Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Stauskas Trade, Or The Sixers Actually Might Have Stopped Tanking

Hello, Actual Possible Asset
Tonight, my basketball laundry finally made a trade with an eye toward making the product on the floor better in the here and now, rather than in the later and much later. By agreeing to send over some overseas assets – AKA, any name that is not Dario Saric, since he is pretty much the only overseas asset that matters – and taking on salary, they will receive Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry from the Kings. It’s a $25 million salary dump for the NoCal franchise, who are said to be making a run at some big name free agent guards (Rajon Rondo, hoo boy, Monta Ellis, better, or Wes Matthews, meh).

We will dispense with the flotsam first. Landry has been a reasonable scorer over the years for the Pelicans and Warriors, but he is 32, weak on defense, and not someone who will do much for this club, assuming he does not have Big Man Mentor Powers. Jason Thompson is a thuggy younger big who can be a reasonable effort guy, but at 29, he’s just a guy, more or less the more established version of the Thomas Robinson play that they filled their dog days with late last season. Both of these guys are better than Henry Sims, but there is a reasonable chance that I am better than Henry Sims, and the NBA player that I most closely resemble is Muggsy Bogues. Today’s Muggsy, to make matters worse.

Which leaves this entirely in the realm of Stauskas. Last year’s first round pick was regarded, back in the run up to last year’s draft, as a deadeye shooter with true three point range and an NBA-ready release. The fact that he shot 36.5% from the floor last year, 32% from the arc (with half of his shots from there), and only got 15 minutes per game of burn for a team that was going absolutely nowhere…

Well, that either speaks to the idea that Stauskas is another in a long line of shoot-only duds, or – just maybe – that he had a rough rookie year as a 22-year-old in what might have been the worst coaching situation in the NBA. The Sixers are clearly banking on the latter, and using their contract cap advantages in the only way they can right now, since no free agent in their right mind will come to town until it’s very clear that the revolving door and tanking is over.

I have actually seen Stauskas play in person – business trip to Ann Arbor with a game thrown in – and he has some gifts. A nose for the ball, reasonable defensive instincts, some handle. He did not look out of place at all on a Michigan team with multiple fringe NBA guys, and if Sixers coach Brett Brown can get useful minutes and shooting out of guys like Robert Covington, Jerami Grant and and Luc Mbah a Moute…well, a guy who was actually coveted, and a lottery pick not so very long ago, might be more than that.

My hope is that they are not done yet, in that Stauskas is not a point guard, and the roster really only has a PG2 and PG3 (Ish Smith and Isiah Canaan) on the roster. If this also means a whole lot less Hollis Thompson and Jakarr Sampson in our lives, that is so much the better, in that neither of those guys should be playing basketball in the First World. (I don't mean to be cruel. They do try hard. But there are a lot of guys who will try hard who do not play well enough to be in the NBA. The less of them you see in your laundry, the better.)

But the most encouraging thing isn’t the guys they got tonight.

It is that they got someone at all.

With the promise that they might get, well, more…

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Weatherford Affair

Player  / Not A Player
So the kerfluffle this week in my part of the world, assuming that you are not paying attention to the Phillies (and honestly, I'm pretty sure that no one locally has paid attention to that dumpster fire for years now)... was Giants P Steve Weatherford daring to give a remarkably accurate assessment to the Eagles' muddled QB situation.

Which led to Eagles C Jason Kelce grousing that Weatherford was particularly unqualified to talk trash, seeing how his position was protected from contact. (Nice money quote: "Interviewing punters is a thing now?") Weatherford backed down from the statement, again in a highly even-handed way, all the while freely admitting that the Eagles were completely correct to react in the way that they did to his words.

Now, I get that all of this is Not Game, and that it is happening in one of the few weeks of the entire goddamned year that you can actually be free of the NFL. This should be the time that we're taking MLB attendees to task for allowing the remarkably over-the-top KC Fans to hijack a meaningless game, or engaging in pointless speculation about NBA free agents. And yet, here we are in the muck of this silliness, which the world will little note nor long remember, assuming someone on the Eagles STs fails to take a run at Weatherford in a game, or if Weatherford just avoids punter calamity during said game.

I'm still taking time with it for one reason, though... and that's the man without a country status of Weatherford, and what hypocrites the world is when it comes to athlete trash talk.

If Weatherford was a civilian, or even an ex-player, he might not have gotten press attention in the first place... but it's also unlikely that Kelce displays even the trace element of butthurt shown here. If Weatherford was a trench player, it would get play for the week or so, and be more or less part of the usual Giants-Eagles brouhaha. But only because he's in the netherworld of neither fish nor fowl -- not quite civilian, not quite Real Football Player -- we get to more or less dismiss what he said, because of who he is.

