Category Archives: NBA

Bill Simmons Was Never Meant for TV

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Despite the title of this column, I don’t blame Bill Simmons one bit for trying his hand at television.  When he took ESPN’s offer to work on NBA Countdown, he wanted his unique voice to reach more basketball fans, and he wanted to prove that a non-former player could hang with the cool kids who could speak from personal experience.  Simmons had (and still has) many lumps as a TV personality, but it’s not like his time on NBA Countdown was a disaster.  Well, a few moments were disasters.  This one still makes me cringe more than The Situation at the Roast of Donald Trump.

Simmons’ departure from ESPN in 2015 meant that two things would happen:  One, he’d continue to take shots at ESPN like a salty ex-girlfriend for months and months.  Two, Simmons had his own show on HBO after getting paid a boatload of money, reportedly between $7 and $9 million per year.

Now that Any Given Wednesday has been canceled, it’s safe to say that HBO overpaid for the man who has consistently (and fairly) criticized NBA general managers for dishing out horrible contracts.  Simmons will still have value to HBO sports going forward, but now Simmons’ best case scenario is that he and his contract become Rashard Lewis almost a decade ago, whose contract was rightfully panned by Simmons himself.  Lewis got a contract that made no sense and was a huge overpay, but he still was a valuable part of an Orlando Magic team that did well enough to make the 2009 Finals.  That’s what HBO is hoping for out of The Sports Guy right about now.

Bill Simmons’ mistake was not in taking his shot at TV.  His mistake was almost completely abandoning his writing.  Simmons seems to have forgotten where his bread is buttered.  Let me ask you this: When you think of Bill Simmons and what he does now, is the first thing that comes to your mind “sportswriter?”  For me, I now think of him as a TV guy who also runs a website.  When your fans don’t think of your best skill when they think of you, that’s a problem, and it’s a problem that Simmons created for himself.  He should have been writing last fall when he didn’t have  TV show, his own columns need to be a bigger part of The Ringer, and he should have his own section on the top heading of the website like he did with Grantland. But his writing has become an afterthought, which is where Simmons deserves the most blame.

On last week’s Any Given Wednesday, Simmons did a bit on curses in sports.  You should watch it here to know what I’m talking about, and the fact that it’s only 2.5 minutes makes up for the fact that it’s pretty bad.  Simmons listed off the four biggest remaining curses with the undertone that it’s pretty easy to get fans to buy into any curse.  Fittingly, the fourth curse that Simmons listed was actually fake.  On TV, it was horrible.  It didn’t work at all.

In writing, however, that would have been pretty funny.  Bill Simmons was masterful with those relatable stories, tangents that somehow made sense, and creative arguments that always proved his point, like the one with curses.  But his tone plays much better in writing than on TV.  His proof that curses are easy to create would have been fantastic at the end of a paragraph, but it didn’t play at the end of a TV segment.  Simmons’ still has at least 80-90% of the same smart, funny, and influential tone that he always did, but now you can’t find that tone in the medium that it actually works for.  That was his one giant mistake throughout this whole ordeal, not giving TV a shot.

Why I Hate Kobe Bryant So Much

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the same answer to the question, “Who’s your least favorite athlete?”  The answer is Kobe Bryant, and it’ll take a Matt Barnes — Derek Fisher level of personal beef between me and another athlete to dethrone Kobe from that spot.  Like any modern day Boston sports fan, I hate A-Rod and Bernard Pollard and Mike Ribiero, but none of them reach the level of Kobe.

Before analyzing all the reasons that I drink the Kobe Bryant haterade, let me say that I do respect the hell out of his competitiveness and his drive for greatness.  I can’t knock that he is one of the best players to ever play basketball, and I do realize that many of his faults come from his maniacal competitiveness.  But not all of them do, and that’s why I hate him.

To start, let’s throw out this fiction that all, or at least most, of Kobe’s faults throughout his career have come from his drive to win championships.  It’s complete bullshit.  He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be, and more specifically, he wanted to be an NBA alpha dog more than anything.  From about 2010-2012, we would hear Kobe often declaring, “I’m all about number 6.”  Here’s the thing, though.  That sixth ring, or the first through the fifth, was never his primary motive.  His primary motive was his own personal greatness.  If Kobe really was all about the rings, then why did he willingly aid in the disbanding of the greatest 1-2 punch the NBA had seen since MJ and Pippen all because of his ego?  Kobe and Shaq agreed on Shaq’s podcast recently that the reason they butted heads was that it was impossible for two alpha dogs to exist at once, and that’s fair.  But doesn’t that prove that Kobe wasn’t all about the rings?  I’m not absolving Shaq from blame in the bitchiness that the early 2000’s Lakers exhibited, but nobody is trying to pretend that Shaq only cared about winning rings throughout his career.

Oh yeah, and if Kobe only cared about rings, then why did he take the worst contract in the NBA the past 2 seasons, crippling the Lakers’ cap space?  Last season, LeBron James made $21 million, and he almost carried his team to a championship after they lost both of his All Star sidekicks.  The past 2 years, Kobe has made an average of $24.25 million to jack up a ton of horrendous shots and stunt the growth of the Lakers’ young pieces.

And let’s explore a little further how good of a teammate Kobe Bryant was…

You know how everyone crucified D’Angelo Russell for how bad of a teammate he was for recording the conversation with Nick Young?  Yeah, well, Kobe basically did the same thing, except worse.  He took a shot at Shaq for paying hush money to his side pieces simply because he hated Shaq.  At least when D’Angelo Russell put his teammate on blast, it was unintentional.  (For those who are crying out “Why are we criticizing D’Angelo Russell and not Nick Young, Young was the cheater!?”  Yes, you’re right, Nick Young was cheating and there’s no excuse for that.  But if you’ve been following the story through the eyes of sports fans and analysts, then of course we’re gonna look at the situation through the perspective of sports, i.e. what a terrible teammate D’Angelo Russell is.)

And that isn’t the end of Kobe’s horrible status as a teammate. Remember when he called out Smush Parker, who hadn’t been on the Lakers in years, by saying “We were too cheap to pay for a real point guard, so we let him walk on”?  I find that quote especially interesting because Kobe Bryant said that right before the 2012-2013 season, a season in which the Lakers would have to play a bunch of journeymen due to injuries.  Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to send the message that you’ll call out guys who aren’t that good long after they’re off the team?  I’m sure his teammates loved hearing that.  I have no problem with a player speaking his mind, but when there’s nothing to be gained by saying something and it can only cause a rift in the locker room, why say it?  Then again, Kobe didn’t care at all about rifts in the locker room.

Next, let’s go onto the fact that Kobe, for all the talk of him being so direct and brutally honest, has been both incredibly passive aggressive and a complete liar at times.  The Shaq-Kobe beef was the best example, because, despite the two guys proclaiming that they were happy that they always handled their business face to face, there exists the minor detail that such a proclamation is absolutely absurd.  Shaq and Kobe exuded more bitchiness and gossip than the Real Housewives and Jersey Shore put together.

And how about Kobe dropping the line today that the Charlotte Hornets said they had no use for him in 1996, which fueled him completely?:

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Here’s the thing: That’s also bullshit.  The real story can be found here.  The short version is that Kobe’s agent, Arn Tellum, wouldn’t let Kobe work out for certain teams in an effort to get Kobe on a non-lottery team.  He specifically wanted the Lakers, and Kobe and Tellum did whatever they could to make the Kobe-for-Vlade Divac trade happen.  But when you want to anoint yourself as the most badass competitor of all time, the truth doesn’t matter, right?

But there’s one more reason that I hate Kobe passionately, and I’m guessing that you know the reason.  Actually, there are two reasons, but they stem from the same situation.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

Yeah, I’m talking about the 2003 incident in Colorado.  Despite the fact that sports fans have tried their best to forget the incident, Kobe Bryant raped a woman.  Well, to be fair, I honestly don’t know if “rape” is the right word to use.  I’m not saying it’s not, I’m just saying that a professional who knows far more about sex crimes than I do needs to make that call.  I’ll take Kobe’s statement above at face value, and I’ll believe him that he thought the encounter was consensual.  Therefore, he didn’t have the same malicious intentions as most rapists, but that doesn’t change the fact that what he did was unequivocally evil.  Especially when you’re a 6’6″ professional athlete who probably has twice the body weight and 5-6 times as much muscle as the woman in the scenario, you have to make sure that she actually, you know, wants you to have sex with her.  Seems like a good idea.  But maybe I’m just a Lakers hater, right?

