Also this week: Banged-up Pacers, Raptors rise up the charts
POSTED: Nov 10, 2014 3:10 PM ET
Joe Borgia heads up the NBA's new Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J.
SECAUCUS, N.J. — It gets kind of loud in here on game nights, Joe Borgia says. But that's fine for the NBA's senior vice president, replay and referees operations.
"We're going to do everything we can to get the best look for the referees," he says.
And after the NBA spent $15 million over the past two years to renovate some storage space at its New Jersey offices, it has the best chance to do so.
The NBA's new Replay Center has been on line since last month, bringing 300 gigabytes worth of pictures in every night into a system that the league says gets replays out to its game officials 66 times faster than last season, even as the league increased the number of triggers that can be used to ask for replay to 15 (up from 14 last season).
This season, referees can go to replay to determine whether a foul was a flagrant or common foul. Last season, they had to first call fouls Flagrant I or II in order to review them. They can check whether a foul was a clear path or common foul. (Before this season, they had to make a clear path call before going to review.) And they can now use replay to determine how many players a team has on the court.
The league has gone to great pains to say that the Replay Center, which gets direct game feeds from each of the NBA's 29 arenas, serves to supplement the referees, not do their job for them -- though it has not shuttered the notion that improved technology in future years might make using the Replay Center for the final decision possible.
NBA Replay Center Video
The NBA today announced that the league will open a new, state-of-the-art NBA Replay Center beginning with the first game of the 2014-15 NBA regular season. The facility is located in Secaucus, N.J.
"Our feeling was the following: The Center is not here to replace the official," NBA President, Basketball Operations Rod Thorn said Saturday. "We try to help the ref make the right call by giving him the best angle possible. His job is to call the game. At this particular time, that's the best approach for us. But as you know, in the modern NBA, we study everything. At some point in time, if we feel there's something that can help, then we'll address it."
At any rate, using the Replay Center was not a topic of negotiation with the officials before the start of the season. The league says it wants the game in the officials' hands, and that using the Replay Center doesn't change the referees' job description to the point where it needed to be collectively bargained.
"Our feeling is we have the right to do that, because we set what you [the referees] do and don't do, in essence," Thorn said. "We don't look at that as a collective bargaining issue at all. Obviously we worked very closely with the officials in trying to implement this. We listen if they have any advice for us or have any questions about this. But the NBA has implemented it, and we'll go from there."
There have been replays as quick as 5.6 seconds (the time is kept from the moment the referee puts on the headset to when he or she takes it off) and as long as three-plus minutes. The longer replays almost always involve either out-of-bounds plays or altercations (which determine whether players come off the bench, or throw a punch or shove, etc.). Even with all the cameras in today's NBA, there are, occasionally, times where none of them has a pristine view of what happened.
"There's still going to be times when it's not" clear, Thorn said.
"A lot of those come when they decide whose ball it is in the last two minutes," Thorn said." But then you've got to figure out where the clock goes. Is it 28.2 [seconds] or is it 27.9? Some things are unbelievably close and you want to look at them several times."
Fourteen separate work stations constitute the outside ring of the Replay Center -- a former storage area with a view of the parking lot that wasn't in use in the NBA's Secaucus office. But now, it's a state-of-the-art system. Each center is manned by a Replay Operator -- an NBA employee, usually a production assistant or someone who's a "diehard basketball fan," Borgia said.
GameTime: NBA Replay Center
Vince Cellini speaks with Joe Borgia, the senior vice president of replay and referee operations, in the NBA's new Replay Center.
The inner ring of the RC (I would tire quickly continually typing "Replay Center") has three stations, manned by the three Replay Managers that oversee the Center and senior league executives including Borgia, Executive Vice President of Referee Operations Mike Bantom and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki Vandeweghe. Former NBA referee Bob Delaney also serves as a Replay Manager. The results of the relay reviews are posted via @NBAOfficial.
Everyone who watches games on a given night works on staggered schedules. No one is pulling a 10-12 hour day, Borgia says, because tired people make mistakes. A Replay Manager won't even be responsible for multiple games starting at the same time -- say, four 7 p.m. tipoffs -- because what would he or she do when there are replays in multiple games that have to be supervised at the same time?
The Replay Operator watches one game. Each station has multiple monitors, with multiple functions. The Replay Operator has every camera feed from both the home and road television crews fed to his or her station, all visible at the same time. When an on-site official signals he or she wants to take a look at a play, the Replay Operator logs the time and play in question, and immediately begins compiling every angle possible for the referees.
The Replay Operator's station has zoom capability, slow-motion and fast-forward toggles, and can mark which of the triggers likely set off the replay. The Operator also can mark a potential replay, informing the Replay Manager. "Close 2-3," in review parlance, shouted out during a game, would mean, "I have a possible 3-pointer, but it could be a two."
The Replay Manager will then look to his or her own bank of monitors to begin making recommendations of the best angles to show the officials. By the time the crew chief puts on the headset, there should already be several replays ready to show.
The league also feeds the same replay the referee is looking at to the arena scoreboard in real time.
