Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't Mean A Thing If You Ain't Got That Ring

In the last 30 seasons, 1979-80 through 2008-09, only eight NBA teams have won championships. It is a stunning concentration of power, after eight different teams won championships in the 1970s. Perhaps star players are more durable today due to better training (and less drug abuse?)

Los Angeles (9)
Chicago (6)
San Antonio (4)
Boston (4)
Detroit (3)
Houston (2)
Philadelphia (1)
Miami (1)

If I had to bet, I would say that there will NOT be a new addition to this list after the 2010 NBA Finals.

From Draft Day to LOB Day

While watching San Antonio win its playoff series against Dallas last night, I noted that the Spurs have a whopping five players in their rotation whom they originally drafted: Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Hill, and Blair. Other than Duncan (1997 #1), all the others were late first-round picks or second-round picks. They surely must have the best scouting department in the league.

By contrast, the Thunder, the NBA's youngest team, also have several regulars whom they drafted, but almost all in the lottery: Westbrook, Harden, Collison, Durant, Green, Ibaka. (Collison, as we noted in this 2008 post, has been with the Sonics/Thunder franchise since 2003.)

Upon some tallying, as shown below, it seems that most playoff teams, even those perceived as "young" or "up and coming", have just 4 or 5 rotation players whom they drafted. The team with the greatest number of original draftees in its rotation turns out to be Portland, with 7.

Building a winning team mainly with draft picks is difficult, as it requires predicting on-court chemistry before players enter their prime, and really before they've even met each other. If you get your draft picks "right", as Oklahoma City and Portland have, then you can quickly win while paying cheap rookie salaries. If you screw up your picks, as Charlotte has (D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez? Gerald Henderson over Ty Lawson?) then your re-building project will fail and you will be doomed to start over a few years hence. Aside from Portland and the Thunder, there are few playoff teams that have "grown up" together from draft day to huge postseason success. Most successful teams require a significant trade or free-agent signing (think Bill Cartwright to the Bulls, Dennis Rodman to the Bulls, Pau Gasol to the Lakers, Mark Aguirre to the Pistons, Rashard Lewis to the Magic) before they can fully ascend.

(For purposes of this list below, "drafted" includes trading for a player's rights shortly after some other team drafted him, as happened with Gortat, Hilario, Fesenko, Fernandez. This also includes the signing of undrafted free agents, such as Chris Andersen, J.J. Barea, Wesley Matthews, Udonis Haslem. This includes players presently injured but ordinarily part of the rotation such as Oden, Redd, Kirilenko. Finally, I am generously including players on their second stop with their original team, including PGs such as Kidd, Nash, Fisher.)


  • Boston: Pierce, Rondo, Perkins, T.Allen, Davis

  • Orlando: Nelson, Howard, Redick, Gortat

  • Cleveland: James, Varejao, Ilgauskas, Hickson, occasionally Gibson

  • Atlanta: Williams, Horford, Smith, Teague

  • Miami: Wade, Wright, Haslem, Chalmers, Beasley, occasionally Cook

  • Milwaukee: Jennings, Bogut, Redd, Mbah a Moute, Ilyasova, Gadzuric

  • Charlotte: Wallace, Felton, Augustin

  • Chicago: Rose, Noah, Deng, Gibson, Hinrich (all NCAA standouts, as documented in our previous post here)

  • Los Angeles: Fisher, Bryant, Bynum, Walton, occasionally Vujaci
  • c
  • OKC: Westbrook, Harden, Collison, Durant, Green, Ibaka

  • San Antonio: Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Blair, Hill

  • Phoenix: Nash, Stoudemire, Lopez, Dragic, Barbosa

  • Denver: Anthony, Hilario, Lawson, Andersen

  • Utah: Williams, Matthews, Fesenko, Kirilenko, Miles, Millsap

  • Dallas: Kidd, Nowitzki, Beaubois, Barea

  • Portland: Roy, Aldridge, Oden, Webster, Batum, Fernandez, Bayless
  • Thursday, April 29, 2010

    Assessing Executive Performances

    In a series of three posts last year, we evaluated executive performance in 2008-09, ultimately choosing Denver's Mark Warkentien as the greatest achiever that year. Warkentien went on to win the NBA's Executive of the Year award.

    This year's Executive of the Year was Milwaukee's John Hammond, who received 12 of 30 votes. The runner-up was Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, who received 9 votes. This was odd, given that (as described below) Presti did virtually nothing in the past 12 months to improve his team, other than prudent omission. It is generally recognized that the Coach of the Year award is not a prize for cumulative past deeds, but rather a bauble for punctuated single-year success (hence Jerry Sloan's failure to ever win), so why should Presti get any votes?
    The voting year is generally considered to start with the 2009 NBA draft and extend until the end of the 2009-10 regular season in mid-April, when roster moves cease.

    Hammond certainly has done a great job, as he built a deep and resilient roster that was able to weather season-ending injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut yet still (as of this writing) take 3 of the first 5 playoff games from the favored Atlanta Hawks. Still, I am not sure that he was the best team executive in the past 12 months.

    Here are the candidates, arranged into tiers of Great, Good, OK, and Poor:


    Cleveland's Danny Ferry (drafted Christian Eyenga and Danny Green; traded Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace for Shaquille O'Neal; signed Leon Powe, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon; traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas and a draft pick for Antawn Jamison). The trades for Shaq and Jamison were brilliant, losing no usable talent (note that Ilgauskas returned to the team 30 days after the trade) for multi-time All-Stars who help the Cavs credibly threaten Orlando. The free-agent signings of ex-Raptors Parker and Moon were also sharp, as Delonte West and LeBron James alone were not sufficient as perimeter defenders in the playoffs last year.

    San Antonio's R.C. Buford (drafted Dejuan Blair, Garrett Temple, and Cedric Jackson; traded Fabricio Oberto/Kurt Thomas/Bruce Bowen for Richard Jefferson; brought Ian Mahinmi aboard the main roster from France; signed Keith Bogans and Antonio McDyess). The Spurs kept only Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, Hill, and Bonner from last year's rotation. Out went the aging Finley, Bowen, Oberto, and Thomas; younger legs including Blair, Jefferson, and Bogans (plus the admittedly mature McDyess) supplanted them. As of this writing, they lead Dallas 3-2 in their first-round playoff series. Last year Dallas won the series in five games, so at the least the Spurs have improved.

