Last Night’s Pizza

by A.J. Coltrane

Not the world’s most awesome title for a post. I’d guess most people would just “twitter” their pictures of the pizza.

First off though, a piece about Marv Albert at Grantland. Marv finally got to broadcast an NBA game from Brooklyn, which is where he grew up. As kids, Marv and his brothers would turn down the volume on the TV and do play-by-play of the baseball games. He’d lug a tape recorder to almost any sporting event and “call” the game. There’s this bit too:

“Kenny Sears’s stale jokes put the other players to sleep,” Marv wrote in the Lincoln Log in 1957. Now, fast-forward three decades. Remember when Michael Jordan hit six first-half 3-pointers in the ’92 Finals and gave that I-can’t-believe-it-either shrug? It’s often forgotten that the guy he was shrugging at — his co-conspirator, you might say — was the NBC announcer whom he liked so much that he’d feel hurt if he didn’t get asked for an interview. The guy MJ was shrugging at was Marv.

There’s more. It’s an interesting piece.

Onto the pizza. Before:

After:

 

Sopressata, sausage, red onion, mozz, goat cheese.

 

More Opinions On The Harden Trade

by A.J Coltrane

I emailed a guy who lives in Oklahoma City a day after the Harden trade. He goes to OKC games, and I was interested to hear how he felt about the move. He basically said that if Harden didn’t want to be there and wanted to go somewhere else for more money, then fine, they didn’t want him there anyway. It reminded me of a popular opinion here in Seattle when Alex Rodriguez decided to chase the money to Texas. A lot of people said “That’s how it is? Fine, screw you, go away.” I’d guess that would be a common feeling around here again with respect to Harden.

I was thinking about how I’d feel about it if the team was still here. I think I’d be cursing Clay Bennett for being too cheap or too undercapitalized to pursue a championship. Teams go over the salary cap and pay the luxury tax all the time in similar situations. Bennett has decided that he’s not going to be the owner of one of those teams. I don’t think that you can ever *really* fault an athlete for chasing the money. It’s a business. The Durant/ Westbrook/ Ibaka/ Harden core may or may not have been the answer, but is the new core the answer? My main concern would be that they’re resetting the clock on the team, but Durant is a free agent in three years, and then who knows what will happen? If and when he leaves it’s over, probably forever unless the Thunder luck into another franchise player sometime in the distant future.

Bill Simmons hates the trade. The title of his piece is “The Harden Disaster“. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Forget about worrying whether Harden is a max player (and by the way, he is — 15 teams would have given it to him), or why Harden didn’t play better in the 2012 Finals (um, James Worthy sucked in the 1984 Finals and turned out fine), or if it meant something that Harden didn’t just blindly take less than what he’s worth (when he had already sacrificed minutes, numbers, and shots to succeed on that team). Oklahoma City significantly hindered their chances of winning a title — not just this year, but every year. And they did it because, after raking in ridiculous amounts of money these past four years (including $30-35 million PROFIT during last year’s shortened season), they valued their own bottom line ahead of their title window. A window that included the second-best player in the league, a top-10 player and a top-20 player … all under the age of 25.

And

But [Harden] sacrificing minutes, shots and numbers for the betterment of the team AND taking a discount? That’s a little ludicrous. This wasn’t about $7 million — the difference between Oklahoma City’s final offer and the $60 million max offer that Harden’s agent requested — as much as Presti respecting Harden’s unique plight. The Thunder couldn’t offer a five-year extension because Durant and Westbrook had already grabbed their two special five-year slots (as mandated by the new CBA). Meanwhile, half the league’s teams would have happily given him a five-year max extension ($78 million), so really, Harden was already taking a discount by not getting a five-year deal.

Also, Harden’s offer never included a hard-core assurance that Oklahoma City wouldn’t use that “discount” against him by eventually trading that enhanced asset (a franchise player now making less than franchise money)1 for a collection of goodies. Remember when Boston talked Rajon Rondo into accepting a five-year, $55 million “discount” — $16 million less than he would have gotten on the open market the following summer — then dangled him for Chris Paul two years later? So much for “taking one for the team,” right? What about Steve Nash signing a two-year, $22 million “discount” extension because Phoenix promised to use that extra cap space to boost a 2010 Western Conference finalist? Remember what happened? They allowed Amar’e Stoudemire to leave, brought in a bunch of Hakim Warricks and Josh Childresses and immediately became a lottery team. But thanks for taking the discount, Steve.

So here’s Oklahoma City offering Harden $53 million for four years and refusing to include a trade kicker — in other words, Sorry, we have to keep our options open, just in case. Harden’s agent justifiably turned them down. The team played hardball. Harden’s agent stood his ground. They threatened to trade him to Houston — which was, in retrospect, their biggest mistake because that meant Harden had a five-year, $78 million offer with no state income tax suddenly waiting for him — and at that point, this was done.2

And here’s where the narrative became a little funky. See, we’re supposed to feel sorry for Oklahoma City, the tiny small-market team that couldn’t afford to keep its three best players. We’re supposed to ignore their staggering profits since they hijacked the Sonics from Seattle in 2008 (by my calculations, somewhere north of $75 million, at least). You know what the biggest advantage is for any professional baseball, basketball or hockey team? Selling out your building way ahead of time. When you lock up your season ticket base, luxury suites and sponsorships during the spring before your next regular season, that’s 90 percent of the battle — now you have guaranteed income, you don’t have to waste resources on a swollen sales staff or various marketing campaigns, and you can bank the interest from that money instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that revenue shows up later. Yeah, Oklahoma City is never getting the television money of the Lakers or Knicks, but so what? You really think their situation is THAT far off from teams like the Celtics or Sixers?3

For Oklahoma City, the Harden trade wasn’t about losing money … it was about continuing to make money. Huge, huge difference. The Thunder realized that, as long as two top-12 players (Durant and Westbrook) were under their control, they would keep contending, keep selling out and maintain a certain level of relevancy. And by rebooting with the assets from that Harden trade (Kevin Martin’s offense as a one-year stopgap, Jeremy Lamb as a long-term replacement, Toronto’s guaranteed lottery pick and the other picks as potential trade chips), they could brainwash their fans on the whole “this is a marathon, not a sprint” spiel.

That’s a longer quote than I intended, but it’s all relevant. The piece is a terrific read.

In the previous post I had mentioned that the deal hung on the progression of Ibaka and Lamb. Zack Lowe calls Ibaka “The most important player in the league“. Excerpt:

It was true before the James Harden trade, and it’s probably even more true now: Ibaka is the most important player in the league. The Thunder have made a long-term bet that two wings and one big man is a better big-money core than three wings and a patchwork of cost-effective bigs. The Harden–Russell Westbrook–Kevin Durant trio would have always presented some redundancies, but they are all more or less sure All-Star talents. Ibaka, despite the astounding shot blocks and bogus runner-up finish in last season’s Defensive Player of the Year voting, isn’t at that level. He has to at least approach it for the Thunder to remain title contenders this season and going forward.

and

Ibaka had 28 assists last season. That is not a typo. He assisted on just 2.5 percent of Thunder field goals while on the floor, the fourth-lowest mark in the league among guys who played at least 1,000 minutes. He almost makes Tyler Hansbrough look like a good passer. Yes, Ibaka’s job on this team is to finish, but even finishers luck into more assists than this, especially when featured so often on pick-and-rolls. Ibaka is chronically missing wide-open shooters in the corners and guys under the rim in order to take less efficient 2-point jumpers:

This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if Ibaka were more comfortable catching in this area, taking a hard dribble, and exploding to the rim. He’d get more free throws doing that, and he showed flashes of this kind of game in the playoffs, including a nifty pump-fake-and-drive move that fooled both San Antonio and Miami a few times. But this stuff is in the early stages. Ibaka barely gets to the line at all; among 75 players who finished at least 50 possessions as the roll man in a pick-and-roll, only eight drew shooting fouls less often than Ibaka, according to Synergy.

And that’s what would terrify me if I were a Thunder fan. Despite having two parents who were Congo-national-team-type-players, and despite starting playing basketball at an early age (as the 3rd youngest of 18 kids), Ibaka is *still* incredibly raw. Will he ever figure it out? Maybe. Reggie Evans never really did. Theo Ratliff was usable but wasn’t great. What if that’s Ibaka’s peak — Theo Ratliff version 2.0? Some blocks, a few boards, a little scoring. Durant/ Westbrook/ “Ratliff”/ with Jeremy Lamb as a shorter Tayshaun Prince. Is that good enough?

Possibly, maybe, but probably not.

—-

Finally, a really cool “heat chart” showing Harden’s shot selection and efficiency as compared to Kevin Martin’s

Thunder Trade A Quarter For Two Dimes

by A.J. Coltrane

The trade:

Unable to work out an extension with James Harden the Oklahoma City Thunder traded the Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, breaking up the young core of the Western Conference champions.

The Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick in the surprising deal that was completed Saturday night. Oklahoma City also sent center Cole Aldrich and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston.

Functionally it breaks down to Harden for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and a couple of mid-first-round draft picks. The draft picks could be expected to return Vladimir Radmanovic level talent, or be flipped again for other assets.

What the ESPN guys think of it:

Good or bad move for Oklahoma City?

Adande: Bad move. It’s not that Harden is the critical element to the Thunder’s success. (In their only NBA Finals victory against the Heat, he scored just five points.) But the familiarity this team had built was a big part of its identity. They were comfortable. They knew exactly what this group could do. Now they enter the unknown — and that includes the career of the promising Jeremy Lamb. Potential means you haven’t done anything.

Gutierrez: Good move. Kevin Martin might not be able to play point the way Harden did, but he’ll be just as aggressive a scorer when needed. Martin also has never played on a team this good. In the short term, it shouldn’t hurt their title chances. If Lamb or the draft picks work out, it could mean even better things down the road.

Haberstroh: Definitely a bad move for the short term, and potentially a good move for the long term. There’s just no two ways about it: The Thunder just lost an Olympian and got very little in return for this season. Kevin Martin is a brittle, one-dimensional player who might be the worst defender at his position. This is about a small-market team seeking future flexibility. Remember, the Lakers earn $250 million a year off their TV deal, but the Thunder make only about $15 million from theirs. Presti has to play a different game, thanks to the harsher CBA that was supposed to help his cause.

Stein: Normally I have nothing but praise for the most decisive of teams — and perhaps Presti will ultimately be proven to be a visionary for moving Harden out faster than anyone imagined — but it’s way too soon to throw out words like good. The Thunder undeniably got a lot here. Two future first-round picks, 2012 lottery pick Jeremy Lamb and an accomplished scorer in Kevin Martin is a legit haul. But the Thunder also just broke up a trio of All-Star-caliber kiddies that truly loved playing together. They had the option of playing this season out and then dealing with everything in July had they wished. That likely would have meant matching a max offer to Harden in restricted free agency and quite possibly waiving the likes of Kendrick Perkins via the amnesty clause, but isn’t that better than telling Durant and Westbrook that Harden is gonzo mere hours before opening night?

Verrier: Bad move. If the mandate was to avoid the new CBA’s more draconian luxury tax at all costs, kudos to Sam Presti for his guts and for positioning his club to be in the title picture long-term. But I don’t know how OKC can rip a piece away from a young core that was three wins away from a title — five days from its opener, no less. Decent return, but why take the risk?

My take:

On Harden:  I’ve never been as in love with Harden as most of the media. I think he played as well as he did in college, and thus far in the pros, mostly on guile and “old guy moves”. He’s not an elite athlete. He mostly creates his shot through misdirection against second tier opposition. I think that’s why he mostly disappeared against the Heat during the playoffs — the Heat had great athletes who knew what they were doing, and it left Harden “without anything to say”. In short, I don’t think Harden is a cornerstone guy, but he’s going to get paid like he is because that’s how the league works. Calling him “A Quarter” is being generous, though it makes the title of this blog post work.

On Martin:  Gunner without a conscience. Terrible defender. All the stuff mentioned above. Rental. I don’t think the Thunder are good enough everywhere on defense to cover up his weaknesses. Think Ricky Pierce, minus the divisive personality.

On Lamb:  I really liked Lamb in college. He’s a long shooting guard with lots of potential. I think the Thunder are hoping that he can take Thabo Sefolosha’s minutes, like real soon. Lamb took a backseat to Kemba Walker in college, and I’m not sure he can be assertive enough to have a big impact at the NBA level.

In summary:  The issue is that the Thunder are counting on Lamb to get good, fast, but he’s only 20 years old. Alternately they’re hoping to get lucky with one of the draft picks. They spent their money on Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Perkins and unless Ibaka figures out a way to contribute on offense the Thunder will likely come up short year after year.

Shortly after the trade Kevin Durant offered a one word tweet:  “Wow”.

Durant is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.

The Dwight Howard Trade, Or, Be Careful What You Wish For

by A.J. Coltrane
 
Dwight Howard finally got what he wanted. Out.
 
I think there’s a broad public perception that Howard is the best center in the league right now, and by extension that makes him one of the All Time Greats. What’s the reaction going to be when he’s exposed as not really being at that level? He’s not Kareem or Wilt or Shaq… Dwight is basically Patrick Ewing minus some offense, and Patrick wasn’t quite good enough to bring a title to New York. Will Lakers’ fans turn on him in three years when they haven’t won a championship? At that point Kobe and Nash will be retired or nearly so, and Gasol will be pretty old. Then what?
 
A more immediate concern:  Dwight, Kobe, Nash, Gasol — who is the Lakers’ best player and who takes the shots when it matters? Kobe is still going to be the alpha dog, and I’m going to bet he continues to take the shots for the next couple of years, though I don’t think his body will allow him to “finish” games at an elite level; I think those days have already come and gone. Who’s going to take the blame when the Lakers can’t quite get there? It won’t be Kobe.
 
There’s also the little issue that the Lakers’ have a really old backcourt. Who guards Russell Westbrook? Or Derrick Rose? Or Chris Paul? Or Dwayne Wade? Or…
 
What it comes down to (and this is what Carmelo Anthony is running into in New York), is the question:  “With Dwight Howard as your best player, can you win a championship?” The jury is still out on Carmelo (though I’m of the firm opinion that the answer is “No”.) 
 
I think that the answer for Howard is “no” as well.
 
—-
 
Item That Really Only Fits As Sort Of A Postscript: 
 
I think it’s interesting that nobody wanted to join Howard in Orlando. Why do you figure that is?
 
—-
 
In other news:  Finaaallly, the trade is done, and we can talk about something, anything, else.
 
Bill Simmons, of course, has this terrific take on it. He’s more of the opinion that it’s a huge win for the Lakers, though he also includes this bit:
 
“…In April, after the Lakers win 65 games and everyone is getting psyched for a Heat-Lakers Finals, nobody will care that Howard acted like such a big baby. We’ll be busy with crap like ranking him against the other great Lakers centers of all time. That’s just how sports works.
 
(Well, unless the 2013 Lakers don’t realize their potential. And then? Get ready for chaos.)”
 
[There are some similar thoughts to mine in the Simmons piece. fwiw – I wrote my bit, then read his.]
 
[Late edit:  Vegas loved the trade too — the Lakers leapfrogged the Thunder and into the second best odds of a 2013 championship, behind only the Heat.]

Ray Allen Joins The Heat

by A.J. Coltrane

On Friday Ray Allen signed a 3 year, $9 million dollar contract with the Heat, turning down the Celtics’ offer of two years and $12 million.

It’s a perfect fit for Allen, and it’s exactly what the Heat need to repeat as champions. Allen will likely play 25-30 minutes a game, hang out in the corner, and bomb 3’s. The linked article also indicates that the Heat are pursuing Rashard Lewis, who would function as “Mike Miller is hurt” insurance.. and I’d expect Lewis’ play will improve when he’s healthy and motivated.

That would make for some interesting lineups for the Heat when they “play small” — LeBron, Wade, Allen, Bosh, and Battier/Lewis/Chalmers depending upon the matchups. In the modern NBA the center position isn’t as important as it once was, and the Heat are partly responsible for continuing the marginalization of the lumbering guys.

It’s good for Ray, good for the Heat, and bad for competitive balance in the NBA.

All of which I’m fine with.

Rooting For Schadenfreude

Good signs if you’re not a fan of the Thunder:

Westbrook went 4-20 in the final game, and there’s an ongoing question as to how good a fit he is with Durant. An ESPN column that I read today suggested that the Thunder may try Westbrook at shooting guard. That would make him a short (6′-3″) shooting guard, and negate some of the physical advantage that he enjoys against the little guys. But if he can’t or won’t prioritize Durant then a change may need to be made.

Allen Iverson Playoff Statistics:  29.7 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 TOpg

Russell Westbrook Playoff Statistics:  23.0 ppg, 6.1 apg, 5.5 rpg, 3.2 TOpg

I’m just sayin’… of course, Iverson wasn’t expected to share the rock.

Harden and Ibaka have contracts coming up, and the Thunder can likely only keep one of them. Ideally Harden would have gone gangbusters and gotten really expensive, but it didn’t happen. He may wind up being expensive anyway. My feeling about Harden coming out of college was that he lacked the athleticism to create his own shot in the NBA.. even in college he relied upon “old guy moves” to score. He couldn’t get away with the old guy moves against the Heat, and that’s why he was largely a nonfactor. Still, some team may still think he’s an answer and overpay, it only takes one smitten GM to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Perkins only played 20 minutes a game and groused about playing time. Unless the Thunder are playing against a true center Perkins is a liability at times on the court — he can’t guard a quick pick and roll. That’s why he sat this series. He also has shaky knees, which isn’t good for his long term mobility.

The Heat are as likely as any team to get back to the finals next year. Durant has shown that he can’t physically hang with big bangers like LeBron — the Thunder stuck Harden on LeBron a lot of the time, and it was no contest. Unless Durant gains a bunch of muscle he’s always going to struggle against LeBron, both on offense and defense. The Thunder (and basically everybody else) really don’t have an answer for LeBron.

So there’s that.

Politicians and Sports

By Blaidd Drwg

Boston mayor, Tom Menino has been in office since I was in college (let’s just say that it was in the early years starting with 199), and he is a lifelong Boston resident, so he has at least a passing familiarity with the Boston sports scene. Mayor Mumbles as he is not so affectionately known around Boston is also well known for “misspeaking”, especially when it comes to people’s names.

He recently had this wonderful screw-up talking about the Celtics:

“There’s a lot of heart in this team, let me just tell you,” Menino told reporters, before adding, “KJ is great but Hondo is really the inspiration. Hondo drives that team.”

He was referring to Kevin Garnett (KG not KJ) and Rajan Rondo. Then again, he could have been referring to Kevin Johnson, former NBA great and now Sacramento California’s mayor and Frank Howard, the burly slugger who played with the Dodgers and Senators in the 1950’s and 1960’s (Hondo was also John Havlicek’s nickname, but it would give him too much credit for referring to a former Celtic great).

Some of his other great “mis-speaks”:

He’s right that this is far from the first sports head-slapper Menino has been guilty of. When discussing the New England Patriots’ chances in the playoffs against the Denver Broncos earlier this season, Menino talked about Tom Brady’s weapons “Grabowski” (Rob Gronkowski) and “Wes Weckler” (Welker).

Menino’s most infamous reference came in 2010 during the dedication of a statue to Bruins legend Bobby Orr’s “ionic” goal to win the 1970 Stanley Cup. In discussing some of the best moments in Boston sports, Menino said it was Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek who “split the uprights” to win the Patriots’ first Super Bowl in 2002. He was, of course, referring to kicker Adam Vinatieri.

Yet he is still mayor. Go figure.

Rooting For The Spurs

by A.J. Coltrane

The San Antonio Spurs now lead the Thunder two games to none in the Western Conference Finals.

Naturally, I’m rooting for the Spurs to win, but it’s more than just vindictive in this case.

The Spurs have now won 20 in a row, and they’re doing it the “right way”, at least from a “basketball purist” perspective:  They share the rock. They play almost without ego when it comes to “who’s getting how many shots”. It’s a very international way of doing things, which makes sense, since Parker and Ginobili are both European, and Duncan grew up in the Virgin Islands.

To quote Thunder coach Scott Brooks:

“They spread you out,” Brooks said. “They put some tough decisions on the floor that you have to guard their bigs rolling, and you’ve got to protect their 40 percent 3-point shooters and you’ve got to handle the ball and looks and attack …
“They pass the ball well. Very rarely do they take one extra dribble. If a man is open, they pass.”

Emphasis mine. By contrast, the Thunder play like the AAU kids that they were growing up. Everybody pounds the ball and tries to create offense by going 1-on-1.

Tony Parker carved up the Thunder in game two using pick and rolls. Westbrook decided he had to look like a man and keep up, so he wound up jacking up a bunch of low percentage shots on isolation plays. The Spurs won simply because they shots they took were more makeable as a group.

Game 3 is Thursday. I’m going to guess that the Thunder will “get some help” and will shoot at least 7 more free throws than the Spurs. We’ll see.

I’d highly recommend watching the Spurs. The way they’re playing they may beat the Heat too. That would give Tim Duncan five championships, the same number as Kobe, and only one fewer than MJ. He’s that good.

One After Another

by A.J. Coltrane

My earliest tangible memory of Dr. J. (source).

 

The white guy shoots. The black guy jumps. I didn't think anything of it at the time, I'm not sure I should think anything of it now. It *does* highlight what each of them was known for.

 

The ad ran on the back of comic books in 1977. It probably dates to the summer after the ABA folded. I don’t remember seeing the Dr. on TV prior to that. I don’t remember Rick Barry as an active player at all. For that matter, I don’t remember our family watching any NBA when I was young — my first NBA memory was the Sonics championship series that they lost to the Bullets. (Of course, with only one TV in the house that got three channels plus PBS, it was Wide World of Sports or nothing… A least it was a *color* TV.)

I think the ad above and the video below share some DNA. To put it another way, I think they’re sort of spiritually connected somehow…

 

Who else raps like this? (lyrics link)

I Want To Say a Little Something That’s Long Overdue
The Disrespect To Women Has Got To Be Through
To All The Mothers And Sisters And The Wives And Friends
I Want To Offer My Love And Respect To The End

My favorite (and the inspiration for the title of the post), the beatdown of 3rd Bass:

So many wack M.C.’s You get the T.V. bozack
Ain’t even gonna call out your names ‘Cause you’re so wack
But one big oaf whose faker than plastic
A dictionary definition of the word spastic
You should have never started something That you couldn’t finish
‘Cause writin’ rhymes to me Is like Popeye to spinach
I’m bad ass move your fat ass ‘Cause you’re wack son
Dancin’ around like you think you’re Janet Jackson
Thought you could walk on me To get some ground to walk on
I’ll put the rug out under your ass As I talk on
I’ll take you out like a sniper on a roof
Like an M.C. at the fever in the D.J. booth
With your headphones strapped You’re rockin’ rewind pause
Tryin’ to figure out what you can do to go for yours
But like the pencil to the paper I got more to come
One after another you can all get some

More spice than the frugal gourmet!