Monthly Archives: July 2011

Wear It Proudly

Assuming #9 has indeed seen his last burn at the World’s Greatest, let us consider an epitaph:

He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t really jump. Oftentimes, he’d react to an arriving pass as if it were a ball of spent uranium that’d been shot out of canon. Incredibly, his free throw shooting has fallen 227 percentage points since college. His pick-and-rolls were easier to hedge than Fannie Mae, and his presence on the block exhibited all the speed, force, and grace of a beached turtle at low tide.

But no one could say he wasn’t loyal. Even after it was announced he was destined for the sweet, smoggy vistas of Houston, Jeffries — by all accounts a classy guy and solid teammate wherever he’s been — remained gracious. A year later, when the Knicks came calling, he picked up before the first ring even ended. He showed up. And, well, he showed up. Even if he’s not a part of this team’s grand plan going forward, let’s hope he can at least take some success-imparted solace in that one true canto threading past Knick teams godly and godawful alike: Once a Knick, Always a Knick.

via 2011 Report Card: Jared Jeffries | KnickerBlogger,net

Jared Jeffries. There might not be another player in the league who elicits a more lopsided opinion; an opinion more or less skewed by the situation he had the displeasure of enduring for most of his career. Out of all the idiotic signings during the Dark Age of the New York Knicks franchise, Jeffries’ albatross of a contract was the most glaring. Isiah Thomas has absorbed a great deal of flak for his work as Knicks GM, but no player under Thomas’ regime has worn their scarlet letter as visibly as Jeffries.

During the latter portion of last year’s NBA season, it became a pre-game ritual for tweeters to formulate their best Jared Jeffries jokes — a parade of wit and resentment that was at once too hilarious to ignore, and too cruel to partake. What’s a player got to do to convince the fans that he wasn’t the one who gave himself a five-year, 30 million dollar contract? Well, to answer my own question, whatever he needed to do, he didn’t/couldn’t do it. And so he’s spent the entire length of his contract trying to justify a raise he was never worthy of, willingly doing the dirty work when New York was expecting a star (or you know, at least a quality sixth man).

Still, he was able to forge a sort of sporadically unique niche as a versatile defender capable of pestering everyone from Rajon Rondo to Dwight Howard. Albeit in bite-sized spurts.

via 2011 Report Card: Jared Jeffries | KnickerBlogger,net

Now clearly, I Love Jared Jeffries (For Sentimental Reasons). During the 2009-10 season, my fantasy basketball team was losing by incredibly slim margins, and I needed a 12th man to fill in the blanks. After signing Jeffries, my teams shot up the rankings. Every game from Jeffries had something unique in the stat-line. I’d never paid attention to him before, but just from the numbers, I could tell he was a unique player. Then I started watching him in real-time. And I watched as he guarded the opposition’s best player, whether it was a point guard, shooting guard, or center either because of his defensive ability, or because no one else on the team cared enough to try.

And for the right price, any team can use this type of player. In the future, I can see a perfectly symbiotic relationship between Jeffries and the Denver Nuggets (as if they didn’t have enough former Knicks). If the Nuggets hold onto their pieces, Jeffries could be the perfect player at the end of the bench. On an uptempo team that boasts a very good/very versatile team defense, Jeffries would fit right in. Plus, as he is allergic to offense, there are no additional worries about divvying touches!

This isn’t about asserting Jeffries as a great player. He isn’t. He isn’t a good player, and he isn’t even much of an average one. But he understands his role, and it happens to be an important one — especially if on a good team with a solid defensive foundation.

With Jeffries, we ridicule and we stigmatize. But a player can only be who he is, whether that existence meets our expectations or not. It’s unfortunate that he’s forced to carry the burdens of Isiah Thomas’ failures, but it’ll surely remain for the rest of his career. Sometimes, hard work won’t pay off no matter what you do.

Sam Cooke live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 – It’s All Right / I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons)

Andrei Kirilenko Has A Decision To Make

Photo by Helico on Flickr.

Forward Andrei Kirilenko is reportedly negotiating a deal to return to professional Russian team Spartak St. Petersburg.

While Kirilenko said several times last season that he would consider ending his career in Russia, he also stated a clear preference to remain in the NBA during the next few years. Moreover, Kirilenko’s mention that he might retire after the 2011 EuroBasket tournament is at odds with statements he made multiple times last season, when he expressed interest in extending his career several more years.

via Andrei Kirilenko reportedly negotiating return to Russia | The Salt Lake Tribune

If that was at all too confusing for you (if not, good for you, but it was definitely too confusing for me), let’s break this down together:

  1. Kirilenko is having negotiating with Spartak St. Petersburg for his return to Russian basketball.
  2. Last season, he expressed desire to continue playing basketball in the NBA for a few more years.
  3. He stated that he might retire after 2011 EuroBasket, which ends in September 18 — less than two months away.
  4. Repeat ‘B’, except cross out “in the NBA”.

So basically, Kirilenko wants to spend the twilight of his career playing both in Europe and in the NBA while lounging comfortably in his La-Z-Boy recliner at home. Except, from what my sources tell me, there aren’t enough Andrei Kirilenkos to do all three at once.

‘C’ comes particularly as a shock. Kirilenko is only 30 years old, and yet 30 seems like too high a number. It felt just like yesterday that he was a spindly 18-year-old rookie learning both the nuances of the game, and the rudiments of the English language. The length, agility, and athleticism that made him the ultimate defensive weapon also made him a common victim of injury.

Years pass by quickly when seasons are cut short. For us, the fans, an early retirement means missing out on the final moments of a truly unique talent. For Kirilenko, it’s could be a reprieve for the aching bones that have endured the constant blows of NBA play.

Clearly, the decision isn’t easy. There are a lot of options to juggle. He has time to untangle the knots. Hopefully he is happy with his final choice, whatever it ends up being.

