What's the deal, Isiah?

What's the deal, Isiah?
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
February 7, 2006

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
Chris Paul – The New Orleans Hornets went 3-0 last week to extend their win streak to four games and climb into the seventh playoff spot in the West. Paul averaged 20 points and 11.7 assists in the three victories, continuing his drive to become the runaway Rookie of the Year award winner.
27, 24 – The Phoenix Suns lead the league in assists at 27 per game, while the Detroit Pistons rank second at 24 per game. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that each team takes such good care of the ball. The Suns commit just 13 turnovers per game; Detroit averages the fewest miscues with 11. That means each club has an almost unheard of assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2-1. No wonder they're two of the top four teams in the league.
Wednesday: Los Angeles Clippers at Detroit PistonsElton Brand is playing at an MVP-type level. He'll have to contend with the NBA's best defensive front line at the Palace, though, as the Clippers continue their quest to overtake Phoenix in the Pacific Division.
Thursday: Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks – The Mavericks have beaten all the top teams in the NBA – they're a combined 5-1 against San Antonio, Detroit, Phoenix and Miami. The Heat, on the other hand, are 0-6 against the Spurs, Pistons, Suns and Mavericks. If Miami wants to prove it's for real, this would be a good place to start.
The wheels keep spinning for the New York Knicks.

Friday's trade of Antonio Davis to the Toronto Raptors for Jalen Rose is another example of Isiah Thomas using a limitless budget to improve his roster without regard to the balance and chemistry of his team.

Since Thomas took over the Knicks in December of 2003, none of his moves have tied together. There is no plan and no format. The addition of Rose comes seventh months after the deal that brought Quentin Richardson from Phoenix. That followed the deal that brought Jamal Crawford from Chicago.

All told, New York now has three shot-happy swingmen who each command a huge salary. And they play next to two shot-happy point guards – Stephon Marbury and Nate Robinson – who are better served playing the two-guard position.

This philosophy of throwing talent together and hoping it works out is apparent on the entire roster. Why sign Jerome James to a big deal and then trade for Eddy Curry? Why trade for Malik Rose and Maurice Taylor when you already have several undersized power forwards on your team? (James, Malik Rose and Taylor rarely play.) And why bring Qyntel Woods aboard when you're trying to develop David Lee and Trevor Ariza? You can't play three young players at the same position at the same time.

The net result is a talented roster that doesn't fit together. The Knicks have a team full of players who don't really have roles. Larry Brown seems to start a different lineup every night, and he struggles to find a rotation of any sort. New York doesn't defend and turns the ball over – two signs of poor communication and a lack of familiarity with each other.

Thomas has done a great job in the draft over the years, both in Toronto and New York. He has put together some impressive young talent. But the unlimited budget he has almost undermines any sort of plan he could be employing. He adds one big-money guy after another to the roster, and meanwhile, his team doesn't develop.

It reminds me of Bob Whitsitt's strategy with the Portland Trail Blazers several years ago when he used Paul Allen's money to put together the most expensive team in the league. Whitsitt's philosophy was to find the 12 most talented players he could find and then let the coach figure out the rest. As the Blazers found out, that plan didn't work very well.

Ironically, the two best teams in the league – San Antonio and Detroit – operate under budgets that have forced each franchise to make prudent personnel decisions over the years. The result has been a stable environment that encourages team development.

The Spurs and Pistons both have built a squad around several stars, adding talent through the draft or from bargain free-agent signings. The thought of trading for Jalen Rose in midseason never enters the minds of either team because they can't afford it. But in the end, both are better off for it. San Antonio and Detroit maintain consistency and balance to their rosters, and that translates to better communication and chemistry on the floor.

Rose's contract runs another season – at a ridiculous $15 million. Davis' deal expires this summer. That's why Toronto made the deal. In other words, the Knicks take on more salary and throw more talent into the equation.

No budget, no plan.

  • Speaking of trades, the Minnesota Timberwolves seem to have gotten the best of the recent Wally Szczerbiak/Ricky Davis trade. Although the Wolves weren't able to secure a second star to pair with Kevin Garnett, the trio of Davis, Marcus Banks and Justin Reed have provided Minnesota with athleticism and energy. Mark Blount has also done a nice job on the front line.

    Banks, in particular, could be the key to the deal. He's a terrific on-the-ball defender, shoots well and fills the Wolves' need at point guard.

  • The Washington Wizards beat Orlando on Monday night and in the process reached the .500 mark for the first time since Dec. 8 when Washington was 8-8. For Eddie Jordan's crew, it has been a difficult season as the Wizards have tried to recapture the magic of last year.

    The loss of Larry Hughes was felt early, but Caron Butler has emerged as a consistent third scorer behind Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. Also, Antonio Daniels, the key free-agent signing of the offseason, has recently begun to emerge from a season-long slump – he has scored in double figures the last five games.

    Throw in the fact that Jamison is back to playing at an All-Star level, and it's easy to see why the Wizards are back at .500.

  • Suns swingman James Jones came to Phoenix from Indiana, where he obviously learned some of the tricks of the trade from the retired Reggie Miller. Jones has drawn 14 fouls this season while shooting three-pointers, all by doing what Reggie did – kick his leg out toward an onrushing defender.

    The resulting contact tends to knock both players down to the floor, and Jones has been the beneficiary of the call more times than not. Reggie's legacy lives on.

    Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

    Updated on Wednesday, Feb 8, 2006 11:30 am, EST

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