Posted Jul 28, 2014 11:13 AM
It was 2008 when Mike George thought things started changing.
The players on his Canadian AAU team, CIA Bounce, hadn't played much outside of their native country. There was no history, no legacy, nothing to suggest a revolution was imminent.
"We had Tristan Thompson, Melvin Ejim and some other guys in the gym," George recalled Sunday. "We were in Cleveland, playing in the LeBron James tournament in Akron. We played 10 games with, like, no coaches. Zero. And we made it to the semifinals, out of 100 million teams or something. And Billy Donovan had just won the national championship in Florida. And our kids had never played in an atmosphere like that before. I was like, 'I think we're onto something here.'"
That something was the stirrings of change in Canada, one that has made basketball one of the country's fastest-growing sports, and which has led to short-term and long-term impacts on the NBA and international competitions. It makes Canada look longingly toward 2020 and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when all of the young talent that has come through the country's grassroots programs, to the NCAA and to the NBA during the last decade is expected to be mature and experienced enough to contend for a medal.
It was a revolution whose nexus contained the technological impact of the Internet, the emotional impact of Vince Carter putting his hand through the basket at the 2000 All-Star dunk contest, the psychological impact of Steve Nash reaching deep into his reserves of leadership and making sure Sam Dalembert had the right clothes, and the financial impact of George picking briefcases. More on that later.
But the influx and impact of Canadian players in U.S. basketball has happened with breakneck speed. The first pick in the last two NBA Drafts -- Andrew Wiggins this year, Anthony Bennett last year -- came from Canada. Three of the top 18 picks in June's Draft -- Wiggins, Michigan's Nik Stauskas (eighth overall, to Sacramento) and Syracuse's Tyler Ennis (18th, to Phoenix) -- are Canadian.
So is Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk, taken 13th last year, Orlando's Andrew Nicholson, picked 19th overall by the Magic in 2012, and Thompson, taken fourth overall by the Cavaliers in 2011. Center Robert Sacre (Lakers) and forward Dwight Powell (Cleveland) are second-rounders from Canada who've stuck.
They all join Canadian vets like Nash, Joel Anthony (Boston), Cory Joseph (San Antonio) and Dalembert (New York) in the NBA. Long gone are the days when Canadian players like big man Jamaal Magliore, now a development coach for the Raptors, were an oddity.
How has it happened so relatively fast?
There was no single event that started the process. But many who've been involved over the years point to Nash, now the General Manager of Canada's senior men's program, for securing the beachhead as a two-time NBA MVP and national inspiration, and the daily presence of Carter and the Toronto Raptors -- and the since-departed Vancouver Grizzlies -- for blowing the lid off of what was deemed possible.
"This is the first generation of children that have grown up with the NBA in our country," said Rowan Barrett, the executive vice president and assistant general manager of the senior men's program, and one of the chief catalysts for growing and developing the game from the grass roots level.
"As opposed to having one game a week, and it was always the Lakers or the Celtics, now you have the game in your backyard," he said. "You can go to the arena and watch it. You're 6-6 or whatever, and you look around, and there isn't anybody who looks like you ... all of a sudden, you see where you can fit in. You're not thinking about hockey or football. You're seeing a vision of where you can fit."
Seeing Carter's dunking exhibition in Oakland, and Tracy McGrady playing above the rim, gave Canadian kids something else to dream about besides being Wayne Gretzky ... not that there was ever anything wrong about being Wayne Gretzky.
"It was Vince, and before him, it was Damon Stoudemire," George said. "People like my parents, for example, never played sports. And they were from Jamaica; if they played anything, they played cricket. But these parents today are more involved with their kids' sports. And the adults are more involved in the sports culture."
The second wave didn't just contain players. A new generation of coaches who'd played in the 1990s returned to their old schools to begin teaching the game at the grassroots level. And some of them began taking players to tournaments in the United States.
"My favorite team was Georgetown, and Alonzo Mourning, and Coach [John] Thompson," said Peter Yannopoulos, a former player and coach at Montreal's Champlain-St. Lambert's College, one of the top prep schools in the country, and who is now a college and pro basketball analyst and insider for Canadian television and radio.
"We used to watch all the Big East basketball," Yannopoulos said. "We started bringing our program to Louisville for a tournament there. We started coaching like the Americans -- great passion, coaching hard. We had 23 Division I kids come through our program. Guys went to Kentucky, Michigan State, Gonzaga. And then Joel Anthony was a kid, 6-9, hardly played at a high level. And he went to that tournament, and he blocked 15 shots in a game, and coaches were looking at me like 'Pete, who is this kid?'"
Hockey will always be the country's dominant sport, of course. But the nation's increasing diversity, along with the low cost of the sport, gave basketball a chance to take hold.
"Most black kids can't identify with hockey," said a U.S. source that has been involved with Canadian basketball for the past several years.
"The Raptors come into town and all of a sudden, these kids are watching pro ball, and they want to emulate these guys," the source said. "And the Canadians have some of the more attractive, let's put it that way, immigration laws. It's very, very difficult for a Nigerian to get a visa into the U.S. It's much easier to get into Canada. Same for a lot of the Caribbean countries. Tristan Thompson is Jamaican. Bennett is Jamaican. Very few of those guys who have a passport were born in Canada. So now, they have this huge influx of black [players]. There's a little community on the fringe of Toronto that's like Harlem. And that's where a lot of the blacks are going."
