Author: Rob Mahoney

Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat

Hawks show uncharacteristic sensibility with signing of Tracy McGrady


Teams aren’t technically allowed to come to agreements with free agents just yet, but Tracy McGrady is reportedly locked in to join the Atlanta Hawks nonetheless. But, before anyone engages in the usual snark-fest that ensues whenever McGrady’s name comes up, they should honestly consider the terms and return on this deal.

McGrady may not have the ability to dribble-penetrating ability that Atlanta so desperately needs, but he’s an incredibly cost-efficient addition capable of hedging against the seemingly inevitable loss of Jamal Crawford. The Hawks aren’t in a position where re-signing Crawford makes financial sense; they already have $66 million in salary committed for this season and $62 million committed next year, meaning that Crawford’s deal would likely push a solid — but firmly non-contending — team over the luxury tax line. Even beyond the practical consideration of overpaying a dwindling, inefficient scorer like Crawford, the financial realities for a tax-averse team like Atlanta make a re-signing a virtual impossibility.

Such is the reality for a franchise that presented Joe Johnson with a golden effigy on the first day of free agency last season, invested in Marvin Williams to the tune of $8 million a year, and took every shortcut there is to take in team construction.

All of which makes McGrady — who will join the Hawks on a one-year, minimum salary deal — an oddly reasonable signing. McGrady didn’t score quite as much as Crawford did last season, but that’s largely because he didn’t dominate the ball in the fashion Crawford often does. The hazard of employing Crawford is the same as it’s ever been: he tends to control the ball whether his team intends for him to or not, and they’re forced to live with the ill-advised jumpers that seem to always result. McGrady is a bit more prudent, as he used significantly fewer possessions while making a greater percentage of his shots than Crawford last season. The scoring output wasn’t the same on a per-game basis, but McGrady’s rounder skill set (he averaged 5.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season) helps to off-set some of what Atlanta will lose in pure scoring volume.

Thanks to his age and injury history, McGrady is an easy target for criticism. But he actually put together a pretty solid — if quiet — campaign for the Detroit Pistons last season, complete with a bit of a defensive turnaround. McGrady’s defensive reputation is rather putrid, but last season he held his positional opposites to a below average Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and made a dramatic difference in his team’s defensive performance*. That one-year performance could be a bit flukey, but regardless, I find it hard to believe that McGrady could possibly be a lesser perimeter defender than Crawford.

For the league minimum, this is very likely the best the Hawks could possibly do. McGrady isn’t what he once was (and certainly isn’t Crawford), but this is a smart, economical move for a team with such a cluttered cap sheet.

(H/T to’s Tom Haberstroh)

Frank Vogel, the Indiana Pacers, and the “next step”

Pacers' head coach Vogel reacts during the first half of Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference first round playoff basketball game against the Bulls in Chicago
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The Indiana Pacers snuck into the NBA Playoffs last season thanks to weak competition among the middling teams of the Eastern Conference, but the playoff appearance itself — and the dogfight Indiana was able to give the Chicago Bulls in the first round — still meant plenty to the Pacers’ young, developing core. Then-interim head coach Frank Vogel did a fantastic job of preparing his team to play against a formidable opponent, and Indiana’s group of charming upstarts were able to make virtually every game of Chicago’s first-round series into a coin flip as a result. The Bulls won those coin flips and advanced — as elite teams are ought to do — but the Pacers nonetheless made their case as a team to watch going forward.

With his team’s playoff success in mind, Vogel is expecting big things from his team this season (via 1070 The Fan in Indy with JMV via Sports Radio Interviews):

“I fully expect this team to take the next step. We made some strides in making the playoffs last year and fell short against Chicago. We’re all a little bit bitter about that. We felt we coulda beat the Bulls and what we learned is that we can play with the best team in the NBA. We’re expecting to pick up right where we left off and we feel like we’re only scratching the surface of what we can accomplish.”

What exactly that next step will be is anyone’s guess, as the Pacers are due for an addition of some kind this off-season. Rumors have had Indiana linked to players from Nene to David West to Rajon Rondo, suggesting that when the smoke clears, we could be looking at a significantly upgraded Pacers roster. Most of the current core will likely remain intact, but an addition at power forward seems like an inevitability at this point.

And with a more qualified power forward playing serious minutes, the Pacers look like an incredibly solid team. Tyler Hansbrough is a useful rotation player, but his lack of a pick-and-roll game made him a poor fit alongside Darren Collison. His spastic, energetic style still made him a productive member of the Pacers lineup, but his deficiencies only highlighted what a more capable player would be able to accomplish. Indiana was able to take Vogel’s “next step” regardless of any roster additions, but with the draft-night trade for George Hill and a potential free agent addition, the Pacers look poised to take a hop and a skip in the right direction. The ceiling on this bunch may not be too high (even with a substantial addition, Indy is a far cry from a contender), but they have productive players across the board and a capable coach to put it all together. It could be — and has been — much worse in Indianapolis.

Hornets preparing for the worst or subtly appealing to Chris Paul’s pride?

Miami Heat v New Orleans Hornets

As has been made abundantly clear over the last few weeks, the New Orleans Hornets are in a tough spot. Most reports have Chris Paul with one foot out the door — a colossally bad omen for the franchise in virtually every sense. Paul is the Hornets’ livelihood. He is the team’s leader, its star player, and the one foundational piece on the roster. He’s an All-World talent, and due to a variety of factors, his time in New Orleans may be coming to a close.

New York is reportedly Paul’s preferred destination, although he openly acknowledges the difficulties in wanting to be traded there. Still, a column from David Aldridge of paints the Hornets’ front office as a place of sobering realism; they seemed to have embraced the possibility that Paul may leave, and are exploring any options that will allow the franchise to move on following his possible departure:

The Hornets are going into this with eyes wide open. They know that Paul spent much of the summer in New York at lockout meetings — and also with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. They know that even if he can’t get as big a salary from the Knicks as with other teams, it’s likely his representatives have all manner of endorsements at the ready in New York that would make up the difference. They believe he’d prefer going to a team where he doesn’t have to be “the man,” and that the Knicks would be just that, with Anthony and All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire willing and able to take the spotlight and the heat that come with it.

Aldridge’s full column is worth a read, primarily for the display of pragmatism shown in the Hornets’ front office. These are difficult times for that franchise, but refusing to fall into denial over their prospects of keeping Paul could pay off in some form.

Then again, I couldn’t help but read the above section without notice of the rhetoric that, if you’ll notice, comes straight from Hornets sources. The basketball world has a quick, visceral response to players who shrink from their responsibilities as “the man.” LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh received rampant criticism last summer when they decided to team up, as some analysts (and more often, pseudo-analysts) took issue with the Heat’s diffusion of responsibility. Being a franchise player is a sacred duty in the NBA, and declaring a certain player — especially one of Paul’s stature — as unworthy by deficiency or by personality is a heavy claim.

In all likelihood, this is a sincere message from the Hornets that they believe Paul would be happiest playing with other stars. That much is the truth, after all. However, in an age where media control is so important, I wouldn’t completely disregard the possibility of the Hornets appealing to Paul’s sense of pride with Aldridge’s column as the medium.