Derek Fisher speaks to reporters after taking part in contract negotiations between the NBA and the players association in New York

The 15 Footer: Things fall apart, but no one stops talking to notice

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

1. It’s not the end of civilization. But you can see it from there. 

I was sure that the Kardashian-Humprhies wedding would be the dumbest story in the NBA this year. How do you top a borderline starter marrying someone who’s literally famous for being famous? Oh, that’s easy. With a 20-year-old affair between a marginal political entity and Glen Rice. It’s like a folktale, really. If the point of the folktale was to make you question what the point of the human race is.

2. Play It Forward Pass

LeBron James’ long-term fascination with football, including this weeks’ video of him playing ball in the street, got me thinking. Would James be better off as a receiver? He’d be physically dominant because of his size and athleticism. He’d likely have wound up as the highest paid receiver. And while football has its own ridiculous set of cliches and standards, particularly regarding toughness, at least James wouldn’t be solely responsible for his team’ fate in the clutch.

In fact, the NFL would do more for James’ overall goals than the NBA. While the money is undeniably better in the NBA, he’d still be one of the most marketable players in the NFL. He’d be part of a closer team, as NFL squads tend to be closer than NBA teams. And the burden for success would be equally shared man to man, instead of heaped on James. Furthermore, James would only have to excel on a handful of plays once a week rather than on 90 percent of all plays 82 games a season and then the playoffs. These things are the same for any athlete, but James is particularly well-suited for the game. And maybe it would have given James a different self-concept where he wouldn’t, you know, go on national television and rip his home state’s heart out. Okay, probably not, but it’s something to think about.

You’re all just sitting there imagining him getting nailed by a safety, aren’t you?

3. The Big 20/20 Hindsight

At some point, Shaq’s not really being helpful. Oh, wait, that’s most every point. His latest brilliant reveal is that he advised the Celtics not to trade Kendrick Perkins, saying he knew he might not return. The assumption here is that Danny Ainge should stop all of his talks and go “Wait a second. The guy who nicknamed himself the Big Aristotle says this is a bad plan. Clearly the great minds of our time doubt this maneuver which provides more flexibility for our team in 2012 in the next big free agency summer. Abandon ship!”

The Celtics traded Perkins because they were leveraging what he would give them last year versus the value of clearing space (and acquiring Jeff Green). Part of that involved a faith in O’Neal to return from injury which didn’t work out. That’s not O’Neal’s fault. The guy’s 39 for crying out loud. But O’Neal’s revisionist history has followed him at every stop in his career. Even in retirement, he’s passing judgment on decisions that were never his to make. But hey, at least he’s willing to fight some people.

4. In some cultures, Zen is a word for jerkface

You would think that Phil Jackson would have more appreciation for other former players. Typically, players act like it’s a brotherhood. Yet for whatever reason, Jackson thought it best to give Jerry West the cold shoulder, eventually driving him out of the organization. Naturally, almost no one is going to think badly of Jackson, even if West’s accusations were confirmed by the Zen Master himself. It’s just the same ol’ lovable Phil, the wisecracking winner.

At the same time, West’s neurotic, fretting manner must have clashed with Jackson’s hole “whatever, man, let it be” approach. (Or, as I like to call it,  “Whatever, man, let Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant handle it.” ) Micro-management is never a quality you look to embrace, and Jackson’s plans worked out pretty well, with the 5 championships and all. You’d just think that he would find a better way to get along with the legends of the game. Red Auerbach, Jerry West, the list goes on. Just odd to see Jackson as a divider between a legend and the franchise he helped build.

5. National Lampoon’s European Vacation Part II

Lamar Odom is often talked about with regards to a failure to capitalize on talent and ability. The fact that his career apex has found him as a dichotomous role player in terms of X-Factor vs. space cadet speaks to this. But what gets lost is that Odom never flamed out of the NBA. He never fell off the radar, never found himself struggling to keep a position, never lost his starting spot due to a better, younger player. He went to the Lakers’ bench because of how their lineups were put together, not because he was a weak point. And most importantly, he’s hung on in the league for an extended period of time.

So news that he’s considering playing in Europe after next season makes you look back at his career with appreciation. He’s not being forced there, and he’ll be able to live in a high lifestyle. He’ll have escapades with Khloe. And he’ll likely end up facing Paul Pierce again, who has talked about playing in Europe after his NBA career is through. Despite having the reputation as not having lived up to expectations, Lamar Odom will be a two-time NBA champion, married to a rich famous person, living abroad and being famous. Not bad for a washout.

6. Socially Media Awkward

I think it’s safe to say that technology has made this lockout dramatically different from the one in 1999. Between the salvos being fired on Twitter, the “whoops” tweet from Roger Mason, and the speed with which lockout news travels, everything is accelerated in the lockout just like it is with any event. The problem is it also creates more communication for there to be rumors about. Like, you know, texts. Derek Fisher later denied the reported texts of him informing players to be ready for a season, but it just adds more noise to the stream.

It’s no coincidence that the most progress was made in the talks when both sides initiated a media blackout. Every time either side speaks to the media, things get worse. As a member of the media, I can recognize this. We only make things worse, in terms of resolving things. It’s our job to find angles that people care about, and two sides squabbling and slamming each other is a lot sexier than “both sides approached the problem in a mature way.” Furthermore, people do care about how the negotiations are going, so those with sources inside the talks are doing their readers a service in providing news. But that doesn’t change the fact that the less word gets out, the better chances there are that actual progress will be made. Once again, the enemies to a season are communication and Dan Gilbert.

7. Glass Half-Empty, Glass Half-Full Of… 

The union apparently informed its players that they could miss up to half a season, which is a real bummer. But on the bright side…

  • If they do play half a season, Greg Oden might play a “full” season.
  • If they do play half a season, some crazy things could happen like the Wizards being good. Just kidding, but JaVale McGee seems to think so.
  • If they do play half a season, Gilbert Arenas might get paid what he’s actually worth for the year.
  • If they do play half a season, teams will be healthier and better rested for the playoffs.
  • If they do play half a season, you can look forward to more gimmicks like this.
8. Maybe He Can Pawn One Of His Six Rings To Cover It
The league fined Jordan $100k, which is pretty impressive. Most people are terrified of Jordan. It’s not clear why, it’s not like he’s super violent or anything. He’s just, you know, the most intense and powerful guy in the NBA. Plus the Mom Jeans. That, too.
At least the league is staying consistent. The worst thing it could do with the hammer it has picked up during the lockout is to use it arbitrarily Using it no matter who violates the gag order is the only way to give it legitimacy, even if the entire thing is a little bit immature.
My biggest question is whether Jordan paid the fine with cash he had on him, or if he had to go back to his gigantic vault of money that he swims in  to get it.
That might be Scrooge McDuck. I get confused sometimes.
9. But Think Of All The Reading They Can Get Done
Ira Winderman talked about the realities of how most NBA players can’t take the financial hit of losing a season, due to their short career span. Winderman hints that this could eventually result in another break in the union, which is what this whole thing has come to be about. Who’s going to break first, the union or the owners? (Hint: It’s not the owners.)
It’s going to be a legitimate test of how much the union really did prepare its players for the lockout. If they’re caught off guard once the checks stop rolling in, that’s a damning sign for how much the players listen to the union’s advice, and will affect their willingness to stick together. That’s why you see all the conversations about staying united and the t-shirts and what not. At least during the lockout, players aren’t prevented from getting another job. They just don’t want to. Would you want to go work at a minimum-wage gig if you were an NBA player?
But let’s be clear. It’s still a decision not to pursue employment during the lockout.
10. A Not-So-Disappointing Turn Of Events
When Suns CEO Rick Welts announced he was stepping down this week, the media reacted with… casual coherence? Rational measure? What? What’s happening? There were no accusations of a rift between Welts and Robert Sarver, no inherent conversation about why he was really stepping down. Welts just decided to take a new job and move because of a relationship. No shocker. Nothing salacious. Just a normal move that would have gone unnoticed were he not known as the gay NBA executive. It shouldn’t be news, but the fact that the news was handled without sensationalism is at least a win for everyone. It’s a loss for the Suns, though, who have gone through a ridiculous amount of turnover over the past four years. Seriously, you’re supposed to wind up in Arizona, I thought.
11. A Necessary Guardian Or An Unnecessary Evil?
Rashard Lewis spoke with ESPN this week and made it clear. The owners decide to sign players to exorbitant contracts, and they negotiate those contracts with agents, not the players. The agents’ role in the economics of the NBA has become more and more into perspective during this process, as agents seek decertification and the power play continues. Lewis’ comments provide a different kind of insight into players. It shows that they would accept less money and that they don’t maintain a blind denial that some contracts aren’t fair. In short, the players know that they aren’t worth the money. But if you’re offered, would you turn it down?
Now, you or I may turn down a job position if we know we can’t fulfill the obligations, but that would never be a contract. That’s the big differential and a cause of debate for the owners. In short, they want to be able to overpay for a player, and then cut him if it doesn’t work out. Players are responding by saying “don’t overpay us and no one loses.” It’s a question of individual responsibility versus systemic failsafes.
12. What About Bosh?
If anyone is going to escape the all-encompassing fire of “The Decision” and the subsequent Heat Wave, it’s going to Bosh. Bosh drew so much fire last year for everything from his attitude to his perceived wimpiness, that at the end, there started to be a move backwards. Bosh actually had a really good Eastern Conference Finals and a pretty decent Finals. It was LeBron that suffered in the Finals. So with Bosh standing up to Skip Bayless and his childish insults this week, and the reception being largely positive, it’s possible that he could grow on that momentum. Maybe Bosh can work off some of his negative image by just being contrasted with some of his critics.
13.  The Inmates Aren’t Running The Asylum, They’re Piloting The Aircraft Carrier
Maybe Robert Sarver and Dan Gilbert are the ones taking possible labor agreements out at the knees. Maybe they’re not. But it’s clear that they have a voice, as their appearance at the meetings proves. And these two aren’t the ones you want running the show. Or are they?
Gilbert has a decent argument towards saying how competitive balance is a problem. You can say Gilbert overpaid for marginal talent and built incorrectly around LeBron, or you can say his market created an environment where he had to. You can say Gilbert had the opportunity to re-sign James, and that he couldn’t, or you could say that the system made it too difficult for him too. You can say Gilbert overpaid for the Cavaliers, or that the current system dictates the price under tangible assets.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. But if you can understand anyone wanting stronger ways to keep the talent they draft, you have to sympathize with Gilbert. Unfortunately, if you want an example of how decision making affects teams’ futures, Gilbert’s also the lightning rod.
Sarver on the other hand is a good model of an owner who acted responsibly, nay, cheaply, and still didn’t turn a profit. So the system must be broken. In other words, if a cheap owner in a mid-level-market can’t turn a profit with a playoff team, who can? This again comes to the question of whether player salaries are the entirety of how an NBA business succeeds or fails.
These two should not be driving the wagon. But they do stand as examples of the kind of problems both sides are going to have to solve.
14. Sole Man
Joe Johnson has lots of shoes. Just a reminder.
15. It’s Raining (Threes) In Baltimore
Would an NBA team survive in Baltimore? The basketball scene is pretty strong there. Is it impossible to think that after his playing days are over, Melo might want to invest in a team there? Maybe he and LeBron can go halvsies.

Jimmy Butler’s ascent continues into superstardom

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls signals to his teammates against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler was in Milwaukee and hundreds of miles from his home of Tomball, Texas. He was trying to fit in with his new Marquette teammates, most of whom he had never met before. He had to change his playing style as he transitioned up a level.

And then it snowed.

“Unbelievable to me,” Butler said. “I don’t know if I was happy or pissed off that it was snowing. I had never seen snow before. I was incredibly cold.

“That was the biggest culture shock of everything. It was hard. But we got through it. We always do.”

He always does.

The Bulls wing called going from junior college to the Big East the most difficult step in his basketball journey. What he’s doing this year, it’s not easy. But Butler has overcome numerous other challenges.

A rough childhood, getting overlooked in recruiting, rising from junior college to top-shelf college basketball, climbing draft boards as a relatively unheralded prospect, carving out a role in the NBA, working his way into stardom.

Now, Butler – the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2015 – is pushing himself into the NBA’s elite. He’s averaging 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game. He ranks third in real plus-minus, sixth in PER and fourth in win shares.

MVP? Another MIP?

Butler dismisses the “individual s—” with a grimace, but he’s taking to his elevated stature.

“I figured, ‘Why can’t I be up there with the best of them?'” Butler said. “And I continue to think that way.”

Butler didn’t always carry such confidence, and he doesn’t have to think far back to remember the days he lacked it. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Mathews, Lazar Hayward, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder overshadowed him at Marquette. Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer once dwarfed his presence on the Bulls.

“I wasn’t always a really good player,” Butler said. “I just worked harder than everybody. I just played harder than everybody.”

Butler developed his skills. He gained fame and fortune.

He just never lost his work ethic.

As he continue to practice and study, he learned how far that could take him. Butler has made the last two All-Star games and last three All-Defensive second teams. Now, he’s recognizing his own potential.

“Your confidence comes from your work,” Butler said.

That confidence is spreading.

Say whatever you want about how he has handled his rise into stardom, Butler continues to rise. He deserves more credit for his jump from star to superstar, maybe one of the most difficult leaps in sports. But his continued evolution has warped expectations.

Bulls teammate Dwyane Wade first noticed Butler at Marquette, their shared alma mater. Could Wade envision then Butler turning into an NBA player?

“That was hard to see,” Wade said.

What about once Butler got into the league? Did his star potential show?

“No, didn’t see that,” Wade said.

Then Butler’s leap to superstardom surely must have also caught Wade off guard, right?

“I won’t say surprise,” Wade said. “He’s playing with the talent he has.

“He’s not doing nothing overcomplicated. He’s not crossing people, making them fall. He’s not jumping over tall people. He’s playing his game. He’s getting to the basket, hitting the mid-range pullup, doing things like that.”

Unfortunately for Butler’s MVP chances, he’s doing it in a year so many other players are posting unworldly numbers. His combination of 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game have been matched over a full season just 56 times in the NBA’s 70-year history. Do that in the right year – especially with Butler’s efficiency: shooting 47.2% from the field, 35.1% on 3-pointers and 88.9% on free throws – and Butler walks away with MVP.

But this season, four players – Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Butler – are on pace to hit that combination scoring/rebounding/passing combination, which would be a record. To win MVP, Butler must fend off those other three and Chris Paul and Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James and…

Still, Butler has a more realistic chance of making history given his humble entry into the NBA. The No. 30 pick in the 2011 draft, he could o become the highest finisher in MVP voting in his lifetime who was drafted so low. The current bar is seventh in MVP voting, done by both No. 35 pick Draymond Green and undrafted Ben Wallace.

Butler could also break records with his sustained improvement.

Several Most Improved Players – Ryan Anderson, Kevin Love, Monta Ellis,* Bobby Simmons, Zach Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Rony Seikaly – received votes for the award after winning it. But none seriously contended for a repeat. The closest was 1990 winner Seikaly, who finished 12th in 1997 – with a single vote.

*Ellis received is the only player to receive MIP votes in multiple seasons after winning it. He won the award in 2007 and then made his way onto the ballot in 2008 and 2010.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as a strong frontrunner for 2017 Most Improved player, but Butler belongs in the mix.

To cherry-pick one measure among the many that showcases Butler’s improvement, his PER has risen from 21.3 each of the last two season to 27.8 this year. Only Terry Rozier and Giannis Antetokounmpo have made bigger jumps from their previous career-high PER to a new career high this season (minimum: 200 minutes each season):

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Butler’s ascension has invited greater leadership responsibilities, an area that drew immense scrutiny last season.

Chicago traded Rose and watched Noah walk over the summer. Newcomers Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo declared the Bulls to be Butler’s team.

The pressure was on, and Butler appears to be delivering.

Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, who drew public criticism from Butler last year, called him a “great leader.” Butler again asked Hoiberg to coach him harder before this season, and his teammates have noticed.

“Is he hard on himself? Is he hard on guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to? Yes. He’s supposed to be hard on them,” Wade said. “But I think he’s as advertised.”

That’s because Butler continues to show his genuineness.

“He has a little different personality,” Wade said. “You come in, and everybody talk about it. He’s in the locker room singing country music and all these songs that most people ain’t used to listening to.”

That’s Butler from Tomball, Texas.

He’s now on an effectively max contract, in commercials and headed toward an even higher level of stardom on the court.

Yet, he remains relentless in his approach.

“I’m about right now,” Butler said. “Every single day, what can I do right now to get better for tomorrow – and that’s not even promised. What can I do right now to finish out the day right?”

Did Draymond Green hit Blake Griffin in the nuts? (video)

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Stephen Curry nutmegged DeAndre Jordan in the Warriors’ win over the Clippers last night.

Did Draymond Green do something similar to Blake Griffin – except with his hand rather than the ball and connecting rather than going between Griffin’s legs?

At first glance, that swipe at the ball didn’t look so sinister.

But then you watch Griffin’s reaction.

And you read about Griffin’s response. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

And you consider Green’s reputation.

Really, that’s why we’re addressing this. With another player, it probably gets glossed over. But Green long ago lost the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever happened on that play, Green frustrated Griffin all night. Green had 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and two steals and helped hold Griffin to 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting with seven turnovers and four fouls.

Griffin had this nice dunk over Green, featuring some hands to the face:

Otherwise, Griffin was left with a loss and Green’s parting shot.

Report: Rockets will leave Donatas Motiejunas’ offer sheet open

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets and Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets fight for the loose ball at the Barclays Center on January 12, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.The Houston Rockets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 113-99. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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Donatas Motiejunas’ agent, B.J. Armstrong, said he knows their rights.

Apparently, so does Houston.

Motiejunas has refused to take a physical with the Rockets since they matched his offer sheet from the Nets. So, Houston will hold him on that offer sheet indefinitely.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Motiejunas can’t sign an offer sheet with another NBA team. He probably can’t even join an overseas team in a FIBA-accredited league, because his NBA holdout will prevent him from getting clearance.

All he can do is submit to a physical or negotiate a new deal with the Rockets.

Motiejunas could undergo a physical anytime between now and March 1. If he passes, he’d join Houston on the terms of his matched offer sheet. If he fails, he’d go to Brooklyn on the original offer-sheet terms (which are $6 million apart).

Motiejunas could also negotiate a new deal with the Rockets. They have immense leverage with his matched offer sheet in place, but perhaps a compromise could be forged. Motiejunas obviously wants a chance at that $6 million, but he’ll have to concede something in exchange. Maybe that’s a later guarantee date on his 2017-18 salary. If both sides agree to a different contract, Houston would withdraw its match, which would make Motiejunas a restricted free agent. Then, the Rockets could re-sign him.

They sure aren’t letting him out of this limbo just to seek a better offer sheet from another team. A new contract must already be agreed upon.

In the meantime, Motiejunas will continue to count toward the Nets’ team salary while the offer sheet is open, which is a nuisance but not hugely disruptive. They have plenty of cap space anyway, and the odds of adding significant salary in a trade are low.

Houston will continue to play without Motiejunas. That’s also not ideal for the Rockets, but they’ve been fine without him so far.

The qualifying offer will expire on March 2, when Motiejunas will no longer be eligible to sign an offer sheet with another team. He’d still be allowed to re-sign with Houston, though. Failing that, he’ll re-enter free agency next summer, when the Rockets could again make him restricted, and we’ll start the process all over again – with the caveat that the Nets can’t sign him for one year after his offer sheet expires.

Maybe something will break before it gets to that point, but Houston and Motiejunas have trudged deeper into this standoff than ever imaginable.

Stephen Curry skips pass between DeAndre Jordan’s legs, gets Zaza Pachulia a layup (video)

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Nicolas Batum wasn’t the only player to bounce a pass through an opponent’s legs last night.

Stephen Curry nutmegged DeAndre Jordan on this sweet assist to Zaza Pachulia.