In the new world of NBA economics—one where Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll will earn a combined $35 million next season—a new question will inevitably emerge as it relates to every promising plus-contributor in the NBA.
To pay, or not to pay?
Apparently, it’s Bradley Beal’s turn to deal with that question.
Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard lead the way for the 2012 draft class as far as talent goes, and with each of those two signing mega contracts this past summer, Beal, Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond among others are now looking to get paid.
But as we sit, still before the money guaranteed to the NBA through its new television deal with its partners begins to impact basketball-related income and the salary cap, we are caught in a weird “middle ground” that is seeing players being paid enormous sums in anticipation of the inevitable cap rises.
In a way, NBA owners and general managers have been given credit cards with limits that will be three times what their current credit cards are, and they have been promised by their parent (Adam Silver in this case) that the bill will be taken care of before it comes. No questions asked.
That is, of course, except for the question that was raised here initially.
To pay, or not to pay?
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Through just three seasons, Bradley Beal has already emerged as one of the league’s top young shooting guards. Because of injuries sustained by John Wall over the past few years, Beal has even been asked to play a little point guard. While not his strength, he has shown enough to be considered a plus combo guard in the NBA. Especially now as the Wizards attempt to take the next step and become an “everyday” team in the NBA, there is no denying that he is the second most important player in Washington, D.C., trailing only the aforementioned Wall.
From what I understand, many around the Wizards organization feel that of all players that enjoyed the experience of Paul Pierce being around the team, Beal was one of those who benefited the most. Since entering the league in 2012, the expectations thrust upon the then-19 year-old were daunting. There were some around the Wizards who felt that Beal’s work ethic didn’t really resemble one of a player who truly wanted to be great. It was a situation that made some question whether he truly believed he could be great.
Above all, that was Pierce’s message to this team and it is something Pierce and I have had multiple conversations about. The one that sticks out more than any other occurred at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day in 2014.
The legacy that Pierce leaves in Washington will mostly be remembered by one shot, but his off-court contributions may be felt for many years to come. If there is one thing he helped this young Wizards team do, it is believe in itself.
Now, in the wake of his departure, we will see whether the likes of Otto Porter and Beal are truly ready to step up and fill the leadership void that has suddenly reappeared.
Perhaps that is a part of the reason why the Wizards and Beal have not had any substantive conversations about a new contract. There are some that believe that Beal is hoping to secure the same type of five-year extension worth about $120 million that Damian Lillard signed with the Portland Trail Blazers this past summer. The first and most natural question to ask is whether Beal is truly “worth” that type of investment.
For as long as I can remember, figuring out the “worth” of a player has been such a difficult endeavor, especially in the complicated world of NBA economics. A player’s size impacts his market value, as does his age. After all, with guaranteed contracts being doled out that will pay players for as many as five years into the future, promise means a lot.
Market value is also heavily determined by, quite obviously, the market. If players to whom Beal is comparable are paid maximum dollars or the like, then Beal himself will make the case for a similar payday. At this point in time, Klay Thompson is widely regarded as a superior player, but how much better is he than Beal? $20 million? $10 million? $5 million?
And finally, what will determine what a player is eventually paid is the cap situation of the incumbent team considering whether to re-sign him. In the complicated world of NBA economics, depending on the cap situation of the incumbent team, it is often wise for the fringe contender to re-sign a player, even if it means overpaying him.
Case in point, without having re-signed Draymond Green this past summer, if things played out in exactly the same way, the Warriors would have $78 million in salary commitments for the 2015-16 season, whereas with Green’s committment, they currently sit at $93 million. While the Green contract will have ramifications as it relates to the franchise’s luxury tax bill, the simple truth is that, for the Warriors, there is no competitive advantage to having a ledger with $78 million as opposed to $93 million. Because the franchise would be over the cap even with a $78 million payroll, it’s not as though the Warriors would have been able to allow Green to walk and then sign an adequate replacement with the money that they “saved” by not paying him.
