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

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The Knicks don’t make sense.

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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.
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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.

vs.

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.

Down 3-0 to Warriors, Spurs still joking about their predicament

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San Antonio’s sense of humor was still there Sunday.

Gregg Popovich predicted that Golden State stayed out way late after winning Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, celebrating with burgers and sundaes before spending Sunday playing poker. Manu Ginobili, amid plenty of questions about whether his career is ending, said the Spurs planned to lose the first three games of this series simply to make their comeback look more impressive.

The laughs seemed helpful.

The reality is that Golden State is just better, especially against a seriously undermanned Spurs team.

All jokes aside, the Spurs – and everyone else watching this West final – know it’s just about over. No team has successfully rallied from 3-0 down in an NBA playoff series, and a San Antonio team that is without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and now David Lee is facing that most precarious deficit. Game 4 is Monday in San Antonio, with Golden State now on the brink of clinching its third straight NBA Finals trip.

“Circumstances were such that we could be in a totally different position now,” said Popovich, the Spurs coach whose teams have been swept only twice in 52 previous series on his watch. “That didn’t happen. It’s called life. Slap yourself. Quit your crying and move on. Game 4.”

He’s right, of course. How different this could have been if Leonard didn’t re-injure his ankle when San Antonio was rolling with a 23-point lead in the third quarter of Game 1. The Spurs led by at least 22 points in each of their first four games against the Warriors this season. What they did against Golden State worked better than what anyone else did against Golden State.

Then, thud.

Leonard – who won’t play in Game 4 barring something “miraculous,” Popovich said – has been out since landing on Zaza Pachulia‘s foot in a hotly debated was-it-dirty-or-not closeout by the Warriors’ center. Game 1 changed in that instant, the whole series changed along with it and the Warriors will become the first team in NBA history to start a postseason 12-0 if they win on Monday.

“You know what the Spurs are about. … They’ve got a lot of pride. These guys are pros, man,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said. “We can’t come out here and feel like we’ve won already before the game has started. We’ve got to go take it.”

The Warriors have made it look easy, which is their normal. Golden State has won 12 consecutive games, the third time this season the Warriors have enjoyed such a streak. Combine the regular season and the postseason, and this Golden State team (78-15, .839) has a better record so far than last year’s regular-season record-setting club (88-18, .830).

Still, they’re not satisfied.

“We’ve got to play better,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

As impressive as they have been, the Warriors have had lapses. Golden State turned the ball over 21 times in Game 3 , leading to 25 San Antonio points. The Warriors also yielded 15 offensive rebounds, which San Antonio turned into 18 more points.

They won by 12 anyway. And if closing a team out on the road is supposed to be among the toughest postseason tasks, the Warriors have apparently missed that memo: Golden State won by 25 in Portland to clinch the first round, and by 26 in Utah to close out the second round.

“You let those guys get rolling, they’re a handful,” Spurs forward Pau Gasol said.

Ginobili helped keep San Antonio close in Game 3 with 21 points. He’ll likely get an emotional welcome Monday, just in case the veteran decides this season will be his last – a topic he wanted really no part of on Sunday, saying he’ll decide over the summer.

“This is getting a little weird,” Ginobili said after questions hinting at retirement. “It truly is.”

NOTES: The only teams to sweep a Popovich-coached team were the Suns in 2010 (when Warriors coach Steve Kerr was GM in Phoenix) and the Lakers in 2001 (when Kerr played for the Spurs). … Warriors acting coach Mike Brown said there’s no change in Pachulia’s condition. Pachulia played only 7 minutes of Game 2 with a heel injury, and didn’t play Saturday. … Durant lauded Popovich for not playing Leonard through the bad ankle, saying other players appreciate when teams put the future of their own players first.

 

Report: John Wall contract extension Wizards’ top priority, but he’s unsure about committing

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Wizards guard John Wall can sign a contract extension this year, sign an extension next year or become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. No matter when he signs – because he’s still under contract for two more seasons – the new terms would take effect in 2019-20.

When will he lock in?

By making the All-NBA third team, Wall became eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension with Washington this summer. But because he has two years left on his current deal ($18,063,850 in 2017-18 and $19,169,800 in 2018-19), an extension could add just four years to his contract.

This is the only time Wall is guaranteed be eligible for a designated-veteran-player salary, though. He could add five years at the designated-veteran-player rate by making All-NBA in 2017-18 or 2018-19, but that’s obviously no guarantee.

Does Wall want to sign now, even for fewer years, while he’s designated-veteran-player eligible? Do the Wizards want to give him that higher max in order to secure his services for just four additional years?

J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

An extension with Wall will be the top priority of the offseason in which Otto Porter is also a restricted free agent, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.

From league sources close to the situation, Wall wants to see a bigger picture plan on where the franchise is headed before committing for longer.

Wall has never advanced past the second round, and he sounded disappointed in his supporting cast after the Wizards lost to the Celtics in this year’s second round. He has also expressed unhappiness about his lack of popularity in Washington.

But that’s a lot of money to turn down. Wall can’t simply pencil himself onto another All-NBA team is this guard-dominant league.

A designated-veteran-player projects to be worth $217 million over five years. If Wall plays out his contract without making an All-NBA team the next two years, his projected max – even if he re-signs with the Wizards – projects be worth $186 million over five years. That’s a $31 million difference!*

*Using Albert Nahmad’s $107 million salary-cap projection for 2019-20

Would Wall take such a large financial risk?

He must weigh his priorities (security vs. flexibility, staying in Washington vs. leaving) and his chances of making another All-NBA team in a league with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker.

Here’s a flowchart showing Wall’s possible outcomes and what his max contract projects to be in each scenario:

John Wall extension (4)

Report: Paul Millsap opts out of Hawks contract

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Even after the Hawks’ season ended, Paul Millsap wouldn’t confirm he’d opt out of the final year of his contract.

But the All-Star finally made the inevitable official.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Atlanta Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap has opted out of his $21.4 million contract for next season to become a free agent, league sources told The Vertical.

The 32-year-old Millsap would have earned $21,472,407 if he opted in. It’s a virtual certainty he’ll earn more than that next season – and gain long-term security in a multi-year contract.

He might even get a max starting salary, which projects to be worth more than $35 million. Over a five-year contract with Atlanta, his max projects to be worth $205 million ($41 million annually). If he leaves, his projected max is $152 million over four years ($38 million annually).

The Hawks don’t yet have a general manager, but Millsap will reportedly negotiate directly with owner Tony Ressler, who said they’d make “every effort imaginable” to re-sign Millsap.

With that commitment and certain interest from other teams, how could Millsap do anything but opt out?

This isn’t a tell about his future with Atlanta. It’s an obvious financial decision.

Called out by LeBron James, reporter Kenny Roda defends himself

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LeBron James reacted to the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics by jawing with a fan and saying he was glad Cleveland lost.

The peculiarities didn’t end there.

LeBron called out Kenny Roda of WHBC for asking a question.

For full context, the earlier times LeBron addressed his individual performance and both of Roda’s questions are included in the above video. So is the funny look LeBron shot someone (Roda?) after the press conference. Here’s the noteworthy exchange:

  • Roda: “For you, you said it was just your game. Couldn’t get into a rhythm tonight, is that what it was? Based on their defense or just not feeling it or or what?”
  • LeBron: “Nah, I was just pretty poor. I mean, what do you want me to say? It sees like you only ask questions when we lose. It’s a weird thing with you, Kenny. You always come around when we lose, I swear. Yeah, OK.”

Roda:

“You cover us only when we lose” is a too-common complaint in high school sports. It’s odd to see LeBron employ it, though saying Roda asks questions only when the Cavs lose is a wrinkle that adds plausibility to LeBron’s claim. Still, it’s tough to believe.

Even if LeBron is right that Roda asks questions only when Cleveland loses, so what? Asking a question isn’t a sign Roda is happy the team lost or is trying to rub it in. Players tend to be testier after losses (case in point), and asking question then can be more difficult. If Roda puts himself out there after only losses, kudos to him.

LeBron’s struggles were the dominant storyline in Game 3. Getting him to expand on what went wrong was a worthy goal. Roda’s question probably wasn’t distinctive enough to get more out of LeBron after his first two responses about his performance, but the inquiry was on the right path. Asking a vague question on a topic already covered vaguely is only a minor offense.

LeBron understands the media better than most. This was a weird time to pick a public battle, which makes me think this was more frustration than ploy.