I have a bone to pick with current NBA fandom. They think that only championships count. I disagree.
What is so bad about having a good team that makes the playoffs each year? Take the Mavs, for example. As long as they are pretty good, and have Dirk, they will have TV appeal. The counter example is the recent Lakers. Even with Kobe, I could barely stand to watch.
Kevin Arnovitz made the argument in a recent article:
Is there anything wrong with being very good for a very long time, even if it means only an outside shot for a title in any given season? That’s more or less how the Mavericks won the title in 2011 — a decade of very good basketball gave them enough chances to get lucky.
Or to put it another way, is there any hope a team like this can beat a team like that? Is it time to start over?
Privately, Grizzlies officials believe that the league’s obsession with contention “windows” and the title-or-tank mindset is off the mark.
With no Conley and no Gasol this spring, the Grizzlies will take a mulligan this spring, but the formula in Memphis will remain the same until further notice: 50 wins and a puncher’s chance.
A “punchers chance” is a great way to put it. If, as Doc Rivers suggests, the Warriors got lucky last year because their postseason opponents suffered a rash of injuries, couldn’t any team get lucky?
Look at what just happened in this year’s playoffs – The Warriors lost Steph Curry for 2 weeks, and the Clippers lost Blake Griffin and Chris Paul for the season. The Blazers could very well find themselves in the WCF!
And now we are hearing calls to “break up” the Clippers. There is some logic in making Griffin available. But on the other hand, what if the Clippers just stay the course? They are a very good team. Not Warriors/Spurs good. But very good. They have another 3 years of title contention left. Also, Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for that team. You think he wants to rebuild? And is that even possible with Doc on a long and pricey contract?
What the Spurs have shown, I think, is that continuity is good. There is an astonishingly small amount of practice time in the NBA. Having the same coaches teach the same system to the same guys over multiple years is a powerful advantage.
Obviously, the Warriors are on a whole new level of awesome these days. But before that, honestly, we just wanted the We Believe Warriors to stay together longer. We lionized the Run TMC Warriors, who never contended for championships. We fell in love with tenured players like Adonal Foyle and Monta Ellis. They weren’t great, actually, but they were ours. It was comforting to see them out there year after year.
Plus, re-builds are risky. You don’t really know how long it will take to return to form, let alone exceed.
Basketball has so much to offer fans. If you are only in it for championships, you are missing out.
The Warriors notched their 70th win tonight.
Only one other team in history won 70. That was the 95-96 Bulls, who went on to win 72.
If the Warriors win the last 3 games, they will beat the record. If they win 2 of 3, they tie.
Even if they lose-out, this will be historic. They will have the second-best single-season record for as long as the world goes on. Or something.
The point is… Now is a good time to pause and reflect on the historic greatness of this team. No team is great forever. The 00’s Pistons won just one championship, despite being in the East Finals 6 consecutive times.
This is what worries me.
Of course, I hope and expect that the Warriors will win the championship again this year. But after that… I dunno.
Every off-season, teams change. New guys are added via the draft or free agency. Previous brothers are discarded. It’s a brutal calculus.
The Warriors are a fragile snowflake. Yes, the transcendent talent of the first 6 players is a powerful factor. But what if you discard 2-3 of them? Are they really fungible parts? If Kevin Durant wants to join, we’ll find out.
If they stand pat, it’s not really better. Everyone will be a year older next year, and a year older the year after. There is an expiration for all players. For Andrew Bogut and Andre Igouadala, that date is near.
But look, I come here not to bury the Warriors, but to praise them! 70 is a great achievement. Let’s savor the flavor.
The Pick and Roll is a basketball staple. Like a ballet, it must be executed perfectly, with precision and grace. And when that happens, it is nearly un-stoppable.
Except… It died. Maybe last year. Maybe a couple of years earlier. For sure right now.
Nobody uses it anymore. And that has consequences for a certain type of player: the scoring power forward.
In Zach Lowe’s latest, he looks at the PnR combo of Lebron James and Kevin Love. Unstoppable? Nope. Teams just switch. It is actually one of the Cavs least effective plays.
Why? Let me count the ways:
Jonathan Tjarks began writing about the importance of 2-way players early last season. His thesis is that basketball is a continuous motion game, with just five players per side. You cannot afford specialists. A team that fields the most 2-way players is going to win over the long haul.
In a remarkable coincidence, the Warriors went all-in on 2-way play last year. And won the Championship. Who got benched during that historic campaign? Elite PnR-man David Lee.
The NBA has a number of outstanding PnR power forwards, including Kevin Love. But they give up so much defensively that it doesn’t make sense to keep them on the floor.
PnR is designed to get very efficient 2-pt shots. Like 55% conversion, for example. But modern 3-pt shooters stroke it at close to 40%, for an effective shooting percentage of 60%.
PnR relies on isolation – it is a dance with 4 players. What if the other 3 defenders help? The latest defense rules allow teams to help, effectively using zone principles.
The future of 1-way power forwards looks a lot like the role David Lee is playing in Dallas now. (Also, Mo Speights in Oakland.) Come off the bench, defend against second-tier players, get buckets, sit back down. This is not max-contract level stuff. In fact, it is way down the salary tree.
(BTW – this is also the fate of mid-range shooters. Come in and gun while the 3-pt-shooting starters rest.)
The other option, honestly, is to just convert them to centers. At least half the teams in the league have a “defensive” center who is okay at defense, and awful at offense. They end up being big bodies who get in the way a bit,and absorb some physical punishment. Just as Dallas is now experimenting with Dirk at center, it makes sense for at least some teams to choose offense over defense.
I don’t really have any thoughts to add to the Kevin Durant speculation. As other, smarter people have noted:
- He will not waste these next 4 years developing a team. Sorry Lakers and Knicks.
- His best, most obvious option is to sign a Lebron-style deal: 2-years, with year 2 being a player option. He will be back on the market in a year, with a higher cap (and higher max salary). Plus, his BFFL Russ will be a free agent at the same time.
Here’s my add:
Durant, like LaMarcus Aldridge last summer, is seeking a total environment. He wants a harmonious locker room, quality coaching, a supportive FO. He is not fixated on market size or his brand. His brand does just fine in OKC. It will be fine elsewhere.
Which is why he unsubtly pal’d around with the Warriors, and said glowing things about the Celtics. Because if he does leave OKC, those are really the only sensible places. Every other franchise has one or more of the following:
- locker room problems
- suspect coaching
- suspect FO
- no clear path to a title
If he leaves this summer, he is giving up on Russ. Not sure I see that happening. And if he stays over for a year, I think that means he and Russ are plotting a package deal.
I wrote earlier that Larry Riley deserves credit for the Warriors revival. Here’s more proof: Joe Lacob credits Riley for the Bogut trade.
Let’s rewind the Kaepernick situation, shall we? (It could change at any moment.)
In December, the 49ers FO was leaking that Jim Tomsula had their full support. Kaepernick had already been banished from the team, presumably never to return…
After the 49ers sacked Tomsula and hired Chip Kelly, I think York/Ballke/Kelly were interested in cherry-picking Sam Bradford in free-agency. Kelly likes him. The Eagles seemingly had little attachment to him.
But then the Eagles pre-emptively re-signed Bradford for silly money: $22MM guaranteed, $36MM possible, over 2 years.
You don’t think that shook things up, QB-wise?
In the wake of the Bradford news, I think the 49ers realized that Kaepernick’s contract is quite reasonable (by comparison). That’s when Baalke and Kelly suddenly made encouraging remarks about Kaepernick in interviews. Which obviously blew up in their faces when Kaepernick asked to be traded.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, the Super-Bowl-champion Denver Broncos knew they needed a replacement for Payton Manning, destined to retire. They had super-sub Brock Osweiler, but he was also a free agent. He would draw offers…
But wait! There’s more! The Redskins released RG III, potentially a very good QB, who maybe just needs a fresh start.
The Texans, as it turns out, were hot for a new QB. So that left a three team monte for three QBs: Kaepernick, Osweiler, and Griffin.
Osweiler signed with the Texans today.
It will be interesting to see how the Broncos reply. I’m sure they check with the 49ers to see if a cheap trade for Kaepernick is available. If not… do they snag RG III quickly? Do they wait out the 49ers (Russian-roulette-style) to see if they can just sign Kaepernick after April 1?
Jason Richardson retired today.
Marcus Thompson II wrote Jason Richardson never stopped being a Warrior, a wonderful look a JRich, Warrior.
Tim Kawakami calls him the Lost Prince of We Believe. And adds more good insights into the character of JRich.
And that leads to my perspective.
The modern (21st-century) history of the Warriors can best be understood as an ongoing effort to replace Chris Webber.
Webber was obtained by the Warriors in a draft-day trade in 1993. In 1995, he was traded.
Back in the 1990s, power forward and center were the dominate positions in the NBA. The Warriors had basically never had a dominate power forward. They had not had a dominate center since 1974 (traded Nate Thurmond to the Bulls just before winning the championship with non-dominate Clifford Ray). From 1995 on, they searched relentlessly for dominate frontcourt players.
My own story reaches back to 1998, when Antawn Jamison was drafted 4th, and Vince Carter was drafted 5th. In a draft-day trade, the Warriors and Raptors swapped. Meanwhile, Larry Hughes was the 8th pick, by the 76ers.
This was actually 1-season before I started obsessively following the NBA. It was also 6-months after the Sprewell choking incident that seemed to confirm the Warriors as a perpetual joke.
Jamison was the latest heir to Chris Webber. At that, he failed. But he did score in bunches. He gave us all hope for the future. Alas, he was often injured.
In 2000, with Jamison out for the season with an injury, the Warriors gave away the farm for Larry Hughes. Hughes was brilliant at creating shots, aweful at converting. He had the green light, shot like crazy, and made 38% (from 2).
In June 2001, the Warriors changed their draft strategy to “best available.” As a result, they chose Jason Richardson with the 5th pick. Richardson had won a NCAA Championship at Michigan State, but that was playing power forward. An athletic freak, JRich was projected to play either 2 or 3 in the NBA.
(Also on that Michigan State team: Charlie Bell, who would play his own part in Warriors history.)
The Jamison/Hughes lineup failed to materialize the following year (Larry got hurt). With both players healthy in 2001-2, Larry averaged just 12 ppg. The chemistry did not work, so the Warriors let Hughes leave in free agency.
For sure, part of the decision to let Hughes leave is that the Warriors liked what they saw in young JRich. JRich was a two-time member of the Rookie Challenge. He won the Slam Dunk Championship both years. JRich had a memorable moment when, in the closing seconds of the 2003 Rookie Challange, game, he bounced the ball off Carlos Boozer’s forehead and then made a three-pointer before the clock ran out.
Richadson’s scoring increased every year for the first 5 years, topping out at 23.2 ppg in 2005-6.
In the middle of the 2005-6 season, the Warriors acquired Baron Davis, Baron instantly became the locker-room leader.
JRiich was hurt in the the We Believe year, 2006-7, appearing in just 52 games, but still averaging 16 ppg (19 ppg in the playoffs).
After the We Believe season, Richardson was traded for Brandon Wright on draft day, in what Tim Kawakami believes was part of an ongoing effort by the Warriors to obtain Kevin Garnett.
Summary of my experience:
- JRich was relentlessly positive, and pro-Warrior at a time when most around the league were down on the Warriors.
- JRich was never as good as Warrior’s PR made him out to be. For example, in a long career, he never went to an All-Star game.
- I always had the sense that JRich was learning on-the-job, in front of me. He came into the league as an under-size power forward, then developed himself into a 2-guard. Good for him, but the Warriors needed accomplished players in those days.
- I always though he got screwed being traded just when the Warriors maxed-out.
Others know a lot more than me. He is, apparently, a self-made man. And an NBA good-guy. Also, his best years, for sure, were with the Warriors. And, in those grim times, he was a point of light.
Thanks for being there, Jason.
This is the NBA silly season. Closing in on training camp, some GM’s try to pull a rabbit out of their hat. With predictable results.
Here’s what happened today:
1) The Lakers signed Meta World Peace. Kobe needed a seat buddy on the plane. No other reason makes sense.
2) The Cavs signed Austin Daye. Who is not now, nor will ever be, an NBA player.
3) The Warriors may sign Ben Gordon to a training camp make-good deal. Ben is such locker room poison that:
- The Bulls let him leave without compensation.
- Michael Jordon released him from the Hornets one day after he was eligible to re-sign with a playoff team.
- Orlando signed him to a 2-year deal (team option). He put up good numbers in year one, but they still released him.
- Despite being a career 40% 3-pt shooter, a make good deal is the best he can find.
Diamond Leung has a good article up, recognizing the contributions of Larry Riley. With Joe Lacob’s front-office cronies tripping over themselves to seize credit for the championship, it is worth recalling that Larry Riley was once the Warriors GM. And while serving in that role, he:
- drafted Steph
- acquired David Lee
- hired Mark Jackson
- drafted Klay
- traded Monta for Bogut
My quick take on Summer League:
- Lakers – Larry Nance II is a bust. Sorry about that.
- Lakers – Russell may grow up and be great. Not next year. Sorry about that.
- Lakers – Randle has outstanding footwork. One of 5 guys in the league with post moves. But… he can’t jump. If he doesn’t figure out how to create space, he’ll be a star in China 3 years from now.
- Wolves – Townes will eventually be everything we hoped. Not next year. Sorry about that.
- Knicks – Porzingis will be the next Dirk. I said it! His feel for the offensive game is uncoachable. But… he is an old-school one-way player in a league that has (maybe?) left that behind. Will be fun to see him develop. Next year, analytics will show he gave up seven million points.
Everyone else… yawn. Summer league is awful basketball. And really, what do you learn? Marco Belinelli and Anthony Randolph looked like can’t miss prospects. Summer League is fool’s gold.