Beer: The NBA Six-Pack
HOOPSWORLD’s Senior NBA Analyst Tommy Beer takes you through his most recent musings on the National Basketball Association in his latest installment of The NBA Six Pack…
1. Window Closing Quickly on the Celtics and Spurs?
San Antonio and Boston currently find themselves in comfortable and familiar positions: near the top of their respective conferences. Despite an awful 0-3 start, the Celtics are tied for first place in the Atlantic Division after reeling off four straight victories. The Spurs, at 4-2, sit atop the always-competitive Southwest.
These two storied franchises are established, elite teams. The Spurs have been permanent fixtures in the postseason since drafting Tim Duncan 15 years ago, and have racked up four titles during a dynastic stretch in the prior decade. The C’s captured a championship in 2008, the Big 3’s first season together. They have been beasts in the East ever since.
However, these two proud organizations are both headed screeching towards a difficult crossroads.
Despite many of their stars being a bit long in the tooth and their franchise anchor, Timmy Duncan, wearing down, the Spurs remain highly competitive. However, the truncated 66-game regular season will put even more pressure on aging legs to stay healthy. Worse yet, just this week, San Antonio announced that the great Manu Ginobili would miss six to eight weeks after breaking a bone in his shooting hand. This injury will greatly test the depth of the Spurs roster.
While the Spurs will remain in the playoff hunt all season long and are still considered a fringe contender for the crown, the real questions begin next summer in San Antonio. Duncan, the face of the franchise since being selected #1 overall out of Wake Forest, will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Will Duncan want to continue playing? What kind of numbers can he be expected to produce going forward? If he wants to return to San Antonio, what is a fair salary figure?
Duncan is earning $21.3 in this, the final season of his current contract. If Duncan strides off into the sunset, that would leave the Spurs with some cap money to play with. They could create even more cap space if the “amnesty” Richard Jefferson prior to the start of free agency. It is widely assumed that San Antonio will cut Jefferson following this season, which would lop $10.4 million off of the Spurs cap commitments for 2012-2013 (and also wipe away the $11.1 million Jefferson will get paid in 2013-2014).
Tony Parker is the only key cog on the roster signed past 2013. Manu has just one more season left on his current pact.
So, starting next summer, will the Spurs begin an inevitable rebuilding process in earnest, possibly trading Parker for a younger “point guards of the future?” Or will R.C. Buford and Coach Pop try to plug in holes by signing vets to short-term deals? On that note, will Popovich be willing to stick around if San Antonio goes into full-scale rebuilding mode? Many questions to be answered… Fortunately for Spurs fans, San Antonio has had one of the most consistent and successful front offices in all of pro sports.
Out on the East Coast, the Celtics find themselves in a somewhat similar situation.
It’s hard to believe, but Kevin Garnett, who was nicknamed “Da Kid” back in Minnesota days, turned 35 years last summer. Ray Allen is actually older than KG. And Paul Pierce isn’t a spring chicken. However, the Celtics are keeping the band together for at least one more season. But once this season ends, all bets are off. Kevin Garnett ($21.2 million), Ray Allen ($10 million), Jermaine O’Neal ($6.2 million), are all in the final year of their current contracts. Danny Ainge and company have to remain cognizant that KG and his crew are approaching the finish line. Thus, Boston has to begin preparing for life after the Big 3…
The C’s took the first step towards this task by signing Head Coach Doc Rivers to a five-year extension that will reportedly pay him $35 million. Rivers will remain the face, voice, and leader of the team for the foreseeable future. He is not only a good coach, but also provides the organization with much-needed stability and will assist in all recruiting efforts.
After next season, depending how the 2011-2012 campaign plays out, Ainge will have to sit down with KG and Ray Allen and they will have to figure out what’s in the best interest of all parties. Would Garnett be willing to play another season or two at a drastically reduced salary? What does Allen have planned? It is impossible to speculate with any clarity, we’ll just have to wait in see.
Rajon Rondo is locked in for the long-term via an affordable contract that runs through 2015, and Pierce still has two more seasons left on his deal. But outside of those two, the only players that have guaranteed contracts next season are two guys on small rookie deals (Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson). How will Danny Ainge flesh out the rest of the roster around his stud PG and small forward – while also fighting hard to hang an 18th banner in Boston next June…
2. One-On-One with Knicks Rookie Iman Shumpert
With the Knicks off to a sluggish 2-4 start, not much has gone right in New York. However, one bright spot has been the energy and enthusiasm supplied by their first-round pick, Iman Shumpert, who returned on Wednesday from a sprained MCL that had sidelined him for two weeks.
Despite his playful banter and humorous repartee with coaches and teammates, Shumpert is supremely serious when discussing his personal goals this season.
“I just want to win a championship,” Shumpert said of his personal goals, brushing aside any talk of rookie firsts. “I’ve been dreaming about a championship since I was this big and now I’m on a team that can really push through the playoffs, so I just want to be on a championship team. Nobody in this locker room should have any other goal than winning a championship. If we all stay locked in and we keep grinding, we should put ourselves in position to win a title.”
Part of the team-first attitude Shumpert professes and exhibits can be traced back to the leadership of his new Knicks mentors, captains Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Iman’s praise for New York’s locker room leaders is effusive, and he credits them with easing his adjustment and setting him on a proper path.
“Melo is very talkative and as you can see, I got my locker right next to him. He is always putting little things in my ear. … Amar’e is always coming over and asking me, ‘Hey Rook, you know what you’re doing here, right?’ If I ever need any guidance, they are always there, and they also tell me all the time to speak up. If I’ve got a question or if you see something that you think we need to be working on, then you need to say something. Those guys are very open to criticism and they all want to win so there really is a great vibe in this locker room.”
Part of the reason for that great vibe in the locker room is the eclectic mix of personalities – that have been quickly thrown together due to the abrupt end to the lockout and free agency frenzy that followed – stoutly support each other and are wholly committed to building a terrific team in NYC.
Speaking of an eclectic mix, that’s an apt description when discussing some of Shumpert’s off-the-court interests, as well as his taste in music. When discussing the artists in heavy rotation in his iPod, Iman covers quite a few genres.
“On my pregame, I got ASAP Rocky, Wale, J Cole, Jay-Z, Kanye. I got some Frank Ocean, Tyler The Creator, Chrisette Michele, I got a pretty good variety… I’m pretty wide range. I’m a little all over the place. I listen to a lot of different things. Like, I have to listen to MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel’ before every game. I want to be put in more of a mellow mood. I’m a guy that gets real anxious and I jump around a lot when I’m playing, so I before the game I try to harness all that and just be calm. I try not to sweat everything out of me before the game starts.”
Shumpert is also big poetry enthusiast, both reading others work and writing his own poems. Iman’s favorite present-day poet:
“Talib Kweli. Yeah, I think Talib is probably my favorite right now,” said Shumpert.
Iman may enjoy music from all different parts of the country, but he still certainly had a preference when it came to which city he’d begin his NBA career. He was obviously unsure and nervous about where he’d end up; however, New York was definitely on his short list of preferred destinations.
“My two top teams were the Bulls and the Knicks. The Bulls because that was my hometown team and I always loved the Bulls. And New York because in the back of my mind I always thought that would be the perfect situation for me. Playing under D’Antoni, a guy like Melo, a guy like Amar’e, and then you add Tyson! I would have never dreamed we’d have Tyson. But just to be in the mix with those types of guys I figured it would bring the best out of me. I just really thought NewYork would be a good place for me, so when I got drafted I was all smiles and all tears,” Said Shumpert.
And now that he is in the league, there is one former fellow Chicagoan that he is looking forward to finally facing.
“I never got to play against Derrick Rose. You know, just the fact that I’m going to play him and he’s going to be on the Bulls and I’m on the Knicks, sort of the bad guy when I go back home… that’s gonna be big, a lot of fun.”
Another match-up Shumpert is eagerly anticipating is Mr. Kobe Bryant.
“Kobe, of course, is somebody you want to play against. Kobe’s one of the best, he’s been compared to Michael Jordan and anybody that is mentioned in the same breath as him – it’d be an honor to be on the same court as him. But if I’m matched up against him, naturally, I want to beat him.”
Shumpert registered a record-setting 42-inch vertical at the Draft Combine last summer, and he wouldn’t mind putting that ability on display. A big, shy smile creeps across Shumpert’s face when the 2012 All-Star Slam Dunk Competition comes up. “We’ll have to see, man. It depends if they let me in there. If I get in there, I’m going for the ‘W.’ I got some stuff. Seriously, I got some stuff for that,” said a smiling Shumpert.
It’s clear Shumpert has plenty to offer as he embarks on his NBA career . . .both above and below the rim.
3. Quotes of the week
“It’s all about Jim’s and Joe’s, not X’s and O’s” – Charles Barkley, when asked whether of not a coach can have a major impact on a team’s success/failure.
“When you have God-given talent, I think that that kind of hinders your practice habits and that’s what I think it did to me. Had I not been so talented, I probably would have busted my (butt) in practice.” – Tracy McGrady (via FoxSports.com article)
4. Tweets of the week
* @Pflanns: Doc had a great quote about Brandon Bass getting an assist: “We told him he was threatening Yinka.” Look it up, kids.
* @marcel_mutoni Fatal RT @Aqua174: The most dastardly crossover seen still may belong to Randolph Childress: http://t.co/CwAB3XTY
* @I_Am_Iman (Iman Shumpert): Jus <sic> got my first check…finally understand TAXES…smdh…time for work
5. Plays of the Week
Dunk of the Week: Welcome to the NBA Kenneth Faried! His first two points as a pro
Block of the Week: C’mon D Wade, that’s rude dude
Shot of the Week: Kevin Durant’s game-winner to beat the Mavs (Make sure you check out this video of the buzzer-beater, taken by KD’s boy seated courtside)
6. Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Week:
* From Elias: LeBron James scored 33 points and handed out 13 assists to lead the Heat to a 118-83 victory against the Pacers while Dwyane Wade was sidelined with a sore foot. It was the sixth game that James has played without Wade during their two seasons as teammates. James has dominated in Wade’s absence, posting per-game averages of 34.0 points and 8.5 assists in those six games, compared to 26.5 points per game and 6.9 assists per game while playing alongside Wade.
* Andrea Bargnani netted a game-high 31 points to help the Raptors defeat the Cavaliers, after he scored 30 points against the Mavericks on Friday night. The only other NBA players with more than one 30-point game this season are among the league’s elite scorers: Kevin Durant (four), LeBron James (four) and Carmelo Anthony (three).
* The Mavericks defeated the Suns in the 1000th regular-season game of Dirk Nowitzki’s NBA career. Among the 11 current NBA players with at least 1000 career games, only Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have spent their entire careers with one team. Nowitzki (1201 three-pointers, 8354 rebounds) and Jason Kidd (1807 three-pointers, 8232 rebounds) are the only players in NBA history with career totals of both 1200 or more three-point field goals and 8000 or more rebounds.
* Ricky Rubio scored 12 points and added 10 assists off the bench in the Timberwolves’ loss to the Grizzlies after he posted a dozen points and assists on Friday night against the Heat. Rubio is the first rookie to post a pair of double-doubles on points and assists forMinnesotasince Stephon Marbury had 15 such games for the T-Wolves in 1996-97.
* Andrew Bynum had 21 points and 22 rebounds to help lead the Lakers to a victory over the Rockets on Tuesday night. Bynum (24 years, 68 days old) is the youngest Laker to register a 20-point/20-rebound game since Rudy LaRusso had 30 points and 21 rebounds on February 26, 1961 at the age of 23 years and 107 days old.
* The Bulls outscored the Hawks 34-18 in the fourth quarter and rallied for a 76-74 victory inChicagoon Tuesday night.Chicagohad only 42 points through three quarters, the lowest total entering the fourth quarter by a winning team in the shot-clock era. Prior to Tuesday, the lowest point total through three quarters for a winning team was 44 byClevelandon January 2, 2007 and Boston on February 26, 2007.
* Kyrie Irving shot 80 percent from the field (8-for-10) and registered 20 points and six assists without committing a turnover inCleveland’s victory over Charlotte on Tuesday night. Since the NBA began tracking turnovers in 1977, only four other rookies scored at least 20 points, dished out six-or-more assists, shot at least 80 percent from the field and did not commit a turnover in the same game: Chicago’s David Greenwood on January 22, 1980, Chicago’s Chris Duhon on April 16, 2005, Atlanta’s Al Horford on March 19, 2008 and New York’s Toney Douglas on March 13, 2010.