Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Slam: What does the Ray Rice case mean for the NBA?

                                (credit: www.marylandinjurylawyerblog.com) 

To say that the NFL is having an image problem would vastly be understating the current state of the league's image from a public relations standpoint. It would be more accurate to say that the league is having an image crisis and Ray Rice along with the NFL's commissioner Roger Goodell are the faces of it.

While Ray Rice's NFL career is likely over, the future of the league's all-mighty commissioner Roger Goodell remains very much in question. It is unclear whether or not the owners will give him the boot, especially after hearing a fair amount of them voice their own support for him.

 Now what you are probably wondering at this point is why am I talking about the NFL on an NBA blog? I mean, doesn't this Ray Rice case only concern the NFL? While on the surface the answer is yes, there is a deeper level in which this case absolutely concerns the NBA, which has to do with how the NBA will react to future cases of domestic violence committed by its own players.

While the NFL reacted poorly to finding out that Ray Rice committed an act of domestic violence against his fiancé, they did eventually suspend him indefinitely and his team did eventually release him from their roster. The right thing did eventually happen, though it took a lot of public outcry.

After seeing the way people acted strongly against the NFL, the tolerance level for domestic violence is well below zero, which means that in the event that one of their own stars commits domestic violence, the NBA has no choice but to suspend the player indefinitely with the team also facing the pressure to release the player.

Now, there are a couple of things that make this Ray Rice case unusual or unique. Before I state what those things are, I want to make it explicitly clear that I treat every case of domestic violence as equally bad and serious.

Now, what makes this case unusual or unique is that the act of domestic violence committed by Ray Rice was caught on tape and the NFL had easy access to the tape. What makes this important is that by having this empirical evidence against Ray Rice, the case against him is made airtight.  The same cannot be said for situations in which there is no video or auditory evidence to go by.

In cases that don't have such strong evidence, it is only fair for "due process" to play itself out before any harsh suspensions or actions come from the league. If the team wants to sit a player out amid "due process", I'm more than fine with that, but by no means should the league feel obligated to step in and lay down a harsh suspension.

But in a situation like Ray Rice where there is audio and video evidence against the player, the league really has no choice but to suspend him indefinitely. As for the team, they similarly have no choice but to disassociate themselves from the player and cut him.

The NBA has to take note of this and understand that when they are faced with a situation identical to the Ray Rice case both in quality of evidence and stature of player, they have to take the harshest possible measures or else they too will have an image problem.

Now, the NBA has been battling racism as of late with the Danny Ferry and Donald Sterling cases, but while those cases are very serious in their own right, they cannot be said to be logically identical to cases of domestic violence. There are parallels to draw from such as having a zero-tolerance policy and suspending offenders, but I think the fact that domestic violence involves one person harming another person makes it even more serious.

Where I'm going with this is that the NBA isn't exactly going through the same thing as the NFL right now by having issues with racism. Domestic violence is a whole other animal and the NBA has to be prepared to act as tough as possible when they are faced with it.

The Ray Rice case is a wake up call for the NFL, the NBA, and every other professional sports league. We live in a society in which acts of domestic violence are taken a lot more seriously and received a lot more harshly. The NBA has to recognize this and think to themselves "Maybe we're next. Maybe one of our superstars gets busted for domestic violence."

The NBA has to be ready to act as harshly as possible and throw down the gauntlet when one of its stars acts in this manner. We saw how the Pacers reacted to Paul George supporting Ray Rice, but will that same attitude transfer over to cases in which a player actually commits an act of domestic violence? I hope we never have to find out, but unfortunately I believe the NBA will eventually find itself in a similar predicament. When they do let's hope that they learned some lessons from how the NFL grossly mishandled the Ray Rice case so as to not make the same horrible and embarrassing mistakes.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Windmill: Does Eric Bledsoe deserve a max contract?

                                              (credit: clipperblog.com) 

With Greg Monroe signing a one year contract with the Pistons to make himself an unrestricted free agent next summer, all eyes are now on Eric Bledsoe, the Suns' restricted free agent point guard who is calling for a max-deal. The opinions about Bledsoe's value are mixed. Some believe he is worth a max deal and others do not. LeBron James is one of the opinion that Bledsoe does deserve a max contract, saying:
"Great work today lil bro @ebled2 (Bledsoe's Instagram account)!! Future All-Star in this league in no time. PHX break bread. #Klutch #Work #GymRats #StriveForGreatness."
Obviously, having LeBron James support your call for a max contract gives you plenty of leverage, but that doesn't mean that you actually deserve one. Upon looking at his numbers, I don't think Bledsoe is deserving of a max contract right now, especially from the Suns who already have plenty of depth at point guard with Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas.

Last season, Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.6 steals, and 3.3 turnovers per game. At just 24 years of age, those are very impressive numbers, but nothing worth giving max money to. Especially since this is his first season producing at that level (the previous year he averaged 8.5 points and 3.1 assists per game in 20.4 minutes of playing time with the Clippers).

I personally think the only players deserving of max contracts are guys who have shown that they are capable of leading a team deep into the playoffs. These kinds of players include guys like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Tony Parker, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry.  Bledsoe may one day join the ranks of players like that, but he isn't there yet. Until he shows that he is one of those kind of players, his call for a max-contract will come off as unwarranted and selfish.

What's worse for him is that he has turned down a 4 year, $48M offer from the Suns, which already is a very good contract for a player of his stature. By turning that down, Bledsoe really does come off as a selfish player who cares only about himself and not his team. I understand that Bledsoe wants to be paid what he is worth, but his demands for a max-contract far exceed what he is actually worth at this time.

The Suns' 4 year, $48M offer is a deal he should have taken because it values him appropriately. He is a talented enough player to have faith in as a potential building block for a contender, but he hasn't done enough to indicate that he can be the centerpiece of a franchise.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wednesday Windmill: The Orlando Magic could surprise people this season


The Orlando Magic are in recovery mode from the Dwight Howard era and still to some extent the Shaquille O'Neal era. But while the rebuilding period is far from over, I personally think it is foolish to pencil them in as a lottery team for the upcoming season. A combination of the talent they have acquired and the changing landscape of the Eastern Conference could result in the Orlando Magic winning their share of games this season while also making the playoffs.

Last season was no doubt a horrible season for the Magic as they went 23-59, but the good that came of it was drafting Arizona forward Aaron Gordon with the #4 overall pick. Gordon is much more NBA ready than most people think he is and I personally think he will make a huge impact on the Magic this season. While his offensive polish isn't there, his freakish athleticism, defensive abilities, and his hustle is sure to make the Orlando Magic a much tougher team to scheme for. In addition to Gordon, the Magic also acquired Elfrid Payton in the draft who is sure to be a nice fit in the backcourt with Victor Oladipo.

What is probably most overlooked about this Orlando Magic team is the veterans that were acquired. Ben Gordon and Channing Frye may be overpaid, but there is no doubt that they will make the Magic a better team. Gordon should really help the maturation of Payton and Oladipo while also providing a quality scoring threat from beyond the arc, and similarly, Channing Frye should help Aaron Gordon develop as a small forward while also putting up quality numbers. If the veterans and the young guns on this Magic team can mesh, it isn't at all crazy to think that the Magic will win their share of games and possibly sneak into the playoffs.

As for the landscape of the Eastern Conference, things look wide open for that #8 spot with the Pacers, Celtics, 76ers, Bucks, and Pistons all heading to the lottery. Looking at the players that they now have and the state of these other teams, the Magic should easily be hanging around the 9-10 range in the Eastern Conference standings throughout the entire year. In truth, snagging the #8 seed really isn't an unreachable goal for this Orlando Magic team.

In conclusion, the Orlando Magic appear to be on the right track to have a competitive season this year and also in the seasons to come. They have a nice blend of youth and veteran leadership to keep them in the playoff mix until the very end.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Slam: Are the Timberwolves better off with Andrew Wiggins?


The Minnesota Timberwolves officially traded Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday with the Philadelphia 76ers as a third team involved in the trade. The Timberwolves got Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett from the Cavaliers and Thaddeus Young from the 76ers. In addition, the Timberwolves also acquired a trade exception. The 76ers got Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved from the Timberwolves and a 2015 first round pick from the Cavaliers.

Obviously, the biggest winner of this trade is the Cleveland Cavaliers since they now have solidified themselves as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love as their "Big Three". The Minnesota Timberwolves made off very well in this trade, too and perhaps may end up being the winners of the trade should Andrew Wiggins reach his full potential.

Putting aside the fact that Kevin Love was going to leave in free agency and that a trade was necessary, I think it is interesting to ask if the Timberwolves are actually better off as a result of this trade. While it is a disappointment to lose the best power forward in the NBA, getting back a young player who could lead you to a championship in 5-10 years makes things a lot easier to swallow. In addition, when you look at the other young talent they got with Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young, it starts to look more and more like the Timberwolves just committed a high-end level robbery.

Andrew Wiggins could wind up being the best player in the NBA in five to ten years, Thaddeus Young is a budding all-star forward, and Anthony Bennett could likewise prove himself to be an all-star caliber player in a few seasons. Plus, when you factor in the fact that they have Gorgui Dieng as a legitimate presence in the post that actually defends better than Kevin Love while also possessing a fantastic pass-first point guard in Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves suddenly don't look so bad after all. As a matter of fact, they look like a team that may not even miss the presence of Kevin Love,  especially since they weren't going to win a championship with him anyways.

Obviously, only time will tell if this trade actually works out for the Timberwolves. Perhaps Andrew Wiggins doesn't live up to expectations, Anthony Bennett continues to struggle, and the rest of the young players will also fail to reach their full potential. But assuming that things go reasonably well for all of these young players, it looks like the Timberwolves did very well with this trade and likely are better off as a result.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesday Windmill: Will new ownership produce a better product on the floor for the Clippers?



Earlier this month, Steve Ballmer officially became the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers which subsequently marked the dawning of a new era of Los Angeles Clippers basketball. While the arrival of Steve Ballmer and the departure of Donald Sterling is exciting for the Clippers, will this change actually produce a better product on the floor?

I don't mean to curb the enthusiasm of Clippers fans, but they need to understand why it is that they are excited before they go insane like Ballmer did at the most recent Clippers rally. If Clippers fans want to say they are excited purely on the grounds that they can finally cheer for their team in good conscience, then they have every reason to be excited. But if they are excited because they think a championship is just around the corner, they may be in for some disappointment. 

                                              (credit: newyorker.com) 

I don't deny that having Steve Ballmer as their new owner is a good thing for the Clippers organization. I think it's a great thing for the organization, but not because I think it will result in the Clippers winning more basketball games. If you look at the team that they have on the floor right now, it isn't clear how much better they can really get. 

They have a top flight coach in Doc Rivers, the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul, and one of the top five best power forwards in the game in Blake Griffin. Not only that, but they have quality players around those two guys with DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Hawes, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford. 

The Clippers right now are as good as they ever have been, and ironically, the building of this strong team was under the stewardship of Donald Sterling and not Steve Ballmer. Of course, with all the losing that the Sterling era went through, it stands to reason that Clippers fans can expect to see a more consistently competitive product on the floor, but that doesn't mean the product will be any better than what it presently is. 

If you look at this Clippers team, there really is not way to improve the team other than having Blake Griffin and Chris Paul get better as a duo. Ultimately, that will come down to those two players working on their game and perhaps some of the instruction they get from Doc Rivers. Steve Ballmer has zero control over how much better Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get and he also can't do much to better the roster since I really think the roster they have is as good as it can possibly be. 

At the end of the day, I don't see Steve Ballmer producing a better product on the floor for the Clippers. They may get better and eventually win a championship, but it won't be because Steve Ballmer arrived. His arrival energizes the fan base and gives people in Los Angeles better reason to cheer for the Clippers, which in and of itself makes his arrival a great thing for the Clippers. However,  I think it is important we clarify that and not make the mistake of thinking that the Clippers are suddenly going to win a championship because they got new ownership. 

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

11 must see games of the 2014-15 NBA season

If you are a die hard NBA fan like me, you are pumped that the 2014-15 NBA regular season schedule is out and you are also probably eying that Pelicans/Magic game on October 28th to tip off the season. If you are more of a casual fan who enjoys the playoffs and only a handful of regular season games that have big stories like LeBron going back to Miami, you have come to the right place! I will list eleven games you must watch during the 2014-15 NBA regular season because unlike most lists, my lists go to eleven! (Note: this is taking the place of my Wednesday Windmill for the week)

1.  Tuesday, October 28, 2014---Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs (8:00 PM ET on TNT) 
As is fitting, opening night of the 2014-15 NBA season will feature the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs with a championship ring ceremony! The Spurs deserve to be slotted as the feature game on opening night and they have a quality opponent in the Mavericks to face them. Last season, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks took the Spurs to a Game 7 in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, and I'm sure they will be eager to spoil the Spurs' opening night as some form of revenge. If you are looking for a fun and competitive game early on in the NBA season, this will be a game to watch.

2. Thursday, October 30, 2014--- New York Knicks @ Cleveland Cavaliers ( 8:00 PM ET on TNT)  If you follow the NBA at all, you know that LeBron James left the Miami Heat to return home to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. If you want to see LeBron's first game back in Cleveland as a Cavalier, then you will not want to miss this game.

3. Wednesday, November 5, 2014--- Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM ET on ESPN)  You should watch all four Clippers-Warriors games this year because all of them are sure to be intense and filled with high drama. Expect Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to throw down 100 dunks and also expect Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to knock down 100 threes during these four games. Since this is the first of those four, this makes the list as one of the eleven games to watch this year (Note: Clippers and Warriors also will play on Christmas Day) .

4. Friday, November 14, 2014---San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Lakers (10:00 PM ET on ESPN).  If you want an early read on how good the Lakers should be, this will be a good game to watch. If they have any chance of being relevant, they will at least play the Spurs close at home on ESPN.

5. Monday, November 17,  2014---Chicago Bulls @ Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 PM ET on NBA TV)
If you want an early look at the Bulls with Derrick Rose back while also watching them face a fun team, then it can't get much better than watching the Bulls take on the Clippers. Also, Pau Gasol will be making a return to Staples Center as a member of the Bulls.

6. Wednesday, November 19, 2014 --- San Antonio Spurs @ Cleveland Cavaliers (7:00 PM ET on ESPN) This is a must see game because it is LeBron's first game of the year against the Spurs who knocked him out in the NBA Finals last season. Also, this game will be an early test for the Cavaliers who are favored by many to win the Eastern Conference thanks to the addition of Kevin Love as well as LeBron James.

7.  Christmas Day---Watch all of the games, but if you have to pick one, don't miss Cleveland Cavaliers @ Miami Heat (5:00 PM ET on ABC) When I say watch all of the games on Christmas Day, I'm being completely serious. The NBA has hijacked Christmas, and I'm totally fine with that. All the games on Christmas will be wonderful presents for me, but Cavaliers @ Heat is the most interesting game because it is LeBron James' return to Miami.

8. Wednesday, January 7, 2015--- Phoenix Suns @ Minnesota Timberwolves (9:30 PM ET on ESPN). The Suns are a fun team to watch, but all eyes will be on the Timberwolves with their franchise centerpiece Andrew Wiggins, who went #1 in the 2014 NBA draft. If you want to see how Wiggins looks now that he'll have had several NBA games under his belt, turn this game on.

9. Thursday,  January 15, 2015--- New York Knicks @ Milwaukee Bucks (3:00 PM ET on NBA TV). If you want to watch the #2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft Jabari Parker and the Bucks play on national television, there aren't many options. This is the best option because it is against the Knicks who will be an interesting team to follow this season. If you are out at work, DVR this one. It should be fun.

10. Wednesday, April 1, 2015--- Brooklyn Nets @ New York Knicks (7:30 PM ET on NBA TV).  February is the most boring month of NBA basketball with the exception of All-Star Weekend due to none of the games having any real meaning. As for March, everybody is rightfully tuned in to the NCAA Tournament. But once April comes around, the NBA regains momentum with the playoffs in sight. The Knicks and Nets are creating a fun rivalry out in New York and this game could have some playoff implications.

11. Wednesday, April 8, 2015---  Toronto Raptors @ Charlotte Hornets (7:00 PM ET on ESPN).  This one I know seems like an odd game to make the list, but hear me out. At this time of year, you want to see games that mean something and are entertaining. This game should provide both of those needs for you. The Hornets and Raptors will be in the middle of a playoff chase at this time of year and they are both fun teams to watch. Plus, watching this game ensures that you will have seen the new look Charlotte Hornets.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Slam: How will Paul George's injury affect USA Basketball going forward?

                                          (credit: latimes.com) 

The news of Paul George breaking his leg in a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas rocked the basketball world earlier this month. Whether you are a fan, a writer, a player, a coach, or somebody in management, this news was tough to stomach. Part of it has to do with the setting and part of it has to do with the sheer nauseating nature of the injury itself. You don't want to see any athlete break their leg, but when it happens in a setting in which the athlete is representing their country, the word "tragic" comes to mind as the best way to articulate and describe what has happened.

In a larger context, questions arise about what this kind of injury does to the future of USA Basketball when the participants are being paid millions of dollars by their respective NBA teams while not being paid even a fraction of that to play for Team USA. Will it make more superstars pull out like Kevin Durant did this week or will most players hold the position that what happened to Paul George was an unfortunate freak accident that could have happened in any NBA game? I will argue that while most players will hold the position that this was just a freak accident, this will also greatly affect USA Basketball when it comes to getting players for non-Olympic competitions.

                                                (credit: businessinsider.com)

People are wondering about whether or not Kevin Durant's decision to pull out of USA Basketball for the upcoming FIBA World Cup has anything to do with Paul George's injury. The answer is yes it does and so does the fact that nobody cares about the FIBA World Cup outside of basketball junkies like me.

Had this injury happened right before the 2016 Olympics, I don't think Kevin Durant would be pulling out due to the fact that in basketball, the Olympics carries a lot more weight than does the FIBA World Cup or any other international competition. The success of the 1992 Dream Team in Barcelona, Spain has made a lasting imprint on the history of basketball to the point that I think every NBA player who is an American citizen wants to play on the USA Olympic basketball team at least once in his career.

 The United States has a rich tradition of dominating that event every four years and taking home the gold medal, making it one of the highest honors in all of basketball second only to winning an NBA championship. To many great players who failed to win an NBA championship like John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Barkley, winning an Olympic gold medal is the greatest achievement of their careers due to the sheer prestige of being able to play on Team USA.

However, that honor and distinction doesn't accompany the FIBA World Cup or any other international competition because the best players in the United States don't play. LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony are all sitting out of the FIBA World Cup, so should it really come as a surprise that Kevin Durant is doing the same thing especially after the Paul George injury?

The bottom line is that I don't think the Paul George injury will affect USA Basketball participation in the Olympics, but I do think it will affect USA Basketball participation in every other event including the FIBA World Cup. I think that the cream of the crop will only want to play for USA Basketball if there is an Olympic gold medal on the line. Otherwise, they'll let lesser known players get the chance to represent the United States in their place.

However, this doesn't mean that the United States won't be able to compete and win other international competitions outside of the Olympics. USA Basketball can go 25-35 guys deep and still have the best team on the floor. But USA Basketball isn't just about winning trophies. It's about featuring the very best players in the world and the opportunities for USA Basketball to do that are going to shrink to being once every four years at the Olympics.

                                         (credit: operationsports.com)

In terms of its impact on world-wide basketball events, this is obviously huge since USA Basketball is always the biggest draw and the team that everybody wants to see. FIBA wants to eventually rival FIFA in popularity, but it's always going to seem like a little brother standing next to FIFA so long as USA Basketball is only able to get its best players on the floor for the Olympics.

The Paul George injury has a larger impact on FIBA than on USA Basketball because USA Basketball is all about the Olympics and FIBA is all about the other events that go on besides the Olympics. If FIBA wants its World Cup to become a major event, it will have to find ways to get guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant to participate which at this point seems like a tall order. USA Basketball will continue to march on as a gold medal winning machine at the Olympics with its brightest stars showing up, but as for FIBA and its efforts to build up events like the FIBA World Cup, this injury could be a devastating blow.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord