Monthly Archives: September 2012

The 2012-13 New York Knicks: 90′s Champs

The 2012-13 New York Knicks would have been an elite team - a true NBA title contender… in the 1990s. I say this not as a snide reference to the age of the players they signed this offseason, as I’ve done countless times on Twitter and on this website already; I say it as a referendum on the style of basketball they will seemingly play in the coming season. Click your heels together and indulge me in an alternate reality for a second.

Pretend we’re in, say, 1996. Consider how the NBA is different. The only defense allowed is man-to-man. Post-defending centers and one-on-one stoppers on the wing carry the best defenses in the league. Slow-it-down, grind-it-out offenses featuring a star scorer doing his work one-on-one are the norm. There is a secondary star, another good scorer, but every other offensive player’s responsibility is to support the superstar in his effort to create shots. If that means spotting up and waiting for a kick-out pass while the star isolates and breaks down his man, so be it. If it means hanging outside the lane and waiting for a dump-off pass while the star drives to the basket, that’s fine too. The point guard is a caretaker charged with directing the team through the motions described. He occasionally runs pick-and-rolls, but he mostly gets the ball to the star scorer, directs traffic, and waits for spot-up opportunities.

That previous paragraph describes how the 2012-13 New York Knicks will likely function to a T. Tyson Chandler is the post-defending center; Ronnie Brewer and Iman Shumpert the one-on-one wing stoppers. Carmelo Anthony, obviously, is the star scorer, and Amar’e Stoudemire the secondary option. The primary responsibility denoted to Chandler, Brewer, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Marcus Camby, offensively, will be to support Anthony – and to a lesser extent, Stoudemire - create shots. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd are the caretaker point guards, charged with directing the traffic and getting the ball to Carmelo (and Amar’e).

And if we were still in the 1990′s, this all would have worked so beautifully. Chandler, Brewer and Shumpert would have the Knicks near the top of the league in defense despite the presence of unwilling defenders like Anthony and Stoudemire, just as happened in the 2011-12 season. Carmelo would make mincemeat of the opposition, using his prodigious one-on-one scoring talent to get to the basket at will, lull defenders to sleep with jab-steps and pull-ups, and draw copious amounts of fouls. Stoudemire would have a field day working off of Melo. His left-elbow based isolation attack would fit perfectly with Carmelo’s right-wing heavy game. Chandler and Camby would be available for rebounds, tip-ins and dump-offs. Novak, Smith and Shumpert would see an endless amount of spot-up opportunities, while Felton and Kidd would direct everybody to the right spots at the right times. The Knicks would be a force to be reckoned with; hounding defense combined with two top one-on-one scorers would make them the proverbial “team that nobody wants to play come June.” Mayor Bloomberg might even be making reservations for a parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

But here’s the thing - and I know I’m not exactly breaking news here, but I’ll say it anyway: we’re not in Kansas the 1990′s anymore. Rule changes over the past 20 years that have allowed for the institution of zone defense, the implementation of the hybrid, fast-moving, trapping, rotating-and-recovering schemes like the ones employed by Doc Rivers/Tom Thibodeau’s Boston Celtics and Thibodeau’s current Chicago Bulls, the 2011-12 Knicks themselves and most notably, the Miami Heat, and have effectively cut isolation-style basketball off at the knees, rendering it an inefficient anachronism. Scorers who primarily depend on taking their man one-on-one are met with waves of help defenders cutting off their driving lanes, forcing them into step-back 22-footers. Isolation heroes who excel at creating for themselves are trapped by two or three defenders, forced to make difficult cross-court passes, waiting to be picked off by speedy center-field type rovers. While in the 1990′s we would term this kind of space-defending “illegal defense,” now we just call it the norm.

The style of offense that punishes these defenses is one that centers on floor-spacing, ball movement and player movement; one that pings the ball around the perimeter and finds the smallest creases in the manic rotations of the opposition. Fast-moving pick-and-rolls and side-to-side ball movement generate the requisite space to fire corner 3′s and create lay-ups and open jump shots.

The Knicks, much as they did in the early 2000′s, have tried to go against that grain. They’ve built a throwback team, a 90′s team. They will play Mike Woodson’s brand of tough, bruising defense on the strength of Chandler, Camby and Brewer (and hopefully by January, Shumpert). And they will run their offense through Carmelo the majority of the time, betting that his ample offensive talent is enough to carry the day. And as we saw against the Heat in the first round of the playoffs last season, it will eventually peter out.

The thing about this is, the Knicks really aren’t so far from being unlocked as a true team-of-the-2010′s power. They have the requisite defensive intensity, they just need to find a way to open up the offensive attack to deal with the new challenges the defenses of today create. There’s a fairly simple solution that presented itself down the stretch of last season: embrace small ball as the new, modern normal and move Anthony to power forward, where he blitzed the opposition to the tune of 29.3 points per-36 minutes and a 29.5 PER last season. But the Knicks can’t do it, not while they’re paying Stoudemire approximately $65 million over the next three seasons and Woodson is refusing to either bring him off the bench to start the game or play him extended minutes with the second unit while minimizing the time he and Anthony share the court.

So the Knicks are again reaching back to the 1990′s to solve this particular problem (h/t Ethan Sherwood Strauss). This offseason, Woodson and Amar’e sought the help of low-post extraordinaire Hakeem Olajuwon to open up a new aspect of Stoudemire’s game. Amar’e's faceup isolation attack and dive skills on the pick-and-roll have forever been his greatest strengths, yet here he is calling on an icon to teach him tricks from the past to unlock his present. And while it may work, it’s yet another instance of the Knicks being stuck in the 90′s while the rest of the league is moving forward. They’re a team that, over the next few seasons, will get older, slower and more rigid in a league that is seemingly getting younger, quicker and more versatile with each passing day.

The reality of the situation is that the Knicks would probably be best served by trading Stoudemire for a new-age “three-and-D” wing in the mold of Andre Iguodala, but the stark nature of STAT’s injury history and the size of his contract make him nearly impossible to trade - not that James Dolan would dare dangle the man who so boldly declared “the Knicks are back” two years ago anyway (For the record, I’d hate to see him go. Here’s hoping you Stand Tall And Talented, STAT). Obtaining a player like – but obviously not exactly like, since Denver just acquired him – Iguodala would give the Knicks three viable perimeter stoppers and add another shooter to their stable that currenty includes just Steve Novak and – provided his percentages bounce back – J.R. Smith.

It would free up Anthony to play power forward full time, just as his draft mate and self-professed rival LeBron James did in the playoffs for the Miami Heat last season and will likely continue to do in the future. There, his deceptive quickness and spectacular faceup game would be unleashed against slower defenders, and his inability to guard players in open space would be minimized against all but a few power forwards, secretly making the Knicks defense even better. It would provide better floor-spacing for Anthony’s off-the-dribble attacks and free up lanes for Felton and Kidd to run (probably occasional) pick-and-rolls with Chandler and/or Camby.

These are modern tweaks the Knicks could make, but again they are opting for throwback options, not only sticking with traditional positional designations, but also bringing in multiple backup bigs in Camby (actually, a good acquisition that will stabilize the second unit defense and improve the team rebounding) and Kurt Thomas, while pursuing Kenyon Martin and Birdman Anderson. With all these four and five-men in the mix, you wonder when or if Melo will ever see time at what seems to be – judging by his play late last season and in the Olympics – his new optimal position.

All these moves hearken back to the strategy employed by Isiah Thomas in the early 2000′s. Hear me out. I’m not comparing these Knicks to the dreadful teams Thomas assembled, just noting the similar ideas behind them. In The Book of Basketball (I’m about to paraphrase a conversation from a book I read a few years ago), Bill Simmons described a conversation he had with Thomas about the philosophy behind pairing Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph in one of his many roster-construction disasters in New York. Thomas said (again, I’m paraphrasing from memory) that while he saw the rest of the league getting smaller, he wanted to get bigger and more bruising, the better to bully the opposition into submission. That Thomas chose to enact this strategy with Curry and Randolph is where he went wrong. The Lakers bullied the league into submission with that exact strategy in the late 2000′s with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, with Kobe Bryant on the wings, and it worked beautifully.

The current Knicks regime seems to be employing the same thinking. While the rest of the league moves away from traditional positions, becomes faster, quicker and more versatile, and emhpasizes space and speed over size and strength, the Knicks are again moving in the opposite direction. They have a bullying 1990′s-style small-forward, a power forward learning post moves for the first time in an effort to unlock a new area of the court, a rim-protecting center, caretaker point guards who will be spot-up shooters (despite not being good spot-up shooters) and supporting players whose role is simply to fill in the blanks. Contrast the Knicks with teams like the Heat, Thunder, Celtics and Spurs, teams that can go big or small, play inside-out or outside-in, run you off the floor or pound the ball inside and create open looks through crisp kick-out passing, and you begin to see why the Knicks reside just outside the realm of true title contenders in today’s NBA.

The Knicks will be good, maybe even very good. They’ll win 45 to 50 games. They may even advance in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. This will be the best Knick team since I was Bar Mitzvah’d. The Knicks will once again matter on a national stage, and not in the laughingstock way. But they’re not a title contender, not in today’s NBA. Because they’re stuck in the 1990′s, and the rest of the league has long since moved on.

Devil In Detail

Margarita Night

This time, between the end of summer league and the beginning of training camp is the doldrums of the NBA off-season. There is no notable NBA news, which ironically makes everything about the NBA newsworthy. One of the “monster stories” during this cycle of malaise was Dwyane Wade publicly assessing his mid-range jumpshot, acknowledging it needed to be fixed, but specifying that the work needed to be done on the catch. I won’t pretend to have the requisite knowledge to critique the mechanics of Wade’s jumpshot, nor quibble with his assessment of what needs to be fixed.

The mid-range jumpshot is a curious animal. Every NBA player takes them. Some make them, some don’t. But the identity of a few players is so intertwined with their mid-range jumpshots that it’s almost impossible to separate the player from the action. Wade is certainly a member of that genus. In his public statements he characterized himself as one of the best mid-range shooters in the league. For him, that particular shot is obviously a big part of how he sees himself as a basketball player. I agree that Wade’s mid-range jumper is a huge component of his on-court identity. However, on this side of the table things don’t look quite as rosy.

In the piece I linked to above Matt Moore pointed out that, despite his claims to the contrary, Wade has not been one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA. In fact he has been one of the least consistent at his position. Even more damning is the way his struggles to regularly make outside shots are held in stark contrast to his incredible ability to finish at the rim. Among those with an identity tied strongly to that mid-range jumpshot, Wade is one of an even smaller number of players who’s outside shooting looks much worse, because the alternative is so incredibly effective. The trade off in value between a Wade layup and a Wade jumper is visually enormous, but how does it shake out statistically?

With a little support from NBA.com I calculated Wade’s points per shot average on attempts in the paint. I also did the same for all his attempts, including three-pointers, that came outside the paint. I even incorporated free throws, eyeballing it a little and splitting them 95%/5% for my inside and outside the paint calculations. When all the numbers were crunched I found that Wade averaged 1.295 points per shot inside the paint, and 0.805 points per shot outside the paint. That’s a difference of 0.490 points per shot, meaning every jumpshot Wade takes costs his team roughly half a point. Averaging 7.08 jumpshots per game, Wade had his hand in the offensive cash register and slipped out with just over 3.5 points a night.

Especially troubling for the Miami Heat is the fact that his teammate, LeBron James, suffers from an equally dramatic split. His points per shot inside the paint is a robust 1.429, outside the paint it’s 0.923. Although that makes him a much more efficient outside shooter than Wade (and slightly above average compared to the rest of the league), each of his jumpshots costs the Heat 0.506 points. With 9.5 attempts per game, LeBron’s willingness to shoot from the outside takes another 5 points per game from the kitty.

Of course, I’ve just set up and knocked down a straw man of epically silly proportions. Saying that a jumpshot by either player “costs” the Heat points by comparing to them a layup is playing fast and loose with both language and logic. Every shot that Wade, LeBron, or any other NBA player takes is not an even choice between layups and jumpers. Circumstance play a heavy hand in shots that are available. It may seem like both players can get to the rim at will but that is an illusion; an illusion created by absurd athleticism, but obscuring off-balance and ill-suited defenders, empty space created by teammates, and poor defensive rotations. A decision to force the ball to the rim on every possession would leave a slew of additional turnovers, miscues and general ugliness in it’s wake. The outside shot has to be part of their offensive game because the shots they excel at simply can’t be taken 25 times a night.

However, that line of thinking assumes this is a situation with only two possible outcomes, a shot inside or outside the paint. There is a third option – no shot at all.

LeBron and Wade are both splendid passers and generous teammates, more than willing to use their offensive acumen to create opportunities for their teammates. When I suggest that they pass up shots, I’m not trumpeting a grand scheme to quash ball-hogism. I’m suggesting a hypothetical experiment where two of the game’s best players simply refuse to engage with the weakest parts of their skill set.

The top of every team’s defensive game plan for the Heat is – make Wade and LeBron shoot jumpers. “Make” strikes me as a much stronger verb than is a necessary since both players seem more than happy to oblige. Using the same method as before, I calculated that the rest of the Heat averaged a solid 1.004 points per shot, inside or outside. Obviously some of that efficiency comes from the defensive attention drawn by Wade and LeBron, but can we really say that taking bad jumpers opens opportunities for their teammates? I have yet to read an NBA Playbook post illustrating how driving lanes were opened, or corner threes created, by the threat of Wade or LeBron hoisting a shot from 16ft.

Although his reluctance to take shots of any kind means he is working with slightly different variables, Rajon Rondo is already six years into a no-jumpshot experiment. His almost pathological refusal to attempt outside shots hasn’t seemed to affect his ability to get into the paint at will, create shots for his teammates or lead a fully functioning NBA offense. Obviously the system would need to look different, but how much worse would the Miami Heat offense be if one of their basic tenets was that LeBron and Wade don’t take jumpshots? What if they refused to take the shots that every NBA defense wants them to take? What if it was layups, free throws or nothing for two of the league’s best penetrators?

I’m sure this experiment will never be initiated, and my questions may never be answered. Perhaps I’m just grasping at straws, trying to entertain myself for the 40 odd days until meaningful NBA basketball is played again, wandering down dark and twisted trails that weren’t meant to be explored. Still, I can’t shake the revolutionary idea that maybe the best way to fix a broken jumpshot is to stop taking so many of them.

Player Capsules (Plus): Ricky Rubio, Can You Hear Me?

Hey, all. Aaron McGuire here from Gothic Ginobili. At GG, I’m currently doing a 370 part series profiling almost every player in the NBA. As part of a cross-posting effort, I’ll be posting massively extended capsules once every few weeks — essentially, when a capsule goes extremely long, I’ll post the extended version of the capsule on Hardwood Paroxysm. Sometimes they’ll go long with statistics, sometimes they’ll go long with legacy, and sometimes they’ll go long with philosophy. Today? Ricky Rubio, the Who, and living up to expectations.

Little known fact: before the Beatles came to America in 1964, before their brilliant Ed Sullivan Show appearance, before they had melted away the lines separating the British and American music industries for good… the U.S. popular media thought they were going to flop. And flop badly, too. Multiple times, the U.S. subsidiary of London’s EMI records (the Beatles’ label at the time) rejected attempts from George Martin and Brian Epstein to bring the Beatles’ music to America. “We don’t think the Beatles will do anything in this market.” So too did the media, who dismissively referred to the Beatles as an “infestation” in Britain, a localized case of an Elvis Presley “rock-n-roll” ripoff band getting too big for their britches and too popular for comprehension. The British had never produced “good” music before, or so the media thought. They couldn’t really do well in America, right?

Well, as the story goes, they did. They blew up. And thus began the British Invasion, a 3 or 4 year period of intense cultural exchange between the British music industry and the American public. After the Beatles’ runaway success, the media didn’t want to make the same dismissive mistakes they made the first time. So they were quite fond of hyping just about everything that could possibly come over from Britain as the “next Beatles” — not just pop groups, everything that was even remotely comparable. Any 4 or 5 man band with the same general composition ended up billed as the “next Beatles” before their arrival, at least for the next few years. They were measured up to the standard the Liverpool boys had set, and in that kind of an atmosphere, many bombed out on their first go-around. Some didn’t, but many did. And for the ones that succeeded, the “next Beatles” mark has somehow managed to sustain through time, with most post-Beatles British Invasion bands being introduced to children even today in a similar fashion. (Like myself, as I’ll outline later.)

Enter the Who. Another British invasion band, the Who were a four-man band from Britain that were ported over in the mid sixties. That right there’s about where the similarities with the Beatles end. The Who are one of the quintessential rock-n-roll bands — they recorded a bit of everything, and no two Who records really sound the same. But, somewhat ironically, this also means that virtually nothing they produced matches the style of those aforementioned Liverpool sweethearts. It was a completely specious way to describe the Who, and a way that oversimplified the group to the point of utter meaninglessness. Nobody who heard their music would really think “dang, this band is definitely the next Beatles.” They weren’t the next anything, really. The Who were the Who, defying any and all simplistic characterizations or or summarizations of their music. You need to listen to the Who and really try to take them in before you know what kind of a band they are. And even then? You may very well need to listen again. You might’ve missed something, you know. Trying to shove their music into some Lennon/McCartney-shaped hole detracts from the Who’s own brilliance, and makes it harder to appreciate the myriad of things they do well. In my view.

• • •

In 2009, to much fanfare, the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Ricky Rubio. This was ironically months before Justin Bieber’s first album, meaning that if either of the two are copying the other, it’s decidedly Bieber copying Rubio rather than the other way around. When he first was to come over, we were treated to several love songs about his game — Rubio was, so they said, “bigger and better” than Pistol Pete Maravich. He was the most hyped prospect in years, promising to bring together things like Steve Nash’s passing with Pistol Pete’s scoring, and a touch of Wally Szczerbiak’s good looks to really bring everything together. The floppy hair, the scrawny frame, the glowing smile. Everyone eagerly awaited for his arrival, and as the basketball-loving public waited, Rubio mulled coming over. And decided (perhaps in part due to David Khan’s “drafting another point guard directly after him” move) that it’d be best if he refrained, for a while, and continued his development in the Euroleague as he worked out his contract and figured out the exactitudes of his personal journey to America. Then, last season, he finally relented — he came over to play the point for an intriguing Wolves team that had finally accumulated some solid pieces. This tends to happen when you’ve been among the worst teams the sport had ever seen over the previous three seasons. The comparisons started up again. Pistol Pete, Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas. Every good NBA point guard — or, in Pete’s case, a scoring guard — was a comparable for Rubio. Which might’ve been a mistake.

Scratch that — it was definitely a mistake. Rubio was never to be the same kind of a scorer as Pistol Pete, and the idea that he would be was one of the most ridiculous overstatements that’s ever entered the popular consciousness. While Rubio started the year shooting a decent percentage from three, there’s virtually nothing that distinguishes Rubio’s freshman year scoring ability to that of the highly less heralded Brandon Jennings — Jennings started the year on fire from three point range, as did Rubio, but there were warning signs as to their overall scoring game even then. Poor form on the three point shot, no real long two to speak of, and (perhaps most importantly) one of the worst at-rim finishing percentages in the league. He had the 6th worst percentage in the league last year (sort by “at rim” percentage), which matches exactly Jennings’ finish in his rookie year (6th worst in the league). Both players started the year on fire from three, and neither finished the year with an exceptional true shooting percentage despite that. Their final true shooting percentages, in fact, are almost exactly equal — 2010 Jennings had a TS% of 47.5%, while 2012 Rubio had a TS% of 47.6%. Not very good at all — 50% is the Mendoza line for “even remotely competent.” Clearly, both their rookie seasons miss that not-particularly-high mark.

While his passing is aesthetically pleasing and extremely effective, I have trouble really getting behind the idea that Rubio is a sea-changing transformative force when it comes to team offense. Yet. He could get there — his passing is beautiful, brilliant, and clever — but he certainly isn’t there yet. Did you know that despite the Wolves’ incredible collapse post-Rubio, the Wolves still played better offense with Rubio on the bench than with Rubio on the court? This isn’t necessarily on Rubio’s passing — to these eyes, his teammates played better with him on the floor, and his masterful execution of his passing game plan and his general command of the floor are far beyond his years. The problem is, when you’re that incredibly awful on offense, there’s virtually no way you can actively improve your team’s offense when you’re on the floor. Why not let Rubio get to the rim relatively unimpeded? He won’t even make it half the time! Why not let Rubio take a shot from the midrange? He’ll make it less than 30% of the time. And so on and so forth. When the opposing defense gets to play 5-on-4, the defense gets easier and the overall team offense of the Timberwolves suffers, even if he’s improving the play of the men he shares the court with. Which differentiates him further from the brilliant offensive point guards of much repute that Rubio’s game was introduced to us with. He’s barely like them at all, as a matter of fact.

Yet, that’s not a bad thing.

• • •

My second college relationship was pretty fantastic. My ex and I remain friends to this day, and while we’ve drifted apart and haven’t spoken in quite some time, we always got along splendidly and I very much value the time we spent together. She loved video games, evolutionary anthropology (specifically lemurs, but in a general sense too), and The Who. That was actually how the relationship started, kind of — she came over to my room once, we talked over some pizza, and she noticed that among the many vinyls I’d put up around my room at least three were from Townshend’s flock. Tommy, Quadrophenia, and Who’s Next (if I recall) — I might’ve had Live at Leeds by that point. Don’t really remember. Anyway, we talked about the Who for a while, and I discovered they were her favorite band. I was a bit surprised — while I’m a big fan of The Who, I’d never say they’re my favorite band. Nor would I say they were “better” than the Beatles. My ex didn’t say as much either — she was a fan of classic rock in general, and wasn’t in the business of putting the Beatles down.

She merely said that The Who were different. And in that, I completely agree. Every Who album is a different experience. Different flavors, different emotions, different styles. It’s a menagerie of experiences, an indescribable deluge of wonder. The more we talked about The Who, the more I realized how much her love for them made sense. They weren’t the greatest band ever, in my eyes — but nothing she said about them was untrue, and I could totally understand why a person would reasonably believe them to be one’s favorite band despite thinking they weren’t “better” than the Beatles in a traditional sense. To this day, I listen to a lot more of The Who than I did before I dated her, and I feel as though she managed to open up a facet of their music to me that even I — a Who fan who owned four of their vinyls — never quite accessed myself. And finally helped me get past the original impression I had of the Who, back from when I was a young kid. The Who were first introduced to me by a music teacher who had always described them as the “next Beatles.” In this frame, they were disappointing. But by looking at the Who on their own merits and considering them as their own ever-changing difference engine, you start to get a sense of how good they really are. Some music’s for the body, some music’s for the soul — The Who were for both.

When it comes to expectations, Rubio is the Who. He isn’t the “next Pistol Pete.” He never was going to be. On defense, though, he’s far more akin to Gary Payton — he can stay in front of virtually every point guard in the NBA, and when he’s on the court, his ability to keep point guard penetration to a minimum is essential on a team with Love and Pekovic on the front line. He’s so athletic and rangy, and he has some of the best stealing instincts in the league. And that’s already! He was a rookie! For all this talk about Rubio’s offense, as I said before, the Timberwolves offense was actually worse with Rubio on the floor. If they wanted better offense, they’d play Barea or Ridnour. But Rubio gave the Timberwolves something neither of those players could give them. Defensive dominance from the point guard position. This is not a typo: the 2012 Minnesota Timberwolves allowed 7.2 points less per 100 possessions with Rubio on the court. Which is absolutely positively insane. And fantastic. If he can work his offense into a shape that isn’t so dismal, he could lead a set of teams much akin to the mid-90s Sonics, as the defensive stalwart and the improve-everyone-else point guard.

Is this anything like we expected, when he was hyped up? Not by a longshot. Per the Pistol Pete expectations, Rubio was about as disappointing as he could possibly be. But that’s the thing. He’s not disappointing at all. Just like the Who are only disappointing if you accept a flawed premise to begin with, Rubio’s only disappointing if you accepted the idea that he was going to be some dominant offensive superstar. He’s not Chris Paul, he’s not Kyrie Irving, he’s not Deron Williams. Rubio is his own man, bringing the league something it hasn’t seen in decades and doing it in such an endearing and floppy-haired way that it’s impossible to do anything but smile when watching him play his game. My ex taught me a lot more than she’ll ever know over our short fling, and foremost among them was to keep my expectations from lording over everything I think. Because oftentimes those expectations are wrong, or silly, or absurd-in-retrospect. In the case of Rubio, all that is true. But his game is no less wonderful for its lack of offensive spackle. It’s merely different, and it takes a different level of engagement to appreciate than we were perhaps expecting. And above all, he’s emphatically his own man — it does him scant justice to relegate him to the shadow of players he barely resembles.

He’s no Pistol, no Nash, no Paul. He’s Ricky Rubio — and from all appearances, that’s more than enough to start.

The Lowdown “Expansion All-Stars”: Slick Leonard

via Fanbase.com

Pre-”Expansion All-Star” Seasons (1957 – 1961): 8.8 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.8 RPG, .340 FG%, .746% FT, 25.6 MPG

“Expansion All-Star” Season (1962): 16.1 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.8 RPG, .375 FG%, .752 FT%, 35.2 MPG

Post-”Expansion All-Star” Seasons (1963): 7.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.1 RPG .343 FG%, .694 FT%, 27.5 MPG

William Robert Leonard is a man of a million aliases. Some call him “Robert”. Others “Bob”. But the coolest of us call him “Slick”. As a legendary ABA coach, Slick proved to be tough, if not slippery, for opponents to handle. He took the Pacers to three titles in the upstart, renegade league. However, his time as a professional basketball player isn’t all that memorable.

Except when he tagged along with the expansion Chicago Packers in the 1961-62 season. For his sudden, unexpected and never-repeated performance that year, Slick Leonard is the 1st Expansion All-Star to be featured here in The Lowdown, which is appropriate since the Chicago Packers in 1961 were the 1st NBA expansion team in a decade. And my goodness did they show it on the court. Aside from Slick Leonard and rookie Walt Bellamy this team was absolutely atrocious. Beyond them, 8 other players appeared in 41+ games with the Packers that season. All but 3 would be out of the league the very next season. And only two survived the following year.

So with those facts in mind, it’s little wonder Leonard enjoyed a career season with the expansion Packers. Up to this point, Leonard had been a serviceable guard with the Lakers franchise. His claim to fame there had been a surprisingly great 1957 postseason where he averaged 21 points, 7.5 assists and 6 rebounds in 5 games. His other stake to stardom had been a coach-like  harping of his team’s shortcomings, in particular this rant to the Los Angeles Times:

“We’re so much better than that club (Cincinnati),” he said. “But we just don’t have the fire. We are a second place club, material wise, and we keep saying we’ll make up the games we’ve lost but there are only 31 games left.”

Not content with these salvos Leonard then bit into coach Fred Schaus for trying to make teammate “Hot Rod” Hundley, who he deemed a lackluster play maker, into a point guard:

“You can’t make a leader,” he said emphatically.

These quotes from January 1961 by an aging reserve may have played some role in Leonard’s subsequent availability in that summer’s expansion draft. Just a hunch on my part.

Now a member of the Chicago Packers, Leonard was free to not only shoot barbs but as many shots as he wanted on the court. Early in the season the Chicago Daily Tribune noted his playmaking ability and its impact, particularly on rookie sensation Walt Bellamy:

The Chicago Packers came up with a new star last night. His name is Bob Leonard, once an All-American playmaker at Indiana University.

The 29 year old backcourt man [cast aside in the player draft by the Los Angeles Lakers as being injury prone] dominated a second half rally that brought the Packers their second victory of the season. They have lost three.

Thanks to Leonard’s ball handling, Walt Bellamy… was able to score 35 points. Eleven of Bellamy’s field goals came in the second half and eight were the direct result of passes from Leonard.