    Dallas's Donnie Nelson (drafted Rodrigue Beaubois; signed Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas; traded Jerry Stackhouse/Devean George/Antoine Wright for Shawn Marion/Kris Humphries/Greg Buckner; traded Humphries/Shawne Williams for Eduardo Najera; traded Josh Howard/Gooden/James Singleton/Quentin Ross for Caron Butler/Brendan Haywood/Deshawn Stevenson). Some of the Mavs' moves seem akin to a "Flip This House" strategy, as the above transaction list clearly includes the acquisition and then abrumpt dismissal of players including Gooden and Humphries. Still, it is hard to argue against the point that they have improved their roster. Caron Butler and Shawn Marion are former All-Stars, and Brendan Haywood is an above-average defensive center. Even ignoring all the trades, they came up with a brilliant late-first-round pick by nabbing Beaubois, who has shown enticing flashes of preternatural ability.

    Milwaukee's John Hammond (drafted Brandon Jennings; signed Ersan Ilyasova; traded Richard Jefferson for Kurt Thomas/Bruce Bowen/Amir Johnson; traded Amir Johnson/Sonny Weems for Roko Ukic/Carlos Delfino; traded Joe Alexander/Hakim Warrick for John Salmons; signed Jerry Stackhouse). Jennings, Ilyasova, Delfino, Salmons, and Stackhouse are now all contributing to the Bucks' playoff success. Jefferson, who starred for many years in New Jersey, disappointed in his one year in Milwaukee and is not playing much better in San Antonio; meanwhile, Kurt Thomas has played 70 games for the Bucks and contributes 4 rebounds per game from a bench position. Bowen retired and represented saved money for Milwaukee.

    Orlando's Otis Smith (traded Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston for Ryan Anderson and Vince Carter; signed Matt Barnes, Jason Williams, and Brandon Bass; re-signed Marcin Gortat). Orlando made the Finals last year, and now they're even better. They are clearly the deepest team in the league. If Jameer Nelson goes down, you've got El Chocolate Blanco or Anthony Johnson. In the "bigs" rotation, you have Dwight Howard, Bass, Anderson, Gortat, Rashard Lewis, and even Adonal Foyle. Perimeter players include Carter, Barnes, mainstay J.J. Redick, and Mickael Pietrus. Nearly every guy save Bass, Gortat, Foyle, and of course Howard can easily stroke 3-pointers. The new players are clearly an upgrade on the departed Lee, Alston, Tony Battie, and Hedo Turkoglu. None of the latter four players played as well in 2009-10 as they had with Orlando.

    Houston's Daryl Morey (drafted Chase Budinger; signed Trevor Ariza; traded Carl Landry and Tracy McGrady for Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Kevin Martin, and draft picks). Morey's team has not appreciably improved since they came within one game of the Western Conference Finals nearly 12 months ago. The continued deterioration of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming's chronic foot problems means that the dominant inside-outside combination that team leaders happily imagined back in 2004 will never obtain. Houston missed the playoffs this season; however, with all of the new assets in Houston, the Rox may be ready to implement a trade that will bring a star like LeBron James or Chris Bosh to lower Texas.

    New York's Donnie Walsh (drafted Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas; traded Quentin Richardson for Darko Milicic; re-signed David Lee for one year; signed Earl Barron and Jonathan Bender; traded Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, and draft picks for Tracy McGrady; traded Milicic for Brian Cardinal). The incoming talent in these deals has not been above average. The purpose of the McGrady trade was to remove Jared Jeffries from New York's 2010-11 salary roll in order to clear salary room for a big free agent. Of course, if Isiah Thomas had not signed Jeffries to such a long contract, such a movie would not have been necessary. For Thomas's folly, the Knicks lost two future draft picks. But at least Walsh has put the Knicks in a position to potentially lure in James and Bosh. As this article makes clear, Walsh has a pretty good plan for the free-agent signing period this summer.

    Charlotte's Michael Jordan (drafted Gerald Henderson Jr.; traded Emeka Okafor to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler; signed Ronald "Flip" Murray; re-signed Raymond Felton to a one-year qualifying offer; traded Raja Bell and Vlad Radmanovic for Stephen Jackson and Acie Law; traded Law, Murray, and a draft pick for Tyrus Thomas; traded a future draft pick for Theo Ratliff). To me this one is simple. The Bobcats never made the playoffs before this season. Okafor was not defensively lithe enough to gain any purchase with Dwight Howard, say. Additionally, Okafor's contract extends to June 2014, too long for a team with parlous finances. With Jackson, Chandler, and Tyrus Thomas, the Bobcats escaped the lottery.

    GOOD General Managers:

    Sacramento's Geoff Petrie (drafted Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi; traded draft rights to Jeff Pendergraph for Sergio Rodriguez and draft rights to Jon Brockman; signed Sean May and Ime Udoka; traded Kevin Martin and Sergio Rodriguez for Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey). Petrie's rookies turned out great, as Evans won the ROY award, Casspi earned starter minutes with his high energy and accurate shooting, and Brockman delivered several double-digit rebounding games. I think we do not yet know enough to evaluate the Landry trade. Martin and Evans probably could not co-exist together, as Evans is not a good enough distributor to deliver the ball to Martin in prime shooting positions. Landry has completed only three pro seasons and still has time to blossom as a top-caliber PF. With a plum lottery pick upcoming, Sacramento has positioned its roster to hotly succeed in the medium term.

