Happy Christmas from David Stern, The NBA’s owners, and the soon-to-be-reformed National Basketball Players Association.
While explaining his decision to participate in Chris Paul’s charity game in his home town of Winston-Salem, N.C., earlier this month, Wizards free agent forward Josh Howard joked that “people still want to see me play.” But being around that thrilling, high-flying environment convinced Howard that he should organize his own event in Dallas, the city he still considers home since being traded to the Wizards in the deal that shipped Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to the Mavericks at the trade deadline in 2010.
With the lockout wiping out the first two weeks of the regular season and more cancellations expected to follow after failed negotiations last week, Howard is taking advantage of the opening to host a charity game on Nov. 12. Players expected to participate include Howard’s Wizards teammates John Wall, Andray Blatche and Nick Young; his former Mavericks teammates Jason Terry, Marquis Daniels, DeSagana Diop and Quinton Ross; Portland Trail Blazers forward and Dallas native LaMarcus Aldridge; New Orleans Hornets guard Jarrett Jack; Mavericks guard Corey Brewer; Minnesota forward Anthony Randolph; Toronto forward Reggie Evans; Sacramento Kings draft pick Isaiah Thomas; and former NBA player Damon Jones.
Marquis Daniels, ‘Gana Diop, Quinton Ross, and Damon Jones are semi-headlining a charity game hosted by Josh Howard in Dallas. Ain’t life grand?
According to the Associated Press, Rudy Fernandez’s deal with Real Madrid has finally been inked. With EuroBasket in the rearview mirror and the ongoing CBA negotiations at something of an impasse stateside, Fernandez found an alternative — but quite comfortable — home for the season to come.
That said, Fernandez’s contractual commitment to Real Madrid isn’t quite as significant as initially rumored. The AP report puts Fernandez with the club for the remainder of the locked out season with a mere option to return to the team next year. This is a significant departure to the rumored deal that would’ve locked up Fernandez in Madrid for the next four seasons (less whatever post-lockout NBA campaign exists). His momentum is no longer definite; gone is the wing with one foot out the door, and in is a free agent with a possibility of playing overseas. Those are two very different players and very different assets.
There remains a very strong possibility that Fernandez still bolts for Madrid at season’s end, but Dallas has been given the opportunity to convince him otherwise. That’s not nothing; the Mavericks are a first-class organization with luxurious player accommodations, a superstar player, fantastic systems on both ends of the floor, and a title to their name. They have a lot to offer, so long as Fernandez is listening. Perhaps he’s already decided in his basketballing heart of hearts to return to Spain — there’s nothing wrong with that, supposing that it doesn’t impact his NBA play this season as a result. But if there’s even the slightest chance that Fernandez remains in the NBA following the completion of his contract, I’d think that Dallas would be at least a bit alluring. Fernandez will have his options in free agency next summer, but the Mavericks are a good a fit as any.
Which, of course, supposes the Mavericks extended interest beyond this season. Perhaps Fernandez really was acquired as a contributing placeholder, meant to produce from the wing while Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, and Corey Brewer inch toward reliability. All three of those players are candidates for regular minutes on the wing a year from now, a glut which honestly does make Fernandez a bit expendable. His potential departure wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world; there is nothing Fernandez does that can’t be replaced with pieces on the existing roster or through affordable free agent additions, and though the Mavericks are better off with Fernandez on the roster, they aren’t exactly sunk with him off of it. The choice of whether to remain in Dallas will likely be his, but contrary to earlier reports, that choice hasn’t already been made. Fernandez hasn’t been signed away by Real Madrid for the foreseeable future. He remains a legitimate piece in the Mavs’ plans going forward, albeit a flexible one with his own free agency.
The Texas Legends are pushing hard for former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl to succeed Nancy Lieberman in Frisco, and are reportedly willing to make Pearl the highest-paid coach in the D-League’s history in order to woo him. That may seem a bit odd considering the NBA’s current financial situation and the pretty measly salaries afforded to the D-League’s players, but it’s understandable why Donnie Nelson covets Pearl; he’s precisely the kind of talented, charismatic leader who can make the Legends a better team while also turning their games into an event. Like it or not, the D-League still needs to be sold, and Pearl — with his unique sartorial choices and natural panache — could be just the guy to sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.
