The Inbounds: The new Brooklyn Empire and the Crown of Relevance

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Sometime last Wednesday, after yet another round on Twitter battling the Brooklyn faithful (and they are a faithful lot for a franchise that hasn’t played a single minute in its current city) about Brook Lopez and his max contract, about the efforts to remake the team and the failed attempt at obtaining Dwight Howard, I came to a pretty startling conclusion. The Nets are perfect for sports and the people who love them. There are more compelling stories in the NBA. LeBron James and his ongoing battle to save his basketball soul. Kobe Bryant and his continuing obsession with matching Jordan. The Thunder and the hope of tomorrow vs. the empty optimism of a future which may never come.

But the Nets? They are perfect for everything we love about the NBA and about sports. Because they will provide endless hours for us to develop and express opinions about a dozen different things.

They’re a superstar team without superstars. Deron Williams is a top-five point guard in this league who will flirt nightly with the tag of best-to-second-best. But Joe Johnson? Gerald Wallace? Brook Lopez? You have to love basketball to know these names. Yet if you do, you understand how good they really are. Johnson’s contract alone is enough for hours of debate. No one can argue he’s worth the money but if you factor in the fact that the Nets don’t really care how much he costs, at some point once you’re over the luxury tax line it’s irrelevant how much more he costs. And he’s an underrated defender who can guard 1’s, 2’s and 3’s in this league, defend in the post and on the perimeter, can body and bang and contain on the fly. He can also stop his own offense dead in its tracks with his insistence on isolation possessions that involve a lot of dribbling, a lot of contested jumpers, and not a lot of points. He’ll have nights where he lights up the opponent and nights where his own team goes down in the crossfire. It’s perfect for starting a screaming match between any two people.

Gerald Wallace is an underground icon, the guy named “Crash” whose stat-stuffing exploits were best illustrated in the basketball must-read “FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac.”  He’s another level, and yet on the level which you can observe with the eye, he seems almost invisible. He’s the hidden play, the quiet moment, master of the “little things which help win games.” And Brook Lopez is the center who can score 30 points but can’t grab eight rebounds. Every accomplishment can be marred with criticism, every criticism can be marred with praise. It’s all there.

And they enter a new arena in the world’s most famous city, ready to strike up a rivalry with the most iconic team on the East Coast (apologies to the greater Boston Celtics, it’s more the Knicks’ failures and your quiet success that trumpet them so loudly). Let’s not be confused on this point. This rivalry will be real from the start.  The Knicks will play big brother and play it off, but they’re not good enough to dismiss the Nets, and the Nets are fighting to establish themselves as legitimate in the boroughs. They even match up well, with no one able to defend Deron Williams, but Williams’ mentor Jason Kidd on the other sideline, the Knicks with defensive ace Iman Shumpert (when he returns from injury) to take on Johnson and the Nets with Wallace to throw at Carmelo Anthony. The Nets have no one to defend Amar’e Stoudemire, but Stoudemire often gets in his own way with injury and defensive issues. The high scoring, no rebound, poor defense center who can score from anywhere on anyone versus the consummate defensive force at the rim. Throw in some young talent and veteran difference makers and you have everything you need. All four matchups next season will be must-watch, even as both teams could be fully embroiled in turmoil and in full disintegration at any point, only to rise from the ashes. God help us if we get a Nets/Knicks-Knicks/Nets 4-5 matchup in the East.

There are questions about how the Nets went about clearing out the populace for the Barclays Center, questions about Dolan’s price gouging, questions about Billy King’s decision making, about how CAA runs the Knicks, are the Nets a real superstar team, is Carmelo Anthony a player you can win with. It’s a whole Baz Luhrmann flick on hardwood.

The Nets will be the best thing anything in sports can be, divisive. You’ll think they don’t get enough credit for how good they are or that they are total frauds masquerading as a Finals contender. Is Brook Lopez a great scorer or a poor rebounder? What happens in three years when the salaries are out of control? What about Dwight Howard?

What about Dwight Howard?

The Nets are going to be a great team next year, even without the big guy. Johnson and Williams will make for a 1-2 pick and roll that’s going to just kill opponents, and with Wallace crashing the weakside and Lopez as the outlet, they’re going to put up points. They have this new color scheme which is as provocative as it is vintage, recalling the styles of the 40’s barnstorming teams and yet reminiscent of the style of minority owner Jay-Z.

The owner is a billionaire Russian who ran for President in Russia and said he’d beat up Mark Cuban in a kickboxing match, for crying out loud. This story has everything.

So while Nets fans try and shoehorn their team into the title contenders conversation and the rest of us try and explain just how limited their options are going to be in three years and how Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are not worth the money, the NBA and the Nets win.

You want to know the biggest reason why Billy King won the offseason, why the Nets get an A for their summer?

The Nets, more so than even during their stretch of Finals contention, are relevant. They matter. They aren’t dominant enough for us to just accept, they aren’t mediocre enough for us to ignore. They’re just a really good basketball team looking to rewrite history.

This is going to be fun.

Jimmy Butler’s camp reportedly says concerns about salary “manufactured” by Wolves brass

Associated Press
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There are more spin doctors at work around the Jimmy Butler trade request than there are working congressional campaigns right now.

Among the flood of reports that came out was one that Butler’s primary issue was his salary — he wanted Minnesota to clear cap space so he could renegotiate his current deal to near a max contract, then extend him off of that deal. That the issue was less personal with Towns and more about the money.

Not true, reports Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

To add to the Butler drama there have been multiple reports in the Minneapolis area to come out this week that money was the main sticking point for Butler to demand his departure, but a source in his camp told the Sun-Times on Friday that it was “manufactured’’ by “ownership mouthpieces’’ to make Butler look bad….

According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference, and in Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.

Two thoughts here. First, this report makes more sense — to give the Butler the kind of raise talked about would have required gutting the Timberwolves roster. Meaning the would have had to dump guys that have value such as Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, or they would have had to find a sucker to take on the contracts of Andrew Wiggins or Gorgui Dieng, and to do that would have required sending out quality talent or picks as sweeteners. Butler is smart and understands the NBA business, he would know this was never going to happen, he realizes his money was going to come as a free agent next summer. The idea he demanded this always smelled fishy.

Second, Butler and a lot of people want to lump Towns and Wiggins together as players who don’t work hard, don’t have much of a motor, and don’t seem to love the game. Nobody who has watched Wiggins play — especially last season — is going to put up much of an argument about that in his case. Wiggins looks like an anchor contract, unless he suddenly sees the light.

Towns, however, is different. His game has improved year-to-year, he does have a good motor on the court (at least on offense), and he does put in work in the off-season. Maybe he is young and doesn’t wear it on his sleeve like Butler, and certainly Towns was taught some tough lessons in the playoffs by Clint Capela last season, but Towns is not Wiggins. Towns was an All-NBA player last season for a reason. Lumping him and Wiggins together is a mistake.

NBA approves three rule changes, including reset of shot clock to 14 after offensive board

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The three rule changes approved by the NBA owners on Friday are not going to have a dramatic impact on this NBA season…

Until in a close playoff game in May it’s a little harder for a team getting offensive rebounds to just kill the clock. Or in that same playoff game, when clear path foul is called because an offensive player outraced a defender down the court.

As had been expected, the NBA’s Board of Governors — the owners — approved three rule changes for the coming NBA season. They are:

• The shot clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound rather than 24 seconds. This has been experimented with in the G-League, the WNBA, and Summer League this year with some success. The goal is to speed up the pace of play, not letting a team get an offensive rebound then back it out and pound the ball for 20 seconds to kill time. Thing is, that was not much of a problem last season, as was noted at Nylon Calculus.

 

<em>Over 30 percent of offensive rebounds result in putbacks (the 0 Duration value on the graph) and 75 percent of offensive rebounds result in a possession that is five seconds or less. Only 6 percent of all offensive rebounds resulted in possessions that are 14 seconds or greater last year. Given that the league average for offensive rebounds was the lowest ever this past season at 9.7 per game, this rule would apply to roughly half a rebound per team per game last year.</em>

When fans will notice it, when it will have the intended impact is end-of-game situations — rather than a team grabbing offensive rebounds then killing the clock for 20 seconds, they will have to get up a shot, which will lead to the other team getting an opportunity.

• The league “simplified of the clear-path rule. The NBA’s old clear path rule was overly complicated and it led to things that looked like clear path fouls not being, and things that clearly were not being fouls. Here is the NBA’s explanation of the new rule, with some video help below.

A clear path foul is now defined as a personal foul against any offensive player during his team’s transition scoring opportunity in the following circumstances: the ball is ahead of the tip of the circle in the backcourt; no defender is ahead of the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity; the player with the transition scoring opportunity is in control of the ball (or a pass has been thrown to him); and if the foul deprives his team of an opportunity to score.

As part of the clear path foul rule simplification, referees will no longer need to make judgment calls as to whether or not a defender was between (or had the opportunity to be between) the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity and the basket.  In addition, referees will no longer have to determine whether or not the defender was at any time ahead of the offensive player prior to committing the foul, nor will it be relevant whether or not a defender beat the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity into the frontcourt.  Further, plays of this nature will no longer have to originate in the backcourt (since transition scoring opportunities can originate in the frontcourt).

• The NBA expanded what is defined as a “hostile act” so that replay can be triggered more easily. Currently, to be a hostile act according to the NBA rulebook it has to be an altercation between players that is “not part of a normal basketball play” or where a player “intentionally or recklessly harms or attempts to harm another player.” Broadening the scope of this will give referees more chances to review off-ball or other altercations, and these are the kinds of serious situations the league should review.

Dirk Nowitzki likely to come off bench this season, coach Rick Carlisle says

Associated Press
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Dirk Nowitzki said something this summer rarely seen from future Hall of Famers who are the best player in their franchise’s history, he was willing to come off the bench.

It looks like Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is going to take Nowitzki up on that offer, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

That might have been happening at the start of the season anyway, as Nowitzki’s injured ankle is not 100 percent and you can be sure the Mavericks are not going to push him.

Nowitzki off the bench just makes more sense for the Mavericks. DeAndre Jordan is the starting center, Harrison Barnes is really a four (56 percent of his minutes were at that spot last season), rookie Luka Doncic is a ball-handling three, Wesley Mathews is finally healthy and should be the two guard, and Dennis Smith Jr. is at the point.

Then the bench is a throwback to Mavericks favorites with Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, plus Yogi Ferrell, Dwight Powell, and Devin Harris.

Nowitzki is going to get the grand farewell tour this season, as he deserves. He’ll start a few games, particularly his final one at home. But for the team this season, which has dreams of a playoff spot (as long a shot as that may be in the West), this is the best move.

 

 

Magic Johnson: I told Luke Walton not to worry if Lakers start slow with LeBron James

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The Heat started 9-8 in their first season with LeBron James. There were calls for Miami to fire coach Erik Spoelstra, maybe even from LeBron himself.

The Cavaliers started 19-20 in their first season with LeBron back. Coach David Blatt didn’t get off the hot seat until Cleveland fired him the next year.

How will Lakers coach Luke Walton fare coaching LeBron early this season?

Lakers president Magic Johnson, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“As I was talking to Luke [with GM Rob Pelinka], we said don’t worry about if we get out to a bad start,” Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, said Thursday as the team’s brass met with the media. “We have seen that with LeBron [James] going to Miami, and we have seen that when he came back to Cleveland. He is going to struggle because there are so many new moving parts. But eventually we are going to get it, and we are going to be really a good team.”

If the Lakers are committed to Walton, they did well to get ahead of the story. Last year, after LaVar Ball said Walton lost control of the team, the Lakers let the story get away from them.

These comments should also anchor Johnson. It’s one thing to soberly assess the situation, as Johnson can do now, and back Walton. It’s another to support the coach while dealing daily with the emotions of losing. Johnson can always look back to these comments as a reminder of his views if necessary.

And it could be necessary. The Lakers have some, um, interesting ideas about how they want to play. There could be significant growing pains.

But the Lakers seem ready to ride them out with Walton.