Author Archives: Amin Vafa

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.

RTOE: Game 1 reactions!

Game 1 happened! It was awesome! Amin, Ian, Jack, Jared, and Jordan wanted to talk about it! RTOE ahoy!

1. In 10 words, what’d you think of the game last night?

Amin: It made watching bad teams for 82 games worth it.

Ian: Everything I wanted and more, filler, filler, filler, filler, ten!

Jack: These teams are fantastic and this series will be, too.

Jared: Tony Parker: good at basketball. The series is not over.

Jordan: Basketball gods, please give us six more games of that

2. Please describe, in as vivid detail as possible, your reaction to Tony Parker’s game-winning shot.

Amin: “HOLY [EXPLETIVE] HE MADE THAT????”

Ian: Dulled by red wine and the Eastern Standard Time Zone, it still merited a pretty significant snort of surprise.

Jack: I snorted.  Or chuckled.  Perhaps it’s best described as some combination of a scoff and laugh, actually.  What great defense when Miami absolutely needed it, and what an even greater shot when San Antonio had the chance to put the game away.  Still, I wasn’t surprised.  That’s the brilliance of Parker in a nutshell.

Jared:

Jordan: No. Instead, I shall give you my father’s reaction: *Dad jumps out of his chair* “WHOOOOOOOOOA”

3. LeBron had 18/18/10. Holy crap.

Amin: I don’t understand how someone can so understatedly dominate the way he did. Eighteen rebounds and ten assists? Great googily moogily.

Ian: It’s an impressive line, but watching him accumulate it wasn’t nearly as impressive as it would seem. The curse of being the best is the accompanying absurd expectations.

Jack: Ridiculous.  No disrespect to Parker or Duncan, but LeBron was far and away the best player on the floor last night.  And he shot 1-8 from outside the basket area! That’s as true a testament to his dominance as anything else, and one of the main reasons why this series is still a 50/50 bet.  Simply, he can be better going forward – it’s a make or miss league, remember? – and he will.

Jared: It’s ridiculous that we’re probably going to spend the better part of the next few days listening to garbage about whether or not he was too passive rather than talking about how he became one of only 7 players to put up those numbers in a playoff game, and the first since Tim Duncan in 2003 to do it in the Finals.

Jordan: BUT HE DIDN’T WIN TEH GAME BECUZ HE’S A CHOKER. Seriously, though, that’s just ridiculous

4. Dwyane Wade was alive last night. That was fun.

Amin: I especially appreciated Doris Burke asking him right before the half something along the lines of “so how much of your play so far has been shots falling vs. your body cooperating?” We’re at a weird place in our NBA-watching lives when reporters are rightfully allowed to ask players about their waning health and the players don’t even bat an eye because it’s true. But as has been the case throughout these playoffs, coulda used a bit more Wade.

Ian: I prefer the hobbled, limping version serving metaphorical penance for the tracks that were laid for him straight to the free throw line in the 2006 Finals. Ball Don’t Lie.

Jack: Wade was active and energetic offensively, but I’m not sure his solid individual numbers paint an accurate portrayal of his impact.  All too often he pounded the ball after receiving a high screen, getting the Heat out of rhythm and rendering LeBron spot-up bystander.  That won’t be good enough against the Spurs, as Wade’s team-worst plus/minus (-11) properly indicates.

Jared: Was he? 17 points on 15 shots, 2 rebounds, 2 assists. I didn’t really “feel” like he had a huge impact on the game, either.

Jordan: That was fun! And I’m sure LeBron appreciated the help. Now, Miami hopes Wade can keep that production up.

5. Duncan’s halftime buzzer-beater or Manu’s curveball bouncepass to Bonner: which made you feel more like you wanted to be a basketball player when you grow up?

Amin: While Ginobili’s pass was something I still can’t comprehend, Duncan’s shot was so nuts to me. There were 0.8 seconds left in the half, and he got the ball off the inbounds pass, created space, took the jumper, nailed it, never broke a sweat. It was the moment when I knew, for a fact, he was an automaton.

Ian: Curveball. Even Pedro Martinez thought it was ridiculous.

Jack: Curveball, but I was just as impressed by several seemingly more routine passes Manu made last night.  Miami’s aggressive pick-and-roll defensively strategy will give Ginobili ample opportunities to show off his passing flair.  What a joy to watch.

Jared: Manu’s bounce pass. That thing was inhuman.

Jordan: curveball curveball curveball curveball. Oh my god I needed a cigarette and a change of pan–too much? Too much.

6. After last night, the Big 3-era Heat have now lost four Game 1s in the playoffs. They have gone on to sweep the following 4 games. Do you see that happening in this series?

Amin: I have zero clue how to factor last night’s game as some sort of projection point. Certainly, the Spurs outplayed the Heat down the stretch. Part of that was due to Duncan checking in right as LeBron checked out. They made up for some lost ground there, and the Spurs never ceded it. Assuming Wade plays with the same level of energy through the whole series, and assuming that Kawhi Leonard will eventually make another corner three sometime before the world ends, the Spurs are not getting run over in 4 consecutive games.

Ian: No, and also no.

Jack: No way.  This series is going six games at least, and we should all hope for longer.  It might be a classic.

Jared: No. This is going 7.

Jordan: Absolutely not. This is going to be a long, terrific series.

My Finals Memory: The Round Mound of Rebound

clappstar | Flickr

Most of the memories of basketball I have from my childhood merge in my brain like some super-montage. “Roundball Rock” is inevitably playing in the background, I’m seeing a lot of orange, white, and blue fly across the court, and on occasion, there’s a black and red blur streaking across my mindscape… always with a tongue sticking out. No actual personal physical exertion is present in this montage, though. Most of my basketball memories were from watching others on a flickering screen. Except for that puffy-paint Mark Price jersey my cousin made me from an old t-shirt. That’s in there, too.

TV and video games were how I was plugged into the NBA for the most part. I always knew who played in the Finals every year because there was a video game series called “[East team] vs. [West team]: NBA Finals” that EA sports used to put out. I’d played “Celtics vs. Lakers” and “Bulls vs. Lakers,” but for some reason, my favorite was always “Bulls vs. Blazers.” I’m not really sure why. Lots of red and black symmetry, perhaps.

The year that game came out was the year that the Bulls made the Finals again–this time, against a super-team Phoenix Suns. Sir Charles, KJ, and Thunder Dan (along with a pretty stacked roster) were finally something we all thought could dethrone the MJ-era Bulls. We all know they came up short, but that series–20 years ago now, holy shit–was my first Finals series that I remember watching. I don’t think I stayed up late for every game (I was only 8, after all), but it was the summer, and I did get to see at least part of most of the games. And for the first time after watching the tongue-protruding red and black run amok on my Cavaliers did I have another protagonist to grab my attention: a portly, bald man with a thin mustache and a foul mouth by the name of Charles Barkley.

I don’t remember all the details of the series so well, but I do remember that I was mesmerized by Chuck. Not only was he giving the the Bulls a run for their money, but he was a beast doing it. He was an inch taller than MJ (later we found out that he was actually 2 inches shorter than MJ), and he was strong and grumpy. The night he was his grumpiest, I assume, was the night the two teams went to triple overtime. I don’t remember all the details of the game, but I do know that it’s the first time my brain ever processed the phrase “triple overtime.” I mean, can you even imagine laying it all on the floor for 2.5 hours, then having to play for basically another hour? No energy. No sleep. Just adrenaline.

The night of that game, my family was at a party at a friend’s house. They didn’t have any kids my age, so I didn’t really have anyone to hang out with. And I was 8, so sit me in front of a TV or video games, and I was set. They had a TV in the basement with a Sega Master System with “Alex Kidd in Shinobi World” and “Hang On,” so I played a lot of that. But when I got tired of dying a million times, I shut off the system, and turned on the TV. And there he was, in all his rotund glory. Saying “FUCK FUCK FUCK” on national television after a call he didn’t like.

I suddenly felt shocked, but at the same time, I felt a little bit grown up. That moment was mine. It was my secret; no one else was around. I didn’t try to sneak anything past the grown-ups. I was just thrown at the big kids’ table, and I was initiated. I watched a lot more of the game, and I tried simulating dunks and “3, 2, 1, [buzzer]” fallaways while the game was going on. I didn’t want to be like Mike, though. I wanted to be like Chuck (minus the profanity in front of the parents). I didn’t stay up for the rest of the game (it was a Sunday night, and, again, I was 8), but I found out later that the Suns had won the game. Later, I also found out that the Suns had won that game in Chicago… after losing the first two games of the series at home. What a series.

