Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Weatherford Affair

Player  / Not A Player
So the kerfluffle this week in my part of the world, assuming that you are not paying attention to the Phillies (and honestly, I'm pretty sure that no one locally has paid attention to that dumpster fire for years now)... was Giants P Steve Weatherford daring to give a remarkably accurate assessment to the Eagles' muddled QB situation.

Which led to Eagles C Jason Kelce grousing that Weatherford was particularly unqualified to talk trash, seeing how his position was protected from contact. (Nice money quote: "Interviewing punters is a thing now?") Weatherford backed down from the statement, again in a highly even-handed way, all the while freely admitting that the Eagles were completely correct to react in the way that they did to his words.

Now, I get that all of this is Not Game, and that it is happening in one of the few weeks of the entire goddamned year that you can actually be free of the NFL. This should be the time that we're taking MLB attendees to task for allowing the remarkably over-the-top KC Fans to hijack a meaningless game, or engaging in pointless speculation about NBA free agents. And yet, here we are in the muck of this silliness, which the world will little note nor long remember, assuming someone on the Eagles STs fails to take a run at Weatherford in a game, or if Weatherford just avoids punter calamity during said game.

I'm still taking time with it for one reason, though... and that's the man without a country status of Weatherford, and what hypocrites the world is when it comes to athlete trash talk.

If Weatherford was a civilian, or even an ex-player, he might not have gotten press attention in the first place... but it's also unlikely that Kelce displays even the trace element of butthurt shown here. If Weatherford was a trench player, it would get play for the week or so, and be more or less part of the usual Giants-Eagles brouhaha. But only because he's in the netherworld of neither fish nor fowl -- not quite civilian, not quite Real Football Player -- we get to more or less dismiss what he said, because of who he is.

Well, he's not wrong. Any team is doomed with QB3, just as any team that has a decision to make between QB1 and QB2 is likely to have A Problem. Weatherford might have said this indelicately, and it may not have been his place to say.

But he's not *wrong*...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Shouldn't LeBron James Leave Cleveland?

Moar T-Shirts In Future?
Trolling Cleveland Fan seems like such a *wrong* thing to do, really. Lo, how those people have suffered! They haven't won a title of any kind in half a century! They not only drafted Johnny Manziel, they have to cheer for him! They don't even have hockey any more, and no one even remembers that that they had it in the first place! And so on, and so on.

But I've got news for these folks... no one really cares about Your Pain. College football fans think you've got it way too good, seeing how Ohio State seems to be the only non-SEC school that wins championships now. You spent most of the '90s running roughshod over much of the American League in a brand-new yard. You have the best basketball player on the planet, who dragged your sorry asses to the Finals, left, got vilified for it, then came back and did it again. You got an expansion NFL franchise ahead of markets like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Portland, London, and so on. And, well, you live in Cleveland, and either didn't choose to leave it when you became adults, or moved to it for some reason. No one, outside of mass media honks trying to make an Easy Story out of Your Misery, could give a rolling rut at a flying doughnut.

Oh, sure, Cleveland Fan, there's absolutely nothing to worry about in re Prodigal King (LeBron) James going for another one year deal. It's a FORMALITY, for heaven's sake. Just an accounting moment to make sure that his contract will be right-sized when the NBA's contract cap gets turned into Monopoly money in 2016. It's all from the new TV rights deals that is going go make even the most hidebound MLB fan realize their sport is #3 with an anchor.

But, well.. what if it's not?

Imagine, for just a moment, what Chicago might look like with James. It's not as if new coach Fred Hoiberg is any less of a pushover than Cavs coach David Blatt was, and after a lifetime of torturing Bulls Fan, James would have a deep roster that would allow him to take more time off, and not be so locked down on defense. For the Bulls, it would finally get them to the point of not having to reply on fragile PG Derrick Rose to be their bailout option, and to finally get easy shots in half-court when the games get tight. In the lEast, they'd win 60+ games without much in the way of regular season effort, and get to the Finals without more than a couple of losses. And James has never played with a big that would make his life easier than Pau Gasol. For a one-year rental, it's as easy a road to the Finals as you can get.

If a winter in Chicago isn't realistic, what about a return to Miami? They just got what might have been the steal of the draft in Justise Winslow, could have a backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade, and a startlingly good front court of Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside to go with James, Winslow, Chris Anderson and more. Unlike Cleveland, Miami didn't kick James as he left, and he knows he can win here. Just like Chicago, it's an auto 60+ wins, and unlike Chicago or Cleveland, he might actually respect the coach. After a season of pretending that things were working out with Kevin Love, or that Matthew Dellevedova and Timofey Mozgov didn't own their livelihood to him, going back seems like ease to me.

I'll rule out the rest of the lEastern pretenders because there's really no reason to make this point too much, but the plain and simple fact is that James on any of last year's playoff teams probably gets that team to the Finals. And while free agent season might swing things a bit, along with the possibility of some high performances from the rookies, that's just how much better James is. So long as he stays in the lEast, that team is the favorite for the Finals. It's just a matter of how exhausted he might be when they start, and whether the club he joins has any real shot at taking down the team from the vastly superior conference.

Now, there's been no evidence that James is even considering any of this. He's not even scheduled to visit teams. But things can change in a hurry, especially when James is seemingly going into wait-and-see mode with Cleveland management to sign some other free agents... and the man is officially on the back nine of his NBA career now, on the wrong side of 30, with only two rings in six trips to the Finals.

To be regarded as not just the best player of his generation, but maybe the best player, period -- and yes, I'd argue it, simply because his supporting casts have been so much less than what His Airness had to work with, and the all-around numbers for James are just overwhelming...

Well, he's left them before to win a championship. Why not again?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Other Leg Drops On Sam Hinkie

Once On, Never Off?
Something that started to make Sixers observers wonder, and part of my significant amount of despair regarding the less than thrilling Sixers draft, was the inability to package second round assets to trade up into the first round for, well, a guard. Any guard, really. Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has been good at finding some in the flotsam of NBA fringe talent, but you can't expect to do more than get a good benchie or two that way. Top tier talent will win out in games and minutes that matter, and coaching up folks requires them to come in with enough on the ball.

Anyhoo... the hope was that he'd move up and take someone who might be of more immediate help than, say, the gaggle of foreign centers and power forwards that we'll probably never, ever see in the laundry. And as the draft bled away and the Sixers did nothing of their usual note, it made me start to wonder, especially with the number of teams that have come up short in deals with the man, whether he was just not finding people to dance with.

Which leads to tonight's little note... $3 million last season to the Pelicans in fines for failing to disclose a leg injury to Jrue Holiday, prior to dealing him for the pick that became Nerlens Noel. Which seems like a pittance for what winds up costing a team more than half of the games that his team has played.

Now, NBA teams don't out and out blackball a team from trades. It's also not as if there is a smoking gun and clear causality in Holiday being limited by what the Sixers knew, and the Pelicans didn't. You'd have to do a lot more than what the Sixers are alleged to do to not have anyone make trades with you, or take calls, especially if you are in the need for a big, and the laundry has those.

But you don't have to treat them as, well, most favored nations. Or to take their first dozen odd offers, or take what might seem to be a solid offer. You can, in short, treat them like untrustworthy customers, or maybe even just wait them out for weeks afterward, possibly in the same way that the Celtics got shut out of moving all of their assets.

It's a small league. And it doesn't take that much to shut down avenues of talent acquisition. Which kind of makes somehow getting a free agent of note to somehow come to an 18-win tank party suddenly important...

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Sixers Draft: There Is No Trust, Or Process

Brett Brown's Reaction
I've been carrying Sixers GM Sam Hinkie's water for years. He's made any number of great trades, picks and so on... all while not putting together anything close to a team that could ever win more than a quarter of the games they play.

They've steadfastly gone for the philosophy of Best Player Available, refused to sign or trade for or keep middling talents that would lock them into the pointless middle area of lEastern Conference 8 seed basketball, and plunged the franchise into a 2-years-and-counting period where every Sixer Fan has felt like they might be a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. In a league filled with teams that tank, the Sixers have been bald-faced about it, and pilloried. They also haven't been very lucky with the things that have been beyond their control (i.e., lottery slots).

But losing with purpose and a plan has actually always been supported in this town. The Eagles in the early days of Dick Vermeil and Andy Reid lost handily and everyone was fine with it. The Sixers in the Iverson build got broad support. The Phillies in the days of Ed Wade. If you play kids and commit to it, and said kids try hard, this town cheers for them. They are far more patient than you might imagine, especially for a town that's a top ten media market, where people spend real coin to see games, and have other options.

Tonight was supposed to be about when the Sixers pivoted from developmental to watchable. With the two bigs supposed to come off the board, Hinkie would just take his pick of D'Angelo Russell and Emanual Mundiay. Finally, we'd have someone beyond a D-League point guard, and the club might get Joel Embiid and Dario Saric on the floor, to go with Interesting Pieces found in last year's year-long talent sift. Maybe even, be still my heart, make a trade that wasn't for future second round picks. The club had assets, dammit, so many second round picks that they could maybe package up and use to get a guy on an expiring deal who might be able to hit an open jumper.

So, what did we get?

Well, the Lakers fell in love with Russell, because they saw New Stephen Curry in him, and screwed up the top of the board. The Sixers then took Okafor, and while it really seems to force a trade at less than peak value for either Embiid or Nerlens Noel, Okafor was the consensus top pick not so long ago. You had to take him, fit be damned, and three young bigs to split 96 minutes is defensible, especially if Embiid's foot issues continue. Still time to save the night and the season by getting a point. Just...

Make a trade, maybe for Jerian Grant, the brother of current Sixer Jerami? Nope, he goes off the board in the first round, and the team never trades up. Take a guard with one of their high second round picks? Nope. Instead, Hinkie went for two MORE centers, both of them foreign stash guys, and I'm not going to bother spelling their names here, because there is no earthly reason to learn those names. Take someone late? No, not really, two foreign PFs to go with the two foreign Cs.

A team that went into the draft with starters like Hollis Thompson, Ish Smith and Tony Wroten didn't even produce competition for those jobs. Unless you think J.P. Tokoto, a UNC SF who profiles as a No Offense project, can come through... well, the worst position group in the league didn't get any better.

Maybe I'm wrong here. Maybe there's a trade coming down the pike for Ty Lawson, or Isiah Thomas, or any number of presumably available guards. But that's not how you build a roster, because everyone else in the league *knows* you've got to make a move, and won't give up real value.By the end of the night, ESPN was mocking the Sixer picks before they happened, the same as NFLN guys mock the Eagles for taking Best Available Oregon Duck. Short of something amazing happening, this 18 win team might win... 18 games again. I no longer trust the process, or that there is any kind of plan, other than to lose a lot of games and not pay anyone.

Honestly, is all of my laundry trying to get me to stop caring, all at once?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Top 10 NBA Draft Takeaways

Oh Those Knicks
10) No team in the lottery made any trades, which made fans of chaos and playoff teams furious

9) Cameron Payne's third person game is already at the level of a 10-year veteran

8) Enough tall people made occasionally interesting choices in clothing to keep ESPN awake

7) Since the Warriors won the NBA championship, the Lakers took a star/flop risk at the #2 pick in D'Angelo Russell

6) With Russell off the board, the Sixers went into full Big Man Nihilist Pout Mode with Jahlil Okafor and second round bigs, which means they plan to start a team with five centers, and win games by holding the other team scoreless

5) You will be very surprised to learn that God had a lot to do with this draft, and deserved a significant amount of credit

4) Charlotte continued their quest to only draft forward who can't defend, otherwise known as guys that Michael Jordan can still beat one on one

3) Knick Fan lost their minds when Phil Jackson took a 7-foot three-point shooter from Latvia, whose name will be changed to Andrea Tskitishvili Jianlin Darko Weis

2) I'm not saying that Boston has a guard hoarding problem, but they really need to ventilate the room and admit that they can't play more than five of them at a time

1) It's an exaggeration to say that every lottery pick is going to provoke an eventual trade, because, well, Knicks

Let Love Leave

Owie Owie Owie
Today in Cleveland, Kevin Love opted out of the final year of his contract, leaving $16.7 million on the table to give him the ability to sign for more from either his current team, or the increasingly unhinged Lakers, Blazers or Celtics.

Now, each of these teams has really good reasons to go after Love. The Lakers aren't likely to keep their draft pick next year, and presumably want to send Kobe Bryant and whatever number of games he might play off into retirement with something approaching competitiveness. Boston can't say no to a possibly good white player, and have shown the ability to hide defensive sieves with coach Brad Stevens having Jedi powers. Portland is probably in the midst of a teardown, having just sent Nicolas Batum off to Charlotte for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, in other words, two guys that, unlike Batum, aren't going to be on the floor for a team that matters in a game that matters. And with NBA contract cap sizes poised to hit the hyperspace button fairly soon, Love's number shouldn't be a team breaker... especially because, well, he had the worst year of his career last year, he's going to be on the back nine of his career pretty soon, and there's a really good chance that's his true level on a good team, rather than what he put up in the Minnesota void.

What's striking about this, of course, is what Love said -- that he's going to be back in Cleveland because "he wants to win." If that's really the case, why opt out at all? If you think you are going to win, isn't your negotiating position going to be even better after you, well, win?

The answer is, of course, no... because in his heart of hearts, Love knows that being in Cleveland in the future is just going to be more of the same. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving aren't going to demand the ball less. If and when Anderson Varejao is back, Timofey Mozgov is for real, or Tristan Thompson gets paid, that's space and minutes that's going to be taken up, and James will wade in there as he gets older and more earthbound. So Love gets to wander out to the arc and shoot more big kid threes, which is to say, he'll be a three and no D guy, as well as the alpha on those regular season games that don't matter. He's useful because he helps to keep James' minutes down, but as he has no defensive position in the modern NBA, I really don't know that he helps you win games that matter.

