TSN.ca NBA blogger Tim Chisholm, TSN Radio 1050 Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg and TSN.ca NBA editor Mitch Ward weigh in on questions from around the association. This week they discuss the fine handed down to the Spurs, Rajon Rondo's suspension, the Raptors disappointing start and the biggest surprises from the first month of the season.
Was David Stern right to punish the Spurs for not sending their stars to Miami?
Lewenberg: I'm thinking Commissioner Stern overstepped his bounds on this one. Yes, the NBA is a business and the product is only as good as the players on the floor. For that reason I do not expect the league to be thrilled with Coach Popovich's decision however, roster management is not in the Commissioner's job description. Popovich knows what's best for his veteran team and I think his resume reflects that. Resting his stars for a primetime game against the defending champs was certainly not the most league-friendly gesture but if that's what Pop chooses to do, especially during a brutal portion of the schedule, that's his prerogative. In the end the storyline turned out to be more compelling than the advertised battle of the "Big Threes."
Chisholm: No, he wasn't. If the league wanted to make a point they should have warned the club, laid out specific repercussions for the future, and washed their hands of the affair. If San Antonio then wanted to flout the NBA's newly-minted edict, that's on them.
Ward: Not a chance. I would be just fine with the Spurs being dinged if this was a league policy that had been made known to teams well in advance and meted out on a consistent basis. To hand the Spurs a $250K fine just isn't right. This was a marquee matchup on National TV, so maybe the NBA shouldn't have put it at the end of a long road trip for a Spurs team playing its fourth game in five nights against a well-rested Miami team. My favourite subplot of the game was that LeBron James at $17.5 million this season nearly made as much as all nine of the Spurs players that nearly beat his team combined.
Was Rajon Rondo's suspension fair, too lenient or too harsh?
Lewenberg: Rondo got off easy receiving a two-game suspension, the same number of games DeMarcus Cousins was sentenced to following an alleged "confrontation" with Spurs commentator Sean Elliott. Was the NBA knowingly lenient on a popular player and well-respected franchise? It's certainly possible when you consider the player's history of misplaced enthusiasm. Most importantly, the skirmish – initiated entirely by Rondo's misplaced toughness – spilled into the Garden crowd, instantly putting fan safety in jeopardy. Luckily no one was hurt but that shouldn't be the prerequisite for an adequate punishment. For that reason, an automatic suspension of (at least) five games should have been assessed. He wasn't diving for a loose ball, this wasn't part of the game. This was vigilante justice at its worst, an embarrassment to the Celtics and ultimately to the league.
Chisholm: It was more lenient than I expected for a fight that spilled into the stands, but fighting isn't as big a problem for the league anymore and so the urge to hand out severe penalties has clearly ebbed. However, considering Rondo instigated a totally unnecessary altercation, two games seems light.
Ward: I actually think this suspension was the right length. Yes, things spilled into the stands which you never want to see and yes, Rondo was the main cause for the whole brouhaha. That said, there was no punching or any real serious fighting and no one was hurt in the altercation. He deserved to get something and two games is enough. Much more than that would have been unfair.
What has been the most disappointing part of the Raptors poor start?
Lewenberg: Without question, the team's regression on the defensive end has stood out as the biggest disappointment. The Raptors made remarkable strides under new coach Dwane Casey during the lockout shortened campaign, allowing 94.0 points per game and finishing as a top-10 defensive team. Through 16 games this season, Casey's team is giving up 101.5 per contest, good for second to last in the association. A truly puzzling drop-off when you consider that last year's core remains untouched, the overall talent has improved and the team had a full training camp this time around. The culprit, at least in part, could be Andrea Bargnani. He began last season with an unprecedented interest in playing defence before missing more than half of the team's defensive renaissance due to injury. This year, his defensive indifference and lack of chemistry with his fellow front-court colleagues have stood out for the wrong reasons.
Chisholm: Easily the putrid defence. The Raptors rank 24th in defensive efficiency after ranking 12th last year and are ranked 25th in field goal defence despite insisting that defence would be their calling card going forward. They are totally lost at that end of the court and they can't afford that with such mediocre offence.
Ward: Andrea Bargnani. He suckered me in at the start of last season before getting hurt. He was competing on defence and consistently making the right decisions and using his physical gifts on offence. It looked like he was actually buying into Dwane Casey's system and becoming the type of leader everyone hoped he could be when he was drafted first overall in 2006. He had by no means become a good defender but was clawing his way into average territory and that was a huge win for the Raptors. I was hoping we'd see that Bargnani again this year. I guess not. This season, he's right back to his old ways. He's playing soft and looking lost far too often on defence and firing up far too many bad shots on offence.
One month into the season, which team has been the biggest surprise?
Lewenberg: To say I'm completely shocked by the early-season success of the Memphis Grizzlies would be disrespectful to a team that has improved in each of the past four years. However, their rise from middle of the road playoff team to elite Western Conference powerhouse has been one of basketball's most pleasant surprises. The Grizzlies are a team that takes pride in their currently third ranked defence but have proven to be more than a one trick squad. Their offence is also ranked in the top five and with wins over the Heat, Thunder, Knicks and Lakers it's clear they can match-up with anybody. The Grizz have put themselves in the conversation with San Antonio and Oklahoma City as a model for small market success. It's early, but the team in Memphis has proven they're not to be taken lightly.
Chisholm: Charlotte. That team was historically abysmal last year and they are putting up way more fight (and wins) than several clubs - Indiana, Toronto, Washington - that were expected to outpace them. The play of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been must-watch in the season's first month.
Ward: The Los Angeles Lakers. I was fully prepared for the Lakers to have a few growing pains to start the season. I just wasn't expecting this. The Lakers have been a circus so far this season with the firing of Mike Brown, how they dealt with Phil Jackson, and now trying to adapt to Mike D'Antoni's philosophy without the services of Steve Nash. To say I'm surprised they are sitting under .500 15 games into the season is an understatement.
Which player has been the best surprise so far?
Lewenberg: One month into the season Cleveland's Anderson Varejao is playing at an All-Star level. Always an underrated, albeit injury-prone player, Varejao has been the team's catalyst with Kyrie Irving on the shelf. Not only does he lead the association in rebounding, averaging just under 15 boards per game, he's also scoring and passing more efficiently than ever. From his improvements at the free-throw line to his career-best 3.2 assists per contest, Andy is earning attention throughout the league. His own coach even referred to him as "the best centre in the NBA right now". That statement seems overzealous on the surface but his recent performance gives it some credence. Is his high level of play sustainable and more importantly can he stay healthy playing the way he does? Stay tuned.
Chisholm: Carmelo Anthony. He's embraced the power forward position, he's embraced team offence and he's really demonstrated leadership qualities for a club that is outperforming early-season expectations. Of course, we'll have to see what happens when New York has to integrate Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert back into the lineup.
Ward: I'm going a bit off the board with this one and saying Houston's Chandler Parsons. AKA Chandler Bang! After being drafted with the 38th pick in the 2011 draft, Parsons made an immediate impact, quickly grabbing a starting role, averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game and making the All-Rookie second team. This year the Rockets' second round steal is even better - in his last eight games he has averaged 19.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. Parsons' biggest asset is his versatility, he can knock down threes just as easily as he can take it hard to the rim. He is also a good passer, reads the game well and can run the Rockets offence from his small forward spot when needed. Colour me impressed. I just hope his recent shoulder injury doesn't linger.