Posted Jun 4 2012 7:16AM
The conference finals have saved the playoffs, which had been underwhelming from the moment that Derrick Rose's knee gave out on him on the first day of the postseason five weeks ago.
Now, can Anthony Davis save the Hornets?
New Orleans still has a long way to go before it can be called an NBA town. The city's angst at the penalties issued against its beloved Saints for Bountygate has cast a pall over the Big Easy. But the imminent arrival of Davis is a shot in the arm for the Hornets, a bit of good news that will sell tickets and mark the end of the Dark Year that saw the loss of Chris Paul and David West to the Clippers and Pacers.
The Hornets are a long way from good. But they're not going to be The Worst.
Now that New Orleans has won the lottery, and we have some clarity about the Draft order, we can finally start zeroing in on who might go where. Mind you, this is not a mock draft; I will do one of those after the Chicago Pre-Draft camp next week. Call this an educated series of guesses. Let's do the first half of the first round this week, and the second half next week.
1) NEW ORLEANS
2011-12 RECORD: 21-45, fifth place, Southwest
NEEDS: Point guard, frontcourt
LIKELY PICK(S): Anthony Davis, F/C, Kentucky
The Hornets won't overthink this: Davis is a franchise-changer who will step in and start for the next decade, either for Emeka Okafor at power forward (Okafor missed most of the last three months of the season with a knee injury) or center if Chris Kaman doesn't re-sign. The Bugs' big question is guard Eric Gordon, a restricted free agent who says he's going to see what's out there despite the Hornets' winning the lottery. If NO can keep Gordon around with Davis and whomever it takes with the 10th pick, the rebuild will be finalized much sooner.
2011-12 RECORD: 7-59 (fifth, Southeast Division)
LIKELY PICK(S): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Kentucky; Thomas Robinson, F, Kansas; Bradley Beal, G, Florida; F Harrison Barnes, F, North Carolina
The Bobcats' disappointment at not getting the first pick was palpable at the end of the week. They were lamenting not only the loss of Davis, but the rather checkered history of number two overall picks in recent years. Since 2000, players taken second include the likes of Stromile Swift (2000, Vancouver), Jay Williams (2002, Chicago), Darko Milicic (2003, Detroit), Marvin Williams (2005, Atlanta), Michael Beasley (2008, Miami) and Hasheem Thabeet (2009, Memphis).
But there's nothing the Bobcats can do about it now. They have to come away with a solid piece that can help right the ship as quickly as possible. While conventional wisdom might indicate Michael Jordan would have a soft spot for a fellow Tar Heel like Barnes, Jordan has yet to take a North Carolina player as an executive in Washington or Charlotte. A player like Kidd-Gilchrist, who brings it strong at both ends of the floor, might appeal more to a ruthless competitor like MJ. So could an active if undersized four like Robinson.
2011-12 RECORD: 20-46, fourth, Southeast
NEEDS: Shooting, ballhandlers
LIKELY PICK(S): Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal
The Wizards will take whichever player of their top two choices remains on the board at three. Their preference is Beal, the shooter from Florida who could help fill Washington's desperate need to improve from the perimeter; only Sacramento and Charlotte shot a worse 3-point percentage than the Wizards. But a young team that needs to surround Wall with as many hard-nosed players as possible would also be happy with Kidd-Gilchrist, who would have a chance to step in right away and start at the three spot.
2011-12 RECORD: 21-45, fifth, Central
NEEDS: Small forward, shooting
LIKELY PICK(S): Beal, Barnes, Robinson, Jared Sullinger, F/C, Ohio State
A year after winning the lottery and taking Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick, lightning didn't strike twice for the Cavs. But Cleveland is still well-positioned to add another quality player to its core. Assuming Anderson Varejao makes a full recovery from a fractured wrist that cost him the last 41 games of the season, and with Tristan Thompson set at power forward, the Cavs don't have to take a chance on a big man. But with Antawn Jamison moving on in free agency, they need a three. Barnes would make a lot of sense here; he struggled a bit in the NCAAs without point guard Kendall Marshall, but he's a smart player who's working to show scouts he can shoot out to the NBA 3-point line. In addition, he and Irving have the same agent, Jeff Wechsler, and that will make it hard for Cleveland to pass on him. But the Cavs surprised a lot of people by taking Thompson with the fourth overall pick last year; if Cleveland were to take a flier it wouldn't surprise if it were on a guy like Sullinger, whose basketball IQ impresses a lot of scouts.
2011-12 RECORD: 22-44, fifth, Pacific
NEEDS: Small forward, shooting
LIKELY PICK(S): Barnes, Robinson, Damian Lillard, G, Weber State, Kendall Marshall, G, North Carolina
You never know with the Kings. One would think they have point guard settled, with Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas in the house. But it may be hard to pass on Lillard, who's shot up the charts after his junior season at Weber -- and who is from the Bay Area, Oakland High School. Marshall, a classic pass-first point, is well thought of as well. If Barnes is still on the board, he'd also be a natural here. The Kings have been thoroughly disappointed with the second incarnation of John Salmons. Ditto Robinson, even though Sacramento feels OK about its 4/5 combo of DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson. But if the Kings don't see the player they want, they could be a prime trade candidate for teams looking to move up high the Draft board.
