Added on 15 June 2011
Post-Finals video. Eric’s first go.
Tuesday night I watched The 0-8 Wizards kill my hometown “Craptors” (MEGA-ZING!!) to get their first win. Over at Grantland, Joe House is about as pumped up as you can for what he calls “ the worst team in the National Basketball Association, and possibly life” and has a fpoint plan of his own to continue the momentum. Sadly, Wednesday night saw the Wizards travel to Chicago and lose to the Rose-less Bulls during which they did many Wizardy type things.
Anyways, I’m going to assume for the purpose of me criticizing that Joe House is not at all tongue in cheek with any of his suggestions. So, with that disclaimer, here’s why you don’t amnesty Rashard Lewis:
1 – Sure Shard has become a nuisance. His only value at this point is as a spot up shooter off the bench and as a veteran leadership guy and has as recently as last week apparently shirked that duty. But the amnesty is a last resort in my eyes. It’s the nuclear option. What if Ernie Grunfeld just sent Lewis home? What if he skipped the benching and emptied his locker, removed his name plate and told him to pack his bags? No more Four Seasons hotel rooms and no more charter airlines. Tell Shard that maybe he can come back if the Wiz decide they need him (which they don’t/won’t). Send Shard to his room without his per-diem dinner and don’t let him out till he apologizes for being a jackass. One of two things happens here. Either he stays home for two years and kills any chance of ever playing NBA ball again OR he saves face by putting on his Wizard hat and realizing he’s making more money than anyone but Kobe. #NoDinnerForShard
2 – You have to pay him regardless. His salary doesn’t just disappear. Uncle Ted (notice who he doesn’t credit in that link) has to CTC even if Shard is amnestied. The $21.1 million this year is already sunk because the amnesty window is closed until July so we’re talking about $22.69 million next season. But…
3 – Next year Shard’s deal ends and is non-guaranteed. Next year’s money is $10m guaranteed with the rest as performance based. Again, If he’s so epically persona non grata SEND HIM HOME. He can’t reach his performance bonus’s if he’s playing 2k on his damn couch. To be noted, I’m sure the
Trade Association Players Association would file a grievance based on this point. Also, if the performance bonus’s are prorated per the length of the deal it dilutes this point to a degree.
4 – Even if the Wiz use the amnesty on Shard and Uncle Ted cuts that cheque, who are the Wiz going to use that cap space on? NOBODY of consequence is signing with this squad. John Wall ain’t no Derrick Rose and having Derrick Rose apparently can’t convince Dwight to sign in Chicago.
5 – Andray Blatche. This is a guy who openly questions his coach on day one of the season an follows up by preaching team accountability. Ok, so traditional leadership isn’t his strong suit. No problem, he can lead by example and make a statement with hustle and smart play. Most importantly, John Wall LOVES playing with the guy, right? I’m not so sure the Wizards want to hold that deal to 2015. More so, I’m not so sure Blatche holds any sort of trade value.
This is why you don’t just through away the amnesty on Shard. I mean, even Joe House thinks that Blatche has to go. Everyone at the Wiz/Raps begged Flip to bench Blatche. THIS IS THE GUY YOU AMNESTY.
The Wizards have 2(00) problems, Blatche and Lewis (are but two) and only one amnesty to disappear one of said problems. So who’s the bigger problem in the house of Leonsis? Well, only time can tell which overpaid, malcontented, non-leader should get the axe but there is a way to take care of both of them.
Unless you hate joy and smiling, you should watch the above Serge Ibaka scrum that followed Spain’s win over France in the EuroBasket final on his 22nd birthday. It’s five minutes of pure Ibaka happiness, with him excitedly thanking his teammates, the awesome Lithuanian fans, and his Congolese fans who understood his decision to play for Spain. In typical Thunder fashion, he was humble when asked about his five blocks in five minutes (!!!) in the first half and, when asked about possibly blocking LeBron James next summer at the Olympics, offered the following understatement: “If one day I block LeBron, I’ll be happy. It is something not easy.”
I’m not jealous of the writers who are ranking players right now. You have to first identify all the possible candidates (i.e. if you’re going for a top 5, figure out a top 15 first and if you’re doing a top 100, you’re probably going to start with 150-175), then you have to figure out exactly what the criteria is (i.e. is it players who are most valuable, who have the best body of work, who you personally think will be the best when the NBA comes back), then you have to spend hours and hours and hours cutting the lists down and making almost impossible, arbitrary decisions on if Player X is slightly better than Player Y. As you’re doing this, you’re profiling each and every player, watching their possessions on Synergy, looking at statistics, and trying not to throw your laptop out of your window.
Then, after all your hard work, when you’re as comfortable as you ever will be with your rankings (maybe 50% comfortable) and blurbs (hopefully 80% comfortable), you post them. And your loving readers give you thoughtful feedback like, “Top 100 scrubs….perhaps..but c’mon…”1 while your Tweetdeck fills up with people saying rankings are hacky.
It has to be bothersome, especially because we all know rankings are kind of hacky. They’re often a cheap way to put meaningless “analysis” out there. And this is why i want to take a moment to appreciate those who are making the effort to do it right, to use rankings as an excuse to do great work and give their readers insight. For the billiointh time, I’m going to quote Kelly Dwyer:
…if you’re – if we’re – to be told something, then we should be told “why” as well. Not just talked down to. Because in every column you write, you are reintroducing yourself to your old readers and introducing your voice to new readers. Even if you repeat yourself, so what? You have to stay humble and constantly restate your qualifications without appearing simpering or insecure.
Sebastian Pruiti ranked his five top post players today. He discussed how Dirk creates space with his left foot, Carmelo draws fouls, and LeBron willingly kicks it out when double-teamed. He used per-possession stats. And because he knew placing LeBron on his top 5 over Kobe could create a stir, he directly explained, with numbers, why he made that tough decision.
Zach Lowe’s Top 100 list has Serge Ibaka at 67 and Andrea Bargnani at 66. If one of my friends sent me a list with these guys side-by-side, in that order, I’d think my friend was just trying to get a reaction out of me. Ibaka is one of my favorite players in the league and, uh, let’s just say I’m not bullish on Bargs. But if I was to get mad at Lowe for doing this, I’d be an unbelievable asshole. He knew that putting Bargnani in that spot would be controversial, so he wrote enough about his rationale to constitute a post on its own. He backed up his opinion with a mini-scouting report. Lowe even acknowledged that he’d have no argument if you put the four more defensively-apt big men occupying slots 70-67 ahead of him.
During this lockout, finding content worthy of a blog post can be a difficult task. Sometimes, this obstacle can breed creativity and sometimes it means we’re stuck writing another goddamn post about a player “considering” going to Europe. It’s not like there are normally games on right now, but there would at least be transactions to analyze at this time of the year. There would be predictions to make that didn’t come with the “if there’s a season” caveat. Finding a way to write about basketball rather than CBA negotiations is tricky and with guys like Pruiti, Lowe, and the CBS trio doing so, we’re learning things. Sure, rankings are kind of pointless, but the ranking themselves aren’t the point. Predictions are pointless on their own, too, but I want to read what knowledgeable people think will go down if I get to see how their brains work at the same time.
There are enough things to be cynical about right now if you’re a die-hard basketball fan. This stuff? No way. We have to appreciate it. It’s a reminder that despite having no idea when the hell we’re going to see NBA basketball resume, the blogosphere makes it a pretty great time to be a fan.2
Lawrence Frank was introduced as the new coach of the Pistons today and, because of the lockout, he couldn’t even mention the players he was hired to coach. Makes a lot of sense, right? No, no it doesn’t. Despite this ridiculous limitation, reading the recaps of the presser felt just like reading the recaps of any other coach’s introductory presser to me. Some quotes:
We’re gonna be a defense first team, a rebounding team, an attack offensive team. It’s hard to play good defense, it’s a collective effort mindset and trust, it’s about having a system and believing in it.
First and foremost, culture always starts with a work ethic. Investment vs. entitlement. You get yourself into a lot of problems if people feel entitled. The head coach has to enforce accountability. Every player wants the coach to challenge them but also connect with them.
I am very optimistic about this hire, for reasons articulated perfectly by Noam Schiller and Kelly Dwyer a couple of weeks ago. But to me, these quotes are essentially meaningless. Pretty much every coach comes in and says they want to change the culture and focus on defense. When John Kuester was hired, I was optimistic, too. And a few months later, in training camp, Dan Feldman cleverly pointed out that we should be careful about getting too excited about any new coaching hire. That piece is a fun one to re-read now.
Hiring Frank is an important first step toward fixing this Pistons team. He should turn out to be great for their young players. In order for Detroit to return to relevance, though, Joe Dumars is going to have to make some much more difficult moves that will revamp their strangely-assembled roster that didn’t give its last two coaches a chance to succeed.
