NEW YORK -- The first week of the New Year is in the books. Let's take a look at what caught my eye in my latest take on the NBA.
Phoenix basketball fans better appreciate a warm, winter climate, because it doesn't look like there's going to be too many good times on the court for its team. The Suns are 3-7 since pulling off the big trade with the Magic, and I see no reason for optimism at this point for this franchise.
The Suns' best players are also their oldest ones and father time will catch up to them sooner rather than later. Steve Nash (16.8 ppg, 10.5 apg) will be 37 in February and Grant Hill (14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is 38. Vince Carter (33), who was acquired in the six-player deal with Orlando, is clearly past his prime, and it's unlikely he'll be back in Phoenix next year with his contract up at the end of the season.
There's been plenty of speculation about dealing Nash, but that's all it seems to be. Lon Babby, the Suns' president of basketball operations, has repeatedly referred to Nash as "the sun. the moon and the stars" of the franchise, to make the point that his point guard is here for the season without definitively stating it.
The Suns might have an empty arena if they dealt Nash, but it also might be in the best long-term interest of the franchise to do just that, if the price is right.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The Knicks have their eyes on the wrong potential free agent of the Denver Nuggets. With Wilson Chandler playing at such a high level and the Knicks having such a big hole in the middle, team president Donnie Walsh should have his sights set on Nene Hilario, whom, like Carmelo Anthony, can opt out of his contract at the end of the season.
If the Knicks did a sign-and-trade for Anthony, there's a very good chance there would be even less depth to a roster that is already considered thin and it wouldn't solve their problem at centre. For example, if the Knicks packaged Chandler and Landry Fields in the deal, they would have a major hole at shooting guard and still not have a quality starting centre.
Getting a legitimate big man would allow head coach Mike D'Antoni to play Amar'e Stoudemire and Wilson Chandler at their normal positions and automatically make the Knicks a better defensive team. Signing Hilario over Anthony would cost the Knicks considerably less money, and give them a lot more flexibility to give the team the added depth they desperately need.
After looking early on like it would be a lost season, the Grizzlies have put themselves back in the playoff hunt. Not only are they putting up a lot more W's, but they've done it against some of the league's upper echelon teams.
In the opening week of the New Year, the Griz had consecutive wins over the Lakers, Thunder, and Jazz. The win over the Lakers was their second this season. Memphis has also beaten Dallas and Miami.
O.J. Mayo thinks the Grizzlies commitment to playing defence is the reason for their turnaround. "We've got a lot of scorers on offence and a lot of offensive firepower. We thought if we put as much effort on the defensive end as we did on the offensive end, we could be a heck of a team defensively."
While the Suns have struggled badly since their trade with Orlando, the Magic are a revitalized team. Prior to the deal, the Magic lost five of their last six games and the offence simply looked pitiful, averaging just 89.1 points per game during that stretch. But since the trade, putting the ball in the basket has looked easy for the Magic, having averaged 107.6 points per game during their current 9-game winning streak. A big assist has to go to Hedo Turkoglu. And "assist" is the key word, because Turkoglu has had plenty of those in his second stint with Orlando. The 6-10 point forward has given the team something they've lacked since his departure; someone who can create easy shots for his teammates. Turkoglu is averaging 6.4 assists in 11 games with the Magic, including an eye-opening 17 in the most recent victory in Dallas on Saturday.
A lot of teams may have been disheartened or thrown in the towel having to deal with all the bad luck and major injuries the Trailblazers have had to deal with, but that hasn't been the case in Portland. In the opening month of the season the Blazers learned Greg Oden would be lost yet for another year and Brandon Roy's chronic knee problems have limited his effectiveness and time on the court, having already missed 15 games. Roy's latest issues with his knees have had him sidelined since mid-December and his return is a big question mark at this point.
But despite all this, the Blazers remain very competitive, and find themselves currently in the 8th and final playoff spot in the West with a 20-18 record. After starting out the season 8-11, Portland has won 12 of its last 19 games.
The play of Lamarcus Aldridge has been a big key to the Blazers playing as well as they have lately. With so many great power forwards in the league, Aldridge doesn't get much ink, but he's really playing at a very high level and has elevated his game even further during Roy's latest absence. Over the last 12 games he's averaged 25.7 points and 10.8 rebounds, with the Blazers going 8-4 during that stretch.
You can certainly question DeMarcus Cousins' maturity, or lack thereof, but there's not much doubt that the kid has skills and it's really started to show lately. Over his last six games the rookie centre has averaged 21.1 points per game on 55% shooting. Prior to this run, Cousins had shot just 40% from the floor and it was a statistic he was not happy with. So what has spurred the recent improvement? Kings coach Paul Westphal cites patience and technique for the improved accuracy.
"I think that in practice earlier in the year he didn't really appreciate the value of repetition at game speed. And now those shots look a lot more in rhythm because he's practicing in rhythm a lot better. I think he realizes the pace of the game and there are a lot of opportunities and he doesn't have to show everything he's got every play."
Cousins, who was the 5th overall pick in the draft, has the potential to be the best player in that draft not named John Wall.