Silver brings the hammer

So Commissioner Silver just finished his press conference, and he brought the boom to Donald Sterling. Sterling is banned from the Clippers, and the NBA, for life. He was additionally banned $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under the NBA’s bylaws. The NBA’s owner’s will vote to determine if Sterling will be forced to sell the Clippers, requiring a 3/4 vote.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Silver was a top lieutenant under David Stern for a many years, so he was in part responsible for the league’s past failures to act on Sterling. I am glad, however, that he redeemed those past failures by finally removing the worst owner in the sport’s history for good. You can make a case that Sterling should have been removed years ago for his ineptitude in owning the team, or later for his discriminatory housing practices, but better late than never, I suppose.

Silver is receiving praise from current and former players, as well as the media, for his swift and decisive actions taken today. Part of me has to wonder whether the response would have been the same should the owner have been different. Donald Sterling has long been a laughingstock of an owner, with seemingly few allies to begin with. Until his lawyers mount a defense, he’s helpless as the league’s owners were all able to essentially turn their back on the family’s black sheep. Not that I feel bad for Sterling, I think he’s subhuman, but forgive me if I’m more restrained in my praise of Silver. With all of the public pressure mounting these past few days, this was a great opportunity for the new commissioner to ingratiate himself with the players and general public. I give him credit for taking this punishment a step further than I thought he might, but I’ll refrain from calling him a hero for a while. Let’s also remember how much everyone praised NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the heavy hand he used to punish players when he first came into his position, but now, only a few years later, he’s looked at almost as a tyrant. Having said all that, I’m anxious to hear a response from Sterling’s representatives, as I do not expect him to go away easily. For now, though, all basketball fans can rejoice at the exit of one of the sport’s worst figures.

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Why boycotting the Playoffs is not the Clippers responsibility

Not to be too repetitive and keep writing about Donald Sterling, but part of the coverage of this situation has really bothered me. That is, everyone claiming what they would do if they were in the Clippers situation, and what the team should do. Stop it already.

In case you haven’t noticed, this situation is highly irregular. It’s not everyday a franchise owner makes statements that become public that anger the entire general public so much, including his own players. Not to mention this is all happening during the middle of a playoff run for a team that feels it can win a championship. So it’s easy for me to sit here and say “the Clippers should boycott the games,” but these guys have waited their entire lives for an opportunity like this. They’re playing a game they love, so why should one twisted old man stop them? Two people in particular have irked me with their public comments. One is Chauncey Billups, who yesterday said “There’s no way I would have played that game. It’s more than basketball. It’s bigger than Game 4 of a first-round playoff series. This is about what my grandparents and their parents and their parents went through to make it possible for us attain these jobs and have this life,” (link below). To me that is ridiculous, it’s the easiest thing in the world to be in Chauncey’s position and say what someone else should do. I would love to have seen if Chauncey would follow through with those words in 2004 when he was on a run to the NBA Finals. The other person is Warrior’s coach Mark Jackson, who has implored Clippers fans to not attend Game 5. Wow Mark, so big of you to tell the opposing fans not to show up to a game in which the Clippers would ordinarily hold home-court advantage. If Jackson felt so strongly about sticking it to Sterling, he would join the Clippers and suggest both teams sit out the game. That would send a message. Until then save your hollow words, because they’re meaningless.

The people who need to step up here are Sterling’s longtime enablers, the other owners and the league office. Sure Sterling’s reign of terror mostly occurred under David Stern’s watch, but Commissioner Silver served as his main lieutenant for years so he doesn’t get a pass here. The Clippers players would only be punishing themselves by denying themselves a chance at their dream. Let players play, let the executives take care of this mess, at least until after the season. Then, if the Clippers players want to demand out of LA, that’s their prerogative. For now, everyone claiming to know what they would do in this situation, or what the Clippers should do, just save it.

http://www.freep.com/article/20140428/SPORTS03/304280126/detroit-pistons-chauncey-billups-tom-gores-donald-sterling

What I think will happen to Donald Sterling

Over the weekend I wrote about the Clippers’ horrible owner, Donald Sterling, and how he needs to be gone. While I still strongly feel that way, it’s not likely to happen. At least not right away.

There’s a lot of complications in removing Sterling’s ownership of the team. Firstly, despite the ridiculous comments he made on the recording, it was a private conversation. We all think things we shouldn’t from time to time, so imagine our employers got a hold of our thoughts, should we be fired? Sterling didn’t break any laws, so this isn’t a typical scenario. The closest precedent in sports is Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who made statements in defense of Hitler, (this after a history of racial accusations, like Sterling) and she was suspended from baseball from 1996-1998. What will likely happen when the Commissioner addresses the media today is Sterling will receive what appears to be the maximum penalty allowable at this time (many governing documents of the NBA are private), a year suspension and a 1 million dollar fine. Although Sterling is a billionaire, he is notoriously cheap, so that punishment will hurt him more than most think. The other issue with removing Sterling from power is described in the link posted below, in a terrific interview by Dan Patrick of Bomani Jones of ESPN. Jones mentions that owners fear a “brave new world” in which a private conversation can cost you ownership of your team. It’s a a great point. Why would owners establish a precedent that could cost them their teams down the road in the even they get in trouble? It is possible however, according to ESPN’s Lester Munson in an online Q&A (link below):

Q: Is it possible for Silver and the NBA to terminate Sterling’s franchise ownership?
A: Yes. Under the terms of Paragraph 13 of the constitution, the owners can terminate another owner’s franchise with a vote of three-fourths of the NBA Board of Governors, which is composed of all 30 owners. The power to terminate is limited to things like gambling and fraud in the application for ownership, but it also includes a provision for termination when an owner “fails to fulfill” a “contractual obligation” in “such a way as to affect the [NBA] or its members adversely.” Silver and the owners could assert that Sterling’s statements violated the constitution’s requirements to conduct business on a “reasonable” and “ethical” level.
Any owner or Silver can initiate the termination procedure with a written charge describing the violation. Sterling would have five days to respond to the charge with a written answer. The commissioner would then schedule a special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors within 10 days. Both sides would have a chance to present their evidence, and then the board would vote. If three-fourths of the board members vote to terminate, then Sterling would face termination of his ownership. It would require a vote of two-thirds of the board to reduce the termination to a fine. Terminating a franchise would obviously be a drastic remedy, but the potential of the termination procedure gives Silver and the other owners vast leverage in any discussion with Sterling about an involuntary sale of his team.

If such a vote is initiated by one of the owners, it will really put them to the test, and we will see how real the “outrage” we’ve heard from them the last few days really is. That is why I believe for now Sterling will only face a suspension and a fine, but it won’t end there. Commissioner Silver will make the only move he can make at the moment, but as pressure builds from the likes of President Obama down to Magic, MJ, and LeBron, something will have to give. I think behind closed doors the owners will turn up the heat on Sterling, as he’s bad for business right now, and when Doc Rivers resigns this summer and players demand trades, the Clippers will risk falling back to irrelevance. It is likely in Sterling’s nature to fight tooth and nail to keep his franchise, but Munson goes on to explain his lack of legal recourse:

When Silver issues his punishment to Sterling, the decision is final. The constitution provides in Paragraph 24(m) that a commissioner’s decision shall be “final, binding, and conclusive” and shall be as final as an award of arbitration. It is almost impossible to find a judge in the United States judicial system who would set aside an award of arbitration. Sterling can file a lawsuit, but he would face a humiliating defeat early in the process. There is no antitrust theory or principle that would help him against Silver and the NBA. He could claim an antitrust violation, for example, if he were trying to move his team to a different market. But under the terms of the NBA constitution, he has no chance to succeed in litigation over punishment.”

I don’t believe the owners will immediately kick him out, but as sponsors, coaches, and players drop like flies, eventually we will see the last of Donald Sterling.

http://m.espn.go.com/general/story?storyId=10852199&src=desktop&wjb

Dan Patrick interview with Bomani Jones 4/28

Should the MVP be a regular season award?

This next post stems from a discussion I heard on sports radio this week, between WFAN’s Mike Francesa and Ira Winderman, who covers the Heat for the Sun-Sentinel. They were discussing the possibility of the Thunder losing their first round matchup to the Grizzlies, and how hollow the MVP award would be when given to Kevin Durant after a first round upset. Francesa believed the award should be voted on after the Conference Finals, since the MVP of the Finals would receive the Bill Russell award.

