How the schedule was made: NBA taking hard look at metrics

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MIAMI (AP) — Larry Bird made his plea years ago.

His request to the NBA was not unique: Bird wanted the league to eliminate the dreaded stretches of four games in five days. What made Bird’s pitch memorable was that it didn’t just cite the demand of so many games in such a short amount of time, but also pointed out how the anxiousness caused by such tests can hurt a team beforehand and how the fatigue lingers long afterward.

“What he said to me has been ringing in my head ever since,” said Tom Carelli, the NBA’s senior vice president for broadcasting.

Carelli and the rest of the NBA schedule-making gurus were unable to make Bird’s request reality – until now. With an extra week of days to play with, along with some much deeper looks at arena availability and ways to try to help competitive balance, the NBA believes the schedule released Monday should be the most user-friendly in the league’s history.

The four-games-in-five-days challenges? Eliminated for the first time in NBA history.

Back-to-backs? Only 14.4 per team on average, an all-time low for the third straight year.

Single-game road trips, average miles traveled and time zones crossed? All down a bit as well.

“I think at this point, and frankly the minute we got the extra week, we could conclude the schedule is really, undebatably, the best basketball schedule we’ve ever had,” said Evan Wasch, the NBA’s senior vice president for basketball strategy and analytics. “That’s what the week affords you, the opportunity to focus on all these different metrics.”

The extra week, which allows the regular season to start Oct. 17 – the league’s earliest start since 1980 – was an obvious help. But schedule makers went further, taking a deeper-than-usual look at arena availability around the league and trying to minimize the nights where a weary team will face a well-rested opponent.

In other words, NBA fans, meet FTE.

The metric – an acronym for Fresh, Tired and Even – is a major part of the NBA schedule process. It’s a way the NBA has charted how tired one team will likely be when facing another.

FTE has been part of the NBA’s internal charting for years, but wasn’t often discussed openly or with teams.

“If a team plays the night before and its opponent didn’t, then one team is tired and its opponent is fresh,” Wasch said. “That fresh-tired ratio will be lower than ever. It’s hard to measure and track when you build a schedule manually, but it’s easy to track when building one with optimization software.”

Instead of asking teams for 50 possible home dates for their respective buildings – the past standard – schedule makers like Carelli, Wasch, Chris Boghosian, Gene Li and Hao Meng instead checked every available date and tried a much broader look at how the puzzle might fit.

Their work might be particularly noticed on ABC games this season.

Last season, when stars like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala all were given nights off when the Cavaliers or Warriors were playing nationally televised games on ABC, there was no shortage of scorn. This season, teams playing in those marquee ABC games will have a day off both before and after those contests.

“The more information we got, the easier it was to reduce back-to-backs,” Carelli said.

The changes aren’t only to benefit players and teams.

The league this year will be labeling the schedule by week – Week 1, Week 2, so on, from Monday to Sunday. It’s essentially a idea at presenting fans, and fantasy players, with a schedule that’s broken down into smaller bites.

“It’s progress. It’s all part of a larger basket of progress,” Carelli said.

There will undoubtedly be some schedule griping. No one is claiming perfection. Improvement, for now, is enough, and that extra week of room being built into the season is already making an impact – even though the first real games are still two months away.

“We don’t get scored,” Carelli said. “We don’t necessarily win or lose, which is nice. The bottom line is that our primary, secondary, whatever goal it is, our goal is about the game. Our goal is about doing the best we can to create the most competitively balanced schedule we can for all the teams.”

 

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.