Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 5, 2010

I like the Pac-10. There, I said it.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:54 am

I realize that any mention of the Pac-10 in 2010 has to consist of a snarky roll of the eyes followed by outrage that this conference doesn’t contain 2009-variety North Carolina or even 2008-variety UCLA. Well, sue me. That’s not where I’m going.

Last night I watched the second half of Arizona at Washington, a game the Huskies won 81-75. Aside from easily the worst call in the history of carbon-based life forms it was a highly competitive contest between two well-coached athletic teams in front of a raucous capacity crowd in a venerable and aura-enhancing old barn of a venue. Quincy Pondexter is going to be wearing an officially licensed NBA-insignia ballcap soon (sooner, perhaps, than, say, Sherron Collins or Kyle Singler), and last night I watched him put the finishing touches on a 30-point outing. No, the Pac-10 isn’t going to produce this year’s national champion, but neither are any of 30 other conferences and no seems to be particularly outraged at them. 

In terms of postseason play USC has chosen to sit this one out, of course, but otherwise this year promises to be a nine-team fight for NCAA tournament life. I think that just might be fun to watch.

A pellucid and peerless parody of parity 
Conference games only, through February 4
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Arizona St.      6-4   65.3    1.05    0.96   +0.09
2.  Arizona          6-4   68.7    1.07    0.98   +0.09
3.  Cal              6-4   69.3    1.09    1.00   +0.09
4.  USC              5-5   61.4    0.97    0.92   +0.05
5.  Washington       5-5   71.8    1.04    1.02   +0.02
6.  UCLA             6-4   62.7    1.02    1.05   -0.03
7.  Stanford         4-6   66.5    1.02    1.08   -0.06
8.  Oregon St.       3-6   62.7    0.92    0.99   -0.07
9.  Washington St.   4-6   67.9    1.01    1.11   -0.10
10. Oregon           4-5   65.9    1.00    1.10   -0.10

Those pushy little weenies known as stats say that right now the Missouri Valley is even more egalitarian than what you see here. I say ignore stats. Just because every team in between Northern Iowa and Evansville has performed at a remarkably similar level in conference play doesn’t mean Northern Iowa and Evansville don’t exist. The Pac-10, by stark contrast, lacks a bully like the Panthers or a winless team like the Aces. On the left coast this year every road win is an Event.   

So I’ll be watching tomorrow night when Arizona State visits Seattle. The Sun Devils are having a better year than anyone could have anticipated from a team that just donated James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the NBA. As for U-Dub, yes, they’ve been hapless on the road. But say this for Lorenzo Romar‘s group: They’re outscoring Pac-10 opponents by 0.16 points per trip at Hec Ed, meaning as long as they stay within spitting distance of Union Bay they’re the functional equivalent of a Syracuse team that is fast becoming Duke-ishly over-covered. (I like Jim Boeheim, I’m happy for the Orangemen, and their defense is indeed incredible. But if I hear one more time about how “unselfish” the Big East’s sixth-best offense is, I’m going to be forced into extreme measures. “Unselfishness Must Die,” or some such, I don’t know. Just saying.)

Last year every mention of the SEC had to consist of a snarky roll of the eyes followed by outrage that the conference didn’t contain 2007-variety Florida. Well, it didn’t, and when no SEC teams made the Sweet 16 the verdict was settled. It was a down year. 

It was a down year, of course, but that didn’t prevent LSU from giving North Carolina far and away its toughest test on the Tar Heels’ march to the national championship. While opponents like Oklahoma, Villanova, and Michigan State were pushed aside by Carolina with little visible exertion, Trent Johnson‘s Tigers played UNC even for 31 minutes before tasting the inevitable.

This year the Pac-10 appears to be about where the SEC was last year. And while the Pac-10 may have to pin its NCAA hopes on just one team in 2010, that team’s chances will be a function of the seed and the bracket that the selection committee gives them, not their conference affiliation.       

February 4, 2010

Dunleavy sheds a job

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 9:42 pm

Tuesday night, I was standing with a gaggle of reporters in the bowels of the United Center, holding my digital recorder in the general vicinity of Mike Dunleavy‘s mouth. He didn’t really say anything interesting, certainly nothing to indicate that his tenure as the Clippers’ coach was about to end. In what is being termed a “mutual decision,” Dunleavy is stepping down as L.A.’s coach after a little over 6-1/2 years on the Clippers’ bench.

Dunleavy is retaining his position as the team’s general manager for the time being. Dunleavy told, “I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the ideal time for me to direct my efforts toward the many personnel opportunities that lie before us, such as the trade market, the Draft and the free agent process. We fully expect to be active and productive on all those fronts.”

Dunleavy’s time as head coach in L.A. featured a rare high point in the history of the league’s worst franchise. In 2005-06, Dunleavy guided a veteran squad led by Elton Brand, Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley to 47 wins. In the postseason, the Clippers beat Denver in the first round–the only playoff series the franchise formerly known as the Buffalo Braves has won since moving West 32 years ago. The Clips went on to push Phoenix to seven games in the West semifinals.

The following season, the Clippers slipped to 40 wins as Cassell and Mobley began to show their respective ages. Then Brand was injured, wrecking the 2007-08 season, the first of two straight dismal seasons so typical through Clipper history. However, the losing landed the Clippers the first pick in last summer’s draft, which Dunleavy used to take potential franchise player Blake Griffin, who has missed all of his rookie season because of an injury.

Despite the injury to Griffin, the Clippers have been much improved this season behind the development of young stars Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon. With a fair amount of cap space available after the season, Dunleavy will be in a good position to pursue a marquee free agent–though whether or not he can get one to commit to the Staples Center’s lesser tenant is an open question. However, if Dunleavy was leaning towards giving up his coaching reins, then it makes sense to do so now, before trade deadline, so he can lay the foundation for a crucial few months for the franchise’s future. (Though some would argue that if he really wanted to help the franchise, it would the GM’s chair that he vacated.)

His replacement is Kim Hughes, who was in his sixth year as one of Dunleavy’s assistants. In his playing days, Hughes was a good shot-blocking and rebounding center in both the ABA and the NBA. He’s an unknown as a coach, since he has no experience as a head man. Given his history with Dunleavy, though, it’s unlikely that there are going to be any major changes in the Clippers’ style of play.

UPDATE: Kevin Pelton weighing in. To me, the big surprise is not that Dunleavy stepped down as coach, which has been the subject of speculation for more than a season. It’s not even that he is continuing as coach. No, what seems most interesting here is the Clippers choosing Hughes over John Lucas, the former head coach in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Cleveland who was added to Dunleavy’s staff before this season. The presumption was that Lucas was being put in position to take over when and if Dunleavy left the bench. Instead, L.A. went with the less experienced Hughes. That would seem to increase the likelihood that the Clippers look outside the organization for a permanent solution this summer.

February 3, 2010

Things go from worse to better for the Celtics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 1:11 pm

Disaster averted. Turns out the rumors suggesting Paul Pierce’s foot was broken can be filed away with the ‘Johnny Depp is dead’ scuttlebutt. The Celtics announced that Pierce has a mid-foot strain and is listed as day-to-day. As are we all. The Celtics next three games are at home, the first two against Miami and New Jersey. So Boston should be able to weather Pierce’s injury just fine. When Pierce returns, Doc Rivers can return his attention to fixing the Celtics’ offense.

February 2, 2010

Things go from bad to worse for the Celtics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 7:41 pm

Reports out of Boston indicate that Paul Pierce may have a broken foot, which would knock him out of action indefinitely. For those suggesting that the aging Celtics were nearing a tipping point … this may have been it.

The reports aren’t confirmed. Danny Ainge told ESPN Boston, “We basically don’t know the extent of the injury. The doctors don’t have all the information to make the decision.”

