Posted Mar 7 2011 9:45AM
The first thing you must know is that Sam Presti really, really doesn't want you to write this story. He would really appreciate it if you could keep the Oklahoma City Thunder, and him, off the front page. Which goes to show you that Presti is still made of the same stuff as the boys down in San Antonio, where he cut his NBA teeth before becoming general manager of the Sonics.
But you have to put the Thunder front and center, as they are going to save the NBA and all.
That is a bit of hyperbole, but the truth of the matter is that there are nervous owners throughout basketball, who see a league at risk, and worry that the NBA could rapidly devolve into Major League Baseball, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies (and a few others) able to buy anyone they want -- while, at the other end of the economic spectrum sit the Pirates and Royals who have no chance to compete from minute one of the season. They know it, and the Yankees, Sox and Phils know it, and the fans in Pittsburgh and Kansas City know it.
If things work out in OKC, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead the Thunder deep into the playoffs this year and next, it will help stem the tide that has risen in the last year, when LeBron, Amar'e, Bosh and Carmelo all left smaller markets for bigger ones -- and created angst in their old cities, as well as others.
The reason the Jazz traded Deron Williams to New Jersey a year and a half before his contract expired is that smaller market teams -- many (though not all) of whom produce smaller revenues than their bigger-market counterparts -- are increasingly worried that they won't be able to hold onto their star players. They're concerned those stars, in the SuperFriends Era, will force more trades or walk when able to play alongside other stars in bigger cities.
Which is why Durant's Tweet on July 7 of last year may be the most important communique' this league has seen in the last decade.
"Exstension (sp) for 5 more years wit the #thunder," Durant wrote. "...God Is Great, me and my family came a long way...I love yall man forreal, this is a blessing!"
But, did James's hour-long Decision trump Durant's 140 characters? Who's winning the big market/small market argument?
"LeBron's decision was a big one," Minnesota's Kevin Love said Saturday night. "I think it influenced kind of everybody around the league, and that's kind of where everybody's headed. I think I saw Chris Mullin talking about it (Friday) night, that that's kind of the unconventional way right now. You see them recruit superstars, (and) in some ways having problems, rather than looking at the Lakers, where they have a couple (of superstars), or the San Antonio Spurs, where it's more of the conventional way of putting teams together."
The next stars that could potentially form supergroups come from the free agent class of 2012: Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul (all of whom have opt-outs that summer), veterans Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups, along with other good players like Gerald Wallace (who also has an early termination option), Chris Kaman and Ray Felton -- and, potentially, Andrew Bynum. The Lakers hold a team option on him that season for $16.4 million, and while it wouldn't seem now like the Lakers wouldn't pick that up, who knows how a post-lockout/new collective bargaining agreement landscape might change things? Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are also in that class, but it's hard to see them leaving Paul Pierce alone again in Boston. (Though you never know; the Cs might view that as the summer they move forward from The Big Three and start rebuilding around Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.)
Love, who'll be a restricted free agent in '12 if he doesn't sign an extension with Minnesota (OKC's Westbrook is in a similar situation) got recruiting pitches from everyone during All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.
"A lot of it was (about) OKC," Love said. "A lot of it was a few other teams that just need that one more guy. And a lot of it was circulating around the Lakers, 'cause we were out there as well. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of questions were circulating, and I almost felt like, 'Damn, I have to take a step back and, not assess the situation, but kind of look at things from a broad horizon.'
"As far as right now, I love the city of Minneapolis. I like Minnesota as a state. I love the people here. Our team is very young. We have a lot of stuff going for us when you look past the win column. I think I just have to look at that come contract time."
Every star player isn't bolting every small market.
Durant stayed put. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker each would have had a half-dozen serious suitors had either opted to explore free agency, but each decided to remain in San Antonio with deals that will likely take them through the end of their careers. Of course, you say: they chose to stay to play with Tim Duncan. True.
But what about Rudy Gay, who had the Knicks and Nets hot on his trail when free agency began last summer, and had no superstar next to him in Memphis? He is the star. And yet Gay didn't put himself on the market, re-signing with the Grizzlies for $82 million, just as John Salmons ($39 million) stayed in Milwaukee. Danny Granger has never seriously looked into leaving Indiana; Cousin LaMarcus [Aldridge] inked a big deal 17 months ago to remain in Portland, following Brandon Roy's lead.
Which is why we, again, come to OKC, and its latest coup, acquiring Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson from Boston for Green and Nenad Krstic.
It is in keeping with how Presti has been able to make deals over the years, striking when opportunities arise.
He initially signed Krstic to an offer sheet in 2008 while Krstic was still playing overseas in Russia and was the property of the Nets. He got Daequan Cook from the Heat in late June, knowing Miami was desperate to clear as much cap room as possible to go after James. He got center Cole Aldrich and Mo Peterson from New Orleans knowing that the Hornets would be interested in rookies on rookie contracts -- and he happened to have two, Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter, then flipped Peterson and D.J. White at this deadline to Charlotte for Nazr Mohammad.
"I think we've been fortunate throughout our existence in Oklahoma City," Presti said Thursday. "Also, we have a lot of really good people who work well together. Clearly, it starts with the players, and the chemistry of the group, and we can bring in guys who fit in with the group."
Presti has been trying for years to acquire a big man, but it's been a long slog. He started by signing Krstic to a $15 million offer sheet early in the 2008-09 season, while Krstic, still the property of the Nets, was ending an unhappy run with a Russian team. New Jersey passed, and Krstic came back over to the NBA. But he wasn't the answer, and Presti wasn't able to land a true difference-maker in the paint, getting Etan Thomas and Byron Mullins in for looks.
Until a week and a half ago, when he again saw an opportunity.
Because Boston is so far over the salary cap this season, GM Danny Ainge and the Celtics were limited in what they could offer Perkins in a contract extension. Their offer could be based only on Perkins' salary at the time, $4.6 million. With annual raises, the most Boston could offer him was a four-year, $23 million extension. Which is what they offered him.
But Presti had another card to play, one that he had used earlier this season with one of his own players, Nick Collison. While Boston was way over the cap, OKC was way under going into the season, at just under $42 million. (Durant's extension begins next season). So the Thunder had significant cap room to use any way they saw fit. Instead of using it on a free agent, Presti opted to keep it in-house. Under cap rules, a team can restructure an existing contract of one of its players if it is under the cap. It cannot give the player a signing bonus, however.
