Gilbert's Arena

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ernie Grunfeld talks to the media

Inside Hoops recently posted a full transcript of Ernie Grunfeld's post-season press conference. Here is the full transcript, interspersed with my reaction to and analysis of each of his statements:

On the end of the season: “I think right now we are all disappointed on how the season ended for us. We played a very exciting series against Cleveland. I just finished meeting with most of our players and they all feel like we should still be playing -- and that’s good. The series hurt them and bothered them. At the same time, it gave the players added motivation for next year. We are very excited for what the future holds for us. I think the players are going to use this series as extra motivation to come back and be ready for next season. Our players understand what’s expected of them. They are very competitive and they have a lot of pride, and I think they showed that with the resiliency they showed after some tough losses this year.”

I still believe we were the better team than the Cavs, and look what they’ve gone on to do against Detroit. Say what you will, but this team as constructed could have done some damage in these playoffs (at least until we played the Heat…)

On his goals: “When I first got here we said our goal was to become perennial playoff contenders. We just made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 18 years. I think we have put ourselves in a position where we have achieved some of those goals. I think the nucleus and the core of this team is set going forward, where we can remain competitive. We have a very good core of young players. This is still a very good, young team. I think we learned a lot from this playoff experience and our players still have a lot of room for growth.”

It's crucial that Zards fans maintain perspective on how far we've come in just 2 years. Let’s take things one goal at a time. Goal #1 was to become a perennial playoff team. Check. Now we have to build our young nucleus into a championship contender. It doesn’t happen overnight.

On the focus of the off-season: “The main focus we are going to have for this off-season is to have our player development in place. That is the only thing we can control. We can’t control what type of trades there may be out there or things of that nature, but player development is in our own hands and our players still have room for growth. I think overall we are heading in the right direction. I think this year’s team has shown that when we play up to our abilities we can compete with anyone in the league. We have had some big wins over the top teams in the league this season. We have shown that we can play at the highest level. I am excited about next year and I am excited about the future of this franchise.”

A basketball skill-set is not a static thing. People underrate development, both on an individual basis and a team basis. Most basketball players don’t peak until their late 20’s. And basketball teams only improve as teammates get used to playing with each other, learning each others strengths and weaknesses, etc.

On the biggest area for improvement: “We all know, the coaching staff and the players included, that we have to become a better defensive team. I think everybody realizes that and it is something that we have to continue to work at. Defense is a team thing. If you look at the Detroit Pistons or some of the other better defensive teams you have to play overall team defense. If you are naming individual defensive players there isn’t a player in this league that is going to shut down another player, except for maybe Bruce Bowen. Besides that you have to help your teammates. I think we have several players on this team that have the ability to be very good team defensive players. Caron and Antonio have shown the ability to be good defenders. Jared is a defensive player and we have shot blockers back there. Everybody has to improve overall, individually, and from a team standpoint. I think the coaches and the players realize that. Eddie has said that several of the players, like Antawn and Gilbert, have said that if we are going to make another significant move we have to improve defensively.”

Our team defense breaks down for 2 reasons: individual weak links and incessant switching.

First of all, Gilbert and Antawn play HORRENDOUS on the ball defense, which puts far too much pressure on the rest of the team to rotate and cover for them. Antawn just doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of 3’s or the strength to bang with 4’s, which is why I think he’ll be more suited to an instant-offense role off the bench as he moves into his 30’s. Gilbert on the other hand, SHOULD be an excellent defender. I just don’t think he focuses on it, or necessarily realizes that he’s not playing up to his potential. Hopefully this will come with age and maturation.

And then of course, there’s the incessant switching. When you already have weak individual links in the defense, and then you switch on every single screen, it further increases the amount of scrambling we end up doing. We give up an insane amount of easy buckets due to confusion on a switch or a horrendous mismatch created by switching. The switching also enables guys like Gilbert to feel comfortable laying off a defender and sagging under screens. It promotes defensive passivity. We need to change our defensive mindset, by locking up man-to-man and fighting through screens. Take responsibility for your man and lock him down. Defense is as much a mindset as a skill. Switching should only be employed as a secondary strategy to throw different looks at an offense.

On the future: “I think we’re getting closer to where we want to be, and I think we’ve shown that we can compete against the best teams. We can go win a road game in Phoenix or win a road game in Denver, and beat San Antonio and beat Detroit in Detroit. I think that one of the things that we have to do next year is play more consistent basketball through the course of the season. But when you make changes it takes time for the cohesiveness to come together.”

I would like to think that our inconsistency in this manner (beating champs, losing to chumps) is entirely due to immaturity. It’s so easy to forget how young we are. As a team we need to learn to come to play every night, and our best player (Gilbert) needs to learn how to help the team win when his shot’s not falling. He needs to be better at getting his teammates involved and taking over the game in other ways than burying 3’s.

On contending for a Championship: “It doesn’t happen over night. You get knocked around a little bit before you start knocking everyone else around a little bit. It depends on how our players develop. It depends on how much we improve as a unit. Just because you have some core players that you feel comfortable with, doesn’t mean that you don’t tweak the roster a little bit to improve in certain areas. That’s what we do, but having said that, I feel comfortable with what we have and we’re confident that when these players are hitting on all cylinders, we can compete with anybody in the league.”

It doesn’t happen overnight, unless you’re LeBron James.

On making the playoffs again: “We wanted to be a playoff team. You don’t go from not being in the playoffs for four or five years to winning a Championship overnight. It’s a process. You have to build it. You have to get a core group together, and then you have to keep that core group together. You just have to pay your dues in playoff type situations. Sometimes they aren’t pleasant. This was not a pleasant series for us but I think it’s a series that we can learn from and will learn from. We put ourselves in a position to advance, but unfortunately some things did not go our way down the stretch. I’ve never seen a playoff series where you lose three one-point games all on buzzer beaters, but those are the kind of things that we can’t let happen in the future. I think our players learned from that and hopefully we won’t repeat those things next year. We’ll give Cleveland credit. They made the big shots when they had to, and from a fans standpoint, it was an incredibly exciting series -- hard fought, exciting plays, a lot of energy, a lot of intensity, and hopefully we can play Cleveland again in the future. That’s the way rivalries are built. Rivalries are not built in the regular season. They are built in the playoffs.”

I’m a little nervous about our tendency to say: “We should have won this series, but we just missed shots at the buzzer.” When you’re going up against a great player like LeBron, you can’t give him the opportunity to win games at the end, and you can’t give the refs the opportunity to take the game away from you either. You have to go out and win the game in the first 47 minutes. We had control of several games in this series, only to let the lead slip away before falling to LeBron and the refs at the buzzer.

On Eddie Jordan: “I think Eddie has done a terrific job here. We went to the playoffs each of the last two years. The players have improved. We fought hard every night, and I think he has done a very good job for us.”On Eddie Jordan’s contract: “We’ll have internal discussions about that. We’ll sit with Mr. Pollin as the summer progresses and we’ll have discussions about that. We’ll have discussions about our players and we’ll have discussions about what direction this team is going. There is no timeframe for anything. Right now we are still hurting and smarting from the playoff elimination and I think that’s healthy. All of these issues will take care of themselves as the summer goes along and we’ll continue to have our internal discussions.”

I really can’t get any kind of read on what Grunfeld’s thinking regarding EJ. Part of me says that he’s going to renew his contract, but hes just being Grunfeld, not revealing his hand to the media, being patient, waiting to see how things shake out this off-season. Or maybe he’s planning on replacing him with a guy of his choosing (Pollin hired EJ before he hired Grunfeld), so he’s just biding his time to see what the coaching market looks like? I don’t know, but personally I would reward EJ for taking this team from Hawks/Raptors territory to the playoff promised land, and helping Gilbert turn into an All-Pro, Antawn into an All-Star, and Caron into a potential All-Star.

On the team: “I’m comfortable with what we have because I think we’ve shown that we can compete at the highest level – against anybody. Having said that, you always look for things to see if you can make your team better. I think we’ve shown in our three years here that if the right opportunity presents itself that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger. The only thing that we can control is what we have under our roof currently. I feel good about what we have under our roof currently and we have to take a very aggressive stand in terms of developing those players and making them better and making them more cohesive. It will help having another year under our belt to learn each other. This playoff run wasn’t just about the playoffs itself, but in fighting to get to the playoffs and fighting to get home court advantage and fighting to get the best possible seed. This group went through a lot of tough times together. They played some big, big must win games – not only in the playoffs but in the regular season, and I think that’s going to be beneficial to this group in the future.”

Ernie’s starting to sound like a broken record, but I find it reassuring that he’s so adamant about taking the prudent long-term strategy: be patient, plan on building around our core, but don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on the right opportunity.

