Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Fultz Gamble

Four On The Floor
Today, the Sixers announced the rumor that has been rippling through the NBA for the better part of the weekend: they were working out a pick swap with Boston to move to the first pick, giving up their third and a future first. That first could be the Lakers pick next year (you know, the one they got for, and yes, I am serious when I write this, Michael Carter-Williams) or the Kings pick in 2019, or their own in that year. Whichever one works out better for the Celtics. With the #1 pick, the Sixers are certain to take Markelle Fultz, the consensus best player in the draft, who also happens to play the position that the team needs the most - stud guard.

There are a lot of ways to think about this, so let's go through them, on the plus and minus side.

Plus:

> Celtics Fans are *hating* this trade. They think that if the Cs keep the #3 pick, they are taking Josh Johnson, and that just doubles up on last year's Jaylen Brown move. That it locks the Celtics in the doomed Isiah Thomas is your best player era, and as gutsy as IT is, he's a defensive sieve who isn't going to ever have as good of a year as he just had, when he wasn't nearly enough to end the LeBron Era. They also think the C's are over-reacting to flaws in Fultz's game (health, character, outside shot) that should be overcome with coaching and care. Or that they are just in the Belichik-ian world of collecting assets forever, and never actually making a roster that's more than a paper tiger.

> You not only get the #1 pick, you get him with a chip on his shoulder. Fultz will lace them up against the Celtics with the knowledge that they traded down rather than take him for his entire damn career. If he comes at this with the Paul Pierce mindset, he could straight out murder the Cs for the better part of a decade, and make Sixer Fan happier than they've ever been.

> It makes sense with the roster. I don't claim to be a college hoop fan -- it's morally reprehensible -- but the people I trust give Fultz's comp as Tracy McGrady, while others say James Harden / Gilbert Arenas / Brandon Roy But Healthy And Not Going Anywhere. So he's an athletic do-everything guard that can play either position, but who is at his best on one on one breakdowns late in the clock, who doesn't need the ball in his hands all the time. If this Sixer roster stays healthy, it's got a LeBron/Magic-ish guy in Ben Simmons (please learn to shoot, Ben) next to him in the backcourt, the Olajuwon-ish unicorn that is Joel Embiid in the block, and Dario Saric and Bob Covington spotting up in the corners with no one near them, because you have to double the 1 and 5. It just works. Even more so on defense, because Embiid and RoCo are both in the top 10 in the league on that, and the other three guys are all young, athletic and give a damn.

Oh, and by the way, that's before free agency (JJ Redick would be downright *tasty* in this mix), and also says nothing about the upside potential of reasonable young guy gambles like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nik Stauskas, TJ McConnell and Richaun Holmes. Put all of those guys in 10-15 minute benchie roles, and there's real potential. Plus, you've still got your own picks and either the LA or Sacramento selection. Could still be another big asset on the way.

> This really isn't that big of a price to get the #1 pick. In terms of the top guys in the draft, the Sixers avoid a head case in Lonzo Ball and his dad, a forward in Josh Johnson that would have doubled up their roster, or a reach guard like Malik Monk. I think that if Boston wanted more assets for this pick, the Sixers would have still done it. There's a school of thought that says the team with the best player wins the trade, and they most likely got it.

Minus:

> Given that Boston is going to get three shots at a first rounder from three teams who haven't been to the playoffs in a pretty long time, there's a reasonable chance that the Cs are going to get a fine pick out of just moving down two spots in a crazy-deep draft. And make no mistake about it, thanks to the insane deal that the C's got from Brooklyn (what a coinky-dink, that teams keep making horrible deals with the C's), they'll still have plenty of shots to get where they want to go. Even if this is a whiff, they've got plenty of bullets left in the chamber. Not to mention a slew of tradable real-world assets from non-stars who bust humps on defense and might still develop into reasonable offensive players away from IT's shadow.

> It's the trade that Boston has to make, and the Sixers helped them make it. This is Thomas' team, and if they had to draft first, they would have taken Fultz... which would have caused massive locker room and crowd issues, and probably driven the town nuts. If and when the Cavs get old, the Sixers are going to have to go through Boston, and going through a team with locker room issues has to be easier than going through one that's united.

> It's another (yet another) health risk. Fultz has had some knee issues in high school and his one and done college year, and if he gets hurt, I swear, every Sixer fan is just going to go into the fetal position and moan. He's also not great from the line, which is usually an indicator that the three-point shot isn't going to be an asset. Expecting him to be knock-down from distance right away is unfair, but the expectations on number one picks is usually just that.

> As fun as it is to collect young guns, it's not what wins in the NBA. By the time the Embiid/Saric/Simmons/Fultz core is ready to win games when they aren't at their best, contracts will be up and paydays will balloon, and the team could easily find itself in the Oklahoma City redux of not being able to keep Harden with Russell Westbook and Kevin Durant.

> They still haven't gotten rid of Jahlil Okafor. I can't tell you how much I dream of Jah leaving in a trade, and how I'm hoping against hope that there is still an NBA team that thinks his empty calorie stat game is useful for any kind of asset. Come on, Chicago. Come on, New York. Don't make me beg.

> This is me trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, but Sam Hinkie should still be the Sixer GM, and I'd trust him to make this move a hell of a lot more than the Colangelos. I'm not getting over that Nerlens Noel abomination trade anytime soon. But I think they made the right move here.

So at the end of the day... I'd make the deal as well, and hope like hell that the C's don't have some other trick up their sleeve (Jimmy Butler? Paul George?).

Oh, and everyone who ever doubted that Hinkie's Process was the right way to go, and that the day would never come when this Death Star of a lineup would take the court...

Well, you haven't watched the laundry play basketball for years, probably. Don't start now. The rest of us *earned* this; you sure as hell didn't.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What We're Losing

Just visit the Obamas again
Don't worry, this one's actually about sports. Kind of.

There was an item in the news earlier this week, before the news got all shooty, where the Warriors had supposedly been unanimous in their refusal to consider a White House visit after the NBA Finals. It was also noted that the Cavaliers had previously mentioned that they wouldn't be going if they won as well, and then the story was refuted by the team saying that no decision had been made (yet). And then shootings, and parade, and life, and so, forgotten down the very fast memory hole that is American political life right now.

A colleague at the new gig opined that this sort of thing coarsens the culture, and that the team should go anyway and respect the office. He was also of the opinion that since this line had been crossed, we were never going to have White House visits for championship teams again. This inspired cross talk among several people about it. How a team from the Bay Area could never be expected to visit such a divisive figure, how what we were missing out on really wasn't something we were going to miss, and how, since the Obamas live in DC still, they should just go visit them instead.

There is, of course, a tit for tat / score keeping thing going on here, and as petty as that may seem in the days after what appears to be a crazy person making a politically motivated shooting, the simple fact of the matter is that the people who tell you not to keep score are usually the ones who benefit from the score being forgotten. Neither side has a monopoly on violence, but one side tends to intimidate with far more intimidating people, mostly because one side really, really loves guns. More than people. Maybe not more than animals, but definitely more than people. But I'll make the tactical mistake of setting this all aside to get back to the Warriors.

Let's cut this to a place where we can all relate. You have your job, and the field in which you work, which in this world and time means that your network is very important. If you were to take a photograph with a highly divisive political figure, one that could seriously impact your future earning potential, you'd probably think long and hard about it before you just, well, did it. Especially if you were *very* sure that said photograph was never going to *help* your career.

It's, well, kind of the reason why KKK members wear hoods.

For NBA players, the earning potential is actually right here and right now, thanks to commercial endorsements. They also have the added point of having some respected people in management (Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr) who have made their opinions on the current President known. How much NBA players make, or how they should just choose to make less because of someone's opinion, isn't really material to the case. You are there to make money, and taking a picture with this guy -- who, let's be very clear about this, you could disagree with on your own political consciousness, seeing how something like we're closing in on 3 out of 5 people in the country currently doing that -- can only cost you.

So on the individual level, why on earth would you do that?

And on the macro level, where people of good conscience can argue and wonder about whether the country is still governable...

Well, the last I checked, basketball players aren't elected, have no powers outside of the court where they play, and do not sway public opinion.

So why would anyone expect them to act as if they do?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

FTT Off-Topic: Once More With No Feelings

Least of all gun killings
Not sports, and whatevs.

So yewterday morning, an old white guy with a gun tried to kill a bunch of people who work in the government on a baseball field outside of DC. He hurt some people, scared a ton more, and was killed by security personnel who had much less in the way of firepower.

I have some thoughts about this. Most of them not very polite. Let's have at them, shall we?

> If the politics of the shooter didn't matter a few years ago when a liberal (Gabrielle Giffords) was permanently diminished a few years back in a horrific attack, then the politics of the shooter don't matter now. Except, of course, they do, because that's how the game is played, and this is nothing but a game. One in which only one side gets to be right when they are angry, and despite being outnumbered and outvoted in a purported democracy, they control everything. No idea why people are becoming unhinged, no idea at all.

> Please stop saying that America is better than this, because there is absolutely no evidence that we are not any better than today's depressing, well, reality. If we were better than this, it wouldn't happen, on average, on a daily basis, when the rest of the world isn't like that. If we were better than this, some of us would not like guns more than people, and clearly, that is the case. Especially the people who don't agree with us. If we were better than this, people wouldn't keep guns at all, because they would have the sense God gives a walnut and would think better of having a suicide and murder spree tool in their possession, because everyone is just a teeny tiny amount of brain chemistry from making terrible and permanent choices. All the while insisting that nope, I'm fine, would never, in total command of everything, despite every other person who did the same pretty much thinking the same.

> If you feel like the pace of these killings is increasing, you are correct. Roughly at the same rate as the number of guns per people (yes, guns: more guns than people in this fine land of ours) is rising. What a coinky-dink. Let's pass more laws that encourage more guns in more places. Something something, insanity same results.

> In a side note, there's a big drop in the number of people who identify in this nation as Christian, and there's also a highly growing number of older people. Independent of your views on Christians and old people, are you really looking forward to living in a nation of angry old white dudes with a massive amount of guns and no fear of going to Hell later?

> This will never happen, but if laws and restrictions on gun ownership happens only after Congressional staff is wounded, but not after little kids are killed... well, you'll have your answer about the relative worth of lives in America. Just a little more naked than usual.

> So to the survivors of this killing, and the survivors of the UPS shooting that happened in San Francisco just a few hours later, congratulations. In other countries, death by firearm is right up there, in terms of risk, with lightning strikes and trees falling on you, but here, not so much. By the growth in the numbers, you and yours are going to be shot at during your lives, and you've gotten your moment out of the way without mortality. You've won the lottery! Maybe not as much as the people who sell guns, but no one wins as much as those guys. No one in this country wins as much as those folks. Something something, purported democracy. Hope the money they paid you was worth it.

> Oh, and one last thing... I'm told that in moments like this, we need to be unified and say no to hate and pray for the victims and so forth, and so forth.

Which leaves me with just one, final, question.

Why, when nothing has ever changed as a result of a killing, and nothing will ever change, except for the growing number of people killed with guns?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Five: The Best (Team) Of All Time Beat The Best (Player) Of All Time

The players also mess with Barnett
A few disjointed thoughts from the end of the basketball season.

> I'm very glad this series is over, because I kept watching in on treadmills, and then running too hard and too long from being amped up about the game. Skin was falling off my feet after tonight's clincher. If this had gone any deeper, I think I'd have blown my hamstrings.

> Make no mistake about it; with the exception of Kyrie Irving doing what he normally does on the road (aka, not enough), the Cavs played out of their minds tonight. JR Smith was phenomenal. Tristan Thompson had his second-best game of the Finals. Deron Williams had moments when he looked like he belonged in the NBA. Kevin Love had foul trouble, but also had plenty of good moments in the second half, with his dirty old white guy game getting Dub bigs in foul trouble. Tyronn Lue made good use of his timeouts and even got James some rest without disaster occurring.

None of it mattered because the Dubs are just better by a clear margin, but Cleveland never went away. Against what might be the best team in NBA history, playing in front of the best home crowd in the Association, that's no small matter.

> You have to love how athletes motivate themselves. Kevin Durant, in the post-game locker room celebration caught on local radio, actually started going down the "proved them all wrong" motif, as if the prevailing wisdom wasn't that the Dubs won the championship the moment he signed. Honestly, all of these guys need to be the underdog. It's a little disturbing.

> It will be forgotten in the wash of Durant's MVP and Stephen Curry being Stephen Curry, but Andre Iguodala was a monster tonight. Made his threes, set the tone in the game-changing second quarter with hammer dunks that seemed to repudiate what James did to him in the closing moments of Game Seven last year, and made James work for his ungodly numbers. It says something to the utter impossibility of this team that a guy who was the best player on playoff teams can more or less show up at random and give this team a charge. He also had the best plus/minus of any Dub in the Finals.

> David West, Matt Barnes, JaVale McGee and James Michael McAdoo all have one more ring than Charles Barkley now. But they are still chasing Adam Morrison.

> James averaged a triple double in the Finals, and might have been the only Cav who was within hailing distance of a positive plus/minus. Tonight, he was Cleveland's whole hope late, and more or less took advantage of small ball lineups to just impose his will repeatedly on forays into the paint. But the nature of that kind of offense is that everyone else gets stale, and when you miss, you have two guys in the corners for spacing that aren't getting back in time to dissuade the Dubs from getting 3 for your 2. I don't have a better idea than what the Cavs did; they stayed in the picture. But I do know that all series long, the Warriors scored easier points, and the team that scores easier points almost always wins.

> There is, honestly, no good reason why these teams won't do this again next June. Golden State isn't old, thin, injury-prone or complacent; they share the ball and seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company. They might eventually lose some of their home court roar as the fans get spoiled and the arena goes to San Francisco, and at some point Klay Thompson has to fix his jumper, but they just went 16-1, FFS. They could be a lot worse next year and still win easily. As for Cleveland, they lost one game in three series despite not having home court in the conference finals, and while a handful of teams in the lEast seem to know what they are doing and have assets to rub together, the main strategy still seems to be Wait Until James Breaks Down. Which doesn't appear to be happening. Dude just averaged a triple double in the Finals and all. Yeesh.

> David West in the post-game sounded like he was about to lead a Baptist revival on the merits of teamwork and ball movement. Let's just say I would not be surprised if he's the last talented vet to take below market value to come pull bench duty and ring out with the Dubs.

> I get that people across the nation are sour on the Dubs act, and feel like they've ruined hoop with their 3 for 2 ways and Durant poaching, but to feel that way is to undersell the rank misery that was inflicted on this area for, well, nearly the entire time between Rick Barry and Stephen Curry. Which brings me to my final point: Tim Roye and Jim Barnett. Roye has been doing play by play for this team for 20 years, while Barnett has been here for 30, and I have to tell you... they are delightful. Enthusiastic, always centered on the game, rooting for good plays over everything, praising opponents while never trashing the efforts of the home squad, not afraid to question the refs but never to the point of overkill... honestly, just one of the best teams I've ever heard. And they *love* this team, and this team loves them.

In the post-game radio, Curry and Durant both make time for their local radio guys, thank them for their service, clearly know them personally, and willingly delay the national media to express the way they feel. Roye and Barnett have the same joy in their voices and hearts for Patrick McCaw (the rookie who gave the team big help in the fourth) and McAdoo as anyone else. They know that what they are watching is rare and wonderful, they know what they used to watch instead of this, and they are *grateful*. In a world of sports media guys trying to get over and/or make a national name for themselves, Roye and Barnett want nothing more than to cover this team, because they truly love basketball, and if you love basketball, you want to be near this team.

So while I'm glad the Dubs won because I love watching them play, and I'm happy for the players and the fans... well, I'm most happy for Roye and Barnett. They watched this team when everyone else could, and did, look away. They now get to see what might be the best team ever, up close, for a living, while doing a great job of covering the game. It honestly couldn't happen to better people.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Four: The Seduction Of The Ugly Win

OG Ugly Winners
Sorry I'm so late to the party on this, but personal life intruded; first time I've been in front of a keyboard and able to put thoughts to screen.

I saw this one in the midst of a travel trip, from yet another sports bar near yet another highway, and it was clear to me from jump that the Warriors just weren't fully into matters. Closeouts weren't as crisp, shots stayed out, and Tristan Thompson emerged from a series-long slumber to provide extra chances and utility for the Cavs. What resulted was the most points in a first half in Finals history, a sizable lead that never shrank to true discomfort level, and the first Warriors loss when they had their four all-stars in the lineup in, gulp, four months. No sweep, no perfection, and given the fact that the Cavs came back from 3-1 last year, no one in California feeling all that thrilled about having to go longer.

But the most telling point to this game was the number of technicals, and the fact that the ESPN crew couldn't keep who had which straight, leaving many to think that Draymond Green was going to be ejected in the third quarter. That was followed by nut shottery, whether intentional or retaliatory or not, by Dub C Zaza Pachulia, and days of wondering if the Dubs are mentally tough enough to sake this vampire once and for all.

Here's the thing about technical fouls: they tell you a lot more about the officiating crew than they do the players. NBA players can be high-strung, short-sighted and profane, but they are also remarkably consistent people; the guy that gets techs this month is almost always the guy who got them last month, and vice versa. When you see a bunch of them called, it's because teacher has lost control of the class, rather than the class decided to come to school unruly that day.

And that crew was, well, one of the worst I've seen work a Finals game in some time. Whistles were late, replayed was used as a crutch, all of the techs were whistled, and the third quarter took so long, I thought I was going to have to put down a security deposit on my bar stool. Games like that don't speak to Playoff Basketball or True Intensity or any of that hogwash; the Dubs didn't bring their "A" game of concentration and defensive effort, and Cleveland took advantage. But it's a lot easier to maintain a lead over a tsunami band like the Dubs when the whistle is going off so often, and de facto timeouts are coming fast and furious as the refs go play Peep Show.

It's also, well, the only way the Cavs can win this series; thug it up, clog things up, generate pace and extra timeouts with post-whistle staredowns and pose offs. It won't come naturally to them, because they do to other teams what the Dubs do to them, but this is America 2017. Win by any means necessary, even if you need the Russians to help you out. (Whoops, sorry, that last one shouldn't have been out loud.)

As for what happens next, I think the Dubs come out with better defensive focus in Game Five, Stephen Curry gets aggro, and the Cavs don't have enough answers, short of ref malfeasance. But if it somehow becomes another Thug Life game, Cleveland could continue to extend the series, and get fresh tongue baths from the media, who desperately don't want to be seen as aiding and abetting super team team up.

So in the next game, watch for techs, and late whistles, and players trying to do their own justice for past and present slights. If they are all in play, this could go deeper. If not... it's going to be an exorcism for all of the guys in Dubland.

One that, given how far these teams are ahead of their rivals, might just happen again next year...

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