Category Archives: RTOE: Round Tables Over Everything

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.

RTOE: Game. Of. The. Year.

You watched Game 6. So did we. You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.

1. Should the Spurs have fouled up by three in the final seconds of regulation?

Jack Winter: To play straight-up looks stupid now, of course, but hindsight is 20-20. Extending a game is dangerous, but giving up a three-point attempt is, too. Catch-22. But if Bosh didn’t get the offensive rebound and kick to Allen, this would all be moot.

Curtis Harris: Strategically perhaps, but as a viewer I applauded the decision to not foul.

Scott Leedy: Yes, no, I dunno. I think in general it’s not a bad strategy, but Ray Allen had to make a pretty ridiculous 3 point shot. Let’s just give Ray credit for that and not worry about it too much. What they should’ve done is play more Tracy McGrady.

Derek James: Again, it’s kind of hindsight to say they should have and if it weren’t for Ray Allen making an unbelievable shot we wouldn’t even be questioning it.

Brian Schroeder: Probably, but I think they (Pop) were trying to not to overthink everything and just play their set. That shot’s not going to go in more than once or twice in a hundred.

Eric Maroun:  If they were going to do it, it should have come with about 7 seconds left in the game when Bosh grabbed the offensive rebound. Fouling earlier in the shot clock would have left way, way too much time on the clock and the last thing the Spurs wanted to do was turn this into a free throw battle down the stretch. That’s something that is much easier said than done though because it’s such a split second decision. I have more of an issue with not having Duncan on the floor and them giving up critical offensive rebounds while Duncan sat on the bench than I do with not fouling there.

Amin Vafa: No. 19 seconds left, even up 3, is too much time for a team like Miami. They could easily nail both FTs and get a stop on the other end. I had no issue with that.

2. Should Dywane Wade have been on the court down the stretch for Miami? Should Manu Ginobili have been on the court for San Antonio? Just how difficult a situation do you think it is for a coach when your stars might not be included in your best lineups?

Jack: Wade ruined Miami’s fourth quarter comeback once he took Mike Miller’s place on the floor; the Heat lost any semblance of spacing offensively, and on more than one occasion were forced to scramble on the other end because he was late getting back. And that was all in the last few minutes of regulation! Don’t even get me started on his play in overtime, most specifically Miami’s final possession. Jesus.

Manu’s struggles are more severe than Wade, but his presence late tells a far different story. He can be counted on to make the smartest basketball play most every possession, and he did so by driving through traffic and looking for contact in the game’s final seconds. He even got some, too, but the officials swallowed their whistles! Would Danny Green have been better in his stead late in the fourth quarter or overtime? Sure, but only because of Manu’s physical errors; not his influence.

Curtis: Both of them shoulda been on the bench more, but Wade did turn up his defense at the game’s end. Manu was an unrelenting hot mess all night. I don’t know how difficult it is to sit these guys, since I’m not a coach, but you’d hope any minutes limitations are understood by these players as a move to improve the team.

Scott: I think it’s pretty impossible. It’s really easy to say on Twitter, but to actually sit Wade in the closing minutes of an elimination game is pretty ridiculously difficult. Spolestra is a great coach, and he’s generally not afraid to make big lineup changes, look at what he did to Udonis tonight. I just think sitting Wade is maybe asking a little too much.

As for Ginobili, he absolutely should’ve sat. Put in T-Mac.

Derek: As far as Wade goes, the numbers back it up that LeBron has been better without him. It’s not just LeBron that he’s affecting; his own numbers tonight were not outstanding, especially his efficiency. However, he does serve as a decoy because he’s still Dwyane Wade and there’s that off-chance he’s going to do something special if you give him the chances, so the Spurs have to be aware of that threat if he’s on the floor.

Ginobili seems like a no brainer, especially tonight with eight turnovers to go with just nine points and four fouls. What’s worse is that he was a -21 tonight, so he certainly didn’t help. Like Wade he has been shown to come alive every now and then, just ask the Warriors.

I saw someone make the point on Twitter (I forget who, sorry) that it’s easier for a coach to go down in a close game with their best players on the floor than on the bench even if they’re struggling, even if they’re killing the team. The greater point was that it’s an obvious way to skirt some postgame criticism by having them out there despite them not being your team’s best player.

Brian: No and no. I imagine it’s incredibly difficult, especially given both coaches’ relatively short leashes with underperforming players. They both opted to ride it out, I suppose.

Eric: Should he have been out there? No. But was there any chance Spoelstra was going to actually take him out? No. Same thing with Ginobili and Popovich. It’s difficult as it is to simply not go down firing with the guys that got you there, but this was much more than that for both Wade and Ginobili. They both have meant so much to their teams over the course of their careers that, no matter how poorly they were playing, there was no chance they were not going to be on the floor, for better or worse.

Amin: I can’t even think about the psychology that goes into benching/playing a core star in moments like that, but I couldn’t help but notice that Miami lost all momentum when Wade came back in. Ginobili missed a FT and got smothered on two drives to the basket. It’s not like he was settling for contested mid-range jumpers. But they were both clearly out of gas, and having more defined shooters and rebounders for both teams would have probably been preferable. But those two guys are great at getting to the line. I DON’T KNOW, OK? IT WAS ALL A BLUR!

3. Which had more to do with Tim Duncan’s quiet second half: fatigue or Chris Bosh?

Jack: Both? Timmy regressed to the mean and Bosh played with great intensity. Spoelstra pointed to the latter’s fourth quarter rest as reason for his increased activity, too.

Curtis: I’m pretending that Duncan’s bad offense in the 2nd half never occurred. Next question, please.

Scott: Tracy Mcgr… Wait no. I’ll go with Bosh. Bosh’s game tonight was really underrated, like always.

Derek: Probably some of both. Fatigue combined with seemingly feeding off of the energy of a headband-less LeBron seemed to be the causes.

Brian:  Fatigue, but Bosh was responsible for a lot of that fatigue, if that makes any sense. I also think the Heat in general just shifted their D enough to make it nearly impossible for him to catch. Bosh was certainly the leader of that D where Duncan is concerned, but it was a concerted effort.

Eric: The Law of Averages coupled with Bosh. It would have been utter insanity and awesomeness to see Duncan drop a 50 point game to clinch the Finals, and he was on pace to do so after the first half, but deep down we all knew he’d cool down at some point. Sure enough, he was nonexistent scoring wise after the third quarter. Bosh had a great defensive game though which contributed heavily to it.

Amin: Let’s split the difference and say Bosh fatigued Duncan. Duncan played over 40 minutes last night, which isn’t really something he does. So fatigue definitely played into it. But Bosh’s defense was great last night. Great job on the boards, getting hands up in faces. TWO HUGE BLOCKS. My God, why did that game have to end again? Oh right, someone had to win.

4. In 10 words or less, describe your reaction to Miami fans leaving the game early.

Jack: They should have stood their ground, amirite?

Curtis: Mmm mmm mmm, a damn shame

Scott: Who cares. I hate the “better fans” stuff.

Derek: I kinda hope the radios in their cars stopped working.

Brian: Unsurprising, but not a condemnation of that fanbase in particular.

Eric: Insulting to every fan base that’d kill for this team.

Amin: They deserve our attention less than they deserve their team.

5. There were about a millon crazy plays in this game; which was the craziest?

Jack: Just because it’s the easy answer doesn’t mean it’s not the right one – LeBron’s missed three-pointer, Bosh’s rebound and Allen’s game-tying three-pointer with five seconds remaining. There’s a last game on Thursday; every play matters to the final outcome, but there wasn’t a sequence more substantial than this one.

Curtis: I enjoyed Ray Allen plowing into the stands and fans taking pics with their cameras instead of giving Ray Ray room to recover.

Scott: Tie between Bosh’s block on Parker and LeBron’s block on Duncan, both were completely insane plays by great players.

Derek: The Ray Allen three, easy. I was out watching the game with some friends and the place erupted. Everything from the scramble for the offensive rebound to the shot itself made it a crazy one.

Brian: Kawhi had a tip in that seemed to violate physics. Like, where he jumped from. I don’t know, maybe I’m remember the entire game as a series of quantum events, never again to be seen on this plane of existence.

Eric: Is it an understatement to say Ray Allen’s 3 saved the Miami Heat’s season, prevented them from losing 2 of the last 3 Finals and setting them up for an off-season where the possibility of breaking up the Miami Triad is explored, potentially single handedly changed the landscape of the NBA for the years to come with that shot, and vaulted this game into one of the greatest NBA games ever played? Because that’s what it felt like.

Amin: It absolutely has to be that Ray Allen 3 for me. Just absolute perfection.

6. Just how good is Headbandless LeBron?

Jack: About as good as Headbanded LeBron when he’s ultra-aggressive and surrounded by three-point shooters.

Curtis: Sleepy Hollow good

Scott: Almost as good as Tracy Mcgrady, or a head banded Rondo riding a triceratops.

Derek: We’re. Not. Worthy. Please, return to your planet and spare our people. We mean you no harm.

Brian: Roughly the same as Headbanded LeBron.

Eric: I made the comment last night that losing his headband was like The Undertaker having Paul Bearer’s urn taken away from him. I thought for sure the headband was the source of his power. Turns out that he kept rolling along even after the headband was gone much like The Undertaker’s winning streak at WrestleMania continued after Paul Bearer retired from the WWE.

Amin: Is “very very very” an answer to this? Because that’s what I’m going with.

7. Boris Diaw. Explain.

Jack: Impossible. Best I can do is to say he’s not biting on LeBron’s subtle fakes and hesitations, and moves far better laterally in a five-foot box than any of us anticipated. He’s thick as hell, too, which is immensely helpful when defending a player that’s so reliant on strength and physicality.

Curtis: Barrel-chested goodness

Scott: Boris Diaw is like a knuckleball, the end.

Derek: LeBron is now 1-14 with Diaw on him? Perhaps it’s because he’s a strong player with a low center of gravity that is just quick enough to guard him outside. Whatever it is it’s just weird. Seeing him put the ball down on the ground and show off both of his post moves was pretty great, too.

Brian: Pancakes are a hell of a drug.

Eric: In the words of the Insane Clown Posse, magnets. No really, his gravitational force field has been something else this series.

Amin: He was getting criticized for “not contributing” by Jalen Rose after the game last night, but I think he was just looking at the stat sheet. Diaw is a fantastic first line of defense against LeBron. He clogs his penetration into the paint, slows him down, and blocks his view from multiple angles with his size and wingspan. Diaw’s defense gives the rest of the team plenty of time to react to where LeBron’s going to go (or where he’s going to pass). I’m loving this Diaw, and I wish he was out there more in crunch time.

8. Miami’s defense shut down Tony Parker for most of the game. Can they do it again in Game 7?

Jack: If LeBron guards Parker from the opening tip, there’s no reason why not; his defense on Parker in the fourth quarter and overtime was absolutely superhuman. He won’t, though, and Parker will feast when James gets a break.

Curtis: With Parker’s hammy injury, it’s definitely possible. Especially late game when they stick Headbandless LeBron on him.

Scott: Not for all 48 minutes, but I expect them to mostly keep him under wraps. When they play defense like they did in that fourth quarter it’s really tough for Parker to find space and get up a quality look.

Derek: Sure, if they play like this. It also doesn’t help Parker that he’s playing on a bad hamstring.

Brian: …No?

Eric: Trying to predict anything in this series is like nailing JELL-O to a tree. It’s just about impossible, completely fruitless, and potentially messy. Parker could come out and score 35 points Thursday and I wouldn’t be surprised. Or he could score 5 points and I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s playing Game 7 on a bad hamstring coming off a game where he shot 6-23 from the field so who knows? If I absolutely had to bet on it, I think he scores 20-22 points Thursday on something like 8-17 shooting. Certainly not chump change, but not a transcendent performance either.

Amin: NOTHING IN THIS SERIES IS PREDICTABLE.

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.

