The Inbounds: For the 500th time, we need an NBA Hall of Fame

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When I make this column, as I do every year, I go through the usual flip side. Do we really need a Hall of Fame? Is there anyone who should be included in a Hall of Fame for the NBA that is not or will not be in the Naismith? Is recognition in the Naismith not enough accomplishment? Is there really the demand to satisfy fans desire to attend a NBA-only Hall? What’s the problem?

The problem is not that Reggie Miller, Don Nelson, and Ralph Sampson are being inducted tonight alongside people whose accomplishments were not in the NBA. That’s not it at all. I’m not arguing for the elimination of the Naismith Hall, if anything, I want there to be a higher level of regard to those who have genuinely contributed to the sport, not just the league. But to lump the NBA in with every other organized basketball entity on the planet is to insult both sides. The NBA is its own creature, far removed from Europe’s basketball cultural evolution, profoundly different from the NCAA’s particular brand of madness, and not at all truly entwined with international competition.

It’s its own thing.

And it’s a big thing.

When you think of basketball, you’re either going to think of the NCAA tournament or the NBA. I’m not here to try and inflate the importance of pro basketball over college. March Madness is a wonderful entity and should have its own recognition of greatness.

Funny thing. It does.

College gets to celebrate its wonderful moments and players, the people who form the tapestry of its rich and legendary history. Why doesn’t the NBA? Why should the NBA run cover for all forms of basketball? Again, I don’t mind the association of the NBA with the Hall. It’s good that the NBA brings some attention which gets drawn to the other inductees whose accomplishments may not be as well known but are often equal or greater to those of the millionaire superstars molded to statue.

But it’s the lack of a Hall for the NBA, without the ability to recognize people who clearly belong, but likely won’t because the Naismith is trying to cram in all of basketball. What winds up happening is worthy people from outside of the NBA who would go overlooked otherwise get in, while completely worthy people from the ranks of the NBA are excluded.

I’ll admit it, I love Bill Simmons’ Pyramid idea for the Hall. It’s innovative, and it serves two purposes at once. It allows us to induct those who are worthy of enshrinement, but not next to the greatest of the greats, while providing an opportunity to set those players aside.

Reggie Miller is entering the Hall alongside Phil Knight, for crying out loud. I don’t have an issue with Knight being inducted, You can’t argue the impact he’s had on the game. He belongs in the Naismith. But Reggie freaking Miller deserves to enter enshrinement alongside Nelson and Sampson, Wilkes and Daniels, by themselves. Their contributions to the sport of basketball may be equal, but not to the NBA.

I’ve long held that the best thing about the NBA is that you can’t take it too seriously. This is a league of tape-delay Finals, coked out history, flopping franchises, lottery conspiracy theories, trade vetoes and Planet Lovetron. That’s what makes this league so great. The sheer absurdity of it. But you can’t have all that without also recognizing the greatness and history of the playoffs and Finals. Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kareem, Wilt, Olajuwon, Russell, Moses, Walton, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, Dirk, LeBron, Wade. That’s a whole other level of basketball greatness and that’s just scratching the surface. The league has been around for over 60 years. It’s got a story to tell, and it deserves a building to tell it in. It deserves to recognize the best of the best, and the great players and people who contributed to what it has become.

The NBA having its own Hall won’t lead to total destruction of the Naismith. Basketball culture won’t crumble into a sponsored dystopia. (Though you can bet the league will make a huge profit on it that way — and hey, maybe that way we can avoid another lockout!) Everything will be fine if we recognize the accomplishments of those to the sport of basketball, and those specifically to the National Basketball Association. We lose nothing, we gain a lot.

We live in a world where stories are told in more volume and with more accessibility than at any time in our history as a species. We’re not fighting for bandwidth. There’s room in the basketball collective consciousness for both the Naismith Hall and the NBA Hall.

The league too often has deferred throughout its history, has shied away from flexing its muscle (unless it’s in a labor dispute). It’s time. The NBA’s worthy of its own Hall of Fame.

Let’s build it.

NBA owners, players union reportedly agree to push back CBA opt-out date

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NBA owners and players are both making too much money to risk screwing things up with a labor stoppage, right? RIGHT?

Don’t be so sure.

In a sign the two sides have a lot of work to do to reach terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — primarily because of an internal dispute among the owners — the NBA (representing the owners) and the players union have agreed to push back the opt-out date for the CBA from Dec. 15 (this would end the current CBA on July 1, 2023). Marc Stein reported this earlier in the week (covered here) and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added details today.

Talks on a new CBA are ongoing, and a formal ratification of an extension — likely into February — is expected to come at a virtual board of governors meeting Wednesday, sources said.

What’s the stumbling block? A group of owners — bothered by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — is pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams. Call it whatever they want, that’s a hard cap and there is no chance the players will sign off on any form of a hard cap. 

The NBA has used a punitive and progressively intense luxury tax to rein in the spending of some owners. However, some owners — how many is unclear, but enough that the NBA has put the issue on the table — feel the tax isn’t doing its job in the wake of new, even wealthier owners. 

Unquestionably some owners are unbothered by the tax. To use the example I have used before, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are on track to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, which will result in a $144.7 million luxury tax bill (leading to a payroll and tax total of $336.6 million). The Warriors and Nets will be in the same ballpark. The Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll. Two-thirds of NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less, not much more than the Clippers’ tax bill.

Recently, the same NBA owners approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the financial arms of generally oil-rich countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team as a silent partner. That has not happened yet, but the door is open. It’s part of a pattern of wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — entering the playing field for the NBA.

All that has some of the more established, older owners feeling squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That has the older owners pushing for a hard cap to stop what they see as an increased willingness to spend.

Again, there is no chance the players approve a hard cap. The owners know this, but some seem willing to play brinksmanship with a lucrative, growing business (particularly internationally) to protect their bottom lines.

If you read all that and thought, “this isn’t about the players really, it’s an owner vs. owner issue,” you’re spot on. The league and players are giving the owners more time to work out their internal issues.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.