King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Suns, Mavs eliminated: Two Western Conference blockbuster trades go bust, one to go. Plus: Where'd the wild West go? And: NHL.


King Kaufman
April 30, 2008 2:00PM (UTC)

Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns and Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks. Two blockbuster answer trades after the Los Angeles Lakers shook up the Western Conference by dealing for Pau Gasol. Two failures. Both teams drummed out in five games on the same night.

The Suns got bounced by the San Antonio Spurs for the third time in four years, the Spurs holding off a late rally to win Game 5 Monday at home, 92-87.

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The Mavericks were embarrassed in the first round last year as the No. 1 seed by the Golden State Warriors. This time around they went quietly as the No. 7, simply losing to a superior team. The Hornets never trailed in Game 5 and led big for most of the night before Dallas got close late, ultimately falling 99-94.

The Suns got more quality minutes from O'Neal than they had any right to expect, but they never successfully transformed from a highflying offensive team to a slower one built around Shaq's low-post game. They went 37-16 before O'Neal arrived, 17-11 when he was in the lineup. Not that that mattered. Shaq wasn't brought in to win regular-season games. He was brought in to match up with Tim Duncan in a playoff series against the Spurs.

But what the Suns lost in the trade -- Shawn Marion's all-around game, space for Steve Nash to work his improvisational magic and the ability to overwhelm opponents with tempo -- was greater than what they gained.

It had become clear that up-tempo formula wasn't going to get them past San Antonio, and it was at least likely that it wasn't going to get them past the upgraded Lakers, so they took a shot. It most decidedly didn't work, and now they're stuck with two more years of a fading Shaq owed $20 million per while Nash, 34, likely enters his decline phase.

In the past three years the Suns have been eliminated in the conference finals, conference semifinals and conference quarterfinals, in that order. Detect a pattern there? Me neither, but it looks like things are likely to go down before they go back up.

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There's some chatter that coach Mike D'Antoni could be on his way out. It's unclear whether he or general manager Steve Kerr was the one who wanted to make the Shaq trade, but either way, Kerr didn't hire D'Antoni, and you tell me if this post-game comment by Nash sounds like the star player throwing the coach to the wolves, which it sounded like to me:

"I think on paper we have more talent than they [the Spurs] do, but I think their experience, their commitment and understanding of what they're trying to do is greater than ours. And their ability to play together and make small plays on both ends of the floor, do the little things, is unsurpassed. That's why I think a team like them has won as many championships as they have."

In other words: Boy, they're really well coached. Unlike us.

I wouldn't book a trip to visit D'Antoni in Phoenix next fall is all I'm saying. It might be the best thing for him. He'll avoid the downhill ride with the Suns and become a hot commodity on the coaching market. They're looking for someone to head up that D-league team that plays at Madison Square Garden, you know.

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The Mavericks got Kidd as a short-term upgrade on Devin Harris at point guard, but more than that they got him to be the veteran go-to warrior guy in the playoffs that Dirk Nowitzki is not. It didn't work. The Mavs were 35-18 before Kidd suited up, 16-13 when he played. And they didn't provide much opposition for the Hornets.

They can try it again next year. Kidd is a year older than Nash and already in decline, but he's a year younger than O'Neal and not declining at nearly the same rate. But it looks like the window is closing for the Mavericks too. Jason Kidd would have been a great guy to have around last year, when the Mavs had the best record in the league, or two years ago, when they went to the Finals.

Next year he figures to be what he was in the second half of this year, and what he spent years being in Jersey: A great player on a good team that's not good enough to seriously contend for the title.

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That is, unless a blockbuster trade or three changes everything.


Wanted: Wild, wild West [PERMALINK]

Has anybody seen the Western Conference? Where'd it go? What happened to the wide-open, anyone-can-win-this-thing West, where the difference between the No. 1 seed and the last team in was almost imperceptible?

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Three of the four series are over in at most five games, the higher seed winning all three, the average margin of victory more than 11 points. Only the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets, the 4 and 5 seeds, have turned in a series, thanks to Houston's 95-69 rout in Game 5, which staved off elimination. The Jazz take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 in Salt Lake City Friday night.

Thank goodness for the East, where the Atlanta Hawks had no chance against the top-seed Boston Celtics -- series score: 2-2 -- and the Philadelphia 76ers, 19 games worse than the Detroit Pistons, figured to get drilled. Score in that series: 3-2 Detroit after the Pistons' 98-81 win Tuesday.

The Pistons took a lot of heat as overfed, unmotivated underachievers when they fell behind the Sixers two games to one, but you dismiss this team at your peril. The Pistons can sleepwalk through games with the best of them, but they have a playoff switch. They flipped it in the first quarter Tuesday and cruised to the win.


Hey, a "Law & Order" rerun [PERMALINK]

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So was there anything on TV Tuesday night? Could you find any sports to watch?

Cripes, there were four NBA playoff games, three of them potential elimination games, plus three NHL playoff games. That's aside from whatever baseball games were on where you live, not to mention the various races and fights and whatnot. We're just talking about the big stuff.

The NHL had three series turn into blowouts. All three were at 2-0, and alas the leading teams went 3-for-3. The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Rangers 5-3, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3, both on the road, and the Dallas Stars followed their two road wins by beating the San Jose Sharks at home in overtime, 2-1.

Now some of you may have heard about the Boston Red Sox overcoming a 3-0 deficit and beating the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League playoffs, and maybe that made you question an assumption or two about lopsided series. But hockey was way ahead of the curve on that. It's the only major American sport that's had two teams rebound from being down 3-0 and win a seven-game series.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs did it to the Red Wings in 1942 and the New York Islanders did it to the Penguins in 1975. Thirty-three years between those two and 33 years since the latter one. Detect a pattern there?

Me neither. Sure wish one of those trailing teams had gotten a win. It's up to the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers to make the second round interesting. Game 4 is Wednesday in Philly. The underdog Flyers lead 2-1. And there are only two NBA playoff games on opposite: Hawks-Celtics and Washington Wizards-Cleveland Cavaliers, both Game 5.

Three games? It'll be like a TV wasteland.

Previous column: NBA blows call on Kidd

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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