RTOE: The Finals

The NBA Finals start tonight. We’ve got LeBron James, Chris Andersen and the Miami Heat against Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady and the San Antonio Spurs. It’s a match-up of teams that seemingly couldn’t be more dissimilar on the surface, but actually have a ton of similarities in terms of style of play, roster depth, and flexibility. The Spurs walked through most of their playoff run, while the Heat were taken to the brink by the Pacers in the ECF. This looks to be an incredibly even match-up. We’ve got all the important questions – seriously, every single important question; none of the important questions have been left out – covered here.

1. Which struggling superstar is more likely to break out: D-Wade or Manu Ginobili?

Ananth Pandian:

Noam Schiller: Going with Ginobili on a technicality. We’ve been talking so much about Wade being good and bad and good (and mostly bad) that if he does play well, it won’t really be much of a breakout at all. Manu’s better days are more gravy than potatoes, though.

Andrew Lynch: GINOBILIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII. The beauty in both of their games is a willingness that borders on desire to go rogue against such rigorously efficient systems. I give Manu the edge for two reasons: he’s healthier than Wade, and I think another Heat player is more likely than Wade to break out in this series.

Amin Vafa: Wade. I’m pretty sure his blood is a pure mixture of adrenaline and the maximum legal dosage of cortisone.

2. Say LeBron is declared ineligible for the award – which Heat player is most likely to win Finals MVP?

Ananth: Fashion Icon D-Wade

Noam: Probably Chris Bosh. Not that Duncan and Splitter are necessarily worse defensively than Hibbert and West, but they’re definitely less physical. The shackles, they’ll be a-lifted.

Andrew: OH HEY THERE, SEGUE, DIDN’T SEE YOU. I’m going with DinoBot, Mr. Chris Bosh. He was a relative non-factor last series, and a lot of that was his own damned fault. But an equal part was by design. He won’t be a decoy against the Spurs; in fact, I expect him to be 1b to LeBron. Bosh has a recent history of aggressive play against Duncan, and I think the Heat coaching staff will look to attack Splitter with Bosh as well in order to quickly figure out what kind of threat Tiago represents.

Amin: Wade because narrative.

3. Which player will make the most 3-pointers in the series?

Ananth: Matt Bonner – Feed The Red Mamba

Noam: Ray Allen, best 3 point shooter of all time, is in his 3rd Finals, with the third team he played for in his career that still exists in the league. Fine, that last point was kind of strained. Still, Ray Allen.

Andrew: I’m going high volatility and riding with Danny Green. This is the series where IcyHot turns on the fire. (Note: I have 5% confidence in this answer. But when I’m right, I’ll swear I knew it all along.)

Amin: Norris Cole. Because somehow he’s been getting better every round, and it’s sort of confusing but also awesome.

4. You’re Erik Spoelstra: who guards Tim Duncan?

Ananth: Udonis Haslem will provide the muscle on Duncan.

Noam: Bosh. Pick and roll mobility, y’all.

Andrew: I’ll say the general answer is Bosh, but the Heat will likely go to a variety of looks, depending on how they decide to attack the San Antonio pick and roll. If they trap, look for Bosh to be the one guarding the big. Miami might get away with Haslem on Duncan for stretches, though, if they choose to be less aggressive on the ball handler, allowing Bosh to work more as a rim defender and tightening up the rotations on the Spurs’ hammer actions. That would concede a multitude of open midrange looks for Duncan, but the Heat could decide to take that risk over Parker penetration or corner 3s.

Amin: LeBron.

5. You’re Gregg Popovich: who guards Chris Bosh?

Ananth: Chris Bosh’s favorite player growing up, Tim Duncan. Bosh will be in so of awe of TD that he won’t be able to be perform, adding yet another lyric to #LikeABosh

Noam: Splitter. Pick and roll mobility, y’all.

Andrew: I’m torn here. On the one hand, I think Duncan is a better man defender than help defender, and I think Bosh is going to be aggressive toward the rim, so Duncan might be the best choice. On the other, Splitter offers better coverage in the pick and roll. Much like on the other end, it will depend on San Antonio’s choices in the pick and roll. I wouldn’t be surprised if the most common possessions for Miami involved Splitter defending Bosh out high, with Duncan chipping on him down low as the Spurs rotate to Miami’s shooters.
these teams really are mirror images of each other.

Amin: Splitter.

6. So… who ya got?

Ananth: Spurs in 6

Noam: Heat in 6.

Andrew: Heat in 6. I saw an interesting wager on twitter the other day (my apologies for not remember the tweeter and giving appropriate credit): Heat in 4, 5, or 6; or all other outcomes.

I’d take the former. But I wouldn’t like it.

Amin: Heat in 7.

RTOE: Richard Swarbrick’s NBA Finals Montage for ESPN

There is now only one day till the start of the NBA Finals and to get you hyped, ESPN got animator Richard Swarbrick to create a beautiful montage of memorable NBA Finals moments.

Since here at HP we profile talented basketball artists, I reached out to some of them to get their artistic take of Swarbrick’s work. Here’s Robb “Harsky” HarskampMichael ChoDustin WatsonChelsey BoehnkeJ.O. ApplegatePatrick TrubyNick Kastner of Double Scribble, and Eli Neugeboren  with their artistic answers.

1. Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite movies for a number of reasons but the intricate physical details that went into the characters absolutely floors me. Watching this ad, I got the same feeling – so artist recognize artist what are your thoughts of Sawbrick’s ad? 

Harksy: It’s amazing. I watched it 3 times in a row just because it’s so beautiful. This guy is the true meaning of artist.

Michael: My first thought was that it was beautiful work.  Then, like you, I thought of how much work it would be to hand paint that many frames of animation. Kudos to Mr.Sawbrick.

Dustin: I love it! For me, my style is so rigid and well defined – I’m always in awe when artists can say so much while being so loose and fluid with their style. I mean, such simplicity evoking such powerful memories of many of my favorite Finals…I’m a fan.

Chelsey: The stop motion genre is always really visually captivating. There is something kind of endearing about it, I think partially because you can recognize the effort that is behind this type of animation. This ad reminds me a little of William Kentridge, a South African artist who does a similar kind of animation by drawing then erasing charcoal, I enjoyed this spot a lot, I think it touched on every playoff moment that you could tried to recreate as a kid…self-announcing while playing driveway basketball. Nostalgia is pretty powerful, in this case I think it’s the audio in combination with the paintings that makes the ad great. It’s a pretty sensory clip.  Every player moves a certain way and it only takes a few seconds or colors or lines to recognize it — which Richard Sawbrick did in a remarkably effortless way.

