News broke this week that the NBA is taking ownership of the New Orleans Hornets, a move that clearly means ... Well, it clearly means something, right? Let's take a look at three big implications.
1. There have been murmurs about insolvent teams for the past few years, but now we have a smoking gun. The Hornets were about to default on loans to the NBA, and were operating at a loss to their ownership. According to financial documentation obtained by Deadspin, "as of June 30, 2009, the partners' deficit totaled $83 million (slide 14)." On a year-to-year basis the losses were more mild -- and acceptable when you consider that a team generally appreciates in value over time -- but $83 million is a big number, even for a group of millionaires.
If nothing else, the Hornets give the NBA significant leverage coming into this summer's collective bargaining negotiations. When David Stern talks of the failed economics of the current agreement, he now has "Exhibit A" to point to.
On the other hand, even a bit player like Jeff Pendergraph can spot the hole in this argument:
If the league is struggling and hurting so bad, how are these teams getting bought up for premiums? We aren't talking about buying the Lakers or the Celtics. These are some of the struggling franchises yet sold for 300+ million dollars?!?!
Anyway, aside from the broader implications for the NBA's looming collective bargaining stand-off what does it mean for the New Orleans Hornets?
2. For one thing, Chris Paul's not going anywhere. SB Nation's Tom Ziller nailed it:
A prospective CP3 trade would be the biggest move possible for the Hornets, and Sperling -- Stern's dude -- would have final say. The NBA, led by Stern, is trying to sell the Hornets for as much money as possible. Does the action (stripping the team of its No. 1 asset) meet the goal (a big sale)? Absolutely, positively not.
But while Hornets fans can rest easy knowing they won't lose their superstar, should they be worried about losing the team altogether? That's where things get a little bit dicey.
3. It's not unlike the time Major League Baseball took ownership of the Montreal Expos to save that franchise from bankruptcy. Just think of Chris Paul as Vladamir Guerrero in this analogy. It's not an altogether hopeless team as far as the games are concerned, but there are real questions about whether the team can compete financially. George Shinn doesn't have the money to operate a pro basketball team, but for the people that do, is New Orleans still an attractive option?
The Montreal Expos, after all, became the Washington Nationals.
There are some conspiracy theorists out there that think this is all part of a larger plan from David Stern. After using New Orleans as a prop for photo-ops and good press, they say, he's now ready to leave the city in the dust. But what if that makes sense for everyone involved?
- Owning an NBA team is expensive, especially when that team struggles to generate revenue on a year-to-year basis. Owning a winning NBA team is even more expensive -- it's no coincidence that most of the NBA's most successful franchises are well above the NBA's luxury tax. At the same time ...
- Going to an NBA game is expensive. When that team isn't stocked with superstars, making it to every game is hard for most fans to justify. I love basketball more than just about anyone I know, but a simple cost-benefit analysis usually has me watching Wizards games from my couch. If I can't get free tickets from someone, is it really worth it to spend $200 on a night of regular season basketball?
These problems compound themselves, obviously. An owner is less likely to spend if fans are reluctant to show up, and fans are less likely to show up to watch a team that avoids big spending.
It's the conundrum facing every small market team in the league, and it sucks. We're talking about teams that are permanently relegated to second class status, pinning their hopes to a pipe dream of beating the odds for few years at a time. Asking fans to support that sort of team (or making them feel guilty when they don't) is as unfair as asking an owner to swallow his losses for the sake of the greater good. So if the NBA wants to leave New Orleans, or if the market there gives them no other option, is it really a tragedy?
It's one thing to abandon years of history in a place like Seattle. It's a different story when there's legitimate reason to believe it's financially insane to stick around in a place where interest is tepid at best, generating year-to-year revenue is a Sisyphean challenge and there's tangible signs of a trickle down to on-court performance. How does that benefit anyone? It's a difficult truth to swallow, but if the NBA finds more lucrative ownership options in a different city, cutting ties with New Orleans might be the only option that makes sense.
Do we really think the NBA owes it to us to subsidize a failing business just to avoid hurting anyone's feelings? It's not fair to the league, it's not fair to prospective owners in cities like New Orleans or Memphis, and it's especially unfair to a superstar like Chris Paul, who's competing on an unlevel playing field against teams like Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, etc.
Then again, if we're looking to help out a handful of small markets, there's always the money that could be saved if Stern finally wised up and opted for contraction ... contracting the WNBA, I mean.
THE NEW YORK KNICKS ARE ALIVE
... Ah, from a small market swan song to the biggest market of them all. It's been great to see the New York Knicks show some signs of life the past few weeks. They've won 10 of 11 games and five straight. As Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated points out, they've done it against some mediocre competition:
The Knicks have played, by far, the easiest schedule in the league, and their last 11 opponents (they played Charlotte twice) sport the following rankings in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession): 23rd, 29th, 27th, 14th, 11th, 24th, 17th, sixth, 21st and 26th. And that one game against a top-10 defense came against a New Orleans team that was missing David West.
But in the next beat, there's optimism:
...one thing to throw at the New York skeptics: The Knicks are 9-4 on the road. That’s impressive, regardless of the quality of their opponents. It’s hard for so-so teams to beat anyone on the road, let alone win nine of 13 games. The Knicks need only to go 12-16 in their remaining road games to finish above .500 away from Madison Square Garden.
It's still too early to tell whether Amare Stoudemire can remain dialed in all year long, not to mention whether Raymond Felton can keep up his recent trend of competence as a three-pointer shooter. But isn't it great to see the New York Knicks competitive again? I don't care what the Wall Street Journal says, New York is the basketball capital of the world. The fans are more knowledgeable and the history's more meaningful, and the soul of the game still oozes from every corner of New York City.
