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12-01-2003, 01:28 PM
Size really does matter in the NBA

The funny thing about trends is that there always seems to be one when you need to explain a perplexing problem. Five weeks into the regular season we've discovered two truths that appear to be dominating the outcome of the 2003-04 NBA season.

No. 1: If you want to be a top 10 team, you better have a serviceable-to-dominant big man to play somewhere in the paint.

No. 2: Buyer beware. Of the 10 worst teams in the league, all of them are suffering the effects of a bad contract or trade gone sour. All of them.

Insider breaks down the most intriguing story lines from Week 5, including that reign of big men, an astounding number of good deals gone bad, and the latest on the Bulls-Raptors junk swap.

Size really does matter: People can trumpet Baron Davis or Allen Iverson all they want for MVP this year. Their individual success on the court certainly warrants it.

But if you want to know the real team MVP all you need to know is this: He stands 6-foot-10 or taller, grabs around 10 rebounds a game, blocks two to three shots a game and intimidates the hell out of anyone that gets in his way.

Teams have been claiming for years that one good big man equals two or three great little guys, and the first month of this NBA season tends to bolster that argument.

Of the top 10 teams in the NBA (albeit a subjective top 10), all of them have at least one decent big man playing either the four or the five. Let's break it down for you.

1. Lakers -- Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone
2. Pacers -- Jermaine O'Neal
3. Kings -- Brad Miller, Vlade Divac, and Chris Webber
4. Mavericks -- Dirk Nowitzki
5. Pistons -- Ben Wallace
6. Hornets -- P.J. Brown and Jamaal Magloire
7. Spurs -- Tim Duncan, Rasho Nesterovic
8. Rockets -- Yao Ming
9. T-Wolves -- Kevin Garnett, Michael Olowokandi
10. Nuggets -- Marcus Camby, Nene

In fact, there are only two teams that are even sniffing at the top 10 -- Philly (9-9) and Seattle (8-6) -- that don't have a big man really worth writing about.

Having a decent big man doesn't guarantee you success (see the Bulls and Eddy Curry or the Cavs and Zydrunas Ilgauskas), but not having one is suicide.

Now you know why Rod Thorn blew all that guaranteed money on Alonzo Mourning this summer. Or why the Kings overpaid for Miller, the Knicks were obsessed with Dikembe Mutombo and Kiki Vandeweghe threw caution to the wind last year and drafted two raw big men over more proven college stars.

Why else do you think Pistons GM Joe Dumars passed on Carmelo Anthony for Darko Milicic? If Darko were 6-foot-7 (like Anthony), Dumars would've grabbed Melo in a heart beat. But the chance for Darko to turn into one of the guys listed above makes the reward worth the risk.

Buyer Beware: The other trend that really stands out is how many bad teams are suffering from a bad free-agent signing or trade.

Whether a GM overpaid, a tragic injury sidelined a key player, or a team just misjudged a guy's talent, one thing is pretty clear -- there is little margin for error in the NBA these days.

With a hard cap, strict rules on trades and free-agent signings, the looming luxury tax and little financial relief for teams that slip up, one bad move can haunt a franchise for years.

Several GMs have been quietly petitioning the league for a change in the collective bargaining agreement that would essentially allow franchises to recover more quickly when they make a catastrophic mistake.

Nicknamed the "My Bad Rule" by at least on current GM, the change would allow teams to essentially waive one bad contract a year from their books. While the team would still be on the hook for the money owed the player, the "My Bad Rule" would erase that salary from the cap and any luxury-tax ramifications.

It's pretty unlikely David Stern will go for the rule -- it essentially blows a pretty major loophole in the salary cap -- but if you're a fan of a team handcuffed by a bad deal, it would be manna from heaven.

Take a look at the 10 worst teams in the league and you'll start to understand why a rule change may not be such a bad idea:

29. Magic -- Grant Hill is collecting $13.3 million this year for wearing a foot cast.
28. Cavs -- You think Jim Paxson wouldn't like to renege on that $13 million over five years he gave Ira Newble?
27. Clippers -- Donald Sterling finally opens the vault and Elton Brand promptly goes on the injured list with a broken foot
26. Hawks -- Alan Henderson is taking home $7.7 million this year.
25. Heat -- Eddie Jones and Brian Grant are making a combined $24.3 million this season. That's more than half of the Heat's $46 million payroll.
24. Bulls -- The Bulls finally got rid of Jalen Rose, but how many remember that they gave up Ron Artest and Brad Miller to get him in the first place?
23. Wizards -- From Kwame to Stackhouse to Laettner, none of it makes a lot of sense.
22. Knicks -- Where do we start? Houston, Van Horn, McDyess, Eisley, Weatherspoon, Ward, Anderson ...
21. Celtics -- Vin Baker is a nice story, but he ain't worth $13.5 million. Ditto for Raef LaFrentz.
20. Raptors -- Traded away two bad contracts and got one horrible contract back. How long before Rose is a thorn in Glen Grunwald's side?
19. Nets -- Between Mourning and Mutombo, Georgetown's going to have to rename its gym the Rod Thorn Arena.

Is Glen Grunwald through? News that the Raptors and Bulls finally agreed to a six-player swap on Saturday didn't come as a big surprise to anyone.

Other GMs around the league know when one of their one is trouble, and several GMs have been predicting for weeks that Grunwald was on the verge of doing something rash.

The trade of Antonio Davis, Jerome Williams and Chris Jefferies for Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter breaks just about every trade rule in the book.

GMs are never supposed to trade centers for swingmen, especially when the team doesn't have a big man to step in and fill the void. Yes, Davis is 34 and is slipping fast, but watching Megke Bateer lumber in the middle will have Raptors fans pining for the good old days when Davis used to pout in the paint and cast aspersions on the Canadian educational system.

Jalen Rose
Toronto Raptors

16 13.3 4.0 3.5 .375 .765

Second, bad contracts are always bad. But at least Williams' terrible contract came with a caveat -- the fans absolutely loved him. No one wearing a big foam Raptors finger gave a damn what Williams made. Rose on the other hand ... I'm sure it was hard to find a fan in Chicago who shed a tear at the news Rose was heading to the frozen tundra. Everyone cared about what Jalen made (especially Jalen), and Grunwald is going to get sick of hearing about it for the next three seasons.

The Raptors did get better on paper. Rose and Marshall should give Vince Carter the scoring help he asked for. But there's a reason Jim Paxson is doing back flips in the United Center right now. Rose's and Marshall's stats look fine, but their contributions are often so shallow that the bad too often outweighs the good.

If Rose starts pouting about Canada or, even worse, if Carter starts complaining about his new teammates (remember he re-signed with the Raptors partly on the condition that they re-sign Davis and Williams), Grunwald will be looking for a new job by Christmas.

Are Jamal Crawford's days as a point guard over? Bulls GM John Paxson can talk all he wants about the veteran contributions he expects from Davis and Williams on the Bulls. For all of the hustle and toughness they'll give the team, they won't be able to replace the 22-plus points a night that Rose and Marshall delivered. Who will pick up the slack? The real winner, or loser (depending on how you look at it) in the trade was Jamal Crawford.
Jamal Crawford
Point Guard
Chicago Bulls

14 14.5 2.6 5.1 .418 .871

Bulls sources claim Paxson has become increasingly convinced that Crawford's best position is at the two. Crawford has shown a knack for putting the ball in the basket, and Paxson's just not convinced he can get his teammates involved the way he thinks a point guard should. Obviously, the Bulls couldn't afford to put Crawford and Rose on the floor together -- they were just two much of a defensive liability. With Rose out, Crawford will likely be the Bulls' starting two guard with rookie Kirk Hinrich taking over at the point.

While Crawford will welcome the minutes (and the extra shots), don't expect him to be entirely happy about the move. He still feels strongly that his future in the league is at the point, and he won't relinquish it without a fight. Crawford will still get minutes at the point spelling Hinrich, but it appears his days as the Bulls' starting point guard are finally at end.

Joe Johnson vs. Penny Hardaway, Round 3: The longest position battle in the NBA keeps getting longer. Penny Hardaway will not die. For the past two seasons, Frank Johnson and Suns GM Bryan Colangelo have been ready to anoint Joe Johnson as heir to Penny's two-guard position. And, for the past two seasons, the Suns have continued to play better basketball when Hardaway, not Johnson, was on the floor.
Joe Johnson
Shooting Guard
Phoenix Suns

15 12.5 5.1 3.8 .397 .792

So it comes as no surprise that after two stellar performances this weekend by Hardaway off the bench, the Penny-Johnson debate is beginning to rage again in Phoenix.

This time, however, Colangelo has the ammunition he needs to back Johnson. While plus/minus stats don't mean everything, the numbers do tend to indicate which player combinations do well when they're on the floor together.

Through their first 14 games, the Suns have outscored their opponents by 1.3 ppg when Johnson is in the game and have been outscored by 7.8 ppg when he's off the floor. The opposite holds true for Penny. The Suns are actually getting outscored by 2.2 ppg when Hardaway is on the floor and are outscoring their opponents by 1.3 ppg when he's on the bench.

The honeymoon's over for Flip: One week after we wrote that the Sonics' Ronald Murray was the only player in the league to have just one game under 20 points, Murray went and had three under 20 this week. To make matters worse, his poor play on the defensive end got him benched Saturday against the Rockets.

"Ronald needs to work harder on the defensive end of the floor," coach Nate McMillan said after the Sonics were blown out by the Jazz. "Defensively, he can play better than that. He needs to give us something defensively."