To this day, every time I see him on TNT, the kid inside me smiles. Not in the same way that maybe the rest of you all smile–like, he’s saying something unexpectedly brilliant or he called someone a dummy. No, in my special way. He’s reminding me of that first time I was hooked on the Finals and hooked on the NBA. He reminds me of all the posters I I accumulated–like my Sir Charles one and my Muggsy Bogues/Shawn Bradley one. And he reminds me of that one time I bought a $1.95 book from the Scholastic book sale by counting out 195 pennies and scrawling my mom’s name on the permission slip–as if that was some sort of convincing forgery.

So, thanks, Chuck. Thanks for helping me remember. And thanks for helping me get here.

Six Games of Misdirection

Gareth Morgan | Flickr

Welcome to another back and forth conversation. In this edition, Steve and Amin try to make sense of a Game 7 blowout win by Miami, the mystique surrounding Game 7s, team synergy, the strategies in the Finals, video games, and children’s television.

Amin: So last night, the Heat demolished the Pacers. There was no terrifying LeBron performance we all assumed was coming, nor was there any sort of “shrinking in the moment” by Indiana. It was a good, ol’ fashioned team-on-team butt-whooping. Miami played better defensively and offensively as an entire team, and they defeated Indiana… and it wasn’t close.

After six games see-saw games where we saw two ridiculously evenly-matched teams, I can’t help but be a little bit letdown. Why was this game a blowout? It reminds me of the seven-game series between the Lakers and the Rockets (the McGrady and Yao-less Rockets, if you remember) in the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals where the two teams went back and forth against each other until LA wiped the floor with Houston in Game 7.

In these two series, I’m assuming there’s some combination of the better team playing poorly and the worse team playing their best ball all series… but if there’s really an ability to destroy a team as LA did then and Miami did last night (and that doesn’t necessarily come down to the transcendent performance of one person), why isn’t that prevalent throughout the series? Why were we lead to believe that Indiana was as good as Miami for 6 games when they clearly were not? Was Miami saving something? Is there a “second gear” that some guys have and some guys don’t?

Bill Simmons would always talk about how KG only has one “gear,” and it’s always intense and can’t be turned off. So is this last series merely a matter of Indiana playing at that highest gear for the whole series, then Miami turning it up a notch? It’s not as though Indiana was some intricate puzzle for Miami to figure out: Hey, trap Hibbert outside the paint, blitz the ball handler, get George and Hill in foul trouble. Everyone knew Indiana’s depth couldn’t save them… so why did it take 7 games for Miami to figure it out?

Steve: To begin specifically with this Miami-Indiana series and last night’s game, I definitely felt there was an element of Indiana’s best players playing their best and playing a lot and Miami kind of forgetting how not to be the LeBron James show. Numbers bear this out: the Pacers’ starting lineup played 414 minutes in the playoffs—45% of the available minutes. Their next most-used lineup only played 35 minutes, or not quite 4% of the team’s playoff minutes. By way of contrast, the Heat have played their starters 30% of their total playoff minutes, and their next most-used lineup played 11%. Playing your starters 150% more than the other team and going to the bench half as much feeds into the notion that the Pacers were always playing in that highest gear, whereas Miami were shifting around a little more. Yet they still won convincingly in that seventh game.

Personally, what I think this speaks to more than anything else is the volatility of success in the NBA. Let’s contrast this with most people’s experience of going to work: for most people, on a good day you do a good job and on a bad day you do a bad job, but your individual contribution overall to your workplace is unlikely to be either particularly notable or disastrous. That’s not the way it is in the NBA and especially not in the playoffs. You’re probably saying, “Well, duh” to this because the idea of everyone having to be on the same page to succeed is a ripe old chestnut in sports, but there are also some twists here.

We saw that LeBron James in places stepped up—so to speak—but there was a lot of debate about whether this was the cause of or a symptom of Bosh and Wade (and Battier and Allen, more generally) being ineffective. In your regular, everyday life, there probably aren’t a lot of circumstances where you doing a really excellent job can be blamed for someone else doing a bad job, but that’s the NBA.

The closest thing I know of in my personal experience is regular gigging with a band or touring. For lack of an un-business-speak word, so much relies on the synergy of everyone’s collective energies in that situation. When you’re clicking it can be great. And when one person is dogging it, it can make you say, “Fine: If you’re going to mail it in, I’m going to work even harder to make this show great.” And then you can have a great show, but the overall thing flags because the collective energy isn’t there.

Also, to get kind of statistics-y on you, Amin, because I know you love it, I think things that are relatively inconsequential in our everyday lives—how much sleep you got, travel, how the weather affects you, what you ate for breakfast—can be amplified geometrically in players’ lives in the playoffs, creating a much greater variance in their performances and, as a result, an even greater variance in the consequences of that variance. In the playoffs, there are just too few games for these little bumps in players’ individual play to even out the way it can in the regular season.

But am I just letting the Heat off the hook talking about emotions and what they had for breakfast? The playoffs are supposed to reveal the heart of a champion, right? Is that what we got in Game 7? It sure didn’t feel like it. And the Spurs play very differently than the Pacers: their starting lineup has only played 19% of the team’s playoff minutes so far. Do the Eastern Conference Finals tell us anything about what we’ll see in the Finals?

Amin: I think there is a lot to what you said about both the lineup data and the collective synergy. Indiana’s “best” lineup is its starting lineup. Playing that lineup too much can result in fatigue by the last game of the series, and it can cause the rest of the rotation players to be a rusty and lack a bit of cohesion when placed in the lineup. Plus, you get yourself in a tricky situation as a team when you rely on your 5 best guys all the time–and there’s a substantial talent drop-off to your next unit–and your best guys get in foul trouble. If that happens–which it did last night–you’re kinda screwed.

As for the collective synergy, we’ve seen biochemical data analysis that supports the theory that players feel each others’ presence. With that kind of mutual support, coupled with the energy of a home crowd, coupled with the added mental push that other lesser-performing players might have forced upon themselves, and you’ve got a lot of chemistry forming on that court. Miami had science on its side. And maybe they had a balanced breakfast, too.

And while we may think that Game 7s are supposed to “reveal the heart of a champion,” history doesn’t necessarily support that. Here’s every Game 7 since 1947 (113 total). The mean win differential is just above 10 points; the median is an 8-point win. That’s a 3-5 basket difference (or 10, if it’s all free throws). That’s a lot of possessions to chalk up to a one team out-willing the other, and not just one team being substantially better than the other. Miami’s 23-point win last night was the 9th biggest differential of all time. While there are many other games with smaller differentials, 10 points is still 10 points. That’s bordering on blowout; it’s definitely “not close.” Without scrolling through thousands of lines of play-by-play data, I’m going to assume a few of those games were closer and got a little more inflated through end-game free throws. But still, they were out of reach.

Game 7 (h/t Basketball Reference)

So is it always the case that the better team is exhausting the lesser team by Game 7 so they can blow them out? If so, then as you say, San Antonio’s minutes allocation is much more balanced, giving them many looks they can throw at Miami. Then again, do we judge Miami’s performance in the next series by their general performance in the first 6 games, or do we use Wade’s and Allen’s much-improved contributions from last night as the jump-off point for the next series? Should we think “less” of Miami’s inability to play a full series of how they played last night, or should we think “more” of them for being able to rise to the occasion? I don’t really know either way. Offensively, Wade and Allen definitely helped last night. But the things that drove the win home, at least to me, were the blitzing/trapping of the pick-and-roll ball-handler, the trapping of Hibbert outside the paint, and the foul trouble of the primary defenders against Wade and LeBron.

If Miami can keep Tony Parker from initiating the offense by trapping him, the Heat should win, right? If they get Leonard, Ginobili, and Green in foul trouble, the Heat should win, right? If Duncan has to shoot 20-footers and Splitter can’t get into the paint, Miami should win, right? What’s to stop Miami from playing defense like that?

