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Just messing around, getting triple doubles
July 27, 2014Posted by on
“I got it sellin’ nickel bags … bitch.” With that, we’re on the hook with Freddie Gibbs’ track “Knicks” off the Piñata album he released with Madlib earlier this year.
The only reason I’m writing about the track is the basketball overlap and the double meaning usage of “Knicks” and “nickel bags.” Gibbs kicks it off:
Pimpin on lil’ sis/
I’m watching Jordan drop a double nickel on the Knicks/
That was ’95, couple of us ain’t live til’ ‘96
(The first line also sounds awfully similar to “Pippen on the assist,” but doesn’t make as much sense with the following verse.)
With that opening we’re transported back to 1995 when MJ had just come back from his baseball sabbatical and was delivering up and down performances for 20-some odd games. In the middle of all, his Royal Baldness returned to the Mecca where he eviscerated the Knicks for 55.
While the rest of us were doing whatever it was we were doing (I was a freshman in high school recovering from a hideous basketball injury where I broke my arm and leg at the same time), Freddie Gibbs was “fresh up out a school bus fighting up at Pulaski.” The MJ game for him, like sporting events are for so many of us, acted as a mile marker on the highway of time. And while the Knicks mark one experience for Gibbs, selling nickel bags marks another.
If life is an endless stream of “same shits, different days,” Gibbs shows the continuity of it all 20 years later as marked by the Knicks and a basketball court and the cyclically painful familiarity of violence:
Chilling with a bitch/
Watching LeBron put up a 56 on the Knicks/
In 2005, police killed my n***a in 2006
While LeBron didn’t ever put up 56 on the Knicks (he put up 56 on Toronto on March 20th, 2005 and 50 in MSG on March 5th, 2008 and 52 in February of 2009), for the continuity of the cyclical nature of the song, it makes sense. In some ways too, the foggy memory more accurately resembles the way many of us end up sorting recollections in occasionally convenient sequences. After all these years though, for Gibbs, the best players in the game are still dropping 50-spots in the Garden and Freddie’s still encountering the same shit: women, friends dying, and nickel bags. I can relate in the sense that I’m still watching basketball, still trying to find a pickup game, and still kicking it with some of the same guys I was hanging out with back in 1995. 33-year-old me is a million miles from 14-year-old me, but there are quite a few things I’ve kept close all the way across these years and evolutions of self.
But as Jordan turns into LeBron and as Freddie Gibbs goes from a “middle school fool” to an emcee signed to a major label, collaborating with a legend like Madlib, we’re reminded that change still occurs within any season.
For Gibbs, both the change and cycle can be traced to the literal and metaphorical nickel bags. Towards the end of the track as he’s shouting out Melo and MJ’s fade away, he’s painting the conflicting dualities of slanging dope in the most Nino Brown style: highlighting the connection between his charitable side (giving out turkeys, building basketball courts) and the source of his charity: selling nickel bags.
I’m not out here selling nickel bags, but I can still tell you where I was when Mark McGwire beat Roger Maris’s homerun record. With clarity, I still remember John Paxson’s game-winning three over the Suns in 1993. Sports stick with us over times and call to mind the events that floated within our orbit for a given time and Freddie Gibbs captured that here in “Knicks” in his own uniquely American manner.
July 14, 2014Posted by on
Last week I wrote some brief thoughts on the bomb LeBron James dropped on the basketball world and while I wouldn’t stay I’m still reeling from it, there are aftershocks rumbling under my feet all the way out in Seattle. All day Friday I was unable to do anything but consider the choice a man from Akron, Ohio made which is an odd circumstance at which to arrive to say the least, but Bron’s done nothing if not become a sculptor, shaping the lives of millions and I was just one more being surreally affected by his decisions. For as big as LeBron has become (and it’s frightening how big he is), the rest of the basketball world is still orbiting around the sun, trying to do whatever it takes to achieve a hundred thousand different goals:
Carmelo Anthony re-signed with the Knicks and even penned his own letter a la LeBron which he posted on his site (that most people likely have never heard of): www.thisismelo.com. It’s unfair to compare Melo’s situation and letter with LeBron’s, but it’s hard to not compare them. They came into the league together, possess world class talents, play the same positions, have won Olympic medals together, and now explained their free agency decisions in remarkably similar fashions. All week leading up to LeBron’s announcement, we had heard speculation that he would tell us through his Samsung app or on his own website. All along though, it was Melo working behind the scenes on his own brief explanation and website release. It arrived with little fanfare, a New York wave in LeBron’s tsunami, great in his own right and sought after by all, but continually eclipsed by the King.
By returning to Cleveland, LeBron removed the massive roadblock that had created a Chinese National Highway-like traffic jam for free agents. And it resulted into a scrambling dash by front offices and agents to jockey for space and players, some of which leaked through to Twitter which made for a most exciting Friday. Beyond Bron, teammate Chris Bosh held the most intrigue as Houston GM Daryl Morey (of Sam Presti fleecing fame) rolled the dice with a whole lot on the line. At risk were trades of previous poison pill contract players and neglected humans, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, the Rockets 2015 first round pick, a future second round pick, and the choice of whether or not to sign the versatile and eminently handsome, but suddenly expensive Chandler Parsons (Parsons’s price tag went from a team option of $960,000 in 2014-15 to three years for $46M after Dallas signed him to an offer sheet).
After Morey had made the trades, cleared away depth and assets to bring on Bosh, the 6’11” native Texan surprised us all, and no doubt Morey the most, by re-signing with Miami. Houston then declined to bring back Parsons back with Morey predictably criticizing the deal by describing it as “one of the most untradeable (contract) structures I’ve ever seen.” Maybe it’s an untradeable deal or maybe Morey’s got sour grapes. Whatever the case, it took about 24 hours for the Rockets to go from Bosh and Parsons alongside Dwight and Harden to Trevor Ariza (signed to replace Parsons) and that can’t be spun as a positive.
Get your requiems ready because in addition to watching Derek Fisher make the transition from crustily grizzled veteran to head coach of the Knicks, we may soon be waving hasta la vista to Jermaine O’Neal and Ray Allen who are both considering retirement. But for those of you who have a soft spot for shiny-headed power forwards who have penchants for bullying European players and cursing to themselves, fear not because Kevin Garnett is reportedly “excited” to play with the Nets – and likely excited to make the $12M that’s owed to him for playing 20-25 minutes/game.
From the unrestricted batch of remaining free agents, the last big name without a home is playoff problem child, Lance Stephenson who, like so many before him, had to learn the hard way that you don’t tug on Super LeBron’s cape, you don’t blow into his ear, you don’t pull the headband off the King, and you don’t mess around in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jim Croce paraphrasing aside, Stephenson was one of just four players to average at least 13ppg, 7rpg, and 4apg in 2013-14. He’s only 23 and aside from the aforementioned ass-hattery of the ECF, he’s a terrific, if immature, player who can play either wing spot and whether he returns to Indiana or signs elsewhere he’ll continue his evolution in 2015.
The summer league circuit is well underway and Las Vegas has been overrun with scribes wielding pens and voice recorders and polo shirts and new Cavs Coach David Blatt coaching in jeans. I tuned in for the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins extravaganza on Saturday when the weather in Seattle was hot enough that my living room felt like the inside of a convection oven, but it wasn’t so scorching for me to miss out on these rookies. Wiggins showed flashes of otherworldly athleticism while for Parker it looked just like another game at Cameron Indoor with a variety of slashing drives, strong finished, and a mix of well-developed jumpers. More so than the top-two picks in the draft were the contributions of last year’s number one pick, Anthony Bennett and Bucks’ cult favorite, the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. (This is where I break the hearts of my few readers by admitting that this was the first time I’d undistractedly watched Antetokounmpo.) Bennett’s shed baby fat and looks like he could be ready to step into a contributing role off the Cavs bench, assuming he can set a screen without being whistled for a foul – he had eight in the game. Antetokounmpo was most impressive with his self-confidence on the long ball. At 6’11”, or however tall he is, his combination of shooting range and athleticism are worth getting excited about. It’s ok to be late for the train as long as you arrive.
Southern Methodist University, currently coached by basketball nomad Larry Brown, just lost a recruit named Emmanuel Mudiay who’s taking his talents across the pond to play pro ball. The 6’5” guard out of Texas wasn’t just some random player with marginal talents, but rather a top-five nationally ranked player good enough to be projected as the number-three overall pick on Draft Express’s 2015 mock. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story:
“This is not an academic issue, since he has been admitted to SMU, but rather a hardship issue,” Brown said in a statement.
Nevertheless, little evidence supports the Hall of Fame coach’s assertion on Mudiay’s reason for leaving SMU.
Mudiay had conversations with Brown and university officials about his ability to become academically eligible and withstand NCAA scrutiny into his amateur status to play his freshman year, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Mudiay becomes the latest in a list that includes Brandon Jennings, Jeremy Tyler, and Latavious Williams as players who have, for varying reasons, bypassed college for either the D-League or international leagues. While I’m fundamentally opposed to any NBA age limits, as long as one exists, the league would do well to present the D-League as a better alternative to international pro leagues. The success of players like Glen Rice Jr. and PJ Hairston will continue advancing the league’s profile, but it would’ve been a coup for them to get a talent like Mudiay, but if money is even an iota of a consideration for the young man, then Europe or China or wherever he lands makes logical sense.
Nothing much else happened this week except for the latest great white hype Doug McDermott scored 31 points on 12 shots in Vegas on Sunday.
June 27, 2014Posted by on
Now that Carmelo Anthony is officially opting out of his contract and, for the first time in his pro career becoming a free agent, the possible destinations for his scoring prowess is narrowing by the day. The Bulls and Rockets appear to be at the front of the pack and while it’s a fun game to wonder where oh where would Melo fit, it’s even more fun to ponder the impossible: historically speaking, what are some of the top mutually beneficial teams for which Melo could’ve played?
2003-04 Detroit Pistons:
We’re all familiar with the Pistons’ legendary misstep taking Darko Milicic over Melo, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. Any one of those players would’ve made a great addition to a talented and mature Pistons team that would go on to win the 03-04 title, but a 19-year-old Melo would’ve come in and immediately been the best offensive player on the roster. Whether the Pistons would’ve brought him off the bench behind Tayshaun Prince or started him doesn’t matter, the only man who could’ve stopped him from scoring 20/night would’ve been coach Larry Brown. Just as importantly as his on-court production is that he would’ve been on a rookie deal lasting through at least 2007. From 2004 to 2008, this Melo-less Pistons group made the Eastern Conference finals every season and reached the finals twice. Do they tack on another title with the ultra-talented Melo? Does Melo find winning ways in the pros and create a legacy to match his other 2003 draft counterparts? Thanks to Joe Dumars and the Pistons brass, we’ll never know.
1996-97 Utah Jazz:
Karl Malone’s best Jazz teams never could overcome MJ’s Bulls. Maybe it was Malone’s clutch woes or just the indomitability of Jordan and Scottie. Whatever the case, let’s re-imagine the methodically pick and rolling Jazz with the 6’8”, 230lbs Melo at small forward in place of 6’7”, 225lbs Bryon Russell. While Russell was absolutely a better defensive player than Melo, comparing their offensive games is like comparing a beautifully crafted club sandwich with Boar’s Head turkey, thick slabs of bacon, a little avocado, a slice of Swiss cheese on gourmet toasted bread to a butter sandwich made out of two dried out heels. Is Melo’s offense enough to extend Pip on defense and give Malone more room to operate? Does the presence of Melo in the pick and roll game add enough variation to an already excellent offense that it breaks the Bulls defense? I don’t know and I have my doubts, but me and Karl Malone and Bob Costas would like to see this.
1990-91 Golden State Warriors:
First thing’s first: There’s no way Golden State could’ve afforded Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Melo, but we’re going all in. The ever-imaginative Warriors Head Coach Don Nelson loved to tinker with a lineup and having a three-point shooting Melo at the four alongside an already potent offensive group would’ve delivered enough options to satisfy Nelson’s always-curious mind. Would Melo have been chewed up and spit out by the Mailman and Charles Barkley? Of course, but can you imagine those same guys attempting to defend Melo as he shoots 40% on threes and attacks slow-footed defenders with an array of moves that rivals the best players in the game. The net gain for adding Melo to Run-TMC is likely minimal, but inasmuch as we love Herm Edwards and his “You play to win the game” attitude, we yearn to be entertained.
1987-88 Detroit Pistons
For a team that won back-to-back NBA championships and made it to three straight finals and five straight EC finals, it’s hard to ask for more, but if we replace Adrian Dantley or Mark Aguirre with Melo, the offensive gains outweigh the defensive losses. Aguirre and Dantley both made individual sacrifices for team success and without the pressure of being the leader, I like to imagine Melo’s capable of doing the same. Assimilating into a Bad Boy culture of family and hard-nosed loyalty could’ve been the best thing to ever happen to Melo and maybe would’ve lifted Detroit into the stratosphere occupied by Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, and Jordan’s Bulls. Also, Melo vs. Dominique, Bird, Pippen, and other 80s stalwart SFs would’ve been a joy to behold.
1988-89 Cleveland Cavs:
Everyone remembers MJ’s game-winner over an outstretched and overmatched Craig Ehlo and the Cavs in game five of the 1989 first round, but less people remember this Cavs team was one of the top-three teams in the league that year. With a starting five that featured healthy seasons from Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Ron Harper, plus Larry Nance and Mike Sanders, this team was on par with the eventual champion Pistons and Magic’s Lakers group. If we swap out the perennial role player Sanders with the perennial all-star Melo, we have a team of all pros and all-stars too good for MJ to overcome on his own. Melo gives them four players capable of scoring 20+ any night and a group that finished second in the league in defensive rating and third in opponents points/game. Maybe it’s enough to get Cleveland a title and revamp the entire future psyche of a long-fucked fan base. And maybe we’re even talking about Mayor Anthony.
1974-75 Washington Bullets:
There’s a good chance that you, like me, weren’t alive when the Washington Bullets were one of the league’s most successful franchises in the 1970s. They went to four NBA Finals and won one in 1978 with possibly one of the worst titlist teams of all time (they won 44 games in the regular season). That title team was far from their best. In 1975 the Bullets won 60 games and tied for the best record in the league. They had the best defensive team, the highest margin of victory, and kicked much ass with a front line that included all-stars Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. The weakest spot on the roster was at small forward where the blue collar Mike Riordan teamed with Nick Weatherspoon to hold it down with some sense of regularity. These Bullets were destroyed in the finals by the Rick Barry-led Golden State Warriors in a series where Warriors coach Al Attles was ejected in game four for storming the court and fighting with the aforementioned Riordan. Mixing in the 6’8” Melo alongside the Hall of Famers Unseld and Hayes gives the Bullets two of the top players in the league. Chemistry questions will always arise, particularly with high usage guys like Melo, but how he would’ve blended with Hayes, a player whose presence was once compared to “Chinese water torture … it’s just a drop at a time, nothing big, but in the end, he’s driven you crazy,” is the ultimate question.
1958-59 St. Louis Hawks:
Were it not for Bill Russell and the Celtics’ dominating run in the 50s and 60s, Wilt Chamberlain would likely have numerous championships and a different reputation among basketball historians. Another team and player that nearly suffocated under the Boston success is the St. Louis Hawks and Bob Pettit who faced the Celtics four times in the finals, lost thrice, and went to game seven twice. The Hawks started 6’4” Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan at the SF slot, but the 1959 version of Hagan is simply outmatched by 2014 Melo and that’s the version we’d transport back in time. Melo’s combination of quickness, strength and legitimate jump shot would be indefensible by 1959 standards. Different challenges such as racism, dirty fouls, and uncomfortable shorts would replace modern obstacles, but for a team that spent five years on the cusp of all-time greatness, Melo would’ve gleefully pushed them over the top and instead of having a Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP, perhaps we’d have the Carmelo Anthony NBA Finals MVP award … chew on that. [Side note: In the 1957-58 finals, the one St. Louis won, Bob Pettit scored 50 points in a series-clinching game six win.]
June 10, 2014Posted by on
The current state of the mock draft is as much masturbatory as it exists for the voyeuristic. Mock drafting is as fun for mocker as the audience as we’ve witnessed with the NFL and the spawn of well-coiffed humans like Mel Kiper, but it’s also a participatory sport as the emergence of Fantasy Sports has revealed. For the 2014 NBA Draft, the mock laid out below covers the top-30 picks in the draft assuming no trades are made. Staying true to the tradition that mocks are a great way to pass the time, I brought along some old friends you don’t know and a newer friend you may know. The format is easy to follow and you can skip around or read straight through, but don’t miss the numerous gems sprinkled across this oddly fun, but probably not functional, mock draft.
The draftees were myself, Ian Levy of Hickory-High, Robert Hamill of the NBA Father/Son Two v. Two tourney, Brian Foster also of Father/Son, Andrew Maahs, and Rex Tredway. We drafted in a snake fashion, 1 thru 6, then the draftee with the 6th pick had 7 and so on.
With all that administration out of the way, let’s get on with the drafting which took place over the past couple weeks over email:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers, Andrew Wiggins as drafted by Ian Levy
The night after the Draft Lottery, Dan Gilbert was visited by three ghosts. The first was the ghost of Cavalier Past. A shade with the build and hairline of Karl Malone, the ghost of Cavalier Past told a story of the rich trappings of success being suddenly ripped away. The second and third were the ghosts of Cavalier Present. One was an overweight and overmatched disappointment, the other an overconfident and unaware star of debatable brightness. They told the story of missed opportunities and of struggles private and public. After they left, Gilbert sat in his luxiourous four-poster bed, shivering with fear, awating the ghost of Cavalier Future. But as dawn broke, the final ghost never appeared. The light stretching between his bedroom blinds brought renewed confidence, wiping away the terrifying memories of the night before. Gilbert grabbed his phone and accidentally called Chris Grant, “You again? Sorry, I meant to call David,” then hung up and rang David Griffin: “Forget about those questions we talked about yesterday. Get me that Canadian kid who can jump real high.”
2. Milwaukee Bucks, Jabari Parker as drafted by Kris Fenrich
On the eve of the 2014 Mock Draft, no ghosts visited the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, just a call from GM John Hammond who, after deep thought, reflection, and a consultation with his former employer and mentor … Joe Dumars … had arrived at his 1-2 scenario. Hammond didn’t hide his disappointment that the team’s #1 option was already off the board. “We needed Wiggins!” he shrieked out loud while pacing in the team’s war room. The rest of the assorted Bucks employees looked at each other in awkward embarrassment and someone suppressed a laugh. Hammond stopped cold, realized he was making an ass of himself and recounted the sobering conversation he’d had with Dumars the night before where Joe had reeled off all the truths of Joel Embiid’s franchise-lifting ceiling: athletic fluidity, rebounding and shot blocking, underrated, but rapidly developing offensive arsenal and all against the backdrop of that troubled Larry Sanders. With darkened memories of Darko Milicic dancing a fiendish jig in his mind, Hammond made the call: Jabari Parker.
3. Philadelphia 76ers, Joel Embiid as drafted by Andrew Maahs
Raw big man, check. High-upside, check. Injury red flag, check. Falling in the draft, check.
With Joel Embiid falling to the Sixers, GM Sam Hinkie asks, “HAVEN’T WE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE?” And despite conventional wisdom the Sixers select another high-upside big man with injury concerns in Joel Embiid. But unlike last year’s selection, Noel, Embiid is in act one, scene four of a basketball career that some are comparing to a young Akeem Olajuwon, yes that Hakeem Olajuwon. Critics will question whether the two big men can share the same stage, questions that won’t be answered in year one as Hinkie and Co. will cautiously rest both players periodically, embracing year two of “Operation Tank.” With the #10 pick and five second-round picks, the Sixers brass will have endless opportunities to surround the young nucleus, of Michael Carter Williams, Noel and Embiid, with the right pieces. One thing is clear, Embiid is the Godfather II to Noel’s Godfather, and this time the sequel is better, unbelievably better.
4. Orlando Magic, Marcus Smart as drafted by Brian Foster
With the Otis Smith roster purge nearly completed (Jameer Nelson is the lone holdover), young gun GM Rob Hennigan is finally ready for the Orlando Magic to start making progress towards the playoffs in a watered down Eastern Conference. With no surprises in the first 3 picks, the Magic find themselves picking from a handful of players they expected to be available. It’s no secret that Orlando needs a PG badly to make this young core of players flourish going forward. Hennigan’s mentor and good friend, Sam Presti, found himself in a similar situation 6 years ago in the 2008 draft. There was an emotional, fiery guard with disruptive defensive ability and great size who no one knew whether or not he would be a true point guard. Presti was heckled by some draft pundits for taking the leap with Russell Westbrook. I’d say Westbrook turned out ok, so Hennigan has no problems pulling the trigger here . “Irrational shot selection and sketchy shooting be damned, I’m going with my gut!!” shouts Hennigan from the Magic war room.
5. Utah Jazz, Dante Exum as drafted by Robert Hamill
A somewhat surprising pick by Orlando at #4 forced Utah to reevaluate its choice. Prevailing thought had Orlando taking Dante Exum, leaving GM Kevin O’Connor sure the player he wanted was top-rated PF, Juius Randle. Of the remaining players atop Utah’s board, Randle was the proven choice – that is to say he proven in a present-day NBA draft. Also under consideration, Noah Vonleh blew minds at the combine. But the word “raw” gets thrown around with him, and raw doesn’t always become filet mignon when it’s fully cooked. O’Connor also had concerns about his build. Narrow shoulders aren’t a great asset around the basket. And finally, Exum, the wildcard from down under. Wildcards are often destined for the same fate as raw players. To a gambler, a wildcard has a malleable future, capable of being shaped to fit your scenario. For O’Connor, the big question was, can he play some SG? At 6’6″ with long arms and top-10 times in all the combine speed drills, the answer appears to be yes. O’Connor may not fancy himself a gambler, but today he is. Exum’s skills should help Gordon Hayward create from the wing, and let Trey Burke play to his strength by getting open 3s. The Jazz select Dante Exum. Now, who’s going to coach this group?
6. Boston Celtics, Julius Randle as drafted by Rex Tredway
The Sports Illustrated cover solidified the comparison. A Midwestern farm-boy from a mid-major who can stroke the three, as soon as Dougy McBuckets grows a stache he and Larry are basically the same guy right? I’m sure there’s a sizable portion of Celtic’s nation who thinks so. So the pick is obvious. With the sixth pick in the 2014 draft the Boston Celtics select: Julius Randle.
Randle is the easy selection here for Ainge and Stevens. He was a consensus top three pick before the season and has a body that’s NBA ready. He showed us that he can dominate the boards during Kentucky’s tourney run, and that talent fills a need in Boston immediately.
7. Los Angeles Lakers, Noah Vonleh as drafted by Rex Tredway
The D-League Lakers were an absolute mess this year. At this point in the off-season there still seem to be more questions than answers. Who’s going to be the Head Coach? How much gas will Kobe have in the tank when he comes back? Is Gasol out the door now or later? Not even a call to Miss Cleo can get you all of those answers. Question marks aside, I see the Lakers taking Noah Vonleh in this spot. He’s not the combine freak that Aaron Gordon is, but he’ll be a better rebounder in year one and more importantly he has the ability to hit the mid-range jumper on a pick-and-pop.
8. Sacramento Kings, Zach LaVine as drafted by Robert Hamill
If the Kings are indeed willing to trade for Kevin Love without any assurance he will sign an extension, they should take the most gifted player available and not give consideration to the current roster. A team that has tried stockpiling assets, the Kings are what we’ve come expect from an organization that has employed 6 coaches over the past 8 seasons. Aside from DeMarcus Cousins, all current Kings are expendable. At #8, the player that will either excite fans at Sleep Train Arena, or get the attention of the Love-selling T’Wolves, is UCLA freshman SG Zach LaVine. LaVine is compared favorably (and unfavorably) to Russ Westbrook. Fearless in transition; explosive athleticism; questionable judgment. But he’s different too. Legit SG size; effortless range from deep with a smooth, balanced release; not much of a creator for others. Like Westbrook he’s a late bloomer – a kid that wasn’t even in the top-50 of any recruiting service 2 years ago. He looks like a young guy who is still figuring out how to use all of his genetic gifts. The Kings now set their sights on Kevin Love and dream of an outcome that delivers Love while holding onto LaVine … because they know there’s a decent chance he becomes one of the top three players in this draft.