J.O.: It’s interesting because I have the opposite reaction- it’s not how much detail is there, but how much is taken out.  This is most likely rotoscoped, which is basically where the artist traces over video frame by frame (think “Waking Life”, “Heavy Metal”, or that “Take on Me” music video).  So knowing what the process is, you see it as him really choosing what details to leave out when he’s going over the original image.  The art is in how far you can abstract it without losing the viewer’s recognition of a scene they’ve seen before. This guy is really a master at that.

Patrick: While it is beautiful to look at, what strikes me most about the ad is the addition of the game audio. There is something very fantastic in hearing the actual sneaker squeaks and announcer calls along with the artwork.

Nick: Sawbrick’s ad is a piece of art – very beautiful.

Eli: It seems like doodly rotoscoping, really reminds me of some of the more loosely animated sections of Linklater’s “Waking Life” or “A Scanner Darkly”. The colors and line quality are a bit Peter Max for my taste, but I dig how the clips are all edited together. Impossible as a hoops fan to watch these and not get emotionally carried away. The hand of the artist personalizes it in a really nice way.

2. In a 2011 interview, Sawbrick said it took him 80 to 90 hours to create a 2 minute animation. Now you are very talented, how long would it take you if you were going to attempt to make something similar – the drawings alone?

Harsky: No joking, it would probably take me 4 hours per image. How many images did he have to create? Wow!

Michael: Since I have only the tiniest experience in animation, I’d have to think it would take at least a month to do that volume of drawing – but I’d have to adjust my stuff to be drawn faster.

Dustin: Hah! Count me out of that one. There’s a reason I stick with doing an illustration of a player and then moving on to the next one. I don’t have the patience or attention span to even attempt something like that. Even doing a series of illustrations of the same player seems daunting…about 2 is my limit.

Chelsey: If Sawbrick did it in 80-90… it’d probably take me two or three times that. His work is really gestural and that takes a significant amount of craft and practice.  I tend to focus a lot on trying to achieve exact likeness when I do portraits or players and this type of animation isn’t about that, it’s about recreating recognizable motion. This type of activity also takes a certain knowledge of anatomy and kinetics to which I think is fascinating; how a body moves and how to represent that. Maybe it’s just coming from a sports fan perspective but I think you’d have to be really familiar/have love for the game and these moments to make it successful. Game recognize (superior) game, this would’ve taken me a millennium.

J.O.: I’ll give a really technical answer- generally traditional animation runs at 24 frames per second (remember when video games used to brag “24 frames per second” on the box?).  Two minutes then would be 2880 frames which basically means 2880 drawings! Even if this is something lower like 10 frames per second, it still would be 1200 frames.  If you roughly divide that out , he’d need to be doing 10-20 drawings an hour.  This shows the difference between rotoscoping and animating/drawing something from scratch. The layout and detail is already there for you, and it’s much easier to keep your drawings consistent.  It’s really a whole different process. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely an art to it and it’s really done to beautiful effect here. I’ve never tried it, but I imagine it would take me much, much longer.

Patrick: I’ve done a few flat black and white gifs from videos. Those are VERY simple to do and have taken me anywhere from 3-5 hours to create 1 or 2 seconds from existing video (which appears to be the process here), so I can imagine if I were to attempt something at this level, it would take me an eternity.

Nick: At least twice that. Maybe 150 – 200 hours.

Eli: I know Patrick Truby has been doing some experiments lately and know how long it took him for a few awesome seconds, so I would extrapolate that to think the 80-90 hours is about right. Plus there would be the learning curve with whatever animation software and figuring out how many frames and tweening and jeez that would be pretty freaking tough. I’d probably break down and pay one of my students to help me out!

3. If someone wanted you to illustrate/draw/paint one iconic moment from the history of the NBA Finals, your pick – what would it be?

Harsky: 1992 Finals. Jordan shrugging his shoulders after he made his 6th 3-pointer vs. the Blazers. Just a great moment burned in my memory.

Michael: I’m tempted to say Jerry Stackhouse’s elbow on Shaq during that first Mavs/Heat series, but I’ll go with Allen Iverson stepping over Tyron Lue.

Dustin: For me, it would definitely be Pippen carrying Jordan back to the bench during the flu game. Perfect metaphor for Jordan’s strength of will and Pippen’s greatness as a teammate, gifted as he was, willing to do whatever was needed to win. I love that image so that would be my choice…well…either that or a dejected Kobe walking off the court with green and white confetti raining down from the rafters after losing to the Celtics in 2008. But that’s just coming from a bitter Suns fan/Laker hater.

Chelsey: For me the greatness of the playoffs is that amplified roughness, sense of urgency etc. Maybe not as inspiring, but one of my favorite moments from playoff history is when Patrick Ewing/Charles Oakley got into it with John Starks (their own teammate) after the Reggie Miller-head butt ejection. It would be really great if there was a soundbite of Starks’ mom yelling at Patrick Ewing afterward but that might be wishful thinking.

My favorite playoff series is the 1992 Bulls-Blazers finals in terms of having literally almost all my favorite players of all time on the court at the same time. It stings a little as a Blazers fan but that Michael Jordan shrug is one of the all time greatest gestures –  “My threes felt like free throws.”

J.O.: In recent memory, I would say either Kevin Garnett’s iconic celebration after the Celtics won, or that  great image of the weight of expectations being lifted off of LeBron that you could see in his face after the Heat wrapped it up. I’m heavy handed and unsubtle, so I would probably literally draw a weight being lifted off of his shoulders.

Patrick: My NBA memory is very short, so I’d probably go with KG yelling “Anything is possible!” as long as I could have the audio go along with it.

Nick: I think it’d have to be Allen Iverson’s 48 point game. It’s one of the best moments that I’ve been alive to see and one that I can vividly remember. Iverson was dominant for brief period of time and it’s one of the few things I can remember.