Leonard himself had 27 points that game against the Knicks. Chicago stood at that point had 2 wins and 3 losses, a very respectable record for an expansion club. But the hard times hit hard and fast. Just three weeks later, Leonard again scored 27 points but Chicago lost to the Detroit Pistons. It was their seventh straight loss and put them at 2 wins and 11 losses.

In a mid-December contest that saw Bellamy (45 points) and Wilt Chamberlain (50 points) square off within the confines of the game, Leonard and Philadelphia Warriors point guard Guy Rodgers actually squared off following the (you guessed it) Packers loss:

[Leonard and Rodgers] traded punches in center court last night at the conclusion of Philadelphia’s 112 to 110 victory…

The Packers led, 110 to 108, with less than two minutes remaining, but baskets by Tom Gola and Rodgers gave Philadelphia the victory before 3,360.

The losing nights piled up in normal venues (Boston, New York, Philadelphia) and in neutral-site, zany locales like Louisville, Green Bay, East Chicago, Moline and Evansville. At least in February, Leonard secured some measure of revenge against his erstwhile club, the Lakers. Playing with an injured shoulder ol’ Slick scored 18 second half points, including five straight down the stretch, to give the Packers a rare win. However, it’d be important to note  Los Angeles was without Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

Even the redemption was somewhat in vain this season. In fact, everything was somewhat in vain for Leonard this season. He finally was able to demonstrate his full abilities at age 29 after 5 seasons in the NBA. He averaged a career-high 16 points, 5.5 assists and 37.5% FG while connecting on 75% of his free throws. But his demonstrations came on what is truly one of the worst teams in league history. These Packers went 18-62 and surely would have been worse had it not been for Leonard and, even more so, Walt Bellamy’s incredible campaign.

The next season Leonard would only suit up for 32 games of playing action. The Chicago Zephyrs (yes, they changed their name after one season) were just about as awful as they were the previous season finishing 25-55.

However, the silver lining of this season (and the next) would be that Leonard was given his 1st coaching opportunity. Although, these formative coaching years were unimpressive, they were still instructive. Dismissed by the Baltimore Bullets (yes, the Chicago Zephyrs/Packers had already relocated) after the 1964 season, Leonard’s next coaching job would be with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA and he’d truly make his mark on professional basketball. A mark that should be recognized with some Hall of Fame hullabaloo. But for now we’ll settle with remembering Bob “Slick” Leonard as the 1st Expansion All-Star of the NBA.

 

Hardwood Paroxysm Presents: Your Stupid Questions, A Mailbag Disaster

For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I’m doing a mailbag. I had always liked Simmons, and the others run on the big sites, but had never considered doing one, because, you know, who the hell is going to write me an email asking what I think? But with the Twitter follower count so high, based solely on bots and the possibility I might freak out over Conley again, I asked if anyone would be interested in me doing it. People said they would be. And I’m largely like what Henry Rollins described playing the first time with Black Flag was like: like popping a quarter into an arcade game.

Here then, are your questions. If you have a question for the next edition, email it to [email protected]

 

ugh, why are you doing a mailbag? 

-Michael Gonring

Aaaaand we’re off to a rousing start.

 

How do you see the Orlando Magic thing playing out? Was this the best way to go, will it pay off? Do you think Changing the culture and acquiring young talent will eventually lead to a championship caliber team?

-Insta Magic

I’m in a tight spot on the Magic, because I often say that we have no alternative but to assess things from where we are at the same time. Blasting the Pau Gasol trade for Memphis was not incorrect at the time just because Marc Gasol wound up as Wendigo. At the time, we knew almost nothing about El Beardo and had no way of knowing that he was like a less-skilled Pau with bigger testes. It was not wrong for us to torch him. But the Hornets deal, and honestly the Nuggets and Jazz deals make you realize that these things aren’t a one-year process. We need to give Hennigan some time. Because if the flips Afflalo by the deadline, or Harrington, or at the draft, along with the extras he picked up, and moves up, then what?

Taking picks with any protections was not a good look, and you have to think it’s likely that they could have yanked another quality player out of the deal somewhere. But Orlando was in a very particular spot because of how their ownership handled it, and what Dwight and his people had done to their leverage. It was leverage warfare that last four months and honestly is probably something either the NBA or NBPA needs to address.

The thing with them winning a title is that the Spurs, as they have been over the past 13 years, without Tim Duncan, is just a really classy, well-organized 8th seed. You still need the guy, and getting that guy becomes harder and harder with each year it feels like.

 

How do you feel that a rookie gets to start over you?

Just kidding Matt, I don’t have a question… Wait… Talk about LeBron.

Hiring?

Brad

I was just thinking today that what the site needs is someone who even mails it in on a mailbag question including using the overplayed joke about the NFL quarterback. Let me take down that “Now Hiring” sign and show you to your office.

 

What do you think the Raptors can get for Jose Calderon? I’ll hang up and listen.

-Atique Virani

Well the Lakers got Sessions for a first-rounder and you have to think that considering the size of his expiring he can get better offers than that. If a playoff team is in a position to make a second-round or better run and need a point, they’ll get the offers they’re looking for. Maybe the biggest problem is that they can’t target the teams that traditionally overpay for international players, because they’re one of them. Calderon’s like a lot of players in that the people who don’t think he’s valuable have very specific reasons why and feel comfortable with their assessment, and people who like him have a pretty solid resume and history to fall back on. Point guard who can shoot well is not as common in this league as you’d think. But if they get any draft considerations at all out of a deal, then Colangelo’s done well.

 

Do Bulls fans have any reason to trust the front office?  Lies upon lies about competing while destroying the bench before our eyes.

-Riley Schmitt

Here’s the great thing about the Bulls. They’re not cheap out of function. They don’t try and sneak away the dollars because their owner struggles with his own accounts. They’re not doing payroll on credit. And it’s not a tactical decision, because in a lot of cases, it does more damage than the advantage it brings. It’s a philosophical thing. Reinsdorf, his family, and everyone they’ve trusted with running the business, just simply will not accept anything less than winning every transaction by the largest possible margin. In reality, they’re more competitive against their own people than they are against the other teams in the league.

I know several writers who actually like what they did with the bench. And part of what needs to be understood is that it’s not like Asik, Lucas, Watson, etc. were actually that good. It’s the same deal with Boozer. You can’t localize how bad Boozer is defensively as much anymore because Thibs has figured out how to completely mask them. So the bench could be substantially better, we just have to see if they fit with Thibs, not each other.

To me the bigger thing is Thibs himself. Why would you screw around with his extension? What on Earth could he have done other than break LeBron’s arm himself or magically healed Derrick like a shaman to have put that team further forward? I get the idea of winning every transaction you can, but at some point you’re just creating a work environment where everyone is unhappy with dealing with you as an employer. That’s not conducive to success.

Then again, Reinsdorf owns two sports teams and I spent an hour trying to figure out the most efficient way to spend $10 on produce tonight. So there’s that.

In closing, never trust any organization that has an interventionist owner.

 

One time I got mad at someone and cleaned the toilet with their toothbrush.

-Josh Guyer

See, and that’s the thing about what the Suns did with their offseason… wait, what?

 

Can Amar’e spending the summer working out with Hakeem be taken as a sign that he has finally realized he no longer has the explosiveness he did in Phoenix and needs to adjust his game?  And that will translate into a more efficient style of play this season?  Which could mean he’ll mesh better with Melo and Chandler, since each would bring a different aspect to the offensive gameplan?  Which means there is hope at MSG?  Tell me there’s hope for the Knicks.  Please, tell me there’s hope.

-Will Crist

There is not.

… ….

OK, so i’m the biggest Amar’e apologist you’re going to find, which is why the homophobic slur this summer bothered me so much. But with Stoudemire, he’s making the effort, which you have to appreciate. But even then, look at the dynamic of what’s happening. Stoudemire knows that he’s not going to be getting enough pick-and-roll opportunities to justify keeping his standard role, so he’s trying to change who he is to better mesh with Anthony. He’s changing his suit because it clashes with Melo’s.

But there’s hope for New York, I think. I mean, look, they started last year as genuinely one of the better teams in the league. That opening win over Boston was legit. And look at their model. “Play kick-ass, rough-as-nuts defense the entire game, beat the crap out of you, and hammer you with an elite scoring option.” That’s not traditionally against the idea of a championship model. It’s just that they’re an anachronism. They’re lodged in a time before the rest of the species evolved. There’s hope, but your model is badly conceived and has an equally high chance of completely detonating within three weeks.

So there’s that!

 

What would you rather do:

Lick out your mum or suck off your dad.

-Keith Firmin

The thing about the British is that they’re so polite.

 

Good sir
 
I get the feeling that some of the NBA’s “Upper Class” (in terms of market size and owner wealth) really don’t take much stock in the CBA’s restrictions and penalties for going over the luxury tax limit.  I remember reading that there is an opt out clause at year 6 of the recently signed CBA. Since it takes 2-3 years or overspending for these penalties to rack up, are these teams gambling the CBA gets tossed out the window? I’d like to be very wrong here, but it seems strange to potentially limit your teams offseason maneuverability by signing 5-6 guys to $80 million dollars a year worth of contracts. The other side of this is that the two teams Im thinking of, the Lakers and Nets, have such strong markets/rich owners that they don’t care about the cost and are in win now mode.  Where do you stand on this? Or am I just reading to much into things?
-Kirk Henderson

People get tied so much into the idea of “restraining big markets” that they lose sight of the other consequential side. When Prokhorov and Buss are paying those insane luxury taxes, on top of the new revenue sharing checks, that money’s going to Charlotte and Sacramento. And that was the goal of the lockout, to bail out the ones struggling. Competitive balance means trying to get the bad teams to not lose money hand over fist, not to bring the aristocracy down to the streets by authoritarian force. That said, we too often get caught up in the idea that these teams are stable. Like “Well, when the Lakers are paying…” or “When the Nets are…” in three years. That’s a lot of time to make decisions and head in different directions. Two months ago we would have said “Well, the Hawks are going to be ruined, because no one’s taking Joe Johnson…” and then someone took Joe Johnson. Zach Randolph not only was traded twice in two years on his last deal, but it turned out to be a smart move for Memphis! We tend to think that things in the league are much more stable than they actually are.

That said, I take the Lakers’ moves this summer as the family saying “HAVE YOU SEEN OUR NEW TV CONTRACT WHICH THE LEAGUE DOES NOT GET A SUBSTANTIAL SHARE OF? SUCK ON THESE.”

 

Do you agree that scoring (Or volume scoring) often gets overrated by fans when it comes to player analysis?

-Jose Holguin

I think it gets overrated by your buddy who’s had two too many Bud Light Limes who only watches the TNT games after he gets home from his poker game where he inevitably lost all his money on two-pair.

I actually think we go the other way in the internet discussion circles (blogs, twitter,… well, blogs and twitter). We tend to act like scoring doesn’t contribute to the BASIC AND ESSENTIAL GOAL OF THE GODDAMN GAME. Yes, efficient scoring matters because those wasted possessions could have been delivered to a more efficient option. But you have to accept certain things when we talk about a game, and one is that there simply will be a significant number of inefficient possessions, regardless of who’s creating them. It’s a byproduct of human error and the fact that there is an entire force involved in gameplay manifested by five active players trying to stop the other side from creating those looks and converting them. I think we can strive for efficiency as a way to make players better without dismissing the ability to score in volume as something bad. It’s not bad. It’s just not optimal.

 

this is mostly because I listened to the raptors podcast and Holako killed Bayless at the end of it:

How will the whole Jerryd Bayless/Memphis Grirzzlies thing work?
-James Herbert
I’m an unabashed Bayless disciple since I saw him in Summer League, since I read a pre-draft interview for Dime where he said “I’m a killer.” So I’m thrilled as a guy who follows and pulls for Memphis. It’s just what they needed. A jitterbug combo-guard. Bayless can hit from the arc, can run an offense and create points. He’s got a lot of problems, including inefficiency, but the Grizzlies play inefficiently. That’s who they are. They’re a messy, sloppy, competitive, tough team, and Bayless fits in really well with that model. As long as Nate McMillan doesn’t show up at any point, he should have probably his best years with Memphis, even if he’s always just a bench guy who has a few moments and frustrates in his decision-making. The team employs Tony Allen and he’s one of their best players for God’s sake. Offensive decision-making is not an emphasis.Jazz need to trade millsap or Jefferson (or both). Who would you trade, for whom or what, and when?
-Blake Kohler

I want them to trade Millsap, but that’s just because I want to see sub-superstars in different settings. I feel the same way about Josh Smith and LaMarcus Aldridge. But they need to trade Jefferson. I don’t like Al at center. I want him at power forward with a legit five next to him. Honestly, he’d make for a great pair with Hibbert after David West’s skills erode with time. If I’m the Jazz, I’d do the same thing I’d do if I were several teams:
1. Hire a three-man team of metric-analysts from a diverse set of analytic backgrounds
2. Charge them with working for three months non-stop, working 12-hour days on developing one formula: Which teams have the best probability at this moment of having a top-ten, not top-five, not lottery, but a top-ten pick in the draft that Andrew Wiggins will be available in (if his eligibility is decided by the trade deadline). Then I would trade Jefferson and Hayward and Mo Williams to any of those teams that will listen for those picks. I would sell out everything to set them up to get Wiggins.

In reality, they will likely re-sign Millsap and let Jefferson walk or trade him for a small combination package.

 

Hey Dr. Matt,

I’m a San Antonio fan here in San Antonio and while I’m absolutely sure that you hate our team categorically from past Tweets (and every other team besides your beloved Lakers [why do you have a Grizzlies logo LOL?]), I presume there are some reasonable conditions under which the Spurs could win the title. So my question is, assuming some sort of apocalypse or Communist takeover is out of the question, what would need to go right for our favorite unselfish, sarcastic, deep twelve to snag sixteen? 

Alex in Grand Rapids

 

It’s a shame that I’ve developed this reputation because I constantly write about how much I respect the organization and why other people should. If you told me I could write a book on any team next season, any, I would pick the Spurs in a heartbeat for Duncan plus Pop.

