Posted on: May 18, 2010 6:26 pm
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t able to come up with anything on the court to stop Lamar Odom from having a dominant 19-point, 19-rebound performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. So on Tuesday, he came up with an excuse.
“I’m not giving him no hype,” Stoudemire told reporters before the Suns practiced at Staples Center. “He had a lucky game.”
Among other things, Stoudemire is known for his quotability. In a “Twitterview” with NBA media this week, I asked him how far Cleveland would’ve gone if he’d been traded there instead of Antawn Jamison. True to form, Amar’e came through with a one-word answer: “Championship.”
Beautifully done. He may or may not be right about that. But when it comes to Odom, he’s dead wrong.
And foolish for saying it.
As exhibited in the Lakers’ 128-107 victory in Game 1 Monday night, Kobe Bryant is going to get his numbers in this series. With 40 points – 35 of them by the end of the third quarter – Bryant enjoyed his sixth straight 30-point playoff performance. He seemed to relish the Suns’ strategy of trying defending him with 37-year-old Grant Hill. Bryant called that challenge “enjoyable,” and by that, he meant, “Get this old man away from me before I embarrass him.”
Whether it’s Hill or Jason Richardson or Jared Dudley, the Suns have no one who can check Bryant with any semblance of success. For that reason alone, this is going to be a long series for the Suns – or a short one, depending on how you look at it.
But to a man – including Stoudemire – the Suns have insisted that the key to challenging the Lakers is preventing Bryant’s supporting cast from hurting them. This did not go well in Game 1, with Odom’s monstrous game leading a 44-35 scoring advantage by the Lakers’ suspect bench over the Suns’ reserves, who were supposed to have been a key strength going into the series.
“[Bryant] is gonna score,” Stoudemire said after the game. “That’s one thing he’s gonna do. We know that, so we’ve got to make sure we try to contain him a little bit more. But we’ve got to close out the other guys. We’ve got to do a better job on their role players.”
The two sources of consistent production for the Lakers during their title defense have been Bryant and Pau Gasol. Andrew Bynum has been in and out of the box score. Derek Fisher has made some big shots and has held up better than anyone anticipated against three prolific point guards – Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and now Steve Nash.
But during their run of postseason success in the past five years, Odom’s performance has been a tipping point for the Lakers. When he plays well, the Lakers usually win. When he plays like he did Monday night, the Lakers almost never lose.
With the possible exceptions of Bryant and LeBron James, Odom is as physically gifted as any player who’s come into the league over the past dozen years. It’s often a question of motivation, but there’s no doubting his talent.
“I’ve played with Lamar for a long time, so I wasn’t impressed,” said Ron Artest, who grew up playing with Odom on the playgrounds of Queens, N.Y. and in AAU ball. “I’ve seen him do that all the time.”
So why any opposing player would want to ignite the one area of Odom’s game that is lacking – his motivation – is beyond me. Stoudemire should know better than to rattle Odom’s cage, and he should know better than to say his performance Monday night was an aberration.
The Lakers are 9-2 this season when Odom has 15 or more rebounds, including a 17-point, 19-rebound game against Houston in January and a 10-point, 22-rebound effort against Portland in February – both wins. In his postseason career with the Lakers since the 2005-06 season, the Lakers are 7-2 when Odom has 15 or more rebounds. Four of those nine games have come against the Suns, and Odom scored in double figures in all four, as well. In those games, the Lakers are 2-2.
But even if Stoudemire forgot about those games, surely over the past five years he’s noticed at least a handful of Odom’s 47 games with 15-plus rebounds since he put on a Lakers uniform. If not, maybe he’s seen highlights of one or two of his 174 double-doubles as a Laker. During the same five-year period, Stoudemire has 28 games with 15-plus rebounds and 156 double-doubles. How many of those were luck?
After throttling Stoudemire and the Suns’ supposedly improved defense in Game 1, Odom wouldn’t engage him in a war of words Tuesday.
“I’m not gonna do that,” Odom said. “Not when it comes to basketball.”
As for his performance, Odom said, “It was good. Could be better. Hopefully I can have another lucky one.”
Posted on: February 13, 2010 3:29 pm
DALLAS -- Steve Nash's eyes lit up Saturday when recounting his experience as a torch-bearer during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in his native Canada. It was as though he were running a fastbreak and had spotted Amar'e Stoudemire alone under the basket.