Accidentally In (Kevin) Love

Photo by Vitor Sa-Virgu on Flickr

Word is, too, that Larry Brown lurks on the horizon. I very much hope that this never becomes enough of a reality that I’ll have to explain why its a nightmarishly bad idea. And does anyone else get the nagging feeling that flirting with all of these Living Legends of Coaching seems to make the team somehow less credible? Doesn’t it kind of feel like the Wolves are trying a little too hard to look cool? 

As for my analysis on the situation, I’ll defer to commenter Biggity2bit who hopes that the Wolves “make Adelman a contract offer today, and if he pauses when looking at it that Kahn or Glen lean over and add an extra ‘zero’ to the end of the number and give it back to Adelman.”

via A Wolf Among Wolves.

I had an idea tonight, and this is based off of exactly zero intel from any of the small number of sources I have, this is just me spitting blanks, essentially. But I wondered why Adelman would interview for this gig, when he has said in the past month that he wants to try his hand at GM. Not like Adelman can’t take the year off. Why would he be interested in working under Kahn in a capacity he’s trying to move away from?

(Side note: I blame Pat Riley for this. Everyone saw the cushy life Riley has had since he moved to the Prez box only and now they want the life, too. Go travel a bit, watch some college ball, shake some hands, get all the credit, very little of the blame, no constant travel, it’s a big win-win. Riley’s far from the first to do it, he’s just the first to do it with that smug look on his face. “Oh, you’re tired, you say? My good man, you simply MUST come aboard the yacht this weekend? Oh, you have a game? Pity.” )

Then I looked at the rest of the candidates. Bickerstaff, who has worked in basketball ops extensively. Larry Brown, who’s used to running his own show. Even Mike Woodson had a lot of influence in Atlanta due to the nebulous nature of the ownership situation and the transition in the GM’s office. Don Nelson, ran his own show in Golden State, and had Mullin ousted when they disagreed.

Are they interviewing guys to be some sort of weird, reverse Kahn to Kahn’s Walsh in Indiana? Is Taylor prepping for the future when he fires Kahn? Is it possible the reign of madness could be at its end (even if the end means Nelson or Brown in charge)? None of the candidates outside of Porter has really operated without personnel oversight. So if that’s the case, there’s a chance that someone with actual knowledge and ability to succeed could be hired. If that’s the case, there’s a chance this could work.

If that could happen, it’s also possible Rubio really does work out. It’s possible he is the immediate impact player, even if not an immediate All-Star or world-bringer, they need. If that’s the case, they’d have Rubio, Derrick Williams, who they accidentally got when they couldn’t secure a trade, and Kevin Love, who they accidentally had to start giving minutes to because they couldn’t hold him down any more. That’s a great 1-3-4 combination. With the right coach, it could accidentally work.

This has happened before. In fact, the longer Kahn’s around, the more likely it is that he enjoys some stretch of success, real or imagined. Consider that Mitch Kupchak was considered terrible in 2006. Dwyer had these three guys just above Isiah. ISIAH. Kupchak, Ainge, Otis Smith. That’s six Finals appearances between the three of them in the past four seasons. Only Otis managed to rise to the top of those rankings without some form of luck in either a former member of the franchise or Michael Heisley, the real definition of Manna from Heaven.

You could see this happening, couldn’t you? A decent coach comes along, drags out 35 wins next year, shows development, convinces Kahn to start drafting and signing well, dumps off some of the waste, makes a few more moves, makes it over .500 in 2012-2013, asserts some more control, Rubio comes into his own, Williams explodes in his third year, and bam, you’ve got yourself a playoff team with a young core.

Or they could hire Don Nelson. You know. Either way.

The Owners Aren’t Responsible For The Monster They Made, Just The Destruction The Monsters Created

Photo by Tasayu Tasnaphun on Flickr

So, sure, Billy Hunter is correct: there is no one literally holding a gun to the owners’ heads, forcing them to overpay a guy like Ben Gordon rather than discover a guy Gary Neal. But even if errors like that — or like the salaries given to Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis and Joe Johnson — aren’t made, the 57% mandate forces the owners to give $2.2  billion to the players. 

Whether they’re worth it or not.

via Eight Points, Nine Seconds — An Indiana Pacers Blog.

Over at 8pts9secs, Tim drops another in a long series of articles shedding light on the complexities of the NBA lockout. He has provided a truly insightful approach to this lockout, and you should be reading the site daily (Jared writes there, too, and he’s okay, I guess — how’s that for a name drop, jerkface?) and following Tim on Twitter. That said, I have a problem.

The owners aren’t upset because they woke up one day and were all “Holy crap, we’re giving the players too much money! This offends me on an ideological level! I daresay we should stage a lockout simply so that this group of human beings will not earn so much! RABBLE RABBLE.” No, they’re upset because they’re losing money. That’s all this is about. “Wah, I bought a sports team and it’s losing money and I don’t like that. Wah.” The end. Instead of seeking out alternative options, rethinking their business model, fixing their revenue sharing, or bucking up and living with the reality of the capitalist system that has provided them with so much worldly wealth, they decided “Hey, let’s punish the players! We have leverage and they’re typically stupid as a union! (Not as much as the NFL’s, but still!)” and locked out the players. If you can’t think of a way to fix your problems, blame someone else and then extort what you want from them. The American Way.

My point here is that if the revenue covered their losses, we wouldn’t have this problem. Well, we’d have one, because everyone is greedy, but not as big of one. But the owners simultaneously managed to ratchet up their non-player-salary-costs and not generate enough revenue to fail to cover the 57% they hand over to the players. And that’s genuinely effected by their decisions.

