Monthly Archives: June 2013

Finding Purpose

For most teams, the NBA draft represents a chance to add a key building block to their already solid foundation. For a few teams, though, the draft is a chance to wipe the slate clean, to start anew in hopes of escaping the dreaded purgatory of decent. Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers took such a chance, trading away their best player in Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and highly coveted 2014 first round pick and later drafting Michael Carter-Williams. In the second round, the 76ers made a flurry of dizzying deals that eventually landed them Arsalan Kazemi, the first Iranian ever drafted to the NBA.

“When I came here, I said, ‘the exact status quo wouldn’t get it done,’” said 76ers President and General Manager Sam Hinkie at the team’s post-draft press conference. The status quo has, for the past several years, been the very definition of the 76ers. It never seemed as if they were building towards something, even when they upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. The Andrew Bynum trade was gutsy, and a refreshing risk by a franchise that had usually been nearly allergic to them, but it backfired, and the team was left with no young talent, no plan to recover. Worse, they weren’t even back to square one, but square three or four, with no square five in front.

What these moves did, more than anything, was give the 76ers a clear and defined direction. Yes, it made them worse. And yes, it cost them their best player. Trading a young point guard fresh off of an All-Star season for a first round pick and an unproven player is the very definition of risk. But it was one that had to be made if the Sixers were ever going to be anything other than decent.

It should also be said that Hinkie’s trading of Holiday likely isn’t a referendum on Holiday’s talent, just the opposite: Holiday was too good to keep around. He would have kept the Sixers afloat, continuing to tread water in the vast sea of mediocrity.

We bemoaned the lack of superstars in this year’s draft, but the reality is that very few drafts produce immediate stars. Last year’s supposedly stacked class produced a top-5 of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters and Thomas Robinson. Harrison Barnes and Damian Lillard, picked sixth and seventh, also had very good rookie campaigns. But none of those players have yet to be stars, and while Davis may reach that level, his ascension is no certain thing. Franchise saviors–the LeBron’s and Durant’s–are few and far between. Maybe Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker or Julius Randle are one of those players who can single-handedly drag a team up from redundancy into relevancy. The 76ers are banking on the hopes that they are.

Nerlens Noel–whenever he actually takes the court–and Michael Carter Williams are not the endgame for the Sixers, but the beginning of something much bigger than just the two of them. The Sixers will lose this year. They will lose a lot. The difference, however, between last year and this year is that the losses will actually have meaning, paving a path to a better future. They’ll lose on purpose, and lose with a purpose.

Photo by Bonito Club via Flickr

Shot Fiction: Mark Jackson, Across The Sea

David Moyes enjoyed his new office.

He liked the carefully ordered bookshelves and the sense of expectations that resided within every page. He loved the old wooden desk and the ancient laptop that rested on its oaken frame. And of course, the Wi-Fi was a great deal better than the dial-up service that he had grown so used to at Goodison Park.

As he listened to various team officials describe the club’s various to-do’s and exchanged terse text messages with Wayne Rooney, his mind remained untroubled. He responded promptly to Robin Van Persie’s Snapchat and read stories about his arrival with the careful eyes of a man who knows only alertness.

Moyes had already begun to shake off some old habits learned and fiercely memorized at Everton. He no longer began his day with finances. Now he ended with them, as a kind of vague treat to his long-suffering brow.

It was with a certain rush that Moyes opened that particular spreadsheet. For a moment, he could not allow his eyes to spoil the wonderful surprise and he forced himself to look anywhere else. When his gaze finally twisted its way back to the bright screen, he no longer suppressed his smile. Moyes swiftly folded his hands and laughed just a bit too hysterically.

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Across the Atlantic, Mark Jackson unfolded his hands and stared across the Bay towards San Francisco. Like many men of his generation he yearned for everything on the horizon to be his. He knew that soon would it be. Lacob had guaranteed as much.

His hands comfortably returned to his suit pockets as he stood and all was at peace again. It was then that an uneven knock disturbed Mark Jackson’s concerns. He returned to his seat and called for whoever waited outside to please enter his office.

It was David Lee. Jackson asked him to sit and talk, and Lee obliged.

“So what’s going on, David?”

“Just wanted to talk about a couple of things, Coach.”

“Of course, anything!” Jackson belted back.

Lee glanced around the dark room and fiddled with the bobblehead of Andrew Bogut that rested on the edge of Jackson’s desk. Jackson pretended not to notice and waited for Lee to speak.

“I’ve been a little worried, Coach.”

“What’s troubling you, David?”

“Nothing, nothing.” David sighed and picked at his elbow. He was always picking at his elbow.

“I know you better than that.”

“Well, it’s just that, I’m worried I might not make it back this playoffs and I want to be part of this run—-“

Jackson held his hand up, palm open.

“David, you are a part of this team. Everybody feels you backing us and uses that energy, whether or not you play.”

“I’m just worried I won’t contribute. Worried I’m not doing enough.”

“You’re doing plenty. We all know you’re doing everything you can.”

Jackson put his hand on the bend of Lee’s shoulder.

“We’re doing this for you.”

Jackson rose and his hands drifted back to his pockets as he strode in circles. He hardly blinked as he spoke.

“You just worry about getting healthy, David. Maybe if we stay in this long enough, you can come back and help us out.”

“Like I did when I came back last series?” Lee laughed.

Jackson chuckled along with him.

“Well maybe more than that, David. Maybe more than that.”

A few minutes later when Lee had gone and left his fear behind, it settled into Jackson and he got to thinking about the curious case whispering itself into his striking ears.

Mark Jackson thought for quite a long time. He thought of David Lee’s resiliency, of his harsh rebounding and firm jumper, of how strongly he returned from a near death by elbow bite.  And finally, he thought of Monta Ellis.

Oh, Monta Ellis. Few names in this godly universe could inspire as much in the steady heart of Mark Jackson. He spoke it aloud now. He could not repeat the name without a rush of memories from his earlier days on the job accompanying its sound.

He thought of Monta’s jumper, his unblinking willingness to consume. A great consumer of possessions. That is what Mark Jackson thought of when he thought of Mont Ellis. He could not be counted on for everything, yes, but he could be counted to score. The only thing that ever changed was how many shots it would take to get there.

In the spring of 2012, Jackson and the rest of the Warriors’ management team made a choice when it came to the team and Ellis. It was a choice of extrication and painful amputation. Ellis had to leave for the body of the Warriors to grow and survive. And so Bob Myers and Joe Lacob and Mark Jackson and the rest made the grim choice to grow. Monta Ellis was traded to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut and Jackson had accepted the results with proper aplomb and quiet excitement. Something new was afoot, he felt.

And Jackson felt correctly. The course of the season and the burgeoning Warriors proved as much. The team ascended in new form and evolved into something greater with Coach Mark Jackson at the helm. Vibrancy ran in stride with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry as they changed the face of possibility with every dribble and shot.

He thought of all this only to circle the conclusion already existent somewhere within his furrowed brow. He had cut off a limb to save the Warriors’ body before and now he believed he must raise the dagger again.

He wrung his hands once more and wondered how many limbs the fates must decree to fall before the body may survive in a single form.

Jackson no longer contemplated David Lee. Now, he thought of the San Antonio Spurs and folded his hands again.

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Somewhere far across the sea, David Moyes thought of all that could be his and unfolded his hands across the back of his neck. He leaned back and considered everything at the center of Old Trafford and the vast oblivion surrounding it. How things might change. How things might evolve.

Outside, it rained. And for now, Moyes was home.

An Unconventional Convention

Photo: Flickr/SaUd HeLaL

Thursday’s draft was a whirlwind of an evening. And in comparison to 2012′s rather formulaic draft this felt especially true. From the onset we had the Cavaliers opt for Anthony Bennett over Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, and anyone else we previously heard rumored to be the first overall pick.  When Noel the former consensus number one overall pick finally did go off of the board, he was traded shortly after to Philadelphia for Jrue Holliday. Even cap-conscious teams like the Dallas Mavericks were looking past the draft to free agency by trading their pick for foreign players they could stash overseas to avoid taking on any extra salary. No, last night’s draft certainly seemed to be about breaking convention.

Typically, in mid-April we pinpoint the best point guard or center the NCAA had to offer during the season and anoint them as the frontrunner for the number one selection. This time we heard countless names thrown around up until the Cavaliers selected Bennett, an undersized power forward, with the first overall pick over centers like Noel and Len who traditionally would have been prime number one candidates. What’s strange is that for a team that was looking to bolster it’s defense and the small forward position elected not to do that although Georgetown’s Otto Porter fit that description. Again, they deviated from common practice, but to fill a want instead of a need. This may very well say more about the Cavs’ opinion of the number one overall pick not having as much value as in prior years than them kickstarting a revolution, but it’s an interesting selection nonetheless.

Then you take a team like the Bobcats who boldy — if not curiously — chose Indiana’s Cody Zeller over prospects that were available and widely perceived as better players. Most mock drafts didn’t even have Zeller going much higher than 10th or 11th. Additionally, most draft analysts had Zeller as the third or fourth center selected, but certainly not the second. Perhaps the Bobcats were just crazy or they felt highly enough about Zeller to take him fourth overall instead of overpaying another team just to trade down a few spots for a more reasonable selection slot. In most drafts a team would almost always jump on a former consensus number one overall pick falling that far but the Bobcats weren’t biting. Maybe it’s because they didn’t trust the medical histories of Noel or Len, but Charlotte certainly broke convention by drafting for the player they truly liked as opposed to opting for best player(s) available. It’s certainly a risk that could decide whether the team improves several games or just a few.

