This is the NBA, circa 1973. There are only 17 teams in the league. The Kings play in Omaha. The Sonics still exist in Seattle. The Bullets haven't even reached Washington DC yet, much less been renamed the Wizards. And out in Philadephia, a team called the 76ers become the worst team in NBA history.
This collapse began 3 years earlier, when the Sixers traded away Wilt Chaimberlain after an inexplicable fallout following the team's loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Sixers steadily declined from 1970 to 1973, culminating in a disastrous final record of 9-73.
It's now 2009. And a team known as the Minnesota Timberwolves are on pace to set an even more dismal record: 8-74.
This collapse began 3 years earlier, when the Wolves traded away Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics, after the team painted itself into a very expensive corner. The Wolves made no progress for two years, culminating in the firing of the man with the paintbrush, team Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale, and the hiring of President David Kahn.
That would be the author of this rewrite.
Yet shockingly, our Wolves aren't the worst team this year, statistically, in the standings, and certainly not in karma (or whatever cosmic force you believe balances the universe). This week's update brings us plenty of drama from around the league that proves, once and for all, that misery does indeed love company.
We'll end with yet another Wolves opinion topic to sound off on, but let's start off with that one team that's below us in the standings...
The New Jersey Nets' planned move to Brooklyn has hit the brakes. Again:
It's all legal troubles for the Nets these days. Not only is the team winless and still waiting on approval for the team's sale to Russian billionare Mikhail Prokhorov, but now the one thing they do have approval for...a 2011 move to Brooklyn...is in danger of being overturned.
Empire State Development Corp, who intends to build apartments, office buildings, and a new NBA arena across 22 acres of Brooklyn known as the Atlantic Yards, has been sued by a joint group of elected New York officials and Brooklyn neighborhood groups, seeking to overturn approval of the project.
A new arena is pivitol to the Nets' future, both short and long term. This summer is called the "Summer of LeBron" for a reason, and the Nets are most certainly in that race. They have the cap space, a roster that offers far more support than the Knicks', and one of LeBron's best friends, Jay-Z, who just so happens to be a minority owner of the Nets.
But location is location, and location matters in the NBA. Newark isn't exactly a mecha of basketball. Or anything else for that matter. LeBron isn't talking free agency, but he's most certainly thinking about it, and one has to figure New York leads New Jersey because...well, it's not New Jersey. But a Nets move to NYC would strip the Knicks of their home field advantage and make the race all about the one thing the Knickerbockers haven't been able to do in a decade: build a competitive roster.
And speaking of teams failing to build a competitive roster...
Stephen Jackson has finally been traded:
It would, of course, figure that this news would break not even an hour after last week's update was posted. Yes, Captain Jack has finally escaped the Warriors, as he and point guard Acie Law were dealt to the Charlotte Bobcats for Raja Bell and Vladamir Radmonavic.
It's not exactly where Jackson wanted to go (he listed New York or any of the three teams in Texas as his preferred destinations), nor where the media guys in the know prediceted he'd go (Cleavland). But Jackson figures to be so happy just to not be in Golden State anymore, than I doubt he minds playing for the equally aenemic Bobcats.
Jackson and the Warriors stopped pulling punches after the trade was announced. Jackson said, "They made promises and didn't keep them. I just believe they're more interested in selling tickets than winning," while Warriors' President Robert Rowell fired off with, "We put in a lot of time, money and resources to help him rebuild his reputation. He sat there and told everybody this is where he wanted to be and was up to the challenge. In the end, we were duped."
On paper, a wing duo of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson is as solid as you'll find anywhere in the league. Both score, and in ways that compliment each other. Both can facilitate, and both defend very well.
The problem, of course, is that the Bobcats are still several pieces away from contendership, and now have no flexibility to change that. Trading Bell's expiring contract for Jackson's long term one puts the Cats over the cap for at least the next two seasons, and possibly another after that pending the outcome of Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton's free agencies.
Short term though, the Cats get some much needed scoring ability. "We are struggling, we can't score," said Bobcats' head coach Larry Brown. And all the drama? Brown is unphased. "No matter what Stephen might say to me...I've heard it before." And certainly no one questions that, considering Brown has coached (among others) the always volatile Allen Iverson.
And while we're one the subject of Iverson...
Allen Iverson has officially been waived by the Grizzlies:
I know...shocker. Iverson cleared waivers earlier this week and is no officially a free agent. Sadly the Grizzlies continue to maintain their pathetic charade. "Because of personal matters that forced him to leave the team on November 7, Allen will step away from the game at this time, allowing him to focus on those matters," general manager Chris Wallace said in a statement.
I'm pretty sure the "personal matter" in Iverson's life was a strong dislike of the Grizzlies.
But here's a real shocker: there are, in fact, teams still interested in signing AI. Topping the list are the New York Knicks, who are reportedly not just interested, but expected to make an offer in the next week or so. Well, ok, so it's not that shocking the Knicks might be interested considering the state of their current point guard corp (I'm not naming names, museum...)
