Bob Weiss' firing by the Seattle SuperSonics should not come as a surprise, given not only the Sonics' sub-.500 record but also the nature in which they've been losing games.
Seattle is giving up a league-high 105.2 points per game, and its opponents are shooting an astounding 49.8 percent from the field. A year ago, the Sonics were a tough team that relied on solid offensive execution, good three-point shooting and physical interior defense to win games.
This year, Seattle has been unable to match that same type of play, and the Sonics have become way too soft in the middle. They're trying to outscore teams and, with not much inside scoring, that's a difficult proposition.
Weiss had big shoes to fill with Nate McMillan's departure. To make things even tougher, he didn't have the full complement of players McMillan had.
Both Antonio Daniels and Jerome James played big roles on last season's team, and Seattle did nothing to replace them. Weiss also had the unenviable task of trying to recapture the magic of a very surprising 2004-05 season which produced a Northwest Division title. That's not easy to do (just ask Scott Skiles and Eddie Jordan).
The fact is, the Sonics overachieved last season, and Weiss was handed a team that was not very good.
The first order of business for new coach Bob Hill will be to try to get his team to play defense. That won't be easy, but he needs Reggie Evans, Nick Collison and a healthy Danny Fortson to toughen up the middle and be physical with teams like the Sonics were a year ago.
- Vince Carter is back, and so are the New Jersey Nets.
New Jersey was widely considered the favorite to win the Atlantic Division before the season, but after 21 games, the Nets were going nowhere at 9-12. Eight straight wins later, New Jersey is in first place in the division, and Carter's playmaking has been the difference.
Carter has been an enigma for much of his career, displaying flashes of brilliance but also languishing in periods of nonchalance. His toughness and competitiveness have been questioned, but never his talent.
This season, it appears Carter has answered his critics by bringing the intensity every night. He's attacking offensively – not simply relying on jump shots – and he is getting to the foul line repeatedly, especially when the Nets need him to. In a recent game in Miami, New Jersey rallied from 15 points down to beat the Miami Heat, with Carter making 23 of 24 free throws and scoring 37 of his career high-tying 51 points in the second half.
The trade that sent Carter from Toronto to New Jersey last season has jumpstarted his career, and Jason Kidd undoubtedly has had something to do with it. Kidd has helped bring out the best in Carter with his leadership and the sheer joy with which he plays. And with Richard Jefferson playing on the other wing opposite Carter, the Nets possess one of the best perimeter combinations in the NBA.
- While the Nets have taken control of the Atlantic, the Phoenix Suns have surprisingly seized first place in the Pacific.
Most observers figured the Suns would hang around the .500 mark until the return of Amare Stoudemire and then make their move down the stretch. But behind the remarkable play of Steve Nash and Shawn Marion, and the depth that general manager Bryan Colangelo collected in the offseason, Phoenix has run its way to a 19-11 mark.
After the Suns were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs last spring, Colangelo was intent on bringing in toughness and defense, which he has received from Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas. But the play of Eddie House and Boris Diaw has surprised everyone, and the addition of James Jones has been helpful as well.
House has become somewhat of a cult hero in Phoenix, entering games and electrifying Suns fans with his instant offense. His shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality fits in perfectly with Mike D'Antoni's breakneck pace, and House has saved at least six games for Phoenix this season by catching fire late. As for Diaw, he has emerged as a multipurpose threat; his ball handling and quickness have confounded defenders all season long.
With Leandro Barbosa also playing well early in the season – he's expected back from a knee injury later this month – the Suns have put together a very quick, deep team that will be a major force when Stoudemire returns around the All-Star break.
- Of course, Phoenix, New Jersey and everyone else in the NBA is looking up at the Detroit Pistons, who have people wondering if they can win 70 games after a 25-4 start.
Of course, Pistons coach Flip Saunders wants no part of the 70-win talk, knowing full well that his team faces a long road ahead. Saunders' main goal is to position his club for the playoffs.
"I told my team that you can't win a championship in December," Saunders said. "But you can lose one." (Like the Houston Rockets, whose slow start last season led to a low seed in the playoffs.)
Detroit may not win 70 games, but the Pistons are making sure they'll be in perfect position to try to win a title come April.
- As poor as the New York Knicks have played this season, it's hard not to like the three first-round picks Isiah Thomas added at the draft. Channing Frye, David Lee and Nate Robinson have all been effective this season, with Lee coming up huge in a triple-overtime win over the Suns on Monday night.
Lee shot 10-for-11, scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the 140-133 victory. His energy and athleticism have given Knicks fans something to be excited about.
Frye is the NBA's second leading rookie scorer at 14.3 points per game. He is an excellent jump shooter who brings his opponent away from the hoop with his range, and he's very sound fundamentally. Robinson, meanwhile, is a dynamic athlete who is more of a two guard than a point. He energizes the home crowd with his daring forays to the hoop.
With New York struggling to win games, all three rookies should play major roles as the season goes on in order to groom them for the future.