Mark Deeks

markdeeks

Mark Deeks owns and operates ShamSports, and doesn’t do much else with his time. He is even more not-Canadian than Trey Kerby, being born, raised and stuck in England. When not writing about basketball, he can be found either appearing on game shows, inventing character names for non-existent sitcoms, or Googling his own name.

Recent Posts

The Carroll Dawson-era Rockets were built around two stars and not nearly enough help. When a prime Tracy McGrady and a healthy Yao Ming are flanked only by David Wesley, Scott Padgett and Torraye Braggs, they mean little.

The Daryl Morey-era Rockets have always been the opposite — a team full of “yeah he’s not bad” players with absolutely no foundation of star talent around which to put them. And despite the fact they usually always narrowly win every trade they take part in, this hasn’t gotten them anywhere. In the Morey era, the Rockets have only one playoff series win, only two playoff appearances total, and have finished ninth in the Western Conference for the last three seasons.

Fully cognizant of the need for a super duper star, the Rockets’ plan has always been to stockpile assets in order to get one later. They’re always looking for misfits, rejects, late bloomers and draft steals, pieces spurned or underappreciated by other teams that they can nurture into decent NBA players, thereby building a roster out of maximizing minimal assets rather than ever having bigger ones. It doesn’t always work — trading first round picks for Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams, for example, and inexplicably passing on Nikola Mirotic — yet the Rockets have built an entirely decent roster out of it.

Dwight Howard is the new target man. He’s a super duper star; moreover, he’s a center, a position at which Houston have so badly wanted to find an answer that they even gave Hasheem Thabeet a look. Even if he were to bolt after one year, Houston wants him, because a team with Dwight Howard is a team that won’t come in ninth. With this in mind, today they agreed to trade Chase Budinger, along with the draft rights to 2006 pick Lior Eliyahu, to Minnesota in exchange for the No. 18 pick in Thursday’s draft.

The inclusion of Eliyahu is not insignificant. He has not played in the NBA in the six years since being drafted, but he could have, and despite frustrating inconsistency and well-founded accusations of softness, Yahoo is a truly quirky inside-outside talent. Houston worked him out earlier this week, ostensibly to look into finally bringing him to the NBA next season, knowing him to be on the cusp of making the jump. (Give him a three-point shot, and he could be the next Scott Padgett!) Nevertheless, the deal is mainly about Budinger, who joins a cluttered but decent Timberwolves roster with the hopes of solidifying it.

Read the rest of this entry »

When the Washington Wizards traded for Nene back at the trade deadline, they did so because of their cap flexibility. They used this flexibility (akin to, but not synonymous with, cap space) to take on the massive contract of a decent player, thereby saving themselves the effort of having to overpay a decent player via the cap space route later on.

This cutting out of the middle man has now happened again. Out of nowhere, Washington traded Rashard Lewis’s big, redundant contract to New Orleans in exchange for the big, slightly less redundant contracts of Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. Seemingly, then, this is Washington’s modus operandi now. If they knew they weren’t going to sign anyone anyway, losing the ability to sign someone is no real loss.

Since disbanding the Arenas/Jamison/Butler first round caliber team of a few years ago, the Wizards have gone from having incredibly little cap flexibility to having quite a lot of it. They have also been very bad, which has not made them an attractive free agent destination, if ever they were one, thus rather undermining said leverage. Perhaps cognizant of this, the Wizards haven’t attempted the big name cap space route — they haven’t signed another team’s FA to a multiyear contract since overpaying for Darius Songaila six summers ago, and, even prior to the Nene move, have burned millions in theoretically lucrative cap space acquiring Kirk Hinrich and Ronny Turiaf by trade. This move is a clear continuation of that strategy. Right or wrong, it’s a strategy.

Trading someone you didn’t want for two decent players is rarely a bad thing. Warts and all, Okafor and Ariza are undeniably just that. Ariza will bring his usual brand of league average, sporadic, effective-but-infuriating ball to a team who really need stability and mentorship on a roster already overladen with young forwards. Nevertheless, he is good enough to help the team on both ends. And the Wizards certainly need help on both ends. This trade, in theory, gets them into the playoffs.

