The Denver Nuggets recently added Nate Robinson into the fold to cap off a tumultuous offseason. Here’s my special Game Of Thrones-themed HoopsHabit article on what Robinson will bring to Denver and how the Nuggets’ offseason is a lot like the infamous Red Wedding.
Nate Robinson was a spark in the playoffs for an injury-decimated Chicago Bulls team. Here’s my HoopsHabit article on why the Bulls should sign him to a multi-year contract
The gritty Chicago Bulls shocked a lot of people when they beat the Brooklyn Nets on the road in Game 7 while dealing with numerous injuries. Here’s my HoopsHabit piece on why Tom Thibodeau’s team was able to advance.
The Sixth Man of the Year Award is an interesting NBA award because while it might be very revealing about a season, that doesn’t necessarily mean it says a lot about the recipient’s career or even the recipient’s team that year. For example, Lamar Odom won the award last year as a Laker; but LA was swept in the playoffs and now Odom hardly sees the floor as a Maverick. However, this year there are four main candidates that have made their case known as the Sixth Man of the Year Award, exemplifying great team and individual play while coming off the bench. And if the award goes to who I believe should win it, the Sixth Man of the Year Award will not be awarded to a one-year-stint-of-a-player. Here are the main candidates:
1) James Harden – In my mind, James Harden is a lock for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Similar to former award-winner Jason Terry, Harden comes off the bench because he prefers doing so, despite the fact that he easily could start for his team. Harden is averaging 17.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 3.8 apg and is the third-leading scorer for the West-leading Thunder. He leads the offensive attack while the starters get a breather, making the Thunder a constant threat to make a run even without Durant or Westbrook in the game. His 3-point shooting, knack for attacking the basket and his epic beard have helped him become a fan favorite in Oklahoma City. Little talked about is his much-improved defense that has helped lock down scorers and quietly given his team multiple victories. Harden leads the NBA in points off the bench and has transformed himself into the third member of OKC’s Big Three. I really don’t see this award going to anyone other than the black King Leonidas.
2) Lou Williams – Williams is probably Harden’s closest competition for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He leads the Sixers in points at 15.8 ppg while chipping in 3.5 apg as well. Williams has also been Philly’s best offensive threat in close games in the 4th quarter this season. Like Terry and Harden, Williams has developed a flow coming off the bench with fellow bench factor Thaddeus Young, but unfortunately for Williams, his stats don’t measure up to Harden’s. The whole “leading scorer of the Sixers” thing sounds nice on paper, but you also have to consider that this Philly squad only averages 93.8 ppg, which is 22nd in the league.
3) Jason Terry – You can never really count Jason Terry out of the running as Dallas’ big-time sixth man. The Jet is putting up 15.3 ppg and 3.5 apg, shooting 38% from beyond the arc and coming up big in the fourth quarter for an inconsistent Mavs team. Dallas’ inconsistencies plague Terry in his case for winning this award again, as the Mavs look like world-beaters one night and old, frail men the next. However, you can’t ever count out this 2008-09 Sixth Man of the Year, who might have just enough magic left in the tank to help the Mavericks make another unpredicted playoff run.
4) Al Harrington – Harrington has been a pleasant surprise for Nuggets fans this year, averaging 14.4 ppg and 6.5 rpg off the bench. The Nuggets really should be more successful than their record and current standing in the West suggests, but injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Nene (while he was still there) created problems in Denver. Harrington was relied on heavily during that stretch and proved to be a valuable asset off the bench that the Nuggets still take advantage of regularly.
Honorable mentions: Thaddeus Young 12.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg (Sixers), Jamal Crawford 13.8 ppg (Blazers), Mike Dunleavy 12.2 ppg (Bucks), Nate Robinson 10.5 ppg 4.1 apg (Warriors), OJ Mayo 12.1 ppg (Grizzlies), Anthony Morrow 12.6 ppg (Nets), Leandro Barbosa 11.7 ppg (Pacers)
The Milwaukee Bucks recently snuck into the number 8 seed in the East, but after today’s fantastic trade, they may have a few more spots to climb. The Bucks acquired Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown from Golden State and will send the injury-laden pair of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson to the Warriors.
For the Bucks, this is a fantastic trade at the moment. Although they initially struggled without their star big man Bogut, Milwaukee worked its way back into the playoff race thanks phenomenal elevated play from Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden, consistently great play from Jennings, and the Knicks’ six game losing streak. All with Bogut and Jackson sitting on the bench. Can you imagine a starting lineup of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Ilyasova, Gooden and Tobias Harris, with Mike Dunleavy (consistent bench scoring), Carlos Delfino (current starter averaging 9.0 ppg) and Beno Udrih (a semi-efficient guard) coming off the bench and giving decent minutes? Ignoring the Tobias Harris part, that sounds like a pretty decent squad! The biggest concern is how Jennings and Ellis will play together, as both are phenomenal guards who look to score first and need a lot of shots. The give-and-take at the guard position may take some getting used to if this team is to be successful. But if these two can learn to play together, you’re potentially looking at the NBA’s most dangerous backcourt. Kwame Brown and Ekpe Udoh don’t really bring much to the table, but trading Milwaukee’s two injured players for the Warriors’ scoring machine, especially when one of those players has a history of injury, is a great move for the Bucks.
On the other side of the coin, this move is perplexing if you’re a Warriors fan, as Golden State just gave up its best offensive weapon for two injured players who have been riding Milwaukee’s bench all season. Bogut has played in 12 games this season, spending the majority of his time on the sideline after fracturing his ankle against the Rockets on Jan. 25. Stephen Jackson hasn’t played since Feb. 19, sitting out with a hamstring injury, but even when he was healthy, he saw limited minutes as Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles didn’t like his attitude problem. Apparently the Warriors have given up on Mark Jackson and the Warriors for this season and look to rebuild for next year starting now. A healthy core of Curry, Bogut, Jackson, and David Lee along with Dorrell Wright, Brandon Rush and Nate Robinson is an interesting concept for next season, especially if Coach Jackson can learn to control the new Jackson. But as long as Curry continues to be riddled with ankle injuries and Mark Jackson continues to struggle as a head coach (you think Stephen Jackson’s attitude problem will improve with a first-year coach?), Warriors basketball may not be so fun to watch for the time being.
NOTE: Could the Warriors be setting themselves up to try and trade multiple pieces for Dwight Howard? They now have Bogut, Jackson, Curry, Lee and other role-player assets that could be packaged into a big deal for Superman. It would be interesting to see what kind of package would interest the Magic in exchange for Howard, but just a thought to keep in mind.
Before you say, “Everything!”, laugh, and leave the page, let me remind you of something. Just two years ago, the Phoenix Suns finished with a 54-28 record and were legitimate contenders in the Western Conference Finals. Two years ago, Alvin Gentry was putting an emphasis on defense that was actually effective when matched up with D’Antoni’s offensive run-and-gun style that was embedded in the team’s DNA. Two years ago, the Suns had a great starting lineup (Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, a younger Grant Hill, an athletic Jason Richardson and the up-and-coming Robin Lopez) and one of the best benches in the league in Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa. What happened? As an avid Suns fan through thick and thin, I have to put a little blame on Ron Artest (or Metta World Peace, now) and a lot of blame on poor management.
Let’s cover Artest first. Despite being undersized throughout the series against the Lakers’ big men, the Suns were one good box-out (nice going, J-Rich) and one Artest buzzer-beater away from taking a commanding 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Barring that miraculous shot from heaven (or hell, if you resent Artest as much as I do), the Suns had a chance at making the NBA Finals. They had a chance at keeping Amare interested in staying in Phoenix. But maybe most important of all, they had a chance to seize the moment and win a championship before old age started to take its toll.
Most Suns fans know what happened from there: poor management. Keep in mind that this is the same organization that gave up Joe Johnson to Atlanta for Boris Diaw. This is the organization that notoriously traded draft picks year after year for cash considerations and future draft picks. What type of players, you ask? Oh, just players like Luol Deng (2004), Nate Robinson (2005), Rajon Rondo (2006) and Rudy Fernandez (2007). But after all of that, the Suns couldn’t possibly let Amare go without getting anything good in return, right?
Wrong. Amare leaves for New York. Grant Hill’s age starts to catch up with him and he can only kick in about 10 points a game while being the defensive stopper. Amundson is gone. Robin Lopez fails to develop into the quality center he showed signs of in the playoffs. But worst of all, Suns management makes a series of questionable moves to try and generate some excitement after losing Amare, rather than trying to find a replacement big man. So in comes Hakim Warrick. Josh Childress. Hedo Turkoglu. A trade soon after with Orlando that exchanged Turkoglu and one dunker past his prime (J-Rich) for another dunker WAY past his prime (Vince Carter, who admittedly is doing well with Dallas now), along with Michael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat. Then Dragic gets shipped off to Houston for Aaron Brooks.
Looking at that list, you might think, “Well that’s not so bad. Turkoglu does just fine in Orlando, Gortat is a great center now, Aaron Brooks is solid, and Vince Carter is making highlights again!” But unfortunately, these acquisitions did little for the Suns during their stay in Phoenix. Gortat saw limited time behind a weak Channing Frye and a disappointing Lopez, Turkoglu’s game was hit-or-miss before he was shipped off, Brooks wasn’t the elite backup to Nash he showed promise of being (leaving for China doesn’t help) and Vince Carter just looked downright bad at times. The team didn’t gel, and Alvin Gentry found that his team could no longer put up big points OR play defense.
Fast forward to this year, after the Suns miss the playoffs and talks of trading Nash and Hill are at their strongest. Grant Hill is my personal favorite player of all time (other than MJ) and Nash has done so much for the franchise, so I blow these talks off as ridiculous. But now it seems those dissenting fans and analysts were right. Management’s version of making quality moves to improve the Suns’ weak areas included signing Shannon Brown to a team already overstocked on forwards along with has-been Sebastian Telfair. And while Markieff Morris was a good draft pick (finally), the Suns still find themselves as incompetent as ever. You can chalk it up to old age, inconsistent play from role players, and Gentry’s insufferable habit of changing of the lineup because of the inconsistency, but no matter what, the result is another year of weak Suns basketball.
Childress, Warrick, Telfair, Brown, Lopez and Michael Redd were all poor decisions involving players that either never lived up to their full potential or are past their prime. Channing Frye gets big minutes every game and continues to do little as a big man or as a shooter. Gortat is developing into quite the player and Dudley and Morris may be great in a few years, but by that time, Nash and Hill will be gone. As a Suns fan, I was extremely pleased not only with Nash and Hill’s tenure in Phoenix for so long, but also with their affirmations of their love for the city and the team. But at this point, I almost wish Hill had signed with the Bulls and that the Suns could get something good for Nash while he still has value. Because when Nash and Hill retire (and it will most likely be in Phoenix), Suns fans are in for some dark rebuilding years.