Editor’s Note: As we try to move past a thrilling 2012 All-Star Game, its time to look into the crystal ball to discuss the top stories for the second half of the NBA season. TSFJ’s EIC Eddie Maisonet and ESPN Truehoop blogger and editor of A Wolf Among Wolves Myles Brown decided to have an epic e-mail exchange to talk about everything from Dwight Howard’s future, Rubio vs. Irving, and the NBA Finals. This will be like the Bombers vs. Birdmen, except (hopefully) no one gets shot at halfcourt. Enjoy the timeless photos of Above The Rim while we get down on the discussion of the NBA’s second-half storylines.
From: Eddie Maisonet
To: Myles Brown
I have reviewed your statistical mumbo-jumbo that suggests Ricky Rubio’s point god skills are superior to that of Kyrie Irving. Yes, I understand that Rubio has added more wins to the Timberwolves ledger (you homer) and, yes, I understand that Rubio isn’t as much of a defensive liability than I had initially accused him of being (Rubio’s second in steals per game). However…I will contend that Kyrie’s overall skillset is stronger than Rubio’s.
Better athlete, better ability to get to the rim and be a proficient shooter and, possibly, a better ability to be a leader. Remember that Kyrie doesn’t have anything close to an all-star on his roster compared to Rubio (Love), unless you want to give Varejao’s mop some love. Kyrie’s still getting into his groove, as he hasn’t really played a ton of organized basketball in the last two years. He’s just getting started, and he will be an All-Star in 2013.
But Rubio is a damned good point guard, too. Your rebuttal, sir.
From: Myles Brown
To: Eddie Maisonet
I know some people have an aversion to numbers, but they do actually mean things. When he’s on the court, Ricky Rubio has assisted on almost 40% of the Wolves baskets this year. That is a particularly high number on a team with such limited players. Yes, Minnesota does have an All-Star in Kevin Love, but just as his teammates, Love is operating with a narrow offensive skill set. Anyone who would counter with Kevin’s 25 PPG, ranked only behind Kobe, LeBron and Durant, needs to actually watch the games.
Love isn’t particularly strong in the post, he’s clearly not overwhelming anyone with his athleticism and isn’t entirely comfortable putting the ball on the floor. Yet, Rubio continually finds Love in his comfort zones, making him a threat to score from anywhere on the court. This isn’t to say that Kevin hasn’t made any progress of his own; just that Ricky has made things much easier for him. Rubio has also turned an afterthought of a player in Nikola Pekovic into the favorite for Most Improved Player (dependent on your feelings about Jeremy Lin). Pek utilizes his strength and some improved footwork to establish position inside, but many of his baskets are thanks to Rubio’s pin-point delivery. Which is why Pek is ranked by Synergy as the second most efficient pick-and-roll player in the league.
Rubio also leads the league in fourth quarter assists; not just among rookies, but the entire league. For all the talk of his turnovers, few of them occur in the fourth, when he expertly controls the game with a keen sense of pace, spacing, and a host of other intangibles necessary to effectively lead a team. Obviously, I haven’t seen as much of Kyrie as I have of Rubio, but what I have seen gives me the impression that Irving lacks these natural instincts in comparison to Ricky. Irving doesn’t have the stronger skillset; he’s merely a better scorer. Rubio averages far more assists, rebounds, and steals. Anyone who would also cite the Minnesota’s pace allowing bigger numbers should also take note that Rubio averages less turnovers. By the way, Rubio isn’t a defensive liability; he’s the better defensive player. More of those silly numbers will show you that Cleveland is actually worse defensively as a team with Irving on the floor.
And any talk of Irving having better leadership capabilities is specious, at best. Especially when you’ve already noted that he hasn’t played much in the last two years. Rubio has been a professional since, what, 15? Cmon. Irving deserves credit for carrying a weaker roster, and I wouldn’t be upset with him winning Rookie of the Year, but it’s a closer contest than many folks are willing to admit. Including you.
From: Eddie Maisonet
To: Myles Brown
Sounds like to me you did a lot to discredit the players on the Timberwolves, but I digress. I’ll figure out some wager we can work out, depending on who wins the Rookie of the Year. I’m thinking the loser will have to get the Martell Webster monstrosity of a haircut; thoughts?
Here’s what I need to understand. With the trade deadline coming up in a little over two weeks, do we actually think anyone will make a move? I know there are some obvious players that need to be put out of their misery, I got five. (Begins to count on fingers.)
1. Steve Nash
2. Steve Nash
3. Steve Nash
4. Steve Nash
5. Steve Nash
Is Steve Nash destined to fade into the abyss on the Siberia Suns, or will he wise up and realize that there’s no reason to be that loyal to a franchise like the one Robert Sarver runs? Being loyal to the Suns and Sarver is like being a store manager who was loyal to the Circuit City franchise. Moreover, the myth of Nash’s legacy is still in question to some, and one more title run with a winner would do wonders for his resume and his place in point god history.
Oh, are there any other trades that I’m missing? I apologize as I got excited because Monday Night Raw is coming on in a few…*****
From: Myles Brown
To: Eddie Maisonet
First of all, I’m not confident enough in anything to wager my dignity with that haircut. I’m assuming the only reason Martell has it is he lost a bet his damn self. No, thanks.
Anyway, I certainly didn’t want to discredit the Wolves. I only intended to acknowledge their limitations. Let’s be honest, aside from Rubio and Adelman (Derrick Williams hasn’t had enough minutes or enough of an impact to qualify), this is the same team that won 32 games in the past two seasons. Combined. How much credit do they really deserve?
And speaking of, I have absolutely no sympathy for Steve Nash. Regardless of the questionable MVP awards, Nash still received enough credit to find himself amongst the all-time greats with his play in Phoenix. Granted, the Suns ran into unexpected roadblocks on their way to Finals contention; Amare’s injury, those questionable suspensions in the Spurs series, Amare’s departure and so forth, but ultimately, he had more chances than most to chase down a championship.
More importantly, when it became clear that the foundation was crumbling without Amare, D’Antoni & Co., Nash chose to stay in Phoenix. He could’ve opted out years ago, and management has repeatedly proclaimed they’d acquiesce if he wanted a trade now, but as recently as today, Nash is not only willing to play out the remainder of his contract in Phoenix, he’d reportedly re-sign there again. The same penny-pinching franchise that traded away Rajon Rondo (granted, before any of us knew what he’d become) and watched Joe Johnson walk away.
You can’t help those who don’t want to be helped. Maybe it’s not an issue of misplaced loyalty, but a matter of comfort and stability for his family. Who knows? Besides, given the size of his contract ($12M) in addition to his age (38) and limitations (recurring back problems, defensive liability), it’s difficult to imagine a trade with any contender that would actually benefit both parties. So let’s just remember the good times and salute his current productivity (still leading the league in assists. Wow).
As for any other noteworthy trades, there’s still the uncertainty surrounding our furry friend, Pau Gasol, another player who demands more of a bounty anyone is willing to meet. And, of course, there’s Dwight Howard, who I swear I’d trade to the Iraqi National Team just to make him shut up. This is a trade deadline wrought with more than the usual tension, due to impending free agency and the opportunity for a few teams to cash in on a quick championship but, ultimately, I don’t see anything major happening.
But since we’re on the subject, much as I loathe Dwight’s “I’d Play For You…And You….And You….And You…” tour, he is a top-five talent and probably worth the acrimony. Problem is the Lakers aren’t willing to make the only suitable offer for him. Andrew Bynum simply isn’t enough. He’s injury-prone, underdeveloped, probably overpriced and has a bit of an attitude problem. I know L.A. is still feeling some bitterness from the nixed CP3 trade, but regardless of who’s running things over there, they need to let their championship dreams go for this year, and focus on their future. They should throw in Pau Gasol and hope for the best, right?
Then again, it won’t matter if Dwight doesn’t actually want to sign there and play second fiddle to Kobe. What do you think he wants? What should he want?
From: Eddie Maisonet
To: Myles Brown
Your hate for Steve Nash is real, man; good grief.
The funny thing about the Lakers is that I actually think they are the team that scares the Thunder the most when it comes playoff time. If you just strip the roster down to Kobe, Pau and Bynum, then you’re looking at probably the second-best top-three players in the League. No way do I give up Pau and Bynum for Dwight Howard, unless….
….the Lakers had the evil plan of getting Deron Williams in the offseason. Then we’ve got a different story.
(Side note about the Lakers. How absurd is it that they’ve got a combined $21M tied up in 2012-13 into Metta World Peace (out), Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and Luke “I’ve got my next job lined up as an assistant coach at Memphis” Walton? MWP and Blake are on contract until ’13-14! That’s unacceptable.)
As far as Dwight is concerned, as much as we like to slander and ridicule LeBron James for his inability to win the big game, when are we going to ask that same question to Dwight? Many would argue that having the best big man in the league is more valuable than having the best wing player, and yet we don’t hold Dwight to any real standard? The man has received a pass for years, and the ability to blame being on Orlando has officially come to an end this summer.
Speaking of the summer, can you imagine the amount of lobbying that could go down in London during the Olympics? Kobe will be there, Deron Williams will be there, Derrick Rose will be there (you know, because Chicago could *cough* amnesty Carlos Boozer *cough*), and even Dwyane Wade and LeBron will be there. Oh, we act like Miami wouldn’t use Bosh as a sacrifical lamb to bring in Dwight? We all know better than that.
I’ll always say that Carmelo played his cards wrong and shot his wad too early. LeBron played them magically (and many say he schemed this move in the ’08 Olympics) and didn’t destroy his new team in the process. Dwight needs to play the LeBron role (pending the Magic don’t trade him), and let the chips fall where they may in the off-season. Lets just hope he’s smart enought to do that.
Three teams Dwight should go to: New Jersey, Golden State and Houston
Speaking of three, I’ve got the MVP race narrowed down to three guys. LeBron, Durant and Chris Paul. Is that list too generous, or am I forgetting someone? What about Derrick Rose?
From: Myles Brown
To: Eddie Maisonet
Lack of sympathy doesn’t equate to hate, but let’s move on.
Whatever problem it is we think LeBron has, Dwight has it in spades. We don’t know what he wants. I doubt he does either. For all intents and purposes, Orlando has been ‘his’ team since his arrival. However, this has largely been based on his defensive reputation which, of course, is deserved. Wherever he goes-or stays-he’d like things to remain that way, but presumably for all the wrong reasons. For the credit, for the marketing opportunities, for the sake of his ‘brand’ (because let’s face it, second fiddles don’t get brands). What he fails to acknowledge, though, is that as long as he is ‘The Man,’ he’ll continue to run into the same problems: His offense isn’t enough and most of all, he’s too damn nice.
The challenge of leadership is accepting the blame and embracing the tough decisions. LeBron had trouble adjusting to becoming the league’s new villain, and Dwight doesn’t care to wear the black hat. Thing is LeBron was villainized because an assortment of things; chiefly, our expectations, the method of his departure and his chosen destination. Melo has carried the weight of such expectations now that he’s arrived in New York, too, partially due to it being New York, but also because he forced his way out and is now required to produce. Dwight seems to want no part of that pressure, and if that is the case, then he never was ‘The Man.’ Because the air will get a lot thinner than that during the climb to that championship he supposedly craves.
Dwight likes to laugh and make us laugh with his corny jokes and awful impressions. He likes to win and the accolades that come along with it. But he doesn’t like to accept reality. Bill Russell is the only center to assume leadership responsibilities with defensive prowess. That was eons ago in NBA time. Nowadays, thanks to Michael Jordan, we expect our leaders to prove themselves by making buckets and beating buzzers. Dwight can’t do that for a number of reasons. He’s practically chained to the basket, his footwork is clumsy, he still can’t pass out of a double team and, of course, he can’t make his free throws. Those are not the qualities of a hero.
If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll accept this and find someone to compensate for his faults, whether they receive top dog status or not. Deron Williams might be enough, be it in Brooklyn or even Dallas, but the wise money is on playing out Kobe’s last contract and knowing that there’s never a shortage of superstars waiting to join him in Los Angeles.
Now as far as MVP goes, that name from Los Angeles has to go. The Clippers may be appointment television, but that does not an MVP make. With the Lakers just a game behind even after all their struggles, we’re still not even sure if the Clips will win their division. Sure, Chris Paul has transformed the culture of that team and will undoubtedly lead them to the playoffs, but is there a team in the league he couldn’t do that for?
Those other two names are the only considerations right now, and who we choose is largely dependent on one thing: How much do we still hate LeBron James? He’s having a ridiculously efficient season, he’s clearly the leader of that team now and Miami, until proven otherwise (again), is still the league’s best team. He’s the best player in the world and, aside from a few snafus, he’s playing like it. But are we going to deny him another MVP until he wins a title? If so, fair or not, then Kevin Durant is next in line. All KD has to do is keep his current production up, and it could be his. Because as much pressure as many of us put on LeBron James to succeed, we fail to admit that we’d still rather watch someone beat him again. And again.
Some of it is hypocrisy, much of it outright hating, but more than anything, Durant’s MVP could be borne of our desire for what LeBron supposedly robbed us of: A true rivalry.
From: Eddie Maisonet
To: Myles Brown
Dwight Howard’s career path has always mimicked Moses Malone, in my personal opinion. Dominate the boards, dominate the rim and score around the bucket. We’d all love to see Howard’s personality resemble the type of leadership of a Bill Russell, but that might be too unrealistic to bestow upon any player’s shoulders…even Dwight’s huge ones. Orlando looked at Dwight Howard and basically tried to replicate the Hakeem Olajuwon Houston Rockets model from 1994-95. For a four-to-five year run, Orlando got the most out of it, including a trip to The Finals. That time has come and gone, as the payroll has become exorbitant and the talent surrounding Howard have peaked. You’re either building to win a championship, or you’re effectively trying to rebuild. Orlando is doing neither.
It’s a damn shame that we’re talking about MVPs, and Dwight Howard’s name never really comes up in serious contention. He might literally be the most valuable player in the League, and if Howard leaves Orlando like LeBron left Cleveland, we could have another version of Peyton Manning and the Colts on our hands in Central Florida.
Chris Paul deserves major MVP consideration if they do keep this up, along with the fact that the uprising of the dilapidated and ragged Clippers should garner some actual recognition and hardware. 12 more wins and they’ll have as many as last year’s squad, and they’ve only played 32 games together in a shortened season. As long as Vinny Del Negro doesn’t mess it up, I don’t see why this can’t continue.
Of course, the lead dogs that will take us down the final stretch will be Durant and LeBron. Derrick Rose should be in this discussion as well, but as long as Miami’s winning as much as (if not more than) Chicago, then LeBron’s statistical superiority should trump Rose’s. It’s for that same reason that, as much as I love my Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron’s do-everything night-in and night-out performance warrants the top MVP consideration over Durant. It’s no fault of Durant, as his leadership and prolific scoring has OKC in an envious position, but LeBron’s just doing….more.
I’ll end this email chain here, as we’ve just eclipsed 3,000 words, and if anyone decides to actually read all of this, then they probably hate us by now.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”