All-Star Game: Rules Changes and Other NBA Thoughts
With the NBA All-Star weekend come and gone, its time to see where we stand in the NBA season. There is a lot going on in the NBA right now, and I want to take a minute to address my thoughts on these things.
First lets talk about the All-Star game and all of its components.
So as a coach, I have been told throughout the years not to pick teams in front of players. It makes the kids who get picked last feel like crap, and puts pressure on captains to pick friends, best players, etc. Coaches should have the teams already decided and not even call them out from best to worst because the players know that is what is happening. I had this happen to me several years ago when I was playing pick up soccer with some friends. I had never understood the plight of the last few picks because, at my size, I usually have some value in sports. So they decided to pick teams, and although many of the people playing were my friends, there were some people who I didn't know, and two of those people happened to be the captains. And they started picking teams, and I wasn't picked. Girls were picked before me, and other players who I knew I was better than. But they were picking people they knew which was totally fine. But I felt like crap. I felt embarrassed and angry. I didn't like that these people were being picked before me especially because I felt I was better than them.
So how does this relate. Well if its not obvious, I am talking about putting the team selection draft on TV. I actually am against it. I think it would be embarrassing for guys who have earned a spot on the All-Star team to have to wait to hear their name called until last. And it has to happen to someone. And people always talk about who should have made it and was left off, and who shouldn't be on. Well now two of their peers will have to publicly confirm that they aren't that important by picking them at the bottom of the draft. All-Star weekend is supposed to be fun and humiliating one or two of the players by having them publicized as the last pick takes some of the fun away. And you can go back to saying well they are multimillionaires and why would they care. Just because people have millions of dollars doesn't mean embarrassing them publicly is ok.
So if you read what I write, you know instead of complaining, I like to find solutions. So here it is. Instead of having Lebron and Steph pick teams, have the bottom two players (approximately) or the coaches pick the teams. Why? Because I want to know who would be picked first, LeBron or Durant. I want to know when Steph is going to be picked. Because you have Westbrook and Harden and maybe some people would choose those guys over Steph. By having LeBron and Steph be captains, they were out of the draft. And while we are on the subject, why were LeBron and Steph captains? If you say because they are the face of their franchises or the faces of the league, I can't argue. But if I remember correctly, Durant was the MVP of the Finals, not Steph, and KD was the best player on that team, not Steph. Even if you have coaches select the teams, again you get to see where LeBron and Steph fall in the pecking order of their peers.
The All-Star Game
So I enjoyed the concept of picking teams for the game because it let me see players play together who don't get to play with each other except in the Olympics. I liked seeing LeBron and Durant play together and I thought it was interesting to see Curry play with Harden and Lilliard. I felt like IF, and thats a big if, Curry was better than those two, it wasn't by much.
My feelings on the game changed as the game went on. Early on the game was awful. I almost tweeted something to the effect of, "If I wanted to be bored by the All-Star game, I'd rather be bored by tons of dunks than by good defense and bad shots." The first quarter was highlighted by lots of turnovers and airballs and it was terrible basketball. The offenses came in with a fun, showmanship attitude, and the defense came in playing defense. That led to terrible basketball. But as the game progressed, the teams started to figure out when to defend and when to let them go and there were some good highlights and it was a bit more entertaining.
But then the 4th quarter happened, and in the iconic words of Harry Dunn, the game "totally redeemed yourself." Down 13 with 6 minutes to go, team LeBron, and more specifically, LeBron and KD took over the game, getting stops and steals and taking the lead. Then the game had drama down the stretch and even more drama on the final possession as team LeBron held a 3 point lead with 10 seconds to go. It was great to see the players care that much about winning the game. As I stated on twitter, there were a couple problems with what team Steph did on the last possession. There is nothing I hate more than a star player thinking he is entitled to take the last shot at the end of a game. And when your in an All-Star game, everyone on the team is used to having the ball in their hands on the final possession. As I said earlier, I don't know if Steph Curry was the best player on this team, and as we saw with Kevin Love guarding him at the end of Game 7 of the finals, he can't always get his shot off. In my opinion, you put Steph, Klay, Lilliard, and Harden on the perimeter, with Embiid as the big and run a great play. You could even use Steph as a decoy to get someone else a great shot. With those 5 on the floor, I think if they ran a great play and got an open shot, I would have been happy with whoever took the final shot. Instead, Curry played hero ball, couldn't get the space for a shot, and in the end didn't even get a shot off. All because he would rather lose than have someone else be the hero. And on top of that, he shot like crap the whole game. If you look at teams like the Spurs and the Celtics, they get great shots at the end of games because they run plays. Most teams just put their best player on the ball and let them try and go one on one and make the shot, while those teams run plays and get the best shot, no matter who takes it.
The solution to tanking is pretty simple. And I believe I have said it before, but this time I will say it with more authority. And the reason I am bringing this up is that several teams have basically said they will be tanking, and because this college draft is supposed to be one of the deepest in years. So it makes sense to tank, and try and get one of those players who could change a franchise for 10+ years.
