Wednesday, April 13, 2011

N.B.A. End Of Season Mega-Column, Part 1

Now I know that Scott Pollard has been out of the league for a few years now, but I think this picture does a good job representing the fire and intensity that I'm bringing for my first annual "N.B.A. End Of The Season "awards column. With the most anticipated regular season the leagues ever had coming to a close tonight, now is a time to sit back and take a look at the year that was in the National Basketball Association. The hype surrounding this past season began last summer when the clock struck midnight on July 1st, officially making a handful of the leagues best players free agents. For the next few days the basketball world went into a complete frenzy filled with predictions and quotes from unidentified "sources" leaking questionable information as to where the likes of Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, David Lee, Chris Bosh and LeBron James would end up. Slowly but surely players started signing with teams, putting some of the mysteries to rest, but it wasn't until King James' one hour comedy special "The Decision" happened that really turned up the heat for the league.

Watching "The Decision" crash and burn in that Greenwhich gym, filled with those irrelevant and unnecessarily children just sitting there awkwardly, while LeBron wore that picnic cloth looking shirt answering such deep questions from Jim Gray as "Do you still bite your fingernails?" was literally like nothing anyone had ever seen before. When LeBron said that he was "Taking his talents to South Beach" it reminded me of those times on TV when they would show old stadiums being demolished, only instead of The Kingdome, it was LeBron's approval rating. And so the bulls eye was placed. The league had their new villains. There was no turning back now.

That was the set up, and what followed was better than anyone could have ever expected. This year was jam packed with story lines and stellar play right from the get go. We saw some familiar faces like Boston, L.A., San Antonio, Dallas and Orlando continue to play at the highest level. But we also witnessed the emergence of perhaps the next generation of great teams with Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City all coming on strong, and sans the Heat, doing better than anyone would have predicted. We saw a rookie set the record for "Most YouTube Hits in a Season" (unofficially) with his breathtaking dunks and a white guy break a 25 year old record for most consecutive games with a double double. The #1 overall pick in the draft taught us how to "Dougie", and a Rose grew to new heights. What we also saw was two teams learning from the free agency mishaps of last summer that the Cavs and Raptors committed, and ended up trading their franchise players mid-season. Which leads us to....

Most Surprising Team- The Denver Nuggets

When the Nuggets traded away Carmello Anthony for the better part of the Knicks roster towards the end of February, no one expected them to stay competitive in the Western Conference. Little did they know it would be the catalyst to an 18-6 run, securing another 50+ win season and a #5 seed in the ultra competitive West. What they lack in star power, they more then make up for in athleticism and shooting, and have proved to be a tough match up on a nightly basis. Also with Coach Karl coming back from his bout with cancer, and getting rid of team cancer Carmello Anthony, the Nuggets have emerged as the feel good success story of the 2011 season.

Most Disappointing Team- The Utah Jazz

Last season the Jazz advanced to the second round of the playoffs before getting swept by the eventual champs, the Lakers. This season they saw their win total drop from 53 to 39 and fell to 11th overall in the Western Conference. Not only did they lose on the court, but they lost long time coach Jerry Sloan, who resigned mid-season due to an ongoing feud with star point guard Deron Williams. To make matters even worse, they then traded Williams (a top 10 talent) for a washed up Devin Harris, and last years #3 overall pick Derrick Favors, despite already having a plethora of big men on their roster. I know they lost Boozer in the off-season, but the addition of Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward (#9 in last years draft) should have been sufficient replacements.

Worst Off-Season Signing- 3 way tie between Joe Johnson, Amir Johnson, and the Suns front-court

Last summer brought us some of the all time "What were they thinking?" GM signings in recent years. However, after having a season to marinate and watch the product play out, I've settled on these three as the worst.

We'll start with Amir Johnson, who in 2010 averaged 6.2 ppg and 4.8 rpg while playing in all 82 games for the Toronto Raptors. Somehow, GM Bryan Colangelo felt this warranted a 5 yr/34 million dollar extension. He contributed with an improved 9/6 respectively per game, bringing his career scoring average up to 5.9. Oh, and the Raptors lost 60 games this year.

Next we have Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks, who out of all the great free agents from last summer SIGNED THE BIGGEST CONTRACT!! 6 years at 120 million dollars. He averaged a respectable, 18/4/4, but was unable to propel Atlanta into the upper echelon on Eastern Conference teams, something they were literally and figuratively "banking" on when they gave him that money. Oh, and he shot 30% from beyond the arc this past season. Which is ironic because that's the exact age that he will turn this June.

