NBA

It's high time for the NBA to rid itself of the incentive for teams to lose games

It's high time for the NBA to rid itself of the incentive for teams to lose games

OK, so Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban went public Wednesday morning, becoming the first owner I can recall to admit that his team tanked games:

"The Mavs, once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games," he admitted Wednesday on the Dan Patrick Show.

Wow. I suppose we should salute the man for his honesty and he certainly didn't admit to doing anything that we know a substantial number of teams in the league do every season.

But really, shouldn't we take a more global view of the whole situation? I mean, what does it say about a league where a significant number of teams are trying to lose as many games as possible for a good part of the season? Is that fair to the paying customers? I don't think this happens in any other sports league. But the way the NBA lottery is set up, there is so much incentive for teams to get high draft picks in the rare sport where one player can turn a franchise around.

I don't like tanking and think any league with a conscience would do everything it can to stop such things. How? Well, there's a decent idea out there that's been around for a couple of years. It's been called "The Wheel."

I'm not going to attempt to get into the mechanics of it (you can go to the above link for that) but suffice it to say it involves simply rotating the draft order each year with everyone getting an equal shot at top picks. I didn't like the idea at first but I'm convinced now it's the best way to combat a league full of teams willing to temporarily dismiss the moral responsibility of trying to win every game.

Am I the only one in the world who is offended by a league half-full of teams intentionally trying to lose games? Honestly, I find it appalling and always have.

And maybe the wheel would help some of the mid-level teams escape the limbo of not being good enough to compete for a title and not being bad enough to hit the lottery. It might also help those borderline teams battle the super teams, which are dominating the league. You worried, with the wheel,  about one of the league's best teams ending up with the top pick every three decades?

Well, wake up! It has happened this year under the current system, with Boston holding the No. 1 choice.

I know this, as someone who watches a ton of NBA games every season, I think I saw more lousy regular-season games this year than ever before. There is too big a disparity between the bad teams and average teams. And too much difference between the great teams and the good ones.

Something must be done and it has to start with doing away with the incentive to lose games.

How to stream Blazers vs. Heat

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How to stream Blazers vs. Heat

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (13-13) continue its five-game road trip with the second contest on the docket in Miami (13-13) as the Blazers look to snap a five-game losing streak.  

Portland started off its current road test on Monday night against the Golden State Warriors.  The Trail Blazers trailed by as many as 24 points, but Portland made a run at a comeback and ended up outscoring Golden State 29-18 in the fourth quarter behind Damian Lillard’s 11 fourth-quarter points.

The Blazers eventually would fall to the defend champs 111-104 at Oracle Arena.

Lillard scored a game-high 39 points in the loss.

Blazers rookie Zach Collins played a career-high 25 minutes against the Warriors and finsiehd with nine points, seven rebounds and three steals.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” premium-game Blazers streaming package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest – $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

The Miami Heat just wrapped up a three-game road trip that started with a 117-105 loss to the Spurs and ended with two wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Memphis Grizzlies. The Heat’s most recent win came on Monday night when Miami beat the Grizzlies 107-82.  

Goran Dragic had 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in Monday’s win.

This is the first of two meetings between the Blazers and Heat this season.

Looking at the injury reports, the Blazers have been without Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) and Moe Harkless (left quad) for the last two games.  Both Nurkic and Harkless are listed as questionable for Wednesday’s contest.  For Miami, Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery), Okaro White (left foot surgery) and Hassan Whiteside (left knee bone bruise) are all listed as OUT for Wednesday’s game vs. the Blazers.

Portland is now 6-5 on the road this season.

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Heat game with Rip City Live at 3:30pm on Wednesday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 4:00pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.



Quick Links:

Blazers can’t keep pace with Warriors in 111-104 loss

Blazer rotations continue to change but the losing streak reaches 5

 

Video:   Highlights—Lillard’s comeback not quite enough for the win

Video:   McCollum—The Blazers are going through an identity crisis

Video:   Dame’s heroics aren’t enough as the Blazers fall in Oracle

Video:   Lillard—We need to stop digging holes

 

Game Details:

Where:  America Airlines Arena, Miami FL

Tip-off: 4:30pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (3:30pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming of the game: Watch the game on your phone on the NBC Sports App.  Download the  app at http://www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile .  Or check out NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream online.

