Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eddy Curry: The Return

It has been 3 years since Eddy Curry played more than 10 minutes in a meaningful game. The previous time was Miami Heat's season finale which had no impact on playoff seeding and ended up in a 34-point loss. The stage was finally set for Curry to get playing time against one of the top front lines in the league, and he played 17 meaningful minutes in an opening day victory against the highly-hyped, new-look Lakers. He looked energized, and for the first time in years, he was enjoying playing basketball in the NBA again.

Dallas Mavericks are clearly in a time of transition with 9 new players to their roster. With injuries to Dirk Nowitzki and veteran center Chris Kaman, Dallas was forced to bring in more front court depth. Who knew Mark Cuban would take a chance on Eddy Curry, who was just released by the San Antonio Spurs. Last night Eddy Curry showed up and reminded the national audience of a time when he was the 4th pick in the 2001 draft full of promise and potential. 7 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes might not seem like much, but Curry was one of the most physical players on the court while going against Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

A year and a half ago I wrote a story about the fall of Eddy Curry. I was hopeful that one day he would finally get his life together and find success. Curry has taken the first step, and although Dallas Mavericks could release him shortly after Kaman and Nowitzki return, I think it’s safe to say that everyone watching last night’s game took notice. It’s been 11 years since Eddy Curry was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, but sometimes we forget that Curry is still only 29 with very little mileage on that oversized body.

Look how far he's come.
In the end, Eddy Curry passed the eye test -- he looked strong and agile for the first time in 5 years. Of course I am the first to admit that Eddy has a long way to go, but I will end with the words of Mark Cuban, "The Curri-nator!" Maybe, just maybe, the Curri-nator is finally back.

Photos courtesy of AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, and Noah Graham/Getty Images

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ball So Harden University

I loved James Harden in college.  Even while donning that tacky maroon and gold Arizona State uniform, he played with the smoothness and savvy of a 10-year veteran instead of just an underaged sophomore.  Though his Sun Devils team exceeded expectations, they never made any serious noise in the madness that is March, but I had a sneaking suspicion that his game would translate perfectly into the NBA.

I hated James Harden last year.  The Miami Heat are my most hated team in all of sports, and I spent the first week of the 2012 playoffs crunching numbers trying to figure out which Western Conference team had the best shot at making sure LeBron James stayed crownless.  The Mavericks and the Jazz weren’t making it out of the first round.  The Nuggets were coached by George Karl.  The Clippers had no post presence and were coached by Vinny Del Negro.  The Lakers had no offensive identity, and the Thunder had zero offensive-minded bigs to attack Miami’s greatest weakness (and not to mention that OKC also had Russell Westbrook as a key decision-maker).  So all my hopes and dreams in the 2012 NBA season rested on the shoulders of the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.  The Spurs had the best coach in the league in Gregg Popovich, a young, lengthy defender in Kawhi Leonard, shooters at every position, and the often-overlooked Tim Duncan down low.  The Grizzlies had a pair of big men that would’ve thrown Chris Bosh around like a velociraptor chew toy.  Long story short, the Grizzlies lost a nail-biting series to the Clippers, and James Harden hit the biggest shot in the WC Finals against the Spurs with a cold-blooded three-pointer in the waning moments of game 5.

Of course, Harden went on to struggle mightily in the NBA Finals, but the defeat wasn’t his fault -- it was inevitable.   It definitely wasn’t his fault that he was often given the defensive assignment of LeBron.  For as much as I hate flopping, I can’t even blame Harden for trying, as it was truly his only option guarding the monster MVP in the post.  The Thunder had zero chance of beating the Heat; it was just a matter of how many games it would take before they folded.

But the writing was already on the wall, championship or not.  The timer was ticking down.  The Thunder had invested heavily in Westbrook and Durant, and you didn’t need a mathematician to tell you that GM Sam Presti would have to choose between James Harden or Serge Ibaka.  I started asking anyone who would respond for their thoughts on the matter.  If you were Presti and could only pay one, who would it be?

I said Serge Ibaka.  In a world where quality big men are so far and few between, I-blocka is only 23 and still raw.  The man only started playing basketball a few years ago.  Read that sentence again.  Most importantly, Serge fulfills a role on the Thunder that is harder to replace.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not taking anything away from James Harden as he was the best playmaker on the team, but it’s no secret that his playing style did not fit perfectly with OKC’s other two stars.  Harden excelled coming off the bench because he could run the show, and the bottom line for the Thunder was that it would be much more difficult to replicate everything that Serge brings to the table.  (Note: not a blanket statement for every team, just specifically the Thunder.)

Naturally, the Oklahoma City would have loved to keep both players, but where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, and the team showed its true colors by giving Serge Ibaka a 4-year, $48 million extension.

This is the part of the story where people chime in and blame James Harden for his selfish lack of loyalty to the team that drafted him.  Westbrook, Harden, and Durant were the most tight-knit trio of teammates in the NBA, so he should have sacrificed for the team, right?

Don’t make James Harden out to be the bad guy.  This is the abbreviated sequence of events:
1. The Thunder made it rain for everybody else on the team first, including the aforementioned deal for Ibaka and a 5-year, $79 million deal for Westbrook.  
2.  The Thunder approached Harden with a 4-year extension in the $54 million vicinity, knowing full well that he would get a max offer worth over $20 million more from multiple teams if he were to get traded or hit the open market.  
3.  Harden turned down the offer because it was less than his market value.  
4.  The Thunder traded Harden to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and picks.

It’s important to note that we’re not just talking about a discount of a couple million dollars here.  We’re talking over $20 million.  And I hate to be repetitive, but that OKC team did not have a shred of a hope to ever beat the Heat, assuming they even made it back to the Finals again.

My thoughts on the trade?  Well, I’m a numbers guy, so let me try to explain it the way I see it.  Looking ahead to the 2013 summer free agent market, I am convinced that Daryl Morey and the Rockets would have offered James Harden a max deal regardless.  On the court, he should be a great fit with Jeremy Lin, as the two of them are two of the best pick-and-roll players in the game.  In addition to his offensive prowess is his defensive talent -- the Rockets were prepared to begin the season with a Lin/Martin backcourt; think about how every other team must have been salivating at that matchup.  Harden is not big enough to guard LeBron (who is?), but he holds his own against other wing players his size.

So let’s pretend it’s next summer, and the Rockets offer James Harden a max deal.  What are the odds he actually chooses Houston over the other suitors, notably the Phoenix Suns or the Dallas Mavericks?  Given our recent track record, I would say I’m being generous with a 30% probability, with a 50% chance of him landing in Dallas.

And now let’s rewind to the present day.  Morey has until the Wednesday deadline to sign Harden to a contract extension, which hopefully is in the 95% probability range.

The million dollar question: Is that extra 65% likelihood of James Harden being a long-term Houston Rocket worth losing Jeremy Lamb, a Toronto lottery pick, and a Dallas first round pick?  My mind wants to say yes, but my heart still longs for some Lamb.  The cynical side of me is thinking that the Thunder had all the leverage here.  They could have easily tried to make another deep playoff run this season with Harden and still had the same opportunities to sign-and-trade him next year, so the fact that Presti pulled the trigger on this deal days before the start of the regular season must mean that it was, in fact, a hell of a deal that the Thunder couldn’t pass up.

But then I remember my mantra when it comes to all things Houston Rockets: IN MOREY I TRUST.  Acquiring James Harden now should lock him up for years to come, and if all goes as planned, next summer Houston will still have enough money left over for a big splash in free agency.  It stings losing Jeremy Lamb, but like my elementary school PE teacher used to always say during a game of “around the world” on the blacktop: no guts, no glory.

Daryl Morey obviously has the guts.  Let’s hope that the glory will follow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Standing Ovation: Tracy McGrady

I would like to give a standing ovation to Tracy McGrady as he leaves for China. T-Mac is one of my favorite players of all-time. Even as a diehard Mavericks fan, I have no problem admitting that.

I've always admired his physical gifts and talents on the basketball court. McGrady, in his prime, was a 6' 8" forward with the court vision of a top point guard and the finishing ability of a dominant big man. I've always felt that his biggest attribute was his extremely high basketball IQ -- respectable basketball minds such as Jeff Van Gundy even alluded to the fact that it may have been too high for his own good and was ultimately, a detriment to his success.

To this day, I still firmly believe that his versatility is unmatched. He could either face you up out in the perimeter, where he had the ability to rise up and shoot over you, or back you down in the post, using his supreme footwork and knowledge of angles. He was unstoppable in the pick and roll game and his length allowed him to be an above average defender (when he wanted to be) and rebounder.

