Deconstructing Shaq

Posted: June 17, 2013 in NBA, opinion
Tags: , , ,

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Shaquille O’Neal. He was undoubtedly dominant, a true force of nature, but ultimately his legacy comes up lacking in my view. That’s a pretty hard thing to say about a guy who has four rings and took three different teams to the NBA Finals, but there it is. He was great but should have been so much more. With all the talk lately about whether Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan is that generation’s best player, the sad part to me is there shouldn’t even be a debate. Shaq could have locked this up and walked off into the sunset with a legit case for not just the best player of this era but possibly the best center to ever set foot on an NBA floor.

But Shaq ate and joked and coasted his way to becoming out of shape, injury prone and right out of a should-have-been top five all-time player spot. Nobody that I see is out there arguing for Shaq’s name next to Wilt, Kareem and Russell, let alone in front of them. There are many, myself included, who think Olajuwon and Moses Malone both rest higher on the center pantheon than Shaq, and you could probably make a case for a few others.

Shaq is clearly the best center since Olajuwon, who in my mind was the class of his era over guys like Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. But I have my doubts about where he would rank all time if he had played a decade earlier. I took a look at the All-NBA centers to get an idea of Shaq’s relative competition.

First off, from 1954-55 to 1991-92, exactly one guy made any All-NBA team as a center who wasn’t a Hall of Famer. That was Brad Daugherty who was third team in ’91-92. Every All-NBA center for 38 years was a Hall of Famer until the year before Shaq entered the league. Coincidence or fortuitous break for Shaq’s legacy?

His first seven years in the league, Shaq made one first team, two second teams and three third teams. The other guys who made All-NBA center during those years were named Olajuwon, Ewing, Robinson, Mourning and Mutombo. Shaq was in the conversation but not clearly dominant.

The next seven years, Shaq’s peak career, saw him take first team all seven seasons. The other guys during those years: Ben Wallace, a rundown Robinson, Yao Ming and his gimpy legs, Mourning for a year then kidney issues derailed him, a mummified Mutombo, Chris Webber (!), Amare Stoudemire and Jermaine O’Neal. Not exactly murderer’s row. Shaq was clearly dominant during these years but the level of competition at center was a pale shadow of what it had been.

In the seven years since Shaq’s prime, things have only gotten worse. Shaq himself somehow managed to eek out a third team nod in Phoenix in 08-09 despite being well past his prime. Dwight Howard has benefitted in a similar fashion, collecting seven All-NBA nods. The others, besides Shaq: Stoudemire, Yao, Tim Duncan (twice and he’s not even a center), Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum, Al Horford, Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol.

There are very few even credible centers roaming the paint these days, although you could make a case that there’s more right now than during Shaq’s prime. That certainly isn’t his fault, you can only play against who they run out there, after all. But I can’t help but think that given a different set of competition, Shaq is more Ewing than Olajuwon. Just look at the world-beater performance Indiana’s Roy Hibbert booked against Miami’s small ball unit this year. Nobody’s confusing him with Bill Russell anytime soon yet he looked the part of a dominant force virtually all series. Shaq had that advantage for nearly every game of the prime of his career. Was he really all that or did the level of competition make him look better than he actually was? I vote for the latter.

Shaq was a legit center who’s prime coincided with a league moving away from such things. Whether it stays that way for long remains to be seen, but it’s hard to argue that he faced an historically weak crop of centers during his best seasons. He had all the talent to be the best to lace them up but never really had to work for it, never had an equally talented rival pushing him. Shaq could and did get away with coasting for large portions of most seasons. His legacy should be much stronger than it is.

Which brings me back to my original point. If the Spurs manage to finish off Miami and the conversation turns to Duncan vs Kobe as their era’s greatest, they both should send a thank you card to Shaq. Without him settling for being the best of a so-so center crop instead of going for the best ever, he abdicated his rightful place in that argument.