Any success derived from the trade, however, is ultimately contingent not on Ariza, but upon Okafor’s coexistence with Nene. Other than brief stretches — including at the start of this season — Nene has exclusively played the center spot in his NBA career, whereas Okafor has spent all his time there. Okafor has always been slightly undersized for the position, yet his skill set and lack of athleticism prevents him from playing anywhere else. Nene’s skill set rather straddles the two big positions, yet, with Okafor’s inability to play outside of the paint on either end, the two are either going to awkwardly try and make it work (Yao Ming/Kelvin Cato, 2004) or sub in for each other (Eddy Curry/Tyson Chandler, 2005). Since the latter isn’t going to happen, Randy Wittman has a summer’s worth of tape in his future. Considering the relative costs involved, it’s just going to have to work.

(And if it doesn’t work, trade one of them for Kevin Martin. Simple as!)

Whether Washington could have sourced such decent veterans for cheaper — by acquiring, say, the comparable Sam Dalembert, or just seeing where they were at with Nene in the middle and using their assets elsewhere — is debatable. This may not have been an optimum appropriation of resources. How they plan to build a team around John Wall and yet surround him with absolutely no shooters is also a perfectly valid question. This move still leaves plenty to do. Nonetheless, they were returned decent players who will help.

New Orleans didn’t. They saved money. And that’s all they did.

Read the rest of this entry »

Even though they agreed to a rather unilateral choice of words that are quite clear in their intention, the NBA Player’s Association are trying to bend a CBA rule that they only just signed off to. Supposedly misleading terminology with regards to quite when a player’s “Bird rights clock” resets — as to whether it resets upon being placed on waivers, or upon clearing them — has seen an action brought that might change the status of some players, for example Chauncy Billups, heading into this summer’s free agency period.

There wasn’t any confusion about it until someone decided it would be really convenient if there was, but anyhoo.

If the action is successful — which it surely won’t be, but still — no one stands to gain more from this than the New York Knicks. Very, very few are ever claimed off waivers, yet the Knicks currently have two such players obtained in this way; not only that, the two were big contributors this season. Without Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin, an unsatisfactory Knicks season would have been an outright disaster.

If the NBPA’s “our bad, we didn’t mean that, can we have another go?” legal argument is successful, the Knicks will thus have early Bird rights on both Lin and Novak. They will then be able to spend an amount up to (and in fact slightly exceeding) the mid-level exception, without having to use their actual mid-level exception to do so, in re-signing them, as opposed to the barely-above-minimum contracts that non-Bird rights offer. If the action is successful.

If.

However, if the NBPA’s claim isn’t successful, the Knicks are in a bind. They’ll now have these two key players as free agents, and likely a third, too, as J.R. Smith has a player option for next season. If he also opts out, he too will have only non-Bird rights, and can be re-signed for only 120 percent of this year’s salary, as-near-as-is $2.8 million. Failing that, he too will cost some or all of the MLE. And failing that, he’s leaving. The Knicks didn’t have very many key contributors this season, and yet three of them may be about to bail because the Knicks just can’t pay them.

Read the rest of this entry »

The San Antonio Spurs just absolutely bowled over the L.A Clippers, a week after absolutely bowling over the Utah Jazz. They are on an 18-game winning streak, 24-point deficits be damned, and have been thoroughly untroubled on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Over the last month of the season, they have been the best team in the league, and it’s not been especially close.

Like a fine wine, and completely unlike gum disease, the Spurs only seem to improve with age. They have won four of the last 14 championships, and made the playoffs for 15 straight years, winning no fewer than 50 games in any full length regular season during that time and only failing to get out of the first round three times. Their winning percentage in that time is about 135 percent. And they never, ever seem to fall off.

It is not a coincidence that, 15 years ago, they drafted Tim Duncan, the unquestionable best power forward of all time even if he is a center. It is too simple, however, to credit the Spurs’ two decades of continued success solely to him. Nor is it fair to credit it all to Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s longest tenured coach in his first and only NBA gig. San Antonio’s continued success is multifaceted, contingent not just upon Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford or the role players, but all of it. The pattern. The formula. The Spurs way of doing things. Spurs basketball. Whatever that is.