9. Charlotte Hornets, James Young as drafted by Brian Foster
Charlotte retired the Bobcats name respectably with a trip to the playoffs in their final season before becoming the Hornets once more. In a rare stroke of luck for the Michael Jordan Front Office Circus, the Hornets picked up the Pistons lottery pick that was only top-8 protected as the result of a Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon swap two years ago (you heard right, Joe Dumars somehow made the Ben Gordon signing even worse by giving away the 9th pick in this year’s draft just to dump his salary). With that being said, let’s go into the mind of Michael Jordan for this pick to see how his previous personnel blunders influence the Hornets for the 2014 draft: Rich Cho: “Doug McDermott?” MJ: “Oh no, I’m not falling for the high scoring, sweet shooting white guy again. Fuck. That.” Cho: “Aaron Gordon?” MJ: “Hell no, he reminds me of that bitch ass Tyrus Thomas who just runs and jumps around with no real basketball skills.” Cho: “Gary Harris?” MJ: “Too little, I would post him up after shoot arounds all day. Ask Gerald. No, for real, get his ass on speaker phone.” Cho: “…” MJ: “Fine, don’t call him. Who’s that guy that kid from Kentucky that dunked on the African dude in the NCAA title game?” Cho: “I give up…Rod (Higgins), call the pick in already.”
10. Philadelphia 76ers, Gary Harris as drafted by Andrew Maahs
Measuring in at a meager 6’2.5″ without shoes, SG Gary Harris found himself singing “I wish I was taller,” after the NBA combine concluded on May 15th. Despite his disappointing measurements, the Sixers pulled out the “rabbit in a hat with a bat” and drafted the combo guard. Arguably one of the best on ball defenders in the draft, Harris provides the Sixers another defensive asset for their young roster. The length of Michael Carter Williams will help neutralize Harris’ lack of size on the defensive end, and his ability to play both guard spots gives the Sixers some versatility, depth and playmaking they desperately need.
11. Denver Nuggets, Aaron Gordon as drafted by Kris Fenrich
Sometimes choice can be overwhelming and when you’re a mediocre team with needs across the board, having too many options can be like getting lost in the labyrinthine menu at Cheesecake Factory. Do I want the herb crusted filet of salmon (Aaron Gordon) or the grilled shrimp and bacon club (Dario Saric) or maybe the buffalo blasts (Nik Stauskas)? My God, man, why are we talking about Cheesecake Factory’s oversaturated fatty menu when my cholesterol is already too high and there’s plenty of leafy green options (Doug McDermott) out there just waiting to be devoured and deliver me the sustenance necessary to make strong, clear headed decisions? Screw the salad, we’re already here and what’s life if it’s not indulging in what you really want instead of what you need? Redundancy be damned, potential Shawn Marion clone (minus cockeyed jumper and insecurities) Aaron Gordon is the choice. Now if you don’t mind, I have platter of salmon and mashed potatoes drowning in a lake of lemon butter waiting for me.
12. Orlando Magic, Nik Stauskas as drafted by Ian Levy
With this pick the Orlando Magic have turned their back court into Voltron. Stauskas, Smart, Oladipo, Afflalo, E’Twaun Moore (in a pinch) can assemble themselves into a super robot, with each limb capable of spacing the floor, running a pick-and-roll, and taking a tough defensive assignment. Now they just have to figure out who gets to hold the giant sword.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves, Doug McDermott as drafted by Ian Levy
Timberwolves gonna Timberwolf.
14. Phoenix Suns, Dario Saric as drafted by Kris Fenrich
With three picks in the first round and a 48-win team that’s celebrating the departure of Emeka Okafor and his nearly $15-million deal, the Suns are the envy of the lottery. Maybe not, but as such, they’re in a good mood and pleased to take 6’10” Croatian point forward/future Toni Kukoc/slender Boris Diaw, whom they call Dario Saric. While preferring Saric to join ASAP, the Suns are willing to wait until 2015 if that’s what it takes. Also, there’s hope in the front office that his splotchy mustache thing will have either filled in or fallen out by then.
15. Atlanta Hawks, Rodney Hood as drafted by Andrew Maahs
When DeMarre Carroll and D-League vet, Cartier Martin are the only true Small Forwards on your roster you could use more than little help at that position. Rodney Hood fills an immediate need and fits well into the 3-point happy Hawks offensive system. Atlanta will be heavily chasing restricted free agent Gordon Hayward this offseason and Hood should be a decent consolation prize should they fail to land Hayward.
16. Chicago Bulls, Kyle Anderson as drafted by Brian Foster
With the uncertainty of Derrick Rose‘s knees and the departure of Luol Deng, the Bulls weaknesses were on full display in the playoffs against a young Wizards team. They lacked depth on the wings, and didn’t have anyone who can create for others like Rose. The Bulls address both needs with one player: Point forward, Kyle Anderson, out of UCLA.
17. Boston Celtics, Elfrid Payton as drafted by Robert Hamill
Only one piece of the contending Celtics teams remains. Danny Ainge has long desired to trade Rajon Rondo, and very well may have last year had the moody PG not been rehabbing a torn ACL. In the last year of his deal, and still considered a top PG, a market for Rondo certainly exists. Or perhaps they ride out the last year of Rondo and do a sign and trade in the summer of ’15. Regardless, the time to move on is approaching. Elfrid Payton brings some Rondo-like ability to the table – speed and quickness, vision, energetic defense (his 2.6 spg is tops amongst this draft class). Also like Rondo, his shot is disjointed and ineffective. At 6’4 he’s tall, young (played his freshman season at 17), eager to improve, and he’s the Celtics pick at #17.
18. Phoenix Suns, TJ Warren as drafted by Rex Tredway and rationalized by Kris Fenrich
Sure, the Suns might crave shooting threes like the NCAA craves hypocrisy, but coach Jeff Hornacek’s no dummy and wants to expand his offensive portfolio with the theme of diversification. And no one in this draft diversifies a three-heavy offense like NC State small forward, TJ Warren. I have no clue how or where Warren learned to play basketball, but with an array of two-point moves that already qualifies as mature, one wonders if he spent his childhood studying the likes of Alex English, Adrian Dantley, Kiki Vandeweghe, Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Kelly Tripucka, Bernard King …. you get the picture, Warren’s a throwback to the days before the three ball was crowned king and sat on a throne 23’9″ from the hoop. But God help us if the young man ever develops that part of his game.
19. Chicago Bulls, PJ Hairston as drafted by Rex Tredway and rationalized by Kris Fenrich
Chicago’s identity is crafted by two men: Sheriff Tom Thibodeau and Deputy Joakim Noah. With those two steel-willed men guiding the franchise, Thibs convinces the front office that the red flags (and wailing sirens and weed/gun/speeding infractions) that accompany wing-player PJ Hairston aren’t enough to deter the Bulls from snagging the big-bodied UNC reject. In Hairston, Thibs sees a bearded ball of unformed clay ready to be sculpted into a tooth and nail defender with a jumper good enough to catch feeds from Noah and a healthy Derrick Rose.
20. Toronto Raptors, Tyler Ennis as drafted by Robert Hamill
20 years ago the Raptors probably would have avoided taking a Canadian kid. The expectations on a local product for the new franchise could have been heavy. But it’s 2014 and the Raptors are just another franchise trying for consecutive playoff berths. With Kyle Lowry‘s future at the club up in the air, the Raptors need to add a PG. Masai Ujiri didn’t expect Ennis to be here at #20, and when he was, the call was easy. Will Ennis be a starting caliber PG for a perennial playoff team? Who knows – it’s hard to ever know for sure. But he’s the obvious choice for Toronto. He comes from a winning culture and has shown the ability to play well in big moments.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder, Adreian Payne as drafted by Brian Foster
Fresh off of their Western Conference Finals loss to the Spurs, GM Sam Presti realizes that it’s time to recruit some reinforcements on the front line. The injury to Serge Ibaka in the playoffs magnified the Thunder’s lack of front court depth. Steven Adams is a good, young prospect, but after that it gets ugly in a hurry. Nick Collison is near the end of the road of his NBA career, and I wouldn’t pick Kendrick Perkins to play on my team in a pickup game at the Y. Watching Kevin Durant get pushed around filling in at the 4 made this decision easy for Presti. Adreian Payne out of Michigan State is his man. Payne checks in at 6’10”, 240 with a Stretch Armstrong-like 7-4 wingspan. His ability to mix it up inside and stretch the floor with range out to 3 will definitely be a welcome addition to this young OKC core.