Eli: I drew Bird/Magic recently, which is what I remember the finals being every year when I was a kid, even though it was only three times. Philly who? Houston what? If I had to pick a non-Celtics moment it might be Jordan’s shot against the Jazz: there was something so concrete about that. Not only did he add to his own mountainous legend, but he closed the door on two other legendary players’ chance at achieving a championship together in Stockton and Malone.

RTOE: Indiana vs. Miami for The Whole Kit and Kaboodle

Miami. Indiana. LeBron. George. Wade. Hibbert. Bosh. Pendergraph. West. Game 7. We didn’t think we’d be here, but we are. I’ve got questions; Amin, Ananth, Jack, Ian, Dylan and Derek have got answers.

1. Erik Spoelstra said in his morning media availability that “Everything is on the table.” What the hell does that mean?

Amin: Based on my background in international affairs, “everything is on the table” typically means that the Heat will first try to negotiate with the Pacers to resolve the conflict. However, if that recourse does not work, they’ll eventually resort to diplomatic sanctions. Then that’ll escalate to economic sanctions. Eventually, we may see an all-out war. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get to that, because no good will come from it.

Ananth: The Heat are going to give it their all just like this kid.

Jack: Spoelstra surely just meant to signify the all-encompassing nature of tonight’s game; that the loser goes home and the winner advances, and only the latter gets the opportunity to play for every team’s ultimate goal. But fans and analysts can take his idiom a step further, as Miami – and its once rock-solid future – is already nearing the edge of an unstable surface. Should they lose tonight, the Heat risk falling off altogether.

Ian: I have no idea. It strikes me as a rather empty threat of creativity given that the Heat have, for the most part, just been plowing ahead for the last three games with a game plan that consists of “ride LeBron’s talent.” The more pressing question is – why hasn’t it been on the table yet?

Dylan: Yes.

Derek: Perhaps someone lost their car keys and he was simply stating where he saw them last. Or maybe it’s coach’s speak for YOLO! Sorry, I’ll never say “YOLO” again in a post. Anyway, I honestly can’t say for certain what that means, but if I had to guess he means adjusting as the game goes and tweaking the pre-game plan as the game goes on. But don’t teams do that anyways? Okay, I have no clue what Spo is talking about.

2. RANK THINGS: Where does Frank Vogel rank in the league’s coaching continuum?

Amin: Continuum? Does that mean the worst coach loops back around to the best coach? As obvious as this may seem, I think Vogel’s definitely in the Top 4 coaches in the league. I think Popovich is better. Maybe Karl. Probably tied with Spo. I think he’s better than Thibs because Thibs has a problem managing minutes (though he gets results). So yeah, I’ll go Top 4.

Ananth: Top 10 for sure. The Pacers have legitimatized themselves as one of the top teams in the East and let’s not forget that Vogel can spin a basketball on a toothbrush.

Jack: Just outside the hallowed ground of the Popovich/Thibodeau twosome, alongside revered champions like Carlisle and Rivers, legends like Karl and upstarts like Spoelstra. Popular (and flawed) narrative suggests Vogel can’t reach coaching’s current Rushmore without a title on his resume, but that his name bears that discussion at all is a testament to the awesome job he’s done since taking over as Indiana’s headman in 2010.

Ian: In the present tense, somewhere between Doc Rivers and Rick Adelman.

Dylan: Top 7, or thereabouts. It’s difficult to judge his rotation skills because his bench is a steaming pile of terrible, and allowing Vogel to lap up the credit for Paul George/Roy Hibbert’s emergence seems crooked – or, at the very least, unjust to a nameless assistant(s). But Indiana is winning in spite of its turnovers and bench and general disdain for offense, and that counts for something in Vogel’s favor, probably.

Derek: Probably top-5. In addition to Pop, Spo and Karl, I’d throw Rick Adelman in the top (He got Derrick Williams to play something that resembled defense this year, ya know.) and then I’d probably throw Vogel in there, too. Ever since Vogel took over he was able to endear himself to his players and then implemented a defensive scheme that vaulted the Pacers among the league’s best teams.

3. Predict LeBron’s final stat line.

Amin: LeBron’s definitely getting a triple double tonight. No question. I’ll say 38 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, 12/14 from FT, 2-6 from 3pt, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 4 TOs, 2 PFs. 46 minutes. Did I miss anything?

Ananth: Triple double – 25+ pts, 10+ rebounds, 10 assists.

Jack: 33 points (12-21 FGs), 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, 3 steals, 3 turnovers.

Ian: 26 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 technical, 36 angry stare-downs of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, 4 blocks, 1 lonely walk back to the locker room to ponder his future.

Dylan: 32 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 TOs, 12/20 FGs, 1 smile.

Derek: 32/12/10 with the 10 assists meaning that I’m predicting that one of Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh have a bounce back game and they get a bench player to chip in.

4. Compare this game and/or series to a 90s band.

Amin: This series is like Better than Ezra because both of these teams are better than Ezra.

Ananth: Soul Asylum mainly because of their song ‘Runaway Train’ which will be LeBron tonight. A runaway freight train that will just be taking it to the Pacers.

Jack: Toad the Wet Sprocket. This series needed one more hit to reach the level some of its games and sequences deserve, but die-hards will appreciate its brilliance nonetheless.

Ian: A Tribe Called Quest. Rich with complexity. Niche aesthetics. Personality to spare. Tremendous highs and regrettable lows. An undefinable hint of larger themes and narratives. Somehow lacking the mass appeal commensurate with the collected array of talent.

Dylan: How about a song? Slow Cheetah, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Miami’s the Cheetah, Indiana’s the Slow, but the game will be Red and Hot and Chili and Peppers will be involved.

Derek: The Pacers are Alice in Chains post-”Facelift” and pre-”Dirt”. “Facelift” was the album that really put the band on everyone’s radar, but “Dirt” was the one that established them as a band worthy of the same renown as some of the eras other greatest bands. So, if last year was the year the Pacers truly put themselves on everyone’s radar with Danny Granger serving as their “Man in the Box”, then Roy Hibbert, Paul George, David West and George Hill are their “Rooster”/”Would?”/”Angry Chair”/”Down in a Hole”. So this means that if they win tonight the Pacers get their “Dirt” moment, but if they don’t I suppose this is at least a “Sap” or “Jar of Flies” worthy season.