Kobe’s level of scum in the Colorado case isn’t the be all and end all of why I hate him in regards to the case, though.  Part of the reason that the case infuriates me so much is the public reaction, especially 13 years later.  You know how Ray Rice has been vilified to the point that he’s basically the poster boy for and high profile domestic violence case?  And let’s be as brutally honest as people claim that Kobe is:  It’s clear that part of the reason that the Rice case got so much public traction is because so many people, many of whom don’t care about the full context of domestic violence in the NFL, jumped on the story as a way to crucify the NFL and the Ravens for the way they handled the case and to stand on a moral platform and proclaim how horrible domestic violence is and how rampant it is in professional sports — all points which are unquestionably 100% true.

Here’s the thing.  The American public is quite stupid when it comes to issues like this, as I have written before in regards to the Johnny Manziel situation with his girlfriend in December.  For instance, people only cared about the Ray Rice case when a video was released, even though Rice admitted to the NFL exactly what he did during his first meeting with them.  Furthermore, the hypocrisy among fans on issues like this is dumbfounding.  The public wants to criticize the NFL for reacting to such a case so late, but they fail to mention that there were 57 cases of domestic violence in the NFL between 2006, the year that Roger Goodell took office, and the Rice incident in 2014.  A whopping THIRTY-FUCKING-FOUR went completely unpunished.  It’s always seemed to me that the American public has given itself some credit for making the NFL change its rules, and the public has stood on some moral high ground by saying, “Can you really believe how bad the domestic violence situation in the NFL is???”  Well, why did the public outcry only reach that level with the 58th case of domestic violence in Goodell’s 8 years as Commissioner?  If the American people want to give themselves credit for changing the public discourse about domestic violence and the horror of it, then the same people should also accept some blame for not giving a shit about the issue until 2014.

I bring up the Rice/domestic violence example not to compare that crime to Kobe Bryant’s, because, frankly, I think Bryant’s was worse.  (Again, my opinion doesn’t really matter on that one, and I’ll leave that verdict up to a professional in dealing with sex crimes.)  I bring up the Rice example to demonstrate the stupidity with which the American public deal with high profile sex crimes, especially in the aftermath.

You know how people always demand that athletes should be role models?  Specifically, parents demand that athletes need to be role models for their children.  Well, since the Colorado rape case, it seems that Kobe has become a role model for so many because of his competitive drive and desire to win.  This Bleacher Report slideshow stated that Kobe had the 2nd highest selling jersey of the previous decade from 2013, and they say in the Kobe slide that Kobe still had the 5th highest selling jersey in 2004 and 2005 — the years following Kobe’s rape case.

Ultimately, this is the biggest reason why I hate Kobe Bryant.  Kobe has long been the epitome of hypocrisy among sports fans.  It has never made sense to me that so many fans claim that their athletes need to be more than just athletes (a sentiment which I largely disagree with due to examples like Kobe Bryant), and specifically, athletes need to be role models to show children how to behave on and off the court.  If that’s the case, then why does Kobe Bryant get a worldwide retirement tour in which everyone serenades him with love when Ray Rice gets called a cancer to society?  Believe me, I’m not defending Ray Rice, but it would only seem consistent for people to treat Kobe with even 1% of the same level of disdain that Rice receives.

When I was in college, our marketing professor showed us a Nike advertisement with Tiger Woods (post sex scandal) that says “Winning solves everything.”  She asked us her opinion on the ad, and then told us that she hated it because it seemed to send a message that what Tiger did was OK, so long as he wins.  While that professor was one of my favorite and best professors, I couldn’t disagree more with her for saying that Nike was way out of line.  Nike was simply stating the truth of how the public views its athletes.  People are willing to overlook what horrendous acts someone has committed, so long as they produce on the field.  That’s what you’re seeing now throughout the retirement tour that Kobe Bryant is getting, as people are not just staying (correctly) what a great basketball player Kobe is, but what a treasure to humanity that he has been.  Actually, that’s false, and such a line of argument spits in the face of the sanctimonious stances that people take about how athletes need to be role models, how sports teams should care about a player’s character just as much as they care about his talent, and how heinous crimes, especially those against women, are unforgivable.  Even if Kobe Bryant A) cared about winning more than being an alpha dog like he has always said, B) was anything other than a horrendous teammate, and C) wasn’t as much of a passive aggressive liar as he is, I would still hate him.  I hate Kobe not just for committing a crime that nobody should ever commit, but because he’s the best possible example for the societal hypocrisy that is exhibited by sports fans.

Extremely Important Games Tonight for Celtics

By now, you know that we have to keep track of the Nets, Suns, and Timberwolves win totals because the Celtics own the Nets’ 1st round draft pick.  Also, we have to focus on the win totals for the Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Rockets, and Jazz because of the Mavs’ draft pick that the Celtics got in the Rajon Rondo heist.  Tonight is far more important for the Celtics than just the game against the Raptors because of those ever important draft picks.

First, the Lakers play the Suns in Pheonix tonight.  The Suns are horrendous, hence they don’t get a ton of chances to win basketball games.  Tonight is one of the nights that they not only should win, but need to win for the C’s.  They beat the Lakers last weekend in Los Angeles, and the Lakers played last night and the Suns didn’t.  Also, D’Angelo Russell might not play because of a bruised shin that he suffered last night, and if he does play, he likely won’t play his best basketball.  No excuse for the Suns to lose this one.

In Portland, the Blazers host the Mavs.  Neither team played last night, but the Mavs are without Chandler Parsons due to his knee injury.  Portland is a very tough place to play, as the Blazers are 21-12 at home this year.  The Mavs are just 15-18 on the road this season, and I’ll be pissed off if Dirk Nowitzki pulls yet another game out of his keister.

Don’t just pay attention to the Celtics and Bruins game that are in progress.  Those games are obviously the most important ones to watch tonight, but make sure that you pay attention to Lakers-Suns and Mavericks-Trail Blazers.  You should never care about a pair of Western Conference games that involves non-contenders as much as you care about these games.

Mavericks Draft Pick Is Key to Watch

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The Mavericks’ draft pick that the Celtics own lies in a weird spot right now, which only adds to the importance of Dallas’ final 12 games.

Earlier today, it was reported that Chandler Parsons will likely miss the rest of the season due to knee surgery.  Dallas is now hanging on by a thread, as they’ve lost 7 of their last 9 and have watched Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, and Zaza Pachulia’s performances take huge hits in the past few weeks.  Now that Parsons is out, Dirk has to carry his team to the playoffs at age 37.

As of the morning of March 23, here are the Western Conference standings for the team in the same tier as the Mavs.

6. Portland Trail Blazers 36-35
7. Dallas Mavericks 35-35
8. Houston Rockets 35-36
9. Utah Jazz 34-36

We need the Blazers to stay ahead of the Mavericks and the Rockets and Jazz to jump them.  If that happens, the Mavs obviously are the 9th seed in the West, but why does that make such a difference in where they pick?  If the Mavs are in the 14th slot at the draft lottery, there’s no advantage for the Celtics if their pick makes a jump into the top 3, because the pick is protected 1-7.

But here’s the thing.  If the Mavs make the playoffs, they’ll likely have the 15th pick, as the 8th seed seems more likely for them than the 6th or 7th.  If the miss the playoffs, however, the pick will probably rise to 12.  The 9th and 10th seeds in the Eastern Conference should finish ahead of the Mavs, as the Pistons sit at 37-34 and the Wizards are 35-35.  The Pistons have won their last 3 and the Wizards have won their last 5, and both of those teams have arrows pointing up as opposed to the Mavericks’ arrow pointing in the opposite direction.

Let’s say the Celtics got the 15th pick and really wanted to move up to the 12th spot in the draft.  Such a jump would cost the Celtics at least a 2nd round pick, and it might cost more if Danny Ainge really wants a certain player, considering he offered 4 picks last year to move from 16 to 9.

The difference between the 15th and 12th pick is more significant than it seems, especially if the C’s try to trade the pick.  Let’s say the Celtics get the 3rd pick from the Nets and the 24th pick from their own (if they can get the 3 seed in the East).  What if Danny Ainge wants to trade up from 3 to 2 and get either Simmons or Ingram.  Doesn’t it look a lot better to offer the 12th pick along with the 3rd and some other asset for the 2nd pick overall, rather than offering the 15th?