But despite the thrill of rejoining Canada's Olympic movement for a day, Nash said Saturday he's still done playing for Team Canada in international competition.
"I'd love to play in the Olympics again, and I'd love to play for my country again," Nash said. "But it comes a point where it’s diminishing returns. You can't be everything to everyone. And the amount of time it takes me to prepare to play, I’d have to prepare most of the summer just to play at the standards that would be expected of me on the Canadian team. If I did that, there’s a pretty good chance I wouldn’t make it through an NBA season or be able to live up to my responsibilities in that respect. I gave over a decade to the Canadian team. I love it. I wish I could do it all. But I want these young kids to get a chance to build a team and a generation of basketball players that can exceed the expectation that we’ve set."
Nash called carrying the Olympic flame "the most moving experience of my life. ... I was feeling a sense of connectivity with Canadians -- in B.C. Place, our whole country proud in that moment to have the torch, to have my torch lit was a moment where I really felt connected to all Canadians. I had a huge smile on my face, a huge rush of emotion because of that pride."
It only gets better for Nash, who will start the All-Star Game Sunday alongside former Mavericks teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
Posted on: January 21, 2010 11:39 am
Edited on: January 21, 2010 7:48 pm
The All-Star starters were revealed Thursday night on TNT before the nationally televised rematch of the Cavs' Christmas Day blowout of the Lakers.
Thankfully, Tracy McGrady wasn't one of them.
All hail Steve Nash, who passed T-Mac in the final weeks of voting and will start alongside Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference backcourt in the Feb. 14 All-Star Game in Dallas. McGrady, who has played all of six games this season, won't be faced with the inglorious decision of having to decline an invitation he didn't deserve.
In another fan-voting quirk that was less controversial than a T-Mac starting nod would've been, Allen Iverson will start alongside Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference backcourt. The other East starters: Dwight Howard, LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett (assuming he's healthy).
Joining Kobe and Nash on the West's starting five: Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Tim Duncan, who passed Dirk Nowitzki in the final three weeks of voting.
"No Dirk as a starter?" Mavs owner Mark Cuban tweeted. "Time to change the rules for voting."
McGrady carried a 2,375-vote lead over Nash into the final three weeks of balloting, which was conducted by fans via paper, online, and wireless voting. If Nash hadn't passed McGrady, the right thing for T-Mac to do would've been politely decline.
It wouldn't have cost him a dime, either. A source with knowledge of the situation said McGrady has no All-Star bonus clauses in his contract, which pays him a league-high $23 million this season.
It's better for everyone this way. McGrady is trying to come back from microfracture surgery. More to the point, he would benefit immensely if the Rockets were somehow able to trade him before the Feb. 18 trade deadline. McGrady didn't need to risk his health or his already suffering reputation by trying to dust himself off for a few meaningless All-Star minutes.
I don't have a problem with Iverson starting; he's been a fan favorite his entire career, certainly deserves it based on his body of work, and -- this is important -- is actually suiting up for the Sixers, albeit at a remarkably reduced rate of effectiveness.
In spite of Nash's fortunate comeback, I agree with Boston's Ray Allen and would be in favor of tweaking the voting system to divide the say-so among fans, media members, and players. The players, more than anybody else, know who's deserving and who isn't. The coaches should retain their ability to select the reserves.
On one hand, you don't want to take away the fans' investment in the game, which after all is at least partly -- or mostly -- for their entertainment. But the All-Star Game badly needs a dose of legitimacy. Gone are the days when Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins could dominate All-Star weekend with their exploits in the dunk contest. That exercise long ago became a farce, and once again none of the marquee stars will participate this year.
So instead of complaining, I offer a solution. Not the only solution, but a start. Instead of voting by position, the fans vote for any 10 players they want from each conference. The players do the same. Their votes are weighted equally, and the top eight in each conference make the team. All 30 coaches vote to determine the 10 starters. The East coach and West coach fill out the roster with four reserves each.
The media? I'm not sure whom to count as media anymore, so let's leave us out of it. We'll just write about what happens.
Perfect? No. Somebody will get snubbed; they always do. But it's better than people constantly texting the word McGrady until they almost succeed in making a mockery of what is supposed to be a serious honor.
If there are any better ideas out there, you know what to do.
Posted on: December 31, 2009 1:38 pm
Tracy McGrady is a man without a team. Unless you count the Western Conference All-Star team.
