NBA @ 2: Contending Without A “Superstar”?
It seems the new game in the NBA is the acquisition of as many superstars as a single team can lure to town . . .unless, of course, you’re the Denver Nuggets. While so many teams clamber for a shot at Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, the Nuggets are perfectly happy to continue what they started last season, when they emerged as a much better team after trading away Carmelo Anthony. Nuggets head coach George Karl believes versatility and depth are more important than having one star to lean on.
“I’m gonna be optimistic,” Karl tells HOOPSWORLD. “I think the depth of our team and the versatility of our team are things that are gonna be very useful when you play a lot of games and you don’t have a lot of practice time. When the game says put defenders in the game we can put defenders in the game. When the game says put big guys in the game we put big guys in the game. When the games say play small I think we can play small. I think we have a versatile look. I know I have 10 NBA players and every night I probably have 11 or 12 NBA players who, on any given night, can play 25 minutes and help you win. I think that’s an asset even though most coaches don’t go that far. I think at least at this moment we have that personality and we have the attitude that whatever happens happens, be ready to play when it happens and when you have the opportunity, be ready to take advantage of it.”
The Nuggets may not have a marquee name this season, but Karl believes they have some star-caliber talent just waiting to emerge.
“I really believe we have four key guys and two of them have to have special years or the best years of their careers. I think it’s Ty (Lawson) and Aaron (Afflalo), Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) and Nene. For us to make that next step or that step of a contender they’ve got to grow up and we’re hoping for all four of them to grow. That would be great, but I don’t think all four of them have to do that, just along the way through the process whoever gets injured who doesn’t get injured. And then we have some great veterans who hold the bench together in Rudy (Fernandez), Andre (Miller), and Al (Harrington). Corey Brewer’s had a good camp for us and Birdman hopefully we can keep him healthy this year. I think when you’re here you’re basically talking about 10 guys that can play Kosta Koufos can play so I have an extra big. The rookie looks like he wants to play. It’s a roster full of options and hopefully I don’t mess it up.”
Karl will take those options over a pseudo-superstar any day, and believes many of the players who are labeled as “superstars” are not worthy of the distinction.
“I think ‘superstar’ is a term for agents and media guys or fan talk shows. I don’t think there are that many superstars. There are a lot of talented players that have great years and they get paid a lot of money and we label them ‘superstars.’ To me, a superstar is a guy that’s produced championship-quality basketball consistently year in and year out. That list is very short. A lot of guys have produced playoff basketball year in and year out. There’s a difference. I hate to say it, but I love Dirk Nowitzki, I love John Stockton, but they went a lot of years, Michael Jordan went a lot of years not producing championship basketball. Those are the superstars in my mind. Kobe Bryant is a superstar, Tim Duncan is a superstar. Is Dwight Howard the best big guy in basketball? Yes. Is he a superstar? Has he won a championship? He’s gotten to a championship so I give him one star then out of five stars. I don’t know. I think we quickly evaluate too many guys as superstars.”
One thing the Nuggets will be counting on as they win by committee is the concept that some of his players will fit better in his system than they have on previous teams. He is positively thrilled to have Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer in his locker room, acquired for basically nothing as the Dallas Mavericks looked to shed contracts.
“I’m more of a coach who likes to put athletes on the court and let them play. I don’t think I overflow guys with detail other than wanting them to give me good basketball and make them play good basketball. I remember in Florida Corey Brewer was a glue guy on that team and he was a winner on that team and he’s had a very good camp for us. I don’t wanna say anything about Dallas, but Rudy and Brewer’s acquisition solidified our roster very quickly. We had some holes there that we didn’t know where we were going. And now I think we have versatility that can be very powerful. Very much advantageous and powerful.”
Finally, Karl believes the return of Andre Miller, whom the Nuggets acquired from Portland in a trade for Raymond Felton, will be a huge key for his team this season.
