Monthly Archives: July 2010

NBA: Free Agency, News, Notes, Trades, Judaism & More

Together at last

As the first full month of full-fledged free agency mayhem draws to a close, we here at the Beef bring you yet another update of what has transpired since our last posting on the subject as well as trades, a few other musings, and bits of news. It is hard to believe that free agency has only been going on since July 1 with so much that has happened so far. It seems like the events that have taken place in the span of one month could fill a span of six months. Without further adieu here are the latest moves:

Movement:

Last time we wrote on the subject of Matt Barnes his future remained in limbo as the Toronto Raptors did not think to adjust for currency exchange rates, or for that matter even look at their cap room, when attempting to acquire him. Barnes, the Canadian faithful believed, would make the team tougher. With this belief the Raptor’s fan base revealed their subconscious belief that what Bryan Colangelo is not meeting with their full approval. (Chris Bosh may have relaxed on the team in the final months but Colangelo is the one to be blamed for not fostering a constructive and successful atmosphere.) Bringing in a player who now gets spotty minutes and frequently sits out games because of an ailing back is a rather unlikely candidate to make a team any tougher. Oh, Canada. At least Torontonians can take solace in their consolation prize, David Andersen. Andersen easily qualifies as the poor man’s Brian Cardinal but since he is Australian it would translate more like this: David Andersen, Australian for Brain Cardinal.

Where the Raptors have failed the Los Angeles Lakers have succeeded. Kobe Bryant, after being denied by Raja Bell, was still on his quest to bring veteran defense to Hollywood. Bryant certainly did not “flinch” at the opportunity in front of him and the Lakers. He found Matt Barnes in his state of limbo and set forth to woo him with the notion of a ring and the Lakers’ remaining $1.8 million of their midlevel exception. One of the NBA’s better known journeymen (he has played on eight teams in eight seasons) is coming home to L.A. Barnes signed a two year deal worth $1.77 million in the first year with a player option worth almost $2 million in his second year. This signing could be seen as another stinging blow that Bryant has dealt the Raptors in his career (*cough* 81 points *cough*) but chalk it up to bad front office management by the Raptors.

The same day that the Lakers signed Barnes, aging veteran Theo Ratliff, signed a one year deal worth $1.35 million. (Do not tell Dale Davis though, he may expect a knock on his door next.) This acquisition could not have come at a better time for the Lakers as Luke Walton appears to be on the cusp of missing the entire 2010-11 season and Andrew Bynum has just had another knee surgery.  It seems like Bynum has had surgery on his knee or had it drained at least once for every year he has been alive by now. Ratliff now has the opportunity to become fast friends with Josh Powell, D.J. Mbenga, Adam Morrison at the end of the Lakers bench.

While the Lakers have been keen at adding pieces to their bench they have also made an effort to unload many of the pieces that we so fondly belittle here at the Beef. Currently, Los Angeles is trying to trade Sasha Vujacic. If they could unload him it would free up room to help entice Shannon Brown, whose overhyped abilities do not work at all in the triangle, to stay with the team. It has been reported that Brown has received an offer from the New York Knicks worth around $4 million a year. That would be a lot of money to turn down for a player who would likely only get spot minutes behind Steve Blake next season.

Just when you thought that David Kahn was done associating the Minnesota Timberwolves with any more point guards, he goes and trades for two more. To Kahn, point guards are pets, not quite domesticated, however. With Jonny Flynn missing three to four months after hip surgery maybe Kahn was actually the cunning one for the first time. Minnesota finally unloaded Ramon Sessions (it was well known that they had every intention to do so for some time) and packaged Ryan Hollins in a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers for Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair. Yet, as is Kahn’s way (he is a madman), the trade is never to be taken at face value. It is likely that the Timberwolves will waive West because his contract is not guaranteed and then try and move Telfair. Kahn is after something, he is going after it with everything he has got as if it were a white whale or the genesis device. What the end goal actually is, only Kahn knows. For now the fans of the Timberwolves will have to remain trapped deep within Regula with only a glimmer of hope and where hours can seem like days.

Eddie House in an effort to remain somewhat relevant has chosen to follow the lead of many other has-been players and ride the coattails of the Miami Thrice. House joins Shavlik Randolph and Carlos Arroyo as the latest recruits to join the Miami Heat. The Heat now have a full 15 man roster and are ready to start the season. As a fantasy basketball roster, the Heat have constructed a mediocre lineup aside from four or five players. Despite this, there will likely be quite a number of W’s for this team in the coming season.

In what equates to a loss for the Dallas Mavericks will translate into a huge win for the Bay Area. Jeremy Lin, the Summer League standout who overshadowed John Wall in their matchup, has signed with the Golden State Warriors. Harvard University is known for graduating future presidents, Nobel laureates, and Supreme Court justices but Jeremy Lin is following another path after graduating from the prestigious institution. He becomes just the fourth player to play in the NBA after attending Harvard, and the first in 57 years. The others were Wyndol Gray, Saul Mariaschin, and Ed Smith. Lin grew up in Palo Alto, California which is 26 miles from Oakland so his joining the Warriors is a homecoming of sorts and has the Bay Area rather jubilant. Also joining the Warriors is Jannero Pargo who inked a two-year deal worth $2.4 million.

