Los Angeles Lakers Introduce Dwight Howard

The Inbounds: Time for non-contenders to readjust their timelines

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

One thing that frustrates me about the NBA more than anything else is how small the list of title contenders is.  In the NFL, roughly 20 franchises begin the season with a legitimate shot at the title. In MLB, because of the way rosters, production, and individual games can shift, the group is just as wide. But in the NBA, it’s never more than really six teams, and that’s in a good year.

But now, with how things have shaken out over the past two years, the list is even smaller. Superstar teams were all the rage, now they’re the standard. If you had one great star and a good supporting cast, you could make the Finals. Now if you don’t have at least two, you’re not even in the conversation. As I wrote last week, the NBA’s arms race is out of control.

The best team in the NBA features one of the following: 1. the best player in the NBA, the second best shooting guard in the NBA and a top-ten power forward, 2. the best scorer in the NBA, two NBA All-Stars, and three members of the 2012 Olympic gold medal team (and a member of the 2012 Olympic silver medal team), or 3. Three future Hall-of-Famers, the second best shooting guard in NBA history, a former two-time MVP, the best center in the NBA, and a power forward who was the best big man in the league two years ago.

So yeah, the bar’s kind of high.

You can narrow the list of contenders in the NBA next season to essentially the Heat, the Thunder, and the Lakers. It’s possible a team comes out like the Mavericks  and surprises, but early on in the 2011 season, it was clear they would be on the list. Celtics fans would demand a spot on that list, but in reality, given the age of their most important pieces and the relative ability of their supporting cast. Pacers fans are wisely too self-aware to include themselves on that list. You can throw the Spurs on the list if you want, I don’t, because I’ve been bludgeoned to death by the factual accuracy of the “defense wins championships” cliche. Clippers? No. Grizzlies? No way. Nuggets? Nope. The Bulls? Derrick Rose is too much of a question mark to qualify.

The Knicks and Nets pass the starpower smell test, but they don’t stack up with the top teams in their conference. Making the Eastern Conference Finals is possible for either one, but winning the title is an entirely different level. And that kind of shows where we’re at. You can make the Conference Finals, be one of the last four teams, and not be a title contender.

So think about that. Twenty-seven franchises, if accurately assessing their chances, enter the season with no realistic hope at a title. There are certainly possibilities of exceptions. Injuries, major leaps, magical matchup issues. It’s true that “anything can happen in sports,” it just doesn’t, you know, seem to a lot of the time in the NBA. And every bit of starpower accumulation makes the road that much tougher.

But in truth, this is a good thing for the league. Interest is always highest when there are a few select elite teams, as there were in the 80’s. And Miami vs. the Lakers is the dream that David Stern drifts through in a candy cane and marshmallow haze each night. There have been complaints in the past about the lack of truly great teams in the league. That’s no longer an issue.

But what about everyone else? The star power’s gone. It’s taken. You’re not getting Dwight Howard, you’re not getting Steve Nash, you’re not getting Andrew Bynum (most likely). You’re almost certainly not getting Chris Paul. You’re not getting Deron Williams. At least not for a few years, in either case. So these teams, like Denver, Philadelphia, Dallas, Indiana, even Minnesota and Memphis, have to reassess their priorities. In reality, maybe it’s a good thing that this stratification has occurred.

Before, if you weren’t in contention for a title, you were a failure. And there will still be that talk from traditional columnists and certainly from the team’s management to the public. No one wants to hear “We’re aiming for fifth best.” But title contention isn’t just a huge challenge anymore. It’s a near-impossibility. Denver has built a playoff team featuring an All-Star with great players at every position, and it’s not close to a title. So there has to be a re-evaluation of the timelines. The goal should not be to “win now.” No one is winning now, except for those three teams at the top. If you want to aim to be that team that defies the odds, dares to dream, and captures the glory, go ahead. But it’s going to be expensive, and it’s going to cost you long-term.

Instead, teams need to focus on 2015. Yes, that’s right. 2015. By then, the luxury tax will have started to take its toll. Dwyane Wade will be getting into his middle-30’s, LeBron James will be 30, and the Lakers will have either disbanded or had to reconfigure (probably by getting Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, a  clone of Michael Jordan and Megatron, since that’s apparently what they’re capable of doing whenever they want to; oh, and they’ll only trade Darius Morris for it). The Thunder will have had to make the tough choices about their rosters, and if they haven’t won a title by then, frustration will set in. I’m not kidding, you honestly need to target three years from now as your first opportunity to win the title.

So that means getting the younger players as much as you can, trying to squeeze out any possible stars, getting lottery picks for 2014 and 2015, and above all, managing expectations. I’m not advocating the Nuggets or Sixers blow it up. We’ve seen the rebuilding model as too unstable. It’s a good approach, as we see with the Hornets (who are going to be in a great position in 2015, by the way, if they play their cards right), but it can also be disastrous (say hi, Bobcats fans!). The Nuggets can win now, make the playoffs, hope for that miraculous season to come around, while also legitimately plotting their way to 2015. But let me put it this way. If you’re Memphis, and you consider the reason that you’re paying all this money, the largest payroll in franchise history by my bet,  for a title contender? It’s time to think about moving some parts. You need to put a price tag on “Conference Finalist” and aim for that. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being a great team that doesn’t win a title happens all the time. Charles Barkley was on about six of them. But this starpower migration has created a situation that is untenable for teams who are not elite.

Fans need to understand this, too. It’s not that your team is failing you or mismanaged, necessarily, if they’re a playoff team that isn’t a title contender. It’s just not possible. We’re legitimately out of difference-makers. There will always be good players you can get. Paul Millsap is going to test free agency. DeMarcus Cousins is never going to be in a stable position until he matures, if that occurs (and he’s well worth the price). So there will be chances. But the bar has been raised to a level that most teams, and let’s be honest, most markets, can’t compete with. If your team isn’t a bottom-dweller, you might want to be happy, and if they’re clearly planning for the future, even better. It’s a time for patience, something players, ownes, and fans rarely express.

But this is the world we live in. If you’re not Voltron, it’s better to just patrol your planet than try and defend the galaxy.

The robots have just gotten too big.

Another report Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets nowhere near deal as deadline approaches

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 17:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is fouled as he shoots by Julius Randle #30 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on December 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Donatas Motiejunas and his agent had given the Rockets a Saturday deadline to make a contract extension offer they liked.

But the sides aren’t even talking in a serious way.

That was reported early on Friday, and now comes another report — this was from Calvin Watkins of ESPN — that the two sides are nowhere close to a deal.

With the deadline to sign a qualifying offer approaching, restricted free-agent power forward Donatas Motiejunas and the Houston Rockets have exchanged contract proposals but remain far apart on an agreement, multiple sources told ESPN.

Motiejunas is seeking a larger financial deal from the Rockets, but the two sides haven’t had serious contract discussions in a month, the sources said.

Motiejuas, a restricted free agent, has a $4.4 million qualifying offer on the table that expires Sunday. He likely will sign it — if so he will have the ability to veto trades during the season then would be a free agent next summer.  Motiejuas could let the deal expire then sign a new one-year deal with the Rockets, but he would make less money.

Last season the Rockets agreed to trade Motiejunas to the Pistons. However, Pistons voided the deal after he failed his physical. Motiejunas hammered Detroit for how it went down. That left Motiejunas a restricted free agent this summer, but he didn’t land any offers from other squads (many thought the Rockets would just match).

That gets us to where we are today, where Motiejunas appears headed to signing the qualifying offer, then testing the market next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Sacramento Kings prepare to open state-of-the-art downtown arena

This photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, is the new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif. The 17,500-seat arena, the new home of the NBA's Sacramento Kings basketball team features among other things, the NBA's first 4k ultra HD video board that stretches 84 feet above the court with more than 38 million pixels. The Kings' first game in the arena will be a preseason match against Maccabi Haifa, of Israel, Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After years of searching for a new home, the Sacramento Kings are set to open a new venue that raises the bar of what an arena can be.

Along with some of the modern accouterments that have become commonplace like smartphone apps that allow fans to order food or watch replays from their seats, giant screens to watch the game and high-speed connections that let fans post photos almost instantaneously, the Golden 1 Center also has many first-of-its-kind features.

There are the airplane hangar doors that can open to turn the venue into an indoor-outdoor arena and the “smart turnstiles” that will allow fans to enter at more than triple the usual speed. But perhaps most important to Kings owner Vivek Ranadive are the environmental features that make it the first indoor venue to receive LEED Platinum certification – the highest level of recognition for environmentally conscious buildings.

The 17,500-seat arena will be the first professional sports venue powered completely by solar energy, will save about 1 million gallons of water a year compared to a typical venue of its size, was built with recycled material from the mall that stood at the site before construction began and will get 90 percent of its food and beverages from within 150 miles.

“We felt we had to set a new bar,” Ranadive said. “We have to be cognizant of the kind of planet we want to leave our kids and next generations. This had to be the greenest arena ever built. … I fully expect that arenas in the future will be even better, be even more sustainable. Hopefully what we have here is an example of how to build a great arena and still be responsible to the environment.”

Ranadive bought the team in 2013 for $534 million, saving the franchise from a planned move to Seattle. The next task was getting the new downtown arena built.

Ranadive wanted an “iconic” venue that would anchor a revitalized downtown and he believes the nearly $600 million facility that opens this weekend has achieved that goal.

The arena is part of a $1 billion development project that includes 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use property that will have a hotel, restaurants, retail shops, offices and condos. About $500 million in outside investment is also expected in the area.

“This arena is the 21st century cathedral,” Ranadive said. “It’s the communal fireplace where people used to gather in old times. For us, it’s always been about more than basketball.”

Befitting a team owned by a tech mogul who made his billions in Silicon Valley, the arena was built with enough technology to “future proof” it. It has enough bandwidth for a small city, allowing fans to post 250,000 Instagram photos per second and 500,000 Snapchats per second, according to chief technology officer Ryan Montoya.

It has the NBA’s first 4K ultra HD videoboard – providing a picture four times clearer than HD – that stretches 84 feet long. The in-stadium app will give fans the best driving instructions based on traffic and parking spots. It will allow them to order food or merchandise to their seat, watch live-streamed video on their phone and even place non-monetary bets on the outcomes of plays that can earn fans points that can be redeemed for prizes.

There will even be facial recognition software that will allow players to enter secure areas and could one day be expanded to fans if they opt in to that option, making a more “frictionless” experience.

“Our arena is more about code than it is concrete,” team President Chris Granger said. “The idea is to create a platform that allows us to grow and expand and change the fan experience as the technology adapts.”

Overseeing all of the technology is a mission control room that will feature law enforcement and emergency medical services personnel, building operations officials, social media and guest services workers and others who will monitor all aspects of the arena on game days.

Perhaps the most unique feature will be the hangar doors, which can open to allow the delta breeze to cool the building and provide the option for concerts – or eventually even basketball games – with an indoor-outdoor feel.

The Kings have had talks with the NBA about what conditions would need to be met before they could play a game with the open doors but the team believes it will be able to control the temperature, humidity and wind well enough to make the conditions on the court comparable to a fully indoor arena.

The team plans to hold its open practice with the doors open and could do the same for an exhibition game against a non-NBA team. The Kings also could open the doors for college or high school games in order to gather enough data to show the league.

“They know we want a home-court advantage and they know that we want to enjoy the indoor-outdoor arena,” Ranadive said. “I fully expect we’ll figure out a way to get that home-court advantage.”

Chris Bosh on Heat’s young talent: ‘It’s their time’

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 23:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat talks to teammates Justise Winslow #20 and Udonis Haslem #40 against the Charlotte Hornets during game three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 23, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Justise Winslow eventually wants his own team.

That day may be here.

LeBron James is with the Cavaliers. Dwyane Wade is with the Bulls. And now Chris Bosh – the last of the Heat’s big three still in Miami, embroiled in a dispute with the team over his health that likely has him moving on from Miami (and he’s not thrilled about it).

That said, Bosh sounds ready to defer to a younger generation led by Winslow and Hassan Whiteside.

In introducing his latest video, Bosh wrote this on his personal website:

I remember just a few years ago when the Big 3 were together and we were having a ball playing the game we love with some of the most professional, talented guys the NBA has ever seen.

I remember the fans of Miami coming out to see the show every night. The love, the compassion and the energy we felt was second to none. I want to thank the city of Miami from the bottom of my heart because things may change but the good times will last forever in my memories. Thank you!

Things are different now and Miami has incredible young talent with a tremendous upside. These are not only talented ball players but great people and friends. I enjoyed playing with those guys and doing my best to mentor them by being an upstanding role model and veteran player. It’s their time to go through the ups and downs of the game with this great city.

Bosh is not accepting that his career is over.

However, he sounds like a guy who likes the Heat’s young stars.

Pat Riley’s response: It was Bosh who cut off communication

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 28:  Pat Riley looks on during the East Regional Round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 28, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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“I didn’t see my career in Miami ending like this. I didn’t get a call or a test or anything like that.”

That was Chris Bosh‘s comment in his latest self-directed video, one where he learns that he failed his physical with the Heat and they are not looking to bring him back. In that video he says that his career is not over, and along the way he takes some shots at team president Pat Riley and the Miami organization, saying they did not communicate with him.

Riley countered that it was Bosh who cut off communication, as told to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

Bosh has never been cleared by the team.

Bosh’s time in Miami is over, and those bridges are aflame right now. There is no going back. The problem is there are no good alternatives for him or the team moving on from this situation (unless he wants to forfeit a vast majority of the $75 million he is owed to facilitate a buyout). This situation is going to drag out for a while.