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Despite my disdain for consumerism, large crowds, unruly children and price gouging, I made my way to the Minnesota State Fair today because that’s where the Timberwolves were introducing four of their newest acquisitions: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine. I wrote about the experience over at A Wolf Among Wolves:
“People began packing themselves around the stage nearly an hour prior to the start of the show. The atmosphere was jubilant and peppy – fans cheered loudly for each of the four players (loudest of all for Wiggins) and lingered long after they were done speaking, taking selfies, asking for autographs and hollering praise to Flip for getting the deal done. It was certainly an interesting environment for an introductory press conference – the Fair’s enormity shrinking for an hour into a very intimate, uncontrolled setting. A few barely audible catcalls arose from the crowd and drew chuckles from the guys onstage. Those awkward moments aside, today was a very positive day for everyone involved. The weather was perfect, the Wolves garnered some much-needed buzz, and Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine got their first taste of Minnesota’s atmosphere.”
Today at Hardwood Paroxysm I discussed LeBron James’ affinity for point guards, and how playing without an elite one the past few years may have contributed to his decision to head back to Cleveland (where he will team up with Kyrie Irving). An excerpt:
“(T)he decision to move to Cleveland wasn’t motivated solely by 2015 title hopes. It’s possible this was LeBron’s last move, and he wanted to find a place where he can age well. Having a young, accomplished ball handler around – someone else who can take the ball into the teeth of the defense and soak up the abuse handed out in the lane – could aid in LeBron’s self-preservation. Rather than doing the driving and dishing, he can be free to be a spot-up shooter, a post-up master, or a devastating off-ball cutter. All of those options are much less taxing than gaining a full head of steam and charging into the paint, over and over again, night after night after night.”
For Hardwood Paroxysm, I dove headfirst into the world of NBA ownership. Over the past decade, half the league’s teams have changed hands, and many of the new faces in the fraternity of owners have backgrounds in investments, hedge fund management and private equity firms. Do these teams have any advantages over franchises whose owners made their millions in more traditional fields?
That probably depends on the influence you believe owners have in shaping their teams, which can vary from situation to situation. For some, buying a team is a vanity purchase. They’re interested in the social status (and prospective profits) of owning a franchise rather than the day-to-day minutiae of running one. Think of Glen Taylor in Minnesota, who is content to hire someone from within the state and turn the reins completely over to them (see McHale, Kevin and Saunders, Flip). Some are interested, but understand it’s best to hire smart people and get out of the way. Peter Holt and Micky Arison, owners of the Spurs and Heat, respectively, fall into that category. Some owners are aggressively meddlesome. Dan Gilbert made his money in mortgage lending, a numbers-driven, future-oriented business, and his tenure as the owner of the Cavaliers has been uneven, to say the least. The league’s only banking magnate, Robert Sarver, has had somewhat of a checkered history since he bought the Suns in 2004. Tom Gores has a less than sterling reputation, and just empowered advanced stats-skeptic Stan Van Gundy to run the show in Motown.
A few members of the NBA’s circle of “investment” owners have had success. Clay Bennett hired Sam Presti away from San Antonio, where the former Rhodes scholar candidate had worked his way up the organizational power chart, to run the Sonics/Thunder, who are now one of the most successful and profitable teams in the league. Leslie Alexander, who made his millions on Wall Street, hired and empowered Daryl Morey, who’s now the face (for better or worse) of analytics in the NBA. Other situations are more mixed – Boston employs a basketball lifer as its chief decision maker (Danny Ainge) but employs a coach famous for embracing advanced statistics (Brad Stevens). The Sixers’ primary decision maker, Sam Hinkie, is a former Bain Capital employee and Stanford alumnus who apprenticed under Morey, but his vision is far from complete (or even taking shape). Joe Lacob’s first GM hire was a former agent. The Milwaukee situation is too fresh to judge.
Despite the mixed results of the group to this point, having an owner with an investment background is certainly appealing. For one thing, they’re probably used to taking the long view. Secondly, in a salary cap league, managing a finite amount of resources in an effort to put a competitive team on the floor without risking your future is paramount. Owners who made their millions in other ways can certainly understand and appreciate these values as well; it’s less a dichotomy between members of the “old guard” and members of the new, and more a prism.
The post is somewhat lengthy, but totally worth your time (would I lie to you?). Check it out by clicking here.
An important part of being a blogger is using social media, particularly Twitter, to promote what I’ve written, connect with fellow writers to collaborate on projects, and find elite basketball minds to admire and try to emulate. It’s a forum to make jokes, learn about current events and pop culture, connect with like-minded people (occasionally), politely disagree with respectable opponents (rarely) and get frustrated at irrationally angry people attacking something I’ve written (all the damn time).
Twitter is how the crew at A Wolf Among Wolves (the site through which I’ve gained a press credential to attend games) found me in the first place. I’m not saying I’ve “made it”, or anything, but because of Twitter, I went from writing about basketball based on watching games on television to attending games for free and getting to talk to players. I get to take a peek behind the curtain. That’s pretty damn cool. Plus, I get to try to tell truths about basketball, which is a niche interest, a light-hearted pastime. If I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter. I try to find the truth without consequence. I’m a lucky guy.