Finally, the Nets and Celtics capped off an exciting night with the biggest move of all with a trade that is the reason we spring to the edge of our seats everytime we hear there has been a trade during the draft. Yes, mid-draft trades are a common thing but not trades that usher in wholesale changes like this one. After swapping Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Celtics for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Reggie Evans and more, the entire arc of both teams’ futures have been changed. While most playoff teams like the Thunder and Warriors bought or traded for late first round picks, the Nets have attempted to fast track their growth with veterans and large contracts rather than mine for cheap talent later in the draft. Most teams with today’s CBA understand that the window for success is much shorter among those teams that don’t try to constantly unearth the players with the best talent-cost ratio, but money is apparently no option for the Nets and the time to win is now.

The 2013 NBA Draft was all about taking risks just as every draft has been. However, this time was different. Teams didn’t just take a risk on the raw-but-athletic big man or grab the best player available just because he was there. No, teams finally treated the draft as the crapshoot that it is and not the exact science we pretend it to be sometimes. Last night very well could have been considered a league-wide review of the draft class but the only risks teams took were the ones that would be unpopular with fans or media personalities. If you want Anthony Bennett number one overall, go for it. Don’t trust Nerlens Noel’s knee? Then don’t and realize there were five other teams that felt the same as you. Worried your fans are going to blow up your team’s official Twitter account with scathing tweets if you don’t take their player? Ignore the pressure and take whoever you feel fits the team better. This draft could just be an anomaly in that teams didn’t feel that there was that much to lose by stepping away from conventional wisdom or it could be a shift in the way team’s approach the draft. After all, continuing to do something the way you’ve always done is the worst reason not to be open to change. Unfortunately, only time will tell when we look back at who succeeded and failed in this draft class, so there will be no way to know immediately.

What we do know is that last night’s draft never lacked intrigue and whatever the reason for that was, we should do it like that again.

Hey, You Never Know

Right from the start, the 2013 NBA Draft kicked ass.

After months upon months of talk about how the draft was weak (and possibly the weakest since 2000), the NBA treated its fans to what was without a doubt the most entertaining draft of my life. It started – for the second time in three years – in Cleveland, where Chris Grant is apparently the most effective smoke signal-sender of all time, because the only person who thought the Cavaliers would draft Anthony Bennett, was Anthony Bennett.

Presumptive number one overall pick Nerlens Noel dropped all the way to the 6th selection, and for a scant few minutes something called The Thin Towers existed. But rather than patrolling the paint with Anthony Davis, Noel will be pioneering a new era in Philadelphia. Incoming Sixers GM Sam Hinkie showed just how much Daryl Morey taught him, blowing up a mediocre team by sending Jrue Holiday and his 2nd rounder to the Pelicans for the draft’s best big man and a (top-3 protected) 2014 1st round pick.

Hinkie’s been on the job a little more than a month and he’s taken a team that looked like it was going to sit in NBA purgatory for a few years, given it a direction, a new coach (former San Antonio assistant Brett Brown; the story was broken in the middle of the 2nd round) and snagged two picks in what is consistently being hyped as a loaded draft along the way. The Sixers then snagged Michael Carter-Williams with their 11th pick, ensuring they will have the worst shooting backcourt in the history of ever if they don’t trade or bench Evan Turner.

In between all that action, Orlando scooped up Victor Oladipo and Washington completed its perimeter trio by taking Otto Porter to complement John Wall and Brad Beal. Both were expected moves. But then Michael Jordan shook up the draft board by making Cody Zeller the newest Bobcat, which led to Alex Len landing in Phoenix, where the best training staff in the league can make sure his ankle heals correctly.

The new Sacramento regime somehow lucked into Ben McLemore, considered by some to be the most talented player in the draft. Detroit surprised by taking Kentavious Caldwell-Pope rather than Trey Burke, who was drafted 9th by Minnesota only to be quickly shipped off to Utah for the 14th and 21st picks. While we were all gasping for breath, the Blazers picked up another high-scoring combo guard from a small conference, bringing CJ McCollum into the fold.

Oklahoma City put in failed bids to move up to a few different slots, but they eventually stayed put and took Pitt’s Steven Adams, who had the New Zealand flag sewn inside his coat. The Mavericks had been trying to move out of or down from the 13th pick for weeks, and the Celtics helped them out by flipping the 16th pick and two 2nd rounders for the right to draft Kelly Olynyk. And Danny Ainge was just getting started. More on that later.

The 14th pick saw the Jazz select Shabazz Muhammad for the Wolves, but Shabazz didn’t show up to the draft until six picks later. The Bucks were connected to a host of different point guards in the days leading up to the draft, but they went and took Giannis Antetokounmpo instead, and apparently will not be stashing him in Greece for a year. I’ve never seen him play, but I’m pretty sure I heard Fran Fraschilla describe him as having a Kevin Durant body. I couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be a good or bad thing.

Dallas held Boston’s 16th pick, but they made their second deal in about 20 minutes by sending the rights to Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for the 18th pick (Shane Larkin), as well as the 44th (Mike Muscala, who may or may not be headed elsewhere, I honestly don’t remember). Nogueira hopped out of the crowd to provide us with maybe the greatest draft day picture in the history of draft day pictures.

Nogueira

Nogueira’s suit button comes up to David Stern’s chin! The tie bar is lined up with Stern’s glasses! Look at that hair! Look at that Celtics logo behind him! It’s a masterpiece.

Atlanta then scooped up a point guard to either replace or back up Jeff Teague, the Cavs picked up a shooter in Sergey Karasev and Chicago took Tony Snell, but somehow Shabazz Muhammad wound up on stage shaking the Commissioner’s hand in a Utah Jazz hat even though he’ll play for Minnesota. Shabazz seemed happy to be playing with Ricky Rubio, in case you’re curious.

Minnesota used Utah’s second pick to take Gorgui Dieng, and then the Nets took Mason Plumlee, which led to Jason Kidd denying there was anything to report about a possible Nets-Celtics trade about 45 minutes before the trade happened, but again, we’ll get to that later. That wasn’t even the most awkward part of the Kidd interview at the time, though. Kidd was asked about the Knicks team he played on last year’s season-ending defeat at the hands of the Pacers, and in answering referred to the Knicks as “we,” which I am reading way too much into because I’m too close to the situation. The fans in Brooklyn cheered the selection of Plumlee, but booed David Stern.

After Indiana took Solomon Hill (who was compared by Jay Bilas to Draymond Green, who shot 32.7% in the regular season last year before playing some pretty good playoff minutes), the Knicks took Tim Hardaway’s son, who somehow became the first Knicks draft pick in recent memory to not get loudly and universally booed. It was the upset of the century. Hardaway, of course, was on my annual “guys I don’t like” list, which I actually prefer because I’m funnier when I’m angry than when I’m happy.

The Clippers gave Doc Rivers another shooter to work with in Reggie Bullock, and then five of the last six picks in the 1st round got traded. Minnesota sold 26 to Golden State, who then sent it over to Oklahoma City for 29 (Archie Goodwin, who was later sent to Phoenix in exchange for somebody named Nemanja Nedovic, the 30th pick, and presumably some cash, maybe a player? I honestly don’t know.) and cash. OKC took Andre Roberson. The Nuggets picked Rudy Gobert 27th, but they were drafting for Utah, from whom they got the 44th pick and cash.

The Spurs were the only team in the bottom six to keep their pick, and they took a typical foreign Spurs guy who will inevitably be an All-Star in four years. Gregg Popovich lost three assistant coaches this offseason, but he brought in Jim Boylen from Frank Vogel’s Indiana staff.

As David Stern walked to the podium for the 30th pick, the crowd, after hours upon hours, and indeed years upon years of booing Stern at previous NBA Drafts, finally showered him in cheers. Stern had been basking in the boos all night, often egging the crowd on, cracking self-deprecating jokes (“I’ll have to explain to our international audience that the boo is an American sign of respect”) and generally acting David Stern-like. He was clearly moved by the adoration, but still responded with a classic Stern quip, telling the crowd to, “Stop it. You’re running all the fun.”

And that wasn’t even the best part of Stern’s final pick as Commissioner, because after being handed the reins to announce the 2nd round picks, Deputy Commission and future Comissioner Adam Silver brought out HAKEEM FREAKIN OLAJUWON, the first player Stern ever announced as an NBA draft pick, to shake Stern’s hand and commemorate the occasion. As if that weren’t enough, this was the EXACT MOMENT that Woj decided to break the rumored Celtics-Nets trade.

Brooklyn agreed to send Kris Humphries’ expiring contract, Gerald Wallace’s albatross contract, Keith Bogans’ new contract, Reggie Evans, Tornike Shengalia and 1st round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to Boston for Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and an agreeing-to-waive-his-no-trade-clause Kevin Garnett. Brooklyn’s pay roll will be close to $100 million next season, over $80 million of it tied up in the starting lineup. They might pay just as much in luxury tax bills. Boston’s now on a rebuilding kick, having shed a bunch of salary, picked up three picks and moved up for Olynyk. They now own nine 1st round picks between 2014 and 2018.