22. Memphis Grizzlies, Cleanthony Early as drafted by Andrew Maahs
The small forward position of the Grizzlies is a collection of has beens and never have beens. With Tayshaun Prince washed up and Mike Miller a situational player, the Grizzlies are in desperate need of a playmaker at that position. After a strong performance at the combine and in the NCAA tournament, against Kentucky, the 23 year-old, Cleanthony Early is ready to make the leap from the mid-major level to the NBA. If he manages to beat owner Robert Pera in his weekly one-on-one games, Early may find himself in Dave Joerger’s starting lineup. That’s if Joerger still coaching this team by the end of the week.
23. Utah Jazz, KJ Daniels as drafted by Kris Fenrich
While some in the organization believe the Jazz should’ve drafted another white hope in Doug McDermott at #5, good sense and a pro-Australian-faction won out. But by taking Exum at #5 and losing a handful of aging, calcifying players to free agency, the Jazz are getting younger while their current crop of kids (Hayward, Kanter, Favors) gain crucial on the job experience. A couple of Euro imports may be the best players available, but the Jazz need help now and that means taking the gaudy athleticism of Clemson’s, K.J. McDaniels. At 6’6”, Daniels uses his quick leaping ability to be a plus rebounder and shot blocker for his position. Jazz marketers are already planning campaigns with working titles as “McDaniels’ Den of Dazzling Dunks” or “KJ: More Athletic than RJ and less arthritic than Marvin.”
24. Charlotte Hornets, Glenn Robinson III as drafted by Ian Levy
The New Orleans Hornets are in desperate need of some spacing from the small forward position and Robinson is just what the doctor ordered. Long and athletic, oh, the marvelous, glorious basketball DNA. Also, they can now give up on Austin Rivers and not keep their Nepotism Rating high. #AdvancedStats
25. Houston Rockets, Mitch “Money” McGary as drafted by Ian Levy
The Rockets are still missing something. You can call it chutzpah, intensity, aggression, passion, physicality, giving a flying fuck, reckless abandon, the willingness to mix it up, cojones, muscles for miles. Whatever your chosen euphemism, McGary has it and the Rockets don’t. Now they can trade Asik, plug McGary in for 25 minutes a night as Dwight Howard‘s back slowly disintegrates and let the man go get frothy.
26. Miami Heat, Shabazz Napier as drafted by Kris Fenrich
Let’s be real, Mario Chalmers is exhausted from years of being the Miami whipping boy. Between the Heat cap jockeying and the availability of Napier, it’s time for Mario to take his title talents elsewhere and for Shabazz to sidle into the Norris Cole role (sans high top) as Cole becomes a not-so-annoying Chalmers. At the end of the day, we’re all just filling someone else’s shoes.
27. Phoenix Suns, Kristaps Porzingis as drafted by Andrew Maahs
After selecting Dario Saric, with the #14 pick, the Suns double dip and select another skilled 7-footer in Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is a few years away from being an NBA caliber player, as was evident by his 6.7 PPG and 2.7 RBG in Spain’s ACB League. With three first round picks, the Suns are counting on one of their European selections to stay overseas, giving them roster felxibilty for free agents and/or Kevin Love.
28. Los Angeles Clippers, Jerami Grant as drafted by Brian Foster
Since the beginning of the Chris Paul Era in Clipperland, they’ve had a revolving door of over the hill and journeymen small forwards (Ryan Gomes, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill). With the Sterling saga in the rear view mirror, the Clippers are looking to turn the page by drafting some young legs to inject some energy into this mostly veteran core. In comes Jerami Grant from Syracuse. Grant is a slasher with protypical SF size (6-8 215) that likes to use his exceptional athleticism to get to the rim and put pressure on the defense. You can check out the kid’s dunk highlights on YouTube to get an idea of how well Grant will fit in with his new team. Welcome to Lob City.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder, Clint Capela as drafted by Robert Hamill
Unless you agree with Scott Brooks‘ comments following Game 6 of the WCF, OKC finds itself coming up short of expectations for the 2nd straight year (injuries or not). While the team needs to retool, and maybe hire a new coach, the pick at #29 doesn’t exactly lend itself to that effort. Sam Presti should regret giving Kendrick Perkins the deal he did, and it seems highly unlikely the scary big man will return once it expires in 2015. Clint Capela makes a great draft-and-stash pick and seems like a move Presti’s mentors in San Antonio would make. He’s only 20 and needs a lot of seasoning, but he’s big, strong and could be a nice piece alongside Serge Ibaka in a couple years.
30. San Antonio Spurs, CJ Wilcox as drafted by Kris Fenrich
Coach Gregg Popovich might claim to hate the three, but he knows where his bread’s buttered and there aren’t many better shooters in this draft than 23-year-old CJ Wilcox from UW. At 23 and having played behind bigger, brighter names and talents, Wilcox is humble and hungry. He brings a quick release and above average athleticism to a team that can never go deep enough. At training camp, his targets will be set on the minutes of Marco Bellinelli and his creepy neck beard.
June 5, 2014Posted by on
It only seems appropriate that in Carmelo Anthony’s greatest individual season he’d be snubbed by the major awards, but of course, this is what happened on June 4th when the All-NBA teams were announced and Melo found himself out in the cold while forwards with better stats, more wins, and probably more welcoming narratives (or reputations) were treated to the glory (and possibly financial bonuses) that come along with such accolades. 15 total players (six forwards) made the three All-NBA teams and #16, based on voting, was Anthony so it’s not like the voters forgot about him, they just deemed other forwards more deserving.
Given how well Melo played in this otherwise depressingly barren Knicks season, I found myself wondering how many other guys have played this well and been overlooked by the voting press? I chose a couple of his top stats to get an encompassing view of Melo’s 2013-14 season: 27ppg, +20 PER, and +10 win shares (for the first time in his career – surprising given how many +45-win teams he was on in Denver where he [equally surprisingly] only led the team in win shares once). Applying this criteria across league history gives us a decent look at players who have shouldered their team’s scoring load while contributing significantly to team success. It also removes anyone who scored under 27ppg, so guys like Chris Paul, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Dwight Howard are residing in the blind spot of this filtration.
Looking all the way back into the league’s annals, we see 43 players have accomplished the 27ppg/20 PER/10 WS trifecta a total of 136 times. Michael Jordan did it whopping 11 times while LeBron James just joined some elite company in Oscar Robertson and Karl Malone as the only players to accomplish it eight times. The rest of the list is made up of exactly the kind of Hall of Famers you’d expect to see – Wilt, Bird, Kareem, Shaq, Jerry West, Kobe, etc. Feel free to make your Mt. Rushmores or $15 rosters out of this bunch. Melo’s made it just once.
Since George Yardley made the All-NBA first team back in 1958 with the Detroit Pistons, the 27/20/10 has been a pretty safe way to ensure making one of the All-NBA teams. Of the 136 times players have achieved this mostly random set of statistical measures, 126 of those resulted in first, second, or third All-NBA inclusion – or roughly 93% of the time it’s an indicator a player will be tabbed for award-winning success.
The 1988-89 season was the first year the league added the All-NBA 3rd team. Since then, the 27/20/10 line has become an almost lock to get the attention of voters and be honored as one of the best in the league. It’s been reached 60 different times since 1989 and of that 60, just two players (~3%) have failed to achieve the nod: Clyde Drexler in 1989 and Melo this year which means the success rate with three All-NBA teams in place is 97%.
Melo didn’t make the playoffs, but then again neither did Kevin Love. Love may not have achieved the completely arbitrary 27/20/10 line, but he did have a higher WS, was a dominant rebounder, better passer and led his team to 40 wins in a meat grinder of a Western Conference while Melo’s Knicks struggled to get to 37 in a lackluster East.
Love aside, if we stick with our pre-existing criteria, we see 21 of the 136 occurrences did not make the post-season. Of those 21, six (or ~29% of the non-playoff players) weren’t selected to any All-NBA teams so while it does raise the rate significantly from 7% overall, it’s still a relatively low number.
