Saturday, March 25, 2017

10 Things I Hate About Getting The CBA Wrong

I don't want to bag on a writer I'm not familiar with but I am compelled to FJM this piece about Kyle Lowry (and his future with the Raptors). For sport, spot the point in this post where I simultaneously pummel the premise and lose my mind.

9 reasons why the Raptors should sign-and-trade Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry is unequivocally the Toronto Raptors most valuable player.

As I’ve said on the Free Association podcast, a strong case can be made that the Raptors would be better off moving on from him this summer. At the recent Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Raptors president Masai Ujiri mentioned a GM’s job is all about taking risk. A Lowry-free future would be a risk, but so too would be doing the same thing expecting different results.

Here are nine reasons why the Raptors should explore a sign-and-trade this summer for the impending free agent.

So far, so good. Well... if I'm going to pick nits, teams with consistent rosters from year to year are prone to results different enough to change playoff berths, plus differing qualities of other teams, plus players rising and falling from the age curve and... shit. It's been a while -- I better pace myself.

What the Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet trio has proven is that none of them are as spectacular as Lowry. However, the team isn’t utterly lost with these three running the point either.

Per 100 possessions this season Joseph is averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 5.7 rebounds. In his short career Delon Wright is averaging 20.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.4 steals per 100 possessions. VanVleet per 100 is averaging 18.4 points 5.5 assists and 3.1 steals.
The question isn't whether Lowry will be more productive next year than whatever alternatives general manager Jeff Weltman cobbles together. The question is whether they'll be appreciably better relative to how much they're going to cost. And even if Lowry is appreciably better than the alternatives, the next question is, for how long? The Raptors can make do with 48 replacement minutes of point guard play a night.

I've been enjoying the spurts of 'wow' Delon Wright has shown in very limited playing time, so far this year. I haven't wavered in thinking he's a fantastic NBA prospect.

Cory Joseph has been (save the last two-ish weeks) a disappointment this season. He's seemed to regress on defence for reasons that I'm not able to explain and, while his three point shot has mostly recovered, he attacks the basket less and less, severely limiting the pressure he can put on opposing defences. He's under a nice, old salary cap-type salary figure and is under contract for one more year (leading to a player option he'll likely decline) which makes him just-as-good as trade fodder than he is to succeed Kyle as top guard.

Fred VanVleet is an affable replacement point guard who is more likely to be replaced with another affable replacement point guard next season or Ujiri/Weltman are more likely to not keep a fourth point guard on the roster than FVV is to see a larger role.

The one question posed here that matters... is the drop-off between Lowry and the other guys large enough to justify Lowry's cost? It's reasonable to argue (in this narrow binary) that it's not but only in a scenario where the goal is to fall back into a middling 7th or 8th seed and try to rebuild from the middle.  If the question is: could the Raptors re-allocate cap space (which is likely non-existent even with Lowry gone if Ibaka and Patterson is re-signed but maybe there's room under the tax for a mid-level signing or an additional salary-clearing trade to open up room) and be as likely to be a two-seed in the 2018 playoffs? Cory Joseph's per 100 possession box score stats don't tell that story.

Look at the decision the Raptors made to give playing time to Lucas Nogueira and draft and develop Jakob Poeltl instead of paying Bismack Biyombo $72 million. When the playoffs ended last year, many thought Toronto had to re-sign Biyombo. Although Biyombo was an on-court and cultural fit, the numbers didn’t make sense. You can apply similar logic to Lowry. Given the going rate for free agents, I’m not saying Kyle Lowry doesn’t deserve to get max money. I am saying it may not be prudent for Toronto to give it to him.

I cringe at folksy rule-of-thumb precedents which plague the rest of these nine arguments... "Defence wins championships!" "You can't win without a super star!" They're created to be vague enough to fit into any narrative and churn through thousands of hours of mindless sports talk radio.

Look, Biyombo did not have Larry Bird rights and signing him would have been functionally impossible without unloading rotation players to teams with cap space without taking back salary and done quick enough to deal with DeRozan and his cap hit. No one who pays attention to the workings of the NBA thought it was possible he was coming back. Also, the defence seriously suffered this season, to the all-star break. I'm not placing all the blame on Biyombo's absence but it was a factor and Ujiri was concerned enough to make serious, if not team-exploding trades, for two players who were brought in to shore up the D. I think the defensive drop-off from Biyombo to those who picked up his minutes were severe but still not as severe as a  bye-bye-Lowry drop-off, even acknowledging Kyle's age and likely decline.


Back in 2006, the Dallas Mavericks were faced with a similar decision and let Steve Nash walk, in part due to concerns about his back. Nash of course went on to win two MVPs but it was the Mavericks who won a championship by spreading the money around.

When presented with a choice, the Mavericks kept the star player that could score in isolation: Dirk Nowitzki. For the Raptors that player is DeMar DeRozan. Of the 25 most recent NBA champions, only three featured an all-star point guard and none of those were on max deals.

This is a fairly insane anecdotal comparison. Does anyone think Mark Cuban doesn't regret letting Nash go? DeRozan is a parallel to Dirk Nowitzki because both could score in isolation? (You know who else could score in isolation? Kyle Lowry and Steve Nash).

Also, the Mavs won a championship seven seasons after Nash left (in '04, not '06) with the help of a 37-year-old point guard who was one year removed from nabbing an all-star stop (oh god, you made me quote back all-star appearances as proof-of-quality).

Also, Kyrie Irving wasn't an all-star last season because he was hurt at the time.

Also, Stephen Curry wasn't on a max deal in '15 because he was still a wonky-ankled shooting specialist at the time he signed his rookie extension.

Also, Tony Parker *was* an all-star in '14 (you did it again!).

Also, Wade and LeBron were de-facto point guards in terms of possessions, assist rate, guarding duties in '12 and '13. The reason those Heat teams used rookie-contract point guards wasn't because Pat Riley thought excellent point guards were cursed, it was because the salary cap said they couldn't sign one.

ALSO, you just said Kyle Lowry is the Raptors' unequivocal best player and then you go and say DeRozan, as the isolation-scoring-spiritual-brother to Dirk Nowitzki, is the more championship-y star?  Which is it?


The list of point guards who continue to play at an elite level after the age of 31--Lowry's age at the start of the 2017-18 season--is a short one.

Chauncey Billups is a commonly cited comp for Lowry. In his age 31 season, Billups played 78 games, averaging 17 points and 6.8 assists while shooting 44.8 per cent from the floor and 40.1 per cent from three. However, by the age of 35, Billups had played for three different teams and just 20 games because of an Achilles injury.

John Stockton played well into his 40s as a small guard, but unlike Lowry, he enjoyed incredible health throughout his career. The freak that is Stockton played in every regular season game in all but two of his 18 seasons. Lowry has played a full 82 games just once during his 11-year career. Assuming Lowry misses the rest of the regular season, his games played as a Raptor by season will be 68, 79, 70, 77 and 56 this year.

A year ago, Lowry hurt his elbow in January and carried the injury until banging it on the floor in March. It eventually needed to be drained but the inflammation bothered him and affected his shot during the first two rounds of the playoffs. In 2014 a mixture of back, hand, hamstring injuries and a bruised shin made him a shell of his all-star self as the Raptors were swept by the Wizards despite having home court advantage.