So the solution is relegation. Simple yet effective. What the NBA should do is combine the G League (previously the D League), which is the NBA's developmental league, and combine them into 6-8 solid franchises. Maybe even 4 franchises if they don't have the depth for 6-8. Then pick cities that can sustain an NBA team (ie. Seattle). Then have them play in what would become the second division. At first have 1 team relegated and 1 team promoted but as the second division expanded to include more teams then possibly two or three. So how does that end tanking? Its simple and its the way all European sports work. If you finish with the worst record in the league, you are relegated to the second division. Which means less publicity for the team, no games on ESPN, no games on TNT, no playoffs, etc. It also means smaller crowds as you don't have stars coming into your arena.
So, lets say in April, and using this years example, the Suns are playing the Mavericks. Normally no one would watch, no one would care, the teams would be playing guys that aren't really on the team, basically both teams would be tanking. Instead you would be having a relegation fight to stay in the NBA. It would be a playoff intensity game, with both teams knowing how important winning would be to stay in the NBA. If you don't believe me, watch a relegation game in the English Premiere League. They are some of the most intense games you will see. Not just for the franchises, but for the players. Think of your branding, advertising dollars, publicity, etc. is all gone when you drop to the second level. These players know it and fight to stay up. Then the draft starts with the teams in the second division and moves up from there. That would even help with promotion of the second level. You would have all the top draft picks playing a year in the second division which promotes that division and gives them kind of a minor league year similar to how baseball works.
Reseeding Playoffs Based on Record
Ill be quick on this. Its stupid. If you do that then there is no reason to have divisions, or east and west. Just have one long list of the teams and the top 16 make it. The reason people are talking about this is because they believe, and probably correctly, that the best two teams in the league are in the West. And if the casual fan is only going to watch the Finals, they want the casual fan to see the best two teams play. But that is not how the NBA has been, and they shouldn't live in the moment. Over time it will work itself out.
Play in Games
They are also talking about have one game playoffs for the 7th and 8th seed. I really hope all this crap goes away but I'll explain why it is dumb. So what they propose that the 7 seed would play the 10 seed and the 8 seed would play the 9 seed and the winners would get in. This is dumb for so many reasons. First off, its hard enough for those bottom seeds to beat the #1 and #2 seeds, but you make it harder by making them play a physical, do or die game just to get there. And more importantly, you devalue the regular season. Lets say the difference between the 7 and 10 seed is 5 games. That #7 seed earned that position over 82 games and proved over a large sample size that they are #7 seed and earned that position in the playoffs. With this system, that #10 seed can get hot for one game, or the #7 seed has one bad game, or has a best player get in foul trouble or whatever the case may be, and they are out. So after proving they were a playoff game for 82 game, they have to prove it again on a sample size that isn't fair, and could be gone. I hate it just like I hate the one game playoff in baseball. I understand its a money grab, but it devalues the regular season.
Here comes my first and only hot take and this one might be a steaming hot pile of take. I think if Steve Kerr loses the Championship this year, at any point or in any round, he should be fired. Boom.
Why? I thought you'd never ask. Well I'll tell you. Lets start at the top. He has the best shooting point guard in the league. Maybe you have him as the second, third, or I guess even the fourth best PG in the league and that is fine, but no one can dispute he is the best shooting point guard in the league. Curry can go for 50 on any night and can go for 10-15 assists on any night as well. Next, you have the best shooting-shooting guard in the league. I don't care who won the 3 point contest, Klay is the best shooting SG in the league. I think he would average 25 on a team that featured him instead of him being the 3rd, sometimes 4th option on the Warriors. Then Durant, who some say is the best player in the league but you can not argue he is worse than the third best player in the league. Another guy who can score 50 on any night, a guy who rebounds and defends and drives and does everything. Then you get to Draymond, a guy I hate. A guy who is perfect for the Warriors. A guy who doesn't mind defending, a guy who doesn't mind being the garbage man, and a guy who is happy to pass all game long as long as they get the win. Then you move to the Warriors weakest position where you find McGee and Pechulia. Again, guys who work perfectly with their system. They are willing to defend, screen on offense, hang out around the rim and rebound and grab garbage buckets when teams forget about them. Perfect for the Warriors. Then off the bench you have Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Two guys who defend, can score, are unselfish, and are long and athletic. Again perfect complements to guys spreading the floor for the Warriors.
So lets get to Steve Kerr. Of course he should be complemented for opening up the Warriors and letting them play the way they can. He has given those guys the freedom to play and use their individual talents to make the team better as a whole. And he has won two rings, so why in the hell would I say he could be fired?
Well before we dive into the why lets look at the body of work. I feel like I just established and everyone that knows basketball knows that this is a historically great team as far as talent. And when they won it the first year, people said that the NBA wouldn't be fun for a long time because they would win all the rings. And if I didn't take this stance I agreed with it. So they win the first one. Then the next year they set the all time record for wins in the history of basketball. And on top of that, they take a 3-1 lead in the finals, and find a way to lose 2 games in a row at home and lose the series in 7. Then, you add Durant, a top 3 player on the planet to the team that just set the all time record for wins in a season. And when I say top 3 I only say it so you 2 people can't argue, but I mean top 2 player. And they won a second ring. 2 in 3 years is acceptable. But if they lose this year, that would be 2 in 4 years with THAT team. When you have the roster to win a ring, you want to win a ring. When you have a team that could be measured with the all time teams in the history of basketball, you need to win a handful of them. Winning two in four years is unacceptable to me. You can say what you want about the talent Phil Jackson had through the years, but they won rings. They got a bunch at every iteration he coached.
So here are the factors that lead me to say if they don't win Kerr should be fired. First of all he may have passed up Doc Rivers as the coach that complains the most in the NBA. And guess what friends, that is contagious. Draymond has this ongoing feud with the referees and it gets worse by the day. What does it stem from? Entitlement? I bet. Bad officiating? Maybe. But most of all I think from seeing his coach whine and complain and get technicals all the time. I tracked Green's technicals since he entered the league. Now I couldn't find on the internet how many he got at Michigan State but my if I had to make a pick on only one number, that number would be 0. So here are Draymond's technicals through the years, and not including playoffs! 12/13-2, 13/14-6, enter Steve Kerr-14/15-10, 15/16-12, 16/17-14, 17/18-15(with 20+ games to go). Now you say that looks like a normal arc as it moves upward through the years. But lets take it a step further. First off, the further along you move, the better the Warriors got, which means the higher the point differential, which means the less close minutes are being played. Which means that Draymond will be on the floor less minutes that are close, and less minutes where he would get a technical, in theory. If your up by 10-20, there is no point in getting a technical. Also, you notice that every year, in the regular season, as he gets closer to the number that means he will get suspended, he stops getting technicals. So here is the point. Steve Kerr complains to the refs as much as any coach in the league. When you start paying attention to the refs and their calls, then your players do as well. And when you feel you are getting the wrong end of calls, you stop focusing on the game and focus on the refs. And the players see that and they notice it and so they complain. And you have this domino effect through the team.
Next, the Warriors are one of the most lackadaisical teams with ball in the league. They turn the ball over way too much and it allows other teams to stay in the game. If anyone watched the Warriors play the Clippers last week, there was a massive talent differential on the floor at every second of the game. But not only had the Clippers already beaten them earlier this year, but here they were again in a tight game down the stretch. And watching the game it is clear to me. The Warriors get a lead of 10-15 points and they start messing around. They show players on the bench laughing and not paying attention. You see players on the floor trying to make passes to make highlights that will be seen on Sportscenter and on and on and they turn the ball over. And it lets scrappy teams back into the game. And Kerr is at the heart of it and I have said this since day 1 of his hiring. He is constantly on the bench laughing and acting the same way. His team is so good that he is arrogant about it and laughs all the time. You NEVER see the top coaches acting like that. All other coaches in the league are stressed out and have no voice from yelling all day every day. Not Kerr. We have all heard the stories of Nick Saban yelling at his team in the locker room after they won the national championship because they let up at the end of the game and held on to win. We have all seen the top coaches screaming at their bench players late in a blowout when they don't play the way they are supposed to. Kerr doesn't do that. Kerr is one of the guys who laughs and screws around with the team. This breeds a culture of players who are unfocused and who think winning is fun, but having fun is fun too. I have always said there are two types of people, people that want to win and people that want to have fun. And I consistently kick the crap out of people who just want to have fun. And the reason why Kerr is still the coach, is the talent differential. On a nightly basis their talent is so far superior to the other teams, that they can screw around and get away with it. They can play at 70% focus and still win because they are just that much better. And that is not the way to win long term.
Lastly, the celebrations of the Warriors are out of control. And at the end of the day I blame Kerr. When you bring in a walking cancer like Nick Young, (if you want to know more about my feelings on him, read my previous blogs), you need to reign him in. I thought they would change him. Make him stop smiling and laughing every time he hits a shot. Stop dancing like an idiot every time he makes a three. News flash Nick Young, making 3's is your job. Are we a few years away from people having celebrations when they make free throws? Does the mailman celebrate when he successfully drops the mail in the mail slot? (it would be funny). No he doesn't. Its his job. And yes I know sports is entertainment, but its also very serious. So when someone goes to the Patriots or Spurs, they conform. They become part of the winning culture. The coach lets the players know that all the BS is done and you are there to win. But not Kerr. I mean its embarrassing watching the Warriors play. Besides for Klay Thompson, everyone on the team has some dumb celebration every time they hit a 3 or dunk or even lay the ball in and get a foul. They are dancing and jumping around and flexing and every other annoying celebration. And Kerr stand there and laughs. Instead of maximizing the team, maximizing the wins, maximizing the rings, he stands there and laughs. And here we are in year 4, with 2 rings. And having said all that.....I still think the Warriors will win, but I only think that because it would be stupid to pick another team. But the Rockets have beaten them twice, and have the best record in the league. And if they don't win it all, the blame MUST go to Kerr. And if I am the GM, wouldn't I want to look for a guy who can take that talent and that offensive prowess, and harness it into a focused team that cares more about rings than dancing and cares more about the possibility of an all time legacy than flexing on every possession.