Now, compare that to Portland, LA or Boston, where he'll never work past early May, go back to 20-10 numbers, and have lots of people saying he's a top three team kind of guy. Oh, and there's also the not very small matter of Not Being In Cleveland.

I'm not saying that Love is out of Cleveland as a done deal. De facto GM LeBron James has convinced a lot of people over the years, Love isn't making big See Ya waves, and there's no more sure way to play for the championship in June than to be on LeBron's team in the East. But if I'm James in Cleveland, I can think of better ways to spend my money than Love.

How? Well, Dwyane Wade seems to want out of Miami. If the lineup is him and Irving in the back court, with James, Mozgov and Thompson up front... well, then I've got four very good defenders, and two guys with multiple rings for when the games matter. We've also seen Wade assume a secondary role to James and succeed, unlike Love. And if you feel that Wade's health issues are too strong, then go for Monta Ellis out of Dallas, who gives you an option if Irving's hurt again, and you can move Iman Shumpert and JR Smith back to the strong bench roles where they would thrive.

Finally and most tellingly... the Cavs just got ran off the floor by Small and Good At Defense -- two things that Love is not. Swap him out for Wade or Ellis, and let Love go be the good numbers bad player that he may have always been. (Oh, and you could have also not done the trade for him in the first place, and have Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, who might have gotten you to Game Seven against the Warriors. GM James leaves some things to be desired.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Harvey Pollack Closes The Book

The Best
The last original employee of the National Basketball Association, 76ers statistician Harvey Pollack, passed away earlier tonight. He was 93.

To call Pollack a giant in the history of the game is to trivialize the word giant. He was to basketball what Henry Chadwick was to baseball, what Jerry Izenberg and the Sabol brothers are to the NFL -- simply the pioneer of a field that thousands more would enter, and untold millions would enjoy.

It's Pollack's handwriting on Wilt Chamberlain's 100 sign, but his legacy is a lot more than that. He brought advanced (non-counting) statistics to the game decades before other sports got there, published books that the people who worked in the game refused to do without, and brought a joy to the work that was contagious and lifelong.

Here's the thing about Pollack, and perhaps the best wish you can ever make for a life well lived... he never retired. He loved what he did, and was so good at it, that he never had, or wanted, to stop. And the fact that he never stopped working for the Sixers was one of the small touch points that has helped those of us who root for the laundry... well, reassure us that as bad as the product might get on the floor, they still did some things right.

A very small aside: I happen to play in fantasy leagues with one of his grandsons, who has worked with him for years, as the Pollack family business has been a legacy that's been shared over generations. The Pollack I know is a strong competitor, a distinctive voice at the draft, an owner who never quits on his club no matter what the luck brings, and just an all-around good guy. My condolences to him and his family.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Sixers at 3, Or Here We Go Again

Fear Him. Fear Him Much.
Before we dip into the preview of Thursday night's NBA draft shenanigans for my favorite laundry, let's look at where we were a year ago. Cleveland was all set to take Joel Embiid. He fit a need, they loved him in workouts, and Sixer Fan was cautiously optimistic that a year of tankery was going to get them lust object Andrew Wiggins, since Milwaukee was locked into Jabari Parker. Wiggins would fit in right between Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, the team would be athletic and get into the open court, and while the club wasn't going to be a real playoff threat, they'd be watchable.

Then Embiid got hurt, Cleveland took Wiggins (eventually to trade to Minnesota for the end of Kevin Love's deal), and Dark Lord Sam Hinkie pulled the heretofore unprecedented double tank, taking Embiid for the medical redshirt, then doubling down with future asset Dario Saric. The team opened up 0-17, eventually found and developed enough assets to compete, then dealt Carter-Williams in an unprecedented doubling down of the reset.

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. The Sixers loaded up on second rounders, got no love or luck in trying to get additional first rounders with the Heat and Thunder picks, and find themselves, once again, with the third pick of the draft, and a high probability that their fans will have their preferred pick pulled out from under them.

What should happen is that the Wolves and Lakers take the safe approach and lock down the 1 and 1A bigs, Karl-Anthony Townes and Jahlil Okafor. Townes is the better pick for Minny's defense-free situation, where he can anchor and start breaks, and save them from the limited work of Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Townes is great defensively now, and could be good on offense later, and stands out as the Guy With No Weaknesses. Then the Lakers should come in and take Okafor, the best low-post guy and a Dookie who should give no one any attitude issues, leaving Hinkie with his choice of point guards, either the smooth gunning  D'Angelo Russell or the athletic world traveler Emmanuel Mundiay. In our April daydreams, Russell turns into the hybrid James Harden / Stephen Curry of our dreams, Embiid becomes magically healthy and delicious, Saric got out of his deal, and we suddenly had the East's most fun club, and maybe something in the realm of 40 wins and scaring the hell out of a high pick.

Of course, all of that dreaming also had the Lakers and Thunder picks working out. And they didn't. And those dreams didn't have scary as hell rumors that Embiid's feet still weren't right, making last year's pick look like a stone cold loser. (Note: last year's draft is looking truly horrible at this point, so much so that Embiid at #3 is still defensible, even without him ever getting on the damned court.) Saric's still in Euroland... and there are rumblings that the Lakers don't want Okafor, because he's too similar to last year's injury washout (Julius Randle), and everyone in the NBA is suddenly small-happy because we all need to be like the World Champion Warriors. Which means the Lakers might take Russell, leaving the Sixers with the same damned choice as last year -- another big, another year of not very watchable ball because the guards aren't up to snuff, and who knows, maybe another foot problem. With six, you get eggroll.

Oh, and that's the *sane* approach. Which Dark Lord Hinkie might not go for at all, considering that the only thing better than an unprecedented double-tank is a mind-crushing triple tank. Which bring us to Door Number Three, aka Kristaps Porzingas.

If you've never heard of Porzingas, you shouldn't feel bad. He's a 7-foot 19-year-old from Latvia who spans the gamut from Dirk Nowitzki to all of those horrible sticks that weren't Dirk. (Skittish Villi is my favorite, but modern NBA guys will say Yi Jianlian.) As you might guess, I want no parts of this, because tall 3-point shooters make me wince with the fact that they normally don't have a defensive position, nor a Better Idea when opponents start giving them body work. To me, the Sixers will take Okafor or Russell, depending on who the Lakers leave for them. If we get into Porzingas Time, that's telling me the reboot is getting to perpetual, and that the club won't be able to get a quality FA, for, well, ever.

