Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

NBA’s new replay center a high-tech house of correctness


VIDEO: NBA houses new replay center to aid in correct calls

SECAUCUS, N.J. – In the not-so-distant future, a microchip sewn into the fabric of Kevin Durant III‘s uniform shirt (or perhaps embedded painlessly beneath his skin) will be able to sense physical contact from a defender. A signal transmitted instantly through the scoreboard simultaneously will stop the clock and trigger a whistle-like sound. And the NBA players on the court will dutifully line up for a couple free throws, no human referee necessary.

For now, though, the league’s state-of-the-art technology is housed on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building, in a corporate park on the west side of the Hudson River from Manhattan. Every instant of every NBA game to be played this season, this postseason and beyond will be processed through the new replay center located within, the game footage available to be searched and “scrubbed” (in the parlance of video editing) to get right as many replay situations as possible.

Considering the old arena-and-TV-production-truck method of replay review had a 90 percent success rate, as estimated Thursday by NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, the league’s quest for greater accuracy and efficiency in swiftly adjudicating the trickiest plays is an admirable one.

Complicated and expensive, too. No one talked of the price tag Thursday during a media walk-through of the facility, which is headquartered with NBA Entertainment. But some of the other numbers tossed around were staggering:

  • 300 billion bits of information per second, in terms of processing multiple HD video streams and photos. The new network’s capacity is 66 times greater than the previous system, vast and fast enough to download the entire digitized content of the Library of Congress (more than 158 million items) in about a half hour.
  • 31,500 hours of video to be reviewed in the 2014-15 season alone.
  • 94 flat-screen TV monitors, 32 of them touch-screen, and 20 replay stations in the center.
  • 15 replay operators, one each for the maximum number of games in a single day, finding and feeding the critical plays to one of three replay managers for interaction with the in-arena referee crew chief.
  • 15 replay “triggers” or game situations that allow for review, up from 14 last season.

The room looks like the wonkiest sports bar in America, a cross between a TV production booth, an air-traffic control tower and the CTU HQ Jack Bauer occasionally dropped by.

As formidable as the replay center looks, the process will continue to be dictated by the game officials in Charlotte, Portland or wherever. But rather than relying on a monitor at the scorer’s table linked only to a truck in the arena parking lot – where the broadcast production staffers have enough work to manage the telecast – the crew chief will connect directly to a replay manager.

That manager – described by Joe Borgia, NBA senior VP, replay and referee operations, as a “basketball junkie” with training as a ref, a techie or both – will have at his disposal angles quickly cued up from the assigned replay operator. The crew chief will be able to request zoom, split screens, slo-motion, real-time speed, freeze frames and up to four angles on one screen. Until now, the refs were shown angles sequentially, sometimes seeing the best one after it already had appeared on the arena videoboard.

One important point: The crew chief still will make the final decision. The replay gurus in Secaucus – who occasionally will be watched while they’re watching by a camera mounted high in the room, to show TV audiences how the sausage gets made – will simply select what they deem to be the best angles of the plays in question.

“They’re just giving us the views so we can make the correct calls,” ref Jim Capers said Thursday during a Q&A session.

That’s different from the NHL and MLB, where determinations are made by the replay center administrators. The NBA isn’t ready to take that step yet, Thorn said.

“We don’t want to take it away from the referee right now,” Thorn said. “But he may ask for some support from here. We’re going to have these things cued up for him and most of ‘em are going to be, ‘Well, there it is.’

“Our feeling was, we’re going to leave the ultimate decision in the hand of the on-court crew chief with his guys – for right now. But that may come. You have a chip in your ear, you’re running down the floor, you wave your hand about a 3-point shot and Joe Borgia says [from back at the replay center] ‘His foot was on the line. It was a 2.’ So you don’t even have to go over to the [monitor]. But we’re not there yet.”

Nor, Thorn said, is the NBA ready to adopt a challenge system similar to those used in the NFL and MLB in which coaches and managers can choose to have certain calls reviewed. That will be experimented with this season in the NBA Development League and it was discussed “very seriously,” Thorn said, at the NBA Competition Committee’s two more recent meetings.

“If you talk to the coaches, and we have three coaches on our Competition Committee, they would like to challenge judgment calls,” Thorn said. “That’s a little different.”

Those second-guesses might be better left to the microchips when the time comes. In the meantime, the NBA has its new high-tech house of correctness.

BOG vote down Draft lottery reforms


VIDEO: Commissioner Silver discusses the owners’ vote

NEW YORK – Dealing with ultra-competitive people who’ve chased down success in both sports and business, vying in an industry with millions and these days even billions of dollars at stake in revenue and franchise valuations, it’s no wonder that every NBA rule on and off the court gets bent nearly to the point of breaking.

So dialing in the right mix of incentives, disincentives and weighted percentages in crafting or reforming a draft lottery is like dribbling through the Chicago Bulls defense – in a minefield of unintended consequences. Veer this way and … kaboom!

That, ultimately, was why a proposal from the league’s Competition Committee to modify the lottery failed to pass at the Board of Governors meeting that concluded Wednesday in midtown Manhattan. A 17-13 vote in favor of some significant changes still fell short of the 23 votes needed, based on the league’s by-laws. The issue goes back to the committee for further study.

“We’ve tinkered with the draft lottery several times,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “I don’t necessarily disagree with the way it works now. I’m concerned with the perception.”

Silver, in fact, considers it a “corrosive perception” held by some fans, media types and people within his own league that teams can win big by losing big.

The essence of a draft is to deliver the best young talent to the neediest team. Yet “neediest team” is a moving target: Sometimes it’s a good team whose star player has gone done for a season – or left for good as a free agent. Sometimes it’s a chronically mismanaged roster full of players who never quite panned out. And still other times it’s a crew in need of serious rebuild whose front office has determined that “tanking” in search of a high draft pick is the surest way out of Stinkville.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the current poster guys for that strategy, using lottery picks on injured Joel Embiid and Euro-stashed Dario Saric one year after adding hurt-and-redshirted Nerlens Noel and finishing 19-63. Other teams such as Milwaukee and Orlando lined up with them – the 15-67 Bucks actually undercut the field in 2013-14 – in pursuit of the same prize.

The sense that one or several of the league’s 30 teams would take the court intending to do anything but win is one that rankles Silver. But for every tweak in the lottery system allegedly keeping teams honest in one direction, there was potential for a different club to game the system in another.

“Whether it’s the case, I’m frankly not sure. Sometimes perception becomes reality,” Silver said. “I think there’s an unfair pressure on some of our teams to actually underperform. There’s a view in those markets that they’re better off performing poorly in order to win in the long-term.”

Teams voted for or against the lottery reforms for other, more specific reasons. Some franchises in small-revenue markets feel they’re at a disadvantage in free agency (luring players) or trades (keeping acquired players long-term. They see the draft – and the rules of rookie contracts that can stretch as long as five seasons, at salaries lower than market value – as an equalizer. Teams in larger markets, with greater pressure from their fan bases to win, may view the draft as rewarding the league’s laggards or, worse, the intentionally bad.

According to Yahoo! Sports, the votes broke somewhat, but not entirely, along market-size lines. The 13 “no” votes reportedly were: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, Washington and Utah.

The proposals floated this week called for broadening the lottery’s sweet spot and giving more teams a better shot at landing the top picks. In flattening the odds among the teams with the four worst records, the “neediest” team’s chance at the No. 1 pick would have been cut from 25 percent to 12. Also, it would be guaranteed no worse than the seventh pick, rather than fourth in the current system, if its lottery numbers proved unlucky.

“People want a change,” one Eastern Conference GM told NBA.com, “but they weren’t happy with the proposal.”

Other topics addressed at the Board of Governors meeting included:

  • Reports on revenue sharing and the new TV and digital rights extensions with Turner Broadcasting and ABC/ESPN that will pay the NBA $24 billion over nine years beginning in 2016-17, approximately triple what the current deals generate.
  • Discussion about the league’s latest marketing campaign and the status of the Atlanta Hawks’ unsettled ownership situation.
  • Presentations on domestic violence, diversity and other workplace concerns.
  • The extension of Minnesota owner Glen Taylor’s term as Board of Governors chairman for one more year.
  • The establishment of the David J. Stern Sports Scholarship, a $30,000 package based on merit and need for a student in sports management. Included: an internship at the NBA office in New York as a junior and direct mentoring from Stern, who retired as NBA commissioner after 30 years in February. “He was honored, flattered,” Silver said. He’s looking forward to engaging directly with these young students.”

The TV money issue looms large over the next two years because, while the infusion of cash won’t occur until 2016-17, all parties know that it is coming. NBA players already have talked about getting back some of what they felt was sacrificed in the last round of collective-bargaining talks in 2011, when their share of league revenues fell from 57 to approximately 50 percent. Owners reportedly are questioning revenue-sharing arrangements agreed to at about that same time and fine-tuned since.

Silver said Wednesday that one-third of the league’s 30 teams still are not profitable, though he added after the news conference that the onus still is on the individual teams to manage well their business. Some in attendance raised the specter of labor strife again in 2017 when the current CBA can (and likely will) be re-opened, and the possibility of a lockout similar to or worse than 2011 in a squabble over the flood of dollars.

The commissioner wasn’t ready to go there.

“So many great things are happening in this league right now,” Silver said. “Putting money aside, I think the system elements are working in the new collective bargaining agreement. I can’t remember a time when we had so many competitive teams in the league, so much hope in markets throughout the league.

“As I’ve said to the players, from day one when I became commissioner, my focus is on growing the pie. And if we do our job growing the pie, the incremental differences in percentages will be rounding error compared to us both sharing in the success of the league.”


VIDEO: Silver breaks down the new media deals

Lottery reforms fail to gain support

NEW YORK – There’s still a 75 percent chance the worst team in the NBA won’t get to draft the best player available in the annual June Draft.

The status quo isn’t likely to erase “tanking” from the NBA vocabulary, however.

Nor might it placate those seeking even longer odds for the team, or teams, that head to the bottom of the standings as if it was a mini-tramp, hoping to propel themselves into contention faster by being bad rather than just mediocre.

But it will have to do for now, because changes in the draft lottery system that were expected by many insiders to be approved Wednesday fell short in a vote at the league’s Board of Governors meeting.

Reports by both Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com cited a 17-13 vote in favor of the lottery reforms, but 23 votes were needed for them to pass. Much of the debate broke along small-revenue and big-revenue markets, though preliminary reports of the voting suggested that some franchises crossed market-size lines.

Among the changes considered, the team with the worst record would see its shot at the top pick cut approximately in half (12 percent), with other teams’ improving, and the worst team could have dropped all the way to seventh (rather than fourth under the current system).

Some small-market teams, who already feel at a disadvantage in free agency and in trading (and keeping) players, apparently are wary of changes in the draft system that might hurt their access to top young talent on rookie contracts. An Eastern Conference GM told NBA.com that while changes might be welcome, a number of teams were “not happy” with the specifics voted on Wednesday.

Blogtable: Down, but on its way up

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: The Jazz finally may be on the right track

> Which of these down-on-its-luck franchises strikes you as on the fastest track forward: Utah, Sacramento or Orlando?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Orlando. They strike me as having the best fit of young pieces – Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon – to develop together, if they can manage to score enough points along the way. Sacramento should have been better by now, and for every Kings player who intrigues me, there’s another who cancels out the optimism. Utah’s talent is good but a new coach and system suggests a reset of the learning curve.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Can I say Philadelphia?  Even with more bumps and plenty of pain ahead this season, the Sixers are stacking young talent and will get more from the 2015 Draft. But if you’re making me pick from these three, I’ll go with the one that has the best player. That’s the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, for all the known questions about attitude, could be a franchise-carrying talent. The Jazz and Magic are scoops of vanilla ice cream: filling but hardly exciting.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I keep wanting to believe in the Kings, to believe in DeMarcus Cousins, to believe in new ownership, new management and coach Mike Malone. But, man, they really make it hard. In Orlando, I do like their young talent, but I’m not sold on Jacque Vaughn at the helm and I think there will be a coaching change at some point. Utah has fully committed to a youth movement and I’m sold on Trey Burke and have high hopes for Dante Exum as a game-changing playmaker. Gordon Hayward has to step it up to an All-Star-caliber level, so we’ll see about that, but there’s other young, emerging talent and more picks in the trove. They got the coach question out of the way and Quin Snyder will breathe some freshness into the program. Maybe this is my West bias coming into play, but I’ll take Utah over Orlando by a smidgen.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOrlando. For one thing, the Magic are in the East, which gives them an easier path to the back of the playoff pack, even this season despite a lot of youth. For another: Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. That’s a nice foundation built on defense and rebounding. They obviously have a lot of growing to do while relying heavily on two rookies and a second-year player, but that’s a lot of potential for the fast track.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very excited about the 2-3 year prospects of any of these teams. The Kings have the best player of the three, but nothing around DeMarcus Cousins (or a clear plan of action) that says they definitely have a shot at making the playoffs in the next three years. The Magic and Jazz both have a decent collection of young talent, including rookie guards – Elfrid Payton and Dante Exum – with high ceilings, but nobody that is definitely a future All-Star. If I have to take one team, I’ll take Orlando, just because they’re in the Eastern Conference, where a playoff spot can be had with a decent amount of talent and good coaching.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of the these teams believe they have the ideal core group in place for lift off. The promise of what could be always rules the day in lottery land. The one place where I believe that there has been a true altering of the DNA for the better is in Utah. The continued stockpiling of versatile, young talent is at a point where the process can be accelerated a bit this season. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Alec Burks and even new coach Quin Snyder will operate without the added pressure of playoff expectations, which are not realistic for the Kings or Magic either. The Kings and Magic, however, are still sorting through their talent base to see who does and does not fit. The Jazz already know who and what they have.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Utah and Orlando are each inching forward, not a slowly as Philadelphia, but at intentionally deliberate paces. But from the ownership down, Sacramento seems like a team that doesn’t want to wait any longer. While Utah and Orlando each have a few nice young pieces, the Kings have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay who are further along than most of the guys in Orlando and Utah. They’ve got a new arena on the way, and there seems to be a real urgency to win and win now.

