The Inbounds: Retro-veterans and the once-and-future rim protector

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In 2006, signing Ben Wallace to a deal would have been in an incredible franchise-changing move to radically alter the outlook of your defense.

In 2009, trading for him would have been seen as a desperate and flawed move towards overpaying for an unproductive and underwhelming player.

In 2012, it’s a pretty solid move which can shore up your bench, bring veteran leadership (VETERAN LEADERSHIP ALERT) to your locker room and provide you with a strong-willed icon to rally behind.

 

In 2007, Marcus Camby was a shot-blocking machine, the Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Star candidate and considered a superb all-around player.

In 2010, Camby was considered an overrated defender who helped too much, gave up too many points at the rim, and relied too much on his shot-blocking to be considered actually that good of a defender.

In 2012, he’s a solid addition and a huge upgrade to the Knicks’ bench, bringing the kind of tough defense at the rim and rebounding they’ve been missing for several years down low. He and Tyson Chandler should prove to be quite the conundrum for teams.

 

And so it goes.  People like to blame the 24-second news-cycle for the way we tend to lose perspective on things, but it’s always been this way. Go back through the articles all the way back to the SI.com archive about anyone whose game went up or down, and you’re going to find things which look ridiculous in hindsight. That’s pretty standard. You write what you know at the time and some things in this world are just unforeseeable. Look at Stephon Marbury’s career and tell me if during it you would have thought he’d wind up eating Vaseline on UStream. It happens all the time. But particularly with big men defenders, we see a different loping arc.

Tyson Chandler was once thought of as just an athlete who couldn’t put it together. Then all of a sudden in New Orleans, he put it together, and while dunking CP3 alley-oops, it turned out he was a pretty great defender. Three years later, he wins a title with the Mavericks as the biggest difference-maker on a team that had been great for a decade.

Wallace was such a pivotal part of the Pistons’ championship, it’s almost impossible to overrate his performance. He was everywhere. Then in Chicago, he was slow-footed, slow-healing, and just slow. Scott Skiles’ decision in 2008 to repeatedly play him over Joakim Noah was the stuff to drive your hair out. But then he returned to Detroit after a sting with Cleveland where he was just dead money, and he was that lovable veteran who handled the defense as well as he could with the team falling apart around him. The Pistons have moved on this season, after it was thought Wallace would retire, but he’s reportedly thinking about giving it another go. He was still productive last season, still a good defender, but the expectations have changed. That’s the big differential.

It’s the same with Camby. There was a huge backlash against Camby right before he was traded to the Clippers from Denver, based on his tendency to pursue the block instead of keeping with the smart rotation. But since then, he’s been a good defender in Los Angeles, a great defender in Portland, and a pretty good one in Houston. He re-joins the Knicks and should make a substantial impact… for a guy his age. The expectation has changed, and that allows us to view him either more accurately or more favorably, depending on your inclination.

It makes you wonder about the future of so many players we routinely flambe on the internet stove. JaVale McGee could change his identity defensively four times over the next eight years of his career. Joakim Noah could reach DPOY status and then plummet to overrated, injury-prone joke-butt before finishing his career in Chicago a hero. Serge Ibaka laughably wound up second in Defensive Player of the Year votes last year, largely based on the same reasoning Camby wound up winning it in 2007. But he’s going to improve, just like Chandler and Camby did. What then?

The point, as always, is that an NBA career is almost never the same year-in-and-year out. It’s a topographical map with texture, peaks and valleys. Defensive big men are more prone to latter development we’re discovering, because of the amount of mental improvement and wisdom needed to excel in the NBAs new “all-help-all-the-time” defensive structure. You can label a player fairly as a poor defender now, but don’t let it sink in so much that you forget to watch their improvement, even as they get older. Point guards must improve younger, big men almost always make a jump later in their careers. And their continuing evolution makes up a significant impact on how team defenses, and legacies, can change.

Ben Wallace the leader, Camby the rock, Chandler the icon. What will McGee, DeAndre Jordan, and Ibaka become, before they become what they will even later?

Chris Paul’s free agency decision becomes a documentary

Associated Press
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Chris Paul had a new home in Los Angeles and the potential for a $200 million contract if he stayed with the Clippers.

He also had reason to doubt a championship would ever come there.

So sometime between walking off the floor after a Game 7 loss with the Clippers last spring and walking back onto it Tuesday night in a Houston Rockets uniform, Paul decided he needed to pack up his family and try for a title elsewhere.

“I just felt that it was time,” Paul said.

His free agency process and decision is the subject of a three-part documentary series titled “Chris Paul’s Chapter 3” that debuts Thursday on ESPN.

The first episode shows Paul’s frustration following the Clippers’ ouster against Utah in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and his questioning the Clippers’ culture. He had helped them become a perennial playoff team since his arrival in 2011, but not one that ever seriously contended for a title,

“Somewhere, I don’t know when it was – I’m not a saint by any means, it could have a lot do to with me also – but we just weren’t having as much fun,” he said.

He talked with his family and business partners about possibilities with Boston and San Antonio – where he feared Gregg Popovich might only coach for a couple more years – and visited music mogul Jay-Z and Disney CEO Bob Iger for their advice. He began to view Houston as the best option and eventually accepted a trade in late June, agreeing to opt in for the final year of his contract and delaying free agency until next summer.

All that after he had bought a house in Los Angeles across the street from Clippers teammate Paul Pierce, moving his in-laws in last January.

“Truthfully, I didn’t think there was no way that Chris would leave the Clippers,” said Pierce, now retired and an ESPN analyst. “He really built up something special, you know, with getting the Clippers back to being legitimate, make the playoffs every year, (winning) 55 games. He just bought a new home like less than a year ago. He had a $200 million offer on the table. So that really shocked me that he would leave.”

Paul never planned for his first real foray into free agency to become public.

“When it all came together and we saw how it looked it was like, man this would be cool to tell the story of how it’s not just cut and dry, you just pick a team,” Paul said. “We showed the move and everything that goes into it.”

Paul laments having to always have the ball in his hands in Los Angeles – which won’t be a problem alongside James Harden in Houston. And he worries about having to move his two young children, eventually telling his son he can’t go do his job without him. And after they finally move, Hurricane Harvey devastates Houston, a focus of the second episode.

“We are constantly looking for opportunities to bring fans closer to athletes in order to better understand their experience. In this series, Chris Paul gives fans a truly unprecedented look at his free agent decision-making process and how he thinks about both his basketball career and his life off the court,” said Connor Schell, ESPN executive vice president of content.

All three episodes will be available on the ESPN App and on-demand beginning Friday. They will then air next Tuesday from 8-9:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN.

Paul said he learned a lot about the free agency process – but would love to avoid having to do it again next summer.

“In a perfect world you win a championship and there’s nothing to even talk about,” he said.

 

Bulls claim PG Kay Felder off waivers

Jason Miller/Getty Images
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The Bulls’ point-guard position is a quagmire.

Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne are both injured (and not necessarily good). Jerian Grant is maybe an adequate backup pressed into starting. Ryan Arcidiacono is on a two-way contract.

Enter Kay Felder.

Bulls release:

The Chicago Bulls announced today that the team has waived forward Jarell Eddie and center Diamond Stone, and claimed guard Kay Felder off waivers.

Felder was waived by the Hawks, who acquired him in a salary-dump trade from the Cavaliers. Cleveland drafted Felder No. 54 last year, but ran out of roster spots this year.

Felder is only a moderate prospect. He impressed in the D-League, but at 5-foot-9, he has significant limitations. (His size also makes him incredibly fun to watch when he gets rolling.)

For Chicago, he’s a quite-noteworthy addition.

LeBron James: ‘I still got Pandora with commercials’

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Dwyane Wade revealed last year that LeBron James refuses to use his phone internationally unless he’s on Wi-Fi.

LeBron’s friend and new Cavaliers teammate again brought up that claim, and LeBron confirmed – then went even further about his own cheapness.

LeBron in a joint interview with Wade on ESPN:

No. I’m not doing that. I’m not turning on data roaming. I’m not buying no apps. I still got Pandora with commercials.

LeBron – he’s just like us!

As funny as that line is, keep watching to see LeBron hilariously explain how his hairline affects his interviews.

PBT Extra: LeBron as MVP and other NBA postseason award predictions

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Last year, Russell Westbrook had a historic season on his way to the MVP award, with James Harden and Kawhi Leonard right on his heels. But heading into this season, the dynamic for MVP — and many of the NBA awards — feels very different and wide open.

In this latest PBT Extra, I lay out my preseason predictions for every award — LeBron James for MVP, Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year, and on down the list. There are a few leaps and surprises in there (predicting Most Improved or Sixth Man before the season is a crap shoot, so why not gamble).

Now the predictions season is over, let’s get on to the games.