Blake Griffin

The “Violence Against Blake Griffin” situation

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He’s asking for it.

OK, stop, that right there. That’s me trying to snag your attention with some sort of bombastic statement. I can assure you my position is more nuanced than this phrase, which by the way, in the context of violence of any sort — on-court, off-court, sexual, non-sexual — should never, ever be used, and that my use of it is only as a way to let you know this is actually a thing that’s going on and not just “oh, Jason Smith gave Blake Griffin a hard foul.”

The NBA is developing a problem for itself, and how it handles it will be a very delicate matter. Because Blake Griffin is asking for it, and that’s what the league wants.

Remember those halcyon days last year when Griffin was just creating highlights, detonating at 10,000 feet like the NBA version of a warhead, and everyone just thought it was awesome? Yeah, hi, welcome to 2012, where due to exposure, the life expectancy of your ubiquitous mass appeal is about 45 seconds. Griffin hasn’t been the same monster this year that he was last year. He’s still got a handful of absolutely absurd throwdowns, but his points, rebounds, and assists are all down per 36 minutes from last year. His efficiency is slightly up, both in field goal percentage and PER, but his free throw shooting is down. And while his free throw rate is down from his rookie year, you can tell that part of the drop in his productivity has to do with the fouls he’s taking.

Last year, it was cute. There were some who gave the hard foul, it got to be more of an issue, the Clippers certainly complained about it, but in reality, it was mostly just adorable that he tried so hard on every play. But this year, the cuteness has worn off. The book is out on Griffin. Hammer him, punish him, make it clear you will not stand for him putting you on NBC SportsTalk as a highlight. And since Griffin is so physical, so athletic, so aggressive, you have to do it fast. So you have fast, plus violence. Or, in the absence of fast, you can have reckless. Observe.

Now, Smith has already apologized for the hit, and knows it was reckless. In reality, this play isn’t indicative of what Griffin is facing on a night-to-night basis. This is an outlier, a sloppy combination of a player giving up on trying to make the play while not giving up on giving contact. This isn’t the type of player Jason Smith is, it was just a bad foul. But this, again, is the book on Blake Griffin. This is how you stop him. And he knows that, which is why he’s also driving fans nuts (and making them want those hard fouls given) by freaking out over every call.

This isn’t anything new for Griffin. He’s typically always had the same attitude. And if it seems familiar, here’s why, and I want to be clear on this so we’re going all bold: Every great player in the history of the NBA has freaked out over getting calls because it gives them an edge. Yes, Jordan. Yes, Kobe. Yes, Duncan. Yes, Malone. Yes, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Travis Diener. (OK, Travis didn’t do that, nor was he great.)

It’s part of it. It’s how you react. And it’s a two way street. Those players I mentioned above, the Trav not withstanding, they all take an excessive amount of punishment which the league cannot completely corral. Kobe Bryant gets a ridiculously high number of foul calls in his favor. He also has a ridiculous number of fouls calls missed. If you go through and watch a ton of highlights, you’re going to see guys being more hands-on with Kobe than they were with their dad’s stash of adult magazines when they were 13. And by they I mean you. Bryant takes bumps, scrapes, hits, whacks, thumps, shoves, elbows, and I think one time bites because he has the ball a ton, scores the ball a ton, and his defenders will do anything to stop him.

So Griffin’s reaction is annoying and overdramatic, but it’s not only trying to win to get that advantage, it’s self-preservation. The Clippers and Griffin honestly feel that he’s targeted, and that the abuse he takes is greater than that of the average player. And he’s probably right. And the reason for why that is what gives the league such a headache.

The NBA wants those highlights. It wants Griffin putting a ridiculous poster down on some huge defender to steal the spotlight from baseball on highlight shows across the country on the third night of baseball season. It wants to showcase this dynamic, explosive young powerhouse whose play seems like Thor himself raining thunder down on his enemies. But they do have, despite public sentiment to the opposite, a practice of letting the players police themselves. You’re allowed to target a guy as long as you do it within the bounds of play and you do not violate any of the specific rules set forth. You’ll be punished for such plays, whether it’s a personal, flagrant, or flagrant II foul. But they don’t specifically act to control such measures, because they can’t treat any one player as special. Just because Blake Griffin tries really hard doesn’t mean that they can involve themselves in protecting him from harm any more so than for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard or Sam Young or Drew Gooden. They can only respond to excessive incidents.

The nature of the game means they can only be reactive.

And that’s a trick for them. It’s why you see so many superstar young guys fade into less contact. Dwyane Wade was a contact-loving machine his first three seasons. A barrel full of injuries later and his game is much more predicated on slipping contact than creating it. Griffin’s already trying to diversify his game to be more deadly from range (and failing miserably). We want to see him drive instead of take that mid-range jumper, but the only way he can draw defenders out to create space and therefore not get beaten to a pulp when he drives is to knock down that shot.

Meanwhile the league is going to face this as a continuing issue. Because Griffin’s adjusting, but he’s not relenting. For all the complaints and the way defenses have adjusted to him, you have to give him that. He’s still waiting like a cobra to strike every time down the floor. But eventually the NBA may be put into a position where they have to intercede on the players’ own policing. And that’s going to get bad very quickly.

Addendum: You’re going to hear the phrase “back in the day” or “in the 80’s” a lot in relation to this issue. Please bear in mind two things. One, there’s a reason the game has evolved away from that and it has less to do with cultural values or an NBA image problem and more to do with the players not wanting to operate in an environment where their career can be threatened or their lives can be put in danger. It may make you feel like a man to talk about how tough things you used to not do were, but the reality has changed.

Two, the speed and violence capable at this level greatly exceeds what we knew in the 80’s due to strength and conditioning regimens and that means the dangers are that much higher. No one’s advocating getting rid of the hard foul here, or getting rid of the hard foul on Griffin. The point is simply that Griffin’s particular style means that the odds of injury continue to increase and that means the odds of a fight increase, and that violence at a high velocity, particularly in mid-air (which is why the Smith foul isn’t nearly as bad as others we’ve seen) is going to be problematic without intervention eventually.

Derrick Rose: ‘I felt I didn’t do anything wrong’

FILE - In this June 24, 2016, file photo, New York Knicks' Derrick Rose speaks during a news conference at Madison Square Garden in New York. Phil Jackson made a risky move when he traded for the injury-prone Rose in June, and now the Knicks face the possibility of their point guard's involvement in a rape trial in California during his first preseason with the team.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
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The Knicks say they’re not concerned about Derrick Rose, who’s facing a civil lawsuit and criminal investigation for an alleged rape.

Rose doesn’t sound concerned, either.

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

Maybe Rose said he believes he did nothing wrong because he did nothing wrong. Maybe Rose said he believes he did nothing wrong because he’s lying.

Or maybe Rose said he believes he did nothing wrong because he doesn’t understand he did something wrong.

That’s the sad possibility of this case and countless others. People sometimes rape because they don’t understand consent.

Having sex with someone too drunk to give proper consent is rape. Doing a sexual act to someone who consented to sex but not that specific act is rape.

Rose should be concerned. The evidence against him is compelling, and it could lead to civil and criminal penalties. He should also be concerned whether he properly understands the line between rape and consent. You don’t know what you don’t know, and I hope Rose – even if he already already possessed a clear understanding of rape and consent – and everyone else uses this as an opportunity to thoughtfully examine what is and isn’t consensual. It’s important information to hold, because ignorance of what’s rape does not justify rape.

This isn’t an issue to brush aside for something as trivial as basketball.

Cavaliers guard Mo Williams reverses course, retiring now

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Mo Williams, despite retirement rumors, announced last week he’d return to the Cavaliers for one more year. Williams knew Cleveland would face major challenges without him, being forced to rely on young and unproven Kay Felder and Jordan McRae behind Kyrie Irving at point guard .

Williams, via David McMenamin of ESPN:

I didn’t want to put the Cavs in that situation at the end of the day.

Well, Williams is putting the Cavs in that situation.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Williams, 33, informed the Cavaliers just before Media Day Monday that he was retiring from basketball, not even a week after announcing via Twitter that he would return for one more season.

Cleveland general manager David Griffin said at the top of his press conference that Williams’ agent, Raymond Brothers, informed the Cavs of Williams’ latest decision in the morning.

It seemed possible Williams wanted to retire but was trying to extract a buyout on his $2,194,500 salary. Doing so would’ve required convincing the Cavs he’d grind through the season but, hampered by injuries, not produce enough to justify his salary and roster spot.

It’s unclear whether the Cavaliers called a bluff, agreed to a buyout or Williams had a true change of heart. Cleveland would be especially reluctant to give him a portion of his salary, because those payments would count toward the luxury tax. But maybe the Cavs are willing to incur a small hit.

This puts plenty of pressure on Felder, the No. 54 pick. He has shooting and distributing talent, and his hops are eye-catching. But the adjustment from mid-major Oakland to the NBA is tough for anyone, let alone someone 5-foot-9.

At least the Cavs can turn to LeBron James as the de facto backup point guard in big games. Give him the ball, flank him with a few wings, and Cleveland will be alright.

This just makes it a little harder – which is not to say hard – for the Cavs to claim the No. 1 seed while limiting their stars’ minutes and set themselves up for those big games next spring and summer.

51Q: Can Dave Joerger get DeMarcus Cousins, rest of Kings on same page?

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 13:  Head coach David Joerger of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during the game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on April 13, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Can Dave Joerger get DeMarcus Cousins, rest of Kings on the same page?

This season is a crossroads in Sacramento.

In two weeks the Kings will play their first preseason game in the beautiful new downtown building that kept the Kings in Sacramento. It’s the season that owner Vivek Ranadive desperately wants to see end with a trip to the playoffs — it would be the first time the Kings made the postseason in 10 years. It is the season the Kings need to show that they are developing a basketball culture that can win, which matters because it is the last chance to convince their All-NBA, gold medal winning center DeMarcus Cousins that this is a franchise headed in the right direction and he should want to stay. (Cousins is a free agent in the summer of 2018, if the Kings can’t get a commitment from him after this season the team has to consider trading him;, they can’t afford to lose him for nothing.)

That’s a lot on the shoulders of new coach Dave Joerger.

Considering the roster he was given, and the timeline to meet, maybe too much.

Joerger was brought in to work with GM Vlade Divac and turn the Kings from a laughingstock organization to something respectable — a team that wins consistently. The kind of franchise where it’s star player doesn’t tweet things out on draft night about how much he hates the picks (but sure, he tweeted about hot yoga).

Joerger had a lot of success in Memphis building on the “grit and grind” culture that Lionel Hollins had established. He’s a strong Xs and Os coach who puts players in good positions, playing to their strengths. Joerger had good relationships with some challenging personalities on that Grizzlies roster (Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol at times, and others). It’s why Sacramento wanted him, management saw someone who could handle their roster and start building a culture.

A new coach in a new building for a new day.

Joerger seems to have passed the one big summer test — he and Cousins get along. At least so far, before Joerger calls him out on a missed defensive assignment or gets in his face over effort getting back in transition. This summer Joerger has been seen golfing and speaking with Cousins, trying to build a bond between himself and the elite center who is not always trusting of coaches. To put it kindly. At least this summer we have seen no snake in the grass tweets from Cousins, it’s been all good.

Cousins is coming off winning an Olympic gold, and while he never figured out FIBA officiating — which is not all on him, FIBA officials have all the consistency of Jim Carrey’s acting career — players coming out of the ultra-competitive, high-level Team USA practices and environment often have one of their best seasons.

The Kings are going to need that from Cousins, and a culture from Joerger that catches on quickly, because they have some other serious hurdles to overcome this season if they are dreaming of the playoffs.

• Their starting point guard is Darren Collison, and the Kings were better with him on the court last season than Rajon Rondo. Collison looks for his own shot first but is an efficient scorer who can get into the lane or hit the three. This all sounds good except for one problem: He is going to be suspended to start the season. Collison pled guilty to a domestic violence charge and the last player to do that was suspended 24 games (Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor). That’s a quarter of the season where Ty Lawson and Jordan Farmar (with maybe some Garrett Temple) will run the point for the Kings, and that is a considerable step down.

• Their starting three is Rudy Gay, an inefficient isolation scorer who loves to shoot from the midrange — a guy who doesn’t fit in the modern NBA. And a player who has said he is leaving as a free agent at the end of the season, so the Kings are shopping him around. That will be a distraction.

• Can a bench of Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and a few others keep the team close in a deep Western Conference?

And that’s not even getting into the questions of Willie Cauley-Stein‘s fit, Ben McLemore‘s development, Skal Labissiere‘s development (I think he could become a quality stretch four next to Cousins in a couple of years), why Georgios Papagiannis was drafted that high (a Cousins’ replacement?), or what Arron Afflalo has left in the tank?.

I believe Joerger can build the kind of culture and — with some roster tweaks — team that can make the playoffs and start to turn things around in Sacramento. But it is going to take one thing:

Patience.

Which has never been owner Ranadive’s strong suit. Last time he had a coach who got along well with Cousins and understood how to build a culture, Ranadive fired him mid-season because Cousins got sick and the owner wanted a faster style of play.

Plus, the Kings don’t have much time to win Cousins over, assuming that can still be done (the conventional wisdom around the league is that it is too late and he is gone, the only question is how much the Kings get in return). Sacramento is not going to make a rash decision here, they are going to keep Cousins in Sacramento the full season in the new building and work to make him want to stay. But next summer, if there is no commitment from him, the team has no choice, it needs to get something for him before he walks.

I see the Kings as a 35-win team this season, give or take a couple. About where they were a year ago, but with a foundation being put in place for the future.

That may not be enough, or at least fast enough.

It’s a lot to ask of Joerger. He’s walked into maybe the most challenging coaching job in the NBA. Good luck.

Pelicans sign D-League Rookie of the Year Quinn Cook

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers
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With Jrue Holiday away from the team and Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter both hurt, the Pelicans need help on the perimeter.

The latest candidate to provide it: Quinn Cook.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed free agent guard Quinn Cook.

Cook went undrafted last year after a four-year career at Duke then went to the D-League, where he won Rookie of the Year, went to the All-Star game and made all-league third team. It was an encouraging start to his pro career.

Despite having 15 players ( the regular-season roster limit) with guaranteed salaries, the Pelicans keep attracting players – including Lance Stephenson – to training camp on unguaranteed or barely guaranteed deals. I wonder whether New Orleans has assured anyone it would open a roster spot somehow. If so, Cook has a real chance to claim it.