Over the next 3 weeks, the most important games for the Mavericks are tomorrow night at Portland, Friday April 1 vs. Houston, and Monday April 11 at Utah.  That April 11th game is imperative, as the Jazz and Mavs will likely be fighting for the 8th seed down to the wire, and the Mavs will have played at LAC the night before while the Jazz will have played at Denver the night before.  I’ll never root for the Jazz more than I do that night.

NBA Will Look for More Parity in Near Future

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Wednesday morning on Mike and Mike, Charles Barkley criticized the state of the NBA, saying it’s “awful” right now.  The pair of main takeaways were A) He should have said the NBA was “turrible,” and B) He thinks a full game is only worth watching if the Warriors are playing the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, or Cavaliers.

Barkley might be overstating it, because this NBA regular season hasn’t been that bad in my opinion… Or maybe I just think that way because the Celtics have been such an exciting team to watch this season.  Either way, I agree with Barkley’s larger point, which is that the NBA is a league without much parity now.  The NBA has always been a league of the Haves and Have Nots, especially compared to the NHL and NFL.  But this year, you can barely have a conversation about the NBA without someone saying “Well, there are really only 4… mayyybe 5 real contenders this year.”  It’s more clear than ever that 25 teams are playing for a consolation prize.

It’s not going to get much better, either.  I don’t put much stock in the Kevin Durant to Golden State rumors, but it’s a real possibility.  Regardless, the Cavs will still have LeBron, Love, and Kyrie for the next few years (or whatever assets that they trade one of those guys for), the Spurs are the Spurs, the Clippers should be in the mix for the next few seasons, and the Thunder might be an elite team if Durant stays, or they might drop off a cliff.  The Celtics are the only team that I’d say are likely to jump to contender status within the next 2-3 years, and only the Raptors, Lakers, Heat, and Pelicans have even a tiny chance of jumping up to that level over the same time frame.  That means that it’ll likely be only 5-6 teams with a real shot of contention for the next few years.

This summer and next, the NBA’s salary cap will rise.  It’ll likely go from $70 to $92 million in 2016 and up to about $108ish million in 2017, which will increase the NBA’s achievement gap a lot more than you might think.  Sure, the Atlanta Hawks will have a ton of cap space to get someone to go along with Al Horford and whichever point guard they choose in the future… or that superstar could choose a team who is guaranteed to play in the conference finals year after year, because those teams will have cap space to add to their already great foundation.

The summer of 2017 is intriguing for another reason.  The players have the right to opt out of the current CBA that year, and while Larry Coon predicts that the negotiations will be pretty easy, the league could see a significant change that summer.

Specifically, the owners will likely view the new CBA as a way to guarantee more parity in the league.  Owners HATE the idea that they don’t have a good chance to get a superstar and win championships make money.  Just ask Dan Gilbert in 2011, who had so quickly forgotten that his franchise had the best player since Jordan for 7 years.

The players would only opt out to get a bigger piece of the NBA revenue pie that has grown due to the NBA’s massive TV deals, so there’s no way that the owners could increase parity in the league by lowering the salary cap.  There are a few other ways to accomplish the goal of more parity, however.

Let’s start with the most obvious remedy, which is raising the level of the max contract.  When you really think about it, the concept of a max contract is pretty strange.  The NHL and NFL both have hard salary caps, and they don’t have max contracts.  After all, we’re only a few years from some quarterback demanding $35 million per year… and probably getting it.  The NBA doesn’t allow something like that to happen, which is inconsistent with the fact that their stars drive the product more than in any other sport.  If there was any league in which the stars deserve a high percentage of the team’s salaries, it’s the NBA.

I’m guessing the players’ union wouldn’t have a huge issue with raising the max contract line.  The league’s superstars run the union more than in previous years, led by Chris Paul and LeBron James as President and VP.  Pretty sure they’d be OK with increasing the max salary rate.  With such a move, teams wouldn’t be able to hoard 3 or 4 superstars, and the rest of the league would be able to get their hands to a franchise player.

The other option has to do with draft picks.  The Association could introduce the MLB model of giving extra draft picks to the teams that lose their free agents, meaning that Golden State would give their 1st round pick to Oklahoma City if they signed Kevin Durant this summer, for example.  Or, there could be compensatory picks after the 1st round of the NBA draft.

