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 @BitterRaptorFan

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)_/¯

#RaptorProblems





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?


Dan


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?


SWH


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?

Leo



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


Andy



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.


Mark


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


Mike



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.

Principles!!!!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Don't be angry at Bryan Colangelo for tanking -- he couldn't even if he tried

So, Bryan Colangelo, the namesake of this past-its-best-before-date screed factory, admitted to tanking the '11-'12 Raptors season at the Sloan Sports Analytic Conference at MIT this past weekend. And our lovable beat grunt, sensing some perceived outrage at Colangelo's perceived rebuilding project during the strike shortened season, took it upon himself to stick up for the little guy (little guy being a giant, wealthy basketball executive who performed super poorly at his job for at least seven years).

The combination of Colangelo's campaign for to re-write a history that would have earned the title "Worst GM in the NBA" if not for David Kahn, and Doug Smith's not unexpected giant swing-and-miss of the point, has inspired me to pull out our late, loved gimmick and FJM the shit out of this charged defence of who-the-fuck knows:

Of BC and doing the right thing but using the wrong word



Perhaps the most telling part of the Bryan Colangelo story that surfaced Friday was how people have glommed on to one word.

"Shitty?" Is the word "shitty?" As in, "I, Bryan Colangelo, am a talented wearer of French cuffs but shitty at generally managing an NBA team."

Tank.

Oh.

It is the hot-button issue in the NBA these days, the connotation that teams are trying intentionally get worse, and therefore lose games, in an effort to get lucky in the draft or the draft lottery and throwing it out there as he did as part of a far more wide-ranging discussion took away from the reality of his situation and the reality of the NBA today.


In an electronic conversation Saturday, Bryan admitted the use of the word was “misused, misinterpreted and inappropriate” but, really, in a lot of ways the whole thing was, to me, much ado about nothing.

I don't think it was any of those things even a little wee bit. Bryan Colangelo wants you (and you and you at home) to believe he was setting up the Raptors to shit the bed because it backwards rationalizes six previous years of asset mismanagement. This is the same dude who, just last summer, intimated that the team would have been in better shape had management not tied his hands and demanded he produce an immediate playoff team. Now he claims he was strategically positioning the team for the draft lottery. It rings about as true as a flunking student claiming he's actually very smart but chose not to try.

Look, we all know where I stand on the issue of “tanking” which to me is intentionally making your team worse. For instance, what the Philadelphia 76rs have done is despicable and I hope the fail miserably. They gave away an all-star in Jrue Holiday for a kid they knew might not play this entire season and if that’s not trying to lose, I don’t know what is.

It's a gamble to acquire assets. Maybe the Sixers could have competed this season but they were most likely not a playoff team with Holiday, even in the atrocious East. They bought high on Holiday and chose instead to turn him into draft picks and the rights to Nerlins Noel, who many touted as the best talent in the '13 draft. Now they're playing rookie Michael Carter-Williams who is, so far, half the shooter Holiday is, but makes less than a third thanks do those sweet rookie-scale contracts. They also hold ALL THE DRAFT PICKS. Is that despicable? Are they throwing games? Are they grabbing Ricky Davis rebounds? Maybe they'll whiff on the draft pick(s), or maybe the NBA whiffed on the whole draft or maybe even if they find the next John Wall or Kyrie Irving or even Kevin Love, they'll never reach the promised land. I don't know how to handicap that possibility but whether or not Jrue Holiday is manning point for them is hardly a last straw.

If there’s a Basketball God, the Sixers will finish with the fourth worse record and drop in the lottery to seventh in a six-player draft.

Is it weird that I wouldn't be in the least surprised if Doug Smith actually believed in basketball theism?

On the other side of the coin, what the Milwaukee Bucks have done, I am quite fine with. They suck, no question about it, but they suck because they tried to be okay and failed, they are not the worst team in the league because they want to be.

They sucked the right way! But they don't nearly have the assets or the financial flexibility to accept salaries, sign free agents or trade draft picks. You might be fine with it, Doug, but should Bucks fans be?

What happened in Toronto bore no resemblance to Philadelphia whatsoever and those taking Colangelo to task for what he said are missing a bigger point.

This unnamed *those* are missing the bigger point and so is Doug. Sam Hinkie, GM of the Sixers, divested of expensive or soon-to-be expensive players that might have nabbed them an extra few wins in exchange for a platter of assets that could help them win three or four years down the road. Bryan Colangelo traded a first-round pick for James Johnson then traded James Johnson for a second-round pick. The Raptors landed on the 8th pick and chose Terrence Ross (projected to go about 14th). Had Colangelo really wanted to "tank" he would have divested assets like Bargnani and Kleiza. But, of course, he didn't have the wherewithal to know which of his players were good and not good at basketball. And that, Doug Smith, was the biggest point.

Now, if he’d given away, say, DeMar DeRozan for a bucket of has-been 34-year-olds on expiring contracts, I would have been all over him for trying to lose but he didn’t.

?

We have had our issues in the past – I thought the DeMar DeRozan contract extension was ill-advised because they were bidding against themselves, I said right off the bat that getting Rudy Gay for Jose Calderon and Ed Davis may have improved Toronto in one area but weakened the Raptors in two others – but I’m quite okay with the season in question and how he handled it.

Yeah, you did say the DeRozan contract was ill-advised but in the weakest possible terms. I don't even have to look back at your reaction at the trade for Gay since you just hedged right there. Right in front of me! Do you owe Colangelo money?

He had some young kids he wanted to find out about and he did. It’s not much different than this year, when the Raptors have a couple of young kids they want to find out about in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas and they are finding many positives. Heck, the Raptors were a Ben Uzoh triple double – A BEN UZOH TRIPLE DOUBLE!!!! – from perhaps getting a higher pick and that’s about as far from giving away talent for nothing – which is what tanking is to me – than imagineable.

Again, Sixers gave away talent for real things... but I digress. Yes, we agree, the Raptors were not great in '11-'12 because they were not great. Bargnani was making more than $9 million. Barbosa, more than $7. I've argued that their 22-44 record was a surprising over achievement that included the emergence of Ed Davis, a fantastic Calderon season and even Bargs had a few good shooting nights.  I wrote about it here.

I know Bryan pretty well, having been around him for the entirety of his time with the Raptors and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that he hated when his team lost. He used the word “painstaking” to describe them and, trust me, it was to him.

I truly believe you believe this. I believe he believed this. I do not believe he had any idea what the difference between a good and a bad team was.

He would never do anything to assure that they did and when he typed Saturday of his Boston appearance “I was very clear that I never asked the coach to intentionally lose games, nor would I ever do so, but rather to establish a culture and develop our young players which would come at an obvious and unavoidable cost...losing an inordinate amount of games” he was absolutely right.

He didn't ask the team to throw games. What a gentleman. Also ?

There is such a hugely negative connotation these days to “tank” that using the word obscures the bigger issue.

Is the negative connotation furthered by your description of the Sixers strategic plan as "despicable?"

The there is no doubt that the current system is flawed, just as there is no doubt the league office is aware of those flaws and that the system needs studying, a fact commissioner Adam Silver has acknowledged since he took over this month.

If the result of the draft lottery system is that Sam Hinkie gets rewarded and Bryan Colangelo got canned then I think everything's working fine. Even if there are real consequences to warped incentives, I am certain Bryan Colangelo was never both holding the cards and making the right reads to take advantage.

The discussion on Friday centred on the idea of a “wheel” for awarding teams draft picks in perpetuity and whether they fix things that way, which I don’t think it’s workable because there are so many future picks bouncing around from trades that it seems blatantly unfair to make such a radical change with an uneven playing field.

Cranky?

But whether it’s that or they use a two-year record window or go back and pick a spot in the season and use it as a basis for the draft, something has to change.

??

I will say this with much conviction:


If Bryan hadn’t used the word “tank” when discussing a system that rewards failure and is counter-intuitive to the goal of teams – which is to win games and have young players get the opportunity to improve or to find out what they really are – it would have either been a non-story or a lot of people would be saying today: “Hey, he’s making a valid point that everyone agrees on, they need to find a way to fix things.”

The object of basketball is to win games AND have young players get the opportunity to improve?

Maybe in some crazy circular way, he kept alive a conversation that the league’s owners and GMs should be have more seriously now.

Maybe in an inane, circular way, Doug Smith believes that the Sixers are bad, the Bucks are good and that Bryan Colangelo was savvy enough to tank. Also ???????????

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Masai Ujiri, is there another way?

At a week after the all star break, the Raptors stand in third place in the Eastern Conference, and first in the barely-important Atlantic Division at 31-25. And while six games over .500 and sitting as, roughly, the twelfth-best team in basketball might not seem like your dreams coming true, I assure you, these are the salad days.

Given the remaining schedule and even taking into consideration injury possibilities, this team has a bankable chance of winning 47 or more games, holding the third-place spot and finding itself competing in a first-round series against very flawed opponents (Brooklyn, Washington, Charlotte, to name the most likely). For a team penciled in to narrowly miss the playoffs on the back of a Rudy Gay 18 foot step-back jumper, this is remarkable.

Last season at this time, Bryan Colangelo was the General Manager of this team. Rudy Gay was the leading scorer and Andrea Bargnani cashed purple cheques. If our deal with the devil was simply to change those circumstances, we'd have signed on the dotted line. But thanks to a let's-not-jinx-it run of good skill/luck from messiah, Masai Ujiri, defense-first play from a bought-in starting five led by "CAPTAIN KYLE" Lowry and a dynamic bench, this team could possibly, maybe, who knows, take a game or two against an Indiana in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Just the thought of this happening, a couple months down the road, makes my insides tingle.

And you know what, friends? Allow yourselves to enjoy this -- whatever this is. There's this adage often thrown around about how the worst place to be in the NBA is in the middle; that somehow, the Atlanta Hawks of the late-2000s were a prototype of futility. But the alternative--bottoming out for years, hoarding draft picks and remaking yourself in the image of the Oklahoma City Thunder--is tenuous and statistically uncertain to get a team to a conference finals. Sure, you could luck out with the right draft picks in the right succession of years and have those players peak under controllable contracts while rivals simultaneously fritter away, but even with uncanny drafting ability, that strategy isn't bankable as much as it is a blessing of fortune.

So, why not instead make smaller bets on the right side of odds? That means slowly improving your team, pushing them win-by-win through the middle of the pack instead of tanking on a prayer. It means drafting for value outside the lottery, in the second round and scouting the best of Europe, not betting the club on the off chance one of the hyped prospects both turns into Kevin Durant (as opposed to Derrick Williams) and declares undying support to your franchise in the dying vein of Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. It means dismissing the dead weight, the old-school mistakes like Gay and Bargnani. It means acquiring low-risk restricted free agents-to-be who will remain under team control, if the market agrees. It means not sacrificing the future for the present but also not ignoring the value of your birds-in-hand. It means bringing in a coach who can give the team even the slightest of edges. It means selling potential free agents, whether they be expensive stars or bench role players on the only factor that competes with bright lights, warm nights and tax-free delights: winning.

Maybe the middle isn't the worst place to be. Maybe the middle is where you start building, start pushing up, start fighting and scratching to be a little better and a little better. Maybe there's another way.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rudolph, the vision-impaired millionaire

Sources, those indelibly prolific chatterboxes, are confirming:

Rudy Gay along with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray are heading to Sacramento in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes.

This marks Masai Ujiri's second ejection of highly touted (and controversial) Bryan Colangelo projects, after upselling the New York Knicks on Andrea Bargnani in the summer.

Now, the weight of this deal is almost certainly the removal of Gay and his contract and his jump shots and cooler heads will have none of whatever analysis we attempt to attribute to the finer pieces. But, like... poppycock. This Raptor team is in such flux that no player can be expected to stick around tomorrow (except JV) and at the same time, we have no idea which seemingly unimportant cog might fit into the future.

First the additions:

  • John Salmons is salary weight, a 34 year old gunner who has bizarrely stuck around in this league far past his expiration date (remember: Baron Davis not currently in NBA but Salmons is). Salmons is best known to Raptor fans for backing out of a five year, $23 million contract with Toronto in 2006 because, like, Jesus told him to. He missed being part of the Atlantic Division (banner, baby!) team and toiled and slouched his way through an uninspiring late career, somehow blackmailing Milwaukee to hand him $39, million for five years deal in 2010. The Raps will owe him the rest of $7 million this year and $7 million next year to sit in the Linas Kleiza chair behind the bench. This is the cost of salary dumps. *Edit: only $1 million of Salmons' contract is guaranteed for 14/15. Weeeeeeeee.
  • Chuck Hayes is a gamey little (he's 6'6) PF/C who put some Houston teams on his back a few years ago but barely played in Sacramento. Fans seem to like him and the Raptors didn't have many ideas on the bench for big men. He is overpaid at just under $6 million this year and next.
  • I haven't seen much of Patrick Patterson's play but he's an all offence, no defence/little rebounding four. His offence seems to have stalled, as well. Another product of Daryl Morey's drafting, he's still young and should get a real chance to play. He's coming off his rookie deal at the end of this year and we'll see if the market bears him as too expensive to be brought back in a matched restricted free agent offer. I'd prefer to have Ed Davis back. But Patterson clearly has more upside than any other power forward that's passed through this team since Ed. 
  • Vasquez is the most intriguing piece coming back. He led the league in total assists last year as an unexpectedly stable presence on an uneven Hornets team. He's not a plus shooter but he's big enough to play the two. With him, the Raptors finally have an NBA-calibre back-up point guard who can spell Kyle Lowry so he can finally sit down and not worry the offence will just completely implode. He'll also, surely, play beside Kyle as the Raps have committed to small ball for whatever the rest of this season brings.
The "comings" in this deal offer something for both sides of coin that is this Raptor team's outlook: aging, uninspiring vets who can eat minutes and pick up cheques; vets that are obviously overpaid but don't completely anchor Ujiri's cap situation going into next summer and could potentially be moved as expiring contracts. And then, two highly touted but floundering fourth-year players whose performances suffered after they arrived in Sacramento. With hope, the removal of the King-stink will revitalize them in Toronto and the markets will allow them to be signed to reasonable deals to remain rotation players; or if not, provide a sign-and-trade opportunity that lands the Raptors some picks.

Now the departures...

  • I have a soft spot for affable rebounders an goofy, seven-foot-nothings so, so long and good luck Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.
  • And last, but possibly least, Rudy Gay. Rudy: you became the focal point of the old-world vs. new thinking about professional basketball and I, for one (though I think I speak for thousands) do not wish to be on the wrong side of that history. Yes, your rebounding picked up in Toronto. Yes, you showed an ability to lock down on defence when you really, really wanted it. But there's just not enough ball, not enough shots, to satisfy whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. For all your Lasik and your buzzer beaters and your allergy to stat sheets, I'm not sure you're destined to be much more than John Salmons.

I'm giving up all my hugs and kisses for Masai Ujiri who has, so far, shown gigantic, round cojones. It takes bravery, yes it does, to dispose of two big name players in return for nameless role players because they happen to have better-fitting contracts and allow for the flexibility to work towards winning a playoff series in a couple years. An extra peck on the cheek for Tim Leiweke for allowing Masai the leeway to execute a vision.

The nameless, blameless "they" like to say things like "you can't win in the NBA without stars." But if you're so obtuse you count Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay among your circle of stars, you don't get a say in philosophizing about winning anything above a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.