And lastly, the Phoenix Suns frontcourt combination of Channing Frye, Hedu Turkoglu and Hakim Warick. The deals played out like this- Frye 5yr/30 mil, Turkoglu 4yr/44 mil, and Warick 4yr/18mil. That's a combined 92 millions dollars they spent on three decent players who all play the same position. The irony in all of this is that if they had offered Amare the max extension last summer, which only would have been a few million more then they spent combined on these guys, he would have stayed there! Instead they turned Hedu into Vince Carter, and settled in nicely to the Western Conference cellar.

The “Why Wasn’t This A Bigger Deal?” Story of the Year- Tony Parker cheating on his longtime, gorgeous actress wife with his teammates longtime wife.

This past season a story broke that Desperate Housewives beauty Eva Longoria was divorcing her husband, Spurs star point guard Tony Parker. Longoria had found out that Tony had been cheating on her, but the crazy part of the story was who Tony was having an affair with- his ex. teammate and friend, Brent Barry's wife. This story gained national attention for roughly a week, and then oddly enough was sparingly brought up again. They were one of the most recognizable couples in America, and he was cheating on her with a teammates longtime wife, yet for some reason the story died quickly and it was like no one cared anymore. Maybe it was because Tony is French and people have grown to expect that kind of behavior out of adulterous and notoriously sleazy Frenchmen, but still I figured it would stay a major story, or at the very least effect his play. Nope- the Spurs finished with the best record Western Conference and clinched home court up until the finals.

Quick tangent- I don't feel bad for Brent Barry at all. One time, at the 2008 NBA draft I was sitting a few rows in front of the Barry brothers, Jon and Brent. I had been telling my friends a story about how I once scored 63 points in 3 minutes quarters with Jon Barry in NBA Live '03 vs. my friend Mike freshman year at college, and I asked my friends if would be cool or lame to go up to the Barry's and tell them that story. We agreed that regardless of how creepy it was it would still be funny, so I approached them both and told them the story. The brothers proceeded to stare at me, look at their phones, and laugh to one another. Not one word in response to me. The below YouTube video shows the whole thing, only you can't hear what I'm saying. Karma's a B, Barry.

M.V.T. (Most Valuable Tweeter)- Johnny Flynn (@J_Flynn)

Despite quitting Twitter cold-turkey on February 10th (to reasons unbeknown to me), this Syracuse stud provided us with some of the most memorable, ghetto, embarrassing and ridiculous tweets I've ever laid eyes on. Some of the more note-worthy tweets were as follows:

  • Mike Tomlin looking rough. First time I haven't seen him with the fresh line up. It be looking like somebody drew his shape up

  • I can't believe its really raining like this in LA!!! I thought it never rained here!!! Please make it stop baby Jesus

  • Nas lost me after he started talking about the Solar system and all that. I mean that's cool and all but just not my thing...

  • He got arrested the 127th time on Meth & they still let em go. He shoulda been thrown under the jail. Well america is the land of the free

  • Lady: aww I remember when u were this tall (motions w/ hand) Me: Well I'm this tall now, what's good? #ICantHelpIt haha

Anytime your tweets per day doubles your points per game, you know your priorities are out of whack. And since we're on this topic, Kris Humpries really did prove this Ty Lawson tweet wrong huh?

The Jodie Foster "Panic Room" Award- Celtics GM, Danny Ainge

In the hours leading up to this February's trade deadline, Danny Ainge made a drastic, rash and uncharacteristic trade that reshaped the Celtics team, and broke their players hearts. Afraid that going into the post season with no real backup for an aging Paul Pierce (a void previously filled by James Posey and Tony Allen) wasn't really a safe idea, Ainge parted ways with team-favorite, big man Kendrick Perkins. In a panicked move, he swapped Perk and Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Rarely does a deal get done, especially with a team as successful as the Celtics, in which the coach, players and fans all disagreed with it. Perkins and Garnett were the ultimate bad boys inside on the defensive end. Here was a player that had been a staple in the paint for them since the days when they weren't any good, and that if he had been healthy for last years game 7 vs. the Lakers, the team felt they undoubtedly would have won the championship. He was Rajon Rondo's best friend. He cried in his locker for hours after hearing the news, not wanting to believe it, and I'm sure he wasn't the only one.

Maybe they wouldn't have had enough money to resign him when he became a free agent. And maybe Jeff Green will snap out of his funk that he's been in and the fans of Boston will finally embrace him. The future is unknown. But what is known is the present, and it's undeniable that the Celtics are a different team without Perking in the middle, and that team is not better than the one they had three months ago. The one advantage they had going up against the Howard's and Bynum's of the post season was that they had a guy down low who wasn't afraid to bump bodies with anyone, and wasn't going to let you push him, or any of his brothers around. And that man is gone. And this title is now up for grabs.


Part 2 of my "N.B.A. End Of Season Mega-Column" will be up on Friday, April 15th. It will feature more superlatives, as well my MVP, DPY, 6M, MIP, COY, All-NBA teams and playoff predictions.

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