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Old 04-13-06, 10:31 AM
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The good the bad and the season (article)

The good, the bad and the season
Biggest disappointments, surprises of the '05-06 year
Posted: Thursday April 6, 2006 11:59AM; Updated: Thursday April 6, 2006 12:49PM

With few bright spots this season, it may be only a matter of time before Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves part ways.
Bill Frakes/SI

In my opinion, the NBA season is not far enough along to declare winners of individual awards -- this season's MVP race, for example, will turn on performances down the stretch -- but it is near enough to the finish line to declare both the most profoundly disappointing and the most uplifting positive developments of the season.

Herewith, my five-pack of both:

5. Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves

It's not just the fact that one of the NBA's best all-around players will finish nowhere near the playoffs; it's as much the depressing fog that has settled over the franchise, which has pretty much been out of the playoff picture the entire season.

General manager Kevin McHale said earlier in the season that he wouldn't trade Garnett. I know McHale doesn't want to -- 7-foot all-arounders being as rare as Yanni on an NBA player's iPod -- but he will have to make the move after the season to shake up the franchise and save Garnett from utter despair.

4. The rare pairing of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady

Yes, good teams have to come up with ways to replace injured players, but it's not always possible, particularly when a team is built around two superstars, as Houston is. Swingman McGrady has missed 24 games and center Yao has missed 19; the Rockets, headed for the lottery, are almost hopeless without either one and formidable when both are playing. Who knows how good they would've been with both.

3. The divorce between Bryan Colangelo and the Phoenix Suns

Last year's executive of the year now gets a chance to turn around the Toronto franchise; perhaps he'll be able to do it. But the involvement of the Colangelos in the Suns has been a constant for four decades -- father Jerry is still at the top of the Suns' masthead but probably won't be after this season -- and it was sad that new owner Robert Sarver couldn't find a way to keep Colangelo II.

2. The Portland Trail Blazers are still the Portland Trail Blazers

They keep shedding their problem children -- Ruben Patterson was the latest to go -- but the chemistry still seems all wrong. Nate McMillan may dig them out, but he's got a long way to go.

1. The mushroom cloud over Madison Square Garden

I hate to be obvious but ...

On Jan. 2, the Knicks beat the Suns in double-overtime, a game that seemed to herald a Knicks turnaround in the new year. Since then, almost nothing has gone right -- indifferent play on the court, impatient crowds, a sexual harassment lawsuit involving general manager Isiah Thomas and, of course, public squabbling between coach (Larry Brown) and players (especially Stephon Marbury). The Garden has become the NBA's Pouting Palace, a place where almost no one is happy.

There will be few vacation days for anyone in the front office this summer, as Cablevision poobah James Dolan, Thomas and, one supposes, Brown try to figure this thing out.

5. The Suns' success without Amaré Stoudemire

The fact that Phoenix does not play with the deliberation of Houston -- not to mention the fact that point guard Steve Nash has been relatively injury-free -- kept the Suns from sinking into a Rockets-like funk when Stoudemire went down in the preseason and came back for only three halting performances.

4. The promise of the New Orleans Hornets

Yes, they've faded of late. They probably won't make the playoffs, and Byron Scott probably won't win coach of the year. But the outstanding play of soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Chris Paul, the sixth-man efforts of Speedy Claxton, the steadiness of P.J. Brown and the comeback season of David West have given them the tag of "team to watch." Whether or not they'll be watched back in their disaster-plagued home city remains to be seen.

3. We heard almost nothing about the NBA dress code

The announcement that commissioner David Stern had cracked down on hip-hop accoutrements -- the rule wasn't presented as such, but that's what it amounted to -- was greeted with it's-about-time glee by social conservatives. They couldn't wait for the moment that, say, Allen Iverson was fined 10 grand for defying the "business casual" mandate.

Well, it turned out to be much ado about nothing. Players were fined here and there, but it was done quietly. Away from the TV cameras, NBA players dressed as they always did, which is to say like most of the rest of the young adult male population. While the cameras were on, the players, for the most part, played the part of compliant follower, looking just biz casual enough to satisfy the critics. And the world kept on spinning.

2. The LeBron and Dwyane Show

On a Saturday afternoon in late March in a nationally televised game, Cleveland's LeBron James registered a triple double and Miami's Dwyane Wade almost matched him in a scintillating showdown won by the Cavaliers. These are two disparate personalities -- James the mysterious, powerful man-child, Wade the eager, fresh-faced schoolkid -- but the league clearly needs both of them to gain traction in the eternal battle to fill the A-list personality gulf left by Michael Jordan.

Better yet, both James (despite a minor controversy over his hesitance to take big shots) and Wade (despite a relatively slow start) have their teams in position to march on in the postseason, which is when personalities -- and basketball reps -- are really made.

1. The return of a rivalry?

In different ways, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs and the team they beat in last year's Finals, the 2004 champion Detroit Pistons, have shown what maturity and cohesion can do. In typical fashion, which is to say quietly and efficiently, the Spurs have prospered despite early injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. With slightly more bluster -- most of it from Mr. T, a.k.a. power forward Rasheed Wallace -- the Pistons have adapted to a new coach and a new offensive style and should finish with about 65 wins.

Sure, Dallas and Phoenix could challenge in the West, and Miami could make noise in the East. But more and more this looks like a rerun of last year's championship. And if American fans don't embrace it, that's on them.
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