Olympians' remarkable health should cause re-think of summer hoops
Posted: Tuesday January 11, 2005 2:26PM; Updated: Tuesday January 11, 2005 5:15PM
Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan haven't let their summer vacations in Greece affect their NBA availability.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Before we get to the readers' questions in the mailbag, I have one of my own:
Where are all the folks complaining about summer basketball tournaments causing injuries?
Normally by this time of year, at least a couple of players who played in that summer's global basketball festivities (Olympics, Olympic qualifiers or World Championships) have gone on the shelf, leading to the inevitable hand-wringing over the impact that the summer competition is having on the NBA's elite players.
This season is making that entire line of argument seem silly. Two teams' worth of players (24 in all) played for their countries in the Olympics (or their territory, I guess, in the case of Carlos Arroyo and Daniel Santiago). Between them, only one spent a second on the injured list -- a three-week stint by Detroit rookie Carlos Delfino -- until Richard Jefferson's season-ending wrist injury sidelined him Tuesday. That's a run of health that's almost, well, Olympian.
In retrospect, perhaps people have been too eager to play cause-and-effect. If you pick any group of players, odds are a few of them are going to get hurt as the year goes on, and in some years, it will be more than others. Similarly, last year many more players from the Olympic qualifiers had injury trouble than we've seen this season. The up-and-down trend is especially likely when fans focus on a sample of just 12 players -- i.e., the U.S. squad.
Any statistician can tell you that if five of them get hurt, it could be a trend, but it's just as likely to be a fluke. While the issue still needs to be studied in greater detail, this year's run of health lends more credence to the idea that maybe we've been overreacting to the injury waves afflicting summer participants the last few seasons.
Now, onto the 'bag:
Is it me, or is the word 'egregious' the new favorite of sports writers across the country? Ever since the brawl, that word seems to appear at least once in every article that I read. Do you guys collaborate on this stuff? -- Daniel, Los Angeles
I can't believe the egregious lack of respect you display for such a fine word. But while we're at it, I'd like to eliminate a few other egregiously overused phrases from the lexicon. First up is when people say a player can "score the ball" -- really, what else would he score with? (On second thought, don't answer that.) Just say, "he can score" and be done with it people. Second, let's do away with the lame nicknames. You know what I mean: J-Will, T-Mac, and any other combination of a first initial with the first syllable of a last name, or calling a guy by his initials and number (KB8, CB4, etc.). Could we get any more unoriginal?
But my biggest peeve is a scourge that has afflicted golf and football for years, and now is beginning to infect hoops: Players and coaches needlessly injecting the name of their sport multiple times in every sentence. Tiger Woods is a good example. Virtually every time he talks, he says something like, "I wanted to attack the golf course and hit good golf shots." What was he expecting, an economics course? Tequila shots?
Football coaches are even worse at this, keeping a straight face while saying things like "We want football players in this football program who can move the football down the football field." Unfortunately, it appears some basketball coaches are starting to take a liking to this tactic. I saw Nets coach Lawrence Frank mention "making good basketball plays" in an interview last week -- apparently he was unsure if people knew his team played basketball -- while others have let it creep into their delivery as well.
So, before it becomes an epidemic, here's something for every player and coach to consider: We know what sport you play. Really. You don't have to remind us three times in every sentence.
What is the Rockets' problem? On paper, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming should be on par with the other great duos in the league. Is the supporting cast around them just not good enough or is the burden falling on the stars themselves? -- Chris, Houston
While McGrady's numbers are a bit off from previous seasons, the supporting cast in Houston is the main cause -- it's dreadful. The power forward production has been D-League quality as Juwan Howard and Maurice Taylor battle tooth-and-nail to win the ESPY for "Most Disappointing Michigan Product," while the bench would have trouble winning the Big 12. The mere fact that Ryan Bowen was getting serious minutes -- and even a few starts -- should send the alarm bells ringing.
