Category Archives: NBA

The Cure for Tanking

America is much better than England. We left the whole “King and Queen” nonsense and never looked back. Now we are awesome, and the coolest people in England want to spend all their time over here (see: Spice Girls, David Beckham, Ricky Gervais, Adele, Austin Powers). More fun, nicer weather, better food, and cleaner teeth. A feeling best summed up by our country’s two current Poet Laureates Matthew Richard Stone and Randolph Severn Parker III when they penned “America, fuck yeah.”

While we wallow in our own bottomless pit of awesomeness, however, England has solved something that we can’t seem to figure out. And the worst part is it has to do with something that our country takes the most pride in – our sports.

The English Premier League functions much like the American Indians did with the buffalo. They utilize every part of the animal and waste nothing. The EPL has figured out how to squeeze every last drop of drama and entertainment from the very worst teams in the league. The battle to prevent being relegated to the lower division is arguably as entertaining as the battle for the league championship. The worst three teams in the top league at season’s end are forced to play in an entirely different league the following year – which has mountains upon mountains of negative implications with players, fans, and money.

This creates an incredibly dramatic end of the season that causes the worst teams to play some of their best futbol all the way to their final game – thus making it exciting for the fans. Without the presence of a player draft each year – the English soccer structure is mainly based on youth academies and deep pockets – the league has completely solved the problem of tanking. Teams cannot tank; their livelihood depends on it. Fans of any team in the league will never have a game in which they don’t want their team to win.

When people debate which sport or teams have “the best fans,” English soccer and American college football usually come up. They have “the most passionate fans.” Well there is a reason for that. Not coincidentally, both of these fans are NEVER faced with a situation where they would want their team to lose. There is a never a scenario in either sport where you could even fathom wanting your team not to prevail.

So why don’t we try harder to get our other sports to that point?

The rookie draft is the wildcard here, because these sports don’t have it. The draft is the catalyst to the problem. But don’t think we haven’t identified this problem before and attempted to fix it. We have a lottery in both the NBA and NHL. The NFL doesn’t have as much of a problem because of the shortened season and the fact that it would take a zombie apocalypse a la “The Walking Dead” to take down interest in the juggernaut of a league (and I wouldn’t be shocked if for an episode Rick and Shane had to traverse through the walker-infested Atlanta to catch a Falcons game).

The best show on televsion not named "The Challenge: Battle of the Exes."

Quick Tangent: Let’s spend a moment on “The Walking Dead” here. What a show. Very few on TV that you can argue are better right now. If you aren’t watching “The Walking Dead” right now, here are five reasons to know if you should:

  1. If you loved “Lost” and also hated “Lost” at the same time.
  2. If you like when the main character of a show – who is also a cop – caps two 8-year old girls in the head in less than two full seasons and he is viewed as the shows protagonist and moral center.
  3. If you like watching “Man vs. Wild” because you think it might help if you ever get stuck in the jungle and had to survive by yourself. This is that times 1,000.
  4. If you like Brady v. Manning, Magic v. Bird, Maverick v. Iceman, Jack v. Locke or any other alpha-male rivalry.
  5. If you like a show where only 1 character is off-limits to be killed at all times.

Back to the topic at hand…Our lack of creativity in this matter has been lazy. The lottery system doesn’t work and teams still tank to get the best odds they can possibly get. Odds shouldn’t have anything to do with it. Some have suggested a sort of “tournament” for the teams not in the playoffs competing for the right to the #1 overall pick. While this would be, as Bill Simmons calls it, “entertaining as hell,” it isn’t feasible. It still levels the playing field and loses the point of having the worst teams get the best players. In this situation, however engaging it may be to fans, it makes the worst teams in the league compete against teams that barely missed the playoffs with no advantage. Problem not solved.

For a while I put tanking in the pile of “questions with no answers” along with “should we pay college players?” and “is Hillary Swank attractive?” but I think I may have finally found an answer.

It came from a likely place: the G8 Summit of sports analytics, the “The MIT Sloan Conference,” which was held last week in Boston. One man, Adam Gold, a graduate student at Missouri, proposed his solution to tanking.

Before I go into what it is – I have to tell you that I LOVE IT. I really love it. I love it so much that if it grew old and forgot who I was because it had Alzheimer’s I would go to its nursing home every day and read it a story I wrote about our life hoping that one day it would remember me.

The basic breakdown is this (and think of it in terms of the NHL and NBA, and maaaaybe MLB): As soon as a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, their record is wiped clean and they begin to accumulate wins in their remaining games. Out of all of the teams who are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs – which is eventually everyone who does not make the playoffs at some point – whoever has the most points (NHL) or wins (NBA, MLB) gets the #1 overall pick.

So for instance, if the Bobcats are mathematically eliminated this year with 20 games remaining on their schedule, their record in those final 20 games will count towards their draft order. They have 20 games to win as many as they possibly can. Let’s say they go 7-13. The Nets, on the other hand, get eliminated with 10 games left. Now if they go 8-2 in those 10 games, they would get the #1 pick over the Bobcats if they were the teams with the best two records “post-elimination.”

This accounts for a fair system for teams that aren’t good for the bulk of the season, but it also prevents teams from tanking at the end. It essentially gives relevance to the final part of the season for almost every team. Your mathematical elimination, which in the past would signify the end of your season, would really be the beginning of an entirely new season, where winning was incredibly valuable. The worse off you are, the more games you get to accumulate wins (or points in the NHL).

Everyone stays involved, everyone stays on top of their game, and teams cannot tank. You just can’t. If your team even attempts to tank, you would get unequivocally blasted from fans, analysts, and anyone involved with the team. And no matter what, as a fan, you would never have the Sophie’s Choice of whether or not you want to betray your fan-hood and root for your team to lose.