Blogtable: Concerns for the Cavaliers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: Sekou Smith takes a quick look at the 2014-15 Cavaliers

> Outside of injury, what do you see as the biggest concern for the Cavs, something that might not work as anticipated? Could it keep Cleveland from the East finals?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy biggest Cav-eat, so to speak, pertains to their size. Anderson Varejao has been prone to breakdowns, Brendan Haywood is 34, Kevin Love is outside half the time and everyone else is 6-foot-9 or shorter. But Miami overcame a similar “bigs” problem in the paint and I think Cleveland will, too. If Chicago figures out how to stay healthy and fresh for the postseason, maybe that trips up the Cavs. Otherwise, LeBron James will play in his fifth consecutive Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDefense. All indications from the preseason are the Cavs have plenty of offensive firepower. But the question is whether they can stop opponents, especially in the fourth quarter. I expect that to be a running theme throughout the season.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comWithout getting too technical here, defense has to be at the top of the list, right? Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love haven’t exactly stamped their careers as being stoppers. Anderson Varejao needs to stay healthy for interior protection (sorry, you said, outside of injury). Yes, if the Cavs turn out to be a porous defensive squad and make LeBron run all over the place, it could keep them out of the East finals — that is if they’re playing the Bulls in the second round.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Just the obvious: It takes time. Grand success doesn’t always happen right away. Ask 2010-11 LeBron, the first season in Miami. The Cavaliers have some (not all) unselfish players and experience and talent, but there will be a transition period with so many new people and a new system with the coach. Maybe that transition period will be a couple months. Maybe it will be the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDefense is clearly concern No. 1. Their offense is going to be ridiculous, with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James attacking and plenty of guys to place the floor. But their best offensive lineups – James at the four and Kevin Love at the five – aren’t going to be great defensive lineups. And their interior defenders – Brendan Haywood and Anderson Varejao – have each had problems staying healthy. That’s not keeping them from the conference finals, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If we’re excluding injury and the Chicago Bulls, I’d argue the Cavs have all of the human resources to get to wherever they are aiming to go this season. Still, there are chemistry concerns for this group headlined by LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving that still bother me just days away from the start of the regular season. The sacrifices that will have to be made by not only the marquee stars but also role players like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and others should not be overlooked. This is a five-man game and the Cavs need to make sure they have the right five to ride through the regular season and into the postseason. Any glitch in that chemistry matrix could derail the championship plans.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDefense. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts and stuff to figure out for the Cavaliers this season, but I think the offense is the least of their worries. Worst case scenario, you put Kyrie on one wing and LeBron on the other and let them go one-on-one against their defenders, with Kevin Love grabbing rebounds. But defense is the one place where they can’t just get by on talent. They don’t have a rim protector, and other than LeBron, none of their starters are really known for his defensive ability. Time will tell if they’re able to implement a system where they’re able to cover for each other. A defensive deficiency may not matter in terms of escaping the Eastern Conference, but when you’re facing a team like San Antonio without a strong defense in place … well, I think we all saw how that can go.

