Everything wrong with the media and race

And why some journalists should lay off writing about race in the United States…

If you have ever read my blog you will realize I am really whiney and particular when it comes to racial issues in sports basketball. Well we have another whiney race-related post today because of the recent Nets-Kirilenko signing.

Look at this headline from the Miami Herald.

Mikhail Prokhorov, Brooklyn Nets waging cold war with Miami Heat

I am no history buff but the Cold War happens to be one of those things I paid attention to, and I have a couple of issues with this article. Relating the Nets and the Heat to the Cold War is a HUGE stretch.

The writer fails to suggest any sort of cold war going on between the Nets and the Heat in the body of the article. All he talks about is how Prokhorov is playing by ‘his own rules’ and is trying to win an NBA championship by spending lots of money.

The premise of the Cold War was that it was a war between two superpowers, but instead of busting out tanks and big guns, it was a fight between two different ideologies (politics, economics, all that good stuff). There was no direct fighting but there were a lot of proxy wars fought through American and Soviet allies.

If we tried to relate this to NBA terms, the first thing it would require is teams with very different team principles. Here are a few examples.

  • Drafting and building for the future (Early Thunder) vs. Acquiring all the best players quickly but have a very short window of success (Big 3 Celtics).
  • Advanced statistics/analytics (Rockets, Warriors, Grizzlies) vs. traditional basketball ‘feel’ and philosophy (probably what Michael Jordan thinks he’s doing).
  • Small market success (Spurs) vs. big market Hollywood reception (Lakers/Knicks).
  • Team play (04 Pistons) vs. Superstars (Kobe Lakers)

But that is not the situation at all. The Heat and the Nets are both in big markets, surrounded by glamor and media attention. Both teams took steroids for team building, having built a contender in one offseason.

Neither teams are on the frugal side of the NBA spending spectrum. The only reason the Heat are watching their spending is because they have over 50 million dollars tied up in their Big 3. In fact if there was any other team in the NBA that was the most similar to the Heat, in terms of finances, market, and team building, I would vote the Nets.

So we are missing the whole ideology war part. Should we even get started on the proxy wars? The closest examples would be like Kevin McHale (when he worked for the Timberwolves) waging a war against the Lakers, but because his Timberwolves were far too shitty, he had to give Garnett to the Celtics so they could beat the Lakers. Or something like that.

And think about this. The Nets built this team to battle the Heat. There is absolutely nothing cold about it. This team was built to take the Heat down in direct confrontation, using many of the similar team building philosophies the Heat did.

In fact, the only thing that we can really call a similarity is that the fact that the Cold War involved Americans and Soviets, and both Mikhail Prokhorov and Andrei Kirilenko are Russian people in an American business.

That is all there is to it. This is actually worse than when *gasp* when the ESPN reporter famously used the “Chink in the armor” title on Jeremy Lin. Chink in the armor makes sense, but was just a unfortunate choice of words. A cold war is just… wrong.

Now that I’ve ripped on this article title a little, let’s talk about the Kirilenko signing.

It is an awesome move for the Nets. Kirilenko is probably the perfect backup for Pierce and Garnett. He represents everything that is right about Jeff Green. Every guy in the Nets frontcourt has some sort of tragic flaw that could be exposed by a particular playoff matchup. We know Brook Lopez won’t be closing every single game out of a hypothetical Heat series. This move gives Nets an insane amount of flexibility in their lineups. The combination of experience, versatility, and depth makes the Nets a very dangerous team.

But everyone knew that. What people are talking about is the prospect of some sort of unheard of, under-the-table deals going on between Prokhorov and Kirilenko that helped Kirilenko decline his 10 million dollar player option, opting to go to the Nets for a measly 3 million.

And I don’t doubt that. There’s nothing wrong with a little collusion and bribery here and there. There are very few NBA players that play for their exact market value according to team salary. A lot of NBA players make money on the side. The Heat Big 3 all ‘unselfishly’ took ‘paycuts’ to play with each other. But what about all the other endorsements and incentives that came with playing in a larger market, and the extra fame and opportunities from being winners? How selfless of LeBron of them! Trade in some basketball statistics for fame, success, and cult celebrity status.