On the core: “Gilbert Arenas has made great strides in the last three years. He has become a real superstar in this league and everybody has acknowledged that. He is a great competitor. Players like Caron (Butler), Antawn (Jamison), and Antonio (Daniels) have provided a lot for us and they can still get better. We have young role players in Jared Jeffries, Brendan (Haywood), Etan (Thomas) and Andray Blatche and Donell Taylor -- who are both very young. We feel like this core can stay together for quite some time. Obviously we are always looking for ways to improve and tweak it, and the draft is coming up, so we will see what that holds for us.”

Average age of Ernie’s core (as listed above): 25

On Caron Butler: “Caron brings a lot to the table. He’s an extremely well rounded player. He can do a lot of different things out there on the floor. He’s very tough and hard nosed. He has a swagger about him -- a confidence that is very important. That rubs off on his teammates. And he fills up the stats sheet. He gets his points and rebounds. He had 20 rebounds in that last contest – that’s unheard of for a small forward, but he’s that type of player. He can get his own shots. He gets steals and he gets assists and I think if he can continue to improve, he has All-Star potential.”

Prediction: The next non-Gilbert Wizards All-Star won’t be Antawn, it will be Caron. Kwame for Caron was an absolute STEAL.

2 key indicators:

1) Caron’s improvement as his first season with the Zards went on:

February – 17 pts on 47% shooting, 7 boards, 1.5 steals
March – 19 pts on 47% shooting, 7 boards, 1.5 steals
April – 23.5 pts on 51% shooting, 9 boards, 3 steals

2) Larry Hughes’ year-to-year improvement as he got more comfortable playing in EJ’s offense with Gilbert and Antawn. I expect similar improvement from Caron, since so much of our offense is reading and reacting based on a) the defense and b) the movements of your teammates:

Hughes 03/04 – 19 pts on 40% shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Hughes 04/05 – 22 pts on 43% shooting, 6 rebounds, 5 assists

On Jarvis Hayes: “He’s doing extremely well. He’s right on track. I met with him today and his attitude has been terrific. Injuries are something that you can’t ever tell about but our doctors tell us that he should see a 100% recovery. He’s going to start running full speed in another three or four weeks so we have four or five months to get ready for the regular season. He’s shown that he has legitimate NBA talent. He’s very versatile. He’s a good defender. He can really spread the defense with his outside shooting ability, and he’s very athletic. He’s a very solid NBA player and we’re excited for him to be 100% healthy.”

As I’ve said before, Jarvis could be a real key for the Zards next year. Losing Caron for 5 games at the end of the season really shined a spotlight on how lackluster our scoring punch is beyond the Big 3. If we let Jared Jeffries go, Jarvis could even wind-up starting for us on the wing next to Butler. At the very least, he’ll be one of our first options off the bench and a primary scorer in our 2nd unit.

On Jared Jeffries: “Jared is a restricted free agent which means that we can match any offer that he may have. We had discussions with Jared about an extension last summer but we could not come to any kind of terms. At the appropriate time we will sit down with him and his representatives and see where we are. I think Jared showed improvement this season. He is a very versatile player and a very solid contributor for us.”

I believe Ernie when he claims to have no idea how the Jeffries situation will play out. Jared obviously has value to our team due to his work ethic, team-first attitude, and versatility, but Ernie WILL NOT overpay to keep him. I’m sure that Ernie has an exact price in his mind for what Jeffries is worth to the team without jeopardizing our future cap flexibility (much like with Larry Hughes last year), but due to the fact that we can match any offer, I am sure that he will let the market set the price for Jared. Given that this year’s free agent class is one of the worst in recent memory, and Jared is 24-years-old and 6’11”, I am willing to bet that someone will sign him to an offer sheet that’s higher than we’re prepared to match.

On the frontcourt: “I think our big people had some success – and we’d like to see more consistency from them. That is one of the toughest positions in this league to fill. If you look around the league, I think the game has changed drastically over the last five or six years. Very few teams have dominant big men. You might have two or three low-post dominant players in the league – Shaq, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming – after that, players become more perimeter oriented. I think the game has changed because of the zone. If you look at some of the best teams in the league, like Dallas and Phoenix, they didn’t have any kind of low post presence to speak of this season. Brendan Haywood had some good moments playing against Ilgauskas. He neutralized Ilgauskas in the playoffs and Ilgauskas was really their second option. For us, that was a nice performance from that standpoint. I think he has room for growth. Etan had a lot of injuries last year. He had some situations that he had to deal with and I think he has the opportunity to provide some good things for us. We all know that the strength of our ballclub, especially from an offensive standpoint, comes from the perimeter from Gilbert, Antawn and Caron. They are the highest scoring trio in the league and there is a lot to be said for that. Our offense comes through them, but we do need more from our big people up front and I think that the players that we have, have the ability to improve and to get better. We didn’t have a real problem in the regular season as far as rebounding, but I don’t think anybody questions that from a defensive standpoint we have to do a better job overall protecting the paint.”

Ernie makes an excellent point that the game is changing in terms of big men. That’s why I think we should trade Haywood now, to a team that doesn’t necessarily recognize the decreased value of a traditional 7-foot sloth. He’s just 26, his contract is extremely reasonable, and GMs like Isiah Thomas and Billy Knight are still running teams (into the ground). There are two kinds of big men we should focus on in the draft, trades, and free agency:

1) High-post jump-shooters:

a. Why? It will open up our offense far more than a traditional post scoring threat. The Princeton O is designed to set-up high and free up the baseline for backdoor cuts, lay-ups, and attacking perimeter scorers. A jump-shooting big man would draw opposing shot-blockers out of the paint, and make Gilbert, Caron, Antawn, and AD that much more effective.

b. Who? Brad Miller, Primoz Brezec, Joakim Noah, Marcus Camby, Mehmet Okur, Eddie Griffin, Zach Randolph, David West, Rasheed Wallace, Troy Murphy, Brian Cook, Channing Frye, Kevin Pittsnogle

2) Athletic big guys who run the floor, rebound, and finish at the rim:

a. Why? They fit in well with our running game. They can get up and down the floor with Gilbert, Caron, and AD, and they can get their points by finishing on the break-up, following up missed shots when our guards attack, and tracking down long rebounds off missed perimeter jumpers.

b. Who? Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler, Stromile Swift, Chris Wilcox, Nene, Dan Gadzuric, Hakim Warrick, Drew Gooden, Eddie Griffin, Anderson Varejao, Darko, Jason Maxiell, Ronny Turiaf

On competition for playing time: “I’m glad that players aren’t happy when they’re benched because that tells me that they care enough to get their positions back. This is a competitive situation and the coach is going to put the players out there that he feels is going to help him win the most. I think it was a healthy competition during the season between Brendan and Etan. Etan started at the end of the season a little bit and Brendan started most of the year. Brendan is a professional. He works hard and he is going to show steady improvement. He is only 26 years old, as is Etan, and they still have plenty of room for growth.”

I’ve said it a million times this season… we are a much better team with Etan or Ruffin in there (or even with Jeffries at the 5) letting the Big 3 take the shots, focusing on rebounding position and running the floor, than we are with Big Wood posting-up and taking 8-foot fade-aways.

On ways to improve: “We have our first round pick this year and we have our second round pick. Last year we only had a second round pick and we got Andray Blatche -- who we feel has a lot of potential. This is going to be a very important summer for him and a very important summer for Donell Taylor and Peter Ramos to see what they can do and what they can give us. We’re going to spend a lot of time with them. They are going to be playing in summer league. They are going to be here working out – working on their individual skills, getting stronger, getting in condition. I think that for those that saw those young players play, they had some real good moments. Obviously they need more playing time and they need to be part of the mix. They need to get their confidence level up and I think that those players have a chance to be solid NBA players.”

This is a big summer for Blatche. He has as much potential as anyone in last year’s draft; I honestly believe that. I’d put him up there with Bogut, Williams, Williams, Paul, Villanueva, Frye, Bynum, and Green. How many guys in the league at Blatche’s size have his combination of skill and athleticism? I want Blatche to show this off-season that he’s willing to work to improve his game and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.

On potential additions in the off-season: “I think we’ve shown that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger, but the Yao Mings and Shaquilles don’t just grow on trees and plop into your hands that easily. To get something really good, you have to give up something really good also. If we were going to get one of those types of players, another General Manager isn’t just going to hand me something on a silver platter. We want to improve in every area, and I think we have people in place to do the job.”

It's so nice to finally have a GM who knows what he's doing!!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What to expect from Gilbert's Arena this off-season

As you’ve probably figured out by now, my posting in the summer months is going to be a lot less frequent. Between my trip to Germany for the World Cup, moving across the country (Boston to San Fran), and the fact that the Wizards aren’t actually playing any games, it’s going to be tough to maintain my in-season posting regimen. That said, I will try to react to any Wizards news that does pop-up, and of course I will try to post about the draft and free agency.