Ainge added that the team expects to make an announcement tomorrow. Celtics fans will have their fingers crossed, hoping for some good news. There are a near infinite array of possible fractures when it comes to the human foot. Pierce could be out for the duration, or he could return in a few weeks. I broke that little ball joint between the big toe and the rest of my foot in high school, during basketball season. I was out about five weeks, so the words “fracture” and “foot” aren’t necessarily a season-ender. Right now, we just don’t have enough information to go on.

However, if the reports are correct and Pierce does have some kind of fracture, the Celtics are in real trouble. With Ray Allen looking like he’s moved onto the role player phase of his career and Kevin Garnett showing no signs of recovering his pre-2008-09 form, this version of the Celtics could be effectively doomed without Pierce. Boston could probably get through the regular season in decent shape, but the chances of Doc Rivers being able to get his veteran squad healthy and working together in an optimum fashion by the time the meat of the playoffs arrives would be minimal.

There is also the possibility of a collapse. The Celtics have been having enough trouble lately, barely getting past the Wizards last night to end a three-game losing streak. Without their best offensive player, the Celtics could conceivably slide down the seeding latter and end up with a first-round series against the Hawks or Magic. Suffice to say, the next 24 hours will be tense for Celtics fans.

Tournament expansion isn’t a done deal, it’s just inevitable

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:52 am

It just is. I’ve said it before but I buried it under headlines like Is One and Done Done?

The NCAA gets the lion’s share of its revenue from selling the broadcast rights to the Division I men’s basketball tournament. The current contract with CBS is winding down and one of the most important agenda items facing the NCAA men’s basketball committee is deciding how many teams to include in future tournaments. This is information the NCAA needs well in advance to negotiate the next contract. In those negotiations the NBA’s minimum age requirement is very likely to be a non-issue. The advertisers don’t care, therefore the networks don’t care.

Or under a headline like Unfiltered Post of the Decade!

All postseasons expand; authentically exciting postseasons expand exponentially
The college basketball Story of the Decade has clearly been this month’s discussion of expanding the NCAA tournament field to 96 teams. Whether the final number turns out to be 96 or 128 or something else, I think it’s next to inevitable that the field will indeed grow. Networks love postseason sports because they draw large DVR-impervious and demographically-attractive audiences. The more hours of this content the networks (old-school or cable) can get the happier they are, and Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA have all been delighted to inflate their postseasons accordingly over the past two decades. Now it’s the NCAA’s turn, and when a primal force of sports-business nature like this is combined with a warm and fuzzy but no less true statement like “it will mean more mid-majors get in,” resistance is futile. Watch. 

Which brings us to yesterday, when the small world of college hoops types on Twitter was put on red-alert. Sports by Brooks quoted “sources at ESPN and at a powerhouse NCAA basketball school” as saying that the tournament expanding to 96 teams was “a done deal.” The story at SbB may have been the inciting incident in yesterday’s kerfuffle, but I was surprised to find that the Sports Business Journal was reporting they had something far more substantial than anonymous quotes, namely, a copy of the Request for Proposal the NCAA put out to networks vying to win future broadcast rights for March Madness. “The NCAA has set its sights,” John Ourand and Michael Smith reported, “on expanding from a 65-team tournament to either 68 or 96 teams if it opts out of the CBS contract, according to the 12-page RFP.”

All of the above hit the web yesterday around midday Eastern time. By late afternoon the expected sound bite from NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen had arrived: “Nothing is a done deal.” Shaheen also said that his organization is merely conducting “due diligence” and that the NCAA has to “look at what our membership wants.”