According to Statistics Canada, between 2001 and 2006, almost 43,000 immigrants settled in Brampton, the Toronto suburb where Bennett's family moved in 2003. Thompson and Ennis also grew up in Brampton.
The city brought in more immigrants from India, Pakistan and the Philippines during that period, according to the Web site but Jamaican and Nigerian immigrants were also well represented; Bennett's, Thompson's and Ennis' families all have Jamaican roots. Ejim, who went undrafted out of Iowa State but played for the Spurs' summer league team in Las Vegas, and New Mexico State's 7-foot-5 center, Sim Bhullar (who played for the Kings in Vegas) are also from Brampton.
And Ennis' father, Tony McIntyre, was a co-founder of CIA Bounce, a 2006 merger of two of the top AAU programs in Canada at the time: George's CIA (originally Christians in Action; now Characteristics Inspiring Achievement) and McIntyre's Bounce. The two teams often played one another in tournament action.
"It was just two guys who were competitive people, and were trying to give kids an opportunity to do things the right way," George said. "And then it was really competitive. I didn't like him. But we were both doing the same thing. It was about the kids. So why not do it together?"
Part of the funding for the new program came, improbably when George, then a junior high teacher, won $144,000 on the game show Deal or No Deal, and pledged half of his winnings to the program. Really.
George took home $72,000 and, true to his word, plowed it back into CIA Bounce.
"It was cool," George said. "It wasn't nerve racking, because all of the kids from the program were there. In Canada, we don't see game shows like The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune. They're such a distance away. If it was for me alone, my family, I would have gone on longer, because of the percentage of the odds. There was one low number case, and the percentage was like 80 percent that I was going to pick a low number. But, I thought, don't be greedy."
Since 2006, CIA Bounce has sent more than 40 players to NCAA schools, including Wiggins, Bennett, Ennis (and both of his brothers, Dylan and Brandon, who played college ball at Villanova and Southern Connecticut State, respectively), Ejim and Bhullar.
Nike came aboard in 2009 to make CIA Bounce its first -- and, so far, only -- Canadian sponsored AAU team. And CIA is the only non-American entry in the four-division, 40-team Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. With Nike's backing, CIA has become a powerhouse.
"You started to look at how many Canadians were playing at the D1 level, and these guys weren't only playing, they were starters," said George Raveling, the Hall of Famer and longtime coach who is now Nike's Director of International Basketball.
"You looked at the young guys that were getting ready to come out of there," Raveling said. "They weren't just guards. They had a lot of size. And the best is yet to come. It was clear that the time was right for us ... we thought it was a smart bet. It had short-term and long-term value, and that's starting to manifest itself even more."
Canada Basketball has worked other relationships besides Nike to get more corporate sponsorship dollars flowing to the program. Montreal-based Bell Canada, the nation's largest communications company, and smartphone and tablet giant BlackBerry, based in Waterloo, Ontario, have become primary team sponsors in recent years, along with Nike and the Raptors.
"Obviously a sponsor like Nike's commitment has been great, in terms of taking care of all the apparel needs," Barrett said. (Nike's presence should at least ensure there's no repeat of what happened during Dalembert's stormy stint on the 2008 national team, when the team had only XXL sized shorts and jerseys, hardly big enough for the 7-foot-1, 260-pound Dalembert -- who had to wear 76ers gear during practices.)
"The governmental support is something we've been able to now raise, which is important," Barrett said. "We've been able to create programs for some of the corporate elite in our country, for them to be able to come in and support us. Wayne Parrish, our CEO, really helped to spearhead that, and obviously having Steve come in, and our country, and the corporate elite, the confidence in the leadership team as well as the on court team and the coaching staff, all of those things are [now] brimming with confidence. We've been able to have more commitments from a financial perspective."
The talent pipeline doesn't just go through CIA Bounce. Grassroots Canada, another storied AAU program that preceded Bounce, has sent several of its own players to the NBA, including Thompson, Joseph, Magloire, former Spur Devin Brown, Stauskas and Powell, along with dozens of high Division 1 talent like Myck Kabongo (Texas) and Brady Heslip (Baylor). Grassroots was the first Canadian AAU team to win a tournament in the States, winning the Las Vegas Fab 48 in 2008 behind Thompson and guard Junior Cadougan, who went on to play at Marquette.
"When they won that tournament," Yannopoulos said, "Canadians thought, not only could we compete against those guys, we could beat them."
But there remained, as there were in the United States, bumpy relationships between the AAU programs and the national basketball establishment in Canada. And just as USA Basketball head Jerry Colangelo had to massage those relationships in the States in order to get grassroots programs and players involved in national competitions below the senior team level, so too have Nash and Barrett worked to get their AAU programs on board with their vision and mend old rifts.
"I would definitely say that you're absolutely right, that you have to figure out a way to draw so you're not in a fractious environment," Barrett said. "You have to be able to get their commitment and we've been able to do that. We've given them a role in youth development to drive the relationships, drive the program down to the younger ages, to impact the kids at the younger ages and really impact their development, through the national body, and also the provincial programs."
It was important to see Nash, while with the Suns, work out with Stauskas, then a high schooler, in Phoenix for a few days. It was important to begin implementing a system throughout Canadian youth programs that taught them the same fundamentals, the same offensive and defensive philosophies that were shared by the senior teams.
The presence of Nash, who took over as the national team GM in 2012, has bolstered the country's hopes that a turnaround is possible.
"It's no small order", Nash wrote last year for ESPN.com, "but one that has me brimming with passion and pride. Put simply, I love my country and I love basketball. This game and the Canadian program has afforded me so much that I get excited thinking we are building a program and system that will allow these kids and our national team to realize their dreams individually and collectively."
Barrett says there's "a renewed sense of optimism among AAU groups. Relationships are obviously the key. We've been able to augment the way we've operated, and we have strong relationships with the AAU group...bridges have kind of been built along the way. All of these guys that are in the NBA now, they're all talking to the same guys. They're all talking to the AAU guys: 'what's going on with the young guys? Is Canada doing right by the younger guys?'"
The younger guys really are the key to whether Canada will become an international medal threat in the next few years. A generation ago, kids didn't start trying basketball in Canada until they were 13 or 14, after they'd tried other sports. Now, they're starting to play at 4 and 5 years of age. It helps explain why today's Canadians are much better prepared to play against top-flight competition than their parents were; they've been playing the game just as long.
This generation -- Internet savvy, Twitter and YouTube comfortable -- is much more aware of what players at their age should be able to do on a basketball court. They can watch at their leisure, no longer having to try and memorize Five Star skills camp books before they go outside and practice to get better.
Canada's Under-18 team had its best ever showing at the FIBA championships, last month, reaching the gold medal game before losing to the United States, 113-79. But Canada's Dillon Brooks and Montaque Gill-Caesar, among the vanguard for the next wave of talent, were the two leading scorers in the tournament, and made the all-tournament team.
The dream is ultimately to meld the youngest up-and-coming talents like Brooks, Gill-Caesar, Jamal Murray and Justin Jackson with current Canadian players in NCAA colleges like Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos and Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes, with at least some of the Canadian players now in the NBA, and create a core group that will compete through at least the next cycle of international competition. Canada did not qualify for next month's World Cup in Spain, but still has hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
It will be a difficult task, even though many native hearts were assuaged when Canada brought back Jay Triano as head coach, after Triano spent the last few years as an assistant for Mike Krzyzewski on the U.S. team. Several of the top players, including Wiggins, Thompson and Bennett, haven't played for Triano, whose first stint as national coach ran from 1998 to 2004. And as their NBA careers grow, so does the likelihood that they'll have to again skip international competition. (Another reason, as the National Post noted here, is Canada's reluctance to insure its NBA players against injury, a problem that has plagued other federations like Australia's.)
The emerging core group has very little international competition under its collective belt.
A team of players featuring Joseph, Olynyk, Sacre, Powell, Ejim, Cadougan, Arizona State's Jordan Bachynski, the Magic's Nicholson and longtime national team stalwart Carl English, who plays in the ACB League in Spain for Iberostar, is currently in Europe on an 11-game exhibition tour to try and get players used to playing meaningful international games away from home.
"You've got to give the guys the opportunity to have the ball in their hands on foreign soil, with the crowd yelling at you, and the referees," Barrett said. "You have to learn not to retaliate when the guy grabs your arm because he knows he can't stop you."
With host Brazil guaranteed a spot for the '16 Games, and the U.S. team able to clinch a spot in Rio if it wins the World Cup, Canada's path to the Rio Games will involve having to beat the likes of Argentina's celebrated national team, or the Dominican Republic, in the FIBA Americas championship in August, 2015.
"Next summer is going to be big, because it's a qualifier for them," said Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Phil Handy, who Triano has hired as an assistant for the Canadian team. "Having Wiggins involved, and Ennis, and Tristan, and Bennett, they're all going to be involved. They all want to play. They all want to represent their country."
But 2020 is the holy grail. By then, the hope is that players like Murray, who exploded onto the U.S. scene in 2013 when he went for 24 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in the Jordan Brand International game -- at age 15 -- will have been in the national program for years. The hope is that Wiggins and Bennett and Ennis will want more after making the '16 Games, and that their shared experiences, as youths and as men, will bond them to their native country.
"That's what we're trying to do," George said. "Everybody's still a little young, and you still have a couple of years of learning how to be a professional. But by 2020, it'll be a disappointment if we're not competing for a medal."
A great potential, the philosopher Charlie Brown once opined, is man's heaviest burden. It is one that Canada will try to carry collectively, the payoff so tantalizing.
"Steve shares this all the time with the players: it's your program," Barrett said. "It belongs to the players. We can make sure that they stay in nice hotels, and they travel well, and we can do everything we can from a sports science perspective. But we can't put the ball in the hole for them. They can do that, and they can do that well. The more that they commit, and come together -- you obviously have to put your ego aside, because there's going to be a lot of NBA players on those teams -- putting your ego aside for the greater good, that's all going to be done by them."
The National Basketball Players Association is expected to finally pick its permanent Executive Director on Monday in Las Vegas, with 150 players -- among the largest ever to attend a non-lockout/strike meeting -- expected to attend and choose from among three candidates.
Yahoo! Sports reported over the weekend that the finalists are Washington, D.C. attorney Michele Roberts, Dallas Mavericks president and former CBA Commissioner Terdema Ussery and Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council.
But Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who had been spearheading the union's search for a permanent ED to replace Billy Hunter, will not be there, having told the union on Friday that he and the search committee that selected the finalists was dropping out of the search after heading the search process for the past several months.
"More of the same dysfunction my man," one prominent agent texted Sunday. "Inmates running the asylum."
Johnson's decision to leave should not impact the vote, which will finally produce a permanent replacement for Billy Hunter, who was fired by the union during All-Star Weekend in 2013. The union's deputy general counsel, Ron Klempner, a veteran of several Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with the NBA, has been serving as acting Executive Director for the past 17 months.
