Let The Right One In
The other day, Eric Freeman wrote that the Knicks needed to go after Carmelo Anthony, not Chris Paul. His reasoning: Raymond Felton is good enough, the Knicks are crazy thin and upgrading is less important than adding another important piece. That's not to downplay Paul's talents, or suggest the he's even available. Certainly, though, New York's not quite there yet, and will be looking to make a move sooner rather than later before James Dolan decides he needs to strangle a giant squid at the beginning of each game and sends Amar'e Stoudemire off to the Pacific in search of one. He's paying him all that money, right? It's the least Amar'e can do!
The question, though, is whether Melo would actually fit in the current Knicks offense. The D'Antoni system, which stresses spacing and ball movement as much as up-tempo play, has allowed Felton to come into his own. It's also ideally suited to a predatory scorer like Stoudemire, who plays around the basket with the agility and adaptability of a wing. At Syracuse, Melo was this kind of transparent force; as a pro, his economy, and ability to create from anywhere, is what sets him apart from other pure scorers. And yet, by D'Antoni standards, he is a ball-stopper (note: he has worked with Mike D on Team USA).
Given that, maybe we should be paying closer attention to another option: Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala, who is both overpaid and undervalued by the 76ers, has spent his career trying to be the ultimate complementary star on a team that has yet to furnish a clear first option. Jrue Holiday will be very, very good, but his pure point's game (and the disarray of Philly's offense) still makes the Arizona product the de facto number one. With the national team in Turkey, Iggy reminded us what a filthy perimeter defender he can be. And as fantasy basketball devotees know, few can match his all-around game. Poor man's Pippen? That's going a bit far, but Iguodala can do that many things to bring together a team.
He's a strange case, actually: good as Iguodala is, he needs to be on a very good team, or else he'll be miscast. I'm loathe to bring up the "second banana" theory; it's simplistic, and over-generalized. Iguodala is not Shawn Marion, who is not Kevin Garnett. But like those two -- or, in a sense, any true point guard -- the Sixers swingman isn't at his best when expected to have the buck stop with him. You want Iguodala moving the ball, fully-engaged on defense, setting up teammates, and using his strength and athleticism to generate quality opportunities for himself -- not force them because he can. In short, he's exactly what the Knicks need.
Caveat: even allowing for all sorts of arcane qualifiers, Andre Iguodala is no Carmelo Anthony. Melo's game is a thing of wonder, and when it comes to putting up points -- with a respectable smattering of rebounds and defense -- you can't find anyone better. Nor is it inconceivable that, in much the same way that Danilo Gallinari attacks the basket at times, Anthony could be shoehorned into what's working so well for the Knicks as unit. And really, it's not a huge concern that Melo and Gallo sort of play the same position, or that Amar'e isn't a center. It's Mike D'Antoni. The man was born with whatever the opposite of fixed positions are tattooed onto his face and had it surgically removed before going out in public.
But Iguodala brings world-class defense, a guarantee that the ball won't stop or the offense stall and plenty of scoring punch -- which, as Suns fans want you to know in the wake of this weekend's trade, is something any moron can do, anyway. Best of all, he's not a max player, which means the Knicks wouldn't be succumbing to the lure of the super-team. It would be hard to pass up Carmelo Anthony if he indeed became available. Iguodala, though, is probably both a better fit and a more realistic possibility.
As rare as it is for a franchise to get a shot at a player like Carmelo Anthony, it's almost unheard of that, romantic comedy-like, the one that's right for them could be sitting there waiting, minus all the headaches and expensive holiday gifts. There may not be a hilarious scene involving hang-gliding and designer handbags, but in the end, the path to true love is often that of least resistance. That's the principle behind Mike D'Antoni's offense. If the Knicks apply it to their next big move as a franchise, Andre Iguodala is really the only one for them. (BS)
General Managers Relieving Themselves
For all the parsing of winners and losers in the wake of a major trade, the biggest deals are often made for what they do off the court rather than on it. In last weekend's Magic/Suns/Wizards blockbuster, financial considerations were just as important as the effect they had on current lineup rotations. To wit: the Wizards dumped Gilbert Arenas' "face of the franchise" contract, the Magic got rid of Rashard Lewis' ridiculous max-level salary and the Suns got Vince Carter's expiring deal in preparation for a rebuilding effort. Only Orlando can be said to have attempted to improve their team in the short term, and their moves smack of desperation rather than calculated ambition.
But what exactly happens when these teams dump salaries? Taking the weekend's trade as an example, only the Suns can be said to have appreciably improved their long-term situation. Facing irrelevance as a fringe playoff team with little chance to make a splash in the postseason, Phoenix passed off Jason Richardson, the best asset other than Steve Nash, for a chance at future success. Perhaps the Suns will make the playoffs anyway with Carter, but they just traded a dependable scorer for a former star on his last legs who even now is considering knee surgery. They made the move to gain flexibility, not win.
The Magic and Wizards operated under less obvious rationales. For Orlando, this deal has been described as a desperate grasp for a championship contention while Dwight Howard is still under contract, but Gilbert Arenas is a serious risk in terms of both injury and production, Jason Richardson has never been a player to create good shots in crunch time, and Hedo Turkoglu was so bad with Toronto and Phoenix that it seems unlikely he can recapture the form he had with Orlando the first time around. If the Magic are now a better team, then it's a marginal difference, almost certainly not enough to catapult them ahead of or even with the Celtics and Heat in the East. On top of that, their long-term salary situation is far worse than before and could even become a disaster depending on the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The Wizards, to their credit, realized they had to get rid of Arenas both for the continuing toxic associations of last season's gun incident and his poor fit with the John Wall era. They also saved a year of $20 million-plus salary by swapping Arenas for Lewis, although at those levels I'm not sure this can be deemed much of a victory.
These are the quantifiable, but other considerations come into play. When a general manager signs a player to a bad contract, the executive is effectively tied to that decision for as long as the player is on the team. In cap-less sports like baseball, the GM can repent by trading the player, if possible, or at least making enough good moves to ameliorate the negative impact of the bad deal. (Or, if you're the Yankees, you can just get a better replacement and absorb the sunk cost.) Basketball is trickier, though, in part because of the cap but mostly because there are so few people on a team; you can't hide an overpaid loser.
You can trade them, though, and that's where things get complicated. Because the CBA requires contracts to match in any trade, execs can only swap pricey deals for other pricey deals. In some cases, as with Phoenix and Carter, you can save yourself some years of financial pain. But more often than not, the worst contracts are only traded for other bad contracts.
Still, GMs do help themselves with these trades. Both Washington's Ernie Grunfeld and Orlando's Otis Smith have for all intents and purposes rid themselves of their most embarrassing deals even though they haven't changed their team's financial situations in any meaningful positive way. However, by breaking their association with the contract, they have made themselves look better without really becoming better GMs. Now, if Smith is criticized for the trade, he can say that he was only dealing with a poor situation. The farther removed he gets from the original sin, the less culpable he appears.
This is not to say that Grunfeld and Smith are now beyond reproach -- as bad moves pile up, the general manager can't escape. But it still bears mentioning that they're rearranging deckchairs rather than making over the entire ship. Blockbuster trades are rare, and most teams only become contenders by getting lucky in the draft. Otherwise, these teams are dealing with face-saving gestures rather than substantive changes. Then again, in a league where every move is endlessly examined, sometimes that's the only way to hold on to a job. (EF).
When Hollywood Calls, We Listen
To start the season, Gilbert Arenas changed from his trademark No. 0 to No. 9. After being traded to Orlando -- his favorite team as a child -- Gil has decided to go with No. 1, in tribute to Penny Hardaway, his all-time favorite player. Does this make any sense? We discuss.
Eric Freeman: So Gilbert Arenas has chosen No. 1 for his Magic jersey to honor Penny Hardaway. The question is whether this is the best way to honor him. Why not act like the number is retired and act as if he's not worthy of it?
Bethlehem Shoals: One could argue that, if the number's not going to get retired, then taking it on as a tribute to Penny is next best thing. Better that than it fall into the hands of some awful moron who knows not the power of Anfernee.
EF: Like Tracy McGrady? Or is he the big loser in all this? It's like people don't even want to remember his time in Orlando, and how great he was.
BS: Gilbert didn't acknowledge that McGrady was also No. 1, did he? In a way, it does act like he never existed -- much less was an important part of Magic history. More importantly, though, he wore No. 1 (before he came to Orlando) in tribute to Penny. So he actually sort of did the same thing Arenas is doing now.
EF: But at what point does wearing the number stop being a tribute and turn into a diminishing of the first player's legacy? Eventually, won't people remember the many players who wore No. 1? I think the extreme version of this is the Jordan "tribute" -- were players wearing No. 23 to honor him or to claim some kind of legacy?
BS: I don't think there's any risk here of Arenas becoming so great in Orlando that he's the No. 1 retired -- and at one point, that seemed the risk with McGrady. But I agree that this doesn't really do much to keep Penny's memory out there in public. When players wear No. 23 because of Jordan, they're referencing a player who everyone still recalls vividly. There are players entering the league now who don't know how ridiculous pre-surgery Penny was.
EF: I think the question is if wearing the jersey does anything more to honor Penny than just saying his name in a press conference. I suppose it will be worth it if Gil mentions Penny's greatness any time he sees media. That doesn't even seem that far afield for him.
BS: To get back to McGrady -- T-Mac's game was a direct descendant of Penny's. A lot of Gil's notions of personality (and persona) come from the Lil' Penny campaign, but his game isn't in any way a tribute to Hardaway. Then again, maybe this is an insider thing, like when Ron Artest took No. 93 after the Souls of Mischief song. He didn't play it for the press. It was just funny as hell for anyone who was into hip-hop in the mid-90s. This isn't about teaching the children about who Penny Hardaway was, but keeping him on the minds of older folks. And those of us who lived through Penny can't see a Magic No. 1 jersey without thinking of him.
EF: Are you saying it might be a way for Arenas to reclaim his outsider favorite status?
BS: Not outsider ... I just called it insider. Also, remember, he has always been into collecting signed jerseys and stuff like that. He has a healthy respect for the past, even if there's a tendency to view him as constantly thumbing his nose at authority. That's not the same as disrespecting tradition, or those who came before.
EF: "Outsider" was the wrong word -- I meant in the sense that only the select few, those in the know, best appreciate what Arenas stands for. Maybe he wants to show the hardcore basketball fans that he's still one of us.
BS: That would make sense if Arenas were accused of selling out or something. Maybe it's more retreating to his core audience? He's done as a present-day superstar, and an oddball celebrity, but we'll remember how great he once was, and appreciate whatever's left of that. Odd, too, that he's wearing the number of someone whose career was shortened by injury, when he's trying to avoid that fate. Some might say that the No. 1 doomed T-Mac.
EF: The silver lining here seems to be that Penny eventually recaptured the reputation he lost, so there's hope for Arenas. Maybe he's even yearning for that kind of rebirth.
BS: He recaptured it by being recognized as a fallen hero. I hope that's not what Arenas is aspiring to. Seems awfully defeatist.
EF: A man often aims low during his darkest hour. Sometimes baby steps are the only way, I guess. ... Boy, this was depressing. Have you seen any good movies lately?
BS: "Leonard Part 6."
The NBA's Poet Laureate
Once upon a time, all of four years ago, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist and lifelong basketball nut Flea had a blog on NBA.com. He wrote poems about many things, mostly Lakers-related. This really happened. Here are some highlights.
"Thinking of Eddie ... and the Celtic conspiracy": In the face of tragedy, Flea lashes out at other targets instead of the true source of his sadness.
Money shot: "i am compelled to write a blog today/ to comment on the tragic passing of eddie griffin/ just really makes me wish that he could have gotten help and been ok/ god bless his soul/ in other news/ well, there was no way an ex celtic laker hater like kevin mchale/ was gonna let kevin garnett end up on the lakers"
"Uncage the Inner Beast": Flea follows up an impressive victory by declaring his love for everything Laker. This is the face of youthful innocence and unrestrained optimism.
