Dancing With Noah

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Category Archives: Thoughts on Basketball

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #13

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.

Melo's letter

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.

Summer league: More than comfy shorts

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.

 

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #12

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.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #11

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.
reaction animated GIF

Expressive Steve Ballmer, potential NBA owner

 

  • 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.

Before and After 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.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #10

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.

Detroit’s Godfather of Basketball Operations, aka Stan Van Gundy, brother of Jeff

  • 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.

Detectives of SVU after reading Dave McKenna’s Deadspin piece

  • 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.

 

Kareem_Abdul_Jabbar-I_can_fly

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #9

Another week saturated with Donald Sterling coverage, the NFL draft, Spurs domination, humans taking strong political/social stands on issues that are easy to support (Nigeria kidnapping, Sterling racism, Michael Sam), and likely some other things. But you didn’t come here for social commentary or the news, you’re likely here because, like me, you want the basketball. So let’s get us the basketball:

  • Inevitably, Donald Sterling refuses to go away. Sterling is a powerful example of problems with our legal system: If you have the resources, you can take any fight to the courts. Sterling took to CNN to chat with that soft-hitting journalist/TV personality Anderson Cooper in what turned out to be a predictably self-absorbed interview (if you want to call it that). In the interview, he takes a dig at Magic Johnson, lays it on thick with self-pity, and simultaneously asks for forgiveness while rationalizing his comments. If there’s a way to come across as an entitled billionaire asshole, then Sterling gets a gold star. To paraphrase the legendary Dennis Green: He is who we thought he was.

  • While husband Donald was chatting with Cooper, wife Shelly Sterling was sitting across from Barbara Walters doing her part to keep the team in the family. Shelly’s attorneys are already making statements and her conversation with Walters looks and feels like nothing more than an extension of the public relations damage control her estranged husband is putting forth. There’s more self-pity and attempts at manipulation, but with a funneled message driving towards one Sterling or another retaining ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. While it’s important to acknowledge that Donald and Shelly Sterling are humans made of the same flesh and stardust that comprise you and I, prone to the same mistakes we are, it’s equally important call out the attempts to manipulate, both public perception and the courts, and avoid accountability in a self-serving fashion.

 

  • Sticking with the Sterling shit storm saga; while Commissioner Adam Silver has been applauded for his zero tolerance stance on Sterling and LeBron James has been one of the most outspoken players on the topic, let’s acknowledge there was no other alternative here. Silver and James have nothing to lose by attempting to toss Sterling out of the league. From Silver’s perspective, it behooves the league to do everything it can to oust an owner who is a threat to the league’s brand and jeopardizes relationships with league sponsors. In taking the nuclear route of a lifetime banishment, Silver accomplishes several things:
    • He responds to pressure from his players and sponsors
    • He anticipates Sterling’s legal maneuvering
    • He shifts the decision making process to two places: the league’s owners (Which of these owners wants to be known as billionaire that supported racist Donald Sterling? It’s not simple, but that’d be the interpretation.) and likely the courts. If Sterling can find a way to retain the team through one of those avenues, then it’s no fault of Silver’s, rather he’s the enforcer, it’s out of his hands.
    • He’s doing what feels right.
    • He avoided a potential player protest which would’ve created a terribly awkward public exchange between the league and its players.

 

      • More from the world of stupid: You may remember former Ole Miss shooting guard, loose cannon, shot chucker, and sometimes attention-glutton, Marshall Henderson, as a March Madness storyline from 2013. Henderson has weaseled his way back into headlines for tweeting this about Michael Sam’s on-air kiss with his boyfriend after being drafted: “Boycotting sportscenter til this Michael sam nasty ass shit is off …. My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!!! #SICKENING.” This tweet was followed up with Henderson clarifying that he was tweeting those hateful views on behalf of a gay friend who asked him to do so to gauge public reaction. There’s no acknowledgement that Henderson or his friend could’ve just as easily searched Twitter to get a decent gauge of public opinion – from non-athletes/prominent individuals, or from athletes like the Miami Dolphins’ Don Jones. Also, this type of “experiment” is apparently referred to as “psychology.”

  • It’s not all racist and homophobic doom and gloom in the basketball world. Chris Paul, brother of Cliff Paul and State Farm pitchman, showed the world why he’s the consummate point guard a week ago when he scored 32 points on 12-14 shooting, dished out 10 assists, and had two turnovers in 28 minutes of play. Paul became the first player in playoff history to accomplish the highly efficient feat and did so against the electrifying Russell Westbrook.

