So Are They Keeping Steph Curry?

29 06 2009

The Golden State Warriors selected Stephen Curry with the seventh pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.  Immediately after the selection, there were whispers that the Warriors were packaging Curry for Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire.

Suddenly, the public began to realize that Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson are both ball-dominant scorers. Then they thought “hey, Curry played like that during his final season at Davidson. Wait a second…”

Should the Warriors keep Steph Curry?

Don Nelson believes so.  A few days ago, Nellie said “[Curry] can buy a house. We drafted him because we think he’s a terrific player that fits right into our program. He ain’t going anyplace.”

Although the team’s immediate glaring need is a big man, their Gheorghe Muresan wasn’t coming through the draft.

There weren’t any Nellie-ball big men at the Warriors’ spot so it made sense to take the best available player.  Still, adding another undersized guard who naturally plays at the two is unconventional.  Truly, it was a pick influenced by the unconventional Nelson.  Sometimes, I wonder if Nellie pulls a “Sarah Palin” and goes all “mavericky” just so he can beat his chest.

Marco Belinelli, Speedy Claxton, Ellis, Jackson, Acie Law, Anthony Morrow and CJ Watson all crowd the backcourt.  If Curry’s to be on the court for more than brief stretches, they’ll likely run him with Ellis, Jackson at the 3 and they can experiment with Maggette moonlighting at the 4.  The Duke alum has enough strength to do that.  We all know he’s got more brawn than Anthony Randolph at this point.

All-in-all, it’s the move they should have made but it doesn’t really address their problems.

I checked out the Warriors’ main page which features a Stephen Curry selection video.  It looks like he’s here to stay after all.  Guess who’s buying a Steph Curry jersey?


First or Last: The Win Is All That Matters

17 02 2009

"Kerr, for the win!"

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

It’s a funny Will Ferrell quote from Talladega Nights.

The line is also a succinct assertion about our society and, specifically, our society’s relationship with sports.

You can find this attitude everywhere: from the after-school park district basketball court to the Staples Center.

Playing to win all the marbles is not a mentality, it’s a framework in which all sports actions are judged.

When Dave (nbaroundtable) shared his thoughts on the recent Vlade Radmanovic-for-Adam Morrison trade, I was struck by the home run-or-nothing sentiment.

…the Bobcats just keep cutting off their options and with each solid role player that they acquire they also remove themselves from the running for a high lottery pick (they win more games).

His argument is certainly very logical and I agree with it to an extent.  But permeating that thought is this value statement: NBA champions or bust.

Suns GM Steve Kerr’s actions over the last couple years are indicative of this core value.  Kerr brought in Shaquille O’Neal, forced Mike D’Antoni out because an offensive-minded coach doesn’t win championships and has now replaced Terry Porter because, I guess, a defense-oriented coach can’t win a championship.

Robert Sarver, the Suns owner, is obviously complicit in all of Kerr’s actions but the sentiment is still “win or else,” regardless of who is driving it.

I hear the same call-to-action from Chicago Bulls fans around town.  “We have Derrick Rose!  Let’s just start over!”  Everyone I talk to thinks they should literally trade away the entire roster and “rebuild” around Derrick Rose.

I’ve lived in Chicago since 1998 and the Bulls have won 312 regular season games.  They’ve lost 529 out of 841.  That’s a .37 winning percentage.  I’m sure there are junior college kids next door that have a higher BAC.  As much as I would love a seventh trophy, I wouldn’t mind seeing them at least field a competitive (ie. non-lottery) team for more than three consecutive years.

So if you don’t win everything, what constitutes success?

Consider that the NBA has 30 teams in the league.  Only one of them will “succeed” each season.  Twenty-nine other teams will effectively be “worthless” to the vast majority of their stakeholders.

Think about the San Antonio Spurs and how successful they have been this decade.  Not only have they won several NBA championships, the Spurs own one of the top win-loss records in the four major American sports.  The organization is a blue-print for success.  Their success is so heralded that a few business meetings I’ve gone to have referenced their winning culture — and I work in the healthcare industry, far from the hardwood.

Now, keep the Spurs’ winning percentage and their culture but extract their four championships since 1999.  Would a typical sports fan consider these theoretical Spurs a “successful franchise?”

My guess is a resounding no.

I’m not against “reach for the stars.”  The NBA championship should still be the primary goal.  But should we place the value of a team solely on whether they get a ring at the end of every season?  Is “first or last” the lesson we want to impart in our sports?

Postseason Roundtable Discussion

13 06 2008

There are a myriad of issues that surround the NBA. And as much as I love to talk and dictate, I thought it would be fun if some of Feet in the Paint’s friends could come in and answer some burning questions. (In the picture, I’m the guy in the red suit.)

The great people of the roundtable are:

Pico Dulce at the east coast bias

Jeff Lin of Setshot

Don of With Malice…

Dannie from Hoops State of Mind

Fouled Out!

Khandor of Khandor’s Sports Blog

and Jeff Sack from Slam Dunk Central

Now, I present to you, FITP’s Postseason Roundtable…


Has the sun set on the Phoenix Suns? It’s odd that in arguably the best season post-MJ, has the entertaining “7 seconds or less” basketball concept seen its end?

Pico: Yes, since D’Antoni is gone. I’m not at all sure what Steve Kerr is doing out there; he doesn’t have any good defensive basketball players to actually play “more defense” with. Amare has his moments, Shaq’s still big, but Steve Nash is better running (on both ends) than he is in the half-court. The Knicks will take shots in 7 seconds, eagerly… and the rebounding numbers will be spectacular. Until they get some running forwards (or use Jared Jeffries?), and then the joy of fast basketball will be back. The Suns will have to do a deep re-tool to get back to being a top-level contender, and the age/ health of Shaq and Nash will not help.

