Archive for April, 2012

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Laying out the Debate: Tanking

Posted: April 30, 2012 in Bunker

Laying Out the Debate: Tanking

In the NFL and NBA, one star player has the potential to completely change the direction of your franchise. Nobody wants to be caught in the purgatory that is finishing just outside of playoff position. Sometimes it’s even beneficial to hometown team to not fall out of the playoff race to place themselves in a better draft position. Late last season it was suggested that the Indianapolis Colts should have tanked their last two games to ensure they received the number #1 pick and the rights to draft Andrew Luck, who is seen as the best Quarterback prospect since John Elway. The Charlotte Bobcat faithful (and Michael Jordan’s 9 figure investment)  are praying for the ping balls to bounce in their favor for the rights to draft Anthony Davis. Winning isn’t everything for some teams especially at the end of the season. Even playoff teams that clinch a spot, try to maneuver themselves into the best matchup possible.

Arguments Supporting Tanking

            Organizations that agree to “tank” [by playing their less skilled players or placing their best players on bench] would argue that losing in the short term could open doors to the possibility of getting a once in a lifetime player. Being the 9th best team in your conference (in the NBA) or finishing in the middle of pack (in the NFL) won’t land you the great franchise-changing draft pick an organization looks to turn their fortunes around. Instead of winning meaningless games and sliding down the draft board, or missing out on those valuable ping pong balls, increase your chances of getting a top five pick by losing. Fans will suffer in the short term, but after sound scouting and a great draft, the organization can sell fans on the hope of a great young nucleus.

Examples of Tanking:

 

Cleveland Cavaliers 2003 – With LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony as potential first and second picks of the upcoming draft, Cleveland wasn’t close to competitive in their 82 game “season” sporting a sweet 17-65 tying the Denver Nuggets for the worst record in the league. Denver was acknowledged as just a poor team. Cleveland traded away all of their veteran players for seemingly nothing on their way to an awful season. Even former coach John Lucas and former Guard Ricky Davis suggested that the Cavaliers brass put the team in an impossible position to succeed.

Houston Rockets 1984 You can thank this team for the implementation of the NBA Draft Lottery. They have admitted over the years with the prospect of drafting Sam Bowie, Michael Jordan or hometown dominant center, Akeem Olajuwan, the Rockets tanked most of their games.

Indianapolis Colts 2011 – With Peyton Manning injured and no real Quarterback to lead them. They seemed to put themselves in position to get Andrew Luck with the first pick overall.

Arguments Against Tanking

The fans suffer greatly when your teams tank. The fans that spend an inordinate amount of money for seasons tickets, all of a sudden are left with tickets without much value. There also seems to be a suggestion that this ruins competitive balances in the league. This was the reason the lottery was implemented to prevent teams from just tanking by making sure it wasn’t guaranteed that the worst team received the top draft pick. Especially in a sport like the NBA where one player can change the fortunes of a franchise.

Solutions to Stop Tanking

1. Implementing a playoff for the 4 worst teams to battle for the number 1 seed.

2. Fining teams

3. Contracting teams who are useless (see Charlotte Bobcats and Jacksonville Jaguars).

Cheeks, EIC, and ALL II cover the NFL draft, NBA playoffs, and the tanking.  (NOTE: ALL II will undoubtedly attempt to discuss football and hockey and will fail miserably). 

Knicks-Heat

Posted: April 28, 2012 in Bunker

As a Knicks fan, I’m saddened by this first round match up.

With all the hype about the Knicks-Heat “renewing” their rivalry, I don’t think this series will be close. (Also does ESPN realize that Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning no longer play for those respective teams. Do they want to mention that neither the Knicks nor the Heat have the “tough guys” or the physical players that made the rivalry so intense. Do they want to also neglect to mention that Knicks fans don’t hate the Heat and Pat Riley nearly as much as they did 12-13 years ago? No. Okay, just checking.)

This is my nightmare. The Knicks are hot team, winning 9 of their last 13 games, Carmelo Anthony living up to the billing of being a superstar and Amare Stoudemire looking as though he’s back to his superstar form of the previous years. However, they are playing the team to beat this season. As a shameless LeBron James defender, I’m rooting for the Heat to win the championship. I don’t care what any New York Knicks fan says, they do not match up well against the Heat and the Heat are the last team I would ever want to see in the 2012 playoffs in the first round.

