TrueHoop: Joe Smith

When I was a young Blazer fan, one of my favorite players was center Caldwell Jones. He had been playing forever, including for the Sixers in the 1977 NBA Finals against the Blazers, and exuded a certain kind of class. He was skinny, even-keeled and goateed.

Once as a young child, thanks to a weird coincidence (that got a journalist friend yelled at by the team P.R. people) I got to sit courtside on press row for a few minutes of an actual game. Jones stood right in front of me while inbounding the ball.

In 1987, the Blazers added a role player called Charles Jones.


Oh, Charles Jones was, I'm sure, a perfectly good guy, but let's think about clothing here for a second.

Josh Smith
Now that Joe Smith is a Hawk, what will it say on the back of the his jersey? Yes, it matters.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

If NBA teammates have the same last name, a common solution is to add a first initial to one or both jerseys.

How's that going to work this time, smart guy?

Charles, as it happens, was 12 years younger, three inches shorter, not as decidely skinny and lacking distinctive facial hair. If you were paying attention, there was little worry he'd be confused with Caldwell.

Nevertheless, somehow (there should be an inquiry) it was decided that while Caldwell's jersey would continue to say "Jones," Charles would play with "C. Jones" on his back.

I'm hardly one of those O.C.D. people who likes everything symmetrical, tidy and just so. I can tolerate some randomness in life. (Exhibit A: my desk.)

Can you feel my pain a little when I tell you that this bothered me?

That "C," I lectured imaginary Blazer personnel in my mind, "doesn't do anything. 'Caldwell' starts with just as much of a 'C' as 'Charles' does. In what way does having one 'C' on one jersey clarify anything? The whole idea is to make the players easy to identify. We're still stuck where we were before: If you know what they look like, or their numbers, you know which is which. If not, you're sunk. Which is precisely where we'd be if both uniforms ... said simply 'Jones' which would at least have the advantage of being tidy, consistent and logical."

In any case, after a season, Charles Jones left the team, and I admit I had a small sense of relief.

It's in that context that this morning, I got an e-mail from TrueHoop reader Lionel. The subject line was "Joe/Josh Smith." He writes:

So what do their names of their jersey numbers read this upcoming season since they both play with ATL.

J. Smith?

Since they both are Jo. Smith?

Will Joe Smith have his whole name on the jersey?

Oh crikey.

Little did Lionel know he had contacted the right guy. Within a minute I had called a Hawks' P.R. guy and gotten voicemail. So I called another, with the same result. I called the main switchboard and asked if anybody was around who could help me right now, and was connected to the voicemail of a third. So I forwarded Lionel's e-mail to the first two guys and said a little prayer. ...

Which was answered just about three hours later. A fantastic piece of news from the Hawks' brilliant Jon Steinberg:

Ha. Both guys will just have Smith on their backs! No first initials, etc.

And yet some people -- isn't it amazing? -- still long for the good old days.

While the cellar-dwellers prepare their draft board, the NBA's elite have some tough calls to make. Will the Lakers pony up for Lamar Odom? Is Hedo Turkoglu worth exceeding the cap for? And the Cavs confront the reality that they're a couple of rotation players away from Eastern supremacy. 

Lamar OdomDarius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold: "We're at the point where [Lamar] Odom's true value to this team is no longer a mystery. When you talk X's and O's, he's the player that makes our strong side zone work as he provides the mobility and length to move from one side of the court to the other, pick up flashing big men, guard perimeter players, trap the ball handler, and still recover to the paint to rebound. He's the player that helps create our tremendous offensive spacing - playing as a PF that can initiate the offense, play on the perimeter (and be effective with the jumper or the drive), find creases in defenses to take advantage of the double teams that Kobe and [Pau] Gasol face, and also play in isolation from any position on the court (wing, top of the key, low block, elbow, etc). And when you talk team building and chemistry, he's also a real leader for the Lakers. Many will point to Kobe [Bryant] or [Derek] Fisher as our leaders - and rightfully so - but it's Odom that has been the stabilizer for our squad. He's been the bridge between our first and second units, the guy that organizes team dinners and brings in a chef for training camp, the guy that is in the middle of the huddle motivating and inspriring our guys for the battle ahead, and the guy whose lighthearted nature and devotion to the team keeps the locker room loose. We need this player."