But Johnson's decision is another black eye for the union, which fired Hunter after former union president Derek Fisher -- now the Knicks' head coach -- accused Hunter of nepotism in hiring his daughter and son to union and union-affiliated positions. Hunter sued the union and Fisher in May, 2013, claiming breach of contract and defamation, and accused Fisher and his business aide of trying to arrange a secret end to the 2011 lockout behind the union's back.
A judge dismissed 12 of the 14 counts in Hunter's suit last January, but allowed him to proceed with the part of the suit that alleges the union owes him the remaining $10 million of his last contract, which was agreed to in June, 2010.
Johnson's departure, coming after his high-profile turn serving as the union's liason to the league during the Donald Sterling controversy, further clouds the union's standing. What should have been a seamless victory lap for Johnson and the union has instead turned into another battle over whose version of events is correct -- even as the union plans to go ahead.
"KJ did his job and his role as search committee head expired," one member of the union's executive committee texted Sunday. "So he did his job. It's over."
According to sources, the union and Johnson clashed over the ED search, conducted in concert with the Chicago search firm Reilly Partners. (Reilly is still part of the search; the company is expected to be represented in Vegas Monday at the union meeting.)
Johnson's mayoral staff, according to one source, called players on behalf of the Mayor, assessing their opinions on various collective bargaining issues. But players didn't want to hear from staff; they wanted to hear from Johnson -- who, obviously, still has his day job, which includes shepherding the final details on the public-private partnership that is to build the $477 million downtown arena for the Kings in time for the 2016-17 season.
Still, Johnson has been highly visible and available at certain times, including when he took the lead for the union and union president Chris Paul after Sterling's racially charged comments led to a lifetime ban from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Johnson had warned before Silver's decision that current and former players expected something much more than a slap on the wrist for the Clippers' owner.
And Johnson stepped in again when the union's initial handling of its permanent ED search came under fire from prominent agents, who charged the union with secrecy and opaqueness in determining finalists for the job. The union denied reports last year that it had picked three finalists, but threw the process wide open again in April when it hired Johnson to head the search.
Johnson put a search committee together with new voices and faces, including former player and entrepreneur Junior Bridgeman, Google executive David Drummond, former player and WNBPA president Sonja Henning and Atom Factory founder Troy Carter. Longtime union outside counsel Jim Quinn was also on the search committee.
Johnson made a point of including agents in the process, who'd felt marginalized by Hunter and ignored through the initial search. He met with them as a group, and reached out to them individually on several occasions.
"We told every agent, every player, if you have a candidate, get him to us and they will go through the normal process, and they will get a fair shot like everybody else," Johnson told me in April. "I can't say an interview, but everybody gets a fair chance to get vetted. The interview only comes from the job spec, and what we're looking for."
The player agent said Sunday that Johnson followed through on those promises "100 percent."
The final step came when Johnson wanted to have the Vegas selection meeting on Tuesday instead of Monday. The union wanted to do it Monday to take advantage of getting players involved in the USA Basketball senior team practices to the meeting. The plan was, and is, to have those players practice in the morning, so that they can be done by mid-morning and get over to the union meeting.
But Johnson wanted to have the meeting Tuesday. He insisted on it during a conference call last week. He then asked to talk "off-line" about it -- after the conference call -- with union president Chris Paul.
"Chris tries to reach him, and he doesn't call back," the source said. "The press secretary calls Chris back and says [Johnson's] on vacation in Tahoe. I don't know what to tell you. He was just on a call with us. He can't be that much on vacation."
It should not surprise you that Johnson does not concur with that version of events. A source with knowledge of the relationship between the parties called that "blatantly false" on Sunday.
Johnson believed he was working as the union specifically asked him to work: to share information broadly, with all parties contributing as the process went along. Like the union, he wanted the process to be as transparent as possible, and rectify the problems that had marred the initial search. He wanted there to be no questions about the process when the search was over. (Most of the committee members served gratis.) And in no way did he or the committee want to select the next ED.
It was Johnson and the committee that believed the process had been compromised, that there was a deviation from what the union had agreed to do. And when that deviation couldn't be repaired, Johnson stepped away.
Perhaps the union will find the leader it so desperately needs Monday in Sin City. In this case, what happens in Vegas desperately needs to leave Vegas and give the players the voice they've been missing for so long.
What are the implications of the Josh Huestis deal with Oklahoma City?
The Thunder took Huestis with the 29th pick overall in the first round of last month's Draft, a bit of a surprise, but not an overwhelming one. Huestis wouldn't be ready to contribute to the Thunder next season, but he had enough credentials coming out of Stanford to have pro potential as a defensive oriented wing player that OKC certainly could groom to replace the departed Thabo Sefolosha, who went to Atlanta as a free agent.
With very few exceptions, first-round picks get guaranteed contracts, for up to 120 percent of their salary slot. According to cap guru Larry Coon, the 29th pick this year was slotted to get $918,000 in the first year of his contract, $959,400 in the second year and $1,000,700 in the third year, a team option year -- a total of $2.878 million for three years. Again, that money would be guaranteed to Huestis, assuming the Thunder picked up his third-year option -- which is, again, almost always done for a player if he shows any aptitude at all.
But Huestis, in coordination with his agents, former NBA players Mitchell Butler and Toby Bailey, had an unorthodox idea.
He walked away from the guaranteed money.