But as someone who believes the Knicks will inevitably lose this match up against the Heat, I wonder what fall out will be for the New York Knicks. The Knicks still have a formidable front line with Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler, a phenom cash-cow named Jeremy Lin and not much cap space to do much else. Knick fans have fallen in love with Steve Novak, Landry Fields and even sparingly J.R. Smith. I’m sure not all of these guys will be back, so what will we make of the 2012-2013 Knicks?

Will the Knicks bring back Mike Woodson? The team has played unbelievably well under Woodson and their defense has stepped up significantly since the former Atlanta Hawks coach took over. Do they go after Phil Jackson? Will they bring back Isiah Thomas. I’m almost more excited for the Knicks off-season than I am their possibly playoff run. I don’t see much good coming out of this Knicks-Heat series. This is one of these series that I would have been much more excited to see two years ago with an “up and coming” Knicks team. This team was supposed to contend. Here, the Knicks just look to compete against a team with true championship or bust expectations.

But stranger things have happened…

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Don’t forget to check out my Western Conference (aka the Better Conference) preview.

Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia Seventy Sixers

The Sixers did their best to suck their way to the eighth seed.  Maybe they thought they match up better against the Bulls?  Doubt it.  Bulls bench is better, star player is better, and coach is better.  Bulls can use this as an adequate tune up for tougher defensive challenges and getting Rose and Deng healthy.  There really isn’t much else to say about this team.  Eastern conference basketball bringing the A-game.  Sixers had losses to the Raptors, Wizards, and Howard-less Magic.  I feel like a loser spending this many words on it.

Bulls in four

Miami Heat vs. New York Knickerbockers

Certainly the most talented series with the 2003 draft class reunited in full.  It’s hard to think that Wade is the only one of the three to have a NBA championship but such is fate given that he is riding that title to all the passes in the world for his poor close out defense, propensity to turn the ball over late, flop at the slightest increase in air-conditioning, and become replaceable in this grand experiment.  Miami is and will always be the team to beat despite their less than spectacular bench and poor three point shooting/defense.

New York has enjoyed(?) a Broadway drama from underachieving, revival with Jeremy Lin, sabotage in getting D’Antoni fired, and now a run to the seventh seed.  The three point buckets will be critical for the Knicks to stay close, something they can do.  More importantly for me is the play of Carmelo Anthony, arguably the second best player in the second half of the season behind, well, Lebron James.  Usually I don’t play arm chair psychologist but I genuinely believe Melo is out to prove a point and will play very good defense and amazing offense to remind people who felt he was NOT a superstar (some Bulls fans on this blog for instance) that he was in the same class and has performed at an astronomically high level throughout his career.  Superstars matter and the greater talent will prevail in the most exciting series in the first round.

Heat in five!

Indiana Pacers vs. Orlando Magic

Magic have the better coach but talent on the court matters more.  No stabbing you Dwight in the Back Howard (it’s a pun!) so this series is useless.  If the Pacers are serious they don’t waste any time and sweep.  I think they will sweep.  Who cares either way!?  This is exactly why the Eastern Conference sucks!  For the first time in a while the East gets all teams in over .500 but we get two garbage series because the conference is trash.  Will Howard be there supporting his team?  Will he root against Stan Van Gundy?  Only drama in this series is how fast will Stan Van Gundy be fired.

Pacers in four.

Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks

Bill Simmons has been pushing the big three as elite again to my disappointment but I cannot ignore the revitalization of Kevin Garnett and the stability of Paul Pierce.  Most notably the oft trade rumored Rajon Rondo is simply a BOSS.  Boston’s size – or lack thereof based on Garnett playing at the center position- means an injured Pachulia may still be effective in the paint.

Joe Johnson definitely has a favorable match up on Avery Bradley with height and will expose him.  Pierce will do the same on the other end.  In the end Rondo will be the X-factor; he struggled mightily in the season series but will absolutely shift the momentum to Boston.  These teams are remarkably close and this will be a good test for a team that does not score or rebound.  Underappreciated Josh Smith will have his hands full with KG at the center position too making for a competitive small line up leading to tight games.  Experience will prevail in this one as long as Rondo doesn’t shoot 23% all series.

