Thanks to Stern, Silver set to take NBA to new heights
Get to know Steven Adams, Melo's future and more
The NBA is about to change in all kinds of unpredictable ways. But those changes won't be understood until we get to know Adam Silver, the new commissioner, who takes over for the retiring David Stern on Saturday.
The most important difference between them is that Silver did not experience the barren 1970s that established the foundation for Stern's greatest achievements. To strike a comparison from another time, Stern was like a survivor of the Great Depression, while Silver was, by equivalent, a Baby Boomer.
Today's owners and players can't relate to the NBA's past troubles and the story of Stern's saving the league from near-death. Those battles of the 1970s have nothing to do with the issues now facing LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Mark Cuban and Mikhail Prokhorov.
Stern rescued the NBA from the threat of bankruptcy. By the time Silver joined the league office, in 1992, the NBA was well into its new era of glorious rivalries, Michael Jordan, the Dream Teams and the international markets opened by America's victory in the Cold War. Stern's experience gave him a breadth of perspective that also isolated him.
When he reminded the NBA's All-Stars before the 2011 lockout of how he had helped rescue the NBA in the days when fans ignored the league because it was "too black," the players who had benefited from his work didn't want to hear about it. It meant little to them. It was history.
It is only natural for Silver to be able to relate to the owners and players of this more affluent era better than Stern could at the end of his 30-year run. Silver, like his constituency, has experienced nothing else but eight-figure player salaries, escalating franchise prices and state-of-the-art arenas with short shelf lives.
What does this mean? Stern was a visionary compared to his predecessor, Larry O'Brien, and now Silver, along the same lines, is set to introduce changes and upset longstanding traditions that would have been difficult for Stern to ever authorize.
Take the ongoing talk of reinventing the draft so that the order of the picks would have nothing to do with team records. Would Stern be taking the league in such a direction? He introduced the lottery, yes, but to change the draft so that losing teams receive no extra benefit is to upset one of the strongest traditions in American sports.
In this new era, which was planted and grown by Stern and to be reaped by Silver, some of the old mechanisms may no longer be worth retaining. They may be luxuries that Silver can't afford to keep.
And so it may be that fans of a losing team will no longer look forward to the promise of a high draft pick. The uniforms that have been free of advertising -- and sleeves -- may undergo changes. There is even talk from Silver of installing an entire NBA division in Europe to hasten the league's global growth.
The pressure on Silver is entirely different from the burdens that faced Stern 30 years ago, and there can be no doubting that Stern conquered them. Even Stern's critics acknowledge that revenues have shot up exponentially over the course of his 30 years in office.
Silver's job is not to save the league, as Stern did, but rather to mushroom its business in a competitive world that already knows all of the tricks. If you're Adam Silver, and you're inheriting a league with a record $5.5 billion in revenues, how do you manufacture growth in a marketplace that is already saturated?
Stern has teed up the ball for him. Stern's lockout has enabled all 30 teams to pursue profitability as the values of their franchises continue to rise. The next national TV contract will provide an upsurge in revenues, which may well placate the players even as Silver and the owners seek a harder ceiling on team payrolls with each ensuing collective bargaining agreement.
But prosperity doesn't necessarily make for easy governing. Stern found it easier to build consensus among players and owners when the league was in trouble in the early 1980s. Both sides grew harder to corral as the revenues shot up.
Stern was accused of showcasing the star players at the expense of their teams. But if Silver has a long, successful run as commissioner, then it's very likely that fans will look back and recognize that Stern was a traditionalist in comparison to his successor. The tension for every modern-day commissioner is to grow his business commercially without harming the values that separate sports from other businesses. It's a harder balance to strike now than it was in the days of Pete Rozelle and Stern, when the potential to make money was first explored by them, and marketing was a foreign term.
In Silver's case, the owners offered their support in exchange for an understanding that they would have a greater voice in league operations than had been allowed by Stern, who worked for them and yet treated them as if he was their boss. Eventually Silver is going to have to play hardball with them, too, sooner than later, and herd them toward a single vision, because the owners themselves are still not unified. The recent local-TV deals of the big-market franchises have separated them all the more from the small-market teams, with the ultimate impact of the new luxury taxes and revenue-sharing program still to be determined.
So where is the league headed? Silver gave a hint last year when I met with him and Stern in a conference room next door to the commissioner's office in New York.
"We recognize in any given season that even if you tried to play uber-GM and distribute 450 players, that we're not going to be able to create NFL-like parity," Silver said. "It's just not the nature of this game. But you want to believe that, over time, a well-managed team can build toward a championship."
