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So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

In NBA on July 1, 2013 at 12:38 pm

By Chris Hallenbrook 

Those of you who read my last post know I think that the Celtics are doing the right thing by blowing it up and rebuilding through the draft. Accordingly, this time I’ll steer clear of the business side of basketball and speak with the heart of a fan, a fan who bleeds green.

This one hurts folks, it really does. Paul Pierce has been around this team for so long that I don’t remember what life was like in this town before the Celtics drafted him. He’s given his entire NBA career to this franchise and this city. He played his heart out for the Celtics and their fans for 15 years. As a result, he is the second highest scorer in Celtics history behind only John Havlicek, as well as 3rd in games played, 3rd in minutes, 4th in assists, 7th in rebounds, 1st in free throws made, 1st in steals and 4th in blocks. But Pierce’s place in franchise history, and fans’ hearts, transcends the numbers. He was one of the last players the franchise had who knew the legendary Red Auerbach, and the last one who was close to the King of the Basketball Gods. At the beginning of the horrendous 2006-2007 season, on the night that the Celtics observed the passing of Red and dedicated the season to his memory, an emotional Pierce took the microphone and proceeded to dedicate every moment of every game of the rest of his Celtics career to the memory of the Celtics’ legendary patriarch. There isn’t a Celtics fan alive who doesn’t wish Pierce had ended his career as a Celtics lifer.

Garnett may have only played six seasons in Boston, but he has forever carved out a place in Celtics history. His intensity and defensive presence are at home with the greats, as evidenced by his fast friendship with the incomparable Bill Russell. The stares, the blocks, the 18 foot jumpers, and especially tossing Pau Gasol around like a rag doll in the ’08 Finals will always play over and over again in the minds of Boston fans, inexorable parts of Banner 17.

So while my head may know this trade will further the rebuilding process, my heart doesn’t want to come to terms with the fact that The Big Ticket and The Truth won’t be coming out of the tunnel in green anymore. No matter what happens going forward, no matter whose jersey they wear, they will always be Celtics in my heart and in my memory. If I were to have the opportunity to say just one thing to them as they leave it would be this: “You’ll be welcome back in this town any time KG. Paul, there won’t be a dry eye in the house the night we raise 34 to its rightful place in the rafters.”

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The Celtics Finally Blow It Up

In NBA on June 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

Well folks, Danny the Dealer has struck again, with Ainge trading releasing Doc Rivers from his contract with the understanding that his new employers, the Los Angeles Clippers, will compensate the Celtics with a first round draft pick in 2015. This move serves as acknowledgment as what became painfully obvious as the aging Celtics got smacked around by the New York Knicks in the first round this postseason, the Big Three’s run was fun, but their window for winning Division Titles, let alone NBA Championships, has slammed shut.

It should have been evident to anyone watching this past year’s Boston Celtics, even shameless homers like the late Johnny Most, that this team is past its prime and no longer ready for prime time. It would be easy to blame the season-ending injury suffered by Rajon Rondo, but when he went down this team was 20-23. Having gotten “younger” with 35 year old Jason Terry and 27 year old Courtney Lee just wasn’t getting it done. The Celtics have to go into a rebuilding period, the sooner the better.

So if Doc was lukewarm about rebuilding, moving him (and his $7 million annual salary), is a good idea. The Celtics need to rebuild about Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley, while continuing to add young talent. The best avenue to do that is through the draft, and with the Celtics currently stuck in mid-to-late first round purgatory, stockpiling additional picks is a no-brainier. But the Celtics have limited assets with which to collect picks, Doc being one (Rondo, KG and Pierce being the others). So dealing him and hiring a cheaper coach to teach the younglings is a shrewd business decision.

My only complaint from a business standpoint is that the Celtics didn’t get enough for Doc. In exchange for one of only four active NBA coaches to have won an NBA Title (along with Popovich, Spoelstra and Carlisle) they received a single first round pick, and it isn’t until the 2015 draft. That’s right, it’s not in the draft this coming week or even next year; it is two years down the road. This means the badly needed young help that an extra first rounder can provide is three seasons down the road. Unfortunately for Celtics fans like myself, this likely means that Danny anticipates a lengthy rebuilding process. Furthermore, the location of the pick will be determined by the results of the 2014-2015 Clippers, who if they resign Chris Paul next month can be expected to make a deep run into the playoffs, making this nearly a second round pick (although I have a bad feeling that the Celtics’ own pick will be much higher, perhaps making up for it).

And how is it that Danny only got one pick for Doc? The three years remaining on Doc’s contract gave the Celtics plenty of leverage and with the non-compete clause they did not have to do this deal or risk losing him to “retirement.” Why not say “two first rounders or bust,” or stand firm on the original demand that they take a bloated contract (Lee/Terry) off Boston’s hands, given that the Celtics best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) was having a great coach? My best guess is that the Clippers used their continued highly public interviewing of other quality candidates to single to Ainge that they also viewed their BATNA favorably and were willing to walk away from the deal. So at the end of the day, I have to accept that two first rounders, or a salary dump, just wasn’t going to happen, but I can’t shake the feeling that while this is a good business decision for my Celtics, they sold too low.

Warriors OT Loss Causes Two-Day Hangover in the Bay

In NBA on May 8, 2013 at 4:21 pm

By Jeff Gibson

The Bay Area was reeling Tuesday morning, afternoon, and night, after a double-overtime Golden State Warriors loss to the San Antonio Spurs the night before.

Like adults in their late twenties finding out their liver doesn’t work as well as it did in college, the hangover has surprisingly carried over to day 2. Everywhere I go, my Dubs hat prompts head shakes, displays of mutual disgust, subliminal “we should have pulled that one off”s. “That was our game to win.”

Mark wonders what went wrong. Courtesy csnbayarea.com

I roll into my favorite Oakland pharmacy and the guy behind the counter holds up his hands. “Man, I don’t wanna talk about it. I just got done with a fifteen-minute tirade.” We proceed to vent to each other for fifteen more minutes before I finally make my purchase.

