Allen Iverson Retires. Headed to the Hall.

November 26, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Allen Iverson, undoubtedly one of the greatest NBA players of all time, has announced his plans to retire at the age of 34.

After agreeing terms with the Memphis Grizzlies in what appeared to be a bad fit, the high scoring guard only stayed in Grace-land long enough to suit up, come off the bench and decide that, um, thanks, but no thanks.

What appeared a bad fit from the start, Iverson simply proved the scores of critics correct by walking away from a team which wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the growth of its’ young core for the sake of an ageing superstar’s ego.

The fact that Memphis were the only team League wide to vaguely appear serious in their pursuit of the free agent should have proven a fairly dramatic wake up call for the 4 time NBA leading scorer and 2001 MVP recipient whose stock has plummeted in recent years.

The #1 pick in the 1996 Draft, Iverson’s first 10 years in the NBA showed the world a new type of basketball player, a new way to play.

Listed at a generous 6ft Iverson dominated the game in a way that was previously unthinkable for someone of such a relatively diminutive stature. His small stature allowed fans to directly relate to him; it was easier to root for a guy whose head isn’t a foot above yours.

The gaudy numbers, the cross-over, the tattoos, the outspoken nature, Iverson irrevocably changed the NBA. The influence that his infectious personality has had on the League cannot be underestimated.

Whether it be dragging his Philadelphia team to the Finals or almost breaking the ankles of one Mr Jordan, Iverson’s early career was the perfect mix of talent, stats and controversy. Un-typically outspoken for a pro athlete, Iverson guaranteed one thing: it was never going to be dull.

Despite his out spoken nature and his predisposition for difficulty, “practice?” need we say more, every GM in the League would have given their left arm to acquire The Answer at the end of the 2001 season.

So what went wrong? How have we ended up in this mess, with no team willing to take on a player guaranteed of his place in the Hall of Fame? A player who clearly has a lot to give?

The answer is apparent.

Firstly, and quite simply, Iverson’s ego is gigantic. That is not to say he was arrogant, rather he displayed the confidence in his abilities that was necessary for a small guy to continually get punished by bigger men and keep coming back for more: if he didn’t believe in himself, who would?

While playing top dog at the 76ers all was well. His numbers justified his lofty mindset. But upon his trade to the Nuggets and subsequently the Pistons, Iverson was unable to comprehend his status as anything other than ‘The Man’.

He had never been asked to be ‘The Other Guy’, the role player, the supporting act.

He could stand in front of the media day after day and reassert his dedication to the cause and his willingness to do what the coach says for the good of the team, but the reality of the situation couldn’t have been more different.

Regardless of what people think of his conduct, or his apparent ‘lack of professionalism’ in not putting his team first, Iverson is unable to play from the bench.

That is a fact and it isn’t changing. Ever.

If he is unable to play from the bench and if he is unable to lead a team on his own any more, which regardless of what Iverson says, he can’t, he can no longer play in the NBA.

At 34, Iverson is in all likelihood not done. There will be an owner just crazy enough, or in need of a boost in revenue, who will take him on.

If his retirement is permanent and he has suited up for the last time, let us not remember the grouchy Piston or the quick-as-a-flash Grizzlie. Let us remember AI the 76er. The man who showed no fear and could score points like no other.

The man who is going to the Hall.


Toronto Raptor’s offensive prowess enough to keep Chris Bosh in Canada?

November 13, 2009

bosh1by Jack Maidment

Best scoring teams in the NBA this year. Phoenix Suns. Golden State Warriors. Toronto Raptors.

Wait.

The Raptors? As unlikely as it may seem, the Canadians rank third overall in points scored this season.

108.12 points per is pretty damn impressive, especially when you consider that the franchise has experienced a fairly radical reshape in the past few months.

Shawn Marion has gone. As has Anthony Parker. Both athletic wing players, both versatile, both missed?

Losing two of your better players doesn’t seem like the type of business strategy designed to keep your restless star player in town next year.

With that in mind, it was far from surprising when the Raptors aggresively pursued Hedo Turkoglu whose value, fresh from a trip to the Finals, was at its peak.

Whether or not the amount of money Toronto splurged on snatching Turkoglu from the clutches of the Portland Trailblazers has had the desired effect on Chris Bosh’s mindset regarding 2010 and free agency, there can be no denying the benefits of having the ex Orlando Magic forward on your squad.

14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists may not exactly justify the man’s contract, but Hedo is certainly balling as he tries to adapt to a new home town, a new system. The level he was at last year should eventually come back to him as he adjusts to the wants and needs of his new team.

If Turkoglu isn’t blowing up with points every night, how are the Raps so prolific on the offensive end?

Their much coveted big man and his larger frame is perhaps the main reason. Chris Bosh has been putting up the kind of numbers that will have GMs across the land salivating. 29 points, almost 12 rebounds, 2 assists and a block a game. Numbers worthy of the anticipated demand for his services next summer.

The problem for the Raptors is that basketball is a game played on both ends of the floor. They are currently suffering from the same affliction that has dwelt in Golden State for some years. Entertaining for sure, but the ‘we’ll score more than you’ philosophy can only get you so far.

Defense is the key. A boring fact, but a fact all the same. Allowing 108.62 points a game just isn’t going to get it done in the NBA and it is for that reason the the Raps sit at .500, 3 games won, 3 games lost.

Until they develop a defensive identity the Raptors will remain a team on the cusp of greatness. They have enough fire power to worry any team in the League, but the consistency that a solid defense would bring is sorely missing.

Their status as dark horses for dishing out a playoff upset is well founded, especially given the promising play of rookie wing DeMar DeRozan who is right next to Brandon Jennings in terms of chances of excitement when a rookie plays.

The question for Toronto fans is simple: will the Raptors’ collective performance this year be enough to convince Chris Bosh to stay north of the border?

If it is, Toronto should have a promising few years ahead of them: Bargnani is always improving, Turkoglu should have 3 solid years to come, Calderon’s ability to run a team is unlikely to evaporate and the future of DeRozan is undeniably bright.

If not, Toronto will truly feel the sizeable hole left by Bosh, in all probability consigning the franchise to further years in the NBA wilderness, neither awful or great.

Mediocrity. Nothing more frustrating.


Dwyane Wade over Anderson Varejao: Dunk of the Season?

November 13, 2009

wade

by Jack Maidment

Dunk of the Season?

So you’ve just got your 6 year, $40 million dollar contract. You’re feeling pretty good because the Cleveland Cavaliers have elected to pay you more money than just about anybody had anticipated. To be honest, you can’t quite believe that you’ve got this lucky.

Not only do you have no financial worries, but you’re also in the enviable position of playing on one of the NBA’s elite teams alongside basketball’s best player, LeBron James.

You remind yourself everyday that life as Anderson Varejao is pretty damn good.

It appears that the bubble of tranquility that you live in is impenetrable. Sure, you may lose a few games and not start the season as hot as last year, but you are safe in the knowledge that everything will be alright in the end.

Unfortunately, on the night that you and Cavs role into Miami, Dwyane Wade has had a bad day.

His General Manager still wont commit to new players to actually help him.

He is still only the 3rd best player in the NBA despite an individual effort last year that was unrivalled.

The more he thinks about it, Dwyane Wade starts to get angry. Real angry. Like Hulk Smash angry.

He doesn’t talk to his teammates before the game, he just sits, growling, whilst ripping phone books in half with his bare hands.

He hits the court and sees Varejao and his ‘life is good’ grin. ‘Oh hell no’. That’s the match to the lighting paper. Wade steals the ball, drives down the floor and elevates over the Brazilian, finishing with so much ferocity that you can actually see Varejao’s world start to crumble before totally disintegrating by the time his frame hits the floor.

Suddenly the world is not so rosy.

Being the victim of the dunk of the season can do that to a man.


