Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NBA, Players Need To Put Greed Aside And Stay With Olympics


By far the most popular athletes on the most popular team in the 2012 Olympics may not be back in four years.

It would be another example of greed and money ruling sports, and it would be a shame.

Pride has been restored to the USA Olympic Basketball team, where the game’s biggest superstars now care about winning gold again and are so dominant the task looks relatively easy. But Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders why the NBA is letting the Olympics make a huge profit while using its athletes. Instead, Cuban suggested making Team USA a 23-and-under club again for the Olympics, while the NBA makes more money forming a “World Cup”-caliber tournament with their best players representing the U.S.

Cuban’s idea is based on the notion that this new “Basketball World Cup” will be wildly successful, because, after all, this is about money. Soccer’s World Cup is much more popular than Olympic soccer, but it also is a sport much older and established than basketball, with the most fans worldwide. This wouldn’t happen with a basketball tournament overnight. It would take years before the tournament built up enough viewership and credibility to make it worthwhile, even with the world’s greatest player. Plus, it would probably be a tournament held every four years, yet you wouldn’t want to compete in Olympic or soccer’s World Cup years, when the audience already has a love affair on TV.

Just look at the 2010 FIBA World Championships. Team USA consisted of NBA giants* Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala and so on, yet that worldwide basketball tournament is miles behind the coverage and attention of Olympic basketball this year. I haven’t heard players pass on the chance for an Olympic gold medal to rest and possibly win a FIBA World Championship trophy. It just doesn’t compare.

Having Team USA comprised of NBA stars is good for the Olympics and it is good for the sport. As I mentioned in a previous column on the Dream Team, having the best players at the Olympics can only strengthen the game internationally as more people watch how great the sport can be.

You already have the spotlight on the world’s biggest sporting stage, so why leave? For a little more cash? The NBA already has a stigma as being a greedy league, so instead take one month of every four years to put pride in your country and your sport ahead of your love of money.

* Giants now, not necessarily then. 

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Friday, July 27, 2012

NBA's 2012-13 Schedule Released Thursday

Dwight Howard prefers Jameer Nelson to the Magic's 2012-13 point guard. (Zach McCann/Orlando Sentinel)
The NBA released a schedule for the 2012-2013 season on Thursday. A full schedule; not a 66-game imposter. Old rivalries will continue to simmer, new jerseys (not New Jersey; that no longer exists in the NBA) will be donned, and new storylines will overtake Orlando's Dwightmare (eventually).

As usual, the Christmas Day docket is must-watch material, and opening night will feel like seeing an old friend who moved to warmer climates. Plenty of people have already analyzed the schedule, and Eric Freeman highlighted 10 under-the-radar games that should be fun to watch. Get your fill of reading "vs." and "at" while you can because Association-branded basketball returns in 94 days.

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Dream Team vs. 2012 - Dream Team's Existence What Matters

2012 Olympic team vs. '92 Dream Team (Chicagonow.com)

The wait is over for the 2012 Olympic games, and no storyline out of the USA camp has been bigger than that of the USA basketball team.

It’s not because they’ve really been questioned by an opponent so far, but because this year happens to mark the 20th anniversary of a certain other USA basketball team that changed the way the Americans approached the Olympics.

It seems like a never-ending topic; who is better, the 2012 squad or the 1992 Dream Team? But caution; the 2012 team hasn’t won anything yet, and unless they bring home the gold medal, this debate is pointless.

The Dream Team - which will always be in reference to ‘92 - was made up of veteran players, many of whom had already put up hall-of-fame careers. The youngest player on the team (minus the one college player, Christian Laettner) was Scottie Pippen at the fresh age of 26, while five players were over 30 and four more were pushing it at 29. The 2012 squad includes much younger talent, with Kobe Bryant the only player over 30. It’s easy to assume there are several future HOFers in this group, but right now they are still writing their futures. This team could still be better in the future.

The competition also has to be considered. International basketball has grown substantially over the past 20 years. From 1992-2012, the number of foreign-born players who are playing in the NBA has tripled. While the Americans are still the outright favorite to win gold, the playing field is much more difficult than it was 20 years ago. The rest of the world is accepting and loving basketball, and the world talent continues to rise. This is not to say the Dream Team would have struggled playing against current world teams, but teams such as Spain and Argentina are much better than they were two decades ago.

The truth is it’s not important which team is better. What is important and what makes the Dream Team so special is 1992 marked a turning point in basketball around the world. The idea that the game’s best players should replace collegiate athletes and play on one of the world’s greatest stages was monumental. This had to affect how the world viewed the game, as international fans watched all-time greats put on a show of pure mastery. They saw basketball at its most elite, and then it just so happened that more international players worked their way to the NBA.