On BART, the struggling rappers look at me like “Not today. Too soon to spit about it. Might as well sulk in these old smelly seats and scare old rich tourists.”

I see televisions with broken screens lining the sidewalks in front of houses — holes in them as big as remote controls.

Local radio stations, like 95.7 The Game, are wondering if the Warriors will be suffering the same hangover with which their fans have been diagnosed.

Even E-40 felt the need to tweet that the Dubs “ain’t no marshmallows mane!”

What you smoking, Mark? Courtesy godermag.com

But, Warriors. There’s one simple way to avoid going down 2-0. Learn from your mistakes. And quickly.

Most fans I speak with are questioning Mark Jackson’s substitutions. My friend and die-hard Dubs fan Drew See puts it perfectly, “Mark Jackson should have never put Curry, Jack, and Bazemore on the floor at the same time. Three mediocre defenders, and all undersized. It’s just common sense. 14-point lead. Disappeared. Like that. We played like the old Warriors.”

I’m assuming he means the Don “No-Need-to-Rebound” Nelson Warriors. See would know. He’s been a fan forever. He’s followed the Dubs since the 80s and finally has a reason to believe the Warriors future is promising. Like all Dubs fans do, what with plans for a sick new stadium potentially drawing high-profile free agents, in turn helping to ease what concerns most fans have for Steph Curry’s ankle holding up.

Giggity

But Dubs fans believe that future can also start now. With rookie forward Harrison Barnes and center Andrew Bogut playing with increased intensity, the loss of David Lee seems to have actually helped the team, dare I say it, giving these two more room inside and thus less focus the opposition can put on Splash Brother #1 Steph Curry.

I figured the Warriors would lose game 1. Maybe I was being pessimistic. But after getting so much closer than I thought we would have on Monday night, I’m more optimistic about our chances in game 2 tonight. It’s a must-win in my book. And a tied up series going back to Roaracle would give the Bay Area more reason to believe their team is getting better every game.

But it starts with Mark.

And as See puts it, even if the Spurs resort to a Hack-a-Bogut philosophy, he’s urging Mark Jackson to keep him in. “I bet Bogut could have hit more than a few free-throws in the last few minutes if he had a string of chances together.”

Bogut like Dubs fans hoped he’d be come playoffs.

I’m with See. With Bogut in, Dubs win.

Why Are You Still Watching ESPN?

In Media, MLB, NBA, NFL on May 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

By Jeff Gibson

Some people would consider it a character flaw I possess— the second anything becomes popular in America, I lose all desire to follow the masses in their blind passion for consuming mass-marketed garbage. Take Twilight, American Idol, Uggs, McDonalds, Sarah Palin, Bud Light lime, etc. Some people, like my girlfriend, claim I need to watch a movie/show before I dub it awful, or slip on a pair before I “hate”.

I wonder how they get people to buy this stuff. Courtesy zimbio.com.

Well, if you want to call it “hating” then I’m most definitely hating. I’m not sorry I can spot poop when I see it and smell it from eight feet away. I can judge it without having to eat it. I’m not a baby that has to put everything in its mouth to know what’s poop and what isn’t.

But I’m in my late twenties. I’ve got grey hairs on my chin.

What I’m saying is that it takes time to learn to spot poop. We’re not born knowing most marketing campaigns are designed to trick us. And that’s why marketing campaigns for poop are so profitable when executed correctly. Meaning, the least intelligent audience with the most disposable income is selected for consumption. Teenagers.

Jeter being mistaken for Robert Pattinson. Courtesy withleather.com

Well, unless you consider professional sports. But there are “teenagers” in professional sports. Most people call them bandwagon fans. I call them Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, Celtics fans, Heat fans, Giants fans, Patriots fans. Like poop, they’re easily identifiable. They’ve got on brand new gear, but didn’t wear a glove to the game and spend every inning gossiping about the cute boy wearing an Affliction t-shirt that went home with them last night. Or they’ve got a blue and white Giants hat on, flat-billed of course, and when you ask them if they’re wearing it to be ironic, they mug you and claim they’ve been a Giants fan their whole life. You smell poop. So you ask them what they thought of JR Phillips. You try players a bit more well-known. Robby Thompson? Royce Clayton? Alright alright. An easy one. Will Clark.

“You think you’re smart because you know all the coaches, bro?”

Poop again.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn I hold zero respect for All-Star games, in any professional sport. They’re popularity contests. And who are the voters? The same “fans” who don’t even know three players on their favorite team but will spend their entire welfare check on an authentic Patriots jersey of a player their team will waive next season. Did I mention they’re not even from Boston? Nor the East Coast?

Even if these “fans” are informed, they get shafted by the mainstream sports entertainment outlets who interview “experts”, aka “reporters” on their own payroll, to provide pre-chewed fluff to boost ratings. Touting the same players over and over and over again. Even my girlfriend knows who Tim Tebow is. And she can throw a football farther than him.

Pop-quiz. How do you profit off of two bored individuals bombing a marathon and killing innocent people? Or a gay basketball player fighting to simply be himself publicly? Ask ESPN, their ratings skyrocketed after these events, after they dubbed cowards pointing cameras and pundits spouting hate “heroes”. No, heroes help others. These selfish people earned profits for your corporation — maybe I should have included this network in that opening list up above, right between Sarah Palin and Bud Light Lime. The same network that allows one of their reporters to ask Golden State Warrior guard Steph Curry, arguably the best player in the history of the NBA to get shafted out of an All-Star appearance, whether the team can compete in the playoffs without their “All-Star” David Lee. How misinformed can you possibly allow your staff to become before a player calls you out on it? Can’t prove it either, see ESPN doesn’t like to leak anything online that proves how awful they are. At least they inspired Curry, judging by how he played the following game.

I have a better acronym for this broadcasting network. BS.

I wonder how they sell this stuff. Courtesy usatoday.com

At least with Twilight, American Idol, and all that other BS, there are myriad alternatives. In the sports broadcasting world, there are few to none.

