- The Rockets defense is stupid good. Ron Artest was already the best perimeter defender in the league, with Shane Battier not far behind. You combine those two with a shot blocker in Yao Ming and an aggressive defensive gameplan, and you’ve got quite a powerhouse on your hands. Losing McGrady for the season and Rafer Alston via trade was supposed to hurt the Rockets’ offense, but in the process they may have also ditched their two worst defenders in favor of more minutes for Battier and bullish point guard Kyle Lowry. (EDIT: But don’t take my word for it. Read Kevin Arnovitz’s redonkulous breakdown of the Rockets’ defense on LeBron James in last night’s game.)
- It can’t ever feel good to be traded. Even though on a lot of levels I’m sure it feels good for a Pau Gasol to go from a team like the Grizz to a team like the Lakers, it’s also a team giving up on you. Whether you’re the star, a role player, or a bench warmer, the knowledge that the general manager and coaching staff that you trusted does not believe that you can help them win games (even if it’s not the case) has to hit hard. Antoine Wright reflects on his feelings about his trade to the Mavs a year ago (Eddie Sefko, Dallas Morning News): “‘I felt betrayed a little bit because I wasn’t supposed to be in the trade,’ Wright said Thursday. ‘[The Nets] said ‘Don’t worry about it. Go on vacation.’ Then I’m in Miami [during the All-Star break] and I’m looking at the bottom of the screen and I’m going, ‘Wright? Is that me?’ That was the first I heard of being traded.’ Sure enough, that was Wright’sname crawling along the ticker. ‘That’s when it hit me that I was a throw-in,’ he said.”
- Part 3 of Dirk’s interview with Five Magazine.
- Rick Carlisle on Josh Howard, echoing my thoughts in this post yesterday (Eddie Sefko, Dallas Morning News): “His spirits are better. You can just tell the way he’s bouncing around the court. The game’s a lot more fun when you’re not in some kind of pain.”
T-Mac’s out, Rafer just got traded, and it’s doubtful that Kyle Lowry and Brian Cook will have cleared their physicals by gametime. Trap game? You bet.
The Mavs are playing well, and could end up getting ahead of themselves. Yao Ming historically has done well against Erick Dampier, and shackled Damp from accomplishing much of anything. Ron Artest is still the game’s premier wing defender, and he’ll make Josh Howard’s (and maybe Dirk’s) life a living hell. At this point in the game, the Dallas Mavericks are a better team than the Houston Rockets. But if you’ve watched the Mavs this season, you should know that that fact might not stop them from blowing this one.
Or maybe those were the old Mavs. One could only hope. Was it really so easy? Hand the reins to Kidd, hire Darrell Armstrong, and call it a day? The defensive problems still linger, but the rotations have been better, the individual efforts have been stronger, and the rebounds are triggering the offense. The offense stagnates at times, but I credit that more to the absence of Terry than any serious strategic flaw. But after months and months of deliberation about who to trade and who to blame, I’m still watching the Mavs with a cautious eye. Good things rarely come so easy.
This may seem like a contradictory message from my morning mantra. It is, in a sense. It’s hard to trust this team, and so I’m left in an awkward middle ground; the Mavs have shown enough life to spark my hopes, but they’ve waffled on their potential so many times this season that I should know better. Still, in my heart of hearts, I want this team to be great. I want the Mavs to rise up the Western ladder. I want them to go out tonight and punk the Rockets. I’m even hopeful that all of those things are possible. We won’t have a good litmus test until Terry returns, but in the meantime let’s get this party started, shall we?
About half an hour until the deadline, and not much out of Mavs-land. Considering the Mavs most expendable trade asset (Jerry Stackhouse’s contract) can actually be used over the summer (the Mavs have until August to turn down the non-guaranteed portion of his deal), I don’t think they’ll be panicking. Hell, the Blazers aren’t panicking, and that’s with Raef Lafrentz’s mammoth expiring contract. Here’s the latest chatter from around the interwebs:
- Mark Cuban, via Eddie Sefko’s piece this morning: “‘I don’t know that there’s a whole lot more that’s going to be done,’ owner Mark Cuban said. ‘Everybody’s looking to do the same thing, save money and to save cap room [for the future]. It’s hard to do both.’”
- Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: “‘It feels like Dallas has 100 different scenarios juggling in the air,’ one Western Conference executive said Thursday.”
- Eddie Sefko, DMN Mavs Blog: “You never know when a rebound will fall in your lap. And the Mavericks are still working the trade grapevine to see if anything crazy happens in the last hour. Doesn’t seem likely, but you never know with this bunch.”
- Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: “‘How many trade offers have you had?’ Donnie [Nelson] was asked on Wednesday night. ‘Today? Seventy-five. Maybe 100. A lot,’ he responded. ‘I just got five in the 45 minutes I’ve been talking to you guys.’”
Here are the completed trades of the day:
- The Kings trade Bobby Brown and Shelden Williams to the Timberwolves for Rashad McCants and Calvin Booth. The motivations for this deal are largely financial, although Bobby Brown showed potential in the summer league and I’m confident Rashad McCants can be a solid rotation player. Shelden Williams may still have a few tricks up his sleeve, but Calvin Booth’s deal expires this summer.
- The Knicks trade Malik Rose and cash to the Thunder for Chris Wilcox. I don’t get this one at all. It’s a no-brainer from the Knicks perspective; both players have expiring deals, and their production levels aren’t even comparable. I doubt Wilcox will re-sign with NY, but they’ll get a free look at a much better player. If you can figure out what’s in it for OKC, please, by all means.
- The Bulls trade Larry Hughes to the Knicks for Tim Thomas, Anthony Roberson, and Jerome James. Jerome James is likely to retire after this season, meaning most if not all of his 2009-2010 salary will be covered by insurance. This could be the Knicks trying to consolidate their deals into one neat little package, or maybe D’Antoni seems some real value in Hughes. Either way, if for whatever reason the Knicks do decide to play the trade market next year, Hughes’ expiring deal will be worth more to teams than Thomas’. The Bulls can plug Thomas into Nocioni’s role, and on top of that they should save some coin if Jerome James retires as planned. Anthony Roberson’s a freebie.
- The Bulls trade Thabo Sefolosha to the Thunder for a nondescript future first rounder. More on this as it’s confirmed; I haven’t seen a release yet.
- The Kings waive Mikki Moore. The Cavs and the Celtics are the early favorites to bid for his services (each has at least part of their midlevel exception remaining).
- Three-team deal: the Magic acquire Rafer Alston, the Rockets acquire Kyle Lowry and Brian Cook, and the Grizzlies acquire Orlando’s first round pick. Rafer’s got the experience and did a surprisingly good job during that 22-game win streak last season, so why risk changing point guards with T-Mac already on the shelf? Even if Lowry is younger and a marginal upgrade, aren’t the Rockets hinging an awful lot on the shoulders of a young point guard that has shown little to no improvement in his first NBA seasons and has looked shaky as a starter. Magic fans are in for quite the headache, and the Grizz are saving up their lunch money.
- Another three-teamer: the Raptors get Patrick O’Bryant, the Kings get Will Solomon, and the Celtics get a virtually nonexistent second round pick that’s as conditional as fine print. No comment.
Fin. Done. It’s over. These are the Mavs you’ll see for the rest of the season, folks — for better or worse.