Over the last two years, the NBA has been obliged to absorb several adjustments in how many of its teams or characters are perceived.Two years back, league observers believed Tim Donaghy's most decisive calls did not involve a cell phone. Harking back two years also may enable us to remember a time when Stephon Marbury was required to perspire before getting paid. And just two years ago, Larry Brown was pretending that he no longer knew how to coach basketball.
As the 2006-2007 season began its second-half kick, the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons were on the short list of gold standard NBA teams. With Dirk Nowitzki shooting his way to the Most Valuable Player award, the Mavericks finished that season with the league's best record.
The Suns checked in with the second-best mark, while the Detroit Pistons ended the regular season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
While fans of these teams may have retained the audacity to hope for even more, the subsequent changes are providing less.
Through Sunday, the Mavericks and first-year coach Rick Carlisle just completing a rough road trip with a pole-axing in Boston are working with a winning percentage of just .568. The Suns check in at .571, which puts them seventh in the Western Conference and one spot ahead of Dallas.
The Pistons, after six consecutive dates in the conference finals, are winning at a .558 clip and holding the fifth seed back East. So, although the franchises haven't lapsed into NBA purgatory, the gold seems to be diminishing.
The similarities that define their respective slides probably aren't coincidental. After coming fairly close to glory and failing, all three teams are chugging along with a first-year coach this season. All three have pulled the trigger on at least one major trade in the last year.
For a closer inspection of what gives, we'll go team-by-team in alphabetical order:
Things were quite ducky for owner Mark Cuban and the Mavs two games into the 2006 NBA Finals.
But since then, Dallas fans have been forced to witness the heroic rise of Dwyane Wade, Nowitzki's ascension to regular-season MVP and free fall to playoff mortal, the team's Finals flop with a next-season rally to the league's best record, followed by a first-round playoff exit.
Finding out that Cuban wasn't much of a dancer did little to salve the wounds.
But after a low-ball offer from camp Sarver was rejected, Johnson eventually was sent to Atlanta. This allowed Marion to have a greater forum to bellyache about not receiving appropriate credit even though he was being paid more than MVP Nash and budding star Stoudemire.
In the meantime, team Sarver was selling draft picks that could have been used to help add depth to a wildly up-tempo system seemingly in need of fresh bodies. That system was established by Coach Mike D'Antoni, who along with being quite the wizard at offensive basketball was a little stubborn.
We're not sure if D'Antoni would have played any players taken with these draft picks if the Suns had kept them. Mike also was a bit thin-skinned when his employers suggested tweaking the system by adding defense.
Anyway, thanks in large part to a timely shove provided by San Antonio Spur Robert Horry, the system never quite made it to the 2007 Finals, where it probably would have triumphed over James and the Cavaliers.
More bellyaching from Marion helped inspire the trade with Miami that brought Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix last season and altered a system that already had begun to slip a bit. A first-round playoff exit and parting of the ways with D'Antoni led to the hiring of Terry Porter.
Porter promised defense.
So far, this year's defensive efficiency is even lower than the Suns mustered under D'Antoni last year. A trade of Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to Charlotte sort of contradicted the commitment to guarding the opposition because Bell and Marion had been the Suns' best defenders.
Porter was left with three big stars who are terrible at on-ball defense and high-flying wing shooter Jason Richardson, who would have been an even nicer addition if D'Antoni still coached the team.
It remains to be seen if the Suns will make a significant trade-deadline move should they fail to make headway in the standings. Local watchdogs like to refer to such notions as "blowing it up."
While Nash who didn't seem to assist the Porter transition by pining for the D'Antoni days is a rumored goner candidate, O'Neal's salary would be a real hayride to move.
Stoudemire continues to defend and rebound like a member of the chess club, causing a hue and cry for his departure.
But NBA history reminds us that playoff success rarely occurs without big star power. Stoudemire is the closest thing Phoenix has to a big star whose age falls below league senior-citizen status.
I'd also wait awhile before moving Nash.
The city's football team has done pretty well after choosing to put its faith in a veteran quarterback.