Tim Donaghy continues to claim that he did not fix games

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Tim Donaghy relayed inside information about the NBA to gamblers. He was involved in bets on games he was refereeing. He was sent to prison for 11 months because of what he did. Since he got out of jail, Donaghy has gone on the offensive. 
He published a book which claims that he was able to pick NBA games, against the spread, with a 70% success rate, thanks to his intimate understanding of the biases and tendencies of his fellow referees. He has repeatedly and fervently denied that he ever intentionally used his whistle to impact the game in a way that would benefit him and the bets he made on the games he was officiating. 
Recently, Donaghy has been using Deadspin.com as a platform to critique his former referee colleagues and continue to assert that the rest of the NBA are the crooked ones. (An example: “If we graded the [NBA Finals] broadcast according to how well it fulfilled Mr. Stern’s demands, I’d give ABC an A-plus.”)
On June 11th, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop, who has interviewed Donaghy and done lots of work regarding Donaghy’s attacks on the NBA before, published a piece calling Donaghy’s latest batch of claims into question and featuring an interview with Shawna Vercher, the former publisher of Donaghy’s book. 
Using his FaceBook page, Donaghy chose to respond to Abbott’s latest piece. He referred to it as “mean-spirited” and “factually incorrect.” He continues to claim that a “thorough” FBI investigation found that he did not fix games, and used that finding to call into question the work of Haralambos Voulgaris, a gambling expert who has analyzed footage of games Donaghy bet on and refereed and found some serious issues regarding the distribution of Donaghy’s calls. 
Mr. Voulgaris responded to Donaghy on the FaceBook thread, confronting him with data from games Donaghy has officiated. He then asked Donaghy to explain why, for example, he called 17 fouls against one team and 0 against the other in one game, and 26 fouls against one team and six against the other in a separate game. 
He also found some inaccuracies in one of Donaghy’s attacks on referee Derrick Stafford:
You write that the reason you bet NYK in the Feb 26 2007 game vs MIA was;
“Derrick Stafford had a close relationship with Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, and he despised Heat coach Pat Riley. I picked the Knicks without batting an eye and settled in for a roller-coaster ride on the court”
Later on you write about this same game;
“I worked a Knicks game in MSG with him on Feb 26, 2007. New York shot an astounding 39 free throws to Miami’s paltry eight. It seemed like Stafford was working for the Knicks, calling fouls on Miami like crazy. (page 109)”
Here are the actual details for that game (fouls + violations+infractions)
Derrick Stafford 16 total calls
9 calls favoring NYK
7 calls favoring MIA
Tim Donaghy 18 total calls
14 calls favoring NYK
4 Calls favoring MIA
Did you honestly believe you could write something so inaccurate in the hopes that nobody would actually attempt to verify your claims?

Donaghy responded to that by claiming that Voulgaris had been unsuccessfully searching for a job with the NBA for several years. That claim was quickly revealed to be untrue, and the accusation was then redacted by Donaghy. Donaghy then published his email address and invited Voulgaris to have a private conversation with him. He also looked at the first two plays of a detailed video breakdown Voulgaris had made of one of his officiating performances, defended the calls he made, and then said he “did not feel the need to continue.” There was also some discussion about the accuracy of Volugaris’ methods, all of which Voulgaris responded to.

At this point, I think it would be best to review the cases for and against the veracity of Donaghy’s post-prison claims, and the evidence supporting each viewpoint.
Donaghy’s Version of Events:

Tim Donaghy claims that he was able to pick NBA games correctly against the spread at an amazingly high rate because he knew how the league and his fellow referees influenced games in unseen ways. 
Some of the examples he gave were that Dick Bavetta liked to keep games close, that Steve Javie disliked Allen Iverson, that Joe Crawford loved Allen Iverson, and other things of that nature. Using detailed gambling databases, previous game footage, and months of painstaking research, Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop proved that if Donaghy had followed his “rules,” he would have ended up losing money. Some of the parties Donaghy claimed were involved in specific incidents during Donaghy’s time as a referee also deny that those incidents ever occurred.
Donaghy, despite the fact he was betting on games that he was officiating, was calling the games fairly; according to Donaghy’s version of events, the gambling addiction that ruined his life did not influence his calls the way Steve Javie’s dislike of Allen Iverson influenced his calls. After he was found guilty of betting on games, Donaghy decided to expose who the “real” bad guys were. 
Donaghy’s standard rebuttal to everyone who claims that he may have fixed games is that the FBI did a “thorough” investigation into him and found that he did not fix games. The FBI’s investigation mainly focused on money that was going to the Gambino crime family, and specifically abstains from saying that the FBI found that Donaghy did or did not fix games. The NBA’s own investigation into Donaghy, the Pedowitz Report, also refrained from making a conclusion on that front, saying that they did not look at many of Donaghy’s games, and even saying that they had found some questionable things in the games they did look at. 
I will also note that Donaghy has been attempting to encourage paranoia and promote conspiracy theories against multiple large entities since he returned from prison, most notably the NBA and ESPN, even when ESPN has shown its work at every opportunity. That he asks for the public to have complete and unwavering faith in an FBI report that nobody has seen and did not specifically say it found him innocent seems to reveal an inconsistency in Mr. Donaghy’s feelings about large entities. 
The Other Version of Events:

The other version of events is that Tim Donaghy is a gambling addict who got involved with the mafia, overestimated his own ability to handicap games (which, by the way, problem gamblers do), and ended up in over his head. He then began betting on games he was working and, consciously
or unconsciously, changed th
e outcome of the games in order to win his bets. 
When HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked Donaghy’s former gambling partner if Donaghy fixed games, he gave a long, long pause before saying “no comment,” then basically said he didn’t want to know whether or not Donaghy was fixing games. 
Gumbel also said something at the end of that segment which I will now put in boldface and italicize: 
One Quick Postscript: According to Batista [the man who bankrolled Donaghy’s picks], Donaghy wasn’t much of a handicapper when he wasn’t directly involved. The games Donaghy picked but didn’t officiate? Batista ultimately said “Thanks, but no thanks,” after those picks lost him money.

Statistical research on the factors Donaghy said allowed him to pick games at 70% proved that betting those factors would not have won Donaghy money. Donaghy’s former gambling partner said that his picks on games he did not officiate lost him money. Yet Tim Donaghy made money the vast majority of the time on games he officiated. There is detailed statistical analysis, with accompanying video, showing that Donaghy had a tendency to call games in a ludicrously one-sided fashion. If found guilty of fixing games, Donaghy faces additional criminal charges to the ones he has already been convicted of. Given that information, how many possible conclusions are there?
Tim Donaghy is feeding on our insecurities. We’re sometimes so afraid of being seen as naive that we’ll believe any narrative other than the one presented to us by a “mainstream” entity, and often end up making ourselves cripplingly naive by doing so. But every now and then, Occam’s Razor works. The referee who bet on games, went to jail for betting on games, and is trying to make back the reparation money he owes for illegally betting on games is the one who isn’t on the up-and-up here, not the ones getting a desperate finger pointed at them. As of right now, Tim Donaghy is failing the duck test.
The men whose supposed biases have been statistically proven not to impact their work and do their best every day to correctly call a game that is nearly impossible to officiate perfectly are not the bad guys in this picture. There is likely not a vast NBA conspiracy that has placed the reputation and long-term survival of a multi-billion dollar industry in the hands of some of its most-maligned and worst-paid employees.
The amount of disrespect Tim Donaghy has shown to the game of basketball and the league that employed him is appalling. First, Donaghy bet on the game of basketball, the ultimate sports sin. That alone should have been enough to make Tim Donaghy’s name live in basketball infamy for as long as people talk about basketball.
Since his supposed rehabilitation Donaghy has, shockingly, made things worse. The 1919 White Sox admitted to their crimes when presented with the evidence. Pete Rose may have denied his guilt for decades, but at least he never tried to take anybody down with him. In response to the overwhelming evidence that he fixed games, Donaghy has decided that the best defense is a good offense. 
He has, in the most calculated and self-serving manner possible, tapped into long-standing anxieties that basketball fans have about the way the game is officiated and used that to deflect attention away from his own indiscretions. How badly you wanted the Kings to win in 2002 doesn’t make the evidence against Donaghy go away. If you want to talk about games like that, go to places like this. The man to lead the discussion about NBA officiating is not the ex-con ex-ref with some very murky motives behind his words. 
In order to prove himself innocent of a crime he likely committed, Donaghy has been willing to tarnish the reputations of his fellow referees. His ultimate goal is to destroy the credibility of the league that features the best basketball players on the planet. 
The truth — the unsexy, un-fun, conspiracy-free, actually true truth — of the matter is that the NBA and the people who work for it are doing everything they can to ensure that the games are called as fairly as possible. They are reviewing their referees. They are trying to find out which ones are the best. They are changing the rules to make the game more fair whenever they are given the opportunity. 
Plenty of people are working on this, and none of them have gone to jail because they bet on games. Until Tim Donaghy completes the substantial amount of work that must be done in order to clear his own name, it’s probably best to let other people worry about how to fix the league Donaghy did so much damage to. 
Tim Donaghy has said his piece.  Thanks to innovations like FaceBook, he will always be able to get his words to people who want to read them. He will continue to talk, and that’s his right as a free man. Until Donaghy can provide some real evidence for the unsubstantiated claims he’s made about others and against the very substantial claims made against him, it’s high time to stop listening.

Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns questionable vs. Knicks after car accident

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns was questionable for Friday night’s game in New York against the Knicks after a car accident in the Minneapolis area.

The Star Tribune reports Towns was headed to the airport Thursday when he was involved in the accident. Coach Ryan Saunders told the newspaper Towns caught a commercial flight after the accident and missed a team shootaround.

Saunders said he had no information on specific injuries for Towns. Guard Tyus Jones told the Star Tribune he saw Towns before the shootaround and Towns was doing “all right.”

“Rest” was listed as the reason for him being questionable on the official injury report

It wasn’t immediately clear where the accident occurred. Minneapolis police said they didn’t handle any incident involving Towns. A Timberwolves spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press.

 

Kings’ Dave Joerger and Buddy Hield apparently argued after Hield’s late 3-pointer (video)

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Important caveats: I don’t know what Kings coach Dave Joerger and Sacramento guard Buddy Hield said to each other late in their loss to the Warriors last night. It looks like they were arguing, but body language can easily be misread. And even if they were arguing, I don’t know about what.

Let’s read into the situation, anyway.

With the Kings down six and 20 seconds left, Hield pulled up for a deep 3-pointer and made it. Afterward, Joerger and Hield had an exchange:

Could Joerger have been upset about the shot? Sacramento was down six with 20 seconds left. There wasn’t time to work for a better look. The Kings needed points, ideally three, quickly. As soon as Hield felt he confident, he should have shot, as he did.

That set up Sacramento’s final possession, down two with 6.5 seconds left. Hield squared up for another deep 3-pointer, hesitated then worked inside for an off-balance miss:

Hield said he should have let it fly. Did Joerger get in his head?

That’s what Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said happened:

That’s the easy narrative.

Is that the accurate narrative? I don’t know.

But it’s definitely the easy one.

NBA emphasizes its investigation never concluded Tim Donaghy didn’t fix games

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Did Tim Donaghy fix games while working as NBA referee?

That question still draws interest, even many years after he admitted to supplying gamblers with inside information in exchange for money. Donaghy has denied fixing games.

A new investigation into Donaghy was published by ESPN earlier this week. I recommend reading Scott Eden’s piece in full.

Then, it’s worth reading the NBA’s response.

NBA:

The Tim Donaghy matter concluded over a decade ago with a full investigation by the federal government, Donaghy’s termination from the NBA, and his conviction for criminal acts.  At the same time, at the request of the NBA, former prosecutor Larry Pedowitz conducted an independent investigation of Donaghy’s misconduct and issued publicly a 133-page report.  This report was based on an extensive review of game data and video as well as approximately 200 interviews, thousands of pages of documents, and consultation with various gambling and data experts.

The ESPN Article attempts to revive this old story.  Unfortunately, it is replete with errors, beginning with its statement that the Pedowitz Report “concluded that Donaghy, in fact, did not fix games.”  The Pedowitz Report made no such conclusion.  Rather, the investigation found no basis to disagree with the finding of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that “[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”  ESPN ignores this important distinction.

The new material that ESPN has assembled to support its own conclusion that Donaghy manipulated games is not strong and adds little to the existing record.

Quoted Individuals

The ESPN Article includes several quotes from named and unnamed individuals.  But these statements conflict with other evidence in the record and in many cases are based on speculation.  For example:

• ESPN quotes Phil Scala, a retired FBI agent who was part of the government’s investigation, as saying Donaghy’s claim that he did not manipulate games “never really flew with us.” But in 2009, Scala wrote a foreword to a book authored by Donaghy in which Scala characterized Donaghy’s cooperation as “unconditionally truthful” and stated that Donaghy “confess[ed] his sins, [took] full responsibility for his actions, pa[id] his debt to society, and [found] the humility to completely display his past vices.”

• ESPN quotes an anonymous “professional gambler” as claiming Donaghy told him “he liked to call an illegal defense call, right away, in the first minute.” But this claim is not accurate.  In the 274 regular season and playoff games that Donaghy officiated during the 2003-04 to 2006-07 seasons, he called illegal defense three times during the first minute of a game.

• ESPN asserts that Donaghy had “come clean” to Tommy Martino. But the actual quotes attributed to Martino do not appear to support that conclusion – they only suggest that Donaghy told Martino he could influence games, not that he had in fact done so.

Statistical Analysis

The ESPN Article relies on a statistical analysis of Donaghy’s officiating and betting line movements.  We asked ESPN to provide us with the data and assumptions underlying this analysis, but they refused.  Based on the limited information contained in the Article, we attempted to replicate ESPN’s findings – but were unable to do so.  Indeed, our analysis found no meaningful pattern of Donaghy making more calls in favor of the team that had the “heavier betting.”

Further, the original analyses conducted by the Pedowitz team were significantly more comprehensive than what ESPN appears to have done.  For example, ESPN’s work appears to include only foul calls, and not significant non-calls or violations.  It further treats all calls the same, without considering the nature or circumstances of the call – such as “take fouls” or high-impact shooting fouls.  And ESPN questionably excludes from its analysis 10 games that it deemed to be “blowouts” and roughly 50 calls that it could not attribute to a particular referee – omissions that could meaningfully alter its conclusions.

Finally, it is important to remember that a statistical analysis can only suggest a probability of an event’s occurrence – it does not itself constitute direct evidence that an event occurred.  By contrast, the Pedowitz team and the NBA supplemented statistical analysis with an assessment of the accuracy of each of Donaghy’s actual calls and non-calls in relevant games.  These analyses also did not support ESPN’s conclusions.

Anecdotal Evidence from Games

The ESPN Article cites several games officiated by Donaghy that included calls or call patterns that ESPN deemed suspicious.  However, these examples have limited value separate from a more careful video analysis, and they frequently omit material information.  For example:

• Dallas @ Seattle, 12/20/2006: ESPN cites a foul called by Donaghy against Seattle with 23 seconds remaining in the game that purportedly gave Dallas an opportunity to cover an 8-point spread.  But it omits that this was an intentional “take foul” by Seattle.  The Article also cites a streak of fouls called by Donaghy against Seattle in the same game, purportedly to favor Dallas.  But it omits that after this streak, and during the last four minutes of the game, Donaghy called two fouls against Dallas.

• Boston @ Philadelphia, 12/13/2006: ESPN cites two consecutive fouls called by Donaghy against the Sixers’ Andre Iguodala in the third quarter when the game’s score margin was near the point spread.  But it omits that between those fouls, Donaghy called a foul against the Celtics’ Paul Pierce.

• Washington @ Indiana, 3/14/2007: ESPN cites four consecutive fouls called by Donaghy against the Pacers in the fourth quarter when the game’s margin was near the point spread.  But it omits that immediately prior to this streak, Donaghy called four consecutive fouls against the Wizards.

* * *

We recognize there is strong interest in the subject of expanded sports betting and the measures sports organizations should undertake to protect integrity.  However, the ESPN Article does not add anything material to the record of what happened over a decade ago.  There is no dispute that Tim Donaghy engaged in criminal conduct as an NBA referee, costing him his job, his reputation, and for a time, his freedom.  The Pedowitz investigation focused on understanding what Donaghy did and how he did it so we would be best equipped to protect the integrity of our games going forward.

In that regard, the Pedowitz Report prompted changes to the NBA’s officiating and integrity programs.  A summary of the initiatives the NBA has adopted since 2008 is available here.  This summary provides added context that describes the NBA’s response to the Donaghy situation and our continued efforts to ensure that the NBA’s integrity programs meet the highest standards.

The Donaghy matter also underscores the need for sports leagues to have greater access to betting data from sports books to monitor gambling on their games.  We will continue our ongoing efforts to obtain this information to further expand our integrity efforts and best protect our sport in an age of legalized sports gambling.

The NBA is right: the Pedowitz Report did not conclude that Donaghy didn’t fix games. The report merely found insufficient evidence to disagree with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which found no evidence Donaghy fixed games. A lack of evidence to contradict a lack of evidence is not nearly as conclusive as “Donaghy didn’t fix games.”

But is the NBA really now casting doubt on the notion Donaghy didn’t fix games?

That seems backward. The league should seemingly want to protect its integrity, not call attention to lack of clarity around what Donaghy did and didn’t do.

Maybe the NBA is just trying to cast general doubt onto Eden’s reporting. Some of the above distinctions seem like nitpicking, at least without more context. For example, how many illegal defenses did Donaghy call in the first five minutes of games? The gambler might have been embellishing by saying “first minute.”

Still, the league raises one question that seems particularly relevant: Why did former FBI agent Phil Scala vouch for Donaghy’s honesty then express doubt over Donaghy’s claim he didn’t fix games?

Ultimately, I wish we had better data. Pedowitz reviewed only 17 games, but examined all calls. ESPN reviewed 40 games, but apparently examined only fouls.

However, statistical analysis can’t prove Donaghy’s motives. It can only indicate trends. So, even better data won’t prove whether or not Donaghy fixed games.

But here’s what I can’t get over, no matter how ESPN or the NBA frames these details: Donaghy broke the law to sell gamblers information while working as a referee. Will anyone ever believe he drew the line before fixing games?

Monte Morris plays it safe – to Nuggets’ delight

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DETROIT – Monte Morris entered the NBA inauspiciously.

Despite looking like a borderline first-round pick after his junior year, Morris returned to Iowa State for his senior season. He pulled his quad during the pre-draft process in 2017, missing most of his scheduled workouts. He fell to the No. 51 pick. The Nuggets offered just a two-year, two-way contract.

“I was excited,” said Morris, a Flint, Mich., native. “Where I come from, if you get a chance to get to this level, everybody back home looks at you as the hero. So, I was just happy for my opportunity.”

Morris has seized it.

With Isaiah Thomas sidelined most of the season, Morris has emerged as a quality contributor in Denver. Morris deserves strong consideration for spots on Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player ballots. And this could be just the start.

The knock on Morris has long been his ceiling. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound point guard is neither big nor overly athletic. In four years at Iowa State, he developed a reputation for protecting the ball and taking what defenses gave him. Usually, future NBA point guards bend the game more at that level. They use their burst and/or shooting to dictate terms to the defense. Morris left many scouts believing he’d be a career backup in the NBA – at best.

Morris has improved his outside shooting, making 43.1% of his 3-pointers on 2.8 attempts per game this season. But he’s mostly playing the same style he always has, avoiding bad shots and turnovers. It has just translated far better than expected.

Morris’ 6.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is on pace to be the best in NBA history. Here are the highest assist-to-turnover ratios since 1977-78, as far back as Basketball-Reference data goes (assists and turnovers per game in parentheses):

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Morris has gone 127 minutes since his last turnover.

“As a coach, that’s what you want in a point guard,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s a throwback.”

Morris is averaging 10.8 points per game, and he competes defensively. Few reserves have produced like him this season.

Montrezl Harrell and Domantas Sabonis are pulling away from the field in the Sixth Man of the Year race. But the ballot runs three deep, and Morris ranks third among Sixth Man of the Year-eligible players in win shares:

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Not bad for someone who spent most of last season in the NBA’s minor league.

Morris played well there, and he has only continued to improve since. He impressed so much in summer league, Denver signed him to a standard contract a year before his two-way deal would have ended. That way, the Nuggets could use Morris more than the 45-day limit for two-way players within the season.

“He embodied who we want to be,” Malone said. “He embodied our culture. Self-motivated. And every time you gave Monte Morris a challenge, he met it head on.”

Judging Morris’ improvement can be tricky. He played just 25 minutes in three NBA games last season. I suspect he could have handled a bigger role, even as a rookie. But there’s a certain amount of guesswork there. (Not so for my Most Improved Player favorite, Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox, who was demonstrably bad last season then has become a near-star this season).

Undeniably, Morris’ impact this season is far greater than ever before.

Here are the biggest increases in win shares (middle) from a prior career high (left) to the current season (right):

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Everything is trending the right direction for Morris. He’s showing the fruits of his work ethic, and he’s just 23. Maybe we can finally view him as someone with upside. But even if this is his ceiling, it’s high enough. Morris is already a productive NBA rotation player.

Perhaps best of all for the Nuggets, Morris is on just a minimum contract.

Here are this season’s win-share leaders among minimum-contract players:*

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*Excluding players who were bought out or just waived in-season then signed elsewhere for the minimum. Excluding players on rookie-scale contracts who had their salaries increased to the minimum by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Of the 15 minimum-salary players on that leaderboard, only two have contracts that won’t allow them to enter free agency and pursue raises this summer. Spencer Dinwiddie signed a three-year, $34,360,473 extension in December, which he deemed even better than hitting the open market. Morris has two (!) additional minimum-salary seasons on his deal.

By getting him onto a two-year, two-way deal initially, Denver gained immense leverage in negotiations last summer. Morris could have played out his two-way deal and become a restricted free agent next summer. Instead, he took the safe approach with a three-year contract that guaranteed two seasons at the NBA minimum and included a third unguaranteed minimum season.

It’s incredible value for the Nuggets… and delays Morris getting a payday commensurate with his production. But he’s maintaining the same steady approach he shows on the court.

“It’s cool,” Morris said. “I’ve just got to keep being Monte, keep being on-time, keep being a good person, and everything will take care of itself.”