I’ve always had two rules for Twitter – first, keep things positive (which is tough, sometimes, because I’m a hopeless cynic) and second, try to stick to basketball. I’ve found people dislike negativity (imagine that) and enjoy following someone who generally hovers around a particular topic. News reporters gain followers interested in the news, sportswriters gain followers interested in sports, pastors gain followers interested in religion, and so on, and so forth. A bit of variation is acceptable, of course. People hop out of their respective areas of expertise to tweet about the Super Bowl, or the Grammys, or Game of Thrones, and no one bats an eye. But obsessing over topics outside of your “lane” will earn you criticism and a mass exodus of followers.
Losing followers is certainly the most trivial aspect of what I’m about to discuss, but the reason I open with it is that it reflects a pervasive mindset that is harmful to public discourse and well-rounded thinkers, in my opinion. Twitter is not only about sharing; it’s about being shared with. Despite the fact that no two feeds are the same, when big events happen, most of us end up in the same place – talking about them. Despite the fact that no two lives are the same, when big events happen, they touch us all, if we’re inclined to pay attention.
Such an event is happening now in Ferguson, Missouri, and I’m inclined to pay attention to it. But as a white, middle class American male, the struggles, needs and concerns of most other groups of people, especially minorities, are foreign to me. As a white, middle class American male, I am part of the largest, most privileged subset of people who has ever lived on this earth. As a white, middle class American male, I feel it’s my job to read as much as I can, and to listen, and to understand that I am tourist perusing the struggles of others, and that no matter what I try to do, no matter how much I empathize, no matter what books I read or podcasts I listen to, I may never fully understand them.
Exploring that alien nature is a worthwhile task, and occasionally, God help me, I do it on Twitter. I listen. I absorb as much as I can, from a variety of perspectives and sources, and the result has been a great deal of soul-searching and anxious hand-wringing, hoping the tensions ease and justice prevails. But I don’t just listen. I talk. I tweet. I don’t just stick to basketball, because a Twitter full of insular writers and thinkers sticking strictly to their self-defined specialties isn’t utilizing Twitter to its fullest potential.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for getting out of the way and letting experts be experts. A madhouse of rapid, uneducated reaction doesn’t help, either. But Twitter has been a powerful tool in the spread of news surrounding Michael Brown’s death and the aftermath in and around Ferguson. Watching the murder of unarmed black teenager, the subsequent cries for justice and brutal (and bungled) police response all unfold via social media has me thinking about racial tension, the American institution of white supremacy and minority suppression, the proper role of police, why white people have to make everything about themselves (like I’m doing right now, but I have a point, I swear), and the nature of mass communications, all of which are big subjects, and deserve hearty exploration by anyone who hopes to live a fully compassionate human life.
I’ve seen many of my writer friends comment that it’s tough to write about basketball at the moment, it seems so trivial compared to what’s happening in the world, to which I’d like to reply a) basketball is always trivial, it’s a game and b) explore that. Basketball is a mere pastime. Sure, they’d like to make a career writing about it – so would I – but when something heavier comes along and alters your perceptions, follow it. Let it change you.
And I’m saying that fully aware that I’m writing about how the death of an unarmed 18-year-old African-American at the hands of a white cop is changing the way I view Twitter, which sounds absurd. But the role of social media in how we learn about Ferguson and how we comment on it is relevant. It affects our minds. It affects our lives. Even me, a white guy from a small town in Wisconsin who now lives in the Twin Cities suburbs, who gets to cover basketball games, who has never experienced discrimination or violence firsthand. I’m not saying I have it figured out. All I can say is that the past week has changed me, which might sound condescending or absurd, but it’s the honest truth.
Not all search for truth, or the closest thing any of us can come to knowing truth, comes without consequence. I’ve been living and writing in a happy bubble of basketball myopia. But I believe if we lightened our sensitivity to alternate viewpoints and opened our minds, refused to let lanes box us into corners and opened our Twitter feeds, it would lead to all of us being better thinkers. Use Twitter in the search for truth, to challenge preconceived notions, rather than as a tool for mining tidbits of reinforcement or pure escapism. Suffice it to say, my rules about sticking to basketball and remaining positive are beginning to look silly. Be as authentic online as you’d like to be in person.
Maybe I’m overstating Twitter’s role in the search for becoming better, but considering how much time we all spend with that little blue bird, I firmly believe it’d help if we all got serious about what we take in, and more understanding about what comes out, we’d change ourselves. Then maybe instead of writing about it on Twitter (or personal blogs, like I’m doing) we’d mobilize and make an effort to change the real world.
You know, the real world? That’s the thing all those people in Ferguson are tweeting about.
Once a week, the writers at Hardwood Paroxysm collaborate on an article for FanSided, our parent website. This week’s topic was our favorite basketball teams of all-time, and wanting to honor Minnesota basketball history (while simultaneously being cheeky and unique,) I chose to write about the last NBA champion the Land of 10,000 Lakes produced: the 1953-54 Lakers.