5 So… who ya got?

Amin: Miami… in a squeaker. LeBron and Wade are going to live at the FT line tonight. It’s going to be agonizing to watch them do it, but the foul calls will be correct (except for ~2).

Ananth: Heat in a close one. Honestly think that Birdman coming back is one of the differences. The other being LeBron.

Jack: Miami, in a game closer than the final score indicates.

Ian: An emphatic Tyler Hansbrough leaping fist pump. D.J. Augustin jubilantly leaping into the arms of Sam Young. Frank Vogel and Brian Shaw swinging each other around at center court, arm-in-arm. Roy Hibbert giving Paul George a piggy-back ride up the tunnel. Probabilities be damned, I’ll take fun. I’ll take the Pacers.

Dylan: Miami Heat. You only pick against Miami for the chance to yell “I told you so” a few times thereafter.

Derek: I want to say Heat, but I’m not terribly confident in that pick. The Pacers have already taken one in Miami and played them tough all year, but it’s hard to see the Heat not coming out strong at home, regardless.

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.

LADI DADI HAPPY BIRTHDAY HADDADI: RTOE

Yes, Hamed. You get one for your birthday. 

1. Write a haiku about Hamed Haddadi.

Noam Schiller:

Hamed Haddadi
Has a beard that looks as if
He has seven beards

Jared Dubin:

Ladi dadi who
Likes Hadadi? Me. I do.
I think you should too.

Jordan White:

See the grizzled beard
The proud, purposeful footsteps
That announce Hamed

Derek James:

With a name like Hamed’s
Haikus can be challenging
But happy birthday!

Amin Vafa:
Salam Baradar.
Tavalodet Mobarak.
Chand salet eh?

2. Write a limerick about Hamed Haddadi.

Noam Schiller:
There once was a center, Haddadi,
Who in Memphis threw basketball parties,
But when traded, poor Hamed,
To the Raps, Canada said,
“He can’t enter”, so he whooped up Bacardis.

Jared Dubin:

I have no idea how to write limericks,
But I think Hamed Haddadi is pretty cool.
I hope you all like this limerick,
But if not it’s okay to call me a fool.

Jordan White:
Once a bear, then a dinosaur, now a star
Hamed Haddai has travelled far
How dare a Canadian
Deny this Olympian
And his 10.18 PER

Derek James:
I had to learn to write a limerick
But now I think I can do this
This goes out to Hamed in Phoenix
Traded all the way from Memphis
To get some of Beasley’s Skittles

Amin Vafa:
There once was a boy from Ahwaz,
Whose arms stretched across the strait of Hormuz.
He was the best player in Asia,
He well-represented Persia,
And his rise in the NBA was great news.

3. Write an across poem about Hamed Haddadi.

Noam Schiller:
Haddadi, noble backup centerman,
Are you fact? Are you fiction?
Maybe you were created by poets,
Eager to enlighten our lives with a presence, a
Deity, who rebounds and stays out of foul trouble.

Jared Dubin:
He’s
A
Manly
Eastern
Dude

Jordan White:
He
Always
Makes
Everyone
Delighted

Derek James:
H: He
A: Always
M: Makes
E: Easy
D: Dunks

Amin Vafa:
He’s a shining beacon of hope for
All us short Iranians across the globe hoping that
Maybe one day we could develop
Even a modicum of basketball talent, so we could
Dunk on a ten-foot hoop.

4. Compare Hamed Haddadi to any 90s movie.

Noam Schiller:
Mallrats. Hamed just chills every day at random mall-like locations, and much like dating shows, he’s a throwback on the court. I have no idea what I’m saying.

Jared Dubin:
Hamed Haddadi is Glengarry Glen Ross. He is not fuckin with you. He’s here on a mission of mercy.

Jordan White:
Batman Returns. I have no reasoning, other than it just sounds right.

Derek James:
Batman Forever. There are lots of good bigs in the NBA, so we tend to forget about some of the guys who come off of the bench, especially on lottery teams. Batman Forever is one of those movies that you forget about because the sequel to it, Batman and Robin, was so bad that people began to view the Joel Shumacher reboots of the Batman series more of a lottery team than a fringe playoff team. But when you go back and re-watch you see some things that still stand out to you. Is Hamed Haddadi Batman? I’ll answer that with a question: Have you ever seen them in the same room together? I rest my case.

Amin Vafa:
My Cousin Vinny. It’s an awesome movie with an underdog protagonist, doing what he does best in a geographic region outside his comfort zone. He just gets in there, makes it look easy, dominates.

5. Which NBA team would win the championship with Hamed Haddadi on its roster?

Noam Schiller:
Yes.

Jared Dubin:
Is this a trick question? All of them. (Except Phoenix)

Jordan White:
The better question is, which roster wouldn’t be guaranteed a championship if they added Hamed Haddadi. And the answer to that is: none.

Derek James:
You know what? The Heat and Spurs could get better if they added a player like Haddadi who averages 12.7 rebounds Per 36 minutes and has a career Total Rebound Percentage of 20.7.

Amin Vafa:
The Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, or Wizards. Look, DC, Dallas, and LA have massive Iranian diaspora populations. You know how you keep the MVP of the AsiaBasket tourney happy? Surround him with some decent Iranian grocery stores and a kabob restaurant or two. Also, Hamed: Next time you’re in DC, let’s go to dinner.

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.

RTOE: BRITTNEY GRINER AND THE NBA

“If she is the best on the board, I will take her. I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it already. Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50′s draft pick has a good chance of making it.” – Mark Cuban on the possibility of drafting Brittney Griner 

It’s the topic that has been blowing up Twitter all day. Could Brittney Griner, fresh off arguably the most dominating career in women’s college basketball history, make it in the NBA? What would happen if she was selected? I enlisted the help of Steve, Jared, Amin, and Derek to answer these questions and more.