Celtics in Six

Simple but hopefully detailed assessment of the first round of the NBA Playoffs.  To see our picks for the major awards and finals match up check out a soon to be posted blog post about it (Full Disclosure: That collaboration post probably won’t go up for a while, certainly not in a timely manner.  Get over it).

San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz:

Let’s not keep talking about this team as old (they have upgraded the pieces around Duncan and Parker) and lets stop talking about last year (even though I picked the Grizzlies to beat them in round one and the E.I.C. picked the Spurs to get to the finals) because Manu Ginobili’s injury restricted the team.  Everyone is healthy and should create a huge problem for not only the Jazz but the entire West.  Despite being an under-average defensive team, the Spurs have greater depth on their bench and the better perimeter player in the underrated Tony Parker.  According to the great folks at http://www.synergysportstech.com/ the Spurs will be going against a bottom five pick-and-roll defensive team.

Al Jefferson is one of my favorite bigs in the league, one of few players that demands a double team and can still dominate a game.  After Jefferson I have major questions on the effectiveness of Paul Milsap with Boris Diaw matched up against him at all places.  Sure Milsap-Jefferson-Favors line can dominate and has dominated this season but they cannot sustain that over the course of a game.  The size looks good for matching up with the Lakers but it is not helpful against the efficient Spurs team.  It should be noted that NO ONE expected Jazz basketball in the playoffs and that in itself is a major accomplishment.

Spurs in Five

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. World Champion Dallas Mavericks

My Mavs are not in a good place.  19th in scoring, out rebounded, out shot, and out manned by most ever metric available.  What’s in their favor is the reason that people doubted the Mavs last year: can a team that is so reliant on the outside shot remain red hot throughout the playoffs?  Clearly the Thunder have two top five scorers (plus the elite and recently concussed James Harden) but they also have offensive liabilities in Ibaka, Sefolosha, and Perkins.

Conversely the Mavs are only Dirk Nowitzki.  Kidd posted horrific numbers this year, Delonte West is literally four steps away from the insane asylum, and Vince Carter can accurate be described as ineffective and generally shameful.  Mavs still have the effective zone defense which led them to a top ten defensive season.  Their games have been close all season and I think this series will be MUCH closer than people think.  Talent will win out but I don’t trust 5 vs. 3 basketball granted the five for Dallas are not world beaters.

Thunder in seven.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets

Team versus Superstar?  High tempo offense (second fastest pace team in the league, tops in fast break points, and just fast) versus slow, half-court offense?  Nuggets versus Lakers provides a case to explore all of these concepts though we know the answer that superstars and size matter.  Kenneth Faried is a machine on the glass but the seven footers in Gasol and the most important player in the playoffs Andrew Bynum will control the glass.  The same size advantage will come into play as the Nuggets are a top five team scoring at the rim, something infinitely more challenging against the Lakers.  I am not sold on the Andre Miller, Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo (an elite defender) combination in sticking Kobe.

Where the edge may come to Denver is the absence of Metta World Peace, the best perimeter defender on the Lakers. LA does not close out particularly well on outside shooters which may help.  JaVale McGee is on the Nuggets so they WILL lose.

Lakers in five.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul is second on my most valuable player ballot (that I do not have) and will single handedly carry the Clips to some quality wins, nothing new this season.  Paul was second in assist to turnover ratio which helps against a Grizzlies team that led the league in turnovers.  The problem is the Clips are one dimensional and the “great” Blake Griffin does not bring the proper array of moves to get through an aggressive Grizz defense.  The absence of Chauncy Billups is huge here as Griffin still can’t shoot the jumper and the Gasol – Randolph combination won’t be getting dunked on.

Zach Randolph will absolutely OWN Blake on the offensive end as people seem to casually suggest Griffin is a top ten player but does not play a lick of quality defense.  Grantland explored this issue with Sebastian Pruiti, founder of the NBA Playbook blog writing: “As good as Blake Griffin is on offense, he’s just not a good defender at this point in his career, and he’s particularly bad at guarding the post. This means that his matchup against the Grizzlies and Zach Randolph could be a rough one. Randolph has been matched up against Griffin twice since returning from a knee injury, and it has been a tale of two players. The first time, in late March, Randolph was extremely aggressive. He sealed strong, got excellent low-post position, and attacked the rim. For all of Griffin’s physical strength, he hasn’t learned to use his body on defense, and players who go straight at him tend to have success.” Nuff said.