Hedo TurkogluZach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "[T]o other teams, is [Hedo] Turkoglu really worth close to eight figures? John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating isn't perfect, but it's probably the best method we have of comparing players. Turkoglu's PER this season was less than Travis Outlaw, Marvin Williams, Grant Hill, Rudy Gay, Anthony Randolph and Richard Jefferson. And PER often punishes player who are shut-down defenders - something Turkoglu is not. We all know the intangibles of Hedo Turkoglu - his ball-handling skills, his abilities to create mismatches, his knack for shooting well in the clutch - are why he's so valuable to the Orlando Magic. But it can't be ignored how much Turkoglu fell off from last season to this season ... It's not like 30-year-old players regularly bounce back after down years. It's hard to imagine the Magic, or any team, think Turkoglu's career year of 2007-08 is the norm. The Turkoglu we saw this season is likely what most people expect out of Turkoglu going forward. Is 16-5-5 with a poor shooting percentage worth $10 million?"

Varejao and HicksonJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "A rotation big is hard to find. Really hard to find. And even if Andy [Varejao] comes back, this team, as Ben Wallace's corpse made clear in the ECF, is having trouble filling those minutes, especially considering Joe Smith seemed to be out of the playoff rotation. JJ Hickson is a great prospect, but even he has serious question marks at the defensive ends. The good news: LeBron James can give you 15 absolutely unbelievable minutes at the 4 on a nightly basis. The numbers were eye-popping ... this season when he played at the 4: A PER of 38, 39/11/8.5, and 2 blocks per 48 minutes, a higher net +/- per 48 minutes than his minutes at small forward, and he holds his man to less than a league-average PER defensively. And this is all with Wally [Szczerbiak] holding down the three spot and essentially doing nothing and getting exploited defensively. In the playoffs, Wally was simply too much of a liability. With a true rotation-quality swingman, the Cavs could take advantage of LeBron's ability at the four without leaving a hole, and it's much, much, much easier to get a rotation-quality swingman than a rotation-quality power forward."

Truth About It: The quotable Flip Saunders.
Celtics Hub: The Big Green honor the king of green.
Roundball Mining Company: The latest export to Asia? The Denver Nuggets.

(Photos by Noah Graham, Jesse D. Garrabrant, Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • Cavalier Coach Mike Brown did something pretty slick in the second quarter: Just when Stan Van Gundy was resting the Magic regulars, Brown inserted LeBron James. And the Cavaliers ripped off an 11-0 run. It was the only stretch of the game when Cleveland clearly outclassed Orlando. Hedo Turkoglu's agent (he'll be a free agent soon!) would like to point out that the run started when Turkoglu was benched, and ended only when he returned. That's a big part of the reason why, despite shooting 1-11 from the floor with three turnovers, Turkoglu ended the game an impressive +20, to go with his 11-12 from the free throw line, 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
  • I don't know who it was at the Magic that made the final call on selecting Courtney Lee with last summer's 22nd pick, but they have to be feeling pretty good now. This rookie is a key factor in the Eastern Conference Finals. On the season he's making better than 40% of his 3-pointers, he has speed like Rip Hamilton, and he's one of a tiny handful of players to be go-to defenders in their first season of NBA action. And most importantly, he almost never turns the ball over. With no give-aways, and good defense, there's almost do downside to keeping Lee on the floor.
  • TrueHoop reader John sent me an e-mail in December saying that he thought the Magic had the best chance of anyone to defeat the Cavaliers, because Mickael Pietrus does a better job than anyone else guarding LeBron James. There's obviously a lot more to the story of Orlando's success than Pietrus' defense, but John certainly deserves a tip of the cap for noticing an important thing early.
  • The referees were extremely evident. This series has been, generally, among the most enjoyable to watch in NBA history. But 86 free throw attempts in Game 3 (four more than in the first two games combined) went a long way to bringing down the fun factor. The Magic shot a whopping 51 times from the stripe, which would seem to indicate they got the better referee treatment. But the Magic's star, Dwight Howard, had six fouls, none of which were very convincing. I'd like to see HD slow motion replay of all six back-to-back. He fouled out of the game on a tremendously clean block. Meanwhile (I invite anyone who has the urge to assemble video to check me on this) LeBron James appeared to have significantly more leeway.
  • The Cavaliers' backup big man Joe Smith had OK box score numbers ( four points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 19 minutes), but he led the team in +/-, which I don't think was entirely a coincidence. He was active and helpful for long stretches. Early in the second half, his entry into the game signaled the end of a big Orlando run, and more than a few times his defensive activity inspired Cleveland stops. Not to tweak the Celtics more than has already been done, but it's clearer than ever that the "Mid-Season Free Agent Signing Joe Smith vs. Mikki Moore Hindsight is 20/20" Award goes to the Cavaliers.
  • Look at LeBron James' shot chart for this game. That's two of fifteen from long range. Anyone else get the feeling that Friday's big long game-winner gave James irrational confidence in long bombs? If I were Orlando, I wouldn't expect James to fire away so much in Game 4 -- especially when he proved down the stretch that he is capable of getting to the hole and completing and-ones over the Defensive Player of the Year.

The Hornets' sharpshooter might be better off in the second unit. The Cavs' sharpshooter couldn't connect all night...until it mattered. Ron Artest thinks he's a sharpshooter. The TrueHoop Network shoots from the hip. 

Peja StojakovicRyan Schwan of Hornets247: "Other than Dallas, the Hornets have the worst bench among the current 8 seeds in the West...That means that when the Hornets hit the playoffs, we can expect the second-quarter meltdowns to become even more pronounced.  It's pathetic, because the Hornets' starting five is the seventh best in the league, despite all the nagging injury issues they've had.  If the Hornets' bench could provide even a little boost, or just play the other team more evenly, it would make the team infinitely stronger and get the starters more rest.

So is there a way to fix the bench?  I'm a bit of a pessimist, but here is an idea that several people have already proposed in our comments, and that I agree with: Turning Stojakovic into a sixth man.

During the series of games where Paul, Chandler, and West were all out of commission, the Hornets turned to Peja to be their primary offensive option, and he did a pretty solid job in that role.  The past three games with Julian in the starting lineup, the Hornets' starters have produced a slightly worse offensive efficiency of 108.0 and a much nastier defensive efficiency of 84.0 ... The Hornets could start Julian, sub him out for Peja around the 6:00 minute mark of the first quarter and let Peja warm up.  At the start of the second quarter, they can start running the offense through him.

Making this change will entail curtailing Posey's minutes some -- but I really think he'd be better served as a 20-22 minute man anyways, not the 29 minute man he's been all season."

Mo Williams

John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Mo Williams. What do I say? For 47:54, he had absolutely as bad a game as you can have. He's kind of an Anti-LeBron in that he's a guy who's primarily a straight-up scorer whose offense comes from the perimeter, so when he's not in a flow things can get very bad very fast. (Fortunately, he's ridiculously consistent.)

Tonight, he wasn't hitting his shots off the dribble. He wasn't hitting open threes. He wasn't doing well defensively. He had one assist against four turnovers.

And yet, for the third game in a row, Mo Williams was the difference between victory and defeat. And if I had to pick one game to show how valuable Mo is to this team, it might be this one. No matter what he's done before in the game, he's the guy who's there when we need him. Tonight, he was the difference between a great win and the worst loss of the year.

Delonte got off the hook, too-he was an absolute non-factor all game long, which is the one thing he generally never is.

Again, I'm going to point out just how good Joe Smith and Andy were at rolling to the basket all game long and getting layups, and how unbelievable LeBron was at finding them with amazing passes. I do not think it is a coincidence that this came against Zach Randolph."

Dirk NowitzkiMichael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "We'll never know if things would be different with Amare (I think they would be), but as J-Rich said, the Suns just can't think that way.

As it is, Phoenix struggles to match up defensively against most teams with their small ball lineup, and it makes me a bit queasy that Dirk has said the toughest defender he faces in the NBA is Shawn Marion.