Which brings me to what I want to see happen with the rest of the draft. My club has more 2nd rounders than any team might ever use, and so much cap space that it's nearly a problem. What I'd like to see them do is package some of those 2s for a veteran that can shoot -- sort of like last year's Jason Richardson, but hopefully with a little bit more tread on the tire. If we're going for maximum feisty, if you get Okafor, work out a deal to get Ty Lawson here from Denver, and live with his defensive shortcomings with the bigs erasing blow-buy drives. After a year of getting his teeth kicked in the West, treading water in the East will seem like career rebirth to Lawson, and after two years of watching non-PGs who can't shoot, Lawson will seem like Mo Cheeks II to the Philly Faithful. If the club gets Russell, do a cheaper deal with Minny for Kevin martin.

Personally... I'm hoping for Russell, despite the fact that the last time the Sixers took a high Buckeye, it turned into Evan Turner. (Shudder.) Mundiay's shot woes are a little too on the nose for a club that seemingly wants to keep developing Tony Wroten, and the less said about Porzingas, the better. Dealing down to stockpile more low picks gives me the heebies, because for heaven's sake, I just want to see more watchable ball this year, and something very much more than 18 wins.

Hinkie, of course, will not trouble himself very much with how watchable the team is in 2015-16, or hold off on trading Noel if other guys make him superfluous, because the Dark Lord is more than happy to outfit the jerseys with Velcro. And sure, you can't argue with the asset collection, and the moves have all looked fine in retrospect... but man alive, three years of tanking, especially in a town where a tanking team actually might deliver the most smiles, is just too much to bear.

I want hope. I want watchable hoop. I want to not have to defend the franchise from clueless people any more. I want Russell, and if I can't get him, I'll take Okafor.

But please, please, don't let be the only thing you do to make the roster better for next year.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Perfect Trade That Hurts Both Teams

Seriously, This Happened
Last week during the NBA Finals, the Clippers and Hornets pulled off a deal that might be my early favorite for best move of the year, in that I'm fairly sure that it leaves both teams worse for having made it. Charlotte gives up G/F Lance Stephenson, having just spent one year before wearing out his welcome in a wildly over the top way, to the Clippers for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes.

Let's look at this from Charlotte's standpoint first. Barnes is a tolerable fill-in starter and attitude benchie, with thuggish tendencies and the more than occasional three making his overall value reasonable. He's getting long in the tooth and subject to all kinds of bad judgment, but he does seem to care a lot about winning and losing, and understands that he needs to care way too much about defense to help his team win. At his peak, he's not as good as Stephenson, but he's also much easier to live with. (This all assumes the Bugs aren't just cutting him for cap relief and tankery, which, given GM Michael Jordan's ego and desire to not seem terrible at his job, seems highly unlikely.)

Hawes is, of course, my least favorite scrub benchie in the NBA, and after his disastrous year and contract in Clipperland, it's no surprise that he's been shipped out of town by any means necessary. If you like your big man soft, porous, and away from the hoop to shoot low percentage threes, he's your man... and hopefully, your team doesn't play in North America.

The Clips got back Stephenson, fresh off a disastrous year after signing a big free agent contract to leave Indy... and his old franchise didn't seem at all sorry to watch him go, despite growing into major minutes, and occasional moments of LeBron Stopping prior to when LeBron really didn't want to be stopped anymore. Lance is as bad as NBA guys get when it comes to on-court hijinks (the weird ear blowing nonsense being just the most obvious moment of that), and he's now on his third team in three years, which is as much of a Red Flag as you will ever see in NBA circles... and oh, by the way, these are some of his better qualities. By the numbers, he's a versatile player but a poor shooter, and while the defensive rep in Indy was top-notch, it certainly didn't travel to Charlotte, once he had (a) a big money contract and (b) no eraser behind him at center.

But what I really love about this deal is how it continues the marvelous story of how Doc Rivers the GM is killing Doc Rivers the Coach. Rivers the GM is the guy who moved heaven and earth for Hawes, along with trading for his washout of a son, leading to the formation of a bench squad that was too bad to allow some of the best front-line talent in the NBA enough rest to finish off the Rockets in the second round. Rivers the Coach is the guy who throws his talent under the bus when his team loses in the playoffs, because look at how little he's got to work with on the bench. All while telling the fable that Clipper Management was preventing his genius moves from coming to full fruition, or from attracting top-tier talent in the past.

This is, of course, all grade A bullsquat. Players love to line up near a first class point guard, because they tend to get paid for a very long time after that. Ask Amare Stoudamire and David West, for two, on how much money Steve Nash and Chris Paul made them over the years. And if you can't sell top LA franchise to suitors, where Nash and Blake Griffin are rolling in endorsement dollars, I don't know if you can sell anything to anyone.

No, the real problem for Rivers the Coach is that Rivers the GM is frankly terrible at his job, so much that he has to make fresh bad moves to help correct the previous bad moves. Barnes is a dirtball, but at least he's one the opposition hates more than his teammates. Stephenson, not so much. The Clips just someone got even thinner. Should be fun to see who Rivers blames for that, after getting bounced in the first round again next year...

Numbers Devoid of Meaning

Woo, I Say, Woo
In my fantasy league, I happen to own Mark Teixeira. This wasn't a stroke of any great genius; more, it was just a matter of having a much worse draft pick, Teix being undrafted, and getting to him earlier than anyone else on the waiver wire. Sometimes you just get lucky that way, and Teix's unexpected return to health and relevance has helped my previously power-deficient team of clods and buffoons struggle up to fourth. There's still hope that they might slug their way into some money, so go me, I guess.

Anyway, the point of all of that is that I watch more Yankee baseball than I might otherwise. Well, that and the fact that the Phillies may be the most unwatchable team in recent memory, and I have no Mets of note. Mostly when I have baseball on, it's because there's nothing else on, or I'm watching for opponents. And Teix hits behind Voldemort Alex Rodriguez.

Which is how I found myself watching the final two games of Rodriguez's chase to 3,000 hits, which thankfully ended with nearly as much speed as possible, so it can pass under the waves of apathy for which it belongs.

(Side note: Kudos to Rodriguez for seemingly knowing his place as least appealing superstar ever, and for not saying anything noteworthy when this counting point was passed. It still won't get him any new fans, but when scum behaves tolerably, it should be given its due.)

Theoretically, these numbers should Mean Something, because of the absurd historical rarity that is being achieved here. The club of men with 3,000 hits and 600 HRs is limited to Rodriguez, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, AKA two of the best and most admired superstars to ever play the game, and the most notorious steroid/PED fraud of the most notorious era in MLB history. So the less time spent thinking about this, the better.

This is, of course, the ultimate problem with Rodriguez. It's not that he has had a renaissance and helped keep the Yankees relevant, or himself. It's that his records, and before him, Barry Bonds, make all records meaningless.

I used to know things like who was in the 3K/600 club without checking, stared down the career prediction methods that Bill James published, kept track of things like who might make it 300 wins or 500 home runs, and so on, and so on.

Not any more.

Baseball to me now is whether my real team is good, whether my fake team is good, and then a far slide down to rooting against a few players and teams. Everything else is presumed to be suspect, and not worth caring about.

Who's going to play in the All-Star Game? Well, as I'm expecting the voting to be rigged, the game to be the thin meat in the fecal sammich that is the Home Run Derby and whatever else, well, I'm not likely to watch.

Who's going to get into Cooperstown? Well, there's no reason to think that corrupt institute will get things right, either through complete abolition of everyone in the PED Era, or some middle ground of some cheaters, but not all cheaters, or whatever.

I'm not going back to the museum. It's irrevocably broken. It doesn't really matter to me who's in it.

And so, finally, the numbers. There's no magic to any of this any more, because the ground shifted and then was shown to be fraudulent. And maybe I would have always gotten here, given the glacial pace of the game, and the simple fact that age takes away the time you need to care about such things. Sports rise and fall over the course of your life, and maybe this is just the A's bad year talking, but baseball is at its lowest ebb for me in 15+ years.

Even when I do watch, there isn't enough hitting to make it fun. I fall asleep to it. Max Scherzer nearly had a perfect game today, and my only reaction was, well, of course he did. The hitting PEDs are gone, but the pitching PEDs are not, and yes, I have no evidence to back that accusation up, but honestly, would it surprise you? Why should things be on the level now?

So slug away, A-Rod. The people who care will care, and everyone else will use it as one more, perfectly valid, reason to not watch the games.

Ten more weeks to football, right?

Friday, June 19, 2015

FTT Off-Topic: Fear Wins

Mourn Here Often?
Not sports, move on or not.

I've been reading about the South Carolina shootings, where, unless you live under a rock, nine people were killed by a 21-year-old white power pud, who went to a historic black church on a Wednesday, then decided that these people were the big problems in society, and went to murdering. He took out people aged 26 to 87, showed the nation once again just how little we've actually progressed on the stuff that matters, and we now get to relive the eternally pointless question about why America is so blessed to be uniquely smart about guns among First World nations. Lather, rinse, repeat.

What strikes me about the case in question is the following:

> Honestly, 21-year-olds have been steeped in enough hate and scapegoating to throw so many lives away? That's darkly impressive, people. I've been writing professionally for three decades now, but I've never moved an audience to that level of civic participation.

> Weren't the young'uns supposed to be the generations that were beyond this sort of thing? Oh, not so much.

> Smallest consolation: this ends Crazy White Woman Who Sees Herself As Black's 15 minutes of fame, right?

>  The fact that Fox tried to spin this as a terrorist attack against Christians, rather than blacks... at some point, you just have to give it up for epic trolling, really. Oh, wait, actually you don't, especially when it's purported to be news.

> As previously stated n this here blog, never forget that this is the best we can do as a nation -- damn near monthly outrages and slaughters because a small subset of the population has a hobby they enjoy. (Yes, it's a hobby to own a gun. You aren't stopping tyrannical government -- we've already got that through corporate malfeasance, and if you want to tell me about all of the wonderful aspects of gun culture, we can A/B comp it with other hobbies like heroin use, incest and wife battering. I'm betting your hobby kills more people.)

> You know how we're always supposed to go about our business after a terrorist attack, because if we don't, they win? Well, the terrorists have won, are winning, and will keep winning every day in his country. There are portions of the country where I wouldn't go on a bet, because the gun terrorists are everywhere. There open carry bags of human filth that seem to think that they aren't, well, the biggest and worst bullies and psychopaths that the country has seen in forever. And there are people who seem to think that if we can only convince everyone to carry the means to end a life every minute of the day, we'll finally be safe from people who act on those means.

It's their country, people. The rest of us just get to be afraid in it.

We now return you to your previously scheduled windmill jousting event.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Just How Good Was This Warriors Team, Anyway?

Get Used To This
This was such a lovely post, folks. It was long and well-researched and had all kinds of solid structure, and my computer and my own stupid fingers just lost the freaking thing. I want to weep over the loss of it, and the hours of work wasted, and the fact that re-writing it from memory is going to not come out as good, and so on, and so on.

And you don't care, so stop whining and just get to it.

The case against historical greatness:

1) The Dubs might not have beaten any great teams. They ducked the Spurs and Clippers, both of whom have been their demise in recent years. They played four straight teams with a compromised point guard situation, which is just death against Stephen Curry. They didn't run into any club that could win in more than one way, which made playing small something that almost always worked. If they stumble in the first round of next year's playoffs, it's going to be hard to not see this as a fluke.

2) They were lucky. It's not just the injury juju on their opponents; it's also their own luck in missing injury. A club with Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Curry -- i.e., three guys who have more or less missed years of time -- shouldn't just skate on this point.

3) It's not clear that they have star power beyond Curry. Klay Thompson played worse in the playoffs than the regular season, and not by a little. Bogut was a DNP-CD in the clincher. Green is a great 2-way player, but got outshone by a benchie in Iguodala. Historically, the NBA is about stars, and the Dubs really, well, aren't. It makes their estimation hard to figure.

4) They don't pass the historical eye test. They didn't wear teams out in the post, play volleyball for o-boards, kill you with hustle and dives, take a million charges,and so on, and so on. Instead, they played pretty, went deep, and did all of the things that lose in the playoffs. Up until this year.

5) Jumpers and three-pointers, fah. I can't make this point in good faith, but plenty of people do -- live by the, yada yada yada. I can't deny that when they stay out, it looks chuckie, and if your team gets tired, it looks upchuckie.

6) It's just one year. Great teams go beyond that, win when everything doesn't go their way, maintain their core beyond just one season. If you win just one, people don't think about you that much, especially when other stars rack up multiple rings. (See Duncan, Tim, vs Nowitzki, Dirk.)

The case for historical greatness:

1) The won-loss record. Good heavens, they went 83-19 this year, and lost 3 (!) games at home. In the most top-heavy conference in NBA history, with 12 of the top 15 players, and just two of those guys on their roster. What more do they have to do?

2) The way they won. The best defense *and* offense, at least when you go by efficiency. Blowouts all over the place, and never losing in a game they led by 15 or more. For a club that's only supposed to win pretty, they won a buttload of games that weren't.

3) The coaching. Steve Kerr got the Splash Brothers to play defense. He got Leandro Barbosa to take on LeBron James solo and not just turn into a matador. He got Andrew Bogut and David Lee to swallow their minutes for the good of the team, went small when his favored team was down 2-1 and without home-court advantage, got the better of the officiating in a series against the best player in the world, and so on, and so on. I can't think of a single thing that Kerr did this year that didn't leave his ass in ice cream. And in a league where great coaching usually means riding the refs and the media (see Jackson, Phil, and Popovich, Gregg), Kerr might have had a better year than either of those guys ever have.

4) The way they will change the game. This was the highest rated Finals since Jordan's Bull Runs, with domestic attendance through the roof. Curry's jersey became the highest seller in the NBA. And if you don't think the rest of the league is going to try to replicate this beautiful and effective and wildly popular team, you're high. Great teams change the game; this team will do the same.

