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12-15-2004, 02:26 PM
Around the NBA: The Amico Report
By Sam Amico

Believing in Magic

Who’s to say the Orlando Magic can’t make the playoffs?

Who knew that Grant Hill would not only remain healthy, but play a lot like the well-mannered All-Star that graced NBA courts in the late 1990s?

And who knew that first overall draft pick Dwight Howard would immediately become one of the league’s top rebounders -- not to mention a young man whose low-post play is proving to have Tim Duncan-like potential?

Or what about Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley? Francis has been reborn now that he's away from the plodding Houston offense.

Then there’s Orlando coach Johnny Davis. His low-key demeanor and all-around professionalism remind me of a young Lenny Wilkens. Of course, Davis is quickly becoming a bright basketball man in his own right -- and deserves tons of credit for getting an almost entirely new roster to mesh.

What I like most about the Magic is they seem to have taken on the personality of their coach.

Granted, Hill has always been a pro’s pro, a guy who rarely even so much as glares at officials and who has always exemplified what it means to lead by example. Now that he’s healthy, he could probably take more shots and play with a lot more flair -- but that’s never been his style. If he ever has a gripe, he keeps it behind closed doors.

Also, Howard entered the league as a devout Christian and has stayed true to his beliefs. He has high morals and is a 19-year old who appreciates the big bucks and many handouts afforded professional athletes.

In that sense, he reminds me of the stars of my youth, guys like Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, big men who played for the love of the game above all else. Yes, Howard has a long way to go before he reaches their Hall-of-Fame status, but you just know he has the passion and work habits to give it a run.

Meanwhile, Francis will never be accused of being a great passer or top-notch defender, but he seems to be overcoming any previous hints of selfishness. It doesn’t hurt that his raw strength and remarkable leaping ability make him virtually unstoppable.

Francis has played brilliantly this season, never trying to do too much or acting like he needs to be the center of attention. He’s flying high and playing hard. Most importantly, he’s playing within the team concept.

As for Mobley, he’s been one of the league’s most underrated shooting guards for his entire career. Like Phoenix’s Joe Johnson (my favorite underrated shooting guard), Mobley can score 15-20 points a night without anyone even noticing. And it’s always nice to have a secret weapon like that.

There are plenty of other reasons to believe in the Magic this season -- from hard-working center Tony Battie, to already-solid rookie point guard Jameer Nelson, to gifted swingman Hidayet Turkoglu.

And do you know what’s the neatest thing about all this? Every Magic player who I’ve written about wasn’t even on the team last season.

That usually is the recipe for expansion-like results.

But somehow, Orlando has already come together as a team -- and become a major player in the wide-open Eastern Conference.

Francis on the Suns

I truly appreciate how Francis seems to have improved nearly every aspect of his game this year, but I was a little disappointed in his comments after the Magic lost to Phoenix (121-103) on Dec. 13.

Francis said: "I don't want to say (Phoenix’s high-powered offense) won't work, but it would be so hard for them to do that throughout the playoffs. I don't think in history there's been a team to run to the championship."

Never been a team to run to a title?! Ever heard of Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers?

Sometimes it amazes me how little these guys know about the history of the game. Especially when we’re talking about one of the two greatest TEAM players of all time.

Color it Redd

Last time I asked, “If you were starting a team today, who would you rather have: Toronto’s Vince Carter or Milwaukee’s Michael Redd.”

Redd won in a landslide, capturing 92 of the 118 votes (five were undecided).

That kind of surprises me, especially when you consider how Carter dominates the All-Star balloting every year.

There were plenty of opinions on this matter -- with some Raptors fans choosing Redd over their own guy. People seem to doubt Carter’s surgically repaired knees, his role on the team, and mostly, his passion for the game.

But as Nate Maciborski (Brooklyn, N.Y.) wrote, “The key part to your question is the word starting. If I were starting a team like Charlotte, I’d rather have Carter because of his name, his ability to put fans in the seats and move merchandise.”

If Nate owned an established team, “I’d take Redd. You might not sell a lot of Redd jerseys, but he’s clearly a player on the rise whose best days are ahead of him. Carter’s potential is zero. He’s done.”

