The NBA Corner: Don't Trust The Fans!
It’s hard to believe that NBA All-Star Weekend, otherwise known as the “Black Super Bowl,” is only a few weeks away. The season feels like it just started, yet we’re rapidly approaching the halfway point. It’s one of the few benefits to having a condensed schedule (the inconsistent play league-wide is not a benefit).
Last week, the NBA announced the starters for the 2012 All-Star game and that exercise usually gets me vexed because the starters are chosen by the fans. This is asinine. Have you ever talked to fans? Only about one-in-fifteen make any sort of sense. The rest only know things about their own teams and always overvalue their favorite team’s players, particularly in regards to a player’s trade value. This is never more evident than if you can stomach listening to local sports talk radio. Here in Philly, most conversations transpire something like this:
Host: “You’re on the air.”
Caller: “Yeah…Hey…(pause)…You were talking about trading Vick?
Host: “Well, I’m just wondering what they could get on the market for Michael Vick right now.”
Caller: “Oh…yeah. Well…um…I think you could probably trade him to the Colts for Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, that Mathis guy, and maybe one or two draft picks. What d’ya think?”
Host: “Well, why would Indianapolis do that deal?”
Caller: (silence) “Um…”
Host: “If you were the GM of the Colts, would you do that deal?”
Caller: (enthusiastically) “Yes!”
Host: (pause) “Okay.”
Caller: “And I had a Sixers point…?”
Host: “Yeah, go ahead.”
Caller: “Yeah, I think if you could get Dwight Howard and maybe someone like Chris Paul, then the Sixers would probably be pretty good. I mean, I would watch that team and maybe even go to a game or two.”
Host: “How are you going to get both of those guys?”
Caller: “I don’t know…trade Iguodala…and figure out something with the salary cap. I’m not good with the details. Maybe we can trade Lou Williams. He’s pretty good. Any team would want him!
Host: “Lou Williams? For Chris Paul?”
Caller: “Yeah! I think it could work.”
Host: “Ok…thanks for the call.”
That is your typical All-Star voter. They vote for name recognition over performance but, fortunately, they’re not always wrong. After all, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are superstars for a reason and. Fans want to see the stars, especially in an exhibition. That’s why Carmelo Anthony and Blake Griffin were selected over more deserving members. (Kevin Love deserves to be a starter, even if he did channel Ndamukong Suh, possibly as payback, and receive a two-game suspension. Dude can play. End of story.) I understand. Fans want to see the stars. I get it. However, when Dwight Howard is the leading vote getter in a season in which he is playing like a scrub and acting like a shit, I lose faith in the system. And yes, I do realize that the game is being played in Orlando and they stuffed the ballot box. It doesn’t matter. That’s no excuse.
Here are the lineups:
Eastern Conference Western Conference
Derrick Rose (Bulls) Chris Paul (Clippers)
Dwyane Wade (Heat) Kobe Bryant (Lakers)
Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) Kevin Durant (Thunder)
LeBron James (Heat) Blake Griffin (Clippers)
Dwight Howard (Magic) Andrew Bynum (Lakers)
Overall, the voters did a very good job in choosing players that deserved to go and they did an excellent job in choosing players that will make it a fun and exciting contest.
I still don’t trust them, though.
Other scattered shots:
-- On Monday night, Kobe passed Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and it was clear from the start that he was gunning for it. He needed 24 points to reach the mark and he did so, with 5:08 left remaining in the first half. He was feeling it. I’m sure the fact that the game was played close to Lower Merion had no bearing on the situation at all. I mean, it’s not like he gets geeked up to play in Philly or anything.
Plus, it’s not like he has any sort of history with the guy that he overtook, either. When Bryant won his fifth ring, he famously said, “I got one more than Shaq,” so you know that Kobe just adds this to his mental Kobe > Shaq scorecard.
For his part, Shaq was gracious in congratulating Bryant, calling him “the greatest laker ever,” to which Kobe responded, “Cool. I appreciate it. I’m sure Shaq and I will connect at some point and revisit history. We had some good times.”
-- Dwight Howard’s similarities to Shaq are obvious to all and the possibility of him playing for the Lakers only amplifies that opinion. The only thing missing to bring the comparison full circle would be a rift with Kobe. Jackpot!
“Bryant told Howard that he wanted him to come to Los Angeles and help him win two more championships, but not as an understudy. He wanted Howard to be the team's third option behind himself and Pau Gasol, according to a source. Bryant tried to sell Howard on being his ‘Tyson Chandler’ and made it clear that Los Angeles would be his, but only once Bryant decided he was done playing.