Yes, the reported $500k salary package is ridiculous, and there are undoubtedly other capable coaches who could take over the Legends for a much more affordable cost. But Pearl has become Nelson’s very public preference, and the fact that the two hosted a press conference together without any official announcement to be made tells us plenty about the motivations of this particular courtship. Nelson — and the Legends — want to make a splash, and it’s hard to to find fault in that motivation. Pearl could conceivably attract a lot of attention to the Legends organization, and really, he already has. Whether that attention can be converted into actual profit remains to be seen, but Pearl’s involvement with the Legends would certainly make the franchise more attractive to prospective sponsors and fans.
Pearl is a talented coach; he wouldn’t be considered for the position if he were strictly a showman. Yet the advantages gained from Pearl’s potential involvement with the Legends would seem to help the actual basketball product more indirectly than they do directly. The interest, revenue, and branding gained by his possible hire could pay off immediately and even carry over into the next few seasons, and subsequently feed into the overall infrastructure of the team as a result. Of course, the gains from Pearl’s potential hiring could just as easily fail to cover even the costs of his salary alone. Pearl would fit in well as a D-League coach, but he’ll have to do more than that. In order to legitimately justify this kind of expenditure, Pearl would have to be both coach and commodity, and take the Legends brand much significantly further in the coming year than it was able to during the team’s inaugural season.
The Mavericks have acquired Rudy Fernandez (and the draft rights for 2007 selection Petteri Koponen, a footnote which may or may not have relevance) in exchange for the 26th and 57th picks in yesterday’s draft. As far as draft day trades go, this one isn’t horrible; the Mavs aren’t the Kings, who somehow talked themselves into acquiring John Salmons while losing Beno Udrih and trading down in the draft at the same time. But if you’re looking for the logic in a move like this one, I see little.
It all comes down to what Dallas surrendered. Selected with the 26th pick was Texas sophomore Jordan Hamilton, a player who can functionally perform a lot of the same roles that Fernandez can. He doesn’t come without his own faults (Hamilton looks at the rim almost lustfully with each catch on the perimeter), but Hamilton eclipses Fernandez’s utility while still holding that infinite potential of youth.
In Rudy, the Mavs have acquired a streaky shooter who, for the most part, comes up errant. Fernandez shot 37 percent from the field and 32 percent from three last season, and though 2010-2011 was without question the worst campaign of Fernandez’s three-year NBA career, he doesn’t exactly have a healthy body of work to rule that year as an aberration. We know Fernandez can be better (particularly from three-point range; Rudy connected on 40 percent of his threes during his rookie season), but there should be legitimate concern over whether he’ll be able to return to his previous shooting marks.
Unfortunately, that kind of pessimism is what clouds discussions of Fernandez’s basketball strengths. Offense is supposed to be the side of the ball where Fernandez makes his living, and yet over the last two seasons, his offensive performance has been wholly underwhelming. Things only get worse on the defensive end, where Rudy scrambles plenty without accomplishing much at all. He has a pretty worrisome gambling problem; he’ll abandon good defensive position in a second to chase a pass he has no business chasing — and that’s when he’s even in the right defensive position in the first place. Fernandez isn’t a replacement for DeShawn Stevenson, but an even more limited stopgap, capable of possibly replicating Stevenson’s three-point shooting while falling well short of his defensive performance. Fernandez just isn’t anywhere near the defender that Stevenson is, and though Jordan Hamilton is similarly lacking in defensive ability, he’s 20 years old, long, and athletic. I have more hope for Hamilton finding religion as a defender than Fernandez, and while that hope could ultimately prove to be misplaced, I think the “he is who he is,” perspective on Fernandez is tough to refute.
Plus, Fernandez withered when he wasn’t handed the minutes he expected and was forced to compete for playing time in Portland. Based on Rick Carlisle’s rotational habits, why exactly should we expect any different result in Dallas? Fernandez has a fresh start, but he may find that Carlisle and Nate McMillan share in some particularly inconvenient elements of their coaching philosophy. “Stay ready,” which became the mantra of the Mavs’ role players last season, doesn’t quite seem to fit with Fernandez’s understanding of the team concept.
