What to make of the ESPN front-office rankings

If you’re in the habit of discussing the New York Knicks with a friend, family member, coworker or even the occasional stray cat, like sports-centric subset of Godwin’s Law, eventually the conversation will turn to James Dolan.

Typically, if casual fans know who a team owner is by name that’s probably not a good sign. Quick, without Googling, who owns the San Antonio Spurs? We can wait. Yeah, I couldn’t pick Peter Holt out of a lineup, either. There are many ways to classify failure in basketball, but by any measure, Dolan checks off all of them. So, when the ESPN Forecast panel ranked current NBA front offices this week it wasn’t stupefying to find Dolan ranked dead last.

It’s a crowdsourced list, and there’s no objective measure (aside from wins and losses, of course) to rank ownership. It’s a subjective mainly emotional evaluation, and the fact that Dolan’s a punching bag/punch line throughout the league means that even the smart NBA writers at ESPN are going to rank him badly. I could go back through all the basketball-related decisions Dolan has made since taking over the Knicks, but that’s no longer necessary after this shocking  proclamation.

To be fair, most owners probably aren’t experts in the sport they’re involved in because their area of expertise is in an entirely different realm. And that’s okay, but only if they acknowledge that and leave the basketball personal to somebody who actually is an expert in basketball, football, soccer, etc. There will always be hands-on owners in sports, and some will find success, while others will not. Dolan is on the latter end of this. But hey, he’s making progress. Maybe.

When you’re ranked behind Donald Sterling in any aspect of life, that’s a major concern. However, if this listicle returns next year around this time Dolan could be significantly higher if things stay the course, and more importantly, Dolan sticks to his word. Owners often get credit for the work their general manager’s do. Sure, they deserve credit for hiring successful GM’s, but that’s typically where the credit should cease.

Clay Bennett being ranked 11th on the list is a perfect example of this odd phenomenon. You could make the case Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder’s GM, is the best general manager in the NBA today. Not definitively of course, but he’s in the conversation. The Thunder have become a model organization, but how much of that is really due to Bennett’s oversight? There isn’t an easy answer because we don’t really know the inner-workings of the organization. The fact remains, ranking owners is an onerous task because who really deserves the most credit for a team’s success; the owner or the general manager? Or even the head coach?

It’s a difficult and complicated task to accurately and fairly rank the owners. Mikhail Prokhorov and Jerry Reinsdorf both found themselves in the top-10 on the list when you could make the case that neither are truly deserving of that spot. Prokhorov has what appears to be an unlimited bank account, along with having no regard for the salary cap, and it’s led to back-to-back playoff runs. Reinsdorf operates in a more conservative approach, but thanks to his hire of Tom Thibodeau the team has over-achieved. Prokhorov and Reinsdorf are bizarre individuals, like Dolan, but the team franchise hasn’t been the circus the Knicks have been under Dolan through the years. Sure, things have been rocky at times in Brooklyn and Chicago, but they can continue to get away with it because the bottom hasn’t fallen out. To prevent that, you have to hire the right people.

Phil Jackson reportedly has complete control of basketball-related decisions for the Knicks. Dolan relinquishing that power is manifestly a good thing, but we already established that. What hasn’t been established is the assumption that if Phil turns things around for the Knicks sooner rather than later. Dolan’s public image will probably start to shift into a much more positive light. If things go poorly, at least early, the easy target will be Dolan.

If Phil isn’t able to right the ship he most likely won’t get blamed for it because the narrative will be something to the tune of, “things were just too far gone to be appropriately fixed.” It’s a win-win situation for Phil because he’s seen as the hero Gotham has needed (Donnie Walsh anyone?) for years to save the citizens from Dolan’s wrath. It would take Phil trade four first-round picks for JaVale McGee or something of that sort for the fans to really turn on Phil. And even then most would probably expect it was Dolan meddling or something of that nature. If Phil succeeds Dolan looks a little better to the fans because he finally got out of his own way. If Phil fails, Dolan is the fall guy and falls right back into that villain role. If he still doesn’t occupy that role for most fan’s, of course.

What the 2013-14 Knicks’ season looks to have shown Dolan is that the only way for him climb out of being ranked dead last in these types of rankings is by simply doing less. Less is more is a tired cliche, but it’s one that holds true for owning a sports franchise. Employ great basketball minds beneath you, stay out of their way, and good things will come. Just ask Clay Bennett, Peter Holt, Micky Arison, Wyc Grousbeck and Herb Simon. If Dolan sticks to his word and lets Phil work his magic (or is it Zen), maybe he can join this list of successful NBA franchise owners.

