Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Pain of Irrelevancy

If you ask a fan what they want from their team, their answer will invariably be “a championship.” That isn’t all that relevant, however, as only one out of thirty teams will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy each year. A more truthful answer would be “to be relevant.” That is all we want. Sure, a championship would be great, but we really just want to feel like we matter.

For the last few years, that feeling has been lacking in the Bay Area. I’m not just talking about basketball here.

The above table shows the winning percentages over the last five seasons for Bay Area teams in the four major professional sports. It is a pretty sad offering. Besides the Sharks, who have been scary good, the Bay Area hasn’t performed. The Sharks are the only team that has won over half of their games, and they account for five of the Bay Area’s eight playoff appearances. Granted, two of the other playoff appearances resulted in the Giants winning the World Series and the magnificent run of the We Believe Warriors, but the point remains: Bay Area sports haven’t been very good for the last five years, especially if you are a football fan.

Things are getting better, however. The Sharks will continue to remain relevant, though they need to make the Stanley Cup finals to shake us out of our complacency. The Giants are making a good run at building “Red Sox West”, and have just traded for the best available player at the trade deadline, the first time the Bay Area has done that in awhile.

The 49ers and the Warriors both have a chance at relevancy. For the first time since they hired George Seifert (replace Seifert with Steve Mariucci if you are feeling charitable), the 49ers have a quality coach, and managed to grab him even though he was coveted by a few other teams. They can also benefit heavily from a provision in the new NFL CBA that provides money for stadiums. The Warriors have one of the brighter young stars in the league (Stephen Curry), a borderline All-Star (Monta Ellis), a competent owner and front office, and possibly a quality coach. Both teams will have to start winning, however, to prove their relevance.

The A’s and the Raiders, on the other hand, are stuck in the past. The Raiders are still haunted by the ghost of Al Davis past, coming in and making radical (usually radically bad) decisions every few months. The A’s have faced a lot of injuries, employ a DH that is worse at hitting then a lot of pitchers, and can barely draw 15,000 a game. These two franchises need a lot of work.

But that’s the great thing about sports: fortunes can change on a dime. The Memphis Grizzlies hadn’t been relevant since trading Paul Gasol, and then Zach Randolph and co. came a few points away from playing in the Conference Finals. Nobody has any illusions that a Bay Area team, save the Sharks or the Giants, have a chance at winning a championship this year, but we don’t need that. Like everybody else, we just want to be relevant. A splashy new hire, a big trade, a run to the playoffs, that’s all we need to sustain our fandom for another season.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why Mark Jackson (and every other coach) Doesn't Matter

Over at the Wages of Wins Journal (one of my favorite NBA blogs), there is a raging debate on the value of coaches. The general premise of Arturo Galletti’s post is that coaches in the NBA only matter in one regard: allocating playing time. Every other facet, like when you hear that a coach is making the team “tougher”, or is a “players coach”, doesn’t mean a thing. Their only value is determining which players see the floor, and which ride the pine.

I also believe that coaches add very little value to a team. Time after time it is shown that best way to predict how a team will perform is to look at the past statistics of the players: they are a much better indicator of a team’s strength then anything having to do with the coach. I want to take Arturo’s point a little bit farther though. In arguing that a coach’s main impact is allocating minutes, he implies that the allocation of minutes is an important consideration in whether a team wins or not. I know this sounds ludicrous, but I am suggesting that allocating minutes properly to the best players on the team, while important, doesn’t matter too much.

The above chart is simply a graph of two columns of data found in Arturo’s post: the percentage of minutes coaches properly allocated, and the total of a team’s wins produced. You would think that there would be a high correlation between these two numbers: teams that gave minutes to their best players would tend to do better than teams that did not. As it turns out, this correlation isn’t too strong, with an r2 of only 0.39. This means that, roughly speaking, 39% of the total of a team’s wins produced is due to the proper allocation of minutes. That is strong evidence to suggest that minute allocation matters, but equally strong evidence that it doesn’t matter too much. Even if Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano had allocated his players minutes efficiently last year (instead, he only allocated 3% of his player’s minutes properly, no wonder he got fired), they would still have sucked. The fact is, better minute allocation can’t make up for bad players.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Best NBA Commercial. Ever. Bar None.

