55 or 20/20: Which Brandon Jennings night was less likely?

Jennings drivin' in Motor City (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

On Wednesday night, Brandon Jennings went nuts in one of the most unexpected virtuoso performances of the season -- a 20-20 points/assists night against the Orlando Magic. You'll be excused if you forget the last time the NBA's seen a 20/20 performance -- it hasn't happened for over five years. And it's been getting less and less likely over time, too. Check out this histogram tracking the number of 20/20 games since the 1985 playoffs:


That's right -- since 2000, the NBA has only seen FIVE 20/20 performances. Specifically:

  • January 21st, 2015: Brandon Jennings, DET vs ORL (W, 24-21, 2 turnovers, 33 minutes)
  • November 9th, 2009: Steve Nash, PHX at PHI (W, 21-20, 7 turnovers, 36 minutes)
  • April 14th, 2008: Ramon Sessions, MIL vs CHI (L, 20-24, 2 turnovers, 44 minutes)
  • January 2nd, 2006: Steve Nash, PHX at NYK (L, 28-22, 4 turnovers, 55 minutes)
  • April 18th, 2001: Jalen Rose, IND at CLE (W, 22-20, 4 turnovers, 44 minutes)

So, no, this isn't something that happens particularly often. Personally, I've always been one to roll my eyes at statistical achievement based on arbitrary several-stat benchmarks. The more statistics you add to your criterion, the less likely an individual player meets them. It's simple mathematics. Even if you create a completely mundane four stat cutoff, simple exclusionary skillsets make it less likely a player meets them. (As an example, no player in the 2015 season has put up a 13 point, 8 assist, field goal percentage > 60%, 3+ block game. If you find me one person in the world who knew that before I said it, I'll buy you migas.)

But in a flood of arbitrary parameters, the 20/20 barometer is one of the least arbitrary. The concept of scoring and the concept of assists are clearly separate, but the platonic ideal of a point guard has always involved involved an offensive fulcrum who was as likely to set up a teammate as he was to take the open shot. Sure, there have always been pure point types like Rajon Rondo who eschew scoring in favor of gaudy assist totals, but having an offensive zero at the point guard position has always been something of an anathema to a fully-functioning offense. It's like giving the defense a cheat code that lets them throw extra defenders at each play's best action. You can certainly win that way, it's just tougher.

You can create a successful offense with a burst scorer at point guard. And you can create an offense with a dyed-in-the-wool playmaker at point guard. But the very best offenses -- think historic-type jams that define eras and rewrite the game (see Nash, Stockton, Magic) -- function best with point guards who can score on their own but distribute the ball a bit more than they look for their own scoring. Which, not coincidentally, is the exact type of point guard a 20/20 game represents. A point guard who achieves a 20/20 has produced at least 60 points (in the case of Brandon Jennings, five of those assists were on threes, so he produced 47 points from assists for a total of 71). The average score of an NBA game is roughly 100 points per game this season -- that's almost two thirds of your offense coming from a single player. It's a point guard operating at maximum bore.

• • •

In the last 29 years, the league has seen 38 games with the assist-focused 20/20. If we want to find a rough likelihood, we can start by figuring out a few bounding conditions. To that end, here's one really obvious one: you have to start the game. Zero of the league's 20/20 games came off the bench. It makes some sense, if you think about it -- coaches in the NBA find occasion to ride bench guys through good performances, but normally those performances come in a vacuum. Scoring performances, defensive dominations, et cetera. There have only been a handful of players who dependably produce burst-assist games off the bench in NBA history -- and recently, only Manu Ginobili, J.J. Barea, and Sergio Rodriguez dependably fit that bill. And their career highs off the bench are 15, 14, and 12 respectively. Not really in spitting distance of the minutes or productivity you need to net a 20/20. You need to be a point guard, or at least the team's primary distributor. And you need to be playing for an NBA team.

We could build out a simple model for an exact likelihood, but that would involve a lot of data gathering. Let's do a simple one instead. We know that we've seen 38 of these, and we know you need to be a starting primary distributor. You have to be playing for an NBA team. Therefore, we can find single year incidence rates with the following equation:

Approximate conditional incidence of 20/20 games in 2015


If you aren't familiar with conditional probability notation, Pr(TTG | Y = 2015) indicates the probability of any randomly selected game of the season is going to be a 20/20 given the year is 2015. To define variables:

  • X is the number of 20/20 games
  • A is all possible 20/20 games
  • T is the number of teams in the league
  • S is the number of starters
  • G is the number of games passed in the season.

Put it all together and you get "XATSG", the newest chemical compound in Coca Cola.

Wait, no. Put it all together and you get a probability of 0.0007, meaning that one in every 1,278 games from a starting point guard is a 20/20 if you're looking at this season alone. Lucky for us, we have 30 years of data, so we can calculate an approximate probability of a 20/20 games over the past 29 seasons assuming the player at hand is an NBA starting point guard, giving us a reasonably solid estimate of how likely any individual starter has a 20/20 game, exogenous of knowledge about that starter.

Incidence of twenty-twenty games over the past 29 years.

Obviously, this is a flawed estimate. It ignores a whole boatload of important factors, like Jennings' own stats at the time of the 20/20. But it's a reasonable bounding estimate. The NBA has had one 20/20 game for roughly every 1,760 starting distributors in the past 29 years.

• • •

So... what about that 55 point night, then?


As above, this is a histogram showing the incidence by year of 50 point nights. You can see three places where individual players had ridiculous years that stretched the distribution a bit -- Wilt's biggest full season in the sample (he had 14 nights at 50+ in 1964), Jordan's late eighties (18 out of 27 fifty point games from 87 to 89), and Kobe's lonely years (15 of 26 in 2006 and 2007). Overall, though, there are obviously more fifty point nights than 20/20 nights. The 20/20 is clearly looking more unlikely on its face. But... what if you restrict it to the NBA's point guards?


Now that looks more like it. All things considered, it's actually pretty dang unlikely for a point guard specifically to score 50 points in the modern NBA. More likely than it was in the 80s and 90s, sure, but the incidence rate is extremely low. Using the same calculation as we did before...

Probability that any random starting point guard drops a fiddy.

... we find that Brandon's 55 point outburst was almost completely indistinguishable from his 20/20 night. Seriously. The 20/20 game's odds were approximately one in 1760, the 55 point game's odds were approximately one in 1755. By the slimmest of margins, the 20/20 game was slightly less likely. But given that we're using approximations for both of them anyway, I'd err on the side of them being effectively equal, especially since we're by definition using two conditions on the 20/20 games and just one on the 55 point night.

Hence, when Jennings was talking after the game about how he held a slim preference for his 55 point night over his 20/20 night, even from a probabilistic standpoint, there was really nothing unreasonable about it -- his 55 point explosion is no less rare than his 20/20, and visa versa. It's a matter of personal preference.

• • •

One last note, because this didn't really fit anywhere in the post. There's one other thing I find particularly impressive about Jennings' performance on Wednesday. Jennings produced his 20/20 game in 33 minutes of play. Want to know how unlikely THAT particular incidence is? It's literally never happened before. The lowest minutes played of any other 20/20s in my dataset is John Stockton's 34 minute 22-20 night in 1989. Magic had a 35 and Nash had a 36, but 85% of the NBA's 20/20 games came from players who registered 37 minutes or more on the night.

Just a ridiculous performance, and one of the best games of the season from one of the NBA's most interesting journeymen. It's gonna be fun to watch Stan Van Gundy in the playoffs again. Maybe Jennings will add another one to the ledger put up one of those legendary  13 point, 8 assist, field goal percentage > 60%, 3+ block games I mentioned earlier.

Does Danny Green Deserve a Max Contract?

Danny Green blocks Afflalo ( Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Picture this. An NBA player enters the league having had a decent-but-not-exceptional run in the NCAA and having fallen in the draft more than expected. His first few years are a bit disappointing, for reasons that don't necessarily have to do with him, but he figures out his place in the league and blossoms in the last few years of his deal. In that time, a lot of things happen -- his fingers brush against a Finals MVP trophy, he becomes one of the league's best defensive stoppers at the wing, and his temporarily-broken three point shot becomes a legitimate weapon in his arsenal. All the while, the player in question is stuck on a massively below-market deal that would've made him the cheapest Finals MVP of all time. As he mulls over max-to-near-max contract offers after a long season as his team's rock, the question of whether he'd remain a San Antonio Spur is suddenly far more in flux than anyone expected.

Most of that is known, at least for most NBA fans. The interesting thing about the paragraph isn't the obvious person it describes (Kawhi Leonard, of course!), but that it ALSO provides a decent summary of San Antonio's second most important player during the 2015 season to date: Danny Green. The first thing anyone does when they think of Danny Green as a max contract player is balk. But the 2015 season has been a wild one for San Antonio and the league as a whole, and Danny Green may serve to be the beneficiary of the San Antonio's trouble spot and a changing league. To understand why, let's begin at the playoff run that will undoubtedly form the crux of Danny's free agency pitch: his unlikely run at the 2013 Finals MVP trophy.

• • •

Although Danny played better in the 2013 Finals than he'd ever played before, it's often overlooked that he played pretty excellent basketball in in the first few rounds as well. As you might remember, Danny Green averaged a pedestrian (but team-best!) 18-4-1 line in San Antonio's first five games of the 2013 Finals, which put him in the catbird seat with San Antonio up 3-2. Green's real accomplishment wasn't his per-game averages but his borderline impossible efficiency, as he averaged (no joke) 57% from the field, 66% from three, and 83% from the line over those first five games. While slightly neutered, that efficiency was still present in the earlier rounds -- after an uncharacteristic 33% from three point range against the Lakers, Green averaged 44% from three against the Warriors on 6 heaves a game and 47% on 4 heaves a game against a tough Memphis defense. Over the pre-finals playoff run, Green averaged 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal/block as well -- all solid tertiary statistics for a player whose primary value is in lethal floor-warping three point prowess.

Hold up, there's a mistake in that idea -- offense isn't actually Green's primary value. The offensive per-game stats ignore Green's real value during that run (and every run after it) -- Green was one of the bulwarks of San Antonio's improved defensive attack. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green combined to form one of the best defensive "smalls" duo in the 2013 playoffs (second only to the Conley/Allen pairing on the Memphis Grizzlies), and their ability to shut down guard plays outside the painted area lessened the burden on Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter on the interior. One could make the argument that Green and Leonard's defense was what saved Duncan's legs enough for him to crank out the vintage games that nearly stole San Antonio the title. If you look at what the Spurs did in the playoffs before Kawhi and Green had broken into the rotation, you see the difference -- even with a younger Duncan in 2011, Splitter couldn't even handle the amount of pressure that even the semi-broken Memphis offense placed on him, and Duncan didn't have the energy to pick up the slack. San Antonio has improved defensively in each season since their best-in-the-west 2011 record, despite getting fewer and fewer minutes from their talented big men. Although such an improvement is never entirely one change, the impact of Green/Leonard looms large. Richard Jefferson, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, Manu Ginobili -- these were the players San Antonio gave big minutes as perimeter defenders before Green and Leonard took the bulk of the wing minutes, and these were the players who have slowly gotten phased out of the rotation (either through age or attrition) as San Antonio's defense came back to form.

Before the Spurs had Green and Leonard, any guard that wanted to get to the rim could pretty easily fake out the first line of defense and make it to the paint. That didn't necessarily ruin San Antonio's chances at a good record -- Duncan and Splitter made it through the 2011 season doing fine, statistically, and the team still had an amazing record due to their collective offensive brilliance and their good-enough defense. But when your star big is old and creaky, having to constantly defend several actions on the same play grows tiring, and Duncan had absolutely no legs left by the end of the season. Every blown coverage that resulted in an easy layup attempt in November made Duncan a step slower in April, and the impact accumulated badly -- even before their inglorious playoff ouster, the 2011 Spurs had a few months of mediocre-to-bad play as Duncan tried to get his legs back under him. Although the team was better due to small improvements, the same was true in 2012's final series -- although those Spurs blitzed through the first few teams of the playoffs offensively, as soon as Oklahoma City players figured out how to break through San Antonio's big minutes wings (Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal, and the rookie Kawhi Leonard) with pinpoint passing, Duncan's inability to cover that many broken defensive schemes and lazy layups over a whole season became apparent, and their defense blew apart like a house of cards in a windstorm.

Starting in 2013, with Green and Leonard emergent as San Antonio's big sponges at the wing, San Antonio finally had two lockdown perimeter defenders who could force guards to stay outside of the paint on offense without complicated pick and rolls. That allowed Duncan/Splitter to focus on bigs and simple actions, and it proved the difference in 2013 and 2014. By cutting down on the unexpected paint intrusions, Green and Leonard let Duncan and Splitter play their best defense possible when it actually mattered. Even with Danny Green's lesser "counting" statistics in the 2014 playoffs (9-3-1-1-1 on 49-48-82), Green was the biggest difference in San Antonio's WCF rematch against the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he shot 54% from three and averaged two steals a night while buggering Westbrook and Jackson into uncharacteristic mistakes and apprehension towards their usual driving and slicing. Most of San Antonio's players were about as good as they were in 2012, if not worse -- each member of San Antonio's big three had worse statistics in the 2014 rematch than they did in the original, and Kawhi Leonard's improvements were constrained to defense-only -- Ibaka excepted, Green and Splitter were the main differentiators that turned that series around on the San Antonio side.

In sum: while Green's offensive efficiency almost got him a Finals MVP trophy, it wouldn't have been why he deserved it. His blossoming defense (in concert with Kawhi Leonard's blossoming "everything") was what flipped the script on San Antonio's disappointing playoff runs from 2008 to 2012, and what conspired to change San Antonio from an offense-led paper tiger to a whirling dervish of basketball borg collectives.

• • •

This brings us to the current season, where Danny Green is putting up averages of 13-4-2-1-1. Pedestrian, right? The entire premise I'm working with here is that Green might actually deserve a max contract, and those averages would tend to imply that the answer is an emphatic "NOPE." He deserves a raise, obviously, but a max? It's tough to argue that, until you go a bit deeper and start picking apart how he's reached those numbers and how the league is heading. For one thing, Danny Green is just now putting the kibosh on the best month of his entire career -- after starting the season off slowly, Green has been on a rampage over the last month. He's shooting 49-50-95 over his past 17 games for a true shooting percentage of 79.6%. His usage has remained constant (hovering around 17% on the full season and 16.6% over the stretch, the biggest knock on his max player candidacy from an offensive perspective) but his defensive responsibilities have been substantially greater than usual due to Kawhi Leonard's injury absence. San Antonio's defense remains in the top five despite Leonard's constant absence, Tiago Splitter playing just 8.5% of San Antonio's minutes, and a large infusion of lazy Boris Diaw minutes. (NOTE: I love Boris Diaw. That said, he's been playing lazy defense this season and someone should probably call him on it -- it's a borderline miracle that San Antonio remains in the upper echelons of league defense despite Diaw's lost assignments and further loss of speed.) That's Duncan and Green's influence, as they compose San Antonio's most important duo in a snakebit season.

