Farewell, SI.com

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Today is my last day at SI.com. It has been a pleasure and an honor to have my name on this website, near those two letters — “SI” — for the last two years. They are iconic, and SI, in print and online, has long set the standard for sports journalism. The fact that Sports Illustrated — especially Paul Fichtenbaum, Brad Weinstein, Paul Forrester and Nicki Jhabvala — trusted me to write its NBA blog is something that is still almost beyond my understanding. Each of them has been crucial to whatever success this blog might have had in my time here. I owe each of them a giant thank-you, especially Brad, with whom I worked most closely over the full two years, and who does more for SI.com than any reader will ever know.

Another big thank-you to the readers who have digested my ramblings about this silly league, even through the considerable growing pains that come with starting a blog like this. It takes at least a year — for me, anyway — to really find your footing on this kind of platform. That first year is a whirlwind of mistakes, false starts and experiments in search of the proper tone, post schedule and volume. Even today, sometimes there is too much, sometimes too little. Thank you for your patience, your emails and your tweets, even the ones in which you accused me at varying times of hating every single one of the NBA’s 30 franchises. (I really only hate 14 of them.) Starting around Oct., 1, you’ll be able to find my writing here.

Thanks also to the countless writers of all types from whom I learn every day. I won’t name them here because it would take too long, and because I get to link to them every day and tell them how great they are whenever I bump into them at games, All-Star weekend, summer league, etc. There are so many smart people covering basketball, it’s staggering. Some work at big news outlets, some have started their own blogs and are scrambling for eyeballs. Some are funny, some know the cap as well as most assistant GMs and some can diagram Sacramento’s five most common offensive sets on a napkin in two minutes. All of them make us smarter about a very complex game, one that can rarely be reduced to simple declarations of who is “good” or “bad” or “clutch,” and if I’ve joined them in that effort, then The Point Forward has been a success.

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  • Published On 5:12pm, Sep 11, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • Big news for Seattle fans: The Seattle Times broke the news late last night/this morning that the City Council and Chris Hansen, a hedge fund manager raised in the Seattle area, have reached a tentative compromise for a plan to build a new basketball/hockey arena in Seattle. There is a lot to work out, including formal approval, an environmental report and Hansen actually buying an NBA team, but finding the right combination of public bonds, private financing and earmarked tax revenue is a huge step toward the return of the Sonics.

    • Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus (and a former Sonics employee) commends everyone involved with the Hansen plan for their patience and reserves some special praise for Wally Walker:

    Of course, Hansen isn’t the only one who has been patient. The members of the former Sonics ownership group that have joined Hansen also put aside the bitter disappointment of the way the team left. The hidden hero in this entire process was former Sonics president and CEO Wally Walker, who advised Hansen behind the scenes and was responsible for introducing him to the influential local businessmen who lent his investment group credibility. Walker, who voted against the sale of the team to the Oklahoma City group as a member of the board in 2006, has since worked tirelessly to help bring back the Sonics. That, not any of his decisions as general manager, should be his enduring legacy in Seattle.

    The rest of Pelton’s post is similarly eloquent and even-handed.

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  • Published On 4:12pm, Sep 11, 2012
  • Rudy Gay, John Wall and other players already on notice for 2012-13 season

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    It could be a make-or-break year for Rudy Gay in Memphis. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The offseason and trade deadline are good times to find players who are newly on notice — ones thrust into larger roles or facing increased pressure because of contract realities or a new roster context. Below is a look at players who fit the bill now. I’ve tried my best to de-emphasize guys entering the fourth years of their rookie contracts because they are the most obvious candidates, striving for extensions or fat new contracts in free agency. Also, I’ve already taken detailed looks at four such players — Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan and Stephen Curry – so there’s little need to repeat what has been said. In a broader sense, young players are always  “on notice” to show the expected refinements that come with age. The goal here is to spotlight some cases that are more interesting, for whatever reason.

    Already Got Paid

    Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies. The notion that Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay don’t mix well is a myth; Memphis played significantly better when the two were on the court together, per NBA.com. But Gay’s development as a defender, passer and pick-and-roll creator flatlined last season as he recovered from shoulder surgery, and his uneven performance against the Clippers in the playoffs was one of many small factors that added up to a seven-game loss for the Grizzlies. In a reloaded Western Conference, the Grizz have jumped over the luxury tax to see if this core, fully healthy, can emerge as a true title contender. If it can’t, the team figures to make a cost-cutting move. That won’t necessarily mean moving Gay and his rapidly increasing contract, but the 26-year-old small forward’s play will be huge determining factor in the path this franchise charts.

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  • Published On 2:26pm, Sep 11, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    Ricky Rubio is anticipating a December return date from a torn ACL. As always when it comes to injuries, I’d like to point you to Kevin Pelton’s essential research on ACL tears, recovery timetables and level of play among those who have suffered such injuries. Pelton sifts through every known ACL tear from the last dozen years, pinpoints typical recovery schedules and tests the conventional wisdom that a player rediscovers his pre-injury peak level of play in his second season after the initial injury.

    Shaquille O’Neal sat down for a one-on-one with the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, and when Dwight Howard’s name came up, Shaq couldn’t resist zinging Howard a bit. This has predictably made news, for some reason. I can’t think of many more tired NBA “stories” than Shaq’s strange obsession with tweaking Howard in the media.

    Tom Ziller of SB Nation names the very worst owners in the NBA, with each getting his own category of horribleness.

    Digging into the tape to figure out how Trevor Ariza can be a more productive spot-up player for a Washington team that really needs productive spot-up players.

    On the self-fulfilling nature of the Spurs’ “program.”

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  • Published On 3:26pm, Sep 10, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • Dan Devine of Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie blog, a longtime Knicks fan, swallows hard and reflects on Reggie Miller’s Hall of Fame induction. I’m guessing this post sets the record for most uses of the word “stupid” in any Ball Don’t Lie post.

    • Video of Jamaal Wilkes, another new Hall of Famer, destroying the Sixers in the clincher of the 1980 Finals with an array of cuts, rebounds and funky jumpers. This is mostly known as the game in which Magic Johnson scored 42 points while jumping center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but if you score 37 points in a title-clinching game, you get your own highlight reel — and an invite to Springfield.

    • Speaking of Silk: Which L.A. championship team ranks as the best of the bunch?

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  • Published On 5:01pm, Sep 07, 2012
  • Which players nearing the end of the road will get the Hall call?

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    Despite ankle injuries that limited his effectiveness in Orlando, Grant Hill is likely to make the Basketball Hall of Fame. (Kent Horner NBAE/Getty Images)

    Getting into the Hall of Fame is very hard for a certain kind of very good NBA player. Players who crack 21,000 points or finish with a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.0 or higher are generally locks, provided they’ve made the requisite number of All-Star teams and haven’t irreparably sullied their reputations. A couple of future candidates, especially Vince Carter, are going to challenge the primacy of those milestones in front of a voting committee that seems to value pioneering accomplishments, college success and membership on multiple championship teams as much as it does individual NBA numbers.

    The induction this year of Ralph Sampson hammers that home. Sampson played only nine NBA seasons. He barely cracked 7,000 career regular-season points and recorded precisely three seasons — his first three — in which he played 50 games and averaged at least 15 points per game. He did make four All-Star teams and hit an iconic shot to beat the Lakers in the 1986 Western Conference finals, and a series of unfortunate injuries limited him during his career and forced its premature end. Still, there is no standard under which an NBA-only Hall of Fame would admit Sampson. He’s in mostly because of his legendary college career at Virginia, where his play convinced NBA higher-ups he would revolutionize the game and had Celtics honcho Red Auerbach traveling to Charlottesville after Sampson’s freshman year to try to persuade the big fella to enter the 1980 draft — in which Boston had the top pick. (Auerbach failed, and the Celtics ended up using that pick to swing a franchise-altering megadeal that netted Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.)

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  • Published On 2:13pm, Sep 07, 2012
  • On a minimum contract, Andray Blatche is worth the risk for Miami, Brooklyn

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    Andray Blatche was amnestied by the Washington Wizards in July. (Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Andray Blatche is threatening to become for 2012 what Erick Dampier was to very late 2010 free agency — a borderline irrelevant big man with a semi-famous name whose free agency draws undue attention because it occurs during the NBA’s dead time. The Heat eventually signed Dampier, who played 815 regular-season minutes for the eventual runners-up, didn’t take the floor in the postseason and then reportedly partied in Miami with his former Dallas teammates after the Mavs’ Game 6 clincher.

    Miami is involved again this offseason, going head-to-head with the Nets to sign Blatche to a minimum salary deal that may end up as a fully non-guaranteed training camp invite. Twitter is already laughing at the Blatche Watch, and it doesn’t help that Blatche has made himself into something of an NBA punch line. His annual summertime “This is the year, I swear!” declarations are legendary blog post fodder. He made these hilariously optimistic inspirational T-shirts for his Washington teammates before last season. He sponsored and/or presented something called “Lapdance Tuesday.”

    On a more serious note, Blatche came from a difficult family background in the Syracuse area and was shot in a car-jacking during the early part of his NBA career. As chronicled here, Blatche has admitted getting too caught up in the NBA “nightlife,” and you can guess what that entails. His off-court issues have been real — and damaging.

    Things on the court haven’t been much better since his decent 2009-10 season, a campaign which inspired the Wizards to ink Blatche a cap-room contract extension hailed then as a creative means of locking up a versatile young big. He has battled both conditioning issues and nagging leg, foot and shoulder injuries, problems that can produce a hand-in-hand vicious cycle among less than diligent players. His effort level on both ends of the floor has shifted between “almost acceptable” and “totally embarrassing for everyone.” He he hoisted mid-range jumpers at near Nowitzkian rates over the last two seasons despite hitting less than a third of them — one of the worst accuracy rates for high-volume mid-range shooters. Blatche has never had the speed or body type to be a real defensive stopper, but he has too often been a stationary, reaching blob on that end, destructive to his team.

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  • Published On 3:26pm, Sep 06, 2012
  • Bulls resume extension talks with coach Tom Thibodeau prior to uncertain season

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    The offense in Chicago will be a concern for coach Tom Thibodeau (right) with Derrick Rose sidelined. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The Bulls have re-started contract extension talks with Tom Thibodeau, whose current deal expires after next season, per ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell. The easy response to this is: Duh. Thibodeau is a defensive innovator who has helped create well-coordinated stop machines across the league, most recently in Boston and now Chicago. The Bulls have completely bought into the system without even a hint of internal discord or the classic “tuning out” that often comes under other shouting nit-pickers like Thibodeau. They love him and they play league-best defense under him. You lock a head coach like that up for the long haul and smile, having filled one of the three or four most important positions within an organization.

    Of course, these are the penny-pinching Bulls — the Jerry Reinsdorf hobby that has never paid the luxury tax and may not even next season if they manage to unload Richard Hamilton along the way. They dismantled their bench in order to avoid larger tax bills both now and in the future, trading away a wing sharpshooter (Kyle Korver, who consistently lifted the team’s offense) for nothing (but a trade exception) and letting three other core players, including bench stopper Omer Asik, walk away as free agents. And Thibodeau is smack in the middle of what can be the most contentious period of negotiations for even wildly successful head coaches — the talks surrounding that second contract, earned after success in a guy’s first gig as the head man. We just saw this play out with Scott Brooks, who agreed to a four-year extension worth about $4 million annually after some surprisingly prolonged talks. Earn success on that second deal, and then you’re looking at real security — the mammoth Doc Rivers/Gregg Popovich type deals that blast past $5 million annually.

    Brooks could at least enter his negotiations all but certain the Thunder, barring some catastrophic injuries, were going to win around 60 games in 2012-13 and compete for the title. Thibodeau has no such assurances now, with Derrick Rose out until at least mid-season, a downgraded second unit and the departure of half of Chicago’s two-man (Asik/Taj Gibson) off-the-bench brick wall. Pundits, including Thibodeau-backer and mentor Jeff Van Gundy, are already speculating Chicago could miss the playoffs next season, and that kind of anxiety is justified within an Eastern Conference that added one certain playoff team (Brooklyn) and got stronger in that No. 8-No. 10 range. Read More…


  • Published On 12:55pm, Sep 06, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • The NBA blogs at SB Nation are devoting today to naming the single biggest disappointment among all players for each NBA franchise. Some interesting choices: Toronto, Dallas, Cleveland, injuries in Orlando, some comic genius from Washington and a long entry from Utah.

    • Tom Ziller of SB Nation with more good stuff on the importance of three-point shots and the ideal frequency with which teams and players should attempt them.

    • This isn’t strictly NBA related, but Terrell Owens is in major financial trouble and blames his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, for hooking Owens up with a financial adviser simply because (in Owens’ view) Rosenhaus happens to have a chummy relationship with that particular adviser. Related note: Last month, the sports business media gave a bit of attention to a new company athletes and other celebrities pay to monitor their own financial advisers.  Sports can be a messy business sometimes.

    • Speaking of which: Billy Gillesspie, head coach of Texas Tech, is going to be out of a job soon if these allegations prove true.

    • Grantland has a mini-documentary following Royce White through his draft day. It’s a really fun piece of work, in part because White is so candid about his anxiety issues, his fear of flying and his general mental state. It’s also fun to see and hear a cell phone call, in the middle of the first round, in which White’s agent essentially tells him that every team between the Rockets (holders of picks Nos. 16 and 18) and the 25-28 range has already decided to pass on White.

    It’s fair wonder if that information is accurate, or if some teams had sent the agent mixed signals. Regardless: Houston selected White at No. 16 after all, and we get some insight into the possibility the Rockets’ brain trust was divided about the pick.

    What does Harrison Barnes have to do to get major minutes on the wing in Golden State?

    Paul Flannery of WEEI.com breaks down Boston’s fascinating offseason.

    Mark Cuban doesn’t feel bad for folks who lost money in the Facebook IPO.

    • Cuban is in a bit of a blog comment argument with the folks at Wages of Wins, who criticized the Chris Kaman signing and used their go-to stat, Wins Produced, to show several under-utilized big men are more valuable than the very much utilized Kaman. (Hat tip: TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott). Cuban takes issue with both the Wins Produced stat itself (with a bit of help from Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference) and argues that even if Kaman were so unproductive, playing in a new context in Dallas, alongside Dirk Nowitzki, will help him thrive. Both sides have merit here, but I lean toward Cuban’s side on this. Kaman is a hair overrated; as Wins Produced indicates, he can be an inefficient offensive player in the wrong system — a big man who shoots a ton of jumpers, makes fewer than half his shots overall, barely gets to the line and turns the ball over at an above-average rate. He’s a so-so rebounder, and Wins Produced loves rebounders who shot efficiently (and rarely).

    But recast Kaman as a third option on a smart team, and he may well do better. And some of the under-utilized big men who Wins Produced favors — Chris Andersen, for instance — would likely flounder if given larger roles in which their teams would depend upon them for scoring and 35 minutes of steady defense.

    • Steve Aschburner of NBA.com attended the 40th reunion of the 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball team a couple of weeks back and produced a few really nice pieces out of his experience there. In this piece, Tom Burleson, a member of that team, tearfully shares his experience nearly coming face-to-face with the terror attack on Israeli athletes at those Munich games.

    Some upper-level management turmoil at the Knicks, first reported by Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

    Donnie Walsh talks about drafting Reggie Miller over Steve Alford, then an Indiana hero for leading the college Hoosiers to the national title. Kevin Johnson is involved.

    Rank the best Reggie Miller moments here.

    Smart thoughts about how the Lakers rotation might work itself out next season.

    • Erik Spoelstra once again says he wants the Heat to push the pace next season. Will he live up to it?


  • Published On 5:35pm, Sep 05, 2012
  • Is there hope for Tyreke Evans?

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    Tyreke Evans is poised to be a restricted free agent next offseason. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images) 

    If you isolate one player for hours and hours of film study, you begin to notice patterns you might miss or underestimate watching on a game-to-game basis. One such pattern: Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans spins probably more than anyone. And when you talk to scouts, executives and coaches (even Evans’ own head coach), it becomes clear that the spin move is a handy shorthand symbol for an extension-eligible positional mystery fast emerging as one of the most polarizing players in the league.

    A player who spins is looking to score. Spinning dizzies up a ball handler’s vision, making it hard to read the movements of nine other players scattered around the court. You can count on one hand the players with the vision and coordination to throw creative, pinpoint passes in mid-spin. Evans is not one of them.

    “The spin move goes back to Tyreke going in there with only one thought on his mind — to score,” said Keith Smart, the Kings’ coach and an Evans optimist. “He didn’t know how to map the floor. He wasn’t reading the defense. He didn’t have a next move.”

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  • Published On 12:07pm, Sep 05, 2012


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