Jeff Lin: I wish it weren’t so, but it’s looking bad for the Suns. I’ve loved watching them over the last few years, and was hoping that D’Antoni could effectively get Shaq into the offense and defense. It didn’t seem to work, but I think that the Suns just didn’t have enough time to work out all the kinks. In addition, the west was just so strong this year. I don’t know what the Suns could have done to get them past the Spurs or the Lakers (or even the Hornets.)

Now D’Antoni is gone, Nash and Shaq are aging, and the Suns look to be fading. That said, I think that the “7 seconds or less” strategy is not finished. The Warriors still employ a version of this, and other coaches will implement faster offenses in coming years. I also think that the league will try to make some rule adjustments to promote faster play. It’s all about money, and more baskets equals more profits.

Don: At the Suns, yes. I think we’ll see a slower tempo of basketball played in Phoenix. Mike D’Antoni will build a similar game-plan over in New York, but it will take time. Just because he’s moved, don’t expect any “I-was-wrong” revelations from D’Antoni. And that’s a good thing.

Even if it’s not the “7 seconds” philosophy, there are other teams that are build to play a high-octane brand of basketball too. Don’t fear: fast-paced, high-scoring teams will always exist.

Dannie: It’s about 7:00PM for the Phoenix Suns team as currently assembled. They have about an hour before they are done. Shaq has been relegated to a 20-25 minute per game role player. Steve Nash’s defense weaknesses are being exploited at an increasingly high rate. Amare Stoudamire continues to show why he is Tim Duncan’s lap dog in the playoffs and therefore strengthening the reasoning behind Steve Kerr taking a chance bringing Shaq in. And I still don’t think anyone trusts Boris Diaw or Leandro Barbosa in pressure playoff situations. They need to make a move this summer for a more well rounded perimeter player and bolster their defense. With Kerr still as GM and old school player Terry Porter now the head coach I wouldn’t be surprised if the Suns start playing a more traditional style of basketball.

As for the “7 seconds or less” style I don’t think it will ever come to an end. It is predicated on the type of players on a given team (Golden State/Denver) and the philosophy of the coach. The better question should be can that style of play get to an NBA Finals and win? I have to say yes because the Magic lead Lakers were successful playing a similar style. The problem with the current teams that implement run and gun basketball is they don’t play ANY defense. You don’t have to be as good as the Boston Celtics on defense, but you have to be decent on that side of the ball to ever compete for the ultimate prize. Until a coach and GM blends the right combination of up tempo offensive players and strong defensive role player this style of play is destine to fail.

Fouled Out: I don’t think so. The Suns may be the fastest team in the league, but there are other entertaining teams in the league too. The Warriors’ fast-paced style is thriving in the league considering they are in the West. The Hornets may not be as fast as the Suns or Warriors, but there style of play is very interesting and entertaining. The precision passing skills (including the alley-oops) of Chris Paul are very fun to watch. The Suns will never be the same without Mike D’Antoni, but on the other hand, the Knicks will be nowhere near the run-and-gun Suns even with D’Antoni at the helm.

To sum it up, I don’t believe that the NBA will be less entertaining because of D’Anonti’s departure from Phoenix. There are other teams that are also use an entertaining system of play.

Khandor: The Suns have definitely been Eclipsed.

Jeff Sack: As I recently wrote in a article, I blame Steve Kerr’s ill timed trade for Shaquille O’Neal ended any hopes the Suns had of going far in the Post Season. Unfortunately as much as I personally am a fan of fast break basketball, it will win you lots of regular season games, but since the Showtime Era in LA half court basketball wins championships.

What is the significance of Kobe Bryant receiving this year’s MVP?

Pico: Well, on one hand it’s about time, in terms of his skills. On the other hand, it’s the final step in the re-legitimization (not a word, I know) of Kobe… so it goes. It also removes the final question (if there was one) to his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Jeff Lin: Kobe was certainly deserving, but I don’t even know what the MVP award means. Best player in the league? Best player relative to their teammates? Highest overall contribution to their team? No one seems clear on these criteria.

With so many deserving stars in the league, it seems that the MVP award has simply become a way to recognize each star in turn. When Shaq was at his best (say 1998-2003), I thought he should have won it every single year, but he only got it once (1999-00). There was no one who had a greater impact on the game during this time. His play prompted more defensive adjustments than any other player, and a number of rule changes were even made by the league in response to his game.

Now the MVP award just seems to be passed around to all the best players—which is ok, but we need to acknowledge that. Without clear criteria on how it should be awarded, I don’t know that there’s any “significance” to anyone winning it.

That said, Kobe is an amazing player.

Don: Vindication? It’s amazing the amount of ‘growth’ we’ve witnessed in this past season. But it comes at a price for Bryant – there’s no backsliding into juvenile behavior now that you’ve entered adulthood.
I’ve slammed him a bit here, but have back-flipped. I’ve changed my stance, because he has.

There will always be those who hate him because he’s good – and especially that he’s not playing for the team they support (gogo Boston!? – on that, I can abso-effin’-lutely guarantee you, that if Kobe gets taken off in a wheelchair, his leg’s fallen off). But Kobe’s a Laker, and he’ll be one of the best in the league for a few more years to come. Get used to it.

Dannie: No significance. I am probably one of the furthest people from a Kobe fan and I thought he deserved to win MVP this season. Now if New Orleans would have remained atop the Western Conference and Kobe still won, then there might be something to talk about. If that were the case I think the award would have been almost a “love gift” for a player most believe to be the best player of the last 3-4 years in the world. But that isn’t what happen and now his MVP award just adds another hollow bullet point to the list Kobe Bryant fanatics will try to use to strengthen their ridiculous argument that he is better then Michael Jordan.