There were six more trades involving a total of 10 players and four future picks made during the 2nd round, but that was all sideshow to the news that RASHEED GODDAMN WALLACE MIGHT JOIN MAURICE CHEEKS’ STAFF AS AN ASSISTANT COACH IN DETROIT. Sheed, potentially a double-technical away from being head coach for a night. This is literally the only thing that can be better than Sam Cassell as an assistant coach.

All told, there were 13 trades made during the draft, with 29 players, seven future 2nd round picks and four future 1sts – three going from the Nets to the Celtics, in a deal that technically won’t happen until July 10 – changing hands. There was intrigue, there was misdirection, there was booing, cheering, torch-passing, asset-gathering, coach-hiring, alternately angry or elated tweeting and that instantly legendary Nogueira picture. It was a blast. An unexpected, no holds barred, success. It was, unequivocally, the best draft experience in years.

2013 NBA Draft Live Blog

And, it’s almost time to start. I’ll be here with you the whole night, along with the Nets cheerleaders and free clothing, which has people going apeshit. We’re about to get started in a few minutes.

7:33: David Stern is here, and trolling at his best, thanking the booing crowd for their warm welcome. I cannot hear a word he is saying.

7:35: I literally cannot hear a single thing David Stern is saying. The crowd is booing too loudly. Cody Zeller looks lonely.

7:37: I am actively avoiding Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter feed because he will ruin all the picks. I suggest you do the same.

7:40: Tom Sunnergren of Hoop76 is here next to me, and we are equally baffled by what the Cavs will do with the first pick. I suggest a panda. He says Nerlens Noel.

7:40: David Stern soaks up the moment Anthony Bennett is taken first overall, because David Stern. Also: Anthony Bennett? Yeah, whatever. /says something about wingspan

7:45 Actual exchange between myself and New York Post photographer:

Guy: What’s his name?

Me: Anthony Bennett

Guy: Anthony?

Me: Yeah

Guy: Okay, I don’t have a roster.

Me: [chuckles]

7:52: Waiting between picks is a lot less fun when you don’t have studio analysts to re-hash points for you.

David Stern loves this whole booing thing too much. He’s pretty much Tyrion Lannister.

7:55: Alex Len is looking at the ground and shaking his head often.

7:58: NBA teams are the leakiest faucets out there. Everyone knows the picks ahead of time.

David Stern is 4-4 on smiles-in-response-to-boos.

8:00 Tyler Zeller’s hair is poking out the back like a little kid – that, or he didn’t shower before coming here. Either one.

8:05:You know the giant big board behind David Stern that enters the draft picks as they’re announced. I am disappointed that it is electronic. Kind of wish Stern had to climb a step ladder to insert plastic name cards into the appropriate slots.

8:09: Alex Len’s girlfriend is apparently the center on the Maryland women’s team. She’s 6-7. Great wingspan. Good hug-ethic.

8:13: The cameras behind press row went off the most for Noel, which is weird-but-not-actually-that-surprising.

8:17 Ben McLemore looks particularly shiny.

8:20: Your cheerleaders-throwing-out-free-shit-interlude.

8:24: Tom Sunnergren is typing so fast right now, it’s kind of hilarious. Also, he likes the Jrue Holiday trade. Loves it, in fact.

8:28:Photo of LeBron James in a Cleveland hat on the jumbotron. Mixed reaction from the crowd. This is what we’re reduced to between picks.

8:36: C.J. McCollum’s pants are super tight.

8:40: The families of the draft picks don’t go anywhere after their guy is selected. You’d think that would want to head on out of here, or something. Grab a beer, celebrate. Instead they’re just chillin’ in their hats.

8:46: Not sure what to do with these interview transcripts being handed out. Paper airplane?

8:48 Barclays Center is showing highlights of plays throughout the season. The crowd keeps erupting – which is to say that the NBA Draft is kinda boring, mostly, between picks.

8:51 Barely any cheer for Steven Adams to OKC. He and Shane Battier are now standing in completely silence waiting for the interview to start.

9:00 Families still in the green room. Kind of hoping some draft picks bought tickets and are in the stands. Kenneth Faried did that, and when he was picked a cohort of about 20 people, including a baby, stood up and cheered. Top that, someone.

9:11 The worst part about being at the Draft is that I can’t hear the commentary. Apparently the ESPN crew is doing a great job.

On another note: Atlanta now has the 16th, 17th, and 18th pick, which is an awesome NBA 2K13 move. Granted they probably dealt one of those picks to acquire No. 16, but let’s hope not.

9:18: Best moment of the Draft: the Brazilian dude’s hat not fitting on his head. He gave it at least five attempts.

So You Think You Can Draft?

Jared: Let’s talk about draft, ba-by. Let’s talk about… wait, no. Let’s just talk about the draft. 

Jordan: YES. FINALLY. THE DRAFT IS NIGH. Oh, what’s that? It’s not that great of a draft? Alex Len may very well go number 1? WHATEVER, YOU CAN’T BRING DOWN MY SPIRITS BECAUSE IT’S DRAFT TIME. I know everyone is down on this draft, and for good reason: it’s low, if not absent, of potential stars, and only a smattering more of potential All-Stars. But it seems to me that, if navigated correctly, a few teams are going to come out of this thing with some very good role players. What say you, Jared?

Jared: I hate hate hate the idea that this draft is weak. I’ve been saying so all year. It seems like every time there’s not a surefire number one pick that everyone is decided on from the moment the season starts, the draft is immediately declared weak.
I’ve seen a lot of “the quality of player you’ll get at 15 and 35 are the same” type of comments about this draft. Well, guess what? That means the draft is hella deep. There are a lot of quality rotation players in this draft, even into the 30s and 40s.

Also, if Len goes number 1, I will die of laughter. Mostly because of Conrad’s potential reaction on Twitter, but also because it will immediately force me to conduct a deeply analytical study of bigs whose draft scouting report contained the words “can’t judge him because his guards sucked.”

Jordan: I think the “weak” argument does have merits, insofar as this isn’t a good draft for stars (that’s next year). But I have to think that if, say, the Timberwolves end up with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, giving them the shooting and athleticism they so desperately need next to Ricky Rubio, they’ll be perfectly content. This draft is good from the standpoint that there a ton of players that can fill specific team holes. Dennis Schroeder could be a perfect fit for the Jazz or the Bucks. Otto Porter seems tailor-made for the Wizards–despite reports that they won’t select him. For teams needing shooting, such as the Bulls, Celtics, and the Nuggets, there’s Reggie Bullock, Sergey Karasev, and Allen Crabbe. What’s that, Nets, Clippers and Spurs? You need to shore up your interior defense? Allow me to introduce Jeff Withey and Gorgui Deng. OK, maybe Rudy Gobert, too, but I am terrified of that tremendous a project.

The point being: teams can get the help they need from this draft.

Jack! Great to see you! Tell us: are we right to think this draft isn’t so weak after all, or are we merely delusional, like boys who have been at an all-male summer camp for two months and see their first girl, 50 pounds overweight with several teeth noticeably absent, and think her to be the most beautiful creature ever created?

Jack: It’s tough to say a draft is ‘weak’ if the majority of teams with a first round pick will be happy with their options when selecting.  This is definitely a crappy class at the top; there may not be an All-Star this year let alone a franchise player.  Tough luck for those teams choosing in the top five or ten, basically.  But how many years are there more than one or two guys that even have the potential to live up to the expectations that come with the first or second pick?

It’s fun to think that every class has a few prospects capable of becoming transcendent stars, but that’s actually rarely the case.  Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and even Kyrie Irving are the exceptions, not the rules.  The chance that a draft produces a franchise cornerstone are already pretty small, so that we know – or think we do – there aren’t any this year doesn’t mean it’s weak.  It just means there’s little intrigue at the top.

As you guys have already alluded to, this is a very strong group from 10-40.  And one of the most enduring lessons from this season’s Finals is that players 3-7 in a team’s pecking order are ever influential on both ends of the floor.  The game has changed; superstars rule but they can’t do it alone.  That’s why this draft matters just as much as any other.

Also, glad we all agree on Len.  I’ll be shocked if he’s half as good as his draft stock suggests.  But hey, if you get a chance to take a less athletic Meyers Leonard first overall, you got to do it.  Right, Cleveland?

Jared: The best part about that Meyers Leonard pick is that I keep seeing mocks that have the Blazers taking another center this year. It was a hilarious pick then and it’s even more hilarious now.

Speaking of white centers… Cody Zeller is a really intriguing player to me, and not just due to the sheer amount of times I watched Indiana the last couple years because my brother went there. I compared Zeller’s potential draft fall to that of Harrison Barnes – these are guys who came into college as presumptive number one overall picks, didn’t completely dominate the sport, and then wound up staying for their sophomore year to have their weaknesses endlessly picked apart. Barnes fell to 7, Zeller could fall even further. I think whoever winds up with him is happy he did.

Jordan: The difference between Barnes and Zeller is that, had Zeller left last year, he could have been the number one pick, certainly top-5. Barnes’ stock, meanwhile, slid both years. Zeller’s a victim both of a lack of progression (though, really, how much more was he supposed to progress) and of somehow not dominating at the college level despite the extreme difficulty of doing so. Zeller isn’t cut from the mold of Durant or Beasley, who absolutely scorched the college realm. His position demands more team play, and a reliance on teammates. That being said, there are two things that worry me about Zeller: his defense and his position.

