Thursday, August 04, 2005

"Least" No More
By Ben Valentine

So many posts... It appears Sportszilla is back with a vengeance. Well this Jabber Jock is just trying to keep pace.

Tuesday night when I came home, I was shocked. No, not that Victor Zambrano had lasted just a mere 1.1 innings in a 11 inning Mets win. It was the fact that when I went to rotoworld.com to check on baseball information, I saw as one of the top headlines that the largest trade in NBA history had been completed. I clicked the link and sure enough saw a five team, not five players, five TEAM deal was on the verge of going down. Just try figuring out where everyone is going in a deal like that. You have to read it twice just to figure out all the teams involved. (It was the Heat, Grizzlies, Jazz, Celtics and Hornets) And after all was said and done, one thought came to mind.

Only in the NBA.

Only in the National Basketball Association would you ever see such a ludicrously large and probably unnecessary deal. I mean you’re telling me that the Heat and Grizzlies couldn’t complete this trade outright, since they were the teams swapping the most players? Or maybe a three team deal would have worked, since Antoine Walker was a key piece in this trade heading from Boston to Miami. I mean seriously, did the Jazz and Hornets really have to be part of this? I still don’t know what Utah got out of this trade aside from an old stiff in Greg Ostertag, who has already filled that role for them on two separate occasions. I think New Orleans probably just did the deal to make sure everyone the league remembers they still exist as a franchise. It’s hard to confuse me as a sports fan but the NBA sure gives me a run for my money. By the way, here’s the breakdown:

Heat get: Walker, James Posey, Jason Williams, Andre Emmett and Roberto Duenas (Spain)

Celts get: Curtis Borchardt, Qyntel Woods (and his pitbulls), Albert Miralles,
Miami’s 2 second round picks

Jazz: Ostertag (Why???)

Hornets: Rasual Butler, Kirk Synder

Grizzlies: Raul Lopez, Eddie Jones

And no, five way deals do not make the NBA more interesting.

But what does make the NBA more interesting is balance. It was something the league was sorely lacking since the end of the Bulls’ dynasty. Since then it had been Western Conference domination, with the Spurs and the Lakers on top, the Sacramento Kings the perennial bridesmaids and the Portland Jailblazers always the team that COULD win if they ever got their heads on straight. The championship was decided in the West. The Eastern conference just were ceremonial animals sent to their slaughter in the Finals. I’m a Nets fan, who watched it happen to his team two straight years. And while the Pistons may have won in 2004, it was always described as what the Lakers had done to blow that series rather than what Detroit had done to win it.

So the West was still in reality the dominant conference. The Royals can beat the Yankees once every four years but that doesn’t mean Kansas City is better. The next year things will return to form, as they did this year. Detroit showed that they are a top team, but the Spurs proved to be better in the end. And really now, didn’t you always get the sense that it was the Spurs’ series to lose rather than Detroit’s to win?

Well with this Walker trade, I think things may finally have shifted a bit.

I actually think that while the Spurs are arguably the best team in the league, the next four teams are in the East. The Heat have certainly improved themselves in getting Williams, Walker and Posey. They lose Eddie Jones and Rasaul Butler, which probably has the Nets jumping for joy (those three point barrages are still giving me nightmares), but overall they’re a better team.

Nets have added Shareef Abdur Rahim, giving them a player who is as good if not better than Kenyon Martin. They also picked up back up point guard Jeff McGinnis. While he’s had problems with coaches in the past, you figure he knows the deal on this team. Why else would you sign on with Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter unless you knew you were going to come off the bench? And don’t forget 1st round pick Antoine Wright from Texas A&M. The guy is supposedly a great shooter, something the Nets sorely lacked last season. Plus who says Rod Thorn is done?

The Pacers haven’t made as much noise, but remember they’re getting Ron Artest back. That’s an all-star returning to the starting lineup. No Reggie? No problem. They have the talented rookie Danny Granger sliding in there. He’s not the best O’Neal in the league, but Jermaine is a talented big man nonetheless. The Indy squad is also a young team that talent-wise should be on the ascent. They should win 50 games.

And let’s not forget Detroit. They did just go to the NBA finals after all.

Out West, outside of the Spurs, is there anyone else who you think could beat those four east teams in a seven game series? The Suns lost Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson. They also are a fast break team that can’t score in the half court that has lost two of its best shooters. They’re the Nets of 2002-2003 and these four squads are better than those Nets teams. Zach may not want to hear it, but I doubt the Sonics would match up well against any of these teams, who are a lot bigger than boys from Seattle, especially now that Jerome James is departed. (He may not be very good, but he does at least take up space).

Look at the two conferences. Is there a huge difference between the Suns and the 8th seeded Nuggets? Now ask yourself, what’s the difference between the East top four and the rest? Which conference’s semis do you feel most confident about predicting?

Yes, the top dog is still Tim Duncan and company. They have the hardware to show it. But the next four down are on this side of the Mississippi. And maybe that aforementioned hardware will join one of them here next June.

UPDATE:
Figures right? Well the Nets/Rahim deal is now on hold because of a supposed injury that neither side knew about. Who knows what this will mean, but it has to be resolved by Tuesday, when the Nets' trade exception expires. We'll see what happens.

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