Monthly Archives: November 2011

Wait & See

Thaddeus Young is three months older than Kevin Durant, three months older than Derrick Rose, and about nine months older than Blake Griffin. He’s young. He’s 23, and it’s a big reason why his restricted free agency will be one of the more interesting developments during the upcoming (curtailed) signing frenzy.

Young, of course, has the prototypical small forward physique to go with a classic small forward game. He’s long, athletic, and coordinated, but what makes his development so intriguing is his understanding of where to be on the court. In the halfcourt, most of his baskets come from smart cuts to the rim where every motion is resolute and lightning quick. In today’s NBA he is a tweener, though it’s hard to see it as a pejorative for Young when he so efficiently scores in bunches for the Sixers. He’s specifically mentioned working on his midrange game over the summer, which is encouraging since his percentages from 3-15 feet out haven’t been good in his four years. Finding one or two decent post moves to go along with a more consistent midrange jumper would work wonders for his game. Despite his chiseled frame, Young doesn’t possess the girth necessary to stand up to most bruising big men. While he has a hook shot in his arsenal, it hasn’t really been consistent enough against larger defenders.

As a tweener, his defensive abilities are inherently a mixed bag. While he possesses plenty of quickness to adequately cover the pick and roll, he struggles to defend post-up situations, allowing just a few ticks over 50% shooting in the post, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Fortunately, the problems he faces on defense aren’t due to a lack of effort. Unfortunately, lean 6’8” wings aren’t really meant to defend the Zach Randolphs or Greg Monroes of the league.

But again, Young is … young. There are a number of teams in need of an offensively potent wing, and Young fits the bill. Though he was primarily a role player on the Sixers, an expanded role – either on the Sixers or elsewhere — especially at this stage in his career, could lead to a breakout season. According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, teams are taking notice, and a hefty offer from another team could very well cost Philadelphia an important piece to their developing nucleus:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/ChrisMannixSI/status/141516243046891521"]

It’d be a low-risk, high-reward move. In one year with Doug Collins, one of the most anal-retentive coaches in the league, he’s become a highly efficient, low-mistake player who still has all the time in the world to tack on more skills. But the Sixers are surely measuring their steps carefully. In trying to build a contender through Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, the team blew max money on guys who would eventually turn out to be glorified role players. The dread that preempts Young’s free agency is clear, but it shouldn’t paralyze the organization. He’s a good player worth the money he’ll be offered. He’s worth the chance.

No team should expect a star right away, but there is still hope – and time — on that front. He has an unteachable knack for scoring, and it shouldn’t be long before his skills catch up with his decisiveness. Even at its absolute floor, Young’s skills are still in high demand. Any team could use an athletic slasher with actual scoring ability. But there is time for more than just that, and the Sixers are rightfully worried that teams will be ready to make the steep investment.

 

Podcast Paroxysm: Free Agent Discussion

In this Podcast Paroxysm, co-host Sean Highkin and fellow Hardwood Paroxysm contributor Scott Leedy join me to discuss this year’s top NBA free agents. We weigh the various players found in Chad Ford’s list of prominent free agents, and many other players (including Patty Mills, of course). We also discuss the (soon-to-be) new CBA’s amnesty clause and how specific teams may utilize it, with a focus on the Blazers and Brandon Roy.

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Pulling Back the Competitive Balance Curtain

Via Flickr by George Eastman House

Daniel Schorr: Discovering the object of the game is the object of the game.

Nicolas: I don’t care about the money. I’m pulling back the curtain. I want to meet the wizard.

-The Game (1997)

“The NBA has empircal evidence — from its own economists and other deep thinkers — that bolsters its contention that closing the money gap will close the competition gap. But it has not yet made any of that data public or referenced it specifically to the media. ”

-David Aldridge

During the battle for basketball supremacy off the court this fall I lost count of how many times I heard commissioner David Stern’s common refrain echoed ceaselessly by a contingent of fans sympathetic and unpretentious when it came to the league’s cause. That popular phrase encompassed six simple words which, taken lacking proper context, had a lasting effect among much of the general public. The powerful parlance reads:

“The last five champions were taxpayers.”

