Author: Rob Mahoney

Ron Artest Parade

The ‘Summer of Ron’ continues: Artest guarantees a championship for L.A.

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With the lockout having deprived the NBA world of summer league and a proper free agency period, fringe stories have all but taken over the scene. The overseas inklings of any relevant NBA player have become news, and while that’s certainly pertinent information if the lockout ends up costing the league games, it’s not exactly the same as the NBA-shifting domestic player movement that could go on in a typical off-season.

Instead, the news cycle has been filled with Ron Artest to the brim. He’s provided headline fodder in almost every capacity, with his latest being an out-and-out guarantee that L.A. will win the 2012 championship. Via Mark Medina of the L.A. Times:

[The Lakers’ 2010 title celebration] may all feel like a distant memory considering how the Lakers ended the 2011 postseason with a four-game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals. But Artest guaranteed to ESPN Los Angeles’ Stephen A. Smith in a 40-minute interview Wednesday that the Lakers will again pop the champagne bottles after winning the 2012 NBA title. Assuming there’s a season of course.

“Win it all,” Artest said when asked what will the Lakers do in the 2011-2012 season. “Win the whole thing. That’s a guarantee.”

The guaranteed victory is kind of a big deal in sports, but largely because such comments are deemed to be “bulletin board material,” for opposing clubs or representative of some kind of hubris. This particular instance is neither, really; Artest’s guarantee is far too early to be relevant to any NBA opponent, and more indicative of Ron being Ron than any real overconfidence. If you put a microphone in front of Ron Artest, he will say things. Some will be silly, most will be earnest, and a few will be surprisingly wise. This is undoubtedly the former, but not really telling of anything save that Artest likes his team and their chances. Which, y’know, he should, considering that the Lakers are still a stacked club with a legitimate shot at the 2012 crown — should the lockout allow such a thing to even exist.

DeJuan Blair may play in Russia, perceived injury risks be damned

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Among the flood of reported signings, flirtations, explorations, and interest between overseas clubs and NBA players, DeJuan Blair’s name and news don’t create much of a ripple. He’s no Deron Williams, after all; Blair isn’t even a steady NBA regular at this point in his career, having squandered some of the opportunity given him as a member of San Antonio’s limited frontcourt. Yet thanks to Blair’s injury history, the news that he may play professionally in Russia (per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski) has raised a few eyebrows and inspired the internet peanut gallery to take their best collective shot.

The primary risk of international basketball to NBA players is the potential for injury involved. Strange things happen on a basketball court; it’s honestly amazing that serious injuries don’t occur more often with all of the leaping into occupied space that goes on in a competitive game between hyper athletic ballplayers, but those tweaks, sprains, strains, and breaks that do happen are costly nonetheless. Not only does Blair run the risk of a freak injury by playing in Russia, but also the natural wear and tear that comes from a player with no ACLs hitting the non-NBA hardwood. The domestic logic could deem Blair insane; he’s labeled as being injury-prone as it is, and yet he’s likely chosen to spend his time away from the league playing for a team that is not his own while risking serious injury in the process.

Yet injury is an odd reason for Blair or any other player to forgo the chance to play elsewhere during the lockout. The risk of injury/lack of insurance argument can logically apply to NBAers suiting up for their national teams during a typical off-season, but this summer (and now fall) is anything but typical. The void left from a lack of team workouts, training camp, and preseason ball gives players even more incentive to ready their skills in preparation for an NBA campaign that may or may not come. There is no existing schedule or guide for players to ready their bodies for the regular season; negotiations could take a turn on a moment’s notice, and it will be up to Blair and all of his peers to be ready to play professional basketball again, be it in November, in January, or worse.

This decision, should Blair make it, would be a means to that end. Plus, lest we forget, the schedules of foreign leagues aren’t all that different from the NBA’s. Blair will be playing and training, but only in the lack of the playing and training he’d be doing with the Spurs as part of his typical NBA regimen. He — and every other NBA player interested in alternative lockout employment — would be drilling, lifting, or scrimmaging, and all it would take would be the pop of a medicine ball, an awkward fall, or a hard collision to send a training camper to the training room. Basketball is not without its risks, regardless of whether it’s being played in a foreign land or an NBA team’s practice facility. The fact that such an injury would otherwise happen under the watch of an NBA team is functionally irrelevant.

NBA fans have been conditioned to look at extracurricular basketball as an additional risk for NBA players, but let this serve as a reminder that on a normal schedule, American pro ballers would still be putting in work and minutes while risking injury. There’s nothing terribly unique about the risk that Blair runs, while the payoff is rather straightforward. Maintaining good health is crucial for Blair, but so is development, and doesn’t logging floor time — even in another country — make quite a bit of sense at this stage in his career? Particularly when the lockout is depriving him of putting in team-driven developmental time on his home floor?

Collective bargaining talks produce vaguely positive outcome

NBA lockout Stern Hunter

The lockout drags on, but today NBA fans are given the slightest reason for optimism. Representatives for the NBA players and owners met today for a six-hour bargaining session, and though dialogue in itself isn’t enough to bring back the league we all know and love, the fact that meetings are going on at all does give some reason for optimism.

Howard Beck of the New York Times met reps from both sides on their way out, and offered a few carrots to basketball-starved fans via his Twitter account:

[Derek] Fisher also said parties agreed to dispense with the rhetoric and public shots at each other. All positive signs, IMHO.

Positive indeed. The less talking that goes on outside of the negotiations, the better. Neither side really has much need for posturing at this point; both sides have made their pleas to the public based on the supposed injustices of the other camp, and the patience for that kind of campaigning has grown thin. Fisher’s comments give us reason to believe that that stage in the lockout process has passed, which can only mean good things for the rest of the negotiations. Less bad blood, more hammering out the details of how to bring the NBA back.

More meetings are scheduled, but parties will not specify when and where.

The lack of public transparency in this case is a non-issue. Again, the important thing is that these meetings and dialogues continue to happen. Progress is the key here, even if fans and media members have some difficulty tracing the specific locale of each negotiation. It’s good news that there isn’t just “another meeting,” but another planned meeting that’s actually on the calendar.

Stern and Silver just spoke. Just as cautious as Fisher in assessing progress. But Stern said there is definitely time to make a deal.

The fact that neither side is jumping at a chance to declare real, immediate progress is just fine. It’s important that both parties continue to take the negotiations seriously and consider the timeline of the bargaining period to be pressing, and that sense of urgency doesn’t come without the acknowledgement that there’s still plenty of work to be done. It’d be wonderful if the lockout could be resolved overnight, but the gulf between the players and owners makes that an impossibility. As such, a healthy dose of realism is invaluable for all involved, and that such realism is embedded in the notion that there’s still plenty of negotiating work to be done.