Teams are scrambling to make moves to beat the March 15 trade deadline. GMs are on the phone longer and harder than Jerry Maguire trying to keep Rod Tidwell as a client. Guys around the league have this date marked in their calendars, wary about if they’ve got to pack their bags and families to relocate somewhere else.
Nowadays, there are a plethora of media outlets that cover 24-hour trade rumors, seven days a week. More than likely, cats will wind up finding out they were dealt via text, tweet, Facebook status update, or hashtag first instead of receiving the news by a simple, courteous phone call from their former squad. Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu sure as hell didn’t get a call from Donald Sterling the day they were shipped out to N’awlins as quick and reckless as Hurricane Katrina hit that city.
Nevertheless, getting traded could be a blessing in disguise for a lot of guys. The grass sometimes is greener elsewhere, particularly when you least expect or ask for it. Wale was shunned from Jigga Man‘s Roc Nation to then sign under Rick Ross‘ Maybach Music Group, like the Lakers trading Lamar Odom for a trade exception. That Wale move has turned out good enough to make him the 10th hottest MC in the game.
Similarly, a change of scenery can bring out the best in a player’s talent through providing the minutes, responsibility and overall opportunity necessary to channel it all. These next five cats should welcome and embrace a change in scenery in the coming days/year (if it ever happened), which will allow them to showcase their skills in a new environment. It isn’t that these guys can’t hoop, it is just time to move on.
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5. DERON WILLIAMS (New Jersey Nets, Point Guard, Seven-Year Pro)
Can Hov trade for Dwight Howard and move the Nets to Brooklyn already?
Deron Williams dropped a career and NBA season-high of 57 the other night, and it went largely unseen. It’s an utter shame the rest of the nation couldn’t watch such a performance live unless you’ve got League Pass. D-Will’s game is too smooth and flawless. The regular season will be over before we know it, and it’ll be a travesty that we won’t see him in a meaningful basketball game until the London Olympics. With the lack of national coverage he’s had throughout his career, the only hoop expert that continually places him as the top PG in the NBA is Tim Legler. Is it really too much to ask for Williams to be part of a contending team right now as these playoffs are prepared to be one for the ages?
I suppose and only hope that the season-and-a-half he’s about to spend in New Jersey will be a mere footnote once he’s the catalyst of the Brooklyn Nets in the fall. Williams doesn’t need a change of scenery as much as he needs Marty McFlys‘ DeLorean to speed up time. Still, the idea of him moving back to a Western Conference squad like the Lakers, Mavericks or Trail Blazers before the postseason starts would be too riveting to not dream for it. In a perfect basketball world, D-Will would be donnin’ the Lakers’ purple and gold to go at CP3 (13-4 career record versus him) and Lob City in the conference finals to claim the City of Angels and the best point guard title. His playoff career averages of 21.1 points, 9.6 dimes, 46 percent from the field, and 40 percent from downtown simply demand more performances of this caliber to be showcased when the competition and stakes are at its highest.
Otherwise, we’ll have to wait until Jay-Z can bring a “New Day” to Brooklyn with D12 to join D-Will, so we can witness the basketball version of Watch the Throne.
4. O.J. MAYO (Memphis Grizzlies, Shooting Guard, Four-Year Pro)
As Kevin Love continues to make All-Star Games and post monster numbers on the game’s elite at his position (42 points and ten boards against LaMarcus Aldridge and 39 points and 17 boards versus Blake Griffin), I’m sure O.J. Mayo is looking at a box score from a distance and thinking to himself: “Why can’t I receive the same playing opportunity as the cat who I got traded for on draft night?”
Since last season and going into this one, Mayo has been relegated to be the scoring punch off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies. Tony Allen‘s defensive prowess isn’t going anywhere, which has meant Mayo has had to learn to accept the sixth man role instead of the go-to scorer he was projected since high school. Watching that old footage, you can see why most people, including us here at Dime, were hyping him up as the best high school prospect since LeBron. Mayo’s minutes have decreased significantly after his sophomore year, from 38 minutes per game to 26.5 now. And although he may have come to terms with his reserved role, stating to the Commercial Appeal, “I’m happy in Memphis. Don’t get twisted,” it begs to wonder whether Mayo can fulfill some of the prodigal promise as a starter SG elsewhere.
