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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. 

Pacers unveil 50th anniversary patch for their uniforms (PHOTO)

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 28:  Leandro Barbosa #28 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. 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 Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise for 50 years — 10 in the ABA and 40 in the NBA. To celebrate this anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new patch that they will wear on their uniforms this season. You can check it out below:

It looks pretty sleek, combining the Pacers’ logo with the zero in “50.” It’s subtle and well-designed.

Kobe Bryant pays tribute to Kevin Garnett on Twitter

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts a shot up over Kevin Garnett #5 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 12, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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This summer, three of this generation’s defining NBA players, and three of the greatest players of all time, called it a career: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The latter two in particular had a lot in common, as psychotic competitors and polarizing personalities. They had many memorable battles over the years, including the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2010 (they each won one) and the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, when Garnett was in Minnesota. On Saturday afternoon, a day after Garnett officially announced his retirement, Kobe paid tribute to him with a tweet.

The next time they’ll be together is 2021, when they go into the Hall of Fame together.

Doc Rivers calls anthem protests “the most patriotic thing we can do”

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23:  Head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts to his team during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 23, 2016 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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With the NBA season around the corner, there are a lot of eyes on how teams and players will handle the national anthem protests that have become prominent in the NFL. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wholeheartedly supports the notion of his players participating, and hopes the whole team can figure out a statement to make together. Via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Listen, we need social change. If anyone wants to deny that, they just need to study the history of our country,” he told the Southern California News Group on Friday. “… I’ve said it 100 times. There’s no more American thing to do than to protest. It’s the most patriotic thing we can do. There are protests I like and protests I don’t like. It doesn’t matter. …Protests are meant to start conversation. The conversation, you hope, leads to acknowledgement, and the acknowledgement leads to action. We’re, right now, still in the conversation.”

“I hope we do it as a group. I know whenever you protest as one solid group, the protest has more teeth if you want to protest,” he said. “… I’m supporting our guys’ right to protest. I’m saying that up front. My hope is you believe it and do it for the right reasons and not just because it’s a hot topic on Instagram.

Rivers has a unique perspective — his father was a police officer, but he’s seen plenty of racism in his life. This won’t be his first time leading a team when it comes to social issues — he was able to unite the Clippers in the spring of 2014 when the Donald Sterling racism scandal broke. It’s encouraging to see NBA coaches trending towards fostering open dialogue on their teams about these issues.

Harden focused on helping Rockets improve after tough season

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets warms up before playing the Golden State Warriors in game four of the first round playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden was second in the NBA with 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 rebounds were a career high.

Still, it was a disappointing year for Harden and the Houston Rockets, who were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State, and the star knew he had to adjust things to take the team farther this year.

“Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn’t there,” he said. “So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was.”

To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.

“Just getting to know somebody and hanging out … it was really good,” he said. “That’s going to carry over onto the court.”

The way his embraced his role as the undisputed leader of this team has impressed everyone in the organization, starting with owner Leslie Alexander.

“It shows that James wants to win very badly,” Alexander said. “He’s a winning player … James is one of the top three or four players we’ve ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else.”

Trevor Ariza is entering his 13th NBA season, but had the excitement of a rookie on Friday as he talked about how much better things feel entering this season than they did last year. It was a season that saw coach Kevin McHale fired after just 11 games and the Rockets take a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015.

“I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn’t figure it out together,” Ariza said. “I don’t even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year.”

So how have things changed now?

“The vibe has just been totally different,” Ariza said. “Everybody is excited to show what they’ve worked on and excited just to be around each other.”

These positive-attitude Rockets enter the season with new coach Mike D’Antoni and without eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. A big question for this team will be who will step in to make up for Howard’s absence.

Their top options are Clint Capela, a third-year player who saw limited action the past two seasons as Howard’s backup, and Nene, who played 53 games for Washington last year before joining Houston in the offseason.

General manager Daryl Morey raved about Capela’s improvement in his first year, but knows he’ll have to do more this season if the Rockets hope to be a force in the Western Conference.

“Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Along with Nene, the Rockets also added outside shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon this offseason. Houston expects the addition of those two to fill a void that this team has had in recent years.

“We were able to upgrade our shooting … for the style we want to play,” Morey said. “I don’t feel like we had enough shooting (before). We do have that.”

Everyone is saying the right things and Morey believes he made the upgrades necessary for the team to succeed in D’Antoni’s system. But with all the improvements other teams made in the West, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team.

Alexander was confident, yet tempered when asked about his expectations.

“I think we’ll win more games than people anticipate,” he said. “But when the season rolls on we’ll see how well we do.”