Fouled Out: I think this is Kobe’s year, it’s is his time. I’m not really a big fan of Kobe, but as a basketball fan, I can see that he really stepped up this season to lift the Lakers to success. He left his off-season drama behind and moved forward for a better and brighter season. His points are dipped a little, but his overall play is up. He rebounds better and he passes more now. His newfound trust for his teammates also helped the Lakers significantly because Kobe doesn’t have to touch the ball that much to get points. Kobe’s game improved in all-around aspects and it showed in their win column and for that reason, he deserves to win the award.

Khandor: Kobe has been the ‘most talented’ player in the NBA for a number of years. However, he has not focused his energy on ‘making his teammates better’ – i.e. by creating easy scoring opportunities for his lesser talented teammates in games and providing exemplary leadership in practices for them to emulate – during these same years. This year, that has changed. Kobe has (finally) ‘begun’ the transformation from ‘supreme individual talent’ to ‘supreme team player with supreme basketball talent’ which is at the heart of the game. When a Superstar realizes the need to play the game this way – i.e. by playing the first three quarters of a game for his teammates so that they will play the 4th quarter for him – his team undergoes a dramatic transformation, as well. Players improve their commitment to the team; players improve their individual game; and, the team functions as a cohesive unit, emphasizing its strengths and minimizing its weaknesses. Kobe’s MVP Award this season reflects this reality for the Lakers. Their organization is, once again, committed to winning the NBA championship, their individual players have improved their skills, and Kobe Bryant has begun his ascent to the level of dominance once displayed by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell, the All-Time Greats of The Game.

Jeff Sack: My personal choice for MVP would have been LeBron James. Now I take the term literally Most Valuable Player. Without LBJ the Cavaliers are the Miami Heat, they don’t sniff the playoffs. Where I believe the Lakers still would have made the playoffs without Kobe. Not first place in the West, but put Sasha Vujacic in for Kobe they are a sixth seed. LBJ was more Valuable to his team in my mind than Kobe was to L.A.

There are those labeled as saviors to the league (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, etc.) but none landed in a “big market” city. Is this a hindrance to the NBA’s marketability?

Pico: Coverage is national, and so are the games; I can watch Wade and ‘Bron on ABC, ESPN, TNT, so the small market effect is not as strong as some would say with respect to the NBA’s current marketability. If the big market clubs have deeper pockets/ revenue streams… I can see that being a way that the small market hurts marketability. The players have to be larger than life winners to gain the iconic status that the NBA would love to leverage.

And part of marketability comes from being able to put those stars on actual well-known advertisements; Lebron has had little issue securing advertisements from Cleveland. The one thing that having the players away from the big market DOES do is hold those players a little bit farther from the fire/ scrutiny of multiple outlets looking for the athlete to slip up. Though to counter that, the player who plays in, say, NY, will have a LOT of reporting into every aspect of their life, and more eyeballs will know their story.

One thing about being in a smaller market is that, perhaps, there is less of the “being out on the scene” that does assist in exposure… but that exposure confers more status on the player as individual vs player as representative of the Association. The NBA may not even want their stars associated with the Big Rapper, or the Slick Real Estate Guy, if it’s not under the commissioner’s control.

Jeff Lin: Yes, and again, it all comes down to dollars and cents. You put a big star in a big city and there are more people around to buy tickets, jerseys and bobbleheads. Put them in a small city and there is simply less purchasing power.

Guys like LeBron will sell jerseys no matter what, but the fact is that you put the guy in a bigger market and he will sell more jerseys.

Don: Not as much as refereeing issues… gambling… and the specter of the NBA ramrodding the Sonics move out of Seattle. Players in big market cities has a way of working itself out. If their teams don’t pay the cash – or put a good support cast around them, the players will move. LeBron? He’ll be in NY one way or another.

Dannie: First let me start by saying I don’t think the league needs “saviors.” The game is much better off marketing past and developing team rivalries than individual players. With that said, I think the NBA’s marketability when relying on individual players is more about team success than location. If Kevin Durant played in New York and they still were one of the 5 worst teams in the NBA would it really matter that he was in a big market?

Individual players control their own marketability and perceived likeness in the marketplace with the endorsement deals and appearances they make that are mostly separate from the NBA.

From a basketball, NBA business standpoint players need to be on TV. In order for them to get on TV often their team must be a winner. If these players are on ESPN, ABC and TNT weekly it wouldn’t matter what market size city they play in. I think it is that simple

Fouled Out: No I don’t think so. It actually helps the marketability of the league. Because if a potential big star lands on a city that has a small market, he can shake up the city and bring it’s crowd to their feet. Take the Hawks for example. The market in Atlanta is relatively small compared to other teams, but since they made it to the playoffs this year, the fans started going to their games. I believe that there’s no such thing as “small market” city. It’s just that the people are not hooked up with their teams because they are not winning. The Hornets had a hard time filling up their stadiums early in the season but when they started winning, people from New Orleans started going to the games. Players labeled as “saviors” are really saviors in a sense that they have the potential capacity to shake things up and bring its home-crowd to their feet..

Khandor: No. The NBA, today, is much bigger than that. There are more than enough ‘Stars of the Game’ to go around, filling up both the smaller markets and the larger ones. The NBA has a global reach today, and its marketing extends to smaller communities throughout the continental USA, larger communities (with major media outlets), and international communities, as well

Jeff Sack: I can only speak from personal experience. I covered Cleveland as a radio beat reporter from 1995-2007. I saw Cleveland turn from a NBA Wasteland to a viable and vibrant market after James came to the team. So I think it just makes more markets viable markets. The Durant situation is strange because the Sonics are in the process of locating. But D-Wade and Shaq brought a buzz to Miami in 2006.

On a similar note, what is the significance of the meteoric rise of Boston and LA? In what ways does it affect the NBA?

Pico: LA never really left; they had a couple of mediocre years but they had Kobe… but Boston is out of a relative nowhere. It’s great to see that if a team can put some good role players (this is key to their success) around some excellent talent, winning can happen… in the Eastern Conference. The same roster wouldn’t have won the West, necessarily. Too many other tough outs in the conference. But I do think that the NBA is happier than a pig in slop to have these longtime rivals in the finals again – coastal teams, big named players in big name jerseys, good basketball, high drama… big win for the Association. This is a much more fan friendly finals than many of the recent series.

The moves that teams in the West made to match that curious Pau Gasol fire sale (I forget which move was first, actually, so correct me if I’m wrong about Pau being first) might change the balance of power between the conferences. The West is now aging (though Golden State and Denver and Utah may be on the come-up), and the Suns and Mavs really blew their wad in making poor, short-sighted moves.

Teams in the East see that if they can make the package and grab a player – or if their guys develop – the conference is there for the having. And there are multiple real contenders in the East now – Boston, Cleveland (though they need work), Detroit… teams can get in that conversation if they are willing to make that move or two. And Atlanta and Philly… I smell good things in the future. Indiana can come back. The Knicks might get back to respectable…

Jeff Lin: Well, the league can capitalize on the long rivalry between these teams, and it has done so. It’s good for the league’s coffers, but I don’t know what else.

Don: I’d hardly categorize LA’s rise as ‘meteoric’… surprising? Yes. That it’s happened this fast. Even with Bynum’s growth, I didn’t truly expect LA to be in the finals this year. Boston? Their growth was definitely meteoric, and a lil’ mercenary. KG & Allen came over, and if they can win this year – the putting-in-hock of the franchise’s future was definitely worth it.
Certainly looking like a good piece of work thus far.

Dannie: I think it is great for the game. It is easy to market. But the demographic that is effected the most are fans of the game who

1. Witnesses of that rivalry as it happened

2. Diehard fans that know and appreciate their NBA history

The older generation in my opinion followed a team first and players second. Today’s younger fans follow their favorite player first and often by association support the team they play for. So I think this years NBA Finals bring out the older generation of fans they may have stepped away from the game for a while.

Fouled Out: In some ways, this will increase the popularity of the league at least for a few years. Old-school NBA fans will have the chance to don their old Lakers and Celtics jerseys. But the Lakers-Celtics face-off is not exclusively for the older generations because the younger fan base will also get to enjoy the long-standing rivalry of Lakers and Celtics. Some may say that the Finals is rigged by the comish, but I don’t think so. The Lakers and Celtics both worked their asses to reach the top and they deserve to be there. This is a chance for old-school fans to walk down the memory lane and relive the past and a chance for younger generations to experience the rich and long-standing tradition of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.

Khandor: A bi-coastal rivalry like this, which re-emphasizes the roots of the game and re-establishes its core elements, involving Boston and LA – significantly sized communities in major media markets – is important to sustain a healthy, vibrant NBA product long term. Re-invigorating central ‘hubs’, like this, from time-to-time, is essential to provide solid underpinnings for the game, as a whole, allowing the league to grow and maintain its stability, simultaneously.

Jeff Sack: It is the premier rivalry in the NBA. It is the equivalent of Yankees/Red Sox in Baseball, or Dallas/Pittsburgh in the NFL. it plays on the nostalgia factor, plus it features some of the best players in the Association today.

There’s been talk about excluding those under the age of 20 from the NBA draft. How will this affect the NBA?

Pico: Hey, for real? The Alaskan Assassin? I miss Langdon.

The age limit… I hate the age limit, as a college basketball fan. There is a problem, certainly, with kids thinking their skills are NBA ready when they are NBA never-will-bes, and there is a problem with general managers trying to one-up each other by signing young talent that doesn’t pan out. But the age exclusion is frankly fairly silly. There are players who can contribute or at least learn at the NBA level who have to spend two years going to classes they’re not interested in taking, receiving what might be inferior training… I don’t think a change in the age limit will change much about the NBA as a whole, however. The players are always around, even if one or two becomes exposed in college. But it would be nice if teams could draft 18 year olds and send them to the D-League (i.e. not allow them to play in the NBA) for training, and life skills tutoring. More on that in the next answer.

Jeff Lin: I hate the age limit. Along with the dress code and outrageous restrictions on court behavior (no hanging from the rims??), it strikes me as paternalistic and vaguely racist. As a sociologist, I think these issues have institutional, not conspiratorial, roots. David Stern is not a racist, but to make more money, he has to make the league appealing to as many potential fans as possible. This is the impetus for the behavioral rules mentioned above—which collectively serve to “whiten” the appearance of the league.

The dilemma for the NBA is that so many of its players come from disadvantaged backgrounds (ie, they seem too “black”), and therefore lack marketability. This is a recurring problem for the NBA. The league, in response, is forced to take action through behavioral restrictions, especially as it markets on a global level. Agents and team officials are in on this as well, as a better public image inflates everyone’s income.

What is the rationale behind age restrictions? As many others have said, you can vote when you’re 18, you can go to war, you can work at Foot Locker. Why can’t you make a living playing basketball? I wonder if these age restrictions would have come up at all if the league was more white. Where are the age restrictions in baseball and hockey?

I also wonder if there isn’t some tacit or explicit agreement between the NBA and the NCAA to let these players contribute to college profiteering before they can go pro.

Don: It won’t. It will have to come around during the next CBA, and I don’t think that’s for a few years yet. For it to occur would mean that the NBA/owners will have to offer the players something in return… so there’ll be some type of balancing act to it. Even if it does, all it means is that we see a bit better NCAA.

Dannie: There should be no age limit. If a player is good enough to play let him play, simple as that. If a team wants to draft him and he isn’t ready that is why every NBA franchise should have a D-league team to develop these players. Guess what people, not everyone wants to go to college. College isn’t for everyone. The point of college is to develop skills so I can thrive in my desired profession. If my desired position in an NBA player and I am capable of playing now why stop me. I really don’t see any benefit for the NBA. Maybe you get more polished players since they had to play in college for 1-2 years. But you also keep out guys like LeBron or Kobe how are capable of being stars right away.