    Chicago's John Paxson (drafted Taj Gibson; decided to let Ben Gordon sign with Detroit; traded John Salmons for Warrick and Alexander; traded Tyrus Thomas for Acie Law and Flip Murray). Like New York's Donnie Walsh, the Bulls did not make a great deal of basketball progress, losing in the first round for the second consecutive year. Taj Gibson was a very good selection at the 26th position in the first-round. (One must consider that such draft pick was acquired in February 2009 via the Bulls' trading Thabo Sefolosha, who has blossomed into a very good defender with Oklahoma City. However, in this blog post we are evaluating only 2009-10 roster moves.) Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the team's two best players, certainly improved to a near-All-Star level during '09-'10. The roster moves entailed the loss of some good players, with resulting 2010-11 salary room to sign even better players. We do not know whether the best of 2003's class will choose to join Chicago, but the team is positioned well.

    Atlanta's Rick Sund (traded Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to Golden State for Jamal Crawford; drafted Jeff Teague; signed Joe Smith and Jason Collins). The Hawks did not fiddle much with the roster that was readily swept by Cleveland in the 2009 conference semis. Acquiring Crawford, named Sixth Man of the Year just a couple days prior, added a valuable offensive dimension to the team. However, in light of Atlanta's easy destruction in last year's playoffs, a more significant roster upgrade would have been nice. Smith and Collins have hardly played.

    L.A. Clippers's Mike Dunleavy (drafted Blake Griffin; traded Zach Randolph to Memphis for Quentin Richardson; traded Q-Rich to Minnesota for Craig Smith and Sebastian Telfair; traded a draft pick to New Orleans for Rasual Butler; traded Marcus Camby for Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw; traded Telfair and Al Thornton for Drew Gooden in a four-team trade). Drafting Griffin was an obvious choice at #1, and Dunleavy did a good job jettisoning Randolph to make room for Griffin in the starting lineup. (Unfortunately, Griffin then suffered a season-ending injury in training camp. Trading Camby was wise, as the Clips have Chris Kaman and young DeAndre Jordan in the middle position. Though Camby will be a 2010 free agent, the Bird rights to Blake and Outlaw might be useful to the Clips.

    Portland's Kevin Pritchard (traded Sergio Rodriguez to Sacramento for a draft pick; drafted Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, Victor Claver, and Patrick Mills; signed Andre Miller; granted contract extensions to LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy; traded Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw to the Clippers, as noted above, for Marcus Camby; signed Marcus Camby to a two-year contract extension). With a winning and youthful core of Roy, Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Greg Oden, the acquisition of so many rookies was somewhat strange; at the time, more veterans like Miller would have been more useful. Then, when Oden was later injured, the Camby trade was a good way to salvage the season, preserving a nontrivial possibility of a serious playoff run. Signing Camby before the summer free-agent frenzy was a smart move.

    Oklahoma City's Sam Presti (drafted James Harden and Byron Mullens; traded Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins for Etan Thomas and draft picks; traded rights to a European player for Eric Maynor and the injured Matt Harpring). These were good, safe movies, though Oklahoma could have done more to ready their team for a Bosh or Boozer. James Harden at #3 in the draft looks questionable now: why not a better shooter like Stephen Curry? Harden has a couple more inches, enabling him to better defend other SGs, but Curry shoots like a Swedish biathon champion.

    Denver's Mark Warkentien (drafted Ty Lawson; re-signed Chris Andersen; signed Joey Graham; traded a draft pick to Detroit for Walter Sharpe and Arron Afflalo; traded Sharpe and Sonny Weems to Milwaukee for Malik Allen; traded Steven Hunter and a draft pick for Dominique Jones). Denver allowed free agents Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza to sign elsewhere (the latter, in Greece) Afflalo blossomed in this, his third season, filling the defensive role that Jones occupied in 2008-09. Additionally, Afflalo developed a fine three-point shooting touch and some playmaking ability. After the regular season started, the Nuggets played things chill and easy, not making any roster transactions until a couple minor signings in April to gird for the playoffs. (Unfortunately, Denver quickly lost to Utah, lost without Coach Karl.) Lawson and Afflalo are excellent building blocks for the future, and Warkentien, who won Executive of the Year in 2008-09, must get credit for that.

    New Orleans's Jeff Bower (drafted Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton; traded Tyson Chandler to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor; traded Rasual Butler to the Clippers for a draft pick; traded Antonio Daniels to Minnesota for Darius Songaila and Bobby Brown; signed Ike Diogu; traded Hilton Armstrong for a draft pick; traded Devin Brown for Aaron Gray; traded Bobby Brown for a draft pick). A lot of bench-caliber players entered and exited this roster. (Free agents Jannero Pargo and Ryan Bowen also left in the summer of 2009.) Collison and Thornton were very good draft picks late in the selection process; with Chris Paul injured for most of the season, those two young guards showed that they could lead the team and/or score like a piano composer. Okafor, as noted above, has a much longer contract but lacks Chandler's injury profile, and appears an adequate replacement.

    OK General Managers

    Phoenix's Steve Kerr (traded Shaquille O'Neal for Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace; signed Channing Frye; chose not to trade Amare Stoudemire). Phoenix did not shuffle the roster much, aside from divesting Shaq. The Suns subsequently bought out the contracts of Pavlovic and Wallace. Phoenix largely did not mess with its roster after the 2008-09 season ended; some discussion of trading Amare Stoudemire before the February '10 trade deadline led to nothing. Phoenix's bench of Lopez/Barbosa/Dudley/Amundsen/Dragic has almost uniformly improved since last season, and their stalwart starters of Nash/Stoudemire/Richardson/Hill have not lost much despite their age. Channing Frye, like many other offensive-oriented players, thrived next to Steve Nash. The Suns are back in the playoffs, showing that Kerr was effective in his restraint.

    Memphis's Chris Wallace (traded Darko Milicic for Quentin Richardson; traded Richardson for Zach Randolph; drafted Hasheem Thabeet and Sam Young; traded a draft pick for Ronnie Brewer; signed Jamaal Tinsley). Drafting Hasheem Thabeet at #2 was a terrible idea, when he could have nabbed Harden, Evans, Rubio, Flynn, Curry, Jennings, or Lawson. Flipping Milicic for Zach Randolph worked well, and the acquisition of Brewer showed good foresight (though he quickly suffered a season-ending injury). With Randolph, Memphis came close to its first playoff season since 2006. Still, Hasheem Thabeet?