1. Make your best case for why she could succeed in the NBA.

Eric: Basketball wise, she’s 6’8″ with an 88″ wing span, possesses great timing on the defensive end, is a fantastic shot blocker, can rebound the ball, and shot 60% from the field this season. Intangibles wise, she would come in to the league with a chip on her shoulder with no shortage of people telling her that she’s going to fail spectacularly. The extra motivation of wanting to prove people wrong could conceivably push her game to the next level and allow her to be successful in the NBA.

Steve: Although the league as a whole is growing ever more athletic, the emphasis is more on finesse and flexibility than brute strength. Sure, there are players like Pekovic who bang inside, but he seems like the exception instead of the rule. As such, a very athletic woman player seems like she could find a place on the right team with the right scheme. The scheme is the second important part of this; deployed in a disruptive way to change the complexion of the game, Griner could be effective as a small-ball power forward in spots.

Jared: She’s 6’8 and presumably has some basketball skills, which is more than you can say for a bunch of NBA bench players.

Amin: She’s a fantastic basketball player, and gender segregation is fucking stupid.

Derek: Well, if you’re the NCAA’s all-time leader in blocks (men’s or women’s) then you clearly have some instincts, and being 6’8 with a 7’1 wingspan which makes her an NBA sized perimeter player, and MAYBE a small ball four at best. And of course shooting 60% isn’t bad either.

2. Make your best case for why this could fail.

Eric: She’s never faced anything remotely close to an NBA level of competition before. While her height allows her to be dominant at the women’s level playing against opponents who are, on average, shorter than her, she will be simply average height when going up against NBA players on a nightly basis which should, theoretically, diminish the number of shots she will be able to block. As with any other rookie in the league, she’ll be adjusting to an 82 game schedule as well, complete with back to backs. Add in the media scrutiny and taunts she will surely receive on the road, and it becomes easy to see why the odds are stacked against her.

Steve: There are very few teams that could do this right. You need a team whose culture is stable enough that the trust of the players in that system would not be questioned over this, over whether it was just a PR move. The Spurs come immediately to mind, maybe the Heat. But with a team like Dallas where Cuban seems to be casting around for attention, I think it weakens the internal structure of the team. And not because she’s a woman, but because it’s too easy to view it as a stunt.

Jared: While she’s an overpowering, overwhelmingly athletic center for her college team, she’d likely be an underwhelmingly (in comparison to NBA players at her position) athletic small forward with a weight disadvantage against nearly every opponent in the NBA. She’d need to develop skills I don’t know if she has (cards on the table: I’ve never watched her play a full game. I’ve only seen SportsCenter highlights). And then there’d be the whole media circus thing, which can throw off anyone, man or woman.

Amin: Two reasons: A) She’d likely be playing out of position, and that would take some getting used to (a time period for which many teams might not have patience). B) She’s a woman entering a male-dominated profession who will likely face discrimination by players and fans. That seems pretty hard to deal with to me.

Derek: Well, at 6’8 and 200 pounds she would not be an NBA center, meaning she would have to learn an entirely new position while going against players with athleticism she has never seen before. As Kelly Dwyer pointed out, Mavs center Brandan Wright is 6’9 or so and 210 pounds and he has struggled to get much burn in the NBA, and Griner is smaller than he is. And then there’s just the physical differences between men and women which would be difficult to overcome at this level. That’s not sexist or saying in any way that women aren’t as good as men, or that her achievements are lesser because she’s a woman; it’s just scientific fact given the way our bodies are.

Let me change direction for a moment and remind ourselves that we’ve also seen tons of players that were terrific college players, but struggled to adapt to the speed of the NBA and adjust to facing more talented players that are also more athletic than they were used to. We’re talking about the NBA, where even the less-talented players can be ridiculously athletic. You don’t think the learning curve for Griner would be even steeper here when you take into account everything I mentioned above?

3. Hypothetically, your favorite team is picking in the middle of the second round in the draft. Would you be OK with taking her?

Eric: As a Cavs fan who has seen Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Dion Waiters struggle with injuries all year thereby weakening an already suspect bench by thrusting usual bench guys into starting roles, I would be fine with taking anyone who could add even a modicum of depth to the team. I don’t care whether they come from the Harlem Globetrotters, the AND1 Mixtape tour (BRB guys, ordering a Professor jersey), or women’s college basketball. For every Daniel Gibson that the Cavs have taken in the second round in the past years, I swear to you Gibson used to be at least semi-productive, there are the Milan Macvans and Ejike Ugboajas of the world. Would I take Griner over those guys who will never see the light of day on an NBA court? Sure.

Steve: I’m not okay with David Kahn drafting anyone ever period.

Jared: No. The Knicks are win now. All rookies need to have at least 10 years of NBA experience. (Don’t check my math on that.)

Amin: I’ll answer for both of my teams: If the Cavs draft her, I don’t think there’s any problem. All the guys on the Cavs are young (about her age), and they’ll have grown up in a more gender-neutral era. They could be pretty welcoming. If the Wizards draft her, then Ernie Grunfeld will probably find a way to stash her overseas, like so many of the 2nd-round Wizards draft picks before her. He’ll get really confused when she pleads that she’s from America, and she’ll still probably play ahead of Jan Vesely and Cartier Martin anyway.

Derek: If it were the Timberwolves, I’d say no because I could do without the draft day sideshow and jokes. And much of the reason why I would only want to see it is if they were going to give her a serious chance to make the team, and not just a PR stunt, because she is talented and deserves to have a legitimate shot at utilizing those talents. As Cuban himself said, what’s the difference with taking her with the 50th pick or taking someone else if the success rate is about the same? Either way, I’d only like to see her selected or invited to camp if someone was going to give her a real chance. I have no problem with her being selected, or invited to camp because she’s a woman, and I’d like to see her be successful at it, but I would want to see it done right. Regardless of gender/race/orientation/religion, if someone thinks they could help the team, then bring ‘em in, but don’t do it thinking, “Hey, look! We got a girl on our team!”

4. What would the general reaction be among players on the team that drafted her? 

Eric: I think it goes without saying that at first, there would absolutely be some trepidation. Any time that a barrier (racial, gender, or otherwise) is broken, you are going to have differing opinions in the locker room. Some will be staunchly against it, some will go out of their way to embrace it, and some will reserve opinion for a later time. At the end of the day though, athletes in any sport are about winning. As Charles Barkley put it when he was asked about his opinions on playing with a gay teammate, “I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.” If Griner proves to be better than any other option that would be considered for that position, eventually her teammates would accept her.  

Steve: I think there are layers to the reaction. I think our assumption that they would have a problem with it is a very surface-level reaction that treats all jocks as misogynist assholes—which is not to say that some of them will have that reaction. Overall, I think NBA players have a very deep appreciation for their fellow players, whatever their gender. In some ways, professional women basketball players are a lot closer to NBA pros than male college players. I’d like to think there’s a mutual understanding there among a lot of players in the NBA and WNBA right now. But on the other hand, no matter their genuine opinion, you’re going to have a hard time getting a good read on it because they’re so good at toeing the line of saying the right thing while saying absolutely nothing.

Jared: Would probably depend on the team. The Spurs (players) would welcome her with open arms, even though the front office would never take her because they hate media attention. The Kings coaches would manage deploy her wrong and playing with Reke and Boogie would ruin her spirit. Her and Jimmer would be fast friends, though. The Nets would put her on every billboard in America and Kris Humphries would try to get her into his commercial with James Harden for next season. Brook Lopez would take her to a few comic book shops in Brooklyn. Kobe would take her under his wing and give her a nickname, like he did for Pau (Swan) and Nash (Gatsby) but hasn’t done for Dwight (Dwight).

Amin: I think it depends on the age of the players on the team. If the core of the team is young, then they’ll be more welcoming, just by virtue of being raised in a less discriminatory era. I don’t know how welcoming, but it’s a pretty common phenomenon that discrimination biases tend to get weaker generation by generation.

Derek: I’m sure it would be a different dynamic than they were used to, especially for veterans. Really, all of the basketball stuff is the same, but they may treat her differently, I don’t know. I’m sure that as far as the locker room stuff went, if the WNBA can have male coaches with a female team, a male team and male coach could make it work with a female player on the roster. Now that I think about it, it is interesting we’re discussing the possibility of a female player before we are discussing a female general manager or head coach. It would seem to me that having a female general manager or head coach would more likely set the precedent for having a female player, but this is where the discussion has come first. Just a thought.

5. What’s the ratio between the decision to take her because she helps your team vs the decision to take her because it drives interest (Marketing, PR, etc.)?

Eric: In an ideal world, this would be a 100/0 ratio with helping the team on the court being the only reason she would be selected. Unfortunately, I think it’s closer to a 30/70 blend league wide. Of course, it’s going to depend on the team that takes her. Mark Cuban and Co. might take her both for the marketing opportunities and because they rank 28th in the NBA in rebounding rate this year. For the most part, however, I see a team taking her in an effort to sell more tickets, be the topic of discussion on PTI, and set the blogosphere ablaze. I hope I’m wrong.   

Steve: I feel like this ratio has to be as close to 1:1 as possible for it to make sense for the above stated reasons. If it doesn’t make sense from a basketball perspective, any marketing or PR gain will quickly dissipate. But it’s equally true that no rational person could buy taking her as a strictly basketball decision. At best, any rookie requires time and acclimation to the league, and you can bet on that being even more fraught for Griner.

Jared: Again depends on the team. If a team took her specifically to drive interest, that would suck. I’d hope any team spending a draft pick on her would value draft picks enough not to spend one solely for PR purposes.

Amin: That’s gotta depend on the team. You’d like to think that teams draft only to try to help get better, but I guess that’s not the case. If she’s drafted in the 2nd round, the earlier she’s drafted, the more likely she is to be used (because those teams are worse and have rotations that need players). The later she’s drafted, the less likely she’ll be used (better teams, deeper rotations).

Derek: That’s the thing considering she’d be learning a new position and going against far better athletes, I’m not sure just how much NBA people would actually think she could help a team. She would certainly have to prove a lot in exhibition play, and that leads me to believe that it would mostly be a PR stunt.

6. Why not take her? Seriously, what’s the harm in this?

Eric: The biggest drawback is if a GM takes Griner, she turns out to be completely overmatched, and someone selected after her goes on to be a rotation player or, in the worst case scenario for that GM, a starter in the league. That GM will have to go through the rest of his career with the equivalent of a scarlet letter on his chest and forever be branded as the guy that took a woman over [Insert rotation player/starter's name here]. Do we hold every other GM in the league accountable for allowing 56 picks to go by before Manu Ginobili was selected in 1999? No, of course not. Will that stop people from criticizing the GM who took Griner? No, of course not.

Steve: I think the greatest risk it poses is to the idea of building the culture of the team, something that Stan Van Gundy alluded to numerous times when he spoke at the Sloan Sports Conference. A team is not made simply by making the best decision at every opportunity. I know: that sounds weird. But we—all of us—are the products of both good and bad decisions. It’s both impossible and undesirable to only make the right choices. It’s paralyzing, first of all, and secondly, it leads to a sense of instability when you’re talking about an entire organization. This is why I think a team like the Spurs can deal with this: their culture is rock solid, and it says, “We can take anyone who has skills and make him (or her, I guess) a Spur.” For a team that has principles of how they grow the team, this could work so long as it’s seen as something that grows the team according to those principles. If a team doesn’t have those principles, it risks being seen as a shot in the dark.

Jared: Because she would probably be available as an undrafted free agent.

Amin: The only harm in it would be psychological to her because of the very-likely-ignorant crap that’ll be flung at her. But if she can play, and she wants to play, and she’s picked up, there is zero harm.

Derek: Well, you probably figure out a way to sell more tickets to those preseason games that you just can’t move, and season ticket holders may be more inclined to attend them instead of giving them away or letting them go unused. And they probably could sell some merchandise off of it, of course. However, the harm that I could see coming from a franchise’s standpoint is if you make it look like a PR stunt or a cash grab if you didn’t play your cards right. As far as basketball reasons I don’t see much harm at all, though. I would really hate to see more of the current dialogue continue of, “Is she a woman?” and ignorant stuff like that, and I don’t see that going away even if she were successful. But as Amin mentioned above it would be a reality she would have to face, and she would have to be mentally strong to deal with that possibly intensifying in the NBA.