Somewhere there's a casual sports fan who is still adjusting to the end of the NFL season. Searching for something to occupy their time in this post-Super Bowl world, they remember basketball.
Remembering the preseason NBA storylines, this fan reads the latest news to answer such questions as "How far ahead in the West are Mike Brown's Lakers?", "How good are the 76ers with Andrew Bynum?" and "How is Rajon Rondo doing now that he's the undisputed leader of the Boston Celtics?" The news is shocking: the Lakers are struggling, Brown is unemployed, Bynum hasn't played a game and Rondo is out for the season. Still, there is comfort: Gregg Popovich is honored as the best coach in the Western Conference, LeBron James is better than everyone else and Metta World Peace is still completely and utterly nuts. At least, the sports fan thinks, some things remain constant.
Rudy Gay is now a Toronto Raptor
If you heard the post-trade analysis, you would have thought that the Memphis Grizzlies had pulled out a full-on Miami Marlins fire sale when they traded Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors last week. The Grizzlies, despite being serious contenders in the Western Conference, traded away one of their biggest scoring threats in Gay for reasons that were at least as much about money as they were about basketball. Memphis sent Gay and backup center Hammed Haddadi to the Toronto Raptors for forward Ed Davis, guard Jose Calderon and a second round pick in the 2013 Draft. Not finished there, the Grizzlies then sent Calderon to the Detroit Pistons for Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince.
In some respects, the critics of the trade were right. The Memphis Grizzlies, a contending team, traded away the deal's best player for reasons that were mostly financial. What these critics don't take account is that the Grizzlies, who were overachieving in their hot start, have cooled off quite a bit since. After that 12-2 start, the Grizzlies went 17-13 before the Gay trade. Meanwhile Rudy Gay, making $16.5 million this season, was averaging 17.2 points and 5.2 rebounds, very good but not superstar numbers for a player who doesn't contribute much else beyond scoring. Plus, Gay was owed $37 million over the next two years, when, it should be noted, changes in the salary cap in the new collective bargaining agreement would have made it prohibitively expensive for the Grizzlies to have kept their current roster together. If this move allows the Grizzlies to keep Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the long run, that alone could make it a successful one. The Oklahoma City Thunder made a similar decision right before the regular season when they traded away James Harden to the Houston Rockets when they couldn't come to agreement on an extension that would work for both sides. (Certainly Harden didn't mind that trade, there's very little possibility that Harden would have had the opportunity to score a triple-double if he were still with the Thunder.)
Some of this hostility may be against new Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, who took to the internet recently in response to the backlash, saying that the trade made the Grizzlies "a far more dangerous playoff team today". (Of course, what else would you expect the owner to say in this situation?) In some quarters, reaction to the trade is influenced by the fact that current Vice President of Basketball Operations and former ESPN.com analyst John Hollinger is seen as one of the architects of the trade. Reaction to the trade has been almost neatly divided between those who see themselves as more "old school basketball" types and analysts who are warmer to Hollinger's more statistically minded approach. Nowhere is this divide more apparent than with normally more reserved Yahoo! Sports contributor Adrian Wojnarowski who, in a reaction piece very critical about the trade, describes Hollinger as "a statistician who worked for a cable sports company".
As far as the Raptors, the move makes very little basketball sense in the long term, what with the $37 million dollar contract and the fact that the Raptors won't be serious contenders at any point during it. Still, Rudy Gay gives Raptors fan possibly their first big name player to cheer for since the loss of Chris Bosh. Gay, for his part, made a memorable Raptors debut, leading the team with 20 points in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The coaches were announced for the All-Star Game
The more things change in the Western Conference, one thing remains the same: the success of the San Antonio Spurs. This last week, the NBA rewarded the Spurs for being on top of the Western Conference standings on February 3rd, by naming Gregg Popovich as the head coach for the Western Conference when the All-Star Game is held on February 17. Popovich actually clinched his spot as the All-Star Game coach much earlier, since the Spurs' closest competitor, the Oklahoma City Thunder, were coached by Scott Brooks, who led the West to victory in last year's All-Star Game and was ineligible this year.
Popovich will be coaching Tony Parker but may not be coaching Tim Duncan. While both Spurs players were named as All-Star Reserves for the game. Duncan is currently day-to-day with a sore knee so it's entirely possible that he won't be available on game time. In fact, considering his history, Popovich might deliberately sit both Duncan and Parker just to irritate NBA Commissioner David Stern.
One player who definitely won't be playing is Boston Celtics' point guard Rajon Rondo, who is out for the season with an ACL tear. Last week, this column, along with every other controversy-seeking basketball writer on the internet, suggested that the All-Star Game had screwed up by snubbing Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets. Those criticisms ended when the NBA wisely chose Lopez to take Rondo's spot among the Eastern Conference All-Stars last week, despite the fact that this is essentially replacing a guard with a center.
Perhaps, the Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra, who will be coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars, deserves to at least give some credit to internet campaigners if the East defeats the West in a few weeks. Of course, Spoelstra will probably be giving more credit to his own Heat players, starter LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and to a much lesser extent reserve Chris Bosh, if that were to happen. In fact, now that we mention it, Spoelstra probably gives thanks to those guys for just about everything.
Billy Hunter will no longer run the NBA Players Association
Somewhere there's a business textbook that recommends Super Bowl weekend as the best time to announce potentially toxic news. After a long period of speculation, the NBA Players Association announced on Friday that they had placed head Billy Hunter on "indefinite leave". It is widely believed that this marks the end of Hunter's tenure with the NBAPA.
