Thursday, January 28, 2010

Solitary, Poore

In suspending Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for the remainder of the 2009-10 regular season, David Stern announced yesterday: "The issue here is not about the legal ownership and possession of guns, either in one's home or elsewhere. It is about possession of guns in the NBA workplace, which will not be tolerated."

If the players' compliance with applicable public laws is not relevant to Stern's decision, then why did he wait until Arenas and Crittenton completed their plea agreements with the DC authorities? Why not make the suspension decision immediately when the news about the locker-room gun incident emerged?

Stern appears to be a rather disingenous leviathan.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dance On Fire As It Intends

Other than Shaquille O'Neal in 1996 and Steve Nash in 2004, has there been any other free agent NBA player who signed with a new team and substantially improved his new team's fortunes?

Teams like New York and Chicago hoping for a savior are likely to be disappointed, even if they get what they want.

If a team signs two new stars, there's some chance of improvement (see the Knicks of 1996, who signed Larry Johnson and Allan Houston in that hot summer of Atlanta golds and Clintonian welfare reform) but sometimes it fizzles (see Orlando of 2000, acquiring Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill). Notably, all four of those guys eventually suffered major career-ending or -retarding injuries.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When The Game Ends We'll Sing Again

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan weighed in today on the NBA's age limit, claiming that the highschool-plus-one-year minimum for draft eligibility "taints" post-secondary educational institutions with one-and-done players who have no interest in their college curricula. To Duncan I would respond: Yes, the one-and-done phenomenon is a mite silly, and does debase universities when freshman players on scholarship don't even bother to attend their spring classes. A better solution would be to raise the age limit by one additional year. Just as the NFL requires players to spend three years practicing their sport after high school, would it be so bad if the NBA required two years? Young aspirants can always play in the NBA Development League if college is not their thing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Seems Like The Movies

Gilbert Arenas's recent legal problems have thrown light upon Section 16(a)(i) of the standard NBA player contract:

The Team may terminate this Contract [...] if the Player shall: [...] at any time, fail, refuse, or neglect to conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship, good moral character (defined here to mean not engaging in acts of moral turpitude, whether or not such acts would constitute a crime), and good sportsmanship, to keep himself in first class physical condition, or to obey the Team’s training rules.

Several pundits have suggested that the Wizards should void Arenas's contract under this "moral turpitude" clause. To my knowledge, no NBA team has ever attempted to invoke that clause, and it has never been litigated, either within the NBA's private appeals process, or in a real court. Unfortunately, "moral turpitude" is not defined further in the contract; nor is "first class physical condition". If Arenas were to be convicted of a felony, that might qualify as "moral turpitude" in the eyes of a judge or jury, but really, who knows? Construing an ambiguous contractual (or constitutional or statutory) clause is tricky business, especially when the document provides no helpful context.

Why didn't the NBA or the Players Association insist on defining the meaning of "moral turpitude" further, during the last negotiation in 2005? If they agreed on some negotiated set of taboo behaviors (murder, rape, spitting on the flag), however outlandish, it is likely that a player would eventually breach one of those covenants. Heck, NBA alum Jayson Williams killed a man just a couple years after retirement. Perhaps the NBA doesn't really want to the power to void contracts; owners would rather not wield such a veiled threat, lest players push for even more money so they can bathe in such a risky pond. And it's clear why the Players Association would rather keep this clause fuzzy. Status-quo bias has likely preserved the clause over a number of years.

[As a side note, it feels a bit surprising to contemplate that a real court could in fact pronounce on what the "moral turpitude" clause in NBA contracts actually means. I think that often, individuals living in an all-encompassing community (a university, the military, a pro sports team) tend to forget that ultimately they and their patron are subject to public laws, just like every other citizen and organization. The private entity may purport to lay down its own law and order, but ultimately, we are all part of one community. The only entity that US courts have consistently refused to regulate, oddly, is the legislature.]

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's Your Pleasure

This year's Dallas squad is probably better than the 2005-06 Dallas team that succumbed in a tight Finals. Howard, Dampier, Nowitzki, and Terry are still there, but Stackhouse has become Marion and Harris ceded to Kidd. The role players (Gooden, Beaubois, Barea, Thomas) clearly trumpt the 2006 benchies (Diop, Daniels, Armstrong, Griffin). And truthfully, that champion Miami squad of '06 was not all that good. They only won 52 games in the regular, and required a LOT of help to avoid a 4-0 sweep in the Finals. If I were to wake up today after four years of cryogenesis and read a Mavs box score, I might think that Dallas should now be an overwhelming title favorite.

