Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ranking The Interest Level Of NBA's First Round Matchups

The NBA playoffs are finally here and it is a wonderful thing.  After a shortened season that crammed 66 games into a small window, we are now about to get two months of heated hoops with no clear championship favorite. 

All we know right now is who gets to play for the next two weeks.  So what should be the interest level on these eight series?

No. 1 - MIAMI VS NEW YORK:  Of course this series will get the most media hype.  The Knicks are relevant again and the Heat are the NBA's "it" team.  But it is much, much more than that.  The entire Heat season comes down to what they do in the postseason.  LeBron's MVP-esque season will be laughed off with another disappointment.  It is about NOW.  New York, however, really has no pressure.  They are just a No. 7 seed, but they have all the talent to make some noise in this tournament.  Carmelo Anthony is playing outstanding and the Knicks are actually D-ing up.  Oh ... and add all of that heated history (no pun intended) these two organizations have had in the past and it makes for a great series.

No. 2 - MEMPHIS VS LA CLIPPERS:  I will admit, I have Clipper fatigue.  Having said that, this series has everything you could ever want.  Two young up and coming teams.  Two franchises that have had limited success over the last 15-20 years.  The Clippers came into the season as the Western team that nobody would want any part of during the postseason.  The Grizzlies come into the playoffs as that team.  We have seen Memphis in this spot before since they shocked the Spurs last season.  We haven't seen the Clippers here.  I think the physical style of the Grizz will be a nice contrast with Lob City. 

No. 3 - OKLAHOMA CITY VS DALLAS:  Great series.  First off, it has that regional rivalry of Oklahoma-Dallas.  Second, you are pairing up last season's champion against a team that has a good shot at winning this year's title.  The Mavs haven't really shown well as a defending champ, but this is still a very talented team.  OKC may have that talent, but they still have to work out the Durant-Westbrook dynamic and how well James Harden will recover from the wrath of World Peace.

No. 4 - LA LAKERS VS DENVER:  These two had a nice postseason rivalry a few years back.  While Denver isn't as star-laden as the Lakers, they are a nice team.  I mean, to deal away Carmelo like they did at the deadline last year and to still be a solid team says a lot.  Of course, the Lakers will get most of the pub since they have Kobe Bryant (who is coming off a shin injury), Andrew Bynum (who is in a bit of a tift with coach Mike Brown) and Pau Gasol (who we last saw in the playoffs looking like a scared school boy).  They won't have Metta World Peace who was last seen throwing an elbow at Harden's jaw. 

No. 5 - BOSTON VS ATLANTA:  Well, there is the added bonus of the 4th-seeded Celtics not having the home court advantage over the 5th-seeded Hawks.  Atlanta is that team no one is talking about because they've basically been the same 2nd-level team for the past four years.  Boston has the same nucleus over the same period of time.  We know we will get that intensity from the Celtics we expect ... but what will Atlanta bring?  This has a wait-and-see feel to it.  Maybe it will get good?  Maybe not.

No. 6 - SAN ANTONIO VS UTAH:  Boooorrrrring.  Nothing against either team, but they aren't big time markets.  The Spurs are the same Spurs we've been watching for years in many people's eyes (it isn't true, since this offense has been dazzling this year).  Most of you didn't know the Jazz were in the postseason until you read this paragraph and probably couldn't name three guys on that team.  Again, nothing against these two teams but this doesn't crank up the interest meter. 

No. 7 - INDIANA VS ORLANDO:  This will probably be the series that people will not choose to watch.  The game that you will give up when your wife complains you are ignoring her by watching all this basketball.  The Pacers are a very good team that lacks stars.  Orlando's only star will be watching the postseason from his home with his "Fire SVG" shirt on.  Two jump shooting teams facing off with one at a huge disadvantage.  Pass. 

No. 8 - CHICAGO VS PHILADELPHIA:  This won't be high on my radar just because I feel the Bulls will win this series pretty handily.  After a strong start, the 76ers kind of limped to the playoffs.  The Bulls have spent this year watching Derrick Rose going in and out of the lineup.  Nothing to see here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

NBA Needs To Adopt New NHL Format

In a year ... or two ... or whenever they get around to doing it ... the NHL is revamping their conference format and going to a 4-conference deal. In it, you will play every other non-conference team twice (home and away) and then the rest of your games in house. The top four teams in each "conference" will make the postseason and will play each other in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

I love it.

I think the NBA should adopt the same thing.

I hate the way the NBA is set up. There are two conference and six divisions, just like the NHL is now and the MLB. But unlike the NHL and MLB, the NBA doesn't have a weighted divisional schedule. The Los Angeles Kings play more games against their Pacific Division rivals than they do against anyone else. The Los Angeles Dodgers play more games against NL West teams than anyone else. The Los Angeles Lakers, however, will see the Minnesota Timberwolves just as much as they'd see the Phoenix Suns in a typical year. Not right.

