Boris Diaw: An alternate history

January 26, 2012

By Jack Maidment

In Jack McCallum’s excellent 2005/06 season-on-the-bench book Seven Seconds Or Less, Mike D’Antoni, head coach of the Phoenix Suns, sits down with Boris Diaw for the Frenchman’s end of season exit interview.

“Boris, real quick, I’ll tell you what I told you last night. In the biggest game of the season you gave us thirty and eleven. You were the league’s Most Improved Player. I just appreciate everything you’ve done. You’re fun. You helped make the locker room great. Other than kissing your ass, I don’t have much to say.

“The main thing is that there is no reason your goal should not be to be one of the best players in the league. That’s how good you can be.”

So what happened?

At 6’8, 230lbs and with all of the skills of a guard, Boris Diaw was an absolute revelation in his debut season in Phoenix.

Having played two non-distinct years in Atlanta for the Hawks he arrived in the desert in 2005 as a result of the Joe Johnson trade with no hype and proceeded to tear our of the blocks doing everything the injury ravaged Suns needed.

He had played back up point guard in Atlanta but in the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, he dutifully played center. Like that’s a normal progression.

How many times has that ever happened before? How many players could even contemplate such a shift?

Regardless, Diaw poured in his best ever season, 13-7-6, the versatile fuel which ignited the Suns to their imperious high-tempo best.

He was too big for guards, too skilled and quick for hulking big men who grimaced at the thought of running with the Frenchman in the 7 Seconds offense.

He was the MIP in the league during the regular season and got even better in the playoffs (19-7-5), culminating in his 34-11 game one performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, including the game winner, which caused D’Antoni to gush with praise.

So what happened?

Things changed.

Stoudemire came back and he never averaged double digits as a Sun again. He got traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008. He put on weight. He became a pale imitation of the match up nightmare born in the desert.

Four years later and Diaw is playing off the bench for the woeful Bobcats, posting 8-6-4. Solid numbers for a bench player, but for D’Antoni’s Diaw?

It’s tempting to write the Frenchman off as his production drops and say that he is done.

But he is only 29-years-old. Why can’t he come back?

He is enduring the toughest stretch of his career right now, a bench cog on a perennially bad team, potentially a fire slowly petering out.

It would surely be fitting, almost poetic, for him to rise again. Just like a Phoenix.


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.


Cleveland Cavaliers Acquire Shaquille O’Neal From Phoenix Suns

June 25, 2009

Shaqcavs

by Jack Maidment

The ‘Fire Steve Kerr’ lobby just got a lot more ammunition as the Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired Shaquille O’Neal for the NBA equivalent of a Mars bar and a packet of crisps.

The move which sees Ben Wallace, who is likely retiring, and Sasha Pavlovic, heading to Arizona accompanied by a low second round pick and a reported $500,000.

For the Cavaliers this trade represents a bolstering of their frontcourt, a presence inside and a 2nd/3rd option for LeBron James to dump the ball to when the time is right.

Last season showed that given the right amount of rest The Most Dominant Ever can still embarrass just about any other center in the League, putting up numbers reminiscent of Shaq 6 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Suns are officially in meltdown, dismantling the team that took them close but no cigar. The departure of Shaq could well leave the door open for Steve Nash to pack up his bags as he searches out a contender for his chance at a ring.

The Cavs will hope that the $20 million Shaq is owed this coming season will be enough to push the franchise over the hump.


NBA Trade Rumors: Amare Stoudemire to Washington Wizards, Portland Trailblazers like Stephen Curry.

June 3, 2009

nba_g_stoudemire_580by Jack Maidment

With the NBA season nearly at a close the hype mill has just started upping its production, generating the rumours which will keep hoop heads busy until the tip off of the 2009/10 season.

The priority for all but two of the League’s franchises is the rapidly approaching draft which offers teams the opportunity to turn their fortunes around.

Or not. Given the reported strength, or lack there of, in this year’s class, the chance of a dramatic turnaround look slim. Unless you are the LA Clippers.

Even so, there will be a number of players drafted this year who will go on to have a huge impact on their team. Also guaranteed is the ‘diamond in the rough’ which one lucky franchise will uncover with what looks like an inconspicuous pick.

With that in mind, the Portland Trailblazers are rumoured to be locked on to the guy they want, Davidson’s Stephen Curry.

It is easy to see why the Blazers like Curry given his offensive capabilities and his seemingly good fit with a dominant ball handling two guard like Brandon Roy who would free up Curry for spot up jump shots from which he was so effective in college.

The problem for the Blazers lies in the fact that the man they want is projected at around #8, but they wont be on the clock until #24.

All reports up to this point have suggested that the New York Knicks are keen on the slight scoring guard who appears to be the perfect player for Mike D’Antoni’s offensive schemes.

However, the perceived weakness of this year’s class would suggest that team’s will be open to trading down in return for promising players and/or future picks.

Young, promising players is something that Portland has in bunches so it is likely they will be listening intently when the call comes in.

Portland are far from the only team apparently making moves. The Phoenix Suns often trade rumoured forward, Amare Stoudemire, has been linked to a move to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Antawn Jamison, Mike James’ expiring contract and the #5 pick in this years’ draft.

Such a move would almost certainly spell the end of the Suns as we know them, trading their big man who is just entering his prime for an aged forward, cap room and a non to exciting pick.

The Suns would be in a position to strike in the 2010 free agent class, but this draft would almost certainly constrict Phoenix to a second year of mediocrity.


NBA Playoffs Loom: LeBron Loses Back-To-Back, West Wide Open, Anything Could Happen.

April 6, 2009
Big Dance Finalists?

Big Dance Finalists?

Some things change and some things do not. It is an old adage and yet the message retains it’s potent truth, especially in the fast paced world of the 21st century. No where is change assured than in the NBA. Check it out:

 

Last week the Cavaliers were being billed as favourites for the Championships, seemingly unbeatable, irresistibly maintaining their momentum which has been building toward victory at the Big Dance. What a difference a few days can make.

 

LeBron and his Cavaliers flew into Washington assuming nothing but a convincing, and in all likelihood, an easy W. But the Wizards did their best to reinforce a lopsided rivalry by dropping Cleveland, simultaneously planting seeds of doubt into the minds of every NBA fan, coach, player, critic, as to the Cavaliers apparent invincibility.

 

But slip-ups happen, right? Yes, indeed they do, but the Cavaliers’ response, crushed by Orlando, was not what LeBron and his team needed. Back to back losses this close to the post season is far from ideal preparation.

 

Luckily for the Cavs, just about everyone has been flawed the past few weeks. The Lakers loss to the Bobcats highlighted that any team, especially those already buried, can inflict fairly disastrous losses even to the League’s best. What looked like a certain Lakers-Cavaliers Finals is now looking far less concrete, and even if LeBron-Kobe does take place, who will have home court advantage is also still to be decided, ensuring a competitive and driven finish to the regular season.

 

The Eastern semis look fairly predictable, with 3 of the 4 spots (Cavs, Celts, Magic) likely alrwady decided, barring some first round heroics from one of the East’s lower seeded teams. There is nothing so cast-iron out West, with anyone from 7 teams capable of occupying the other 3 places in the Conference semis.

The Lakers will be there. But who will join? Given their pedigree, the Spurs should progress. And Denver just won’t go away despite many people questioning how they have come to be the 2nd seed out West. And I like a young a exciting Portland team.

 

Truthfully however, anything could happen. Change is a certainty, as illustrated by the sad demise of the Suns.

 

The Big Dance awaits.