Steve: I think that both Miami and San Antonio will show greater flexibility than the Pacers ever could. To paraphrase Dennis Green, they are what we thought they were, and we’re not going to be crowning their asses, possibly because of it. If the Eastern Conference Finals had been two dudes playing Street Fighter II on the couch, the Heat would have been the guy picking Ryu, then Guile, then E. Honda, then Dhalsim—sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always tinkering and trying to find an edge. The Pacers were the guy who was just like Chun Li, Chun Li, Chun Li, Chun Li. They would fire up that Hyakuretsu Kyaku and that was pretty much it. I mean, consider how when Hibbert went out last night with five fouls in the third everyone on Twitter was just like, “Game.” There was no question of them going small or if Mahinmi could hold the line. It was over.

I expect the San Antonio-Miami series to be more chess-like, especially since I don’t think we should be prepared for the rest of the Heat players to play like they did last night for every game. Eventually inconsistency becomes its own kind of consistency, so I’m prepared for Miami to blow at least a couple of these games. I still think the Heat win the series, but I could still see it going seven games and ending like the ECF did, simply because the thing that could keep the Heat from being better is the one thing they can’t seem to control: themselves.

I don’t think it’s a question of everybody “wanting” it more or at the same time or anything as nebulous as all that. I remember seeing something after their Game 6 loss that said this team hadn’t been battle-hardened by coming up together or something else that seemed equally kind of misty and blockbuster movie-ish. I understand that the Spurs hold a distinct advantage in the been-there, done-that category as far as their core goes, but I think there’s a danger in saying if they lose it’s evident they’re flawed and if they win it’s evident they’re not. Was Boston in 2008 built so differently? But they won. Were the Lakers in 2004 or this year built so differently? But they lost. If we’re going to talk about the process here, if we’re going to be process-oriented, then we can’t only take things like winning or losing the championship as the barometer of success.

Amin: I think, for this finals, I agree. It’s not going to be about “wanting it more.” It’s going to be about execution of the plan and anticipating your opponent’s move before they do it. Versatility is key in this regard, and both of these teams know how to roll with the punches (or Hundred-Hand Slaps, or Hadoukens, or Shoryukens, or Tiger Uppercuts).

That’s one of the things that I really like about Spoelstra’s coaching technique–mostly because I contrast it with other coaches who don’t do it as well (Mike Brown in Cleveland specifically comes to mind). To some extent, roster depth is kind of like interchangeable parts in a machine. To another extent, different pieces of the roster turn you into different things.

For example, the standard 5 Zords in the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were the Mastodon, Pterodactyl, Triceratops, Sabertooth Tiger, and Tyrannosaurus. When they combined, they created the original MegaZord. However, with the introduction of the Green Ranger, the DragonZord added more depth to the “Zord roster,” as it were. When the DragonZord replaced the Tyrannosaurus Zord in the formation of the MegaZord, it didn’t function the same way as the original MegaZord. It looked and acted differently. It had different abilities, different powers, different weaknesses, and different strengths. The Rangers knew when they needed to use it, and when they didn’t. In this same way, Spoelstra is able to understand that the Heat roster works in different permutations for different situations. Sure, their 5-man starting lineup is effective, but there’s no reason you can’t play LeBron at the 1 or 5 if need be.

Popovich is also capable of using his roster in different ways, but San Antonio–for better or worse–operates as a very well-oiled machine. There are different looks that they can throw at another team, but side pick-and-rolls, floor-spacing, crisp-passing, and trust that a guy’s going to be in the place where the playbook said he’d be are always going to be there.

I guess what I’m trying to ask here is this: is Gregg Popovich actually Lord Zedd? Or is he M. Bison? And how high have we set the difficulty?

Steve: Amin, I can’t believe you took a perfectly lucid and reasonable metaphor about Street Fighter II and basketball and warped it into one about the Power Rangers. Are you even speaking English? (And a side note about difficulty: I’m an old man. I stopped trying to prove anything to anyone a long time ago, so I generally always play games at the lowest difficulty level possible unless it’s just not enjoyable. I don’t want to die. I want to live! And enjoy life!)

I can see the early going of this series being a lot like the Jerry Seinfeld bit where he talks about an old married couple being like two magicians trying to impress each other. Obviously, Popovich is the real old hand here, but as you said, Spoelstra has shown that understanding of how to make a team flexible, so I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of adjustments, with each team finding things that work for a couple of possessions before the other team slides and adjusts to it.

So in some ways, I think the canniness that the Spurs showed in beating the Grizzlies will in some ways be canceled out by the canniness of the Heat’s play designs, provided that Bosh and Wade don’t completely disappear again (which is a big proviso). In the end, then, I suspect it may come down in some ways to sheer talent, and it’s hard to bet against LeBron in that situation. I guess what that means is that I think if the Spurs are in a position to finish it in 6, they may pull it out, but that if it goes 7, the Heat will take it. Sadly, it might be one of your much-maligned blowouts if so, with the Heat going all Voltron laser sword on the Robeast that is San Antonio.

Power Rangers. Grow up, Amin.

When it falls down, who you gonna call now?

lucidtech | Flickr

Noam and Amin try to break down what’s going on with Miami, where Indiana’s future is taking them, and how teams can be successful over the long haul.

Noam: This Heat-Pacers series has been something of a basketball treat. All games have been competitive, excepting those in which Udonis Haslem goes 8 of 9 from the field (which, incredibly, amounts to more than one game). Paul George and Roy Hibbert have made themselves household names. Chris Andersen LITCHERALLY hasn’t missed a shot. And that LeBron guy is pretty good. Having seen these two squads matched up two years in a row, I would gladly sign up for another four or five.

You posit an interesting question on Twitter, though: could the Pacers possibly be considered as favorites in any future permutations of this series? Of Miami’s core, only LeBron, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are on the right side of 30. More importantly, Dwyane Wade, supposedly among the younger-oldies at 31, has seen fluctuations between his prime self and a sadder, broken down version happen frequently and violently. On the other side, Indiana’s starting wings are 22 and 23, with latter doubling as a third-team All-NBA premier wing defender. Roy Hibbert is 26, George Hill is 27.

But Indiana, for all its up-and-coming appeal, does have a major age concern. That would be David West, 33 by the time 2013-14 will tip off. He had ACL surgery two years ago, and while he seems to have recovered admirably, he plays a very physical game. Indiana’s strength is in their five man unit, but if one declines sharply, are we sure that balance isn’t irrevocably disrupted? Could growth on the wings, as well as the incremental improvements Hill and Hibbert project to make as they hit their prime, be enough to offset West’s age?

Amin: First of all, I don’t want your Chris Traeger reference to go unacknowledged. Well done, sir.

Second of all, yes my question is interesting. That’s sort of what I was alluding to. Indiana’s core–aside from West–is on the upswing. I could see West decline (as you said, he’s 33, he had ACL surgery, and he plays a tough, low-post game), but he looks like he’s declining gradually. I think that’s kind of the most ideal situation for any player in any sport, but especially for a guy who plays how he does. West will be slightly less effective next year, but he won’t have a stark drop off. Hibbert should improve, right? Will he make up for any potential deficiencies in West? Will Indiana let Hansbrough walk and pick up a backup PF who has a little more offense up his sleeve? Maybe Indiana can pounce on Thomas Robinson’s availability and play him heavy minutes behind West? Wowee.

Then, you’ve got the potential re-addition of Granger. Assuming Granger can play at even 75% of his former self… that’s pretty good. Granger is an effective scorer and a great defender. He gave LeBron fits during their intra-division CLE-IND series a few years ago. Granger also doesn’t seem like the type of player who would be difficult to fit back into a Pacers-style offense or defense. And based on the Pacers’ slower offense and their need for a wing upgrade over Gerald Green, slotting Paul George at the 2 (with Lance Stephenson behind) and Granger at the 3 seems like it would make the Pacers really good without causing extra stress/undue injury to Granger and his recover. And when I say “good” I mean “really really good.”Back to Miami real quick: Even with a very effective post game, LeBron + a bunch of other guys is probably not a championship team, right? That’s what existed in Cleveland, and it was proven time and again that LeBron needed a bit more reliability from the rest of the roster. That reliability came in Miami in the form of 1 guy who can get to the free throw line at will to close any gap (Wade) and another guy who is essentially guaranteed to make any shot if he’s wide open (Bosh). Those two players were not available in Cleveland. I am saying this as an unabashed Cleveland homer and someone who is rooting for a team with TYLER HANSBROUGH to beat the Heat.