Memphis in Six

Allen L. Linton II – Mariner Rant

One of our contributors Allen L. Linton  chronicled his feelings towards his favorite MLB team the Seattle Mariners. His outburst began with praise of former Cy Young award winner Felix “King” Hernandez and ended with a frustrating barrage, which describes the pain and anguish of being Mariners fan. 

Courtesy of Facebook.com

ALL II, Cheeks, and the Editor in Chief cover the run into the NBA playoffs, NFL draft needs (and RG3 versus Andrew Luck), and conclude with an animated discussion on fighting in hockey/violence in sports.

Today, April 21, 2012:  National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter doesn’t like Derek Fisher.  NBPA president Derek Fisher really doesn’t like Billy Hunter.  Something shady is going on.  Eight random players have some importance on the executive committee but are about as worthless as Otis Smith in the future of the Orlando Magic.  That’s the summary of the drama of consequence in the NBA.

Clearly the disdain between Fisher and Hunter began during the NBA lockout, an event that tested leadership and reveal what many – yours truly included- believed from day one: Billy Hunter was going to mismanage the mess out of the lockout, forgo all leverage, look like a bumbling fool, and come to the same conclusion he should’ve reached many months too late after giving up more than he needed.  Nothing screams a lack of solidarity than holding separate media appearances after daily negotiations against a clearly unpopular opponent in team ownership.  Players apparently split into factions some siding with Hunter others with Fisher.  While I lack all requisite details to understand why players felt so divided, I do know that Fisher’s attempts to get the Union to negotiate sooner than Hunter wanted came off to some as caving into demands and not standing behind player interests.  “Sources” suggested Fisher met privately with Commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver to make a deal independent from the NBPA; these reports were not confirmed with some Fisher supporters suggesting rumors came from Hunter to emasculate Fisher’s authority.  Given how the new CBA looks, it appears that Fisher was probably right in his strategic instincts but if anything is clear it is player will continuously be disrespected for their intelligence.  When the media “disrespects” players, we hear about it; when player leadership does it, deaf ears.

Fisher, serving as union president since 2006, is suspicious of Hunter’s business activities and via conference call on April 13, 2012 convinced a majority of members of the eight player executive committee to agree to an internal audit of Hunter’s New York offices.  From what I could gather from the Associated Press, ESPN’s Ric Bucher, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski (who broke the story), player reps learned of the decision to have an independent business review earlier this week.  Hunter later contacted each committee member and convinced them that an internal audit would be unnecessary as the NBPA/Hunter’s offices is audited regularly.  I should note: the committee voted 8-0 to kill the independent audit of finances and practices; we also know four of the players on the committee thanks to Yahoo! Sports’ obtaining a copy of the memo: Chris Paul, NBPA Vice-President Maurice Evans, Roger Mason, and Keyon Dooling.  Sources also said that Hunter also suggested that Fisher’s calls for an independent audit constituted a personal attack on Hunters leadership.

Allow me to interject hear.  I clearly don’t think Billy Hunter is a very good leader.  That’s my opinion.  I also think Derek Fisher is one of the classiest, intelligent, and genuine people in basketball.  The fact that Fisher suspects something fishy (pun intended) makes me wonder if there is financial misconduct.  Hunter’s quick movements to kill the audit AND mobilize the executive committee to demand Fisher’s resignation gives me all the reason in the world to side with Fisher.  Something is going on.  People who act guilty usually are guilty.