McMillan started Antonio Daniels, a defensive stopper, in his place.

Defense wasn't Murray's only problem this week. He averaged just 10.7 ppg on 28 percent shooting for the week.

"I'm missing some shots," Murray said. "That's nothing. I'm not worried about that. We've got to worry about the defense out there. It's not the offense; it's the defense out there."

News of the Weird

If you predicted any of this before the start of the regular season, you're a witch.
The World Champion Spurs (9-8) wouldn't be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

The Nuggets (10-6) and Jazz (9-6) would have a better record than the Spurs, Timberwolves, Rockets, Blazers and Suns.

The Magic (0-9) would be the only team in the league winless at home.

Zach Randolph (11.2 rpg) would be out-rebounding Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and all but four other players in the NBA.

The Spurs' Emanuel Ginobili (15.4 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2 spg) would be averaging more points, rebounds and steals than Tony Parker (14.6 ppg, 3 rpg, 4.9 rpg, .8 spg) and nearly as many assists.

The Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko would rank in the top 20 in five different categories: field goal percentage (10th), steals (8th), offensive rebounds (16th), blocks (9th), free-throw percentage (11th). Just to highlight this guy's remarkable versatility, check out his stat line from the Jazz's win over the Sonics this week: 11 points (4-of-7 shooting), 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, 4 blocks in 37 minutes.

Peep Show
By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Monday, December 1
Updated: December 1
8:04 AM ET

Chicago Bulls: Forgive Scott Skiles if he seems a bit giddy about being back in the head coaching profession. "I think you can make an argument that we may be the biggest team in the East once Tyson comes back, and certainly one of the most athletic," Skiles said in the Chicago Tribune. "We should be a great rebounding team and get really physical." This, despite the slow start, the firing of Bill Cartwright and the recent trade the jettisoned Jalen Rose. "I expect us to win," Skiles said.

New Jersey Nets: Rod Thorn never said he was a doctor. Just the general manager for the Nets doing the best job that he can. "Some things haven't worked out as well as I would like, but overall I think it is going very well," Thorn said in the N.Y. Daily News. "No one makes all right decisions. You are dealing with people, tendons, knees and all those things. It is not always easy." Recently, Thorn has come under fire for roster decisions that included the injured Todd MacCulloch, the recently retired Alonzo Mourning and already traded Dikembe Mutombo.

Seattle SuperSonics: You win some in the NBA and you lose some. But you don't have to tell that to Brent Barry. "It's a matter of not letting the highs get too high or the lows too low," Barry said in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. "Early on in the season, we're playing well. Our team is 6-2, now all of a sudden, there's expectations and there's talk about, 'How good can this team be and where can this team go? Well, the fact of the matter, it's a very long season. Within the confines of the past two weeks we can say the same thing: We've lost to some teams we probably shouldn't have lost to, the effort has been a little uneven. But it's not like we're all of a sudden some pile of waste." The Sonics are now 7-6 but this isn't what worries their coach. "Early, I've just looked at a young team and said, 'They will make mistakes. You give them a little rope to learn,' " Nate McMillan said. "But we're not. We're not learning. Or we don't seem to show it. I think you'v! e got to tighten that rope a little bit with handing out minutes to players who are not somewhat earning those minutes, continue to make the same mistakes each night."

Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James not only missed college but maybe a few high school math classes, too. "A 24-point lead in the NBA doesn't mean anything," James said in the Lorraine Morning News. "NBA teams are going to make their run. We knew that was going to happen. I would have rather been blown out by 50 than to lose like this." The star rookie was upset about his team's most recent come-from-ahead defeat that pushed its losing streak to six. "(The losing streak) is a direct correlation of (Carlos) Boozer (being out)," head coach Paul Silas said. "With him, we're not on a (six-game) losing streak. We miss his presence."

Indiana Pacers: The Pacers may have just been smashed by the Lakers, but you'd have a hard time selling that to Indiana general manager Donnie Walsh. "I am truly surprised we're off this fast," Walsh said in the Indianapolis Star. "Don't get me wrong, I still think we have a lot of improvement to make as a team. But we've been good defensively, and the last three or four games we've really done some good things offensively. If we can continue and improve off of that, I think we can be a really good team." After all, the Pacers still have the best record in the league at 14-3 despite having a new coach. "We had some legitimate struggles in the preseason," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We didn't play particularly well and we had injury situations to deal with. To be honest, we've been fortunate. We've had a lot of close games and we've won most of them. But we have had continual improvement, so it's worked out well so far."

12-02-2003, 12:11 AM
That's interesting that this article only mentions Dirk as a Maverick's elite level big man. Methinks Antoine and Antawn have both staked something of a claim to that distinction over the last few years...

Thanks again for posting this, thebac.