Also on the list are the Heat, who are desperate for scoring outside of Wade, and who kinda-sorta pursued Iverson this summer. Wade leads the league in scoring disparity between a team's top and second-leading scorer, averaging a stunning 16ppg more than the Heat's next best scorer, Jermaine O'Neal. That trumps the next guy on the list by a wide margin; Carmelo Anthony leads Chauncey Billups by just 11ppg. The need for additional firepower in Miami was highlighted this week by back-to-back blowout losses to the Thunder and the Hawks.
Larry Brown, the only coach to really successfully make it work with Iverson, showed his support for the embattled former All Star. "I hope somebody picks him up," Brown said. "I don't want to see him end his career this way. I recommended him to some winning teams. I told them he has to know he's going to play. I think if he went to a great team and he was in a three-guard rotation, I think he could accept that."
Perhaps the Bobcats will come calling for AI's services too.
But let's get back to Golden State, because....
Trading Stephen Jackson hasn't calmed things at all for the Warriors:
Jackson didn't just have a problem, he also had a number, and moving him has just moved the Warriors on to the next guy in the complaints line.
With Jackson gone, the media has now picked up on Monta Ellis' whining, as it's come to light that Ellis has been telling everyone he knows that he also wants out of Golden State. Ellis' short history with the team is already marred by several serious controversies and Monta's own bad attitude. Last year, he was suspended without pay for over half the season after lying about an injury he sustained riding a moped. Then this summer, he gave rookie Stephen Curry an Antarctic welcome, saying he "definitely can't" play with him. Early in the season he and Don Nelson had a spat over who was to blame for the mounting losses, then just last week, Monta claimed he was the only player on the Warriors' roster who could play defense.
A very hollow argument coming from someone just days removed from letting Brandon Jennings drop 55 on him.
Ellis' agent, Jeff Fried, is reportedly scheduled to meet with Warriors' management this week, possibly to file a formal trade demand.
Also in line are Anthony Randolph and Stephen Curry, both who are vexed (as are the rest of us) over their undefined roles and see-saw playing time. Curry began the year as a starter, then was moved to the bench. Randolp expected to start after an unbelievable summer league, but has come off the bench all year despite injuries to both Andris Beidrins and Ronny Turiaf, and the acquisiton of Radmonavic figures to cut into his burn even more. Both he and Curry will go from playing nearly 40 minutes one night to less than 10 the next, with no explaination from Don Nelson.
Yet Rowell has explicitly stated that Nelson's job is 100% safe, and he has the full confidence of the team (even though he clearly doesn't have the confidence of his players). Speculation is that Nelson is just in it to capture the all time wins title among coaches (he needs just 21 more victories), and will bail when he gets there.
Like the Grizzlies, the Warriors' unrest makes them prime trade candidates for teams looking to acquire talent for cheap. Such as, say, the Timberwolves. Anthony Randolph and Stephen Curry would both add new dimensions to the Wolves (as would Monta Ellis, but his contract and bad attitude make him far less attractive a target) If Kahn wants to explore his options here, he'd best move quickly. The common denominator in all of Golden States' problems is Don Nelson, who could step away at any moment and take all those problems with him.
So what do Warriors fans think of all this? Well....
It's safe to say that Warriors fans no longer "believe":
As one Warrior fan told me:
"Remember the We Believe team?"
"Let's look what happened since...
- J-Rich traded for a draft pick (Brendan Wright, always injured)
- Drafted Marco Belinelli, can shoot but nothing else. Went to TOR this year.
- Warriors did well in 07-08 year with 48 wins, did not make playoffs. Nelson sat Baron Davis in the final and crucial game against PHX.
- Chris Mullin wanted to re-sign Davis, but others didn't so he became a free agent.
- Pietrus, Barnes gone.
- Signed Corey Maggette to a $50+ contract.
- Resigned Monta Ellis to a $50+ contract, out for most of the 08-09 year due to stupidity.
- Resigned Biedrins to a $50+ contract, injury prone player.
- Al Harrington demanded trade, went to NY for Jamal Crawford.
- Warriors tanked 08-09 year due to injuries and no big men.
- Warriors drafted Curry instead of taking Amare deal
- Warriors traded Crawford to ATL for nothing
- Warriors traded Jackson to CHA for nothing"
Another then added:
"Don't forget firing Mullin and letting Nellies' boy get the GM spot, also giving nellie an additional 2 year extension."
Another then added:
"The playoff team is almost completely dismantled. Why would you get rid of the players who took you to the playoffs? It boggles my mind because it's like the front office wants the Dubs to suck. "Oh no, they made the playoffs? We need to trade our players away, quickly!" Nellie and the whole front office need to go away."
A final comment was that they believed the next step is trading Randolph and Curry for a bag of peanuts. I quickly supplied that the Wolves have peanuts they would be willing to trade.
But speaking of trades, here's one out of left field...
The Kings, Sixers and Celtics are reportedly talking trade:
The summary of it is-
Word is the Celtics' resent losses have freaked the team, and they're quietly but desperately looking for help, particularly in the shooting department. Getting Andris Nocioni for Tony Allen and JR Giddens certainly would qualify as help (and a theft), but shouldn't the Celtics be primarily concerned with their lack of a backup point guard?