Fundamentally, Kirilenko signing with the Nets and having other sweet incentives (hot European prostitutes) from Prokhorov is no different from LeBron making quadruple in endorsements from Nike if he chose to sign in New York in the memorable summer of 2010. Or anyone who has ever signed with the Lakers. Magic Johnson had a sweet-ass relationship with Jerry Buss. Buss treated Magic like a saint and took him out to clubs and parties. Part of the reason why Dirk is a lifelong Maverick has to do with his relationship with Mark Cuban. A player having a good relationship with his coach is not a sin.

And then there is the obvious thing people seem to be ignoring. There’s this thing called taking a pay-cut for a championship. The same pay-cut that Ray Allen took to play for the Heat. Ray Allen was earning $10 million in his last year with the Celtics. He probably could have gotten around $8 on the market, but he signed with the Heat for $3 million. Do those numbers sound similar to Kirilenko’s numbers? Is Micky Arison giving Ray Allen a hand-job under the table?

He isn’t. And I really hope I’m right. Kirilenko is an excellent fit for the Brook-ston Cel-nets, just like Ray Allen is the right fit for the Heat. Good fit + good chance of championship = Really think about taking a pay-cut. Do you think if the same thing happened with Shawn Marion people would be calling out Prokhorov and Marion for some sort of strange deal? They would not.

So let the race aspect slip out of this one. Kirilenko can sign wherever he wants for however much he wants. Just because Kirilenko isn’t one of the league’s stars doesn’t mean he can’t have a little special treatment from his owner. And just because they’re Russian doesn’t mean they’re waging a Cold War over the defending champions.

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The Really Early 2013 NBA Redraft

AKA some college students attempt to be a smartass.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Ben McLemore

Cavaliers did a good job on not picking a big man with their first pick. We are no longer in the 90s. We have learned through the Kwames, Olowokandis, Odens, hell even Boguts that using your top pick on a big man in hopes of changing your franchse is NOT a good decision. I’m not sold on Nerlens Noel at all, and while I think Alex Len may end up being a better player than Noel, I think who the Cavaliers really want long term is Ben McLemore.

There is a really simple reason for this. In today’s NBA, a lights out 3-point shooter is becoming much more valuable than a low post threat. Effective field goal percentage is only one aspect of it, but a good 3-point shooter can easily replace the production of a high 50s/60 FG% low post threat.

McLemore might not be able to create his shot at the NBA level, but he has a great court awareness of moving off ball and getting open, very similar to guys like Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton. 

By drafting McLemore, not only do the Cavaliers get a 3-point marksman, but they get their sixth man of the future in Dion Waiters. Waiters is a combo guard by nature and it seems like combo guards succeed the most coming off the bench, leading the second unit.

2. Orlando Magic – Trey Burke

If you are serious about contention, no one on this Magic roster is really worth keeping other than Vucevic, who is essentially equivalent to the NBA center position what a game manager is to the NFL quarterback. Tobias Harris is also worth keeping but also worth trading. We all love Arron Afflalo, but I doubt Afflalo loves playing for the Magic. Other than that, there’s not much to desire in this Orlando roster, which puts them in a great position to take the best player available.

Maybe I’m high as shit but I still think Burke is one of the top players in the draft. This is coming from someone who was convinced from the get go that Kemba Walker would not be a good pro. He’s doing alright in his second year but he’s just not that good.

Burke’s stock has shot down a lot leading up to the draft, but I think that was more to do with scouts just trying to keep themselves busy and find out new things about prospects than it has to do with Burke being less of a prospect. Can you imagine a scout having a big board at the end of the NCAA tournament, then turning it into their boss and never making any revision to it?

Trey Burke is a floor leader, won national player of the year awards, can rise up during big moments, can really be a pass-first guy, but can take over when he has to. The point guard talent pool is incredibly deep in the NBA, but Trey Burke to me is one of the best players of this draft.

3. Washington Wizards – Anthony Bennett

I do not see any appeal in Otto Porter. If you are someone that would take Wes Johnson with the 4th pick of the NBA draft, then go ahead and pick Porter with the 3rd pick. One thing that does work out for Porter is that the last three major Georgetown prospects (Greg Monroe, Roy Hibbert, and Jeff Green) have all turned out decent. But other than that…

Assuming the Wizards still want to build around John Wall (they do), they have to pair him up with more dynamic scorers, and no one is a more dynamic scorer in this draft than Anthony Bennett. Bennett is the pick here. Come back to this mock draft in three years, when Otto Porter has already been traded twice and Anthony Bennett made his first All-Star team, and be like “wow this Jordan guy should really be an NBA scout.”