TrueHoop Network 2009-10 Season Preview: New York Knicks

CROWD SAYS/BLOGGER SAYS
The consensus win total prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers and my own prediction.

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 32-50
CROWD SAYS: 31-51
BLOGGER PREDICTION: 35-47

YES WE CAN!
The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

If I’m allowed to be optimistic, 2010 could be New York’s return to winning. Last year the team suffered from roster instability and a lack of depth. As the front office transitioned away from the Isiah era, 23 different players donned Knick uniforms. With Lee and Robinson signing one year deals, this season should see improved continuity as the core of the team returns with some reinforcements. Newly acquired Darko Milicic, a slimmed down Eddy Curry, a healthy Danilo Gallinari, the 8th overall pick Jordan Hill, and rookie Toney Douglas will give Coach D’Antoni some more options with his rotation.

This year the offense should improve, especially if Gallinari plays more in his sophomore season. Gallo shot extremely well as a 20 year old rookie, and if his first year stats are indicative of his skill level, he’ll thrive in D’Antoni’s offense. Meanwhile Eddy Curry has always been able to score, but his Achilles Heel on offense has been turnovers. D’Antoni’s offensive scheme should use Curry in screens and off the ball more, as opposed to solely dumping the ball to him in the post. This should cut down on his turnovers while getting him the ball near the hoop more often, an area where Curry thrives. Defense will still be a weakness this upcoming season, but with the additions of Milicic, Hill, and Douglas the Knicks could see a modest improvement.

Looking at the changes since last year, the Knicks have strengthened their roster, should improve their offense, and will remain about the same on defense. Hence it makes sense for the team to improve on their 32 win total of 2009. How much will be seen, but if the stars align in New York, it’s possible that they will end their drought of 8 consecutive winless seasons.

NO YOU WON’T
A rousing dissent from a rival blogger.

The Knicks suck because they mortgaged their future on a pipe dream that hinges upon the rapid development of Wilson Chandler ans some guy that Italians call the Rooster.
— Jared Wade, Eight Points, Nine Seconds

ALL A TWITTER
A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.

nate_robinson

“In the locker room sit n next to ill will chandler, try n to give him tips on how to stop mr. D.Wade aka Flash, good luck will kick a$$ !!!”
5:05 PM Apr 12th from TinyTwitter

Nate Robinson giving teammate Wilson Chandler defensive tips, right before the Heat’s Dwyane Wade scores 55 points on the Knicks.

ON THE RECORD
Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

“Are they ******* kidding me? Are they ******* kidding me?”

Coach Mike D’Antoni during the opening day laugher win against Miami while Knick fans cheered “We Want Steph!” In a single televised lip-read gesture D’Antoni showed, in a very New York-esque manner, that the inmates no longer ran the asylum.

The 2008-09 Almanac
Some key stats from last season.

Offense: 17th
Defense: 23rd
Pace: 2nd

Team Factor Strength(s): Free Throws Allowed (7th) Team Factor
Weakness(es): Shooting Allowed (28th), Free Throws (28th), Offensive
Rebounding (27th)

Don’t expect the Knicks to lead the league in offensive rebounding anytime soon. Over the last 5 years, D’Antoni coached teams have finished in the bottom half in offensive rebounding percentage. Thrice his Suns finished last or second to last, and last year’s Knicks were 27th.

YEAR - TEAM - RANK
2005 - PHO  - 22nd
2006 - PHO  - 30th
2007 - PHO  - 29th
2008 - PHO  - 29th
2009 - NYK  - 27th

THE PLAY
Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?

Needing a single point the Knicks should go with a Duhon/Lee pick & roll, while spreading the floor with Gallinari, Harrington and Robinson. Although Duhon struggles to score in the paint, forcing him towards the basket isn’t an ideal defensive approach. Lee is too efficient around the hoop to leave alone (and superb at scoring with contact) so teams would have to consider doubling him. Duhon is excellent at finding the open man should a defensive breakdown occur. And if anything goes wrong, plan B would be to give the ball to Nate (or Harrington) and allow them to improvise.

THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE
The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Unlike last year, the Knicks should have plenty of depth in the front court. Lee, Harrington, Curry and Milicic will see the lion’s share of minutes. Add D’Antoni’s penchant for small ball, and it’s hard to see a lot of minutes for #8 pick Jordan Hill.

IF YOU’RE WATCHING THE BOTTOM LINE, YOU’RE WATCHING THIS
The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

For New York, the 2010 season doesn’t matter as much as the summer following it. Donnie Walsh has to balance between making the team competitive to lure a major free agent and having the cap space to sign one or more stars. A major question he needs to answer is: Can the team afford to keep David Lee and Nate Robinson long term? Losing either or both without compensation would be a tough pill to swallow for a team without a first round pick that is looking to be competitive.

TEAM BLOGGERS SAY WINS*

Bret Lagree | Hoopinion

“The Hawks have not built, nor do they appear to be building, a championship contender. … Joe Johnson is poised to be a free agent in the summer of 2010. Johnson is not a franchise player, yet he’s the Hawks’ best player.”

45

Zach Lowe | CelticsHub

“It seems reasonable to say anything short of an 18th championship would be a disappointment.”

58

Brett Hainline | Queen City Hoops

“Great defense + equally bad offense = average. With an improving division around them, that equation does not get them their first playoff berth. But at least they won’t suck.”

36

Matt McHale | By the Horns

“During the offseason, the Bulls lost free agent Ben Gordon, whom many people considered the team’s best or second-best player (after Derrick Rose). Memo to Chicago fans: Don’t sweat it. Seriously. Gordon will be replaced by John Salmons, who not only gave the Bulls almost as many points per game (18.3 versus 20.7) but was slightly more efficient in how he scored them.”

43

John Krolik | Cavs the Blog

“After last season’s playoff heartbreak, Danny Ferry has changed up the equation … However, Shaq could disrupt the delicate offensive and defensive chemistry the Cavaliers rode to 66 wins and the conference finals, despite the fact he will be the best player LeBron has ever played with if he continues to play like he did last season. The big question for the Cavs this seasons whether they overreacted to two clutch 3s by Rashard Lewis, or made the risk they needed to take to finally get LeBron a ring.”

61

Rob Mahoney | The Two Man Game

“’Rebuilding’ teams seek financial flexibility and the acquisition of young, productive assets. Quality squads amass veteran talent, no matter the cost, in pursuit of a title. Defying all logic, the Mavs have simultaneously moved in both directions.”

50

Jeremy Wagner | Roundball Mining Company

“The only players still on the roster who exceeded expectations in 2008-09 were Nene and Birdman. It is reasonable to expect every member of the Nuggets, other than thirty-something Chauncey Billups, to improve.”

53

Dan Feldman | PistonPowered

“However the minutes shake out between Chris Wilcox, Kwame Brown and Ben Wallace, they won’t be as good as Rasheed Wallace. But Sheed wasn’t that great last year. He looked old and disinterested, so the drop here won’t be too steep.”

36

Rasheed Malek |Warriors World

“Under the ownership of Chris Cohan, the Warriors have made the playoffs exactly one time and have gone through numerous coaches, players and executives. Going into this season, Larry Riley is the man in charge taking over for Chris Mullin.”

28

Anup Shah and Brody Rollins | Rockets Buzz

“The speed revolution has overtaken some of basketball’s peers, most notably football … Is basketball headed in the same direction? [Aaron] Brooks provides an excellent case study. Beginning the year as the Rockets number one threat on offense with Ron Artest’s departure and injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Brooks will have every opportunity to prove that size really doesn’t matter.”

39

Jared Wade | Eight Points, Nine Seconds

“It’s hard to believe that anything short of the postseason will remove the dark cloud over Conseco. … Ultimately, it will come down to one thing: [Mike Jr.] Dunleavy’s knee.”

32

Kevin Arnovitz | ClipperBlog

“[Blake] Griffin and [Eric] Gordon may not be saviors, but they’re something. Griffin’s skills and his tenacious work ethic (the guy runs up sand dunes in his free time) will be a boon to a team desperate for cultural overhaul. Gordon offers an enticing combination of spot-up shooting and forays into the paint. He finished third in true shooting percentage among starting off guards in his rookie campaign, something that can only help a team that ranked dead last in offensive efficiency last season.”

32

Kurt Helin | Forum Blue and Gold

“God, is it good to be hated again.”

