Friday, June 1, 2007

Billy Donovan really did learn from his mentor

Billy Donovan’s sudden jump from rock-star status at the University of Florida to coach of the Orlando Magic really took me by surprise. After two straight titles and 11 years of building, Donovan looked to be getting rather comfortable in Gainesville. He had even turned down a rather lucrative offer to coach at his alma matter at Kentucky. So, initially the news came across as shocking. But, not really. With five years of security and $27.5 million ($5.5 million per year) staring him in the face, Donovan did what any sane person did. He took the money.

The talk among many was that if Donovan would have agreed to a contract extension with the Gators, he would have become one of the highest paid college coaches in the country, or he would at least come close. To provide a bit of scale on that, Rick Pitino, the college-to-pros-is-a-bad-idea poster child, just signed a six-year extension with Louisville that will earn him about $23.2 million (average of $3.86 million per year) over a six-year period. According to The Orlando Sentinel, if Donovan had signed an extension with Florida, it would have started at $3 million per year and escalate to $3.75 million by the end of his contract in 2013-14. At seven years, assuming a $0.125 million-per-year increase that would graduate up to $3.75 million in the final year, that would likely earn him $23.625 million. That's a difference of $3.825 million total...but in two more years if he stayed at Florida.

Every time a successful college coach makes the jump to the pros, everyone compiles the list of the past failures who have done the same. I’ll spare your time, as well as mine as it really isn't the point.

Many national columnists have second guessed Donovan, as they do every time a coach leaves college for the NBA for leaving a supposed dream situation to coach in a higher pressure, potentially higher profile environment.

Maybe Donovan really just wanted a different challenge, just like he said. Maybe that extra $3.8 million was too much to pass up. Or maybe, in the back of his mind, he knew he could do what Pitino did and test out his NBA coaching prowess and return to the college ranks later on if it doesn't suit him. I'm imagining it's a combination of all three.

Reasonably yours,

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

ESPN doesn't care so much about the Spurs

It's really not as much of a secret anymore that national opinions or feelings on sports subjects are shaped by ESPN. If the term "juggernaut" applies to anyone, in the sports world, ESPN is the one. So, it really shouldn't be terribly surprising that, upon the night of their third NBA finals berth in five years, ESPN would have the top story and the centerpiece photo treatment with Kobe Bryant's face and his puppeteering of the media as the dominant story.

The funniest part about this is that, even though the Spurs just won the Western Conference ̶ the better conference according to almost everyone ̶ the flip-flopping fate of the Los Angeles superstar is the biggest story by far. Actually, the funniest part about all this is that the Stanley Cup finals beat out the Spurs in billing. Up until about 11:45, they didn't even have the main video on the right-hand side, it was dedicated to baseball. Simply amazing. If there was ever an accurate indication of national opinion on the current state of the NBA playoffs, this is it.

National viewership of the Spurs has become so disenfranchised, the guys who supposeduly represent it don't even see their berth into the penultimate contest of their sport as the second-best item on the page.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. Thursday:
The day after? No mention whatsoever on the main ESPN page.

Reasonably yours,

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Flopping to a win, and more fans' disgust

Why is it that every time someone beats the Spurs, they feel as if they were wronged? This is starting to become a trend. Even excluding the Robert Horry mess that led to the two suspensions for the Suns, there was plenty of foul called by the Suns' contingent before with Bruce Bowen's horrid dirty play and Manu Ginobili's ever-present flopping routine.

Then, tonight, Ginboili did what he does best — fall down — when running up the court alongside Derek Fisher. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and Fisher both ended up getting ejected and the Spurs ended up winning handily. The game was mostly gone at the point already, but irresposible refereeing (more than just a trend) essentially ended the game for the Jazz at the point that it could have potentially turned around.

It's really quite mind-boggling that the NBA hasn't stepped up and done something about flopping. Believe me, I understand the importance of taking a charge. It keeps offensive players honest and keeps players from slashing the lane with wild abandon. I have no problem with that, that rule exists for a reason. However, players like Manu Ginobili, and the basketball godfather of the practice, Vlade Divac, might be the most spineless athletes on the planet. Gaining a competitive advantage is one thing, and a little bit of gamesmanship is one of the things that makes sports great. But, at its base level, this practice represents a complete lack of respect for the game. Exploiting a rule again and again that undermines the quality of basketball is something the NBA must look into if it wants to keep people from giving up on the NBA as a compelling sport more than they already have.

Reasonably yours,

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Of gambling and NBA

With last season's NBA All-Star festivities taking place in Las Vegas, and a franchise currently looking for a new home (Seattle Supersonics), it would seem as if the plate was being set the eventual relocation of an NBA franchise to Sin City.

NBA commissioner David Stern has since softened his stance and has appointed a committee to explore the viability of a franchise in Vegas, either by expansion or move.

Count me on board that Vegas should have an NBA team. I don't think that an NFL or MLB team would work in Vegas, but the atmosphere of that city would fit an NBA team like a glove.

Stern's biggest gripe, and supposed hardline stance of not allowing a team to go to Vegas unless casinos took gambling off the books is foolish to say the least. This Vegas isn't the Vegas of old, involved with organized crime and other such forms of corruption. The salaries that NBA players helps deter any kind of corruption that may have been possible in days of old. At an average salary of $5.2 million, the price for an NBA player to risk the kinds of repercussions involved with tampering is almost nonexistent. Never mind the fact that if such activities were going to happen, they would anyway as it doesn't require a location in Vegas to collude on throwing a game.

Either way, if an NBA owner wants to move his team to Vegas, there should be no reason that it's acceptable to move to Oklahoma City or Kansas City and not to Las Vegas.

Reasonably yours,

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why do NBA fans turn off?

As NBA watchers continue to act disinterested and bored, and both Conference Finals are still halfway competitive at 2-1 apiece, one has to wonder why everyone is so disgusted with the things that have taken place thus far in the NBA playoffs.

With the madness that occurred in the Western Semifinals, many were up in arms about the best series in the playoffs fouled up by a misguided rule and the overly strict implementation of it. The NBA was right in suspending Stoudemire and Diaw, but only because they had a specifically stated rule with clear-cut language. However, the NBA failed miserably in not having revisited this rule previously to at least have some discretion included. But, this issue has been hammered home so many times that it's tired, so we'll drop it for now.

The issue that is still at hand — why everyone is disinterested in the NBA right now — remains unsolved. I had the benefit of being out of the country when all of the Suns/Spurs bru-ha-ha went down, thus sparing me from all the rhetoric on both sides of the argument. So, coming into the situation, I have few biases spread by the national media. As an NBA fan, I am still interested in the playoffs, and will watch every game. But I am not excited. And, as I said before, I am not alone.

Before I start, I would like to make a few quick distinctions.
  • NBA fans are people who will follow happenings and games in the NBA no matter what.
  • Sports fans will follow sports, and will pay attention to the sport that is most compelling.
  • Fans of a specific NBA team may also be NBA fans in general, but that isn't always true.

    Here's are the reasons I have nailed down as the reasons everyone is so disenfranchised:

    1. Forgone conclusion
    In these conference finals, most sports fans and NBA fans have made the forgone conclusion that the Spurs will win the West and the Pistons will win the East.
    Predictability breeds disinterest, and until this thing has one of the underdogs take the lead in the series or push it to a seventh game, many sports fans will turn their attention elsewhere.

    2. Nash love
    America loves Steve Nash, a white superstar and a back-to-back-MVP. Without Nash in it, many sports fans and NBA fans became disinterested when the man they secretly (or openly) love is dispatched after having such an exciting, dominating season.

    3. Suns are exciting, others aren't
    With an up-tempo style that produces highlight after highlight when it is running on all cylinders, people love to watch Phoenix play. Every team left plays a much more grueling (or in Cleveland's case gruesome) style of ball.

    4. No superstars
    LeBron James is the only remaining sexy star left in the playoffs. Tim Duncan is a star, but doesn't command as much attention because of his lack of flash and for another reason that I'll get to in a bit. Utah's tandem of Boozer and Deron Williams may make waves in a few years, but aren't there yet. Detroit is a team, but no real individual stars really still exist.

    5. It's tainted
    Many sports fans are still bitter that the series that was most compelling to them — San Antonio vs. Phoenix — had an air of taint to it. When Robert Horry decked Nash and Stoudemire and Diaw flew off the bench, many saw this as an instinctual reaction, and with a lack of understanding or respect for the rules in place, many sports fans will scoff at the result of that series as another rigged NBA contest. Never mind the fact that if the NBA were going to rig it anyone's way, it would be the Suns, but that's a topic for another day.

    6. These aren't the matchups everyone has been waiting to see.
    All season, NBA watchers across the nation have been waiting to see Mavs vs. Spurs or Mavs vs. Suns. In the East, the nation would have much preferred a Bulls vs. Cavaliers Conference Finals. The Mavs didn't do their part, and the Pistons are way better than the Bulls, so nobody should really be surprised anyway.

    7. Same old thing
    It happens to every great team. People get tired of seeing the same successful teams over and over. Nowadays, the Spurs are always either winning it, or in the hunt. The Pistons are the same to a lesser degree.

    (Now here's the real reason, but it's the one nobody realizes or recognizes)

    8. Unattractive market
    Tony Parker said it best:
    "If our team was in New York, there would be a different perception of our team," Parker said. "They'd be talking crazy about Manu and Timmy and stuff like that. But we're in San Antonio. Don't get me wrong; I love San Antonio. But I'm just saying that different markets, I guess . . . if our team was in New York, it would be huge."

    This describes the subconscious attitude of many NBA fans and sports fans and I couldn't have said it better myself. It isn't just the Spurs right now, and right now, there are four of the least sexy markets in all of basketball (save Milwaukee and Minnesota) in the mix. Detroit has a metroplex of 5.4 million, Cleveland's has 2.2 million, San Antonio's has 1.9 million and Salt Lake City has a mere 1 million. As far as NBA markets go, Detroit is really the only one that is of any real size. Plus, who the hell ever wants to go to Detroit. It's bleak. Cleveland is a beleaguered sports town that hasn't ever really been successful and has little that is atttractive to the rest of the country besides LeBron. San Antonio is in the middle of Texas, and really has little else to offer of national interest beyond the Spurs and the Alamo. Utah...well, it's Utah.

    My point is that there isn't anything to compel national sports fans to these unattractive markets. There is something interesting about seeing things happen in New York, Los Angeles...hell, even a place like Denver or Phoenix.

    My question to my fair reader(s) is:

    Why is America disinterested in the NBA?

    Reasonably yours,

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