Plenty of teams like the Bulls, Timberwolves and Clippers are openly looking to upgrade their starting shooting guard spot. While the Grizzlies definitely need his floor spacing and offensive streakiness more so than ever before, players have to look out for their personal goals and professional advancement. Mayo should look no further than his teammate in Allen. He left the contending Celtics to join the unproven Grizzlies for the sole purpose to earn a larger role and make an individually greater impact on the team’s success. Mayo was nearly traded to the Indiana Pacers for Josh McRoberts on two different occasions. It shouldn’t surprise him if the Grizzlies pull the trigger this time around because they didn’t extend him and they owe their core about $63 million, as SI.com’s Zach Lowe noted.
That said, Mayo still possesses some tantalizing, untapped talent that under the right situation could ultimately show the league he is “not a bad guy,” as he once told ESPN’s draft insider Chad Ford in response to Jay-Z’s lyrics from “Say Hello.”
3. ANDRAY BLATCHE (Washington Wizards, Power Forward, Seven-Year Pro)
Before there was “The Curious Case of Javale McGee,” there was the curious case of Andray Blatche.
The Washington Wizards have had a history of guys who are just enigmas: from ‘Sheed, to Hibachi, to Blatche and McGee, currently. Yet Blatche, in particular, is a forgotten, classic case of talent wasted on an awful team. The most talented player to ever come out of the cold slums of Syracuse, New York, fell all the way to the 49th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. His underwhelming career averages of 9.9 points, 5.5 boards and 1.5 dimes are largely a byproduct of a poor coaching and cultural setting within the Wizards franchise. There’s no way a kid that’s 6-11 with his deft touch, shooting range and passing ability can’t be successful in this league. Yes, in 2010 he got a three-year, $28 million extension based on potential, but it didn’t have a chance to come to fruition because the proper infrastructure wasn’t in place there to begin with.
The last two-month run of the 2009-10 season when Blatche went off for 22.1 points, 8.3 boards, and 3.6 assists can be the standard, not an aberration. Maybe those were empty stats that any cat could put up on a moribund squad. Except, how could you expect that kind of production to be sustained when he was coached by Eddie Jordan, Flip Saunders, Randy Wittman, and Ed Tapscott (Whoever the Hell that was)? None of those coaches are known as strict disciplinarians or genuine teachers of the game that’ll nurture and develop talent who may be head cases. There’s also the lack of true veterans present to show him tough love; rather he’s always been around clowns that act younger than him, like Agent Zero, Nick Young and McGee. A little guidance and accountability along the way would’ve helped Blatche understand what it takes to be a real pro.
His antics are becoming urban folklore. When Blatche isn’t shy to go on camera and show how he interacts socially with his teammates, people can easily deduce he doesn’t take anything seriously. ESPN’s Ryen Russillo has made Blatche a routine punch line. A fan once asked Russillo in a pubic chat room to provide an example to project whether Jimmer Fredette is “the next Mark Price or the next Eddie House.” He replied with: “I think he’s a mix with a little Andray Blatche.” On this same chat later, someone proposed this trade: “LeBron for Blatche. Who says no?” Russillo answered: “Washington, obviously.” Everyone is getting a piece of Blatche’s Wizards for representing pro ball’s version of the Washington Generals.
The Washington Post‘s Michael Lee detailed the current strained relationship between Blatche and Wizards fans: “The Wizards have aggressively sought to move Blatche by the March 15 deadline and fans at the Verizon Center have soured on Blatche to the point that he is booed every time he enters the game, touches the ball or makes a mistake.”
These comical shots at him have evolved, or devolved, into somehow providing a sense of pride for Wizards fans.
SB Nation launched their Bullets Forever YouTube channel the other day, and the first episode delved into the chorus of boos towards Blatche.
“We also have to think about, like the Wizards, booing Blatche is really all we have right now. Blatche and Javale are like our claim to fame because we’re at least entertaining without being the shi%iest team in the NBA. That’s sort of what we’ve been hanging onto,” said SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp in their online installment debut.
Ernie Grunfeld must find a way to let him go. Blatche was once viewed as “a poor man’s K.G.” It would bode him well if he was sent to the Celtics’ strong leadership to learn from Garnett himself. Then perhaps he could replicate those gaudy late 2010 numbers and develop into “a middle-class man’s K.G.”
2. MONTA ELLIS (Golden State Warriors, Shooting Guard, Seven-Year Pro)
Monta Ellis gets buckets.
Every hoops junkie identifies him as the most perennially-underrated baller in the game. The Golden State Warriors have been a haven situation for him to have the green light, and the chance to go-off versus any team in the league. The past three seasons Ellis has averaged 25.5, 24.1, and, currently, 22.1 points per game. Still, his scoring exploits leave something to be desired. For a cat that’s only been to the playoffs once in his career, the Warriors have posted a 230-298 record with him on the squad. That’s “winning” just 44 percent of the time. If there’s one established star that needs to bolt to a competitive franchise to validate his standing, it’s Monta Ellis.
