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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.”

 

Jazz ending sponsorship deal with Papa John’s

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ending their sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s Pizza after the company’s founder and spokesman used a racial slur.

A person with knowledge of the team’s decision confirmed the move Friday and said it was because of the controversy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organization will not make a formal announcement.

A number of professional and college teams have cut ties to the company over Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comment during a company conference call in May. Among them are the Orlando Magic, Seattle Seahawks, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, University of Louisville,  and numerous others.

Schnatter apologized and stepped down as chairman but remains on the company’s board. He’s since said his decision to step down was a “mistake.”

The company says it’s also investigating allegations reported in Forbes that Schnatter oversaw a work culture where women were subject to sexist behavior.

 

Report: Nemanja Bjelica agrees to three-year contract with Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica wanted some stability. That got pulled out from under him when  Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves rescinded his qualifying offer. He quickly agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million offer, with Philadelphia, but then came to regret it because he wanted more security than that single season. Bjelica was considering Europe.

Then the Sacramento Kings stepped in. Friday night, the two sides reached a deal.

The Kings have signed both players who backed out of verbal agreements with teams this summer, Bjelica with the Sixers and Yogi Ferrell with the Mavericks.

Bjelica is a floor-spacing big man who should fit in well with the Kings’ frontcourt rotation that includes Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Willie Caulie-Stein, and others. Bjelica provides shooting — he hit 41.5 percent from three last season (where he took nearly half his shots). Bjelica has a solid all-around game that a lot of teams could have used. Including Minnesota and Philly.

Suns acquire Richaun Holmes from 76ers, Darrrell Arthur from Nets

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns have acquired power forward Richaun Holmes from Philadelphia and forward Darrell Arthur from Brooklyn.

The Suns sent cash considerations to the 76ers on Friday for Holmes, and got Arthur from the Nets for forward Jared Dudley and a protected 2021 second-round pick.

Philadelphia made the Holmes deal to help clear salary cap space to sign 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden to a $7 million, four-year contract. Holmes averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in four seasons with the 76ers.

The Suns are expected to buy out Arthur’s $7.4 million contract to clear enough salary cap space for Holmes.

Arthur has played nine NBA seasons, the last five with Denver before being dealt to the Nets on July 13. He has appeared in 503 games with Denver and the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Dudley, an 11-year NBA veteran, spent the last two seasons with the Suns in his second stint with the team.

 

Celtics’ Smart ‘ecstatic’ to have summer in limbo over

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BOSTON (AP) — There was a moment during the past month in which Marcus Smart wasn’t sure where he’d be playing basketball this upcoming season.

A day after signing a four-year deal to remain in the only NBA jersey he’s ever played in, Smart said he’s focused on doing what he can to help the Celtics win their 18th championship.

“I’m ecstatic. This is a blessing,” Smart said Friday.

After being in limbo since the start of free agency, Smart cemented his pact with the Celtics on Thursday. A person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press that Smart will be paid $52 million over the next four years. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the terms of the contract.

Boston brings back a 6-foot-4 defensive cornerstone who has developed a reputation for toughness and doing the little things that help the Celtics win. Smart is also the longest-tenured player on the roster.

The confidence that general manager Danny Ainge is showing in his abilities is not lost on Smart, who acknowledged he knew he was entering a tough free agent market this summer.

“To be honest, I didn’t know where I was gonna end up. I was just enjoying this whole process,” he said. “It is a business, so things aren’t perfect. That’s why it’s called negotiations. You guys come together and you finally agree on something. We both agreed. Boston loves me and I love Boston. Boston wants me here and I want to be here. I am here. So we made it work.”

Barring any late changes, Smart’s return also means Boston will be bringing back the core of the team that won 55 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals while battling numerous injuries and being without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward the entire postseason.

Smart was a huge part of the run, stepping in to a starter’s role after returning from thumb surgery late in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game as Boston pushed LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals.

Now, James is in the West with the Lakers, and given the emergence of youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Smart said he doesn’t see any reason why the Celtics shouldn’t be a favorite to come out of the East.

“We demonstrated the talent and ability we had to do that last year with a few missing pieces. With those missing pieces back in action, I think it really makes it hard for teams,” Smart said. “I think we have a real shot.”

The signing also will allow Smart to shift his attention back to his mother, 63-year-old Camellia Smart, who continues to undergo treatment for the bone marrow cancer she was diagnosed with in April.

“When you kind of go through adversity and something like this hits you and your family, it kind of puts everything in perspective and everything else kind of becomes a blur to you and really not that important,” he said.

He has been with her in Texas since the season ended and said she’s stable and doing well.

“She’s hanging in there,” Smart said. “This is a hard time. But at the same time, it’s an exciting time for my family. So, with the signing, it kind of brings a little joy to a situation and lightens up the situation that was a little darkened for me. … As of right now, she’s doing great.”

As far as basketball is concerned, he’ll continue trying to improve.

“I’m just gonna be working on all aspects of my game. The uniqueness about me is I don’t do one thing perfectly or great. I do a little bit of everything. That’s what makes me so unique. I’m just trying to master a little bit of everything. … If I could just get better a little bit each year, then I did my job.”