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. 

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri