Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Life, the Short Version

I grew up playing baseball.  My life revolved around impressing my father, my coach & my idol that I was going to be the next superstar and play for my New York Mets.  I played everyday and when I wasn't playing I was studying statistics in my father's baseball encyclopedia.  I swore I would memorize that book front to back and my father would often quiz me on things like Who are the members of the 500 home run club?  Which players have hit 50 home runs in a season?  I refused to disappoint and always made sure to be ready for whatever question came next.

My father was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 12, 1949.  The Dodgers were still around then but not for much longer.  He instead grew up a die hard Yankees fan.  His favorite player was catcher Thurman Munson.  Pictures hung in our garage of Yankee greats.  In the basement was a chest full of newspaper & magazine clippings from the 50's & 60's of articles, box scores & pictures of the greatest players to every play the game.  I remember pictures of Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and on and on.  We even had a statue of Babe Ruth that stood about 2 feet tall that would get moved around from room to room.  Even as a Yankee fan, more than anything he was a student of the game and respected greatness no matter what team it was on.

When he married my mother, a Queens native, they decided to settle in Middle Village, Queens.  I was their second born & first boy in 1981.  I don't remember how I became a Mets fan but I assume it's because of how close we lived to Shea Stadium.  And I'm sure it wasn't something my father was too happy about at the time.  Darryl Strawberry quickly became my favorite player.  I didn't know why until years later I found a ticket stub that said 'Mark's first game' and did a little research.

In November of 1985 my family relocated to Wilmington, Delaware.  I started little league that next summer & played mostly shortstop due to my strong arm.  I later would become a third basemen & pitcher but shortstop was always my favorite position.  All the while my father was by my side encouraging me and teaching all of the nuances of the game.  My path is life couldn't be more clear.  When I was on that field time stood still.  I remember vividly the smell of the grass, the smoke when the dirt was kicked up, the sounds of kids pounding their gloves & the smack of the bat when somebody caught a pitch just right.  I couldn't imagine anything better in life.

On October 15, 1991 everything changed.  I was ten years old.  My father took off from work that day, something I don't ever recall happening as a kid.  My mom was going to chaperone a kindergarten field trip for my younger brother.  My dad walked us three kids to the bus stop and I watched as he gave my brother and sister kisses before they stepped onto the bus.  I wouldn't let him kiss me though.  To this day I don't know why.

We returned home from an ordinary school day and was greeted by my neighbor that lived across the street.  She told us that my mom had taken my dad to the hospital.  My father was diabetic and in that moment I rationalized it that something happened related to that and it was no big deal.  A few hours later my mom came to get us but something was off.  I remember as we were walking across the street that I kept asking her where dad was and she kept saying let's just get in the house.  When we reached the front lawn I stopped and said 'Did he die?'  I looked in my mother's eyes and knew it was true.

The next few days, and coming years, were a blur with only 2 things standing out in my memory.  My father served in Vietnam so he had a military burial.  I remember my mother shaking and grabbing my arm when the first shots let off on the 21-gun salute before being presented with the folded flag.  And sitting on the stairs in my childhood home as a house full of people whose faces I can't remember helped themselves to food and joked around while I was frozen in shock.  I always resented that moment.  My world was crushed and the best anyone could muster was 'Don't worry, you'll be okay.'  I wasn't okay and I wouldn't be for many, many years.  Depression set in slowly at first and then full on later in my teenage years.  I refused to play baseball anymore and couldn't understand why this had happened.

During those next few years I turned to basketball.  Although baseball had been my life, I loved all sports.  I was tall, very tall, about six foot at 12 years old so I joined my school's CYO league.  I played power forward and wore number 40 for Shawn Kemp.  I was always a Knicks fan but, like my father, respected all greatness in the game.  I wasn't very good but always played with heart.  I concentrated on rebounding and above all blocking shots.  In eighth grade, I probably averaged 4 or 5 blocks per game but just as many fouls, hard fouls.  You weren't coming into the lane when I was there without thinking twice next time.  I made it my mission, and in retrospect, it was probably a way to release some of the anger that had been building inside of me.

My most memorable moment came during the championship game of my 8th grade season.  It was close all the way until the end before the other team starting pulling away.  I had gotten a technical foul at some point during the game, most likely for fouling too hard or yelling at the ref thanks to some 'slight' temper issues.  Anyway, we had been fouling this same kid over and over to try and extend the game and he made every single damn free throw.  After our team missed on the other end and we we're down 5 or so with a few seconds left.  Everyone started laying off assuming the game was over and they would just run out the clock.  But for some reason this kid saw an open lane and started going up for a layup.  I caught it out of the corner of my eye and bolted towards him.  As he was in the air I demolished him.  I remember the sound of him hitting the padded wall that was about a foot or so past the baseline and he just crumbled.  1.7 seconds remained on the clock and I was ejected from my last basketball game that I ever played.  Respect the game kid.

I would try out for freshman basketball in high school but as everyone else grew I stayed about the same size.  I couldn't dribble or shoot and there wasn't a place for a undersized power forward in the coaches eyes.  I gave my all during those tryouts and swear I jumped higher than I ever did before to grab every rebound.  In the end, I realized that every other kid had their father there chatting up the coach and I was just a 14 year old with no voice in a man's world.