An ultimate goal of Silver's leadership may well be the day when his postseason is as unpredictable as the playoffs of the NFL and Major League Baseball. In those other leagues, any team that qualifies for the playoffs -- even the lowliest of wild cards -- has a chance to win the championship. Not so in the NBA. Pro basketball remains a game of haves and have-nots. If you didn't earn one of the top three seeds in your conference, then you aren't going to win the title. It has been that way every year since 1994-95 (when the No. 6 Rockets made off with the championship at the end of Jordan's experiment with baseball), and it figures to play out that way again this season. It is because the playoffs serve as an authentic reflection of its regular season that the NBA can claim to operate the truest championship in American pro sports.
As the salary cap continues to tighten and it grows more difficult for teams to stockpile expensive stars, the best players figure to be distributed throughout the league more evenly than today. If so, then the time may come when an NBA team at the bottom of the bracket will be able to rise up to win the championship. When that day arrives, the NBA will have lost another of its defining standards. The playoffs may not serve as an extension of the regular season. They will also be less predictable, more popular and especially more profitable than ever, and it won't be seen as heresy. On the contrary, the credit will go to Silver.
• All-Star reserves announced. San Antonio's Tim Duncan, who was omitted by the coaches, may be named by Silver to replace an injured Kobe Bryant in the West. As much as Pacers guard Lance Stephenson deserves to be on the Eastern team, there are no glaring arguments to be made about either roster.
• Manu Ginobili out for one month. There are two ways of viewing the Spurs. The first is that they can't beat the good teams and their depth is eroding; therefore they are finished. The second is that they're pacing themselves and maintaining a high seed, and when all of their players are back they'll be as dangerous as ever. I tend to lean toward the latter, with one fine-print understanding: Not even in their younger days were they able to reach back-to-back NBA Finals.
• Kobe Bryant's return is set back. The Lakers are tied for the sixth position in the draft lottery. The longer that Bryant and the point guards remain sidelined from this irredeemable season, the better for their team's future.
• Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett return to Boston. That's it for the reunions. It's going to be a long second half of the season for the Celtics.
• Anthony Bennett shut out of 'Rising Stars' game. This game is meaningful mainly to the players who play in it. A majority of the basketball world detests the rookie-sophomore game and everything it stands for. Better for the No. 1 pick to build on his breakout game (15 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes) against the Pelicans on Tuesday.
• Pistons-Hawks game canceled because of snowstorm in Atlanta. Thirty-seven people were disappointed.
The 7-foot rookie center is averaging 3.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 14.9 minutes off the bench for the Thunder. Adams, a 20-year-old from New Zealand, was the No. 12 pick as a Pittsburgh freshman.
1. Though he came from an exceptionally tall family -- his brothers average 6-9 -- he didn't grow up dreaming of the NBA. "My main sport was rugby," Adams said. "I played rugby until I got too tall; I was 6-5 and kept getting smashed. I was 12 or 13 when I switched to basketball."
He was from a physical sports family.
"We played pretty rough compared to the other kids," Adams said. "I was the youngest of 18. I've got four brothers and sisters, and then the rest are just half [siblings] -- but we've all got the same dad. I guess it was a different upbringing, because all of my nieces and nephews were older than me; my brother is like 50-something now, and he's already had a bunch of kids. So my nephews were changing my diapers. That's a weird experience.
"My dad was just a real hard-ass. He was born in 1931 back in Bristol, England, and he worked in the Navy and other stuff. It was a manual-labor lifestyle. He worked really hard all his life. He was still working in the sawmill at 70 and he was strong as hell. He always taught us about hard work. We had the old-school upbringing, so that was good."
2. His father died when Adams was 13. "After my dad passed, it was a six-week period where I was doing nothing," Adams said. "Just skipping school and all that kind of stuff. And after that I moved down to Wellington, another town, and that's where I got back on track with all the schooling and did really well.
"I had a really great caregiver there who is just the best. You know how you meet those cool people in life? She was one of those people. Just a really nice person. So she actually got me on track, along with the school -- Scots College, a private [secondary] school, so you had to be legit. When I first moved there I was really rough' I was like a bum. And then they ended up making me into a pretty decent student.
"Being such a young age, I kind of relied on my dad to point me in the right direction all the time. When he was gone, nothing else was there, so that's when I fell off the edges. Having that kind of caregiver and the school being disciplined kind of walked me back."