Going into the off-season, here are some dates to keep in mind:

> NBA Draft: June 28

> NBA Free Agent Signing Period: starts July 12 (negotiations can start July 1)

> Training Camps Open: October 1

And some key issues to keep in mind:

> Eddie Jordan’s contract is up

> Jared Jeffries is a RFA

> Our big men suck

> We don’t play any defense

> The Free Agent pool is terrible

> We have the 18th pick in both the 1st and 2nd round

And don’t worry, even if I disappear for long stretches of time, I’ll be back in full force next season.

Around the Web:

> Gilbert made 3rd team All-NBA. There is no doubt in my mind that he will use the fact that he was the lowest vote-getter on the All-NBA teams to motivate him for next season. On a side note, the NBA should really get rid of the silly rule that you have to vote for a true Center on each of the three All-NBA teams. The position’s practically dead, and pretty much will be (except for Yao) once Shaq’s gone. At least let guys like Dirk and Gasol, who often play as the only big man on the floor for their team, qualify at Center. Or else, let voters decide who they think qualifies at each position, like the NBA coaches can when selecting All-Star reserves.

> The NBA rumor mill is already sending Eddie Jordan to the Kings, because he runs the Princeton O and used to coach in Sacramento. I hate how the media just runs with BS stories like this.

> Tom Knott addresses the Ernie to Sacto rumor HERE.

> Grunfeld expects few roster changes:

"We had a lot of new pieces this year and I believe in continuity," he said. "I believe in consistency and that you can't make wholesale changes every year and expect to have that good chemistry.”

As I stated in my Epic Off-season Analysis, this is exactly the strategy we should be taking this off-season. We just need to have patience. If a good deal for us pops up, we’ll take it. But otherwise, we need to think long-term. It’s great to have a GM that we can really trust with the future of the team.

> After watching the Pistons-Cavs series, Joe Gross makes a plea for the Wizards to focus on defense this off-season. I certainly agree with him to a certain extent, but I really hope we keep our up-tempo style in the process. I’m a big proponent of basketball as a “beautiful game” (Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy deserve lifetime bans for their mid-90’s thuggery, in my book), and watching the “small ball” in Round 2 of the Western Conference playoffs has been a thing of beauty. Mike D’Antoni and Avery Johnson are proving themselves as phenomenal coaches. D’Antoni has shown an uncanny ability to get the best out of each one of his players by focusing on what they CAN do, rather than on their shortcomings (Raja, Diaw, House, Tim Thomas). Avery Johnson has devised a plan to attack the Spurs with quickness and full-court speed that has the Spurs reeling. By contrast, the Eastern Conference playoffs (especially some of these Pistons-Cavs slug-fests) have been relatively tough to watch.

> Gilbert’s dunk on LeBron from Game 2:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Epic Off-season Analysis

A) What we have…

The Core (average age = 26.3): These are the guys who shouldn’t be going anywhere this off-season. Looking at this list though, one thing is clearly missing… SIZE.

> Gilbert Arenas (age 24), Caron Butler (26), Andray Blatche (19): Arenas, Butler, and Blatche should be on this team for the next 5 years at least.
> Antawn Jamison (29): Jamison shouldn’t be going anywhere yet, although his expiring contract NEXT off-season will be enticing trade bait.
> Antonio Daniels (31): We signed AD to a 5-year contract last year, so he’ll be around for the next few years as a veteran leader.
> Michael Ruffin (29): In my mind, Ruffin has earned a spot as a bench big-man for the next few years. He won’t demand a big contract, and he’ll always know his role.
> Eddie Jordan: It’s time to give Eddie a contract extension. The grass is always greener on the other side, but I think we need to reward the man for bringing us back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in my lifetime.

Question Marks:

> Jared Jeffries (24): Jeffries is a restricted free agent, giving us the right to match any offer. As a 24-year-old with his size and athleticism, he is certain to receive at least a Mid-Level offer from someone. But is he really worth it?
> Brendan Haywood (26): Haywood is a reasonably priced, relatively young Center. His development has been frustrating. Should we trade him now while other teams still see his potential?
> Etan Thomas (28): We overpaid Etan a few years ago, and his contract is the only bad one on the team. Will anyone take him, and would it cost too much to get rid of him? Maybe we should try to get him playing better next fall, and then look to deal him at the deadline. Why sell low?
> Jarvis Hayes (24): Who knows what to expect from Jarvis at this point. He’s still young, so we still have time to find out what we have.

Developmental Squad:

> Donell Taylor (23), Peter John Ramos (20): These guys need a few more years before we’ll know if they can develop into NBA rotation players. The coaching staff will be working closely with them over the summer.

Roster Filler / Spare Parts:

> Avwee Storey (29), Billy Thomas (30): At age 29 and age 30, Storey and Thomas are likely to be replaced by young guys with higher ceilings. I expect that our 1st and 2nd round picks will take their roster spots.

B) And now on to our options…

Free Agent Big Guys (RFA = Restricted Free Agent):

> Ben Wallace: Big Ben isn’t going anywhere.
> Al Harrington: Is Al Harrington really worth the price he’s going to demand?
> Nazr Mohammed: Mohammed isn’t any better than Haywood.
> Joel Przybilla: Przybilla is a terrific shot-blocker, but you know somebody will overpay for him (Toronto?)
> Nene (RFA): With K-Mart on the outs, the Nuggets are expected to lock up the young and talented Nene, despite injury troubles.
> Drew Gooden (RFA): Say what you will about Drew Gooden failing to live up to the expectations of a top-4 draft pick, but he’s quietly developed into one of the better offensive rebounding PFs in the league. Does Cleveland want to pony up to keep him? Maybe they think Varejao can step in? He could be an interesting sign-and-trade option.
> Chris Wilcox (RFA): A lock to resign in Seattle.
> Reggie Evans: We have him already. His name is Michael Ruffin.
> Zo Mourning: Old. Sick.
> Lorenzen Wright: His best days appear to be behind him.

Rumored to be Available:

> Kenyon Martin: His attitude doesn’t worry me, because George Karl is a dick. K-Mart’s knees however, do worry me.
> Kevin Garnett: We don’t have enough to make this happen. It would take a big package of talented youth from a team like Golden State, Chicago, or Boston.
> Jermaine O’Neal: I don’t see why they would trade him. I think it’s just media BS. He’s not the problem with the Pacers.
> Zach Randolph: His skills are immense, but his attitude is a significant question mark, and his contract is HUGE. Maybe he’d be fine if he got away from the train wreck that is the Jail Blazers?
> Darius Miles: I don’t like his game (or lack of a game, to be more precise). He’s also completely insane.
> Stromile Swift: Physical specimen who has struggled to put it together in Memphis and Houston. However, I honestly think that Houston’s and Memphis’ slowdown offenses are a HORRIBLE fit for him. Stro’s per-40-minute numbers have always been solid, but he’s never gotten more than about 20 mpg. He reminds me of Chris Wilcox, and look what Wilcox did when he finally got extended playing time in a system that suits his skills (31 mpg, 59% shooting, 14 pts, 8 rebounds).
> Jamaal Magloire: With Bogut’s development and the presence of Dan Gadzuric on the bench, the Bucks are rumored to be dangling Magloire. He is overpaid, though.
> Carlos Boozer: Boozer has been rumored to be on the trading block seemingly since the day he set foot in Utah. However, I really don’t see him going anywhere, given his stellar play over the 2nd half of last season (18 points and 9 rebounds per game in his last 30 games). If Utah could find a 2-guard, they could be one of the top 5 teams in the West with Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Boozer, and Mehmet Okur.

Potential Deals:

(Note: I am not implying that these are all good ideas for the Wizards. I am just listing deals that could be possible.)