Ultimately, the NBA should increase parity through the first proposal, because the NBA’s middle class of players has been getting a higher proportion of the players’ revenue than you would suspect, given who really earns money for the league.  Players on rookie deals barely make anything compared to the veterans, and superstars are underpaid compared to their worth.  We’re only a few months away from NBA role players making $15-17 per season with superstars in their 5th-7th seasons will make “only” $25.3 million per year.  It would only make sense for the superstars, who really put money in the owners’ pockets, to get a higher percentage.  More importantly, it’ll accomplish the task of narrowing the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots in the NBA, which will be a major issue for the next few seasons.

Congrats to Beno Udrih on His New Yacht!

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The Bay of Biscayne in Miami is beautiful, just in case you didn’t already know that.  It would be a pretty cool place to own a yacht or a jet ski or something like that, no?  Well, Beno Udrih just got one (or four) of his own, despite the fact that the NBA says that his salary was recently decreased.

After the Heat signed Joe Johnson upon his buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, the Heat were about $40k over the luxury tax line, which makes way more of a difference than that figure would suggest.  Teams who are not in the luxury tax receive a bonus of about $2.6 million each from the taxpaying teams, and they avoid counting the given year towards the NBA’s new repeater tax system that punishes teams who are over the tax line multiple years in a row.  The Heat wanted to dip below the luxury tax line, and the only guy whose contract could realistically be bought out was Beno Udrih.  They approached Udrih after Johnson signed on, and Udrih agreed to give up enough salary to get the team back below the tax.

Only one problem.  Udrih is out for the year, so there’s no way that he gains anything from becoming a free agent.  He gave up a little bit of cash to supposedly help out the Heat franchise… which is also known as “Micky Arison and Pat Riley paid him under the table.”

To be honest, I really don’t care about stuff like this.  In the age of getting outraged about every minor rule break, I can’t pretend to get worked up about this.  Beno Udrih got a jet ski or a yacht which Micky Arison probably bought the pricey gift in cash and delivered it right to Udrih’s house so there was no record of purchase.  He didn’t lose anything, and unlike many cases of the rich using loopholes to keep a few million bucks, this move didn’t hurt anyone in the general public.  The only losers in this case are the other non-taxpaying owners who lose some dollars because their share of the luxury tax payments are diluted, but I don’t think anyone among us is gonna spill any tears over that.

I don’t write this column to claim that there’s a grave injustice here, because there’s a lot more important moral issues to care about in professional sports.  I write this column for this lone reason: to say congratulations to Beno Udrih on his new yacht/jet ski/lambo/plethora of hookers!

Checking in with (the Draft Pick of) the Dallas Mavericks

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Celtics fans have been busy checking the Nets box score after every Brooklyn game this season, but it’s also important to keep an eye on each game the Dallas Mavericks play.  The Celtics own the Mavs’ 1st rounder this year as well, and while the Nets are unfortunately trending upwards in the standings, the Mavs are not.

The Mavs overachieved to start the season, and they’ve banked enough wins to sit at 29-26 heading into their first game after the All Star break.  Despite that mark, they are tied for 14th in the league with a dead even net rating.  They played better earlier in the season, which means that number has been trending down, and they needed a lot of luck such as Deron Williams’ miraculous 3 pointer to win a game against Sacramento that caused me to write this column about how aggressively the Celtics should go after Boogie Cousins.  .

The best case that Celtics fans can hope for is that the Mavericks barely miss the playoffs, which is unlikely but in play, thanks to the fact that Daryl Morey couldn’t find a taker for Dwight Howard.  The Marc Gasol-less Grizzlies, Mavericks, Jazz, Trail Blazers, and Rockets all sit within 5 games of each other, and they’re playing a game of musical chairs to determine who will be the one left out.  My money is on the Grizzlies because Marc Gasol is just that good and they traded Courtney Lee.  The Mavs are just 2 games above the 9th place Jazz, and if they do fall out of the mix, it’ll be a sizable difference between the pick they’d get if they finished even in 8th seed.  The Eastern Conference is surprisingly better than the West when it comes to the bottom 4 teams in each conference, and if the Mavs are the 9th seed in the West, then there will probably be 1 or 2 East teams who miss the playoffs that have a better record than the Mavs.  That means that Dallas could get the 13th or even 12th pick just by missing the playoffs, while they would be guaranteed no better than the 15th pick if they got the 8 seed.  If they fare better than that, they could get the 18-20 pick.  Big difference between 12 and 20.

While the Brooklyn pick is by far more important, the Dallas pick’s fate may actually hinge on each game more than the Brooklyn one.  The Nets are likely going to wind up with the 4th best chances at the #1 pick, which I dissected in my column that I linked to in the first paragraph, because the pathetic Suns are tanking.  An extra loss for the Nets probably won’t change their fate, but an extra loss for the Mavs will almost surely wind up making a difference in what pick it is.

Essentially, make sure you check the box scores of each Mavericks game, just like you’ve been checking the box scores of the Nets games all season.  The latter is more important, but the former is more volatile.

Checking in with (the Draft Pick of) the Brooklyn Nets

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The Brooklyn Nets are a complete joke, but unless your name is Mikhail Prokhorov, you already knew that.  The problem for the Celtics, though, is that Brooklyn’s spot for May’s draft lottery.

The Phoenix Suns called the Nets’ incompetence and not only raised, but went all in with their effort to be an embarrassing, sad excuse of a basketball organization.  Sir Chuck agrees.  The Suns now sit at 14 wins, identical to the Nets.  Unfortunately, given tha thte Suns now have every incentive to tank and the Nets have every incentive to win, the Suns will likely finish below the Nets in the standings.  They join the Lakers and 76ers as the 2 teams who will likely finish below the Nets in the standings.

The good news is that the Minnesota Timberwolves won 3 of their final 4 games before the All Star break to pull to 17 wins, and the 3 game difference between the T-Wolves and the Suns/Nets is a massive one for teams as pathetic as these.  Also, the Timberwolves are responsibly building a team with veteran leadership galore, as opposed to a team like the 76ers or the Suns.  Can you really see KG allowing for the T-Wolves to tank for a third of the season?

After that, no other team has fewer than 20 wins.  Assuming Minnesota doesn’t implode, Brooklyn doesn’t go on an incredible run, and New Orleans or Milwaukee doesn’t suffer a collapse of epic proportions, the Nets will give the Celtics the 4th best chance at the #1 pick.

Of course, now that they’ve traded Markieff Morris, the Suns may improve their locker room culture enough to become a real basketball team again… ah screw it, who am I kidding?  I recently heard a stat on the Dunc’d on Podcast that will tell you how bad the Suns are now.  In clutch situations — defined as within the final 5 min of a game in a 5 point game or less — since Eric Bledsoe went out for the year, the Suns are 55 points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents.  That’s so bad that it’s almost impossible.  The Suns play the Nets next Tuesday in Phoenix, and if the Suns pull that one out, there’s a small chance that they’ll finish ahead of the Nets.  But don’t hold your breath.

The team to root for, shockingly is… the Lakers!  Believe me, I hate rooting for the Lakers more than anyone, but if the Suns finish worse than the 11 win Lakers, regardless of whether or not the Nets do as well, that’s huge for Laker haters like ourselves.  The Lakers lose their pick if it falls outside the top 3, and if they go into the lottery with the 3rd slot, it’s way more likely that a single team will jump them than if they finished 2nd and we needed 2 teams to jump them.  In short, the Suns had better go one of two ways: Either suck enough to finish behind the Lakers, who might try their hardest down the stretch because they want to honor Kobe.  Or, they need to  do well enough that they finish better than the Nets.

Trade Deadline: Final Predictions

We’re about a half hour from the deadline, which means that we’re probably about 90 minutes from the final announcements of trades.  The Celtics haven’t done anything yet, but Trader Danny pulled off the Isaiah Thomas trade last year with 2 minutes to go, so we’re hopeful that he’ll pull the trigger again.  Around the league, there are quite a few players who were involved in a million rumors that may be moved in the next half hour.

Here are my final predictions for what happens, and I’ll be sure to let you know whether or not the trades are based off logic… or absolutely nothing at all other than my own (probably false) gut feelings.

