TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on the return of Stephen Jackson, the play of Goran Dragic and the surprising Suns, the impact of Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with the Nets, Danny Granger's impending return in Indiana and the key to the Spurs' success.
1. STEPHEN JACKSON (Clippers): He departed the Spurs last year under cloudy circumstances yet, in the right situation in certain seasons, he has proven to be both a valuable and very productive/winning player. In my book, worth the risk. With JJ Redick out of the lineup right now, you need offensive firepower and shooting and if he's right, he can bring both. He's played on good teams and made those teams better. Most importantly, you need a leader/coach that he respects and will hold him accountable. Doc Rivers is that guy. If Jackson wants back in the NBA, he's got the chance now yet he'll be expected to do it right and this environment is a good returning spot for him.
2. GORAN DRAGIC (Suns): Did you check out his performance vs. the Lakers Tuesday night? 31 pts and five assists. He ate them up; they couldn't guard him. He's a crafty guy who is very adept at changing speeds and turning the corner and getting into the lane on you and does a wonderful job keeping his dribble alive to make plays. High energy guy who is always fun to watch. The Suns are 12-9. If the season ended today, they'd be in the playoffs - in the West! No, not the East, the West! Amazing!!
3. BROOK LOPEZ and DERON WILLIAMS (Nets): Amazing what good players can do for you (combined for 49 points on 20-29 shooting vs. Boston). Jason Kidd looks a whole lot more capable when he has these two guys in his lineup. Also nice to have Paul Pierce back on the court. Bottom line, in the weak Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference, as bad as things have been for the Nets with injuries/drama/expectations, if they can get and stay healthy, they'll be a playoff team. And if the chemistry were to ever come around, they could be a pretty dangerous team to play against in an early-round series.
4. DANNY GRANGER (Pacers): Has only played in five games over the past two seasons for a team that has become one of the elite 3-5 teams in the NBA. Hoping to return this weekend. He's always been a lead actor in Indy. Paul George is that guy now. Can his ego stay in check and is he willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to help his team in whatever role his coaches devise for him? He can be a huge plus for them if he's willing to do what it takes. Obviously, sitting on the bench and watching his team be one of the best in the league has to humble you a bit yet make you hungry to get out there and do what it takes to be that 'finishing piece' to help your team win a title. His presence on the floor will define how the Pacers chemistry evolves from here. If he's right mentally, they can become really dangerous on every level as a title contender. His scoring ability will make their depth even more of a strength.
5. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: An amazing series of facts about this team were pointed out to me by a few folks Tuesday night. Yes, we all know they have a Hall of Famer/franchise #1 pick in Tim Duncan. Some of the other pieces on the floor in Toronto Tuesday night vs. the Raptors include six second round picks, an undrafted player, a 30th Pick and two 28th picks. Remember what I said a few weeks back about the draft pedigree of the Indiana Pacers, sure you need a really good player but beyond that you MUST have GREAT leadership in the coaching area and the scouting/player evaluation and projection component. It's no secret that the Spurs define that and it's a shame more franchises don't stay disciplined and use that model. Many swing for the fences with 'name guys' that don't win for you. In a world of 'tank nation' talk (I respect that you must have elite talent to win), it still comes down to the substance of what you put around an elite player that defines success. Too often, we look for the glitzy 'big name' and reach for the bright lights and the style. In the end, it comes down to so many pieces meshing in an operation and it all comes back to the leadership of your owner, president, GM and coach. You get a good horse with a lousy jockey and he'll underperform. Yes, you've got to have the horses, yet you better have the right folks leading the way. It all goes together.