Friday, February 24, 2017

Process, No Longer Trusted

Manhattan For 2nd Round Beads
So the Sixers got well and truly busy at the trade deadline, and with so many assets set up and such a clear need for non-big help, it was showtime for the Colangelos.

Who, well, blew it. And will likely continue to blow it, until this team winds up capping its ceiling in the 40-45 win zone with a healthy Joel Embiid, and a 25-30 win zone without him. Kind of like exactly where we were before three years of acquiring assets!

Let's review both deals in turn.

Nerlens Noel to Dallas for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a protected first round that's likely going to be two second round picks.

Ersan Ilyasova to Atlanta for Tiago Splitter and some second round chattel.

No, seriously.

Noel is a world-class defender, a limited offensive player who has still added skills every year of his career, and younger (!) than Anderson, the only return of this trade that's likely to see the court for the Sixers. Anderson's a wing player that looks a lot like a more expensive and less effective Robert Covington, which is to say a guy who is going to get floor time with the departure of Ilyasova, but not do much with it. As for the protected pick, NBA Hell is paved with teams that draft in the 15-25 range, get guys who tap out at bench level, and pay more for them than they would from finding guys in free agency or the second round. (As for Bogut and Splitter, both are likely health and buyout and toss candidates, just like in the bad old days when the Sixers were unwatchable and threw away guys like JaVale McGee just because.)

Oh, and here's the additional fun point: Noel leaving means that the clearly inferior Jahlil Okafor is here for the long term, and Oak isn't, well, a good NBA player. Now or ever, in that his vaunted offensive game is 3-point-less, which means it doesn't really work in today's game, and his defense and rebounding are bad when he cares, and worse most of the time.

If you want to give the Sixer brain trust far more credit than they deserve, you spin it like this. Noel was going to cost a lot of money to retain and would have never been happy being Embiid's caddy and injury fallback. Okafor has been a model citizen throughout this period of uncertainty, and Noel pouted in the pre-season. Scorers are harder to find than defenders, and Oakafor is still really young.

The trouble with all of that is that if Okafor is bad at defense when he's young, plodding and earthbound, he's going to be an absolute joke at it after he gets some wear and tear. And for all of his low-post craftiness, he's not better than Embiid down on the block, which means that he's never going to be a guy you can play effectively with our super stud. Noel, actually, worked well with him, since Nerlens' offensive game is entirely dunk and free throw jumper based; he can just pound the glass and let Embiid do whatever he wanted to.

As for Ilyasova... well, Splitter isn't going to play here, and Sam Hinkie was routinely ridiculed for trading bad players for second rounders. Now we're moving serviceable ones for those. What professionalism the Colangelos bring to the organization; so glad that Adam Silver forced him here.

And yes, I know, I'm making too much out of this, and maybe Anderson develops here and I'm probably just protecting personal stress on this. But dammit, we had a franchise that routinely won trades, always worked with a clear objective in mind, and rarely moved young players at anything other than maximum value.

Now, we don't.

Which pretty much makes it four for four in area teams who seem to just wing it...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Madness Of The Kings

The Man, The Monster, The Boogie
So a quick word, because life is very busy right now and all we have time for is quick words, on the train wreck trade that the Sactown Kings gifted the New Orleans Pelicans with this week. DeMarcus Cousins, a problem that might be one of the ten best players in the league, off to NoLa for a great big pile of guys who aren't going to help anyone win.

No, seriously.

Now, I get why the Kings wanted to deal Boogie; he's a massive pain in the ass, but he's also home-grown, in that they've had *years* to try to figure out how to handle him, and never did. Cousins was likely going to walk after 2018 free agency, so moving him before you get nothing has appeal, and yeah, there's also the real possibility that he's a tragic figure, in that if he's the best player on your team, your best player is a technical foul time bomb, turnover prone, foul prone, and quite possibly mental. He's also sporadic with the defense, and might have the worst body language in the game right now.

Here's the problem with all of that: it describes any number of very good NBA players on very bad teams, because very good NBA players on very bad teams either stop caring (i.e., stop being very good) or go insane. There's nothing that Boogie has done that wasn't right in line with the Charles Barkley career, or the Shawn Kemp career, or the Antoine Walker career, or in a couple of years, the Paul George career. The NBA is a brutally competitive league that does *not* take turns; you have a really good chance of being that stud who never wins a ring here, and that role rankles everyone who ever takes it.

The Pelicans get to pair Boogie with Anthony Davis, coming off an MVP effort in the All-Star Game, because when AD doesn't have to deal with centers, he's even more impossible to handle than before. They still have Jrue Holliday, the best PG in the league that no one ever really thinks much of, because he's an ace on defense and misses too much time to think too highly of. Tim Frazier's a decent enough PG2 now, Quincy Poindexter and Dante Cunningham have uses, and they still have a half dozen bigs they can throw out there after Boogie gets teed up. If someone else throws them a decent 3-and-D wing, they'd be downright dangerous in more than theory.

And what did the Kings get? Buddy Hield, the shooting guard from Oklahoma that has first round bust and bench guy ceiling written all over him. Tyreke Evans, the rich man's Tony Wroten, who wore out his welcome with the Kings after they drafted him, because he's a combo guard ballhog and ball stop who doesn't defend. Langston Galloway, who has carved out a nice little career for himself from the Knicks D-league team a year ago, but FFS, we're talking about a guy who could go play in Europe tomorrow and no one would miss him. And pic ktomfoolery, which only really helps if the Pels tank, which they aren't going to any more.

Hield, Evans and Galloway get to pair up with Rudy Gay, I guess, Willie Cauley-Stein (no hands or offensive moves beyond throwing down lobs), Ben McLemore (defense last shooter), Ty Lawson (ancient smurf point guard, no longer a starter in the league) and a bunch of other guys who are going to be dreaming of a trade before the deadline or in the off-season. Because if this teams wins more than 20% of its games in the rest of the year, someone will need to investigate for game fixing.

There's a simple rule about evaluating who wins a deal; it's the team that gets the best player, because trading that dollar bill for several shiny nickles and quarters rarely works out. To that rule, add this: the team that gets the only good player. However, as lopsided as this deal is, I'm also not certain this really changes NoLa's ceiling (first round loser to Golden State or San Antonio), because there's little chance this pairing is going to fully mesh in 25 games, let alone get out and guard the 3-point line, which is where good teams end you, anyway.

But from a pure fan standpoint? We just made the first round of the Western playoffs *far* more intriguing, if for no other reason that we're giving Cousins, the free agent to be in a national showcase and spotlight, four to seven games to show the world that a Dubs-Cavs rematch isn't ordained by God. (It still is, but illusions are more fun than real life. Kind of like the Davis/Cousins Twin Tower concept.)

At least this deal wasn't made by the Lakers or Celtics, or have some team's ex-Hall of Fame player pull the trigger while the league pretends it was fair for both sides...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How Dare You Hate

Cake Time
Tonight in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant made his first appearance as a visiting player, having signed a free agent deal with the Golden State Warriors in the off-season. Not surprisingly, the fans booed the living hell out of him, brought cupcake signs to try to rattle him, and cheered as if their lives depended on it, or as if their team really could keep up with the best basketball team in the world. It stayed competitive throughout, and star guard Russell Westbrook put up a 47/11/8 line for the home team, but the Warriors won by 16, and would have won by more if the scrubs had kept up the momentum in the dying moments. In three games this year, the Warriors have rolled the Thunder in every game, and while anything can happen in a single game of hoop, it's hard to see how they wouldn't roll them in the vast majority of encounters.

Which means that we turned, with speed, into Not Game, and for ESPN's cavalcade of Not Gamers, it was how unfortunate it was that Durant's 9-year career for his former laundry wasn't going to ever have the feel-good moment of Thunder Fan thanking him for the memories in a highlight reel of goodness.

Which leads me to the following and final point, and I'm sorry for the following moment of screaming, but...


Look, NBA tickets are expensive. Sports are something where you can buy a ticket, root for your laundry for a few hours, and think almost exclusively about the dumb thing that everyone else is thinking about. It's a release, escapism, maybe even (just maybe) FUN. Doing something that some media elite tells you to do, because you might hurt the feelings (oh, and by the way, you won't) of some dude who makes more in a single game than anyone in the stands will make in a year...

Well, Screw That. With as much urgency and lack of discretion as humanly possible.

Thunder Fan does not "owe" Durant anything. They don't have to cheer for him if they don't want to. If they ever decide to, maybe in five to ten years if he chose to return to end his career where it began (and even that's not true, since his career started in Seattle), that's on them. You buy your ticket, you get to decide what you want to do, within reason, in the arena. Bring cupcake signs, cheer respectfully in warm-ups than boo him in the game, turn your back on him with a pointed display of disciplined silence (a protest that, I think, would be wildly cool if ever executed)...

it's entirely up to you. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Your ride, your way.

And if any media person wants to tell you any different?

Perhaps, next time, you should bring some signs addressing how much you respect their opinion.

Not that those will get on camera, of course...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Once More Into The Knicks

This Year's New Low
Let's start this where it begins. In America. The United States, specifically.

In the United States, very rich people like to believe that they got that way on the merits. Those merits might be hard work, insight, vision, determination, or even, more darkly, the superiority of their birth. But independent of anything else, the rich as seen are having merit. After all, if they didn't have merit, they wouldn't be rich.

Now, let's pivot to sports. Unlike way too much of our daily lives, sports has a scoreboard; a wonderful, definitive scoreboard that ends all doubts as to who won and who lost. You can argue that a team was lucky, you can argue that if only one factor had changed, it would be different, but everyone knows in the back of their minds that these are arguments for suckers. You either won or you lost. It's as black and white as life gets, and if you won, there had to have been some merits involved. Talent, hard work, strategy, preparation; teams don't generally just chuck it out there and hope for the best.

Now, the Knicks.

The Knicks are a *terrible* basketball franchise. They've been a terrible basketball franchise for a very long time. In what might be the weakest division in the weaker conference, they rarely threaten for the playoffs, despite playing in the media hub of the universe, to packed houses of NBA-mad celebrities, for a league that keeps its offices in the greater NYC area, and would plainly *love* a NYC team, in the world's most famous arena, to occasionally play a meaningful game.

They don't.

Instead, owner James Dolan fails and fails and fails again. He hires names from the past instead of people who have adapted to the way the game is played now. He cycles through coaches like a sick person cycles through tissues and cough drops. (Yes, actually, as I write this, I'm ill. It's peachy.) And every year, just as it becomes obvious that the construction of the latest Knick roster isn't going to be able to get it done (here's a hint, you mooks: try valuing 2-way players who win on advanced analytics, rather than Name Stars who aren't as good as their reputations, don't move the ball and don't defend)...

Well, there's some New Distraction to show that the organization is always more than willing to put more trash on the fire.

This year, it's GM and Old Man Shaking His Fist At Clouds That Resemble The Three Point Line Phil Jackson, who has spent the past few years showing Tough Love to star forward and embodiment of all that's wrong Carmelo Anthony. With the problem being that Tough Love tends to drive down the old trade value when you are trying to move on from this guy, especially since he's signed to a big whopping contract that you, yourself, inked in the not too distant past, when you made the utter whiff mistake of thinking that you could teach / motivate / change the dude into being something he clearly isn't, which is (not) the centerpiece of a championship team.

This week, it's the tawdry spectacle of franchise legend and very possibly crazy person Charles Oakley, who was escorted out of the building in a scene from Jerry Springer, subsequently banned for life and arrested, then given a rollicking character assassination by Dolan, AKA the last guy who should be discussing anyone's character. (Remember, this is the asshat who keeps hiring Isiah Thomas, no matter what results, on the court or in the courts.)

This has led to the very curious spectacle of people chanting for Oakley at Knicks home games -- as if he's going to wander out on the floor and change the course of play and/or get Anthony to D up -- and the usual hand wringing about what can be done to fix the Knicks.

And now, we're back to where we started; in America. Home of rich people who can screw up all they like, because they are rich.

In other countries, sports leagues have relegation, and long-time readers of the blog will note that I've been singing this sad song for a very, very long time... but the point still holds. If there were many basketball leagues instead of one, the way that the world treats soccer / football, Dolan wouldn't have an NBA (Tier 1) team. And as soon as he didn't have that, the celebs and crowds would melt away, and as soon as that happens, he'd have sold. Or done whatever the hell he wanted to, because who the hell cares.

Instead, Dolan will be an NBA owner until he dies, or takes the Donald Sterling exit. The Knicks will be the Knicks; always chasing the short-term shiny, never doing it with a lick of sense. And we'll have annual moments like the Oakley Affair, with think pieces of how this is the New Low, as if Dolan wasn't always capable of more.

American exceptionalism. See how it hurts?

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Curious Case Of Thomas John McConnell

Win And Run
Coming into this Sixers season, we knew a couple of things.

1) Coach Brett Brown wanted to start rookie Ben Simmons at point guard, and

2) It was probably the best idea, because the other options were a 35-year-old Spaniard, a middling free agent who might be OK, and a too-short undrafted free agent who wasn't good on defense or from the three point arc. AKA a guy who was probably putting his per diem in a cookie jar, because The Dream was going to end at any moment, and there was certainly no other NBA team that would sign his pallid ass.

Then, Simmons got hurt. The middling guy, Jerryd Bayless, came back but never looked right, and went down for the year. The Spaniard, Sergio Rodriguez, turned out to be occasionally useful, but certainly not anything that you had to give 35 minutes a game to, because, well, he was what he was. And the UDFA?

Keeps winning games with last second makes, and the team keeps looking its best when he's on the floor.

I have no real idea if TJ McConnell is anything more than a guy who has strung together some good moments in the dog days of the NBA season, or someone who is actually developing into a real NBA PG. When he has to go up against stud PGs, he suffers, but by that standard, so do a a lot of guys. His three point stroke is better, but certainly not as good as it needs to be. He tries hard on defense and has active hands, but he's just not tall or have enough of a leap to really bother people.

But man alive, does he have good instincts. And while it's totally damming him with the faintest of praise, he's the best PG that the team has had in the last five years. (There are literally dozens of guys who have had this gig, by the way. TJ beats out a gallery of swill that, at its best, includes a half season of healthy Tony Wooten, a driver who could not shoot free throws or threes, the vagabond bricklayer Michael Carter-Williams, and the mildly useful but eventually very overexposed Ish Smith. It's been ugly. Honestly, if the Lakers had just done what they were supposed to and taken Jahlil Okafor, the team would have pounced on D'Angelo Russell and been wildly more watchable for the last year and a half. But I digress.)

Tonight in Orlando, the Joel Embiid-less Sixers snapped a five game losing streak despite the starting forwards (Ersan Ilyasova, fading, and Bob Covington, still not really back after an injury) missing just about everything. They did it with defense, some threes from Rodriguez to help overcome an early hole, a career night from emerging rookie Dario Saric, and in the final two possessions after rampant shakiness, a mid-range McConnell make, then a steal. In the clutch, it was the UDFA with the game winning plays, and not the guy (Elfrid Payton, very athletic and well-scouted PG who doesn't show any signs of being anything but a guy you always lose with) they drafted in the first, then pawned off on Orlando for a first round pick and Saric, drafted two picks later.

By the way, the Saric-Payton trade? Highway robbery, and yet another moment of Sam Hinkie Died For Your Sins. But I digress.

Most telling? That McConnell pretty much ran off the floor after the two plays to end it like he was ducking a subpoena. Maybe he was just trying to avoid a replay of his game-winner in January against New York, when he broke Carmelo Anthony's ankles, then had to endure Embiid screaming at him like he was a pro wrestler.

If and when Simmons hits the floor, McConnell likely goes to the bench, and takes Rodriguez's PG2 minutes. If the rook isn't a PG, the team will probably draft one (please, Lord, guards; it's nice that Nic Stauskas and Gerald Henderson resemble NBA players now, but they don't really resemble NBA players on really good teams, and it's not as if Hendu is going to get any better than this). I still think TJ's NBA future is decades wearing suits and coaching guys, much more than the years that he'll be in a uniform.

But the nice part of these past six weeks is that a guy who tries like mad, plays the right way, and gets everything imaginable out of his meager talents is going to have years in the league, rather than weeks.

And if JJ Barea can win a ring, and Matthew Delevedova...

Well, I like McConnell a lot more than either of those guys. He's not a pocket thug. He throws a pretty great lob to the bigs. He's still also pretty damned young, and if he improves as much as he did from last year -- say, by getting that shaky three point shot right...

He might actually be more than that.

(Yeah, I know, probably not. But at least this year, you don't feel bad about rooting for him.)

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