Yeah, he might be a little helpful right about now.

To add insult to injury, the Mavs won this game without Josh Howard to snap a nine-game road losing streak to Western Conference foes, winning their first West game away from Dallas this calendar year. And yes, it is March 10.

For the Suns, it feels like that 'season-changing' win over the Lakers on March 1 was in a whole different calendar year."

Celtics Hub: How clutch are the C's in close games?
Rockets Buzz: The eternal Ron Artest question.
Daily Thunder: Who needs Tyson Chandler when you have Nenad Krstic?

(Photos by Glenn James, Noah Graham, Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

The TrueHoop Network pays homage to the Rockets' stifling defense, a voice for the ages, and a player who reinvented himself on the fly:

LeBron JamesJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "I think that was the best I've ever seen LeBron James defended. He's certainly had worse games, and 21 points on 21 shots isn't terrifyingly bad, but he was playing into the Rockets' hands from the opening whistle on. The Rockets kept him out of the lane by forcing LeBron directly into their helpers, Yao Ming did a great job of protecting the rim, Artest stayed physical with LeBron, and Battier really did always seem to be one move ahead. At one point, I looked over to make sure Michael Lewis wasn't telling LeBron what to be doing out there.

LeBron's had horrendous shooting nights before, but even then his impact is generally undeniable-he's getting teammates involved, he's forcing the defense to come to him and adjust, he's freeing up a side of the floor, he's scrapping and getting extra chances, he's everywhere at once. In this one, the Rockets were able to render him so ineffective and frustrated when he went to the basket that they actually turned him into a jump shooter, the mythical holy grail of defending LeBron. They were also able to perfectly control his catches so that he never got the ball anywhere near the scoring area.

LeBron spent much of the night catching and shooting directly, and while that allowed him to shoot decently (6-14 eFG% on jumpers, better than his season average of 41%), it took him away from what he's best at, which is getting other teammates involved. Basically, he was playing like a poor man's Mo Williams, which is not something someone with his gifts should be doing. 8 long twos out of 21 shots is not a repeatable plan of action...

I tip my cap in a massive way to Houston's defense tonight-we knew their perimeter defense was going to be absolutely insane with Artest and Battier healthy, and that's what we saw tonight."

Red Kerr

Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "I grew up in the Midwest. My love for basketball began without allegiance to a particular player or team. I simply loved the sport. That love was inspired by more than watching Jordan paint his masterpiece, although his genius certainly played a prominent role. My early basketball memories are tightly connected to three men whom you might not suspect: Hubie Brown, Dr. Jack Ramsay, and Johnny 'Red' Kerr. Some of my earliest basketball memories are of curling up on the couch with my father listening to these men call games. Or, in the case of Ramsay, I vividly remember returning from the library with a copy of The Coach's Art, which opened basketball up to me as something more than basketball.

Our Midwestern cable package included Chicago's WGN and TBS. My enthusiasm for basketball was fueled by Kerr's enthusiasm for the Jordan Bulls; my knowledge of basketball is founded on Hubie Brown's thoughtful analysis. These men spoiled me. Perhaps it's nostalgia, but today I listen to most game calls on mute. That is, unless Hubie or Dr. Jack have the call. When that's the case, I like to watch with my son. 48 minutes of catechesis.

I don't remember much of what Johnny 'Red' Kerr said. That would be a dishonest claim. But I remember how he said it. His wows were the wows of seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. His excitement was the excitement of buzzer beaters and possession saving dives.  Some things are taught and others are caught. I caught an appreciation of basketball as beauty and brilliance and bounty from Kerr -- he injected that germ into my bloodstream. Here I am trying to pass it along to you.

It's sad to see him go."

Flip MurrayBret LaGree of Hoopinion: "I was highly critical of signing Murray but he's been a useful (or better) player for most of the season. Credit should go to Rick Sund for acquiring Flip Murray for both good seasons of Murray's career. Most impressive to me is that Murray remains no one's idea of a point guard but someone, be it player or coach, has figured that out and shifted Murray's responsibilities as the season has progressed and allowed him to play to his strengths. Long time Hawks watchers know how unusual it is to see a player of limited, specific skills put in a position to use those skills rather than be asked to be a player he is not."

