You heard it here first.

by on Dec.16, 2014, under NBA

From 2012:

Lebron’s image, and legacy, would be better served if he returned to Cleveland, which now has Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson to support King James.

 

!!!

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Malone and Jackson, coaching’s Odd Couple, still connected

by on Dec.16, 2014, under NBA, Warriors

Michael Malone was sacked last night. Apparently due to philosophical differences between him and the Front Office. Weirdly, a big part of the King’s Front Office is the owner, Vivek Ranadive.  Who personally hired Malone the second he bought the team.

You know what else is weird? In this super-saturated media world, no one saw it coming!? There are a bunch of articles today saying something like “yes, of course, we all knew he was on the hot seat…” Wait! What? It’s possible to follow the NBA more closely than I do, but not by much. I heard nothing about this.

I wrote once about having a sense of the moment. It’s about knowing that the end is already upon you, and winding things up before it gets ugly. Only a few lucky people have this sense. Apparently, Ranadive is not one of them. He could have replace Malone in August or September, but instead threw away a quarter of a season on a guy he had no faith in.

Like the Lakers in 2012, the Kings had deep reservations about their coach going into the season. They used an early losing streak as an excuse to fire him. Which is all well and good, but it wipes out the rest of the season. I can only think of two times that replacing your coach early led to success: 1979-80 Lakers (won the title, but the league was very different then), and the 2004-5 Nuggets (went 32-8 under George Karl to reach the playoffs).

And guess who the supposed leading candidate for the Kings opening is? Yep, gorgeous George Karl.  This could get interesting.

One of the other names mentioned as a replacement is our old friend, Mark Jackson. I think that’s a big reach. Jackson’s principle qualifications are: 1) he is friends with Chris Mullin, and 2) he’s available. But if, as is now reported, Malone was fired for not playing up-tempo small ball, why would the Kings hire MJax? Even ardent supporters have to confess that he was offensively limited, and preferred to pound it inside, just like Malone. I guess Jackson’s name will keep coming up, for every opening, for the next couple of years. It will be interesting to see if he gets another job. Steve Kerr is killing Jackson’s brand with the hot start.

What if time.What if Malone stayed with the Warriors last season? Jackson’s staff retains credibility. Perhaps there is no division on the staff, out of respect for the Jackson/Malone tandem. The Warriors win 51 and still lose in 7 to the Clips, but it seems like less of a failure, more of a “reached-their-peak.” Jackson gets his big extension after all.

Here’s another: What if Ranadive fired Malone after watching Joe Lacob’s latest magic trick: firing his 51-win coach and replacing him with an even better one? Malone and Jackson, coaching’s Odd Couple, still connected.

 

 

 

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How the Warriors got Steph Curry

by on Dec.15, 2014, under Warriors

This issue was beaten to death last year, by Tim Kawakami (TK). But it keeps popping up, so let’s address it.

TK:

Even now, some mystery remains about all the moving pieces and roads almost taken that night.

I thought that the Warriors had a deal in place to send the 7th pick, plus Andris Biedrins, to the Suns for Ama’re Stoudemire . Turns out, I was wrong. TK reveals that the only deal on the table, from Sun’s GM Steve Kerr’s perspective, was Curry (+ Biedriens, for cap reasons), for Stoudemire . And Don Nelson/Larry Riley were never doing that.

What’s new is a NYT article from Harvey Araton, that recaps events from the POV of the Knicks. The Warriors had the 7th pick in 2009, and the Knicks were next at #8. Knicks GM Donnie Walsh conspired with Curry’s agent to get him to NY. The Warriors were not allowed any contact with Curry, in hopes of scaring them off. That’s all old info.

Here’s the new stuff:

  • Walsh was convinced that the Warriors would pass on Curry anyway, because they already had Monta Ellis, and they really needed a power forward. That’s not crazy. The very next year, Larry Riley used the 6th pick on Ekpe Udoh, now barely in the league.
  • Dell Curry says the Warriors “had some questionable characters on their team.”  Eh?  Here’s the list of guys nominally on the roster at the end of the season:

    Kelenna Azubuike
    Stephen Jackson
    Jamal Crawford
    C.J. Watson
    Andris Biedrins
    Ronny Turiaf
    Corey Maggette
    Anthony Morrow
    Anthony Randolph
    Monta Ellis
    Marco Belinelli
    Brandan Wright
    Rob Kurz
    DeMarcus Nelson
    Jermareo Davidson

    Not sure who the “questionable characters” are.

  • What-ifs, from the Knicks end: If they landed Curry, would they have signed Stoudemire the following year? Or would they have re-signed David Lee?  With Curry and Lee playing for Mike D’Antoni, do the Knicks trade away their team for Carmelo Anthony?

 

There are what-ifs on the Warriors end, too. In 2009-10, The Warriors won just 26 games, after which Don Nelson was fired. Before the draft, Monta Ellis and Steven Jackson were promised a big man. When that failed to materialize, Jackson demanded a trade, and Ellis went into a funk.  What if the Warriors traded #7 and Biedrins to the Suns for Stoudemire?  Remember, Stoudemire helped the Suns to the conference finals in 2009-10. A motivated Ellis, Jackson, Stoudemire, and Coach Nelson would have stormed back into the playoffs. And if that happens, would Chris Cohan sell?  Surely, Nellie keeps his job and eventually ascends to the Jerry West role.

Would the Warriors have re-signed Stoudemire at the end of that year? Bobby Rowell was a bargain shopper. If Cohan keeps the team, it’s easy to imagine that Stoudemire ends up in NY anyway, on a max deal, and the Warriors grab David Lee as a consolation prize.

 

 

 

 

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I am the one who knocks

by on Dec.07, 2014, under Warriors

I am the one who knocks.

 

Update: the Warriors won #20, 15 in a row, against the best offense in the NBA.

The Warriors beat the Bulls tonight. In Chicago.

The Warriors won their 12th-game-in-a-row. They are now 17-2.

This is no longer a “We believe” or “fullsquad” situation. This is no little-train-that-could.  This is a deep and dangerous team. If you are a fan of another team, you don’t want to see the Warriors coming up on your schedule.

How deep are they? Festus Ezeli can’t get off the bench this year, after starting 41 games in a playoff season. David Lee has barely played due to a hamstring injury. Andre Igouadala, on last-summers’ world championship Team USA roster, does not start.

This team reminds me of those 1980’s era Lakers teams that brought guys like Bob MacAdoo and Mychal Thompson off the bench.

As a longtime Warriors fan, this sounds crazy, but… Are the Warriors championship contenders?

So many things have to go right to win a championship, even if you are really good. See: Suns 1993, Jazz 1997-98, Mavs 2006, Thunder 2012, Spurs 2013. And what about teams that never reached the championship series, even though they were also really good?

So I’m not predicting championships. but I will say this: the Warriors are good enough to survive the West playoffs this year. And that makes them title contenders.

 


 

Steve Kerr – wow. So many things to admire about our rookie coach. Here are a few:

He had to mend fences with guys that had pledged their loyalty to Mark Jackson. That’s a hard, thankless task for a proven coach. Kerr was not proven. Still, there were allies in the locker room too. Some guys saw through Mark Jackson.

The resurrection of Mo Speights. Remember just a couple months back when we were all counting down to the day the Warriors could refuse his option?

The transformation of Steph Curry into a 2-way player. Curry takes hard defensive assignments on top guards now. Kerr does not hide him on defense. It makes the game easier on everyone.

Talking Andre Igouadala into accepting the 6th man role. Really, Andre brought it on himself the prior year, when he just stopped producing offense.

Kerr’s media personality is the same as a coach as it was as a broadcaster. Mark Jackson is goofy and fun as a broadcaster, but a taciturn grump as a coach.

 


 

Klay Thompson…

I got swept up in the hunt for Kevin Love last spring, like everyone else. Like the Dwight Howard chase the previous summer, I got star-struck, and temporarily lost my mind. It’s not that I believed in Klay Thompson (good for you if you did), it’s that I never have liked Kevin Love. The way I see it, great players drag their teams to wins. Fakers pile up stats while losing. Kevin Love is a faker. And if you were paying attention, you would have noticed that he cannot defend (David Lee killed him in the post), he poisons the locker room, chases off coaches, and misses lots of games.

And, yes, Klay Thompson is a really good two-way player, in a position that is thin in the league (RFA bidding on young wings has been bananas the last few summers), and with a skill (3-point shooting) prized league-wide.

OTOH, note that I was right when I wrote How the Warriors can get Kevin Love. If Glen Taylor insisted on winning now (rather than years from now), he could be rolling the balls out to David Lee, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green. Who have been pretty good so far this year, yes?

 

 

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The last word on Mark Jackson

by on Dec.07, 2014, under Warriors

The firing of Mark Jackson is a story that just won’t die.  The definitive bombshell was dropped this week by Joe Lacob, speaking at a conference for Venture Capitalists:

Right now, (Kerr) looks great. I think he will be great. And he did the one big thing that I wanted more than anything else from Mark Jackson he just wouldn’t do, in all honesty, which is hire the very best.