As you sift through the deeper abstracts of Green's statistics, you find a mixed bag. Although he's been borderline terrible at pull-up jumpers this year (he's averaging 28% on pull-up jump shots -- yes, Virginia, a player with a TS% of 80% is somehow shooting 28% on pull-up jumpers. He's that bad at them.), he's finally started to convert at the rim, which is slowly ticking his free throw rate in a positive direction. This is good, because Green has been San Antonio's best foul shooter this year, whether through luck or serious improvement from his career average of 83%. He's shot 97% from the line on the whole season, which puts him at fourth place behind Jerryd Bayless, Ryan Kelly, and Chris Douglas-Roberts as the best free throw shooters in the league (who take more than 1 foul shot a night, obviously). Players shoot 15% worse when Danny Green is guarding them within 6 feet of the basket, making Green better at close-shot guarding than many of the NBA's centers (which, of course, makes sense -- he's currently 2nd in the league in shot blocks for a guard or a wing, right behind Philadelphia's K.J. McDaniels and right ahead of Golden State's Draymond Green, another Green poised for a massive raise when is contract expires). He's a top-percentile rebounder from the guard position despite generally skying for long rebounds and ceding offensive boards, and while his passing is hardly of the "run-the-team" variety, Green functions as an excellent cog in San Antonio's passing machine.

The knock on Danny Green has never been his shooting or his defense -- its his dribbling, and his inability to create shots for himself. And indeed, that's a problem. His incredibly poor percentage on pull-up jumpers even in this incredible stretch underlines that problem, and it's uncertain whether any NBA franchise will shell out max money for a player who can't really create for himself. The thing is? The league is always changing, and you never know exactly when a player's flaws move from an unacceptable flaw to something the league can live with. This season is putting Green in a position where max money may come regardless of his ability to create for himself. Consider this -- the 2015 Atlanta Hawks and the 2015 Golden State Warriors both feature a defensive star at the large guard position who drains threes and has trouble creating offense. Kyle Korver has been making teams better on a mild contract for years now, and Klay Thompson's value is such that almost everyone's coming around to the idea that Golden State made a defensible (if not apt) decision to pass on the proposed Klay Thompson/Kevin Love swap. Neither of them are very good at creating for themselves, but Golden State's offense is built around the Curry/Klay threat (and the Klay/Bogut defense) while Atlanta uses Korver's gravity to free up Teague and Horford for easy buckets.

The game done changed, and contract equations are in flux. It used to be that any player who couldn't dribble wasn't worth a thing in the NBA, as offenses depended on every single player being able to put the ball on the floor (at least to a limited extent). But Atlanta and Golden State are showing that such an equation simply isn't true anymore, and San Antonio's title last season supports it even moreso. Leonard, Green, and Bellinelli barely have a dribble or two between them as creators or shot-designers -- they don't work well as point guards, and they have trouble breaking defense if they're caught in a corner. But the Spurs marched to a title on their backs regardless, working through an offense where dribbling wasn't anything they really had to do. The same has been true for Golden State and Atlanta -- they've minimized Korver and Thompson's need to put the ball on the floor in favor of quick passes if they realize they don't have the shot. Given the modern conception of offense, it's worked fine. Thompson has greatly improved this season in a lot of ways, not least of which his dribbling -- he's been far more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and creating offense, which has improved the team. But Golden State's sets are still designed to take advantage of his catch-and-shoot mastery -- half his shots come without a single dribble. That's fewer than Korver (75%) and Green (62%), but it's in the same general range.

As you're probably aware, Klay Thompson just got a max contract anyway. Green isn't as young as Thompson, but Kyle Korver and Tony Allen have gone great lengths to prove that catch-and-shoot stoppers don't fall off much until their mid 30s. Green is 28, meaning that his next long contract should take him right to Kyle Korver's current age (33). Is it that hard to believe that an NBA team in a cash-flush post-TV deal world will be willing to take a max-contract bet on owning the next Kyle Korver for four years? Green is the rare defensive stopper with offense-bending gravity and the playoff chops to prove it. He may not get a max contract, but it's hard to imagine Green getting much less than Klay Thompson's current "rookie max" deal. Luckily for San Antonio, Green's only been in the league for 6 years -- he'll only be eligible for the 0-6 year max, which represents 25% of the salary cap. Compounding this luck, barring some sort of revenue easing, the cap isn't going to go nuts due to the new TV deal until the 2016 offseason, which means that 25% of the salary cap will likely remain a 15-16 million a year type deal rather than the 20+ that it'll likely represent under the post-TV deal cap environment.

That works in two ways for San Antonio (or whatever team ends up signing Green). First, it means that the salary is simply lower than it would be if this was two years from now, which is always nice from an organizational standpoint. Second, it means the cap will explode shortly after the team signs the contract, which means the contract will take up a proportionally smaller amount of a team's cap space than it would've in a normal environment. Signing a max contract usually means that you're carving out 20-25% of your cap over the duration of the deal for that individual player. In the current environment, that 25% figure only lasts for a single season -- for the other three years of a max deal, the player will likely only take up 15-20% of the cap, a considerably smaller sum that gives teams much more flexibility. The difference is even greater if you consider the possibility that San Antonio is forced to max both Danny Green AND Kawhi Leonard -- if they do that, they're looking at $15 million dollar salaries for the both of them. In a normal environment, that's $30 million out of a cap of $66, or 45%. If the cap blows up to $80 million or more, as expected, that's suddenly only 30% of the cap, leaving 70% of San Antonio's cap free to build a team around their ace perimeter duo. Long story short? Even if the Spurs are forced to max Green (or pay a near-max salary, or something above $12 million), it's entirely possible they'll look at the equation and realize it makes sense in the long run.

So, to circle back: does Danny Green deserve a max contract? It's unclear. On the plus side, his defense is ridiculously good for a guard, and he's one of the best end-to-end fastbreak quashers in the league. He sticks to his man like glue above the three point line and cuts off actions before they get to the last line of defense. He compounds that defensive value with one of the quickest catch-and-shoot jumpers in the league, and (if this season is to be believed) he may have improved his free throw form to become one of the best free throw shooters out there. He rebounds like a big and he's surprisingly durable. On the other hand, he can't dribble worth a donkey's necktie and he doesn't use very many possessions on offense -- he has incredible gravity, but that gravity isn't always a guarantee that he's going to get you a better shot. He's a cold/hot player, and his cold games can be difficult for the offense to survive.

When I asked the question on Twitter last night, most Spurs fans balked at the idea, and many were confused as to why it was even a question after a game where he'd scored 11 points. But the NBA works in mysterious ways -- whether he deserves it or not, Green has played his way into a massive payday of some sort, and the league's environment is warping in such a way that his flaws just might not matter when the contract negotiations come around. For non-star players on the fringes, a big payday requires an intersection of bankable talent, an environment that values you, and the luck to let those overlap.

We may not know exactly what he's about to make, but one thing is clear -- Danny Green is one lucky man.

Danny Green, Lucky Dude (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

The NBA Bouillon Report: Whose Stock is Boiling?


NOTE: Technically, broth and stock are different things. I realize this. For the purposes of this post, I am also totally ignoring this important fact. Sorry, foodies.

Boullion is one of my favorite things. Nah, not the boxed stuff -- the real deal. The kinds of stay-at-home stocks that take a ton of hands-on effort, where you buy a ton of aromatics and simmer off a beautiful homemade stock that brightens every soup or reduction you make in subsequent weeks. (Or, if you're not a vegetarian, the kind where you buy a bunch of unloved chicken pieces and some gelatin and turn it into God's gift to liquids.) That's my jam. You can't always have a stay-at-home stock, of course -- sometimes you need to resort to boxed stocks. Oftentimes you have to resort to bouillon cubes, those overly salty flavor bases without texture or complexity. Sometimes, in darker hours still, you find yourself in a kitchen bereft of any of better option and need to resort to canned stock. Those are the hard times. The painful hours.

Similarly, the NBA is one of my favorite things. If you look hard enough, you can find a similar hierarchy among the NBA's landscape. You have the teams spinning full-force brilliance on a nightly basis, putting up best-in-class entertainment with unmistakable style. You have the imitations, too -- the teams that are ALMOST there, but lack the creativity and pizzazz to make that last leap. You have the workaday teams that are a bit too salty and a bit too drab but good enough for a simple soup. You have the teams whose inspiration and guile seem to come from the world's worst can of Campbell's soup. And you have the teams who are, for all intents and purposes, not stock at all. (Looking at you, Philly.)

In this post, I will isolate one man's opinion about the varied classes of stock in our noble league. Who's home-made? Who's a suitable workaday stock from a box? Who's a salty over-seasoned mess? I'll highlight one representative example from each class and split the rest of the league between these slightly confusing tiers of watchability and talent. The league's stock is coming to a boil, and it's time to take its temperature... because it depends on your altitude, since boiling point changes with altitude. This is the stock report everyone wants to read in the winter. Jim Cramer, eat your heart out.

• • •


STOCK DEFINITION: The crème de la crème of stock. Lightly simmered and carefully constructed, the perfect home-made stock is rich without the overpowering saltiness of its lesser iterations. Perfect for virtually every cooking application you can imagine using broth in, and perfect for a few things you can't. This is the stock you can't miss.

If I'm looking for the 2015 season's best overall experience, I'd have to start with the Golden State Warriors. They've got it it all. They've got the fundamentals at their back, with a compelling west-heavy schedule and a competitive division race against the Los Angeles Clippers. They play fun basketball, pushing the tempo at the NBA's fastest pace and featuring (in this man's opinion) the most entertaining player in the NBA's top five with Stephen Curry. His three point accuracy is legendary, and even his dumbest game-by-game mistakes (his often inane turnovers) are fun to watch in a slapstick comedy sort of way. They feature two of the NBA's best defensive players (Bogut/Iguodala), both of whom are fun to watch even when their offense is flailing. They feature Klay Thompson, who's been the NBA's best shooting guard in the early reaches of the season. And they feature one of the best uniforms in the league. As a full package, the Warriors are almost unbeatable. So they'd head up this category. As with real life, home-made stock is hard to come by. There aren't that many other teams that deserve this lofty designation.

The only other two that come to mind: The Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks. Neither of them are quite as good of a team as the Warriors, at least in the early season, but they're very nearly as entertaining. The Warriors generally win on the strength of their defense -- Portland and Dallas both claim a blitzing offensive attack as a mark of their triumph, and it's been a lot of fun to watch. Portland's offense is roughly the same as last year, bolstered slightly by an improved bench and some inspired play from the fill-ins for their stars. (Really, Stotts was able to fill Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard for Batum and Aldridge off a few recent injuries. Everyone's getting better!) As with the Warriors, they're a full package -- contention, watchability, and interesting (if not perfect) play on both ends of the floor. The Blazers don't have nearly the defensive chops that Golden State sports, but this year they've upped the help defense and shored up some of their larger-scale defensive problems that torpedoed them against the Spurs last year, and they're a tiny bit more balanced. They're a team to watch.

The Mavericks are a special case. Part of what makes them so interesting is their utterly horrible defense -- I'd consider Dallas one of the league's best bouillon teams regardless. Their offense is that good. The distance between Dallas' top offense and the #2 offense in the league (Toronto) is equivalent to the distance between Toronto and league average (Memphis). They're playing offense on an entirely different level than anyone else right now, and exceptional edge cases like that can override a few serious flaws. Also, as noted above, fulfillment and failure are never completely separate. It's not simply THAT you fail, it's HOW you fail. From that perspective, Dallas fails in a way that's fun to watch -- you're almost always looking at the opposing team's best foot forward on offense, and their defense is so bad that it circles around and becomes fun. A must-watch.

• • •


STOCK DEFINITION: When you're looking for stock, boxed stock is usually your second best bet. Absent the tinny flavor of canned stock, boxed stock generally doesn't last quite as long (not as many preservatives) but the grotesque aftertaste fades. Hardly perfect, but good in a pinch. For this definition, we're going with the best possible boxed stocks, the ones where you can taste the different ingredients that went into the stock and reduce it a bit without turning your food into a salty mess.

When you're trying to analyze a league or a group through weird analogies, it's usually pretty easy to identify a league's best-of-the-best and the worst-of-the-worst. It's much tougher to look at the landscape and figure out the gradations between those two designations, especially since the best and the worst encompass only 4-5 teams. Never fear, however -- in the early season, there are a few distinct classes of teams within the "not quite home-made stock, but certainly not bad" designation. To wit:

  • The Title Chasers -- These are the ones that aren't quite the must-watch, must-digest teams as the perfect three above, but they're title-chasing teams with serious aspirations and serious talent. The Houston Rockets aren't nearly as watchable as the above teams, but they've been downright excellent on the defensive end this year with Ariza spotting Parsons' old minutes and a rejuvenated Dwight Howard. They're not a must-watch (no contender that depends on foul shots and James Harden is), but they're a strong team and a great choice for a random night game. Memphis is very nearly in the above bucket, as their defense/offense mix has been about as close to my platonic ideal of a defensive juggernaut as it could possibly be. I love Gasol, I love Z-Bo, I love Conley. They're great. Maybe they belong in the above category, actually.
  • The Young Upstarts -- This list is highlighted by Anthony Davis' New Orleans Pelicans, who serve as one of the league's most entertaining teams with Davis on the court and one of the league's most mediocre with Davis on the bench. The entertainment they provide is almost entirely related to the amount of Anthony Davis on your TV screen. Nature of the beast. You also have the Raptors, a hard-to-believe-in yet delightfully tame group of players that look likely to snag a top-4 seed and a better playoff run than last year's disappointing bow-out.  The Kings are much like the Pelicans -- terrible without DeMarcus Cousins on the court, a must-watch with Boogie at the helm. (NOTE: There will be more on the Kings. I love these Kings.)
  • The Hopeless Scamps -- These teams kind of suck, but they're really entertaining and interesting regardless. Start with the Boston Celtics, who've been a surprisingly fun watch. They go heavy on the passing (as you'd expect from a Rondo team) and have several delightful pet plays for well-designed layup conversions. Very fun. The Pacers are in this box too, although I get the feeling I'm alone on the "Indiana is fun!" train. Watching Solomon Hill do work as a team's leading light is one of the weirdest things going in the NBA this season, and Roy Hibbert has been absolutely amazing for them. No, really. Look at his statlines, and watch a few Pacers game. He's absolutely carrying their defense on his shoulders right now. It's impressive. And he's doing it without most of his best running mates. He deserves an all-star spot (or DPoY) even more right now than he did last season. The Charlotte Hornets have been really atrocious this season, but as expected, their confluence of talent is solid and the overall product is intriguing. Cody Zeller is quietly developing into an actual NBA talent (his two-man game with Lance Stephenson is one of the neater things about these Hornets) and even though they look like a pretty awful team they play with an odd style that makes them fun and engaging. Finally? The Utah Jazz. They've been bad-but-entertaining, with Quin Snyder's rotations a refreshing exultation of Utah's best players instead of the constant veteran-emphasized lineups Tyrone Corbin tortured Jazz fans with for years. Hayward has been surprisingly good, Dante Exum is fun, and... let's just not talk about Trey Burke, thanks.

The world of boxed stocks is dangerous. It's hardly as can't-lose as a well-crafted homemade blend, and although there are good ones, there are some real problem children among them. But you can find some beauty if you look hard enough, and there's usually one or two delightful notes in any boxed stock worth its salt. Drink these teams, readers. Drink without regret.

• • •


STOCK DEFINITION: The nice thing about bouillon cubes? They last. You can keep a box of bouillon cubes in the cabinet for months or even years at a time. The highly concentrated vegetable/chicken/beef dust of a bouillon cube reconstitutes into a salty stock when you add boiling water. It's almost magic. Only ALMOST, though. The final result almost invariably tastes like it came from a cube, and it's worse off for it. Good in a pinch, but bad to rely on.

This section is much smaller than the above section, because the main identifying feature of a bouillon cube as compared to a boxed stock or canned stock is the delightfully long storage period. Liquid stock simply doesn't last as long -- even if canned stock is usable after its expiration, it takes on a progressively more metal taste as time goes on and it absorbs flavor from its packaging. And boxed stock necessarily can't last quite as long as either of them. Ergo, cubes represent the intersection of canned stock and boxed stock, not quite good enough to make out the different flavors but a fair step above the worst of your stock options. Before the fans kill me, I'M NOT SAYING ANY OF THESE TEAMS SUCK. They're good teams. But as of yet, they're unfinished products whose results will make much more sense in retrospect than they do in-the-now. And for various reasons, they're all kind of crappy teams to watch at the moment, even if we all expect they'll have more lasting flavor than some of the above teams. Hence, the NBA's three bouillon cubes:

  • SAN ANTONIO SPURS -- The Spurs entered the 2015 season incredibly banged up and sloppy. Eleven games later, they remain... well, incredibly banged up and sloppy. The Spurs offense has been effectively broken to date in the 2015 season. They run the same actions that got them open shots during the 2015 run, but without Patty/Marco/Tiago, the finishers on the end of those actions can't drain the open shots the system generates. As the team's offense grows more and more frustrated with the clanked open shots, the offense breaks into isolations and the same idiotic one-on-one play that Spurs fans chide Kobe for. Defensively, San Antonio has been fantastic. But truly judging San Antonio's play (and, frankly, enjoying what they've done) is going to have to wait for the Spurs to get healthy. And the playoffs, if we're honest. The true measure of San Antonio's season comes in the title defense, and that hardly starts until the ides of April.
  • LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS -- The Spurs have a really good excuse for looking lethargic. They entered the season banged up and dealing with the after-effects of a title-winning season. The Clippers have no such excuse. Count me as one of the dozens of people who felt the Clippers would run away with a top-3 seed in the West this year -- with Paul, Griffin, Doc, and another year of continuity, it was tough to see a universe where the Clippers didn't start the season off like world-beaters. Theory, meet reality. Griffin looks worse than last year, with his shot more than a little bit busted and his energy level on the boards virtually absent. And Chris Paul's aggression level is lower than it's been in years -- he's driving less, shooting less, and making more conservative passes than last year. Unlike 2012, though, he doesn't have Eric Bledsoe to rely on when he's feeling tepid. The overall picture is fine for L.A. -- they have all the fundamental pieces of a contender, and there's little reason to think they won't right the ship at some point. They've got a top-10 SRS rating despite their mediocre start, and as the schedule eases up it's easy to imagine them going on a run. They just need to do it.
  • CLEVELAND CAVALIERS -- I could imagine this Cavs team being one of the best watches in the league for any NBA beatnik who's a big fan  of schadenfreude. After all, few teams in history have been quite as highly hyped as this year's Cavs team, and they've started out as a surprisingly mediocre unit. Their defense is pathetic and their offense -- while good -- isn't anything world-beating like this year's Dallas team. As everyone states ad infinitum, "the talent is there." Love, LeBron, Irving, Varejao, and Waiters should combine to make a better top 5 than they've shown to date. Thompson, Dellavedova, Marion, Miller, Harris, Haywood -- that depth is decent, and the fact that Blatt hasn't been able to put together a coherent rotation with that much offensive talent is somewhat disappointing. Still, I don't think Cleveland's incoherence will last the whole year. Their talent and potential is too damn high, just like the rent. They'll be there in the playoffs, even if they aren't good enough to win a title. (Because, let's be honest here, they aren't -- they're going to need a massive shot in the arm on defense if they want to be a title-winning team. They simply aren't there yet.)

• • •


STOCK DEFINITION: The bottom of the barrel. Canned stock is gross. It's overly salty to help it preserve longer, and it has no real inherent flavor of its own. As Ms. Humes discovered in her exposè on the different types of chicken broth, canned broth can have a deceptively rich first sip before the aftertaste mellows on your tongue and you realize MSG is the #1 ingredient. And take it from a vegetarian -- the story is even worse with vegetable broth, with the canned stuff tasting like liquified burnt rubber. Just disgusting stuff.

You know how you could theoretically create a serviceable homemade soup with 1 or 2 boiled vegetable or meat elements in any of the above stocks? You can't really do that with canned stock. If I'm forced to use canned stock in my cooking, I try and douse it with herbs and spices, and generally use only a few drops of it as I rely on my aromatics to seize the day and carry me to the promised land. The teams in this designation (... a lot of them, let's be honest) can't hope to carry your TV night by themselves. They've played truly uninspired basketball to date in the 2015 season. You can make a dish with these teams, but you have to add some other things too.

Like... copious amounts of alcohol. Gambling. All-encompassing fandom for any of these 14 teams. You need to do SOMETHING else. Because as a non-fan, watching games between these teams is sort of like pulling teeth, at least so far. And I have to emphasize this -- uninspired is not simply a synonym for "bad." There are good teams here too. But they've all been uninteresting above all things, at least to these eyes, and their performance has been (in most cases) disappointing and drab. To wit, the teams in this designation (ordered by SRS):

  • Chicago Bulls. Offense is better with Pau in the fold, but their defense has fallen to mediocrity with Pau on the court and their offense simply isn't better enough to make up for it. They're a decent team, but they're a thoroughly uninteresting one to date.
  • Phoenix Suns. Part of this is last year's impressive performance making this year seem worse, yeah. But without Channing Frye this team is simply not as fun as they used to be. The slash brothers are still fun to watch, and Isaiah Thomas is a nice addition. But their schemes are much more traditional and they aren't taking anyone by surprise anymore. Sorry, Phoenix. The Kings replaced you.
  • Washington Wizards. With Beal back, I think the Wizards are going to jump up to the boxed broth. They're gonna evolve. They just haven't quite yet -- Wizards games have been fun if you're a Wizards fan but droll if you're anyone else, as Washington has become surprisingly over-reliant on throwback seasons from Paul Pierce, Rasual Butler, and Kris Humphries (as well as, obviously, relying on John Wall to be the brilliant star he is.) They're a good team, for sure, and I'd say they're probably better than the Raptors. But they aren't particularly entertaining yet.
  • Miami Heat. The Heat are a little odd -- when they're fully healthy and rolling, they're a fantastic team. Fun to watch, and their offense is a good approximation of their dynastic spoils. Their problem is the same reason LeBron may have been better off leaving for Cleveland -- they simply have no depth. They have 3-4 legitimate NBA players and the rest of the roster is liquid garbage, which leads to large swaths of each game where the Heat look like absolute crap. If they make the playoffs and everyone's healthy, I could imagine the Heat going on a tiny run in the East and possibly making the second round. But a roster this thin is going to have trouble going over 0.500 in a full season. They simply can't take injury.
  • Brooklyn Nets. Lionel Hollins isn't my favorite coach, and I don't like their roster. My most enjoyable Brooklyn moment this season was when Joe Johnson went nuclear over the Pistons. That's pretty much it. J.J. is pretty good, Deron is pretty meh, and the entire roster is older than Samson's toenail. That's about the size of it.
  • Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks aren't bad at all, and I wouldn't be particularly shocked if they ended up with a top-5 seed in the East. Millsap and Horford fit together as well as they were projected to last season, Teague is having a down year that isn't that bad, and Korver is as game-changing as always. All that said? Until San Antonio's inevitable fall from grace, if I want to watch the Spurs, I'll watch the Spurs. Budenholzer's mini-me system works really well, but it's still an imitation of something I'd rather watch instead.
  • Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks aren't nearly as good as their record, and when their schedule coagulates they're going to fall off hard. But they're fun. Giannis is really good, Jabari is a decent rook, and the overall roster is finally starting to make sense with Larry Sanders back in full form. They're a team to watch for the future, but that future isn't quite here yet.
  • Los Angeles Lakers. No big fan, but... I really wish Kobe didn't have to end like this.
  • Orlando Magic. COME BACK, HOME DIPO!
  • Oklahoma City Thunder. My tears are made of blood.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves. I wish Thaddeus Young was more enjoyable to watch as his team's only star.
  • Detroit Pistons. Stan Van Gundy (the coach) should probably fire Stan Van Gundy (the GM).
  • New York Knicks. The Knicks would have one of the league's most entertaining teams if the NBA was played as a one-on-one league against each team's best player. The Knicks would also have one of the league's most entertaining teams if basketball was a competition of who has the best hair in the league. Unfortunately, basketball is neither of these things.

• • •


STOCK DEFINITION: This is not a stock.

No, boiling water isn't stock. It really, really isn't. If you go to a restaurant and are served a plate with naught but boiling water, you will complain. Because it's not stock, it's not soup, it's not... anything, really. It's just boiling water. It's fundamentally separated from our idea of a flavor base because it is inherently lacking in flavor. Hot water thrives off the absence of flavor, not an abundance of it.

So, obviously, that's your Sixers. Welcome to the 2015 season, Philadelphia!


NBA Awards Preview 2015: What's in the Cards?

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 12.28.58 PM

I hate click-bait article titles. As such, before we get into this post, I want to answer the question I posed.

Q: "What's in the Cards?" -- Aaron McGuire, minutes ago.

A: Nothing. They are a baseball team, not a storage receptacle.

Glad to get that cleared up. Now, since we've reached the absolute final day of the offseason, let's quickly run down a season-preview type post where I emerge from the murky depths to share the precognitive ramblings of a dying goat (EDITOR'S NOTE: Me) relayed through ticker tape by a starving artist (EDITOR'S NOTE: Also me) whose exploits are relayed humbly through a website built on the exploits of giant anthropomorphic ants (EDITOR'S NOTE: That's also m--wait, that's not me, who let an anthropomorphic ant into my blog's masthead? Dewey, I'm disappointed in you.) I will award the season-ending awards of the 2015 season before a single game has been played, and as an added bonus, I'll tack on some alternate reality awards. You know, just in case the NBA gets a lot weirder before the 2015 season ends.

• • •


For LeBron James to avoid winning an MVP award this season, things are going to need to go awfully wrong for the Cavaliers. His primary opponents in the MVP chase include a superstar who's going to miss 15-20 games of the season, a two-headed star combo where nobody can agree on the superior player, a defense-challenged point guard whose team generally wins on the defensive end of the floor, a 36-year-old German whose role will be chopped back as the year goes on, and a guy who shot 15/59 in FIBA play this summer. So... yeah. I think LeBron's probably got this.

ALTERNATE AWARD: Moist Valuable Player, awarded to the sweatiest player in the NBA. I'm going with Zach Randolph.


There's a lot more uncertainty than usual in the predictions for this one. Noel is my pick, simply because I don't see Wiggins, Parker, or Exum putting up world-beating stats for any of their teams. Wiggins is going to spend most of the season learning NBA speed, and Parker might end up marginally rotation-buried on a dismal Bucks team. Exum looks like a quality player, but he'll be defended by the other team's best defender on a nightly basis and will be prying his trade in the defensively pesky West. On the other hand, Noel exists in a position of scarcity in a conference generally lacking premier big-man defenders. He'll get ample minutes and he'll be playing for a team that plays fast-paced stat-padding basketball. I wouldn't be shocked if he put up a shimmering 13-9-3 type line with reasonable percentages and decent defense, and I have a feeling a line like that could eke out the award this year.

ALTERNATE AWARD: Wookie of the Year, awarded to the most luxurious body hair in the NBA. I'm taking the long view and assuming that this will be the year that Nikola Pekovic tries growing a playoff beard. His body hair will then gain sentience. When detached, it will serve double-time as the antagonist in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It will also wear stupid hats and star in a crummy NBC drama. It's gonna be a really weird year for Nikola Pekovic's sentient body hair.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Rick Carlisle (DAL)

Dallas is going to be really, really good this year. They won 49 games last season in a brutal Western gauntlet and upgraded just about every position on the floor. Their bench looks better, their starters look better (...outside of PG), and their army of options meshes really well with Carlisle's coaching style. He likes giving opponents different looks and different defensive flows depending on the needs of the game -- with his versatile multi-punch roster, he should be able to keep opponents on their toes for most of the season. Don't be surprised if Dallas schemes their way into a few crazy wins on strategy and gamesmanship alone. I mean, alright, you should be a LITTLE surprised if they win the game entirely without playing the game of basketball, but that's not what I meant.

ALTERNATE AWARD: Paunch of the Year, awarded to the player who entered the year in decent shape and ends it with more chins than playoff wins. The problem with this award is that you need to find someone who started the season in good shape but is a strong candidate to completely fall apart physically due to disinterest and dismay. Let's go with Caron Butler!


Generally, I have an issue naming incoming sophomores as the league's most improved player. It may be true, but almost every rookie improves by leaps and bounds after their first season in the league, and the sophomore jump can hardly be considered a revolutionizing charge. On the other hand, the MIP award is the most nebulous of the NBA's season-ending accoutrements, and it's hard to take it all that seriously regardless. And very few rookies have ever been as bad as Anthony Bennett was in 2014. If Bennett puts up a season that's legitimately deserving of a spot on all-star weekend's all-sophomore team, he'll have a strong case for deserving this award.

ALTERNATE AWARD: Most Improved Playa, awarded to the beach that undergoes the most improvement over the course of the 2015 season. Congratulations to Mylopotas Beach in Ios, you are Gothic Ginobili's pick for MIP!


Call it a hunch. Call it a guess. Call it crazy. But don't call it a comeback. Bogut has been one of the finest defensive centers in the league for much of his career, and Golden State has given him one of the most unlikely jumping-off points for showing it to the world. Last year's Golden State team made its bread on defense, a surprise to any casual NBA fan who's primary exposure to Oakland's fast-paced history came at the hands of Run TMC, Don Nelson, or the Curry/Monta/Lee incarnation of the current team that aimed for the playoffs before Bogut's arrival. Marc Jackson got a lot of credit for their revolutionized schemes, and he deserved a decent bit. So too did Draymond Green, whose underrated defensive strength allows Bogut to stay within a smaller range of the court during active defensive possessions and save his legs for the playoffs. If Bogut can stay healthy this year, his efforts are likely to lead the Warriors to a top-5 defensive unit. That'll deserve a DPoY nod.

ALTERNATE AWARD: Pensive Player of the Year, for the most thoughtful NBA player of the year. Jaden Smith wins this award. I mean, come on. Will Smith has an ownership stake in the Sixers, and the Sixers would EASILY be a more entertaining team if Jaden Smith was on the court. I'm just going to pick this award aspirationally and hope with all my heart that Jaden laces it up this season. As a wise man once said, "Once All 100% Is Neglected You Have A Citizen. A Walking Zombie Who Criticizes Every Thing They See. Have Fun Its A Really Awesome Place."

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: Richard Jefferson (DAL)

Aaron, don't delete this. I wrote something about RJ. It's really awesome and I want to share it. Okay, so in honor of NaNoWriMo (uh... crap it's only the 28th, uh... let's roll with it), I have written a novelization of Richard Jefferson's upcoming season with the Mavericks. Unfortunately, all but the first and last paragraphs were destroyed in an oddly-specific fire that I may have started, in a momentary fugue of mercy and compassion. Following are those paragraphs.

Call me Richard. Well, I suppose you'd already planned to, here in Dallas. My childish nickname being RJ, and my given name Richard Jefferson, my veteran tongue would make of both names nothing longer or more absurd than Richard. So I called myself Richard, you know, and came to be called Richard. We were somewhere in Golden State when the small forward rotation began to take hold. I would be, you know, the back-up to Chandler Parsons. Every starter is happy; every backup is unhappy with his minutes in a different way. I had high hopes for this season; the Galactic Empire was dying in San Antonio. The most merciful thing in the world, you know, is the inability of the basketball veteran's mind to simultaneously take stock of all his injuries. It is a truth universally acknowledged, you know, that a veteran in possession of a good fortune and free agency must be in want of a contender. Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this baller Dirk.


Don't ever tell anybody you're retiring. If you do, you start missing everybody. Heh. After a while I went out and left the ring ceremony and walked to the hotel in the sun. Tomorrow is, you know, another day. Dirk believed in the green light on the break, the orgastic crowd that year by year increases among us. Rings eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine June evening--

So we beat on, shots against the backboard, bounced back ceaselessly into the net.

So, this is actually just the start of what I wanted to write about Richard Jefferson today, Aaron. I have at least 1500 more words of equal caliber that I wish to share with



Most of the usual suspects for this award are conspicuously absent or hobbled this season. Quietly, the quickly-aging Jamal Crawford has been getting a bit worse over the last few years with Los Angeles, and his poor performance against Oklahoma City was one of the tipping points that cost L.A. the series. He'd have to have a pretty incredible regular season to offset the poor taste left from his uninspiring playoff woes last year. There's also a distinct possibility that L.A.'s gaping roster wound at the three-spot forces Doc Rivers to experiment with a three-guard starting lineup that features Crawford as a starter for large portions of the season. Manu Ginobili is coming back from a fracture, and chances are slim he'll stay healthy long enough to put up a serious challenge for the hardware. Taj Gibson is likely to start for much of the season, Markieff Morris is likely to step into Channing Frye's starting spot, and Reggie Jackson's offense might be needed in the first unit as well. So why not Isaiah Thomas, the obvious odd man out in Phoenix's curious three-headed-hydra at the point? He's a burst scorer, he's unlikely to start, and he's going to have to prove he deserves the playing time he gets.

ALTERNATE AWARD: Simple Plan of the Year, awarded to the NBA player most likely to play Simple Plan's rendition of the Scooby Doo theme song for their first dance on their wedding day. Let's go with Matt Bonner. Sure, he's already married. But people can reaffirm their vows any time they want to. And I have no doubt that if Matt Bonner REALLY thought about it, he'd realize that his best course of action is to reaffirm his vows to the dulcet tunes of Simple Plan's Scooby Doo theme song. His new wedding cake can be in the shape of a giant hoagie. He can dress up as a perfect Shaggy. The question isn't when, it's "why hasn't it happened already?"

• • •

Hey, all! Glad to be back. I'm going to try and pull out one to two posts a week now that the season is back. Enjoy tonight's slate.

A Primer on Cap-Smoothing: the NBA's BRI Problem

Adam Silver answers a question. (Credit Pat Sullivan from the AP for the photo.

Two days ago, Zach Lowe stirred up a minor storm on Twitter with a tiny aside in an otherwise non-controversial piece about the frustrating tête-à-tête between Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix front office within his restricted free agency. The offending aside, in its essence:

And that’s where things get interesting: Executives on lots of teams have gotten the sense from the league office that the NBA will try to smooth the increase of the cap level to minimize the impact of any massive one-year jump in revenue. Exactly how it would do that is unclear. The precise team salary cap — $58 million last season, $63 million this season — is tied to overall league revenues; the two rise and fall together. Players are guaranteed about 50 percent of the league’s “basketball-related income,” and the league and union set the cap figure so player salaries add up to a number in that 50 percent ballpark. The league’s specific plan for smoothing out the cap increase is unclear, and in the end, it may opt against doing so at all. The players will receive their guaranteed 50 percent share of revenues regardless of any engineering.

There's a lot of misunderstandings about how exactly this cap smoothing plan could work, and those misunderstandings spread in a controversy so deadly it almost became a twitpocalypse. (Alright, I lied. It was a pretty average twitter controversy. I just wrote that so that I could use the word "twitpocalypse.") Much like Lowe, I don't feel this is all that controversial. And I generally think a cap smoothing plan could be an ideal situation for both the league as a whole and the players as a collective. That sounds weird at the outset, especially because as-described the cap smoothing plan is effectively depressing player salaries.

But there are a lot of key facts about the NBA's general operating agreement that lead me to that conclusion, and I realized while arguing about this that most people were totally unaware of these. While I tried to explain my rationale in 140-character chunks, I quickly realized that Twitter was a terrible medium for this kind of a complicated explanation. Let's try it in post form. My intention is to try and explain a) why it's necessary in the first place, b) what such a proposal would need to entail, and c) a few off-the-cuff ideas of how the parameters of this proposal might look. But to start to explain this, one must start at the very beginning, which can be done by answering a hypothetical posed to me by the incomparable @basquiatball.

• • •

What would the NBA offseason look like if the cap doubled?

The NBA's 2015 salary cap was set about a month ago. The exact figure was $63 million dollars. Let's say, for the purposes of this argument, that the NBA's basketball related income will roughly double in the 2016 offseason, for reasons unknown to all of us. Ergo, the cap (a figure that's tied intricately to BRI) suddenly jumps from this year's $63 million figure to a total of $120 million dollars. This has a lot of side-effects, as the cap figure has a massive impact on the NBA's salary structure. The most important ones for our purposes:

  • An NBA team's minimum collective salary is set at 90% of the NBA's salary cap figure. This past year, it was set at $56 million dollars. In this scenario, it jumps to $108 million dollars.
  • The maximum salary of an NBA player is set at a certain percentage of the cap depending on how many years the player has been in the league. This would result in maximum salaries jumping like so:
    • 0-6 years: 25% of cap. Jumps from a starting salary of $14.7 million to $30 million.
    • 7-9 years: 30% of cap. Jumps from a starting salary of $17.7 million to $36 million.
    • 10+ years: 35% of cap. Jumps from a starting salary of $20.6 million to $42 million.
  • The tax level is set at a certain percentage of BRI, meaning that it matches the cap level. It would rise from $77 million to $146 million.

I filled out a spreadsheet with every contract currently on the NBA's books. The NBA currently has salaries roughly totaling $2 billion dollars for the 2015 NBA season. In a scenario where every team opens up so much cap room, it's a fair assumption to state that every single player in the NBA with a qualifying offer or a player option will reject it and every player with an early termination option will exercise it. With those assumptions, players who remained on the books with their guaranteed contracts would represent $1.3 million of those $2 billion in contracts. The players who represented the other $0.7 billion would become free agents.

At this juncture, let's take a step back to try and understand the mechanisms by which the league and the players meet the overall player salaries proposed in the 2011 CBA. According to that CBA, the players receive 49 to 50% of basketball related income. The cap total (and cap floor) is tied to BRI in such a way that forces teams to dole out salary so that the players get their agreed-upon share. If a team does not meet the minimum salary among all their players, the difference between their total salary and the salary floor is paid out in equal margin to all players on their closing day roster.

Still. With max salaries doubling and every team in the market for every player in free agency, what do you really think is going to happen? Nobody on that free agent market that gets picked up is going to get a minimum salary -- too many teams with too much money will ensure that. If BRI doubles, the total amount that goes back to the players in salary will need to approach $4.3 billion dollars despite only having $1.3 billion dollars on the books in guaranteed money to the players with existing contracts. Even assuming that some teams don't get all the free agents they want and are forced to end the season under the salary floor, that still means that salaries for the players on the free agent market (the ones who made up just 0.7 billion of the NBA's salary in 2015) will need to approach $2 billion dollars for the numbers to work out, with the remaining $1 billion dollars being distributed in payments to players on sub-floor teams. That means that virtually every player in that free agent class will see their salaries double or triple over their previous contract while players with guaranteed contracts see little to no impact from the massive salary boost.

• • •

Why is this bad for the players?

Now that the previous scenario has been laid out, this one should be easier to understand. To put it plainly: every non-free agent in the NBA gets screwed. The NBA doesn't really have many avenues for adjusting to massive shifts in the cap -- under the current CBA, players on existing contracts aren't going to see the benefit of a massive cap increase until they hit free agency. And by that point, the rush on contracts might very well be over. Sure, they'll get MORE in their next contract, but how much more?

Again, let's return to our example. Let's say that BRI projections stay completely flat after rising to $120 million dollars. In the 2015 offseason, we calculated that there would be $1.3 billion dollars of guaranteed salary on the books alongside a BRI projection that would lead the players to require $4.3 billion dollars of the NBA's revenue. In the 2016 offseason, after the projected 2015 spending spree of $2 billion dollars on the 2015 free agents, the total guaranteed salary would instead be roughly $3 billion dollars, leaving $1.3 billion to divvy up between all free agents on the market. This would lead to raises, assuredly -- the new class of free agents have salaries that summed up to roughly $600 million dollars, so those free agents are likely to double their salaries.

But notice what happened in the previous offseason -- due to the wild fluctuation caused by the rapidly rising cap, free agents in the 2015 market ended up with almost triple their previous salary as teams got into predictable bidding wars with their bounty of cap space. Once that cap picture stabilizes and the market starts to look like a normal one again (that is, with 5-6 teams with big cap room and the rest working around the margins), the NBA would return to a generally stable world where future free agents saw their salaries increase to match the big BRI increase. But future free agent classes would never quite see as much of an increase as the initial run -- there wouldn't be as many teams able to engage in large bidding wars nor would there be as much of a need for teams to sign overpaid contracts in an effort to avoid missing the salary floor.

Hence, the big problem. Suddenly increasing the cap by a massive amount DOES increase salaries, which is good for the players in aggregate. But that increase is NOT evenly distributed -- it provides a larger-than-deserved bump to the players who happen to enter free agency during that free agent period without any means of redistributing that money to players on guaranteed contracts. Even after the 2011 CBA decreased the number of years on contracts and forced more of the league into free agency on a yearly basis, the number of players who enter free agency in any given offseason is still much less than half the players in the league. Which means that 30-40% of the league would be reaping the benefits of the increased revenue without any of the players on guaranteed money seeing a dime of it until their own respective free agency periods.

That's simply not a good look. It penalizes:

  • Veterans who signed long contracts as injury insurance.
  • Rookies still on their now comically underpaid rookie deals.
  • Any player whose team convinced them to sign a longer deal to help foment team stability.

That's a hell of a lot of the league. It's pretty hard to see a situation where the 30-40% of the league entering free agency could outvote the 60-70% of the league that would be stuck on the sidelines, watching as free agents gobble up the NBA's suddenly-bountiful cap room with obscenely huge guaranteed contracts. If the league could come up with a cap smoothing proposal that keeps such a free agency period from happening, it's a good bet that most players would support it.

• • •

Isn't salary suppression illegal? Why would the players give up money?

Returning to Zach's quote for a moment, there's one sentence that bears repeating:

The players will receive their guaranteed 50 percent share of revenues regardless of any engineering.

This is a core point of any particular cap smoothing proposal. In no universe will the players NOT receive the share of BRI they were promised during the 2011 CBA negotiations. That wouldn't just be bad form -- it would be completely illegal per the NBA's operating agreement, and probably lead to the end of the league through the courts. Even if the salary cap is artificially depressed, the players will still receive their agreed-upon share of the pie. The question therefore is one of distribution -- cap smoothing would be an effort to prevent uneven assignment of the revenue increase, essentially a way to prevent one season of lucky free agents from gobbling up 60-70% of the NBA's salary cap in the near term.


Having established that the players are going to receive their money regardless, the question becomes one of the league itself. Why would Adam Silver and the owners want to implement a smoothing proposal if they aren't actually getting any more money? If we consider the players' vested interest in an even distribution of salary, the league has a vested interest in preventing the variety of other ill side effects stemming massive jump in the cap as well. In a world where every team is suddenly under the cap, the chances of any particular team actually accumulating enough salary to go over the tax line in a meaningful way is extremely low. Ergo, the various teams who depend on tax payments would suddenly be without their main source of income. Because every single player who could possibly finagle his way into free agency would do so, the league would look almost completely different from one year to the next -- 40-50% of the league would likely change teams when you account for all the trades and machinations teams would go through to try and attract the star players of the free agent class.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it isn't ideal either. Given the NBA's focus on competitive balance and the subsidizing of small markets, that kind of an offseason free-for-all could be seen by many owners as an anathema to balance and a reward to teams in large markets who haven't managed their cap space particularly well. Hence, the league office has a vested interest in keeping the cap figure stable regardless of whether they get any extra money in doing so.

• • •

How would a cap smoothing proposal work?

So. We know the league's BRI estimates are likely to rise 30-40% after the league agrees to a new TV deal -- that's nowhere near the wild scenarios described in this post, but it would cause a similarly deleterious impact on the league's salary structure. While I'm no legal expert, there are a few ways I could imagine a cap smoothing proposal being both legal under the 2011 CBA and operating in such a way that both the league and the NBPA would agree to it. They are as follows:


I mostly just included this one because it's the most obvious result, even if it's extraordinarily unlikely. The basic idea is that teams would simply operate as though the cap is near historical levels, rising by 5-6% instead of 30-40%. They'd sign contracts commensurate with those from previous free agency periods but reflecting the gradual increase. This is silly for obvious reasons. Even in the unlikely event that all teams collectively agreed to operate under a lower threshold to keep salaries in roughly equivalent ranges, the method by which the CBA deals with a salary shortfall (the aforementioned equal assignment of sub-salary floor money to all players on the team below the floor) is a wildly imprecise method of evening out the league's salary. It would still raise the salaries of free agents signed in that free agency period, and it would grant an equal portion of the pie to minimum-salary journeymen and superstars stuck in max deals. And it would also assign larger raises to players on teams with low salary obligations (like tanking teams) at the expense of teams that are trying to field title contenders. Even if Silver could somehow convince the teams to do that, it's unlikely the result would be to anyone's liking.


There was one way for the NBA to fix errors in the cap that I didn't mention in this post. Per Larry Coon's CBA FAQ:

Since individual salaries are negotiated before the season starts (in many cases years before), and BRI is not determined until the season concludes, there are mechanisms in place to adjust when salaries miss their target. If the players receive less than their guaranteed share of BRI, the league cuts a check to the players association for the difference, and this amount is distributed to the players (this happened in 2010-11, under the 2005 CBA).

This may be the most likely smoothing plan. In this scenario, the league would knowingly keep the BRI estimate lower than expected in concert with the NBPA, which would artificially depress the cap. The remainder of player salary would then be distributed to the players by the NBPA at the end of the season, with the NBPA deciding how to split the large imbalance among all its players. This would probably go on for a few years, increasing the cap by 5-10% each year until the shortfall isn't a massive number anymore. There might be some quibbles among some players with max salaries that this artificial smoothing deflates their max salaries, and that's a very valid point. But this is probably the fairest option.


Both the league and the players have expressed for some time that the NBA's schedule is a bit too long for comfort. The players don't like the increased risk of injury that comes with a longer season or the unnecessary back-to-back stretches that make it hard to stay at top form all year, while the league isn't particularly fond of the anemic basketball that gets played for months of the NBA's calendar or the widespread perception that the NBA's regular season doesn't matter. The NBA has maintained for quite some time that it would like to add some kind of midseason tournament to manufacture new interest in their product and add different parameters for a successful season outside of the simple "NBA championship or bust" framework they have now.

My thought is that it's possible -- unlikely, but possible -- that the league could use this BRI increase as a way to justify shortening the NBA season. Depending on how much they shortened the NBA season, they could depress BRI projections enough to maintain a relatively even cap despite adding the new national TV deal. They could keep the basic skeleton of the schedule the same (that is, start in October and end in late April) but implement 2-3 weeks of dead time around the all-star break, effectively giving NBA players a month off in the middle of the year. That month would lie dormant until the 2017 CBA negotiations, when the NBA could introduce a plan to hold a two week midseason tournament directly in the now-empty weeks. They could structure the TV deal to include basic parameters for covering the midseason tournament with exact terms to be negotiated after the CBA deal, giving an instant BRI boost as soon as the tournament is agreed upon.

If there are fears that the tournament's addition could push the league into a similar cap situation to the one it's facing now, the league and the NBPA could negotiate terms such that tournament income is considered "post-BRI" asset income, much like NBA jerseys. That way, players would get paid for the tournament separately from their salary, allowing the league and players to profit off the

There are a lot of ways the NBA could manage this in a way that benefits both the players and the league. At this point, only one thing is certain -- it's unlikely either side has a great appetite to see how the 2011 CBA holds up in the aforementioned stress case. Artificially easing the cap increase could benefit all parties involved, despite how odd that sounds in a vacuum. Keep an eye on this -- as the NBA's new T.V. deal approaches, this back-and-forth between the league and the players is only going to get more interesting.

The NBA is Worse at Criminal Justice than the NFL

kyle lowry

Word broke today that the NFL has finally completed deliberations on the punishment for Ray Rice's offseason arrest over grisly charges that he assaulted his fiancee. The punishment, in total? A two-game suspension, coupled with a $58,000 fine and a recommendation from the NFL to attend counseling. Rice pleaded not guilty to the offense and was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that led the charges to be dropped, so that NFL penalty (in addition to the intervention program) will represent the sum total of Rice's punishment for his outburst. News flash: this isn't rare. Out of morbid curiosity, I've collected information about the last four years of assault or battery charges in the NBA from Google and the NBA Crime Library. Presented with minimal comment, and ordered by date:

  • June 2014: James Johnson was charged with domestic assault for allegedly slapping and choking his wife. The charges were dismissed because his wife did not appear in court. LEGAL PENALTIES: None. LEAGUE PENALTIES: None.
  • October 2013: Kendrick Perkins was charged with assault after punching a two passengers of an automobile in the face after an altercation in a bar parking lot. I have been unable to track down what happened here, but the league nor the Thunder never commented on the allegations. LEGAL PENALTIES: None (that I could find). LEAGUE PENALTIES: None.
  • September 2013: Jared Sullinger was charged with assault and malicious destruction of property for allegedly discovering his girlfriend was cheating on him and beating her to the ground before smashing her cellphone. The charges were dropped when his ex-girlfriend refused to appear in court. LEGAL PENALTIES: None. LEAGUE PENALTIES: None.
  • May 2013: Terrence Williams was arrested on charges of assault, amidst allegations that he pulled a gun on his child's mother during an annual visitation and made threats. It does not appear that a trial ever occurred, although the Celtics waived him shortly after the news broke (likely as a result of the arrest). LEGAL PENALTIES: None. (That I could find). LEAGUE PENALTIES: None officially, although the Celtics did waive his contract.
  • January 2013: Andray Blatche was arrested on charges of sexual assault, allegedly standing in the doorway and watching as his friend raped a woman in Blatche's hotel room. Charges against Blatche were dropped several months later, although reports are unclear as to whether his friends evaded sentencing. Blatche played in an NBA game against the 76ers the exact same day he was arrested. LEGAL PENALTIES: None. LEAGUE PENALTIES: None.
  • September 2012: Jordan Hill was charged with felony assault for choking a former girlfriend. He pleaded guilty, dropping the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor. LEGAL PENALTIES: One year of probation, $500 fine, counseling. LEAGUE PENALTIES: None.
  • February 2011: Kyle Lowry was charged with misdemeanor battery for throwing a ball at a female ref during a preseason game and threatening the ref with physical violence. Lowry refused to appear in court, but his lawyer got the charges dropped in exchange for pleading guilty and community service. The NBA said nothing. LEGAL PENALTIES: 100 hours of community service. LEAGUE PENALTIES: None.
  • August 2010: Lance Stephenson was charged with assault and harrassment for throwing his then-girlfriend down a flight of stairs and allegedly slamming her head into the staircase. The case was eventually dismissed due to a lack of cooporation from his ex-girlfriend. LEGAL PENALTIES: None. LEAGUE PENALTIES: None.

Actually, I lied. I said I'd present it without comment, but that doesn't really do it justice. Much of the NBA's twitter community has been devoted to jokes and observations about how horrifying and hypocritical the NFL is for letting Ray Rice get off with a two game suspension while players like Josh Gordon lose a year of their career for something as minor as a marijuana charge. It's true. It's hypocritical, awful, and unbelievably dumb. But a lot of talk has also been made about boycotting the NFL for their hypocrisy, and giving them financial ramifications for their hand-wavy attitude towards the serious issue of assault. My take? Do it. It's justified.

But if we're being honest, you'd be better off boycotting the NBA first.

It's hard to conclude that the NBA is anything if not much worse when it comes to league penalties for non-drug-related criminal behavior. Many of these players actually pleaded guilty without seeing any league penalty. Kyle Lowry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from an actual on-court basketball game -- the league said nothing. Jordan Hill pleaded guilty -- the league said nothing. The rest of these are, for the most part, grisly cases with an abundance of evidence pointing to evidence of guilt. But most of them got off, and not once did the league take even a cursory action. The only two times the NBA players suffered a legitimate on-court penalty were times when the player was an expendable, fringe NBA talent who wasn't worth the hassle. These are all things that happened in the last four years.

And when it comes to former players and public figures, the ledger is just as full. Beloved Grantland contributor Jalen Rose pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge stemming from an event where he got in a car almost immediately after having six martinis and rolled his Cadillac. He could've killed someone. Idolized general manager R.C. Buford was caught doing the same. Marv Albert is a generally accepted commentator, and one of the leading lights of the business -- hell, he's part of Blake Griffin's endorsement deal with Kia! -- but few people remember the disgusting charges of rape he faced back in the 90s. NBC fired him a few months into the scandal, but quietly re-hired him years later after he'd pleaded guilty to lesser charges and the public furor had died down a bit. He's still calling the NBA Finals, using the same voice he used on the stand when he argued that his assault was "consensual."

We can call this a massive moral failing, because it is. But in broad strokes, this is essentially how society treats these crimes. There's a curious amount of outrage over the NFL's punishment without the necessary realization that -- realistically -- this is one of the few times in the history of criminal justice where a sports league has accomplished the following three things in an assault case:

  1. The NFL punished a player who managed to get the charges dropped.
  2. The NFL punished a star player despite their status in the league, and gave a semi-meaningful suspension.
  3. The NFL made it clear that such an action was not OK, and essentially countered Baltimore's disgusting press conference.

The NFL is hardly perfect. It would be nice if they levied harsher punishment against Rice, and the juxtaposition between Rice's punishment and Josh Gordon's inexplicable marijuana suspension is comically off-base. But it's hardly more off-base than the actual criminal justice system's differential treatment of those particular crimes, with assault cases regularly falling apart over extremely minor inconsistencies in evidence or intimidation practiced on the part of the defense while marijuana locks up thousands of poor black teenagers on incomprehensible sentences every single year. And it feels slimy to say this, but at least they did something. Two games out of sixteen is equivalent to a 10 game NBA suspension. That's not sufficient, but it's not nothing. I don't generally endorse giving gold stars for minimal effort, but in this case, it might actually be deserved. Especially compared to the NBA's horrendous record of response on these kinds of cases.

Boycotts are fine. They rarely work, but they're a good way to take action on moral stances and provide heft to your arguments. I rarely watch the NFL anymore, as I have trouble mentally justifying it given their laissez-faire attitude towards concussions and their former players. But if NBA fans are going to boycott the NFL for their treatment of the Rice case, they should probably start off by storming the NBA's league office in New York and demanding answers on the NBA's pitiful track record. And given the widespread love and adoration for some of these players -- Lowry, Stephenson, and Hill in particular -- many might want to rethink the way they approach fandom as a whole. It's easy to pick holes in sports you don't love, but it's much harder to honestly address very real moral failings in the sport you hold dearest. And it's even harder to come to terms with the fact that the players we hold up as totems to virtue and aesthetics are real human beings with real human flaws.

But that's part of being an adult, and it's part of being a sports fan. Games aren't always fun.

Lost in Vegas: Who Sources the Sourcemen?

 Every time I walked into this place, "Return of the Mack" played on repeat in my head.

This is the second of a two-part dispatch from the 2014 Summer League. For the first part, see this post.

As I discussed yesterday, my approach to this year's summer league only gave me two days of games and analysis. The second day was a quick two-game slate, starting with a rough-and-tumble grinder between the Rockets and the Hornets. They were playing for a spot in the summer league finals the next day. Somewhat inexplicably, both teams were pretty into the game -- there was at least a cursory effort on the floor, despite the obvious boredom of the coaches and the few remaining agents. Among my favorite examples to the point: near the end of the game, one of the refs completely missed a call on a ball out of bounds play -- Isaiah Canaan and Donatas Montejunas proceeded to SCREAM at the refs and throw their best Duncan bug eyes, pointing incredulously at the ball and various body parts.

Amusingly, the ref just flashed a smile and told them to calm down, reversing the call almost immediately. It's almost like the refs only cared insofar as the players could make them care. Given the quick turnaround on the call (despite the fact that none of the other refs seemed to be present), one wonders if a player like Kevin Garnett or Chris Paul (any obnoxiously vicious competitor, really) probably could've talked himself into 20-30 free throws if they actually cared about winning the contest. "Ref, I'm the only guy who really gives a crap about this game. Free throws, please!"

It became essentially impossible to pay attention to the simplistic and poorly-executed sets being played by both teams after a few minutes of the day's action, which led to me paying a bit more attention to one of my old college favorites: Andre Dawkins. See, okay. I went to Duke. I'm not the biggest fan of my alma mater in the world, and that's putting it lightly. Coach Krzyzewski once hissed at me at a game. I don't think I'm allowed to sit in the student section anymore. But Dawkins was one of the dudes I liked. He had a good head on his shoulders, and was in the same dorm as one of my best friends. Where a lot of the Duke team acted like they were above the rest of the student body (... and yeah, let's be honest, they were!), Dawkins was soft spoken and easy to get along with. An adorably nice kid on a team of people who were generally pretty difficult to talk to. So I've been at least marginally familiar with his game since he arrived at Duke.

I could be totally wrong, but I think he'll make a deep-rotation NBA player at some point. His three point shot is just so functionally pure, I can't imagine he won't get a shot. It's one of the quickest releases I've ever seen, and he can get it off under significant duress. He's also good at slithering without the ball -- he sneaks through seams as well as anyone. Of course, he can't defend worth anything, which dramatically lowers his NBA potential. And he somehow managed to amass a handful of technicals during his time in Vegas (... technicals in summer league! TECHNICALS IN SUMMER LEAGUE!!), so perhaps that soft spoken moniker doesn't apply to him anymore. But a shooter as good as him with passable NBA size has a place in the league on a minimum contract, and I'd be shocked if he didn't end up there. Of course, he also was kept out of Houston's crunch time lineup in a close game against summer league competition, so I could be vastly overstating this.

Aw, heck. I probably am. Love you anyway, Dre.

• • •

The second game of the day -- and the final game of my 2014 Summer League experience -- was a lethargic contest between the Sacramento Champs-in-Waiting (Congrats, Sactown!) and the exhausted Wizards. There were a few things that stood out. For starters, Ben McLemore needs to get better at catching the ball. He doesn't seem to have a good sense of where his hands should be, and it makes passes in his general direction a risky proposition. This was partly obvious because he wasn't receiving great passes, but there were a lot of missed directional reads on his end. Too many to ignore. Another obvious part of the game: the Wizards weren't really ready to play again. Washington started the game with the first two points and held tight for 2-3 minutes, but they ended the first quarter down 18-11 and quickly went down 28-11 within 90 seconds of the second quarter. It's almost like playing a triple overtime game the night before at a league you don't want to be at isn't conducive to a great semifinals performance. Who'd have thought?

Beyond the one McLemore notation, it was hard to really take any coherent basketball knowledge from WAS/SAC -- it was one of the least interested games I've ever seen. Sacramento got bored by halftime and spent the entire second half playing with their food. Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. -- who had combined for almost 60 points the night before -- shot 3-13 combined in the first quarter for 7 points. They got a bit better as the game went on, but both were blisteringly inefficient, combining for a tough-to-watch 1-14 shooting display from the 3-point line. Given their constant grousing to the refs, it was pretty obvious that Washington felt Sacramento was playing too physically, but it's hard to imagine a team playing LESS physical basketball than that of the Kings this game. They were laying off Wizards players and daring them to shoot jump shots. Which they did, they just happened to miss them. All of them, basically. By the middle of the 2nd quarter, the game stood at 43-17 in favor of the Kings. Marshon Brooks had almost completely outscored Washington BY HIMSELF. The game got a bit closer later on, but the Wizards never really launched a credible threat.

Before we knew it, the game was over.

• • •

"Stop taking pictures of me," sources relayed, while calling the police.


This was my girlfriend Julia's first time in Vegas. Since I was there with her, I didn't get a chance to interview the handful of real basketball kingmakers left in the arena. Lots of journalists go for the cutting-edge sources and the big NBA gurus when they're anonymizing sources and turning them into gospel. Me? I'm just gonna take random quotes from Julia and try to turn them into quotes from a plugged in anonymous source. It's all for you, readers.

  • JULIA SAYS: "Man, the refs all have perfectly shaped butts. I'm serious, look at them! Do they have padded butt-pants? The players are nice, but... wow. Just wow."
    • "Plugged-in sources assure Gothic Ginobili that the NBA's referee crew are working diligently in areas related to their respective gluteus maximi, perhaps with the advent of FEDs (fashion-enhancing-drugs). While the players are working to combat this reality, the referees are not to be trifled with."
  • JULIA SAYS: "Wait, you're writing all this down? Oh man. I've gotta get some popcorn."
    • "My sources would only speak on conditions of anonymity. Also: popcorn."
  • JULIA SAYS: "So, uh... I think I heard someone snorting coke in a bathroom stall. Are you sure Summer League is safe?"
    • "Las Vegas is a den of iniquity and drug abuse, sources confirm. Bathrooms are dangerous. Don't use them."
  • JULIA SAYS: "Player #40 seems pretty OK. I don't know. Why are you asking me this?"
    • "Scouts in-the-know say that Jordan Henriquez, a Center playing with New York's summer league squad, is seemingly a lock to be picked up by OKC."
  • JULIA SAYS: "I am outraged that you've never had Dippin Dots. You've been to HOW many sporting events? This is a travesty."
    • "I can confirm that my sources have abandoned me at the curbside due to my lack of Dippin Dots knowledge. Send help."