Sorry about the Cleveland-aside. FOCUS. Ahem, OK. So, what I’ve noticed during this series is that the Pacers have been VERY good at preventing LeBron and Wade from living at the free throw line. As Derek alluded to in his piece, they’ve also effectively neutralized Chris Bosh’s impact by drawing him away from the basket on nearly every possession and contesting every shot he puts up. Miami has been relying on LeBron (as it should) and a 20-point performance by random role player X on any given night. Last night, it was Udonis Haslem. Haslem played really well, and the Heat needed every bucket he made–if not for their points then for their momentum.

When you look at the Heat’s roster, LeBron and Bosh are still in their primes, Cole and Chalmers are still young, and pretty much everyone else is a dinosaur in NBA years. Also, Chris Bosh is still possibly a dinosaur, but for other reasons (JOKES!). Going into next season–and more important the next postseason–if you have this same roster, you have LeBron still in his prime, a Bosh that people can figure out, an OK Chalmers/Cole backcourt (OK in Miami, average or less elsewhere), a Wade whose bad nights are starting to outnumber is good nights, a Ray Allen/Shane Battier combo that not doing its only required task of making open 3s, a revolving door of bigs, and Udonis Haslem. That’s… not gonna cut it.

Sorry, guess that wasn’t quick. But as it stands now, Indiana’s got options and are generally moving uphill. The Heat are still going to be good, but with their cap situation, they’re really only going to be able to make changes around the edges… and right now, their potential long term problems are with their core.

What do you think the next step for both teams will be to make sure we’ve got a rematch of them in the ECF next year?

Noam: It’s hard to throw out a foolproof ECF plan just because so many things can go wrong – injuries, luxury tax, injuries, random bounces, injuries, Nate Robinson catching fire, injuries. My gut says Miami is pretty much fine staying the course, as Erik Spoelstra would say, using the mini-MLE to get another 3-and-D guy (but maybe a less decrepit one this time, eh?) and gambling on a few minimum deal bigs. Indiana might be more interesting – I think convincing cases can be made for both keeping and trading Danny Granger, West is a free agent and could potentially come out of this summer either overpaid or in another jersey, the Pacer bench is epically horrendous. Also, after they refused to give up the 23rd pick in the draft for J.J. Redick, I demand that they either sign J.J. Redick or find a way to draft an immediate contributor with that pick. DEMAND IT, I SAY. HEAR ME, DONNIE?! However, I will immediately turn on my designation of Indiana being more interesting than Miami and ask you this question: is Miami’s run for a repeat title a historic abberation? This whole Wade business creates a unique vibe around the Heat – the way they came together and the mere existence of a 28 year old LeBron James makes them seem dynastic, and yet, as covered earlier, they might just be headed for a decline. We’ve seen teams win the title in a manner that seemingly dooms the following decade (Jordan Bulls, Duncan Spurs, any Laker title team ever), and we’ve seen teams win titles while giving the impression that they’re about to fall off from that level (the 2011 Mavs are a prime example of that), but do you remember any other team ever looking like it may just be both?

Amin: There are three important variables in this evaluation: 1) The CBA and salary cap, 2) Are any of the things that LeBron/Wade/Bosh do things that other players can do? and 3) What is Miami’s draft outlook looking like?

If you want this 3-man core to be dynastic, then the ret of the roster needs to be filled out in the same way as San Antonio’s. You gotta draft, develop, and trade your way into good parts that fulfill some of the tasks (or cover the deficiencies of) your core guys. And you gotta have the money to do it. If you do, you start to play your core guys fewer minutes as they get older, but the system is locked down. Alternatively, you can do what Dallas does and break the bank, stack, and reload the roster later around 1 or 2 pieces.

Right now, the Heat have a lot of good players, one great player, and two guys in between that are injured so are playing as good-level. Now, San Antonio has definitely recovered from a situation like that, but they’ve also consistently had draft picks and a well-managed cap. There’s a good chance Miami can pick up the same great play next year–like 99% certainty if Wade is healthy–but the nature of the Heat’s management of those 3 Spursian variables points to them not being able to turn this team into a 3+ championship dynasty like they hubristically promised.

In today’s CBA, is 3 rings the best anyone can do? Will the Spurs be terrible after their core retires/leaves? Can any team maintain contender or semi-contender status for 10+ years anymore? 5+ years, even?

Noam: The Thunder will be the ultimate test case for that, won’t they? They’ve hit all the theoretical checkpoints by drafting a transcendent star in Durant, finding another all-star to flank him in Russ, and being good enough early enough so his prime isn’t wasted. It’s what the Cavs couldn’t do with LeBron – they got to the Finals in his fourth year, one year ahead of the pace Durant set for OKC, but they did it with a supporting cast that was mostly veterans and role players. As LeBron continued to grow, they wilted instead. I think that’s the point that makes San Antonio so unique – David Robinson sitting out in 96-97 gave them their two cornerstones as a starting point, and they capitalized even further on that by inexplicably picking up two more in Tony and Manu. Without discrediting their developmental system, there are only so many such players percolating through depth charts, and grabbing several of them closely enough to have them all hit their primes together (or, in two different batches) requires immense amounts of luck.

Could it happen again? Sure, in theory. It’s hard to say if there are any other candidates for such a run, though. The Pacers are trying, but Paul George isn’t LeBron or Durant, and Hibbert is more Ibaka than Westbrook. Since this has somehow become a heavily anti-Cleveland exchange, we should point out that Kyrie might be that kind of transformative talent, and is being smartly surrounded by players his age, though none of the Waiters/Thompson/Zeller(/Nerlens Noel?) seems to be of the Westbrook caliber. There are some other tandems that one might throw out there – Chris Paul/Blake, Rose/Noah, Rubio/Love, Harden/Morey Acquisition X, Andrew Wiggins/Whoever Is On The Roster That Drafts Andrew Wiggins – but all are stretches, whether because they are dependent on unknown qualities, or because the known qualities have so far been lacking.

Is that CBA-designed or just plain happenstance? I would call it the latter, but it’ll be hard to tell without the benefit of hindsight. After all, this Spurs stretch is an outlier not just for the 2010s, but throughout NBA history. Outside of Red Auerbach being decades ahead of the curve, the Lakers continuously getting hall of fame centers, and the greatest player of all time existing, these things tend not to happen more often than they do. Again, the viability of the model could hinge on where OKC lands, with the Harden trade as the potential turning point. It’s an interesting wrench in that it simultaneously rid them of a third all-star, but brought in some assets that, if maximized, could theoretically bring in some of those young assets to develop in the Spursian manner you mentioned. If their run is cut shorter than we envisioned when this team came together, the Harden trade could become the turning point in NBA dynasty building.

Which brings us back to the Heat. They seem to be staring down some financial issues of their own – they’re scheduled to be repeater tax payers the moment such designations become available. If Wade’s knees don’t ruin everything, could his contract? Could Bosh’s? Are they due for a Harden trade of their own? Or, conversely, LeBron walking next summer before his supporting cast is torn apart? God, these would be great questions to discuss retroactively during all the free time we’ll have in the 2017 lockout.

Amin: Game 6 seemed to exacerbate all the same questions we had after Game 5. It’s going to be tough to figure out what Miami needs to do, but they need to do something. Be it a Harden-type trade, a use of the amnesty provision, any other type of trade that creates some complementarity and reliability… something. I don’t think they anticipated their core becoming unstable like this so quickly. And I don’t think any of us did either.

Sociology Sunday: The Crackpots and These Women

Peter Nijenhuis | Flickr

Ed. note: the title of this post is taken from the title of Season 1, Episode 5 of The West Wing. I hope Aaron Sorkin is cool with it.

Welcome back to another rousing rendition of Sociology Sunday. Writing these columns is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I get to dig into my academic roots and try to shed some analytical light on events that transpired during the week week. On the other hand, I just wish basketball could be about basketball. But it never is.


Last night, the Indiana Pacers convincingly defeated the Miami Heat to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night. Normally, we’d be bombarded with narratives left and right about “the champs not having it” or “upstart underdogs” or “LeBron carrying too much of a load again.” You know, the narratives we’re used to. Instead, there’s been a lot of focus on Roy Hibbert’s postgame comments where he dropped an F-bomb and a homophobic joke. Jared Wade, of Eight Points Nine Seconds, has a wonderful examination of why Hibbert’s remarks last night were so problematic, yet so seemingly normal and casual.