Let’s take a look, including all the playoff teams from the “Last 5,” sorted according to total payroll by year as counted per luxury tax purposes.*

*Accurate NBA salaries are difficult to come by. I cross referenced no less than five different, independent sources while compiling this data for the purpose of obtaining as accurate of results as humanly possible. The league and it’s owners do not release to the public or media any official numbers concerning league-wide yearly salaries. I found ShamSports.com and it’s proprietor Mark Deeks to be most helpful in my research whenever I found myself banging my head against a brick-walled dead end.

•  Indeed, we see the last five were in fact taxpayers**

• The average payroll of the “Last 5″ champions was 4.6-highest in the NBA

• The Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers exceeded the luxury tax line every year, the only teams to do so

• The Mavericks (from 2005 to 2010, six straight years) were a top two taxpayer every year until, ironically, the year they won it all, last

• The average number of taxpaying teams from the “Last 5″ is 9.4

• 61% of the playoff teams did not exceed the luxury tax line

• The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs tend to be “hoverers” (more on the Spurs in a minute)

• The more money the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic spent the worse they got, record-wise

• Some, but not all of the consistent playoff teams under the luxury tax line sport star-level elite talents still on rookie contracts

• 11 of the conference finalists were taxpayers, or 55%

• 9 of the conference finalists were not taxpayers, or 45%

• Only once were all the conference finalists taxpayers, and only twice have the majority been

• Twice non-taxpayers constituted 75% of the conference finals, and once we saw two each of taxpayers and non-taxpayers

**While the Spurs were technically taxpayers it was by the slightest of margins. In the course of hunting down their payroll for the season ending in 2007 I found them listed as everywhere from slightly below to as much as $6 million over the luxury tax line. This infuriated my left brain while perplexing my right brain, the result being a general sense of head-achey confusion and crankiness (which likely led to at least one unwarranted Twitter battle, for which I apologize) until I happened on this, which confirmed that the Spurs had indeed been taxpayers, exceeding the line by a paltry $100K (as the lux tax penalty was dollar-for-dollar we can infer their overage from the amount they were required to pay the league). For that, San Antonio, you now get two asterisked championship trophies. So there. And thanks to Henry for acting as aspirin and saving my insanity for a later date.

At this point in the research I was asked how the “Last 5″ compared to the “First 5″ of the luxury tax era, now fully a decade in. This seemed a brilliant idea when proposed. After all, the bigger the sample size the better, right? I’d figured, now that I had the template down, that I’d just blow right through it. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

For starters, payroll information for the years prior 2006-07 are spotty and suspect at best. If you can find them at all (shout out, HP’s own Curtis Harris). The next thing you’ll find — or more accurately won’t — is that there’s no luxury tax line information available for the year ending in 2005. Why, you ask? I ‘splain.

You see, for the “Last 5″ the way the luxury was calculated and applied changed. “From [the 2005-06 season] onwards, it become (sic) enforced every year, regardless of what happened with the escrow system.” -ShamSports, A Brief History of Luxury Tax

This had a dramatic effect on the perception of parity and competitive balance in the NBA. Reread that last line, for the reality did not change so much as the perception thereof has. That the “Last 5″ were taxpayers became a convenient truth more than an actual one.

Again, I cross referenced everything possible in searching out salaries. When adding in the next two years prior to the above chart the visual effect on the luxury tax line is quite striking. And while I did search out all the numbers, which I will share shortly, there was quite frankly no point in continuing the chart any further back, aside from the fact that I like working here and don’t wish to peeve any of the advertisers with a gargantuan image that would bury them under a pile of Mark Cuban and Jerry Buss.

Immediately we see the champions going back were under the lux tax line. Indeed, while the “Last 5″ were all taxpayers, none of the “First 5″ were, even in the three years the luxury tax line was triggered.

Courtesy SportsCity.com

Originally conceived of and designed as a deterrent to unlimited spending in any attempt by teams to “buy” a title, in the first five years of it’s existence the luxury tax was triggered only 60% of the time. The change to a mandatory annual luxury tax tied into player salaries via an introduced escrow system had multiple effects on the league from parity perceptions to revenue sharing rebate checks to changing the way teams approached the lux tax line altogether.

• None of the first five were taxpayers***

• The average payroll of the “First 5″ champions was 17th-highest in the NBA

• The San Antonio Spurs were the lowest payroll to have won a luxury tax era title, at 24th-highest

• Among the “First 5″ the 2002 Los Angeles Lakers had the highest payroll for a champion, at 12th

• In the three taxpayer years of the “First 5″ the champions’ payrolls were: 15th, 17th, and 17th-highest, MIA, DET, and SAS

• A grand total of one team has been successful in “buying” a title in the luxury tax era. Indeed, among the top two taxpayers for every year in the era only one team has been able to do so, assuming one considers that to be the reason they won. To put it another way, becoming a top two spender has guaranteed you only a 5% chance of a title

• While one of the biggest markets, and a title winner and consistent playoff contender in the luxury tax era, the Detroit Pistons have never paid luxury tax

• The average overall number of taxpaying teams from the “First 5″ is 9.0. However, among only the three lux tax-triggered years it was 15.0

• 6 of the conference finalists were taxpayers, or 30%

• 14 of the conference finalists were not taxpayers, or 70%

• Of the three taxpayer-triggered years, one saw a majority of conference finalists under the luxury tax line, one over the tax line, and one even with two each. None of the three years saw all four conference finalists either over or under the line

• The “First 5″ saw two big-market titles, two small-market titles, and one mid-market title. All but the Pistons constituted a mix of veteran and rookie contract-impact players

For the superstars, whether they were genial and quiet like Tim Duncan, or outsized and incorrigable like Shaq, or brash and profane like Kobe Bryant, the message was the same as well: pay me. Duncan was no less ruthless in 2000, when it was time for the Spurs to cough up, as Shaq was a couple of years later — he held San Antonio over a barrel, flirted strongly with the Magic and made Gregg Popovich’s agita kick up like you wouldn’t believe before the Spurs came correct with the loot. When Jerry Buss made it clear he’d like to think about it before extending Shaq, the Diesel went ballistic, cussin’ and snortin’ and talkin’ his way out of town to Miami in a trade — just in time for Buss to bestow $120 million on Bryant, the Lakers’ new franchise player.

-David Aldridge

***The luxury tax was triggered only three of the five years. For details on why, please refer to the above given link to ShamSports’ luxury tax column

Overall Luxury Tax Era FAQ

• Half of the 10 Luxury Tax Era champions have been taxpayers and half have not been taxpayers. Smells suspiciously like parity when presented in these sample size terms

• The average payroll of the LTE champions is 10.80-highest

• The average number of taxpaying teams in the LTE is 9.20

• Several teams in the LTE have tried to “buy” titles unsuccessfully, to this point, including the New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Orlando Magic

• 17 of the LTE conference finalists were taxpayers, or 43%

• 23 of the LTE conference finalists were not taxpayers, or 56%

• Of the eight luxury tax years 17 conference finalists were taxpayers, or 53%

• Of the eight luxury tax years 15 conference finalists were not taxpayers, or 47%

No one would be foolish enough to pretend that in order for a team to contend for a title they’ve wouldn’t have to pay for it to some extent, but it’s far from empirical that money or market size automatically equals a title or a shot at one when context is introduced into the conversation. Indeed, in a game where a far fewer number of elite talents can make such a dramatic impact when compared with other sports, the list of factors contributing to a title include not simply spending, but also managing things such as drafting well, developing team chemistry among lineups and in the locker room (which falls under having the proper coaching in place), managing money to maximize talent and fan interest, as well as a fair amount of luck — a single bounce of the ball can mean the difference between a shot and not, at a title.

While it was convenient to point out the “Last 5,” it was in reality nothing more than a public relations ploy during the recent negotiations, one ironically caused by the league’s luxury tax rules changes that ultimately fostered the very environment among owners that they’d been trying to avoid; runaway costs. In the end it came back to bite them in more ways than one — don’t forget that despite the changes in escrow and luxury tax designed to funnel a larger percentage of profits to owners, league revenues were so vast last season that the owners ended up having to pay the players what essentially amounted to bonus checks even as they’d already earned a 57% slice of the BRI pie, which had to have tanned some executive office hides.

The fact of the matter is that in the salary cap era the NBA has brilliantly struck a balance between parity and fan interest leading to an unprecedented era of growth, both at home and globally. While the phrase “competitive balance” strikes a chord that triggers some inner sense of inborn fairness in us all, the reality is that all things are not created equal. When fighting for an ultimate parity, a veritable NBA Utopia, be careful what you wish for…

Once again: seven teams have won more than 80 percent of the league’s championships since 1947. During the most democratic decade in league history, the 1970s, when eight different teams — New York, Milwaukee, the Lakers, Boston, Golden State, Portland, Washington and Seattle — won titles, the public was so disinterested that The Finals had to be shown on tape delay.

-David Aldridge

_____

If you’d like to learn more about the long-term effects of spending in regards to wins I recommend checking out the works of Andrew Zimbalist, David Berri, and Tom Haberstroh, among others, often compiled and linked nicely at TrueHoop

The Case For Brandon Roy

Photo via theScore.com.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/ESPNSteinLine/status/141045166877319168"]

It’s not surprising that the Trail Blazers are gearing up to use the new amnesty clause on Brandon Roy. Along with Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, Luke Walton, and Travis Outlaw, he is one of the names that immediately jumped to mind for most people when word got out of the amnesty clause’s inclusion in the new CBA. My dear colleague Scott Leedy did a great job a few weeks ago of outlining exactly why, as much as it hurts, cutting ties with Roy is the only appropriate move for Portland going forward. He’s owed $68 million over the next four years, has no meniscus left in either of his knees, and is only sporadically capable of the kind of play that made him worthy of that contract in the first place. Banking on a return by Roy to his 2008-09 form, when he flirted with being a Top 10 player in the entire NBA, is a losing battle to fight.

All of this is true, but in spite of that, there’s a part of me that thinks the Blazers don’t necessarily need to rush into this decision. Barring a full season of healthy, productive Greg Oden (something else not worth holding your breath for), it’s highly unlikely that Portland will be a serious title contender this season. Other than flipping Andre Miller for Raymond Felton on draft day, their roster is virtually unchanged from the one that got bounced in the first round of the 2011 playoffs by Dallas. Shedding Roy’s contract would put them in a better position to use the full mid-level exception to sign…who, exactly? The free agents who could most help them make the jump to the Western Conference elite (Nene, Marc Gasol, Shane Battier) are almost definitely out of their price range. And anyway, Portland has no GM to make these moves.

Going into the 2010-11 season, Roy’s knees were a larger concern than they had been in the past (we all remember his dramatic early return from surgery during the Blazers’ first-round series agains Phoenix). But the expectations on him to be a franchise player and everyday number-one option were still there. Nobody knew that LaMarcus Aldridge would have the breakout year he had, or that Wesley Matthews would (mostly) live up to his controversial contract, or that the midseason acquisition of Gerald Wallace would rejuvenate the team on the defensive end. Roy’s dual arthroscopic knee surgeries and subsequent return as a bench player were a learning experience for Nate McMillan, for Roy’s Blazers teammates, for fans used to the Roy of old, and especially for Roy himself. His performance in game 4 of the Blazers’ first-round loss to Dallas, in which he almost singlehandedly brought the team back from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a dramatic win, galvanized everybody who believed he still had something in the tank, and served as catharsis for a player who had made headlines earlier in the series for his frustration with his playing time.

Going into this season, everybody has a better idea of Roy’s limitations. They know he’s still capable of what he did in that playoff game, but only occasionally. He’s had an extended offseason during which to come to terms with his diminished role. McMillan likely has a better idea of how to manage his former star’s minutes with these limitations in mind. With this firmer understanding of what can realistically be expected of him, do the Blazers really have that much to lose by seeing what they can get out of him this season?