As a final thought, after much deliberation, I think Shaq is the 7th best center ever. The top six in no particular order: Kareem, Russell, Wilt, Olajuwon, Moses and Bill Walton. You could convince me he belongs in front of Walton, but only because of injuries. The late ’70s Portland Walton was a much more well rounded player and more dominant overall force than Shaq ever turned out to be. It’s one of the great tragedies of the NBA that it only lasted for such a short time.

You want a good picture of why the NBA may well be on the cusp of losing an entire season?  Are you still harboring thoughts that supposedly greedy players are at fault?  Read this piece by Adam Wojnarowski.  Got it now?  The owners aren’t negotiating at all.  In fact, the clear implication is that a group of hardliners are more than willing to lose the season and gut the league’s economic structure in order to expedite a higher sale price for their franchises.  That is frankly pathetic.

I’ve been very critical of David Stern over the years, justifiably I think, but even I’m not willing to believe he would approve of threatening the league’s future viability to provide a quick profit for a handful of owners who are planning to flee the league.  I don’t believe for an instant that he had the flu on Thursday when he failed to show up for the most important negotiation ever.  Given the way it turned out, I find myself actually being on Stern’s side, for once.  I want to believe that his absence was a tacit disapproval for the direction things were going on the owners’ side.  Wishful thinking?  Maybe, but Stern now has a chance to redeem himself in my eyes, and many others, by fighting these forces allied to damage the league for personal gain.

The reality is that it only takes 16 of the league’s 30 owners to ratify a new CBA.  How big is that group of hardliners exactly, and how many of them are willing to toss an entire season so Paul Allen and his pals can make a slightly bigger buck when they sell their teams as soon as the lockout is over?  If Stern can get 16 guys together and cut a deal with the players they all can support, this lockout could end soon and to hell with the hardliners and their demands.  You want out?  There’s the door.  We’re just not going to allow you to steal the fine china, silverware and anything else not nailed down as it hits you in the ass on your way out.

This latest twist is a microcosm of what’s wrong with our entire economy right now.  Business leaders actively cutting costs to the bone, past the point where it could actually be beneficial, for no other purpose than to increase the value of their own personal holdings.  They don’t give a damn for the people who work for them, or for the long-term fortunes of the company, so long as they can cash out high.  It’s somebody else’s problem to clean up the wreckage left behind.

It’s these kinds of people that have thrown off the entire delicate balance of our economy, and possibly, our society as a whole.  Profit today as high as possible no matter the costs to anyone else.  It’s become standard operating procedure in far too many industries.  That mindset has taken over the financial sector and even the government to a degree, so it’s not surprising that it would rear its ugly, destructive, self serving head in the high dollar professional sports realm.  It also makes it even more impressive that the NFL avoided having its labor negotiations hijacked in a similar fashion given how wide-spread this kind of activity is these days.

I can’t say the players are totally without fault here.  That Kevin Garnett-Dwayne Wade act of a couple of weeks ago may well be the most assaninely counter-productive thing I’ve ever seen.  Well, before the owners crap on Thursday, anyway.  But I do get the impression the players genuinely want to negotiate and reach a deal.  The owners don’t. 

When Allen stands up and says that he thinks the owners have made too many concessions already, remember this: their side hasn’t made any concessions at all.  Not one.  This isn’t about a fair and equitable deal where both sides gain something.  This is a debate on exactly how much the players will walk away from.  Everything decided in this negotiation will be a concession the players make from the previous deal.  Every single thing.  However this turns out, the owners will not make any concessions in any way during this process.  It’s entirely a matter of how much they stand to gain.

And still, the players have already offered giving back between $2-$3 billion over 10 years and that number is so distasteful to the owners that they walked away from the table rather than discuss it further.  The owners–the hardline bunch anyway–aren’t interested in an equitable deal, or competitive balance or any kind of partnership with the players.  They want to do nothing but cut costs as low as possible.  The short term value of their franchises put above the product, the league and everyone employeed directly and peripherally by or because of the NBA.

I hope Stern did what I suspect and called in sick out of protest.  I hope he still has the gumption to fight this kind of insidious rot growing out of control inside the league he’s spent so long nurturing into a $4 billion a year enterprise.  I hope he fights the good fight for the future of the league as a whole and not just the immediate profit of filthy-rich parasites like Allen.

I really do.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is the worst commissioner in big time pro sports.  Keep in mind, I say that being a self-proclaimed David Stern hater.  To me, you really have to go above and beyond the call of duty to surpass Stern in general all-around lousy-ness.  Goodell has managed to pull it off.

The first three weeks of the new NFL season looks a lot like the old Techmo Bowl video game.  Goodell’s anti-defense rule changes have altered the game to look like a pinball machine, with balls flying all over the field.  Scoring and passing stats are on ridiculous record-shattering roll.  Patriots QB Tom Brady has 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Through three games!  That puts him on pace for nearly 7,000 yards and 60 touchdowns.  Oh yeah, that’s great for the game, totally destroy any semblance of defense.

Then there’s the new kickoff rule that has severely curtailed both returns and starting field position.  Of course, you can no longer even look cockeyed at QBs or receivers without drawing a flag, so it hasn’t hurt offense or scoring.  But what it has done is turn what was the most exciting play in the game into a dull routine of touchback after touchback.

To top it off, today he upheld Terrelle Pryor’s totally unjustified, bogus suspension.  I’m just shocked!  Aren’t you?  I mean allowing the guy who issued the suspension in the first place to rule on the appeal gives about a 0.0% chance of any other outcome, but in Goodell’s NFL, due process is only a sham to give the appearance of fairness anyway.  Forget for a moment that Goodell totally ignored the reason the supplemental draft exists in the first place, twisting logic to issue this ruling, he’s suspending a guy for NCAA transgressions that the NFL has exactly zero jurisdiction over, holding him to a five-game suspension that no one believes for a second Ohio State would’ve honored, and punishing him for “purposely” losing his eligibilty after his coach got fired by being forthright with the NCAA investigation.  Nice job, commish.

Pryor’s coach, Jim Tressel, by the way, will be a consultant for the Colts after his six-game suspension.  But don’t call it a suspension because, for one it’s not, and two, Tressel instituted it largely on himself in solidarity with Pryor and the guys he left behind with the Buckeyes.  That would make Tressel the only guy at any level of this mess with any integrity at all, and the only one who actually gives a damn or has any loyalty to the players.

But hey, the NFL just inked a fat new tv contract, and they totally shanked the NFLPA in the CBA negotiations, getting them to somehow give up financial ground even though the league is awash in cash with more on the way.  Who cares if the product has become a bastardized video game on the field or that he’s making up and enforcing rules out of thin air?

Like I said, Goodell has become the worst commissioner in pro sports.  Of course, if the reports are true about Stern wagging his finger, lecturing NBA players during labor negotiations today, he may well reclaim that title before the weekend is out.  As incredible as it may have seemed a few years ago, this pair really do make Bud Selig look like a professional, competent leader.  Who woulda thought?

I’m no Tim Tebow fan, the way he flaunts his religion turns me off, and he comes off as a bit arrogant.  I think former Denver coach Josh McDaniels over-reached by a good two rounds when he traded up to pick him in the first round two years ago.  That being said, the guy is getting a serious screwjob by the Broncos right about now.  It does raise an interesting philosophical question, though.  Does your virginity remain intact when you get bent over by your employer?

Look, there is no debate in my mind that, until he proves otherwise, Kyle Orton is and should be the starting quarterback in Denver.  The guy’s pretty good.  He’s not great, but he can run an offense, he doesn’t make a ton of mistakes and he’s not gonna kill you on Sundays.  I’ve got no issue with Orton being the guy.

But Brady Quinn as the backup?  Seriously?  I’ve watched Tebow play in his starts last season and in the preseason.  I’ve watched Quinn play in his three seasons in Cleveland.  There is quite simply no conceivable way anyone, anywhere could possibly believe that Quinn has more upside than Tebow.  Quinn was nothing short of absolutely putrid in his previous on-field efforts.  I’m pretty sure I could play better, given a chance.  Yet somehow, we’re expected to believe that Quinn is the better choice and that Tebow needs to either be traded or outright released.

This is complete bull.  This has more to do with the two John’s (Fox and Elway) trying to wipe out McDaniels’ short legacy than anything Tebow has or hasn’t done.  What has he done, by the way?  Well, he threw 5 touchdowns against 3 interceptions with a QB rating of 82.1 and rushed for 5.3 yards per on 43 carries and 6 more touchdowns in limited action last year as a rookie.  In the preseason this year, he’s 7 for 9 passing, 11 yards per attempt, with a rating of 113.7 and 22 rushing yards on just 3 carries for a 7.3 clip.  Yeah, he totally sucks.  Why are they keeping this hack around?

Quinn, on the other hand, has had ample opportunity to win the starting job in Cleveland over the years, and he’s produced a career QB rating in the mid 60s.  In the preseason with Denver, he’s got the most attempts, the lowest completion percentage, the lowest yards per attempt, the most interceptions and the lowest rating of the three Denver QBs.  Yet somehow, he’s “outplayed” Tebow and has “earned” the backup spot.

John Fox isn’t exactly a coaching mastermind, either.  He’s what I refer to as a member of the retread carousel, that being a failed coach who gets fired from one job and then inexplicably lands another right away.  He had a couple good years in Carolina, more bad ones, and his idea of a great QB was overpaying to keep World League retread Jake Delhomme in the league several years after it was obvious he was finished.  Fox is little more than a poor man’s Jeff Fisher.  Lots of talent year after year, and consistently disappointing results.

I’m not sold Tebow will ever be a consistent contributor in the NFL, but I’m damn sure that Quinn will never be.  Tebow has infinitely more potential, and a range of skills that far exceeds Quinn’s in a much smaller body of experience.  At this point, I hope he does get released just so he can get a chance somewhere else with a coach who’s not judging him based on some difficult to comprehend standard and might be able to figure out a way to use his unique skill set.

Far be it for me to wish an injury on any player, but if they do move Tebow out, it would totally serve Fox and Denver right if Orton were to go down and Quinn be forced to play.  Maybe then, they’ll see what everyone in Cleveland (and anyone who’s actually watched an NFL game) already knows; Brady Quinn is a total, indefensible trainwreck under center.

So are we supposed to believe that Terrelle Pryor’s 5-game NFL suspension was just coincidentally the same length as the one he agreed to at Ohio State?  Is there any precedent whatsoever for suspending a guy who isn’t even in your league as yet?  And, at what point did it become the NFL’s job to enforce NCAA penalties?

According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell–or is he more appropriately addressed as Emporer now because apparently he can just make up whatever rules he likes on a whim–it was necessary to issue a suspension to Pryor in order to “protect the integrity of the draft process.”  Let’s forget for a moment that we’re talking about the supplemental draft, an add-on to the regular draft specifically intended for people who lose college eligibility after the deadline to enter the regular draft, you know, like Terrelle Pryor.  According to Goodell, they aren’t really punishing Pryor for NCAA transgressions.  Yeah, that’s why it’s an unusual five-game suspension, right?  Has absolutely nothing to do with the five-game ban he agreed to at OSU.  Sure, I buy that.  And Buffalo’s gonna win the Superbowl this year, too.

To make matters worse, Goodell has reportedly told Pryor he can appeal up to three days after he signs with a team, but he also has to accept the penalty to be eligible to enter the league in the first place, which some have suggested would mean he forfeits the legal right to appeal.  Talk about a catch 22, you have to be in the league to appeal, but you can’t get into the league without giving up your right to appeal. 

It does make a bit of sense, though.  Goodell can’t really suspend Pryor until he’s actually in the league, so Pryor can’t really forfeit his right to appeal by agreeing to a suspension Goodell has no standing to issue in the first place.  The supposed deal isn’t that so much as it’s a notification from Goodell to Pryor that you’re in the draft, but I’m suspending you as soon as you are legally under my control. 

Not only do I think Pryor should appeal, he should sue both Goodell and the league as well.  Pryor likely wasn’t going to be a first round pick in any circumstance, but if you don’t think this suspension is going to affect what round he’s picked in and what kind of contract he receives, you’re just naive.  This baseless, unprecedented suspension will cost Pryor real money, and possibly even the opportunity for an NFL career if he doesn’t get drafted at all, a distinct possibility.

Popular opinion is that Pryor has earned this kind of treatment through his conduct at Ohio State.  Really?  Was his conduct any worse than his coach, who willfully looked the other way, and likely has been for who knows how long?  Was it any worse than the school itself and the BCS getting together on the bogus 5-game suspension in the first place so clearly ineligible players could be on the field for the money making bowl game?  Did he have a booster pay for a prostitute and then her abortion later?  And let’s not forget, the celebrated #1 pick in the regular draft Cam Newton was literally shopped around to the highest bidder by his own father, yet somehow managed to stay eligible to win a Heisman Trophy and National Championship. Auburn is still under investigation, by the way, as is the team they beat for the title, the Oregon Ducks.  But, by all means, let’s hammer Pryor for selling his own stuff and gettin some free tattoos.  Absolutely.

And how exactly did Pryor purposely sabotage his eligibility, as the NFL claims?  By cooperating with the NCAA and actually truthfully answering their questions and providing documentation.  He did what he was supposed to do and fessed up, and the NFL suspends him for it.  He cut that bogus suspension deal with Tressel anyway, who was later forced to resign.  There is very little doubt, once the investigation ramped up, that Pryor would never have seen the field this season at OSU under any circumstances.  And all of this–Tressel’s resignation, his testimony to the NCAA and the intensifying investigation–all happened well after the Jan.15 draft entry deadline.  Not only should Pryor been obviously eligible for the supplemental draft, he’s the exact kind of case it was designed for to begin with.  The notion that his circumstances didn’t change for the worse after the January deadline is willfully ignorant at best and purposely disingenuous at worst.

This should have been a cut and dried decision; either Pryor is eligible for the supplemental draft or he’s not and has to wait until next year.  And if Goodell had simply ruled him ineligible, the entire matter wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.  I would still have disagreed, and thought it unfair, but at least a solid case could be made and justified.  This hybrid ruling–yes, you’re eligible but you’re also suspended–has no defense or justification in the rules or the law.  It’s been invented out of whole cloth by a commissioner drunk with his own power and looks more like a giveaway to his buddy, NCAA President Mark Emmert, than any genuine attempt to protect anything about the NFL’s draft process.

There is no rule Goodell is following to issue this decision.  There is no precedent under which this falls, in fact, the precedents almost all side with Pryor.  There is no legal standing to suspend a guy who isn’t even part of the league as yet.  On top of it all, it treats players who commit NCAA violations differently than coaches who do the same thing (I, among others, are looking at you, Pete Carroll).

Worse yet, this decision does the exact opposite of the stated goal of protecting the integrity of the draft.  By making up rules as he goes along, Goodell is threatening that integrity he claims to be defending.  What we have here is not justice or fairness.  What it really comes down to is a ruler with nearly unlimited power inventing rules and ignoring inconvenient realities to punish a player for violating someone else’s rules that don’t even come into his purview.

This is all about protecting Emmert and the corrupt NCAA system which serves as a free de facto minor league for the NFL.  Terrelle Pryor just happens to be the guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Karma? Maybe. But fairness under the rules?  Not even close.

Last week, I gave a quick rundown of the teams I believed came out as losers from the NBA draft.  Apparently, judging by some of the comments I received, calling Bismack Biyombo a massive bust waiting to happen and criticizing the Celtics for not keeping Marshon Brooks weren’t particularly popular points of view.  And there are people out there who actually like what the Sacramento Kings are cooking up these days.  Who knew?

Anyway, to balance the scales, here’s a list, in reverse order, of who I believe were the top five winners from the 2011 NBA draft.

5.  Los Angeles Lakers

How does a team who didn’t even have a pick in the first two-thirds of the draft end up as winners?  Well, you make exceptional use of mid-second rounders, that’s how.

The Lakers nabbed Michigan point guard Darius Morris at number 41, a pick that I believe will be looked back on as an absolute steal.  Morris is big, long, quick and has the best court vision and passing ability in the entire draft.  Of course, he also can’t shoot a lick.  Playing for the Lakers, however, that’s not too much of a problem.  After all, there’s this guy in Boston named Rondo who can’t shoot either, and he seems to be doing all right for himself.

Then,  with the 46th pick, L.A. snatched up Andrew Goudelock from the College of Charleston.  More of a scorer than a facilitator, Goudelock can fill it up on the offensive end and is clearly one of the best pure shooters in the draft with unlimited range.  Not bad for the bottom quarter of the draft.

The Lakers had two glaring needs coming into the draft, the re-emergence of the squeezably soft Pau Gasol notwithstanding, point guard and scoring/shooting off the bench.  Managing to address both those late in the draft is a big win.

4. Washington Wizards

The Wizards came out of this draft as possibly one of the most exciting teams in the league.  Getting 6’11″ athletic freak Jan Vesely in the lottery alone could have landed Washington on this list.  But they also got long, athletic defensive wiz Chris Singleton at 18 and Butler’s dynamo point guard Shelvin Mack early in the second round.  That’s the kind of well-rounded haul that can turn a team from pretender to contender.

Vesely has superstar written all over him.  Initially, I thought Singleton had a chance to be a bust as he was being discussed in the 10-12 range.  Sliding to 18 and landing in an almost perfect situation where his defense can make a difference and he can make full use of his athleticism has changed my mind.  Washington could well be the most exciting, unstoppable force in the league on the break sooner than later.

Getting Mack was another smooth pickup.  He’s small and stocky, but he’s a supreme competitor, being the primary reason why the little Butler Bulldogs played in an unbelievable two straight NCAA championship games.  I can see him as a Jameer Nelson type, a little shooting, a little passing, a steady hand as John Wall’s backup at the point. 

Washington, who was such a mess two years ago, has done a fantastic job rebuilding and will be coming to a playoff series near you very soon.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

Let me say this right up front, I absolutely love the pickup of Stephen Jackson by Milwaukee.  Even with the mouthing off about a contract extension before he’s even played a game there, Captain Jack is going to pay big dividends for the Bucks. 

Milwaukee clearly got the best end of the three team predraft trade with Charlotte and Sacramento.  They not only added Jackson, they got a solid backup for Brandon Jennings in Beno Udrih and somehow, some way managed to offload two bad contracts in John Salmons and Corey Maggette.  Absolutely masterful work.

They also traded down from 10 to 19, where they landed Tobias Harris from Tennessee, who has all the look and skills of a Tayshaun Prince.  The Bucks, who were a massive disappointment last season to many, myself included, have rearranged themselves back into the playoff picture in the East. 

Jackson brings offense, defense, clutch play and veteran leadership–on the court, anyway, not so much off it.  With a lightning quick, high scoring point guard, an actual skilled offensive and defensive center in Andrew Bogut, and Captain Jack’s all around play, the Bucks are going to be a team no one wants to play when the playoffs roll around next year.

2. New Jersey Nets

In my draft losers list, I ripped Boston for trading away Marshon Brooks.  Well, the Nets were the team on the receiving end of that deal, and will they ever benefit from that!  I love Brooks as a player.  I think he’s got as good a shot as anyone not named Kanter to be a star at this level.  With New Jersey, soon to be Brooklyn, and playing in the backcourt with Deron Williams, Brooks is in an ideal position to make that happen.

In the second round, the Nets picked up big man Jordan Williams from Maryland.  Williams is a rebounding machine, and he actually has the makings of a polished post game, as well.  With Kris Humphries a restricted free agent coming off of a surprising career year, Williams gives New Jersey the ability to not overpay to keep him.  People made such a big deal about Kenneth Faried’s rebounding prowess, and rightly so, with 14 boards a game for tiny Morehead State.  Well, Williams is bigger and he nabbed 12 boards a game in the ACC, just slightly better competition, I think.

With this draft, the impending move to Brooklyn, and a big trade chip in Brook Lopez, the Nets are in an excellent position to not only hang on to Deron Williams, but to attract and add another prime time player and become the real superteam in New York.

1. Utah Jazz

As rebuilding franchises go, its hard to peg a team that has done a better job more quickly than the Utah Jazz.  Earlier this year, after Jerry Sloan’s sudden retirement followed soon thereafter by the Deron Williams trade, it looked for all the world like the Jazz were a team in chaos.  Take a look at them now.

Utah made the most of its two lottery picks this year, getting the guy I believe will turn out to be the best player in the draft in Enes Kanter at 3 and an excellent two guard in Colorado’s Alec Burks at 12.  Kanter has a full range of offensive and defensive skills at the center position, and the drive to use them.  People talk about guys like Biyombo and Kawhi Leonard having high motors, well Kanter does as well, only he actually has a fine game to go along with it.  Barring the rumored knee issues becoming a reality, this guy is a multiple time All Star waiting to happen.

The best thing that could have happened to Utah was for Jimmer Fredette to be off the board when they picked at 12.  The pressure to take the BYU alum would have been enormous, and with that not an option, they were free to select Burks, a guy I believe has a bigger upside than Jimmer and is a much better fit.

Utah isn’t done, either.  They potentially have two more lottery picks next year, their own if they miss the playoffs, and Golden State’s if it’s outside the top 7.  And they have a glut of tradeable assets, particularly in the frontcourt.  Along with Kanter, they have Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsapp and Mehmet Okur.  Add Devin Harris  and those possible draft picks, and Utah could be a trade recipient for virtually any player in the league.

They still have some work to do to fully flesh out their team, but there are very few franchises around with the potential upside the Jazz now possess.

Best Players

Prior to the draft, I pegged 15 guys who I really liked.  That’s not to say that they will all be superstar Hall of Famers, just that I believe that any team landing one of these guys will be getting a pretty good player.

Two teams ended up with two players from this list; the Utah Jazz and the New Jersey Nets, and not coincidentally, they ended up 1-2 on my draft winners list.  There were also two teams that got one of these guys that finished on my draft losers list, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Boston Celtics.  That’s not to say that I’ve changed my mind about the players they selected, just that I don’t like the fit with that particular team, or, as with the case of Boston, I believed they could have done better.

I’m listing these 15 guys in the order they were drafted.  Now it’s up to the NBA and the players to get their collective heads out of their rear ends and get back on the court.  I’m anxious to see how this next season plays out, and hopefully not in a court room or negotiating table.

Kyrie Irving, #1, Cleveland Cavaliers
Enes Kanter, #3, Utah Jazz
Jan Vesely, #6, Washington Wizards
Brandon Knight, #8, Detroit Pistons
Kemba Walker, #9, Charlotte Bobcats
Klay Thompson, #11, Golden State Warriors
Alec Burks, #12, Utah Jazz
Nikola Vucevic, #16, Philadelphia 76ers
Kenneth Faried, #22, Denver Nuggets
Marshon Brooks, #25, New Jersey Nets
JaJuan Johnson, #27, Boston Celtics
Norris Cole, #28, Miami Heat
Jordan Williams, #36, New Jersey Nets
Darius Morris, #41, Los Angeles Lakers
Josh Selby, #49, Memphis Grizzlies

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece explaining why I believed the NBA owners had the better position in the then-upcoming labor battle.  Well, after some detailed reading in the matter, I have totally switched sides.  Don’t get me wrong, the owners have some valid points.  Many teams are losing money, and some changes in the league’s player salary structure do need to happen.  But the owners aren’t going for reasonable changes, they’re out and out trying to gut the players and wipe out any illusions that the NBA is a partnership of any sort.

First off, there is a major dispute about what the actual financial health of the league truly is.  The NBA is saying they lost $340 million this part season.  Many people who spend a lot more time than me pouring over obscure financial statements are seriously disputing that.  Forbes Magazine even suggests that the league as a whole actually turned a profit approaching $200 million in ’09-10.  That’s a far cry from $300 mil in the red.  So who’s to be believed here?

Well, I believe its somewhere in the middle.  I suspect that the overall league most likely is profitable.  I also believe that a majority of teams could be losing money, although not likely at the clip the league’s stating.  In case you haven’t been paying attention to the world in the past few years, accounting practices, particularly among large corporations and the financial sector, have become a little like alchemy.  But instead of turning lead into gold, they’re making gold look like lead on paper while still actually raking in the gold.

Either way, the league needs some changes, and it seems to me the player’s agree with that and have made offers to that effect.  However, what the NBA wants isn’t simply salary reductions, it’s salary Armageddon.  The NBA wants something close to $900 million per year chopped off player salaries, and a 10-year contract to boot.  In a stunningly arrogant position, David Stern rather smugly suggested they would guarantee the players $2 billion a year in salaries.  But that’s a hard ceiling.  If revenue continues to grow at the rate it has, by the end of a decade, the player’s share of revenue would fall from the current 57% all the way into the mid 30′s, if not more.  That’s not a legitimate plan, that’s flat out theft.

The player’s have rather correctly, argued that many of the losses that teams have incurred can be fixed with better revenue sharing models, but the NBA won’t even discuss such a thing in collective bargaining.  They insist, instead, that a CBA needs to be done first, then we’ll talk revenue sharing internally.  Uh-huh, and I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you can buy on the cheap.  The owners want everything to fix all of their problems coming out of the player’s pockets, and if they get it, what do you believe the chances are for any kind of substantive revenue sharing?  If you said zero, you get a prize.

The owners are behaving much like Congressional Republicans on this issue.  We want to solve our budget problems by cutting spending on you guys, while any suggestion of the top of the top earners giving back anything is off the table.  The example of the the Kings and Lakers makes the case eloquently.

Sacramento nets about $11 million per year in its local television contract.  The Lakers, on the other hand, just signed a new TV deal that will pay them in excess of about $150 million per year.  That revenue is not shared, so the teams keep every dime of that.  The Lakers had the highest payroll in the NBA last season, after the Luxury Tax, at about $110 million.  Their TV contract alone will pay their entire team salary and still have $40 million left over.  The Kings TV contract wouldn’t even cover the full salary of one All-NBA level player.  I don’t care how much you cut salaries, allowing that kind of disparity in revenue will never, ever make for a league where small markets can compete.

At first, I thought the players a little arrogant for stating that they didn’t believe they should be responsible for poor management decisions, but I’ve rethought that a bit, as well.  Let’s look at the Hornets, for instance. Stern and his cronies allowed a garbage owner like George Shinn to run the Charlotte market into the ground, then inexplicably let him haul the team off to an even less financially viable market in New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets played in Oklahoma City for a while, to packed houses.  Reason should have argued that the Hornets should have just moved there.  But no, they went back to the financial black hole in New Orleans, while Stern was busy allowing his carpet bagger buddy Clay Bennett to buy the Seattle Supersonics, poison what is a great basketball market, and then haul them to OKC.  To make matters worse, its been reveled that the Hornets franchise actually loaned their owner Shinn $35 million at well-below market interest rates at the same time they were borrowing nearly $100 million at much higher rates. How in the name of all things good and holy did the league allow that bit of borderline embezzlement to happen?

So, no, I’m not so much on the owner’s side anymore.  And don’t give me the line about Eddy Curry or Gilbert Arenas contracts.  Nobody other than Isiah Thomas thought it was a good idea to give Curry that kind of money.  Nobody outside of Washington thought it was good idea to give Arenas that contract, especially coming off a year where he barely played due to injury.  These guys bid against themselves.  You can’t even blame the system for that.

But, oh well, the NBA is still planning on breaking the players with the lockout.  The only difference is that I no longer have any sympathy for them when they suck the whole league down the drain in the effort.