Clippers Thunder Bask_Holt.jpg

  • Speaking of Westbrook, in game two against the Clippers, Russ bounced back to get his third triple double of the playoffs: a 31-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist gem where six of his rebounds were offensive. For those keeping score at home, nine times in the playoffs this season we’ve seen Game Scores greater than 30. In the aforementioned Paul game, his was 31.4 and Westbrook’s game-two score was 30.2. (For those of you still expanding your basketball knowledge [such as myself], Game Score was created by former ESPN stat head and current Memphis Grizzlies GM John Hollinger. The complex formula that can be found here. Basketball-Reference tells us 10 is about average while 40 is pretty damn amazing.)

 

 

  • Nothing much else happened this weekend except the return of Roy Hibbert (19ppg, 7rpg, 2bpg and overall great defense in three straight Pacer wins) and the Thunder blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead to those Chris Paul-led Clippers. Oh, and San Antonio is up three games to none over the Blazers with an average margin of victory over 18-points per game. By this time next week, the Blazers will have likely conducted exit interviews.

Happy days are … here again?

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #8

Where to begin on the first Monday of May? Five game sevens? The Pacers gasping for, and finding, that final breath? What’s David Stern up to these days? Damian Lillard? Are we all just over-obsessed with this game? Well, let’s leave that last question alone lest we start questioning our time management, meaning, existence, and the rest because if True Detective taught us anything, it’s that “It’s all one ghetto man, a giant gutter in outer space.”

• Is it a myth that the greatest two words in sports are “Game Seven?” I mean, we can debate the greatness of words all day long, but given what led up to this past weekend’s bonanza of game sevens, Saturday and Sunday felt like letdowns of sorts. This little tiny space I’m filling with words isn’t appropriate for the exploration of such a topic, but nonetheless, our five games had an average point differential of 10.4. And if we take out the two outliers (San Antonio’s 23-point victory and the Nets one-point squeaker), it drops to 9.3 – not exactly the type of edge of your seat drama it was billed to be (or hoped to be – is the billing nothing more than the ceiling we all hope for?). The closest of the games, Brooklyn’s road win in Toronto, was dramatic, but sloppily so with missed free throws, Kyle Lowry bowling into opponents, and the exhibition of Paul Pierce’s baby vertical leap to “block” a shot and secure the victory. Just typing that out and reliving the moment, I’m disappointed.

• Maybe everything in life seemed dull after the Rockets-Blazers game six on Friday night. Maybe that’s why the game sevens were the basketball equivalent to a meal comprised of saltine crackers – filling, but unsatisfying. Maybe it’s all Damian Lillard’s fault. My brother arrived in Seattle on Thursday morning. He came from Des Moines, Iowa and showed up in his Iowa Hawkeyes visor and t-shirt, repping to the fullest. He cares not for pro sports, but rather embraces the notion that college athletes do it for a true love of the game. While we disagree on these romantic notions, we can still find common ground on the same couch – which we did on Friday night, with bellies full of sushi and eyes fixed on the TV, we watched the Blazers and Rockets unfold, NBA style. Even my brother, the NCAA-loving, college football craving, anti-pro athlete Midwesterner, was locked in. And how could he not be? I could’ve swapped out my brother with a seal and the hungry creature would’ve likely been just as rapt at the battle of two foes so equally matched that only two points separated them despite playing six games and hoisting up over a thousand combined shots (Blazers 670, Rockets 672). I sank when Harden missed that shifty little pull-up as Dwight cleared out the entire Blazers frontline, leaving a clear path for the sneaky, slithering Chandler Parsons to glide in and score the go-ahead bucket – with .9 seconds left! So we sat through the timeout, expectations low, odds fully understood. And we screamed and bonded and scared the shit out of my dog when Lillard busted free and buried a shot that caused Portland tremors to be felt all the way up in Seattle. Holy shit, I’m high just thinking about it. We talked about the shot on Saturday and were still shaking our heads about it on Sunday and I still have goose bumps when I re-watch the highlights. So if anyone’s to blame for the unrealized promise of weekend hoops, let’s blame Lillard, for it was he who rose the bar too high.

• Back in March, I wrote about the Elias Sports Bureau’s stranglehold on stats records. I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing, I just wish us normal humans had access to the same volumes of data. Alas, we don’t, so we depend on Elias to tell us just how rare are the performances we witness. This week, in a Zbo-less game seven, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone on the planet how deliciously destructive he can be when he went nuclear for 27pts, 16asts, and 10rebs, the kind of fantastic triple double that has only been accomplished three other times in playoff history: twice by Oscar Robertson and once by Chris Paul. Worth noting that the great Magic Johnson accomplished this feat eight times in his career – all in the regular season.

• Speaking of Magic Johnson, it was somewhat tacky to hear his unfiltered thoughts on Mike D’Antoni’s departure last week. While Magic’s delivery is certainly up for debate, his sentiment is likely felt by most Laker fans. D’Antoni was caught in a tough spot with an aging and injured roster, but didn’t do himself many favors and failed to garner the front office’s support. As is so frequently the case with Lakers rumors, every coach that has even a slight luster attached to his name is being targeted for the position. One half expects to hear rumors that Bill Sharman will be resurrected, but only to compete with Pat Riley for the job. If that last line reads like utter nonsense, it’s because it’s the Lakers and where the rest of us are grounded in cold reality, they’re living in a sun splashed fantasy where dreams can be bought and made.

• As I was half watching the Spurs pound nails in the Mavs coffin yesterday, I was regularly hypnotized (Biggie Biggie Biggie, can’t you see?) by Manu Ginobili. I’ve never doubted the man’s ability, but as a Lakers fan in the early 2000s, my Spurs distaste stood in the way of my objectivity and I refused to fully embrace the joie de vivre of his uniqueness. It’s only been in these past couple of years that I’ve given up the bitterness of my competitive youth and fully appreciate my Manu with the Spurs on the side. More so than any other player of the past 10-20 years, Ginobili scares the shit out of me. It doesn’t matter what he actually does, what he could do is frightening. While last year’s Finals appeared to mark the final descent of Ginobili’s innate feel and Bruce Lee-like reflexes, this year is back to the Manu of old. He’s attacking, playing with feeling, in tune with loose balls, and doing all those little winning things that make Manu Manu. There are certain people in this world you trust with precious items, certain people who can handle your Faberge Egg while riding a dirt bike across the Grand Canyon in a meteor shower. Manu Ginobili is one of those people. Enjoy his game while you still can.

A/The Face of Basketball

• More from the good number crunchers at Elias: How good has DeAndre Jordan been? If we handed out MVP’s for each series, he’d get my vote for the Golden State-LAC series. The Warriors were criminally outsized and the young Jordan did everything in his copious powers to exploit that. How about 12ppg, 15rpg, 4bpg while shooting 75% from the field and 50% from the line? Elias tells us that Jordan is just the second player in league history to grab 100 rebounds and block 25 shots in a playoff series (blocks weren’t recorded until 1974). The other was Tim Duncan who had 102 rebounds and 32 blocks in 2003 against the Nets. Duncan did it in six games – 17rpg and 5.3bpg!

• Not much else happened last week except for Adam Silver giving racist owner Donald Sterling the heave ho. Any racist owners that remain in the league are firmly in the closet with the door shut extra tightly.

The work of Walt Handelsman

The work of Walt Handelsman

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #7

This week I greet you from the warmer-than-expected climes of sunny Seattle where my family’s visiting at full throttle with pints to be drunk and football matches to be seen. It’s acting as a welcome distraction from the Donald Sterling scandal which has cast a pall over what have otherwise been the best playoffs in recent memory. As my family sits in the sun, join me as I sip this soft Stella Artois and let’s get to the bullets:

  • Yesterday we said goodbye to one of my favorite NBA personalities of all time: Dr. Jack Ramsay. The legendary coach, teacher, TV and radio announcer, and NBA champion passed away at 89. He was like a Herman Hesse of the basketball world imparting his wisdom to different generations of fans and players and coaches and all while rocking plaid pants without any of that shitbag irony to which all of us have become so accustomed. Ramsay won his title with that Blazers group of 76-77 and was immortalized in the written words of David Halberstam’s masterful Breaks of the Game. By the time I came of age, Dr. Jack had coached his last NBA game and was comfortable courtside calling games for TV and radio. I have a fond memory of a boring late spring drive from Omaha to Des Moines with Ramsay making me forget the monotony of windshield time as he expertly called a Mavs playoff game. 89 is a long, full life, but I’ll still miss seeing Ramsay’s face courtside and hearing his unmistakable voice through staticky AM radio frequencies.

  • On a lighter note, today saw the final game of the Charlotte Bobcats. Beginning next season, the team reverts to the classic Hornets moniker which had been borrowed by the New Orleans franchise for the past several seasons. The Bobcats always seemed like an uncreative mascot with an oddball color scheme – second only to the bleh dullness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Bobcats years have been largely fruitless and forgettable. Here’s to hoping the new Hornets can bring the buzz back to Charlotte. (I couldn’t resist, although the idea of a swarm of hornets attacking is more frightening than any other NBA team name I can think of with the exception of the Raptors.)

 

  • It’s been a Déjà vu of sorts watching this Oklahoma City team struggle to diversify its offensive attack. I’m having flashbacks to 2011 when their offense collapsed into an empty two-pronged Westbrook/Durant stabbing of sorts. Then there’s the Thunder’s third wheel, the enigmatic Serge Ibaka. How Ibaka fits into this Thunder offense is still a mystery to me, but what was recently stumbled upon is Ibaka’s rare 200 blocks/20 3s season. Ibaka has accomplished the feat twice and joins four other players who have pulled it off a combined ten times. The club includes versatile inside-out oddballs Andrei Kirlenko (twice), Josh Smith (thrice), Manute Bol (once), and Raef LaFrentz (twice). Comparatively speaking, Ibaka resembles none of the other players on that list. Still known as a great shot blocker, I don’t think Scotty Brooks has the slightest clue how to assimilate Ibaka’s full arsenal with that of Durant and Westbrook.

  • Lost in all this Memphian gritting and grinding fun has been the case of Grizzlies’ guard, Nick Calathes who was suspended 20 games for testing positive for the banned substance tamoxifin. Calathes, the former Florida playmaker who spent time in Europe before latching on with the Grizz, is going bald and I was going to make some poor snarky joke about it until I found this story pointing out that tamoxifin is found in Rogaine and speculating that Calathes was taking something to combat his baldness. Whatever the reason the substance turned up in his system, he claims it wasn’t using to gain a competitive advantage. In Major League Baseball, there’s an appeal process whereby a player can continue playing while suspension is reviewed. The NBA has no such policy and I’m not proposing they add one. What would be nice to see is a more collaborative partnership between the league’s drug testing wing and team doctors and/or players with the Player’s Union involved. If Calathes was using for hair loss, then prior to getting the prescription he works with a team doctor who works with the league to ensure requirements of the anti-doping policy are being met. There are numerous logistical requirements to consider including privacy, timelines, disagreements between doctors, and more, but if nothing else, this process would ideally limit the current Calathes scenario where a player’s attempt to make a case for usage in the court of public opinion.

 

  • A few days ago was the 20-year anniversary of David Robinson’s 71-point league-scoring-title-securing performance. (Robinson edged out Shaquille O’Neal by a few tenths of a percentage point: 29.79 to 29.35.) In a league so addicted to numbers and their meaning (this writer is fully aware of his tendency to create flimsy meanings where they may not otherwise exist) that history has seen the natural trajectory of games redirected in favor of individual accomplishment, Robinson’s 71-point game was a joke of sorts. In a meaningless last game of the season that the Spurs beat the Clippers by 20, Robinson played 44 minutes while just one other player in the game played over 30. Then-coach John Lucas was so hell bent on building a scoring shrine to Robinson that he instructed his players to intentionally foul late in the game to ensure his center had more scoring opportunities. It’s a quirky element of sports that we have suspect records (like Michael Strahan’s infamous “sack” of Brett Favre to get the NFL’s single-season record), but whether you apply an asterisk to the Admiral’s game or not, it’ll still be there in the record books, above Jordan’s greatest scoring feat and below Kobe’s for all NBA time. Also, some fun quotes included in Tim Griffin’s recounting of the game:

They said it, part V: “We certainly wanted Shaquille to win the title. But we didn’t make a mockery of the game like they did in Los Angeles.” Orlando coach Brian Hill to the St. Petersburg Times on Lucas’ late strategy, compared to his own for O’Neal.

They said it, part VI: “I heard they ran every play to (Robinson). If that would happened down here, I would have 70 points, too. I didn’t care,” O’Neal to the AP on the Spurs’ methods to enable Robinson to win the scoring title.

They said it, part VII: “I’m really fortunate to have scored over 70 points.   I don’t really have that many opportunities to dosomething like this.  It was fun.  I had a great time,” Robinson to the Orange County Register on his big game.

They said it, part VIII: “Those guys were cursing me out on the floor and saying, ‘You’re not going to get it. You’ll never get it.’ If I’ve got to apologize for playing like that, there’s something wrong,” Robinson, to the AP about if his scoring title was tainted.

 

 

Nothing else is really happening in the league unless you consider one of the most competitive first rounds in memory unfolding before our enraptured eyes – much to the delight of league sponsors and network heads. The Pacers lost again on Monday and Roy Hibbert grabbed zero rebounds to accompany his zero points.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #6

The playoffs are here, landed on our front doorstep or stoop or at the foot of a hut – wherever you live, the playoffs are there too like a jokester turned suddenly serious. The seamless transition from NCAA Tournament to NBA playoffs seems an act of cool cohesion from seasoned partners and with Commissioner Adam Silver’s recent proclamation that, yes, raising the league’s age limit is of paramount need for the long-term security of the league. Wait … perhaps I’m mixing my NSA/CIA talking points, but with Silver’s non-stop stream of post-takeover proclamations, please forgive me if confusion occurs. Silver timelines, aside, let’s get to the bullets:

  • If you consider yourself a fan of coaching stability, then this first bullet is not for you. This morning, before I even arrived at the office, Minnesota Coach Rick Adelman had retired and Knicks Coach Mike Woodson was fired. I’ll always remember Adelman for his time spent coaching the Drexler Blazers and Webber Kings. Somewhere in between he also coached the Warriors, but I have absolutely no recollection of this and it’s likely Adelman doesn’t either as his record over two seasons in Oakland was 66-98. Adelman also authored a book, The Long, Hot Winter: A Year in the Life of the Portland Trail Blazers – fun, but a little drab when I think back. Woodson, on the other hand, is not gone for good and will likely be back on the sideline in some paid capacity soon. He has a viscously vicious goatee that looks like it could swallow insects or rodents.

 

  • If people are already talking about the mysterious 3×1 Club, then they’re people I don’t know. The 3×1 is the rare occurrence when a player averages at least one steal, one block and on three-pointer per game over the course of a season. When you think of 3×1 guys, think of your versatile forwards. They’re likely lengthy men with shooting range. The pioneering members were Robert Horry, Scottie Pippen, and Clifford “Uncle Cliffy” Robinson back in 1994-95. Since then, it’s been achieved a total of 39 times with Paul Millsap being the only player to achieve the threshold this season. Shawn Marion has accomplished the feat six times followed by Uncle Cliffy with five, then LeBron, Dirk and Rasheed Wallace with four each.

 

Any questions on versatility should be directed to the 3×1 Club’s latest member, Paul Millsap c/o the Atlanta Hawks

  • As long as we’re talking about statistical oddities, let’s take a look at the bearded rebounding and outlet-passing sage, Kevin Love and his recent 40-14-9 line. If the 3×1 club is made up of a relatively small, yet similarly physically dimensioned group of players, then the 40-14-9 group is much more exclusive. Since 1985-86, only Vince Carter and Larry Bird (twice) have thrown up games like Love’s. While Vince’s game is probably the most impressive since he’s merely a small forward and was playing against a former college teammate (Antawn Jamison – he really stuck it to old Twan, didn’t he?) Bird’s 47-14-11 line against the Blazers on Valentine’s Day 1986 takes the cake and reminds us, once again, that nobody beats the Bird – not even you Kevin Love.

 

  • Watching one of the Blazers last games of the season, Antoine Walker was referenced for some reason. Walker’s legacy as a player is unfortunately enmeshed with his life off the court where he’s lost money in all sorts of endeavors and been accused of being a slumlord, which is a downright dirty and despicable label. If we’re able to separate the off-court issues, there’s still another hurdle to Walker’s legacy: His stubborn insistence on jacking threes even though he was a below average three point shooter. For his career, nearly 30% of his shots came from behind the line while he shot below 33% from deep. Even with a three point insistence that borderlines on the compulsivity of addiction, Walker is one of a handful of players in league history to retire with career averages of 17ppg, 7rpg, and over 3apg. He was supremely talented and versatile, but his junky-like commitment to bad on-the-court decisions resulted in too many failures. Of the long list of Hall of Famers on that 17-7-3 list, Walker is dead last in any measure of Win Shares with less than half the total number of WS than the penultimate player, Chris Webber. I wanted to find some positivity in Walker’s legacy, but instead this little excursion was like climbing into the attic and finding a bunch of pictures that just bring up bad memories, better forgotten.

 

Walker 3s

    • Last night, we were treated to a beautifully played, but horrifically officiated game one of the Blazers vs. Rockets series. In a game composed of memorable little moments and tide turning details, LaMarcus Aldridge was a Usain Bolt of sorts on a court full of Carl Lewis’s. Before fouling out, Aldridge compiled 46 points and 18 rebounds. In five games against Houston this year, Aldridge is now averaging 30-pts and 16-rebs. I’m happy to borrow from the research of others to further articulate the historical ass whipping he applied:

 

 

  • While we’re at it, watching the Rockets and James Harden and Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons last night, one feels forced to revisit the Harden trade. Sure, we can stick our heads in the sand and say what’s done is done (because it is done), but every day that passes, as Harden’s beard gets fuller, OKC GM Sam Presti looks more and more like a sucker (for the Harden deal, not in general). The problem isn’t that Harden was moved or that Kevin Martin and some picks were part of the deal. The egregiousness of it all and the reason Presti deserves criticism is that he was unable to do one of two things: 1. See the talent in Chandler Parsons and/or Terrence Jones and 2. Pry one or both of those players from Houston.

