Recent Hoops News

Timberwolves Resign Craig Smith

This thoroughly minor signing justifiably barely caused a flutter league-wide in the NBA, but smart Wolves fans have a right to wonder why it happened. The Rhino is an undersized power forward on a ballclub that just drafted an undersized center and traded for a journeyman legit center to pair alongside their star power forward who frequently was forced to play out of position in the pivot last season. So, are we going to see Smith and Jefferson form a disastrous frontcourt again this season, or has the Rhino been signed to a 2-year deal to be 10-minute backup at the 4? The money is reportedly right, less than $4 million over two years, which inevitably leads to speculation that Smith is a placeholder as the Wolves continue preparing themselves to be a major player in the 2010 free agent market.

Forgetting for a moment that big time free agents almost never come to this frozen tundra, the more immediate concern is, what happened to Ryan Gomes being this team’s top priority among its own free agents this summer? The trade for 6-8 Mike Miller and last year’s drafting of 6-9 Corey Brewer coupled with the signing of the 6-7 Smith doesn’t leave a lot of options for the 6-7 Gomes, who swings between the power and small forward positions. All Gomes did last season was do whatever was asked of him without complaint, while posting the second-best season, behind Jefferson, of anyone on the roster. He merits a $4-5 million payday and is exactly the kind of player who won’t embarrass a team that signs him for 3-4 years.

The devil’s advocacy position is that neither Smith nor Gomes fits into the Wolves’ long range plans; that unlike Gomes, who will draw more interest, Smith is a cheap placeholder and that a team counting on a nucleus of Jefferson/Love/Foye/Brewer, and perhaps Miller and McCants, doesn’t have need for shorty 4’s or even swing 3-4’s. I understand this, although it makes laughable Kevin McHale’s frequent argument that people get too hung up on position at the expense of skill set and savvy. Ryan Gomes is a basketball player, the embodiment of that dictum; he makes others around him better in myriad little ways. Craig Smith is a specialist–an occasional nightmare matchup for teams in the low block–in a specialty that is neither particularly unique nor frequently required, meaning there is high supply and low demand.

The probable good news is that Gomes may be eligible for the Kevin Garnett supersized bonus package: You get shunned in Minnesota only to land in Boston, where your services are recognized, properly invoked and handsomely rewarded in terms of both wins and dollars. There may be someone else on the market the Celts perceive as a Posey replacement, but I don’t know who. Gomes is not the defender Posey is, nor as money-certain in the clutch from long-range, but he’s younger, would be slightly cheaper, and is a fan favorite in Boston from his two years there.

Brand Goes to Philly; Camby Lands With the Clips

Let’s start with my minority opinion that Marcus Camby is a more valuable basketball player than Elton Brand. The market has obviously said otherwise–Brand signed a 5-year, $80 million deal with the Sixers, spurning a Clipper franchise that would have topped those numbers, while Camby is getting a mere $20 million over the next two years and was just given away for a second-round draft choice by the Nuggets. But that’s because even NBA general managers apparently undervalue defense in this league. Marcus Camby was named the league’s best defender two years ago. He is just a whisker behind Tyson Chandler as the best defensive center in basketball. And Nuggets gave him away because they didn’t want to pay the luxury tax!!

How fucking stupid can the Denver management be? I get it that the Nuggets laid a giant egg last season and don’t want to lose a ton of money on a team that isn’t going anywhere. But to scapegoat Camby for this is asinine. What, you say Camby isn’t scapegoated, he’s just the one guy on the roster whose salary could be unloaded? Well then why is coach George Karl still around–wasn’t he the guy who couldn’t get this squad full of superstar contracts to play a lick of defense (aside from Camby, who led the NBA with 3.61 blocks per game to go with his 13 rebounds and 3.3 assists)? And why did Denver management explain they were dumping Camby to clear cap space to eventually sign free agents like chucklehead JR Smith, he of the $50 hops and 10-cent brain?

Had Camby been kept on the squad this year, his ten mil would have been half of what Allen Iverson will make, more than four million less than both Melo and K-Mart will draw, and about $320,000 more than Nene will "earn." If I was a Nugs fan, I would be screaming bloody murder. You lose Camby but you keep Karl and the rest of the malingerers who sleepwalked through the season at the defensive end of the court? You’re seriously thinking that JR Smith is the key to your future? You have a $10 million trade exception for a year (about the only worthwhile thing received in the deal) but have the increasingly suspect Melo as your cornerstone, Iverson coming off the books at the end of the season, and the often-injured Nene and scrub Stephen Hunter as your centers alongside the often-injured K-Mart on the front line.

If Karl is still around by New Year’s Day 2009, I’ll be amazed.

But back to Camby versus Brand. I’ve long admired Brand’s work ethic and the way his integrity saw the Clips through some very lean years, which makes his apparent bait-and-switch with his former ballclub all the more ironic after the team, at his urging, had gone out and signed Baron Davis. Folks who favor Brand over Camby can point to him being a rare 20/10 career man after nine seasons in the league, and five years younger than Camby to boot.

I think Camby, despite their huge age difference, will be more valuable than Brand in two years’ time. Because of Camby’s early history with injuries, he actually has fewer total NBA minutes than Brand–23,500 for EB; 21,301 for Camby. And Camby is getting better with age, setting career-highs in blocks, rebounds, and assists last season. Over the past three years he’s never grabbed fewer than 11.7 rebounds per game nor blocked fewer than 3.3 shots per game. By contrast, if we eliminate last year for Brand, who ruptured his achilles tendon and sat out all but 8 games, over his three previous (healthy) seasons, he grabbed 10 rebounds per game once (and then exactly 10.0), never blocked more than 2.5 shots per game, and registered fewer steals and assists than Camby. The only place Brand has it all over Camby is on offense. Brand’s 20.3 career average is nearly double Camby’s 10.7, and his shooting percentage is 50.5 versus Camby’s 46.7.

But what’s harder to find, points in the paint or interior D? What’s a harder position to fill, center or power forward? And who has the better shot at being injury-free the next few years, the 6-7, 254 bull coming off a significant achilles injury who specializes in low-block offense or the 6-11, 235 shot-swatter who gets his few points mostly on mid-range jumpers? Camby is a young 34; Brand an old 29. The Clippers made out like bandits on this exchange, paying $6 million less and with less long-term obligation, for a better player.

Yes, Camby is more redundant on a team that already has a legit center in Chris Kamen. Teams would be smart to try to run on a Clips team that sports a front line of Kamen/Camby/Thornton with the defensively challenged Baron Davis at the point and perhaps rookie Eric Gordon on the wing. But here’s a trade proposal I think would be great for both clubs: Camby and Cuttino Mobley to the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion. The Matrix would be a perfect fit between Kamen and Thorton, provide Davis and Gordon (and Thorton) with a dyamite running mate, and be the jack of defenders he was in Phoenix. Granted, Marion’s weird unhappiness with the perfect situation he was given in Phoenix, and at an inflated salary, is troubling in terms of him b
eing a veteran leader in LA, and a contract agreement (or a sign and trade after an extension by Miami) would have to be worked out. But with Davis/Marion/Kamen as your nucleus and Eric Gordon and perhaps Deandre Jordan in your future, the Clips could make some noise in the tough Western Conference.

Meanwhile, Miami would have Camby to go with Wade and Beasley, a perfect complement. Those who think the Heat are (or should) be building slow and sure have a lot more confidence in Wade’s ability to absorb punishment without future injury than I do. No, Miami should be in a win-soon mode, and putting a leviathan like Camby in the pivot and Wade and Beasley (and Mobley, don’t forget) on the wings is a nice little recipe for success. Just a thought.

Posey Makes the Hornets Favorites in the West

The best way to describe James Posey to fans in New Orleans is that he’s the anti-Bonzi Wells; a guy whose game is always better than his stats, and whose results are almost always better than the process you see before your eyes. Posey isn’t pretty–well, unless he’s making like the heir to Robert Horry on those big-time treys–but the kind of defense and rugged physicality he brings to the court isn’t meant to be pretty. He fits in so smoothly with Tyson Chandler and David West that it is tempting to think about bringing Peja Stojakovic off the bench as a 6th man of the year candidate. The ideal signing, and, if not for "Camby for a second round draft pick," the coup of the off-season acquisitions.