5) They might -- might! -- get better. Assuming they swap Lee's contract for Green, the meaningful gang is all here to defend, and they aren't even gassed the way normal champs are, because they only played 20 playoff games and spread the minutes all year. With the exception of Bogut and Finals benchie MVP Andre Iguodala, everyone of note (sorry, Leandro) is still on the upside of their career. There are deep benchies -- James McAdoo, Tristan Holiday, Brandon Rush -- who might be capable of much more soon. And youngish players get better with the more time they spend together.

6) The fan base, contracts, and competitive situation. With the NBA rights money set to explode, this is the prime time for a dynasty to emerge, because for a brief period of time, the contracts will allow it. The Dubs also are going to a new arena (mo money) and have an ownership group that's got their priorities in order.

Compare this to, say, Oklahoma City... where Kevin Durant might leave fairly soon. Or Houston, tied to the fading prospects of Dwight Howard, or the aging Spurs, or the thin Clips. Even in a brutal conference, the Dubs are clear favorites. I think the Finals next year will see the same teams, only with healthier Cavs. And I think they still lose.

Final verdict: You should, as a general rule, bet on entropy. A Curry injury, ego clash, loss in home-court advantage in a new fat cat gym, depth going elsewhere to be starters... it all can fall apart fast. People are going to start resenting them, disliking particular players, giving them their "A" game every night, hard fouling skills guys, and so on, and so on.

But this assumes that Kerr isn't already working to counter all of that. Or that they don't have margin for error, when they clearly do, or that they'll suddenly forget everything about roster construction. Which, well , they won't.

So if you want me to set an over/under for titles here, I say 3.5... and I'm taking the over. I think they are the best NBA team in decades, and that's what teams at this caliber do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Andre's A Giant

Getting Shruggy With It
Life was never very fair for Andre Iguodala as a Sixer.

The signature player in a disjointed and unsatisfying decay era, he was miscast and overpaid to be the face of the franchise as AI1, Allen Iverson, went intro retrograde. His game had too many holes -- shaky handle, erratic shot, increasingly poor from the line, which led to trouble in late and close situations -- to withstand close scrutiny, let alone the white-hot glare of comparisons to Iverson. His signature moment as a Sixer, a crazed charge down the floor to end a crippled Bulls team in the only happy playoff of his time here, was a nice moment, but even when it was happening, we all knew that this wasn't going much further than this. When the club finally moved him to Denver, just as they had moved Iverson before, it was depressing, but we'd all been beaten down enough. Go, be happy, enjoy life with a franchise that wasn't so doomed.

What has become increasingly apparent since leaving, of course, is all of the strengths to his game. He's as lockdown a wing defender as there is the Association. He finishes in transition, maybe not with the same authority he once had as a rubber-legged rookie, but with either hand and in traffic. His shot from distance has become increasingly reliable, and he's gotten so much smarter about only taking it from the places where he's best. The turnovers have gone down over the years, especially now that he's playing with teammates where "hockey assists" are common. And since he didn't take the demotion from the starting lineup as an opportunity to become a distraction, he was fresh for the Finals when the team needed him most.

No one on the planet "stops" LeBron James, just as no one stops Stephen Curry; that's not how hoop works. But what Iguodala does is make James inefficient, and when he's inefficient, the Cavs are beatable, because James isn't working out of double-teams to hit wide-open shooters, or feeding dunkers at the rim. All series long, Iguodala was devastating in the open court, answering the Cavs' good moments with points, especially in the closing three Dub wins, and making life for James as hard as anyone makes it.

I didn't agree with the selection of Iguodala as the Finals MVP. Without James, Cleveland doesn't stay within 20 points of the Warriors in most halves, let alone win two games and stay close throughout the vast majority of minutes. But there's no doubt that he was the best player on his team, and that's an amazing thing to say when you have the league MVP raining down threes on the court. James was merely great for the end of this series, and I suppose you could make the argument that giving him credit for massive counting stats is just old-school thinking. So if you have to give it to someone on the winning team, Iguodala is as good of a choice as any...

And, well, I'm just glad for the guy. He took a bench role all year without puling about it. He's an amazing teammates. He plays unselfish. He didn't care about his stats, or his numbers, or ride the refs when James was doing his bully routine. Short of a mildly over the top shoutout to the Association's chaplains that speaks to his faith, there's not even a media moment to make him unlikable. And he still misses free throws, just to prove to the world that he's still the same guy that started here.

He's got a ring. He's got a trophy. He's in the perfect situation, and the world knows just how valuable he is. Couldn't happen to a nicer hooper, and I'm not even bitter that he had to leave town to get it. Moving on...

Top 20 takeaways from Cavs - Warriors Game Six

Strongest Number: One Championship
20) Steve Kerr is already the best coach in franchise history, which basically means he's better than Don Nelson

19) With the franchise possibly changing areans soon, this could be the last championship ever for the East Bay / Oaktown, which is just all kinds of wrong

18) If you had told Dub Fan that Andrew Bogut would be a healthy DNP-CD tonight, while Leandro Barbosa would be on the floor for the clinching minutes, he probably just shrugs, because that's how they roll

17) Curry beat the other four members of the first team all-NBA roster in this playoff run, and, um, had something of a year

16) Cav Fan can console himself with the fact that they'll be back in the Finals again next year, and that they got a great price for their lower bowl seats from traveling Dub Fan

15) There's no truth to the rumor that Shawn Marion keyed David Blatt's car after the game, because Blatt isn't allowed to drive

14) LeBron James is now 2-4 in the Finals, which will be used by remarkably clueless people to try to deny his status as the best player of his generation, and one of the best five in the history of the game

13) It was nice of the Warriors to not have any signature play to increase the karmic load on Cleveland Fan's memory banks

12) NBA teams should take note of Kerr's progress from the broadcast booth to the championship and hire Reggie Miller ASAP, and we will somehow get over the loss of him from telecasts

11) One of these days, someone might notice just how good the Dubs are on defense, and how many of the players (Curry, Thompson, Barbosa) stopped being sieves as soon as they got a non-useless coach

10) Matthew Dellevedova scored one more point than you and I did tonight, and can go back to the fringe of NBA rosters from whence he came

9) Draymond Green's triple double snuck up on everyone, but not Green

8) Timofey Mozgov's 17/12 with 4 blocks spoke just a wee bit to the, um, wisdom of Blatt running away from him in Game Five

7) Kerr's championship, and the fact that he got to violently change starter minutes without a mutiny, should put the final nail in the coffin of Mark Jackson's coaching reputation

6) No Warrior had Finals experience before this series, so you can put that meme, along with Jump / 3-Point Shooting Teams Can't Win, in the dumpster of history where it belongs

