Joe Dumars hopes Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt can take cues from Hawks and Grizzlies

7 Comments

Which team has the best starting frontcourt in the NBA?

Depending on how you value the top player compared to the depth of the trio, there are several contenders including:

  • Nets (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez)
  • Bulls (Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah)
  • Nuggets (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee)
  • Warriors (Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut)
  • Pacers (Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert)
  • Grizzlies (Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol)
  • Heat (LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh)
  • Timberwolves (Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic)
  • Thunder (Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins)
  • Spurs (Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter)

I’ll offer one other wildcard option: the Pistons with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

Those three have a lot of talent, though it’s not clear how they will fit together. None is a good shooter outside the paint, but perhaps they can create other matchup advantages by being big. Really big.

If Smith adapts to playing small forward, if Monroe develops defensively, if Drummond can handle big minutes, they could be excellent. Obviously, their partnership relies on a lot of ifs.

Joe Dumars realizes that too, and he addressed them in a fantastic Q&A with Zach Lowe of Grantland:

I’m sure you anticipated the spacing concerns everyone has raised since you signed Josh Smith, a non-shooter who has played mostly power forward the last few seasons. Why did you go with Josh, another big, instead of chasing someone like maybe Andre Iguodala on the wing? Or are you not all that worried about the spacing stuff?

We just thought we needed to get better from a pure talent standpoint. And that’s where Smith and Jennings and KCP [rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] and Chauncey [Billups] come in. That was first and foremost — just to raise the talent level.

Of course, you don’t have the stretch [power forward] or the 3-point shooting [small forward] in that lineup, but what you do have in Monroe and Smith are two guys who really have high basketball IQs, and are very, very good passers. Even if you’re not spreading to the 3-point line, when you have high IQ guys playing together, they make plays for each other.

And I don’t know how many minutes we’ll have that front line [Drummond, Smith, Monroe] on the floor together, once you get past the first six minutes for the first quarter. It’s not like it’s going to be 40 minutes a night with that front line. Monroe will slide to [center], Josh will slide to [power forward]. It’s not a concern of ours.

Did you look to Memphis as something of an inspiration — another team that struggles for spacing, but that managed to squeeze out enough points after the Rudy Gay trade by just moving the ball and using a great passing big in Marc Gasol to run a lot of the offense?

We looked at that. We actually talked about them a lot. There are definitely similarities. We watched a lot of film of them, and what they were doing after Tayshaun [Prince] got there, and how it worked. And it clearly worked.

Smith and Al Horford ran a mean big-big pick-and-roll in Atlanta.

Exactly. That’s because Josh can really pass the ball. He can deliver. When you have frontcourt guys who can pass the ball … that’s why Marc Gasol is so, so good. That’s why with Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis, centers who could really pass it, you don’t worry about what the system is, because whatever it is, they are going to figure it out.

At minimum, Detroit’s starting frontcourt is wayyyy more talented than last year’s – Kyle Singler, Jason Maxiell and Monroe – so that bodes well for the Pistons, but it’s not the only factor in their success. Maurice Cheeks will have his work cut out for him in making everything work.

But, as Dumars said, the Grizzlies and Hawks – and even the 1980s Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, whom Dumars alludes to elsewhere in the interview – provide a blueprint, and the Pistons have a real chance of overcoming their fit problems.

If Detroit’s frontcourt does that and allows its talent to shine, maybe, just maybe, it could be among the NBA’s best.

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

Getty Images
1 Comment

This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

Getty Images
4 Comments

LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
8 Comments

Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

Harry How/Getty Images
6 Comments

The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.