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How the schedule was made: NBA taking hard look at metrics

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MIAMI (AP) — Larry Bird made his plea years ago.

His request to the NBA was not unique: Bird wanted the league to eliminate the dreaded stretches of four games in five days. What made Bird’s pitch memorable was that it didn’t just cite the demand of so many games in such a short amount of time, but also pointed out how the anxiousness caused by such tests can hurt a team beforehand and how the fatigue lingers long afterward.

“What he said to me has been ringing in my head ever since,” said Tom Carelli, the NBA’s senior vice president for broadcasting.

Carelli and the rest of the NBA schedule-making gurus were unable to make Bird’s request reality – until now. With an extra week of days to play with, along with some much deeper looks at arena availability and ways to try to help competitive balance, the NBA believes the schedule released Monday should be the most user-friendly in the league’s history.

The four-games-in-five-days challenges? Eliminated for the first time in NBA history.

Back-to-backs? Only 14.4 per team on average, an all-time low for the third straight year.

Single-game road trips, average miles traveled and time zones crossed? All down a bit as well.

“I think at this point, and frankly the minute we got the extra week, we could conclude the schedule is really, undebatably, the best basketball schedule we’ve ever had,” said Evan Wasch, the NBA’s senior vice president for basketball strategy and analytics. “That’s what the week affords you, the opportunity to focus on all these different metrics.”

The extra week, which allows the regular season to start Oct. 17 – the league’s earliest start since 1980 – was an obvious help. But schedule makers went further, taking a deeper-than-usual look at arena availability around the league and trying to minimize the nights where a weary team will face a well-rested opponent.

In other words, NBA fans, meet FTE.

The metric – an acronym for Fresh, Tired and Even – is a major part of the NBA schedule process. It’s a way the NBA has charted how tired one team will likely be when facing another.

FTE has been part of the NBA’s internal charting for years, but wasn’t often discussed openly or with teams.

“If a team plays the night before and its opponent didn’t, then one team is tired and its opponent is fresh,” Wasch said. “That fresh-tired ratio will be lower than ever. It’s hard to measure and track when you build a schedule manually, but it’s easy to track when building one with optimization software.”

Instead of asking teams for 50 possible home dates for their respective buildings – the past standard – schedule makers like Carelli, Wasch, Chris Boghosian, Gene Li and Hao Meng instead checked every available date and tried a much broader look at how the puzzle might fit.

Their work might be particularly noticed on ABC games this season.

Last season, when stars like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala all were given nights off when the Cavaliers or Warriors were playing nationally televised games on ABC, there was no shortage of scorn. This season, teams playing in those marquee ABC games will have a day off both before and after those contests.

“The more information we got, the easier it was to reduce back-to-backs,” Carelli said.

The changes aren’t only to benefit players and teams.

The league this year will be labeling the schedule by week – Week 1, Week 2, so on, from Monday to Sunday. It’s essentially a idea at presenting fans, and fantasy players, with a schedule that’s broken down into smaller bites.

“It’s progress. It’s all part of a larger basket of progress,” Carelli said.

There will undoubtedly be some schedule griping. No one is claiming perfection. Improvement, for now, is enough, and that extra week of room being built into the season is already making an impact – even though the first real games are still two months away.

“We don’t get scored,” Carelli said. “We don’t necessarily win or lose, which is nice. The bottom line is that our primary, secondary, whatever goal it is, our goal is about the game. Our goal is about doing the best we can to create the most competitively balanced schedule we can for all the teams.”

 

Already? Giannis Antetokounmpo says Joel Embiid tried to recruit him to Sixers

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The Greek Freak (now trademarked) Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a Buck for a while — he has three fully guaranteed years on his contract after this one, taking him until at least the summer of 2021. At that point, Milwaukee almost certainly will be able to offer him the designated player super max contract that will be hard to turn down. The Greek Freak is going to be in Milwaukee for a long time.

That didn’t stop Joel Embiid, who tried to recruit Antetokounmpo to Sixers during All-Star weekend. Via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

Of course, if somewhere down the line Antetokounmpo and Embiid team up some tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist will say “they have been planning this since 2018.”

Embiid probably did this tongue in cheek, but he is fearless about this stuff — remember a couple of summers ago he tried to recruit Kevin Durant through social media.

As for Antetokounmpo and the Sixers, nothing to see here, move along.

Rumor: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not offer LeBron James no-trade clause in next contract

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The Cavaliers’ three deadline-day trades appear to have invigorated LeBron James, but a key issue remains as LeBron’s player option approaches: Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavs.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“LeBron wants to be in charge of everything, which is what puts him at odds with Dan,” one source said. “Dan wants to be in charge of everything.”

The belief is that Gilbert, having reasserted control after chasing out Griffin, will rebuff James’ request for a no-trade clause, or any other measures that give him leverage. And that will be enough to drive James away.

“Dan Gilbert’s not going to do what it takes to keep him,” the same source predicted. “Not a chance in hell he’s going to give him a no-trade clause, or let him dictate contract terms.”

LeBron’s no-trade clause might have been useful this season. When things got particularly bad in Cleveland, he affirmed he wouldn’t waive it. I doubt the Cavs would have dealt him regardless, but he made it a certainty.

But a no-trade clause was relevant only because LeBron signed a multi-year contract due to salary-cap rules relevant in 2016. With those no longer pertinent, he might go back to the 1+1 deals he first signed in his return to Cleveland. That’d give him an implicit no-trade clause, as those contracts are treated as one-year deals until the option is exercised, and players on one-year contracts who’d have early or full Bird Rights after can veto any trade.

Still, Gilbert taking this stance would matter if LeBron wants to sign long-term. An official no-trade clause would also carry over to LeBron’s next team if he approves a trade or in the second year of a 1+1 if he opts in. The implicit no-trade would not.

That could be enough for LeBron to demand the official no-trade clause – not just for the possibility it’s useful, but to show he can get it. He seems unwilling to give an inch. It’s about respect.

It also might be about stubbornness – both LeBron’s and Gilbert’s. This would be a ridiculous battleground for LeBron’s Cavaliers tenure to end on – just give LeBron whatever contract he wants – but it wouldn’t be the first ridiculous showdown between Gilbert and LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.