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Stan Van Gundy: You want NBA parity? Eliminate draft, max contracts

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There will never be parity in the NBA the way there is in, say, the NFL. It’s simply the nature of the sport — one transcendent player can dominate nearly every game. Imagine if the Dodgers could pitch Clayton Kershaw every night, or the Nationals the same with Stephen Strasburg. They would win a whole lot more games. That’s what it’s like having LeBron James or Kevin Durant on your team, and in that world parity will never truly exist.

But people will not stop trying.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy says if the league wants something approximating parity, there needs to be radical changes. Via Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

“I’d get rid of it, just get rid of the draft altogether,” Van Gundy said when asked lottery reform. “We’d just deal with the salary cap. Make all (rookies) free agents coming in and if I want to go give a guy $50 million a year, good, but I got to do it under the cap.

“I think if you did that and you had no individual max on players, we’d start to get some parity in the league, but the league really doesn’t want parity. They want the super teams, and I get that. It’s worked well, business-wise.”

That kind of free-for-all system would benefit large markets — if those markets are well managed. Market size and draw hasn’t helped the Knicks for years, or the Lakers in recent years (when they couldn’t even get meetings with top free agents). Players and agents are too well informed to go somewhere just because of market size. Still, this would not be a level playing field.

Van Gundy is spot on with max contracts — if you want to do away with superteams, stop artificially deflating what the top players make. That sounds like a crazy thing to say when Russell Westbrook just signed a $205 million extension that will have his base salary starting north of $35 million a season in 2018-19. But what would Westbrook get on the open market, with no cap? At least $50 million a season, maybe much more — he doesn’t just help the team win games on the court, he is what fills the seats, sells the luxury boxes, and draws sponsors. He would be worth double that to any franchise in terms of income.

If Westbrook — or LeBron, or Durant, or name your superstar — takes up half your cap space, the days of super teams will be gone. The Thunder couldn’t have Westbrook and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.  No way the Warriors could keep Stephen Curry, Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson together. Chris Paul and James Harden are not getting together in Houston. To get paid, the superstars would have to spread out.

Why this will never happen is it would kill the middle class in the NBA — and most of the players are in that middle class. If the Thunder had Westbrook at $50 million and one other very good player at $25 million, that leaves 13 roster spots and $25 million, meaning a less than $2 million average. The days of good players getting $8 million or a solid starter drawing $12 million would be over, with that extra money going to the biggest names. The NBA players union is not going to back that idea.

Plus, as Van Gundy says, superteams are good for business. Interest in the NBA is the highest it has been since the Jordan era, and power of LeBron’s superteams challenged by Golden State and others is at the heart of it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.