Carte blanche. Take my wallet. Do whatever it is to get the best assistants there are in the world. Period. End of story. Don’t want to hear it. And (Jackson’s) answer . . . was, ‘Well, I have the best staff.’ No you don’t. And so with Steve, very, very different.

You can’t have a staff underneath you that isn’t that good. And if you’re going to get better, you’ve got to have really good assistants. You’ve got to have people that can be there to replace you. We all know this from all of our companies. It’s . . . Management 101. A lot of people on the outside couldn’t understand it when we (fired Jackson).

Interesting (and forthright) as that is, I don’t think that’s the whole story.

As a physician might say, Jackson’s staff was a symptom, not the disease. A philosopher would argue that the weak staff was a necessary, but not sufficient condition of his demise.

Jackson had a weak staff last year because he suffers an excess of pride. From where I sit, Jackson never had a good network to tap for loyal assistants. Almost everyone on his staff was sourced by the Warriors front office (Malone, Earman, Scalabrine for certain). Naturally, a prideful man would get a little paranoid, assuming that staffers picked by management would be reporting back to that same management. The management who expressed concerns about his experience.

So here’s what I think happened:

  • Jackson signed a low-dollar contract to coach the Warriors. He had to, to break into the coaching fraternity.
  • At the same time, management hired Michael Malone, one of the most respected assistants in the league, to babysit Jackson. They had to outbid the Lakers, who were also chasing Malone, so he probably made close to the same as Jackson. Most people assumed that Malone was Plan B if Jackson flopped.
  • After promising to make the playoffs, Jackson had the Warriors within striking distance of the 8th spot, when management traded away Monta Ellis for an injured Andrew Bogut. It was obvious that Jackson had not been consulted prior to the trade.
  • In year two, Jackson led the Warriors to the second round of the playoffs. With his contract set to expire at the end of next season, he hoped to negotiate an extension that would boost his pay into the upper echelon.
  • Management was not convinced by one good year. Instead of an extension, the Warriors picked up a 4th-year option.
  • Jackson must have felt hurt, and insulted. At that point, he walled himself off from management. Also, most likely, from marketing, sales, community relations, and anyone else in the Warriors organization. When Lacob says that Jackson was disliked by the entire 200-person organization, this is probably the issue.
  • When top-assistant Malone departed to the Kings, Jackson promoted affable but unqualified Pete Myers. No doubt management tried to engage him in discussion of other top assistants, but Jackson was not talking to them anymore.
  • As the season played out, of course, Jackson turned his personal cold war into a team motivator. Several key players bought into his us-against-the-world view. He led the Warriors to 51 wins, and a 7-game first round series with the Clippers.
  • Practically speaking, with just one year left on Jackson’s contract, Lacob had to either extend Jackson for significant money, or let him go and try someone else. Given all the water under the bridge since the previous summer, Lacob was in no mood to risk big money on a guy he had grown to dislike.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of media articles suggesting that the coaching change was somehow based on race. Or on culture, which simplifies to the same thing. That struck me as odd, because (for example) Lionel Hollins lost the Memphis job after even greater success, yet failed to attract media fascination.

I am quite certain that it is as simple as this: Joe Lacob did not want to commit $20MM+ to a guy he didn’t like. And the disliking is 90% on Jackson. Mark Jackson remains a beloved guy around the league, and among the media. He is a likable fellow. It’s not that he couldn’t charm Joe Lacob (and the rest of the front office). It’s that he wouldn’t do it, especially (and overtly, and over-the-top-ly) in the final season.

 

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Can the Lakers keep their pick?

by on Oct.29, 2014, under Lakers, NBA

The Lakers owe the Suns a 1st-round pick. It is top-5 protected this year. So the Lakers will have to finish in the bottom 5 of the league to keep it.

To get a handle on this, you have to understand the difference between:

  • Strategic Tanking (ST)
  • Tactical Tanking (TT)
  • Plain-‘ol-Bad (PB)

Strategic Tanking is like first degree murder – it requires malice aforethought. You have to carefully plan to be bad, then ruthlessly execute your plan. Last year, there were an unprecedented six STs. This year, I only see two: Sixers and Celtics.

Tactical Tanking is what happens when teams take advantage of a slow start, and just give up. See the Warriors, 2nd-half of the 2011-12 season. This year, we can expect a few teams to become TTers. At some point, the Wolves, Pacers, and Magic will realize they aren’t contending for anything.

