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NBA

Which tanking owner berated his coach for winning?

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An NBA owner reportedly berated his coach for winning.

That speaks to the league’s tanking epidemic, even if Adam Silver is just moving toward acknowledging it. This is part of a much larger debate about the league’s incentive structures.

But it’s also a single case with a very important question: Which owner did it?

We can limit our search to eight teams that clearly tanked this season: Suns, Grizzlies, Hawks, Mavericks, Magic, Kings, Bulls and Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported the win came on the road over a “pretty good team” in the “last several weeks of the season.” Even if we broadly limit opponents to the NBA’s 18 winning teams and dates to all of March and April, that eliminates half the tankers. The Suns, Mavericks, Magic and Bulls beat no winning teams on the road in March or April.

Unfortunately, we can’t simply say it’s one of four owners. Teams have many minority owners, and Wojnarowski doesn’t specify it’s a controlling owner. Having access to a coach and using it to berate him for winning would be quite on-brand for a minority owner.

But we can size up which team that owner – principal or minority – came from. The candidates and their suspicion-raising wins:

Grizzlies (controlling owner: Robert Pera)

Beat Timberwolves on March 26

Why it was a Grizzlies owner: Robert Pera reportedly wanted to fire Dave Joerger as coach when a one-one-one game between the owner and Tony Allen fell through. If that were enough to warrant firing the coach to Pera, certainly a harmful win would cause some outrage.

Memphis also has plenty of owners. It takes only one. I want to believe it was Grizzlies minority owner Justin Timberlake, and without much clear evidence pointing at anyone else in particular, why not just choose to believe that?

Why it wasn’t a Grizzlies owner: The Grizzlies’ owners with the biggest shares – Pera, Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus – had bigger fish to fry. They were involved in hashing out a complex buy-sell option when Memphis beat Minnesota.

Pera, who retained his controlling interest, is reportedly open to keeping interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff. That’d indicate Pera approved of Bickerstaff’s performance, maybe including the win over the Timberwolves (though Bickerstaff did plenty of losing otherwise).

This is also the team that somehow didn’t trade Tyreke Evans and refused to entertain trading Marc Gasol. Were the Grizzlies really that dedicated to tanking?

Hawks (controlling owner: Tony Ressler)

Beat Jazz on March 20

Beat Wizards on April 6

Beat Celtics on April 8

Why it was a Hawks owner: With three road wins over winning teams in March and April, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer provided the most opportunities to enrage his owner.

Tony Ressler is a relatively new owner, so we don’t know much about him yet. But he merely inherited Budenholzer (who seemed tanking-averse while running the front office) and actively hired general manager Travis Schlenk (who executed a teardown).

Though he’s still under contract with the Hawks, Budenholzer is talking to the Suns about their vacancy. Perhaps, that speaks to a disconnect with Atlanta’s ownership.

Why it wasn’t a Hawks owner: Again, we don’t know much about Ressler or his group. He’s the NBA’s newest controlling owner outside Houston. Many of the suspect teams were tanking because years of poor ownership – which can be shown through things like berating a coach for winning – left little other choice. Lacking a clear positive or negative track record, Ressler is ahead of other owners on this list.

Kings (controlling owner: Vivek Ranadive)

Beat Warriors on March 16

Why it was a Kings owner: Vivek Ranadive. Where to start? He’s not shy about sending his ridiculous ideas down the pipeline. Looking at you, 4-on-5. Ranadive has also repeatedly blamed underlings for his franchise’s problems. In a chaotic front office, Vlade Divac seems unlikely to filter a message from Ranadive to Sacramento coach Dave Joerger.

The Kings’ minority owners are also known to complain aggressively. It easily could have been one of them.

These are desperate times in Sacramento. This is the Kings’ last chance to draft a top talent before sending their 2019 first-round pick to the 76ers or Celtics. By 2020, Sacramento’s deep young core (that sorely misses an elite prospect) could have developed enough to stay out of the NBA’s absolute basement and the high pick that comes with being there.

