Author: Rob Mahoney


Jeremy Lin is eager to prove himself as more than a piece of NBA trivia


A little known fact about Jeremy Lin, who was recently claimed off waivers by the New York Knicks: he actually has a pretty solid all-around game. He’s a big guard, racks up steals at an incredible rate, and is — at the very least — a solid straight-line driver.

A better-known fact about Jeremy Lin: he’s the NBA’s first Chinese-American/Taiwanese-American player, a bit of a cultural oddity in a league that features players from all over the world, but few that are the children of Asian immigrants.

It’s sad that the trivia of Lin’s young career has taken precedence over his game, but c’est la vie on the NBA fringe. He’ll always have that one defining characteristic floating around him, even as he does his best to mute its impact by contributing more and more on the court. Lin hasn’t yet had that opportunity, as his limited role in Golden State was continued — if just for one game, during which Lin logged a minute and a half of playing time — with New York. He’s more of an insurance policy for the Knicks (who currently have both Baron Davis and rookie Iman Shumpert sidelined with injuries) than anything else, but Lin nonetheless hopes to take advantage of the opportunity that’s been tossed in his lap, and prove his place in the league beyond novelty. From Howard Beck of the New York Times:

The excitement that Lin generated was at times overwhelming. Some fans and commentators wrote him off as a publicity stunt.

“It was extremely taxing for him,” Montgomery said, adding, “He wanted to please a lot of people.”

Lin and Montgomery are, to be sure, grateful for the opportunity the Warriors provided. The fascination with his biography would probably have consumed him no matter where he started his career. But it was tougher in the Bay Area, which had an added rooting interest, and tougher still to find playing time behind two young stars, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis.

Now Lin has shed the rookie jitters and has learned to cope with the frenzy around him, Montgomery said. The mission this season, Lin told Montgomery, is “I want to show them that I’m the real deal.” As he prepared for the shootaround Wednesday, the reserved Lin tried to contain his emotions. He admitted he was “still kind of in shock” about being waived by his hometown team, 18 months after it granted him his N.B.A. entry. “It seems like forever ago,” Lin said, “but obviously a dream come true. And I’m still excited, just as excited, to be with the Knicks right now.”

The Knicks play the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at 10:30 EST, marking Lin’s second game as a member of the team. Mike D’Antoni still may not be completely comfortable with Lin as a regular member of the rotation, but a low-risk matchup against the likes of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake could be a nice proving ground for Lin.

You’re Never Alone: Appreciating TNT’s magnificent ‘NBA Forever’

NBA Forever

The NBA kicked off its season in predictably insane style on Sunday, but Opening Day’s pièce de résistance may have come prior to the official commencement of the new basketball year.

As a lead-up to the season’s first game, the masterminds at TNT dimmed the lights and unveiled their latest promotional wonder: a jaw-dropping video entitled ‘NBA Forever.’



That understated music and clever editing is enough to soften the heart of even the coldest basketball purist, the most detached internet cynic, and the most jaded of NBA fans. It’s technology as a conduit for real emotion, and though the game’s underlying sentiment may often be obscured in the league’s day-to-day, this promo — in just two short minutes — manages to bring us all back.

Conceptually, ‘NBA Forever’ is simple enough. The creators merely threaded together footage of the game’s legends with video of its current stars, an idea which had already been explored in NBA 2k12 and an online ocean’s worth of photoshopped images. Yet the restraint in this particular spot is what grants it such incredible power.

It would be so easy for ‘NBA Forever’ to tap into the highlight vein, but Dr. J’s swooping reverse, Havlicek’s infamous steal, and Magic’s game-winning hook are nowhere to be found. Instead, we’re given a feed of undistinguished moments in an adjacent basketball universe. Tim Duncan casually chats with Bill Walton. Amar’e Stoudemire rides the high of a dunk by chest bumping Patrick Ewing. A blunt spotlight is replaced with a warm glow, and the entirety of the NBA timeline collapses into itself.

Highlights mean plenty to the basketball faithful; after all, we may never forget the setting or company as a playoff series was decided or a miraculous shot was converted. But those singular moments don’t make an NBA fan, nor consummate one. They’re tasty morsels with instant recall, but they’ve been distilled down to their most easily transmitted components for the sake of universal appeal. We all remember those frozen moments — of change, of success, and of crumbling failure — but those contextless memories are frigid without a proper home.

They find that home — that hearth — in the ongoing story of a beautiful game and the men who play it. We all gather around the warmth of the NBA narrative, and bathe in the radiance of grainy film and instant nostalgia. All of us are drawn in by an infinite fire, as the chords progress, the drums build, and a love of the game is elegantly juxtaposed with faded images of the beloved.

With that rolling cymbal, the designations of past and present become irrelevant; this game is shown as the endless stream that it is, where players and stories merge but never fade. Together, they forge that inextinguishable flame around which all basketball fans gather. Together, they live forever, etched side by side in the memory of a game unlike any other.

The Nets overpaid Kris Humphries, but so what?


Kris Humphries is set to return to the New Jersey Nets on a one-year, $7+ million deal, and the nation raises a collective eyebrow. That’s a pretty hefty salary for a strong rebounder with otherwise unremarkable offensive and defensive skills, so much so that in a strict d0llar-for-production framework, one could certainly argue that Humphries, for all of his rebounding exploits, will be overpaid this season.

That word — “overpaid” — carries with it baggage upon baggage. It’s loaded and emotional, as it instantly calls to mind other players who were similarly overcompensated for their minimal services and the detrimental effects such a salary had on a particular team. “Overpaid” players have forced their teams to give up on draft picks too early based solely on financial motivations. They’ve nudged fan favorites out of town as a way of cleaning up the team’s finances. They’ve sandbagged promising cores of players from reaching their true potential, as the extra salary burden forever dooms such a team to “one-more-piece” status.

But there are two things to consider when deeming a player overpaid, and especially before lamenting over the unnecessary bloating of NBA salaries:

NBA salaries should be evaluated solely on a team-specific basis.

Player value is far from absolute, as a player like Humphries is undoubtedly worth more to the Nets than he would be to a team with a bloated power forward rotation. For this team at this particular time, he’s quite valuable. He prevents Shelden Williams from stepping in as a big-minute player for New Jersey. He’s a quality rebounder to pair with Brook Lopez, who has been pretty underwhelming in that regard. He’s another target and quality contributor to team with point guard Deron Williams, which — if nothing else — should give the Nets’ star fewer headaches.

The context isn’t that Player X received Y dollars in a deal for Z years, but that such a financial agreement was made between a player and a team with very specific needs and goals. Players could obviously still be overpaid and overvalued within that context, but pretending there’s some universal value for a given player misunderstands a market of individual actors. Other players and teams can obviously impact the terms of a contract by providing a baseline or driving up value through competition, but the final judgment of an NBA contract should always come down to what a particular player meant (or will mean, for predictive purposes) to the team that actually signed him.

Overpayment is not an end in itself.

Claiming that a player is overpaid isn’t exactly a complete thought. There’s a statement and possible justification involved, sure, but overpayment isn’t some great evil that must be eradicated from this NBA world. It’s a means to an end, and only with that specific end can we actually determine what overpaying a player really means.

As a singular act, giving Erick Dampier a seven-year, $73 million contract was not some horrible crime. It wasn’t kind to Mark Cuban’s wallet, but it was also lacking in terms of intrinsic evils.

What makes any albatross contract a truly bad one are the effects a team faces as a result. If a bloated contract prevents a team from signing another key free agent? That’s costly. If it prevents a proper rebuild after the core of a contender has withered away? That hurts. But if it’s just a deal on the books for a bit more of a financial commitment than it should be? Barring objection from ownership, I fail to see the problem.

Teams overpay players for a variety of reasons all the time — some sensible and some less so. Sometimes a team will overpay a player for the sake of positional security, as the Dallas Mavericks did with Brendan Haywood last summer. Sometimes a team will overpay a player for the sake of adding a significant piece at a key time, as the New York Knicks did with Tyson Chandler earlier this off-season. Sometimes a team will overpay to retain a player in a competitive market, as the Denver Nuggets just did with Arron Afflalo. Three cases of three overpaid players, and yet all three decisions were made from logically defensible positions. The dollar values may not quite jive with the collective assessment of each player’s worth, but in the free agent binary of either having a player or not having them, each signing makes some sense.

If a case were to be made in any of those instances that a free agent signing were actually detrimental to the team, you’d need a fair bit more than simply pointing to a contract total. Shelling out extra for a player is certainly worthy of note, but without that next-level impact — the financial logjam, the tax trade-off that forces the departure of another player, etc. — it’s just more money in the pocket of an NBA player.

Such is the case with Kris Humphries. He may not be worth $7-8 million a season, but his contract is an unimposing one-year affair. The Nets needed players to fill out their rotation now (not to mention bound over the salary floor), and they got a very competent one to fill a position of need. Tomorrow isn’t an issue; by then Brooklyn’s books will be just as clean as New Jersey’s were a few days ago, and this signing will prove to have been rather inconsequential. Player acquisitions are evaluated on the basis of roster fit, but contract fit is an essential consideration, both in this case and all others. The Nets can afford to rent Humphries for the season, and given their current situation, it would be silly for them not to. That doesn’t make Humphries any less overpaid, but it also doesn’t mean his inflated, one-year contract has any legitimately negative repercussions.

Winderman: Unveiling the key deadlines of the lockout-shortened schedule

David Stern, Adam Silver
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The traditional NBA calendar? About as useful these days as those 82-game schedules put out by the league in July.

So we made a call, since, frankly, there has been no formal word from the NBA regarding many of the annual key dates.

And this is what we have come up with, with some of the scheduling yet to be fully determined.

Roster deadline: Dec. 24, 6 p.m.

Talk about a lump of coal in the stocking. This is when teams must cut down to the 15-player regular-season roster limit. Because of luxury-tax issues, expect several teams to operate, at least at the start of the season, below the limit. And remember, while there are more liberal D-League rules regarding assignments this season, players sent down still count against the 15-player NBA team limit.

Trade deadline: As of now, March 15.

However, this merely is a date the NBA is targeting, with the date still in need of Board of Governors approval. That decision is pending. It would come with six weeks remaining in the season, an unusually late three weeks after the All-Star break.

Guarantee date: All contracts become guaranteed Feb. 10.

This is another key date for teams seeking to avoid the $70 million luxury-tax limit, as well as the $74 million luxury-tax cliff.

Start of 10-day contracts: Feb. 6.

This is when many of the players cut this week could reappear. As always, there is a limit of two 10-day contracts per player, after which they must be released or signed for the balance of the season.

Active-roster reduction: Feb. 6.

Because the quick start up from the shortened training camps, the league will allow teams to dress and play 13 players per game, instead of the traditional 12, through this date. Then, in another twist, teams may dress 13 the balance of the season, but only play 12, allowing for more in-game flexibility.

Rookie-scale extension deadline: Jan. 25.

This traditionally is before the end of the first week of the season, but this is not a traditional year.

Playoff-eligibility: Traditionally, players must be waived by March 1 to be eligible for another team’s playoff roster.

This deadline has yet to be established.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Can the Dallas Mavericks repeat as NBA champions?

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six

After a trying, decade-long run that consistently placed them along the title’s periphery, the Dallas Mavericks finally claimed their first ever NBA championship last June. The fact that Dirk and the Mavs are the reigning champs still seems like a hazy dream — a vision almost too similar to a storybook to be real, and an image obscured just enough by the lockout to give it that ethereal glow. But the trophy itself is no fantasy, and the Mavs will set out this season to defend their right to another one just like it with every resource at their disposal.

It won’t be easy. Even with an impressive run of low-cost off-season additions, the Mavs are hardly in a position to repeat as the league’s champions:

Losing the “best offense”

Contrary to their offense-first reputation, the Mavericks were a surprisingly balanced team last year, as they finished the regular season ranked eighth in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It was that two-way effectiveness that really pushed Dallas over the top in the NBA Finals; although Dirk Nowitzki was a certifiable terror all throughout the Mavs’ playoff run, it was the team’s defensive flexibility that allowed them to corral LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with the title on the line.

Dwane Casey, the former Mavs assistant who now sits at the head of the bench for the Toronto Raptors, was a big part of that. It was Casey’s system that put Dallas’ many defensive elements into their appropriate context, and turned Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler into versatile, switchable, and highly deployable defensive weapons. Dallas just had so much size and mobility across the board, and that positional flexibility gave the Mavs an uncommon success in defending the pick-and-roll.

Things could get slightly tougher without Casey, even though his system has been handed off to assistant coach Monte Mathis. Yet they’re assuredly going to be more difficult without Tyson Chandler, who didn’t receive the long-term security or financial commitment he desired from the Mavs in free agency. Chandler is now a New York Knickerbocker, leaving some combination of Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, and Brandan Wright to fill in minutes as Dallas’ defensive anchor. Haywood is still quite underrated in that regard, but even at his best he’s a few steps below Chandler. He’ll battle opponents in the post, do his best do hedge screens, and generally make the right rotations, but Haywood consistently lags behind Chandler in terms of overall defensive efficacy.

It’s the depth at center that could give Dallas more significant problems, though. As is usually the case, Chandler’s one-time backup is ready to step in and produce. But what of the players behind him? Ian Mahinmi may be the most talented fouler in the NBA. Nowitzki and Odom would give Dallas a virtually unmatchable offensive alignment if they played center, but don’t have the same rotational value as Chandler or Haywood. Wright is athletic, but is undeniably a work in progress. Yet that group will have some huge responsibilities when Haywood is resting or plagued with foul trouble, and it’s hard to imagine them living up to last season’s benchmark.

The never-ending quest for improvement

Even though the Mavs will enter the 2011-2012 season having accomplished their greatest goal the year prior, they still face the same pressure that falls on every defending champ: the burden of being even better. Dallas can’t just be as good as they were last season; in order to counter all the moves that have been made, the development of young players around the league, and the more nuanced understanding opposing coaches now have of how to use their respective rosters, the Mavs will need to find some legitimate means toward actual improvement.

And looking up and down this roster, it’s hard to find compelling reason why Dallas would actually be a better team this season. Chandler’s departure obviously hurts quite a bit, as do the losses of Caron Butler and J.J. Barea. But above all, it was Dallas’ decision to value financial flexibility over all else that’s put them in their current position.

The Mavs have done an incredible job of upgrading their roster under these circumstances; the additions of Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West, and the aforementioned Brandan Wright are downright gaudy considering their minimal financial costs. But how does the shift in personnel impact Dallas’ ability to field competitive lineups? They’ve bolstered their depth virtually across the board, but what have they given up at center in order to make that possible?

I think at best, you’re looking for a Mavs team that would essentially be a wash in terms of overall quality, as they compensate for some defensive slippage with offensive gain. Yet it’s hard to see — even in that best-case scenario — how the defending champs would meet their burden for improvement beyond their performance last season. Dallas’ moves to date have done well to mitigate some of the team’s free agent losses, but aren’t quite robust enough to completely erase them.

If you keep rolling the dice…

On the Mavs’ Media Day, new Maverick Vince Carter may have summed up Dallas’ playoff run best.

“[The Mavs] just made it happen,” Carter said. “It takes a lot of luck and opportunity, and they seized the moment. Could people honestly say they were going to win it at the beginning of the year? No, not really. Not even in the middle of the year. When you put a team like this together that’s committed and when you get a bunch of veteran guys, anything could happen.”

With a team like the one the Mavs had last season, anything could happen. Dallas put itself in a position to succeed time and time again, and rolled the dice. On the ropes against the Portland Trailblazers? Rolled a six. Comeback victory against the Lakers on the road thanks to a favorable call? Rolled a six. Need a knockout punch in Game 4 against the defending champs? Six. A complete blitzkrieg en route to an impossible comeback against Oklahoma City? Another one.

You get the idea, because we all witnessed it: Dallas got every single break they needed in every single series of last year’s postseason, and while that made their championship run one for the ages, it also makes it incredibly difficult to replicate. Dallas is a very good team, but thanks to surges and breaks and explosions at the best possible times, they — if only temporarily — became a truly amazing one. You, I, and the history books will never forget it.

As Carter says, anything could happen. But it’d be silly to expect the same result, even after the Mavs again put themselves in a position to roll the dice with quality regular season performance.