And then there are teams that are just bad. They look okay on paper, and they want to win. But they have mis-matched parts, and they over overmatched by 10 other teams in the own conference. I’m thinking specifically of the Kings, Pelicans, Jazz, Bucks, and Pistons.

So where do we place the Lakers? Before the opener tonight, I would have said PB leading to TT by January.  But after tonight…

I think Mitch Kupchak is an evil genius. The ST is on!

Kupchak was tasked this summer with putting together a roster that would both:

  • sell tickets, and
  • lose regularly

Sell tickets: Kobe, Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer, Linsanity, Ed Davis, Swaggy P.

Lose regularly: Ronnie Price, Xavier Henry, Robert Sacre, Carlos Boozer,.

And so far, so good. The Rockets are a good-not-great team, and they just drubbed the Lakers by near 30. Byron Scott limited Kobe’s minutes, which means it’s entirely possible that he is in on the fix.

Julius Randle had the potential to swing some games, but broke his leg tonight.

Zach Lowe rates the Lakers as 4th worst. Actually, his worst ranking is:

  1. Sixers
  2. Wolves
  3. Kings
  4. Lakers
  5. Pacers

Obviously, I disagree. The Kings are a PB team, and the Wolves will be a TT team starting in January. The Pacers will try really hard, and they are in the East. Meanwhile, the Celtics are ST-ing. And so are the Lakers! My ranking looks like this:

  1. Sixers
  2. Lakers
  3. Celtics
  4. Wolves
  5. Magic

Nobody is worse than the Sixers. But the Lakers are so sneaky bad (and playing in the West) that I see them cruising to number 2. The Celtics will try to win,  but they’ll be sabotaged at regular intervals by their GM. Flip Saunders will eventually embrace tanking, and the Wolves are in the West, so they will lose a lot. The Magic are also going to switch to TT-ing later, but they are in the East, so they’ll finish above the Wolves.

 

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Summer pull quotes

by on Jul.19, 2014, under Lakers, Warriors

A couple of quotes from Andrew Sharp that I want to highlight.

On the Warriors:

If they don’t get Kevin Love, there’s still a chance that they keep Klay Thompson and, long-term, turn into a team that can contend with anybody in the league. But there’s a much better chance that Love will land in Cleveland, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut will break down over the next few years, Golden State will overpay to keep Klay next summer, and Warriors fans will spend years cursing those few weeks before the draft when this team somehow turned Klay Thompson into a franchise cornerstone.

 

On the Lakers:

It’s too bad that Julius Randle and Ed Davis have to be involved in this horrible science experiment of a basketball team, but everything else is worth it just to see what happens.

It’s all building to a riot outside Jim Buss’s house.

It’s all building to a first-round pick that they’ll try to tank for but inevitably lose to Phoenix when they fall juuuuuuust outside the top five.

It’s all building to Kobe losing his mind.

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Mitch K’s Trade Emporium

by on Jul.18, 2014, under Lakers

I figured out Mitch Kupchak’s plan to rebuild the Lakers.

At first, I thought he had sunk into depression and started just signing guys. If he recognized your name, you got a fat contract.

Then, optimistically, I concluded that he was secretly tanking. He needed to convince Kobe that he was actually trying, so he grabbed recognizable names at higher-than-necessary prices. He collected shiny puzzle pieces, but from different puzzles. There is no way to fit them together. The Lakers 1st round pick is top-5 protected. This Frankenstein roster could easily contend for the 4-5 spot. Remember, the Warriors tanked into the 7th spot 3 years ago, collecting Harrison Barnes. And the Warriors didn’t start tanking until halfway through the season. Imagine what this Lakers roster could do with a full season!

Finally, today, I struck on a third option. Mitch is trolling for assets. The trading desk is open for business!

Jordan Hill? As Bill Simmons said of Celtic forward Kris Humphries last year, every team needs a $9MM expiring contract as trade filler for the big targets, If the Lakers somehow get into the Kevin Love action, know that Hill will be salary ballast.

Steve Nash? He shoots the lights out. If he demonstrates a minimum of health, a contending team might ask for him near the deadline.

Swaggy P? Small market teams like the Bucks and Wolves really need affordable, service-able guys on longer contracts. I mean, given a choice (for equivalent money), Nick Young never goes to those places. So if you are dumping Sanders or Ilyasova, or parting with Kevin Love, those are the kinds of deals you want coming back. But really, anyone would be happy to take that deal. Super trade-able.

Jeremy Lin? Okay, the Lakers did that for the accompanying 1st-round pick.

