In all walks of life, change is more than a possibility, it’s a certainty, and those that fail to adapt to modern times and changing trends are ultimately left behind.
Even when the stakes aren’t super-duper high, at the very least, failure to modernize one’s approach in accord with contemporary times will cause any endeavor to become nonsensical.
This applies to the National Basketball Association, as well.
For more reasons than one, it’s time to extend the end-of-season awards ballot submission deadline.
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This past season, the NBA-viewing public has truly witnessed one of the most inspiring Most Valuable Player races in history. Over the years, there have been some pretty close races, with a few standing out more than others.
In 2005, Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal had a tremendously close race. Nash barely emerged the victor after earning just 65 of the 127 available first-place votes. O’Neal took a whopping 58 of those first-place votes, ultimately yielding one of the closest races in history.
In the end, Nash secured the award with 1,066 ballot points, narrowly edging O’Neal and his 1,032.
Three years prior, in 2002, Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan had a similar battle. Kidd literally single-handedly turned the fortunes of the New Jersey Nets around, and in the process, secured 45 of the 126 first-place votes available. Duncan, the eventual victor, had 57, again narrowly edging the Hall-of-Fame point guard for the award. The final tally was 954 to 897.
Over the years, many other MVP races were tight. With no objective criteria, players have received first-place votes for personal statistical accrual, perceived game impact and regular season wins. The award winners and the reasoning behind the casting of votes has been as diverse as the roster of the Spurs. One thing the past winners mostly had in common, however, is that they were officially announced and recognized during the NBA playoffs. For that reason, it made perfect sense to require the ballots to be cast once the regular season had ended.
Realizing, however, that things should change with the times, on Commissioner Adam Silver’s watch, the league has opted to change that process by officially handing out end-of-season awards in an award show. This is obviously a departure from the past practice of announcing the award-winner at a team-hosted press conference and, if the player’s team was still participating in the playoffs, presenting the award to them prior to a playoff home game.
The NBA’s first ever postseason award show will take place on June 26, 2017 in New York City—long after the NBA Finals have terminated and even after this year’s draft, which is scheduled for June 22. From a logistical standpoint, it hardly makes sense to require voters to submit their ballots to the league more than two months prior to the award show. Unless, of course, the intended design is to prohibit voters from taking playoff results into account when casting their ballots.
Today, without question, this should be permitted.
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Imagine working a “9-to-5” for a company.
You work diligently, deal with the obstacles that arise during the course of your routine and apply yourself to the best of your abilities. While dealing with the parts of our job that aren’t necessarily glamorous, you take it in stride. You’re happy and wouldn’t prefer to be doing anything other than what you’re currently doing.
Out of the blue, one day, your boss tells you that your additional bonuses and total compensation will be heavily based on your performance metrics. If you’re a good worker, this would usually be considered good news.
What if your manager then broke one tiny piece of news to you that made all the difference in the world? Only results from the first nine months of the year will count—the fourth quarter of the calendar year would be meaningless.
How do you think James Harden would feel about that?
For the most part, we must recognize that the NBA and its teams have done a masterful job of making its viewership care a great deal about things that don’t seem that important in the grand scheme. Sure, All-Star appearances, All-NBA selections and individual awards are great, but most players care more about their checks and their ability to win championships than they do these background considerations.
If you asked LeBron James if he would trade one of his MVP Awards for another championship ring or Carmelo Anthony if he would give up his scoring title or even five of his All-Star appearances for a Larry O’Brien trophy, each would probably answer in the affirmative. So kudos to the NBA for making us care about things more than many players in the league actually do.
But when it comes time to pay guys? That’s when everyone should care.
Back in 2011, in the aftermath of the lockout, the NBA implemented what is commonly referred to as the “Derrick Rose Rule,” whereby younger players can earn significantly more money by achieving designations related to All-Star appearances, All-NBA appearances and being named the league’s MVP. In general, incentive-laden contracts seem fair. One of the very basic principles of the “American Dream” that immigrants bring to this great country is the common belief that hard work will be rewarded.
If this is the case, however, doesn’t that put the onus of getting the process correct on its keepers? If compensation is tied to measurable performance metrics or designations, why shouldn’t the voting public be permitted to take playoff results into account?
With the NBA’s 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, incentive-based compensation was taken to new heights. Veteran players negotiating new contracts will, like their younger comrades coming off of rookie contracts, have the opportunity to earn more if they make All-NBA teams, qualify for All-Star games or win certain end-of-season awards.
The combination of built-in incentives and the NBA’s award show almost necessitate including playoff results into one’s consideration, because if we truly value playoff wins and performances more than regular season metrics, there shouldn’t be the type of discord that currently exists. Voting media members should have the right to withhold their ballots until a time period that extends past the ending of the first round of the playoffs.
Today, there’s more at stake for the player. The designation means more. It’s time for a change.
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As Russell Westbrook and James Harden prepare to square off in a first-round playoff matchup, there is no doubt that the two will go at one another’s throats. Each a fierce competitor, both Westbrook and Harden want to prove their superiority.
There’s just one problem—the votes have already been cast.
That the two favorites to walk away with the MVP Award will square off and it have no bearing on who wins the award—an award that has now taken on newfound importance—that’s a flaw in the system that needs to be corrected.
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on—and there aren’t many—it’s that Westbrook and Harden have each turned in tremendous performances over the course of the long season. Each of the two has put forth valiant efforts and each has amazing storylines behind them.
Many of those that believe that Westbrook doesn’t “deserve” to be named the league’s MVP would argue that his statistics are somehow misleading or inflated. They tie that belief into concluding that the Thunder won’t win “when it matters” and would argue that the league’s MVP shouldn’t play for a team that can’t even advance out of the first round. While that may be true, an attorney that practices in criminal defense would tell you that drawing a conclusion based solely on a result which has not yet occurred is the equivalent of “assuming facts not in evidence.” In other words, predicting the demise of the Thunder and penalizing Westbrook for it before it is actually a proven fact is the epitome of injustice. At the very least, he deserves the opportunity to prove that theory to be true or not. And he deserves that opportunity (the equivalent of going to trial) before a ballot is cast against him (the equivalent of a verdict being delivered).
Truth be told, 10 years ago, many voters began to feel that playoff results should be taken into consideration. Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s MVP in 2007, couldn’t lead his team past the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors.
Had voters had the opportunity to cast their ballots after the first round of the playoffs, it’s very likely that Steve Nash (the runner-up in 2007), would have walked away with the MVP Award (which would have been his third consecutive). His Phoenix Suns, after all, did at least take the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs to a Game 6 in their second-round playoff series. It’s also worth noting that the Suns probably would have won the NBA Finals that season had Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Draw not been suspended for their roles in an altercation that resulted after Robert Horry levied a flagrant foul against Nash.
Fortunately for Nash, his winning the MVP Award (or not) had no impact on what he was compensated for otherwise being the lynchpin of a perennial contender and an all-time great point guard.
Years from now, there will be another duo (or trio) that will be competing for our affection and our votes. There’s no downside to allowing what transpires in the playoffs to impact both how we perceive the players and whether or not they should earn our votes. This is especially true when it comes to a player like Westbrook. Many of his detractors have preemptively predicted his team’s demise. Because the voting public has already cast their ballots, in effect, he has been unfairly persecuted before his trial.
Prior to the built-in incentives that have become a part of the collective bargaining agreements, this was fairly easy to overlook.
Today? Not so much.
As in all other walks of life, in the NBA, times do change. We no longer have centers as being a mandatory part of the All-Star game, while we no longer automatically award a division winner with a top-three seed in their conference.
Indeed, we have seen in both David Stern and Adam Silver’s NBA, that times do change.
Naturally, with the tying of compensation to award designations, the end-of-season voting awards and process should, as well.
NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break
After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.
For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.
Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.
In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.
As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.
“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.
“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”
But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.
Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.
With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.
Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.
Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.
This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.
“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”
Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.
Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.
Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.
“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”
Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.
“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”
And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.
NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.
The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.
On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.
Oklahoma City has agreed to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Atlanta for point guard Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, league sources tell ESPN. Anthony will be waived, and he will join team of his choice. Rockets are frontrunner.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.
While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.
With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.
For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.
Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.
For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.
The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.
While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.
For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.
Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.
As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.
NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge
Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.
Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.
Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.
“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”
Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.
July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists
Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.
“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”
On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.
“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”
Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.
“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”
In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.
“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”
When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.
In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.