Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Wages of Winning Do Not Need To Include Amar'e

So the Internet is abuzz with the idea that my Sixers are interested in getting Amar'e Stoudamire from the Knicks, and loading up for a deep playoff run.

And all I can say is... are you all certain that Amar'e is an upgrade now?

We're talking about a guy with an exceptionally checkered medical history here, with microfiber surgery, eye problems, back spasms that kept him out of a playoff games last year... and he's always played big minutes for teams that needed him to be everything. There's a lot of miles on those 29+ year-old tires.

Second is the fact that, well, he might be pretty damned overrated. Sure, he's been a big scorer in his career, but that was in Phoenix, with the best point guard of our generation, in an up-tempo system that meant more of everything. The career 57.8% from the field is nice, but the last two years are at 50.2% and (lookout below!) 42.8%, and it's hard to think that his current 18 games of misery are all about Carmelo Anthony being a bad teammate, and having weak point guards. Carmelo didn't keep Nene Hilario from hitting a lot of shots, and fully half of the Association doesn't have a quality point at this point. You shoot 42.8% from the floor as a big, I don't know that you should start. No matter what name is on the back of your jersey.

But wait, there's less! Amar'e has never been as good of a shot blocker as you'd hope from a big who used to be able to jump through the building,with just 1.4 per game, and 0.7 this year. And he's a black hole who turns it over twice for every assist. Which isn't to say he's completely useless; the man has hands, cares if not without exceptional competence on defense, and you can put him on the court late without too much terror, because he can shoot free throws. The 23/9 in the playoffs shows that he doesn't shrink from the spotlight, and that he gets calls when the game matters. A year ago, he looked like the best free agent grab around, before Mike D'Antoni ran his knees into dust, and then his team blew itself up with the Carmelo trade.

They'd do this trade for Elton Brand, of course, and just sacrifice offense for defense, since everyone else on the roster D's up, and Amar'e probably work to fit in and get along with coach Doug Collins. But you never know, and the Knicks won't move him for Brand. Instead, you'd be looking at Andre Iguodala, who is the simultaneous quality floor and damming ceiling for this organization. They'd appreciate him as soon as they move him, of course, and maybe the idea is that Evan Turner is ready for major minutes... but this team takes its lead from 'Dre, and he is as close to selfless as you get from a guy on the US Olympic team. I'd rather see Turner's minutes come at the expense of the empty scoring calories of Lou Williams, which is all kinds of unfair to a guy who plays as hard and as well as Lou does... but life ain't fair.

The bigger problem, of course, is this: Amar'e might make them better in the short run. But better in the short run isn't going to compete with Miami or Chicago. At their current level, the Sixers get a #3 seed and a probable first round playoff win for the first time in forever... and then lose 4-1, or maybe 4-2, to Miami or Chicago. And with Amar'e for Brand or Iggy, maybe they lose that series 4-2 or 4-3. But they don't win it, because their best players are nowhere close to Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and LeBron James, and when push comes to shove, the team with the best player wins. And until Turner or Jrue Holiday is ready to wrest that title away from Wade or Rose, an upgrade on offense from a fragile big isn't going to help.

So... let's keep the band as is, please, ad enjoy the sweetest of all non-championship sports teams: the young selfless team that's overachieving, rather than a pretender that gets exposed. And it also avoids the very real possibility that Amar'e is in free fall now, and that this year is his true (and sinking) level. Having just spent the last few years slowly but surely getting Brand back from the brink of the worst contract in the Association, I'd prefer the good teammate I know, rather than the one I don't.

And on some level, I'd like to just see Iguodala win a playoff series in town, and the world know that this is the best team in the division, rather than the NE-NY axis of pretense. Let's have our 60% team, our playoff series win, and our noble dream of knocking off the Heat or Bulls. (And who knows, maybe even a really well-timed injury to an opponent. Plenty of those in the Association this year.)

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