When the third returns in the 2010 All-Star balloting were released Thursday, McGrady had passed Steve Nash and moved into second place among Western Conference guards behind Kobe Bryant. Paper balloting will continue until Jan. 10, while wireless and online voting concludes Jan. 18. The All-Star starters will be announced Jan. 21.
Oh, the delicious irony of McGrady starting the All-Star game in the state of Texas while he's gotten himself banished from the Rockets for complaining about playing time. As the New York Times' Jonathan Abrams needled on Twitter, is McGrady going to wear a Rockets jersey, or one from Attack Athletics, the Chicago gym where he trains with Tim Grover?
Should T-Mac somehow hold off far more deserving candidates like Nash, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Brandon Roy, the best part will be this: The All-Star Game could very well be his last in a Rockets jersey. The game will be played Feb. 14 -- four days before the NBA trade deadline.
If McGrady is voted into the All-Star starting lineup in a season during which he's played all of 46 minutes, should fans be banned from casting All-Star votes? Nah, let the fans have their fun ... the All-Star Game is meant for their entertainment. However, it's worth discussing whether All-Star appearances should be dropped as an official statistic for consideration for such honors as induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame. McGrady starting for the West and Allen Iverson for the East at a time when both are running on fumes would provide plenty of proof that such accolades are meaningless.
Posted on: November 11, 2009 11:50 am
Edited on: November 11, 2009 2:01 pm
The Suns have risen again -- there, I said it, I couldn't help myself -- by matching the franchise's best-ever start at 7-1. It's early, but they've gone from being a dysfunctional team on the verge of blowing up to one of the best stories early in the 2009-10 season.
GM Steve Kerr readily admits that he's to blame for the failed Shaq experiment, but he's erased that mistake and reinvigorated the roster faster than many thought possible. He resisted the temptation to blow it up and start over, something that would've clinched Steve Nash's departure and devastated the organization's ability to remain financially viable. With a meddling owner, Robert Sarver, whose proverbial eggs are in the ruinous banking and real estate baskets of the economy, this was no time for a rebuilding project. So Kerr signed Alvin Gentry, a Mike D’Antoni disciple, to a three-year deal, re-signed 37-year-old Grant Hill, and signed Nash to a two-year, $22 million extension.
"The most important thing to us was that we had good leadership and good mentors for all our young guys," Kerr told me. "So re-signing Grant and signing Steve to the extension was by design. First, they're still really good players. In Steve’s case, he's still an All-Star and in Grant's case, he’s still close to it. So not only do we have two good players, but they're as professional as they come. So we feel like we're making this transition towards the future in a really healthy way."
Here's what else you need to know about the resurgent Suns:
At 37, Hill is averaging 13.2 points per game and a team-high 8.6 rebounds. He and Jason Richardson (5.2 rebounds per game from the two-guard spot) have answered Gentry's call for the wing players to make up for Phoenix's lack of front-line size by crashing the boards.
Amar'e Stoudemire is still feeling his way after offseason eye surgery, but he's averaging 19 points and 8.5 rebounds while vowing to commit himself on the defensive end. Nash is, well, Nash; he already has five games with a dozen or more assists, including the 20 he dished out against Philadelphia on Monday night.
One of the byproducts of a soul-searching, 46-win, non-playoff season was the development of some reliable depth. Leandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson, and Jared Dudley form a versatile and effective second unit. Dudley already has made 11 3-pointers, nearly a third of his total in 68 games last season with Charlotte and Phoenix. The Suns have high hopes for first-round pick Earl Clark, whose locker has been strategically placed next to Hill's.
After wandering aimlessly through the first four years of his career in New York and Portland, Channing Frye has been a revelation. The Suns knew he could shoot when they signed him to a two-year, $3.8 million deal. They didn’t know he'd shoot with this kind of range. Frye is 22 for 50 from 3-point range and says the Suns' coaches "get mad when I don’t shoot."
Kerr, not a bad marksman himself back in the day, recalls being blown away in August when Frye showed up for workouts and pickup games.
"His first couple of years in New York, he was great from 21, 22 feet," Kerr said. "That would've been fine for us, too. What happened was, he came in and started working out and playing pickup games and was draining 3s from the wing and the top. We were like, 'Wow, this is more than we bargained for.'"