Did you know only 40% of arena signage goes into BRI? Or 40% of luxury suites income? The margins there aren’t huge. But they contribute. And do you know what makes it hard to pull in top dollar for those kinds of opportunities, or for sponsorships, or for any other non-BRI income? Having a terrible team you’ve committed a lot of money to. Fans know these kinds of things. Sponsors know these kinds of things. Season ticket holders are going to know you gave Darko Milicic that extra year, that you gave Andrea Bargnani that extension, that you have limited your ability to compete now or in the future. And sponsors know how those season ticket holders feel about your team. That influences your market value on items. It impacts your television deals (which are included in BRI, but are still going to help cover your losses). Giving irresponsible contracts didn’t raise or lower the percentage of what the players get under the former system.

But it did impact their ability to generate a profit. And we know this because the losses weren’t standardized, nor were they consistent, nor were they across the board. This is not an impossible system to profit under. It simply became that way in combination with a recession and Isiah contracts floating around. If we’re going to pretend that the owners shouldn’t be held accountable for their poor decision making, we’re advocating a belief that the “fair” solution to this negotiation is one that punishes the players for forces beyond their control.

NOTE: I’m not advocating that fair has anything to do with this, other than our perception. The owners know this is a total lack of logical fairness in pursuit of their dreams of, I don’t know, MORE cars to not drive. But the public’s purpose in all this is to weigh in and give our/their thoughts on what should happen. And we’re seeing a distinctive “the players had it coming!” vibe that’s starting to pop up this week after a solid three weeks of “Are the owners out of their minds?!”

NOTE 2: Tom Ziller is not part of this new vibe.

If you want simplistic terms, if you make bad business decisions at the root of your revenue-drivers (player contracts), that’s probably going to impact all the things that play together to determine whether you post a profit or a loss (BRI plus Non-BRI). These things don’t exist in a vacuum. Signing a terrible player to a long-term contract is going to frustrate a ticket holder, who may be reticent to re-up or buy merchandise. When that contract plays out as badly as it seems when it’s signed, the impact is magnified.

Maybe the numbers do work out that way. Maybe it’s wrapped up in the tax implications, maybe it’s really possible that the owners have no way to succeed under the current system. But more and more this looks like wanting to cut your friend’s face off because you’re worried about that scar you gave yourself after downing a half bottle of tequila and getting on the treadmill. Here’s an idea. DON’T DOWN HALF A BOTTLE OF TEQUILA AND IF YOU DO, DON’T GET ON A TREADMILL.

And if you want to ask how I can support revenue sharing, given that it rewards owners who choose to make a poor decision by investing in a lesser market, I’d argue that revenue sharing isn’t fair, it’s just what’s best for the league overall, just as not blaming the players isn’t fair, but it’s what’s best for the owners. In a battle of competing interests, you gotta break a few eggs.

A One-Night-Only Scrubtacular!

Jason Smith actually finished the game shooting 9-for-11. He missed his last two shots, and followed this performance with a six-point outing. This serves as the perfect microcosm to our post.Â

Hello friends! I’ve brought something special today. HoopSpeak Live producer and Outside the NBA head honcho James Herbert and I bring forth a collaboration. It’s an idea we’ve had and shelved for months. We hope you enjoy it.

Nostalgia is a curious thing.

What we choose to remember says a lot about us. Grand memories stick with us forever, and there are some milestones that are impossible to forget. But moving towards the back of the mind, things start to get more interesting. Beneath the rubble of test cramming, random trivia from Jeopardy! marathons, and memories of ex-girlfriends and boyfriends, it’s often the hidden tidbits that are the most rewarding.

So while images of generation-defining players occur like clockwork, as basketball fans, these aren’t the only moments that define our fandom. We live for moments of triumph, even from unexpected sources. The incomparable Kelly Dwyer wrote last season about New Orleans Hornets big man Jason Smith and an unexpected 20 point, 5 rebound (in 25 minutes) performance, and brought along an intriguing observation:

I don’t know what it is with centers, but sometimes they have it, and sometimes they look like someone that doesn’t even belong at this level. One night, 20 points in 25 minutes. The next night? Four fouls in half that time.

via Kelly Dwyer, Behind the Box Score, where LaMarcus Aldridge is a bloody beast (2/2/11)

It’s an observation we all make constantly. Every team has the seemingly useless center buried deep in the bench. For the 46ish games he makes an appearance, we ridicule his presence (or lack thereof) on the court. Then there’s the one game that challenges everything you’ve ever known about the player. Someone who was once a target of scorn and derision becomes a player deserving of your rabid cheers.

It’s not that these players deserve our attention; it’s that they command it. Sudden bursts of hyper-competent basketball from less-than-competent players are often too much to handle. Their performances are always attached with questions — most often, “HOW?” And if we ever find an answer, it’s too late. We’re already too preoccupied riding their wave of temporal glory.

Their stories aren’t consistent, nor do they in any capacity provide a longterm happy ending. But these are stories worth telling, if only because they actually happened. Here are our favorites.

(All game statistics were found at Basketball-Reference)

Cherokee Parks, March 17, 1996
25 pts, 7 reb, 1 stl, 9-17 fg, 4-10 3pt, 3-4 ft in 36 minutes

What a disaster this game was. The Mavericks started four guards in their starting lineup, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that it wasn’t by choice. Starved of any offensive spark, the team leaned on the unlikely contributions of rookie Cherokee Parks. Parks delivered, both on offense and in unlikely contributions. For one, Parks isn’t much of a three-point shooter. In fact, the four he made in this game makes up half all the three-pointers he’s made his entire career.

Even more impressive is, since the ’86-’87 season, Parks is one of only four centers to shoot at least 10 three-pointers in a game. Brad Lohaus, Manute Bol, and Jack Sikma are the others. Lohaus accomplished this feat four times.