Now a wrist injury that went undiagnosed for a week during the all-star break might force him to miss the rest of the regular season after requiring surgery.

It is very true that Lowry is old, by NBA standards, and that players, especially guards, tend to decline swiftly in their 30s. There may be things to point to as signs he might have fewer miles than might first appear due to being a bench player for his first six years in the league with no deep playoff runs -- but maybe I'm wishcasting. Kyle Lowry is much likelier-than-not to be a worse basketball player in two, three and certainly five years. Ujiri needs to cost that into his team-building, no doubt.

On the injury front, you can convince me that as players age their knees, feet and backs tend to go, forcing them to miss more and more games (and affecting their value to the team). But I'll be damned if a bruised elbow and broken wrist are trotted out as signs he is infirm. The dude plays very hard (a good thing) which sometimes leads to contact injuries (a bad thing). It's true that Casey had run him incredibly hard the last three seasons which likely leads to more injuries, but, you have to ask: why is Casey playing him so much? I think it's because he is very, very good at basketball.

Also, Chauncey Billups was super awesome in his age 32, 33 and 34 seasons, for what it's worth.

Also, I'm back to nitpicking but John Stockton retired about a month after his 41st birthday, not well into his 40s. Which I think helps your point? You're welcome?

Another troubling aspect of Lowry's injury history is that it keeps leaving him at a disadvantage when the games matter the most. In 44 career playoff games, Lowry is averaging 14.7 points and 4.3 assists per game on 38.3 per cent shooting from the floor and 30.9 per cent from three. Until he raised his average with a strong Eastern Conference Final last year, Lowry and Lindsey Hunter shared the honour of being the only NBA players to have a post-season field goal percentage below 35 per cent while having taken at least 350 or more shots.

LOL to "he was pretty bad at something he did 37 times (have bad shooting games) 13 of which were as a 22-year-old back up on another team but then was pretty good for about 6 at something. He's obviously using the Gilbert Arenas clutch-o-meter. I won't bore you by reminding y'all that Lowry's career TS% is significantly higher than DeMar Derozan's.


As good as Lowry has been, we are living in a point guard rich generation.
Half of the league now enjoys high-end point guard play on a nightly basis. Stephen Curry (23.82 PER), Russell Westbrook (30.34 PER), James Harden (27.89 PER) Chris Paul (25.66 PER) and Isaiah Thomas (26.66 PER) all have superior numbers to Lowry's (23.11 PER).

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving (23.53 PER), John Wall (22.76), Kemba Walker (21.03 PER), Damian Lillard (23.79) and Mike Conley (22.49) all have numbers close to Lowry’s. Even the likes of Eric Bledsoe (20.75 PER) and Goran Dragic (20.09 PER) have put up numbers in striking distance of Kyle’s career best production.

Okay, sure, there's plenty of good point guards around nowadays but we have to twist ourselves into a gnarly knot to suss out how this might benefit the Raptors...
  • If we're fine with the previous argument that CoJo+Delon+FVV(?) = an approximation of Lowry's value at a fraction of that cost then who cares if there's a wealth of point guard riches around the league? We have Cory Fucking Joseph!
  • If you don't think that's enough to stay competitive and you instead are looking to sign a free agent point guard you have to grapple with 1) the Raptors still are unlikely to have enough cap space without a fire sale and 2) if you're frothing at the chance to get in front of Jrue Holiday (the best point guard free agent who is not Kyle Lowry and is not Steph Curry or Chris Paul who I'll be happy to bet are staying put) for a likely four-year max deal -- how ahead does that put you? Sure, he's four years younger than Lowry but that's about all he has going for him. After that? Are you excited about George Hill or Jeff Teague at maybe four years/$60 million? 
  • Or you trade for one of those delicious PER rates mentioned above, all of which are on max or near-max deals, except for Eric Bledsoe. Show me your trade proposal that nets the Raptors Dragic or Bledsoe (the players least loved by their current teams) and we can talk about how competitive the Raptors still aim to be


A huge consideration will be this year's $102 million salary cap and $122 million luxury-tax projections. That's down from an original estimate of $107 million and with a luxury-tax threshold of $127 million to according to's Brian Windhorst.

Once they guarantee the contracts of Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet, and add the salary of their first-round pick, the Raptors payroll will be around $81 million.

And that’s before adding the current salaries for impending free agents Serge Ibaka ($18.4 million), Kyle Lowry ($18 million), Patrick Patterson ($9.1 million) and P.J. Tucker ($10.1 million), each of whom will be seeking a raise.

The Raptors figure to exceed the salary-cap threshold if they re-sign Lowry to a five-year max deal and you shouldn't expect Lowry to take a penny less than the five-year, $153 million Mike Conley got from the Memphis Grizzlies. Ibaka, although not a better individual player than Lowry, has a more rare skillset. Ibaka is a stretch-four that can play the five while both defending the rim and providing space offensively.

Kristaps Porzingis and Brook Lopez are the only players other than Ibaka averaging one three-point make per game with a block rate better than four. Only 12 players have ever had over 100 blocks and 100 three pointers in a season. In 2016-17 Serge Ibaka is already one of them.

Unless the Raptors intend to start The Process by trading a significant portion of their roster, of course they won't have salary cap space this summer. Ujiri made that decision when he signed DeMar DeRozan last summer and he doubled down by trading the cost certainty of Terrence Ross (and a late-first pick) for the expiring contract of Serge Ibaka (and a clear intention to re-sign him). Quoting the impending cap hold (150% of current salary) for those free agents is a pretty roundabout way to emphasize that. They will be a tax-paying team unless they let some free agents go (say, Patterson and Tucker) and/or trade signed players (Joseph, Carroll or JV).

Am I going to entertain arguments that Serge Ibaka is harder to replace than Kyle Lowry because of some manufactured "see? -- he's a unicorn!" stat? No, I am not.


Part of this is supply and demand. The 2017 off-season is a unique opportunity featuring a draft class loaded with talented players, especially point guards. There are three big point-guard prospects projected to go near the top of the draft. Washington's Markelle Fultz, UCLA's Lonzo Ball and N.C. State's Dennis Smith Jr. look like all-star level players.

Does it make more sense to pay a top level young point guard $3-5 million a year on a rookie deal or Lowry $30 million?

Does he think any of these potential all-star-level point guards are going to fall to 22 where the Raptors are currently projected to draft? Does he think the Celtics, Sixers, Suns, Magic or Lakers like anyone on the Raptors enough to trade a top draft pick for? Or that one of those teams want to trade the Raptors an excess point guard for spare pieces because they're planning on landing a prize rookie? I mean, if you really want to trade for Eric Bledsoe, it's probably not that hard. What are you getting at?


The Philadelphia 76ers are rumoured to be interested in making a move for Lowry this summer.
They’ll have some competition.
"Somewhere on the summer market—Philadelphia, New York, perhaps the Clippers, should they lose [Chris] Paul—there will be an offer in the neighbourhood of a max deal for him,” claimed Adrian Wojnarowski.

If Philadelphia secures a high pick in the draft lottery on May 16, they can draft for Toronto in exchange for the ability to trade for Lowry and obtain his Bird rights.

Philadelphia president and general manager Bryan Colangelo made the trade to bring Lowry to Toronto. The Sixers don't need more young talent, so would Colangelo trade a lottery pick for a known commodity in Lowry?

It's worth remembering Colangelo and Ujiri have a relationship from their time working together in Toronto.

Even if Toronto had to throw in its own first round pick to sweeten the deal it would still be worth it for the Raptors. The opportunity to acquire the next potential franchise player at a low salary can’t be easily overlooked.

So you've been wondering: "He said he was going to both pummel the premise AND lose his mind... what happened to that?" Well, HERE WE ARE, FOLKS. I don't even know where to start with this mishegas.

Forget the premise that Kyle Lowry dreams of playing for his hometown Sixers, which he is free to pursue via free agency. Forget Masai and Colangelo being best good friends.  Forget that solutions based on a specific dreamed-up trade make for terrible, terrible strategy....

*Standing on a mountain shouting towards the heavens*


Okay I lost my mind but just for a second. I found it again. We cool.

Even if you write about the NBA and somehow don't bookmark Larry Coon's FAQ, you can rely on the ol' "if this sounds like an amazing trade strategy, how come no one has ever executed it ever, ever?" test and if the answer is "I dunno! Because I'm a genius?" then maybe it's because it's impossible. And even if it were possible, that wouldn't be a 'sign-and-trade' as the headline read. And even if you sign-and-trade one of your own free agents, they aren't entitled to the benefits of Bird rights contracts (true since the *last* CBA before the 2010-2011 strike season) which means the only value for sign-and-trades is if the free agent goes to a team that neither has the cap space nor the means to get the cap space by other means (a situation that sooooooo does not apply to Philadelphia.) If Lowry were to go to the Sixers, he would sign as a regular old free agent.

It's completely fine that you don't understand these cap rules. They are super complicated and barely fun or interesting, even to those that follow this stuff carefully. But, if I could offer a tiny sliver of constructive advice it would be: run your premise by a couple dudes. There are dozens and dozens of Raptor-loving cap experts who understand the CBA (way, way better than I do) and hang out on Twitter all day long.  And if you do run your "voila!" strategy by some of these dudes and refine your argument to only include legal NBA maneuvers, it counters a perception, true or not, that your objective was to have a *STRONG OPINION!* instead of adding nuance to the discourse around the Raptors'/Lowry's future.


Look, Lowry is the team’s best player while averaging a career-high 22.8 points on 46.3 per cent from the field (41.7 per cent from three) and 4.7 rebounds.

In the East, only Gianni Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and LeBron James have added more value to their team, according to NBA Math's Total Points Added.

The chances are Lowry is a Raptor next season because it's an easy fit for both parties. But the Raptors have never been a luxury tax team, and even if they are going forward, it's not going to be a reckless decision.

Kyle Lowry’s injury and the team's performance without him is merely proving that life without Lowry next season may not be that bad.

This conclusion could have, maybe, been the entire article. Kyle Lowry is good (agreed). He's had some injuries (agree, technically, though disagree that he's somehow in serious physical decline, even if he is getting old) and that the Raptors are good without Lowry (agree, over the last six games which is a v. small sample size, disagree overall because: facts).

I am not saying that there's not an argument to be made that Ujiri has to seriously weigh the costs of committing to Kyle Lowry and, in turn, the cost to maintain a team that may not be able to overcome his likely age-related decline while remaining capped out for the foreseeable future. I am saying that such an argument was not coherently made with these nine reasons.

Too many words were shed here. Let us put this ordeal behind us.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Bryan Colangelo Autopsy

As news breaks that the Colangelos are reunited to bring the Philadelphia 76ers to end times, I thought it prudent to gather together all of 'The BC Autopsy' posts from 2013, my look at the track record of the worstiest (not a word but... a word) GM to ever afflict the Toronto Raptors (Rob Babcock, eat your heart out).

  1. The BC Autopsy: (05-06 &) 06-07
  2. The BC Autopsy: 2007 Interlude -- Do you remember this NBA?
  3. The BC Autopsy: 07-08. Sh*t'll be comin' round the mountain
  4. The BC Autopsy: Mike James Interlude
  5. The BC Autopsy: 08-09: Got these contracts hangin' round our necks
  6. The BC Autopsy: 09-10 - Draft, extend, repeat
  7. The BC Autopsy: Chris Bosh Interlude
  8. The BC Autopsy 10-11: Talents Taken
  9. The BC Autopsy 11-12: Look Out, it’s the Lockout
  10. The BC Autopsy 12-13: Being There
He's your toolface now, Sixers.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What to like about the Sixers

Some thoughts about the Sixers' extreme tank strategy post-trade deadline:

  • By dealing Michael Carter-Williams and KJ McDaniels, the Sixers appear to be punting forward on their strategy to tank, accumulate picks and develop young players. MCW was last season's rookie-of-the year and McDaniels, a 32nd overall pick in 2014, has shown flashes of athletic dominance that cast him as a rotation-calibre dunk-and-D wing, outshining his meagre draft position. 
  • Seemingly, MCW and KJMcD were two fourths of the players Philadelphia would want to 'build around' along with standout defender Nerlins Noel, and the injured centre, Joel Embid. If the Sixers were building a path back towards respectability, these four players appeared to be the cornerstones. 
  • So, then: why hit reset? Why cast out on draft gains for the chance to roll the dice again, possibly coming up with worse outcomes a year or two down the road?
This is why:
  • If we take the Moneyball approach to roster asset management, I think the Sixers' GM, Sam Hinkie, sees the undervalued asset in the NBA as a rival team's tolerance to get in, and stay in tank/re-build mode. While some bad teams (Lakers, Knicks, Kings, Nets) seem to badly mis-judge both their assets and how desirable they are as a playing location and other bad teams (Magic, TWolves, to a much lesser extent, the Bucks and Celtics) try to temper their tanking, pick acquisition with trades and signings of present-value NBA players to help them win games, the Sixers are the only team ready and willing to hold their noses and stay inside the strategy, however stinky it may be. Essentially, they are willing to play chicken with every other team's tolerance for abusing their fans' good will, trading respectability today for tomorrow. By not sucking out when the going gets tough or the young talent looks promising, they cull arbitrage from opponents' mushier fortitude.
  • If that is the strategy, how are the tactics supporting their aims?
  • First, while winning only 28 of their last 108 games must feel like torture to fans, the coach and ownership of the team, the Sixers have only been pursuing this strategy for the past 1.5 seasons. That's nothing to a Houston Astros fan. In the 2012-13 season, the team won 34 games and finished one spot out of the Eastern Conference playoffs. That team employed actual NBA players like Jrue Holliday, Thad Young, Spencer Hawes and Jason Richardson. Even this season, the Sixers are ahead of the pathetic Knicks, a team with real, expensive NBA players who expected to compete for a playoff spot.
  • Second, while MCW was a rookie-of-the-year winner, has tremendous length for a point guard (he's basically Kevin Martin's size) and is a skilled passer and athlete, his shooting is awful, awful, awful. Even accounting for the poor all-around offence the Sixers were putting on the court and the extra attention that might bring a lead guard, the wonky shot mechanics and the fact that MCW will be a geriatric 26 years' old when his next contract would start, you can understand why Hinkie might be willing to throw his Scrabble letters back in the velvet bag and see what comes out next. Point guard is a loaded position in the NBA currently; that isn't likely to change in the immediate and the price to trade back into an average-ish point guard is probably a slightly less valuable first rounder (like the one Phoenix received from the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas.)
  • Third, while KJMcD has shown flashes of 'something' I don't know if it's clear from half a rookie season that he's a long-term NBA asset. He might be, but to bank on it requires costly speculation. Because he was a second-round pick and signed a funky one year non-guaranteed tender, freeing him from the "Hinkie Special" that tries to lock second-round draft picks for longer periods of time in exchange for some guaranteed money, (Read more about it here) the Sixers will lose the inexpensive control they yield with most of their second-round picks, McDaniels will become a restricted free agent this summer and even with Gilbert Arenas rule restrictions, will probably end up with a head-scratchingly large contract from a team flush with cap space. Hinkie surely wants to incentivize players to sign his style of second-round contracts not the tender offer so it only makes sense that he jettisons non-complying players (and their agents) instead of playing ball.
  • Seeing as the Sixers are not close to competing while they wait for the development of their young front line, why contemplate throwing money at KJMcD or wait to pay MCW into his 30s? 
  • RealGM shows the astounding ledger of draft picks owed to the Sixers over the next six years. They are +10 in second-round picks -- all potential Hinkie Specials. They are also +3 or +4 in first-round picks including the newly-acquired Lakers pick which is likely to end up in the six or seventh overall range. 
  • Draft picks (especially first-rounders) are set to become even more valuable in the second half of this decade for a simple reason: the salary cap is set to explode in 2016, potentially rising 50% thanks to a lucrative new national TV rights deal; at the same time, the rookie scale salaries are set in stone until 2021 (or 2017 if one side opts out). This will minimize the per centage of the cap taken by a rookie contract and therefore raise the value of drafting and holding good, young rookies as the cap and scale continue to diverge. The three or four first owed to the Sixers come due in the next two drafts, setting them up to hold onto the value of those assets even if there is a CBA opt-out. Pretty genius, eh?
  • Hinkie can always cash his chips in, if he sees the opportunity. He is able to bid on any free agent -- and while Philadelphia may not be a first-tier destination, it's at least in the next tier (it wasn't that long ago they lured prize free agent Elton Brand from the Clippers). He can also package some of his picks with the offer of trade exceptions to take in contracts, big or small. He can continue to lend his cap sheet to other teams looking to unload contracts in exchange for second-round picks by operating far below the salary cap. Hell, he could stay far under the salary floor and pay his already-signed players the difference between his sheet and the floor (an interesting quirk in the CBA that would likely instill positive will with his roster). Holding onto MCW or KCMcD doesn't help any of that. 
  • I have no idea if Hinkie's strategy will pay off, ultimately. Drafting players who can contribute to wins in the NBA is difficult. Trying to roll those players into future opportunities for better contributors while navigating a draft lottery, 29 other team's strategies and inherent advantages and having lady luck land on your side seems downright impossible. This all may be for nothing. But, in reality, all the Sixers are risking is the slack tightening from fans' and ownership's patience. They can (and might, should Hinkie wear out his welcome) always jump back on the mediocrity treadmill. But, for now, why not gobble up the one asset no other NBA team is willing to wait for the right cost: patience.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Forgiving Vincent Lamar Carter

This is a very short post about the Vince Carter tribute that just made him shed a few tears...

The final 2+ years of Vince's time in Toronto when the team was backsliding, in part due to management's acquiescences to his demands and in part to his insistence on taking 18 foot fadeaway jumpers at a rate that made Kobe Bryant blush, quit playing defence and have the body language of a petulant five-year-old trapped at a dinner party.

His trade was poorly executed with equal parts blame to Rob Babcock's incompetence and to Vince for tipping that his career, at age 27, might have turned from Dominique Wilkins into Glenn Robinson.

That he thrived in New Jersey and contributed to knocking out the next great Raptor hope, that '07 Bosh-led team, stung once again.

But it's been more than seven years since even that moment which already felt removed from 2004. Vince has hung on long enough to move up in counting stats and cement his Hall of Fame credentials, if that's something you care about.

Those first few years were exciting. Imagining Tracy and him teaming up to run through the league ignited fervour. He embarrassed that tall French loser and that dunk contest -- oh, that dunk contest.

Holding sports grudges is silly. Focusing on how you expect a dude in his mid-20s to act is sillier. It's been painful to be a Toronto Raptors fan for most of this team's 20 years (enough to make one cynical and bitter) but winning heals all wounds. Cheer, boo, cry, glower, it doesn't much matter.  What really matters is that Nike Shox were just hideous, odorous shoes. There's no forgiving that.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Toronto

Follow me @Ghost_Raptors

zgall1 asked me if I had an opinion regarding Grantland wrote about the Raptors today. It was baiting, to be clear, because of course I would have an opinion on a trivially rhetorical question about wing depth even though the author summarizes his argument as "not even really a problem, per se. More of a slight issue."  I had hope that maybe Zach Lowe had taken (another) deep dive on the official professional basketball team of Degrassi High alumni, but alas, the task was farmed out to Jared Dubin.

But, it's fitting that the B team wrote this one in the wake of emerging, existential narratives around the league. In the midwest, the Cavs are re-patrioting LeBron James and introducing a new super team while Derrick Rose puts the pieces of his lower body back together; On the plains, an underachieving Thunder team ponders extended time without their superstar; In the southwest, the Spurs are trying to shake off the infestation of cobwebs to co-author a back-to-back on the back of Kawhi Leonard as the Rockets and Mavericks declare a blood rivalry over the transfer of Chandler Parsons; On the Pacific coast, the Warriors are testing whether advanced pop-a-shot can vault a team to the highest echelons while the LA Clippers trade old racists for new hope.

The Raptors? They need to find minutes for Terrence Ross. The Raptors are to the NBA what the Filet 'o Fish is to McDonalds. You usually forget it's on the menu and even when you do spare it a thought, you remember this is what it is.

I suppose we should respect the click bait of "too deep?" in the same way we do for "is this puppy too cute?" But if we're going to talk about the perils of "too much depth" we should define what that means. And before we add on the qualifier, we are demanded to take on depth itself.

Depth, especially in a salary cap universe, is a consequence of opportunity costs. Excellent teams, like the just-ended Heat dynasty, front-loaded the talents of their roster with three dudes whose names I can't recall right now -- one of them spelled "Dwayne" funny. The Heat's opportunity cost was that they had to trade away draft picks and squeeze out the rest of the roster to accommodate this arrangement and many pundits point to that squeeze as their eventual downfall (downfall = not three-peating) when Wade's body couldn't keep up and LeBron was forced to play all-the-minutes per game. So, in this and other front-loaded rosters, the dregs clogging up the end of the bench equate to a dangerous imbalance.

On the other hand, teams lauded for depth, like the '11'-'12 Nuggets and this year's Raptors, take the compliment from the back hand. "Deep" teams have good players in multiple positions, past the first five, but implicitly lack the superstar, the anointed saviour/alpha dog/ball-in-his-hands fourth quarter hero. Those Nuggets were considered deep, in part, because they had jettisoned the anti-depth Carmelo Anthony for a handful of position players. That they finished 38-28 in a strike shortened season before succumbing to the star-heavy Lakers in seven playoff games speaks to both the laurels and caveats to a "depth" label.