Holy shit, people. Look at Spencer Hawes. First he puts the space needle in his head to show support for Seattle. Then he posts a picture of his dog eating from the table…
And now this! Look at him being all awesome on Twitter, calling out David Stern and the owners. I’m officially removing Mr. Hawes from my admittedly short NBA Hate List. Take all the jumpers you want, Spence. I won’t complain. Okay, I might complain. But if somebody reminds me of this post, I’ll be taken right back to August 2, 2011, when I hated a lot of things about the NBA but Spencer Hawes certainly wasn’t one of them.
It seems the plan in Toronto is to keep Andrea Bargnani around, in hopes that the additions of head coach Dwayne Casey and center Jonas Valanciunas will be able to pull off a feat that has never been done: incorporate him into an above-average defense. This plan worries me.
Before I start questioning what the Raptors are doing, I should point out that Sebastian Pruiti has posted an excellent piece on why the Bargnani-Valanciunas combo should work, along with a breakdown of Bargs’ defense that goes beyond the typical “HE SUX!1!” you might read on a popular Raptors message board. This is must-read stuff. This did not, however, make me entirely comfortable with the idea of the former #1 pick (man, how much less criticism would he receive if he was picked lower?) sticking around for the long haul.
Maybe Bargnani and Valanciunas will be an excellent duo. In theory, it’s definitely possible — Bargs improves his awareness and tries a bit harder under Casey, Valanciunas covers up the weaknesses that are still there. Their skillsets fit together rather neatly, as Pruiti pointed out. I wonder if that isn’t putting too much on young Jonas, though. The guy is going to come into the league at age 20 with high expectations and, while he adjusts, it’d help to have a frontcourt partner who can help take the pressure off of him rather than having it the other way around.
Bargs catches a lot of heat because of his style of play. People in Toronto rightly or wrongly criticize his heart and his toughness partially because of his tendency to stick to the perimeter and partially because he has been an atrocious help defender and rebounder for the entirety of his career. For me, though, this is not just a style thing, even if I admit that I’m partial to bigs who play like bigs. It’s great that Bargs does things on the offensive end that are incredibly difficult to guard. He requires defensive attention, and on a team that doesn’t have a ton of quality offensive players anymore, this is valuable. It’s just that he’s so historically bad at defense that I don’t think it balances out. Yeah, he can play good one-on-one D, but with the scarcity of quality post players in today’s NBA, I wonder how much this skill matters.
I fear that adding Casey and Valanciunas might merely prolong an experiment that should not be salvaged. Hope that’s not the case. Either way, though, this will be his last chance. If there is a 2011-2012 season, Bargnani will not be asked to play the 5. When Jonas comes over in 2012-2013, I cannot imagine the franchise accepting another season of easy baskets in the paint. Until now, the built-in excuses of “he needs a defensive-minded coach” and “he’s playing out of position” were there to protect him. Not anymore.
I’ll just go ahead and admit it: I was one of the people who thought the Bucks would be good last year. Normally I wouldn’t bet on a team that came out of nowhere to overachieve, then gave out long-term deals to Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden, but I made an exception. Milwaukee desperately needed scoring, and dammit, I’ve seen Maggette and Gooden be competent scorers. I also hoped Andrew Bogut would return to something resembling full health at some point and Brandon Jennings would build on his impressive rookie year.
It, uh, didn’t work out. The Bucks finished 35-47 and had the worst offense in the league. Worse than the evil, evil Cavaliers. Bogut toughed it out as much as he could and anchored what would be the league’s fourth-best defense, but strangely he struggled to finish around the rim and make free throws with one functional arm. He was one of four players (Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, Maggette) who missed games because of concussions. Jennings broke a bone in his left foot, failed to significantly improve his shooting, and inspired doubt from some of those who once fully believed in his ability to be a star. Bogut admitted recently to Hoopshype, “the chemistry of the team obviously wasn’t strong this year for whatever the reason and that’s why we had a bad season.” It felt like everything went wrong and the team I was so excited about in October ended up becoming a chore to watch before the end of the calendar year.
So… of course I’m betting on them again. If their regression was more because of the fact they missed more games due to injury than any other team in the league and less because Scott Skiles teams are just bad at offense, then there’s no reason they can’t bounce back. Considering that the Beno Udrih/Shaun Livingston combo should give them much more than Keyon Dooling did, Stephen Jackson should give them more than Corey Maggette did, and the departed John Salmons was unproductive last year anyway, they have a chance to make a huge leap in the standings.
