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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trade Deadline Deals Show How LeBron's "Decision" is Reshaping the NBA

LeBron James' infamous "Decision" is reshaping the NBA and may ultimately result in a lockout that could cancel at least part of the 2011-2012 season. This is not about whether James was (1) right that his best option was to leave Cleveland for Miami and/or (2) whether James handled the free agency process appropriately; I already addressed both of those issues soon after James commandeered an hour of ESPN's schedule to, among other things, shred whatever remained of Jim Gray's journalistic integrity. No, this is about all the dominoes that have inevitably crashed down since last summer when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade to form a trio that looks so powerful on paper that the normally analytical Jeff Van Gundy temporarily lost his mind and predicted a 75-7 season for the Heat (who are currently 43-16 and on pace to finish with the 60 victories that I predicted they would collect). Technically, Amare Stoudemire's decision to leave Phoenix to go to New York preceded James' "Decision" by a few days but there are many reasons that James' action has become a capitalized buzzword (not the least of those reasons being that the Heat are legitimate title contenders while the Knicks, despite all of the media buzz, are barely above .500 at the moment); Stoudemire's choice was less shocking to the NBA's system because Phoenix was not willing to give Stoudemire a max deal--fearing that his knees may not be a good long term investment--so it was not a big surprise when Stoudemire went for the cash (though Knicks' fans who expected to receive LeBron James as their Christmas in July present may have been surprised to find Stoudemire in their stockings).

The current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is set up to encourage each superstar to re-sign with the team that drafted him; that team can offer such players both the most money and the longest term deal. Until last summer, no elite free agent had spurned that extra cash and extra security to go elsewhere. On paper, the system seemed ideal: players had the right to seek greener pastures, which thereby provided owners a significant incentive to build a solid enough organization/roster so that their star players would not want to leave. In the "bad old days" before free agency, teams essentially owned players for life after drafting them but the current CBA balanced players' rights with owners' (and fans') desires to not lose cornerstone players.

Throughout his tenure in Cleveland, James enjoyed being coy about his intentions, never indicating whether he planned to stay or go (and ultimately alienating fans in cities across the country who became convinced that James was just flirting with those other towns but really planned to commit to them). While it could be argued that this provided great incentive to ownership/management to spend money to build a strong team it could also be argued that this discouraged other free agents from signing with the Cavs in prior seasons and that it led to a short term plan centered on acquiring veteran players as opposed to a long term plan that would have created a better roster eventually but may not have led to an immediate championship; the way things turned out, the Cavs made it to the 2007 NBA Finals, rebooted their team and made it to the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals (after posting the league's best regular season record) and then rebooted their team again before posting the league's best regular season record in 2010 only to fall short in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Cavs basically catered to every great and small whim that James ever expressed and then they offered him the max deal for max years, never dreaming of or planning for the possibility that he might actually bolt town. Some might argue that James, Wade and Bosh unselfishly left money on the table in order to try to build a championship team in Miami but the reality is that they gave up little if any real dollars when one factors in the taxes they saved (Florida does not have a state income tax) and the extra endorsements that they likely will receive from playing in the Miami market--and that is the brilliance of what Pat Riley pulled off: he figured out how to bring three max players into the fold for less than max dollars in a way that those players still essentially received max dollars. Also, this may sound flippant but the reality is that if the number one goal for any of these free agents was truly to win a championship then they would have accepted the midlevel exception (or some similar deal) to join forces with Kobe Bryant in L.A.; winning a championship may be a goal for some or all of these guys but getting paid is the first goal and being "the Man" is a secondary goal (at least for James and Stoudemire; Bosh seems to understand and accept that he is not, in fact, "the Man").

Forget how the media hyperventilated about all of this, with Cleveland media members shamelessly ripping James after seven years of (wrongly) elevating him far above Kobe Bryant (James only passed Bryant, as a regular season performer, quite recently and never by the margin that his sycophants suggested), while national media members breathlessly declared that the Heat would instantly become one of the greatest teams ever and "stat gurus" asserted that the Heat would actually win 90 out of 82 games due to the combined "advanced statistical" prowess of James, Wade and Bosh; disregard all of the hype and all of the nonsense: James' "Decision" was an Earth shattering event for the powers that be in the NBA and a massive paradigm shift whose implications are only now being fully appreciated. Owners looked at what James did and became terrified that their own star players might leave; star players looked at what James did and began plotting how to arrive at their dream destinations. The perfect storm that produced the Cavs' epic collapse this season (a subject worthy of full length treatment in a separate article) added fuel to the fire; no owner wanted to end up like Dan Gilbert--jilted and howling at the moon with his franchise's value plummeting with each double digit loss--and no star player wanted to replace James as Public Enemy Number One.

The dominoes began to fall. While many people point to the "Melo-drama" saga as perhaps the first reaction to the implications of James' "Decision," it would be more accurate to say that Orlando's desperate midseason trades were that first domino: the Magic dealt two starters (former All-Stars Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis), arguably the best backup center in the league (Marcin Gortat) and their best perimeter defender (Mickael Pietrus) because they were already concerned that if they did not make a serious NBA Finals push this season then Dwight Howard may walk when his contract expires. Much like James' refusal to commit to Cleveland influenced the Cavs to seek short term roster solutions instead of developing their roster with a long range view, the Magic went for broke because they lacked confidence in the team's ability to win a title right now. I understand the bind that the Magic are in and I don't blame General Manager Otis Smith for rolling the dice but I also predicted that those deals were more likely to remove Orlando from championship contention than they were to vault Orlando past Miami and Boston--and that is exactly what has happened: the Magic are 21-13 since remaking their roster (just 8-7 in the past month) and they look like they are competing not for an NBA Finals berth but rather to avoid first round elimination. Hedo Turkoglu seems to be past his prime and/or satisfied with his big contract, Gilbert Arenas was always overrated and is now a shell of his former self and even Jason Richardson--the best player the Magic acquired--has hardly set the world on fire. The Magic have the second highest payroll in the league (behind only the two-time defending champion L.A. Lakers) but, even more ominously, Arenas is not only their highest paid player this season but is slated to be their highest paid player through the 2013-14 season. How thrilled do you think Howard is about that? The problem is not just that Arenas makes more than Howard: the problem is that Arenas is a non-productive player who is taking up salary cap space that could have potentially been used much more effectively. Arenas' advocates--and he inexplicably has many of them, ranging from fawning media members to "stat guru" fanboys like Neil Paine--will no doubt argue that Arenas was a great player before suffering knee injuries but (1) that is irrelevant to the Magic, who cannot put Arenas in a "hot tub time machine" to fix his knees and (2) Arenas was never as productive as his fans/"stat guru" admirers insisted, a point that I established definitively when I refuted Paine's tendentious assertion that Arenas was once an elite player; the truth is that even when Arenas was in his prime he had no discernible impact in the standings: the Wizards were roughly a .500 team when he played and they were roughly a .500 team when he didn't play.

The Magic saw what happened with LeBron James and Cleveland and were so terrified that they decided that making Arenas their highest paid player is a risk worth taking if it even slightly increases the probability that Howard might stay in Orlando. How crazy is that? Arenas is averaging 7.8 ppg with the Magic, while denting rims across the country with his .234 three point shooting, .698 free throw shooting and his .336 overall field goal percentage. Remember, the Magic owe Arenas more than $60 million through 2014, there is no way that they will be able to trade him and the only way that Arenas fails to receive that money from Orlando is if there is a lockout or if he actually fires his guns in the locker room (just bringing them into the locker room in Washington apparently was not enough to get his contract voided). No, the Magic will not be winning a championship any time soon but someone should turn Coach Stan Van Gundy's "Wired" segments into a reality TV show; that show, along with the inevitable "stat guru" articles trying to explain that Arenas really was an elite player once despite all rational evidence to the contrary, will provide some great unintentional comic relief.

On to the next "Decision" domino. The main storylines this season should have been the Lakers trying to threepeat (and trying to accomplish the even rarer feat of reaching the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time, something that has only been achieved by the Showtime Lakers, the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics and Bill Russell's dynastic Celtics), the Spurs potentially making a run at 70 wins, the reloaded Celtics attempting to reach the Finals for the third time in four years and Miami's newly assembled trio battling to compete with the three aforementioned established powers--but instead we have been saturated with "Melo-drama."

Denver offered Carmelo Anthony a contract extension but Anthony refused to sign, made it known privately (more or less) that he would like to play for the New York Knicks and thus issued an ultimatum to Nuggets' management (but retained plausible deniability because he never uttered his ultimatum publicly): trade me now or lose me for nothing later (like Cleveland lost James). Anthony saw that James' approach--being coy and not making his intentions clear to his team or his fans--may have been good for ESPN's ratings but it was terrible for James' image, so Anthony tried to make a smoother version of James' power play, though Anthony did utter his share of tone deaf statements (capped off when Anthony said "I have to take my hat off to myself" because he was so proud of how he handled the challenge of deciding where he is going to live for the next few years while making tens of millions of dollars playing basketball).

Anthony essentially held at least three franchises (Denver, New York, New Jersey) hostage for months and took away attention from what really matters--great players playing basketball at a high level. Technically, Anthony did not do anything wrong and yet it mystifies me that anyone can believe that this is a sustainable business model for the NBA. The Nuggets finally ended the "Melo-drama" by shipping Anthony (plus Chauncey Billups and other considerations) to New York in exchange for several quality players plus some draft picks; in a heartfelt press conference, Denver General Manager Masai Ujiri explained how wrenching it was to trade hometown hero Billups and candidly said that the Nuggets were "killed" in the deal, a historically accurate sentiment based on the majority of previous trades consisting of stars being exchanged for solid players. The ironic thing is that I am far from convinced that the Knicks have suddenly become a legitimate contender nor am I sure that the Nuggets really got "killed" (though Ujiri was right to lament the way things went down and was also probably firing a shot across the bow in anticipation of the upcoming CBA showdown this summer); not only do I not see the Knicks winning the East any time soon I suspect that they will lose in the first round of the playoffs (unless they luck out and run into the Magic, perhaps), while the Nuggets--relieved of the huge dark cloud hanging over their heads--will probably move up in the West standings, though they too are likely first round fodder (which is no different than their fate during most of Anthony's Denver career).

The next domino seemingly took everyone by surprise but actually makes a lot of sense in light of everything that preceded it: as soon as the Nets lost out on Anthony they made a deal to acquire Deron Williams, who--as Kevin McHale astutely noted--is actually a better all-around player than Anthony. Williams had some undefined role in Utah Coach Jerry Sloan's sudden midseason retirement and Williams sent strong signals that he--like James, Anthony and possibly Howard--intended to head elsewhere when his current contract ends. The Jazz, mindful of what happened to Cleveland (collapse), Orlando (panicky deals that seemingly are backfiring like an exploding cigar) and Denver (enervating drama) tried to avoid the dreaded horsemen of Collapse, Panic and Drama by shipping Williams out in exchange for an All-Star point guard (Devin Harris), a promising young player (Derrick Favors) and three first round picks. Historically speaking, the Jazz got "killed" (to borrow Ujiri's terminology) because they lost one of the top 10-15 players in the league but in today's crazy NBA world they made out pretty well: they obtained two players who can help them now plus three draft picks that will hopefully either provide an infusion of youthful talent or else be useful in future trades. By acting so quickly the Jazz also prevented Williams from hijacking the season and circumvented any attempts he might have made to choose his destination a la Carmelo Anthony.

The next domino was smaller but perhaps even more surprising: the Boston Celtics, believing that they will not be able to re-sign Kendrick Perkins when his contract expired after this season, traded the starting center from their 2008 championship team (plus reserve guard Nate Robinson) to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. The Celtics added versatility and shooting but they lost a key part of the physical presence that defined their team's identity; Perkins and Kevin Garnett set hard (semi-legal) screens, grabbed tough rebounds in traffic and patrolled the paint defensively, making life easier for perimeter All-Stars Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Without Perkins' bulk and toughness, Garnett will not be as daunting a presence (Garnett has shown that he likes to pick on smaller, younger players, while Perkins has shown that he will get in anyone's grill). Perkins is not a superstar--or even an All-Star--but the first thing I thought of when I heard about this trade is the infamous (for Boston fans) Paul Silas fiasco. Red Auerbach did not make many bad moves during his long, distinguished career as a coach and executive but he often said that his biggest mistake was trading Silas to Denver in 1976 instead of meeting Silas' contract demands; Auerbach admitted that he failed to realize Silas' true value. Silas eventually landed in Seattle, where he provided toughness in the paint, mentored a young Jack Sikma and helped the Sonics reach the NBA Finals in 1978 and 1979 (Seattle won the 1979 title). Meanwhile, the Celtics, who won two championships in Silas' four years with the team, became a doormat until the arrival of Bird (and later McHale and Parish) revived the franchise. The Perkins-Silas comparison is not perfect--no comparison is--but the similarities are eerie: both players were traded because of financial (not performance) issues, both players had played key (but intangible) roles for championship teams and both players went from a veteran Boston team to the same young, aspiring Western Conference franchise (the Oklahoma City Thunder used to be the Seattle SuperSonics). The main difference is that Silas was a wily veteran near the end of his career while Perkins is a young veteran just entering his prime but it will be interesting to see what impact this trade has on both franchises in the next five years. Perkins could turn out to be the final piece in the Thunder's championship puzzle (not necessarily this season but soon) and he could also turn out to be Danny Ainge's biggest regret. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson delivered the best zinger, wryly noting, "Doc (Rivers) had touted the fact that the (Boston) starting five had never lost a playoff series. I'm sure most everybody has heard it in the NBA, that this starting five has never lost a playoff series. Well, they go down without ever having lost a playoff series." Ainge, seeking to avoid the aforementioned deadly horsemen of Collapse, Panic and Drama, perhaps believes that Green's versatility and Krstic's shooting will make up for Perkins' size/toughness but it is very bold to tinker with the starting lineup of a one-time champion/two-time Finalist that is contending for the best record in the East. Perhaps Ainge has more moves up his sleeve but it sure looks like the Celtics should have let things ride with Perkins, tried to win the 2011 title and then dealt with Perkins' contract at a later date; if I were Ainge, I'd rather win a championship even if it meant losing Perkins for nothing later then trade Perkins now just for the sake of getting a leg up on the inevitable rebuilding project after Allen, Garnett and Pierce retire.

The footnote to the Boston situation is that a major reason that the Celtics felt comfortable trading Perkins is that they believe that Shaquille O'Neal can take his place as a 20-25 mpg physical force in this year's postseason; this is the same O'Neal whose departure from Cleveland is never mentioned when people talk about the Cavs' collapse sans James. I will discuss this in greater detail in a separate article but the fact that arguably the best team in the East has installed O'Neal as their starting center (and the other top team in the East, Miami, has used Zydrunas Ilgauskas--Cleveland's backup center last season--as their starting center in most of their games) is a not so subtle indication that it is foolish to pretend that Cleveland only lost one important player this season. Another fun fact worth pondering is that this season the Miami "Superfriends" are likely going to combine to produce fewer wins than James and the Cavs totaled in either of the previous two seasons; I still say that it would not surprise me at all if James never wins more regular season games in his best season with Miami than he did as a Cavalier and I just cannot fathom the supposed logic that suggests "James plus trash equals 66 and 61 wins but James plus two top 15 players equals 60 wins or less"--if James really won all those games by himself in Cleveland then he should indeed be able to win 90 games out of 82 in Miami as the "stat gurus" predicted; since James and the Heat are not quite as good as so many people expected it would be reasonable to at least consider the possibility that defensive-minded coaching and a solid, deep supporting cast may have had something to do with Cleveland's record the past two seasons. Yes, I am fully aware that James and the Heat will be judged not by regular season wins but by playoff success (or failure); I have made that exact point many times--and I am also not convinced that the Heat are a lock to have more playoff success in the next four seasons than the Cavs did in the previous four (two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and one trip to the NBA Finals).

Time will tell the significance of the Perkins deal and time will enable us to make sensible evaluations of James' supporting casts in Cleveland and Miami--but the Orlando, Denver, Utah and (to a lesser extent) Boston dominoes will shape the NBA for years to come on the court and also will likely culminate in the final domino this summer: a lockout that continues until the owners and players agree to fundamentally restructure the league's failing business model.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:56 AM

30 comments

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30 Comments:

At Sunday, February 27, 2011 10:37:00 AM, Anonymous albacoreclub said...

Wow. What a piece of writing. As usual, your ambitious reach is easily exceeded by your impressive grasp.

Interestingly while the league's business model is failing, the product on our courts and TV screens remains compelling. I'm enjoying the games this year as much as I ever have in forty-plus years of watching.

 
At Sunday, February 27, 2011 11:48:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

It's shocking just how many GM's around the league continue to play fantasy basketball, treating players like poker chips. At the end of the day these people are human beings, and not exchangeable parts whose productions are independent of context.

I think these moves will ultimately be good for the Lakers, one of the few teams whose goal is to win championships, rather than obtain a collection of players with the best stats.

 
At Sunday, February 27, 2011 6:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

looking at it now james made a buisness descion. he was not loyal to cleveland. but there is no loyalty in sports. he was a free agent people in cleveland acted like he had to stay there. wen he didnt have too and obvisouly didnt. he felt the team would be better in miami long term and it will be i believe. he simply wasnt loyal.

carmelo situation he pushed it because he didnt want to lose money in tha off season and the cba thing also loomin. ny wont get out first round and never win title with dantoni as coach. cause no defense and size. but they could bring buzz back to ny. and try to out score u.

deron willams. is a great pointguard. they can showcase him goin to brooklyn to years from now. and in time tthey can bring a good team there. if he signs in 2012. dont kno if he will tho.

perkins thing was dumb for celts and made it easier for lakers and heat. bosh and gasol didnt like perk. he kept that elbow in the,m. and was physical and both of them are soft. green helps them more long term than right now. perk will be missed.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 12:05:00 AM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
I have been saying for a while now that the NBA should adopt the NFL's salary structure. The problem is that the NBA has tied its success to the stars rather than the teams.its not surprising that when star player leaves one of those small market teams that the value of that team goes down. Most of the TV money or revenue that teams receive is used to pay luxury taxes. I just can't the notion that to be successful in this league, you have to forgo your net income and pile up debt(i.e Mavericks). If I had money, I'd never invest in the NBA by buying a team because it is hard for small market teams to make profit and be successful.

And whoever introduced the mid-level exception should be hit upside the head. It doesn't make sense to be able to sign players over your budget.

The funny thing is, Basketball is the most exciting and action-packed sport out of all the major sports. Everybody plays basketball. Technically it should be the most profitable sport in the coutry. Too bad both player and management cant sit down and improve the game. Damn shame.

Should the NBA adopt the NFL salary structure? yes. Should they also adopt the 3 year out of high school rule? Yes. will they do it? no.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 12:51:00 AM, Anonymous Gil Meriken said...

"Winning a championship may be a goal for some or all of these guys but getting paid is the first goal and being "the Man" is a secondary goal"

This may be true of 99% of players (including Kobe) and it's not a slight in the least, nor do I think you are implying it to be negative. This is a business, after all. But it is curious how the media spins these things.

The one notable exception to this? Ron Artest. And it doesn't get celebrated in basketball circles, and gets hardly a mention in the media. This is a guy who left millions on the table to win a championship, and yet his reputation is one of a "wild man", instead of someone who was so committed to winning that he joined the previous season's title team.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 1:43:00 AM, Anonymous JLK1 said...

A few thoughts:

(1) In retrospect, the Orlando trade with Phoenix was somewhat logical, but the trade for Arenas was inexplicable. Perhaps they hope he gets his act together next year. My biggest surprise has been not Arenas's poor play, but the regression of Richardson, ostensibly the best player in the trade. He simply hasn't given them much as a shooting guard, and they were seemingly counting on him being a significant upgrade from Vince Carter.

(2) I suspect that Stoudemire and Anthony won't get the Knicks much further than the Joe Johnson/Josh Smith/Al Horford trio has taken Atlanta.

(3) The most intriguing trade is certainly the one involving Perkins, but I have the Gerald Wallace trade in second place. Portland could quietly put together a pretty formidable team if Aldridge continues to play at a high level. Not a title contender, but solid.

(4) I'm not sure if all of these efforts to build team around multiple superstars are driven so much by the Heat as by the creation of the new Big 3 Celtics a few years ago and the current Lakers team when they added Gasol. At the time it appeared that the NBA title arms race was escalating, and that teams felt like they needed 3 true superstar players, much like how in years past every team felt like they needed to have someone (or multiple someones) who could defend Shaquille O'Neal.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 5:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Albacoreclub:

I agree that the games and matchups this season have been very entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, unless something dramatic happens, the NBA is headed toward a lockout after this season's playoffs.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 5:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DanielSong39:

The Lakers' championship window likely does not extend past this season; Phil Jackson is retiring, there probably will be a lockout that throws next season into chaos a la 1999 and even if the Lakers win the title this season it will be brutally difficult to make a fifth straight trip to the Finals, something that has only been accomplished by Russell's Celtics.

You are probably right that the recent wave of moves is good for the Lakers, at least in the sense that none of their chief rivals for this year's championship received a significant upgrade. The Thunder will be better off long term but I don't think that they are ready to contend for a title this year and I suspect that the way the seeding will ultimately turn out the Lakers won't end up playing them anyway. The Lakers' path to the 2011 title will likely consist of a lower echelon team in the first round, the Mavs in the second round, the Spurs in the Conference Finals and the Celtics in the NBA Finals. If the Lakers finish the season strongly they could end up with homecourt advantage in every one of those series except for the WCF versus the Spurs.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 5:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Of course LeBron made a business decision; my point is that his decision has had a significant ripple effect on how players and teams have made their business decisions.

It is already a lock that the Heat will win fewer games than the 2009 Cavs did and it seems likely that they will also win fewer games than the 2010 Cavs did. If LeBron had made a business decision to commit to Cleveland early in the free agency process he likely could have wooed at least one other free agent to Cleveland to add to the supporting cast that helped the Cavs win 61 games last season.

Carmelo did not have to leave Denver to get his money; he could have signed the extension that the Nuggets offered him before the season--but he, like LeBron, apparently felt that there were greener pastures elsewhere.

It will be very ironic if the Lakers win this year's championship despite LeBron and Carmelo's business decisions; it would be even more ironic if after the NBA settles its labor dispute that the team of the future turns out to be not the Heat, Knicks or Nets but rather the Thunder, whose MVP candidate Kevin Durant quietly signed a contract extension without any drama or hoopla. Unlike the Heat and Knicks, the Thunder's key players have complementary skill sets (like the Celtics, though the Celtics are of course a much more seasoned playoff team with proven Hall of Fame talent). The Thunder's two best players--Durant and Westbrook--are still improving, while LeBron, Wade, Amare and Melo are likely as good as they will be.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 5:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

The NFL does not have guaranteed contracts, something that the NBA Players Association will never accept, so the NBA cannot have the same business model as the NFL--and the NFL is also likely facing a work stoppage, so it is not like their business model is working so well.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 5:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Gil Meriken:

You are right that Artest did exactly what I said that any player who truly wants to win a title in this era should do: sacrifice dollars (and stats) to sign with the Lakers.

As I said, winning a championship may be a goal for LeBron, Melo, et. al. but it clearly is not the top goal--because if it were the top goal then they would have done whatever it took to end up with the Lakers, the two-time defending champions who have a good chance to win a third title without those guys and would have been close to a mortal lock to win if they could have added LeBron without giving up anyone (which would have been theoretically possible if LeBron had agreed to leave millions of dollars on the table).

I am not seriously suggesting that a player should give up tens of millions of dollars to sign with the Lakers--but I am pointing out how disingenuous it is to say that winning a title is one's primary goal when one's actions do not support that contention. If winning a championship were LeBron's top goal then he would not have quit versus Boston in last season's playoffs and he would have done everything possible to fully commit to Cleveland early in the free agency process so that the Cavs could successfully recruit free agents; as soon as LeBron arrived in Miami he was recruiting guys like Mike Miller, yet LeBron never did something like that when he was a Cav. So, winning a title may be a goal for LeBron but it is a secondary priority compared to maximizing his brand in terms of his location, endorsements and so forth.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 6:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JLK1:

I understand the "logic" behind both of Orlando's trades but that is not at all the same thing as believing that the trades will have the desired effect: the "logic" is to take any risk if it has the slightest chance of helping the team win a title because otherwise Howard may go the LeBron/Melo/DWill route--but I think that the risk factors in this instance far outweighed the potential rewards, for the reasons that I explained both in this article and in the article that I wrote right after the Magic made those two deals.

D'Antoni got the Suns to the Western Conference Finals, so I could see the Knicks possibly making it that far eventually (not this season) if they add more talent (and after the Celtics fall off) but I tend to agree with you that the most likely scenario is that the Knicks will "peak" as a second round team.

I don't understand how the Portland deal can be quite so intriguing to you if, in your own estimation, the Blazers are not title contenders; I agree that the Blazers are not title contenders and I think that Wallace is intended to be a replacement for Roy, whose career seems destined to be curtailed--if not ended--by his knee woes. The Blazers are just first round fodder for the foreseeable future.

I think that a couple years ago the Cavs and Magic made some moves in reaction to the formation of Boston's Big Three and there certainly were several West teams that made deals in reaction to the Lakers signing Gasol--but LeBron's "Decision" and the dominoes that have rapidly fallen after it comprise a paradigm shift: max level players are engineering their way out of town instead of re-signing with their original teams for max dollars, something that no one expected and something that will lead to revision of the CBA (in my opinion).

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 1:47:00 PM, Anonymous Ilhan said...

Do you have any suggestions as to how this "failing business model" could be fixed? I cringe upon reading about a 'franchise player' tag which would, as I understand it, lock that player for good. To put it bluntly, that's slavery. People ought to be able to choose their employ beyond the draft and the rookie contract.

The current situation, admittedly, presents difficulties for small market teams. Are we, however, unanimous that it is bad for basketball per se and for the NBA "product"? I, for one, am very happy to see (potentially) great teams compete against (potentially) great teams, however small their number might be, instead of a depleted post-expansion NBA where some teams have one genuine franchise player and not much else (Lakers 2005), and others have pretend franchise players (Bobcats with Wallace, Toronto with Bosh, Grizzlies with Gasol). Parity shouldn't carry more weight than quality, especially when it is parity of deficiency. Hence, I believe, the "problem" pertains exclusively to the small market teams and their fans. Those teams lose their stars and, consequently, their revenue. I would suggest a tag, perhaps for up to two players on each roster, which wouldn't void those players' free agency, but rather put a significant transfer fee on them. I would make that fee NOT count towards the salary cap for either team because, ideally, we do not want to hinder teams from improving their rosters and the overall product on the court. So if the Heat want to get LBJ through free agency, they still need to accommodate the Cavaliers for that loss. I don't know what else can be done for the Cavs of the league.

It is clear that either guaranteed contracts need to be shortened universally (which teams wouldn't like at all for fear of losing stars even more frequently and of not being able to construct long term roster plans), or contracts above a certain limit (e.g. MLE) need to be voidable. Eddy Curry shouldn't have been paid a cent for years now. Seriously injured players could, of course, be handled differently. Take Brandon Roy (or Grant Hill in Orlando). That franchise is doomed because of his knees. Paul Allen has all the money in the world. Let him use an injury exception, pay Roy but make that money NOT count towards the cap. The cap was originally instituted in order to protect the teams from themselves. Yet, as of now, it not only not serves that purpose well (they keep on dishing out absurd contracts out of desperation), but also keeps them from rectifiying past mistakes by locking teams into terrible long term contracts. It is ultimately the fans, the star players going into "gun battles with butter knives" and the game that suffers. Why lock teams such as the Trail Blazers into mediocrity? If Kevin Pritchard indeed gave Roy that contract with full knowledge of the status of his knees because of something like "by his past services he has merited it" (I recall reading some such nonesensical quote), then the Blazers are, rightfully, punished enough for that stupidity by having to pay an inactive player max money. But why make it so that they cannot go and get other players and provide LMA with a decent supporting cast?

I think, at the end of the day, this asinine cap system is the very reason why small market teams lose their stars. You give Rashard Lewis an absurd contract and all you can do is to exchange that with another absurd contract in Arenas, while waiting for Howard to bail on the whole mess. I reiterate, why isn't it enough punishment to have to pay Lewis 130 mil? And if such a system were not in place, would/could the Magic dish out 6-7 such contracts and, plausibly, contend (or financially stay afloat)? I simply can't see how a hard salary cap is the solution to this predicament. To my understanding, it can't but exacerbate the problem! I would very much like to read your take on these issues.

 
At Monday, February 28, 2011 6:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ilhan:

I agree with much of what you said. The reality is that there are no simple answers and nowhere in this article did I pretend that I have a plan that will fix this mess. My point is that LeBron's action was unexpected and is a paradigm shift that has resulted in many dominoes falling in a very short period of time.

Regarding the "franchise tag," the NFL system is not analogous to the NBA system because the NFL does not have guaranteed contracts. In the NFL system, a team can prevent a player from leaving for one year (not forever) by giving him a "franchise tag" that guarantees his next year's salary at a very high level (there are two different types of franchise tags and I am sure that interested readers can easily find a more detailed explanation of how those tags work).

I suspect that the NBA owners will try to implement some form of a "franchise tag" and that the NBA players will vigorously object. I don't know what will eventually happen but it is hard to believe that a lockout can be avoided in the wake of the LeBron, Melo and DWill situations, particularly with Paul and Howard seemingly poised to depart as well.

The salary cap system was a brilliant idea at the time--it likely helped to save the NBA--but nearly three decades later it probably needs to be modified to fit in with current socioeconomic conditions.

I agree with you that there is some appeal to watching great players on great teams as opposed to having a watered down league but from a business standpoint the league has to create a balance whereby all teams have at least some realistic hope of being able to compete; this was the brilliance behind Pete Rozelle's focus on parity: the NFL had some super teams during his reign and yet the draft system/salary structure enabled most teams to contend for playoff berths every few years and even enabled smaller market teams to advance to (and even win) the Super Bowl.

 
At Tuesday, March 01, 2011 3:42:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

David:

Excellent article. Also, I like Ilhan's proposal to allow each team to remove one contract per year from its salary cap (while the released player would still receive his contracted money). The most egregious cases are Gilbert Arenas and Brandon Roy, but did you know that Dan Gadzuric is receiving about 7 million dollars this season?!

The trends that you identify (several superstars teaming on one megateam, superstars getting traded) are hardly new. Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton all successfully demanded trades. Shaquille O'Neal left his original team in '96. The 76ers, Celtics, and Lakers of the '80s were built around multiple superstars. The Lakers won the Western conference finals in 9 out of 12 seasons from 1980 through 1991!

In addition to Artest, Mike Bibby is another guy who has demonstrated a desire to win a championship. Apparently he has agreed to give up $7 MM in order to get released from the Wizards and sign with Miami!

It should be noted that if Bosh and James really preferred winning over money, then they would've signed as regular free agents for lower salaries with Miami, rather than going through the sign-and-trade process to get higher salaries, which (i) caused Miami to give away so many draft picks and (ii) clogged up Miami's salary cap for years to come.

 
At Tuesday, March 01, 2011 4:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

The Barkley, Abdul-Jabbar and Walton situations were each different and none were like the recent LeBron/Melo/DWill situations. Barkley was rightfully frustrated with a Philly franchise that did not seem to be making serious efforts to contend (the same cannot be said of the Cavs or Nuggets, though perhaps DWill had a slight beef in that regard considering some of the players Utah lost recently). Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to a title plus another Finals appearance before deciding that he would prefer to live on either coast (unlike the current superstars who fled their teams without leading them to any hardware). Walton sued the Blazers and their medical staff for malpractice regarding the treatment of his injuries, so obviously he was not going to return to Portland (and he could hardly be blamed for wanting out of the Clippers' organization, particularly since by that time he was no longer a superstar who could carry a team).

Two of the main cogs of the Lakers' Showtime teams arrived through the draft (Magic, Worthy), not through trades or free agency. In the 1980s, the Celtics acquired their entire Big Three through the draft or through draft day trades.

In contrast, LeBron, Melo and DWill maneuvered their way out of playoff or even championship contending teams just to satisfy their own whims. It is not clear what, if anything, their teams could have done to retain their services. That is what makes the new situation different than what happened in the past. I am not saying that these players are "wrong" or even blaming them--though I think that they could have handled certain things better--but I am saying that the end result of all of this will likely be a lockout (unless the Players Association agrees to some form of a franchise tag in the next CBA, a concession that I doubt they will accept very readily).

Bibby, like Artest last season, has indeed put his money where his mouth is by sacrificing dollars for a chance to play for a winning team--but Artest and Bibby are not superstars. LeBron, Melo and DWill are trying to get max dollars while also being able to play where they want (winning a championship seems to be the third priority, because none of those three players is closer to winning a title now than they were a year ago).

You made an excellent point regarding Miami's Big Three: if they really had placed winning a title as their number one priority then they would have taken much less money so that the Heat would not have had to fill out the roster with minimum salary players. Or, as I said, if any of those guys really felt that winning is the most important thing then they would have signed with the Lakers. The Lakers have a very good shot of winning again anyway and the addition of LeBron would have all but clinched another title (barring injury, of course).

 
At Tuesday, March 01, 2011 6:50:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

I think Kareem in '74 and Shaq in '96 can be compared to Lebron in '10 and Carmelo in '11. The Bucks had already won a title and were poised to contend for more. The Magic in '96 had already made the NBA Finals and ECF and were poised to contend with Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, etc. Similarly, Lebron's Cavs had already made the NBA Finals and ECF and were poised to contend; Carmelo's Nuggets had already made the WCF and were poised to contend. [I think Denver could've been a championship contender in 2011 if Carmelo had signed the contract extension and the team didn't have so much turmoil.]

In all these cases, the players were on very good teams, but wanted brighter lights and bigger cities.

In the Bill Walton scenario, in 1978-79 (when Walton made his trade demand and sued the team), the Blazers were poised to contend for more titles with Maurice Lucas and other guys from the '77 champions. Walton could've put his anger about his injuries aside and been a team player. Instead he was a bit immature and self-centered, just as people are accusing Lebron and Carmelo of being. (This is the impression I got from reading Halberstam's book about the Blazers.)

On the Barkley scenario, note that Philly made the second round of the playoffs in 1990 and 1991, losing to Jordan's Bulls both times. If not for the greatness of Jordan, Philly could have beaten Detroit in the ECF and made the Finals! So perhaps Barkley's team in Philly was better than advertised. And perhaps Barkley deserves more oppobrium for not leading his team in Philly to more success, just as Lebron deserves criticism for not leading the Cavs to a title (and Bosh deserves criticism for never accomplishing squat in Toronto).

 
At Tuesday, March 01, 2011 7:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"if any of those guys really felt that winning is the most important thing then they would have signed with the Lakers."

You really have a thing for Kobe don't you? What's with the double standard?

Your hero wanted to go to the Clippers when things got bad. Why didn't he join the Spurs for the LLE then? Winning must not have been his #1 priority. He re-signed with the Lakers for MAX money too!

Jordan should have joined the Pistons or the Celtics for peanuts! What a greedy bastard!

It's one thing to "join forces to beat the favorites" and another thing entirely to "just join the favorites". The first is about grouping up to beat the bully, the second is about riding the bully's coattails.

Kevin Durant simply re-signed with the Thunder. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker recently re-signed with the Spurs. They didn't join the Lakers for chump change. They didn't even give back half their salaries! Are you saying that winning is not their #1 priority? What losers!

Miami drafted Dwyane Wade. He was the face of the franchise. He was willing to swallow his pride and take less salary to recruit a player who was better than him. Neither Jordan nor Kobe has ever done this. What exactly did Dwyane Wade do that wasn't in-line with him winning a championship or more for himself and his city?

Bosh is NOT a franchise player. Deep down, he knows he's not. He took less than max dollars join a franchise player. There's nothing out of the ordinary, or new about this. It makes very little sense for him to join the Lakers since the Lakers' core is much older than him. If he wants to win multiple championships, joining the Thunder, Bulls, or the Heat makes more sense.

Miami's "big 2.5" handled it with very little class for sure, but you can't say (at least in Wade and Bosh's case) that winning is not their #1 priority.

 
At Wednesday, March 02, 2011 5:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

Of course the situations you mentioned "can be compared" but the issue is how valid is the comparison. I already explained why I don't think those comparisons are particularly valid for the reasons I listed above but here is some additional information for you to consider.

The fact that Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to one title plus another Finals appearance means that one could argue he had completely fulfilled his obligation to Milwaukee: there was no unfinished business there. In contrast, LeBron, Melo and DWill never won anything for their respective teams (give LeBron some credit for one Finals appearance but, unlike Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron did not deliver a title).

The Blazers shot up Walton with butazolidin, a powerful drug, and he played in a 1978 playoff game despite having a serious foot injury. It is certainly understandable that he did not want to return to that franchise. Also, like Abdul-Jabbar, Walton delivered a title before departing.

There were conflicting reports at the time Shaq left Orlando but some accounts suggest that Orlando did not offer Shaq a max deal until the Lakers did so first. Shaq also reportedly was not pleased that Orlando fans voted overwhelmingly in a poll that he was not worth max dollars. LeBron was beloved in Cleveland and the Cavs did everything possible to keep him.

The 1991 76ers went 44-38. Their starters other than Barkley were a 36 year old Rickey Green, a 32 year old Rick Mahorn, Hersey Hawkins and Armen Gilliam/Mike Gminski. You cannot possibly believe that they were serious title contenders. The 1992 76ers went 35-47 with a similarly "stellar" supporting cast.

 
At Wednesday, March 02, 2011 5:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

There is nothing quite like big-mouthed comments from people who are afraid to sign their names to what they say.

I made it clear that my comment about signing with the Lakers was half serious/half flippant but my point is that I am sick of hearing players give lip service to winning being their top priority when their actions suggest otherwise. If money, "being the man" and building his brand were not factors at all for LeBron then why wouldn't he have signed with the Lakers? He could have teamed up with Kobe for multiple titles--and LeBron could even have become "the man," either now or at the very least very soon as Kobe's role inevitably decreases. Instead, LeBron insisted that he took less money and sacrificed his stats to win but he ended up on a team that is not as good (based on their winning percentage) as the team he left but LeBron's individual stats are roughly the same and his wallet did not take a hit due to Florida's lack of a state income tax. So, LeBron said one thing but his actions and the results suggest something else.

Kobe is not my "hero." I have made it quite clear that Julius Erving is my favorite basketball player of all-time, while Scottie Pippen is my second favorite player. The fact that I am one of the few writers who objectively evaluates Bryant (and all NBA players) has perhaps confused you since you may have become used to consuming biased nonsense from other sources.

It does not matter what Kobe or anyone else talked about doing. What Kobe actually did is re-sign with the Lakers and lead them to three straight Finals, winning two titles. Kobe demanded that management put an adequate supporting cast around him--a reasonable stance to take when the Lakers were sending him into gun battles with butter knives like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown.

Here is the list of players who have been the number one option for teams that made three straight Finals appearances and won at least one title during that run:

Mikan
Russell
Bird
Magic
Jordan
Shaq
Kobe

Do you have any idea when Jordan's contracts came up for renewal and what the free agency rules were at those times or do you just like throwing stuff up anonymously to see what sticks?

Jordan stayed with one franchise (until his last comeback) and built something great. Durant, Parker and Ginobili are not nearly as great as Jordan was but they have similarly decided to stay with one franchise and build something great (or, in Durant's case, attempt to build something great). LeBron, Melo and DWill have given lip service to winning yet LeBron ended up with a worse team (so far), Melo ended up with a worse team and DWill ended up with a much worse team--but LeBron got max money, Melo got max money and you can bet that DWill will get max money (unless there is a lockout). Are we supposed to believe what they say about winning being a top priority or are we supposed to believe what they do? Then you can add to the mix that LeBron quit during the playoffs, Melo has never committed himself consistently on defense and DWill played some role in driving a very respected coach to a quite sudden retirement.

I did not say anything negative about Wade in this article. Please reread the article until you fully comprehend it. I also did not suggest that Bosh is a franchise player; in fact, I explicitly said the opposite: "Bosh seems to understand and accept that he is not, in fact, 'the Man.'" However, if Bosh wanted to win a ring now then he should have joined the Lakers; who knows who is going to contend for/win titles in the future but it is a good bet that the Lakers will be serious contenders during this year's playoffs--and a player of Bosh's caliber (look at his numbers in Toronto before he became a bystander to LeBron and Wade in Miami) could have really helped the Lakers.

With your reading comprehension/analysis skills I can certainly understand why you did not attach your name to your comment.

 
At Wednesday, March 02, 2011 7:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

lol k durant good so is westbrook never on the level of wade lebron. and only can be if wade and lebron decline. durant there both great scorers but not real superstars. melo amare i dont expect to win. unless they can bring in a paul or willams and bring in a defensive coach.

lebron wade bosh got 5 years or so in there run so if they dont win this year isnt the end of the world. i kno u was big on lebron should of stayed cleveland like many of them cause the organization was loyal to him blah blah. but he has great chance to win this year. and in the next 5 or so plus they could bring in role players in the upcoming years as well.

so the thunder as a dynasty? come on bra? but who knows well see wat happens.

the other point its always about the money. thats wat they play for. bibby and artest got millions in the bank. so they can play for less. winning is number 1 priority after u get paid, nuthin new in nba.

lebron and melo are on team as good as they left and willams didnt ask to be traded to nets. so to say there in worse situations than previous is false with lebron and melo. willams it wasnt his fault.

 
At Wednesday, March 02, 2011 11:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I did not say that Durant is greater than LeBron or that Westbrook is greater than Wade; I said that Durant stayed with his original team to try to build something great and that the Thunder's parts are more complementary than the parts that the Heat have assembled so far. The Thunder have a big-time scorer (Durant), a big-time playmaker (Westbrook), an excellent wing defender (Sefolosha), a nice trio of solid big men (Perkins, Ibaka, Mohammed) plus some solid bench players (including Harden). They need another top notch scorer and possibly some shooters and they need to get some more experience playing together in the postseason but their team is more balanced than the Heat: LeBron and Wade both need the ball, plus the Heat are weak at pg and center.

I never said that the Thunder are a dynasty but you are the one who is just assuming that the Heat will be one; I am just saying that I don't think that the Heat can take out the veteran teams (Celtics, Lakers, Spurs) this year and that in the upcoming years the Thunder (and some other young teams) could be just as good if not better than the Heat. This is food for thought not some ironclad prediction, because we obviously don't even know if there is going to be a season or where guys like Howard and Paul may land.

LeBron and Melo have more money in the bank than Artest and Bibby and are guaranteed to bank $100 million more in salary alone if they don't get hurt. I don't care if LeBron, Melo or others choose to chase money, build a brand or do something else instead of trying to win rings--I am just saying that they should be honest (or say nothing) instead of acting like winning is their top priority.

If LeBron had committed to the Cavs then they could have added free agents to an already good supporting cast, plus re-signed Shaq and Z; they would have been the best team in the East and would have matched up very well with the Lakers and Spurs. This year's Heat are not as good as the Cavs were the past two seasons and unless the Heat start playing dramatically better they will not even make it to the Finals, something that the 2007 Cavs accomplished.

The Knicks are not a better team than the Nuggets were before Melo left; again, look at the regular season records or check back after the playoffs when the Knicks get eliminated earlier than the Nuggets did when Denver made it to the Conference Finals two years ago with basically the same team they would have had if Melo had not been dealt.

DWill essentially did ask to be traded, just like Melo, because DWill made it clear that he likely will leave when his contract is up. The Nuggets and Jazz learned from what LeBron did to the Cavs so they traded Melo and DWill respectively before they could walk. Now DWill will miss the playoffs entirely and then either have to re-sign with the Nets to get max dollars or else take his chances on the open market after a new CBA is signed.

 
At Thursday, March 03, 2011 1:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

my point is miami could get pieces after this year. thunder got a nice team but championship team i dont see. there a young exciting team but many of these came before and never oner anything

the heat have great chance this year. they will go farther than last year cleveland team and at least as far as two years ago. i believe. reg season means nuthin. cleveland failed in postseason

yea they won two reg season games vs lakers. u done harped on that but they lost in six to a beat up boston team. so its hard for me to believe they would of beat lakers 4 out of 7 last year.

plus the fact they lost to orlando two years ago howard dominated and he is alot better now than he was then. and the emergence of chicago and the fact boston pierce and garnett i healthy this year. cleveland wouldnt be a factor even if lebron stayed.

knicks are better than nuggets and will be in the future its more than this year. they gon be a tough out this year. denver still on honeymoon there a first round team now and long term were the knicks will get better.

dwill didnt say anything about future he cant even sign a extension till july 9th. i kno he didnt ask to go to new jersey? u didnt kno wat he would do wen contract was up i think he liked bein in utah he prob leave nj anyway.

 
At Thursday, March 03, 2011 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

"Miami could get pieces"--yeah, and so could the other contenders. Wade could get hurt and become the next Grant Hill/TMac. A lot of different things "could" happen. I prefer to focus on what is realistically most likely to happen. The Heat are a talented but flawed team. They have a losing record not just against the other "elite" teams but also collectively against the plus-.500 teams. Think about that for a minute--the trio of LeBron, DWade and Bosh has won less than half of their games against even teams that are just mediocre! The Heat have dominated the weak teams during the regular season, which is to be expected; they play at a fast pace and it is difficult to game plan for that during the regular season. In that sense, they are like the Suns. What happens in the playoffs is that the better teams are poised, they don't turn the ball over and they don't give up so many transition points. Miami's half court offense is pathetic, particularly in late game situations; the Heat have a terrible record in close games because they don't execute well down the stretch. So far, the Heat are a team that cannot consistently beat good teams and a team that cannot win close games. What makes you think that this is a championship recipe now or in the foreseeable future? Yes, the Heat could add pieces in the future but so could other teams.

Right now, it looks like the Heat will go one round farther than last year's Cavs but only as far as the 2009 Cavs and not as far as the 2007 Cavs--i.e., it looks like the Heat will win two series and then lose to Boston in the Conference Finals. Depending on the final seeding, the Heat could also possibly lose in the second round to Chicago.

The Cavs did not lose to a "beat up" Boston team last season; the Celtics were healthy during the playoffs, which is why they performed a lot better than they did during the regular season--but when LeBron actually played hard the Cavs beat them. For some reason, LeBron quit during game five; only he knows why he spent most of that game passively standing behind the three point line.

I don't even know why you brought up Howard and the Magic; the Magic have to worry about getting out of the first round before thinking about contending for a title: that 4-5 matchup will not be easy and the Magic may not even have home court advantage.

The Knicks were roughly a .500 team before the trade and they will likely be a roughly .500 team the rest of the way. The Nuggets received multiple starting-quality players for Melo, they play defense now and they don't have a black cloud over their heads. Neither team is a championship contender but it is difficult to reasonably argue that the current Knicks are better than the Nuggets were before the trade--at best, Melo made a lateral move.

DWill could have signed an extension at any time. The fact that he, like Melo, chose not to do so indicated that he planned to leave. We also don't know exactly what happened behind the scenes with Coach Sloan and DWill but now DWill is in New Jersey. He will either have to re-sign with them or risk losing dollars in the new CBA. DWill's career prospects are hardly better now than they were when he was in Utah; the Jazz learned from the mistakes made by the Cavs and Nuggets and traded DWill before DWill could sabotage their future the way that LeBron and Melo damaged their old teams.

 
At Friday, March 04, 2011 10:20:00 PM, Anonymous Gil Meriken said...

I know you will appreciate this, David:

"Even if the Heat win the rest of their games, they will fall two short of the 2008-2009 Cavs. They can only lose three of their remaining games to tie the 2009-2010 Cavs. If only LeBron had more talent around him."

 
At Saturday, March 05, 2011 2:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Gil:

Before the start of the season, I said that LeBron would have had a better chance to win a title if he had stayed in Cleveland and recruited a free agent to join his deep supporting cast there; if he wanted to win a title this season but did not want to stay in Cleveland then he should have signed with the Lakers. The Heat are a dream team by "stat guru" standards but their two best players have similar skill sets (and thus similar weaknesses). It is hilarious that Abbott makes such a big deal about what "advanced stats" supposedly say regarding Kobe as a clutch player--but meanwhile the Heat, with both LeBron and Wade, struggle to beat plus-.500 teams and have one of the worst records in the league in close games.

I am not foolish enough to rule out the Heat as contenders--this year or in the near future--but while most people went crazy praising this team I listed the reasons that I did not consider them title favorites this season, let alone a squad that could win 70-plus games and rank among the best of all time.

The truly sad thing is that no matter what happens, Abbott and the haughty "stat gurus" will never, ever admit that they were wrong not just about this particular case but also regarding their general take on how to properly analyze basketball.

 
At Saturday, March 05, 2011 12:09:00 PM, Anonymous S.T said...

david,

did you watch the game between the heat and spurs? what a clinical performance from the spurs. they outplayed the heat on both ends of the floor. the heat generate most of their offense either through forcing turnovers, which leads to easy transition points, or through getting to the foul line. However, the spurs are notoriously known for taking care of the ball, and playing sound position defense. apart from the pick and roll play between bibby and bosh, the heat had very few successful set plays. i feel that their inability to execute on offense and their dependency on the transition game will ultimately be their downfall in the playoffs. what are your thoughts?

 
At Saturday, March 05, 2011 3:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

S.T.:

I am working on an article about the Spurs that will be posted here soon.

As for the Heat, I have been saying since before the season started that I expect them to have a very good record but they should not be considered championship favorites over the Celtics, Lakers or Spurs. The Heat are a frontrunning team that usually wins at home and/or against sub-.500 teams but they struggle against good teams (any team over .500, not just the so-called "elite teams") and they have a terrible record in close games. The "stat gurus" assumed that simply by putting the two best players in the league (by their calculations) on the same roster the Heat would be unbeatable but in the real world outside of spreadsheets things have turned out differently. That said, despite the Heat's struggles and shortcomings, Boston is the only team in the East that I am certain would beat Miami in a seven game series (the Bulls are intriguing but I still wonder how they will generate consistent offense throughout the course of a playoff series).

 
At Thursday, March 17, 2011 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

In a March 3rd comment (sorry, I know I'm two weeks late here!) David says: "DWill could have signed an extension at any time. The fact that he, like Melo, chose not to do so indicated that he planned to leave."

That's not actually true. Williams signed his last contract on July 18, 2008, and thus he won't be eligible for a contract extension (whether with Utah, or now with New Jersey) until July 18, 2011. Having said that, I take your general point that Williams was not giving strong signals that he wanted to stay in Utah.

 
At Thursday, March 17, 2011 1:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

I should have said that Melo had refused to sign an extension and that the Jazz traded Williams because of their strong belief that DWill would do the same thing after this season ended. The Jazz acted preemptively to avoid having a DWill saga hanging over the franchise the way that the Melo saga affected the first half of Denver's 2011 season. My larger point was correct though my specific word choices in that comment could have been better.

 

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