An excerpt from the piece:
(F)rom 1948 until 1954, Minnesota was home to one of the greatest dynasties in the history of professional sports: George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers. The 6’10, 245 pound giant from Joliet, IL led the Lakers to five titles in six seasons, dominating the NBA’s early years in Ruth-ian fashion. He was first team all-league six times, a four time scoring champion, a two time rebounding champion, led the league in defensive win shares five times and averaged 24 points and 14 rebounds at a time when the average team scored fewer than 80 points per game.
The 1953-54 season was Mikan and the gang’s last hurrah, and oh, what a gang he had. I mean, check out these names: Slater Martin. Vern Mikkelson. Whitey Skoog. Pep Saul. Jim Holstein. Dick Schnittker. (Read that last one again. Read it out loud. SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS. DICK. SCHNITTKER.) It’s not just the hilarious old-timey names that make me love the team – four members of the ’53-54 squad were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame (Mikan, Mikkelson, Martin and Jim Pollard) as well as their coach (John Kundla).
Here’s a video of the Lakers playing the Syracuse Nationals in Game 1 of the 1954 Basketball World Series (yes, that’s seriously what they called it):
The other day, news broke that current-but-soon-to-be-former-Timberwolf Kevin Love withdrew from USA Basketball’s FIBA World Cup roster due to uncertainty over his future. Basically, an injury would just about halt any ongoing trade talks, which could affect Love’s ultimate goals of being traded to a winner and signing a lucrative extension with them. Makes sense, right? Well, that didn’t stop some Love critics from firing away at him:
“Usually, I’d be content to let it go, but even Bill Simmons, perhaps the most widely read NBA writer out there, found time to pile on Love. Of course, it came out after the fact that Love’s withdrawal was the result of a mutual agreement between the Timberwolves and Love – but the fact that such popular basketball minds missed the point, and were ready to lay it all at Love’s feet, has prompted me to speak up in his defense.”
You can read the full post over at Hardwood Paroxysm by clicking here.
Robbie Hummel has returned to the Timberwolves on a 1 year, $880,000 deal. This may not be particularly earth-shattering news, but other than the Draft, it’s the only transaction the team has made in awhile. I broke down Hummel (and evaluated the roster as it stands right now over at A Wolf Among Wolves:
“Hummel’s value is found in his versatility (he started a game in place of Kevin Martin, for instance, and can also play both forward spots) and his potential as a spot-up shooter. Notice I said “potential” – well over half (97 of 177) of Hummel’s shot attempts in 2013-14 were spot-up jumpers and only 36% of them found the bottom of the net. He was solid above the break (making 44% of those attempts) but struggled hitting the coveted corner shot (26%). Despite the mixed results, the coaching staff and fellow players voiced the opinion that Hummel should keep firing away when he got looks, a testament to what he must have shown in practice.”
“The Diss”, an NBA blog run by Jacob Greenberg and Kevin Draper, is one of my favorite on the web. Greenberg does a regular column called “Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader”, in which he describes (and links to) his favorite recent basketball writing… and my recent Daryl Morey piece for Hardwood Paroxysm made the cut!
An excerpt of what Jacob had to say:
“Bohl asserts that Morey has failed at his ability to manage his own image, and in many ways, temper his own aura. Boh feels that the core that Morey assembled this summer could probably past mustard in the West. However, “if the mission fails, it’ll be clear to everyone why it did, and there will be no shortage of those reveling in their demise,” he writes. “Such is the price of being run by a genius, and being called one; failures are amplified, and constant success is expected. The rough weekends are remembered. The good ones are not.” Lots of fine pieces have been written about Morey over the past few days, but this one was my favorite.”
It was an honor being mentioned – check out the full “Diss” piece right here.
Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is one of the most polarizing executives in the NBA. He had a rough weekend – he let a good player walk away and got nothing in return (Chandler Parsons) and couldn’t convince Chris Bosh to walk away from the Miami Heat. This has set off a new wave of Morey-hate, which I explored over at Hardwood Paroxysm:
“Those who are leery of (or downright resistant to) the important role analytics plays in how the game is understood and evaluated love to hate the Rockets. But to criticize Daryl Morey isn’t necessarily rooted in an antiquated, pre-SportVU mindset. Even front offices run by people with analytics backgrounds would admit their numbers inform decisions rather than make them. The degree to which analytics holds sway for franchise decision-makers is what varies from city to city, rather than whether they’re utilized or not. Morey and the Houston Rockets may be skewed toward their analytic approach, but they aren’t robots. They must, at some level, consider the human element.
Whether they consider that human element enough is where one criticism of Morey’s approach can really take shape.”
Recently, I discussed the phenomenon of revisionist history and breakup coping mechanisms as they pertain to Kevin Love, all through the lens of William Shakespeare:
“In Shakespearean tragedies, ill-fated romances almost always conclude with the gruesome, if eloquently narrated, death of one or both the characters involved. Thankfully, the tumultuous partnership between Kevin Love and the Timberwolves isn’t so dire; he’s merely leaving for employment in another city, and possibly soon. The conclusion to Minnesota’s Love affair resembles the second type of breakup, the slow kind, quibbles bubbling to the surface every now and again, the atrophy taking its toll until Flip can no longer bear it and Kevin is sent packing.”