    Boston's Danny Ainge (signed Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams, Marquis Daniels, and Michael Finley; re-signed Glen Davis; signed Rajon Rondo to a contract extension; traded Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens for Nate Robinson). Rondo's extension was wise, as too many teams had 2010-11 salary room and would likely throw lush money at Rondo were he to be a free agent in July '10. Most of Boston's new bench players -- Williams, Daniels, and Finley -- were injured all season and contributed little. Wallace was nominally healthy, though mostly out of shape. The Celtics have not yet returned to their championship form of 2008. If Ainge wants to prolong the Celtics' current stretch of excellence, he will need to work harder in the coming summer.

    Meanwhile, the WORST GENERAL MANAGER list must surely include:

    Detroit's Joe Dumars (drafted Jonas Jerebko; signed Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox, Ben Gordon, and Charlie Villanueva). Jerebko is a nice player, but Gordon and Villanueva are badly overpaid. Surely Detroit could have done better by waiting until 2010 to commit to long-term contracts.

    New Jersey's Rod Thorn (drafted Terrence Williams; traded Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson for Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and Tony Battie). Williams is known to be headstrong and difficult to deal with. Vince Carter is an All-NBA-caliber talent who is surely worth much more than a one-year pseudo-veteran like Courtney Lee.

    Toronto's Bryan Colangelo (traded Kris Humphries and Shawn Marion for Hedo Turkoglu, Devean George, and Antoine Wright; drafted Demar DeRozan; signed Jarrett Jack; traded George to Golden State for Marco Belinelli; signed Rasho Nesterovic; traded Delfino and Ukic to Milwaukee for Johnson and Weems). Turkoglu played like dirt; meanwhile, Marion helped Dallas remain at the top of any list. DeRozan has no obviously outstanding basketball skill, while the player taken at #10 in the draft immediately after DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, challenged for Rookie of the Year. Most importantly, Colangelo did little to convince Chris Bosh that the team is headed toward championship contention anytime soon. Why should he stay?

    Minnesota's David Kahn (drafted Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, and Wayne Ellington; signed Ramon Sessions; traded Brian Cardinal to the Knicks for Darko Milicic). The signing of Sessions was strange when Flynn was already anointed as the new starting point guard and Rubio, also a 1, is expected to join the team in 2011. Why did Sessions deserve a four-year contract? And if Flynn is good enough to pilot the team to the playoffs, why spend a high draft pick on Rubio? The trade market is hardly liquid; Rubio may not be flippable for a player of equal talent. And why is Darko Milicic worth any sort of speculative investment?

    Utah's Kevin O'Connor`(drafted Eric Maynor; signed Wesley Matthews as undrafted rookie; traded Maynor and Matt Harpring to the Thunder for a European player's draft rights; traded Ronnie Brewer to Memphis for a first-round draft pick). The Matthews signing was excellent, but as an undrafted player, and soon to be a free agent again, he is likely to attract salary offers beyond the ken of Jazz ownership. Trading away Maynor and Brewer for nothing was inexplicable. (Harpring's contract was already covered by an insurer, due to the player's career-ending injuries.)

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    No Time For MCAT

    Has any college program produced as many serious NBA rotation players in the past five years as UCLA has?


  • Jordan Farmar (drafted 2006 by Los Angeles Lakers)

  • Arron Afflalo (drafted 2007 by Detroit)

  • Russell Westbrook (drafted 2008 by Oklahoma City)

  • Kevin Love (drafted 2008 by Memphis, traded to Minnesota)

  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (drafted 2008 by Milwaukee)

  • Jrue Holiday (drafted 2009 by Philadelphia)

  • Darren Collison (drafted 2009 by New Orleans)

  • Other prolific college programs include:

  • LSU (Brandon Bass '05, Tyrus Thomas '06, Glen Davis '07, Anthony Randolph '08, Marcus Thornton '09)

  • Florida (David Lee '05, Joakim Noah '07, Al Horford '07, Corey Brewer '07, Chris Richard '07, Marreese Speights '08)

  • Washington (Nate Robinson '05, Brandon Roy '06, Spencer Hawes '07)

  • USC (Nick Young '05, O.J. Mayo '08, DeMar DeRozan '09, Taj Gibson '09)

  • Arizona (Channing Frye '05, Jerryd Bayless '08, Chase Budinger '09, Jordan Hill '09)

  • North Carolina (Raymond Felton '05, Marvin Williams '05, Ty Lawson '09)

  • However, I believe UCLA is the king at star-making in recent times. Many of Coach Ben Howland's players listed above (notably Afflalo, Westbrook, Mbah a Moute, and Holiday) are noted for their excellent pro-level defensive abilities, reflecting the aggressive defensive culture in Westwood. Whatever Howland is doing should be bottled and spread across the ballin' land.

    Dueling Banjos in First Quarters

    Watching the first quarter of the Phoenix-Portland Game 5 on Monday night, I noticed a true tale of two cities: Portland smashed the Suns in the first six minutes, while Phoenix dominated the latter six. The Blazers jumped out to a 23-9 lead early, but Phoenix registered an 18-5 burst to bring the score back to 28-27 by the first intermission.

    Anecdotally, I feel like I've seen many games where two teams exchange dueling first-quarter runs. We rarely see dueling third-quarter runs, for example. A lead in the third quarter is more likely to "stick" (focusing only within the third quarter, not on future developments) than a lead in the first quarter is likely to stick (focusing only within the first quarter, not on future developments). What's more, on a subjective emotional level, players and observers don't take a first-quarter lead very seriously.

    Sadly, I do not have the data to evaluate whether my anecdotal impressions are spot on. Still, assuming I'm not entirely delusional, here are some explanations I can think of to explain this phenomenon.

    1) Teams in the first quarter are physically fresher, so better able to execute a "run".
    2) Teams in the first quarter haven't yet figured each other out defensively.
    3) Related to (2), a team in the first quarter may actually encourage the opposing side to go all-out offensively, so that the defensive team can see what's in the offensive team's bag of tricks. Imagine the feeling-out process between two boxers.
    4) Teams in the first quarter aren't trying as hard defensively, because they figure they have the whole game ahead of them to erase any deficit.
    5) The home crowd may have more energy in the first quarter. (But this doesn't explain how the road team is able to execute a run in the first quarter.)