The intricacies and details of that is a numbers and logic-based discussion about Bird rights, cap holds and mid-level exceptions and frankly, it’s a discussion better had another day. The bottom line is this: it made a lot more sense for the Warriors to re-sign Green for maximum money than it would have made for a team like the New York Knicks to pay Green maximum money to come and be their savior.
The same exact logic applies to Beal and the Wizards. To the Wizards, retaining Beal, almost at any cost, makes much more sense than letting him walk.
That is especially true considering the upside he has already shown, the chemistry developing between he and Wall and the fact that the salary cap will rise to a point where some of his peers—many of whom are inferior basketball talents—will be paid in excess of $15 million per year.
In all likelihood, Beal, whom the Wizards can make a restricted free agent next summer, will command a maximum offer sheet from some team at that time. Quite a few teams will have truckloads of cap space and can have a Brinks truck arrive at the residence of Beal at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2016. Until that time, though, since the Wizards will have the right of first refusal, it makes sense for them to wait—just like the Warriors did with Green, just like the Chicago Bulls did with Jimmy Butler and just like the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard.
Make no mistake about it, though, Beal is a maximum player in today’s NBA. That is true despite the fact that he has never played as many as 75 games in any one of his three seasons. It is also true despite the defensive ineptitude that he has shown on a fairly consistent basis over the course of his young career. And yes, it is true despite the fact that he has not consistently shown that he can impact the game on multiple fronts. Above all, he is regarded as a strong offensive player and a deadly three-point shooter (his career three-point conversation rate is about 42 percent). His ability to create his own shot has improved tremendously, and, still at just 22 years old, he is nowhere near his physical prime. As he ages and matures, he will only get better.
Indeed, in today’s NBA, contract impasses are nothing extraordinary. But as it relates to Beal, with his upside, his production thus far and the influx of money that the NBA will see over the next few years, even a blind man can see that this movie ends the same way as the ones we have just witnessed.
In Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Beal is a maximum player. Drawing that conclusion is the easy part. The difficult part, for the Wizards, is determining whether or not he will fulfill the lofty expectations that such a contract would yield and whether they want to be the team to roll the dice on him.
But best believe, in today’s NBA, someone will.
NBA Daily: The Boston Celtics’ Interesting Dilemma
The Boston Celtics may struggle more than most expect in 2018 and beyond, especially if they don’t address impending problems.
The Boston Celtics’ 2017-18 season was a success by all accounts. They fell one win shy of advancing to the NBA Finals and did so without two of their best players – Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. At first glance, the 2018 iteration of the Celtics is even more intriguing. The Celtics return both aforementioned stars, with two other young pillars – Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown – on the precipice of stardom, too. Additionally, the Eastern Conference championship is almost certainly up for grabs with LeBron James heading west to Los Angeles, concurrently eliminating Cleveland from contention. But think twice before penciling the Celtics into the NBA Finals. There are questions to be answered about the Celtics’ future, as well as concerns about the season at hand.
The most pressing item to be addressed is the team’s chemistry and rotation. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens must delicately manage his roster. He will likely rely heavily on Irving and Hayward considering both are proven All-Stars. And considering both will be working back from a knee procedure and a gruesome leg injury, respectively, there will likely be minutes restrictions in place that allow for the younger Celtics to continue contributing early on this season. However, what effect might lesser roles have on the likes of Terry Rozier, Brown and/or Tatum as the season wears on?
Rozier, Brown and Tatum flourished while averaging 36.6, 32.4, and 35.9 minutes per game, respectively, in the 2018 postseason. Basketball is a rhythm game and few players can find theirs without a requisite amount of playing time. That could hinder their progress, and potentially hinder production. Further, will splitting minutes with the younger Celtic wings prove to be counterproductive to Hayward, who averaged 34.5 minutes per game in the 2016-17 season with Utah – his last complete season prior to the injury? Similarly, will Kyrie’s effectiveness dwindle due to a dip in playing time from his pre-injury 32.2 minutes per game last season?