Of course, Parks would never come remotely close to this type of performance ever again. (DC)

Acie Earl, April 12, 1996
40 pts, 12 reb, 3 ast, 2 blk, 13-23 fg, 14-19 ft in 44 minutes

Months ago, I found myself on Acie Earl’s website, browsing a list of career highlights that included his one game in Australia in 1999, his one-month contract with an Austrian team in 2003, and his decision to turn down the opportunity to coach the San Jose Sky Rockets in 2005. Perhaps odder than the fact that I’ve since had a discussion with a friend about purchasing a $25 Coach Earl Video Evaluation is that the site has no mention of him scoring 40 POINTS IN AN NBA GAME.* Playing a villain in a zero-budget ‘space spoof movie’ obviously has more prestige.

This performance in Boston, surely an act of revenge against the team that callously left him unprotected in the 1995 expansion draft, was a part of a four-game stretch near the end of the season where he averaged 29.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 44.8 minutes. This improbable series of superb starts boosted his season averages to 7.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.6 minutes a game. Call me crazy, but I think Acie must be the only player in league history to reach 40 points in a single game in April after scoring a total of 35 from December to March.

*It does make the curious claim that he holds five Raptors franchise records, however. (JH)

Jabari Smith, January 5, 2005
19 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast, 2 stl, 7-13 fg, 5-5 ft in 36 minutes
Nenad Krstic is struggling with foul trouble. Jason Collins is being Jason Collins. Vince Carter was kicked in the same sore achilles tendon that sidelined him weeks before. The Nets were in dire need of a hero. And though the team ultimately came short, Jabari Smith’s performance was more than anyone could ever ask of him.

Smith, who at that point had only scored in double figures three times in his four-year career, was the leading scorer on a Nets team that was still searching for cohesion after their trade for Carter. More notable, he led the team in assists. Smith had twice the amount of assists as Jason Kidd. Think about that for a second. Also, considering the team outside of Smith shot 31.4%, Smith’s six assists is quite the accomplishment.

But if Jabari Smith’s performance teaches us anything, it’s that there are no excuses in the NBA. In post-game interviews, Smith expressed his dissatisfaction with his teammates. “They beat us to a lot of loose balls,” said Smith in an Associated Press recap. “Some of us have to look in the mirror. We have to come together,” he said.

Smith, who was a 12th man for almost all of his career, held his team accountable for their lacking effort. And for one game, he led by example. He didn’t get another NBA season after his 45-game stint with the Nets, but for a night, Smith was a guiding light when everything went awry. (DC)

Oleksiy Pecherov, November 4, 2009
24 pts, 8 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 9-14 fg, 1-4 3pt, 5-5 ft in 34 minutes

“I just can’t fathom how a guy like this, that was guarded by Kevin Garnett, was able to have a game like this.”

– Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub

via 6-0 No Show: Celtics 92, T’Wolves 90 | Celtics Hub

All of Oleskiy Pecherov’s starts in the NBA took place in the first eight days of November 2009. In the third start, he had the game of his stateside career, helping a miserable T-Wolves team that would finish with 15 wins come within a couple of baskets of beating a Celtics team that would finish a couple of baskets away from a championship.

This was the second time Pecherov scored over 13 points in an NBA game. It was the only time he scored more than 15. Two nights later, against the Bucks, he played 24 minutes and finished with two points on 1-6 shooting. After another unremarkable game on November 8, Kurt Rambis decided to go with a starting lineup of Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes and Al Jefferson.

On the 13th and 14th of November, 2009, Jefferson had to miss a pair of games after the death of his grandmother. Pecherov came off the bench, behind Nathan Jawai. A lot can change in a week. (JH)

Calvin Booth, November 20, 2001
24 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast, 6-10 fg, 12-12 ft in 29 minutes

Seattle is kind enough to give you a six-year, $34 million dollar contract based on very little. You reward them for their confidence and respect with the best statistical season of your career. Unfortunately if you’re Calvin Booth, that season lasts 15 games. For the rest of the season, you nurse a lingering ankle injury that immobilizes you, and you spend the rest of your days in the NBA trying (and failing) to return Seattle’s favor.

But it wasn’t all bad (almost all of it was, though). 12 games into his first season as a Sonic, Booth gave the team a ray of hope that would invariably be too bright for him to ever duplicate again. In 29 minutes, Booth managed to score 24 points; half of which came from a perfect night at the charity stripe. It would also be half of his total number of free throws taken in his 15-game season (he shot a staggering 95.8% from the line). Along with a career high in points and free throws made and attempted, Booth also had a career-high five assists, just in case his performance wasn’t enough of an anomaly.

So yes, the Sonics made a terrible decision in giving Calvin Booth a six-year contract. But for one game, he made Sonics executives look like geniuses. (DC)

Jake Voskuhl, April 6, 2002
20 pts, 6 reb, 8-10 fg, 4-7 ft, 2 PF, 0 TO in 25 minutes

In January of 2009, The Point Forward’s Zach Lowe presented the world with a newly coined word: Voskuhl.

Voskuhl (voss-cull) noun. When a big man’s combined fouls and turnovers exceed his combined points and rebounds over the course of a game.

via Word of the Day: Voskuhl | Basketbawful

On this night, his points and rebounds totalled 26. His fouls and turnovers? TWO! This is the closest Voskuhl ever got to escaping his own shadow*

Strangely, Jake did not lead the Suns’ bench in scoring. That honor belonged to Stephon Marbury, who came off the bench behind Milt Palacio. Marbury was meant to rest a sore ankle, but wound up scoring 23 points in 36 minutes, as the alternative was giving more playing time to Milt Palacio.

*His five fouls and three turnovers killed him here. (JH)

Vladimir Stepania, November 16, 2001
19 pts, 12 reb, 7 blk, 7-14 fg in 45 minutes

The fact that we’re writing this piece proves that a majority of centers get a bad rap. There is an undeniable premium to being tall, and it leads to seven-foot stiffs being drafted high and earning more money than they are worth. But games like this validate it. All of it. Vladimir Stepania (who is blessed with an incredibly great last name) was drafted late in the first round by the Sonics, who have a hit-or-miss-but-mostly-miss history with seven-footers. This one performance validates Robert Swift. It validates Saer Sene. But most of all, it validated Vladimir Stepania.

Stepania played 45 minutes in this game, by far the most he’d ever played in a single NBA game. With Alonzo Mourning and Brian Grant both missing in action, the responsibility of defensive anchor rested on Stepania’s shoulders. I’d say he did a pretty good Zo impression, wouldn’t you? And Stepania’s ability to block shots, even to this day, have not eluded him.

[flash w=480 h=390]
(Skip to :50, or watch the entire thing. It’s kind of weird.)

He also had the pleasure of playing alongside Tang Hamilton and Sam Mack (pronounced ‘smack’) in the game. So there’s that. (DC)

Travis Knight, January 24, 1997
16 pts, 15 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl, 1 block, 7-10 fg, 2-4 ft, 0 fouls in 28 minutes

16 points and 15 rebounds are damn fine numbers for marginal rookie center, even if some of them are registered against a fellow marginal rookie center like Todd Fuller. This list, however, isn’t for “damn fine numbers.” It’s for performances that go above and beyond what you could possibly expect from the player in question. It’s for the time that Travis Knight scored 16 and 15 and did not commit a single foul.

Travis Knight averaged 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes in his rookie season. This would be a career-low. In 2001-2002, he averaged eight fouls per 36 as a member of the Knicks. While other members of the 1996 draft class are still reaching incredible milestones season after season, Knight owns the dubious distinction of fouling out quicker than anyone else in playoff history. In Game 3 of the 1999 Western Conference Semifinals against the Spurs, he fouled out in six minutes. 16 points, 15 rebounds, and zero fouls for Travis Knight? That’s astonishing. (JH)

Chris Mihm, November 10, 2003
19 pts, 4 reb, 1 stl, 6-13 fg, 0 fouls in 17 minutes

You know, this line actually doesn’t look that grea–holy crap, Chris Mihm did it in 17 minutes!

But really, that isn’t why Mihm is on this list. Here’s something that should stand out in the list of numbers: zero fouls. Like Knight, Mihm was a notorious fouler. I don’t recall a recent player who destroyed his first quarter momentum with early fouls as consistently as Mihm. If it weren’t for the fouls and the dumb mistakes, he might’ve carved out a nice career for himself. I remember the dunks with right arm outstretched, his hook shot that had legitimate range out to the free throw line, and his touch on his mid-range jumper. There weren’t many questions offensively.

But the toughness and the IQ wasn’t there on the defensive end. And ultimately as a big, those are the first prerequisites to any form of success — and more importantly, its longevity. Mihm wasn’t able to figure it out. Maybe injuries had something to do with it, maybe not. But it never clicked with him. It could’ve been different. But it wasn’t. (DC)

Nate Huffman, December 17, 2002
10 pts, 9 reb, 2 ast, 2 blk, 4-7 fg, 2-2 ft in 22 minutes

Despite getting the NBA logo tattooed on his arm in junior college, Nate Huffman only managed seven games in the league. In all but one of these games, he had next to no impact. In all but one of these games, his Raptors lost.

But for one night in Milwaukee, I swear to God, Huffman was an NBA-caliber center who contributed to a win. I watched this game with delight, as Huffman displayed the skills that made him a star for Maccabi Tel-Aviv. It shocks me that he only registered two assists, as I clearly (read: vaguely) remember Raptors color commentator Leo Rautins, not a bad passing big man himself in his day, raving about his high-post dishes.

One month later, Huffman’s contract was terminated, as Toronto claimed he didn’t disclose his history of knee problems before signing his three-year, $5.2 million contract. Nate responded by successfully suing the team for the remainder of the contract, cementing his legacy next to Garth Joseph and Master P as a weird footnote in Raptors history. I have since named several fantasy teams after him, and am seeking confirmation that somebody wrote to SLAM Magazine’s Trash Talk in 2002 claiming that the U.S. would have medaled at the World Championships if he was on the roster. (JH)

These are only a few of the stories. There are so many more, and so many that have some personal significance that goes beyond statistics (which was the basis of our research). Because nostalgia is powerful. And it’s the force that will compel us to tell the future generations of what should never have happened, but did anyway.

Recall some notable performances that weren’t included? Chime in with a comment below.

The NBA Can Learn One Thing From The NFL: Git-R-Done

Photo from Anirudh Koul on Flickr

After months of public nastiness and private negotiations, of court filings and rulings, of players and owners squabbling over more than $9 billion a year, NFL fans finally saw the handshake and heard the words they awaited: “Football’s back.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith both used that phrase while standing shoulder to shoulder Monday, announcing their agreement on a 10-year deal to end the lockout that began in March.

Via ESPN NFL: Roger Goodell: ‘Football is back’

Some things in life are simple. Some things in life are complex. This NBA lockout is one of those in-betweens.

On one hand, it’s simple. Millionaires and billionaires are arguing over how much money they should be making. They can’t argue forever, right? At some point, someone from either side has to realize how ridiculous this is; both sides need to compromise for the sake of the greater greed (or the fans’ sanity, the league’s perception amongst these fans, and the money these fans bring in).

On the other hand, it’s complex. The players don’t want their current deals to be re-structured. They believe there should be guaranteed contracts longer than three or four years. According to them, there shouldn’t be a hard cap. Contrarily, the owners feel the players are making too much money (57% of all revenue, to be exact). They feel the players try during their contract years, earn a big contract and then stop giving a damn. They feel role players are overvalued and overpaid.

Of course, I’m generalizing and confining these descriptions into microcosms. If I didn’t, I could write thousands of words on this topic and I’m not even an expert the subject matter. It’s too long to discuss in one post, although Eight Points,  Nine Seconds’ Tim Donahue did a pretty good job of recapping it all in a series of articles.

