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thebac
02-03-2004, 02:23 PM
Anyone else having some major problems connecting yesterday and today i/expressions/face-icon-small-sad.gif

Ainge goes West Coast with the Celtics

Danny Ainge has a plan. He's confident it will have the Celtics competing for a championship in three years.

Jim O'Brien no longer has a job. He's confident Ainge's plan will have the Celtics in the cellar for the next three years and wanted to get out before the scent of losing tainted an otherwise impressive résumé.

Both Ainge and O'Brien insisted after the coach's Tuesday resignation that no one was in the wrong here.

Ainge's theory? The Celtics need an infusion of young, athletes who can get the ball up and down the floor faster. Players like Ricky Davis and rookie Marcus Banks embody what Ainge is looking for in a player. They're explosive, can score on anyone and get out and run on every occasion.


Danny Ainge is confident that an up-tempo style will pay off for the Celtics down the road.
"I have a plan that's going to work," Ainge said after O'Brien resigned. "I have a plan to build a team that is better offensively than we've been, (and) that is good defensively. But you have to have talent to win. You have to have character and professionalism to win. That's my plan, to develop that. And you have to have a coach who is the leader of that group. And you have to have players on the team that are leaders. That's all in the plan."

O'Brien's thesis? Every good team needs a strong defensive core. A good offense feeds off a good defense and he expects his players to excel on that end, before taking over offensively. O'Brien also insists his players actually know how to play. His model player? Eric Williams, Tony Battie and yes, Paul Pierce, who's turned into one of the top defenders in the league under O'Brien's watch.

"I just have more of a defensive, grind-it-out philosophy," O'Brien said after he resigned. "The issue is that Danny didn't necessarily share that view, nor should he have to. I prefer to have guys who are ready to smack you in the mouth if you try to bring the ball to the rim. I value guys like that. I have a real strong opinion that that's the way it should be. Danny, basically, wants guys who can score the ball, and that's fine. It's just not a relationship that was made for the long run, that's all."

It's tough not to sympathize with O'Brien at the moment. Since the trade that shipped Williams and Battie to Cleveland for Davis and Chris Mihm, the Celtics are 10-14 while the lowly Cavs are 12-10. That spread doesn't seem significant until you consider that the Cavs were 6-19 before the trade, while the Celtics were on a five-game winning streak and at .500.

Their philosophies may have been incompatible, but according to both Ainge and O'Brien one wasn't more "right" than the other. Of course, we're not going to let that slide. Insider did a little number crunching, broke down a few rosters and tried to get the bottom of the defense vs. offense debate that has divided a team and a much larger portion of the NBA.

DEFENSE RULES

O'Brien is right when he says defense usually rules the day. The six stingiest defenses in the NBA all belong to playoff-bound teams (Spurs, Rockets, Pacers, Pistons, Nets and Raptors). Expand it out a little further, and 12 of the top 14 defensive teams in the league look like locks for the playoffs this year.

The Heat (who are making a serious playoff push at the moment) and the Sixers are the only teams in the top 14 in fewest points allowed that are out of the playoffs at the moment. The same holds true for defensive field-goal percentage. Of the 16 teams holding their opponents to under 44 percent shooting from the field, 13 are playoff bound. The Hawks, Sixers and Cavs are the only non-playoff teams in that group.

I prefer to have guys who are ready to smack you in the mouth if you try to bring the ball to the rim.
Jim O'Brien

There's no question defense matters, unless your offense is so high-octane (read: Sacramento and Dallas) the team as a whole can survive bad defensive nights. The Mavs and Kings are the only teams with winning records despite allowing opponents to shoot better than .446 percent from the field.

That goes a long way toward explaining how the Cavs could dump their second-leading scorer (Davis), bring in two low-scoring defensive specialists (Williams and Battie) and turn their season around.

"They have three guys [Kedrick Brown, Tony Battie and Eric Williams] who have been in the playoffs, and they're defensive-minded," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Jeff McInnis is a more aggressive scoring point guard, and now they moved LeBron [James] to a wing. They're bigger, tougher, added depth and (are) a better team since the trade."

OFFENSE RULES

Of course, that's only half the story. Ainge wants the new and supposedly improved Celtics to look like two teams at the bottom of the defensive heap -- the Kings and Mavericks. Those two teams happen to rank first and second in scoring and both have great records at this junction in the season.

Expand it out a little bit, and six of the top 10 scoring teams in the NBA (Kings, Mavericks, Lakers, Nuggets, Bucks and T-Wolves) look like they're locks for the playoffs. The Grizzlies (No. 7) and Sonics (No. 4) also have a decent shot. Only the Clippers (No. 6) and the Magic (No. 10) seem out of the playoff race right now.

