Battle Royale: The three worst owners in the NBA

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Battle Royale takes a topic and seeks to settle the pecking order of a given subject. Today’s topic? Who’s the worst owner in the NBA?

You’re only as good as your owner. After all, you can have great chefs but if your owner doesn’t know how to keep the lights on you’re going to get frustrated when the chicken gets half-cooked before the power goes out. In the NBA, you can succeed with bad ownership, but it’s a pretty severe handicap and it’s unlikely to be sustainable.

We’ve had a lot of changes in ownership over the last year. George Shinn is inching closer to finally ditching the Hornets after years of damage. Warrior nation is finally free of the tyranny of Chris Cohan. There’s light at the end of the tunnel for some teams. Other teams are still staring at the blackened darkness of a brick wall, one that also has a sign to inform you there will be budget cutbacks in the near future. But who are the three worst owners in the NBA right now, and where do they rank?

Here are our contenders:

The Bull-God: Michael Heisley

The man in the Bull-God mask is powerful. He leads his people. He commands the throngs with a heavy lash. He is in charge, of that there can be no doubt. But there’s a few problems. For starters, he can’t see in that thing, so he keeps running into walls. His head’s too big to fit through doors, so he keeps trying to turn sideways, but the horns keep getting stuck. And because he has to keep it up right all the time to make sure the mask doesn’t fall off, he keeps stepping in animal feces.

And that’s a lot like Michael Heisley, owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. who consistently fails to recognize that his attempts to be “The Decider” only hinder his team. Heisley has taken over the majority of basketball operation decisions as the years have gone on, progressively making worse decisions and damaging the perception of the franchise. This latest debacle with the rookies he drafted this year, in which he demanded holding them to incentives for their bonuses is the latest example. Asking players to earn a bonus by actually doing something, you know, bonus? That’s completely reasonable. In actuality, Heisley wasn’t being unreasonable in the slightest with Xavier Henry and Vasquez. Asking Henry to make the Rookie All-Star Game, the All-Rookie team, or average 15 minutes per game on a team with the worst backcourt depth in the league is not a stretch. It’s a low-hanging fruit he asked him to grab.

But following that up by going on a radio show and embarrassing yourself by admitting you haven’t read the CBA, hadn’t even known about the clause that allows for this negotiation, and yelling at the radio host? You ruin any credibility you have. And you didn’t have a ton to start with. That interview wasn’t the reason Heisley lost this negotiation, but it was indicative of why he did. He’s in that bull mask, wandering around, trying to bully people and dictate things, only he keeps running into things, tripping over himself, and stepping in feces. Despite Marc Gasol being a terrific player, the Grizzlies were ripped off in the Gasol deal, drafted the worst player they could have in the top 10 last year in Hasheem Thabeet (nearly every point guard was a hit!), and now this. Heisley has a lot of power, and uses it. He just doesn’t use it well, at all.

The Drunk Guy With The Credit Card: James Dolan

You know this guy. The stock market broker type, or investment banker, who wanders into the bar completely trashed. And he’s making an abject fool of himself nearly every single second. But he is willing to make up for every mistake by buying anyone and everyone a drink. He just old the bartender he wants the goat head hanging behind the bar and to put it on his tab. He’s willing to pay top dollar for pretty much anything, and bottle service sounds awesome, even though he’s wandering all over the bar. That’s James Dolan.

Most owners are problematic because they can’t or won’t spend. And that’s not Dolan. It should be noted up front that his willingness to spend on the Knicks is admirable. He could just rake in the dough in his market and not commit to winning. He’s committed to winning. He’s just not very good at it. Think about how long he kept Isiah Thomas around. Despite all the damage Thomas did, despite all the contracts, despite the humiliation and failure and ridicule, Dolan kept Thomas around for a half-decade. Most people graduate college, get a job, and get a raise in the time Dolan gave Thomas the keys to drive the car off a cliff, into a wall, and then bury the pieces in the dirt.

Dolan’s been recalcitrant with the media, despite owning MSG, which is at its heart a media company. He’s gotten better the last few years, hiring Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni, and springing for Amar’e Stoudemire. But there’s still that constant fear that he’s one impulse moment away from re-hiring Isiah in some capacity. Keep spending big guy, the players will just keep putting their drinks on your tab.

The Mega-Buffoon 3000: Donald Sterling

You knew this was coming. Where do you want to start? The off-court disaster that range from racial discrimination to slum lording? How about gambling on bringing in Baron Davis with all his particular risks, only to lose Elton Brand? Maybe you prefer the years and years of thrifty spending, only to be followed by the recent spree of overpaying for low-character guys who don’t help to win an iota of games?

Sterling is the final boss in the video game of Scott Pilgrim vs. The Bad NBA Owners. He’s the big wig. He could hold seminars on how to alienate the media, your fans, and fail to develop a contender in a system which makes it exceedingly difficult for large market teams to fail. He kept Mike Dunleavey on far too long, despite his clearly not being in a good position to manage the team’s roster. He kept Elgin Baylor on board, then fired him in the worst way possible, and may have kept him on without adequate contract and then fired him for race and age issues.

There’s something further that haunts the Clippers. It’s just hard to come to any other conclusion with the number of busts, injuries, and bad luck they’ve endured. But the reason no one cries out for help for the franchise, why no one considers the Clippers tragic (beyond our empathy for their fans as fellow human beings), is that there’s an unspoken sense of “look at their owner, they had it coming.”

In reality, this debate is over before it even begins. If being bad as an NBA owner were good, Donald Sterling would be the best.

Results:

1. Donald Sterling
2. Michael Heisley
3. James Dolan

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

– ESPN’s Zach Lowe

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.