Other responses:

Dave Kurfurst (Ottawa, Canada): “Redd is a much better shooter; Carter has resorted to taking jumpers rather than slashing, and he’s not good enough from the perimeter to live off his shot.”

Dan Meisner (Seattle): “The only thing ‘Vinsanity’ stands for now is what Carter drives general managers to. Meanwhile, Redd is a class act and a far more productive player.”

Mike Vorkunov (East Hanover, N.J.): “Carter can’t do anything but dunk every once in a while, and all that will do is get you on SportsCenter. He hasn’t been the same for at least three years.”

Phillip Tsioukanis (Sydney, Australia): “Michael Redd for two reasons -- 1) He is 10 years younger physically; 2) He seems to be 10 years more mature in his mentality toward basketball.”

David Jungerman (Austin, Texas): “I’m surprised teams are trying to trade for Carter right now. He just doesn’t seem to have the knees or heart to put a team on his back and carry it.”

Mark Gillman: “I would take Carter. A change of scenery might do him good and refresh his effort. But his new start would have to be a place where he’d be the second option. He doesn’t seem to enjoy being the center of attention and carrying the load.”

Stephen Yen (Taiwan): “Carter definitely has a great history, but he can’t play like he used to and can’t quit running his mouth.”

Roberto Cintron (St. Croix, Virgin Islands): “If I were starting a team today, I would rather have a big name that sells tickets, and Redd’s quiet-but-efficient game would not do that for me. I also believe Carter will improve drastically once he finds his way out of Toronto.”

Jim Darling (Dunstable, Mass.): “Who would you rather have shoot a game-winner? Redd scares me the most with one possession left.”

Jeff Nehajowich (Edmonton, Canada): “Carter still shows brilliance on the floor, and once he gets traded, he will put it all together again. He is a game-breaker in a way that Redd is not.”

Brian Hedden (Cortez, Colo.): “I’ll take Vince. He just needs to play in a warmer climate so those knees don’t stiffen up.”

Jon Palmer (Roseville, Minn.): “Redd is just as productive and still on the rise -- sort of like Carter back when he cared about playing basketball.”

Kelly Clark (Columbus, Ohio): “If I thought I had a chance to win this year or owned an already overpaid team that would be dismantling in the off-season, I’d take my chances with Carter. But if I am in charge of a young team that will be ‘in the hunt’ during the next few seasons, I’d take Redd.”

Alain Goll (Lille, France): “If I were looking to build a basketball team with a winning attitude, I’d choose Redd. If I wanted to create name recognition and generate media attention, I’d go with Carter.”

Douglas Reedy: “I’m a huge Tar Heels fan, so I’ve always loved Carter. But at this point in their careers, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with Carter -- especially considering my penchant for pure shooters.”

Christophe Zosso (Geneva, Switzerland): “Carter’s best days are behind him. He’s injury-prone and his shot selection really stinks at times.”

Andy Fan (Cupertino, Calif.): “The game doesn’t need more dunkers, it needs more outside shooters. I’d choose Redd.”

Steve Stinder (Ontario, Canada): “Living in Canada, I have witnessed the decline of Carter from an explosive player to a malcontent who refuses to make those around him better.”

Eric Fonantana (Australia): “I’m not at all in favor of the combination of maximum contracts, trade demands and pouting/sulking behavior. I want my franchise player to lead the team with heart and effort. Any other year, I would have taken Carter. Not this one.”

12-15-2004, 02:46 PM
Posted by Rob Peterson


Last week, we got medieval. This week, we'll get metaphysical.

So, here's the question: What makes a team good?
-- Seattle Times

More specifically: When can we stop using qualifiers and unequivocally say, "Yes, that team is for real."?

What determines this? Is it overall record? While that may seem obvious, it lies at the root of the problem, and our argument, which can swing both ways: "They're not as good as their record," or "they're better than their record."

An example: The 2001-02 Milwaukee Bucks had just been to the Eastern Conference finals the year before. They added All-Star Anthony Mason (Mistake! I'm just sayin'...) and they started the season at 9-1. A good team, right? For 10 games yes. For the other 72, they were 32-39 and famously flamed out of the playoffs. (It didn't help that I immediately received IMs after the Bucks lost to the Pistons in the season's final game, taunting me about Dirk Nowitzki. That's OK, I've recovered. The Bucks? That's another story.)

Here's an another example. The 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers looked to be stuck in a post-NBA title malaise. While their 48-25 record heading into the season's final month was nothing to sneeze at, the Lakers looked lethargic for most of that season. They were good, but not awe inspiring.

But after losing to the Knicks at home on April 1 of that year, you want to know their record from that point on? It was most definitely awe inspiring. They went 23-1, steamrolled the Spurs in the Western Conference finals and stomped to their second consecutive NBA title, the only loss coming to the Sixers in The Finals, thanks to Allen Iverson's superhuman performance in Game 1 of that series.

So, what indicates that a team is truly as good as its record? Sure, things can change quickly (injuries, specifically), but lets just assume that none of the following teams will feature someone suffering a major injury. All right, let's throw something against the wall and see what sticks.

Phoenix Suns: 18-3 (best start in franchise history)
Why are they good: Point differential, quality losses and bending other teams to their will

It's time to say it. The Suns are legit. There. At an plus-11.85 point differential, the Suns haven't been eking out wins, they've won going away. Even their losses have been quality: On the road in OT to Cleveland by five; at home to the Kings by two and at home to Minnesota by four. Combined number of points in their defeats: 11. Combined record of those three teams: 40-21 (.672 winning percentage).

That, and they're winning by forcing opponents to play their type of ball (up tempo), the sign of any good team. And they get scary when Amare Stoudemire starts adding assists to his game.
-- Arizona Republic

Seattle Sonics: 17-4
Why are they good: General consensus, better-than-advertised D, the look

How many teams wax the Spurs? Not many. How many teams wax the Spurs twice in a season? Even fewer. Enter the Sonics.

They've done it twice this season, once in Seattle and once in San Antonio. They've made believers out of even the most cynical.
-- Dallas Morning News

This squad can also crank it up on D (ninth best in the NBA in points per game allowed -- 93.9).

As for the look, the Sonics play as if they're out to prove everyone wrong. Or maybe it's because they have a lot of guys, MVP candidate Ray Allen included, who are in the last year of the contracts. I can't tell. Then again, does it matter?
-- Seattle Times

San Antonio Spurs: 17-5
Why are they good: Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich, history

Forget for a minute T-Mac's explosion (if you can) against the Spurs last Thursday. No. 1: When you have Tim Duncan, you always have a shot.
-- San Antonio Express-News (Registration required)

As for Pop, he's one of the most underrated coaches in the league. Can you name another active coach with two NBA championship rings? Rudy T, yes. Anyone else?

I thought not. Pop, in case you didn't know, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, with a major in Soviet Studies. Even if he couldn't coach, me thinks he knows a little something about the power of persuasion. But it's clear, he can coach.

While Duncan anchors the Spurs, Popovich has been able to mold young players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into his system, showing that he has a style that is more than just dump it into Tim all the time. Then again, who could blame him if he did dump it to TD every time? And sure, he can be stubborn, but then which good coach isn't?
-- San Antonio Express-News (Registration required)

As for history, some franchises just reek of success. San Antonio's one of them, especially with two titles in six years. And even when their record does head south, how do they respond? With No. 1 overall picks David Robinson and Tim Duncan. See? Blessed.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 13-7
Why are they good: KG, a front office that is willing to roll the dice

Kevin Garnett may be the single biggest force in the game today. He leads the Timberwolves in every important statistical category (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). KG's greatness may be so great, people can't recognize him for how great he is. Know what I mean?

As for the front office, Kevin McHale, the Wolves' VP of basketball operations, has taken some risks with personnel moves. He knew how Sam Cassell often (OK, all the time) showed displeasure with his contract. He knew that Latrell Sprewell wasn't the athlete he once was. And he knew about Eddie Griffin. Still, McHale has them all under one roof. And after a typically slow start (6-5), the Timberwolves have rebounded (the loss to the Bulls on Saturday notwithstanding) with seven wins in nine games.

Does anyone not think the Wolves won't be there at the end?