Blogtable: Putting up big numbers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?


> ‘Melo says it won’t be him. LeBron’s not worried about scoring and has other weapons. KD is hurting for awhile. Do you see a new scoring champ this year?

Carmelo Anthony (Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony
(Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comRussell Westbrook has the tools and the mentality, but he’ll be back to sharing the OKC offense with Durant soon enough. So I’m going with Houston’s James Harden, who will be able to play just selfishly enough – based on what the Rockets will need from him – to chase the scoring crown.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHello, James Harden. He’s coming off consecutive seasons of averaging more than 25 points per game (ranked 5th in 2014), the Rockets have lost a considerable bit of their punch from last year in Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin and that likely means Harden will be asked/needed to put up more shots to fill the void. He’s never had to be asked twice to shoot more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well that was nice of ‘Melo to take himself out of the scoring race, sort of how Kevin Durant bowed out late in the 2012-13 season to sort of let ‘Melo get his one scoring title. But, geez, looking at the Knicks’ roster, it seems to me that ‘Melo’s gonna have to light it up nighty. But since he says he’s out, we’ll omit him. And let’s say Durant won’t come back and take it, and surmise that LeBron James will spread the wealth with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. So go to the next guy on the list, and last year that was James Harden. With Chandler Parsons now firing 3s in Dallas, Harden has even more opportunity to pump in the points, and, quite frankly, the Rockets just might need him to score 30 a night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sets up nicely for Stephen Curry, doesn’t it? I don’t agree with Carmelo’s premise, and I won’t count Durant out, but for the sake of conversation, Curry is a solid choice with the Warriors emphasizing ball movement. Just what the rest of the league needs. Steph getting more open looks. And Paul George should be mentioned in the question among the missing. If not for the knee injury, I probably would have gone with him for the non-Melo, non-LeBron, non-KD scoring title.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI don’t believe Carmelo. Yes, he’s being asked to move the ball more in the Triangle offense. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t still get his shots or that the Knicks won’t still rely on him to carry their offense. And they’re going to need a lot of offense, because their defense will be pretty poor. I wouldn’t take Melo against the field, but he’s my pick.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. I don’t care what Carmelo thinks or says, it’s his scoring title to lose, even with the new triangle-based offense in New York. But that doesn’t mean there are not plenty of eager candidates — James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and others — willing to step into the fray and chase that top spot. The truly elite, scoring championship chasers are far and few between. There are only a handful of them playing at any given time, and even fewer of them who stay healthy long enough and stay locked in long enough and consistently enough to stay in the mix for an entire season. Triangle or not, it’s ‘Melo’s title to lose.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Kobe? Have you watched the Lakers in the preseason? Kobe is taking a lot of shots — in the last two games combined he’s taken 45 field goals and 24 free throws. The Lakers probably aren’t going to be very good, but Kobe’s gonna be Kobe, which means he’ll keep getting buckets and will play as many minutes as he possibly can. And if he’s in the mix for scoring leader with a few months to go, that might be the only thing the Lakers have to play for.

The last less likely to be first, under expected draft lottery reforms

NEW YORK – The NBA’s Board of Governors, expected to approve an overhaul of the league’s draft lottery Wednesday at their fall meetings in midtown Manhattan, might want to be careful what they vote for.

In thwarting the Philadelphia 76ers in what many consider their shameless plunge into, and loitering about, the lottery for consecutive seasons, they might in fact wind up aiding GM Sam Hinkie‘s team on the way up.

Lottery reform, as reported by multiple media outlets, is likely to pass with at least the 23 (of 30) votes needed. The changes essentially will broaden the lottery’s sweet spot, giving more teams a better shot at landing the No. 1 pick and therefore, presumably, discouraging teams that might be inclined to “tank” their way to a rebuilding strategy.

That’s what Philadelphia has done, trading last year for injured big man Nerlens Noel, sputtering through a 19-63 season, then using its two lottery picks in June for two more players – Kansas center Joel Embiid and Euro-obligated Dario Saric – who won’t help at all in 2014-15.

