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On the road with an NBA spy: The grinding work and lifestyle of an advance scout

Ethan Strauss Dec 12, 2018 78
“Goddammit!​ Fucking​ shit!​ Would you​ look at​ this​ fucking guy!” Our​ scout is pointing​ at​ a portly man who stands​ between​ us​​ and the escalator pathway. This is the truest enemy he knows. Our scout is never present for when the team that employs him faces a rival franchise. His only rivals are those who thwart arrivals on the league’s loneliest trail.

Every night features the arena’s stimulus overload, the roaring crowd, honking hype men and jangling music. His work ends in the wee hours of the morning, in a hotel, poring over film. It’s disorienting. My brain broke from merely observing. Details started blurring. I nearly missed a flight due to a dead certainty that my hotel was attached to the airport. Wrong, my brain was holding on to what had been true the night before, in a different city.

The problem was, I had no system for whatever this lifestyle is, not like our scout had. He was on a well-worn path. Our scout did not see the North American landscape as a collection of cities to be enjoyed, each with their own character and customs. No, he saw this terrain through the portals of his convenience. This city’s tram gets you to the hotel from the airport. This city’s skyways shield you from the cold. New York’s “N” train is all you really need to know about. Turn here. Down this hall.

The man is a travel sherpa, guiding you through the chaos of the ambling crowd. Every movement is propulsive. Every movement smoothly assertive, at least until those damned people get in the way. There’s a mini human traffic jam as we step onto an airport tram. “Folks who try and get on before everyone exits piss me off,” he mutters. You wouldn’t know from the running commentary, but this man is not a misanthrope. He’s actually quite kind, considerate even. He keeps looking out for me as I blithely lose myself in more crowds than Waldo. The road may have taken this man’s patience, but it hasn’t stolen his soul.

“Anyone flying to New York?!” a sharply dressed guy shouts to the tram passengers. There’s a gleam in the stranger’s eye, one that stays burning despite the lack of response. “Anyone flying to New York?!” He then asks our scout for the time and gets a blank stare. We exit the tram.

“Con artist,” our scout says. “I’ve seen it before. My job is to size things up.” The con artist, if he is a con artist, would be employing a predatory strategy called, “Forced Teaming,” as coined by Gavin de Becker in his bestselling book, “The Gift of Fear.” Good luck trying that on a professional lone wolf.

We keep walking, his steps always a few in front of my own. He’s as excited about Toronto’s tram to downtown as he was fearful of delays at customs (“You never know when there’s some damned Canadian holiday!”). Our schedule is always calibrated to hit ports of entry at the point of minimal crowding. “You see, if we were here in the morning …” is a common refrain.

Our scout is a middle-aged man who has been at this longer than seems sustainable. His specific trade is “advance scouting,” or NBA spying to put it in layman’s terms. He sits as close as possible to coaches and intercepts their play calls for upwards of 150 road games per season. Though this is the job description, it’s a less than clandestine existence. Teams know who he is, why he is there and even provide him the credentials. It’s part of NBA culture: Everyone is allowed to do this and may the best spies win.

Our scout is regarded as one of the best. Though his job is difficult and highly routinized, he made an exception for a slight detour. After my article on NBA spies garnered more interest from readers than anticipated, our scout wondered if I might delve deeper. I had only cracked the surface here. To understand this life, I had to live it, just a bit.

So, I would trail this member of a monastic sports caste. I would see how he fights for a team absent the camaraderie supposedly essential to team competition. It would be six games in seven nights, which by the way, is a merciful slice of schedule. Our scout has done 13 road games in 13 nights before. It’s not like merely high-level business travel, the kind represented by George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” character. This way is a blast furnace aimed at all your senses, interspersed with moments of crushing solitude.

So why does he do this?

The Rosetta Stone
One reason is because, unlike so many people, he can do this. The job requires a certain visio-spatial acuity. While walking briskly to an arena, our scout self-assesses, “I believe I might be on the spectrum.” I cannot offer a free diagnosis but can conclude that he’s capable of things that, to my mind, read as incredible.

At a hotel, we flip the TV to the end of a game involving a team he had recently seen in person. I ask for a running commentary of a crunch-time play, which our scout obliges, augmented by quick gesticulations. “They did this in the game we were at. These two guys are going to scissors off this pick. He’s going to cut to that corner, he’s going to cut to that corner. He’s going to pin that guy to the top. And then high pick-and-roll.” Boom. Boom. Boom. The play unfolds as predicted.

Our scout can tell us what’s going to happen before it happens, with the reliability of a “Minority Report” precog, and that’s even without the benefit of seeing the coach’s hand signal. One wonders how much a team could improve if all its players somehow magically absorbed this knowledge. Instead, teams settle for a more realistic reduction of this vast database, specifically tailored to each opponent, taught in film session to the roster, game by game.

Right now, our scout is deep into his hotel room routine, the work he does in addition to the report he sends from the arena. He’s typing away on Fast Draw, the league’s favored play diagramming software. The program is the evolutionary descendent of the days when IBM, as a major NBA sponsor, manufactured something to get NBA coaches toting ThinkPads on the sidelines in nationally televised games. Unfortunately for IBM, computer-based play diagramming, like writing, was always meant for solitude. The whiteboard just wouldn’t relinquish its grip as the public face of strategy.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich uses a whiteboard to draw up a play against the Warriors. (File photo from 2013: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Once all the plays are drawn, our scout adds the personnel report (statistics, depth chart, top plays and player tendencies). Finally, the capper, a written report with offensive and defensive notes, which normally includes the future opponent’s top-play frequencies. In his room, “call sheets” are strewn across the table, records of team plays with their corresponding coach’s hand signals. I ask for the Warriors’ records, since I want to learn about the team I supposedly know all about. “It can’t be that much material,” I say, “Considering how many of their offense is transition play.”


He plunks the file down with a thud.

“Here, take a look, I don’t give a shit,” he says. “It ain’t our team’s secrets.”

Before me lies the intellectual framework of the Steve Kerr era, represented in the NBA’s version of hieroglyphics. Everything I theoretically knew, or at least saw at some point, has been chronicled for a particular kind of posterity. Or perhaps more accurately, this is Kerr’s basketball 23andMe results, a genealogy of thought. There are over 100 plays, with tally marks to indicate frequency. I ask to know where all this comes from. What can we divine of Kerr’s influences while leafing through these pages? Our scout starts rattling off what he sees.

“Hmm, all the Weak and Strong series is Gregg Popovich. All the Pop clones run Strong and Weak. Another big one is Doc Rivers, by way of Alvin Gentry, ’cause Alvin was his first lead assistant. Dribble, Drag, Backdoor is 100 percent from Doc Rivers. The Floppy series is from Pat Riley. He never played for Pat, but that got around the league. His Loop series is Popovich. His Pistol series, originally known as the 21 series, is Mike D’Antoni. His Pick-and-Roll series is called ‘Rub,’ and that’s from Popovich. He and Pop both rub their chests when they call that, but Pop sort of does it like he’s straightening his tie. Kerr also has a Slice series and that’s definitely from Doc Rivers. His Wedge series is Pop.”

I’m not hearing one name in particular. Whenever I followed the Warriors to New York, their local media would obsessively ask about then Knicks president Phil Jackson, hoping to draw some connection between Kerr and his former Hall of Fame coach. They often asked some version of, “Are you running the Triangle?”

“To be honest, looking through this playbook, I don’t see anything from Phil Jackson,” our scout concludes. “Not one damned thing.”

To be fair, there is at least one damned Phil Jackson thing in the Warriors repertoire: an out of bounds play called “What The Fuck” that dates back to the Bulls days. Perhaps there are some other plays, here and there. But in general, Jackson’s strategic influence on Kerr appears dwarfed by some coaches Kerr never even played for or worked with. Maybe Jackson’s impact is more subjective and generalized. Maybe the Zen Master’s legacy is a more abstract echo, like the loudest of one-handed claps.

Popovich’s legacy looms largest, perhaps over the league and certainly over Kerr’s whiteboard. Pop’s “Weak Roll,” a play that gets the ball moving side to side, is an absolute favorite of Kerr’s. Our scout chuckles about Kerr’s proclivity with that one. He pictures the coach rubbing his hands together in glee like Monty Burns at the mere prospect of calling this play. “Ah yes, yes, Weak Roll,” our scout intones with a grin. He’s not necessarily against the predictable nature of coaches, but he does find it amusing on occasion. “Lemme tell you something. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is a creature of habit like NBA coaches are.”

How it works
Time is of the essence because there’s a lot of work that needs doing. When I look over our scout’s shoulder, I’m watching a chain reaction. Minutes after the buzzer, he’s sending his work to the organization for processing and later, implementation. It’s a process by which thousands of miles and many hours of effort will get condensed down to a 6-8 minute video that our scout will never see.

Here’s how the chain works, the exact process by which your favorite teams prepare for battle. Our scout flies to a game featuring a team (let’s call them the Kings) that’s say, two games away on the schedule from playing his own. Ideally, he is granted a courtside seat, “the down seat” in scout parlance. Armed with a pen and a laptop, he watches closely and listens carefully, with extra focus on Kings coach Dave Joerger, a “pain in the ass” who’s liable to obscure his play calls from prying eyes. Our scout spends all game looking for visual and vocal representations of plays, followed by the plays themselves. A call of “fist up!” paired with the making of a fist reads easy enough, for instance. Or it would, anyway, if “fist” had a universal meaning.

NBA coaches have a tendency to use the same visual terms (fist, horns, thumb) to mean all manner of different things. It’s as though everyone speaks the same language, but nobody means the same thing when they speak it. The same holds true for defensive calls, which, unlike offensive calls, tend to be colors (“red,” “blue,” etc.) rather than visual representations. With an uncommon understanding of this Tower of Babel, our scout types the visual call, vocal call and resulting action into his “call sheet.” The pen is for noting new plays and frequencies of plays. The buzzer finally sounds and it’s time to quickly send this information to the video coordinators for tagging purposes.

Back at Team HQ, a video guy has stashed a few games of the upcoming opponent “in his editor,” most likely in a program called SportsCode. He’s working on a refining process, purging these games of random, useless filler, preparing a reel for the assistant coach tasked with the Kings matchup. “The video guy will go through and remove all the crap plays, the garbage, maybe they didn’t run something right,” our scout says. “He’ll clean all of that out and what he’ll give the assistant coach is all of the actual plays.” There’s an optimal kind of play to feature, with an eye towards the motivations of athletes. “Preferably, the play is an example of proper execution. We tend to want examples where they score. We want to play up the fear to the guys.”

With the assistance of our scout, the video guy now can tag these plays according to their names and visual representations. It’s one thing for your players to see tendencies and another to know they’re coming, when they’re coming. Watch for this next time you’re at a game in person, because the television vantage rarely picks it up. Often when the camera is trained on the after basket inbounds, a defensive player is out of view, on the other side of the court, gesticulating the offense’s next play to his teammates.

Steve Kerr uses a hand signal to call a play during a Warriors game in Utah earlier this season. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Before such information can take root, it must be prepared, reduced down to a digestible size. In further consultation with the assistant coach, the video guy produces that 6-8 minute video of the opponent’s most common plays, to be shown in morning shootaround and again in pregame. This video serves as the basis for morning “walk-through,” when players are physically guided through their strategy preparations. “Normally the video edit is going to highlight two examples of the opponent’s top plays, and include maybe a dozen to 15 plays total,” our scout says. “At walk-through, you might physically go through a half dozen of the most important ones.”

The point of walk-through isn’t just to key your players on what to watch out for, but also to specifically prepare them for such actions with an organized defense. It’s a process that got more granular with time, fit according to whatever talent you’re facing. “Back in the day, there was ‘The Rule of Nowitzki,’” our scout recalls. “You had to adjust to defend him. The real key to this is not just identifying who they are. As soon as you get that call, not only do you need to know what’s coming, but also how to stop it.”

Scout’s honor
We are in a hotel lobby, with a younger scout from another team. We sit near the bar, but not at the bar. They haven’t the time for drinks but commiserate a bit over the college game playing in the background. Finally, as our scout gets ready to leave, the younger scout asks, “Hey, did you get all the plays tonight?” Younger scout missed a few and our scout is happy to help. This is part of the culture, in the way that offering lecture notes to a friend in college might have been part of yours.

Oftentimes, in the bowels of an NBA arena, two scouts from different franchises meet in a conspiracy against the home team. It’s a common sight if you know what to look for. You might be in Brooklyn, in the media room, watching the Pacers scout and Wizards scout at one table, trading secrets on how to foil the Nets next week. As the ancient proverb goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In that media room, these scouts are brothers-in-arms, united in purpose against a common enemy. That is, until the Nets scout and the Wizards scout find each other in Indiana’s arena, both looking down the barrel at an upcoming Pacers game. Then it’s time to forge a new, convenient bond.

Collegiality has its limits. In Memphis, a seat next to our scout goes wanting. It was allotted to another team’s scout who never bothered to show. We have it on good authority that this scout got trashed the night before and decided to sleep this game away. Though this is a job often given to grinders, it’s also a spot where fringe NBA characters can get stashed on a part-time basis. Sometimes, it’s just a place for coaches to get a buddy a gig.

That’s fine and well, so long as such people don’t expect any help. Our scout sees the slacker at the airport the next day. On the plane, he gets approached and queried on whether he got all the plays. “How’d you make out?” the truant scout asks. He adds that he was there but bought a game ticket because he just wanted a better angle. This is bullshit. In Memphis, scouts tend to get the courtside seat and last night was no exception. He would know this if he actually showed up to work. “I did OK,” our scout says curtly. That reply effectively ends the conversation.

“I would have helped him if he just admitted he got bombed,” our scout says. Then he mutters, “serves them right for hiring a regional scout.”

The professional advance scouts largely look down on regional scouting, a system by which teams outsource scouting to hired guns in certain cities, some of whom are employed by multiple NBA teams. It was a system popularized by Popovich in the mid-2000s, theoretically out of mercy for the league’s most brutal profession. There was also some sense to Pop’s push back then. That era’s top Western Conference teams featured known quantities like Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Rick Adelman. Why grind some poor soul into dust when you already have so much information on these veteran coaches? The West has since been shaken up, but Pop’s reform lingers. Our scout believes the system is less reliable. “I can’t trade notes with a regional scouts. You never know if what they’re getting is right.”

Though Popovich might have undermined advance scouting as a profession, head coaches are the traditional allies of NBA spies. General managers and assistant GMs don’t tend to feel similarly. After I published my initial article on advance scouting, I received pushback from staffers in the GM camp. They weren’t sold on such spycraft mattering in the end.

“That sounds like GMs,” our scout says, when I relay this. “We can’t do shit for a GM. Their reputation is based on making a big personnel move. It’s the coaches who have an appreciation for us busting our asses on the road to get them what they need.” Whatever the merits of either perspective, this much is true, politically: The advance scout is yet another salary under the coaching aegis, rather than capital devoted to a GM’s cause.

Trade made
Our scout is inhaling a mound of vanilla ice cream, a guilty pleasure in Philly, which features one of the lesser credentialed guest meals. When asked why he’s not fat, given his lifestyle, our scout shrugs and says, “genes. And a lot of walking.” A younger staffer from his team happens to be at his table, looking at Twitter. “We made a trade!” the young guy says, having just learned the breaking news from social media. Our scout shrugs and offers that he wishes they’d do a deal for a younger player who’d been struggling. “What have you got to lose?!”

I ask if anyone from the team is calling. No, our scout’s phone is not blowing up. He’s not getting an inside scoop on how this all went down. On personnel decisions, he is out of sight, out of mind, a far off satellite that delivers perpetual information, tethered to his home planet by the most tenuous of gravitational tugs. This won’t change his job at all. He keeps eating.

The team that pays his salary seems to almost exist in a parallel universe. Our scout is never there for the games he studies for. When I hopped on the road with him, I looked in anticipation to his team’s upcoming game against the opponent he was spying on. We traveled thousands of miles following this prey, as he stalked them as the most dedicated hunter. When that game finally arrived, I had to remind our scout that it was in progress. We were at yet another game, in yet another arena, and he was tracking a new foe. “I hope my work helps, but there isn’t enough time to live and die with the game results,” he says. Our scout was already a few days in the future, the only place he truly resides. A glance at his laptop is a peek through a rear view mirror, where the present reads more like a quickly disappearing past than a moment the world lives in.

People have a finite amount of attention and this is certainly the case for our scout. He needs to prioritize, taking exactly what he needs in the moment and leaving everything else. When you’re, say, spying on both coaches in one game, basic game details slip away. “Often, I can’t tell you if one team is up by 40 or down by 40,” he says. Our scout is only fixated on what teams are running, a focus on process that fully eclipses results. In the end, our scout lives inside this riddle: He watches games but does not see the score and he prepares for games he does not see at all. Such is life in the alternate time space.

Dog, house
His house is nice, if a little unkempt. Good neighborhood, two stories. There’s water damage that he might fix if he were ever here long enough. When I arrive it’s darkly lit but for the radiant energy generated by his loyal four-legged companion, a buoyant yellow lab. Scout dog is back from day care and thrilled to see his nomadic man. The grizzled scout takes a soothing tone with the dog, whispering baby talk to the happy beast. After we leave the house, our scout says, “I gotta be honest. If it was most people in the river and my dog, I’m saving my dog.” He now takes the dog on the rare, close road trip. Certain hotels have more relaxed restrictions than others. I’m told the dog makes connections with hotel workers faster than our scout ever did. The road is less lonely with a dog, not just due to the companionship, but also because strangers seem to offer more of their humanity in the presence of an animal.

Beyond his evident popularity, scout dog provides stability in a life on the go. Not everybody can or would keep up. Our scout is single, his longest romantic relationship having lasted eight years. Our scout has plenty of friends, though, especially in the basketball business. They see him all the time, just not so much in person. His phone regularly pings with the same kind of text message: a photo of our scout on TV, seated courtside, staring with a coldness that could make a rink out of hardwood. As he shows me the latest such text, he smiles widely, and suddenly looks unrecognizable from the haunted visage on the phone.

Our scout achieved a measure of emotional fulfilment when his team won the NBA championship. It was the culmination of a career, and moreover, just plain fun. Unlike everyone else, he got to relax a bit through the process, as his side of the preparation was largely done. He got to watch the games with his own team for once. He wasn’t out on the road by himself for once. And then, there was the thrill of ultimate victory and the quiet satisfaction in knowing you pitched in.

Except, that night, the euphoria had an undercurrent. “My celebration was kind of, you know, muted,” our scout remembers, with a grimace. That girlfriend of eight years had finally left him, weeks before the championship, for someone else. It was all fairly predictable. How can you share a life with someone who’s never there? How can you plan for the future with a man who lives entirely in an alternate time space? When asked if he has any regrets regarding multiple relationships this job undermined, our scout is steadfast. “No. Basketball was all I ever wanted to do.”

Why? That part is less clear. He was in love with the game growing up, so much so that he traded away certainty for whatever this is. He was premed at a top-flight college, only to ditch it all when a college coaching opportunity came up. He never looked back. “If you could have told me, back then, that I’d be working in the NBA? Shit. Of course I’d do it all again.”

What is the reward system for such labor? It used to be clearer. One of his happiest memories and biggest accomplishments happened long ago, back when he was working as a college assistant coach. He prepared like hell for an undefeated Duke team, despite his squad’s lack of a realistic chance. The college game is simpler, with not as much strategy altered according to opponent. Our scout had some different ideas for big, bad Duke, suggesting pick-and-roll coverages, fit according to the offensive threat. Nothing groundbreaking, but unexpected at that level.

Duke was caught unaware. The Blue Devils shot poorly, got somewhat unlucky and lost. The upset unleashed bedlam in the college town. Our scout went to a bar his friends often frequented, taking in the crazy scene he knew he had a secret hand in causing. A woman he was hooking up with at the time approached him. She did not mince words. They would be getting together later that night. “That felt pretty good,” our scout says, reminiscing.

Life is a bit different these days. When victory happens, there is no bedlam and no visceral spoils. It’s usually hundreds of miles away and hardly registered. Winning and its rewards have been traded for the process that once secured that massive victory over Duke. Now that our scout is older, this process not only remains but sustains. “I like the work,” he says. At least it remains constant.

The end
“Go! Go! Go!” Our scout is exhorting me into the car with the verve of a NASCAR pit crew member. This will be our last trip, and unfortunately, it will be a hurried adventure. He’s running late and the streets are choked with weekend festival-goers. After struggling with the trunk, I leap into the front seat and suddenly feel my face engulfed by a warm dampness. Scout dog is here and he’s saying hello, nearly licking my glasses off. We zoom out to the doggy day-care dropoff and then to the airport.

The conversations bounce around various topics. Our scout discusses what he’s read most recently, a book on George S. Patton. He doesn’t have the free hours for many hobbies but enjoys reading about World War II. “Not joining the military is one of my biggest regrets,” he says at one point, adding that, when he sees military members on his flights, he feels guilty. Tactics and hardware obsessed him from an early age. He can rattle off details from different battles, the tanks they used, what technology proved decisive and differentials in man power.

With the clock ticking, we get to life subjects. What exactly happened with that long-term girlfriend? What happens now in your life? The former has a clear answer, but the latter far less so. Our scout eases into a parking space and opens the door. I get a text informing me that my flight is delayed. I wish to relax in my newfound pocket of languor but will keep pace with the hurried for now. Our scout says, “You know, I do want to have kids. Someday, if I meet the right woman …”

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly. He will make his flight. He had more time than he thought, just not nearly as much as I did.

lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 17:38 (one year ago) link

I couldn’t finish that pretentious shit. Barely made it through the intro.

EZ Snappin, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:07 (one year ago) link

ESS is really a lot to handle it's true

J0rdan S., Friday, 14 December 2018 18:47 (one year ago) link

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly.


lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:52 (one year ago) link

he can be a lot but i really liked that one

call all destroyer, Friday, 14 December 2018 19:07 (one year ago) link

i love ethan

тпсбlack (Spottie), Friday, 14 December 2018 19:11 (one year ago) link

non basketball but supposed to be amazing


J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:33 (one year ago) link

lol the title alone is very good

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (one year ago) link

The Passion of Mike Piazza: How the midlife crisis of a baseball Hall of Famer led to the demise of a 100-year-old Italian soccer club

By Robert Andrew Powell 227
When​ Mike Piazza arrived​ in Reggio​ Emilia,​ he was greeted​ as a hero.

It​ was June 18, 2016.​ Everyone​ remembers​​ the exact date. Piazza had just purchased a controlling interest in A.C. Reggiana 1919, the Italian city’s soccer club. Few locals had heard of him. Even fewer understood his Hall of Fame career catching for the Mets, Dodgers, and three other teams in the American sport of baseball. “When I learned he was the new owner, I went out and bought his autobiography,” says Jacopo Della Porta, a reporter for La Gazzetta di Reggio. “I think I’m the only one here who has read it.” Piazza was obviously rich. His U.S. citizenship gave him a certain baseline allure. Above all, it was his stated plan to return Reggiana to the top flight of Italian soccer that inspired several thousand fans to squeeze into a public square to see him in person.

Reggiana had languished in Serie C, the Italian third division, since the turn of the century. For a club that has known glory—Carlo Ancelotti coached the team into Serie A, in 1996—the long spell of mediocrity has been dispiriting, even embarrassing. Piazza declared, in translated English, that the club was back in solid financial shape. He said he was in Italy for the long haul, invested in the community, and committed to Reggiana’s success. At the rally, smoke from ignited flares swirled around him. Maroon flags waved. Ultras raised their scarves and chanted songs and reached out to shake Piazza’s hand. “Dai c’andom!” Piazza shouted. “Come on!”

Two years later, A.C. Reggiana no longer exists. The club is bankrupt. A court-appointed accountant is distributing its assets.

In what should have been Reggiana’s centennial season, a different team, not owned by Piazza, now represents the city, down in Serie D, which is only semi-pro. The mayor of Reggio Emilia accuses Piazza of “disrespecting” his town. Those ultras who initially cheered Piazza painted death threats on the walls of the team’s headquarters.

When it all ended last summer, Piazza and his family fled Reggio Emilia so abruptly that the fans—along with team, staff, and even the players—felt blindsided. “They ghosted us,” says Sonya Kondratenko, an American who handled social media for the second and final year Piazza owned the team.

Piazza thought he had embarked on a romantic new chapter of his life. He believed he would stay in Italy for the next three decades, running Reggiana and eventually handing the club down to his children. His wife, Alicia, who never wanted him to buy a soccer team, to whom Piazza handed control of the club after a disastrous first year, and who many in Reggio Emilia blame for the club’s implosion, saw the possibility of a different ending. As they stepped off the stage in the plaza, she pulled her husband aside.

“Either we’re going to have the best experience ever,” she told him, “or we’re going to get rolled.”


Reggio Emilia is a small city about an hour’s train ride south of Milan. Nestled in Italy’s “Food Valley” alongside Parma, Bologna, and Modena, Reggio Emilia is known for its pumpkin tortellini and its namesake cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano. The tricolor national flag first flew in Reggio Emilia, in 1797, its creation celebrated in a museum in the old town center. The headquarters of fashion house Max Mara sit not far from a new train station designed by Santiago Calatrava. Locals are well-educated; Reggio Emilia is known around the world for its progressive schools. They’re also wealthy, though they tend not to flaunt it. The city has a history with communism and retains a collectivist ethos. “We work,” one resident tells me, summing up the city’s view of itself.

The Piazzas, for the two years they ran Reggiana, lived in a rented villa outside the city. They spent their summers in South Florida, where they’ve kept a home for more than a decade. I visited them in Florida in August, arriving as the sun set on Sunset Island II, a triangle of extremely expensive homes connected by a short bridge to Miami Beach.

“This interview’s going to be wet,” Mike said soon after I arrived. He stepped toward a bar in the living room and smiled. “I hope that’s okay with you.”

Mike poured me a glass of Grande Alberone Quintus, a red blend. Alicia sipped a chardonnay. My crystal glass was etched with the letter P in a curled script. Mike cupped his glass in his fingers as if it didn’t have a stem or a base.

“We do this every night,” Mike said, popping a chunk of cheese into his mouth as he settled into a striped Louis XIV chair. Behind him glimmered a swimming pool, and then the calm waters of Biscayne Bay. Alicia sat opposite Mike, near a tray of vegetables.

“It’s a tragedy,” Mike said of his soccer-team ownership. “Like an opera.”

“It was fucking hell,” said Alicia.

After retiring, Mike slipped into the languid life of ex-athletes in Florida. I’d seen pictures of Mike and Alicia appraising paintings at Art Basel. They hosted a benefit for the National Italian American Foundation at their waterfront house. He smoked cigars and golfed with Mario Lemieux and Michael Jordan and James Pallotta, the American owner of Italian soccer club Roma. He golfed a bit more than he cared to, actually.

“I think we got to a point in Miami where we got a little too melancholy,” Mike said. “Maybe that was part of it what fueled what I was doing. I wanted to do something different. And I wanted to do something interesting, and I wanted to do something creative.”

Piazza, who recently turned 50, came of age during the best days of the North American Soccer League. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he was a fan of the Philadelphia Fury, and also the indoor Fever. After he retired from baseball, his appreciation for soccer blossomed. He sat in the stands in Genoa in 2012 when the U.S. men’s national team defeated Italy for the first time. He and a friend flew to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup—“a bucket list sort of thing.” He loved how, unlike baseball, soccer is truly global, played and watched in every country. He began to think that owning a soccer team might be the most interesting thing someone in his position could do.

“I was retired when my second daughter was born,” he said. “And it’s my kids—I would never trade them for the world—but I remember thinking, ‘Here I am, I used to be hitting home runs in front of 43,000 people, and now I’ve got shit under my fingernails from changing diapers.’ There is nothing you will ever do after you retire that will give you the same buzz as playing. I’m sorry. I was able to recognize that and rationalize it and come to a point in my mind where you know maybe it”—buying a soccer team—“was like this super rebound.”

First, he looked at the Premier League. Everton. He flew into London and took a train up to Liverpool, visiting the port city for the first time. Eventually, he concluded the numbers would never work. He dropped down a league to investigate Reading, and also Leeds United. (“I’ve always liked Leeds. It’s weird.”) He pivoted back to the Americas, meeting with the president of Liga MX to discuss maybe buying Las Monarcas de Morelia. (“That would have been crazy.”) Then he investigated his options in Italy. That country seemed like the best fit.

There was the chance to actually live in Italy. Mike’s maternal grandparents are from Sicily. (Piazza translates as “public square;” the welcome rally in Reggio Emilia was held in Piazza Prampolini.) He didn’t visit his homeland until he was in his 30s, but when he did, he felt Italian. He loved the food, the wine. He identified with the people. Also, the soccer landscape appeared much more open.

“I believe that Italian soccer clubs are the most undervalued assets in sports,” says Joe Tacopina, the American owner of Venezia FC. Tacopina was also part of the initial group of Americans that bought Roma, in 2011. “This worldwide club, one of the best-known teams on the planet. And we paid just 110 million euros. For the whole club! For Roma! You can spend that much on just one good midfielder!”

Piazza first wanted to buy Parma, a Serie A club then in bankruptcy. Ultimately he felt Parma carried too much debt for him to absorb. Reggiana looked more attractive. Despite being in Serie C, the team’s passionate fans bought an unusually high number of season tickets. Reggiana also played in a top-flight stadium shared with Serie A club Sassuolo. Unlike a Premier League team, or a team already in Serie A, this was a club he could buy cheap and build.

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

“It’s not easy for an American to come to Italy and try to do business in Italian soccer,” says Gaël Genevier, a midfielder and the Reggiana team captain during Piazza’s ownership. “It’s a jungle. And when you have money, it’s even worse. Mike had a big wallet, he was American, and he didn’t know the soccer in Italy. And I think that’s why he had a lot of problems.”

Soon after Piazza bought Reggiana, he set out to raise the visibility of the club. He gifted Jimmy Kimmel a maroon jersey, on air. The New York Times flew over a reporter for a feature story. On Sports Illustrated’s “Planet Fútbol” podcast, Piazza talked about market discipline, about having a financial plan, about sticking to the plan for the long haul.

“When I took over the club I had a meeting with all the staff,” he told host Grant Wahl. “I said, if you don’t believe we can get to Serie A in five years, then I respectfully ask you to leave right now.”

Turns out, that’s not how it works in Italy. Piazza was free to fire anyone, but whoever he did fire still had to be paid, often for years. Contribute, they call it. In the three months between Piazza’s purchase of Reggiana and the moment he actually took over operations, the number of people employed by the club ballooned. The sporting director he inherited collected a bigger salary than the sporting director of Lazio, in Serie A—and for three years, guaranteed, no matter what. The players’ contracts were exceptionally generous for the Italian third division. The team captain told Piazza so. “They were attractive contracts for even B, one level up,” Genevier says. Piazza was overpaying for everything.

The year before Piazza bought Reggiana, the club finished in seventh place in its division, with operational costs of around 500,000 euros. In Piazza’s first season with the club, Reggiana finished in fifth place, but at a cost to Piazza of more than six million euros.

“When the auditors told us that, it was deafening to our ears,” recalled Alicia. “I turned to Mike and said, ‘What the fuck did you just do?!”

Mike decided he could no longer work with the front office he’d inherited. He also cut ties with his original partner, an Italian he knew from Miami. Looking around for someone who could protect his interests, he didn’t see many options.

“Alicia became the only one I could trust,” Mike said. “I basically took the budget and I turned to her and went, ‘Help. I don’t know what to do.’”

From that point on, Alicia Piazza took charge of Reggiana. And she started making changes.

Alicia Piazza began modeling in her teens and kept at it for a decade. After appearing in Playboy—Miss October, 1995—she saved some lives on the TV show “Baywatch” before showcasing a Broyhill dinette set as one of Barker’s Beauties on “The Price is Right.” She earned a master’s degree in psychology while in Miami. For more than a decade, she had seen herself primarily as a mom to their three kids.

Suddenly, she was vice president of AC Reggiana 1919.

Cost-cutting became her priority, in a way that felt personal. Every dime squandered was a direct hit to the family’s net worth. She ordered the drivers for youth team buses to stop dropping off players at their houses, to save on gas. She ordered the players to wash their own uniforms. (“I don’t think she realized that in Italy not everyone has a washing machine,” says Kondratenko, the American who handled social media for Reggiana.) She typed angry texts, calling employees she fired “conmen” and “frauds” and “liars.” The salutation of one text Alicia shared with me, sent to the team’s former sporting director: “Fuck off, loser.”

“I was the bitch,” she admitted. “I was the bad guy. And I’m sure I have a lot of enemies, and I’m sure you heard a lot of bad things about me and I don’t give a shit. I ripped the mask off so many faces.”

The Piazzas put their Miami Beach house on the market in January. Alicia sent a general email asking if anyone in the front office might want to buy it, asking price $18.5 million. She encouraged a friend of hers in Parma—the one who compared Reggio Emilia to Pittsburgh—to design a jewelry line to celebrate Reggiana’s 100th anniversary. The whole office sat in meetings to decide which rings and bracelets in the collection worked best. “I always thought the club would never fold before the anniversary, just because of all the time she put in on the jewelry,” says Kondratenko. Deviating from her mission to cut costs, Alicia renovated the players’ locker room, adding new tile and an extra toilet. One day, Kondratenko was pulled from her regular work assignments to shuttle Brande Roderick—a Playmate, a “Baywatch” lifeguard, and Alicia’s close friend—to the train station.

“My life plan is not to be doing errands for Playmates,” Kondratenko tells me.

The clear goal in the second season was for Reggiana to earn promotion to Serie B. New sporting director Ted Philipakos, an American who came over from Venezia FC, upgraded Reggiana’s quality on the pitch. He also found a new coach in Greece, where Philipakos holds dual citizenship and retains connections in the sport. They agreed on terms. The coach flew up to Reggio Emilia with his staff, ready to sign his contract and get started. Only after he arrived did the Piazzas balk at the compensation. Alicia offered to pay him and his staff 15,000 euros less than the original offer, a relatively small sum. After the coach protested, she floated a smaller cut of 7,500 euros. The coach flew back to Athens, on principle.

When Mike named Alicia the club vice president, he stepped back a bit. “He likes to stay above the fray,” she said. “It’s not like he’s a pussy or he needs his wife. It’s the way he’s comfortable. He’s always been like that.” In her newly elevated role as Reggiana’s “first lady,” she became a bit of a media sensation. She gave interviews at the team headquarters. She answered questions at restaurants when reporters approached her table, filming. “Alicia always talked down about Reggiana being a peasant team in a peasant town,” says Kondratenko. “She thinks these people have no class, but in some aspects they were super impressed with Alicia. She has money, she’s from the U.S., she has a Chanel bag and a Gucci bag.”

The influential magazine Sportweek invited Alicia to sit for a long interview. It’s her understanding that she was the first club vice president ever to be formally interviewed, and the first woman at any level in Italian soccer.

“I knew we had to get our story out about the stadium,” she said. “And I was feeling there was a conspiracy and I was feeling something (dark) in this underbelly.”

When Reggiana rose to Serie A in 1993, the club and the government of Reggio Emilia recognized the need for a home stadium worthy of the top flight. Locals funded much of the new stadium themselves, purchasing season tickets years into the future to cover construction costs. But Reggiana lasted only two campaigns in Serie A. The club itself went bankrupt. Ownership of the stadium reverted to the city, and the mayor put it up for auction. A billionaire named Giorgio Squinzi bought it, cheap.

Squinzi is the head of Mapei, a conglomerate that sells paint and adhesives. He also owns Sassuolo, a Serie A club which now plays its home games in Reggio Emilia, in the stadium Reggiana built, which Squinzi renamed after his company. Reggiana still played there, too, though they had to pay rent. In a development that Alicia noted on Instagram, the rent almost doubled in the short time between when Mike bought the club and when he actually took over its operation. That’s what Alicia wanted to talk about with Sportweek publisher Andrea Monti.

“He’s balding but he’s powerful and he’s become sexy,” she said of Monti. “He apparently never comes into these interviews, but he comes in and shakes my hand. Everyone thinks it’s because I’m cute, I know. But I was hungover and I was not cute that day. He crosses his legs and he stays for 45 minutes. Then he says this to me, which I will never forget:

“‘Reggio is a strange town and it’s run by the politicians. Don’t you wonder why that town has the (Calatrava) train station? There’s a lot of money there but it’s all controlled by Squinzi. But I think you, my dear, are going to give him a run for the money.’”

From that meeting on, Alicia vowed “not to give fucking Mapei another dime,” she said. “And let me tell you, that was the point where it was like, ‘Alicia sank the company.’”

On March 8th, reportedly at Alicia’s urging, Mike Piazza held a press conference to address Reggiana’s growing debt to Mapei. “It was the worst day of my life,” says Kondratenko, who recorded the press conference in a video that went viral, not just in Italy but around the world. Piazza sat at a table, Alicia silently on his right, an interpreter to his left. Ads for Riunite wine and Parmigiano Reggiano flashed and dissolved on a screen in front of his microphone. “We’re invested in this community,” he said in his opening. “I’ve moved my family here, my children here, to be part of this community.” He slapped the table, hard. “And we deserve respect!”

While Mike spoke in English, he showed impressive fluency in Italian hand gestures.

“We are not going to be PUSHED AROUND by a multi-billion dollar corporation,” he continued. “The stadium was built for this team.” He tapped his index finger on the table three times. “By these PEOPLE!” He tapped a couple more times, furiously. His voice almost cracked when he said, “We’ve reached out in friendship to try to form a coalition with the mayor, with Mr. Squinzi, with Sassuolo, with Mapei, and we’ve gotten”—he slammed down a fist—“NOTHING!” His hand slashed the air with a karate chop. “NOTHING!” He pointed his index finger. “And I’m sick of it! I’m tired and sick of Reggiana being pushed around. I’m frustrated and I’m….” He inhaled a breath. “Ffffffffreakin’ pissed off!” He fell back in his chair and let the translator have at it. Alicia remained motionless.

This went on for more than 10 minutes. He said he isn’t a quitter, but he has his limit. If the rent wasn’t lowered to at least the league average for Serie C, he’d walk away.

“Probably that was the first step in an exit strategy,” says Gazzetta reporter Della Porta.

There was a period early in the second season, in the fall of 2017, when Alicia wasn’t there. She returned to Miami for a bit, to prepare their house for sale. Right after she left, in a development Reggiana supporters tell me is no coincidence, the play of the team dramatically improved. Reggiana strung together two unbeaten streaks of eight games each, vaulting the club from 15th place into second, tantalizingly close to automatic promotion to Serie B. Mike, who stayed in Italy, got hands-on with the team, pulling players aside for one-on-one interviews.

“We knew he was a good athlete, he won a lot of things,” says Genevier. “His Italian wasn’t very good—he spoke in English and the translator translated everything to the players—but he was very, very positive inside the locker room. I remember the players were very happy after each speech of Mike’s. He was the president but he was like a player.”

Without the Greek coach they’d failed to sign, the team was forced to use a Frankenstein’s monster for a manager: One man, who had his coaching license but no experience in Serie C, became the titular leader, while two coaches from the youth teams—both lacking the proper licenses—picked the rosters and the tactics and ran the training sessions.

Somehow it worked. Mike witnessed away victories over Santarcangelo and AlbinoLeffe. Before kickoff, he’d shake hands with the ultras and give his pep talks in the locker room. He followed the action closely.

“When that ball went into the net, I felt like I was playing again,” Mike said. “I’ve never done cocaine, I’ve never done crystal meth, I’ve never done hard drugs, or any drugs for that matter besides aspirin. But let me tell you, that was fucking intoxicating.”

