Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Guy Can Dream, Can't He?

How about Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Ty Lue and the No. 11 pick for Kobe and Radmanovic? The Hawks then grab Mike Conley with the #3 pick (although I'm not sure that he's the right point guard to play with Kobe because the primary attribute that a Kobe sidekick needs is dead-eye shooting ability to make opponents pay for double-teams) and have the following starting lineup: Conley, Kobe, Childress, J-Smoove, Zaza. Or how about this: the Hawks use the #3 pick on Al Horford because they're admitting a mistake on Shelden Williams and then give Salim a greater role now that that they don't need a true point guard with the ball going through Kobe on most possessions, thus giving them a starting five of Salim, Kobe, J-Smoove, Horford, Zaza with Childress in the sixth man role. Either of those teams is a playoff contender in the East. If Lebron can get the Cavs close to the Finals with his crap-tastic supporting cast, then couldn't Kobe get the Hawks close with a supporting cast that isn't great now, but is getting better and might be dynamite in two years? A few other thoughts on the fantasy that will never happen:

1. The 800-pound elephant in the room is whether Billy Knight has the authority to make an enormous deal for a player like Kobe, given the legal wrangling going on between Belkin and Atlanta Spirit. Is it possible, from a legal perspective, that Atlanta Spirit would want or need Belkin to sign off on this deal?

2. Notice how the two players taken after Josh Childress are the potential centerpieces for Philly or Chicago to use in acquiring Kobe? Oy. (And I say this as an unabashed fan of Childress's game.)

3. I have absolutely no problem with Kobe demanding a trade. Mitch Kupchak has been inept in his efforts to surround Kobe with talent. Kobe will turn 29 before next season starts and he knows that he is reaching the second half of his prime years. Why should he be forced to waste those years playing with Chris Mihm and Smush Parker? Bryant has leverage because he's a terrific player who always plays hard; why shouldn't he use that leverage? The counter to this defense of Kobe has always been that he forced Shaq's departure in the first place, but it's now looking that that might not be the case, but instead, the Lakers floated that rumor as cover for their real motivation, which was to get rid of Shaquille before paying a guy with a suspect work ethic and his prime years in the rearview mirror a max deal.

4. It wouldn't be a Bill Simmons column without taking a shot at Atlanta as a "moribund NBA city," but look at his explanation that LA is a terrific destination for NBA free agents because of "the weather, the women, the wealth and the Hollywood scene." Insert the word "Black" in front of "Hollywood" and which city are we describing? Atlanta isn't a choice NBA destination right now because the team hasn't won since the Clinton Administration. (If I can figure out a way to blame George Bush for the Hawks, I surely will. Someone get Cindy Sheehan on the phone, stat!) Kobe would change that and he's smart enough to know that this will be a good NBA market with a winning team and a major star.

4a. After taking the obligatory shot at Simmons, I need to mention that his discussion of prior All-NBA players traded in their primes is very compelling. There's almost no way to overpay for Bryant, although the Joe Johnson-Josh Smith-#3 pick deal I saw somewhere yesterday comes close.

5. To throw more cold water on the possibility of Bryant coming to Atlanta, Chad Ford's suggestion that the more likely result is that Jerry Buss will fire Kupchak($) seems solid to me. The only way this wouldn't work is if Bryant sees the damage done by Kupchak as long-term and he feels impatient.

6. One positive thought: given the Hawks' (understandable) struggles in recent years to sell tickets, Kobe has more economic value to them than he does to just about any other NBA franchise.

7. Jeff Schultz's attempt to argue that the Hawks should not try to acquire Bryant are beyond weak:

In the culmination of a three-year franchise meltdown since Shaquille O’Neal was drop-kicked to Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers heard Bryant demand a trade on a radio talkshow.

On. A radio. Talkshow.

Now that’s class.

Yeah, that's a reason to decline to make an effort to acquire one of the top five players in basketball: he made a trade demand on a sports talk radio show. That has EVERYTHING to do with building a winning hoops team.

This isn’t about what kind of athlete Bryant is or what he could bring to a basketball team. It’s about what he has become. After three championships with the Lakers, he wanted to be The Show. Now he’s Sideshow Kobe.

Right, because most people would not react when they bust their rears for 80+ games every year, only to see their inept management base their plan for improving the team on the maturation of a 19-year old post project, all while declining every opportunity to bring in players who can help the team win now.

But there is also little question that the Bryant-O’Neal feud significantly played into the situation. Their relationship drove a wedge into a team that could’ve won more championships. It drove Phil Jackson to grab a candle and a harp and run for the hills. Bryant’s actions set the stage for O’Neal’s departure.

If you still don’t believe that, consider Jackson’s book, “The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul.” He referred to his relationship with Bryant as “psychological war.”

Jackson also wrote that he became so frustrated with his star that he approached general manager Mitch Kupchak in January about trading him. The key passage: “I won’t coach this team next year if he is still here. He won’t listen to anyone. I’ve had it with this kid.”

And Jackson believed what he wrote so much that he came right back to coach the Lakers after a one-year hiatus. And who was the first person to call Kobe to talk him down off the ledge after he made his trade demand? Phil Jackson.

You think: “Bryant and Joe Johnson. Wow!” But any Lakers trade demands probably would start with Johnson and the third overall pick.

Don’t. Even. Think about it.

The Hawks have a chance to do something right (draft Mike Conley Jr.) and go up.

If Jeff Schultz was writing in Phoenix in 1992, he undoubtedly would have written about how Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry were a good nucleus and if the Suns could just pair them with a good draft pick, they'd be on the road to success.

What annoys me most about Schultz's column is that he simply ignores Bryant's merits as a basketball player, namely that he scores 30+ per game and is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the NBA to boot, not to mention the fact that no one has ever accused him of not playing hard. Schultz ignores the most important evidence and instead relies on the pop psychology factors that ought to be at the back of the bus when evaluating a potential Bryant trade. Unfortunately, that's where we are in modern mainstream sports journalism. The juicy bits from Phil Jackson's book and the choice of medium in announcing a trade demand are more important than 32.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.4 assists every game. Let's just have psychologists run teams instead of basketball pros.


LD said...

Think bigger!

I played around with the ESPN trade machine for a while yesterday and found this one to work...

Give up: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum
Get: Pau Gasol, Stromile Swift, the Hawks #11 this year

Give Up: Gasol, Swift, Alexander Johnson, the #4 pick in this year's draft
Get: Zach Randolph, Speedy Claxton, Andrew Bynum, the Hawks' #3 pick in this year's draft.

Give Up: Zach Randolph, Jarrett Jack
Get: Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Lorenzen Wright, a future lottery-protected #1 pick from Atlanta.

Give Up: Marvin Williams, Lo. Wright, Josh Childress, Speedy Claxton, the #3 pick, the #11 pick, a future lottery-protected #1 pick
Get: Kobe Bryant, Alexander Johnson, Jarrett Jack, Memphis #4 pick in this year's draft.

The Lakers would do it if they were rebuilding entirely (get younger, trim a good amount of payroll, pick up a lottery pick).

The Blazers would create a perfect team for Oden to join (they'd give up luxuries, fill a need at swing forward, trim payroll for future extensions).

The Grizzlies would do it to trim some payroll, get tougher upfront, and have more freedom to take the best player available in the draft. (though I think this is the one side of the deal that would be trouble - might need Memphis to dump another salary).

Atlanta would instantly become a playoff and finals contender. Shaq/Wade and Kobe would be in the same division (with ideal TV viewing times). The Hawks would give up probably the most in this deal, but get the best player and finally fill the crucial PG position. And how would anyone defend Kobe and JJ on the court at the same time?

Your new Hawks starting 5:

Jarrett Jack
Kobe Bryant
Joe Johnson
Josh Smith
Zaza Pachulia

Bench: Alexander Johnson, S. Williams, Al Horford/Corey Brewer/etc., Salim Stoudamire, T. Lue (need the expiring contract to extend Smith), and some backup SG they pick up somewhere.

Sure, it won't happen. But what if?

And I'm just glad Simmons included Atlanta among the list of possible destinations. At least we're not Charlotte, Memphis or New Orleans!

peacedog said...

You know, that's just crazy enough to actually work LD.

Simmons has on a couple of occasions proposed trades like this and they're usually just like what you offered up - seemingly crazy at first but when you start looking at the details it makes alarming sense. I think multi-team deals like this always look insane at first because the NBA is the only league where they tend to happen in a meaningful fashion (it seems like we typically get 1-2 a decade).

The Hawks could get some sort of big man at 4 I presume and that'd be great. Unfortunately, I don't see how we can pull this off without giving away JJ. Also, I feel like the Lakers just aren't getting enough to make it work.

Great idea, though.

LD said...

Yeah, the Lakers wouldn't get back equal value, but I took that into consideration - if Kobe's forcing them to make a trade, they won't get equal value. Dirk Nowitzki straight up isn't happening. Deng, Gordon, Thomas and a pick isn't happening. Teams that are forced into a trade always take less value, because they have little bargaining power.

I think Gasol, Swift, a lottery pick (and getting a lower cap figure) is probably 80-85% value for Kobe and Bynum. And that's about what teams should expect when a superstar requests a trade.

Sauce said...

The single reason that I can't stand Simmons' columns is his shots at the Atlanta market. "Moribund NBA city"? If you take the attendance for both teams over the past five years and divide it by the number of wins each team had in the regular season, then the Hawks average 544 fans per win and his beloved Celtics average 457 fans per win and that's with the Celtics making the playoffs three times in those five years. In those same five years, the Celtics have been in the bottom half of regular season attendance three times. Get your story straight Bill, the franchise might be moribund, but not the market. We support our crappy team better than you support yours.

Anonymous said...

From Chad Ford's latest mock draft (insider):

"#3, Hawks, Brandan Wright, UNC

The skinny: In our last mock draft we posited that the Hawks essentially had to take point guard Mike Conley.

Well, the intel out of Orlando is that they are leaning toward the athletic Wright and will sort out the point guard situation with the No. 11 pick.

Wright has one of the biggest risk/reward factors of anyone in the draft. And I'm just not sure how well he fits on a team filled with such similar players as Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. "

Same mock has the Hawks taking Crittendon at #11. Shoot me now.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Wright and Crittenton will be the final pieces of the puzzle in Knight's "Playoffs 2012 or bust!" masterplan.