Presti was thus able to renegotiate Collison's contract, which was set to expire after this season. He used $6.5 million of his existing room to bump Collison's salary up from its previous $6.75 million to $13.27 million. Technically, since the money is for salary and not a bonus, OKC was within the rules, but the effect was to pay Collison now rather than later. It gives him money now that he might not have been able to get after the new CBA comes in. And it gave the Thunder the ability to extend Collison for four years after this season -- but extend him downward, from $3.2 million in 2011 -12 to $2.9, $2.5 and $2.4 million in the last three years of the deal. The net-net was a ridiculously cap-friendly contract for OKC, but a deal that didn't alienate Collison in the process.
With all that as background, Presti looked into Perkins. He knew that Green, a restricted free agent himself this summer, would be looking for a big payday -- one that OKC probably would not be able to give him, as it was likely going to be limited to two near-max deals -- one for Durant, one for Westbrook, who's eligible for an extension this summer. And Ainge wouldn't be able to give Perkins what he wanted. It would be hard to trade Perkins, the glueist of glue guys, who had killed himself rehabbing his torn ACL and MCL suffered in Game 6 of the Finals last June. But the Celtics didn't have a lot of options, and in Green, they got a young, dynamic frontcourt player. Maybe not a "win-win," but a fair deal for both teams.
"In this case, Danny and I were able to accomplish that," Presti said. "They're getting two very high-level players that have great character and have left a positive impact on our organziation. We were able to get players who help fill a need with our core group."
With Perkins in the fold, OKC could make a similar offer to Perkins that it had with Collison, but it had to do so before last Tuesday; contracts cannot be renegotiated between March 1 and June 30 of any season.
The trade actually gave OKC another $2 million or so of additional cap room. Presti used most of it to bump Perkins's salary up from its existing $4.6 million to $6.446 million. Working off of that number, the Thunder could give Perkins a four-year extension for $34 million, along with additional potential bonuses.
And this is why OKC, like San Antonio before it, offers so much hope. Yes, it was lucky to get Durant, as selfless a star as there could possibly be -- a skinnier, younger Duncan. But by trading Ray Allen in the summer of 2007, the Thunder got Green, which it then used to get Perkins. By ignoring everyone who thought Westbrook couldn't play point guard, OKC got the perfect complimentary player for Durant -- the Cali Tony Parker. By being patient with Serge Ibaka and letting him play overseas for a year, OKC got a much more NBA-ready big man last season, one who exploded onto the scene and who will now move over to power forward for the next decade. With the 21-year-old Ibaka at four, the Thunder's starting lineup is -- get this -- the youngest in the NBA, and the overall roster is the third-youngest in the league.
And by holding its cap room sacred as it rebuilt the roster, OKC had the flexibility to extend Collison and Perkins. It is, Presti said, like putting a bigger down payment on a car, so you don't have out of control interest payments in three years. The Thunder will still be around $50 million in salaries next season, able to perhaps make one or two more moves before Durant's and Westbrook's extensions kick in.
"There's obviously built-in advantage for the player," Presti said. "It's not that we were able to do something he couldn't do in Boston. We were able to take advantage of an opportunity in a short period of time."
There is nothing wrong with this league that smart people can't solve. Draft well. Make good trades. Keep your core group together, but pay the right amount of money for the right people -- and don't be afraid to take chances on the right kind of veterans, guys like Perkins, so beloved by a group as ornery as the Celtics, or Mohammad.
The size of the market is not the determining factor.
Cleveland had seven years to make LeBron happy. Denver had seven years to make Carmelo happy. They didn't. But Miami kept Dwyane Wade happy by bringing in LeBron and Chris Bosh. Otherwise, he would have gone to Chicago. Simple as that. The Spurs have kept Duncan happy for 14 years. They didn't do it with magic tricks, fancy restaurants or showgirls; they did it by getting him teammates good enough to win championships with.
That is the challenge going forward, for every team, no matter the market size. That is what the Hornets will have to do with Paul, and what Minnesota will have to do with Love, and what the Kings will have to do with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. It is also what New Jersey will have to do with Williams, and what Washington will have to do with John Wall, and what the Clippers will have to do with Blake Griffin.
That is the battle, winning the hearts and minds of your stars. Oklahoma City has shown you the way.
"You know, going to a Big Three or helping another team like that ... I think I have to look at my circumstances," Love said. "My contract is still a ways away. I think you still have to look at whoever we're going to bring in, who we're going to draft, who we're going to sign, re-sign. There's a lot of stuff that goes into it.
"We have a ton of cap space, and a lot of room to sign (players), whether it's through the Draft or trades ... I just look at it like I want to start winning going into my fourth and fifth and sixth years. Going into, essentially, as I'm getting older and start heading into my prime, I want to start winning, 'cause for me, at this point, I'm not sure what my legacy is going to be. And what kind of legacy am I going to have going forward?"
It's an open-ended question. He will stay if there's reason to stay, or he will go if there isn't. He awaits Minnesota's answer.
Deflated, but not yet defeated, in Sactown
It is a story with no real villains -- at least from outside the city limits, it seems that way. But the endgame is near, and everyone in Sacramento is preparing for the worst.
"We're certainly realists," a woman named Amber Williams said on the phone Sunday evening. "Everyone's a realist. But until they officially tell us it's over we're going to do whatever we can to stay postiive."
Williams is president of the Glass Agency, a local Sacramento advertising firm that is desperately trying everything it can to help sway public opinion in the city and raise awareness of the dire straights the city will find itself in if the Kings leave for Anaheim. The Glass Agency is behind the "Sac Deflated" campaign that has been featured on four static billboards and eight electronic billboards around the city, as well as the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter pages and online banner ads. It has gotten the help of local vendors to get the ad space and work on the billboards for free or at discounted prices, to the tune of more than $150,000 in total value.
But there's only two people whose opinon matters on this, and Williams knows it, and so does her company. And Joe and Gavin Maloof, whose family owns the Kings, aren't going to be swayed by billboards. They are deep into talks with the city of Anaheim to move the Kings there as early as next season. The franchise had a March 1 deadline to apply for relocation, but that deadline was pushed back by the league to April 18, which will allow the Maloofs to speak to the full NBA Board of Governors at its meeting April 14 and 15.
The league has washed its hands of the matter, as commisioner David Stern's news conference during All-Star Weekend last month made clear. Stern acknowledged that the Maloofs were talking to Anaheim, but said the Kings' future was between the city and the owners. The league had spent years behind the scenes -- and then, in front of the scenes -- trying to find a public-private partnership with the Maloofs to find funding to build a new arena that would replace Arco Arena. But its lobbying went nowhere, and a 2006 initiative that would have raised sales taxes locally to fund a new building was soundly defeated at the polls.
With the Kings far from their heyday of the early 2000s, and the severe recession hitting California especially hard, one of the league's great bases of fan support began to dwindle, and the Maloofs, frustrated after a decade of waiting for an agreement to start digging, started looking elsewhere. There have been rumors of talks with Las Vegas, and San Diego, in the last few years. But the Anaheim discussions look like the real deal.
"It's a business decision and the economics of Anaheim are better for them than here in Sacramento," mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA All-Star, said last Thursday in a news conference, admitting he saw little hope the team would stay in town after meeting with the Maloofs last week. At this point, Johnson said, only the failure of Anaheim to close the deal can keep the Kings in Sacramento. Henry Samueli, the owner of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, has reportedly offered the Maloofs $100 million in loans to pay their bills and relocation fees if the franchise would move to Anaheim and play in the Honda Center there.
Sac Deflated was the brainchild of Erica Rau, Glass' vice president and director of brand engagement. Rau used to work for the Maloofs and recalled how much buzz they generated when they put a billboard up in 2001, pleading with free-agent-to-be Chris Webber to stay in town. In the billboard, Joe Maloof was pictured on a lawn mower next to text reading "Chris-Joe will mow your lawn if you stay -- Gavin". So in late February, Rau decided to repeat the stunt.
"She sat me down and said this March 1st deadline was coming up, and unlike any other year before there was a lot of dicscussion and a chance that the Maloofs could go somewhere else," Williams recalled. "We had heard Stern's comments. We knew that it happened. We love the Kings and believe they're an important part of the city in many ways, not just sports. Our company specializes in advertising and social media. We thought, what better way to do something for the city than to get people's attention?"
So up went the "game over" billboards featuring a deflated basketball.
The campaign is not just for diehard Kings fans. There are lots of residents who may not go to a lot of games -- or any, Williams said. But they know that the Kings are important to the city, just like the Sacramento Opera -- which announced in December that it was cancelling its two shows this year and laying off all but one person on its staff because of an $85,000 shortfall, as the Sacramento Bee reported.
Rau is hopeful that the Maloofs would be among those touched by the outpouring.
"She had gotten to work with them and she said they're not one-dimension businessmen," Williams said. "They're certainly businessmen, but they're passionate people. They're emotional people. So she felt like a campaign might have some effect on them, because they're emotional and passionate. They thrive off of that. That was certainly part of our thought process. But they're also businessmen and they have to do what's best for their business."
With the campaign providing a catalytic boost, several local groups, under the umbrella name Here We Stay, banded together to give the Maloofs one last show of civic support for the franchise. Last week, the Kings sold out their game against the Clippers, harkening back to the good old days when the team sold out 354 straight games from 1999 through 2007. The Maloofs came and took their usual courtside seats, and were indeed moved by the show of support.
"Monday night was a huge game, obviously, sold out, and then they won," Williams said. "We felt like a lot of reason it was a sellout and why the Maloofs actually showed up was because of all the fan support and the city. There's a lot of groups that were Kings fans who knew this was coming up for a while. But the city, the people that might not be season ticket holders but love the Kings, and know the Kings bring a lot of entertainment and don't want to see them go, we feel like we gave those people a forum as well."
Joe Maloof said in a text Sunday night: "we always have appreciated the fans and we have great respect for the fans. it felt like the glory years of the past monday nite it was a glorious nite."
But nothing had changed Tuesday morning. (Maloof said in a subsequent text Sunday that his family had had no contact with the Sac Deflated people, which Williams confirmed.)
But Sac Deflated is trying one more message campaign before the April Board of Governors meeting. At the end now, Williams' group wants to finish on a positive note.
"'Game Over' was about capturing the attention and getting them to take it seriously," she said. "Now we feel like we all have to band together, keep the faith and keep whatever small hope we have."
The new campaign, which begins today, is called It's Not Over -- which, Williams allows, is more a hopeful pitch than anything based in reality. The city has an agreement with a developer who has ideas about how to build a downtown arena, but the Maloofs will not meet with him or turn over financial documents the developer says he needs to see. But the campaign will run until the end of the month, and then the billboards will probably come down for good, and the real countdown will begin.
They will try as long as they can, and then they will accept the reality, just as fans in Rochester did when the Royals moved to Cincinnati in 1957, and the fans in Cincinnati did when the franchise moved to Kansas City and Omaha in 1972, and the fans in those cities did when the team left for Sacramento in 1985. The franchise, it seems, is destined to stay awhile, and then go.
"As much as the writing's on the wall, it's not completely over," Williams said. "There hasn't been a formal announcement. So we said, 'It's not over.' We can't walk away sad and defeated and feeling sorry for ourselves. Let's step up and be big about this. So we just wanted to put a little more positive message out there."
(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)
1) Chicago  (3-1): If you want a textbook example of what Gregg Popovich means when he talks about defending without fouling, look at how Joakim Noah guarded LeBron James on the final possession of Sunday's 87-86 victory. He moves his feet, he doesn't allow James to get into his chest and he contests the shot. Absolutely the way you draw it up.
2) Dallas  (2-1): Eight-game win streak ends Sunday, and Mavs lose golden -- and rare -- opportunity to make up ground on the Spurs for best record in the west.
3) L.A. Lakers  (3-0): Began what Phil Jackson called a season-defining road trip with a mighty impressive beatdown of the Spurs in San Antonio Sunday. But road games with the Hawks, Heat and Mavericks await.