6) PORTLAND (From Brooklyn)
2011-12 RECORD: 28-38, fourth, Northwest
NEEDS: Point guard, center
LIKELY PICK(S): Lillard, Marshall, Andre Drummond, C, Connecticut, Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
The Blazers are never shy about being active on Draft Day, and they could well package picks six and 11 to try and move up -- though who they'd be moving up for wouldn't seem to fit the positions at which they have need. Incumbent small forward Nicolas Batum is a restricted free agent, but Paul Allen's never going to lose a player because of money. And there isn't a center worth moving up to get. So if Portland stays here, it's hard to see the Blazers going for anything other than a point guard, either Lillard or Marshall, or a big man to start the post-Greg Oden era. Drummond has incredible potential, but the Blazers have been more reluctant in recent years to take talented but inconsistent players. Zeller would be a bit of a surprise this high, but he's a no-drama big man.
7) GOLDEN STATE
2011-12 RECORD: 23-43, fourth, Pacific
NEEDS: Center, small forward
LIKELY PICK(S): Moe Harkless, F, St. John's, Drummond, Zeller, John Henson, F, North Carolina
The Warriors believe that Steph Curry can stay healthy after missing huge chunks of his first two seasons, so they won't be taking a flier on a point guard. There isn't necessarily a need for a three with incumbent Dorell Wright in place. With Andrew Bogut also expected (hoped?) to make a full recovery from ankle surgery, Golden State doesn't necessarily have to go for a big man here, but Bogut's recent injury history would make a center pick sensible. Drummond may have too much upside to pass on here, but if the Warriors want to play it safe, Henson would provide defense and shot blocking to a team that gave up 101.2 points per game; only Sacramento and Denver were worse, and the Nuggets' average is a little skewed because of Denver's frantic offensive pace.
2011-12 RECORD: 23-43, fourth, Atlantic
NEEDS: Small forward, power forward
LIKELY PICK(S): Harkless, Henson, Sullinger, Terrence Jones, F, Kentucky
The Raptors have put some pieces in place, and if they get center Jonas Valanciunas over next season, they'll have two-thirds of their frontcourt set, with Valanciunas joining 2006 first-round pick Andrea Bargnani. The last one-third should come in June. Harkless would make sense here if he's still on the board, though he'd be making the transition from power forward in college to small forward in the pros. Jones would be doing the same thing, but he's proven to be a better 3-point shooter in college than Harkless was. Sullinger would be a safe pick; the Raptors have thought about a frontcourt with the 7-foot Bargnani at the three spot.
2011-12 RECORD: 25-41, fourth, Central
NEEDS: Power forward, small forward
LIKELY PICK(S): Sullinger, Henson, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones, F, Baylor, Arnett Moultrie, F, Mississippi State, Harkless
Putting a strong, young four next to center Greg Monroe is a priority for the Pistons, and they should have their pick of a strong group at nine. Sullinger would be a steal here; Henson would be a solid pick. Either Jones would bring a world of potential, and Perry Jones is an especially intriguing prospect, though his inconsistency of effort at Baylor raised a lot of red flags among scouts. A top 10 spot would be a little high for Moultrie, but he's the kind of high-effort player that Joe Dumars tends to love.
10 ) NEW ORLEANS (From Minnesota)
NEEDS: Point guard, center
LIKELY PICK(S): Lillard, Marshall, Zeller, Meyers Leonard, C, Illinois, Austin Rivers, G, Duke, Jeremy Lamb, G, Connecticut
With Davis safely in the fold, the Hornets will likely look for a point guard, with either Lillard or Marshall the best of the bunch. But if both were off the board, the Hornets might look for insurance in case they can't re-sign Kaman. Zeller would be a great pickup here, and Leonard, the athletic but young big who came out after his sophomore year, could be a possibility, even though it would be a little high. Of course, if New Orleans is worried about losing Gordon, a combo guard like Rivers or a pure two like Lamb are possibilities.
NEEDS: Point guard, center
LIKELY PICK(S): Leonard, Zeller, Fab Melo, C, Syracuse
Can't see the Blazers going for anything here but size, assuming they got the point guard they need at six. Any one of these bigs would fulfill that issue. Melo would be a work in progress offensively, but he's game-ready at the defensive end, according to most scouts, and would help LaMarcus Aldridge down low.
2011-12 RECORD: 31-35, third, Central
NEEDS: Power forward, center
LIKELY PICK(S): Leonard, Melo, Moultrie, Perry Jones, Terrence Jones
The Bucks played Drew Gooden in the hole after trading Bogut to Golden State for Monta Ellis, so the need for a legit center is pressing. But Milwaukee also may have to replace rising free agent power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who will be in line for a major payday this summer. And even with Ilyasova grabbing almost nine boards a game, only four other teams had a worse rebounding differential. So taking one of the remaining top power forward prospects for insurance wouldn't be a stretch, especially at this point of the first round. Leonard and Moultrie have the kind of motors that Scott Skiles would favor.