The charges against Hunter, which can be downloaded here for those who have the free time and enough schadenfreude related interest, are so vast that they are more easily digested when summarized, as Henry Abbott from ESPN's "True Hoop" blog has done in his article "Billy Hunter at the end of the line". In it, Abbott runs off a checklist of questionable behavior including nepotism and numerous undocumented paid vacations. As Abbott notes:
The report is hundreds of pages. They are so loaded with questionable behavior that a nearly amusing time-management issue emerges: With all the hours Hunter evidently dedicated to increasing his own salary, taking vacations, seeking reimbursement for work he allegedly did on vacation, directing complex deals to deliver union work to vendors with ties to his children, hiring friends and family ... how much time could he have really had to work on behalf of players?
In other words, Billy Hunter might end up being one of the few union leaders in America actually guilty of doing what Fox News thinks every single union leader is guilty of doing.
So Billy Hunter is out as head of the NBA Players Association, and chances are if you're a NBA fan who recognizes his name, you're probably not too upset over this move. Although none of these charges are related to the NBA Lockout, certainly it feels like there's a certain karmic justice in Hunter being out of his job not long after the lockout's end. During the 2011 lockout the NBA Players Association was unable to win in a Public Relations battle against the NBA owners, a group that included such indisputably loathsome people as the Los Angeles Clippers' racist slumlord owner Donald Sterling, the New York Knicks' trust fund kid primary manager and wannabe rock star James Dolan and the Maloof family, owners of the soon-to-be-non-existent-because-of-them Sacramento Kings. Despite the fact that the owners were responsible for the lockout, because of their own inability to spend money correctly, the public ended up having a "pox on both houses" take on the situation by the time it was resolved.
While this public attitude was partly because of long-standing bias against "millionaire athletes" that goes back to the Major League Baseball strike in the 1990s, Hunter's representation did little to help to image of the NBAPA. Even before these allegations, many thought it was time for a change in the NBAPA, most notably union president former Los Angeles Lakers star Derek Fisher. Luckily for them, the sheer magnitude of Billy Hunter's behavior makes such a change easier than any expected.
The injury list keeps growing
Another week goes by and the roll call of the injured continues to grow. The injury report is practically a monthly column here on "5 Things", but for good reason. All it takes is one injury for a team to go from legitimate playoff threat to a marginal team. Take the Boston Celtics, who first lost Rajon Rondo for the season and then, one game later, lost rookie Jared Sullinger, their best, some would say only, rebounder, for the season to a back injury. Keep in mind that back injuries were what caused Sullinger to drop to the Celtics in the NBA Draft in the first place, so this could end up being a significant issue for the team not just this year, which seems fairly lost already, but for the franchise's future. The Celtics, meanwhile, have put up a 4-0 win streak since losing Rondo, which certainly seems entirely sustainable pace to sustain without two of their best players, right? Right?
The Charlotte Bobcats' promising rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a terrifying fall during a game against the Houston Rockets. Luckily, Kidd-Gilchrist has apparently suffered only a concussion in the accident. You know it's a scary incident when the optimistic phrase "only a concussion" is included in the diagnosis. Needless to say, Kidd-Gilchrist is out indefinitely for the Bobcats. He'll likely have to take a concussion test before being cleared to play, a move that the Dallas Mavericks' Chris Kaman, who is still trying to clear his, calls the "stupidest test ever". Apparently Kaman doesn't watch a lot of news about former NFL players.
Oh and to the shock of roughly nobody, but Los Angels Lakers' center Dwight Howard re-aggravated his shoulder injury in a crushing loss against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, Steve Nash's first game back in Phoenix since becoming a Laker. In keeping up with a trend started by the Celtics, the Lakers won their next three games without Howard (although they may have lost Pau Gasol during Tuesday night's win over the Brooklyn Nets). An optimistic Lakers fan could take that as meaning the team is back on track, a pessimistic one would note that this just proves that Howard doesn't fit with this team.
Other things we've learned
• Metta World Peace has reverted back to his Ron Artest persona again.
• Nate Robinson was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week in what must be a sneaky way for the NBA to sabotage the Chicago Bulls by encouraging him. The Bulls ownership seems too smart for this, but if it ever gets to a point where anyone from the Bulls is asking "what do we do with Nate once Derrick Rose comes back", Bulls fans are legally allowed to violently overthrow all those in power a la the French revolution.
• OBLIGATORY VAGUELY SUPER BOWL RELATED NEWS ITEM: LeBron James was upset about playing against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday because NBA rules meant he would be on a flight while the Baltimore Ravens were playing (and beating) the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. This could either humanize LeBron James or make him look even more like a pampered superstar athlete depending on how you look at it. (Writer shakes magic eight-ball to see if he's in "mocking LeBron James because he makes it easy" mode or "reluctantly defending LeBron James because he takes too much unearned criticism from the media" mode. Answer: "hazy, try again later.")
• I can say, without consulting any novelty oracles, that Andrew Bogut's return to the NBA continues to be fun. Here the Golden State Warrior has the Block of the Season against Shawn Marion.
• Can you believe it's been a year since Linsanity? William Leitch wrote a wonderful piece about it for NY Magazine, but to get the full "Linsanity - as it happened!" experience I recommend browsing the Guardian's Jeremy Lin tag.
• We almost didn't have a Dunk of the Week but, well, then Kobe Bryant provided us with one right before the deadline.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © lukes