Dan Feldman

Marc Gasol
AP

Rockets nicknamed Marc Gasol ‘Man Boobs’ in 2007, were discouraged from drafting him

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The Rockets did well in the 2007 NBA draft, getting Aaron Brooks with the No. 26 pick and Carl Landry with the No. 31 pick. Teams rarely find solid contributors that deep in the draft.

But this particular draft had a future star available – Marc Gasol, whom the Lakers took No. 48.

How did Houston miss him? Analytically inclined Rockets general manager Daryl Morey even had indicators predicting Gasol’s success.

Michael Lewis in “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds,” via Slate:

For instance, in the 2007 draft there had been a player his model really liked: Marc Gasol. Gasol was twenty-two years old, a seven-foot-one center playing in Europe. The scouts had found a photograph of him shirtless. He was pudgy and baby-faced and had these jiggly pecs. The Rockets staff had given Marc Gasol a nickname: Man Boobs. Man Boobs this and Man Boobs that. “That was my first draft in charge and I wasn’t so brave,” said Morey. He allowed the general ridicule of Marc Gasol’s body to drown out his model’s optimism about Gasol’s basketball future, and so instead of arguing with his staff, he watched the Mem­phis Grizzlies take Gasol with the 48th pick of the draft. The odds of getting an All-Star with the 48th pick in the draft were well below one in a hundred. The 48th pick of the draft basically never even yielded a useful NBA bench player, but already Marc Gasol was proving to be a giant exception. (Gasol became a two-time All-Star in 2012 and 2015 and, by Houston’s reckoning, the third-best pick made by the entire NBA over the past decade, after Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin.) The label they’d stuck on him clearly had affected how they valued him: names mattered. “I made a new rule right then,” said Morey. “I banned nicknames.”

To be fair, numerous teams passed on Gasol. He just wasn’t highly touted then. And Gasol was out of shape in high school. He looked like a different person.

But Gasol’s poor conditioning should’ve made Morey even more inclined to pick him. Gasol produced well despite being overweight. Getting in better shape presented a clear path to improvement unavailable to players already in elite shape.

That Morey would ban nicknames is an interesting response – one of the many insights into Morey’s thought processes revealed by Lewis. I highly recommend reading the entire available excerpt of his book.

Forbes: Michael Jordan is highest-paid athlete of all-time

Michael Jordan
AP
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More than a decade after his final retirement, Michael Jordan reportedly still makes more in endorsements than any active NBA player.

That has given Jordan a high-level earning longevity usually seen by only golfers.

It has also put Jordan above Tigers Woods on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes of all-time.

Forbes:

Our earnings estimates cover salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and licensing, as well as fees from books, golf course design and appearances through the end of May 2016 (the cutoff for Forbes most recent Celebrity 100 list). We do not include investment income or deduct for taxes or agents’ fees. We exclude the sale of businesses such as in the case of Roger Staubach, who sold his real estate business in 2008 for $640 million, although Staubach only owned 12% of the company when it was sold. We back-filled years where we did not publish earnings figures, such as prior to 1990 for Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

We adjusted all figures for inflation to 2016 dollars.

Kobe Bryant (sixth), Shaquille O’Neal (10th) and LeBron James 13th) also made the rankings.

Here’s the top 20, with NBA players in orange:

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Larry Bird says he thought there was ‘no way in hell’ DeAndre Jordan would stick in NBA

Larry Bird
AP
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Larry Bird is known to make some grand proclamations about NBA draft picks – and the Pacers president has earned the benefit of the doubt. He drafted raw prospects Paul George and Lance Stephenson and saw them develop into a star and a near-star.

But Bird’s track record is far from perfect, as he admits.

DeAndre Jordan – the No. 35 pick by the Clippers in 2008 – turned out to be a tremendous steal, making the All-NBA first team last season and the All-NBA third team the year before. But Bird thought the Clippers reached.

Bird, via David Aldridge of NBA.com:

When he came in here to work out the first time, I couldn’t believe the kid was even thinking about coming out. He was tall, he could run and he could jump. But basketball (skills)? Had none. And I am amazed, I am truly amazed how this young man has developed his game from where he was to the point he’s at today. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve seen guys get a lot better, but when he came in there that day, we had Roy Hibbert, we had some other big guys in here. I really felt sorry for the kid. I thought there’s no way in hell this kid will ever make it in this league. And I don’t know who got with him, or what he did, but to watch him play and perform on a nightly basis the way he does is just breathtaking to me. After everything I’ve seen, I always go back to that. It’s pretty amazing. And this wasn’t this year; this happened five years ago. And just watching him, he was in here the other night and I thought, boy, I’m so proud of that kid. It’s amazing. I’ve never really met him other than that day he was in here. But just watching kids like that come in, and here I’m thinking they have no chance, there’s no way in hell they’ll play in this league, and to accomplish some of the things he’s done, to me, that’s worth it all. And I had nothing to do with it. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. But that’s the kick I get out of it.

Bird’s assessment was reasonable. Jordan was so raw coming out of Texas A&M after only one year, and he remained rough around the edges in his first couple NBA seasons.

Maybe there’s a lesson here about taking risks on players whose physical skills are so impressive. If you hit, you hit big.

But really, this is a great opportunity to appreciate how hard Jordan has worked and how far he has come.

Pat Riley: Heat will ‘rebuild quick’

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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The Heat have missed the playoffs just four times in Pat Riley’s 22-year tenure.

They won a championship within four years of their first three lottery trips.

The fourth foray into losing came two years ago, and Miami is on track for another lottery season this year.

So, what now?

Riley, as transcribed by Anthony Chiang of The Palm Beat Post:

“We’re dealing with that word that you hate to use — that we have to rebuild,” Riley told WQAM’s Joe Rose on his radio show Wednesday morning. “But we will rebuild quick. I’m not going to hang around here for three or four years selling this kind of song to people in Miami. We have great, great fans. They’re frustrated. They’ve been used to something great over the last 10 years and so right now we’re taking a hit. I think we can turn this thing around. … You can use that word rebuild. But we’re going to do it fast.”

Does he mean tanking? I don’t know that’s what he meant, but it sure sounds as if he’s warning fans about tanking.

That would make sense. Miami has its own first-round pick in what projects to be a loaded draft, and this might be the Heat’s last chance to pick high for a while. They owe the Suns two future first round picks (one top-seven protected in 2018 or unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021).

Further, Tyler Johnson‘s salary will drastically increase in 2018. That incentivizes Miami to spend big in free agency this summer, which would improve the 2017-18 Heat.

Higher max salaries under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will make it harder for the Heat to add multiple stars, though. Put another way: It’s even more important for Miami to add talent through the draft.

So how do the Heat tank? They seemingly want to build around Hassan Whiteside, but they could trade Goran Dragic (which would likely add cap room for this summer).

After his first losing season with Miami, Riley drafted Dwyane Wade and bought low on a Shaquille O’Neal who demanded a trade from the Lakers. The next off year was followed by signing Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Is Riley uniquely adept at building winners quickly, or did luck play a large role in those incredible turnarounds? That long-standing debate will add another chapter over the next year or two.

George Karl: Michael Jordan endorsed Scottie Pippen-to-Sonics trade

Utah Jazz v Chicago Bulls
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You might know Seattle drafted Scottie Pippen before sending him to the Bulls in a draft-night trade.

But did you know the SuperSonics nearly traded Shawn Kemp and Ricky Pierce for Pippen – with Michael Jordan’s blessing – in 1994?

Jordan was retired (for the first of three times), and Pippen had just led Chicago to 55 wins and a playoff-series victory. Seattle won 63 games behind Kemp and Gary Payton, but lost to the Nuggets in the NBA’s first 1-8 upset. Sonics owner Barry Ackerley had just installed Wally Walker to run the front office.

Then-Seattle coach George Karl in “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection:”

The Bulls saw an opportunity. Four days before the draft, Jerry Krause called. The Chicago GM, who’d visited me in Spain, had a proposal: Kemp, Pierce, and our number one for Scottie Pippen. Pippen was the best small forward, or 3, in the league. Nothing he wasn’t good at. During one of Michael’s retirements, Scottie led his team in all five of the main categories—rebounds, scoring, blocks, steals, and assists—so rare that it had only happened once before in NBA history (Dave Cowens, for the Celtics, in 1977-78). But with his running buddy MJ now a baseball player, maybe Pippen was a little disconnected. When I tried to imagine the Sonics without Shawn I knew I’d miss him, but I got pretty excited picturing Gary and Scottie teaming up on a trap; they’d smother opposing guards. But every trade prompts a debate. I was in favor of this one but I wasn’t sure.

So I called Michael. We talked about minor-league baseball, North Carolina basketball, and golf. Then we talked about the big deal on the table. Should we do this?

“Do it,” he said. “Scottie can make your other players better. Kemp can’t.”

So, the day before the draft, we said yes. News of the trade immediately leaked out and onto the KJR airwaves. More anger from the callers, a lot more; our fans loved Shawn. Again, Ackerley listened. That afternoon, he called our draft headquarters in the Sonics locker room. It doesn’t feel right, he told Wally. Better wait. I had the unpleasant job of calling Krause, who was not happy.

While we dragged our feet on draft day, Krause got desperate. He called to tell me the Bulls would drop the demand for our number one pick. He offered a big chunk of money in the next call. Then he called back to double it. Literally minutes before the draft started, Ackerley backed us out of the deal. When I delivered the bad news, Krause dropped f-bombs and called me names. We’d keep Kemp, they’d keep Pippen.

I don’t see any reason Jordan – who shared an alma mater, North Carolina, with Karl – would’ve misled his fellow Tar Heel. Jordan was retired and not particularly a Bulls loyalist at that time.

Of course, Jordan came back and Pippen helped him win three more championships, including one over Karl’s Sonics. Kemp declined sharply after that, struggling with weight and attitude issues and wouldn’t have been nearly the sidekick Pippen was.

This is one heck of a “what if?” in basketball history. That trade could’ve drastically altered Jordan’s legacy, maybe even costing him his last three rings. The kicker: It seems Jordan understood the value of the players who would’ve been dealt. He just didn’t understand how it would’ve affected him.

Disclosure: I received a promotional copy of “Furious George.”