Unlike Lewis and Arenas, two amnesty locks who have been viewed as overpaid and washed-up virtually since they signed their contracts, Roy is still beloved in Portland. It’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow for fans when it does happen, but cutting Roy is the only rational move for the Blazers to make. It has to happen eventually. But even waiving Roy and signing a low-priced free agent or two isn’t going to make Portland into a contender this year. It won’t be until next offseason, when Marcus Camby and potentially Gerald Wallace come off the books, that Portland will possibly have serious room to work with. Using the amnesty provision on Roy will be an option then, and it will be equally effective in clearing room on the payroll. That will be the time to sever ties with him. In the meantime, Paul Allen will be paying him anyway. Why not see what he’s capable of?

Things to do Before the New CBA is Ratified

Image via churl on Flickr

1) Eat a giant burger
2) Make some Stan Van Gundy jokes
3) Antagonize haters on twitter
4) Have a sham marriage
5) Play basketball overseas
6) Get out of sham marriage
7) See the new Muppets movie
8) Get a scary injury overseas
9) Try to get out of overseas contract
10) Get your name mentioned in a Billy Joel parody
11) Dunk in a fancy suit

12) Recertify Union
13) Sign CBA

Forgotten Warriors: Sunset in Philadelphia

Photo by MikeBehnken via Flickr

 “What did I get the most thrill out of? It was winning the championship. Individual honors are nice but it’s not like winning. Winning and making a positive contribution is, I think, the most satisfying thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have kept that team.”

– Paul Arizin on the 1956 NBA champion Warriors

No matter how great three players are, they cannot write, tell or compose the whole story of a franchise. Before their move to San Francisco in 1962, the Philadelphia Warriors revolved around the trio of Joe Fulks, Neil Johnston and Arizin, but there was certainly more talent in the fold. Those three men played with of some of the finest players of the era and even a couple of other hall of famers and all-time greats.

There was PF/C Woody Sauldsberry. After college ball at Texas Southern University and a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters, Sauldsberry was the 60th pick in the 1957 draft and would surprise everyone by turning in 12.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in his three seasons with the Warriors from 1958 to 1960. His unexpected play made the transition from Neil Johnston to Wilt Chamberlain smoother than it otherwise would have been. An all-star in 1959, he remains to this day the lowest draft pick to ever win Rookie of the Year. And my goodness, does he have a story to tell that sadly reminds of  the racism, particularly of the St. Louis Hawks, in the 1950s and 1960s NBA.

Youngsters Tom Meschery and Al Attles made some noise in Philly that would soon become a cacophony when the Warriors moved west. Meschery debuted in the Warriors’ last season in Philly to the tune of 12 points and 9 rebounds. The eventual all-star wasn’t the least bit gun shy that postseason averaging 20 points and 11.5 rebounds as the Warriors went down in 7 games to Boston in the Eastern Finals. Tom also has a personal story worth reading up on. Spending part of your childhood in a Japanese prison during World War II tends to warrant a read.

Attles was a defensive pit bull (nicknamed the Destroyer) with the crew cut to match. He spent two seasons in Philadelphia and would be with the Warriors organization until 1970 as a player, then was coach (winning the 1975 NBA title) until 1983 and was a team executive until… well, until the present. It’s 50 years and going strong for Attles and the Warriors.

Philly native Guy Rodgers was another of the late-50s youngbloods that re-invigorated the Warriors following Neil Johnston’s retirement. The point guard would eventually play in 4 all-star games and lead the league in assists twice. And if anyone can take a heap of credit for aiding Wilt Chamberlain in his 100-point game it was Rodgers who dished out 20 assists that night in Hershey, PA. Rodgers accomplished a Wiltonian feat of his very own the next season in 1963 when he dished out 28 assists to tie Bob Cousy’s single-game record.

Jack George was the man that Rodgers succeeded in the Philadelphia backcourt. Not as dynamic as Rodgers, George was nonetheless the steady hand that routinely gave 12 points, 5.5 assists and 4 rebounds a night. 1956 was his third pro season and his banner campaign. He averaged career highs of 14 points and 6.3 assists, led the league in minutes played, made his first of two all-star teams and earned his only All-NBA selection. His ascension perhaps explains the Warriors’ breakout as NBA champions that year.

Or maybe it was rookie F/G Tom Gola who put Philly over the top in 1956. Debuting with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists per game, he would remain  an all-around presence to fill in the holes in Philadelphia as his play barely wavered from that rookie campaign. During his 400 games in Philadelphia, Gola averaged 13.5 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, made three straight All-Star games (1960-62) and was a member of the 1958 All-NBA 2nd Team.

The final big piece on the ’56 title team was PF Joe Graboski (a name that screams early 50s NBA).  He was the third player to enter the NBA straight from high school back in the 1948-49 season with the Chicago Stags. Taken in by the Warriors in 1953, Joe never appeared in an all-star and his shooting percentage was atrocious, but he bruised with the best of them down low. In his six seasons as a starter (1954 – 1959), Graboski averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds.

And the man that sent Graboski to the Philly bench in the 1959-60 season was none other than the Big Dipper, Wilt Chamberlain. It was as a Philadelphia Warrior that Wilt set the single-season records for points per game (50.4), rebounds per game (27.2) and minutes per game (48.5). In 1961 he was the first Warrior and NBA player to shoot above 50% from the field for an entire season.

Of these Philadelphia Warriors greats, only those who spent time in the Bay Area (Chamberlain, Attles, and Merschery) have been recognized by the Warriors franchise with jersey retirements. That’s Golden State’s prerogative, of course, but I disagree with it. Even the Kings have done justice to their previous stops and have jersey numbers retired from their Rochester, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Omaha days.

It’s particularly galling with Arizin who is still splattered all over the Warriors’ record books. He’s top five in games (4th), minutes (3rd), field goals made (4th), free throws made (1st), rebounds (5th), points (3rd), and win shares (2nd). If he stands no chance, the others certainly don’t.

Not that most of these fellows would be around to bask in their own glory. Joe Fulks was murdered in 1976. Neil Johnston passed away in 1978. Jack George exited this world in 1989.  Arizin, Chamberlain, Rodgers, Graboski and Sauldsberry have left us too in the past dozen years. Of these greats, only Attles, Gola and Meschery can still attest what it meant to be a Philadelphia Warrior.

And make no doubt about it, they were great times. 16 years, 12 playoffs, 6 Eastern Finals appearances, 3 NBA Finals appearances and 2 titles. As individuals these men collected 27 All-Star games, 18 All-NBA teams, 10 scoring titles, 4 rebounding titles, 2 Rookie of the Year awards and 1 MVP. That’s quite a nice haul from some pretty nice players…

 

NBA Lockout 2: How U Boogaloo

Photo by Cheetah100 via Flickr

 Christmas Day will mark the beginning of this year’s NBA season after players and owners tentatively agreed on the Collective Bargaining Agreement early Saturday morning. The season will only be 66 games long.

Game on? NBA owners, players shake on deal

In the words of the incomparable Chick Hearn, the Lockout is “in the refrigerator: the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard, and the Jell-O’s jigglin’!” It should never have come to this, though; fans reveling that the NBA will start its season on Christmas Day. The lockout has truly lowered expectations during its 150-day run. Mercifully, that run is done and at least we get 66 games instead of 50 or 0… but not 82.

In any event, the Lockout certainly delivered its share of memorable moments besides its most exciting death. The battalion of bloggers, reporters and journalists who stayed up to the wee hours of several (but not enough) bargaining sessions. At least a sense of humor was brought along,  like Ken Berger’s cake imploring the two sides to share…

 

During the post-meeting press conferences, we discovered that Barons Davis has a woefully inadequate wardrobe for anything resembling a formal business function. Maurice Evans on the other hand was dressed sharply… but he kept bringing the same outfit to every conference while licking his lips like he still had Berger’s cake on his mind.

Inside the actual bargaining sessions, we were treated to Lockout Tall Tales including Dwyane Wade, in a Denzel Washington-like fashion no doubt (NSFW), telling David Stern to not treat him like a child. On second thought, maybe it was Kevin Garnett who truly went Training Day on owners,trying to intimidate them like they were a bunch of Marco Belinellis.

 

Painting by Graham McKean

The Captains of NBA Industry contributed their own unseemly chapters in this grotesque fable. Robert Sarver inexplicably needed to bring the mid-level exception home to his wife inside her designer handbag. MLEs aren’t something you pick up at TJ Maxx. However, I’m sure Sarver offered the retailer several draft picks before learning they don’t carry CBA clauses. Spurs owner Peter Holt (reportedly) invoked the spirit of Clubber Lang . The normally reserved Holt had us all scratching our heads with that one. Dan Gilbert on the other hand was disturbingly rubbing his belly, hopefully not with guava jelly. Imploring players to “trust his gut” in the midst of a contentious, acrimonious negotiation was a baffling. Then everyone sobered up and realized it was Dan Gilbert after all. The baffling then became run-of-the-mill.

David Stern, meanwhile, was going on tour like A Tribe Called Quest. He was here, there and everywhere warning of “enormous consequences” and doing his best to sully the reputation of the players that make his job and league possible. Adam Silver made himself rather undistinguished in his one day as substitute commissioner when Stern stayed home sick to watch the Price is the Right. Tentative hope vanished as that round of negotiations horrifically transmogrified like Michael Jackson in the Thriller video (or like Jackson progressively did in real life).

But of course, the most memorable moment from this sad affair was Roger Mason, Jr.’s inadvertent tweet that it was “looking like a season”. Punctuated with the now-world famous “how u”. Yesterday, Mason pulled that cat out of the bag once more… and hopefully  nevermore.

Good riddance, Lockout. You deserved to die and I hope you burn in hell.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbB_HVcXpPk w=600 h=400]

NBLC Roundup: There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Photo by Sam Howitz via Flickr

“I’ve been in two leagues where we hired a higher profile NBA person to serve as commissioner of the league and that individual did absolutely nothing except walk away with his paycheque,” said Andre Levingston, the president and chief executive officer of the nascent league. “They didn’t do what was needed to help grow the league or bring opportunities to the league.

National Basketball League names John Kennedy commissioner

Since we last convened, the NBL has selected its first-ever commissioner, John Kennedy. The NBL may be in its nascent stages, but like its cross-border equivalent, the NBA, it  recognizes the importance of advertising dollars and the windfall that comes from TV money. Ticket sales from games is a nice start, but real success, stability and growth emerges from broadcast revenue. Underwhelming TV income is a major factor that precipitated the (mercifully dead) NBA Lockout. Hopefully, the new commissioner can quickly find a TV partner to showcase  these games to the larger public. And I’ve viewed CTV programming before. You can’t tell me a London Lightning vs. Quebec Kebs game is less appealing than The Littlest Hobo on a Saturday.

Anyhoo, here’s the action from this past week. Only four games took place, so we have room enough to feature them all!

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What About Jameer Nelson? No Seriously, What About Jameer Nelson?

Photo by leifcarlsen on Flickr

 

This time last year, the Magic had just beaten the Heat to improve to 10-4 and were about to win their next five games. They were absolutely considered title contenders, with essentially the same loaded roster that dominated the end of the previous regular season and playoffs before running into Boston. Now, heading into a 66-game season, they still have talent but you wouldn’t call them “loaded.” They’re one of the few teams for which I can’t find that wonderful offseason optimism. The early returns on last December’s swing-for-the-fences trades were… not great. If Gilbert Arenas isn’t amnesty’d, he’s at best a huge question mark. If Hedo Turkoglu isn’t amnesty’d, he’s, uh, still Hedo Turkoglu. Dwight Howard’s a monster, but most people assume he’s out the door soon. Jameer Nelson is… wait, what the hell is Jameer Nelson?

He was an All-Star quality guard, but that was a long time ago. His pre-injury 2008-2009 campaign could qualify for a Lost Season. If you go by the numbers, he was a good point guard before that year and he’s been a good point guard since. But if you remember that All-Star turn, just “good” feels wrong, doesn’t it?

“He’s capable of being an outstanding player,” says Van Gundy. “A lot of it is just consistency and coming with a high energy level every night.”

Via Orlando Magic Season Preview, 10/27/08

While the above SVG quote is taken from just before what would be Nelson’s best season, it’s representative of the two years following. We’ve all seen him be a game-changer: attacking, keeping the defense honest, always a threat to score and a huge problem in the pick and roll. We’ve also seen him be excruciatingly average, when for whatever reason he isn’t as decisive as you’d hope and you see too much of him standing around as Vince Carter or Hedo Turkoglu tries to make plays. That average Jameer is still a fine player and a trusted leader, but the Magic are much more dangerous when he’s making his presence felt.

 

Well, it’s hard… it’s harder to go from being a good team to a great team. It’s easier going from being a bad team to a good team because you have so much more room to improve. You look at Jason and his team this year, they were always a good team. They didn’t get over that hump. They couldn’t get over that hump, but they figured out a way to get over that hump to win a championship and that’s what veteran teams do. They figure out ways to go from being a good team to a great team. We’re still a good team. We had an early exit this year but we’re still a good team. We still have a lot of pieces that work for us.

Via Dime Q&A: Jameer Nelson On What It Takes To Go From Good To Great

If the Magic are going to get over the hump and contend for a title, something has to change. A return to form from Arenas would be glorious, but injuries have probably made that an impossibility. Dwight Howard can’t be much better than he was last year unless he starts hitting midrange jumpers and/or free throws. I don’t see how you can bet on Turkoglu at this point. Unless you believe this is the year of Earl Clark, the only guy on the roster who could realistically change the Magic’s fortunes is Nelson. The trouble is that, like with his team, there’s no simple answer for how he can be more effective. He’s essentially been the same player for years, but he has great games sometimes. A breakout season would entail doing what he does sometimes, all the time. I wish I could point to some sort of evidence that this breakout was coming, but I can’t.

I was convinced he’d have a huge year last year, but it didn’t happen and the worst part is I’m not sure why. It’s not as simple as “started off strong, fell off when the trades were made, then got accustomed to his new teammates and finished the year strong.” That’s a tidy narrative and it was how I saw it heading into last year’s playoffs, but it doesn’t address the fact that he struggles with consistency more than most players. It doesn’t account for exploding for 27 points (20 in one quarter!) in Game 1 of the Atlanta series, then being held in check for the next five games. I expected him to be great against the Hawks and I expected the Magic to win the series. He wasn’t, and they lost. Nelson is forever the x-factor. If you can figure him out, let me or Stan Van Gundy know.

Yay

Photo by sjliew on Flickr

 

Let’s get this out of the way:

WE WILL BE WATCHING NBA BASKETBALL IN A MONTH. WOOOO FLIPPITY HOOOO. BAM. HUZZAH. HURRAH. HOORAY.

…Ahem.

In a month less a day, we’ll be watching a tripleheader featuring Kobe, Dirk, Derrick Rose, the Heat, Rajon Rondo, and Landry Fields.

Then we’ll get to see Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker on the same team, John Wall (probably) in an All-Star game, Rudy Gay running with the Grizzlies again, Blake Griffin dunking on people, etc.

We’re not losing a year of Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, or Kevin Garnett. We will never watch Ricky Rubio in the Euroleague again. We won’t have to ask, “Have we seen the last of Dwight/CP3 in a Magic/Hornets uniform?” for a little while, at least. We’ve seen the last of the David Stern “I am so disappointed that the players are being so unreasonable” press conference face.

We won’t have to talk about “good faith” or who’s to blame or whether or not it’s okay for locked out players to joke about unemployment. We won’t have to answer the “What are you going to do if the season is canceled?”question. I can stop worrying about Marcus Camby and whining about people whining about charity games. We won’t have to consider JaVale McGee playing for the Talk N’ Text Tropang Texters.

Wait, that last one sounded kind of fun. Still, NBA basketball! It’s back! Giddy-up.