Media members need not be protected, accountability in award voting is a must

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As in most things related to the NBA, the ultimate goal should be transparency. Transparency in the officiating, especially in a post-Donaghy era. Transparency from the league office in how they deal with specific rulings, punishments, and edicts. Transparency from coaches and general managers, who optimally wouldn’t pretend to be vying for a playoff spot if it was well out of reach, and who are well capable of imparting knowledge if they abandon the convenient cliché.

It’s about damn time the same applies to the media as well.

Media members write all kinds of things about the NBA on the daily basis, and their work is available for public scrutiny. If facts aren’t checked, if stories are unfair, or if something is misrepresented, the writer will hear about it. That’s how the wonderful world of feedback works, and that ability to respond not only makes for better writing, but a better understanding from consumers concerning what an NBA scribe hopes to accomplish. It is, in a word, good.

So why then does it make sense that on the occasion that such scribes have the ability to significantly impact NBA lore — in award voting — they’re completely removed from the results in a way that makes them completely unaccountable? They’re not revealing their party preferences or voting on controversial legislation, but casting a ballot for MVP or Defensive Player of the Year; the sanctity and security of the democratic process should be far removed from this particular arena, because well, it’s not democratic. Certain writers are privileged with a vote, and those with a vote should be able to defend their selections.

Choosing an MVP or Rookie of the Year may be a matter of opinion, but that doesn’t mean there are not wrong answers. There are also interesting answers, worthy of further explanation and clarification. There are toss-ups that fans would want to hear about, there are snubs that they would want explained, and there are surprise vote-getters that may even earn voters a pat on the back.

Howard Beck of the New York Times has been throwing this idea around ever since David Lee stumbled into a Defensive Player of the Year vote, and collected his thoughts in a post for the NYT Off the Dribble blog:

Removing anonymity from the process could have some drawbacks. Beat writers, who see the same team every day, may feel pressure to vote for the players they cover if they know the results will become public. Voting for a rival could conceivably cause tension with the home team’s star player or coach, or the media-relations staff.

But these concerns do not seem to have adversely affected the balloting in baseball or the N.F.L. And many N.B.A. writers already make their choices and rationale public, in blogs and in newspaper columns. No one seems overly worried about potential backlash from teams or fans.

Transparency creates more accountability because voters have to be prepared to explain their choices publicly. That is a routine part of baseball’s award process, and it helps promote discussion of the results, which benefits the game.

Beck could be correct in how beat writers could be swayed, but isn’t that what journalistic integrity is all about? These writers are supposed to be trusted to write what’s actually going on in the games and in the locker room rather than rosy pieces loaded with team-sponsored propaganda, so why can’t we trust them to do the same with the awards voting?

If someone is voting for an award with actual implications, they should be prepared to defend their choices. They should be able to tell us why there are three better defenders than Dwight Howard, how Ben Wallace or Ersan Ilyasova could possibly be the Most Improved Player, or why Jonny Flynn deserves a second-place vote for Rookie of the Year. That’s the responsibility that should come with the privilege of voting, and it’s honestly a wonder to me that secret balloting has lasted this long.


51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.