The new big news of the day is Deron Williams. Less than two weeks ago, he ran one of the greatest coaches in NBA history out of Utah. What does he do next? Gets traded New Jersey and breaks the hearts of every Mormon basketball fan in the world. All the while, Deron Williams still looks like a guy who drives around in a windowless van full of free candy. I’m sorry Jazz fans, you really don’t deserve this.
After failing to land any of the big names in free agency and unsuccessfully trying to bring Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey, Mikhail Prokhorov had to do something. Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks isn’t ridiculous for one of the top point guards in the NBA. But everyone wants to know, who came out on top, the Knicks or the Nets? My answer is neither. Look, if you can trade for a superstar, it’s a hard move not to make, but neither team is going to make a run at the Finals this year. The Knicks are good, but good enough to beat the Heat, Celtics, Bulls or Magic? No. Even with Williams, the Nets are not making the playoffs. The real winners (for right now) are in the West.
The top four teams in the West are the Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers and that team that used to be in Seattle. We can all agree that those will be the top four at the end of the season. Currently, Portland and New Orleans are in the 5th and 6th spots with Denver and Utah occupying the 7th and 8th playoff seeds.
Utah won’t hold that spot for long. The Jazz have lost their last two games and are 3-7 in their past ten games. Subtract their best player, add a first time head coach and I don’t see how that equals the playoffs this year. Although, there may be hope for the future. In the Deron Williams trade, the Jazz landed the Nets first round pick for 2011. Who are they going to use that pick on? I would be my house (err… apartment) that they take Jimmer Fredette. Why? Tell me I don’t really need to answer that question.
I’ve been back and forth on my opinion of Denver. Part of me thinks that Denver will drop out of the playoff race now that they are missing their two best players. However, I have been convinced otherwise. As @dthetr (unfortunately for you, he protects his tweets) pointed on Twitter, the Nuggets improved their playoff chances and they came out of the Melo trade with more win shares (how many wins each player contributes to the team). The Nuggets do have a tough road ahead of them. The next 13 of 24 are on the road including a tough stretch of three road games at Utah, LA (against the Clippers) and Phoenix before going home for a game against Detroit and then back on the road to New Orleans, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami. In addition to that, 15 of their last 24 games are against teams that are above .500. Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith stepped up against in their first game post-Melo and they’ll make the playoffs but towards the back of the pack.
So which team has the most to gain right now? The Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash may not have much time left in Phoenix (we’ve been saying that for the past 15 years now) but he keeps playing at a remarkable level. The numbers that he is putting up this year are very close to the numbers he put up when he won back to back MVP awards. Also, the Suns are historically better after the All-Star break. Since the 2005-2006 season, the Suns record in the second half of the season has been 19-11, 22-8, 18-11, 17-13, and 23-6.
One might argue that the Memphis Grizzlies will sneak in ahead of the Suns but I don’t see that happening. Rudy Gay won’t be returning to the lineup until mid March and the Grizzlies have a tough schedule between now and then. They match up with the Spurs twice, the Hornets, the Mavericks and Kevin Durant’s team before Gay is supposed to return.
So it’s up to you Phoenix, that 8th seed is yours to lose. I’m really looking forward to Spurs-Suns in round one.