NBA Talking Points: Is Basketball Becoming Baseball?

NBA Talking Points is a weekly series that runs down some of the top stories in basketball, and some that aren't being talked about enough. Click any of the links below to jump to one of this week's talking points, and click here for last week's last year's edition.

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Is Basketball Becoming Baseball? Because... That Would Suck

Before we get to all the Gilbert Arenas stuff… This has been bugging me.

It happened a few weeks ago, but it’s got to be mentioned: Pau Gasol is making an average of $19 million over the next three seasons. That’s a max deal! It’s only for three years, so nobody discusses it in those terms, but the type of money he’s making is on par with what’s being paid to max guys like Carmelo Anthony ($17 million) and Dwight Howard ($16.6 million). He’s not that good, is he? Like, build-around-him good?

SB Nation’s excellent T-Wolves blog, Canis Hoopus pointed this out back when he signed:

Pau Gasol‘s three-year extension through 2014, at an average of $19 million a year, should worry all NBA fans.  At his press conference, Gasol mentioned several reasons why a player would like coming to Los Angeles, like less cultural differences, its an international city, there’s a lot going on, and the weather is nicer, especially after the cold east coast road trip.  But he left out the biggest reason — you can get paid.

Maybe the first question NBA fans should ask would be “How big is $19 million?”  It’s big, even compared to other giant NBA salaries.  Next season, $19 million would be a Top Five salary in the NBA — and while Gasol is very good, he is not a Top Five player.  Also, while those five deals are often the high end of older NBA contracts, Gasol’s extension averages that much, and its locked in until 2014.

But if $19 million/year is a lot, remember this — it will cost the Lakers $38 million with luxury tax penalties!  This astronomical sum would quickly bankrupt many franchises who are just trying to keep their head above water in tough economic times.  The fact that the Lakers can afford it, and still have money left over, should be of concern to fans that want a competitive NBA, particularly the Chairman of the NBA’s Board of Governors, Glen Taylor.

Indeed, according to Sham Sports—the best resource on the internet for NBA salary info—Los Angeles is also paying Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum more than $25 million annually, for the next four seasons. In 2013, that trio will earn more than $30 million. What do those three have in common, you ask?

When you think about it, they’re all kind of mediocre at this point. Relative to their salaries, at least.

For instance, Artest peaked in Sacramento. Now, he’s just a bullish forward, an inconsistent shooter, and as his mysterious Christmas night story proves, still someone that’s perpetually on the brink of a spectacular implosion. A while back, Bethlehem Shoals mentioned that his effectiveness today is derived as much from myth as it is any real talent. The idea of Ron Artest, the tough-as-nails defender, etc, resonates more than anything he actually does for the Lakers.

By contrast, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were both at their best when their talents were an idea. When Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were mere hypotheticals, the sky was the limit. Even when Odom came to Lakers, his potential was his greatest asset. What will Lamar Odom be like in (gasp) the triangle offense? And while both Odom and (to a lesser extent) Bynum have been huge for the Lakers at various points, it’s hard to argue that either one could be considered a star. And yet, look at those salary numbers.

Throw in Gasol getting paid like he’s Dwight Howard, and it all just reminds me of the New York Yankees. Think about all of the kinda-good stars they’ve shelled out millions for over the past decade? Just because they can. Gary Sheffield made like $80 million just because he was Gary Sheffield! Kind of like Ron Artest.

And for the Yankees and Lakers, it actually makes sense from an economic standpoint. Back to Canis Hoopus real quick:

Things are peachy for the Lakers. The Forbes numbers came out last week, and despite the highest payroll and luxury taxes in the league, the Lakers were #1 in operating income, revenue, and in the value of their franchise, which is now over $600 million. While the Wolves make merely $350,000/home game in revenues (not profits), the Lakers make an astonishing $1.96 million — over five times as much per game! Local TV revenues (within 70 miles) are not shared, so that’s a lucrative revenue stream as well for successful big market teams.

See, for a team like the Lakers, it’s a no-brainer to overpay Gasol a little. Keeping him around, and pairing him with an ageless Kobe Bryant, ensures that L.A. will be in the hunt for a title through at least 2014. It’s just good business; they can recoup their luxury tax losses with ticket sales, merchandise, etc. But what about a team like the Atlanta Hawks?

They’re one of the league’s quietly excellent teams right now; a young group that’s slowly matured together. But their star, Joe Johnson, is a swingman version of Pau Gasol. Not quite good enough to anchor a franchise, but just good enough to maybe command a max salary. Will another of the league’s blue blood franchises pay him an extra $20 million this summer to steal him from Atlanta? Or will Atlanta be the ones to pay him the extra money, going over budget, and taking themselves out of any other spending for the foreseeable future?

It’s a lose-lose; the Hawks are the Minnesota Twins, here.

This might be more benign, or at least boring, if it were an isolated case. The Lakers are the best team in basketball because they’re virtually unbeatable in close games, not some terrible inequity in the league hierarchy. The Knicks have the same advantages, and look at them. But the problem is that the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening, and this stuff is only going to get worse. When a team overpays Rudy Gay by $15 million this summer, don’t blame the Grizzlies. It doesn’t make financial sense for them to try and compete on that level.

Ultimately, we’re going to be left with a lot of years like this season, when only a handful of teams have a realistic shot at the title, and the rest of ‘em are just sort of playing things out, trying to hold water, and if they’re lucky, hoping for some lottery luck and a player like John Wall. Is that a bad thing, or is something that’s possible to prevent? Tough question.

But you gotta admit… It sounds a lot like Major League Baseball.


Fake Scoop: Turn Out The Lights, Y'All

Yesterday, a pretty amusing quote from Stephen Jackson emerged. Below, the quote's reproduced, as Stephen Jackson explains his free throw routine, and our own Fake Scoop Jackson offers some commentary:

Everybody wants to do their best when making love. I feel like when I go to the free throw line I’m making love to my wife. I concentrate, just stay focused on what I’m doing.

Would you look at that? The brother went and gave love of the game a whole new name. Stephen Jackson. Not alimony, but matrimony.

With the game on the line, or after dinner and wine: When Captain Jack steps up, you can Turn Off The Lights. Crank the Teddy Pendergrass and let the magic happen.

Did you say Soulful? Maybe that was me. Damn. What a beautiful thing.

Love and Basketball.

But this ain’t a movie, y’all. Time to kick reality. Omar Epps, meet Stephen Jackson.

Devotion in the flesh.

Works on two levels, huh? Don’t shoot the messenger.

They say the NBA is full of Shawn Kemps, but would you look at that? Stephen Jackson went and turned off the lights for the haters. Gettin kind of dark in here now.

Somebody needs to light a candle for the haters. Get ‘em in the mood for romance. Throw some Teddy on. Let’s get cozy. Once so bitter, but now so sweet. Time for a special treat, y’all.

Pull the curtains down, my man Captain Jack is ’bout to shoot some free throws with his woman. He's in Charlotte. But when life gives you lemons, make love under the lemon tree.

It’s a recession, y’all. Get it hot with what ya got.

Make it happen, Cap’n.


The Wizards And The Wire: A Different Rendition

You might have expected another missive on Gilbert Arenas here, but frankly, it really makes no sense to me, and the whole discussion has become tedious and oversaturated with bombastic opinions on a situation that’s far too nuanced for that kind of coherence. Or maybe that’s just my excuse for not writing about it.

In any case, rather than waste your time with more clumsinesss, I figured we’d let The Wire sort it out. What follows is a different rendition of what’s happened with the Washington Wizards, as told by quotes from the greatest television show in history. Apologies in advance for the language.


It all started with a card game that reportedly took place on Saturday, December 19th. The game was called bourre, a favorite among NBA players, and a game in which the rules are often a matter of dispute. The characters in question are Javale McGee, Gilbert Arenas, and Javaris Crittendon. There were probably other players, too, but those are just the random extras to the story, destined to remain in the background and look cooler, tougher than the rest of us. Without further ado…

McGee: “I don’t know about cards, but uh… I think these 4-5s beat a Full House.” (Omar)

Arenas: “There’s rules to this here game, son.” (Prop Joe)

McGee: “We gon’ handle this sh*t like business men.” (Stringer)

Crittendon: (whistling) (Omar)

Arenas: “The game ain’t in me no more. None of it. … Ayo banker cash me out, yo!” (Cutty … Omar)

Crittendon: “The game is the game, yo. … That’s my money.” (Everyone … Marlo)

Arenas: “Money don’t got owners! Only spenders.” (Omar)

Crittendon: “We used to make sh*t in this country. Build sh*t. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.” (Frank Sobotka)

Arenas: “No offense, son. But that’s some weak ass thinking. You equivocatin’ like a mothaf**ka.” (Bubbles)

Arenas: “See the king, stay the king. Pawns, man. They get capped quick.” (D’Angelo Barksdale)

(Arenas gets up, walks away from card game)

Crittendon: “Unless they some smart ass pawns.” (Bodie Broadus)

With those chilling last words, the dispute was over. But as anyone on the plane can attest, the conflict was not going to end there. The next day, Sunday the 20th, both men were compelled to act, only to pause…

Arenas: “Sunday truce been around as long as the game itself. I mean, you can do some sh*t and be like what the f**k, but never on no Sunday man.” (Avon Barksdale)

Crittendon: “Sunday truce been around as long as the game itself. I mean, you can do some sh*t and be like what the f**k, but never on no Sunday man.” (Avon Barksdale)

The next day, on Monday the 21st, it all came to a head in the locker room…

Arenas: (lays out guns, joking) “Just say the word, Slim. Just say the mothaf**kin word!” (Boadie Broadus)

Crittendon: “You play in the dirt, you get dirty. … (starts whistling, draws gun)” (Mcnulty … Omar)

Arenas: “I see you favor a .45.” (Brother Muzone)

Crittendon: “Tonight I do. And I keeps one in the chamber in case you ponderin.” (Omar)

Crittendon: “Let’s bang out.” (Omar)

(Crittendon loads gun)

Arenas: “Do you know who I am? You just a boy!” (Victor, Marlo’s money man)

Crittendon: (eyeing Arenas’ surgically repaired knee) “And that’s just a knee!”

Crittendon’s inner monologue: “This here is some assassination sh*t… Damn, I don’t know.” (Slim Charles)

And with that, the situation was mercifully diffused. It’s unclear how, exactly, both sides emerged unscathed. But then, how did Omar survive the jump from five stories up? Some things, we’ll just never know. But a week later, the New York Post’s Peter Vescey would play Scott Templeton, and emerge with a scandalous—and specious—report detailing what happened in the Washington Wizards locker room. And though he’d come under fire from colleagues, Vescey refused to back off from his report…

Every other reporter: “Our job is to report the news, not to manufacture it!” (Gus Haynes)

Peter Vescey: “F**k you Gus!” (Scott Templeton)

And indeed, true or not, Vescey’s report sparked a whirlwind of drama for everyone involved. Namely, Wizards fans…

Wizards fans: “It’s a thin line between heaven and hell.” (Bubbles)

Arenas: “You think I’m goin down, don’t ya? You think I’m done? All y’all ungrateful b**ches thinking you can throw me out the boat!”(Clay Davis)

Crittendon: (blatantly lies to press) “Yo this MY corner. I ain’t runnin nowhere!”  (Boadie Broadus)

Ernie Grunfeld, to Arenas: “You put fire to everything you touch, and then you walk alway while it burns.” (Lester Freamon)

NBA Offices: This scene.

Kendrick “Bookie Ball” Long: If Snoop could get a part on The Wire, why not me? (Bookie Ball)

Arenas, asked about Commissioner Stern: “I’m scared of him. He’s mean.” (Arenas, himself)

Stern, to Arenas: “Let’s be clear. When I f**k you over you will know it. You’ll be so Goddamn certain you won’t even have to ask the question.” (Lt. Rawls)

Immediately, the Wizards began contemplating voiding Arenas’ $111 million contract…

Wizards fans, management: “Just… Dream with me, String.” (Avon Barksdale)

Ziller: “The Gods will not save you.” (Stanley Burrell)

Wizards fans: “No one wins. One side just loses more slowly.” (Roman Pryzbylewski)

Soon, Commissioner Stern suspended him with vigor and disgust that some deemed unfair. And the rest of us? Well, we were left to contemplate the morality of it all…

David Stern: “Possession of a handgun, possession of a concealed weapon, assault by pointing. … This is what you do. You walk the streets … with a gun, taking what you want, when you want it. … This is who you are. Why believe anything you say? In fact, you are exactly the kind of person who would, if you felt you needed to, shoot a man down on a project parking lot, and then lie to the police about it. Would you not? You are ammoral, are you not? You are a parasite.” (Maurice Levy)

Wizards management, in complete agreement: “He did so without properly informing his superior officers, without regard to the criminal statutes, thereby disgracing himself, and his command.” (William Rawls)

Wizards fans: “Ain’t yall ever wonder if he even deserve any of this?” (Mike)

Wizards management: “Deserve got nothin to do with it. It’s his time, that’s all.” (Snoop)

Arenas, to Players’ Association President Billy Hunter: “You gon’ help huh? You gon’ look out for me? You mean it? You gon’ look out for ME? You promise? You got my back, huh?” (Randy Wagstaff)

Should we let Arenas play?

“Got to. This is America, man.” (uncredited)




The Rise And Fall Of Gilbert Arenas

For some non-Wire breakdowns of the Gilbert Arenas situation, consult the following. Rather than examine the situation itself, though, I focused more on why Gilbert’s no longer welcome in D.C. Or, at least I think that’s what happened. This whole thing has been pretty head-exploding for me, someone that worshipped Arenas for the past decade (even when he was in Oakland). But here’s my attempt at coherence:

The Rise of Gilbert Arenas:

Sometimes, things just happen perfectly. After being walked all over by the greatest player in the history of the sport, Washington lucked into one of the more likable superstars the game’s ever seen.

Had the Wizards taken Arenas with the number one pick in 2001 (the second rounder would end up being the best player from that draft), he likely wouldn’t have had the fuel that allowed him to become one of the hardest working players in the NBA. Had he gone elsewhere in the first round, and gotten the contract he wanted, he wouldn’t have been eligible to become a free agent and come to the Wizards in 2003. Had Jordan not comeback with the Wizards, the roster would have been built around Richard Hamilton, and adding Arenas probably never happens. And if it hadn’t been for the Jordan disaster, there might have been more expectations, and Arenas might not have fully blossomed.

But it all happened just right. When talent meets opportunity meets a franchise starved for success. Gilbert gave us everything. In 2005, 2006, and in 2007, when Arenas blossomed into one of the best players in the league. The Wizards finally had a superstar.

The Fall Of Gilbert Arenas:

Like a black cloud, Arenas’ presence has haunted the Wizards all year long. Because he’s the STAR, you see. And in the NBA, that means your teammates defer to you at countless points throughout the game. Except… He’s not a star anymore. It’s probably most obvious — and painful — on those possessions at the end of quarters and games, when his teammate clear out so that Gil can attack, and he either flails toward the hoop expecting a call (that he doesn’t get), or takes a pull-up three (that he doesn’t make). Literally. This happens every single game. Just like the Kiss Cam, you can count on at least one end-of-quarter possession where Gilbert fails miserably, and then walks off the court while the fans awkwardly pretend not to notice.


Just the way sanitized Gilbert Arenas for the sake of mass consumption, Wizards fans overlooked holes in his game and character that — for the longterm, at least — made him fatally flawed as a face of the franchise. Now, with bad knees having rendered those flaws obvious, and this gun situation taking his immaturity to what was maybe an inevitable end, it’s all crumbling. There’s no more invincibility. No Hibachi. No Agent Zero.

Just @gilbertarenas — kind of making a fool of himself, immature to the bitter end — and a franchise hoping that fate (and the DC District Attorney’s office) might give them a mulligan on this one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more weeping to do.


Life Is Unfair: Dan Gadzuric Edition

One of the more entertaining ongoing debates amongst friends is kind of cruel, but was nonetheless a mainstay in my basketball upbringing: Who’s the ugliest player in the NBA? There are a lot of attractive choices (ZING!), mainly because, for all the artistry of its athletes, the NBA has some pretty ugly dudes walking the courts. And Dan Gadzuric of the Milwaukee Bucks was always a popular choice among my friends.


(In fact, at one point, the Bucks had a pretty murderous roster as far as ugliness is concerned. The principal characters escape me, but I’m fairly certain that Joel Pryzbilla and Sam Cassell were prominently involved.)

But then, JE Skeets had to go and make us all feel like idiots. He’s following Gadzuric’s wife on Twitter, and last night she posted a picture of her New Year’s outfit, which Skeets passed along to his universe of followers.


Yet more proof that NBA players have much better lives than average people. Even Dan Gadzuric.

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