What the NCAA’s membership wants is more teams getting into the tournament and more money in their pockets. Expanding the field satisfies both wants. Due diligence requires looking at all contingencies, but if Ourand and Smith are correct none of the scenarios that the NCAA is currently reviewing involve what is usually the baseline course of action, the status quo. Keep in mind an RFP is the least spontaneous and most vetted document known to humankind. Add to that the fact that an RFP coming from a bureaucracy like the NCAA would be even less spontaneous and even more vetted. And add to that the fact that an NCAA RFP concerning an event that will bring in several billion dollars over the 14-year term of the contract would be even less spontaneous and more vetted. If Ourand and Smith have what they say they have, expansion is a fait accompli.

Get your torch and pitchfork
The idea of expanding the tournament past 65 teams has pretty reliably met with intense outrage and, no surprise, it did again yesterday. I won’t even bother to do one of those one-link-per-word sentences. If you don’t believe me just do a Google blog search for “tournament expansion” or something similar.

To the depths of my sports being, I am hard-wired with the same protective impulse that drives this outrage. No, the 65-team tournament isn’t perfect but then again neither are any of us. Good grief, I watched this tournament for years–decades–when it was announced by Billy Packer. Need I say more? March Madness is quite simply the gold standard to which all other American team-sport postseasons are held. (Ask college football.) You don’t trifle with that gold standard lightly.

And yet even a die-hard like me can see ruefully that the outrage is being voiced precisely by those of us who will be most likely to watch a newly-expanded NCAA tournament. The outrage is categorical. But when in the course of human events we move from the categorical to the specific, things will be different. Maybe I oppose 96 teams in the abstract, but if my team gets into the tournament in 2011 as, say, number 81, will I really boycott watching their first-round game?

That sound you hear is the expansion trap snapping shut. Expanding the field to 96 teams means I’ll be watching along with even more of those strange beings known as casual fans, interlopers from no fewer than 31 additional universities who will suddenly be much more interested in the tournament. If the NCAA and, more importantly, the networks thought for a moment that yesterday’s outrage might actually translate into reduced viewership, this idea would be dead on arrival. But they don’t think that’s true, and history backs them up. Since the NCAA tournament went to a 64-team format in 1985, the other American team sports have expanded their postseasons to find that viewers, for all their churlish talk of “devaluing the regular season,” are there waiting for them in force and ready to watch ads when championships are at stake.

So I’ll leave you with this voice of doom
Coaches, be careful what you wish for. It’s widely assumed that you all want an expanded field so that more members of your profession will make the tournament and thus not suffer from the stigma of being left out. Fine. But remember that said stigma will redouble with particular virulence for a major-conference coach who can’t get his program into a 96-team event. Maybe major programs hiring a coach will as a matter of course expect the new guy to get their team to the tournament that first year. If anything firings may become more frequent.  

February 1, 2010

Weekend in Hoops: Can KU do even better?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:27 pm

For the second consecutive week your intrepid chronicler finds himself tipping off Weekend in Hoops with a team that will ascend to the number one ranking in a few hours here. Behold Kansas. (Anyway everyone assumes the Jayhawks will be number one in this week’s poll. I guess nothing’s guaranteed. Maybe John Feinstein will start a grass-roots campaign with the voters for Coastal Carolina to get the top ranking.)

KU had a good weekend, journeying to Manhattan, KS, and beating Kansas State 81-79 in OT thanks to some late heroics from Sherron Collins. The senior from Chicago scored “just” 16 points in a 45-minute game (Cole Aldrich had 18) but 12 of those came after the under-12 timeout in regulation, including the proverbial dagger scored on a drive into the lane with nine seconds remaining in OT and KU clinging to a one-point lead. Clutch performer and fellow Illinoisan Sherron Collins, I salute you!

Bill Self‘s team is going to look ostentatiously good on paper–way better than any other major-conference team–when the latest edition of Tuesday Truths hits newsstands early tomorrow morning. But what if I told you this number one-ranked 20-1 team could look even better? It’s true! All they need is for 2009-variety Aldrich to go all Keyshawn on his teammates and say give me the damn ball!