Flattening the odds among the teams with the four worst records, cutting the worst club’s chances (25 percent now) approximately in half and guaranteeing it no lower than the seventh pick (no longer the fourth) all reportedly are among the reforms considered by the owners this week to strip incentives from finishing dead last or nearly so.

But given the young talent already on board in Philadelphia, it’s possible the 76ers could be improve considerably in the next two or three years – and find itself with a Top 3 pick again, thanks to the rejiggered odds.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of the league’s worst team landing the best draft prospect would be lessened again. And that’s happened only three times in 21 years anyway since the lottery adopted its current weighting – a pattern that some believe argued against tanking in the first place. A 25 percent shot at No. 1 means a 75 percent shot at not getting the top pick.

Clearly, the league is a long way from its days of heads or tails, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Neal Walk and Magic Johnson vs. David Greenwood, dictated by coin flip. But the 76ers and others got good enough at gaming the system to grab the Governors’ attention, and a draft system intended to help the truly awful might wind up aiding the merely mediocre. That is of particular concern to the league’s smaller-revenue markets, which already feel disadvantaged in attracting free agents and retaining players acquired via trades.

Among other items believed to be on the Board of Governors agenda:

  • A report on the league’s new replay center in Secaucus, N.J., the clearing house for all reviewed calls this season.
  • Discussion of the flood of TV money from new rights extensions with Turner Broadcasting and ABC/ESPN and its expected impact on player compensation, the salary cap and revenue-sharing.
  • Update on the Atlanta Hawks ownership and front-office situation.
  • Conversations about the NBA’s code of conduct, particularly as it relates to domestic violence.

A book to settle, and incite, arguments

Wilt Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes a game in 1961-62 (John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated)

Wilt Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes a game in 1961-62 (John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated)

It’s the stuff arguments are made of. And barroom bets. And blackened eyes.

If you and your friends were to try to rank the Top 10 in anything, how much consensus would there be? Now broaden that across not one, not two but 22 categories, all under the umbrella of the Best This and Most That in NBA history.

That’s what the writers and editors at Sports Illustrated did with “Basketball’s Greatest,” a formidable 288-page volume released Tuesday that’s suitable for the coffee table, usable as a home-defense weapon and certain to rankle merely in the reading. But that’s OK, same as with the brand’s “Baseball’s Greatest” last year and “Football’s Greatest” from 2012. They’re full of history, stats and evaluation, but mostly they’re full of opinions.

Theirs just happen to be more credible than yours. (Nah, just stirring the pot.)

book-cover“What was interesting about basketball,” said editor Bill Syken, who worked on all three books, “was that, in football you can compare Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and they’ve played at the same time, but they don’t directly compete against each other. Not the way Russell and Chamberlain did, or Magic and Stockton did.”

The rankings – by the way, this is all-NBA/ABA, all the way, despite the generic title – came from an actual balloting of the magazine’s (and now Web site’s) NBA writers. Seven voters – Chris Ballard, Mark Bechtel, Lee Jenkins, Chris Mannix, Jack McCallum, Ian Thomsen and Alexander Wolff – chose their personal Top 10s, with a point system used (10 for a No. 1 mention, 9 for a No. 2 and so on) to create the overall lists. Every player who got even a single point is listed near the end.

The meat of the book is the position-by-position rankings, including comments from the voters and, at each spot, a feature story from the SI archives on one of the players. There also are categories such as Best Sixth Men, Best Defenders, Best Coaches and Best Clutch Performers. Fans of the Miami Heat will have thoughts on the Best Single-Season Team list.

There are some lighter lists in the final pages, including Best Slam Dunks (contest variety) and Best Quotes. And of course, there are tremendous photos. Many rarely have been seen. Even the familiar ones pop in the 13 x 10.5-inch format.

Syken spoke with Hang Time HQ this week about the book. Here’s a Q&A edited from a longer conversation:

The culture is saturated with Top 10 lists and slideshows. Where does your book bring its value?

Bill Syken: I think there are three ways where this book offers value different from a typical slideshow: the expertise, the photos and the writing. It’s not one person – this was a panel of seven people who have great experience covering basketball. We polled them all and got their collective wisdom on these topics. We have pictures from the SI archives that are displayed in a big coffee-table format where … there’s a lot more to look at. And beyond the pictures, each Top-10 finisher gets a clip from a classic SI story. So you have writing from Frank Deford, Jack McCallum, Lee Jenkins and other interesting writers who might be known for other sports but dropped in on basketball once in a while.

Did you learn anything you didn’t know?

Syken: I’m a pretty big NBA fan but I learned some details, especially about some of the games, that were before my period of memory. About the ’57 Finals and the drama there. And some of other details – we have an excerpt from Frank Deford about when Moses Malone jumped from high school to the [ABA]. His meetings with [Maryland coach] Lefty Driesell and how that went. Or 20 years later, we have a story about Kevin Garnett’s tryout in front of all these scouts when he was considering making the jump to the NBA. (more…)

Bulls’ Butler a high-volatility stock


VIDEO: Butler plays preseason hero against Hawks

Asterisks abounded Thursday night, when Jimmy Butler went vintage-Derrick Rose – or one-off-Michael Jordan – down the stretch against the Atlanta Hawks.

* Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau had starters, including Butler, on the floor late in the Bulls’ mostly dismal performance.

* His Atlanta counterpart, Mike Budenholzer, was rolling with third-string Hawks.

* Rose, the Bulls player who would normally be called upon at such a point, was on the bench (prompting some predictable hand-wringing from critics who aren’t happy when the point guard plays a lot or when he plays a little).

* It still was the preseason.

* And Butler is in the midst of a salary drive, his performances this month potentially out of character, with the real impact of deal-or-no-deal in his contract extension talks to be determined later.

Still, the Bulls shooting guard did score 29 points – one more than his career high in three NBA seasons – in his team’s scramble back from 21 points to win. Butler got 20 of those in the final 5:11, an explosive stretch that might have been aided by the various asterisks but explosive nonetheless.

He did it, too, in ways that made the worriers feel a little better about Butler’s offense – no one questions his defensive effort or effectiveness – at a position where Chicago needs more oomph. Butler, who shot 39.7 percent from the floor (28.3 percent on 3-pointers), dramatically beat the buzzer from 26 feet in good form. He wound up shooting 8-for-14 and 12-for-16 from the line (9-for-11 in the fourth), and got some big love from teammates.

“We always tell him to take more [shots], but it’s going to be up to him to break that seal,” Rose said. “Thank God that he’s catching his rhythm right now and he’s building his confidence. He’s another threat offensively.”

Not last year, he wasn’t. But Thibodeau played Butler long minutes anyway, for his defense, out of need and in spite of distractions coming at the wing player from Marquette. Butler battled injuries early, played only eight games with Rose before the point guard went down again, then had his role tweaked after the Bulls traded veteran small forward Luol Deng in January.

“Jimmy has grown,” Thibodeau said Thursday night. “He’s more a scorer than to characterize him as a straight shooter. He’s an all-around scorer. He’ll find ways to put the ball in the basket.”

Butler, though you’d wonder where it came from, is said to have arrived at camp 10 pounds lighter. He looks more athletic and clearly has been more aggressive, leading Chicago after five October games with 18.6 points, 60.4 field-goal shooting, 43 free throw attempts and 144 total minutes.

“All summer I worked on my game. The biggest thing is confidence, taking shots I know I can make,” he said.

So, salary drive? Butler has two weeks left to land, per NBA rookie-scale rules, the contract extension available to players heading into their fourth seasons. Two years ago, Bulls forward Taj Gibson felt preseason pressure while his talks played out, and though he got his deal (four years, $33 million), the episode seemed to bleed into a subpar season. Butler has some folks wondering if he might go the other way if he gets paid – throttling back – or be adversely affected if he doesn’t get the extension done.

He said Thursday it hasn’t been a distraction. “Nope. Not at all,” Butler said. “I just try to play the game the right way. The whole contract situation is up to my agent (Happy Walters) and the Bulls organization. I just want to win games. Then the contract will take care of itself, whenever.”

And however much. The market for Butler figures to be as hot as it is fluid. Chicago reportedly would like to sign him now for what’s becoming called “Taj money,” close to Gibson’s 2012 extension. Butler might be anchored more by the three-year, $30 million, take-it-or-leave-it offer the Bulls put in front of Deng before trading him.

Then there’s the unpredictable marketplace of free agency, even with restrictions, should Butler get that far. Gordon Hayward landed his four-year, $63 million max deal that way – offer sheet from Charlotte, matched by Utah – and Chandler Parsons scored a three-year, $46 million contract with Dallas. And if Butler, who will make $2 million this season, were to play this out twice on a year-by-year basis, he would hit the unrestricted marked in 2016 as the new bonanza of TV rights cash officially kicks in.

Bulls VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, who will already have $50 million committed to four players next season (Rose, Gibson, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol), won’t have Thibodeau at the bargaining table, that’s for sure. The coach who has leaned hard on Butler for two years will look to him even more.

Chicago added shooters over the summer but after Rose, Butler is the best choice to put real pressure on opponents, getting to the rim, getting to the line, throwing himself around to wreak havoc and create energy on nights when there’s none, like Thursday. With Deng’s departure, he is the defender who will draw the toughest assignments, the only one Thibodeau trusts to check other guys’ most potent scorers.

Butler was drafted last in the first round in 2011 and still sounds like an absolute underdog. “I’m from Tomball, [Texas],” he said earlier this week. “I’m not even supposed to be in the NBA, let alone be a star player. I just want to be wanted. I just want to play hard. I just want to help [us] win. End of story. Star player, role player, bench player, whatever it takes. Just let me win.”

Oh, Butler definitely is going to win, either with the Bulls or someone else. In this case, the victory will be noted not by a ‘W’ or an * but by a bunch of $’s.

Instant-replay tweaks, rules changes announced for 2014-15

An average NBA fan can go years, maybe even an entire hoops-viewing career, without witnessing an instance of one team playing with too many men on the court.

But that potential predicament got a lot of attention in the new instant-replay and rules modifications announced Thursday by the NBA. So woe to the team whose sixth man doesn’t wait for someone to sub out before subbing in.

Here is the rundown of changes and tweaks recommended by the NBA’s Competition Committee at its offseason meetings and approved by the Board of Governors. They’ll go into effect beginning with Friday’s preseason games:

Expansion of Instant Replay Rules

  • Officials may utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain a team had an improper number of players on the court while the ball was in play.

Modification of Instant Replay Rules

  • Instant replay triggers that are currently in effect only during the last two minutes of regulation and the entire overtime period(s) instead shall be in effect only during the last two minutes of regulation and the last two minutes of overtime period(s).
  • Officials may now conduct an instant replay review whenever they are not reasonably certain as to which team should be awarded possession after a ball becomes out of bounds or whether an out of bounds in fact occurred during the last two minutes of regulation and the last two minutes of overtime period(s).  Previously, officials could only use replay if they weren’t reasonably certain as to which of two players on opposing teams caused the ball to become out of bounds.
  • Officials are now permitted to utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain whether a foul that was called meets the criteria of a flagrant foul.  Previously, the foul had to be called a flagrant on the floor in order to utilize instant replay.
  • Officials are now permitted to utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain whether a foul that was called meets the criteria of a clear-path-to-the-basket foul.  Previously, the foul had to be called a clear-path foul on the floor in order to utilize instant replay.
  • Officials may now utilize instant replay any time they are not certain when any player (offensive or defensive) without the ball was fouled relative to the timing of a successful shot.  Prior to this change, officials could only review the timing when an offensive player without the ball was fouled.

Rules Changes

  • If a team has too many players on the court while the ball is in play, (i) the offending team would both be assessed a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul and lose possession if it had possession at the time the violation was discovered, and (ii) the non-offending team would continue to have the option of either accepting or nullifying the game action that occurred during the violation.  Previously, if the offending team had possession, it would keep possession of the ball despite the violation.
  • Teams may freely substitute players whenever any timeout is called.  Prior to this change, there were limited circumstances in which a team couldn’t substitute for certain players at timeouts.
  • The shot clock will no longer be reset to five seconds when a held ball is caused by the defense with fewer than five seconds remaining on the clock.

One notable change is that referees no longer will have to label a foul as a Flagrant 1 foul to trigger replay access, at which point they determine if the contact was a Flagrant 1, a Flagrant 2 or merely a common foul. The simple act of labeling the foul in advance, and then “reversing” that decision, often generated needless reactions from players, coaches and crowds.

It’s worth noting, too, that two other areas of potential replay use were not among the changes announced for the 2014-15 season. There still is no provision for a “challenge” system comparable to what the NFL and MLB have for coaches and managers. And out-of-bounds reviews still offer no remedy when an uncalled foul – contact that caused the ball to go out – is seen in the replay.