I discovered weed shortly thereafter and self-medicated myself through high school.  I went to a catholic school as one of the poorer kids but my mom always found a way to make sure I had the best opportunities in life.  Once a straight-A student, I had mostly given up but still maintained B's & C's with minimal effort.  I latched on to subjects or teachers that grabbed my attention and could care less about things I found useless to me.  I didn't talk much and spent those years analyzing people's words and behaviors.  I never 'fit in' and didn't understand the copycat culture I was stuck in.

I found my solace in hip hop music.  2Pac immediately became my favorite rapper.  He was a man who grew up without a father, spoke with conviction and purpose, and was an activist for what he called the 'lost souls' of the world.  I found pride in his success because I identified with his struggle to overcome the cards he was dealt early in life.  Small as that may seem, it was actually something that brought me hope and began the healing process.

When I was 15, I got into a car accident with a group of my friends.  I was sitting behind the driver's seat with no seat belt on when we hit a jeep head on doing about 40 mph.  I was airlifted to the hospital and when I woke up I was told I had a broken jaw, 4 broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a lacerated liver & spleen.  The doctor told me that it was 50-50 that I survived.  I spent a week in ICU before being released.  All I remember before the accident was that I made my friend pull over and I stepped out of the car with this awful feeling in my gut that something bad was going to happen.  That was the last time I didn't trust my instincts.

As the life around me began to spiral with most of my friends drinking daily & moving on to heavier drugs, my relationship with my mother finally began to blossom.  After years of avoiding being home and bottling up my anger I started to open up to her and began to realize the magnitude of sacrifice she made to raise three young children on her own.  We developed a great friendship in which I became brutally honest about the things I was getting into.  She had helped me get my first job at 15 and instilled a strong work ethic in me plus amazing values on how she believed a person should live their life.

My mother was a nurse who worked everywhere from hospitals working specifically with the mentally handicapped to nursing homes working with the elderly.  She is the most selfless person I've ever met and gave up everything to ensure my siblings and I had food, clothes & a home.  She always encouraged me in whatever interests I had no matter how ridiculous.  After high school, I attended a local community college.  I lasted half of a semester before deciding that I didn't want to waste time re-learning what I just finished.  An opportunity then arose for me to move back to Queens.

So, at 19 years old, I set out to embrace my love of music and enrolled in an audio engineering school in midtown Manhattan.  I had famous teachers (one produced a 7x platinum pop album, another sang backup vocals for Sting) but quickly realized it was way over my head.  I started working 7 days a week at 2 different jobs just to pay the bills.  It was a constant financial struggle but it was New York City.  My cousin took me out and introduced me to a lot of new people.  I was enjoying myself for the first time in awhile.  And the food, ahh the food.  Bagels, pizza, raviolis, knishes, cannolis, semolina bread, man I miss the food.  I would walk into Carlo's Pizzeria and hear 'Hey Mark, a chicken roll & a slice?'  I'd say 'How bout them Mets' and every time the response was 'Ehhhh.'

I was hypnotized by the feel of the city, the way of life and the way everybody looked out for each other.  Everyone was struggling one way or another but would just take it on the chin, pick themselves up and do what had to be done.  It was a city of survivors.  I worked at a gas station during the week and had a weekend job power-washing Getty gas trucks, hospital equipment & whatever other side jobs my boss Joe would put together.  He was an old connected guy that wore the same blue shirt halfway unbuttoned and revealing his heart surgery scar that was only slightly covered by his big gold chain.  He maintained a scowl, constantly combed his hair back and smoked 3 packs of Lucky Strikes a day.  He would grab you by your shoulder and squeeze just hard enough to make violently angry and then give you a little smack on the face just to let you know to relax.

Joe frequently came into the gas station I worked at to get the paper, his smokes & fill up his work vans.  He once overheard me say I needed to find a side job for extra money and hired me on the spot.  He made everyone smile when he talked to them but not because he was funny.  As soon as he turned away the smiles would disappear.  He was from a different era but he didn't care what people thought and I'm pretty sure he purposely fucked with everybody because he could.  He would give me the nickname Sweet Pea.  I hated it.

I spent a lot of time working in different Brooklyn neighborhoods I never would have gotten the chance to see.  I was the steady worker while my partners would rotate between Barry Sr., Earl & Barry Jr.  Barry Sr. was my favorite because he took the time to get to know me and impart some wisdom.  Earl was young and stood 6'7" at least and the only time he spoke was to talk shit about Joe.  Barry Jr. was a dick.  He left me in front of the Van Dyke projects in an unmarked white van across from a park with about 30 guys playing basketball.  I remember looking out the window and watching the game for a minute before leaning back in my seat.  A few seconds later I looked back out of the window and saw 30 guys not playing basketball anymore and just staring at me.  I was 20 years old, white and had no idea where the fuck I was.

One day working, I believe at Brooklyn Hospital, in the Prospect Park area with Barry Sr. we broke for lunch a little after 11:00.  Barry told me let's go get McDonald's breakfast.  When I said it was after 11, he turned and smiled 'You're in the hood now man.'  And I'll be damned if we didn't eat breakfast sandwiches that day directly across from the park where they just found some guy's decapitated head the night before.  'Just stay with me and you're good' he told me as I tried to ignore the stares directed my way.  I got to see a lot of projects that I recognized from my music like Queensbridge & Marcy.  I worked in Canarsie, Brownsville & Bed Stuy always soaking in that certain something in the air.

I was at my day job at the convenience store/gas station on 9/11.  All we had was a radio broadcast of what was happening.  I remember the guy on the radio saying 'Holy shit!! the south tower just collapsed' and a customer falling to the floor crying and then running out of the store.  Only then did the reality of the situation hit me.  Our local Maspeth fire station lost 8 men during their rescue attempts.  Men I had given free coffee to each time they came in.  One of my co-workers put together a fund raiser for them and promptly quit to join the Marines.  Cops patrolled the streets with M-16s and things got very different for awhile.  Everyone was affected in some major way, whether directly or indirectly.  I saw our neighborhood pull together as one and that might have been the greatest display of community I have ever been a part of.

At my next job as a service writer for a car repair shop, I worked with people like Altaf from Afghanistan & Ismet from Russia.  Altaf's wife used to bring me goat meat sandwiches once in awhile.  It was a troubling time for him in the wake of 9/11.  We spent many hours discussing religion and cultures.  He taught me a lot and his suffering became mine as well.  Izzy smoked Marlboro's and drank 10 cups of coffee a day while fixing cars.  He had 3 jobs and would tell me stories of having to sneak into Russia because he was wanted.  There were others too.  One whose name slips my mind but whose face is still clear in my mind was a young man from the Ivory Coast.  He told me stories of witnessing black and white magic.  One story goes that a man would put a coin tied to a string between the pages of the Bible.  He could make the coin spin one way and when he opened the book, 20 dollars would appear. 'But that's black magic' he said, 'That's no good.'  I had so many influences on my perspective at that time.

My next job was working at a concrete block factory in Flatbush.  I'd take the Interboro Parkway from Queens and get off in East New York.  I'd often get stuck at the light in front of Thomas Jefferson High School and watch a few hundred students flood the streets of Pennsylvania Ave holding up traffic.  Most times a cop would be throwing one or more of the kids up against the side of the school and frisking them.  There was a homeless guy missing some fingers that I would give 5 bucks to once in a while when I saw him.  I'd see him later with scratch off tickets but I couldn't get mad, dollar and a dream.  Further down, near Livonia, there would be some guys selling bootlegs on the corner.  I was fascinated by it all but sometimes forget I was staring and would have to run a red light or two.

I worked with guys like brothers Alex & Eddie, Sonny, a retired cop from Kingston, Jamaica & some guy whose accent was so thick I never understood a word out of his mouth.  Alex was a young, slick-talking Puerto Rican kid & his brother Eddie was a big boy that would DJ.  Eddie lived on New Lots underneath the L train and across from basketball courts.  The first time I went over to his place there was his 80-something year old Jamaican neighbor smoking a giant spliff on the porch.  Eddie & I talked music and then he abruptly told me I had to go.  I asked him what was wrong and he said 'Nah man, the sun is going down, you gotta go.'  I was naive still but quickly learning that even though I loved embracing different cultures and areas I had to understand I wasn't always welcome.

I don't know if you've ever met a killer before but they have a certain light in their eyes that you might not notice at first but once you see it, it pierces you.  Sonny had those eyes.  The man claimed to have over 20 kids in many different countries.  He spent over 20 years on the Kingston police force and had obviously seen things I hope to never see in my lifetime.  He didn't talk too much but when he did everybody gathered around and had his undivided attention.  I mostly spent my days shoveling 2-ton mixes of wet concrete off of the floor before it would dry.  At the end of the night, I would jump into a huge metal hopper and jack-hammer off all of the dried concrete so it would be ready for the next day.  I left each day filthy from head to toe, sore all over & blowing black shit out of my nose.  I would get home and watch the replay of the Knicks game.

I watched nearly every game that season.  It was the first full season of the Stephon Marbury era in New York.  We had the Junkyard Dog, Jerome Williams, flying around the court.  Kurt Thomas was knocking down baseline jumpers.  Some young 19-year old named Trevor Ariza was rocking the Garden with ridiculous dunks.  We had Tim Thomas, Penny Hardaway, Moochie Norris, Mike Sweetney & even Vin Baker.  It was the year Allan Houston's knees finally gave out and the last time I saw the purest jump shot go through the hoop.  We were terrible but I got to listen to 82 games of Walt 'Clyde' Frazier.  It was my escape from a rough day.

I moved back to Delaware in 2005 just in time for the tail end of the Allen Iverson era.  The Sixers were the local team so I naturally got to know the teams pretty well.  I started working at a casino as a slot machine technician which was a fancy term for jamming your screwdriver into the escalator of a coin hopper to clear a jam while trying your best not to slip and scrape the top four layers of skin off of your fingers.  I met Jeff from Philly.  Our casino had a race track so Jeff and I would read the programs during the morning and pick our horses, make our bets and then sneak outside to catch the races.  Our favorite horse was a $10,000 claimer named Tinkerbuck.  He barely ever won but damned if he didn't look good and make us some money once or twice.  I started to realize I could make a career in the casino business before realizing that the corporate world was much different than what I was used to.

In 2010, my girlfriend at the time told me she was taking a job in Phoenix and asked me if I wanted to go with her.  After a month of deliberating, I got that gut feeling that I needed to go but I didn't know why. But I trusted it and I went.  I found a job at a new casino doing the same thing I did before.   I started this blog while also working on a fantasy baseball & football site that my cousin & a friend started.  I still feel we were one of the best sources of information out there but we just couldn't develop the following we needed to get over the hump.  After a year or so, I decided to give up on the site and focused my attention to basketball.

I began developing the early stages of my spreadsheets.  The true origins of which were notebook after notebook of research I maintained over the years filled with ideas to pursue.  I began searching through different websites for information and kept becoming frustrated that I had to go to 10 different sites to get all of the info I was looking for.  So I started compiling it all myself.  I've always been more interested in the future of NBA teams, the potential of players more so than the current state of teams.  I researched endlessly each team's assets which led me to draft rights held players.  That led me to international player movement and 5 years of adding on and perfecting the search for and organizing of player movement, rosters & the things you see from me on a regular basis.

Things fell apart with my girlfriend but lo and behold that gut feeling to move to Arizona found me when I came to work one night and had to train a new employee.  That woman turned into my wife and has made me the happiest I have ever been in my life.  I have a boy and a girl now that are the loves of my life.  I have a strong woman who makes me laugh every day and who supports me in my 'basketball thing you do' even though she has no idea what it is about.  She gets excited when someone from a NBA team emails me & when my name gets mentioned in an ESPN article but mostly we're both happiest when I'm home being daddy.

If you've made it this far in the article just know that I love this strange thing I do each day.  It's been in my blood since the very beginning when I was reading that baseball encyclopedia.  I love that so many people have enjoyed what was just supposed to be for me and that I have had some kind of impact in the world of sports I have loved so much.  I used to dream of working for an NBA team or getting paid to do what I do and hey, some day it might still happen, but somehow I have come full circle.  I can honestly say I am happy and filled with love.  The obstacles never stopped being placed in my way but they don't slow me down anymore.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


ULEB rankings are determined by the results of the previous 3 seasons of Euroleague & Eurocup play excluding the Qualifying rounds.  Determining the total amounts of points for each club is described as follows:

"The clubs receive two points for a win and one point for a defeat, in games of the main stage of the Euroleague and the Eurocup. Qualifying round results are not taken into account. Clubs also receive 2 bonus points for reaching the last 16, 2 bonus points for reaching the last 8, one bonus point for reaching the last 4, and 1 bonus point for reaching the Final.  In case of tie, the club with more wins in the last three seasons will qualify above. Should a tie persist, the ranking in the last Euroleague or Eurocup season will determine the positions."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Envisioning the Future of the NBA Pt. 3: The Draft, Re-Alignment & The Playoffs

Another recent hot-button issue has been figuring out a way to re-do the draft lottery process. Adam Silver has maintained that he is “studying it. I'm listening to everyone, from media to players who have a point of view.” The first real potential solution came in the form of ‘The Wheel’ which was submitted by a Boston Celtics’ front office member. In that proposal, each team gets one of each pick, from 1 to 30, only once over a 30-year period. There are plenty of other nuggets as well but that’s the gist of it. I, myself, took a look at the 3-year cumulative wins based lottery proposal earlier in the year. The newest proposal talks about adjusting the weighted percentages that lottery team’s get. Regardless of which plan the NBA chooses, the idea is to prevent out and out tanking for high draft picks.

None of the proposals are perfect but it’s obvious that some sort of change is going to be implemented in the near future. Along with that, Silver is on record as wanting to increase the draft age limit to 20 once the new union director is in place. Well that just happened. The age limit issue is a tough one. Proponents for raising the age limit talk about the league getting more NBA-ready players and less projects. Retractors point out the exploitative nature of the NCAA system and allowing players to earn a living whenever that opportunity presents itself and not when they are told it’s okay. It’s very likely that NCAA players will have to wait until after their sophomore season to enter the draft & I believe that will lead to some interesting situations. We’ve already seen Brandon Jennings, in the past, and Emmanuel Mudiay, just recently, skip college to earn immediate paydays overseas. That trend would likely continue and perhaps grow with an even stricter age limit.

The flip side of that is if the NBA will continue to allow draft-ineligible players the option to enter the D-League. We just saw P.J. Hairston & the Greek Freak’s brother go from D-League to NBA draft pick but those were one year situations. If high school players have to play 2 seasons of minimum-wage ball in the D-League before being draft eligible it seems infinitely more likely that they would choose the overseas route. China offers huge paydays to big name players and the major European teams provide ample financial & competitive situations. Yes there are plenty of examples of teams with financial issues overseas, even storied franchises like Montepaschi Siena, and a very long list of players claiming they didn’t get paid but good agents know where to steer their clients to have the best chances of avoiding that type of situation. It’s a tough transition for such young men to go from high school to a new country and some won’t want to but, without a D-League plan in place by the NBA, it will likely happen.


Realignment is honestly one of the easiest fixes for the NBA. There’s no multi-year long build up as with many of the other issues facing the league. It is simply a matter of deciding which teams are going to be in which conference, divisions yes or no, how many aaaand done! Expansion to 32 teams would allow a jump from 3 divisions per conference to 4. Drastic changes include eliminating the conference designations of Eastern & Western and completely mix up teams like the NFL does. More subtle changes like going back to 2 divisions per conference or no divisions at all could also be on the table. It’s really a simple way to add excitement and create new rivalries instantly.

Say we went with a 4 team divisions while including our top 2 expansion teams, Seattle and Las Vegas. We would separate teams by general map location. Below is a quick breakdown of how that might look. 

If you wanted, you could easily keep the Eastern & Western conference designations by moving Minnesota to the East and adding Seattle and Vegas to the West. More fun would be to go with an NFL-style setup and put each odd numbered division into one conference and every even numbered division into another. It might be too drastic a change for traditionalists but it could be quite interesting. More than likely the NBA will lean more towards eliminating divisions but keep conferences intact, as they've previously hinted towards.

Getting rid of divisions stops the problem of champions of bad divisions from automatically receiving higher playoff seeds. Eliminating conferences all together, the international model if you will, would allow the very best 16 teams to make the playoffs every year.  This is what that would've look like in the last 5 seasons.

There are a lot of different ways to go with it and, as I mentioned before, it's not something that has to wait.  Obviously, changes with expansion teams has to wait but that's just one example.  The elimination of divisions is a simple plan that could be rolled out right away with almost no problem.  Eliminating conferences could be seen as a more drastic measure but the immediate benefits can be seen in the 2013-14 column above, Phoenix makes the playoffs as the 13th best team instead of being left out.  A lot of people have pointed to the weakened Eastern Conference as a reason to change the way we decide who makes the playoffs.  

People who complain that we would never see classic Finals matchups like Lakers-Celtics but wouldn't it be great to see that as a 2nd or 3rd round matchup.  I think that it would only strengthen rivalries when teams have more realistic opportunities to play meaningful games and series against each other.  It also allows the two best teams overall to play for the title.  Isn't it time that we move towards rewarding teams for being the best and not penalizing them for playing in a tougher conference.  

Again, all of these ideas could not only be beneficial to the league but also bring a new air of excitement.  I believe the NBA has the best product in sports and a little progressive thinking could ensure the future of the game continues to improve in all aspects.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Envisioning the Future of the NBA Pt. 2: Expansion

It has been 10 years since the NBA added an expansion team and Seattle has been in countless rumors since they were moved to become the next in line. The NBA currently has 30 teams with varying degrees of profits, depending on who you ask. That led to 2011 strike and the owners standing firm on reducing the players’ share of revenue from 57% down to 50%. Now, with Steve Ballmer’s 2 billion dollar bid to buy the Clippers and the impending TV rights deal expected to more than double what each team receives annually, people have continued to broach the subject.  Adam Silver has been firm thus far on the issue as noted in a February ESPN article"Ultimately I'm responsible for the financial and competitive health of a 30-team league, and while we made tremendous strides in the last collective bargaining agreement, we're still not there yet. We don't have 30 profitable teams in the NBA, and while we've made progress, there are still teams that aren't competitive enough."

Based on that statement there are a number of problems that have to be addressed before Silver would even consider adding another expansion franchise. Kevin Pelton showed that coming up with enough talented players will not be a problem and anyone who even remotely follows the Euroleague knows that there are plenty of NBA-level players overseas. The talent pool could easily support 2 new teams and likely more so I don’t think teams being competitive has anything to do with available talent as much as it has to do with teams tanking/rebuilding.

So that would mean it comes down to dollar bills and all of a sudden it looks like there will plenty of those to go around. In 2004, the expansion fee for the Charlotte Bobcats was $300 million which was equally divided between each team at $10 million a pop. A recent Business Insider article notes that future expansion fees could easily topple $1 billion after Ballmer’s recent Clippers purchase which would mean,  If the NBA sells two expansion franchises, bringing the total number of teams to 32 (same as the NFL), that would be $70-100 million for each of the league's 30 NBA owners.

In 2016 we will have the new TV rights deal which is projected to increase each team’s share by 3 times what they currently get. Right now, that share is roughly $30 million per year per team. So let’s say that increases by 2.5x to $75 million per team. If we add one new franchise each team would get $72.6M, two new franchises bring each team’s share to $70.3M. So a $5M per year hit for each team gets quickly erased by that $70-100M in expansion money. J. Bruce Miller, a man hoping to bring the NBA to Louisville, recently said, “As I've repeatedly said, ONCE the League gets control of the Sterling situation either by Sterling losing and the sale carrying forth OR by Sterling winning and the League (itself) moving forward as per Silver "...with our own proceedings." --- then the time will come to focus on the television rights negotiation which will also involve the potential expansion to Seattle and another city (most likely to be Louisville).” 

We’ll talk more about Mr. Miller in a little while. Silver has basically said, in so many words, that expansion isn’t going to happen before the new CBA is in place. The players will surely opt out in 2017 as Larry Coon explains, “I expect the players to opt-out in 2017, and for the league to impose a lockout on July 1, 2017 (because they can’t do business without an agreement in place), However, negotiations will be quick and smooth (similar to 2005), and there will be a new CBA in place in time for the 2017-18 season to begin on time.”  The players will get a bigger share of the pie but the pie is growing very quickly, enough so to keep everybody involved happy. So I think we can pinpoint the 2017-18 season as a realistic timeframe of when the expansion process could begin. How long it would take from go from discussing it to a new team or two actually playing in the league depends on what cities would be selected. Let’s take a look at them shall we.

SEATTLE – The obvious and most deserved selection. The Sonics left in 2008 and since then the city has been linked to just about every fleeting franchise slightly rumored to relocate. At the Sloan Conference this past March, Silver mentioned that the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl helped Seattle’s chances at getting an NBA team. Investor Chris Hansen continues to be at the forefront of the Seattle movement and has arena plans already laid out. It looked like his group was going to get the Sacramento Kings to relocate but had it slip away at the end. Regardless, Seattle’s business plan is well laid out for all to see and the city possesses a rabid fan base chomping at the bit for the Sonics to return. So while there is no arena currently in place, Seattle could easily break ground early enough in advance to have a team ready rather quickly.

LAS VEGAS – The solid candidate. David Stern had a telling quote last year, “It wouldn’t surprise me if Commissioner Silver was looking at strong applications from Las Vegas and Seattle in the coming years, and I’m going to enjoy watching it.” The Summer League has been held at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center since 2004 so there’s already an NBA connection in play. That arena is too small for an NBA team but alas the city has already broken ground on a brand new arena that will be placed right on the Vegas strip. The gambling issue has long been the obvious concern but that has seemed to diminish over the years. The public has quickly forgotten about the Tim Donaghy betting scandal but concerns will certainly be brought back up should Vegas gain serious consideration. While the potential for foul play would seem to be a drawback, it seems less of an issue than it did in years past. With an arena already being built, Vegas is a solid contender who should have a number of interested ownership groups.

LOUISVILLE – The serious contender. Louisville’s ABA franchise folded in 1976 after being passed over for the NBA merger but it has always been known as a basketball town. The best thing the city has going for them is the NBA-ready arena that currently houses the University of Louisville basketball team. The aforementioned J. Bruce Miller said, “I remain in constant (near daily) contact with representatives of the League, certain team management individuals and potential majority owners for a Louisville/Kentucky franchise.” While Miller is a noted friend of David Stern’s, it has to be encouraging that he appears to have continual contact within the league. It has been questioned that the Louisville market is strong enough to sustain an NBA team but Forbes magazine even did an article stating that Louisville should be at the top of the NBA’s list of expansion cities. With an arena in tow Louisville certainly makes a good case.

PITTSBURGH – The outsider with an arena in place. Pittsburgh is another city that already has an arena in place. The CONSOL Energy Center opened in 2010 and has already hosted the NCAA tournament. The city briefly housed an ABA franchise and even had a team as recently as 2008 with the CBA’s Pittsburgh Xplosion. Pittsburgh is known as a city with a loyal fan base that many believe could translate to support for an NBA team. David Stern actually mentioned Pittsburgh first in 2013 when he rattled off a list of potential NBA cities. On the negative side, a 2011 article by The Business Journals named the city as the 3rd most overextended market for professional sports teams. Locals play up the potential Philly & Cleveland rivalries as another positive but outside of the arena there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot more positives.

VIRGINIA BEACH – The outsider with some hope. In contrast to Pittsburgh, The Business Journals research paper noted Virginia Beach as the 5th best market to host an NBA franchise. The city tried to lure the Kings there in recent times and have multiple proposals to build an arena in attempts to bring any professional sports team to a region without any pro teams at the moment. That fact would ensure the team the entire market of nearly 2 million people. It has also been noted that the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area is the 6th largest NBA television market in the U.S. even without a team. The stalemate continues to be spending the money to build an arena with no promise of any team coming to town. Obviously, an approved plan to build one would go a long way to moving up this list.

THE OTHER U.S. CITIES – David Stern also mentioned Kansas City & Columbus in his list of potential locations. Kansas City has an arena in place but most believe it lacks the money & support that would be needed to sustain the franchise. Columbus also has an arena in place but in addition to the potential lack of support, the city also suffers from being so close to two existing NBA teams, Cleveland and Indiana. While both cities continue to get mentioned as potential landing spots, neither one would realistically seem to be able to beat out the teams mentioned above.

THE INTERNATIONAL CITIES – An Adam Silver quote from last year, "When we do expand, we'd need to expand probably with multiple teams, so that you wouldn't have an orphan team in Europe, but that you'd potentially have a division so those teams could play each other more often and NBA teams presumably traveling in Europe could have more teams to play when they're over there." Obviously the important word is ‘when’. The NBA has made great efforts to tap into the international market and badly hope that European and even Chinese expansion can happen at some point. The NBA has aggressively played preseason games overseas in recent years and the league clearly has the most international appeal of all the major U.S. leagues. The main problem, of course, is travel. As Silver mentioned, there would need to be multiple expansion team at the same time but scheduling would still be problematic. It’s certain that the NBA wants to have some teams overseas but expansion will definitely occur stateside first.

In conclusion, I think expanding the league by two more teams is something we will see in the next 5 years.  I think talk about potential cities will ramp back up once the TV deal is completed.  The money will be available to make it feasible and the talent pool will always be ripe for the picking.  Seattle seems the lock for one spot while Vegas & Louisville appear the front runners for the second spot with Virginia Beach & Pittsburgh pulling up the rear.  Having 32 teams opens up lots of possibilities for divisional and conference realignment and is also allows for some potential bracket-style tournaments.  5 years from now seems realistic to have 32 NBA teams and also would allow enough time to complete the 1 to 1 D-League affiliation I spoke about in part one.  The combination of expansion & D-League reform could go hand in hand with draft lottery reform and also open up many more opportunities overseas.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Envisioning the Future of the NBA Pt 1: The D-League

Two more teams will be added to the D-League for the upcoming season and the 17 of the 18 teams will be direct affiliates to NBA teams. That number has risen from 11 in just two years. While more teams continue to sense the future potential many have begun envisioning a true minor league system with each NBA team having its own D-League affiliate. Matt Moore talked briefly of what that could mean for the league,

"There's a lot the NBA can do with a 30-team system. Expand the draft, change roster spot availability, improve the salary functions to help keep talent from going overseas (a major problem). It could help with moving the age limit back, a priority for Adam Silver, with rehab assignments, and generally help boost the league in developing its talent, a major issue for it." 

As you can see, a large number of possibilities arise once that one for one system is in place. While it’s hard to say with any certainty when we could realistically expect to get to that point, we all have to be encouraged by the fact that more than half of the teams in the NBA feel there’s value in doing so.

The NBA also recently made a rule change that Gino Pilato helped clarify for us all,

“Under the new rule, NBA D-League players who are on an NBA team’s ‘draft list’ will have the opportunity to automatically play for their NBA team’s NBA D-League affiliate both prior to the NBA D-League Draft and at any point during the season. In the case of players who join the NBA D-League mid-season, NBA D-League teams will have 24 hours to claim or relinquish rights to the player whose draft rights are retained by their NBA parent club. An NBA team’s ‘draft list’ consists of players for whom that team holds exclusive NBA contract signing rights.”

This is the rule that will allow Oklahoma City to ‘draft and stash’ first round pick Josh Huestis in the D-League this year. It’s become rather controversial recently as Zach Lowe explains. Pilato goes on to explain that prior rules forced teams to wheel and deal to keep their own drafted players with their own D-League affiliate to avoid the situation that Pierre Jackson was in last season. Jordan Conn noted,

Because he never signed a contract with New Orleans, the 22-year-old Jackson entered the D-League in the same capacity as its hundreds of undrafted NBA hopefuls. Rather than going to the Pelicans’ affiliate, the Iowa Energy, Jackson was available in the D-League draft to be taken by any team. The Stampede, who are partnered with the Portland Trail Blazers, chose him fourth overall. And so it came to be that Jackson starred for a D-League team affiliated with a franchise that could not, at least while the Pelicans held his draft rights, ever call him up to the NBA.

So while the NBA fixed that particular issue it opened up a new loophole that the Thunder is exploiting. It’s similar to the current MLB draft slot system in which teams draft a lesser player because he will sign for less money. In this case, Huestis basically agreed to forego his rookie scale contract for one year and accept the D-League max $25,000 for this year so OKC can avoid cutting another player & leaving them some wiggle room under the luxury tax threshold.

The rule itself, however, was put in place with the future in mind. NBA teams regularly draft international players and have them stay overseas for a couple of years in the traditional ‘draft and stash’ mold. There are many of them as you can see. In more recent drafts we have seen teams take college players late in the second round who were okay with being ‘stashed’ overseas for a year or two in the hopes of improving enough to crack the team’s roster in the future. The player, who otherwise would unlikely be drafted, benefits from high-level experience, good money & a much better chance to make the NBA in the future. Meanwhile, the team saves a roster spot and valuable cap space to spend on veteran help while also acquiring an asset that can be used in future trades.

In the same article, Pilato also talks about another potential rule change that would allow NBA teams to keep the right to 4 training camp cuts on their D-League affiliate. That’s a change from the current rule of 3 and also a way for teams to double the amount of money those players can get paid. That’s a start in trying to remedy the biggest problem that the D-League suffers from, player salaries. The league has continued to market the league as the best way to get recognized and get an opportunity to play in NBA. In fact, if you go to the official D-League website you’ll see smack dab in the middle ‘149 Current NBA players have D-League experience.” While this is an accurate statement, it glosses over the fact that most of its players are making damn near close to minimum wage.

The reality is that, outside of the NBA, there is a whole hell of lot of places around the world to play and get paid handsomely. Granted, not every player is going command a high salary but this is why you continue to see the league’s best players make a mass exodus overseas every offseason. The NBA dream always remains but at some point the need to support a family wins out. This continues to be the fundamental problem with the D-League but a solution could be on the horizon. As noted in LeBron James' decision to sign a 2-year deal, the salary cap is expected to skyrocket in the summer of 2016 as most believe that each team will at least double the more than $30M they receive from the current TV rights deal. There have been talks to ease that increase but regardless there is going to be a whole lot more money headed towards player salaries.

A wise man would think the NBA & players association would get together to allocate some of that money to properly pay their D-League players. I mean if you quadruple the highest current D-League salary and give that to each of the 10 players with roster spots that is only a million bucks. That’s cheaper than some of the veteran minimum deals teams hand out left and right. It would seem an easy fix and a great way to jump start a true developmental league. As of now, there is roughly zero continuity from year to year. The best international teams have ‘junior teams’ that they use to develop future talent in the lower levels of domestic leagues. Once that player shows a readiness to face better competition they can either be loaned to another team that will provide them with more playing time or join the parent club. The NBA can use the D-League the same way in controlling the player development from an early stage. Teams already implement coaching staffs that will run similar schemes to the parent club which lessens the learning curve when the player receives a call-up.

In regards to the continuity problem, the D-League needs to abolish the draft. I don’t know if anyone has had the pleasure of listening in to the conference call that is the draft but it’s certainly a treat. I love drafts, especially basketball ones, but the D-League draft is absolutely crazy. First off, leading up to the draft, there are a ridiculous amount of draft pick trades which make it damn near impossible to know the correct draft order. Secondly, there are 8 rounds which is at least 4 too many. The whole concept of a D-League draft is a bit strange. Each team can only maintain 10 roster spots + assignment players. Add in the fact that 3 players can be allocated from NBA training camp and that leaves just 7 open spots. So we have 8 rounds of picks for potentially 7 open spots not including any players who actually come back from the previous season. What usually happens is, after a flurry of trades, waiving players and players leaving to go overseas, we end up with 1 or 2 guys actually playing for the team that drafted them. It all seems rather pointless & convoluted to me. On top of that, the draft isn’t held until late October/early November which kills players’ chances to find suitable alternative employment elsewhere as most other leagues have already begun.