64

Chip Crain | 3 Shades of Blue

“The 2009-10 version of the Grizzlies have put together a starting five where every player scored 30 points or more in a game last year. The oldest starter is only 28 years old (Zach Randolph) and the youngest won’t turn 22 until after the start of the season (O.J. Mayo). They are young, talented and hungry for success. So why do most people focus on the two players not on a rookie contract this season?”

20

Matthew Bunch | Hot Hot Hoops

“38.6 minutes. 30.2 points. 49.1 percent shooting. Five rebounds. 7.5 assists. 2.2 steals. 1.3 blocks. That’s what [Dwyane] Wade averaged last season. You’re going to keep that guy out of the playoffs? Good luck.”

44

Jeremy Schmidt | Bucksketball

“If the Bucks get anything out of their three small forwards, if they can keep [Andrew] Bogut and [Michael] Redd healthy and if they get a season worthy of the number ten selection out of Brandon Jennings at the point, the playoffs will be within reach. But that’s a lot of ifs.”

29

Patrick Hodgdon | Howlin’ T-Wolf

“”Ever since his arrival, David Kahn has had seemingly one mission, other than to look like the smartest guy in the room at every turn, and that is to get as much cap space for next summer as he possibly can. … The obvious question lies in whether or not the Wolves will actually be able to lure one of the better free agent players to come to Minnesota.”

23

Mark Ginocchio and Sebastian Priuti | Nets are Scorching

“Lingering doubts about Brooklyn could spoil any change the Nets have of landing a top free agent next summer.”

29

Niall Doherty and Ryan Schwan | Hornets247

“Enter Emeka Okafor. He’s a near match to a healthy Chandler, is more durable, and doesn’t look like he’s having muscle spasms when making a post move.”

47

Mike Kurylo | Knickerblogger

“2010 could be New York’s return to winning.”

31

Royce Young | Daily Thunder

“The Thunder may not win more than half their games, but with over half the roster unable to get an alcoholic beverage still, steady improvement and progression is the name of the game.”

34

Zach McCann | Orlando Magic Daily

“Take away either Hedo Turkoglu or Courtney Lee and the Magic aren’t getting to face the Lakers in the Finals. No way. But does that mean the Magic were wrong to let them go? Were the Magic foolish to allow a borderline All-Star and a possible future All-Star leave the team when both clearly wanted to stay in Orlando? Absolutely not. I believe the Magic are an entirely better team than they were four months ago.”

59

Carey R. Smith | Philadunkia

“The travesty of a deal that Billy King gave to Samuel Dalembert remains easily one of the worst contracts in NBA history. Hopefully this season Dalembert, his inflated self-worth and his contract will be dealt for a couple of expiring contracts and some much-needed cap space.”

39

Michael Schwartz | Valley of the Suns

“Two years ago the Suns were chic championship picks. Last year, the Suns were (accurately) thought to be a fringe playoff team. This year there are almost no expectations outside of their locker room. … There will be no mistaking what the Suns are this season: a lightning-speed team that will score points in bunches and likely give them up almost as quickly while struggling badly on the boards. But they will once again be the most exciting team in basketball.”

46

Max Handelman | Beyond Bowie

“The Blazers effectively bumbled their way to a 54-win season despite a mediocre performance from Greg Oden, the loss of Martell Webster for the season, and at times starting three rookies. This team is only getting better, kids.”

53

Zach Harper | Cowbell Kingdom

“Enter Tyreke Evans — a bulldozer-sized menace who will test the strength of every team’s defense at its entry point. He immediately creates matchup problems against teams with traditional point guards and will look to have a similar impact as fellow Memphis alum, Derrick Rose.”

22

Timothy Varner | 48 Minutes of Hell

During the Celtics heyday, Red Auerbach boasted a winning percentage of .719. In the modern era, Pat Riley’s Showtime Lakers played to the tune of .733. Phil Jackson’s Jordan Bulls dominated the 90s with an otherworldly percentage of .771. Jackson’s three-peat Lakers? .735. In his 12 seasons with San Antonio, Gregg Popovich, whose cynical disdain for the regular season runs more than skin deep, has, nevertheless, posted a winning percentage of .707. That’s the company the Spurs keep. What should we expect this season? 58 wins and a run at the title. Same as every other year.”

55

RaptorsRepublic

“How is a rookie(ish) head coach going to integrate nine new players into a new system with two new assistant coaches?”

41

Spencer Ryan Hall | Salt City Hoops

“With young Wesley Matthews providing the good luck charm, Boozer in a contract year, Deron Williams with a chip on his shoulder, and a new longer-haired version of Andrei Kirilenko the Jazz have no reason to be anything other than beastly this season. And I mean that in a good way. Every prediction from the Jazz camp, however, comes with the ominous caveat ‘If we can stay healthy.'”

46

Kyle Weidie | Truth About It

“Flip Saunders has never gotten a team ‘there.’ That worn out cliché always runs rampant, plaguing almost every coach who hasn’t won … until they win. Red Auerbach (647), Larry Brown (1,900), and Dick Motta (738) all took their lumps before winning a championship (games coached before title season). Don’t be surprised when what you think is impossible becomes a reality. … 2010 is the Chinese Year of the Tiger. Factor in Gilbert Arenas’ stomach tattoo and the fact that the Wizards play their home games in D.C.’s Chinatown, and all the cards are in place.”

42

* As predicted by a consensus of all TrueHoop Network bloggers.

Marbury Agonistes

I feel the crushing need to say something in this, the quietest off-season in eons, about our former prodigal son, Starbury, especially now that he’s tweeted his retirement. (of sorts)…

For those who might have missed it, back in July, our man in Coney Island first decided to broadcast himself live on Ustream for 24 consecutive hours. Here’s a partial transcript: http://nbamusings.com/marbury-24hr-transcript/

I found myself checking in from time to time over the course of that day. And honestly, it was unfathomably compelling. He argued with the cable guy. He traded barbs with fans commenting. At one point he said, “Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me!” for what seemed like five minutes. He danced. He gave us a tour of his summer home. The “show” just followed a famous person while he had what appeared to be an uneventful Sunday at home, babbling to himself (and the thousand or so folks watching). Granted, what he said did have that particularly Steph-brand of arrogance and weirdness.

So why couldn’t I stop watching?

It wasn’t that I wanted to “catch” him doing something kaboobernuts. Though to some, dancing to “Barbie Girl” and getting a massage from his bro was crazy and Jeff Stryker-esque. I won’t even begin to delve into the social/racial/sexual politics that come full flower (pun intended) with this one. For those inclined, Kevin Arnovitz does a swell job of parsing through the homophobic nonsense and Haywood’s subsequent non-apology. (On a personal note, now I’m even gladder that Etan Thomas whupped Haywood’s ass back in the day)

Starbury’s most common declaration throughout the course of the ‘show’ was some bellowed, top-of-his-lungs variation on: “They can’t put me in a box!” The smack-you-in-the-face irony for those watching is that Marbs was trapped in that rectangular box on our desk (the computer). Plus, he didn’t leave his home – trapped again in what appeared to be a very expensive well-furnished box somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

Ostensibly, what I assume Stephon meant was that this “unfiltered” broadcast couldn’t be edited to frame the perception of him as a person (as I assume he thought was the case with his “best PG in the NBA” comment or the infamous Bruce Beck interview). Here he’d be free to present his “true” self. The general consensus from the blogosphere was  – “See! Steph is bipolar/crazy/on drugs (the latter being semi-proven when Steph thought it might be a swell idea to tape himself hotboxiing it in an SUV: http://www.tmz.com/2009/08/14/marbury-gets-blunt-i-smoke-marijuana). As utterly foolish as that may have been from a self-marketing perspective, it’s really not a story or particularly newsworthy at all.

I can only imagine that Marbs’ thought process was: “This is the real me. I’m showing the people something real. THEY CAN’T PUT ME IN A BOX!!!!” Which I get. If you’ve ever come to see one of my plays (shameless plug: Next show in Nov!), you’ll know that the schism between the interior self (isolated, unknowable) and the public image (always contrived, false) is one of my pet memes. I think Marbs is consumed by this as well. More so than your humble correspondent because his public persona is far more public than mine. And his persona is unfortunately determined by a-holes in the sporting press who’ve decided he’s bipolar/crazy/on drugs/etc. I get the Box thing. He is in a box. It must be maddening – the notion that any private self is both non-existent and constantly available for consumption and scrutiny. The brutal irony is that this attempt to define his own existence and identity has only resulted in even more people deciding who he is.

So that’s why I couldn’t stop watching. It was heartbreaking (not in the “he’s screwing himself out of ever playing in the NBA sense). He was fighting for his very existence, his very soul.

But for those who do think Stephon has lost it, what can one actually learn from livestreams and 140-character snippets? Do I feel like I know more about N8 because he was tweeting whilst getting pulled over by the Po-Po’s? It’s just another mediated exchange – not actual human interaction (although far more compelling than the usual slew of media clichés one gets from athletes – see the seminal “Bull Durham” scene where Costner schools Nuke LaLoosh in the art of the meaningless cliché — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeVca9MwDX8 )

At the time, I just thought the scene was funny. But it makes loads more sense now. I don’t think one wants to see the athletes we spend hours pondering as ‘real’ people sharing many of our hopes, dreams, and fears. If they’re real, they can’t be heroes, gods, or legends. They’re just schmucks like the rest of us with horrible, bone-crushing, human failings and weaknesses. I’m certainly not plunking down $300 for a ticket to watch actual people with flaws try to do something inherently inane (put a leather ball in a steel ring whilst wearing shiny underwear).

We abide in our fictions…

2009 Summer League: Game 2 Recap

The game 2 results seemed a lot like game 1 on an individual level. Jordan Hill shot an identical 6-14 and Toney Douglas set up the offense with 10 assists, but had trouble scoring. Inexplicably Tskitishvili looks like an NBA player, this time scoring 12 points on 9 shots, hitting 4 of 8 from downtown. Morris Almond had a subpar shooting nite, but chipped in with 4 steals.

From what I saw, Hill just doesn’t like to take the ball to the hoop and prefers to resort to fall away hooks and turn around jumpers. He did have an alley-oop, but that was on a fast break when he had a clear path to the rim. Douglas reminds me of the Knicks current point guard Chris Duhon. Good at breaking down the defense and dishing the rock, but just can’t find his own shot.

Skita was on fire from downtown, but didn’t bring any intensity in the paint on either end. It was a Wang Zhi Zhi kind of effort. Considering he has played nearly a game’s worth of minutes over Sene (44 to 20) he has the inside track on a big man roster spot, should one open. Blake Ahearn has been disappointing. Granted he’s scored 18 points on 16 shots, but he’s only hit one of ten from downtown. At times he seems to be miscast as a point guard, often having trouble bringing the ball up the court or starting the offense from 30+ feet away. One saving grace has been ability to draw fouls, and he’s been automatic from the charity stripe (11-11).

What worried me the most is that the team was flat defensively. They allowed Detroit to score 30 in the opening quarter, and 29 in the final 10 minutes. Douglas and Hill were supposed to give the Knicks a boost on that end of the floor, but neither were able to hold the tide against Detroit’s summer league squad. Hill looked especially bad, and received this poor review from True Hoop’s Kevin Arnovitz:

Hill also seemed a little passive as a post defender, even against the likes of Trent Plaisted. Hill stayed in close proximity on defense to his assigned man, but rarely tried to knock his guy off his spot. In general, the closer Hill was to the basket, the less comfortable he was.

I know it’s silly to suggest summer league coaching suggestions, but where was Mouhamed Sene? New York needed some help in the paint, and Sene out rebounded Tskitishvili in less than half the minutes. Team results don’t matter much, but perhaps it would be better to team Hill, Almond, and Douglas with other players to see how they perform with different skillsets on the floor.

If I Ruled the (NBA) World…

So, if David Stern…

david-stern

let me be the next NBA commissioner here’s what I’d do…

Well actually, before I start changing anything let me say a few words about what is right and what is wrong with the league.

The NBA’s big picture is actually pretty good, all things considered (even if rumors persist about owners gearing up for a lockout).

What’s Right About the NBA?

1. The Product. Right now I’d say that the NBA offers the best on-field product, followed by MLB, with the NFL running a somewhat distant third among the three major sports leagues. That may surprise some given the NFL’s popularity, but that’s another post for another day. Suffice it to say that the top-to-bottom quality in the NBA right now compares favorably to any time since the late 80s and appears to be bringing the viewers back.

2. Competitive Balance. One of David Stern’s wisest decisions was to listen patiently to calls to change the existing playoff structure to a seed-by-record format, and then stick with the one we have. Stern took the long view, that competitive balance is dynamic and rarely more than a couple of drafts and free agent moves away from equilibrium. Playoff schemes from a couple years ago that tacitly assumed Western Conference hegemony would last forever already seem outdated.

Overall the league’s fundamentals are solid but beneath the surface there are issues that could become major impediments to success should they go unresolved.

So, What’s Wrong with the NBA?

As commissioner, I’d focus my efforts on what I see as the league’s two major problems under my purview.