TNT, CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC (nope, owned by Disney, same parent company as ESPN). If you think these networks are decent alternatives then that’s like believing the Angels lineup is dangerous. Hint: you’re misinformed and watching too much BS. But it’s not your fault. Just like it’s not teenagers’ fault they buy into the misinformation, the garbage dubbed entertainment (in middle school I owned a KORN t-shirt, seriously). They don’t know any better. But come on, not all of us are still teenagers. Are you? (Put the vampire fan fiction down).

We don’t have to continue this nonsense.

You can start by turning the channel away from BS and other networks that show clear biases in their sports coverage even though they claim otherwise. It won’t be as easy as telling your girlfriend you’re not going to the new Twilight premiere, but let’s face it. If you’re a real fan of your team, then you’ll tell the networks they aren’t important if they’re going to tell you that your team is not important.

If you’re at a bar and BS is on. Ask them to change it to a local channel. Support your local affiliates and your local affiliates will support you, eventually. It may take some time and energy, but seriously, when was the last time BS aired the Oakland A’s? Or the Golden State Warriors? The Colorado Rockies? The Sacramento Kings? The San Diego Padres? The Seattle Mariners? The LA Kings? The Arizona Diamondbacks? The Portland Trailblazers? The Oakland Raiders? And when they did, they had two broadcasters covering the game that couldn’t tell the die hard fans the difference between Jamarcus Russell and Marcus Allen, before touting the BS’s favorite to win for the duration of the game.

Joe Buck wondering why his microphone is made of wood.

If you’re a fan of the teams listed above, maybe it won’t take much energy at all. You don’t need some network based out of Maryland to tell you which teams are good and which aren’t.

Highlights? Please, you can find highlights on MLB.com, NBA.com, NFL.com. Are you that lazy, that truly American, where you have to have highlights spoon-fed to you? We’re not the society depicted in WALL-E, not yet. Hooray for the internet!

Heads-up. Cable companies won’t make it easy. Most sports television packages come with local and ESPN together, without an either/or alternative. So write to the cable companies, call them and tell them to stop supporting the BS. Stop hiring Joe Bucks and Tim McCarvers to spout out nonsense to more informed viewers (demand the local broadcasters get to move networks with their teams, especially for the playoffs!). You’d think the local companies would want a package that excludes the bigger companies, that way they could hold a bigger share of the market, in turn growing, possibly becoming a powerhouse sports network the West Coast desperately needs.

But I’m no business savant. I’m just a fan.

All I know is BS is BS.

And I’ll never root for Boston.

A Lottery Team Fan’s Guide to the NBA Playoffs

In NBA on April 19, 2013 at 8:53 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

The NBA playoffs are upon us, and for 15 franchises the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is “how far can we go?” (With all due respect to the Bucks, I have a better chance of sprouting wings and flying than they do of beating the Heat.) For the other 14 teams, it is that dread time of year when all you have to look forward to is seeing which former player they dust off and send to Secaucus New Jersey to try to woo the ping pong balls. (The lowest point of every Boston fan’s Celtic fandom was sending Tommy Heihnson and his lucky tie in the hopes of getting Kevin Durant.) This guide is for those fans who want a distraction between now and the lottery, a handy guide on who you can feel good about rooting for while hoping the ping pong balls reward your favorite team’s ineptitude. We’ll proceed by conference and seed.

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat. You can’t deny the talent; LeBron is one of the greatest there ever was. However, after that, let’s be honest, there is little reason to root for these guys unless you are a contrarian, a shameless front runner or were actually born and raised in South Beach. It is the ultimate mercenary team built around an amazingly talented player with the ego and prima donna nature to match. Not one, not two, not three…need I say more?

You must cheer for them if: you hate Cleveland or can’t get enough of Ray Allen in He Got Game.

You must root against them if: you are from Cleveland or suffered through “The Decision.”

2. New York Knickerbockers. The Knicks have been riding the top notch performance of the oft injured Melo and the steady hand of JR Smith to near the top of the Junior Varsity Eastern Conference. This is a Big Money team built for the Big Apple that has survived despite Big Injuries to its Big Names.

You must cheer for them if: you are an Orange fan and still love Melo for winning that national title.

You must root against them if: you hate all things New York.

3. Indiana Pacers. They’re young, their athletic and you probably don’t recognize a single name on their roster. In and of itself that means you can feel good about rooting for them. Of course, young teams go through growing pains, so don’t get too attached to them just yet. Also, remember that Larry Bird is no longer their team president, so your memories of the 1980s Celtics need not color your decision.

You must cheer for them if: you live in a flyover state.

You must root against them if: you know that their name comes from the Indy 500 pace car and hate yourself for knowing that.

4. Brooklyn Nets. In their first season in the House that Jay-Z built, the Nets have brought the swagger back to this sports starved borough. Behind the scoring touch of Brook Lopez and Deron Williams’ “I’m at my best when the games matter most” routine, they have sent a message to the boys in Manhattan that they can’t take Big Apple supremacy for granted.

You must cheer for them if: you still curse Walter O’Malley’s name

You must root against them if: you’re a Kardashian

5. Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have found a way to remain relevant despite playing the whole season without one of the most dynamic players in the game in Derrick Rose. Meanwhile, Noah has missed time on and off, yet Coach Thibodeau continues to earn his keep by milking wins out of this team. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Rose seems to have no intention of walking through that door any time soon, which is liable to make their stay in this postseason a short one.

You must cheer for them if: you still own Air Jordans or your favorite movie is Space Jam.

You must root against them if: Jordan ruined your hoops hopes and dreams (I’m looking at you Jazz fans)

6. Atlanta Hawks. The good news for this Hawks team is that will not be facing the Celtics in the first round given that if one thing is true of the KG Celtics, it is that they absolute own the Hawks. The bad news is that Josh Smith and Al Horford are both battling injuries, and that this team is from Atlanta. We all know that God hates Cleveland, but let’s face it, he doesn’t seem to be fond of Atlanta since the Braves were last seen being a perennial tease in the 1990s (one of the few teams ever to make one championship seem like an underachievement).

You must cheer for them if: you want the South to rise again.

You must root against them if: William Tecumseh Sherman is your homeboy.

7. Boston Celtics. What a strange season for the Celtics. When the news broke during a January game against the Heat that Rondo was done for the year, every Celtics fan kissed off this team’s chances. Then, they win that game against Miami in overtime. In the months since, the Celtics have lost rookie Jared Sullinger, who was leading the team in rebounds, for the season and yet have beaten such playoff bound teams as the Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets, Warriors, Knicks, Pacers and Hawks (seriously, there seem to be three constants in life: death, taxes and that KG & Co. will always spank the Hawks). On the other hand, they have also lost to the Bobcats…twice (and one of those was with Rondo). If KG and Paul Pierce are healthy, this team can hang with anybody in the East, including Miami. But with the time they have each missed down the stretch that is a Shaq sized “if.”

You must cheer for them if: you are a Bobcats fan (really, do your wins over them look better if they are one and done or if they take Miami to the limit in the Conference Finals again? That’s what I thought).

You must root against them if: you are a fan of any of the teams who had bad blood with Bird’s Big Three…which is basically everybody in the Eastern Conference and Southern California.

8. Milwaukee Bucks. Definitely a team you can feel good about rooting for. They are a young team that hails from a smaller market, although I wouldn’t get too attached given that they finished the season six games below .500. Led by the consistent scoring of Brandon Jennings and smothering defense of the combustible Larry Sanders (he makes Kendrick Perkins look calm), they’ve scrapped their way to an “only in the Eastern Conference” playoff spot.

You must cheer for them if: you’re a Virginia Commonwealth fan (Sanders’ alma mater)

You must root against them if: you can’t stand the idea of a team with a losing record making a playoff run

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder. After a run to the finals last year, this likable team seemed poised to compete for years to come. Then they traded James Harden to Houston in a move that made us all wonder if this ownership group is committed to winning. Well, the joke’s on us as the Thunder are right at the top of the pack again, with Durant ready to lead the team deep into the playoffs yet again. Still, you can’t help but think that the loss of Harden will come back to haunt this team when it matters most.

You must cheer for them if: you’re a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan

You must root against them if: you live in Seattle or are a Kings fan (just think how much harder it would be for the Maloofs to move the team if the Sonics still existed).

2. San Antonio Spurs. This team may not make headlines, other than for resting their starters en masse against the Heat, but they are still the Popovich-Duncan Spurs. This may be the first team in NBA history to “quietly” win 58 games. Health has been a concern at times, but Duncan seems to be relatively healthy, and that makes this team one that I would advise not betting against.

You must cheer for them if: you love a no drama team that just gets it done

You must root against them if: you’re a Mavericks fan

3. Denver Nuggets. Their motto really should be “No Melo, No Problem.” Despite a triple overtime loss to a depleted Celtics team right before the All-Star Break, the Nuggets posted the most wins by a Denver team since their old ABA days. A prolific offense (106 points per game) has covered up for a porous defense (101 points per game), which is never a good sign given that the cliché is true in any major North American sport: defense wins championships. They may make a run, but if they do it will be by winning barn-burners.

You must cheer for them if: you miss the red, white and blue ball of the ABA, or just want to spite Melo

You must root against them if: you have convinced yourself that Denver International Airport is the headquarters of the Illuminati/New World Order

4. LA Clippers. Ah the Clips, LA’s “other” team. Well, it took a little help from David Stern sticking it to the Lakers, overseeing a bag job of a trade, guiding Chris Paul to the franchise, but with the duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way, this team is the real deal. CP3 has been much of the reason as he has been the leader of this team on and off the court. All and all, it just goes to show that in today’s NBA you are never more than two or three players away from going from laughing stock to legitimate contender.

You must cheer for them if: like Paul you got stuck planning your high school reunions

You must root against them if: you hate acronym nicknames.

5. Memphis Grizzles. The only major pro team in Memphis has given a city better known for its barbeque plenty of reason to be a basketball town this year, winning 56 games in a campaign that would have been good for the two seed if they only played in the East. Marc Gasol has quietly lead the way for this team, being a steady presence in the middle and having a midrange game that just isn’t fair in a seven footer. Add to his the shooting touch of Rudy Gay and the post play of Zach Randolph (11 boards a game) and you have a team that could make some noise this spring.

You must cheer for them if: you can’t enough Tennessee barbeque

You must root against them if: you’re a Jazz fan or are still bitter about the Pau Gasol “trade”

6. Golden State Warriors. Raise your hands if you this coming. Okay, now put your hands down you liars. Stephen Curry and David Lee have make basketball relevant again in the Bay Area just one year after fans mercilessly booed team owner Joe Lacob during the ceremony to retire Chris Mullins’ number. This turnaround provides hope of all small market teams, because if after decades of front office stupidity the Warriors can turn this around, anyone can. Also, that Jacob can finally get something right proves yet again that the Maloofs are about as bad as it gets.

You must cheer for them if: want to see Oakland win a title before its best hope crosses the bay to San Francisco

You must root against them if: you think it’s foolish to call your team the “Golden State” anythings when there are three other pro teams in your sport in the same state

7. LA Lakers. Well this is how the Busses drew it up in the offseason, right? Acquire two elite talents in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, battle old age and injuries all season and clinch the seven seed (with help from a tie break) on the last night of the season? Okay, probably not, but all of that sure made for some great schadenfreude for all the Laker haters. While the Lakers certainly turned it on down the stretch, Kobe’s Achilles injury means he won’t be back no matter how deep they make it into the playoffs, so this is going to be a seriously uphill fight for a franchise unaccustomed to being the second best team in LA.

You must cheer for them if: you are related to someone on the roster, and even then, if Bill Walton can tell Luke, “you’re my son, but the Celtics are my team,” there’s no reason why you can’t take sides against the family too.

You must root against them if: you’re a Kings fan and, like my colleague Kevin Wolfman, you will never forgive Dick Bavetta

8. Houston Rockets. This team is a stats junkie’s dream. GM Daryl Morey has a degree in computer programming, an MBA from MIT and started in the Sabermetrics side of the house for the Celtics before taking over in Houston. He also once humored all of us by claiming that playing fantasy sports isn’t all that different from being a real GM. He is however sensible enough to take advantage of GMs who are too afraid to ante up, snatching up James Harden when the aforementioned Thunder decided avoiding the luxury tax was more important than going all out for a championship. This team is leading the league in scoring, but gives up points at an even more rapid pace than the Nuggets, which raises red flags going into the playoffs.

You must cheer for them if: you want Linsanity to take center stage again

You must root against them if: you count their leaving town among the long list of San Diego sports miseries

And there it is. Now you are ready to sit down and watch the NBA playoffs. There will be plenty of time to worry about bad breaks from the ping pong balls later.

Brittney Griner – Coming To An NBA Game Near You!

In NBA on April 12, 2013 at 6:31 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

Since Mark Cuban succeeded in bringing attention to his lottery bound Mavericks by saying that he would give Brittney Griner a tryout, or perhaps even draft her in the second round, much ink has been split on whether she can succeed in the NBA, with some going so far as to suggest she shouldn’t even try (of course, with an attitude like that we’d have never seen Billie Jean King put Bobby Riggs in his place and we’d all have to consult Jules Verne novels to imagine what it would be like going to the moon).

It's completely scientifically accurate.

It’s completely scientifically accurate.

If you’re like me, after the initial “Cuban being Cuban” reaction wore off, your mind went to down to Dixie, specifically to Chattanooga. Why? Because on April 2, 1931, the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts played an exhibition game against baseball royalty, the New York Yankees. The Yankees started their stars that day, and when 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell came out of the bullpen for the Lookouts, baseball lore was about to be made. You see, she struck out the first two batters she faced, a pair of gentlemen named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Of course, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, having become the first commissioner of baseball in the wake of the Chicago Black Sox scandal, celebrated her achievement by voiding her contract and hanging a “no girls allowed” sign on baseball clubhouses across the land. But armed with her precedent, I can only ask one question about Griner playing in the NBA: “why not?”

If there is one thing everyone agrees on about Griner, it is that she is the most dominant force the women’s game has ever seen. It’s not just that she is 6’8” and 208 lbs, her fundamentals and basketball instincts are superb. As a result, she holds the NCAA women’s record for slam dunks with 18 and the NCAA blocked shots record with 736. (Note the adjective that just dropped out. The all-time men’s blocks leader Jarvis Varnado accumulated a paltry 564 blocks in his college career.) But after this point comes the “yeah, but…” when the topic turns to Griner playing in the NBA.

Doubters point to the size that made her dominant in college as a liability in the NBA. After all, NBA centers like Dwight Howard (6’ 11”, 265), Brook Lopez (7’ 0”, 265), Al Horford (6’ 10”, 250), Joakim Noah (6’11”, 232) and Kendrick Perkins (6’ 10”, 270) all have the bulk to box her out and push her around in the post with relative ease. Of course, anyone who actually watches basketball will tell you that it isn’t all about size, there is this new fangled invention they call skill. But for the sake of argument I’ll concede the point and stipulate that she’s not built to be an NBA center. But there are other positions on the court, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that a player of her talent couldn’t switch positions, especially with the Celtics using Kevin Garnett at center instead of power forward in the aftermath of Danny Ainge shooting his team in both feet with a grenade launcher trading Perkins to the Thunder. The next logical place to look is power forward. Here the size problem is no less acute, given the likes of Chris Bosh (6’ 11”, 235), KG (6’ 11”, 253), LeMarcus Aldridge (6’ 11”), Dirk Nowitzki (7’ 0”, 245), Amar’e Stoudemire (6’ 11”, 245).

But what about small forward? Here high quality players include Kevin Durant (6’ 9”, 235), Paul Pierce (6’ 7”, 235), the ironically renamed Metta World Peace (6’ 7”, 260), Loul Deng (6’ 9”, 220) and to dip into the 1990s, Scottie Pippen (6’ 8”, 228), all of whom have a weight advantage on Griner, but no considerable difference in height. Now I can already hear the complaints: “really? You want to take a 5 and make her a 3? Take a post player and have her play away from the basket?” Admittedly, this is a different position with different skill sets, and she is likely to be at a disadvantage against speedy slashers like Carmelo Anthony (who is the same height as Griner). So yes, there would be challenges and this would not be an easy transition, but no one would be asking her to be the next great SF. Come off the bench, put in solid minutes, and this would be a win for both Griner (who with a $500,000 NBA rookie minimum would be making five times the WNBA veteran maximum and getting more exposure for endorsements than she ever could with the Tulsa Shock or Connecticut Sun) and a rebuilding Mavs team.

Britney Griner: Better than 2-out-of-3 Mavs starters

Britney Griner: Better than 2-out-of-3 Mavs starters

Are the odds stacked against Griner, sure. But so what? We won’t know if a female “big” can play in the men’s game until someone tries. Bob Cousy’s no-look, behind the back passes weren’t supposed to be able to work in the NBA, Dustin Pedrioa was supposedly too small to make it in The Show, let alone win AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP, and the NHL couldn’t possibly thrive in the Deep South (okay, the doubters were right about that one). My point is, this is sports; the crazy, the unbelievable, the impossible, the never-going-to-happen-I’ll-eat-my-hat-if-it-does is commonplace and is what makes the endeavor so grand. So if Cuban wants to do this, for basketball reasons or otherwise, and Griner wants to take up the challenge, I for one look forward to seeing whether she can channel her inner Jackie Mitchell.

Let’s Be Done With One and Done

In College, NBA on April 4, 2013 at 6:23 am

By Kevin Wolfman

Hit to Left Field’s own Jonathan Danielson put it well last week: the quality of play in this year’s NCAA tournament has kind of stunk. Marquette just scored 39 points in the Elite Eight, a shot-clock era low. Florida, a 3rd-seeded major conference team, got blown out by Michigan, a 4th-seeded major-conference team that many predicted would get dropped by VCU (not a major-conference team by any means) on opening weekend. The Final Four includes two four seeds and a nine seed. UCLA, perhaps the most famous program in college basketball history, got bent over by Minnesota. Minnesota!

To be fair, with a face like that, how could those Bruins resist?

To be fair, with a face like that, how could those Bruins resist?

What’s going on here? The simple answer is “parity,” which by itself sounds fine—commendable, even. But the reason for parity is disturbing, and gets to the root of college basketball’s problem: Parity isn’t at an all-time high because the so-called mid- and low-major programs have gotten markedly better—it’s because many of the traditional powers have gotten visibly worse. The top-3 of the national rankings was a Roulette wheel this year because no team truly deserved to be there the whole time.

You can blame the NCAA and the NBA for the Mister Magoo routines performed by so many “name” programs throughout the season and in the tournament. More specifically, you can blame the “one-and-done” rule.

Basketball, perhaps more than any other major American sport, highlights the abilities of individual players. A single star playing out of his mind can drag an entire team to victory. You don’t see this in, say, football, where a single star playing out of his mind gets concussed in the first quarter because his O-line makes sloths look quick on their feet.

That said, basketball is still a team sport. While individuals can do great things in single games, over the course of a season it takes a skilled, cohesive team to truly achieve on-court greatness. And there is little cohesion to speak at major-conference programs right now. Rosters are not teams; they are groups of talented individuals who don’t know each other very well. The most glaring example is Kentucky, where Coach Calipari’s experiment in bringing AAU ball to college beat the odds last year and ran headfirst into the brick wall of reality this time around. UCLA is another one, with the age-faking Shabazz Muhammad and his nuttier-than-a-box-of-almonds dad lying and scheming their way onto NBA draft boards everywhere.

When the nation’s best incoming freshmen have little intention of becoming sophomores or juniors, the major programs that recruit them have no time to develop team chemistry. Starting fives becoming a rotating cast of one-and-dones “doing time” in their non-paying collegiate prison, while the benches stay filled with the patient, team-oriented players dedicated to the program who lack the raw talent to jump to the next level at the first opportunity. The result is a glaring collection of chemistry-related flaws in many major-conference teams, flaws which the smaller programs—who do stay four years, grow with their teammates, and learn to execute their on-court roles precisely and without ulterior motives—exploit happily in March.

Pictured: An honest-to-goodness team.

Pictured: An honest-to-goodness team.

There are at least two possible solutions to this mess. The first is what Jonathan Danielson proposed last week—make college players stay on campus for three years before entering the NBA, just like the NFL does. This would certainly solve the major programs’ crippling attrition problem. On the other hand, many observers (including myself) are uncomfortable with the idea of keeping future professionals in school for years when they have no desire to be there and aren’t making any concerted use of the valuable (and expensive) academic offerings available to them. They’re just taking up spaces on class rosters that could be used by “real” students who are honestly enrolled in school to get a degree.

The second option is more attractive—just let the high school studs jump straight to the pros if they want to (again). Will this result in a lot of guys entering the draft prematurely and festering on NBA benches for several years before dropping out of the league altogether? Sure. But that’s their decision. They are adults, so let them make adult decisions. Leave college for the ones who actually want to, you know, go to college.

If an eighteen-year-old graduates high school and goes to work on a construction crew, or joins the military, or starts a landscaping business, nobody has a problem with it. But if that same eighteen-year-old is great at tossing a rubber ball into a hoop instead of drilling metal screws into wood or shooting M-16 ammunition at terrorists, and wants to make a living doing that, suddenly lots of people cry foul. This makes zero logical sense. If the young man thinks he has the skill and maturity to “make it” in pro basketball, and a pro basketball team agrees enough to hire him, what’s the issue?

For the NCAA, it’s obviously money. If the best high school talent in the country doesn’t play NCAA basketball, the NCAA’s product loses some of its luster. For the NBA, it’s expedience. Why take the time to develop 18-year-old talent when the college ranks are there to serve as a willing de facto minor league system? The education of young minds, naturally, comes into play for neither party.

The next Jordan

The next Jordan

And for ordinary folks who oppose the prep-to-pros jump, much of it likely boils down to simple jealousy—lots of people don’t like seeing young (and yes, often immature) young men get millions of dollars and a career without earning it the “old-fashioned way.” This smacks of elitism and condescension, and strangely enough, it’s rarely heard when talking about the latest crop of teenagers skipping college to play professional baseball. Why is that? Might it possibly have something to do with the fact that the young basketball players are (generally) poorer, blacker, and “tattoo-y-er” than the baseball players?

It’s time to throw “one-and-done” and all its related forms out the window. The NBA had it right the first time–the time of Teenage Lebron James, Teenage Kevin Garnett, and Teenage Lenny Cooke. Let the players play, and let the chips fall where they may. If someone’s old enough to die for their country on a battlefield, they’re old enough to entertain it on ESPN–or fail trying.

Kings Of Karma

In NBA on March 26, 2013 at 6:35 am

By Kevin Wolfman 

There are many words and phrases to describe the feeling of being unfairly treated by somebody in a position of power.

Used. Manipulated. Strung along. Jerked around. Messed with. Put upon. Screwed.

The ongoing saga of the Sacramento Kings, and their possible definite possible definite possible relocation to Seattle has given birth to a new one: Maloofed.

Maloofed: 1. (verb) Completely and unashamedly lied to and deceived by the most worthless owners in sports over a period of months and/or years. 2. (verb) Screwed by the shenanigans of the Maloofs.

For years, the Maloof brothers have presided over the Kings organization about as well as anyone with an ounce of common sense could have expected a family of business-illiterate trust fund party boys to—which is to say, terribly. After a brief period of competence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period which gave rise to what Sports Illustrated called the “Greatest Show on Court” and a throwback brand of frenetic hard-court showmanship that almost single-handedly pulled the NBA out of its post-Jordan doldrums, the Maloofs suddenly remembered they were Maloofs, and got right back to the more familiar business of losing or ruining everything they put their soft, caviar-smeared hands on—first a beer distributorship, then a Las Vegas casino, and finally Sacramento’s beloved Kings.

There’s no need to reproduce here an exhaustive list of all the idiotic, short-sighted, and/or callous decisions that have defined the majority of the last decade at ARCO Arena Power Balance Pavilion Sleep Train Arena (although the decision to name the arena after a company that makes bogus magic bracelets is certainly one of them). It will suffice to say, for our purposes, that Forbes gave them this unholy distinction for a reason. And it’s not like the Maloofs are the first terrible owners to come along. Clippers fans have been putting up with their slumlord owner for decades. Raider Nation endured a generation of Al Davis mistaking fast 40 times for actual football talent.

So the Maloofs have no monopoly on incompetence.

"I'm still telling you, Jamarcus Russell's going to be a star!"

“I’m still telling you, Jamarcus Russell’s going to be a star!”

But what sets the Maloofs apart from your garden-variety billionaire doofus or dick is their long-standing and unrepentant embrace of dishonesty and deceit. They haven’t just run the Kings worse than 99% of pimply teenagers with an Xbox and a copy of NBA 2k13 could–they’ve done it while literally lying through their teeth about their intentions every step of the way.

For years, the Maloofs insisted—at times outrageously, flaming with righteous indignation—that the Sacramento Kings were absolutely staying in Sacramento.

Then they tried to move the team to Anaheim—Anaheim!—in 2011. That gambit failed at the last second, thanks to the efforts of Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and the first-grade-level knowledge, shared by every powerful NBA affiliate with a functioning brain stem, that Anaheim is a terrible NBA market.

Following that embarrassing episode, the Maloofs still brazenly insisted, despite all obvious evidence to the contrary, that keeping the Kings in Sacramento was still their most heartfelt desire. They kept up the charade for a little bit longer, actually “agreeing” to terms with the city of Sacramento on a new arena construction deal in early 2012, an “agreement” made possible by an ungodly amount of cajoling and persuading from commissioner David Stern himself. The deal was approved by the city council in March, and the Maloofs soaked in the resulting thunderous applause and appreciation of a fan base ecstatic for the arrival, finally, of some basic stability.

And then the Maloofs reneged on the “agreement” only a month later, claiming that they were forced into it, and it was a bad deal for them, and mayor Johnson and the folks of Sacramento were big meanie-heads who hurt their feelings and didn’t share enough toys.

Speed kills common sense.

Speed kills common sense.

This was a lie, of course. The 2012 deal was ridiculously generous to the Maloofs, who had long been unmasked as an entitled gaggle of of deluded wannabes who had no business owning a Subway, much less an NBA franchise.

But even this quintessential “dick move” paled in comparison to the lie the Maloofs spouted repeatedly for years–before, during, and after the Anaheim debacle of 2011 and the arena sabotage of 2012. Through all of the bungling and stumbling that defined the 21st century in Maloof-Ville, there was always one fundamental constant: The Kings were NOT for sale.

Until, of course, they were. Until it turned out they actually were for sale the whole damn time—just not to anyone interested in keeping them in Sacramento.

Well, shoot.

Well, shoot.

Kings fandom erupted in January 2013, when reports came from practically out of thin air that the Maloofs had reached an agreement to sell the Kings to an ownership group from Seattle. After years of denials, years of righteous indignation, the truth finally came out. The Maloofs showed their true colors once and for all, which turned out to be “Anything but purple and black.” They negotiated with the Seattle group incognito, never telling anyone connected to Sacramento that the team was up for grabs. Never giving anyone with Sacramento ties a fair chance to purchase the team. This was by design. The Maloofs may or may not hate the Kings’ fans, but they certainly do disdain mayor Johnson and the city of Sacramento itself. So they decided to sell the team out of the blue, to an outside group, and screw Sacramento in the process out of pure spite.

Really? Seriously?

Really? Seriously?

And this is where karma comes in.

The NBA Board of Governors meets in mid-April, at which time it votes to approve or deny any sales of teams. By reaching an agreement with the Seattle group in January, the Maloofs gave mayor Johnson and the rest of Sacramento’s vaunted “Here We Stay” movement a full three months to line up its own roster of billionaires and put a counter-offer on the table for the Board of Governors to consider. Yes, the Maloofs, who spent years mastering the fine art of screwing Sacramento and its loyal fan base six ways to Sunday, couldn’t even do that right this time, the one time it would hurt the most. The Maloofs had Maloofed themselves.

In response, mayor Johnson worked some magic and lined up a blue-chip ownership group, headlined by 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and grocery billionaire Ron Burkle, in a matter of weeks. He announced the completion and filing of Sacramento’s counter-offer before the end of February, at his State of the City address. In the meantime, Kings fans rallied like no NBA fans had ever rallied before to keep their team. Millions of dollars were pledged from prospective season-ticket holders. Millions more were pledged from local corporate sponsors. A minority ownership group surfaced, headlined by none other than Kings legend Mitch Richmond. Sacramento’s city council voted 7-2 to basically get out of mayor Johnson’s way and do whatever it would take to keep the Kings in town. And oh-so-slowly, the whole “Kings-to-Seattle” narrative began shifting. “Definitely moving” became “well, maybe.” And while it happened, the whole country started learning the full extent of the Maloofs’ chronic and unforgivable Maloofery. (Yes, that is now a word, too.)

David Stern learned, too—in fact, he’d probably known all along. So when word first surfaced that the Sacramento group’s initial counter-offer was too low, he personally met with Mark Mastrov to break the news. Days later, Sacramento just happened to add Silicon Valley billionaire Vivek Ranadive to its blue-chip lineup. While Stern was one of the few people with detailed knowledge of the Seattle group’s offer, he was also under zero obligation to let Sacramento know how its own initial offer measured up But he did—and that speaks volumes. By doing so, he basically saved the Kings’ chances of staying in Sacramento. (He also took the opportunity to throw the Maloofs under the proverbial bus.)

The driver is now his personal chauffeur.

The driver is now his personal chauffeur.

The Maloofs don’t just want to sell the Kings—they want to rip the city of Sacramento’s heart out. Their final inglorious act as NBA owners will be to take the Kings away from California’s humble capital city, in one of the most lucrative, and disgusting, temper tantrums in sports history.

If they get their way. And lately, it’s been looking more and more like they very well might not.  The NBA can’t force the Maloofs to sell to the Mastrov/Burkle/Ranadive Sacramento group, but it can prevent them from selling to the Seattle group–or any other group–if it believes keeping the Kings in Sacramento is in the best interests of the league and its owners. At the mid-April Board of Governors meeting, there is now a very good chance that that’s exactly what will happen. The Maloofs may well be told, in so many words, that only a sale to the Sacramento group is acceptable. Not Seattle. Not Anaheim. Not Virginia freaking Beach. Not one of the other hundreds of other cities across the United States the Maloofs don’t have some inexplicable, visceral loathing for. Only Sacramento. Beautiful.

Here’s to karma coming through on this one.

Groin Altercations in the NBA: Why Things Probably Won’t Change

In NBA on March 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

By Jeff Weyant

Ibaka is either playing defense, casing the joint, or both.

Surprisingly, LeBron James said tweeted it best:

“So explain to me the difference? My teammate gets a 1 game suspension and 150k+ taking (sic) away from him for his groin altercation .”

He’s referring to the moment when Dwyane Wade kicked Ramon Sessions in the groin and was subsequently suspended for a game, a loss of salary amounting to around $150,000. At that time (late December – so like just two months ago) the league office felt that a “groin altercation” was worth a one-game suspension, even for a player like Wade who, the Heat organization repeatedly and annoyingly stressed, had never been suspended for anything over the course of his ten-year career.

But in the case of Serge Ibaka, the league office felt that a groin altercation (and one of the better ones in NBA history) was worth a measly $25,000 fine, and for a player who, like Wade, has also never been suspended in his NBA career (but, to be fair, he’s only been in the league four and a half years).

James is justifiably perturbed. As many folks around the internet have opined the last few days, how do Stern and Co. (continue to) come up with these seemingly arbitrary and always aggravating punishments for a wide variety of player and coach infactions?

And it’s not hard to view them as arbitrary: as Tom Ziller points out, “by upgrading the foul and issuing a fine, the NBA ‘s disciplinary arm led by Stu Jackson isn’t making a case that contact between Ibaka’s hand and Griffin’s groin was incidental. The NBA is telling us straight up that after review officials believe it was indeed intentional.” Which then makes it wildly strange that Ibaka wasn’t suspended, even wilder considering Wade was suspended in December for essentially the same move (along with DeMarcus Cousins, who nutted O.J. Mayo a few weeks earlier and was also suspended). So if groin altercations were worth a suspension in December, what gives now that it’s March? Did Stu Jackson make a New Year’s resolution to be kinder to his subjects?

“We beseech thee, oh king, to spare us your wrath!” “Okay, no suspension, just give me twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Better yet, how does Metta World Peace, who nearly killed James Harden last year near the end of the regular season and who has a rather jagged history when it comes to punishable infractions, only serve a seven-game suspension? And is there a wheel in Jackson’s office with dollar amounts on it and to determine fines he gives it a spin? And why do some people get suspended and fined whereas some simply get suspended? Does he work out loss of salary and decide if that’s a large enough fine? If DeMarcus Cousins has to sit two games because he yelled at a TV announcer, why does Matt Barnes, who tried to crush Grieg Stiemsma’s windpipe, only sit one game? If Dwight Howard forcefully put his elbow in another player’s throat in the 2009 playoffs and recieved a one-game suspension, why did Kendrick Perkins, who did the exact same thing a few weeks later, get to play the next game?

An attractive explanation is that there’s a system but it includes variables that no one would ever think to include and therefore we’ll never figure it out unless Jackson or Stern opens a door or two and lets us see inside the nucleus of the NBA league office (an explanation that’s as outlandish as the events it’s attempting to explain). But that’s not likely to happen and for the same reason everyone wants more transparency and also the same reason that none of these suspensions and fines make any sense: In order to retain power, you have to horde information. Information is key to sustaining hegemonic rule. Stern, like any despot, knows this. The more information he gives out, the more avenues of attack open up to his enemies (and yes, he almost certainly sees everybody outside the league office as an enemy, which makes Richard Nixon a strong comparison subject).

Also Dr. Evil.

You might argue that Stern’s despotism is ruining the NBA and that he’s driving the once-thriving league into a ditch from which it will be hard to recover. And that if only he’d create and/or release rules and regulations when it comes to suspensions and fines (say, every general infraction has a set fine or suspension and every repeat infraction ups the fine on top of whatever it would normally be and at a certain point every finable offense is a suspension, and so on) things would all make sense and we wouldn’t have this problem and the NBA would be great and nobody would ever complain.

But Stern is smarter than that. He knows we’ll complain about anything. He also knows that what he’s done (specifically in the last decade) in terms of secrecy and inadequate disclosure hasn’t hurt the league at all. But then when he uses the phrase “hurt the NBA” it means something different than when you or I use it. For Stern, if something impacts the financial well-being of the league in a negative manner, it’s hurting the league. Anything else is basically irrelevant (which is to say it’s contingent upon the financial well-being of the league). For most of us, the prosperity of the league is secondary to the integrity of the league. But, according to Stern, how wrong we are. . .

As of March 2013, the NBA has never been more popular nationally or internationally and it’s only growing, making greater strides every year. Coffers are fuller (thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement), stars are bigger (thanks to technology and communication advances like Twitter, YouTube, and the internet in general), endorsements are more common (Diet Pepsi, of all things, has its own stable of NBA spokesmen), and each year the international competitions (Olympics, FIBA, EuroLeague) grow in popularity and competitiveness, both inside and outside the US. And this is all in spite of Stern’s Nixon-esque turn as NBA Commissioner.

So don’t expect more transparency. Stern’s heavy-handedness hasn’t stopped the league from increasing viewership and sponsorship every year (a trend which doesn’t show any real signs of fatigue or exhaustion) and if that’s the case, the only people that can exert meaningful pressure on him to change (the owners) will never do it. Because everyone in business, sadly, thinks the same way: if something ain’t broke (i.e. it’s profitable), don’t fix it, don’t touch it, don’t even look at it.

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