Reggiana finished the regular season in fourth place in their division. The team could still rise to Serie B by winning a playoff tournament. In the quarterfinals, Reggiana matched up against Siena, a strong club, for a home-and-home series. Reggiana won the opener, 2-1. In the second leg, down in Tuscany, Siena held a 1-0 lead deep into the second half. The tie in aggregate meant Siena would advance thanks to that club’s better regular-season finish. But in the first minute of stoppage time, Reggiana scored. In his box, Piazza leapt from his seat.

“Mike was into these games,” says Philipakos. “Obviously he had a lot of money on the line—that was a factor. But the raw emotion wasn’t just about protecting his investment. It was about competition. He was very engaged. When we equalized in stoppage time, he exploded. What followed minutes later was visible heartbreak.”

What followed was decried as “unjust” by Reggio Emilia mayor Luca Vecci. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, a Siena midfielder lofted a ball into the Reggiana box. In the scramble, a Siena player pushed over one of Reggiana’s defenders. Somehow, the referee called a hand ball on the toppled fullback. Yes, the ball briefly touches the player’s arm, but he was on his back from the fall, and he fell because he’d just been bodychecked. Still. Penalty. Siena converted in the 109th minute, with the last kick of the game. Reggiana lost the series. No promotion. Ultras stormed the pitch, looking for blood. Even the mayor ran to midfield.

“It was horrible,” says Genevier, the team captain. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve played more than 300 games in Italy and this one was really the worst one.”

The next day, Mike Piazza posted a message on the official Reggiana website:

“Last night I could not comment because I had to go home with my children. I regret that they had to witness such corruption and incompetence. I’m deeply disgusted and angry. I’m really sorry for our fans, they do not deserve this. It’s really a sad day for Italy and for Italian football. I will never understand how some dirty and corrupt individuals managed to make something so beautiful so repugnant and ugly. I’m sick.”

Two days after the Siena loss, the Piazzas appeared to have emotionally recovered. They hosted a thank-you rally in a small, old stadium near the center of Reggio Emilia. The ultras turned out, as always. Flares burned, flags waved. Smoke floated around Mike, just as it had two years earlier at his grand arrival. The players trooped out in their jerseys, Genevier holding the hand of his young son. The Piazzas stood in front of them. Mike spoke first, in little snippets followed by pauses for translation.

“I want to thank the first lady,” he said, turning to Alicia. She curtseyed in her orange dress. The fans chanted her name. “I’m just going to tell you how much work she has done in the office behind the scenes. And it’s true when I tell you the only reason we’re here today after this beautiful season is because of Alicia. She convinced me to go on. So we all owe a debt of gratitude to her. Grazie!”

Mike kissed her. The ultras continued chanting her name. A female fan stepped onto the grass to offer Alicia a bouquet of white flowers.

“These guys played their asses off and they played with so much heart and determination,” Mike continued, turning to the players. “And it’s really sad the way it ended. But that doesn’t change the effort and the drive and the love they applied.”

Mike held up his fists over his head, a signal of strength and resolve. “I salute this team,” he concluded. “God bless! Enjoy the summer! Well done.”

Everyone left the rally thinking the mission continued. The team would stay together, the Piazzas would remain as owners.

“From my perspective, we had righted the ship,” says Philipakos. “If not for a totally absurd referee’s decision maybe we’d be in Serie B right now. We still had all these great things in place. The key players weren’t going to go anywhere. Most of the starters were under contract. We could have hit the ground running, and should have been a really strong favorite for promotion.”

The rally took place on June 5th. Mike flew to New York to throw out the first pitch before a Mets-Yankees game. Alicia stayed in Italy. On June 8th, a Friday, she invited the front office to lunch at a neighborhood café. Everyone shared a spread of cured meats, cheeses, and fresh pasta. Corks popped off wine bottles. It felt upbeat and celebratory. Alicia told them that with the season over, they should all consider themselves on vacation.

She meant more than that. On Monday, a chain and lock hung on the front door to the offices. Zip ties secured the gates to the parking lot. The Piazzas were gone. The players didn’t know what to do. Should they find new teams? Kondratenko says she didn’t know any more than the players. Should she fly back to the States?

“I woke up to a thousand WhatsApp messages asking what was going on,” she recalls. “I couldn’t take a coffee because so many people were coming up to me asking for information.”

On the 13th of June, on the team website, Mike Piazza announced that he’d put the team up for sale. Alicia issued her own statement: “Unfortunately, Reggiana has been under attack from negative forces since Mike’s arrival. … The suspicious loss in Siena was the final blow. We are generous but we are not crazy.”

One week later, the Piazzas returned to Reggio Emilia and were spotted at the team offices. More than a hundred ultras marched into the office parking lot, chanting and demanding answers. Carabinieri—national police aligned with the military—showed up for the Piazzas’ safety. The police advised the Americans to avoid the front door of the complex and exit through the back. Mike assured them it wouldn’t be necessary—he had always enjoyed a good relationship with the fans.

The carabinieri informed him that the relationship had changed. The Piazzas slipped out the back door, under police escort.

At their house in Miami, drinking wine, both Piazzas told me the end was inevitable. The plane was in a nosedive when they entered the cockpit—when they first arrived in Reggio Emilia—and they knew it immediately. They hung on for two full seasons, at great personal expense, only to get robbed in the playoffs against Siena.

“And we had enough!” Alicia shouted. “And they’re like, ‘Well, let’s sign up for next year and lose another four million euros altogether.’ Who’s losing the four million? We are! We’re losing the four million and not you. So we each took a pill”—she’s speaking figuratively—“we said, ‘Romeo and Juliet did this, we’re going to kill ourselves before you fucking get to kill us.’”

The Piazzas and their Italian attorneys initially tried to sell the club to a group of Reggio Emilia businessmen. When a deadline for fielding a team in Serie C passed, the businessmen opted to simply start up their own, new team, with the mayor’s blessing. Reggio Audace—“Bold”—play down in Serie D, with a roster of amateurs and unpaid professionals. The president of the new team tells me he’s still friends with the Piazzas. He wants them to grant him the official Reggiana name, now that they are done with soccer in the city. The Piazzas have said they will probably turn over the name, once the dissolution is complete.

In the public square where Mike made his initial arrival, there’s a small sign stating that it was there, in the same plaza, that Reggiana was founded 100 years ago. The square is ringed with restaurants and shops, including the official Reggiana team store. Piazza still owns the store, technically. When I was there in August, team jerseys remained for sale even though the team itself no longer existed. One T-shirt featured the “C’mon!’ phrase that Piazza cried out at his introduction. A poster of Piazza, from his days in baseball, had been taken down. No one wanted to see it anymore.

“Maybe it could have been different,” Mike told me in Miami Beach. “If I could re-engineer the whole thing I’d go back and save a lot of the money that was squandered. I’d put in my own people, people that knew what we’re doing. But that’s what we learn! We learn those lessons the hard way! There’s a lot of shoulda, coulda, woulda, but I don’t regret doing it.”

I can still see why it was attractive. In the States, Mike Piazza is a former great. A legend. In Reggio Emilia, with Reggiana, his role was active. Running a soccer team in Italy: It really is a romantic idea. He wasn’t simply a rich guy drinking wine on an endless vineyard tour. He wasn’t merely eating incredible food or lounging in a seaside cabana. He was living. He had an identity beyond his days of baseball, which by now are well behind him. “I need to have a project,” he once told Kondratenko. “I don’t want to just play golf all the time.”

I can also see why Alicia wanted out: She never wanted in. “I’m free,” she told me. Instead of sinking more of the family’s cash into a soccer team, they can spend that money weekending in Barcelona, or how about London? “My kids will be fluent in Italian and maybe also French,” she said. “I’m happy.” She didn’t want the soccer project the way Mike wanted it. But then, she’s never hit a home run in front of 43,000 people.

The Piazzas returned to Italy in late August. “I’m surprised they did this,” says Gian Marco Regnani, a calcio blogger in Reggio Emilia. “They’re the enemy.” The family rented the same villa outside of town from when they owned the team. Recently they moved closer to Parma, where the kids go to school. The Piazzas told me their status as outsiders might have been a central problem. They had the ability to pack up and fly away, while for everyone else Reggio Emilia is home.

“I always had a feeling that they were going to leave,” says Regnani. “I never thought they were going to be here forever.”

When I spoke with the Piazzas in Miami, Mike was careful to stress that he had not bankrupted Reggiana. He and Alicia were “dissolving” the club, he said. They were “executing a soft landing.” But they didn’t “bankrupt” a 100-year-old soccer team and civic institution, he insisted.

That was in August. On December 4th, the Piazzas asked a judge to declare the club bankrupt. On December 5th, the judge granted the request. More than 100 creditors, including Mapei, are currently carving up the Reggiana carcass.

In October, Mike flew to Scotland for a week on the Old Course at St. Andrews. In November, he posted a picture from a golf course in Tuscany.

I’ve spoken to him a couple times, at length, since he returned to Italy. The last time we talked, we discussed Reggiana for a while, naturally, but the team and its problems and his brief time running the club seemed like a closed chapter. We talked about Donald Trump and how being an American abroad has given Piazza a wider perspective on immigration. We talked about the Mets for a bit. He told me he’s started getting into rugby on TV. And also Formula 1. He said he doesn’t like to watch Italian soccer anymore. Not even Serie A. “I just don’t,” he said. “Or I think I’m just too hurt to care.”

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (one year ago) link

the wife's quotes are completely out of control

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:37 (one year ago) link

lmao i can hear her

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:50 (one year ago) link

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 04:42 (one year ago) link

five months pass...

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‘The board man gets paid’: An oral history of Kawhi Leonard’s college days

By Jayson Jenks 42
This is my new favorite quote: “The board man gets paid.”

According to former teammates, coaches and managers, Kawhi Leonard didn’t say much during his two seasons (2009-11) at San Diego State. But he did say that, all the time, and it is wonderful: “The board man gets paid.” It says so much about who Leonard was and still is, and it absolutely belongs on a T-shirt.

This is the story about his two years at San Diego State, during which the Aztecs went 59-12 and made the NCAA Tournament both seasons under coach Steve Fisher.

Tim Shelton, forward: He was probably one of the hardest recruits that you’d ever deal with who was that talented. (California’s Mr. Basketball in 2009.) He wasn’t going to text you, he wasn’t going to pick up the phone and talk to you. He just wouldn’t do it.

Justin Hutson, assistant coach: I wouldn’t say hard. I would say different. You couldn’t get him on the phone. Once a week, I’d just have to go up there to his high school (100 miles away in Riverside, Calif.), and I’d make sure he was there first.

Shelton: And it’s part of why the Pac-12 teams didn’t put in extra effort. They were like, “He’s kind of a four-man, and, shoot, we can’t call him and talk to him. He must not want to talk to us.”

DJ Gay, guard: I took Kawhi on his official visit. Honestly, the only thing he wanted to do was get in the gym. We were like, “Kawhi, what do you want to do?” And he was like, “Let’s go work out. Let’s go get some shots up. Let’s play.”

Shelton: We had open gym and were playing. We stopped in between games and introduced ourselves as a team and just chopped it up a little bit more with his mom than him. He introduced himself, “I’m Kawhi. Hey, what’s up.” But if you tried to talk to him, he was like, “It’s cool, everything’s cool, so far it’s cool, it’s nice.” But then he just grabbed the ball and went to shoot. Even during his visit, I’m telling you.

Gay: I think we started up our day playing two-on-two and finished our day getting shots up. That’s just what he wanted to do. He wanted to work. I honestly had no idea what to expect when he left. He didn’t say much. He just wanted to hoop. I had no idea if we were getting him or not. I told coach Fisher: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. He didn’t say much.”

Dave Velasquez, assistant coach: My favorite story about Kawhi is when he got to San Diego State his freshman year. He had a math class at 8 a.m. and a writing class at 10 a.m. It was Monday through Thursday, and it was really tough. Our job was to make sure the freshmen were up for that 8 a.m. class. So we were always knocking on their dorm room at 7:30. When we had to find Kawhi for his 8 a.m. class, he was rebounding by himself.

Gay: By far the hardest worker I’ve ever come across, I’ve ever known.

Alex Jamerson, manager: I’ve never seen anyone, ever, work harder in my whole life.

Jamerson: I would show up early to our arena to get things set up for practice. I’m thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be the first guy in the arena just to get things set up,” and I walk out to bring the balls out and he’s already got one or two with him shooting in the dark in the arena. All by himself.

John Van Houten, manager: We used to have to break into the volleyball gym.

Shelton: This was before they had all these swipe cards. We had just one key that we would share to get into that gym. When you didn’t have the key available, you could put the finger under the door at Peterson Gym, and if you knew how to wiggle it right, you could push the latch up and unlock the door.

Van Houten: At first, you could get in and you had access to the lights, you had access to the hoops and everything was good. And then they started cracking down, so we started breaking in, but the lightbox would be locked.

Shelton: So Kawhi had a lamp, and on different occasions, Kawhi would be in there late and the lightbox would be locked, so he’d bring a lamp in there. He’d put his finger under the door and unlatch it and he’d go in there and shoot with just his lamp.

Van Houten: And that’s when they got a new locking mechanism on the doors. And that’s when I got a key to an LDS church, a Mormon church, and they had a full court. … He was gonna find a way to work.

Jason Deutchman, guard: We lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament my senior year on a Thursday. I took the rest of the weekend off and then I was like, “I’m going to go start training on that Monday.” I remember going in that very first night, three days after we had lost — and he was already there.

Coach Velasquez: We had Saturday morning conditioning, so not only would he be running hard and be in the front, but everybody else would go home after. He would go to the gym.

Gay: There were several times I tried beating him in the gym, but no matter how early I got there, he was already there. Or I tried to stay late, but it got to the point that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Coach Hutson: Knowing Kawhi, he probably just stayed until somebody left. I’m serious.

(Chris Carlson / AP)
Gay: The most he talked was on the hard court, and Kawhi was not afraid to let you know that you weren’t going to score on him, that you couldn’t get past him or that he would score on you. Every time the ball went through the net, he just said, “Bucket. Bucket.” That was it.

Tyrone Shelley, guard: Most people say it like, “Oh, I’m about to get buckets on you.” He was just like, “Buckets. Layup.” Just one word.

Shelton: He’d be like, “You’re not scoring. You’re not doing anything.” Or he’d be like, “No, no, no.” He’d just move his feet and say, “No.”

Gay: You couldn’t score on him, so that’s what he would say: “Nope, nope, nope.” And when he would score on you: “Bucket. Bucket.”

LaBradford Franklin, guard: If he was grabbing a rebound, he’d say, “Give me that” or “Board man” or “Board man gets paid.”

Coach Hutson: If I heard it once, I heard it 50 times. “Board man. I’m a board man.” That’s what he said. Absolutely. “I’m a board man. Yeah, I’m a board man. Board man gets paid.” He spoke in phrases like that.

Shelley: Instead of saying, “We need to walk to the store” or “Let’s go to the store,” he’d just say, “I’m up.” When he leaves, he just says, “I’m up.”

Shelton: If he joked, it would be like one or two comments, and he’d go like, “Yeeee.” He’d make more sounds than he actually talked.

Franklin: What stood out to me about Kawhi was everyone else wanted to score or shoot threes, but he wanted to get every rebound. And one of the quotes he always said was, “Board man gets paid.” The rebounder man, he gets paid. And it’s true. He would say that every day. He would take pride in that. If you think about it, defense and rebounding, those are the two things you might not want to do. That’s not the pretty stuff. But he took pride in that. He cared. (And led the Mountain West Conference in rebounding two years in a row.)

Shelton: Guys coming from high school have trouble with help-side defense. Kawhi made a comment to coach Hutson, who was the defensive coach at the time, and he was like, “I don’t get it, coach. Why can’t they just stay in front of their man like I do? Like, why do I have to play help side?” That was his only comment I ever heard him make about defense: “They should just be able to stay in front of their man like I do.”

Coach Hutson: We would talk about rotations and how to help. I would get him on it about. He was respectful, but he would be very frustrated and say, “Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?” Those were exactly his words. “Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?”

Kelvin Davis, guard: In his mind, everyone should be doing what he was doing. But he didn’t realize everybody couldn’t do what he did. He was a walking nightmare.

Gay: In practice, he would tell us, “Don’t help, I don’t need help, I got it, I don’t need help.” That’s just how he was. That was his mentality. “I don’t need help; why do you need help?” But then it made us better because it challenged us: If Kawhi doesn’t need help, I don’t need help, either. And we turned out to be one of the best defensive teams in all of America that year.

Shelton: He didn’t say much. But he would tell you if you were fouling him in practice. He’d be like, “They fouling me, coach.”

Coach Velasquez: There’s one thing we always laugh about as a staff, and it would always happen at practice. He would drive in there, and he’s big and people would be hitting him all the time. At practice, you don’t really call that. I can’t tell you how many times he would look over and go, “But they fouling me. But they fouling me.”

“Kawhi, you’ve got to kick that.”

“But they fouling me.” It was over and over. In games, he wouldn’t really have a lot of dialogue with refs, but you’d definitely hear, “but they fouling me,” two or three times a game.

Shelley: There was no backtalk. Unless he was getting fouled.

Coach Hutson: There was a certain time I wanted everybody to lock and trail in practice. I was very clear that there are times you don’t have to trail on the baseline; there are times you can cheat the screen and shortcut and get there. But right now we’re going to work on lock and trailing. I was very clear that this was the way we were going to do it. And I remember Kawhi just takes his own route. I made everybody run, and he was upset about it. He was definitely pissed about it. A man of few words, but every once in a while he said something.

Van Houten: The coolest part about Kawhi: He plays mini hoop. In every house I’ve ever been to, he always had a mini hoop. You can only play with your left hand. You can’t play with your right hand. That’s a really cool thing because he’s working on his game even when he’s just at the house.

Franklin: He had a Nerf goal on the back of the door in his apartment, and he would just shoot. Friends would come over, playing 2K, and he would challenge us to a free-throw contest.

Van Houten: He’d come over to my house and he’d watch Michael Jordan highlights. We called them “Mike highs” … I mean, like four or five hours at a time.

Coach Velasquez: We’d be done with the game and he’d be on his phone watching Jordan on YouTube. Right away. He wasn’t texting. He was watching Jordan on YouTube. He’d watch it all day, every day.

Shelton: You would see him watching that stuff. But he still wouldn’t talk about it.

Coach Velasquez: Coach Fisher had a no-cellphone policy at team dinners, but Kawhi would have his phone on his lap watching Jordan highlights. He would really study his moves.

Franklin: On his phone, his background was Michael Jordan. … He would always say, “I’m Mike. You like LeBron, you like Kobe? Yeah, they’re cool, but I’m Mike. I want to be the best, the greatest.” And from how he carried himself, we knew he was serious. We knew that’s what he really wanted.

(Lenny Ignelzi / AP)
Van Houten: The only thing we’d give him shit for was his hands. Like, “Damn, you make that iPhone plus look like an iPhone 5.” Or like, “Damn, it should be a cheat code to play with those hands.”

Deutchman: There were definitely a few jokes about self-pleasure techniques. (His hands) could be helpful or harmful, depending on your perspective. With those, he could probably do a lot more damage with yourself if you get a little too much into it, considering the size of your hands.

Franklin: I’d always get on him about his braids. Like after a practice or after a long road trip, we’re all sweating, and it would look like he just got out of bed with his hair. But he didn’t care at all.

Gay: I used to call him an Avatar. A freakish Avatar, that’s what he was in college. Long limbs, long body, could run like the wind.

Franklin: From what I can remember, if it wasn’t Michael Jordan highlights, he was watching an episode of the Martin Lawrence show. He could be entertained with that. He’s so low-maintenance. Low maintenance, high production.

Shelley: I don’t remember him going to any parties except for one, and he was just kind of off in the corner hanging out until we left.

Shelton: He would be with the team and kick it and party a little bit because it was San Diego and we were winning. But he’d still be the first person up, and he’d be in the gym shooting.

Gay: I used to tell him that I had an unblockable step-back. It took him a while, but he finally started blocking my step-back. And that’s when I was like, “This is just ridiculous.” I was just like, “Yeah, my time is over.”

Coach Velasquez: I’ll never forget when we played at Cal. He remembered that Cal didn’t think he was good enough. He heard that the head coach at the time, Mike Montgomery, didn’t think he was good enough. He made it his personal mission to go out there and want to destroy Cal. They had a really good team. Allen Crabbe was there. They had a squad. But Kawhi went up there at Cal, and you knew when he walked on the floor that game, they had no chance. It was ridiculous.

Shelton: We played at Fresno State against Paul George, and that was when Paul George was getting some hype. I remember Kawhi watching his clips and us doing the scouting report. Now, he never said anything that he was going to lock him up or that he wasn’t any good. He was just like, “OK.”

Franklin: We were playing against Jimmer and BYU in the tournament. He screamed to coach Fisher, “Let me guard him.” At that time, Jimmer was killing everybody in the country. He was Jimmer Fredette. Kawhi had no business taking that challenge or saying that he was better than Jimmer then, but he did it.

Coach Velasquez: (Coach Fisher) would always say, “Kawhi paid the bills.” Kawhi rebounded. Kawhi was the best defender on the floor. Kawhi ran the hardest in transition. Kawhi always did all the little things that helped your team win.

Shelton: He says the most by his actions. He’s probably the only person that I know, that I’ve met, that I’ve seen, that speaks that loudly through his actions. People are like, “Kawhi’s quiet.” I’m like, “No, he’s not. Have you seen him work? Have you seen the dude work out? Do you know what his routine is over the summer?”

Van Houten: He always found a way. If he wants to become the greatest, he’s going to find a way. If he wants to get in a gym and work out, he’s going to find a way.

Franklin: To this day, I apply everything I learned from him. He was the hardest worker. While we were going to class, he would hold his couple papers for the class in his hand and in his backpack he had his sports gear: his shoes, the ball. He was always in the gym. At night, in the day. You could definitely learn from him. That work ethic can be applied to anything. That was the most craziest thing I saw.

Coach Hutson: I was fortunate enough to be around a genius. He had a genius work ethic.

(Top photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

What did you think of this story?



Jayson Jenks is a features writer for the Athletic Seattle. Jayson joined The Athletic after covering the Seahawks for four seasons for the Seattle Times. Follow Jayson on Twitter @JaysonJenks.
Add a comment...
Anmol K.
Jun 3, 11:25am
Kawhi is a future HoF.
Rick M.
Jun 3, 11:38am
Wow what an awesome story. I can’t recall ESPN ever doing a story like this. I want someone in the media to ask Kawhi about “The Board Man Gets Paid!”
Breanna S.
Jun 3, 11:59am
He's like Kobe with a Tim Duncan personality.
J S.
Jun 3, 1:25pm
Tim Duncan seems normal by comparison
Frankie C.
23h ago
He's better than Kobe, though
Scott E.
19h ago
Tim Duncan would never have exited San Antonio the way Kawhi did.

Keep in mind I mostly sided with Kawhi. But still.
Nick Z.
Jun 3, 12:00pm
A+ effort
Baskar G.
Jun 3, 12:08pm
Mad genius
Paul D.
Jun 3, 12:40pm
As a former basketball Aztec myself, I am so proud of Kawhi. His game is beautiful.
Ansar H.
Jun 3, 12:47pm
Omg what a story - the board man gets paid!!!!!!!!
Marcus G.
Jun 3, 1:14pm
"If he joked, it would be like one or two comments, and he’d go like, “Yeeee.” He’d make more sounds than he actually talked."

Kawhi is a living, breathing meme
Myles S.
Jun 3, 1:35pm
These oral history pieces are probably my favorite feature The Athletic does.
Greg B.
Jun 3, 2:02pm
1 like
@Myles S. Totally. More please.
Ned R.
Jun 3, 1:46pm
Great story with insight into Kawhi.
Beta 3.
Jun 3, 2:13pm
Fantastic work Jayson. What an interesting read.
Emet L.
Jun 3, 2:14pm
I still can’t get over Dame Lillard using his friend’s Netflix account when he was in the NBA
David R.
Jun 3, 2:19pm
This is one of the most hilarious and revealing stories I’ve read about a basketball player. Kawhi is such an enigma, and I felt like I had no idea what made him tick, but this story really opens a door on him. Very impressive guy. I was at that Cal game and I remember him wrecking us. I only hope the dubs find a way to stop him because his inner determination is obviously EPIC.
Jordan T.
Jun 3, 2:41pm
Kawhi is deadass the Terminator lol
Mark G.
23h ago
1 like
Needed this insight into Kawhi...good story!
Adam A.
23h ago
1 like
Wish I started at SDSU in 2010 instead of 2011 so I could watch kawhi
Kenneth C.
23h ago
The NBA can definitely benefit from more guys like Kawhi who just walks the walk. The league is filled with prima donnas that put their personal agendas before team goals. They can say they care about winning more than anything else but what they care is how much it goes in their pockets.
Seth F.
23h ago
In terms of body control and the ability to be a dominant (and game altering) force on defense, I absolutely feel he’s Jordan-esque. Also ‘Board Man Gets Paid’ shirts on Breaking T in 3...2.....
Frankie C.
23h ago
I honestly cannot believe that nobody really talked about this guy in college. It's not like he was just ok, and would be a solid role player, or was at a mid major and barely played against good teams. SDSU was a legit top 10-15 team those 2 years & they were beating good squads, yet we heard more about Fischer, because he also coached the Fab 5, than we did about Kawhi. How crazy is that?
Alex N.
19h ago
@Frankie C. That 2010-11 team was pretty stacked. Lot of good seniors on that squad that went on to have pro careers overseas. They definitely had the talent to go all the way that year.
Adam G.
23h ago
"Why can't they just guard their man like I do?" Hahaha, made me laugh. I know that feeling, but on a much, much muuuuuuch smaller scale at work.
Colin G.
23h ago
I thought it would be impossible for me to like Kawhi after he killed my Sixers, but you gotta respect him after reading a story like this.
Norman L.
23h ago
This article is everything. What an absolute joy to read.
Zaid T.
23h ago
The “board man gets paid” motto really showed last night vs GSW. Plenty of possessions where he recovered an offensive rebound.

Good to know!
Alex C.
23h ago
As a special education teacher, I wholeheartedly believe that Kawhi is a little autistic or something, which is really really cool. I'd love for him to open up and hear more of his story.
Jeremy G.
13h ago
I came here to say, this article makes me wonder if Kawhi is on the spectrum. Barely talks, extremely insanely focused, repeats the same habits over and over, makes more sounds than words.
Young K.
21h ago
1 like
What a killer robot Kawhi is!
Forrest B.
20h ago
Wow, what this article shows me is how well researched the clippers are with Kawhi. This year they've talked about being a black top team, a team that works, a team that doesn't want drama, Doc comparing Kawhi to Jordan. It's crazy.
Dan M.
12h ago
If the Clips get Kawhi and KD ... gulp. Dynasty probably over in the Bay.
Jeff J.
18h ago
As an SDSU grad I feel so blessed and proud of guys like Kawhi because San Diego State will never be a power 5 school where these kinds of guys are on a regular basis. There are a lot of very good players in lots of sports to come out of SDSU, Kawhi, Tony Gwynn, Marshall Faulk, and it feels good to in some small way be a part of that.
Gary F.
15h ago
He seems like a genuinely nice guy. Very easy to hang out with
Will O.
12h ago
Danny M.
12h ago
I watched him at SDSU. That 34-3 team was so good and I was bummed that he left after the 2011 season because I really thought they had a very good chance to win the NCAA tourney. That said, I’ve followed his NBA career and hope him continues to work hard and win more titles. He’s the reason I watch pro basketball again. Thanks KL.
Dan M.
12h ago
1 like
Man oh man. What a great story. I am an Aztec alum ... and a life long Warrior fan ... talk about being conflicted.

What I can say, is that Aztecs love Kawhi. LOVE HIM.

There’s a whole lot of pride, and happiness, for all his success.

There is tremendous gratitude to him- during his sophomore (last) season on The Mesa, we had the greatest team we had ever had, and likely ever will, have.

It was like we were Duke, North Carolina or Kansas for a season. I really believe we were one of the 2-3 best teams in the nation that season - we grabbed the highest #2 seed in the tournament that season, so they had us as #5 overall going in. We won our first 2 games in tournament history, I was blessed to be in Tucson for both. I was “fighting them back” as the clock ran out to beat Temple to go to our first sweet 16.

We lost to eventual national champion UConn the next week, some very questionable calls in an incredible game that went down to the final possession. I have no doubt we clobber Arizona the next game, as UConn did, to go to our first and only Final 4. So close.

Kawhi was the difference. Even though he was so raw, could barely shoot a lick... I had never seen such a force of nature before, his effort, his attitude, his intense desire to win. An absolute demon on the boards and defensively. He was surrounded by an incredibly long, athletic, talented team that defended as well as just about any team I’ve ever seen in college basketball. What a incredible season that really put SDSU on the national basketball map for a run of 4-5 years.

Of course, despite Aztec nation’s claimed that he wasn’t ready to come out for the draft. Needed one more season in college. He thought differently. We all know how that has turned out. Nobody was going to deny Kawhi.

There are some incredible Kawhi stories I’ve read and heard about him that speak to his ridiculous work ethic, his focus and single-mindedness to be the best, and a spotlight on what he cares about- his mom, his close friends and family ... and basketball.

lag∞n, Tuesday, 4 June 2019 17:52 (one year ago) link

I wish that Paul George anecdote had gone somewhere

reggae mike love (polyphonic), Tuesday, 4 June 2019 21:13 (one year ago) link

A guy I did community service with smoked a blunt with Kawhi in college

brimstead, Tuesday, 4 June 2019 21:56 (one year ago) link

Oh man, I thought the "yeeeee" anecdote posted in the Finals thread was a joke. What a guy!

Fetchboy, Wednesday, 5 June 2019 00:59 (one year ago) link

Alex C.
23h ago
As a special education teacher, I wholeheartedly believe that Kawhi is a little autistic or something, which is really really cool. I'd love for him to open up and hear more of his story.

im not comfortable diagnosing ppl but there is something to this.

be the 2 chainz you want 2 see in the world (m bison), Wednesday, 5 June 2019 01:43 (one year ago) link

his flat affect, difficulty reading social cues, intense interests, repetitive behaviors

be the 2 chainz you want 2 see in the world (m bison), Wednesday, 5 June 2019 01:46 (one year ago) link

had that exact thought when i read this

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 5 June 2019 01:52 (one year ago) link

same over here tbh

Clay, Wednesday, 5 June 2019 02:04 (one year ago) link

This oral history of college Kawhi is crazier than people think... pic.twitter.com/FUyiOIQYjE

— Amir Blumenfeld (@jakeandamir) June 4, 2019

Jeff Bathos (symsymsym), Wednesday, 5 June 2019 02:33 (one year ago) link

the family business stuff makes a lot of sense in that context, too.

honestly i feel bad making/laughing at jokes around his behavior (kawhi is a robot/the terminator, the laugh meme) now.

be the 2 chainz you want 2 see in the world (m bison), Wednesday, 5 June 2019 02:41 (one year ago) link

re: the family business and the initial tweet you copied, i was like--hard for him to open up about anything since it's very unlikely that he's diagnosed.

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 5 June 2019 02:49 (one year ago) link

yeah that too

be the 2 chainz you want 2 see in the world (m bison), Wednesday, 5 June 2019 03:11 (one year ago) link

A guy I did community service with smoked a blunt with Kawhi in college

― brimstead, Tuesday, June 4, 2019 5:56 PM (yesterday) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink


lag∞n, Wednesday, 5 June 2019 06:24 (one year ago) link

his flat affect, difficulty reading social cues, intense interests, repetitive behaviors

― be the 2 chainz you want 2 see in the world (m bison), Tuesday, June 4, 2019 9:46 PM (yesterday) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

yeah i mean

lag∞n, Wednesday, 5 June 2019 06:25 (one year ago) link

I have no idea if he autistic but it's interesting how in different ways some great players today are upending traditional views of the "mentality" that was assumed you need to be great, basically like the sports talk guys that jack off over the MJ/Kobe aggressive, macho sociopathy (Butler is maybe the best example of that today tho not on the same level of great)....but Kawhi's remote, flat aspect or the Curry/Klay's semi woke chill Cali vibes....or, less appealingly, KD or Kyrie's passive aggressive needy bitchiness

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 5 June 2019 13:03 (one year ago) link


lag∞n, Wednesday, 5 June 2019 14:06 (one year ago) link

like so many things, after 1 person dominates a field (in reality or just in public's consciousness of that field) you get this hindsight "ohh THIS is what made him/her so great" which is prob ok on its own but there's a tendency to draw the conclusion "therefore anyone who wants to dominate in the future must have this same quality/set of qualities"

A True White Kid that can Jump (Granny Dainger), Wednesday, 5 June 2019 19:07 (one year ago) link

(i don't have a membership, but https://github.com/iamadamdev/bypass-paywalls-firefox and/or https://github.com/iamadamdev/bypass-paywalls-chrome seem to work)

OAKLAND, Calif. — The easiest way to understand the differences between the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA is through Dennis Rodman.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr played with Rodman on the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. They won three NBA championships together. They also happened to be teammates with Michael Jordan.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse came to know Rodman as the owner, general manager and coach of the Brighton Bears of the British Basketball League when he signed him as a one-game publicity stunt to sell tickets for a team that’s now defunct.

So they have taken slightly different roads to the NBA Finals. But now the Raptors are two wins from the title. That’s how close Nurse is to being maybe the most improbable coach of any championship team in NBA history.

The people in his position are usually longtime NBA coaches, former NBA players or both. Nurse is neither.

He’s a first-year NBA head coach at the age of 51. He spent his formative years in a country where basketball is a niche sport compared to snooker. He is the author of a self-published manual called “The Black Book of Shooting.” He is the guy who brings his guitar on road trips to strum Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. Nurse has been creative and inventive during the Finals, and that’s in part because of his peripatetic background.

Nurse is both a rookie coach and someone who’s been a coach for nearly 30 years. He coached a college team below the NCAA level. He coached G-League teams in Des Moines, Iowa and Edinburg, Texas. He even coached in the obscure breeding ground of basketball talent known as Great Britain.

His list of coaching stops reads like a British train schedule: Derby and Birmingham—neither of which is pronounced the way you think—Manchester, Brighton and London. Nurse was in the British Basketball League, which sounds like an oxymoron, more than twice as long as he’s been in the NBA. And he’s done crazier things than beating the Warriors. The year he took a BBL team to the EuroLeague was the equivalent of Nurse coaching the Raptors to the Stanley Cup.

But all that experience in what Nurse acknowledges were some “pretty remote places” has proven to be incredibly useful now.

“I feel really comfortable out there,” he said in an interview this season. “I’m digging back into some archives. It’s playing out on an NBA court: things that I’ve gone through hundreds of times before.”

When he unleashed an unconventional box-and-one defense on Stephen Curry in the NBA Finals, for example, people around the league struggled to remember the last time they’d seen one. Apparently they had not seen a G-League game between the Iowa Energy and Bakersfield Jam in January 2011.

Nurse was desperate that night. Bakersfield guard Trey Johnson had torched Iowa for 31 points the night before, and Nurse decided to do everything in his power to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The strategy that he unveiled to stop him? A box-and-one for the entire game. He treated Trey Johnson as if he were Stephen Curry. Johnson had his worst scoring performance of the season. Iowa won. Nurse’s idea worked.

“If things work,” he said, “I don’t care if I go out there and four guys stand on their head.”

That game was a long time ago in a place very far away from the NBA Finals. But in an interview before Game 4, Nurse still remembered everything about it.

“That’s right! Big-time box-and-one on Trey for the whole game,” Nurse said. “That was a great win. That was one of the greatest wins.”

Nurse landed across the pond after two years as an assistant at South Dakota and four years as a starter at Northern Iowa, where he boasted about holding “seven school records all under the three-point shooting category.” As a coach, he realized his teams could learn from his shooting prowess. So he produced a 31-page, spiral-bound manual that explained his art in exhaustive detail. There were even bullet-pointed lists of drills in which every bullet was a tiny basketball.

“Everyone knows that good shooting in basketball is important,” wrote Nick Nurse, the author.

Another thing in basketball that he knew was important was the ability to adapt on the fly. And the insane format of the BBL playoffs gave Nurse plenty of experience preparing teams to radically shift course on a nightly basis. He once turned the Birmingham Bullets from a fast-break team into a slow-down offense in the hours between a Saturday evening semi and a Sunday afternoon final. His players had no problem with it. They promptly knocked off the mighty London Towers. “He used to do all of his coaching before we stepped out on the court,” the Bullets’ Clive Allen said.

Nurse’s teams traveled in mini-buses that he didn’t have the proper license to drive. His experiments unfolded in local rec centers where he waited for badminton matches and indoor soccer to finish before taking the court. And not wasting a second was so crucial that Nurse fined anyone who was late £1 a minute. This bothered Allen so much that he once paid for his 20-minute delay in pennies.

When those practices finally began, Nurse was always keeping score. If he was displeased with the shooting, he subbed himself in and started draining threes. If he thought his players weren’t intense enough, he subbed himself in and started fouling.

He was determined to not let his complete lack of resources stop him from implementing NBA strategies. Nurse modeled the Birmingham Bullets on whatever VHS tapes he could find of the mid-1990s Chicago Bulls. They were watching film with occasional cameos from Steve Kerr.

“When Phil Jackson was doing his thing with the triangle offense,” said Nigel Lloyd, one of his former players, “we ran the triangle offense.”
As coach of the Iowa Energy in 2011, Nick Nurse used a box-and-one defense against the Bakersfield Jam. Photo: Otto Kitsinger/NBAE/Getty Images

With the Brighton Bears, where he was also the owner and general manager, Nurse found someone else who knew Jackson’s offense intimately. This person had actually played in Jackson’s offense. His name was Dennis Rodman.

Rodman was coming off an appearance on the reality show “Celebrity Big Brother” and wasn’t exactly in peak shape. He was 44. He hadn’t played in the NBA for years. He’d spent the past few weeks smoking cigars. He was also Nurse’s opportunity to sell extra tickets while improving his offense.

Rodman arrived in a white limo and delayed the game by insisting on taking a shower. The ticket part of Nurse’s plan worked: the tiny arena was sold out. The offense also worked, as Rodman helped the Bears beat the Guildford Heat. What didn’t work was the whole part about following BBL rules. Nurse’s team had to forfeit a week later for playing too many Americans.

“Whilst the BBL were delighted to see that Dennis Rodman took part in BBL Competitions and that U.K. fans have had the opportunity to see him play,” the league said, “they will not tolerate a clear breach of BBL Regulations.”

Nurse’s time in a country that has never been confused for a basketball hotbed keeps coming back to him. He even took his son to his old stomping grounds last summer. They saw the Rolling Stones at Old Trafford and went to “King Lear” at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. “We covered about 360 years of British culture in 48 hours,” he said.

But he would soon experience one last bit of whiplash. When the Nurses came back to North America, the Raptors announced their new head coach: the world’s leading expert on British basketball.

Write to Ben Cohen at b✧✧.co✧✧✧@w✧✧.c✧✧ and Joshua Robinson at jos✧✧✧.robin✧✧✧@w✧✧.c✧✧

mookieproof, Friday, 7 June 2019 15:48 (eleven months ago) link

cool thanks!

easy ball shooter (Spottie), Friday, 7 June 2019 15:56 (eleven months ago) link

dang sick extension

lag∞n, Friday, 7 June 2019 16:05 (eleven months ago) link

anybody got that ESPN+ and could hook this up?

big city slam (Spottie), Friday, 14 June 2019 20:58 (eleven months ago) link

Kevin Pelton
ESPN Staff Writer
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What does Klay Thompson's ACL injury mean for his future and the Golden State Warriors?

The disappointment of the Warriors falling short in their quest for a third consecutive championship was overshadowed by the news late Thursday night that Thompson tore the ACL in his left knee when he landed awkwardly after being fouled on a transition dunk attempt.

Thompson will now head into unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career while rehabbing the injury and facing an uncertain timeline for his return during the 2019-20 season, much like teammate Kevin Durant, who suffered a ruptured Achilles during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. How will that impact Thompson and how can Golden State replace him in the short term?

How much time can Thompson be expected to miss?
Though Durant's Achilles injury produces greater fear than the relatively more common ACL tear, the reality is ACL rehab has typically taken longer in recent years. As teams have become more conservative bringing their players back after surgery, no NBA player has returned to action in fewer than 10 ½ months since J.J. Hickson in 2014. (Hickson returned after just 7 ½ months.)


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An 11-month timetable has been typical for ACL injuries in that span, with some rehab processes taking even longer. Most notably, Kristaps Porzingis ended up missing the entire 2018-19 season after tearing his ACL in February 2018, meaning he wasn't considered ready to return some 14 months after the injury.

With that in mind, the Warriors -- or another team with whom Thompson signs -- have to be prepared for him to miss the duration of the 2019-20 regular season before potentially attempting to return in the playoffs.

How does that affect Thompson's free agency?
Unlike Durant, Thompson does not have a player option, meaning he's headed for free agency this summer no matter what. Although Thompson's maximum salary is less than Durant's -- he's still in the bracket for players with 7-9 years of experience, projected for a 2019-20 maximum of $32.7 million as compared to $38.15 million for players like Durant with 10 or more years of experience -- a max deal for him surely carries somewhat more risk because Thompson has not historically been as elite a player as Durant.

Thompson's best leverage in free agency is his importance to Golden State, which would be shy of max-level cap space even in the unlikely scenario where both Durant and Thompson sign elsewhere. That would make it virtually impossible for the Warriors to replace both players in free agency. Given everything Thompson has meant to Golden State's run of three championships in five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, it seems unthinkable the Warriors would risk letting him walk in free agency.

One possibility is Golden State offering Thompson a five-year max deal that no other team could match, but with some partial guarantees that would offer the Warriors cap relief in a worst-case scenario should Thompson deal with more injuries in the future. Joel Embiid's 2017 extension with the Philadelphia 76ers could be a model for such an offer.

How might Golden State replace Thompson?
One way or another, the Warriors will find themselves needing to fill in for Thompson and Durant in 2019-20 -- perhaps for just a single season (or part of it), but perhaps permanently if either or both players head elsewhere.

NBA Free Agency and Trades

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Assuming Thompson re-signs, Golden State would likely be limited to the taxpayer midlevel exception (projected at $5.7 million) to add free agents for more than the veterans minimum. And the Warriors would somehow need to find new starters at both shooting guard and small forward -- or at least someone capable of playing big minutes at small forward if veteran Andre Iguodala starts there, given Iguodala's age.

If Durant signs elsewhere, Thompson's injury could add urgency to Golden State's pursuit of a sign-and-trade deal that would create a trade exception in the amount of Durant's 2019-20 salary to trade for more expensive players. Convincing the team that lands Durant to do a sign-and-trade rather than signing him outright using cap space would probably require the Warriors parting with draft picks, something they've been reluctant to do during their championship run.

Alternatively, I suppose it's possible that Golden State might look at next season as a one-year break from the emotionally and physically draining pursuit of championships. The Warriors could regroup in 2020-21 with Thompson and/or Durant back on the court, hoping to use next season to develop younger alternatives such as 2018 first-round pick Jacob Evans and reserve Alfonzo McKinnie for depth purposes.

But that prospect seems unlikely with the core of the team save Draymond Green (29) in their 30s. Each year of late-prime Stephen Curry is too valuable to let go to waste. A step-back season also would be a tough way to open a pricey new arena in San Francisco.

Adding salary via a Durant sign-and-trade would hit Golden State's pocketbook hard, what with the team potentially entering the repeater tax next season. That means that each additional dollar the Warriors spend would cost a minimum of $2.50 more in luxury taxes. That's the price the Warriors have to pay to keep this championship core together, though their move to the more profitable Chase Center will help offset the tax bill.

Golden State's front office won't have much time to lament the NBA Finals loss and heartbreaking injuries to Durant and Thompson. With the NBA draft a week away and free agency a week and a half after that, the Warriors must soon get to work figuring out how to replace two of the league's best players.

lag∞n, Friday, 14 June 2019 21:52 (eleven months ago) link


big city slam (Spottie), Friday, 14 June 2019 22:48 (eleven months ago) link

After years of meticulous planning, calculated maneuvers and intelligent team-building, a steady stream of frustrations over the past year has now pushed the Celtics into an offseason of deep uncertainty. The latest setback struck Saturday night, when the Lakers reached a trade agreement to acquire Anthony Davis for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks, including the fourth overall selection in next week’s draft. Boston had positioned itself to pursue Davis over the past several years but now must move on to the reality that the superstar center will play alongside LeBron James instead.

Could the Celtics have topped Los Angeles’ offer? The answer depends on whom you ask. The Lakers surrendered two promising former lottery picks, a solid rotation piece and a whole lot of draft equity. Based on early indications, the Celtics were wary of throwing all their assets – including Jayson Tatum – on the table knowing Davis could be just a one-year rental. His agent, Rich Paul, made it clear throughout the process that his client preferred other destinations such as the Lakers and Knicks and did not want to land in Boston. If the Celtics still had the promise of a future with Kyrie Irving to flaunt, they could have been more willing to roll the dice on Davis, believing that the talent on their roster would eventually help convince him to stay. But recent signs have suggested the Celtics are likely to lose Irving, and selling Davis on the team’s future would have been difficult without the All-Star guard. Giving up a package headlined by Tatum and the future Grizzlies first-round pick could have been franchise-crippling if it only yielded a one-year rental. At some point, the Celtics needed to decide what type of risk they were willing to take. Without Irving, they might not have been able to build a championship-caliber squad even with Davis around.

There’s risk in standing pat, too. In the suddenly wide open NBA landscape, Boston with Davis would have had at least a small chance of raising a banner next season. Now that he’s off the trade market and Irving appears headed elsewhere too, it’s difficult to envision another path for the Celtics to build a legitimate contender quickly. They could pivot toward a youthful rebuild around Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. They could straddle the present and future while Gordon Hayward and possibly Al Horford remain on the team. They could try to fortify their roster with a non-Davis star – somebody such as Bradley Beal or even an unforeseen option.

Yet nothing stands out as an obvious way to pry open the contention window again. The Celtics still have enough talent to be good – maybe even very good – but this ownership group has always wanted more than that. With a championship-or-bust mindset, the Celtics, without Irving, do not have a championship team. They do have three first-round picks to dangle on the trade market if they want to bolster the roster around their current core.

Will that core include Horford? Though the Celtics have called keeping him a priority, his future now stands out as a question mark. The star center has a $30.1 million player option for the upcoming season but could turn it down and enter free agency. Such a move wouldn’t necessarily spell an end to Horford’s time with the Celtics because he could ink a long-term deal to stay with the organization. But, at age 33, he might realistically find a better opportunity to win a ring somewhere else. Assuming Irving walks, the Celtics would be left with a core of Hayward, Tatum, Brown and Smart – not a bad group by any means, but not what anybody had in mind this time last summer. Boston’s future, though still promising, looks murkier than it has in years.

The list of disappointments from this season alone is a long one:

After entering the season as favorites to capture the Eastern Conference, the Celtics won just 48 games before falling to the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs.
Hayward never returned to All-Star form during his first season after a devastating ankle injury. Several of his young teammates – including Tatum, Brown and Terry Rozier – either regressed or failed to show progress amid complicated team dynamics.
Players all seemed frustrated by the failure to find consistent chemistry. The coaching staff never maximized the roster’s talent. The season brought enough headaches that Irving, who verbally committed to re-signing in Boston in October, now appears to be a goner.
At the onset of this season, the Celtics thought their first-round pick from the Sacramento Kings would land somewhere in the top five. Instead, the Kings exceeded all preseason expectations; the pick they conveyed to Boston landed 14th at the very end of what is considered a thin lottery.
The Lakers, meanwhile, were fortunate enough to vault to fourth in the lottery, then used that pick as one of the centerpieces to a Davis trade. How lucky did the Lakers get on lottery night? Their chance of landing a top-four pick was 9.4 percent.
So many of the failures are intertwined. The Celtics now must pivot from Plan A – pairing Irving and Davis – to whatever path they will choose next. They should still field a competitive team regardless, just not the annual contender the organization dreamed about building.

One winner in all this is Tatum, who should finally be free from the trade rumors that dogged him over the first two seasons of his career. With no more huge fish left on the trade market, the Celtics should comfortably move forward with the 21-year-old wing as a franchise cornerstone. Tatum has shown immense potential but must iron out some of the bad habits that limited his impact as a second-year pro. He needs to cut out some inefficient midrange jumpers and grow stronger going to the rim. He should work on his 3-point versatility to reach the volume of all the best shooters. He has stated he wants to emerge as an All-Star and now has his chance – in Boston – to show he can do it. If Irving departs, Tatum will have more freedom but also more pressure to emerge alongside Brown as one of the NBA’s top wing duos.

For the Celtics, the future is now. It’s just not exactly the future the organization dreamed of for so many years.

Jeff Bathos (symsymsym), Sunday, 16 June 2019 23:48 (eleven months ago) link


Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Sunday, 16 June 2019 23:54 (eleven months ago) link

Yesterday, a photo Zion Williamson’s media session went viral, with hundreds of media members huddled around his tiny podium. Next to that madhouse, the player with the podium next to Williamson’s looked on in the foreground of the photo, seemingly wondering what kind of world he’d stepped into.

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Fletcher Mackel

NBA draft prospect Gogo Bitazde got slotted next to @Zionwilliamson at @NBA draft media day.

Unfortunately he’s a bit overshadowed.

Gogo actually a guy I’ve heard @PelicansNBA have interest in.

11:52 AM - Jun 19, 2019
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That player was Goga Bitadze, an international player from the Republic of Georgia who was also invited to the combine, as he’s expected to be selected somewhere in the top-15. Obviously, I don’t blame anyone in the media for being much more rabid about getting set up for the Williamson media session. Zion is the story this week, and in general, the international class has not been discussed in particularly glowing terms for this year’s crop of prospects.

That’s the narrative, at least. However, I do think this crop of international players has gone underrated. It’s gotten much better throughout the season, and has an interesting mix of production, upside, and fit in the modern NBA. Two players — Goga Bitadze and Sekou Doumbouya — have a chance to be picked in the lottery, with Doumbouya expected to be taken there. Luka Samanic will likely be selected somewhere in the first round, with his range expected to be anywhere from 19 to 35. Deividas Sirvydis could hear his name called in the top-40, with four others in Marcos Louzada Silva (“Didi”), Yovel Zoosman, Adam Mokoka and Joshua Obiesie having a chance to be picked.

While most executives see Doumbouya as the top prospect from the international class, I slightly differ and wanted to write about why. While I think it’s close, I actually give a slight edge to Bitadze as the top international in this class — something I never saw coming when the season started. Bitadze has been something of a known asset for the last few years due to his high-level production in Europe as a teenager. However, I had serious concerns about his frame and mobility then that made me concerned about his modern fit in the NBA. He also played with a high level of emotion that sometimes had negative effects on his play. I had him at No. 44 on my big board entering the year.

But over the last year, Bitadze has done everything in his power to quell those worries. He started the year dominant for his parent club, Mega Bemax, averaging 20.2 points, eight rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game in Adriatic League play while shooting 60 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3. The Adriatic League is considered a strong one, but it’s not the highest level and its relative lack of athleticism didn’t do much to show how Bitadze had grown athletically. So in December, Bitadze was loaned to Budocnost VOLI, another Adriatic League team. However, the transfer allowed Bitadze the ability to compete in the Euroleague, the highest level of competition in Europe.

While with Budocnost, Bitadze continued his run of terrific play. He averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 23 minutes of action per game. While those numbers don’t necessarily jump out to an American audience, it’s worth considering where they ranked in the competition. Bitadze only played 13 games and thus didn’t qualify for statistical leads in categories, but his numbers would have ranked in the top-20 in scoring, fifth in rebounding, and first in blocked shots. Given that, it’s no surprise that he won the Euroleague Rising Star award. But he also continued his strong play in the Adriatic League, and was named MVP there.

These awards certainly don’t equal what Doncic did in Euroleague, but beyond him they’ve likely only been matched in the last five years from a teenage production standpoint by Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic. So why is Bitadze not held in that same esteem?

Well, the big difference those two players have versus Bitadze is that they can act as offensive initiators, whereas that’s not his game. The team that takes the Georgian center will instead get a player who is an absolute monster in ball-screen scenarios as a screen setter and roller, in addition to a potentially elite rim protector. It’s a somewhat limited role, but it’s a role he’s been devastatingly effective in overseas. Let’s start on offense, where you can get a feel for his talent.

There are just so many positives. First and foremost, he’s a terrific screen setter. He makes contact and gets his guard space. Additionally, he has a great feel for how the on-ball defender is going to attack the guard, with smart instincts for when to flip screens, or do little maneuvers like sticking out his posterior to create a last-second impediment for a defender. Those little tools of the trade that make fans yell for illegal screens? Bitadze has got all of them in his game as a teenager.

Combined with that, his sense of timing on rolls is spectacular. He knows exactly when to end his screen and start his roll. He’ll slip, or he’ll stick a screen hard. After that, his ability to find the open area is superb. He’s great at rolling into the short roll area if that’s where he sees the soft spot, or he can go all the way to the basket and present as a lob threat. Don’t underestimate his hands here, or the way he presents a big target by spreading his limbs out for ball-handlers either. Bitadze’s ability to catch below his waist is critical for being able to handle pocket passes when those are the ones that are available. Bitadze is going to enter the NBA as a useful screen and roll big man for any guard.

Where Bitadze has potential to really differentiate himself as one of the best screen and roll big men in the game, though, is with the jump shot. He hit 40 percent of his 90 3-point attempts this season, with most of those shots coming above the break in pick-and-pop scenarios. As we’ve seen with someone like Brook Lopez this season, the ability to consistently hit above-the-break 3-point shots is critical to a team’s offense now from the center position. It completely warps the way defenses have to play the opposing team, and creates a ton of space for primary initiators to drive into the paint with. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s forthcoming MVP and Eric Bledsoe’s resurgent 2019 were not accidents: both players were terrific, but the space they had to move was critical.

His percentage is a small sample, after he shot 21 percent from 3 in 2017-18, but there’s reason to believe in him as a 3-point shooter early in his career. Everything mechanically is sound. He needs to keep repping jump shots and getting consistent with his footwork and the cleanliness of his release, but there’s reason to believe he will shoot it. This is far from what concerns me about Bitadze offensively long term.

The more concerning bit is his vision and passing. The 7-footer regularly misses kick-out passing reads for open 3s in favor of contested shots at the basket. He’s not super comfortable making the cross corner kick-out read after a short roll, instead looking to finish at the basket himself. He’s comfortable with dribble-hand-off settings and can put the ball on the deck once or twice going toward the basket, but he’s not going to be able to pick out players all over the court. It’s the idea of passing up a good shot for a great one, and it’s one that often comes up at the next level when guards get doubled and centers have to act as safety valve options that make quick decisions to release the pressure in 4-on-3 settings. That part of his game just isn’t quite there yet.

This is the thing that ultimately kind of limits him as an offensive weapon to merely an awesome pick-and-roll big. There are different thoughts around the league on how developable this skill is, with some executives believing that players pick this up as they get more experienced with the game (Clint Capela with Houston would be an example of this development positively). Bitadze certainly displays a high feel in these scenarios. But others are more skeptical that there will be a high level of growth here.

That’s okay, though, because Bitadze’s defensively ability figures to make him valuable, at the very least around the basket. His ability to protect the rim is extremely high level in Europe due to his sense of timing and desire to contest everything. He’s a smart rotator from the weak side, knowing what shots he can get to. In fact, whereas many consider Jaxson Hayes to be the best rim protector in the class, I’d humbly suggest that folks reconsider Bitadze in that conversation.

Bitadze is very real threat to block shots when you go inside the paint. He’s smart at playing gap defense between the ball, the basket, and the man he’s supposed to be guarding. But the downside to his activity can be fouling problems. Bitadze fouled 3.8 times per 23.4 minutes, which can artificially limit the amount of time he can spend on the floor. This remains a very real question about him: can he do his job protecting the rim while also staying on the floor for 28-30 minutes a night? This is also, at times, where you’ll still see his emotion get the better of him. For the most part, he’s done a good job of taking that fire he plays with and using it positively. But it’ll still come out in frustration after a few repeated foul calls.

As you can see a bit of in the clip above, Bitadze has also improved his movement skills quite a bit. His strong awareness helps, and I think there’s a chance he’s a liability out in space at times against the quickest guards. He’ll need to prove at the next level that he can play out on the floor in high-stakes situations when he might get attacked repeatedly. I don’t think you’re going to want to play much switch coverage in ball-screen scenarios with him on the floor, but I’m not convinced that he gets attacked repeatedly out there if you do that, either. He can be a legitimate positive on defense if you can play long, athletic players around him that filter players toward him around the hoop.

To put it all together, I see a player in Bitadze who, as long as foul issues don’t overwhelm him, is going to be among the most NBA-ready players in this class. In many ways, despite their age gap not being very large, Doumbouya is something of the antithesis of that. While his upside is rather large due to his athleticism and skill set, I think it’s going to take Doumbouya a couple of years to come into his own on the NBA level. His consistency in the French league for Limoges just isn’t quite there yet.

Doumbouya certainly has the higher ceiling, but at the end of the day, a draft pick’s value is not necessarily about who is going to be the best player 10 years down the road. Rather, a draft pick’s value is solely determined based upon how much value the team that selects the player derives from him, either based off of production or what it receives in a trade. And while I do see Doumbouya as becoming a successful NBA player in his 20s, I also have a real concern that he might be a guy who is better for his second team than his first team, given how impatient NBA organizations can be with their rookies.

It’s also worth noting my own personal biases as an evaluator, as I do tend to default a bit more toward production and polish than unfinished products, particularly when drafting outside of the elite tiers of the draft. I have both Bitadze and Doumbouya in my fourth tier, with Bitadze at No. 8 and Doumbouya at No. 10. Now, I do think Bitadze is a bit more scheme dependent, whereas you can see Doumbouya working just about anywhere. You have to be a team that’s willing to play more drop coverage in pick-and-roll as opposed to switching with your 5 man at all. But with teams beginning to utilize more zone-like, help-heavy schemes that keep the center in the middle of the paint on defense, more roads are opening up for Bitadze to find success at the next level.

Ultimately, I feel confident in Bitadze turning into a starting quality center due to the overall polish of his skillset and the upside that he’s shown over the last year with his body and his shooting ability. He’s not only my No. 1 international player in this class, but also my top center, as I believe in his rim protection giving him defensive value in the right scheme, and his offensive skill set being better than Hayes’ both now and into the future.

Bitadze might not exactly be well known by the media, yet, and he might not be the story this week. But I’m betting that if you give it a couple of years, they’ll know all about him.

call all destroyer, Friday, 21 June 2019 15:26 (eleven months ago) link

ty cad

micah, Friday, 21 June 2019 20:02 (eleven months ago) link

SAN ANTONIO – The question was simple, and Gregg Popovich provided a simple answer that today can be used as insight to what the Spurs could be seeking when free agency kicks off at the end of this month.

What was the decision to bring veteran Dante Cunningham onboard after the two sides agreed to a one-year, roughly $2.4 million deal last year?

“He’s veteran,” Popovich said during Spurs media day before last season. “He’s a pro. He plays aggressively. He can play some defense; he can score; he’s been with other programs; and he’ll add another player that’s been around and understand how this works.”

Cunningham, 32, certainly provided his fair share of moments for the Spurs. His best outing, on the stat sheet, came on Nov. 19 when he scored 19 points on 7-of-7 shooting (5-for-5 on 3-pointers), seven rebounds and three assists in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Popovich praised his defensive efforts in the thrilling Oct. 22 overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers when Cunningham, before fouling out, secured a game-high 12 rebounds and did his best to help slow down LeBron James. And against those same Pelicans, Cunningham also had a 15-point, seven-rebound outing in the Nov. 3 contest.

In the first 22 games of the season, Cunningham, who was signed to be a role player off the bench, started 18 times, averaging 22.5 minutes for the Spurs.

“We didn’t expect him to be playing all these minutes and he’s taking advantage of the opportunity,” Popovich said after that Nov. 3 game against the Pelicans. “I think he’s been really good for us. He sets the tone defensively. LaMarcus (Aldridge) goes under the bucket, and Dante is picking people up who are really good shooters, or good one-on-one players, and he’s done a great job.”

So, at Cunningham’s price tag, it fair to say the Spurs got a good deal for what he was able to provide when he got extended opportunities. But Cunningham isn’t expected back next season, and the Spurs will have to look to replace his role off the bench.

Unless a significant transaction occurs, the Spurs will be likely operating over the salary cap but not into luxury territory. Hence, they will be able to use the $9.2 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception to add one or multiple players and have the veteran’s minimum slot as well.

If Popovich’s explanation of Cunningham’s signing last season serves as criteria, here are 10 players who could fit the Spurs next season:

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
(Soobum Im / USA Today)
Trevor Ariza
After completing a successful stint with the Houston Rockets, Ariza chased the money last offseason and signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Phoenix Suns. He provided leadership, but the fit wasn’t right on the court.

In 26 games, Ariza averaged 9.9 points and shot 37.9 percent from the field (36 percent from 3) before he was traded to the Washington Wizards last December. He performed better with the Wizards, averaging 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 43 games.

The days of Ariza, 33, earning $15 million per season are over. He’s more of a mid-level player now and could be a stable fit for the Spurs — who, league sources told The Athletic, were interested in his services when he became available last season.

The Spurs could offer Ariza the full mid-level or persuade him to take a bit less and use the remaining money to sign another veteran. Ariza is still a good defender who can stretch the floor by hitting the 3. And, as Popovich said of Cunningham, he’s been around and understands how it all works.

If Rudy Gay departs in free agency, perhaps Ariza can help fill the void off the bench. And if Gay returns, nothing wrong with having a similar wing in the second unit or maybe a starter at moments of the season when the Spurs are grappling with injuries.

Jeff Green
Speaking of the Wizards, forward Jeff Green will be another free agent worth keeping an eye on. Green played last season on a one-year vet minimum valued at roughly $2.3 million, a deal similar to Cunningham’s. Perhaps he would be interested in taking another minimum deal with the Spurs.

Green, 32, averaged 12.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 77 games with the Wizards last season. He’s known as a locker-room guy and as someone who can provide some big outings at times. The thing is, don’t expect Green to be consistent when it comes to those outings.

“He’s always been such an enigma that you don’t know what you’re going to get night to night,” one Eastern Conference scout said. “But I can also see him being a little Spur-ish in his skill set. I just don’t know if he’ll have the night-to-night focus that Pop would like.”

But the Spurs wouldn’t need Green to come up big every game. If they can live with the type of player he is — a scorer and someone who loves to play but is perfectly fine being a role player — maybe this could be a beautiful one-year partnership.

Wesley Matthews
Here is a name the Spurs flirted with through the buyout market. Matthews said Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan attempted to recruit him to the Spurs before he selected the Indiana Pacers.

Word around the league is the Pacers will not attempt to bring back Matthews, allowing the veteran guard to sign with any team he desires.

Though there were signs of slippage, Matthews is still respected as a solid 3-and-D wing. If he can accept a secondary role, Matthews could provide the Spurs with another 3-point threat who can stretch the floor for Aldridge, his former teammate in Portland.

It might take more than the vet minimum to get Matthews to San Antonio. If the Spurs decide to split the mid-level money between two players, maybe they could persuade Matthews with the right deal.

But if the two recruiters made any traction with Matthews months ago, it shouldn’t take much to get Matthews to sign with the Spurs.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
(Jeff Hanisch / USA Today)
Wayne Ellington
Of the players mentioned so far, Ellington is probably the perfect Spur. Ellington can shoot, is a better defender than what he’s given credit for and is a reliable team defender.

With the Detroit Pistons, Ellington was charged with the task of defending multiple positions, and some of the assignments were bigger than Ellington. But the University of North Carolina product held his own and competed.

After he was traded by the Miami Heat and waived by the Phoenix Suns, Ellington signed with the Pistons, where he finished the season averaging 12 points and shot 37.3 percent on 3-pointers. What makes Ellington stand out the most when it comes to potential free-agent targets are his character and team-first mindset.

“He’s that 1,000 percent,” a league exec said when discussing Ellington. “He would fit what is known as the Spurs’ culture. He would embrace it. He wouldn’t mind being coached hard by Pop because he’s going to play the right way.”

Jonathon Simmons
“His best days were there,” the league exec said. “Maybe they can rekindle that.”

Simmons’ rights are now with the Washington Wizards after he was traded on draft night by the Philadelphia 76ers. Many around the NBA expected Simmons, who is scheduled to make roughly $5.7 million next season, to be waived by next month, but that all changed Thursday.

As of now, the feeling is the Wizards will keep Simmons around. Should that change, he’s guaranteed only $1 million next season if he’s waived.

Would the Spurs be interested in a possible reunion if Simmons’ time with the Wizards is short-lived?

If he becomes available, Simmons will most likely be grouped with the second or third wave of free agents. Should the Spurs miss out on some bigger targets, maybe Simmons is still around and decides to return on a one-year deal, hoping to have a productive season and make up lost revenue next summer.

Though he didn’t show much of it in Philly, Simmons is still a capable defender who can create his own shot and get into the lane. The Spurs do need more 3-point shooting, but Popovich always loves a player willing to compete and defend. And the Spurs should know how to incorporate Simmons better than any other team, as the Houston native developed under their watch before he departed in 2017.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
In one of the earlier news items of the week, ESPN.com reported the Brooklyn Nets did not extend Hollis-Jefferson his $3.9 million qualifying offer. He will now become an unrestricted free agent.

League sources have informed The Athletic that Hollis-Jefferson will explore his options and has not pinpointed any potential suitors. Though nothing is official, the Spurs should consider the former University of Arizona standout.

It’s known the Spurs like to get in-depth intel on players they are considering for their program. Sean Marks, the former Spurs GM and current Nets GM, should be able to provide all the insight needed about Hollis-Jefferson’s potential fit.

On the court, Hollis-Jefferson is praised for his defense and has good size at 6-foot-7. He can provide energy off the bench and would be reliable in transition with his athleticism. The problem …

“No offense to speak of,” a scout said. “He’s supposed to be a three, but he can’t put the ball in the hole.”

And here is what will be the issue for Hollis-Jefferson.

In his four-year career, he shot 44.4 percent from the field and 22.3 percent from beyond the arc. Where he makes up for his shooting woes is through his reputation of playing hard. Again, the Spurs admire players who will compete, but whether Hollis-Jefferson provides enough offense will be one of the questions the team will consider if it explores a signing.

Paul Millsap
The Nuggets will need to decide on Millsap soon, as he has a team option worth $30 million for next season.

Millsap averaged 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds for the second-seeded Nuggets, who eliminated the Spurs from the postseason. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but the price to bring Millsap back to the Mile High City might be a bit too much.

Millsap is one of the better frontcourt defenders, and he’s not afraid to shoot the 3. If he’s in a lineup with Aldridge, he could see plenty of opportunities from beyond the arc.

The question: How much would it cost to add Millsap? He should have a fair share of suitors capable of paying him more than the mid-level exception. But if Millsap has an interest in the Spurs, this is a potential addition that could be intriguing.

Stanley Johnson
Since the trade deadline, Johnson’s name has always been linked to the Spurs. Assistant GM Brian Wright was in Detroit’s front office when Johnson was drafted eighth overall in 2015.

Some are still trying to understand what Johnson, who’s 6-foot-7, is at this level. A guard? Small forward? He’s not the best shooter and is a streaky scorer, but he is also known as a good defender when he wants to compete. The good, or bad depending on perspective: Johnson just turned 23 last month.

Usually, teams will still attempt to develop a player of that age and mold him into something that fits their needs. Whether Johnson will go along with the plan has been the question many league execs have asked when discussing his services.

The talent is there, though. The Spurs might need to do a little convincing — not much — and if Johnson buys in, he could be a quiet steal when it’s all said and done.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Could Amir Johnson, right, be on the Spurs’ radar this offseason? (Steve Mitchell / USA Today)
Amir Johnson
Speaking of Johnsons, don’t forget about Amir. Johnson’s time with the Sixers, like that of Simmons, appears complete.

After agreeing to re-sign with Philly on a one-year deal last summer, Johnson played in only 51 games and his minutes dipped from 15.9 to 10.4 per game. As a reserve, Johnson averaged 3.9 points and 2.9 rebounds.

There has always been some intrigue with the Spurs and Johnson. The team inquired about signing Johnson since his days in Toronto and have kept a close eye on him while he played with the Boston Celtics, league sources told The Athletic. But the time to add Johnson, 32, never seemed to align until now.

Off the bench, Johnson would provide another vet who could serve as an energy guy — play defense, set screens, rebound, convert a few putbacks and call it a day. He’s also close with DeRozan and Gay, as the trio played together with the Raptors.

Robin Lopez
This would be a connection-based signing. The connection here is Aldridge, who played with Lopez in Portland. Aldridge loved playing with Lopez, who has always been respected around the NBA as a serviceable big man.

“I like him (with the Spurs) a lot,” the Eastern Conference scout said.

Lopez is a good paint protector and underrated passer, and some look at him as a better rebounder than his brother, Brook, especially on the offensive end. With the Spurs, Lopez would be able to once again play next to Aldridge at times and do what he does best — defend, pass, rebound and set screens.

Lopez, 31, shouldn’t cost too much and could be the right vet-minimum candidate for the Spurs, who need more frontline help with only Aldridge, Jakob Poeltl and youngster Chimezie Metu as the big men currently on the roster for next season.

big city slam (Spottie), Monday, 24 June 2019 19:31 (eleven months ago) link

Dang thanks

Spurs have a complete roster already and that full MLE should get them a decent vet. Ariza, wes matthews, or Jeff green would fit some me needs on the wing. they lacked for defense last year but not cool with people who can’t hit outside shots given their personnel.

hollow your fart (m bison), Monday, 24 June 2019 19:39 (eleven months ago) link

Millsap seems like a fantasy unless they trade Aldridge

hollow your fart (m bison), Monday, 24 June 2019 19:40 (eleven months ago) link

two weeks pass...

Over the course of the 76ers-Celtics battles of the past couple years, Sixers fans have grown quite familiar with Al Horford’s game. You likely know what to expect the 12-year veteran — who surprised the league when free agency opened by agreeing to a four-year deal with Philadelphia — to bring to his new team.

But Horford’s new role figures to be very different than it was with Boston. Specifically, he’ll play quite a bit of power forward next to Joel Embiid. That raises important questions: Does the 33-year-old provide enough spacing at the four, next to Embiid? Is Horford capable of attacking closeouts off the dribble? Can he defend sleek fours nightly?

Then there’s the other part of Horford’s role — his minutes at center, when Embiid is on the bench. How will Horford’s time at the five change things for Ben Simmons?

Let’s dive into the film and see how Horford fits with Philadelphia’s young cornerstones.

The Horford-Embiid pairing

As Rich Hofmann broke down last week, the Sixers will likely stagger Embiid and Horford’s minutes some, but the new duo will still have to share the floor for a minimum of around 15 minutes per night. That won’t be an entirely new challenge for Horford, who has played power forward throughout his career. But he’s never shared the floor with a high-volume post-up player like Embiid.

Ensuring proper post-spacing for Embiid is paramount, and in that sense, Horford is not the perfect fit. While accuracy has never been an issue with Horford’s shot, there’s some concern over whether he has a quick-enough release to get his shot off over scrambling defenders, and the ability to blow by those defenders off the dribble. Without those things, opponents will simply double-team off of Horford and bet that they can recover.

The former is a legitimate concern, as Horford attempted only one 3-pointer with a defender within four feet of him all of last season, per NBA.com. That number sounds scarier than it is — for reference, Dario Saric only attempted 24 such shots in 2017-18 — but Horford’s slow release could still cause problems.

Being adept at both putting the ball on the deck and attacking the rim should help Horford compensate. Underrated in this sense, he’s often able to leave defenders in the dust and glide in for tough finishes.

Horford’s ability to pump fake and go should keep the Sixers’ offense flowing, and mitigates the damage of his tendency to opt out against tight contests. Horford is also a smart, controlled passer out of these situations, and a good finisher.

Again, though, the fit here is imperfect. Embiid’s previous partners at power forward — Saric, Ersan Ilyasova, Tobias Harris — are more prolific from 3 than Horford. The Sixers have to hope that Horford’s driving ability, along with some increased willingness to shoot, will hold things together.

Horford’s fit on the defensive end next to Embiid is much clearer. With Horford’s size, mobility and intelligence, the Sixers are poised to be a top five defensive team this coming season.

His ability to defend fours against small-ball lineups might concern some. Whom does Horford defend when the Clippers play Paul George at power forward? How about when Boston plays Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward in the same lineup?

For my money, Horford is switchable enough to stay afloat against those lineups, even though it’s not ideal. Chasing players like Hayward or George will be difficult, but Horford is excellent at surviving in isolations.

Many good teams are going to throw small-ball lineups with dynamic perimeter scorers at the four at Philadelphia. A lot hinges on Horford’s ability to guard — and punish — them on the offensive end. It’s a battle we’ll track all year; my bet is Horford handles it decently well.

The Horford-Embiid pairing will have its challenges on both ends, but I think it will be a fruitful partnership. Horford has hinted a few times that he prefers playing power forward over center, and he certainly has the skills to do it. The defensive upside is incredible, and with any increased willingness to shoot, the offense should flow just fine.

The Horford-Simmons pairing

In recent years, the Sixers have coveted players like Horford — stretch bigs with the ability to play the four or five. They loved that dynamic with Ilyasova in 2017-18, and tried to replicate it with Mike Muscala this past year, but it didn’t work out. Now, they’ve got Horford.

Much of the value in having a stretch five — and perhaps the reason Philadelphia has targeted this type of player — comes in how much it helps Simmons. For starters, it opens things up tremendously in transition. Many teams try to form a shell at the free-throw line to impede Simmons in the open floor. But with Horford, they’ll have to think twice. He’ll be able to waltz into trailing 3s should teams have their big men stationed at the free-throw line, as Embiid does here.

Horford’s threat in pick-and-pops will help Simmons to operate more in pick-and-rolls, as bigs can’t play drop coverages against Horford. It would also open things up for Simmons to play as the roll man with guards, with Horford spacing the floor in the corner.

Defensively, lineups with Horford and Simmons offer a ton of versatility, and the Sixers will be able to switch everything, if they want. The team has always hemorrhaged points on defense when Embiid sits, but that should no longer be the case.

With Horford as the de facto backup center, we’re going to learn a lot about Simmons. Over the past two years, the Sixers have always remained solid when Embiid plays without Simmons, but they disintegrate when Simmons plays without Embiid. Much of that could be blamed on the Sixers’ dreadful backup-center play over the past two seasons. With Horford in the fold, Simmons no longer has that excuse. If the on/off numbers tell the same story this year, it will not be a good look for Simmons.

All things considered, Horford’s fit with Embiid seems less than perfect, but his fit with Simmons — with Horford as the backup center, at least — should be tremendous. The oversized lineups with limited shooting will have their challenges. But with Horford’s unselfishness and intelligence, along with an uptick in attempts from 3, the upside is enormous.

reggae mike love (polyphonic), Wednesday, 10 July 2019 18:41 (ten months ago) link

thanks. that kind of reinforces my thoughts on Horf in Philly; a lot depends on Simmons being able to step up to 20/10 territory

Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Wednesday, 10 July 2019 18:53 (ten months ago) link

HOUSTON – If you took a quick peek at Daryl Morey’s Twitter timeline these past few days, you’d never know the Houston Rockets general manager was stuck in the eye of a geopolitical storm just a few weeks ago.

There was a series of three tweets on Thursday promoting the start of this Rockets regular season, followed by more hoops-themed tweets on Friday and even a baseball tweet sent on Sunday.

“(Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit) Cole is going to channel this guy tonight,” he wrote just hours before the Astros’ Game 5 victory in the World Series, and above a picture of famed rapper M.C. Hammer performing his 80s hit, Can’t Touch This.

All in all, it’s pretty light social media fare. It doesn’t take a Rockets scientist to figure out this is all by design.

Morey is getting back to the basketball again, weeks after his “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong” tweet on Oct. 4 sparked a wave of backlash from the Chinese government and forced the NBA to face uncomfortable questions about its own values and how they reconcile (or perhaps don’t) with the endless pursuit of the almighty dollar. His Rockets are in the early stages of learning how to make the most of Russell Westbrook, the former Oklahoma City Thunder star who Morey landed via trade back in July and who will face his old team for the first time on Monday night at the Toyota Center.

There are plenty of rival executives and owners around the NBA who would like to hear from Morey on the China-Hong Kong front, but he clearly has no plans to address it beyond the two tweets he sent explaining his side back on Oct. 6. Rockets officials have made it clear that Morey is free to speak on the matter if he so pleases, but he will instead move on.

Which brings us to this interview.

Three months before his retweet heard ’round the world, Morey pulled off one of the summer’s many stunners by landing the former MVP in Westbrook, who has four seasons and $171.1 million combined left on his deal (with a player option for 2022-23). The cost was substantial: Chris Paul (three seasons, $124 million combined left with a player option for 2021-22), two protected first-round picks (2024 and 2026, both protected 1-4), and picks swaps in 2021 (protected 1-4 and, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, OKC can swap with the Clippers pick or the Miami pick) and 2025 (protected 1-20).

The end result, as he discussed with The Athletic after declining to address the NBA’s China controversy, came after a five-day stretch of negotiating while at summer league in Las Vegas that Morey describes as the “most intense” of any deal he has ever done. Considering the reputation he has earned in these past 12 years, that’s no small statement.

Morey, who began heading the Rockets front office in 2007, is widely known as one of the most aggressive executives in the league. Yet after two banner seasons with Paul, in which they came so close to getting past the then-mighty Golden State Warriors, this was the kind of franchise-altering trade that had to be studied from every angle before the final call was made.

With Paul returning to town Monday and Westbrook wearing Rockets red now after spending his first 11 seasons in Thunder blue and orange, and reuniting with his old Thunder buddy in James Harden, Morey agreed to discuss the deal that will have everything to do with the league’s power structure for these next few seasons. The sides verbally agreed while Morey was taking an Uber to UNLV to watch a Rockets’ summer league game, and so it was that he turned around and headed back to the hotel with his staff to handle all the paperwork.

How close was it to not getting done? That same day, Morey had called Harden to tell him the deal was off. And then it was on again.

Morey and I spoke twice about the deal in recent days, with the first time coming on Friday and the second on Sunday.

Friday, one day after the Rockets fell 117-111 to Milwaukee at home

So on the decision to bring Russ to town, I wondered specifically about the style clash (between Paul and Westbrook) and how that came into account. For the last several years, you have this formulaic approach where you drill down on taking threes or being at the rim. But with Russ, the nature of his game is more helter-skelter, faster paced; he’s going to live in the midrange a little bit. How did you process all of that as you broke this deal down and how does it change who you guys are on that end?

Yeah, we thought – and you mentioned it a little bit – we thought we needed to add someone who might have an extra gear. While we were a very good team – and I’ve actually been asked, ‘Is this the best Rockets team?’ and I think we have a chance at that, but I do have to point to our team a few years ago, which won more games than very few teams in history at 65 (regular season wins), so we’ve got a ways to prove that we’re as good as that team that came very close. But with Russell here, I think we have a shot to be the best Rockets team since I’ve been here, and maybe since the championship teams (in 1994 and 1995), but we’ve got a long ways to go to show that.

Step One would have been to beat a very likely Finals team in Milwaukee in Game One, so that was frustrating. But in terms of Russell, he’s got an extra gear for key moments. I think we saw that in the fourth quarter last night, where he had some plays that very few people in NBA history can make in terms of putting pressure on the D’ and disrupting on the other end as well.

You know, early in the season, you’re almost looking for trends more than just one game results – like, ‘What’s to come?’ and what things we need to watch. And we’ve had some real downer Game Ones in the past, where you feel like you’re putting your fingers in the dyke and trying to shore up issues. I saw a lot of things to build on more than things that we needed to shore up (in Game One).

What about the personal dynamics here? Today was the first time I got eyes on him in this environment. I even told him how strange he looked in red. It’s still kind of surreal that he’s playing for your team. But I also have some comical memories about coming to town in the (2016-17) season when he won MVP, and you and (former Rockets executive/current Minnesota GM) Gersonn (Rosas) giving me a hard time because of who I voted for that year (Westbrook)…

Morey, who made it clear at the time that he thought Harden should have won the award and that the widespread focus on Westbrook averaging a triple-double represented flawed logic, laughs…

I would still give you a hard time on that. For me, James has been the MVP for multiple years now. I don’t mind James losing the MVP, but I don’t like him losing it to, you know, simple labels (laughs again), which I felt like happened that year. It was never anything against the player. It was really more like – maybe not you personally – but the way many (voters) justified their pick that year I thought was a departure from how it had been selected in the past. It really had more to do with how people were viewing it than the player, so…

Which I get. But now that he’s on your squad, I’m curious about the relationship aspect with the two of you guys. Do you feel like you’ve gotten to know him in these past few months? What has he been like within your culture?

Yeah, he’s been refreshing. He’s been like a lot of players, where you hear stories and narratives and obviously he’s in the past maybe had some contentious relationships with media and things like that. So you never know what to think, but he’s been a dream. I think there is still a legitimate question to figure out: Does chemistry come from winning, or does chemistry drive winning? I still think that’s a reasonable question (as was widely reported last summer, the Rockets tension had been on the rise before the deal). And as usual, the people on the extremes are probably wrong. The answer is probably in the middle. But if chemistry drives winning, then we’re in very good shape this year. We’ve got a vibe going, and obviously it’ll be tough with losses like (the season opener against the Bucks) and for sure going forward we’re going to have some losses – two in row, and hopefully not three in a row – but in terms of chemistry and that, we’ve got a really good thing going right now.

You chewed on this deal a lot, all through summer league. I remember being in Vegas and noticing the vibe had changed with your Rockets group, and (Athletic beat writer) Kelly (Iko) mentioned that to me at the time when he saw the group acting a certain way.

(Laughs) You were picking up hope, or whatever?

Exactly. But here’s the question: When it comes to big-time trades, (Lakers GM) Rob Pelinka was quoted recently about the (Anthony Davis trade with New Orleans in June), and he talked about how a lot of times deals live on the edge. And I wondered about this one, if it had that element to it.

Yeah, it did. It did. Mostly in the back and forth with Oklahoma City, and they did a really good job. It’s never easy to get a deal done. The difference between almost done and done feels like more than the distance between anything else – like, it’s more than half, for sure. But once we knew that the opportunity was there, there was a lot of – obviously – discussion, debates, analysis, back and forth with OKC. So there was a lot – a lot going on. It was a very intense period.

Actually, when people tell me now that it was only five days from when we knew there was a chance to when it happened, it felt like two months honestly. Like, it was a really, really intense period. I’ve talked about it being the biggest risk…but people, I think, misinterpreted that I meant Russell (was the risk). But I meant more like – whenever you give up a significant chunk of your future, it’s (a risk). If I have any job – and sometimes I’m the only one worried about it – it’s how do I properly balance the present and the future. When you’re giving up future (assets), I need to be really careful that I’m making sure the franchise is protected for (owner) Tilman (Fertitta) and things like that.

When you call it intense, where does it fall in context for you in terms of intense transactions you’ve done?

Well, prior to the deal happening, it was by far the most. I’d say the Chris Paul deal that got canceled (by the NBA)was the most intense after (the deal), but prior to a deal, yeah. I don’t think anything was close, actually.

What were the main moving parts that might have pushed this thing one way or the other. I’ve heard you guys had to look hard at Russ’ health history, and all the procedures that he’s had and chew on the question of how that projects going forward. You have to look at Chris’ age and where he’s going. There are so many layers to this, what was the short list for you?

Well yeah, you named a few, so for sure those. The quality of the drafts you’re giving up, the swaps and what value to place on those, what years for the picks, because there was a lot of back and forth on that. How many picks? Other elements, other players maybe. It’s honestly – you could analyze it forever, and we came damn close, it felt like.

Whenever you’re making a big investment – we obviously made a big investment in Chris (by giving him a four-year, $160 million deal in the summer of 2018), and we don’t do those without everyone being comfortable and feeling like it’s the right move. And then obviously, this is a big investment in Russell. Again, any time there’s a big investment, if I have any job it’s to make sure that those investments are quality investments and increase our championship odds. That’s really the job, more than anything else. Really, nothing else was worked on for multiple days by, you know – all hands on deck.

Sunday, one day after the Rockets downed New Orleans 126-123 at home

What can you share, if anything, about the part James played and how that unfolded? How much teamwork was there between the two of you here?

Yeah, a lot of teamwork. I mean, with James at a high (communication) level, and obviously he felt like (Westbrook) could be a good fit here. He was curious if there was a way to do it where we could keep everyone and not have to give up anything (laughs). Unfortunately the math of the deal required Chris going out, unfortunately.

Just to make sure I’m hearing you there, James wanted to know if there was a way of doing it without losing Chris?

Yeah, because I mean his mind is always (going) first to ‘How (can we be) completely stacked?’ So I had to sort of explain. He gets it roughly, but obviously he leaves the details to us. Besides the high level (talks) where he thought that Russ would be a great fit here, there’s not a ton of interaction after that point. He knows there’s a back and forth, just like we respect what he does I think he respects what we do and he sort of leaves the execution to us.

I kept him appraised, because it felt like it was going to fall apart and back together a few times there. When I let him know it probably wasn’t going to happen, he was good. He understood. He said, ‘Hey, if there’s a way to make it happen, let’s do it,’ but he understands that you can’t just snap your fingers and make things happen in the NBA. No one is out there trying to help us. It’s always a dynamic when you’re trying to get the deal done. The good thing is we have a long relationship with him. And seven years in, he gets how it works and leaves it mostly to us to do our jobs once he gives the high level (feedback of) ‘Hey, I played with this guy. He’d be a good fit.

What was the timestamp on when you told him it wasn’t going to happen?

I mean the day it happened, I thought it wasn’t going to happen. I talked to James that day, and he obviously was disappointed but was understanding.

So I’ve assumed that this all began with James and Russ connecting, first and foremost. And the word has to get relayed to you that Russ wants to come. In what form did that cross your desk?

Yeah, I mean I try not to get into that because I have to be careful that we’re never getting involved with other team’s players. So whenever I talk to him, I keep it a high level (by asking) ‘Do you think he’d be a good fit here?’

So last one for you, here. I wanted to get your read on the interview Tilman did with (Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd) recently, and the inference he made that near the finish line of the deal – and this was his wording – the front office got “maybe a little weak at the end.” The way he framed it, I thought it was fair to see how that hit you.

Yeah, no I think all of that comes down similar to what I answered before, which is that the thing that was difficult in this trade isn’t getting Russell Westbrook, obviously. You’ve already seen how great of a fit he is. It’s really what you have to give up. You only have so many resources that you can use to improve the team, continue to improve the team and also protect the franchise if, in the future, things aren’t going as well, and you have draft picks to rebuild and things like that. So yeah, at various points of the deal we thought that what we were giving up was very challenging to agree to. My sense is that’s what Tilman was referring to is the price in draft picks, primarily, and maybe other things – other sort of medium level things that we had to work through.

Where were you when the deal got done?

I was in an Uber on the way to our game at summer league. …I turned around when we got to Thomas & Mack, and then turned around and went right back to the hotel to finalize all the details.

de-mamba mentality (Spottie), Monday, 28 October 2019 18:41 (seven months ago) link

Thx! Interesting that Harden was making an effort (or at least Morley says he was) to figure out how to keep cp3. Having watched both nu-rockets games so far, they look like a much more interesting team to me. am appreciating the refs appearing to not let harden dictate each and every foul so far this season.

Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Monday, 28 October 2019 18:55 (seven months ago) link

three weeks pass...

Scott Brooks is building an offense from scratch … for the first time

By Fred Katz Oct 21, 2019 11
WASHINGTON — Scott Brooks is familiar with his critics, and he knows when they’re playing the hits.

He rolls the ball out for his point guards and waits for them to handle the complicated stuff. Or maybe his offenses are unimaginative. Or his attacks are prone to one-on-one play and top heaviness.

Then again, so has been his personnel.

Brooks is entering his 10th full season as an NBA head coach and yet, never before this year has he gone into training camp with a roster like the one he has now. For the first time, he won’t be building a scheme around a superhumanly athletic, ball-dominant, pick-and-roll reliant point guard. Every other autumn, Russell Westbrook in OKC or John Wall in D.C. — arguably the NBA’s two most physically imposing floor generals throughout Brooks’ career — have dictated at least some of the team’s style for their coach.

But oh, how things have changed today.

“You play to the talent that you have,” Brooks said. “And I had incredible point guards who are dynamic.”

“Had” is the operative word here. Westbrook is a character from Brooks’ past and Wall will miss potentially all of this season with an Achilles rupture.

Sure, Bradley Beal, now Washington’s best player, is a deserving All-Star, but he operates more off the ball than Wall. And when he has it, he doesn’t handle for quite as long. The newly signed Ish Smith, who will start at point guard, doesn’t require a particular kind of system.

Brooks has coached so long that he began his career when George W. Bush was still president. LeBron James was in Cleveland … the first time. The basketball community has a decade’s worth of data on him — and finally, because the veteran coach is missing a commanding presence to corner him into a style, it is about to find out how a baked-from-scratch Brooks system truly runs. With all five preseason games done, he’s configured an offense that (if it goes as planned) is one his critics might actually enjoy.

No rolling the ball out for his point guard. Less isolation. Less of the one-man-creates-all mentality that’s consumed Brooks’ offenses for as long as we can all remember. It might look good. It might not. But at last, the NBA world will get to see what a raw Brooks offense, one that isn’t necessarily influenced for him, will look like.

“It’s great, because we have a group that wants to hoop. It’s plain and simple,” Beal said. “We don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Everybody knows their role. Everybody is a capable shooter in here, too. So the way our offense is ran, everybody will have ample opportunities to get shots and get the ball.”

It’s not like Brooks has had Wall by his side in recent years. The point guard missed half of the 2017-18 season and the final 50 games of last year. But the Wizards didn’t know those injuries were coming. They went into training camp during each of those seasons thinking Wall was good to go. And there’s something to be said for that.

A coach can change some plays midseason or reconfigure roles if unexpected performance forces his hand, but any NBA coach will tell you: No one can implement a completely new system midway through the year. It’s why coaches need training camp.

“It’s no fun having John out the last two now going on three years, missing 40 (games) and 50 and then potentially a lot of the season now. That’s no fun. I’d rather have him,” Brooks said. “The last two years, I didn’t go in, like ‘OK, we’re gonna design something with John not here. Be ready, guys. This game is when he’s going to get hurt.’ So, we had to adjust on the fly. And it’s hard, especially when you have a John type of point guard, who’s so great at what he does.”

And so, here’s Brooks using training camp and five preseason games to show off a more obvious ‘systemy’ system than he ever has.

So far — and yes, “so far” means during the preseason, a time when any and all prognostications and profundities should stay locked up — the offense has changed quite a bit.

The Wizards aren’t running as much pick-and-roll unless it’s with Beal and Thomas Bryant. How could they? They’re missing Wall, one of the few non-3-point dependent point guards still reliant on a big man coming to screen for him up top as his remaining three teammates spread to the arc. Westbrook remains another.

They include far more dribble hand-offs, especially with Bryant, who’s become a featured part of the offense. There’s more weak-side cutting, which is easier to implement when scoring isn’t as reliant on one guy. Passes to passers are more common. Big men are stretching to the 3-point line constantly. Brooks wants guys heaving up triples at all costs. The Wizards shot the second-most 3s per game during the preseason.

“(We) actually (did) better than I thought we would do with all the new guys and all the players that don’t have a lot of NBA experience,” Brooks said. “I thought it was gonna be more spells of not being able to generate enough scores, but we’ve had a lot of good moments.”

Let’s be clear about this: The Wizards are not better without the healthy version of Wall. They’re playing this way because they have no other choice. Brooks spent 10 years putting the ball in the hands of Westbrook and Wall because he felt that was the best way to use them. At a basic level, it was.

At an even more basic one, once he gets past the sympathy he has for Wall dealing with such a serious injury and the low spirits he has for himself and the organization going through most or all of the year without a five-time All-Star, there has to be something fun about outlining new schemes with a new roster.

This isn’t to say Brooks is on the verge of spinning an offense reminiscent of the 2014 Spurs. It’s merely to point out that we have 10 years of evidence showing how Brooks handles a specific kind of situation. And now, he’s in a new one.

At the core of every NBA coach is a basketball nerd. If, after all this, the Wizards still spend a season looking stagnant, then those classic Brooks criticisms will come roaring back. But if this works better than expected, Brooks’ nerdy side will force a question that should be asked about pretty much any coach: How much of what we think of him is because of his coaching, and how much of what we think is because of his situation?

“We’re gonna have to play scrappy,” Brooks said. “Our identity has to be ball moving and everybody has to touch it. We all know Brad is gonna be critical to that success. He’s gonna touch it enough. But we gotta get everybody else involved, as well.”

de-mamba mentality (Spottie), Thursday, 21 November 2019 21:09 (six months ago) link


Clay, Thursday, 21 November 2019 23:48 (six months ago) link

thought this was really interesting and convincing

k3vin k., Friday, 22 November 2019 03:08 (six months ago) link

When can we say an NBA rule change failed?

I can think of four potential reasons: When the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, when the officials have difficulty calling it correctly, when it encourages behavior it was originally designed to discourage, or when it takes the game in a worse direction.

In the case of the three-shot foul, we’re a perfect 4-for-4. It’s a bad rule, badly enforced, that encourages bad behavior and stylistic monotony.

The three-shot foul has been around almost as long as the 3-pointer itself. At first, it wasn’t a big deal – three-shot fouls were extremely rare. Two things changed that. First, players slowly realized that the three-shot penalty was a completely outsized response to a minor crime and modified their behavior accordingly – beginning with the exaggerated side leg kicks of Reggie Miller. This move, theoretically outlawed in 2012, remains a popular way of duping refs into a three-shot foul.

Worsening matters, recent points of emphasis from the league have made it illegal to breathe on shooters increased protection for shooters, essentially guaranteeing the shooter no contact from takeoff to landing, no matter how bizarre a path he took en route. That change, in particular, has brought on a barrage of three-shot fouls from shooters jumping forward and adjusting their landing point to collide into a closing defender, or dangling legs at the last minute, hoping to catch a body.

It’s not just James Harden either. Here’s Bryn Forbes, for instance, coming to a nice controlled stop in transition and then suddenly vaulting forward on his shot and jackknifing his legs so they can catch Kevin Huerter.

If you want more examples, believe me, I have them.

My modest proposal is that the league goes back to a two-shot foul penalty for the first 46 minutes of the game. In the last two minutes, when several other minor rules also change, it can keep the three-shot foul to prevent egregious intentional fouling by teams with three-point leads.

Why would this improve the game? Let’s go through the weaknesses, one by one.

Penalty doesn’t fit the crime
This is by far my biggest gripe, and it’s a crucial component to understanding every other reason the three-shot foul is awful. I don’t think a lot of people fully understand how absurdly rich the 3-shot reward is for a common shooting foul.

Pardon me while I take you through some my math. It won’t be terrible, I promise.

First things first — 3-pointers barely produce any more points than 2-pointers, on average. The league hits 35.2 percent of its 3s and 52.0 percent of its 2s last season, meaning both shots produced nearly identical expected returns – 1.04 points for 2s, 1.06 points for 3s.

From that perspective, giving an additional shot for a shooting foul on a 3-pointer compared to a 2-pointer makes no sense — the shooter wasn’t likely to score more points on the initial shot.

But the return on a shooting foul for these types is now radically different. Using league averages, the expected return on a 3-shot foul is 2.33 points – three times the league average free throw rate (76.6 percent), plus a small dollop for the possibility of an offensive board on a missed third shot. (Only about 11 percent of missed free throws are rebounded by the offense, and only 23.9 percent of them are missed in the first place. Ballpark the average ROI on an offensive board is 1.2 points, leading to whopping 0.03 point increase. In reality, teams try much harder on the offensive glass when awful foul shooters are at the line, but we’ll ignore that for the sake of methodological clarity here).

That contrasts with 1.56 points on a two-shot foul.

In reality, the ROI on a 3-shot foul is even better because of who draws those fouls. News flash: Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard aren’t getting fouled shooting 3s. Only threatening 3-point shooters draw these whistles, and most of them are very good free-throw shooters too. Additionally, second and third free throws convert at a slightly better than than the first one. As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently reported, players league-wide shot 87.1 percent on the third shot of a three-shot foul last season, compared to just 80 percent on the first attempt.

As a result, the expected ROI on 3-shot fouls isn’t 2.33 points, it’s actually more like 2.56 … a full point higher than the two-shot foul.

In fact, check this out: That return on a three-shot foul is so excessive that, on average, committing one is about as bad as committing a flagrant! The second shot on a flagrant can’t be rebounded, so the two shots on average are worth 1.53 points for the offense. The team then inbounds on a dead ball, which is the lowest efficiency initial condition for offense – yielding 1.07 points per possession last season, according to our Seth Partnow. That brings our total for the trip to 2.60 points.

So a three-shot foul hands the offense 2.56 points on average … and a flagrant gives it 2.60. It’s basically the same. Yikes.

To see how extreme a penalty it is, however, you need to understand not just the absolute value, but also the marginal value. A typical possession was worth 1.10 points in 2018-19 (I will use last year’s numbers for this exercise given the early stage of the season). As noted above, the average two-point shot was worth 1.04 (the league shot 52.0 percent on 2s), and an average 3-point shot was worth 1.06 (the league shot 35.3 percent on 3s). Offensive boards added an additional 0.13 points to the expectation on 2s and 0.18 on 3s. So that’s a marginal value of 0.07 points for a 2 (1.04+0.13-1.10), and 0.14 points for a 3 (1.06 + 0.18 – 1.10).

But a three-shot foul? Not only does it more than double the value of a possession, from 1.10 points to 2.56 points, but also its marginal value of 1.56 points dwarfs that of common fouls. Let’s see here how a 3-shot foul changes things:

Marginal value of shot types, 2018-19
Three-shot foul 1.56
Two-shot foul 0.46
Average three-point attempt 0.14
Average two-point attempt 0.07
A two-shot foul produces a 0.39-point marginal return relative to just letting the guy shoot. That’s a fair penalty. The return on a three-shot foul, however, is 1.42 — nearly FOUR TIMES as much.

Again, the outsized penalty is a huge reason for this rule’s awfulness, because it influences all kinds of other behavior. A lot of it is subtle — for instance, here’s Damian Lillard with an attempt he would never consider if it weren’t for the fact that he might get three shots. Certainly he’s not trying to make a 3-point shot here.

This happens a lot, actually. A huge chunk of three-shot fouls are the result of players playing against the rules rather than the opponent — either guards like Lillard leaning into an ugly heave after turning the corner on a screen, or catch-and-shoot specialists kicking a leg out to reach out and tag a defender. Maybe he doesn’t get the call every time, but it’s the outsized return that makes the attempt worth the investment.

And here’s the beautiful basketball that same play yields when it doesn’t work:

It even impacts areas you wouldn’t consider — such as the coach’s challenge. From an ROI basis, far and away the best use of it is to challenge a leg-kick three-shot foul and turn 2.56 points into an offensive foul — to the point that coaches should probably save their challenge for three quarters in case one of these comes up.

More contact, not less
Because of the outsized return on 3-shot fouls, and that players KNOW about the outsize return, they’ve modified their behavior accordingly. Rather than avoid collisions when they rise up for a jumper, smart players seek it out. As a result, a mission designed to protect shooters and reduce contact (and hopefully injuries) has had the unintended consequence of increasing it. Several players — not even elite ones — have quickly adopted the habit of kicking their non-shooting leg out and forward in hopes of attracting a three-shot foul, creating conditions for ankle sprains rather than removing them. It’s exactly what the league was originally trying to prevent.

It’s remarkable to see how much players’ behavior changes on 3-point jump shots versus two-point jump shots. The clip above with Forbes is a great example, but it’s not hard to find others. In fact, it’s not hard to find them with Bryn Forbes (or any other volume 3-point shooter, for that matter) … and you can actually see it the most in clips where players aren’t fouled. Here is Forbes searching out contact with his right leg, hoping he can tag Terrence Ferguson and create a 3-shot collision.

For a more egregious example, here is T.J. Warren’s submission into the pantheon, just praying he can get a piece of Cedi Osman with his right leg:

Now that you’ve seen it NOT work, here’s what it looks like when it does. Kelly Oubre was awarded three shots for this bit of ridiculousness:

More subtly, here’s Kemba Walker rising up with his left leg well behind him and behind the 3-point line. George Hill’s feet never totally cross the 3-point line, yet somehow “foul” Kemba’s left leg by being in position to receive Kemba’s love tap. For a right-handed shooter, this is, um, not natural:

For a more common example, it’s possible James Harden would have been fouled on this play by Dillon Brooks anyway, but he sticks out his left leg to make sure of it.

OK, fine, let’s talk about Harden
In particular, his left leg. Here’s another one. In real time it looks like Jimmy Butler annihilated him. Zapruder it and you see Harden rise up for a normal shot before he sees Butler and plays tag with his left leg.

And again, more blatantly, here he gets the Nets’ Taurean Prince with a piece of extended-leg absurdity only highlighted by Brooklyn’s monochrome court palette.

Finally, let’s give credit where it’s due. Shout out to Tyler Ford, who nabbed Harden here on his leg kick. Not all heroes wear capes. I don’t think it’s an accident that he made the call from behind the play and a bit away from it — the ref on the sideline is actually too close to see both the hands and feet of the shooter. More on that in a minute.

The Refs can’t call it correctly
Another unintended consequence of the three-shot foul is that it highlights how awful the officials are at calling it. It’s not their fault — it has to do with their position on the court and the impossibility of what’s asked of them.

We’re giving a huge reward on a play where a significant portion of the calls are just flat-out wrong.

You think I’m just going to pull more Harden clips? Think again. Here’s our very first three-shot foul of the season, an egregious leg kick by New Orleans’ Kenrich Williams that should have been an offensive foul (if not a flagrant); the dude basically tripped Pascal Siakam in midair.

Sideways leg kicks by shooters are very difficult for officials to see due to the geography of the court. We don’t want officials standing in the middle of it, for good reason. But most 3-point attempts either come from the corner, or from the top of the key — the two places an official standing at the coach’s box is mostly like to be looking from a straight-on vantage point. That gives them little to no depth perception to see if a leg is kicked sideways or straight out, making them suckers for preying shooters. We can’t always see it from the camera angle, either.

Props to Eric Dalen, who missed the Williams call above but nails Forbes with the left leg maneuver on a very difficult to see call here:

The other issue that comes up is that sometimes the officials are too close, particular on wing 3-point attempts. They can’t possibly be looking at both hands and feet when the players are right on top of them, so they have to guess. Here’s a clip where Tom Washington ends up with both the shooter and defender right in his lap and essentially has to blindly extrapolate whether the shooter’s leg got clipped. Combined with Harden’s left-leg voodoo, you can guess the result.

Before we finish, I should point out something else — I’m only pointing out one kind of error in these clips. Officials also struggle to correctly identify three-shot fouls for some of the same reasons I’ve listed above, something the Rockets outlined last spring before the Golden State series in their Magna Gripe-a missive to the league office. Again, these are huge calls (or misses) because the penalty is so severe.

Is this the game you want?
Hey, all you midrange jumper fans — now is your chance to chime in. All we’ve done with the three-shot foul is further incentivize every single team to tilt even more toward the same monolithic outcome of spreading the floor and shooting a ton of catch-and-shoot 3s.

With defenses disincentivized from challenging the shot, and the occasional super bonus of a 3-shot foul juicing expected returns from the strategy, teams would be crazy NOT to go in that direction. Anybody who wants to see some stylistic distinctions left in this league should at least be thinking about how to favor the 3-point shot a bit less. Changing the three-shot foul is one obvious, lightly intrusive means.

So, summing it all up: The three-shot foul creates a massively disproportionate penalty to the crime committed, on a play type that officials have difficulty calling correctly. It also likely creates more contact and injury potential rather than reducing it, and incentivizes both boorish behavior and stylistic monotony that make the game less entertaining. The league can go back to three shots in the final two minutes to eliminate intentional fouling incentives late in games; we already have several other rules that change in the last two minutes.

But for the first 46 minutes, it’s clearly a bad rule. And if you still don’t think so, let me leave you with this magical piece of basketball from Trae Young as my parting gift:

Simply changing it to a two-short foul would eliminate a lot of the worst incentives and cheap foul-hunting, while also introducing a more fair penalty for a shot that isn’t any more valuable than 2-pointer at the time of release.

The three-shot foul stinks. It’s time for it to go.

k3vin k., Friday, 22 November 2019 03:08 (six months ago) link

yup. open and shut case imo.

call all destroyer, Friday, 22 November 2019 03:19 (six months ago) link

I’m convinced

Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Friday, 22 November 2019 03:48 (six months ago) link

yeah i've always been in favor of doing that

ciderpress, Friday, 22 November 2019 04:21 (six months ago) link

two weeks pass...

anyone got a truehoop subscription?

de-mamba mentality (Spottie), Friday, 13 December 2019 21:18 (five months ago) link

dam lot of subscription basketball sites out there now

lag∞n, Saturday, 14 December 2019 04:38 (five months ago) link

lag∞n.nba imo

mookieproof, Saturday, 14 December 2019 04:48 (five months ago) link

feel the love

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 14 December 2019 04:50 (five months ago) link

one month passes...

NBA draft international scouting notebook: Lottery picks, more intel

Deni Avdija is a top-10 prospect in ESPN's 2020 NBA draft rankings. Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports
4:44 AM MT
Jonathan Givony
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What's the latest on the top international prospects in the 2020 NBA draft class?

ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony recently spent 10 days in Europe evaluating many of the most intriguing players teams are scouting for this season, as well as some notable young prospects for future drafts.

Here are the highlights of what he learned on his 14-game, nine-country trip across the Atlantic Ocean, including intel on projected lottery picks Deni Avdija and Killian Hayes, potential sleepers and more of the draft's risers and fallers abroad.

The prestigious L'Hospitalet tournament in Barcelona brought together eight junior teams featuring several prospects for the 2021 and 2022 drafts in a one-day, six-game stop.

The NBA Global Academy team went 5-0 with the deepest, most talented roster in the tournament. We've been following the NBA academy venture closely the past three years, and it's impressive to see how quickly it has been able to recruit and develop talent. Several players put themselves on the draft radar for scouts.


NBA mock draft: What would the likely lottery teams do at No. 1?

NBA draft rankings: The top 100 prospects for 2020
Tournament MVP Josh Giddey, a 6-foot-8 guard who operated as the academy's playmaker while often guarding 4s in small-ball lineups, showed his versatility with an impressive line of 19 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists per 40 minutes. Without great length, size or explosiveness, Giddey relies on feel, creativity and swagger to separate himself. You'll often see him throw an outlet pass the length of the floor with his off-hand off a live dribble and then make an impeccable read operating out of pick-and roll. His lack of traditional athleticism, streaky jumper, upright defensive stance and at-times inability to beat longer players off the dribble mean he'll likely have to win scouts over with productivity at higher levels. But he's improving rapidly, even if it might take him a few years to maximize his draft stock.

A smooth, 6-foot-5 off-guard with a strong frame, good athleticism and versatility, Mojave King proved to be the tournament's best perimeter shooter, knocking down 14 of his 29 3-point attempts in just more than 100 minutes of action. King historically has been happy to defer to others, but his ability to score in the open floor, hit clean jumpers, get teammates involved and make the right play is interesting, considering his youth and physical tools. The next step in his development will be for him to play with more aggressiveness on both ends of the floor and become a more dynamic ball handler.

Other notable players: Canadian wing Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Danish wing Gustav Knudsen, Serbian wings Nikola Radovanovic, Stefan Todorovic and Luka Tarlac, Uruguayan guard Agustin Ubal, Dutch wing Yannick Kraag, Senegalese wing Pape Sow and Spanish wing Miguel Allen Montesdeoca

Next, I caught 19-year old Cameroonian power forward Paul Eboua, who recently moved into the starting lineup in Italy's first division with some productive games. He has improved significantly after looking lost in the lowly second division last season, putting up maybe the best game of his career with a 20-point, 9-rebound, 3-steal outing in 36 minutes this month.

At 6-foot-8 with a chiseled frame, 7-foot-3 wingspan and explosive athleticism, Eboua has always had phenomenal physical tools. But now he's knocking down 3-pointers, attacking closeouts, operating as a lob threat and making basic passes. The game still moves too quickly for him at times on both ends, his hands aren't reliable enough, and he isn't always able to take advantage of his athleticism. Still, he didn't play basketball until age 14, and he has made impressive strides over the past year, despite not being in an ideal development situation.

Eboua is a legitimate second-round prospect who might be a good fit for a G League affiliate or stash in Europe for another year or two.

Several scouts were in attendance to watch 19-year-old Yam Madar and Hapoel Tel Aviv face Maccabi Ashdod. Madar is having an excellent season in the first division, and he put up an efficient 9 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 rebounds in 19 minutes with defensive energy in a victory.

A late-bloomer physically, Madar has good size, length and athleticism for a PG, but it will likely take several years for his frail frame to fill out before he's ready for the NBA. Nonetheless, he left a strong impression with his feel for the game, competitiveness, budding shooting ability and intangibles. Several executives said they hope he gets an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit in April.

Madar's quick feet and hands made it difficult for the opposing team to get into its sets, and he was subbed into the game late to get defensive stops. He has work to do tightening his ball-handling skills and gaining consistency on offense in the half court, but he is an excellent development situation. He looks like a safe bet to reach his full potential.

Despite being only 18 in his first season at the professional level with Oostende, Amar Sylla is playing a significant role in both the first division and the FIBA Champions League, starting every game at power forward and seeing 23 MPG. Those outsized demands seem to be taking a toll on the thin and inexperienced Senegalese big man, as he has hit a bit of a wall after several impressive showings in November and December. He fouled out in just 10 minutes in the game I watched, marking the first time he had done so this season.

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Sylla still managed to show what makes him an intriguing long-term prospect. He's arguably the most athletic big man in the 2020 draft class, blessed with incredible quickness and explosiveness. He has a chance to be a total game-changer on the defensive end, with his deep stance and ability to cover ground seamlessly while making plays above the rim. Offense can be an adventure for him, though, as his skill-level needs considerable work. His feel for the game is not particularly high, and he doesn't always play to his strengths. His 3-point shot has fallen in some games in which he has also been able to offer a presence as a rim-runner and offensive rebounder, but he has also had plenty of ugly performances. The coaching staff in Oostende is working to get Sylla to sprint the floor every time down the court, with mixed results.

Scouts didn't sound particularly discouraged, given that they have long viewed Sylla as a long-term project. He's the second-youngest prospect in ESPN's top 100 draft rankings. A patient team with a strong development infrastructure might be happy to let him develop in the G League until he's ready to contribute in the NBA. He's also being mentioned as a potential candidate for April's Nike Hoop Summit.

Next up: Carlos Alocen playing in a Champions League game against Falco. Alocen and his team, Zaragoza, are having a dream season in the Spanish ACB, currently in third place in arguably the strongest league in Europe. Alocen had a quiet game by his standards, but he played an important role late in his team's road win in a hostile environment.

At 6-foot-5, the 19-year-old brings excellent height for a point guard, even if he has a narrow frame, short wingspan and average athleticism. His strengths include tremendous basketball IQ, confidence and swagger. He passes with both hands, has tremendous vision in pick-and-rolls and shows terrific creativity with bounce passes. Scouts will want to see him improve his perimeter shot and overall half-court scoring, as he's shooting 28% from beyond the arc and 63% from the foul line. There's technically nothing wrong with his stroke, which instills some confidence that he'll figure out this part of his game in time. That's imperative for his NBA chances, as he struggles at times to finish in the paint and doesn't project as a plus defender.

Alocen isn't oozing with upside, but the fact that he's having such a productive season at his age on a winning team gives him a high floor and a solid chance to be selected (if he stays in the draft).

Deni Avdija played only 12 minutes against Alba Berlin in a Euroleague game for Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he showed all of his talent and then some, throwing in a pair of 3-pointers, leaking out for a transition finish, blocking two shots emphatically, making the extra pass in the half-court and displaying his defensive versatility. Early foul trouble and a bloody nose cut his night short, but it's easy to see that Avdija is hitting his stride and on an upward trajectory, something he backed up in his next game with a career high 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the Israeli league.

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Avdija has made real strides from a physical standpoint. He improved his body and athleticism so that he isn't overmatched at the highest levels of competition as a 6-foot-9 guard. He's playing almost strictly on the perimeter this season, seeing only a handful of minutes at the small-ball 4 position that -- as he continues to add bulk to his frame -- will likely be attractive to whatever NBA team drafts him. Defensively, Avdija has made a major upgrade to his intensity and consistency.

He is being asked to play a confined role offensively for a talented Maccabi squad in the midst of an outstanding season, rarely being utilized in situations where his ball-handling, court vision and creativity would shine. However, he drops enough glimpses of versatility, skill and feel to remind scouts of what makes him special, and he has shown as much in other settings.

Avdija's recent play and modern NBA fit -- combined with the struggles of the American prospects rated in front of him -- make him a player teams drafting early in the lottery will want to look at closely. He has hovered in the Nos. 5-6 range of our rankings all season and could get looks a little earlier than that, depending on how the lottery shakes out.

Potential lottery pick Theo Maledon is in the midst of an up-and-down season with Euroleague club ASVEL. NBA teams have been frustrated by Maledon's difficult situation from a minutes and opportunity standpoint on one of the slowest and most conservative teams in the league, so it was interesting to see Maledon have one of his most aggressive games of the season, scoring 13 points in 14 minutes while getting to the free throw line a season-high seven times. Scouts historically have criticized Maledon for passivity, making this performance encouraging, though Maledon's coach kept his minutes down.

One reason for Maledon's struggle to carve out a more prominent role is his regression as a shooter, with his percentages dropping from an excellent 38% from beyond the arc and 85% from the free throw line last season to 30% and 67% this season, respectively. Before the game, Maledon went through a long warm-up complete with floaters and a mix of jumpers, and he shot the ball extremely well. His mechanics look clean, and he has been aggressive and confident this season taking open shots. He shows some comfort shooting off a screen and flashes of being able to make step-backs.

On a team that wants to grind out the shot clock, it's understandable that Maledon has seen his production drop off. Considering that he isn't blessed with elite athleticism and has taken a step back this season as a playmaker, it's safe to say that NBA teams will want to see a lot more out of him on both ends before once again projecting him as a lottery pick, like they did before the season.

In Cholet, 6-foot-7 guard Abdoulaye N'Doye has blossomed into a highly versatile player in his draft-eligible season. N'Doye's club started the game down 12-0, at which point his coach, Erman Kunter, made the unconventional decision to bench his starting point guard, Michael Stockton, and put the ball in his young player's hands. That resulted in a simply outstanding first half in which N'Doye scored eight points and dished out six assists, not leaving the court for a second, something I had never seen at this level in my 17 years of international scouting.

After nearly being relegated last season, Cholet is in the midst of an outstanding season, thanks in large part to the integral role N'Doye plays in their switching defensive scheme. With his 7-foot-2 wingspan, N'Doye is tasked with defending opposing point guards, but he will frequently and successfully switch onto bigs in pick-and-roll. N'Doye plays with impressive maturity for his age (21), posting a 65% true shooting percentage and 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He lacks a degree of aggressiveness and could stand to ramp up his intensity a notch, but it was impressive to see his contributions in his team's eventual blowout win.

With physical measurements comparable to those of Robert Covington, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jerami Grant at the same age, N'Doye looks like a prototype NBA wing, provided he continues to improve his perimeter shooting. Surprisingly, N'Doye hasn't garnered significant attention from NBA teams thus far, as it seems most scouts have moved on to younger prospects after he took longer than expected to blossom. With 16 games plus a likely playoffs appearance left, expect that to change considering how productive he has been. The prospect of him being a first-round pick is certainly in the cards if he finishes the season well.

Killian Hayes is having an outstanding season in Germany. He appears to be in the best development situation of any of the potential lottery picks in Europe, as the Ulm organization is doing everything it can to help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA.

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According to several Ulm stakeholders, the team is investing $25 million to build an academy that they hope will become one of the premier destinations for elite youth prospects from Germany and abroad. They want Hayes to be the flag bearer for why future NBA players should sign in Ulm over other traditional hotspots. When Ulm started the season 2-11, with Hayes turning the ball over 57 times in his first 292 minutes, the team refused to pull him from the starting lineup. They've been rewarded for that with a much better version of Hayes the past two months, which has coincided with a 6-2 record in the German league -- and a huge increase in NBA decision-makers at each game.

Hayes struggled a bit in the game I attended, failing to make any real impact until the contest was well out of hand. He showed many of the flaws that scouts were already concerned about, regarding his average athleticism, struggles operating with his off-hand, inconsistent 3-point shooting, lack of midrange game and porous defense.

The appeal around Hayes revolves heavily around his excellent combination of size, length and strength for a PG, along with his playmaking ability. He's extremely shifty with the ball, using his strong frame, long strides, agility and polished footwork to get to his spots on the floor and throw in soft floaters off the glass. He sees the court well and gets his teammates involved, tossing an excellent 8.6 assists per 40 minutes. He has been shooting the ball very well off the dribble this season, despite a low release. When his motor is running hot, he can be a force putting pressure on the ball, getting in passing lanes and using his strong tools to crash the glass, though he isn't consistent in this area.

Hayes has clearly hit a great groove the past six-to-eight weeks. The caveat has been that he has mostly struggled against better competition, playing in a league that is fairly watered down after the top handful of teams and lacking athleticism comparable to that of NBA players. Pushing Hayes to his weaker right hand, trapping him in ball screens and forcing him to make decisions against length have made him uncomfortable, so we'll have to see if he's able to maintain his efficiency and productivity as the season moves on.

For now, Hayes has reestablished himself as a potential lottery pick, though the glut of point guards in this draft indicates that there is still a lot left to play for heading into June.

lag∞n, Thursday, 16 January 2020 18:23 (four months ago) link

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