After earning the Most Improved Player Award in 2007, I can’t say how much he’s improved his game since then. He definitely can score with the best of them, which goes without saying. At some point, though, in a prolific scorer’s career, the number of points you drop become less meaningful if there isn’t tangible team success to go with it. Nobody wants to be remembered as a cat that was nice, but stayed playing on weak teams. What made The Answer so great – besides his swagger and cultural icon status – was he delivered buckets that translated to W’s, regardless of how whack his teammates were. So I don’t know why fans place Ellis on an Iverson-esque pedestal when he’s not touching that level of greatness.
ESPN The Magazine‘s Chris Palmer assessed Ellis’ standing prior to this season during ESPN’s NBA player rank campaign: “He’s the third best player in his position behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. People look at Monta and say, ‘this guy is a one-dimensional shooter.’ Yea, he’s so one-dimensional he led all two-guards in assists; he led all two-guards in steals. Like a lot of small players, he’s unfairly labeled a gunner. Speaking of small players labeled a gunner, Monta’s numbers were as good, sometimes better than Allen Iverson’s numbers the year he won the MVP.”
I’m sorry. But those dimes and cookies he generates come from a system that played the fifth highest pace (97.4) in the league last year, based on John Hollinger’s pace factor (the number of possessions a team uses per game).
“Unfairly labeled a gunner?” According to Basketball-Reference.com, Ellis took the second-most field goal attempts in the NBA last season with 1,611 shots. Only Kobe attempted 28 more. Plus, all of his stats last year were possible because he played a league-leading 3,227 minutes. The next SG was 13th overall (Ray Allen) with 327 less minutes. And I don’t want to begin to refute Palmer’s last claim in comparison to A.I.
Nonetheless, Iverson’s 2000-01 Sixers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference (56-26), a scoring title (31.1 ppg) and steal crown (2.5 spg). By contrast: Ellis’ Warriors best campaign (48-34), non-scoring title (25.5), and one steal crown (2.1 spg). Even these juxtaposed stats don’t come close to measuring up with the great Answer.
Besides, there’s no denying the backcourt combination of Ellis and Stephen Curry meshes as well as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Phil Collins in their joint “Home.” Curry is clearly the Warriors’ preferred building block going forward. They really can’t improve their respective games together. Both need the rock to flourish and they can’t just stand there waiting on offense while the other does his thing. At this point, Ellis looks like the older brother who still wants all the glory when it’s time for the little brother in Curry to get his real shine. The ongoing trade speculation of the past couple of years supports that, and this year is no different.
TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott would rather “leave” Monta Ellis than take him on a trade: “Walking proof that a high points-per-game total does not equal high productivity. Also, and I realize I’m digging in the archives for this, but: Explain the moped injury to me again?”
Rappers like Common can chill with him for charity events, Yung God could spit about him as an All-Star snub, and Bun B and Monta Ellis, himself, maybe on their “Full Time Grind,” but it’s time to end this debate and find out whether Ellis can grind the same way on a real contender to merit all the street cred he’s been given.
1. BRANDON JENNINGS (Milwaukee Bucks, Point Guard, Third-Year Pro)
“Bigger fish to fry so I’m goin’ probably need a bigger pan.
Saw the bigger picture, Brandon Jennings money, switching hands.”
These Sir Michael Rocks‘ lines from “Banco Populair” personify Brandon Jennings’ foresight in his young career. He’s always longed for bigger and better things. Every major decision he’s made in his life has been done with an eye towards the future, making the most of his present, and relishing the opportunity of what’s next. While his choices have been questioned, Jennings proven to be on-point and has blazed an unparalleled trail. His individuality and determined mindset are what separates him from the stacked PG class of 2009. At present, Jennings is at another tipping point to define his legacy.
Jennings dipped So Cal’s local powerhouse of Dominguez High after two years to transfer to the East Coast juggernaut, Oak Hill Academy. Every L.A. hooper was like, “Why the f^$% would you leave the sunshine and ladies to ball out there?”
“It’s a school that plays on the national level. You play against the best competition every year,” said Jennings at the time. What did he do once at Oak Hill? Eclipse long-standing records for most points in a season (1,312), most points scored in a game (63), highest single-season scoring average (35.5), all while winning the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award.
With those accomplishments, there’s no reason why he doesn’t believe he’s not the best Oak Hill player ever. “Of course, I think I am. It’s all on paper. And the numbers don’t lie,” said Jennings of his time there.
As the No. 1 ranked player in the country, Jennings verbally committed to the Arizona Wildcats. But with Lute Olson‘s pending departure and shaky SAT scores that keeping Jennings ineligible to attend college, he took his talents across the pond to Italy’s Lottomatica Virtus Roma. He pocketed himself a three-year, $1.65 million deal, showing cats back in the States that he’s living proof of Kanye‘s “Flashing Lights” joint: “you know you can’t Rome without Caesar.”
Hell, even UConn’s Jim Calhoun was amazed by his decision: “I guess I’m not creative enough to have even thought of a kid doing that.” His stats during his lone season weren’t impressive (5.5 points, 2.2 dimes in 17 minutes per game). Nothing to brag about, but his Under Armour endorsement contract isn’t that bad either.
According to Larry Brown Sports’ Shane Baker, Jennings’ initial shoe deal was for two-years, $2 million, while Earthquake Blake‘s Nike deal is only $400,000 per year. Money aside, he elected to go with a football established brand over a traditional basketball one. How many cats would’ve dissed Nike or adidas for a brand that appeared on Any Given Sunday, had a slogan that was “protect this house,” and no basketball history? Jennings didn’t follow the ordinary hooper model of signing with the kicks company you’ve known your whole life. If you haven’t been watching the “Under the Armour” series, you’re missing out. He started Under Armour’s basketball division, and they now have a starting five. The marketing involved with this brand is fresh and organic. Any kid can relate to their “Are You From Here?” campaign. Jennings’ vision as a pioneer is at the forefront of big changes to come.
As a Milwaukee Buck, he’s lived to play on the biggest stages and brightest limelight. In his rookie year, he dropped a career-high double-nickel on the Warriors – after being scoreless in the first quarter – which broke the team’s record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and was four points shy from breaking the all-time rookie mark owned by Wilt the Stilt. He took his Andrew Bogut-less squad to a seven-game playoff series versus the Atlanta Hawks; he averaged 18.7 points on 41 percent shooting and 2.6 dimes. Fast-forward to this season, Jennings has lit up the marquee teams. He scorched the Heatles twice, once in South Beach (23 points, six dimes and six boards) and at home (31 points, eight dimes, four boards and four cookies). And he brought down The Garden with a season-high 36 points, five dimes and six treys. When the big boys are on deck, he knocks them out.
Unless you’re Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Jennings won’t ever get the pub he deserves in Wisconsin. On any “top 10 point guard list,” he never makes the cut. His 5.5 dime clip doesn’t seem like much, but that’s right there with Russell Westbrook (5.6) and Tyreke Evans (5.0). And Jennings doesn’t have a Durantula or even a DeMarcus Cousins to pass to. Scott Skiles is a defensive-minded coach and when Bogut is hurt, who does he run with? Ersan Ilyasova? Drew Gooden? Please. If the Knicks didn’t sleep on him a draft night, Linsanity would’ve been in Harvard graduate school rather than in the league. Jennings would’ve thrived under Mike D’Antoni‘s system. He would’ve pose as a real threat flanked with ‘Melo and STAT. Nevertheless, he still keeps hooping.
Sole Collector‘s Zac Dubasik interviewed Jennings shortly after his All-Star snub. When asked about what kept him out of playing in that game, Jennings said, “I really don’t know. I still think I need to be working harder if I want to get there. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the main thing is the fact that I’m in the conversation.”
However, being in the conversation and selected by the coaches to be an All-Star is still a significant gap. The reserve selection process is too subjective. Coaches have their personal biases. Their choices can easily be based on what they perceive a player’s reputation, on what team they’re on, and how consistent their play is. The last thing Jennings wants is to be stuck in the Bermuda Triangle-line of cats like Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson and now Josh Smith every year. He can easily alter the course of his career by finding a new home.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard recently reported that Jennings is already plotting his next move.
“I am going to keep my options, knowing that time is coming up. I’m doing my homework on big-market teams. I’m going to keep playing hard every for the Bucks as long as I’m there. I’m not promising that’s where my future will be,” said Jennings in the e-mail interview.
Some may say it’s a little too early for him to decide to leave Milwaukee. Some didn’t think his jump to Europe would translate to immediate success in the NBA. Some wondered why a cat would rock Under Armour. Some don’t believe he’s a top 10-level point guard.
All Jennings has done is work hard and calculated every move accordingly. The naysayers’ talk is a moot point. Like Drake joining that top label, Jennings is out to prove why he is among the game’s elite as his Young Money nickname suggests. You can’t expect anything less.
Which players desperately need a change in scenery?
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