Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Sport's Patient


How to fix the broken NBA lottery and return some semblance of dignity to the NBA regular season, among other thoughts and observations.


November 11, 2014
By Carlos Ross, Sports Asylum


To start, I’ll say this argument is based on the simple assumption that the NBA’s main goal should be to generate as much excitement and fan interest as possible in their league. What’s that? I think I hear a shrewd businessman in the corner muttering under his breath with a wry, twisted smile, “The goal, you dunce, is profit.” To that, I say excitement and fan interest is what generates profit. To seek the latter now in order to sacrifice the former is as shortsighted as polluting the Earth to cut costs on recycling. Now, I realize the NBA isn’t exactly strapped for cash at the momentAnd, of course, when things are going good, they always stay that way in business. Cough. Dot-coms. Cough. Real estate market. Cough. So maybe the NBA doesn’t need to worry about the level of fan interest or excitement. Maybe I’m overreacting. But that’s unlikely, since Nurse Ratched just came by and forced something down my throat. When she does that, it usually calms me down. Hey, where did that crusty old honky of an owner go? He was just sitting by the window. He was going to give me a free pizza if I bought season tickets!

I will also start by saying I plan on perpetually rooting against the current Philadelphia 76ers team for so blatantly employing a tanking strategy, no matter what rage that provokes in the loyal 76ers fans (Nurse Ratched can give you something for that) who mindlessly cheer on their team like a herd of sheep. I do admit there is a sinister, miserly part of me that wants to root for them, but I try my best to fight it off like a good human. I guess it’s the same part that always tries to nudge aside my conscience and root for the villain in a superhero movie. Oh my God. He is so close to dominating everything. If he can finish building that weapon, he will literally rule the entire world – oh, dammit, Spiderman! Err, I mean, yeah, Spiderman! Oh my God. They could literally have Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and – no! Bad Carlos! What? No, Nurse Ratched, I wasn’t yelling. I was playing nice! Yes, yes, I swallowed, I promise!
This is actually on the 76ers' website.

In the 76ers’ case, if Spiderman arrives, he will be in the form of karma. In basketball, as in life, there is something to be said for the way you achieve success, not just the success itself. Why do we hate steroids? Why do we hate flopping? It’s playing the game in a way it wasn’t meant. And in the case of flopping, it’s really, really obnoxious to have to watch, just like whatever hodgepodge mess of a roster the 76ers have been intentionally vomiting on the court every night for the past two seasons. (Is that chili cheese tots, a cheeseburger, and bacon-wrapped shrimp??) If they’re good in three years, it’s not going to make up for what they are doing now. Sure, they’re playing within the rules. Steroids weren’t against the rules when Mark McGwire started taking them either.

Okay, so it’s not as bad as steroids. And inevitably there will always be some really bad teams in the NBA that are about as much fun to look at as the regurgitated contents of an open buffet, whether the owner intentionally regurgitated them or not. But there’s something especially foul, depressing, and, perhaps most importantly, dull about watching one of those teams when you know that this is what the ownership intended. The madness needs to be halted.

And there is a way; flip the lottery format around. Rather than just discouraging losing, let’s encourage winning.  That’s what sports should be about, right? The pursuit of winning? So the team closest to making the playoffs should be rewarded with the best chance at getting the number one pick in next year’s draft. 

Think of it. At the end of the year, two teams well out of the playoff race, but tied near the bottom of the standings, could battle before a sold out crowd as they tried to improve their position in next year’s draft. An end of season matchup that in today’s NBA landscape has as much excitement as TV hour in the lobotomy ward could be as raucous as when the whole asylum makes a run for it after too much orange juice! No, Nurse Ratched, I didn’t say anything about escaping. Even if I wanted to, how could anyone break through the bars on those windows?

You think I’m being hyperbolic? Fans won’t care that much? Who’s going to root for a team at the end of the year just so they can get minimally increased odds at a better draft pick? People love this draft shit. They eat it up like a bowl of creamed corn — or, what is it you people on the outside like to eat again?

Is this model crazy? Nuts? Bonkers? Deranged? I don’t think so. In fact, one need look only to the other side of the pond to see something similar in action. In Premier League soccer, if you lose enough games, you are relegated, or demoted, to a lower league. What’s the only way you can get back up and play in the Premier League again? You have to win. If you don’t win, you stay down, because you deserve it, because you can’t figure out how to win. And, most importantly, once you’re down in the lower league, there is no incentive whatsoever to continue to play even worse.

I’m not normally someone who likes to toot the vuvuzela of soccer. I could care less if the MLS evaporates into the clouds and takes all their fans that used to not like sports because I don’t know, it’s just sports, whatever with it. But European soccer is on to something with their formula. Even though relegation is certainly much more drastic than simply not getting as high of a draft pick, the league certainly isn't hurting. As it continues continues to reward winning, and punish losing, it also continues to grow in worldwide popularity. 

The Premier League system has its fair share of critics. Most of these criticisms revolve around the unequal television revenue that the lower level clubs receive, despite the implementation of some revenue sharing tactics. Such is the reality of professional sports in the world we live. All is not financially equal, and never will be.

And the NBA already has its own revenue sharing formula in place that differs from the Premier League. Changing the lottery would not directly change anything about how teams currently turn profits, nor should it. The system of trying to prop up bad teams with good draft picks doesn't make for an even playing field, because an even playing field doesn't, and never will, exist in professional sports. Large market teams like the Lakers and Knicks will always generate more local television revenue (and revenue in general) than other teams, regardless of whether they win or lose. No amount of futility will likely knock them off their perch, as is evidenced by the Knicks' still-plentiful television bounty. But large market or small market, each franchise develops their own tactics for finding, developing, and signing good players. The ones that are good at it succeed and make the playoffs. The ones that are bad keep ending up in the lottery, and right now the NBA rewards that ineptitude. 

Now, I profess no deep understanding of revenue sharing, or the business side of the NBA, or whether or not the owner's refusal to change the current lottery system is even still a business decision at this point. Actually, I profess no deep understanding of anything. Nurse Ratched sees to that. I said you’re a very nice lady that tends to my needs. I’m just a fan who selfishly believes the integrity of the game should take precedence over all else, even if that seems as likely to happen as never having to hear about the release of another Transformers or Marvel Comics movie. (Side note: in those movies, both the evil and good inside me is just rooting for everyone to die). 

The majority of owners are still in favor of changing nothingEven if the amendments to the current system they voted on had passed, they still weren’t enough. And whatever their arguments for keeping the status quo, forgive me for distrusting their motives, as the owners have shown no hesitance to justify anything (and the public has shown a willingness to believe those justifications) if it means making their pockets deeper. See: but if we don’t have a salary cap, the big markets will just make super teams, and nobody will watch basketball anymore! See: the Miami Heat assembling a trio of superheroes (or villains, depending on your point of view) and the league’s popularity skyrocketing to new heights the past four seasons. But that’s a whole different session, or sesh.

And why is it that once these owners own a sports team they suddenly wish to abandon the very system, capitalism, that made them their fortunes, and become revenue-sharing socialists? Big business may be able to consume and destroy pop culture, movies, even music, but for some reason they have had to alter the formula when it comes to sports. Is it because when you throw capitalism on to a basketball court, stark naked with nothing to hide behind, it is forced to bare its true nature of ugliness and greed for all to see?  Perhaps the best way to decide an economic system is to test it out on a sports league. The system that yields the most entertaining result is the one to use in real life too. We could have an anarchy NBA, a socialist NBA, a capitalist NBA, a mixed economy NBA – What’s that, nurse Ratched? I said all I want to do is be a productive member of our great society.

But the simple fact is if you can’t figure out how to win through winning, you shouldn’t be in the business of basketball. Give the job to somebody else. It’s like deciding to open a corner store without knowing how to use a cash register. If your store doesn’t sell enough cigarettes and beer, the other storeowners don’t say, “Oh, sorry, man. Look, if you just sell even less cigarettes and beer for another year, after that we’ll come in and give you some training on the cash register. It’s not that hard. We’ll even fix those water stains on the ceiling, give you some new window displays, put in a little seating area over by the hot food – what, no pizza sticks? You have to get some pizza sticks. I know a guy. I’ll hook you up with him next year, because even though you’re doing a shitty job of running this place, we want to keep you around.”


OTHER THOUGHTS


What should the Thunder do?

A debate was sparked from a Mark Cuban quote, or maybe it was something he tweeted, or maybe it was him responding to something someone else tweeted, or maybe it was a tweet Cuban made in response to being misquoted, or maybe it was a headline about a player responding to his quote about what Cuban said being tweeted out of context, or maybe it was something Skip Bayless said right before he announced he was going to shut the fuck up forever. That didn’t happen yet? I could have sworn... I even remember exactly where I was, can picture it perfectly as we speak. Standing at the window, staring through the bars. It was cloudy. I was depressed. And then I heard the news on the television. A smile spread across my face the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since I managed to nip four extra doses of the blue pills from the secret cabinet. And then, right at that moment, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. It seemed so real.

Anyway, I thought I might contribute to the most recent deluge of non-debate. There’s nothing else to do in here. And I guess there’s nothing else to do out there. I would have tweeted about it, but I don’t have a handle, no pun intended, though Nurse Ratched does encourage social media use. I haven’t figured out why. 

The question, though I’m sure the Thunder have given it no thought whatsoever; should the Thunder tank? The answer? No, of course not, and not even for all the reasons I just listed above. The reason is simple if you look at the contracts of their three current stars. Kevin Durant’s contract expires after the 2015-2016 season. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka both have contracts that expire after the 2016-2017 season.

So let’s say they do tank, and then let’s say they get very lucky, hit the jackpot, and get a fourth star player. That would make said player a rookie still coming into his own in Durant’s final year on his contract, and make him a second-year player during Westbrook and Ibaka’s contract years.

So after you draft this gem of a player, you hope to resign Durant after next season. Then you hope to resign Westbrook and Ibaka the season after that. And then you’ll have four stars! Right, Thunder fans? Or maybe you’ll have to trade one of them for Kevin Martin because you don’t want to pay for all of them. Maybe by then he’ll be worth it. He’ll only be 35.

You’re not going to find another Durant, and almost certainly not another Westbrook or Ibaka for that matter, in next year’s draft. And even if you did, the Thunder have already shown they’re unwilling to pay for all four. So in the best-case scenario, you keep three, and you’re right back to where you are now, except it’s three years later. In the worst-case scenario, you lose two, or even all, of those guys and your decimated roster resembles something uglier than a Kendrick Perkins post move.

You have Durant, maybe only for two more seasons. Try and win now.


The greatest starting five

Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry. Has there been a better starting five in the history of basketball? I don’t think so. Sure, replacing Griffin with someone like Dennis Rodman in his prime would make this juggernaut even more unstoppable, because, really, who needs more offense out there? But I’m talking about right now, not take so-and-so from this era, so-and-so from this era. And I challenge anyone to point to a moment in history where you could take five players that would match up with those five.

You could argue for replacing Curry with Westbrook’s devastating size and athleticism, but this team already has so much devastating size and athleticism that Curry’s devastating shooting and scoring brings more to the table. You could also replace Curry, run Lebron at point, and drop in Carmelo Anthony or even Kawhi Leonard at shooting guard/small forward, but I think the Davis/Griffin/Lebron/Durant/Curry lineup is about as unguardable and unable to score on-able as it gets.


One more way replay review is forever changing the game

I don’t remember which game I was watching last week, but it’s not that important. The point is I saw a play happening with more and more regularity since the use of replay in the NBA continues to increase. The play unfolds as some version of the following sequence: 

Player one goes up and grabs a rebound.

