Clippers' Paul sails to the basket as Lakers' players watch during their NBA preseason game in Los Angeles

Super-Conductors, Super-Teams, and You: An analysis of where the mega-squads stand and are constructed


The Knicks don’t make sense.

Every team’s fans are defensive of their squad. I like to single out specific fanbases for sport, but in reality, it doesn’t matter the locale or composition. Teams fans will react similarly in most cases provided the writing is not on the wall in gigantic stenciled block letters that they are doomed. Portland fans will talk about Nate McMillan getting the most out of the players and LaMarcus Aldridge not being respected and how deep their team is despite it not being deep at all. Because the Blazers are good. Lakers fans will plug their ears, point to the championships and scream “La la la la I can’t hear you, we still have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol,and Andrew Bynum.” Again, because the Lakers are good.

But the superteams in the NBA create something wholly different in fanbases. They react as if any critique of the two-to-three collections of star power is in fact some sort of dogmatic disrespect of those players’ abilities and/or their own parents’ lineage and social behavior. It’s deeply personal. I’m pretty sure it has to do with the excitement that a team’s fans feel upon finding out about the team-up. How do you not get excited to find out that not only is Dwyane Wade staying, but he’s bringing Chris Bosh and the MVP LeBron James to town? Wouldn’t you be so thrilled that anyone trying to take away that parade would be seen as an enemy to your very happiness? You just found out Carmelo Anthony is joining your playoff team and you have the best frontcourt in the NBA. Wouldn’t questions about their cohesion and defense seem like such a buzzkill that is rightfully yours after enduring the Isiah era?

So I understand the reticence, the defensivenes, the outright anger. But Knicks fans, Heat fans, Laker fans, please understand that before we continue, this is not about how good your team is. It’s about how they fit.

If you’re putting together the perfect meal, you’re going to select your menu and ingredients carefully. It of course depends on what you want to do, but there are still certain rules. And you’re going to want great ingredients to be sure. You want high quality meat, vegetables, spices, sauces, etc. But you still have to be consciencous of the meal itself. You can’t throw down a plate with chicken and three starches and say “Look! The rice and potatoes and potatoes are all of the highest quality! Best meal ever!” It doesn’t work like that.

And if you’re looking to create the perfect basketball team, well, first off, you’re going to fail because it’s impossible, but you’re also not going to say “I’m going to get the best scoring small forward and best scoring power forward in the league, and then we will triuph!” It’s just not what you would say. This isn’t to say that the Knicks’ acquisition of Melo was a bad move or that it can never work. At all. Because it wasn’t and it can. It’s just not ideal and it creates a tension between two very prominent lines of thought in regards to these collections of mega-talent.

1. Talent wins, and the more you have, the more you can overcome strategic, trending, or matchup disadvantages thanks to sheer overwhelming ability.


2. The right combination of talent when employed effectively is greater than a superior combination of sheer talent.

I’m not going to spit at you platitudes about the team effort of how the Mavericks’ righteoust triumph over the Heat or whatever proves this. The Mavs have somehow become identified as some sort of mutant Bad News Bears and in reality they featured multiple award-winning players all of whom have been stars at one point or another outside of J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson. But the fact that the Mavericks’ system and collection of stars did have a cohesive and explainable blueprint should be noted. Veteran game-managing, (suddenly) consistent outsdide-shooting point guard runs offense with few mistakes and key smart plays centered around Hall of Fame 7-foot Power Forward with exceptional range and shot-creation ability, anchored by All-NBA low-post, weakside, and at-rim defender capable of finishing alley-oops and converting putbacks alongside veteran combo forward with unique scoring ability and well-rounded combination of skills on both sides and a classic bench pure scorer.

That makes sense.

A veteran gunning point guard with decision-making and injury issues or an inexperienced young combo guard without pure playmaking skills or rookie shooting guard who is a pure scorer without handles supports a high-usage, all-range small forward who is most comfortable in ISO sets from the elbow or on the perimeter and a devastating power forward who also operates best from the elbow on his own and who needs a playmaking point guard to achieve his maximum efficiency backed by a veteran All-NBA low-post defender and at-rim attacker who can also score clean-up.

Not so much.

There’s no playmaker for the Knicks. There’s a lot of talk about Carmelo Anthony playing point forward, and who knows, maybe it will be effective enough. Maybe he’ll rack up the assits and it will be beautiful if odd. It still cannot be more effective than a playmaking point guard in a system built around maximizing offensive weapons, particularly unorthodox ones, and a strong set of consistent rebounders and pick and roll players who are more effective without the ball. It’s just not. If the Knicks are to succeed, it will be on account of simply having more talent than the opponent, that Melo and Amar’e are able to synthetically produce something resembling a cohesive plot for offense and Chandler is able to simply alter the course of all defensive strategy to accomodate for weaknesses from every other player on the roster. And it’s possible! That’s how important star power and talent is.

Just take a look at the Heat.

A mega-scoring, high-rebound-rate, gamble-defending shooting guard. A prolific do-it-all and rarely do enough, lock-down defender, brilliant vision in a Hummer-like body small forward. And a whisper-thin, mid-range joltin’, defensively adequate power forward.

It’s just not a perfect fit. It’s not even a good fit. None of us saw that when the Decison happened, though. It was just chaos and outrage and rainbows and pitchforks about the awesomeness or immorality of the move. But what we saw last year embodies everything about the super-team concept. Wade doesn’t know how to operate without the ball. James doesn’t know how to operate in the high or low post. Bosh is a stretch four. It’s like putting the best engine, tires, and stereo system together with a body shell and saying you have a car. You still don’t have a navigation system.

That team made the Finals.

But what eludes the Heat is that component to bring it all together. Same with the Knicks. If they’re going to succeed in being the NBA’s best, being more than that, being a truly great team, one for the ages, they are reliant on one or multiple of their stars doing things which they have not shown themselves capable of doing, or another player will have to fill that roll. Melo will have to become a centerpiece, the nexus, the docking port of the offense through wich all points run. James has to either become the low-post power forward they need or a pure passer, essentially surendering scoring duties. Stoudemire has to pass out of the low-post and defend, defend, defend. Wade has to be crafty and safe rather than explosive and dangerous. None of these things are intuitive. They’re possible. And with a little extra defense and some competent role play, they can win the title without it. But to be truly great, they still have to change identities, abilities, definitions.

Or have a system which naturally grafts them to those elements without actual transformation. You know, what the Lakers did.

Phil Jackson may have too often watched his team drown during runs, failed to instill any discipline whatsoever, and generally sit back and let talent do 90 percent of the work, but he did nothing if not put his players in a position to succeed. And the triangle is what made the Lakers great. By running that multiple post option, it put the players involved in areas where they were most effective. Bryant on the wing or elbow, Gasol in the low post or elbow, Odom on the wing or low post. The mostion meant that they were creating, but within zones, within flows, in a rhythm, a cycle, a structure. There was no improvisation, not in terms of what is to be executed, even though so much of the Lakers’ offense was in fact Bryant improvising offense.

This isn’t to say that Mike Brown’s offense can’t maximize the Lakers’ ability, it will simply have to be done inside of a different paradigm.

But the Lakers re-inforce the fact that if you want to be able to tackle anything, you need more than the firepower, you need a blueprint which makes the whole war machine operable.

Which brings us to the Clippers.

Think about what the critical arguments are against the Clippers’ possibilities with this new amalgam of star power.

“Well,they’re the Clippers.” This is actually a fair point but it has nothing to do with structural elements, only voodoo and a fairly consistent pattern of failure.

“They’re young.” Yes, but they have some experience. Chris Paul is not a spring chicken, Chauncey Billups is downright ancient, and DeAndre Jordan is young but not a rookie. There’s experience here. Furthermore, the Thunder are young. I don’t see folks running away from them.

“Vinny Del Negro.” Ah, and there’s the first real tactical elemeent specific to them. But to consider Del Negro, we need to consider the first super-team of this era, at least of those created artificially (as opposed to organically as in the Spurs; we have to set the era at one point or another), the Celtics.

The Celtics had a big question going into 2007-2008. “What about Doc?” Rivers had the respect of everyone in the league. Bu pundits and some insiders had serious questiona about his ability to manage rotations, to effectively build lineups, to do anything tactical. But the acquisition of the Big 3 meant that those concerns were covered. He didn’t have to manage Piece, Allen, KG’s minutes because they were veterans enough to say “I need a breather” or “I’m good” His work against Phil Jackson in the Finals was more of an impressive display of how Jackson struggles to adapt to anything he doesn’t anticipate than sheer genius by Rivers. Over the past three years he’s shown himself to be a master tactician and a brilliant in-game strategist and play-builder.

But that same experience in his first year is the same kind of thing that may allow Del Negro to excel. Because, quite simply, you can’t screw up Chris Paul – Blake Griffin = DeAndre Jordan. It’s just not possible. No one could screw that up. And in doing so, it means Del Negro’s abilities are heightened (development, for example), and his deficiences are covered.

Why? Because it works, organically.

A pass-first, pure point guard who also shoots exceptionally well, which means that any aggressive hedge or over-coverage of the roll-man means he can decimate the opponent with his mid-range and floater. A power forward whose biggest strength is catching well-timed and thrown passes, particularly out of the pick and roll. A clean-up man with sheer unadulterated force and athleticism. And shooters on the perimeter.

The Clippers make sense.

If the Clippers disappoint us, it will be on account of some failure in intangibles, defense due to inexperience and unfamiliarity, or injury. But it won’t be because the model is flawed. The model is nearly flawless. This is why the trade was worth it. Chris Paul puts the Clippers’ ceiling higher than any other super-team, simply because of what he does and what they do. There’s no nasty crossover, no stepping on each other’s toes.

The Clippers may not have good enough ingredients, good enough instruments, a good enough chef. But the menu itself is right.

Let’s cook.

Report: Bucks preparing for Greg Monroe to opt in next summer

Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe, center, drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca, left, and guard Tyreke Evans, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman
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The Bucks got a rude awakening about Greg Monroe‘s value when they tried to sell low on him this offseason – and still got no takers.

Now, Milwaukee seems to have gotten the picture. Monroe – whose agent claimed the center could name his contract terms from multiple teams last year – might opt into the final year of his deal, which would pay $17,884,176.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Milwaukee is already preparing for the possibility Monroe opts into his deal for 2017-18, league sources say.

The Bucks indicated this thinking when they extended Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s contract, putting a large 2017-18 salary rather than a relatively low cap hold on the books to begin next offseason. If Monroe opts in, the difference in Antetokounmpo’s initial cap number is far less likely to matter. (Though Antetokounmpo’s extension wasn’t a complete giveaway into Milwaukee’s Monroe expectation, because the Bucks saved over the life of the extension.)

Don’t put it past Monroe to opt out if he believes he can find a better situation. After all, he signed the small qualifying offer to leave a tough basketball fit with Andre Drummond in Detroit. Monroe also took the risk of a shorter detail in Milwaukee. He’s secure enough in himself to at least consider moving on if he’s unhappy.

It’s also possible he finds a satisfying role with the Bucks. They’ll bring him off the bench, which could hide his defensive shortcomings and give him a chance to mash backup bigs. Heck, he could even play well enough to justify opting out.

There’s still a full season before Monroe must decide on his option, and a lot can change by then. But it seems Milwaukee now has a realistic expectation.

Report: NBA increases 2017-18 salary-cap projection to $103 million

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The NBA is reportedly closing in on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the new deal will still call for owners and players to split Basketball Related Income about 50-50.

So, July’s projection of a $102 million salary cap in 2017-18 still carries weight – except it’s been updated.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Why the change?

Perhaps, the shortfall adjustment – which increases the cap when teams don’t spend enough the previous year – is being revised in the new CBA.

More likely, the league anticipates more revenue. These projections tend to start conservative then rise as July nears.

Rip Hamilton says 2004 Pistons would beat 2016 Warriors

CLEVELAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons looks up during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 22, 2009 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Cavaliers won 99-78.  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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Add Rip Hamilton to team #getoffmylawn.

The long list of veteran players who somehow feel their legacy is threatened by this era’s Golden State Warriors and their freestyling system has now added one of the key players from the 2004 Pistons title team to their ranks. CBS’ NBA Crossover asked the masked man Rip Hamilton about it, and he thought the vaunted Pistons defense was well designed for dealing with the Warriors.

“It would be no comparison.” Hamilton said on CBS Sports’ NBA Crossover. “We can guard every position. Every guy from our point guard to our five, can guard any position. We were big. We were long.”

Hamilton is right that it would be an interesting defensive matchup. The book on the Warriors — especially when facing the smaller “death lineup” — is to switch everything, and those Pistons would have been well suited to that task. Of course, there are two ends of the court and the Warriors are also a good defensive team going against a Pistons team that had limited offensive options (people underestimate how great Chauncey Billups was playing during that 2004 playoff run, he was elite, but that was not a deep offensive team). The real issue would have been pace — the Warriors want to play fast, the Pistons wanted to grind it out, who won that battle would be huge?

But that last graph talking strategy doesn’t address the biggest question: Whose rules are the games played under? 2016 or 2004?

Those 2004 Pistons were the height of the grabbing/hand-checking on the perimeter era that would be an automatic foul today. (There was a lot more hand checking uncalled in the NBA last season, but not the level of grabbing and holding that was allowed in 2004 and before back into the Jordan era.)

Tayshaun Prince said it well.

“It depends on what the rules are.” Prince said. “Because back when we played, we could play hands-on, physical. As you can see from the Pacers rivalries and all of the rivalries we had back in the day, we were scoring in the high 70s, low 80s. We were physical. So now if you play this style of play, where they’re running and gunning and touch fouls and things like that, all of sudden we would start getting in foul trouble because back when we played, we were very, very aggressive on defense.”

He gets it.

The Warriors are built for this era of basketball, one where the rules encourage space so players to have freedom and can be more creative with their playmaking. The Pistons were built for the 2004 physical games of that era. (And most of you who remember that era fondly do so through rose-colored glasses, there’s a reason ratings were down for those 84-78 slugfests.) It’s possible to have great teams built differently for different eras and say that’s okay.

But it’s the nature of sports fandom to compare things that can’t actually be compared apples to apples. So have at it in the comments (and I expect one person to tell us how Jordan was better than all of them, because somehow people always feel the need to defend his legacy in these debates).

51 Questions: Does Al Horford change perception of Celtics?

al horford

We are in the final days PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past month we’ve tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today:

Does Al Horford change the perception of the Celtics?

This summer, Al Horford shattered the myth that Boston couldn’t attract elite free agents.

It was always a perception that lived more in the heads of frustrated Celtics fans than it did NBA reality. The Larry Bird-era Celtics didn’t attract free agents because there wasn’t free agency until that dynasty was starting to slide (and free agency didn’t fully take hold for a few years after that). Then the Celtics struggled for a long stretch, and we know it’s hard to get players to go to a team that’s not winning. During the most-recent big three era, the Celtics did land name free agents — Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Terry — that helped round out a roster already loaded with stars.

The past couple of summers, Celtics fans saw the potential, but the reality was the team was not yet ready to win on the big market — even as much as players raved about Brad Stevens as coach. It took the Celtics getting to 48 wins and showing real promise to get the attention of top free agents. Last summer the Celtics finally in position, and they got their man in Horford.

Now Horford should put that perception to rest.

For one thing, he will throw open the door to more wins — just through the preseason the spacing of the Celtics’ offense looks better than last season. Watching them through these games, the early high dribble-hand-off move the Celtics often use between Horford and Isaiah Thomas to initiate the offense has defenses spread out. Follow that with good ball movement off the multiple actions from that early set and defenses scramble with help coverages. Celtics are getting open looks. The Celtics pretty-good-but-defendable-in-the-playoffs offense of last season already looks far more dangerous, plus we know Horford will help on defense, too.

Horford puts the Celtics on the brink of contention, either the second or third best team in the East (depending on what you think of Toronto). If you’re worried about perception, know that other players (and their agents) notice that. They notice the ball movement, they notice the players like the coach. Another strong season will cement Boston as a team where other stars will want to go because of that coach, because of the system, because they can win, and most importantly because they can get paid (it’s always about the money).

In that sense, Horford does change the perceptions of the Celtics. Although Stevens had already started that process, opening the door for Horford.

It remains more likely that the next star the Celtics land is via trade. They have the picks, they have the young players a team losing a star and considering a rebuild likely wants, plus they have a couple interesting veterans whose contracts only have a couple of years left — Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. It’s the worst-kept secret in the NBA — right up there with Rudy Gay is not loving Sacramento — that Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge is working the phones for any star player who becomes available. What’s holding those deals up is not a perception of the Celtics, it’s that trading for a star is difficult. Very difficult.

Celtics fans, enjoy what should be a very special season. Boston had the point differential of a 50-win team last season, and Horford makes them better on a number of levels. This is a team poised for a strong regular season and a deep playoff run. They are still a player away from challenging the team LeBron James is on, but so is everyone else east of Oakland. That shouldn’t diminish the joy of the ride this season.

And know the perception around the league of the Celtics is very good.