2011-12 RECORD: 33-33, third, Pacific
LIKELY PICK(S): Rivers, Lamb, Dion Waiters, G, Syracuse, Melo, Moultrie, Jae Crowder, F, Marquette
The Suns can't possibly bank on being able to keep Steve Nash, but there likely won't be a point guard worth taking this high. Fortunately -- or unfortunately -- Phoenix has a lot of other holes as well. A shooter like Lamb would be a solid value pick here, but if a Leonard or another highly thought of big man slips this far, the Suns would likely pounce. Waiters has explosive potential at the two spot and no matter what happens with Nash, the Suns always want more scoring.
2011-12 RECORD: 34-32, fourth, Southwest
NEEDS: Center, small forward
LIKELY PICK(S): Leonard, Melo, Jeff Taylor, F, Vanderbilt, Crowder
There are always caveats when trying to predict what the Rockets will do, because general manager Daryl Morey is always a threat to try and broker some nine-team trade involving half of his team to get a difference-making big man. And at first glance, Houston is a middle-of-the-road team in all aspects -- OK offensively, OK defensively. The Rockets don't have any glaring holes at any position. But just last week, point guard Kyle Lowry, who was the starter until suffering a bacterial infection during the season, threw Coach Kevin McHale under the bus and said he doubted the two could co-exist. Lowry's backup, Goran Dragic, who played brilliantly in Lowry's absence, is an unrestricted free agent and will have a lot of suitors.
But it's hard to see the Rockets reaching for a point guard as insurance here, and if Leonard and Melo are gone, Taylor has the skill set defensively and scoring chops to be able to be part of the rotation right away.
2011-12 RECORD: 35-31, third, Atlantic
NEEDS: Perimeter shooting, power forward
LIKELY PICK(S): Lamb, Waiters, John Jenkins, G, Vanderbilt
When your leading scorer shoots 40 percent, as Sixers guard Lou Williams does, you're a team that could stand to find a couple sharpshooters. Philly can play small and be effective -- if they can turn you over. If the 76ers have to slug it out in the halfcourt, they have problems scoring. A talent like Waiters or Jenkins, who is one of the best pure shooters in the Draft, will fill a need and give Philly some insurance in case Williams, who says he'll opt out of the last year of his contract and explore unrestricted free agency, leaves for greener pastures.
Doc Rivers' $7 million per year deal in Boston may be the last of its kind for a while.
With more top-shelf coaches available at once than at any time in recent memory, the Wizards have shocked people around the league by not even bothering to interview the likes of Nate McMillan or Mike D'Antoni, choosing to keep interim coach Randy Wittman and give him a two-year deal. The Knicks opted to give Mike Woodson a new deal instead of loosening up the purse strings for Phil Jackson. The Hawks and Clippers retained Larry Drew and Vinny Del Negro instead of spending more for bigger names.
And the Blazers may be looking to retain their interim coach, Kaleb Canales , rather than bring in a bigger and more expensive name. They have also gone through a rash of general manager candidates without finding one that's to owner Paul Allen's liking, and may be coming back to interim GM Chad Buchanan, the team's scouting director who was promoted when Allen fired former GM Rich Cho in 2011.
Every hire is unique to the team doing the hiring, so it's dangerous to assume trends from individual acts. Yet many of the last few hires and extensions have come for far less money than coaches and GMs were getting before the lockout.
I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for coaches and executives "only" making $1 million or $2 million a year, just to notice that the tap looks like it's slowing for them, just as it has for players under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. (There were still 11 head coaches this year with salaries of $4 million or more.)
Coaches don't have a salary cap. But owners may be looking to tighten their financial belts across the board. It's been a sore subject for players for a while -- teams crying poor mouth while opening their checkbooks wider and wider for coaches.
"NBA owners have every right to monitor expenses and salaries," said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the NBA Coaches Association, on Saturday. "NBA coaches are the best in the world, and our sole focus is to serve our players and owners at the highest possible level. The market will take care of itself."
If a new austerity is taking hold, it may well be part of a natural cycle. Several veteran coaches who were among the game's greatest winners, and who commanded some of the game's top salaries -- Jackson, Larry Brown, Don Nelson and Saunders -- aren't currently coaching in the pros. (Saunders, who had a year-plus left on his four-year, $18 million deal with Washington when he was fired, is currently in Boston, advising Doc Rivers during the playoffs.)
The success of Miami's Erik Spoelstra, who started in the Heat's video room, has spawned a line of younger coaches with similar backgrounds, like Indiana's Frank Vogel and Portland's Canales. They are coaches who can't, at least not yet, demand bigger salaries.
And when teams like Washington don't even interview people like D'Antoni and McMillan in order to keep Wittman, who's expected to get a two-year deal at less than $2 million per season, the gravy train seems to be slowing. (It's not closed, with Carlisle getting a multi-year extension last month and Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks still hoping for a new deal with the Thunder.)
At first glance, with all of the available alternatives out there, the Wizards' decision to keep Wittman, who has a career coaching record of 111-238, and whose previous coaching stints in Cleveland and Minnesota never came close to producing playoff teams, seems odd. And league sources say that new owner Ted Leonsis is reluctant to throw out big money while the Wizards are rebuilding.