Hunter and the weathervane-esque, toothless executive committee want Fisher to resign citing: “numerous instances over the past six months, where Fisher engaged in conduct detrimental to the union, including acting in contravention of the players’ best interests during collective bargaining, declining to follow the NBPA Constitution, and failing to uphold the duties of the Union President.” (Statement quotes courtesy of Yahoo! Sports)  I don’t know what the NBPA Constitution is or says but players support Fisher who is calling for more transparency from the top – you know the same thing players and Hunter was livid about when the owners were not 100% forthright.  Fisher, with two years remaining as NBPA President, is refusing to resign and intends on fighting “the man” for clarity with renewed player support:

“I, along with many others, are extremely disappointed with the Executive Committee.  Their demand for my resignation and their need to protect the NBPA management and their own best interests instead of protecting the players we were elected to serve is unfortunate…The allegations that are now being directed at me are defamatory…But I urge our members to order an independent review beginning immediately and that will be proven along with finding out definitively if there are any issues with the NBPA’s business practices and finances.” (Courtesy of ESPN and Associated Press)

Sources also told ESPN’s Ric Bucher that Billy Hunter has hired a public relations firm – conceivably an independent one as the NBPA certain acts as its own.

So there you go.  The player led executive committee seems to be the puppet regime of Hunter, an organization just last week that supported an audit less than seven days later unanimously killed the audit and wants the person calling for the audit to resign.  Questionable, no?  Something is definitely not right in the NBPA and I tend to side with Fisher on this one.  Popularity and support will matter the most here a legitimate movement and its leader may be crushed for doing his job.  Sports mirrors politics and power corrupts all.  Just another day’s work in the business of sports.

Outsiders have a tendency to take something they don’t understand and make it into a controversy of epic proportion.  Fighting in the National Hockey League playoffs is this week’s extreme societal problem involving armchair expertise with limited knowledge.  The playoffs have been unusually violent with the Pens/Flyers leading all series with pandemonium on a nightly basis.  Fighting, as we know, is built into the culture of modern American hockey; it adds a missing level of player led justice that is appreciated but frowned upon by other sports (re: retaliation in baseball or hard fouls for stars in basketball).  Teammates protect their skill players and goalies and “goons” fight other “goons” for momentum shifts or to settle individual disputes.  Those are the informal rules of the game.  People who watch baseball know these rules and this has existed from the beginning throughout today.

The sensitivity to injury, particularly in hockey with so many stars being out for longer with concussions, should NOT be conflated with fighting as something that will destroy the game.  Rating are up across the board for these playoffs not because of the fighting but because the exciting action in the regular season and the strong match ups between rivals in the first round of the playoffs.  All the traditional powers are represented but parody is sprinkled in to make things interesting.  Most hockey injuries, it should be noted, come from play on the ice – something also increasingly chippy and of some concern by true fans and league officials.  Many point to the lack of suspension for Shea Weber’s hit on Henrik Zetterberg in game one of the Predators-Red Wings series.  No suspension for a clearly illegal hit equaled more room for aggressive play.  The league came late to the party in penalties; the players stopped policing themselves and lost all control; the referees (several veteran referees have retired in the past three years) cannot settle things down in an appropriate manner.  All of this points to more reckless play like the egregious shot Raffi Torres delivered on Marian Hossa in game three of the Coyotes-Blackhawks series.  (The Coyotes’ organization and their professed “we didn’t see the hit”/ “it was not that bad” ignorance is sickening and stupid.  Doofs.)  The arbitrary nature of penalties punishing the consequence of the hit versus intent creates very odd mechanisms to utilize incentives against these plays.  That is also the NHL.  Those are the rules and they have existed since the beginning of the weird Brendan Shanahan Department of Player Safety system.

Fighting in hockey, for me, is not a real problem despite it somewhat overshadowing the play on ice.  It is overshadowing play on ice for people who don’t really care about hockey and see the mayhem on Sportscenter or cable news.  The fans come for the hockey and we are very pleased.  Fighting is the result of more reckless play at large, the type of play that has the sport’s greatest stars (Crosby, Toews, Pronger) flirting with retirement or worse.  It’s the illegal big hits in the physical sport that raises my eyebrow.  Control that and the fighting will be reined in.  That reality, however, is far too complex for people that do not watch entire hockey games or want to impose their sports experiences onto a struggling sport in a talent boom.  Just because football is also dealing with injuries in their violent sport doesn’t mean that the most attractive aspect is to blame.  Fighting is not the problem and should not be eradicated by any means.

In the meantime, enjoy the on ice action because the play between the mayhem may show you why rating are up for the best series playoffs in the hardest sport in North America.