I don’t know Roy Hibbert, the person….But he seems like a nice enough young man, and I have heard a ton of respected people say a ton of nice things about Roy’s character and values.

I also don’t know know Roy Hibbert’s feelings on homosexuality. If he harbors any negativity towards gay people, he has never made such feelings public, to my knowledge. Roy actually even supported, through a Twitter message, Jason Collins’ recent decision to come out of the closet….To him, it was a playful joke, one that made him giggle probably more for its inappropriateness in that setting than for its actual humor. But to many others, it was an unnecessary reminder that mainstream society in the United States sees being gay as an abnormal, weird, negative characteristic that no man should want to associate himself with.

That is the foundation of “no homo.” It is telling listeners that, “in case you misconstrued what I said there, I just feel the need to point out to you that I am not homosexual, as that would of course be disgusting, and I am a normal, heterosexual man.”

You should definitely head over to 8P9S to read the whole piece because it’s a great analysis of how a seemingly small comment can mean so much. But for myself, I’ve been approaching Hibbert’s comments in three ways:

1) It’s absolutely absurd that he said that. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t necessary. It continues to perpetuate the otherness of LGBT individuals. He apologized for it. He reached out to Jason Collins about it. Athlete Ally issued a statement about it and understands that he’ll move on from here with remorse. But still, there’s no place for it.

2) When you’re a professional male athlete, you undoubtedly move your way up through a system of hyper-masculinity, a system where insulting gays or using one’s sexuality as an insult is commonplace. Society has been moving in a direction where such behavior is becoming less and less acceptable. And even if you know reflexively mumbling something like that is wrong, it’s still reflexive, and old habits are hard to kick. That doesn’t change the fact that the reflexive nature of speaking is almost as hurtful as the phrase itself, but again, there’s something to be said about getting tripped up in your old, stupid habits.

3) Just like Jared Wade, I don’t know the man. I know nothing about him personally except that he sometimes has some funny lines on one of my favorite TV shows and is playing really well against a team that I dislike for personal and narrative-driven reasons. It seems these reasons have turned him into some sort of positive hero in my mind–and I imagine this is similar for some of you–and thus, I keep thinking things like “Wow, Roy. That was dumb, but I’m sure you didn’t mean it.” Or “C’mon Roy, you know that’s messed up. Don’t say crap like that. Apologize and move on.” Why do I give him the benefit of the doubt, though? He’s a nice guy so he must not mean it? I mean, sure, OK. That’s plausible, but should I be treating this situation differently than when Kobe yelled “f****t” during a game and was caught on camera? I was disappointed in Kobe then, and he’s since gone to great lengths to make sure that kind of language isn’t used. But it still affected my view of him. And since both statements were said with post-game-action adrenaline high, and both were said reflexively–they’re part of the vocabulary of hyper-masculinized sports, they’re both not OK, right? Am I treating it differently because Kobe was channeling anger while Hibbert was channeling humor? Both are stupid and shouldn’t be tolerated, but are they the same?

In the end, I think I fall somewhere close to Kevin Arnovitz’s response to Hibbert’s comments, and I think as apologetic as Hibbert may actually be, he’s got a long way to go before he’s fully back in everyone’s good graces:


Apparently, TMZ covers sports sometimes. Also, they like to say and do provocative things for the sake of… journalism, I guess? Anyway, it seems they decided it would be funny to release a video ranking one of their staff members’ top-5 “hottest” NBA players. This particular person picked 5 players who all happen to be white. And yeah, you’re right: who cares which players one particular person happens to think are the hottest? The rest of the video, after the ranking, includes some “humorous” banter with David Lee about how he’s a “minority” in the NBA and how some other inane conversation among the other TMZ staff that straddles the line between racist and race-baiting.

It seems like TMZ has some sort of obsession with talking about the race of NBA players… like that one time where one of their cameramen decided to tell Blake Griffin that he wasn’t black and their staff then all tried to decide if he was or wasn’t black. You know, because it matters. And you know, because freckles and red hair automatically mean you’re white.

Race, as we so often forget, is a dually-loaded term of both internal and external identification. Blake Griffin might have his particular race–whatever it may be–tied to part of his identity. Others who are not Blake Griffin will attribute his actions and physical characteristics to mold him into a prism of race as they see fit–as those in the TMZ studio did. There’s no consideration of history, his personal feelings, or whether or not his race actually matters at all. It’s a tidy compartmentalization mechanism that people will continue to use without any desire to figure out why they want to use it.

And while the importance of race is a larger topic than this portion of this blog post can handle, I’d like to include this passage for anyone who thinks it’s not possible to have red hair and freckles and be black at the same time:

Louise Little, my mother, who was born in Grenada, in the British West Indies, looked like a white woman. Her father was white. She had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro’s. Of this white father of hers, I know nothing except her shame about it. I remember hearing her say she was glad that she had never seen him. It was, of course, because of him that I got my reddish-brown “mariny” color of skin, and my hair of the same color. I was the lightest child in our family (Out in the world later on, in Boston and New York, I was among the millions of Negroes who were insane enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be light-complexioned–that one was actually fortunate to be born thus. But, still later, I learned to hate every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.)

–The Autobiography of Malcolm X, pp. 2-3.


It’s become somewhat commonplace for writers (including myself) to complain about the prevalence of lists as part of a normal reading diet. The issue at hand: writers hate writing them because they feel as though their degrees that got them their writing gigs are being wasted, and editors love making writers write them because they brings LOTS of eyeballs to your website. Can you really blame readers for liking them, though? Each part of a list–whether it’s just a count or a rank or whatever–is a short, digestible, forgettable bit of information that entertains you for a split second and allows you to move on with no attachment. You get your endorphine high, and you get to walk away and get back to what you were doing. Basically, reading a list-format post is the same as reading a bunch of tweets in a twitter timeline. They’re short and disconnected, yet they’re connected enough for you, the reader, to make sense of it all for yourself. Then, you can walk away from it happy, and come back for more later. As much as I personally dislike their existence, I read them all the time.

As digital content continues to grow, the reading, writing, and editing parts of the community will have to evolve with them. Unfortunately, one list came out this week that shows that we, as a basketball reading, writing, and editing community, need to do a better job to show that certain types of content are not OK.

Dime Magazine released a list of 20 basketball writers to follow on Twitter. I guess, if it were framed the way I just framed it, this would be a non-issue. However, the actual title of the list is: “20 girls on Twitter who know their basketball (and look great).” In a writing realm as male-dominated as sports, I’m sure there are some people who would welcome having a female perspective or two to read. Why Dime Magazine thought it was necessary to sexualize this list of writers is baffling, though.

Actually, you know what? It’s not baffling. The editorial decisions behind this are simple: mostly males read the site, lots of guys on Twitter would love to follow a good-looking girl who can talk about basketball, and it’s the end of the month, so let’s let anything fly out the door. Kelly Dwyer and Ticktock6 do a great job of explaining why this list was so reprehensible:

And Dime, for what it’s worth, has stood by its publication of this list (a quick sidenote: several listees have asked to be taken off the list and Dime has obliged). Though it did, for some reason, decide it needed to clarify one thing about it:

It is disheartening to see Dime not acknowledge its perpetuation of women as sexualized outsiders to the NBA, despite the fact that there are countless female writers, reporters, and fans all over the world who entered this realm to be closer to a sport they love and not to be judged by their appearance. And it’s a shame that there were so many failures in good judgment along the way that allowed this piece to be published.

As far as we’ve come as a community on sexuality, race, and gender, we still see we have a long way to go.

RTOE: VDN is O-U-T

In the revolving door that is NBA head-coaching, many leave and many return. But mostly, they leave. It’s a pretty biased flow out the door. In fact, I think I can hear guys getting fired right now. It’s incessant. Oh wait, it looks like the same guys are sneaking back in. Oh, well. Aaaaaaanyway, to almost no one’s surprise (sadly), Vinny Del Negro will not be rejoining the Clippers next year.

1. Why do you think he was fired?

Jared: Have you been watching the Clippers play since he became the coach?