More Cole-fired offense on the way? 
Aldrich, last season vs. this season

                     ORtng  %Poss.  %Shots   OR%   DR%   Blk%  2FG%
Last season          123.9   21.5    22.8    12.5  28.5   9.6  59.8
This season          119.9   20.5    18.2    14.1  26.4  13.3  56.0

Aldrich is a little better on the offensive glass this season, his shot-blocking has been outstanding, and maybe his very slight decline in defensive boards is due in part to better efforts here by his teammates. But overall this year he’s less efficient even though in this wondrous new post-Xavier Henry world he’s actually playing a smaller role in the offense.

I tweeted about Aldrich’s importance previously but I think my point was vitiated by oddly Yoda-like wording. Nevertheless, stand by the substance of my earlier assertion I do, yes! My spidey sense is telling me that Aldrich is about to do that which elite big men often do from year to year: Score more efficiently while using more possessions. If so it’s bad news for the rest of D-I. 

Have-nots gone wild!
What in the world got into previously winless-in-conference teams this weekend? Everywhere you looked, Davids were taking down, um, well, not Goliaths, really, but actual opposing teams. It was mayhem!

Rutgers entered Saturday’s home game against Notre Dame winless in the Big East. Zap! The Scarlet Knights got off that schneid with a thrilling 74-73 win over the Irish, thanks to a notably emphatic block of Luke Harangody‘s shot by Hamady Ndiaye. (Old-school purists please note: Ndiaye kept the ball in play Bill Russell-style!)

Not to be outdone, Rice entered Saturday’s road game at East Carolina winless in CUSA. Pow! The Owls staved off that bagel with a comfortable 69-58 win over the Pirates in Greenville, NC, thanks in no small part to 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from Trey Stanton. Congrats coach Ben Braun!

Amazingly this weekend meme was just getting started. Next up: Nebraska entered Saturday night’s home game against Oklahoma winless in the Big 12. Biff! The Huskers took care of that lacuna with a merciless 63-46 beat-down on the Sooners and their three McDonald’s All-Americans. OU apparently bids fair to be the Washington of the Big 12, an undeniably talented team that poses a real threat to quality opponents when playing at home but is much less formidable on the road.   

But surely the mother of all upsets took place Saturday in scenic Colorado Springs, where Air Force entered their home game against Wyoming not only winless in the Mountain West but also being outscored by conference foes by an incredible Oregon State-in-2008-like 0.28 points per trip. Wild blue wonder! The Falcons stopped that 22-game MWC losing streak dead in its tracks by taking down the Cowboys 70-63. Big Weekend in Hoops kudos go out to Evan Washington, who scored 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go along with seven assists.

Upcoming opponents of Penn State, LSUFordham, Evansville, Dartmouth, Toldeo, Coppin StateBryant, Tennessee-Martin, and Alcorn State, you are on notice! Take no game lightly.  

You’d be upset too
Official Weekend in Hoops peep Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports is peeved because he helped his kid sell lemonade to benefit earthquake victims in Haiti and got zip, nada, bupkiss in the way of a phone call from our president! Actually Jeff’s is faux outrage delivered tongue-in-cheek, but over here at the luxe Google-style campus that Prospectus maintains for its hoops analysts I can assure you the tongue is out of the cheek and the pain of unrequited benevolence is quite real.

Why, I myself texted “Haiti” to 90999 and then sat patiently by my iPhone, just waiting to see that magical 202 area code pop up so I could get some quality time with our nation’s number one college hoops fan. One minute goes by. There it is! The call from 202! Oops. Just my brother. (“Hey, Rob. Yeah, kind of busy. Yeah, yeah, your birthday, whatever, go away.”) Two minutes go by. Oh, come on, people. I suppose Barack Obama is too “busy” doing who-knows-what to call me and say, “Hey, John, thanks for the ten bucks. Tell me more about rebound margin being a unicorn stat.” What’s the point in me taking time out from my hectic schedule and weighty responsibilities to tap five whole keystrokes on my phone if I don’t get public recognition? This is an outrage!