Thanks, Long, and thanks, ESPN, for giving us this masterpiece.

My random, biased, and entirely unsubstantiated thoughts on this Tour de Force:
  • The NBA and ESPN must be overjoyed that the League has good ol' American-born White guys who can be reasonable pitch men. Kevin Love and Blake Griffin (who is mixed) will be in commercials for years to come, as long as they continue to produce. In the words of Long Bui, K-Love is the "great white hope." 
  • Ron Artest, aka Metta World Peace, has certainly come a long way. Or, has he?
  • Tyson Chandler: living proof that winning an NBA championship will get you publicity that you probably don't deserve.
I invite you to offer your submissions for best NBA commercial ever. Perhaps it's time to make a Facebook page. Or a Google+ page. What is Google+, anyways?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ten Reasons I Have Come Around to Mark Jackson

On May 22, in the middle of another boring workday, fellow Diss-cussant Kurt Scott posed a question on my Facebook wall: “How you feeling about the W’s coaching search? My list would look something like: 1. McHale … 834. Mark Jackson.”  He quickly amended it:

Kurt Scott That's assuming Lakers snatch up Adelman, as I believe they will. In which
case my list looks more like 1. McHale 2. Shaw ...835. Mark Jackson.

I spend most of my workday on Facebook, so I quickly responded:

Jacob Greenberg clearly we're trying to make a splashy hire. i think i've come around to the idea of mike brown, and i think he's more into the w's job than the lakers job (who wants to follow phil?). my list is 1. mike brown 2. kevin mchale 3. dwayne casey 4. brian shaw....834. jeff van gundy 835. donald sterling 836. mark jackson

Taking into consideration the fact that Jeff Van Gundy has no plans on returning to coaching anytime soon, and that Donald Sterling is a racist motherfucker, it goes without saying that I was unexcited about Mark Jackson as a potential candidate for head coach of the Golden State Warriors.  So, imagine my joy on June 7th when I read that Mark Jackson had been hired as the Warrior’s head coach. What the hell? He was my absolute last choice.  Rarely ever in life do we get our very last choice—usually, some sort of compromise can be made with the powers that be to ensure one doesn’t walk away completely disappointed.  But not this time.  Hand down, man down.

But that was June 7th, and since then I’ve had some time to reflect upon the hire the revamped Warriors front office made.  Clearly this was a splashy move, just as much about the arrivals of co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber, consultant Jerry “The Logo” West, and GM-in-waiting Bob Meyers as decision-makers in the organization as it was about the hiring of a former player and broadcaster with no head coaching experience.  As such, in my earliest assessments of the Jackson hire, I was convinced the Warriors front office and new ownership group was less concerned about developing a young, promising roster, and more concerned about promoting the potential celebrity power of the Lacob-Gruber ownership team. 
Since then, however, I will say that my stance has softened somewhat.  No longer wary of the Jackson hire, I am now cautiously optimistic that the Warriors may have actually gotten the best (available) man for the job. And, of course, I have irrefutable proof in support of my statement.
So, without any further ado, I present to you: Ten Reasons I Have Changed My Mind about Mark Jackson. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wildish Speculation and Outlandish Guesses: European Edition

This week’s edition of Wildish Speculation and Outlandish Guesses asks our panel to imagine themselves in a leadership role at one of the world’s most prestigious international basketball teams, and make this pesky NBA lockout work for them.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

CBA: Collective Bargaining Anthropology

For tens of thousands of years, the total population of the world grew slowly. Around 10,000 years ago there were about 5 million people on the whole earth, or as many people as currently live in Colorado. And then came perhaps the most fundamental transformation in human history: the agricultural revolution, the shift from hunting and gathering to agricultural settlements. Since then world population has boomed to 7 billion, with no sign of abatement.

Every year scientists and farmers develop ever more efficient ways of growing food. Every year there is more than enough food grown to feed every human being, yet there are still hundreds of millions of malnourished and starving. So what gives? Is the food transportation system inefficient? Do developed countries consume more than their fair of food resources? There is probably a little bit of both going on, but the main reason is also the simplest: it is a part of human nature.

After an increase in food yield people don’t suddenly stop making babies. In fact, where the supply of food booms there is invariably an increase in the amount of babies born, because there are new resources for those babies. An increase in world population quickly consumes that surplus of food, forcing scientists and farmers to grow more food more efficiently. And they do. And then people make more babies.

I assure you that this is relevant to the current CBA proceedings. The NBA operates in an environment where many (most? all?) laws of human nature apply. If we have seen something time and time again in nature, it is unlikely that the same thing won't play out in the NBA. The key difference between the NBA and nature (well, besides the million other more obvious differences) is that the NBA has an opportunity to play God and modify its environment.

Almost every year (barring a recession) the NBA salary cap increases. In theory this is a good thing for teams. It gives them more money to spend on players. If a team is over the cap, it is possible that this increase will bring them under the cap. Even though the cap always grows though, there hasn’t been an overall decrease in teams having payrolls above it. Owners don’t treat the increase in cap space as a way to rebalance their roster and payroll, but as an opportunity to sign a new players, fiscal prudence be damned.

There are many, many overpaid players in the NBA. Some of them are the usual suspects (Darko Milicic, Charlie Villanueva, Vladimir Radmanovic) and some are pretty good players (Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko) who are just paid too much. There isn’t a common denominator among overpaid players. All ages, positions, and most teams, are represented on the above list. Even the uncertainty surrounding the form that the new CBA will take—-though most knowledgeable observers believe it will be much more restrictive than the newly-expired CBA—-hasn’t prevented teams from making stupid offers: the $30 million over the salary cap Portland Trailblazers just offered Greg “3 knee surgeries before 23” Oden an $8.8 million qualifying offer. It seems nothing can stop owners from giving out poor contracts.

The owners claim that the NBA lost a huge amount of money last year. The knee jerk reaction is to scream “STOP GIVING Players LIKE JAMAL CRAWFORD $11 MILLION CONTRACTS!” as loudly as you can, but that would just waste your breath. We can talk all we want about owners spending their money more wisely, but it is never going to happen. Never. Going. To Happen.

And thus, on at least one key issue regarding the new CBA, I am coming down on the owner’s side. The National Basketball Association needs the basketball equivalent of China's one-child policy: a hard salary cap and reduced length of player contracts. As humans we have yet to find a way to grow our population without outstripping our resource production. The NBA has the same problem, but they are allowed to play God and modify their environment. History has proven that the owners cannot restrain themselves from throwing money down the drain (AKA Desanga Diop), so restraint must be forced upon them.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Charlie Finley Plan

On my 5 hour drive to Los Angeles yesterday afternoon I had more than enough time to figure out how to accommodate the owners and the PA so summer league can get underway tomorrow.

I had ESPN 710 dialed in allowing Max Kellerman to be in on the war room, as well. As the two of us discussed what to do regarding revenue sharing among small and big market teams, he brought up Charlie Finley - owner of the Oakland A's during their heyday of the 1970s - and his ideas regarding collective bargaining agreements in major league baseball.

I'm going to paraphrase and put in layman's terms CF's plan mostly because I'm not smart enough to understand all the minute details. Also, it won't take as long to type.

So, essentially, here's what he said:

Let every player be a free agent every year. This way every player gets a decent and fair contract based on their fair market value and production from the year before.

Now, I understand this is no way a perfect (or maybe even viable?) idea but it's worth considering. This eliminates ridiculous long-term contact busts (see Brian Cardinal), helps solve the problem of revenue sharing because owners will theoretically save money, increases competition among players, and overall yields a fun (albeit different) league.

I want to know what you guys think. Does this make any sense at all? Is this ridiculous or are we possibly on to something here? Comment away and let's get this thread/brainstorming going.