LeBron tells Adam Silver he wants to own expansion team in Vegas

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
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The odds are good that Las Vegas will get an NBA expansion team. Eventually.

But when it happens, LeBron James wants to be in the Vegas ownership group — and he made that pitch directly to Adam Silver after the Lakers exhibition game in Sin City against the Suns on Wednesday.

“I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe. But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players,” James said, via the Associated Press. “So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”

Silver is in the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting an exhibition game between the Bucks and Hawks this week. But LeBron doesn’t need to worry about Silver seeing this request. He probably already has.

The widely held belief around the league is that the NBA owners will not entertain expansion until a new CBA and a new television/streaming rights deal are locked in (driving up the franchise prices), things that will take a couple of years. Expansion talk may come after that, and maybe there will be two new NBA teams by the end of the decade.

“We are not discussing that at this time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of expansion last June. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

If and when expansion happens, Las Vegas, along with Seattle, are the clear frontrunners to land teams. Most importantly, both cities have NBA-ready stadiums and fan bases to support the franchises, and their mayors are on board.

LeBron would be the face of an ownership group. While LeBron himself is a billionaire, Silver had called reports of a $2.5 billion expansion fee per team “low.” And that’s not including all the other start-up costs that come with a team.

But if the NBA is coming to Las Vegas, don’t be shocked if LeBron is involved.

Zion and more: Five must-watch intriguing NBA players this season

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At the start of every season, there are the guys you just can’t take your eyes off.

The “will it come together” guys. The “will they break through” guys. The “their team really needs them” guys. We know what most NBA players bring to the table, but the intriguing guys are the ones where we don’t know the answer. Where we’re finding out just as their coaches and teammates are.

Here are my five most intriguing, must-watch players of the season.

Zion Williamson, Pelicans

Kind of a no-brainer — but we’re all going to be watching.

Williamson was given a max contract off the 85 games he played through three seasons, and the questions are clear: Can he stay on the court? And if he does, can he mesh with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, return to being a dominant scoring force inside, and turn the Pelicans into a playoff team?

The early reviews are promising. He came into camp in the best shape we have seen him in, and he showed off his ridiculous explosiveness in his first preseason game following missing last season after foot surgery.

If Williamson can be that guy, if he can play at an All-Star level, lead the league in scoring efficiency, and give the Pelicans a guy who can get to the rim and draw fouls (something they lacked much of last season, McCollum and Ingram are happy to pull up and nail the jumper), it’s not just Zion who is intriguing. This entire team is.

We know we’re not going to be able to take our eyes off Zion all season. No matter what happens.

Ben Simmons, Nets

Another rather obvious selection, but it doesn’t make it any less a reality — we will all be watching. Especially after his ugly exit from Philadelphia last season, only to not play for the Nets.

What will his role be next to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant? In the first preseason game, Simmons brought the ball up, initiated the offense a lot, and didn’t take a shot outside the paint (he made his shots at the rim, but his turnaround jumper was… rusty would be the kind word). Simmons brings elite perimeter defense the Nets need, but most scouts picture him in a Draymond Green-style role within the Brooklyn offense, the question is will he play that way  — and will Steve Nash ask him to?

No team has more questions this season than the Nets, and Simmons may be the biggest one.

Precious Achiuwa, Raptors

Achiuwa was a different player after the All-Star break last season. Something clicked for him and he jumped to averaging 12.2 points a game (up from 7.5 pre-All-Star) with a 55.2 true shooting percentage (46.7%), in part because he found his 3-point stroke (39.2%).

Was that stretch a fluke, or did Achiuwa figure things out? The early preseason returns suggest the latter.

After the All-Star break Achiuwa looked like a key young part of the Raptors moving forward, the question now is can he sustain and grow that? The key is his jumper — if that is falling and he is spacing the floor, he becomes a much bigger part of the Raptors’ offense (and gives Nick Nurse another 6’8″ switchable defender for his positionless style). We’ll be watching to see if Achiuwa can take the next step.

Onyeka Okongwu, Hawks

Clint Capela will be the Hawks starting center to open the season — but for how long?

Make no mistake, Capela is a quality NBA starting center, but Onyeka Okongwu — the No.6 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft — has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two seasons. For example, during the 2021 Atlanta run to the Eastern Conference Finals when he was Atlanta’s best option in dealing with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Last season there were stretches where he looked like the future in Atlanta. There’s a sense around the league that this is the season Okongwu puts it together — elite defense with some improved rebounding and a jumper — and Nate McMillan will have no choice but to move him into the starting lineup.

Okongwu will get more minutes this season with Danilo Gallinari gone from the Atlanta rotation and questions about the future of John Collins with the team. He can defend at a high level and is an efficient scorer inside — we’re watching to see if this is the season he breaks out. Combine that with a Trae Young/Dejounte Murray backcourt in Atlanta, and things get interesting.

De'Aaron Fox, Kings

If the Sacramento Kings are going to end the longest playoff drought in major American professional sports (16 years), it will be because De’Aaron Fox found genuine chemistry playing off of Domantas Sabonis, something the two started working on last season.

How is that chemistry now? Does Sabonis working out of his preferred high post make finding driving lanes tough for Fox?

“I mean, it’s still a work in progress, but I feel like I can break down anybody at any time. So for myself getting to the pain is not a problem,” Fox said after the Kings’ first preseason game.

Fox scored 23.2 points a game last season but his efficiency (and 3-point shooting) dipped. That has to change. Fox has to be efficient, and new coach Mike Brown has to find a way for his team to get stops, for them to break the streak. Also, Fox has to stay healthy and on the court — he hasn’t played more than 59 games each of the past three seasons.

The Kings are an interesting team this season, and Fox could be their bellwether.