Huestis and his agents devised a plan that would, in essence, trade the guaranteed dollars in order to pick the team that would draft him.
Huestis only wanted to play for either the Thunder or the Spurs, two teams he thought were especially good at player development -- and, of course, were top-shelf organizations.
Knowing that the likelihood of breaking into either team's rotation next season was remote, Huestis agreed to make the Thunder an offer: He'd be willing to play all of his rookie season for OKC's Development League affiliate, the 66ers. In doing so, he'd sign a contract with the D League rather than the Thunder, a move that would keep him off of OKC's salary cap next season -- and keep his pay as a D-League rookie between the lowest tier for salaries, $13,000, and the top tier of $25,500.
Wherever he falls, it's a lot less than $2.878 million guaranteed.
The Thunder, which had neither the inclination to have a player on its cap that wouldn't play, nor the roster spot to use on someone that wouldn't play, loved the idea. And they liked Huestis, a two-time all-Pac 10 first team selection that was Stanford's all-time leader in blocked shots despite standing just 6-foot-7. (His 7-foot-1 wingspan and 38 1/2-inch vertical no doubt helped here.)
The question is whether this is a precedent for future late first-rounders, or a one-off because of the circumstances and desires of Huestis, a Montana native who had a 4.6 GPA in high school and does his own thinking.
"The circumstances here are so unique, I just don't see this happening all the time," the union's interim Executive Director, Ron Klempner, said Saturday. "And I did like the idea of the player being proactive."
It remains a huge gamble for Huestis, who will certainly have to get expensive insurance above and beyond the norm to guard against the potential for catastrophic injury next season. He -- not his agents -- has to trust the Thunder will ultimately give him a real chance to make the money back on his next contract.
But it remains instructive to understand what a crapshoot the Draft is for players who aren't in the lottery.
The difference between going late in the first round, likely to a playoff team, and early in the second round, likely to a horrible team, is enormous. There's the first-round guarantee, of course, but there's also the uncertainty that comes with not being assured a roster spot. Many -- not all -- teams want to stash a second-rounder, usually in Europe, so they can play off the NBA team's clock.
And NBA teams, of course, have been stashing European Draft picks overseas for decades, for a year or two or three of seasoning, before they make the move. (In the sad case of Fran Vasquez, the Orlando Magic's 2005 first-round pick, who has never come over to the States, it's nine years and counting.)
Phoenix took guard Bogdan Bogdanovic 27th, two spots ahead of OKC, knowing full well he would stay in Serbia for at least another year or two playing overseas. Bogdanovic signed a four-year deal earlier this month with the Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker, but the contract reportedly allows him the ability to come to the NBA in 2016.
And that pipeline cuts both ways.
European teams want their American imports to have "panache and dash," as one source put it -- to be prolific scorers, or at least offensively gifted. That is not Huestis' strength. If he makes it in the NBA it will be in the Bruce Bowen tradition -- a wing who becomes proficient at spacing the floor, but never is called on to initiate offense off the dribble or to get to the rim.
There are, of course, contemporary second-round success stories, from Manu Ginobili to Paul Millsap, Monta Ellis to Marc Gasol. K.C. Jones, Dennis Rodman and Calvin Murphy, among others, went from the second round to the Hall of Fame.
And there are players who are still bucking those long second-round odds. James Ennis went to the Australian League after being taken 58th by Miami last season, and did incredibly well -- to the point where Pat Riley couldn't stop gushing about him at his infamous "if they have the guts" news conference in June. But, of course, Ennis was not walking away from guaranteed first-round money; he was a late second-rounder who would have probably not made the Heat if he had insisted on going to regular-season camp.
But the vast majority of second-rounders are under the gun. The good teams that take them almost never have room for them; the bad teams have so many other holes to fill, and make so many moves over the course of the season, that the last thing they want is to keep a second-rounder past the January 10 date each season when all contracts become guaranteed for the rest of the years.
"If he makes the team after Jan. 10, he can make, maybe, 500 grand," one NBA executive said. "But there's no guarantee that happens. The team could sign a free agent, or make a trade, and he could have nothing, like Glenn Robinson III [the Wolves' second-round pick], because he's in the middle of the [Kevin] Love stuff. If you wait a year ... then you're guaranteed over $2 million. So, the math is simple. You don't get the $500 [thousand] today, but you're not guaranteed that, anyway, because you don't know where you're going to go."
The Thunder weren't going to give the pick away, leaving the option of stashing an international player. Trading the first-round pick in order to move into the second round to take Huestis involved additional risk; what if someone moved up and took Huestis before OKC picked? And, again, Huestis -- like Bruno Caboclo, the Raptors' first-round pick -- was someone the team liked.
"If he had gotten picked in the second round before OKC or San Antonio picked, he would have had to go through that game, where they would have wanted him to go overseas," Klempner said. "He didn't want to go overseas."
Two other factors made the D-League more attractive for Huestis.
One, the NBA changed a rule regarding D-League assignments last season. Previously, teams that held the rights to a player could not automatically assign him to their D-League affiliate without re-acquiring that player's rights in the D-League Draft. Other teams could poach the player if they so desired, and he desired to go elsewhere. Now, if an NBA team drafts a player, it can assign him to its D-League affiliate without worry.
Two, the 66ers franchise is moving next season from Tulsa, where it's been since the Thunder franchise moved from Seattle, to Oklahoma City. The bank which owned the 66ers' arena in Bixby, a nearby suburb, announced earlier this month that it would not extend a lease to any of the arena's tenants for next season.
So the 66ers will come to Oklahoma City, and play downtown at the city's Convention Center, right next to the Thunder's Chesapeake Energy Arena. The 66ers will practice at the Thunder's old practice facility, where Kevin Durant made his emotional acceptance speech after winning this year's NBA Most Valuable Player award.
Being even closer to the parent team will allow Huestis and his fellow 66er teammates more interaction with the Thunder, one of 14 NBA teams that currently owns its D-League team outright, allowing for a 1-to-1 relationship. The 66ers' former head coach, Darko Rajakovic, will be on OKC's bench next season as an assistant, having taught the Thunder's style and system the last few years in Tulsa.
The union surely looked at the potential benefits of the Huestis deal for its constituents before signing off on the arrangement.
First, if he had taken the first-round contract and money, he would have almost certainly taken a roster spot from a veteran. After taking Mitch McGary with the 21st pick overall, signing Anthony Morrow in free agency and giving forward Grant Jerrett, its second-round pick from a year ago, a multi-year deal, OKC has 14 guaranteed contracts on its books, one short of the maximum. (That 14 doesn't include veteran Sebastian Telfair, working on a non-guaranteed deal for next season.) McGary will play next season, but OKC wasn't going to have two rookies in its rotation.
So while Huestis is giving up guaranteed money, that roster slot he would have occupied will instead be occupied by someone making guaranteed money, which will ultimately be dispersed through the escrow system to other players.
Second, the Huestis deal highlights how much of a drag the late first-rounders are on teams. The realities of the cap and luxury tax make them, increasingly, not worth it. That would, in the union's ultimate dream, make the league re-examine the whole idea of the rookie wage scale, implemented in 1995. The union signed off on it to make sure veteran players were better compensated compared with their big-name rookie brethren, which has, basically, become the case.)
It's certainly a long shot that the NBA would alter the scale in any meaningful way. But the scale was implemented in an era when players could sign deals as long as seven seasons. Now, contracts are as short as four seasons.
But that is not Huestis' concern. He's betting on himself, in a way that few players ever have. Whether he's brilliant or insane will certainly depend on who chronicles his career -- history always being written by the winning side.
If it's Monday, it's a Love Letter. From Lee Cheatham:
The NBA is currently inundated with rumors circulating about Kevin Love being potentially dealt to Cleveland for Wiggins, Waiters et al. It's no secret that LeBron wants to pair up with Love and the sentiment is mutual. Do you see this transaction coming to fruition, and should Cleveland pull the trigger on this deal to placate LeBron? I'm not privy to Minnesota's financial flexibility, but I'm certain they could accommodate Cleveland in regards to a trade. I did not follow Wiggins in college, ergo I'm not too familiar with his game to assess keen judgment regarding his talent. So, if you're the Cavalier's brass, do you sign off on this trade? Thanks for responding to my question in today's Morning Tip, too. Have a great day and keep the stories coming.
As I wrote last week, I would be reluctant to trade Wiggins for anyone, including Love. You just don't know what you may have in Wiggins, who's just 19. And you don't know what LeBron will do in two years, when he can again become an unrestricted free agent. While I'm sure he expects to finish his career in Cleveland, the Cavs don't have the luxury of assuming that. If he were to leave, I'd want to have a then 21-year-old Wiggins, under contract for three more years, to build around. There are those who believe Love isn't as bad defensively as advertised, but I don't think not contesting shots is evidence of good defense. At best, Love won't improve Cleveland's middling D (of course, James will). But there's no doubt he's an elite rebounder and scorer, who would force defenses into an awful choice next season. You can't double-team James, Kyrie Irving and Love.
All things being equal ... would make for very dull evenings. From Hadi Sabaa:
So much has been written about the current team's advantage in retaining the services of their players because they can offer them more money under the current CBA. To my amazement, I see that LeBron was able to go to Cleveland and get, in his first year, almost the same amount of money that the Heat could have offered if they offered him the max!! How so? Why is this not the case for others? Can all players in the league get that if they sign a shorter one or two year deals? If so, then the advantage for the current team of a player is gone (given that the player wants to take the risk of a shorter deal and face a potential of serious injury without having a long term contract in place). Can you please clarify?
It's simple, Hadi. The incumbent team has two advantages. One, it can offer a fifth year to its own free agents, where all other teams can only offer those players four-year deals. Every team in the league can offer a player the maximum amount (usually 30 percent of the yearly salary cap per team, but in certain cases, 35 percent) in year one of a deal; so, in this case, Cleveland and Miami were indeed able to offer James the same amount of money in the first year of the deal: $20.7 million. The difference is that the Cavaliers could only sign James for four years, but the Heat could sign him for five. In addition, the incumbent team can offer its own free agent larger raises -- 7.5 percent above the first-year salary in each succeeding season -- where all other teams can only offer those free agents 4.5 percent raises above the first-year salary in succeeding seasons. Roughly, then (I didn't bother adding all the decimal points, sorry), the Cavs could offer James a four-year deal for around $88 million, while the Heat could offer James a five-year deal worth around $119 million. The advantage to the incumbent team (and to the player) is that fifth year -- in James' case, what would have been an extra $31 million guaranteed if he had re-signed with Miami. In the end, of course, he took a much shorter deal with Cleveland for numerous reasons that we explored a couple of weeks ago. To your question: yes, taking a short deal eliminates most of the advantage for the incumbent team (they still have those 7.5 percent raises, compared to 4.5 percent for non-incumbent teams). But the player gives up an awful lot of guaranteed money. LeBron is a unique case, with his annual off-court earnings from endorsements larger than that of many team payrolls. Not many players have walked away from that kind of money.