That said, Popovich has openly admitted, said very clearly and very publicly, that this team cannot be the defensive team it once was with the roster it has decided to have. And yet that’s the only way they’re going to win that title. They have to be able to ugly the game up so much that the talent level for teams like Oklahoma City and Los Angeles becomes irrelevant. They were not better than the 2007 Suns, but they messed with the Suns enough (in-between eliciting terrible suspensions off dirty hits) to get the win. That’s how they have to model their team. They’ve become the offensive team that isn’t built for the playoffs in a cruel twist of fate.

 

How great is Boris Diaw, on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “Amazing” and 10 being “Michael Jordan”?
-Josh Guyer

You again. A -2 is the answer, but everyone really should have been paying more attention to his work in Charlotte early last season. His passing was incredible early on, and a reason I really didn’t think the Cats were that bad for a while. Then they were. On the other hand, a Spurs fan was upset because I wouldn’t admit that Diaw would be the reason the Spurs’ defense got where it needed to. LOL as the kids say.

 

WHAT DOES PAROXYSM MEAN AND WHY DO YOU LOOK LIKE LOUIS C.K./PAUL GIAMATTI BUT HAVE A BLUE BEAR AS AN AVATAR????????
-Kenneth Munsayac

It means a fit of emotion, usually joy. I got it from the enduring image of Mutumbo grabbing the ball after the Nuggets upset the Sonics, and from Mourning’s reaction after hitting the three versus the Celtics.

I look like I do because of a cruel twist of genetics that resulted in me starting to lose my hair at age 21. And if you can’t grow hair on your head, which is really frustrating, you kind of want some control. I’ll flip to the full beard in November, but it’s too hot in the summer, so I’ve adopted the bald-with-a-goatee, German nihilist look that switches immediately to redneck when I put on a ballcap. Paroxi-wife won’t let me razor-shave the dome yet for some reason, but that’s probably going to happen within the next year. Getting old sucks.

 

Can OJ Mayo be a feasible #2 in Dallas?

Dexter- Dallas TX

Mayo is one of my absolute favorite players in the league and a legitimately smart player. But he’s a non-elite perimeter shooter who doesn’t have explosiveness to get to the rim. That’s the biggest missing piece to his game. And while I think he’ll be productive in Dallas, asking him to be a No.2 for a team is too much. He’s just not there. If he was, Hollins would have played him, despite his obsession with him needing to play point, and his preference for tall defenders. Mayo can be a championship fourth starter, but anything higher than that and you’ve got problems.

Unless he makes the leap….

 

Subject: SHUMP WEEK????????

Can we do it?
 
(I promise not to send any more stupid emails to this account, but I had to do this one)

-Jared Dubin

No.

 

With his unique talent and skillset, what’s the best Allen Iverson could have become with better coaching in a different era?
-Jonathan Brill

Well, if you stick him back in Wilt’s era…

I think Iverson could have broken the 100-mark in the 70′s, honestly. With the way defense just wasn’t played at all with the Coke problems, if he’d been on those Denver teams that just ran like all sin, he would have had some absolutely insane games. I mean, look at Dantley or English’s numbers. He would have done some daring things with a boxscore.

But in terms of being a better player for team winning? No one, maybe, was more self-actualized than Iverson at his peak, but he wasn’t ever going to change. He could only have ever been A.I. by being himself. Gift and a curse.

 

Am I the only one who thinks it’s actually bad to overachieve in general in this NBA? Maybe it’s from watching the Rockets play just above their heads enough to never be relevant, but it seems like unless you have enough talent and skill you’re just delaying he inevitable. Maybe if your core has enough potential that practice can be the deciding factor, you can avoid being the pacers or the rockets or the jazz or any of the teams that play over their heads only to fall back to earth in a pile of wet fan disappointment. You might have aligned parts and a favorable system and more hustle or whatever, but eventually someone else has more superstars and someone else has a top ten draft pick.
-Forrest Walker

First off, I have to ask how easy it must be to pick up women with a name like “Forrest Walker.” Sit in a bar with a hat and a notebook scribbling and you should need the woman version of Batman’s Bat-Shark-Repellent from the 60′s Batman movie.

I think it depends on what your expectations are. If you really want a title? Then yeah, it’s not good for you. But those seasons also stick with you as a fan. Rockets fans may be willing to trade their 22-game winstreak for another title, but that season still lives with them. It still sticks out. People say the Mavericks overachieved in 2011 and I want to punch them. That team was a title contender in November if you watched them. They had every single component you need, and the look.

You can bail on overachieving, but sometimes your fanbase just needs something. And sometimes that’s the best you’re going to get in that era.

 

Hi Matt,
 
Doug Collins has never made it past year 3 in his coaching career at his previous destinations. Now that the Sixers have traded away their veteran players (Iguodala and Brand) and brought in a loose cannon who to this point has been treated as a god in Philly (Andrew Bynum), where does this leave Doug Collins? Does he lose his job over a power struggle with the new face of the franchise, or does he his grating style work with a roster currently containing only 5 returning players?
 
Thanks!
 
- Sean O’Connor (@soconnor76)

Collins clashing with Bynum would honestly be too predictable. And if there’s anything Collins likely learned during his career, it’s to get along with the star player. Bynum won’t be bothered by how Collins acts in the huddle since he doesn’t go in them, anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if ownership sticks with him for the legacy and loyalty thing, which seems to be a big thing for them. I don’t think he wins a title with them, but I think he gets a good long stint until they stagnate (again).

 

My question is… how u?

No in all seriousness do you have like, a list of reliable, accurate, and advanced NBA statistics sites that you use? And do you mind sharing them with me? :) I’m the annoying kid on Twitter (@_verts) that bugs you whenever you say Boston is too old to make noise in the East.

I rely on the following extensively: basketball-reference.com, hoopdata.com, the NBA’s stats site (which is being opened to the public this season), basketball-value.com, and 82games.com.

 

First, I’d like to say that i appreciate your blog posting. Thank you to the whole team, that works on keeping Hardwood Paroxysm so enjoyable, and eloquent.

Thats actually my question, too. A basic question about the blog, although i have quite a few, I’ll limit it to one.>

How and why did you start it? >

A simple question(and a bit of a double question) surely, but I figure I’ll leave you with a lot of room to answer. I’m more than curious as to whatever the answer. How you chose to ingest the question, will be just as interesting as your answer. >

I’d like to hope your answer address most of my actual questions.>

Thanks, Guys, for your time, if you chose this question. :)  

Keep up the good work. >

-Brandon Askew

Five years ago, in October of 2007, I was getting married at the end of the month. I was living in Austin, Texas with my fiance at the time, and spending a lot of time at the bar. I was thinking of having my mail delivered there. I had a running tab at the bar, because they knew I’d be back. I had memorized the jukebox. It was bad. So anyway, the future-wife was like “You have to get a hobby.” I spent a decent amount of time with my friend Corn (on this site as The Corndogg, and if you knew him, you’d understand how appropriate that nickname is in its awful ridiculousness) at another bar arguing about basketball and watching the TNT games on tiny non-HD TVs.

At the time, I was really deep into reading the whole blog scene, having discovered them in 2005. Awful Announcing, Deadspin, the Jones, KSK, EDSBS, I was a psychotic devoted reader. So I decided that the hobby would be a basketball blog. I asked if Corn wanted to write for it. He did, and we started. It was as simple as that. I threw myself into it, and learned as much as I humanly could about the sport I’d been following since I was 10, and loved the esoteric “it”ness of FreeDarko, the nuanced researched discussion of TrueHoop, the unabashed irreverence of Basketbawful. We tried to be some combination of those. In time, we added Rob and then Graydon, Holly, Trey, and Jared Wade. Then stats writers and other guest spots, before I added the new crew last year. It’s been the most fun thing I’ve ever done and a genuine pleasure that turned into an occupation and I’m thankful every day for you and every other reader that lets me do this.

 

OMGZ WHY DO YOU LIKE DA LAKERZ SO MUCH!? IZ IT CUZ THEY GOT DWIGHT YOU STUPID BANDWAGONER! YOU AINT KNOW ANYTHING! MJ IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN KOBE AND LEBRON!
-Christopher Barnewall

The problem with parody like this is that it is often too unaware of how short its hyperbole falls and how accurate it comes off. This is pretty much 80% of my Twitter mentions during the season.

 

Bill Simmons talks about a player getting “play-off reps”, in order to be able to come through under pressure, win big games and advance deep into the playoffs etc.  And that makes sense to me.  But what about Kevin Garnett?  He wasted all his effort doing reps on those poor Minny teams.  Now, he’s in Boston and on a team capable of being in big games and going deep into the playoffs, except KGs health is now an issue when he needs it the most.  Was KG better off “tanking” as a player on those Minny teams, saving his legs for when it really matters?  Did KG spend too much time playing regular season minutes (seasons in Minny) and now doesn’t have any legs left for the playoffs (his Boston years)?
 
Because I’m kind of in the same position in my own job.  I work for an idiot who cant understand why I’ve stopped being invested in my position.  I’d love to give 110% and try harder and take pride in my work, but I’m not going to do it for this clown.  So now I’m applying for jobs in other areas where I am sure I will suddenly get my mojo back.  But damned if I’m going to work hard for my current manager slash bozo.  I’m arriving late, leaving early, and sending in emails to random internet sites who value my questions more than my manager at work does.  Unlike KG, I keep telling myself I am saving my reps for when it matters.  I cant figure out if I am lazy or smart.
 

KC

 

I think Garnett values the process and honestly, can’t turn it off. He’s able to to a better degree at this age than he was in Minnesota. For so many years he just gave everything because that’s all he’s capable of doing. I don’t think it had much of an impact because he’s already outliving his expiration date, and has produced at a higher level than you’d think was possible for a guy his age.

The big key I think is to know that if you’re going to do something, you’re already investing your time, so you might as well do it to the best of your ability. Working hard at something that isn’t going to help you says more about your work ethic than it does about your intelligence. Not trying to get out of that job would be the dumb decision. So I’d say bust your ass so that when you walk out you’re able to say to your boss that you did the job you wanted to and the best you could, and also kiss my ass. But the other option is to invest yourself as much as possible in getting a new job or in writing on the internet. It’s your time, you get to decide what to do with it, you just have to live with the consequences. By the way, I’ve been there, and it blows. Hang in there.

 

What does Danny Ainge see in Jeff Green?  Ainge drafted him out of Georgetown before trading him in the package to Seattle for Ray Allen.  Then Ainge traded Perkins for Green (I understand the theory behind that one, where Perkins wasn’t going to re-sign with Boston anyway so at least get something for him.  Timing was terrible though).  Ainge is one of these “stat-head” General Managers.  In fact, Ainge was ahead of the curve by employing a “brain-type” guy to gauge players personalities.  Green got to Boston and showed the same trend he had in Seattle/OKC, where teams were worse off with Green on the floor.  So there’s allot of data there, over significant time that says two things.  1.  Ainge loves Jeff Green.  2.  Green hasn’t proven to be a plus player at any time in the NBA.  So this year where Ainge is the only person bidding for Green who is coming off a missed season due to heart surgery, signs him to $36m.  What does Danny Ainge see in Green to warrant that kind of contract?  What is Greens ceiling?  Can you give me the name of a player from the last 20 years who you see Greens production or game being similar too?
 
 
KC

 

Green’s the case of a player whose game seems to hide his production, or that his production doesn’t reveal his true value, depending on where you sit. The real answer is likely closer to the former. But the ideal is that Green is a sane Ron Artest. Able to score from the perimeter a little bit, great athleticism and frame, and a quality defender. That honestly needs to be where Green should dedicate himself fully. His potential offensively is extremely limited but he’s at the age a lot of guys make big strides defensively. If he can become the kind of lockdown defender the Celtics value, he could wind up being worth the money. But for rebounding and scoring efficiency, it’s just not there and unlikely he’ll get there. It was not a great signing.

Guest Post: The Man, the Mountain and the Bonner by Ananth Pandian

Ananth Pandian is a writer for Dime Magazine and a contributor to NBA Cookbook. Follow him on Twitter @Ananth_Pandian. He was kind enough to offer this piece to HP on training with Bonner in New Hampshire and I jumped on it like a starving man on a chicken leg. Enjoy. -Ed.

Illustration by the incredibly talented Maddison Bond

“This will be your New Hampshire initiation,” Matt Bonner tells me threateningly with a wry smile on his face.

Its 9 a.m. and the July sun is already beaming down on us as we stand in the parking lot of Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Just the night before, we had closed out Funspot, the largest arcade in the world, made famous by the documentary “King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters”. Now less than twelve hours later we were about to go on a leisurely hike. At least that’s what I thought, since that’s what Bonner told me at Funspot. Of course this was when he was busy beating “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” the arcade game.

“Are you in shape?” Bonner asked me.

I gave him an incredulous look and responded by letting him know that I considered myself in shape but “I did not just finish playing in the Western Conference Finals.”

This seemed like a sufficient answer for Bonner, since he began walking towards the base of the mountain, telling me the morning’s plan. We were going to speed hike up Loon (Bonner usually runs up the mountain), and my New Hampshire initiation will be complete when we jump into an ice cold, mountain runoff, river down the road. This is how Bonner trains in the offseason; the New Hampshire native uses the natural resources of the state to get ready for the rigors of the NBA season. New Hampshire is home to the White Mountains, which are known to be the most rugged mountains in New England, and Bonner has trained on nearly all of them.

Training in the White Mountains was how Bonner got through the lockout. A vice president with the NBA Player’s Association, Bonner had to make frequent trips to New York for negotiation meetings sometimes making the four hour drive with his brother and father, twice in one week. The mountains were his refuge, his solemn place during that stressful time when there was doubt a season would even happen.