Khandor: Excluding ‘Players Under the Age of 20’ from the NBA draft helps the league immensely. It improves the image of the league by ensuring that its incoming players are more mature with the life experience gained from those years after high school. It improves the on-court product by eliminating players from the NBA game who are still ‘developing’ their individual talents and their overall understanding of how elite level basketball actually works despite the immense ‘athletic ability’ they already possess. It improves the financial environment in the NBA by preventing individual clubs from committing exorbitant sums of money to still immature players who may never fully develop at the NBA level down-the-road.

Jeff Sack: I had the pleasure of covering Trajan during his days in the NBA, as a member of the Cavaliers. He is a class gentleman, bright, articulate, and truly a nice man. That being said he did not have the skills to make it in the NBA. I have always been in favor of having a similar system in the NBA as you do in MLB, with each Association team having their own minor league team. In my scenario, if you don’t want to go to college, that’s fine you go to the minor league team for four years. That way you can earn money for your family, and hone your skills at the same time. I do not want athletes learning the game at the NBA Level.

In the beginning of May, Trajan Langdon won the Euroleague Final Four MVP. Historically, ambitious American basketball players skipped across the pond to make a name for themselves. They would leverage European success into NBA stints. With the D-league getting more push behind it, where do you see European ball and D-league ball in relation to each other?

Pico: The bigger name players always will come out of the college or prep ranks, or they will be Euro players who come over from the Euroleague (and similar leagues in South America and one day, in China). So I think that in terms of cachet for an American baller, it is similar. I can’t see players – even in the age limit increase scenario – choosing to go abroad to play. Too far from home, too little exposure for the NBA, and college coaches are great salesmen. Plus take some of the skinny American college ball prospects, put them up against 28 year old men, and watch them fold like a newspaper. They couldn’t take that kind of muscling.

The top levels of European ball are definitely better than the D-League games I have seen. The Spanish league? I watched half a game on a trip to Sevilla last year on a tiny television and I was fully impressed. I would have stayed in the hotel to watch more. I couldn’t say the same about the Developmental League. But Euro ball varies very widely; the British league isn’t great, there are many divisions in each country, and the low-level ball isn’t a place to get seen… a player looking to step back across the water could get lost in the shuffle.

Going to Europe, for an young player, has little allure to it. And that’s sad. The D-League has even less allure, and will continue to not have allure until it becomes a minor league system where teams can point and say, that Austin Toros team produced 3 NBA all-stars. It needs a track record. Despite my earlier objections, I think it would be interesting to see a system where players decide not to go to college and to make a little bank in backwater cities with the hope of reaching the NBA (b/c the scouts will see them) or going to Europe/ South America/ China/ Israel; they’d get a real education in language, culture, and how to play the game in a team concept.

Jeff Lin: Not sure on this one, but the D-league has a hard-to-shake stigma in the US. And given that players are paid more in Europe than in the D-league, Euro-play seems to be a more appealing option. However, if the NBA can effectively promote the D-league as the “closest step” to the NBA, it may counteract some of the stigma.

Don: European basketball is way, way, way ahead of the D-League. Hell, on the international stage, the NBA is yet to prove that as of this moment that they are a superior game to what’s being played in Europe (well… at least ‘non-US’).

There’s definitely a leaning towards finesse over physicality, but that Europeans are ‘soft’ is simply untrue. It’s just that in the NBA a lot of stuff that’s called in Europe is let go… and there are different rules for stars as to rookies or ‘scrubs’.

Additionally, the money in Europe is far, far greater than the average player can earn in the D-League. And money always talk. Ask Splitter why he’s still in Europe.

I still think that as it stands at the moment, European basketball still trumps D-League… and only post the Olympics will it stand below the NBA on a truly world stage (for the record, I think the US team finally get it done and get gold).

Dannie: I think the two serve different players and different purposes. The NBA is trying to develop a minor league system to cultivate young developing players with the D-league. So if I am a basketball player with the sole purposes of getting into the NBA I would focus on showcasing my ability in the D-league. On the other hand if I was a player that just wanted to play ball professionally I would go over seas and hoop in Europe or some other foreign country. I am not playing with the sole purpose to get to the NBA. If someone sees me and likes my game and offers me an opportunity to play in the NBA obviously I would take it. But if that doesn’t happen I know I can have a successful and long-term career over seas. Whereas I don’t think anyone can make a career out of playing in the D-league.

Khandor: FIBA and the D-league are both viable options for players who are non-NBA ready. FIBA is gradually moving closer to the NBA by adjusting its ‘Rules of Play’ (e.g. the longer-distance NBA 3-Pt Shot is now being phased into FIBA). Given the sizable salaries which are paid to European ‘pro’ players, it will continue to be the primary option for players to hone their games and improve their stock in the eyes of NBA General Managers, on a long term basis. D-league players are directly accessible to the NBA within a specific season but are not being called up on a permanent basis in large numbers yet and given the relatively low salaries associated with the league it will continue to be the 2nd rung on the ladder leading toward the NBA.

Jeff Sack: I still think that the Euro-Leagues will be a very viable alternative to a player who can’t make the Association, if for no other reason the money. Euro-League teams can pay a player more than a NBDL team

College ball vs. the NBA. Many college basketball fans cite NBA players’ “lack of effort” as a reason not to tune in. Do you hold any perceived differences between college and pro ball?

Pico: Hells yeah, I do. I’ve been a college basketball partisan for years and years. The only reason I liked the Knicks was because they were the hometown team and they beat up other teams (in the early/ mid 90s). In college I fell in love with the pageantry and partisanship of the game – your guy was always your guy. He’d never get traded (though now they transfer with greater frequency). And the college game looks as if the players are putting in more effort – they are generally smaller, less athletic, less able to get to the rim in three strides. The college game is often more organized/ more system oriented and less athletically focused. The professional season is also just. so. long. It’s painful in January and everyone knows it. If it were shorter… if teams at the bottom were playing to not get “relegated” as happens in European leagues… I tune out except for my fantasy teams and the playoffs.

