August 8, 2011
When it comes to lockouts in professional sports ending a season, my stance is generally that things will sort themselves out before a season is lost. Obviously that’s not always the case as the 2005 NHL work stoppage proved, but the recent NFL lockout was the perfect example that the opportunity exists for logic and common sense to win out. In short, the players need the money and owners of profitable teams don’t want to lose cash flow or goodwill they’ve spent years building up with communities. Sports, in essence, are one of the most important things to a city. Even when things may not be going well economically, residents can look forward to the fact that they have a team they can support.
An NFL lockout was averted at the last minute and not only will there be a NFL season in 2011, it will be a complete one save for the annual preseason NFL Hall of Fame game. Unfortunately for NBA fans, though, the NBA lockout may have a far different outcome since the players and owners have legitimate reasons for not rushing into a deal.
The biggest reason that NBA players will be able to afford to hold out for a better deal is because of the number of professional leagues overseas. Unlike the NFL where few viable professional leagues exist, basketball has become a global sport and there are numerous options available in Europe to NBA stars. The most important aspect of all of this is that players can not only make money, but good money. Some teams may even pay additional expenses such as apartment rentals.
Some lower-level players are already signing contracts overseas and even some of the league’s biggest stars such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Howard are said to be giving the option significant consideration. Most players would not dream of risking the ability to play in the NBA in the event there is a season, so over the next few weeks, you can expect to see more and more players sign overseas deals with clauses allowing them to return to their respective NBA clubs once the lockout ends. Under that scenario, the players can earn money but still return to the NBA once the opportunity exists. In addition, those taking advantage of that situation will also be in far better physical shape than athletes sitting at home busy filling out their NFL fantasy football rosters and will have the opportunity to face some quality competition. Players will not only benefit financially by playing overseas, but they should also perform better once the season starts.
In addition, the owners also have an incentive to wait until a better situation comes along. In the midst of the NBA season last year, the league claimed that 22 of its 30 teams were losing money. That’s a far different situation than the NFL, which is an enormous moneymaker. At this point, many NBA teams may be better off waiting until they can be more profitable. As much fun as it might sound to hold the keys to an NBA franchise, owners are ultimately in business to make money. For teams losing money, the prospect of not playing a season may not sound all that frightening.
A factor that both sides will take into consideration is that the season is far longer than that of the NFL. With the playoffs, an NBA season can last about eight months. Add in training camp and the NBA offseason for teams that advance deep into the postseason is an extremely short break compared to their NFL counterparts. Some NBA players would welcome more time off and as the owners know from the lockout in 1998-99, a season can still be played even if it doesn’t start until later in the year. Both sides can do their best to negotiate a fair deal and still make some money by salvaging part of the season.
Unlike the NFL, NBA fans may unfortunately be in for a lockout that wipes out part or all of the season if negotiations don’t pick up.
June 17, 2011
Congratulations to the Boston Bruins and the Dallas Mavericks! It’s no surprise that Real.Big. fans wanted to show their team pride in a Real.Big. way. As a result, the officially licensed Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup Champions Logo and the officially licensed Dallas Mavericks 2011 NBA Champions Logo made their way to this week’s top Fathead seller list along with the Bruins logo, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Thomas. The Bruins products hold the top two places and the Maverick products took third and fourth place. While the Mavs fans are Real.Big. fans, it appears that the Bruins fans are even bigger.
The top ten selling Fatheads of the last week (6/10 to 6/17):
June 10, 2011
It’s no surprise that Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and the Bruins Logo made the Top Fathead Sellers list this week. It may surprise you, however, to see Kobe Bryant on top and Derrick Rose in third, considering their vacations began weeks ago. I suppose that my mom was right: “winning” isn’t everything.
The top ten selling Fatheads of the last week (6/3 to 6/9):
1. Kobe Bryant
3. Derrick Rose
6. (tie) Derek Jeter
6. (tie) Dirk Nowitzki
10. Rajon Rondo
May 31, 2011
Five years ago, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks led the series 2-0 and Game 3 by 13 with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter. That’s when Dwyane Wade took over the series and led the Heat to four straight wins.
If it was a movie script, the Mavericks would exorcise their 2006 finals collapse demons and defeat the villainous bully that looks unstoppable. Rocky did it multiple times. Hickory won the state championship in Hoosiers. However, in the real world, we don’t always get that storybook ending. John Elway finally got his Super Bowl ring. Greg Norman never got his Green Jacket.
In this case, I believe the Mavericks will have that happy ending.
Dirk Nowitzki is a man on a mission. He knows this could be his last good chance at an NBA championship. He has been the MVP of the playoffs so far. But Miami does have LeBron James. He left Cleveland to win “not four, not five, not six…..” titles. If he is going to get to title number eight, he’s got to win the first one. These two great players cancel each other out.
In 2006 if you happened to be flipping through the channels and stopped on any of the last four games of the NBA Finals, chances are you saw Dwayne Wade at the free throw line. He scored 42, 36, 43 and 36 in those four games. Don’t expect that constant parade to the line this time around. Perhaps more than any other, that series comes up in the discussion of outcomes affected by the officials. The powers that be don’t like that. They will make sure it doesn’t happen again. And this time Dallas has DeShawn Stevenson. In two meetings during the regular season, Stevenson held Wade to just two points in 30 minutes. Dallas will need Stevenson on the floor as much as possible because when he was on the bench Wade scored 42 points in 50 minutes.
Dallas has the advantage at the center position as well. Tyson Chandler has been a big part of the Mavericks’ improvement this year. He’s added defense and a toughness in the paint that they have lacked in the past. The matchup with Joel Anthony is probably a push defensively, but Chandler adds more offensively than Anthony.
