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David Aldridge

Sam Hinkie and Josh Harris
With owner Josh Harris' blessing, GM Sam Hinkie is working to forge a new way for the Sixers.

Careful steps and new-age stats fuel Hinkie's rebuild in Philly


Posted Jul 15, 2013 9:27 AM

The first basketball sabrematrician, to hear Sam Hinkie tell it, could have been Henry Iba.

"Hank Iba said 'get back,'" Hinkie said Sunday afternoon, referring to the Oklahoma State and Hall of Fame coach. The point is not that Iba, who died in 1993, knew or cared anything about the advanced metrics explosion that has taken over the NBA.

The point is Iba found something that worked for his team -- if it got back on defense instead of trying for offensive rebounds, it stopped the opposition more often and won more games. So he used it.

That is all that Hinkie, the new general manager of the Philadelpha 76ers, is trying to do: find what works. And he does so by using all the information he can get his hands on, then running them through a brain that was good enough to earn an MBA from Stanford, and a basketball jones that had more ambition than Marlow, Okla., -- where Hinkie grew up and his playing career peaked -- could service.

His current task, though, is much bigger than convincing Dwight Howard to come to Houston. Hinkie spent eight seasons in Houston -- the last six as vice president, then as executive vice president of basketball operations, working with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Hinkie has to resurrect the 76ers to relevance, and he hasn't yet hired a coach to replace Doug Collins, who resigned after the season.

Hinkie is taking his time. Reports that he'd hired Spurs assistant Brett Brown were false -- at least when they were reported on Draft night. But Hinkie has his own schedule, which includes an interview with assistant coach Michael Curry, the ex-Pistons coach who went 39-43 in his lone season (2008-09) on the job.

"Just in my life, you sort of focus on the big rocks first, right?" Hinkie asked. "Putting the big things in place first so you have a chance to do the big things right. The Draft was obviously a high priority. Our staff spent a lot of time on that, in two ways: one, to put players in the pipeline, and two, to reach our goals that are set by management. And those goals are lofty: to be in the mix and to build something interesting."

He didn't mess around. On Draft night, Hinkie traded the Sixers' All-Star guard, Jrue Holiday, to the Pelicans in exchange for the rights to rookie Nerlens Noel and a protected 2014 first-rounder. It was the same night Hinkie took Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams, who will replace Holiday, in the first round.

There's no guarantee the move will work. But it had to be tried. That's the mandate he has from Philly's majority owner, Josh Harris.

"From the first time I met the owners, they were very clear about where they wanted, and the kind of organization they wanted to build, and the kind of team they'd be proud of, and the kind of team they wouldn't," Hinkie said. "I've only thought about getting to there. It's just a league that doesn't reward treading water. And so sometimes you have to take some risks, and sometimes some risks are smarter to take for some teams, and less smart for other teams."

Assessing risk is right up Hinkie's alley. He's been doing it since he went to college at the University of Oklahoma, where he was named Outstanding Student at the school's Price College of Business and the Outstanding Finance student. He followed his undergraduate studies with a stint at Bain and Company, followed by the Stanford work (he was also accepted by Harvard).

The Stanford program gave Hinkie his first chance in pro sports. Through Stanford, Hinkie got to work in the front offices of the NFL's 49ers and Houston Texans. He was tasked with finding a better way to determine how much to spend on players. It was right up his alley.

"In all sports, everyone is trying to do similar things, which is trying to spend the limited resources, which are limited by the league's rules, as efficiently as they can," Hinkie said. "Everyone's trying to get the most best players on the roster, with loosely no more than this much money to spend. There's some real similarities there. It can be helpful. And that's the key word, 'helpful.' It's not the end-all and be-all. It just helps."

The Rockets are celebrated for the process that allowed them to hit on James Harden and later, Howard. But it took years to build up the assets it took to get Harden from Oklahoma City last fall. It took identifying players that were undervalued, like Carl Landry and Chandler Parsons, and developing them in the pros. It took coaches to do that developing. It took more than a little luck.

And Hinkie was right in the middle of it all, as the Rockets' cap guy, head of analytics and more than occasional scout.

"I know he'll handle everything great," Morey said of Hinkie. "As far as handling things, I know he'll do the right thing. I think he'll get the 76ers on the right track ... he's the hardest working guy in the league. Tireless. I hated losing him."

Morey and Hinkie constantly cringe at reducing what they tried to do to (ital.)Moneyball(endital). That book, written by Michael James, celebrates the increased use of analytics in baseball, with the Oakland Athletics' Billy Beane the protagonist and hero. They constantly say that advanced metrics are just a tool, not a magic bullet. The Rockets certainly believe in the advanced numbers to evaluate players' strengths and weaknesses. But they aren't a slave to them.

In many ways, the debate is over. The analytics community has won a lot of battles in the NBA. The analytics community, in many ways, is the NBA.

It's not just John Hollinger, the former ESPN.com columnist and developer of the holy grail individual stat beloved by the analytics world: Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Hollinger was hired by the Grizzlies last December to be the team's vice president of basketball operations.

Almost every team in the league has an analytics specialist. At the behest of coach Rick Carlisle, an early believer in the advanced-stats movement, the Mavericks famously put their director of analytics, Roland Beech, on the bench a couple of years ago. Mark Cuban, equally famously, embraced advanced stats almost a decade ago. Everyone uses Synergy Sports to break down plays. Even NBA.com has all the advanced numbers you want.

Half the teams in the league, with more to come in the next year, now subscribe to SportVU. The camera system, first developed by the Israeli military, tracks every player movement in every game at an annual cost of $100,000 per team. SportVU not only determines what a player did on a given play; its computers can also determine what a player (ital.)should(endital) have done on the play. (Grantland's great Zach Lowe broke down the Raptors' use of SportVU earlier this year.)

Teams that used to use the 3-pointer sparingly almost all now understand the greater value of the shot, as measured by stats like effective field goal percentage. (A player who takes five 3-pointers and makes two in a game, for example, has the same impact as a player who takes five two-point shots and makes three, yet the latter's shooting percentage is 60 percent, compared to the former's 40 percent. Effective shooting percentage weighs that impact more accurately by including the extra value of a 3-pointer in a shooter's percentage.)

Many teams now use advanced stats like points per 100 possessions, rather than the old points per game stat, because points per 100 factors in pace of play. The MIT Sloan Sports Conference that Morey founded in 2006 drew more than 2,700 attendees last year -- including representatives from all but a handful of NBA teams -- and could easily have drawn several thousand more.

But troglodytes like me still wonder about a few things.

What's the difference, for example, between the analytics-based basketball person who notes that Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens scored 72 percent of his points driving from the right elbow to his left, and the old bird dog scout saying "Lenny doesn't have a right hand?" The effect of the information on a smart basketball person is the same: make Wilkens drive to the right, and you'll have a better chance of stopping him. (Not that many were successful doing so.)

Hinkie's point is, there is no difference. It's just that one uses numbers from (ital.)all(endital) the games, not just the ones that the scout was able to see. He is not an executive who sits at his desk poring over spread sheets. At least, not all the time.

"I'm on the road 15, 20 days a month, at college games, at pro games, internationally, the occasional [NBA] D-League game," he says. "Evaluation is the lifeblood of our business, still. There's still things you can only get by seeing them in person."

Or, to use another of his favorite analogies (he likes using them), would you rather have the pilot fly the plane using his instruments, or his experience? Hinkie wants both. And he is constantly, always, looking for hidden value.

"I laugh sometimes when guys complain about going to the Chicago camp," he says, referring to the pre-Draft showcase of players. "This is the best collection of players anywhere. They'll say, 'well, there's only one first-round pick there.' And I say, 'do you know of a place where there's better players? 'Cause if so, let's go there.'"

But ...

I still have a couple of questions.

Sure, says Professor Hinkie.

Well, what about rebounding? How can measuring rebounds per game be bad? Rebounds are pretty doggone important. (Riles said so! "No rebounds, no rings," remember?) Rebounds either extend the offense's possession or end it.

Yet advanced stats dismiss rebounds per game as inefficient. Rebound percentage, which determines the percentage of available rebounds a player gets while he's on the court, is a more accurate model for determining who's really rebounding well. It factors in things like playing time, for example.

Got it. But ...

It's easy to see when someone's being selfish by shooting too much. Even if they make the shot, they may have broken off the play and frozen out the other players on the floor, compromising the offense. And steals are wildly overrated as a defensive stat; poaching for them often leads to defensive chaos.

But rebounds? What's wrong with rebounds?

"We don't debate about who the best free throw shooters are," Hinkie begins. "It's kind of clear. There's zero debate about that. Because we can determine it. That's like the most boring debate ever, because that's really simple. And most of the game is not simple. You only try to use anything that's been predictive of the best rebounders in the past. A lot of the advanced ways said (to look at) players like Omer Asik. He got whatever he got, three rebounds behind (Joakim) Noah. If you used rebounds per game, you probably never would have gotten Asik as one of the best rebounders in the game. When something has been predictive in the past, you should use it. And when you don't, you shouldn't."

Another question also continues to vex me.

Every team holds its advanced stats close to the vest. Every one of them is proprietary. Nobody gives away their "secrets." And every team has stats that it values most sacred. But if everyone is keeping their data from one another, and there's no common repository, how does anyone know what really works -- and, more importantly, what doesn't?

Are the Mavs' advanced stats less right now that Tyson Chandler isn't anchoring their defense, and Jason Kidd isn't running their offense? How does a team value its stats in the face of a changing, or aging, or more experienced, or less experienced, roster?

Hinkie is well aware that you don't need an MBA to determine that LeBron James is good. If you want to know about a player, asking his teammates and coaches is still an effective way of learning about him. But Numbers, like Ball, Don't Lie.

"The only things that I'm willing to use are things that history has already proven to be right," Hinkie says. "I have all sorts of, everyone has all sorts of hunches about the game, that this matters more than that. Some of the things that I read, or we create, will be data driven. We won't invest in any that haven't proven to be predictive over time. That's an example of one that's simple, that people increasingly get. We used to talk about this in Houston with our coaches. We'd say: there's all sorts of change, some of which is easy, some of which is hard."

Which may explain why Hinkie doesn't seem to be in a big rush to hire a coach. He's got a lot of changes to install. The 76ers bought the dormant former Utah Flash NBA Development League franchise in April, renaming it the Delaware 87ers (they'll call them the Sevens, thank goodness), and Hinkie wants to make full use of it.

"The Sevens will be a really interesting tool for us, much like what the Spurs have in Austin or the Thunder in Tulsa," Hinkie said. "You can better manage the development of your own players that you have down there. You can better scout the D-League overall. You can scout more coaches, more training staffs, more scouts. And because, honestly, you can experiment down there. You can try things that are good for your coaches, good for your players. You can play your combo guy at the one, full time, which you would never do at the Wells Fargo Center, because the stakes are too high."

The stakes are going to be plenty high in Philly, even if the Sixers aren't going to be ready for prime time any time soon.

The long-term return from the Holiday trade could be well worth it. Noel was regarded up to and including Draft night as the top prospect in the Draft. And the New Orleans pick will certainly come in handy in a deep Draft next season (assuming the Pelicans don't have one of the five worst records in the league next season, in which case they'll keep the pick).

But in the short term ... gaaaah.

Hinkie is coming to a city that, on the whole, would rather be Philadelphia than any place else.

The Philly sports fan is knowledgeable and passionate, if occasionally obdurate and often loud. And Hinkie is the opposite of loud. Not soft, and certainly not stupid. Just not loud. And the 76ers are facing at least a couple of years of bleak results, the kind of results that can sink a rebuild before its foundation is poured, even with a patient owner.

Hinkie will have to sell some hope -- to fans, to media, to season ticket buyers.

"He's very good with people," Morey said. "I think over time, the media stuff will take care of itself. It's a big challenge to take over a new organization. He's up to it. I remember my early days here. I didn't have much free time to help the media as much as we all need to do at certain times."

But Hinkie says he understands where he is.

"I say this with all sincerity: I really embrace that," Hinkie said. "A passionate fan base is something everybody ought to think about before they go work for another team. Philly has a lot of positives on that front. Me personally, who wants to be in a place where fans are apathetic, and if you build something interesting, they don't fill the building, they don't care?

"Philly is not like that. Philly has had wildly interesting icons in the game, from Wilt [Chamberlain] to Doc [Julius Erving] to Moses [Malone] to AI [Allen Iverson]. When you win here, you have a lot of wind behind your sails. To me, that's worth a lot. If that means our fans care every day of the year, not just the days you're winning, I'm okay with that. I think that comes with the territory."

He is inheriting a mess. In the space of one year, a team that looked like it would be in the playoffs for many years was undone, the result of a single trade that will be dissected by sports business classes. Philly's braintrust gambled on Andrew Bynum's knees, and came up snake eyes. That deal led to a housecleaning by Harris, which included the firing of general manager Tony DiLeo.

Harris wanted someone to run his team that embraced advanced statistics and outside-the-box thinking. That's something Harris started to push last year when he hired Aaron Barzalai, a former quantitative analyst with the Grizzlies, as the 76ers Director of Analytics.

It was not a revolution embraced by Collins. It's not that Collins didn't believe in numbers; he did, strongly. He just believed in what four decades in basketball told him what was important about the game. The new analytics weren't part of that.

It was why, when asked by the Philadelphia Inquirer during the season if he was an analytics guy, Collins said "No. If I did that, I'd blow my brains out. There's 20-page printouts after every game -- I would kill myself."

That is no longer the belief system of the 76ers' organization.

One more thing, Mr. Hinkie. (I feel like Columbo. Kids! Ask your parents who Columbo was.)

Hinkie and Morey were profiled in a celebrated New York Times Magazine piece a few years ago by Lewis, who also wrote the great book, The Blind Side, which profiled offensive tackle Michael Oher and the development of left tackle as one of football's most important positions.

The magazine piece featured Shane Battier, then with the Rockets, and how his effective defense against Kobe Bryant wasn't happenstance or luck. It was the byproduct of the Rockets' advanced numbers measuring Bryant's favorite spots on the floor in painstaking detail combined with Battier's willingness to use them (without question) over and over during the course of a game. (That aspect of Battier's game continues to be valued, of course, now by the Heat.)

The takeaway: Battier was willing to live with the results of any given possession, or game, if he did what he was supposed to do.

"I care a lot more about what ought to have happened than what actually happens," Hinkie was quoted as saying in the story, a line that can be misinterpreted in a thousand different ways.

But how does someone like Hinkie, who lives with numbers, deal with what stats folks call the "randomness" of sports? Even if something happens nine times out of 10, that 10th time counts, too. Derek Fisher wasn't supposed to hit that shot against the Spurs with :00.4 seconds on the clock...but he did. It's hard enough to deal with that shot when you aren't an advanced statistician. But when you are?

"That's easily the best question you've asked, because it's the most important," Hinkie said, and thanks, I guess.

"Separating the difference between randomness and skill is critical," he continued. "We all struggle with it, me included. A lot of people spend their whole lives doing just that. The example is the same. If you watch a Summer League game, you see a guy take a shot, you think, bad shot, bad shot -- oh, good shot. Because it went in. That's not me.

"Well, it's me with five seconds left in the game. I want to win. But that's not me for three quarters. That's a bad shot. I don't care if it went in. But, conversely, if the right guy gets the ball at just the right spot, just at the right point in the shot clock, let it go. If he's your best shooter, who cares? Do you. Let it fly. Your question, that's the heart of who I am."

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What do the Mavericks do now?

Dallas' second summer as a cap room player, looking to add that superstar or collection of stars around Dirk Nowitzki in the sunset of his career, has gone only slightly better than last year -- when the Mavs whiffed on Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and just about everyone else.

At least this time, Dallas was able to stabilize itself at the point with a four-year, $29 million deal for Jose Calderon. And for a team that failed completely in that endeavor last season, with Darren Collison, Roddy Beaubois and Fisher all found wanting -- the Mavs finished the year with then 37-year-old Mike James starting -- that's something. But it's hard to call this offseason a success.

The big plan this summer was, again, to get Howard, and hopefully draw a second difference maker like Josh Smith. But Howard did not appear to seriously consider Dallas, opting to sign with the Rockets.

The Mavs had to give $30 million over three years to get Monta Ellis, whose high-volume past as a shooter does not seem at first glance to blend in with Rick Carlisle's flow offense. They never got a shot at Chris Paul and decided to pass on making an offer for free agent Andrew Bynum. But their desperate need for a big man has them trying to reach a deal with Samuel Dalembert.

Once can be dismissed as bad luck, coincidence, cicada infestation. Twice is a trend.

Cuban is now talking about a two-year plan to return the Mavs to elite status. I love Cubes, but any time an owner or exec starts talking about two- or three- or four-year plans, fans usually get queasy.

"We can not listen to the media or tweets and do what we need to do," Cuban e-mailed Sunday. "It's about winning games not winning the summer."

After Dallas struck out last summer, GM Donnie Nelson spoke bravely of "keeping our powder dry" until the Mavs could hit on the Big One, the free agent that would be worth waiting for, or until Dallas put enough assets together to trade for a superstar.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that strategy. The Hawks are doing much the same thing, putting modest money into the likes of Paul Millsap (two years, $19 million) and Kyle Korver (re-signed for four years and $24 million) rather than overspending for middling talent and pushing their cap room down the road. But Atlanta didn't bust up a championship team on the road to fiscal frugality.

After eight years and $150 million in luxury taxes, and with higher taxes looming beginning next summer, Cuban has had enough -- for now, at least -- of subsidizing the rest of the league. For the first time, Dallas did not pay luxury tax for this past season, and is likely to not pay them next season.

Again, it makes sense for Cuban, like most non-Prokhorovian owners, to avoid writing those kinds of checks. But that doesn't stop Nowitzki's athletic clock from ticking.

Nowtizki will make $22.7 million next season, the second-highest in the league; only Kobe Bryant ($30.4 million) makes more. But after coming back from arthroscopic knee surgery that kept him out much of the first two months of the season, Nowitzki resembled his old self and almost willed Dallas to the postseason.

After the All-Star break, Nowitzki shot 50.5 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3-point range, averaging 18.9 ppg and 7.7 rpg. He was just as lethal from his favorite spots -- the right elbow and wing -- as he's ever been, making 56 and 58.9 percent of his shots from those spots last season, according to NBA.com's shot charts. No question, he can still play, and at a high level.