Fortunately for NFL fans (myself excluded), the lockout is officially over. Their season will be starting in September. Even though their lockout lasted over four months, they’ll still be getting their game back (a few months in advance before the season is even set to start).

If the NBA lockout lasts only four months, the season would be starting at the end of November, and we’d have missed a months worth of games. Now, everyone will point to the fact the NFL lockout is completely different from the NBA lockout, and they’re right. Put simply, NFL teams are making money, just not the amount they feel they should be; NBA teams are actually losing money (or at least 22 teams are).

So we can’t really take much from the NFL’s recent breakthrough/compromise. It’s apples and oranges. But if we’re stubbornly searching for something to grasp and takeaway, as I am, we can take these words from Larry The Cable Guy: Git-R-Done!

As fans, that’s all we can hope for. We can come up with ideas of how to solve the lockout, complain about how selfish the two sides are, or boycott basketball altogether. At this point, though, it’s out of our hands. The pressure is on the NBA. The NFL succeeded. With a much larger fan-base than the NBA already (at least in the US), the NBA can’t afford to take a PR hit compared to the NFL, especially when most sport fans will only have one bad (lockout) taste in their mouth after a few more weeks.

If any NBA player, owner or official reads this post (first off, thanks), please know this: we the fans, your consumers, don’t really care who loses or gains money when all is said and done. Yes, we like the players more than the owners/officials. Yes, we favor them because we resonate with them more (some of us fans are millionaires; almost none of us are billionaires). But when it comes down to it, we just want basketball. We want to watch the game we love. So stop being selfish and greedy and git-r-done.

The Steve Nash Conundrum: How To Say Goodbye To A Legend

Photo from S@ilor on Flickr

Provided we have a 2011-12 NBA season, Nash will enter the final season of his contract with the Suns. Once Nash is off the books next summer, Phoenix will have only $28.26 million in salaries committed heading into the 2012-13. The recipient of those guaranteed contracts are Marcin Gortat, Josh Childress, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Hakim Warrick. Dudley is the youngest of the five — none of whom qualify as foundational players on a contender — and he’ll be 27 years old on opening night 2012.

Via TrueHoop: Steve Nash and the rebuilding question

As TrueHoop and Heat Index’s Kevin Arnovitz points out in his brilliant post analyzing the awkward situation developing in Phoenix (trade Steve Nash? re-sign him? keep him for next season then let him walk?), the Suns are closing in on a crossroad. Nash, the 37-year-old superstar who doesn’t seem to age, has all but confirmed he’ll be playing three more seasons at the very most (he has one year left on his current deal, then will likely be signing another two year deal with Phoenix or team X). It’s now up to Phoenix, a franchise with little collective talent assembled around Nash, to decide what to do with their aging superstar.

According to Michael Swartz of Valley of the Suns, Phoenix basically has three options to choose from:

1. Trade Nash immediately after the lockout or at the trade deadline.

2. Sign Nash to a two-year extension.

3. Let Nash walk at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Although it’s a difficult decision, the answer is quite clear. The Suns need to trade Nash. There’s just no way around it.

If the Suns decide to keep him for one more season and let him walk as a free agent, thus opening up a bunch of cap space and essentially starting the rebuilding process a little earlier, the Suns will have a putrid roster moving forward (Arnovitz says they’ll only have Gortat, Childress, Frye, Dudley and Warrick under contract heading into the ’12-’13 season…eww). The Suns would likely re-sign Robin Lopez in the 2012 offseason (don’t forget rookie Markieff Morris, the other twin!), giving them seven mediocre front-court players and absolutely no backcourt to build around. By keeping him an extra season, they’d remain decent enough to possible squeeze into the playoffs, and wouldn’t lose as much revenue. But as Drake says, they could do better, right?

On the other hand, if Phoenix signs him to a two-year extension, the Suns will just be delaying the inevitable, like Arnovitz also said. What Phoenix has to realize is that Nash will be gone within the next three seasons. Whether it’s through a trade, leaving as a free agent, or retiring, Nash is no longer going to be on their roster in 2014. Therefore, with a set time window before he retires (or leaves), the Suns can’t treat Nash like a young, untouchable franchise player. This isn’t a maybe he’s going to leave, like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul (who each still have at least 8-10 more years left before they’ll likely retire). He’s going to be gone soon; three years soon. Extending his contract another two seasons is probably the worst option; if he retires, and they only get cap space in return, the Suns will be in a worse position than if they traded him (in which they can gain players and assets) or let him walk after next season (a balance between keeping him to make money and blowing the team up).

Thus, it’s almost a no-brainer that Nash should be traded. By leaving as a free agent or retiring, the Suns will literally get nothing in return for him. Not a superstar rookie; you don’t get draft picks when guys leave or retire. Not a superstar free agent; no one will want to join a less than mediocre supporting cast. If the Suns really don’t want to rebuild for a decade, like GM Lonny Babby recently said to the media, they’ll trade Nash for something. In many ways, it’s a similar situation to Denver with Carmelo Anthony, as the Nuggets knew Anthony would be leaving them (they had one year to decide instead of three), and decided to get players in return for him. Just ask Cleveland or Toronto if they wish they could have gotten more for LeBron James and Chris Bosh than high draft picks and large trade exceptions. The answer is an astounding yes.

If they get a combination of young pieces to build around, low draft picks and a decent trade exception, the Suns will be much better off than they are currently. The Suns have long been one of the classiest and most professional franchises in the NBA, so why change now?