"In order to try and be transparent, our feeling was, 'Let's put it up there,' " Thorn said. "'Let's show what we're looking at, what the refs are looking at.' We don't want any possibility that we're not showing the right angles, or that something's going on."
There is still variance within arenas, however, and there is an economic component at work here. Some teams use more cameras than others on their broadcasts. There is a team, for example, that has two robo-cameras to take those pictures from behind the backboard we all see, but has only one operator for the two cameras -- and the operator only works the basket at which the home team is shooting.
The RC also does not currently use the SportVU cameras, which don't cover enough of the court to be useful for most potential replays. The SportVU cameras don't, currently, relay the information in real time, either; there's about a 10 second delay in capture, which makes it useless for replay. (It is possible, down the road, that the data the SportVU cameras amass could be overlaid on top of the replay images the current cameras capture.)
There are numerous possible replay feeds or angles: the home and away team feeds, the handheld cameras that are on each baseline, the "slash" camera feed (cameras in the corner of the court, usually on a platform six to 10 feet off the ground, which often show game action from the opposite end of the court -- such as post play, opposing benches and coaches -- the shot clock or "hero" shots of a player who just scored coming back down to the other end of the floor) and the behind/over the backboard shots at either end of the court.
The RC also keeps a digital clock in place to determine shot clock time in case none of the available replays has a good picture of the shot clock. (The shot clock above each basket serves as the "official" one, because that's the one at which the players are looking.)
All of the cameras are synched before tipoff by a simple means -- an NBA photographer flashes a strobe light. The flash is picked up by all the cameras at the same time, allowing the RC to accurately synch them all to the same frame before tipoff. This allows the RC to send the referees multiple angles of the same play at once.
There are also replay monitors for the officials' use in their locker rooms at every arena, in case they need or want to review plays either at the end of the first half, or the end of a game. (In case an electronic catastrophe or some other act of God befalls the RC, Borgia said, the league can still fall back on three loggers sitting a floor above the RC that are also monitoring games.)
The RC was borne out of looking for ways to both streamline the replay process (replay was first instituted by the NBA in 2002) and to utilize the new technology of the last few years that has made replays sharper and more definitive than ever.
Borgia, Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology Steve Hellmuth and other league officials visited the National Football League and National Hockey League to see their replay setups (Major League Baseball was still fine-tuning its replay system at the time). The NBA's setup had to be different because the triggers for replay are so different in each sport.
The final determination on a call in the NHL and in baseball is made at the league's offices in Toronto and New York, respectively. The NHL uses two former players as its replay officials, and they have only one call to adjudicate: whether the puck crosses the goal line and should count as a goal.
Major League Baseball uses current umpires as its replay officials. The umpires are brought off the road as a crew twice during the season for one week each to handle the replays on a rotating basis. The NFL has a replay official on site at each game during the season.
As of Nov. 9, the average NBA replay this season was taking just 53.9 seconds, compared with close to two minutes last season.
"We're aware that sometimes it seems interminable," Thorn said. "There is a possibility that the in-house might have some angle that we don't have, but we have access to that, too. We're going to get everything we need to give the ref the ability to make the call."
No, center Roy Hibbert was not supposed to take the potential game-winning 3-pointer last Wednesday for the Indiana Pacers' game against the Washington Wizards.
This is easily explained, as the 7-foot-2 Hibbert was a career 6-for-20 on 3-pointers entering 2014-15. Even the advanced stats crowd can agree that it's better for Indiana if Hibbert shoots twos rather than threes. He's become quite good at them the last couple of seasons, and has coach Frank Vogel's blessing to let the hooks and dropsteps fly in the paint.
Hibbert's Three for the Win
Pacers give the ball to Roy Hibbert outside the arc to win the game, but he comes up short.
But when Hibbert got the pass from point guard Donald Sloan, there were four seconds left. Sloan passed Hibbert the ball out front because he was the only guy remotely open. That was because the Wizards easily contained Sloan in a pick-and-roll with forward Lavoy Allen, and got out to contest a potential 3-pointer by small forward Chris Copeland.
It is here where you might be confused.
Donald Sloan? Lavoy Allen? Chris Copeland?
The Thunder have, rightly, gotten most of the national attention during the first couple of weeks of the season with their injury problems, which have shelved Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But Indiana can, unfortunately, match Oklahoma City strain for strain.
Veteran point guard C.J. Watson is still out with a bruised right foot. Rodney Stuckey, signed from Detroit in the offseason, is currently out with a sore left foot. Hibbert is now day-to-day after banging his left knee against the Wizards on Saturday.
And there is, of course, the worst of the worst. Paul George suffered a broken leg in early August during an exhibition game for USA Basketball before the U.S. team went to Spain for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. He's expected to miss the entire season.
Things have been so grim that the Pacers were granted a hardship exception by the league on Thursday and signed veteran guard A.J. Price for a second tour of duty.
So Sloan starts for Hill at point guard. C.J. Miles, signed this summer to try to help replace the departed Lance Stephenson, is in the midst of a terrible slump. Solomon Hill, Indiana's first-round pick in the 2013 Draft, starts for George, and veteran Luis Scola starts for West. Copeland started Wednesday for Miles.
Sloan was brilliant Wednesday, scoring a career-high 31 points against the Wizards, but he didn't want to force a shot in the final seconds of overtime. Copeland was covered in the corner. That left Hibbert to take the shot, and it way off line. Copeland got the rebound, but missed an 8-footer that would have tied the score at the buzzer.
" 'We're gonna go for the win' doesn't mean 'Roy, go for the win,' " Vogel said afterward.
But that's where the Pacers are right now, a group of loosely affiliated players (think of the "Unified Team," the remnants of the Soviet Union after its dilution, that competed in a couple of Olympic Games in the early 1990s) with no overarching philosophy. That's not a critique of Vogel -- there's no way that there can be any continuity when you're down to your fourth point guard and playing European import Damjan Rudez way more minutes than was expected.
This is not the team Vogel was planning on coaching.
"It's a challenge, but we've got guys who are capable of making basketball plays, and they've got to come together as a group," Vogel said.
It continues a stunning fall for a team that, on this date a year ago, was 7-0 and looked for all the world like a team that would, finally, take out the Heat and make The Finals, after two straight losses to Miami in the playoffs. As late as March 13, Indy was 46-13, with the best record in the Eastern Conference. George was having a brilliant season, making a second All-Star appearance and, later, being named to the NBA's All-Defensive first team and All-NBA third team.
But then came the denouement, lowlighted by self combustion. Hibbert fell into an inexplicable funk, becoming a shell of the player who'd dominated opponents in 2012-13. There were rumors, never corroborated, about player relationships with women that impacted the locker room. Hibbert, famously, talked about "selfish dudes" on the team, the finger pointed at either George or Stephenson, depending on who you were talking to. And the Pacers, despite getting to the Eastern Conference finals again, were little more than fodder for the Heat en route to their fourth straight Finals appearance.
Heat-Pacers Series Recap
Check out the highlights from the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, where Miami topped Indiana and punched their ticket for a chance at a third straight NBA championship.
Then, Indy lost Stephenson to Charlotte on a three-year, $27 million deal -- a contract that was barely more per season than the Pacers were offering. Stephenson could certainly drive teammates to distraction in any number of ways, but he was a force on defense. Plus, he became a willing and very effective passer last season. At 24, he was expected to be a huge part of the Pacers' future.
Losing him was an especially tough blow for team president Larry Bird, who had gone to the wall for Stephenson since taking him in the second round in 2010, and who had helped Stephenson raise his game and his profile to a high level.
What the hell has happened to this franchise?
"It's kind of surreal," Hill said last week. "I'm a big believer in things happen for a reason. And with Paul going down, and losing Lance, and then to start the season without D West and myself, and the injury to Stuckey, and the injury to C.J. Watson, I mean, I think it's a great opportunity for the other guys, to really showcase what they can do.
"And to show Coach that we're a deeper team, that we have a lot more guys than we normally do. At this point, I'm just wishing that everything was a dream, that we could wake up and start all over, and start the season fresh."
It is a new and difficult reality to accept for a team that was built to compete for championships, not moral victories. But George's injury changed the calculus. The ripple effects are still being felt.
Paul George Shoots at Practice
Pacers forward Paul George is still recovering from his fractured right tibia/fibula, but he was able to get up a few shots following Monday's practice.
"We were [contenders] at one point, and really not of our own doing, the injury bug is on us now," West said. "You've just got to be confident. You don't know what's going to strike. You've just got to be able to keep the guys who can play on the floor, keep them motivated."
George, West and Hill are all traveling with the team, trying to be vocal in the film room. But it's not what they were brought to Indy to do.
"Like I tell all the guys here, it's not about who's playing, how many minutes they're playing, how many points people are putting up," Hill said. "Everyone has a job, and right now, my job is not playing on the court; my job is to be a leader, to tell guys things that I've learned that's helped me in games, and things like that."
George is off crutches. He lost the walking boot at the team's media day, and he's started shooting stationary shots on the floor. But there's no scenario to speed up the nine-month minimum time frame he'll be out, which would almost certainly cost him the whole season -- unless Indy makes an improbable run deep into the playoffs.
It still stuns how quickly a franchise's fortunes can change. There is, indeed, a short window of true title contention for most teams. Twelve months ago, Indy's looked wide open. But it slammed shut the second George landed wrong in Las Vegas on Aug. 1. It was a major blow, especially for veterans like West, who has a player option for 2015-16, the final year of his three-year contract signed in 2013.
"I was at home in North Carolina watching the game," West said. "I mean, any time you see that happen to any part of your body, you know that's a serious injury. I actually talked to him that night. He was, his mind was in a different space. Obviously, he knew it was going to be a long, long road."
USAB Scrimmage Recap
Paul George was carried off on a stretcher after suffering a gruesome leg injury Friday night.
George is "pushing himself to get healthy," West said. "We've got to keep him around the game as much as possible, keep his mind focused on what's coming for him in the future."
Hibbert was packing for a wedding in San Francisco the next day. He flew to the Bay Area, then went to Las Vegas the following day to see George in the hospital.
"I made a promise to him that every week I'd come to his house and just chill with him until he gets back on the court ready to play," Hibbert said. "I missed last week; we've been having a lot of games. But [when] we go by the house, we go fishing, play some shooting games in his court in his house, we'll watch movies. We was watching "Love and Hip Hop L.A." Just act like it's normal, any other day."
The injuries have wrecked continuity. There's no ability to practice because there just aren't enough healthy bodies. Sloan had no backup until the team signed Price. (Indy was going to sign former Mavs guard Gal Mekel, but Mekel reportedly ran into issues trying to get a visa.)
"A lot of us aren't used to playing a ton of minutes," Sloan said. "Last year, we has this great team where the rotation was very limited. We had an itch all year to show, you know, 'Coach, I can do this, I can do that.' Unfortunately, it's come around this way. You don't want to see your teammates hurt, guys out. But we have to make the most of it. We have to compete."
Sloan went undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2010, and bounced around: the NBA D-League, brief stints abroad in the Philippines and China and cups of coffee with the Atlanta Hawks and the then-New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans). He played in 45 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers over parts of two seasons before signing in 2013 with the Pacers as a third point guard behind Hill and Watson.
He ran Indy's scout team, picking up Hill full court to give him a good look at the opposition's tendencies in practice.
"I was the guy that was like a John Wall, Damian Lillard, put pressure on him at the offensive end," Sloan said. "So I've always had to kind of keep that style with me, even not playing last year. But then I get thrown out there, and I go right back into the role of, I have to make this player better, I have to make this player better. I feel like for us to do anything while a lot of these guys are out, I have to be a little more aggressive."
Since being put into the starting lineup, Sloan knows that it's one thing to pretend to be Wall or Rajon Rondo in practice. It's quite another to try to guard them for real. He's been picking Hill's brain for pointers, and Hill's told him when to be aggressive, what shots are available for which players and when he should shoot or get someone else going.
"He's seen these guys night in and night out the last few years," Sloan said. "I've only, even when I have played, I've only played against other backups. I haven't really seen the John Walls or the Derrick Roses or the Jeff Teagues. He's in my ear before games, during games, after games, showing me -- 'Push up on him like this,' going into the last minute, or fight over a little more, or he's gonna fake like this. For my growth, and for me developing, it's key for him to be around me."
Sloan may have earned himself some minutes in the rotation when Hill and Watson return. At the least, he could allow Watson or Hill to play some two-guard pairing with him at the point against certain lineups.
He more than held his own against Wall, taking Wall off the dribble frequently to get into the paint. Of course, Wall did pick his pocket at a key moment in overtime, leading to a fast-break Wizards' bucket. But Sloan didn't throw up on himself playing against an All-Star.
"It shows that there's a lot of good guys in this league, and just given the right opportunity, the right stage, a lot of people can see that," Sloan said. "It's all it takes. There's a lot of guys that get bashed for being the 15th guy on the bench, the 14th guy, guys that don't really get to play. Those [bleeps] can play. They can play. And me, I've been that guy for the past few years."
We had an itch all year to show, you know, 'Coach, I can do this, I can do that.' Unfortunately, it's come around this way. You don't want to see your teammates hurt, guys out. But we have to make the most of it. We have to compete.
– Donald Sloan
The Pacers are high on Solomon Hill, who's currently starting in Stephenson's old spot. He got some time last season playing behind George while Danny Granger was rehabbing his knee injury, but once Granger returned, Hill's minutes evaporated. And Vogel went with Evan Turner, acquired for Granger at the trade deadline, for the stretch run. But with George out for the next few months this season, Hill's getting his chance.
"Solomon Hill, for a young player, has assumed a big leadership role," Vogel said.
But they have to lean now, more than ever, on Hibbert. Against Washington, he scored just two points and looked lost offensively. (He rebounded with 22 points Friday, though the Pacers lost again, in Boston.)
But Hibbert continues to beat himself up mentally when he struggles, and the Pacers can't afford for him to go down the rabbit hole again this season.
"He comes over here down that he didn't help his team a lot better scoring the ball," George Hill said. "I said it's not always about scoring. You know me, coming from San Antonio, it was always a team first team. The way Coach [Gregg Popovich] Pop went about things, it wasn't just about scoring the basketball. There's so many different ways you can impact the game.
"I said [to Hibbert], 'From the times you're in there, you bust your butt on the defensive end, blocking shots, altering shots, rebounding. You may not have the game you wanted offensively, but defensively you still protected the paint pretty well tonight. We're in the game. We're 47 seconds, down by one point in overtime, on the road, to a tough team that's probably going to be one of the top teams in the East. You have to live with that consequence.'"
On the one hand, you love that Hibbert cares so much. On the other, the Pacers thought Hibbert had turned the corner emotionally a couple of years ago, when everything came together for him on the court and he finished second to Marc Gasol for Defensive Player of the Year.
"He's a competitor," George Hill said. "He just wants to do what's right. He feels like with all the guys out, and him being the only leader out there from last year's starting group, a lot sits on his shoulders. When he feels he don't perform the way that maybe the outside world feels he should perform, he feels like he's let everybody down.
"And I'm like, it's not about that, what people think on the outside. It's what this team thinks. It just wasn't your night offensively; it was Donald Sloan's night. It was [Chris] Copeland's night. But defensively, you did you job, and we have to live with that."
For his part, Hibbert says he's fine, and is focusing on trying to lead while so many of his teammates are out.
"You've got guys playing that were on the bench last year," Hibbert said. "Just keep supporting them, hit them when they're open."
The cavalry is, slowly, making its way back. Stuckey's return is imminent. Watson should be back next week; West and George Hill will take a little longer, but are hopeful to return sometime this month. And, it could be worse, right? At least Indiana's in the East.
Except, George Hill's not buying that argument.
"I think that's an idea we have to get away from," he said. "We have to get away from the mentality of, hey, we're wounded, let's just see where it takes us, let's just try to win a game. I think we have to have that mentality where we expect to win. I think we still have a great group of guys in this locker room and a great basketball team, wounded or not."
That may be. But it's not the team that looked so formidable such a short time ago, meticulously put together over four years by Bird, Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard to be able to compete with, and ultimately conquer, the SuperFriends. Those Pacers are gone, and we may not see an Indiana team reach those heights again for a while.
"You think about what could be," Hibbert said. "But you realize that Paul's probably not coming back this year. There's guys hurting that might not be back for another month. You just have to make the best of it, roll with the punches, and play hard."
(Last week's record in parentheses; last week's ranking in brackets)
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2) Houston (3-1) : Rockets catch the injury bug going around the league at the worst time, losing three starters before losing their first game of the season Saturday against Golden State.
3) Memphis (3-1) : Finished stretch of five road games in six overall with last-second loss in Milwaukee Saturday. Now get six of next seven at FedEx Forum.
4) Toronto (4-0) : Per John Schuhmann, Kyle Lowry putting up ridiculously good touch/turnover numbers during the first fortnight of the season.
5) Dallas (2-2) : Mavericks off to good start, but won't be able to sustain it if the defense doesn't pick up: entering play Sunday, Dallas' defensive rating was 27th in the league, ahead of just New York, Utah and the Lakers.
7) Washington (3-1) : John Wall continues to get wide open looks for players on the court with him.
9) Miami (2-2) : Still not at full strength as Danny Granger (hamstring) works up to making his season debut, while Josh McRoberts (toe, back) and Udonis Haslem (quad) are just getting into the lineup.
10) L.A. Clippers (2-1) : Team hires Gillian Zucker from Auto Club Speedway to permanently replace Andy Roeser as president of business operations, making her one of the top women executives in the NBA.
Nuggets vs. Blazers
LaMarcus Aldridge scores 28 points and the Trail Blazers hand the Nuggets their fifth straight loss with a 116-100 victory on Sunday night.
11) Cleveland (1-2): : Kevin Love trying to get in where he can fit in, but the All-Star is shooting just 36.6 percent through the Cavs' first five games.
12) Portland (3-1) : Classy move by the Blazers wearing shooting shirts Sunday in honor of Sandy Zickefoose, the fan who collapsed Thursday during Portland's game against Dallas at the Moda Center and died soon after being taken to a local hospital.
13) Phoenix (2-2) : Bounce-back game Sunday night for Goran Dragic (19 points, 8 of 12 shooting) in the Suns' win over the Warriors, after shooting just 41 percent in the Suns' first six games.
14) New Orleans (2-1) [NR]: Anthony Davis is emerging as a great, great player, but Omer Asik, averaging nearly a double-double (9.8 points, 10.4 boards), is going to be a big reason why Davis can blossom.
Dropped out: Oklahoma City (10). No, I can't believe it, either. But check back in a couple of weeks.
Toronto (4-0): Raptors crushing on offense, averaging 107 points per game after Sunday's win over Philly. Toronto has scored at least 100 points in each of its first seven games.
Denver (0-4): By contrast, Nuggets were sieve-like this week, giving up an average of 116.8 per game. Brian Shaw's got to find five guys who can get in front of somebody before the season gets away from him.
What's worse: playing back-to-back games, or playing four games in five nights? And what can the NBA do about lessening the amount of each?
They are the joint scourge of the NBA player, famine and pestilence, creator of tendinitis and destroyer of winning streaks and continuity. A player can look all-World on Tuesday, all-Warped on Wednesday, all-Weary by Friday.
The NBA season demands players go at less than their best physically for long stretches of the calendar. But there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. With the broadcast and cable networks (including TNT, my company) ponying up increasingly astronomical sums of money, the 82-game schedule that has been in place since 1967 will not be reduced in our lifetimes.
That reality flies in the face of recent suggestions by LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki that the schedule be shortened. But no player is going to easily accept what would surely be the owners' response to such an idea: a corresponding reduction in player salaries. And even if the game's stars could live with a couple million less per season, their less-fortunate brethren making far less to begin with -- and without endorsements that could make up for a salary shortfall -- would not be as sanguine.
Asking current and former players and coaches which of the two is worse is like asking which method of medieval torture you'd prefer.
"Back to backs," Raptors Coach Dwane Casey said. "It's harder on the body."
A former NBA coach agreed.
"If there were no back to backs, then there could be no four in five," the former coach said. "If they could limit the back to backs to five to seven per season, it would improve the quality of play over the long run."
Athletic trainers see the impact of back to backs traveling from West to East. But others believe the longer four-in-five stretch is more debilitating.
"Four in five nights," one current general manager said. "Back to backs are tough, but not as bad as four in five. Fatigue is a lot greater at the end of the four in five."
The brutal travel every NBA team has, even though every team uses charter service, also weighs on players playing four in five.
"You can be in four different cities," former player Mario Elie said. "Different time zones."
"Four games in five nights is worse than the back-to-back or reducing the number of back to backs spreading the season out a little bit more," former NBA coach and Brooklyn Nets analyst Mike Fratello said.
You get home at 3, 4 o'clock in the morning. You don't get a good night's sleep; the kids wake you up at 6:45. And then you have to go out and perform. Nothing about that is easy.
– Paul Pierce, on the grueling schedule
Said Bucks forward Jared Dudley: "Four in five is harder, but most teams only have two to four [per season] ... we have, I think, 22 back to backs! That's too much."
Indeed, no team this season has more than four sets of four games in five nights, and only six teams (Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Golden State, Portland and Washington) have that many. Only one team has no four-in-five sets this year -- the Spurs.
By contrast, every team in the league has at least 16 sets of back-to-backs, up to a high of 22. Most teams have between 18 and 22 sets of back-to-backs.
Quality was certainly at a premium last Wednesday, with the Wizards and Pacers both playing the second night of a back-to-back, after Washington played in New York and Indiana played the Bucks at home on Tuesday. Neither team shot better than 37 percent.
"People don't understand that," said Wizards forward Paul Pierce, who was 3 of 15 from the floor. "Everybody looks at it and says, 'Well, they should really handle the Indiana Pacers; they don't have a lot of their stars.' But you have to travel. You get home at 3, 4 o'clock in the morning. You don't get a good night's sleep; the kids wake you up at 6:45. And then you have to go out and perform. Nothing about that is easy."
But there is a solution.
Move the start of the regular season back to October 15 from its current window at the end of October.
Yes, that would mean the start of the NBA season would probably go up against the World Series, or the heart of the college football season. The fear is that the NBA would get lost competing with those sports.
But the benefits outweigh the potential conflicts.
(This is no way a critique of Matt Winick, who has, year after year, put the NBA schedule together. It's an incredible pas de deux that takes months to complete. Every team believes the league is doing them wrong when the schedule comes out. It is, truly, a thankless job.)
Re-doing the schedule with a couple more weeks to play with would achieve a number of positive objectives.
First, it would eliminate the current insipid, elongated preseason that serves no good purpose. Long gone are the days when many players would use training camp and the exhibition games to get in shape (though there are exceptions, of course). Now, many players work throughout the summer with personal trainers. Players often are together for most of September working out individually and in groups at their teams' practice facilities.
With guaranteed contracts the norm, almost every team has 13 or 14 spots already set in stone before the first shell drill of camp. Almost no one is playing for an NBA spot in the preseason. Everyone who isn't assured of a position will almost certainly be in the NBA D-League or inactive.
Second, and more importantly, by starting the real season early, fans would no longer be subject to as much terrible basketball masquerading as the real thing -- or have to pay regular season prices for it, as many have to do in order to secure season ticket packages.
While Pierce said he'd like to get rid of both, he seemed to lean toward cutting back on the back-to-backs if possible.
"We could shorten the preseason," Pierce said. "Four preseason games, then start the regular season the second week of October. That would help the schedule and limit the number of back-to-backs. There certainly should be a limit on that. We're starting the season and we're already on our second back-to-back, and we're going into another back-to-back. Three back-to-backs the second week of the season. It's tough."
Third, the quality of regular season play would surely improve.
Remember: there would be no additional games under this model. Each day of those additional two weeks would be an off day. And 14 extra off days could do wonders toward getting rid of most, though not all, of the back-to-backs and four-in-five nights that are the most debilitating on players, and affect the quality of games the most.
If you used the off days just on back-to-back games, almost all teams would have the numbers reduced to fewer than 10 during the season.
"Honestly, I would limit the back-to-backs," one longtime executive said. "This year, we have the lowest back-to-backs in a long time, and only one four-in-five nights (stretch). That is ideal. I do not think the league can eliminate either but (it) can keep them at a minimum by (a) combo of starting training camp earlier and keeping the exhibition games at four. Start (the) regular season earlier. We would be exposed to the NFL longer, and maybe the World Series a little, but spreading the season out would make scheduling better for players."
Some coaches think they can at least have some impact on back to back games, while they're basically helpless to the whims of four in five.
"Four games in five nights I would get rid of," former NBA coach and current NBA TV analyst Vinny Del Negro said "More chance of injuries with fatigue and lack of preparation time. Back-to-backs are tough, depending on travel and the opponent. Sometimes on back-to-backs, you have a great or poor game in the first game and can control minutes to be ready for the next night."
Fourth, the NBA, from what I understand, is pretty good at marketing. And moving the schedule back could provide an opportunity at what marketing people call a "tentpole" event that would get it the exposure outside of baseball and college football.
The idea would be this: a joint "Basketball Kickoff" with the NCAA on Oct. 15, the former official starting date for college teams to begin practice. They are now allowed to start practices up to 42 days before their first game; most teams now begin practice around Oct. 1.
Under my plan, the college teams would still start practice on Oct. 1. But the NCAA, in concert with the NBA, would grant a waiver for a few high-profile teams to play an early game on or around the 15th -- the likes of Kentucky, Duke, UConn and other bluebloods -- that wouldn't count against their totals. Those games would be the same night the NBA begins its slate, with the ring ceremony game and one or two others, under the "Basketball Kickoff" umbrella. The usual tailgate shows, pregame concerts and other such events would be part of the day.
It wouldn't be the start of the college season, or the pro season. It would be the start of basketball season. That would provide the kind of Big Event, higher ratings power that would make it worth everyone's while to sacrifice a little. And the resulting improvement in the pro game over the next six months would be more than worth a couple week's additional time to fit in those 82 long, long games.
Here we are, encouraging and admiring full-speed human aeronautics, and this behavior is only a one-game suspension? Are you kidding me?
I was very angry/disappointed with the Steve Nash/Robert Horry outcome ... The NBA disregards how correctly/decently the Suns had invested much time and $ with Amar'e Stoudamire, and allowed an ugly purposeful foul to derail a teams momentum in a playoffs.
The foul by Arthur was worse; it was/is completely unacceptable in the game of basketball. This was even worse than the Kermit Washington/Rudy Tomjanovich incident, which occurred in an atmosphere of violence and loss of control. The Arthur incident was cold blooded.
There has to be zero tolerance for this type of behavior. Ask any player, they will agree, violence when both feet are on the ground is very different from open warfare on a body that is air born. Doesn't the NBA understand this?
DENVER'S DARRELL ARTHUR SUSPENDED
Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur has been suspended one game without pay for shoving Cleveland Cavalier guard Dion Waiters in the back as he elevated for a layup.
Aldridge responds: After looking at the play (I didn't see the game live), I agree with you, C.P. That was a cheap shot by Arthur, and he could have seriously injured Dion Waiters, even though Waiters says he doesn't think Arthur should have been punished. I would have given him at least two games.
Seattle already has the Seahawks. It would be too confusing. From David Fagerstrom: Mr. Levenson's comments sounded to me as if he were setting a stage -- for selling out. I lived in the great city of Seattle, loved 1979's NBA championship. But, by the time the Sonics left, I cared nothing. Today, Seattle has its Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders FC -- all the pro sports it can support.
Now, to Mr. L's comments paraphrased ["We can't get more affluent blacks, nor will 40'ish white guys attend"]. Seems to me he expresses hopelessness -- sees no way to make the franchise viable in Atlanta. His clumsy writing seems not racist, but plaintive -- "From where can we get more butts into our seats?" In other words, would he not be happy with a full house every night, regardless of the fans' race?
Now, I say, Seattle needs no more taxpayer-subsidized pro sport facilities. Bogus, in my view, is the promise to Seattle voters that "Revenues from a new arena will guarantee the debt service." Given a mediocre/poor product on the court, a revenue bond financing structure would mean nothing.
Indeed, the Sonics' product was so bad for so long that the Thunder were pre-positioned for great Draft picks. NBA-lovers here forget that Sonics' attendance for 2007-08 was 547,556 (28th of 30).
So, I hope a creative ownership group emerges for the Hawks, and they stay in Atlanta -- another great city.
Aldridge responds: If you are asking if the Hawks would move to Seattle some day, David, I think not. I'm not naïve enough to think there's no chance the Hawks could leave Atlanta, but I think the current chances fall somewhere between microscopic and impossible. The league has no desire to leave Atlanta and there's corporate money flowing throughout the city and state, more than enough to put a local group together with a chief rainmaker who would keep the team in town. As for Bruce Levenson's motivations, well, we've discussed those at length over the past couple of months.
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(Weekly averages in parentheses)
1) LeBron James (21.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 7.3 apg, .417 FG, .947 FT): Pretty sure the reporting about James and Kyrie Irving exchanging words last week will not lead to Irving's ouster. But Kyrie's got to get with the defensive/passing program.
2) Blake Griffin (22.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.7 apg, .483 FG, .769 FT): Haven't seen much of Lob City yet this season; don't know if that's by design or if defenses are making Griffin beat them from the perimeter.
3) Marc Gasol (15 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2 bpg, .409 FG, .828 FT): He is that long-forgotten rarity -- the big man who anchors his team at both ends of the floor.
4) Chris Bosh (22 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, .492 FG, .767 FT): Reportedly put his condo in Dallas up for sale for a cool $3.9 million, if you're in need of a 4,300-square foot pad.
5) James Harden (25.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 7 apg, .414 FG, .875 FT): Averaging an incredible 10.9 free-throw attempts per game so far.
900 -- Career victories together for Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. Per the San Antonio Express News, that's the most victories for a single coach and player together in league hstory. Duncan also posted the 800th double double of his career during Saturday's loss to New Orleans.
20 -- Consecutive games the Heat had beaten the Charlotte Hornets (nee Bobcats) before Charlotte's 96-89 victory last Wednesday. Charlotte didn't beat Miami once in the four years LeBron James was with the Heat, losing 16 straight regular season games and four playoff games last season in the first round.
49,054 -- Career minutes for Kevin Garnett, who became the fifth player in NBA history to log more than 49,000 minutes last week. Garnett is currently behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57,446 career minutes), Karl Malone (54,852), Jason Kidd (50,111) and Elvin Hayes (a cool, even 50,000).
The Starters: Kings Playoff Bound?
The Starters are divided: Will the Kings make the postseason?
1) Happy for the giddiness that is Sacramento, California, this morning. The Kings -- the godforsaken, long lamented, one-time soon departing, Welcome to Hell Kings -- are, even after Sunday's loss to the Thunder, 5-2, just behind Golden State in the Pacific Division, having already beaten the Blazers, Clippers and Suns on the road in the first two weeks of the season. They won five straight for the first time in eight years. They're getting great play from DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, and they're on line to get their new arena built by 2016.
2) Chuck can eat! Chuck can eat! Hated the thought of him wasting away to ... well, not nothing, but wasting away.
3) A great, sad read on the demise of former Spur Alvin Robertson, over on Bleacher Report, by NBA.com's Shaun Powell.
4) Happy Veterans' Day on Tuesday to all. And thank you to all who gave their lives so that we can live ours in peace and freedom.
5) Just tell me where to send my credit card, blood type and anything else you need to make this happen.
5A) When you reach a certain age -- like, say, mine -- you're just glad everyone in the cast is still alive.
1) Why, yes, the Browns are the best team in Cleveland this morning. We all had that a month ago, right?
The Starters: Should Kobe be Traded
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated thinks the Lakers should discuss the possibility of trading Kobe Bryant.
2) A simple rule of thumb: Whenever you see a headline that says anything like "Lakers Thinking of Trading Kobe," just remember two words. Click bait. A giraffe will perform Hamlet with a manatee at the Carnegie Theatre before the Lakers deal Bryant away. Any chance they have of being relevant the next year or two solely rests with Bryant being on the floor at Staples every night, putting butts in seats as he has done for more than 15 years. And no contending team, by definition, needs Bryant. He isn't a "put them over the top" player. He's a "we have to redo our whole team to support him" player. And teams willing to do that don't have pieces attractive enough for L.A. to even look at their offers. Not happening.
5) Condolences to the family of Tom Magliozzi, who made Saturday mornings fun for nearly two decades with his brother Ray on "Car Talk," the NPR show that was nominally about car repair, but was really a display for the teasing, affectionate relationship between Tom and Ray as they dished about life, relationships and everything else other than cars. It remains a show that you can listen to with your family, and laugh together. There aren't many of those anymore. Thank you, Click and Clack.
I dont know what i would do without @Uber i use it in almost every city
-- Nuggets rookie guard Gary Harris (@thats_G_), Tuesday, 8:45 p.m. You know what you would do, Gary? You'd catch a cab. Or get on the subway. Or, you'd walk, as humans have done for a few hundred million years as we gradually evolved and were able to walk upright. Man, I'm getting crabby in my middle age.
"There is an old English proverb: don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you."
-- Mikhail Prokhorov, during his visit to Brooklyn last week from whatever castle/world domination complex in which resides (I imagine it's hidden in the side of a mountain, like Blofeld's lair in the James Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"). Prokhorov was responding to questions about whether he was still angry with Jason Kidd for forcing his exit from the Nets after only one season, when Kidd wasn't able to gain additional authority over basketball operations in addition to his coaching duties.
"There is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am. Of course if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case."
-- President Barack Obama, during a radio interview with WJMR in Wisconsin, responding to a boast from Michael Jordan that he would have his way with the First Duffer on the golf course.
"I've never been in a game where a team scores 65 points and we have one foul. That, to the core, bothers me to no end. I mean, I have never seen that before. And I think the foul was late and it was a mistake; it probably wasn't a foul. So for me, I'm doing something wrong because that's as soft as you can probably get in a game. One foul at halftime? Are you [expletive] kidding me? I mean, that's as bad as I've seen."
-- Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, after his team was routed by the Warriors on Wednesday in Oakland. Rivers also said that the Clips would be swept by Golden State if they played them in the playoffs playing that way.
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