And here's another team with worrying losses...
After a two game mini-winning streak without Tony and Timmah, the Spurs have now dropped three straight with one or both in the lineup....losses to Oklahoma City, Dallas and Utah.
Spurs fans are anxious, and rightly so. Something's wrong here. Some still believe Duncan is playing lazy (although his game has picked up of late). Some believe that players like Theo Ratliff and Roger Mason don't play enough. All agree that Richard Jefferson needs to get it going.
"I think RJ gets scared to play like himself when the whole team (mostly Tim/Tony) are intact," said one, to which another replied' "EXACTLY what I was thinking. When they were out he was taking jumpers and mixing his game up. Cause he knew his role was to make up for their loss. With them back he feels his role needs to change and doesn't know what the F to do."
So is it a chemistry problem? The Spurs sure hope so. They torpedoed their pre-emptive rebuilding plans (pairing Texas native Chris Bosh with Duncan, so Timmy could play the David Robinson role) to give Duncan one last shot at a title. It'd be terrible irony if it ends up being Duncan who drops the ball on them.
Ok. Now for something amazing....
Check out Jason Maxiell's sick open court block on Shannon Brown:
It's almost....almost as amazing as his block of Tyson Chandler's ally oop..
Now onto the injuries...
Jameer Nelson will have knee surgery and is out 2-4 weeks:
Nelson's injury from last year is still nagging him, so he and the team will attempt to put it to rest for good. In the meantime, resurgent Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson will man the point for Orlando.
Interestingly enough, the Magic were briefly linked to Iverson, with questions being thrown at Orlando GM Otis Smith as to whether the team would consider signing AI to replace Nelson. Smith didn't rule it out, but sounded hesitent at best, saying he'd only consider it if the team sustained another backcourt injury.
Andrew Bogut is also out 2-4 weeks:
Bogut has a lower leg strain he suffered in the Bucks' win over New Jersey. The injury also puts a strain on the Bucks, who must now resort to Francisco Elson and Dan Gadzuric to man the paint in Bogut's absence.
And since we're talking about the Bucks...
The Brandon Jennings love affair continues:
Jennings sits atop all the rookie rankings and even has a complete feature page on ESPN all to himself. Blogs, boards and chat rooms are as lit up as the Warriors were, with fans comparing Jennings to every small guard they can think of....Chris Paul, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose. John Stockton. Isiah Thomas.
Naturally people are questioning why Jennings was picked after...well, anyone picked before him. I've seen the Wolves take their fair share of barbs, but so far the general consensus seems to be that the Knicks failed the worst by passing up on "Young Money".
And to wrap up this injury report...
Even Phil Jackson was getting sick of Pau's unexplained absence:
In an interview with the LA media, Jackson used Pau's recent cameo on CSI Miami to take a few well-placed shots at the power forward.
"I think he got injured on CSI and he’s not telling us the truth," Jackson said. "I watched that program last night just to see if that was what [happened]. And then he dragged that kid out of the car; I’m sure that’s where he got that injury.
"I never watched [the show] before. I was totally amazed that people watch it. I can’t believe people actually watch that stuff."
When asked what he thought of Pau's acting, Jackson dryly said, "I told him to keep his night job."
Pau responded by jokingly taking a shot at Jackson's "acting" debut in a recent TMobile commercial:
Pau Gasol also responded by getting back on the court:
Pau finally played again in last night's Lakers/Bulls game, an impressive rout by the Lakers. Gasol is, in my estimation, the most skilled big man in the NBA today, and his return gives the Lakers an intimidatingly intelligent, veratile, and powerful lineup.
And finally, something Wolves for you guys to talk about...
Is Rambis intentionally using the Triangle so the team has an excuse for losing?
The question came up in a recent SI.com roundtable discussion about what this update opened with: will any of this year's NBA teams break the '73 Sixers' record of futility.
"Chris Mannix: Minnesota has a shot. The Wolves have a rookie coach (Kurt Rambis), a rookie point guard (Jonny Flynn) and an offense no one understands. Factor in an early injury to Kevin Love and Al Jefferson's slow return from a knee injury, and we're talking about a seriously inept club. New Jersey is going to win some games when it gets healthy, the Knicks' offense will probably help them to a couple of three-game winning streaks, and now that Memphis is past the Iverson controversy, it should be OK. But Minnesota is really going to struggle."
Jerry Zgoda recently wrote a Star Tribune article about the complexities of the triangle and its steep learning curve. Rambis himself has continually preached patience and constantly reiterated that this will take a long time, and it got me thinking...
If the team knew it was going to be terrible from the start, and knew the media would ask about it, could they have decided to use the triangle as a means to say "this is why we're struggling"?
What do you guys think?
The Wolves aren't a good team, and probably won't be at any point this season. But we aren't the only team in the middle of a rewrite. Golden State? Turns out Don Nelson is a pretty lousy author. Memphis? Sounds like Michael Hiesley is big on revisionist history. The jury is out on Kahn's writing skills, but at least he intends to be a best seller.
That's it for this week's update. A day early to make room for a Saturday game and a Sunday followup thread. Until next time...