Late-season ticket sales would jump for teams who previously were “out of the race.” These games would be televised and would spawn a whole new wrinkle for the NBA, NHL, and MLB to market. The league wins, the fans win, the teams win, and the players who are going to be drafted win – they go to a team that earned the right to pick them and may be better off because they played well at the end of the year.

We never want a situation where teams and players are intentionally losing – whether it is noticeable to the naked eye or not – and this would essentially get rid of it.

For some perspective: in the NBA last year, it was argued that the Timberwolves tanked at the end of the year to attempt and get the highest pick possible. They had 19 games after they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and went 2-17. Any way you slice it, they weren’t fighting tooth and nail to win those games. It was brutal to be a Timberwolves fan those last 19 games, and no one was showing up to watch because of it. They ended up picking 2nd in the lottery. With the new system, they would have been knocked all the way down to selecting 10th overall because of their lack of effort at the end – a vastly different situation. Derrick Williams turns into Jimmer Fredette.

And speaking of the Kings, they went 9-11 in their 20 games post-elimination last year, and because of that, they had the 5th worst record and had a bad draw in the lottery: they got the 10th overall pick despite having the 5th worst record. The 9 wins they had post-elimination however would have been the most of any non-playoff team. They would have been rewarded for their success late in the year and would now have Kyrie Irving running the show. Slightly different outcomes.

Think about some of the drama in the games down the stretch. Let’s go back to the LeBron draft. It’s the last night of the 2003 season. The Cavs and the Raptors are tied for the most “post-elimination” wins and they play each other. Winner gets #1 pick, loser gets #2. You would watch that game. The teams are playing their ass off for that game. And the winner is rewarded with LeBron James. That game is televised, it gets great ratings, and the fans get to root like hell for their team to win. Like I said, I LOVE THIS IDEA.

Check out this table that would determine the NHL Draft last year in this new way:

(Graph courtesy of http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/03/03/how-to-prevent-fall-for-hall-and-fail-for-nail-campaigns/)

The tie would be broken by 1. Most post-elimination wins 2. Least post-elimination regulation losses. 3. Worst record pre-elimination

The Oilers, who were the worst team in the league and won the lottery, had 3x as many games as a team like the Blues to accumulate points. The Oilers, one could argue, utilized the “tanking” strategy effectively and were rewarded because of it. If they knew that they had 12 games to get as many points as possible, the outcome could have been the same, but it would have been because they played well. If you told the Oilers they would have 12 games and the Blues had 4, there is no reason, no matter how bad the Oilers are, that if the Oilers knew they were playing for something that the Blues would have more points. The Blues in this scenario ended up picking 11th while playing well down the stretch and getting nothing for it except a random selection in the lottery.

Every team’s effort would be maximized – which is all we really want as fans. Teams that are in the playoffs will continue to play at their highest level possible. Teams on the fringe will be doing everything they can because their hopes are still alive. And now, there will be only a small chunk of time (between when a team is aesthetically out of contention to when it is mathematically out) where teams would essentially have nothing to play for. Maybe a few teams would tank those games to try and get to that “Elimination Point,” but after that, the more they lose the worse off they are. (“Elimination Point” is also the title of  a Wimbledon-themed murder mystery starring Jean Claude van Damme that needs to get made.)

The lottery is a broken system. It is in place in an attempt to prevent teams from tanking because it makes it uncertain where your draft position will be based on your record. However I would argue it would cause more teams to want to lose because of the possibility of getting the #1 overall pick. In the NBA and NHL, where the #1 pick is enormously more valuable than the #2 pick, this is a nonsensical way to decide who gets that pick. Either do it straight up like the NFL or don’t do it at all. The lottery is a confusing and unhappy middle to the problem. So let’s take a page out of our hygienically-deficient friends across the pond, adopt “The Post-Elimination System,” and use the whole buffalo.

Lockouts Can Be Fun

Despite the look on Commander Stern’s face, the NBA lockout so far has been great.   I’m sorry to those “long-term-thinking” people out there.  I’m dealing with the present – right here, right now.  And right now I’m having more fun than any off-season I’ve had so far.

With fewer restrictions, fans have been entertained with this free-for-all that we’ve had for the last few weeks that wouldn’t be possible sans-lockout.  Obviously this is the slight spike before a very, very steep decline, but I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Unlike the NFL – who timed the lockout so perfectly that we skipped all the boring parts of the off-season, crammed all free-agent moves and signings into two weeks, and are in such football-withdrawal that the ratings this year are going to be (and already have been) through the roof – the NBA lockout has no end in sight. Most say there will not be basketball this year.

I’m okay with this…as long as we can get creative.

Instead of playing overseas, going on a summer league tour, working at home depot, or playing professional beach volleyball, why not play the sport you love in the country you already play it in?

I give you the “2011 Professional Streetball League presented by Sprite (or Redbull).”

Here’s the hook: groups of current NBA players can enter the league based on their alma-maters.  Whoever can suit up five guys from the same school can get into the league. Teams can only have five players, only one team per alma-mater.  The guys are playing for pride – who has the best NBA alumni – and a $5 million dollar purse for the league champions provided by our sponsor, Sprite. Or Red Bull.  There’s really no one else who would be able to sponsor this.  “The 2011 Professional Streetball League presented by Dove Soap” just doesn’t sound right.

The PSL will go a little something like this:

GAME RULES – Each game will have two (2) twenty (20) minute halves with a running clock at all times except the last two (2) minutes of each half.  There will be no referees for calling fouls and no foul shots.  Referees will throw jump ball, run the clock, and keep score.  All fouls and out-of-bounds will be played as if games were pick-up games.  If defensive player calls a shooting foul, “And-1” rules will apply and basket can count.  If offensive player calls a foul, the play is dead and a basket cannot be scored. Ball to be checked by players at top of the key to bring the ball back in play after a called foul.  Regulation-size street courts with 3-point line.  Each net must be a chain net.  Game balls have to be pinwheel colored red-white-and-blue.