Well, he's not wrong. Any team is doomed with QB3, just as any team that has a decision to make between QB1 and QB2 is likely to have A Problem. Weatherford might have said this indelicately, and it may not have been his place to say.

But he's not *wrong*...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Shouldn't LeBron James Leave Cleveland?

Moar T-Shirts In Future?
Trolling Cleveland Fan seems like such a *wrong* thing to do, really. Lo, how those people have suffered! They haven't won a title of any kind in half a century! They not only drafted Johnny Manziel, they have to cheer for him! They don't even have hockey any more, and no one even remembers that that they had it in the first place! And so on, and so on.

But I've got news for these folks... no one really cares about Your Pain. College football fans think you've got it way too good, seeing how Ohio State seems to be the only non-SEC school that wins championships now. You spent most of the '90s running roughshod over much of the American League in a brand-new yard. You have the best basketball player on the planet, who dragged your sorry asses to the Finals, left, got vilified for it, then came back and did it again. You got an expansion NFL franchise ahead of markets like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Portland, London, and so on. And, well, you live in Cleveland, and either didn't choose to leave it when you became adults, or moved to it for some reason. No one, outside of mass media honks trying to make an Easy Story out of Your Misery, could give a rolling rut at a flying doughnut.

Oh, sure, Cleveland Fan, there's absolutely nothing to worry about in re Prodigal King (LeBron) James going for another one year deal. It's a FORMALITY, for heaven's sake. Just an accounting moment to make sure that his contract will be right-sized when the NBA's contract cap gets turned into Monopoly money in 2016. It's all from the new TV rights deals that is going go make even the most hidebound MLB fan realize their sport is #3 with an anchor.

But, well.. what if it's not?

Imagine, for just a moment, what Chicago might look like with James. It's not as if new coach Fred Hoiberg is any less of a pushover than Cavs coach David Blatt was, and after a lifetime of torturing Bulls Fan, James would have a deep roster that would allow him to take more time off, and not be so locked down on defense. For the Bulls, it would finally get them to the point of not having to reply on fragile PG Derrick Rose to be their bailout option, and to finally get easy shots in half-court when the games get tight. In the lEast, they'd win 60+ games without much in the way of regular season effort, and get to the Finals without more than a couple of losses. And James has never played with a big that would make his life easier than Pau Gasol. For a one-year rental, it's as easy a road to the Finals as you can get.

If a winter in Chicago isn't realistic, what about a return to Miami? They just got what might have been the steal of the draft in Justise Winslow, could have a backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade, and a startlingly good front court of Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside to go with James, Winslow, Chris Anderson and more. Unlike Cleveland, Miami didn't kick James as he left, and he knows he can win here. Just like Chicago, it's an auto 60+ wins, and unlike Chicago or Cleveland, he might actually respect the coach. After a season of pretending that things were working out with Kevin Love, or that Matthew Dellevedova and Timofey Mozgov didn't own their livelihood to him, going back seems like ease to me.

I'll rule out the rest of the lEastern pretenders because there's really no reason to make this point too much, but the plain and simple fact is that James on any of last year's playoff teams probably gets that team to the Finals. And while free agent season might swing things a bit, along with the possibility of some high performances from the rookies, that's just how much better James is. So long as he stays in the lEast, that team is the favorite for the Finals. It's just a matter of how exhausted he might be when they start, and whether the club he joins has any real shot at taking down the team from the vastly superior conference.

Now, there's been no evidence that James is even considering any of this. He's not even scheduled to visit teams. But things can change in a hurry, especially when James is seemingly going into wait-and-see mode with Cleveland management to sign some other free agents... and the man is officially on the back nine of his NBA career now, on the wrong side of 30, with only two rings in six trips to the Finals.

To be regarded as not just the best player of his generation, but maybe the best player, period -- and yes, I'd argue it, simply because his supporting casts have been so much less than what His Airness had to work with, and the all-around numbers for James are just overwhelming...

Well, he's left them before to win a championship. Why not again?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Other Leg Drops On Sam Hinkie

Once On, Never Off?
Something that started to make Sixers observers wonder, and part of my significant amount of despair regarding the less than thrilling Sixers draft, was the inability to package second round assets to trade up into the first round for, well, a guard. Any guard, really. Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has been good at finding some in the flotsam of NBA fringe talent, but you can't expect to do more than get a good benchie or two that way. Top tier talent will win out in games and minutes that matter, and coaching up folks requires them to come in with enough on the ball.