Why it wasn’t a Kings owner: Ranadive previously owned a share of the Warriors. I’m guessing he would appreciate beating a team he’s trying to emulate and one full of people he knows.

This is also the earliest game of the plausible qualifiers, stretching Wojnarowski’s description of “last several weeks of the season.”

Knicks (controlling owner: James Dolan)

Beat Wizards on March 25

Beat Cavaliers on April 11

Why it was a Knicks owner: James Dolan is easily agitated and has repeatedly inserted himself at all the wrong times. He often acts like a jerk.

New York also fired Jeff Hornacek immediately after that Cleveland win. Cause and effect?

Why it wasn’t a Knicks owner: Dolan has gotten involved more often to rush winning, not take the long view.

Hornacek also seemed on the outs even before New York beat Washington or Cleveland. That doesn’t mean Dolan wanted to win those games, but that’d work against a clear connection between those victories and Hornacek’s firing.

Jaylen Brown scores 30, young Celtics take 2-0 series lead over Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo drove and scored while being fouled, his third drawn foul on a made shot.

But he stepped on Aron Baynes foot, fell to the ground and held his right ankle in pain. Then – following a Last Two Minute Report that noted he held the ball longer than the permitted 10 seconds on all six of tracked free throws in Game 1 (a longstanding issue) and an air-balled quicker free throw earlier in Game 2 – Antetokounmpo missed again from the line.

Antetokounmpo remains a force, but the rising Celtics have the Bucks down, battered and thrown for a loop.

Jaylen Brown scored 30 points to lead Boston to a 120-106 Game 2 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday, giving the Celtics a 2-0 series lead. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 94% of the time.

The 21-year-old Brown became youngest Boston player ever to score 30 in a playoff game.

“What more can you ask for?” Brown said. “Everybody’s writing us off. They’re saying that we’re too young, and we’re not even listening.”

The Celtics appeared headed for trouble with Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis out injured. But Boston’s young players are stepping up.

Starting at point guard for Irving, 24-year-old Terry Rozier (23 points on eight assists tonight) has played 78 minutes in this series without a turnover. Rozier is acing this audition.

Antetokounmpo (30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) is elite. Khris Middleton (25 points on 10-of-14 shooting) played excellently once he finally asserted himself.

But Eric Bledsoe continues to struggle. Tony Snell has been invisible. The Bucks still haven’t found a helpful role for Jabari Parker – no easy task considering his defensive shortcomings. Milwaukee’s centers were also too often out of position defensively. Anything Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe did required overcoming the Bucks’ poor spacing.

On the other hand, the Celtics – both young and seasoned – are flowing. Marcus Morris (18 points) and Middleton got chippy late in the game. At one point, Morris committed a hard foul on Middleton. Middleton earned free throws, but once everyone was separated, Morris was calling the Boston crowd to its feet.

The Bucks are still standing. The Celtics feel good about how things are going.

Adam Silver on NBA’s handling of tanking incentives: ‘We’re not there yet’

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has defined tanking so narrowly – a team purposefully losing – he can deny it happens.

A team sitting good healthy players? Not necessarily tanking.

A team using suboptimal lineup combinations? Not necessarily tanking.

Players giving less effort as they feel the morass of a situation in which everyone understands the organization is better off losing? Not necessarily tanking.

Obviously, these things happen, and they happen because teams want to lose and secure a better draft pick. But as long as Silver doesn’t see evidence of that motive – and he’s not copping to looking – he can deny tanking occurs. That’s been the approach for years.

But the NBA explicitly warned teams not to tank this year. The league specifically warned the Bulls not to rest Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday.

Maybe Silver is getting more proactive about a problem he has repeatedly denied even exists?

Silver:

Q. I was just curious why the Grizzlies weren’t punished for tanking when other teams were. You came out strongly against tanking earlier this season, and I’m just wondering, that team specifically seemed to have some issues —
ADAM SILVER: No team was, so-called, punished for tanking —
Q. Or warned.
ADAM SILVER: I will just say we had conversations with several teams about what the product was that they were putting on the floor, and I’ll leave it at that. They were just direct conversations we had with teams.
Well, let me add, I find it an incredibly difficult issue. We are changing the Draft Lottery for next year. That was something that had already been voted on, but we continue to look at the issue. We recognize that our goal was to put the best competition on the floor, and it’s balanced against legitimate rebuilding of some teams. But I know we’re not there yet, and I certainly wasn’t satisfied.
There can only be so much cajoling out of the league office. It’s one of those things that the last place I want to go as the commissioner of the league office is to start dictating minutes and which particular players should be playing at what points in the game.
I recognize that the incentives are not aligned right now, that there’s a huge incentive to increase your chances in the Draft Lottery, especially under the old system. As I said, we’re switching the system for next year. We’ll see how much of an impact that has, but my sense is we’re still going to have some work to do.

This far closer than Silver had ever come to admitting tanking happens. That’s the first step in combatting it.

But for far too long, his priority was fighting the perception of tanking – not actual tanking. It’ll take more action before I’m convinced the NBA will actually get at the meat of the issue.

Lottery reform – which will reduce the reward for finishing in the absolute basement – could reduce tanking. But as long as teams are incentivized with valuable draft picks to lose, tanking will still occur in some form.

That’s the problem with this lottery reform. It allows the league – which has finally admitted to, let’s generously say, tanking-like problems – to delay more meaningful action for years while assessing this minor change.

At least Silver is already saying this tweak probably won’t be enough. But how long until the NBA  actually does something else?

NBA increases minor-league salaries to $35,000

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The NBA’s minor-league salaries were $26,000 or $19,500.

So, this is a hefty jump – though not necessarily to a high point.

NBA release:

The NBA G League announced today the salaries for the 2018-19 season: players under NBA G League contracts will earn a base salary of $7,000 per month – or $35,000 – for the five-month regular season.

This applies only to players who sign directly with the minor league. Players on standard NBA contracts will continue to receive their NBA salary while assigned to the minor league. Two-way players, as prescribed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, will have their minor-league salary increase from $75,000 to $77,250 (which is prorated based on service days in each league). NBA teams can also guarantee a player up to $50,000, waive him then assign him to its minor-league affiliate – a workaround to entice players to play in the NBA’s minor league rather than overseas.

Why aren’t base salaries higher for players who sign directly with the minor league? The main issue is that they’re NBA free agents. NBA teams don’t want to invest significant money and time in players who can just sign with another NBA team at any time.

As the NBA’s minor league grows toward having an affiliate for each NBA team, maybe minor-league players’ rights will be held exclusively by the parent NBA club. That’d increase the demand for securing them – and therefore their salaries, too.

Report: Kawhi Leonard, Spurs agree on rehab program that has him away from team

AP Photo/Max Becherer
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The Spurs reportedly cleared Kawhi Leonard. His own medical team obviously hasn’t.

But are both sides actually on the same page?

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

League sources tell me that his doctors and the Spurs medical staff agree to his current rehab program in New York. Both sides collaborated to any decision with his injured right quad. Not a player gone rogue.

If this is the case, Gregg Popovich’s repeatedly referring questions about Leonard’s rehab to Leonard and his camp is a disservice to Leonard. That makes it sound as if Leonard is on a different page from the Spurs and therefore must answer for himself. If everyone agrees on the plan, Popovich could more easily share it himself.

There are reasons to suspect a divide, though. No. 1: Why would the Spurs leak that they’re on the same page as Leonard rather than just saying so themselves?

This sounds like spin out of Leonard’s camp. That doesn’t make it untrue, but it should raise some skepticism. Leonard has been widely criticized for not being with the Spurs as they compete in the playoffs. Even if he’s not playing he could sit on the bench. This rebuts that argument.

How convincingly? That’s debatable.