One alpha dog, two beta dogs, and a few puppies. Few bad eggs, and even the bad eggs they have will play hard. A mixture of age and youth, athleticism and guile, defense and offense, jumpshooting and paint production, transition and halfcourt. Doing so on a smaller budget than most, constantly flirting with (and sometimes paying) the luxury tax, but without ever wanting or wishing to. Finding cheapies, plugging them in, building them up, letting them leave, finding new cheapies. Moving the ball, shooting the ball, rotating, picking and rolling, carpe dieming, with precisely one All-Star in this superteams era. It doesn’t seem that hard, but seemingly no one else can do it this well.

The Spurs continue to milk this formula, with an alpha dog whose averages are only slightly better than those than Carlos Boozer. And yet Tim Duncan never declines significantly. He plays less now, but he plays just as well. He passes just as well. He reads the defense just as well. He shoots bankers just as well. His driving righty flip-hook-layup-whatever-it-is thing is just as good. He still never, ever goaltends. He produces 90 percent of what he did when he won his first title, 14 years on. And now, rather than relying on Mario Elie, Malik Rose and Jaren Jackson for support. Duncan has a deep, deep supporting cast.

Read the rest of this entry »

Time was when a torn anterior cruciate ligament meant your career was over. At best, it was far different. As Bernard King can attest to, torn ACL’s weren’t understood, well treated, or even properly diagnosed. Bad knees were bad knees. Your knee didn’t stop hurting, you got taken out back and shot. That was the last time you ever used the knee.

However, the 21st century, with its flying robot cars and jetpacks for all, is a very different place. Advances in medical science, and a more important concurrent awareness of these advances, have led to enlightened times. Now, a player can tear an ACL and still play.

There is no greater testament to this than the fact that, as best as I can ascertain, 18 players currently in the NBA have previously had torn ACL’s surgically repaired.

That number does not include Ricky Rubio and Eric Maynor, promising young guards who tore ACL’s earlier this season. It does not include Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert, who tore their ACL’s earlier this week. It also does not include the dozens of others in the recent history of American professional basketball to have had the surgery — of which a non-exhaustive list can be found here — nor does it include the hundreds of NFL players, other sportsmen, or those of us in every day life. Now that we’ve learned (and been bothered) to diagnose it properly, it turns out the injury is rather common.

You can play again after tearing your ACL. In fact, you can even play without having any at all.

The more pertinent question is to what standard you can play. The proliferation of torn ACL’s does not make the injury any less severe. No two ACL tears are the same, nor are any two victims, if that’s the right word. You can’t compare Adam Morrison’s athleticism after his ACL tear to Derrick Rose’s before his, not unless you were playing the Opposites Game. (And if you were, you’d win.) To find a median, then, we ought perhaps look at the aforementioned 18 and try to establish some precedent.

Read the rest of this entry »

To trade someone so quickly after committing to them for so long is very rare, especially when you’ve owned the incumbent player for a full decade beforehand. But it does happen. In light of trading him Washington yesterday, a mere three months after re-signing him to a 5-year $65 million contract, Denver are being accused of demonstrating buyer’s remorse over Nene.

But this is not strictly true.

Sam Amick reports that Denver began working on trading Nene almost immediately after re-signing him. He is unmistakably right, and it took only three months to go from the planning stage to completion. However, looking to trade Nene immediately is not, in itself, evidence of buyer’s remorse. That is evidence of something else.

That, if anything, is reselling, pawnbrokering, wheeler-dealing, merchanting. That is buying purely with intent to sell later on. That is either asset management or borderline deception, depending on your opinion. Whatever it is, it is not remorseful.

It was deliberate from the start.

Denver knew something we didn’t, something they never told us. They never wanted to re-sign Nene in the first place. Nene was re-signed for five years and $65 million because that was the cost of re-signing Nene, and not because Denver thought he was worth it. Denver had a choice — either lose Nene for nothing, or overpay him significantly. Even knowing that they would rather give minutes to Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov, young bigs with potential, they chose the latter, re-signed Nene for big bucks, and then spend half the year playing him out of position. An overpaid asset is a better asset than no asset at all, and for as long as Nene’s perceived value (scorching hot after the summer courtship) outweighed his actual value, Denver intended to cash in. They did just that.