5) LeBron James 32/18/9 did take 33 shots to accomplish, but for heaven's sake, he got completely robbed of the Finals MVP award

4) The Dubs end the year at 83-19, 12-4 in the playoffs, and need to be in the conversation for Best Team Ever, though no one will give that up unless they do it a few more times

3) J.R. Smith had 15 in the fourth quarter and hit a mess of crazy threes to help the Cavs lose with honor / wonder why the hell he couldn't have done more of that in the other 260+ minutes of Finals play

2) Andre Iguodala is the first Finals MVP to not start a game before the Finals, so on some level, honestly, you can give the MVP to Kerr, too

1) A franchise that was Knicks West in terms of being an utter laughingstock now looks like an extremely credible threat to being the next NBA dynasty, and did it by being one of the most fun team to watch in history

Monday, June 15, 2015

The NBA Finals: Darwinism Made Plain

Next Step: 3 Point Arc
Tonight in Oakland, the Cavaliers went small and competed like mad. J.R. Smith was hot early. LeBron James might have had his best game yet of the Finals, in that he was an efficient scorer and connecting from the three point arc. Tristan Thompson gave them a rebounding presence, and while the Warriors kept getting high percentage looks at the rim, they were unable to separate with their trademark transition and threes game. Other than Leandro Barbosa, no Dub benchie did much to hurt them, and with James logging a near triple double in the first half, you would expect the road team to get some separation. Especially with the Warriors giving up cheapies at the free throw line.

They trailed at the half anyway. And while the game was very tight up until the end, with James and Stephen Curry trading haymakers in second half dueling minutes that will light up cash registers and ratings boxes worldwide, the closing, crushing Warrior run shouldn't have been much of a surprise to anyone. This isn't hockey, where a hot goalie or a lucky couple of bounces can swing games. It's not football, where it's a one-game playoff where a single bad ref call, turnover or misstep can swing the balance. It's not baseball, where a starting pitcher can make winning more or less impossible in either direction. It's hoop, where the sheer rule of meaningful data -- hundreds of shot attempts, so many minutes, etc. -- makes the following statement more or less impossible: the best team lost.

You can have very close games, and series. You can have upsets, where a team doesn't play their best at the close, or an underdog team raises their game in unexpected ways. But by the end of a series, you can usually tell who the best team is without looking at the score, because they haven't had hope beaten out of them.

Down the stretch, with Stephen Curry doing his best in the world defender shake to get enough space to rain down threes, and the Warriors pulling down offensive rebounds like they were impulse items in a checkout line, no Cav seemed willing to step up and end the bleeding. James drove the paint and didn't get calls, or settled from distance and hit a few, but stops were few and far between, and the only reason the final score wasn't the same 20-point runway as we saw in Game Four was because a few clean looks stayed out around the four minute mark.

Whether it's fatigue or the huge disadvantage the Cavs have in coaching (David Blatt has ran Matthew Dellevedova into the ground, tossed Timofey Mozgov overboard because the Dubs won with smalls last game, and still doesn't do enough to get his secondary guys clean looks beyond James Does Everything), or the simple fact that the Dubs have four of the six best players in this series, and should be winning handily...

Well, the meat grinder that is the NBA Finals does not care. The best team will win. And every player on the floor knows it, and it's starting to creep into their body language. The same way as the best players will get on the floor, which for the Dubs has been the "going small" movement of rampant offensive effectiveness, combined with gutty work on the toil side of the ball.

If James can force Game Seven, on short rest after a flight, against this emerging juggernaut... well, it will be one of the biggest and best reasons to call him not just one of the five best players in the history of the game, but maybe even more than that. (Seriously, the idea that you could win an NBA Finals with nothing but vagabonds after injury... plainly insane. Along with the idea that anyone else should be getting an MVP vote for the series. Losing team be damned.)

Right now, not seeing it, and for anyone who thinks the Dubs would rather celebrate at home... well, they didn't against the Grizzlies, or Pelicans. Besides, the best team doesn't generally fool around at this point. We'll see soon...

Top 10 Takeaways: Cavs - Warriors Game Five

Post Delly Shake
10) LeBron James had 40/14/11 in a game the Warriors blew open late, and you are forgiven for thinking those are mutually exclusive

9) Ever since the media decided that Matthew Dellevedova was the Stephen Curry Stopper, Curry is 18 for 33 from the arc and over 50% from the field, and went crazy Broadway-style late to end this one, while more or less smirking at Delly's efforts to stop him

8) Andre Iguodala stopped the "Warrior MVP" talk with cover-your-eyes free throw shooting that gave the Cavs a little hope late

7) Tens of thousands of people went to watch a game on TV in an arena, because Cleveland Fan prefers sharing the sadness

6) It was nice of the Warriors to miss a mess of free throws and keep the game close until the late surge

5) For much of the first half, JR Smith was scoring efficiently and Cleveland was leading, which is not a coincidence

4) Leandro Barbosa played some effective defense against James, which is to say that Steve Kerr has Scary Jedi Powers

3) Dellevedova got away with a falling armbar on Draymond Green as a mutual foul referee wuss out, because noticing Delly's playoff-long penchant for injury inducement is seemingly not possible for NBA refs

2) It's clear now that the Cavs have to choose between Smith or Timofey Mozgov as LeBron's Teammate Who Is Having A Good Game

1) It's 3-2 Warriors, and if you don't think James is going to the free throw line 20+ times to force a very, very lucrative Game Seven for ABC/ESPN, I admire the child-like naivete that you bring to the world

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Five Moves for the Cavs in Game Five

The Key
After the first clear victory of the series in Game Four, and no longer with home court advantage, things are looking fairly dire for the Cavs. LeBron James finally had a less than legendary performance, they are down a crazy number of starting players -- Anderson Varaejo, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving -- and the Warriors' depth and effectiveness in the small lineup is looking serious. So how can they win two of the next three, short of James using the extra day of rest before Game Five to go superhuman?

5) Hack Attack.

At first glance, the Warriors seem immune to the intentional fouling strategy. Only two guys who get minutes -- Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala -- shoot under 60% from the floor, and neither of those guys are so bad at it that it would give you empty trips. But with the Dubs doing so much from the three point line, and the Cavs' interest in a slow and grind tempo, it makes sense... particularly if Iguodala is having an effective game otherwise, or is having an impact on defense. Make him feel bad about something, or frustrate the Dubs in their desire to make it pretty. Particularly when you combine it with...

4) Perky Jerky.

Back-up C Kendrick Perkins is, frankly, a terrible basketball player. There's nothing that he can do on a court that comes as league average or better, and when you've got him on the floor, it's 4-on-5 on offense, with turnovers a given. But what he is great at is instigation, setting hard screens (see #2) and getting teams to lose their focus. Especially after Bogut's foul precipitated James' injury, I'm kind of amazed that Perk didn't get some burn for retribution. The Warriors haven't had that kind of adversity so far in this playoff, but historically, they haven't done well with it. (By the way, deep sub Brandon Haywood also has some Perk to his game, if you catch my drift.)

3) Press Curry, but only in the backcourt.

The Cavs have had some success in this series when they've made Stephen Curry look bad, and the way to do that is to work on his single greatest remaining weakness -- turnovers -- but to do so in a way that's most designed to sap his energies before crunch time. This is anything from easy, because you open yourself to fast and secondary break buckets, and it threatens to exacerbate the Cavs' lack of depth, but it can also create easy buckets for the Cavs, and make Curry passive. The Warriors are a lot less explosive when he's not feeling it.

2) Screen to post James.

I get why the Cavs are walking the ball up with James. It shortens the game, and puts the ball in his hands in a way that keeps the Warriors from denying him late in the clock. But the problem with this is that it's making him an inefficient high volume shooter, because the Cavs aren't hitting enough from the arc to prevent the possession from just ending with a long jumper, often in poor two range. If it's my club, I use my bigs to screen down low to try to get him the ball on the block, where the Dubs really don't have exceptional options at stopping him, especially if they are going small. James in the post, particularly if he gets to the line a couple of dozens times, could be just what the doctor ordered. This is going to require some out or character work from our last man on the list, though...

1) Do everything in your power to make J.R. Smith feel good about himself.

Outside of James, Smith is the only player on the Cavs who has the ability to carry a team offensively... and in this series, he's shooting under 30% from the floor, has committed a ton of back-breaking fouls, and hasn't made an impact on defense, either. At 6-6, he's got the size to feed James effectively against Warrior smalls, but he will need to be truly engaged to get to that point. In the minutes that James has been off the floor, he's been their primary option, and the Cavs have been bum-rushed.

Maybe this is just a matchup issue, but in the few times that he's connected from distance, Cleveland has made big runs, and could easily do so again. If it's my team, I spend the first few minutes double-screening to get him a clean look from distance, feed him on any break to get him feeling good about his prospects, and otherwise brainwash him into thinking that the series has re-started for hm. If you can get a +20-point game out of him, especially on the road, you've got a puncher's chance.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Never Let A Crisis Go To Waste

Height Isn't Everything
(Cross-posted from my business blog, in case you are wondering about the change in tone.)

This isn't going to start as marketing and advertising, but hang with me, we'll get there pretty quick.

Tonight in Cleveland in the NBA Finals, Golden State coach Steve Kerr tried something he hadn't done all year, in nearly 100 games. He benched his starting center (Andrew Bogut), moving his power forward (Draymond Green) over to the center position. With the empty slot, he brought Andre Iguodala, a versatile guard/forward, off the bench to start.This made his team very "small", and put them at a considerable risk for not getting enough rebounds of missed shots. It also meant that more players on the floor were offensive threats, as Iguodala is better than Bogut in that respect.

You probably couldn't get away with this kind of move all season long, because your shorter players would get worn down and injured from having to go against bigger players every game. Kerr did the move because his team was down 2-1 in a best of seven series, and from an odds realism standpoint, in serious jeopardy of losing the championship to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers if they didn't win this game. They had trailed for most of the previous three games of the series, and had lost home-court advantage. And in the first few minutes of the game, as Cleveland used its taller players to control rebounds and race their way to a seemingly instant 7-0 lead, it looked like a disastrous gamble.

Kerr called a timeout. Golden State started playing better, with Iguodala in particular having his best game of the year. The smaller players increased the tempo, and got to more loose balls to mitigate the rebounding problem. Cleveland's tallest player, Timofey Mozgov, had his best game of the series, but the Warriors took the early lead and never let it go. The series is now tied, and Cleveland coach David Blatt is under pressure to somehow adapt to the Warriors' short lineup. (By the way, to real NBA fans, this is an overly simplistic narrative. Please forgive me; as noted before, we're going to a larger point about marketing and advertising.)

Kerr probably didn't want to do this. Bogut has been a great player for him, and Iguodala has been terrific at leading the Warriors bench players in limited minutes. But he felt that, due to the 2-1 disadvantage and how the play had gone for the first few games, that he had no better option. What he was doing wasn't working, and to just keep losing the same way was not an option. He had statistical evidence that his team did well when they went small, and knew that increasing the tempo with faster players would help his team, but he doesn't make this move from a position of strength.

Now, back to the marketing and advertising.

I've worked on campaigns for thousands of clients over the course of my career. Frequently, I've been brought in to "put out fires", as performance has not met expectations, and we needed to increase the actionable rates to retain the business.

You might think this is, well, a bad way to work. Deadlines are short, tempers are frayed, pressure is high, and everyone knows the cost of failure if you can't hit the numbers. Sometimes the client is downright angry on calls when things have gotten to this point, and challenge your expectations or ability to serve. People can also get very defensive about what is working, what isn't, and who needs to step up their game to save the relationship. 

Here's something you might not expect: this is frequently the most efficient creative cycle for new projects, and it's been the source of some of my favorite moments in business.

When a campaign is at risk, what you have is a pain point. Something needs to change, and change immediately. So much of the blocking agents for offers, creative practices, copy and more are dramatically scaled back. You also can usually work faster, with fewer revision cycles. Treat the project carefully, with professionalism and proactivity, and you can create your most attached long-term client.

The phenomenon is not limited to sports or creative, of course. In politics, campaigns that lose primaries might switch messaging and try to change the narrative. Financial analysts will change their recommendations or investment mixes. Musicians might try new formats, writers new categories, and so on, and so on. Success, seen in this light, can be something of a trap, and curtail learning and innovation.

So the next time you encounter a crisis, consider it for what it is -- a limited-time opportunity, with a fantastic payout if you turn the situation around. And even if you can't, your chance for learning is higher here than anything else in your workday.

* * * * *

You have read this far, so feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I also welcome email to davidlmountain at gmail dot com, or you can hit the RFP box at M&AD.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Warriors - Cavs Game Four Top 10 Takeaways

Selfie Stuck
10) Dubs coach Steve Kerr went small from the start, stayed with it after a 0-7 start, and may have changed the entire series for the Warriors

9) Every time a guy gets hurt in a collision with baseline cameramen, people wonder why the hell they are there, and yet, they always remain

8) When David Blatt gets animated and emotional, it's almost as if he's the coach of the team

7) Twitter exploded over the remarkable performance of the Cavalier catering staff

6) The Cavs' third quarter comeback came with the tempo slowing and more rocks being thrown

5) LeBron James flashed his junk early in the game, and the world did not end, so I think we've progressed as a species

4) Andre Iguodala made his first start of the season, and might have played the best game of his career

3) Timofey Mozgov was the best Cav tonight, which is to say, the Cavs lost handily

2) It turns out that having a deep bench and playing up-tempo against an injury-racked team that only uses 7 total players is, actually, a winning strategy

1) Since the Warriors won, I guess living by the 3 or jump shot is OK again, and James is no longer clutch / immortal

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