Problem is, all the competition in the West has also ascended compared to four years ago. The Lakers are clearly better, with the substitution of Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum for Chris Mihm. Denver is better, having replaced Andre Miller with Chauncey Billups and seen a general maturation of its other stars. Portland and Seattle (now OKC) were destitute in 2006, and now are poised to strike. Chris Paul and David West have become bad men in New Orleans, while Williams and Boozer have done same in Utah. Phoenix, like Dallas, is probably better now than they were in 2006 (lacking Amar'e Stoudemire or any real bench).

Sacramento and Memphis, playoff teams then with Bibby, Artest, Gasol, and Battier, have completely renewed their rosters through the draft and, fueled by youth, might be playoff teams this year, too. Houston collapsed in 2006 when McGrady and Yao could not go; now they lack those two but succeed regardless. San Antonio, nearly a champion in '06, may have its best roster yet this year with young mastodons like George Hill and DeJuan Blair gnashing their tusks.

2006 was an unusually weak time in the NBA. The current generation of stars still had the boyish gleam of a Michael Cera, and were not ready to contend like men. (Well, James and Wade did have some sweet performances that spring.) In 2010, the level of competition is the best I can remember since Jordan, Magic, Isiah, and Bird tussled in the late 1980s.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Early All-Star Picks

With ten weeks gone by in the season, here are my selections for the NBA All-Star teams. The first guy in each position pair is my chosen starter.


PG: Rondo, Rose
SG: Wade, J.Johnson
C: Howard, Noah
SF: James, G.Wallace
PF: Bosh, J.Smith
Bench: D.Lee, D.Granger

Second team: Jennings, Mo.Williams, R.Allen, B.Lopez, Bogut, Bargnani, Iguodala, Butler, Deng, Pierce, Garnett, Horford

PG: Paul, Nash
SG: Bryant, Roy
C: Duncan, Kaman
SF: Anthony, Durant
PF: Nowitzki, P.Gasol
Bench: D.Williams, Z.Randolph

Second team: T.Parker, Westbrook, Billups, T.Evans, M.Ellis, Mayo, Bynum, M.Gasol, Stoudemire, David West, Boozer, Gay

Monday, January 4, 2010

Behind The Veil

Wouldn't it be nice if your everyday criminal could call upon O'Melveny & Myers for immediate help with the cops?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Yellow Lorry Slow

Chris Ballard wrote in the November 23rd edition of Sports Illustrated that LeBron James should publicly announce now that he will sign in July 2010 for the minimum annual salary, about $1 million. Teams could then work on shaping their rosters between now and July to be as strong competitively as possible, rather than jettisoning good players to shed salary commitments.

The problem, of course, is that James's personal commitment to such a plan would be questionable: a "non-credible threat", in pointy-headed parlance. It could be useful for him to encourage every team to improve their roster as much as possible in the next six months, and then, on July 1st, choose whichever team (above a certain cutoff talent level that he deems sufficient) has the most salary space available to offer. James may like winning, but who doesn't like money? That suggested strategy stands in contrast to the REAL likely strategy, in which teams seek to clear enough salary space for the maximum allowed annual salary (see Section 7(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement), thus undermining the roster quality. Considering the low credibility of James's threat, teams could be wary of such a $1 MM promise from him (particularly as he's already apparently broken his February 2009 promise to compete in the February 2010 All-Star slam dunk contest). Teams like the Knicks or Heat could stop worrying about cap space and simply work on improving the roster in the next six months, only to then find themselves jilted by James; the teams then wouldn't have any salary room to sign another star like Amar'e or Bosh, who also want max dollars.

The solution to the problem described above could be to move to non-guaranteed contracts in the NBA's next collective bargaining agreement in 2011. In other words, each year of a player contract would, sequentially, constitute a team option. New York wants to clear salary room to grab LeBron and Wade in 2010? Just renounce the rights to Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries; don't exile Lee and Gallinari! But, likely the Players' Association would never agree to such a move. It neither makes the overall pie of league revenue larger nor assures a good distribution for players. Many teams would suffer as good teams could more easily snack on the detritus of poor teams' stars.