The Dawning Of A New Era

One day remains until teams can officially start signing free agents, and needless to say I’m a bit excited. Normally the draft is best time for a team to improve itself. Every year, there are usually a couple of good free agents that can improve a team, but not many. Sometimes a few good players get traded, normally due to contract restraints. Top players usually get locked up to long term contracts by their teams. For obvious reasons few are traded. It’s hard to trade in the NBA where it often feels like teams are enslaved by the salary cap. If you want to get a franchise player, your best chance is to have a top 3 pick & a lot of luck.

This year has been another story. Arguably the best 5 NBA players are (in my particular order): Shaq, Duncan, Garnett, McGrady, and Kobe. Two of these players are already slated to change teams, and a third (Kobe) is available as well.

It’s not the drinking water that is creating this GM’s Gone Wild effect. It’s just the culmination of two lucky events. The only way a team trades a top notch player is if the unhappy player is an upcoming free agent and demands a trade. The format circumstances that landed Houston T-Mac’s isn’t completely unheard of; it seems only yesterday that Phoenix traded for an unhappy Charles Barkley.

However the Lakers’ breakup seems more rare. NBA dynasties don’t get broken up with the players still at their high level of play. David Robinson retired from the Spurs and Duncan is still minding the paint in San Antonio. When the Bulls dynasty broke up, the main cog Jordan retired (twice). For the second dynasty, Pippen was traded, but was more pumpkin than carriage. Hakeem stayed with the Rockets until the age of 38, while Drexler retired in a Houston uniform.

Going back to an earlier generation, Isiah, Laimbeer, and Dumars all finished their careers with their championship team. So did Magic, Kareem, and Worthy. The same with the Celtics’ Bird, McHale, and Parish (OK Parish didn’t, but he was 40 when he left). Dr.J stayed in Philly as well. That gives us a good 25 years of NBA history where no dynasty has broken up like the current Laker one.

These three players changing teams alone will make for the most interesting offseason since the ABA/NBA merger. However throw in the crop of players available this year either because of free agency or trade (and a little controversy), and it seems we’re in for one of the best offseason rides.

Let the Kids Play!

Sunshine Delay
is when the traffic slows down
because the sun is in your eyes.

Barcelona

Today I had the good fortune of having one of my closest friends come into the city. We met up at a pub to have a few beers & watch the Knicks game. My friend, let’s call him Doctor F., isn’t a basketball fan by any stretch of the imagination. His favorite sport is football. We go to at least one baseball game a year together, and he also likes hockey. He can enjoy a basketball game if one is on and if I’m around to let my emotions spill over. Friends are like that. We want to share interests with each other, even if those things don’t normally interest us.

The good Doctor and I discussed the merits of the hockey and basketball. Hockey is an easy sport for me to critique. It’s maybe the only major American sport where it’s hard to see an actual score in real time. In baseball you can always watch a guy cross a plate, or a home run sailing over the fence. Balls are large in soccer, basketball, and football, so everyone can see the actual process of scoring in these sports. (Yes I know it’s unclear when a guy dives for the pylon if he scores or not, but you would have seen the action.)

However in hockey when a guy takes a slap shot you have to look for some other clue to see whether that little black puck flying at 100+ MPH made it past the goalie. I’ll also add to my list of hockey weaknesses the brutality. Sure there is a niche that like to see two people ruthlessly beat each other up, but it’ll never reach the mainstream in it’s current form. I would consider watching hockey more often if they made it more of a finesse game with a larger rink (Olympic style) and do away with fighting.

Dr. F made a good point about basketball’s main weakness. The last two minutes take too long. I agree (and I’m sure my wife does as well). I can’t stand what a basketball game turns into for the last few minutes. To use a simile, a basketball game is like you being the only person driving on the highway until you get within a few blocks of your destination. At that point you hit the worst bumper-to-bumper traffic you’ve ever seen. A basketball game goes smoothly for about 45 minutes, and then grinds to a halt with fouls and time outs.

Sure in baseball, managers can take forever visiting the mound and bringing in relievers. But baseball is a slow game throughout, so it’s not as noticeable. Teams huddle up for every play in football, so time outs aren’t that evident since you expect the action to stop repeatedly. Even when football teams have 2 or 3 time outs the game doesn’t slow to a crawl. The two minute drill is one of the most exciting times in any major sport. The defense doesn’t want to call a timeout. Offensive players have to judge in a split second whether the time saved by going out of bounds is worth the extra yardage he can make by trying to run up the field. Quarterbacks have to decide when they can afford to throw it over the middle of the field. Players on both sides have to scramble up the field when the clock is running, so they will be onside for the next hike.

So why can’t we have this in basketball? Imagine this, your team is down by 4, and your team’s center gets a long rebound from their opponents missed shot. With the current rules:

The center immediately calls a time out. After a minute or two of beer, car and sneaker commercials the TV comes back to your team’s offense at the other end of the court. They are aligned in an inbound formation. The ref dribbles the ball once, puts the whistle in his mouth, and hands the ball to the inbounding player. After about 3 to 300 picks someone gets open and has the ball passed to him for a quick shot.

Without being able to call a timeout:

The center immediately turns around to find his point guard, and passes he ball. The PG races up the court, along with both teams frantically trying to get to the other side of the court. The PG decides to use this confusion to try to gain an advantage, so he slashes to the hoop, and draws in 3 of the unprepared defenders. He alertly passes out to a trailing teammate behind the three point line, and puts up a trey.

One of the greatest (for non-Knick fans) endings to a game came when Reggie Miller hit two three pointers in a few seconds without the game stopping. The NBA has been looking to change their rules over the last decade to increase scoring. This may not increase scoring, but it would add excitement. I would imagine coaches being opposed to this, since they get paid so much to draw up plays on their chalkboards.

The NFL enhances the two minutes of their game with their rules. Defensive players are not allowed to slowly get off the ball carrier to waste more time. Players are no longer allowed to fake injuries to create an artificial time out. Offenses are penalized, at times, with the loss of time off the clock. The NBA could try this out in exhibition games, a year before implementing the new rule. It can’t be any worse than moving the three point line in.