Without the Dream Team, the 2012 team wouldn’t exist. Players would still want their summers to relax and recover, looking at the Olympics as an obligation instead of an honor. Collegiate players would still compete well, but the game’s best would be watching from couches. The Dream Team wasn’t just about winning gold, it was competitors and rivals coming together, and putting differences aside, to take pride in America.

So while you watch the USA throughout the Olympics, remember that it doesn’t matter if the Dream Team is better. Just be glad the Dream Team happened. 

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Andrew Wiggins is a Youngster to Know

Andrew Wiggins sees something he likes. (Sholten Singer/Huntington Herald-Dispatch)

There’s no way to nail down whether or not a marvelous college basketball career will translate into a productive professional term. Adam Morrison – he of numerous award nominations and wins during his time at Gonzaga – is proof enough of that. Sure, he coasted through two title runs with the Los Angeles Lakers, but Morrison just finished toiling in summer league and, in all likelihood, will not play a minute in the NBA this upcoming season – significant or not.

Likewise, college recruiters lack a definitive deductive method to find the next Naismith or Wooden Award winner. But considering the summer that Andrew Wiggins is having, it’s worth knowing his name, at least.

The latest addition to the class of 2014 representative’s ledger is a strong showing at Nike’s Peach Jam. Facing some of the toughest prep-level competitors in the country, Wiggins averaged 8.9 rebounds and 21.9 points on 47.8 percent shooting while leading his AAU team, CIA Bounce, to a second-place finish.

In the tournament championship, Wiggins outkicked his averaged and went off for 28 points with 13 rebounds. If the numbers alone aren’t impressive, the Canadian small forward – who plays school ball for West Virginia’s Huntington Prep – did the work against Julius Randle, the No. 2 ranked player in the class of 2013. At 6’8”, 235 lbs, Randle has half an inch and 35 pounds on Wiggins. His size wasn’t an advantage on either end of the floor, as Wiggins also bothered him defensively.

Basketball runs in the Wiggins family. Andrew’s father, Mitch, logged six years in the NBA and has gone on record saying Andrew can’t hold court with his older brothers (Mitch Wiggins, Jr. played at Hillsborough Community College and Nick Wiggins will be a Wichita State Shocker this fall, after two solid years at Wabash Valley (Ill.) College).

Sibling rivalry and paternal direction certainly have places in Andrew Wiggins’ story. ESPN has the rising junior pegged as the No. 1 player in his class, and Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports already has Andrew slated to be the top overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Still, he's entering his third year of high school and has more to learn. His foul on a three-point shooter with 1.9 seconds left essentially lost his team the Peach Jam title.

He’s quick, athletic, and hyped – but with so much uncertainty, a couple highlight reels are all Andrew Wiggins has to his name right now.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There's Always a Place for Pure Shooters

Incoming KU freshman Andrew White (Rivals)
The first night University of Kansas incoming freshman Andrew White arrived on the KU campus in Lawrence, he went to the gym to shoot around. His idea of a shoot-around doesn’t mean practicing trick shots or his dunking, but instead making game-type shots. And he makes lots of shots. 

A story on KU Sports.com tells of White shooting 150 3-pointers that night in the gym, with 135 of them going in. For those counting at home, that’s 90 percent. White takes his shooting ability seriously and even created his own drill where he shoots from 10 designated spots on the floor - five of the spots from 3-range. He has to make 50 shots from each spot on the floor - 500 makes total - and two weeks ago he made his 500 shots in just 592 attempts. Again for those counting, that’s a staggering 84.5 percent. White said in an interview for that story that he breaks his goal of hitting the 80 percent mark roughly one-third of the time.

White follows a shooting philosophy that seems to be slipping away in the college and pro game. It is not about the number of shots, but about the number of makes. Any player can claim they shoot 500 shots every day, but making 500 shots is much more difficult and time-consuming. Those 500 makes will also make you a better player than 500-shot Guy.

White is one of the few who represents the great equalizer as a basketball player. He’s a pure shooter.

The growing phenomenon, especially in the NBA, is of players who use strength and speed to overpower their defender and get to the basket a.k.a. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and the list goes on. These players minus Howard can still make shots, but it is not their strength.

But there will always be a place in the college and professional game for great shooters. Kevin Durant has the height, but not the size, to be a power forward in the NBA. He can, however, hit shots over anyone from every spot on the floor.

Stephen Curry was said to be too small to play in the NBA, but his electrifying shooting not only got him from a mid-major standout to a first-round draft pick, but now Curry is a successful professional player.

Stephen Curry showing his shooting touch at Davidson (Sports Illustrated)
Ray Allen has embodied what all pure shooters strive to accomplish. He’s the all-time 3-point leader in the NBA and a future hall of famer. Every ball he shoots looks like it is going in, and it is expected to. If players can learn enough of a complementary offensive game to still get open for shots, shooting ability can get them a long way in the league.

Ray Allen (Celticslife.com)
What makes people fans of shooters, of course, is they are fun to watch when they’re hot. Unless he’s playing against your team, you probably won’t complain about Ray Allen or Stephen Curry hitting 8-of-9 3’s to start the game and hope he starts dinging them off the backboard.

It is fun to watch great shooters work making defenses look around helplessly as another shot goes in just like it is fun to watch great dunkers or great quarterbacks who unmercifully pick apart defenses. Shooters are great to root for because what they’re doing isn’t due to natural athletic ability. It took thousands of hours in the gym, continuously perfecting the craft to get to what we see on TV.

Hopefully White and other current and upcoming college players take pride in the ability to shoot well, and allow us to continue in awe of all those hours in the gym paying off.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Video: Luke Walton Plays Ping-Pong, Because Of Course

With the NBA summer league wrapping up with the final games played in Las Vegas last week, basketball is officially in stasis. The first official game of The Association's regular season isn't until Oct. 30, when the Miami Heat will host the Boston Celtics, according to the Miami Sun-Sentinel's sources. College hoops tip-off even later, in mid-November, with the 2k Sports Classic.

Until then, we'll have to do with pick-up games at the local gym and videos like this one:

NBA players guessing which of their brethren would be most competitive at various, non-basketball Olympic sports? That's worth a few minutes of the day. The video comes courtesy of the official summer league media gurus and features a bevy of bros, like Chris Bosh and Luke Walton. Whereas Bosh thinks he would be good at numerous events — because of his lankiness, his practice or a combination of the two — Walton is confident in his ping-pong skills. After all, no one says they're "pretty good" at something unless it's true. Plus, he gets a co-sign in the video.

We'll probably never be lucky enough to see Bosh and Walton complete a best-of-seven series in table tennis, so we'll have to rely on basketball numbers to compare the two. Sorry, Chris, but Bill's son has two NBA championships. Keep trying, though.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Video: Angelo Sharpless: Dunker and Soon-To-Be Internet Sensation

The week is not yet over, but the dunk-of-the-week (and month) contest was surely just captured by Angelo Sharpless. If you haven't seen this video yet, please take a minute to watch this (the highlight is only 10 seconds long, but you'll want to replay it several times). If you have already seen it, do yourself a favor and watch again.

This is a great highlight to watch for several reasons. First off, Sharpless is 6'4", which isn't tiny but smaller than the expected high-flyer, and will be a junior at NCAA D-II Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. We expect this from our NBA superstars and D-I prospects (aka future NBA superstars), but don't say just because a player isn't suiting up for Kentucky doesn't mean he isn't a tremendous athlete. Most of you had probably never heard of Elizabeth City State University before seeing this video, which makes it even greater to see someone like Sharpless grabs the country's attention.

Dunk contests and practice highlights of guys showing off trick dunks can be found all over YouTube, which raises the stakes and almost desensitizes us to what a jaw-dropping dunk actually looks like. If you see a guy throw the ball off the backboard, jump up and dunk it with one hand, then yes, it is impressive, but it's been done before. Many times. Great dunks are seen often, but jaw-dropping is a level few reach.

This dunk shows originality, creativity and spontaneity. Sure, guys bounce the ball hard off the floor, go up and slam it home, but how often does that happen during a game with a defender in the way? Sharpless had just crossed the defender over, slammed the ball down, then went around the back side of the defender before going for the ball. That takes a very skilled player to pull that off. The move happens so quickly and is so unexpected that it looks like a perfectly planned reaction; something that is difficult to accomplish.

Thank you, Angelo Sharpless, for brightening our summer with an incredible, creative dunk that is sure to make you an Internet sensation. 

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Video: Karl Malone Lacks Big Country Survival Skills

Greg Ostertag reached a Final Four as a Kansas Jayhawk and, after the Utah Jazz made him a first-round draft pick, made consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998. He made his name as a defensive presence in both situations, although Ostertag ended up as a journeyman center and suffered an injury while trying to revive his career in the D-League.

Needless to say, Big Country has seen better days, like that time he blocked Karl Malone. From behind. During shooting around before a Jazz-Lakers game. It's a bit of lightheartedness from a guy who wears a dour look during table tennis matches against little kids and whose YouTube reel features other people dunking more often than him throwing down. Even in this 12-second clip, though, Ostertag is not the star. That honor goes to the Frenchman who may or may not have seen defense before this particular incident.