    Which of these possibilities is the most salient?

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Magic 99, Bobcats 88 (TrueHoop Defensive Writing Challenge Entry #1)

    The Charlotte Bobcats succeeded in turning Superman into a mere mortal for four straight games. But it didn’t matter. Despite Dwight Howard’s chronic foul trouble, the Orlando Magic have swept the Bobcats out of the first round of these NBA playoffs. The Magic now await the winner of the Hawks-Bucks series, which is tied 2-2.

    With Howard again in foul trouble for most of the game, the Magic ratcheted up their perimeter defense, holding the Bobcats' guards to collective 7-for-28 shooting (Stephen Jackson: 2-for-11; Raymond Felton: 3-for-8; Larry Hughes: 1-for-4; D.J. Augustin: 1-for-5).

    The Bobcats led 45-43 after the first half on the strength of their half-court trap, which forced the Magic into 6 first-half turnovers. The Bobcats’ point guards, moreover, finally removed the lead insoles from their sneakers and manned up against Jameer Nelson, who had torched the Bobcats’ matador defense in the first three games of the series.

    Orlando stayed in the game in the first half and compensated for Howard’s absence by relying on a 2-3 zone (or, as Kevin McHale called it, “man-to-man with zone principles” — whatever that is). The 2-3 zone goaded the weak-shooting Bobcats into brick upon brick from beyond the arc. What Orlando did not count on, though, was that offensively-challenged Tyrus Thomas would find the zone’s seams and knock down 8 straight wide-open jumpers.

    The Bobcats, however, were unable to sustain their defensive intensity and hustle in the second half, forcing just one turnover and repeatedly giving up wide-open corner 3s to the Magic swingmen.

    A defensive basketball writing challenge

    We at JPO love a challenge. And TrueHoop’s recent defensive writing challenge was a good one. Lamenting the scoring-centricity of the mainstream sports media’s coverage of the NBA playoffs, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott challenged the blogosphere to “tell the story of an NBA playoff game without talking about scoring.”

    At first blush, there are at least three first-round match-ups that lend themselves nicely to the Defensive Writing Challenge. Lakers vs. Thunder features a marvelous one-on-one match-up — pitting the league's second-most-potent offensive player, Kevin Durant, against one of the league’s man-on-man defenders. Also, in an interesting (and surprising) development, Durant’s defense on Kobe in the fourth quarter of Game 3 was arguably the series’ turning point thus far. Spurs vs. Mavs, which features a great defense beating a talented offense (so far), is another compelling defense-oriented storyline. Finally, Magic vs. Bobcats is another interesting candidate, featuring Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard against a defensive-oriented team and coach, which made the playoffs despite Stephen Jackson being their go-to guy!

    As these playoffs continue to unfold, JPO will periodically post entries for Abbott’s challenge. Check back here soon for our first installment….

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    A Thunderous Thought Experiment

    Imagine, if you will, that the Seattle SuperSonics had selected Joakim Noah instead of Jeff Green with the #5 pick in the 2007 draft. Imagine further that, dismissing all possible butterfly (or larger arthropod) effects, the Sonics-then-Thunder had proceeded to select Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden in the 2008 and 2009 drafts.

    How awesome would their team be now? Imagine further that Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, or Amar'e Stoudemire were to decide to sign with Oklahoma City as a free agent this summer.

    That would be scary. Green is good, but Noah is a night train.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    When The Music's On, You Dance

    The last night of the NBA season, when most teams really aren't trying, creates opportunities for unheralded players to defy observers' prior beliefs about what they can do. Stars sit, and the men on the court stop bothering to play D. Hence we get eruptions like the following:

    Trevor Ariza: 11 of 18 from the field, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 blocks, 26 points in a loss to New Orleans

    Steve Blake: 8 of 12 from the field with 4 three-pointers, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 23 points in a win over the depleted Lakers

    Jeff Pendergraph: 11 of 15 for 23 points in a loss to Golden State

    Bill Walker: Six 3s, 7 rebounds, 28 points in a loss to Toronto

    DeMar DeRozan: 9 of 11 shooting, 9 rebounds, 24 points in the above-cited Knicks-Raptors game

    DeJuan Blair: 12 of 21 from the field, 3 steals, 23 rebounds, 27 points in a loss to Dallas

    Jeff Teague: 11 of 19 from the field, 24 points, 15 assists in a win over the Cavaliers

    Other renowned players (most notably Stephen Curry) had great offensive games last night, but I have attempted to highlight heretofore quiet role players who, raging against the dying of the light, showed decision-makers what they could potentially do if featured next season.

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Bench Vacancies

    With Justice John Paul Stevens announcing his retirement yesterday, President Obama is reportedly considering several candidates to take his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Some of the leading candidates, according to reports, include U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, U.S. State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh, and Harvard Law School Professor (and now Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) Cass Sunstein.

    What do all of the above have in common?

    They've never been a judge!

    Meanwhile, the New Jersey Nets are looking for a coach, having fired six-year veteran Lawrence Frank earlier this season and used an interim coach, Kiki Vandeweghe, since before Christmas. Leading candidates, according to rumor, include (i) Mark Jackson, former Knicks/Pacers point guard and now ESPN/ABC announcer, who has never coached anything, and (ii) Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University, who has never coached in the NBA. Meanwhile, other pundits have suggested in the past week that 33-year-old coach Brad Stevens of Butler University, having husbanded his men to a couple centimeters from the national championship, deserves a shot at the pros.

    Other teams looking for a new coach next season may include Golden State, New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, Indiana, and the L.A. Clippers. That Chicago will need a new steward is not surprising: when they hired Vinny Del Negro in June 2008, he had no experience as a basketball coach, for any team, at any level of the game, anywhere!

