Tag Archives: shaquille o’neal

Looking Forward: Phoenix Suns

We all used to love the Phoenix Suns, but things changed a bit last year. Under Terry Porter until the All-Star break, the Suns failed to meet expectations. The new coach was given the unenviable task of trying to change the Suns’ identity. Instead of an all-out running attack, Porter wanted to play a more controlled style of basketball. Less quick shots, less chaos, more defense, more rebounding.

It didn’t work. They slowed the pace down a little bit, but their defense got considerably worse. Players such as Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa seemed downright frustrated at times, not knowing when they had the green light to shoot. The offense wasn’t the same and the players weren’t comfortable (despite Steve Nash’s genuine effort to make it work). Their roster wasn’t capable of becoming a lockdown defensive team, especially after the Jason Richardson trade, and it came as a surprise to no one when Porter got the axe and was replaced by Alvin Gentry. Sure, Shaquille O’Neal put up great numbers (with and without Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup), but it wasn’t necessarily best for the team to make him a focal point. Even with the improvement under Gentry, the Suns remained a mediocre team and missed out on a playoff berth by 2 games.

This summer, the Shaquille O’Neal experiment was put to rest when he was moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers for salary relief. Matt Barnes headed to the East, too, signing with Orlando. All the Suns have done is re-sign veterans Steve Nash (36 in February) and Grant Hill (37 before opening day), draft forwards Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin, and sign free agent Channing Frye. My initial thought about all this: “What exactly are they doing? Do they even have a plan?” These are not moves I should endorse. They’re not ones that will put the team back where it belongs, legitimately in title contention. They’re not ones that will ensure future financial flexibility, planting the seeds for rebuilding. Rather, they are lateral moves, keeping them in a spot where they have just enough talent to make the playoffs if things go right. When I thought about it, though, I realized I was happy that they had kept Nash, happy they’ve pledged to keep the run-and-gun style going. It’s because, at this point, I just don’t want to see him in another uniform.

Here’s some of what Kelly Dwyer said about Nash in his top 10 point guards of the last decade list:

We play to win, I guess, but we’re also playing because it’s fun. Nobody says, “I’m going to go down to the Y later this afternoon to try and contribute to a winning cause.” We say, “I’m going to go play basketball,” a game, a game that’s fun. You’ve seen this dance before.

So, he’ll get burned on D. And at the end of the day, other players will have more points, rebounds, steals and assists, even. But man, isn’t his game something to behold?

Take this quote and apply it to the whole team. They have flaws. Obvious, season-shortening flaws. We know they are going to be overmatched, some nights. In a cold, rational world, the smart thing would unquestionably be to blow this thing up and start over. Ditch the veterans, develop young guys, rebuild. We live in the real world, though, a place where Phoenix Suns fans would be distraught if the franchise abandoned its fiery Canadian saviour. It’s really a shame that this franchise fell short of winning a title this decade, and it’s a shame that this year’s team won’t measure up to those of years’ past. Still, they’ll be fun for another year or two, and that’s what we want.

I can’t honestly say I’m very excited about the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns. I can’t even say I find them that interesting, beyond seeing if Amar’e can successfully come back from eye surgery and start playing defense again. Still, I know I’m going to end up watching a ton of their games and I know I’m going to love it. They might not be the Suns of old, but they’re still worth our time.

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Filed under Free Agency, Looking Forward, Phoenix Suns, Trades

8 Fantasy Basketball Busts For 2009-2010

Hulk Yi

This is a guest post by my buddy Julian, who writes the blog Comedy Landfill. Like me, he’s a huge NBA fan and a fantasy basketball aficionado. We thought that in addition to giving you know some potentially awesome fantasy picks, we should list some guys to stay away from. Anyway, enjoy. And follow him on twitter.

Bad Fantasy Fits

Richard Jefferson: There is no doubt in my mind that Richard Jefferson is going to improve the Spurs this coming season. However, this is fantasy basketball, not real basketball, and hard questions must be asked. How is Jefferson going to behave when slotted next to other scorers that are going to require a large amount of touches? Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all like to take a fair amount of shots, and Jefferson might get squeezed a bit in this respect. I expect his shooting percentage to rise, but his PPG to go down, and his rebounds to stay around the same.

Andre Miller: Many people questioned this decision by Portland GM Prichard in the offseason, myself being one of them. It might work a bit better in practice than it does on paper, but that doesn’t mean that Miller’s stats won’t suffer. Never the long bomber, Andre doesn’t figure to benefit too much from Roy’s ability to draw double teams. However, his number of three point shots made should go up marginally. Even with Portland’s high powered offense, I don’t expect Miller’s assist numbers are going to change much – they may even dip slightly because he’s just not going to have the ball in his hands as much and, unless he’s traded, Blake will be competing with him for minutes. His PPG should take a much bigger drop than his assists, though. He simply does not have to score as much, or create offense for himself with so many other, more versatile scoring options on the floor.

Allen Iverson: No, no, no. I know what you’re thinking. It’s Allen Iverson! Former MVP! Shining light to all those little basketball players who dreamed of making it in the NBA! Yeah, those days are mostly behind him, if last season was any indication, and guess where he’s headed? Memphis. A team that has the very similar OJ Mayo, the shot happy Rudy Gay and infamous black hole Zach Randolph. Expect his stats to take a dip, with perhaps a slight increase in efficiency.

Injury Concerns

Jermaine O’Neal: Don’t be fooled by the positive injury reports coming out of Miami, O’Neal is likely not worth it. His rebounding over the past couple of years, even when healthy, has been suspect, his FG% is too low for a big, and obviously, he is a big question mark when it comes to injuries. Don’t pick him too early, but be open to picking him up later on, when he might be worth it as a value pick.

Shaquille O’Neal: The Big Galactus may be tempting for people, seeing as he had what appeared to be a bounce-back season in Pheonix last year. However, what many people do not realize is that Pheonix has probably the best medical and training staff in the NBA. They have prolonged the careers and peaks of many an aging player over the years, and it’s no surprise that Shaq went from being an injury-prone malcontent in Miami, to a revitalized Diesel in Pheonix. I expect him to miss a substantial number of games next season, but contribute well when he does play.

Tyson Chandler: He’s not with Chris Paul any more, so a lot of his scoring opportunities are going to dry up, and with it, his fantastic FG% and his somewhat decent ppg averages for a center. It also looks like his injury problems may be a bit more serious than first imagined.

Fake Sleepers

Lou Williams: Andre Miller is gone, so surely Lou Williams is going to step up and get a lot of minutes and help your team out, right? I wouldn’t bet on it. Last year he shot worse than 40% in terms of FG%, had a poor assist rate, and turned the ball over a lot. He contributes threes and steals, but I would only pick him up very late.

Yi Jianlian: Oh my! I’ve heard far to much about a guy who is legitimately terrible just because he flexed his muscles in the offseason and someone took a picture of it. Don’t count on any miraculous improvements.

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Filed under Fantasy Basketball, Guest Posts

Looking Foward: Cleveland Cavaliers

Starting now, on Vittorio De Zen’s Fast Break, I’m going to take a look at each team in the NBA with regards to how they fared last season, what moves they’ve made in this off-season, and what these moves mean for next season. I kind of accidentally started this last week, with the Orlando Magic.

I’m going to continue this by taking a look at the team most experts predicted would defeat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals: the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There’s only one way to say this: the loss to Orlando should not have surprised anyone. Orlando had a great, great team last season. They proved it all year, winning 59 games despite the loss of their All-Star point guard before All-Star Weekend. Cleveland won 66 games on the strength of an absolutely insane season from the greatest player in the game. Yes, LeBron had the best supporting cast he’s had so far in his career, but this was by no means a great supporting cast. They ended up winning the most regular season games last year, but both the Magic and Lakers achieved their impressive records despite serious injuries to key players. Quite simply, the Cavaliers overachieved. I’m not meaning to diminish the achievement – it was an extremely impressive one, and Cavs fans should be grateful for witnessing such a remarkable season. Rather, I want it to be clear that Cleveland was not home to the best team in the NBA last season and their loss in the Eastern Conference finals shouldn’t have made anyone feel like the year was a failure.

It became apparent against Orlando that Cleveland had some weaknesses that needed to be addressed in the summer. One of them was a lack of a big shooting guard who can defend tall guys when Delonte West is overmatched. Enter Anthony Parker. Another was a lack of an elite athlete besides LeBron James. Enter Jamario Moon. These two ex-Raptors are nowhere close to stars in the NBA, but they bring specific tools to the table that Cleveland was missing. I’ve already discussed how I think Anthony Parker will fit in Cleveland, so now I want to touch on Jamario a bit. I am aware that Toronto fans became frustrated with his offensive decision-making last season, but other NBA observers know that he does many positive things on the basketball court. If Miami declines to match Cleveland’s offer, they will not only add another athlete to the team, a guy who can rebound and help the team get easy baskets on the fast break, but they will greatly increase their flexibility. The Cavs had a very tough time matching up against the combination of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis last season. When the Lakers fielded a frontcourt of Ariza, Odom, and Gasol, the Cavs had trouble too. Now, Cleveland should be able to deal with these kind of lineups more effectively, as they can play Jamario Moon at the 3 and LeBron James at the 4 when the situation calls for it.

This ability to move LeBron James to the 4 at times is not a small point, when you consider the offensive end. First, think about how LeBron was able to dominate 3s last season. He could explode past them whenever he wanted, using his superior athletic ability. His strength advantage was certainly intimidating, but he rarely ventured down to the post. Now imagine him making those same moves to the basket against 4s. I can’t think of a single power forward with the ability to deal with LeBron James’s guard skills and guard speed. I think that playing James at the 4 for stretches will greatly improve their offense, and I doubt he would be bullied much on the other end, considering his size and strength.

While we’re talking about size and strength, I must obviously talk about the Cavs’ acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal. The Big Witness should be able to help the team next year. He is especially important if thinking about a rematch with Orlando, as his lower body strength and agility has allowed him to contain Dwight Howard much, much better than Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao have been able to. This isn’t just about the matchup with one team, though. If he clears the lane when he’s supposed to, doesn’t take plays off on the defensive end, and doesn’t whine about minutes, then he will significantly improve the Cavs’ chances. His acceptance of fewer touches and minutes than he’s previously played is huge, here, as the Cavs have other players who can score, including a Lithuanian center who is arguably superior to Shaq. He simply needs to properly play the role assigned to Ben Wallace last season, and use his scoring and passing ability down low. As a 37-year-old playing with LeBron James, he can and should sacrifice some individual stats for wins.

If this Moon signing goes through, I would count Orlando’s offseason as one of the league’s best. They have directly addressed the weaknesses that were exposed last season. Barring injury, it’s safe to say they’re in the same class as the Lakers, Magic, Celtics, and Spurs. They’re legitimate contenders, and you can thank Danny Ferry’s recent moves for this. We really should be excited about the Cavaliers next year. Still, don’t pencil them in for the finals just yet. We can’t make the same mistake as last year.

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Filed under Cleveland Cavaliers, Free Agent Signings, Looking Forward