Frye's hard work paid off. He was up at 5 a.m. for weeks at a time during the early part of the summer, working on ball-handling and mid-range shots on the move from 6-9 a.m. He was back in the gym from 5-6 p.m. to shoot "nothing but 3s." Now he’s hitting nothing but net.
It’s way too early to draw conclusions, but through eight games, the Suns are back to playing the style that made them so entertaining and successful under D'Antoni. It's not exactly seven seconds or less, but Phoenix is getting 39 percent of its attempts in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, according to 82games.com. That's comparable to the 43 percent achieved in 2006-07, the last time they got past the first round.
The Suns are averaging a league-high 110.9 points per game -- 114 per 100 possessions -- which is virtually identical to the 110.2 and 114 in '06-'07. Yes, defense is still an issue. Phoenix is allowing 105.8 points per game, which is sixth-worst in the league and nearly three points more per game than in D'Antoni’s next-to-last season before bolting for New York.
After a 4-1 road trip that included wins over Miami and Boston, the Suns return home Wednesday night to face the struggling Hornets. Then, it's off to L.A. to face Kobe and the Lakers on the back-end of a back-to-back.
The Suns ultimately will struggle against teams with size, and their style still doesn't translate to playoff success. But given the cards Kerr dealt himself when he reached for Shaq, Phoenix's resurgence is nothing to scoff at. At least the Suns are relevant and fun again.
Having played for Phil Jackson, Kerr believes that basketball teams take on a certain "life force." After a lifeless 2008-09, the Suns have been resuscitated.
"We got panned by a lot of people for not going young and breaking it up and starting over," Kerr said. "But we've seen a lot of teams do that and fail, too. If you go too young in this league, then you’re rudderless. You have guys fighting over shots and minutes, no hierarchy, no totem pole, and that's a recipe for disaster."
Posted on: November 8, 2009 5:31 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2009 6:21 pm
WASHINGTON – It’s bad enough that the Wizards have lost four straight games, dropping to 2-5 at the start of a season that began with such high expectations. When your coach and best player can’t even agree on what’s wrong, that’s a sure sign of more losses to come.
Yes, it’s early, and the Wizards are without two key players, Antawn Jamison and Mike Miller. And yes, Sunday’s 102-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns came in a game that tipped off at 1 p.m. ET, an anomaly that elicited a smile and guffaw from the suddenly talkative Gilbert Arenas after the game. One thing you don’t want to do in the NBA is roll out of bed and start chasing Steve Nash and the Suns around.
The Wizards are too talented to be scuffling like this for long, and when they get healthy, they’ll be right about where people expected them to be – a team in the mid-40s in wins seeded somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But not if they don’t erase some bad habits that simply have no place in an offense constructed by Flip Saunders. And not until everyone understands what the problem is.
The good news is that defensively, the Wizards are no longer a pushover. I wasn’t as impressed with their defensive performance against Phoenix on Sunday as Saunders was, but maybe he was trying to mix in a little positive in his post-game analysis of an effort that produced only 15 assists – five of them by Fabricio Oberto. That was two fewer assists than Nash dished out all by himself.
Saunders was right when he described the Wizards’ offense as “stagnant.” Arenas was right when he said the team is still “trying to find out where we are, what we are.” The common ground ended there.
“We’re just trying to figure out how we can put the ball in the basket, what coach wants from each player,” Arenas said. “That’s what we’re struggling with.”
Once again on Sunday, the ball wasn’t moving, the cuts weren’t crisp enough, and there was little trust in the system that Saunders brought here. The typical offensive set consisted of someone getting the ball on the wing, dribbling toward the basket, and shooting. Yet listen to Arenas’ assessment: He thinks the Wizards aren’t shooting fast enough.
“I say it’s when we have shots open, we’re not taking them,” Arenas said. “We’re trying to do the extra dribble, or get closer to the rim, or pass the ball an extra time when we could just take the first shot. If you look at a team like Phoenix, the reason they don’t have turnovers is they’re launching ‘em. They’re letting it fly so they don’t have a chance to turn the ball over.”
Contrary to Arenas’ assessment, the Wizards’ brass knows the opposite is true. The Wiz need to play more structured offense and pass the ball more, not less. Under previous regimes, bad habits ruled. Saunders’ efforts to eradicate those bad habits have been met with the kind of resistance that results in a team with three 20-point scorers (when healthy) hitting the 100-point plateau only twice in seven games.
