In the debate over whether tanking is currently out of control in the NBA, the Celtics are an interesting flashpoint. The team sold off aging veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for contracts and picks. Doc Rivers made way for an NBA rookie head coach, Butler's Brad Stevens. Rajon Rondo is recovering from a torn ACL and might not be back until the winter or spring. This, on paper, looks like a bad team.
But is it a team built to lose, to maximize the Celtics' chances in the 2014 NBA Draft lottery? I'm inclined to agree with Danny Ainge, who makes the case to Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen that Boston intends to win some games and contend for the playoffs.
"Those guys are all trying to win," Ainge said of [Gerald] Wallace and [Jeff] Green and Rondo. "They don't want to go out there and play for a draft pick. Brad Stevens in his first year as coach -- he's going to give a big pep talk about coming together as a team. How do you fake that? There's not one thing fake about Brad Stevens. I think that's why he'll be able to sell it." [...]
"If all of a sudden Rondo's out for the year and a couple other key guys, and maybe goals change over the course of the year," said Ainge, and then he stopped the dark thoughts there. "But starting the season out," he carried on brightly, "we're starting out full blazes. And see what we can do."
Ainge also reminds us that the centerpiece of the trade that last rebuilt the Celtics -- the KG deal in 2007 -- was a former No. 15 pick, Al Jefferson, proving that you don't need a very high pick to rebuild. (He elides the fact that the Celtics absolutely sucked in 2006-07, earning the league's second worst record and the No. 5 pick, which was sent to Seattle for Ray Allen, which made KG open to his trade. Also, don't forget that the KG trade with Minnesota was horribly unbalanced to the point where many believed Wolves GM Kevin McHale was doing a big favor for his old team and friend.)
All that said, can you have a tanking crisis if, like, only three teams are tanking? That's my count: three teams right now would apparently prefer a 15-win season to a run in the general direction of the playoffs. (That'd be Orlando, Phoenix and Philadelphia.) Boston has a real shot at the final Eastern playoff seed. Detroit is pushing hard for the playoffs. Atlanta intends to be there. Toronto wants in. Milwaukee is vociferous in its rejection of the Presti Plan. Charlotte will probably not compete for the No. 8 seed, but the team did give Al Jefferson a massive contract and seemingly wants to break out of the treadmill of abject failure, despite beginning on a Presti Plan a few years ago.
In the West, the Suns are obviously further from competing than they were a year ago. The Jazz might be too. But GM Dennis Lindsey did more to clear up a frontcourt logjam than stripping the team bare. Utah was one game from the playoffs last season. The Kings are trying badly to improve, even though it will take time. Everyone else expects to compete for the playoffs.
So while I appreciate Adam Silver's attentiveness to the game and agree that the league should consider ways to make the back half of the season more interesting to fans of lesser teams, I don't think there's an actual problem with regards to large-scale efforts to lose as much as possible. That the Celtics, who are missing basically the entire soul of their team from last year, aren't participating in the race to the bottom indicates to me that it's a fairly limited issue.
COUNT OUT NBC
Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports, hooked up with a couple of mics at a Sports Business Journal event this week. One of the discussions was about what (if any) additional sports rights NBC would pursue. The NBA's broadcast contract is up in two years, and the league has already begun discussions to cash in. Here's what Lazarus said about NBA rights.
Future sports rights for NBC? Lazarus: Big Ten would be good fit; likes NBA, but only if it wouldn't 'complicate' commitment to NHL. #sbjsms— Ross Nethery (@rnethery) October 2, 2013
So I guess we can count out NBC to make a play for the biggest NBA package, the only currently held by ABC/ESPN. That package traditionally includes multiple midweek evening games on ESPN and ESPN2 and a huge Sunday package on ABC that begins after the Super Bowl. NBC's big NHL product on the flagship is ... a Sunday afternoon game beginning after the Winter Class at the top of January. That seems incompatible and certainly like it would complicate the NHL deal.
NBC could make a play for the Turner package, but given the NBA's long-term history with TNT and the fact that Turner also runs NBA TV and NBA.com, it'd be a huge shift. And of course, there's Fox Sports claiming to be chasing the contract. With costs soaring for the rights, any bidder is going to have to make a massive commitment. Lazarus doesn't seem totally enamored with regaining the NBA, though, so I'm thinking NBC won't be a factor.
Which is a shame if for no other reason than it means this remains locked in the vault.
Free Roundball Rock.
THOMAS ROBINSON'S REVENGE TOUR BEGINS SHORTLY
I mean, this is a helluva lede from CSN Northwest's Chris Haynes:
TUALATIN - Thomas Robinson is 6-10, 240 pounds of pure muscle. He possess a man's man body at the barely legal age of 22. The No 5 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft is an intimidating freak of nature.
Now isn't the time to be opposing teams facing the Portland Trail Blazers because Robinson, in his owns words, is "pissed off."
"I'm just pissed off," he told CSNNW.com.
Has anyone heard if Thomas Robinson is pissed off?
I'm not totally sure what "barely legal" means in this sense. The phrase usually refers to a) naked women b) the age of 18-20, implying the age of legal consent. Thomas Robinson is a clothed man of 22. I imagine Haynes is nodding to the national legal drinking age, which is really altogether irrelevant. Also, T-Rob is ripped, but he's definitely not 240 pounds of pure muscle. (I'm just glad we didn't get a "literally" dropped in there.)
But the coup de grace of the lede is the phrase "a man's man body." It's not enough to indicate that T-Rob is fit. He is basically the fittest person ever. He doesn't just have a man's body at age 22. He has the body of a man's man. Ron Swanson approves.
On T-Rob himself: there's no question he got a bad shake as a rookie. Anyone drafted by the Kings the last few years got a bad shake with hilariously inept owners, a shackled, ineffective front office and a rotating door of coaches who lacked support from anyone in the management structure. The franchise was run terribly.
But other players survived. Younger players survived: Tyreke Evans came into a similar situation as T-Rob did and won Rookie of the Year. DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas stepped in and made All-Rookie teams. Those players were all able to do something positive on the court early on. Robinson brought energy and pretty much nothing else. So the weird little front office traded him to a playoff team, where -- because he couldn't do anything but run around and jump -- he couldn't get on the court.
I have no doubt he'll be better, maybe even really good. I opposed the Kings' trade, and still lament it (though Patrick Patterson is neat). But I'm not sure he has reason to feel so unfairly treated. He wasn't a good player last year and so teams didn't play him much. It happens to a lot of stud prospects; Jermaine O'Neal played 500 minutes as a rookie, for goodness sake. It's not a middle finger to the player, it's a reality in an NBA dominated by players just as physically gifted as guys like Robinson. You've got to be able to do something other than have a man's man body.
THE HEADLINE NO NUGGETS FAN EVER WANTED TO SEE
That whole story by the Denver Post's Chris Dempsey made me weep for the Nugget faithful. Denver was, like, the fifth-best team in the league last season. And new coach Brian Shaw -- who I've pegged as a fine head coach since he apprenticed for Phil Jackson to rave reviews -- is changing everything. Instead of the threes-and-dunks offense, the team will incorporate most post plays. For JaVale McGee. Instead of a help-heavy switching defense, the team will play straight-up man-to-man much of the time. I understand placing your imprint on a team. Changing everything a very good team did? It makes no sense.
That said, the Pacers, which had Shaw the last two seasons, had the league's best defense, so maybe Shaw is on to something. Believing in principles and your ability to mold a team is commendable. But I'd be nervous in Denver.