They have absolutely no chance at winning the NBA title or contending in the playoffs, with or without Nash. So let Steve go. Let him go to New York or L.A. Let him win a championship, or at least contend. He revived basketball in Phoenix for seven seasons. He brought you to the brink of the NBA Finals three times. He won two MVPs. He made you hundreds of millions of dollars. I know it’s tough to say goodbye. He’s your franchise player; likely the best player to ever don a Suns’ uniform (sans Charles Barkley). But the love affair isn’t over. Retire his jersey. Put him in the Suns’ Ring of Honor. Throw him a parade. At the very least, though, trade him to a contender.

Got Skillz: Shaq, Ron Artest, and Michael Jackson

As I’d imagine most people reading this did, I found out about Michael Jackson’s death while watching the 2009 NBA draft, and it made it considerably more difficult for me to care which cities Stephen Curry and DeMar DeRozan would be playing professional basketball in. I never have emotional reactions to celebrity deaths, but Michael was different. His personal life had been in such disarray for the 10 years leading up to his death that far too many people forgot his true impact. He was, despite his troubles, still the second-most ubiquitous act in pop history, behind only the Beatles. Depending on your view, either “I Want You Back” or “Billie Jean” is the greatest pop song of all time. The shortlist of the most important American musical icons of the 20th century basically goes Sinatra, Elvis, Dylan, and Michael. So, yeah, his death, much like his life and music, had a bit of an impact on me. He also impacted two of the most fascinating and compelling personalities in recent NBA history, one of whom recorded a song with him in 1995, while the other released a highly personal, if considerably awkward, tribute song shortly after Jackson’s death.

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Larry Brown’s Inevitable Return From The Dead

Photo from Flickr by doug88888

Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown has an interest in joining Doc Rivers’ Boston Celtics staff as an assistant coach, assuming Lawrence Frank accepts the Detroit Pistons’ head coaching job, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Via Yahoo! Sports: Brown wants to join Celtics’ staff

“Extra, extra, read all about it! Larry Brown wants to return to coaching again!”

The following statement may cause some backlash, but I’ll say it anyway: Larry Brown is one of the most overrated coaches in NBA history. Now, before I go any further, let me explain. Whenever someone uses the term ‘overrated’, people tend to jump to conclusions and think that the person (in this case me) is saying that the overrated thing (Brown) sucks. What some people tend to forget is that good things can be overrated too. And yes, Brown is a good, if not great, coach. In fact, he’s probably in the NBA’s top-10 coaches of all-time (somewhere between 8-10). With that said, Brown’s coaching legacy is overvalued by false perceived notions and a boosted reputation.

With 27 years of head coaching experience in the NBA, along with four seasons in the ABA and seven in NCAA basketball, Brown has basically been a head coach for the better part of 40 years. That’s obviously a long time to be entrusted as a head coach (a trust that can easily be lost) and a testament to his success and abilities (which has caused him to develop an amazing reputation). Nevertheless, I have a hard time placing him in the elite, elite pantheon of coaches (feauturing the likes of Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Greg Popovich, Pat Riley, Red Holzman, John Kundla and Jerry Sloan, in no particular order).

The biggest difference, in my opinion, between those coaches and Brown is the simple factor of winning (Sloan hasn’t won a title, yes, but his teams have always been very good and consistently contenders). We can all agree, if I’m not mistaken, that the main purpose of basketball is to put the ball through the hoop more than your opponent and win the game. Winning matters. It’s a simple notion that sometimes gets overlooked in this complex sport filled with hundreds of narratives. Unfortunately for him, Brown’s singular title (’04 with Detroit), coupled with a .548 winning percentage (relatively low compared to other greats who are in the .630 range and above) and an inability to sustain a coaching home for more than a few seasons (nine teams in all), has weakened Brown’s case amongst the all-time greats (I’ll also through in the fact that he’s been labeled as high maintenance and burned bridges with a lot of teams; we’ll call this the “Shaq” factor).

Don’t get me wrong. Brown has won an NBA title (and an NCAA title as well, the only coach to do both) and has been to three NBA Finals. In practical terms that’s a very successful career, as only one team is fortunate enough to win a championship each season. At most, there would have been 26 other head coaches who won a championship during Brown’s tenure in the league. But of course we know otherwise, as Brown’s coaching career has seen the likes of Jackson, Riley and Popovich enjoy countless success, each winning multiple titles (and passing him by in the coaching hierarchy).

Undoubtedly a major part of winning a championship has to do with luck (with injuries, players’ egos meshing, etc., all playing a huge role), yet it also has a lot to do with the coach. This is a players’ league, no doubt, but coaches can elevate talented players to the next level (see Lakers, Los Angeles). Brown didn’t have the fortune of having all-time great players (he had David Robinson (kind of), Reggie Miller and Allen Iverson in their primes with weak supporting casts) like Jackson (Jordan, Pippen, Shaq and Kobe), Auerbach (Russell, Cousy and Havlicek), Popovich (Robinson, Duncan and Ginobili), Riley (Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Wade and Shaq) and others have had, so there has to be a disclaimer somewhere when his final page is written.

The fact that he has taken eight different teams to the playoffs is incredible, and what’s even more impressive is that he’s helped turn around at least five or six franchises, even if only temporarily. THE PROBLEM IS THAT HE’S COACHED NINE TEAMS! Most elite coaches coach two, maybe three teams tops. Whether it be leaving to coach in college, plain boredom, retirement, or his team firing him, Brown never found a home for more than a few seasons. That has to be a huge asterisk on his legacy. One thing is to not be fortunate enough to win titles or have great players; another is not being able to keep a coaching home (or stay content with it). He has to be penalized for this when comparing him to the Riley’s and Popovich’s of the world. As I previously mentioned, he’s one of the best coaches ever, we just have to nitpick when comparing to the very best.