This all hinges on Jennings, though. With the roster upgrades and a marginally improved young point guard, the Bucks can go from a horrendous offensive team to merely a bad one. With a greatly improved one, though, they can go from a horrendous offensive team to an average one. The Bulls were only slightly better than average on O last year and they wound up with the best record in the league.
It’s common knowledge what Brandon needs to improve on: finishing around the rim, becoming a much more consistent outside shooter, and as Zach Lowe pointed out, making better decisions on the pick-and-roll. It’d be foolish of me to say we can absolutely count on this happening, but with a work ethic like his, I’m optimistic about it. At the risk of looking like an idiot again, I’m calling it: the Bucks will be the league’s most improved team in the 2011-2012 season.
…if the 2011-2012 season happens, I guess. I hate this lockout.
The young Kings don’t lack offensive options: Evans, center DeMarcus Cousins, new forwards John Salmons and J.J. Hickson, who were both recently acquired in trades and Fredette and Thornton (assuming he’s re-signed). The question is whether they will fit together.
Let’s do the glass-half-full thing with the Sacramento Kings for a minute. Tyreke Evans was hurt for much of last season and had to adjust his game. Instead of making the expected sophomore jump, he regressed. With an offseason regimen aimed at getting himself into the best shape of his life and improving his still-wonky jumper, it’s only logical that he’ll be far more productive when NBA games are played again. If DeMarcus Cousins cuts down on the jump shooting and takes care of the ball a bit better, we could be looking at two immensely talented players making important progress. That should lead to lots more wins, right? Probably.
The rest of the currently-assembled roster, though? Ugh. I like John Salmons. Really, I do. Wing players who can create for themselves and others aren’t that easy to find in today’s NBA and I think it’s cool that he puts his thoughts in a diary rather than on Twitter. But as versatile as he is, this acquisition still makes no sense to me. I already had questions about the long-term viability of Tyreke and Marcus Thornton sharing the floor. If they’re keeping Thornton, how does Salmons not get in their way? If they’re letting Thornton go, then they’ve just replaced a 24-year-old Thornton with a 31-year-old Salmons coming off his worst season since before his first Kings stint. Oh, and he’ll make $24 million over the next 3 years. Yay.
The Kings ran the simplest plays in the league last season and I was hoping they’d enter next season with a more balanced roster. They needed a real distributor, better role definition and some defenders. Instead, they traded their starting point guard and their hard-nosed small forward and acquired a bunch of guys who want the ball in their hands. There are unfair expectations on Jimmer Fredette, J.J. Hickson thinks he’s better than he is, and on a team that wasn’t the model of cohesiveness on the court or off it last season, I wonder about the direction they’re going here. They had a hodgepodge of young talent + Samuel Dalembert last season and it looks like they’ll have a hodgepodge of young talent + John Salmons next season.
You can’t get too down on a team’s outlook when it has two building blocks as talented as Tyreke and DMC. In the big picture, they’re nowhere near title contention so acquiring talent is more important than how the talent fits. Still, it’s important to put a solid foundation around them so they’ll want to stick around. If we’re just talking about next season, I’ll be excited to watch them on League Pass — there are plenty of intriguing pieces and I’m legitimately curious about how it will work. This is similar to how I felt about the Timberwolves entering last season, though, and we know how that turned out.
I like to talk to people face-to-face and be honest. Sometimes that means people want to punch me out, but at least, hey, they know the truth. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, this guy lied to me.” I want them to say, “I have respect for him.” So I talk straight to people. That’s just the way I am.”
-Bismack Biyombo, via Davy Rothbart, “What’s your deal?” 06/19/11
Henry Abbott wrote a fascinating piece today inspired by Keith Richards’ memoir. The premise is that there aren’t enough Keith Richardsy stories written about NBA players. He’s not saying that Brian Cardinal has a secret heroin addiction, but there are amazing stories going untold because there’s a perception that it’s safer for players to keep the private aspects of their lives private. The Biyombo interview quoted above doesn’t even have anything controversial in it, really, but we NBA blogosphere people went crazy for it because he was genuine and showed his personality.
Abbott doesn’t judge individual NBA players for keeping quiet/boring, but he does challenge the notion that they wouldn’t be accepted if they spoke up. He acknowledges that there’s an huge, obvious racial component to this, but also brings up the fact that Jay-Z has detailed his drug dealing past that began at age 15, yet is “one of the most truly empowered people in entertainment.”
A few questions, as a dude who has yet to cover the NBA up close: