Those shoes belong in the Hall of Fame. They deserve their own wing.

– Kobe has nine shots in seven and a half minutes in an All-Star game. Supply your own joke.

– I know there aren’t a lot of big men in the Eastern Conference, but Rashard Lewis on Shaq? I’d question Mike Brown’s rotation there, but that’s all he’s got on the bench.

– The East might not score another point. Hadn’t realized how unbalanced the bench really is until now.

– Did you see how LeBron gave all his teammates a crystal thing singed, Your Friend LeBron? I’ll say it: That’s kind of weird. Nothing LeBron does is by accident so you kind of half-expected the crystal to be sponsored by his shoe company or something. Pierce’s reaction was the best: “I didn’t know we were giving gifts,” like he showed up a house party and forgot to bring the cheese dip.

SECOND QUARTER

- Which of these things is not like the other–Jay Z, Snoop, Ludacris, Cindy McCain? Right, Ludacris isn’t a Republican.

– That was a joke. Just like Dirk Nowitzki’s defense on Pierce.

– Look at the players in the game right now and know this: Paul Pierce is the elder statesman among the guys on the court in the NBA All-Star game.

– I haven’t seen a movie in a theater in about five years and it is extremely doubtful that Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail will help me break that string.

– Does D Wade wear that stupid eye patch/band aid everywhere he goes now? What’s the deal with that? And what does it say that he’s just ripping off Derrick (Mis)Chievous? So many questions…

– Marv just called the Pau Gasol deal a steal, and it was. Have you noticed how people have stopped calling the Garnett trade an outright theft these days thanks to Al Jefferson’s emergence? You simply can not get fair value for a true NBA superstar. It’s never been done. But I think history will note that Minnesota did pretty well for itself.

– I just sneaked a peek at the box score and I have to say I’m amazed that Pierce has 14 points already. Something tells me Kobe will not stand for this. Also, Mike Brown does know that he has to play LeBron more, right?

– That was the best two-minute stretch of All-Star game action I’ve seen since the Tom Chambers era.

– Now that’s a great moment. For posterity sake what just happened is Garnett, Allen and Pierce wheeled out a cake for Bill Russell for his 75th birthday. The league announced over the weekend that they were naming the Finals MVP trophy after him and that is a very good move by the NBA. Nobody, not even Jordan, is more synonymous with winning than Russ.

– I just spent the last five minutes looking for Google images of Sager’s outfit, but no luck. And he just called them the Wockajobbiez. Close, Sages!

OK, so with one half in the books Pierce is the leading scorer with 14 points, while Kobe Bryant leads the West with 13. Is it too much ask for a Kobe-Pierce staredown in the fourth quarter? As great as LeBron is, nobody can touch Pierce in the fourth quarter right now.

We’re gonna take a little break and come back for the second half.

HALFTIME

– You know what would have made that halftime better? Sly and/or the Family Stone. If you’re going to cover “I Want to Take You Higher” shouldn’t it be at least a little lively? Also, when did a choir become the must-have accessory for halftime performances?

Disappointing halftime to say the least. Also, who the heck is Juanes?

– So, between the Jim Bean Girlfriend ad and the Burger King spot, if I drink bourbon and eat tiny burgers I’ll get hot women falling all over me? Never have I felt so betrayed by advertising.

THIRD QUARTER

– I would give you the efficiency numbers on the halftime stats but I’m quite sure nobody cares. Suffice it to say a 50-28 edge in points in the paint ought to be worth more than a five-point lead.

– I’m almost positive that somewhere somebody is calling WEEI to complain about KG taking jump shots in the All-Star Game.

– Did you read the story in the NY Times magazine by Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame)? It was about the stat movement in the NBA and focused on Shane Battier. It’s a great story, the best NBA story I’ve seen this year in that it captured perfectly the boredom of playing basketball for a living and also the immense mental angst that someone like Battier carries around.

I bring it up because Iverson just went left and clanked a jumper and in the story Lewis notes that Iverson is deadly when he goes right, but when he goes left, “he kills his team.” Here’s the passage:

The Golden State Warriors forward Stephen Jackson is an even stranger case. ‘€œSteve Jackson,’€ Battier says, ‘€œis statistically better going to his right, but he loves to go to his left ‘€” and goes to his left almost twice as often.’€ The San Antonio Spurs‘€™ Manu Ginóbili is a statistical freak: he has no imbalance whatsoever in his game ‘€” there is no one way to play him that is better than another. He is equally efficient both off the dribble and off the pass, going left and right and from any spot on the floor.

It’s great stuff.