Zeller posted impressive numbers at the draft combine, but we saw this year how his slight frame can get easily pushed around by bigger opponents. If he’s asked to guard fours, he’ll likely be OK. But when he’s tasked with guarding bigger, stronger centers, things could get ugly. My second worry, position, is more circumstantial. If a team drafts him to play primarily at the four, sliding him over when they want to run (because Zeller can certainly run), that’s fine. But if some team drafts him with the misguided hope of featuring him at center, I think he’ll struggle mightily on both ends.

Nevertheless, I think Zeller’s slide is beneficial to both him and whatever team chooses him. He’s not faced with the pressure of being the number one pick, and the team has the luxury of bringing him along at whatever pace they see fit.

Let’s talk stock for a second. Whose is way too high, whose is too low? Do you think there’s as much inflation this year as we’ve seen in the past?

Jared: Jared Dubin’s Official 2013 Your Draft Stock is Too High, Guy List

Alex Len
Michael Carter-Williams
Steven Adams
Kelly Olynyk

Jared Dubin’s Official 2013 Your Draft Stock is Too Low, Guy List
Jeff Withey
Ryan Kelly
Reggie Bullock
Jamaal Franklin
Pierre Jackson

BONUS: Shane Larkin eats people. The first 23 teams in the draft should definitely pass on him.

Jack: Quickly on Zeller, all reports now say he considers himself something close to a stretch-4.  Whether that’s due more to the horrible length numbers he posted at the combine or actual ability and fit remains to be seen.  Obviously matters that he’s supposedly been stroking it from all over the floor in workouts.  If he can actually guard power forwards and hit 20-footers at a solid clip, he’s a totally different prospect than the one we’ve been evaluating for the last two years.  And holy god, that lane agility score.  If there was ever a big that could hedge and recover or even switch on to a ballhandler, he seems it.

I like Jared’s format for Stock Talk, so here’s mine:

Too High
Len
Olynyk
MCW
Larkin
Caldwell-Pope – though I’m biased, as volume shooters/scorers just irk the living hell out of me

Too Low
Zeller
Dieng
Bullock – 3, D and rebounds? Sign me up.

Jared: Quickly back to Zeller before Jordan gets his too high/too lows in: https://twitter.com/chadfordinsider/status/340190155937816576

Never never never never ever trust workouts, but the man can shoot. He didn’t shoot it much from the outside in college because he played for a team that rained threes and needed him in the high and low post, whether as scorer or facilitator.

Jack: ZELLERZELLERZELLERZELLERZELLERZELLERZELLERZELLER

Jordan: Jack, I seem to remember a certain debate we had on the 2011 draft that is in no way, shape, or form on my old, piece of shit basketball blog in which you professed a similar distaste for another volume shooter – Klay Thompson. That didn’t work out so well. Then again, I was against Enes Kanter, so I’m not one to talk either.

Too High
Len (the Austin Rivers of this year’s draft)
MCW (I like his passing, but, um, that’s about it)
Steven Adams

Too Low
Bullock
Tony Snell
Withey
Schroeder (For reasons beyond explanation, I love me some Schroeder)

Jack: The thing I totally whiffed on with Klay, though, was the defensive ability.  Scouting reports suggested he’d be a total liability; instead he’s at least above-average.  Pretty sure I didn’t understand TS% then, either, so fuck that version of myself.

Jared: I must find this old, piece of shit basketball blog.

Looks like we’re all in agreement on Len and MCW being rated too highly and Bullock being rated too low. We’re just going to pretend Jack didn’t say Shane Larkin was overrated so I don’t have to fire him.

Let’s talk about Bullock, though. I feel like we’re all in agreement mainly because of the shooting, right? Space is the most valuable commodity in the league these days (other than superstars), so a guy who can space the floor by knocking down open jumpers is key. But then there was also that stretch of the season when UNC played super small with Bullock at power forward, and like Jack alluded to, he rebounded like crazy. I love him. I have no idea why he’s not considered a potential lottery pick.

Jordan: It could be that Bullock is seen to have reached his ceiling, whereas other players – KCP, Anthony Bennett, Steven Adams, Giannis Antetokounmpo – have the ever-desired yet ever-undefinable potential. But, you’re right, in a draft devoid of true stars, why not go for extreme value and draft Bullock to be your 3 and D Wing that are so valuable these days?

Jack: Right, is it because he’s not sexy? Outside of Oladipo and Porter, Bullock might be the safest pick in the draft.  To me a surefire skill and two plus ones are worth a top 10 pick EVERY.  SINGLE.  YEAR.

Jared: I know Jack really believes in that statement because he capitalized it and separated single words WITH. A. PERIOD.

Jack: I.  DID.  IT.  FOR.  THAT.  VERY.  EFFECT.

Jared: We’re kind of obligated to talk about Nerlens Noel, right? I’m definitely a fan, and I think he’s a worthy lottery pick, even top 5, but I also feel like he became a de facto number one because A. he’s an athletic big man B. he got hurt in the middle of the year so people didn’t have time to nitpick his game and C. the other top prospect big man is Alex Len and he is not.

Jack: I like Noel.  That Ole Miss game was as dominant a defensive performance I’ve seen on any level of basketball, and almost by itself enough evidence he’s worthy of a top pick.  All that said, he’s certainly a de facto number one pick.  I’m not sure that has as much to do with the bigs in this class being especially weak or the lack of the proverbial ‘can’t miss’ prospect in general, and it doesn’t really matter.

He has a chance to be very, very good, but I’m not sure he’ll ever justify his draft position.  Hearing people bitch about that pick – whether he’s successful or not – will piss me off for years to come.  A 6’10” guy with elite athletic ability, rare length, awesome timing and untapped offensive potential will be a top prospect every year.  That he might go number one shouldn’t change our perception of him, but it definitely, definitely will.

Jordan: Noel’s further hurt, in terms of expectations, by last year’s number one pick, Anthony Davis. The only way in which the two are similar are their athletic prowess, and even then, Davis has the edge. It doesn’t matter, though. They’re both seven-footers* both went to Kentucky, and both block shots. That’s enough for people to demand similar production of Noel, even though they are vastly different players. I think Noel will be a fine player, a solid building block for any franchise. it’s just a shame, as Jack said, that we’ll continue to hear people whine about his production potentially not justifying his draft position.

Jared: I probably should have made it more clear that I really like Noel. Like, a lot. Huge fan. I think that last email came off as me not liking him that much.

But I’m immediately going to pivot away from that and say that I firmly adopt Bill Simmons’ stance that Cleveland should take Victor Oladipo number one. Allow me to list my reasons three:

1. Cleveland has exactly zero players on its roster than can defend any perimeter positions. Oladipo is an absurdly aggressive and tactically-sound perimeter defender. At the very least, he’s going to be a guy who shuts down one of the wing spots on a night-to-night basis.
2. Drafting Oladipo would allow Dion Waiters to fulfill his manifest destiny as an off-the-bench scoring guard. This is a guy who needs the ball in his hands most of the time to be at his most effective. With Kyrie Irving starting, that can’t happen. This move lets Oladipo guard the biggest backcourt threat while Irving concentrates on the scoring/playmaking load, and Oladipo can terrorize teams off the ball and in transition. Then, Waiters captains the second unit offense, and someone else plays the Oladipo role for him. Against certain teams, you can play all three together for stretches and late in games.
3. Unless you’re landing a once-in-a-generation talent (LeBron, Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis, etc.), I’m not sure you can “win” the draft with the number one overall pick, but you can definitely lose it (Olowokandi, Kwame, Pervis Ellison). I don’t think there’s any player in the draft with less bust potential than Oladipo. Have you heard the stories about this dude and his dedication to working out? He’s an insane person. I want to clone him and put him on every team except Boston and Miami.

Jack: Yup.  Oladipo’s been my favorite player in the draft since January.  That doesn’t mean he’s Dwyane Wade or even a healthy, more defensive oriented Eric Gordon, but what it does is that he’s the only sure thing with All-Star type potential.  At the very worst he’s an elite defender and integral locker room guy; at best he’s the game’s top two-way shooting guard and one of its most marketable stars.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall at Cleveland’s draft HQ when Oladipo is broached.  Are they even considering him? What are they saying about Waiters? What does the presence of the latter due to the draftability of the former?

Jordan: For whatever reason, Oladipo is the prospect I’ve been the most “meh” on this entire time. Not because I don’t think he’ll succeed, or because his stock is overly inflated, he just doesn’t excite me in the least bit. His defense will be his calling card immediately, but any team that takes him has to hope that his offense at least comes close to his defensive production eventually. His shaky handles do scare me a bit, though he clearly has the work ethic to shore up any issue.

Is there a player you guys are most excited to see next year? I’m firmly on #TeamBurke, but I want to hear y’all’s thoughts first.

Jared: It literally boggles my mind that Oladipo doesn’t excite you. LOOK AT THIS GUY. If he doesn’t excite you, you’re not human.

I like Burke as well, but I don’t think he’s my “most excited” guy. I’ve got a few of those, for a host of different reasons:

Shane Larkin (for the obvious reasons)
Shabazz Muhammad (I don’t understand how a person wouldn’t be excited about watching this guy. Just the ride from prep to pro has been exhilarating)
CJ McCollum (Point guards that can shoot the lights out are awesome)
Lucas Nogueira (Watch his DraftExpress scouting video and tell me you’re not excited)

Jack: You’re taking crazy pills, Jordan. Oladipo is the most exciting shooting guard to come into the league for many years. You can count on two hands the number of players that can match his potential maximum impact on both ends of the floor.  And even if he only reaches it defensively, a Tony Allen that can finish lobs sounds a hell of a lot of fun to me.

Jordan: Guys, relax, chill, take it easy. When I said he didn’t excite me, I meant purely in relation to this draft. His play is exciting, his brand of defense is exciting–much like Tony Allen, he makes defense fun and interesting to watch. He’s explosive, tenacious, and every other buzzword you want in a young, still-developing player. But it’s almost as if his place among the top rookies is already cemented. There’s little mystery or intrigue surrounding him. There’s no question as to what position he’ll play, like CJ McCollum (I’m excited too, Jared), and he didn’t explode onto the scene to become one of the highest-risk, highest-reward players in the draft, a la Giannis. He improved in college, excelling in an area that most college players take several seasons in the pros to learn (defense) and as such, improved his draft status. End of story. That does not mean, however, that I’m not excited about him as a player.

Jared: Whatever. Jack and I are still burning you at the stake.

How do you guys sort out the point guard class this year? It’s crazy deep. It seems like there could legitimately be 7 or 8 taken in the first round, depending on how you classify players like McCollum and Ricky Ledo. Where do Burke, McCollum, MCW, Larkin, Schroeder, Canaan, Ledo and Jackson stand on your personal PG big board?

Jordan: BURKESCHROEDERBURKESCHROEDERBURKESCHROEDERBURKESCHROEDER

Jack: 1. Burke
2. McCollum
3. Schroeder
4. MCW
5. Jackson
6. Larkin

Sorry, Jared.  I just fail to see how there’s some major difference between Jackson and Larkin as prospects.

Jared:  Well, I think the differences are 1. shooting (Larkin shot 47.9/40.6 while Jackson shot 42.7/35.9) 2. if Larkin’s height (5’11.5) is a problem, Jackson’s (5’10.5) is an even bigger problem, and 3. Larkin tested out as the best athlete in the draft. All that said I love Jackson. I think it’s a travesty if he falls out of the first round.
1. Burke
2. McCollum
3. Larkin
4. Jackson
5. MCW
6. Canaan

(Note: I didn’t rank Schroeder or Ledo because I’ve never seen them play)

Jordan: FINE. I’ll rank them.

1. Burke
2a McCollum
2b Schroeder
3 Larkin
4 MCW
5 Jackson
6 Canaan

One guy who really intrigues me, though, is Myck Kabongo. He didn’t get to play much this year because the NCAA is the worst, but I think, if put in the right situation, he could develop nicely.

Jack: Context matters with regard to those numbers, though.  Larkin’s supporting cast was far superior to Jackson’s, and I’ve (unfortunately) watched enough Baylor basketball to know the extreme limits of Scott Drew’s system.  They’re equally tiny, too – Jackson is less than an inch shorter but has a slightly higher standing reach.  And as well as Larkin tested, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better on-court athlete than Jackson.

I don’t hate Larkin by any stretch and I don’t love Jackson, either.  It’s just fascinating that the former might be a late lottery pick while the latter could fall out of the first round when they have such similar physical and statistical profiles.

Jared: I think they should both get drafted #24 by the Knicks.

Okay, last things to discuss before we wrap things up. Some rapid fire questions…
1. How do you think the rest of the top 5 shakes out of Cleveland takes Noel, and how does it shake out if they take Len?
2. Where does KCP land?
3. Buy or sell: Anthony Bennett
4. Other than Bullock, who’s your favorite late 1st round wing prospect?
5. Shouldn’t Phoenix intentionally pick someone who sucks so they can get the best shot at Wiggins next year?

Jack: 1. Noel first – Oladipo, Porter, Len, McLemore. Len first – Oladipo, Porter, McLemore, Noel.  But seriously, don’t hold me to this.
2. It’s tough to see him getting by Minnesota at nine.  Perfect fit there on paper.
3. Sell.  I’m very weary of report that he recently weighed in at 261 pounds.  Explosion and overall athleticism is so key for Bennett; if his body grows too big or he won’t take care of it, those attributes will be hard to maintain.
4. Tim Hardaway Jr. could grow into the requisite ’3 and D’ skill-set.  The question then is whether or not he’s comfortable playing that role.  If he does and he is, that’s a late first round steal.
5. Obviously, which is why my above scenario with Len going first is so perfect for them.  Noel won’t only need time to recover from a torn ACL, but his payoff is longterm as opposed to immediate, too.

Jared: 1. I agree with you on your Noel first scenario, but I think it goes Noel, Porter, Oladipo, McLemore if Cleveland takes Len first.

2. Agree again!
3. I’m buying. I don’t think the weight thing is *that* big a deal (cue Conrad calling me a hypocrite because of my Waiters-related weight concerns last year). He had surgery and hasn’t been able to do stuff. This is a guy who’s only been playing basketball since he was 14 and he’s already an incredibly talented scorer and a good rebounder. His defense is bad right now, but you can teach an athlete like that better positioning and work on his instincts as he grows. I don’t think he’s the best player in the draft or anything, but I like him.
4. Jamaal Franklin. I know I’m contradicting my “you have to be able to shoot” stance, but this dude is ridiculous. He’s 6’4 with a 6’11.25 wingspan and he averaged 9.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Get him a shooting coach.
5. Well, I posed the question. Yes, I think they should do this.

Jordan: 1. Scenario 1: Oladipo, Bennett, McLemore, Len — Scenario 2: Noel, Bennett, Oladipo, McLemore.
2. Number 9, and the Timberwolves get some much-needed shooting.
3. Sell. His weight has apparently ballooned since season’s end, and while some of that may be due to the injury, I’m still wary of him. The skill is clearly there, but it’s a question of whether he fully harnesses it.
4. Tony Snell. He’ll be a valuable contributor in both sides wherever he goes.
5. Yes, and here’s the plan. Draft Bennett, then assign him to be Michael Beasley’s rookie. Think of all he could learn!

Photo by Pieter Pieterse via Flickr

The Long Walk Home

I’ve been watching the NBA closely for nearly twenty years now. Over those two decades careers have begun and ended, burst and fizzled, and in some cases traced full and glorious arcs across my horizon. Having the chance to watch a player’s entire career from beginning to end is a strange experience. In the most detailed and elaborate cases, youthful exuberance gives way to the balance of guile and physicality, until the body drops away and wit alone can no longer sustain. There are some similarities to following a favorite character on a TV show, but the passage of time and the inexorable crawl of decay are either illusions or features fully ignored on a television show. In the NBA they are inescapably real.

That final chapter of a player’s career, from the peak to the exit takes an infinite number of forms. If you watch the league long enough you may think that you’ve literally seen it all. But what I’ve learned over the past two decades is professional basketball can always give you something new.

After their Game 7 loss, the question of retirement came up for more than one member of the San Antonio Spurs. Manu Ginobili’s answer was remarkably candid and revealed how emotionally raw the series’ difficult ending had left him:

“For three quarters of the season it was the physical part,” Ginobili said. “I’d say, ‘No, I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m tired of rehab and trying to be in shape all the time.’

“But at this point I’m fine physically, so you are a little more optimistic. But you know, it’s been 18 years doing this. You kind of get tired and you want to enjoy a little more time at home sometimes. You go back to Argentina to see your people, and you think about it. I’m going to have time for that, too.”

Ginobili is one of those players whose entire career I’ve had the opportunity to observe. I certainly hope this wasn’t the last time we see him in an NBA uniform but his performance in the NBA Finals was clearly that of a character entering his final act. And the scene he set at the end of Game 7 was painfully original.

From the moment he stepped on the stage Ginobili has been described as a swashbuckling daredevil, one who flits past risk with a roguish charm. Of all the skills and characteristics which make up his basketball abilities none is more central than the power to skate the fine line between conquest and collapse, sprinting full speed into the maw of destruction, snatching victory from the jaws of chaos at the very last moment. Nothing he did on the court looked like it was going to work until the moment it actually did. LeBron routinely accomplishes the impossible,but with blazingly authentic speed and brute force. Ginobili is more serpentine, slithering and euro-stepping his way through the barriers of plausibility.

We’ve seen Manu Ginobili struggle before. We’ve seen him hobbled and limited, we’ve seen him play without the fully array of his talents available. What we, or at least I, hadn’t seen was him so utterly impotent in a moment of extreme importance. The blocked layup. The jump-pass turnover. The airballed three-pointer. The most emotional jarring piece of the whole affair was that he looked exactly like the Ginobili we’ve seen a thousand times before. But when the penultimate moment of each possession came, screaming for his patented magic, the spell fizzled.