  • Dwight Howard stays.  The Rockets are headed for a disaster with Dwight, because nobody wants him, Daryl Morey won’t pay him a 5 year deal starting at $31.3 million, and teams won’t see the value in pulling off a sign and trade for him that will necessitate them giving Dwight that same contract.  My prediction is that Dwight stays through the deadline, then bolts somewhere else in the summer on a 4 year max deal with no compensation for the Rockets.  Daryl Morey breaks down crying at the next Sloan Conference in Boston.
  • Pau Gasol goes to Sacramento, then gets massively overpaid in the offseason: Rumors last night suggested that the Bulls like Ben McLemore, the Kings like Gasol, and the Kings might even be willing to decrease the protection on the Kings’ 2016 pick that the Bulls already own.  If that happens, then it’s a done deal.  The Bulls have had a disappointing season, but getting a pick that’s basically guaranteed to be in the 8-12 range is a huge pick-me-up, especially for a UFA.  The Kings keep their pick if it’s in the top 10, but if that was changed to 7 or 8 — plus the addition of McLemore in the deal — then there’s no way that the Bulls say no.
  • Horford stays, Teague goes to New York: The Hawks love Al Horford and were clearly hoping that some team would overpay for Horford in a trade.  But just like with Howard, teams don’t wanna pay Horford the full 5 year deal, even if the max is slightly cheaper than Howard’s next deal.  If you’re the Hawks and you can barely get any good players, why not keep one of the few great players that you’ve ever had and hope to get lucky next year?  As for Teague, I have no idea what the Knicks have to offer, but I think they’re gonna sell every asset they have other than Carmelo and Porzingis.  They’ll be happy to sell their future for a point guard.  They’re the Knicks, after all.
  • Celtics get Kevin Love: This one is totally baseless, but Danny Ainge is high on Love.  My complete guess is centered around the fact that Love isn’t working in Cleveland, and we know that Danny Ainge has been high on Love forever.  There would definitely be a 3 team trade involved here.  Wouldn’t it make complete sense for Danny Ainge to strike a deal on the one guy who everybody assumed he had already passed on, instead of the guys that we keep hearing rumors about?  That would be the most Trader Danny thing ever.

Jeff Hornacek Firing Has Important Effect on Celtics

Hornacek Suns Basketball

It’s not every winter that a terrible team in the Western Conference fires its coach and Celtics fans actually have to care.  Honestly, I kept confusing Jeff Hornacek for the coach of 2 or 3 other teams at the start of the season, and I only recently memorized his name.

I finally learned for good which team Jeff Hornacek coached when I looked at the standings a few weeks ago.  I realized that the Brooklyn Nets, whom we need to lose as many games as possible, only had a handful of fewer wins than the Suns.  Since that time, the difference in wins has shrunk to just 2 games, with the Nets at 12 and the Suns and Timberwolves at 14.

The Suns have been in a tailspin recently, going 7-30 since their 7-5 start.  Suns owner Robert Sarver hates both Markieff Morris and all millennials, Eric Bledsoe is done for the year, and now their coach is looking for a job.  The Phoenix Suns are in disarray, and it’s too bad that we have to care about a dumpster fire when we have an exciting team to watch.

If Brooklyn surpasses Phoenix in wins, then the Nets have the 4th best chance at the top pick in the draft instead of 3rd, decreasing the Celtics’ chances of Ben Simmons from 15.6% to 11.9%.  It also lowers their chances at Brandon Ingram, who looks to be a decent consolation prize as the number 2 pick, from 15.7% to 12.6%.  Those aren’t huge differences, but there’s another drawback from the Nets beating out the Suns.  Danny Ainge will definitely consider trading the Nets’ pick this summer, either for the number 1 pick or for another asset.  The 3rd pick carries more weight than the 4th, especially if you’re trying to jump from #3 or #4 up to #1.

The Timberwolves also have 14 wins, but that’s a team that seems more likely to actually try to win games in the Spring.  They have a good locker room up in Minny due to KG, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller, and they’re trying to groom the future stars of Wiggins and Towns.  For the Suns, though, coach firings usually go one of two ways:  Either the players had quit on the old coach and will have a new sense of purpose for the new coach, or the coach firing demonstrates that the team is a sorry collection of players who will only quit on the season even more than they already have.  Let’s pray that it’s the former.

It’s important to keep some perspective here.  I’m not saying that the Suns dropping behind the Nets would be a devastating blow to the Celtics.  But the seeding in at the bottom of the NBA standings is important enough that you should be following it.