4) Boston  (4-0): Big Baby latest center out. Did I just see Hank Finkel stretching out on the Common?
5) San Antonio  (2-2): Had record 22-game home win streak snapped by Lakers, but got Tony Parker back much sooner than expected last week, after he was initially forecast to miss two to four weeks with a calf injury.
6) Oklahoma City  (3-0): With Nate Robinson out for a while following arthroscopic surgery, the Thunder needs James Harden's offense off the bench more than ever. He matched his career high with 26 points Sunday in OKC's overtime win over Phoenix.
7) Orlando  (2-1): Incredible come-from-behind win in Miami Thursday must buoy the spirits of a sagging team. J and Q Rich provide huge lifts during comeback.
8) Portland  (2-1): Could Cousin LaMarcus move to center for good now that Gerald Wallace is around?
9) Denver  (3-1): Nuggets 6-2 since Carmelo Anthony trade.
10) Miami  (0-3): They will win as a team, or die as individuals -- and, yes, that is from Coach D'Amato's speech from Any Given Sunday. Thanks for paying attention.
11) New York  (2-2): Offense isn't the issue: Knicks are averaging 104.5 per game since 'Melo trade.
12) Atlanta  (1-3): Hawks get Josh Smith (knee) back but seem destined for a first-round matchup with their old nemesis, Orlando, unless they can get things going quickly.
13) New Orleans  (2-2): Bugs suddenly find themselves in a dogfight with surging Portland and Memphis for sixth place in the West.
14) Philadelphia  (2-1): Sixers now 29-17 since their 3-13 start. One of Doug Collins' best coaching jobs, doing it without a superstar in the NBA sense of the word.
15) Memphis  (2-1): Massive road win Sunday night with Zach Randolph's last-second jumper ending the Mavericks' win streak and giving the Grizz their eighth win in last 11.
Lakers (3-0): Ran win streak to seven in a row Sunday, but Kobe picked up his 13th T, three short of mandatory one-game suspension. The Angelenos looked fierce in routing the Spurs. They're the defending champs. They don't have to "send a message."
Charlotte (0-3): Bobcats haven't broken 90 in a week, averaging 79.8 points in last four games. Since trading Gerald Wallace they've averaged just 85.8 points per game, and are sinking in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
How do you say "Roddy Buckets" and "Mavs' X Factor" in French?
"Just trying to find my rhythm back," Rod Beaubois, aka Buckets, said last week. "It's been a long time, so I'm working on my rhythm and my cardio, trying to fight through it. A couple of games and I'm going to do it."
The Mavericks have a lot of weapons at their disposal, but blazing speed is not among their strengths. But the 23-year-old Beaubois has it -- or, at least, he had it last season, when he burst onto the scene as a rookie, appearing in 56 games and shooting 52 percent from the floor -- including a 40-point explosion at Golden State in March. In Game 6 of the Mavericks' first-round series against San Antonio, he looked unguardable, scoring 16 points in 21 minutes before sitting most of the fourth quarter of what became a season-ending Dallas loss.
Beaubois has missed most of this season after breaking his left foot last August while training with the French national team before the World Championships. The Mavericks got along fine without him and were purring right along when Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler's knee injuries devastated Dallas for a few weeks. But Nowitzki returned to the lineup a month ago, and Beaubois finally made his season debut Feb. 16. Coincidence or not, the Mavericks won seven in a row after Beaubois' return before losing Sunday night to the Grizzlies. In his first eight games back this season Beaubois is averaging 9.1 points on 46.3 percent shooting, in a little less than 17 minutes per game.
Yet Beaubois remains an enigma, relatively unproven over time.
"He's going to be a piece of work for a while," Nowitzki said. "If you really look at him last year he only had a couple of good games. It's a lot of pressure for him to come back now and be a starter and now all of a sudden produce big time ... but he'll be good. I think he eventually is what we need. He can get in the lane, get some open shots, get some layups. He's the kind of player that we need. We're still going to take it slow with him and hopefully it's going to improve from game to game as he gets his wind back, gets his legs back, and we'll be okay."
The road back from the broken foot was long and arduous. The Mavericks had hoped he'd miss only two or three months after surgery and be back for the start of the regular season, but he didn't even have the boot taken off of his foot until November. His recovery time continued to move back, into January, then the end of January, then February.
"I worried that I wouldn't be able to play," Beaubois said. "But I just needed to wait, and finally I came back. But now I just need to keep working and find that rhythm back."
When Beaubois returned, coach Rick Carlisle didn't waste time, putting him in the starting lineup alongside Jason Kidd, with Jason Terry coming off of the bench. It was a pairing that the Mavericks used to good effect last season -- "they've played well together in the past," Carlisle said -- though Beaubois is on an unofficial minutes limit as he gets his conditioning back. In their backcourt, Beaubois mans the point and Kidd plays shooting guard, giving Dallas a quite different look and forcing defenses to make hard choices in coverage.
"He's just rusty," Kidd said last week. "He's a little behind with the injury. The big thing is he's athletic, he can get to the basket and he can shoot it. It's just a matter of him getting minutes. We need to get him as many minutes as possible before the playoffs start."
The Mavericks didn't make a deal before the trade deadline, but of all the contenders in the West, they have the most potential for improvement down the stretch, with Beaubois' return. (Butler says he will also come back from his torn ACL in time for the playoffs, though the Mavericks are less optimistic than he.) There just aren't many people with Roddy Buckets' speed with the ball when he's right.
"I think I can bring my energy, my speed to the team," he said. "I just need to fight through it and normally in a couple of games, I'll be back."
Beaubois says he won't play for the French national team during this round of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, but plans to play for it again at some point in the future. For now his only concern is trying to regain the form he had last season, and begin to fulfill the promise that has kept him out of serious trade inquiries by the Mavericks since they acquired him.
"It's kind of -- how do you say it -- kind of thinking about it," he said. "It's been natural. It's been a long time. It's normal. I just need to fight through it. Just don't think about it. There's some days it's going to be tough, but I just need to forget about it and think about the next play. Because if I just keep thinking about it, I think it's not good."
