Author: Rob Mahoney

Jamaal Tinsley

Jamaal Tinsley to use D-League as a comeback vehicle

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In its current form, the D-League is a sensible option for any player on the cusp — or targeting the cusp — of making an NBA roster. As Antonio Daniels and Antoine Walker showed last year, that group doesn’t entirely consist of undrafted rookies or former college standouts bouncing back after a few years in Europe; the D is a legitimate landing spot for outcast NBA talent in any form, even players who don’t totally mesh with the league’s developmental goals. It’s a very visible domestic league with explicit NBA ties, showcases for NBA personnel, easily watchable games, and a built-in PR machine in the form of the NBA itself. If those structural advantages don’t make sense for the Daniels’ and Walkers’ of the world, I don’t know what does.

In their vein, another notable NBA name will try their hand in the D-League this season: Jamaal Tinsley. We last saw Tinsley making his initial comeback attempt in 2009-2010, when he suited up as a reserve for the Memphis Grizzlies after not playing NBA ball for the previous year and a half. Now Tinsley will give it another go, this time by entering his name in the D-League draft, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.

This could be a great opportunity for Tinsley to jump back into the NBA player pool (much like Daniels did last season), but he obviously comes with a few more red flags than the average call-up candidate. Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside explains:

A first round pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, Tinsley was injured often enough that he made it through just more than 53 games just three times during his eight-year NBA career — and that isn’t counting the fact that he sat out the 2008-09 season while exiled from the Indiana Pacers or this past season after not finding an NBA home due to a lackluster comeback season with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2009-10 season.

This isn’t to say that Tinsley won’t make the most of his D-League opportunity because it obviously takes quite a bit of humble pie to be able swallow one’s pride and announce to the world that the D-League is going to be the league you’re calling home. It does make me wonder if he’ll stick it out, however, knowing he’s been unhappy in much better situations in the past.

That last caveat is important: Tinsley has been through a lot, but none of that is reason enough for a D-League failure. He’s a talented player who deserves an honest shot at a back-up gig somewhere, and he appears to be earnestly striving for that goal. Nothing should just be given to him, but Tinsley deserves as blank a slate as he can get, even if it still holds the faint etchings of his former NBA life. Maybe he’ll burn out on the idea of the D-League. Maybe he’ll be tripped up by another injury. Maybe he’ll just inadvertently drive himself off of whichever team ends up drafting him. Those are all possibilities, but at the D-League level, does it really make sense to tie all of that baggage around Tinsley’s neck as a presupposition?

Drawing lines: Ambition vs. delusion (feat. Jordan Crawford!)


In the slim chance that you hadn’t heard, Jordan Crawford, per Michael Lee of the Washington Post, said one of those things NBA players just aren’t supposed to say:

“I don’t tell nobody, but I feel like I can be better than Michael Jordan,” Crawford said, without the slightest hint of sarcasm. “When I’m done playing, I don’t want people to say, Michael Jordan is the best player. I want that to be me. That’s how I am. That’s how I was built.”

Um, what? You realize people will look at you sideways and think you’re crazy for saying that, right?

“Yeah, I know that, I definitely know that. But I’m not settling for anything less,” Crawford said. “I feel like I’m better than him, anyway. My mom is going to say I’m better than him.”

Heresy against His Airness isn’t very well tolerated in the NBA realm, as evidenced by the fact that even hinting that the greatest player in the game today had a chance at surpassing Jordan earned Scottie Pippen a public roasting. Jordan the owner, Jordan the executive, and even Jordan the person are fair game, but to invoke his name in basketball discussions as anything but the player absolute is perceived as the highest offense against the game. Even treating his level as attainable is blasphemous; Jordan is up on his pedestal, and the basketball faithful work tirelessly to ensure his comfort and stability.

Crawford crossed that line, and given his rookie performance, that was a pretty silly decision to make. Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports contextualized Crawford’s comment with comparison (and contrast) to musicians invoking The Beatles; self-analogizing with either great is met with much guffawing, and rightfully so. But what really drives Dwyer’s point home is the distinction between the ridiculousness of Crawford’s claim and the motivation for the claim itself:

Crawford? He probably doesn’t share as humble a perspective, but what do you want the kid to say? Do you prefer he doesn’t gun for the top, on record? Do we not want his mother to think of him as the greatest thing to hit the hardwood since, well, Him?

Anyone who takes pot shots at Crawford today is just having fun with the guy, and that’s more than fine. Actually, that’s necessary. I mean, better than Jordan?

Beyond that, though? Dream big, Jordan Crawford. And let the history fall where it may.

That’s what struck me about Crawford’s quote: after being given a chance to explain, he clarifies feeling like he can better than Jordan as a want to be better than Jordan. When he’s done playing, he doesn’t want people to say that Michael Jordan is the best player. He wants that to be him. That’s how he is. That’s how he was built.

That quote is particularly engrossing because of the name invoked, but really, was Crawford’s claim all that different from John Wall saying he wants to be the best point guard ever? Wall’s goal is more sensible, sure, but would we react differently if his ambition was manifest in him saying he wanted to be better than Magic Johnson,John Stockton, or any number of historically great point guards? Talented players have taken aim for “the best to ever play the game,” (or the best to ever play their given position) publicly before, but only when such lofty goals include specific players does the internet kerfuffle begin. What is it that we think those words — “best to ever play the game,” — mean, and why do they seem to mean less when Jordan isn’t denoted specifically?

There’s obviously a difference between Crawford targeting greatness and Wall doing the same, but is that the source of the (deserved) response snark aimed at Crawford, or are we picking nits over rhetoric?

Rodney Stuckey could play in China, add to NBA’s mid-season free agent mayhem

Rodney Stuckey Chris Bosh
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Only a handful of NBA players have officially signed to play in China during the NBA lockout, but another may not be too far behind. According to Marc Stein of (via Yahoo’s Scoop du Jour blog), Rodney Stuckey is being courted by the Guangdong Southern Tigers, and unlike many other NBA players, actually has the free agent status to make a deal with a Chinese team possible. The Chinese Basketball Association has outlawed the signing of players with existing contracts in other leagues (even if those leagues are inactive), and thus can only target restricted and unrestricted free agents among the suddenly available crop of NBA players.

It’s natural that Stuckey would be a target among the current free agents; he’s not exactly a stellar player, but Stuckey is nonetheless an intriguing, balanced talent capable of contributing across the board. He’d likely do very well in a stint with the Chinese Basketball Association, and in the process earn himself some lockout coin. So long as he’s willing to give up on the possibility of playing in the NBA through March, the Tigers could be a nice spot for Stuckey to spend a few months.

That said, Guangdong’s interest in Stuckey pales in comparison to the NBA’s mid-season reality if free agents continue to sign deals in China. As Marc Stein noted in his report, Yi Jianlian would be able to return to the NBA at a time of his choosing, but Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, and any player who isn’t a Chinese national would be obligated to remain in China until the CBA season wraps in March (at the earliest; championship-level teams continue playing into April). Martin and Smith would then become unrestricted free agents, giving some lucky team (with cap space or a salary cap exception to spare) the opportunity to add a rotation-caliber player for a final push. There are obviously some problems with adding a contributor so late in the season, but the prospect of picking up Martin or Smith at that stage — past the trade deadline, mind you — without surrendering any assets will undoubtedly be appealing.

As for Chandler (and Stuckey, should he choose to take the Tigers up on their offer): who knows what the restricted free agency protocol will be like for a player entering the pool mid-season? Will the Nuggets get Chandler back by default because they issued him a qualifying offer? And if so, why is he being treated like a true free agent in regard to his ability to sign in China? Chandler and Stuckey could induce a surreal mid-season bidding war if they’re allowed to go through their customary free agent process while the season is still in stride. Denver and Detroit would have the natural advantage in retaining their respective players, but there’s always a chance that either player could be swept off of their feet — particularly if either incumbent team is leery of the penalties of a new, oppressive luxury tax. There will either be an odd contradiction in free agent status or one of the weirdest mid-season events in league history. The kicker? Things will only get crazier as more free agents commit to play in China for a chunk of the NBA’s season, leading to an unprecedented influx of familiar NBA talent with the playoffs just around the corner.

How does the NBA stack up to the NFL, MLB, and NHL in spending efficiency?

NBA Finals Mavericks Heat Basketball

Periodically, one financially inclined publication or another takes a look at the performance of professional sports teams in relation to their payroll. What typically ensues is just basic division; the outlets divide the total salary cost by the team’s wins, and then rank the teams according to their total cost per win. It’s a fun exercise, but Ira Boudway of Businessweek took things a step further. After calculating that “cost per win” number for each team across all four major sports over the last five years, Boudway found the standard deviation for each team within their respective sports. Using that standard deviation — dubbed “Efficiency Index” for the purposes of that particular post — Boudway was able to compare across leagues, and determine the spenders who are getting the greatest payoff per dollar spent relative to their competition.

NBA clubs don’t rank too well overall; the Spurs (5th) are the only basketball franchise in the top 10 according to the aforementioned Efficiency Index, and the Jazz (14th) and Lakers (15th) just barely managed to squeeze into the top 15. There are a run of NBA clubs in the low-20s, but overall, pro basketball doesn’t quite seem able to keep up with the MLB or NHL in term of win efficiency in financial terms.

That said, there’s an interesting trend at the top of these rankings: the “smartest-spending” NBA, NFL, and NHL teams are rewarded for their spending efficiency with playoff berths and championships, while MLB teams often fail to compete despite showing well in terms of their cost per win. Only two of the seven baseball teams in the Index’s top 30 have participated in postseason play over the last five years. Three of those inept teams (Florida Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres) have fallen short of the playoffs five straight times despite ranking in the Efficiency Index’s top 10. True to form, this kind of data speaks to the return on high-level spending in baseball, which is by nature inefficient.

However, even when we look at NBA teams within the context of cross-league comparison, it’s hard to draw any concrete conclusions. This kind of reframing is interesting on a self-contained level, but it doesn’t do too much to clarify the existing, oft-debated dynamic between big spending and big wins in professional basketball. We know that exorbitant spending in the NBA isn’t always efficient, but it clearly can be; teams like the Lakers, Mavericks, and Magic have benefited greatly from their ability to give and take on large contracts. However, a line can — and should — be drawn between teams that spend and teams who are willing to spend. The chicken-egg element of these discussions lies in the fact that some owners are willing to spend if they have the right talent base to justify such expenditures, but simply don’t believe their middling clubs are worthy of an excessive investment. This chart, while interesting, doesn’t do much to clarify that debate; we still don’t know if NBA teams spend because they’re good or if they’re good because they spend, and it’s difficult to determine that much without control data taken in different league conditions within the same sport.

So here we are, right where we were: some NBA teams spend intelligently, and some do not, and both of those facts are separate from the total payroll of the teams in question. Here’s hoping the league and the union have more conclusive data to back their competitive equity claims in their negotiations than the limited correlations we try to draw facts from on the outside.

The enduring value of the Pacers’ undeserved playoff berth

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As third parties have banded about all kinds of system-related ideas in light of the lockout, I’ve seen the 2010-2011 Indiana Pacers, who finished the regular season with a 37-45 record, categorically used as evidence in support of an altered playoff system. As much as I understand the sentiment that teams so far under .500 shouldn’t be able to compete in the postseason, I feel as though that notion ignores a tremendously important fact: despite their regular season record, the Pacers actually played quite well in their first round series against the Chicago Bulls.

That series only lasted five games, but the first four were decided by a total of 20 points; each and every one of those initial four contests went down to the wire, with the Pacers falling because of their inability to manufacture points against Chicago’s late-game defense. The games were competitive and intriguing, to a degree that makes me legitimately curious if the current playoff system’s harshest critics were able to tune in to see one of the league’s most understated young teams do battle with a finished product. It’s something we often forget when discussing the NBA’s up-and-comers; Indiana may not be able to match the terrific potential of a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Pacers have nonetheless amassed a group of quality players that just so happen to be climbing toward their basketball primes.

Danny Granger, in an interview with Zach Lowe for’s The Point Forward blog, talked about the Pacers’ youth, and the team’s late-game performance in those tightly contested games — games that weren’t supposed to be so competitive, and games that, according to the aforementioned dissenting group, shouldn’t have involved the Pacers in the first place: You guys pushed the Bulls in the first round. Four of the five games were really close. But one theme that kept popping up was the trouble you guys had scoring down the stretch. What happened?

Granger: I think that was our immaturity. I agree with what you say happened. We didn’t execute or run our plays the way we wanted. A lot of it had to do with the Bulls having the best defense in the league. But we have to be able to produce plays in crunch time. The team ran a lot of pick-and-rolls down the stretch of those games — you screening for Darren Collison, you taking a screen from Roy Hibbert and other combinations. But the numbers say you guys were one of the least efficient pick-and-roll teams in the league. How can you get better?

Granger: It’s just a matter of working it in. To be an effective pick-and-roll team, you have to have good decision-makers. I’m not saying that we didn’t have them, but I think we were just inexperienced in that scenario. We switched coaches during the middle of the season, and we switched our whole offense to implement more pick-and-rolls. Frank Vogel did a good job getting us on the same page, but you have to remember: In that series, we started Paul George, who was a rookie. Tyler Hansbrough was basically a rookie, since he was hurt his first year. Darren Collison was in his second year. Roy Hibbert is young.

Considering how closely Indiana kept pace with one of the league’s top teams, do the ends justify the playoff structuring means in this instance? Not solely; there’s no question that the Houston Rockets (43-39), Phoenix Suns (40-42), and even Utah Jazz (39-43) were screwed over by playing in the deeper Western Conference. The fact that the series was entertaining and competitive doesn’t really do much for the players on any of those three squads, who all were cut off after 82 games despite posting better records than Indiana.

But consider those quotes from Granger. That Bulls-Pacers first round series wasn’t exactly an all-timer, but it was pretty special nonetheless. The team that shouldn’t have qualified for the postseason played as valiantly as one could possibly hope, and though decision-making issues really did end up being their downfall, we were still able to witness a fun, young roster legitimately compete against an elite club. Maybe that result doesn’t justify the process in itself, but it should at least factor into our retrospective analysis of it.

Essentially, there were two lessons to be learned from that hotly contested series. First, that Indiana wasn’t just the team that lost 45 games and yet still managed to secure a playoff spot. They’re also the team that tested the top-seeded Chicago Bulls much sooner than expected, and — along with the Memphis Grizzlies — represent the potential of No. 8 seeds, even in this allegedly broken system, to cause some mayhem. The conference playoff structure may not be perfect, but in this case it created a commendable product undeserving of criticism or ire. Second, that the only way to frame the Pacers’ struggles is in the context of their youth. Indiana may have been unable to execute down the stretch against Chicago, but the series still showcased a dynamic Pacers roster with plenty of talent and lots of potential for further growth.