Andrew: IS THIS A SERIOUS QUESTION?! IT’S BECAUSE [redacted by HP's secret lawyer ninjas]

…ahem. Well, Vinny Del Negro wasn’t a very good coach. It seemed as if the free agent leader of the Clippers, Chris Paul, was more interested in listening to a talking fire hydrant diagram plays than his coach. And VDN lasted this long because he had the backing of ownership, but that’s certainly a fleeting commodity with this particular owner.

(Are these guys going to watch me while I write the rest of this? They are? Got it.)

Kyle: In an effort to keep Chris Paul. It’s that simple. This Clippers team has many replaceable parts, but an elite point guard who can get the best out of his teammates is hard to find. Players win championships, and while I believe Del Negro is a solid coach, the Clippers couldn’t risk losing their top player. They can win without Del Negro but not without CP3 and it really is that simple.

Jack: Watch game 6 against the Grizzlies.

Derek: For instances like the example I’m about to give. I remember a late-season  game against the Thunder where the Clippers were down 4 with about a minute to play and Lamar Odom, Ronnie Turiaf and Matt Barnes all got to miss shots on the most crucial possession of the game. Barnes isn’t so much the one I have a problem with as much as drawing up plays for the other two when you have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to work with. The original play itself wasn’t even a broken play or anything– there was just no direction, which cannot happen with a top-10 team in the league. And good Lord, how hard can your job be when you have Chris Paul running the offense.

2. Are you surprised he was fired?

Jared: Have you been watching the Clippers play since he became the coach?

Andrew: Pft. …ha. Haha. Hahahahahahaha.

Kyle: I think he is better than a lot of coaches that are employed in the league, but I’m not surprised he was canned. The whole “is Chris Paul OK with him” thing played a role, but so did an uninspiring playoff run. This team would have made the playoffs without a head coach, so the first round exit (albeit to a team that is simply better in my opinion) was not viewed as a move in the right direction. If he had an excuse (i.e. star player injury) or coached in a small market (i.e. Memphis or Golden State), he might have gotten another crack at it in 2014, but he doesn’t so he won’t.

Jack: It’s surprising it took this long.  Barring a wholly surprising championship run, Del Negro lost this job in March.

Derek: No, but I am surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.

3. Who’s the best replacement available?

Jared: Stan. Just because he said he’s not on the market doesn’t mean he’s not the best replacement available.

Andrew: If neither Van Gundy wants the job, and Phil Jackson is a pipe dream, it’s probably one of the league’s most sought after assistant coaches, such as Mike Budenholzer or Brian Shaw. I could easily see the Clippers going with a well regarded retread, however — someone like Alvin Gentry or Nate McMillan.

Kyle: I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who wants to see Phil Jackson coach this team, but he doesn’t seem like he wants to be back on the sidelines. I like Jeff Van Gundy or PJ Carlesimo for this job out of the remaining candidates. Van Gundy has, in theory, gained perspective from the six years off as coaching while staying involved in the game, a nice combination for a passionate coach. Carlesimo was thrown into a tough situation in Brooklyn, and no matter who coaches there is going to have problems making those contracts seem like a good idea. Either way, Los Angeles is going to look for a coach that will allow Chris Paul to be an assistant coach of sorts and a coach that is willing to make a move to get a scoring front court player that can help the Clippers win NOW.

Jack: Stan Van Gundy, but he insists he’s taking another year off from coaching.  If that holds true, Golden State’s Mike Malone – thought of as the strategic brain behind Mark Jackson’s successful sermons – is a realistic and responsible option.

Derek: I like Mike Malone as well for what the Clippers are trying to do, but I think Andrew’s right and we’re going to see them fall back on a retread like Byron Scott or Alvin Gentry type.

4. Will the Clippers be better/worse/same next year with a new head coach?

Jared: If Chris Paul is back, the same or better, depending on who they hire. If he’s not back, worse.

Andrew: If CP3 is back and they stay healthy, they’ll certainly be no worse.

Kyle: Better. Like I said, this team makes the playoffs with any of us on the sidelines, making a first round exit the worst case sceneraio. The Clippers peaked too early this season and I think the team learns from that and wins a playoff serious in 2014. This, of course, is assuming that CP3 in still the leader of Lob City. Keeping Matt Barnes is also a very good idea … see? I’m already making good coaching moves. Consider my hat thrown in the ring for this position!

Jack: As long as Chris Paul re-signs, they’ll likely be better.

Derek: Depends on the coach, doesn’t it? This idea might play to Donald Sterling’s stingier side, but they could probably do just as well appointing Chris Paul player-coach. Okay, so that was an exaggeration, but they’re likely no worse-to-better with a new coach as long as they don’t screw it up.

5. Seriously, what do you think of VDN as a coach in this league?

Jared: He’s good at developing young talent (see: Rose, Derrick and Griffin, Blake), but if you want to be a serious contender, he’s probably (definitely) not your guy.

Andrew: He seems to connect well with the young talent, which certainly has value in a league that places such value on a young star on a rookie contract. His strategic and tactical approaches, however left the Clippers wanting for offensive execution and defensive consistency.

Kyle: He is an NBA level coach, but like anybody, he needs to be in the right situation. Who would have thought that in a three year span, a coach that increased the Clippers win total by 75% would be fired? As a former player, I see Del Negro as a good fit for an experienced team that has defined roles or an athletic team that has raw ability. The addition of Chris Paul obviously made the Clippers much better, and I think Del Negro is more of a “improve a team by 5 wins and get them over the hump” kind of guy than a “start from scratch and build a contender” coach. Call me crazy, but maybe he finds himself in Brooklyn in a similar situation (win now or get fired)?

Jack: He’s accomplished nothing but take talented teams no farther than most expected.  What’s there to think? Wins and losses matter most, and if they didn’t Del Negro’s reputation would be even worse.  How much credit does any coach deserve for the development of talents like Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin? And in the case of Del Negro, next to none whatsoever.

Derek: As much as we’ve bagged on Vinny the last, well, always, he has proven to be a coach that you can advance with if you have enough talent. Although, I think that says more about the roster than VDN.

And Chris Paul. Have I told you how much I love Chris Paul?

6. With Byron Scott, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Dunlap, PJ Carlesimo, Lawrence Frank, and Jim Boylan fired, who’s next on the chopping block?

Jared: You missed Doug Collins.

Andrew: Lindsey Hunter is still technically the interim head coach of the Phoenix Suns. This feels like cheating.

Kyle: Is Lindsey Hunter still employed in Phoenix? He isn’t going to stay there much longer. Maybe the Suns ping pong ball lands them a lower pick than expected and they blame Hunter and fire him tonight. They’ve got a bunch of picks (six first rounders spread out of over the next three drafts) and will likely bring in a new coach and allow him to build the team how he wants.

Jack: Other than adhering to the wish of basketball’s blogosphere by allowing Michael Beasley to compile more shot attempts than points this season, Lindsey Hunter’s done nothing in Phoenix to have his interim tag lifted.  He’s next on the chopping block.

Derek: Well, Dwight Howard is complaining to the Lakers about D’Antoni. Not like he has a history of costing coaches their jobs or anything, just ask Mike Brown and Stan Van Gundy. OH WAIT.

RTOE: It’s the end of the season as we know it, and I feel fine

OMG IT’S THE END OF THE SEASON! It’s crazy! It feel like it flew… naw, it felt exactly 82 games long. I mean, did you see how this past month was kinda dragging? Anyway, instead of the standard end of the season awards, we’re going to do this season-ending RTOE how we do. Ian, Brian, Derek, Curtis, Kyle, Jared, and Jordan: go for it (CONNECT FOUR!).

1) The award for the guy who only played about 15 minutes per night, but this team really needed him goes to:

Ian: Tyler Hansbrough. The Pacers’ bench was an absolute disaster this season, but Hansbrough was surprisingly, reasonably reliable. Without his scoring the second-unit offense in Indiana would just be Gerald Green trying to pass the ball to himself off the backboard for an alley-oop.

Brian: Chris Andersen.

Derek: I didn’t know who Greg Smith was before this season, but at 6’10 he’s got legitimate size for a center, and has shot 61% on the season. His 4.5 rebounds per game may be underwhelming, but his 10.4 per 36 minutes are not. He’s been a pleasant surprise for a Houston team that was still facing questions by some who felt that Houston still wasn’t a playoff team after the Harden trade with his help off of the bench.

Curtis: Patrick Beverley! The little point guard engine that could!

Kyle: Chris Andersen. The Heat do a lot of things well, but where would they be without the Birdman? His defense and intensity are tough to quantify statistically, but he drives Miami’s second unit. It was the shooting of Shane Battier last year and it very well could be the play of Andersen this year that plays an underrated role in the Heat’s playoff push.

Jared: Chris Optimus Copeland.

Jordan: Ed Davis. Though Lionel Hollins was reluctant to use Davis at first, be it out of dislike or spite, he eventually relented. Davis gives the Grizzlies a different, more athletic look on both ends of the floor. While the offense remains relatively the same with him on the court (the Grizzlies have an Offensive Rating of 103.4 when Davis is off the court, versus 103.9 with him on), his impact is felt on the defensive end of the floor, as the Grizzlies sport a Defensive Rating of 94.3 when he is on the court.

2) The award for the most entertaining guy on any roster goes to:

Ian: Lance Stephenson. I cannot oversell how much I enjoy watching Stephenson play this year. He is spectacular in success and nearly as spectacular in failure. There’s also something so intriguing about a player with literally no fear.

Brian: Also, Chris Andersen.

Derek: Is this entertaining as in “Wow, how did Rubio make that pass?!”, “OMG LEBRON!” or “LOL #TeamPierre”? So many possibilities here since so many teams have a lot of entertaining players right now. Okay, that’s my cop-out for this RTOE, but I think that sums up how I feel about how much fun it is to be a basketball fan in 2013.

Curtis: Andrea Bargnani was definitely entertaining given the reaction he engendered from Toronto fans during games.

Kyle: Basketball purists are entertained by the greatness that is LeBron James, but let’s face it, the public loves them some JaVale McGee. The 25-year old plays with a passion we can all admire and his glaring flaws make him seem more human to us. Throw in the fact that he is plays for a team that likes to get up and down, thus giving us more chances to see the good and the bad McGee, and you’ve got yourself a dynasty in the making when it comes to winning this award.

Jared: Tony Allen.

Jordan: Ricky Rubio. I love passing. It’s my favorite part of the game. And while CP3 is the undisputed Point God, hallowed be his name, Paul’s passes seem to be fueled by his competitive fire, whereas Rubio’s are driven by rainbows and candy and joy.

3) The award for the “well, we kinda had to keep this guy around, if nothing else but for good karma” goes to:

Ian: Welcome back to the NBA, Juwan Howard.

Brian: People probably expect me to say Kirk Hinrich, but I’ll pull a shocker and go with Jerry Stackhouse. Also maybe Chris Andersen (somehow).

Derek: Brandon Roy. I would have felt nauseous to see him dumped in a salary dump even though I would have understood that it would be a business decision. I’m not sure Karma makes that distinction from a business decision or not. He’s a good guy to just have around and fans everywhere root for him and support him.

Curtis: I guess it’s too late to answer Stephen Jackson for this…

Kyle: Kevin Garnett. The Boston Celtics could have easily thrown in the towel after Rajon Rondo was lost for the season and sent the future HOF on his way to a true contender. But after the way KG treated Ray Allen in his first game as a member of the Heat against the Celtics, could you have imagined the curse he would have bestowed upon Boston had they let him go? He always talks about loyalty, and karma has got to be in your favor for a keeping a guy like that around. O yea, him leading the team in blocked shots and rebounds doesn’t hurt either.

Jared: Rasheed Wallace.

Jordan: Jeff Green.

4) If tattoos and talent were equally weighted, then ____ would get the TALENTTOO award!

Ian: J.R. Smith? DeShawn Stevenson? Chris Anderson? Any other neck tattoos out there?

Brian: Chris Andersen. Or Wilson Chandler.

Derek: Has to be Birdman, right? And if this is the case, Nerlens Noel should just be awarded next season’s ROY now.

Curtis: DeShawn Stevenson for that Abe Lincoln Tattoo. EMANCIPATION NATION!!!!

Kyle: Kevin Durant. The man is one of the most gifted players on the planet and is still improving every aspect of his game, so I’d say he ranks pretty high on the “talent” scale. His near full upper body tattoo is one of a kind, as most tattoo-alcoholics (see Martin, Kenyon) want you to see every new addition. He ranks below Andrei Kirlenko on the tattoo scale and LeBron James on the talent scale, but his cumulative rating  is as good as it gets.

Jared: Four way tie between Birdman, JR Smith, Wilson Chandler and Luke Walton.

Jordan: It’s J.R. Smith. Wait, are we talking about basketball talent or salsa talent? Doesn’t matter, he still wins.

5) If you had to pick one team to come out of the East that’s not the Miami Heat, who would it be and why?

Ian: The Pacers. Their defense is such an incredibly consistent crutch to lean on and gives them the potential to win games even when things are going horribly wrong offensively. (See 85% of their wins this season). They have some real enmity built up with the Heat and won’t back down an inch. Their chances are slim, just like everyone else’s, but I think they have the best mix of ingredients.

Brian: The Knicks, by proxy of simply being the second best team. I desperately want to go with the Pacers, but I just don’t trust their bench. Like, at all. Not even to watch my dogs. If either of these teams had Chris Andersen they’d probably have a better shot.

Derek: I mean, I doubt it, but I remember thinking a couple weeks ago while watching the Knicks and Thunder that the Knicks have the potential to be that team that gets ridiculously hot from three for a month (again). Of course this is contingent on their health, sticking to small ball and a number of bench guys catching fire, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they were able to make a run this way. Is it likely? Probably not.

Curtis: The 1986 Celtics because I found a time machine.

Kyle: It almost has to be the Pacers for a few reasons. One, they have had some success against Miami and two, they wouldn’t see them until the ECF. I’m assuming Indiana is a common answer, so I’ll jump on the Nets bandwagon. They’ve got a reasonable “Big Three” of their own and they’ve got a better rebounding but less explosive Chris Andersen off of their bench in Reggie Evans. Brooklyn would need a HUGE series from Brook Lopez to make this happen, but if Gerald Wallace is 100% healthy, the Nets have a good combination of size and athleticism on the perimeter that could provide some issues for the Heat.

Jared: The New York Knicks because I want to be happy for once.

Jordan: The Pacers. Their late-game offensive woes aside, Indiana sports a defense and style of play that could potentially (emphasis on potentially) give the Heat troubles.

6) Lots of people are poo-pooing on the scoring title. But it’s still kind of a cool award, right? If nothing else, friends of stats should like it because it’s the only objective award.

Ian: This isn’t a question. But I’ll poo-poo it anyway. My problem is that it recognizes quantity not quality. Scoring in volume is not nearly as challenging as scoring efficiently, and sufficient inputs can level the talent playing field. Give Brian Scalabrine enough shots and he could be in the running for the scoring title.

Brian: Yes?

Derek: I think it’s a cool award when it’s this close and it’s actually a race. I don’t place a ton of stock into it, though. It was interesting working a game for a Thunder blog and hearing their fans say that they were willing to sacrifice the win if it meant Kevin Durant sealed the scoring title. So, yeah, it’s kinda cool.

Curtis: It’s a neat thing to note for one’s career after it’s all said and done, but no one metric ever truly captures the essence of a player.

Kyle: To me the scoring title is still relative, but “objective” doesn’t feel like the right word for it. On definition alone, sure, it is objective as it is based on numerical data. But so is batting average in baseball and we saw Jose Reyes sit out games just to win the crown. The award means more to Carmelo Anthony and he is trying to win it, while Durant is more worried about the postseason in my opinion. I guess that makes me a poo-pooer.

Jared: It’s not an award. It’s a thing that happens. Someone leads the league in scoring every year.

Jordan: Cool? Maybe. Fun? Absolutely.

7) There are always tons of complaints every year about how the standard awards (MVP, DPOY, ROY, MIP, 6MOY, COY, EOY) are given to the wrong people every year. Usually, this is a mixed product of voter subjectivity and people’s love of complaining. However, which of these awards do you think is regularly awarded to the “wrong” person? And do you think the awarded person is often undeserving of recognition?

Ian: Most Improved. This one bothers me in particular because people get lost on both the “Most” and the “Improved” fronts. It usually goes to people who deserve recognition for playing more minutes and maintaining a consistent level of production. But that’s not an achievement that would call improvement. Players at the top of the scale like LeBron James aren’t considered. Players at the bottom of the scale are also excluded. It just ends up going to such a narrow band of players who exhibit such a narrow band of statistical change that it strikes me as an entirely silly exercise.