Lin proved that he is NBA material with his play during the Summer League

It is unfortunate that Don Nelson appears to be on his way out in Golden State once Joe Lacob, the Warriors future co-owner along with Larry Ellison (I have beef with Ellison dating back to high school, ask about it later), gets his mitts on the team. Lacob has publicly stated that “It’s not really whether Nellie is here this year or not. He’s not going to be here beyond this year, that is clear.” So obviously the writing is on the wall, not only that but it is bold, red, and embossed as well. It is a shame that that is the case. We here at the Beef have poked fun at Nelson’s coaching style and his losing ways but there is something do be said about the way he schemes and plays the most frenetic small ball in the league. Just think of a lineup with Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, Jannero Pargo/Jeremy Lin, Ekpe Udoh, and David Lee on the court.  That would be pure madness; it would be pure Nellie. At least on video games, the Warriors will still be fun once Nelson has been forced to pack his bags.

Josh Howard seems to be adhering to the trend of former team bashing. Howard has stated that the Wizards have given him the opportunity to play his game that he was never given previously. The one time Maverick signed a one year deal with the Washington Wizards that could net him $4 million if he meets certain incentives. Howard had surgery in mid-March and is on schedule to be ready for the start of the season, according to his agent, Derek Lafayette, but there has been no official word about when he will actually return. To resign Howard, Washington was forced to release James Singleton. Also on the injury front for the Wizards, newly acquired forward, Yi Jianlian, has injured his arm while playing in a competition in China. 哦!

Other signings:

Will Bynum has resigned with the Detroit Pistons, Joey Graham has signed with the Cavaliers, and Von Wafer has signed with the Celtics. The signing of Wafer is likely a response to Tony Allen’s departure to Memphis. Instead of coming back to the NBA and coat-tailing like Eddie House, Stephon Marbury has spurned the Heat preferring instead to sign a three-year deal with Shanxi Zhongyu in China. (There are contradicting stories about whether the Heat actually approached Marbury about signing with the team, but I’m going to give Starbury the benefit of the doubt. Miami needed players bad for a while.) It’s all about the Chairman Mao’s, baby!

Roots:

Shalom

This week Amar’e Stoudemire discovered that he has some Jewish heritage on his mother’s side and has traveled to Israel to learn more. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Stoudemire has shown interest in Judaism for some time and recently had a Star of David tattooed on his hand. This new tattoo should go along quite nicely with the prominent “Black Jesus” that he has tattooed on his neck. With the news of Stoudemire’s newly found Jewish roots the Knicks have successfully pulled off one of the greatest marketing coups that any sport has ever seen; too bad for them that he will spend the last few years of his playing career in either Orlando or Miami. (I kid, I kid!)

Team USA:

The team trimmed its roster down from 19 to 15 players this week. On the chopping block were Tyreke Evans, O.J. Mayo, JaVale McGee, and Gerald Wallace. Team USA begins training camp August 10 in New York City.

Shaq:

Shaquille O’Neal was once a professional basketball player. Now the “Big Aristotle” is just a reality television star who occasionally sings songs with Justin Bieber.

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Sea Change

A tale of two players

The careers of Tracy McGrady and LeBron James are undergoing a transformation this summer. It is rather rare to see players of such caliber go in completely opposite directions at the same time. Yes, former stars either burnout or fade away and youth improves on itself if it is capable of doing so but personalities and opinions rarely evolve at such close proximity but these two players have embodied the dilemma  faced by present and past elite figures in the sport. Mentality, and now marketing, has everything to do with perception. It is one thing to say something it is a whole different thing to act it. Both players have had slips which have led to their current career and image pitfalls but it is they who will shape the public’s and the league’s opinion of them either for good or bad.

McGrady has been shopping himself around to various teams and touting that he is ready to contribute once again. The only problem that teams do not want what he is selling. What McGrady is trying to do is plant the idea that he is still a starter in the heads of coaches and executives. The only problem with that is that his play, at present, does not support this notion. Most recently the Chicago Bulls looked to be on the verge of signing him, until he opened his mouth. “Without me, without [Carlos] Boozer, they’re a .500 ballclub,” McGrady said. “And with the guys that they added, if they add me, I think we’ll be 30 points better.” McGrady also expects to compete for a starting position even though the Bulls want to add him in an ancillary role.

This is quite a bit of confidence stemming from narcissism. McGrady is far removed from his prime. It is very unlikely that if Shawn Bradley were to be between McGrady and the rim that T-Mac would be able deliver a career ending dunk again. McGrady still talks of himself as if he were the All Star that he was. His mind has yet to let go and the pity that people are feeling for him is real. He just does not understand, so much so that there are those who are quickly turning against him. McGrady is in the latter stage of his career and his time in New York showed that. For him to still think of himself as the go-to guy is foolish. He needs to call Grant Hill for advice on how to transition a career for the better before he talks and thinks his way straight out of the league.

Narcissism is possibly the only confluent element in the lives of McGrady and James. For James, his role has become that of a villain, yet since “The Decision” that role has become less a facet of his character to those outside the greater Cleveland metropolitan area. LeBron has become the face of the now guard and their extravagances so it is no surprise that when he was in Las Vegas he lived like the self-professed king that he is.

ESPN pulled a story this week about one night in the life of LeBron James in Las Vegas. Why they pulled it will probably never be known. Nothing in the story was overtly offensive to anyone in my generation. (Read it here) Many people have summoned up comparisons with Bacchus, Caligula, and other debaucherous figures but nothing about the evening was near that level. (Nero seems like the most appropriate Roman Emperor to equate James to at this point, interspersed with characteristics of Trajan and Hadrian. For the analogy with Nero to work we must view the Cavaliers and their fans as Agrippina.) Sure there were some naked women in a tub and a man on a high-wire zip-line delivering bottle service to James and his party, which included Chris Paul, but this is Vegas. If you have the money, you make it rain. That is exactly what LRMR was doing on this night.

Nero

The current perception of James can be completely summed up by Glen Davis’ reaction to the scene that James and company put on in Vegas. This is the perception that James will strive to change. Like Nero, James favors the popularity that he has been given so much so that he relishes it above all else and will pander to it. He chose to make his move to Miami before an audience of millions. He knows the influence of a controlled public forum on the people. Arash Markazi’s story was pulled because James and his associates control his public forum. They will not stand for another public relations hit. His image is secure. However, the pulled article did serve to draw attention to a nonissue.

Bloggers and others have written off James’ activities as nothing out of the ordinary. They see it as a mere formality of Las Vegas. Here is James’ best play on the situation. He has turned a story that some could see as overt indulgence into a nonissue thereby winning back the support of the people. Though he does appear out of touch with the common person, James has placated their beliefs that what he did in Vegas was nothing out of the ordinary; a cunning play by a powerful man.

While McGrady practices his game on the court in the hopes of signing with a team, James “practices” his while walking through the casino pit. Though they are at different points in their careers, both Tracy McGrady and LeBron James are at a crossroads. McGrady must accept that he no longer holds the skills necessary to pace a team on an All Star level despite what his mind may be telling him. Acceptance will be his best friend if he hopes to regain a sliver of what he was previously. With comments such as those he has made this week, acceptance may be the furthest thing from his mind. As for LeBron he must reshape his public image to sway the masses back to his favor after the debacle of “The Decision.” He is already well on his way. Perception is ever-changing but for James and LRMR it is a precisely controlled machine. It is doubtful that there will be anymore wrenches in the gears for some time to come if they truly are in control.

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The Pacers’ Predicament

After just 11 years some feel the Conseco Fieldhouse is dated

The future of the Indiana Pacers has been one surrounded by questions over the past couple of years. Pacers management has continued to insist that the team is losing money at a rate that they cannot recoup and has asked for public assistance. However, the public has not reacted favorably to the notion of using taxpayer money to fund anymore sports projects or stadiums after the building of Lucas Oil Stadium. Yet, it is easy for public officials to be swayed to move when some estimated that the city of Indianapolis would lose $55 million annually if the Pacers did not improve their facility or were relocated. Heavy-handed remarks by the commissioner also did nothing to quell the hearts of basketball loving Hoosiers. David Stern wants to get his way at all costs. No pesky city, in his mind, has the right to stand up to him. If they do they will pay the ultimate price. Ask Seattle what that price is. The city and the Pacers have reached a financial agreement that lopsidedly favors one party of the other. Can you guess which one? Even with this new arrangement, the future of the NBA in Indiana remains in doubt.

“I don’t want to make Herb Simon’s time too easy here, but I will say I understand what they’re trying to get is a small fraction of what was done for the Colts…I don’t want to threaten something. I think that to say there’s a rich basketball tradition in Indiana – talk about evident – and the Pacers have been a good booster of the state, played some pretty good ball and hopefully they’ll be able to work it out. I sure hope they can.”

David Stern spoke those words in February of 2009 concerning the growing problems present in the lease contract the Pacers maintained that they had with the Capital Improvement Board (CIB) who operate and maintain the Conseco Fieldhouse. The dilemma began when the Pacers and their ownership claimed that they could no longer pay the $15 million annual operating costs required of them in their lease agreement because the franchise is losing too much money. Franchises hemorrhaging money seems to be a growing concern among the NBA. In fact, it is Stern’s main talking point when discussing the need to restructure the Collective Bargaining Agreement. According to Stern, the NBA lost close to $370 million last season. Indiana is one of ten teams estimated by Forbes to be in serious financial trouble in the league. Times were beginning to look bleak for the Pacers.

Luckily, the team, its ownership, the city of Indianapolis, and the CIB reached a publicly unpopular bailout package for the Pacers this summer. Tax payers will fund the city of Indianapolis’ contribution of $33.5 million through June 20, 2013 to help Herb Simon, the Pacers’ owner, operate and improve the Conseco Fieldhouse. Further, the CIB will pay $10 million over the next three years to help maintain the arena. They will also chip in an added $3.5 million to pay for improvements to the fieldhouse. That is a heavy chunk of change for tax payers and a private group to shell out for little guarantee that the NBA will continue to exist in the Hoosier state.

What the agreement does state is that the Pacers must payback all the money they were loaned interest free. However, the details on when the team must pay back the loan are hazy at best and leave the door open for ownership to drag their feet on the matter. The only concrete repayment mentioned in the bailout agreement concerns the Pacers leaving the city. If the Pacers leave the city after the 2012-13 season, which is the final year of the bailout, the team will owe the city at least $30 million of the money that was lent to it to maintain the fieldhouse. Yet, there is a not so subtle catch worked into the deal. For every year the Pacers remain in Indianapolis, the amount of the loan which they must repay decreases significantly. If the team leaves after the 2019-20 season, the team would owe absolutely nothing to the city. (The current lease agreement ends in 2019.) Taxpayers of Indianapolis certainly received a raw deal. That is not the end of it though. All loans are to be immediately repaid, according to the deal, if the operating agreement is terminated. However, if the team is sold or ownership of assets is sold the loans would not have to be repaid until the closing of the sale or the transfer of assets has been completed. There it is. The door is wide open for the team to uproot to another city. If a business group was planning on purchasing the Pacers to relocate them to another city it would be easy to raise whatever loan money was left to repay from investors and taxpayers from the target destination. Clay Bennett, the mastermind behind the Seattle steal, found that task all too easy.

Those are the basics of the new deal that the team has been given. With all the fuss being made about the Conseco Fieldhouse it would seem that the facility is 20 or more years old. It is not. It has been in operation for only eleven years making it one of the newer arenas in the NBA. Prior to Conseco Fieldhouse the Pacers played in Market Square Arena since 1974. Apparently for Stern and his “Mall of America” archetype for arenas, the fieldhouse is not new enough and therefore must be improved or replaced at all costs. Stern’s comments have lead to further claims to justify the bailout was needed. Jim Morris, Pacers Sports & Entertainment’s CEO, has insisted that the franchise has lost $200 million since the team moved into the fieldhouse. (Both Stern and the Pacers front office seem to think that the Conseco Fieldhouse is another incarnation of Tony Hayward which is not to be trusted and therefore despised.) If that number is to be believed it means that the Pacers have lost roughly $18.2 million per season since 1999. If this is true, it means that the Pacers were losing money every year they were a playoff contender for the better part of the decade. Winning teams generally do not lose such sums of money. It would be understandable that the team did not post favorable gains this last season as it was their worst since the late 1980’s as the team posted a 32-50 mark and only drew an average of 14,202 fans to their home games ranking them 27 of 30 in attendance numbers. The team appeared in the NBA finals in the year 2000. These comments lead to the assumption that they lost money that year when the spotlight of the sport was aimed directly at the Conseco Fieldhouse? Taxpayers in Indianapolis deserve a look at the books. Essentially the taxpayers and the CIB have been muscled into propping up a facility that, despite its relative youth, is looked upon unfavorably by both the commissioner and the organization that plays there. Sound investments are scares these days.

Yet, not everything about the Pacers is an unsound investment. To Herb Simon, the Pacers have been one of the best investments he has ever made. Herb, with his brother Mel, bought the Pacers in 1983 for $11 million. $11 million in 1983 equates to roughly $110 million in today’s currency. Basically this is chump change to Simon with his estimated worth being approximately $1.1 billion and being ranked 698th among Forbes’ World’s Richest People in 2006. Of course it would have been inappropriate to ask a billionaire to spend the money to invest in the future of something he owns. The Pacers financial troubles surely have not adversely affected his ranking too much. In 2009, Herb became the sole owner of the team after quietly purchasing his brother’s shares as Mel had been battling severe illness before his death. Everything Herb Simon has said about the future of the Pacers has been reassuring to the fans and the city. He has continually stated that he wants the franchise to remain in Indian. Such statements must be taken with a grain of salt. Clay Bennett also publicly expressed his intentions to keep the Supersonics in Seattle when he purchased the team. Simon is now 74 years old, he may legitimately want the Pacers to remain in Indiana but he must also weigh his options. He is not getting any younger and stands to make a considerable sum of money if he were to sell the franchise which is valued at $281 million. Selling the team would net a profit of $171 million that would go almost entirely to Simon. That is a large sum to just leave on the table especially if the product (yes, the pacers are nothing more than a product or investment in business terms) that he owns is not profitable.

Who would buy a franchise that has lost $200 million over the last eleven years though? There has been interest shown by some. Most notably, Francesco Aquilini, the owner of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, has floated the idea of purchasing the Pacers and relocating them to Vancouver. The city of Vancouver has been without an NBA franchise since the Grizzlies left for Memphis in 2001. As a region, the Pacific Northwest, excluding Portland, has been without a team since 2008 when the Seattle Supersonics were pilfered away to Oklahoma City. There is a large fan base in the region which has no team to cheer for. However, the fjords and forests of the Pacific Northwest are not the only region yearning for a professional basketball team. Las Vegas, where the 2007 All Star game was held and is the annual home of the NBA Summer League has a strong interest in acquiring an NBA franchise. So much so that Chris Milam, CEO of International Development Management LLC, the group who looks to bring a team to Las Vegas, has said that they have “an NBA team under contract” to move to the city. He declined to say which team however. It would not be completely impossible for the team in question to be the Pacers (possibly the Kings, Hornets, or Pistons too). The city does not have a suitable arena that fits Stern’s standards yet and the group must work out a deal with the county to fund construction of what will be the Silver State Arena on the Las Vegas Strip. As apprehensive as citizens of Indianapolis are about using public funding of the Pacers bailout the people of Las Vegas seem to have a different view. In a recent poll conducted by the Las Vegas Sun 54 percent of voters support public funding of an arena to land an NBA team. So much for Stern’s “staunch” policy against gambling as it looks like Vegas will get its team in a few years time.

Indiana is the Mecca of basketball, no offense to Madison Square Garden, but it looks as though the pilgrimages might come to an end. The Pacers will have slightly more than $30 million to spend in free agency next summer but most of the big names were free agents this summer. Carmelo Anthony stands out as one of the star names that will be available next year but the Pacers already have the position he plays filled. Funny how the money they have to spend next summer is almost the exact amount that they said they needed from taxpayers to maintain their facilities at Conseco Fieldhouse. Indiana might not even get to spend that money if there is a lockout because CBA negotiations reach a stalemate instead of a compromise. Citizens of Indianapolis and Pacers fans are stuck. None of them likely want to see their team leave but to entice them to stay they must bailout a billionaire. Blue collared Americans can only bailout so many billionaires. What do the taxpayers get in return? There is absolutely no guarantee that the Pacers will stay in Indianapolis long term. The team is ripe to be sold.

“I would say that the city is making it pretty clear of what they want us to do, and we’ll accommodate them…It’s not a very good lease, to say the least it’s the worst in the league. The city says they’re not prepared to do anything to improve it. I don’t think this is a difficult choice…I think the existing ownership has said that they don’t want to own a team that’s not in Seattle, so I know what they are in the process of doing. So we’ll just see how this play ends.”

It is eerie how those statements by David Stern about the Supersonics in 2006 closely resemble those he has made about the Pacers situation today. Indianapolis has acted, but will it be enough? Stern does not care about the traditions of a franchise he cares about his business model, his “City upon a Hill.” If he truly cared about the history and traditions of a franchise, Seattle, a city that had won and NBA championship, would still have a team. It would be just as easy for Stern to watch the Hoosier state lose its only professional basketball team. Times are growing perilous for the Pacers. Hopefully, we will never have to know the likes of a “Pacersgate” in the years to come.

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Questions Ahead for Team USA as Las Vegas Minicamp Ends

The kids are alright

Minicamp is drawing to a close for Team USA and they will soon no longer think of Cox Pavilion at UNLV as their gym. The team will scrimmage tonight for the last time before the roster is trimmed down prior to training camp. This is a completely new manifestation of Team USA, one that has had its share of adversity before even playing a single game in competition. Shortcomings, concerns about youth, and depths issues look to be a problem heading into the World Championships but it would be unlike any modern rendition of Team USA if they did not start a competition with something to prove.

Team USA’s rebuilding efforts could not have gotten off to a rockier start. With every member of the Redeem Team choosing, for their own reasons, not to return to play for the national team at the FIBA World Championships next month in Turkey, Team USA was forced to start from scratch. Early on depth issues began to surface with the latest incarnation of the national team. Amar’e Stoudemire, who would have been the likely face of the team, chose not to participate because of contractual insurance issues with his new team, the New York Knicks. No sooner than Stoudemire had announced that he would not play on the team, Robin Lopez also excused himself from the roster so he could finish recuperation on his back. There go two of the team’s top centers. That was not the end of the team’s issues with frontcourt players. On the first day of practice in Las Vegas, David Lee injured his finger. The injury will keep him sidelined for six weeks though he plans to keep attending camp but in an observers role exclusively. It was a rocky start indeed.

However, not all the news from minicamp was negative. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has placed overarching emphasis with this squad on having players with the ability to play multiple positions. Despite the losses of Lee and Stoudemire, who can both alternate between the power forward and center positions, the team is more versatile than before. Though these losses at forward and center adversely hamper what Krzyzewski may have wanted to do with the team’s frontcourt the rest of the roster is sound. As constituted in minicamp right now, Team USA is bourgeoning with talent in the backcourt. Kevin Durant, Chauncey B-B-B-Billups (his name should always be said like the PA announcer, John Mason, announced it at the Palace in Auburn Hills), Tyreke Evans, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon, and O.J. Mayo comprised the backcourt at minicamp. The team will have to play up this depth and use it as a strength if they have aspirations of winning the gold medal at the Worlds for the first time since 1994.

This heavy contingency of guards will make Team USA one of the smallest teams competing in Turkey. Their physicality and ability to crash the boards will be tested especially if they play Spain and Marc Gasol, who may actually be the biggest player the USA will face in the tournament. (Team USA will play exhibitions games against both Spain and Greece before the World Championships begin.) Speed and athleticism, which the Americans have plenty of, will have to be their weapon of choice.

To help bolster the frontcourt, JaVale McGee (a Beef favorite) was the last addition to the twenty-two man roster. McGee joined the likes of Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez (who is withdrew himself), and Tyson Chandler as options at center for the team. Jeff Green, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, and Gerald Wallace are the forwards. At least the positions, as listed, are the technical positions which are the primary roles of the players. Durant naturally plays as a small forward but is listed as a guard on the roster. Wallace can alternate between the small and power forward positions. This is exactly what Krzyzewski wants. A player such as Rondo may have a difficult time making the national team because he is a pure point guard and cannot alternate between both guard spots. His defense will surely help his case for a roster spot but his jumpshot and free throw shooting will be further hindrances.

There are only two players on the national team who have previous international competition experience: Odom who is 30 and Billups, who will turn 34 in September. They represent the veteran leadership on the team. It seems likely that Billups will be named co-captain along with Odom. Because of their experience, they are both NBA Champions and Odom played in the Athens Olympics in 2004; they are expected to survive the roster cut from 22 to 12. Durant also appears to be a lock to make the 12 man roster as he has become the face of USA Basketball.

The youth of the squad is somewhat alarming, however, and has raised concerns. Odom and Billups are the only players on the team in their thirties. One player is 28 (Wallace), two are 27 (Chandler, Granger), one is 26 (Iguodala), one is 24 (Rondo), two are 23 (Gay, Green), four are 22 (Curry, Lopez, Mayo, McGee), five are 21 (Durant, Gordon, Love, Rose, Westbrook), and Tyreke Evans is 20. This may be the youngest team ever assembled by USA Basketball since international competition began allowing professionals to play.

Grooming this young group of players and instilling in them the pride of playing for their country should be the biggest task that Jerry Colangelo should undertake. As was seen with the Redeem Team players, many just want to play when the biggest lights are shining on them as the World Championships frequently take a backseat to the Olympics. Matters of money have also hurt the talent that Team USA can bring to the table in international competition. Surely if players were paid for their time on the national team there would be a line at Colangelo’s door every time the country asked them to suit up. Players should never be paid for playing for their country and therefore the opportunity to do so will not be a top priority for many.

This current team is raw and untested in international play. FIBA rules are completely different from those in the NBA. Being able to grab the ball off the rim is just one of the many striking rule differences between FIBA and the NBA. Will so many guards on the team it will be seen whether this rule will become a factor on the play of the team. Yes, they are young but that may work in favor for the team. Nobody has told them that they cannot win the gold. It is theirs for the taking, the road will be difficult but they are hungry to prove that they are just as capable as the super-star laden Redeem Team. Two of their teammates have represented the US before and will be influential in shaping the mindset of these “kids” for tournament play. For now, though, the players will get ready for their last scrimmage and eventual shrinking of the roster. Team USA will cut its roster to 15-16 players before the start of training camp on August 9 in New York City before making the final roster cuts down to 12 just prior to the Championships which begin for the US on August 28 against Croatia.

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Chris Paul Wants Out of New Orleans: The Oligarchic Nature of the New NBA

Birds of a feather...

Dell Demps has not even had his new job, as general manager of the New Orleans Hornets, for longer than the blink of an eye and he is already at DEFCON One. Chris Paul is trying to force a trade so that he can leave the Hornets. Obviously, this constitutes a nightmare scenario for both Demps and the city of New Orleans. It also is an attempt to further vindicate a growing trend in the NBA. The hearts of New Orleans, despite their stalwart resilience, can only take so much.

Rumors about Paul’s future in New Orleans have swirled all summer, generally without any of them holding much merit. The Dallas Mavericks tried to entice Paul to join the club on two separate occasions, the first was in their attempt to use Erick Dampier’s expiring non-guaranteed $13 million contract to lure the Hornets into a trade, and the second was after they had acquired Tyson Chandler, Paul’s friend and former teammate in New Orleans. Chandler was the recipient of many of Paul’s alley-oops. The Charlotte Bobcats were also rumored to have interest in Paul earlier this month and were planning to also use Dampier’s contract, which they acquired in a trade with Dallas, as the main chip to send to New Orleans. However, the Hornets and especially owner, George Shinn, have no interest in trading the face of their franchise. Now, however, New York, Portland, and Orlando (who have already tried to entice New Orleans into a trade for Paul this summer) have entered the forefront in the potential Paul sweepstakes with the Lakers thrown into the mix for good measure as well. Surprisingly, the Mavericks have also been mentioned on Paul’s shortlist but the Knicks are the frontrunners so far.

Earlier this summer, the possibility of the Hornets considering the option of trading Paul was mere speculation around the league. Former general manager, Jeff Bower, floated the idea at the behest of proposed Hornets buyer, Gary Chouest. Bower is no longer with the organization because of this. The front office of the Hornets has been nothing but inconsistent this summer with their intentions moving forward. It certainly does not help the situation in New Orleans when there is no clear voice of the organization. This is likely a contributing factor in Paul’s decision. New Orleans has certainly not been a big player in free agency this summer as they still have the bloated contracts of James Posey and Peja Stojakovic.

Paul had joked earlier this summer about teaming up with Amar’e Stoudemire in New York but he is no longer joking. Obviously, Paul was witness (pun intended) to “The Decision” which landed LeBron James in Miami along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. He has two years left on his contract with the Hornets but seems to have grown sour on the notion of staying with the franchise that drafted him. What is clearly going through his head was the notion of want rather than need. ‘If they have that, then I want that too.’ A precedent has been set by the Miami Trice and a power shift in the NBA is in full force. However, it may not have been all Paul’s idea to try and force a trade. No, outside forces definitely played a powerful role in shaping minds this summer. Leon Rose, who is Paul’s agent, is part of the Creative Artists Agency that also represents James, Wade, and Bosh. Chris Paul also joined leagues with LRMR, James’ marketing firm, this summer. Coincidences? That is highly doubtful. These agencies are leveraging themselves to become some of the most powerful forces in the NBA today and in the future. If these players and agencies have their way, and there is no reason to think that they will not continue to do so, a lockout will become unavoidable when terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement are being negotiated.

The National Basketball Association has become an oligarchy. When one first thinks about that statement, it can be argued, in the most general terms, that the league has been for some time. Only seven teams have the championship since 1985, of those seven only three can be considered the ruling oligarchs. Those teams are the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, and San Antonio Spurs. Second tier oligarchs consist of the Detroit Pistons and the Boston Celtics. The Houston Rockets and Miami Heat represent more of a dot-com company that had its bubble burst. It is a simple analogy to make: certain teams in the NBA equate to a ruling power structure that is quite unwavering and uninviting to those who look to break into their realm. Yet, now the power seems to be shifting away from these teams at a rather alarming rate. The power, though, is not shifting to other franchises but rather to a source that the organizations have no control over. It has shifted dramatically to the player, not just any player though. Power has shifted to the superstar player. More importantly, however, power is landing in the hands of a select few super agents and agencies that are able to work backroom negotiations and land secure the big deal and land superstar players together. These are the new oligarchs of the NBA.

If the Hornets were to lose Paul the future may not be as bleak as it may seem. His absence would allow players such as Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton to grow and play at a level that is not restricted because of Paul’s presence on the court. Collison was able to flourish when Paul went down with an injury for much of the season last year. He set a rookie record for assists in a game with 18 only to break that record a few months later with 20 assists in a game. He recorded a triple-double and averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists as a starter. Chris Paul is replaceable, however, the prospect of doing so is not enviable in the least and the team will not be the same. He is the focal point of the Hornets marketing, merchandising, and advertising campaigns and the team would lose millions of dollars if they were forced to reconceive the image of the franchise.

David Stern seems to have no problem with the various Rod Blagojevichs running around in the NBA working back-channel deals in order to create super teams. Tampering has been a word that is not familiar to the commissioner’s tongue. The seeds were planted long ago by these men who knew they could land mega deals for their clients if they were willing to listen. Now those seeds have sprouted and have begun to take shape. How it grows from now is anybody’s guess. What is more certain is that Paul is following the trend set by his contemporaries for an opportunity to win now and do it with other star players, especially those he played with in Beijing. It is the sign of the generation, a generation that is always looking for something more, something better than what they already have. New Orleans does not have to honor his wishes to be traded in the least but Chris Paul has likely played his last game in a Hornets’ jersey.

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Free Agency: Latest Movements

No one can show him the money

Free agency is slowing to a crawl with all of the top players having been signed by teams across the league, with much of the signing taking place in the Eastern Conference. Yet, there are still players on the block, both restricted and unrestricted, who can make a significant contribution to many NBA teams. Since our last report on free agency, some of these players have changed scenery. As usual, keep up to date, or at least as up to date as possible, on all the movement in free agency by following the Kobe Beef on Twitter.

This summer the Toronto Raptors cannot seem to catch a break. Every trade they have entered into has completely collapsed on them. The first was the three-team trade between the Raptors, Phoenix Suns, and Charlotte Bobcats. Essentially this trade was an attempt to dump Hedo Turkoglu, who had soured, to say the least, on the idea of feigning any interest in the city of Toronto (except for its nightlife, allegedly) and the Raptors organization. Toronto was able to work out a deal with the Suns for Turkoglu, eventually, after the Bobcats backed out (as per Larry Brown’s wishes). The Raptors then saw the Bobcats turn around and work out a deal with the Dallas Mavericks centering on Tyson Chandler, who would have landed on the Raptors if the three-team deal had developed. At least they do not have to pay Turkoglu anymore.

Now, Toronto finds itself in another trade debacle. After various sources and members of the basketball world (including us) reported that Matt Barnes was headed to America’s hat’s favorite dinosaur themed team, the deal has hit a serious snag. (As recently as Monday morning it was reported that Barnes was in talks with the Cavaliers. Free agency moves quick.) The deal was originally worth a reported $9 million over two years. Yet, the Raptors are out of cap room having used their midlevel exception on Linas Kleiza and therefore Toronto does not have $4.5 million to pay Barnes. (Why any team would pay a player with a well chronicled history of back trouble is another story all together). To skirt this minor problem the Raptors looked into a sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic so they could acquire Barnes. This idea seemed reasonable on paper; however, there was another minor issue that both teams had to face. Orlando also does not have a spare $4.5 million lying around to pay Barnes either. Oops. Toronto, its GM, and all of the number crunchers that the organization employs really dropped the ball on this one. If Banes is going to land in Toronto, he and the Raptors, will have to come to terms on a deal worth significantly less.

The team that kept the Raptors from making the playoffs last season (it can be said that the Raptors were their own worst enemy down the stretch), the Chicago Bulls, have continued to make solid moves and acquisitions. Chicago has added the talents of Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson. Brewer’s addition continues Chicago’s trend of becoming the new home of Utah Jazz expatriates so much so that some have jokingly referred to the Bulls as the Chicago Jazz. However, the talent that the Bulls have added to their roster this summer is no joking matter. Brewer will take over Kirk Hinrich’s roll on the team. Watson will fill the role of backup point guard, a further step to filling the void left by Hinrich’s departure to the Washington Wizards.

Although Brewer is not known for being able to run an offense to spell Derrick Rose at times, as Hinrich did even while on the court with Rose, he is more than capable as he ran the offense at Arkansas in college. What Brewer also brings the Bulls is his strong and versatile defensive presence on the wing with the ability to guard multiple positions due to his size (6’7”). Other than the addition of Carlos Boozer, this is the best move the Bulls have made this summer.

Staying in the same division, the Milwaukee Bucks continue to be active this summer. The team has added Keyon Dooling to its roster as a backup to Brandon Jennings. To get Dooling, the Bucks used their bi-annual exception which allows for a two year deal worth about $2 million a year. It was thought by some, including one here at the Beef, that the Bucks may pursue Ramon Sessions to fill the role of back-up point guard but the acquisition of Dooling seems to have filled that role. Despite all the additions that the Bucks have made this offseason, the team still has seven players under the age of twenty-seven. Milwaukee was also involved in a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings for Jon Brockman. In return the Kings will receive Darnell Jackson and a future second-round draft pick. Brockman was selected 38th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers but his rights were traded to the Kings. He averaged 5.4 points and 9.2 rebounds in last year’s Las Vegas Summer League.

Summers are hot and humid in Houston, Texas. They are so unpleasant that most people prefer to stay indoors at all costs. This may explain the Rockets somewhat quiet summer. However, the Rockets have made a few tiny ripples in free agency. Most recently they signed Brad Miller to a three-year deal worth roughly $15 million. Miller’s role on the Rockets will likely be a very limited one due to his age and the return of Yao Ming. Earlier this summer, Houston resigned Luis Scola to a five-year deal worth $47 million. The team also matched the Cleveland Cavaliers’ offer sheet to Kyle Lowry worth $24 million over three years.

In what equates to an egregious omission on our part in prior articles covering free agency earlier this summer, the Memphis Grizzlies signed Tony Allen. His deal is worth $10 million over three years. This is a huge loss for the Celtics and a great gain for the Grizzlies. Allen’s defensive abilities will help Memphis continue to grow and get better in the tough Western Conference.

The Miami Heat were not interested in the services of Penny Hardaway who was attempting to return to the league. They were, however, interested in signing James Jones to a one-year $1 million dollar deal and resigning Jamaal Magloire. Miami’s roster is now up to ten players.

Other Movement and Signings:

The Celtics resigned Nate Robinson to a two-year deal. At some point this summer, Randy Foye landed on the Clippers. Tracy McGrady wants to join the Clippers roster. Richard Jefferson looks close to reuniting with the Spurs.

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Raptors Fall from Food Chain

Bryan, don't turn around!!!

Raptor Nation, we hear you.  The Great White North’s sole basketball franchise (since the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2001) is in trouble.  Chris Bosh is shopping for a place in Miami while Hedo Turkoglu is looking for a new apartment in Phoenix.  We have compared the organization to a revolving door before but it’s looking even more and more like that today.

Aside from Bosh and Turkoglu, names such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Shawn Marion and Jermaine O’Neal have nauseated fans for some time now as the team has done nothing but fallen short time after time.  This season, they made a late push for the playoffs that ultimately failed as the Bulls grasped the eighth seed with a mere 41-41 record.  They never went higher than six games over .500 last season as Bryan Colangelo made moves (moves?) to try and secure Bosh beyond 2010.  Amir Johnson has never averaged seven ppg in any of his five years in the league.  Sonny Weems is a versatile player that can move from both guard positions to small forward.  However, he never got minutes in Denver and along with Johnson, wasn’t going to convince Bosh to stay.

Well, he’s gone now and Toronto’s inability to retain talent is about to set them back… again.  Granted, Jose Calderon is a great point guard and DeMar DeRozan should turn out nicely but other than that, it’s looking bleak for Canadian basketball.  It’s obvious that Colangelo wants to go with a more upbeat, Euro-style ball team but it’s never really materialized.  It’s hard to form a system with players coming and going and on top of all that, most are trash anyways.  Paying Hedo that much was an embarrassment for a player than ended up faking sick to go out partying and they made no attempt to retain Anthony Parker.

This offseason, the pressure was on to resign Bosh and it seems as though no fallout plan was ever developed should that fail.  Earlier this month, the Bobcats agreed to a trade that would have sent Boris Diaw and Tyson Chandler to Toronto.  The next day, the deal fell apart when Charlotte traded Chandler to the Mavericks.  Diaw would work well with what Colangelo is trying to develop but I wouldn’t call it a dramatic signing.  Now, it’s looking like a sign-and-trade with Orlando for Matt Barnes is on the rocks as well.  Toronto’s recent signing of Linas Kleiza used up most of the team’s $5.8 million mid-level exception.  Barnes would be expected to sign a deal in the range of $4 million and Toronto can’t afford to sign him in an outright contract.  Long story short, it doesn’t look like Otis Smith and Orlando are going to put much more money into a guy that was only with the Magic for one season and this trade will ultimately fail.

So what now? Well, Toronto needs to get in line with the rest of the teams that are walking away from this free agency with close to nothing.  It was an aggressive market there for about a week but everyone went fairly quickly.  The salary cap didn’t drop as expected and the great “Shake-Up” that was predicted really didn’t play out like a lot of teams such as Toronto expected.  The list of NBA free agents is getting smaller and smaller but with a lack of funds, the Raptors really don’t have a lot of room to make moves anyways.  It has been rumored that the team should be willing to trade Calderon but that would just be a step backward for a team that is already in the midst of a complete identity crisis.  Building a team like they have and then trading the point guard who works well in it would be completely destructive to what they have already built even though it may not look like much.

It’s a dog-eat-dog league and the Raptors never had the teeth to make the moves needed to improve.  Rebuilding is in the works but Toronto needs to figure out what they really want to be first.

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