Posted Feb 24, 2014 10:09 AM - Updated Feb 24, 2014 4:34 PM
Welcome to Adam Silver's NBA.
The new Commish is, decidedly, not the same as the old Commish. The old Commish made no bones about what he thought was good for the NBA when, asked what an ideal Finals matchup would be, said, tongue in cheek (sorta), "the Lakers versus the Lakers." And who could blame David Stern for thinking that way? In the NBA of his youth and most of the his stewardship of his league, big-market teams held sway. The Knicks were glamorous and the Celtics and Lakers were the gold standard. And Michael Jordan made Chicago must-see TV. Everyplace else -- sorry -- was flyover country.
Silver's NBA will be different, both according to his desires and those of the league's smaller-revenue owners. No longer can the NBA ride the wave of high ratings produced by Jordan's sorties to the basket. Magic and Bird are well into their third professional lives, their playing days an increasingly distant, non-HD memory.
For NBA 3.0 (as Kings owner Vivek Ranadive puts it) to get off the ground, the league has to have strength in all sectors. It has to have teams in the heartland and rustbelt that have enough talent -- maybe not as much as the teams on the coast, but enough -- to make people come out of the cold and fork over their money in the dead of winter.
Silver made it plain during the lockout that he sought a league where it was darn near impossible for the elites to hoard talent, where poachers wouldn't be able to trade late first-round picks to rebuilding teams for those teams' best or second-best players, repeating the cycle where the rich got richer, season after season.
And last week, Silver's vision came into focus.
There were trades at the trade deadline, but by and large they were new NBA trades. Trades where second-round picks weren't a throw-in but the centerpieces. Trades not for players or for picks, but for roster spots.
In the new NBA, the Lakers give away good players for nothing instead of receiving them, in hopes of clearing enough cap room to make a run at impact free agents next summer. In the new NBA, the Pacers push all their chips to the center of the table, while the 76ers, in the country's fourth-largest TV market, trade away much of the little talent they have in order to live to fight another day. Charlotte, of all places, was a buyer at the deadline, while the Knicks and Bulls (TV markets No. 1 and No. 3, respectively) couldn't pull the trigger on even the most innocuous deals.
To summarize: The teams in the NBA's four largest TV markets did next to nothing -- other than the Clippers giving Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens away to create potential roster spots for bought-out players like Glen Davis -- while Indiana and Charlotte moved the needle.
And the second round of the Draft will be brought to you, exclusively, by Sam Hinkie.
Hinkie, the 76ers' general manager, made trade after trade last week to amass what could end up as seven picks in the upcoming Draft, including two firsts. The Sixers also have two international players that are playing overseas. My brain kept thinking about the late Mike Lynn.
Lynn was the Minnesota Vikings' general manager who, on Oct. 13, 1989, traded for the NFL's best running back, the Dallas Cowboys' Herschel Walker. Lynn sent Dallas five players and what appeared to be an endless series of future draft picks. In all, 18 players or picks switched hands.
But the Cowboys had attached some strings to those players.
If they waived the players, they'd get extra picks from Minnesota. Well, Dallas was 1-15 the year before. They didn't care a whit about the players they got from the Vikings. They wanted the picks to get their rebuild going faster.
In the end, the Cowboys wound up with first and second-round picks in 1990 and 1991, and first, second and third-rounders in 1992. That haul, after the Cowboys traded up and down for additional picks the next couple of years, eventually turned into Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, defensive tackle Russell Maryland, cornerbacks Kevin Smith and Clayton Holmes, and safety Darren Woodson. They became a major part of the core group that led Dallas to three Super Bowls in four seasons. Everyone remembers that.
People have forgotten that the Cowboys, in that three-year period, also drafted Carson Newman, James Brown, Greg Briggs, Fallon Wacasey and Chris Hall, and traded some of those picks for Terrence Flagler, Daniel Stubbs, Alonzo Highsmith and Stan Smagala.
The point is, Dallas didn't hit a home run with every pick. But because they had so many picks, they had a much better chance of hitting on someone. And when you're 15-41, as Philly is today, you don't much care whether that someone is a one-and-done college freshman, a graduating senior or a kid from Prague or Lagos. But the more picks you have, the higher probability there is that you'll pick someone good.
Hinkie is big on probability. He's equally big on doing exactly what he said he'd do when he was hired: rebuild the franchise.
"We spend a lot of time with everybody in the organization making sure we are all focused on a singular purpose: to build something special for Philadelphia," Hinkie said by phone Sunday night. "That takes a willingness to look at things differently. It requires, at times, a contrarian approach, by definition. It requires it. And my role is to play the role of the steward, to focus on doing the best we know how with something that doesn't belong to me -- if anything, it belongs to the owner and it belongs to the fans. And I take that job very, very seriously. And it's very likely that we'll be unwavering."
Two generations ago, the Sixers tried to buy a championship with Julius Erving and George McGinnis. Now, Hinkie is taking the franchise down to the studs, and using the new rules of the game to maximize his chance of success. Not maximize his success, but his chance of it. That is music to Silver's (and, to be fair, Stern's) ears. For the last 10 years, they've tried to make good franchise management matter more than owner wallets. The league is finally leaning in that direction.
Placed in charge by the owners to negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement, Silver not only got the players to take the castor oil of $3 billion in salary rollbacks over 10 years, he negotiated rules that gutted the financial edge the biggest revenue producers had enjoyed for a generation. The new CBA has created financial penalties so steep for going deep into the luxury tax that billionaires -- who, it must be said again, just got $3 billion put into their pockets -- are blanching at paying them. (The one exception, of course, is Brooklyn's Mikhail Prokhorov, who gloriously continues to add payroll as if it's 2003.)
The new CBA may as well have been called The Laker Rules, for its intent was to shackle them as much as anyone. For a generation, the Lakers added valuable role players around their Magic Johnsons, Shaquille O'Neals and Kobe Bryants, picking off their lessers for the likes of Mychal Thompson, Rick Fox, Ron Harper, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, acquired from Memphis in a 2008 deal that cause apoplexy among other team owners.
It never mattered how much the Lakers eventually spent on such players, on top of the massive salaries they were paying their superstars, because L.A. could always rely on its massive local television deals, which dwarfed those in most other cities, to cover the costs. Thus, the Lakers won championships and still could make money, or at least break even most years with a deep playoff run.
But this year, the Lakers couldn't give Gasol away. Correction: they could give him away. They just wouldn't get anything in return.
They couldn't even get Phoenix, riding the wave of a surprising return to prominence, and looking for a veteran for the stretch run, to give up even one of the four first-round picks the Suns control in next June's Draft for the 33-year-old Gasol. The picks -- none of which may pan out, or have a career approaching that of Gasol, one of the greatest international players ever in the NBA -- were more valuable to the Suns than Gasol.
Why? Again, look at those repeater taxes that will come down on teams that pay luxury tax three or more consecutive seasons next season, or three of four years beginning in 2015-16.
Teams paying repeater taxes will pay $2.50 in penalties for every dollar up to $5 million they're over the tax threshold. For every dollar between $5 million and $10 million over the tax, they pay $2.75 in penalties. For every dollar between $10 million and $15 million they're over the tax, they pay $3.50. For every dollar between $15 million and $20 million they're over the tax, they pay $4.50.
The price and fear of dipping deep into their own pockets for role players has made owners crave the financial certainty of players on rookie contracts, which boast fixed length and costs. Thus, all Draft picks, whether lottery picks, late firsts or seconds, have become the NBA's Golden Ticket, a firewall against the repeater tax.
"Firsts are so valuable with the new rules and tax," an Eastern Conference GM texted Sunday. "For the better teams who are picking late as well as teams close to the tax, they are so valuable because you can get players on cheap contracts and control them for four years."
A Western Conference GM pointed out something else important as well: The new CBA has shorter max lengths for contracts (four to sign another team's free agents; five to re-sign your own). Those shorter deals are less attractive to trade for.
"Jeff Green is only under contract for one year [before his player option]," the GM texted, referring to the Celtics' veteran forward. "Expiring contracts used to get contracts [in trades] for three to five years. That was worth a first."
And, of course, you can't ignore the possibility that at least a few teams were likely keeping their powder dry for the next few summers, with their potential bonanza of free agents. No, the SuperFriends are not going to visit every team with cap room if they all opt out. But there are both superstar and solid players available this summer (Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Danny Granger), in 2015 (Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan) and in 2016 (Kevin Durant, Al Horford, David Lee).
Who knows where Philly will be in 2016? But those picks intrigue.
This year, the 76ers could have four of the top 40 or so picks in the Draft, and seven overall-- a Draft expected to be one of the best and deepest in recent memory. (The "could" depends on Cleveland's pick, which would fall to 45 if the Cavaliers make the playoffs, but rise well into the 30s if they don't. If you don't think Hinkie knows the exact probability of teams with 22-35 records, as the Cavs have this morning, rallying to make the playoffs, you aren't paying attention.)
Again: Hinkie's not going to draft the Sixers out of the lottery in June. But they'll have a better chance. The Spurs have had 22 second-round picks since taking Tim Duncan in the first round in 1997. They famously took Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in 1999, and have hit on Luis Scola (2002), Goran Dragic (2008) and DeJuan Blair (2009). But there have been lots of Robertas Javtokases and Sergei Karaulovs and Adam Hangas in there, too.
(What is more remarkable about San Antonio's drafts is the Spurs' success rate finding players at the end of the first round. Tony Parker went 28th in 2001, John Salmons 26th in '02, Leandro Barbosa 28th in '03, Beno Udrih 28th in '04, Ian Mahinmi 28th in '05, Tiago Splitter 28th in '07, George Hill 26th in '08 and Cory Joseph 29th in '11.)
While Philly controls the '14 Draft, the trade deadline was, as one GM put it Sunday, an amazingly boring one. There was precious little energy anywhere to make a big splash.
It may not last long. Such are the massive egos of many of today's new owners. They will not sit idly by for years and years while their names are sullied through social media and their brands besmirched. There's no long view. There's no five-year plan. It's Win Now, or get fired, and even if you Win Now and it isn't fun, you get cashiered -- ask ex-coaches George Karl and Lionel Hollins about that at a TV studio near you.
The How of Win Now, though, is changing.
It pains Sonny Hill to hear and read how the history of the NBA is portrayed by so many modern blatherers.
"The game was invented by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird," he says, ruefully. "There was no game before that. Wilt couldn't play."
Of course, Wilt Chamberlain could play -- more than a little bit. Hill knows this firsthand, having seen his friend "The Dipper" dominate play in their native Philadelphia, first as a teenager at Overbrook High, then as a Philadelphia Warrior in the NBA. Hill's point is that there have always been great players in the NBA, well before the modern era. And there was Hill sitting in the studio at CBS in the 1970s, working weekly games for the network as one of the first African-American broadcasters to do nationally televised games.
Every black reporter you see on TV today, including me, owes Hill -- and not just during February. But since it is Black History month, telling the stories of pioneers like Hill is not just appropriate, it's necessary.
He has been a fixture in Philadelphia's basketball universe for the better part of five decades. For the last 20 years, he's hosted a weekend radio show on 94WIP, "The Living Room," while serving as an ambassador for the 76ers and their former parent company, Comcast. In 2008, Hill received the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Last month, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Comcast SportsNet Shining Stars Awards dinner.
Hill has blazed trails for most of his 77 years (though he barely looks 57). Hill was a very good player in his own right, earning all-conference honors while playing at Central State University. He returned to Philly after two years at CSU and began the Charles Baker Adult League while continuing to play semipro ball in the fabled Eastern League -- a no-nonsense Pennsylvania-based collection of teams that played from 1946-78.
"Some of those guys were guys who'd gotten caught in the Fix [the scandal that almost destroyed college basketball in 1951, when players at seven colleges, including Kentucky, were implicated in point shaving and fixing schemes]," Hill says. "Some of them were black guys who were a victim of the quota system in the NBA, where you could only have a couple of black starters.
"I played against Floyd Layne and Ed Warner, who won the NIT for CCNY [the City College of New York] and then the NCAA, the first team ever to do that in a season [Layne and Warner were among seven CCNY players implicated in the point-shaving scandal]. I played against Jack Molinas [the former NBA player with Fort Wayne who was the central figure in an even bigger point-shaving scandal in 1961, involving players at 22 colleges and universities].
"I played against Chet Forte [who went on to become an Emmy Award-winning director for ABC Sports, most notably during the first decade-plus of Monday Night Football]. He was the College Player of the Year at Columbia. My rookie year was his rookie year. I was playing for Allentown; he was playing for Hazelton, or whatever team he played for. My first game, the great Hal Lear -- not Hal Greer, Hal Lear -- averaged 40 points a game. First player in [the league] to average 40 points a game. And it was a bloodbath every game. You got knocked out, every game. Wasn't no woof-woofing like Charles Barkley does now."
His playing days soon were eclipsed by his community work. The Baker League was one of the first for NBA players to play in relatively safe, controlled environments during the offseason. The pros took advantage.
"We had Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker, Willis [Reed], Earl [Monroe], Cazzie Russell, Tiny [Archibald]," Hill says. "Just slews and slews of players that we had that were playing in the Baker League in those infancy years. We were very fortunate that the timing was right. The players played basketball in those days. Not only basketball, but serious basketball. It was mano-a-mano. It was my reputation against your reputation."
Eight years later, Hill expanded his reach to start the Sonny Hill Community Involvement League for younger players -- and to try and head off the gang violence that was strafing Philadelphia at the time. It has been an institution for 45 years, with Hill finding the money, somehow, to keep it going. (He never gave up his own job at Teamsters Local 169 in Philly; maybe that helped.)
"During the summer of my junior year in high school," recalled NBA veteran Doug Overton, an ex-LaSalle star and former Sonny Hill League player who is now coach of the NBDL's Springfield Armor, "Sonny flew his all-city sophomore team to Los Angeles for the summer annual Slam 'n Jam shootout ... one kid traveled with us that we didn't know. We thought he was a player. Sonny said he was our team manager for the trip. Come to find out the kid was Ennis Cosby, Bill Cosby's son."
Hill had that way of making contacts everywhere. He had already begun his broadcasting career.
"I had a contract with the Eastern League for $110, which was a lot of money in 1968," he recalled. "But I wrote a letter to WCAU radio, which broadcast the Sixers' games on the radio. At the time [the late] Tom Gola was the analyst. But he decided to go back to his college [LaSalle] to coach. So I wrote a letter and said I could do that. They gave me an opportunity. I was very lucky, because I worked with one of the great human beings, Andy Musser [who went on to broadcast Phillies games for two decades with Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas]. Andy took me in and nurtured me. I wasn't speaking the way I speak now."
Hill did 76ers games on the radio and TV for four years. The next broadcasting opportunity came when Bob Wussler, then the executive producer of CBS Sports, saw Hill in a non-broadcasting vehicle.
"I got that [CBS] opportunity through NFL Films," Hill said. "They did a documentary on the Baker League and the Sonny Hill league, and who I was and what I did. They did a big piece on Earl Monroe. They saw it on CBS and they didn't know whether to put it in the news section or the sports section."
When CBS got the NBA contract in 1974, Hill was soon covering many of the guys he grew up with. He was the sideline reporter for the 1976 Finals between Phoenix and Boston. And he worked in the studio with Brent Musburger. He knew his basketball, to be sure. But there was much more at stake with his presence on the air, and he knew it. There were a handful of black people doing national television sports at the time, and perhaps none with Hill's platform.
"I think the Good Lord sent me there, and I realized it," he said. "It wasn't about me. It was about how could I conduct myself in a manner to get away from the stereotype. What they said was I was picking up a lot of pop in the south, which wasn't the norm. One time I was talking to the great [Philadelphia Bulletin] columnist Herm Rogul. He said 'Sonny, you don't act like you do when you're at the games, when you're on TV.' I said, 'It's not about me. It's how I can break down the stereotype of what they perceive us to be.'"
Hill worked at CBS from 1972-77. And that experience helped lead to his next on-air job. Because CBS' coverage of the NBA occasionally overlapped with its NFL broadcasts, Hill often found himself in the studio alongside the likes of Pat Summerall, Jack Whitaker and Tom Brookshier. He says they embraced him, made him feel comfortable, "because I was the only person who looked like me in there," Hill says.
But Brookshier also owned a small piece of WIP, a local radio station in Philly that was starting to incorporate sports into its daily programming. The two Philly guys hit it off. And Brookshier soon was asking Hill if he'd like to be on the air back home.
"He said, 'I want you to come in and be a part of what we're doing here,'" Hill recalled. "I said, 'I don't really want to do the stuff that you do there.' He said, 'You do whatever you want.' And that's how I came up with the concept of the Living Room."
Hill's show has run since 1987. From his perch, he's seen Julius Erving, Barkley, Allen Iverson and Andre Iguodala come through town. And he's seen the relationship between most African-American athletes and the community change.
"They make so much money they live outside the community," he says. "Wilt lived in the community. Guy Rodgers lived in the community. So you had a chance to get close to them. You can't get close to the players today, because they don't live in the community. My show is not an interview show. It's a conversation show. It's people who know me, or who are comfortable with me, or all of the above."
Of course, that's just about everybody in town.
(Last week's record in parentheses; Feb. 10 rankings in brackets)
1) Indiana  (2-1): Reggie Miller told us on GameTime Thursday that he wasn't sure he'd mess with the chemistry of a 42-13 team by making a move as big as the Granger-Turner/Allen trade. Time will tell.
2) Miami  (3-0): Five straight after Sunday's sleeper-hold win over the Bulls (and last Thursday's smackdown of OKC), eight of nine, 11 of 13 -- and four days off for LeBron's schnozz to heal before Thursday's game against New York on TNT.
3) Oklahoma City  (0-2): Cue the "Russell Westbrook is killing the Thunder and they were better off without him" columns/Tweets/hollerings into space in 3 ... 2 ....
4) Portland  (2-1): Swept regular-season series from Utah for the first time in 16 years after beating the Jazz for the third and final time this year on Friday.
5) L.A. Clippers  (1-2): Big Baby Davis, obviously, a major upgrade over Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens for backup center/power forward minutes.
6) Houston  (2-1): Patrick Beverley gives the Rockets a real playmaking dimension no one else does.
7) San Antonio  (2-1): This may be Gregg Popovich's best coaching job ever, and given his track record over the years, that's saying a lot.
8) Golden State  (3-0): Having found Toney Douglas and Jordan Crawford not up to the task of backup point, Warriors get Steve Blake from the Lakers, and get the Kobe Bean Bryant seal of approval.
9) Phoenix  (3-1): Don't know if you noticed, but the Suns are just three games behind the Clippers in the Pacific. Would you like the Coach of the Year trophy sent to your house, Mr. Hornacek, or can you come pick it up?
10) Dallas  (2-1): Mavs are whipping the ball around: 70 assists in their last two games.
11) Toronto  (3-1): What has happened with Steve Novak, who was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Andrea Bargnani trade with the Knicks? He's barely at the edge of the Raps' rotation.
12) Chicago  (2-1): Sometimes, when the Bulls aren't shooting well and they're playing a good defensive team like they did Sunday in Miami, they are a plumb painful offensive team to watch.
13) Washington  (3-1): Wizards holding their breath on a Monday MRI on Nene, who went out of Sunday's game in Cleveland with what was called a sprained left knee -- the night after he went for 30 and 7, with the game-winning jam, against the Pelicans.
14) Atlanta  (1-3): The injuries, finally, seem to be catching up with the Hawks.
15) Memphis  (2-1): Grizzlies would have gone into the luxury tax a smidge if they had found a deadline deal they liked. But they wouldn't give up Ed Davis in any move, and he was the player other teams really coveted.
Charlotte (4-0): Longest win streak in three years for the Bobcats, now in possession of sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Kemba Walker averaged 22.5 points, 8.8 rebounds for the week, including 31 in the 92-89 win over the Grizz.
New York (1-3): Despite trying to get anyone to replace Ray Felton, the Knicks couldn't pull the trigger on a deadline day deal. And, for some reason, the Knicks seem determined to move Iman Shumpert, who may not be a point guard but is one of the few good players under 30 that they have.
How do injured players stay connected to their teams?
Times have changed since the old-school days when coaches looked with scorn upon players who couldn't go, and didn't want them anywhere near the "healthy" players on the team. But it's still difficult for a player who can't go for an extended period of time -- not a few games, but a few weeks -- to find a comfortable spot while he rehabs.
Unfortunately, several teams have had practice integrating their injured stars with the rest of the team.
Oklahoma City seemed to thrive with Russell Westbrook on the sidelines following arthroscopic knee surgery in December. But it only looked that way. Trying to keep Westbrook engaged while he rehabbed was critical to the success the Thunder had.
"I know when you're hurt, you're hurt," Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said during the All-Star break. "Not only physically, but emotionally. No matter how tough he is, it hurts. And I don't like to see guys that I love hurting."
Derrick Rose has had different approaches to his two knee injuries. When he tore his ACL in 2012, he stayed away from the team most of the next season, fearing he'd be a distraction. But after tearing his meniscus cartilage in November, and being ruled out for the rest of the season, Rose has been on the team's bench for several games, trying to stay in the picture.
The Bulls have continued to stay afloat in the east without Rose, but they need to hear his voice if he can't play.
"Derrick's voice means so much to our team," Noah said. "He's always talking to Jimmy Butler during a game, or I see him talking to Tony Snell. He's talking to me. It just gives me confidence, because he has that much impact on our team. His words come a long way. He's our star player, and he's a good dude. That's why it was so hard to see him go down again. But he's a warrior. He never lets up. And I think that, just the way he's working right now, it just makes me hungrier. I know our time will come."
The Hawks are dealing with any number of injuries, most notably to All-Star Al Horford, who'll miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
"You keep any and all of your players connected by doing things with high standards," Hawks GM Danny Ferry said Sunday. "Trying to do things the right way, being competitive. If you do those things, then your injured players will feel both more obligated and more comfortable around the group. For us, Al is a leader. So obviously, that's more important to both him and us, that he feels and acts as though he's part of the group. You can still lead -- it's harder -- but you can still lead even as an injured player."
Horford began rehab last week, seven weeks after the surgery, sending the requisite pictures on Instagram. He obviously cannot practice yet, but Ferry wants him back around his teammates.
"He's around when we're around," Ferry said. "Early on, when he wasn't able to do rehab and it was more important for him to be in a sling and not be touched, I didn't want him around. I didn't want him bumped; I didn't want him jostled or anything like that. But as he began to progress with his rehab, we wanted him around more and more. I told him so."
Brooks had to come up with ways to keep Westbrook engaged.
Brooks would talk with Westbrook one-on-one before every practice. He texted him after games. During games, as soon as Westbrook's knee calmed down and he was cleared to travel, he not only sat on the bench with the team, he was in the coaches' huddles during timeouts. Brooks would have Westbrook talk to players, offering advice. His voice had so much authority with the team already, Brooks figured, that muting it would have seemed odd.
"Trust me, he's not pleasant to be around when he's not playing," Brooks said. "I tried to make it manageable. We all love Russell's competitive spirit. I think it's a beautiful thing, and I've always thought that, even when he was getting criticized. But I never thought of it that way. I looked at it as a strength."
Durant said Westbrook was "definitely" connected during his absence.
"Every game, he's been coaching me up, letting me know what he sees from the sidelines as a point guard," Durant said. "He's definitely been a big help. So he was never away from the team...surprisingly, his spirits were high the whole time he's been out. I know I would be frustrated. I'd have good days and I would have bad days. But he's been consistent, just with his energy as far as encouraging his teammates, being there as a leader, being there like a coach. He's been great. But I'm more excited with him being back on the court."
It's even harder for players who don't play that much.
"You get hurt, and you can easily tend to drift away from the team," said Spurs guard Patty Mills, who missed The Finals last season with a foot infection. Few may have noticed, because Mills was buried on San Antonio's depth chart behind Tony Parker.
"You're not at practice, you have to do your treatments and stuff," Mills said. "That's exactly what I had to do. So I had to find a way to, pick something to contribute to the team. And even though I wasn't playing, my way to do it was to be a great teammate, basically be a cheerleader. For them to see that, to know that I have their back even though I'm not playing, and show support. I think that's the biggest thing when you're out, to just show as much support as you can."
But how do you stay ready? Even when he was healthy again, Mills had no promise of playing time. Only lengthy injuries to Parker this season have given Mills a chance to play, and he's made the most of it. During the Spurs' Rodeo Trip, Mills averaged 17.3 points per game, and before a 2 of 14 clunker in Friday's Rodeo finale, he was shooting 52.8 percent from the floor during the road trip.
"That's the challenging part," Mills said. "Just like everything in every sport, there's challenges and there's adversities. It's how you handle that. That was a very hard challenge and I had to overcome it. Otherwise, who knows where I would have been?"
The annual 'I Hate All-Star weekend' Letter. From Ted Allrich:
Sorry to do this to you, but I have to vent ... The All-Star weekend was an all-star bust. Boring, over-hyped, trying so hard to be cool and "with it" with hip hop.
True fans want to see these great athletes, not some noise makers that get a chance to "sing" their latest "songs". The weekend was all boring, the slam dunk contest has reached its limits, unless LeBron decides to show everyone how it's done, time to move on from that.
How about a game of H-O-R-S-E, where creative shots show how much work goes into the game?Or a few games of 3-on-3, half court? I've been a fan for a long time and I don't think I'll bother with next year's weekend if it's going to be about everything but basketball. Let's get back to the fun of the game, the athleticism of some of the best athletes on Earth and leave all the other stuff in other venues. Again, sorry for the tirade, but the NBA should know that it's losing fans fast.
All-Star weekend is not for everyone, Ted. It's OK if you don't like it and don't want to watch. But as it's an "event" now, the league and my network, TNT, can't just cater to hardcore basketball fans. We have to attract people who may not watch the NBA every week, but who like Kendrick Lamar's latest release, and who watched Pharrell Williams's 24 Hours of Happy on their computer. Younger fans want a lot more than just basketball. Female fans may want something different than male fans. All-Star weekend has to reach a lot of disparate groups with disparate tastes.
How could I do Steve like that? From Franc de Jesus:
I've read on a book "The Art of a Beautiful Game" that Steve Kerr is on that (190) club. I checked it and he did it on the 72-win Chicago Bulls team.
Franc is referring to my observation that Kevin Durant could be the first player ever to make the "190 club" for a season: shooting 50 percent or better from the floor, 50 percent or better on 3-pointers and 90 percent or better from the foul line. (Entering play Sunday, Durant was off-pace for 190, shooting .509 overall from the floor, .405 on threes and .879 from the foul line.) Indeed, Kerr, my TNT colleague, was a 190 man in '95-'96, shooting 50.6 percent, 51.5 percent on threes and 92.9 percent from the line. I would humbly point out, though, that Steve wasn't a starter on that team and played 23 minutes a night off the bench, and didn't make the minimum number of field goals or free throws required in that season to officially qualify among the league leaders in those categories. There are six players in league history who've finished in the "180 Club," averaging 50 percent from the floor, 40 from three and 90 from the line: Steve Nash, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Dirk Nowtizki and Durant. But all of them started at least 74 games for their respective teams in their "180" seasons, and none played fewer than 32.8 minutes per game (Nash in 2009-10).
The secret is out. From Johnny Meyers:
Honest question: do you just hate Blake Griffin? I know 99% of the world thinks all he can do is dunk, but, it's pathetic (yes, I said pathetic) that he isn't in your top 5 MVP rankings and downright embarrassing that he isn't in your top 3. Yes, I am a Clippers fan of 17 years, and these last few years have been amazing to watch. But I'm overall just a huge, huge NBA fan. Paul George? I think that hype has died down a lot. He's not even top 5. OK, maybe he sneaks into 5th since he started so hot.
Yes, Johnny. You're right. I hate Blake Griffin. I am doing my small part to make sure that Blake Griffin never gets any accolades. I even have had Chris Paul as an MVP candidate all season in the hopes that it will foment discord within the Clips' organization. Because I couldn't possibly have an opinion about the MVP candidates that I come to honestly. It is all skewed by my longstanding and irrational hatred of Griffin, whom I wish nothing but hard times, long waits at the DMV, sold out movies that he desperately wants to see, stale beer and telemarketers who get his cell number. God, I hate Griffin! I mean, who doesn't?
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(weekly averages in parentheses)
1) Kevin Durant (35 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6.5 apg, .481 FG, .773 FT): Makes pulling up for a 28-footer look like being in the layup line before the game.
2) LeBron James (37.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 4.5 apg, .689 FG, .615 FT): Was pretty locked in against Golden State (before the All-Star break), Dallas and OKC until Serge Ibaka broke his nose Thursday.
3) LaMarcus Aldridge (DNP -- strained groin): Blazers do not do well without Cousin L.A. in the lineup -- even after Sunday's victory the Timberwolves, per the Oregonian, Portland is 5-18 in games without him.
4) Paul George (27.7 ppg, 6 rpg, 2.7 apg, .500 FG, .920 FT): Will be interesting to watch how George reacts to the Danny Granger trade. The two were very, very close; George lived at Granger's house this summer and the two trained together in the offseason.
5) Tim Duncan (16 ppg, 9 rpg, 0.5 bpg, .414 FG, .889 FT): Great stat courtesy of the San Antonio Express News: the Spurs finished their Rodeo Trip 6-3 this season, the 12th straight season they've had a winning record on the trip. Their overall Rodeo Win Percentage is .710 (71-29). Their overall winning percentage since drafting Duncan number one in 1997 is .703.
8 -- Number of players from the 2011 Draft that have already been traded, after the Wizards dealt Jan Vesely, the sixth pick overall, last week as part of the three-team deal with Denver and Philadelphia that sent Andre Miller to Washington. The others: Derrick Williams (second pick overall, traded last December from Minnesota to Sacramento); Brandon Knight (eighth pick overall, traded by Detroit last summer to Milwaukee in deal for Brandon Jennings); Marcus Morris (14th pick overall, traded by Houston to Phoenix); Nicola Vucevic (16th pick overall; traded by Philadelphia to Orlando in August, 2012, as part of four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers); Tobias Harris (18th pick overall, traded by Milwaukee to Orlando at last season's trade deadline) MarShon Brooks (25th pick overall; traded by Nets in June, 2013 to Boston as part of Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade to Brooklyn) and Jordan Hamilton (26th pick overall, traded last week by Denver to Houston for Aaron Brooks). This does not count the 2011 Draft-night deals involving Bismack Biyombo (from Sacramento to Charlotte), Jimmer Fredette (from Milwaukee to Sacramento), Kawhi Leonard (from Indiana to San Antonio), Donatas Motiejunas (from Minnesota to Houston), Nikola Mirotic (traded from Houston to Chicago), JaJuan Johnson (traded from the Nets to Boston) and Norris Cole (traded from Chicago to Miami).
9 -- Consecutive games that Minnesota's Kevin Love has had at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, the most in one season since Karl Malone had 10 25-10 games in 1991-92. If Love finishes the season at his current averages of 26.4 points and 13.3 rebounds, he'd become the first player to average 26 and 13 since Shaquille O'Neal (29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds) did it in the 1999-2000 season.
20 -- Years since the Lakers and Celtics played one another in a regular-season game when both teams had losing records.
1) I know there is historic import in Jason Collins becoming the first active player in NBA history who has disclosed he is gay. It is a big moment for a great many people, gay and straight, who only hope for inclusion and acceptance of people who are different. I only hope that these sort of "firsts" become less and less important to people as time goes on.
2) Doesn't seem like the Heat got the memo about how it's OK to finish second in the Eastern Conference to the Pacers. A game out in the loss column.
3) Steve Clifford will probably not get Coach of the Year honors this season, but he's doing a hell of a job down in Charlotte with the Bobcats. So is his staff. There are a couple of future NBA coaches down there in Patrick Ewing and Mark Price.
1) The Pacers had to do what they had to do to walk down the Heat. A competitor loves what Indiana did in getting Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for the stretch run. A human being hates that Danny Granger, who carried a lot of water for the franchise in the post-Brawl era, when Indy's fans hated the team and didn't show up, and who accepted losing his starting job -- at least publicly -- without complaint so that Paul George could shine, was the bait.
2) It cannot be any fun to be Thaddeus Young today, is all I'm sayin'. Like there's a really cool party all your friends are at, and your car won't start.
3) Jason Terry does not feel like mentoring Ben McLemore, thank you very much.
4) Give the Wizards credit for getting Andre Miller, who'll help John Wall in all kinds of ways. But that doesn't change the fact that Washington officially gave up on Jan Vesely, and now has next to nothing to show from the 2011 Draft, despite having two first-round picks (Chris Singleton, whom the Wizards would have given away at the deadline, is in deep freeze on Randy Wittman's bench).
Danny Schayes thought he had a good chance to be the new Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association. He had been a member of the NBPA while a player, having been part of the union's negotiating team during the 1998 lockout. After retiring, Schayes had been an executive with the National Basketball Retired Players Association. The headhunter firm Riley Partners had conducted a months-long search for candidates to replace Billy Hunter, who was fired by the union in 2012 after an investigation into his leadership revealed controversial business practices. (Hunter has sued the union's former president, Derek Fisher; the issue is still in court.)
But when the NBPA met the two finalists for the job during All-Star weekend -- David White, the national executive director of SAG-AFTRA, the union representing more than 125,000 actors, and Michele Roberts, a partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm Skadden Arps -- Schayes had long since been dismissed as a candidate, having had one interview with the NBPA's new president, Chris Paul, and players Steve Blake and Willie Green.
Schayes wrote a scathing op-ed for the basketball website Sheridan Hoops about the process in which he pulled no punches, calling it "secretive, manipulative, and full of conflicting agendas fighting for control." In the interests of full disclosure, Schayes also was in the middle of a dispute between the Retired Players Association and the NBPA in 2010, when the two organizations clashed over the candidacy of former NBRPA executive director Charles Smith, who was ousted that year. Schayes was named to replace him on an interim basis, but Smith tried to get his job back, with the alleged financial backing of the NBPA. (Smith's attempts to oust the new NBRPA Board failed; Schayes stayed in the position briefly, but a new CEO was ultimately hired, though Schayes has stayed on with the NBRPA as one of its Board of Directors.)
Whether Schayes is viewed as a courageous truth-teller or a disgruntled office seeker where the NBPA is concerned, you cannot say he doesn't come to his opinions honestly. His is one of the NBA's longest-serving families. His father, Dolph Schayes, was a Hall of Fame big man for the Syracuse Nationals, a 12-time All-Star and four-time first-team all-NBA player who led the Nats to the 1955 NBA title and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time. Danny Schayes never reached his father's heights as a player, but he logged 17 NBA seasons for seven teams, and he's been active with the Retired Players for several years.
Me: What do you think is happening with the hiring process, and why?
Danny Schayes: Well, clearly it's a high-profile job. Clearly it's something that's desired by many people. So, let's say the prize is there. And people will do what it takes to get it. The other thing is, the reality is that players of basketball, all athletes, really, have a long history of being managed and manipulated. They enter a world where they're unprepared to play in it. They know the game. They're prepared to play the game. But the other things, frankly, especially the young players coming out, they're not ready. They don't understand business. They don't understand managing millions of dollars. Those are things we already know. They don't know how to build relationships, even successful marriages. Those are things we already know. Something like this comes along once a decade or two. Billy Hunter's been there 17 years. How many players have a frame of reference that isn't Billy Hunter? How can they be expected to come into a situation like this and understand what it takes legally to run events? There's no way that athletes can typically come in and excel running something like this. They're totally dependent on their advisors, many times to the point of having the advisors be the decision makers. And you can't expect them to. It's not something a 22-, 23-, 24-year-old or younger, a 30-year-old, is going have any shred of experience or understanding in how to do this.
And in some areas ... when you see a situation where they start the interview process during the beginning part of the season, that's the worst time to do it. It's impossible for players to be heavily involved in the process. They just can't. How can you have a successful interview process when you're meeting guys one at a time? There's no way for them to talk with each other. They don't have the ability to have a common interview or hear other people's questions. It exacerbates an already impossible situation. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see how the process is going. It just looks fishy. And then when I got involve in the process myself, and experienced it from the inside, it was obvious that however the process was being done was open and transparent. I don't mean that the public needs to know. I don't mean that everyone needs to know what's going on. But even the guys in the process don't know what's going on.
Me: So what in your experience with the Retired Players' Association make you qualified to run the NBPA?
DS: One of the big criteria was having somebody who was a basketball person. I grew up in a pre-'65 household with my dad, and the guys who were before the union. I grew up with union issues, like the pension and some of these pre-65 players did not participate in, and what was involved to get them to participate. So I have varied experience and understanding in the union. I have a very professional relationship with Adam [Silver] and everybody on the NBA side, and have a strong understanding of the league's business. And also, beyond that, running the Retired Players' Association, it's given me a unique perspective on what ballplayers face five, 10 years and more after they're done playing. And I think that understanding, with the end in mind, understanding where players will be, not only observing and mentoring, but being one. Going through the ups and downs and taking the bumps and bruises you get when you're coming out of the game, and you're trying to figure out who you are, and what your next thing is, and what do you do that's as good as this, and how to have purpose in your life. All the things that athletes struggle with the most. How they manage the relationships when their retirement affects that, and their whole family. The whole family was married to the game. There are so many aspects to this that are important to the job beyond just being a labor lawyer, or beyond just being some other type of legal person. Those were things that the Association put out that were crucial to the job selection. And so I put in my qualifications. And not only that.
Naturally, when they gather information, they go in to other people that are already involved, whether it's current executives or other people that are intimate with the organization, and they ask for recommendations. And my name was one that was recommended to be seriously considered. And with all that, originally, I didn't even get an interview. I didn't even get an associate's interview, like a greeting interview. Just thanks but no thanks. It's not about me getting the job or not getting the job. And a lot of people grumbled, including players, and so there were a few people like me who got kind of re-put back in the mix. And I went through the interview process, and it's obvious it wasn't real. It was kind of a gratuitous thing, just to shut people up. That's my opinion.
Me: In your view, what is the big issue that needs addressing, now that you have this CBA in place for a while?
DS: The bottom line is, we know the CBA isn't complete. That's part of it. Adam alluded to it in his press conference at All-Star. There's a whole laundry list of issues that aren't complete in the CBA. So it's not done. He talked about age limit, drug policy, all these things that are important to players. Setting that aside, I think there's a cultural shift that has to happen. The Association just came off of 17 years of antagonism between itself and the league. Billy was a guy who was a win-lose guy in my opinion; if it's good for them, it's bad for us, and vice versa. Let's work together and grow this pie, and every seven to 10 years we'll argue like hell over how it gets divided up. That whole cultural attitude thing needs to shift. And it needs to be somebody that needs to be known and has the ties to do that. Number two, the players' outcome, the post-life needs to be addressed better. Right now there's very, very little relationship between the active players and the retired players. For instance, active players don't even get membership in the Retired Association. There's almost no input, no resource for active players once they're retired. So there's a continuity that's lost. How do you help guys when they're done playing? There's so much emphasis on 'let's get the salary high,' there s almost no emphasis on how do we provide resources for the players for the rest of their lives, not just the small window when they're active players? I think that's the biggest failing. One of the opportunities to have much better long-term player outcomes is to have the union having a long-term voice in it.
Me: What are some of the other non-financial issues retired players face?
DS: Number one is, there's a huge identity issue. When players retire, they lose much of their identity. We know as men, who we are and what we do. When you're not a ballplayer anymore, you're not a ballplayer anymore. That's most of what players are. They go through a huge transition of trying to find identity and purpose in the world. That's kind of the first thing that happens. And players also don't realize the relationship impact. A ballplayer knew his wife before he was a ballplayer. And kids. So there's this huge relationship impact. The wife loses her identity, too. The kids lose their identity, too. They're not the family of a ballplayer. They're not going to games, they're not as involved in stuff. The pageantry of the game, there's obviously the lifestyle changes. So much of that affects not only the player, but the whole universe around him. There's tons of health issues. Guys who retire with pre-existing conditions, or guys are injured. There's a lot of research that shows professional athletes have more health issues than the general population in retirement. Because it takes so much vital energy to play. And then, going from that, to what was your reason for working out every day? What if there's no place to go, nothing to do, nothing to be in shape for? There's the seasonality of it. Probably still, every spring, I go into this end of the season [funk]. It's been almost 15 years. It's still, every spring, it's the end of the year, the season's over, depression thing.
Me: When you talk to the current players, do you think they have, not even a broad understanding of what's going on -- do you think they have any understanding of what's going on?
DS: No. And again, I don't know that that's even doable. I don't know that you can have 400 players involved. One of the biggest problems we had during the lockout is how can you communicate with players without making it an open book? The first thing they do is call their agent and talk to their agent about it, and they talk to their advisors about it. What do they know? How do they understand how to even hire a personal assistant, much less the executive director who's responsible for all this? And I understand the representative process. I'm not so much that all 400 players should be involved, or communicating with them on a daily basis. How about the 39 people voting? They should maybe know who the candidates are. They should maybe know more than just the last two, or meet them for 10 minutes and vote, or this is the one I'm going to recommend, yes or no. That's an issue that I don't think the players responsible who are empowered to vote for a person, have a thorough enough understanding of what they're voting on. Haven't you ever voted for president and said, 'These are the two best guys you could come up with?'
Me: I've always wondered why, in the case of the NBA, it seems like the star players are much less involved than the star players in baseball and football. Do you agree with that perception?
DS: I think the star players are involved more behind the scenes than in front of the scenes. I hear Kobe [Bryant] is very involved. LeBron [James] is very up to date on things. Other guys are involved, and maybe they say, 'I just can't commit to making 100 phone calls,' whatever is involved. I think the guys are well aware, that select group of guys. And obviously, Chris Paul is president of the union; for the first time in a while, you have a high-profile guy as the president. I think a lot of it goes back to the culture. Certainly when Billy was running the show, everything was very secretive, behind the scenes, very hidden, by design. And I think that's one of the things that has to change. Baseball does the best job of educating the players, and I think that's why more players are involved. In basketball, I think they're taught not to be involved. They're taught, hey, your checks are clearing, and that's all that's important. As long as your checks clear, that's all you need to know. That's one of the things that has frankly held players back, that they're not as involved. They're not taught that that's part of being professional, understanding the business of basketball. And frankly, after their post-career outcomes, that mind shift took place. They're more responsible for their outcome earlier, instead of relying on being dependent on their advisors.
Me: How do you create a better atmosphere with the league without being accused of selling ot and being a puppet for the league?
DS: I think a lot of it has to begin with understanding the business of basketball. I don't think Billy Hunter understood the business of basketball well, and as a result, I would watch them be in different conversations during collective bargaining. The league would talk about something, Billy would talk about something, and I would think they just don't see the same thing. But we talked about it earlier. You can cooperate during five years to grow the pie, and then fight like hell on how it's divided up. And have a cooperative spirit. Look at players today. Carmelo [Anthony] and Chris Paul are great friends; they work out in the summer. Kevin Durant and LeBron, they all play on teams together in the summer. But once they throw the ball up, nobody is accusing them of being a shill for each other. They're trying to beat their brains out. You can certainly maintain a respectful, positive relationship and then compete like hell. I don't see those as being mutually exclusive at all. Players do it every day.
Me: Where do you see the new revenue streams coming from in the next few years?
DS: There's so much growth around the world. One of the things that the NBA has made a big push after is the understanding that of their totality of fans, very few fans come to the games. There's so much revenue available by servicing their needs in a better way. And technology gives you so many more opportunities to do that. And I think you're going to see, on some levels, you're going to see the basic rights go up higher and higher as those connections to the fan base become more, where the advertising becomes more valuable. I think you'll see merchandizing increase over a time, where you develop that outside fan base. So I think that's what's going to be driving revenue the most. Improving the connection between players and fans. It creates more of an intimate experience, and that just drives fans becoming more involved in your business. Advertisers certainly understand the value of live sports, what you're seeing all over the place. And there's so many ways to increase the fan experience, so many ways to do that with the new technology. Keeping fans involved mobilely, having access to purchasing. Expanding that whole relationship from somebody just watching the game to millions and millions of fans being more involved at an experiential level.
Me: Can you contribute and make a difference without being Executive Director?
DS: One of the things I found curious was, to my knowledge ... the players have started the process and the search firm has assisted this process without getting much input from former players, or former people involved in the process. Whether it's your longtime executives or former executives, or former players, and guys that have done two or three or four collective bargainings, or have the experience of going back, all the people back to Larry Fleischer. There's a sense of history and scale that's been gone. I think that's one of the things that's been missing, is that there hasn't been any meaningful contribution along those lines ... it's excruciating to watch players get played on every level. When I was heavily involved in the Retired Association, seeing guys struggle in retirement, because of how their lives were managed, it was the rule, not the exception. When I saw Billy in action and see, frankly, the damage that was done to generations of players, it just makes my teeth grind. Now that they have an opportunity to be so much, and you see it being, I don't know, what's the right word. Is it being stolen? Is it being manipulated? It's hard to put the right word on it. It's definitely not an open, empowering process. I, as a former player, want players to do well. I see the awesome power that players have to benefit the world, through their leadership, through their example, through their impact. And every place I go, when people get into a conversation with me about why players struggle in retirement, why they lose their money, why their divorce rate is so high, and this and that. People want players to do well. Without exception, when I talk to people: 'why don't these guys do well? How do they lose their money? How do they struggle so much?' The public, there's a great energy in the world that wants players to do well. They want a happy ending. They want the players they watched, their heroes growing up, they want them to do well at the end.
Telling your kids daddy can't live with us anymore until this summer is just as heartbreaking the third time around as it was the first two.
-- Kristen Blake (@kristenblake2), Wednesday, 11:53 p.m., after finding out her husband, Steve Blake, had been traded from the Lakers to Golden State. I like Kristen a lot; she was one of my Guest Tippers in 2012, and I can't imagine how tough a trade is on kids in the middle of a season.
"As an African-American, we hear it a lot where we grow up. You've changed. Because you've tried to better yourself and because you've made it out. 'You're not the same person that we used to know.' Of course I'm not. I'm trying to better myself. Change is not a bad thing. Thinking that it's bad, you know, that's one thing I think is a downfall for African-Americans for sure."
-- LeBron James, in a GQ profile in the March, 2014 issue, on some of the criticism he's gotten for ... well, just about everything over the last couple of years.
"People think it's so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota. And I'm not [dumping] on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I'm having fun."
-- Kevin Love, also in the March, 2014 GQ, on his future, 15 months before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Love and Minnesota president Flip Saunders also denied a tweet from longtime NBA reporter Peter Vescey Thursday that Love has already told the Wolves he'll opt out of his contract in 2015 and leave Minnesota.
"I'm like Ricky Bobby. I just want to go fast."
-- Suns backup guard Ish Smith, who set career highs Friday with 15 points (on 7 of 9 shooting) and 7 rebounds in Phoenix's rout of San Antonio.
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