Except the Cavaliers took Bennett number one.

In this situation, the Wizards draft Bennett, trade one of Nene/Okafor (I say trade Nene), and have Bennett split his minutes at the 3 and 4.

4. Charlotte Bobcats – Alex Len

The Charlotte Bobcats should honestly forfeit their pick, fold their franchise and forget they were ever in the NBA. Much like the Magic, the Bobcats have no one on their roster worth keeping. They might as well make the long-term prospect pick, which in the case of this draft, I think is Alex Len. Len is 7’1, 255, and has the build of someone who could actually succeed in the league.

If you couldn’t tell, I wrote half of his article as a mock draft but became too lazy to finish it, so this is a mishmash of a mock draft and a draft reaction.

Anyway I guess I was kind of correct with this pick, except the Bobcats took Cody Zeller. Jesus Christ. Of course, people are only knocking on Zeller’s game because he’s white. Therefore I am calling Cody Zeller rookie of the year so I look like a genius when it happens.

5. Phoenix Suns – Nerlens Noel

Gortat has by far the most trade value on this Suns roster. At this point of my redraft , Suns should get Noel, hope for the best, trade Gortat to a contender for some draft picks and nice young players, and hope you win the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. Or something like that. It’s really no wonder why this Suns team is in the lottery. The Suns have an absolutely terrible squad.

6. New Orleans Pelicans – Otto Porter

I don’t think Porter is that good but I’m not delirious. Someone like Porter – a capable defender who can shoot at good efficiency is NBA material. Porter would be a good fit here for New Orleans because Aminu is trash, and the length of New Orleans would be pretty bothersome with a guy like Porter paired with Davis.

7. Sacramento Kings – Lucas Nogueira

I know this whole mock draft has essentially been me flipping off every mock draft on the internet, mock drafts based on guys with serious connections to the NBA, guys who have actually gone to combines and seen players work out, while my opinion of every player is based off of YouTube videos. Like many others, I have honestly never seen Nogueira play a minute of basketball. I wouldn’t even try lying about this one. But Nogueira has a high motor, is very active, and just does things that you want an NBA big man to do. Sure he may be ‘raw,’ but when all you are expect to do is to alter shots, grab rebounds, and finish layups and dunks where the ball is essentially fed to you, being ‘raw’ is all you really need. Tyson Chandler isn’t exactly considered a ‘refined’ basketball player, but he gets stuff done.

Nogueira has attitude problems, but who really cares with this Kings team. Tyreke Evans is cock-blocking himself from a good basketball career, Isaiah Thomas doesn’t care, DeMarcus Cousins is a mess. Adding a good character guys like Chuck Hayes and Jimmer Fredette have done very little for this Kings team. Locker room chemistry is overrated when your team is in shambles.

8. Detroit Pistons – Michael Carter-Williams

Ever since the 2011 Mavericks run, I’ve been a huge advocate of the dual point guard backcourt. We saw Golden State use it to some degree of success with the Jack/Curry backcourt, and the Heat were essentially running at least two point guards because of the ball handling abilities of Wade and LeBron. The Knicks’s blazing hot start to the season and the efficiency of Carmelo are also things I’d attribute to the dual point guard setup.

Both for two point guards to work, the tandem needs to be able to defend NBA shooting guards. This in my opinion is what makes Michael Carter-Williams valuable at the next level.

In the Detroit situation, I know Carter-Williams can’t hit a jumpshot well at the NBA level, but having a nice high post player in Greg Monroe can really help that out.

9. Utah Jazz – Victor Oladipo

As I do more YouTube scouting I realize I actually really like Oladipo. The problem with Oladipo, someone who is not a scorer, is that he might not perform well on struggling teams. As a scorer you can put up empty stats, average over 20 points a game and stay in the league, but if you’re a No Stats All-Star it might be a little harder. Still, I’ve really grown to like Oladipo in the past couple of days, and it’s certainly refreshing to see a top draft prospect whose greatest selling point is perimeter defense.

10. Portland Trail-Blazers – Andre Roberson

Want to know how hard I’m trying to be different? Look no further than me pulling Andre Roberson up to the top ten. People love to say that rebounding translate well to the NBA, but it’s not as simple as that. Jon Brockman was a brilliant rebounder in college, rebounded well for his size in the NBA, but was never anything special. Kenneth Faried was picked 22nd in the draft but is definitely top 5 of his class so far.