COACHES – Each team will be allowed to have one “Hype Man” who can be on the sidelines with a microphone but will not be allowed to have any coaches.  Each team’s respective Hype Man can only speak when his team has possession of the ball or his team has a big block or steal on defense.

UNIFORMS – Teams can wear whatever they want, but all must be wearing the matching uniforms. Accessories are encouraged.

GAMBLING AND DRUGS (performance-enhancing or recreational) – Both are highly encouraged before, during, and after games. Players can bet on or against themselves and with other players.

DISPUTES – Any and all disputes (in-game and out-of-game) will be settled by PSL Commissioner William “World Wide Wes” Wesley.

LOCATION OF GAMES – Teams on the west coast will play at Venice Beach Courts in Los Angeles, California (courts made famous by the movie “White Men Can’t Jump”).  Teams on the east coast will play at the Barry Farms courts in Washington, DC.  The playoffs and championship will be played in Rucker Park in New York City.

You can put a cat in an oven, but that don't make it a biscuit.

At this point I hope you’ve already been racking your head as to which schools would have teams and who would be the best.  Well, I’m ten steps ahead of you.  I’ve used a highly scientific method to select the best streetball starting fives for each eligible school.  Combining John Hollinger’s PER ratings with Stephen A. Smith’s totally biased rants and opinions on each player we have created SPER (Street Player Efficiency Rating).  SPER shows how good a player would be in a pick-up game (i.e. who you would pick first if you were the captain of a team for a pick-up game), and the teams have been chosen accordingly.

As a short addendum to our criteria of teams based on alma-maters, we will also allow four non-college teams to participate.  Two teams of players coming straight from high school (High School North and High School South with the Mason Dixon Line being the separating factor – where the players attended high school not where they were from orginially).  And two teams of international players (a European International Team and a Non-European International Team).

We put all these teams together and will give you how it would shake out in a top 25:

 (Receiving Votes) Cal

  1. Jason Kidd (Mavericks)
  2. Ryan Anderson (Magic)
  3. Leon Powe (Grizzlies)
  4. Sean Marks (Bobcats)
  5. Francisco Elson (Jazz)

Cal’s team has a 38-year old point guard, a white shooting guard, the only player in NBA history from New Zealand, and a seven-foot dutch black guy named Francisco.  The team sets up well positionally from one to five, and they would be a lot of fun to see on the court together, but they may lose every game they play by 40.

(Receiving Votes) Maryland

  1. Steve Blake (Lakers)
  2. Steve Francis (Beijing Ducks)
  3. Greivas Vazquez (Grizzlies)
  4. Chris Wilcox (*Pistons)
  5. Joe Smith (*Lakers)

So Steve Francis last played in China and Wilcox and Smith are basically out of the league.  The Terps will not be denied.  Juan Dixon actually tried out and did not make the team.  Nick Caner-Medley had the same fate.  Either way a backcourt of Blake, the original Franchise, and General Greivas would be entertaining as hell.  How many people do you think would punch Grevias in the face in this league?  With no refs and unruly, possibly intoxicated, probably armed fans right on top of the court, Greivas may be the first casualty of the PSL.

#25. UNLV

  1. Marcus Banks (Hornets)
  2. Isiah Rider (No One)
  3. Lou Amundson (Suns)
  4. Shawn Marion (Mavericks)
  5. Joel Anthony (Heat)

Anyone who has ever been featured on or produced their own rap album gets automatic entrance into the league if they want.  This qualifies Isiah aka J.R. who provided the track “Funk in the Trunk” on the 1994 Album  “B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret” which featured songs performed by NBA players including Gary Payton, Brian Shaw, and Jason Kidd.  As far as the UNLV PSL team goes, you put Rider with big Lou Amundson, Marion, and Joel “The Forehead” Anthony and you don’t have a terrible squad.  They won’t be scaring anyone, but for UNLV, that’s not bad.

It's time to tell the world again...

#24. Georgetown

  1. Dajuan Summers (Montepaschi Siena)
  2. Patrick Ewing Jr. (Hornets)
  3. Jeff Green (Celtics)
  4. Greg Monroe (Pistons)
  5. Roy Hibbert (Pacers)

Dajuan comes back from Italy to fill out the Hoyas team, which surprisingly is headlined by Greg Monroe, arguably the most effective rookie last year not named Griffin (Griffin aside: the one player you would want to see in this league is Griffin, unfortunately his Sooners are only represented by himself, Eduardo Najera, and Willie Warren, so they were ineligible to compete).  G-Town has some height, but they lack the fireworks that are required for this type of game.

#23. Stanford

  1. Landry Fields (Knicks)
  2. Josh Childress (Suns)
  3. Jarron Collins (Blazers)
  4. Robin Lopez (Suns)
  5. Brook Lopez (Nets)

Landry is forced to play point here, as Stanford has a lot of height.  Even though this is the most renowned institution in the league, The Cardinal team has the potential for a PSL-high three afros.  On the streets this is a huge advantage, and very ironic coming from the far and away leader in “Least-Ghetto” of all the schools who are eligible.  This Stanford team could be a sleeper.

#22. Kansas

  1. Kirk Hinrich (Hawks)
  2. Brandon Rush (Pacers)
  3. Paul Pierce (Celtics)
  4. Darrell Arthur (Grizzlies)
  5. Drew Gooden (Bucks)

This is where things start to get interesting.  There is a Michael Strahan-sized gap in between #23 and #22.  Of these top 22 teams, every one of them could make a run.  The Jayhawks comes in surprisingly low here.  For a school with such traditional success, a recent National Championship, and 12 players currently playing in the NBA, one would think they would come in a little higher.  However, there best piece is an aging Paul Pierce, and few other Kansas grads are much more than role players.  Harry Potter gets the nod over Mario Chalmers, which some could argue, but the possibility of seeing Kirk Hinrich play at Rucker Park is too good to pass up.

#21. Ohio State

  1. Mike Conley (Grizzlies)
  2. Evan Turner (76ers)
  3. Michael Redd (Bucks)
  4. Daequan Cook (Thunder)
  5. Greg Oden (Blazers)

Conley and Oden get reunited here along with disappointing rook Evan Turner and the mid-comeback Michael Redd.  With Conley and Oden rekindling their flame and the other three Buckeyes having skills that translate well to a pick-up game, this team could be better than expected.   Oden’s knees on pavement and potential suspensions from the NCAA or Roger Goodell would be the only worries for OSU supporters – and that they have to play Daequan Cook as a power-forward.

#20. Washington

  1. Nate Robinson (Thunder)
  2. Brandon Roy (Blazers)
  3. Jonathan Brockman (Bucks)
  4. Quincy Pondexter (Hornets)
  5. Spencer Hawes (76ers)

If Brandon Roy’s health was better, this team would be dangerous.  Most of these guys were in school at the same time and they have a lineup that fits together better than maybe anyone else in the league.  Nate, Brandon, and Quincy all have games that translate well to the blacktop and the other two guys are white.  A nice mix if you ask me.  If Roy’s legs are underneath him, these guys could be ranked well below their actual result.

#19. Georgia Tech

  1. Jarrett Jack (Hornets)
  2. Anthony Morrow (Nets)
  3. Thad Young (76ers)
  4. Derrick Favors (Jazz)
  5. Chris Bosh (Heat)

The Yellow Jackets are solid from top to bottom, but their lack of toughness will kill them in the octagon.  Bosh is forced to play the 5 here, which is a position that is tough to play while shooting 15-foot jumpers all day.  Favors’ lack of ability to understand the NBA game should suit him well in the PSL, so look for a jump in production from him.

#18. Non-European International Team

  1. Manu Ginobili (Argentina)
  2. Andrei Kirilenko (Russia)
  3. Luis Scola (Argentina)
  4. Serge Ibaka (Congo)
  5. Nene (Brazil)

The Non-Euros will be an interesting mix and almost impossible to predict.  Manu runs the point for lack of a better option (most of the elite foreign point-guards are European).  Manu is really the only guard, and between Kirilenko, Ibaka, and Nene, this team may block every shot.  Scoring is going to be a problem and quick guards will be a tough matchup for the Non-Euros.  This team also would win the award for “Looks Most Like 90’s Culturally-Diverse Psuedo-Boyband Color Me Badd.”

They wanna sex you up.

#17. USC

  1. Nick Young (Wizards)
  2. OJ Mayo (Grizzlies)
  3. Brian Scalabrine (Bulls)
  4. Taj Gibson (Bulls)
  5. Demar DeRozan (Raptors)

Which one doesn’t belong?  If you chose the 6’9’’ 240-pound red-haired white guy in the mix of freakishly athletic black guys you would be correct.  If you take one thing away from this article, I hope its imagining Scalabrine playing streetball with this lineup.  Say what you will about the original human victory cigar (suck it Darko), but with this team – he could do some real damage.  These guys were all born to play on the playgrounds – a little touch of ginger and this team will do just fine.

#16. UNC

  1. Ty Lawson (Nuggets)
  2. Raymond Felton (Knicks)
  3. Vince Carter (Suns)
  4. Antawn Jamison (Cavaliers)
  5. Tyler Hansbrough (Pacers)

Some arguments to put The Stack on the team were made, but his SPER had declined to a point that just couldn’t cut it.  The team starts with defensive-specialist and unselfish star Vince Carter, who definitely wouldn’t take the no-rules style play and actually transform into a real black hole, sucking the entire league into his vortex.  Lawson and Felton make up one of the better back-courts in the entire league, but age and Hansbrough’s blinding paleness hurt the Tarheels when it comes to this type of play.

#15. Marquette

  1. Travis Deiner (Dinamo Sissari)
  2. Dwayne Wade (Heat)
  3. Wesley Matthews (Blazers)
  4. Lazar Hayward (Timberwolves)
  5. Steve Novak (Spurs)

This team is in the #15 spot for one reason.  It may be a little high, but considering who we are talking about here it should be merited. It’s pretty obvious I’m sure; the combination of Steve Novak and Travis Deiner is deadly enough to put the Golden Eagles in the top 15.  Deiner took his vanilla talents to Italy and his assassin-like game has only improved.  Novak is deadly when he gets to play his natural position – center.  The type of center he likes to play is traditional: roaming mainly outside the 3-point line, rarely crashing the boards, and lacking any kind of athletic prowess.

#14. Duke

  1. Corey Maggette (Bobcats)
  2. Luol Deng (Bulls)
  3. Grant Hill (Suns)
  4. Carlos Boozer (Bulls)
  5. Elton Brand (76ers)

With the second most current NBA players and the second most “fans of a school’s team who never actually went to that school,” the Blue Devils are going to be disappointed with their #14 ranking here.  They have a few below-average point guards available, but on the streets, this is the best squad.  Reddick doesn’t make the team because he writes poetry and can’t handle Maryland fans; Maggette makes the team because he would be the only guy who ever went to Duke that Jalen Rose would kick it with.  Deng would be a monster out there, but with no ball-handlers and an old and under-sized front court, the Dukies can’t crack the top 10.

#13. Syracuse

  1. Johnny Flynn (Rockets)
  2. Donte Greene (Kings)
  3. Carmelo Anthony (Knicks)
  4. Wes Johnson (Timberwolves)
  5. Hakim Warrick (Suns)

Melo might be the first overall pick on the playground.  Scoring, toughness, attitude, and a desire to show up everyone and anyone he plays against will make whatever team he is on dangerous.  However, he doesn’t have much backing him up.  Flynn and Johnson are young and were both high picks, but have not reached the potential they hope to so far.  Unfortunately for these guys, there is no 2-3 zone and no coach Boeheim in the PSL.