With this in mind, the trade starts to look a little different.

Regardless of any individual opinion with regards to the returned player, Javale McGee, Denver just got a productive, athletic, young big and emphatic salary relief in exchange for their non-All-Star highest-paid player whom they did not even want. “Buyer’s remorse” is not as fair of a representation of the saga as might be “buyer’s consolidation.” Denver didn’t regret re-signing Nene, as they did it specifically to deal him. A delayed sign-and-trade, if you will. And they’ve been able to complete it far soon than perhaps they expected.

Read the rest of this entry »

Indisputably, incontrovertibly and unmistakably, Derek Fisher can no longer play at a high level. He exists solely now as a mistake-free three-point specialist who even then hits only two threes a week, to the point that rookie Andrew Goudelock became the Lakers’ go-to three-point option instead of him. The defense has gone, the shot is going, and the point guard play was never really there. With all due respect, Fisher is a shell of his former self.

Of course, although he couldn’t play, he did play. A lot. Alongside the similarly struggling Steve Blake (24.7mpg, 5.7ppg, 3.5 apg), Fisher was half of the worst positional rotation in basketball. It was no secret that this week, somehow, the Lakers were getting a point guard. The only thing unclear was who.

The Lakers got that point guard yesterday, trading Luke Walton along with a first round pick and Jason Kapono as salary filler, to Cleveland in exchange for Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga.

Sessions had long been considered the target, so this was no surprise. The only surprise was the inclusion of Walton’s redundant, dead-weight, not-expiring, still-amazed-they-didn’t-amnesty-it contract (and its 7.5 percent trade kicker). Walton will now earn over $6 million next season to do nothing at all for Cleveland, and all they get to offset that cost (which is roughly equal to what Eyenga and Sessions would earn combined if Sessions opted in) is a protected low first-round pick. The Cavaliers, willing and able to pay bad salaries if they get future assets in the process, have done a much lesser version of what they did at the last deadline, taking on Baron Davis to get Kyrie Irving. But taking on Luke Walton to get Festus Ezeli isn’t quite the same. Sessions should have had more value than this, and only the threat of his possible opt-out this summer can really explain the cheap dump and hefty Walton penalty.

Eyenga and Kapono can be disregarded as salary filler. Eyenga lost any role he may have had with his underwhelming play, lack of development, and the emergence of Alonzo Gee as the far superior contributor. Like Fisher, Kapono is a three-point specialist who never actually shot them, mainly because he barely played. Their roles in the deal were merely financial. Even the pick and Walton were, and will be, largely meaningless. This was about Sessions.

Sessions gives the Lakers what Fisher and Blake never did: a pick-and-roll option. Criticisms of Kobe Bryant’s ball dominance and shot selection maybe be valid — very, very valid — yet they must be tempered with the realization that no one else could really do anything. It was tough enough for Fisher to get the ball up court sometimes, and the small forward trio of Devin Ebanks, Matt Barnes and Ronny Peace weren’t helping. Sessions gives the Lakers this ball-handling option, the man who gets the ball over halfcourt every time, can find Pau Gasol in pick-and-pop situations, will get Andrew Bynum the ball in the middle, finds the rolling man, hits cutters, and can drive-and-kick to the Lakers’ mediocre outside shooters. He expands a playbook that, whoever’s fault it is, wasn’t very expansive.

It must be noted, however, that Sessions is ball dominant. Whenever he has thrived as a player — most notably, the crazy Larry Krystkowiak era — Sessions did what he did because he had free reign to do what he wanted. No one else could handle the ball, so Sessions did, solely and exclusively. Off the ball, his usefulness is extremely limited. Moreover, since his explosion into the league as an assist machine, Sessions has bizarrely tried harder and harder to be a scoring talent. And he just isn’t one. His jumper is poor, his efficiency worse, and his finishing around the basket isn’t great, yet too often, Sessions looks for his rather than others. Considering how good he can be at looking for others, it is frustrating.

Read the rest of this entry »