Monday, November 29, 2010

Can’t Handle The Heat

The Miami Heat’s underwhelming record after a month shouldn’t be a huge concern, unless they were truly trying to trump the 72-win Chicago squad, as a slow start is nothing that can’t be overcome by finding midseason stride.  The way in which the team has looked in  their early losses (and even in some wins) is however cause for concern.  Some early season struggles were expected, as you can’t just toss talent togetheather and expect immediate results, but not many expected them to get off to this slow of a start.  Back-to-back losses to Memphis and Indiana are something you would expect out of the struggling Sixers, not the already-anointed mighty Miami. 

The slow start isn’t completely surprising, the real shock comes when you see how out of sync the team as a whole, and especially the superstars, look on the floor.  Rather than the fluidity that was expected to stem from two of the game’s smoothest players, the Heat offense often looks unsure and tentative, with Wade and LeBron alternating playing virtual one on one, or force-feeding the ball into Bosh in an attempt to wake him from his statistical slumber.  The offense even appears Cavalier-esque at times, with a myriad of players using minimal motion while waiting for LeBron to make a play.  But for once, even LeBron looks unsure. 

Maybe he was so blinded by the South Beach Sunset that he hadn’t even considered the possibility  of losing.  It’s possible that the hype of playing with two ospother superstars was so promising that success was assumed.  Whatever the case, success is certainly not promised, and LeBron and the Heat are learning that the hard way, and early altercations between Coach Spoelstra and his core superstars are not promising signs for the future of the season. The pressure pushing against this team looks like it has already begun to take a toll, with growing speculation about the security of Coach Spoelstra’s position, and an obvious lack of leadership, LeBron finds himself surrounded by a crowd that, outside of Wade, is largely comparable, and in some spots even inferior, to the Cavalier cast he jettisoned last summer for seemingly sunnier pastures.  

The picture is not pretty right now, and each accumulating loss adds pressure.  Swirling rumors about coaching changes and discontent add further fuel to the already flaming fire, and with all of Miami’s money tied up with the Big Three, they have no room to make any major moves; an enormous concern for a team that desperately needs additional frontcourt depth.  The year is still young, and there is plenty of time to right the ship, but the start of the season has taught us one thing for certain; a union of two of the games biggest stars doesn’t automatically generate success.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Trade Time for Andre Igoudala

It’s time to make a move.  With the team struggling through another slow start and with minimal prospects of pushing into a playoff spot, now seemsai1 as good a time as ever for the 76ers to unload the ever-underachieving Andre Igoudala.  With the team anchored at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and Andre putting up pedestrian per-game averages (13, 5 and 5), it is unlikely that this will be the season that he step’s out of the shadows and into franchise star status, which has been expected each of the past several seasons. 

Such expectations were overblown this past summer, as Andre excelled on the star-studded, gold medal-snatching Team USA squad.  It was largely considered that Andre’s successes this summer could be a sign of things to come for the season.  However, it needs to be taken into account that his solid statistics, along with the team’s overall success, came with him as a complementary player; not quite the role Philadelphia has expected of him in his six plus year with the Sixers. 

So, if the 76ers continue to refuse to surround Igoudala with the parts necessary for both sides to find succe ss (say a legitimate go-to guy and a premier post player), then they might as well ship him out while his value is still high.

One of the most concerning out of the myriad of problems surrounding recent Sixer squads is the lack on identity; a trait that extends from leadership.  Just look at how the culture of the Celtics changed when thai2ey added Mr. Intensity, Kevin Garnett.  Andre Igoudala has no distinguishable identity and thus neither does the team that looks to him for leadership.  For all his basketball abilities, Igoudala is not a leader, and at this point it would be simpler to ship him out than to try to continue to build around him, which has proven unsuccessful thus far. 

A trade scenario could potentially pan out well for both involved parties, as Igoudala’s combination of athleticism and defensive abilities could serve well as a second fiddle somewhere.  Depending on the deal, the Sixers could open up cap space for future free agents, or acquire draft picks which could be used to stack the squad down the road.  Either way, the time has come for the two to part ways.  As it is obvious that what they have is not working, a separation seems to be the best option for the future of the franchise. 