What’s cool with Andre Roberson? He rebounds the ball well for his size, overall athletic, has a high motor, and I see Kawhi Leonard type potential in him. He just has the foundations to succeed.

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Why I correctly predicted the Finals again

Anyone that predicted that the Heat would take this series or the Spurs will take this series are simply wrong. As the resident NBA nut in my circle of peers, my friends love to ask me who I think is going to win the Finals. Last year I picked Miami with confidence. The year before I had the Mavericks as my darkhorse pick way early in the season.

So what did I answer when I was asked the million dollar question?

I said I don’t know, and that it is probably going to 7 games.

In a piece I cowrote for Last Word on Sports, I said

This is a prediction I am not comfortable making at all… Even if you put a gun to my head I’d struggle to make a prediction. But for the sake of this column… Spurs in 7? It is an odd-numbered year after all.

And that is the right answer. This has been one the wildest NBA Finals series I’ve ever watched. LeBron is coming off an amazing regular season, and has probably been the most mature he’s ever been. Watching the post game-interview of Game 7 of the Pacers series gave me chills.

Was this the same immature dipshit that left Cleveland three years ago?

Meanwhile his butt buddy Dwyane Wade is having one of the more underrated seasons of his career. Chris Bosh is actually being respected around the league. Ray Allen, the improved play of Norris Cole, and the surprise emergence of Birdman Andersen has bolstered the non-existent Miami bench from the year before. Mike Miller is peaking at the right time, and Erik Spoelstra is really getting the respect he deserves from the media.

With San Antonio, it seems like everyone on the Spurs (including our Finals MVP Danny Green) is just peaking at the right time. The 2012-13 NBA campaign marks the best individual seasons of many of the Spurs players, perfectly aligned with a resurgent Duncan season. Then don’t forget about Popovich reaching the pinnacle of his coaching career.

Mix in the rematch storyline, Big 3s Vs. Big 3s, Old vs. New, the first time the Spurs are playing a societally relevant basketball team in the Finals and LeBron James’s biggest test on the big stage, a great coaching battle, timed with perhaps the most popular the NBA has ever been,  and you have a perfect, unpredictable storm.

What’s going to happen later tonight? Conventional wisdom says the Heat are coming back to force a Game 7. San Antonio’s mental toughness and experience might favor them to close out this series in 6, but you can never really bet against the greatest basketball player on the planet (Although teenage, acne-faced Jordan once made this bet…)

LeBron averages a league high 31.5 PPG and an absurd amount of rebounds in elimination games. There is no true key to the game. While many thought the Heat’s main concern would either be trying to contain Tony Parker or to handle the twin towers of Duncan and Splitter, it has really been about mental toughness, consistency and shutting down Danny Green.

My prediction? Heat force a Game 7, but just barely. Game 7 will be a complete bloodbath with every player playing their guts out, and Popovich surprises everyone by bringing out T-Mac for meaningful minutes. No matter what happens after this series, I will certainly remember it as a classic, and I would sum up the finale of a great NBA season with four simple words.

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In defense of Frank Vogel, and in praise of Hero Ball

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People love to talk about how Vogel pulled out Hibbert in crucial situations. It’s easy to point that finger when the play ultimately ended up being a LeBron layup, but so many different things could have happened. If George did not overplay LeBron so much, LeBron may have pulled up for a jumpshot, or the ball might have never gotten into LeBron’s hands. There might have been some sort play that pulled Bosh out to hit a jumpshot, and in that case Hibbert would have been late to close out on Bosh, and there’d be some internet wannabe basketball coaches (such as myself) who would have criticized Vogel’s failure in recognizing that Miami has gone to a Chris Bosh jump shot on multiple occasions.

It’s funny how basketball coaches and players can spend a majority of their lives working on so many different aspects of basketball and spend lots of money on scouting. But when a game boils down to one final possession to determine the outcome, sometimes the most effective move is just to draw a hero ball play.

WIth hero ball you have a really good chance of at least getting a shot off, then anywhere from a 40-50% chance of making a play that wins you a game. Whereas running certain plays may give you a 100% chance of making a basket if you run it right, but there is also so much variability- relying on all five of your players  to get to the right places at the right time, banking on the opposing team’s defense to not recognize the play, and sometimes just getting the right bounce in your favor.

In Game 4 of the Warriors/Spurs series, many Warriors fans were enraged when the last play of regulation was just a Jarrett Jack iso, but I don’t blame Mark Jackson (or the true mastermind Mike Malone) for drawing that play up. I’m sure it fooled Popovich and gave Tony Parker a slight scare when it was just him on an island with Jarrett Jack.

With that in mind, sometimes end of game defense is a lot better if you just stick to what you know, and the most fundamental things. Running a ‘simple’ man-to-man, or a certain zone that you are very comfortable with may be way better than some mastermind figured-out defense (i.e. Paul George overplaying LeBron).

Nevertheless, a great way to start the Heat/Pacers series. I want to see a little more tension boiling between these two teams in the future. I think last night’s game marked Paul George’s official coming out party (not the same type as Jason Collins). Heat/Pacers could be a really solid rivalry in the years to come. Just saying.

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Blast from the Past – Darko Milicic Pre-Draft edition

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I love going through old NBA newsgroups. Hindsight is 20/20, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to read certain discussions and opinions from back in the day. Here are a few of my favorites from the newsgroups.

A little pre-draft discussion…

Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe also expects Detroit to grab
Milicic.

“I can’t imagine them passing on Darko,” he said.

I bet you can’t.

Here’s one from current Miami Heat, old man Juwan.

If Anthony comes Denver’s way, one person that would be a fan of his arrival is Nuggets free-agent forward Juwan Howard.

“If they get Carmelo, it’s a big plus,” said Howard, the Nuggets’
leading scorer and rebounder from last season. “I think he is the best
player in the draft.”

Someone tell LeBron James and Dwyane Wade that Juwan said this back in 2003.

We can keep going…

But what really excites them is his mature low-post play. “More than

Nowitzki, Gasol or even Divac, Darko has a nasty streak in him that will
help him succeed in the post,” a league executive said. “A lot of the
Europeans are really threes in the pros. He’ll be a true low-post
player. His coach is doing us a huge favor by forcing him to develop
those skills now. He already has moves that remind me of (Hakeem)
Olajuwon in the post. Once we get a hold of him, the sky’s the limit.”

Does anyone else really want to know who this league executive was?

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What’s the deal with Curry and Thompson?

Stephen Curry made headlines after the heartbreaking Game 1 loss of the Spurs, and quickly earned every sports journalist in the world’s respect, with some people (not me) putting him as the clear best player in the postseason. Klay Thompson had an amazing Game 2, hitting 8-9 three-pointers, probably breaking some record for threes in a half.

But other than those two individual performances, the so called Splash Brothers (or more appropriately, the Drip Brothers) have been ice cold from the field.

Curry is ‘only’ shooting 34.4% (11/32) from beyond the arc, and a dismal 34.8% (23/66) overall. Klay Thompson is 27.2% from the three point line (3/11) and shooting 39.3% overall (22/56)

After being widely accepted as the league’s greatest three-point shooting backcourt ever, Curry and Thompson have just looked way below average.

What is the reason for this? Injuries? Fatigue? A shooting slump?

The answer is all three of the above, but most importantly, the adjustments that the Spurs have made. It is not a coincidence at all that while Steph and Klay struggle, Jack and Barnes have good games. Danny Green has given Curry all sorts of trouble, and Kawhi Leonard has done wonders on Klay Thompson. By containing the two most dangerous guys on the court and leaving it up to whoever the hell wants to carry the rest of the offense (in this case, a rookie), the Spurs have successfully slowed the pace of the game to one they are comfortable with- execution, and grind-it-out Spurs basketball. And you wonder why Popovich has 4 rings.

What should Golden State look to do to force Game 7? The Harrison Barnes on small guard match-up is no longer just a match-up they should look the exploit. It should be the new game-plan. As ballsy as it sounds, running the offense through a rookie in a playoff game against a 16-year basketball powerhouse may be the only way to go for these Warriors.

Mark Jackson may even look to giving David Lee extended minutes if that is the only way to go. This Warriors team will be able to hang on on defense just by their athleticism and hustle alone, but they need new sources of help on offense, hopefully forcing some adjustments to the Spurs gameplan and freeing up Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

But honestly, whatever the hell happens Game 6, Warriors fans finally have something to look forward to. I also spent $330 on lower level Game 6 tickets so the Warriors better fucking win.

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Jason Collins – Before and after

Jason Collins’s Wikipedia page before coming out (April 21st)

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…and after coming out

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