    Both NBA coaching positions and Supreme Court justiceships are, respectively, the highest achievement in the profession. Why would you give such highly coveted positions to individuals who have hardly proven that they can do it? In the judging realm, someone with big aspirations can gain experience at several levels of state or federal judicial systems. As a coach, the best way to audition for an NBA head-coach job is to start as an assistant: Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Van Gundy, Mike D'Antoni, Rick Carlisle, Mike Woodson, Lawrence Frank, Avery Johnson, Phil Jackson, Byron Scott, Erik Spoelstra, Rick Adelman, Nate McMillan, Scott Brooks, Jerry Sloan, Scott Skiles, Mike Brown, and many others rose to prominence this way. Coaching a college team, not quite as effective preparation (most college coaches who have tried NBA jobs have failed), is nonetheless better than no experience whatsoever.

    Preparing to judge is certainly easier than preparing to coach, though. The raw materials of judging are statutory text, constitutional text, caselaw precedent, and briefs from litigants, all of which are publicly available. It is easy to "simulate" judging a particular case. Motivating 12 world-class athletes to play hard defense and pass the ball effectively, though, is a draining task that can only be conjured, not very realistically, in one's interior world. While there may be political reasons why President Obama might pick a non-judge for the Supreme Court, I cannot imagine why Mark Jackson or any college coach would be hired to lead a potential NBA champion (which is, we hope, how every team views its long-term trajectory).

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Flash, Superman, and Latifah?

    Several months ago my co-blogger Dr. Doughboy detailed some of his favorite NBA movies. Continuing this theme, the forthcoming Hollywood movie Just Wright, which will debut in May of this year, features rapper Common, playing a NBA star, choosing between two love interests, played by Queen Latifah and Paula Patton. Personally, I found the trailer rather captivating, not least because it portrays the player as having some semblance of maturity, able to engage in a grown-up relationship. Popular portrayals of NBA athletes generally (and not necessarily accurately) show the typical player as a backwoods brute with plenty of hops but little charm. Another mark in the favor of this flick is its depiction of Queen Latifah (née Dana Owens), who, true to her name, carries herself regally though she does not resemble a usual Hollywood "babe" or an archetypal NBA wife, as a legitimate love interest for the jock.

    (I found the title somewhat lame, though, but that is a minor quibble. Titles based on punning an invented character name are way overdone. Good Will Hunting? House of Payne? Saving Grace? Yuck.)

    Here is what really inspired me to flee from more quotidian tasks to my bloggin' refuge. I note from the trailer that the new Latifah movie features, at the least, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard in cameos. (The IMDB cast listing also reports Elton Brand and Rashard Lewis playing themselves.) How is every NBA movie able to secure so much participation from real pro hoopers? For example, Forget Paris (1995), which only tangentially depicted the NBA in its opening scenes, featured a host of stars including most of the mid-'90s Suns (Barkley, Majerle, KJ). The following year's Eddie (1996), a fairly forgettable movie starring Whoopi Goldberg as a rags-to-riches NBA coach, also featured NBA players, albeit B-listers such as Malik Sealy, Greg Ostertag, and Dwayne Schintzius. Films including Blue Chips (1994) and He Got Game (1998) included NBA players in serious starring roles: Shaquille O'Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, and Ray Allen all portrayed high school seniors choosing where to matriculate. The children's movie Like Mike (2002) packed seats by showing Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Steve Nash, and a host of others doing their thing on the court.

    (Even the odious Juwanna Mann (2002) featured cameos from WNBA stars Cynthia Cooper and Teresa Weatherspoon, but the less said about that movie, the better.)

    So again, how do these NBA movies consistently score league talent for cameos (or more)? One possibility is that the director/producer of each movie happens to, idiosyncratically, have a connection to the NBA world that he exploits to recruit talent. Perhaps a director without an NBAer stored in his mobile phone would not even bother to make a hoops movie.

    Alternatively, we must consider that making an NBA-themed movie requires obtaining the NBA's consent, lest the Association seek injunctive or monetary relief for infringement of its trademarks. In other words, the league gets an effective veto power over which pro hoops movies get made; they are likely somewhat circumspect in their choices of which film projects to grant IP licenses to. (How the heck did the NBA/WNBA approve Juwana Mann, then?) All NBA intellectual property is housed with NBA Properties, Inc., a corporation chartered in New York state. Most of the above movies include a special thanks to the National Basketball Association in their ending credits. With this bargaining power over would-be hoops auteurs, the league likely can insist on including any particular lineup of players in the movie.

    The smoking gun is Article XXXVII, Section 2 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which allows NBA Properties to require a player to make up to four appearances annually for licensing purposes. I would not be surprised if this covers cameos in movies. Interestingly, players shall be paid $2,500 for each such appearance, but can be fined up to $20,000 for failure to comply. Additionally, Article II, Section 8 also allows teams to require players to make up to 12 promotional appearances annually, of which 2 may be assigned to NBA Properties. Pursuant to Section 8(a)(i)(A), a player may be required to make only one off-season appearance, and it must be in his town of residence or in the location where he happens to be. (Presumably, in practice, players are more pliant than to reflexively refuse a non-conforming request, but the CBA protections are probably useful for players.)

    I am not privy to the convoluted negotiations between the league, movie directors, and players recruited to appear in such cinematic gold. However, if you wonder why Dwight Howard and D-Wade are in the newest Latifah movie, it is likely because Commissioner Stern (or Deputy Commissioner Silver) wanted it that way.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    When the Adjudicator Gets It Wrong

    The NBA today took the unusual step of announcing that referees erred in not calling a foul against Utah's C.J. Miles on the last play of last night's wild Jazz-Thunder game. A foul call would have given Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, down one point, three free throws to potentially win the game. You can review the play below by fast-forwarding to the 1:50 mark of the video (and see the slow-motion replay at 2:07):

    I have two thoughts in response to this incident. First, a frequent theme here at JPO has been our revulsion over the inconsistency of foul calls in the NBA, particularly late in the fourth quarter and when star players are involved. (The epitome of this failing, of course, was the original "JPO" play in 1998.) In this Miles-Durant tiff, the duskiness of the timing suggests that I should want to see a foul called, yet the brightness of Durant's renown favors a bias to see Durant not get bailed out. Thus, emotionally, I am not sure how to view either last night's result or the NBA's communication today. Watching the video, it seemed like Miles swiped part ball and part skin, though it would be very difficult to notice that in real time on the floor. So perhaps I should be upset that the referees "swallowed their whistle" in the game's final second, regardless of the identity of the shooter.