If you build it, will they watch? From Adam Schenck:
Hey, I was thinking about how poorly the MLB All-Star game does on TV (11 million), and comparing baseball's marketing to the NBA's. (MLB markets regionally.) The ironic part of LeBron returning to the Cavs and the Lakers doing so poorly with their signings is both occurrences were largely due to the NBA's national cable approach to games, which makes marquee players national figures, whether they play in Oklahoma City or LA/NY. So, Cleveland has TNT/ESPN to thank.
I don't think the NBA is in a position to brag about All-Star Game ratings and viewers, Adam; MLB had a higher rating and drew more viewers than the NBA this year for its midseason classic. As to your point about how the NBA markets its stars, there have been as many detractors as supporters of that strategy over the years. MLB has also had as much success in (relatively) smaller markets like St. Louis and Cincinnati as well over the years as the NBA has had in San Antonio and Utah. And I don't think LeBron would have left Miami for any other city than his hometown, which happened to be Akron (Cleveland). If he had grown up just outside of L.A. or New York, I think he would have made a similar decision.
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416 -- Career coaching victories for Byron Scott, in stints with the Nets, New Orleans Hornets and Cavaliers. The Lakers finally, formally, offered Scott their head coach job, and reportedly made a deal with Scott over the weekend, though the team has not yet signed off on that announcement.
500 -- Hours of community service that Mavericks guard Ray Felton will have to perform after formally pleading guilty in a New York court last week to counts of attempted criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm. If Felton performs the 500 hours and pays a $5,000 fine, he won't have to do any jail time.
1) You want to be 23 again, LeBron? So do I. I don't think we're talking about the same thing, though.
2) A smart man informs me that Mark Jackson, who just changed agents last year, putting the powerful Arn Tellem on retainer, is about to change agents again, leaving Tellem for ... Rich Paul. Who has not, until this point, represented coaches. But does represent LeBron James and Eric Bledsoe, among others. Make of that what you will.
3) Working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is going to do wonders for Roy Hibbert's peace of mind and his game. Working with Roy Hibbert is going to do wonders for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's peace of mind and his future in coaching. A win-win if there ever was one, and kudos to Larry Bird for seeing the benefits of letting it happen.
4) The Four-Letter has armies of PR people who put their stuff out there, whether it deserves it or not. Frank Caliendo as Morgan Freeman, reading LeBron James's SI letter announcing his return to Cleveland? Never mind, flacks; I'll do it myself.
1) Do I have to say this in 2014? It appears that I do. It does not matter if Janay Watson, now Janay Rice, the wife of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, hit Ray Rice in that elevator first. It does not matter if she hit him five times in that elevator first. It does not matter, unless she was hitting him with a tire iron, and I'm pretty sure if that were the case, we would have heard about it by now.
If you're a man, you don't put your hands on a woman. This has been eating at me for a while now, our current culture where women are sexually assaulted on college campuses at epidemic rates, and male athletes in all sports are involved in domestic violence incidents in alarming numbers.
And our sports media, unfortunately, almost always looks at these incidents from the point of the perpetrator -- the athlete. What does it mean for him?There is almost never any follow-up with the victims, and what it's done to her and her family. Assault victims aren't "distractions." They're people. They have names. And families. And we all need to start paying as much attention to what happens to them after these "incidents" as the people that cause them.
2) Thinking good thoughts for Michael Cooper this morning.
4) Not sure what James Harden said here that was controversial or wrong, for that matter. Harden and Dwight Howard are the Rockets' stars, and everyone else -- including former teammate Chandler Parsons -- are role players.
Pro sports is, necessarily, cruel. There's no sympathy in a meritocracy; you're either good enough, or you're not. The problem, of course, is that everyone isn't judged the same, with the same set of criteria. The proper fit can be the difference between a long, successful career and being a journeyman. To wit: there is no doubt that Kendall Marshall is good enough to play in the NBA. He is a pure point guard; despite playing in just 54 games last season for the Lakers, he finished 10th in the league in assists. But he's already on his third pro team in less than three years. Picked 13th overall by Phoenix in 2012, he struggled with a young, bad Suns team as a rookie, spent 16 games in the Developmental League, and was traded to Washington last fall as part of the deal that sent Marcin Gortat to the Wizards for Emeka Okafor and the Wizards' 2014 first-round pick. But the Wizards, despite needing a backup for John Wall, never even took a look at Marshall, waiving him. The Lakers signed him off the street last December, and he immediately stepped in for the injured Steve Nash. But the Lakers were worse than the Suns, finishing last in the Pacific Division with a 27-55 record. Marshall played for the Lakers' summer league team, splitting time with rookie Jordan Clarkson, but he was again waived on July 18. Los Angeles reportedly wanted to bring back Marshall, who was scheduled to make a little more than $900,000 next season, once he cleared waivers. But he didn't; the Bucks claimed him, agreeing to pay his salary for next year backing up Brandon Knight. It's a job, and Marshall's happy to have it, but at 22, he's starting over again, on another subpar squad, trying to prove he belongs in this league.
Me: How do you deal with waking up in Las Vegas with the Lakers one morning, and 48 hours later, you're on your way to Milwaukee?
Kendall Marshall: Yeah ... the first time I went through it in Phoenix, it was kind of like, mind-blowing. I guess when you come from college, you feel like you're going to be in one place for a while. When you go through it a second time, you realize that it's kind of a business. It's not always what happens between those lines. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you get the short end of the stick.
Me: Where were you when they told you?
KM: I was in a meeting, actually, getting ready for a Summer League game. My agent had called me twice, so I called him when I got out of the meeting, and he told me.
Me: I was under the impression the Lakers wanted to re-sign you after you cleared waivers. Did you have the same impression?
KM: Yeah, I think that's what they thought was going to happen, too, dealing with them. But I had to go through waivers. And basically, when I'm on the market, people saw value where I was at, it was going to be hard for people to pass up on me.
Me: How do you get your arms around the fact that now, you have to impress people that don't know you, don't really know your game, your teammates don't know you?
KM: I mean, it's all a process. Basically for a point guard, my job is to be as comfortable with my team as possible, for them to have that trust. I've just got to be there, It's not as if it's my first time doing it. So there's some confidence there. I feel like if I want to be a player in this league, I have to be able to adapt to things.
Me: One thing about you -- you don't hide. You got right on Twitter and started asking people in Milwaukee what it was like there. Why were you comfortable being out there with the social media, even after being waived?
KM: I think that's one of the things that annoys me -- I won't say annoy -- that kind of bugs me with certain guys. They try to hide themselves. There's a bunch of things, you can't hide stuff. At the end of the day, what you do is going to show. So I take the same approach with social media. I want fans, I want people to know not only who I am as a basketball player, but as a person. So I'm still going to ask the same questions. I'm going to ask the likes, the dislikes they have. I just want them to be able to get to know me off the court.
Me: What have you found out about Milwaukee?
KM: I found out that we hate everything Chicago, we love the Packers, and Wisconsin basketball. And it's cold. Cold as hell. That's what I've found out so far.
Me: You cool with hating the Bears?
KM: I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, so I may just have to be quiet in those moments.
Me: What do you do with your stuff -- your car, your furniture in L.A.?
KM: That's probably been the hardest thing right now. I've already started packing up my condo in L.A. and everything. What I'll probably have to do is ship my car to Milwaukee and buy a new one. There's no way my car will make it through the winter in Milwaukee. And I'll have half my stuff shipped to Milwaukee and I'll have the other half shipped home to Virginia, where my parents stay. Just for the fact that it's a one-year deal, and there's no telling where I'll be next year.
Me: From what you know about the Bucks' personnel, what do you think they're capable of doing next season?
KM: I'm excited about it. I think we have a really good young forward. I think Jabari [Parker] and Giannis [Antetokounmpo], they've got a chance to be really special. I think they can be superstars. And then you've got guys like Brandon Knight, Larry Sanders, Khris Middleton, I think those are all guys that, if they could keep us together and be patient, I think we've got a great future.
Me: What do you do with emotions like disappointment and anger when you have to move on?
KM: I think you have to use it as fuel, as motivation, really. There's not as much spite in me this time around as there was the first time ... part of it is you want to prove to yourself, that they're going to regret passing you up, making the move they made. It's all motivation ... I feel like I've done a pretty good job of staying even keeled throughout the past couple of weeks.
The Stanford in me wants to add a 'b' between the 'a' and 'e' every time I see "bae"...
-- Raptors guard Landry Fields (@landryfields), Friday, 5:58 p.m. At least Fields didn't try to "explain" what bae means, as Time Magazine did this week to its older, less hip readership -- to great scorn in the younger, hipper Twittersphere.
"My thing is, as a player, you're gonna do what's best for you. But, the only way I know I can feel good about myself as a player, as far as being one of the best to ever play, is how I played against the best. I never wanted to play with Magic, I never wanted to play with Jordan. I wanted to play against those guys, because that was the only way that I could measure how great I am."
-- Dominique Wilkins, in an interview with Slam magazine, on his career arc and why he didn't want to leave the Hawks.
"Obviously, I think it's great for this area. I think it's great for this city. I think it's great for the Cavs. I think it's great for me. Obviously a very good friend of mine now moving forward, pretty much a business partner of mine. I've exchanged texts back and forth, so him being in the area, and being right down the road, definitely excites me. It's going to be awesome being able to go to Cavs games and watch him play, watch the best basketball player in the world play. So I'm very excited, and really excited he can come watch us play and be involved with this program like he was before."
-- Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, during a Friday news conference with Cleveland reporters, on whether he's spoken with LeBron James since James returned to the Cavaliers.
"Watching how Pop runs the Spurs organization as well as how he's coaching... it's not a common corporate culture. It's just not common. You try to be an asset. He has this, 'Remember what your mother taught you' feel about him. It's 'Leave a place better than you've found it.'"
-- Deb Hatcher, who runs an Oregon winery with her husband, Bill, and who has, along with her husband, become friends with Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. Popovich's love of wine has become the stuff of legend, as detailed in a terrific Oregonian piece last week by John Canzano.
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Shabazz Muhammad finishes the fast break with an emphatic flush.
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Zach LaVine talks about his competitive nature and how he wants to beat the best.
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The Minnesota Timberwolves put on a fullcourt dunk showcase following their midnight practice.
|Ricky Rubio Inteview|
Ricky Rubio talks about moving-on from Kevin Love, the rookies respecting the process and getting better from the perimeter.
|Andrew Wiggins Inteview|
Andrew Wiggins speaks about being welcomed by the fans and finding a place to call home in Minnesota.