Glasses might make us look smart, but that doesn’t mean they make us smart

 

  • TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager has leukemia and that sucks. Beyond the vibrant Technicolor and richly textured suits Sager is so famous for, he’s a damn good reporter and is synonymous with the NBA Playoffs. The games will go on, because that’s what distracts us from cold reality and keeps the bills being paid for a lot of people, but the landscape is strangely incomplete.

 

  • Road teams went 5-3 in opening games.

 

Jerry Colangelo: One of the most powerful men in the basketball world?

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #5

Holiest of holies, we’ve somehow made it through another NBA regular season. What started way way way back in 2013 with Derrick Rose’s return and tank talk galore is here, two days away from the regular season’s ending. The NCAA Tournament is behind us (Congrats UCONN), the Masters is done (won by a man named Bubba), and baseball is in the earliest stages of its own annual marathon. The sports stage is set for the two-month long drama of the NBA Playoffs to commence uninterrupted … unless of course you consider the NFL draft or ESPN’s obsession with all things NFL (we see you and your bomb threats, Aldon Smith – because it was a headline on ESPN.com). But that’s another gripe for another day, today is for reflection:

  • Rest in Peace, Lou Hudson. The 6’5” shooting guard from North Carolina joined the never ending pickup game in the sky on April 11th. There’s no way this space or this weekly format is enough to cover the career of one of the great two guards the NBA has seen. Over a peak that lasted seven seasons, Hudson, a long-time Atlanta Hawk, averaged 25ppg in 465 games and was named to six straight All-Star games. Were he a player in today’s game, he’d likely be a better shooting, less handle-savvy version of Brandon Roy with a shoe contract and legions of fans. Learning the history of this great game allows us to better understand, through context, the ability of our players today. More history, less mock drafts, please.
Hudson wearing #23 on the right with unknown associates

Hudson wearing #23 on the right with unknown associates

  • On the same day we lost “Sweet” Lou, Joakim Noah put up an oddball stat line that had me seeking out the wise data repository of Basketball-Reference’s Player Index. The line in question: 6 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists. I asked the simple, yet sophisticated tool who else had the well-rounded game to touch the ball enough to pick up 10+ assists, but fail to score more than six points. Not surprisingly were Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Darrell Walker. The name that stood out was Charles Oakley. On December 27th, 1986, while playing for the Bulls, Oakley grabbed 13 rebounds and dished 15 assists while scoring three points in a 105-93 victory over the visiting Pacers. Oakley’s better-known and better looking teammate, Michael Jordan, scored 44 on 20-29 shooting so it’s no wonder Oakley the Enforcer only took two FGAs. A very brief perusal through across the interwebs reveals a Chicago Tribune write up of the game by one Bob Sakamoto where we learn that Jordan was fighting off the flu and still hung 44 on Indiana (the Original Flu Game). Sakamoto describes MJ as “drawn-looking” and refers to him as “The Franchise.” With Jordan hogging all the ink, all we learn of Oakley’s contribution is that he threw a “perfect feed” to Jordan on a backdoor dunk and had “several rebounds and outlet passes.” Thus we learn that even on historical nights where power forwards set career highs, that MJ stories are still the best.

 

  • Splits: How about that Russell Westbrook? After a Russell-Interrupted season of niggling injuries, Westbrook has been reborn in April where he’s sporting a 38.8% usage rate and putting up 27ppg in just 31 minutes/night. Of course it’s a teeny tiny five-game sample size, but if you’re OKC, this is the trending you want to see, that you need to see. OKC is 3-2 in April, but let’s be real road losses to Indiana and Phoenix aren’t cause for concern.

 

  • While Chaos reigns in Brian Shaw’s Denver (wherefore art thou George Karl, Masai Ujiri, JaVale McGee? [um, never mind that last one]), Randy Foye, aka the other Villanova guard, has found in April friendly rims and abundant opportunity. After spending October thru March hovering around 40% from three, Foye’s caught April fire shooting nearly 49% from deep with scoring season-highs 19.5ppg, 4.8rpg, and 6.8apg. I don’t know much about Denver except that they have too many guards and too many injuries and that apparently Randy Foye at $3mill/year is a steal.

 

  • I wrote about Brandon Jennings over at The Diss, but once you’ve got a man down, it’s best to keep on kicking. Out of players who have qualified for FG% leaders, here’s how Jennings ranks over the past few seasons:
    • 2013-14: 125th out of 125
    • 2012-13: 122nd out of 123
    • 2011-12: 94th out of 113
    • 2010-11: 118th out of 119
    • 2009-10: 119th out of 119

 

  • In news that may or may not be related, Pistons GM Joe Dumars is out. Dumars acquired Jennings before the season started and the move, along with his Josh Smith signing, has not yielded success…any success.

Would they be so happy if the knew they what they know now? Or better yet, what do they know now?

  • I’m a grown man, but still I like to play imaginary games like “What if UCONN would’ve had Andre Drummond and Kentucky Anthony Davis?” Fantasies aside, Davis is on the shelf for the remainder of the year and after two pro seasons he’s missed 33 games and appeared in less than 80% of possible contests. I love you, Anthony, but I want you to get well. Drummond can’t shoot free throws to save his life (career 40% from the line – this is a liability!), but can rebound well enough to save us all. He leads the league in offensive and total rebound percentage and is just the 30th player since 1971 to grab at least 22% of all possible rebounds. Of course he’s also the youngest player to accomplish this feat. For Dumars’s ability to hit homeruns with draft picks like Greg Monroe and Drummond, his bad signings (the aforementioned Jennings and Smith, and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) were the stuff of desperation or stupidity or a toxic combination of the two.

 

  • The Race for 8th in the East was supposed to be all about the Knicks. Phil Jackson, Melo, JR Smith, Mike Woodson’s goatee, the Mecca. But the Knicks failed miserably to hold up their end of the bargain and meanwhile, the Hawks of Atlanta, a team I’ve unfairly ignored and neglected, clinched the final playoff spot and have done so with a 5-2 April and an unexpected commitment to defense. Their five April victories have included wins in Indiana and Brooklyn and a home win over Miami. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are playing their best ball of the season and while everyone knows how hard I hate on these Pacers, it’s worth noting that Atlanta split the season series with Indiana and center Pero Antic has owned Roy Hibbert in two games:

 

Small sample size for large men

Small sample size for large men

  • Memphis is a full game ahead of the Suns in the playoff race and guess who’s visiting Phoenix tonight? If you can pick up on blatant clues, then you guessed the Grizzlies who are 3-0 against the Suns this year. But none of those previous games have had the pressure of tonight’s game. Tell your friends and family you’re busy, clothes the curtains, get a bowl of something you like to consume and a beverage to wash it down and cross your fingers that we get the competitive game we’re all hoping for.

 

  • Not much happened yesterday except the Pacers grinding out a home win against OKC, Lance Stephenson triple doubling and Steph Curry going for 47 in an OT loss to Portland.

Remember when this guy vetoed that Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade? Never Forget.

 

 

 

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #4

The playoff race is all the way heated up and ready for our frying pans to be filled with trivial thoughts and genius suggestions about How to Fix the Playoffs! – egad. The NCAA Championship will be decided tonight and no doubt, one half of Kentucky’s dynastic/dynamic/dy-Nasty duo of Harrison twins will once again reign three-point fire from deep behind the kiddie pool depth of the NCAA’s three point line and save the day for the legionnaires from Lexington … unless Shabazz Napier and his mysterious NBA prospects have something to do or say about it. Viva la amateurism! … particularly when they’re generating gaggles of money for head coaches and University ADs, Presidents, and stretch Cadillacs full of other greedy capitalists making money of the one-percenter talent of college football and basketball.

  • How could I start anywhere other than the Pacers of Indiana? As Wu-Tang likes to remind us, “The saga continues.” The latest debacle took place in the Indianapolis arena formerly known as Conseco Fieldhouse. It was a night when the playoff-indifferent Atlanta Hawks came to town to face this floundering Pacers group that had won two of their previous eight games. And? And? Frank Vogel’s team scored 23 points in the first half. Twenty-three! This wasn’t some odd homage to the great Michael Jordan, it was offensive putridity as the team made a whopping seven of 35 shots and overpaid center and Lord of the Rule of Verticality, aka Roy Hibbert, was benched for fatigue: “He looks to me to be worn down” said Coach Frank Vogel. With four games remaining, the Pacers still have ample opportunity to rediscover whatever was lost over these past six weeks: at Milwaukee, at Miami, OKC at home, before wrapping the season in Orlando. The Pacers need not worry though, as Tony Parker reassures us all: “It’s hard to explain. Everybody goes through this. I’m not worried about them. They’ll still make it to the Eastern Conference finals and they’ll still play Miami.” 