It was a little like seeing your dad cry for the first time. Every interaction up until that point is revealed to have been saturated with naivete. Your dad is not just a dad, because “dad” is nothing more than a cultural archetype. Your dad is a human being with a full range of emotions, with a unique mix of strengths and flaws just like any other member of our species. But what looks identical, now has a new dimension. Where people, places and things were once pleasantly and placidly flat, there is now depth to deal with. It’s an understanding that you can’t shake, and it reflects the past in an entirely new light.

In watching these professional career arcs pass before our eyes we are sometimes blessed with a revealing moment of humanity. It could be a moment of authentic celebratory joy, a stomach-turning off the court incident or, as in Ginobili’s case, a tragic failure. This was not a failure of effort or decision-making, it was the failure of a man reaching for what had always been there and coming up empty-handed. There is a new complexity now to Ginobili’s public face. Whether or not this is the end, we won’t have the luxury of watching him pass before our eyes as a two-dimensional caraciture, Zorro in a jersey.

The Little Things

quinn.anya | Flickr

Any storyline you could possibly want could be transposed onto this series. LeBron battled the memories of the 2007 Finals sweep by killing the Spurs with his midrange jumper. Dwyane Wade powered through his injury and willed the team to victory. The Spurs are too old to compete.  The Spurs are a hardworking and disciplined team, sometimes to their detriment. The Heat bought their championship. The Spurs choked away Games 6 and 7. Vogel shouldn’t have sat Roy Hibbert. T-Mac is an albatross. Birdman! And so on.

We’ve assumed since the end of last season that the Heat were going to repeat as champions after mopping the floor with the Thunder after five games. They’re the best, and we’ve known they’re the best, however frustrating that may have been or continues to be. But just because we had that assumption doesn’t mean that it played out like we thought it would. We thought that the Heat thought that they were entitled to a title. But they played great basketball in two back-to-back seven-game series. It wasn’t easy for them. They had to earn it, even if we thought they’d get it anyway.

But I guess there has been one narrative rolling around in my head that I want to get out. The Heat were assumed to be invincible. And even though they eventually won the title, we saw that they’re not. There are real questions about their long-term success that are based mostly in Wade’s health and Bosh’s ability to contribute consistently without being taken out of a game. They’re not invincible, and they’re title window is finite. But those questions can come later. Now we should celebrate the fact that we just witnessed one of the best-played series in NBA history; I mean, it’s certainly the best series I’ve watched.

To me, last night’s game wasn’t about battling demons or defining legacies. No one choked, and no one willed themselves above anyone else. Thirty players and two coaches were ready to go last night–as they have been for the past two weeks and seven preceding months–and they went at it. Shots were made because passes were crisp. Shots were missed because defensive rotations were on point. Turnovers happened because sometimes your hands get super sweaty when you’re sapping all of the adrenaline in your body. And the game of basketball was played by two teams that can really play basketball. This quote from Shane Battier before Game 7 about this series at Eye on Basketball (H/T: PAPA BEAR) says it all:

“It’s gone back to the little things,” Battier said. “It’s gone back to the little things. It’s about transition defense. It’s about ball-you-man basketball. It’s about boxing out. As crazy as it is with the chess pieces being moved all over the board, the things that are deciding this game are the things you learn playing kiddie ball at the YMCA. That’s what makes it exciting for the basketball purists. As sophisticated as it is, it’s really about basketball plays.”

I mean, yes. Exactly. That’s exactly what happened. Great execution? Check. Great defense? Check. Even (though at times unpredictable) refereeing? Check. Lack of hard fouls that are clearly the byproduct of frustration? Check. Commitment to the system that got you to this high a level? Check. A possibly different winner had this been a shorter or longer series? Check.

A few weeks ago I wrote, “I just wish basketball could be about basketball.” After watching last night’s game and this series over the past two weeks, my wish definitely came true.

Awesome, Thanks

#awesomethanks

1. Was that the best Finals you ever watched?

Jack Winter: Unequivocally, yes.  It was the best playoff series I’ve ever seen.

Jared Dubin: Yes.

Derek James: That I have ever watched? Possibly. The ’98 Finals may have been better since it had fewer blowouts in the middle of the series (excluding game three, of course), but other than that it just might be.

Amin Vafa: Yes, yes, yes. Riveted every minute.

Eric Maroun: It’s so tempting due to recency bias to call that the best Finals I’ve ever seen but…OK yeah that was the best Finals I’ve ever seen. It was the two best teams in the NBA going at each other for the maximum number of games that a playoff series can possibly go. It was old guard vs. new guard. It was filled with iconic moments throughout. It was, in short, perfect.

Noam Schiller: Yes. Was too young to fully process those Bulls-Jazz series, and nothing since has come close.

Ananth Pandian: It was phenomenal to watch but stressful for me as I was rooting hard for the Spurs to win.

In recent memory, Dirk winning in the 2011 Finals will always be one of my favorites as he was just unbelievable that series.

Jordan White: Yes. Unequivocally.

BronTIm

2. What was the overriding theme of the season?

Jack: Basketball is smarter and better on both ends of the floor than it’s ever been before.

Jared: The battle of big vs. small. A lot of this season felt like a war for basketball’s soul, with teams like the Heat, Knicks, Rockets, Nuggets and (far too infrequently) Thunder blitzing defenses by going “small” with players who had traditionally played the 3-spot at power forward, while others like the Pacers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Clippers and Spurs mostly stuck to two traditional big men. The conference finals made it momentarily appear as though the small ball trend was about to die off just as quickly as it rose up, but when the Heat and Spurs met in the Finals, both teams shifted down in the back half of the series, and it resulted in beautiful, brilliant basketball. It’s fitting that the last two teams standing were two of the only ones that could easily shift back and forth between lineups featuring two “traditional” bigs and one, while mostly remaining equally effective. It’s even more fitting that the team that started the revolution in the first place was the one that prevailed.

Derek: The guys above me gave some good ones, but health was certainly an overriding theme to the season. The Timberwolves had a promising season derailed by injury and we also saw teams hurt by key absences such as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant and several others as well. You look at these Finals and the fact that the Heat and the Spurs somehow managed to be both the best teams and the healthiest teams, and that made a lot of the difference.

Amin: I think the theme of this season was “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This was a year filled with such uncertainty. I mean, yes, if you had to pick a team before the season began to win the NBA title, you’d have picked the Heat. Would you have imagined, though, that it would have ended the way it had? We all thought it was going to be a SuperTeam Lakers vs a SuperTeam Miami Finals, with everyone else in the league being roadkill. What we saw was something completely different. All of the predictions and assumptions I had at the beginning of the year were completely worthless as I watched the season progress. The Harden trade, the Spurs dominance, the Lakers fall from grace (not that they were really graceful), Indiana’s season, the New York Knickerbockers Retirement Community, the Maloofs going bye-bye, the Wizards having a top-10 defense all year, the Cavs picking first in the draft again, the 750 coach firings… I couldn’t have predicted any of it. And I’m so glad I got to see it all.

Eric: Injuries are the worst. Between Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, Irving, Love, Granger, etc. all missing significant time this year, you can’t help but wonder what incredible moments we were robbed of between those guys. In his last year as commissioner, David Stern should really turn the injuries off NBA 2K style.

Noam: 5 years after the Celtics rode completely new defensive principals to the title, those same ideals are either the backbone or supporting tenants of every self sufficient defensive team. Much like the SSoL Suns turning the league into a pick-and-roll, spread offense place, Tom Thibodeau has created a world where pick-and-roll spread offenses are just not enough. I’m fascinated to see where NBA offenses evolve to in the following years as a counterstrike.

Ananth: The Heat are very good. LeBron’s statistical brilliance and their 27 game winning streak seems so far away now but it did actually happen.

Jordan: Smarter basketball. Teams like the Heat, the Pacers, the Spurs and the Nuggets showed what happens when you eschew convention and embrace intelligence.

3. What was your favorite under the radar story of the season?

Jack: It’s not exactly under the radar and relates back to the previous question, but more teams realizing the expected efficiency of certain shots and tailoring offense and defensive strategy to get, limit, prevent and force them.

Jared: The sheer volume of young, athletic wings that blossomed into stars or sub-stars. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard announced themselves as likely All-Stars for the next half decade or so. Nic Batum, Jimmy Butler, Iman Shumpert, Harrison Barnes, Chandler Parsons, and others I’m probably forgetting made convincing arguments that they belong in the next tier, whether with strong regular season play, breakout playoff performances, or both. If the last five years brought the point guard revolution, the next five will bring the wings.

Derek: This may  not be very under the radar, but people appreciating teams like the Golden State Warriors or Indiana Pacers that they hadn’t really been exposed to before. Neat to share in even the casual fans’ newfound admiration for guys like Klay Thompson and Paul George although many of us had those players on our radars already.

Amin: That Miami wasn’t invincible and their victory wasn’t preordained. That’s a story that we saw play out until the last 30 seconds last night. Miami may have won, but they fucking earned it and fought for it. They had a lot of challengers–most importantly Indiana and San Antonio–and the fact that they weren’t invincible made them all the more intriguing to watch.

Eric: That David Stern managed to rig the NBA championship again for the 29th consecuti…*is electrocuted*. But for real, and maybe it’s because I got to see a ton of them due to living in Indianapolis, but the Pacers were really under the radar this year. I don’t feel like anyone really appreciated how good this team was until they pushed the Heat to the brink in the Conference Finals. For a team to be that good with a team constructed the way they were, that is without a high draft pick on their entire roster, was incredibly fun to see.

Noam: I wish there was actually a story of Michael Beasley doing NSFW things under an actual radar so I could make a bad joke, here. But since there isn’t, I’ll go with the re-emergence of the big man in a supposedly centerless world. Even before Roy Hibbert’s excellent conference Finals, we saw excellent regular seasons from Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Al Horford, LARRY SANDERS! and Joakim Noah. Andrew Bogut finally looked healthy in the playoffs and affected things dramatically. Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas had very encouraging rookie seasons. It’s easy to call it a PG’s league with all the depth the position has, but the big men we have are awesome, even if posting up has become harder and harder against swarming defenses.

Ananth: This happened near the end of the season but John Wall got the Wizards to be a pretty good team in the East. Am interested to see how the Wizards continue to improve with a healthy Wall and another high draft pick next season.

Jordan: The emergence of several young defensive stars: Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LARRY SANDERS!

4.
Thoughts?

Jack: Treatment befitting the sports world’s only king.

Jared: It was great right up until Drake started talking. Even the Phil Knight cameo was cool.

Derek: Ugh, Drake? Anyway, considering how people have been talking about him for the past few years I think it’s a pretty bold move to put a phone number of his up there, but it’s probably not going to be any worse than his Twitter mentions. Anything featuring Bill Russell is automatically awesome to me, too.

Amin: Hahahaha what an awesome ad. And they included a phone number in the description so anyone could call and leave a message? That’s some badass marketing, Nike.

Eric: I would pay all of the money to see Warren Buffett’s hook shot.

Noam: Bill Russell’s second (third? Fourth? Fifth?) career as curmudgeony NBA old guy in commercials is hilarious to me. Although, this one is much more in character than him telling Uncle Drew that the game is about buckets.

Ananth: Simple and beautiful but am curious where they picked up a pristine old school answering machine from. Are answering machines going to make a comeback like vinyl?

Jordan: LeBron has made countless of hundreds of millions of dollars. Why is his answering machine from the 1970′s?

5. Where do the Spurs go from here?

Jack: Right back near the top of every preseason forecast for 2014.  This group is hardly done yet, and Kawhi Leonard making even greater strides towards reaching his newly limitless potential is the development that could get San Antonio right back to where they were before Game 7.

Jared: I really, really hope they just run it back one more time. They came too close not to. But I can’t help but feel like the team will look at least a little bit different next season. Pop’s rotation was cut down to about 6.5 guys by the end of the series, so new blood is likely to be infused. Splitter’s a free agent, and he might go get paid elsewhere. Gary Neal and Matt Bonner are free agents, too. Manu… well, we’ll get to that. The starting five probably will be back, and so will Pop, but Budenholzer won’t, and the bench could have a bunch of new characters.

Derek: It looks like they’ll have some cap space, so they might be able to make some moves or bring back the guys that they want to, which will help. I don’t think this is when you blow it up as long as you have a healthy Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, but I think they can still stay the course since there are many other Western Conference teams like Denver, Oklahoma City, and Memphis that are facing some big changes this offseason that may keep San Antonio in the hunt for another year.

Amin: To their cryo-freeze chambers? I dunno. They’re going to have to assess a couple of things on their roster–Manu possibly retiring as the biggest one. I mean, they did everything right. This whole series came down to one possession here or one possession there. San Antonio just has to trust the process that got them this far… and then do a bunch of flagrant fouls. So I guess they need some bruisers like they used to have?

Eric: They’ll use their cap space wisely, find an absolute diamond in the rough with the 28th pick, and reel off a 51-31 season next year because of course they will.

Noam: I believe they give Manu a short, small deal that expires with Duncan’s contract (something to the tune of 2 years 10 million), and then either re-sign Tiago Splitter, or, if he gets too much on the open market (and I think he will), go for a free agent second big. Personally, I’m rooting for Paul Millsap. Then they try and get another guard for cheap and count on continued internal improvement, mostly Kawhi-related.

Ananth: Greg Popovich will always have the same plan, “I get them on the bus. It arrives at the ramp over here. We get off the bus. We go on the court, and we play.”

Jordan: They’ll be fine. The only player they/we should really worry about is Manu Ginobili, whose history of bumps and bruises is unfortunately catching up with him. Luckily, Kawhi Leonard is a star in the making, and will likely take a more prominent role in the offense next year.

Birdman

6. Who is Miami’s biggest challenger next season?

Jack: I’ll cheat – these very Spurs and the looming Thunder.

Jared: In the East – Indiana. In the West…. well, it depends how free agency shakes out, and how long it takes Russell Westbrook’s knee to heal.

Derek: Themselves? A healthy NBA? No, I’m going to say themselves. The Heat have Birdman, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, and Mike Miller who are all vets in their mid-30s that they were key parts to this championship team that they will need to figure out if they can stay healthy andproductive for another season. Figuring out how to conserve Dwyane Wade so he can remain healthy and productive will be integral to their chances next year as well, and so will finding a way to get Chris Bosh involved more just in case anything I mentioned above goes wrong.

Yeah, the Pacers will be back next season, and still should be tough, but they also have matters to address this offseason and the Heat have beaten them two postseasons in a row. Even though the Thunder and Bulls will be healthy you still have to like the Heat’s odds going into next season. Of course, a lot could change through the draft, trades, and free agency, so a dark horse could eventually emerge, but as of now the Heat are their biggest challengers for next season.

Amin: I’m going to say Indiana. They’re on the up-and-up. All they need to do is beef up their bench a bit, and they’re good to go. Especially since all of the scotch tape holding Wade’s joints together will probably peel away by the next time they see each other in the playoffs.

Eric: Indiana, provided they are able to bring back David West. Oklahoma City, provided Westbrook is healthy. And a hypothetical team that somehow manages to land both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul this summer.

Noam: Can I wait to see where Dwight Howard is and how healthy he is? Because I think the answer could be Houston if the Dwightness aligns himself correctly. Ditto for Derrick Rose/Chicago’s offseason. Otherwise, usual suspects – OKC, Spurs again, Clippers (maybe?), Pacers (maybe?).

Ananth: Themselves, right? Be interesting to see what happens to their bench especially if Shane Battier and perhaps Mike Miller retires.

In the East right now it is the Pacers and in the West the vengeful Thunder and Spurs.

Jordan: The Pacers. They gave Miami a hell of a series, and seem to be best equipped to dethrone the Heat.

7.

Jack: God, let’s all hope not.  I was openly pulling for Manu down the stretch, trying to will errant passes to his teammates and stray shots through the net with audible cheers of encouragement.  The league won’t feel right without him, and he showed a few fleeting glimpses in Game 7 of the player we’ll all remember him as.  Manu can’t go out like this, and I don’t think he will.

Jared: I hope not, but I fear he might be. The last two games were just so sad. I’d hate for him to go out that way, but he just looked exhausted. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hang up his kicks for good.

Derek: Finished as the Ginobili that we’ve long-known, yes. He’s 35 years old, missed 32 and 22 games the last two seasons, no longer a starter, and his diminishing production makes it hard to keep playing him even 25 minutes per game anymore. Perhaps the Spurs can still extract some more out of him by diminishing his role further and hoping that Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green can step up to make up for it.

Amin: No. The thing I liked most about Ginobili in this series was that he was basically the counterpart to Wade. Both of those guys have bodies that betray their spirits, and they’re going to (have to) figure out ways to preserve themselves. I think they can both do it.

Eric: I want to say no in the worst way possible but yes, I think this is the end of the line for him. These last two games were so hard to watch. I was nervous for the Spurs every time he set foot on the court Tuesday and Thursday. He may continue to play another season or two, but he’s finished as far as being a guy you can count on as part of San Antonio’s Big 3 is concerned.

Noam: I don’t think he’s finished, but I expect a diminished role from him going forward. He can still contribute – his “horrendous” Game 7 was an 18-3-5 affair on 12 shots – but he can no longer consistently fill the role of secondary creator offensively.

Ananth: Ginobili won’t stop playing until the fat man sings and since the NBA on TNT won’t return till next season, Manu will still be around.

Jordan: I can’t answer this question right now. It’s too tough to see such a brilliant and creative player decline so sharply. I don’t think he’s finished, but I don’t think he improves from his current state. Maybe, at the beginning of the season, we’ll see some vintage Manu, but the toll of an 82 game season may be too much.

8. Describe your personal season at HP in exactly six words.

Jack: ”Better to be timely than good.”

Jared: I hope we didn’t embarrass Matt.

Derek: Excuse me, I’m new around here.

Amin: Started from the bottom; now we’re here.

Eric: Lion Face, Lemon Face, 15 Footers.

Noam: I don’t understand what’s going on.

Ananth: Chelsea Peretti tumblr-ed something I wrote.

Jordan: Awesome Thanks Connect Four Beef Magnet

9.

Jack: Yes.  They’ll get another dogged fight from Indiana and Chicago remains a potential sleeping giant, but betting against LeBron James these days seems unwise.

Jared: Sigh. Yeah. Fuck Pat Riley, man.

Derek: It’s not LeBron I’m worried about being up for the challenge of a fourth consecutive trip. No, I’m more concerned about their role players being able to help them get back there. Obviously, they’ll still be a great team, but with the age of many of their key players (Allen, Birdman, Miller…etc.), as well as keeping Dwyane Wade healthy for another long run, the Heat do have some strategizing to do. If their vets can stay productive and healthy while LeBron keeps doing other worldly things, then they can get back here again.

Amin: I think this depends on Wade’s health and Bosh’s contributions. But it’s definitely possible.

Eric: Can we wait til we see how free agency and the draft shakes out first before answering? Oh this post is going up in an hour or so? OK then. Then yes, yes they will.

Noam: It’s so, so early to answer that question… but since our society requires immediate reactions I’ll go out on a limb and say yes.

Ananth: Probably, but it depends on so many factors, didn’t most of the general public think the Thunder were going to be in the Finals again this year?

Jordan: Yes, but I say that with a very low confidence level. The Pacers could very well be the Roy Hibbert-manned wall that prevents the Heat from their fourth straight appearance.

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 6/21/13: GAME 7

Good things come to those who wait. From October through June we collectively watched 1,314 games of NBA basketball this year. Some were good, and some were bad. Some were awful, and some were downright legendary.  All of it culminated last night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It’s the game that every kid in their backyard dreams of playing in growing up, and we got to witness it in all of its sweet, sweet glory last night. This is the hardest Lion Face, Lemon Face column I have ever had to write not just because it’s the last one of the year, but because if I had my pick, both teams would have won last night. The fact that there was a winner and loser, heroes and goats, lion faces and lemon faces absolutely kills me. But what has to be done has to be done, so let’s get to it.

Lion Face: LeBron James

Big time players make big time plays in big time games. In the NBA, there is no bigger game than Game 7, and in today’s NBA, there is no bigger player than LeBron James. LeBron was absolutely sensational tonight delivering a Game 7 performance that will, or at least should, put together the debate on whether or not he’s “clutch” or not. In between Games 5 and 6, parody site Sports Pickle re-ran a post that they had previously developed titled “Pocket Guide For Criticizing LeBron James in Any Situation”. It poked fun at the numerous lines that fans and media alike could use in order to create a no win scenario for LeBron that was designed to be used no matter what kind of performance he turned in during the course of a game. The second statement on that list read “If LeBron has a big 4th quarter and leads his team to victory…say ‘Big deal. It’s only the regular season. Let’s see him do it in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.’” LeBron’s line in the fourth quarter alone last night? Just your casual 9-5-2-2 line including an absolute dagger 19 footer with 27 seconds remaining to push the lead to 92-88 and finally ice the series for Miami. Mission: Accomplished. He ended the game with 37 points and 12 rebounds; the 37 points are the most points ever scored in a Game 7 Finals win tying Boston’s Tommy Heinsohn in 1957 so you can go ahead and give LeBron both a championship ring and a Tommy Point for last night’s effort.

Lemon Face: Manu Ginobili

It’s never a good sign when you get a text in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals from a friend asking you what the record is for turnovers in a seven game series. While Ginobili, 22 turnovers through the seven games, didn’t come close to matching Charles Barkley’s in the 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals v. Milwaukee (37 turnovers!), it sure felt like the ones he did make came at the most inopportune times in the ball game. Last night, he turned the ball over four times, all of them occurring in the final period of play, including a brutal attempted jump pass on the baseline with San Antonio trailing by 4 with 23 seconds remaining which once and for all finally extinguished any hope that the Spurs had of making a miracle comeback of their own.  While it would have been a fairy tale ending for Manu’s career to go out with a title, instead he is left wondering just what went wrong in his final games.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

In a game featuring at least 6 future Hall of Fame inductees, it was Kawhi Leonard (and as I am contractually obligated to mention, his catcher mitt sized hands) who stole the show for San Antonio last night. Any lesser player would have crumbled after missing a critical free throw late in the potential championship winning Game 6 but the 21 year old Leonard responded with a monster 19 points and 16 rebounds in Game 7. As Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker fade into the twilight of their careers, the future in San Antonio continues to appear bright with Leonard leading the way.

Lemon Face: Chris Bosh

I know he played solid defense. I know he came up with seven rebounds including corralling Duncan’s missed tip-in that would have tied the game, but to put up a goose egg in the points column in Game 7 of the NBA Finals? That’s true Lemon Face material. God help him if Miami would have lost that game because I don’t see any possible way he would be on the Heat roster next year if San Antonio won and shut him down like that. Miami still faces a decision this offseason on whether or not to trade Bosh, but it will be excruciatingly difficult to break up a team that has reeled off two consecutive titles.

Lion Face: Shane Battier

We may never see the adage that role players tend to play great at home and are dicey on the road more than this series. After earning a couple of DNP’s in the Indiana series, Battier turned in scoring lines of 0, 3, 0, 2, 7, and 9 points through the first six games of the series. Coming into last night, he has hardly thought of as an X Factor. But fittingly, in a series that proved to be as difficult to predict from game to game as any other we’ve ever seen, Battier responded with an NBA Jam style hot hand shooting display knocking down six threes in eight attempts on his way to the biggest 18 point game of his life. For the second straight year, the Heat rode to a title in a championship clinching game thanks to one of their shooters going unconscious from beyond the arc. Last year it was Mike Miller’s 7-8 from long distance, 23 point game that proved to be the difference in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. It one of those nights where you in the first half he was going to have a Lion Face game, and he didn’t disappoint. Between his insane three point shooting and cerebral interviews, who could have guessed that a guy from the most hated college in America playing on the most hated NBA team could be, dare I say, likeable?

Lemon Face: Danny Green

For as good as Shane Battier was as a role player, Danny Green was equally as bad for San Antonio. For a stretch during the first five games, it appeared that we were headed for one of the most unlikely Finals MVPs of all time as Green was turning three point attempts seemingly into layups by breaking the record for triples in an NBA Finals just five games into the series. At this point in the series, Cavs fans and other NBA fans alike were quick to criticize the Cleveland organization wondering how they could possibly let a player like this slip through their grasp. Well, now we know. Unfortunately for Green and the Spurs, the clock struck midnight on his Cinderella story sometime between the end of Game 5 and beginning of Game 6 as he would go on to shoot a ghastly 10.5% from the field (18% from 3) over the course of Games 6 and 7 in Miami. Even despite how cringe worthy poor he was last night, he nearly changed the complexion of the game just over midway through the fourth quarter. Following a Manu Ginobili three pointer that cut Miami’s lead to 85-82 with 4:20 to go in the game, Green stole Dwyane Wade’s entry pass and launched a 3. A make would have tied the game as part of an 8-2 run in the course of 45 seconds and conceivably could have changed the complexion of the game. Alas, it was not to be as the shot missed, and the next score came a couple of possessions later from Shane Battier who knocked down a 3 and pushed the lead to six. We’ll always have Games 1-5 Danny Green. We’ll always have Games 1-5.

Lion Face: Mario Chalmers Shot

The Spurs were set to head into the fourth quarter with the lead. They would have been 12 minutes away from only having to match the Heat point for point in order to win the title. And then Mario Chalmers happened. It gave the Heat the lead and the momentum heading into what proved to be the final period of the NBA season. In a game where we got the entire Wario AND Mario Chalmers experience, this was one of the biggest shots of Chalmers’ career.

Lemon Face: Tim Duncan’s Shot

GIF via @SBNationGIF

Tim Duncan could retire right now with four championship rings, $200+ million in salary earned throughout his career, and the title of Greatest Power Forward Ever to Play the Game, but you can bet that he is going to be rehashing that missed tip shot in his nightmares for the conceivable future. With a chance to tie the game at 90 with under one minute to go in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Duncan missed both a hook shot and the subsequent tip in. Eons from now when people are browsing Wikipedia version 1239.1 on their super computers, they are going to see on the surface that this turned out to be an eight point game and, without reading a game story, not fully recognize that we were that close to having a tie game in Game 7 with each team having only a couple of possessions remaining to decide a champion.

Lion Face: NBA Fans

If someone had told you that this Finals would produce four games decided by double digits, including a 36 point blowout in one of those games, and yet it would still prove to be one of the best and most memorable Finals we have ever seen, how confused would you be? Your allowable answers are A) Very B) Really and C) Extremely. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got over the course of the past couple of weeks:  two teams that threw absolute haymakers at one another for seven straight games. For the rest of our lives, we’ll remember these Finals for Tony Parker’s incredible shot to put away Game 1, Danny Green going absolutely bananas in San Antonio, Ray Allen’s shot from the corner and Miami incredible comeback in Game 6, and LeBron James’ ultimate Game 7, but the chess match that was engineered on a game to game basis between these two teams was just as exciting. The constant adjustments needed on both ends to even get a result where no team through six games had won consecutive contests was incredible to watch. It was an honor and a privilege to watch that basketball series for seven games, and I think we all, Miami fans excluded, wish that it could have gone at least seven more.

From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all NBA fans, thank you to the Heat, Spurs, and NBA for giving us this series. It was, as Zach Harper and Tim Bontemps described on their Eye on Basketball podcast earlier this week, the equivalent of basketball porn. And thank you all for your constant support of us here at Hardwood Paroxysm throughout the season. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in a Panera Bread at lunch putting the finishing touches on my 15 Footer game preview for October 30, the opening night of the year. Time flies when you’re having fun, and we had a whole lot of fun here over the past eight months. Can’t wait to do it again next year.