Player two comes from behind and pokes the ball away out of bounds.

Player one’s team is rewarded the ball, because he had control of it and then player two knocked it away.

But wait! They go to replay review. When this play is slowed down and looked at in HD, it appears that, in fact, the last person to technically touch the ball was player one. After player two poked the ball away, the ball rolled off player one’s fingertips before going out of bounds. The call is reversed!

Here’s my question; isn’t this the case every time anyone knocks a ball out of someone’s hands? I do admit this conundrum has been making me feel especially crazy. I tried to replicate it, but I’m not sure if my experiment yielded any usable results. I had Dirty Danny (that’s what we call him because he’s scared of shampoo and his hair is always greasy) hold a ball. I jabbed it, and we tried to tell who technically touched it last. Needless to say, we couldn’t. And, surprise, we don’t have high definition cameras in the loony bin. I called it a hospital, Mrs. Ratched. Your hair looks very nice today.

From my field tests, I did gather that it seems a jabbing or poking motion makes it less likely the defender will be the last person to touch the ball; sort of a jab, quick recoil, so that your finger is on the ball for as little time as possible. When the defender make more of a slap, follow through maneuver it is much more likely they will be the last person to touch the ball, and thus the offense would keep it even after the most scrutinous replay review. Such are the many delightful intricacies that replay allows discussion of among basketball fans, rather than tedious topics like Kevin Love’s outlet passes or James Harden’s Eurostepping.

Now, it is near the end of my column, and the meds make it so the later it gets, the less prone I am to assertions. But it seems we might be getting too technical in our quest for perfection. If you have control of the ball and someone knocks it out of your hands, shouldn’t you just be awarded possesion unless it clearly goes off another part of your body? The method of slowing the play down and zooming in doesn’t seem to result in the correct call. In fact, the call is freakishly accurate to the point it becomes incorrect. Should a player be punished with a turnover if the ball is poked out of his hands and out of bounds?

Or maybe I really am crazy, and this is how it’s always been. Maybe that's the call that's always been made. Or maybe if it has changed, it’s for the better. Nurse Ratched tells me the way it is now is the best, and we are making progress. We are getting rid of the bad things. There is something about her, though. I can’t shake the feeling she’s hiding something, not telling me the whole truth.

Oh, our hour’s up? That flew by. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better. I don’t even think it’s the pills.

4 comments:

  1. What about a 14 team playoff for everybody who doesn't make the playoffs, 3-game series. Final placement in tourney decides the top 14 picks of the draft. Might cause some teams to be perennially stuck to the bottom of the league, but at least it's be because they sucked WHILE trying as hard as they can. I personally think it'd create a steady revolving door of good-to-bad and bad-to-good teams, and would make everyone try for the entire season. Plus, there'd be twice as much playoff basketball (okay yeah that might be too much)

    I can't imagine more playoff games and sold out games in the spring

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  2. .... Being BAD for the NBA revenue stream

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  3. Drear Sports Asylum,
    Let me say to begin. I am ambivalent about the NBA. Too many meaningless games, pay $125 and get pitched at for two and half hours.
    Sports fans are sheep for the most part if their team wins. See how they happily wear conforming tee shirts they get at games? They even look like sheep.
    The Premier league is a good model, I agree but that’s because they have scores of franchises waiting to be moved up to the top league. What does the NBA have? The D league teams? Kentucky ? Duke?
    Are owners are certainly willing to abandon capitalism? See baseball’s antitrust exemption.


    Please, please …..Please tell me your source and that it is a fact that Skip Bayless announced he was going to shut the fuck up forever.

    Best starting five? It’s a generational thing. You can’t compare eras in a sense.
    Best from the 60’s ;
    Bill Russell ( yes, he is a power forward) , Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Pete Maravich and Jerry West.
    Best team ; New York Knicks 1969-1973

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