    Tony Parker, soothsayer

  • Andris Biedrins was waived by the Utah Jazz on Saturday which marks an ending of sorts for the big man from Latvia. In case you don’t recall, Biedrins averaged close a double double for Golden State as a 21-year-old way back in 2008. The Warriors rewarded their future cornerstone with five-year/$54-million deal. Andris and his well-styled hair paid immediate dividends the following season as he went for 12pts and 11rebs/game, but then it all fell apart like a paper bag stuffed with heavy groceries stuck in a torrential downpour and you’re having to walk home with this soaking wet bag that’s barely holding together – yes, Golden State was the poor bastard carrying that bag, but no one ever considers the feeling of the bag, in this case represented by Biedrins. What happened? Well, he spent much of 2009-10 dealing with injuries and never regained whatever propelled him to double double heights. Biedrins and his huge contract are now a thing of the past. It shuts the door on one of the sadder, stranger descents in recent NBA history – possibly stranger than this year’s Pacers team. What happened to you, Andris? 
  • To play off that sadly catchy “hide your kids, hide your wife” meme, when prospective NBA owner Chris Hansen starts talking, it’s best for NBA cities to hide your franchise (and maybe your wife too). If you recall, Hansen is the Seattle native who offered $625-million for the Kings last year and clearly operates off of Ted DiBiase’s motto: “Everybody’s got a price.” Unlike DiBiase, who was merely a character drawn up for pro wrestling, Hansen is a real person with real money. He made it into the Seattle Times last week for donating some of the space earmarked for a new Seattle arena to a nonprofit youth program. However, Hansen also used the opportunity remind us of the inevitability of Seattle getting an NBA franchise:

Does anybody really think that Seattle is not going to have an NBA team at some point in the future?” Hansen said. “I think everybody can get really impatient when things don’t happen on their own agenda. It’s inevitable Seattle will have a basketball team. It’s just a question of when.

Just a guy casually leaning on a light pole

  • Larry Sanders joined Arnett Moultrie in being suspended for a third positive test for reefer usage. There is a lot to discuss with Sanders’s statement, the league’s and NBPA’s stance on marijuana, and how their joint policies are both independent of and dependent on public perception, progressive policies, and the needs of league sponsors. This is not the forum for that discussion so I’ll leave it to Sanders who chose to defend his usage:

I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.

File:PeterTosh-LegalizeIt.jpg

  • From the random ass Did You Know file cabinet (which is conveniently stored in my head and accessed at random intervals), Al Horford has appeared in 114 of a possible 230 games since the 2011-12 season – that’s less than 50%! The source of these missed games has been tears to both the left and right pectoral muscles. Are these freak injuries or is there a little mutation in Horford’s DNA that leaves him prone to pectoral muscle tears? And does Danny Ferry plan to do anything about this? Horford’s under contract for $12-mill/year for the next two seasons and given Ferry’s present dismissive attitude about the playoffs, the Hawks are likely better off choosing to ride or die with the big man a couple more seasons. 
  • How about that JR Smith? Over his last seven games, Smith has taken a whopping 12.7 3PAs/game and is hitting at a 46% clip. Bananas you say? Well, to put it in perspective, the league record for 3PA/game is 8.7 by the ever-chucking Baron Davis back in 2004. Of course, of course, of course Smith’s little seven-game flourish is less than a tenth of season, but damn, when we talk about prolific, JR’s unconscious ability to gun from deep is in a special class of its own. Yesterday against the Heat he set the league record for 3PAs in a single game with 22 and before you roll your eyes and decry Smith’s outlandish chucking, know that it was the only way the overmatched Knicks were able to keep the game somewhat competitive. Ahhh, we can all roll our collective eyes and sigh and shake our heads at Smith’s selfish antics, but let’s at least all agree that JR Smith is that unknown variable equally capable of lifting us out of our Sunday slumbers and making us doubt our own hopes in this great game called basketball. JR Smith, comedian indeed. 

    Choices, by JR Smith

    Choices, by JR Smith

  • Finally, the Spurs lost to Oklahoma City, thus ending their streak at 19 games. I’ve heard Popovich promptly celebrated with Manu over a couple bottles of Argentina’s finest Malbec. 
  • The Bulls have won five games in a row and Joakim Noah’s dream season continues. His 12ppg, 11rpg, 5apg, 1spg and 1bpg put him in the rare company of Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley and Kareem. What a polarizing group! 
  • If a little blood and crushed hopes isn’t your thing, then stay away from the Western Conference playoff race where (realistically) three teams are battling for two spots: Dallas, Phoenix, and Memphis. The Mavs has to play both Phoenix and Memphis and the Suns/Grizzlies will also get a chance to face off next Monday. Supposedly TNT is where drama happens so let’s hope some of these games get national TV attention … after all, I think we can agree that there have been more than enough Laker games on ABC, ESPN and TNT.
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