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Thompson: Unpacking the Draymond Green-Kevin Durant rift and what the fall out could mean long term

By Marcus Thompson II Nov 13, 2018 162
The​ future​ might​ point back to this moment​ as the end.​ A random​ November game​ at​ Staples Center,​ against​​ a Clippers team that history wouldn’t otherwise remember, was the opening salvo in the destruction of a dynasty.

Who gets the blame depends on who you ask.

Some will blame Draymond Green for unleashing a tirade on Kevin Durant, one so personal and biting things could never be the same afterward.

Some will point to Durant, who repeatedly dangled free agency over the heads of his teammates and tested the patience of his peers, several of whom suspect he’s leaving at the end of the season.

Perhaps the lion’s share should go to general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr, who escalated the stakes by suspending Green for a game without pay, costing him $120,000 but most importantly morphing an in-house feud into a public rebuke of Green and open support of Durant.

The irony. In the end, it may not be the Houston Rockets or the Boston Celtics to dethrone the Warriors. What if it’s failing organs and internal bleeding that lead to the end of the Dubs dominance? What if one of the greatest teams in NBA history was broken apart by a front-office attempt at appeasement?

By now, everyone knows how this all started. I talked to multiple sources — in the locker room, the front office and to adjacent parties — to find out what happened and what happens next. The drama didn’t begin until the end of regulation against the Clippers on Monday. That’s when Durant barked at Green for not getting him the ball in the final seconds. The two-time Finals MVP pounded the chair in frustration as he chided the team’s leading assist man.

Green took exception to how Durant addressed him. The exact dialogue couldn’t be recounted as it was said, but it began with Green immediately firing back.

Who the fuck you talking to?

According to multiple sources, Green then went on to make it clear he’s been making plays for years. He reminded Durant the Warriors were winning before Durant showed up so he wouldn’t stand for Durant talking to him as if he were a scrub. Green accused Durant of making the whole season about him even though he was going to leave after this season. Green let out his frustrations about how Durant has handled free agency — keeping his options open and keeping the story alive, consuming the Warriors and their season with talk of what Durant will do next.

That’s the mild version. The original version included Green calling Durant a “bitch” several times — disrespect that management said was too harsh to overlook.

Tuesday morning, Myers and Kerr met with Green and told him they were suspending him for a game. They acknowledged his propensity to live on the edge but said he crossed over this time. They had to punish him and they had to do it this way.

Green was surprised by the heavy-handedness. A fine was expected. Green had just come back from injury, giving him a rest day for Tuesday’s game against Atlanta and a private fine would have been an acceptable rebuke of his behavior. He was fined a few thousand dollars when he went after Kerr in the locker room in Oklahoma City in 2016. He didn’t think this incident was nearly as bad, so the punishment being drastically worse was shocking.

Why didn’t they just fine him privately as they have before?

“If we thought that was the right thing to do,” one front office executive said, “we would have. We have to do what we think is right.”

The issue isn’t the money but the message the punishment sends.

Durant’s free agency has been a low-key issue with the players. It registered as a small irritation. The burden of talking about it, reading about it, hearing about it, grew heavier in Year 3 of the Durant Experience. Players like Green and Klay Thompson, who also have free agency pending, have been lumped into the frenzy. Both have declared they want to stay with the Warriors. But because of Durant’s uncertainty, the future of the dynasty is in the air and such leads to speculation Green and Thompson have to address.

According to several in the locker room, Durant could have ended this by just saying how much he loves playing with the Warriors and his teammates and leave it at that, even if he departs in the offseason. They are all prepared for him to leave so they just want the cloud hanging over them to go away. Another option would be to reject all questions about free agency and force the media to focus on this season, a way of protecting his teammates.

Durant has said he doesn’t want to lead anybody on. But Green is part of a contingent that believes Durant has a hand in creating the hype about his free agency, a tangential focus that detracts from their mission of winning a third straight title.

Myers and Kerr were made aware of Green’s concerns in their meeting. Green also shared them with Stephen Curry, who visited Green’s house before Tuesday’s game to get Green’s side — Curry’s efforts to repair the situation.

The general consensus: Green was wrong for going so hard at Durant instead of having a hard-but-civil conversation, and Green was wrong for when he decided to address this situation — in the middle of a game they were trying to win. Green admitted as much to Curry and several believe he would have (and still will) cop to that. But the general consensus also is that Green’s concerns about how Durant has handled free agency weren’t off base.

Durant’s teammates have made it clear privately they aren’t on board for another Please-Stay-KD tour. And Durant has said he doesn’t want to be recruited. But the decision to suspend Green publicly seems to be a signal from management that they do care about recruiting Durant.

Management is holding fast to its stance that Green crossed a line that can’t be crossed. Some say it’s just “Draymond being Draymond.” At least two said he did go too far, attacking his teammate personally. One player was even concerned that Green may have lost his authority in the locker room, the berating was so over-the-top.

“With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back,” one player said. “The only hope is that they can say this summer, ‘See, KD. We’ve got your back. We protected you from Draymond.’ ”

Of course, Green now has to be wondering who is protecting him. He is the one committed to the Warriors and who has given everything. He is the one who has declared he wants to stay with the Warriors. He was one of the founders of this dynasty and he built it with the same fire that scolded Durant on Monday. And they know who he is. They know it’s only a matter of time before he owns up and makes amends. Why was this time so unbearable? Why was this offense the final straw?

If Green loses out in the power struggle with Durant, who can win outside of Curry?

It’s hard not to wonder how Green and Kerr, who have such a volatile history of love and hate, get through this. It must be measured how deep the crack is in Green’s allegiance to the Warriors now that Myers, who with Curry is Green’s biggest supporter in the franchise, has signed off on this stance.

Is this a referendum on Green? If so, did they just lose him — if not physically yet, spiritually? Did they just signal to him he’s the All-Star they are willing to part with, and does that quench his fire for the Warriors?

What if Durant decides to leave in free agency and Green wants out? Do the Warriors make a trade to head off that potential outcome?

Divides have been created that now must be repaired. The relationship between Green and Durant is rubble and needs to be rebuilt. The relationship between Green and management seems to be similarly in shambles, but it has been before and perhaps can be spared again. Then there is the relationship between the Warriors and Durant, who is probably sour on the whole Warriors experience now, and how that impacts the rest of the season.

This isn’t a situation that will just blow over. Teammates are at odds and, forced to or not, management appears to have chosen a side. The only answer is another championship.

One player is certain Durant and Green can co-exist because neither wants to be the reason they don’t win. The Warriors just might have enough talent to overcome resentment and bitterness in their midst.

The question is whether anyone has words powerful enough to bridge chasms now permanent.

In the middle of the visiting locker room at Staples that night, as voices rose with the tension, an unlikely source stepped up and re-shifted the focus of the defending champions.

It wasn’t Curry. He wasn’t with the team in Los Angeles thanks to a groin injury. It wasn’t Green, the spark of the drama. It wasn’t Durant, who fumed in silence while the Warriors conversed heatedly amongst themselves.

It was Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ most carefree star, who spoke up, an occasion rare enough to turn the room down a few notches. While respected veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston did their usual part to restore order, Thompson hit the mark as if it were a spot-up 3.

“We all want to win,” Thompson said in the locker room after the game, per accounts of people in the room. “That’s all this is about. We all want to win. I think we’re the only team that can beat us. Nobody else can beat us. So let’s go kick ass.”

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:04 (two years ago) link

thx!

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:11 (two years ago) link

Aw shit dawg this is good

Wld the site get in trouble for housing all the content tho?

F# A# (∞), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:13 (two years ago) link

I mean there’s always pastebin

F# A# (∞), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:14 (two years ago) link

we could put on 77?

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:16 (two years ago) link

i mean...i think it's fine probably

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:17 (two years ago) link

yeah kinda doubt the athletic is out there policing things and like half this board is subscribers, ill prob become one soon based on reading the illicit good content, really its more advertising for them if anything we shd be getting affiliate benefits

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:20 (two years ago) link

cn someone post this one next https://theathletic.com/653527/2018/11/14/durant-vs-draymond-theories-on-why-these-two-warriors-stars-are-fueding

im living for dubs drama rn

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:21 (two years ago) link

at the very least feel like the thread should be deindexed

k3vin k., Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:57 (two years ago) link

yeah just deindex it*

*i don't know who would do this or how it works

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:23 (two years ago) link

>>> i'll post this cuz i don't like to leave my guy lagoon high n dry and thirsting for drama.

however, feel like a mod should weigh in or an ILX illuminati elder

Durant vs. Draymond: Theories on why these two Warriors stars are feuding

Andre​ Iguodala is​ at​ his locker, in a locker room​ that’s emptied out​ earlier​ than usual.​ The​ nearby Kevin​ Durant​​ space is conspicuously vacant. KD loves to talk, and usually lingers, riffing with teammates and reporters. Tuesday night he dressed quickly, gave a brief, sullen press conference and exited. In the press conference, when asked about his friendship with Draymond Green, Durant replied, “I don’t really think that even matters right now.”

I ask Andre if the Warriors can win with KD and Draymond at odds like this. Andre responds, “Shaq and Kobe ain’t like each other.”

Me: “But that ended in a way you wouldn’t want this to end, right?”

Andre: “They won three championships in a row. Ain’t that what you want to happen?”

Me: “I guess all things come to an end.”

Andre: “Everything come to an end.”

A dynasty is a fragile kind of dominance. That’s the paradox of ultimate victory. Once superiority is achieved, and achieved again, the game loses a certain internal logic. Why prove what’s proven? Why win what’s won? Invincibility is a holding pattern that can only remain so fulfilling. People, even the most competitive of people, are designed to chase goals, not maintain a grip on them in perpetuity.

That’s the backdrop of a more salacious circumstance, a gripping tale of how this dynasty might be unraveling. These are all meaningful parts of the story. The names, the dates, the feuds. It’s all very real right now, and suddenly. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Warriors revealed a situation perhaps beyond repair. And the internal slights matter, but one wonders if it could all be transcended if everyone felt the project worth repairing.

Two years ago, I wrote an article on this organization’s sometimes tempestuous relationship with Draymond Green. It was given the baity title, “Golden State’s Draymond Green Problem.” From my perspective, it wasn’t about how Draymond was a problem, but more about how he could tip the Warriors’ future in either direction.

Fast forward two championships.

Yesterday, people kept sending me this article, asking if current events are pertinent to its themes. Did yesteryear’s hyperbole prove prophetic?

My take? No, not necessarily. First, because championships two and three qualify as glorious successes. Second, because, much as we can parse Draymond’s actions, and much as they can cause strife, the current state of affairs speaks to something bigger than him, an issue he could perhaps mitigate but not solve: Winning isn’t enough.

Players talk about just wanting to win all the time. About the only player I’ve ever met who might actually, literally mean it is Steph Curry. Because winning isn’t done for its own sake. Winning is a means to certain ends. Beyond the camaraderie of collectively conquering a goal, beyond the money, there’s the adulation that comes with achievement. Winning correlates to winning at life, vastly increasing your status in the eyes of fans and peers alike.

Ask yourself: Has this obvious benefit of winning happened for Kevin Durant as a Warrior? Over the past two-plus seasons, perhaps the Warriors All-Star in need of the most adulation got the least adulation. His reputation is more or less what it was when he arrived. The man was incredible in back-to-back NBA Finals. Had he faltered, he would have been mocked in a manner only trumped by what LeBron James experienced in 2011. Lost in Monday night’s chaos was Clippers owner Steve Ballmer sidling onto the court to schmooze it up with Durant. He, like other owners this summer, offers to fill the void that winning did not. Also, note that Draymond has a view of such cajoling.

This might be a bigger issue than just Kevin Durant. The media landscape has changed. In the past, might made right, and winners were worshipped sans much nuance. Now, a social media-driven conversation picks apart historic accomplishments while basking in a perpetual present. Coming here and winning big was supposed to make KD the face of Nike. Instead, to many jaded fans, that swoosh looks like a coattail. The quaint idea that you can silence your critics with a trophy is just one of a million norms that have fallen by the wayside over the past few years.

This is the big problem for Warriors HQ, as they proclaim not to care about anything other than winning a championship this season. I’m not certain there’s a solution to Winner’s Ennui, but there are methods for recalibration. I have some thoughts on that, and I want to emphasize that they are my own. The thoughts are in contrast to what I’m being told, repeated assurances that, “This happens, Draymond does this, it’s happened before, etc.” Today’s turmoil can indeed be tomorrow’s footnote. This isn’t even the first time Draymond caused discord by calling someone a “bitch.” He did that to Steve Kerr back in 2016, when they were separated in the Oklahoma City locker room. It might have actually been the least vulgar thing Draymond said to Kerr in that exchange.

Anyway. The most interesting comment in Kerr’s pregame press conference Tuesday was perhaps the most boring, superficially. When asked to describe the relationship between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, Kerr said:

“They have won championships together, they have been teammates now for three seasons and they were teammates on the Olympic team. You can draw your own conclusions.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a brotherly bond. Not exactly a reaffirmation of what brought them together. Whatever is happening could pass, but whatever is happening is not being treated like it will. And that is rather strange.

Kerr and Bob Myers are not stupid men. They levied this suspension, knowing it would escalate a situation that could otherwise be dealt with in private. They knew this could seriously alienate Draymond. There’s broad agreement within the organization that Draymond crossed a line, but the public punishment is curious. It’s not a move that makes a lot of sense in a vacuum.

Unless there are other forces at play. Draymond Green will be 30 years old when he’s up for his next contract, which would be a $226 million super max in 2020 if he had his druthers. Draymond turned down a more modestly priced three-year extension in pursuit of a bigger prize. He is an amazing basketball player, who’s still underrated. You could see him continuing a career of defying NBA odds well into his 30s. Then again, not everybody buys this trajectory. Some within the Warriors might note that NBA longevity correlates with size, and shooting, neither exactly an advantage for Mr. Green.

The Warriors will never replace what Draymond Green has meant to them, but they could get a good starter at a third of the price going forward. You think Joe Lacob is unaware of this? And if losing Draymond is the cost of keeping KD? Lacob’s choice is obvious, emotions be damned. Of course, losing both players is, theoretically, the worst of all worlds, and a real possibility in this high stakes poker game. But the cost of paying these salaries keeps rising and there’s still an open question as to whether the Warriors want Draymond at the price he sees fit. That question would be open even if KD left. One wonders if this current catastrophe presents its own opportunity, its own pretext. As another Master of Coin once said, “Chaos is a ladder.”

Again, Draymond Green isn’t the problem. Winner’s Ennui is the problem. Sadly, there’s no solution to this problem but to shake up the roster, as recalibration can serve as its own challenge. Perhaps that means letting KD leave for New York or wherever else and recapturing a “Strength in Numbers” ethos. That’s likely not the outcome Lacob favors, even if Draymond is his guy. Two superstars are still better than one.

Iguodala is right when he says, “Everything come to an end,” but the owner of this team wants to end “the end” and reign over this league forever. That’s great for Warriors fans, insofar as an impossible aspiration can be maintained for a while. For individual players, perhaps not so much. Hard calls must be made, and feelings suppressed. The future is uncertain for a team that remains title favorites. Draymond might not be the problem, but the Warriors showed the world that he might be Kevin Durant’s problem. Perhaps it’s a last ditch effort to impress the seriousness of this situation upon a man who has meant so much to this franchise. That would be the more innocent read. It’s possible, even within the bounds of a business that remains jagged and brutal. As Kerr says, “You can draw your own conclusions.”

— Reported from Oakland

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:25 (two years ago) link

Reading that first article I can't help but think Draymond's self-defense amounts to:

Yeah, big deal, so I fucked up and stepped way over a line that I shouldn't have, disrespecting my teammate. Sure, I expect to be punished for that, but quietly and maybe have to cough up a bit of pocket change in the way of a fine, and now it's so UNFAIR that I was slapped down hard in public -- even though I slapped KD just as hard and just as publically. And *ouch* that's a lot of money! Why'd they hafta do that to ME?!

iow, just a lot of bullshit self-regarding

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:36 (two years ago) link

thx! xp

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 21:00 (two years ago) link

ok i just dropped a hundo subscribing to the athletic and espn+ lol god bless im a responsible content consumer now, let me know if u need any draft info pasted here

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:14 (two years ago) link

oh nice may need some + content at some point

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:17 (two years ago) link

i hate paying the mouse but my status as a draft thought leader has been eroded by lack of insider access

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:19 (two years ago) link

(feel good abt paying the athletic)

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:20 (two years ago) link

bless u

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:20 (two years ago) link

Lagoon your thought leader status must be preserved at all costs

The Poppy Bush AutoZone (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:33 (two years ago) link

im glad were on the same page here

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:35 (two years ago) link

lagoons thought leader status is critical to maintain if ilh wants to have synergy with its core competencies and best practices, and of course to remain the omni channel king of hoops

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:39 (two years ago) link

its mission critical to our brand identity and product market fit

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:41 (two years ago) link

ok i just dropped a hundo subscribing to the athletic and espn+ lol god bless im a responsible content consumer now, let me know if u need any draft info pasted here

― lag∞n, Thursday, November 15, 2018 2:14 PM (six hours ago)

I for one welcome our new content overlords. I too have subscribed to this great online service

k3vin k., Friday, 16 November 2018 02:04 (two years ago) link

three weeks pass...

Where does the NBA's MVP race stand nearly two months into the 2018-19 season?

It's never too early for MVP narratives to take hold, as what was once a topic for the spring now has become a season-long discussion. And indeed, betting markets and straw polls suggest that Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is the early MVP leader on the strength of his team's surprising start, with LeBron James the other leading contender in pursuit of his fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Yet narratives don't always match statistical reality, so let's ponder some of the big questions about the MVP with the help of advanced metrics, including whether Giannis is the right front-runner.

Can a center be most valuable?
The leaderboards in most advanced stats at this early stage have a decidedly tall slant. Basketball-Reference.com's value over replacement player (VORP), for example, rates six centers and four other players listed as power forwards (one of them is Kevin Durant, who has actually played more minutes at small forward) among the league's top 14 players. Meanwhile, the PER leaderboard -- once we've filtered out low-minutes players -- is even more heavily tilted toward the frontcourt, with 19 centers in the top 30, including reserves Montrezl Harrell, Nerlens Noel, Jakob Poeltl, Dwight Powell, Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas.

These results reflect a topic I addressed ahead of the NBA draft: Because the floor is so well spaced, it's never been easier to get productive play from centers. Indeed, consider the average PER by position (as defined by Basketball-Reference) weighted by minutes played:

Avg. PER (Weighted For Minutes)
POS PER
PG 14.7
SG 13.1
SF 13.0
PF 14.9
C 19.6
Across all positions, the average PER is always set to 15.0. However, that varies widely across positions now, with centers naturally dominant and wings much weaker. It's not just the very best centers who are most productive, but also the ones who are cheaply available to teams -- including Noel and JaVale McGee, both of whom are in the top 30 in PER after signing one-year deals for the veteran's minimum as free agents this summer.

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When we're determining value, then, position has to be taken into account. To be as relatively valuable on a per-minute basis as a small forward with a 25.6 PER (like Kawhi Leonard), a center would need a PER of 32.2 -- something that's never been achieved in NBA history.

In other words, it's probably not possible for the best center in 2018-19 to be more valuable than the best wing player, which has important implications for the MVP chances of not only Joel Embiid (who's not actually among those high-rated centers, ranking 17th in PER and 26th in VORP) but also Anthony Davis (mostly -- though perhaps not exclusively -- a center).

Should Giannis be the front-runner?
Although I used PER over average to make that point, the better way to define value in the context of MVP is as compared to replacement level -- the production we'd expect from a free agent signed for the minimum salary -- so as to properly credit players for their durability.

My wins above replacement player (WARP) metric now reflects a much higher level of replacement for centers, and to a lesser extent power forwards, as compared to wings in particular. With that adjustment, here's how WARP ranks this year's most valuable players (projected to 82 team games so as not to disadvantage players whose teams have played fewer games thus far).

2018-19 WARP Leaderboard
PLAYER TEAM PS WARP/82
LeBron James LAL F 19.2
James Harden HOU G 19.2
Kevin Durant GSW F 18.3
Paul George OKC SF 17.1
Damian Lillard POR PG 17.0
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL PF 16.5
Kyrie Irving BOS PG 16.2
Kemba Walker CHA PG 15.2
Anthony Davis NOP C 14.1
Mike Conley MEM PG 13.5
Projected to 82 team games
While LeBron tops this list, surprisingly it's last year's winner who's in a virtual tie with him. James Harden's stat line is basically identical to what he posted in 2017-18, but because his Houston Rockets have stumbled to an 11-12 start after winning a league-best 59 games last season, he's gotten zero attention as a possible repeat candidate. It will be interesting to see whether that changes if the Rockets turn things around. Damian Lillard, whose Portland Trail Blazers have fallen off after a strong start, is in a similar position after finishing fourth in last season's MVP voting.

The most interesting MVP candidate that position-adjusted WARP identifies is Paul George, who also ranks third in wins produced based on ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM), which isn't adjusted by position. George has played a key role in the Oklahoma City Thunder's league-leading defensive rating and has helped keep their offense afloat with 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook missing eight games. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Oklahoma City's offensive rating drops to a dismal 94.7 points per 100 possessions with George on the bench.

Those takeaways noted, let's dig deeper into the comparison between Giannis, LeBron and KD -- only two of whom can make the All-NBA first team because they all play forward. Why does Antetokounmpo lag behind the other two stars?

The first reason is the lower replacement level at small forward, where Cleaning the Glass estimates James has played 66 percent of his minutes and Durant 65 percent as opposed to 12 percent of Antetokounmpo's minutes.

More Than An Athlete

The eight-part docuseries, produced by UNINTERRUPTED and airing on ESPN+, will follow LeBron James and Maverick Carter's improbable journey from Akron to the global stage. Watch on ESPN+

The Lakers' positionless lineups show the challenge in using position to determine value. Cleaning the Glass considers LeBron the small forward when he plays alongside power forward Kyle Kuzma, but in practice the defensive matchups with those lineups depend more on the opponent than any rigid position. And offensively, James tends to operate more as a point guard (particularly during Rajon Rondo's absence, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst recently broke down) than as a forward.

However, I think Durant's example reinforces the importance of positional replacement level. His ability to defend small forwards has allowed the Warriors to start Jonas Jerebko -- another big man who's excelled while making the veteran's minimum -- at the 4 in Draymond Green's absence rather than going deeper into their weak wing rotation.

The other key factor here is minutes played. Not only has Giannis missed a game due to injury, he's playing fewer minutes per game (33.8) than either LeBron (34.8) or KD (35.7), meaning Milwaukee has relied slightly more on its bench than those teams. While the difference isn't dramatic, along with position it helps explain why Antetokounmpo can rate better on a per-minute basis than James and Durant, yet still land behind them in terms of value.

When it comes to RPM, Antetokounmpo is actually third of the group in terms of per-possession rating and just 12th overall in RPM wins. As a result, I don't think Giannis should be considered the MVP front-runner based on advanced stats.

How many games does Curry need to play? How about Kawhi?
Though playing time is a relatively small difference between the MVP front-runners, it's a huge factor for Stephen Curry (who has missed 11 of Golden State's 26 games) and a large one for Leonard (he's missed six of 26). When Harden won last season, the 10 games he missed were the most for an MVP since Allen Iverson (11) in 2000-01. That would basically imply Curry can't miss any more time and have a chance to win.

However, history should be considered a guide rather than a hard-and-fast rule, as Westbrook winning the MVP on a 47-win team offers a recent reminder that voters can always rethink MVP tradition. So instead, let's ponder the question of how many games Steph and Kawhi would need to play to be most valuable statistically. If we flip the leaderboard to WARP per 82 player games rather than team games, Curry shoots (pun intended) to the top:

2018-19 WARP Leaderboard
PLAYER TEAM PS WARP/G
Stephen Curry GSW PG 22.4
James Harden HOU SG 22.1
LeBron James LAL PF 19.2
Kevin Durant GSW PF 18.3
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL PF 17.3
Kawhi Leonard TOR SF 17.2
Paul George OKC SF 17.1
Damian Lillard POR PG 17.0
Kyrie Irving BOS PG 17.0
Russell Westbrook OKC PG 16.8
Per 82 games played
Nonetheless, in part because he's played just 33.3 minutes per game, Curry will be hard-pressed to lead the league in WARP. Harden would beat him if they both played the remainder of the schedule at their current pace, and LeBron's 82-game pace isn't far behind. Voters might be willing to reward Curry even if he's slightly less valuable if it's strictly due to injury, but he can't miss many more games.

Since he hasn't been as dominant when he's played, Leonard's task is even more difficult. While he cracks the top 10 on a per-player game basis, Kawhi is still behind both Giannis and LeBron and would have to rely on the narrative power of leading the Raptors to the NBA's best record. They're currently three games up on the Denver Nuggets for that honor, with the Warriors four games back.

Curry staying healthy the rest of the season might actually have more impact on other candidates for MVP than his own hopes. If Golden State surges ahead of Toronto with Curry (the Warriors are 12-3 in games he's played this season and 5-6 without him), that could hurt Leonard's candidacy. It also becomes a lot more difficult for voters to pick Durant if he's not even the most valuable player on his own team -- something that was evident when Golden State struggled early on in Curry's absence, though it did give Durant the opportunity to put the team on his back during the Warriors' final four games without Curry, when they went 3-1 with an overtime loss in Toronto.

Whether Curry can stay healthy the rest of the season is just one of the many questions to be answered about the MVP race, which should still be considered wide open with more than two-thirds of the season left to be played.