With Calderon, the Mavs should be better next season, but they aren't anywhere near good enough to be a contender. Nor will Cuban ever cotton to a full rebuild, which would involve trading Nowitzki.

It has been anathema in the 214 to even talk about pulling the trigger on a Nowitzki deal -- both to the 35-year-old, whose Hall of Fame plaque is just waiting for its inscription date, and to the team that traded for the then-almost unknown kid from Wurzburg, Germany, on Draft night in 1998. Nowitzki became the greatest player in franchise history, with more than 25,000 points, a 2011 championship and Finals MVP award and an MVP in 2007.

But the Mavericks are stuck in the NBA middle. They have too much pride and remaining talent and coaching to go all the way to the bottom, where the difference-making Lottery picks often reside. But they're no longer good enough to be a contender, even with Nowitzki still playing at a high level.

If -- if -- they looked at a deal, could they get something good for him?

"It is possible," one general manager texted Sunday. "It is a tough set of circumstances to get value...1 year deal, 35/36 year old, big dollar contract, trade rules. The team receiving Dirk would have to be close to the title; does Dirk stay in a year. Mark and [Mavs GM] Donnie [Nelson] are good at what they do, but they have always been loyal to keeping Dirk."

The problem, even if Dallas were so inclined, is that the line of demarcation between being all in for 2013-14 and sitting things out until help arrives, one way or another, a year from now has already been drawn -- a gaping maw between the haves and have-nots. There just aren't that many contending teams who haven't already made their moves, or who already have who they want in place.

"He would have to go to a contender," another GM texted. "With $20 million (going out), I don't think they can get all that much."

Of course, Dallas doesn't want to deal Nowitzki, even if it runs the risk of losing him for nothing as a free agent next summer. The chance of getting fair value for him is small, and the chance that he wants to retire as a one-team superstar is great. But the Mavericks are reaching the point of no return. You think it was easy for Danny Ainge to trade Paul Pierce, who is dangerously close to getting etched onto the Celtics' Mount Rushmore? (Bill Russell. Larry Bird. John Havlicek. And ... you tell me who else. Bob Cousy? Sam Jones? K.C. Jones? Dave Cowens? Or Pierce?)

The Mavericks, going back to the first coach that believed in Nowitzki -- Don Nelson, Donnie's father -- have never wavered in their faith. Nowitzki has never wavered in his public support of the team's moves -- even when it meant they let Nash go as a free agent in 2004, only to see him put up back-to-back MVP seasons in Phoenix in 2005 and '06.

But Nowitzki said often last season that he wouldn't be happy waiting around forever for the franchise to fix the roster.

"You have either two options," Nowitzki said in January. "We went for Deron Williams, he didn't come. I thought other than that, you either sign a bunch of one-year deals and go again for the next summer, or you break the whole thing up, and then trade me, and start over. So we decided to go for the one option and go for a bunch of one-year deals and keep the cap space for next summer. We'll see what happens."

What happened was a slight upgrade in terms of commit for next season. The Mavs won't have eight players with a foot out the door as they did last season. The 31-year-old Calderon is a top-15 point guard who should thrive both playing in Carlisle's system and with Nowitzki.

So, why did Calderon pick the Mavericks?

"The truth is that I don't know if there was exactly that many options there," he told local reporters last week. "Sometimes the offers come and go two hours later. It's kind of a weird thing."

Well, with ringing endorsements like that, how can the Mavs lose?

Maybe the Mavericks keep their powder dry until next summer, when they can get down to next to nothing in salary commitments, and take a run at the LeBrons of the loaded 2014 free agent world. They could certainly still land Moby Dick and then re-sign Nowitzki to a new, short, Kevin Garnett-ish deal. Or, if Nowitzki did decide to walk next summer, the Mavs could work out the best sign-and-trade deal they can.

Either would require still more faith in Cuban from Nowitzki. He's loyal. But he's also a champion. And champions, once slaked, never lose the thirst for winning big. The Big German is still thirsty. Real thirsty. So, how do they keep him satisfied?

"By winning games," Cuban said.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

The game, it is a changin'. From Andres Schimelman:

Given that my age (18) has only allowed me to see the current style of play in the NBA (small ball, spacing the floor and shooting lots of 3s) I had some questions about the way the game was played before, and why has it changed so much.

In today┬┤s NBA, with the exception of Memphis and Indiana, championship teams play with one true "big man" at most. What do you think is (or are) the biggest reason/s for this change? Is it the implementation of new rules, the arrival of international players, did high school and college coaches change their programs?

It's a combination of things, Andres, many of which are addressed throughout this week's Tip. The rules changes lobbied for by the league (see Rod Thorn interview, below) that limited defensive contact with offensive players opened the game up, and gave the offense primacy over the defense. It made smaller players just as important as big guys, because they had the ball in their hands, and they became extremely hard to guard. (Think Gilbert Arenas in his prime.) Spreading the floor became even more important to give great ballhandlers and passers the room to operate and create. And bigs that could shoot the ball were encouraged to do so, not reprimanded. Twenty years ago, seven footers like Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki would have only made the Hall of Fame by playing in the paint. Now, they'll make the Hall as perimeter-oriented superstars.

Things are bad in Philly...but not that bad. From Miguel Antoniazzi:

I was looking at the 2014 NBA Draft odds and possible lottery winners and I have one question for you:

There is a great possibility that Philadelphia could win the lottery next year, but they owe a protected first round pick to Miami in 2014. So this means that if Philadelphia win the No. 1 pick, Miami could be selecting Andrew Wiggins in next year's Draft?

The pick only goes to Miami if it's between 15 and 30 in the first round, Miguel. Otherwise, the 76ers keep it.

The Royals...weren't just in Rochester and Cincinnati, of course. From Douglas Taylor:

I imagine your inbox will be overflowing, but I just wanted to make a quick point about something you said, and this is going back perhaps two years. I didn't send you an e-mail about this because it seemed fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but it has stuck with me and it is the biggest point in a very short list of things you've said that I don't agree with.

I can't remember you exact words, but essentially you made a point of saying "what's the big deal" regarding the British Royal Marriage of William and Kate. For a smart man, such as yourself, I wouldn't have thought you would have made such an observation of another countries culture. Whilst the British Monarchy isn't an every day presence in my life, I respect what it is and what it stands for. Surely you can't criticize the happiness and general "togetherness" of the British population on that day generated by the Royal wedding? Also how is this in any way different to the American celebration of Independence Day or Thanksgiving? Both are celebrations, where national pride is at its fullest.

Again this is a small point, I just felt slightly hurt by this statement. If it were a typical, loudmouth, "we won you the war" American (see I can stereotype too) then I would have brushed it off. I expected better of you!

I believe what I said, Douglas, was that I didn't care about the wedding, and I don't know why other people who didn't live in England would, or why they'd get up at 4 in the morning on the East coast to make sure they didn't miss the ceremony. I don't think I said the Royals stink or that people in the Kingdom should set Westminster Abbey on fire. I would not expect people from Great Britain to care much about the 4th of July in the States, either, nor would I be offended by their indifference. Just last week, I was extremely happy that Andy Murray won Wimbledon, because I know it's been so long since an Englishman did it. But I would not pretend that it was as important to me, an American, as it was to people in Great Britain.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and medical bills you may have incurred trying to bend in a way you shouldn't because of this guy to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently intelligent, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it! Left foot blue, right hand red!

BY THE NUMBERS

$82,957,437.25 -- Estimated luxury tax, by my calculator, that the Nets will pay next season if they keep their current roster through next summer. Brooklyn currently has 12 guaranteed players under contract next season, totaling roughly $97.7 million (forward D.J. White, who was added to the big trade that brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn, is under contract for next season at a little more than $1 million next season, but his salary is non-guaranteed if he's waived before Aug. 1). Add the minimum salaries for two non-guaranteed roster spots (Tornike Shengalia and Tyshawn Taylor), and the Nets' current expenditures for salaries is -- again, by my calculator, which could be wrong -- about $101,267,400, which puts them approximately $29,519,400 above the luxury tax threshold announced last week for the 2013-14 season of $71.748 million. Based on the rising scale for each $5 million a team exceeds the tax threshold, Brooklyn's current payroll would result in an unprecedented bill for Mikhail Prohkorov. Not that he seems to mind or care.

16 -- Total personnel layoffs by the Raptors, according to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke, in a Q and A last week with Venues Today magazine. Among the layoffs, which were made public last month, were former assistant general manager Ed Stefanski, longtime assistant GM Jim Kelly and Alvin Williams, the former guard for Toronto who had been an advance scout for the team last season.

34 -- Consecutive victories for the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis, a streak that ended last week when the Kastles were defeated by the Texas Wild. Whether or not you agree that tennis is a "major" sport these days, the Kastles claim that their streak broke the Lakers' team sports record of 33 straight wins in 1972. This is as close to manufactured "debate" as I can come without dry heaving.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Liked what I saw in the first snippets of Summer League play in Vegas from Sacramento's Ben McLemore, New York's Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Charlotte's Cody Zeller. And even though it's kind of schlocky, the idea of crowning a Summer League champ does give a little more value to winning the games than normal.

2) Some wonderful submissions already from fans looking to be guest Morning Tippers in August. As you may remember, during my vacation there will be four guest writers who'll pen the Tip, including one picked at random fan -- who'll write about why he or she loves the NBA so much, and how it impacts their daily lives. There's still time to send yours to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. Write as much as you like, and good luck to everyone.

3) Way to represent, KG.

4) Paul Shirley, who used to play basketball for a living, now writes about a great many things for a living (I think that's how he earns a living, anyway). I don't agree with many of the takes he has, but he writes very well, as he does here.

5) You think athletes are tough? In many ways, they are. And they're brave. But she's tougher, and braver. Way tougher and braver.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Hey, they got Chris Kaman! And Jordan Farmar's back! And they got Nick Young! And Pau Gasol really is a center! And Wes Johnson still is young and he's never really had a shot! If Kobe comes back healthy, the Lakers could ... ehh, my heart's not in it.

2) Presented without comment. Seriously, what comment could one make here that would make any sense? That this didn't happen? That it did? That he's making it up? That he isn't?

3) This is what I don't get about baseball. It's All-Star Game, like the NBA's, like the NHL's, is an exhibition. It's not for real! (Yes, I know home field advantage for the World Series is determined by the game's outcome. But pitchers don't throw inside to get batters off the plate; runners at second don't try to steal the catcher's signs behind the plate. That's what they do in real games.) It's for the fans. That's why there is a Home Run Derby the night before the game. So why there would be any notion that Yasiel Puig doesn't "deserve" to be in the Midsummer Classic is logic that I do not understand.

4) Until I saw this, I had no idea there was something called a "haboob." All I know now is that I never want to see this coming my way.

5) I reserved the last space for the Zimmerman verdict. I do not want to spend the next month arguing over this; you know what you think of the verdict, and I know what I think of the verdict, and you're not going to change my mind, and I'm not going to change yours. I will only say I hope that the players who expressed their feelings so passionately Saturday night and Sunday morning via social media can find a way to channel their anger into accomplishing something useful, so that the death of Trayvon Martin does not just become a footnote to an historically abysmal track record for black men in the American legal justice system.

Q AND A: ROD THORN

He is the very definition of "lifer." Rod Thorn's world has always revolved around basketball, and at 72, it still does. Last week, The Man Who Drafted Michael Jordan was brought back to the NBA league office in New York City to again assume the title of President of Basketball Operations, replacing Stu Jackson -- who replaced Thorn in 2000, when Thorn left his league gig to become the president of basketball operations for the New Jersey Nets. During that time, Thorn engineered the trade that brought Jason Kidd from Phoenix to Secaucus, and with Kidd running the show the Nets made consecutive Finals appearances in 2002 and '03.

Thorn then went to Philadelphia, as the 76ers and Nets more or less traded executives for a few years, taking over as the Sixers' president in 2010. His stint in Philly was marked by the team's rapid improvement under Doug Collins, but the momentum of reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012 stalled last season, after the 76ers traded for Andrew Bynum -- who didn't play a minute for the team with knee troubles. Instead of retiring, Thorn starred at West Virginia University in the early 1960s after legends Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West. He became an NBA and ABA coach before becoming the Bulls' GM -- where he took Jordan third overall in 1984 -- and is going back for one more round.

Me: Why are you getting back into the world of complaining owners, coaches and agents again? Why not go to another team or another situation?

Rod Thorn: You know, I don't know that. I've been there before, obviously. The department is much, much bigger than when I was there. The dynamics have changed. But I know the terrain. Adam (Silver) is going to be the Commissioner starting in February. He's getting started, and there's a difference between being the deputy commissioner and the Commissioner. And I think I'll be able to help him. And I'm just not ready to retire. I didn't want to come down here (to Florida) and take a call every month or so, sit on the beach. I didn't want to do that yet.

Me: So, what went wrong in Philly?

RT: We went for the stars when we went after Bynum. And it didn't work out. And we gave up a ton of assets. Not only players, but we lost Iguodala, who was a terrific player. We lost (Nic) Vucevic, who was the second-best rebounder in the NBA. We lost (Maurice) Harkless, who has a chance to be a very good player, and we lost a future first, probably. Not for sure. But (Orlando) has the right for three years, if the first is not in the Lottery, they have the right to take it for three years. Now, chances are, it won't be in the Lottery, and then we'll have to give them two seconds. But we had accumulated assets. We made a major move, and it didn't work out. Bynum never played a minute for us. And now he signs with Cleveland, and we gave up four major assets. That's tough to overcome. And obviously the ownership was upset about the way the season went for us, and they got other people. It's (not) a personal thing. They treated me great. I don't have any problem with them at all. They wanted me to stay in an advisory position. But whether it's pride or whether it's ego or whatever, I just don't like the way it ended. I've been in the league 50 years. I've done some pretty good things; some other things, not so good. But I've done some pretty good things. And I'd like to end it up on the right note. And that's what it is for me more than anything...knock on wood, I'm relatively healthy, and I think I can help them in some ways. I'm looking forward to it.

Me: What would be a "good" ending for you?

RT: Just working here a couple years, trying to get them going in the right direction in that (Operations) department. Not that they weren't going in the right direction, but to try to get them to add something to it, and then go out. That's going out the right way. You're going out where you've made some contribution in a positive way, not just going out as an advisor.

Me: When you were in the league office before, you were directly involved in lobbying the Competition Committee to make the changes we now see in the game: the bars on hand-checking, eliminating the bumps on guys that come through the lane, the freeing up of offensive players. Does the game now match the vision you had?

RT: You know something, yes. The Finals this year was about as good as you can get, in that you had two teams that were teams, played the game the right way. It was an incredible competition. Either team could have won -- probably, San Antonio should have won in six. But the way that sixth game came down in the last 30 seconds was incredible. The NBA, to me, is on a very good level right now, and anybody who's associated with it, I think you want the game to continue going the way it's going.

Me: What about the officiating?

RT: I think Mike Bantom has done a terrific job since he's taken that over, in implementing different programs that will only enhance the refereeing. That's obviously something that everybody focuses on. I think we're headed in the right direction with it and hopefully we can continue to enhance that and make it even better.

Me: Is there any area where you think the league just hasn't gotten things under control yet?

RT: I don't know that there's anything that's crazy the wrong way. I just think in this world today, with all the analytics, of all the different facets that go into it, you've got to stay ahead of the curve, for a league. I don't care what league you're in, whether you're talking about football, whether you're talking about hockey, you've got to stay ahead of that curve. And so that means you've got to be on top of everything that comes along that may enhance what you're trying to do, and you have to make sure you're there first. That you're not just reacting to whatever's happening, and that you get there first. That you're not saying 'hey, everything is great right now.' Well, it may not be great in two years. So what do we need to do? You're never where you want to be. And that's more how I look at it; let's stay ahead of the curve. Let's make sure that as we go into these next years, that the fans like the product we're putting out, that the players are being put in positions where they can be shown to their best. And just keep it going. Don't get overconfident that everything's going well.

Me: You traded for Jason Kidd in Jersey. How do you think he's going to do as a coach?

RT: He obviously is going to have a learning curve, because he's never coached. He has a team that you don't need to coach that much. Because they have veteran players who are very good. And adding (Andrei) Kirilenko is a hell of a move for them. And they've got a good team. You've got veteran guys. The one guy who isn't a super veteran is (Brook) Lopez. But with (Kevin) Garnett, (Paul) Pierce, (Deron) Williams, (Joe) Johnson, you've got veteran guys who know how to play. I think it makes it a little easier. He's got some assistant coaches who are good, who will help him. In my time in the NBA, nobody knows more about basketball than Jason. He just hasn't been in position to make all these decisions on a timely basis that you have to make them. He just hasn't done it. But to me, I think he'll be fine.

Me: What was the single most entertaining complaint call you got from a team back in the day?

RT: The ones that used to get me were the guys who said they knew the NBA was trying to get them. What's transpiring with these calls we're getting? You guys don't like me. You're out to get me. Those were the ones that used to crack me up. Like, if we ever told the referees to get anybody, how long do you think it would take to be on a blog, or in the paper? About five minutes? Maybe 10 minutes at the most? Either overtly or covertly. So we know that's not going on.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Must see sharknado.

-- New Clipper guard J.J. Redick (@JJRedick), Friday, 10:32 p.m. Trust me, J.J. You didn't miss much. This movie gave shlock a whole new floor, though it did blow up Twitter Thursday night.

THEY SAID IT

"Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets."

-- Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, after the deal bringing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston was made official Friday morning.

"Sam Hinkie called me. After New Orleans drafted the rookie, I got the call saying I was traded. The initial hit was 'wow.' Once you start thinking about it though, back then you had Ryan Anderson, Jason Smith, Robin Lopez, and Eric Gordon. I was like 'dang, we're actually going to be really good.'"

-- Jrue Holiday, to reporters in New Orleans Friday, on his reaction to being traded from the 76ers to the Pelicans on Draft night, along with the rights to rookie Pierre Jackson, for the rights to center Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round pick.

"Chandler (Parsons) wants to be GM, too, but I won't let him. I've given him the Heisman on that."

--Rockets GM Daryl Morey, on Sunday, after telling local reporters in Houston on Saturday that Dwight Howard and James Harden, "acting" as the Rockets' general managers, insisted that Morey not trade either Jeremy Lin or Omer Asik, as has been rumored.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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