Jeff Lin: There are a lot of differences, and the two games are very distinct from one another now. The talent differential is off the charts, and this is the root cause of many of the other differences. The structure of the season is also critical. With an 82-game schedule, you just can’t expect maximum effort every night. College players, many of whom are at the end of their playing days, have a lot more to lose. In personal terms, the stakes are higher.

Don: Given I’m from outside of the States, I think there are 2 things that are immediately apparent to me.
1. People in the US have a particular college they have an affinity for, through either attendance or at the very least – knowledge of. Or, they have a team that they really, really hate.
2. The seasons are hugely different in the amount of games played.

As a result, I think that some fans view the NBA differently, and are a lil’ more critical than they are of the NCAA games.

Dannie: Sure there are differences. The NBA is in the entertainment and merchandising business so it behooves them to have loads of talent and that is what we get night in and night out. The NBA brings the highest level of basketball in the world. Lack of effort or not you still can’t watch better players anywhere else. And therefore I regularly tune in. Also the NBA has a lot more one-on-one play and more free motion offense, whereas college has a lot more formulaic offense and structured plays. That makes sense when you are talking about the caliber of players and the quantity in the NBA. Every team has multiple players capable of doing their thing without a structured play call. In college only the top teams have more than 2 players you could trust to give the rock and say go make it happen. College ball is more about team play and how talent is maximized within the team concept. Also rivalries never die in college because fans have more of a vested interest in their school than a casual NBA fan has in his home team. That adds a different type of atmosphere to the college game that you can’t get in the pros. Also the NCAA tournament 1 and done system makes their playoffs much more excited because there is really no tomorrow. There is way more

pressure in college ball than the NBA. LA is down 2-0 and feel just fine right now. You don’t have that luxury in the big dance.

Khandor: The NBA game has the most ‘talented’ players in the world but it is focused primarily on the ‘entertainment’ aspect of the sport, rather than ‘the Sport itself as entertainment’ which is what the US college game is focused on. There’s a big difference between these two environments. The ‘Rules of Play’ in the college game reflect ‘The Values and Principles of Basketball, and how the game should be played properly’. In contrast, the ‘Rules of Play’ in the NBA game reflect some of that, at its core, but is focused primarily on ‘The Principles of Mass Entertainment, and the need for Added Excitement to sell the spectacle to the General Public’.

Due to the many ‘bastardized’ Rules of Play in the NBA game, Coaching and Strategy (in general) is extremely complicated and, when done well, is at its zenith.

Jeff Sack: I think most fans really start to get into College ball around tournament time, when the teams are fighting to stay alive. And if you are going to compare that to Sacramento VS the T-Wolves in February, of course the NCAA game is far more exciting. The real test is comparing that Kings/Wolves against Duke VS some no name school in January. I don’t think you will see much more effort in that game!

OJ Mayo has been accused of receiving $35,000 during his recruitment to USC. Is this simply a “rule shapes morality” case? Who really benefits in these cases?

Pico: The school didn’t pay for it; and Mayo was steered to a particular agent. This sort of thing happens all the time, for sure, and it’s the agent and the player who benefits. That been said… there are no drugs, no murder, and no games thrown. So I can’t get up in arms about a fella with no money getting some money for his talent. If he didn’t make the league, would he have to pay the agent back? Probably not. So I can’t get up in arms there. Was this money from a booster? Did it steer him to USC? No, and no. I can’t get all heated about Mayo.

Jeff Lin: Schools benefit. Agents and runners benefit. Endorsers benefit. Player benefits, but is also exploited.

The system is corrupted. Each actor in the system predictably acts in his/her own interests. (For a conceptual overview, see all five seasons of “The Wire.”)

Don: Benefits? No-one. Definitely, college basketball loses out.

Dannie: Well obviously the player benefits because they get paid and in most situations have no consequences. If you don’t get caught while you still care about your college eligibility than from the players point of view they see no problem. The schools are the ones left with consequences in lost scholarships and post season games. I just think it is what it is. Part of the business of basketball and dealing with talent. I don’t know many 18-year olds turning down that kind of money when they know worst case scenario they can’t play the one year of college ball they had been forced into anyway.

Khandor: No, this is not “simply a ‘rule shapes morality’ case”.

Unfortunately, US college basketball has been corrupted, at its core, and what was once a simple game is no more. In today’s environment, college sport – at the highest levels of competition – is Business-driven. FULL STOP. Academic Integrity has been abandoned and is no longer at the heart of the US college, NCAA Division One experience for men’s basketball players. Academic Integrity is the Loser in this situation where the only (real) winner is the ‘Business Side’ of the game.

Jeff Sack: The NCAA system is antiquated at best. Why should USC make tons of money on Mayo’s shirts, and he not get a cut? In the old days the argument was the player got a free education. Not if you stay in school just one year. The system needs to be changed.

Since the years following the original Dream Team, American-born players seem hesitant to participate in international events like the Olympic Games. In contrast, international players openly look forward to it — as seen by recent statements by Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki, etc. Are international players more enthusiastic about these and events and why?

Pico: International players in the NBA will be more reluctant (as Steve Nash has been with respect to playing with Team Canada), but they often feel a kinship with their countrymen in a way that US players will not. Our nation is more regional, and our league places emphasis on the individual, and ideal that’s passed down to the youngest baller. There isn’t a strong tug when people see the Stars and Stripes unless we’re talking about the military. Winning it for the Red White and Blue has been trumped by money; and regionally, racially, ethnically, economically, the US is a polyglot of peoples. Great for living in my mind, but not great for getting a strong national fervor up for anything besides disagreement and wanting more money.

It seems that international teams all focus on the team concept, and there is a stronger cultural identity in relation to their flag. And basketball in the US is a wildly individual sport. Playing in the Olympics doesn’t bring in more money for the individual, and doesn’t impress that many people back home. It’s not a big win for the players to play. But Spain will remember if Pau or Juan Carlos decide to hang back in the US recording their album or having boat parties.

Jeff Lin: I’m not entirely sure, but my impression is that international players typically play with their national teams from the time that they are very young. They therefore grow more attached to these teams and develop a greater sense of national pride. In the US, there isn’t the same level of involvement at young ages.

We simply pluck the best players from the NBA for international competition and expect them to behave like they’re undyingly patriotic. Are they proud? Sure they are, but we can’t be expected to believe that service to country is their singular motivation. They have their own careers to consider, their own families. And with an increasingly hostile global attitude towards the US, American players have more to fear in terms of their personal safety.

Don: Sheesh… to answer that one you’d have to address a notion of ‘national pride’… and I’m just not going there.

Dannie: Yes the top international players who play in the NBA are more enthusiastic mainly because they play in the US every year. So they only get the opportunity to play with their country men once every 2-4 years. I also think there is a different level of pressure and obligation put on international players to be on their national teams because they don’t have as large a pool of great talent to pull from. So if Dirk doesn’t play for the German team they have no shot (they have no shot regardless but you get my point) and so on down the line with every other country. Whereas the US has dozens of top tier players to pull from and guys just don’t feel as obligated to commit. It’s like Tracy McGrady can say to himself, “oh I don’t have to play Kobe is playing.” Also, the commitment is greater. The Dream Team just had to play in the 1992 Olympics. They didn’t have all these other World Games to commit too. Not many NBA players will commit to playing basketball all year for 3-4 years straight. With that said I don’t think we will have a problem getting the best of the best to play for the US anymore given what happened in the 2002 World Games and 2004 Olympics. As older players decline new stars will emerge and take the reins.

Khandor: Yes, international players are more enthusiastic about representing their native country in the Olympics than American-born players are because they do not see their involvement in the NBA as the endpoint of their journey, as a basketball player. International players begin their journey outside of the USA – where the NBA is located, save for the Toronto Raptors – and, from the start, have as one of their primary goals, representing their homeland in international competition in an Olympic environment. Once they reach the NBA, they still have this goal. In contrast, American-born players, from the start, have as their primary goal making it to the NBA. FULL STOP. Representing the USA, in basketball, at an Olympics, does not hold the same value in this player’s life, since the NBA is widely recognized already as the highest level of basketball in the world.

Jeff Sack: I believe so, and mainly due to the success that South American and European teams have had in these tournaments. There is no upside for the USA they are expected to win.

Stylistic changes in the professional game have begun a new debate: would you draft a great point guard or a great center? What are your reasons?

Pico: Are there great centers anymore? Height is the thing you can’t teach, and training has allowed for those taller players to do more on the court… hm. It depends on how the game continues to change. I would prefer a point guard, myself, because a player who sees spaces and opportunities, coupled with scorers, will outscore the other team. A guy taller than everyone else will have an easier time scoring, but if he can’t get the ball, or get in position? He’s of much less use.

Jeff Lin: I’d draft the best player, whoever it was. The era of one-star teams is over (if it ever existed). Successful teams need balance now. I heard someone (Doug Collins maybe) say that a championship team needs 2.5 stars now.

One thing that Kobe and LeBron have demonstrated (see also Jordan, West, Russell) is that the desire to win is just as important as talent. All of these players are/were basically pathological in terms of competitiveness. In my favorite basketball book—Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam—the author recounts a story in which Michael Jordan is invited to his roommate’s home for Thanksgiving, where he is caught cheating while playing Old Maid against his roommate’s grandma. (“Did you just cheat my grandma in Old Maid?”) Jordan was insanely competitive. I wouldn’t want to play pickup ball with someone like that, but if I was the GM of an NBA team, I’d go after that kind of player.

Don: I draft the center. You have absolutely no guarantee either is going to be great, and if you miss, the big body is going to be of more use than the lil’ guy. I disagree that there are even stylistic changes. Look at the teams that are at the top now, and nearly every one has a good big man. Now, the media (and bloggers) have just gotten all giddy about trying to find the next Chris Paul. It’s not real, get used to big men generally dominating.

Dannie: I don’t think anything has changed actually. I have always believed the two most important positions (in order) are big man then point guard. To my knowledge the only teams to win championships without a HOF caliber big man in the last, lets call it 28 years have been the Jordan-led Bulls and Isiah-led Pistons right? So what has changed? This year neither team has a HOF point guard yet both have great bigs, one of which is a lock hall of famer (KG). In the history of the NBA there has only been one point guard that I would take over the best of the best Centers and PFs in the NBA and that is obviously Magic Johnson. But for me he doesn’t even count. Because he falls in the category I call “freak” when talking about basketball players. He is atypical of the position and pretty much one of a kind. Give me Shaq, Wilt, Russell, Malone (Moses), Kareem, Duncan, Hakeem over any other great point guard. Great centers and power forwards inherently have more impact on the game because the nature of the position demands they protect the basket along with what they bring on offense. As dominant as Chris Paul is he couldn’t stop Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili the way Duncan can guard the rim against any New Orleans player.

Fouled Out: I think the usual answer would be “depends on what my team needs”, but ideally I would prefer to draft a great center. I just think that big men (centers and power forwards) take longer time to develop their game. They may be great in college, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be great in pro-league. Particulalry in the NBA, the guard position is kinda saturated. Teams can choose from a wide pool of guard players in the league compared to the pool of big men. I think guards are easier to train and they adapt to the game quicker than centers, and for that reason, I would pick a great center over a great point guard.

Khandor: Given these two choices, exclusively, I would draft a great Point Guard.

Basketball has always been and will always be – due to the Rules of Play – a guard’s game. It’s the guards who (I) handle and (II) defend the ball the most, not a Center (great or otherwise), and if you get ‘Big’ guards they can also do a significant amount of work (III) rebounding the basketball.

Jeff Sack: I have said for the last three years we are living in the Golden Age of the Point Guard. Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller, Deron Williams, and soon Derrick Rose. Now that Amare is playing the four you have two great centers in the NBA, Dwight Howard and Yao. The age of the Giants ruling the NBA has gone the way of the dinosaur


There you have it. Thanks go out to the seven guys that participated. I couldn’t have done it without them. Continue the discussion in the comments section.

Thanks again and keep an eye out for the next roundtable!


Joe John, The Matrix and D’Antoni

15 05 2008

A friend and I talked about the Phoenix Suns emergence as a basketball power. He made a very interesting and possibly revealing comment. He said, “if Steve Nash is so loveable, why is he the only one left in Phoenix?”

Joe Johnson left the Valley of the Sun as he developed his dynamic perimeter game. Shawn Marion left in his prime to join Dwyane Wade and a dysfunctional supporting cast. And now, Mike D’Antoni has escaped to New York.

For all of the love Steve Nash gets, some of Phoenix’s best pieces have broken away. Nash is a great player, a couple MVPs have solidified that statement. But for all of the professed love, why has Phoenix ostracized several important pieces?

Of all the people in Phoenix, save Nash’s hair stylist, I would never have guessed Mike D’Antoni would hurl himself away from the tree.

When asked, “the Knicks are a mess. When do you expect a full-scale intervention?” Steve Nash said it himself, in a 2006 SI interview, “At some point, they’ve got to hit the jackpot. We’ll see…”

D’Antoni and Nash. Steve and Mike. These two names were whispered in unison. Nothing ever felt so right since Nash’s amicable divorce from Dirk Nowitzki.

Maybe Joe Johnson really did want the money and a chance to lead a team. Maybe Shawn Marion and Mike D’Antoni were really pushed out the door. I certainly don’t know the truth to this.

However, when a big cog or valuable player is forced out, the blame usually falls on the people left behind. See Kobe, when Shaq left. See Cuban, when Nash left. See Riley, when Shaq left. See Thorn, when Kidd left. See hill-billies, when Gasol left. (Kidding, Tennessee. I’ll see you in a few months.)

I’m not calling for blame to fall on Nash at all. Everyone says that they love playing with him. But everyone’s leaving. I really do enjoy watching Nash play. However, I also think it is notable that he was always left unscatched by the media.

Nash has a very agreeable public persona. Besides Nash’s statement opposing the invasion of Iraq and his apparent revulsion to endorsements, the media lets his antics fly under the radar.

Will the Suns implode without D’Antoni? There’s still a lot of faith in Steve Nash’s playmaking skills. If the Suns do miss a step and eventually break up, I’m certain the blame will fall squarely on Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Kerr.

And for whatever reason, a chance for D’Antoni to plug his offensive scheme into the Knicks hasn’t intrigued anyone outside of New York City limits.

The good vibes have always floated about Nash, a whirling dervish of positivity not unlike his floor game. I think that by November next season, we’ll find out if it was Nash and D’Antoni or D’Antoni and Nash.

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Fun and Gone?

5 05 2008

Mike D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns have revolutionized the game.

The concoction of D’Antoni, Steve Nash, the Colangelos and a frenetic brand of basketball literally energized the NBA.

The Phoenix Suns challenged the long-held “defense above all” basketball axiom. Their play challenged the institutions and huffed at the purists.

They won in a way that they weren’t supposed to. Steve Nash was at the center of a free-flowing offense that would make his old Maverick team blush.

Within 7 seconds of possession, a field goal was to be thrown up. They took the first quasi-good shot the defense afforded them.

And the Suns organization had a collective grin from ear to ear. It’s as if they got caught doing something bad and they were defiantly enjoying the consequences.

After 253 D’Antoni-led wins in five years, trouble seems to be catching up to them.

There have been rumors that Mike D’Antoni may out of Phoenix next season. Rumors are rumors, of course. And I know it’s faulty logic but the very fact a D’Antoni firing is mentioned means something to me. It means that the fun may be coming to an end.

The Suns were everything that David Stern wanted. They were an entertaining, high-scoring squad that made a bunch of egotistical individuals (see: Amare, Nash and Marion) look like they were playing team ball.

In many ways, the Suns allowed the NBA to create a separate product within itself. Their success was aided by the perimeter, hand-checking enforcements. The installment of zone defenses allowed the Suns to gain some semblance of a team defense. And the often-mentioned European influence on the NBA was personified in the desert.

The Suns were created to break the mold. A perfect storm was brewing for them; everyone was cheering for an offense-first team to win it all. So what went wrong?

As Steve Kerr took the general manager position in Phoenix he said, “I’ll only be making minor tweaks here and there,” and “you don’t fix something that isn’t broken.”

If only that Past Steve could see Present Steve…

Whether it’s fair or not, a lot of the blame will fall on Kerr. Even though Nash, D’Antoni and the ownership signed off on the Shaq-for-Marion trade, Kerr will bear the brunt of that decision.

It’s safe to say that the Shaquille O’Neal experiment has gone terribly wrong. To think that the Suns actually thought they were better than the San Antonio Spurs. I guess they were a lot closer to the edge than anyone would have thought.

Trading away a long, versatile and athletic wing for an aging, over-paid out of shape big man shouldn’t even be done in video games. Everyone knew it was a terrible decision and now the writing’s on the wall.

If D’Antoni is let go, Kerr won’t have anyone to share the blame with. Steve Nash is a media darling. No one expects much out of Shaq anymore, so he will be free from harm.

For all of the hype around the Phoenix Suns, they really weren’t all too successful in the postseason. The future doesn’t look too bright but one thing is certain: Steve Kerr will no longer get the benefit of the doubt.