The trades for Jon Barry and David Wesley will help a little, as does Bob Sura's return, but many problems remain. What the Rockets need to focus on is making good basketball plays and hitting basketball shots so their basketball team can win some basketball games (sorry, just wanted to see how it sounded).
Since Larry Brown isn't cool enough to get his own mailbag, let's get your opinion. Brown made a bad team a good team (the Clippers) and made a good team a great team (the 2003-04 Pistons). Which do you think is more difficult? -- Trevin, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Actually, Larry Brown is too cool for a mailbag. He keeps blowing off our idea for him to do one with his lame excuse that he's busy coaching a professional sports team. We even had a catchy name, "Brown 'bagging it." After he turned us down, SI.com had no choice but to let me do the mailbag instead.
In response to your question, the latter is unquestionably the more difficult feat. A bad team can become good relatively quickly with the right addition in the draft, trades or free agency, as the Cavs (LeBron James) and Wizards (Antawn Jamison) have shown, among others. But while good fortune with personnel is a necessity for a great team, that alone isn't sufficient. It also requires selling everybody on the program and getting a commitment to playing as hard on defense as on offense. That task is far more difficult with star players who have lavish long-term contracts than with a gang of castoffs scrambling to stay in the league.
What are the odds of Jason Kidd being traded to the Lakers? And how would it change the Lakers? -- Gary, Shuqualak, Miss.
The Kidd rumors seem to be on hold for the moment, but Kidd to L.A. is an intriguing possibility. L.A. has some young bigs whom the Nets covet (Chris Mihm, Brian Cook), and Kidd could help the Lakers stay competitive out West.
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But here are two problems with that scenario: First, if the Lakers didn't want to pay Shaq, why would they want to pay Kidd for five more years when he has a tricky knee? Second, from New Jersey's perspective, how can the Nets sell their fan base on a trade of Kidd for some spare parts? So while the trade is interesting, I'd give it less than a 1 percent chance of actually happening. Which is probably for the better anyway, because Kobe and Kidd would be like oil and water, especially in the battle to see who'd be Alpha Dog.
What do you think of Shaq's performance? I had played down his career-low scoring last season as simply a side effect of having to share the ball with Karl Malone and Gary Payton in addition to Kobe, but his failure to dominate even in the (L)East makes me wonder if Shaq really has lost a little something. Has he been reduced to a merely excellent center, down from potentially the greatest, or do you think this is just temporary? -- Adeel Farooque, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
You're absolutely right. Shaq is still a great player, but he's not the best player in the league anymore -- that's Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan, and it's been the case for a couple of years now. While Shaq is more svelte than he was in L.A., his arthritic toe robbed him of some of the ridiculous explosiveness and ability to run the floor that he showed in his younger days. Fortunately, he's still the biggest dude out there, so he should have several great seasons left in him.
Do you think the Lakers are going to make the playoffs? -- German Arroyave, Anaheim, Calif.
The Lakers are on the bubble, with their fate likely hinging on health and who does what at the trade deadline. If you figure that the Spurs, Suns, Sonics, Mavs and Kings are five of the eight teams from the West, and that the T'wolves will get it together and claim the sixth spot, that leaves the Lakers fighting with the Grizzlies, Nuggets, Clippers and Rockets for the last two berths. Based on talent, right now you'd have to say the Grizzlies and Rockets would be the final pair, but injuries could spoil that picture. My guess is the Lakers need to win 44 games to get in, which they can only pull off if Kobe plays all 82.
Do you think the Hornets would trade B-Diddy for Chris Wilcox, Kerry Kittles, Marko Jaric and a first-round pick from the Clippers? --Steve, Southern California
Just to clarify, I assume by "B-Diddy" you are referring to Baron Davis and that it wasn't a typo for Atlanta's beloved "P-Dribby," Peja Drobnjak.
Here's my problem with trading Davis: He's still only 25. Isn't that the kind of guy you're trying to acquire when you're rebuilding a team? Plus, he's under contract for five more years. So I think the Hornets have to choose carefully whom they deal and whom they keep. It makes a lot more sense for them to unload P.J. Brown and Rodney Rogers than it does to deal younger guys such as Davis and Jamaal Magloire.
I know it's probably obvious ... but what are the "Tommy points" you mentioned Tony Allen earning? -- Mark, Seguin, Texas
Any time a Celtics player makes a hustle play that announcer Tommy Heinsohn likes, he blurts out "that's a Tommy Point" and then starts yelling unintelligibly for a few seconds -- unless it's Walter McCarty, when a simple "I ... love ... Waltuh" delivered at 143 decibels does the trick.
Sacramento has had a sensational offense for the past few seasons. How much of the credit should go to assistant coach Pete Carril, whose Princeton teams played with a similar intelligence? -- Greg, Garden City, Kans.
Carril deserves his share of the credit for bringing an innovative offensive system to Sacramento. It beautifully maximized the passing skills of their big people and brought motion offenses back in vogue throughout the league. That said, any NBA coach will tell you it's impossible to win without talent, regardless of the system. The Bulls ran the same triangle offense in '98-99 that they'd used the year before but went from 60-22 to 13-37. The difference, of course, was that they didn't have Michael Jordan.
You asked us to name another GM who implemented a plan and actually carried it out. What about John Paxson? He finally has the Bulls succeeding in the post-Jordan era with a coach (Scott Skiles) and point guard (Kirk Hinrich) that fit the mold of what he's trying to accomplish in Chicago. They're tough on defense and destroying teams with production off the bench. -- John Buttita, Vernon Hills, Ill.
Several people e-mailed to mention that, in addition to Danny Ainge, Paxson and Detroit's Joe Dumars also came into their jobs with specific visions of the kind of teams they wanted to build. To me the difference between Paxson and Ainge is that Paxson came in and stated the obvious. Saying "I want players who are tough and play hard," is great, but really, who doesn't? In contrast, Ainge talked more about particular types of players and skills he was eyeing, which to me was much more revolutionary.
Just as a player who shoots a high percentage from anywhere on the floor is called a "pure shooter," shouldn't someone like Antoine Walker be referred to as an "impure shooter?" -- Faraz, Raeford, N.C.
Brilliant idea. I love it. While we're at it, let's take it to the logical next step. From now on I plan to call Vince Carter an "impure hustle player" and guys like Steve Francis and Ben Gordon "impure point guards."
A month ago, you were mystified by the trade of Kareem Rush to Charlotte, saying the kid can't play. Since then, he's averaged 11.4 ppg in 23.9 minutes per game. You also forgot Rush single-handedly downing the T'wolves in last year's playoffs with 6-for-7 3-point shooting performance? Lakers fans such as myself have known what a good player Rush is for a while. -- Howard Cheng, Los Angeles
While it's true that Rush has been less awful in Charlotte than he was in L.A., it's hardly time to clear a spot on the All-Star team. Those six bombs against Minnesota were impressive, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while -- Rush shot 14-for-43 from downtown in the other playoff games. This is the best stretch of Rush's career and he's shooting 40 percent while leaving a void on the rest of the stat sheet. Color me unimpressed.
I was surprised to not see you wishing more minutes for Mike Sweetney. His per-minute numbers are huge, but he never gets more than 20-25 minutes and some games even Vin Baker is first off the bench. What is the story? -- Mark Long, Cave Creek, Ariz.
I agree on Sweetney's production, but finding more minutes for him is difficult because the two frontcourt players ahead of him have both had very solid years. Nazr Mohammed inexplicably became one of the best centers in the East this year, while Kurt Thomas has been reasonably productive and is one of the few Knicks who plays any defense. I still think Sweetney will bull his way into the starting lineup somehow before the year ends, but either he'll have to improve his defense or Mohammed will have to cool off.