Wednesday February 9th, 2005

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NBA Midterm Report Card
Grade Team
D Losing point guard T. J. Ford was sure to upset the balance in Milwaukee, but shouldn't the Bucks be better than they are? Michael Redd is consistent scorer who can stretch a defense. Dan Gadzuric and Zaza Pachulia have the makings of a solid low-post combination. And Desmond Mason is an athletic swingman with a willingness to play in-your-face defense. The only thing missing is ... a point guard to weave all the pieces together.
D Here's a novel concept. Instead of raising the heat on a coach with eight playoff appearances on his resume, why not point the finger at what is really ailing this team: mail-it-in performances from Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, and a me-first effort by Troy Hudson? In other words, it's high time to burn the phone lines looking to make a trade or two.
C+ The dark side of Vince Carter is scoring 10 more points a game and his shooting percentage is 50 points better with the Nets than when he was in Toronto. Why now? It's not like he was hurt this season. No matter, the Nets will ultimately be undone by their lack of a front line, but they deserve credit for realizing their mistake in letting Kenyon Martin go and taking as good a shot as they could to get back into the playoff race.
F The Hornets are so bad that Jimmy Jackson decided he'd rather give up hundreds of thousands of dollars and play off the bench than suit up for owner George Shinn's failing enterprise. If Ron Artest was suspended almost an entire season for what one could argue was self-defense, what punishment does an owner who willfully poisons two sizable markets to NBA basketball? A 2-29 opening to the season is a start.
F The NBA's version of a drunken sailor -- only without a ship to get back to. Things aren't likely to improve anytime soon with ownership writing checks as if they're writing grocery lists. Perhaps sensing their lack of self-control, the Knicks tried to bring some sanity to the situation by hiring Isiah Thomas to run the show. Of course, Thomas only bankrupted an entire league.
B Has any team owed more to the marvels of modern medicine for its success than the Magic? While Grant Hill's comeback has been the key in the Magic's return to respectability, getting legitimate talents in Steve Francis and Kelvin Cato in return for Tracy McGrady also has helped GM John Weisbrod look pretty smart -- for now.
C A curious guy, that Jim O'Brien. He seems like an old-school coach yet his teams have never been known for their defense. He's a good enough communicator to convince Allen Iverson to move to point guard -- and play effectively -- yet he banished emerging big man Samuel Dalembert to the doghouse, only to release him and reap the benefits of seven-plus rebounds and almost two blocks a night. And never has O'Brien had an overwhelming talent advantage, but he wins more than he loses -- and probably will again this year.
C- Don't we all get the feeling that this team needs the Joe Brown treatment? Remember? Brown was the high school principal who carried around a baseball bat in an attempt to scare the troublemakers in his New Jersey school straight? How quickly would the Blazers straighten up if coach Mo Cheeks went Joe Clark the next time one of his players: challenged his authority/was caught attempting to rape his child's nanny/was involved in a shooting at a club/staged dog fights. Life would be so simple. Hell, they could even focus on basketball for a change.
A We all owe coach Mike D'Antoni and his Suns a word of thanks for making fast-break basketball hip again. More important, the Suns have proven that a team need not slog through most of the 24 seconds of each possession to be successful, that a commitment to running the ball down your opponents' throats not only can dictate the way an individual game is played, but how an entire league plays.
A- Can't we just fast forward through the regular-season for the Kings? It isn't as if yet another 55-win season is going to offer any insights into how Rick Adelman's crew will handle the postseason. Of course with Shaq in the East, maybe the Kings can dream. Too bad the last two teams to knock out the Kings in the playoffs -- the Mavericks and the Timberwolves -- are still in the West.
A For years we've been a little skeptical of coach Gregg Popovich, who moved down from the front office after he fired former head coach Bob Hill following a season in which David Robinson was hurt and the Spurs finished so far out of the money that they managed to snag the draft's No. 1 pick, a guy named Tim Duncan. But after two titles and garnering the respect of even Latrell Sprewell, it's pretty clear to even this suspicious mind that Pop knew what he was doing. And this year's Spurs may be his most complete yet. They hold opponents to the lowest scoring average in the league, they are among the NBA's most accurate shooting teams and -- with the offensive emergences of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker -- are no longer solely dependent on their two-time MVP.
A Maybe it's the caffeine. More likely it is the work of statistics guru Dean Oliver, who is to the NBA what Bill James is to baseball. Whatever the reason, the more everyone keeps predicting the Sonics' jumpers eventually will stop falling, the more they hit them. Credit coach Nate McMillan for being flexible enough to realize that Seattle's best path to success is from the perimeter; it's transformed a team on the verge of overhaul into a team on the verge of winning the Northwest Division.
C Fine, so they didn't get enough back when they traded Vince Carter last December, but the Raptors did reclaim their integrity. For as good as Carter has been in New Jersey, he was dogging it north of the border. And when your star is mailing it in, the rest of the team is usually close behind. The move is already paying off: Young big man Chris Bosh has been a 20 and 10 player since the beginning of January and the Raptors have played .500 ball since the trade (as compared to the 8-16 mark they forged with Carter). Now if they can only convince Rafer Alston that he's in the NBA, and not still on the playground.
D Wow. No one saw this coming. But early-season losses to New Orleans and a still-struggling Bulls team -- even before Andrei Kirilenko missed 25 games with a torn knee ligament -- should have been an early warning that something was amiss. One would like to think Jerry Sloan is too good of a coach and Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur are too skilled offensively to not somehow find the right tune. But Boozer and Carlos Arroyo were never going to be the next Malone and Stockton, and adjusting to a new, less work-pail-like crew may not be worth the trouble for Sloan, who offered a glimpse into his mindset when he had Arroyo shipped to the Pistons. For a team supposedly building for the future, the deal seemed a knee-jerk response to a frustrating season, and one the Jazz may well regret.
A- The best backcourt in the NBA. A go-to scorer on the front line in Antawn Jamison. A coach who understands how to teach the intricacies of the motion offense. If only Michael Jordan hadn't crushed the will of Kwame Brown, the Wizards might have a real chance to overtake the Heat. Still, Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Jamison have made the Wizards relevant again, a task the greatest player in history couldn't accomplish.

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