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.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.