PHX/DAL Blame Game: Save Some for Sarver, Cuban
I believe, as expressed previously on The Painted Area, that the roots of the 2008 first-round exits of the Suns and the Mavericks were set in place long before this year's playoffs, and that coaches Mike D'Antoni and Avery Johnson are taking an absurdly large share of the blame.
The idea that the lion's share of the blame in Phoenix is being absorbed by Mike D'Antoni is particularly ridiculous.
In my mind, I believe that the blame lies pretty much entirely at the feet (and closed wallet) of owner Robert Sarver, who is on course to do nothing short of ruin this proud franchise.
Let's start with the fact that Sarver is too cheap to pay the luxury tax - move Spurs starting center Kurt Thomas back to the Suns alone and this might have been a different series, considering that S.A. is otherwise pretty thin up front, and that PHX might have been able to use Krazee Eyez Kurt to stem the layup drills which bled away leads in Games 1 and 2, not to mention his 8-pt, 12-reb performance in Game 5.
It's comical that people suggest D'Antoni didn't go deep enough into his bench or develop a backup for Steve Nash. What bench?! Eric Piatkowski, at age 37, is garbage, as is Sean Marks, as is Alando Tucker (I'll grant that D.J. Strawberry maybe deserved a look to grab some minutes on D vs. Parker, but I hardly think the rookie second-rounder would have made a huge impact).
We went over this in detail in a post called Bewildered By The Suns in February, but the issue is not that D'Antoni didn't do enough to develop his bench - it's that Sarver's disastrous "strategy" of selling draft picks left this team with a hopelessly thin roster, reliant on Grant Hill, at 35, to stay healthy with essentially no Plan B.
How would Luol Deng have looked on this club? Traded for a draft pick that was ultimately sold. How about Linas Kleiza or Jason Maxiell off the bench? Both were available with the 2005 pick that was ultimately sold.
Backup point guard: have your pick of Nate Robinson, Jarrett Jack, Rajon Rondo, Jordan Farmar, Kyle Lowry, Marcus Williams or Sergio Rodriguez. All were available with picks that were sold in 2005 or 2006.
And let me say this in advance, for you to file away when the Blazers make the playoffs and the Suns don't in 2009: how would Rudy Fernandez look in a PHX uni? Sold with the 2007 draft pick.
Don't worry, there's more: picks in 2008 and what's looking more and more like a lottery pick in 2010, already sold.
If you want to blame D'Antoni for anything, it should be for things like the Marcus Banks signing during his brief tenure as GM. But that, too, is primarily Sarver's fault, for running Bryan Colangelo out of town, and trying to run things on the cheap by having D'Antoni wear two hats and perform a GM role for which he is ill-equipped.
Quite simply, the Phoenix Suns are in their current situation because of Robert Sarver, not Mike D'Antoni, period.
I suspect that D'Antoni will have the last laugh, as he'll be hired about 10 seconds after he leaves PHX to coach another team and once again prove that he is among the better coaches in the league. And meanwhile in Phoenix, Cash Considerations Sarver will continue to drive his franchise off a cliff, straight toward Secaucus, N.J., in the coming years.
I don't think the situation is as clear-cut in Dallas. Avery Johnson has proven himself to be a subpar game coach, and he had a particularly poor series vs. Golden State in 2007.
Still, to cast the coach as the primary scapegoat in 2008 seems unfair considering it seemed clear that the Dallas roster needed a significant shakeup last summer, following the shocking lack of toughness displayed in the Golden State debacle.
Of course, the shakeup came in February with the Kidd trade, and I'm still somewhat incredulous at the analysis around it: the common refrain was about how Dallas made the trade because they needed leadership and toughness. To me, if your team has problems with leadership and toughness, the problem might lie with the team's leader.
I feel like the mainstream media has been skirting around the issue for the past year - Dallas has problems with leadership and toughness - while rarely suggesting that perhaps the solution entailed trading Dirk Nowitzki.
I normally think it's an overreaction to trade a superstar, as it's tough to get value in return, but it was a rare offseason, when two of the very few players better than Dirk came on the market.
A year ago, I essentially wrote that the Mavs should try to trade Dirk to Minnesota for KG, and I believe it now just as much as I did then. Who knows, KG still has plenty to prove in terms performing deep into the playoffs, and geez, Minnesota is probably better off with Al Jefferson long-term, given his age (and reasonable contract extension). I just thought KG provided the potential to infuse toughness while also not disrupting the team's core.
Of course, Kobe Bryant appeared to be on the market as well, and I favored Dallas offering a Dirk-for-Kobe trade as well. Who knows how available Kobe actually was, or if he would have accepted a trade to Dallas if it involved Dirk leaving. I was also more reticent about this potential trade because it wasn't clean in terms of position, and would have required other moves that would have torn apart the nucleus of Big D's 67-win team.
Well, it turns out that that nucleus *has* now been torn apart, and in disastrous fashion. As we've said all along, the only thing that would make the Kidd trade successful was a championship this season; this trade only gets worse for Dallas with time, and soon at that.
As we wrote last year, we take no pleasure in ripping Dirk Nowitzki. He is as self-made of a superstar as there has ever been, and he reflects everything that is right with the NBA on a certain level. By any objective measure, he was the least of Dallas's problem vs. the Hornets, as he averaged 27, 12 and 4. Josh Howard was much more of an issue, on and off the court, for certain.
Still, something about this team still feels rudderless in terms of player leadership, and we're sorry but that still points to the team's leader. As much as we fancy our analysis to be rational more than emotional, I do believe the David West "cheek-touching" incident to be indicative. Dirk certainly was right to keep his cool, esp. considering the damaging playoff suspensions Dallas has endured in recent years, but he could have reacted with at least a little bit of controlled fire, in aprt to rally his teammates. Instead, he did nothing, and more importantly, his teammates did nothing, either.
Ultimately, we feel like the primary blame in Dallas lies with Mark Cuban. He should have demanded a measured revamping of his team after the Warriors series last summer. Instead, he succumbed to a panic trade at the deadline.
And he was loyal to a fault in not so much as considering to trade his favorite player of his ownership tenure, Dirk Nowitzki. While we think there's a certain amount of honor in that stance, and we admire and respect Cubes for it, the stark reality is that we don't think it was good for his franchise in terms of wins and losses, and competing for championships.
And now it is too late. Young players like Devin Harris, Sagana Diop and two draft picks are gone. Meanwhile, the Mavs are saddled with a roster of thirtysomethings, and there is not equal value to be had for Dirk this summer. We think that, as in Phoenix, this one gets worse before it gets better.
Given the state of the Western Conference, it wouldn't shock us if both of these perennial contenders are out of the playoffs by 2010, if not next season.