“We’ve just got to get better acquainted with one another and believe in one another,” said Caron Butler, who needed 20 field-goal attempts to score 19 points against the Suns. “But it’s early.”
It is, but the Wizards already are exhibiting some tell-tale signs of a team with fragile chemistry. After a deplorable 102-86 loss at Indiana Friday night, Jamison unleashed a profane tirade in the locker room. It was first reported that Jamison overturned a fruit tray in the process, but there were indications on Sunday that the perpetrator might’ve been Saunders, who wouldn’t fess up. Either way, somebody had better nail the postgame spreads to the table if the Wizards don’t get on the same page soon.
Jamison and Miller will be back in another week or so from their respective shoulder injuries, and things will get better. Until then, it doesn’t get any easier Tuesday night in Miami against Dwyane Wade. At least that game tips off after the sun goes down.
Posted on: July 10, 2009 3:59 pm
Edited on: July 10, 2009 4:54 pm
Grant Hill considered plenty of issues in deciding whether to re-sign with the Suns or accept offers from the Celtics or Knicks. Paramount among them is Hill's expectation that Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire will be joining him.
"It's important for Grant that Steve be there next year," Hill's agent, Lon Babby, said on a conference call Friday. "I know they have had conversations, so I think he’s quite confident that the team that’s coming back next year is going to be a highly, highly competitive team. And obviously, that would include Steve Nash."
As for Stoudemire, who has been discussed as a possible trade chip in discussions with Golden State that emerged on draft day, Babby said, "That's certainly a concern. I wouldn't say (Hill) has been given any assurances, but I think the expectation is that (Stoudemire) will be there bext year. He has opt-out after next season, but I don’t think there’s any reason to believe he’s not going to be there next year."
Nash, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, is in discussed with the Suns about an extension that would keep him in Phoenix.
Hill, 36, accepted a one-year deal with the Suns for $3 million with an option for a second year at $3.2 million, Babby said. The Knicks, who hosted Hill in New York earlier this week for a free-agent visit, offered a one-year deal at the full mid-level exception of $5.9 million. New York also offered a two-year deal with an option for the third, but it was not at the full mid-level for all three years. A longer deal with Phoenix also was discussed, but Hill preferred the 1-year deal with an option, Babby said.
Hill also met with Celtics coach Doc Rivers at least once, spoke numerous times with team president Danny Ainge, and also spoke with Ray Allen, who also is represented by Babby. Like the Knicks, Boston offered all it was able to under the rules, but the Celtics only had the bi-annual exception of about $2 million per year available.
"He thought long and hard about the alternatives," Babby said. "He did not come to this decision easily or lightly. Each of those three places had a lot to offer and very different things to offer. That’s what made it challenging."
Posted on: February 5, 2009 10:52 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2009 8:59 am
We told you Thursday with Jason Horowitz that there have been significant developments since then, and that the Suns' brass were considering firing coach Terry Porter, or trading Stoudemire or Shaq.
Now the Suns have reached a crossroads: Everything is on the table -- a coaching change, a big trade, and another new direction.
Sources have told CBSSports.com that the organization is poised for a major relaunch before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, with the first option believed to be a trade that would divest cash-strapped owner Robert Sarver of massive obligations to Stoudemire or O'Neal.
Frustration in the front office and locker room boiled over last Saturday night, when the Suns lost to the Bulls at home. Sarver, president Steve Kerr, coaches, and two players -- Steve Nash and Grant Hill -- met behind closed doors for almost an hour after the loss. But two people familiar with the situation said that meeting was overblown; essentially, it was an extension of a series of soul-searching sessions under way recently. Sarver's tolerance for losses both basketball and financial have been seriously diminished by the economic downturn; he's in the banking business, not the best business to be in during the current financial catastrophe.
Failing to assert themselves as a serious contender, the Suns are seeking to bring back young talent on rookie contracts, draft picks, and if possible, expiring contracts in any deal for Stoudemire or Shaq. Things seemed to stabilize after the closed-door meeting when the Suns blew out Sacramento by 48 points in their next game. But inconsistency has been their only staple; Phoenix followed up with an inexcusable loss to Golden State, which exemplified the run-and-gun style that was good for 58 wins a year the past four seasons under Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix.
Those days are over, and it appears that it's time to tear things down and start over.