The basketball tradition in New York isn't much different from Madison Square Garden itself. Things may be falling apart on the outside, and interlopers may see the disrepair and say the myth is crumbling. But basketball in New York City was never about how many superstars the city produced relative to other areas of the country, and the magic of Madison Square Garden has nothing to do with dominant Knicks teams or comfortable seats.
There's something deeper in New York City. People grow up with the game. They live and breathe basketball in a communal way, and that's not something that happens anywhere else in America. At least not on the scale it happens in New York. It's a random point to make here, but as we talk about the Knicks looking competent for the first time in what feels like decades, it's worth mentioning that New York City deserves it more than most.
Oh, and speaking of New York City ...
DARE YOU NOT TO BE ENTERTAINED BY THIS DOCUMENTARY
The online hip-hop world is full of some of the grimiest, bootlegged ignorance in human history (Exhibit A: The Kat Stacks Kerfuffle). I love hip-hop, but the online community that's developed around it has always struck me as profoundly depressing.
Nevertheless ... this documentary was just awesome.
Rucker Park has become sorta cliche at this point, but in 2003, Jay-Z decided he wanted to own a team. This upset Fat Joe, the previously unchallenged rapper-owner of the Terror Squad team. What ensued was a basketball arms race featuring NBA superstars and streetball legends, cresting with a showdown in August that might have made the earth split in half had it not been canceled due to the New York City blackout.
Along with a smattering of street legends, the NBA stars include Stephon Marbury, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, Shaq, Tracy McGrady, Jamal Crawford, Zach Randolph, Ron Artest, Rafer Alston, Derek Anderson, Antoine Walker, Lamar Odam and, yes, Eddy Curry.
I wont say much more, but give it 30 minutes if you get bored this week. Everything crests when the game (which was rumored to include a quarter-million-dollar bet between Jay and Fat Joe) gets canceled, and Jay's players get into a verbal confrontation with Fat Joe on a radio station. This as the entire city is blacked out, and, as one player describes, "In the hood, all they had was car radios, so people was blastin it for everybody to listen." So, think ESPN-hyping-a-game, but completely raw and uncut.
Also, there were two great quotes about Jay missing the scheduled re-match:
"Jay had booked a vacation with his girl, and there's no backing out of that."
Ah, yes. Can't back out on wifey ... and:
"Jay was not there because he was in St. Tropez with Beyonce on a yacht, not a boat."
... Never has a sentence so perfectly captured why Jay-Z is so much more ballin' than the rest of us.
Not a boat. A yacht.
WILL BRANDON ROY BECOME GREG ODEN?
Thanks to a lengthy injury history, both of Roy’s knees are missing menisci, the vital collection of cartilage that would otherwise allow his knees to better handle the rigors of being a professional athlete. Roy is now no stranger to knee pain and swelling as a result, and he recently sat out three games to rest his ailing joints. Portland now has to consider Roy’s health first and foremost, and in doing so, acknowledge that their franchise player may not be as physically capable as he once was.
"I don’t always blame it on my knees," Roy said. "Some of it is [that] the paint is always packed. So some of it is frustration with some of my capabilities, and some of it is personnel. It’s like I’m wondering ‘Can I not beat this guy now? Or did I beat him before because I had the space?' I mean, I remember I got lay ups on game-winners, and I don’t think it’s because I was the quickest or fastest guy out there.’’
So, to answer the question at the top of this section: "It doesn't look good."
"Can I not beat this guy now?" Good GOD that's depressing.
But remember, Blazers fans: You could be Sonics fans.
THE HEAT'S RETURN TO CLEVELAND, ONE WEEK LATER
Last week, we celebrated LeBron's return to Cleveland with a few LeBron features, and then ... well, that game was just about the most depressing display of sports I've seen all year. It was like, after the first quarter, everyone realized that LeBron is still LeBron, and without him, the current Cavaliers are pretty much hopeless. It was like a college atmosphere in Cleveland, and that part was awesome.
But, um, the game looked disturbingly like a college team playing an NBA team. And while LeBron and the Heat may not be perfect, they can at least entertain us with photos like this ...
Meanwhile, the Cavs are floating further into no-man's land ...
RON ARTEST IS STRUGGLING, STILL AWESOME
Ron Artest is having the worst year of his career, statistically speaking. But his explanation is about as levelheaded as it gets. Remember when people thought this guy was the worst person in sports?
From the Los Angeles Times:
"Guys got better," he said. " Shannon [Brown] got much better. It's his time to shine. Steve [Blake] is averaging more than Jordan [Farmar] last year and then Matt Barnes is probably averaging more than Luke [Walton]. So if you take all those points, those are points I probably could have had. But those are team points.
"I could go maybe eight for 15 every game or something like that, and take away shots from other guys. I'd rather have two points and everybody else score. I'd rather win. ... If I can get one more rebound and somebody else can get it, let them have it. What am I going to get, five rebounds? I'm still not going to be president with five rebounds."
So, yeah: chill out, Ron-Ron critics. Nobody's going to elect him President with five rebounds. Enough said, right? And speaking of the President ...
On Monday, he also questioned whether he would go with the Lakers next week to visit President Obama to honor last season's championship run.
"I really don't want to go," Artest said. "I want to give myself some more hunger. I'd rather not go and just wait until next year. But I'm going to go."
See? He's as lovably insane as ever. Oh, he's also pledged to donate half his 2011-12 salary to mental health research. Seriously, remember when everyone hated this guy? And you know, if Ron Artest and the Knicks could find some measure of salvation, maybe there's still hope for Cleveland, New Orleans and Brandon Roy. You gotta have a dream ...