1. Executive Talent. The biggest long- and short-term problem for the NBA is a serious shortage of executive talent. As I said in a 2007 post:

If I could play David Stern…, rather than tinker with playoff formats I’d look to find ways to replenish the pool of talented executives entering the league.

I would stake my legacy on creating a system to find and develop new executive talent both for the league office and the teams. Despite being light years ahead of MLB and the NFL in its hiring practices, NBA hiring is still pretty cliquish and that is a primary reason so many franchises remain stuck in mediocrity or worse. Teams just keep turning over the same set of guys and a few of their proteges. Although the number of truly wretched GMs in the league has dwindled, a lot of older executives need replacing–or will soon.

I would start an “Executive in Residence” style program, taking a number of top aspiring young executives into residence at the league office where they’d spend up to three years learning the NBA–not just one franchise. Their training would include working on leaguewide issues in the NBA, the WNBA, and the NBA Developmental League.

Residents’ salaries could be paid from a pool all teams pay into. Upon completion residents would be eligible to interview with franchises. Owners would not be required to interview or hire from the program, but all would need to participate (read: pay). In the immediate economic climate the costs might be prohibitive, but the key would be getting buy-in on a 3-5 year planning horizon. I suspect many owners would jump at the chance to hire young executives with a verifiable skill set, whom they may have already worked with at the league office. This might not be a cure all, but it would undeniably produce some talent, and there’s no reason it can’t be done.

2. The Lottery. As much as anything, the lottery’s perception problem undermines its legitimate purpose of replenishing franchises with talent. At the heart of the perception problem is a very uneven distribution of incoming talent, both from year to year and even within the same draft. Little can be done about that. However the current system exacerbates the problem by counting losses (rather than measuring performance), which gives one bad team a disproportionate lottery advantage over another similarly bad team.

I would reduce the lottery advantage for bad teams without completely evening the odds across all non-playoff teams, thereby lowering incentives to tank. Specifically, I’d split the 14 lottery teams into two groups clustered by performance and even the lottery odds within each group. The lottery would consist of one group of at least five “bad” teams and one group of “near playoff” teams. That should limit incentives to tank among the worst teams. The playoff hunt should limit the other teams’ incentives to tank.

East Missed Out On Lee

Henry Abbott and Kevin Pelton made an interesting note about yesterday’s All Star game.

Had a chance to trade emails with Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus during the live blog of the All-Star Game. Kevin rightfully pointed out that naming Mo Williams to replace Chris Bosh was the primary reason the East got mauled inside.

The choice of Williams meant the East entered the game with only two legitimate bigs — Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both of whom were starters. As a result, Rashard Lewis was forced to assume the center spot for long stretches of the game. Lewis has always been a bit challenged defending the post at the PF position, and he certainly doesn’t have the strength or the ability to absorb a beating against opposing 5s. But that’s exactly what he was charged with doing as the backup center on the Eastern squad, and the results were disastrous for the East.

Points in the Paint? West 96, East 58.

Glass? West 51, East 38.

Shaquille O’Neal: 17 points, 8-9 FGs in 11 minutes.

Watching the game I felt the same. It seemed as if the West had free reign in the paint and on the boards. While the East had an edge in aggregate offensive rebounds 13 to 12, the number is skewed by the fact that the East had more opportunities. The East had 59 chances for an offensive rebound, and the West only had 49.

A few weeks ago I advocated for David Lee on the All Star team, but outside of this site I was a minority. When Chris Bosh was injured, he was replaced by Maurice Williams. This substitution was justified from a political standpoint, as Williams is a top performer on one of the league’s best teams.

However from a tactical standpoint, this was a mistake. The East was left with only two players who were capable of playing center: Howard and Garnett. In All Star Games coaches tend to go deep into their benches, meaning that teams need to have plentiful reserves to field a normal five. Without a third center, the West dominated the inside and laughed their way to an easy victory. The knock against Lee is that he was a product of D’Antoni’s system, and excels only because of the style the Knicks play: a fast paced, no defense, guard emphasized game. Of course this is same environment as the All Star Game, so it makes sense that Lee would have excelled there as well. One only has to look back at the 2007 Rookies-Sophomore game for proof.

In the end it doesn’t really matter if the East won or lost. And no one will look back and call Williams’ selection over Lee as the NBA’s worst All Star crime this year (Iverson voted in as a starter was). Ultimately the important thing to learn from this is that players shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. Different players will have different value depending on the environment. Perhaps in a general sense, Maurice Williams or Rashard Lewis are more deserving of an All Star berth than David Lee. But in last night’s context Lee would have been a better fit.

Iverson and Lee: Two Sides Of All Star Perception

In the story “Boy Who Cried Wolf”, the boy lies for his own amusement and his lies doom him when the villagers fail to come to his aid during a wolf attack. This classic fable is a good example of perception. The town believes that the boy is liar, hence they judge all his actions from that perspective. So even when the boy is telling the truth, the perception of the boy results in the townspeople viewing it as a lie.

Perception is a useful tool, because it allows us to remember facts about people without remembering their entire history. For instance if you have a friend who consistently shows up at your party empty handed, your perception of him will make it easier for you to deal with him without recalling every incident.

But perception has its downside as well. Again take the example of your beer mooching friend. Let’s say he finally realizes his selfish ways and decides it would be rude to show up for a shindig without a 6 pack in hand. It may take some time for you to acknowledge this change. The first time he shows up with some ale, you may think that to be the fluke. He may have to do more than any other person to change your perception of him. Perhaps an entire case of your favorite beer and a bowl of guacamole would do it.

Perception works the same way in sports, and is especially true when it comes to fans voting for All Star Games. That would be the only reason why Allen Iverson was voted in as a starter. Iverson has always been a divider among fans. Some see him as a selfish player who always needs the ball and jacks up too many shots. Others as an offensive wizard who provides open shots for his teammates.

If you belong to the first group of fans, you probably didn’t think Iverson was an All Star, so let’s argue the point of view from the latter group. In his prime, Iverson was averaging upwards of 25 points/36 minutes. This high volume scoring was valuable to his team, even at the price of his low percentage shooting. If this were true, then why is Iverson still valuable today? His scoring is down nearly 30% from his career average (16.7 pts/36 this year, 23.6 pts/36 career). And despite the decrease, his shooting percentages are still below their career numbers (51.0 TS%, 43.9 eFG%). Add to this the last two teams Iverson was traded from improved after trading him, and you have to wonder if he’s providing an All Star level contribution these days? But of course Iverson isn’t the only NBA player whose perception doesn’t match his production.

Knick fans were hoping that David Lee might be named an All Star reserve this year, but unfortunately he was not. And while I’m not sure that Lee should have been, I’m certain that he suffered from poor perception. Since his first days in the NBA, Lee has been labelled as a player who only scores because he’s an afterthought in the other team’s defensive scheme. Since then Lee’s game has evolved, but that reputation has stuck. Take this quote from Truehoop:

Lee is just here as a courtesy to the millions of Knick fans. Oh, he’s a player and all, and I know Mike D’Antoni was campaigning for him. But when your guy makes an open 20-foot jumper, and everyone is pleasantly surprised? That guy’s not an All-Star. The competition is just too stiff. Look up there and look at who made it, and tell me who he should replace.

Now Henry Abbott is as informed about the NBA as anyone, and I’m sure this was written with a bit of tongue in cheek. However the implication is clear: Lee only scores because he’s left wide open. And if someone as knowledgeable as Henry Abbott feels this way about Lee, then imagine how the average fan sees him?

Additionally, Lee was probably hurt by Rashard Lewis’ perception as well, since Lewis was a former All Star in Seattle in 2005. Lee and Lewis both provide about the same amount of scoring (Lewis has a small advantage in points per minute, Lee edges him in efficiency) and many of their peripheral stats are similar (they are both weak at shot blocking and steals, albeit Lewis is better in both areas). From a visual perspective, the big difference between the pair is Lewis’ ability to score in a few different ways, including an excellent three point shot (39.3%). But from a statistical perspective, Lewis’ edge in scoring (2.7 pts/36) doesn’t seem to be enough to make up for Lee grabbing twice as many rebounds (11.9 reb/36 vs 5.8 reb/36).

Of course even if Lee has the statistical superiority, the perception is that it’s only because he’s getting wide open looks. But does that make sense? Teams that play Orlando have to worry about their other scorers like Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Hedo Turkoglu as well as Lewis. Which Knicks do opposing teams have to account for? Wilson Chandler? Al Harrington? Tim Thomas? Chris Duhon? Jared Jeffries? I’d imagine with those teammates Lewis gets more open looks than Lee. Well at least that’s my perception.


I’ve turned off the comments for this article, because it’s similar to one already in the forum. Please feel free to voice your opinion there.