Anyhoo... the hope was that he'd move up and take someone who might be of more immediate help than, say, the gaggle of foreign centers and power forwards that we'll probably never, ever see in the laundry. And as the draft bled away and the Sixers did nothing of their usual note, it made me start to wonder, especially with the number of teams that have come up short in deals with the man, whether he was just not finding people to dance with.

Which leads to tonight's little note... $3 million last season to the Pelicans in fines for failing to disclose a leg injury to Jrue Holiday, prior to dealing him for the pick that became Nerlens Noel. Which seems like a pittance for what winds up costing a team more than half of the games that his team has played.

Now, NBA teams don't out and out blackball a team from trades. It's also not as if there is a smoking gun and clear causality in Holiday being limited by what the Sixers knew, and the Pelicans didn't. You'd have to do a lot more than what the Sixers are alleged to do to not have anyone make trades with you, or take calls, especially if you are in the need for a big, and the laundry has those.

But you don't have to treat them as, well, most favored nations. Or to take their first dozen odd offers, or take what might seem to be a solid offer. You can, in short, treat them like untrustworthy customers, or maybe even just wait them out for weeks afterward, possibly in the same way that the Celtics got shut out of moving all of their assets.

It's a small league. And it doesn't take that much to shut down avenues of talent acquisition. Which kind of makes somehow getting a free agent of note to somehow come to an 18-win tank party suddenly important...

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Sixers Draft: There Is No Trust, Or Process

Brett Brown's Reaction
I've been carrying Sixers GM Sam Hinkie's water for years. He's made any number of great trades, picks and so on... all while not putting together anything close to a team that could ever win more than a quarter of the games they play.

They've steadfastly gone for the philosophy of Best Player Available, refused to sign or trade for or keep middling talents that would lock them into the pointless middle area of lEastern Conference 8 seed basketball, and plunged the franchise into a 2-years-and-counting period where every Sixer Fan has felt like they might be a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. In a league filled with teams that tank, the Sixers have been bald-faced about it, and pilloried. They also haven't been very lucky with the things that have been beyond their control (i.e., lottery slots).

But losing with purpose and a plan has actually always been supported in this town. The Eagles in the early days of Dick Vermeil and Andy Reid lost handily and everyone was fine with it. The Sixers in the Iverson build got broad support. The Phillies in the days of Ed Wade. If you play kids and commit to it, and said kids try hard, this town cheers for them. They are far more patient than you might imagine, especially for a town that's a top ten media market, where people spend real coin to see games, and have other options.

Tonight was supposed to be about when the Sixers pivoted from developmental to watchable. With the two bigs supposed to come off the board, Hinkie would just take his pick of D'Angelo Russell and Emanual Mundiay. Finally, we'd have someone beyond a D-League point guard, and the club might get Joel Embiid and Dario Saric on the floor, to go with Interesting Pieces found in last year's year-long talent sift. Maybe even, be still my heart, make a trade that wasn't for future second round picks. The club had assets, dammit, so many second round picks that they could maybe package up and use to get a guy on an expiring deal who might be able to hit an open jumper.

So, what did we get?

Well, the Lakers fell in love with Russell, because they saw New Stephen Curry in him, and screwed up the top of the board. The Sixers then took Okafor, and while it really seems to force a trade at less than peak value for either Embiid or Nerlens Noel, Okafor was the consensus top pick not so long ago. You had to take him, fit be damned, and three young bigs to split 96 minutes is defensible, especially if Embiid's foot issues continue. Still time to save the night and the season by getting a point. Just...

Make a trade, maybe for Jerian Grant, the brother of current Sixer Jerami? Nope, he goes off the board in the first round, and the team never trades up. Take a guard with one of their high second round picks? Nope. Instead, Hinkie went for two MORE centers, both of them foreign stash guys, and I'm not going to bother spelling their names here, because there is no earthly reason to learn those names. Take someone late? No, not really, two foreign PFs to go with the two foreign Cs.

A team that went into the draft with starters like Hollis Thompson, Ish Smith and Tony Wroten didn't even produce competition for those jobs. Unless you think J.P. Tokoto, a UNC SF who profiles as a No Offense project, can come through... well, the worst position group in the league didn't get any better.

Maybe I'm wrong here. Maybe there's a trade coming down the pike for Ty Lawson, or Isiah Thomas, or any number of presumably available guards. But that's not how you build a roster, because everyone else in the league *knows* you've got to make a move, and won't give up real value.By the end of the night, ESPN was mocking the Sixer picks before they happened, the same as NFLN guys mock the Eagles for taking Best Available Oregon Duck. Short of something amazing happening, this 18 win team might win... 18 games again. I no longer trust the process, or that there is any kind of plan, other than to lose a lot of games and not pay anyone.

Honestly, is all of my laundry trying to get me to stop caring, all at once?

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