Unfortunately for Brown, we live in a “what have you done for me lately” society, always looking for the next best thing and constantly forgetting the history of the past. Since 2005, Brown has bounced around to the Knicks (a total disaster) and then the Bobcats (a semi-disaster). He hasn’t been able to relate and get through to his players as he did in years past. This has left a sour taste in the public’s mouth and prevented him from other coaching opportunities. Father Time has a weird way of catching up to people, and it may ring true that he has done so on Brown. There comes a point when the players stop listening to coaches, and Brown has unquestionably had that happen throughout his last few coaching stints.

After being fired by the Bobcats early last season, Brown looked into returning to coach NCAA basketball. He had no such luck (even Isiah Thomas found a coaching job, and he’s a lunatic!). He’s now moved back to wanting to coach in the NBA. Fortunately for him, his name and reputation alone should land him somewhere (possibly as an assistant, though), whether it be in college or in the pros. The question is where? Brown is a particular type of coach. He’s stereotyped as a tough, defensive-minded guy who doesn’t like fast-paced, uptempo teams or playing rookies/young players. So naturally, the Minnesota Timberwolves (who play at the league’s highest pace and feature the youngest roster) are interested. I’m not sold on the fit, obviously, but David Kahn will be David Kahn (although Don Nelson and Rick Adelman may have precedence over Brown in Kahn’s evil genius mind).

At this point in his career, Brown is likely no longer be fit to be a head coach. As an assistant coach with Boston, as reported above, Brown would thrive in the Thibodeau/Frank defensive mastermind role. Brown’s teams have always been good defensively (even great), and he could probably help add new wrinkles to Boston’s almost-perfect defensive system. The Celtics have taken chances on Stephon Marbury, Michael Finley, Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal and the Artist Formerly Known as Shaq, so why not on an assistant coach, especially one of Brown’s caliber?

Full Court Framework: Taken Out Of Context, On Kobe Bryant And Legacy

Photo by Josh•Yo on Flickr

There’s really nothing more aggravating than having words put in your mouth( or anything in your mouth for that matter). It happens to everyone. We’ve all made a statement or given an answer that has been removed from the overall message, twisted and contorted until it betrayed the intended meaning. Twitter, despite being a incredible tool, has served to make this practice more and more prevalent. Condensing every important story or piece of news to 140 character snippets causes the context and detail to be lost in favor of more “necessary” and basic facts.

The human brain is designed to function much like Twitter. Our minds take large swaths of information and boil them down to a general fact or idea, while discarding the rest. This cognitive technique, while convenient in everyday decision making, leads to mangled and mixed messages that can cause confusion, or worse, a common acceptance of a perception that is in fact false ( “John Mayer’s a racist” comes to mind). Furthermore, we lose important details, which in turn deprives us of our ability to analyze and debate in an effective and meaningful way.

Most famously, NBA players have been victims of this practice in the micro sense when misquoted by a media outlet or reporter. What’s more worrying is that fans, writers, and analysts are constantly refusing to recognize context when dealing with players at the macro level. In other words, entire careers are being evaluated without considering circumstance. This leaves us with a distorted picture that misrepresents the various successes and failures of each player. It’s like taking a quote out of context, only much more important than an opinion or thought, it’s someone’s life work and legacy.

Seemingly no one player cares more about his place in history than Kobe Bryant, the self appointed “Black Mamba”. He’s cultivated an image as a cold, calculating assassin, complete with a full array of deathly effective jabs, spin moves, pump fakes and fall-away jumpers. He’s the ultimate winner, capturing 3 titles alongside Shaq and two more just to prove he could do it “alone” (I say “alone” because claiming Kobe won those titles solo is a lot like saying Harry Potter defeated Voldemort by himself). He’s shattered scoring records, rattled off a patently absurd streak of 40 point games, and even pulled a real-life video game performance dropping 81 points on the Raptors in 06.

In the basketball pantheon it seems clear that Kobe belongs in the discussion for top 10 players of all time. However, the discussion of his career rarely recognizes the luck and fortunate  circumstances from which Kobe benefited. First he played alongside Shaq, the most dominant physical presence the sport has ever seen. Eight years and one fallout that is it’s own Wikipedia page later, Kobe would find himself with a fairly dismal supporting cast that included Lamar Odom and a guy named Smush. Luckily, the Lakers are a team that has rarely if ever had to rebuild, unless you call trading all of your bad players for much better ones “rebuilding”.  After two short and rather frustrating  years, (Kobe being recorded by some fans in a shopping center ring any bells?), Kobe was blessed with 3 of the most gifted 7 footers in the league. Problem solved.

Just for a moment, let’s pretend we live in a world where Kobe didn’t play for one of the most lucrative and dominant franchises in sports. Let’s go back to the 1996 NBA Draft and have the Hornets say, “Screw you Kobe, you can play here or nowhere at all. Your choice.” How does Kobe’s career play out? What if he never gets a ring? Certainly history treats Kobe entirely different. He’s viewed as a gunner without a championship, a surly, difficult-to-play-with superstar who time and time again failed to make his teammates better. It may seem like a somewhat arbitrary exercise, but it reveals an important truth: much of Kobe’s success has nothing to do with Kobe. It’s contextual. He was presented with the perfect opportunity, one which  many great players were never given.

I’m not trying to discredit Kobe as basketball player, he’s phenomenal. Nor am I trying to diminish the role his incredible work ethic and determination played in his illustrious career. I’m merely trying to shed light on a flaw in our evaluation of career arcs. Certainly, some players are just prone to disruptive behavior. Whatever situation you put Boris Diaw in he’s probably going to be fat and lazy (I’d worry about Boris reading this, but in 2007 he logged on the internet, realized he couldn’t eat it and never returned). This doesn’t change the fact that we regularly credit players with too much power over their own circumstance. They are viewed as demi-gods, capable of manipulating factors that remain well beyond their control. Players are categorized as either “legends” or “disappointments” with  little consideration of the context that determines their relative ability to prevail. This is too simple, too convenient, and too often entirely incorrect.