Howard was turned off by the idea.
Howard stated that there was ‘no way’ he would give up everything he has in Orlando to go to the Lakers and be the third option, a source close to the situation said. Howard certainly wouldn’t mind being a third piece on a star-studded team, similar to the situations in Miami and Boston. However, he was turned off by Bryant's presentation as it suggested something totally different.”
There are so many great parts to this story.
First, Kobe wants to “win two more championships,” which would give him seven. Why seven? Why is that number so important? Oh, yeah, right. My bad.
Next, Kobe telling Howard that he wants him to be a third option behind Gasol is not outlandish from a basketball standpoint. Pau is a more complete, though less dominant, player than Howard and is a terrific passer. But wasn’t the Lakers’ meltdown during the playoffs last season blamed on a rift between Pau and Kobe? It was. Now Bryant is lobbying for a superstar, but only if he’ll defer to Gasol? It sounds a bit off. Then again, maybe it was the other Bryant that was to blame and since she’s no longer, um, part of the team, perhaps they’ve been able to patch things up.
Finally, what is wrong with Howard? He won’t give up “everything he has in Orlando?” What does he have? Team chemistry issues? An alienated fanbase? He would rather choose that than being a third-option on an obvious contender with one of the two most prestigious franchises in league history? Really? Why does he care what option he is? They’re not running the offense through him. Most of his points are on alley-oops and putbacks, anyway. His low post moves don’t exactly evoke memories of George Mikan. It’s clear yet again that Howard wants to win, but he wants to be the star more. The next time Howard says something like, “I want to win a championship,” I want to sit him down, show him this picture and say, “Look at this. You have zero rings. He has seven. Se-ven. You know why? He didn’t mind being the third option. Besides, it’s not like they call you ‘Big Shot Dwight,’ is it? You douche.”
Sadly, I’ll probably never get the chance.
-- Kobe Bryant wasn’t the only player reaching a scoring milestone this week. The night after Bryant blew past Shaq, Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird for 2nd on the Boston Celtics’ all-time scoring list and 28th in NBA history. The Truth now has 21,797 points in 985 games, while Bird amassed 21,791 in only 897. It’s amazing to think that Paul Pierce has played 88 more games for the Celtics than Bird, who said that what Pierce “can give you on the offensive end is remarkable.”
That type of longevity is rare these days (Shaq played for, like, 73 teams during his career) and Pierce is aware that he is an anomaly: “‘That’s something that doesn't happen in this day and age,’ Pierce said of playing his entire career with one team. ‘I've been fortunate to play with one franchise for my whole career to date. You don't really see that too much any more. You've got a few guys who still do it, but it's a rarity. It's pretty much extinct.’”
While it appears that Pierce is no longer on the trading block and will stay with the C’s for a while, he has a way to go if he wants to become Boston’s all-time scoring king. John Havlicek finished his own Hall of Fame career with 26,395 points, which was third all-time when he retired (behind only Wilt and The Big O) but is now fifteenth. Pierce will have to stay with Boston and play at least three more full seasons at his current level if he wants to pass Hondo and, at age 34, that’s not guaranteed.
Regardless of how many points he ultimately scores or where he winds up finishing his career, Paul Pierce is undoubtedly a Celtics legend, one of the franchise’s best scorers, and we probably won’t fully appreciate his skills and his accomplishments until he walks away from the court for good.
-- The Clippers signed Method Man doppelgänger Kenyon Martin last week. This is a huge move, maybe even more important than the Knicks getting Tyson Chandler. Over an 11-year career (before this season) Martin has averaged 13.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. Chandler, who is currently in his 11th season, has averaged 8.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 0.5 steals per contest. They’re pretty similar. The difference between them? The Clippers have Chris Paul, while the Knicks are trying to talk themselves into a point guard that averages 4.8 turnovers per 48 minutes (including 8 against Utah on Monday night). Martin plays defense, blocks shots, and can start the Clippers’ fast-break with a rebound and a quick pass to Chris Paul. Plus, he’s been stuck in China all season, salivating to return to the NBA and America. Maybe this year’s Tyson Chandler – player that does the dirty work and is happy to be on a contender – isn’t Tyson Chandler, but rather Kenyon Martin. I want it to happen, if only to see Trina sitting courtside during the NBA Finals.
