Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Basketball is back: Hectic schedule awaits teams

We have basketball and we have lots of it.

That's the first thing to take from the new schedule released by the NBA on Tuesday, detailing the schedules for all 30 teams.

There are some very scary stretches for all, and every single player will have their fitness and endurance tested to breaking point and beyond by the vast number of games shoehorned into the next four months.

The once-dreaded back-to-back set of game will become standard fare for teams this year and the nightmarish back-to-back-to-back run of games can be found at least once in every team's calender. Four games in five nights and even nine games in twelve will happen more often than not and there will be almost no nights without some sort of basketball being played somewhere.

Let's take a look at some of the quirks of this incredibly compressed and inevitably chaotic schedule:

Chicago's ridiculous road-trip: Every November, the Bulls play a handful of home games then embark on their "Circus trip" of seven straight games on the road due to the annual Circus held in their home arena. This time around, they will play a staggering nine consecutive road games lasting from Jan. 29 into February.

Boston's tiring March: Boston are a team that will receive a lot of focus this year. How does an old team cope with a packed schedule? Does experience outweigh the negative aspects? Their biggest test without a doubt comes in March where they play 9 of 10 on the road including two stops in Los Angeles, one in New York and another in Miami. With the end of the regular season in sight, this could make or break the Celtics' playoff aspirations.

Lakers' fast start: The Lakers start on Christmas Day with a home game against the Bulls. They hardly get a chance to take a breath as they then have to take on games against Sacramento and Utah on the two days immediately after, making up L.A's only triple-header. This will quite quickly identify those players who failed to stay in shape this summer.

Miami's stay in Cleveland: The Heat will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers and then have a two-day break. What do they do? Their next game is in Indiana, so flying all the way back to Florida and back for that is pretty pointless. Do they really want to have LeBron spending that time walking the streets of Cleveland?

Bulls' run: The Bulls have one of the tougher opening halves of the season. They play seven of their first nine away from Chicago and 20 of their first 30 to boot. To compound the tiredness factor, those first 30 games will take place over just 50 nights. Good job this is a relatively young team. To counter this difficult start, their post-All Star schedule is very favourable to an end of season surge. They have just one trip to the West of more than one game and only a couple of back-to-back games.

This season is going to see some frustrating, sloppy and tired basketball. But it's basketball nonetheless. I for one am happy to be writing about these teams playing silly amounts of games instead of talking about people with lots of money arguing like children trying to get lots more money.

And a note for those who predicted that the Lockout (oops, I said it again...) would hurt the NBA. Doesn't look so true judging by the rampant anticipation of what could be the most frantic NBA season in history.

Play ball!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Basketball is back: The NBA Free Agency headaches of 2011

It's been too long.

December 9th the NBA will allow it's teams to open training camps for the 2011-12 season. It's brilliant to be able to call it a 2011-12 season and not the 2011 NBA Lockout. It's also brilliant to know that'll be the final time I use the dreaded L-word.

No more boardrooms and offices, no more lawyers and ultimatums. Just pure, unadulterated NBA basketball at the best time of the year, the off-season!

That's right, the rumor mill is back and is churning out rumors like they're going out of fashion. The biggest stories have to be the myriad rumors surrounding Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Orlando Magic's juggernaut center Dwight Howard is due to become a free agent next summer. The Magic ownership will not want to be "Lebron'd" by Howard (leave for nothing) and could look to deal him before the deadline (expected to be in March). Obviously with such a valuable commodity available, many teams in very different situations are throwing their hats into the ring.

The most notable of these teams would be the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. The trouble is that these two teams, while presenting some of the best players for Howard to play with, have very little ability to land him in in the first place. The Lakers have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That's good, but not great. Bynum is a fantastic talent but is highly inconsistent and prone to meltdowns as we saw when he hit a cheap-shot on J.J. Barea in the West Finals last season. Gasol is also a great player, but he's past his best and is absolutely not the player the Magic should look to rebuild around. The Knicks would seemingly be the ideal place for Howard to team up with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The problem in New York is that they have $40 million committed to those two players alone from next year and with the cap projected at $58 million, Howard would have to take a sizable pay-cut to create a third "Big 3" in the East. No problem, just trade for Howard instead? No. The Knicks were gutted trading for Anthony and Stoudemire and the only way they could give Orlando similar value for Howard in a trade would be to give up Anthony or Stoudemire.

That leaves Howard looking at two of the biggest markets as impossibilities. The reigning defensive player of the year could land in New Jersey in return for Brook Lopez and draft picks, but is that really a fair deal for the Magic? Lopez is good but again is no franchise centerpiece. Howard would then end up in New Jersey (soon to move to Brooklyn) playing with Deron Williams who says he might leave at the end of the season, thrusting Dwight back into a 'same s**t, different day' situation.

Could Chicago be his destination? He would be joining the league's youngest MVP, Derrick Rose. He wouldn't have to be the leading player on the team with Rose there alongside. He'd fit right in to the system the Bulls are running and, being a defensive specialist, he would gel fantastically with coach Tom Thibodeau. With regards to market size, Chicago is one of the traditional "big market cities", presenting Howard with plenty of marketing opportunities. The Magic could get a fair deal for Howard from the Bulls, the Bulls would send Joakim Noah (a Florida native and only slight step-down in quality at center), Luol Deng, another defensive specialist and just hitting his prime, they could take any other player outside of Boozer and Rose and could call it a fair deal.

That trade would leave the Bulls with Rose and a new shooting guard (Rip Hamilton on the mid-level exception?), Howard, Boozer and perhaps Caron Butler in the front court. There you have a core five that could take on and beat the Miami Heat. A Bulls' fan's dream scenario.


Chris Paul in New Orleans brings around a whole new debate before we even look at his possible destinations. The Hornets are owned by the NBA and thus by every team in the league. Trading Chris Paul, by far the most valuable player, reduces the value of the franchise for any potential new owners, calling into question the credibility of trading Paul before a new owner arrives.

Should CP3 leave, he wants to go to the Knicks. He can't, they haven't enough money to sign him off the bat and can't match his value in a trade without giving up Anthony or Stoudemire (the reasons why CP wants to go to New York in the first place). Aside from New York, there aren't many other teams crying out for an elite level point guard. One outside bet could be the L.A Clippers. They will be well under the salary cap next summer when Paul turns into a free agent and could choose to team him with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon. That would propel the Clips towards the top of the Western Conference immediately.


Next on the list of free-agent/trade conundrums is the case of Caron Butler. After playing just 32 games for the Dallas Mavericks and none since January, he is expected to be on his way out of Dallas. The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are just a select few of the teams reportedly interested in Butler's services. Where he lands is anyone's guess as there are teams who can only pay him the $5 million MLE battling against teams who can pay him anything he wants to sign Butler. He could hold the key for several teams one step below championship-favorite status such as the Bulls and Spurs.

There his rumor flying about that Denver Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo is sought after in Chicago. It's understandable as he is the perfect fit for the Bulls at shooting guard and a trade would be possible. Sending Noah to Denver in lieu of Nene leaving and in return for Afflalo is the most commonly proposed trade solution. The Bulls would then have the complete lineup for taking on Miami in the East this season.


No matter who ends up where, this season is pitching up to be another packed full of jaw-dropping moments, career-defining performances and most of all more crazy rumors than you can shake a stick at.