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Derek Fisher speaks to reporters after taking part in contract negotiations between the NBA and the players association in New York

The 15 Footer: Things fall apart, but no one stops talking to notice

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The 15 Footer is a recurring series of fifteen items about the NBA highlighting news of the last week. It is written by Matt Moore, sometimes not badly.

1. It’s not the end of civilization. But you can see it from there. 

I was sure that the Kardashian-Humprhies wedding would be the dumbest story in the NBA this year. How do you top a borderline starter marrying someone who’s literally famous for being famous? Oh, that’s easy. With a 20-year-old affair between a marginal political entity and Glen Rice. It’s like a folktale, really. If the point of the folktale was to make you question what the point of the human race is.

2. Play It Forward Pass

LeBron James’ long-term fascination with football, including this weeks’ video of him playing ball in the street, got me thinking. Would James be better off as a receiver? He’d be physically dominant because of his size and athleticism. He’d likely have wound up as the highest paid receiver. And while football has its own ridiculous set of cliches and standards, particularly regarding toughness, at least James wouldn’t be solely responsible for his team’ fate in the clutch.

In fact, the NFL would do more for James’ overall goals than the NBA. While the money is undeniably better in the NBA, he’d still be one of the most marketable players in the NFL. He’d be part of a closer team, as NFL squads tend to be closer than NBA teams. And the burden for success would be equally shared man to man, instead of heaped on James. Furthermore, James would only have to excel on a handful of plays once a week rather than on 90 percent of all plays 82 games a season and then the playoffs. These things are the same for any athlete, but James is particularly well-suited for the game. And maybe it would have given James a different self-concept where he wouldn’t, you know, go on national television and rip his home state’s heart out. Okay, probably not, but it’s something to think about.

You’re all just sitting there imagining him getting nailed by a safety, aren’t you?

3. The Big 20/20 Hindsight

At some point, Shaq’s not really being helpful. Oh, wait, that’s most every point. His latest brilliant reveal is that he advised the Celtics not to trade Kendrick Perkins, saying he knew he might not return. The assumption here is that Danny Ainge should stop all of his talks and go “Wait a second. The guy who nicknamed himself the Big Aristotle says this is a bad plan. Clearly the great minds of our time doubt this maneuver which provides more flexibility for our team in 2012 in the next big free agency summer. Abandon ship!”

The Celtics traded Perkins because they were leveraging what he would give them last year versus the value of clearing space (and acquiring Jeff Green). Part of that involved a faith in O’Neal to return from injury which didn’t work out. That’s not O’Neal’s fault. The guy’s 39 for crying out loud. But O’Neal’s revisionist history has followed him at every stop in his career. Even in retirement, he’s passing judgment on decisions that were never his to make. But hey, at least he’s willing to fight some people.

4. In some cultures, Zen is a word for jerkface

You would think that Phil Jackson would have more appreciation for other former players. Typically, players act like it’s a brotherhood. Yet for whatever reason, Jackson thought it best to give Jerry West the cold shoulder, eventually driving him out of the organization. Naturally, almost no one is going to think badly of Jackson, even if West’s accusations were confirmed by the Zen Master himself. It’s just the same ol’ lovable Phil, the wisecracking winner.

At the same time, West’s neurotic, fretting manner must have clashed with Jackson’s hole “whatever, man, let it be” approach. (Or, as I like to call it,  “Whatever, man, let Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant handle it.” ) Micro-management is never a quality you look to embrace, and Jackson’s plans worked out pretty well, with the 5 championships and all. You’d just think that he would find a better way to get along with the legends of the game. Red Auerbach, Jerry West, the list goes on. Just odd to see Jackson as a divider between a legend and the franchise he helped build.

5. National Lampoon’s European Vacation Part II

Lamar Odom is often talked about with regards to a failure to capitalize on talent and ability. The fact that his career apex has found him as a dichotomous role player in terms of X-Factor vs. space cadet speaks to this. But what gets lost is that Odom never flamed out of the NBA. He never fell off the radar, never found himself struggling to keep a position, never lost his starting spot due to a better, younger player. He went to the Lakers’ bench because of how their lineups were put together, not because he was a weak point. And most importantly, he’s hung on in the league for an extended period of time.

So news that he’s considering playing in Europe after next season makes you look back at his career with appreciation. He’s not being forced there, and he’ll be able to live in a high lifestyle. He’ll have escapades with Khloe. And he’ll likely end up facing Paul Pierce again, who has talked about playing in Europe after his NBA career is through. Despite having the reputation as not having lived up to expectations, Lamar Odom will be a two-time NBA champion, married to a rich famous person, living abroad and being famous. Not bad for a washout.

6. Socially Media Awkward

I think it’s safe to say that technology has made this lockout dramatically different from the one in 1999. Between the salvos being fired on Twitter, the “whoops” tweet from Roger Mason, and the speed with which lockout news travels, everything is accelerated in the lockout just like it is with any event. The problem is it also creates more communication for there to be rumors about. Like, you know, texts. Derek Fisher later denied the reported texts of him informing players to be ready for a season, but it just adds more noise to the stream.

It’s no coincidence that the most progress was made in the talks when both sides initiated a media blackout. Every time either side speaks to the media, things get worse. As a member of the media, I can recognize this. We only make things worse, in terms of resolving things. It’s our job to find angles that people care about, and two sides squabbling and slamming each other is a lot sexier than “both sides approached the problem in a mature way.” Furthermore, people do care about how the negotiations are going, so those with sources inside the talks are doing their readers a service in providing news. But that doesn’t change the fact that the less word gets out, the better chances there are that actual progress will be made. Once again, the enemies to a season are communication and Dan Gilbert.

7. Glass Half-Empty, Glass Half-Full Of… 

The union apparently informed its players that they could miss up to half a season, which is a real bummer. But on the bright side…

  • If they do play half a season, Greg Oden might play a “full” season.
  • If they do play half a season, some crazy things could happen like the Wizards being good. Just kidding, but JaVale McGee seems to think so.
  • If they do play half a season, Gilbert Arenas might get paid what he’s actually worth for the year.
  • If they do play half a season, teams will be healthier and better rested for the playoffs.
  • If they do play half a season, you can look forward to more gimmicks like this.
8. Maybe He Can Pawn One Of His Six Rings To Cover It
The league fined Jordan $100k, which is pretty impressive. Most people are terrified of Jordan. It’s not clear why, it’s not like he’s super violent or anything. He’s just, you know, the most intense and powerful guy in the NBA. Plus the Mom Jeans. That, too.
At least the league is staying consistent. The worst thing it could do with the hammer it has picked up during the lockout is to use it arbitrarily Using it no matter who violates the gag order is the only way to give it legitimacy, even if the entire thing is a little bit immature.
My biggest question is whether Jordan paid the fine with cash he had on him, or if he had to go back to his gigantic vault of money that he swims in  to get it.
That might be Scrooge McDuck. I get confused sometimes.
9. But Think Of All The Reading They Can Get Done
Ira Winderman talked about the realities of how most NBA players can’t take the financial hit of losing a season, due to their short career span. Winderman hints that this could eventually result in another break in the union, which is what this whole thing has come to be about. Who’s going to break first, the union or the owners? (Hint: It’s not the owners.)
It’s going to be a legitimate test of how much the union really did prepare its players for the lockout. If they’re caught off guard once the checks stop rolling in, that’s a damning sign for how much the players listen to the union’s advice, and will affect their willingness to stick together. That’s why you see all the conversations about staying united and the t-shirts and what not. At least during the lockout, players aren’t prevented from getting another job. They just don’t want to. Would you want to go work at a minimum-wage gig if you were an NBA player?
But let’s be clear. It’s still a decision not to pursue employment during the lockout.
10. A Not-So-Disappointing Turn Of Events
When Suns CEO Rick Welts announced he was stepping down this week, the media reacted with… casual coherence? Rational measure? What? What’s happening? There were no accusations of a rift between Welts and Robert Sarver, no inherent conversation about why he was really stepping down. Welts just decided to take a new job and move because of a relationship. No shocker. Nothing salacious. Just a normal move that would have gone unnoticed were he not known as the gay NBA executive. It shouldn’t be news, but the fact that the news was handled without sensationalism is at least a win for everyone. It’s a loss for the Suns, though, who have gone through a ridiculous amount of turnover over the past four years. Seriously, you’re supposed to wind up in Arizona, I thought.
11. A Necessary Guardian Or An Unnecessary Evil?
Rashard Lewis spoke with ESPN this week and made it clear. The owners decide to sign players to exorbitant contracts, and they negotiate those contracts with agents, not the players. The agents’ role in the economics of the NBA has become more and more into perspective during this process, as agents seek decertification and the power play continues. Lewis’ comments provide a different kind of insight into players. It shows that they would accept less money and that they don’t maintain a blind denial that some contracts aren’t fair. In short, the players know that they aren’t worth the money. But if you’re offered, would you turn it down?
Now, you or I may turn down a job position if we know we can’t fulfill the obligations, but that would never be a contract. That’s the big differential and a cause of debate for the owners. In short, they want to be able to overpay for a player, and then cut him if it doesn’t work out. Players are responding by saying “don’t overpay us and no one loses.” It’s a question of individual responsibility versus systemic failsafes.
12. What About Bosh?
If anyone is going to escape the all-encompassing fire of “The Decision” and the subsequent Heat Wave, it’s going to Bosh. Bosh drew so much fire last year for everything from his attitude to his perceived wimpiness, that at the end, there started to be a move backwards. Bosh actually had a really good Eastern Conference Finals and a pretty decent Finals. It was LeBron that suffered in the Finals. So with Bosh standing up to Skip Bayless and his childish insults this week, and the reception being largely positive, it’s possible that he could grow on that momentum. Maybe Bosh can work off some of his negative image by just being contrasted with some of his critics.
13.  The Inmates Aren’t Running The Asylum, They’re Piloting The Aircraft Carrier
Maybe Robert Sarver and Dan Gilbert are the ones taking possible labor agreements out at the knees. Maybe they’re not. But it’s clear that they have a voice, as their appearance at the meetings proves. And these two aren’t the ones you want running the show. Or are they?
Gilbert has a decent argument towards saying how competitive balance is a problem. You can say Gilbert overpaid for marginal talent and built incorrectly around LeBron, or you can say his market created an environment where he had to. You can say Gilbert had the opportunity to re-sign James, and that he couldn’t, or you could say that the system made it too difficult for him too. You can say Gilbert overpaid for the Cavaliers, or that the current system dictates the price under tangible assets.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. But if you can understand anyone wanting stronger ways to keep the talent they draft, you have to sympathize with Gilbert. Unfortunately, if you want an example of how decision making affects teams’ futures, Gilbert’s also the lightning rod.
Sarver on the other hand is a good model of an owner who acted responsibly, nay, cheaply, and still didn’t turn a profit. So the system must be broken. In other words, if a cheap owner in a mid-level-market can’t turn a profit with a playoff team, who can? This again comes to the question of whether player salaries are the entirety of how an NBA business succeeds or fails.
These two should not be driving the wagon. But they do stand as examples of the kind of problems both sides are going to have to solve.
14. Sole Man
Joe Johnson has lots of shoes. Just a reminder.
15. It’s Raining (Threes) In Baltimore
Would an NBA team survive in Baltimore? The basketball scene is pretty strong there. Is it impossible to think that after his playing days are over, Melo might want to invest in a team there? Maybe he and LeBron can go halvsies.

The 15 Footer: Lockout hope is a bad drug, baby

NBA & NBA Players Association Announce New CBA
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The 15 Footer is a reoccurring series of fifteen items about the NBA highlighting news of the last week. It is written by Matt Moore, sometimes not badly. 

1. No, Red, hope is the worst of things: Things are getting confusing in the NBA lockout scene. It’s like that time in the party when things are winding down, the keg’s starting to run thin, everyone’s kind of tired, and the drunken buffoon squad hasn’t showed up with a new mix CD/playlist to get things back up again. And in this interim, the NBA and the players are both flirting with the public. That’s what this is. Flirting. “We’re totally making progress except we’re not going to call it progress.” If nothing comes from this someone should get slapped on national television. I don’t really care who. Anyone from either side will do, there just needs to be a good hard slap. Maybe a slap bet is in order.

Anyway, the owners may or may not care about the preseason getting burned off. That makes 2.5 million and thirty of us. No one cares about the preseason. At all. Losing it is like losing a human tail. You’re better off in the end without the ridicule. And them having more time is a good thing. There’s a breaking point where games will have to be missed and delaying that braking point as long as possible is the optimum option. Still, this week has brought more optimism than anytime since… oh, 2009? Sound about right? This has been a doomsday prediction scenario since the start.

But our intrepid editor naturally thinks this is all nonsense. But at some point we have to have a league, right? What’s the point in having a league if you don’t have a league? The same point as having a business if you’re not making money, I suppose. The real test will be to see if word leaks that the cooler heads in larger markets have retaken control of the negotiating pulse in the ownership group or if the hardline faction continues to rule the day.

2. Phone tag is fun, but not when the person who’s “it” is actually a criminal. Melo got robbed at his own exhibition game. Kurt’s right. That is just cold. I have a different question. Did the people who stole the phones not see Melo ever? Every time I’ve seen him outside of a game he’s accompanied by two of the largest men I’ve ever seen, bodyguards. It’s like traveling with two mutants. That guy, the guy who appeared in the “Stop Snitchin'” video, that’s the guy you want to steal from? Melo’s never shown a predisposition towards any violence beyond the occasional scrap with the Knicks back in the day, but still. Not exactly the top of the list for NBA players I think it would be wise to steal from. That list is pretty much limited to Travis Diener, and he’s out of the league. Maybe Gordon Hayward, since he’s now playing Starcraft all the time and wouldn’t notice.

3. No quarter asked, no quarter given. Especially not the fourth. Has LeBron James rehabbed his image at all this summer? For the most part, he’s kept a low profile. He’s done a ton of charity work, which really gets overlooked sometimes. He’s downplayed the nonsense of last year, talked about how hard losing was on him, has kept an upbeat attitude about the lockout, the works. But he got dunked on by that Taiwanese kid and that’s all anyone remembers. His scores are the lowest they’ve ever been and since he’s not going overseas, his ability to penetrate new markets is limited. You have to wonder if the damage done by James to himself over the past year-plus isn’t just a scratch, but more of an acid burn, something to mark to the core.

4. If you like it then you should put a ring on it.: The Heat would like Nene, but it’s a huge longshot because they have no money and Nene will demand the max. I keep returning to this interview with Nene from way back with Chris Tomasson. A vow to retire in 2016 to go work for his church in his homeland. Does this sound like the kind of guy focused on money and jewelry? I’m just saying, if any player was going to buck the long-standing tradition of always chasing dollar signs, I’d put good money on Nene. And were Nene to join the Heat? Yeesh. He and Haslem would have a field day (plus they’re totally twinsies with the hair). It gives the Heat a legitimate threat at the rim and a true center, making Joel Anthony a valuable reserve versus an overmatched starter. It fixes all their problems. It won’t happen, but to say it couldn’t is madness.

5. Do you remember when we used to sing “La la la la la la la la la la-tee-da”: The Lakers biggest concern after the lockout is getting behind their new coach. But that’s easier said than done. When was the last time a Lakers team not coached by Phil Jackson had success? Early 90’s? Ish? Rudy Tomjanovich struggled with a Kobe-Bryant-led team and he was a champion who had been in the league for thirty years. This team does not exactly snap to changes the way it probably should. Brown could be just what the doctor ordered, things could go great. It could also be a flaming trainwreck rumbling through the darkness. There’s so much reason to have faith in this roster, in this coach, in this setup. But it’s a new environment and sometimes things just go nuts when change happens. It would be weird to see a champion fall into chaos that quickly, but stranger things have happened (plus Ron Artest’s involved, so that increases the crazy quotient by like 50 times).

6. Yo Dawg, I heard you like tattoos so I put my tattoos on your tattoos so people can judge you while they judge you: The whole Kevin Durant tattoos thing is the exact kind of story I want to dismiss and ignore and question people’s legitimacy for caring about… then I totally buy into the debate. My wife has two tattoos and wants a third one. I would have gladly gotten one if I had anything I cared about enough in my early 20’s (I’m approaching 30 and at some point your shelf-life for how long they look good reaches “not very freaking long at all”). So in reality, I don’t actively care about Durant’s tattoos. He could get ink of my mother and I wouldn’t care (okay, that would probably freak me out, but anything short of that). What I care about is the continuing branding of Durant as squeaky clean when he’s a three-dimensional person. Furthermore, he’s a three-dimensional person who grew up in a rough part of the country and is proud of his roots. This has consequences. Luckily, these consequences being tattoos means there’s nothing to actively tarnish Durant’s rep. But at some point the shiny gloss is going to fade as we get to know Durant better. Durant really is a nice kid, really is a generous superstar, really is a good person, from all accounts and interactions. But he’s also not a cartoon character, nor is he Captain America, the personification of the ideal. He’s a real person. But no one is prepared for that, because, well, when are we ever?

7. Tight. Kurt touched on something in the analysis of Jordan v. LeBron in the clutch that connects with a bigger motif. LeBron James may be the most self-aware NBA superstar in history. He’s keenly aware not just of how he looks, but each moment as it connects, the greater context of the game, his place in it, his legacy, his legacy’s impact on his brand and vice-versa, everything. James is known to watch film constantly at his house. He’s a basketball junkie. So his failures are not one of the mind, of blissful ignorance. He’s either over-thinking each possession, or he’s simply lacking in spirit. Either way this makes him the first truly modern NBA superstar. Think about it. LeBron James’ biggest problem is that LeBron James spends too much time analyzing LeBron James. He’s meta. And in that meta-analysis, he finds himself paralyzed. What’s more 2011 than that?

8. I come to praise Rubio, not to bury him. Okay, maybe not praise, but not bury either. More just dig around him: Is Rubio finished? Has Ricky Rubio jumped the shark? Is Ricky Rubio the worst player in the world? How about the flip side. Is Ricky Rubio the most unreasonably criticized player not in the NBA? Is Ricky Rubio going to be great, in time? Can’t we all cut Rubio some slack?

Both of these sets of questions are stupid. Of course Rubio’s not finished. How many players took years to develop into good players, especially point guards? Go ask a Boston fan about how Chauncey Billups worked out. Anyone who thinks a bad run in Euro play is a sign of impending doom needs their head checked. But to ignore it is just as stupid. He’s played badly. Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s okay if Rubio’s not great in Eurobasket, if he’s downright awful. That’s who he is. It doesn’t mean that’s who he will be, but to ignore results in favor of cherry picking evidence in order to deduce potential is just as short-sighted. Let Rubio suck.

9. Ouchies. You want to know about how international play can cause teams headaches if the regular season gets started and the players are banged up from EuroBasket/League/FIBA play? Hold on, let me go get Coach Popovich. Last I saw he was ramming a nail into his skull with a dull hammer. Good news is he appreciates each swing.

Related note: How pivotal is next season for Pau Gasol’s career? That’s an honest question because he’s won two rings. Think about that. Pau Gasol has two more rings than Charles Barkley. At some point using that as a determining factor of greatness becomes grutesque.

10. Tears in Heaven. Also expletives. Expletives in Heaven.: Here’s a fun one. Try and imagine Kevin Garnett’s retirement press conference. What’s the over/under on pauses to cry? Does he hold it in Boston? Minnesota? L.A. where he lives? How many reporters will drop in references to his intensity? Can he retire as a point forward due to that short time in Minny? Isn’t it going to be a letdown if Garnett doesn’t talk himself into an argument with himself during the presser and start fighting with himself?

11. You spin me third-round baby, third-round. Like an unsigned draft pick, baby, third-round, third-round.: One thing to keep in mind before you start spitting out vitriol on a third-round in the NBA draft, as has allegedly been discussed. Don’t use this past year as an example. Yes, the second round was a nightmare, but that was as much a part of the NBA lockout as anything. Next year’s class is so stacked, it will have a trickle down effect into the subsequent rounds. Furthermore, if the league also adopts a rule saying “straight out of high school or two years in college” you’re going to want that third round to be able to evaluate high school players, draft them, and then stash them in the D-League. That’s the real lynch pin in any third-round talk. There has to be a better development system so the investment from teams is worth it. Without it, the draft is not sustainable.

11. Should have been in 3-D like his movie. Everything else is.: Look, NBA. Regardless of how we feel about who’s right and who’s wrong in the labor dispute, regardless of BRI, hard caps, flex caps, bottle caps or Washington Caps, we should all be able to agree on one thing. Bieber  must be stopped and we must ban him from the cultural sphere. We’re going to be absorbed into Bieber World in a minute and I don’t have the requisite health care products.

12. You aint’ missing much. NBA 2K12 will not feature rookies. The only thing sad about this is it means I don’t get to have Moses Malone destroy Enes Kanter. Not having rookies in the game might actually be for the best considering last year’s class for the most part.

13. Tall tales. Is Shaq more John Henry or Paul Bunyan? I can’t decide.

14. Money well spent. Well, the players are getting their escrow money. I can tell you what they won’t be spending it on. They won’t be spending it on expensive escorts, bottle service, craps tables, and limousines. Not like a lot of them are going to be in Vegas for an extended period of time for Impact Basketball. Whoops. Nice bump for the economy in Nevada, huh?

15. Clyde Drexler could jump really high. No, seriously.