While he ties his shoes at the base of the mountain, he informs me that he can run up Loon in thirty minutes or less; the mountain’s summit elevation is 3,050 ft. Let’s take a moment to remind you that Matt Bonner is 6’10”, 235 pounds and is not considered to be an athletic freak, yet he can run up a mountain in 30 minutes, a feat that most die-hard runners could not achieve. Throughout our hike, Bonner kept referring to Loon Mountain as a “baby mountain” and informed me that he could run up Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, a 4 plus mile hike, in a little over an hour. Let’s take another moment to let that sit in; Bonner is not referring to a flat 4 mile run but a run up a literal mountain, the highest in the Northeast,  where the path is made up of gravel, mud and tree roots.

While we hiked, Bonner gave a geography and history lesson of the other nearby White Mountains, quickly pausing here and there to point out other peaks in the distance and talking about all of the bountiful activities one could accomplish in New Hampshire. Bonner’s love of New Hampshire is unmatched making it hard to surmise what he loves more, basketball or the state. He even made his first big purchase after signing his first NBA contract with the Toronto Raptors in the state, buying a house in Campton, NH about an hour north of his hometown of Concord.

The Granite State is always present in his thoughts even when he is over 2,000 miles away in San Antonio. During the season Bonner maintains his strong relationship with the state on his weekly radio show, “The Life with Matt Bonner”. Run by sports reporters Chris Ryan and Kevin Gray of Concord’s WKXL 103.9/1450, Bonner does a weekly check-in about his season and comments on the local New Hampshire sports scene. After the season ends, Bonner returns to New Hampshire to hold an annual basketball camp at his old middle school and also hosts an annual charity concert.

Bonner also extends himself to local New Hampshire politics. Last year, he wrote an op-ed piece for Manchester, NH’s The Union Leader, that condemned the Northern Pass project, a hydroelectric project that would have torn down miles of New Hampshire forestland; the piece included this classic line,  “…if you mess with New Hampshire, you mess with me.” Based on this piece and his strong New Hampshire pride, I asked if he had any political aspirations after he retired. He quickly shot down the idea and spoke of how he voiced his opinion about the Northern Pass Project because it was the right thing to to do and that his work behind the scenes on the since vetoed J.D. Salinger identity bill* soured politics for him as a career.

Although Bonner may not share the same notoriety as Salinger, his height and red hair makes him easily recognizable by nearly everyone. This was evident at the top of the mountain where we went into Summit Cafe, a typical touristy cafe that surprisingly serves up Caribbean fare, so I could get some water. The woman working behind the counter instantly recognized Matt and introduced herself as a friend of his parents. She then recalled a story of how when Matt was born his father held him up with one hand and proclaimed, “My boy will not play the piano!”

Just another addition to the New Hampshire folk lore of Matt Bonner.

We took a gondola down, (Bonner always takes a gondola down as it helps to preserve his knees and back), to the parking lot and drove down the street to the access point of the river. Bonner quickly jumped into the water and started running in place, and doing other water related workouts while the river’s strong current flowed against him. He usually does this for thirty to forty five minutes after a hike. As my “New Hampshire initiation” was not complete, Bonner urged me to jump in. He assured me that the coldness of the water would be the perfect complement to our hike, and since I was sweaty and hot I trusted him and jumped from the rocky edge into the river’s cold embrace.

I had completed my New Hampshire initiation in the eyes of Matt Bonner but in my eyes I had developed more appreciation for Bonner’s athletic ability and work ethic. Bonner’s career average of 18.9 minutes a game doesn’t sound that impressive but when you think about all of the hard work that goes into being prepared for those minutes, it should leave you shaking your head.

New Hampshire’s motto is “Live Free or Die” and Matt Bonner exemplifies this to the fullest degree possible. He doesn’t seclude himself to a gym to train, but uses the state that raised him to make him a better player. New Hampshire is only on the national forefront during election years, due to the state having the first primary in the country, but whenever the Spurs play on national TV, Bonner brings a little bit of New Hampshire to the rest of the country.

For a state that is tucked away in New England, there couldn’t be a more quintessential ambassador.

____

*The J.D. Salinger identity bill is an interesting case as Salinger moved to New Hampshire to blend in with society but after his death the opposite seems to be happening. From a June 13, 2012, article on Slate.com: “ The Associated Press explains that the Catcher in the Rye author’s family lobbied state lawmakers to pass a bill that would have asserted that a person’s right to control the commercial use of his or her identity can be handed down to heirs, and remains in effect for 70 years. If signed into law, the measure would have prevented Granite State sellers from using Salinger’s image on things like coffee mugs and key chains, commercial tchotchkes that the Salinger clan has taken exception to in the past.”

20,000 Leagues Under Development

Coney Island birdman by Barry Yanowitz via Flickr

The American Basketball League, a new minor league with teams in Texas and Florida, recently announced its inception. Rather than settling for being another minor league, the ABL has in no uncertain terms announced its intentions to be the top minor league in basketball. Amin and I thought the emergence of this new league and their supposed claim to the minor league throne warranted discussion, so discuss we did over a nice bottle of Château Lafite. 

Jordan: In theory, the NBA D-League is an invaluable resource. As the official minor league of the NBA, it should be a useful development tool for teams and players alike. In practice, this hasn’t quite been the case. Low pay, poor attendance, and frequent disconnect with parent teams are among just a few of the factors that keep the D-League from realizing its full potential.

Now, there’s a new league in town, the American Basketball League, positioning itself as the premier minor league of basketball with a mission statement that pulls no punches:

For over three decades we have witnessed the habitual failure of minor league basketball in America.  Each fledgling league, full of empty promises and business models that simply could never achieve longevity.  As a result, “Market Reservation Fees”, uncontrolled expansion and abhorrent executive leadership have eroded the minor league basketball system in America today.

Bold words, to be sure. But will the ABL, with its promise of higher player salaries and lower team expenses, succeed? Or is it doomed to join the ranks of its failed predecessors?

Amin: Here’s the most boring answer on the planet: It all depends.

I’m actually excited about the possibility of the ABL being something awesome. Maybe it’ll be an engine for job growth in the US with players not going overseas to be paid decent living wages to play basketball. Maybe it will do a mini-merger like the D-League like the NBA and ABA did oh so many years ago. Maybe it’ll be a total flop and no one will show up and they won’t get any players and the players they do get will have a snowball’s chance in Hell of making their way up to the NBA.

It all depends on how well this league is marketed. The locations of each team are important, as their proximity to larger markets will lower sunk costs of visitation for NBA scouts. Will it be a competitor or a complement to the D-League? I think it has already tried to make itself a competitor, but the D-League has an important ally: the NBA. Who’s in the ABL’s corner? No one, yet. They’re adopting FIBA rules to attract overseas talent, but that doesn’t mean FIBA is officially sanctioning them as an internationally recognized league.

But having another league makes sense to me. The D-League has proven to be a league that can get you noticed in the NBA. But it’s hard to make a living in the D-League. Lower salaries fit with the lower cost of living in D-League-affiliated cities, but if you’re a guy who has devoted his life to basketball but aren’t quite good enough to get into the NBA and aren’t quite equipped enough to do something for a living other than play basketball, having a new opportunity to do that is a plus, right?

What do you think is the ideal situation for the ABL if it succeeds? Supplant the D-League? Merge? Be a feeder into it? Help at least raise the salaries of D-League players? What would be your endgame with the league?

Jordan: You touched on the one reason I think the ABL will ultimately either fail or, in the best case merge with the D-League: the NBA. For all of the D-League’s faults and disfunction, it’s association with the NBA is gives it the advantage over any other potential challenger. Increased wages are a great lure, but those who want to play in the NBA are more than likely going to go to the league that gives them the best chance to get an NBA contract, and that’s the D-League. Still, where the ABL could potentially challenge the D-League is in the caliber of players. So many fringe NBA players take their talents overseas because they know that their skills can earn them a better paycheck than what the D-League has to offer. If the ABL is willing to offer more (how much, of course, we’re not certain), maybe some of those players stay in the United States.

It all depends may be a boring answer, but it’s absolutely the right one. Will NBA teams even bother signing players from the ABL? Will players who sign to the ABL get NBA-out clauses in their contracts if they’re signed by an NBA team? Furthermore, since most D-Leaguers don’t get signed for the rest of the season, what will happen to the ABL player once his 10-day NBA contract runs out? Can he go back to his ABL team? Does he become a free agent? Can I write the rest of this article using only questions?

Amin: If this were Whose Line is it Anyway?, you’d have been awarded a million points for that last paragraph.

Short answer to all those questions: those are details the ABL will probably have to figure out (or already has). If they really want to compete against the D-League, they have to take all the good D-League rules (“sure, come on back after your 10-day is up!”) and make them better (“here’s your call-up bonus!”). Come to think of it, I’m fairly certain the 10-day contract thing is exclusive to NBDL-NBA call-ups. I think a player from somewhere else is just a “free agent,” and thus their contract is determined by that. This could be a pretty big roadblock for mid-season call-ups.

The more we talk about this, the more that it reminds me of the history of the NBA and ABA merger. The ABA knew it needed to latch onto some specific pieces of talent (the million-dollar-check-for-Kareem-that-wasn’t comes to mind), and those buy-ins created a form of legitimacy with which the NBA had to compete.

Since the ABL and NBDL aren’t top-tier leagues, the legitimacy hump will be more difficult for the ABL because of the other’s NBA-affiliation. However, I think the ABL is already headed in an interesting direction. Their adoption of FIBA rules makes them a great vessel for international players (as has already been mentioned). If the ABL makes it really easy and attractive for international players to come, the NBA would have to send scouts, wouldn’t they? They’d have to acknowledge them explicitly. Like, say the ABL pays players like $50k/year (already substantially more than the average NBDL salary), and they also make it absurdly easy to go through a work-Visa process for international players. That’s a pretty attractive deal, no? Sure there are NBA scouts overseas, but if some decent international players are coming here, wouldn’t that make it more likely that they’d be seen?

Jordan: Would it? (OK, I’m done).

Honestly, I never considered that angle. Again, we have to keep the peripheries in mind, such as benefits, length of contracts and negotiations with international teams, but if that all works out, ABL teams could find themselves with more than a few NBA-caliber talents. While that ensures that the NBA and D-League would at least pay attention, will anyone else?

The ABL is split into two conferences: the Tropics, located in Florida, and the Lone Star in Texas. The logic behind the two conferences, two states strategy isn’t hard to see; less travel means reduced operating costs (up to 50%, according to the league website). These reduced costs are a great selling point to investors, the teams still need to make money, and when you look at the specific locations of the teams, you have to wonder how exactly that’s going to happen. The Heartland Eagles are located in Sebring, Florida, which sports a population of 10,474. Fort Walton Beach, also in Florida and home to the Emerald Coast Knights has 19,793 inhabitants. Fortunately,  The Central Texas Revolution in San Marcos finds itself as the new home town team of a whopping 46,685 proud Texans. I shudder to think of the attendance numbersWhere are these teams going to play? How much revenue can they possibly generate in these minuscule markets? Do the Knights have a lucrative TV deal set up with WFGX MyTV 35? Have I set the record for most questions in a single HP article?Professional sports teams at any level of competition are notorious for hemorrhaging money, and I don’t expect the ABL to be any different. We’ve mentioned the FIBA rules by which the ABL teams will play. Looking at the big picture, do you think this could send shockwaves of change throughout professional basketball, specifically in terms of goal tending, or will there be very little impact?

Amin: Saying they’re in small markets is an understatement and an insult to places like Cleveland, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio. And with all those teams in two clustered places, isn’t that just market over-saturation? I mean, look at this map of the Tropics Conference. Who’s going to go to all those games when they’re so close to each other? I mean, sure, most of the games are around Miami. But the Heat have attendance problems are they’re the freaking FLYING DEATH MACHINE. I’m supposed to believe that those 5 semi-pro arenas in the Miami metropolitan area are going to sell enough tickets to make this league lucrative?

The league touts itself as being a good alternative to the D-League. But how? As a money-making league? As a player-paying league? Maybe their success can be measured by how many quality players they attract and send to the NBA. At face value, I have to agree with Kelly Dwyer that the FIBA-style play and the business model look attractive. However, there has to be an endgame that we’re not yet realizing. The more I type and the more I read your arguments, the more convinced I am that this league exists purely so that it can somehow coerce the NBA to purchase it.

I think it’ll be difficult to measure the impact until the actual NBA season starts, but I’ve very curious to see who the first big-name acquisition for this league will be. I’ll bet it’s an international guy with a tremendously high ceiling who’s itching to come stateside.

Jordan: I concur; this league seems positioned to sell, and maybe make the owners a bit of money. Now let me tell you why it won’t happen.

I believe it was Socrates, or perhaps Plato, who said: you come at the king, you best not miss.

Indeed

Even though the ABL is specifically targeting the D-League, that still means it’s targeting the NBA, which also means it’s targeting David Stern. Do you know what the biggest mistake in the book is, even more so than “never get involved in a land war in Asia?” It’s “DON’T PISS OFF DAVID STERN.”  The NBA buying and absorbing the ABL would be doing a favor to the ABL owners. In fact, the best way for the NBA and the D-League to ensure the ABL doesn’t succeed: do nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The odds are stacked heavily against the ABL’s success. Had the league not been so vociferous in their challenge of the D-League, perhaps Stern would be more receptive to a merger. But Stern knows that merging with the ABL, even absorbing just a few teams, would be doing the ABL a favor. Do you really think Stern wants to do a favor for someone who challenges him, even indirectly? No. He’ll be more than content to let the ABL collapse and wither away after a few seasons.

Amin: “Never go against [the NBA] when [money] is on the line!”

-Vizzini, the Sicilian

This is now the second “Back and Forth” I’ve been in that has referenced an ancient Greek political philosopher. I have to see if I can keep this streak alive somehow in my next post.

Oh, right, the ABL. I think we both agree that the ABL has an uphill climb. I am really intrigued at how well they implement the FIBA rules. Are they going to hire FIBA refs, too? I mean, seasoned refs would make games go more smoothly as well. Better games = better players = competition for the D-League = collecting underpants for profit. Did I do that right?