Then there’s the occasional outlier like Walt Bellamy (two appearances on the list) who had the misfortune of coming along at the same time as Chamberlain and Russell when the league had just two All-NBA teams. From 1960 to 1968, Russell and Chamberlain won every first and second All-NBA honor. Meanwhile, Bellamy struggled to find team success, but put up a ho-hum 24ppg and 15rpg over that same stretch. Or how about Adrian Dantley who reached the rare line five times in his career, but missed out on All-NBA teams three of those seasons. The forward position in the early-to-mid 80s included Bird, Dr. J, Bernard King, Alex English, and eventually Dominique Wilkins and Barkley. With mixed results as the Utah Jazz’s go-to guy and a reputation for having a difficult attitude, Dantley’s individual success didn’t always translate into award-based recognition.
Bellamy and Dantley alone combine for half of all players to miss out on All-NBA teams with the impressive 27/20/10, but it’s in shades of both players where we find the likely reasons behind Melo missing out.
Like Bellamy stuck behind Wilt and Russell, LeBron and Durant have a stranglehold on the two forward spots on the first team (James and Durant have owned first team for the past four seasons). That leaves four spots available and Melo, despite his individual dominance this year, is the oldest of the bunch. Love’s stats are video gamishly eye popping and his cohort on the second team was Blake Griffin who earned the award for the third straight season and appears to be entrenching himself as a first or second team candidate for the foreseeable future. So now we’re onto the volatility of the third team where Melo lost out to Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge. As my dear mom is fond of saying, it’s six of one, half a dozen of another (I think my mom said that). In 2012, I wrote a piece about Melo that emphasized his lack of winning ways. At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, I aggressively criticized Melo for comments about his desire to become a free agent. If I’ve committed my unpaid time to exploring the frustrations of his narrative, I have to ask if voters are burned out by his broken record of a narrative. Has the media soured on Melo or is he just a victim of circumstance like Dantley going against Bird and Dr. J and company?
If I had a vote, it likely would’ve gone to Melo instead of LaMarcus Aldridge, but when the crop of forwards in the league is as deep and creative as it is in 13-14 and a team like the Knicks (who it has to be acknowledged that Melo asked to be here) underachieve and elicit ill-intentioned (or creatively apathetic) responses from their fans, then it’s not a surprise that voters may side with the non-Melo option. The irony here is that for all of Melo’s individual success and accolades, the team-based holy grail of a title has escaped him, but now, when his game has matured to its most refined levels, all that individual attention has become fatigued, unable to rationalize his elite-level performance with his mediocre team results. His fans are still legion, but in the fallible eyes of the cognoscenti, he’s just another very good player among many. That he would grab hold of his singular potential when surrounded by clowns and incompetents is a sadly fitting piece of this curious narrative still waiting for its triumphant redemption.
June 2, 2014Posted by on
After all the speculation and consternation of watching 30 teams war it out in great big shiny arenas across North America, we’re finally down to just two teams: El Heat y Los Spurs. I doubt this series will have any impact on President Obama’s meager attempts immigration reform, but let’s be real, we recognize the presence of our neighbors to the south be they Central Americans or Caribbean islanders (at least from a marketing perspective we recognize them), but yet our government continues the odd obsession with removing them at record numbers. Alas, for all the NBA’s inclusiveness, Latin America will be represented by just Brazil (Tiago Splitter) and Argentina (Manu Ginobili) while El Heat remain as American as apple pie. Enough with the geo-national conversation and on with the week that was:
Power be to Russell Westbrook: Sure, the Thunder’s season is over, but who are we to just forget about Westbrook like he was a six-game long fling? It was less than a week ago that Russ reminded us why he’s the most interesting, electric, cannonballing, nuclear, natural hurricane on legs with fingers for guns driven driven driven between the lines by madness that adhere to no ideas of yours or mine. So if our minds of full function, function beyond that of the incapacitated Donald Sterling, then let us remember Westbrook’s 40-point, 10-assist, 5-steal, 5-rebound as one of the most singular unique games in playoff or league history. Only Michael Jordan has accomplished the feat in the playoffs and only four other players have accomplished the feat since 1985. Praise the violent, virulent, vitriolic, vindictive Westbrook and his sweetly hypnotizing anarchic leanings.
More on Robert Swift: Speaking of players drafted by the Sonics, Seattleites have taken surprising umbrage to a Seattle Times piece that posted a little over a week ago about former Sonic struggler, Robert Swift. The cacophony from the Emerald City chorus accused author Jayson Jenks and the newspaper of intentionally humiliating the giant young redhead. The uproar was loud enough that Sports Editor Don Shelton felt compelled to write a blog post explaining why the Times posted it on the front page of the Sunday edition. The over-protective reaction from Times readers came out of nowhere. Reading Jenks’s original piece, it’s difficult to be viewed as a hatchet job. As Shelton writes, the piece is made up of interviews with over 20 people who were closely associated with Swift and at times even portrays the troubled big man in a sympathetic light. Clearly though, it’s a story in which the reading public is still highly vested in and which people are still processing their feelings.
The $2-billion Man: Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame (also known for overzealous outburst, profuse sweating, and using honey as a vocal lubricant) purchased the Los Angeles Clippers from Shelly Sterling (of Sterling family infamy) for a record-breaking $2-billion. The purchase was quickly followed up by a Twitter-reported play-by-play meltdown occurring at the Sterling compound. The Los Angeles Times’ Andrea Chang was on the scene and reported on the spectacle here. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne continued to give us all the details we desperately needed including the ever-dramatic determination that Sterling was ruled mentally incapacitated – to the surprise of no one. A day later, again to no one’s surprise, we learned Donald would sue the NBA for an arbitrary amount of $1-billion. Of other interest is the league’s insistence back in 2011 that owners were losing money. Three years later and the going rate for teams is over half-a-billion dollars which should set us up for an inevitable showdown after the 2017 season when the players (or owners) have the chance to opt-out of the current deal which is certainly owner-friendly. And lastly, up north in Seattle, Sonics fans who saw Ballmer as a linchpin to a Sonics return have spent the weekend mortified, but still able to enjoy the gorgeous weather – so not too mortified.
Marvin Clark and amateur basketball bullshit: Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote what has become an almost trope in the world of college recruiting: Underprivileged kid is steered by “handlers” who initially have the kid’s best intentions in mind, kid comes into contact with high profile college athletics where hard sells come in more intensely than your greaziest and sleaziest used car salesman, kid is torn between pleasing everyone (a trait that is played on by handlers, family, colleges), etc. While these pieces have become rote, the story is no less frustrating. This time the subject is Marvin Clark, a 6’7” lefty combo forward with a nice shot from the Kansas City area. Wolverton delivers a linear biography mixed with semi-revealing comments from Clark. It’s a portrait that is at times painful, but more often irritating and upsetting as we see colleges run hot and cold like bi-polar love interests. If that weren’t enough, his handlers inject themselves into the process in ways that are questionable at best. Reading through the intensity of the recruiting process, one can’t help but question the NCAA’s played out talking points about student athletes and amateurs. There’s nothing amateur about building trust with a teenager and then cutting contact because you don’t receive enough attention from him. While it may be immature, it’s certainly not amateur. Fortunately young Clark lands at Michigan State in the hands of what we hope is a stable situation with a coach committed to both on and off court development. With any hope, the hard part of Clark’s story is behind him.
The most confusing awards: All Defensive Teams always seem to result in some level of dissatisfaction. We’re not too concerned about assessing defensive players here which isn’t to say that we don’t value defense, just that we’re not breaking out the razor blades and splitting little hairs on the topic. The votes are in and history will remember Joakim Noah, Paul George, Chris Paul, Serge Ibaka, and Andre Iguodala as all NBA first team defenders. Apply the meaning of all defensive teams to players and the league as you see fit.
In other news, the NBA Finals start on Thursday in San Antonio and best of seven series goes the distance, we’ll wrap up on Friday, June 20th – nearly three weeks from today. If that seems long to you, you’re not alone, but the NBA’s nothing if not cognizant of its product’s ability to keep a view hooked – no matter that there’s a 20-day window between the end of the Western Conference Finals and the potential game seven of the Finals. We’ll see you on the other side.
May 27, 2014Posted by on
There’s no telling what the future holds except that we can guarantee further critiques of Roy Hibbert’s offensive game and uncertainty around this draft class, particularly those top-three youngsters who guarantee us nothing except our own over-analysis and speculation. The crystal balls and eight-balls and the eight crystal balls and draft similarity scores are all imperfect. Your gods, their gods are as unreliable as Rob Deer’s ability to get a base hit off Sandy Koufax. Probabilities improve when we’re down to four teams (one of which is imploding on itself like one of those downtown buildings surrounded by people and offices and dwellings, laced on the inside with explosives that ensure the building will cave in, and everyone else can just stand in their office with a mug of coffee, certain they’ll be entertained, but more importantly, safe) and we think we’re confident that we’ll get a Spurs-Heat rematch. But we don’t know … so we watch the games. Enough of my feeble meanderings. Let’s talk about the week that was:
- In keeping with the gleefully-received trend of oral histories, the Atlanta Hawks’ Director of Interactive Marketing, Micah Hart posted a fantastic piece on NBA.com about “The Duel” between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins from game seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference semis. Hart’s piece is the essence of comprehensive, a well-documented, detailed piece that includes commentary from the major players involved in this great battle. Of course, it was the Celtics who walked away with the home victory on the shoulders of Bird’s 20-point fourth quarter while the Hawks lost again despite Wilkins’s 47-points. The monolithic dependence on winning and losing is only subject to histories like these that are able to transcend experience by branching out into rarely-explored dimensions. If Hart’s oral history isn’t enough, watch the video:
- As far as off-season soap operas go, the Memphis Grizzlies are putting on the best show so far and Sean Deveney of Sporting News hipped us all to the ugly inner workings of this baffling franchise last week by digging up some not-so-redeeming tales about former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien. By former, I mean Levien was just fired a week ago. Deveney maps out a disturbing trend that’s followed Levien in different roles across the league: There was a 20-month stint in Sacramento which included a rift with Kings GM Geoff Petrie, a little over a year with the 76ers new ownership group that apparently ended when then-coach Doug Collins gave a “him or me” ultimatum, and now a 17-month stretch with the Grizzlies which has been, to say the least, confusing. Grizzlies’ owner, Robert Pera wrote on Twitter “I never really talked 1:1 with Joerger before this weekend.” Pera’s own role in this Memphis mess was highlighted by SI’s Chris Mannix in a piece posted today. And Pera responded with a slew of tweets aimed at Mannix and going far as questioning his “journalistic integrity” on Twitter. The Grizzlies’ roster is still intact, Z-Bo still wants to be there, and Joerger’s returning. Pera appears to be committed to building a winning team (particularly if we believe his Q&A with fans on Twitter), but all this distraction going on in the background is both a PR mess and unprofessional/unconventional (take your pick) way to go about sharing team strategies and media conflicts. Whether or not it erodes the foundation of the franchise will be determined over the next couple years. [Part of me wonders how owners like Pera and Mark Cuban reshape our expectations of owners – not just in the NBA, but in other sports. Cuban (no pun intended) is an outspoken maverick. Pera might be a PR nightmare and could likely benefit from a little bit of patience before responding on Twitter, but he appears to at least be passionate about this team. Prospective Seattle owner Chris Hansen made it a point to present himself as just a fan who wants basketball back in the Emerald City and has been known to have beers with fans and make himself highly accessible. While there doesn’t appear to be any revolution in ownership behavior, Pera, Cuban, and potentially Hansen, are showing us an alternative from the existing archetypical owner.]
- In more off-the-court happenings, TMZ reported last week that Shelly Sterling (supposedly estranged wife of PR hot mess Donald Sterling) will handle the sale of the Clippers. While there’s plenty to explore here in terms of the legal wrangling going on in the background between the Sterlings, their legal team, Adam Silver and the NBA’s legal team, much of the story has shifted to two questions: Who are the prospective buyers and how much will the team go for? We’ve heard everyone from Floyd Mayweather and Oprah Winfrey to Magic Johnson and Grant Hill. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (and partner of Chris Hansen’s Seattle NBA bid) and Yao Ming (denied) are among others. If even half of these people are seriously interested, the competition should drive the price north of a billion dollars. The Bucks, listed by Forbes as the least valuable NBA franchise, just sold for $550-million and last year the Kings went for $534-million in a deal that also included Sleep Train Arena. And if we remember back to last year when the aforementioned Hansen was attempting to buy the Kings, he offered a whopping $625-million for the franchise and raised the market for teams to over half a billion dollars. So while it remains to be seen who ends up owning the Clippers, it’s safe to bet they’ll be paying more than a billion for them.
- Back in the day when Seattle had the Sonics, they drafted a big redheaded kid out of Bakersfield, California named Robert Swift. Swift was fresh out of high school and showed up with a buzz cut and the unmarked ink-free skin of an innocent teenager – or so it seemed. It didn’t take long for whatever was going on inside to manifest itself outside and soon the kid from Bakersfield was covered in tattoos and wearing his hair long, tied back in the kind of style you’d almost expect to see from an axe-wielding behemoth in Game of Thrones. His descent has taken on mythic and mysterious proportions around these parts and in the Sunday issue of The Seattle Times, reporter Jayson Jenks added additional layers still-vague story. Where Jenks reveals new context is when he explores what appears to be a fractured relationship with Swift’s mother, Rhonda who’s writing a book that “will tell the whole truth. The good, the bad.” And in the span of just a few short paragraphs, the question of Swift’s finances comes up repeatedly. One can only imagine the truth as perceived by his mother and how it impacted the young Swift.
- In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins crafts a glowing portrait of new commissioner Adam Silver. It’s an enlightening read in terms of understanding Silver’s background and how it shaped the man he is today. From a personal view, I’ve taken guarded skepticism of Silver. Most of this skepticism comes from my points of reference for sports commissioners which include money hoarding liability-avoiders like the NFL’s Roger Gooddell, arrogant story spinners like David Stern, grudge holding antiquarians like MLB’s Bud Selig, and of course, FIFA’s controversy craving president Sepp Blatter. Layer on a lifetime of experiencing stories about corrupt and lying politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths and I understand the sources of my distrust. And when Silver keeps telling us the age limit is the most important issue in the league, well, it’s hard to accept that this profile is built on much more than Silver’s ability to do the right thing with Donald Sterling. Skepticisms aside, it’s still worth the 15 minutes it takes to read.
- The draft is about a month away and while Dancing with Noah is bringing some friends along for a mock draft that will post sometime soon, you can read different opinions and speculations from three unnamed scouts in this Ryen Russillo piece on Grantland.
- Not much happened on this Memorial Day 2014 except Miami putting a hurting on the Pacers 102-90 to go up 3-1 in the series. Roy Hibbert scored zero points on 0-4 shooting and after talking crap about LeBron, Lance Stephenson was a non-factor with seven points on 3-7 shooting in 32 minutes. James was his usual all-time great self with 32pts, 10rebs, and 5asts while the aberration was Chris Bosh who stretched Hibbert to the perimeter, scored 25 points and had his best scoring game since February.
May 20, 2014Posted by on
Looking over notes of the past week I see a flood of coaching news. Keeping up with who is coming and going is the work of organized or paid – or just a cataloguing blogger. Right alongside draft combines, coaching changes, and more Donald Sterling, is the penultimate series’ of the year: the Conference Finals where get the top-two seeds from each conference and four of the top-five records in the league (sorry, Clippers). With this rising tide of league wide activity threatening to roll over our collective comprehension, let’s get on with it:
- Speaking of hired coaches, the Detroit Pistons have officially stepped away from the Dumars era and have a new Godfather of Basketball Operations. Yes, Stan Van Gundy, of Van Gundy fame, will be taking over as president of basketball operations and head coach of this flailing, yet talented franchise. Most noteworthy for this writer were Van Gundy’s comments on Brandon Jennings:
The questions are his decision-making ability — not so much that he’s a high-turnover guy, but it’s his shooting percentage you get concerned about. One of the things I like to do with guys in terms of shooting percentage is ask them why. Why 37 percent? I want to hear the answer on that. But I know he’s a very, very talented guy.
I’m sure the conversation will go great with a lot honeymoon-ish nodding and agreeing and same paging, but let’s see if SVG’s got the magic touch or if Jennings reverts to his sub-38% shooting ways.