John Wall's development at the point and his overall happiness are the Wizards' top priority, and no one has been better with point guards over the last few years than D'Antoni, whose system helped Steve Nash procure back-to-back MVP awards in Phoenix, and who got the most out of Ray Felton in New York. The Knicks may have signed Jeremy Lin as an afterthought, but it was under D'Antoni' that Linsanity took hold.
If the Wizards wanted to develop a system of accountability without excuses, who's out there that's better than Jerry Sloan, whose Jazz teams made the playoffs 19 times in his 22-plus seasons there? And if there was any concern that the 70-year-old Sloan would have trouble relating to a team of younger players, there's the 47-year-old McMillan, who worked miracles in Portland after injuries ravaged the Blazers the last three years.
But the Wizards saw vast improvement in Wall under Wittman, who demanded better effort from the third-year guard at the defensive end. Second-year center Kevin Seraphin started to assert himself at both ends of the floor, showing some of the signs Washington saw in him when it acquired his rights from Chicago along with Kirk Hinrich in 2010.
And the Wizards believed several other players among their young core, including forwards Trevor Booker and rookie Jan Vesely, got better under Wittman as well. The Wizards gave up about 10 points fewer per game under Wittman than they did under Saunders, and they won their last six games.
And, as Leonsis told the Washington Post last week, players expressed their respect for Wittman, and wanted him back -- just as Blazers players were pleased with Canales, who replaced McMillan in February.
Who knows? Maybe Wittman, with a young if inconsistent core group, can find success in his third go-round as a head coach. Joe Torre and Bill Belichick and Doc Rivers all shone in their respective sports after they got another chance. If he can lead the Wizards out of the wilderness, he'll become a much more expensive caretaker in a year or two.
"The best coaches," Carlisle said, "are going to get paid.""
(May 21 rankings in parenthesis)
1) Oklahoma City (2) [2-1]: If you had Ibaka and Perkins and Sefolosha dominating games three and four of the conference finals, raise your hands. Anyone? No one? You, in the back? No? No, don't worry. It's all good.
2) San Antonio (1) [1-2]: Spurs were 31-2 in their 33 regular season and playoff games between March 21 and last Tuesday, May 29. They're 0-2 in their last two games in the last 72 hours. That's the playoffs. In 48 hours, a juggernaut can be derailed.
3) Miami (3) [2-2]: Don't know if Dwyane Wade needs another knee drain, but he's 16 of 44 from the floor the last two games. Yes, he's getting doubled. He gets doubled just about every game he plays.
4) Boston (6) [2-2]: Truth: Coming off of seven very intense games with the 76ers, I didn't know if the Celtics would win a game off Miami. They have two, and Ray Allen doesn't look infirm any more, and Paul Pierce is scoring on Shane Battier, and Rondo has played out of his mind, and KG has been an incredible warrior, and they're a tough old bunch of proud birds, aren't they?
5) Indiana (4). Season complete. Will Larry Bird stay or go? I'm told either way, Donnie Walsh -- who's pulled out of the GM search in Orlando, according to a source -- won't be coming back for a reunion, feeling the Pacers have a strong enough front office in place for a seamless succession.
6) L.A. Lakers (5). Season complete. Lakers promote the general manager of their D-League team, Glenn Cararro, to assistant GM.
7) Philadelphia (7). Season complete. Sixers in that dangerous territory where they can't fall in love with a team that absolutely maxed out but isn't anywhere near good enough to truly contend.
8) L.A. Clippers (8). Season complete. Clippers keep GM Neil Olshey in the fold with a new deal before the Blazers can lure him up to Portland. Rare smart move from Donald Sterling.
9) Memphis (9). Season complete.
10) Atlanta (10). Season complete. GM Rick Sund expected to be brought back.
11) Denver (11). Season complete.
12) New York (12). Season complete. Congrats to Amare Stoudemire, who proposed to his longtime girlfriend over the weekend in Paris. Classy.
13) Orlando (13). Season complete. The Magic's GM list is five: former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey, Thunder assistant GM Troy Weaver, Thunder assistant GM and head of player personnel Rob Hennigan and former Hornets GM Jeff Bower.
14) Chicago (14). Season complete. I'm sure Pau Gasol wants to play for the Bulls. I want to eat steak and have a beer every day and not gain 75 pounds in a month.
15) Dallas (15). Season complete.
Oklahoma City (2-2): The Thunder got in front of a freight train and stopped it in its tracks. The Spurs were playing as well as any team I've seen in the playoffs, but OKC has made this a series -- and without James Harden or Russell Westbrook really getting off at home. Of all four remaining teams, I think OKC has the best chance to win a road game.
Miami (2-2): The Heat had the Celtics in a headlock, and have let them squirm out without getting the breakthrough road win which would have put this series on ice. Now it's going to be a street fight. Kevin Garnett loves street fights. But the Heat still get two of the last three at American Airlines Arena.
(Weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (32.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.5 rpg, .516 FG, .630 FT): Fouled out of his first game as a Heat player on Sunday and for just the fourth time in his career.
2) Kevin Durant (29.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6 apg, .574 FG, 1.000 FT%): Didn't force anything through three-plus quarters in Game 4 Saturday, then exploded for 16 straight down the stretch to put the game away -- many on tough shots against strong, late contests.
3) Tony Parker (20.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, .563 FG, .833 FT): It's a measure of how good a roll Parker was on that the Thunder have had to take Russell Westbrook off of him so that RW will have something left at the ends of games.
4) Kevin Garnett (20.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg, .413 FG, .842 FT): The offense during the postseason has been impressive. But considering he's all Boston has at its back end, the defense KG is playing all over the floor in the playoffs, at 36, is amazing.
5) Rajon Rondo (24 ppg, 8 rpg, 9.5 apg, .541 FG, .737 FT): Everyone keeps trying to compare Rondo with one of the great point guards -- Stockton, Isiah, Magic, etc. But he's one of a kind. There's no one that plays like him. Sometimes, that's not a good thing. But more often, it's a great thing.
Will you people ever get tired of peddling conspiracy theories?
Like the swallows returning to Capitstrano, the lottery brought the return of lunatics and nut jobs insisting -- with the usual, complete lack of any evidence whatsoever --that David Stern had fixed the proceedings to ensure that the Hornets got the first pick. The argument goes that since the NBA owns the Hornets, but is selling the Hornets to Saints owner Tom Benson, the league promised Benson the first pick --almost certainly Kentucky's Anthony Davis -- as a condition for buying the team. So the Hornets, who had the fourth-best odds of getting the top pick, leapfrogged Charlotte, Washington and Cleveland to get No. 1.
It doesn't seem to matter when you point out that respected reporters -- each of whom would love to unearth evidence of a massive conspiracy, which would make their careers -- have been regular witnesses of the actual lottery process for the last few years, and have each reported the exact same thing -- the process is wholly transparent, and there is no manipulation afoot.
Nor does it do much good to point out, again, that since the weighted system was introduced for the lottery in 1990, giving the team with the worst record the most chances, that team has gotten the first pick exactly three times. Three. In what is, now, 23 years. The lottery is fixed, just like the Finals are fixed. The fact that the Knicks, the team in the NBA's No. 1 television market, have made the Finals exactly once since 1973 does not seem to make an impression on the conspiracy theorists.
Nor does pointing out that the Spurs -- ratings death in the Finals -- have been in four finals since 1999, producing some of the lowest-rated championship series in history. If the NBA was determined to ensure ratings gold, why wouldn't the Lakers be in every year? Or the Celtics?
Why would the NBA have punished its most exciting team of the era, the Suns, so severely during the 2007 Western finals -- suspending Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for the critical Game 5 against the Spurs for inching off of their bench after Robert Horry poleaxed Steve Nash into the court signage in the waning seconds of Game 4 -- if it had a vested interest in putting Phoenix in the Finals instead of San Antonio?
The brilliance of conspiracy theories is that any result only furthers the conspiracy. So, if Charlotte had won the lottery, it would have been proof that the league was trying to help Michael Jordan after his team's record-setting mark of ineptitude. If Brooklyn had won, it would have been proof of the NBA's desire to get Dwight Howard to New York and keep Deron Williams there. If Washington had won, it would have been proof that the league wanted to help out new owner Ted Leonsis and John Wall, the first pick in 2010.
But I don't wonder about the league. I wonder about you.
Why, I wonder, is it so important to some of you that there has to be some kind of evil hand at work in every part of our lives?
Why are people so invested in proving that someone other than Al Qaeda's terrorists brought down the Twin Towers? Why is there a cottage industry dedicated to the idea that President Obama isn't a U.S. citizen? Why have we become so conspiracy-addled as a nation? Why are we so paranoid, so untrusting, that we can't even accept the results of ping-pong balls bouncing in a random order?
"My particular feeling about conspiracy theory in general and why people who are otherwise normal -- they're not clinically paranoid -- is that we like stories that make the world dramatic," said Peter Starr, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University and a studier of the increase in paranoia and conspiracy in contemporary culture, on Sunday.
"If David Stern is pulling some strings like the Wizard of Oz, it makes the world dramatic," Starr said. "And it gives the person who articulates the conspiracy theory some sense of importance, because they've uncovered it. It's like, everybody else is duped, but I'm not duped."
Starr's webbook, "We the Paranoid," takes a historical look at past conspiracy theories, from the Kennedy Assassination to UFOs, and why we are so susceptible to them. He is not a basketball expert, but after spending a few minutes researching the various NBA conspiracy theories over the weekend, he reached a quick conclusion.
"They're totally consistent with everything I study," he said.
Conspiracies usually break out in the aftermath of traumatic events like 9/11 or the Oklahoma City Bombing, Starr said, although it took longer -- almost a decade -- after Kennedy's murder for the Grassy Knoll and other suppositions to really take root in the national consciousness. In the sports realm, Starr said, back-to-back losses by your favorite team is a traumatic event.