“I’m so happy to have Andre,” says Karl, almost tearing up. “When I first got the Denver I was the coach, but the guy that really coached the team was Andre. Coach (Jeff) Bzdelik gave me a lot of good stuff. A lot of defensive and offensive stuff I liked and used. But talk about being lost; coming to a team in the middle of the year, you’re lost. I remember a month after being with the team Andre called a play I didn’t know. He pulled it right out of his hat. I think he is gonna make Ty a better player. I think I have the power to play my bench because of Andre. How many benches has Andre orchestrated? Do you understand how powerful I think that is? I think you mention he wins a lot of games and now you have a starting point guard leading your bench. I think it’s gonna make all those guys understand the game better and I think it comes at a good time I don’t think Andre wants to play 35 minutes. I think he wants to play 2-3 more years. I think he and Ty will play a lot of minutes on the court together because of what we found last year. We’ve got two point guards who’re able to run the team in the way the game is played today. So it’s exciting it’s a security blanket for me.”
Many NBA head coaches would have considered walking away from their teams if a franchise player was traded away. That kind of trade usually has a detrimental impact on a team’s record, and by extension that of the head coach. But instead of walking away, George Karl embraced the challenge of winning without a superstar . . .or at least a perceived superstar . . .and the Nuggets have actually been a better team as a result. They might even be contenders this season, though the casual NBA fan might have trouble naming their best player.
Unlikely Hero In New Orleans?
Continuing with our theme of winning without a “superstar,” we turn our attention to the New Orleans Hornets. Much like the Denver Nuggets last season, the Hornets were backed into a corner and forced to trade their franchise player, but in doing so they added enough depth and talent to at least be interesting this season. If the early results are any indication, they might even be a great deal more than just interesting.
Eric Gordon was supposed to be the new star in New Orleans, and while that may still turn out to be the case, another player has been steadfastly going about the business of making NBA fans in The Big Easy forget all about their former star point guard.
Jarrett Jack was brilliant in preseason, but many players are brilliant in preseason who never move the needle once the games start to count. Jack missed the first game of the season due to a suspension, but returned on Wednesday night and picked up right where he left off in exhibition. He scored 21 points, dished nine assists and even blocked a pair of shots while committing just one turnover in leading the Hornets to a blow-out win over the Boston Celtics . . .while Gordon looked on with a bruised knee.
“We didn’t have Eric, so we needed to find those 20 points somewhere,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said after the game. “Jarrett Jack played very well. He gave us a calming effect. … He’s our leader and we’ll need him to play like that all year.”
By George Karl’s definition, Chris Paul is not a superstar, and let’s face it, while many recognize him as the best point guard in the NBA he is noticeably ringless. Nonetheless, the idea that Jarrett Jack, a comparative unknown, could replace his production would have been laughable a couple of weeks ago.
Now . . .maybe Jack is the next great point guard to emerge in New Orleans?
Like the Nuggets, the Hornets have moved away from the basketball model that revolves around one dominant player. They acquired a great deal of talent and depth from the Los Angeles Clippers, like the Nuggets did from the New York Knicks last season. Jarrett Jack will be the star on some nights, but with Gordon, Carl Landry, Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, and a host of young talent, the Hornets can hurt you in a number of ways . . .many of them unpredictable.
Suns Sign Michael Redd
This afternoon the Phoenix Suns made a move designed to aid their ailing offense, adding veteran shooting guard Michael Redd to the mix.
On the surface it may seem strange that the Suns would add an aging Redd just after they paid another aging shooting guard – Vince Carter – to go away. In this case, though, it’s a move that could pay huge dividends if Redd is finally healthy.
The concern, of course, is that Redd has played just 61 games over the last three seasons after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee . . .twice. On the other hand, Redd is just 32 years old and hasn’t put much wear and tear on his body while doing rehab instead of going through the rigors of three NBA seasons. If he can return to All-Star form, he could give the Suns a much-needed boost.
In his prime Redd was one of the purest shooters in the NBA, averaging 26.7 points per game while shooting 47% from the field, 38% from three and 83% from the free throw line back in 2006-07. On top of that, Redd is one of the classiest guys in the NBA. He should be a great asset to the Suns, both on and off the court.
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