Brian: It’s a bit of a copout to say MIP, but it’s generally true. MIP is almost always awarded to a guy who simply got more minutes and produced relative to that minutes increase. No one should be surprised Paul George upped his scoring by 5 PPG when he’s playing eight minutes more. That falls in line with expectations.

I don’t think the person who is awarded is “undeserving,” because a good player living up to the expectations of production is an admirable thing. I just think MIP should go to someone who was not a good player beforehand. Nobody really thinks James Harden just suddenly got better once he put on a Rockets uniform. At least, I hope they don’t.

Derek: I think MIP is the most frequently mis-awarded, but DPOY is the one it feels like we fall into the trap of giving to the same guy over and over until there’s an obvious new contender. This is nothing against Dwight who, when healthy, is certainly deserving, but rarely do we even hear perimeter players in the conversation. Maybe that’s because the public narratives and discussion factor into those decisions– which can happen since humans can be influenced by outside things that may not matter as much. It seems that as of now we see a defensive center and automatically put them at the top of the conversation, yet a guy like LeBron who defends multiple positions well doesn’t get as much talk. That could be that maybe what he does somehow means less than, say, Larry Sanders.

My main point is that I’d like to see the field widen more. I do know from talking to fans that they believe defensive playmaking (steals and blocks) are mutually exclusive with being a good defender, but even Darko Milicic blocked his share of shots some years. To me, I would factor in defensive versatility more and awareness, like being able to use a baseline or sideline as an extra defender to essentially double team a defender without leaving another offensive player open. Phil Jackson talked about how great players have that oncourt awareness in his book “Sacred Hoops” and I really agree with that assessment. That’s why I don’t think that we should automatically consider it to be a center who can block shots, but if they are truly the most deserving candidate, then by all means, give them the award.

Curtis: Each of these awards has its problems. MVP is titled too much toward offense. DPOY is tilted waaaaay too much toward centers nowadays. ROY is… actually, this one is the most accurate of the bunch. MIP is usually a joke and goes to the guy who got the biggest bump in minutes. 6MOY is another name for who gets buckets off the bench. COY is too damn hard to choose from every year, but the winner is almost always deserving. EOY is total piece of… wait, no one actually cares about EOY award. Moving on.

Kyle: “Most Improved Player”. This always seems to go to a player who seemingly came out of nowhere to have success. But does that mean that player was that much better than the year before? Or did he just have a larger role or play in a different system. Kevin Durant is significantly better than he was last year, but will not receive a single vote. James Harden is doing the same things he did last year, just getting more minutes and thus inflating his numbers, but will get plenty of votes. Don’t get me wrong, Harden is better than he was a year ago, but his situation has had a great impact on his spiking statistics. Coming in a close second is the sixth man of the year award. I don’t care if you come off the bench, there should be a minutes cap on this award. A “sixth man” who leads his team in total minutes played (JR Smith) should not be in consideration for this award. Again, he is a very solid player who happens to start the game on the bench, but calling him a “super sub” is kind of crazy, as he plays roughly 70% of the game.

Jared: MIP is almost always awarded to a guy who just played more minutes, so yeah. Probably.

Jordan: Most Improved, because it is the most abstract in terms of guidelines. Should we give it to the person whose increased productivity is a result of more minutes, or to the person who went from borderline rotation player to key cog on a playoff team? Maybe we should give it to the person who finally justified his massive contract, but then again, what about the guy who focused on his one real skill, honing it until it made him a force on the court? Too many questions, and too often, the answer never satisfies.

Ricky Rubio: In another life

Original artwork courtesy of Double Scribble‘s Mike McGrath.

This is the next installment of a series called “In Another Life” by Alex Wong where NBA players are thrust into an alternate universe. A little about the author: Alex is from Toronto but still waiting for a contract offer from Bryan Colangelo. He writes about sports and other things at his blog, he tweets a lot, and he’d like it if you listened to his podcast.

It was summer in Barcelona, Spain. Ricky Rubio was about to start third grade in the fall when his parents broke the news to him and his two younger sisters that they were actually packing up and moving to the United States.

At the time, Ricky didn’t think much of it. When you’re that age, there’s not enough experience or smarts to have the capacity to consider all the challenges of going to a new country; a new language, new social customs, new everything, all of that would come later.

He was excited when he heard. Too young to be afraid, it was like a field trip to him. Sure, there were friends he’d leave behind, but traveling to somewhere across the globe was just fine for him. After all, his mom and dad would be there, his two sisters as well, not a worry in the world for young Ricky.

The family never struggled, but they weren’t luxurious and wealthy either; somewhere in the middle, getting by, and a tight-knit group. His dad worked in food and beverages, a corporate events planner who got an offer from a few multinational companies in the U.S.; it was an offer he couldn’t pass up. His wife, a retired nurse, thought long and hard and encouraged him. It was a promotion. There would be sacrifices, but they were together.

It took a while for Ricky to fit in at his new school. He spoke little English, but his infectious smile spoke greater volume than any words he could’ve uttered.

The years flew by. They would visit Barcelona in the summer time, but remember all the friends and relatives that they missed. In eighth grade, Ricky applied for his first job, working the kitchen of the local burger restaurant. His interview had gone well, he would start the next day. If you remember your first job, you don’t remember the paychecks, nor is there any glamor, but the feeling of earning allowance on your own supersedes all of the rest. Or the Friday nights when the manager left early, and you got a chance to give a few free meals to your friends at the drive-thru window. Those were the greatest thrills.

Whether he’s washing the lettuce, dicing onions, or just heating up the buns, Ricky did things a little different. His kitchen manager called it a “flair of his own,” and no one really understood why three months into the job, he still chose to make a smiley face with the condiment spread on the burgers. Co-workers reminded him that no one who was eating that burger would actually see the smile, erased as soon as the buns were placed together to hold the meat.

But Ricky just smiled the way he always did and shrugged it off. Even if it was a low paying gig in a kitchen, you have to make it your own, the personality you add to what you do in life enriches it that much more. Or at least that’s what he believed.

The running joke was that he was hired because too many kids were requesting free smiles from the menu, and the restaurant needed someone they could count on to deliver many times over.

It’s been years since his transition, but Ricky’s parents are still trying to settle in. The language barrier has been bridged after several years, but in work situations, it’s still hard for his father to fit in; once an outsider, always an outsider. It’s the little things that makes mom yearn for home. Television shows in the afternoon she used to enjoy, or the man at the newspaper stand down the block back home who would always offer a free newspaper when she went for a walk with the kids. The smallest differences take the longest, but the kids are enjoying themselves, and that’s important too.

And on nights when he comes home, a young kid still a summer away from high school, with burgers in tow for his two younger sisters. Ricky sits down, kisses mom on the cheek, as they wait for dad to come home from another late night of work. He knows now that there are still challenges of being in a new country. But he appreciates it, puts his arm around his mom, and reminds her: “Change your face. Be happy. Enjoy.”

And in that moment, everything seems just fine.

In the Paint: Supporting Victims of the Boston Marathon Attack

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Monday’s Boston Marathon, many people have been looking for ways to contribute to the recovery of the people involved, their loved ones, and one of our country’s greatest cities. A group of people we all know has found one such way to contribute.

In an effort organized by Spurs blogger Jesse Blanchard, various basketball artists from across the Internet are teaming up to donate proceeds from their sales during the month of April to One Fund Boston, formed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

The participating artists and links to their print shops are below:

Jesse Blanchard

society6.com/pointsinthepaint

@BlanchardJRB

 

Maddison Bond

society6.com/MaddisonBond

@MaddisonBond

 

Bobby Bernethy

society6.com/Bobby_Bernethy

@BobbyBernethy

 

J.O. Applegate

society6.com/BounceX3 or t-shirts at http://skreened.com/bouncex3

@Bouncex3

 

Robb Harskamp

http://www.harsky.com/Online-Shop

@RobbHarskamp

 

Dustin Watson

society6.com/DarkWingIllustration

@DPWatson

 

Double Scribble (only through rest of the week)

DoubleScribble.com

@DoubleScribble

 

Hoop Dream Ink

Society6.com/HoopDreamInk

@HoopDreamInk

For more information, check out Jesse’s full post on the effort here.