The historian Richard Hofstadter famously wrote of "The Paranoid Style of American Politics" back in November, 1964, for Harper's Magazine. He wrote then, "I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant."
"One of the things that Hofstadter says is that conspiracy theories don't take into account chance and they don't take into account the theory of bumbling and incompetence," Starr said.
"They felt the Bush Administration -- which couldn't even manufacture weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- could bring down the buildings without being detected," he said. "We don't want bumbling. We want an antagonist who's strong. If the Celtics blow a play, it can't be because they blew a play; it's because they're throwing the game. We want our antagonists to be hypercompetent and evil....why would Orlando get two first round picks when they're a small market team? That just gets ignored...there's a kind of selective attention there."
And conspiracies are counterintuitive: the more proof one produces to refute the theories, the more people believe the theories.
"It's hyperlogical until the one moment when everything falls apart," Starr said. "It proves manipulation. Evidence that goes against it only gets construed as manipulation. It's a perfect closed system; anything that's exculpatory or disproves the conspiracy only proves how evil they are."
The explosion of certain media in recent years can reinforce one's sense of grievance. Conspiratorial thinking has changed somewhat in the last 10 years for a couple of reasons, Starr said.
"One is the sort of self-reinforcing way in which we get our news, in that you're only preaching to the converted that a more skeptical audience wouldn't let you get away with," Starr said.
The other is a reaction to the current flow in capitalism where money and markets have shifted dramatically since the 1970s, Starr said. The displacement that many feel about their economic futures leaves many willing to believe larger forces are at work.
"There's a lot of money at stake in manufacturing a New York Knicks-Miami Heat playoff," Starr said. "So you can understand, on some level, (how) people go from there is some self-interest, that there then has to be a will. Why would San Antonio be playing Oklahoma City when the Lakers and Clippers are big market teams?"
Of course, I went to American University. So, clearly, Starr and I are in on the conspiracy, too! That could explain why Starr doesn't believe that the smoking gun of NBA conspiracy theorists -- Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Kings, which L.A. won in most controversial fashion -- is indicative of league manipulation.
"Conspiracy theories aren't statisticians," he said. "One extremely badly officiated game over the decade doesn't tend to prove."
He who owns the gold, hires the moving trucks. From Lukus Rowntree:
David, I really look forward to and enjoy reading the morning tip. However, when you make the point that the fans "can't have it both ways" in regards to owner spending what happens if the fans do that and you end up with a Vancouver or a Seattle where no one shows up to games and owners are forced to move their teams. I know money talks but it also makes owners walk.
The Sonics didn't move from Seattle because their attendance fell off in the last year they were there. That decision was clearly made by Clay Bennett and his owners the second they arrived in town, and I credit Seattle's fans for not being taken for suckers and giving any more of their money to Bennett and Company before they skipped town. (There aren't that many places left for a team to go these days, anyway.) Fans in losing situations have two choices: they can continue to subsidize poor decisions and bad play or they can withhold their funds-either at the gate or by not watching on television, the lifeblood of any team-until the team starts doing better.
He's hacked off. From Brian Bivens:
Gotta disagree on your Not Feelin' 5/21 about the team being hacked getting free throws and possession. Free throws are a part of the game. This is my example of why hacking a bad free throw shooter isn't a bad strategy. Let's say you have a guy that's a bad jump shooter. Are you going to give him an open lane to the basket for a layup (although with the way some teams play defense...) or are you going to make him take jumpers all night? My point is if you have a guy on the court with a weakness you exploit it. Yeah it slows the game down but ALL free throws slow the game down. A hack free throw slows the game down the same as a superstar call free throw.
Yes, but one is deliberate and the other is not, Brian. And Hack-A-Whoever destroys what Phil Jackson called the "flow game" of basketball. Coaches know this, which is why the strategy isn't used every game. Think about it; free-throw shooting is down across the board. Why don't we see HAW every night during the regular season? Because coaches know it hurts the rhythm of play, and most great players want to play in a game where there's some kind of flow.
He should, perhaps, stay at his old Kentucky home. From Karthik Narayanan:
I don't understand this. Anthony Davis, consensus No.1 pick, is in the preliminary US team, while players like Favors, Cousins aren't? I mean Favors and Cousins have not accomplished anything but they are surely NBA competition tested when compared to Anthony Davis. He might turn out to be an all star later on, but for now, I think Marc Gasol would eat Davis for lunch - alive!!!
As for other centers, McGee is ruled out, thanks to Shaq and TNT. Bynum is not interested. Jefferson, Perkins, Hibbert aren't international centers. Hawes and Monroe are good role players but aren't great defenders. I can't think of any other worthy centers in the league. Why would Jerry go with Davis instead of Favors or Cousins or even Faried? (Davis is not a center right now. He is 6 10 and under-weight). What's your take? Disclaimer: I am biased as a Jazz fan.