- Probably the most interesting thing I read last week was this thoroughly researched and referenced Deadspin piece written by Dave McKenna on the overall griminess of Sacramento Kings savior/“Little Barack”/current Sterling crusader/Sacramento Mayor, Kevin Johnson. I consider myself up-to-date (as much I’m dependent on mainstream and independent media to help me stay that way) when it comes to the comings and goings of the NBA’s on and off court smarm, but the scope and depth of this piece took me by surprise in the sense that it was so deep, but had received so little play over the years. The story as laid out on Deadspin reveals Johnson, or KJ as we’ve been lulled into calling him over the years in a sense of false familiarity, to be an ambitious, corner-cutting, entitled “hands on” man in the most inappropriate and sexual ways. At the center of numerous allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct involving minors and misuse of government funds is the allegation that in 1995, a 29-year-old Johnson had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl. A Phoenix New Times piece published in May of 1997 lays out the disturbing case in great detail and is worth reading to gain a fuller picture of Johnson and the earliest documented allegations against him. That similar allegations popped up again in 2008 at the St. HOPE Academy which were serious enough that two staffers left the academy is even further worrisome. If the NBA is willing to exile an owner for racist comments caught on tape, what of a former player and well-connected league partner who has been repeatedly accused of improper sexual conduct and where evidence exists of a grossly inappropriate conversation with a minor? Since Johnson has no official standing with the league of which I’m aware, it seems the league would be wise, from a financial, moral and brand-based consideration, to distance its relationship from this Johnson.
- The Milwaukee Bucks were sold by long-time Senator Herb Kohl last week to a pair wealthy New York-based investors named Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens for $550-million. Worth noting that Forbes’ latest valuation of the team is dead last in the NBA at $405-million While the Bucks are as due for change as any team in the league, the new owners are only part of the story here. Both Kohl and Lasry/Edens have committed $100-million towards a new arena in Milwaukee. Additionally, there’s a buyback provision in the sale where the “league will buy back the team for $575-million if construction of a new arena is not underway by 2017.” The clock is ticking and it will be interesting to see how and where financing for a new arena (beyond the $200-million committed by Kohl and Lasry/Edens) comes from. Taxpayers again? Also, this seems like a win-win for the league. Either someone figures out the arena situation in Milwaukee or the league gets the team at which time it’s wholly conceivable that the market rate for the Bucks will exceed the $575-million they’d spend buying it back.
- While we’re talking about team structures, the D-League continues to evolve. If you land on the D-League site, you’re quickly told that “149 current NBA players have D-League Experience.” (For those not doing the math, that’s 33% of the league.) As the D continues to develop, that number will grow. Most recently though, we’ve seen three new NBA-D-League affiliations: the Iowa Energy are now aligned with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Erie BayHawks with Orlando, and the Bakersfield Jam with the Suns. When I wrote the following piece in January, there were 17 D-League franchises and 14 of those teams had a one-to-one relationship with NBA franchises. Just four months later and there are 18 D-League teams with 16 one-to-one relationships. Growth is happening and the league is rightfully touting it. With Adam Silver continuing to use the bully pulpit to increase the age limit of NBA players, the need to have a Development system to catch kids like Glen Rice Jr and PJ Hairston should only increase. And of course, the prospect of a full-fledged minor league system is a hope which I can cling to … for some odd reason.
- The Draft Lottery is hours away which means fates hang on weighted chances, supposedly determining futures from something as silly as a bouncing ball. Remember earlier this year when this class of pro declarations was supposed to be franchise shaping? In Mark Heisler’s latest for Forbes, we’re told that’s no longer the case, first by Jerry West: “Everyone is talking about a great draft class this year. I think it’s just the opposite. I think it’s a poor one, myself.” Then by Danny Ainge, “It’s not even close to one of the best draft classes in the last 10 years.” Heisler also makes the case that by skipping the annual pre-draft combine in Chicago, players, via the power of their all-knowing, all-manipulating agents, are changing the power of the draft. By not participating, a player with an injury like Joel Embiid can pick and choose which teams he works out for and with whom he shares his medical records. This is his right, but if the Bucks win the top spot and Embiid doesn’t share his medical records, does Milwaukee really want to roll the dice with a guy they haven’t worked out or checked out? Of course, this wouldn’t set any precedent as Steve Francis and Kobe Bryant (among others and in other sports) have manufactured their ways to preferable climes, but for a process that’s supposed to help the have nots become haves, it becomes an exercise in market inequality.
- Not much else happened, but enjoy this photo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
May 8, 2014Posted by on
Nothing like lusting over things that cannot ever be. The Blazers can’t redraft Kevin Durant over Greg Oden. Len Bias will never check into a game for Larry Bird or Kevin McHale. And a prime Michael Jordan will only face a prime Kobe Bryant on NBA 2k. Just because it can’t be doesn’t mean we can’t spend a few of our idle moments wondering if the basketball gods (if they truly do exist) or the genetic qualities of Brook Lopez, Al Horford, or Andrew Bogut may have reshaped the 2014 playoffs. It’s not just that they’re maybe, possibly, kind of injury prone, but that their injuries have bled over into potential playoff-limiting impacts which have (maybe) gotten a coach fired, (maybe) saved a number-one seed from first round elimination, and (maybe) destroyed any possibility of the Heat not making it to a fourth straight Finals.
While far from the injury-ravaged careers of Greg Oden or Brandon Roy, the three guys above have missed an average of 38 to 44 games over the past three regular seasons – the number rises into the 40s and 50s if playoffs are added.
Of the three, there’s a pair of all-stars and a former number-pick. Each of these players fills a massive, outcome-altering void on their respective teams.
As the Nets battle a Heat team susceptible to Roy Hibbert (of all people – of course, it was the old, pre-crumbled Hibbert), the giant Lopez would be a welcome asset. Instead he’s been laid up with a broken right foot (fifth metatarsal for those who were wondering) since December. He’s slow, somewhat lumbering, and clearly injury-prone, but he’s also the only seven-footer in the league not named Dirk or Andrea Bargnani to average more than 20ppg since he came into the league in 2008. Unfortunately, this isn’t the big Californian’s first go-round with right foot injuries. Back in 2011 when labor wars struck, Lopez broke the same foot in a pre-season game, missed 32 games, then sprained his right ankle and was shut down for the year. For any of us, feet take a beating, but for the center with existing foot injuries, constant pounding via running and jumping (basketball’s alternate sport name), feet can quickly become a merciless kryptonite.
Horford is the greatest wild card of this group. The Gator big man was the cornerstone of Coach Budenholzer’s team for 29 games before he tore his right pectoral muscle into bits like wet tissue paper. Prior to that, Horford was having a career season and Atlanta was winning 55% of their games. If that win rate holds up, they never play Indiana in the first round and maybe big Roy Hibbert isn’t skewered in the same savage fashion he was done in by Pero Antic’s long range antics (I meant tactics). Sadly, this isn’t Horford’s first go-round with torn pectorals. In January of 2012 he went down with a torn left pectoral muscle. It’s an odd coincidence that this random freak injury has struck twice. As an aside, Horford’s 2012 injury occurred while battling the aforementioned Hibbert for a rebound.
DeAndre Jordan just spent seven games kicking the crap out of Golden State’s collection of bigs who more resembled the cast of Night of the Living Dead than challengers worthy of Jordan. I love Jermaine O’Neal, and Mareese Speights at least attended the games, but let’s stop being polite and start getting real. The Warriors missed the hell out Andrew Bogut who was unable to play due to a fractured right rib positioned so closely to his lung that he ran the risk of puncturing it if he played. The big Aussie appeared in 67 games this season and led the Warriors in defensive rating (96) and defensive win shares (4.1). He was the team’s best rebounder and shot blocker and did all those grimy things O’Neal’s not capable of and Speights is unwilling to do. Things like going nose-to-nose with Jordan, being a reliable rim protector, and challenging the Griffin/Jordan duo on the glass. Alas, Bogut was in absentia with yet another freak injury. In 2010 it was a hideous wrist/hand/elbow injury that I’d advise you to avoid witnessing. January of 2012, when Horford was dinged up with a torn pectoral and Lopez was having screws inserted into his right foot, Bogut fractured his left ankle. Like a man who offended the wrong basketball deity, Bogut is clearly cursed.
Freak and chronic injuries, broken bones and torn muscles. The impermanent fragility of these flawed frames reroutes history like a flood washing away the only road home. Since we’re not indestructible beings, I could write a form of this post every year from now until my knuckles are gnarled, immobile joints, until my sight fades, until my voice is lost to mercilessness of time. Injuries will always be a part of this game like death is a part of life. So enjoy the moments you have with your favorite players while you have them because tomorrow they might just be DNPs.