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In His Own Words: Bruce Bowen

With the NBA season in full swing the San Antonio Spurs are once again looking like a contender. However, there is one glaring difference between past Spurs championship teams and the squad the Spurs are suiting up this season: The presence of defensive rock and cluth-shot specialist, Bruce Bowen. Bruce harassed, terrorized, intimidated, and straight shut down the NBA's best scorers for the better part of the past decade en route to helping the Spurs to three titles during his tenure in San Antonio, while also fitting a 500 game starting streak in there somewhere. Bruce retired from the League last summer after being shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks and is fresh off enjoying his first full season away from the arena.

Unlike with a lot of other players, my decision to retire wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, so it’s not some kind of sudden shock. It was actually something that I’bowen1ve been planning for four or five years. Part of it was being away from my family, which would have been the case for me to play another year [referring to the fact that he was traded to Milwaukee and would no longer be living and playing in San Antonio]. I’m the father of two young boys, so that meant there was going to be separation. Its different when you travel and you come back home, whereas if I’m on another team completely, I just didn’t want to deal with the process of being away from my kids and my family, so as I said, I had prepared for this, and I thought that it was the right time.

It is definitely different, but I’m so busy now and have other areas of my life that I get to focus on, like spending time with my family, so, so far I view retirement as a good thing. But, there are aspects of the game that I will miss, mainly the camaraderie you develop with your teammates; playing with the same guys for years, you know. During the season you spend more time with your teammates than with your actual family, so they kind of turn into a family. Trust me, I don’t miss training camp and I don’t miss practice. It’s funny because I’ve had a routine for so long, like during the day taking a nap and having your pregame meal. Now it’s just a bi-product of okay, let’s see, it’s four o’clock, what am I going to do right now? It’s interesting how you don’t necessarily understand how the real world operates because you’re so conditioned to a particular system.

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of three championship teams, and those of course rank high amongst my fondest memories of my time in the League, along with getting a chance to play with some of the players I’ve played with. You know, David Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year; that is something that I could not have dreamt of, and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to play with someone of the character of David. Then you talk about San Antonio, we spent the most time with each other in the process of winning those championships as well, and those are some more fond memories there; being amongst those guys. It’s the relationships that you create in the League that are lasting, you know, you may come and go to different teams and things like that, but what it’s really about is the camaraderie and the relationships you might build along the way.

When I first came into the League, playing defense was the only way I could get onto the court, so my dedication to defense was a bi-product of me wanting to be on the floor. I felt like, you know, call me crazy if you’d like, if I’m actually on the floor then Ibowen2 might have the opportunity to make big shots, and I think that’s what players would like to do to be a part of a championship-caliber team, have the opportunity to make big shots, and put your stamp on the game. So I guess part of this dedication to defense came from me just being a kid loving the game of basketball and understanding that sometimes you need to do whatever you can in order to get out onto the floor. I maximized the most out of my talent. Everybody is blessed with different talents and sometimes guys tend to want to do all of these other things when it is not their destiny. I appreciated the game. I understood that it was not my right to play, but it was an honor to play the game of basketball. Here it is, you got people fighting over in other countries just to protect our freedom and I get to play the game of basketball. Being that I get that opportunity, I’m trying to make the most out of it, which allowed me not to take the game for granted. This attitude fueled my dedication to defense as well as the [500] straight game streak.

I think part of people’s interpretation of my play as dirty is that I was an aggressive player, and how could you not be in the game, especially going up against some of the guys that I would go up against night in and night out. So I’ve grown thick skin for that stuff quickly because I understand it’s something that they have to do, as far as people telling a story, and nothing I could do would change people’s opinions if that’s what they already thought. One year they were talking about how I couldn’t shoot and then I came out and lead the League in three point field goal percentage. But nothing was ever said about that because people already had their thought processes about what I was as a player. So after a while that stuff doesn’t bother me because I understood if they’re sitting up there whining and complaining about me, then I must be doing something right in this game. A few coaches have said, yeah Bruce is dirty if you’re playing against him, but he’s a player that you’d love to have and that’s all that matters to me. See, you never heard Michael Jordan call someone dirty, even though the Pistons during that time were hard fouling him, he never called them dirty. The true competitors of the game, they just compete; they don’t say anything about anybody else, they just compete, and that’s what it’s all about. So it’s all about whose saying these things; you take it with a grain of salt and keep moving.

Speaking of Michael Jordan, he was, of course, the hardest player I ever had to guard. But other than him I think Michael Redd was probably the toughest because he was left-handed and I only saw him twice a year, so he created more problems for me because of his ability to get off his shot quickly. Also he was awkward as far as where his release point was for his shot. You know, a lot of people might think Kobe would be the toughest, but that wasn’t the case. I basically knew what Kobe was going to do night in and night out, as far as the individual, but I didn’t see Michael Redd as often as I did Kobe, so there were more surprises with Michael Redd than there was with Kobe.

Outside of the NBA I spent a little time playing ball in France, and at this point I don’t really like the decision from guys that decide they want to skip college and go overseas. My thought process is what happens if you have a career-ending knee injury, canbowen3 you go back to school then? At least going to college you will start the process of learning how to take care of yourself and get an education. There’s so many things that you learn in the aspects of just going out and being able to pay your bills in college. You hear so many bad situations about players today that end up spending all their money the wrong way and it makes you wonder, what kind of guidance did that individual have? And a lot of them don’t have any guidance, but they want to stop right there and use that as an excuse. In my opinion you can’t use that as an excuse because there are times that you learn things with smaller amounts of money, like college. You know in college is all you have left is $200 after paying all your bills, you better get out and get some groceries; you can’t afford those twenty dollar dinners every night or you are going to come up short. I just think there are so many life lessons in college in learning how to be responsible and I wish guys wouldn’t skip that process of life because they’re speeding through trying to accomplish the goal of playing in the NBA. I believe if it’s meant for you it will be there in the right time, but I can’t make that decision for them.

At this point, I’ve been happy to move on. I have three championship rings and I keep them in my closet. I don’t need to wear them. As some folks have said, in time history will show what you have done, and that is so much of the truth. So I think more than anything else, my legacy, if there is one, should just be that I’m one who maximized the most out of his potential, and when he was on the floor he gave it a hundred and ten percent.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Banner Blueprint

Maybe they didn’t consider the repercussions.  It’s likely that they were just far more concerned with championships than consequences; the Larry O’Brien trophy can be blinding.   Surely when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston in 2007 to collectively chase a championship, they did not anticipate the massive affect their movement, and resulting success, would have on the structure of the League. 

Had they lost that year maybe things would be different.  Failure in the Finals would have led to a multitude of conbb3cerns about the ability of three superstars to coexist, regardless of how “dedicated” they claimed they were to winning.  Falling short could have served as a warning sign to future players to not attempt to construct such a union; a warning that three superstars are not meant to be united.  Yes, it’s safe to assume that the NBA landscape would be vastly different had the Lakers bested Boston.  Instead, the Celtics were successful, and their 2008 banner hangs as a blueprint for all championship-hungry superstars searching for immediate gratification. 

At the time I was happy for Boston’s Big Three.  Each one had dominated individually for the better part of a decade, leaving everything on the floor for their respective franchises.  They had all piled up massive miles on their NBA odometers and had begun to see the window of opportunity slowly shutting.  So when they decided to collaborate to chase a championship, their decision was met with support rather than cynicism and second-guessing.  It seemed that each was individually deserving of a championship and in order to put themselves into the best possible position to achieve that goal, each had to sacrifice, at least stats if not stacks, making the whole thing seemingly acceptable.

Three years later however, with a potential perennial powerhouse stationed in Miami, and rumblings from several other marquee superstars about fomb3rming similar alliances, the initial Big Three’s union is looked at in quite a different light.  LeBron led the charge, and now it seems that everyone else is interested in developing their own “super team,” and from a competitive standpoint, who could blame them?  Does Carmelo really think that himself, J.R. Smith, and Kenyon Martin can contend with the stars in South Beach?  Of course not, but what happened to winning on your own accord; bringing a title to your team, rather  than following one to another franchise? 

Doesn’t anyone in the current crop (Kobe excluded) have that alpha-dog gene; that killer instinct that makes you want to be the best, and beat the best?  Mike had it, and that’s why we loved him.  He was embraced because he brought championships to Chicago, rather than going championship chasing.  Not that Mike had the same opportunities available to him, as today’s players wield much more power, but him teaming up with a rival like Larry Bird seems almost unimaginable. 

If this Miami Heat mega-team attains even a sliver of the success that is expected of them, expect the stacking team trend to continue, a scary sign for anyone who likes their stars spread across the NBA landscape rather than stacked on a few super squads.  Thanks Boston.