Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Importance of Being Brent Barry

Happy new year everyone, its been a long break. After a bit of pressure, I decided to return to the blog once more, though I wouldn’t expect daily updates just yet! Lots of stuff has gone on in the NBA, both over the summer and in this still young season. This year is definitely shaping up to be an exciting one. Unlike last year we have a large number of legitimate MVP candidates (the short list includes Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant), the next generation of NBA superstars is finally beginning to emerge in the form of Paul, Howard, and Deron Williams, and while the Celtics are running away with the regular season, there is no consensus on a favorite to win the NBA title. That said, anyone who has been round this blog before knows that my pick is, as always, the San Antonio Spurs, and the team’s recent struggles are what prompted me to start writing ballintellectual again.

People aren’t talking about it, but the big news of the young NBA season should be the fact that the Spurs don’t seem so comfortable. This is not a record issue, the Spurs are holding on fairly securely to a top spot in the west with a very fine 23-10 record. Everything aside from the record, however, should bring concern to Spurs fans everywhere (there are about five of us outside the city of San Antonio). In their last ten games, the Spurs are 5-5, an unheard of streak for them in the past decade. For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, their starters face major injuries. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobli (their MVP), have all missed games this season, and we aren’t even at the all star break yet. Granted, these injuries have been temporary, and considering the track record of the Spurs’ training staff, the Spurs’ big three should remain healthy until June. However, this overlooks the most serious injury facing San Antonio this season, the torn calf muscle of 2-guard Brent Barry.

Barry has been part of the Spurs franchise since the 2003-2004 season, taking over for Stephen Jackson as the Spurs go to spot up shooter. Barry is 36 and is not an offensive force, nor has he ever been. However, besides the big three, no individual piece of the Spurs offense is as important to their success as their shooters, and Barry is a quick shooter who shoots 40% behind the arc for his career.

Why is Barry so important to the Spurs’ success? The answer lies in the ways that various teams most typically defend San Antonio. The line on the Spurs for years has been to make them into a three point shooting team. To beat the Spurs, teams try to pack the middle, stopping dribble penetration from Ginobli and Parker and post-ups from Duncan. In doing so, opponents leave the Spurs open to shoot threes, thus forcing the Spurs to beat them from the outside. Unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, San Antonio is adept at spreading the floor and making it easier for their shooters to hit threes, their ability to adapt to opponents’ defensive schemes is a large part of their success. With Barry hurt (and badly), the Spurs lose their best shooter, the guy with the quick release who can stop & catch on a dime, and launch a shot before his man has time to recover from doubling down on Duncan. When teams trap Duncan/Parker pick and rolls, sending Duncan’s man to double team parker when he comes off the screen, it is often the weak side guard (Brent Barry’s man) who is sent to temporarily cover Duncan. This of course leaves Barry open, and he is adept at making teams pay for leaving him open. With Barry gone, the Spurs lose a major dimension to their offense. No longer do opponents have to worry about leaving the weak side guard to pack the paint, the Spurs’ shooters are simply less of a threat.

All of these points aside, I still expect San Antonio, with Barry in tow, to make a comeback when it counts, and tweak out another title. However, this year has exposed cracks in the Spurs’ armor that have never been seen before, and I only hope that RC Beuford sees them too, making the correct roster changes before the dynasty is forced to end.

Tell your friends about ballintellectual! Its good to be back!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Best of the rest part III: The 1993-2000 Indiana Pacers

Avg wins per Season: 54
Playoff Results:
1994: Lost in Eastern Finals to Knicks in 7
1995: Lost in Eastern Finals to Magic in 7
1996: Lost in first round to Hawks in 5
1997: No Playoffs
1998: Lost in Eastern Finals to Bulls in 7
1999: Lost in Eastern Finals to Knicks in 6
2000: Lost in NBA Finals to Lakers in 6

For this third installment of Best of the Rest, we turn our attention away from the high profile contenders from New York and Seattle to one of the best, and most underappreciated squads of the 1990s. During that decade, the Indiana Pacers made the playoffs every year other than injury filled 1996-1997, they made four Eastern Conference finals appearances, and climaxed in the 2000 playoffs by obtaining the ‘participant’ trophy in one of the last competitive NBA Finals.

The Pacers success began and ended with shooting guard Reggie Miller, the best role player of all time. Miller made a hall of fame career off of one offensive maneuver, catching and shooting off of screens. Playing to this ability, the Pacers filled their front line with tough players such as Antonio and Dale Davis, two players known for their screening abilities. As a result, the Pacers of the 1990’s featured some of the league’s toughest defense. Rounding out their front line during this era was 7”4 Dutch sensation Rik Smits. Smits never put up gaudy numbers, always staying slightly over 15 points and 6 rebounds. However, Smits was a major part of the Pacers’ success during this era, using his defense to subdue the conference’s giants, including Patrick Ewing and Shaq.

In 1993, the Pacers were coming off a string of four first round losses. The young club showed promise during the regular season, posting 47 wins. With a front line that included the Davis pair, Smits, and a young Derrick McKey, the Pacers had a club whose toughness could now rival the Knickerbockers. The Pacers showed just how tough they were in the first round when they swept O’Neil’s Magic. They then upset a very good, and very old, Atlanta Hawks team to meet the Knicks once more, this time in the Confrence finals. This would be the second of six classic playoff series between these two clubs, each team would end up taking 3 series raising the question of who deserved to be called second best in Jordan’s East. The Pacers fell to New York in 1994, but would upset the Knicks the following year in yet another seven game classic. This matched them up with a slightly more mature Orlando Magic squad. The Magic would come out on top this time, their reward being a four game massacre at the hands of the Houston Rockets.

For two years, things would not be the same for the Pacers. In 1995-1998, despite matching their ‘94-‘95 win total of 52, the Pacers failed to make it out of the first round. Though they gained notoriety as being the only team to beat the 72 win Chicago Bulls twice during the regular season, an injury to Reggie Miller opened the door for the now forgotten post-Wilkins, pre-Mutumbo Atlanta Hawks to pull off the upset. Disaster struck the following year. Boasting a tweaked lineup that included the now underrated point guard, Travis Best and underrated point forward, Jalen Rose, the Pacers could not transition effectively enough. They missed the playoffs with an abysmal 39 wins, aided no doubt by injuries that limited Smits to 52 games.

The following year, coached by Indiana legend Larry Bird, the Pacers returned to glory, winning 58 games. The major addition to their team was an aging, but still effective, Chris Mullin. This return to relevance earned them yet another match up with the Knicks. The Pacers gave the Knicks a beating that year, winning the series 4-1. The Pacers then faced Jordan’s Bulls for the first and only time during this stretch. The result was a magical seven game series, only the second time during the Bulls’ six title seasons that a team would push them the full seven games. The home team won every game, culminating with a five point Chicago victory in the deciding game. Still, that series, more than anything, showed the world that the Pacers were back, perhaps even better than before. The team, once a two dimensional squad whose fate rested on Miller’s shot and its front line, now featured weapons at every position. Though Smits was beginning to slip, Antonio and Dale Davis had now firmly established themselves as two of the league’s best big men. Jalen Rose brought some much needed finesse to the front court, a 6”8 who played on the perimeter. Finally, Mark Jackson and Travis Best shared minutes at point guard, becoming one of the leagues best starter/backup combinations at the position.

During the lockout shortened 1999 season, the Pacers posted the East’s second best record, and swept their way through the first two rounds. For the fifth time in seven years, the Pacers found themselves matched up with the Knicks. Despite having the home court, Indiana faltered in six games. Coming into the 1999-2000 season, the Pacers knew that they had to win now. Contributors such as Mullen, Jackson, and Smits were quickly losing their abilities to contribute, and the rest of the lineup had played together for years and never made it out of the Eastern Conference. The Pacers put together a fine 56 win season, earning home court throughout the Eastern playoffs. The Pacers would beat the Bucks and 76ers in the first two rounds, and once again face the New York Knicks. The Knicks stretched Indiana to six games, but the Pacers were a team on a mission, taking the series and making it to their first, and only, NBA Finals.

In the Finals they met the Lakers. Though they would fall in six, the Pacers made almost every game competitive (in game 1 they lost by 17 and afterwards, many predicted a sweep). This series would be the last time an Eastern Conference team even put up a fight in the Finals until the classic Spurs/Pistons matchup of 2005.

The following year, the Pacers acquired young center Jermaine O’Neil, who replaced the retiring Smits. The team would return to prominence three years later, but that version was very different than the squad that dominated the Eastern Conference for seven long years.

Highest High: Though the team made it farthest in the 2000 playoffs, their competition was no where near as tough as it was in 1998, when the played Jordan’s Bulls to a near draw in the Conference Finals. That series let them join the 1992 Knicks as the only teams to every give a champion Bulls squad a whiff of defeat.

Why didn’t they win? This is a tough one. Unlike other Eastern Conference powers from this era, they were not constantly victimized by Michael Jordan. In reality, they just peaked at the wrong time. Their best chances to win came in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and all three years featured very dominant squads (the Jordan Bulls, the red hot Knicks [and had they beaten the Knicks they would have been shellacked by the Spurs], and the emerging dynastic Lakers).

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Best of the rest part II: The 1992-1998 Seattle Supersonics

Avg Wins per season: 59.5
Playoff Finishes:
1993: Lost in Western Finals to Suns in 7
1994: Lost in first round to Nuggets in 5
1995: Lost in first round to Lakers in 4
1996: Lost in NBA Finals to Bulls in 6
1997: Lost in 2nd round to Rockets in 7
1998: Lost in 2nd round to Lakers in 5

Between the 1989 and the 1990 drafts, the Seattle Supersonics picked up the two players who would form one of the best 1-2 punches of the decade. With the 17th pick in the 1989 draft, Seattle stole the 19 year old man-child Shawn Kemp. Coming straight from prep school, many teams had passed on him because of his age and inexperience. Though it would take a year, Kemp soon made those teams pay. The following year, the Sonics were rewarded with the number two pick, using it to pick up Gary Payton. Payton would take some time to mature into his role as floor general, his scoring average would steadily rise from his rookie year (7.2) until his fifth season, when he had his first 20+ ppg season.

It took some time for the duo to take over the team, but once they did, the Sonics would feature one of the league’s strongest defenses and most deadly fast breaks. Payton’s first year, the Sonics were ousted in the first round, and they followed this by falling to the Run-TMC warriors in 1992. By 1993, the Sonics were ready to roll, and thus began a six year stretch in which the Sonics would average 59.5 wins a season, placing themselves alongside the Jazz and Rockets as one of the elite teams of the West.

In 1993 saw the Sonics fell in a seven game classic to the Phoenix Suns, but the team stood ready to build on the success of their young duo. After Jordan retired for the first time, the Sonics were on the short list of contenders. 93-94 saw them post one of their finest regular seasons. Behind Payton, Kemp, and newly acquired big man Detlef Schrempf, the Sonics cruised to a league best 63 wins, and they matched up with the 42 win Denver Nuggets. What followed is one of the most told stories in the NBA’s annals. Up 2-0 in the series, the Sonics dropped the final three games, resulting in the biggest upset in NBA history.

Expectations were high for the Sonics, who finished fourth in the conference the following season. Led by Kemp and Payton, and joined by Schrempf and young star Kendall Gill, the Sonics were once again heavily favored in the first round against the LA Lakers. The Sonics barely won a game as they suffered yet another playoff collapse, ending their chance to win a title while Jordan was out of the league.

In 1996 these Sonics had inarguably their finest year. Both Kemp and Payton had perhaps among their best seasons. Kemp cemented his place next to Karl Malone and Charles Barkley as one of the league’s most unstoppable power forwards, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds. Payton meanwhile, was all finesse on the offensive end, good for 19 points and 7 assists a game. Even more important, however were his almost three steals, which netted him defensive player of the year, and a reputation as one of the league’s finest perimeter defenders. Finishing with 64 wins, good for second best in the NBA, the Sonics swept the defending champion Houston Rockets, and frustrated the Utah Jazz in the Western Finals. Though they eventually lost to the legendary 1996 Bulls, the Sonics were undoubtedly the second best team in that 1995-1996 season.

The next year would be Kemp’s last with the team. Changes were underway within the organization. The team featured a much slower-paced half court offense, better suited for Patyon’s ability to create off the dribble. Kemp’s scoring dipped while Patyon’s rose. Still, the team finished with 57 wins, and was among the favorites to come out of the west. Eventually, the team lost in seven to the Houston Rockets, and Kemp was traded in the off-season. For one season, 1997-1998, Vin Baker would play the part of Shawn Kemp, and few could tell the difference. Displaying an affinity with Patyon on the court, Baker had one of his best seasons, helping guide the new, grind it out Sonics to 61 wins. The Sonics eventually lost once more in the second round, becoming victims of a Laker team that was led by Shaq and Kobe Bryant. The Sonics never again reclaimed the success that they had had earlier in the decade. They never made it out of the first round with Patyon again. Still, their annual regular season dominance, combined with a phenomenal 1995-1996 season cements them as one of the top teams of the era.

Highest High: While the Chicago Bulls stole the spotlight in 1995-1996 with 72 wins and a year long coronation of Michael Jordan as basketball’s messiah, the Sonics were running on all cylinders out west. Earlier in the decade their maturity issues had haunted them in the playoffs, but now their will to win had caught up with their talent, and all the pieces just seemed to come together. The fact that they cruised through a very tough western conference is evidence for just how good this team was.

Why didn’t they win? Well the presence of Michael Jordan for one, but mostly because of their two infamous playoff collapses. They were absolutely the best team in the regular season in 1993-1994, and were better than their record showed in 1994-1995. The fact that in 1996 they swept the Rockets shows that, had they made it out of the first round either of those years, they had a good chance to go all the way. Instead, they will go down as one of the best teams from the modern era to never win a title.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Randolph Trade

The Zack Randolph trade is weighing heavily on my mind. Very rarely has a trade come along involving my Knicks that conflicts me so much. Was this a good trade? I think if you look at it from a certain perspective it absolutely is. There are four ways to evaluate this deal: From the talent standpoint, from the financial standpoint, from the chemistry standpoint, and from the standpoint of the bit players involved (Dan Dickau and Fred Jones).

Talent: A stand alone deal

If a knowledgeable fan were to pick up the paper and see the terms of this trade, on their own, he would rightly conclude that this was a steal for the Knicks. At its foundation the trade looks like this: An aging pg who produces well below expectation and a decent 4 whose growth as a player seems to have completely stopped in exchange for a franchise big man in a league devoid of franchise big men. If this were a one time deal, a stand alone exchange, the Knicks would be the clear winners. From a fantasy basketball or a video game perspective, the Blazers would have to be completely inept to make such a trade. However, the NBA is not a rotisserie league, and this trade does not have to stand on its own.


Going into the off-season, I thought the Knicks biggest challenge, other than getting a good distributor, would be to get rid of Steve Francis’ contract. On a team laden with over paid players who under perform, Francis, because of the size of his deal, was perhaps the worst. Francis’ deal ensured us of being over the cap until 2009, getting rid of him would allow the team to have its first summer of financial flexibility next year… Zach Randolph makes what Francis made, but his contract runs until 2011. The Knicks are going to be over the cap until 2011! What happens when David Lee’s contract runs out? What happens when Balkman’s contract runs out? For a team that prides itself on its young nucleus, the Knicks have continuously found ways to hamstring themselves against rebuilding. For the past seven years, since the Patrick Ewing deal in the summer of 2000, the Knicks mantra has been to spend money freely in order to sign the best player available and then hope it all works out. For seven years the Knicks have lacked financial flexibility because of their history of terrible deals. Well, its 2007 and all the Knicks have to show for this strategy is one winning season (2001), two playoff appearances (2001 and 2004), and little else. At what point will this franchise realize that their plan is not working and that they need to try and rebuild with rookie contracts and mid-level-exceptions? If the Knicks had more financial flexibility the could make serious runs at the free agents that have come along, and will continue to come along. But by trading away draft picks (who end up with the cheapest contracts) for big names, by trading players with two years left on a deal for players with four years left, the Knicks continue to handicap themselves financially. The Blazers, meanwhile, have the funds to buy out Francis’ contract, help Channing Frye continue to grow in a franchise that is looking to the future, and overall have maintained the type of financial control that the Knicks lack.

This is where the deal gets really perplexing from the Knicks’ perspective, both from a basketball standpoint and from a psychological standpoint. The Knicks are a young team desperately in need of leadership, unfortunately, their defacto leaders are their best and most veteran player (Stephon Marbury) and their coach (Isiah Thomas). Time has shown Marbury to be petty and immature at times, and at this point in his career he makes for a terrible role model. Thomas, whose voice is supposed to carry the calming influence of the wise, is the most volatile, immature coach I have ever seen at this level (other than Larry Brown). Thomas picks fights with opposing players, sanctions his team’s temper, and does not show any ability to handle hot heads such as Nate Robinson, Francis, and Marbury. Nor has he been able to motivate Eddy Curry, who continues to coast on his size and talent. Into this locker-room comes Zach Randolph, a player whose history of convictions and suspensions precedes him. A player who, while talented, refuses to put in the work on the defensive end; and a player who, in the bright lights of New York City, might just implode and take the whole team with him.

But even if this doesn’t happen, even if Randolph makes it to the court to suit up along side Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, and Curry, this acquisition raises all sorts of chemistry questions. The fact is, Curry and Randolph share similar strengths: Curry is great at using his size and soft hands to make his way into the lane and then finish strong. Randolph too is at home near the basket, though he is more adept at using his footwork to get open. Furthermore, Randolph has a solid game from 18 feet out, which the Knicks might tap even more than his back to the basket game. On offense, I think these guys will do more than coexist, they will wreck havoc on opponent’s defenses. However, Curry’s problem has always been that he can’t do anything other than put the ball in the hoop. He is turnover prone, can’t pass out of double teams well, refuses to put in the effort to rebound, and defends like a revolving door. Randolph isn’t so one dimensional, at least he rebounds, but he is an equally bad defender and also has trouble finding the open man out of the double. So we are left questioning where the Knicks plan to find interior defense, and what will stop teams from packing in the lane around the two big men.

To answer the first question, I expect/hope the Knicks will try some zone, both 2-3 and 3-2. A zone will stop teams from capitalizing so much on Curry and Randolph’s immobility, and will allow the two to do what they are most comfortable doing, standing in the lane contesting shots. A 3-2 would be especially neat, as the Knicks could put Jeffries or Balkman in the middle, ala how the Pistons use Tayshaun Prince. Still, this combination of big men raises just too many questions on the defensive end to be sound.

Finally, how long will Thomas bench David Lee? I like a lineup of Marbury, Crawford, Balkman, Lee, and Randolph, a bit small, but it might work in the east.

The role players
In addition to Randolph, the Knicks also picked up Fred Jones and Dan Dickau from the Blazers. Neither has had much NBA success, but both are young, don’t cost much, and might serve in limited minutes. Jones is an undersized (6’4”) shooting guard with a decent stroke (a career 34% from behind the arc) that will allow the Knicks to limit Richardson’s minutes, hopefully staving off injury to his bad back.

Dickau is, in my mind, the more promising of the two. For years I’ve been telling anyone within earshot that the Knicks need a traditional point guard. That Marbury, Crawford, and Robinson, are all scoring point guards who don’t have the skills or the mentality to run a successful offense. Is Dickau going to come in and get major minutes as the Knicks distributor? No. Still, Dickau could conceivably play 10 minutes a game with a more traditional, half court line up. A bit undersized, I envision Dickau running the court alongside Crawford, Balkman, Richardson, and Lee taking advantage of their speed to score in a hurry (and getting burned for 120 points on defense).

The bottom line
Dealing Francis was a great move because it could've taken 30 million off the books, gotten rid of a position redundancy, and relieved this young, impressionable, franchise of a bad locker room presence. Adding Zach Randolph put an extra 30 million on the books, created a new position redundancy, and added an even worse influence to our still young, leaderless franchise.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Allen Ray Ray Allen

Allen Ray and Ray Allen are on the same team. Also, the Knicks have Zack Randolph. A very interesting night for the Atlantic division.

(The Celtics' trade might be the worst move I've seen in a long time)

The only Andrew Bogut Post You're Gonna See

Another hiatus, but as I said in my last post, Ballintellectual isn’t your ‘2007 NBA Draft headquarters’ (though I will be blogging on and off during the draft tonight). The Best of the Rest feature has also hit a snag, I’m slowly working on the late ‘90s Indiana Pacers and the 1990’s Seattle Supersonics. But that’s a ways away.

A while ago, Milwakee center Andrew Bogut made comments about the excessive lifestyle of American players in which he hinted at a possible cultural devide between the big spending players of America and the foreign players.

“The public’s got it right - a lot of NBA stars are arrogant and like to spend lots of money and have lots of girlfriends and all that.
“The smarter guys don’t do that. They like to live a regular life and want to retire and be set up. About 80 per cent of them go broke by the time they retire or come close to it.”

When I first read these comments I found them interesting, one of the few instances where an NBA player talks to the media in a seemingly unfiltered manner. I figured others would read the quotes, say a bit about it, and the whole thing would blow over. That’s exactly what happened, and Bogut’s comments were quickly forgotten; that is, until DWil (perhaps the most polished, most skilled writer I’ve encountered in the NBA blogsphere) called out members of the internet media for their neglect of this topic. Reading Bogut’s words again, I was struck by how much he is really saying, and what the implications are for the NBA.

First and foremost, I do not believe that this is a race issue. I will be the first to admit that race has been an unspoken social dynamic in the NBA for decades, and it still is . I understand that the compulsion is there to say that Bogut’s comments reflect some sort of racial divide in the NBA, Bogut is a white man calling attention to spending patterns often associated with black hip-hop culture. However, whatever the origin, white American players in the NBA are often just as guilty of the behavior called out by Bogut. The most thugged out NBA player I’ve ever met was Travis Knight, who spoke with a drawl that I could barely decipher. Frankly, hip hop culture is so closely entangled with basketball culture that white players, especially those from urban areas, have quickly adopted it as their own. Bogut’s comments were not racially charged, they were nationally charged.

Bogut’s comments draw attention to an issue that goes undiscussed, but that I suspect has been growing exponentially since foreign players began coming to the league in droves. After condemning the league’s players for their love of “bling bling,” Bogut argued that “that’s just the way the culture is in America.” Bogut went on to claim that “its just the culture over there (in America). I would never want my child to be brought up in an environment like that, where if you have money you’re supposed to flaunt it and make everyone jealous… That’s why the NBA guys who come from other countries, the Europeans, all sort of stick together away from the game.”

Whether or not you agree with, or are offended by Bogut’s comments, they are clearly symptomatic of the fact that the increasing foreign presence in the league has consequences that go beyond the product on the court. Think about how hard it must be to be in this league as a 20 year old, over 3,000 miles from your home. You’re teammates, with whom you must share a bond, range from 18 year old kids from the inner city to 40 year old fathers. Perhaps you don’t even speak your language. It is natural to develop feelings of isolation. The NBA is fast becoming a mosaic of cultural backgrounds, and while this is a wonderful thing that is a great example of the global era, it must be very hard for many players.

In the weeks leading up to tonight’s draft, a point that I’ve seen made time and again about Yi Jianlian is that much of his success at this level will be predicated on whether he is drafted by an ‘accepting’ program, one that will naturally accommodate him not only on the court, but off it as well. Yao Ming was very fortunate to be drafted by Houston team that was willing to expend the resources necessary to make Yao feel at home and was also willing to give him time for his game to flourish. These facts point to how important integration is for international stars. The barriers between these players and the rest of the league goes beyond language, there are cultural issues as well. This, however, is not a bad thing, nor should it deter the NBA from its current direction in foreign markets. At every point in our history, when Americans have interacted with other peoples in a new environment, there has always been a period of integration. What is important is that this integration period remains peaceful (such as 19th Century European immigration which was embraced economically) rather than hurtful (such as early 20th Century Chinese immigration which was heavily regulated by harsh government laws and met with disdain from much of the population). To create a fully integrated NBA, it is only natural that there would be hard steps for individuals such as Bogut as well as for his American counterparts. Still, I am happy that these issues are no longer repressed by the league and its players because they are important. The rest of the world needs to see both the highs and the lows of global basketball, because in a lot of ways international sports represent the growing international flavor of society at large.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Waiting 'till October

Teams are jockeying for draft spots, trade rumors are flying around, and coaches are going back and forth among the many members of the inbred club we call the NBA. And I don’t care. Blogs are speculating about their team’s chances of landing Kobe or KG, major sites are sitting on edge hoping to hear just one leak coming out of one team official. And I don’t care. In my years of NBA fandom I cannot remember a single trade ever going through exactly the way a rumor says it will. I have yet to see the interest in speculating how a coach is going to fit a certain team considering the fact that this is a player’s league and nine times out of ten a team’s style is dictated by its roster and not its coaching staff. Don’t get me wrong, I read the rumors, because that’s the only basketball I can get for four months, and this off season is shaping up to be interesting; and yet, I am infinitely more interested in the product that will be put out in November. To me, the off season is four months of back stage maneuvering that exists solely to get everything ready for November. As far as I’m concerned, all speculation is worthless until the pre-season begins and we actually see some product. And, for the record, until Kobe actually goes somewhere, he’s still a Laker.