> Denver – Kenyon Martin for Haywood/Thomas/Hayes: Hayes gives Denver the perimeter shooter they’ve been looking for at the 2, and Haywood and Thomas help with Denver’s interior depth. Given Camby and Nene’s fragility, this could make some sense for the Nuggets.
> Golden State – Haywood for Murphy (must include others to make contracts work… Hayes/Etan/Booth?): Golden State wants to get rid of Murphy’s contract and turn the PF position over to Ike Diogu. Would Haywood get it done? They might see him as a significant upgrade over Adonal Foyle at the 5.
> Houston – Stromile for Wood: This could make a lot of sense for both teams. Swift would fit our up-tempo style, and the Rockets currently have the decrepit Dikembe Mutombo backing up Yao (not to mention Yao’s foot problems).
> Milwaukee: Trade scenarios work, involving Magloire/Gadzuric and Haywood/Thomas. Plus, Milwaukee was the team that tried to sign Etan Thomas two years ago. But do any of these deals really make sense? It would basically just be rearranging similar parts.
> Portland – Thomas/Haywood/others for Randolph: Randolph’s reputation has taken a big hit, enough so that there may not be many suitors for him. If Portland really wants to dump him, a package of good-guy big-guys might get it done. Randolph’s only 24, he’s a 20-10 machine, and his high-post game is ideal for our offense. If Portland would take this package, I would seriously consider it (after doing some hardcore background checks on Randolph). Randolph was a model citizen at Michigan State, so maybe he just needs to be in the right environment.
> San Antonio: Here’s a thought out of left field… what would it take to get Luis Scola’s rights from the Spurs? Luis Scola is one of the best PFs in the world, and given the success of his Argentinean teammates (Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni), as well as his domination of Ben Wallace and Jermaine O’Neal in the 2002 World Championships, there’s no reason to believe that his game won’t translate to the NBA. With Nazr Mohammed expected to leave the Spurs, and Rasho Nesterovic and Fabricio Oberto the only big-men remaining, the Spurs would certainly be interested in Brendan Haywood. If we could work out a deal to get Scola to come to the US in advance, I would gladly give up Haywood and our 1st round pick.
> Utah: Will they shop Boozer? Would they be interested in a sign-and-trade of Jeffries, packaged with Haywood, and possibly our first-round pick?

Thinking outside the box:

> Trade Jamison to get into the top 10: If we could move up and get our hands on someone like LaMarcus Aldridge or Andrea Bargnani, would it be worth the risk? A core of Arenas, Butler, Blatche, and someone like Aldridge would be as talented and promising as any in the league. We could also use 2 first-round picks to facilitate other deals. Some teams in the lottery that might be willing to trade picks/youth for Jamison:
1) Minnesota: The T-Wolves would kill for Jamison, given the rapidly closing window of Kevin Garnett.
2) Houston: Could we get Swift and their lottery pick (plus cap-filler)?
3) Boston: They have been stockpiling young talent, most notably Al Jefferson and Gerald Green. However, Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak aren’t getting any younger. Would the Celtics jump at the opportunity to turn some of their youth into a veteran scorer like Jamison?
4) Chicago: They have been desperate for a PF who can score, would Antawn fit the bill? He might be a nice offensive balance on their front line to Tyson Chandler’s defensive presence.

> Stick with what we’ve got: That’s right, do nothing. Roster consistency is extremely underrated in the NBA. Sometimes it pays to just take some time and let your players develop both as a team and as individuals. Given the relative youth of our squad, this might not be such a bad idea. If we let Jeffries go, we could focus our coaching staff on developing Blatche, and hopefully prepare him for 20 minutes per game. We could use the 1st round pick on a young big guy with a game that suits our system. Standing pat wouldn’t be the worst thing that ever happened, and next off-season Jamison’s expiring max contract becomes a huge trading chip.

C) In the end….

We don’t have much money to sign a FA (although we could use Jeffries in a sign-and-trade), and the pickings are pretty slim anyway. I think Jamison stays for now, since his value will be much higher a year from now when his contract is expiring. I think we’ll let Jeffries go because Grunfeld is not going to overpay to keep him (see Larry Hughes). With Hayes returning and increased time for Blatche, we should be able to replace Jared. We need Etan to work hard in the off-season to get his game back where it was in 03-04. Haywood will probably stay (although I wouldn’t mind a Haywood-Swift deal). Given Wood’s reasonable salary, he’s actually a very good value for us despite his inconsistency. We’ll use our #1 pick (18th overall) on a young big-man (don’t worry, I’ll do a draft preview). Will we use the Mid-Level Exception? Not if it means we’re overpaying someone in a weak FA market. Fiscally, it might make sense to refrain from using it, and focus on next off-season for re-signing Arenas, clearing Jamison off the cap, etc.

So, here's next year’s projected roster:

1 – Arenas, Daniels
2 – Hayes, Taylor
3 – Butler, Blatche
4 – Jamison, Etan, 1st Rounder
5 – Haywood, Ruffin, Ramos, Booth, 2nd Rounder

Arenas will be one year better. Caron Butler should be a bigger factor in his second full season with the team. The return of Jarvis Hayes will give us another scoring option on nights when any of the Big 3 struggle. Jamison will be his usual 20-10 self. And between Haywood and Ruffin, we should manage to get effective interior play.

Making panic moves now for the sake of change could be devastating to the long-term future of the team. As constituted above, this team should win at least 45-50 games, and we would be set up nicely for what should be a FAR more interesting off-season in 2007 (Jamison’s expiring deal, ridiculously loaded draft, tantalizing free agent pool).

Maxico's Reasons for Optimism

(Note: My boy Maxico talked me down off the ledge after Game 6, so I thought I'd give him a forum to do the same for my readers. Enjoy!)

Who am I? I’m the one on the phone with Coach ten minutes after Game Six telling him, “Flush the entire bottle of Quaaludes down the toilet before you get any ideas!” Don’t get me wrong; I was devastated like the rest of you. Just like many of Gilbert’s Arena’s loyal readership, I shared the following regimen of self-therapy:

> Got ridiculously drunk.

> Watched Sean Taylor’s Greatest Hits about 27 times.

> Sold my car to finance a hit on Damon Jones.

Yeah, it sucks. We all wanted to see Gilbert Arenas play the role of God, show America that he can go toe-to-toe with LeBron, and lead his team to a series victory all the while. If we were lucky, maybe we could steal a victory or two from Detroit and garner some legitimate national attention. But instead, the enduring images of the Zards this summer will be of two missed free-throws, and "Mr. 14 Seconds" wide open in the corner.

If you read Mike Wise the day immediately following the game, you might start telling yourself that this loss destroyed the team’s psyche, we missed out on a one-time-only opportunity, and this team is still hundreds of miles from greatness. Let’s not be so reactionary. I (and hopefully I’m not alone) think a lot of positives came out of this series:

1) Gilbert Arenas DID go toe-to-toe with LeBron James. They had a fantastic scoring duel, and Arenas cemented his spot as a top 15, maybe top 10, player in the NBA. Sure LeBron’s points/gm eclipsed Gil’s, but Arenas still outscored Dirk, still outscored VC, still outscored Kobe. He hit THE most amazing shot to end regulation in franchise history (If there actually was a more meaningful/miraculous shot than the game sixer, please let me know. You just don’t see so many Bullets games on ESPN Classic!).

I guess it’s too bad that he had to miss those free-throws. Now that’s what fans and the media will remember about him from this series. And as we all know, when Gilbert’s talent is questioned, his confidence crumbles and he regresses as a player. Oh wait….IT’S THE EXACT OPPOSITE!

So what do we know? Gilbert’s a franchise player who is insanely driven to improve his game, despite the fact that he can already score with anyone in the league, and now the chip on his shoulder is (somehow) even bigger. If that doesn’t give you some assurance going into next year, maybe this will:

2) The emergence of Caron Butler. Did you hear that Caron sleeps with a nightlight? It’s not because he’s afraid of the dark; it’s because the dark is afraid of him. Seriously though, how excited are you that this guy is on our team? He scores, he brings energy, he intimidates, he fights for every ball. Coach has touched on this, but late in the season when Tough Juice was out, the Zards looked lost. When he’s on the floor, we play with a whole different swagger. He has surpassed Jamison as the 2nd most important player on the team, and next year look for him to put up All-Star type numbers. In a lot of ways he’s the perfect complement to Arenas. Whereas Gilbert whines to the refs, Caron pushes opposing players to the ground. When Caron’s having an off-shooting night, he doesn’t jack up a shot every time the ball touches his hands hoping to find a rhythm; he turns into the scrappy rebounder who still gets his on put-backs and free-throws.

Our young core is Gilbertology and Tough Juice. If all goes as planned, they’ll be our core for the next half decade, and that may be just a tad more exciting than the prospect of Googs and Calbert Cheaney. Still not convinced?

3) We have a competent GM and coach. Former Bull’s vice president of basketball operations Jerry Krause once infamously said, “Players don’t win championships. Organizations do.” Although that's a pretty ridiculous thing to say when Michael Jordan is on your team, the impact that the front-office can make in NBA basketball definitely is uncanny. Look at the nearly seamless track-records of success in cities like Detroit, Sacramento, and San Antonio over the past few years. All of those teams have seen dozens of players come and go in the turbulent waters of free-agency and salary caps. What is the constant? Men who know what they’re doing are making shrewd personnel decisions, and they always seem to right the ship. Conversely, if Wes Unseld is running the show, it means that any coup he will pull off (Chris Webber!), he will undoubtedly squander (Mitch Richmond. Otis Thorpe.). For the first time since I don’t even know when (the late 1970's maybe?) we have a front office that has a plan and has the know-how to pull it off. I’m not claiming to be Dr. Jack Ramsey, but it’s abundantly evident that before we can be elite in this league we need an athletic big man. Do you think that Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan don’t know this? I’ll leave the off-season blue print for Coach to outline (Coach sez: "Coming later this week!"), but I am supremely confident that the Zards brain trust will once again take advantage of the Mitch Kupchacks of the world this summer.