• • •


  • I didn't notice this last year, but the elevator that takes media members from the main arena floor and the media hospitality room is quite possibly the slowest elevator used in the modern world. It takes almost 30 seconds to make that one-story trip upwards, and 35 seconds to make the one-story trip downwards. This may not sound like much. In a vacuum, it's not a ton of time. But I felt that it was very long for an elevator, and while drunk I inexplicably decided to test this out by counting the seconds it takes other Vegas elevators to get a single story in larger buildings. The average I came to based on the wholly scientific numbers written on the back of my hand (after 5 hotels and a few restaurants) was about 5 seconds. No wonder the arena elevator seemed so absurd. One of the staff members pointed out that the building is extremely old, which led to us to the conclusion that the elevator is slow because there is a long-suffering soul at the bottom of the elevator tasked with pulling it up and down. That's his entire job. Plot twist: his name is Mario Chalmers. Why don't I have a book deal yet?
  • Many other sources have written about this, but I have to emphasize -- hearing random people in the crowd yelling "COVER THE SPREAD!" and "AYO, POPS, WHAT'S THE SPREAD?" is kind of incredible. It's like listening to Carlos Boozer's "GET DAT, JO!", but yelled by random people in the crowd -- it's just the perfect embodiment of the moment and the player, with the moment here being "existing in Las Vegas" and the player here being "the aforementioned random folks in the crowd." Speaking of which, the crowds were actually surprisingly large -- the arena was mostly full, which I wasn't expecting at all. Good on you, Vegas.
  • The halftime entertainment wasn't really BETTER than it was last year, but given that I hadn't had to watch a week straight of it, I was able to accept it a bit easier. In halftime of the SAS/WAS game, they had a bunch of 4-5 year old kids playing ball, and I'm gonna be honest with you, it was pretty amazing. Maybe these were just way better kids than usual, but there were actually several baskets in the game despite the use of NBA regulation hoops. The first one was a layup in a crowd, the second was a neat scoop shot, the third one was a fadeaway scoop shot by this long haired girl with a lot of heart, and the last one was this skyhook-looking thing. Look, okay. It wasn't exactly the greatest basketball in the world. But I can't deny that it was completely adorable.


  • By far the strangest addition to this year's summer league action? This obnoxious dirigible that flew over the crowd dropping foam fingers. Seriously, that thing was weird. Look at that picture of it above! It was shaped like a flying smokestack and propelled by what looked like a bunch of handheld fans attached to the bottom of the balloon. The arms race to create bold new methods for swag dispersal is going too far.
  • On press row at the LVSL, there's always a staff member who comes around peddling statsheets for writers on deadlines and anyone who's curious. I tended to avoid them, just because they represent a bunch of clutter I don't particularly want to keep around. But they usually don't ask directly if you want the sheets, instead gesturing them towards you like a cigarette toting hipster outside of a concert. For the last statsheet of the day, though, the staff member changed it up -- he walked up behind me and asked "Hey, do you like stats?" Without skipping a beat, I responded "I do. I mean, I work as a statistician, so I suppose I have to. I don't know if I like referring to statistics as a monolith like that, and admit that there are many places where stats are misused in the profession of basketball, but I'm a fan." He stared at me for a few seconds, before I realized he was holding the stat sheets and was NOT actually asking me a broader question about my profession and life goals. That was about when I decided I was too tired for Summer League.

• • •

This concludes Gothic Ginobili's coverage of the 2014 Summer League. Please wait patiently while we cue up our coverage of the 2014 Extreme Knitting Championships of the World, which is likely to be roughly as relevant to the 2015 NBA season as this year's Summer League was.

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Lost in Vegas: Dispatches from the Summer League Playoffs

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I like to vary my experiences a bit. When Gothic Ginobili covered Summer League last year, I got to Las Vegas the day Summer League started and left right as the "playoffs" portion began. This year, I decided to do the opposite -- instead of coming to Summer League with Dewey and Arnon and dedicating a week of my life to Summer League coverage, I'd arrive in the dead of night on the Friday before the last weekend and observe how the mundane-yet-maniac energy of last year's Summer League changes as an outsider being thrust in right at the end of the game. I'd also be swapping out Arnon and Dewey for my girlfriend Yoko Julia, a lovely individual with no discernible interest in the game of basketball and no particular investment in any of the teams playing at Summer League. The only way this year's Summer League experience could be more different would be a sex change.

To the many who haven’t been to summer league, it’s a difficult place to pin down. "Summer League ball is totally wicked!" is how I'd describe it if I was peddling lies. Also: if I was from Boston. I’m no peddler, so I'll be frank: the basketball at the later reaches of the NBA’s summer league might be the worst basketball in the world. For tiny children playing basketball in Elementary School gymnasiums, at least there's some iota of fun. For mid-league FIBA games, the players are playing for clear and obvious goals, and with knowledge that their end-of-season stat sheets would be finely combed through by the arbiters of their next contract. But the players that remain at summer league at the very end aren't having fun, and they aren't particularly hopeful of building a contract case either.

Why? It’s pretty simple. In the first few games, the scouts are out in full force and all the players are on their best behavior while they try and finagle their way into a big league contract. That changes as time goes on. As one scout aptly relayed: “I saw everything I needed to see in the first few days.” Did he really, for every player? Perhaps, perhaps not. But that’s how scouts approach the exercise, which makes real effort among the players a rarity as time passes. While the scouts are still here, they aren't really paying THAT much attention to the actual basketball anymore, and the main takeaways have already been taken. Which leads to hours upon hours of half-interested "playoff" basketball between teams that aren’t invested and players that have nothing to play for. It’s a pretty dreadful product, and finding fun in one of these games is often like finding water in the middle of a desert – the truly industrious can salvage a few drops, but you’re going to need to chew up a cactus to do it.

• • •

Chief among those rare tidbits of fun: the numerous random moments where NBA journeymen suddenly look like next-level superstars because the competition is so lousy. In the first day of games, this happened most obviously with noted no-shot journeyman Shannon Brown. He was playing for the Knicks, and was cradling the ball around the top of the three point line looking for a hole in the defense. He didn’t really find one, but decided to throw caution to the wind anyway and curl around 3 defenders to charge the rim. If we’re being honest, all of them had ample time to try and steal the ball back from him. It didn’t matter; even at what looked like half-speed, the 28-year-old Brown juked by all three defenders and finished a scoop layup against the remaining two. That’s right – the threat of Shannon Brown warped the entire Charlotte defense and caused the whole team to effectively quintuple team a guy who might never play in the NBA again. Reflective of how warped the NBA’s competitive fabric becomes in the Vegas heat? Sure. But at least Shannon’s having some fun.

Another element of fun comes from the thirsty throngs who make the yearly trek to watch terrible basketball. Sure, they’re mostly ridiculous, but the crowds get significantly more invested into Summer League games than you see at most NBA arenas during the regular season. This is partly a function of size – as with college crowds, Summer League is held in front of a small enough group of people that it’s possible for a single fan to have a far greater impact on the crowd en masse. In fact, a single guy with a loud voice and a grudge can completely take over the arena. Case in point: one tanned-to-the-limit dude sitting near press row ended up taking over the entire crowd with his loud and droning “AIIIIIIR BAAAAALL” chants while the ball was being thrown back in play. They had stopped the music, which made him and his acolytes echo through the arena in a way that felt more like a cage fight than a basketball game. It may not have made much sense, but at least it distracted from the basketball.

Even though the league is theoretically a proving ground for the NBA’s newest younger guys, few of them were still playing when I got there. Wiggins and Jabari were long gone, and the Spurs had eliminated Exum’s one-man-show a few days prior. That left Adriean Payne as the big early showcase for my first day’s action. His stats were rather weak, but I liked what I saw. For starters, Payne had great speed when recovering off a set screen – he was excellent at setting a screen, switching directions, and catching a pass in motion going towards the basket all while moving in a fluid, controlled motion. This isn’t exactly RARE in the NBA, but it speaks to Payne’s offensive versatility in a system that requires a mobile, active big guy on offense. He appears to have a decent toolbox. His decisionmaking was hardly ideal – he was a few steps late on defense with regularity. When you look slow and plodding during summer league, it’s pretty hard to see how you project out as a positive NBA-level defender. This also ignores the fact that he was chucking with abandon, although it’s hard to blame him given how disinterested the rest of his team was in the day’s proceedings.

• • •

I’m sort of burying the lede, though. On my first day of Summer League action, there was one particular game I was excited to watch. It was the most excited I’d been about ANY summer league game I’d ever watched. Yes, even more than the interesting matchup with Wiggins against Jabari -- the story was certainly cool in that one, but the play was never destined to live up to expectations. The summer slate is hardly the place that brings out the best in much-ballyhooed young talent, and the game would hardly serve as a referendum on whether Jabari Parker can hang with NBA-level athletes on a work-a-day level or whether Andrew Wiggins could bring to the league the same defensive tenacity he showed at Kansas. Hence, it wouldn't really answer any of the questions I had about the players, and the hype was so high I felt it could never live up to expectations.

No, my big focus was on the Spurs/Wizards "playoff" game -- the last game on the Saturday slate. There were two reasons for this. I'm a Spurs fan, so there’s a natural enjoyment in watching the various odd and varied incarntaions of the Spurs. San Antonio's summer league teams tend to run a much-simplified version of the classic San Antonio playbook, much like the Austin Toros and the preseason Spurs. It isn’t nearly as beautiful as San Antonio’s regular fare, but it’s a decent enough echo to keep me piqued. The second reason? No team has ever won the NBA title (est. 1946) and the Summer League title (est. 2013) in the same calendar year. So I pose to you my question: WHY NOT THE SPURS, DEAR READERS? WHY NOT THEM.

Alright, yeah -- that’s mostly a joke. But there were plenty of fun Spurs-tinted plays by the faux team. Vander Blue showed off some excellent creativity on the bounce throughout the night, whipping passes that were generally on point and creative. Midway through the second, he threw this positively awesome mustard-ball bounce pass through the outstretched hands of his defender straight into the hands of Austin Daye, who finished a pretty off-hand layup in fluid motion. Good stuff, right? The Summer Spurs had 14 assists on 21 made field goals at halftime, and looked to be on their way to a fun rout. The dream was alive! San Antonio was heading to back-to-back titles! No San Antonio team would furrow away a 10 point lead, right?

Wait. Yeah. They definitely would. These are the summer Spurs. And even the regular season Spurs have noted issues with holding leads, as Gregg Popovich loves to remind his guys – after shooting 50%-57%-100% in the first half, the Spurs shot an almost inconceivable 14%-0%-0% in the first 5:27 of the second half with four mostly-fast-break turnovers. The Wizards almost instantly turned around San Antonio’s bulging lead into a blowout-margin of their own. Although the Spurs fought back, they had trouble getting over the hump, and ended the third frame down a few points. All the uninitiated quickly discovered that Jeff Ayres literally has hands made of stone and granite – pretty hard to put a soft touch on the ball when your hands are a TSA-banned heavy weapon. Alas.

Then, with about a minute left in the game, I wrote this in my notes:

The Spurs and Wizards kept it surprisingly tight (and interesting!) throughout the fourth quarter, but Otto Porter essentially put the Spurs away with a three point basket with roughly 2:30 left in the contest. I mean, being down three with 2:30 to play is hardly a death knell during most of the season. But this is Summer League, where the defense is sparse but the shotmakers sparser.

That’s where the basketball gods decided to mock me. The Spurs went on to tie the game with a chance to win it at the buzzer – they missed, but it made my prognostication look pretty silly. I figured there was no way Coach Udoka would extend a Summer League game. I was wrong. The best part about OT wasn’t the play or any of the stories – it was the fact that I had five rows of press row to myself. Andy Katz was a few rows down, and Holly McKenzie (among others) were closer to the front. But I wasn’t going to let anyone enter my territory – definitely leaning more Walter White than Kermit the Frog, here. So I just ended up with this massive space all to myself. It was delightful.

As for the endgame, it wasn’t too bad – the Spurs rode Vander Blue and Austin Daye pretty hard in the extra period, although they kept inexplicably trying to involve Jeff Ayres in the offense. (Probably for his championship experience. Maybe they thought his will to win the previous year’s title would translate to buckets.) For their part, the Wizards continued doing what they’d been doing the entire night – they fed the ball into Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. and let them do literally everything. Near the end of overtime, Austin Daye had a few free throws that could’ve put Washington away for good. He missed them, leading to a second period where the Spurs were up 3 with less than 3 seconds left in the contest.

That was too much time, as it turned out – Otto Porter drained a three from the left quarter to force an unprecedented TRIPLE overtime, where the Spurs finally fell after essentially conceding the last few possessions in an effort to make sure nobody had to play another overtime. Ime Udoka: the real summer league MVP. Although I spent most of this post grousing about the quality of play this past weekend, I can't deny it -- the SAS/WAS game was the best summer league game I'd ever seen, and about as good as a mid-tier regular season game. As such, my first day ended happily. Hooray!

• • •


  • Midway through a surprisingly tight game between the Summer Rockets and the Summer Hawks, Steve McPherson hijacked the attention of nearly every writer on press row by bringing back everyone’s favorite hashtag: "#RemoveALetterRuinABand”. The general idea is that you can usually completely ruin a band name and change their overall image by taking away a single letter. I want to remember some of these, so here are some of my favorites. I don't remember who tweeted which, but I know that @DamianTrillard and @CalebJSaenz were responsible for a bunch of these. I was pretty proud of "Ron Maiden", myself.
    • Grateful Dad
    • Taking Heads
    • Ron Maiden
    • Dr. Dr
    • 2Chinz

I’ll keep you guys abreast of the situation as I workshop more of these. This is extremely important journalism.

  • Overheard in the crowd: "Ayo, son, Kevin Love lives on double doubles. They like water to him, bruh. I aint sayin Klay Thompson's a bad player, man -- he's a top 20 at his position, maybe -- but he aint that last piece. You gotta have Kevin Love over Klay Thompson man. You just gotta." There are a lot of layers here, and the idea posited probably deserves a post of its own. My main question, though: how is Thompson only top 20 at his position? I realize he's a bit overrated, but there are barely 15 decent starters at that position. By dint of being a half-decent player, he's ALREADY above his positional average. In his defense, I asked him about that later and he realized that he was being a bit hyperbolic. He also said the following: "Jeff Ayres is like a 9 year veteran in this league, but he's still playing in summer league. What that mean to you, son?" It's a good point.
  • The arena staff introduced a fun wrinkle at the end of the final overtime period: tossing copies of NBA Live 2014 into the much-depleted crowd as they broke for the last 4.8 seconds of the first overtime. They spent all day tossing random things, but an actual working video game was saved for the final game of the day, 10-12 minutes from the end. Talk about burying the lede.
  • There was something really silly about the overtimes in the last game of my first day. For most of Summer League, the NBA instituted a rule replacing all extra time after one OT period with a sudden death shootout. It was a really good idea, because nobody there actually wants to register extra time. But rather inexplicably, they abandoned the sudden death concept for the "playoff" component of the league, which meant that as the competition gets more and more languished, the players suddenly have to play extra basketball. Absolutely nonsensical, especially since they set teams up in a position to play three days in a row if they make the "title" game.

• • •

That concludes our first summer league dispatch, admittedly posted after I got back. I'll compile the rest of my notes into a catch-all conclusion tomorrow before continuing with our inexplicable free agency grades. Stay frosty.

Free Agency 2014: More Signings, More Grades!

richard jefferson

Lest you've been living under a rock, I must inform you -- free agency started two weeks ago. One of the unintended consequences of the NBA's 2011 CBA renegotiation was a collective bargaining agreement that dramatically increased the craziness and general velocity of free agency. Any given contract's maximum length was slashed dramatically in the new CBA, meaning that far more of the league (by percentage) goes to free agency than they used to. And because contracts are shorter, teams churn through cap space much quicker, which means a good 10-15 teams have easily accessible avenues to hand out max deals. The in-season trade block is less lucrative than it used to be, but free agency is wilder than ever. In recognition of this, I'm trying to stay abreast on the information overload so you don't have to. Today I'll be covering:

  • A large number of low-end free agents. Not all of them, as there are officially too many to discuss in one post.
  • Grades for each signing based on my take on how said player would fare in a zombie apocalypse.
  • Everything BUT LeBron. His name will not occur after this line. Live to LeBron another day, lovelies.

Let's get to it.

• • •

Here are a large number of deals that have gone down so far with a few snap thoughts on each of them. I will also provide a grade on each contract. Last week's grades were on a rapidly shifting scale with no comparability between the different grades. These will be comparable, but completely agnostic to a player's talent, fit, or general basketball acumen. I'll be grading on my best guess as to whether the player in question would be a standout citizen in a zombie apocalypse. (Before anyone asks -- yes, slow zombies. Get that fast stuff out of here.)

  • Nando De Colo signs with CSKA-Moscow on an undisclosed deal. Nando De Colo was not a particularly groundbreaking NBA player. A perennial backup at best, he showed serious NBA speed but often found himself tricked into making passes that were far outside any possible comfort zone for a player of his caliber. Compounded that with low finishing ability and a shaky-yet-quick-trigger shot. In San Antonio almost seemed like he was trying to imitate Manu. Maybe it was some kind of hilarious attempt to trick Gregg Popovich into giving him extra minutes by getting the two of them mixed up. (SPOILERS: It didn't work.) He cleaned up his act enough in Toronto that you could start to see a decent option at the backup point if you squinted, but in a league replete with point guards that wasn't quite good enough to make the kind of money he wanted. Too replaceable. De Colo might very well be a star with CSKA Moscow -- his aggression and speed that's relatively pedestrian in the NBA could make him a standout in any league that's slightly slower and slightly more by-the-book. Probably a good deal for CSKA Moscow.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: While De Colo isn't an amazing NBA player, the guy is lithe and stringy. Also: delightfully fast. I think he'd survive pretty admirably in a post-apocalyptic wasteland -- perhaps not the most cerebral member of the group, but he'd be quick thinking and good at running when the caca hits the rotors. Four brains out of five.
  • Kent Bazemore signs with the Atlanta Hawks on a 2 year, $4 million dollar deal. Remember when I mentioned less than one paragraph ago that the league has a glut of point guards? Consider Bazemore exhibit A. He's hardly an amazing talent, but he's eminently passable. In a league with fewer options, it's feasible that an athletic wunderkind like Bazemore could get a much larger contract than that. Especially given his turn with the Los Angeles Lakers last year -- in his first serious minutes, Bazemore averaged 28 minutes of burn with 13-3-3 on 47-37-64 shooting and his usual scraphouse grinder defense, which certainly seemed like a decent-tier backup to me. He's only 24 years old, so chances are reasonably high that this deal ages well over the next two years as he develops into his passing game and backs up the entrenched incumbent in Jeff Teague. That's where we are as a league right now -- there are enough passable point guards that $2 million a year can net you a young, low-risk athletic burst guy at your backup point guard slot. No wonder Nando left for greener pastures.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: Bazemore's burst and athleticism may make him a strong option for the Hawks at backup point guard, but he's a bit stocky. He's also a physical defender, used to bodying guys up and aggressive fronts. If you aggressively front a zombie, it will be difficult to avoid being bitten. Atlanta, you made the wrong call. Two brains out of five.
  • Brian Roberts signs with the Charlotte Hornets on a 2 year, $5.5 million dollar deal. As with Bazemore, this represents a decent bargain on a flawed-but-developing point guard. Bazemore is more of an offensive project, Roberts is more of a defensive project -- his close-outs were wild and often terribly timed, but he shot the ball well and helmed several reasonably efficient offensive units off the New Orleans bench. This probably signals the end of the Ramon Sessions era in Charlotte, with Charlotte going for a younger option with a bit more upside. Probably a lateral move, if we're honest, but maybe Clifford can milk a bit more out of his game.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: Brian Roberts is a worldly player, having played overseas for Israel and Germany. I'm going to assume he's learned a lot of cool tricks from his Israeli and German teammates, giving him that extra edge that nudges him just above replacement level. Three brains and a femur out of five.
  • Willie Green signs with the Orlando Magic on a 1 year, $1.2 million dollar deal. This is selfish, but I hate this deal. I hate this deal for one reason, and one alone -- I hate watching Willie Green play. I just don't think he's an NBA caliber player. This will be his eleventh season in the league. He played almost 16 MPG for one of the three or four best teams in the NBA last season, so it was silly of me to expect he'd leave. But he just didn't really do anything! He shot under 40% from the floor despite playing well over a third of his minutes with Chris Paul. Do you have any idea how hard that is? He only shot 33% from three! Perhaps he'll be a calming veteran presence in an Orlando locker room that needs it. I doubt it. More likely, he'll shoot even worse than he did last year and slowly fade into the ether.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: His name is 'Willie'. Need I say more? One brain out of five.

• • •

Kevin Garnett: starting center on the zombie all-stars.

  • Ben Gordon signs with the Orlando Magic on a 2 year, $9 million dollar deal. In a vacuum, I don't despise this signing. The second year is reportedly a team option, which essentially means they're draining about $4 million on him this season with the intention of cutting him or shipping him off for assets if he shows even the slightest pulse. He hasn't in several years, but it's a flyer on a possible asset grab. The thing is? Even understanding the logic, I still don't see the point of picking up Gordon specifically. It's not like the market is bone dry or anything -- there are a bunch of cheap young mid-career options that Orlando could've kicked the tires on instead. Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Crawford, Xavier Henry, James Anderson... even their own Doron Lamb, who wasn't that bad last season. They probably could've had their pick of any of those shooting guards for the same general price range they're paying Gordon, and all of them are roughly as likely to turn into the kind of trade asset they're hoping to get from Gordon. And none of them left their former team on terms nearly as bad as Gordon's last ouster. Just sort of puzzling to me. Certainly could work out, and it's hardly a harrowing loss even if it goes horribly wrong. Just fundamentally strange, much like their odd Willie Green signing and their difficult to defend Afflalo dump.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: Ben Gordon fearlessly took on chomping zombies back when he was a member of the Chicago Bulls, as seen in the picture above. He's a grizzled veteran of the zombie game. Five brains out of five.
  • Richard Jefferson signs with the Dallas Mavericks on a 1 year, $1.5 million dollar deal (10+ year veteran's minimum). Little known fact: Richard "El Jeffe" Jefferson wasn't that bad last season. He wasn't exactly some building block for the future, which begged the question of what on God's green earth Tyrone Corbin was doing by giving him 27 minutes a night. But lost in the futility of his season was the fact that he really wasn't that bad. He was actually better than he'd been since 2011, with perfectly mediocre averages of 10-3-2 on 45-40-75. He brought back a bit of his at-rim finishing game and continued to show off the rehabilitated shot he got in San Antonio. His defense has fallen off a cliff, but as a purely offensive player, he's the absolute definition of "replacement level" at this point. Adequate to a fault. Hence, I actually like this signing for Dallas -- given Shawn Marion's precipitous falloff on defense, Jefferson might actually represent an equal caliber veteran replacement as a backup for Chandler Parsons. Given that the Mavericks are contending for a title (if only on the periphery), it makes a bit more sense to focus on veteran known quantities over flyers at your backup slots. And a vet min deal is decent value for that kind of production. It's a silly deal simply because Richard Jefferson is silly -- it's a good one regardless of the omnipresent humor.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: Richard Jefferson reminds me of the mild-mannered side character in most zombie movies. He doesn't really distinguish himself in any way before the zombie apocalypse, but his quiet strength quickly makes him the backbone of the group, quickly showing his importance as the greatest zombie fighter of all. ... YO, I'M PLAYIN, WE'RE TALKING ABOUT RICHARD JEFFERSON. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. One brain out of five.
  • Bojan Bogdanovic signs with the Brooklyn Nets for 3 years, $10 million dollars. I don't know much about Bogdanovic. He's a Croatian player who plays for the Croatian national team, and is coming stateside from a tour with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey. He's 25, which means he has some limited upside, and the deal is structured such that he can opt out of the final year if he wants to try his hand at a larger payout. He's played with fellow Brooklyn bench-bro Mirza Teletovic before, so there might be some preexisting chemistry between the two Croats. All things considered, it isn't a terrible use of the taxpayer MLE -- Bogdanovic averaged 15 points a night in Turkey and has a reasonably smooth perimeter shot, although it remains to be seen if his release is quick enough to get open looks at an NBA level.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: I really know nothing about him. This is a stupendously difficult zombie grade to assess. According to Wikipedia, the Croatian national team's head coach kicked him off the team in 2012 for disciplinary issues. Perhaps that implies that as the going gets tough, Bojan starts to get rougher and tougher, and that he would end up a lone agent in a zombie apocalypse scenario. Going one-on-one in a world like that is not usually conducive to success. Two brains out of five.
  • Danny Granger signs with the Miami Heat for 2 years, $4.2 million dollars. There are few moves this summer that I disliked as much as this one. When negotiations completed on this contract, the Heat still had... uh... "that one dude" (remember, I can't use the L-word!) who should theoretically have be a big free agent draw. They were looking for Granger as a backup spot-minute guy who would play 10-15 minutes a night. His veteran minimum salary value is $1.3 million dollars a year. That's what the veteran minimum was made for! Why were the Heat willing to give up their $4.2 million biannual exception for Danny Granger, despite the fact that they could've signed him to a veteran minimum deal for $2.6 million dollars over two years? Was there a huge market for Granger, despite his scintillating playoff shooting of 27% from the field with 22% from three point range? Look at other players who signed around BAE value -- Kent Bazemore, James Johnson, Beno Udrih, Lavoy Allen. Are you telling me that NONE of them would've considered Miami's money if Riley could've convinced Granger to take a $1.6 million dollar haircut? Come on. Miami should've pushed on the veteran minimum. And if they failed, they should've reoriented and found other quality vets who might've taken it instead and spent their BAE on someone with a modicum of upside. I love Danny Granger, but that was a heck of a puzzling move by Riley.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: High. Not many veterans have their own Batcave -- as long as Granger can make his way to his New Mexico home, he should be able to hole up in the Batcave and hold out a strong defense against the zombified hordes. Huge value for Miami's BAE, and could very well save Riley's butt once everything goes down. Great move. Four brains out of five.

• • •

mario welcome

  • Mario Chalmers re-signs with the Miami Heat for 2 years, $8 million dollars. Although Chalmers is coming off one of the worst NBA Finals performances I've ever seen, this contract seems like a decent value to me. Chalmers is 28 years old, which means it's unlikely he evolves his game much, but he's a capable showrunner for Spolestra's playbook and a decent defensive talent at an ordinarily defenseless position. He's hardly one of the league's better point guards, and as the entrenched Miami starter, he'll remain one of the league's worst starting point men. But he's also quite cheap for a player in his nominal prime and it'll keep Miami from losing too much corporate knowledge as they shuffle the pieces around Bosh and Wade. Which is valuable, if not particularly sexy. (Still wish they had Isiaiah, though.)
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: Picture this. The Heat are in their RV, driving to Danny Granger's Albequerque home. Tempers run high. Suddenly, the RV sputters. They turn to Mario in concert, and start yelling at him. Even Spolestra stops the RV, turning to join the mob. Mario, it was your job to fill the tank! Mario, why are you so useless! Mario, THIS WAS YOUR ONE JOB. As they scream, hordes of zombies start clawing at the outside of the RV. Pat Riley looks out the window and steels himself, resigned to their fate. (PLOT TWIST: The gas was full. Mario did his job. It sputtered because RVs do that sometimes. Whoops.) Zero brains out of five.
  • D.J. Augustin signs with the Detroit Pistons for 2 years, $6 million dollars. Augustin isn't an incredible player, but I like his fit in a Stan Van Gundy offense. I could see him playing a role not-dissimilar to the one played by Rafer Alston in 2009 -- a spot of reliable three point shooting and burst scoring off the bench by a generally tepid distributor. Of course, that makes a lot more sense when you aren't paying Brandon Jennings tens of millions of dollars to play a similar role (and play it better!), but that's beside the point. (Yes, pun intended.)
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: Augustin is quite small for an NBA player, standing at 6'0". He's also really fast, which means that he'd be great at darting through the woods and escaping a horde on his own. He calls his own number a lot, which probably would frustrate members of his group, but his size makes him a replacement level zombie fighter. Three brains out of five.
  • Cartier Martin signs with the Detroit Pistons for 1 year, $1.1 million dollars (6-year veteran's minimum). Martin isn't a phenomenally adept player, but he can shoot threes. I wrote a few days back about how Stan Van Gundy (the GM) was building the exact sort of team that Stan Van Gundy (the coach) wanted to work with. Martin is a reminder of that desire, a one-dimensional shooter who will spot up to the corners and do little else in his system. One-dimensional or not, he should be useful to a Pistons team that was almost unbelievably bad at shooting threes last season.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: One-dimensional agents can be useful in the aftermath of a zombie takeover, but only if that dimension actually has anything to do with rebuilding society or defending yourself against zombies. Corner threes will not be very useful while zombies are eating you. Zero brains out of five.
  • Aaron Gray signs with the Detroit Pistons for terms that are still totally undisclosed. Seriously, wait, what? It's been ten days, Stan Van Gundy. This was announced over a week ago -- it is now the 15th. Let the terms leak already! ... That said, I don't really love this move, nor do I really understand it. The Pistons are going to have to waive Peyton Siva or Josh Harrellson in order to fit this contract on the books. Siva is talented, and a decent young player to maintain a flyer on. Harrellson is an incredibly cheap floor spacing center with mediocre defense. Neither of them are less substantial than Gray, a 30-year-old NBA lifer who's mediocre at everything and lacks any particular big-ticket skills. The deal is likely for the minimum, so it's hard to fault him too much. But I prefer Harrellson simply for his differential skillset -- adding a traditional meat-and-potatoes big man with no intriguing tertiary skills to a rotation as cramped up as Detroit's strikes me as a poor move.
    • ZOMBIE GRADE: Aaron Gray is a massive, massive man. This means he'd be stronger in a fight as long as he maintained enough distance from the zombies, but he would be unable to outrun them and would have to stay fully armored the entire time. A tough proposition, and probably an early casualty of the zombie horde. Two brains out of five.

• • •

Fun times. Join me later this week as I continue sifting through the NBA's myriad free agent moves, and continue my ever-present quest to find the least useful grading scale ever. Stay frosty.

Free Agency 2014: Grading a Week's Worth of Signings

dirk colorful hat

Lest you've been living under a rock, I must inform you -- free agency started last week. One of the unintended consequences of the NBA's 2011 CBA renegotiation was a collective bargaining agreement that dramatically increased the craziness and general velocity of free agency. Any given contract's maximum length was slashed dramatically in the new CBA, meaning that far more of the league (by percentage) goes to free agency than they used to. And because contracts are shorter, teams churn through cap space much quicker, which means a good 10-15 teams have easily accessible avenues to hand out max deals. The in-season trade block is less lucrative than it used to be, but free agency is wilder than ever. In recognition of this, I'm trying to stay abreast on the information overload so you don't have to. Today I'll be covering:

  • Every single free agency deal I haven't discussed yet.
  • No, really, every single one! I even graded them, using an incomparable scale!
  • (Okay, actually, I'm missing a few of the one-year deals. Whoops. At least I graded the ones I have!)

Let's get to it.

• • •

Here are all the deals that have gone down so far with a few snap thoughts on each of them. I will also provide a grade on each contract. These will be placed on a constantly shifting scale completely impossible to compare between transaction-to-transaction. No, really. Just TRY to compare them.

  • Dirk Nowitzki re-signs with Dallas on a 3-year, $30 million dollar deal. Unless LeBron signs for a significantly below-market deal (under $20 million), this is the best contract of the summer. Much like Duncan's $30 million dollar deal right after San Antonio's rough jaunt with Oklahoma City in the 2012 WCF, this essentially amounts to getting an all-NBA caliber player for less than a sixth of your cap. Dirk and Duncan both have games that are aging beautifully, with Duncan's offense and Dirk's defense falling off from career highs but their inverse advantages staying roughly in line with career averages. As long as Dirk exists as a threat on the floor, he's likely to deserve this contract and more. GRADE: Three Pterodactyls out of Two Oranges.
  • Kyle Lowry re-signs with Toronto on a 4-year, $48 million dollar deal. Much like Dirk's deal, this was a pretty strong move. Lowry isn't one of the best 3 or 4 point guards in the league, and it's unlikely he'll ever quite reach that stratosphere -- not with stars like Paul, Parker, Westbrook, Curry, and Wall filling the league's ledger above him. But Lowry exists firmly in the next tier of almost-star point guards with Lillard, Irving, Conley, and Rondo -- all of them have a handful of fatal flaws that keep them right outside that top group, but all of them can take over a game with their skillsets. And unless you have LeBron, you better have someone from these lists if your offense intends to contend for a title. If Lowry didn't have his (completely deserved) reputation as a bad-attitude guy, he probably could've strung out for a little bit more. As is? Fairly nice deal with very low blow-up potential for Toronto, and it gives Lowry both financial security and legitimacy as one of the league's 10-or-so best showrunners. GRADE: Five seasons of Orange is the New Black scavenged from six computers.
  • Marcin Gortat re-signs with Washington on a 5-year, $60 million dollar deal. While I don't love this contract, it was probably what Washington needed to pay to keep him. I just wish they could've kept the years down a bit more for the sake of their flexibility. The Wizards were good this year, but they weren't good enough to give the impression that they couldn't have lived with a shakeup around their Beal/Wall core. Especially given how they frittered away what should have been an easy series against a reeling Pacers team -- although Washington relies on a few young pieces (specifically Wall and Beal) they're hardly a young team overall. The "playoff newbies" excuse doesn't hold that much water when Ariza is your 4th man and Gortat/Nene are your one-two punch from the frontcourt. This team isn't strictly built to win now, but bringing the core back doesn't guarantee that they're going to improve enough to pull off a string of conference finals appearances. If Gortat has a down year, I'm not totally sure teams are going to be chomping at the bit to take this kind of a contract off Washington's hands. Still, in a pathetically weak East, even if it isn't a guarantee the potential is there for this Wizards team is good enough to become an ECF staple. And that's worth something, so it's hard to fault them too much. GRADE: Eight wax figurines of Tuco Salamanca out of the Internet.

• • •

boris the magic diaw

  • Boris Diaw re-signs with San Antonio on a 3-year, $22.5 million dollar deal. I'm not a massive fan of this one on its face, but I heard a few rumors that the last year might be partially guaranteed. That helps it along a bit. While the exact details of the contract aren't completely clear, it appears the last year is partially guaranteed and the first two years will pay him $18.5 million in total -- that would tend to imply (at least to my eyes) that the contract is set up in a manner similar to Tiago Splitter's contract from the last offseason, where it starts high and gets lower as the years go on. Given the high likelihood of a post-championship hangover from one of the league's most motivation-fickle players, that sounds pretty good to me, and makes his contract easy to move as early as next offseason if the Spurs decide to go in a different direction. Maintains continuity without sacrificing flexibility. Decent move, and rewards him for a great year. GRADE: One perfectly acceptable croissant out of a hole-in-the-wall French chain restaurant.
  • Avery Bradley re-signs with Boston on a 4-year, $32 million dollar deal. A lot of people were complaining about this one, reasoning that Bradley hasn't really shown himself to be a $32 million dollar player. I disagree. He hasn't consistently put together the kind of play you want out of a max guy, but his abilities as a defensive stopper (despite his size) and generally proficient three point shot make him worth this kind of mid-tier money. Some people compare him unfavorably to Danny Green. It's a fine comparison, as Danny is a better player that does nearly everything Bradley does. Does it better, too. But it ignores the fact that Danny Green is incredibly underpaid, and likely deserves to be making anywhere from 10-12 million himself. The small wing is a position of massive scarcity right now. Green has a serious case for top-5 at the small wing, and Harden is almost certainly the best at that position right now despite his massive flaw. In that context, of COURSE Bradley deserves more than an MLE! Especially given his age. Why was this even a question? GRADE: Seven steel unsorted Monopoly pieces taken from seven hundred beat-up game boxes... but they're the seven coolest ones, so you really lucked out.
  • Patty Mills re-signs with San Antonio on a 3-year, $12 million dollar deal. Diaw's contract might be a bit outsized given the likelihood of a worse season, but THIS contract is basically a steal. Yeah, he's injured. Won't play for the first few months of next season! But I hardly care. The Spurs have Cory Joseph to develop during Patty's rehab, and Patty is a $5-6 million dollar player -- possibly more. Mills could put up solid numbers for just about every lottery team in the league, with a superb handle and an unflappable three point acumen. He's been improving his defense, too. And the Spurs only have to pay $4 million a year to lock up his services? Fantastic. GRADE: Sixteen kangaroos out of five spider-clocks.
  • Shaun Livingston signs with Golden State on a 3-year, $16 million dollar deal. I really like this move. Backup point guard was a massive problem for Golden State last year, and Livingston represents a very different approach at the point to the one Curry holds dear. Change of pace is a real thing. It totally changes how the opposing team game-plans your bench. Livingston also has the flexibility to play the two, although it'll be a weird fit. Still. At that price, he was a great pickup. GRADE: Six hundred and seventy two egrets hand-picked from the private recesses of Gil Scott Heron's legendary egret collection.

• • •

Darren Collison, right now.

  • Darren Collison signs with Sacramento on a 3-year, $16 million dollar deal. Since I think Darren Collison is significantly worse than Shaun Livingston, I like this deal a lot less. I also like it less because the Kings were dangerously close to the NBA's hard-cap apron BEFORE this deal was signed. In its aftermath, the Kings have inexplicably forced their own hand regarding Isaiah Thomas' contract -- despite Isaiah's status as a restricted free agent, they can no longer match any offer that takes them over the apron. This deal is shaky-but-reasonable if they're paying Collison to be Isaiah's backup. If they're paying him as a REPLACEMENT, this is just sad. Ergo... well, it's just sad. Sorry, Kings fans. GRADE: Two dumpster-diving hipsters lecturing you about Freegan culture inside a whale-shark.
  • Thabo Sefolosha signs with Atlanta on a 3-year, $12 million dollar deal. If the Hawks get the player OKC had by last year's Conference Finals, this was a bad deal. Sefolosha's shot had degraded to the point that he simply could not stay on the floor, and his defense hasn't been at its career-best for a few years now. That said? Atlanta has had salary space to burn these last few years, and there aren't any big fish they're really aiming to pull. Even if Thabo is useless, a deal like this should be reasonably easy to move in a pinch and given his former highs as a three-and-D Bowen-style stopper, this kind of a deal represents a decent flyer. GRADE: One cumulonimbus cloud placed lovingly on a hoagie bun.
  • Chris Kaman signs with Portland on a 2-year, $10 million dollar deal. The Blazers needed some improvement from their bench guys, but I'm not really sure this was the way to go. They lost in a ridiculously lopsided gentleman's sweep to the champs. Could've at least played the youth game and put in a flyer on Ed Davis or Aaron Gray. Not that either of those guys would've been massive difference makers, but at least there's some upside. What's the upside on a no-defense shot chucking big man? Other than the commercials. Those are pretty high upside. Nevermind, I've talked myself into it -- this signing is all worth it if one hipster joint in Portland gets a sponsorship deal with Kaman and forces him to pretend to be a hipster in a commercial. GRADE: One deleted Animal Crossing save file placed in the context of a whole human life.
  • Spencer Hawes signs with Los Angeles on a 4-year, $23 million dollar deal. Not a huge fan of the years on this one, and the dollar value seems mighty steep for a big man with defense as bad as Hawes. In the big picture, though, it's a solid move. I'm all for moves that fill actual holes, and one of L.A.'s biggest problems in recent years has been a borderline terrifying lack of depth in their frontcourt. Signing Hawes FINALLY gives L.A. a passable option beyond Griffin and Jordan, and (as mentioned in the Livingston note) functions further as a change-of-pace option to space the floor and free up the rim for the other big man. Length is a bit steep, and his defense is going to hurt them. But they aren't going to have to give Glen Davis 15 minutes a night playing center in playoff situations anymore, and that counts for a lot. GRADE: Green Eggs out of Ham.
  • Jordan Farmar signs with Los Angeles on a 2-year, $4.2 million dollar deal. I really like this move. Farmar isn't great, but they don't need a golden God at backup point guard -- Chris Paul can handle it for most of the game. Farmar makes threes and exists as a credible off-ball threat. He won't replicate Collison's wares exactly, but he'll be a good enough facsimile that I doubt the Clippers will notice the difference. And that's an incredibly cheap contract. GRADE: Sixteen Kid's Choice Awards awarded indiscriminately to family members that are vaguely related to you.

• • •

kyrie approaches

  • Kyrie Irving signs an extension with Cleveland for 5-years, $90 million dollars. Kyrie's career hasn't exactly gone as I expected it would. One of my favorite parts of Kyrie's college game was his on-ball tenacity and generally sound defensive fundamentals -- absolutely NONE of that has been present in his NBA game, and he hasn't really evolved like I'd expected him to. His passing hasn't really taken much of a leap forward, his defense has been pathetic, and he simply hasn't changed much. His rookie season was one of the best rookie seasons in the last decade, but that's comparing amongst rookie seasons -- his rookie season was also arguably his best season, which makes it hard to place where his contract deserved to land. That said? Given the weakness of the East, this max was probably worth it. Cleveland might very well have an all-star locked in for the next five years. And it's not the $20 million dollar max, it's the post-rookie max -- that's a huge difference, and it keeps the contract pretty reasonable. Stability is huge, too -- it's a big step forward for a franchise that's been in a state of constant change since LeBron's departure. GRADE: Several origami shurikens thrown from the back of a moving truck by a pyromaniac who's not too lost to cry.
  • C.J. Miles signs with Indiana on a 4-year, $18 million dollar deal. Much like how the Darren Collison deal depends on their treatment of Isaiah Thomas, my feelings depend on how Indiana's pursuit of Stephenson shakes out. If they retain him, this deal is great -- Miles adds a much-needed pop of scoring and shooting to an Indiana bench that's been unfathomably awful these last few years. If they don't, this deal is somewhat unfortunate -- despite the decent price they got for a good bench option, Miles is never going to replicate what Stephenson brings the Pacers, and he represents a huge step down in their rotation. Still. In a vacuum it's a pretty decent deal. But if it really does end their pursuit of Stephenson, it was a mistake. GRADE: Miles and miles of Gomer Pyle, but everyone's still so thirsty.
  • Patrick Patterson signs with Toronto on a 3-year, $18 million dollar deal. I really like this for Toronto -- Patterson has come a long way since my not-particularly-complimentary player capsule, and getting a young big man with a constantly improving track record on a patently affordable seven-figure annual deal is pretty tough in the modern NBA. Combined with the Lowry move, the cost savings Ujiri pulled off from those two moves should allow him the flexibility to continue adding to Toronto's fringe East-contending roster. Great call. GRADE: Five capitalized "P's" placed next to several capitalized "T's".
  • Devin Harris signs with Dallas on a 3-year, $9 million dollar deal. This is... fine. It's fine. I don't love it, mainly because the Mavericks just lost Jose Calderon and really need another point guard in his place. Harris is better in Dallas than he is anywhere else, as he works well in Carlisle's system and plays well off Dirk. And given that Dallas was a pretty good team last year, continuity is worth something here. But Harris is clearly a step down from the league's contending point guards, and Dallas is going to need a better replacement for Calderon if they intend to contend for the West next year. If they strike out on Melo and LeBron, I'd like to see them go after Isaiah Thomas with their remaining cap space -- he's short, but his three point shot would work well in Dirk's shadow and I have a feeling Monta and Isaiah would be must-see TV. Just an inkling. GRADE: Three musketeers out of all the other superior candy bars you could be eating instead.
  • Zach Randolph signs an extension with Memphis on a 2-year, $20 million dollar deal. Although Randolph is reasonably young (currently 32 years old), I'm a little bit concerned about this deal for Memphis. This extension's $20 million dollar price tag doesn't include this year's $16.5 million dollar salary, meaning the overall picture is more like $36 million for three years of late-career Randolph. And that simply isn't what it used to be. True, Randolph's 2014 was a bit of a throwback campaign -- he had his highest TS% since 2011, highest free throw rate, and higher usage than he'd put up since his days with the Clippers. But his rebounding has continued a worrying downward trajectory and his playoff performance was barely a shell of the game he showed against San Antonio years ago -- against LAC, he barely shot above 40% (40.4) and couldn't even clear 9 rebounds a game despite playing almost 40 minutes a contest. Not ideal. For this contract to make any sense at all, Randolph is going to need to get back in shape and perform at a level fitting with that kind of a salary. The Grizzlies aren't going to have much of a chance at a finals berth otherwise. GRADE: That one old girlfriend you always forget when listing off your dating history.

Tomorrow, I'll be covering the inevitable Carmelo Anthony deal (and the resultant detrius) as well as a rumination on this year's considerably entertaining LeBron drama, even if (like most people) I have serious doubts about most of the information we're being fed by anonymous sources. Later, haters!

P.S. For the stampeding legion of slighted Jodie Meeks fans who are wondering where my grade is for his signing, I discussed the Meeks deal last week. However, I did not grade it. Now that I've graded everything else, I see the error in my ways. I apologize, Jodie Meeks fans. My grade for the Jodie Meeks signing is a robust "nineteen stereos playing out-of-sync Feist songs in a hermetically sealed silent room with nothing but a tuba in the corner." Hope that flies with you guys.