3. He was 18 when he moved to Massachusetts to spend a semester playing basketball at Notre Dame Prep. "The first two weeks sucked -- they were the hardest," he said. "And then you just get into a routine after that, and then I was sweet. Whatever coach asked me to do, I just went in and did it. The level of basketball that you guys play is No. 1 in the world, and that's what I wanted to come and get exposed to, and get used to playing around so many good people. So I could get a lot better faster."
Even then, he still wasn't focusing on an NBA career.
"I never really gave it too much thought," Adams said, "because for people back in New Zealand, if you think about it, the NBA seems so far away. Which it is. You hear, 'No one's going to make it,' and stuff like that. Like, I thought I had a better chance of making the All-Blacks -- that's our rugby team."
Within the last two years he has played in prep school, at Pitt and now as the backup center for the title-contending Thunder.
"I don't really look at it, like, how much I've done and accomplished," Adams said. "I always look toward what I need to get done.
"I've still got a long way to go. I'm just taking it day by day, just having fun. This is fun as hell. Just go out and play basketball, travel all over America, play different teams. If you think about it, it's just amazing. I still get amazed at how detailed they get with certain things. I'm blown away with the scouting report, and certain tactics of how much seconds are left on the clock when you should put it up so we can get two possessions, you know what I mean? I never thought about it. So I'm still learning stuff about the game, which makes it even more fun.''
"I definitely think he will stay.'"
-- La La Anthony
So said Carmelo Anthony's wife in an interview with Bravo TV's Watch What Happens Live. As a reality TV star, she understands the importance of establishing the narrative of her husband's intention to re-sign with the Knicks this summer ... in order to create the surprising "twist" at the end, if he should decide to leave.
An NBA advance scout on Oklahoma City's 112-95 victory Wednesday at Miami:
"That was one of the best games this year. It was back and forth, jump shots, tip-ins, drives, fast breaks. It was great.
"Right now, the MVP is Kevin Durant. He's incredible, he's fun to watch, his team plays for him and he plays for his team, and he says all the right things afterward.
"Reggie Jackson has filled in pretty well for Russell Westbrook. Jeremy Lamb has been good, and Derek Fisher is in a groove where he knows there's a green light to shoot -- and with the attention that Durant gets, he knows he's going to get open shots. They play a similar style of basketball that Miami plays: It's all pick-and-roll and jump shots or drives to the basket. They're not going to throw it in the post and work with cutters in that type of scheme.
"Durant wasn't hot to start the game, but he still got a lot of attention. And he is the type of player who will move the ball when he knows it's there for his teammates. He also knows he can get a shot over people anytime, especially at the end of the shot clock.
"Serge Ibaka was big in that game with his tip-ins at the rim when the floor was spread. He's so quick off his feet and quick to get to the ball. Miami would be trying to come back and contesting a shot, and then Ibaka would tip one in to keep the distance. Oklahoma City didn't play much with a traditional center either, and when Miami went with Chris Bosh as its only big man, Ibaka took advantage of him. They have similar speed, but Ibaka plays with a little bit more length and spring than Bosh.
"The Thunder showed they can play Miami's style of game. With all of the jump shots, there were a lot of long rebounds, and the Thunder were getting after every loose ball.
"Westbrook's return is only going to make them better because he plays the same style as they're playing now without him. Westbrook is going to get more shots up than Jackson, and he'll have the ball in his hands more. Right now, Durant is controlling the ball a little bit more.
"I don't think Miami should be especially worried. Those games are going to happen. The Heat's concern will be Dwyane Wade's health and their ability to stop guards' penetration, mainly with Ray Allen or Wade on the floor, and especially when they're on the floor together."
These players have moved up after starters have been injured or traded:
C: Kevin Garnett, Nets ... He's shooting 50 percent during the Nets' 11-6 run since he replaced Brook Lopez at center.
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks ... The 19-year-old rookie is averaging 7.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 21 starts.
G: Terrence Ross, Raptors ... He's scoring twice as much as a starter (13 ppg) thanks to his shocking 51-point explosion last week.
G: Courtney Lee, Grizzlies ... Memphis is 9-2 since injuries forced the trade for Lee (14.9 points and 57.5 percent in nine starts).
G: D.J. Augustin, Bulls ... Chicago is 15-10 since he took Derrick Rose's roster spot; 19.7 points and 5.6 assists in his last nine games.
G: Shaun Livingston, Nets ... Brooklyn is 13-8 with Livingston as starter, 7-15 when he comes off bench.
G: Reggie Jackson, Thunder ... In 22 games as a starter he's averaging 14 points and 4.9 assists in 30.9 minutes.
G: Darren Collison, Clippers ... 14.5 points and 6.1 assists in 15 starts (team has gone 11-4).