I've long been saying that the NBA should just eliminate the divisions altogether since they are truly meaningless. I mean, no weighted schedule and the postseason is just the best eight teams in the conference basically ranked by record. So why are there divisions? I've said just have two 15-team conferences and be done with it.

But I'm liking this NHL deal better. The NBA could benefit not only from having a weighted skeddie, but from having that kind of postseason.

Here is what it might look like:
ATLANTIC: Celtics, Heat, Knicks, Magic, Nets, Sixers, Wizards
CENTRAL: Bobcats, Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pacers, Pistons, Raptors
MIDWEST: Grizzlies, Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Wolves
PACIFIC: Blazers, Clippers, Jazz, Kings, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns, Warriors

Anyone who remembers the NBA from a decade ago won't be too shocked. It is pretty much set up the way the NBA was prior to the expansion Bobcats joining. The differences are the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets move to the Pacific Division (the Seattle Sonics were in the Pacific then, but are now the Thunder; the New Orleans Hornets were in the Central Division but, like the Thunder, are both now in the Midwest and bumping the Jazz and Nuggets west). The Jazz had to go to the Pacific Division due to geography and I paired Denver with them to give them another Mountain Time Zone rival.

You play home and away with all the non conference teams. Then, depending on if you played in a 7 or 8 team division, you will play the remaining 36 or 38 games against division foes. So the Lakers would play four of the other Pacific Division teams 5 times and three of them 6 times. A team in a 7-team division would play each division foe 6 times.

It helps with travel. It helps foster those division rivalries. It also helps make the divisions actually mean something.

Just imagine that the current records are final for the current season (I know, I know, they aren't and those records would look so much different with a weighted schedule. Just humor me for a moment). Here is what the postseason would look like:

ATLANTIC: 1-Heat vs 4-Knicks; 2-Celtics vs 3-Magic
CENTRAL: 1-Bulls vs 4-Bucks; 2-Pacers vs 3-Hawks
MIDWEST: 1-Thunder vs 4-Mavericks; 2-Spurs vs 3-Grizzlies
PACIFIC: 1-Lakers vs 4-Suns; 2-Clippers vs 3-Nuggets

The big differences to real life? Well, the Bucks would be in the playoffs instead of Philly and the Suns bump out the Rockets. And, like I said, those division battles would be epic. Maybe they don't seem so now, but as the years go by, those teams would keep meeting each other time and time again in the postseason and build up quite a hatred. That's big since, well, look at how the NBA's rivalries form. The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is due to their faceoffs in all those Finals. Knicks-Heat? Well those come from those postseason battles. So did the Kings-Lakers, Pistons-Celtics and even Bulls-Knicks. Playoff familiarity breeds bad blood which breeds epic postseason battles.

Monday, April 2, 2012

NBA's One-And-Done Rule Has Made A Mess Of Basketball

I will be up front about this: I have liked the NBA's one-and-done rule. I am one of those crazy people who LOVE both the college and pro game equally. So seeing these top talents wearing college uniforms for a season or so and then having these kids coming into the League with some sort of top-level experience is great for me.

But that's about it.

Over the past week or so (and usually every year about this time) the one-and-done issue comes to the forefront. This year it seems to have taken a bigger stage as the famously one-and-done factory Kentucky just won the National Championship. It also has gotten run as the NCAA and NBA have been bickering about the rule and its usefulness to each entity.

The NBA loves it because it takes some of the guessing out their draft picks. For many years, the NBA got to draft guys who they have seen in college for 3 or 4 years. About 20 years ago, more sophomores were starting to come out early. By the late 1990s (after Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant), high school seniors were making the jump. That was all good until the 2000s when there were more Kwame Browns and Darius Mileses than LeBron James and Dwight Howards. With the NBA investing money and roster spaces with these kids, they weren't getting much back. Then, about 4 or 5 years into their career, you are having to decide to sign a guy to a long-term deal who was just 23, had barely played and had only showed a sliver of what he may or may not become.

Not to mention that these kids came in with absolutely no "allure" about them. Sure, LeBron James came in as a name brand. But even a guy like Dwight Howard, not many people knew who he was until a few months before the NBA draft. It's hard for a team to sell their fan bases on a Martell Webster who no one heard of before the McDonalds All-American Game than a guy that college fans have be watching for months.

The NBA adopted the one-year buffer and their GMs got a nice look at guys in a more competitive setting.

The NCAA ... which has no control over this ... has reaped the benefits. Not only was there a huge influx of talent into the college game, but it had a trickle down effect to the mid-majors. The mid-majors have had way more success over the past 5 years than they have ever enjoyed before since the stakes off college athletics have reached these heights. The blue bloods, who get those big stars more than ever, have been rolling in the championships. Since the rule went into effect for the 2006-2007 season, here are the teams who have won titles: Kentucky, Florida (who won the 2nd of their back-to-back titles), Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and UConn.

