Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #10 – Final Report and Playoff Preview

First as you have probably seen from the last couple of entries, people still have Cystic Fibrosis – blah blah blah – click here to help

FINALLY.  The best of the playoff seasons is upon us.  Of course this was after a truly execrable last couple of weeks of the season where teams were playing scrubs shamelessly while still charging full prices.  The Tuesday Celtics-Heat game was a particular atrocity.  So the rankings could be skewed a tiny bit.  But whatever, the playoffs are here and looks at the series are coming up … how have the rankings changed since we last did this?

  1. (2) Bulls (50-16)
  2. (4) Spurs (50-16)
  3. (1) Thunder (47-19)
  4. (3) Heat (46-20)
  5. (5) Sixers (35-31)
  6. (10) Nugggets (38-28)
  7. (6) Celtics (39-27)
  8. (8) Hawks (40-26)
  9. (7) Grizzlies (41-25)
  10. (15) Clippers (40-26)
  11. (13) Mavericks (36-30)
  12. (9) Lakers (41-25)
  13. (14) Knicks (36-30)
  14. (16) Pacers (42-24)
  15. (11) Magic (37-29)
  16. (12) Rockets (34-32)
  17. (18) Suns (33-33)
  18. (20) Jazz (36-30)
  19. (19) Bucks (31-35)
  20. (17) Blazers (28-38)
  21. (21) Timberwolves (26-40)
  22. (22) Warriors (23-43)
  23. (24) Hornets (21-45)
  24. (23) Raptors (23-43)
  25. (25) Kings (22-44)
  26. (29) Wizards (20-46)
  27. (27) Pistons (25-42)
  28. (28) Nets (22-44)
  29. (26) Wizards (21-45)
  30. (30) Bobcats (7-59)

It’s the playoffs!  So – quick looks at your first round series are in order:

  • (E1) Bulls v (E8) Sixers – This is #1 vs #5.  What a matchup!  However, the Sixers have really stumbled down the stretch, but the metrics have been strong as the Sixers blowouts early still have resonance.  The Bulls with Derrick Rose’s dicey injury situation could be great – but they could be tricky.  Defense will be the order of the day (#2 v #3) and neither team is great from outside.  I can’t imagine the Bulls losing this but the Sixers match up well with them, better than they do with the Heat.  Bulls in 7
  • (E4) Celtics v (E5) Hawks – #7 vs #8.  Interestingly here the lower seed has home court.  The Celtics have been very strong down the stretch.  But so have the Hawks, both in the Top 6 since the trade deadline.  The Celtics have serious issues with rebounding and size, but the Hawks are 26th in offensive rebounding, so it is hard to read that as a huge edge.  The games have all been close in their head to head.  Really more of a coin flip than the experts purport.  Hawks in 7
  • (E2) Heat v (E7) Knicks – #4 vs #13 Fun series with two defensively adept teams.  Anthony and LeBron will be a great matchup and the Novak/Smith bench for the Knicks could explode.  But it is hard to envision the Knicks winning in Miami.  This is a fun series but Heat in 6
  • (E3) Pacers v (E6) Magic – The Pacers have the 5th best record in the league but merely #14 in rankings.  This describes the Pacers in general – a nice team, lot of good players, but is this the juice to win a playoff series?  The Magic will be motivated with no Dwight Howard and “nobody believing in them”. Did the Pacers more competitive than it seemed result vs Chicago last year inform them or will the Magic’s winning experience do it?  Without Glen Davis, the Magic just don’t have enough players now – good or otherwise.  Pacers in 5
  • (W1) Spurs v (W8) Jazz – Spurs can flat out score, but the Jazz can attack with size.  Will the Spurs lose in round 1 again?  Frankly I’d have more faith in the Jazz if their defense was not so mediocre.  Against the buzz saw offense of San Antonio it is tough sledding.  Spurs in 5
  • (W4) Grizzlies v (W5) Clippers – Grizzlies are a sexy pick to upset the apple cart.  However this is not last year’s Zach Randolph.  Meanwhile the Clippers just have more better players and one of the game’s best all around players and leaders.  Look how the Hornets stole 2 games against the Lakers with Chris Paul and nobody – he is just that good.  In the playoffs, the stars play more.  Lob City is not done yet.  Clippers in 6
  • (W2) Thunder v (W7) Mavericks – Hard series to peg.  On paper, Thunder should rip through this.  In actuality, Dallas can throw a lot of junk D at them and make the Thunder really work for it.  But it won’t be enough.  Thunder in 7
  • (W3) Lakers v (W6) Nuggets – Denver has depth.  The Lakers don’t.  Denver has speed, and the Lakers have real issues with that.  But the Lakers have all the really good players here and their size and ability to dictate in the half court.  I hope Denver can make this fun.  I think the Lakers grind it out enough.  Lakers in 6

Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #9

Ten or so games left, and things are starting to take shape with some amazing jumps since the trade deadline now that we have some games of data to work with.   How have the rankings changed since we last did this?

  1. (1) Thunder (42-15)
  2. (2) Bulls (43-14)
  3. (1) Heat (40-15)
  4. (5) Spurs (40-15)
  5. (4) Sixers (29-27)
  6. (16) Celtics (32-24)
  7. (12) Grizzlies (33-23)
  8. (6) Hawks (34-23)
  9. (7) Lakers (36-22)
  10. (9) Nuggets (31-26)
  11. (8) Magic (34-23)
  12. (14) Rockets (32-25)
  13. (10) Mavericks (31-26)
  14. (15) Knicks (29-27)
  15. (13) Clippers (34-23)
  16. (11) Pacers (35-22)
  17. (17) Blazers (27-31)
  18. (22) Suns (30-27) Timberwolves (22-24)
  19. (19) Bucks (28-29)
  20. (21) Jazz (30-28)
  21. (18) Timberwolves (25-33)
  22. (20) Warriors (22-34)
  23. (25) Raptors (20-38)
  24. (23) Hornets (15-42) Cavaliers (17-26)
  25. (26) Kings (19-38)
  26. (24) Cavaliers (18-36)
  27. (27) Pistons (21-36)
  28. (28) Nets (21-37)
  29. (29) Wizards (13-44)
  30. (30) Bobcats (7-48)

Some notes:

  • I can hear Jim Ross’ voice now.  (seriously – if you could have any announcer for any sporting event of any sort of meaning – JR takes a back seat to nobody) MY GAWD, IS THAT, IT’S THE BOSTON CELTICS!!!!  The Celtics surge into relevancy has been staggering, especially as their schedule has started to include playoff team after playoff team.  Since the trade deadline Boston is 6th in the league in point differential, and tops in defense allowing a staggering 86 points per average game.  How have they done it?  Well in terms of personnel, the move of Kevin Garnett to center and Avery Bradley to the starting lineup has created an athletic lineup and allowed Boston to play its best players more frequently.  The numbers since the deadline have been amazing, and they have surged into tops in the league for the season.  Without a good rebounding squad, Boston has had to defend the shot hard and they have done so leading the league in FG and 3PT percentage, by such a margin that pedestrian shot prevention (20th) has not been an issue.  I am not saying they will go anywhere – the offense is still putrid by good team standards- but the defensive surge has given them a chance.
  • Similarly the Memphis Grizzlies, after a brief hiccup, have started to get well with a very strong stretch and the adding of Zach Randolph to the mix.  Their 7th ranking seems a bit high, but really they are being buoyed by their league toughest schedule to date.  Also, they – like Boston – are no great shakes offensively.  However, the Grizzlies have put together a good defensive team built on volume.  The Grizzlies force turnovers and rebound misses.  They have the 5th widest gap between their FGs and Opponents on a possession basis.  The rugged physical style makes them a fascinating playoff team – though their unwillingness to shoot 3s is a worry.  Also, volume dependent teams have had a history of struggling as the teams in front of them go up in quality.
  • At the moment the Atlantic Division winner is guaranteed a Top 4 seed, while the runners up are no higher than 7th.  Put simply, the Sixers’ struggles – a combination of poor offense and some really bad close game luck, has then on the edge of having to play Chicago in Round 1.  Boston-Atlanta is a much more benign matchup to say the least.  Out west the surging Grizzlies are only 2 games behind the Lakers for 3rd in the conference.  The folks in Bristol might have a giant circle jerk if that happens as the Lakers-Clippers 1st round series would become a reality.