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Music 101 - DJing a Road Trip

The Griswold family getting ready for a road trip in "National Lampoon's Vacation."

Whether your experience fits more in line with the Griswolds or a college-kid-spring-break-may-not-return-alive extravaganza, most of us have been a part of, and love, a good road trip.

I've been on a few of my own, both with friends and family, and have come to appreciate what I feel is the most important job during the trip; being the DJ. I've been tasked with this job on several occasions, which may be the reason I think it's important. I've felt the pressure. 

No matter how well you get along with the other people in the car, 10+ hours is a long time to be in a confined space. Silence can be brutal, and listening to music you hate can be worse, so here are some DJing tips to make your road trip a successful one.

No need to rush:
The excitement for the trip is at its peak as the car is finally put into gear and the city limits are behind you. There's no need to immediately jump into DJ mode. Everyone will probably be talking and it gives you a chance to enjoy your favorite radio station one last time. Wait until it’s time to start scanning for radio stations before you come to the rescue.

Know your audience:
As I mentioned earlier, nothing is worse than driving for hours, being tired and wanting to just be there, while listening to music you hate. You should know what your co-passengers like to listen to already and play something for everyone. Asking for requests is a great way to keep everyone entertained and make sure they get a song they enjoy.

Playlist loaded and ready:
DJing a road trip is mostly spontaneous. Conversations will spark over the jerk who nearly ran you off the road, people will sleep and you'll get off topic. It doesn’t hurt to have a playlist or two cued up so you have 15-20 songs in a row you can count on and you know everyone will love. Shuffle is a great feature, and sometimes you need the spark of just scrolling through your library until something jumps out at you, but not for 10 hours - especially if you plan on taking a driving shift. This also can help transition through genres and similar artists, so AC/DC isn’t sandwiched between Lady Gaga and Lady Antebellum. Doing a little work ahead of time can make the task a lot smoother.

Singing about driving:
There are plenty of songs out there with lyrics about, and seem to be made with the intent of being driving songs. You know what I’m talking about, either the song is about a car or the lyrics are focused around driving. Those can be nice touches, but don’t overdo it. Instead, find upbeat songs that sound good being blared while on the highway with the windows down. Throw in a song about the city you’re traveling to, if possible, for the end of the trip.

Timing is everything:
It makes sense that your favorite songs are what you will think to play first, and what your passengers will want to hear, but don’t be too quick to run through your A-list of songs. You’re going to already be in a good mood when the trip begins, so go with songs that will keep the energy up, but aren’t your best tunes. You can sprinkle one or two in at the beginning, but save most of your top songs for the final few legs of the trip. People are going to be tired and far less chipper than before. Saving these songs will bring your passengers back to life and increase the enthusiasm for when you actually arrive at your destination and the real fun begins.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Land of the Free & Home of the Hoops

The biggest feather-rumpling incident in basketball this week concerned Kobe Bryant asserting that he and the rest of Team USA 2012 would beat the team fielded by the States in 1992 – the famed Dream Team that *ahem* united the first year NBA players were allowed to compete in the Olympic games then proceeded to decimate any and all challengers by an average margin of 43.8 points en route to winning the gold medal.

Kobe Bryant's playoff beard grew late this year. (NBCOlympics.com)

Various members of the ’92 squad have weighed in on the discussion – largely doubting Bryant’s claim – and Kobe, in his usual fashion, refuses to stand down. While there’s never going to be a definite answer about who would win this hypothetical rivalry, one conclusion is safe to draw:

No other country plays basketball like the United States.

Sure, that statement reeks of jingoism. It’s a chest-beating, chain-rattling declaration of dominance. But it’s not a lie.

Since basketball was introduced on the Olympic level in 1936, Team USA has 16 medals total. Thirteen of those are gold, one is silver and two are bronze. Only at the 1980 games in Moscow has Team USA finished outside of the top three.

Everyone knows how good the Dream Team was, even opponents from 1992. Everyone knows LeBron James and Bryant brought home the top prize with the Redeem Team in 2008. However, less than half of these medals were won after professional athletes filled the national team’s roster. College athletes and amateur ballers residing stateside beat out pros from other countries routinely before ‘92.

The USA women’s team is no joke, either, having medalled eight times, claiming a bronze and a silver to accompany six first-place finishes.

There are plenty of stones to throw about the United States’ connection to basketball, the heaviest being that the game was invented in America. So, what? A sport’s origin and history is mostly meaningless during competition, especially in the modern era. Basketball is now one of the most popular sports worldwide, and seems to be trending upward given the popularity of international superstars such as Bryant, Marc and Pau Gasol, and upstart Jeremy Lin, not to mention the now-retired Yao Ming.

The 2012 version of Team USA already lacked size in the post, and Blake Griffin tore the meniscus in his left knee yesterday. But it still has the world’s best basketball player in LeBron, and Bryant is one of the fiercest competitors in sporting history.

No one knows for sure if this year’s group could beat the Dream Team, but after absolutely crushing the Dominican Republic by 54 points in an exhibition yesterday, it wouldn’t be wise to discount Team USA against anyone they may face in the 2012 Olympics.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cart Before Horse: Brook Lopez gets a Max Contract

Mired on a team with few highlights for years, Brook Lopez quietly developed into a serviceable center. It wasn't until the (then) New Jersey Nets dealt rookie forward Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and cash to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams that any positive attention appeared in Newark.

Brook Lopez reveals his charbroiled secret to scoring in the post. (Getty Images)

Williams-to-the-Nets meant a top-tier facilitator paired with one of the few legit 7-footers in professional basketball. Their first whole season together, 2011-2012, should have been full of ESPN Top Ten plays. An early foot injury derailed that possibility, limiting Lopez to just five games.

Fast forward to this summer. The Nets moved across the Hudson River to roost in Brooklyn, continued flirting with the Orlando Magic in an attempt to acquire the increasingly dramatic Dwight Howard, and had to handle Lopez's restricted free agent status with kid gloves. Then it became clear that, when the Dwightmare is over, Howard wouldn't wake up on the East Coast.

Despite his injury, Nets management had to re-sign Lopez. What's more is, they had to offer Lopez at least $58 million over four years unless they wanted to start a bidding war with the Houston Rockets another team pursuing Howard — or Portland Trailblazers, who missed out on RFA Roy Hibbert when the Indiana Pacers matched the maximum offer sheet the All-Star center signed with the Blazers.

Make no mistake: keeping Lopez is not a move to patch holes. He is a threat to score 20 points in the paint each night, and there are exactly zero NBA teams that would shy away from a center who can fill the bucket like that. Unquestionably, though, there are problems with the deal, and with Lopez. The Standford product puts up points, but is somewhat of a liability on the defensive end. Through four pro seasons, Lopez is averaging just 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 34.1 minutes on the floor. Worse yet is that the numbers dipped last season to 3.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. Whether or not the numbers from such a small sample size are indicative of what he would have done over a 66-game season, those are unacceptable statistics for a center at any level of basketball — Biddy through The Association.

Lopez has a new contract and, as often is the case in pro sports, he must now prove that he's worth even a fraction of what he's owed. The general populous would do inscrutable things for $60 million. All Lopez has to do is keep making a ball go into a basket, and ensure that his hands work when that orange sphere clangs off the iron.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NBA Summer League: It's Happening

Alec Burks gets the better of Jacob Pullen in college, upped the ante Monday. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
NBA Summer League competition began this week as D-Leaguers, young players already in The Association and others hoping to make rosters took to the court in Orlando. Squads representing the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz squared off in the early game before giving a turn to the offseason versions of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers.

Two of the more notable performers were Utah's Alec Burks and point guard Jacob Pullen, playing for the Philly offshoot Liberty Ballers. Both Big 12 alums filled their respective stat sheets. After a quiet rookie season, Burks scored 31 points going 10-14 from the field, 1-2 from three-point range and 10-11 at the foul line. Pullen — having missed out on being drafted in 2011 and then playing pro ball for a year in Italy — shot 8-14, including 4-7 on trey attempts and 3-3 at the charity stripe, which was good for 23 points. He had a team-high four assists, but also committed four turnovers.

As always, a good showing in summer league doesn't necessarily equate to good statistics in actual NBA games, or even making a team's roster, so temper any expectations for a few more months.

Games slated for today pit the Detroit Pistons against the Orlando Magic (currently in progress), and the Brooklyn Nets against the Boston Celtics. All summer league games can be seen for a subscription fee through NBA.com, where box scores are also available.

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Brooklyn Nets' Odd Couple - The Next Reality TV Hit

Brooklyn's 'Odd Couple,' Nets owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z (bothteamsplayedhard.net)

The Brooklyn Nets have been a hot topic of conversation this off-season thanks to Dwight Howard.

But there’s a potential media gem that has surprised me by going under the radar this long. Maybe the reason it is under the radar is because this is a stupid idea. If so, I’ll let it go, but I think this could make the light bulb in your head explode.

The 21st century “Odd Couple” has the potential to take the reality-TV world by storm and is located in the New York borough of Brooklyn. We live in a world where Lamar Odom married a Kardashian and gets a show, people are fascinated enough with girls who date/marry ball players to watch “Basketball Wives,” and in another sport, the all-access look at players’ lives during training camp has made NFL Hard Knocks a huge success.

We love seeing every aspect of the lives of celebrities, and athletes are no different. We want the inside access and get a glimpse into their world.  

That being said, the day-to-day lives of athletes and the people around them is well documented. An aspect we have yet to see is a day in the life of the bosses of the athletes we love.

Who better to usher us into this new phenomenon than Brooklyn Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov and minority owner Jay-Z? Think about it. Brooklyn is Jay-Z’s home (where he is beloved), he helped design the new logo and raps about giving high-fives to Nets (and Knicks) in his songs. Plus, he hangs out with LeBron James and some of the game’s biggest stars.  

With all that being said, the final say of the team still comes from an eccentric Russian billionaire who climbed the financial ladder, is a martial arts buff with training that occasionally carries over to the office, and recently said he would like to be the mayor of Moscow.

Have a TV crew follow around the two of them handling the business side of the team, going to the team after-parties and embarking on their other projects while keeping an eye on the team. Then show it on ESPN, NBA-TV or E! and watch as the rating jump.

What you have is two owners who couldn’t be more different - I’ve never heard Prokhorov rap, but I’m guessing Jay-Z wins that one - running a basketball team in one of the largest markets in the country. Not to mention if you throw in the potential of Dwight Howard making cameo appearances as the newest member of the Nets.

Tell me you wouldn’t watch that. I’m not sure Hollywood could script a more fascinating situation. The potential storylines, ego conflicts and subtitles for Prokhorov are endless.

Think it over and I’m going to go call some networks to see if we can make this happen.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

James Dolan: Knicks Owner, Bandleader

"Are you there, [free agent]? It's me, Jim" (MusicRemedy.com)

Fans and media alike have lambasted James Dolan during his tenure as owner of the New York Knicks. And, for the most part, Dolan has deserved it. He has made less-than-ideal employment choices concerning the team’s front office and money.

They may not support his business decisions on behalf of Madison Square Garden’s darlings, but if Dolan were to embark on some other venture in which he played a central role, would Knicks fans support him?

The answer: a resounding no.

For those unaware, Dolan is the singing, guitar-playing frontman of the bluesy, occasionally alt-country band JD and the Straight Shot. The group’s biggest accomplishment to date is soundtracking the opening sequence to AMC’s original show Hell On Wheels. As noted by a New York Magazine articlefrom last fall, Dolan’s family controls Cablevision, which owned AMC until recently.

Even with their music scoring the credits to a cable television program and having three full albums and an EP to their name, the item that shines brightest (depending on your opinion of Dolan) in JD and the Straight Shot’s catalogue is a gem titled “Fix the Knicks.”

That’s right. The Knicks’ owner penned a pre-emptive ode to himself about his determination to correct all the things wrong – shooting bricks, a missing defensive prowess, etc. – with New York preeminent basketball team.

One YouTube video of the band performing “Fix the Knicks” is closing in on 22,000 views. Of 111 ratings, 103 are negative – though one commenter did note that their Thumb’s Up was accidental, and that’s one of the nicer remarks.

The highlight of the song is a shout out to Dolan’s relationship with, and employment of, Isiah Thomas. Each person can pinpoint their own least favorite aspect.

JD and the Straight Shot have shared stages with The Eagles, The Allman Brothers and The Dixie Chicks. Anyone who wants to draw a comparison between Dolan’s band touring with musicians past their prime and the Knicks’ affinity for acquiring players on the downside of their careers – mostly recently Jason Kidd – would have reasonable deduction skills. Anyone wanting to criticize Dolan for spending too little time on bringing the Knicks back to prominence, well, you’ve probably been beaten to the punch.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

NBA Free Agency - The Association's Christmas Morning

New Laker teammates Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant - bleacherreport.com

The NBA holiday season is in full swing as the hangover of promise from the NBA Draft is starting to wear off as the free agency period has taken off.

It has been a busy first week of free agency, with an already blockbuster move consisting of a former MVP and a dynasty-rich NBA juggernaut. Yes, you may have heard about Steve Nash accepting a deal to play for the Los Angeles Lakers next season, giving LA a much-needed passer and floor general to make sure Kobe Bryant gets the ball, while also having the ability to create shots.

The draft and free agency are both very exciting times for NBA fans, but in very different ways. The excitement around the draft is all about hope and optimism. This is where the future is born and general managers pray the big-time talent transfers from college to pros.

The draft is the bigger spectacle, with both college basketball and NBA fans alike glued to the coverage, listening to the results of every workout, combine and interview. NBA fans want to know who to welcome to their team, and college fans want to see the player they helped grow make his dream come true. Analysts break down every aspect of a player’s game and personality for months until the player becomes transparent. Mock drafts flood the Internet with lofty predictions (I’m expecting the 2018 mock draft to be released next week) as everyone wants to play detective and determine who will make it and who will crumble.

The draft may have primetime coverage under the bright lights of New York City (or in this year’s case, Newark, New Jersey) but for NBA fans, the draft isn’t Christmas morning, but rather New Years Day.

It gives you the same promise as a new year, where you make goals and strive to get better. But how those goals will play out is far from clear. It is a time to wash away bad draft picks and losing records from the past for a brighter future, but just like New Years Day, the work has just begun.

The real holiday for NBA fans is free agency. Waking up to the glow of your computer while opening up NBA blogs may as well be you under the Christmas tree shredding through wrapping paper. Either you got the toy you had been wanting for months (Steve Nash or Deron Williams), something practical but not exciting (Hasheem Thabeet) or you are Dwight Howard, who might not have any presents to open at all.


The point is, the best time for fans is free agency. Turning around a franchise in the draft is a shot in the dark, and usually takes firing multiple shots to work. But in the free-agent market, the immediate future of your fanhood is impacted by every move.

These are not fresh-from-college hopefuls looking to prove themselves. Even the most talented of the college draft class, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal and Thomas Robinson, will take time to mature into superstars.

But free agency is where a league MVP or top-10 player can wear your jersey, already being a seasoned veteran. In the best cases, there’s no assembly required with this Christmas present.

All it takes is one move to make your team a playoff contender next season.

You’ll plead with your superstar to stay for another three years, entice a former rival player to join forces for the greater good of winning a championship or keep a close eye on that team whose dealings could bring your potential trade crashing to the ground.

You will welcome players with open arms, hate him for leaving and scratch your head when thinking about your GM’s “strategy” this offseason.

You will be ecstatic, furious, content and confused; everything you love about the holidays.

So enjoy your Christmas morning, NBA fans, because outside of your team holding up the trophy, it is the most exciting time of year. 

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Free Agency 2012: Day 1.5 Recap

We’re more than 40 hours into free agency and while few big names have agreed to new contracts, most have held meetings with at least one suitor and multiple other players are expected to sign extensions. Here, we skip past the fluff and get to the action.

"This many, times 11.6 million." Roy Hibbert is making money this summer. (Reuters photo)

  • Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed that Lavoy Allen will make $6 million over the next two years while wearing a 76ers uniform. After being a second-round selection in the 2011 draft, Allen started 15 games last season and earned an extension with his excellent defense.
  • In realizing that chasing Dwight Howard is hopeless, the Houston Rockets have made a play for another center. The club agreed to terms with Omer Asik, who spent last season with the Chicago Bulls. He’s no D12, but Asik averaged 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 points in 14.7 minutes as a backup. After he signs the contract on July 11 – the first day free agents are allowed to put pen to paper – the Bulls will have three days to match the offer and keep Asik, if management so chooses, since the Turkish big man is a restricted free agent. Kudos to the Rockets for moving quickly after Howard’s dismissal of any club outside of Brooklyn.
  • Kevin Garnett technically avoided free agency all together by deciding on Saturday (the day before the process started) to stay in Boston Celtic green to the tune of $34 million over three years. Kevin Garnett put up 15.8 points and nabbed 8.2 boards per contest last year and continued to be an integral member of a team on the cusp of a Finals berth. With his new contract, Garnett will have made more salaried money than any other player in the history of professional basketball with just a shade under $325 million to his name.
  • Across the country, Blake Griffin informed Los Angeles Clippers management that he intends to sign a five-year extension worth up to $95 million. Running mate Chris Paul declined to sign his extension, but things could change now that the All-Star forward has announced his plans to stick around southern California.
  • Another big man, RFA Pacers center Roy Hibbert, will make a financial windfall next season no matter where he lands. The Portland Trailblazers offered the Georgetown product a maximum deal of four years and $58 million, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard. Hibbert has not signed the Blazers’ offer sheet, but likely will, as reported by SI.com. The Pacers did not extend to Hibbert a max deal, but will have three days to make a matching offer if the 25-year-old signs with Portland. If he becomes a Blazer, Hibbert can do one of two things – 1) give Portland some much-needed consistency at the center position by keeping up his All-Star production, or 2) continue the bad luck of injuries to the team’s big men. (Yes, I’m knocking on wood for the sake of everyone involved.)
  • As of this post, the most recent free agent news comes out of Indiana, where the Pacers and George Hill agreed to a 5-year deal. Few details are known, but the guard averaged 9.6 points in 50 games during his first season with the team.
  • Andre Miller, the facilitator entering his 13th NBA season, verbally agreed to a three-year contract with the Denver Nuggets. Specifics of the deal are unknown, but Miller was looking for roughly $3 million each season, as reported by Yahoo! Sports. The 36-year-old averaged 9.7 points and 6.7 assists for the Nuggets last year while sharing point guard duties with speedster Ty Lawson.
  • He may not be the primary target, but the Brooklyn Nets reached a handshake agreement to retain Gerald Wallace. The swingman – obtained from the Blazers at last season’s trade deadline – declined to pick up a $9.5 million player option for 2012-13. The maneuver worked, as Wallace is expected to sign a four-year, $40 million dollar contract next week.

For a full list of players who could be changing teams, check out ESPN.com’s list of free agents for the summers of 2012 and 2013.

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The Dwight Howard Trade Saga - No Sleep Till Brooklyn


The words Dwight Howard told Yahoo! Sports Sunday night were not surprising to anyone who has kept up with his trade saga. 

It was just surprising to actually hear Howard say them. 

Howard told Yahoo! that he would only re-sign with a team on his list of acceptable trade locations. Why he even mentioned his “list” of teams is unknown since he continued the interview by saying, “There’s only one team on my list and if I don't get traded there, I'll play the season out and explore my free agency after that.” 

So he didn’t come right out and say it was Brooklyn he wanted to be traded to. His words were still vague, which isn’t surprising. But the timing of his comments cuts through his jungle of veiled hints rather easily. 
On Friday, Howard met with new Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan. Afterward sources told ESPN’s Chris Broussard that Howard let Hennigan know he wanted to go to Brooklyn.

Hennigan didn’t tell Howard during the meeting whether or not the trade would happen, but for everyone involved, Howard needs to play for the Nets.
While Howard’s words to media continue to be ambiguous, his actions are filling in the blanks. It just doesn’t feel like this can all be about basketball. Howard wants to be a star off the court as much as on the court. He wants endorsements and commercials, and to be the biggest fish in a giant pond, much like Kobe Bryant in LA. 

Surely that’s why Howard is choosing Brooklyn over the Lakers, who have also shown interest in trading for Howard. The Lakers are much closer to being a championship-caliber team, especially with a powerful inside force like Howard, while the Nets have a long way to go. One of Howard’s chief complaints in Orlando is that he didn’t have a strong supporting cast. But Howard would always be second to Bryant, and he knows this. He was the man with Orlando, and took them to the NBA Finals, but the stage wasn’t big enough for him. 

Much of Howard’s recent time in Orlando has been questioned. His effort lacked at times during the trade period last season, and the rumors that Howard tried, successfully, to get coach Stan Van Gundy fired drew the attention of the players, team and fans off the court. After Orlando signed new players and fired their coach and GM to please Howard, Howard now says he was “blackmailed” into staying with Orlando last season. 

When the trade didn’t happen last season, the feeling I got was that fans and the team looked at it as a relief; it was a celebration that the superstar was still in a Magic uniform. But Howard wasn’t happy, and that was clear. One way or another, Howard would be leaving Orlando.

The Houston Rockets and the Lakers are among the teams vying for Howard’s services, but I would heed them to get out now. The Rockets or Lakers may land Howard, but they won’t be getting the full player and person they want. Howard wants Brooklyn, and is anyone confident that, should he instead go to Houston, he will be any different that this last year with the Magic? If Howard isn’t happy, everything else goes out the window. Rockets fans will be cheering for a player that is not fully invested in the team and community, and his effort and production will surely reflect this. 

Let the Nets have their shot, should they want it, but other teams should put their feet down. We don’t know if the behavior over the past year is the real Dwight Howard, but it brings up a lot of concerning questions. If the Nets turn him away, then he may be worth pursuing. The rejection may humble him into appreciating a team that will welcome him and support him. But until then, it will be impossible to change his mind and attitude, and it is not worth the risk.

The saga has gone on way too long, and it will end with Magic fans losing their superstar in a stinging way. LeBron James’ The Decision set the bar for how not to handle leaving for a new team, but at least LeBron’s heartbreak to the city of Cleveland was like pulling off a Band-Aid. It was painful, but it was quick. 

Howard drug the city of Orlando and its fans with him on his continuous roller coaster that should have left everyone sick on board. He has the talent to make the Nets fan base very happy, but also has the potential to take an innocent Rockets fan base on the same roller coaster ride that won’t leave anyone happy.

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