Maybe Fernandez will find new life in Dallas, but at best he’s an active offensive participant, a three-point threat, and a defensive liability. Couldn’t Hamilton be capable of the same, while giving the Mavs another interesting piece for the future? Dallas is rightfully looking to maximize on their current core, but the drive to acquire veterans has led them to one who holds all of the weaknesses of the prospect they could have had without any of the potential long-term strengths.
It certainly wasn’t unexpected given the trajectory of the first three games, but the fact and fashion of the Mavericks sweeping the Lakers hasn’t fully settled for me. A chunk of today was spent reading recaps, and it became clear that I’m not the only one who hasn’t quite found a schema for understanding what transpired. People are certainly grasping at straws, but somewhere down the road they may find themselves left simply with a fistful of air. I’m a notoriously poor straw-grasper, so I tried to find another way to capture what I’d seen. These graphs are the result.
After Games 1 and 2, Ben Golliver of Eye on Basketball pointed out the terrific scoring punch the Mavs’ were getting from their bench. That second unit didn’t just out score the Lakers, it thoroughly outplayed them:
Things got a little chippy towards the end of Game 4. Those fouls were a manifestation of immense frustration at the inability to stop the Mavericks:
The Mavericks’ shooting performance in this series was remarkable. Lax Lakers defense certainly helped, but they were converting at a remarkable clip:
Lamar Odom won the NBA’s 6th Man Award for the regular season. Jason Terry seemed to take offense at being overlooked:
Until the words come — assuming they will — for me to explain the stunning turn of events which has led to the Mavericks back to the Western Conference Finals, these graphs will have to do.
The 2007 Mavericks were dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
Yet now that those Mavs aren’t the only top-seeded team downed improbably by their eighth-seeded opponents in a seven-game series, the retrospective view of Dallas’ failure should be a bit different. Only it isn’t — the San Antonio Spurs, upon their premature dismissal from the postseason, have largely been met with knowing nods and tips of hats. That’s not an inappropriate response given the franchise in question, but it’s certainly a startlingly different response than the one the Mavericks faced in ’07.
In both cases, superior teams were defeated due to the pesky complications of specific matchup problems. Lost amidst all the “better team won” cliché of the San Antonio-Memphis series is the fact that the Spurs lost the series despite their objective superiority. According to Basketball-Reference.com’s series preview, the four most probable results of the series — based on the regular season exploits of both teams — were as follows:
- Spurs in 5 (25.4%)
- Spurs in 7 (19.7%)
- Spurs in 6 (13.3%)
- Spurs in 4 (12.9%)
Granted, the series projections based on the post-deadline data alone paint a different picture. But if we view San Antonio’s 82-game season as their total body of work, there was no reason to expect that they might lose in the first round. A 75.7% chance of taking the series is a fairly dominant mark, and yet one that made sense considering the statistical profiles of both clubs. All signs pointed to the Spurs being the better team, just as they pointed to the Mavs being the better team in 2007. The two teams are more kindred in spirit than the response to this latest upset would suggest. The decidedly rosier reaction to the Spurs’ first round flub a bit confusing, to be honest.
San Antonio didn’t lose to a better team, merely one that — when playing within the context of this particular series – looked like the better team. Yet their first round demise has inspired more mourning than mocking, more admiring lament than schadenfreude. Again, these responses are not inappropriate so much as incongruent; I have no qualms with the respectful reaction to the fall of San Antonio in itself, merely with the fact that another damn impressive franchise wasn’t given the same benefit back in 2007.
The Spurs and the Mavs are, sadly, two franchises defined by their echoes. It doesn’t have to be that way, but sports fans make it so with every time they mock the ringless or fetishize the exploits of a former champion. San Antonio has won four titles in the Tim Duncan era, and as such, is generally considered immune to all criticism. They’ve somehow achieved the ends that justify all means and erase all flaws — past, present, and future. Dallas, needless to say, has not been as fortunate. But what separates these two franchises isn’t an ocean. It’s 58 pounds of hardware. It’s memories of seasons four years ago at most recent, 12 years ago at most distant. The Spurs that were eliminated from the playoffs on Friday weren’t champs at all, but the bare remnants of a team that has, throughout its lifetime, accomplished great things.
Over the years, San Antonio has garnered universal respect through the consistent rebuking of public doubt. Every time a new season or playoff series began, the Spurs had to prove themselves all over again. They were too old. They didn’t have the depth. They were too limited on offense. Some of those points were valid, but over the years that hardly mattered; the Spurs answered their critics with great regular season marks and long playoff runs, even though they were often presumed to be defeated before they even had a chance to compete. As odd as it was, we were all waiting for the day the Spurs would finally fall, and their refusal to abide by the limits of mortal teams only fueled the legend of their excellence.
Only this time, basketball fans have relented. They’ve abandoned the adversarial framework that built up San Antonio’s mythical empire in the first place, and though that concession may benefit the Spurs’ public image, such a shift is of no good to the general discourse.
We know that the Mavs’ 2007 loss to the ‘We Believe’ Warriors is viewed as chokery. Dallas has the unfortunate characterization of being a “regular season team,” as a decade’s worth of work has not resulted in a single championship ring.
I’m also quite certain that had this year’s Lakers — the reigning back-to-back NBA champs, mind you — lost in 6 games to the Hornets in the first round, it would be universally regarded as an embarrassing and derisible failure. They would be considered “soft,” and everyone from Pau Gasol to Kobe Bryant to Phil Jackson would be questioned.
The team that “hasn’t won anything,” was mocked for continuing their ringless trajectory, and the team that has won everything (including those affirming championship rings) would be ripped to pieces for their inability to make it out of the first round. So where, exactly, does that put the Spurs? They’re somehow given the full respect of a champion but without any of the baggage, perhaps the only No. 1 seed in the modern era capable of losing a first-round series with minimal heckling. Many readers and writers of the narrative seem to have things jumbled; highly successful regular season teams are otherwise taunted for the playoff shortcomings regardless of a championship pedigree, yet San Antonio remains untarnished.
To reiterate one final time: as an organization, a team, and a basketball concept, the Spurs deserve respect. I just see no compelling reason why their failures exist on a different plane from those of all other teams, or why the context of this loss is so unique as to be treated with reverence. Sports fans have nothing if not the selective enforcement of their own personal rules, but all I ask for is the slightest bit of logical consistency.
Danny Crawford has refereed 18 Maverick playoff games since 2001, and yes, Dallas has registered a ridiculous 2-16 record in those contests. That’s not only statistically significant, but adorned with flashing lights and warning signs; as much as we’d like to sweep all of this under the rug, the numbers are glaring, particularly in contrast to the Mavs’ otherwise solid playoff performance. Something could very well be up with Crawford, to a degree that impacts his ability to officiate a Maverick game fairly.
We just don’t know. That record (in addition to any foul differential, free throw differential, or other miscellaneous refereeing measure you can conjure) tells us to be on the lookout, but not to indict.
I offer this with absolute certainty: there is no more dreadful playoff narrative than one involving officiating. Referees are the supposedly impartial mediators of any athletic contest, and once their credibility — for reasons of bias, not necessarily ineptitude — comes into question, the entire discourse falls further and further into the abyss.
So tonight, watch the game carefully, and keep an eye on Crawford. Be skeptical if you will, but don’t go hunting for evidence of a conspiracy. The sheer improbability of the Mavs’ performance in Crawford’s games unfortunately demands that fans of the Mavs and the league at large be alert, but not that anyone subscribe to paranoia, madness, or defeatism. Fans of a team wronged can sometimes engage in the type of tribalism that isn’t healthy for anyone involved, so please, please, stay reasonable. We’re going to see how things play out, in a crucial Game 2 between the Mavs and Blazers, with the Crawford subplot running in the background.
Hopefully this is the closest it ever gets to center stage.
We’re five months and 15 days removed from the announcement that Rodrigue Beaubois’ fracture would require surgery, and only now — through back channels, no less — are those outside the team finally granted an update on his status. Beaubois’ agent, Bouna Ndiaye, sees his client’s return as just a week or two away, which only puts the second-year guard a good three months or so behind schedule. Recovery isn’t a race, but it’s still nice to hear a lap time once in awhile if only to gauge progress. The Mavs remained tight-lipped on Beaubois’ status throughout, and that itself is something of a modern miracle during the Age of Leaked-and-Internet-Spread Information.
Even more interesting, though, is that the implied complications with Beaubois’ injury became a bit more public, albeit through a French outlet. In an interview with BasketNews* (translated via Google Translate, so add salt to taste), Beaubois was surprisingly forthcoming; he was apparently close to a full recovery when a small crack reappeared, thus setting him back substantially in his recovery timeline. It’s been obvious for some time that something had gone awry in Beaubois’ rehab, but to have the fortress surrounding the team hold for this long before — ahem — cracking in the final chapter seems odd. Not odd as implying that there’s something more to this reveal than there is, but just generally odd given how secretive the entire recovery process has been up to this point. As of a few days ago, Beaubois’ status was as mysterious as ever, but now we have not only a prospective timetable courtesy of someone very close to the situation, but an indication of what may have derailed the recovery process.
These are strange days of sports media and subsequent media consumption, and the fact that Beaubois’ status was so secretive for so long is much more the exception than the rule. Though, at the risk of stretching this topic further than its bounds will allow: do teams have any kind of obligation to release updates on player injuries to the media and in turn, the fans? Is there any distinct reason why those updates should be on the daily menu other than our own hunger for them? There are plenty of cases in which withholding injury information could be beneficial, but there doesn’t seem to be too much of a benefit in that level of disclosure. The more available information the better, but lest we forget: injuries are just another ground on which sports media seek to know that which teams often choose to protect. Coaches won’t disclose their exact game plan, general managers won’t tip their hand, and, if they so choose, teams can turn into a strongbox when it comes to the specifics of a player’s injury.
*Link via Mavs Moneyball.
Let’s for one second forget that the Mavs were on the verge of true contention with Dirk Nowitzki glowing after every jumper and Caron Butler settling into a rotation he could finally call his home. Let’s momentarily misplace the fact that without Butler, Dallas is hurting for complementary scoring, and that Jason Terry is no longer reliable enough to carry that burden on his own. Let’s just wipe clear the notion that without Butler performing at a high level, another year of Dirk Nowitzki’s prime could end in a premature playoff exit.
All of that matters, I’m sure, but frankly none of it should be relevant in any way that impacts Butler’s decision-making. It’s a damn shame that Caron couldn’t be a part of some magical Maverick effort that toppled the Lakers and soared past the Spurs, but does that mean he should attempt a comeback this season when doing so would scrape the bottom of his rehabilitation projections? Why try to rush back into things at the four-month mark when recovery from this kind of injury could take six months and then some? Hasn’t Butler seen what happened to Brandon Roy? To Josh Howard? To all of those who haven’t respected the course of nature and medicine?
The notion that Butler could — or worse, should — return to the team for a playoff push is absurd. It would be a detriment to the team, and potentially a huge detriment to Butler’s health. The fact that he wants to play for the Mavs is admirable, but foolishly so. If it’s merely a mechanism to facilitate Butler’s rehab, then I wouldn’t dare take it away. But if he or the Mavs are seriously considering a pre-playoff or mid-playoff return a real possibility, I fear for the repercussions for both parties. Dallas has done a great job this season of refusing to wait on anyone. They didn’t bide their time and wait for some disaster to befell the Lakers; they grabbed the conference by the throat and played top-notch defense (before their recent drop-off, at least). When Rodrigue Beaubois’ return kept getting pushed back, the Mavs made it work offensively, and turned Beaubois into a welcome addition rather than a bare necessity.
If Caron’s return is touted as a possibility, it would only be deluding this team — from players to management to ownership — into thinking they may eventually have an asset at their disposal that they certainly do not. Even if Butler could return this season, he’d be limited. Even if you think that’s better than nothing, it’s not. When healthy, Butler was a genuine asset to this team, and he worked terribly hard (both in terms of his conditioning/physique and his understanding of the offensive and defensive systems) to get to that point. But without the same ability to move both laterally and toward the basket, Butler isn’t worth all that much. He’d likely be frustrated, as any capable player would be when reduced to a spot-up shooter. The Caron Butler Mavs fans had slowly grown to appreciate over the course of this season is no more — until after his full recovery, anyway — and even the most diligent rehab work won’t change that.
Wade through trade rumors if you must, but this team has to get better, and they’ll have to do so without even whispering Caron’s name.