Vox Populi. Or, translated from the original Noo Yawker, "this trade bites." From John Harley Whitlock:
In my opinion, the Knicks gave up far too much & basically got 'fleeced' [shades of Isiah Thomas] - only Doltin' Dolan could precipitate such nonsense, very likely on the advice of the franchise-destroyer himself, Isiah Thomas!
I doubt that [coach Mike] D'Antoni and [GM Donnie] Walsh are too happy & you may see Walsh 'jump ship' after the season. [Madison Square Garden chairman James] Dolan, ever the [misguided] egotist and interferer, simply backstabbed his GM and coach.
The Knicks were playing pretty good basketball & gradually building a solid roster. Now, they have two offensive-minded and defensive-deficient 'pseudo superstars' and precious little else. [Landry] Fields is a solid, all-round No. 2, and [Toney] Douglas a decent back-up combo guard. [Chauncey] Billups' play has slipped considerably the past 2 years & I wouldn't trade [Raymond] Felton for Billups under any circumstances. [Ronny] Turiaf is a decent back-up post player, and [Bill] Walker and [Shawne] Williams can provide some scoring & athleticism...
From Barry Benjamin:
I keep hearing this nonsense that if you make a trade and get the best player in the trade, you've "won" the trade. For lack of a family-friendly word, I say "BUNK!!" At some point, you've given up too much. At some point, you've mortgaged your future. At some point, you have to say No, the player is good, but the other team is asking for too much, the deal is too expensive.
So when smart people like you repeat the nonsense about getting the best player in the deal, you do the deal - that just emboldens dunderheads like James Dolan and his dunderheaded muse/sidekick, Isiah Thomas. For proof, look no further than our favorite dunderheads.
The infamous Eddy Curry deal. That deal involved players such as Tim Thomas, Michael Sweetney, Jermaine Jackson and Antonio Davis. Davis was at the tail end of his career, so we have to conclude that Curry was the "best" player in the deal (at least that's what Isiah clearly thought, although many, many, others would have said otherwise). In that deal, Isiah - negotiating with himself, mind you, because no one else in the league was willing to take a chance on Curry - gave up the Knicks' 2006 pick and the right to swap 2007 picks. Those picks became (1) either cousin Lamarcus or Tyrus Thomas, and (2) Joakim Noah.
I submit to you that clearly here, the Knicks obtained the "best" player in the deal. And yet it was a monstrously bad deal for the Knicks.
Turn to the current deal with Mr. Anthony. First, Carmelo appears to be vastly overrated - he is not even top 2 in the league at his own position, small forward. Second, along the same lines, I could name 20 players right now in the league that are better than he is. (OK, let's do it - LeBron [James], [Dwyane] Wade, KG, PP, [Rajon] Rondo, Amar'e [Stoudemire], Deron [Williams], Chris Paul, [Tim] Duncan, [Manu] Ginobili, [Tony] Parker, Kobe [Bryant], Pau [Gasol], Derrick Rose, Dirk [Nowitzki], Bad Blake [Griffin], [Kevin] Durant, [Russell] Westbrook, Dwight [Howard] and [Steve] Nash. And I could also name a bunch of other guys you'd rather build your team around, e.g. [Rudy] Gay, [Kevin] Love, John Wall, Stephen Curry, even Tito's kid (Al Horford).)
Third, I like Chauncey, and he's an upgrade at the 1, but the man is 34 - aren't the Knicks supposed to "building"?
Fourth, I sure would have liked to see what kind of return NYK could have gotten had they chosen to scour the league seeking to individually (or together) trade Gallo, [Wilson] Chandler, [Timofey] Mosgov, and Felton. I would hazard that the Knicks could have secured quite a bounty for them. You could argue that all you'd wind up with are "Morey" assets, that keep you spinning your wheels at .500. "Morey" assets keep you competitive and treading water, but they don't win you playoff games...
So in the end, spare me the instant "analysis" about if you get the best player in the deal, you make the deal. Crap like that got the Knicks where they were before Sir Donnie took over. The 'Melo deal is a Dolan/Isiah deal, pure and simple. Just look objectively at the trade, and you see Isiah's tainted, grubby, "fail-at-everything-I-do-post-playing career" hands all over it. They just overpaid, as Isiah did with the Curry deal, with the Marbury deal, with the ... well, name any deal he made, and he overpaid!
As a Knick fan, am I excited about the deal? Yes, but I also realize right now, that through this very trade, the Knicks gave up so much, that they've pretty much locked themselves into NOT winning the championship over the next 2-3 years because they have no more assets to acquire anything significant. They will be a playoff team, just one that is pretty clearly a first-or second-round out year after year.
May I recommend decaf, gentlemen?
Let me answer your answers.
First, I don't disagree with either of you that this was James Dolan's call, not Donnie Walsh's or Mike D'Antoni's. Maybe on Isiah's recommendation. Wouldn't be the first time an owner overruled his basketball people, and if Dolan doesn't do everything possible to keep Walsh, he's making a huge mistake. I've said that and written that.
Second, every trade doesn't have a "best" player. When I was covering the Bullets, Washington traded Steve Colter to Sacramento for Byron Irvin. Remember talking to Jerry Reynolds, who was the Kings' GM at the time. "Well, we sure changed the balance of power in the league today," he cracked. Sometimes, you take a gamble on a guy that has talent, but issues, such as in your example. I'm not sure many people would say Curry was the "best" player in that trade, but he was the one who had the most upside at the time. It didn't work out, so it was a bad trade for New York. We don't know how this deal is going to end up.
Third, even if one accepts your premise that those 20 players are all better than 'Melo -- and I don't -- none of them, unfortunately, are currently available. Anthony was. And while All-Star appearances don't mean everything, he was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, which would make him one of the best ... 24 players in the league. And certainly better than anyone the Knicks gave up. That's not really debatable, is it?
Four, were the Knicks playing better this season? Absolutely. They were also just two games over .500 when they made the deal. They weren't exactly breaking up the '86 Celtics here. You can argue that the Knicks gave up too much for Anthony; many agree. But I'm not sure any of those players is destined to become a star, and Anthony already is. And you're not really arguing that you had to hold on to those second-round picks, are you? Yes, there was a 2014 first-rounder in the deal, and maybe that's the next great center. But that center is, probably, about 16 years old now. I've been to the 212 enough to know that patience isn't exactly hard-wired into the DNA of most sports fans.
But time will tell.
Next, I inform them that Tony Soprano actually bought it in the final episode. From Sam Feinberg:
Mr. Aldridge, I read your article on the trade deadline today and was confused by this line:
The problem for the Nets is that they've used a lot of -- not all, but a lot of -- their assets. They'll have another lottery pick this season to replace Favors, but it's hard to see Williams being excited about trying to nurture a kid two-guard or four during the meat of his career.
Was this your error that the Nets still have a lottery pick this year? Correct me if I'm wrong because I'd really love to be, but I'm pretty sure the Nets had their own and the Lakers' first-round pick this year and traded their own, in addition to the Golden State 1-7 pick from next year.
As a Nets fan, our prospects are even more bleak. Deron has been taken a long way away from his family, and he'd have to be shown something really amazing if he was going to stay here. The problem is, if we sign anybody decent in 2011, there's no cap room for Dwight, who might also be seeing L.A. stars in his eyes.
Sorry to add to your tsuris, Sam, but indeed, I goofed. The Nets traded their first and the GS protected pick (and it certainly doesn't look like it's going to land in the top seven) to Utah. They do have the Lakers' first, but we know that that is going to be a late, late first and not a whole lot of immediate help in all likelihood.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and places for Corey Brewer to hang out in Dallas to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, compelling, mind-bending or snarky, we just may publish it!
(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) Derrick Rose (21 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 7.5 apg, .407 FG, .800 FT): There was a moment Sunday, when Rose hit a jumper in the fourth quarter, and Miami called time, and he came back to the Bulls bench, when he had this magnificent scowl on his face -- the face that all great, arrogant, championship-caliber players have had on their faces at one time or another in their careers. Rose should play with that scowl more often.
2) LeBron James (27 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.7 apg, .604 FG, .750 FT): It seems clear that LBJ and Dwyane Wade have to come to some kind of understanding: just whose team is this, anyway?
3) Dwight Howard (21.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.7 bpg, .667 FG, .571 FT): Will sit out tonight's game against Portland after picking up his 16th technical foul of the season Friday against Chicago, resulting in an automatically mandated one-game league suspension. He will be suspended for another game for every two Ts he receives from here on out.
4) Kobe Bryant (25.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, .441 FG, .867 FT): Really getting into the rarefied air of the game's all-time leading scorers. After scoring 26 on Sunday against the Spurs, he's just 12 points behind Moses Malone (27,409) for sixth place on the all-time list. After Moses? One Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal, with 28,590 points and counting.
5) Dirk Nowitzki (24.7 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 apg, .636 FG, .882 FT): So Cubes is thinking of doing a new TV show with Charlie Sheen? Perhaps Dirk could play the wacky neighbor who keeps Charlie up all hours of the night with his hijinks, pool parties and devil-may-care attitude.
11 -- Consecutive losses by the Knicks to Cleveland since 2007. The first eight were understandable, as LeBron James was a Cavalier and the Knicks were horrible. But the Knicks have lost all three meetings this season to the James-less Cavs, including Friday's 119-115 loss.
50 -- Consecutive double-doubles for Minnesota's Kevin Love after posting 20 points and 21 rebounds Saturday night against the Wizards, leaving him one short of the NBA record set by Moses Malone in 1978 and 1979. Love can tie the record tonight against Dallas.
642 -- Career regular-season games, as of this morning, for newly-signed Celtic Troy Murphy, without a single playoff apperance. Murphy now has the dubious distinction of playing the most career games without ever having been to the postseason.
1) This week is Hoops for St. Jude Week in the NBA, with the league helping to raise awareness of and funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, which has helped save the lives of tens of thousands of children suffering catastrophic health problems, including pediatric cancers, for the past five decades. No child is ever turned away from St. Jude, regardless of his or her family's ability to pay.
So those huge costs need to be defrayed through year-long fundraising, which the league, through NBA Cares, is helping to do. And it's working. The five-year survival rate for blood cancer patients at St. Jude has improved from four percent in 1962, when the hospital opened, to 94 percent today. Hodgkin Disease survival rates have gone from 50 to 90 percent. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma has gone from seven percent to 85 percent. And on and on.
I've been involved with the project for the past few years, hosting the banquet held at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in July the last couple of years. It's one of the highlights of my year. This year, Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade have joined holdovers Steve Blake, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, David Lee, Kevin Love and Nuggets coach George Karl, pledging donations for every point they score this season. If you go to the Hoops for St. Jude website (www.hoopsforstjude.org), you'll see signed items from Steve Nash, Wade, Gasol, Lee and Howard that you can bid on online for the rest of this week. Schools throughout the country are also having fundraisers for St. Jude.
And the Hornets went as a team last week to the hospital before their game with the Grizzlies. Monty Williams was thinking of having his team tour the National Civil Rights Museum, but opted instead this time to have his team visit patients, including one that was undergoing his final round of chemotherapy. It's a tradition at St. Jude to throw a "No 'mo Chemo" party for those lucky enough to finish the treatments. But those treatments cost thousands of dollars. We're just coming out of a terrible recession, and it's hard enough to take care of someone going through a long illness when everything's great financially. Anything you can do for St. Jude would be greatly appreciated.
2) I think Corey Brewer is going to help the Mavericks more than Troy Murphy and Carlos Arroyo are going to help the Celtics. Just a hunch.
3) Is that a Hibachi I saw warming up on South Beach last Thursday?
4) Those were two pretty exciting games in London between the Raptors and Nets, including Saturday's triple-overtime marathon. I suspect that's not the last time there will be regular-season games overseas.
5) Gotta side with BYU with this Brandon Davies situation. The sophomore center was kicked off of BYU's then third-ranked team last week for violating the school's honor code. He reportedly acknowledged having premarital sex with his girlfriend, a direct violation of the university's code that states "Live a chaste and virtuous life." We can debate whether that's realistic in an era where teenagers and college students frequently engage in sexual activity. But Davies, who is Mormon, knew the rules when he signed at BYU. There are 340 or so other Division I basketball schools that he could have played for, almost all of whom have no rules against premarital sex. He chose BYU, knowing what the rules were. He violated them, and he was disciplined for it. It stinks for him and the team, but what lesson would BYU be teaching its students if it looked the other way just because Davies is a heck of a basketball player?