Not to say that those teams had one-and-dones (for the most part they haven't), but it is interesting to see. Yeah, those title losing teams have had their share of one-and-dones (Derrick Rose, Greg Oden, Mike Conley) but it isn't like it was any more proportionate than the rest of college basketball. However this Kentucky team did win with three one-and-dones and one that may have been if not for the NBA lockout. Guys who were in college because of the NBA's rule.

Just look at this NCAA tournament. Guys like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, James Michael McAdoo, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Cody Zeller and Austin Rivers ... while guys like Harrison Barnes, Jerod Sullinger, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones will be in this draft because they were scared off by the NBA's looming lockout after their freshmen seasons ... are being featured and lauded for their skills. Of course. They are the best of the best and they wouldn't be in college if it wasn't for the NBA's rule.

But that just isn't enough for the NCAA. They would love the NBA to adopt a rule where guys had to go ... ohhhh how about 2 years before they go pro. Makes sense. A lot of the college fans aren't too keen on seeing a freshman's potential only to watch him bolt after one season in their school. Also, John Calipari has openly made a mockery of the rule that he's basically running a halfway house for the best high school players (note: I'm not saying Calipari is wrong for this, just that he doesn't care that it looks that way. Coach Cal will openly say that he is playing within the format that is laid out there and you can't hate that he's better at it than anyone else).

See the dirty little secret with one-and-dones is that you really don't have to go to college during the second semester. Just stay eligible during the first semester (always the easiest) and then who cares when the calendar year begins? By the time their grades come out, they are already gone to NBA draft camps and workouts. Calipari's job isn't to get these kids degrees from the University of Kentucky. His job is to win basketball games and championships and he knows that he can rake in the best high school talent each year and do that without having to concern himself with grade point averages. It isn't against the rules -- it is the nature of the beast.

The NBA responded the way you'd expect: You want two years of these kids? You are lucky we are even giving you one!

That's true. Sure, the NBA benefits from this setup too, but they don't need it as bad as the NCAA does. The NBA wouldn't mind having Anthony Davis blocking shots for them or Austin Rivers going one-on-five in an NBA uniform. I mean, the NBA is full of straight outta high school players as well. While those Korleone Youngs may miss here and there, but they really, really like those LeBrons, Kobes, Dwights and KGs.

My problem is the hypocrisy of it all ... especially by the NCAA. The NCAA wants the NBA to expand the rule to 2 or more years even though they don't have to do squat. From a business interest, it would be better for the NBA to expand the rule. They'd get a longer look at these kids while they come into the league more polished and with a bigger brand with them. Imagine if Anthony Davis had to play three years at Kentucky? Would he be placed among the other college greats at the center position like Walton, Alcinder, Ewing or Russell? Laugh now, but it really isn't out of the realm of possibility.

You laugh because we've been living in a basketball society where we don't even expect greatness in college anymore. We know we'll get a glimpse of what could be but understand that we still must wait to see the whole package. The legend just starts.

How to solve it? Well, like most problems that involve big business, it is complicated. It shouldn't be but it always is. It would be great if the NBA would just come out and say "either you come out right after high school or you stay for 3 years of college." But does that really solve the issue? Guys will still come out of high school ill prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for the rigors of pro ball. NBA scouts will still miss on prospects and owners will still be throwing tons of money down the toilet. The whole reason the league put the one-and-done rule was because of all the major draft misses.

As an aside: Michael Olowokandi went to school for four years and he was a bigger bust than Kwame Brown. Just saying.

Force them to college for three years no matter what? I doubt that would happen. A guy like Anthony Davis could stay at Kentucky or just decide to take some international money and go overseas. Why not? Davis will leave Kentucky right now as a sort of folk hero, he has a title and no one in the Bluegrass state will blame him for bolting for the money. Since he couldn't go to the NBA, he could just sign in Europe or something and get a very good amount of money. To foreign teams, this wouldn't be like signing Brandon Jennings: Davis has been intensely coached and isn't as raw as Jennings was going to Italy. The NBA would now lose Davis' momentum (he's the hottest thing in pre-NBA basketball right now) for two years while they waited for him to become draft eligible. The NBA won't do that.

I can see the NBA actually going to a 2-year-and-done rule ... but I wouldn't put it past them to have a sort of waiver panel to allow those "can't miss" high schoolers like LeBron James to apply for early entry into the draft. I also like Mark Cuban's suggestion (sort of) of a longer draft and to really use the D-League to develop talent. Draft four rounds and then have a true farm system where you can still have a real professional team and then use the minors to have your talent work on their game. Of course, the NBA used to have the NCAA do that for them for free.

Whatever is done will be sorted through by lawyers and economists and probably not much by basketball people. The needs of the players will not be taken seriously and two huge corporate entities like the NCAA and NBA will arm wrestle for the talents of the product they want to have represent them. All I know is whatever happens will not be perfect and once side of the isle will feel they are getting screwed ... though it will be players who will feel it the most.