Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Shaq to the Suns

Today is a proud day for Phoenix Suns fans. The day we acquired Shaquille O'Neal: February 6, 2003. It's 2003, right? Tell me it's 2003, TELL ME IT'S 2003. IT HAS TO BE 2003.

Like everyone else, yes, I thought this rumor had to be bullshit the first instant I heard it. It made no sense at all, for the various salary, playing style, and age reasons that are immediately obvious to anyone who follows the league. Before it became a reality, in the blissful hours when I could tell myself that it must be one of the many ludicrous rumors that float to no effect on the turbulent waters of any professional sport, I contemplated giving up fandom forever if it should in fact come to pass. One can only take so much abuse from one's favorite team, and the Suns have dealt plenty out (though usually not in the form of rank front-office incompetence; rather, we're always just good enough to lose crushingly in the playoffs to the eventual champion).

But of course that's a ridiculous notion. I could no more abandon the Suns to the predations of the Lakers and the Spurs than I could abandon my son to wolverines. So I'm putting a brave face on, removing all scepticism from my ever-doubting brain, staring at a picture of Steve Kerr's manly, manly features, and constructing the best-case scenario for this move.

Shawn Marion is a whiny bitch. That has been established at this point. A dude who cannot be on happy on the single team best-suited to using his talents (maybe Goldent State could do so as well), even when he is the highest-paid player on that team despite being the third-best, is a whiny bitch. So I can definitely enjoy the fact that he has whined and bitched his way onto a much crappier team that is coached by the league's biggest disciplinarian and on which he is still not the number one option. Maybe he'll just be thrilled with being No. 2...until the Heat draft Michael Beasley over the summer and he has to move down a notch again.

Furthermore, Shawn Marion is almost 30, and while that isn't terribly old, dudes who are short for their position and have no especially refined basketball skills like shooting, dribbling, or passing do not tend to age well as their athleticism evaporates. His production is down only slightly this year overall, but it was extremely distressing to see him have a few seemingly low-effort games like this one recently. At any rate, it's better to move a player like that one year before he falls to pieces rather than one year after.

As for the Suns now, I see some logic in their current construction. No, Shaq will not be able to keep up with the fast break most of the time. But Kurt Thomas was old and slow, and he didn't hurt us in that respect either. Amare at the 4 is still faster than all of his competition, and all the other elite power forwards in the west (Gasol, Boozer, Nowitzki, West) suck on defense. So between him, Nash, Hill, and Barbosa, we should still be able run the break just fine.

In the half court, Amare rarely posts up down low anyway, so he and Shaq should stay out of each other's way. Shaq is still a force in the middle, and the Suns have the three-point shooters in Nash, Bell, and Barbosa (two on the floor at all times) to destroy any team that doubles, far more so than Miami has had at any point in Shaq's tenure there. Steve, of course, should be adept at offering entry passes. And Amare, on Shaq's plays, ought to be able to play off of him perfectly: diving through the lane for dunks (Shaq is great at finding cutters), spotting up at the foul line for his excellent midrange jumper (just think of all the free-throw line shots that Haslem has taken over the past few years in Miami), and crashing the offensive boards for more dunks. I can't think of a power forward better suited to working with Shaq on offense. That all makes for a great halfcourt offense, assuming that Shaq's turnovers, which are a WAY up this year, can be managed now that he's getting good entry passes and has superb finishers on the other end of his passes.

On defense, the Suns go from undersized to sized, or possibly oversized. Shaq and Amare are both large for their positions, as are Diaw, Hill, and Nash. True, Shaq has been getting burned on defense lately, but the Suns don't need him to provide strong help like Miami did; Amare can handle that. And anyway, you wouldn't guess it, but Shaq has blocked 4.7% of the shots lofted while he's on the court this year, which is...exactly his career average. Man-to-man, he's unpostable, still. Perhaps he can be driven around, but you still have to figure we match up better down low now than we did before. And on missed shots, he should be a great rebound and outlet man with his passing skills.

If all that were to work out, this trade would be great for the Suns. In reality, Shaq will probably miss lots of games and barely reach 30 minutes in the ones he does suit up for because of his ridiculous fouling of late. And then he'll whine about not getting enough touches and the team not playing a style that suits his skills. And then we'll pay him $20 million when he's 38. $20 million that could feed poor children in Africa...and I mean that literally: sending the urchins of Zimbabwe 20 million one-dollar bills to be stewed and eaten daily would probably be a better use of that money in 2010. Shit.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Phoenix 106, Sonics 99

While last night's game was a lot closer and more tense than it needed to be, I came away feeling pretty good about it overall. Amare contributed more than it seemed like he did, Shawn played an efficient game, Steve was excellent in everything but his way-too-high turnover total, Barbosa and Diaw were solid, and we got more out of Marcus Banks in 14 minutes than we did all of last season (and at a critical point, too!). Obviously, Marcus won't be shooting 4/5 on threes in every game, but he doesn't need to in order to be useful.

The best sign was actually this: no one played more than 34 minutes in the game, even though it was close until the very end. My theory is that the reason the Spurs perform so much better in the second half of every season and the playoffs is that they limit all of their players to the low thirties in minutes per game. Thus, by the end of the season, they're much fresher than the competition each night, and in the playoffs they start to play everyone 35-40 minutes and become much better than their regular season performance would lead you to believe. Mike D'Antoni is a smart guy, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's noticed this tactic and is going to adopt it himself. The only problem, of course, is that we aren't all that deep, but I still think that it's worth the potential sacrifice of a few regular season wins.

As for the bad, well, Raja didn't play very well on offense, but I doubt that he's lost his shot completely. We missed more free throws and committed more turnovers than normal, but I expect those things to fix themselves as well. More worrisome was giving up so such a good game to Chris Wilcox in the post. I'm much more bothered by getting abused down low than by Kevin Durant, who was awesome but not that awesome; he didn't get many free throws with all those unblockable jumpers, and he committed 6 TOs. Still, he looks like a fantastic player.

By far the biggest worry, though, is Grant Hill going 1-7 on threes. They were wide open, too, with the Sonics clearly conceding that shot and not even running out to challenge most of the attempts. He still played a decent game because he made almost all of his twos, but that's not gonna happen every night. He needs to get up to at least 35% on threes to become maximally effective for the Suns, and that could be tough given his career 25.1% rate. On the other hand, he probably wasn't shooting wide open three pointers during the other parts of his career like Suns perimeter players get, so maybe there's hope, at least if he concentrates on the corners like Bruce Bowen.

If Hill can hit the threes and D'Antoni can keep the minutes down, I think we can be right back up at the top. Then there's my other dream: the Sonics buy out Kurt Thomas around mideseason because, really, they have no use for him whatsoever...and he comes back to play for the Suns on the cheap. He's not gonna get the chance to shoot as many wide open 15-footers anywhere else, and he'd be sure to get some playing time as our only other credible center. It's probably not going to happen at all, but hey, I can hope.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Arkansas roots finally showing?

I didn't watch the debates last night, so I don't know how representative this photo is, but man:
That's a fine mullet. Where's her Camaro?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ah, My Libertarian Blood Doth Boil...

I'm writing an article on egg donation for my company, and in my research I came across this USA Today article on the subject. To me, the whole thing seems pretty slanted towards the "ZOMG TEH EGGZ IZ BEEING SOLED!!!!!!" angle, but this line really got me:
Reynolds says that as bounties for eggs rise, more students and other financially strapped women will be tempted by a procedure they'd otherwise reject.
I hate to point this out -- no wait, I love to point this out -- but everyone who has ever held a job does things that she would otherwise reject but for the love of lucre (or, to put it more sympathetically, food and shelter). Would I get up at 7am and drive halfway across the city to sit at a desk and edit other people's writing if I weren't getting paid? Hell no. Would I be more inclined to do it if someone were willing to pay me even more? Hell yes. If this Reynolds is consistent, then I guess he must feel morally troubled about the fact that he receives paychecks for hours worked on days when he'd really rather have stayed home and played with the kids (or shagged the wife, for that matter). After all, only the compulsion to earn a living made him do it.

A-Rod's Contract

For the record: I think the announcement last night (essentially made by Boras via trusting media mouthpieces) that A-Rod will opt out is a negotiating tactic rather than a guarantee. Note that he has not actually done so yet. I think that Boras realized that, with the Yankees publicly announcing that they would not re-sign A-Rod if he terminated his contract, he was on poor negotiating ground. As perhaps the only team willing and able to break the bank for his client, the Yankees were forcing Boras to negotiate with them alone, potentially saving themselves a fair bit of money (remember how the Red Sox last season forced Daisuke and Boras to accept their offer by taking advantage of their sole negotiating rights). This announcement sounds like a classic Boras scare tactic designed to make the Yankees increase their offer in order to avoid losing A-Rod altogether. Given that the man is a master of public stunts and clever feints, I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear a new announcement in a few days saying, "Well, the Yankees recognized that they couldn't afford to lose such a great asset, so they made a great offer, and Alex decided that that was enough." This announcement will come even if A-Rod receives a deal no larger than the one already rumored to have been offered, as Boras is Bush-like in spinning every defeat as a victory.

P.S. - I am just shocked, SHOCKED that Boras would leak this news during the deciding game of the World Series, when it would receive maximum media exposure. Even more hilarious is the suggestion that poor A-Rod just can't stand to commit himself to the uncertain future of the Yankees because of his concern for his dear teammates, who probably can't stand him.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Holy Crap!

I'm sure that everyone's seen this a million times, but it's worth watching yet one time more. Almost as great as the play itself (over a minute long!) is the play-by-play guy. After the touchdown, he yells a lot and does well enough with the moment for half a minute, and then he slows down for a second, and then the awesomeness of the play hits him again and he realizes that his call is going to get played a billion times on SportsCenter, so he starts yelling things again, over and over, hoping that something classic will accidentally fall from his lips, and soon he sounds like a robot stuck on Shout Mode. In a way, the call resembles the play itself: ugly, preposterously long, and amazing to experience nonetheless.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

That must be one of the world's great misnomers. Since pretty much no one else on earth, other than perhaps videogamers, performs the actions so labelled (screaming and gesticulating wildly after accomplishing a routine work task), it really ought to be called "sportsmanlike conduct." In fact, if I were to stand up, shout, and perform a choreographed dance the next time that I, say, wrote a webpage at work, I'm quite sure that someone would say, "He's acting like he just scored a touchdown or something."