Points in the Paint 03.25.09: The Stretch Run Edition
Hello there everyone and welcome to an overdue edition of Points in the Paint. It’s been a while since we last spoke, so we have some catching up to do. The regular season is almost over, so we have playoff seeds to discuss and awards to hand out. That, and some economic news for the summer. Let’s get to it!
The stretch run is here!
We’re down to ten or so games left in the season, which means it’s time to either get ready (translation: healthy) for the postseason or make that last push to secure a spot in the playoffs. There’s finally been some movement in the standings after several weeks of inertia, so these last few weeks are crucial. The biggest change is at the top of the East; Cleveland has now taken a pretty solid lead in the race for homecourt advantage throughout and it looks like Boston won’t be able to catch them. The Celtics are now trying to hold off Orlando from taking the second seed, as they’re only half a game up as I write this. The other switch in the East is on the bottom end, where Chicago has moved ahead of the Milwuakee Bucks for the eight seed and the right to get run out of the building in the first round by the Cavs. Seeds five through seven continue to be traded by the Heat, Pistons, and Sixers and the quiet, unassuming Atlanta Hawks have managed to solidify their hold on the fourth seed. I sure didn’t expect to improve on last year’s surprising playoff berth, so kudos to them. Out West it’s still the Lakers and everyone else. The Suns look to have fallen out of contention for the last spot, so it’s a matter of seeding and not qualifying for everyone else. A mere five games separate second place San Antonio from eighth place Dallas, so there’s the potential for complete upheaval. The Northwest division is totally up for grabs; Denver, Portland, and Utah are separated by a game and a half. Hold on to your seats everyone, because this isn’t going to be boring.
So where do I stand, awards-wise? Right now, I like Lebron for MVP. His team has moved ahead in the standings to first in the East, and is challenging for first overall, and he has less to work with than Kobe. Pau Gasol is better than anyone on the Cavs roster outside of Lebron, so for him to have that outfit in first place says something. Dwyane Wade has emerged as a third candidate, but you don’t get MVP for finishing with less than fifty wins and going home in the first or second round. If the Heat had the Celtics record then maybe, but not now. One guy who should get some votes but probably won’t is Paul Pierce. If you want proof just go back last week to the Celtics-Heat game where pierce single handedly carried the Celtics to victory, scoring a dozen or so points in a row down the stretch to get his team back in the game and finally over the hump. I’m telling you, it was every bit as big a performance as anything you’d see in crunch time from Kobe, Lebron, or Wade. But Pierce’s overall numbers don’t hold up to theirs, and he plays with Kevin Garnett, so there’s no chance of him getting any consideration even though he was the best player on the floor during the NBA Finals last year and was the catalyst to the Celtics’ survival of two nail biter series in the first two rounds. If they repeat, he will be every bit as important as he was last year. Now all that being said, it’s King James world this year; give him the award!
Now what about the other ones? I still vote for Kevin Durant for most improved; making the jump from pretty good to almost great is a bigger deal to me than whoever doubled their numbers because their minutes went up significantly. The difference between champions and playoff teams is that champions are led by men who play with that attitude, that ‘I’m King of the World and I’m gonna crush you’re a@#!’ demeanor. Durant has been showing that this season, and it’s going to serve him well when he has a good team around him. Some might want to give it to Paul Milsap, but he really just got more minutes to do what he was already capable of doing. Rajon Rondo has definitely gotten better, but how much of that is due to his teammates? Devin Harris got consistent minutes and more shot opportunities, but I don’t know that he is a better player than he was a year ago. Durant has showed a real change in the quality of his performance, one that transcends minutes and shots. As for the other awards, you guys know the drill: I don’t pick a defensive player of the year, because doing so requires more than I’m willing to do right now. Sixth man? No idea. Lamar Odom was the favorite until he had to start and his game went in the crapper over the last few weeks. No one else has stood out for me. I still like Derrick Rose for rookie of the year; there are a lot of talented guys who have emerged in this year’s class, but he’s the only one leading his team to a playoff spot. Coach of the Year? Give it Mike Brown; the Cavs still don’t look great on paper after Lebron and yet they’re in first. Browm deserves some credit for that.
The Day of Reckoning
There’s going to be some really bad news this summer for a lot of veteran NBA players who have been making big money over the last ten years. The economic downturn has left a lot of teams in a bad place financially, which means there will be less money to throw around this summer for free agents. This hurts guys looking to cash in for the first time, but it’s really going to hurt the guys who have been in the $10 million and up range for several years and are now going to possibly accept a contract that pays them significantly less. This isn’t your usual grandstanding and phony poor-mouthing by owners and GMs; this is the real thing. There really is less money to throw around; just look at how many potential blockbuster trades were shut down because people didn’t want to take on the extra year or two of salary beyond 2009 that some of the guys have. Vince Carter’s name was thrown around, as were Amare Stoudemire’s and Shaquille O’Neal’s but none of the potential takers wanted to be saddled with two or three more years of $15 million-plus guaranteed. All around the league, big salaries have been avoided like the plague; the one big salaried guy who was traded was Allen Iverson, and that’s only because his contract is up at the end of the season. Iverson, Carlos Boozer, Stephon Marbury, Mike Bibby, and a few others are up for new deals this summer; it’s going to be interesting to see how the economy and the looming free agency of Lebron, Wade, etc. in 2010 depresses the offers that these guys get. We may see them sign one year deals for small money with the hope of an economic rebound next year. Stay tuned.
OK, that’s it for now. Until next time.