Offensive field goal percentage also seems to play a role. Six of the top seven field-goal percentage teams also are in the playoff hunt. The Blazers are the only team in the top seven still lagging behind.

CHARACTER MATTERS

The offense/defense debate wasn't the only thing bugging O'Brien. It's also about what type of offensive players you put on the floor. Do they do anything besides score? Do they know how to score or do they know how to win? There's a big difference. Just ask the Bulls.

One of O'Brien's biggest issues is having leaders, good locker room guys who motivate, inspire and know what it takes to win. Here is where Ainge and other GMs get blinded by talent to the detriment of team chemistry.

Davis is a great example. He's a capable defender, posts nice assist numbers and can be tough when he wants to be. But he's never played a single, significant minute on a winning team. Never. Davis knows how to score, but does he know how to win? When you consider that since the summer, Ainge has traded for a total of four Cavaliers who played on the worst team in the league last season, it's not a huge surprise the Celtics are struggling.

"The teams we had the last year or two knew how to win, and they found a way to win," interim Celtics head coach John Carroll told the Boston Globe. "And there was a reason that we won so many close games. This is a new team and [it] has a whole new makeup."

BRINGING SOME WEST COAST, EAST

While all that may be true, Ainge still insists his plan will work. Why? Right now the Western Conference has lapped the East. They've done it with athletic, multi-dimensional players who run the floor, shoot the lights out and flat-out know how to put the ball in the basket. It's no coincidence to Ainge that of the top 10 scoring teams in the league, eight are in the Western Conference. There's also no question that all eight (including the Sonics and Clippers) would be legit playoff contenders in the East.

Ainge, who spent his last gig coaching the Suns, has a West Coast bias. He likes the way they play. He knows there are only two teams in the entire Western Conference with losing records against the East. On the flip side, only three teams in the East have winning records against the West. It should come as no surprise the Celtics are one of them.

NEXT STEPS

Players like Pierce, Davis, Raef LaFrentz and Jiri Welsch are the type of multi-dimensional players who thrive in the West. Ainge has a young point guard in Banks who can push the ball at the tempo Ainge wants to play. Ainge has even discovered a center, Mark Blount, who has put up some very West Coast numbers (14.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg in his last five) of late. Now what he needs is a big break.

The Celtics' big hole is at the four. Vin Baker looks like he's done. Sunday, the Boston Globe reported the team has been unable to contact Baker. It's likely only a matter of time before Boston moves to terminate his contract. If they can convince an arbitrator the termination is legal, Ainge is looking at cap room, around $5 million, for the first time in forever. That's not enough to land a young, athletic power forward in free agency, but it's a start.

Ainge also needs to convince Blount (who can opt of his contract) that the Celtics are the place for him and needs to make sure Pierce understands the plan and has the patience to see it through.

"This team was in a situation where it could accomplish a lot, but this wasn't a situation where it was going to get any better," Ainge told the Boston Herald. "We needed to take a step back to get better without going completely off the earth, and I'm optimistic to this day that we have created more value -- trade value, flexibility with contracts, all of those things.

"We have two first-round draft picks this year, we're going to get Raef LaFrentz back, we'll have the mid-level exception to use, and possibly even a second exception because of Chris Mills, whose (approximate $6 million) salary will come off the books after this year. I really believe that by the opening of training camp, we'll be as good as we were last year."

Good but different. Ainge was OK with that. O'Brien wasn't. Both can't be right. It remains to be seen whose vision proves more so.

Around the League

Joe Johnson
Shooting Guard
Phoenix Suns
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
49 15.6 4.4 3.8 .427 .796



Suns future looking brighter: After two straight years of Joe Johnson dominating summer leagues only to hit the regular season and start tripping over his feet, it's great to see Johnson finally living up to his promise. The trade that sent Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the Knicks was really about giving the Suns a ton of cap flexibility. But the side effects of the trade have been downright amazing. Johnson has turned from an inconsistent role player into a star almost overnight.
Look at the numbers in December: Playing alongside Marbury and Haradaway, Johnson averaged 12.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3 apg on 39 percent shooting. In January, with Marbury and Hardaway launching up shots for the Knicks, Johnson is averaging 20.9 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.7 apg on 47 percent shooting. He's doing all of this with just 6.5 more mpg. And he's getting better. In his last five, those numbers have improved to 24.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 5.8 apg on 49 percent shooting from the field.

"He's really playing good basketball," coach Mike D'Antoni told the Arizona Republic. "He's putting up All-Star numbers. I don't know if anybody has been playing better than him the last three weeks."

With those type of numbers, who needs Kobe Bryant? Johnson seems to have nailed down the two guard position. With Milos Vujanic set to come over next summer and Leandro Barbosa coming along, Phoenix's point guard position should be set, as well. Instead, the Suns would be better off trying to find a nice big man (Mehmet Okur, Jerome James or a vet like Vlade Divac) with that projected $6.5 million in cap room. If they can find the right piece, there's no reason they couldn't be right back in the playoff hunt again next year. Only this time, they'll be below the luxury tax threshold, have two nice first-round draft picks and another promising prospect in 18-year-old big man Maciej Lampe.

The Knicks still sound like they're happy with their end of the deal, but the Suns came out of this trade with a very, very bright future.

Kwame Brown
Power Forward
Washington Wizards
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
46 9.9 7.0 1.5 .470 .745



Kwame coming on strong: Bulls GM John Paxson may want to take another deep breath before deciding to write of Eddy Curry or Tyson Chandler. Out of nowhere, Kwame Brown has begun to show a major pulse for the Wizards. No one knows exactly why or how, but over the past month Brown has put up some pretty nice numbers for a 21-year-old. Since being inserted in the starting lineup 11 games ago, Brown has averaged 14.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg on better than 50 percent shooting. Brown was out of the starting lineup on Sunday with a broken nose but surprised the Wizards when he asked into the game anyway. He played 14 marginal minutes, but his determination shocked the hell out of everyone.
"I decided to go because that's how I am," Brown told the Washington Post. "If I'm still walking I want to go." No doubt someone would have had to pick Michael Jordan up off the ground had he heard that statement coming from Kwame's mouth. Has the kid finally begun figuring out the NBA?

Says one veteran NBA scout, "He's really starting to play well. He's always had the talent to dominate. It was just figuring out the game that tripped up Kwame. He's still only playing at about 50 to 60 percent of his potential, and look where that's getting him. I think he's going to be really good in another year or two. Eddie's done a great job with him."

Speedy Claxton
Point Guard
Golden State Warriors
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
44 9.1 2.6 4.1 .432 .789



Speedy makes Van Exel expendable: How did Nick Van Exel go from the guy who was going to lead the Warriors to the playoffs to trade bait in just a little more than three months? Injuries and attitude have been a big part of it. But the Warriors brass also has been blown away by how well Speedy Claxton has played in Van Exel's absence. Over the last eight games, Claxton is averaging 15.4 points, 6.5 assists, 2 turnovers and 2.9 steals in 34.9 minutes. The fact the Warriors are 5-3 during that stretch hasn't been lost on anyone, either.
"Speedy has done a great job," coach Eric Musselman told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He has a great attitude. He's one of the easiest guys I've ever been around to coach. He has a great demeanor about him. He kind of brings the same thing every day, like a steady approach. When he plays well, we play well. He adds tempo to our game, whether he starts or comes off the bench."

With Van Exel ready to return to the lineup, Musselman had the unenviable duty of telling the veteran he had lost his starting job and would now come off the bench. Van Exel is saying all the right things for the moment, but management wants to get rid of him before things turn sour again.

Hawks should think twice about Doc: Rumors that the Hawks are on the verge of signing Doc Rivers in the dual role of coach and GM are running rampant. Is it a good idea? Rivers quietly criticized Magic GM John Gabriel about his player personnel decisions during his tenure in Orlando -- but the evidence suggests Doc wasn't so hot at the job either. He flat out refused to re-sign Darrell Armstrong this summer, despite Armstrong's rep in the locker room as the heart and soul of the franchise. While the Magic crashed and burned without any leadership at the point to open the season, Armstrong has been flat remarkable in New Orleans. Armstrong recently filled in as a starting guard for eight games and averaged 16.9 ppg and 5.8 apg during the stretch.

The fact Rivers fell in love with players like Steven Hunter, Ryan Humphrey and Jeryl Sasser at the Chicago pre-draft camp also came back to haunt the franchise. The Magic passed on players like Tayshaun Prince, Carlos Boozer, Zach Randolph, Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas to get those three. Could you imagine how different the Magic's future would be had they taken any combination of those three players over the last two drafts? Rivers has insisted management picked those players, but a good source in Orlando insists the opposite was true. Rivers wanted those players, and management tried to accommodate him. Either way, while the evidence suggests Rivers is an excellent coach, his GM skills leave enough doubt that the Hawks should really hold out and bring in someone else to run the front office.


Miles makes an impact in Portland: The Blazers are 4-1 since acquiring Darius Miles. Is that a coincidence? Since joining the team Miles has a plus/minus rating of +17.3. The next closest starter in Portland is Derek Anderson at +4.1. Miles' 9.6 ppg and 4.1 rpg may not jump out at you, but he's making a big difference in Portland right now.

Evilmav2
02-04-2004, 05:43 AM
Thanks for posting this thebac! We'll just have to see how well that Danny Ainge Three Year Plan goes in coming seasons...