#12. Wake Forest

  1. Chris Paul (Hornets)
  2. Al-Farouq Aminu (Clippers)
  3. Josh Howard (Wizards)
  4. James Johnson (Raptors)
  5. Tim Duncan (Spurs)

Some great athletes book-ended by the best power-forward of his generation and perhaps the best point guard of his.  Chris Paul is the elite point guard playing in the league and his creativity will only be rewarded outdoors.  Duncan’s game doesn’t rally translate, but you never count out the big fella, especially with his first chance to team up with CP3.  If Howard can throw it back a few years and produce, this team looks very solid.

#11. Florida

  1. Jason Williams (Grizzlies)
  2. Mike Miller (Heat)
  3. Al Horford (Hawks)
  4. David Lee (Warriors)
  5. Joakim Noah (Bulls)

White Chocolate.  The OG.  That’s all you need to know here.  He’s up there in age, he may have even retired, but when the chain nets call, J-Will is there to answer.  Apologies to Matt Bonner, but there just wasn’t a place on the Gators throwback team for him.  These guys have sleeper written all over them.  They have a unique combination of hustle, skill, and white guys with tattoos, and they can match up with any other team the PSL will throw at them.  The Gators fall just outside the top 10, but they are definitely good enough to scare some people.

This is an actual picture.

#10. Arizona

  1. Gilbert Arenas (Magic)
  2. Jason Terry (Mavericks)
  3. Chase Budinger  (Rockets)
  4. Andre Iguodala (76ers)
  5. Channing Frye (Suns)

Lute Olson had his Wildcats running an open, athletic style for quite some time now.  It will pay off in the PSL , especially with Agent Zero,  who is a legend on the Barry Farms courts in DC. This team has a good mix of youth and experience, but lacks size down low.  Iggy can D up anyone, and he’ll be one of the most athletic guys on the court, but Channing at the 5 won’t really work against anyone not named Steve Novak.  Barely missing the cut for the Wildcat team: Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton, and Mike Bibby.  Missing the cut by a lot: Miles Simon.

#9. Michigan State

  1. Shannon Brown (Lakers)
  2. Maurice Ager (Timberwolves)
  3. Charlie Bell (Warriors)
  4. Jason Richardson (Magic)
  5. Zach Randolph (Grizzlies)

Tom Izzo doesn’t just make Final Fours, he produces some sneaky-good professional players as well. Shannon Brown can’t play point guard in the NBA and relies mainly on his athleticism – perfect in this particular situation.  The Spartans have to go small here with four guards, but when your big guy is Z-Bo, and there are no rules, you should do just fine.

#8. Memphis

  1. Derrick Rose (Bulls)
  2. Tyreke Evans (Kings)
  3. Rodney Carney (Grizzlies)
  4. Chris Douglas-Roberts (Bucks)
  5. Shawne Williams (Knicks)

Luckily taking the SATs isn’t a requirement to be in the league.  Rose and Reke make the Memphis team as dangerous as anyone.  Seeing those two guys on the same team is mouth-watering.  Reke gets to move to the 2, a much better position for him, and Rose can have someone help take off the scoring burden.  CDR, Carney, and big Shawne are simply there to play D and stay out of the way on offense, but that’s enough for Memphis to be all the way at #8.

#7. UConn

  1. Ben Gordon (Bulls)
  2. Ray Allen (Celtics)
  3. Rudy Gay (Grizzlies)
  4. Charlie Villanueva (Pistons)
  5. Emeka Okafor (Hornets)

A traditional powerhouse with putting guys in the league, the Huskies have plenty to choose from for their streetball starting five.  You’d love for Gordon to be a little bit more of a natural point, but in a pick-up style, he should do just fine.  They have scoring, shooting, toughness, and size.  No superstars, but maybe the most solid and consistent team in the entire PSL.

#6. UCLA

  1. Jrue Holliday (76ers)
  2. Russel Westbrook (Thunder)
  3. Baron Davis (Cavs)
  4. Matt Barnes (Lakers)
  5. Kevin Love (Timberwolves)

With the most current NBA players (14), the Bruins could legitimately field two competitive teams (there second team would be Farmar, Collison, Afflalo, Ariza, Mbah a Moute).  This team would just be flat out fun to watch.  Baron playing without a sub may be slightly troubling (by sub I mean literally a substitute but also a hoagie) and they are small, but Barnes is a foxhole guy and Westbrook and Love back together again is a beautiful thing. This team could beat anyone in the league and no one would be surprised.

#5. Kentucky

  1. Rajon Rondo (Celtics)
  2. John Wall (Wizards)
  3. Jodie Meeks (76ers)
  4. Tayshaun Prince (Pistons)
  5. DeMarcus Cousins (Kings)

They’ve got 13 guys to choose from, and arguably two of the top five point guards in the league.  Fortunately, on the street, they can play together in harmony and wreak havoc on everyone else.  The best back-court hands down, plus Meek’s range, Prince’s experience, and Cousins’ raw skills, attitude, and size makes Kentucky frightening on paper.  They’d be even more frightening running the pavement.

#4. European International Team

  1. Ricky Rubio (Spain)
  2. Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey)
  3. Andrea Bargnani (Italy)
  4. Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
  5. Pau Gasol (Spain)

This team is straight up stupid.  Rubio gets the nod here over Tony Parker for the entertainment value alone.  I hate kicking a man when he’s down, especially when you lose out on Eva Longoria, but Parker is French and should be used to losing and pain.  This team is big and skilled.  Some may point out a lack of toughness, and with no refs that is a legitimate concern.  That’s the reason these guys come in at #4, when they easily could be at the top of this list.

#3. Texas

  1. D.J. Augustin (Bobcats)
  2. Daniel Gibson (Cavaliers)
  3. Kevin Durant (Thunder)
  4. Maurice Evans (Wizards)
  5. LaMarcus Aldridge (Blazers)

Speed and passing at the point.  Perimeter shooting and experience at the 2.  The Travelling Durantula Circus Summer Tour continues at the 3.  Nothing at the 4 and an absolute beast at the 5. This is almost a perfectly constructed team.  You may want more size at the power forward spot, but you’ve got enough scoring, a good inside-out game, and Evans can be hidden against most teams in the league.  You may not think the Longhorns should be above a few of the teams we’ve already mentioned, but you should go ahead and watch some of the Durant videos on YouTube, where he is dropping forty-foot bombs without breaking a sweat.  It looks like the real-life version of that LeBron Powerade Commercial.

#2. High School South

  1. Brandon Jennings (Oak Hill, VA)
  2. Monta Ellis (Lanier High, MS)
  3. Stephen Jackson (Oak Hill, VA)
  4. Amar’e Stoudemire (Cypress Creek, FL)
  5. Dwight Howard (Atlanta Christian, GA)

Clearly this scientific experiment has led us in the opposite direction of supporting the now intact “one year in college” rule.  Your top two teams are the two teams made up of those men who skipped college and went straight to the big time.  One team of high school guys wasn’t enough (and honestly wasn’t fair), and more than two teams would have watered down the league, so we came to a happy medium with two (North and South) and they still have to top the list.

This team is silly.  I don’t even have to break it down; just keep looking at the starting five.  Stephen Jackson is the perfect complement to the scorers above him and the giants below.  How is this team not number one you ask?  Here’s how:

#1. High School North

  1. JR Smith (Lakewood Prep, NJ)
  2. Kobe Bryant (Lower Merion, PA)
  3. LeBron James (St. Vincent St. Mary’s, OH)
  4. Kevin Garnett (Farragut Academy, IL)
  5. Andrew Bynum (St. Joseph’s, NJ)

They don’t have a legitimate point guard.  Garnett is old.  Bynum is made of glass.  Lots of good points.  However, Kobe and LeBron could play with the Jonas Brothers and still be one of the five best teams in this league.  Give them JR Smith – who has the deepest range in the league, Garnett – the heart and soul of any team he’s on, and Bynum – who’s size and rebounding stands with anyone’s when healthy – and this is the best five-man streetball team you can come up with given the parameters.

Your 2011 PSL Champions.

In a hypothetical championship game, Jackson has to check LeBron, Kobe gets a mismatch with Ellis or Jennings, the remaining guard on the South cancels out with JR Smith, Garnett annoys the hell out of Amar’e, and Bynum does his best against Howard.  Howard will be a problem, but Kobe and LeBron will score at will and shut down Jennings and Ellis on the defensive end.  The North wins again.

The Euro team may cause these guys more problems, as Hedo could check LeBron and no one would be able to cover Dirk, but Rubio is a massive defensive hemorrhage and Bargnani would get smoked by Kobe.

So there you have it. The 2011 Professional Streetball League. To say it would be epic is an understatement.  To say you wouldn’t watch every game is a lie.  To say the championship game wouldn’t be one of the five greatest sporting events ever would be a travesty.  Let’s let Red Bull and Sprite start the bidding war for this thing and make it happen.  This could be the best lockout ever.

The LeBron James Rollercoaster

LeBron has a lot riding on his 100th game as a member of the Miami Heat tonight.

It’s not so much just about mental toughness.

Any man who has gone through what LeBron James has had to deal with – or any other professional athlete who has ascended to “superstar” status – has to have some semblance of cerebral fortitude.

It’s not a question of whether LeBron has it or not.  The way arguments seem to be going these days, everyone has to polarize themselves and stand pat on one side or the other.  There is a vast majority of pundits, analysts, and talking heads that handcuff themselves by dealing in absolutes.  Luckily we have Skip Bayless to save us from this “I-can-shout-louder-than-you-about-my-opinion-which-makes-it-better” journalism.

The true measure of greatness – the miniscule difference between championships and excuses – is repetition and consistency.  LeBron James is mentally tough.  We’ve seen it before: Game 5 against the Pistons in 2007 when he scored the final 25 points for the Cavs on his way to a ridiculous 48-9-7.  More recently, we’ve seen it this year against the Celtics and Bulls in the fourth quarter of close-out games.

However, within these dynamic examples of mental toughness are scattered the baffling performances of a superstar who shies away when the spotlight gleams its brightest: the infamous Game 5 against Boston last year in the Eastern Conference Finals and two nights ago in Dallas.

So the question isn’t whether or not LeBron James is mentally tough.  It’s not necessarily one or the other. For LeBron James, as we have found in many different instances, he is both – he’s inconsistent.

LeBron’s decision making has always been questionable. Choosing to allow his childhood friends to be his main representation, choosing to never develop any semblance of a post-up game, choosing to go to Miami, holding an hour-long special to announce that he was going to Miami, for some reason saying “taking my talents to South Beach” when he finally announced it, wearing that heinous white sweater for the State Farm commercials, or sitting down with his legs crossed against the base of the basket when the game was delayed for a spilled drink in Game 3.  Things that make you wonder, “what the hell could he possibly be thinking?”

Jordan was a coldblooded, no-excuses assassin.  Kobe is an asshole.  LeBron is a constant game of mental roulette. You think Jordan would ever take a seat on the court with his legs crossed in the middle of an NBA Finals Game?  Jordan would quit basketball and play another sport before he subjected himself to such childish behavior.

Henry Abbot wrote an article for ESPN.com’s basketball blog “True Hoop” (which he also founded) on May 9th titled “The Meaningless of Playoff Toughness.”

It was written one month ago today – when LeBron was shaking all the criticisms of lacking that killer instinct.  The first of the two distinct LeBron 180s was in full swing.  The second obviously has happened in the last two days. We’re now back where we started.

Abbot’s point was that maybe it’s not so much mental toughness as it is just pure basketball.   LeBron so kindly defecated all over that theory in Game 4.  (Sorry Henry).

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, who knows LeBron so well I’m almost positive he’s been sleeping under LeBron’s bed for the past eight years described the recent performance like this: “He lapsed into detachment…It wasn’t that James didn’t deliver in a clutch moment. That is excusable. It was that he looked like he didn’t even want to be in the moment.”

Detachment : That was the word I was looking for; thank you Brian.  Not that he has mental toughness or not.  Not that he is or isn’t clutch.  It’s that he removes himself from the situation altogether.

Tonight is LeBron’s 100th game as a member of the Miami Heat.  Not to jump on the hyperbole-laden S.S. Bayless that I have previously admonished, but this is the most important game of his career.

If you saw the totally not-staged-for-TV pregame speech that the ESPN cameras “caught” before Game 4; the one that on the scale of 1 to Drew Brees’ “This is New Orleans” 300 speech came up as about a 2.5, you heard Mr. James say that he felt like “his back was against the wall.”

If that was the case, I’m not even sure what metaphor to use now at the point he’s currently at.  What’s 100 times more than “back against the wall?”

LeBron James is an unpredictable entity.  He is a fascinating array of chemical reactions.  Does he allow Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson’s comments to get to him? Did Wade’s scolding hurt his confidence?  Is he happy to pick up the second fiddle and strum quietly in the corner?

If there’s one thing I can be certain of, it’s this: we can’t be certain of anything when it comes to LeBron Raymone James.  So let’s be comfortable with the indecisiveness of our conclusion, get in the LeBron rollercoaster, put your hands up and enjoy the ride.

Is the Utah Jazz Bear Mascot Actually LeBron James?

The Utah Jazz Bear (yes their mascot is a Bear) decides to figuratively reenact “The Decision” by messing with a Cavs fan and then completely laying him out at midcourt during a Jazz game last week.  The video is great stuff and proves how much of a boss Jazz Bear actually is.  I went to find out why the mascot is a bear, and found a pretty ridiculous Wikipedia page.  It included the following:

Born in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, Jazz Bear was destined to be a star. After graduating Bear Point Academy and performing as a member of the Bearnum and Bailey Circus (where Bear learned most of his tricks), Bear was finally discovered by a Jazz scout and was able to bring his high-flying, crowd-pumping skills to Jazz fans young and old. Jazz Bear separates himself from the rest with his combination of pyrotechnics and acrobatics. Jazz fans have the pleasure of watching Bear sled, surf and bike down the arena stairs. Some Bears hibernate when it gets cold; Jazz Bear prefers dunking through hoops of fire for warmth. The Jazz Bear is known to locals simply as Bear.

Apparently the alcoholics over at Wikipedia have been assigned to checking this particular page, and it’s shit like that that kills those “Is Wikipedia Accurate?” studies.  I decided to join in on the ridiculousness and added my own paragraph to the Jazz Bear page two days ago.  I kept with the running theme:

Jazz Bear also played linebacker at Bear Point Academy, and showed off his perfect form-tackling when attacked by a raging Cavaliers fan at center court during a game on January 14, 2011. He relied on his MMA-background to pounce on the Cavs fan and tap him out immediately, minimizing the massive threat the fan posed to most Jazz fans at the game. The fan attacked because he was angered that Jazz Bear stole his hat after Jazz Bear displayed a sign that read “I’m a loser” behind the Cavs fan’s head without him knowing, which is completely reasonable considering the current state of the Cavaliers and the city they reside.

As of 5:00pm today, it is still up (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_Bear).  Gotta love Web 2.0.  Now I’m going to try and see if I can slip in something about A-Rod being gay and not have them notice.

Corey Maggette Will Use As Many Pivot Feet As He Wants

At least the ref isn’t looking right at it.  Best part of the play is that Maggette decides to turn the ball over and clothesline someone to top this whole masterpiece off.  I would nickname him “The Black Hole” because once he touches the ball no one else sees it again, but for some reason I think that could be racially misconstrued.  “The NBA…where travelling is only a state of mind.”

Training Day, Aladdin, and LeBron in Miami

You want to go home or you want to go to jail?

“This shit is chess it ain’t checkers.”

That’s how Detective Alonzo Harris would explain this LeBron situation.

And since The King now has only one move, it’s almost checkmate Miami.

Team Riley-Wade-Bosh has come together, and now LeBron must go to Miami.  Yes, I said must.

When no team could entice King James on their own, the Knicks came up with their first semi-intelligent front office move in years.  They signed Amar’e early.  Giving LeBron a little something extra when he looked at the Knicks.

The Bulls followed suit by adding Carlos Boozer shortly after.  Same idea.  They now can offer Rose, Noah, Deng, and Boozer as the LeBronettes.

Unfortunately for the Bulls and Knicks, Miami trumped both moves and signed two of the maybe twelve guys in the league you can’t constitute as bonified LeBronettes (for reference: Paul, Nash, Wade, Bosh, Howard, Kobe, Gasol, the Durantula, Melo, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Dirk.  With Rondo a jump shot away.)

The Wade-Bosh-Miami connection was not a surprise if you didn’t overthink it.  They are two top ten players who have complimentary games and are good friends that played on Team USA together.

Oh yeah, and they were shooting a documentary together about going through the free agency process in 2010.  Weird they chose to play together.  Should be a nice ending to the doc.

So why did Wade and Bosh announce this now?  To force LeBron’s hand.

These three guys planned to become free agents together this summer.  This is known and has been for two years now.

So while LeBron has been sitting in his throne a la Princess Jasmine waiting for suitors to roll through Agrabah on their elephants

It will be a whole new world, sorry Cleveland.

with bags of gold, Wade and Bosh got fed up that the Princess was enjoying this a little too much and not sticking with the original plan.

So they made a move.

Now Jasmine has every right to allow her suitors to parade around the palace and attempt to woo her, for she was never able to be illegally recruited to play college basketball – she went straight to the pros.  She missed out on all the fun and is making up for it now.

Unfortunately, Bosh and Wade got tired of waiting for Princess LeBron and have now left him with these options:

Option 1: Stay in Cleveland.  LeBron could save an entire city by simply staying put and taking more money than he can get anywhere else (30 million over six years about).  Unfortunately, he has had seven years as a Cavalier and no hardware to show for it.  The losing in Cleveland is bigger than even LeBron.

They switched out Mike Brown for Byron Scott, even though I’m sure most people in Cleveland won’t even notice (especially after everyone there jumps in the Cuyahoga tomorrow night).

They also have no money for free agents; mainly because of the now-crippling Jamison deadline deal last year.  Might have cost them a LeBron-Stoudemire combo.  Sign Shaq, lose LeBron, fire the 08-09 Coach of the Year within 14 months.  Firing Danny Ferry was a good step, but the damage was already done.

As for Chris Bosh joining the King, he actually told LeBron he would go anywhere with him except Cleveland.

Then LeBron pushed his decision back until after his Akron Nike Camp was over.  Then he said he would donate all commercial advertising proceeds from his hijacking of ESPN for an hour Thursday night to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland.  He will make this decision in Connecticut by the way, not Cleveland.  Do you see a pattern here?

Sorry Cleveland fans, you have seen LeBron in your gold and crimson for the last time.  Your current most recognizable sports figure just went from LeBron James to Mike Holmgren.  The King to the Walrus.  I really do feel for you.

Option 2: Take Over the Big Apple.

Amar’e and Mike D’Antoni are a good combination; it’s a proven fact.  Back in their work together in Pheonix, they were a consistent top three team in the West.  So New York should be a good spot, right?  Well D’Antonamar’e never won a ring.  In fact, they never even got to a championship.  They also gave up 430 points a game and had a pretty good Canadian guy helping out on offense.

Hmmm.  Add a shaky front office, a culture of losing, and the pressure of the biggest city in the world, and you do not have a recipe for success.  LeBron was booed once in his entire career in Cleveland.  ONCE!  And that was his last game as a Cavalier, where he walked off the court pouting.  I’m sure he’s looking forward to Spike Lee in his ear and his face all over the backpages.

Option 3: Go play for the Clippers.

Kobe veto.  Moving on.

Option 4: Head over to Jersey to play for Teddy KGB and Jay-Z.

Newark for two years and watching Devin Harris brick runners for 48 minutes a night…Sorry Hova, wait until your actually playing in Brooklyn and then start calling people.

Option 4: Go play for Chicago.

Well now, hold on.  This kind of makes sense.  You have one of the best young players in the game; who happens to be a point guard and is making a rookie salary.  Forget the fact that he’s never even been in the same room as an SAT Test; Derrick Rose is an enticing teammate.

Add Boozer to go with Deng and Noah, and you have a formidable starting five avec le Roi.  With defensive guru Tom Thibodeau as the new head coach and enough room to give James the max deal – 16.6 million a year – the windy city could be the place to go.

There are some hang ups, though.

First of all, LeBron does not like Carlos Boozer.  If you remember Carlos pulled a Benedict Arnold move in 2004 when he pulled the rug from under Cleveland for more money in Utah.

LeBron also doesn’t trust Chicago as an organization.  Like Dwyane Wade said a few weeks ago, “”I see Michael Jordan is not there, Scottie Pippen is not there. … You know, these guys are not a part,” he told The Chicago Tribune.

“I know one thing about Miami: It is a very loyal organization. I see what they do with their players when their players get done with the game of basketball … how loyal they are,” Wade said.

Alonzo Mourning, Exhibit A of Miami’s loyalty, was conveniently one of the delegates from Miami that spoke to LeBron last week.  Check Riley.

Don’t look past how important the organization is to LeBron, someone who is uber-conscious of his legacy and his image

Also, the Jordan comparison will only gain steam if he has a Bulls jersey on 82+ times a year.  LeBron James the Bull has to win six titles or he is always #2 in his own city.  He has to do this with no Pippen, no Rodman, and no Phil Jackson.

Finally, with LeBron on the Bulls, that still leaves them only even with the Magic and Celtics without their experience and chemistry.  The Heat will then have about 17 million free to sign pieces to fit around Bosh-Wade, and the Hawks still have their core intact with Joe Johnson coming back.

That’s a crowded kingdom for a princess.

Look back at the Non-LeBronettes.  None of them are on the Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Clips, or Bulls.  Miami has two.

Get used to seeing them with the same letters across the chest.

Which means if he goes to Miami, he is immediately on the league’s best team.  And remember, a team can go over the cap with players who sign minimum deals.  If the Heat trade Beasley, and LeBoshWade all take 15 mill a year, the Heat will have about 4-5 million dollars to play with plus anyone they sign to a minimum deal (rookies and aging vets willing to take a pay cut for a ring).  That’s plenty to suffice a championship.  Or championships.

All three will be inked for up for six years.  That’s scary.

He would have a good young coach, Erik Spoelstra, a better old coach who will most likely take over at some point when Spoelstra “takes time off to spend with his family “ in the middle of the year when the team is 37-4, and an owner in Mickey Arison who writes checks and stands back while Riley runs the show.

Not to mention he is in South Beach, with pressure distributed among three players in a city where they are considerably content due to a championship in the last decade.

Riley and Wade have moved all their pieces in the right place.  And it’s time for the King to fall.

LeBron knows where he should go.  And tomorrow night, at probably around 9:59 pm EST, he will be putting on a Miami Heat flat brim.

And then hopefully we can get a week of analysis and then put it to rest.  I want SportsCenter back.