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

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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. 

Suns’ GM says there is “overwhelming likelihood” team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.