Dare to be Stupid – I’ll Take “Not Blake Griffin” for $200 plus …

Well, as you probably have figured out by now – there was a guy, and a car …

With  Blake Griffin taking the world by storm, so – it makes the much slower development of Hasheem Thabeet, the Grizzlies pick – 2nd overall – all the more stark.  And today the Grizzlies tapped out:

Rockets get Hasheem Thabeet and the Grizzlies 1st round pick in 2011

Grizzlies get Shane Battier

The Grizzlies needed a small forward with Rudy Gay’s injury.  Battier can back up the two and four positions as well.  He is a good glue player, and the Grizzlies have a unique opportunity to race up the West standings – especially with Denver and Utah waving white flags earlier.  But this does bury the lede a bit – that the Grizzlies could not get a quality role player with the former #2 overall pick.  Yikes.

The Rockets continue to collect assets.  They get a second first round pick (of three – keep reading).  They were all dressed up looking for a dance partner, but could not get anyone to bit on Yao’s insured contract, which surprises me.  So that being said, they are able to get a mid first round pick from the Grizzlies and a chance to develop Thabeet.  He has been a bust so far, but he is 7’3″, and there is no reason he cannot develop into a useful guy.  Just amazing to see the Grizzlies give up on that chance so quickly and so desperately.

************************************************************************************************************************************************************

In another deal:

Suns get Aaron Brooks

Rockets get Goran Dragic and the Suns’ first round pick in 2011

The Rockets had a point guard glut – it’s clear they have chosen Kyle Lowry over Brooks – who is really better suited as a poor man’s Leandro Barbosa type anyway.  They also get a first rounder in the next draft – and thus another asset.

The Suns get some backcourt help.  It’s pretty clear that they see the newly Charmin soft bottom of the playoff bubble – and want to try to make the playoffs.  The wisdom of this strategy long term is dubious – but I can’t argue with a team trying to make the tournament.  This definitely helps them to that end – Brooks brings the speed and quickness the team always has been deft with using.

2011 NBA Power Rankings – Week 16

The Heat continue to lead – but really at this point it is hard to say their lead (less than 2 points) is significant at all.  Really, where the fun is taking place is at the bottom of the playoff races.  As always, the methodology can be found here:

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Spurs 46 9 103.857 (2) 95.95 (7) 1.782 1.643 (22) 11.332
2 Heat 39 15 103.568 (3) 95.419 (4) 1.88 1.288 (29) 11.317
3 Celtics 39 14 100.071 (13) 93.243 (2) 1.585 1.78 (16) 10.194
4 Lakers 38 18 103.549 (4) 97.208 (9) 1.813 1.561 (25) 9.714
5 Magic 35 21 100.948 (10) 95.576 (6) 1.75 1.759 (17) 8.881
6 Bulls 36 16 98.522 (17) 92.768 (1) 1.683 1.368 (28) 8.805
7 Mavericks 38 16 101.86 (8) 98.115 (14) 1.685 2.239 (1) 7.669
8 Hornets 33 23 98.389 (18) 95.429 (5) 1.75 2.238 (2) 6.947
9 Thunder 34 19 102.678 (5) 100.679 (18) 1.783 2.132 (4) 5.914
10 Nuggets 31 25 104.646 (1) 102.647 (27) 1.688 1.79 (15) 5.477
11 Sixers 26 28 98.748 (16) 96.888 (8) 1.815 1.668 (21) 5.344
12 Knicks 27 26 102.558 (7) 101.344 (19) 1.783 1.731 (18) 4.728
13 Rockets 26 30 101.834 (9) 101.536 (21) 1.813 2.13 (5) 4.241
14 Hawks 34 20 99.652 (14) 98.068 (13) 1.815 0.666 (30) 4.066
15 Grizzlies 30 26 98.003 (19) 97.6 (10) 1.875 1.569 (24) 3.847
16 Blazers 31 24 99.472 (15) 99.133 (15) 1.909 1.472 (27) 3.721
17 Suns 26 26 102.626 (6) 102.381 (24) 1.683 1.793 (14) 3.72
18 Jazz 31 24 100.302 (12) 100.37 (17) 1.655 1.721 (19) 3.308
19 Pacers 24 28 97.06 (23) 97.755 (11) 1.75 1.674 (20) 2.729
20 Bucks 21 33 93.826 (29) 95.109 (3) 1.88 1.949 (10) 2.545
21 Bobcats 24 31 96.111 (25) 98.017 (12) 1.718 1.642 (23) 1.455
22 Warriors 24 29 100.326 (11) 103.012 (28) 1.585 2.103 (6) 1.001
23 Clippers 20 35 97.758 (21) 101.764 (22) 1.591 2.098 (7) -0.318
24 Pistons 20 36 97.637 (22) 102.465 (26) 1.75 2.036 (8) -1.042
25 Kings 13 38 95.365 (26) 100.022 (16) 1.51 1.501 (26) -1.646
26 Timberwolves 13 42 96.896 (24) 102.407 (25) 1.782 1.903 (12) -1.826
27 Raptors 15 40 97.873 (20) 103.914 (29) 1.782 1.927 (11) -2.332
28 Wizards 15 38 95.307 (27) 101.975 (23) 1.717 2.136 (3) -2.815
29 Nets 17 39 94.858 (28) 101.368 (20) 1.75 1.794 (13) -2.965
30 Cavaliers 9 46 93.778 (30) 104.932 (30) 1.909 2.017 (9) -7.228

What is notable from this week:

  • Obviously the Pacers are surging towards the playoffs.  18-27 two weeks ago, they have suddenly bolted to 24-28.  The coaching change would imply the usual bump that comes with it.  However, look at the numbers and the actual fundamentals underneath have not improved greatly.  The offense has improved from 96.3 to 97 points per game while the defense has gone from 97.4 to 97.8.  Obviously this is a small sample, but the stats have not shifted too dramatically, and mostly on the offensive side.  However, look at the strength of schedule.  In this 2 week span the Pacers have also slipped 8 spots in strength of schedule rating.  Really the coaching change seems to be less explanatory than a sudden shift in schedule quality.
  • The Nuggets-Grizzlies race for the 8th spot (seriously) is down to 1 game.  On paper the Nuggets still seem to have the best case – but that 27th ranked defense is a real problem.  The Grizzlies have been consistent on that side of the ball so far this season – consistent enough that the Nuggets #1 offense has not been enough to get away.

2011 NBA Preview: Teams 24-19

This is the third entry in our NBA preview series.  In the prior installment we unearthed our picks for the six worst teams in the NBA.  Now we rise up from badness to mere irrelevance:

24. Sacramento Kings (23rd overall in 2010, 22nd offense, 18th defense)

After much of the walking disasters in the previous section, the teams here seem to either be just unappealing in a boring, non transcendental way, or they are teams like the Sacramento Kings – a team with a lot of raw materials, but without a discernible near term recipe to put the flavors together.  Tyreke Evans, while playing wildly out of position as a lead guard, is one of the most impressive physical forces in the NBA, a pocket version of the LeBron James wing player as-linebacker.  Jason Thompson is an interesting forward, Carl Landry has always been a super productive forward for his pedigree, and Beno Udrih seems like he might be a competent point guard.  DeMarcus Cousins, entering as the #5 pick, is certifiably crazy.  But he is also the single best talent to enter the draft, a big man with soft hands, amazing rebounding instincts and the ability to go for 20-20 any night.  There are going to be some nights where they could crush a team like the Lakers or Celtics on the second night of a back to back.  They will also pile up a lot of losses while trying to put this chemistry experiment together.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Tyreke Evans morphs into the junior Oscar Robertson his talent tracks with.  DeMarcus Cousins IS the best big man rookie since Dwight Howard and Paul Westphal learns how to coach defense.

23. Washington Wizards (26th overall in 2010, 25th offense, 20th defense)

After the colossal disaster of a season ago, the Wizards seemed without hope – sure they had cap space, but who would buy, especially when the three top free agents were making a pinkie swear promise?  Flip Saunders did a decent job defensively – 20th is no great shakes, but at least they gave a shit compared to what Eddie Jordan wheeled out there.  However, his offense predicated on smart reads and cuts was dependent on the basketball acumen of people like Nick Young and Javale McGee.  Oops.  This is not to say these are bad players, but “heady” is not a popular descriptor.  But alas, there is hope with Ted Leonsis owning the team and John Wall landing in their laps as the #1 overall pick.  Wall is the first true facilitator the Wizards have had since Rod Strickland, and if Gilbert Arenas can handle playing shooting guard competently, they could be entertaining pretty quickly.  While the albatross of Kirk Hinrich’s deal is not great, at least he can play basketball and not just run and dunk and shoot wantonly.  Wall, Arenas’ return and the growth of Aundray Blatche could keep things interesting for a couple of months.  Really this is a step in a solid rebuilding process.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Wall is even better than I think he will be (and that’s saying a lot), Gilbert becomes an efficient shooter and Blatche emerges as one of the East’s top power forwards.  The team learns Saunders’ defensive schemes more and become a tough team to score on.

22. Memphis Grizzlies (20th overall in 2010, 17th offense, 23rd defense)

The Grizzlies are the first (ok I forgot the Cavs) 40 win team from a year ago to be on this list.  How they did it though was a bit lucky.  First of all, they were among the healthiest teams in the league.  It is hard to remember any of their core guys, Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph missing any significant action.  The Grizzlies were an athletic team that relied on volume to account for relative inaccuracy.  So while their shooting percentage (true shooting) was merely 21st, their league leading offensive rebounding pushed them up in efficiency.  That said, their defense was bad and their bench was worse.  The bench will improve as Hasheem Thabeet might be a bust at the 2nd overall pick, but should be improved as a backup center.  Also the drafting of Xavier Henry gives them some more depth in the wing.  That said, the extension for Rudy Gay was nonsensical, and the odds of human carcinogen Zach Randolph staying engaged again is low.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They played in the NBDL.  Their starting five stays as healthy and focused as they did last year and Xavier Henry plays like the guy who the college basketball experts thought Kansas was getting and not the one dimensional wimp who actually played for them.  But there is just not much ceiling here – considering what a best case scenario last year’s 40-42 was.

21. Los Angeles Clippers (27th overall in 2010, 27th on offense, 21st on defense)

This is one of the first solid upside plays we have in this list.  I could see this team making the playoffs in an everything goes right sort of way.  The key is Blake Griffin.  After missing his entire rookie season, the slam dunk #1 pick of last season shows signs of being that sort of guy this year.  If he is the real thing, then the notoriously unfocused Baron Davis could match it also.  Even as he has gotten older, Davis to me is the best package of pure point guard skills in the game.  When he focuses and stops launching 3s, he dominates games like no other point can.  But he does it so rarely that we are staring a 21st ranked team.  There is a decent amount to like even if they ARE a laughingstock franchise and hiring a crappy coach like Vinny Del Negro.  Griffin and Eric Gordon are building blocks, Al-Farooq Aminu is one of the most talented guys in this draft class (raw but a great homerun swing) and Eric Bledsoe could be a great combination guard.  But it comes down to Baron.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: If Blake Griffin is the type of superstar that can get Baron Davis to be a superstar like he can be too.  This team has the parts of a dangerous playoff team … but bet on any Clippers team at your peril.

20. Philadelphia 76ers (25th overall in 2010, 20th offense, 24th defense)

It is funny what coaching can do.  Under Maurice Cheeks, this team was young, fast and energetic.  Sure they couldn’t shoot, but they could defend and out-athlete more veteran opponents.  But their offense lacked, so the management picks up Eddie Jordan.  But the management forgot Eddie Jordan has no concept of coaching defense.  The accountability was gone and these guys fell like a rock.  Enter Doug Collins.  Collins, ever the ambulance chaser, comes out of his cushy TNT gig to try to rescue the team he played for.  Collins is a great rebuilder, but notoriously bad with young players.  Jrue Holliday is the youngest, and Evan Turner, the 2nd overall pick this year is no grizzled vet either.  Will Collins tear them a new Kwame Brown?  One hopes not, because if their confidence is not shattered (and Evan Turner is a legitimate solid fringe all-star sort as he seems to profile), they have pieces.  Andre Iguodala is a terrific glue guy, Louis Williams is a solid combo guard, Maresse Speights is a terrific post scorer.  The players under Collins will be accountable, and he has always been able to develop underachieving veterans (witness his tour in Detroit).  This team will be better just by having defensive accountability.  That said, I am not sure if they have solved their shooting problems which is years old now.  The Sixers were the 22nd ranked TS% team, and while they might get to the line more now (only 2 teams went less), they still do not have much shooting.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Thaddeus Young or Jrue Holliday make the leap based on their talent, Elton Brand steps in the way back machine and Doug Collins works his Doug Collins miracle while not turning Holliday or Evan Turner into a fetal puddle of goo.  Evan Turner also has to be that point forward/Brandon Roy type and not an overrated non athlete who succeeded due to being in a non athletic Big Ten.  Someone needs to shoot the ball too.  

19. Charlotte Bobcats (14th overall in 2010, 24th offense, 2nd defense)

This is the team I am most confident that I will underestimate.  If Doug Collins in an ambulance chasing miracle worker, Larry Brown positively has healing hands.  Look at that roster.  When Gerald Wallace or Stephen Jackson is your best player, this is not the stuff of a title winner.  There is still a lack of wow on this team, even if they were the first team to really tap into the physical gifts of Tyrus Thomas.  Out is Raymond Felton at the point and in is the oft-injured Shawn Livingston.  Livingston has the talent to be a terrific big point guard, but his lack of shooting ability limits his ceiling.  Besides that, with no first rounder infused into the team, only Thomas’ improvement provides hope offensively – that and cutting down their league worst turnover rate.  Owner Michael Jordan could suit up again and be a net positive with this bunch (it’d better than him as a General Manager).  But somehow Larry Brown persists, and he makes this mishmash competitive by using good position defense that does a good job defending (3rd best forced turnover rate) without fouling.  (lowest FT rate allowed in the league and 2nd at defending 3 pointers). 

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They could let the 2010 Phoenix Suns play offense for them.  This is such a weird mishmash of mediocre talent and unproven upside that Larry Brown getting them 44 wins a year ago is a major league miracle.  He might get 50 wins this year with his skill for all I know.  But this is not the roster with that sort of ceiling, and given Michael Jordan’s work as a GM both here and in Washington, he is not someone you can immediately assume will identify that ceiling. (Adam Morrison, cough cough)


Dare to be Stupid – NBA Free Agency after Two Days

Some more moves:

Toronto Raptors extend Amir Johnson for 5 years, 34 million: This is a mid-level type of deal for the dude who will be pressed into duty by Chris Bosh’s likely departure.  He has shown potential in Detroit, but they let him go.  Potential has been all that we have had to go on.  Look at last season: 6 pts, 5 rebounds, 3 fouls a game in 18 minutes a game.  In other words, he can be productive, but he has trouble staying on the floor.  I applaud the Raptors to a degree – because they are placing a bet on his growth.  But this is high risk to say the least.

Milwaukee Bucks re-sign John Salmons for 5 years, 39 million: I don’t like the years here.  Salmons is not a franchise changer, but he helped the Bucks tremendously – and the team needs all the wing help they can get.  That said, given the hilarious contracts being awarded so far, Salmons is actually compensated pretty fairly.

Memphis Grizzlies re-sign Rudy Gay for 5 years, 81 million: Rudy Gay is 24 and has the chance to improve.  He is not a bad player – and the Grizzlies wanted to re-up him to avoid a really poisonous offer sheet.  However, now he is max salary – when he doesn’t deserve it.  Honestly, this deal is a reflection of what is wrong with the current NBA structure – the individual salary limit.  There is no way to differentiate between LeBron and Rudy Gay after some point on the salary scale.  And thus we get the high price of high uncertainty.

Phoenix Suns re-sign Channing Frye for 5 years, 30 million: Clearly, the Suns have accepted that Amare Stoudemire is gone.  This is too bad on one level – few players are as dynamic at their best.  However, Stoudemire had a huge injury red flag, has been a fairly high maintenance guy – and in key spots has shown an unwillingness to get tough (like the Lakers series).  I don’t fault the Suns – and their contingencies are solid.  Frye is one-dimensional – but he sure is good at that dimension (shooting).  For 6 million a year – a quality big who can stick the three ball – you could do a lot worse.

Phoenix Suns sign Hakim Warrick for 4 years, 18 million: The Suns are paying backup money for a poor man’s Amare Stoudemire.  Warrick can shoot midrange and he can dunk.  He can’t defend – but he was buried in his last couple of stops.  Warrick clearly has ability – and is a good upside candidate in this system.  They got him at a good rate.

Dare to Be Stupid – NBA Free Agency, Initial Notions

New Jersey Nets trade Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards for cash: Another straight salary dump.  The Nets are positioning themselves to make the biggest splash possible.  With Ivan Drago seeming wanting to put his stamp on the team as soon as possible, this makes sense.  For the Wizards, Yi has a measure of upside, and Andray Blatche has a broken ankle.  Nobody gets hurt here.

So, armed with cash and cap space, we see teams gunning for this unmatched Class of 2010.  LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki – just a total who’s who of star NBA players of the last decade – and they are all free agents.  So the anticipation for today’s first day to talk to free agents has been palpable.  Add to it the backdrop of a lockout and drastically changed salary structure next offseason – and for a lot of guys this is the last chance for life changing money.  None of the huge chess pieces have moved yet.  However, a few deals have been struck, and guess what?  NBA GMs are like stupid drunk bachelors at the Cheetah Club, just waving money at any scantily clad FA walking their way.  To wit:

Hawks offer Joe Johnson 6 years, $119 million: The Hawks by maxing out Joe Johnson have just tied up their cap, gone up against the luxury tax threshold and have pinned their hopes to a 29 year old who was good enough to lead the Hawks to 8 straight double digit losses in the second round of playoffs.  As Charles Barkley would say, turrble … and this was just the beginning.

Milwaukee Bucks sign Drew Gooden for 5 years, $32 million: Gooden for the full midlevel??  Milwaukee needs size, but did they need it this badly?  John Hammond is a very smart GM considering the shrewd moves he made last year to get the Bucks to be a legitimately sexy team.  Drew Gooden gets a full five year deal – the Drew Gooden who is notorious for forgetting plays – the Drew Gooden who will be on his 9th team in his 9th season in the league??  Him?!!

Minnesota Timberwolves sign Darko Milicic for 4 years $20 million (final year partially guaranteed): Even with the partially guaranteed fourth year, this is an amazing deal for Darko to land – not so much in dollars but in job security.  For a guy who had one good half season (and only by his low standards) in Minnesota to suddenly warrant 4 years of job security is amazing.  Considering he has been accused of lacking passion for basketball – even worse.  Of course this is the team that drafted 18 small forwards last week.

Memphis Grizzlies decline tender on Ronnie Brewer: A starting caliber ace defending two guard can be locked up for a modest league average sort of wage – forcing teams to spend a 1st round pick to sign him … and Memphis let him go why?  It is easy to blame Chris Wallace, but petty clearly someone else is doing this.

OK, one piece of good news …

Minnesota Timberwolves sign Nikova Pekovic for 3 years, $13 million: apparently very good in Europe, a former 2nd round pick draft and stash.  Good value here.  I mean even if he is average, $4.3 million is a good price for average.