Less direct implications are also possible. Marcus Smart will likely see a decreased role due to the talent stockpiled on the roster, but Smart’s contributions last season were noteworthy. He is an ultra-versatile defender who can guard four positions. While he is limited offensively, his hustle and grit are contagious. Limiting his minutes might be a necessity, but his energy is difficult to replace. Having too much talent is rarely a detriment, but all of Brown, Tatum, Hayward, Smart, Rozier, and Irving can’t be maximized. Long-term, this is much more of a problem for general manager Danny Ainge than it is for the team (or even coach Stevens), but it is a problem nonetheless. Maybe Ainge packages two of the above players for Jimmy Butler, or another superstar before the deadline; but barring a similar move, maximizing all of the talent on the roster will be challenging.
And then there are the challenges that await the Boston Celtics outside of their locker room – most notably, the development of Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. Both of the Celtics’ divisional rivals stand to improve in 2018. The Raptors took a chance in trading for disgruntled Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. While he very well may leave Toronto after the 2018-19 season, Leonard is a definitively better talent than DeMar DeRozan on both sides of the ball. Canada’s only NBA franchise also took on Danny Green in the DeRozan-Leonard transaction. Green is a career 39.5 percent three-point shooter who can still defend at a high level. Add Leonard and Green to the Raptors’ existing foundation of Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and C.J. Miles and you have a contender in the making. What’s more, the arrival of Leonard and Green does more than simply infuse talent; they represent players who came up big in key moments throughout their respective careers (e.g., in the 2014 NBA Finals, Leonard was named the Finals MVP and Green shot 45 percent from three-point range over the course of the five-game series). The addition of the two former Spurs should improve on the Raptors’ poor execution in recent trips to the Playoffs. While the trade represents a major risk on behalf of Raptors’ President Masai Ujiri and the franchise, it could just as easily pay off with one or more NBA Finals appearances.
Comparatively, Philadelphia had a relatively quiet offseason. They traded the twelfth overall pick, Mikal Bridges, to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith, who, in typical Sixers fashion, injured his foot in summer league and will miss at least the beginning of the 2018 season. The team also re-signed J.J. Redick, and traded for Wilson Chandler. But most of the improvement that Philadelphia stands to undergo will come from standing pat, as their core is relatively young. Currently, Joel Embiid is 24, Ben Simmons is 22, and Markelle Fultz is only 20 – and all reports indicate he has successfully worked through his shoulder injury and subsequent shooting hitch. The infusion of a productive Fultz alone should add a few wins; for comparison’s sake, Lonzo Ball, who was selected immediately after Fultz in the 2017 NBA Draft, posted a win share of two last season. Philadelphia will ask less of Fultz than was asked of Ball by the Lakers, but a similar net effect is reasonable given Ball’s ups and downs in 2017-18. And that doesn’t take into consideration the progress that can be expected from Simmons and Embiid.
The Sixers represent less of an immediate threat to the Celtics than the Raptors, having lost to Boston in the second round of the 2018 Playoffs 4-1; but they pose a very real threat beyond 2018-19. Entering 2019-20, they should have only around $70 million in salary commitments, assuming all team options are picked up. The majority of that money is spread between the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Zhaire Smith – a formidable six-man rotation. The team will have approximately enough money to sign one free agent to a max deal. Philly’s core is young and talented, and they can add a superstar to it to improve even more quickly for next season and beyond – a scary concept to anyone building an NBA franchise.
If all of that doesn’t worry Ainge, Stevens, and the Boston faithful, there are the rumors about Irving’s desire to team up with Jimmy Butler and/or flee to New York. Rumors are anecdotal at best, but this particular rumor is more substantive than most. Irving’s hometown Knicks were on a short list of preferred landing spots, communicated by the point guard to the Cavs last summer. Further, rumblings have permeated the mainstream media about Irving and Butler’s desire to play together next season. Butler was recently quoted by Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times in a recent interview saying he has grown sick of “the nonchalant attitude of his younger teammates, specifically Karl-Anthony Towns.” While any number of scenarios can play out in Minnesota, it is unlikely that ownership approves of a deal in which Towns is moved. Therefore, odds of a continued working relationship between Butler and Minnesota appear unlikely. And Irving’s unwillingness to sign an extension, while expected given the current salary cap environment, opens the door to suitors next July, which will likely result in the two players looking at signing with the same team a la LeBron James and Dwyane Wade circa 2010.