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:02 (two years ago) link

thx. interesting.

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:11 (two years ago) link

btw

love my adidads celtoes

— Les Alizés Dénudés (@Marco0o0os) December 7, 2018

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:16 (two years ago) link

oh damn, great minds etc.

mine is pulled from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLcN_rzouEI

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:19 (two years ago) link

nice

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:21 (two years ago) link

pete rock >>>>> premo

The Poppy Bush AutoZone (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:49 (two years ago) link

alright lets MFN DO THIS lol

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:50 (two years ago) link

I LOVE that album btw.

not sure i'd go that far xp but it's pretty close! poll it!

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:55 (two years ago) link

tube amp warm glow vibes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdUr9mClegU

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:58 (two years ago) link

cool pete rock song imo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiTy71nSkKw

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 21:00 (two years ago) link

thats warm too. v good

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 21:10 (two years ago) link

On the road with an NBA spy: The grinding work and lifestyle of an advance scout

Ethan Strauss Dec 12, 2018 78
“Goddammit!​ Fucking​ shit!​ Would you​ look at​ this​ fucking guy!” Our​ scout is pointing​ at​ a portly man who stands​ between​ us​​ and the escalator pathway. This is the truest enemy he knows. Our scout is never present for when the team that employs him faces a rival franchise. His only rivals are those who thwart arrivals on the league’s loneliest trail.

Every night features the arena’s stimulus overload, the roaring crowd, honking hype men and jangling music. His work ends in the wee hours of the morning, in a hotel, poring over film. It’s disorienting. My brain broke from merely observing. Details started blurring. I nearly missed a flight due to a dead certainty that my hotel was attached to the airport. Wrong, my brain was holding on to what had been true the night before, in a different city.

The problem was, I had no system for whatever this lifestyle is, not like our scout had. He was on a well-worn path. Our scout did not see the North American landscape as a collection of cities to be enjoyed, each with their own character and customs. No, he saw this terrain through the portals of his convenience. This city’s tram gets you to the hotel from the airport. This city’s skyways shield you from the cold. New York’s “N” train is all you really need to know about. Turn here. Down this hall.

The man is a travel sherpa, guiding you through the chaos of the ambling crowd. Every movement is propulsive. Every movement smoothly assertive, at least until those damned people get in the way. There’s a mini human traffic jam as we step onto an airport tram. “Folks who try and get on before everyone exits piss me off,” he mutters. You wouldn’t know from the running commentary, but this man is not a misanthrope. He’s actually quite kind, considerate even. He keeps looking out for me as I blithely lose myself in more crowds than Waldo. The road may have taken this man’s patience, but it hasn’t stolen his soul.

“Anyone flying to New York?!” a sharply dressed guy shouts to the tram passengers. There’s a gleam in the stranger’s eye, one that stays burning despite the lack of response. “Anyone flying to New York?!” He then asks our scout for the time and gets a blank stare. We exit the tram.

“Con artist,” our scout says. “I’ve seen it before. My job is to size things up.” The con artist, if he is a con artist, would be employing a predatory strategy called, “Forced Teaming,” as coined by Gavin de Becker in his bestselling book, “The Gift of Fear.” Good luck trying that on a professional lone wolf.

We keep walking, his steps always a few in front of my own. He’s as excited about Toronto’s tram to downtown as he was fearful of delays at customs (“You never know when there’s some damned Canadian holiday!”). Our schedule is always calibrated to hit ports of entry at the point of minimal crowding. “You see, if we were here in the morning …” is a common refrain.

Our scout is a middle-aged man who has been at this longer than seems sustainable. His specific trade is “advance scouting,” or NBA spying to put it in layman’s terms. He sits as close as possible to coaches and intercepts their play calls for upwards of 150 road games per season. Though this is the job description, it’s a less than clandestine existence. Teams know who he is, why he is there and even provide him the credentials. It’s part of NBA culture: Everyone is allowed to do this and may the best spies win.

Our scout is regarded as one of the best. Though his job is difficult and highly routinized, he made an exception for a slight detour. After my article on NBA spies garnered more interest from readers than anticipated, our scout wondered if I might delve deeper. I had only cracked the surface here. To understand this life, I had to live it, just a bit.

So, I would trail this member of a monastic sports caste. I would see how he fights for a team absent the camaraderie supposedly essential to team competition. It would be six games in seven nights, which by the way, is a merciful slice of schedule. Our scout has done 13 road games in 13 nights before. It’s not like merely high-level business travel, the kind represented by George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” character. This way is a blast furnace aimed at all your senses, interspersed with moments of crushing solitude.

So why does he do this?

The Rosetta Stone
One reason is because, unlike so many people, he can do this. The job requires a certain visio-spatial acuity. While walking briskly to an arena, our scout self-assesses, “I believe I might be on the spectrum.” I cannot offer a free diagnosis but can conclude that he’s capable of things that, to my mind, read as incredible.

At a hotel, we flip the TV to the end of a game involving a team he had recently seen in person. I ask for a running commentary of a crunch-time play, which our scout obliges, augmented by quick gesticulations. “They did this in the game we were at. These two guys are going to scissors off this pick. He’s going to cut to that corner, he’s going to cut to that corner. He’s going to pin that guy to the top. And then high pick-and-roll.” Boom. Boom. Boom. The play unfolds as predicted.

Our scout can tell us what’s going to happen before it happens, with the reliability of a “Minority Report” precog, and that’s even without the benefit of seeing the coach’s hand signal. One wonders how much a team could improve if all its players somehow magically absorbed this knowledge. Instead, teams settle for a more realistic reduction of this vast database, specifically tailored to each opponent, taught in film session to the roster, game by game.

Right now, our scout is deep into his hotel room routine, the work he does in addition to the report he sends from the arena. He’s typing away on Fast Draw, the league’s favored play diagramming software. The program is the evolutionary descendent of the days when IBM, as a major NBA sponsor, manufactured something to get NBA coaches toting ThinkPads on the sidelines in nationally televised games. Unfortunately for IBM, computer-based play diagramming, like writing, was always meant for solitude. The whiteboard just wouldn’t relinquish its grip as the public face of strategy.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich uses a whiteboard to draw up a play against the Warriors. (File photo from 2013: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Once all the plays are drawn, our scout adds the personnel report (statistics, depth chart, top plays and player tendencies). Finally, the capper, a written report with offensive and defensive notes, which normally includes the future opponent’s top-play frequencies. In his room, “call sheets” are strewn across the table, records of team plays with their corresponding coach’s hand signals. I ask for the Warriors’ records, since I want to learn about the team I supposedly know all about. “It can’t be that much material,” I say, “Considering how many of their offense is transition play.”

/Bloof

He plunks the file down with a thud.

“Here, take a look, I don’t give a shit,” he says. “It ain’t our team’s secrets.”

Before me lies the intellectual framework of the Steve Kerr era, represented in the NBA’s version of hieroglyphics. Everything I theoretically knew, or at least saw at some point, has been chronicled for a particular kind of posterity. Or perhaps more accurately, this is Kerr’s basketball 23andMe results, a genealogy of thought. There are over 100 plays, with tally marks to indicate frequency. I ask to know where all this comes from. What can we divine of Kerr’s influences while leafing through these pages? Our scout starts rattling off what he sees.

“Hmm, all the Weak and Strong series is Gregg Popovich. All the Pop clones run Strong and Weak. Another big one is Doc Rivers, by way of Alvin Gentry, ’cause Alvin was his first lead assistant. Dribble, Drag, Backdoor is 100 percent from Doc Rivers. The Floppy series is from Pat Riley. He never played for Pat, but that got around the league. His Loop series is Popovich. His Pistol series, originally known as the 21 series, is Mike D’Antoni. His Pick-and-Roll series is called ‘Rub,’ and that’s from Popovich. He and Pop both rub their chests when they call that, but Pop sort of does it like he’s straightening his tie. Kerr also has a Slice series and that’s definitely from Doc Rivers. His Wedge series is Pop.”

I’m not hearing one name in particular. Whenever I followed the Warriors to New York, their local media would obsessively ask about then Knicks president Phil Jackson, hoping to draw some connection between Kerr and his former Hall of Fame coach. They often asked some version of, “Are you running the Triangle?”

“To be honest, looking through this playbook, I don’t see anything from Phil Jackson,” our scout concludes. “Not one damned thing.”

To be fair, there is at least one damned Phil Jackson thing in the Warriors repertoire: an out of bounds play called “What The Fuck” that dates back to the Bulls days. Perhaps there are some other plays, here and there. But in general, Jackson’s strategic influence on Kerr appears dwarfed by some coaches Kerr never even played for or worked with. Maybe Jackson’s impact is more subjective and generalized. Maybe the Zen Master’s legacy is a more abstract echo, like the loudest of one-handed claps.

Popovich’s legacy looms largest, perhaps over the league and certainly over Kerr’s whiteboard. Pop’s “Weak Roll,” a play that gets the ball moving side to side, is an absolute favorite of Kerr’s. Our scout chuckles about Kerr’s proclivity with that one. He pictures the coach rubbing his hands together in glee like Monty Burns at the mere prospect of calling this play. “Ah yes, yes, Weak Roll,” our scout intones with a grin. He’s not necessarily against the predictable nature of coaches, but he does find it amusing on occasion. “Lemme tell you something. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is a creature of habit like NBA coaches are.”

How it works
Time is of the essence because there’s a lot of work that needs doing. When I look over our scout’s shoulder, I’m watching a chain reaction. Minutes after the buzzer, he’s sending his work to the organization for processing and later, implementation. It’s a process by which thousands of miles and many hours of effort will get condensed down to a 6-8 minute video that our scout will never see.

Here’s how the chain works, the exact process by which your favorite teams prepare for battle. Our scout flies to a game featuring a team (let’s call them the Kings) that’s say, two games away on the schedule from playing his own. Ideally, he is granted a courtside seat, “the down seat” in scout parlance. Armed with a pen and a laptop, he watches closely and listens carefully, with extra focus on Kings coach Dave Joerger, a “pain in the ass” who’s liable to obscure his play calls from prying eyes. Our scout spends all game looking for visual and vocal representations of plays, followed by the plays themselves. A call of “fist up!” paired with the making of a fist reads easy enough, for instance. Or it would, anyway, if “fist” had a universal meaning.

NBA coaches have a tendency to use the same visual terms (fist, horns, thumb) to mean all manner of different things. It’s as though everyone speaks the same language, but nobody means the same thing when they speak it. The same holds true for defensive calls, which, unlike offensive calls, tend to be colors (“red,” “blue,” etc.) rather than visual representations. With an uncommon understanding of this Tower of Babel, our scout types the visual call, vocal call and resulting action into his “call sheet.” The pen is for noting new plays and frequencies of plays. The buzzer finally sounds and it’s time to quickly send this information to the video coordinators for tagging purposes.

Back at Team HQ, a video guy has stashed a few games of the upcoming opponent “in his editor,” most likely in a program called SportsCode. He’s working on a refining process, purging these games of random, useless filler, preparing a reel for the assistant coach tasked with the Kings matchup. “The video guy will go through and remove all the crap plays, the garbage, maybe they didn’t run something right,” our scout says. “He’ll clean all of that out and what he’ll give the assistant coach is all of the actual plays.” There’s an optimal kind of play to feature, with an eye towards the motivations of athletes. “Preferably, the play is an example of proper execution. We tend to want examples where they score. We want to play up the fear to the guys.”

With the assistance of our scout, the video guy now can tag these plays according to their names and visual representations. It’s one thing for your players to see tendencies and another to know they’re coming, when they’re coming. Watch for this next time you’re at a game in person, because the television vantage rarely picks it up. Often when the camera is trained on the after basket inbounds, a defensive player is out of view, on the other side of the court, gesticulating the offense’s next play to his teammates.

Steve Kerr uses a hand signal to call a play during a Warriors game in Utah earlier this season. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Before such information can take root, it must be prepared, reduced down to a digestible size. In further consultation with the assistant coach, the video guy produces that 6-8 minute video of the opponent’s most common plays, to be shown in morning shootaround and again in pregame. This video serves as the basis for morning “walk-through,” when players are physically guided through their strategy preparations. “Normally the video edit is going to highlight two examples of the opponent’s top plays, and include maybe a dozen to 15 plays total,” our scout says. “At walk-through, you might physically go through a half dozen of the most important ones.”

The point of walk-through isn’t just to key your players on what to watch out for, but also to specifically prepare them for such actions with an organized defense. It’s a process that got more granular with time, fit according to whatever talent you’re facing. “Back in the day, there was ‘The Rule of Nowitzki,’” our scout recalls. “You had to adjust to defend him. The real key to this is not just identifying who they are. As soon as you get that call, not only do you need to know what’s coming, but also how to stop it.”

Scout’s honor
We are in a hotel lobby, with a younger scout from another team. We sit near the bar, but not at the bar. They haven’t the time for drinks but commiserate a bit over the college game playing in the background. Finally, as our scout gets ready to leave, the younger scout asks, “Hey, did you get all the plays tonight?” Younger scout missed a few and our scout is happy to help. This is part of the culture, in the way that offering lecture notes to a friend in college might have been part of yours.

Oftentimes, in the bowels of an NBA arena, two scouts from different franchises meet in a conspiracy against the home team. It’s a common sight if you know what to look for. You might be in Brooklyn, in the media room, watching the Pacers scout and Wizards scout at one table, trading secrets on how to foil the Nets next week. As the ancient proverb goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In that media room, these scouts are brothers-in-arms, united in purpose against a common enemy. That is, until the Nets scout and the Wizards scout find each other in Indiana’s arena, both looking down the barrel at an upcoming Pacers game. Then it’s time to forge a new, convenient bond.

Collegiality has its limits. In Memphis, a seat next to our scout goes wanting. It was allotted to another team’s scout who never bothered to show. We have it on good authority that this scout got trashed the night before and decided to sleep this game away. Though this is a job often given to grinders, it’s also a spot where fringe NBA characters can get stashed on a part-time basis. Sometimes, it’s just a place for coaches to get a buddy a gig.

That’s fine and well, so long as such people don’t expect any help. Our scout sees the slacker at the airport the next day. On the plane, he gets approached and queried on whether he got all the plays. “How’d you make out?” the truant scout asks. He adds that he was there but bought a game ticket because he just wanted a better angle. This is bullshit. In Memphis, scouts tend to get the courtside seat and last night was no exception. He would know this if he actually showed up to work. “I did OK,” our scout says curtly. That reply effectively ends the conversation.

“I would have helped him if he just admitted he got bombed,” our scout says. Then he mutters, “serves them right for hiring a regional scout.”

The professional advance scouts largely look down on regional scouting, a system by which teams outsource scouting to hired guns in certain cities, some of whom are employed by multiple NBA teams. It was a system popularized by Popovich in the mid-2000s, theoretically out of mercy for the league’s most brutal profession. There was also some sense to Pop’s push back then. That era’s top Western Conference teams featured known quantities like Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Rick Adelman. Why grind some poor soul into dust when you already have so much information on these veteran coaches? The West has since been shaken up, but Pop’s reform lingers. Our scout believes the system is less reliable. “I can’t trade notes with a regional scouts. You never know if what they’re getting is right.”

Though Popovich might have undermined advance scouting as a profession, head coaches are the traditional allies of NBA spies. General managers and assistant GMs don’t tend to feel similarly. After I published my initial article on advance scouting, I received pushback from staffers in the GM camp. They weren’t sold on such spycraft mattering in the end.

“That sounds like GMs,” our scout says, when I relay this. “We can’t do shit for a GM. Their reputation is based on making a big personnel move. It’s the coaches who have an appreciation for us busting our asses on the road to get them what they need.” Whatever the merits of either perspective, this much is true, politically: The advance scout is yet another salary under the coaching aegis, rather than capital devoted to a GM’s cause.

Trade made
Our scout is inhaling a mound of vanilla ice cream, a guilty pleasure in Philly, which features one of the lesser credentialed guest meals. When asked why he’s not fat, given his lifestyle, our scout shrugs and says, “genes. And a lot of walking.” A younger staffer from his team happens to be at his table, looking at Twitter. “We made a trade!” the young guy says, having just learned the breaking news from social media. Our scout shrugs and offers that he wishes they’d do a deal for a younger player who’d been struggling. “What have you got to lose?!”

I ask if anyone from the team is calling. No, our scout’s phone is not blowing up. He’s not getting an inside scoop on how this all went down. On personnel decisions, he is out of sight, out of mind, a far off satellite that delivers perpetual information, tethered to his home planet by the most tenuous of gravitational tugs. This won’t change his job at all. He keeps eating.

The team that pays his salary seems to almost exist in a parallel universe. Our scout is never there for the games he studies for. When I hopped on the road with him, I looked in anticipation to his team’s upcoming game against the opponent he was spying on. We traveled thousands of miles following this prey, as he stalked them as the most dedicated hunter. When that game finally arrived, I had to remind our scout that it was in progress. We were at yet another game, in yet another arena, and he was tracking a new foe. “I hope my work helps, but there isn’t enough time to live and die with the game results,” he says. Our scout was already a few days in the future, the only place he truly resides. A glance at his laptop is a peek through a rear view mirror, where the present reads more like a quickly disappearing past than a moment the world lives in.

People have a finite amount of attention and this is certainly the case for our scout. He needs to prioritize, taking exactly what he needs in the moment and leaving everything else. When you’re, say, spying on both coaches in one game, basic game details slip away. “Often, I can’t tell you if one team is up by 40 or down by 40,” he says. Our scout is only fixated on what teams are running, a focus on process that fully eclipses results. In the end, our scout lives inside this riddle: He watches games but does not see the score and he prepares for games he does not see at all. Such is life in the alternate time space.

Dog, house
His house is nice, if a little unkempt. Good neighborhood, two stories. There’s water damage that he might fix if he were ever here long enough. When I arrive it’s darkly lit but for the radiant energy generated by his loyal four-legged companion, a buoyant yellow lab. Scout dog is back from day care and thrilled to see his nomadic man. The grizzled scout takes a soothing tone with the dog, whispering baby talk to the happy beast. After we leave the house, our scout says, “I gotta be honest. If it was most people in the river and my dog, I’m saving my dog.” He now takes the dog on the rare, close road trip. Certain hotels have more relaxed restrictions than others. I’m told the dog makes connections with hotel workers faster than our scout ever did. The road is less lonely with a dog, not just due to the companionship, but also because strangers seem to offer more of their humanity in the presence of an animal.

Beyond his evident popularity, scout dog provides stability in a life on the go. Not everybody can or would keep up. Our scout is single, his longest romantic relationship having lasted eight years. Our scout has plenty of friends, though, especially in the basketball business. They see him all the time, just not so much in person. His phone regularly pings with the same kind of text message: a photo of our scout on TV, seated courtside, staring with a coldness that could make a rink out of hardwood. As he shows me the latest such text, he smiles widely, and suddenly looks unrecognizable from the haunted visage on the phone.

Our scout achieved a measure of emotional fulfilment when his team won the NBA championship. It was the culmination of a career, and moreover, just plain fun. Unlike everyone else, he got to relax a bit through the process, as his side of the preparation was largely done. He got to watch the games with his own team for once. He wasn’t out on the road by himself for once. And then, there was the thrill of ultimate victory and the quiet satisfaction in knowing you pitched in.

Except, that night, the euphoria had an undercurrent. “My celebration was kind of, you know, muted,” our scout remembers, with a grimace. That girlfriend of eight years had finally left him, weeks before the championship, for someone else. It was all fairly predictable. How can you share a life with someone who’s never there? How can you plan for the future with a man who lives entirely in an alternate time space? When asked if he has any regrets regarding multiple relationships this job undermined, our scout is steadfast. “No. Basketball was all I ever wanted to do.”

Why? That part is less clear. He was in love with the game growing up, so much so that he traded away certainty for whatever this is. He was premed at a top-flight college, only to ditch it all when a college coaching opportunity came up. He never looked back. “If you could have told me, back then, that I’d be working in the NBA? Shit. Of course I’d do it all again.”

What is the reward system for such labor? It used to be clearer. One of his happiest memories and biggest accomplishments happened long ago, back when he was working as a college assistant coach. He prepared like hell for an undefeated Duke team, despite his squad’s lack of a realistic chance. The college game is simpler, with not as much strategy altered according to opponent. Our scout had some different ideas for big, bad Duke, suggesting pick-and-roll coverages, fit according to the offensive threat. Nothing groundbreaking, but unexpected at that level.

Duke was caught unaware. The Blue Devils shot poorly, got somewhat unlucky and lost. The upset unleashed bedlam in the college town. Our scout went to a bar his friends often frequented, taking in the crazy scene he knew he had a secret hand in causing. A woman he was hooking up with at the time approached him. She did not mince words. They would be getting together later that night. “That felt pretty good,” our scout says, reminiscing.

Life is a bit different these days. When victory happens, there is no bedlam and no visceral spoils. It’s usually hundreds of miles away and hardly registered. Winning and its rewards have been traded for the process that once secured that massive victory over Duke. Now that our scout is older, this process not only remains but sustains. “I like the work,” he says. At least it remains constant.

The end
“Go! Go! Go!” Our scout is exhorting me into the car with the verve of a NASCAR pit crew member. This will be our last trip, and unfortunately, it will be a hurried adventure. He’s running late and the streets are choked with weekend festival-goers. After struggling with the trunk, I leap into the front seat and suddenly feel my face engulfed by a warm dampness. Scout dog is here and he’s saying hello, nearly licking my glasses off. We zoom out to the doggy day-care dropoff and then to the airport.

The conversations bounce around various topics. Our scout discusses what he’s read most recently, a book on George S. Patton. He doesn’t have the free hours for many hobbies but enjoys reading about World War II. “Not joining the military is one of my biggest regrets,” he says at one point, adding that, when he sees military members on his flights, he feels guilty. Tactics and hardware obsessed him from an early age. He can rattle off details from different battles, the tanks they used, what technology proved decisive and differentials in man power.

With the clock ticking, we get to life subjects. What exactly happened with that long-term girlfriend? What happens now in your life? The former has a clear answer, but the latter far less so. Our scout eases into a parking space and opens the door. I get a text informing me that my flight is delayed. I wish to relax in my newfound pocket of languor but will keep pace with the hurried for now. Our scout says, “You know, I do want to have kids. Someday, if I meet the right woman …”

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly. He will make his flight. He had more time than he thought, just not nearly as much as I did.

lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 17:38 (two years ago) link

I couldn’t finish that pretentious shit. Barely made it through the intro.

EZ Snappin, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:07 (two years ago) link

ESS is really a lot to handle it's true

J0rdan S., Friday, 14 December 2018 18:47 (two years ago) link

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly.

lol

lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:52 (two years ago) link

he can be a lot but i really liked that one

call all destroyer, Friday, 14 December 2018 19:07 (two years ago) link

i love ethan

тпсбlack (Spottie), Friday, 14 December 2018 19:11 (two years ago) link

non basketball but supposed to be amazing

https://theathletic.com/721275/2018/12/18/

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:33 (two years ago) link

lol the title alone is very good

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (two years ago) link

The Passion of Mike Piazza: How the midlife crisis of a baseball Hall of Famer led to the demise of a 100-year-old Italian soccer club

By Robert Andrew Powell 227
When​ Mike Piazza arrived​ in Reggio​ Emilia,​ he was greeted​ as a hero.

It​ was June 18, 2016.​ Everyone​ remembers​​ the exact date. Piazza had just purchased a controlling interest in A.C. Reggiana 1919, the Italian city’s soccer club. Few locals had heard of him. Even fewer understood his Hall of Fame career catching for the Mets, Dodgers, and three other teams in the American sport of baseball. “When I learned he was the new owner, I went out and bought his autobiography,” says Jacopo Della Porta, a reporter for La Gazzetta di Reggio. “I think I’m the only one here who has read it.” Piazza was obviously rich. His U.S. citizenship gave him a certain baseline allure. Above all, it was his stated plan to return Reggiana to the top flight of Italian soccer that inspired several thousand fans to squeeze into a public square to see him in person.

Reggiana had languished in Serie C, the Italian third division, since the turn of the century. For a club that has known glory—Carlo Ancelotti coached the team into Serie A, in 1996—the long spell of mediocrity has been dispiriting, even embarrassing. Piazza declared, in translated English, that the club was back in solid financial shape. He said he was in Italy for the long haul, invested in the community, and committed to Reggiana’s success. At the rally, smoke from ignited flares swirled around him. Maroon flags waved. Ultras raised their scarves and chanted songs and reached out to shake Piazza’s hand. “Dai c’andom!” Piazza shouted. “Come on!”

Two years later, A.C. Reggiana no longer exists. The club is bankrupt. A court-appointed accountant is distributing its assets.

In what should have been Reggiana’s centennial season, a different team, not owned by Piazza, now represents the city, down in Serie D, which is only semi-pro. The mayor of Reggio Emilia accuses Piazza of “disrespecting” his town. Those ultras who initially cheered Piazza painted death threats on the walls of the team’s headquarters.

When it all ended last summer, Piazza and his family fled Reggio Emilia so abruptly that the fans—along with team, staff, and even the players—felt blindsided. “They ghosted us,” says Sonya Kondratenko, an American who handled social media for the second and final year Piazza owned the team.

Piazza thought he had embarked on a romantic new chapter of his life. He believed he would stay in Italy for the next three decades, running Reggiana and eventually handing the club down to his children. His wife, Alicia, who never wanted him to buy a soccer team, to whom Piazza handed control of the club after a disastrous first year, and who many in Reggio Emilia blame for the club’s implosion, saw the possibility of a different ending. As they stepped off the stage in the plaza, she pulled her husband aside.

“Either we’re going to have the best experience ever,” she told him, “or we’re going to get rolled.”

‌‌‌

Reggio Emilia is a small city about an hour’s train ride south of Milan. Nestled in Italy’s “Food Valley” alongside Parma, Bologna, and Modena, Reggio Emilia is known for its pumpkin tortellini and its namesake cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano. The tricolor national flag first flew in Reggio Emilia, in 1797, its creation celebrated in a museum in the old town center. The headquarters of fashion house Max Mara sit not far from a new train station designed by Santiago Calatrava. Locals are well-educated; Reggio Emilia is known around the world for its progressive schools. They’re also wealthy, though they tend not to flaunt it. The city has a history with communism and retains a collectivist ethos. “We work,” one resident tells me, summing up the city’s view of itself.

The Piazzas, for the two years they ran Reggiana, lived in a rented villa outside the city. They spent their summers in South Florida, where they’ve kept a home for more than a decade. I visited them in Florida in August, arriving as the sun set on Sunset Island II, a triangle of extremely expensive homes connected by a short bridge to Miami Beach.

“This interview’s going to be wet,” Mike said soon after I arrived. He stepped toward a bar in the living room and smiled. “I hope that’s okay with you.”

Mike poured me a glass of Grande Alberone Quintus, a red blend. Alicia sipped a chardonnay. My crystal glass was etched with the letter P in a curled script. Mike cupped his glass in his fingers as if it didn’t have a stem or a base.

“We do this every night,” Mike said, popping a chunk of cheese into his mouth as he settled into a striped Louis XIV chair. Behind him glimmered a swimming pool, and then the calm waters of Biscayne Bay. Alicia sat opposite Mike, near a tray of vegetables.

“It’s a tragedy,” Mike said of his soccer-team ownership. “Like an opera.”

“It was fucking hell,” said Alicia.

After retiring, Mike slipped into the languid life of ex-athletes in Florida. I’d seen pictures of Mike and Alicia appraising paintings at Art Basel. They hosted a benefit for the National Italian American Foundation at their waterfront house. He smoked cigars and golfed with Mario Lemieux and Michael Jordan and James Pallotta, the American owner of Italian soccer club Roma. He golfed a bit more than he cared to, actually.

“I think we got to a point in Miami where we got a little too melancholy,” Mike said. “Maybe that was part of it what fueled what I was doing. I wanted to do something different. And I wanted to do something interesting, and I wanted to do something creative.”

Piazza, who recently turned 50, came of age during the best days of the North American Soccer League. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he was a fan of the Philadelphia Fury, and also the indoor Fever. After he retired from baseball, his appreciation for soccer blossomed. He sat in the stands in Genoa in 2012 when the U.S. men’s national team defeated Italy for the first time. He and a friend flew to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup—“a bucket list sort of thing.” He loved how, unlike baseball, soccer is truly global, played and watched in every country. He began to think that owning a soccer team might be the most interesting thing someone in his position could do.

“I was retired when my second daughter was born,” he said. “And it’s my kids—I would never trade them for the world—but I remember thinking, ‘Here I am, I used to be hitting home runs in front of 43,000 people, and now I’ve got shit under my fingernails from changing diapers.’ There is nothing you will ever do after you retire that will give you the same buzz as playing. I’m sorry. I was able to recognize that and rationalize it and come to a point in my mind where you know maybe it”—buying a soccer team—“was like this super rebound.”

First, he looked at the Premier League. Everton. He flew into London and took a train up to Liverpool, visiting the port city for the first time. Eventually, he concluded the numbers would never work. He dropped down a league to investigate Reading, and also Leeds United. (“I’ve always liked Leeds. It’s weird.”) He pivoted back to the Americas, meeting with the president of Liga MX to discuss maybe buying Las Monarcas de Morelia. (“That would have been crazy.”) Then he investigated his options in Italy. That country seemed like the best fit.

There was the chance to actually live in Italy. Mike’s maternal grandparents are from Sicily. (Piazza translates as “public square;” the welcome rally in Reggio Emilia was held in Piazza Prampolini.) He didn’t visit his homeland until he was in his 30s, but when he did, he felt Italian. He loved the food, the wine. He identified with the people. Also, the soccer landscape appeared much more open.

“I believe that Italian soccer clubs are the most undervalued assets in sports,” says Joe Tacopina, the American owner of Venezia FC. Tacopina was also part of the initial group of Americans that bought Roma, in 2011. “This worldwide club, one of the best-known teams on the planet. And we paid just 110 million euros. For the whole club! For Roma! You can spend that much on just one good midfielder!”

Piazza first wanted to buy Parma, a Serie A club then in bankruptcy. Ultimately he felt Parma carried too much debt for him to absorb. Reggiana looked more attractive. Despite being in Serie C, the team’s passionate fans bought an unusually high number of season tickets. Reggiana also played in a top-flight stadium shared with Serie A club Sassuolo. Unlike a Premier League team, or a team already in Serie A, this was a club he could buy cheap and build.

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

“It’s not easy for an American to come to Italy and try to do business in Italian soccer,” says Gaël Genevier, a midfielder and the Reggiana team captain during Piazza’s ownership. “It’s a jungle. And when you have money, it’s even worse. Mike had a big wallet, he was American, and he didn’t know the soccer in Italy. And I think that’s why he had a lot of problems.”

Soon after Piazza bought Reggiana, he set out to raise the visibility of the club. He gifted Jimmy Kimmel a maroon jersey, on air. The New York Times flew over a reporter for a feature story. On Sports Illustrated’s “Planet Fútbol” podcast, Piazza talked about market discipline, about having a financial plan, about sticking to the plan for the long haul.

“When I took over the club I had a meeting with all the staff,” he told host Grant Wahl. “I said, if you don’t believe we can get to Serie A in five years, then I respectfully ask you to leave right now.”

Turns out, that’s not how it works in Italy. Piazza was free to fire anyone, but whoever he did fire still had to be paid, often for years. Contribute, they call it. In the three months between Piazza’s purchase of Reggiana and the moment he actually took over operations, the number of people employed by the club ballooned. The sporting director he inherited collected a bigger salary than the sporting director of Lazio, in Serie A—and for three years, guaranteed, no matter what. The players’ contracts were exceptionally generous for the Italian third division. The team captain told Piazza so. “They were attractive contracts for even B, one level up,” Genevier says. Piazza was overpaying for everything.

The year before Piazza bought Reggiana, the club finished in seventh place in its division, with operational costs of around 500,000 euros. In Piazza’s first season with the club, Reggiana finished in fifth place, but at a cost to Piazza of more than six million euros.

“When the auditors told us that, it was deafening to our ears,” recalled Alicia. “I turned to Mike and said, ‘What the fuck did you just do?!”

Mike decided he could no longer work with the front office he’d inherited. He also cut ties with his original partner, an Italian he knew from Miami. Looking around for someone who could protect his interests, he didn’t see many options.

“Alicia became the only one I could trust,” Mike said. “I basically took the budget and I turned to her and went, ‘Help. I don’t know what to do.’”

From that point on, Alicia Piazza took charge of Reggiana. And she started making changes.

Alicia Piazza began modeling in her teens and kept at it for a decade. After appearing in Playboy—Miss October, 1995—she saved some lives on the TV show “Baywatch” before showcasing a Broyhill dinette set as one of Barker’s Beauties on “The Price is Right.” She earned a master’s degree in psychology while in Miami. For more than a decade, she had seen herself primarily as a mom to their three kids.

Suddenly, she was vice president of AC Reggiana 1919.

Cost-cutting became her priority, in a way that felt personal. Every dime squandered was a direct hit to the family’s net worth. She ordered the drivers for youth team buses to stop dropping off players at their houses, to save on gas. She ordered the players to wash their own uniforms. (“I don’t think she realized that in Italy not everyone has a washing machine,” says Kondratenko, the American who handled social media for Reggiana.) She typed angry texts, calling employees she fired “conmen” and “frauds” and “liars.” The salutation of one text Alicia shared with me, sent to the team’s former sporting director: “Fuck off, loser.”

“I was the bitch,” she admitted. “I was the bad guy. And I’m sure I have a lot of enemies, and I’m sure you heard a lot of bad things about me and I don’t give a shit. I ripped the mask off so many faces.”

The Piazzas put their Miami Beach house on the market in January. Alicia sent a general email asking if anyone in the front office might want to buy it, asking price $18.5 million. She encouraged a friend of hers in Parma—the one who compared Reggio Emilia to Pittsburgh—to design a jewelry line to celebrate Reggiana’s 100th anniversary. The whole office sat in meetings to decide which rings and bracelets in the collection worked best. “I always thought the club would never fold before the anniversary, just because of all the time she put in on the jewelry,” says Kondratenko. Deviating from her mission to cut costs, Alicia renovated the players’ locker room, adding new tile and an extra toilet. One day, Kondratenko was pulled from her regular work assignments to shuttle Brande Roderick—a Playmate, a “Baywatch” lifeguard, and Alicia’s close friend—to the train station.

“My life plan is not to be doing errands for Playmates,” Kondratenko tells me.

The clear goal in the second season was for Reggiana to earn promotion to Serie B. New sporting director Ted Philipakos, an American who came over from Venezia FC, upgraded Reggiana’s quality on the pitch. He also found a new coach in Greece, where Philipakos holds dual citizenship and retains connections in the sport. They agreed on terms. The coach flew up to Reggio Emilia with his staff, ready to sign his contract and get started. Only after he arrived did the Piazzas balk at the compensation. Alicia offered to pay him and his staff 15,000 euros less than the original offer, a relatively small sum. After the coach protested, she floated a smaller cut of 7,500 euros. The coach flew back to Athens, on principle.

When Mike named Alicia the club vice president, he stepped back a bit. “He likes to stay above the fray,” she said. “It’s not like he’s a pussy or he needs his wife. It’s the way he’s comfortable. He’s always been like that.” In her newly elevated role as Reggiana’s “first lady,” she became a bit of a media sensation. She gave interviews at the team headquarters. She answered questions at restaurants when reporters approached her table, filming. “Alicia always talked down about Reggiana being a peasant team in a peasant town,” says Kondratenko. “She thinks these people have no class, but in some aspects they were super impressed with Alicia. She has money, she’s from the U.S., she has a Chanel bag and a Gucci bag.”

The influential magazine Sportweek invited Alicia to sit for a long interview. It’s her understanding that she was the first club vice president ever to be formally interviewed, and the first woman at any level in Italian soccer.

“I knew we had to get our story out about the stadium,” she said. “And I was feeling there was a conspiracy and I was feeling something (dark) in this underbelly.”

When Reggiana rose to Serie A in 1993, the club and the government of Reggio Emilia recognized the need for a home stadium worthy of the top flight. Locals funded much of the new stadium themselves, purchasing season tickets years into the future to cover construction costs. But Reggiana lasted only two campaigns in Serie A. The club itself went bankrupt. Ownership of the stadium reverted to the city, and the mayor put it up for auction. A billionaire named Giorgio Squinzi bought it, cheap.

Squinzi is the head of Mapei, a conglomerate that sells paint and adhesives. He also owns Sassuolo, a Serie A club which now plays its home games in Reggio Emilia, in the stadium Reggiana built, which Squinzi renamed after his company. Reggiana still played there, too, though they had to pay rent. In a development that Alicia noted on Instagram, the rent almost doubled in the short time between when Mike bought the club and when he actually took over its operation. That’s what Alicia wanted to talk about with Sportweek publisher Andrea Monti.

“He’s balding but he’s powerful and he’s become sexy,” she said of Monti. “He apparently never comes into these interviews, but he comes in and shakes my hand. Everyone thinks it’s because I’m cute, I know. But I was hungover and I was not cute that day. He crosses his legs and he stays for 45 minutes. Then he says this to me, which I will never forget:

“‘Reggio is a strange town and it’s run by the politicians. Don’t you wonder why that town has the (Calatrava) train station? There’s a lot of money there but it’s all controlled by Squinzi. But I think you, my dear, are going to give him a run for the money.’”

From that meeting on, Alicia vowed “not to give fucking Mapei another dime,” she said. “And let me tell you, that was the point where it was like, ‘Alicia sank the company.’”

On March 8th, reportedly at Alicia’s urging, Mike Piazza held a press conference to address Reggiana’s growing debt to Mapei. “It was the worst day of my life,” says Kondratenko, who recorded the press conference in a video that went viral, not just in Italy but around the world. Piazza sat at a table, Alicia silently on his right, an interpreter to his left. Ads for Riunite wine and Parmigiano Reggiano flashed and dissolved on a screen in front of his microphone. “We’re invested in this community,” he said in his opening. “I’ve moved my family here, my children here, to be part of this community.” He slapped the table, hard. “And we deserve respect!”

While Mike spoke in English, he showed impressive fluency in Italian hand gestures.

“We are not going to be PUSHED AROUND by a multi-billion dollar corporation,” he continued. “The stadium was built for this team.” He tapped his index finger on the table three times. “By these PEOPLE!” He tapped a couple more times, furiously. His voice almost cracked when he said, “We’ve reached out in friendship to try to form a coalition with the mayor, with Mr. Squinzi, with Sassuolo, with Mapei, and we’ve gotten”—he slammed down a fist—“NOTHING!” His hand slashed the air with a karate chop. “NOTHING!” He pointed his index finger. “And I’m sick of it! I’m tired and sick of Reggiana being pushed around. I’m frustrated and I’m….” He inhaled a breath. “Ffffffffreakin’ pissed off!” He fell back in his chair and let the translator have at it. Alicia remained motionless.

This went on for more than 10 minutes. He said he isn’t a quitter, but he has his limit. If the rent wasn’t lowered to at least the league average for Serie C, he’d walk away.

“Probably that was the first step in an exit strategy,” says Gazzetta reporter Della Porta.

There was a period early in the second season, in the fall of 2017, when Alicia wasn’t there. She returned to Miami for a bit, to prepare their house for sale. Right after she left, in a development Reggiana supporters tell me is no coincidence, the play of the team dramatically improved. Reggiana strung together two unbeaten streaks of eight games each, vaulting the club from 15th place into second, tantalizingly close to automatic promotion to Serie B. Mike, who stayed in Italy, got hands-on with the team, pulling players aside for one-on-one interviews.

“We knew he was a good athlete, he won a lot of things,” says Genevier. “His Italian wasn’t very good—he spoke in English and the translator translated everything to the players—but he was very, very positive inside the locker room. I remember the players were very happy after each speech of Mike’s. He was the president but he was like a player.”

Without the Greek coach they’d failed to sign, the team was forced to use a Frankenstein’s monster for a manager: One man, who had his coaching license but no experience in Serie C, became the titular leader, while two coaches from the youth teams—both lacking the proper licenses—picked the rosters and the tactics and ran the training sessions.

Somehow it worked. Mike witnessed away victories over Santarcangelo and AlbinoLeffe. Before kickoff, he’d shake hands with the ultras and give his pep talks in the locker room. He followed the action closely.

“When that ball went into the net, I felt like I was playing again,” Mike said. “I’ve never done cocaine, I’ve never done crystal meth, I’ve never done hard drugs, or any drugs for that matter besides aspirin. But let me tell you, that was fucking intoxicating.”

Reggiana finished the regular season in fourth place in their division. The team could still rise to Serie B by winning a playoff tournament. In the quarterfinals, Reggiana matched up against Siena, a strong club, for a home-and-home series. Reggiana won the opener, 2-1. In the second leg, down in Tuscany, Siena held a 1-0 lead deep into the second half. The tie in aggregate meant Siena would advance thanks to that club’s better regular-season finish. But in the first minute of stoppage time, Reggiana scored. In his box, Piazza leapt from his seat.

“Mike was into these games,” says Philipakos. “Obviously he had a lot of money on the line—that was a factor. But the raw emotion wasn’t just about protecting his investment. It was about competition. He was very engaged. When we equalized in stoppage time, he exploded. What followed minutes later was visible heartbreak.”

What followed was decried as “unjust” by Reggio Emilia mayor Luca Vecci. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, a Siena midfielder lofted a ball into the Reggiana box. In the scramble, a Siena player pushed over one of Reggiana’s defenders. Somehow, the referee called a hand ball on the toppled fullback. Yes, the ball briefly touches the player’s arm, but he was on his back from the fall, and he fell because he’d just been bodychecked. Still. Penalty. Siena converted in the 109th minute, with the last kick of the game. Reggiana lost the series. No promotion. Ultras stormed the pitch, looking for blood. Even the mayor ran to midfield.

“It was horrible,” says Genevier, the team captain. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve played more than 300 games in Italy and this one was really the worst one.”

The next day, Mike Piazza posted a message on the official Reggiana website:

“Last night I could not comment because I had to go home with my children. I regret that they had to witness such corruption and incompetence. I’m deeply disgusted and angry. I’m really sorry for our fans, they do not deserve this. It’s really a sad day for Italy and for Italian football. I will never understand how some dirty and corrupt individuals managed to make something so beautiful so repugnant and ugly. I’m sick.”

Two days after the Siena loss, the Piazzas appeared to have emotionally recovered. They hosted a thank-you rally in a small, old stadium near the center of Reggio Emilia. The ultras turned out, as always. Flares burned, flags waved. Smoke floated around Mike, just as it had two years earlier at his grand arrival. The players trooped out in their jerseys, Genevier holding the hand of his young son. The Piazzas stood in front of them. Mike spoke first, in little snippets followed by pauses for translation.

“I want to thank the first lady,” he said, turning to Alicia. She curtseyed in her orange dress. The fans chanted her name. “I’m just going to tell you how much work she has done in the office behind the scenes. And it’s true when I tell you the only reason we’re here today after this beautiful season is because of Alicia. She convinced me to go on. So we all owe a debt of gratitude to her. Grazie!”

Mike kissed her. The ultras continued chanting her name. A female fan stepped onto the grass to offer Alicia a bouquet of white flowers.

“These guys played their asses off and they played with so much heart and determination,” Mike continued, turning to the players. “And it’s really sad the way it ended. But that doesn’t change the effort and the drive and the love they applied.”

Mike held up his fists over his head, a signal of strength and resolve. “I salute this team,” he concluded. “God bless! Enjoy the summer! Well done.”

Everyone left the rally thinking the mission continued. The team would stay together, the Piazzas would remain as owners.

“From my perspective, we had righted the ship,” says Philipakos. “If not for a totally absurd referee’s decision maybe we’d be in Serie B right now. We still had all these great things in place. The key players weren’t going to go anywhere. Most of the starters were under contract. We could have hit the ground running, and should have been a really strong favorite for promotion.”

The rally took place on June 5th. Mike flew to New York to throw out the first pitch before a Mets-Yankees game. Alicia stayed in Italy. On June 8th, a Friday, she invited the front office to lunch at a neighborhood café. Everyone shared a spread of cured meats, cheeses, and fresh pasta. Corks popped off wine bottles. It felt upbeat and celebratory. Alicia told them that with the season over, they should all consider themselves on vacation.

She meant more than that. On Monday, a chain and lock hung on the front door to the offices. Zip ties secured the gates to the parking lot. The Piazzas were gone. The players didn’t know what to do. Should they find new teams? Kondratenko says she didn’t know any more than the players. Should she fly back to the States?

“I woke up to a thousand WhatsApp messages asking what was going on,” she recalls. “I couldn’t take a coffee because so many people were coming up to me asking for information.”

On the 13th of June, on the team website, Mike Piazza announced that he’d put the team up for sale. Alicia issued her own statement: “Unfortunately, Reggiana has been under attack from negative forces since Mike’s arrival. … The suspicious loss in Siena was the final blow. We are generous but we are not crazy.”

One week later, the Piazzas returned to Reggio Emilia and were spotted at the team offices. More than a hundred ultras marched into the office parking lot, chanting and demanding answers. Carabinieri—national police aligned with the military—showed up for the Piazzas’ safety. The police advised the Americans to avoid the front door of the complex and exit through the back. Mike assured them it wouldn’t be necessary—he had always enjoyed a good relationship with the fans.

The carabinieri informed him that the relationship had changed. The Piazzas slipped out the back door, under police escort.

At their house in Miami, drinking wine, both Piazzas told me the end was inevitable. The plane was in a nosedive when they entered the cockpit—when they first arrived in Reggio Emilia—and they knew it immediately. They hung on for two full seasons, at great personal expense, only to get robbed in the playoffs against Siena.

“And we had enough!” Alicia shouted. “And they’re like, ‘Well, let’s sign up for next year and lose another four million euros altogether.’ Who’s losing the four million? We are! We’re losing the four million and not you. So we each took a pill”—she’s speaking figuratively—“we said, ‘Romeo and Juliet did this, we’re going to kill ourselves before you fucking get to kill us.’”

The Piazzas and their Italian attorneys initially tried to sell the club to a group of Reggio Emilia businessmen. When a deadline for fielding a team in Serie C passed, the businessmen opted to simply start up their own, new team, with the mayor’s blessing. Reggio Audace—“Bold”—play down in Serie D, with a roster of amateurs and unpaid professionals. The president of the new team tells me he’s still friends with the Piazzas. He wants them to grant him the official Reggiana name, now that they are done with soccer in the city. The Piazzas have said they will probably turn over the name, once the dissolution is complete.

In the public square where Mike made his initial arrival, there’s a small sign stating that it was there, in the same plaza, that Reggiana was founded 100 years ago. The square is ringed with restaurants and shops, including the official Reggiana team store. Piazza still owns the store, technically. When I was there in August, team jerseys remained for sale even though the team itself no longer existed. One T-shirt featured the “C’mon!’ phrase that Piazza cried out at his introduction. A poster of Piazza, from his days in baseball, had been taken down. No one wanted to see it anymore.

“Maybe it could have been different,” Mike told me in Miami Beach. “If I could re-engineer the whole thing I’d go back and save a lot of the money that was squandered. I’d put in my own people, people that knew what we’re doing. But that’s what we learn! We learn those lessons the hard way! There’s a lot of shoulda, coulda, woulda, but I don’t regret doing it.”

I can still see why it was attractive. In the States, Mike Piazza is a former great. A legend. In Reggio Emilia, with Reggiana, his role was active. Running a soccer team in Italy: It really is a romantic idea. He wasn’t simply a rich guy drinking wine on an endless vineyard tour. He wasn’t merely eating incredible food or lounging in a seaside cabana. He was living. He had an identity beyond his days of baseball, which by now are well behind him. “I need to have a project,” he once told Kondratenko. “I don’t want to just play golf all the time.”

I can also see why Alicia wanted out: She never wanted in. “I’m free,” she told me. Instead of sinking more of the family’s cash into a soccer team, they can spend that money weekending in Barcelona, or how about London? “My kids will be fluent in Italian and maybe also French,” she said. “I’m happy.” She didn’t want the soccer project the way Mike wanted it. But then, she’s never hit a home run in front of 43,000 people.

The Piazzas returned to Italy in late August. “I’m surprised they did this,” says Gian Marco Regnani, a calcio blogger in Reggio Emilia. “They’re the enemy.” The family rented the same villa outside of town from when they owned the team. Recently they moved closer to Parma, where the kids go to school. The Piazzas told me their status as outsiders might have been a central problem. They had the ability to pack up and fly away, while for everyone else Reggio Emilia is home.

“I always had a feeling that they were going to leave,” says Regnani. “I never thought they were going to be here forever.”

When I spoke with the Piazzas in Miami, Mike was careful to stress that he had not bankrupted Reggiana. He and Alicia were “dissolving” the club, he said. They were “executing a soft landing.” But they didn’t “bankrupt” a 100-year-old soccer team and civic institution, he insisted.

That was in August. On December 4th, the Piazzas asked a judge to declare the club bankrupt. On December 5th, the judge granted the request. More than 100 creditors, including Mapei, are currently carving up the Reggiana carcass.

In October, Mike flew to Scotland for a week on the Old Course at St. Andrews. In November, he posted a picture from a golf course in Tuscany.

I’ve spoken to him a couple times, at length, since he returned to Italy. The last time we talked, we discussed Reggiana for a while, naturally, but the team and its problems and his brief time running the club seemed like a closed chapter. We talked about Donald Trump and how being an American abroad has given Piazza a wider perspective on immigration. We talked about the Mets for a bit. He told me he’s started getting into rugby on TV. And also Formula 1. He said he doesn’t like to watch Italian soccer anymore. Not even Serie A. “I just don’t,” he said. “Or I think I’m just too hurt to care.”

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (two years ago) link

the wife's quotes are completely out of control

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:37 (two years ago) link

lmao i can hear her

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:50 (two years ago) link

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 04:42 (two years ago) link

five months pass...

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‘The board man gets paid’: An oral history of Kawhi Leonard’s college days

By Jayson Jenks 42
This is my new favorite quote: “The board man gets paid.”

According to former teammates, coaches and managers, Kawhi Leonard didn’t say much during his two seasons (2009-11) at San Diego State. But he did say that, all the time, and it is wonderful: “The board man gets paid.” It says so much about who Leonard was and still is, and it absolutely belongs on a T-shirt.

This is the story about his two years at San Diego State, during which the Aztecs went 59-12 and made the NCAA Tournament both seasons under coach Steve Fisher.

Tim Shelton, forward: He was probably one of the hardest recruits that you’d ever deal with who was that talented. (California’s Mr. Basketball in 2009.) He wasn’t going to text you, he wasn’t going to pick up the phone and talk to you. He just wouldn’t do it.

Justin Hutson, assistant coach: I wouldn’t say hard. I would say different. You couldn’t get him on the phone. Once a week, I’d just have to go up there to his high school (100 miles away in Riverside, Calif.), and I’d make sure he was there first.

Shelton: And it’s part of why the Pac-12 teams didn’t put in extra effort. They were like, “He’s kind of a four-man, and, shoot, we can’t call him and talk to him. He must not want to talk to us.”

DJ Gay, guard: I took Kawhi on his official visit. Honestly, the only thing he wanted to do was get in the gym. We were like, “Kawhi, what do you want to do?” And he was like, “Let’s go work out. Let’s go get some shots up. Let’s play.”

Shelton: We had open gym and were playing. We stopped in between games and introduced ourselves as a team and just chopped it up a little bit more with his mom than him. He introduced himself, “I’m Kawhi. Hey, what’s up.” But if you tried to talk to him, he was like, “It’s cool, everything’s cool, so far it’s cool, it’s nice.” But then he just grabbed the ball and went to shoot. Even during his visit, I’m telling you.

Gay: I think we started up our day playing two-on-two and finished our day getting shots up. That’s just what he wanted to do. He wanted to work. I honestly had no idea what to expect when he left. He didn’t say much. He just wanted to hoop. I had no idea if we were getting him or not. I told coach Fisher: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. He didn’t say much.”

Dave Velasquez, assistant coach: My favorite story about Kawhi is when he got to San Diego State his freshman year. He had a math class at 8 a.m. and a writing class at 10 a.m. It was Monday through Thursday, and it was really tough. Our job was to make sure the freshmen were up for that 8 a.m. class. So we were always knocking on their dorm room at 7:30. When we had to find Kawhi for his 8 a.m. class, he was rebounding by himself.

Gay: By far the hardest worker I’ve ever come across, I’ve ever known.

Alex Jamerson, manager: I’ve never seen anyone, ever, work harder in my whole life.

Jamerson: I would show up early to our arena to get things set up for practice. I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be the first guy in the arena just to get things set up,” and I walk out to bring the balls out and he’s already got one or two with him shooting in the dark in the arena. All by himself.

John Van Houten, manager: We used to have to break into the volleyball gym.

Shelton: This was before they had all these swipe cards. We had just one key that we would share to get into that gym. When you didn’t have the key available, you could put the finger under the door at Peterson Gym, and if you knew how to wiggle it right, you could push the latch up and unlock the door.

Van Houten: At first, you could get in and you had access to the lights, you had access to the hoops and everything was good. And then they started cracking down, so we started breaking in, but the lightbox would be locked.

Shelton: So Kawhi had a lamp, and on different occasions, Kawhi would be in there late and the lightbox would be locked, so he’d bring a lamp in there. He’d put his finger under the door and unlatch it and he’d go in there and shoot with just his lamp.

Van Houten: And that’s when they got a new locking mechanism on the doors. And that’s when I got a key to an LDS church, a Mormon church, and they had a full court. … He was gonna find a way to work.

Jason Deutchman, guard: We lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament my senior year on a Thursday. I took the rest of the weekend off and then I was like, “I’m going to go start training on that Monday.” I remember going in that very first night, three days after we had lost — and he was already there.

Coach Velasquez: We had Saturday morning conditioning, so not only would he be running hard and be in the front, but everybody else would go home after. He would go to the gym.

Gay: There were several times I tried beating him in the gym, but no matter how early I got there, he was already there. Or I tried to stay late, but it got to the point that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Coach Hutson: Knowing Kawhi, he probably just stayed until somebody left. I’m serious.

(Chris Carlson / AP)
Gay: The most he talked was on the hard court, and Kawhi was not afraid to let you know that you weren’t going to score on him, that you couldn’t get past him or that he would score on you. Every time the ball went through the net, he just said, “Bucket. Bucket.” That was it.

Tyrone Shelley, guard: Most people say it like, “Oh, I’m about to get buckets on you.” He was just like, “Buckets. Layup.” Just one word.

Shelton: He’d be like, “You’re not scoring. You’re not doing anything.” Or he’d be like, “No, no, no.” He’d just move his feet and say, “No.”

Gay: You couldn’t score on him, so that’s what he would say: “Nope, nope, nope.” And when he would score on you: “Bucket. Bucket.”

LaBradford Franklin, guard: If he was grabbing a rebound, he’d say, “Give me that” or “Board man” or “Board man gets paid.”

Coach Hutson: If I heard it once, I heard it 50 times. “Board man. I’m a board man.” That’s what he said. Absolutely. “I’m a board man. Yeah, I’m a board man. Board man gets paid.” He spoke in phrases like that.

Shelley: Instead of saying, “We need to walk to the store” or “Let’s go to the store,” he’d just say, “I’m up.” When he leaves, he just says, “I’m up.”

Shelton: If he joked, it would be like one or two comments, and he’d go like, “Yeeee.” He’d make more sounds than he actually talked.

Franklin: What stood out to me about Kawhi was everyone else wanted to score or shoot threes, but he wanted to get every rebound. And one of the quotes he always said was, “Board man gets paid.” The rebounder man, he gets paid. And it’s true. He would say that every day. He would take pride in that. If you think about it, defense and rebounding, those are the two things you might not want to do. That’s not the pretty stuff. But he took pride in that. He cared. (And led the Mountain West Conference in rebounding two years in a row.)

Shelton: Guys coming from high school have trouble with help-side defense. Kawhi made a comment to coach Hutson, who was the defensive coach at the time, and he was like, “I don’t get it, coach. Why can’t they just stay in front of their man like I do? Like, why do I have to play help side?” That was his only comment I ever heard him make about defense: “They should just be able to stay in front of their man like I do.”

Coach Hutson: We would talk about rotations and how to help. I would get him on it about. He was respectful, but he would be very frustrated and say, “Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?” Those were exactly his words. “Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?”

Kelvin Davis, guard: In his mind, everyone should be doing what he was doing. But he didn’t realize everybody couldn’t do what he did. He was a walking nightmare.

Gay: In practice, he would tell us, “Don’t help, I don’t need help, I got it, I don’t need help.” That’s just how he was. That was his mentality. “I don’t need help; why do you need help?” But then it made us better because it challenged us: If Kawhi doesn’t need help, I don’t need help, either. And we turned out to be one of the best defensive teams in all of America that year.

Shelton: He didn’t say much. But he would tell you if you were fouling him in practice. He’d be like, “They fouling me, coach.”

Coach Velasquez: There’s one thing we always laugh about as a staff, and it would always happen at practice. He would drive in there, and he’s big and people would be hitting him all the time. At practice, you don’t really call that. I can’t tell you how many times he would look over and go, “But they fouling me. But they fouling me.”

“Kawhi, you’ve got to kick that.”

“But they fouling me.” It was over and over. In games, he wouldn’t really have a lot of dialogue with refs, but you’d definitely hear, “but they fouling me,” two or three times a game.

Shelley: There was no backtalk. Unless he was getting fouled.

Coach Hutson: There was a certain time I wanted everybody to lock and trail in practice. I was very clear that there are times you don’t have to trail on the baseline; there are times you can cheat the screen and shortcut and get there. But right now we’re going to work on lock and trailing. I was very clear that this was the way we were going to do it. And I remember Kawhi just takes his own route. I made everybody run, and he was upset about it. He was definitely pissed about it. A man of few words, but every once in a while he said something.

Van Houten: The coolest part about Kawhi: He plays mini hoop. In every house I’ve ever been to, he always had a mini hoop. You can only play with your left hand. You can’t play with your right hand. That’s a really cool thing because he’s working on his game even when he’s just at the house.

Franklin: He had a Nerf goal on the back of the door in his apartment, and he would just shoot. Friends would come over, playing 2K, and he would challenge us to a free-throw contest.

Van Houten: He’d come over to my house and he’d watch Michael Jordan highlights. We called them “Mike highs” … I mean, like four or five hours at a time.

Coach Velasquez: We’d be done with the game and he’d be on his phone watching Jordan on YouTube. Right away. He wasn’t texting. He was watching Jordan on YouTube. He’d watch it all day, every day.

Shelton: You would see him watching that stuff. But he still wouldn’t talk about it.

Coach Velasquez: Coach Fisher had a no-cellphone policy at team dinners, but Kawhi would have his phone on his lap watching Jordan highlights. He would really study his moves.

Franklin: On his phone, his background was Michael Jordan. … He would always say, “I’m Mike. You like LeBron, you like Kobe? Yeah, they’re cool, but I’m Mike. I want to be the best, the greatest.” And from how he carried himself, we knew he was serious. We knew that’s what he really wanted.

(Lenny Ignelzi / AP)
Van Houten: The only thing we’d give him shit for was his hands. Like, “Damn, you make that iPhone plus look like an iPhone 5.” Or like, “Damn, it should be a cheat code to play with those hands.”

Deutchman: There were definitely a few jokes about self-pleasure techniques. (His hands) could be helpful or harmful, depending on your perspective. With those, he could probably do a lot more damage with yourself if you get a little too much into it, considering the size of your hands.

Franklin: I’d always get on him about his braids. Like after a practice or after a long road trip, we’re all sweating, and it would look like he just got out of bed with his hair. But he didn’t care at all.

Gay: I used to call him an Avatar. A freakish Avatar, that’s what he was in college. Long limbs, long body, could run like the wind.

Franklin: From what I can remember, if it wasn’t Michael Jordan highlights, he was watching an episode of the Martin Lawrence show. He could be entertained with that. He’s so low-maintenance. Low maintenance, high production.

Shelley: I don’t remember him going to any parties except for one, and he was just kind of off in the corner hanging out until we left.

Shelton: He would be with the team and kick it and party a little bit because it was San Diego and we were winning. But he’d still be the first person up, and he’d be in the gym shooting.

Gay: I used to tell him that I had an unblockable step-back. It took him a while, but he finally started blocking my step-back. And that’s when I was like, “This is just ridiculous.” I was just like, “Yeah, my time is over.”

Coach Velasquez: I’ll never forget when we played at Cal. He remembered that Cal didn’t think he was good enough. He heard that the head coach at the time, Mike Montgomery, didn’t think he was good enough. He made it his personal mission to go out there and want to destroy Cal. They had a really good team. Allen Crabbe was there. They had a squad. But Kawhi went up there at Cal, and you knew when he walked on the floor that game, they had no chance. It was ridiculous.

Shelton: We played at Fresno State against Paul George, and that was when Paul George was getting some hype. I remember Kawhi watching his clips and us doing the scouting report. Now, he never said anything that he was going to lock him up or that he wasn’t any good. He was just like, “OK.”

Franklin: We were playing against Jimmer and BYU in the tournament. He screamed to coach Fisher, “Let me guard him.” At that time, Jimmer was killing everybody in the country. He was Jimmer Fredette. Kawhi had no business taking that challenge or saying that he was better than Jimmer then, but he did it.

Coach Velasquez: (Coach Fisher) would always say, “Kawhi paid the bills.” Kawhi rebounded. Kawhi was the best defender on the floor. Kawhi ran the hardest in transition. Kawhi always did all the little things that helped your team win.

Shelton: He says the most by his actions. He’s probably the only person that I know, that I’ve met, that I’ve seen, that speaks that loudly through his actions. People are like, “Kawhi’s quiet.” I’m like, “No, he’s not. Have you seen him work? Have you seen the dude work out? Do you know what his routine is over the summer?”

Van Houten: He always found a way. If he wants to become the greatest, he’s going to find a way. If he wants to get in a gym and work out, he’s going to find a way.

Franklin: To this day, I apply everything I learned from him. He was the hardest worker. While we were going to class, he would hold his couple papers for the class in his hand and in his backpack he had his sports gear: his shoes, the ball. He was always in the gym. At night, in the day. You could definitely learn from him. That work ethic can be applied to anything. That was the most craziest thing I saw.

Coach Hutson: I was fortunate enough to be around a genius. He had a genius work ethic.

(Top photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

What did you think of this story?

MEH

SOLID

AWESOME
Jayson Jenks is a features writer for the Athletic Seattle. Jayson joined The Athletic after covering the Seahawks for four seasons for the Seattle Times. Follow Jayson on Twitter @JaysonJenks.
42 COMMENTS
Add a comment...
Anmol K.
Jun 3, 11:25am
12 likes
Kawhi is a future HoF.
Rick M.
Jun 3, 11:38am
38 likes
Wow what an awesome story. I can’t recall ESPN ever doing a story like this. I want someone in the media to ask Kawhi about “The Board Man Gets Paid!”
Breanna S.
Jun 3, 11:59am
21 likes
He's like Kobe with a Tim Duncan personality.
J S.
Jun 3, 1:25pm
15 likes
Tim Duncan seems normal by comparison
Frankie C.
23h ago
6 likes
He's better than Kobe, though
Scott E.
19h ago
Tim Duncan would never have exited San Antonio the way Kawhi did.

Keep in mind I mostly sided with Kawhi. But still.
Nick Z.
Jun 3, 12:00pm
3 likes
A+ effort
Baskar G.
Jun 3, 12:08pm
4 likes
Mad genius
Paul D.
Jun 3, 12:40pm
9 likes
As a former basketball Aztec myself, I am so proud of Kawhi. His game is beautiful.
Ansar H.
Jun 3, 12:47pm
5 likes
Omg what a story - the board man gets paid!!!!!!!!
Marcus G.
Jun 3, 1:14pm
8 likes
"If he joked, it would be like one or two comments, and he’d go like, “Yeeee.” He’d make more sounds than he actually talked."

Kawhi is a living, breathing meme
Myles S.
Jun 3, 1:35pm
31 likes
These oral history pieces are probably my favorite feature The Athletic does.
Greg B.
Jun 3, 2:02pm
1 like
@Myles S. Totally. More please.
Ned R.
Jun 3, 1:46pm
2 likes
Great story with insight into Kawhi.
Beta 3.
Jun 3, 2:13pm
3 likes
Fantastic work Jayson. What an interesting read.
Emet L.
Jun 3, 2:14pm
8 likes
I still can’t get over Dame Lillard using his friend’s Netflix account when he was in the NBA
David R.
Jun 3, 2:19pm
5 likes
This is one of the most hilarious and revealing stories I’ve read about a basketball player. Kawhi is such an enigma, and I felt like I had no idea what made him tick, but this story really opens a door on him. Very impressive guy. I was at that Cal game and I remember him wrecking us. I only hope the dubs find a way to stop him because his inner determination is obviously EPIC.
Jordan T.
Jun 3, 2:41pm
2 likes
Kawhi is deadass the Terminator lol
Mark G.
23h ago
1 like
Needed this insight into Kawhi...good story!
Adam A.
23h ago
1 like
Wish I started at SDSU in 2010 instead of 2011 so I could watch kawhi
Kenneth C.
23h ago
6 likes
The NBA can definitely benefit from more guys like Kawhi who just walks the walk. The league is filled with prima donnas that put their personal agendas before team goals. They can say they care about winning more than anything else but what they care is how much it goes in their pockets.
Seth F.
23h ago
2 likes
In terms of body control and the ability to be a dominant (and game altering) force on defense, I absolutely feel he’s Jordan-esque. Also ‘Board Man Gets Paid’ shirts on Breaking T in 3...2.....
Frankie C.
23h ago
5 likes
I honestly cannot believe that nobody really talked about this guy in college. It's not like he was just ok, and would be a solid role player, or was at a mid major and barely played against good teams. SDSU was a legit top 10-15 team those 2 years & they were beating good squads, yet we heard more about Fischer, because he also coached the Fab 5, than we did about Kawhi. How crazy is that?
Alex N.
19h ago
@Frankie C. That 2010-11 team was pretty stacked. Lot of good seniors on that squad that went on to have pro careers overseas. They definitely had the talent to go all the way that year.
Adam G.
23h ago
2 likes
"Why can't they just guard their man like I do?" Hahaha, made me laugh. I know that feeling, but on a much, much muuuuuuch smaller scale at work.
Colin G.
23h ago
6 likes
I thought it would be impossible for me to like Kawhi after he killed my Sixers, but you gotta respect him after reading a story like this.
Norman L.
23h ago
5 likes
This article is everything. What an absolute joy to read.
Cheers,
Zaid T.
23h ago
2 likes
The “board man gets paid” motto really showed last night vs GSW. Plenty of possessions where he recovered an offensive rebound.

Good to know!
Alex C.
23h ago
7 likes
As a special education teacher, I wholeheartedly believe that Kawhi is a little autistic or something, which is really really cool. I'd love for him to open up and hear more of his story.
Jeremy G.
13h ago
3 likes
I came here to say, this article makes me wonder if Kawhi is on the spectrum. Barely talks, extremely insanely focused, repeats the same habits over and over, makes more sounds than words.
Young K.
21h ago
1 like
What a killer robot Kawhi is!
Forrest B.
20h ago
Wow, what this article shows me is how well researched the clippers are with Kawhi. This year they've talked about being a black top team, a team that works, a team that doesn't want drama, Doc comparing Kawhi to Jordan. It's crazy.
Dan M.
12h ago
If the Clips get Kawhi and KD ... gulp. Dynasty probably over in the Bay.
Jeff J.
18h ago
2 likes
As an SDSU grad I feel so blessed and proud of guys like Kawhi because San Diego State will never be a power 5 school where these kinds of guys are on a regular basis. There are a lot of very good players in lots of sports to come out of SDSU, Kawhi, Tony Gwynn, Marshall Faulk, and it feels good to in some small way be a part of that.
Gary F.
15h ago
He seems like a genuinely nice guy. Very easy to hang out with
Will O.
12h ago
KAWHI SO SERIOUS?!
Danny M.
12h ago
I watched him at SDSU. That 34-3 team was so good and I was bummed that he left after the 2011 season because I really thought they had a very good chance to win the NCAA tourney. That said, I’ve followed his NBA career and hope him continues to work hard and win more titles. He’s the reason I watch pro basketball again. Thanks KL.
Dan M.
12h ago
1 like
Man oh man. What a great story. I am an Aztec alum ... and a life long Warrior fan ... talk about being conflicted.

What I can say, is that Aztecs love Kawhi. LOVE HIM.

There’s a whole lot of pride, and happiness, for all his success.

There is tremendous gratitude to him- during his sophomore (last) season on The Mesa, we had the greatest team we had ever had, and likely ever will, have.

It was like we were Duke, North Carolina or Kansas for a season. I really believe we were one of the 2-3 best teams in the nation that season - we grabbed the highest #2 seed in the tournament that season, so they had us as #5 overall going in. We won our first 2 games in tournament history, I was blessed to be in Tucson for both. I was “fighting them back” as the clock ran out to beat Temple to go to our first sweet 16.

We lost to eventual national champion UConn the next week, some very questionable calls in an incredible game that went down to the final possession. I have no doubt we clobber Arizona the next game, as UConn did, to go to our first and only Final 4. So close.

Kawhi was the difference. Even though he was so raw, could barely shoot a lick... I had never seen such a force of nature before, his effort, his attitude, his intense desire to win. An absolute demon on the boards and defensively. He was surrounded by an incredibly long, athletic, talented team that defended as well as just about any team I’ve ever seen in college basketball. What a incredible season that really put SDSU on the national basketball map for a run of 4-5 years.

Of course, despite Aztec nation’s claimed that he wasn’t ready to come out for the draft. Needed one more season in college. He thought differently. We all know how that has turned out. Nobody was going to deny Kawhi.

There are some incredible Kawhi stories I’ve read and heard about him that speak to his ridiculous work ethic, his focus and single-mindedness to be the best, and a spotlight on what he cares about- his mom, his close friends and family ... and basketball.

lag∞n, Tuesday, 4 June 2019 17:52 (two years ago) link

I wish that Paul George anecdote had gone somewhere

reggae mike love (polyphonic), Tuesday, 4 June 2019 21:13 (two years ago) link

10. Nikola Jokic

play
0:17
Jokic hook shot sends Nuggets to next roundNikola Jokic hits a clutch turn-around hook shot on Rudy Gobert to lift the Nuggets to the Game 7 win vs. the Jazz
Denver Nuggets | C

Previous rank: 7

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.3*

A sluggish start to the season was a distant memory when Jokic showed up trim for the seeding games and helped lead the Nuggets to their first conference finals since 2009. Along the way, Jokic showed how he helps his team in multiple ways. Against the Utah Jazz, who wanted to make him a scorer, Jokic averaged 26.3 points. That was down to 24.4 against the LA Clippers, but Jokic dominated the glass (13.4 rebounds) and averaged 6.6 assists. Though foul trouble limited Jokic against the eventual champion Lakers, he still made 58% of his 2-point attempts in an efficient series.

*Real plus-minus (RPM) is a player's estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions.

More: What sets Nikola Jokic apart from other superstars

9. James Harden

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Houston Rockets | SG

Previous rank: 4

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.8

Harden tumbled five spots in the rankings after back-to-back top-four finishes, and it's tough to say how much that reflects his uncertain future in Houston after a short training-camp holdout and a trade request. During the regular season, there's no doubt Harden has been far more valuable than ninth in the league, finishing in the top three in MVP voting five of the past six seasons. Clearly, our panel put more weight on Harden's uneven postseason performances. Still, the Rockets will rightly expect a prime package of players and picks if and when they trade Harden.

More: Teams that can make real offers for Harden

8. Stephen Curry

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Golden State Warriors | PG

Previous rank: 6

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.0

This is the lowest Curry has ranked since breaking out as a star in the 2013 postseason. The issue is availability, as a broken bone in Curry's right hand limited him to five games last season and he missed a combined 44 games the previous two campaigns. If he can stay healthy, we'll find out the floor for a Curry-led offense lacking a second plus scorer after Klay Thompson's Achilles injury ended his season before it began. Without Thompson and Kevin Durant, the Warriors will be more dependent on Curry for shot creation than ever before.

More: Curry relishes opportunity to start "at ground zero again"

7. Damian Lillard

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2:43
Lillard goes off for 61 points vs. MavsIn his second straight game scoring more than 50 points, Damian Lillard racks up 61 points and eight assists as he leads the Trail Blazers to a 134-131 victory in a wild game against the Mavericks.
Portland Trail Blazers | PG

Previous rank: 9

2020-21 projected RPM: 3.4

Lillard's scoring prowess salvaged what looked like a season lost to injuries for the Blazers. He put together one of the great stretches in NBA history in late January into February, averaging 48.8 points and 8.2 3-pointers per game on 57% shooting as Portland knocked off four playoff teams. Lillard was nearly as good in the bubble, winning Player of the Seeding Games for his 37.6 points and 9.6 assists as the Blazers claimed the eighth seed. With a healthier roster fortified this offseason, Portland hopes not to rely so heavily on Lillard again in 2020-21, but he has proved capable of carrying the load.

More: Lillard named NBA bubble MVP

6. Kevin Durant

Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports
Brooklyn Nets | PF

Previous rank: NR (injured)

2020-21 projected RPM: 2.4

Just how good Durant is 18 months after suffering an Achilles rupture during his final game with the Warriors is one of this season's swing questions. Players coming off the same injury have been noticeably less effective than projected upon their return, and KD was already likely to experience some decline in his early 30s. At the same time, when last we saw Durant fully healthy in the first two rounds of the 2019 playoffs, he was making a case as the league's most dominant individual force, and reports from players who have played with him during rehab have been encouraging.

More: Durant "ready for anything" in Nets' new smallball lineups

5. Kawhi Leonard

play
0:23
One-finger block! Kawhi comes up with clutch denial on Murray's dunk attemptJamal Murray attacks the basket, but Kawhi Leonard rises to the occasion to stuff the dunk using his middle finger.
LA Clippers | SF

Previous rank: 2

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.1

Leonard's first season in Los Angeles (and the Orlando bubble) didn't have the same kind of storybook ending as 2019 in Toronto. The Clippers, trendy picks to win the title, were shocked in the second round after holding a 3-1 series lead on the Nuggets. Leonard was complicit, as he shot 6-of-22 in the deciding Game 7. Still, Leonard is primed to outperform his No. 5 ranking. He finished fifth in MVP voting despite his load -- whoops, injury -- management and finished second on a per-game basis in my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric in the playoffs.

More: Leonard ready to "get back after it" following playoff loss

4. Luka Doncic

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0:47
Doncic nails game winner as time expires in overtimeLuka Doncic drills a fadeaway 3-pointer as time expires to win the game for the Mavericks and tie the series vs. the Clippers 2-2.
Dallas Mavericks | PG

Previous rank: 16

2020-21 projected RPM: 3.4

The next great superstar served notice to the league in his second season, becoming the youngest player ever to earn All-NBA First Team honors based on age as of opening night. Doncic impressed in his playoff debut versus the LA Clippers, knocking down a 28-foot, step-back winner in overtime and averaging 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists in the six-game series. Next for Doncic: Leading the Mavs to a series win for the first time since their 2011 championship. Based on what we've seen from Doncic, that's a matter of when, not if.

More: How Luka compares to the all-time NBA greats

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

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2:18
Giannis' rise is a product of David Stern's global NBA visionOn this special episode of The Woj Pod, Adrian Wojnarowski talks about Giannis Antetokounmpo's rise to NBA superstardom.
Milwaukee Bucks | PF

Previous rank: 1

2020-21 projected RPM: 7.5

There's a reason much of the league spent this offseason hoarding cap space in preparation for Giannis' possible unrestricted free agency next summer. He has nothing left to prove in the regular season after winning back-to-back MVPs and Defensive Player of the Year before age 26, all while leading the Bucks to the NBA's best record in both seasons. Yet Giannis wasn't having the same impact against the Miami Heat in the playoffs before an ankle reinjury ended his series prematurely. To return to No. 1, Antetokounmpo must improve his scoring against defenses designed to keep him out of the paint.

Listen: "The Giannis Draft" on the Woj Pod

2. Anthony Davis

play
2:34
The best of Anthony Davis' title run in the playoff bubbleTake a look back at the best highlights from Anthony Davis' title run with the Lakers in the bubble.
Los Angeles Lakers | PF

Previous rank: 5

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.0

For the first time in the 10-year history of NBArank, teammates finished 1-2. It's a testament to how well AD played in the Lakers' championship run that he created debate about who should win Finals MVP. It was Davis who hit the biggest shot of the playoffs, a 3-pointer to win Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. And the Lakers played better with Davis alone on the court in the postseason (plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions, via NBA Advanced Stats) than with LeBron James alone (plus-0.5) -- a reversal from the regular season.

More: What it took for Anthony Davis to get to this moment

1. LeBron James

play
2:18
LeBron's most memorable playoff bubble momentsCheck out the best moments from LeBron James' championship run with the Lakers in the bubble.
Los Angeles Lakers | SF

Previous rank: 3

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.1

To quote "The Wire," "The King stay the King." After controversially relinquishing the No. 1 spot to Giannis in the wake of his injury-marred first season in Los Angeles, LeBron reclaimed the NBArank throne he has held nine of the past 10 years by winning his fourth title and Finals MVP at age 35. James continues to evolve, leading the league in assists while ceding some scoring to Davis. With the short turnaround before opening night, it's unlikely James will match last season's 67 (of 71) games played. Come playoff time, however, there's still nobody you'd rather start your team with than LeBron.

Spottie, Thursday, 10 December 2020 22:56 (nine months ago) link

ty :)

k3vin k., Thursday, 10 December 2020 23:24 (nine months ago) link

I'd quibble with placing Doncic ahead of Lillard, Curry and Harden. That seems based as much on promise as delivery. He's clearly top ten, tho.

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Thursday, 10 December 2020 23:58 (nine months ago) link

yah lillard ahead of curry is smh

Spottie, Friday, 11 December 2020 00:05 (nine months ago) link

doncic was top 5 last year, he'll probably be the best player in the league this year. hard to argue with any of the enties in the top 8 really, exact position aside

k3vin k., Friday, 11 December 2020 02:04 (nine months ago) link

sorry forgot the rankings lol, harden clearly better player than lillard imo, put him in the top 8 and lillard/jokic rounding out the top 10 seems right

k3vin k., Friday, 11 December 2020 02:05 (nine months ago) link

not sure about ad being #2, the +/- stats noted above are janky and hes a permanent second option

micah, Sunday, 13 December 2020 09:02 (nine months ago) link

yeah its recency bias+championship glow+LA bias

discourse stu (m bison), Sunday, 13 December 2020 15:33 (nine months ago) link

https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/30453357/nba-five-most-intriguing-players-2020-21-including-kevin-durant

*praying hands emoji*

I get more mad every day about espn putting lowe behind a paywall in the middle of a pandemic

k3vin k., Wednesday, 16 December 2020 14:46 (nine months ago) link

i let mine lapse dont want to pay the mouse

lag∞n, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 16:14 (nine months ago) link

theres a ton of video clips in here so the formatting will probably be whack

It's time for one NBA preseason tradition: My six most intriguing players of the season, only there are five here. Blame the supercompressed offseason. As always, we steer away from rookies and sophomores.

Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

Carter and Markkanen felt a connection the first time they took the court together in practice. They linked up on high-lows, and they had an innate sense in screening actions for who should roll and who should pop.

It translated to games right away:

Markkanen's gravity as a pick-and-pop threat unlocked rim runs for Carter.

They reversed rolls, with Markkanen slipping to the rim -- and Carter feeding him:

They looked like a foundational frontcourt for the modern NBA. With Kris Dunn gone, they are now two of three players remaining from the Jimmy Butler trade return -- Markkanen directly, Carter via the high pick the rebuilding Bulls got the following season.

"We clicked before we put in plays or anything," Carter told ESPN. "And then I hit the rookie wall, and we kept getting injured. So there were just glimpses. It was hard to keep the chemistry going."

Carter went out for that 2018-19 season six weeks after Markkanen's return from an early-season injury. He missed 22 games last season; Markkanen missed 15. They have played only about 1,300 minutes together.

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Last season was a disappointment for both. One exception: Carter's defense, which has to be really good to cover for Markkanen and Chicago's perimeter leakage.

Carter is fast and mobile, with a knack for verticality and a hellacious second jump in rebounding scrums. (Markkanen is tall for power forward, and he put up solid rebounding numbers in his first two seasons. Chicago protected the glass at a top-10 level with Markkanen and Carter on the floor.)

Carter did not look out of his depth trapping pick-and-rolls in the idiosyncratic, ultra-aggressive scheme favored by now-former Bulls coach Jim Boylen.

Billy Donovan, Boylen's replacement, said the Bulls will toggle schemes but skew more conservative. Carter is excited to see what he can do as a rim protector setting up shop below the foul line.

"It's going to make me even better," he said.

Carter was already Chicago's best defender. Get him engaged on offense and he could be Chicago's best player.

Carter carries a reputation as a capable midrange shooter, but he went gun-shy as Boylen discouraged midrangers. Carter barely looked at the rim. Opponents stopped guarding him.

For better or worse, that's over. Carter went 1-of-9 from deep in two preseason games. He took 29 3s last season.

"Trust and believe, you are gonna see jump-shooting Wendell," Carter said. "My confidence is through the roof."

And 3-point shooting Wendell? "For sure. You'll see him too," Carter said.

Last season, Carter served mostly as a screen-and-dive option. He can dart behind slower defenders, cram lobs, and toss passes on the move.

That setup -- plus Boylen's aversion to long 2s -- marginalized Markkanen into a role as standstill floor-spacer. Markkanen hopes Donovan resurrects sets in which he works in tandem with Carter.

"When you are involved, that's a good feeling," Markkanen told ESPN. "It's important for us to mix it up."

Good NBA defenses demand variety.

"We have to explore all those things," Donovan said.

During Markkanen's best stretch -- February 2019, when he averaged 26 points on 49% shooting -- Boylen made Markkanen the centerpiece of unpredictable screening actions similar to ones the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves have used for Kevin Love.

Markkanen played with ferocity, pumping-and-driving and hunting dunks:

He flew off pindowns from Carter, and ran some big-big pick-and-rolls with him -- daring lumbering centers to switch onto him.

That February 2019 Markkanen was confident and (briefly) healthy. A left ankle injury hobbled him much of last season; Markkanen played with a brace, and could not push off his left leg with power, he said. He couldn't get past slow centers off the dribble.

Now healthy, it is on Markkanen to prove he deserves more touches. It starts with living up to his billing as a shooter. He has hit 35.6% on 3s -- average. He does not inspire enough frantic closeouts or extra rotations that leave the defense naked elsewhere.

He has been almost unbelievably bad from midrange: 30% last season, never above 39% on long 2s. Among 260 players who attempted at least 300 shots last season, only 28 underperformed their expected effective field-goal percentage -- based on the location of each shot and the nearest defender -- by a larger margin than Markkanen, per Second Spectrum data.

Markkanen can beat defenders off the bounce only if they fear his jumper enough to press him. If they give any cushion, he dribbles into walls.

He has not been able to exploit guards on switches, a must for any screen-setter with his skill set. The Bulls have scored less than 0.85 points per possession in each of the past two seasons when Markkanen shoots out of the post or dishes to a teammate who fires -- bottom-25 numbers leaguewide, per Second Spectrum.

Markkanen sometimes struggles to shove guards backward. His dribble can get high and loose -- prey for swiping defenders:

Carter's presence mucks up the lane, at times. On most switches last season, Markkanen slunk toward the corner.

What makes all this so frustrating is that Markkanen has shown flashes of a mean streak:

He is willing to initiate contact, but not forceful enough to finish through it yet.

He should have the chops to shoot over smaller guards, which would in turn force them to pressure him -- and open up his off-the-dribble game.

Practicing full-contact post-ups was difficult amid a pandemic, but Markkanen spent the offseason honing footwork and ballhandling. "With someone like Dirk [Nowitzki], you couldn't switch on him because he'd punish you," Markkenen said. "That's the goal."

Markkanen worked afternoons with a private skills trainer in a gym so small Markkanen did not have room to shoot corner 3s.

They drilled basic ballhandling, including with two balls. The trainer would toss the ball off the backboard, and have Markkanen rebound and push it up the floor on a one-man fast break.

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Hovering over everything is Chicago's lack of guard playmaking. Like most bigs, Markkanen and Carter need to catch the ball with some small advantage. They rely on guards to provide it by puncturing the defense, and kicking to them on target and on time.

Chicago's lead ball handlers are scattershot, and the Bulls did not address the issue in the draft or free agency. Zach LaVine is a scorer first. So is Coby White, who appears to have snatched the starting point guard job. Opponents duck picks against Tomas Satoransky, allowing defenders to stay home on Markkanen and Carter.

Chemistry on the pick-and-roll has come slowly. Chicago's guards sometimes look off mismatches in the post to chase their own.

"It has been a work in progress getting on the same page with the guards," Markkanen said.

On defense, Markkanen needs more reps chasing stretch power forwards. (Carter might be better at that, but the Bulls want him around the basket.) If Markkanen straggles, he might not have a consistent position on defense -- a problem for him given the Bulls just drafted Patrick Williams, who projects as at least a part-time power forward.

The Bulls have played Markkanen at center, but it's unclear if those alignments can survive on defense. That setup did not work with Thaddeus Young at power forward; smart teams stuck their centers on Young and kept faster power forwards on Markkanen, vaporizing the speed advantage that is the entire point of slotting him at center.

The Bulls will revisit that lineup with Otto Porter Jr. at power forward, Donovan said. "It could be a come-from-behind lineup," the coach indicated.

At this point, Carter and Markkanen are just eager to play together again. And they want to win, to point the Bulls somewhere after half a decade of aimlessness. They have always been team-first guys, even in moments of internal drama. During Boylen's first speech as coach in December 2018, Carter stood and told Boylen -- and by extension, the team -- "Whatever you need, coach, I'll do it," multiple witnesses recalled.

If Markkanen and Carter click, the Bulls have some direction. If they don't, they could wander the wilderness.

"It's a big, big year for us," Markkanen said.

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

Bagley knows he will always be tied to Luka Doncic.

"You see it, you hear it, but I pay it no mind," Bagley said. "I'm not here to please anyone outside the team. I'm here to help the team win. I'm here to help this organization get to places it has never been."

The Kings have one cornerstone in De'Aaron Fox, whose presence as lead ball handler contributed to the decision to pick Bagley over Doncic, Vlade Divac, the Kings' former general manager, told ESPN last year. Whether Fox becomes an occasional All-Star or perennial All-NBA candidate will be one determining factor in how far these Kings go.

Bagley is the other. He is still something of a mystery after playing just 13 games last season due to a foot injury.

He was slated as a starter before contracting the coronavirus prior to camp, Luke Walton, the team's coach, told ESPN. Walton would not say whether Bagley would have started at center or power forward. (He started Sacramento's preseason game Tuesday next to Richaun Holmes.)

The hope is that Bagley can play either position depending on matchups and health.

"For now, it's kind of, 'Who cares. Let's get him on the court,'" Walton said.

Bagley has proved he can inflict damage as the center of a spread pick-and-roll attack, with Fox and three shooters around him. Bagley is fast and bouncy, with a nasty streak. He seems to relish dislodging defenders with forearms to the gut, and then dunking them into oblivion:

Bagley can face up and roast centers in open space, and doesn't need a right hand to do it:

He is a terror on the offensive glass. He tosses rivals aside with swim moves like a defensive lineman. He can jump twice in the same time it takes some centers to get up and down once.

The next steps are spraying passes on the move and abusing switches; Bagley has been unsteady in the post, prone to traveling violations.

The larger challenge at center comes in anchoring the defense. Bagley is agile enough to switch onto most guards, but that leaves the Kings vulnerable to mismatches and small around the glass. Drop him back and Bagley becomes responsible for making more reads and quarterbacking the defense.

Walton intends to use both schemes. "We'll keep him back in coverage, but to me, that's more challenging for him than switching," Walton said.

Walton is confident Bagley can defend power forwards of all stripes, and he will have him switch even more at that position. Bagley struggled as a rookie chasing stretchier 4s around the arc, but he hasn't had much game time to adapt.

His role on offense at that position is murkier. Holmes and Hassan Whiteside are paint-bound dive guys. Sacramento tried to have the best of both worlds last season by signing Dewayne Dedmon as a center who could shoot 3s, clearing the lane for Bagley, but the experiment went bust.

Defenses are not worried about Bagley spotting up as a power forward. He is 34-of-118 (28.8%) on 3s. Opponents ignore him. He can fade out of plays:

The Kings are optimistic Bagley's jumper will come with time. He has shot well on long 2s, and went 25-of-31 at the line last season.

Bagley has ambitions on offense beyond rim running and spot shooting. "I feel like I can do more," he said, "but I'll do whatever the team needs."

During his pre-draft workout with the Kings, Dave Joerger, their former coach, tested Bagley's ballhandling by having him dribble up and down the court -- sometimes with two balls -- and execute moves at full speed when Joerger called them out: Through the legs! Crossover!

"It was the weirdest workout I've been a part of, but it was fun," Bagley said. Divac talked about Bagley playing small forward.

Walton will let Bagley stretch himself -- eventually.

"You have to do other things first to help the team," Walton said. "Then we can look at expanding some of the other stuff."

Bagley is going to score a lot. He might sniff 20 points per game this season if he stays healthy and gets enough minutes. He is a prodigious talent. Honing the other parts of his game is the only way he can take Sacramento to new places, and render Doncic a minor part of his story.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

The league didn't lose a normal superstar when Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon during the 2019 NBA Finals.

Durant is a historic giant. He was just 30 years old during those Finals, and had already amassed almost 23,000 regular-season points (31st in NBA history). He was one basket away from tying Tony Parker for 10th in postseason points. With good health, Durant appeared likely to pass Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list -- leaving him at No. 4, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and LeBron James. With pristine health and unusual longevity -- not an unreasonable expectation for a 7-foot sniper -- Durant might have challenged Abdul-Jabbar's record.

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By the end of this season, he could become the seventh player to compile 22,000 points, 6,500 rebounds, 3,000 assists, and 1,000 each of steals and blocks. (The other six, per Basketball-Reference: Abdul-Jabbar, Malone, Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Hakeem Olajuwon.)

Unlike five of those six, Durant is an annual threat to crack the 50-40-90 shooting club. He made it once, and barely missed several times. (His career shooting line: 49-38-88, which is just ridiculous.)

He was on track to finish as one of the 10 greatest players ever, with a possibility of breaching even loftier territory.

If Durant is back and the Nets avoid chemistry landmines, they can contend for the title. Durant is that powerful a two-way force.

The Nets have not found that third star to flank Kyrie Irving and Durant, but the upside is the sort of depth that should be unusually valuable during a perilous season. Lineups with Durant at center -- a look coach Steve Nash has vowed to use -- will test that depth and Brooklyn's culture.

Joe Harris should be a regular third wheel alongside Brooklyn's two stars. He is a solid, multipositional defender, and one of the best shooters alive. There are at least seven reasonable candidates for two remaining Durant-at-center spots: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Landry Shamet, Taurean Prince, Jeff Green, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Bruce Brown.

Dinwiddie and LeVert are the best pure talents, but the group featuring both would be small and might bleed points and offensive rebounds. (Defense will make or break the Nets as a real contender.)

Irving, Dinwiddie, and LeVert played only 67 minutes together last season, and Nash has talked of LeVert accepting a Manu Ginobili-like sixth man role.

Brooklyn could go bigger with both Prince and Green -- the latter coming off an encouraging stint in precisely this role with the Houston Rockets -- but that might alienate two crafty ball handlers in LeVert and Dinwiddie hungering for larger roles.

Brown looms as a potential wild card, if his 41% mark on corner 3s last season sustains -- and his hideous 26% hit rate on above-the-break 3s improves. Luwawu-Cabarrot jacked from deep with bravado last season.

DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen might do so well rampaging through open space for dunks and barricading the rim that Nash won't need the small-ball card much.

We're up to 12 rotation guys, and have not mentioned Nicolas Claxton, Rodions Kurucs, Tyler Johnson, or Reggie Perry -- the 57th pick in the draft who has drawn positive reviews, and a likely candidate for a two-way spot.

These guys are super deep. Depth is handy, but star power wins on the biggest stages. Peak Durant would tie everything together.

Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers

We've seen it before: Intriguing young guy on win-now team suffers injury after injury, and inexorably falls out of the team's planning. It might not be something anyone says out loud. There might be no loss of trust or affection. There is just a general, almost tangible sense of, We can't wait anymore.

It is a testament to Collins' work ethic, likability, and potential that the same plotline has not befallen him after he lost last season to shoulder surgery and then ankle surgery. Other teams have called, assuming Collins is Portland's main trade chip. Portland's veterans are fine waiting longer -- waiting to see if Collins becomes the rare 7-footer who shoots 3s and protects the rim.

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"You get that respect from veterans by how you compete -- by not backing down," Terry Stotts, Portland's coach, told ESPN. "Zach is fearless. He wants to win. He's got some s--- to him."

The Blazers have to wait about a month for Collins' return. In the meantime, Portland acquired or re-signed five players capable of taking his minutes at power forward (Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., Carmelo Anthony) or center (Enes Kanter, Harry Giles III). There is a scenario in which those guys thrive, Collins' struggles early, and the season -- Collins' pivotal fourth campaign, sending him into restricted free agency, barring an extension before Monday -- slips away.

The happy flip side: Collins roars upon returning, reclaims the starting power forward spot next to Jusuf Nurkic, and snags a chunk of minutes as a stretch center. Collins played well in both roles in the 2019 Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, a seven-game slugfest that served as his coming-out party.

"In the biggest moments, I showed up," Collins told ESPN. "That was huge for my confidence."

That version of Collins raises the present team's ceiling and changes Portland's broader trajectory. A Covington-Collins-Nurkic frontcourt could stabilize Portland's leaky defense, allowing them to play ultra-big without sacrificing skill.

That hinges on Collins doing enough damage from the perimeter on offense. At power forward, he has to spot up around Nurkic pick-and-rolls. Collins is a career 32% shooter from deep on low volume. He has been bricky from the corners. Instead of standing in those corners, Collins sometimes lingers in the dead zone along the baseline -- short of 3-point range, but too far away to catch and dunk.

"He has to be one or the other -- a corner 3-point shooter, or one power dribble from the rim," Stotts said.

Collins believes he can be a 40% 3-point shooter. If he fails, it will not be for a lack of practice. Collins' father, Mike, coached him from a young age, and instilled an intense competitive drive. On visits to Portland's practice facility, he assured Blazers coaches Collins would keep improving, telling them, "I raised a monster" and "I raised a machine," according to Collins and others.

If Collins performs below expectations in shooting drills, he often insists on starting again -- over objections of coaches tasked with monitoring his workload.

The job description of Portland's power forwards goes beyond shooting. They have to make quick drive and pass decisions when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum kick them the ball. Collins has shown flashes -- an explosive pump-and-go, an occasional floater -- but only flashes. He prefers the more predictable job description of Portland's centers: screen, roll, make plays in the paint.

"I like [center] a little more," Collins said. "You're involved more. It's more clear-cut."

Collins has a nascent post-up game against switches, and has been productive taking guards to the block, per Second Spectrum.

He should be able to defend both power forwards and centers, though true-blue wings sliding to power forward might give him issues -- as they do most bigs. Collins has quick feet and a churning motor. Stotts in the Florida bubble trusted Collins to switch onto Ja Morant, LeVert, and other quick scoring guards. Collins held his own, though he can bite on pump fakes and get handsy when he is worried a guard might scoot by him; Collins fouls a lot.

"I've watched a lot of film on that with our coaches," he said. "They have given me ways to get around it, so that if I touch someone, it's not as obvious."

Switching can take him away from the basket, where Collins has emerged as a fearsome -- if foul-prone -- deterrent. He blocked 15 shots in just 145 minutes in that Denver series, and he has held opposing shooters to a low field goal percentage around the basket, per NBA.com.

Collins might be able to leverage that skill more often at center. He has bulked up enough so that brutes can't bully him as easily. Still: There is a hard ceiling on available center minutes as long as Nurkic -- just 26, and extension-eligible -- remains in Portland.

But the actualized version of Collins is flexible enough to help Portland at multiple positions. If the Blazers get that guy this season, they will be a problem.

Spottie, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 16:21 (nine months ago) link

ty!

k3vin k., Wednesday, 16 December 2020 17:51 (nine months ago) link

Bagley said. "I'm not here to please anyone outside the team. I'm here to help the team win. I'm here to help this organization get to places it has never been."

The Kings have been an NBA team since 1945 (as the Rochester Royals) and won an NBA championship that year, so Marvin has a pretty high opinion of himself.

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Wednesday, 16 December 2020 19:27 (nine months ago) link

pretty please :)

https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/30523584/eight-nba-tiers-rating-all-30-teams-top-bottom

k3vin k., Wednesday, 23 December 2020 13:05 (eight months ago) link

Seconded. Dear god this thread gonna get busy with the mouse putting every writer worth a damn behind the paywall.

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 16:54 (eight months ago) link

cheers mate

lag∞n, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 20:32 (eight months ago) link

lol. can you just do that with every article??

k3vin k., Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:08 (eight months ago) link

lol! thanks

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:25 (eight months ago) link

lol incredible

trans-panda express (m bison), Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:33 (eight months ago) link

that rules thx micah!

Clay, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:42 (eight months ago) link

idk if it always works, normally i just read whats posted here

i thought lowes piece was ass btw - its a very difficult season to predict but i still think he did it poorly

micah, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 23:05 (eight months ago) link

really? his tiers basically made sense to me.

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 23:08 (eight months ago) link

plz sir just a crumb of content https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/30626423/nba-teams-going-need-james-harden-trade-soon

lag∞n, Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:17 (eight months ago) link

1) boston celtics

k3vin k., Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:56 (eight months ago) link

rude

lag∞n, Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:57 (eight months ago) link

two weeks pass...

soooo you can read all espn insider stories via espn.com.au if you use a vpn pointed at australia

lag∞n, Friday, 22 January 2021 15:50 (seven months ago) link

i have a vpn but u cld prob use a free proxy website too

lag∞n, Friday, 22 January 2021 15:57 (seven months ago) link

one month passes...

Behind the scenes of the failed Lloyd Pierce era, and why the Hawks were eager for a new voice

The Athletic NBA Staff 2h ago 18
— Reported via Chris Kirschner, Sam Amick and David Aldridge

Seven months after the pandemic had brought the Atlanta Hawks’ season to an unwelcome end, it was time for a Southern California reunion to bring them all back together again.

Coach Lloyd Pierce and all the Hawks returnees would meet for team-bonding time, with all sorts of activities planned that he hoped would aid their chemistry heading into a season they all knew would be pressure-packed. There was pick-up basketball against other NBA players, a boxing class where they squared off against one another and group dinners where topics included, among other things, the upcoming election.

But the real headliner event took place when Pierce and Trae Young met privately to discuss their upcoming third year together. At that point, anyone and everyone around the Hawks organization was well aware the relationship between these two key figures was strained.

If the Hawks were going to make the playoffs this season and contend, if they were going to avoid delays to accomplishing their shared goals, they would have to make this pairing work. Sources say they ended the trip on good terms and had a better understanding of how they each could make this work for the long term.

But in the end — after old tensions between Pierce and Young resurfaced, other players grew frustrated with Pierce’s style and owner Tony Ressler’s desperate desire to make the playoffs added so much pressure to the situation — it was not to be. Those plans Pierce and Young had hatched in Southern California officially fell short Monday when the underperforming Hawks (14-20) announced that Pierce had been relieved of his duties.

Hawks president Travis Schlenk, who had worked with Pierce a decade before while they were with the Golden State Warriors, made it clear in the team’s statement that the move was made with the hopes of righting their ship.

“We have high expectations for our team on the court and we believe by making this change now that we can have a strong second half of the season,” Schlenk said.

The 44-year-old coach, who was in the last guaranteed year of his contract and who had spoken so openly just last week in an interview with The Athletic about the likelihood that he would be let go, will be replaced by an interim coach in Nate McMillan who had been serving as Pierce’s lead assistant. And the primary reason for it all, sources say, is that several players — from Young on down — were eager to hear a new voice.

As this season progressed, the goodwill that Pierce and Young had re-established would dissipate, and the friction between them would return. It became apparent that Young and Pierce were not going to be a match that was sustainable for long-term success.

But Young was hardly alone here. Sources say player support beyond Young was dwindling at the end, with several sharing their desire for a change with management recently. Still, the difficult dynamic between Young and Pierce was an undeniable factor in Pierce’s downfall and a tone-setter of sorts for the group at large.

(Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)
Pierce took the tough love approach with Young from Day 1, opting to push him hard as a way of maximizing his celebrated talent. But Young, who had inspired so much hype during his time coming up in (and at) Oklahoma, often pushed back against Pierce’s style. John Collins could relate.

Pierce made a public comment two seasons ago about not running plays for Collins, and it rubbed the Hawks big man the wrong way. Collins went to Pierce about his issue with the statement, but Pierce, sources say, turned around and called Collins’ approach selfish in wanting to have a more defined role on the team. Over time, the residue from these types of situations remained.

Cam Reddish was among those, sources said, who also had an issue with Pierce’s coaching. Sources said Reddish felt like he was being “picked on” behind the scenes when it came to mistakes the second-year player made. There are a few players on the Hawks’ roster who feel like Reddish’s potential is higher than anyone on the roster but that Pierce’s input was stunting his development.

The hope is Reddish, taken 10th overall by Atlanta in 2019, can soar with a new voice. At the least, though, there will be no more excuses for him to improve after his clashes with Pierce. It also couldn’t have helped that two of the players known to be disenfranchised with Pierce — Young and Reddish — were the ones acquired when Atlanta made the controversial trade with Dallas in exchange for Luka Doncic in June 2018.

The lack of trust in Pierce, from numerous players, started in his first season. For The Athletic’s anonymous NBA player poll in April 2019, when one Hawks player was asked which coach in the NBA would you not want to play for, he responded with, “Are we allowed to say the one we play for?”

The lack of faith in Pierce from the players quickly eroded last year, with several on the team feeling like they could not approach him without leaving the conversation feeling like they weren’t being heard. Because of that, players would turn to assistant coach Chris Jent in the hopes that he could be the one to relay any comments or concerns to Pierce on their behalf.

There wasn’t a specific event that led to Pierce losing the locker room but rather a collection of small moments that built up since his first season in Atlanta and finally combusted in the team’s first season with expectations under him.

“There’s no telling when he lost it,” one source close to the team said. “He didn’t have support from many people. It came down to him not being able to manage egos. That’s what did him in, especially these young guys. It’s tough.”

Interestingly, away from the team, Pierce’s comments about Young’s game raised eyebrows around the league.

During a league office Competition Committee call on Dec. 30, Pierce was among a couple of members who spoke out about the way certain players are able to draw fouls and, at times, bait officials into making foul calls. Multiple sources said he spoke about how he “hates” the shots Young takes at times and the fouls he’s able to draw on them. It was perceived as an interesting comment for several people on the call because Pierce’s star player has seemingly taken advantage of drawing fouls and getting to the foul line. But it was made in the broader picture of how players are drawing fouls by manipulating their bodies.

As far as on-court decisions go, players routinely criticized Pierce’s in-game management strategy over the past three seasons. One of the most notable moments of last season came in a December 2019 game in Miami. The Hawks led by six in the final minute when Pierce substituted Young out for DeAndre’ Bembry for defensive purposes. After Miami cut Atlanta’s lead down to three, Pierce failed to call a timeout to reinsert Young on offense. Bembry ended up getting his shot blocked, the Heat tied the game and it eventually went into overtime where the Hawks lost.

Just a few weeks after that Miami game, in Cleveland, Young was frustrated once again with a decision Pierce made in a late-game situation. Pierce had Young inbound the ball with the hope that he’d get it right back to put up a clean shot attempt at the end of the game. Instead, the Cavaliers denied him a good look, and the Hawks lost. After the game, Young was asked if he preferred being the inbounds passer, and he tersely responded with, “It’s not anybody else’s way, but the coach’s way.”

Players routinely felt Pierce didn’t take accountability for mistakes they viewed were his own. Last season as the team went through its final year of a complete rebuild, Pierce would frequently say the team lacked energy and effort, but it would be defiantly rebuffed by the team when asked about his claims afterward.

This season was much of the same, as players felt like Pierce didn’t take any blame for the team blowing 11 games this season where they held a fourth-quarter lead. When some of the players approached Pierce a few weeks ago with the request to have more off-ball movement and free flowing in the offense in late-game situations instead of stagnation, they, once again, felt unheard.

Over the past few weeks, players started to wonder if Pierce had resigned to the inevitability of his situation and was going to go out his way. As the same story played out in end-of-game situations, sources say Hawks owner Ressler grew incensed with his team losing winnable games in the same manner.

The Hawks’ offseason that was widely seen as a success clearly added pressure to Pierce’s situation. In his fourth year as the head of the Hawks’ front office, Schlenk landed Rajon Rondo (two years, $15 million), Danilo Gallinari (three years, $61 million), Bogdan Bogdanovic (four years, $72 million), Kris Dunn (two years, $10 million) and Solomon Hill (one year, $2.17 million). In turn, there was rare hype around the Hawks again — especially when they started the season 4-1 and had the league’s second-best offense early on.

But the harsh truth about Pierce’s dismissal is that he never truly had a chance to coach this group, as the injuries changed everything about the challenge that awaited them.

Rondo has missed 16 games this season with knee, ankle and back injuries. When he has played, the Hawks have been 14.9 points worse with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.
Dunn has missed the entire season for the Hawks. He originally was diagnosed with right knee cartilage disruption, and as he worked his way back, Dunn had a setback and needed right ankle surgery to remove loose cartilage.
Bogdanovic has missed 25 games with an avulsion fracture in his knee. He has been able to practice lately and should return soon.
Gallinari missed 10 games due to an ankle sprain. Since coming back from the injury, he has not looked like himself and has been a consistent target for opposing teams to attack while he’s been on defense.
First-round pick Onyeka Okongwu entered his rookie year with a stress fracture causing him to be behind from the outset.
Yet amid all of that roster uncertainty, this part of the Hawks’ landscape hadn’t changed: Ressler is known to have made it abundantly clear that he expected meaningful growth from this group, and it appears no amount of unforeseen setbacks was about to change his view on that front.

“As we said at the beginning of the season, our goal was to have progress this year and to move forward,” Schlenk said in a news conference discussing Pierce’s dismissal. “We just felt like it wasn’t happening as quickly as we wanted it to. These are not easy decisions. These are real-life decisions that affect multiple families, and they’re not easy. We felt like, for the organization, it was the best thing to do moving forward.”

Anyone who had been close to the Hawks’ situation these past few seasons and saw the struggles of this campaign could sense this was coming, perhaps no one more than Pierce himself. Just last week, in an interview with The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz, he was uniquely candid in assessing his own situation.

“Travis is going to fire me one day,” Pierce said. “And do you know what I’m going to say? The guy gave me a great opportunity in life. Do you think I’m going to be pissed? He’s damn near my best friend.”

Those personal dynamics were on display at the end of their partnership, when Schlenk struck a somber tone in his Zoom call to discuss the decision with reporters.

“I don’t know if you guys in your jobs ever have to let people go; I’ve been unfortunate (enough) to be in a position to have to fire people in the past, and I can tell you it’s an extremely difficult thing,” said Schlenk, who was hired in May 2017 after spending the previous 12 years with Golden State.

“You’re not talking about one person. You’re talking about their family (as well). And in a situation where you’re talking about coaches, you’re talking about their assistant coaches, their video staff. A decision like this, I certainly don’t take lightly. I’ve been in the NBA for a long time and fortunately have been in a position to be able to do this, and these are decisions I don’t take lightly at all. These decisions affect families and multiple families.”

Pierce leaves Atlanta with a 63-120 record, the 11th-worst record by winning percentage in NBA history with a minimum of 175 games coached. An argument can certainly be made that Pierce wasn’t given enough time to show what he can do as a head coach.

His first season in Atlanta was meant to be all about playing the young players as much as possible, allowing them to play through their mistakes and hoping to end up with a high draft pick in the lottery.

The Hawks entered last season still in rebuild mode, as the talent from his first season didn’t improve. Evan Turner was the team’s backup point guard entering the season, and they had a center rotation of Alex Len, Damian Jones and then-rookie Bruno Fernando.

By the time the Hawks reached the unexpected end of their 2019-20 campaign, with a 20-47 record on March 11 that would stand for good after the NBA decided not to invite the Hawks (or seven other teams) to the Orlando bubble, sources say Pierce’s job security was already extremely tenuous, in large part, because of the locker room’s distrust in him. When Pierce publicly declared last March that the Hawks would be in the playoffs this season, it caught everyone inside the front office by surprise.

Whenever Schlenk was asked about it on multiple occasions over the course of the next few months, he would always be sure to downplay Pierce’s guarantee. If not for a multitude of non-basketball factors, from the pandemic that had forced the premature end to their season to the emergence of the social justice movement in which Pierce was so involved, sources with knowledge of the Hawks’ plans say he may have been fired at that point.

But Pierce had become a vocal leader on the social justice front during a time when the spotlight had turned in that meaningful direction, and it’s clear the bigger-than-basketball element won out when it came to the Hawks’ calculus. Pierce had been lauded for his role on the Coaches Association’s committee on racial justice and reform, with the combination of his voice and the Atlanta backdrop proving powerful. From Ressler on down, there was an understanding that not only did the season being cut short take valuable time away from Pierce and his team, but his work off the court deserved to be part of the equation too.

The Hawks have taken a conscious effort in ingratiating themselves within the fabric of the community in trying to create long-lasting change, and Pierce was at the heart of it. Pierce was the first coach in the league to get his team to use its arena as a polling place, and State Farm Arena turned into the largest polling location in the state of Georgia’s history. According to a Hawks team source, 40,000 people voted at the arena for the November election.

What’s more, it mattered a great deal that Young’s father, Ray, had even supported Pierce publicly on social media by lauding the work he had done in the social justice space.

“Talking to my peers, seeing their leadership off court has been inspiring, (including) Lloyd’s leadership with the NBA coaches committee,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said in July.

Pierce’s reputation among his peers was evident after he was fired, with San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers and New Orleans’ Stan Van Gundy among those voicing their support.

Still, the ground beneath him entering this season had been extremely shaky. The fact that the Hawks had not picked up his team option for the 2021-22 season was evidence enough that he was in trouble.

In an interview with The Athletic before the start of the season, when Ressler was asked what his confidence level was in Pierce and Schlenk as a duo, the team’s owner said he needed to see more out of them before being sure they were the ones who would lead the team to a title one day.

“All I can say is I think Travis and Lloyd are a superb team so far, but please understand let’s win a bit,” Ressler said. “We really do believe that last year’s season was difficult for so many reasons, including the fact that it stopped early just when we started playing good basketball. Please hear me, 20-47 in a 67-game season is not something to write home about. I think we do have a good roster. We’ve done some good things, not just on the court but in coaching and in our front office.

“I feel great about where we are starting the season. I don’t get into the press stuff too much because I would rather let the players, coaches and GM talk about what we’re doing from a basketball perspective because they should know more and are closer to it, but I look forward to talking to you guys whether it’s at the midseason point or end of season. We should be so much better, and it’s going to be painfully obvious. We’ll see.”

Thirty-four games into the season, the improvement hadn’t come. They are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference — unacceptable by the organization’s standards considering only the top 10 teams will take part in the league’s new play-in tournament. As Schlenk pointed out in his news conference, there’s plenty of time to move up in the East standings as well (they’re just 3.5 games back of the fourth seed).

“We have a ton of basketball to play, and we’re still right there,” Schlenk said. “It’s not like we’re 10 games out of the playoffs or anything like that. We’re a couple of games out, so if you have one good week, you’re right back into it.”

There’s optimism that a new voice will make all the difference, that this difficult decision to dismiss Pierce will ultimately prove to be worth it. McMillan is a proven commodity, having been a head coach for a combined 16 seasons in Seattle, Portland and Indiana (661-588; nine playoff appearances; and a 17-36 postseason mark). And last but certainly not least, Young is known to be fond of McMillan’s style.

“My focus is really on the Hawks and trying to assist Coach on what he’s trying to do here and after the season, we’ll see what happens,” McMillan, who went 2-1 while serving as acting head coach while Pierce was away to attend the birth of his second child, said on Feb. 16. “I signed on knowing what I would be coming in to and knowing what I needed to do as far as joining Coach Pierce’s staff as an assistant. This is the role I wanted. We’re going to try to turn this thing around.”

Now he’ll try turning it around as the man in charge and as the voice the Hawks hope can lead them into the playoffs.

— The Athletic’s Shams Charania also contributed to the reporting for this story.

lag∞n, Tuesday, 2 March 2021 19:31 (six months ago) link

feels like a team with bad vibes they shd trade collins to the spurs

class project pat (m bison), Wednesday, 3 March 2021 00:27 (six months ago) link

Jemele Hill in the Atlantic:

The night that sports began shutting down was the night that the United States began shutting down. On March 11, 2020, an announcer at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s home arena told fans just before tip-off that the evening’s game had been postponed. Within an hour, the visiting Utah Jazz revealed that a player—soon identified as the center Rudy Gobert—had tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA also declared that it was indefinitely suspending the season. Suddenly, Americans were forced to accept that the coronavirus pandemic was going to completely disrupt everyday life.

Although the NBA eventually resumed its season by creating a playoff bubble, and other professional and college leagues figured out a way to return in some form, the sports world is still struggling for normalcy nearly a year after widespread shutdowns began and fans turned their attention to matters of life and death.

As the pandemic dragged on, the leagues, universities, pro franchises, and other entities that profit from a multibillion-dollar sports economy made a push for games to return. But these efforts also reflected a working assumption that the mere presence of sports would provide comfort, and perhaps a welcome distraction, for people who wanted to escape the horrors of the pandemic, at least momentarily.

But the ratings for some of the biggest sporting events in the past year show that the public’s emotional connection to sports during a tumultuous time has been grossly overestimated. In practically every sport, the number of television viewers nosedived in 2020, despite the fact that more people than usual were stuck at home. Compared with the previous year, ratings were down 51 percent for the NBA Finals, 61 percent for the NHL finals, and 45 percent for tennis’s U.S. Open. Not even the Kentucky Derby was safe: Ratings dropped 49 percent from the previous year. The 8.3 million viewers represented the derby’s lowest TV audience ever.

The NFL has long been immune to ratings pressures, but not this year. The NFL couldn’t have asked for a better story line for the Super Bowl earlier this month. The game pitted Tom Brady, the celebrated Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback seeking his seventh Super Bowl win at age 43, against Patrick Mahomes, the brilliant young Kansas City Chiefs star who has become the new face of pro football. The game should have been a ratings bonanza. Instead, the Super Bowl drew its lowest ratings in 15 years.

Not even Brady and Mahomes could overcome some daunting underlying trends. In recent years, sports programming has had to compete harder for fans’ attention. Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have exploded in popularity as more Americans are severing ties with their cable and satellite companies. That shift has accelerated during the pandemic. In 2020, streaming services saw a 50 percent hike in viewership from the previous year. Even before the pandemic, cord-cutting had become a real challenge to sports-network giants such as ESPN, which currently has 83 million subscribers. Ten years ago, ESPN had just over 100 million subscribers.

Plenty of evidence suggests that sports broadcasts aren’t resonating as well with Generation Z—Americans born after 1996—as they did with previous generations. According to a recent poll, only 53 percent of Gen Zers identify as sports fans. And more troubling for networks that have invested heavily in live sports, Gen Zers are half as likely as Millennials to watch live sports regularly, and twice as likely to never watch.

Exacerbating those trends, the pandemic has made sports unusually tough to follow. The normal sports calendar was wildly reshuffled. The NBA Finals, which are usually played in June, began in October. Normally in April, pro golf’s storied Masters Tournament was moved to November. In college football, well more than 100 games were canceled or postponed as many colleges and universities struggled to deal with the virus. During some weeks of the NFL season, games were played on Tuesdays or Wednesdays because positive COVID-19 tests by players and staff had delayed games scheduled for the previous weekend. In late November, the Denver Broncos actually had to play their game against the New Orleans Saints without any quarterbacks on the roster because of COVID-19 protocols. (To fill the position, Denver tapped a wide receiver from its practice squad.) The NCAA men’s March Madness tournament will take place this year, but inside a bubble in Indianapolis, and with a limited number of fans.

Even though the sports world did provide several moments of reprieve for the nation—for example, ESPN’s highly successful documentary series on Michael Jordan—it ultimately could not make fans forget certain harsh realities. Even if some fans were able to compartmentalize the pandemic’s heavy toll, the sports-viewing experience only reminded fans of just how abnormal things were. The pageantry and traditions in sports largely were missing. The Augusta National Golf Club’s “Amen Corner” had no roaring crowd during the Masters. When Green Bay Packers players scored touchdowns at Lambeau Field, they did the famous “Lambeau leap” into empty stands—if they did it at all. The new normal for fans is watching games with manufactured crowd noise and virtual or cardboard fans in the stands.

The overriding lesson from the past year is that too much money was at stake for pro and college sports not to forge ahead—no matter how awkward, hypocritical, and exploitative the attempt might be. On March 7, the NBA will hold its All-Star Game festivities in Atlanta, despite serious objections by players, including the superstar LeBron James. The dynamic showcase event is usually stretched out over the course of a weekend, but this year the All-Star Game, slam-dunk contest, skills competition, and three-point-shooting contest will be shoehorned into one day. The bad optics are difficult to ignore. When the NBA announced plans for the event, Georgia had one of the worst COVID-19 death rates in the nation. And even though the league has instituted strict health and safety protocols for its All-Star events—which include requiring participating players and their guests to travel by private transportation—the league clearly believes that trying to create some version of All-Star Weekend is worth potentially exposing its best players. Not to mention that the presence of this event is complicating the jobs of Atlanta officials. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has already pleaded with basketball fans not to travel to her city for the event and for party promoters not to host All-Star-related events. But considering the state’s lenient COVID-19 restrictions, Bottoms’s pleas may be totally ignored.

Since that fateful night in Oklahoma City last March, the sports world hasn’t been the escape that some fans desperately needed it to be. It has simply mirrored the chaos the entire country has experienced. During a deadly pandemic, a lot of people just couldn’t bring themselves to enjoy the distraction that sports traditionally provide.

G.A.G.S. (Gophers Against Getting Stuffed) (forksclovetofu), Wednesday, 3 March 2021 20:17 (six months ago) link

Anthony Mason fought the X-Man, and the Knicks of the ’90s were made: ‘Neither one backed down’

The ’90s Knicks thrived on being badasses. A team of some of the toughest, most physically intimidating players in the NBA. They were the spiritual successors to the Bad Boys Pistons; the team Michael Jordan saw whenever he looked over his shoulder.

Patrick Ewing was the future Hall of Famer at the center, but Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and Anthony Mason were more than just the muscle. Together, they brought the Knicks back to relevance and provided their adoring fan base a new golden generation. The Knicks never won a ring — thanks, Michael! — but they won plenty of games and represented the soul of New York City.

Pat Riley, another Hall of Famer, was the mastermind. He left behind Los Angeles and his Showtime roots to put together the roster he thought could defeat, and beat up, the rest of the league. Gone was the Hollywood glitz and glamour; now he wanted Schenectady toughness.

David Stern was unhappy with it. And he was ignored.

While those Knicks starred at Madison Square Garden, they were forged during a brutal week of training camp at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. That’s where Riley laid out his grand plan, and where a fight broke out that no one who was there can forget.

Xavier McDaniel. Anthony Mason. Two titans, 460 pounds of man between them, colliding on location, inside a stuffy, small college gym.

Twelve players, coaches, executives, doctors and agents from the 1991 Knicks agreed to share their memories of Riley’s first New York camp with The Athletic, and explain how a scrap between two giants set the franchise on its way to a decade of rugged glory.

McDaniel: I was thinking more or less like “Showtime” when I was going to be playing for Pat Riley and the Knicks. I was thinking, “Shit, I’m going to be getting on the break, being like Worthy, and Mark Jackson’s going to be kicking it out to me.”

Greg Anthony, the Knicks’ No. 1 pick in 1991, now an analyst for Turner Sports and NBA TV: Hell, yeah! That’s literally what they told me when they drafted me.

Dave Checketts, who took over as Knicks team president in March 1991: I knew Pat for Showtime and we were not giving him Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper and these guys that could change ends of the floor so quickly. We were giving him a very tough, physical team and he knew it.

Ewing, who is now the coach at Georgetown: He already told us from day one he wanted us to be the most physical, the most conditioned, the hardest working team ever. One of the things he talked about is he’s from Schenectady — a blue collar town — and he wanted us to be blue collar Knicks.

Carlton McKinney, Mason’s roommate that season: Everything was intense. Practice was intense. He was looking for a specific type of player.

McDaniel: Pat Riley showed a video (before camp began) and on the video it had me and Oakley fighting (when McDaniel played for the SuperSonics and Oakley was already a Knick). I’m sitting there like, “Oh shit.”

Mark Jackson, an All-Star for the Knicks in 1990, now an analyst for ABC/ESPN: I don’t think it was a better way to end a meeting, than like that. It was a perfect message to the perfect group of folks he was trying to deliver the message to. And we all got up like, “OK, let’s go do this.”

McDaniel: After the video, Pat Riley said, “Now we fight together.”

Ewing: (Riley) knows what buttons to push to get the most out of you.

Anthony: You could hate him for it.

Brian Quinnett, who would be traded during the season: All I remember is being so sore I could barely walk from the hotel to the gym. Riley practices were no joke.

Jackson: They’d have the windows covered. Nobody in there, in the building. It was just us, practicing, really with no motivation other than to get better and to prepare ourselves.

Tim McCormick, whose last pro season was 1991-92: It was all about a culture of accountability. We’re going to play through pain.

McKinney: He’d fine you if guys went to the lane and just laid it up.

Quinnett: Riley had a rule that we gave up no easy layups. If you could get there, you had to foul — and hard. Intimidation.

Dr. Norman Scott, Knicks team physician for 27 years: The papers around New York had built it up too. It was no surprise. Anyone who followed the Knicks closely knew there was going to be combustion at training camp.

Anthony: The environment was so tense that it tended to always break out in fights or pushing and shoving matches.

McDaniel: It was like putting 10 lions in and there’s a baby gazelle, so only the strong survive.

Scott: It was going to be a war in Charleston, and indeed it was just a question which day the explosion between X-Man, Oak and Mase was going to take place.

Riley and Checketts traded for McDaniel on Oct. 1, 1991, right before camp. Mason, meanwhile, was from New York and had tiny tastes of the NBA with Denver and New Jersey. The Knicks scouted him in the now-defunct United States Basketball League.

Riley: (Mason) had been overlooked in the draft. Simply being from New York and also having an opportunity to work out for the Knicks, I just think this was an opportunity of his lifetime to really make it.

Don Cronson, Mason’s former agent: Mason was the new kid on the block and wanted to establish himself and was looking at everybody.

Riley: He didn’t care who was in front of him.

McDaniel: (Riley) said he “didn’t want the Xavier McDaniel from the Phoenix Suns. He played soft. I want the Xavier McDaniel that played when he was playing for the Seattle Supersonics. I want that guy to play.”

Anthony: X had always been like a bully in terms of, he wanted to impose his will on you. And that was a part of his game.

Ewing: X was the type of guy who wasn’t going to back down.

Jeff Van Gundy, an assistant coach on that team and now an ABC/ESPN analyst: Mason and Xavier McDaniel went at it, in a full-blown fight, like five minutes into the first practice.

Scott: It was the second day.

Ewing: I think it was right before we had a water break. They just got into it. They were talking so much trash to each other.

Riley: I just remember the two of them looking at one another like warriors. They just looked at each other like, “OK, something is going to happen.” Our very first competitive rebounding drill — the block-out drill — about 10 minutes into practice after we warmed them up, and we went right to defense and rebounding. Sure enough, the two of them squared off.

McDaniel: I didn’t think he liked the shit I was talking to him. I was like, “Get that shit out of here.” I was blocking his shot. And he sucker-punched me. From then on, it was on.

McKinney: Neither one backed down. If we’d let it go they’d still be at it.

McDaniel: I was just trying to get at him. And Pat Riley and them was like, “No,” and I was like, “No, fuck that. Nobody’s gonna punch me and get a-fucking-way with it.” You know?

Van Gundy: We had the guards, and then (assistant coach) Paul Silas and coach Riley were at the other end with the bigs. Because the guards go through rebounding drills at about 80 percent and everybody’s trying to stay out of harm’s way, our end was pretty just OK, right? But when we were doing our stuff, you could hear the grunts and groans and physical contact at the other end. And you felt it even though you weren’t seeing it.

McDaniel: I backed up and started chasing him. I just chased him. He’s trying to get out the way and I’m trying to get at him. They went in the locker room and I was trying to get in the locker room. Patrick was grabbing me, and I’m forearming Patrick. “I’ll see him outside.” He was like, “Calm down.” And I was like, “No, fuck that. I don’t want to hear that shit.”

Van Gundy: He did chase him; Mason was backpedaling, but Mason didn’t run to the locker room. Would you if you were Mason?

Riley: It was from one bleacher to the next trying to break them apart. It was very hard.

McDaniel: I was still mad. They tried to get me to let it go. I said, “No. No.” But then they started like I could possibly be suspended, and I’m like, “OK, motherfucker hits you, none of that matters?” This is in the meeting. I was just like, “No, I’m not letting this go.” They just said, “Hey, we’ve got to let this go, we’ve got to move on from it.” That I couldn’t be disruptive in practice and do I agree to let it go? I said, “Yes.” I let it go, we shook on it and we just went back.

Riley: When it was over with, they looked at each other, “OK, we’re done with that.” It’s like, “I marked my territory and you marked yours.”

McDaniel: We actually, we became pretty good friends after that.

McKinney: There was no tension after (the fight), that’s why I think it was orchestrated. (Riley) was trying to find out where your breaking point was.

Scott: Pat was the master of getting the most out of players. He knew probably when the trade was made (for McDaniel) this was going to be an issue. There’s not much that ever escaped him. I would suspect he was just waiting for this, put the right alignment of the teams so they’re head to head. Once it happened it was sort of like, “OK, the volcano erupted” and it was going to settle down.

Checketts: When I saw the look on Pat’s face, when I walked up to Pat after practice, he was charged up. He wasn’t the least bit unnerved. He thought we were going to have a team to be reckoned with right from the beginning. He was very happy.

Van Gundy: That first rebounding drill and subsequent physical altercation (between McDaniel and Mason), I think, spoke to who we were going to be.

But, wait, X-Man, did you ever actually punch Mason back?

McDaniel: No. He punched me and that was pretty much the whole basics of the fight, but I was trying to get at him.

The Knicks won 51 games in Riley’s first season, a 12-game improvement over the previous season. It would be a decade before New York failed to at least reach the conference semifinals, and twice the Knicks made it to the Finals. Once, in 1994, it was under Riley. But whether it was Riley or Van Gundy coaching the team, the Knicks always played the same way — the way Riley first showed them in that initial training camp.

Jackson: The Knicks are still trying to get that back.

Scott: One game during the season, pre-game, (Oakley came in and) he said, “Hey, I think I broke my hand.” I looked at it and there was no question it was broken. A first-year medical student would have figured it out. I said, “We’ll get an X-ray, Oak, but you’re out for tonight.” He said, “No, I’m playing. We’ll get an X-ray after the game.” He played the whole time. Bones were moving.

McCormick: If you were going to be a part of this team you had to retaliate, you had to show some toughness. Every day Oakley just kept hitting me over and over and over. I was getting very tired of it. One day in practice I got frustrated and I swung my arm around and hit him right in the mouth and split his lip. Guys grabbed him quick and it probably saved me from having a fight that I would not have wanted to be in. As they dragged him off, he had to go to the doctor and get stitches and he gave me a look like, “Tomorrow, you die.”

I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept thinking about when I first saw Charles. The next day he walked into the locker room and he saw me and he started walking right over to me. So I stood up like, “OK, here we go.” He said, “Have you seen the new Stallone movie?” I thought this is strange because he’s never talked to me before. That was like the first conversation we ever had. We started talking about it. I realized that until I stood up to him he didn’t respect me.

Checketts: I thought it really hurt us on the referee side of things and it put me very much at odds with David Stern. He thought we had changed the game and slowed it down and had this tough, physical confrontation style of defense. David was all about the good of the game. I knew that other owners were giving him a bad time about our team, about the way we played, and saying things like we were going to ruin basketball.

Van Gundy: The funny part about the next year, the theme, from a business standpoint, they would draw a lane, like a court, and then have the outline of dead bodies in the lane. That’s how physical we were. Come into the paint and pay the ultimate price. Now it got rejected, but it always stood out to me that there was a source of basketball truth into that.

P.S. McDaniel only played one season in New York. He paid $275,000 to buy out the final year of his contract but hoped the Knicks would re-sign him. They didn’t. He played five more NBA seasons. Mason went on to a solid NBA career, playing 10 more seasons (four more in New York), including an All-Star campaign with Miami in 2001.

Mason died in February 2015 from a reported heart attack. He and McDaniel had indeed become friends, spending time together while Mason played for the Hornets and McDaniel was retired, living in South Carolina.

McDaniel: I was just like, “Wow” — someone that I’ve known for quite a while and just kind of shocking. My ex called me because his ex and my ex are good friends, and so I got a call from her saying that Anthony Mason had passed. And then right after she called me, a couple hours later, it was all over the news. You just feel for the family. You ain’t thinking about the arguments you might have gotten into. You’re just making sure the family is OK.

G.A.G.S. (Gophers Against Getting Stuffed) (forksclovetofu), Wednesday, 17 March 2021 17:54 (six months ago) link

one month passes...

SHORTLY AFTER DRAFTING him No. 25 in 2014, Houston Rockets officials took Clint Capela to a Houston Astros baseball game -- their usual initiation for draftees.

Capela had just turned 20, and was sensitive about his ability to communicate in English. He grew up in foster care in Switzerland before moving to France as a teenager to pursue basketball.

He had no idea what was going on in the game. Houston staffers explained balls and strikes. Just as Capela was getting it, one pitcher whipped the ball to first base -- a pick-off move. Why suddenly throw to a new place?

"It was boring," Capela says. "How long is the game? You don't even see a time."

The Rockets drafted Capela with the idea of stashing him overseas, sources say. They were conserving cap space to pursue Chris Bosh in the event LeBron James left the Miami Heat. Houston was hot on Bruno Caboclo, selected five spots before Capela, and even considered -- very briefly -- drafting Shabazz Napier to appeal to James after he had tweeted his affection for Napier, sources say.

Capela wanted the NBA right away. He spent almost his entire rookie season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in what is now the G League. The Vipers were a laboratory for Houston's analytics experiments. They played fast and launched record numbers of 3s -- potentially awkward for a paint-bound big man. In brief call-ups, Capela missed his first 19 NBA shots -- field goals and free throws.

"It was hard," he says. "Just to live by myself and try to get better at English. I was always looking for someone to speak French with, but in Houston there is not much of that."

Capela carried a notebook everywhere. Coaches spotted him writing in it: English phrases, basketball terminology, life advice. "You could see him learning every day," says Nevada Smith, then the Vipers' coach. Capela still has that notebook.

Capela understood the Rockets, with James Harden and Dwight Howard, were in win-now mode. "How can I be valuable now?" he wondered. He found the simplest answer: "I like to run."

And so it was that some 340 miles southeast of Houston, playing for the Vipers, Capela tried to beat his man down the floor every possession. He would screen and roll, screen and roll. He never demanded the ball, or any play calls.

Houston promoted him late in the season. Capela appeared in every playoff game as the Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 conference finals. "It was a lot to take in," Capela says.

Capela started 35 games next season, sometimes next to Howard, and tried to serve as peacemaker between Howard and Harden as their relationship deteriorated. Some within the Rockets wondered if Howard was intentionally whiffing on picks for Harden or not setting as many as Harden wanted, sources say. Harden at one point asked the coaching staff if he could come off the bench to play more with Capela, sources said. (Those sources assumed Harden was being facetious, and really prodding the Rockets to start Capela alone.)

"I could kind of get them together," Capela says. "We were able to speak and laugh together. When I was around both of them, there were no issues with us talking."

But at 21, he had limited locker room heft. Capela often found himself the target of scoldings from veterans. One coach suggested Capela playfully defend himself by declaring he would not rebound until everyone relented.

With the Atlanta Hawks, he is suddenly an old head. Nate McMillan, Atlanta's coach, leans on Capela for scheduling advice -- when the team might need an off day, or a light film session.

Once shy in English, Capela is now a communicator -- in part to make sure the kind of animosity that festered in Houston never enters the Hawks' bloodstream. There have long been rumblings about tension between star guard Trae Young and big man John Collins, but the team and both principals insist they are exaggerated.

"In Houston, communication was a problem," Capela says. "They either didn't want to say something, or didn't know how. What I take from that is just go and say it. If you express yourself the right way and you are polite, it should work every time. Let's try to enjoy the grind."

Capela now shouts orders as the anchor of Atlanta's defense. "The communication has surprised me," Bogdan Bogdanovic says. "You really hear him." He has even started a regular Monopoly game at hotels with Danilo Gallinari, Solomon Hill, and members of the training staff -- physical board and everything.

Capela is producing at career-best levels: 15 points on almost 60% shooting, and a league-best 14.5 rebounds. He is No. 1 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, and a bulwark defending the basket. Capela ranks fourth in blocks, and keeps his rejections inbounds so the Hawks can retrieve them. Amid injuries, Capela has been Atlanta's constant.

"I don't think anyone expected [the Hawks] to be where we are, and Clint is probably the No. 1 reason," McMillan says.

Teammates say Capela should factor more into Defensive Player of the Year chatter. "Other guys talk about winning it, and even if they are deserving, I don't think that's the best way to do it," Bogdanovic says. "Clint doesn't talk, so he doesn't get enough credit."

The Hawks have allowed six fewer points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor. Opponents have shot just 52% at the rim with Capela nearby -- a tick stingier than Joel Embiid, and only a little behind Rudy Gobert. Capela ranks second -- trailing Gobert -- in ESPN's defensive adjusted plus-minus.

Gaudy numbers are landing Capela on the national radar. To him, nothing has changed. He still runs, and runs, and demands none of the trappings.

"It's like, 'I've always been good and you all are just noticing,'" he says.

In just 30.3 minutes per game, Capela is averaging 15.3 points and career highs in rebounds (14.4) and blocks (2.1). "I don't think anyone expected [the Hawks] to be where we are," says head coach Nate McMillan. "And Clint is probably the No. 1 reason." AP Photo/Matt Slocum
BACK-TO-BACK postseason losses to the Warriors left the Rockets worried Capela would always struggle against lineups with Draymond Green at center, sources say. The Rockets lost confidence in Capela's ability to switch onto Golden State's guards, though Capela's self-belief in that facet never wavered.

Capela hadn't shown the post game to punish switching defenses that often prevail in the playoffs. He'd averaged less than an assist per game. Rim-running centers were going out of style; how much of Capela's production could Houston find for cheap?

By 2019, Harden had shifted away from the pick-and-roll and toward isolations. That left Capela hanging around the rim, waiting for lobs.

It spoke to Harden's methodological nature. He prefers to survey the floor with a clear view, and shift the chess pieces around as he likes. A pick-and-roll invited unpredictability. A big man could trap, hang back, switch.

The introduction of Russell Westbrook last season cramped Houston's spacing. The Rockets jettisoned Capela, and went all-in on small ball. Capela had been dealing with a plantar fascia injury and a bone bruise in his heel when the Rockets sent the then-six-year vet to Houston. The trade stung.

"I was surprised, but I also felt the team was going downhill," Capela says. "I was scared I would never find a vibe like that again -- a winning team, in the playoffs every year."

The Hawks wanted a center to fortify their defense. They discussed Andre Drummond and Steven Adams, sources say. They thought elements of Capela's pick-and-roll partnership with Harden would translate to Young's game.

That would also mean an adjustment for Collins, Young's main screen-and-dive partner. Collins was on board with the trade, and invited the challenge of rounding out his perimeter game.

"Getting better players means you have to improve your game or take a step back," Collins says. "I didn't want to take a step back."

The injury and pandemic delayed chemistry building. Capela was diligent doing what rehab he could from home, team officials say. When Atlanta's performance staff could see Capela in person again, they put him through arduous drills -- including an exercise in which Capela had to traverse a sandbox using only his toes to grip the sand and drag himself forward. It is a method of rebuilding foot strength. It took Capela 10 minutes to cover a distance that required one or two normal strides.

In lockdown, Young and Capela spoke often. When the Hawks reconvened in September for their own bubble -- and then later for informal workouts -- Young and Capela hit it off. "They have basically become best friends," McMillan says.

"We have a real connection," Young says.

Young often chit-chats with opposing bigs in games, talking trash and dissecting pick-and-roll coverages. Upon hearing about the Capela trade, Young remembered their fun in-game jabs going both ways -- Young bragging about a floater that crested out of Capela's reach, Capela swatting Young's layup and boasting.

They developed a rhythm on the pick-and-roll, Capela feeling out the differences between Harden and Young.

"James is slow, processing," Capela says. "He can take his time. Trae is more of a speed guy with lots of touch."

Harden rarely attempted floaters. Young takes more than anyone.

CAPELA REALIZED THAT the combination of Young's speed and the tendency of defenses to trap him exposed offensive rebounding opportunities. Once Capela's man doubles Young, Capela zips into inside position -- and holds it until the ball hits the rim. Young launches so fast, Capela can root out rebounding territory without worrying about three-second calls.

"Sometimes I shoot the floater just because I know his man will contest," Young says. "If it doesn't go in, it's going to Clint. He's a beast."

Capela has become one of the league's best at one-handed tip-ins -- a skill he says he didn't prioritize until this season. Capela noticed how often he was fighting off defenders with one hand, and figured he might as well use the other for tips. He is uncanny tipping lefty. He has gotten much stronger in recent years -- Capela is part of Atlanta's regular postgame lifting group -- and is unusually mobile and well-balanced for a player his size, coaches say.

He remains a premiere lob-catcher -- a natural fit alongside Young. John Lucas, the longtime Houston Rockets assistant, often had Capela practice alley-ooping tennis balls, Capela says. He has also made great strides on non-dunk finishes in traffic.

Diving to the rim can be thankless; for every alley-oop, there might be dozens of possessions on which you don't touch the ball. The same is true for running the floor, and few bigs run harder than Capela. He has scored 13 baskets within 24 seconds of blocking an opponent's shot -- most in the league, per Elias Sports Bureau research.

But fans may not notice when those rim runs suck in the defense, and unlock open 3s for teammates.

"I am going to outwork you the whole game," Capela says. "Maybe it doesn't look that nice. Maybe it's not on social media. But it's efficient."

Anyone inflicting that much damage around the rim gets hacked, and free throw shooting has been Capela's bugaboo. His contract contains a $500,000 bonus if he hits at least 65% on foul shots, per league sources; he is at 57%, and has cracked 60% just once.

During Capela's first summer league in Las Vegas, they had him arrive at the gym at 6 a.m. and stay until he hit 500 free throws. At first, it took two hours. "Tough mornings," Capela says. He got it down to 45 minutes.

Capela's set shot can list left; the Rockets tried everything to correct it. Houston coaches sometimes sat Capela in a folding chair at the foul line with a hula hoop hanging above his head -- parallel to the floor -- and attached to a pole behind the chair. Capela had to release the ball through the hoop without banging into it. They sometimes had a coach stand behind Capela holding a ruler -- and asked Capela to shoot free throws without hitting it.

The Rockets scrapped shootarounds under Mike D'Antoni, but Capela showed up every game-day morning anyway. Lucas let Capela leave right away if he hit six free straight free throws.

Atlanta will trade some iffy free throw shooting for Capela's ferocious defense, which should earn some All-Defense consideration -- an uphill battle, with Gobert and either Embiid or Bam Adebayo favored for the two center slots.

For a bouncy dunker, it is notable how rarely Capela jumps on defense until it is time to chase a rebound. He crouches in his stance against the pick-and-roll, arms spread so wide he effectively guards two players at once. He locks eyes with the ball-handler, betraying nothing. That ball handler wants Capela to move first -- flinch, jump, lurch. He won't. That uncertainty unnerves all but the very best.

"I'm in your head," Capela says. "'Is he jumping or not?'"

If that ball handler settles for a floater, Capela may not even contest it. That judiciousness leaves him in ideal rebounding position. It makes up for Capela's eschewing textbook boxouts. He prefers to leap and pursue rebounds, but he can't do that if he's already airborne chasing blocks. Atlanta's defensive rebounding rate craters when Capela rests.

"In my first year, I was jumping all over the place," Capela says. "I learned you can't do that. If I jump and miss, [the other team] is ready to put it back in."

That does not mean Capela is a reluctant shot-blocker -- just a choosy one. He has a knack for verticality, and risks posterization to meet dunkers at the apex.

That left Capela on the wrong end of perhaps the dunk of the year -- Miles Bridges' epic throwdown that sent Capela stumbling toward the baseline. When he saw that, Smith, Capela's coach in Rio Grande, thought about something he used to tell Capela: "Guys who play hard will get dunked on. Guys who don't play hard won't, but they won't make it, either."

"I wonder if he remembers that," Smith says.

Capela plays like it. No one noticed, but Bridges' dunk materialized only after Capela erased a Terry Rozier drive at the rim -- leading to a second-chance scramble for the Charlotte Hornets.

"I'm not thinking, 'I want to look nice' or 'I want to make a nice move,'" Capela says. "I'm thinking about dominating the paint."

i was too much listening to your accent (Spottie), Wednesday, 5 May 2021 15:25 (four months ago) link

great piece. capela's right about baseball

Wayne Grotski (symsymsym), Wednesday, 5 May 2021 17:28 (four months ago) link

ILH board description used to reflect that wisdom

sharpening the contraindications (Aimless), Wednesday, 5 May 2021 17:41 (four months ago) link

"I'm thinking about dominating the paint" is a phrase i promise to get into my next job interview

Heez, Wednesday, 5 May 2021 18:16 (four months ago) link

google australia free web proxy
paste in the espn url except with .au after the .com like espn.com.au
you are an insider now

lag∞n, Tuesday, 18 May 2021 13:13 (three months ago) link

three weeks pass...

Inside the Mavericks front office, Mark Cuban’s shadow GM is causing a rift with Luka Doncic
Tim Cato and Sam Amick 34m ago 50

In early February, during the second quarter of a home game against the Golden State Warriors, Luka Doncic carelessly turned over the ball and received feedback from a Dallas Mavericks employee he didn’t care for: Haralabos Voulgaris, a well-known sports gambler hired by team owner Mark Cuban in 2018.

Voulgaris, sitting with an open laptop in his typical courtside seat across from the Mavericks’ bench, motioned downward with his hands, which Doncic specifically interpreted as Voulgaris telling him to calm down, multiple team and league sources tell The Athletic. Doncic snapped back, telling Voulgaris, according to one source’s recollection, “Don’t fucking tell me to calm down.” The same sources say Voulgaris later professed that his motion wasn’t solely directed at Doncic, but regardless of intent, it only worsened an already inflamed relationship between the two.

Doncic, multiple league sources say, intends to sign the supermax extension — which he will be eligible for once named to this season’s All-NBA team — with Dallas, worth more than $200 million over five seasons after his rookie contract expires next summer. “I think you know the answer,” he said, smiling, when asked whether he would at last week’s exit interview. But a high-level power broker within the league says the Mavericks recognize that there’s urgency to build a contending team around Doncic after losing in the first round in each of the past two seasons. The clock is ticking.

Internally, there are concerns the front office’s dysfunction has hurt its ability to do so — and that poor relationships Doncic has with key members of the franchise, including Voulgaris, could impact his current desire to remain in Dallas long-term. The team’s most recent postseason defeat against the LA Clippers served as a direct indictment on the roster constructed around him. Can Mavericks management remedy that in time? Or, as some team sources fear, will they pay the price for the dysfunctional dynamics that exist in some corners of the organization?

Dallas announced Voulgaris’ hiring in the fall of 2018 with a title — director of quantitative research and development — that vastly understated his actual role. Multiple league and team sources tell The Athletic that Voulgaris has been the most influential voice within the Mavericks front office since joining the team, either initiating or approving virtually every transaction made over the past two seasons. Those same sources add that Voulgaris has frequently gone as far as scripting the starting lineups and rotations for longtime head coach Rick Carlisle.

That influence has spanned Doncic’s three seasons in Dallas. While he had been drafted prior to Voulgaris’ arrival — Donnie Nelson, the team’s longtime president of basketball operations, was the driving force behind trading up to acquire the Slovenian wunderkind, a process he described in detail to The Athletic last year — Cuban had sought out Voulgaris’ basketball advice in the years before putting him on the team’s payroll. As one team source says, “Mark Cuban is the most powerful person in the organization, but whoever he’s listening to is second.” Cuban was won over by Voulgaris’ vision: an analytics-driven spread pick-and-roll offense with Doncic as the focal point which he has tried implementing in the past seasons.

It’s unclear when the Cuban and Voulgaris relationship began, but their coming together is perhaps unsurprising given Cuban’s origin as a self-made tech billionaire whose first major purchase was the Mavericks. Voulgaris has never been shy about his desire to run a team. In an ESPN feature from 2013, Voulgaris is quoted as saying, “The whole process (of becoming a highly successful gambler) has led me to believe that I’d be able to put together a better team than almost any general manager in the league. If not maybe all.”

The way Voulgaris tells it — the ESPN feature is the only notable reporting ever focused on him, and he declined an interview request from The Athletic shortly after being hired — he began gambling on the NBA in the late 1990s and had made millions by the early 2000s. His success, he says, came in part from an instinctual reading of certain coaches. It finally failed him during the 2003-04 season, causing him to lose much of his gambling wealth and step away temporarily, only returning once he’d developed an analytics model that brought back his old edge. He says he did exactly that, his new model beating the odds at a rate higher than five percent. In 2009, he gave up gambling again to consult for an unnamed NBA franchise. The advisory role lasted one season; he returned to his previous life afterward and began publicly promoting himself. In the coming years, he became a well-known presence in the basketball world.

Voulgaris spent a limited amount of time around the Mavericks during his first season of employment, attending about one-quarter of the team’s games. He attended fewer games the following season, but his imprint on the team’s roster grew substantially that offseason. It was Voulgaris who initiated the team’s acquisitions of Seth Curry and Delon Wright, with multiple sources telling The Athletic that Voulgaris believed Wright should start next to Doncic. “He was the only person that believed that,” one team source says. Wright did start the season opener before being moved to a full-time bench role the following game, barely playing in the team’s first-round defeat in the 2020 postseason. He was traded that offseason.

Because Voulgaris’ influence was greater than his official role, those within the front office — and executives around the league who interacted with them — were often confused about who actually held power. “We had two general managers,” a team source says. Nelson remained the team’s president of basketball operations, a role he has held since 2005, and other executives and agents continued largely communicating with him or Cuban regarding personnel matters. Nelson continued to spearhead major moves, including trades for Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. in 2019, Josh Richardson in 2020 and J.J. Redick in 2021. But team sources say Voulgaris was supportive of the transactions — or explicitly approved them.

Multiple league and team sources point to the 2020 draft as a particularly egregious example of Voulgaris’ power, an evening one source described as “embarrassing.” Most members of the scouting department joined the team’s war room remotely through Zoom and were surprised when Voulgaris, attending in person, didn’t consult them for either of the team’s first two selections (Josh Green and Tyrell Terry) despite disagreements they held with at least one of the players he picked.

“What did (he) sell to Mark to make him believe (he) can do this?” asks one source with an intimate knowledge of the situation. “Nobody knows.”

It marked another throughline of Voulgaris’ tenure with the Mavericks: that his personality and decision making has steadily irritated and exasperated the team’s front office employees and players over the course of the three seasons he’s been employed. “He doesn’t know how to talk to people,” that same source says.

That’s best exemplified by Dallas’ franchise player disliking him. Doncic’s strained relationship with Voulgaris predated their incident in February, multiple sources say. It wasn’t the only incident, either. This season, Voulgaris attended his first game in mid January, frequently appearing courtside at home and also traveling with them on the road in the months that followed. In mid-April, during the final minute of a home defeat to the New York Knicks, Voulgaris was seen on the game’s broadcast footage standing up and leaving with about 45 seconds remaining. While the Mavericks were trailing by 10 points at the time, they cut the deficit to six and extended the game seven more possessions before eventually losing.

Doncic noticed Voulgaris’ early departure. In the locker room after the game, multiple league and team sources say he told teammates he viewed Voulgaris leaving before the game’s conclusion as him quitting on them. Voulgaris would not attend another game the rest of the year.

Multiple team sources confirm Voulgaris remained involved in the team’s gameplans and in-game adjustments in a remote role. But Voulgaris, who earlier this season appeared likelier than not to wrest further control over the front office and perhaps even drive out Nelson entirely, now heads into a summer with his contract set to expire and uncertainty surrounding his future.

When reached for comment on Monday, Cuban defended Voulgaris’ involvement. “I really like what Bob brings to the table. He does a great job of supporting Rick and the front office with unique data insights.”

Cuban added: “Bob has a great grasp of AI and the opportunities it create for gaining an advantage. Which is important to me. But he isn’t any more influential than any other data source on the team.”

Voulgaris declined to comment for this story when reached on Sunday.

Doncic’s relationship with his head coach, Rick Carlisle, has been publicly scrutinized since joining his team. It’s expected Carlisle will return next season, multiple league sources say, something Cuban publicly voiced support for last week shortly after the first round defeat.

“Let me tell you how I look at coaching,” he told ESPN. “You don’t make a change to make a change. Unless you have someone that you know is much, much, much better, the grass is rarely greener on the other side.”

Multiple sources were surprised to see Cuban’s prompt backing of Carlisle, however, even though Cuban’s support for Carlisle has hardly wavered over the past decade. During the season, it was believed Carlisle’s future could be reconsidered following the season, partly due to a belief Doncic had tuned him out.

“It was very much up in the air,” one source with intimate knowledge of the situation said.

Sources say some players have been frustrated with Carlisle after they lost playing time despite doing exactly what they felt he had asked of them, and for stiff rotation patterns, the latter of which they viewed — correctly, team sources confirm — as being dictated directly to him by Voulgaris. Early on, Doncic also disliked Carlisle’s timeouts and frequent calling of plays.

But Carlisle, who’s “adaptable as a motherfucker,” as one league source put it, began to modify his coaching style as a way of relieving some of the pressure from this sensitive situation. Beyond Carlisle’s obvious coaching acumen, he has always been able and willing to, in essence, read the room when it came to which personal battles he could win and which ones he couldn’t. This was no different.

Doncic’s greatness, so evident so early on, clearly compelled Carlisle to consider the changing hoops politics at hand. Since being hired in May of 2008, Carlisle has had his fair share of friction with key players, in large part because of his well-known tendency to be controlling. But Rajon Rondo, this was not.

In truth, it was far closer to the difficult dynamic that he’d successfully navigated with then-point guard Jason Kidd en route to winning the franchise’s first and only title in 2011. It took an intervention of sorts to get through that friction back then, when then-Mavericks assistant coaches Tim Grgurich, Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts stepped in to tell Carlisle that he needed to loosen the reins on Kidd. In the end, of course, it was a wise and necessary move.

The championship took Carlisle’s credibility to another level in those coming years. He was, with good reason, virtually untouchable when it came to the job insecurities that most coaches face. Such is life when you reach the NBA’s mountaintop for a franchise that has never been there before.

But as Doncic started to look more and more like a modern-day Dirk Nowitzki these past three seasons — the kind of once-in-a-generation player who the Mavericks could build around for the next two decades — the landscape that surrounded Carlisle began to change. And Carlisle, quite clearly, decided to change along with it.

“You can’t win against the next Nowitzki,” one source said.

Doncic has a healthy relationship with the Mavericks organization at large. League sources say he angled to be drafted by the team in 2018, and he has been particularly complimentary of his relationship with Nowitzki, whose final season coincided with Doncic’s first. Those feelings could change if the team’s postseason struggles continue, as the Mavericks haven’t advanced past the first round since their 2011 championship run. It’s not that Doncic’s situation with the team is at a critical inflection point right now. Multiple team sources simply fear that it’s heading that direction.

Those concerns mostly center on Cuban and the decisions he makes regarding who he trusts and imbues with power. Sometimes, it’s examples like Voulgaris, a sports gambler with no league experience being given near total control of the team’s roster. Other times, it’s the relationships he doesn’t sever: The Mavericks’ front office has come to be known around the league for its long-existing power structure that, Voulgaris aside, has barely changed.

Doncic has provided the Mavericks a chance to return to prominence. He’s a generational star the team was fortunate to draft, seamlessly taking the mantle from the franchise player before him. But after beginning another offseason sooner than hoped for, the focus falls upon the organization around him: on how the dynamic that existed over the past seasons was allowed to operate in such a haphazard manner, and whether it can be fixed before it’s too late.

call all destroyer, Monday, 14 June 2021 15:56 (three months ago) link

the only notable thing in there to me is that doncic doesn’t like voulgaris. the rest of the stuff — bob’s influence in the front office in particular and his butting heads with colleagues, seems run of the mill for an NBA franchise

k3vin k., Monday, 14 June 2021 17:56 (three months ago) link

one month passes...

On the Miami Heat, reloading again with Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker -- how they keep doing this, and what they look like for next season: https://t.co/7Fm8AW1s97

— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) August 3, 2021

anyone have espn+ ?

J0rdan S., Tuesday, 3 August 2021 17:54 (one month ago) link

IT'S FITTING THAT the Miami Heat's latest all-in reload involved sending out Goran Dragic in their mammoth sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry -- the first major domino of this NBA free-agency period.

It was Miami's flipping two first-round picks to acquire Dragic (on an expiring contract) at the 2015 trade deadline that set off the first round of fearful snickering among rivals -- clucking that Pat Riley was mortgaging the team's future because that future would belong to his successor. The clucking was always laced with anxiety: Somehow, the Heat -- slick, beachy, with a friendly tax regime -- would climb out of whatever hole Riley dug.

Three years later, it appeared as if the Heat might be buried without a shovel. Chris Bosh's blood clot issues upended the promising 2015-16 Heat featuring Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Dragic. The Heat struck out on Kevin Durant in 2016 and then Gordon Hayward the next offseason, and responded by re-signing their own free agents to huge deals: Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Dion Waiters.

As the calendar flipped to 2018, they all looked like cap-clogging overpays whose contracts would be hard to move. Justise Winslow, the manna-from-heaven pick that represented Miami's salvation, was injured and developing unevenly. Their quiver of first-round picks was half empty.

When I spent a week in Miami that January, those in and around the franchise were as uncertain about their path forward as I had ever seen or heard them. They were determined, hopeful, but unsure. On the Lowe Post podcast last year, Dan Le Batard, who knows Riley well, recalled strolling Heat headquarters around that time with Riley and passing walls adorned with photos of Waiters and Whiteside. "He, like, snorts in disdain," Le Batard said, "and he just blurted, 'Our so-called leaders.' And I'm like, 'Oof. This is not a good place for these people to be.'"

Two years later, they were in the Finals -- one of the greatest short-term turnarounds ever executed from an on-paper position of weakness. The Heat nailed late lottery picks (Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro) that usually yield league-average players at best; turned undrafted guys into starters and key contributors (the newly ultra-wealthy Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Derrick Jones Jr.); and swapped one second-round hit (Josh Richardson) into the best star that was realistically available to them -- Jimmy Butler, about to sign a mega-extension that will take him into his mid-30s, sources said.

They caught some breaks, as any team does amid a successful retool. The Butler situation with the Philadelphia 76ers went haywire. Teams passed on Adebayo and Herro in favor of worse players. The Heat got off a lot of those bad contracts with minimal pain thanks to injuries and desperation in trading partners, and the Memphis Grizzlies' lust for Winslow -- with the Heat sending out James Johnson and Waiters in that deal, and somehow netting Solomon Hill, Andre Iguodala, and Jae Crowder.

Crowder was the last puzzle piece that made sense of the 2020 Heat: the small-ball power forward with enough size, toughness, and 3-point shooting to unlock Adebayo-at-center lineups that had two-way balance. The Heat in 2020 demurred on one last trade for Danilo Gallinari, wary of committing too much future cap space over too many years -- and wagering Crowder and Iguodala would perform.

The same shielding of cap space cost them Crowder, who signed a long-term deal with the Phoenix Suns after Miami's Finals run. The Heat last season never found a replacement, toggling between imperfect solutions. Makeshift lineups were either too small, with Butler at power forward and multiple below-average perimeter defenders, or lacking in shooting.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
ONCE THE HEAT finalized their deal for Lowry on Monday, the biggest remaining question about their roster -- perhaps aside from depth -- was whom Erik Spoelstra would start at power forward. Could they find another Crowder? (The other big question following Lowry's signing -- bigger than the game of point guard roulette going around the league -- was this: What is Philadelphia's backup plan after missing out on Lowry for the second time in four months? Are they just going to stand pat and wait out the Ben Simmons market?)

Candidates flew off the board: JaMychal Green, Jeff Green, Nicolas Batum, others.

And then Miami capped its day with a bombshell: stealing P.J. Tucker -- switchable, mean, still trucking along -- from the postseason starting five of the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Those Bucks, of course, obliterated the Heat in the first-round of the 2021 playoffs with an emphatic, avenging sweep. That humiliation was catnip to skeptics who dismissed Miami's 2020 Finals appearance as the fluky product of the bubble and the restarted pandemic season from hell.

There is some truth to the notion that Miami was well-suited to the isolated, all-basketball-all-the-time setting of the Orlando, Florida, bubble. But three of the final four teams from Orlando trudged through unremarkable seasons, with the fourth -- the Denver Nuggets -- slumping away once injuries destroyed its guard rotation. (They were exhausted too.) The Heat in 2020 were the only postseason team to take more than one game from the champion Los Angeles Lakers. They would have a hard time reaching the Finals again, but that didn't mean they weren't good or deserving.

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But the Heat recognized the status quo wasn't good enough, with Milwaukee having proven itself on the biggest stage and the Brooklyn Nets looming as title favorites entering the 2021-22 season. And so they did their best to rekindle the magic of 2020.

Tucker is a downgrade from Crowder. He is five years older, and starting to show his age. Tucker only launches from the corners, and his mark on those shorter 3s dropped to 34.7% last season -- and 31.4% during a postseason in which he was a total non-threat. The spacing will look cramped at times with Butler, Tucker, and Adebayo on the floor.

Crowder might be the league's streakiest shooter, prone to some ugly backboard bonks, but he is willing to chuck from anywhere and hits at about the same accuracy from the corners and the wings. He's nimbler than Tucker with the ball, quicker as an extra-pass guy.

But Tucker showed in hounding Durant in the second round of the playoffs that he still has much to give on defense when the stakes are high. A well-timed hot streak from the corners could swing a playoff series. No one remembers you shooting 31% on corner 3s for the season if you go 6-of-10 in the right pair of playoff games.

The Heat hope the upgrade from Dragic to Lowry compensates for any drop-off from Crowder to Tucker. Miami was able to pull this sign-and-trade because it coaxed Dragic back last offseason on a two-year, $37 million deal with a team option in Year 2 -- an overpayment in annual salary in exchange for flexibility. The Heat struck the same agreement with Iguodala.

HOW CAN MIAMI keep doing this? Some of it lies in its inherent advantages -- the lack of a state income tax in Florida, and the attractiveness of living in Miami. But it goes beyond that. Players who thrive there grow to love the franchise. Even having been cast aside, Dragic adores the Heat, sources said. Serious veterans appreciate Riley's commitment to winning.

"We never once spoke about Miami as a city," Butler's agent, Bernie Lee, told me last year in explaining Butler's desire to be there. "Obviously it's an amazing place with amazing people, but Jimmy wasn't going there for the beach. Since he's gotten there, I think we have gone out to eat less than 10 times and one of them was the Super Bowl. We didn't even talk about the tax advantages. The only questions he asked were of the background of the people involved and how they would build out the team."

A healthy Lowry is almost a perfect fit next to Butler and Adebayo. He is a more accurate and prolific 3-point shooter than Dragic, and a much stronger defender. Lineups featuring any two of Dragic, Robinson, and Herro had two spots for predatory opposing offenses to pick at. Lowry vaporizes one of those spots. A closing five of Lowry, Robinson, Butler, Tucker, and Adebayo is formidable. Against some opponents, it will be safe to exchange Herro for Tucker.

There is so much improvisational creativity to Lowry's game -- so much more than rote high pick-and-rolls. He can do plenty of that, of course; the Lowry-Adebayo dance will be an important part of Miami's arsenal, and perhaps a bulwark when Butler rests.

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Lowry bobs and weaves in the midrange, cutting randomly, working an impromptu give-and-go, setting unexpected screens, sneaking in for offensive rebounds. Butler and Adebayo live in that space from 20 feet and in. The Lowry/Butler/Adebayo trio overflows with ad-libbing IQ. All three are good to great passers. Adebayo is emerging as a very good midrange shooter. His bully-ball game against switches is coming. Butler is reliable from midrange, in part because of his ability to draw fouls and double-teams.

Cleverness and versatility in tight confines can overcome so-so spacing. Miami's offense is going to sing in the dead zone of the midrange. Robinson's ability to attract two defenders will often give Miami's three stars a head start, some territorial advantage, when the ball reaches them in the midrange. Robinson has grown as a one- and two-dribble pick-and-roll ball handler, and his handoff game with Adebayo is lethal in pulling two defenders toward the arc -- opening easy slip passes.

Lowry is a nasty screener, and he will set ball screens for anyone and everyone: Butler, Robinson, Adebayo -- whatever presents the most danger to the opponent. The diversity of the Heat's offense -- how they seem to run multiple systems within the same possession -- is hard for opponents to adjust to. It's just a little different -- unpredictable, always moving, hard to grasp. Lowry amplifies all of that.

THERE ARE LOTS of questions before putting Miami on the level of Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Lowry is 35, and dropped off a hair last season. Maybe it was the inevitable malaise of playing in Tampa Bay instead of Toronto, and for a team that never recovered from a huge bout with the virus in the middle of the season. Small guards don't tend to age well, but Lowry fits some of the characteristics of one we might expect to buck that trend: smart, stout physically, ace shooter, and someone who didn't pile up as much wear and tear as a reserve early in his career.

Still: Lowry's age places this nucleus on a short, urgent timetable. They have to win immediately. Even minor slippage from Lowry torpedoes that plan.

They are also somewhat shallow. They re-signed Dewayne Dedmon, Gabe Vincent, and Max Strus late Monday, and might be too close to the hard cap -- triggered by acquiring Lowry via sign-and-trade -- now to retain Kendrick Nunn.

The Heat had talks with Bobby Portis, sources said, and the Portis-Adebayo frontcourt would have offered an intriguing combination of shooting and size. Portis would have been Miami's new and probably superior version of Meyers Leonard and Olynyk -- center-ish bigs the Heat paired with Adebayo (another center) because Adebayo can defend anyone, allowing Spoelstra to hide weaker tag-team partners.

Portis re-signed with the Bucks instead. Precious Achiuwa, a promising second-year player, is headed to Toronto as part of the Lowry trade. KZ Okpala is perpetually almost ready.

The Heat will find a player or two on the minimum. (They have no other choice at this point.) Herro disappointed in his sophomore season after rollicking through the bubble, but he's just 21. Development is not linear. A leap in Year 3 is possible.

The Bucks just won the title, and the Nets looked as if they were going to roll there before James Harden and Kyrie Irving got injured. Losing Tucker to the Heat hurts Milwaukee, but you probably can't put the Heat higher than No. 3 in the East at this moment -- and both the Atlanta Hawks and Sixers would have something to say about that.

But the Heat are better today than they were 24 hours ago, and they didn't give up all that much to revamp their team. If things go right, they'll have a puncher's chance in the East. What they really surrendered was future cap flexibility in committing big long-term money to Lowry and Butler as they age.

Did you expect anything less from Riley? If you get Butler and reach the Finals, this is what you do. And history suggests that if the hole gets deep, Riley will find a golden shovel.

pure rim rest (Spottie), Tuesday, 3 August 2021 20:01 (one month ago) link

two weeks pass...

Just getting ahead of the inevitable request:

Let’s be honest. This past NBA season missed one thing: Klay Thompson.

So The Athletic called up a dozen of Thompson’s teammates, former teammates and coaches and asked for their best stories.

Matt Barnes, guard: We had just won the Western Conference Finals. Everyone was enjoying everything, talking and eating and having a drink. And here’s Klay with two 9-year-olds at his locker, teaching them how to make paper airplanes and flying them across the locker room.

Jarrett Jack, guard: Only Klay, man. Only Klay.

Steve Kerr, coach: When I got the job, first thing I did was I called every player. Klay wasn’t responding to me. So I called Bob (Myers) and said, “Bob, I’m really worried that Klay, maybe he’s angry about the coaching change. He won’t call me back.” Bob just started laughing. He just said, “Welcome to Klay’s world.”

Marreese Speights, forward: We’d go to a city and he’d just hop off the bus and go to a CVS or Walgreens with a thousand people outside.

Barnes: That’s the randomness of Klay.

Lachlan Penfold, head of physical performance: All he wanted to do was shoot hoops and play with his dog.

Speights: He’d talk about his dog all the time. Or the Bahamas.

Jerry DeGregorio, assistant coach: It’s impossible to know him and not love him.

Festus Ezeli, center: Because Klay is very, very … pure.

Barnes: Klay is just Klay. He’s like a national treasure.

James Michael McAdoo, forward: Shaun Livingston would always say: “Never change, Klay.”

Jack: We’re in Atlanta and we wanted to hang out at a nightclub. We’re all there, texting Klay, and he’s like, “Where are you guys at?” I’m like, “Yo, we’re over here.” He’s like, “Cool, I’m about to meet you guys.” So Klay comes, but when he walks in, he walks in by himself. I’m like, “Yo, man, how did you get here?” He’s like, “Yeah, man, I was hanging out at this bar, some people asked me where I was going, they said they were going to the same place, so, shit, I just hopped in the cab and split a cab with them.” I’m like, “What people?” He’s like, “That couple over there.” And it was like two married, middle-aged White people.

Speights: We were all in Miami one trip. So we all go to dinner and then everybody goes their separate ways. We all come back to the hotel, and some kind of way, Klay’s in the room. He comes out and his whole eye (is bruised). So it’s like: “Klay, what happened? We just got back. How did you do that?”

Ezeli: Sometimes he’s a little air-headed.

Speights: So we looked at him and were like, “Klay, what happened? Somebody beat you up or something?” He’s like, “Nah, I tripped over the dresser and hit my head on it.”

Ezeli: Never change was both good and bad.

McAdoo: In the preseason we would go to San Diego. We would always stay at ridiculous hotels. One time I went out to the beach. Took my towel and went out there and was just taking in the sunset. So I’m just laying down there, and out of nowhere I see Klay down there by the water, just walking, by himself. Just going for a nice healthy walk right along the shore.

Barnes: He’s unapologetically him.

Mike Brown, assistant coach: I know the manager of one of those restaurants over there on the water. The Ramp. Klay and I were talking and he was like, “Mike, you know anywhere I could dock my boat?” I’m like, “Yeah, I know the manager of The Ramp.” He asked if I could connect them. I was like, “Sure,” but I was still in the process of that.

Benjamin Giler, general manager of The Ramp: Klay was kind of sneaking around. He’s this big tall guy, hella athletic. And he was kind of just walking around, and we were like, “Klay?” And he was like, “Well, yeah, it’s me.” He was like, “Who do I talk to about getting a spot? This would be great for me if I could just go to games from here.”

Brown: Literally the next practice, Klay comes up: “Oh, hey, Mike, appreciate it!” I’m like, “For what?” He’s like, “Yeah, yeah, I parked my boat there.” He parked his boat there without asking.

Jason Thompson, center: I was going to San Jose with Klay, and I wasn’t sure if we wanted to drive up there and follow each other. He’s like, “Nah, man, let me know where you’re at and I’ll come get you and we’ll go together.” So then he was like, “Yo, I’m here.” I’m living in an apartment complex where they have valet, so he pulls up and I’m like, “Yo, where you at?” At this time, I think he had just signed his second deal. I didn’t know what car he drove. He’s like, “Yo, bro, I didn’t drive, I’m in an Uber.” So I’m looking for like a black car and a Prius is just chilling in the front. I’m like, “That’s probably one of the neighbors.” He sticks his head out and is like, “Yo, bro. You ready?”

Speights: He don’t care about no Uber Black or none of that.

Charles Jenkins, guard: Our rookie year, we used to go out quite a bit. Just in the Bay. My brother was there, and my brother is a big party guy. So there was one time, I was just starting the car and my brother had to run back upstairs to get a change of shirt or something. I just remember him running back out full speed like, “Fuck driving, Klay’s gonna take us. Klay’s going, too.” I was like, “Whatever.” I went to the front of the building and Klay was in a stretch limo.

Nate Robinson, guard: This one time, me, Klay, Brandon Rush, we all had like telepathic powers. The club was so loud, and I looked at Klay and I looked at Brandon Rush and it was like we could hear each other’s thoughts without speaking. It was so hot in the club. I just looked at Klay, and he just looked at me, and we just got up. “Aight.” And we just got up and went outside. It was like we all connected at one time, and we all felt it.

Chris DeMarco, assistant coach: We had a road practice, got back to the hotel and he wanted to take a lap because it was New York City. He wanted to walk around, grab something to eat. We went to lunch and then on the way back, a reporter stopped us as we were walking by and asked us if we wanted to do an interview on scaffolding. I was in the middle of saying “No, we don’t live here,” and Klay just goes, “Yes.”

Kevon Looney, forward: He did the interview like he was just some local citizen.

DeMarco: He just sat there and was giving thoughtful answers on the subject.

David West, forward (from Instagram Live): The night he had 60, Klay had missed shootaround.

McAdoo: Like, he overslept.

West: He probably said like five words the whole day before that game. Then just came out, let off, and didn’t do no dribbling.

Scott Machado, guard: He scored 60 when he only dribbled the ball 14 times.

DeGregorio: He had the ball in his hands a total of 90 seconds that game. Think about it.

West: That was the craziest — all he did was catch and shoot the ball. He didn’t make no moves.

McAdoo: That was one of those moments where Shaun was like, “Never change, Klay.”

Penfold: He doesn’t give a fuck about anything, except basketball and his dog, basically.

Ezeli: Klay and Rocco. Wow.

McAdoo: Rocco was always with him.

Ezeli: When I got drafted and started hanging out with Klay was when he first got Rocco. He would always want to spend time with the dog. He didn’t even really like hanging out with people. I’d be like, “What are you doing?” He’d be like, “Hanging out with Rocco.” I thought it was (a person) at first before I met the dog. I was like, “For real?”

McAdoo: He’d be like, “Yeah, I took Rocco down to Ocean Beach and let him run around.” I always used to get a kick out of that because I have labradors. Rocco is not a Labrador. He’s a bulldog. He’s not really a beach dog. But he’d still take him.

DeGregorio: Klay’s first contract, they were negotiating, and in the middle he had to leave. He was like, “Guys, I have to go home now, I got to go home and feed my dog.”

Looney: We were in the playoffs. I think we were about to go to the conference finals. Rocco just walked into the locker room. He went into the shower while everybody was showering, just walking around.

McAdoo: It was nothing for Rocco to show up at the practice facility.

Looney: I’m like, “We just let dogs just come into the locker room, walking around, chilling, wandering into the showers during the playoffs?” I remember (Anderson) Varejao telling me, “Hey, nowhere else in the NBA could this happen. Only Klay.”

Jenkins: Random times, he would just follow through. I would be at his house and we’d be playing video games or fucking around and listening to music, and he would randomly just shoot without a ball.

Speights: There’s a reason he has so much success.

Jenkins: One time we were outside of a nightclub, just waiting for someone to come let us in, and he was doing like form shooting.

DeGregorio: His rookie season, there was a game where Klay took too many 3s for Monta Ellis’s liking. During the next timeout, I remember Monta Ellis just ripped into this rookie: “You’re taking too many shots. Pass the ball. You’re just a rook.” That type of deal. I remember watching Klay the whole time, and he never flinched. He never wavered. The very next offensive possession, ball swings, goes to Klay. He takes the first shot and makes a 3. I’m thinking, “This kid is an ice-cold killer.”

Ezeli: One game, I think we were up three with about 15 seconds left and somebody threw the ball to Klay. At this point, you just hold the ball, right? As soon as it touches his hands, Klay shoots it. I can’t remember if he made it or not, but I remember his conversation with Draymond afterwards. Draymond was like, “Yo, what were you doing?! Why would you shoot that?” And Klay said, “Dog, they pay me to shoot the ball.”

DeGregorio: I remember our interns used to call him Dexter, you know, the serial killer. He was unflappable.

Ezeli: The first 10 games of that season, I remember Klay struggling. Like, he couldn’t throw it in the ocean. He was shooting so poorly at the start of that season, one game he shot it so bad and he was so angry at the end of that game that he left the arena.

Jack: I’m usually one of the last people out of the locker room, and I look and Klay’s clothes are still hanging in the locker.

Jenkins: I was just hearing, “Klay’s gone.” I was like, “How?” I think he left before Coach got there.

Jack: So the next day, when I come in, I talked to the equipment guy. He’s like, “You won’t believe this shit. Remember when I asked you where Klay was and asked you about his uniform? So apparently Klay was so mad, or so frustrated, that he left the arena and drove home in his jersey.”

Ezeli: Like, his whole jersey and everything.

Jack: So now, mind you, this is early Klay so there’s a bunch of guys that live in the same building. I’m like, “Man, when y’all got home, bro, did you see him?” They’re like, “Man, Klay was on the elevator, game jersey, game shorts, game shoes.”

Joe Boylan, assistant coach: I remember thinking: “That’s awesome. I’m glad he cares so much.”

Shaun Livingston, guard: We were toward the end of that first (title) season. We’ve already made the playoffs. We may have already clinched seeding. There is nothing really on the line. I think we were out in Phoenix or somewhere. We end up winning, but Klay missed the game. It might’ve been the first game all season he missed. He was out due to injury. So we’re all huddled up postgame in the locker room and he stops us and says, “Guys, I just want to apologize for not suiting up tonight. My bad. I take great pride in not missing any games.” I remember looking at Steph. I remember looking at Andre. Those were our captains. I’m like, “Is this dude serious?”

Ezeli: He held himself accountable so much. Nobody ever needed to tell Klay what he needed to do.

McAdoo: If there was a guy on our team that had previously played for the other team, Klay would always say, “They didn’t want you!”

Brown: If we’re about to play the Cavaliers … “They didn’t want ya, Mike B!”

McAdoo: Literally every time, everyone would laugh.

Kerr: He does his homework, too. He knows every single guys’ connection to every team. One time we were in Denver and we get done going through the scouting report and he goes, “They didn’t want you, Mike Brown!” Mike was a video coordinator in Denver under Bernie Bickerstaff in the late ’90s, mid-90s. Mike was like, “Wait, what? How’d you know that?” I think he goes through the game notes.

Zaza Pachulia, center: We play cards on the plane. I always enjoyed his reaction when he gets busted. I had a pretty cool moment where he had to write a check for me to pay off. … That’s why he’s special. Who can imagine Klay Thompson writing a check? He pulled out his checkbook and wrote it right in front of me.

Ezeli: The other day, he got really into the conversation about like the history of trade, like something where he was like, “Oh, yeah in Japan and Germany…”

Barnes: His randomness is what makes him great.

Ezeli: He just started spouting off history. I’m like, “Dude, what?!? Why do you even know this?”

DeGregorio: The beauty of him: He understands what he likes, he understands who he is, and he doesn’t waver from it.

Kerr: He really, really cares about people and the team and the world around him.

Ezeli: That’s just Klay. Never change.

DJI, Monday, 23 August 2021 15:47 (three weeks ago) link

haha i was just gonna post that in the basketblolz thread

pure rim rest (Spottie), Monday, 23 August 2021 15:52 (three weeks ago) link

Nate Robinson, guard: This one time, me, Klay, Brandon Rush, we all had like telepathic powers.

versus
Penfold: He doesn’t give a fuck about anything, except basketball and his dog, basically.

the cab-splitting story is so good lol

call all destroyer, Monday, 23 August 2021 16:30 (three weeks ago) link

a reporter stopped us as we were walking by and asked us if we wanted to do an interview on scaffolding.

I'm imagining the "reporter" was John Wilson.

Taliban! (PBKR), Monday, 23 August 2021 17:10 (three weeks ago) link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t40e3kaHmrs

pure rim rest (Spottie), Monday, 23 August 2021 17:13 (three weeks ago) link

amazing
klay should do some videos with John Wilson

in terms of hoops, this:

Scott Machado, guard: He scored 60 when he only dribbled the ball 14 times.

DeGregorio: He had the ball in his hands a total of 90 seconds that game. Think about it.

it is to laugh, like so, ha! (Aimless), Tuesday, 24 August 2021 03:33 (three weeks ago) link


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