I would argue that between summer league, training camp invites & unsigned draft picks, each team could easily fill a 10-man roster pretty quickly. Plus those roster spots could be given out rather early in the summer which would allow players to have a realistic outlook on their chances to make the team or head overseas. D-League personnel could focus on player development within a given system while the NBA team will have a handful of young talent to infuse their team with. D-League players could also become tradable assets that are packaged in NBA deals. Instead of constant D-League trades that always seem to be about the immediate short term, NBA general managers would take over deciding which talent is worth keeping with a focus on the future.

If a complete 30 team NBA/D-League affiliation ever happens it could springboard the NBA to an even better and more complete league. It will offer the fans a better on-court product and increase parity. It will also generate a lot more interest in the D-League itself once 'prospects' start being included in real NBA trades. The future could be very bright and the next couple of years will determine whether or not this possibility can become a reality.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Very Brief Look At What Sam Hinkie Has Done In Philadelphia

Sam Hinkie was hired as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers on May 14th, 2013.  He was fairly unknown and touted as an analytics guy & a Daryl Morey disciple from his time with the Houston Rockets. Two years ago, I wrote about Morey's tenure with Houston leading up to his pursuit of Dwight Howard.  Morey had the pleasure of inheriting a perennial playoff team albeit one that couldn't escape the first round of the playoffs.  The team Hinkie inherited had made the playoffs in 4 of its previous 6 seasons but hadn't won more than 43 games since the 2002-03 season.  

Hinkie's blueprint for turning around the storied Sixers franchise was already laid out before him, thanks to Morey, but his job would be much more difficult due to the lack of talent in place.  Prior to being hired, franchise favorite Andre Iguodala was shipped out to Denver in a 4-team trade along with a future 1st round pick for the calamity that was Andrew Bynum.  Philly naturally struggled their way to a 9th place finish in the Eastern Conference.  Enter Hinkie.

The number one priority was a complete rebuild and collecting future assets that could potentially be turned into a superstar.  Morey made a point of collecting future draft picks, draft and stash players, maximizing the use of long, team-friendly, non-guaranteed deals for younger players & keeping open cap space to absorb salary dumps to acquire more assets.  For Morey, that turned into Dwight Howard & James Harden and very nearly Chris Bosh.  Hinkie set off on that same path and already has the franchise heading to a brighter future although it will be another tough season on the court.

Critics will continue to rant about the on-court product, using another top 10 pick on a big man who likely won't play this year & the fact that Hinkie won't throw money at free agents who might help the team do better this season but offer no long-term value.  But it's pretty hard to argue with the chart below so Hinkie gets the benefit of the doubt.  Philly has some great young talent in Carter-Williams & Noel to combine with 'veteran' Thaddeus Young and lead this year's team.  Late in the season or the beginning of next year should bring Joel Embiid.  Dario Saric likely joins in 2016 with the likes of Vasilije Micic, Pierre Jackson & Furkan Aldemir due somewhere in between.  Combine that with a nice collection of future second round picks and the likelihood that the two first rounders that Philly owed when Hinkie took over are likely to become two 2nd round picks, it doesn't look half bad.

A quick look at the moves Hinkie has made since coming aboard.

2013 DRAFT
-          IN – Nerlens Noel (6), Michael Carter-Williams (11), rts to Arsalan Kazemi (54), NO’s 2014 1st (top 5), MIL’s 2014 2nd, DAL’s 2014 2nd
-          OUT – Jrue Holiday, rts to Glen Rice Jr. (35), rts to Pierre Jackson (42)

-          OUT – Bynum, Ju. Holiday, Ivey, Jenkins, Wilkins, Wright, Young
-          IN – James Anderson, Brandon Davies, Darius Morris, Daniel Orton, Hollis Thompson

-          IN – Tony Wroten, rts to Furkan Aldemir
-          OUT – 2nd rd picks not exercised

-          IN – Lorenzo Brown
-          OUT – K. Brown, Morris, Orton

-          IN – Earl Clark, Danny Granger, Eric Maynor, Byron Mullens, Henry Sims, 2 CLE 2014 2nds (38th, 52nd),  GS’s 2015 2nd, NO’s 2015 2nd, DEN’s 2016 2nd, LAC’s 2018 2nd
-          OUT – Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner
-          WAIVED – Clark, Granger

-          IN – Adonis Thomas, Jarvis Varnado, Casper Ware
-          OUT – Lorenzo Brown, Maynor

2014 DRAFT
-          IN – Joel Embiid (3), Dario Saric (12), K.J. McDaniels (32), Jerami Grant (39), Vasilije Micic (52), Jordan McRae (58), ORL’s 2015 2nd, Own 2017 1st back, rts to Pierre Jackson
-          OUT – Elfrid Payton (10), Russ Smith (47), Nemanja Dangubic (54)

-          OUT – Anderson, Mullens, Thomas

Below is a look at the 12 players currently under contract with the 76ers.  It's likely that 2014 draft picks Embiid, McDaniels & Grant will round out the roster with tons of possibilities for other moves due to the plethora of non-guaranteed (orange) deals and available cap space.  You can see a lot of those Morey-esque long-term deals in place for the younger guys.  The present will be tough but it's hard to argue with the return Hinkie has received with so little to work with initially.