– LeBron is making his MVP push now, but this still looks like Kobe’s game. Speaking of MVP, so long as LeBron doesn’t get hurt he’s a lock to win the MVP this year. There will be some debate for Kobe, and probably some for D-Wade as well, but by any measure LeBron is the best player in basketball. Typically a guy has to be the best for at least one year before the voters notice, but not this year.

– Great no-call there. No reason to be shooting free throws at 10:35 in the evening.

– I know Steve Nash isn’t having an All-Star year but I think we can all agree that an All-Star Game without Nash isn’t nearly as good as one with him. You’d think they would have found a way to get him to play this one in his home arena.

– This one is starting to get out of hand. Good thing homecourt advantage isn’t at stake. Honestly, how dumb is that? How would you be feeling right now if you knew the Celtics chances of getting homecourt in a seven-game series with the Lakers depended on the fact that nobody wanted to guard Shaq?

– Seriously, the fact that Rashard Lewis is the de-facto big man off the bench for the East and Shaq is for the West has kind of detracted from this game. It’s just not a contest.

– Wait did I just hear Doug Collins say that Robert Sarver went on the radio and say not re-signing Joe Johnson was a mistake?

No, Bob. Drafting Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo and Sergio Rodriguez and then trading them for cash was a mistake. Allowing Mike D’Antoni to assume control of personnel and signing Marcus Banks to a five-year contract was a mistake. Trading for Shaq was a mistake. Not re-signing Joe Johnson for more money that he is worth is not a mistake. But everything else you’ve done in Phoenix is.

FOURTH QUARTER

– I’m mildly disappointed in the celeb sightings this year. John King is a celebrity? Terrell Owens is not a celebrity. Chris Tucker used to be a celebrity. I guess Eva Longoria counts, but when you’re married to one of the players you really shouldn’t be counted. Hey looks who here? It’s the point guard’s wife. Never expected her to show up.

– More Sager please. Thank you.

– I’m not sensing a lot of urgency on the part of the East right now. If you’re looking for some alternative programming you should check out Sports LateNight on NECN where your humble narrator taped a segment earlier this evening. Go ahead and flip. You won’t miss anything. I’ve got you covered.

– Aw, Shaq and Kobe are pretending they like each other.

– So, 16 points is basically nothing in the NBA and it’s really nothing in an All-Star game but you get the feeling the East has packed it in?

– MVP: Shaq or Kobe? I’d vote for Shaq based on the fact that he broke the game open in the first half. Also, his dancing.

– Oh good a TO interview. In a past life I covered Owens when he played for the Eagles. There has never been a more disingenuous phony than Terrell Owens.

– Chris Paul missing a dunk might be the signature moment of tis All-Star Game. It started off with great hopes–the Jabberwockeez-Shaq dance was awesome–and then it slowly came apart once it was obvious that no one could guard Shaq.

The great Kobe-LeBron face-off never happened. Some guy named Juanes sang at halftime. The East stopped playing once it got down by 20. As All-Star Games go, I’m going to give it a 4.5 on a scale of 10. I’ve seen worse, but not many. At least no one got hurt. The NBA: Where no one gets hurt in the All-Star Game happens.

– Oh it’s old split MVP with Kobe and Shaq. Holy plot twist Mr. Stern!

When they gave it to Stockton and Malone in Utah in 1993 it made sense. Heck, at that point it looked like the only trophy those two would ever win together. But this one feels forced and contrived. Well, there you go: an unsatisfying conclusion to an unsatisfying game. At least the first half was entertaining.

Thanks for spending part of your Sunday with us. That’s all I got.

Eastern Conference trades begin

Friday, February 13th, 2009

ESPN the Magazine‘s Ric Bucher has reported the Miami Heat have agreed to trade Shawn Marion and former Boston Celtic Marcus Banks to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon. According to Bucher, the deal is pending league approval and would be announced Friday afternoon if it goes through.

So what could this mean for the Celtics?

This move could get the Raptors back to the playoffs, potentially as a first round match up for the Celtics. Even though they have the second worst record in the East (21-34), they are only five games out of the eighth spot. The problem was O’Neal could not figure out how to play a secondary role to Chris Bosh (as he told WEEI.com in November). Rather than clogging the post, Marion can spread the floor with his outside shot. This balances the Raptors lineup, one that certainly has the potential to make a push in the East.

The Heat (28-24) currently hold the fifth spot in the East. The addition of O’Neal gives them the big body they have been missing since Shaq left and a reliable option for Dwyane Wade to find down low. Suddently the Heat have a solid 1-2 punch.

The Celtics swept the Raptors 4-0 this season. They are 1-0 against the Heat and will face them next on March 11 in Miami.

Celtics-Mavs Instant Analysis

Friday, February 13th, 2009

OK, let’s be honest: The Celtics had no business beating Dallas Thursday. They had played a grueling game the night before in New Orleans, and they have played the busiest, if not the most arduous, schedule in the NBA during the first half of the season. (Click here for the recap).

For two and a half quarters against the Mavs, they weren’t very good. They were bad offensively in the first quarter, and bad defensively in the second. Doc Rivers got thrown out, making it two games in two days that he has received technicals. Kevin Garnett played the whole game in foul trouble, and lost his cool with Dirk Nowitzki who had a huge night with a lot of it coming at his expense. Ray Allen was coming back from his thumb injury and didn’t look right, at least to start the game, and Paul Pierce was in one of his circa 2006-07 funks.

So, when the Mavs got up by 15 points things didn’t look real good. For some reason, and maybe it’s the playoff comebacks from a year ago, the Celtics seem to turn it on just when you think it’s not going to happen. And so Allen made a couple of shots, and then Pierce went nuts in the fourth quarter and before you knew it, Dallas was a ghost town and Mark Cuban wasn’t giving anyone in green high fives on the way off the floor like he gave Rivers after he got the gate.

With that emphatic exclamation point, the Celtics closed out the first half of the season with the best record in the league and the second-best point-differential (behind Cleveland) and the second-best efficiency-differential (also behind Cleveland).

Getting there hasn’t been as neat and orderly as one might have thought, but that’s where they are.

Six more observations from the final game before the break:

1. Rajon Rondo didn’t make the All-Star team. There are lots and lots of numbers and analytical arguments that say he got robbed. But the moment LeBron James said it wasn’t fair that his guy, Mo Williams, didn’t make it ahead of Ray Allen there was never any question about whom would be called next. Williams is a very good player having a very good season but he hasn’t made the kind of impact that Rondo has.

Playing against Jason Kidd, a big guard (remember when those were supposed to be the kiss of death for him?) with a great defensive reputation, Rondo dominated with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists for his second triple-double.

Pierce was the man of the hour, but Rondo was the player of the game.

2. Speaking of Pierce… At this point in his season, one can usually tell when Pierce is about to go off. We’ve seen it so many times where he just decides (and yes that seems to be the right word) it’s time to take over, and everything changes. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t see this one coming.

He wasn’t just struggling, he was frustrated, which is usually not a great combination for him. But once Garnett got into his skirmish with Nowitzki it seemed like Pierce realized that if he didn’t calm everybody down, then bad things were about to happen.

Once the Celtics got control in the fourth there was no way Dallas was going to stop him.

3. Leon Powe was on the floor in crunch time because of his defense.

That is not a usual occurrence but credit assistant Tom Thibodeau with calling on him to match up with Nowitzki. Powe is quicker than Kendrick Perkins, but almost as strong, and he at least made Dirk work for it down the final stretch. Plus, it kept Garnett away from both his sixth foul and possibly going Hasselhoff on the big German.

4. Gabe Pruitt played seven of the most innocuous minutes you will ever see. A long time ago I heard a great phrase for a guy who gets in the game for a minute and then doesn’t fill up anything else on the stat sheet: A trillion. As in, Kevin Ollie leads the league in recording trillions. With seven minutes and one rebound, Pruitt came very close to a seven trillion.

Pruitt can play and it seems likely that he’s going to have an NBA career of some import. But he’s still making the adjustment from starter, which he has been his entire hoops life, to reserve, and there are times when he is too passive with the time he has had.

He didn’t do anything wrong, but to make an impact off the bench he has to start making things happen.

5. The NBA is buzzing with all kinds of trade scenarios, mainly involving Amare Stoudemire, who has been rumored to be going to Miami, Chicago and even Memphis. The Celtics are not involved in anything of that size, and don’t seem likely to be involved in much of anything at the trade deadline.

Where they could be active though, is the window between the Feb. 19 deadline and the March 1 deadline for adding players who would then be eligible for the playoff roster. Presumably a few people are going to get waived if they can’t be traded.

People like Stephon Marbury–stop us if you’ve heard that one before–or maybe Joe Smith if Oklahoma City can’t move him at the deadline. Danny Ainge told the Herald the other day that he was fine with the roster and didn’t feel the need to do anything. But he didn’t rule it out either.

The one guy who is actually available, PJ Brown, said last night that he is retired, and I’m inclined to believe him. Winning a championship was always his exit strategy. You never say never but…

6. Ray Allen’s toughness is not usually spoken of in hushed tones the way people talk about Pierce or Garnett. And it’s not like he has anything to prove either, but for him to play 24 hours after spraining his thumb, and play well, says a lot about him.

As a programming note, I’ll be live-blogging the All-Star game, so please check back Sunday night.