Neither NBA team has an explosive point guard like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, but Dallas does have a future hall-of-famer in Jason Kidd. Kidd is no longer the superstar he was earlier in his career but he has improved his shooting and has been playing great defense. He’s got a ton of experience and usually makes the right play. Bibby has led a team deep into the playoffs before as well but he hasn’t done much since coming to Miami.
Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic come off the Mavs bench and can score in bunches. Brendan Haywood is a quality big man. This group is more explosive and consistent than the Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and James Jones group of Miami reserves.
The Heat have two of the best players in the league who are headed to the Hall of Fame. They also have a third all-star in Chris Bosh. The Mavericks have one superstar and a group of veterans with playoff experience that is better and deeper than the rest of the Miami roster. The Heat have more talent. Dallas is a better team. And if it comes down to coaching, I’ll take Rick Carlisle over Coach Spo.
Prediction: Dallas in 6.
May 25, 2011
Two days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had a commanding 15 point lead with five minutes left in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Durant had just nailed a seemingly dagger-three, consequently celebrating by turning to the OKC bench and miming a wrestling championship belt around his waist. But the gesture was premature, as the Thunder fell victim to a Dirk Nowitzki led comeback by the Dallas Mavericks in one of the most epic collapses in recent history of NBA playoffs.
To be fair, the Dallas comeback was both highly improbable and astonishing. No one expected them to make a run to get back into the game, let alone win, especially in the fashion they did – Dirk hitting ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot. At one point, Nowitzki pump faked to draw contact, which he clearly did, severely altering his shot, but didn’t get the foul call. But it didn’t matter. He nailed the jumper. Just Dirk being Dirk.
Even more improbable than Dallas’s Game 4 comeback is OKC coming back to win this series. That’s a tall order, especially for a young team with little NBA playoff experience. The series will likely end, in my opinion, tonight in Dallas. But Oklahoma City, team and fans, shouldn’t look on the outcome as a complete loss. For young teams, unfavorable NBA playoff losses and crushing disappointment often serve as building blocks for perennial championship contenders. The heartbreak Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka felt after Game 4 and (most likely) the end of the series will fuel their offseason routines have them more than ready for next year.
That’s part of the beauty of what OKC General Manager Sam Presti has built – a young team that’s molded together who, along with their coach, Scott Brooks, have a single goal in mind. Not fame or fortune, but a championship. Every indication coming from the NBA players leads us to believe they are in it to win it – together – for the long run.
Durant, the humble 22 year old superstar, leads the team on and off the court. During last summer’s free agent extravaganza, while NBA players LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee were being wined and dined by teams in need of superstars, holding egotistic press conferences and premature celebrations, Durant signed a five year contract extension with the small town team who drafted him. How did the public find out? He tweeted it.
The remaining young core exemplifies the same modesty, as well. Russell Westbook, Durant’s Robin to his Batman, was recently benched for the entire fourth quarter of a pivotal NBA playoff game. Most 22 year old budding stars would have been visibly upset, taking their issues to the media. But Westbrook handled it well, maintaining something along the lines of “as long as we win, it doesn’t matter.”
James Harden and Serge Ibaka, both 21 years old, have seen highs and lows in their sophomore seasons. Harden, a potential offensive powerhouse, and Ibaka, a block machine, have been benched and lost playing time for extended times this season, largely due to match ups with opposing teams. But they’ve both taken the reduced minutes in stride, as each has received more playing time since the trade of Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics. But will still sit, if needed, for match up sake.
Beyond the young core is a set of blue collar role players. Kendrick Perkins, the defensive minded center, provides toughness inside. Thabo Sefolosha starts at shooting guard, also as a defensive presence. Nick Collison spells Ibaka and Perkins when needed, providing solid rebounding, causing offensive fouls, and scoring back door layups. Eric Maynor, of Virginia Commonwealth fame, has developed into a more than capable point guard who can come in and hit shots and change the pace from Westbrook’s freight train style.
Together, the Thunder display the true meaning of the word team. They cooperate on the court, hang out off the court. Say the right things, do the right things. They’re everything that is right with sports and competition. Oklahoma City has developed a rare, but successful, organizational model that will be mimicked by other small market teams.
But even with all the right pieces in place, the Holy Grail isn’t a given. There is still work that needs to be done. OKC still has its weaknesses. Westbrook has a tendency to be a “black hole” and be less point guard, more scorer, sacrificing offensive plays and passes for kamikaze dives to the basket (good and bad, depending on the situation and outcome). Durant, while a gifted scorer, is not assertive enough with the team and lacks great defensive skills. Harden, also a capable scorer, is still very streaky and lacks a defensive presence. Sefolosha and Perkins, while strong defensive, are offensively inept. Perkins, too, has terrible knees, and often takes forever to get up and down the court (he also can’t really jump).
Clearly, they aren’t perfect. Presti and Brooks know this, as do the players. And they have the ability to improve and fix these issues, both internally through young player development, and externally, through flexibility available through draft picks and trades. As captain of the ship, Presti is more than capable of steering the Thunder even further in the right direction. So if my prediction is correct, Dallas defeats OKC in the NBA playoffs to reach the NBA finals, it’s not the end of the world (that’s scheduled for October now, right?). Unlike many teams, built for a 3-5 year run, the Thunder, assuming at least some of the team stays together, have the potential to be title contenders for the next ten years. As a Cleveland fan, I’m jealous, but also excited to see what the “good guys” can do.