At the peak of his powers, you couldn't guard him with single coverage nor could you guard him by sending a double team because he would pick you apart with his anticipation and passing ability. Schematically on defense, he left coaches in a bind. Plus, his jab step power dribble to a reverse pivot to a spinning fadeaway jumper from 20 feet is still one of the most physically ridiculous go-to moves ever.

Undoubtedly, injuries robbed him from having one of the best careers in league history, but I don't want him to be remembered for "what could have been." I want people to focus on his off the court accomplishments as well as what he's meant for the game of basketball.

I leave you with his own words from his blog:

Goodbye NBA, Hello China

There are times in life that a new road presents itself and it appears this time has come for me now. I am so proud of what I have accomplished these past 15 years playing in the NBA. It was a dream entering the league as I just turned 18 years old. I worked hard and poured my heart and soul into this game. I consider myself a student of the game as I have watched, studied and played with and against the best players in the world. The NBA was my University and I learned so much. The gratitude I feel is really immeasurable. I have experienced the best moments a player can experience and have had some dark ones too. Both equally important in helping shape me into the man I am today.

As I leave the league for now, there have been so many profound people who inspired me along my way. I have to say thank you for guiding me and having an enormous influence on the way I played basketball. Isaiah Thomas, Rich Devos, Leslie Alexander and John Gabriel, you believed in me and I thank you. Jeff Van Gundy, you exemplified the brilliance of what a great coach is. Steven A. Smith, you gave us players a voice and for that I thank you. Doug Christy, Charles Oakley, Dee Brown, Mugsy Bogues, Antonio Davis, Dell Curry, Kevin Willis, you all showed a young kid from Auburndale Florida how to be a better player. Kobe, you made me work harder and it was an honor to play against you. And Yao, we shared an experience together that will always be with me, thank you. Sonny & Pam Vaccarro showed me how there is loyalty and genuine friendship in this business. Arn Tellem and Tim Hoy, 15 years and you are still my agents. Thank you for guiding me throughout my career. When all is said and done, there is so many that made an impact on my life. I am one blessed man to have the love and never ending support of my wife CleRenda and the best 4 kids a man can ask for. But most important, I give glory and thanks to God. It is thru Him that I have been so blessed and I am forever thankful.

As I enter this next chapter, I am excited to play for Qingdao Eagles in China. I have been to China several times in the last few years and I love the people and the country. It will be an honor to play for them. Thank you to every fan that has followed me and believed in me. Injuries and all, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I am proud of the mark I left on this game and am grateful to have been a part this league. It was a dream to play in front of all of you, each night, in every stadium. Thank you.


Photo and video content courtesy of:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jersey Shore: Cabs Are Here!

After watching a couple of the trailers for the final season of the Jersey Shore with Boyz II Men playing in the background, it really hit me that this was the final time we would see the gang.

While I know the show is not Emmy Awards material or even remotely close to anything similar, this show brought on a ton of laughs and a ton of shame.  Take 7-8 ordinary Italian-Americans (yes I know Snooki is actually Chilean, but whatever), throw them into a house and make them work with each other -- you are bound for a series of laughs.  Guidos/Guidettes, whatever you want to call them, make for hilariously stupid television.

Mike the Situation brought nothing but "what the hell" moments and thoughts of how is one person so vain?  The lovable Pauly D, who managed to spin off into his own show, inspired us all with his calls for T-Shirt time and Cabs are HERE!  And you can't leave out asinine moments of glory with Snooki.  You had to wonder, was she really this stupid?

All and all, I'm sad to see this show go.  It had a great run while it lasted.  Now it has spawned new shows across the world, from England with Geordie Shore to Spain with Gandia Shore.  An endless supply of debauchery and shame is at our finger tips.  Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing Brighton Beach (New York's Coney Island) and Wicked Summer (Boston) if they make it to MTV.  Isn't this what we all need more of?  Loud-mouthed New Yorkers spewing their pride and Bostonians with wicked accents telling us how to "pahk a cah in Hahvahd Yahd"?  Here's a link for a casting call and what Wicked Summer is gonna be all about.

Last call, everyone.  The cabs are here to take us to the end.  No more GTL.  No more smushing in the smush room.  Thanks Jersey for everything.

photos courtesy of,,,