My initial reaction was that it wouldn’t matter much when the award is decided, because the MVP can usually carry his team to the Finals anyway. Upon further review, that’s not exactly the case. The MVP award has been handed out 58 times, not including this year’s presumptive winner, Kevin Durant. Of the 58, 30 have gone on to play in the Finals, while 28 exited early. That is 51.7% to 48.3%, so regular season MVP’s have only gone on to play in the NBA Finals in a slight majority of the time.

The truth of the matter is that, as is the case with many subjective awards, it depends what you’re looking for. For many, a dominant regular season spanning nearly 6 months justifies winning the award, while many only care about the end result of the season. I tend to lean towards the former, because while I understand the importance of winning championships in sports, I don’t believe that regular season greatness should just be ignored. There’s a reason they play the regular season which make up a vast majority of the games a player will play during their career. My biggest fear with deciding the MVP before the Finals is the immediate emotional impact that a great Conference Finals would have on voters. Should one playoff series, no matter how good, totally overshadow a great regular season just because it happened more recently? I don’t believe so.

One easy solution is to take a page from Major League Baseball, which names a Most Valuable Player for each playoff series. That way in 2010-2011 Derrick Rose could have his MVP trophy, though one could argue LeBron was the better player and lost the voting due to voter fatigue and anger over The Decision, we’ll forget that for now. LeBron could be MVP of the Conference Finals after he averaged 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists in the five games, so while that may not be as exciting or prestigious as an MVP trophy he would still be recognized for his greatness, without overshadowing someone else’s full season of work. Some of the names of MVP’s who did not reach the Finals that same year include James himself, Nowitzki, Nash, Garnett, Duncan, Malone (2 of them), Robinson, and a guy from Carolina named Jordan, among others. So while those players may not have been to the Finals in the same year they won MVP, it is certainly not a hollow award.

 

What to do with Donald Sterling

As you may have heard by now, Clippers owner Donald Sterling was recorded making racist and all around stupid comments to his girlfriend, which she released to TMZ. In the recording, Donald discusses a picture she posted to her Instagram account with NBA legend Magic Johnson, asking her not to “broadcast her association with black people” or bring them to Clipper games. Sterling tells her she can do whatever she wants with minorities, even sleep with them, as long as it’s all private. Yes, this is an actual owner of a professional sports franchise in 2014.

Not surprisingly, this story has lead to a public outcry against Sterling. I’m not sure why Sterling’s racism has all of a sudden become a problem, when the public has known what an abhorrent person he has been for years. Sterling settled out of court in 2005 as part of a housing discrimination lawsuit, in which he was found to have evicted Blacks and Hispanics from the housing complexes he owns. Sterling was also sued by former employee Elgin Baylor, also an NBA legend, for discrimination in 2009. Racism isn’t Donald’s only issue, as he’s simply just a bad person. In 2004, Clippers assistant coach Kim Hughes needed surgery for Cancer, which Sterling wouldn’t pay for, despite being a billionaire, because it would set a poor precedent for providing for employees who weren’t covered by their health care. Seriously. Luckily Clippers players Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman, and Marko Jaric footed the bill for their coach in a truly touching gesture.

It’s not even like Sterling has been a good NBA owner. The Clippers have notoriously been doormats of the NBA for decades, save for the last couple of years, routinely used as punchlines in talk show fodder. Not that it would matter if he was a good owner, racism is racism and it shouldn’t be tolerated, but seriously what is this guy still doing hanging around? Allowing Sterling to own a team in a league that prides itself on being progressive and accepting is both hypocritical and offensive to anyone with a brain. This is the same league who employees Jason Collins, who courageously announced his sexuality to the world and went right back to playing the game he loves. The responsibility to punish Sterling doesn’t fall on the Clippers players, it falls on the NBA.

All eyes will be on new commissioner Adam Silver, who will reportedly hold a press conference tonight. I understand Silver probably can’t and won’t remove Sterling as a team owner, but that doesn’t mean he can’t hammer him until he bleeds. Take him for as much money as allowed in fines, suspend him, condemn him, and make an example of him. There is no place for a miserable, ignorant old man like Sterling in the NBA, and the league will be a better place when he’s gone. After decades of laughable, inept control of the Clippers and routine mistreatment of subordinates, let’s be done with this pig once and for all.

20140426-162538.jpg

Who Will Survive the West? POR vs. HOU

Of all the first round matchups out West, this one is definitely my favorite. Both the Trailblazers and Rockets are evenly matched, with play makers up and down the rosters.

Portland won the first game in Houston in an Overtime thriller, with LaMarcus Aldridge scoring an incredible 46 points, and pulling in 18 rebounds. Houston and Portland finished second and fourth in scoring respectively, and first and second in three pointers made per game. Safe to say this will be a high scoring series. Though each team has a player scoring over 23 ppg, they each also have multiple scorers who can take over games on a given night.

Portland’s starting five has been terrific each of the last two years, with incredibly versatile, talented players. Damian Lillard (love him) is a rising star in the NBA and it’s hard to find a more underrated pair of players that Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Shooting, scoring, and versatile defensive abilities define that group. Their biggest problem has been their bench, which was historically bad last season, but slightly improved this year with the additions of Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson. Better, but still below par for a contender.

The Rockets are as exciting as any team in the game when their offense is clicking and their shots are falling. James Harden and Dwight Howard form a lethal pick and roll combo, and Chandler Parsons has become a terrific all-around player. Terrence Jones is a definite X-factor for Houston, as he’s immensely talented but young and inconsistent. Patrick Beverly is a rabid defender who can disrupt Lillard’s game and quality big man Omer Asik is practically a forgotten man.

I like Portland in this series, though I can’t say that with total confidence. To me Houston is a scary team that can go on a run to the Finals when hot, but they are inconsistent and Dwight Howard is back to griping over his touches. There’s also the problems of Harden’s consistently bad defense and selfish tendencies, despite his elite ability to score. Portland came back to Earth after a terrific run to start the season, but at this point I find it easier to trust a cold blooded young star in Lillard and elite inside outside big man in Aldridge over what I’ve seen from Howard and Harden so far. Neither team winning would surprise me, but at this moment I’d put my money on Portland.

Who Will Survive the West? LAC vs. GSW

This series is a little tougher to project. So much star power in this interstate match up, with both franchises distancing themselves from their losing ways of the past.

Is this finally the year the Clippers break through and win the West? I’m not sure about that, but they do have a pretty good chance of winning this first round series. This has been the year that former first pick Blake Griffin finally took major strides towards becoming the player most think he can be. He asserted himself as a leader and go-to playmaker when Chris Paul was sidelined with injury.

The thing to like about this team is depth. Mid-season pickups Danny Granger and Glen Davis bolster an already talented squad. Having two legitimate MVP-caliber players is one thing, but surrounding them with knockdown shooters like Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick, good role players like Darren Collison and Matt Barnes, makes you a dangerous team. That’s not to mention DeAndre Jordan, who has continued to improve into a fully capable starting Center in this league. Interestingly the Clips’ most used 5 man unit is Paul-Collison-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan according to 82games.com. That lineup is incredibly fast and athletic, though the outside shooting leaves much to be desired. I’m definitely curious to see what unit Doc Rivers rolls with late in a close game.

The Warriors are tough to project, because while I don’t think they can match the depth of the Clippers, they can shoot the lights out. Few backcourts in league history can match the shooting that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson provide, and when hot their shots barely touch net. Their shooting combined with the superb defense and all-around play of Andre Iguodala (one of my favorites) gives the Warriors the scary trio they imagined. The big key for the Warriors is who is not playing. Andrew Bogut is a strong defensive Center who just can’t stay healthy. David Lee is a terrific player but the Clippers big men can prove to be too much without Bogut down low. Marreese Speights has the big body but is a very inconsistent player, and Jermaine O’Neal can only provide limited minutes at this stage of his career. I think Harrison Barnes can be a big X-factor for this Warriors team, but the Clippers can come at you from so many angles and I think they are good enough to advance at least one round.