I have no problem with Davis being among the Olympic team finalists, Karthik. Jerry Colangelo loves continuity, and would love to have the 18-year-old Davis go through this cycle (2012 Summer Games, 2014 World Cup of Basketball, 2016 Olympics) before he may be too old for future competition (see They Said It) below. Look, we all know why Cousins is not yet deemed ready for the big team; fair or not, he's still viewed as not mature enough. Favors hasn't done nearly enough yet and one promising season isn't going to get Faried on the team-unless, perhaps, there's another frontcourt injury.
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63 -- Consecutive sellouts, including playoffs, for the Thunder in what is now Chesapeake Energy Arena. OKC is still slightly behind the NBA record 814 straight sellouts between 1977 and 1995 set by the Trail Blazers.
478 -- Career blocked shots in the playoffs for Tim Duncan, who passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (476) last week to take first place on the all-time postseason list. Of course, blocked shots weren't kept as an official stat until 1974; Mr. Russell probably is actually tops in this category.
$45,578 -- Reported amount bid anonymously for Hall of Famer Robert Parish's 1981 championship ring. The company which held the auction said the ring was in "near mint" condition and would come with a letter of authenticity from Parish.
1) Been a tough year in the Big Easy, but is there anyone that can honestly argue that David Stern's nixing of the original Chris Paul trade didn't produce the right outcome for New Orleans -- and that's putting aside the Hornets getting the first pick in the Draft? What do you think Lamar Odom would have done had he had to play all season for the 21-win Hornets? But after Wednesday's lottery, New Orleans finally has some light at the end of the tunnel with the No. 1 and 10 picks. Anthony Davis will help, but so will the young point guard New Orleans presumably will take at 10.
2) Game Five. Monday night. San Antonio-Oklahoma City. If it's anything like Game Four, it should be incredible.
2a) Game Five. Tuesday. Miami-Boston. If it's anything like Game Four, it should be incredible.
3) Kudos to the Bobcats for acknowledging how bad they were last season by offering their fans a free season ticket for the 2013-14 season for every season ticket they buy for the 2012-13 campaign. A rare moment of corporate aha!
4) At first, I thought DeShawn Stevenson was nuts to put an ATM in his house. Well, I still think DeShawn Stevenson is nuts to put an ATM in his house. But there's a kind of logic to his decision, I guess. At least he doesn't run the risk of getting jacked at a bank, and DSteve did get robbed earlier in his career. On the other hand, you've just let the bad guys know you have an ATM in your house. Maybe there's a $300 daily withdrawal limit.
5) Eldrick. He's back. I hope.
1) I don't think that referees miss calls on purpose. But when they do, as with the no-call on Dwyane Wade's face rake of Rajon Rondo in Game 2 of the Boston-Miami series, they should be publicly reprimanded by the league -- just as players, coaches and owners are when they commit transgressions. The only way you know when a ref messed up is if he or she doesn't work future playoff games, and I don't know too many people who peruse the box scores that closely. I'm not advocating putting them in the stocks; just a release acknowledging that referees Smith, Jones and Johnson missed a call last night. It happens far too infrequently to have any impact.
2) Orlando Woolridge looked like living sculpture, a physical specimen that was built to play basketball. And in the mid-80s, he put up some strong numbers for the Bulls -- though his status as the Man in Chicago was quickly eclipsed by a young guard named Jordan. Sad to hear that Woolridge fell on hard times in recent years, and very sad to hear that he died on Friday at 52.
3) I did not know Jack Twyman, but I knew his story. People like Wayne Embry, the first African-American general manager in the NBA, who's now in Toronto, and Zelda Spoelstra, the doyenne of the old NBA, who was instrumental in getting help to some of the league's pioneers later in their lives, made sure I knew about Twyman and Maurice Stokes. Stokes was the Rookie of the Year for the Cincinnati Royals (now the Kings) in 1956 and was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career when he suffered a terrible fall in a game against the Lakers in 1958, falling on his head. He finished the game, but soon was hospitalized and became a quadriplegic. He was ultimately diagnosed with encephalitis -- swelling of the brain. The medical bills soon became too much. Enter Twyman, Stokes's teammate and friend, who stepped into the breach and became Stokes' guardian and champion. He organized fundraisers, handled Stokes's personal affairs and helped him re-learn how to communicate. Stokes ultimately regained some use of his arms and legs, though he never again spoke until his death in 1970. Twyman went on to become a color commentator for ABC (it's Twyman who points out Willis Reed limping onto the court during warmups before Game 7 of the 1970 Finals between the Knicks and Lakers), but he already had done his best work -- being the kind of friend all of us could use at our worst moment. Twyman died last week, part of one of the league's all-time great stories.
4) People -- what's with the cannibalism? Stop it.
5) We are a better country because the government banned the sale of cigarettes to minors, taxed the heck out of them and didn't allow them to be advertised on television. Fewer people have died because of those decisions. And yet, I couldn't disagree more with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is proposing aban on selling large-sized sodas in his city because of their ridiculously high sugar content and the contributions such super sized drinks make to the nation's spiking obesity rates.
People didn't know the addictive dangers of smoking in the early 60s, when the advertising and sales bans went into effect. In today's information age, anyone with access to a laptop or a television should be able to find out what foods are good and bad for you. They should understand how terrible regular consumption of sodas is to your health. I know the argument is that obese people ultimately become a drag on the health care system, and if we don't do something about it those costs could become prohibitive. (This is why an overhaul of our for-profit health care system is in order, but that's a subject for another column.)
But there is a more fundamental question here. When does the government have the right to keep you from killing yourself? And, sadly, I don't think it does. Suicide is illegal. I get that. But people do have the right to be as slovenly as they can and still live with themselves. If you want to be a lardbody and drink 64-ounce Big Gulps while downing a vat of Cheetos, shame is really the only weapon we have at our disposal.
When Kurt Thomas came into the NBA out of TCU in 1995, he was the nation's leading scorer-and quickly became a cautionary tale. The story goes that early in his days with the Knicks in 1999, there was a team meeting, at which point Thomas reminded his teammates that he was the nation's leading scorer just a couple of years ago, and that they should probably think about getting him the ball a little more. At which point someone-don't know if it was Larry Johnson or Patrick Ewing-told Thomas, 'shut the bleep up.' Anyway, whether that story is true, Thomas has gone on and carved out a career that was light on scoring and heavy on sacrifice for the good of the team. At 39 -- a day older than the Suns' Grant Hill -- Thomas is the league's oldest player, having finished his 16th season with the Blazers, his ninth NBA team. He never has been a big scorer in the pros, but he's become the role player's role player, perfecting low-post defense, setting screens, being smart and tough-and hitting the occasional shot from the top of the key. He shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
Me: If you stay healthy, is there an end point for you?
Kurt Thomas: You know, I don't even know. I just take it one year at a time. We just see. I still enjoy playing. I enjoy being around the guys. I enjoy talking trash and competing, against my teammates and against opponents. I still have that desire burning. And also, I wanted my son to still see me play. My son is 5 years old, and I wanted him to see me play.
Me: What do you attribute your longevity to?
KT: Number one, the grace of God to stay healthy for this long, this long career. When I first started off, I had a bumpy road there. I broke my ankle four times in a period of two years. And ever since then, I've had some injuries, but nothing major. So I'd definitely have to say just staying healthy.
Me: When you're competing out there against a guy that's 10 years younger, is there a sense of pride that you can still play?
KT: Oh yeah, definitely. Also, I've learned a lot of tricks of the game, so I'm able to use that to my advantage. And also just knowing where to be out there on the floor. Especially when I'm going against a young guy, I definitely know that they're younger and more athletic than I am, so I just try to use the wisdom that I've gained over the years.
Me: You watch more tape these days?
KT: You know, I'm a basketball junkie. I'm always watching the game every chance I get. It's always on in my house, or my computer, or wherever I am. I'm just addicted to it.
Me: Who did you learn from early in your career?
KT: Early in my career, I'd have to say LJ, with his work ethic, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway. I was around a great group of guys early in my career. I was on some great teams. And I had some great coaches that instilled a lot of wisdom and a lot of confidence in me, and I've just carried it from team to team.
Me: What was the best accomplishment in your career?
KT: Making it to the Finals (in 1999). I would definitely say that. We didn't win it, but the fact of making it there, and just everywhere I go, people give me credit for my long career. So I just take that and just keep going at it.
Me: When you came into the league, you were a scorer. How did that change over the years?
KT: People ask me that all the time. Because I'm really not known as a scorer in the league. I'm known for my defense and rebounding the ball. But everywhere I go, everyone knows that I can still score. I show that every day in practice. I don't get a number of plays called for me, but as long as we're winning, I'm happy. But every day in practice, I show them I can still put the ball in the hole, that I'm still a scorer.
KG never takes big shot for #Celtics now he's fourth in line behind Pierce Allen and Rondo to take clutch shot. Warrior all game though!!
--Former NBA player and former teammate of Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak (@WSzczerbiak) Thursday, 12:06 a.m., following Boston's Game 2 loss to the Heat. Szczerbiak, who had his issues with Garnett when the two were in Minnesota, sent another critical Tweet about Garnett a few minutes later -- and received the wrath of KG fans in responses that we cannot reproduce here.
"Michael Jordan is the only person I've talked to about a coaching job. Just so everybody understands, I'm not chasing everything that comes up."
-- Former Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, telling the Deseret News last week about his interview in Charlotte for the Bobcats' vacant gig. But a source says Sloan definitely wants to coach again after resigning as Utah's coach after 23 years in February, 2011.
"He's a monster. So I just want to go out there and play my hardest. There's a lot of guys that can't stop Kobe. So if I stop him I could be one of the guys that say, 'I shut Kobe down'."
--Likely first overall pick Anthony Davis, on The Dan Patrick Show last week, detailing his desire to guard Kobe Bryant next season. You'll soon get your wish, young fella.
"We think international soccer has an excellent model and in the case of soccer, of course, there's the World Cup of football, which is the biggest sporting event in the world every four years, and then in the off years, for the World Cup, they play, in essence, with some exceptions, a 23-and-under competition at the Olympics."
-- NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, expressing the league's increasing interest in establishing a 23-year-old age limit on future participants on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. This made Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, long a critic of having NBA players play in international competition, quite happy.
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