Author: Aaron Bruski


Earth to Houston: LaMarcus Aldridge is a problem. Is Howard the answer?


Earth to Houston: LaMarcus Aldridge is a problem.

That bit of information is obvious to the most junior of fans, but Kevin McHale and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard have yet to get the memo.

Howard finished ninth in this year’s DPOY voting and probably deserved to finish somewhere in that ballpark.  But he and McHale have yet to embrace the challenge that Aldridge presents by allowing Howard to put those defensive skills to work.

Out of 80 possessions we tracked in Game 2, Howard was called upon to defend Aldridge just 25 times. Most of the remaining defensive possessions went to Omer Asik, who clocked in at 51 assignments, with the remaining four going to Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons. About a third of Asik’s covers happened with Howard off the floor, and Asik dominated the fourth quarter covers.

Make no mistake, hitting 18-of-28 shots in Game 2 it didn’t matter who was covering Aldridge – he was torching them. He beat Howard on 5-of-6 challenges and the only thing that saved Asik was a series of eight consecutive misses by Aldridge – though the tape would show it had less to do with Asik than it did the fact that mere mortals can’t make every shot. Prior to that Asik gave up points or fouls on 9-of-10 chances against Portland’s big man.

Any way you slice it, with Aldridge averaging just under 45 points per game so far and setting records for his fast start, something has to change. Kevin McHale would prefer to keep Howard on Robin Lopez in order to protect the defensive glass, and a close second to that is keeping Howard out of foul trouble. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and being down 2-0 heading into Portland tonight would fall into that bucket.

On the other end of the floor, the Rockets have spent considerable time using Howard against Lopez on offense, and true to season-long form that has been productive for them. But in Game 2 the Rockets’ pair of wings in James Harden (6-of-19 FGs) and Chandler Parsons (5-of-15 FGs) didn’t get many easy looks as a result of it. While Howard’s offensive game has improved this season, it’s still not to the point where it consistently makes players around him better. Taking a page out of everybody’s book against the big man, the Blazers are more than willing to let Howard beat them if it means that threes aren’t raining on their heads.

Playoff adjustments usually determine the winner in a closely-matched series. If Howard is the defensive player many folks say he is, it goes without saying that the Rockets need to go all-in with the superstar assignment. Aldridge isn’t going to continue shooting at his current high-volume 60 percent from the field, but one more big game tonight and the series is all-but over.

Even though Howard is facing-up Lopez at will, the Rockets would be wise to open up the game plan by unleashing Harden and Parsons with high pick-and-roll action, since both guys are having a hard time getting penetration against sturdy defenders Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum. If Howard is the defensive player folks make him out to be, he should be both willing and able to make his matchup with Aldridge a wash. With Patrick Beverley effectively slowing down Damian Lillard, and Howard theoretically doing the same to Aldridge, the rest of the Rockets’ pieces should be able to outscore their Portland counterparts.

But Houston has it backwards right now, saving Howard for offense when he is needed on defense. It begs the question of whether or not McHale believes he can answer the call against Aldridge. If he can’t, it may be time to re-evaluate where he stands in the league’s defensive pecking order.

Frank Vogel not afraid to make adjustments, but the one he didn’t make might make the difference


Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel was an early season Coach of the Year candidate, but the Pacers’ late-season swoon has brought him into the crosshairs every bit as much as Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Paul George.

When he hit the button right next to the panic button by benching all of his starters on April 9 against the Milwaukee Bucks, some saw the move to be reactionary and weak. After a year of talking about home court advantage, to risk that advantage while the team was struggling against the likes of Henry Sims and the Sixers was the beginning of the end to some. A subsequent loss to the Miami Heat effectively moved most folks off of the Pacers’ bandwagon.

Since that loss, the Pacers’ struggles traveled with the team into the postseason and a home loss in Game 1 to the Atlanta Hawks brought the situation to Defcon-5, with none other than Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Hibbert and a struggling Hill being called to the bench by media and analysts everywhere.

The rationale was clear – Hibbert has a terrible matchup with stretch-center Pero Antic and the Hawks have correctly targeted the slow-footed big man on the backside of the pick-and-roll. Offensively, Hibbert had morphed into Kendrick Perkins, struggling to catch or hold onto the ball while taking ill-advised shots further and further away from the hoop. Hill had seemingly lost all confidence in an offense that had shut down due to a lack of penetration and ball movement.

Some of the potential fixes have been obvious, including a move to have Paul George cover Teague – and an increase in minutes for now-healthy backup point guard C.J. Watson. But at the center of it all, Hibbert’s precipitous and long-term decline over the past two months had no easy answer. By benching the big man, Vogel would walk him to the edge of a plank that Hibbert knows too well, having already succumbed to the tough love of prior coach Jim O’Brien. Functionally, a move would break up a first unit that has played heavy minutes together for two seasons now.

Nobody could blame the coach for trying to keep the team’s identity intact in the first game of a series against the 38-44 Hawks, a team whose general manager in Danny Ferry didn’t seem all that interested in making the playoffs.

So Vogel did a little bit of everything and by standing by his big man he took the first step toward rehabilitating the Pacers during Tuesday’s 101-85 win in Game 2.

Hibbert and Hill remained in the starting lineup, but defensive changes headlined the night as George was tapped to cover Teague and Hibbert was moved onto Paul Millsap. Hill drew the assignment of Kyle Korver, and at the three-minute mark of the first quarter Ian Mahimni was joined by Watson to replace Hibbert and Lance Stephenson – giving the Pacers a two-guard front of Hill and Watson to work offensively against Teague, Lou Williams and Shelvin Mack. Stephenson obviously didn’t like the minute reduction, but his seven points, three rebounds and five assists wore well as a supplement to the increased punch of the smaller lineup.

The early returns didn’t show on the scoreboard as the Hawks built an 11-point lead deep into the second quarter. But one wouldn’t know that from watching the play on the court, as George sunk his teeth into Teague, who continued to play great but didn’t have anywhere near the run of the yard he had in Game 1. Hill penetrated repeatedly in the first quarter and gained confidence throughout the game. Hibbert fought for better position, even though he continued to sputter offensively. Despite foul trouble, David West was aggressive in looking for his outside shot and his backup Luis Scola hit 9-of-14 shots for 20 points and seven boards in 19 minutes.

Hibbert continued to get beat up defensively, giving up just short of 20 points on outside shots and dribble drives to the hoop. But his footwork improved and on a number of plays his trademark anticipation appeared to be back, and on the times he was beat he didn’t appear to be as overmatched as he was in past games. The Pacers worked the ball into him in the post and on most touches his feet were either inside the paint already or just a foot or two away. He effectively angled for position as the ball moved from side to side and when nothing was there he focused on rebounding, even if his four boards in 24 minutes last night won’t be entered into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Recognizing that George could slow down the front-end of Teague’s pick-and-roll, among other things, Vogel dared the Hawks to have DeMarre Carroll and Korver to beat Hill and Watson, which didn’t happen. When Williams or Mack was in the game they essentially gave the Pacers a hall pass to add offensively-minded Watson onto the floor at no cost. Hill was able to move to a more comfortable shooting guard position where he received scant attention, and Watson executed the pick-and-roll to near perfection while aggressively stepping into open looks.

Defensively, George was nothing short of phenomenal and all together the Pacers finally made the Hawks look like the Hawks – a team with talented starters but little depth and not nearly enough offensive firepower to keep up with a signature defense that defined Indiana’s blistering start. Ian Mahinmi didn’t do anything to dispel the notion that he should be getting more minutes, blocking a pair of shots while hedging and recovering in a way that supported the case for sending Hibbert to the second unit.

But Vogel wasn’t having any of that.

By emptying the pantry first, using a series of cross-matches and less severe fixes, Vogel was able to hedge his bets and keep Hibbert from walking the plank. In return, Hibbert responded with baby steps back toward respectability. Aside from his improvements in defense, he showed quickness and aggression in his misses and properly deferred rather than forcing up bad shots. It appeared as if he remembered that an entry pass doesn’t have to be his proving ground, but merely a unique way of creating penetration to bend the defense.

The Pacers don’t need him to be a 20 point-per-game scorer, and against the Hawks they merely need him not to be a liability. By pushing the button right next to the panic button, Vogel was able to mask his center’s weaknesses and give his nucleus optimal conditions to succeed. Hibbert will continue to struggle with matchups throughout this series, but in the end it will be the change that Vogel didn’t make that keeps hope alive if they can claw their way back into a matchup against the Heat.

Sink or swim, the Pacers’ defensive anchor needs to stay on board for them to have a chance to sail off into the sunset.

Bucks owner Herb Kohl seeking new investors to keep the team in Milwaukee

Terry Stotts Press Conference

Bucks fans will spend the next 2-3 years looking over their shoulders at Seattle, and that’s because they’re in jeopardy of losing their basketball team should owner Herb Kohl fail at securing a new NBA-approved arena.

For small and mid-markets, having a state-of-the-art arena to maximize revenues is a requirement and any city that isn’t willing to make that type of commitment to the NBA will be threatened by 5-10 other cities that are dying to get into the game. It’s simple supply and demand.

Kohl, the former Democratic senator who is 78, is reportedly looking for other investors to join him in his attempt to keep the team in Milwaukee.

With a net worth that’s better described with an ‘M’ for millions rather than a ‘B’ for the billionaire owners that the NBA is attracting these days, it’s understandable why Kohl needs to deepen the pockets and broaden the influence of his group.

First and foremost he needs to deliver on an arena, and having more investors will help that along in many ways. But just as important to Milwaukee will be the overall value proposition this ownership group will have to the NBA, whether Kohl wants to continue as owner of the Bucks or not. That’s because if there ever comes a time when their arena plans are in doubt, it will be this group that gets measured against Seattle and any other city that wants to get into the game.

The NBA, whether being led by Adam Silver or David Stern, does not like to relocate franchises. In this day and age of information, the damage that relocation can do their brand is much greater than it was when Seattle’s elected officials told the NBA to go kick rocks and thus Sonicsgate was born.

At the same time, the NBA has found a sweet spot in its public subsidy pitch, which has been the target of many economists’ ire over the last 30 years when suburban arenas were all the rage. Economists have maintained that arenas don’t increase local spending because of things like the substitution effect, which simply stated means that people spend money at the game but stop spending their limited funds everywhere else. In essence, they contend, there is no overall gain.

However, economists have recently found themselves at an impasse on the issue with even the most ardent oppositionists still researching newer findings, in an area of study that isn’t exactly brimming with ongoing research.

The new revelations highlight the difference between suburban arenas and what city planners call ‘high density civic attractions,’ which are more likely to be sought after in the small-to-mid market cities that are most susceptible to relocation.  Instead of driving to a suburban arena, watching the game, and then leaving – a downtown arena can attract people for longer visits, attract all-important out-of-town dollars, and encourage use of mass transit.

In terms of increasing land value, a properly developed downtown arena district can increase surrounding land value by “hundreds of millions of dollars” according to a recent study by lead opposition subsidy voice Brad Humphreys. Arguments move into the both the micro- and mundane-levels from there, but an increase in land value around these downtown arenas stands on its face – it’s valuable for a reason.

The NBA has the cachet as an anchor tenant to bring in the private investment needed to make these downtown revitalization projects pencil out, particularly as public redevelopment dollars have dried up around the country.

With the NBA being the winner of over $3 billion in public funds since 1990, they have a massive financial stake in making sure they both polish that pitch and protect their reputation on that front.

For starters they have to maintain that they can be a loyal partner to any city engaging in good faith efforts to maintain a state-of-the-art arena.  Long-term, by building a portfolio of downtown success stories like L.A. Live, downtown Indianapolis and the soon-to-be built arena in downtown Sacramento — the league can keep the public funding narrative from collapsing under a wave of antipathy toward millionaires and billionaires bouncing a leather ball for amusement.

So look for the NBA to work with Kohl and Milwaukee to find the political will (i.e. public dollars) to get an arena deal done. As expected, the league released a statement from David Stern moments ago expressing support for that process. “Senator Kohl bought the Bucks in 1985 in order to ensure the team would remain in Milwaukee. During his extraordinary stewardship his goal remained the same — to bring the fans of Wisconsin high-quality basketball from a team they would be proud to call their ‘home’ team. With this announcement, Senator Kohl continues his mission: to assure continuity of ownership by broadening its ownership base, and assuring that the fans of Wisconsin will enjoy NBA basketball and other events in a new state-of-the-art facility,” said Stern.

And while everything is going to sound fine for Bucks fans until it doesn’t, they’re not going to know that they are indeed keeping their team until much more has been revealed in this slow-moving story.

Sacramento and Denmark to duel for Guinness indoor sound record tonight


It’s not every day that an NBA basketball game becomes the site of Guinness World Record testing, and as you might have heard Sacramento Kings fans are wasting no time putting their grassroots organizations to work by attempting to break the indoor sound record of 106.6 dBA previously set by the fans of the Bucks (plus a few Clippers fans) at the Bradley Center in 2008.

The idea started when one of the leaders of #HereWeStay effort (@HereWeStayED), Kevin Fippin, started using social media to drum up support to target Friday’s nationally televised ESPN game for an attempt to break the record.

ESPN ruffled some feathers in Sacramento before the season after using a Seattle-based company to compile data that would eventually rank the Kings the worst franchise of all of the four major sports.

This prompted the team to issue a rebuke of the rankings in an ad campaign with the copy: “Hey ESPN. Nice Airball. New Era. New Swagger. The Best Fans Await You. 11.15.13

The rankings also caused former NBA Executive Vice President of Team Marketing and Business Operations and new President of the Kings to issue the following statement:

“We love ESPN, but think they could have given us the benefit of foresight in their rankings,” said Granger. “They know what we have going here. And, if they don’t, we’re going to show them when they visit us on November 15.”

So the gauntlet had already been thrown down when Fippin’s efforts on social media caught the attention of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, with a sellout already likely and enough compelling crowd shots to make the Kings’ point to the four-letter network.

“Think the Kings should get behind this cause and help us get our record back? Tweet @vivek and @cgkings yourself & let them know. #HereWeRoar,” tweeted Fippin, to which the billionaire owner replied playfully “can u speak a little louder please.”

By then Vivek and Granger saw the lightning in a bottle and decided to bring it all together by notifying Guinness.

“I guess a call to Guinness is the first line of business tomorrow morning,” tweeted Granger, who arranged for the adjudicator of random records to officially test Friday’s game for crowd noise.

It’s a neat little story for a fanbase that is still in the honeymoon phase after years of torture at the hands of the Maloof brothers, and it took a turn toward competitive on Wednesday when promoters for the WBA & WBO Intercontinental Championship fight between Patrick Nielsen and Jose Pinto in Denmark decided to issue their own challenge.

They’re going to try to break the record that Sacramento is expected to blow away just 12 hours earlier.

“Boxing is all about timing and countering,” promoter Nisse Sauerland said. “Should needs be we will land the decisive counterpunch and knock out the Kings´ record. Make no mistake, we wish them the best of luck. They have done a brilliant job with their viral #HereWeRoar campaign. But we´ll take it one step further – #HereWeRoarKO.”

The MusikTeatret Albertslund arena in Denmark seats just around 2,000 people, but like Sleep Train Arena the promoter says the acoustics give them a fighting shot.

“We´ve got experts with a high-profile decibel device, 2000 ear plugs and the support of Patrick´s wild fans,” Sauerland added. “They might be outnumbered, but the great acoustics at the venue will give us the chance for a big upset. May the loudest fans win.”

ESPN appeared to poke the bear on Tuesday, too, sending out a tweet directed at followers of the Kings’ official Twitter account. “@SacramentoKings If Kings fans are #ForeverPurple, prove it.”

A source told me that Kings fans actually beat the sound record in Wednesday’s game during practice testing (which doesn’t count), but now with wild card Denmark in the mix it’s a whole new ballgame.

“Knowing we have somebody hot on our tail is going to keep the energy high,” said Mike Tavares, who heads up the fan and advocacy group Crown Downtown. “Though I don’t think our fans need much extra motivation to go nuts.”

It looks like ESPN is going to get all the proof they need and then some.

“Shaq-ramento” era begins in Sacramento. Strange as it sounds.

Shaquille O'Neal

It sounds strange to anybody that followed the Kings and Lakers rivalry over the last decade, but the “Shaqramento” era took off on Tuesday in Sacramento, where minority owner and team consultant Shaquille O’Neal introduced himself to the media.

As quotatious and loquacious as ever, Shaq sounded less like the sometimes tongue-tied analyst we see on TNT and more like a modern day business man and teacher.

Perhaps the biggest question from today’s presser was what he can do to help teach DeMarcus Cousins how to turn the page and lead the Kings back into the playoffs.

“When I look at DeMarcus Cousins I see a young Shaquille O’Neal, a guy that was very talented, very stubborn in his ways. I know sometimes he gets a bad rap, but what changed me — what made me become a winner and a champion — was a conversation,” O’Neal said. “When I had a conversation with a guy that won a championship, that changed my whole perspective. And that guy was Phil Jackson.”

Now Shaq hopes to be the Zen-master for Cousins, constantly referring to the “conversation” as the first step and downplaying the on-court teachings.

“My relationship with DeMarcus will be talking every day, but adding “I’m not going to be in his face every day,” Shaq said.

“(DeMarcus) knows that I know what I’m talking about. A lot of these guys, when I would have a conversation with people, they didn’t really understand what it takes so I was reluctant to listen to them. But once Phil came in, coming off six championships. I knew he knew what he was talking about and everything he told me I went and displayed it on the court — and everything he said that was going to happen it did happen. And we were able to get our three.”

Getting Cousins, who attended dinner with O’Neal, owners Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov and CA governor Jerry Brown last night, to buy in is just one aspect of O’Neal’s presence on the team.

Shaq is also being brought on board to send a message that the Kings are well past ready to turn the page on their recent history. The Kings were all but abandoned by their former owners, the Maloofs, and after years of relocation drama the organization is going to great lengths to show fans and media that they’re all about winning.

Vivek addressed that perception when he was asked about the recent ESPN the Magazine franchise rankings that called the Kings the worst franchise in sports. ESPN admittedly based it on old data from last year.

“(ESPN) should join the 21st century. Who want’s yesterday’s news?”

Vivek and Shaq both made bold proclamations that the new arena in Sacramento, which is on track to open in 2016 for all intents and purposes, will be among the top arenas in the world. They added that there will be an indoor/outdoor component to it, so for certain events “18,000 people could be inside and 10,000 people could be outside.”

As for Shaq’s history of chiding Sacramento fans and in particular his comments calling the Kings ‘the Sacramento Queens,” our friends at Cowbell Kingdom have the video:

In a day that more closely resembled media day than your typical ownership announcement, it is clear the Kings are going big by bringing on one of the game’s biggest personalities.

“The first game will be televised in India,” said Shaq. “There will be over 600 million people watching. We want Sacramento to be a world-wide brand.”