This is just the beginning of a long run of success. I’m not saying dynasty, I’m not even saying Eastern Conference Champions, but for years to come we will have playoff-caliber basketball inside the Beltway. And after the debacle that was 1988-2004, this prospect is definitely something to be excited about. And if you still are unable to rouse yourself from the depression of a devastating first round playoff loss, I advise you to go to this site immediately.


Monday, May 08, 2006

2005-2006 Senior Class Superlatives

The 2005-2006 Wizards... the year that was...

(As voted upon by the Wizards fan-base. Results verified by Ernie Grunfeld, Principal, and Eddie Jordan, Dean of Students.)

Most Likely to Succeed: Gilbert Arenas

Despite missing the potentially game-winning FTs in Game 6 against Cleveland, Gilbert Arenas proved without a doubt in this year’s playoffs that he is a key member of the next wave of NBA superstars (along with LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul – all are under 25). His unreal 30-footer at the end of regulation was one of the best shots in Wizards/Bullets history, and his back and forth battles with LeBron will hopefully be continued in future playoffs.

Cutest Couple: Antonio Daniels & Caron Butler

After the free agent defection of Larry Hughes, there was legitimate concern that we wouldn’t be able to replace his production. It didn't help matters at all when Daniels got off to a horrendous start and Butler had to come off the bench while he struggled to grasp the offense. By the end of the season though, the duo was the heart and soul of the team. Caron’s aggressiveness and toughness was indispensable (as a 5-loss stretch without him showed) and AD was as reliable and productive as ever after the All-Star break (14 points and 5 assists per game). Meanwhile, Larry Hughes missed extended time with an injury for the 7th time in 8 seasons, and his scattershot jumper proved to be a poor compliment to LeBron James in Cleveland.

School Spirit Award: Jared Jeffries

Jared Jeffries did everything and anything that his Wizards teammates and coach Eddie Jordan asked of him. No matter whether it was playing shooting guard or center, or covering point guards or power forwards, Jared Jeffries was always up for the challenge and brought an immense amount of energy to the floor. Although his role in the offense sometimes bordered on hilarity, Jeffries never got discouraged, and he always attacked his responsibilities with limitless effort.

Most Dependable: Antawn Jamison

One of the eldest members of the Wizards rotation (although he’s only 29) proved as reliable as he’s ever been during his pro career. Tawn averaged 21 points and 9 rebounds (top 20 in the NBA in both), as well as 40.1 minutes per game (9th in the NBA) and 35 double-doubles (8th). Except for a brief slump in December, Jamison could be relied upon for a steady 20 points and 10 rebounds night in and night out. Although he could stand to work on his defensive fundamentals a bit... (cut off the baseline!!!)

Most Artistic: Etan Thomas

This award goes to The Big Poet in a landslide. Don’t forget to buy his book on Hopefully this off-season he focuses more on training than on poetry. This past season, an ab injury prevented him from fully preparing for the beginning of the season. If he can’t live up to the contract we gave him 2 years ago, we’re going to need to dangle him to teams in need of interior help.

Girls' Choice of Brother: Antonio Daniels

Antonio Daniels’ smart decision-making and steadying influence was crucial to the team’s success over the last half of the season. He was especially indispensable as a counter-balance to Gilbert Arenas. He often took the pressure off Gilbert by taking over the ball-handling responsibilities and creating opportunities for teammates. In the playoffs, when Gilbert was shadowed tightly by Larry Hughes, Daniels was even able to step up and fill the scoring void. AD should be an instrumental veteran leader of this team for years to come.

Biggest Flirt: Brendan Haywood

In his 5th NBA season, Wood was as maddeningly inconsistent as ever. Some games, he flashed his tremendous potential, as an intimidating presence on defense and an aggressive force attacking the basket on offense. Other games, I had to cover my eyes so as not to see a 7’3” man shoot another fade-away. At age 26, I have to believe that “what you see is what you get” when it comes to Brendan. With his reasonable contract, relative youth, and the dearth of quality NBA bigs, he could be our best trade-chip this off-season.

Class Clown: Gilbert Arenas

I have a new Gilbert Arenas story (at least it’s new to me) to pass on to you all. Yet again, the victim of Agent Zero’s hijinx was rookie Awvee Storey. I’ll let the Washington Post’s Ivan Carter handle this one. From April 27th: “Before the last game at Philly, Gilbert had the ballboys betting whether he'd lay a flying drop kick on Awvee Storey. So a little while passes and Awvee's sitting there doing an interview with a guy from Philly when I notice Gilbert with his head poking around the corner of the trainer's room, watching Awvee. He had this goofy grin on his face and then he sprung out and got Awvee right in the chest. One of the ball boys paid up.”

Most Respected: Caron Butler

Caron brought a toughness to the team, a relentless attack attitude that is missing from many of our players. When he went down with a thumb injury at the end of the season, we completely collapsed. But once the trainers finally let “Tough Juice” back on the floor, we immediately returned to top form. His gritty performances in Game 5 and Game 6 of the Cavs series were especially impressive. In Game 5, he fought through a horrible start and rough shooting night by swarming the passing lanes, attacking the basket for easy transition opportunities, and crashing the boards with abandon. In Game 6, he continued his tremendous effort on the interior, pulling down an astonishing 20 rebounds. I expect a HUGE year out of Caron next year, entering his prime at age 26, with a year under his belt as a Wizard.

Gone, But Not Forgotten: Jarvis Hayes

On nights when one member of the Big 3 struggled, Jarvis Hayes’ wing-scoring prowess certainly would have been useful. Hopefully the former lottery pick can put his knee struggles behind him and make an impact for us next year.

Best Dressed: Andray Blatche

Our lone rookie draft pick, Andray Blatche spent a fair amount of time looking dapper on the bench in a suit. But when he did play, he looked even better. His skill set in a man his size is exceedingly rare. The only real NBA comparison for his size and game is Lamar Odom. Ernie Grunfeld found Michael Redd in the 2nd round in Milwaukee, and I'm optimistic that he's done it again.

Best Hair: Party John, of course

Hopefully his game will some day be as sexy as his hair.

Best Looking: Michael Ruffin and Calvin Booth

Michael Ruffin's offensive game is as ugly as his mugshot, but he's a tremendous defender, a strong physical presence, and a terrific rebounder. There was no pretense of involving him in the offense, as was often the case with Etan or Haywood, so Gilbert/Antawn/Caron could focus on scoring, while Ruffin focused on cleaning the boards. By the end of the season, I thought he was our most effective big man. As for Calvin Booth... well... that's just not a handsome man.

Most Studious: Billy Thomas

Billy Thomas graduated from Kansas in 1998, and after 7 years of hard work in Europe, he finally seems to have found a spot in the NBA. He has crafted his game in the Bruce Bowen mold (3-point shooting and defense), and he has become an Eddie Jordan favorite.

Shyest: Donnell Taylor and Awvee Storey
The rarely utilized underclassmen of the team should have ample opportunity this summer to work on their games, play a leading role on our summer league team, and come back in 06-07 as mature contributors to the squad.

(And yes, I know I'm pretty much the worst photo-shopper ever. It's part of my charm.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blogger analysis of LeBron's game-winner

Free Darko and The Mighty MJD both had excellent reviews of LeBron's game-winner. MJD thinks the shot had little to do with LeBron's greatness. Instead, he credits the pathetic Wizards defense for allowing LeBron to catch the ball in the corner and waltz to the basket. Meanwhile, Free Darko agrees that LeBron's bucket looked easy enough that it's not hard for us to discount it. However, he makes the excellent point that LeBron makes EVERYTHING look easy. Would another player have been able to do what he did in that split second? Would another player have been able to quickly read the defense, explode around Jamison, tip-toe the baseline, and make a swooping layup from under the rim, all under the pressure of your first playoff overtime? I tend to agree with Free Darko on this one. There's definitely a middle ground that takes into account both the Wizards' atrocious defense and a precocious young star's innate ability to take advantage of it under pressure.

Take a look:

The Mighty MJD

Free Darko

Also, if you haven't checked out the Queen James photoshop artistry, a capella song, and subsequent remixes, you're gonna wanna go ahead and do that:


Thursday, May 04, 2006

It's finally time to address Game 5

Okay, I think I’m starting to pull myself together, so it’s finally time for a few thoughts about Game 5. Then I am putting it past me and looking forward to Game 6 in DC and Game 7 back in Cleveland…

1) Antawn Jamison… didn’t you play 6th grade basketball??? Didn’t your grade school coaches ever teach you to put your freaking foot on the baseline?! Use the sideline as a defender! Cut off the baseline! Good god, man. That was the perfect baseline trap, James would have been screwed.

2) Why in the hell did Gilbert decide that it was a good idea to launch a contested 70-footer after LeBron's layup in OT? Why didn’t we call a freaking timeout, move the ball to half-court, and run a play for a good look at the game-winner? And it wasn’t just Arenas’ fault. Why did Jamison inbound the ball? He’s a veteran guy. He should know better. He never should have picked up the ball. He should have been too busy calling a timeout.

3) I know it’s kind of odd for me to finally be asking this question at this point, given all that I already know about Gilbert, but is he COMPLETELY insane?

First, from Mike Wise in the Post:

It was late, going on 12:30 a.m., so late that LeBron James had already showered and was putting baby powder on his big toes. The Cleveland Cavaliers' locker room was emptying out when one of the most unlikely people walked in… Gilbert Arenas…

"Yo, that was my Game 5," Arenas said to James. "You took my Game 5. I had my speech prepared and everything after the game. And you done messed up everything."

James kept his head down, smiling to himself… He seemed stunned that Arenas would come over to affectionately badger him after such a rough loss -- a loss that left Washington one game from elimination.

Arenas wouldn't let the ribbing go as he waited for Hughes to dress.

"I was going to be Mr. Game 5, I was going to be perfect in Game 5s," said Arenas, who deadened the United Center a year ago in Game 5 with a last-second jump shot that all but ended Chicago's season. "You took that game from me. That was my game."

There were only a few people left in the locker room, and Hughes finally let out an uncomfortable laugh, as if he wanted James to know Arenas was having fun while also letting his friend know that his attempt at humor did not go unnoticed.

Arenas kept going, motioning toward Hughes putting on a pair of nylon mesh shorts -- Wizards shorts.

"Man, he has got to be fined," Arenas said. "Somebody fine him in here right now. You see this?"

James kept dressing and smiling while not completely acknowledging Arenas. He almost seemed deferential to the veteran player in his own locker room.

Seriously, what the hell goes on in this guy’s mind?

And further to the point, some quotes from Gil on ESPN.COM:

(Arenas) recounted his unorthodox decision to visit the Cavaliers' locker room after Wednesday's game. He said he delivered two messages -- good-naturedly, of course.

"You go in there and you tell them, 'We did good tonight,"' Arenas said. "'This is exciting; this is good basketball. Even though y'all won, we played our hearts out, and we'll see y'all when you come down."'

But he didn't stop there. He wanted James and Co. to know that his "Mr. Game 5" plans had been blown to bits.

"I knew somehow I was going to get the last shot," Arenas said. "It worked that way with 3.6 seconds left, and LeBron messed it up, so I had to give him a piece of my mind. 'You messed up my Mr. Game 5. Now I've got to wait all the way until next year to be called Mr. Game 5.' Jerry West has Mr. Clutch. I wanted Mr. Game 5. ... I was going to have T-shirts made, too."

And just how did the Cavaliers react to all this? Arenas said they looked at him as if he was an "idiot."

"Like usual," Arenas said. "Larry Hughes laughing."

Really Gilbert? Why would they look at you like you’re an idiot? Was it because you were already designing your post-game t-shirt in your head instead of checking to see if we had any timeouts left?

But you DID drop 44. I still love you.

4) "We could have had this series 4-1, when you look at it," Gilbert Arenas said. "That's two game-winners that's been hit, but that's what happens. It's been a good, exciting series. When I think it about, I'm like, 'We're better than them.' We just have to go out and put this team away."

If we had played better defense Wednesday night, we wouldn't have had to worry about game-winners. Eric Snow sucks, but even he's not going to miss uncontested lay-ups. We can win with LeBron dropping 40, but not with Snow, Hughes, and Murray combining for 54.

5) This series REALLY deserves to go seven. It might destroy my soul in the process, rendering me emotionless and unfeeling, but the basketball in this series has been so incredible, the battle between Arenas and James so entertaining, and the teams so closely matched, that this series HAS to go seven. In a similar vein, The Cavalier over at YAYSPORTS! has a really great piece about the competitive nature of this series, his desire to see a Game 7 even though he really should want the Cavs to win in 6, and the ghosts of the past that still haunt Cavs fans. It’s definitely worth a read (even for Zards fans, despite the repeated disclaimers from The Cavalier).

Game 6: Friday night at 8:00pm on ESPN

Kobe is a dirtbag

My coping mechanism for dealing with last night? Trashing Kobe Bryant.

How come not a single media outlet has shown a replay of Kobe absolutely DRILLING Raja Bell in the face with an elbow on the play before Raja's clothesline?

This picture is the best I can find. You can see the Ko-bow beginning to move towards the general direction of Raja's face, but I can't find an impact shot.

There's nothing on youtube, either. SOMEBODY must have the video somewhere, right?

However, youtube does have this video of Kobe being a dirtbag against Raja and the Suns in January:

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Game 5 Log

This isn't a cheezy attempt to imitate the Sports Guy's running diaries. I'm just so worked up for this game, I need somewhere to channel my nervous energy. I'll probably still end up biting halfway through my finger nails. Here goes:

1st Quarter:
- Gil is starting the game off aggressive, attacking the rim. In the first 5 minutes he's gotten to the rim 3 times.
- Lebron is passive early, letting the game come to him. It looks like Jeffries is the primary defender tonight.
- Butler is matched up with Snow. Caron's gotta exploit that.
- Hughes is hot early. This isn't a good sign. However, the Zards are getting most of their points at the rim. That IS a good sign.
- The refs are clearly calling it very tight tonight. Every little bit of contact is a foul. And as I typed that, they just called a BS flagrant on Etan. He went for the ball and came down through the ball. With the help of the flagrant, the Cavs just went on a 7-0 run, all at the FT line.
- End of 1: Was 27 - Cle 25. Jamison has 10, Gil has 12 (two 3's, two layups, two FTs). Larry Hughes has 11 on 4-5 shooting. James has a quiet 8.

2nd Quarter:
- Lebron just got called for a travel! There is a god!
- Butler is really struggling. He should be scoring over Snow easily.
- This is outrageously tight officiating. Hughes just got called for a hand tap, then Varejao got a foul on a bump, followed by Ruffin on a bump. The refs aren't allowing any flow to this game.
- Gil is heating up. After back-to-back 3's, he's got 4 for the game. One was a ridiculous fastbreak pull-up three. Jeff Van Gundy chimed in to say "That's not a good shot, unless it's Gibert Arenas." Gil needs to be careful not to start settling for jumpers.
- Defensively, we're not stopping LeBron's penetration. Move your feet! Take charges!
- The offense is all Gil and Antawn at this point.
- Lebron just has a ridiculous sense of entitlement. He's crying about EVERYTHING.
- What happened to Larry Hughes this quarter? Where are Gooden and Z?
- And Lebron just cried his way out of a blatant charge to close the half. Unbelievable. Sir Charles at the half: "It's like the refs huddled and said 'that's LeBron, we can't give him his 3rd foul.'"
- End of 2: Cle 52 - Was 51
- Cleveland has 25 FTs to Washington's 8 (11 for LeBron, and he's still crying!!)
-Gil has 20, Jamison 20, and Butler just 3. LeBron has a steadily efficient 23.
- Foul trouble will be an issue in the 2nd half, thanks to the tight officiating. Jeffries and Haywood have 3 fouls, and Antawn and Butler have 2 each.
- Gil had zero points in the last 8 minutes of the 2nd. With his first-step, it is absolutely beyond me why he just disappears for long stretches. He should always be attacking the basket to create for himself and others.

3rd Quarter:
- Butler starts off with a quick jumper and a steal. Let's get it going, Caron!
- Ugh, its a lackadaisical start for the Zards in the 3rd. Nobody is getting back, LeBron just had a vicious put-back dunk, and we gave wide-open j's to Gooden and Z.
- Gil's been effective tonight when he posts up Hughes, both passing and scoring. I haven't seen much of that from Gil this year, but from what I've seen tonight, he should do it more.
- Arenas attacks the basket and draws an and-1 on Big Z, his 4th foul. In a game called so tightly, Gil should be living in the paint, racking up fouls on the Cleveland big guys.
- Wow... even I can admit that should have been a charge on Gilbert. Instead, that's 4 fouls on LeBron. I guess that's a makeup for the one at the end of the first half. Either way, he should have 4. On the bench, LeBron's lips just mouthed something along the lines of "the refs won't let me play the MF-ing game!" What a baby.
- This is a huge stretch. Can we make a run without LeBron in the game?
- OK nevermind, nobody's getting back for the Zards. The King-less Cavs are getting easy transition buckets.
- Arenas is bombing 3's again. He's over 3o points with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, and he's 6 for 7 from three. Is the big run coming here? Van Gundy is SWEATING Arenas right now. Some tidbits: "greatest 2nd round pick ever", "yes, I'm fawning over him", "very few have his combination of quickness and skill"
- Nope, still no run. Instead, there's a jumper for Snow, some turnovers, nobody's getting back, Varejao's getting offensive rebounds. GUH.
- Butler's just not getting it done offensively. Antawn had to come back in even though he has 4 fouls.
- Larry Hughes just hit a 3?! And now we're getting killed by Flip Murray! What the F? Who are these guys?
- And it's Murray again at the buzzer. That's 10 points in the quarter for Flip, thanks to horrendous Zards D.
- End of 3: Cavs 85 - Zards 81
- Phenomenal job by the Cavs protecting the lead without Lebron (even extending it by 3 points). Meanwhile, James is barely paying attention on the bench, still moping and crying. What an unbelievable baby. Support your teammates!
- Arenas has 34 (14 in the 3rd quarter), and Jamison has 25. LeBron has 25 (just 2 in the quarter), Hughes has 20, Flip has 10 (4-for-5), and freaking Snow has 10 (5-for-7).

4th Quarter:
- It's officially time to start freakign out. I'm sweating through my shirt, and it's not even hot in here. Is there any way this doesn't come down to another James/Arenas shootout?
- Just like that, it's an 8-point hole. Thats OK... we prefer to play from behind...
- Apparently standing with your arms straight up while the shooter jumps into you is a foul when you're guarding LeBron. Jeffries is going to foul out of this game having committed one legitimate foul.
- WOW, a ridiculous spinning 20-ft fadeaway from LeBron, but Antawn answers with a quick three.
- The Cavs are abandoning all pretense of an offense at this point. They're just isolating LeBron on the wing. It's safe to say that Jeffries is going to foul out in the next 2 minutes.
- And just like that, Jeffries is on the bench with 5 fouls, so now Butler is on James. Caron has 3 fouls, so he can be a little more physical.
- The 4th is halfway gone and the Cavs are still up 7. We need to get some stops and force some turnovers if we're going to make a run. The pace has slowed to a crawl this quarter, which is perfect for the Cavs.
- Where's Gilbert? He's been conspicuously absent this quarter. Daniels, Jamison, and Butler are taking all the shots. Gil is just standing around the perimeter. Get the rock and attack, for the love of god!
- Now Butler has 5 fouls too. How are we going to stop James? This is NOT good.
- Daniels layup, Butler steal, Jamison three, and its a 3-point game!
- But James won't miss. Christ, he's gotta be on pace for 50 in this quarter alone.
- Arenas is still nowhere to be found. He's not even involved in the offense. He's 1-for-2 in the quarter, James is 6-for-8.
- Jeffries just fouled out by bumping LeBron's forearm with his stomach. LeBron's ability to lead with his forearm, create contact with that arm, and then get the call is just ridiculous.
- LeBron buries both FTs, making it a 7-point game with just over a minute left. I'm not giving up hope yet, but I don't see how we're going to pull this out.
- Apparently Daniels has decided to do his best Arenas impression in Gil's absence. AD's 3-point play cuts it to 4 with a minute to play.
- Iso for LeBron... Zards double him... jumper for Snow.... Nope! Zards come down... Jamison floater... nope. But Caron boards... tough layup... YES! 2-point game! Cavs timeout with 35 seconds to play!
- Hmm... let me guess... the Cavs will isolate LeBron on the wing?
- Yep. Here's the double... LeBron swings it... stolen by Arenas! NO, out of bounds. Good god!
- STEAL!!!! Butler layup! TIE GAME!!! HOLY FREAKING CRAP!!!
- OK... well... its gonna be LeBron's ball with 7 seconds left. We have to double him again, right? Make Eric Snow or Flip Murray beat us with a jumper. Or maybe Lebron will take 5 steps without dribbling to beat the double-team.
- I think i just peed myself a little bit.

Freaking Overtime:
- OK, I'm back from a jog around my apartment complex. My hands are still shaking like a crack fiend's, but at least I can sort of breathe now.
- Maybe Gilbert will show up for overtime?
- Wise words from my boy Maxico: "Close games are only great experiences in retrospect. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or not a real fan. I don't feel healthy." I couldn't agree more.
- First possession, Arenas scores on the post. OKAY
- Jeffries is gone, Butler has 5 fouls, Jamison 5, and Arenas 4. Like I said before, this is going to be a factor.
- Eric Snow has all 6 Cavs points in OT??? What in the hell? He's got 18 tonight. Thats 4 more than his season high!!
- Gil has 4 points in OT so far (and 40 total). Come on Agent Zero, take this game over!
- Man... Butler missed a FT and then Jamison missed a layup and a FT. Throwing away 4 points like that will come back to haunt us. The game is still tied though. And after an awful start, Butler has willed his way back to 18 points on 8-for-16 shooting, 10 boards, 5 assists, and 4 steals.
- Why isnt the ball in Gil's hands? We're running a 2-man game with AD and Antawn, and it led to an AD fade away 3! What are we doing???
- Okay, Butler is just a F-ing badass. What a tough MF-er, he's relentless. It's a 1-point game with a minute left after Tough Juice's huge offensive board and subsequent FTs.
- Drew Gooden has now fouled out of 10 of his 13 career playoff games!
- A steal and a full-court layup for Gil! 1-point lead! YEA BABY!
- This Lebron "we are all witnesses" commercial right now is killing me. KILLING ME.
- LEBRON JUST PLOWED OVER CARON AND THEN FOREARMED HIM TO THE GROUND, AND THEY CALLED IT ON BUTLER! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME?! That's about the 9th foul that LeBron's drawn by jamming his goddamn forearm into Caron or JJ.
- Butler's gone, and LeBron hits both free throws (with an emphasis on "free", as in "free gift"). 25 seconds left, Zards down 1.
- GIL GETS FOULED ON THE DRIVE. 2 FTS with 3.6 left. I seriously might hurl...
- That's 1! Tie game...
- Definitely might hurl.
- That's 2! So clutch! 1-point lead!
- I don't know what to do with myself right now. I can't feel feelings anymore...

- You know LeBron's gonna take this no matter what. It's gonna be one of those tough fade-aways.
- Caron and JJ both fouled out because of James' forearm, so who's gonna guard him? Oh god... Ruffin.


i'm gonna go barf

Back in Business

First of all, I would like to sincerely apologize to my readers for skipping out on them during a phenomenal weekend of Zards and NBA basketball. I was in Southern California for an incredible, weekend-long, music festival, and sometimes you just have to make tough decisions in life. No regrets.

However, I did catch Game 3 live from a sports bar and checked out Game 4 on TiVo. I hate lingering on things that happened several days ago and have already been beaten to death by the media, so I will address the weekend's action very briefly.

Game 3: Yes, Lebron's travel was obvious. He took a step, then jump-stopped, then switched pivot feet, then took another step, and then jumped again. Everybody knows it was a travel. Lebron knows he traveled. A Cavs fan came up to me after the game and apologized for winning on such an egregious travel. But I'm over it. Refs eat their whistles in the last minute of playoff games, especially when it involves a superstar. If you don't want to risk losing the game to the refs, then put the game away yourself. The Zards had control of the game most of the way, but they couldn't hold onto their lead. And in the end, we had a wide open shot for our best player to win the game. We should have won this game regardless of the officiating.

Game 4: I'm kind of glad I knew the score already when I watched this game, because I probably would have been suicidal by halftime. The Zards came out completely flat, and they looked like they had no idea that they were playing in a huge game. I figured Arenas would come out like a bat out of hell after missing the game-winner in game 3, but instead he was AWFUL in the 1st half. Luckily, Arenas had a vintage Gilbert halftime which led to a vintage Gilbert 4th quarter. As I'm sure you all know by now, Gilbert went into the locker room at halftime and changed all his clothes (even his socks, shoes, and underwear), and then he proceeded to come out and outshine Lebron in the 2nd half. Gil's dominant 4th quarter (20 points) was a thing of beauty. That said, I really wish he could put together just one complete game during this series. You Zards fans know what I mean... one of those games where he shoots 50%, scores 45 points, hits 5 threes, gets to the line 20 times, and looks like he could have gotten 50 if he wanted it. He had 11 games this season with 40 points or more, and it would be great if a national audience could see Gilbert absolutely dominate a game from start to finish like we know he can.

Game 5 is tonight at 8:30pm on TNT. Just to emphasize how important this game is, here’s a stat I saw last night on the NBATV broadcast of the Kings-Spurs game: the winner of game 5 in a “best of 7” series that’s tied at 2-2 goes on to win the series 84% of the time. If we can win tonight in Cleveland, we’ll have the opportunity to come home on Friday and put the Cavs away. If we lose, we’ll have to win at home to force a game 7 on Sunday back in Cleveland.

Around the Web:

> ESPN Insider’s Scouts Inc. still likes the Zards in 6. For those of you who don’t have an Insider subscription, here’s a summary of why they still think we’ll win in 6:

  1. The Zards will continue to make Lebron beat them all by himself from the perimeter.
  2. Hughes hasn’t been able to contain Gilbert, and Gil will continue to catch the Cavs big men out of position and draw fouls.
  3. Offensively, the Zards motion offense and penchant for attacking the rim will limit dry spells, however they must do a better job taking care of the ball.
  4. The Zards will keep trying to take charges on Lebron rather than challenging his shot. If he kicks to shooters, the Cavs can’t consistently beat anyone with their jumpers.

> Washington Post: Gilbert is averaging 15 points per 4th quarter in this series.

> Tom Knott: The Cavs don’t have an offense, they have LeBron James and not much else.

> There are some great quotes from Gilbert in this Washington Times piece:

  • “If you want to keep me off the line, tell your team to stop hacking... If I know you are fouling, I'm coming inside because I know those are free throws, baby. I don't shy away from the contact.” -- I love that attitude. If he gets to the line 15+ times, we’re going to win the game.
  • “[Larry Hughes has] become a spot-up shooter, and that's not what he does. Here he stayed on the right side of the court, and I stayed on the left side of the court — no problems. In Cleveland they want to play half-court unless they get out on the break. There aren't that many opportunities where Larry is going to be free." -- This was exactly the reason I thought Hughes was a TERRIBLE signing for the Cavs last off-season. In a free-flowing, fast-paced system like the Wizards’, Hughes is great. But on a team like the Cavs, where they slow it down, focus on half-court sets, and James dominates the ball, Hughes is terrible. Somebody like Bobby Simmons would have been a much better fit for them, and much cheaper to boot.

> The New York Times has an in depth profile on Gilbert Arenas’ jersey collection project. My favorite jersey in his collection is definitely Jason McElwain’s, the autistic high school team manager who rained threes on his school’s senior night. If you haven’t seen that video yet, it’s pretty incredible: CLICK HERE.

> It was revealed before last night’s Suns-Lakers game that Kwame Brown is under investigation by the LAPD for sexual assault. Surprisingly, Kwame, who is prone to distraction, came out and played a very solid game despite limited minutes due to foul trouble. He was 6-for-6 from the field, and he showed that all he really has to do to be effective with his size and athleticism is just A) hang around the basket for dunks when Kobe gets double-teamed, and B) consistently hit a jump hook, since he can get that shot off over just about anyone. Although he’s still a FAR cry from Kevin Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal (and always will be), if he can relax and simply not panic when he gets the ball, he should be effective around the basket on basic moves. On a side note, I still have yet to see Kwame smile even once this season. Just like in DC, his on-court body language has been consistently depressing this season.

> Mike Wise profiles Cavs coach Mike Brown.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why does the Sports Guy hate Steve Nash?

So I just read the Sports Guy's new NBA column, and I think my head is about to explode. How can he make ridiculous statements like this and just act like everyone should know they are fact:

"We just spent three weeks arguing about the 2006 MVP Award, which was the perfect vehicle to separate two groups of people: Those Who Understand Basketball, and Those Who Need To Pull Their Heads Out Of Their Butts. See, LeBron and Kobe were the only two acceptable candidates; they meant more to their teams than anyone else and submitted two otherworldly statistical seasons."

Those who understand basketball know that the Suns would be awful without Nash! Those who understand basketball know that Nash meant just as much to his team, if not more, as Kobe and Lebron did to theirs. Just because he doesn’t score like Kobe and Lebron, he’s not as valuable? Just because he didn't average 30 points per game, he didn't submit an "otherworldly statistical season"? 19 points, 10.5 assists, 51% shooting, 92% free-throw shooting, and a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty unreal in it's own right.

From a scoring standpoint, 51% shooting from Nash is infinitely more impressive than someone like Tony Parker’s FG% when you look at the shots Nash takes. Parker never shoots 3’s, and he enjoys a similar effect with Tim Duncan to the one Dwyane Wade enjoys with Shaq. When you have a post-presence like that, you can’t double team on the perimeter, and its hard for a post defender (typically the team's best shot blocker) to rotate off Shaq/Duncan, so somebody has to come from farther away to stop penetration. Combine that with exceptional quickness in a guard, and nobody can keep Parker/Wade from getting to the hole for easy buckets. Meanwhile, it’s Nash who makes himself impossible to double-team. You never know what he's going to do with the ball, and he does it completely under control while playing at an unbelievably fast pace. For example, take a look at John Hollinger's "True Shooting %" statistic, which factors in the points created with each shot attempt (via 2-pointers, 3-pointers, or FTs), and guess who jumps to #1 in the league, and by a large margin? Steve Nash. His true shooting percentage is 63%. The next highest is Eddy Curry at 60%. Tony Parker is 19th at 58%. And FYI, Lebron is 36th and Kobe is 44th.

What about assists? Hollinger's "Assist Ratio" is the percentage of a player's possessions that end in an assist. Nash is 2nd in the league, behind only Eric Snow. But, do you know how far down you have to go on that list until you find a player who also averaged as many points per game as Nash did? Joe Johnson all the way down at # 41. So Nash this year was an unparalleled statistical combination of shooting/scoring ability and the ability to create points for his teammates? That's not statistically otherworldly?

Furthermore, the Sports Guy goes on to make several ridiculous arguments against Nash. First of all, he says that the only reason to vote for Nash is that it's fun to vote for a little white guy with floppy hair. So everyone who votes for Nash is a racist??? Secondly, he says that Nash struggles to take over in close games. That's ridiculous! Nash, much like Lebron, doesn't have to take over the game by scoring HIMSELF. It doesn't matter who scores, as long as the basket is made. Plus, that's the exact same argument that's been leveled against Lebron all season, a guy who the Sports Guy claims is clearly a better candidate than Nash. Not to mention the fact that I've seen Nash take over games by scoring quite a few times. He only does it when he has to, but the guy can flat out fill it up when he wants to. He's an absurdly accurate shooter, and he’s such a creative dribbler he can get off his shot whenever he really wants it. Finally, the Sports Guy makes an argument he's made several times, that Jason Kidd never won an MVP so neither should Nash. Well guess what, I think Jason Kidd was robbed by Tim Duncan a few years ago. Kidd absolutely carried those Nets teams to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, and he was completely deserving of the MVP Award during that time. You can't hold Duncan beating out Kidd over Nash's head, they're totally unrelated. The Sports Guy also throws in Payton, Isiah, Stockton, and even Mark Price, but that's ludicrous. Unlike Kidd and Nash, none of those guys was ever considered the clear-cut top point guard in the game.

In the end, the Sports Guy just proves that HE is the one who doesn't understand basketball. The reason the Suns are losing this series to the Lakers has little to do with Kobe vs. Nash as an individual match-up, which is what the Sports Guy seems to want you to believe. Rather, it has everything to do with the fact that Nash’s teammates are choking like dogs. Once again, Shawn Marion is folding like a freaking lawn chair in the playoffs, and the trio of Barbosa/Jones/House has been utterly AWOL, forcing Nash to do too much on his own to try and make up for it (note his increased scoring in the playoffs of 22 pts/gm). If Nash had Stoudemire to take over the scoring load, this would be a different situation. Meanwhile, Kobe’s teammates have really stepped up, the keys being Lamar Odom and Luke Walton. Early in the season, Odom was in the Scottie Pippen/initiator role in the triangle, and he really struggled. Now its Walton, and he’s perfect for it. He’s such a great distributor, he’s even getting the offensively challenged Kwame involved. The whole team is involved in the offense and now even Kobe is buying into it (Phil Jackson is an unbelievable coach). Plus, with Odom now playing closer to the rim as more of a finisher, he's averaging 21 pts and 12 boards and shooting 51% in the playoffs. And none of this takes into account the fact that Phoenix is shooting 43.5% from the field, a 4% dip from their regular season performance. The Sports Guy too often focuses on individual offense and individual match-ups when he analyzes NBA team match-ups. It’s not tennis Bill, it’s a freaking team sport!

(Tomorrow, it's back to focusing on the Zards in preparation for Game 5. I promise!)