New Jersey Nets’ Carmelo Cancellation: Brilliant Move by Owner Mikhail Prokhorov

By publicly breaking off Carmelo Anthony trade talks with the Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov made a brilliant move that will benefit his team for as long as he is in charge.

Forget how this non-deal affects the Nets on the court. Let’s talk about how it helps them off the court.

Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire, is the first non-North American owner of an NBA franchise. Upon his purchase of the Nets, there were many questions surrounding the character of his ownership.

1) Would he throw money around indiscriminately just because he’s fabulously wealthy?

So far, yes, although Prokhorov hasn’t been able to throw it in the directions he hoped. This summer he signed Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, and Jordan Farmar for $69 million. Unfortunately, none of the big fish were interested in coming to New Jersey. It was like when you go to Blockbuster with a list of several movies you want to rent, but none of those films are in stock. Still, there’s no way you’re going home empty-handed. You’re going to get something to watch, even if you don’t enjoy it all that much. So you pick up some decent movies that hopefully provide at least a little entertainment and don’t completely ruin your night. (Please ignore the fact that no one goes to rent movies anymore. The everything-at-your-fingertips ethos of On Demand doesn’t work for my analogy.)

2) Would he get involved in the minute details of running a team or let his GM call the shots?

So far, Prokhorov has had his hand in almost everything the Nets have done. He is a huge basketball fan and clearly intends to be a Mark Cuban-like owner. Of course, that’s without all the courtside histrionics, ridiculous feuds with other owners/coaches/commissioners, verbal sparring with opposing players’ mothers, etc. He’s the executive chef of this restaurant. While he may not be cooking up every dish (you won’t catch him chopping onions or apportioning spices), he’s the one setting the menu.

3) Would he become the face of the franchise?

If the enormous billboard across from Madison Square Garden is any indication, then yes. Right now Prokhorov might be more recognizable than any of the Nets’ players, which is more an indictment of the roster than a compliment to Mikhail. How many NBA owners could you recognize in a prison lineup? How many NBA owners could you even name? Most owners stay hidden behind the scenes, doing God knows what. I imagine them sitting behind enormous mahogany desks, reclining nonchalantly in overwhelming leather chairs wearing finely tailored Italian suits, casually signing multi-million dollar checks.

But I don’t roll in those circles, so I might be wrong. Either way, Prokhorov is one of the few owners who is eminently recognizable, and he cares about remaining so. Right now he is “the guy” in New Jersey. Just like Kobe is “the guy” in LA and LeBron was “the guy” in Cleveland. Brook Lopez is the budding star center, Devin Harris is the former All-Star, and Derrick Favors is the young stud, but you could not claim that any of them is the face of the Nets, or even the future of the Nets. Those labels firmly belong to Prokhorov.

4) What would he do if he couldn’t sign any of the big free agents last summer?

Ah, the big question, at least as far as the upcoming trade deadline goes. I previously thought (and wrote) that New Jersey would pursue a Carmelo deal to the death just so Prokhorov could finally have his “Look at me, I’m a legitimate NBA owner” moment.

I thought he would spare no expense to land a top-flight superduperstar, prioritizing prestige over performance. Since free agency didn’t treat him kindly, he would make sure to score through a trade.

I expected him to be like those “Survivor” villains who reach the finals but receive no votes. They backstab throughout the game, blindsiding people right and left, establishing themselves as power players and threats. With about five or six people left, they have done enough to almost guarantee that they will make it to the end, but either due to the desire to prove they can make yet another big move or sheer paranoia, they stupidly screw over someone in their alliance and ruin any shot at the million dollars. Then they claim they “played the game the best,” even though the objective is to win.

Had Prokhorov acquired Carmelo under the proposed circumstances, especially without a long-term commitment from Anthony, it would have definitely made a statement: “Ha, I got the guy everybody wanted. All you other teams are jealous of me. I win.” Until he realized his team, the Nets, never actually won. (OK, I’m presuming that Carmelo would not be able to lift New Jersey to a title, but look at the squad he’d be left with and look at Miami, Boston, and Orlando. Not gonna happen.)

There are three types of owners in professional sports:

A) Those who want to win championships (i.e. Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss).

B) Those who want their franchises to become global brands (i.e. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones).

C) Those who want to run financially successful businesses (i.e. Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling).

The three types are not mutually exclusive, especially since you usually need some measure of on-court success to become a global brand. That said, I wasn’t sure whether Prokhorov was more A or B.

But this move shows that Prokhorov wants to win and may really know how to do it. His press conference announcing his team’s ostensible withdrawal from the Melo sweepstakes proves that he will be a significant player in the NBA for years to come.

Voice in my head: “Wait, you’re claiming that this little trade cancellation will assure the Nets a bright future? You do realize that all Prokhorov is doing is keeping the same 14 guys that are currently 12-31? Your readers are going to think you’re blowing this way out of proportion!

Me to the voice in my head: “Shh, let me finish. It actually makes sense.”

With this press conference, Prokhorov is demonstrating that he will not be taken advantage of, that he will not be exploited, and that he will not be played for a fool. He is obviously a savvy businessman (you think he made his billions without brains and resolve?) and his instincts appear to carry over to the basketball world.

Running an NBA franchise is a lot like a game of Monopoly. The game is rarely decided by which properties you choose to simply buy. Rather, it comes down to trades. Can I convince you to exchange Vermont Ave. and St. Charles Place, giving me light blue and pink monopolies and essential control over an entire corner, just for Boardwalk and the prospect of a dark blue monopoly? (For those of you less familiar with the game board, here’s a refresher.)

However, if you’re A. Constantly throwing out ridiculous proposals (want Baltic Ave. for Park Place and two railroads?), B. Easily getting suckered into stupid deals, or C. Spending all your playing time arguing over details, then A. No one will take you seriously, B. Everyone will try to take advantage of you, or C. No one will want to play with you in the first place.

Prokhorov has avoided all three potentially disastrous scenarios. Although there’s obviously some work to be done before we call Prokhorov the messiah, he has set himself up excellently. Players will want to play for him, front offices will want to deal with him, and David Stern can feel more confident about the Brooklyn experiment.

You shouldn’t expect Carmelo Anthony to play for the Nets (but let’s not rule him out completely, either) yet you shouldn’t blame Prokhorov or call it a missed opportunity.

The stars will come. Believe me, the stars will come and New Jersey will become a serious contender.

When? I cannot say. But it will be sooner rather than later. Mikhail Prokhorov will make sure of that.

Historically Horrible: Are the Clippers the Worst Team Ever?

The Los Angeles Clippers always have to go and ruin everything, don’t they? First my hopes and expectations; now my article.

Just three games ago, the Clippers were a pitiful 1-13, on pace to possess the worst record in the history of the NBA, a scarlet letter currently worn by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers. Although the eye test told me they were not the worst team ever, their futility was unbelievable and alarming.

So I decided to get to the bottom of this quandary, researching the league’s historically inept teams and see how LA compared statistically. I wanted to determine whether it was justifiable to preemptively place the Clips in the pantheon of losers.

Unfortunately, due to the general hubbub surrounding Thanksgiving—family and friends in town, good food abounding, so much sports to watch—it took me longer than planned to complete my investigation. In the meantime, those confounding Clippers embarked on a two-game winning streak that has made them seem, if not invincible, then at least respectable.

Worst team ever? No way. They might not even be the worst team in California. (May I introduce you to the disaster in Sacramento, and I’m not talking about state budget cuts.)

Still, to indulge myself after all the hard work and provide an interesting point of reference, I have chosen to produce the study. Remember, Clipper Nation, you’re not out of the woods quite yet. Your team is possibly just a Chris Kaman or Baron Davis return away from another free fall.

After returning to their losing ways last night against the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers are now projected to finish 14-68. Here, we will examine every team that has failed to win 15 games.

To measure ability and effectiveness on both sides of the ball, we will look at offensive rating (ORtg) and defensive rating (DRtg)—points scored and allowed per 100 possessions—as well as points per game differential and record after 17 games. Rather than give exact numbers for ORtg and DRtg, I am only including league ranks, which should normalize for the era in which teams played. This way, the three-point line, shot clock and how the refs were calling the game will not distort the findings.

2010-11 LA Clippers

Point diff -7.2; ORtg seventh to last; DRtg second to last; started 4-13.

1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers

9-73; Point diff -12.1; ORtg/DRtg unavailable; started 1-16.

1992-93 Dallas Mavericks

11-71; Point diff -15.2; ORtg last; DRtg last; started 2-15.

1997-98 Denver Nuggets

11-71; Point diff -11.8; ORtg second to last; DRtg last; started 2-15.

2009-10 New Jersey Nets

12-70; Point diff -9.1; ORtg last; DRtg sixth to last; started 0-17.

1986-87 LA Clippers

12-70; Point diff -11.4; ORtg last; DRtg last; started 3-14.

1993-94 Dallas Mavericks

13-69; Point diff -8.7; ORtg last; DRtg fourth to last; started 1-16.

2004-05 Atlanta Hawks

13-69; Point diff -9.8; ORtg second to last; DRtg second to last; started 3-14.

1996-97 Vancouver Grizzlies

14-68; Point diff -10.2; ORtg last; DRtg third to last; started 2-15.

1982-83 Houston Rockets

14-68; Point diff -11.6; ORtg last; DRtg fifth to last; started 3-14.

Wow these teams were awful! You would think that professional players could never comprise teams this bad, but I guess some squads just don’t work at all.

So which one is the worst? Take your pick, but I’m going to have to go with the 1992-93 Mavs. They only won 11 games, had an astronomical margin of defeat and were the league’s least effective group on both sides of the ball. By comparison, this year’s Clippers are practically All-Stars.

What seems to really separate the Clippers is their lack of complete offensive futility. They are only 24th in the NBA in offensive rating, whereas all the other teams on this list resided in the league’s bottom two.

The Los Angeles Clippers are clearly not the worst team ever. You would think this result would make me relieved or optimistic, but it just makes me disappointed yet again. If you’re going to be bad, Clippers, at least be historically bad. That would be way more fun than this tantalizing almost-impotence.

Like typical Clippers, though, they can’t even stink with the best of them.

Only the Strong Survive: What the LA Clippers Really Need Is Toughness

After losing two games over the weekend, the Los Angeles Clippers have fallen to 1-6. They followed up an impressive victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder with a couple of frustrating outings, yet again quashing nascent hope.

In theory, you can forgive back-to-back road losses against the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, two perennial playoff teams with significant home court advantages. Still, the Clippers really needed to win at least one of these contests to keep pace in the deep Western Conference.

So where do the Clippers stand now? Is the season already over? (I feel like we’ve been asking this question repeatedly thus far.)

Unfortunately, Los Angeles’ schedule has been nothing short of brutal. Six of the Clips’ seven opponents made the playoffs last year, and the other squad was the reinvigorated Golden State Warriors. Unlike other teams, they haven’t had the luxury of beating up on the Minnesotas or Torontos of the league.

Despite the quality of the competition, the Clippers are not making excuses and neither will I. If they want to become successful they need to be better.

Pundits have given myriad reasons for Los Angeles’ struggles so far: Baron Davis’ nonexistence, Chris Kaman’s inefficiency, the bench’s inconsistency, the shooters’ 3-point incompetency, the team’s second half lethargy, etc. All of these are legitimate problems for the Clippers, but I would like to expound another issue that might be paramount: lack of toughness.

That’s right, the Clippers seem largely devoid of toughness, both mental and physical. You know the cliche: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And the Clippers are stuck in neutral.

Let us remember not to confuse toughness with physicality, hustle, competitiveness or effort, even though those qualities might be related or even included. Toughness is often intangible. It is making that clutch shot to silence an energized crowd. It is taking that critical charge to stop an opponent’s run. It is fighting through fatigue and playing through pain. It is a short memory and a big heart. Toughness is finding a way to win when the shots just aren’t falling.

Look at Game 7 of last year’s finals if you want to see toughness. The Lakers – and specifically Kobe Bryant – could not buy a bucket. Although their offense floundered, they gritted out a victory with offensive rebounding, timely defense, and heaps of resolve. In fact, the Celtics were almost as tough, which allowed an offensive slugfest to remain eminently watchable.

On the other hand, the un-tough Clippers wilt under duress. Case in point: They held a 16-point halftime lead against the Jazz, only to see Utah come out of the third quarter gate raring to go. The Clippers appeared completely intimidated, settling for contested jumpers, moving the ball without confidence or purpose, allowing layups and open threes, and getting outmuscled and outhustled for rebounds and loose balls. Los Angeles did not have the toughness to stanch the bleeding and right the ship.

Toughness is developed through a consistent culture promoted by the head coach or a star player. Kobe and Derek Fisher have inspired toughness in the Lakers. Kevin Garnett and Jerry Sloan have done the same in Boston and Utah, respectively. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, in their quiet way, lead one of the toughest teams of the past decade.

The Clippers don’t have that leader right now. Clearly, Vinny Del Negro does not create that culture, and while Eric Gordon or Blake Griffin might be the right guy in the future, neither has requisite experience or moxie yet. Baron Davis has been an utter failure in the leadership role, demonstrating Charmin-worthy softness, and Kaman is an unfortunate byproduct of the already feckless Clipper system. Though the center is no physical slouch at 7′0 and 265 pounds, he gets pushed around the paint like a stroller and folds under pressure like an accordion.

Until the Clippers change the culture and unearth some toughness – which might only be possible with a change in ownership – it is unlikely they will reach the postseason. Better start digging in the sand.

Kobe Bryant’s Competitive Disadvantage: Why He Should Care Less About Winning

Adjectives. They’re how we paint our reality, how we help others see without eyes. They’re flesh and blood and pleasure and pain. They make you love or hate, care or shrug. A world without adjectives is a two-dimensional landscape lacking depth or profundity. It is barren, desolate. Oh wait, that can’t be; I used descriptives in the previous sentence. I guess a world without adjectives just is. And that’s not enough.

Discussing Kobe Bryant, recent adjectives have been primarily superlative: unbelievable, explosive, versatile, unstoppable, intense, hardworking, dedicated, complete, immortal, ultracompetitive. Every team would theoretically like its players to possess all of these qualities.

However, this might be the year that Kobe’s competitiveness becomes a disadvantage. Kobe’s will to win each and every game may not be beneficial; in fact, it may even be downright detrimental to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The reports coming out of LA concerning the status of Bryant’s knee, on which he underwent surgery over the summer, have been wholly inconsistent. Kobe will be ready opening night. He will take time off. He will receive as much court time as needed. Phil Jackson will limit his minutes. In typical Zen Master fashion, the answers won’t be honestly revealed until Tuesday night, when the Lakers take the court against the Houston Rockets.

Truth is, we don’t know exactly where Bryant’s balky knee is at. According to Mike Bresnahan in today’s LA Times, Kobe claims “everything [is] fine” and he could play 40 minutes if necessary. That begs the question: Do we believe him?

What we do know is that Black Mamba hasn’t been his athletic, effective self during the preseason. He has shot a woeful 28.2% from the field and 17.2% from behind the arc, and he appears to be missing his usual burst and lift. By all accounts he’s definitely not 100%, rather at a stage in recovery that would probably keep most guys on the sideline.

Remember, though, Kobe Bryant isn’t most players.

When have we seen someone more willing or able to battle through injuries? Kobe seemingly hasn’t been completely healthy in years, though you wouldn’t know it by his production or the Lakers’ success. In addition to last year’s knee issues, Bryant had a broken index finger that caused him serious pain and forced him to revamp his jump shot.

Although he struggled at times due to these various ailments, he found a way to lead the Purple and Gold to another title. When Kobe says he can go, he can go, and usually at a high level.

Despite the buildup of aches and pains and breaks and sprains, Kobe rarely complains or makes excuses. He has always downplayed his injuries, refusing to give opponents the slightest psychological or physical edge. This warrior’s spirit has helped endear him to Lakers’ fans, teammates, and opponents alike, for you can’t but respect his commitment.

Still, this time Kobe should rest until the knee is no longer a problem at all. Bryant is 32 years old and has several careers worth of miles on his wheels. The wear and tear on his body is certainly taking its toll. He continues to amaze, but he has started to occasionally look guardable, something you wouldn’t dare saying two years ago. As players age, they don’t bounce back as quickly from injury. Kobe is getting to the point in his career where he should embrace his mortality and make the requisite adjustments.

Yet I wonder if Kobe even realizes that he’s trending downward physically, or if he would ever allow himself to admit it. Due to his competitiveness, it might be hard for Bryant to even contemplate not being the best player in the world. Moreover, he keeps adding moves to his offensive arsenal – recently he’s trotted out the lefty runner and the step-through post moves – to keep himself deadly. He’s been fighting Father Time and thus far winning, but Time is undefeated and the tide of the war may be about to turn.

For better or worse, though, larger historical circumstances have established this year as one in which Kobe will not ease off the gas pedal, considering that Bryant is almost painfully conscious of his place in basketball’s pantheon. He’s going for his second three-peat to equal Michael Jordan. He’s going for his sixth Lakers title to surpass Magic Johnson.

And if you think Kobe hasn’t been paying attention to the hoopla in Miami, you’re delusional. Having a better record than the Heat and then beating them in the Finals would be the ultimate cherry on top of his legacy.

Therefore, I foresee Bryant pushing it as hard as ever and consequently opening himself up to severe risk. I’m worried that this is the season the competitiveness, the drive to prove to the world that Kobe and the Lakers are still the best, causes a true physical breakdown.

Regardless of the Lakers’ great depth, they cannot hoist the trophy again unless Kobe is healthy. He should sacrifice some early games to ensure that he is prepared for the late season stretch run.

In spite of my concerns, though, I’m going to trust in Kobe Bryant until he proves unworthy of that faith. He hasn’t let Laker Nation down in years, and I doubt he would do it now.

The Blake Griffin Dilemma: Does His Playing Style Risk Too Much Injury

What to do with Blake Griffin?

The Los Angeles Clippers and their precocious young forward are in a bit of quandary. At first glance, though, it’s not apparent why.

Griffin is meant to be the Clippers’ future, based largely on his possession of two superior qualities that cannot be taught: athleticism and work rate. He has unique explosiveness, agility, strength and quickness coupled with unmatched heart, desire, effort, focus, intensity and hustle.

This combination of physical, mental and emotional tools has grown men across America drooling over his potential. He has both the ability and attitude to become a superstar.

“He could be Amar’e who tries on defense! Rodman who scores! RODMAR’E!”

And to quiet those who doubted whether he could return from last season’s knee injury, he has been posting beastly double-doubles this preseason, replete with steals and blocks.

Should be an unquestionable formula for success, right? But there are concerns.

They say you have to be fearless to be great, and Griffin has certainly got that down. Still, he plays with such utter reckless abandon, throwing his body all over the court to corral rebounds, save loose balls, block shots and attack the rim, that he is a walking (or sprinting/leaping/flying) injury risk.

Everything he does on the court makes you gasp, simultaneously in awe and fear. He is unbelievably impressive, although sometimes he crosses the line to foolhardiness.

If the injury possibility had yet remained merely that, a possibility, then I wouldn’t be suggesting Griffin consider altering his style. However, he has a laundry list of injuries and close calls, several of them coming quite recently.

Just a few examples: Griffin tweaked an ankle on Saturday, though it is apparently very minor. Last week against the Spurs, he attempted a soaring weakside block on Tim Duncan, came crashing to floor and landed hard on his back. He briefly stayed down in pain before dusting himself off. Moreover, he is known to dive over the scorer’s table, which isn’t exactly the safest maneuver.

Then there is last year’s broken kneecap, which Griffin suffered after finishing a thunderous preseason dunk. You could dismiss it as a freak injury, but isn’t Griffin more likely to endure such damage?

This brings us to some tough questions. How much more risk does Griffin really undertake compared to the average player? Will tempering his aggressiveness significantly reduce his effectiveness? Is it worth being more careful to extend Griffin’s career? Could he even play any other way?

I have been searching for historical parallels—examples of players like Griffin—to see if we could learn anything about their career paths and apply it to Blake. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find anyone who accurately fits Griffin’s mold. He really is distinctive with his aforementioned combination of skills.

Most uber-athletic big men, such as Stoudemire and Dwight Howard, don’t put their bodies in danger nearly as much as Griffin. Most hustle guys, such as Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams and Anderson Varejao, lack Griffin’s elite athleticism.

So I don’t know if there are any specific answers; it seems like this might just be a guessing game.

I’m going to take a page out of my investment banker friends’ books and analyze Griffin’s prospective future on a risk-reward basis.

If Griffin doesn’t change and maintains his characteristic reckless abandon, he theoretically could become a Hall of Famer. Michael Jordan is the GOAT more due to his intangibles than his talent. While Griffin’s intangibles may not be exactly the same as Jordan’s—for example Blake’s endless hustle vs Mike’s killer instinct—he radiates similar drive to win every moment of every play.

That type of singular resolve separates the true great ones. On the other hand, Griffin could see injuries add up, miss significant court time, and lose his athleticism.

If Griffin plays more cautiously he could still be an All-Star, but his ceiling would be lowered dramatically. He’s not offensively talented enough to be a superstar without his rare work rate. While he would still be as susceptible to random injuries as anyone, they would be less of a threat.

We could also get into which scenario is better for the Clippers. Do they hope Griffin develops into that once-in-a-generation guy? Or do they simply settle for a solid starter who stays on the floor?

In my opinion, Griffin should not relinquish the aspect of his game that makes him special. He is a joy to watch, and the Clippers finally boast a player that fans can actually get excited about. Furthermore, he will spend a career igniting his teammates and intimidating opponents.

Let’s allow Blake Griffin to be Blake Griffin, and hopefully he will be flying around Staples Center for years to come. Let’s just cross our fingers that he doesn’t land too hard.

Carmelo Anthony Trade Rumors: How the LA Clippers’ Lineup Would Look With Melo

The Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, flying along for much of the past month, has ostensibly slowed to a halt.

Although there might be ongoing discussions between the Denver Nuggets and potential trade partners, rumors are spreading neither fast nor furiously.

In fact, the Melo-drama has recently been overshadowed by other preseason developments, such as Dwyane Wade’s hamstring injury and the Lakers’ loss to FC Barcelona. The Anthony quandary hasn’t been forgotten, but it has certainly taken a backseat. I’m sure both Carmelo and the Nuggets like it that way.

Sorry, guys, but here I am to get that rumor mill spinning again. What about the Clippers?

Los Angeles has previously been mentioned as a potential destination for the superstar small forward who a) has always been conscious of what LeBron is up to and b) just got married to a woman in the entertainment industry.

Would either team make the move? Who knows. Denver doesn’t seem all that eager to ship Carmelo off unless the price is more than right, and Clipper owner Donald Sterling never seems all that eager to pursue blockbuster trades.

Still, I would like to delve into this possibility a little deeper and see what the Clippers lineup would look like with Carmelo.

The Trade

After scrutinizing both franchises’ rosters and taking into account contracts and personnel, there appears to be only one viable trade scenario that doesn’t include multiple teams. (And there are too many multiple team scenarios to discuss reasonably.)

In exchange for Carmelo, the Denver Nuggets would receive Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, and several draft picks. This package includes an all-star center in his prime, a young athletic swingman with high upside, and the requisite future picks, definitely fair compensation for a player likely to leave in the offseason.

Why is this the only trade possibility? Doubtful the Clippers would give up their future stars in Eric Gordon or Blake Griffin. No way the Nuggets would take Baron Davis, and Los Angeles doesn’t have anyone else of value. Additionally, Kaman’s big contract allows the trade to match up financially.

Lastly, if you’re wondering whether Kaman and Nene could coexist, Nene is athletic and versatile enough to slide over to power forward.

The New Look Los Angeles Clippers

So where would that leave the Clippers? In my opinion, much better off.

Let’s begin by inspecting their new starting lineup. Davis, Gordon, and Griffin obviously stay entrenched as starters, and Melo easily plugs the hole that is currently the small forward position.

The only question would be who to start at center. The two options, DeAndre Jordan and Jarron Collins, could not be more different. Whereas Collins is a solid veteran who defends and boards well but is an offensive zero, Jordan is a talented young wild card who is a potential liability. My vote would be for Jordan, since you can’t truly be a successful team with a Collins twin starting.

Then there’s style. The Clippers would need to completely revamp their system of play. Without a plodding low-post scorer, the Clippers would become a high paced, uptempo team. This would be a welcome change not only for the beleaguered fans, but also for an anemic offense that last year placed 27th in offensive efficiency.

Davis, Gordon, Anthony, Griffin, and Jordan is an explosive lineup that could score in a plethora of ways, especially if Baron recaptures his Warriors’ form. They would be deadly on the fast break, be able to finish incredibly well around the rim, and have enough competent outside shooters to space the floor.

The Clippers might occasionally miss Kaman’s post presence, but Carmelo’s offensive versatility and effectiveness would more than make up for it.

Los Angeles would finally have a guy who can put the ball in the bucket with the clock winding down, a shotmaker extraordinaire who doesn’t need a play run for him to get off a good shot. With Carmelo on your side, your squad is always a threat, even if your offense is struggling.

Defensively, the trade would not alter much. Neither Kaman nor Carmelo is an exceptional defender, and the swingman Anthony would replace – probably Ryan Gomes – is also unspectacular.

As far as the Clipper bench is concerned, Aminu wouldn’t be that great a loss. He’s raw, unproven and has been very inconsistent so far in preseason play. Not to mention the fact that the Clippers have a glut of small forwards, including dependable journeymen Gomes and Rasual Butler.

The style change would also benefit the second unit, which is led by lightning bug rookie point guard Eric Bledsoe, whom the Clips believe could have impact similar to the Nuggets’ recent rookie sparkplug, Ty Lawson.

Lastly, the Clippers would also be able to throw a small lineup on the court – moving Griffin over to center and Melo to power forward – that could really run and gun and create mismatches for opposing defenses.

The Final Word

Obtaining Carmelo Anthony would bring such joy to Clipperland, and it would even force the rest of LA to pay attention to little brother. On the court, I firmly believe it would be a huge success.

If the Clippers aren’t currently trying to make this trade happen, they should get on it before it’s too late.

Circular Logic: Why the Lakers’ Offense Should Use More Than Just the Triangle

If you’ve paid any attention to the NBA in the past two decades, then you certainly must have heard the term “triangle offense.” It’s merely the playbook that coach Phil Jackson has utilized to collect 11 championship rings.

They say you can’t argue with success, and the Zen Master’s numbers speak for themselves. Yet, I believe it’s high time for a change in philosophy. Watching last year’s NBA Finals slugfest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, it was crystal clear that the Lakers won because of defense and rebounding, not offensive precision.

The triangle wasn’t good enough, and the Lakers were fortunate to come out on top. (It hurts me to say this, but it’s the truth.)

I’m not recommending Phil scrap the triangle. Not only would that be an unforgivable insult to venerable coach Tex Winter, the architect of the offense, but it does also remains a useful weapon.

However, it shouldn’t be the only weapon. James Bond never saved the world with just a handgun.

What exactly is the triangle? you might ask. Although delving into the triangle’s complexity is another article for another day, maybe I should provide a little background on the offense, demystify it before I explain why it’s not some mythically perfect basketball set.

Simply put, the triangle offense is predicated on providing optimal spacing for your skilled scorers, allowing them to maximize opportunities to put the ball in the bucket.

Furthermore, the beauty of the triangle resides in its fluidity. It presents myriad ways to attack a defense, depending on what the opponent decides to take away. Within the triangle every move has a counter, every cut a rotation, and it’s up to smart offensive players to make the right reads.

Theoretically, the triangle is supposed to work under any circumstances, against anybody. But it’s not that straightforward. In reality, the triangle is reliant upon elite perimeter shotmakers like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. Otherwise it is susceptible to stagnation. Since there are few screens, on-ball or away from the action, there is no guarantee that players will come open or find themselves favorable mismatches.

As we’ve seen in the past couple years, it is often up to Kobe to take advantage of the space created by the triangle and use his superior talent to score. In essence, it is often up to Bryant to bail them out.

The inconstant efficacy of the triangle offense was never more apparent than when the Lakers’ bench was on the court. If the athletic subs (Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, etc.) weren’t getting easy baskets in transition, they regularly struggled to get good shots.

If the Lakers had other sets, such as flex motion or double baseline screens to free up shooters or even basic pick and rolls, they could make life much easier for themselves and more difficult on opponents. Outstanding defensive teams like the Celtics couldn’t zero in on stopping the triangle, and the Lakers could exploit different matchups.

Plus, Kobe’s getting older and more banged up, so it would be nice if he didn’t need to work as hard.

So why wouldn’t Jackson make any changes to the Lakers’ offense this preseason? It’s not as if he’d be overhauling the system; in fact, a couple new sets would be relatively easy to implement.

It all goes back to Phil-osophy. The triangle offense is an extension of Jackson’s belief that players need to figure things out for themselves. For example, he is notorious for refusing to call timeouts during tough stretches of a game, instead forcing his players to adjust and work through their problems.

Phil is also a master of managing complicated personalities – the egos of Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe and the wackiness of Rodman and Artest, to name a few – and the triangle is the ultimate offensive test of chemistry and trust. (You could see its failure in the Lakers’ 2004 Finals loss to the Pistons, when Jackson had arguably his most talented team ever.)

Moreover, under the current system Phil is able to relax on the sidelines with his trademark bemused countenance rather than constantly barking directions.

So the Lakers will probably run nothing but the triangle offense this season, and they might win another championship doing it. But I promise the road would be easier if they became a little more geometrically diverse.

Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets: Lovers No More

I was lying in bed the other night, thinking about the two things that turn me on the most: basketball and girls.

Regarding girls, my mind was jumping all over the place.

Regarding basketball, my mind was firmly fixed on Carmelo Anthony.

And that’s when it hit me. Carmelo and the Denver Nuggets are in a dysfunctional relationship.

I know what you’re thinking: Well that’s an obvious statement.

But I don’t just mean it in the typical, basketball-specific way. I’m saying that this relationship is essentially a romantic involvement gone sour. Let me break it down for you.

Carmelo Anthony: Pretty much the total package. A hottie that comes along every several years and somehow falls into your lap because the dude next to you at the bar (Detroit Pistons) was wearing beer goggles and thought some awkward foreign girl (Darko Milicic) had more promise. She agrees to date you and even fight through problems to make it work. She’s not perfect, slightly haughty and a tad needy, but she’s too good a catch to let these modest issues ruin things. You believe that with growth there’s long term potential here.

Denver Nuggets: Unfortunate but lucky boyfriend. In a romantic slump and struggling with self esteem before the girlfriend comes along. You’re overjoyed at having a hottie on your arm. Your friends aren’t laughing at you anymore, and total strangers are impressed. Even more than that, she generally makes you happy in your home life. You’re a little nervous about how things will turn out because she’s definitely not perfect and you’ve had a couple squabbles, but you don’t want to let her slip away. You convince yourself that with growth there’s long term potential here.

A situation like this rarely lasts forever.

Eventually the girlfriend realizes that she doesn’t see herself marrying you (winning a championship/becoming a global icon), and she hints that a breakup could be imminent. Of course, you don’t hear it directly from her, but you sense that all is not right in paradise. Moreover, some of your friends have heard from some of her friends that she’s considering leaving you. (Enough hard evidence to scare the bejeezus out of you and cause you to panic, right?)

So what do you do? Despite your attempts at securing her commitment for the future (offering a long term extension), you are basically resigned to the fact that it’s bound to end.

You can’t just throw her onto the street (release Carmelo). Firstly, you’ve agreed to pay her insanely expensive car insurance for another year. Secondly, it would make you really depressed. Thirdly, you would be ridiculed by guys everywhere. And lastly, there’s a chance, no matter how slight, that somehow you make it through this turmoil and remain together. Remember, you’re probably not getting another girl of equal quality anytime soon.

There are two primary other options:

1) Try to make the immediate future as incredible as possible (win the Western Conference?) as a last ditch effort to convince her to stay. Maybe several amazing months can change her mind.

2) Take her out, but with the underlying purpose of finding another girl to replace her (look for possible trades). Having her on your arm in public gives you social value and induces other ladies to think you’re worth dating.

(Ok, to be completely honest, in real life you probably do simply break up with her, as hard as it is. Then you spend a couple days crying in bed, or crying in your car, or crying in your bowl of ice cream, or working out too much, or drinking too much, or however you deal with difficult breakups. Then you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go about life again. Remember, she wasn’t right for you and she wasn’t perfect.)

Ultimately, whenever the prospect of a breakup becomes public, it is highly doubtful that there is any chance to salvage the relationship. The best you can hope for is that it doesn’t end with extreme bitterness on either side.

As far as the future is concerned, neither of you knows what will happen. She believes she can find someone better than you, but it might not be that easy (Carmelo joins the Clippers, goes 45-37, then loses to the Nuggets in the playoffs). On the other hand, while you question your ability to bounce back, an even more desirable girl might come your way (Austin Rivers).

I just hope I don’t dream tonight of ‘Melo in a dress.

Kevin Durant: No Labels Please

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the next… (fill in the blank). KEVIN DURANT!

Since leading Team USA to gold in the FIBA World Championship, Kevin Durant has been titled many things. Various sports journalists have dubbed him “the best player in the world,” “the modern prototype of a scorer,” and “the next Michael Jordan.” One Sports Illustrated writer even anointed him the new “King of the NBA.”

All the buzz surrounding Durant is certainly deserved. But why do we have to label him? Why are we constantly looking for the next MJ?

There is nothing wrong with praising Durant’s game, predicting future accomplishments, or comparing him to other great players. But do we need specific labels?

I think this is actually a problem pervasive throughout society. For some reason, we seem to define everything in our lives. We need to know who our BFFs are, and Facebook broadcasts relationship statuses to the world. Even as kids, we are asked to determine our specific favorite colors or foods. (“What Billy?! You don’t know what your favorite color is? You like red and blue? Well choose, already, choose!”) In my opinion, this preoccupation with titles does nothing but add unnecessary pressure to life. Things aren’t as black and white as we regularly try to make them.

Could it be that in this infotainment age we don’t have enough time for discussion and thus must package everything into a soundbite, a catchphrase, a label? Does our societal ADD force us to eschew depth, profundity, and shades of gray, instead replacing them with precise concision (or concise precision for that matter)?

In the alternate universe of professional sports, this tendency to affix labels to superior athletes often has harmful consequences. How many “next Jordans” couldn’t live up to the hype and were subsequently buried by the weight of unmet expectations? How many got drunk (literally and figuratively) off early success and then failed because they didn’t stay grounded or did something stupid? I must admit that there are superstars who have succeeded despite (and occasionally due to) certain labels. However, most of these guys have ostensibly lost touch with reality.

Meanwhile, Durant has resisted labels his entire career. Let’s be honest; even his skill set – 6′10 quick as a guard best shooter in the league – screams “Don’t box me in!” He is that rare superstar who doesn’t self-promote, self-indulge, or self-destruct. He admittedly just wants to work hard and be as great a player as he can be. Durant has even avoided the standard trademark of a sports star: a nickname.

Shaq has given himself more nicknames than Heinz has varieties: The Big Aristotle, Diesel, etc. LeBron has “Chosen 1″ tattooed across his back, and he has repeatedly asserted his desire to become a global icon. Unfortunately, King James, your recent “Decision” has now scored you a spot among the most hated athletes in America. On the other hand, Durant is notoriously moniker-less. Many sportswriters have tried to give him nicknames, claiming he needs one, as all great players do. Some call him the Durantula, though that sobriquet is neither official nor widely used. Nicknames can definitely be fun, but they are by no means necessary. In Durant’s case, his lack is simply a microcosm of his entire being.

The only other recent player who fits Durant’s description is Tim Duncan. Duncan has quietly led the San Antonio Spurs to 4 championships, winning 2 MVPs and countless other awards along the way. Let me stress the word “quietly,” though. It’s unfortunate, but aside from us basketball purists who rejoice in watching Duncan’s flawless footwork and pinch-post bank shot, few people find his game entertaining, exciting, or even worth following. You hear it all the time: people “appreciate” Duncan, but they don’t really “like” him. He doesn’t create new fans, make idle spectators root for him, or even make you wish he was on your team. (Would I have enjoyed having Tim Duncan a member of the Lakers? Of course. But did I ever think, What if he was on my team? Did I ever concoct any scenario by which he could come to LA? Not once.)

On the other hand, Durant’s game is the opposite of his demeanor. It’s loud. Not only is it effective, but it’s utterly enthralling. And he has just enough swagger to show us how confident he is in his talent without seeming cocky or selfish. He’s just what the league needs: a superstar who commands attention solely because of his play. Furthermore, we usually associate a loud skill set with Vince Carter monster dunks or Allen Iverson killer crossovers, but Durant manages flair without being flashy. It seems lame to say, but he genuinely puts the fun in fundamental.

Am I saying that I wish LeBron and Shaq would shut their mouths and only play basketball? Definitely not. Frankly, they make the league much more interesting and give me something to chat about between pick-up runs at the gym. LeBron and Shaq have provided me with countless hours of amusement, due to both their on-court ability and off-court antics. But sometimes we (and they) lose sight of what is truly important. Kevin Durant is a refreshing burst of clarity, and I just hope that his entire package maintains fidelity. We shouldn’t try to make him something he’s not, especially if he’s not doing that himself.

So let’s not label him, title him, or even find him a nickname. Let’s just enjoy watching a singular talent playing the game and living life the right way.

The Big Culture Shift? That has a nice ring to it.

I Pity the Fool

Yesterday I was playing a game of pickup at my local gym, guarded by a friendly acquaintance named Ray. Early on, I pulled up for a mid-range jumper against his lax defense, and upon release of the ball he yelled “NOPE” with smug assurance that I would miss.

As often happens when I shoot the J, the ball splashed the net and I trotted downcourt happily hollering, “Who said no? Who said no?” Ray just shook his head and smiled in mild embarrassment. He had made a fool of himself.

In a rather unserious game of pickup, the consequences of making a fool of yourself are minimal: a few good-natured jibes, some mocking high fives, and one frustrated overcompetitive guy.

In the NBA, on the other hand, the fallout is potentially enormous, involving millions of dollars and the fates of several franchises. These playoffs have exposed several stars as fools, which will no doubt fundamentally alter the course of this momentous offseason.

After the Phoenix Suns got eviscerated by the Lakers in Game 1, Amare Stoudemire decided it was the right time to talk some trash. He called Lamar Odom’s huge performance a “lucky game” and recalled his “total domination” of Pau Gasol several postseasons ago.

Flash forward to Game 2. Pau goes for 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, Odom drops 17 and 11, and Amare’s rather underwhelming 18 points and 6 boards (accompanied by 5 turnovers) were not enough to prevent the Suns from losing 124-112. Not to mention that much of Pau and Lamar’s damage came when being defended directly by Stoudemire.

If you’re gonna talk, you better back it up, and Amare simply made himself look like a fool. He firmly turned the spotlight on himself, especially on the defensive end, and he threw up a clunker. Not only was he abused time and again, but he barely looked interested in trying to play any defense. Add to that his inability or unwillingness to consistently rebound and he suddenly does not seem like a superstar at all.

This summer Stoudemire has an opt-out option in his contract, whereby he could become an unrestricted free agent. I cannot see any way a General Manager would be willing to give him a maximum deal, particularly after this extremely exposed recent performance. He just isn’t a complete enough player to be a team’s cornerstone. Since he is going to make $17. 69 million next year if he stays with the Suns, it seems likely that he will not opt out and instead wait til the summer of 2011 to become a free agent. One less big name on the market. A little less hope for the bottom feeders with huge cap space.

Let’s talk about another fool: Joe Johnson. After five straight years of averaging about 20, 5, and 5, the Armadillo Cowboy had established himself as one of the premier perimeter players in the game. With free agency looming this summer, it was time for the Atlanta Hawks’ star to lead them on an inspired playoff run.

Instead, Atlanta almost faltered in Round 1 against an overmatched Milwaukee Bucks team and then played possum to the Orlando Magic’s big rig in the most lopsided playoff sweep in league history. Johnson was ineffective offensively, but maybe even more worrisome was his lack of leadership.

After Game 3 he was understandable frustrated, but he made the mistake of saying, “We could care less if [fans] showed up.”  Disparaging the fans when you’re already disappointing them just isn’t the right move.

Furthermore, Johnson was quoted as claiming, “You almost have to play a perfect game to beat them… it’s tough to beat.” While that may have been true, you can’t say that as a team leader. Inspire your guys. Insist that you’re tough to beat. Be confident. Johnson’s leadership abilities were put to the test this postseason, and he practically failed.

So what are the implications for this summer? I don’t think Johnson can now be considered a top tier superstar, a player you can build a team around, which means he probably won’t receive max money. While unfortunate for Smooth Joe, this may be beneficial for a team looking to add a couple of new players through free agency. Could New York add LeBron, Chris Bosh, and Johnson? Perhaps.

We’ve taken a look at a couple of fools who have significantly hurt their stock this postseason, but as my college friends used to say, there’s a flip side to that coin.

Take Dwyane Wade for example. Cursed with by far the worst surrounding talent of any playoff team, Flash played his butt off this entire season, never complained, and somehow kept the Heat competitive all year long. Behavior like that is what makes Wade one of the indisputably best players in the league, completely deserving of the many millions of dollars that await him this summer.

I pity the fool. But not really. They should be smarter than that.

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