Author: Rob Mahoney

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers

Memphis holds advantage in courting restricted free agent Marc Gasol

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At this stage in the lockout and the negotiations within, it’s impossible for any free agent player to address their situation with certainty. That much is guaranteed by the fact that no explicit communication can go on between player and team at the present juncture; any indications given at this point convey only intent or interest, and until a new CBA is christened, there will be nothing in the way of actual contract negotiations and agreement.

Still, there is value in knowing the desired outcome of various NBA free-agents-to-be, even if it’s only on a stay-or-go binary. Case in point: Memphis’ Marc Gasol, a restricted free agent who plays a highly coveted position and is coming off of yet another promising season. The Grizzlies would retain the right to match any offer thrown Gasol’s way by virtue of his restricted status, but his own preferences do play a role in the free agent process, Memphis’ decision making, and in a nutshell, Gasol’s entire short-term basketball future. From Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commerial Appeal (via Yahoo’s Scoop du Jour blog):

“I grew up in Memphis. I feel like it’s my home,” Gasol said in a telephone interview before amassing 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks during Spain’s 98-85 title win in Kaunas, Lithuania.

“They always say it’s a business and there are bad sides to the business. We have to wait until it plays out. But I’m looking forward to something good happening.”

As far as media hints go, “looking forward to something good happening,” is about as vague as it gets. Still, the fact that Gasol — though nominally a Spaniard — considers Memphis his home is not altogether insignificant. There’s no binding contract. There’s not even a verbal agreement in place. But Gasol made a home for himself in Memphis long before he played for the Grizzlies, and the fact that fact will make some impact on his free agent courtship. Whether it affects the final dollar value of a possible re-up with the Grizz or merely hedges on his interest in a possible relocation remains to be seen, but there’s no way this tidbit doesn’t work in Memphis’ favor.

Matt Bonner explains the lockout’s new beginning

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We’re now months into the NBA lockout. July 1st marked the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement, and even before that deadline passed, the lockout loomed over the 2011 off-season.

Yet in terms of the timeline of negotiations and bargaining sessions between the players and owners, the lockout is in its infancy. Only now are the parties involved given incentive to compromise — or rather, only now are the parties involved truly facing actual risk. The potential for a shortened free agency period and the cancellation of the annual Summer League naturally didn’t do much to expedite the negotiating process; a logistical shift in free agency and a year off from the festivities in Vegas just don’t register as legitimate losses on a scale this large. The owners and players are fighting for what they believe to be fair, and thus far have refused to let isolated summer events stand in the way of what they deem to be equitable.

So while it’s almost trite to say that the NBA negotiations have “only just begun,” or “are just getting started,” both of those tropes are nonetheless true. Matt Bonner, Vice President of the NBPA, elaborated on the realities of the lockout’s motivations and timeline in a radio interview with The Fan 590 in Toronto (as transcribed by Sports Radio Interviews):

“No, I mean obviously up until Tuesday everything has been posturing. I can’t really blame one side or another for the reason a deal hasn’t been reached because the calendar was on both sides’ side. There wasn’t really any pressure from the calendar on either side. Now with the recent drop dead date for training camp and preseason and approaching regular season stuff, there’s definitely a lot more pressure on each side. Through that natural pressure we saw a window, based on what we thought was indicated a week before, we saw a window to possibly get a deal done. We did everything we could to prepare ourselves for that. The owners just did not share that attitude.”

This, ladies and gents, is the lockout’s true beginning. It isn’t dragging on; the real negotiations begin only when both sides have an accurate view of what’s at stake, and now that losing regular season games is a real possibility (if not an outright certainty), the bargaining process has finally begun in earnest.

Nets infrastructure could be in for a shake up

Mikhail Prokhorov Introductory Press Conference
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Nets owner Mikahil Prokhorov may draw Mark Cuban comparisons aplenty, but the two owners are apparently on very divergent paths. Though Cuban’s business ventures and widespread interests provide content fodder for his ever popular blog, the Mavericks seem to always come first. He not only invests oodles of money in the franchise, but also his time and efforts, as Cuban has gone to great lengths to stay very involved in every significant decision that the Mavs make.

Prokhorov, too, has been quite involved in the goings on in New Jersey, but it appears that he could soon have a rather substantial commitment splitting his attention. From Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger:


“I got a sense from him that he’s still just as committed to Nets basketball,’’ [Avery] Johnson said in a 30-minute sit-down. “At the same time, I think there was a window of opportunity for him to do what he’s doing now and get into the political realm and things he shared with me that he’s really (passionate) about, how he wants certain things changed about how things are done politically there.’’

Prokhorov is the leader of a political party — the Right Cause party — that is participating in the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections in Russia. If the party gets 7 percent of the general vote (in Russian elections, voters vote for the party, rather than individuals) then Prokhorov’s party would get some seats in the Russian Parliament.

“I don’t want to set off a fire alarm or anything, but I’m almost sure there will be a shifting the deeper he gets in this deal,’’ Johnson said. “But I think the way we’re set up as an organization, and all of the different moving parts that we have, and everybody understanding their role, I think we’ll be fine.’’

Make no mistake about it: this looks to be a pretty significant move for the Nets organization, no matter how Johnson tries to downplay things. When the man holding the purse strings of the organization doubles as an active management voice, it creates a unique dynamic. In such a scenario, the owner isn’t merely an enabler or a final threshold through which all deals must pass, but an active participant in the internal discussions that bring any possibility to final judgment. Neither managerial format is absolutely superior or inferior to the other, but the distinction between the two is certain. Should Prokhorov indeed shift his focus to the political sphere, the responsibilities of those working within the Nets organization will be shifted accordingly, and for the organization’s sake one can only hope that power is put in the right hands.

Lets maybe keep some of that authority away from whoever it was that was stumping for Travis Outlaw as Free Agent Savior, eh?

Dante Cunningham dodges minor charges

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Dante Cunningham’s arrest for a smörgåsbord of minor charges in late April doesn’t exactly resonate with NBA fans; the legal troubles of a minor contributor on a non-playoff team just don’t generate all that much NBA interest against the rest of the basketball scene at that stage in the season. But Cunningham nonetheless would have to answer to two authorities — the law and the league — for his handful of alleged transgressions, a process which has naturally dragged on due to the slow turning wheel of the legal system and everyone’s favorite professional sporting lockout.

But the gradual process of one of those institutions has finally made its way to Cunningham. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has gleaned some news of Cunningham’s legal matters:

Based on court documents available on the internet Tuesday, Charlotte Bobcats forward Dante Cunningham will not face charges involving possession of marijuana and a pellet gun in suburban Philadelphia.

Cunningham had a court hearing in the town of Radnor Tuesday afternoon to address charges resulting from an April 29 traffic stop. At the time, he was charged with marijuana possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a pellet gun, along with unsafe equipment on his car and disorderly conduct, relating to unreasonable noise.

Tuesday, minutes into his scheduled preliminary hearing, the drug and pellet-gun charges were withdrawn. That could be a major break for Cunningham, in regards to potential discpline from the NBA, regarding drug policy.

Certainly good news for Cunningham, as an arrest such as this one can create headaches for ripple after ripple. Hopefully the news that the charges were dropped will help quash any negative impact that Cunningham’s arrest put on his NBA stock. During his time in the league, Cunningham has proven himself to be a NBA talent through and through, albeit a limited one. He may only pan out as a regular contributor off the bench, but his game has earned him a place in the big leagues, and it’d be a shame for a weird night of contraband (and pellet guns!) to discount that.

On the NBA’s perpetually underpaid non-scorers

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It doesn’t take too much game-watching acumen to follow the ball as it goes through the hoop and praise the shooter who put it there, but there’s a certain concentration that’s required in following the game’s off-ball action. The gravitational pull of a basketball is undeniable; the most amazing things on the court happen in the immediate area surrounding that sphere, and the eyes of most every observer of the game trace its movements through crossovers, jumpers, and even more complex sleight-of-hand trickery.

Yet what goes on away from the ball, while not quite as amazing, is crucial for the implementation of actual basketball strategy. The best NBA defense are sophisticated machines, and the most fluid offenses require all kinds of movement and screening to create a single open shot. Each of these actions and skills are valuable in their creations; scorers are obviously required to win games, but having players capable of setting quick, effective screens, snatching up offensive rebounds, or slashing to the bucket to draw a defense’s attention are also incredibly valuable. The age of accessible internet video (and in particular, the incredible utility of services like Synergy Sports Technology) has made certain elements of the NBA game easier to appreciate and analyze than ever. We’re gradually moving away from a world that judges player worth in points per game in part because of all the information and footage that’s available on a wide scale, but it’s worth considering if the salary structure of the NBA will ever truly allow for skills that aren’t quantified in the traditional box score to be valued appropriately.

Obviously not every owner and general manager in the entire league puts the same weight on the same skills, but box score statistics remain the simplest way to determine a player’s direct impact on the floor. It makes sense that players who grab oodles of rebounds or dish out a ton of assists would be paid accordingly. But why not players who defend the pick and roll expertly or lock up the opponent’s best scorer? The smartest NBA clubs in the room keep track of all kinds of quantifiable skills that don’t show up in the public sphere — ranging from things like deflections to merely making a smart read on a play — so it’s not like we’re dealing with abstractions here. The numbers are at their fingertips, and yet non-scorers continue to grab reasonable salaries, but ones dwarfed by those capable of scoring 15 points per game.

The simple reason? The economics of the NBA dictate that some players have to get a short end of the stick, and though the collective logic of the league favors unconventional talent more than ever, the baseline perception still puts money in the hands of scorers. That means that non-box score contributions like defense, while essential, can be bought on the cheap while the Corey Maggettes of the world regularly rake in eight-figure salaries. The owners of the league are indeed speaking with their wallets; every team needs scorers, and that simple desire to put points on the board has led some scorers to pull more of their team’s resources than their contributions actually suggest they should. Yet under the shade provided by lofty salaries afforded to those scorers, the smartest NBA GMs and owners make a killing by exploiting the current market dynamic. Skills that show up indirectly in the box score or fail to at all are still essential for team success, and those with the means — be they statistical or merely observational — to most accurately assess those skills are usually the ones scooping up valuable contributors on the cheap.

The precedent has been set that scoring gets players paid, and reversing that trend is more complex than simply increasing awareness of the value of non-scoring contributions. This is true primarily because those best positioned to shell out money to deserving non-scoring players are encouraged to play the free agency game by its current rules. After all, why should the owners and managers who embrace a holistic understanding of the game pay any more than the market dictates they have to? So long as capable non-scorers remain underpaid, they’ll fill up less of a team’s cap space while largely being courted by only those in the know. There are real contributors in the league who simply produce in ways not accurately measured by the box score — and not encapsulated by trope tags like “championship experience.” By reinforcing the current NBA values, savvy execs are able to find said contributors in the bargain bin. Fair or not, the current system provides a notable advantage for those willing to dig in to the minutiae of the game, and one that would be surrendered if those same owners made an honest attempt to balance the pay scale for non-scoring skills.

The NBA market is stilted, but what empowered owner or manager would seek to establish equilibrium?