Live streaming coverage on Facebook: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 4:00pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Shaq is worth $400 million -- so why is he still hanging out with a cartoon general?

Shaq is worth $400 million -- so why is he still hanging out with a cartoon general?

As I wached another of those endless run of commercials this morning featuring Shaquille O'Neal speaking to a cartoon general, with the ex-NBA player hawking auto insurance, I was struck by not only how many commercials Shaq makes, but the wide, random,  range of companies that he has endorsed.

O'Neal has spoken on behalf of -- to name just a few -- a sleep apnea mask, a sugar substitute, Soupman, Zales, Muscle Milk, Shaq Fu Punch, Chris Christie, Dunkman shoes, Dove, Nintendo, Macy's, JC Penney, Comcast, Monster speakers, LiNing shoes, NBA 2k, Gold Bond, a vodka brand, Buick, Taco Bell, Nestle Crunch, Icy Hot, Pepsi, Wheaties, Oreos and Burger King.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

That's just a sample. But this list not only reflects the variety of products but in some cases, the fact he has endorsed competing products. One would think this man is so desperate to endorse that he's dead broke. But that's apparently not the case. His estimated net worth is said to be $400 million.

How wealthy is this man? Well, check this out:

He is the joint owner of 155 Five Guys Burgers restaurants, 17 Auntie Annie's Pretzels restaurants, 150 car washes, 40 24-hour fitness centers, a shopping center, a movie theater, and several Las Vegas nightclubs.

I think the real answer to all these endorsements is that he's such a ham that he just loves to be on camera. But he and the companies he works for must understand at some point that when you endorse this many products there is a point when your ability to move people to buy the products is affected. I mean, at what point do you just laugh at all these ads and dismiss his testimonials as strictly money grabs?

 

Lonzo Ball's jump shot seems to prove his dad isn't the "best coach ever"

Lonzo Ball's jump shot seems to prove his dad isn't the "best coach ever"

After watching Lonzo Ball in summer league I was interested to see him in person again last week.

But he was pretty much a no-show against the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard outscored him 32-0, which you know by know. But I'm not here to tear him apart. I think he's going to be a very good NBA player, one who pushes the pace and sees the court. He;s unselfish and is willing to take responsibility for his actions on the court.

But oh my, that jump shot. It appears nobody on the Lakers' staff has touched it since the summer and at some point, I think he's going to have to put in some work on it. There have been plenty of successful NBA players with funky shooting mechanics, but I cannot see how this kid will ever reach his potential with a shot that takes so long to load and is so far from linear that it's always going to be very fragile. You can read Charles Barkley's take on the shot here, with video, and Chuck is correct.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

What amazes me about the way the kid shoots, though, is that he's coming out of the basketball factory of his father, LaVar, the self-proclaimed "best coach ever." This man actually does seem to believe that he has the cheat code to creating basketball players. But when your son hits the NBA with a shot that broken, it certainly reflects on the "coach" who has approved those mechanics -- and is still approving them:

"Oh, ain't nobody tinkering with his shot. He's going to shoot the same way, comfortable, like I said, who cares about his shot," he said.

Lonzo will eventually settle in at a decent percentage if he continues to shoot that way. The good NBA players put in so much work that improvement is inevitable. But until he lines that shot up better, he's not going to ever reach his potential as a shooter or a player. At some point, somebody on the Laker staff is going to have to tell the old man to go sit on the sidelines and shut up while they do some renovation on that jumper.

But do you think that will happen?

 

 

Don't forget the NBA's contribution to the college hoops scandal

Don't forget the NBA's contribution to the college hoops scandal

While nobody is very surprised to hear about all the corruption in college basketball uncovered by an FBI probe into agents, shoe companies, money managers and coaches, I'm not hearing too many people talking about the NBA's role in all of that.

The NBA has been complicit in the corruption for years. The league has been, at the very least, the great enabler.

Professional basketball has been hiding its intentions in regard to players entering its league for a long time. The league has taken two stances in regard to players entering the NBA directly out of high school. Let me summarize those for you:

  • Some of the kids don't make it in the league and end up without a college scholarship and penniless. We don't want this to happen and thus, want them in college so they can turn into upstanding citizens with a backup plan to pro hoops. We need to protect these kids from themselves.
  • A high school career in basketball isn't enough time for our scouts to evaluate their NBA future. It's hard enough to project players into the NBA after a couple of years in college -- doing so after high school is almost impossible. Plus, these players just aren't ready for the NBA.

Of course, reason No. 2 is much more important than the first one. The NBA really doesn't care a lot about the kids who don't make it. The concern is much more about wasting first-round draft money on players who aren't good enough to make their team. And, of course, the NBA always enjoyed it when college players were stuck in college for a full four years -- which was just enough time for them to become big-name, ready-made pro stars who could generate spectator and TV money from the day they entered the league.

Just a few months back, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver went public with the idea that the "one-and-done" rule should be changed or modified:

“My sense is it’s not working for anyone,” Silver said Thursday night before Game 1 of the N.B.A. finals. “It’s not working for the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either, in part because they don’t necessarily think the players who are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see.”

Again, one reason for changing the rule would be that players coming into the league aren't "getting the kind of training that they would expect to see." In other words, Silver seemed to be in favor of extending the time players should stay in college, rather than do the right thing: Drop the one-and-done rule entirely and allow players make a choice about their chosen profession after graduating high school.

Athletes have that choice in baseball, golf, tennis, soccer and just about any other sport but basketball and football. (And if you think this basketball scandal is big, just wait and see what happens if the Feds ever start looking into football -- where the real money is.)

The blue-chip players are the ones getting those six-figure checks from the shoe companies. Allow them to enter the NBA out of high school and you solve a lot of these problems. By the way, a good portion of those players want no part of those college scholarships and prove it when they league those universities after basically one semester to chase the NBA dream.

If those players were allowed to enter the NBA immediately, would there still be corruption? I'm sure there would be. But not nearly as much. There wouldn't be a lot of money left after the cream of the crop gets its share. Young basketball players shouldn't be made to be criminals because they took money for their basketball talent out of high school. It should be their right to become professionals immediately.

And the NBA should get out of the way and allow it.

Fining teams for resting players sounds great, but...

Fining teams for resting players sounds great, but...

It is being reported that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is attempting to get the authority to fine teams for resting multiple players in a single game or healthy ones in a nationally televised game.

A fine idea. People pay big money to watch stars play and feel cheated if a player sits out even though he is probably healthy. And networks surely must be miffed when the stars sit out games that the networks pay monstrous sums of money for the right to show.

But like a lot of fine ideas, this sounds great until you try to actually make it work.

Seriously, if LeBron James wants to sit out a game in January, you think the Cleveland medical staff can't come up with some sort of "injury" to justify his absence? And he probably deserves his rest days, given how hard he plays. League-wide, we might begin to see a lot of bogus "injuries."

But I will say this, the whole Popovich/Spurs idea of resting multiple players in the same game CAN be dealt with. And it's gone on long enough. If San Antonio wants to go without 80 percent of its starting lineup, then it must be done for a home game. Let the coach face the wrath of his home fans for that.

I might also add that giving a commissioner unrestricted, absolute power in regard to matters like this scares me. Certainly it doesn't seem to be working well for the NFL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

A few thoughts about the blockbuster Cleveland-Boston trade:

  • One thing I've always admired about Danny Ainge: He's got a lot of guts. He always has. He's totally unafraid. And in pulling the trigger on a trade with the team he's trying to beat in the NBA East, he's taking a gamble. In trading his team's best and most popular player he's making an even bigger gamble. And in taking on Kyrie Irving, well, he might be taking the biggest gamble of all. But he doesn't really care what anyone else thinks, he does what he thinks is right. It's the same as the trade he pulled off prior to the draft with the No. 1 pick. He thought Jayson Tatum was the best player in the draft and knew he didn't have to take him with the first pick, so he moved the pick. And he really didn't care what anybody else thought of the deal. The guy has had plenty of self-confidence and courage since the day he started playing basketball. I remember watching him as a high-school junior in the Oregon state basketball tournament and on the football field and marveling at how he laughed in the face of pressure. He seemed totally immune to it and probably still is.
  • In today's world, people running franchises who are willing to make a big gamble or controversial move without worrying about what fans or media will think about it are rare -- and usually worth their weight in gold.
  • Ainge has put a big burden on his coach, Brad Stevens. As well he should -- Stevens is one of the best in the business. But I think Stevens will need to be at the top of his game to find the kind of team chemistry the Celtics had last season. Irving, I've heard, is pretty tough to handle -- for his teammates and his coaches. Getting him to play the team game and keeping him out of calling his own number all the time might be a problem.
  • This deal has long-term ramifications that should not be ignored. Irving is four years younger than Thomas (who is dealing with a hip injury) and in better health. Most people in the league believe LeBron James is headed out of Cleveland after this season and Boston has positioned itself to be the next big thing in the East. Thomas has one year left on his contract and Irving has two years and a player option for a third. Ainge is making a move that's possibly good for this season but definitely good for the seasons after that.
  • Thomas is 5-9 and often listed at 185 pounds. He doesn't look as if he's within 20 pounds of that number, however. Irving is 6-3 and 193. Players as small as Thomas have a pretty rough ride in the NBA -- and I'm not so sure how long he can keep that slight frame healthy enough to carry the heavy load he carried last season. I certainly wouldn't invest in that body with a long-term max deal.
  • Kevin Love and Thomas played on the same AAU team in high school and I'm sure they will play well together. Cleveland will be OK next season if Thomas stays healthy. Of course, behind him is Derrick Rose, another player whose continued good health is no sure thing.
  • I don't know what to think of Irving and his desire to get away from James. But I have a feeling that PLAYING with LeBron is OK, it's just existing with him that's a problem. You hear stories about the entourage, about LeBron basically running the whole organization -- stuff that can't be easy on teammates.
  • The Celtics have reshaped their team coming off what was a very good season. That takes guts. But that's Danny Ainge.

 

Kyrie Irving's demands are taking disloyalty to an obscene new level

Kyrie Irving's demands are taking disloyalty to an obscene new level

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing something in the NBA right now that could become a real problem for me.

For years, discontented players have asked to be traded. Usually they do it privately and not in the media. You never hear about it most of the time that it happens.

First, let's get this straight right now -- I have nothing against free agency. I grew up in an era when players where chained to the same team for life, even if they never got a chance to play much. They had no options. They had to play for the team that "owned" them, or go home.

So now free agency has brought a lot of player movement and it usually favors the rich franchises, the more glamorous cities or the places where the sun shines the most frequently. But I never get too worked up over that. It's the way it is in any business. People want to work for successful companies alongside talented co-workers in great cities.

I wasn't upset when Kevin Durant chose Golden State or LeBron James picked Miami. Or Cleveland. It was their right. The fulfilled their contract and won the right to choose a new team.

But what's bugging me now is a player under contract who is acting as if he is a free agent. He is not only demanding a trade, he is trying to dictate where he should be dealt. I don't like any of that.

Kyrie Irving is that guy. He has three seasons -- the last one being an opt-out year -- left on his contract with Cleveland and has told the Cavs he wishes to be traded. And not only that, he's given the team three "preferred destinations." Now keep in mind, this isn't Carmelo Anthony, who has basically been run out of town by Phil Jackson and has it written into his current contract with the Knicks that he has the right to approve any trades.

What gives Irving the right to expect to just trade his uniform in for another one? Well, nothing. Except NBA players these days are being catered to, fawned over and recruited the same way they were in their high school days, when they played AAU basketball. And we are starting to see the signs that they are beginning to think they can simply go where they want, sign up to play with their pals or create a super team on a whim.

And face it, in many cases some of the top players are basically running their franchise. LeBron James complains in Cleveland that he doesn't get enough help to beat the Warriors but come on -- LeBron has been the de facto General Manager of that team since he returned. He's been behind a good many of that team's trades and free-agent signings, as he assembled a roster of friends and players he knew would defer to him. Now that it isn't working to his satisfaction, he wants a do-over. Or to go someplace else.

If we're talking about recruiting free agents or even Anthony -- who has the no-trade clause that he could modify for any team chasing him -- that's fair game. But players already under contract who first demand a trade and then try to pick the team they go to?

No way.

First off, you sign a deal for $20 million a season as Irving did, you keep your mouth shut and play. Play it out. Then you become a free agent and can go wherever you want. But don't attempt to hold a team for ransom that has signed you in good faith. Be a person of integrity and honor your deal.

And trying to pick the team you're traded to after demanding a trade while under contract? That's what's adding insult to injury.

The Cavs should find out where he'd least like to go and send him there. If the league gets to the point when contracts mean nothing and players can merely quit on their current team and demand a trade to a specific team of their choice, that's when I will quit paying attention.

There is enough player movement as it is, with free agency. And giving up on your current team is not only unseemly, it takes disloyalty to an obscene level.

June 28: Dream Team debut here and Tyson takes a bite out of Holyfield

June 28: Dream Team debut here and Tyson takes a bite out of Holyfield

I've been bumping around this business for a long time. Too long, many of you might say. During that time, I've seen some pretty good stuff. Unforgettable stuff.

And it just so happens that a couple of those things happened on this date -- June 28.

The first one was in 1992 right here in Portland, the very first game played by the greatest basketball team ever assembled -- the Dream Team -- in Memorial Coliseum. We had no idea what to expect but the results of all the team's games were more one-sided than we expected. And what I remember most was the introduction of the entire roster before the very first game (June 28) vs. Cuba. It was overwhelming to hear the names of all those great players on one squad making their debut in our arena before heading off to the Olympics.

The assembled crowd went nuts, but the biggest ovation? For Clyde Drexler, of course. And it seemed to go on and on and on -- to the point when Clyde flashed an almost embarrassed grin. The event was called The Tournament of the Americas and it has to be the most impressive show ever staged in Portland, including those trips to the NBA Finals,

But it wasn't the most memorable event I ever covered on a June 28. That came five years later, on June 28, 1997 at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. You guessed it -- the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight, best known for Tyson biting Holyfield's ears.

It was the craziest event and the craziest aftermath I've ever been around.

When Tyson landed the first bite I couldn't tell exactly what happened and neither could anyone else in the area where I was sitting. It looked as if Holyfield got stung by a bee. Finally, when it happened again, referee Mills Lane stepped in and called the fight a draw. The press room after the fight was chaos and it was difficult to get a clear picture of what happened until after Lane spoke.

But while I was writing my column for The Oregonian, all sorts of mayhem was playing out in the adjoining casino and hotel. People were upset about the mysterious outcome of the fight and rampaging through the casino -- some of them even stealing chips off tables. Gunshots were heard, although that was never confirmed. I did see the local police department outside the hotel, though, with guns drawn.

Later it was revealed to me that among those caught on security tapes stealing chips off tables was a group of NBA players, who were made to pay back what they stole. The casino was closed for an hour -- which had to cost the establishment upwards of a million bucks.

Me? I didn't get back to my room until the wee hours of the morning, having been waved outside the lobby to the street by some cops who looked as if they meant business. It makes for a great story years later but on June 28, 1992, it was frightening.

This could be the very night, though, when that well-known tourist axiom "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" was born. The next day in the local newspaper, there was a tiny story buried near the back of the main section about a little ruckus at the MGM Grand after the fight, mentioning that people thought they heard gunshots but it was merely the sound of champagne corks. Oh sure.

So today, by the way, I'm just sitting around waiting to see what will happen on this June 28. But so far, Phil Jackson getting fired or Tim Quarterman being traded to Houston just don't move the needle.

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

As much as I detest the word "legacy" when people are talking about pro athletes (basketball players have careers, they don't have a legacy. Things like that are reserved for the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy) I'm going to use it here.

Where are all those people who insisted that Kevin Durant would affect his "legacy" by jumping from Oklahoma City to Golden State and, as I heard so many times, "ride those guys' coat tails to a championship."

Well, as it turned out, Durant did the right thing. The Warriors would not have won without him. He was the MVP of the series. And he escaped having to play in a city YOU wouldn't live in to the Bay Area. And he escaped having to play with Russell Westbrook on a dysfunctional team and landed with a squad that was the most unselfish in the league.

When people look back on his career they're going to say he carried the Warriors to this championship -- not that they carried him to one.

And he did so while sacrificing pieces of his game for the sake of playing on a winning team. He would have scored more points and his stats would have looked much better had he stayed with the Thunder. But the NBA Finals stage allowed him to show just how talented he is -- leading many people to conclude he's the next big thing in the league.

As far as the Cavaliers are concerned, the Finals showed they have some work to do on that roster of theirs. Instead of stacking their bench with LeBron's buddies, they need to get some serious role players with talent. They need guys capable of contributing instead of just sitting and watching. In Game 5, the Warrior bench outscored the Cavalier bench 35-7, typical of the entire series.

The Warriors, too, had a big coaching edge. Golden State plays the prettiest game in basketball on offense and just about the best defense in the league. The Cavs take turns playing one-on-one with not enough defense.

The right team won. And Kevin Durant made the right move.