NBA Rookie Rankings: Brandon Jennings is Untouchable.

November 12, 2009

brandon-jennings-is-a-buckby Jack Maidment

The NBA season may have only been running a little over two weeks, but the League has provided enough drama in that relatively short space of time to satisfy even the most cynical of basketball fiends.

Phoenix, fuelled by the performances of their 35 year old point guard Steve Nash, have jumped out to a League best 7-1 start. No other team is more exciting than the Suns right now and a reversion to the 7 seconds or less model has Arizona’s finest with only the Boston Celtics for company a top the NBA pyramid.

In a similarly isolated position is the rookie Brandon Jennings whose performances for the Milwaukee Bucks has not only re-ignited a previously moribund franchise but also fired the #10 Draft pick above and beyond his 2009 class mates.

If the play of Jennings continues to anywhere near his current level, the race to become Rookie of the Year may as well be called off. Quite simply, no other rookie, barring the injured Blake Griffin, is even close to having the kind of impact that the Oak Hill Academy product is enjoying.

The fact that on Draft night Jennings’ status seemed so murky with rumours of a slip into the second round now appears positively ludicrous. Averages of 20.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists have the nine General Managers who passed on him cursing their judgement.

His 32 point, 9 assist outburst in the Bucks’ victory over the Denver Nuggets not only makes his stated target of 15 assists a game seem possible but it also categorically cements Jennings’ status as Rookie of the Year frontrunner.

No one else is even close.


Phoenix Suns Start 7-1, Nash Proves Numbers Tell Only Part of the Story

November 10, 2009

nash

by Jack Maidment

How many times in the past has a man been written off because of numbers.

In the same week that David Haye defeated 7 feet and 23 stone of human being in Nicolai Valuev to become the World Heavyweight Champion, Steve Nash showed his disdain for the world of statistics in a show of solidarity with the Hayemaker.

Sure, Nash is 35 years of age. For any sport in which running is a main component, that kind of mileage tends to signify the end of the line. It is exactly that kind of thinking that has led many members of the basketball community to label the Canadian as done: he may have signed a 2 year extension with the Phoenix Suns, but with Shaquille O’Neal and Mike D’Antoni long gone the last chapter in Nash’s career will surely be nothing more than a farewell tour, right?

Seems as numbers play such a large part in determining our view on sports, here are 2 more for you: 21 points, 20 assists.

Read that again.

Now consider that the Suns were playing the Philadelphia 76ers, far from a basement dwelling team.

Nash’s second 20 20 night this season (8 games gone) powered his team to another win and a 7 and 1 start leaving most people around the hoop world with their jaws dropped and a look that says ‘where did that come from?’

The tempo has been restored in Arizona and the dumping of the Diesel to the Cleveland Cavaliers has effectively banished the ball and chain that dragged the Sun’s roster down the past two seasons freeing up a roster that can boast a collection of offensively talented players that very few if any teams can match.

Amare Stoudemire, goggles and all, has returned and is reminding the League why so many teams used to covet the man they call STAT. In the place of Shaquille O’Neal there is Channing Fry, an acquistion in the offseason from the Portland Trailblazers. Far from the banger that he has replaced, Fry’s outside game has allowed Amare the room he needs to manouevre in the low post.

Adding a center who can shoot the 3 has combined with the rest of the Suns’ outside threat to return the team to most capable of scoring in the entire League. Check out who is leading the NBA in points for. You wont be surprised.

Jason Richardson, Leandro Barbosa and Grant Hill have all started the season sharing the belief that missing the playoffs as they did last year simply isn’t going to happen again.

7-1 start has the rest of the League wondering, can they keep this up? Nash’s legs will almost certainly be brought up for losses in the future, but for now the engine is still there. Ultimately, a player that has never relied on pace to get his shot or dish his assists will not miss his legs as they start to fade.

In the next two years the Phoenix Suns will score more points than any other team. They will win more games than many. But will they prove the ‘defense wins championships’ mantra wrong?

Hope is a wonderful thing.