6) How bad is Miami in the clutch? Schuhmann breaks it all down for you.
1) If you're Pat Riley this morning, after watching your Heat implode Thursday at home against Orlando, giving up 18 straight points over the third and fourth quarters, and getting outscored 40-9 to collapse in epic fashion to the Magic, and then losing another close game to another contender on Sunday at home, that small pit that's been in your stomach all year may now be the size of a grapefruit.
2) Here's hoping CP3 is all good after that scary sight of him being carted off Sunday.
3) Believe me, I don't have a problem with the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that MIT and ESPN co-sponsor. There is a role for the use of numbers and analytical measurement in basketball -- especially in the playoffs, when you face a single opponent whose strengths and weaknesses can really be broken down. But the problem I do have -- and I've never gotten a straight answer from some of the guys who are the biggest proponents of numbers -- is how do you measure the numbers in a vacuum?
Because every team, understandably, is quite proprietary about the stats it considers most important, it's impossible to measure whether your stats really work. You can't compare them to what other teams are doing, throwing out things that don't matter and picking up things that might. Any individual stats -- Shane Battier holds his man to x percent from the floor when his man drives right, for example -- have to be viewed in the prism of who Shane was playing with at a given time (was Carl Landry, an excellent low-post defender when in Houston, on the court with him, making Shane's man less likely to drive, for example).
And the notion of getting numbers in the real time of basketball -- there aren't 5 to 10 minute (or longer) breaks between appearances, as there are for starting pitchers in baseball, or between series as offenses and defenses in football -- is problematic. The NBA game is so fast, with such little time between plays, I'm not sure that analytics are as useful during games as they may be in other sports. But as Sloan has been packed to bursting the last three years, and a majority of teams sent representatives to hear the panels, I'm clearly the dinosaur on this one.
4) My beloved AU Eagles go down in double-OT in the semis of the Patriot League playoffs, and they go down hard, with 0.5 to go. The 6-year-old wasn't the only one who felt like crying.
6) Just hoping that Charlie Sheen's manic episodes of late don't lead to a bad end for him or something else. But if they do, I don't want to hear anyone in the mainstream media clucking their tongues about the celebrity culture, hedonism gone wild, blah, blah, blah. Every network with a camera and a mic has run to Sheen this week, looking for his latest semi-coherent bon mots about tiger blood and all such nonsense. (I'm just as guilty, having yukked it up about Chas on the radio.) We all are voyuers and contribute to this guy's Hindenberg-sized sense of self-importance, and we will all be complicit when he crashes and burns.
Does the sun ever come out in Utah ..it looks the same every time I come here ....smh
-- Kings rookie center DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins), Friday, 8:06 p.m., on an apparantely gray day in the SLC.
This week's Mr. Fifteen is Philadelphia 76ers rookie forward Craig Brackins. The 23-year-old was originally selected in the first round (21st overall) of last year's Draft by Oklahoma City, but was sent to New Orleans along with fellow rookie Quincy Pondexter as part of a pre-arranged deal with the Thunder for rookie center Cole Aldrich and veteran Mo Peterson. In September, Brackins was sent to Philly along with veteran Darius Songaila for guard Willie Green and center Jason Smith. He's played in just two games for the 76ers this season, having spent much of his time in the NBA Developmental League playing for the Springfield Armor. The Sixers recalled Brackins from Springfield last month.
Me: I'm sure you wanted to play more and get more time, so how do you deal with that and stay ready and prepared?
Craig Brackins: The season's been going good. I've been learning a lot, just going down to the D League and coming back here, learning from our veteran players, with Elton Brand and Tony Battie. But to stay ready, man, I really just work. I work every day, doing one on one stuff with Mo Speights. I stay active. I try to get (in) early, get my work done in the gym, try to stay late, get up some shots. So it's really just keeping all my tools sharp, just so whatever the time comes, if it comes, I'm just ready.
Me: Dee (Brown, Springfield's coach) played in the league. What did he tell you about what he expected from you while you were there?
CB: It was good. 'Cause I mean, he gave me his thought of what kind of player I am, what I can be, just being out there practicing and being coached by him. He played in the league for over 10 years, so he knows what it takes to be there. He played against some of the greats. For him to tell me I have a lot of potential and I can play in this league, he gave me a lot of confidence, by not playing up here, going over there to play, and then coming right back to Philadelphia
Me: Did you play with Terrence Williams while he was there? He was obviously going through some changes down there.
CB: Yeah, I did. It was actually good. Terrence had a good mind process with everything. He wasn't sad about the whole experience; he was kind of taking it in stride. That kind of helped me to see the type of caliber guy who's productive in the NBA, and then getting sent down for different reasons, and then looks at it as a positive. He knows what he did, you know what I mean? So that kind of helped me out to not look at it as a negative, being sent down to the D League as a player?
Me: Have they told you if you'll be sent down again, or are you in Philly for good this year?
CB: I'm not sure. I could go back down. I know that D-League season's about to end soon, so anything can happen. But they haven't really told me anything. They normally tell me a week in advance, so I'm ready and I know. But I've been working hard, so if I go back down, I'm going to look at it as another opportunity for me to get better, get in more game shape. But if not, I'm just going to stay up here and work hard and do whatever I can to get on the court.
Me: What do you learn from your teammates?
CB: Just learning how to adjust and think the game of basketball. 'Cause on this level, I mean, as a rookie, you think you know a lot. But the veterans have so many tricks of the trade that makes the game so much easier. As young players, we don't know a lot of those tricks of the trade. We make the game so much harder for ourselves. I've noticed that, going against Elton Brand every day, Andres Nocioni every day, you know, capable guys in the NBA. Andre Iguodala, who helps me trying to play the wing a little more, being a 3-4 player. He's been helping me out on the wing, and Elton Brand's been helping me in the post. Just trying to learn little things that helped them when they were younger, and what's helping them now.
Me: What's it been like playing for Doug?
CB: It's good. He's old-school. He knows. He's a former No. 1 pick, so when it comes to him talking about different plays on the offense, the offensive end, he was one of those players. He was a defender. He moved well without the ball. He played with so much passion. Him as a coach, he still has that competitiveness, and wanting to win, and just a love for the game. You kind of have to have the same passion for the game to play for Doug.
Me: You took the AAU and prep school route to get to Iowa State. Looking back, was that the right way to go, or do you think a more traditional high school route would have worked better?
CB: I think helped me, going the way I went, with prep school route. Just 'cause of the fact that I played against a lot of guys that either re-classified, or the best guys in the country. In my time in high school, I felt like some of the better players did the prep school route, so I played against a lot of tough guys that are actually in the league now, that are producing and playing well in the league. So I think it helped me out a lot...Michael Beasley, DeAndre Jordan, Patrick Patterson. I played him in AAU ... there's a couple other guys. Paul Harris -- well, he's not in the league, but he did well in college. Some of the guys that had a good career in AAU and high school and in college.
Me: You really worked your way up. When you joined the Pump Brothers (Dana and David Pump, notorious power brokers in amateur basketball, known for their relationship with Adidas), weren't you fourth-string?
CB: I was on the fourth team. They had four different teams, and the fourth team was considered not the best players. So, yeah, I did. I went from playing, having my high school team in Palmdale, California, doing AAU trips, getting noticed by the Pumps, getting on the fourth team to moving my way up to the first team, and then eventually leaving the Pumps and going to Las Vegas and leading a team with Luke Babbitt, the Las Vegas Prospects.
Me: In college, you played against Blake Griffin. Did you have any sense that he was going to be this good?
CB: I knew Blake was going to be a good player, but the way he's dominating the game with his explosiveness -- I mean, he's doubled his explosiveness from college. I played against him two years before he left, and he was athletic. But I can't even describe in words how athletic he is right now. I'm sure he shocked himself. I'm sure he shocked a lot of people. I knew Blake was going to be a good player. I knew he had the capability of doing what he's doing now later. But as a rookie? He sat out the first year and worked hard and played against his teammates that year, but still, for him to come back, first time playing, and just killing the game like he's doing, it's unbelievable.
Me: Do people still talk to you about your game (42 points, 14 rebounds, in 2009) against Kansas that got everyone's attention?
CB: Yeah, a lot of people do. When they see me, they bring it up a little bit now, people that know about it and remember it. It's funny, that that game is talked about, even though we didn't win.
Me: What do you think your best position in the NBA will be?
CB: I think maybe a three, as far as being in there the whole time and playing. Offensively, I think as a three. It's hard. The four man is difficult to guard in the post. I mean, they're so big. And for me not to be the strongest guy, it's difficult trying to guard those guys in the post. I think the three, but I could be a 3-4, a stretch four, a pick-and-pop four, that'll stretch the defense out.
Me: Are you working with Quin Snyder (the 76ers' assistant coach and director of player development)?
CB: Yeah, I work with Quin. But I'm working with (assistant coach) Michael Curry more now. He's giving me a lot of advice. You know, a former head coach. He always tells me Tayshaun (Prince), when he was a rookie, he didn't play at all until the end, and then he became a big factor for Detroit. He talks about Amir Johnson and how he didn't play, but he still worked, and how the D-League helped him out. So when the D-League talk was going, you get a little down, because you're like man, you thought you were working hard, you thought you could play. But (Curry) sent Amir down, because he had Amir when he was a head coach in Detroit. He told me how he felt it helped him with his confidence coming back, playing and practicing and everything. Because he was on a championship team, an ex-championship team; I forgot what year Mike coached him. But it just wasn't the right fit for him to play at the time. That's the same thing with us. We're winning. We're in the playoff hunt. And it's just not the right time for me to play as of now.
Me: Do you and Evan (Turner) commiserate with each other? Because he's kind of in the same boat, not playing as much.
CB: Me and Evan talk a lot. We played on the USA team together for two months, so we've been around each other a lot. We have a little bit of history. Evan, I think he's real mature about everything, with expectations and people trying to talk. So I think he's doing good. It's hard coming in as an All-Star, point guard -- I mean, he plays one through three. So he's doing all he can, and I think he's doing great. He's working hard. So me and Evan, we kind of talk, laugh, try to keep each other sane with everything and keep our heads.
Me: What kind of player do you think you'll be down the road?
CB: I think I'll be a pick-and-pop four man, slide to the three, athletic, just being a shooter, a shooting big in the NBA. That's where I see myself being more effective, working on defense, trying to learn with Iguodala, being a great defender. He told me how defense wasn't his thing at first, and then he learned how to cope with it, and learned a lot of players and wanting to stop people. So to have him, and to have Elton Brand, a former NBA all-star, it's just those guys helping me, I think the sky's the limit for me.
Me: It's good that y'all started winning, 'cause Philly's a pretty passionate town.
CB: It's funny to see the fans and how they react, from when we started 3-13, and how they react now that we turned it around. We get a lot of good support. It's a tough town to play in, I've noticed. I came from Iowa State, where if we're 20-0 they love us, and if we're 0-20, they still love us the same. To go to a team, a city that wants to win, and they love you when you're winning, and they can really hate you if you're losing. It's a good city to play in, and just how passionate the fans are, it's good.
"If you've got a suit and tie on and you can't actually play, then you shouldn't be talking."
-- Doc Rivers, chiding his Phoenix Suns counterpart, Alvin Gentry, for comments Gentry had made to a Phoenix radio station critical of Kevin Garnett's play in the first meeting between the Suns and Celtics in January. Garnett had hit Phoenix's Channing Frye as Frye went up for a jumper with what appeared to be a low blow, and was ejected as the Suns rolled. In the rematch last week, Garnett had 28 points and 11 rebounds in Boston's 115-103 victory.
"My financial stuff is my business. It is always tough to give up money. I've won and lost in my career and I'm at a stage where I want to be happy."
-- Mike Bibby, on why he walked away from a guaranteed $6.2 million next season in order to secure his release from the Wizards and sign with the Miami Heat for the rest of the season.
"Basically, you feel betrayed by somebody you love. I totally didn't see it coming. I'd been there seven long years and then you feel like you're not wanted anymore."
-- Portland's Gerald Wallace, telling the Charlotte Observer how hurt he was by being traded from the Bobcats to the Trail Blazers at the deadline.
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