The 15 Footer: Lockout hope is a bad drug, baby

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The 15 Footer is a reoccurring series of fifteen items about the NBA highlighting news of the last week. It is written by Matt Moore, sometimes not badly. 

1. No, Red, hope is the worst of things: Things are getting confusing in the NBA lockout scene. It’s like that time in the party when things are winding down, the keg’s starting to run thin, everyone’s kind of tired, and the drunken buffoon squad hasn’t showed up with a new mix CD/playlist to get things back up again. And in this interim, the NBA and the players are both flirting with the public. That’s what this is. Flirting. “We’re totally making progress except we’re not going to call it progress.” If nothing comes from this someone should get slapped on national television. I don’t really care who. Anyone from either side will do, there just needs to be a good hard slap. Maybe a slap bet is in order.

Anyway, the owners may or may not care about the preseason getting burned off. That makes 2.5 million and thirty of us. No one cares about the preseason. At all. Losing it is like losing a human tail. You’re better off in the end without the ridicule. And them having more time is a good thing. There’s a breaking point where games will have to be missed and delaying that braking point as long as possible is the optimum option. Still, this week has brought more optimism than anytime since… oh, 2009? Sound about right? This has been a doomsday prediction scenario since the start.

But our intrepid editor naturally thinks this is all nonsense. But at some point we have to have a league, right? What’s the point in having a league if you don’t have a league? The same point as having a business if you’re not making money, I suppose. The real test will be to see if word leaks that the cooler heads in larger markets have retaken control of the negotiating pulse in the ownership group or if the hardline faction continues to rule the day.

2. Phone tag is fun, but not when the person who’s “it” is actually a criminal. Melo got robbed at his own exhibition game. Kurt’s right. That is just cold. I have a different question. Did the people who stole the phones not see Melo ever? Every time I’ve seen him outside of a game he’s accompanied by two of the largest men I’ve ever seen, bodyguards. It’s like traveling with two mutants. That guy, the guy who appeared in the “Stop Snitchin'” video, that’s the guy you want to steal from? Melo’s never shown a predisposition towards any violence beyond the occasional scrap with the Knicks back in the day, but still. Not exactly the top of the list for NBA players I think it would be wise to steal from. That list is pretty much limited to Travis Diener, and he’s out of the league. Maybe Gordon Hayward, since he’s now playing Starcraft all the time and wouldn’t notice.

3. No quarter asked, no quarter given. Especially not the fourth. Has LeBron James rehabbed his image at all this summer? For the most part, he’s kept a low profile. He’s done a ton of charity work, which really gets overlooked sometimes. He’s downplayed the nonsense of last year, talked about how hard losing was on him, has kept an upbeat attitude about the lockout, the works. But he got dunked on by that Taiwanese kid and that’s all anyone remembers. His scores are the lowest they’ve ever been and since he’s not going overseas, his ability to penetrate new markets is limited. You have to wonder if the damage done by James to himself over the past year-plus isn’t just a scratch, but more of an acid burn, something to mark to the core.

4. If you like it then you should put a ring on it.: The Heat would like Nene, but it’s a huge longshot because they have no money and Nene will demand the max. I keep returning to this interview with Nene from way back with Chris Tomasson. A vow to retire in 2016 to go work for his church in his homeland. Does this sound like the kind of guy focused on money and jewelry? I’m just saying, if any player was going to buck the long-standing tradition of always chasing dollar signs, I’d put good money on Nene. And were Nene to join the Heat? Yeesh. He and Haslem would have a field day (plus they’re totally twinsies with the hair). It gives the Heat a legitimate threat at the rim and a true center, making Joel Anthony a valuable reserve versus an overmatched starter. It fixes all their problems. It won’t happen, but to say it couldn’t is madness.

5. Do you remember when we used to sing “La la la la la la la la la la-tee-da”: The Lakers biggest concern after the lockout is getting behind their new coach. But that’s easier said than done. When was the last time a Lakers team not coached by Phil Jackson had success? Early 90’s? Ish? Rudy Tomjanovich struggled with a Kobe-Bryant-led team and he was a champion who had been in the league for thirty years. This team does not exactly snap to changes the way it probably should. Brown could be just what the doctor ordered, things could go great. It could also be a flaming trainwreck rumbling through the darkness. There’s so much reason to have faith in this roster, in this coach, in this setup. But it’s a new environment and sometimes things just go nuts when change happens. It would be weird to see a champion fall into chaos that quickly, but stranger things have happened (plus Ron Artest’s involved, so that increases the crazy quotient by like 50 times).

6. Yo Dawg, I heard you like tattoos so I put my tattoos on your tattoos so people can judge you while they judge you: The whole Kevin Durant tattoos thing is the exact kind of story I want to dismiss and ignore and question people’s legitimacy for caring about… then I totally buy into the debate. My wife has two tattoos and wants a third one. I would have gladly gotten one if I had anything I cared about enough in my early 20’s (I’m approaching 30 and at some point your shelf-life for how long they look good reaches “not very freaking long at all”). So in reality, I don’t actively care about Durant’s tattoos. He could get ink of my mother and I wouldn’t care (okay, that would probably freak me out, but anything short of that). What I care about is the continuing branding of Durant as squeaky clean when he’s a three-dimensional person. Furthermore, he’s a three-dimensional person who grew up in a rough part of the country and is proud of his roots. This has consequences. Luckily, these consequences being tattoos means there’s nothing to actively tarnish Durant’s rep. But at some point the shiny gloss is going to fade as we get to know Durant better. Durant really is a nice kid, really is a generous superstar, really is a good person, from all accounts and interactions. But he’s also not a cartoon character, nor is he Captain America, the personification of the ideal. He’s a real person. But no one is prepared for that, because, well, when are we ever?

7. Tight. Kurt touched on something in the analysis of Jordan v. LeBron in the clutch that connects with a bigger motif. LeBron James may be the most self-aware NBA superstar in history. He’s keenly aware not just of how he looks, but each moment as it connects, the greater context of the game, his place in it, his legacy, his legacy’s impact on his brand and vice-versa, everything. James is known to watch film constantly at his house. He’s a basketball junkie. So his failures are not one of the mind, of blissful ignorance. He’s either over-thinking each possession, or he’s simply lacking in spirit. Either way this makes him the first truly modern NBA superstar. Think about it. LeBron James’ biggest problem is that LeBron James spends too much time analyzing LeBron James. He’s meta. And in that meta-analysis, he finds himself paralyzed. What’s more 2011 than that?

8. I come to praise Rubio, not to bury him. Okay, maybe not praise, but not bury either. More just dig around him: Is Rubio finished? Has Ricky Rubio jumped the shark? Is Ricky Rubio the worst player in the world? How about the flip side. Is Ricky Rubio the most unreasonably criticized player not in the NBA? Is Ricky Rubio going to be great, in time? Can’t we all cut Rubio some slack?

Both of these sets of questions are stupid. Of course Rubio’s not finished. How many players took years to develop into good players, especially point guards? Go ask a Boston fan about how Chauncey Billups worked out. Anyone who thinks a bad run in Euro play is a sign of impending doom needs their head checked. But to ignore it is just as stupid. He’s played badly. Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s okay if Rubio’s not great in Eurobasket, if he’s downright awful. That’s who he is. It doesn’t mean that’s who he will be, but to ignore results in favor of cherry picking evidence in order to deduce potential is just as short-sighted. Let Rubio suck.

9. Ouchies. You want to know about how international play can cause teams headaches if the regular season gets started and the players are banged up from EuroBasket/League/FIBA play? Hold on, let me go get Coach Popovich. Last I saw he was ramming a nail into his skull with a dull hammer. Good news is he appreciates each swing.

Related note: How pivotal is next season for Pau Gasol’s career? That’s an honest question because he’s won two rings. Think about that. Pau Gasol has two more rings than Charles Barkley. At some point using that as a determining factor of greatness becomes grutesque.

10. Tears in Heaven. Also expletives. Expletives in Heaven.: Here’s a fun one. Try and imagine Kevin Garnett’s retirement press conference. What’s the over/under on pauses to cry? Does he hold it in Boston? Minnesota? L.A. where he lives? How many reporters will drop in references to his intensity? Can he retire as a point forward due to that short time in Minny? Isn’t it going to be a letdown if Garnett doesn’t talk himself into an argument with himself during the presser and start fighting with himself?

11. You spin me third-round baby, third-round. Like an unsigned draft pick, baby, third-round, third-round.: One thing to keep in mind before you start spitting out vitriol on a third-round in the NBA draft, as has allegedly been discussed. Don’t use this past year as an example. Yes, the second round was a nightmare, but that was as much a part of the NBA lockout as anything. Next year’s class is so stacked, it will have a trickle down effect into the subsequent rounds. Furthermore, if the league also adopts a rule saying “straight out of high school or two years in college” you’re going to want that third round to be able to evaluate high school players, draft them, and then stash them in the D-League. That’s the real lynch pin in any third-round talk. There has to be a better development system so the investment from teams is worth it. Without it, the draft is not sustainable.

11. Should have been in 3-D like his movie. Everything else is.: Look, NBA. Regardless of how we feel about who’s right and who’s wrong in the labor dispute, regardless of BRI, hard caps, flex caps, bottle caps or Washington Caps, we should all be able to agree on one thing. Bieber  must be stopped and we must ban him from the cultural sphere. We’re going to be absorbed into Bieber World in a minute and I don’t have the requisite health care products.

12. You aint’ missing much. NBA 2K12 will not feature rookies. The only thing sad about this is it means I don’t get to have Moses Malone destroy Enes Kanter. Not having rookies in the game might actually be for the best considering last year’s class for the most part.

13. Tall tales. Is Shaq more John Henry or Paul Bunyan? I can’t decide.

14. Money well spent. Well, the players are getting their escrow money. I can tell you what they won’t be spending it on. They won’t be spending it on expensive escorts, bottle service, craps tables, and limousines. Not like a lot of them are going to be in Vegas for an extended period of time for Impact Basketball. Whoops. Nice bump for the economy in Nevada, huh?

15. Clyde Drexler could jump really high. No, seriously. 

Report: Mikhail Prokhorov ‘warmed’ to selling controlling stake of Nets

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Mikhail Prokhorov bought 80% of the Nets in 2010. A couple years ago, he tried to sell his stake, but decided to keep it. Then, he bought 100% of the franchise and its arena. After last season, he said he was selling 49% of the team.

Now?

Josh Kosman and Brian Lewis of the New York Post:

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, while focused on selling a minority stake in the franchise, has warmed recently to the possibility of offering a controlling slice of the team, sources close to the situation said.

The change of heart comes after the initial reaction to the minority stake sale was weak — and with interest in the Houston Rockets sale heating up, one source said.

The Rockets’ sale could shake out potential Nets buyers, and Prokhorov selling a controlling stake could also help. It’d cost more money than the 49% he’s offering now, but people with the money to buy an NBA team tend to value control.

This might be a good time to sell for Prokhorov, who lost a ton of money as the team paid major luxury tax for an all-in championship pursuit that flopped spectacularly. The NBA’s popularity is rising, and the league is reaping huge revenue from its national-TV contracts.

However, he shouldn’t assume the Rockets’ sale price will predict the Nets’. Buyers might prefer a good team with James Harden and Chris Paul to a bad one short on young talent after years of mismanagement. At least Brooklyn’s payroll is now tolerably low.

The big loser here: Leslie Alexander, who’s trying to sell the Rockets. The supply of NBA teams now available might have just doubled, and unless there’s no overlap in demand for those franchises, that can only drive down Alexander’s eventual sale price.

Report: Clippers paid $3.2 million – second-most ever – for draft pick (Jawun Evans)

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The Warriors set a record by paying $3.5 million for a draft pick, buying the Bulls’ No. 38 pick and using it on Jordan Bell this year.

That eclipsed the $3 million spent by each the Thunder in 2010 (to the Hawks for the No. 31 pick, Tibor Pleiss) and Nets in 2016 (to move up 13 spots for Isaiah Whitehead).

So did the Clippers’ purchase of the No. 39 pick (Jawun Evans) from the 76ers this year.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

The Clippers also paid the Bucks $2 million for the No. 48 pick (Sindarius Thornwell).

I rated Evans a low first-rounder due to his speed and drive-and-kick game, so getting him in the second round is good value. I’m not as keen on Thornwell, who’s already 22 and built so much of his success at South Carolina on being more physical than younger opponents.

But the more swings the Clippers take on young players, the more likely they are to find long-term contributors. More power to owner Steve Ballmer for greenlighting this expenditure.

Importantly, as players acquired through the draft, Evans and Thornwell will count for the luxury tax at their actual salaries. Players signed otherwise, even if their actual salaries are lower, count at at least the two-years-experience minimum.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can spend $5.1 million in cash this season. That amount will increase (or decrease) in proportion with the salary cap in coming years. So, expect the previous record for draft-pick purchase price – $3 million – to fall again and again.

There’s just more leeway now for the NBA’s haves to separate themselves from the have-nots.

Jeannie Buss says she didn’t understand why Lakers signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov

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Last summer, the Lakers signed Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) to contracts that immediately looked like liabilities.

At worst, Deng and Mozgov would help the Lakers win just enough to lose their top-three protected 2017 first-round pick – which would have triggered also sending out an unprotected 2019 first-rounder – then settle in as huge overpays. At best, Deng and Mozgov would provide a little veteran leadership while the team still loses enough to keep its pick… then settle in as huge overpays.

The Lakers got the best-case scenario, which was still pretty awful.

They had to attach D'Angelo Russell just to dump Mozgov’s deal on the Nets. Even if he no longer fit long-term with Lonzo Ball, Russell could’ve fit another asset if he weren’t necessary as a sweetener in a Mozgov trade. Deng remains on the books as impediment to adding free agents (like Paul George and LeBron James) next summer.

Who’s to blame?

Jeanie Buss was the Lakers’ president and owner. Jim Buss, another owner, ran the front office with Mitch Kupchak.

Bill Oram of The Orange County Register:

Within the walls of the Lakers headquarters, Jeanie’s grand corner office had begun to feel like a cell. She could not make sense of the strategy employed by her brother and Kupchak. They had cycled through four coaches in five seasons and under their watch the Lakers won a combined 63 games in three full seasons. Last summer, they spent $136 million of precious cap space on veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, who made little sense for the direction of the team.

“I just didn’t understand what the thought process was,” she said, “whether our philosophies were so far apart that I couldn’t recognize what they were doing, or they couldn’t explain it well.”

No. Nope, nope, nope. I don’t want to hear it.

Jeanie empowered Jim and his silly timeline, which made it inevitable he place self-preservation over the Lakers’ best long-term interests. That’s why he looked for a quick fix with Mozgov and Deng, who’s still hanging over the Lakers’ plans.

She deserves scrutiny for allowing such a toxic environment that yielded predictably bad results (even if family ties clouded her judgment).

That said, she also deserves credit for learning from her mistake. She fired Jim and Kupchak – admittedly too late, but she still did it – and hired Magic Johnson. There’s no guarantee Johnson will direct the Lakers back to prominence, but he clearly has a better working relationship with Jeanie than Jim did and, so far (in a small sample), looks more competent in the job.

Reports: Heat pessimistic about/uninterested in trading for Kyrie Irving

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Kyrie Irving, in requesting a trade from the Cavaliers, reportedly listed the Heat among his preferred destinations. Though Irving – without a no-trade clause and locked up for two more years – holds only minimal sway, teams would logically offer more for him if they believe he’d re-sign.

Will Miami trade for Irving?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

And while the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out, the Heat does not have considerable optimism about being able to strike a deal, multiple league sources said.

One Eastern Conference official who spoke to the Heat said Miami considers itself something of a long shot.

Tim Reynolds, the reputable Associated Press Heat and NBA writer, said on Steve Shapiro’s Sports Xtra on WSVN-7 that he does not believe Miami is interested in acquiring Irving.

Like the Kings, though to a far lesser extent, the Heat might not be interested because they know they stand no little of landing Irving.

Goran Dragic would almost certainly have to go to Cleveland in a deal, supplanted by Irving in Miami. Dragic would upgrade the Cavs at point guard over Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon, but at 31, Dragic would also significantly shorten Cleveland’s window.

The Heat would have to send much more. It’s just not clear what.

The Cavaliers, with Tristan Thompson, might not have much interest in centers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. Justise Winslow‘s weak 3-point shooting makes him a tough fit with LeBron James, and Winslow’s shoulder injury last season damages his stock anywhere. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are helpful contributors, but Johnson’s salary skyrockets north of $19 million each of the following two seasons, and Richardson will hit free agency (and get a raise) after this season. James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk – who all signed this summer – can’t be traded until Dec. 15. (I’m not sure which prospect is funnier, Waiters returning to Cleveland or playing with Irving in Miami.) The Heat also owe the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.

It’s difficult, maybe impossible, for Miami to assemble a suitable trade package given those constraints.

At least the Heat would keep open the possibility of LeBron returning if they don’t trade for Irving.