You know what I just thought of? The ABL might not just be a D-League competitor. It might be a reasonable outlet for “the Brandon Jennings” model of one-and-done players. Instead of going to college, where they’re not allowed to get paid by the NCAA, or instead of going to Europe, where they are thousands of miles and dozens of cultures away from their families and friends, they can stay in the US (in Florida or Texas for now) and keep playing until they’re ready to hit the draft. One-and-done with a paycheck? Why the hell not? Maybe that’s another part of the ABL’s endgame we didn’t realize, and maybe it’s part of their model that they don’t want to advertise (ie: keeping kids from going to college).

But hey, making a league to keep basketball players here instead of putting them in the under-paying D-League, sending them overseas, or not allowing them to get paid in college for work that makes the college and NCAA millions of dollars? Sounds like Steve Rifkind is creating jobs for middle-class Americans in the United States. I can dig that.

 

 

The Lost MVPs: the 1954-55 Season

jonny2love (flickr)

Like that knock off of Electric Light Orchestra’s LP Discovery, we’ve finally found what we’re looking for… the end of the Lost MVPs! The NBA would get its act together and hand out an MVP the very next season for the very first time. Also of note, this is the 1st season of the shot clock. Team scores bumped up from 79 points a game in 1954 to 93 points a game this year. By 1962 the scores would reach a blistering 119 points a game. So this shot clock was kind of important and transformed how the game was played. In any event let’s see the best players of this first year in basketball’s new era.

The Super Henchmen

Slater Martin (Minneapolis Lakers)– for awhile now Slater Martin has been one of the better point guards in the NBA. His greatness was predicated on being able to pester and flummox opposing guards (see his Game 7 performance in 1957 Finals, holding Bob Cousy to 3-20 shooting) but with George Mikan’s retirement he was able to assume a larger offensive role this year.  His 13.6 PPG were a career high and his APG of 5.9 was 5th in the NBA this season.

Harry Gallatin (New York Knicks) – after cresting the previous season, Gallatin is truly no worse for wear, it’s just that the other candidates (new and old) have stepped their games up. Gallatin was still his dependable self with 14.5 points and 14 rebounds a game for the Knicks.

Ed Macauley and Bill Sharman (Boston Celtics) – a similar story to Gallatin for Macauley. His numbers have again declined a bit, but the serpentine center still posted a line of 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4 assists, which is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Meanwhile his teammate Bill Sharman was continuing his improvement. Sharman staked new career highs in PPG (18.4), APG (4.1), RPG (4.4) and FT% (.897) this year. The Celtics however had their worst season in years with a 36-36 record. Clamors for change began to rumble in Beantown.

Paul Seymour (Syracuse Nationals) – Seymour easily put forth his best campaign ever in the NBA. A healthy 14.5 points and 4 rebounds were augmented by a robust 6.7 assists a game. The Nationals would finish tied for the league’s best record and Seymour was a huge part of that, but just not the biggest. He remained Syracuse’s 2nd-best player. Their big kahuna is further below.

Not Henchmen, But Not the Head Honchos Either

Clyde Lovellette and Vern Mikkelsen (Minneapolis Lakers) – The luxury of being a Lakers fans predates the Los Angeles era. Minneapolis lost their star pivot man in George Mikan and he’s immediately replaced by Lovellette who averaged 19 points and 11.5 rebounds this season. The Lakers nary missed a beat thanks to him and also Mikkelsen, who by now has become one of the team’s elder statesmen. Vern still played with a tremendous spring in his step though. Averaging a career-high 19 points and also 10 rebounds, Vern propelled Minneapolis to yet another great regular season, but the Lakers fell in the Western Division Finals to the Fort Wayne Pistons.

Paul Arizin (Philadelphia Warriors) – returning from his exile to the Marine Corps, 1952 Lost MVP Paul Arizin has yet to fully regain his true form but this 1st season back was still a great one.  Putting up 21 points and 9.5 rebounds are a fairly good season all things considered.

George Yardley (Fort Wayne Pistons) – In his 2nd NBA season, “the Bird” has quickly ascended to a secondary, prized position in the Pistons hierarchy. Larry Foust remained the rock of Fort Wayne, but Yardley was the flamboyant, incendiary scoring machine that could ignite the offense at a whim. In just a few years he’d be the 1st NBA player to tally over 2000 points in a season.

The Finalists

Bob Cousy (Boston Celtics) – Cousy had another one of his fantastic seasons of around 20 points, around 6 rebounds and around 7 assists. However, the Celtics continued a slide and funk that would not end until the 1956-57 season when the trade for Bill Russell went down. Still, Cousy is one of the NBA’s best and he would win a real life MVP in that 1956-57 season.

Bob Pettit (Milwaukee Hawks) – the dynamite Bob Pettit has arrived to the NBA. This is the man who would re-invent the power forward position to its familiar role lasting over 50 seasons. As a rookie, he’s already showing the hustle, drive, rebounding and shooting knack that would make him the 1st player to pass the 20,000 point mark. Like Cousy, Pettit would snag a real life MVP, the 1st one ever handed out by the NBA, the very next season and another in 1959.

Cop-Out Ahoy! Where I Can’t Decide Which of These Players Is the MVP

Neil Johnston (Philadelphia Warriors) – his case is a familiar one to last season, except the opposing players have upped their own cases. Johnston delivered 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds a game. Both would lead the NBA this season and he’d finish 4th in FG%. The problem is that the Warriors again finished with a losing record at 33-39. This was an improvement on last season though and the next year Philly would win the title. So Johnston has the talent to win this award, his team just needed another piece to their puzzle *cough* Tom Gola *cough*

Larry Foust (Fort Wayne Pistons) – Foust had all of the advanced metrics fans drooling in 1955… you know, if they had existed. He averaged a mere 17 points a game, but he did so shooting 48.7% from the field. This would be a new record for the NBA. He also snared 10 rebounds a game in just 32 minutes of action, easily the lowest minutes per game of the players on this rundown of MVP candidates. The Pistons would finished tied for the NBA’s best record with 43 wins and 29 losses.

Dolph Schayes (Syracuse Nationals) – Schayes’s Nationals would also finish with 43 wins and 29 losses and he was the biggest reason why. He put up a new career-high of 18 points a game along with the typical 12 rebounds, white hot free throw shooting and outside touch that drew opposing forwards outside the lane.

If absolutely forced to choose, I’d go with Neil Johnston for the MVP award this season, but if you ask me again in a day or two, I might change to Schayes or Foust. This is just one of those years where a clear-cut winner doesn’t exist. C’est la vie.

______________________________________________________________________________________

And with that the Lost MVPs has concluded and I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about not just who “deserved” the MVPs these seasons, but just which NBA and BAA players were of significance in this era. Not that I covered all of them here. Don Barksdale, Dick McGuire, Ralph Beard, Al Cervi, Whitey Skoog, Chuck Cooper and many more didn’t get a mention, but they certainly deserve your attention. Hopefully in the future I can give them and others their light under the sun… under the sun… under the sun…

 

One of Us Will Inevitably Eat Crow

Image via crowdive on Flickr

So Matt thinks Dion Waiters’s conditioning problems are troubling. I’m cautiously optimistic and think that Byron Scott will whip him into shape. We decided to debate.


Amin: Let me just start by saying that “eating crow” sounds horrible, and I hope I’m right.

On a scale of “naw, he’ll be fine” to “missing time due to a pulled pork sandwich,” how worried are you about Waiters’s conditioning?

Matt: I’m at a “Byron Scott better act like a pageant mom.”

Look, I get it. His agent shut down his workouts to keep his stock high. His draft stock went up the LESS he worked out! Why would he work out? Then there’s the draft, and you have to get moved, buy a house for your mom, withdraw a bunch of cash, roll around it, go to rookie transition, etc. I get it. But This isn’t some center who can use the bulk to shove his ass around. DeMarcus Cousins can eat all the ho-hos he want, he’ll still brutalize people. But for an athletic wing expected to get to the rim, I don’t want to hear conditioning issues right off the bat.

He can be fine, he can get into shape during camp. But I want my rookies, who have been given a huge vote of confidence by the staff just by being drafted, to walk into their first professional experiences carrying the extra weight. What’s going to happen if he has to bust his ass to get into game shape, and THEN hits the wall in February?

Amin: So are you worried about the weight, or are you worried about what the weight implies about his attitude?

For the former, he doesn’t know anything! He’s a freakin’ kid! You’ve said it yourself before that guys that young and fresh in the league don’t know how to work out. David Thorpe doesn’t worry about conditioning at summer league for rookies because they have no idea what they’re doing. They’re just trying to show up and not get in trouble in Vegas.

And for the latter, I agree that it shows that he was pretty cocky coming in. You could tell that from interviews and from the way he played. You knew that from his days in Syracuse. But can you blame him for acting that way? His draft stock skyrocketed for no reason, and his Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is quoted as saying he’s the most NBA-ready guard he’s ever coached (JB’s also the originator of the Wade comparison). He’s the prototypical NBA player of this generation: he’s talented, the guys around him let him know it, and his agents are all about maximizing that talent’s appeal.

Now that he’s on the Cavs, he’s Byron Scott’s project. You may remember him as the youth-hating hard-ass who coached the Jason Kidd/Vinsanity Nets. Or the youth-hating hard-ass who coached the CP3/Chandler/David West Hornets. Byron Scott WANTED him on the roster. Byron Scott is so excited about employing two ball-handling guards into his Princeton offense along with an athletic wing and big men who can space and finish. Also, Byron Scott doesn’t have a choice but to play youth on this team. So the combination of wanting him, having to play him, and getting to employ his ideal offensive style, Scott’s mission will be to get Waiters in shape–physically and mentally.

Matt: I’m worried about both.

As I said, this isn’t a center we’re talking about. It’s a wing. He’s got to be able to get up and down the floor, handle, slide between defenders. He’s not going up against rolly-polly Big East kids anymore, he’s going up against the fastest athletes in the world. And the Cavs need a lot fro him, early on.

Additionally, i’m a little surprised why everyone’s like “Oh, Byron Scott will whip him into shape.” Scott will treat him the way that he treats all players he has, and if Waiters responds, great. But if he doesn’t, Scott’s not going to work with him. He’s not going to waste his time. He won’t play. Marcus Thornton had a hell of a time getting floor time when he was a rookie and Thornton’s in great shape, and was on a team that needed him!

Coaches that give tough love in this league are hard to come by. It’s mostly just tough. They don’t have time to waste on getting you to slim down.

He’s not huge, and there are indications he’s lost some of it. But for this to be an issue this early?

Yeesh.

Amin: OK, let’s do the worst-case scenario for a second. He’s out of shape. He’s a headcase. He’s too cocky for his own good. Misses time because his conditioning makes him easily-injured. When he does play, he’s lax on defense, and inefficient-at-best on offense. Best-case scenario, Waiters and Kyrie play really well off each other because they’re both in fantastic shape and are totally not headcases, and the Cavs trade for an excellent Small Forward, and they’re sniffing at deep playoff runs in the East in 2 years.

If Waiters is a bust, are the Cavs too far along in their rebuild to try again next year in the draft? I know I’m diverting the debate away from the original topic, but I think it’s important for teams to know what to do at different stages during a rebuild. Right now, I think it would suck if they had to try again for a better piece next year, but they might be better off (in the hypothetical scenario I constructed). The Cavs aren’t all-in yet. They have a bit of time. Not a lot, because they can’t waste Kyrie–but they have some.

Also, Scott wouldn’t play Thornton because Scott hated rookies. Now he’s on a team where if he doesn’t play rookies, he can only put 3.5 guys on the floor

Wait, what were we talking about? Oh yeah. Is there anything that could change your mind? Like, if he shows up to preseason looking svelte and dunking on fools’ heads, will that suffice?

Also, would you be as critical on him if he weren’t the 4th pick in the draft? Say he went late lottery, or mid-to-late first round, would you be worried about him? Would the national media care as much? Speculate, Matt, speculate!

Matt: I mean, obviously, missing early is better than missing later. It’s like Jenga. You don’t have to be as careful with the pieces you select early as the ones you do later. If it falls apart, you’ve still got the bottom layer.

But with the way the league is, do you want to waste a single year with Kyrie? Do you want to make that big of a mistake with a pick that high?

Scott will mess with lineups or play inferior talent before playing a guy who doesn’t buy in. I wholeheartedly believe this. It’s why guys other than Tristan played so much last year.

Sure, he can show up for camp, looking in great shape, and then kill it. But in the future, if I hear anything, I’ll think back to this episode. Fans, and especially fan bloggers, hate it when we connect things into a pattern instead of dealing with everything individually, but that’s the best way to spot trouble. Anyone who’s ever flamed out had a pattern start somewhere. You just have to be on the lookout for it.

I wouldn’t be as critical because it wouldn’t matter as much. Waiters matters. The Cavaliers need him to be good. They need him to be great. They’ve leveraged a lot on him. Having a guy start off with issues before September even hits just makes me nervous, that’s all.

Amin: Well now I feel nervous about Waiters AND Thompson. Dammit Matt!

Oh, and not wanting to “waste a single year” immediately gave me flashes of John Wall. So, that’s another thing I can be nervous about.

Crap.

SWAGMOSIS: The Value Of Vets, Knicks & Nets And So Much More

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been on a rampage against the relative value of VETERAN EXPERIENCE lately. It’s a commodity in the NBA, and some people in and around the league value it very highly. Well, I’m not one of those people. Luckily, my main man Amin Vafa let me rant about it for a while, and our conversation eventually touched on a whole score of other topics, including the Knicks, Nets, Cavaliers, Wizards, #NBARank, team construction, politics, a Portman not named Natalie, and that little snake of a man who runs the Heat. Enjoy. 

Amin: So you seem pretty steamed that “Veteran Experience” is applied to some players and not others, while both sets of players are *technically* veterans. To quote a lunatic: Why so serious?

Jared: Well… the Knicks did a lot of VETERAN EXPERIENCE adding to their roster this offseason, so I’ve kind of been hellbent on an obsession with it since then.

But what got me on tilt about it today was #NBARank. I was wondering how much people factored that into their rankings of players. I basically don’t factor it into my evaluations at all, because to me, it’s mostly an off-court contribution, and #NBARank is an on-court value project. Like, why is Kenyon Martin ranked ahead of Tristan Thompson? Kenyon was pretty bad last season, and he’s old. Thompson is, ya know, not. Kenyon’s likely to get worse, not better. Other way around for Tristan. But VETERAN EXPERIENCE. And this is just one example.

What I really want to know is, when (like, at what point in a player’s career) do people start factoring VETERAN EXPERIENCE into their evaluations of that player? Why some guys and not others? (Ex: Chauncey Billups and T-Mac were in the same draft. Chauncey is a VETERAN EXPERIENCE guy. T-Mac’s not.) How heavily is it weighed? All else equal, do you take a VETERAN EXPERIENCE guy over a younger player? I’d personally lean the other way, because the younger player has a chance to improve. Basically, I want to know why this happens so often. Why are people so seduced and comforted by the fact that a guy has been in the league for a long time? Isn’t his production more likely to tail off? A 19th-year Jason Kidd who can barely move is really a better basketball player at this point than a 5th-year Jerryd Bayless?

Now I’m just going off the deep end, so please, please explain this obsession to me.

Amin: I really think it’s an added value thing. At what point does your team need a better on-court player than a personality manager? The former tend to be younger than the latter.

Let’s go with the best example I can think of: the 2008 Celtics picked Sam Cassell off waivers. Here was the Celtics guard rotation that season: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Eddie House, James Posey, and Gabe Pruitt. Cassell wasn’t brought in because they needed to beef up that rotation. He was brought in because he had played with Ray and KG, and because they needed a guy who could provide a motivational presence on the court and in the locker room.

In context of #NBArank, I think it has a lot more to do with cognitive recall and response bias in the rankers (of which I am one). How many times last season did you hear Tristan Thompson’s name on a national scale? Probably like 20, and all of them were in the context of “I can’t believe the Cavs reached with that 4th pick!” or “Hey fellow Canadians, let’s get behind this Canadian!” He didn’t have many breakout games. He was a solid young rotation player on a team that wasn’t good and had no national games (though the team did have the Rookie of the Year).

By contrast, how many times did you hear Kenyon Martin’s name? A lot (this is a scientific number). And you heard his name later in the season (around the trade deadline). He was one of the most coveted Free Agents coming back from China, and lots of teams needed someone of quality to bolster their front lines against other contenders. Not many young names floating around then, right? When contenders want you, your name has higher value. Plus more contenders want guys that can win now, not guys that can win when they’ve got some more experience under their belts.

For the #NBArank squad and for the average fan, I think resume-length goes a long way, too. It’s not just that people prefer to have someone on board with a little more experience. I think it’s very much a “devil-you-know vs. devil-you-don’t” feeling. I don’t think it’s the best way to progress in sports (or really any profession), but I think it’s a reality.

In that sense, for the Knicks, I get the Kidd acquisition. Still don’t get the Felton thing. But wasn’t Kidd acquired at the time when it was assumed Lin would be back? I think that’s why they didn’t go after a guy like Bayless. (I think? Please don’t ever tell anyone I accused the Knicks of making rational decisions, OK?)

 Jared: I see what you’re saying with Cassell, but that seems like a different situation to me. That was a mid-season pickup for a team that was humming along with – I believe – the best record in the league and they just wanted a locker room guy. They didn’t really expect him to have to contribute much. When he did, it was gravy.

Yes, Kidd was picked up when it looked like the Knicks were still going to bring Lin back. And in that regard, it made sense. The things he’s seen and learned in his 18 years were things he could tell and teach Lin and help him eventually become a better player. That’s a mentor-mentee relationship and you hope you see some on-court benefit this year, but you mostly expect it to just help Lin grow and mature as a player so eventually what Kidd taught him is just innate. The real benefits are presumably down the road. He doesn’t all of a sudden become a battle-tested veteran point guard just because Kidd is on the team.

Where it falls off the rails for me is that they – and many Knicks fans - expect(ed) the VETERAN EXPERIENCE to be meaningful in terms of on-court contribution. Kidd has things he can contribute on the court – he’s still a terrific passer, and a very smart player – but VETERAN EXPERIENCE doesn’t magically make you a better shooter or defender, and it doesn’t give you upside in your 19th year in the league. In all likelihood, last season’s performance is probably the ceiling for Kidd now and for the next three seasons, which is scary, and why I wanted to sign a younger player with upside for the same price, like Bayless.

Your Martin/Thompson comparison does make sense. I give on that. Martin, by virtue of being a VETERAN EXPERIENCE guy, was one of the most wanted names last year around the deadline. And he played for the Clippers, in a lot of national TV games, and in the playoffs. But we all remember he wasn’t very good, right? He wasn’t even good on defense, which is supposed to be his calling card. So why do people still value him as if he’s the Kenyon Martin from a few years ago? I guess because it takes a while for name recognition to wear off, but I hate that. We should be able to recognize a significant drop-off as it happens. Let’s be smarter and MORE reactive.. *thinks* Wait, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Anyway, I want to make it clear that it’s not as if I think VETERAN EXPERIENCE is completely meaningless. I know it matters, especially in a mentor-mentee situation like I described with Kidd and Lin above. My whole thing is, how much does it matter, and is it determinative? Also, what’s the critera? Why is Jared Jeffries, from the 2002 Draft, a VETERAN EXPERIENCE guy, but Antawn Jamison, from the 1998 Draft, is not? Does it have more to do with the roles these guys played at the height of their powers? Is it perception? Chauncey’s a VETERAN EXPERIENCE guy, but Sheed, by all accounts a great teammate according to most guys who played with him (we’re discounting his Celtics teammates because he mailed in that entire season), is not. Is it an attitude thing? Like I said, I don’t factor this in much, so I don’t really know how and why it’s decided who gets hit with that label and who doesn’t.

Amin: I think it completely depends on roster makeup. If a team is contending, and they don’t need to add anyone to their rotation, they might want to pick up a guy whose off-court value is high even if his on-court value is low. If a team is rebuilding, it probably makes more sense to pick up a young guy who can fight his way into the rotation. HOWEVER, you don’t want to have a roster that has only non-veterans. Case in point, the Wizards. After they turned over the roster, it was great to see all those young guys. But they were rudderless. They had no direction. They didn’t know what it felt like to win. Throw in Nene, Okafor, Ariza, and AJ Price, and you’ve got some guys who have dabbled in winning and self-control. Who’s to say JaVale McGee won’t be a 25-15 guy with Denver? But it doesn’t matter, because the environment in DC wouldn’t have turned him into that guy because he didn’t have anyone to ground him. And by putting him in another location where he could be grounded, it created room for the Wizards to add another player (Nene) who could ground the rest of the team.

This is basically a nature/nurture argument for players more than it’s a mentor-protege (hat tip: Kenny Banya) argument. Vets are parents who have to make way for their growing children to blossom into basketball machines. This is how parenting works, right?

I think you can also assume that you’ll have some VETERAN LEADERSHIP, but it can be disproven. Look at Rashard Lewis. He had it in Orlando. They thought he had it in Washington, then everyone slowly realized he didn’t have it. Now he’s on Miami, as a veteran, but not a veteran leader. Maybe in his particular case, role-size and salary-level are taken into account. Michael Finley is a great VETERAN LEADERSHIP guy because he’s making the minimum. Rashard Lewis was not, because he was making $20 million.

Back to the Knicks. I think part of the issue there is there’s some sort of assumption that this team is ready to compete now. I don’t think most NBA fans think that. I don’t think most front offices think that. But I do think lots of Knicks fans think that (even if not the majority), and I think the Knicks players think it, and I think parts of the Knicks front office think it, too. They brought in Kidd because you don’t want a player who’ll grow into being a great piece someday. You want a guy with a proven track record of winning (counttheringz=1) who can make an on-court and locker-room contribution to guarantee the Knicks win a title. In this alternate reality of Knicks supremacy, that makes sense, right?

Jared: “Who’s to say JaVale McGee won’t be a 25-15 guy with Denver?”

Me! That’s who! You know all about my “I’m on a mission to obliterate the blogosphere’s love affair with JaVale McGee” mission, right? You do read my emails on the email thread, right? RIGHT? RIGHT?!?!?!? That’s for another day.

Anyway… Yes. In this alternate reality you’ve constructed where the Knicks are a bona fide title contender, I guess it makes sense to go for some VETERAN EXPERIENCE/locker room type guys, which the Knicks now have in spades. Seriously, does anyone have more locker room guys than the Knicks right now? Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, J.R. Smith. Wait, one of those is not like the others. We are winning the 1999 Finals with that team. What’s that? It’s 2012? Oh.

I think we’re both misinterpreting each other a little bit though. I’m insinuating that Bayless brings as much or more on-court value as Kidd THIS SEASON (and especially in the future, when he’s likely to get better while Kidd is likely to continue declining), especially if his 3-point shooting from last year holds, not that he could potentially grow into a better contributor than Kidd down the road. That’s a big part of why I thought he would have been a better signing than Kidd. (And because I keep making this comparison, somehow this whole thing will turn into, “Dubin thinks Bayless is better than Kidd. What an idiot.” on Knicks Twitter. Sigh. I’m soooo stupid. Really, I’m just using that comparison to illustrate my larger, “VETERAN EXPERIENCE vs. on-court contribution/potential” point. I swear. Please don’t hate me, Knicks Twitter. Raymond Felton is a BULLDOG. Melo is the best. WOODY WOODY WOODSON. There. That’s better. /end digression) But Kidd got the nod because of VETERAN EXPERIENCE, mostly. Which, again, has merit. But should it be determinative? If we assume Kidd and Bayless (or any two players, really) are exactly equally talented, do you want the VETERAN EXPERIENCE guy or the young guy with the potential to get even better than that year’s contribution?

I guess, as you say, it depends on your team’s makeup, but I’d almost always lean to the younger guy, because his on-court production means more to me than the intangible VETERAN EXPERIENCE. I know this probably places me in a fairly significant miniority, but that’s really just how I feel.

I’m rambling now, but I want to go back to the Wizards for a second. Yes, last season, they were rudderless. And this season they’ll be better, probably significantly so. But at what cost? They lost a lot of future flexibility to become more of a win-now team. Are they really going to win anything significant this season or in the next few? They’re pretty much a fringe playoff team, right? What happens when Wall’s deal is up, Nene and Emeka are on the wrong side of 30, Ariza’s gone, and he’s on a team with a mediocre supporting cast and Brad Beal is the only other guy there with any upside? Isn’t he all, “Get me outta here,” at that point? Isn’t that what the Cavs did with LeBron? (Surround him with older players to WIN NOW while neglecting the fact that there needed to be a younger nucleus in place with a chance to improve so he’d actually want to, ya know, STAY there.)

Would it have been better to stay young and relatively rudderless for another year with Wall and Beal, and plan to continue to grow the nucleus around them, picking up lottery picks and cap space than pay Okafor and Nene like $25 million combined to be my centers on an 8 or 9-seed?

I liked the idea of moving on from JaVale. I agree that wasn’t the place he was going to succeed. But picking up a lot of money in the process wasn’t the way I would have gone. Then again, there’s a reason I’m not a general manager. Maybe I’m just one of those guys who’s seduced by youth and potential too much and doesn’t value other things highly enough. Maybe I’m just going crazy waiting for my Bar results. I don’t know. Do you? Man, I am SURE this email is running too long, and is probably going to make me sound pretty dumb.

Amin: YOU ARE TEH DUMB.

Not really, but I want to address 2 quick points before I go into the longer answer.

1) You’re right. I think the Wizards became too “win-now.” While I like Okafor and Ariza, I think adding Nene was enough (to fill the VETERAN LEADERSHIP quota). They should have bought out Rashard Lewis and held onto the cap space for flexibility for this year’s trade deadline or next offseason. But the original desire to get veterans on the team to right the ship still has merit.

2) The LeBron situation was different for a few reasons, but I don’t think surrounding LeBron with veterans was wrong. Danny Ferry was already playing with a short stack, and he did all he could to get the team to be championship-caliber. Vets were added now (ie: then) because the team was in “win-now” mode with LeBron’s prime and his free agency clock ticking. You could have won a championship with 2008-2010 LeBron, but not with that exact roster, and not against teams that were specifically designed to exploit the Cavs’ weakness(es). Point being: the pre-Gilbert/Ferry Cavs screwed up a lot. The Gilbert/Ferry Cavs now in hindsight probably screwed up the Hickson pick (the only first round pick they got in the era), seeing as the following (quality) players were drafted after him:
Ryan Anderson
Courtney Lee
Kosta Koufos
Serge Ibaka
Nicolas Batum
George Hill
Darrell Arthur
Donté Greene
Nikola Peković
DeAndre Jordan
Ömer Aşık
Luc Mbah a Moute
Goran Dragić

HOWEVER, the counterfactual of LeBron being able to win a championship with a Cavs roster that had any of those players is impossible to prove, especially if you decide to factor in the fact that a season and a half of pure hatred from non-Miami fanbases hardened LeBron’s soul so that he could win a championship with a heart made of coal. #Logic

Onto your thing:

“If we assume Kidd and Bayless (or any two players, really) are exactly equally talented, do you want the VETERAN EXPERIENCE guy or the young guy with the potential to get even better than that year’s contribution?”

Like you said, it depends on what the team needs. Is the team a championship team with a deep rotation that doesn’t have room for another guy BUT needs a guy with a “winning attitude?” Kidd. Is the team a piece or two away and need someone who can give on court contribution and can stick around for a while, even if he hasn’t been out of the 1st round of the playoffs before? Bayless.

It all depends. Is that a good enough answer?

Jared: We could argue the LeBron/Cavs team-building thing until we’re blue in the face, but I think the main flaw in Cleveland’s management’s reasoning was the presupposition that if they won a championship, LeBron had to stay there. Sure, it might have made it more difficult to leave, but it was always going to be difficult to leave. I really think the key was building a team that could have contended with LeBron for years to come while also contending in the near term. They built a team that was specifically geared to win right then and there, almost without regard for the future.

As for this:”Like you said, it depends on what the team needs. Is the team a championship team with a deep rotation that doesn’t have room for another guy BUT needs a guy with a “winning attitude?” Kidd. Is the team a piece or two away and need someone who can give on court contribution and can stick around for a while, even if he hasn’t been out of the 1st round of the playoffs before? Bayless. It all depends. Is that a good enough answer?”

Yes. I think it’s a good enough answer. It’s basically saying, with respect to this Knicks team, “We needed to bring in Jason Kidd (and to a lesser extent, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas) because our best player is Carmelo Anthony, who is no one’s idea of a championship-caliber leader, and our second best player is Amar’e Stoudemire, who most people consider in the same light, and our coach is Mike Woodson, who leaves a lot to be desired, and we have J.R. Smith, and CAA is pulling so many strings they might as well be on a Godfather poster, and our owner is absolutely batshit off-the-walls insane.” Right?

So I see why Kidd (or a player like him) would be comforting to fans in that regard. And I was fully on board with that when they planned to go get Steve Nash for that role, because he can still contribute at an extremely high level. But when a player’smain contribution is leadership and intangibles rather than on-court production, I just find it really hard to get behind that idea. I see the value of it, but it doesn’t outweigh the value of things that other players can bring, at least not for me. That type of player – one whose main contribution is in the locker room – is someone you bring in for the veteran’s minimum, someone you ask to carry a severely decreased number of minutes (bringing this full circle now) like the Celtics did with Sam Cassell in their championship run. That’s not the caliber of player that you ask to play a large role on your team.

Amin: /holds breath while face turns blue

The Cavs went all in on LeBron. They knew if he left, they wouldn’t have a future. They figured “well, if he leaves, we better win a title while he’s here, and maybe then he won’t leave!” I believe that’s what’s called “mortgaging your future to finance your present.” No one knows what the key to this team was. Getting more first round picks so you could piece together a young team with whom LeBron would grow? Getting young-ish free agents to join (even if there was no guarantee that LeBron would stay, which is what drove a lot of young FAs away)? DAMMIT JARED WE WERE TALKING ABOUT YOUR CRAPPY TEAM, NOT MY CRAPPY TEAM!

Anyway.

The Knicks roster is comprised of guys who think they are a championship-caliber team. And they were assembled by a group of people who thought that name recognition was a proxy for talent and chemistry. Unfortunately, neither of these reflect reality. I do, however, think that many of these decisions (especially in regard to NYK’s guard rotation) were made with the thought that Lin would be returning and Shump would slip back into the rotation to absorb big minutes after injury. Bayless would have been a good pick up regardless, but with Lin there and Kidd there to mentor him (as was the original intent), Bayless would have been the odd man out, right? Things didn’t go that way, and that’s why he wasn’t picked up. Maybe they went and got a bunch of other old dudes because they felt like Lin–and by proxy all young guys–would spurn them for money they didn’t have. Speculation! Oh my God, I’m making crazy conspiracy theories based on nothing. What have you done to me, Jared?

Jared: This chain has gone on so long that you’ve turned into me. And now that I see where this conversation has gone, I’ve realized it’s insane that I never thought of it this way in the first place. It’s all about name recognition. That’s what the Cavs were going for when they brought in guys to play with LeBron. That’s what the Knicks are going for now. Different kinds of name recognition, but the same idea nonetheless.

The Cavs kept bringing in guys that were very… “of the moment.” Larry Hughes has a good contract year? Come on down. Donyell Marshall has his best season at age 30? New contract. Let’s get Ben Wallace. Let’s get Shaq. Let’s get Jamison.

The Knicks are doing it a little differently, they’re bringing in guys that are very… “of the past.” Kidd, Camby, Thomas. 90′s guys. Prigioni is 35. Even Felton fits the “past” theme because he played in New York before.

But those guys are here because they’re names. If you bring in Jerryd Bayless and Danny Green (not that that scenario was ever plausibly happening, just using it for example), it doesn’t carry the same cache as if you sign JASON KIDD and RAYMOND FELTON. And cache is all James Dolan’s ever really cared about. Name value. Names to go up on the Garden marquee. Names to sell to fans. Names that will get you back page covers of the Post and the News.

Why are names so valuable? (ANSWER: Ticket sales, but roll with me.) Why is there seemingly mandate to pay a premium based on what a player has done in the past, when contracts should really be about presumed production over the life of the deal being extended? Shouldn’t that be the way we judge contracts? I guess it’s hard because we don’t know how the player will produce over the life of a given contract, but it seems like that’s a better way to value players than past production, doesn’t it?

Amin: It sounds like the Knicks are trying to be Cache-Money millionaires. (See what I did there?)

Here’s me spouting off some political philosophy from college: In Aristotle’s Politics, he describes the six ideal and worst forms of government: Benevolent Monarchy, Aristocracy, Polity, Democracy, Oligarchy, and Tyranny. The first three are the best, the last three are the worst, and their opposite pairs are their alternate places the list (Monarchy + Tyranny = 1 leader, Aristocracy + Oligarchy = an handful of leaders, Polity + Democracy = many leaders). In picking the best form of government, Aristotle reveals that there are actually two best forms of government. The first-best is Benevolent Monarchy: One king who makes all the decisions and is awesome to everyone all the time and everyone is happy. The other-best is a Polity, where lots of people are running the show, but voices are heard, even if it’s a bit inefficient (this is essentially a representative government that functions like a modern-day advanced democracy, despite having a different name). Aristotle believes you should ideally have the monarchy, HOWEVER, you’re shit out of luck if that guy winds up being a tyrant. That’s why you should also shoot for a Polity because its counterpoint is democracy, which is just a rabble of unsatisfied people, which is way less worse than a tyrant. Two bests, ya see?

Anyway what I’m trying to say is, for owners (and to a lesser extent, fans): A championship is a monarchy. But if you cant have that, settle for the polity of butts-in-seats. How do you get a championship? Bring in great and usually well-known/well-liked players. How do you get butts-in-seats? Bring in well-known/well-liked players.

Jared: You’re a lot smarter than me. You’re all reading high-minded political books written ages ago and becoming more worldly, while I’m fiddling with NBA.com’s stats tool.

Also, that’s a really good analogy/metaphor/thing to describe what owners will strive - or sometimes settle - for, particularly Mr. Dolan. He’s all about the butts-in-seats, and the name on the marquee, and the name on the back of the jersey.

When does that name recognition wear off, though? At what point do we as basketball fans and writers stop thinking of players as the guy they used to be (which is largely the reason they are able to put butts in seats) and more as the player they are now?

Some players have such strong name recognition that it stays with them throughout their entire career, even as they start to slip (see: Bryant, Kobe; who has indeed slipped some, even if he remains very, very good, but there are those that somehow still consider him the best player in the league, likely because that’s what he was at the height of his powers, and it’s difficult for them to see him any other way). For others, that name recognition that erodes fairly quickly (see: Marbury, Stephon; Arenas, Gilbert; and countless others). Obviously there are reasons for both situations – Kobe’s peak was higher and lasted longer; Steph and Gilbert are crazy. But for the players in the middle, the Antawn Jamisons of the world for instance, when does that name recognition wear off?

Anyway, ideally, shouldn’t the two goals – championship and butts-in-seats – be more connected? Winning teams will generally put butts in seats, but do teams with high profile names that aren’t real contenders do the same? ANSWER, at least in New York: Yes. Even those early 2000′s teams that were terrible but had guys like Marbury, Penny Hardaway, Eddy Curry, Jalen Rose, etc. were still drawing capacity crowds. I doubt it would be the same in a different market, though. If the Cavs were paying all those guys $100 million combined to go 23-59, would fans still show up in droves at the Q? I can’t pretend to know for sure, but I don’t think they would, and I think the Cavs generally have a solid fanbase.

I guess what I’m saying is, why settle for butts-in-seats and pseudo-contention with recognizable names (herein lies the problem for the Knicks; their owner thinks that having recognizable names automatically makes you a real contender, even if the real ceiling of the team lies slightly below that level) when you can continue to build a real contender, which will put butts in seats anyway?

That’s the same reason I didn’t totally love the Wizards trade, even if it undoubtedly makes them better in the short term. They’ll be pseudo-contenders, a fringe playoff squad, for the next few years, and John Wall will be happier for it – for now. But when it’s time to talk extension, he’ll be like, “We’re not contenders. I’m out.” Or am I off base there? Maybe pseudo-contention is a stop along the way to real contendership. Aaaaand I’m rambling yet again.

Amin: Dude. We were talking about the Knicks being crazy, OK? Will you stop bringing up my two poor and misguided franchises? Also, if I were a lot smarter than you, why would I be a Cavs and Wizards fan? Think about that before you go patting sadists on the back, OK?

There’s a simple answer to the name recognition question: it never wears off. The only exception I can think of is Allen Iverson, and even he was voted an All-Star in his second-last season in the league. I’d also say that Gilbert Arenas could be included here, but he has so many injury- and fingagunz-related asterisks in his career that his peak was basically an aberration at this point. And I guess Steph like you said, too. But even so, people still revel in his potential, don’t they?

For every team–not just the Knicks–their scales always weigh short-term success against long-term success. And for the Knicks specifically, they were a team that was perennially entertaining (if you can call Rileyball that) during the 90s, then they were embarrassing during the 00s, and now that they’re not embarrassing anymore, they have to make a decision: We finallyhave stars that want to play here, but they’re not going to win us a championship. Should we trade some of these guys away while we’re remaking our entertainment image so we can slowly build a championship contender? Or should we fill these stars with celebrity and hubris so that they keep talking about a championship so we can guarantee that basketball is relevant in New York again? Oh what’s that? There is another team in New York that’s filled with stars that won’t win a title either but with whom we can devise a bloody rivalry in an effort to sell more and more tickets and merchandise? I think we can wait a few years after these stars are old and rotten to reboot for our championship.

I don’t think pseudo-contention is about contention. I think it’s about entertainment. New York basketball wasn’t entertaining for a long time. Maybe that’s all they want right now.

Oh, and billions of dollars.

Jared: 1. How DARE you mention Pat Riley to me. (Seriously, f*ck Pat Riley, man.)

2. I will keep bringing up the Wizards, damn it! I need to deflect attention from my crazy team. I will now bring them up in relation to pseudo-contention yet again: they’re more entertaining this year than when they had JaVale last year? I’m just about the least-big (is that a thing?) JaVale fan on the planet, and even I would deny that one. But just to brighten up your Wizards fan day a bit: JOHN WALL BRAD BEAL JOHN WALL BRAD BEAL JOHN WALL BRAD BEAL

3. And to brighten your Cavs fan day: KYRIE FREAKING IRVING. Also, Tyler Zeller (Rockets article but whatever, I really like his game). But hahaha Dion Waiters. KYRIE IRVING THO.

4. I think you just nailed the next 3-4 years of New York basketball right on the head. With the Nets’ impending move to Brooklyn looming, - and now finally, mercifully, here – Dolan and the front office have spent the last few years trying to acquire whatever high-powered names (and basketball players) they could. They knew there was an opening for the Nets to steal some of the luster away if they came into Brooklyn with more marquee talent and a better basketball team, so they focused on building a media juggernaut/basketball team to keep the attention, and hopefully, win some games along the way.

CAA has obviously been a big partner in this. Carmelo Anthony was acquired as much for his cache and name recognition (and to keep him away from the Nets; Dolan swooped in at the end of the negotiations and offered more than Donnie Walsh wanted to because he was afraid the Nets would beat him to a marquee star) as his basketball skills, if not more so, considering how poor a stylistic fit he is with the guy the Knicks signed first – Amar’e Stoudemire. They signed Tyson Chandler coming off a championship when his name value had never been higher, and it didn’t hurt that he seemed to be the antidote to Anthony and Stoudemire’s defensive shortcomings. He’s probably fulfilled more of his promise since coming to New York than either of the two other superstars that preceded him.

This offseason was more and more about names. Kidd, Camby, Felton, Thomas. All good (relatively) players. All well-known names. Were there under-the-radar signings that would have been better? I think so, but I doubt that they were ever even a consideration. The criteria for signing players in New York is now two-fold: 1. Can you contribute? 2. Can we sell you?

The Nets are apparently making the same calculus. Obviously they really wanted to bring Deron Williams back (smartly), and in their effort to do so they went hard after Dwight Howard, which made a lot of sense since he’s the best center in the league. When they were unable to pry him away from Orlando’s cold, dead fingers with the Brook Lopez and picks platterm, though, they went out and got Joe Johnson. He’s certainly got the cache, the name recognition, and he’s still a good player, but he’s a shooting guard on the wrong side of 30, his contract pays him a gazillion dollars and it cost them any further shot at Howard. It got Williams to re-sign though, which was the endgame anyway, and now the Proky can sell Deron, Joe, Crash, Brook, a Brooklyn renaissance, a Knicks rivalry and lots of cool-looking gear with Jay-Z’s designs.

The New York basketball rivalry, which has never really actually existed, is just shaping up to be as much of an off-court war as an on-court one, if not more. It’s really quite something.

Amin: I’ve heard it’s a concrete jungle where dreams are made of. Can you corroborate that?

I think we just figured it out. Veteran leadership for a team that needs a seasoned-if-not-that-effective vet (Derek Fisher going to OKC) is important so the other players can kind of use that person as their guiding star in a situation with which they’re unfamiliar. Swag osmosis, if you will.

Veteran leadership for teams like the Knicks and Nets? That’s just what they call it to sell it to fans. Would you rather have a has-been/also-ran or a Veteran Leader? I know I’d rather have the latter. Semantics means money. And as we were reminded last summer during the lockout, money is really damn important.

Jared: We need to come up with a (what’s the word for when you combine two words to make another word? Is it portmanteau? By the way, I LOVE the word “portmanteau.” It’s great. It always makes me think of Dean Portman, one half of the Bash Brothers. Shoutout to Fulton Reed.) for swag osmosis. Swosmosis? Osmag? (Not Osmag. Osmag sucks.) This kind of thing should be someone’s full time job. I’ll volunteer myself. That would really put my law degree to good use and make my parents proud.

Amin:  It’s definitely Swagmosis. And I didn’t even need a BarBri book to figure it out.