In other Jeff Goodman news, he picked Arizona over Cal as his upset special for the weekend, a pick that came true when the Wildcats did in fact defeat the Bears 76-72 yesterday in Tucson. Then again, in words that will be music to the ears of official Weekend in Hoops peep Kyle Whelliston (because he hears them daily when his bot tweets out yet another pre-programmed Red Line Upset Alert): Was this really an upset? Here’s what the top of the per-possession Pac-10 conference standings looked like going into yesterday’s contest.

Pac-10 elite, tallest midget in the circus, etc. 
Conference games only, through January 30
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Cal              69.7    1.11    0.99   +0.12
2.  Arizona          66.7    1.09    0.97   +0.12

I realize Sean Miller‘s group lost a lot of games in calendar 2009. But when a team that’s outscoring the Pac-10 by 0.12 points per trip wins at home by four against a team that’s outscoring the Pac-10 by 0.12 points per trip, it is pretty much business as tempo-free usual. 

This is why I don’t want my name on a special-edition Nike jersey
As part of Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Week, four teams nationally were selected by Nike to wear specially themed pink-accented jerseys. One such team was the redoubtable Cougars of BYU, who wore their special gear as they easily defended their home court against archrival Utah Saturday night, winning 82-69. Alas, when the jersey for BYU sophomore Charles Abouo arrived the young lad found that his name was spelled as “Adouo.” I feel your pain, Charles! “Gasaway” pretty much already looks like a typo. Imagine what the powers that be in Beaverton, OR, could do with a moniker like that.

In today’s less Charles “Adouo”-ish venues….
The president used time he should have devoted to publicly thanking me to instead watch Georgetown stomp on Duke 89-77 at the Verizon Center….In a game few saw, the struggles continued for North Carolina, as the Tar Heels lost at home last night to Virginia 75-60. Roy Williams‘ team can at least be thankful that everyone was watching either the Grammys or the Pro Bowl….What happens when Kentucky makes its threes and the opponent fouls like a Big 12 team? The Wildcats look really good! UK beat Vanderbilt 85-72 in Lexington on Saturday….We will be discussing this further tomorrow in Tuesday Truths, but Gonzaga caused a rupture in the WCC space-time continuum by losing (!) at hitherto unprepossessing San Francisco in OT, 81-77….UTEP now has a leg up in the wild and fun-to-watch CUSA race after winning in double-OT at UAB on Saturday night, 74-65. Note however that the Miners could have won this game in regulation if Arnett Moultrie had merely decided not to hang on the rim needlessly while teammate Julyan Stone‘s would-be game winner cleared the net….File under “uh-oh-fense”! The Billikens of Saint Louis scored just 36 points in 63 possessions for coach Rick Majerus in losing at Richmond on Saturday….Speaking of A-10 hoops, Xavier was apparently sent onto the floor against Fordham yesterday with the express purpose of rocking the Tuesday Truths world. The Musketeers surgically deconstructed the Rams 108-60….More have-nots gone wild and/or very nearly doing so! The suddenly surprising Bulls of South Florida continued their winning ways, and this time it did not involve OT. Stan Heath‘s men defeated Pitt 70-61 in Tampa yesterday. Dominique Jones did a very good imitation of Tyler Hansbrough, scoring 37 points thanks to 14-of-17 shooting from the line. And have-nots, part deux: DePaul had an excellent chance to knock off Syracuse at Allstate Arena on Saturday but Will Walker‘s open three in the final seconds missed its mark, giving the Orangemen a let’s-get-outta-here 59-57 win….Since the moment late in the Purdue game when Evan Turner of Ohio State came out of a courtside phone booth wearing a cape, the Buckeyes are 5-0 in-conference, including yesterday’s 85-63 dismantling of Minnesota in Columbus. I really thought the Gophers would have a good defense this season. I thought wrong. 

Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Keep the outstanding emails coming!
Good stuff in the In box about fathoming the unfathomable enigma that is Kentucky, relative conference strengths, the state of hoops west of Lawrence, etc. Keep sending me the good material and I will get around to posting some of it. No, really, I will. 

Report: Paul to have surgery

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 7:51 am

The waning moments of Chicago’s win in New Orleans on Friday were intense, as the rampaging Bulls were scratching for their fifth straight road win. Late in the regulation, New Orleans had the ball on the side in the backcourt, up by two and less than eight seconds remaining on the clock. The Hornets’ David West was set to throw the inbounds pass and, not finding any open teammates nearby, inexplicably flipped the ball down the floor towards his own basket. A mad scramble ensued, with Chris Paul and Kirk Hinrich giving chase. Hinrich got to the ball, Paul hit the deck, Hinrich flipped the ball to Luol Deng at midcourt, who redirected it to Derrick Rose along the baseline. Rose went up but found himself under the basket and missed, but Deng crashed the boards, got the stickback and forced overtime. Paul was left limping around while Bulls color commentator Stacey King was hollering something like, “Get up or get outta da way!”

It was really an inexplicable gaffe by West and it appears that it has cost the Hornets more than the game. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Paul is going to have surgery for a cartilage tear in his injured left knee and could miss up to two months. The Hornets have 29 games over the next two months and as one of nine teams in the Western Conference with between 17 and 22 losses, the injury probably sounds the death knell for New Orleans’ playoff chances.

So far this season, Paul’s adjusted plus-minus of +13.31 points per 100 possessions has been surpassed by only Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Certainly anyone who has watched a Hornets game over the last 4 1/2 seasons knows to what degree everything for that team revolves around Paul. However, his injury could have a silver lining. Rookie point guard Darren Collison had 17 points and 18 assists in his first game as Paul’s replacement in the starting lineup, as New Orleans knocked off the tough Grizzlies in Memphis. Such performances by Collison could get the Hornets through the next few weeks. If it happens, it wouldn’t be the first time a team has improbably lifted itself in the wake of the loss of its best player.

At the same time, the Hornets aren’t exactly going for it this season. Their surge over the last month had them back on track for a playoff push, but the cash-strapped Hornets have dealt useful backups Hilton Armstrong, Devin Brown and Bobby Brown since the start of the season. While none of those losses is crippling, the sum of them leaves New Orleans thin on the bench. Armstrong’s limited minutes will eventually be replaced by Aaron Gray, acquired from Chicago last week for Devin Brown. Gray has barely played this season, though, and won’t play productive minutes for a while. However, the loss of the Browns coupled with Paul’s injury means that New Orleans has a backcourt rotation of Collison, Marcus Thornton, Julian Wright and seldom-used Morris Peterson. Obviously, there isn’t a point guard amongst the latter trio, so expect heavy, heavy minutes for Collison.

Will New Orleans honcho Jeff Bower be allowed to sign a point guard to spell Collison? The trade of Bobby Brown got the Hornets approximately $311,000 under the luxury tax threshhold. If I’m understanding things correctly, each 10-day contract the Hornets dole out to a free-agent point guard with no prior NBA experience would cost about $16,741. So there is enough of a buffer there that Bower could bring in one or two free agents over the next month and wait to see how Paul is progressing. Or he could continue to whittle down his payroll by dealing one of his veterans for a point guard. James Posey would be attractive to a team making a playoff push and Peterson has an expiring contract.  Either way, fantasy owners looking for a boost in raw point guard production would be wise to insert Collison into their lineups post-haste.

(Note: An e-mailer points out that Peterson’s contract is not expiring and he’s right. I misread my contract database. As such, I doubt anyone is going to take Peterson off Bower’s hands. Also, I’m aware that James Posey is hurt and his strained Achilles could scare teams off, though I’m operating under the premise that he won’t be out long.)

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