None of these scenarios by themselves spell disaster for the Celtics, but the sum of the parts certainly causes more anxiety for the Boston front office than each issue would individually. The Boston Celtics’ rebuild, which began immediately after the 2012-13 season via the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade, took hold quickly. The 2017-18 season is the culmination of that rebuild, with steady progress between the two points in time. Traditionally, perennial contenders like the current Golden State Warriors, 2000’s Lakers and 1990’s Bulls enjoy years of success after struggling to build a team and overthrow an antagonist. Nothing is promised in the NBA, but the path to success for the Celtics, which appeared seamless to many, has cracks in its armor. The Celtics could end the 2018-19 season as Eastern Conference champions facing off against whoever wins the West; but they could just as easily be eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, lose Irving to free agency and have two formidable opponents in their division to contend with for the foreseeable future. Neither scenario is overtly bad, but from the potential chemistry issues to the intra-division competition, to the potential to lose their best player, the Celtics’ future is far less certain than it appears at first glance.
Count Charlie Ward Among Believers In Knicks and Kevin Knox
Knicks rookie Kevin Knox has many believers, including former Knicks point guard Charlie Ward.
Kevin Knox has impressed a fair amount in and around the New York Knicks organization, and now, one of the favorite sons of a franchise has gone on record as endorsing the rising rookie.
It’s impossible to talk about the 1990s New York Knicks without mentioning Charlie Ward among Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks.
It turns out that Ward has a special connection with Knox—the former Heisman Trophy winner played college football at Florida State University alongside Knox’s father, Kevin Knox I.
Ward spent 11 years in the NBA, including nine full seasons as a member of the Knicks. He was drafted by the Knicks exactly one week after the franchise lost Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals to the Houston Rockets and joined a team that was expected to have a legitimate chance to win an NBA crown. It wouldn’t be until 1999 that Ward and the Knicks would have that opportunity again, but Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs had other ideas.
Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that Ward is one of the few former Knicks around that can speak with authority on what success in New York City looks and feels like. Ward spent many of his former days watching Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell navigate superstardom in the league’s toughest market, so if there’s anyone who knows what type of personality it takes to succeed in Gotham City, it might be him.
“I think he has the right mentality to be successful in New York,” Ward told the New York Post.
“He seems to have a mature approach and great understanding of where he is in his development. The kid is well-balanced, with an inner confidence and swagger to him while having a quiet demeanor — which you need, especially being in New York.”
What’s most interesting about Ward’s comments is that they are wholly consistent with the front office at Penn Plaza. Before drafting Knox, the Knicks were as enamored with his personality and quite humility as they were with his raw talents and abilities. Head coach David Fizdale couldn’t stop extolling the virtues of his rookie during the Las Vegas Summer League, and quietly, the belief within the Knicks organization is that Knox will have the ability to prove he’s a magnet that’ll ultimately help the team attract a star free agent in the Summer of 2019.
“New York is a tough place to play, but you have to have thick skin,” Ward told the New York Post.
“He’s willing to listen and be coached. His whole mentality and attitude is one that will help him become a superstar in the league at some point.”
Nobody would doubt the kind of mentality and fortitude it takes to succeed in the city where the lights shine brightest. Carmelo Anthony had it. Stephon Marbury, not so much.
Years from now, it’ll be interesting to see whether Knox was able to live up to the billing and the expectations he’s set for himself. His standout performances in Las Vegas opened the eyes of many, including a former Knicks great whose name will forever live among some of the most hallowed from the franchise’s immediate past era of glory.
Similar to last season, the Knicks will begin the 2018-19 campaign with little to no expectations of competing for anything more than the last playoff seed available in the Eastern Conference. The scenario becomes a bit more realistic with LeBron James’ departure to the Western Conference, but in the long run, everyone in the franchise knows that the team would be better off missing out on the postseason once again and adding another lottery pick to the core that’s being assembled. Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina have each done everything the organization has asked of them and are each heavier and stronger than they were when they were drafted.
The front office continues to be impressed with Damyean Dotson and Trey Burke and, for the first time in a long time, will enter a season without any drama. There are no questions about whether Jeff Hornacek is the right coach for the team, no confusion as to whether the team is better served by ‘going for it’ with Carmelo Anthony or building for the future with Porzingis and no curiosity as to why Phil Jackson doesn’t seem all that interested in proactively helping to street the ship in the right direction.
For the first time in a long, long time, the Knicks can simply focus on—as president Steve Mills said in a recent radio interview on ESPN—getting their house in order.
While Porzingis is on the shelf, all eyes will be on the Knicks, their young core and how David Fizdale is able to reach and maximize them. We’ll be watching Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson, for sure.
But make no mistake about it, everyone’s already seen the potential within Knox. That long list includes Charlie Ward.
According to the former Knicks point guard, the franchise appears to be headed in the right direction. Knox, according to him, is one of the reasons why.
Soon enough, we’ll find out if old Charlie Ward still knows exactly what it takes to succeed in New York City.
And soon enough, Knox will have the opportunity to prove himself as being just the latest example of things that Scott Perry has gotten right.
Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry
Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.
With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and the observing eyes in Las Vegas.
Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.
It’s Mitchell Robinson.
Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.
For Scotty Perry, though, he’s more than just another promising prospect; he’s the latest entry on the list of things that the newly hired general manager has gotten right.
As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts worth barely enough to buy LeBron James lunch, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.
For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.
Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite.
Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.
It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in those few performances, though, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.
If you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that among Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and strategically managing his cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.
With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future and Kornet hasn’t exactly appeared to be the next coming of Dwight Howard, so for the rebuilding Knicks, the task doesn’t appear that difficult.
What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season. Yet together, they’ll carry the hopes of a billion dollar franchise on their backs.
Still, you don’t need to be able to count to a billion to understand that the ROI on Robinson could be exceptional. And it’s those crafty acquisitions that could help the Knicks maintain the space they’ll need to bring a superstar to Gotham City.
Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign. Robinson, like Knox, has given us over a dozen.
Truth be told, Perry has, too. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.
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It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.
In Vegas, Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.
In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim an in-prime Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.
As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. Nobody closed space from the weakside better than Camby, and few centers in the league were able to run out and contest jumpers like him. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.
We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.
It truly isn’t rocket science. When you think back even over the course of recent history, ask yourself how long it took for the world to recognize and extol the virtues of the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis and even Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons. While each representing an extreme case, the truly impactful players are able to utilize their gifts to dominate and can usually do so from day one. Certainly, they can’t do it everyday, but the potential is there and it’s evident from jump.
The most you’re gonna get from summer league is a young stud showing you that he has some exploitable advantage over his competitors. For Knox, it’s his combination of ranginess and a better than advertised nose for the ball. For Robinson, it’s the incredible agility that an extended absence from the game doesn’t seem to have blunted.
The concept of exploitable advantage is where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. And although an extreme example, they are the specimen of what a team full of those types look like.
So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up fulfilling that potential will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.
Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job. That much is a fact.
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Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused—irony is often confused with coincidence.
In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.
In other words, back in 2015, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.
That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.
On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York. He was the team’s best player and has since proven to be a surefire Hall of Famer, yet they improved without him.
One could argue it to be ironic that Kyrie Irving welcomed a trade to the Boston Celtics after spending years battling them, or that fans of the Los Angeles Lakers have actually begun calling LeBron James the King of LA while Kobe Bryant still flies in a helicopter over Orange County.
Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.
Yea. That’s ironic. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury. Infinite fanfare and declarations of grandeur. All for naught. In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?
Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.
But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns.