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The 15 Footer: Things fall apart, but no one stops talking to notice

Sep 16, 2011, 1:44 PM EDT

Derek Fisher speaks to reporters after taking part in contract negotiations between the NBA and the players association in New York Reuters

The 15 Footer is a recurring series of fifteen items about the NBA highlighting news of the last week. It is written by Matt Moore, sometimes not badly.

1. It’s not the end of civilization. But you can see it from there. 

I was sure that the Kardashian-Humprhies wedding would be the dumbest story in the NBA this year. How do you top a borderline starter marrying someone who’s literally famous for being famous? Oh, that’s easy. With a 20-year-old affair between a marginal political entity and Glen Rice. It’s like a folktale, really. If the point of the folktale was to make you question what the point of the human race is.

2. Play It Forward Pass

LeBron James‘ long-term fascination with football, including this weeks’ video of him playing ball in the street, got me thinking. Would James be better off as a receiver? He’d be physically dominant because of his size and athleticism. He’d likely have wound up as the highest paid receiver. And while football has its own ridiculous set of cliches and standards, particularly regarding toughness, at least James wouldn’t be solely responsible for his team’ fate in the clutch.

In fact, the NFL would do more for James’ overall goals than the NBA. While the money is undeniably better in the NBA, he’d still be one of the most marketable players in the NFL. He’d be part of a closer team, as NFL squads tend to be closer than NBA teams. And the burden for success would be equally shared man to man, instead of heaped on James. Furthermore, James would only have to excel on a handful of plays once a week rather than on 90 percent of all plays 82 games a season and then the playoffs. These things are the same for any athlete, but James is particularly well-suited for the game. And maybe it would have given James a different self-concept where he wouldn’t, you know, go on national television and rip his home state’s heart out. Okay, probably not, but it’s something to think about.

You’re all just sitting there imagining him getting nailed by a safety, aren’t you?

3. The Big 20/20 Hindsight

At some point, Shaq’s not really being helpful. Oh, wait, that’s most every point. His latest brilliant reveal is that he advised the Celtics not to trade Kendrick Perkins, saying he knew he might not return. The assumption here is that Danny Ainge should stop all of his talks and go “Wait a second. The guy who nicknamed himself the Big Aristotle says this is a bad plan. Clearly the great minds of our time doubt this maneuver which provides more flexibility for our team in 2012 in the next big free agency summer. Abandon ship!”

The Celtics traded Perkins because they were leveraging what he would give them last year versus the value of clearing space (and acquiring Jeff Green). Part of that involved a faith in O’Neal to return from injury which didn’t work out. That’s not O’Neal’s fault. The guy’s 39 for crying out loud. But O’Neal’s revisionist history has followed him at every stop in his career. Even in retirement, he’s passing judgment on decisions that were never his to make. But hey, at least he’s willing to fight some people.

4. In some cultures, Zen is a word for jerkface

You would think that Phil Jackson would have more appreciation for other former players. Typically, players act like it’s a brotherhood. Yet for whatever reason, Jackson thought it best to give Jerry West the cold shoulder, eventually driving him out of the organization. Naturally, almost no one is going to think badly of Jackson, even if West’s accusations were confirmed by the Zen Master himself. It’s just the same ol’ lovable Phil, the wisecracking winner.

At the same time, West’s neurotic, fretting manner must have clashed with Jackson’s hole “whatever, man, let it be” approach. (Or, as I like to call it,  “Whatever, man, let Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant handle it.” ) Micro-management is never a quality you look to embrace, and Jackson’s plans worked out pretty well, with the 5 championships and all. You’d just think that he would find a better way to get along with the legends of the game. Red Auerbach, Jerry West, the list goes on. Just odd to see Jackson as a divider between a legend and the franchise he helped build.

5. National Lampoon’s European Vacation Part II

Lamar Odom is often talked about with regards to a failure to capitalize on talent and ability. The fact that his career apex has found him as a dichotomous role player in terms of X-Factor vs. space cadet speaks to this. But what gets lost is that Odom never flamed out of the NBA. He never fell off the radar, never found himself struggling to keep a position, never lost his starting spot due to a better, younger player. He went to the Lakers’ bench because of how their lineups were put together, not because he was a weak point. And most importantly, he’s hung on in the league for an extended period of time.

So news that he’s considering playing in Europe after next season makes you look back at his career with appreciation. He’s not being forced there, and he’ll be able to live in a high lifestyle. He’ll have escapades with Khloe. And he’ll likely end up facing Paul Pierce again, who has talked about playing in Europe after his NBA career is through. Despite having the reputation as not having lived up to expectations, Lamar Odom will be a two-time NBA champion, married to a rich famous person, living abroad and being famous. Not bad for a washout.

6. Socially Media Awkward

I think it’s safe to say that technology has made this lockout dramatically different from the one in 1999. Between the salvos being fired on Twitter, the “whoops” tweet from Roger Mason, and the speed with which lockout news travels, everything is accelerated in the lockout just like it is with any event. The problem is it also creates more communication for there to be rumors about. Like, you know, texts. Derek Fisher later denied the reported texts of him informing players to be ready for a season, but it just adds more noise to the stream.

It’s no coincidence that the most progress was made in the talks when both sides initiated a media blackout. Every time either side speaks to the media, things get worse. As a member of the media, I can recognize this. We only make things worse, in terms of resolving things. It’s our job to find angles that people care about, and two sides squabbling and slamming each other is a lot sexier than “both sides approached the problem in a mature way.” Furthermore, people do care about how the negotiations are going, so those with sources inside the talks are doing their readers a service in providing news. But that doesn’t change the fact that the less word gets out, the better chances there are that actual progress will be made. Once again, the enemies to a season are communication and Dan Gilbert.

7. Glass Half-Empty, Glass Half-Full Of… 

The union apparently informed its players that they could miss up to half a season, which is a real bummer. But on the bright side…

  • If they do play half a season, Greg Oden might play a “full” season.
  • If they do play half a season, some crazy things could happen like the Wizards being good. Just kidding, but JaVale McGee seems to think so.
  • If they do play half a season, Gilbert Arenas might get paid what he’s actually worth for the year.
  • If they do play half a season, teams will be healthier and better rested for the playoffs.
  • If they do play half a season, you can look forward to more gimmicks like this.
8. Maybe He Can Pawn One Of His Six Rings To Cover It
The league fined Jordan $100k, which is pretty impressive. Most people are terrified of Jordan. It’s not clear why, it’s not like he’s super violent or anything. He’s just, you know, the most intense and powerful guy in the NBA. Plus the Mom Jeans. That, too.
At least the league is staying consistent. The worst thing it could do with the hammer it has picked up during the lockout is to use it arbitrarily Using it no matter who violates the gag order is the only way to give it legitimacy, even if the entire thing is a little bit immature.
My biggest question is whether Jordan paid the fine with cash he had on him, or if he had to go back to his gigantic vault of money that he swims in  to get it.
That might be Scrooge McDuck. I get confused sometimes.
9. But Think Of All The Reading They Can Get Done
Ira Winderman talked about the realities of how most NBA players can’t take the financial hit of losing a season, due to their short career span. Winderman hints that this could eventually result in another break in the union, which is what this whole thing has come to be about. Who’s going to break first, the union or the owners? (Hint: It’s not the owners.)
It’s going to be a legitimate test of how much the union really did prepare its players for the lockout. If they’re caught off guard once the checks stop rolling in, that’s a damning sign for how much the players listen to the union’s advice, and will affect their willingness to stick together. That’s why you see all the conversations about staying united and the t-shirts and what not. At least during the lockout, players aren’t prevented from getting another job. They just don’t want to. Would you want to go work at a minimum-wage gig if you were an NBA player?
But let’s be clear. It’s still a decision not to pursue employment during the lockout.
10. A Not-So-Disappointing Turn Of Events
When Suns CEO Rick Welts announced he was stepping down this week, the media reacted with… casual coherence? Rational measure? What? What’s happening? There were no accusations of a rift between Welts and Robert Sarver, no inherent conversation about why he was really stepping down. Welts just decided to take a new job and move because of a relationship. No shocker. Nothing salacious. Just a normal move that would have gone unnoticed were he not known as the gay NBA executive. It shouldn’t be news, but the fact that the news was handled without sensationalism is at least a win for everyone. It’s a loss for the Suns, though, who have gone through a ridiculous amount of turnover over the past four years. Seriously, you’re supposed to wind up in Arizona, I thought.
11. A Necessary Guardian Or An Unnecessary Evil?
Rashard Lewis spoke with ESPN this week and made it clear. The owners decide to sign players to exorbitant contracts, and they negotiate those contracts with agents, not the players. The agents’ role in the economics of the NBA has become more and more into perspective during this process, as agents seek decertification and the power play continues. Lewis’ comments provide a different kind of insight into players. It shows that they would accept less money and that they don’t maintain a blind denial that some contracts aren’t fair. In short, the players know that they aren’t worth the money. But if you’re offered, would you turn it down?
Now, you or I may turn down a job position if we know we can’t fulfill the obligations, but that would never be a contract. That’s the big differential and a cause of debate for the owners. In short, they want to be able to overpay for a player, and then cut him if it doesn’t work out. Players are responding by saying “don’t overpay us and no one loses.” It’s a question of individual responsibility versus systemic failsafes.
12. What About Bosh?
If anyone is going to escape the all-encompassing fire of “The Decision” and the subsequent Heat Wave, it’s going to Bosh. Bosh drew so much fire last year for everything from his attitude to his perceived wimpiness, that at the end, there started to be a move backwards. Bosh actually had a really good Eastern Conference Finals and a pretty decent Finals. It was LeBron that suffered in the Finals. So with Bosh standing up to Skip Bayless and his childish insults this week, and the reception being largely positive, it’s possible that he could grow on that momentum. Maybe Bosh can work off some of his negative image by just being contrasted with some of his critics.
13.  The Inmates Aren’t Running The Asylum, They’re Piloting The Aircraft Carrier
Maybe Robert Sarver and Dan Gilbert are the ones taking possible labor agreements out at the knees. Maybe they’re not. But it’s clear that they have a voice, as their appearance at the meetings proves. And these two aren’t the ones you want running the show. Or are they?
Gilbert has a decent argument towards saying how competitive balance is a problem. You can say Gilbert overpaid for marginal talent and built incorrectly around LeBron, or you can say his market created an environment where he had to. You can say Gilbert had the opportunity to re-sign James, and that he couldn’t, or you could say that the system made it too difficult for him too. You can say Gilbert overpaid for the Cavaliers, or that the current system dictates the price under tangible assets.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. But if you can understand anyone wanting stronger ways to keep the talent they draft, you have to sympathize with Gilbert. Unfortunately, if you want an example of how decision making affects teams’ futures, Gilbert’s also the lightning rod.
Sarver on the other hand is a good model of an owner who acted responsibly, nay, cheaply, and still didn’t turn a profit. So the system must be broken. In other words, if a cheap owner in a mid-level-market can’t turn a profit with a playoff team, who can? This again comes to the question of whether player salaries are the entirety of how an NBA business succeeds or fails.
These two should not be driving the wagon. But they do stand as examples of the kind of problems both sides are going to have to solve.
14. Sole Man
Joe Johnson has lots of shoes. Just a reminder.
15. It’s Raining (Threes) In Baltimore
Would an NBA team survive in Baltimore? The basketball scene is pretty strong there. Is it impossible to think that after his playing days are over, Melo might want to invest in a team there? Maybe he and LeBron can go halvsies.
  1. ciscoleon - Sep 16, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Jackson doesn’t have to get along with everyone. In fact I smell jealousy from Auerbach and West. Jackson is the single greatest winner the NBA or any sport has ever witnessed. Don’t even doubt it. If he’s not chummy with someone – more than likely they’ll hate on him. That’s what Auerbach did. West felt he wasn’t loved, so he turned it into animosity. Whatever… Jackson bet you Jackson has great repoire with many more than he has an unsaid rivalry with.

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