Valley of the Suns: What a difference a week makes.
Raptors Republic: Phoenix East meets Phoenix West tonight.
Daily Thunder: OKC should hang onto Joe Smith.

(Photos by Bill Baptist, Gary Dineen, Chris Graythen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Untrading of Tyson Chandler

February, 18, 2009

Strangers were high-fiving each other in the streets in Oklahoma City. All was swell.

And then ... Tyson Chandler fails a physical and the fun's over.

Royce Young of the Daily Thunder:

Everything we were just getting so psyched about is gone. The "fearsome foursome" talk. The new nicknames. The optimism. Zapped. Gone. See ya. Well, the optimism isn't entirely gone because we're still on track with KD, Uncle Jeff and Russell, but the immediate optimism took a hit.

I have no idea what could be the reason this thing was ripped, but it's got to be something with Chandler's ankle. Maybe there's long term damage in there. Who knows. And who knows if Sam Presti will be back on the horn tonight trying to swing another deal at the deadline. All I know is that my head's spinning.

I think I speak for everyone when I say, this sucks. And I mean that in the nicest way possible Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.

Tyson ChandlerIn New Orleans, the Tyson Chandler mourning period was just winding to a close. Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 had been pointing out that, despite his bitterness at seeing Chandler go, there was no arguing the center was having a bad year.

I think I've wallowed enough now. I'm not going to rip Shinn or Bower in this post. I'm not happy with what happened, but I don't have anything to say about it that hasn't been said in a dozen other places. It's time to move on and get to what we received and how it impacts the team. In other words, it's time to take refuge in numbers.

The first thing you have to remember is that Chandler, when he wasn't missing games, was actually playing fairly poorly. Chandler has only been in double figures in rebounding 13 times all season, he's missed 18 games, and his offense has been down and he's only been in double digit scoring 16 times this season. His rebounds per 40 minutes have been the worst he's ever averaged -- even worse than his rookie year. There have been a lot of reasons given for this -- his baby being born, his family being in California, his earlier knee injury -- but the fact remains, he's been having a terrible, terrible year.

Now Niall Doherty of Hornets247 writes:

I'm not sure. I'd like to throw a party to celebrate this, but OKC aren't sending Tyson back for no reason. Remember, they're not playing for anything this season, so they must feel that the injury is something that will affect Chandler's play beyond the next few months.

Best case scenario, the Thunder are being overly cautious and Tyson will be healthy and ready to help the Hornets make a good playoff run this season. Then we can worry about shedding salary in the summer, or perhaps put together a more fan-friendly trade before tomorrow's 2pm Central deadline.

Worst case scenario, Tyson has some serious health issues, meaning he can't help us on the floor and we're stuck with his contract. Then we might have to settle for a real ugly trade to avoid paying the luxury tax next season.

Now we learn a few things. For one, that it might be a tad awkward for Smith, Wilcox and Chandler to head home -- their teams just celebrated their departures!

And don't you think the Hornets wish, now, that they would have admitted the trade was about money? Instead, they told everyone they really wanted Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox. But hey, Tyson, buddy ... we didn't really mean that.

I wonder if perhaps we also learn a little something about why the Hornets may have been willing to make a lopsided trade. Not that they were trying to dupe the Thunder, but if the medical staff has long-term worries about Chandler, then that might be one more reason to make a move.

And while Thunder fans are the ones hanging their heads tonight, I wonder whether it isn't Hornets fans who find themselves in the bigger pickle. Now we know the Hornets -- a team on delicate financial footing -- are likely to be spending more than they think they should, and a lot of that will be going to a big man who has some kind of long-term health concerns. And even with a healthy Chandler, the Hornets needed another quality big man. The future was annoying after the cost-cutting trade that would cost the team a year of contention. But now, with money and health problems, the joy of Chandler's return has to be laced with a couple of profound new worries.

Peja Stojakovic, anyone?

(Photo: Glenn James, NBAE/Getty Images)