Spiritual nug: "to hear the crowd chant KWAME KWAME KWAME made me so happy/ i have always loved kwame/ and i love to see his heartfelt play rewarded/ made me happy and happy for him/ long may he control the paint like a mighty oak/ ... i like smush's new hairdoo"
"Kareem & The Harlem Renaissance": A new book by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar inspires Flea to pontificate on the history of African-Americans in America. At its core, this poem is about learning from the lessons of the past, but also cutting across racial boundaries and uniting as one human entity.
Kernel of victory: "even i, as a skinny little white boy, have been affected on a deeply/ personal level by the harlem renaissance/ as the music that was created at that time/ is a music that is so sophisticated, so emotionally and spiritually/ profound, and so straight up viscerally ROCKING that it has given me/ something to aim for in my life"
"We Will, We Will Rock You!": Flea opens his foray into poetry by assessing the state of the NBA in 2006. This is a searching piece, full of digression, in which he seeks out to find affinities outside of his favorite team.
Passion's scribble: "of course, my favorite player not on the lakers is adam morrisson/ the guy is cooler than heck/ intense/ and self effacing/ he cemented his image as coolest basketball player with his quiet/ receiving of the whatever college player of the year award he got/ last year/ not to mention his all out controlled wildness on the basketball court/ he is a guy who gets to the soul of things/ he is all heart"
Yeeeeeeeeah!: This may or may not predate the Usher song of the same name, but sometimes, that kind of thing just doesn't matter. Flea is happy after a Lakers win; that doesn't mean, though, that he's lost sight of the finer things in life.
Talkin' ball: "lakers beat the jazz/yeeeeeah/kobe drops 52/yeeeeeaaah/dont forget about mo evans' 17/the jazz have to pay/yeeeeeeah/i'm goin to the basquiat exhibit in italy now/yeeeeeeeah/purple and gold runnin in my veins/yeeeeeah"
"Play Ball": When Odom first came to the LA, he was supposed to play Pippen to Kobe's MJ. This idea was flawed on a number of levels, in part because Odom and Pippen (and Kobe and Jordan) are very different players. Anyway, this was supposed to be the Lakers key to salvation. When it worked, a city rejoiced. "Play Ball" is Flea in a moment of hoops-induced ecstasy.
Ask the ages: "i saw something great...../the 2 headed monster/the 2 headed monster i have been waiting for/the duet between jimi hendrix and john coltrane that i have been/waiting to hear/a new song by lennon and mcartney/a western with toshiro mifune and clint eastwood...../what i'm trying to say is that kobe and lamar/played together in concert"
"Good Morning London": Flea, writing from London, tells Elton Brand to fall back in truly inscrutable fashion. Incidentally, if you type "Flea" too many times, it will turn out "Fela" at least once, and the idea of a Fela Kuti series of basketball prose poems is enough to make your skull cave in.
Finder's fee: "so elton, i respect you, you are a great player and seem like a stand up dude/but you need to watch your p's and q's/
9/you guys made it past the first round twice in the teams l.a. history/the clippers must bow down humbly to the lakers/ in london england they could really care less about basketball/nothing on tv/nothing in the newpaper/nothing on their english lips
Pure essence: "lakers beat the jazz/yeeeeeah/kobe drops 52/yeeeeeaaah/dont forget about mo evans' 17/the jazz have to pay/yeeeeeeah/i'm goin to the basquiat exhibit in italy now"
Tattoo Me? Tattoo You?: In this one, Flea explains that he would never get a Lakers tattoo, since the team could "sell out and go corporate" and cease to be "a ma and pa operation". But the centerpiece is this especially timely attempt to broach the mystery that is Adam Morrison.
WTF: "what in tarnation is bothering adam morrison so?/the guy is an incredible scorer and right now for 3 games he couldn't/throw a pea out of an airplane and hit air/he's bound to get over it soon and come bursting out of his slump/like a wild sage brush jack rabbit with folded ears exploding out of/captain beefheart's brain"
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Eric Freeman (@freemaneric), who also contributes regularly to Ball Don't Lie. Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.