Saturday, August 11, 2007

Balance of Power Tilts

Apparently two fellow superstars, and a contract extension, made Boston look markedly better to Kevin Garnett. Slightly more than a month after reportedly nixing a trade to the Celtics, due to the perception of negative treatment towards African Americans, Garnett blessed the deal that unites him with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, creating a modern day Big Three.

The trade sends Garnett to Boston, with Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and Gerald Green, heading back to Minnesota. Suddenly, the widely criticized draft day acquisition of Ray Allen, makes sense. After losing the Greg Oden-Kevin Durant lottery, Danny Ainge decided to fast track the rebuilding process through trades, positioning the Celts to win now, not continue the perpetual wait for rookies to develop.

Combining an All-Star sharp shooting guard, coming off a 26 ppg season, an established team leader, who posted a solid 25 ppg in an injury shortened season at the wing, with arguably the most complete player in the NBA, Boston can win on any given night. Even scarier, without any Tim Duncan’s, Dirk Nowitzki’s, or Yao Ming’s, Garnett has no equal in the Eastern Conference. Adding the Big Ticket immediately vaults Boston ahead of a young Toronto team and healthy Nets team, as the favorites in the Atlantic division, alongside Cleveland, Miami, and Detroit, as the leaders to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

Before handing Boston 50 wins and Conference championship, keep a few important facts in mind: a team of superstar players rarely equal more than the sum of the parts, none of the Celtics new Big Three have any postseason success of note, and Boston lacks depth beyond the three stars. For years Garnett plead to play with another star, that he needed a formidable second option to make a deep playoff run, well, now he has two. No more excuses for first round failures.

Typically, spreading the ball around and getting each star a representative number of touches and shot becomes a sore spot, particularly with three big scorers splitting the load. These three do not carry the egos, at least publicly, that scream, “I need the ball”, like an Allen Iverson, or Kobe Bryant. I envision each will remain content scoring less, and winning more. Does that automatically mean everything will work out splendid? Not quite, look at the US Olympic team, full of superstars that failed to function as a cohesive unit.

Reportedly, the Nets made a run at KG before the draft, offering a package of Richard Jefferson, Nenad Kristic, and Marcus Williams to Minnesota, which the Wolves declined. New Jersey lacked the quantity and quality of young players, draft picks, and expiring contracts that Minnesota wanted. Now, the Nets get a close look at Garnett four times a year, and every time they glance at the standings, a scary proposition.

The brief Paul Pierce-Antoine Walker led run earlier this decade aside, the Celts are relevant for the first time since the Reggie Lewis tragically died, ending the remnants of the 1980’s dynasty. Bostonians snatched up season tickets at record pace after the trade. Celtic pride is back - good for Boston, good for the league, bad for the rest of the Eastern Conference.

…To add insult to injury, Boston signed former Net Eddie House to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, to help replenish their depleted roster following the trade. House averaged 8.4 ppg last season, but more importantly, presented the Nets only legitimate, consistent 3-point shooter, connection on 43% from long range (75-175) providing a spark off the bench.

Look for New Jersey to sift through remaining, inexpensive free agents to find a replacement. Robert Hite, who shot the ball well during summer league and impressed Net brass with his gritty play, may receive first crack at the job.

…Josh Boone continues recovering from off-season knee surgery. Coach Lawrence Frank recently stated Boone will compete for playing time at the Forward/Center position, with new additions Jamaal Magloire and Sean Williams, and incumbent Jason Collins. Frank affirmed Boone is making, “good progress” in his recovery.

Nets Reward Frank, Continue Building Stability

From August 2nd, 2007:

Last week the Nets rewarded Head Coach Lawrence Frank with a two-year contract extension at $8.6 million, and authorized a raise for 2007-08, increasing the value to $12.3 million for three years. With Frank inked through 2009-10, the Nets took another step toward assuring stability and competitiveness as they prepare to move to Brooklyn in 2009.

Frank, who joined the Nets in 2000 as an assistant in Byron Scott’s first season, replaced Scott as head coach in January 2004, immediately reeling off 13 straight wins. Three and half seasons later, the 36-year-old, who began his coaching journey as a team manager for Bobby Knight at Indiana, boasts a 157-129 record with the Nets, the winningest NBA coach in Nets history. The new contract brings Frank compensation back above the average NBA coach salary, a well-deserved raise.

However, coming off two trips to the Finals, the Nets have failed to escape the second round of the playoffs since Frank took the helm, posting an 18-20 record during his tenure.

The consummate players’ coach, keeping the teams stars happy, especially Jason Kidd, who almost single-handedly orchestrated the coaching change that elevated Frank to the top spot, alone makes the deal worthwhile. Besides pleasing current players, a known players coach with a history of coexisting with star players, makes New Jersey a desirable destination to help lure star players in the future.

More importantly, Frank can flat out coach. Long considered one of the premier X’s and O’s coach in the league, Frank also possesses strong leadership skills, and an uncanny ability to handle the pressure of coaching in the media capital of the world.

Holding an injury-ravaged squad together through an extended rough stretch, where the Nets dropped seven games under .500 leading to rumors that Frank was on the chopping block, proved his mettle. Eventually, Frank led the Nets on a late season tear, and first round upset of the division champion Raptors, where he thoroughly out coached the Coach of the Year, Sam Mitchell, neutralizing superstar Chris Bosh, while exposing weaknesses in the Raptors defense.

With Carter returning, a healthy Nenad Kristic returning, and the addition of Sean Williams and Jamaal Magloire to boost the lackluster post position, Frank must produce. Rod Thorn and Bruce Ratner expect more than second round playoff exits, so does Lawrence Frank.

The Nets are on the clock; Jason Kidd turns 35 next season and Vince Carter 31, with the Pistons displaying major holes last postseason, the Cavs little more than a one man show, and Shaq another year older, the East is ripe for the taking.

…Keep an eye on the USA Basketball team, scheduled to play in the Olympic qualifier later this month, which held a mini-camp the weekend of July 21st. It appears Jason Kidd will play an intricate role in Team USA’s attempt to return to prominence, after a humiliating bronze medal effort in Athens led to a revamping the entire USA Basketball system.

Now, after the initial season of the Jerry Colangelo/Coach K led organization produced another dismal third place finish, the pressure is on to show drastic improvement immediately, and head into Beijing in 2008 as the favorites. Coach K will rely heavily on Kidd, unbeaten in 28 international games, to lead the team, while providing the size and strength in the backcourt to neutralize the more physical international style.

Should the Nets worry about the extra workload hampering an aging Kidd later in the season? Relatively healthy the past few seasons, following microfracture knee surgery, Kidd has carried a heavy load of mostly intense minutes the past few seasons, as the Nets lacked depth at point guard, and continually looked to Kidd to carry the team. For now, just monitor Kidd’s role and watch him perform. Hopefully an emerging Marcus Williams, takes some pressure off Kidd this season, but if an injury or fatigue pop up in the latter third of the season, remember, we warned you…

… recently posted its post summer league Rookie Rankings. Sean Williams missed the cut overall, ranking fourth among rookies at the Orlando summer camp, marking his only mention in the entire rankings and subsequent page of notes.

Aaron Brooks, the diminutive Oregon point guard drafted by Houston, topped the list, with Williams’ former BC teammate Jared Dudley ranking fifth, while the Knicks boast two rookies in the top ten, Wilson Chandler and second-round pick Demetrius Nichols, rated sixth and seventh respectively.

What does it mean? Come regular season time, absolutely nothing. It remains highly unlikely Brooks, or either Knick prospect, will hoist the Rookie of the Year trophy. The Nets need Williams to fill a role, not be a star. If he fills that role, an athletic shot blocking presence under the basket that play solid defense, rebound, and contribute a little offensively, Williams should crack the top 10 by season ends. Then again, if he rolls another joint, he may become a top ten bust, thus the uncertainty of rookies.