Ed Davis? Er… When I saw “Lakers sign Davis” on twitter, I thought, “Baron? Cool!” Alas…

Carlos Boozer? Lakers are stuck with him all year. So… Maybe Secret Tanking is the plan after all?

The true Lakers plan is (and always has been): 1) acquire a marquee player; 2) use him as bait to sign one or two more marquee players. The Lakers are profoundly uninterested in competing for anything before step 1 is accomplished. I mean, if it happens, great. But meanwhile, Mitch wants to collect picks (and maybe prospects) until he can either trade for, or sign the marquee guy.

If guys keep peeling off the Laker’s roster this year, you know Mitch’s plan is working,

 

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Last one out, get the lights, Lakers!

by on Jul.13, 2014, under Lakers

It was hard to name this post. I might have called it:

  • Meet the new Lakers, same as the old Lakers
  • Lakers – Keep gettin’ dem’ (season-ticket) checks

The Lakers are sitting on some significant franchise advantages:

  • an insane local TV contract, that craps money on them
  • demonstrated willingness to go over the tax
  • really great local weather
  • a large and affluent african-american community
  • a rich tradition
  • Hollywood, the music industry, celebrity culture

So… why won’t anyone play there? Why is it more popular to play for the Sterlings than the Buss’s these days? How many times do you whiff on free agency before you get the message?

Maybe the NBA has changed? When Jerry Buss (and Eddie DeBartolo) roamed the Earth, part of the thrill of owning a pro sports team was hanging out with the athletes. That hasn’t been true for a long time. A decade, at least. If the Lakers were mostly held together based on the ties that bind, and the ties died 2 1/12 years back, where does that leave the Lakers?

To brass tacks:

The Lakers lost Dwight Howard, followed by Melo.

Did they have a plan B? Er… apparently not.

When the Mavs missed on Howard last year, it was clear they had a Plan B: sign a bunch of veterans. The Laker’s Plan B? Conserve cap space for another failing run next summer.

Let’s talk about the Kobe factor. Kobe’s contract only ever made sense in 2 scenarios:

  1. The Lakers hope to contend
  2. The Lakers need to sell tickets

All I ask, as a fan, is that the Lakers be honest with me. And plan 2) is not honest. Plan 2) is selling out lifetime Laker fans to watch the last 2 years of an amazing talent, a lifetime Laker.

You know what a good Plan B would have looked like: Lance Stepenson. A wild gamble, roll-of-the-dice. But if he turns into the next LeBron? Brilliant!

Instead we get Julius Randle, Nick Young, Jeremy Lin, and Jordan Hill, and whatever Steve Nash has left. Wee!

You know who blew it? Kent Bazmore, who could have logged heavy NBA minutes on this lame team.

I was in a forgiving mood last year, Lakers. And, yes, I will stick around to watch the end of Kobe’s career. I won’t be rooting “for you,” so much as “with you.” But if you continue to squander your considerable gifts, I will move on. The NBA is a glorious kingdom. Pity that you are no longer a part of it.

 

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Bodies are not cars

by on Jul.12, 2014, under NBA

Ever since MLB discovered the “pitch count,” sports fans have formed a “athlete’s bodies are like cars” metaphor. And it is false.

Every athlete has a certain amount of effort stored up inside. Granted. But it varies by individual. And it short-term. And it declines by year. Which means, in NBA terms, that quoting someone’s supposed “mileage” is BS.

Example: LeBron has 40K NBA minutes on his 29-year-old body. Is that relevant? Maybe.

See, every minute does not count the same. When Lebron was 20, maybe those minutes hardly affected his body. Tom Tolbert is famous for recounting how life in the NBA is a picnic.

Maybe LeBron loafed 25% of his minutes last year. How do you calculate that?

From my very-limited perspective, playing lots of minutes in any given night does not matter. Nor does playing heavy minutes every night. An NBA game is only 48 minutes of clock-time. There are lots of breaks. The country is full of guys who play more than 48 minutes a night in rec-leagues and pick-up games. Number-of-minutes is a stupid metric in the NBA.

What really wears in the the NBA is the every-night expectation. Football players play once-a-week. Baseball players take nights off without remark. NBA players are expected to show up, at top level, every night. For 82 games.  When Gregg Popovovich famously rests his plays for a game, the team gets fined a quarter million dollars. No rest for the weary.

If you really want to measure a guy’s NBA mileage, you have to gin-up some formula that accounts for:

  • heavy minutes
  • in close games
  • where the player is one of the top-2 scorers on his team
  • home or away
  • with how much rest (back-to back? three-games-in-four-nights?)

Let me know when that exists.

 

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