    My second thought, more analytically, is puzzlement at the NBA's decision to publicly overrule their referees. The NBA rulebook is a body of law. Here in our common-law American domain, law is administered and enforced by a panoply of police, executive bureaucrats, judges, and juries. Law is often thought to be grindingly slow. Accused criminals sometimes languish in detention for months or years while their case is advanced; the "Enron" bankruptcy case lasted over seven years. Law is complicated, and, apparently, our society has decided that we prefer to "get it right" rather than "do it fast" — even if that means financial disputes remain unresolved for ages and people's freedom is abridged. Additionally, criminal and civil litigants are allowed two levels of appellate review should they be dissatisfied with an original decision.

    However, the NBA cannot afford such deliberation. By contrast to public law, NBA rules are administered by three referees alone. Games are unique events that depend on the physical presence of two sets of players under particular environmental conditions. Games cannot be tabled, postponed, or repeated! Thus, appellate review is extremely limited. Certain decisions may be reviewed by referees (the same agents who originally made such decisions) by video during the course of the game, but no higher power may intervene and game outcomes are final once completed. [On extremely rare occasions, Commissioner Stern has the sole authority to grant a re-play in the event of "gross negligence" relating to an objectively documentable mis-application of a game rule. This happened most recently in 2007-08, involving Atlanta and Miami. Prior to that, it had not occurred since Stern took over the league in 1984.]

    I write the above two paragraphs to point out that what's done is done. Without appellate review, the NBA really should stand behind its referees to reinforce the psychic finality of disputed finishes. I don't see the public value in overruling a referee. The announcement is moot, so why embarrass him? A Supreme Court justice could shrug her shoulders and say "Yeah, those trial judges screw up sometimes, but that's all right." The public will understand, because decisions ain't over after the trial verdict. But when NBA games are final, an admission of fallibility only frustrates fans. Why do that? The foul call was ambiguous enough that some viewers of the video might "see" whatever the league tells them to. (Have you ever noticed that a pro wrestling match looks a whole lot faker when you turn off the announcers' audio?) To be sure, the league should do all it can behind the scenes to adequately train officials, but in front of the press it should try whatever is necessary (without straining credulity) to persuade fans of referee competence. Even if Commissioner Stern truly laments his refs' failure to call the foul on Miles last night, he should make like President George W. Bush and decline to admit his mistakes.

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Toronto and Chicago Fight to the Finish

    The Toronto Raptors lead the Chicago Bulls for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by just one game with 6 games remaining. Toronto sits at 38-38; Chicago, at 37-39.
    Were the two teams to end up tied after 82 games, Toronto would prevail, having already clinched the head-to-head season series against Chicago, by winning on November 11th and December 5th. The two teams will play each other again in Chicago on April 11th.

    Toronto's remaining schedule is: Cavs, Celtics, Hawks, Bulls, Pistons, Knicks.
    Chicago's remaining schedule is: Bucks, Cavs, Nets, Raptors, Celtics, Bobcats.

    Both teams will play Cleveland, which may not try very hard in remaining games, given that they have virtually clinched the top Eastern seed. Both teams will also play the Celtics, who are fighting against Atlanta (and perhaps Miami, charging hard from the #5 position) for playoff positioning.
    Atlanta, also jockeying for their playoff spot, will be a tough matchup for Toronto; the Pistons and Knicks, each suffering through a lost season, will be easy. The Bobcats, if they are still fighting for playoff rank on the last day, could be a tough matchup for Chicago, while the Milwaukee Bucks (sans Andrew Bogut) and New Jersey Nets will be easy.

    Who will make the playoffs, Chicago or Toronto? Given the symmetry of remaining opponents, and Toronto's existing lead, I would bet on Toronto. However, a few factors militate in Chicago's favor.

    First, although Toronto has home court for the April 11th tussle, Toronto's home record is only 24-14, hardly juggernautic. Having attended multiple NBA games in both Toronto and Chicago, I believe that the Air Canada Centre fans treat a Raps experience as more of a carnival, while Bulls fans are ready to see blood drawn. (Let us recall that Illinois legalized mixed martial arts a couple years ago, while we learned last month that Ontarians are apparently too squeamish for the UFC.)

    Chicago's Joakim Noah has recovered from his plantar fascitis issues that dogged him last month; he has averaged 11 points and 11 boards in his last three games. Noah's absence from February 27th – March 19th coincided precisely with a 10-game losing streak by the Bulls. Since his return, they have won 6 of 8. With the NCAA Final Four recently concluded, we should note that Noah has twice proved himself the best player on a championship team.

    Meanwhile, Toronto does not have any significant injury issues, yet they still lost 9 of 10 around the same time the Bulls similarly floundered. A team scrapping for the playoffs should not lose a nail-biter to Golden State. They simply are not confident right now, particularly with the uncertainty over Chris Bosh's future plans.

    In short, I pick the Bulls to make the playoffs. If the Bulls finish the remaining six games by winning at least two more than Toronto (e.g. if the Bulls finish 4-2 and the Raptors finish 2-4) then those Hogtowners will be goin' fishing just eight days from now.

    Frankly, I think Toronto should not try to make the playoffs, in any event. The gate revenue might loom as shiny lucre, but I don't believe the Raptors' ultimate owner, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, has any liquidity problems. They would be better-served to invest in the Raps' long-term success. Sadly, the Raptors squad as presently constituted probably cannot get much better; it seems foolhardy to expect Demar Derozan or Andrea Bargnani to progress much beyond their present level. Chris Bosh will likely leave this summer as a free agent, and then the Raptors would behoove themselves to quickly trade overpaid non-contributors such as Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon and thus clear salary room for a rebuilding project. Thus, there is little value in trying to attain playoff experience for the current squad, as their institutional memory will be quickly dissolved. Even if Toronto could make the playoffs, Cleveland would wax them, much like they swept through Detroit in 2009.