So, that's what it means to have depth. Let's add the qualifier back on.

"Too much depth" is a problem of both efficiency and perception. To play (to win basketball games) efficiently requires a head coach to recognize which players are contributing the most to winning and play those players as much as possible. This feat seems easy when you employ a LeBron James or Kevin Durant and, hey, for the most part it is. Find superstar, win games, lather, rinse, repeat. But we now know that both those guys felt either overused or have been afflicted with injuries that hint at playing too much basketball. Maybe those are coincidences and they're complaining but we can probably agree that even for the top tier of players, there is a limit. On top of fuel, there are issues of match-ups, fouls and injuries. I know I'm getting fairly reductive in trying to prove to you that even good teams need to play more than five guys so I'll yield. But keeping players that have the ability to contribute to winning on the bench because you are playing other players is clearly cutting into the team's efficiency.

The other side is perception: players are perceived to be motivated by ego factors that cause disruption when players with things to contribute are not put in the game. Kyle Lowry's career drive seems to be based on that notion. The fall-out of a minutes dispute can, say insiders, invite the poison locker room/selfish narratives that can derail a team from putting it together. I use the word "perception" because I believe players and coaches and narrative writers when they retroactively explain poor performance with the dreaded "chemistry problems" label. And when I don't feel up to believing them I still believe they believe it.

If you've stuck around for this unsolicited semiotics lesson then I guess I owe it to you to at least, tangentially talk about the Toronto Raptors.

It was truly fantastic that GV, Patterson and Lowry are back. Lou Williams >>> John Salmons. James Johnson's neck tattoo >>> your neck tattoo. This team is certainly packing depth. And it feels squishy in my brain to essentially argue the Raptors are thinner than you think.

First, I take some issue with Dubin's assertion that the ideal starting backcourt includes both Toronto's point guards. It's true that some of the best performing lineups included this configuration but let's put on our sample size hat on to say that the the two-PG lineup with the most minutes (Lowry-Vasquez-DeRozan-Johnson-Valanciunas) (per 82games) had 62ish beautiful minutes together, in points-per possession. They were fantastic on both ends but I'm not ready to declare it a revelation. A lineup where DeRozan is swapped out for Terrence Ross, out there for 56 minutes last season, was equally as potent offensively but worse defensively. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But okay, we are going to deploy a two-PG lineup now and then, yes and for sure. Moving GV off the ball unleashes his deadly spot up shooting when he's able to line up on the top left arc or take hand-offs around the free throw line. It also frees him from the rigours of running an offence that doesn't tolerate too many behind the back passes and tempts him to go get lost in the paint. And taking the ball out of Kyle's hands for a while allows him better positions from which to attack the basket. But this team only employs two NBA point guards and they will both play as primary ball handler a lot, if healthy. Lowry will play a few fewer minutes to keep him safe and fuelled and GV will come up from his 21/game. I hate declarations of "championship teams always do x" but all long-time Raptors observers remember that all the "good" teams featured an overqualified backup point guard to ensure steadiness at the position for 48 minutes every night. Yes, there were advantages (and terrible perils) of putting TJ Ford and Jose on the floor together, but the biggest relief was that one of them would be in the game at all times.

A bigger issue than point guards, to which Dubin only brushed upon, was that DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross are not terribly complementary players. He is probably spot on with their minutes allotment. Both are naturally shooting guards though DeRozan's game is attack while Ross (we hope) continues to develop a three-and-d profile. Ideally, Terrence Ross would be Tracy McGrady's size and use that length to lock down power/small forwards but again, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Pre-season game winners aside, let's take a step back with Lou Williams. John Salmons played 21 minutes a game last season and was never entitled to spot back-up PG minutes like Sweet Lou is (although, *ugh* to that). He missed 65 combined games in the past two seasons and shot 40% from the field last year. I expect him to handle those Salmons minutes professionally but not to have a #FreeLou campaign.

Yes, James Johnson will play at both the 3 and the 4. And yes, there will be a need for him there the ideal three-man big rotation is perilous unless JV transforms (defensively and conditioning-wise) into a minutes eater -- I'm skeptical.

This post is pushing seven million words so I'll mention one last thing: Those '13-'14 Raps were the healthiest team in the NBA. Employing young'uns helps but health is largely a product of luck. Luck runs out and when it does we'll be seeing our old friends Psycho T and Chucky Hayes. Them the breaks.

Will this Raptor team hurt its efficiency by leaving live wires tagged to the bench? Maybe, but it's more likely to afflict Patrick Patterson than Lou Williams or even GV.

Will the glut of guards create a minutes crunch that leads to anger, despair and Kyle Lowry running over Dwane Casey with his car? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Grunt Bag #4

Q: Dear Doug,

In your last post you said the roster is full and we should all move on. Are you saying that this is pretty much the team the Raptors will be going into the preseason with? If that's the case, it isn't too encouraging. Although last years team was a pleasant surprise, I appreciate your optimism, but the reality is there are a lot of weaknesses in this roster. This has an eerie similar feeling to the year they resigned Vince et al. after they had that great season. Signed everyone, we all applauded and shook hands, then it all went downhill from there. I really hope Masai isn't done. We still need to add at least a semi-impact player, otherwise, I don't see this going as well as your suggesting. Thoughts?

John V

This is asked and answered, John V. I'm not sure why you're not encouraged but it's probably because you're a silly nincompoop. Is that what you are, John V? Are you a silly nincompoop? Of course this team is not the Spurs, OKC, or the Clippers. It's not even the Pacers or the Bulls if Derrick Rose can rise from the ashes. But to be disappointed belies a complete misunderstanding of opportunity costs. If you are ready to admit LeBron wasn't crossing the border at Windsor to come be the King of Canada and the next tier of free agents all had other plans in mind, then really you're telling me you're upset Masai didn't clear enough cap room to beat Houston's offer to Trevor Ariza, who was the best unrestricted free agent around after those dudes. To do so would have forced the team to sign and trade GV or Patterson (or both) and they'd have to be willing. Or Raps could have dropped down into cap space to sign him and fill out the roster with minimum salary assholes. Those were your options.

There's absolutely no comparison between this team and the 01' signings. First, there was evidence that some of those deals were done just to please Vince, and if true, then we've established that logic got smacked like Frederic Weis' face by VC's balls. Second, Hakeem Olajuwon. Third, Alvin Williams and JYD were tough competitors and likeable guys but not nearly as talented as the re-signed talent from this summer. Fourth, these new signings were much less expensive, much longer deals and didn't go into the luxury tax. There's just no comparison.

John V, what you're not realizing is that the Raptors did sign impact players to favourable deals, they just happen to be to players that already have uniforms.

Q: Hey Doug,

If he has his head screwed on straight, JJ is a great pickup...the reality is you need a big, powerful, athletic 3 to contain the Lebron's, Melo's and Joe Johnsons of the world and right now (if ever) TRoss isn't there yet.

Another reality check - Amir will turn an ankle or 2 this season and will either be out or ineffective and Raps need an alternative and we know the roster does not have a consistent big to replace him.

2 questions:

1. How much room is there left under the tax after the signings including Bebe & Bruno, assuming Daniels goes to Europe?

2. A lower tier PF is needed, I love Jordan Hill's game for this team, your thoughts on fit and likely salary? or Do you see a trade coming to address this?

Always a pleasure,

Ep, Richmond Hill, Ont

Hey there, Ep. I agree. I was a big fan of most aspects of Johnson's game during his first go around. Not a fan of his chucking but there was evidence he's calmed that down, since. Amir may be off to gimp-land, it's hard to tell. But I am hopeful. You're just plain wrong, Ep, about lack of front court depth. The Raptors employ five, NBA-quality big men who range from pretty good to usually playable. Plus I expect Johnson to play four in small ball units. It's not an earth-shattering rotation and lacks shot blocking but unfortunately Joakim Noah plays for the Chicago Bulls and wasn't interested in trading himself and we don't allow unibrows in Canada so Anthony Davis is out of the question.

1) I am calculating between $3 and $4 million depending on how some of the contracts are structured.

2) Jordan Hill had a nice year for a cellar team and then got cuckoo bananas money.

Q: Hey great article (links to some Doug Smith article because K is a kiss ass)

I was wondering, how come Ed Davis isn't being chased by the Raptors?

I mean why Andray Blatche and not him?

First of all, I've seen no substantiated anything that the Raptors were seriously interested in Blatche, a player who the Wiz paid $23 million not to play basketball for them. I'd straight up trade Hansbrough for him this very instant. He actually got some starting time when Zach Randolph went down last season but was eventually nailed to the bench. He might not have a high ceiling but he's high energy, is both an athletic and a positional rebounder and can score close to the basket and on top-of-the-key jumpers. ED!

Ed note: Ed Davis has been since signed by the Lakers, $2m/2.

Q: It looks like LeBron has a number of ideas on who he would like to play with. What are the chances that he gets a player/GM job someplace. But I'm not sure a coach would like being in that situation. Maybe he could be the first player/coach/GM. Then he would be better than MJ who had to wait until he stopped playing to get the other jobs. What cities do you seeing offering him the all the roles he seems to want?


That's obviously not allowed and you're definitely a silly nincompoop, Dan.

Grunt Bag #3

Q: Hello Doug

Hope you have a good trip to Liverpool.

A lot was mentioned after the Nets series of areas different players had to work on this summer to get better. Have you had any feedback from the organization as to how that is shaping up?

Also, after the all the moves made during the draft, free agent period and the trades to date; how do you see the Raptors roster shaping up?

Do you think they are looking to make more trades this off-season, and if so for what type of players?


I truly, madly, deeply hope that 'SWH' stands for So Wet Harry. I don't know why...

I didn't peek but I'll bet your lunch money that Doug got super uppity about someone asking him a question that would involve him communicating with the team he covers. And after this uncalled bristling, answering with vague truisms about how everyone's doing what they do because that's what they do.

As for more moves, I'd say it's virtually impossible. The roster is set, all major pieces are signed, and the team is hovering below the tax line. The only possible moves would be salary dumping Fields but I don't see a team agreeing unless it's sweetened with picks and there's no point in that. Same for Chuck though I expect Chuck will play real minutes for this front court (see above). And that's all there is unless you want to start bandying about with DeRozan or JV trades and though I often do, I won't. Would they benefit from a starting quality small forward and a stud shot blocker? Absolutely. So would every team that doesn't employ LeBron or Durant. This is your team folks. It's pretty good. Be happy. My online personality is literally the most disappointed, exacerbated and abused Raptor fan in the world and I am brimming with optimism.

Q: Hey Douglas,

Hope that you're enjoying the summer.

With the re-signing of Greivis by Masai, I was excited on a few fronts. He's a terrific talent, teammate and competitor. But to me his greatest appeal is his love and passion for the people of our fair city. Nothing phony about him... just works his butt off and wears his emotions on his sleeve. All qualities that makes a sports figure beloved in the T-Dot.

This all brings me to my question. If you had to name the top 5 all-time Raptors that really embraced the city, how would you rank them? Specifically, who really loved being here and immersed themselves into the community. My list would include the likes of Amir, JYD, Red Rocket, Jose, etc.

DL, Richmond Hill

"Douglas?" I wonder if DL is giving Doug Smith sweet little nicknames, too. This is my corner, DL, step the fuck off.

Also, DL is for surely trolling me with the heart and hustle nonsense. Lots of players come to Toronto and love it. It's an amazing, dynamic, fun city. You don't give up the goods for every player that bats eyelashes and calls you pretty. They're trying to build a champion team not star in a John Hughes movie.

Also also, I don't care for your list-baiting... Add Alvin Williams? Oak? Primoz "The Gangster" Brezec?

Q: Hi Doug,

First time writing you. I like reading your articles are I think they're mostly fair and objective.

I've been very happy with all the recent news about Lowry, Vasquez, and Patterson re-signing with the Raptors. I think they definitely are a team on the rise.

I think Masai Ujiri is a very good GM. However, I don't think all the success should be credited to Ujiri. I think last year's roster was very much a credit to Bryan Colangelo as much as Masai Ujiri. For all of Colangelo's flaws as a GM, I did consider him a pretty good one even though the record didn't indicate it in recent years. With the exception of Bargnani, I think Colangelo was/is pretty good at recognizing and drafting talent (since his Phoenix days).

Colangelo should have been equally credited for bringing Lowry in from Houston, drafting and extending Derozan when everyone questioned it at the time, same goes with Amir Johnson's contract, and for drafting Terrence Ross and Valunciunas. No one disputes Ujiri's trade of Bargnani and Rudy Gay were also keys to last season.

I just think someone needs to point out that last year's team was every bit a team molded by Colangelo and not just Ujiri. I know Tim Leiweke would like to make people believe it's all Ujiri but the reality is that he wanted to make a splash and clean house. Ujiri came back at a time that Colangelo had core pieces in place and it blossomed at the right time.

I'm not at all saying Colangelo is better or as good as Ujiri. However, people should give the man credit for the many rights he made while in Toronto, not just the blemish of drafting Bargnani.

John Calderon

Listen, Jose Calderon's apologist brother, John, we've been through this before (start here and work your way forward). What you are saying is, essentially, a tautology. It's a "Bryan Colangelo: part of a complete breakfast" argument. The only way for the team to be as good as it was this season and attribute the success less to Colangelo using your logic would have been if the roster was even more re-made than it was which would be damn near impossible. He did trade for Lowry and Amir and drafted the rest of last year's starting five. But Masai Ujiri did more to improve this team in three or four transactions than BC did in seven torturous years. Colangelo treated decent back-up point guards as fodder to flip whereas Ujiri sees the value of having an NBA-quality one on the floor at all times. Colangelo went for headline-grabbing, money eating what-the-fucks like trading for Jermaine O'Neal and Rudy Gay. Ujiri slyly brought back bits and pieces to under market or short year deals. Colangelo extended unspectacular players like Bargnani and DD without gauging market value. Ujiri read the market.

I've given Bryan credit in every possible opportunity but just shut up with the history-re-writing hug everyone wants to lay on the guy. He's not your deadbeat dad. He's just a deadbeat.

Grunt Bag #2

Q: Hey Doug,

Got a question for you on the two new Brazilian players. What's the impact to bringing them to Toronto? Do Raptors have enough cap room and roster spots to have both with the team next season?


Bruno is signed and, to be honest, I assumed they had a stash deal in place when they picked him unexpectedly at 20. So if he's around my assumption is that he's in the D-League or the very end of the bench unless one of DeRozan, Ross, JJohnson go out. If Masai finds a deal for Landry that doesn't take back players, he could see garbage time but I doubt it. By my count, the Raptors have 14 players on the roster with no one on minimum, waivable deals so I'd be shocked if Bebe came over. He has a buyout apparently with his home team and the Raps will want to keep that roster space open for emergency 10 days or potentially a third point guard, depending on how they use Lou Williams. Bebe would also inch them very close to the tax, I calculate. There is tremendous value in stashing these picks as the team never loses its rights, can trade the rights with a zero dollar value and he continues to gain professional experience on some other team's dime.

Q: Hello

Big fan. Let me start off by saying I hate that everything in this city ultimately comes back to the Leafs. I love them (fool that I am) but just once I'd like to tune into the radio after a Jays game and not hear a caller suggesting Phaneuf for Eberle...

I digress. I'm going to mention them in my Raptors question and I hate myself for it.

So the Leafs showed some promise, went to the playoffs, went to a game 7 and I thought "they'll learn from this."

They didn't.

So here's where you come in. Talk another fragile Toronto sports fan off the ledge.

Why will the Raptors learn from their playoff experience? Is it better pieces? Leadership?

It's all guess work I know but hey... What else are you going to do at the airport right?

Thanks for your time


Glad you're a big fan, Andy. First time caller? I literally have no idea who Eberle is which is shameful considering there used to be informed hockey talk on the virtual scrolls of this here weblog years ago. And now? I don't even remember what icing is besides my favourite part of cake.

"Learning from this" is a media-driven narrative that likes to treat professional athletes and the teams that pay them as children in an after school special. In general, we believe that experience experience and repetition lead to better results. I think that's reasonable. Also winning begets winning. If not because "winners" are sprinkled with magical winning dust, it's because the conditions that allow a team to perform well (employing good players with the maturity to take care of their bodies, having good practice habits, being durable, etc.) can continue season to season if the same processes stay in place and players aren't too old.

San Antonio has "learned" a bunch of things over its tremendous run of excellence, including keeping a core of great players on reasonable salaries, playing a simple (often outwardly boring) but sophisticated style of basketball, cutting out the noise and distraction of the media, resting players whenever possible, and so on. That takes discipline so you can attribute that to leadership if you'd like. Back to Raptors...

What the Raptors can take with them for last season is that their records after the Gay trade projects to a 61 win team played out over a full season (though the early schedule was considerably tough). They lost a heartbreaking, very close series for a myriad of reasons but none that equate to hopelessness. They gain the ability to have a set and experienced roster go back at it for a full season, with all key players returning. I'd take this team, on paper, against last year's Nets right now, with a huge defensive upgrade of James Johnson over Novak/Salmons, an Amir that can walk and anything resembling the old Lou Williams. So, yeah, the pieces are better, and more importantly, are still here. Lowry showed tremendous heart and leadership last season which is why CAPTAIN KYLE! if I cared about official captains.

Could regression come? Could the injury bug hit? Could the east be much more competitive than we think? Sure. But that's sports.

Grunt Bag: #1

I haven't done a GruntBag in a long, long time. In fact, the last time I did this "Game of Thrones" was just a term I used when I didn't feel like flushing. You know how this works. Lord Dougington of the Smiths prints questions he receives then answers them, except I won't read his answer (because it drives me to cut) and I'll answer instead (because I'm self-righteous, egomaniac know-it-all.) I'll post in pieces because it's 2014 and I know most of you are barely literate anymore.

Ed note: Some days have past since the original DS item and most of my answers and this getting published because I can only devote like 20 minutes a day to this because I am super busy because because because. Sorry.

Have fun. And good night. Or good morning. Or good afternoon. I’m not entlrely (sic) sure what it is.

Don't worry, you need zero context to appreciate the end of a ramblin' Doug preamble. Just bask in its warm sunshine-y rays.

Q: Hey Doug BITTER!,

At the beginning I followed this year’s free agency period closely as I was interested to see how things were going to shake down with Kyle Lowry and Raptors and by closely I mean checking my twitter feed a couple times a day to see what insiders and journalists were hearing and speculating in regards to free agents. This seemed to be a great way to find out information quickly and it worked out well as I was actually on my twitter feed when I saw Woj’s tweet about Lowry staying in Toronto.

I’m a fan of course and that is where my deep interest stems, but all that twitter seemed to give me was that instant sense of relief that Toronto was able to retain Lowry. Then of course my interest waned a little bit and then a little bit more and while I am interested to see where all the pieces land, I am absolutely exhausted of hearing about where they will all go. I have seen multiple headlines to the effect of, “player X is the domino/lynchpin that will decide where player Y goes”.

And so this need for instant information has become this non-stop cycle of, what seems to be useless, stories of will he or won’t he by major sporting news outlets. I commend you for staying out of it and letting the pieces fall where the may before passing judgement.

In a time before twitter, how did we ever survive? Now I can get 140 characters as soon as the news breaks and every story becomes breaking news. I feel the need for instant information has become a need to be able say “I heard the story first and therefore I’m in the know”. I realize for me, all it did was relieve me 12 hours sooner. I enjoyed that I was able to know that Lowry decided to stay in Toronto the movement it became public knowledge, but what I enjoy most are reading articles like yours that add context and deeper insight to a story.

I’m not going to suffer if I find out on Friday that Lowry deiced to stay on Wednesday. Just give me the scoop accurately and with some real substance and I’ll come back another day to see if you have anything more interesting to say.

I agree with your frustration, and don’t think you need to care about getting your readers the minute-by-minute breakdown of what LeBron James is eating at his not-so-secret, secret meeting with team Z. Unless, of course, there’s an incentive which leads me to some questions for you.

Woj broke the Vasquez deal on twitter tonight about 6 minutes after a brief story by him was posted on the Yahoo Sports page. Do insiders and journalists have an obligation to their employer before their twitter accounts? As a writer, if you had a source giving you a story before anyone else had it, do you break it on twitter then write your story? Do you write a quick blurb for the Star and then break simultaneously? Do you have free reign to tweet what you want or is a go ahead required from a higher up at the Star? Is there any incentive for breaking a story before anyone else, besides potentially gaining more twitter followers?

Keep doing what your doing. You are most definitely adding a greater context to my fan experience. Look forward to hearing some of your thoughts.


This was just a big fat, wet kiss to Doug's underpants area and deserves no answer. Twitter! Rumours! Bad! Old school! Reporters! Being popular! Newspaper man! Someone please ask a basketball question. Or a bagel question. I have strong opinions on both.

Q: Hey, i just read your piece on the Raptors and found it very refreshing. Im a big bball fan and every year im in my fantasy ball finals. Id like to ask your opinion on the PF position! Do you think Patrick Patterson should start over Amir Johnson this year?? I just dont see Amir being a better fit than Pat Patterson in the starting lineup.

I would love to hear your take.

Thanks for reading


Yay for basketball! This is actually a good question though let's throw out the concept of "starting" as some magical endowment of skill. The question distills down to: should Amir Johnon play less (and fewer minutes with the "starters" or better players) and should Patterson play more?

Amir spent much of last season hobbled yet still managed to appear in 77 games before hitting an 'ouchie' wall in the playoffs that became too apparent to ignore. I mean, the dude could barely lift his legs. Though he's soldiered though nine seasons in the NBA, he just turned 27 (!) and there's good reason to believe that rest and surgeries and more rest will allow him to come back in the condition we saw in the '12-'13 season. Whether he can sustain health after this contract expires and into his 30s is an entirely different matter.

When functional, Amir's strengths of screen-setting, pulling down offensive rebounds, alley-ooping and being smiley fit well with the dribble-and-shoot nature of Lowry and DeRozan's offence. He also takes pressure off of JV who is often a step late in defensive assignments.

Patterson, while not the defender, athlete or glass cleaner that Amir is, is the refined mid- and long-range shooter that was missing in the line-up before his arrival and has become invaluable as the Raptors' offence seemed to slip for long periods last season. Patterson works well with scoring-poor second units which we'll see again (James Johnson, Psycho, Chuck) this upcoming year and offers a fantastic corner three target for Vasquez's sometimes lovable (and often hate able) Globetrotters passes.

In essence, this predicament will mostly work itself because there's 96 big man minutes to dish out per game and no Kevin Love or Blake Griffin type workhorse to eat up starters minutes. Here's last year's minutes total:

Amir: 29

JV: 28

Patterson: 23

for a total of 80 minutes. Unless I'm given reason to believe JV won't continue to miss D assignments, pick up dumb-dumb fouls and start sucking air like he's Rob Ford navigating a stairwell, I have trouble believing he'll ever be able to stay on the floor longer. Amir might have to be treated with kit gloves but even if he's able to reign, there'll be plenty of opportunity to play AJ and PP together (a combo that I really loved last year). Slot a few minutes for James Johnson-powered small ball and significant clean up/foul trouble minutes for Tyler and Chuck and you have yourselves front-line depth.

The beauty of this team is that there are no constants besides heavy minutes from Lowry and DeRozan. Every other decision can and should flow based on game dynamics.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sacrifice Grunt: Doug Smith is the exception that proves the rule

I just had to FJM this. I tried to let it go. I tried to write my Blogger password on a sheet of paper then swallow it then poop it out while squatting out of a helicopter over the Pacific Ocean.

See I was just in too darn goofy a mood after the very reasonable signings of CAPTAIN KYLE Lowry and Patrick Patterson  these last few days. I'm lightheaded. It's like I've sniffed too many thundersticks.

But then Grunty...

NBA players "sacrificing" money may turn out to be much ado about nothing

You remember these posts. Something might be happening but it might not be a big deal. Your President of the Basketball Writers Association of the Galaxy, folks.

I would take far more seriously this seemingly major concern about NBA players being willing to take less money on contracts than they might have made because they want to band together with others to form what they see as super teams build solely for championships if, you know, it was true.

I'll happily (angrily) spell out what is not going on in run-on sentences.

That would be troubling in a couple of ways. I think other players would rightfully be miffed because it would skew the market and probably end up costing them some money in the long term. 

Who is costing whom money now? The fact that Tony Parker (making $12.5m) could have negotiated for more has no tangible effect on the competitive market for other players except for some GM trying unsuccessfully to convince another player to do the same. And there's no evidence this is happening for the average player or if it is, that it's effective.

It would be upsetting to GMs and owners who are used to being the ones to set the market, although I don’t mind the players exercising more control while not circumventing any rules because they are the product and the reason to the unreal wealth anyway. I can see it’d be upsetting to agents, who would lose money for themselves but I’m not a big fan of some agents anyway so that’s not a big problem.

I mean, these are words, Straw Doug. You have written words. I'll give you that. All words.

But the fact is, it doesn’t seem to be happening, at least not if you believe the writers I believe who’ve been all over the story since before free agency began.

Considering the four biggest free agents have not signed anything there's absolutely no way to agree or disagree with this.

It now seems that LeBron James is bent on making the largest salary he can, even if it means moving again; Carmelo Anthony is talking the good talk about wanting to win while looking for as much cash as he can get.

That is not the narrative that's being reported (though of course, who the fuck knows?) What's being alleged is that LeBron wants to sign for the maximum possible under the cap, and still wants the Heat to have flexibility to sign players and improve the roster with the implication that Wade and Bosh should sign for less to do so. If true, it's a reasonable, if not artful argument.

We don’t know what the other two out there that people are worried about – Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade – will ultimately do but I don’t see either of them as “maximum” salary players at this point in their careers anyway. Maybe at one point they were but times change and I don’t think there should be any entitlement to a second “max” contract just because some player got a first one.

Wade is much beyond his peak and may not have more than three years left in the league, pending his body. Bosh has settled into a certain class of playing. Both players would be offered max deals outside of Miami (though it's possible no team would guarantee Wade four years, but... Lakers). 

Times and circumstances change and so should the market.

So, a mid-column recap: players aren't conspiring to take less money (devils!) to build super teams (super devils!!) to win championships (666!!!!!!!) and they shouldn't but they're not and they shouldn't. Also, the players who might want to aren't worth the money anyways so they wouldn't be giving up money because they don't deserve that money so there's no conspiracy and there was no conspiracy to begin with because... grunty. 

I guess Dirk Nowitzki taking far less than he could have might be the exception that proves the rule but I also suppose that’s understandable given his place in Dallas, just as it’s understandable and accepted that Tim Duncan does what he does in salary in San Antonio.

"No dogs allowed on subway before 6 p.m." is an exception that proves a rule. You just mean "an exception." Please beg a question soon... 

Also, two players are taking less salary to build super teams to win championships (Dirk, Tim) but that's okay because they do what they do.

(Funny how we don’t hear a lot of criticism of them, isn’t it?)

Wait, I forget which side we're straw arguing? We shouldn't complain about money sacrificing?

Anyway, as with several things, I’m a bit of a hard-ass when it comes to maximum value contracts on principle; I’d say there are a handful of players – James, Durant, Duncan, maybe Tony Parker, Blake Griffin, possibly Chris Paul – who are worthy of them anyway. 

HARD. ASS. Tim Duncan deserves $23 million. at age 37. Chris Paul, maybe? Otherwise teams should lose their own free agents and miss out on others' because of the principle. A man has to have principles.

I think they should be not a reward for past performance but deals offered for what people bring to the table now. They should be reserved for the special players and I wish a majority of GMs thought the same way.

They did think that way, Grunt Fart. It resulted in a lock out that made me sad and weepy. Players, overall, are getting paid less, compared to the revenue owners reap. The ceiling (maximum salary) was lowered. LeBron James--worth, maybe $50 million a year, can't make half of that. If that's not special, what the fuck is?

To get back to the original point, I would imagine when all this free agency stuff shakes out in the next week or so, the guys who should get the biggest money will get the biggest money and the others will get something less. And if that means a reduction in salary, it won’t be because they have conspired to do it, it will hopefully be because that’s the most logical financial move for teams.

Things will happen. Probably the way everyone who's talking about them happening will happen. But it won't because it's much ado about nothing. But when it does happen exactly like (wrong) people say it will it will be because these players are not as talented and have realized this and are using pay cuts to conveniently claim to the world that they are sacrificers. GMs should agree with Grunty, he wishes. And they do. But of course they don't.

As it should be.