-- Of course, the chances of that happening took a major blow on Monday night when Chauncey Billups became the latest victim of the Clippers Curse. He has been a calming presence for the frenetic Clippers on offense and a savvy defender, making up for his diminishing athleticism with cunning and guile. That’s not all. “Maybe most importantly, the Clippers lose the gamesmanship Billups brings to the floor. No one works referees and accumulates foul calls quite like Billups does. There are things he gets away with on a nightly basis that no other player can. It may be cliché, but it’s true – sometimes there’s simply no replacement for repetition.” Yes, CP3 & Blake are still formidable and yes, the addition of Martin will help tremendously, but without the 2004 Finals MVP, the Clippers may be forced to continue to play little brother to the Lakers.
-- The Phoenix Suns say they would be open to trading Steve Nash, but only if Nash requested it. That’s shitty. The Suns organization knows that Nash is too much of a team player and good soldier to do what Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard did to their respective franchises. Nash, who just turned 38 on Tuesday, is in the final year of his contract and is clearly wasting his time and energy in the desert as Robert Sarver tries to cut costs like Wal-Mart. The two-time MVP and best pure point guard of the past decade doesn’t have much time left before age catches up with him and it would be nice to see him piloting a contender one more time. Maybe he should wish for a trade when he blows out his candles. #FreeSteveNash
-- Offered for your pleasure and without further comment: JaVale McGee running back on defense...while his team has the ball.
-- BREAKING NEWS: LeBron James is playing well this season. While he’s been in the league for eight years already, James isn’t slowing down, but is actually getting better. He already has two of the top-10 seasons in PER (31.67 in 2008 – 09 and 31.10 in 2009 – 10) and this year he has raised it to an unfathomable 32.82. To put that number in context, it is 5.91 – or 22% – higher than the player with the second-best PER rating this year (Kevin Durant) and is also 0.98 – or 3% – higher than the all-time single-season record of 31.84 by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 – 63. That’s impressive.
-- Finally, an administrative note. We were told repeatedly that one of the big causes of last summer’s lockout was the big-market vs. small-market issue that pitted owners against owners. Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers owner and apparent ex-girlfriend of LeBron James, claimed he couldn’t compete against Jerry Buss, James Dolan, and the other big-market owners. It seems the league has listened, deciding to implement revenue-sharing in 2013 - 14 in an attempt to help the smaller markets.
Will it work?
Does it matter?
In a terrific piece for Freakonomics.com (one of my favorite sites), Dave Berri explains that superstars, and not revenue-sharing, are what small-market teams need most. Naturally, he uses James as an example: “Two years ago – if we look at population – Cleveland was clearly one of the NBA’s smallest markets. But because they had a star producing much more revenue than the Cavaliers were required to pay the star in salary, the Cavaliers earned so much revenue that they were treated like a large market team.”
He goes on to ask how revenue-sharing will answer the (completely overblown) problem of stars leaving smaller cities in favor of larger ones: “Again, LeBron didn’t leave Cleveland because the Cavaliers couldn’t afford him. Clearly – because of the NBA’s salary cap established in 1999 – LeBron was a huge bargain for the Cavaliers [emphasis mine]. So one wonders how anyone would conclude that transferring money from the L.A. Lakers to the Cleveland Cavaliers would stop a scenario like the LeBron story from happening again.”
He’s right. The salary cap (and the oft-forgotten salary floor) was established to ensure competitive balance. Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap, so revenue-sharing was introduced in an effort to create parity. The Yankees can pay Alex Rodriguez $250 million if the franchise chooses, and it doesn’t matter that Oakland or Kansas City would have to sell their stadium and a courthouse or two to do the same. Before revenue-sharing, if you weren’t in a big market, tough shit. That’s part of the lore of Moneyball – the poor, small-town team competing with the affluent boys of the big city – even if it is romanticized.
The NBA is different. It doesn’t matter how much L.A., Miami, Dallas, or New York generate in revenue, they can’t pay whatever they want for players. In fact, it could be argued that they can’t even pay fair market price for the players, because the salary cap prevents a player like James from getting paid his true worth to an organization. If LeBron, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade choose to take less money to play together, that’s their right to do so – not to mention also the antithesis to the “players only want money” argument that is also played out – and there’s nothing that Dan Gilbert, David Stern, or anyone else can do about it.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t be actual free agency. It would be closer to indentured servitude, regardless of how many zeroes are on the paycheck.
Pierzy writes a weekly NBA column during the season, as well as columns revolving around other sports, hip-hop, movies, TV shows, food, beer, marriage, (impending) fatherhood, and many other topics. You can follow him on Twitter here.