    It is sad that Toronto's two cracks at contendership since the franchise began in 1995 (once with Vince Carter and then again with Chris Bosh) have both failed. This is what happens when you attempt to build a team around a sub-MVP-level player with no other All-Star to complement him.
    UPDATE: After I posted that, Chris Bosh of Toronto suffered an injury to his nose on Tuesday night, April 6th. Hopefully it will not be serious.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    Hall of Fame 2010: Who Got Shut Out?

    Today the Basketball Hall of Fame announced its 2010 inductees, which include Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Dennis Johnson, Cynthia Cooper, Jerry Buss, and Bob Hurley Sr. I cannot quarrel with any of these decisions.

    From the original list of nominees, losing candidates include:
    (1) Players: Jamaal Wilkes, Chris Mullin, Bernard King, Richard Guerin, Gus Johnson, and Maciel Pereira;
    (2) Coaches: Don Nelson, Tex Winter, Harley Redin, and Vladimir Kondrashin;
    (3) Teams: 1960 U.S. Men's Olympic team; 1992 U.S. Men's Olympic team; All-American Redheads

    Most of the players above do not strike me as HOF material. Wilkes, Mullin, and King were fine small forwards in a SF-happy decade, but did not distinguish themselves as championship-level players. Guerin and Johnson retired over thirty years ago; why should we consider them now?

    Pereira probably deserves the honor as the avatar of Brazilian ball.

    Coach Nelson has been at his craft a long time, hence his near-record win total, but has never been held as a peer of truly great coaches such as Larry Brown, Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, and Jerry Sloan. Witness the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks: after several years of playoff underachievement, Nelson resigned and Avery Johnson took the team to the Finals just 15 months later. So keep this guy out of the Hall.

    Coach Winter has helped Phil Jackson earn nine NBA championships as an offensive consultant, but never delivered HOF-type results as a head coach in his own right. He may have helped Kansas State reach the NCAA Final Four twice, but let us not forget that the NIT Tournament was the more prestigious contest back in the '50s. With all due respect, Winter does not deserve a spot.

    Coach Kondrashin surely deserves it for building Russian (Soviet) hoops into a stalwart and thereby spreading a zest for the game. Without him, there might be no Kirilenko or Prokhorov, and nowhere for the Trajon Langdons to ply their trade.

    Coach Redin compiled a 87% winning record at Wayland Baptist University. However, I must admit that I do not understand enough context of women's college basketball in the 1960s to opine as to the magnitude of this achievement. I cannot answer this one.

    I am not sure what the criteria for Hall of Fame teams should be. All of the teams above were dominant and are now regarded as legendary, so induct them all, I say.
    UPDATE: After I wrote the above, news emerged on the afternoon of April 5th, indicating that Pereira, the 1960 US team, and the 1992 US team will all be inducted.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    NBA and Urban Planning

    Among other reasons to rejoice in each NBA city, we must note that many NBA arenas have been constructed with a judicious regard for land-use and planning concerns. Rather than occupying scarce real estate in a city center (and even more space with broad parking lots), many basketball buildings sit over commuter rail train hubs:

  • Boston's TD Garden (formerly "Fleet Center"), built over North Station, which serves commuter rail lines stretching into Massachusetts's North Shore;

  • New York's Madison Square Garden, sitting across the street from the above-ground Penn Station and directly over the rail tracks (A full accounting of MSG and Penn Station, however, must document how the former, more beautiful Penn Station structure was demolished in the 1960s, leaving many observers aghast, to allow the construction of the current MSG. See Mad Men Season 3 for a dramatization of this controversy);

  • Toronto's Air Canada Centre, sitting directly adjacent to downtown Union Station and over some of the rail lines;

  • In Brooklyn, the proposed Atlantic Yards development, which we previously discussed at length on this blog, would position a new NBA arena directly over (i) the largest MTA station in Brooklyn and (ii) a terminus of the Long Island Railroad;

  • In Sacramento, a proposed new NBA arena would sit directly above a new regional transit center, according to plans announced in January 2010.

  • However, many cities do not adhere to this model:

  • In Washington DC, Union Station sits on the northeast side of town, near the US Supreme Court building, presaging a transition from the political corridor of the city into more residential, and, unfortunately, more downtrodden neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the Verizon Center proudly gleams in Chinatown near many law firms and courthouses.

  • In Chicago, Union Station and Ogilvie Station are positioned approximately two blocks west of the "Loop" downtown district, and an arena would fit snugly there. (Soldier Field is only about ten blocks south of the Loop, immediately on the lakefront.) However, the Bulls' and Blackhawks' arena is about one further mile west of Union Station in the West Loop / Near West Side neighborhood. Perhaps the thought was that Chicagoans preternaturally must come by car, and an arena without several acres of parking lots could not thrive.

  • In Los Angeles, Union Station and Staples Center are both generally downtown, but a couple miles apart.

  • In Detroit, the Pistons' venerable, 22-year-old arena sits in the affluent Oakland County suburbs, laughingly eschewing anything like "public transit" or "ties to the city".

  • In Memphis... well, seriously? Commuter rail in Memphis Tennessee? As if pigs could fly! When I visited this town last year, there were barely enough people to fill up the downtown two-block Beale Street tourist district. Outside Beale, most retail storefronts I saw were empty, waiting to be leased. It is unfortunate.

  • In Milwaukee, the Bradley Center sits about 1 mile away from the Amtrak station. Both are roughly in the downtown core (in fact, the arena may be the city's greatest draw, making viable a surrounding ring of taverns), but without a car it is not realistic to sally from one to the other.

  • Throughout southern and western metropolises, actually, where population is less densely packed, commuter rail systems just aren't there.

  • I cannot say what the right model is. I note that, unlike baseball and football, "tailgating" is not a hoary tradition at basketball or hockey games. Additionally, basketball fans tend to be more urban in character, and we also know that teams make their money by selling courtside seats to suburban-residing business folk, who often take commuter rail into the city. I know little about the substantive urban planning issues here, so I would certainly appreciate feedback.