Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six

Shaq points to Joe Johnson to explain owners’ mistakes


Shaquille O’Neal pulled out the bad contract = lockout card again, but rather than going with the classics — Eddy Curry or Rashard Lewis — he went with the new and threw Atlanta’s Joe Johnson under the bus.

Which is both right and wrong at the same time. But we’ll get to that farther down the page.

First, here is what Shaq told the Times-Picayune when talking about the lockout (and notice how he still refers to the players as “we”):

O’Neal said a number of owners have overspent to keep players on rosters despite incurring significant revenue losses. O’Neal points to the Atlanta Hawks’ decision to re-sign guard Joe Johnson to a six-year, $119 million contract in July 2010 as a prime example of a franchise overpaying for a player when they not bringing in significant revenue to offset the costs.

“I love Joe Johnson and I hope he doesn’t get mad with me, but he’s not a $20 million a year guy,” O’Neal said. “Business-wise, Atlanta isn’t making that much money. But if you are going to offer a kid a lot of money, he’s going to take it. I think we need a system that protect the owners from each other.’’

First the disclaimer, the part where Shaq is wrong: Giving Joe Johnson a reasonable contract would not have impacted the overall health of the league. Under the old system, the players got 57 percent of basketball related income guaranteed — if the owners were smart and frugal with deals and came in under that percentage, then they had to write a supplemental check to cover the difference. Which is exactly what happened last season (and the players are just getting those checks now).

So whether it was bad deals or good ones, the players were going to get a cut the owners say is too high.

However, Shaq is spot on about the market size and owners writing contracts they knew they couldn’t afford. There was a buzz last summer that the Hawks wanted to keep Johnson at any cost to keep the fan base happy and the Atlanta Spirit ownership group was good with this oversized deal because they planned to sell the team and not be around for what will be the ugly end of that contract.

Middle and small market teams made terrible decisions about contracts then want out of them. They want protection from themselves. Don’t kid yourself, that is part of the “competitive balance” argument, that the Lakers can overpay Luke Walton and eat the deal then get another player, an option other markets don’t have.

In the end, I think even the owners would admit they have been part of the problem. But should the players have to pay for that?

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.