Tag:James Harden
Posted on: August 17, 2011 2:42 pm
 

Kendrick Perkins' says he was only drinking water

Posted by Royce Young

For Kendrick Perkins, his weekend arrest really didn't carry much of any punishment. It was just a misdemeanor charge, he got out on $150 bail and with a little community service, I'm sure he'll be able to move past whatever happened at a bar in his hometown of Beaumont, TX.

But Perkins sees the punishment of public perception as too much to ignore. Which is why he's going on the offensive.

Tuesday, we told you about his denial of the claims made by police after his arrest for public intoxication. Through a lawyer's statement, Perkins claims he was actually injured during whatever happened and even considered a police brutality complaint. And now, there's more. Via the Oklahoman, a publicist for Perkins says he was only having water at the bar and there are witnesses to verify it.

“Although these may be misdemeanors, it’s a big deal to Kendrick,” said Denise White. “He’s not happy about how things happened that evening and feels like the police were out of hand … He was not drinking alcohol, nor was he intoxicated. Not one drop of alcohol Friday night. We’re not sure why they said Kendrick was intoxicated. There are witnesses inside the club that will attest to Kendrick only drinking water that evening.”

How can we be sure about this? We can't, because evidently police did not administer a breathalyzer or take a blood test. And if you've ever heard Perk talk, it might be kind of difficult to tell if he's been drinking or not. That slow Texas drawl makes it sound like he's slurring everything. I mean, doesn't it seem a bit strange that he was arrested for public intoxication and they didn't actually prove he was intoxicated? Does to me.

So why did everything get out of hand? White says Perkins disagreed with the club's manager over money.

White said the altercation early Saturday morning stemmed from Perkins attempting to collect money from the club manager with whom he had struck a deal for the use of the establishment as an after party site wrapping up the event. The money, White said, was to go to Perkins' foundation, which aims to help children learn life skills and drug-awareness. According to White, the club owner became combative with Perkins and refused to hand over the money. An assistant to Perkins diffused the situation before “the lone policeman inside the club started harassing Kendrick to leave,” White said. Once outside, White said, another officer became more combative with Perkins, pushing him and grabbing his arm. Perkins, White said, was upset and pulled away. The officer then arrested him.

“We still don't know why he was physical with Kendrick,” White said.

Hey, at least it wasn't because of bourre.

Perkins was recovering as well from an incident that forced him to cancel his celebrity fundraiser game as well as skip a banquet for his camp. He reportedly was taken to the hospital the night before the arrest for dehydration. The word on that from White is that Perkins fainted playing dominoes at Stephen Jackson's house. He had been playing basketball with campers and then his friends who were in town -- Jackson, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Durant, Eric Maynor and James Harden -- and the 100 degree Heat and humidity in Beaumont caught up to him.

Whatever happened, at least we're getting two sides to the story. Perkins obviously is trying to clear his name from what became a pretty ugly stain on an otherwise solid reputation. I'm sure the clean-cut Thunder appreciate the effort too.
Posted on: August 16, 2011 11:30 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 1:02 pm
 

Video: Kobe Bryant hits Drew League game-winner

Posted by Ben Golliver

kobe-bryant-fist-pump

Legal drama
be damned, Kobe Bryant was up to his usual exploits on Tuesday night, taking names and giving religion on the basketball court.

Less than 24 hours after a California man alleged that Bryant injured him in a scuffle involving a cell phone at a church, the Los Angeles Lakers' All-Star guard scored 43 points in a surprise appearance at the Drew League. On Twitter, the league had dubbed Tuesday night's exhibition its "grand finale" after naming its league champion last weekend. Bryant made sure the "grand finale" ended in style, capping off the night by nailing a game-winning jumper over Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden to give his team the 139-137 victory. As you might expect, he was immediately mobbed by the crowd.

The Drew League, based in South Central Los Angeles, is California's most famous pro-am summer basketball league, dating back to 1973. Last month, Miami Heat All-Star forward LeBron James paid a visit to the Drew League; Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant played at the Drew back in June.

Other participants on Tuesday included Toronto Raptors forwards Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams.

Here's video of Kobe Bryant hitting a game-winner at the Drew League courtesy of YouTube user HoopMixtape.

Posted on: August 12, 2011 1:00 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 5:55 pm
 

The EOB Elite 100, 50-41: Hawks, beards and Bulls

Posted by Royce Young



This is the sixth segment of the CBSSports.com Eye on Basketball Elite 100, counting down the top-100 players in the NBA. 

Check out the earlier installments: 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51

Once you break the top 50, you start getting good players. Former All-Stars, solid veterans and some up-and-comers. But the top 40, that's when you start breaking into some legit talent. The all-time 3-point king. A superbeard. An overpaid "star." A blossoming star point guard and a scoring savant. There are frustrating talents, disappointing stars, aging vets and a couple young studs that could jump 20 spots by next year.

As such, we march on towards No. 1 with 50-41.

50. Tyreke Evans, SG, age 21, Sacramento Kings
2011 stats: 17.8 ppg, 5.6 apg, 4.8 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 14.46 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 69, 49, 45

After winning Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, big things were expected from Tyreke Evans. Sure, he didn't quite have a position and the Kings weren't exactly committing either way in that regard, but he was a super-talented player that could score, pass and create.

One problem for him though in 2010-11: his foot. Evans suffered through plantar fasciitis for most of the season which caused him to miss a bundle of games -- 25, in fact -- while hampering him in the 57 he did play. He was never entirely totally himself. He'd have nights where he looked like the guy that tore teams up as he walked to the Rookie of the Year, but then you could just see how the injury nagged him. A good 2010-11 and Evans is probably in our top 40, maybe even top 30. Next season will be a big chance to bounce back for him. He's likely locked into a position as Jimmer Fredette will take over point guard duties and if he gets healthy, he'll settle right back in to a scorer/creator role for the Kings. And maybe a top 40 spot.

49. Ray Allen, SG, age 36, Boston Celtics

2011 stats: 16.5 ppg, 2.7 apg, 3.4 rpg, 49.1 FG%, 44.4 3P%, 16.42 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 49, 41, 63

It feels a little funny to have the NBA's all-time 3-point shooter sitting on the back end of the top 50. But that's what tends to happen when you get to the twilight of your career.

Funny thing about Ray Allen though: He might've had one of his best seasons last year at the age of 36. He shot a career-high 44 percent from 3, averaged an extremely efficient 16.5 points a game and did his usual thing of nailing big shots and backbreaking 3s. His game changed when he went to Boston. He wasn't the gunning shooting guard going for 25 a night anymore. But that was by design. He fits into a role and a system and he's reaped the rewards of that. He doesn't have a ton of time left, but if last season was any indication, he's going to put some serious distance between himself and No. 2 on the all-time 3s list before he's done.

48. Luis Scola, PF, age 31, Houston Rockets
2011 stats: 18.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 50.4 FG%, 18.43 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 44, 51, 57

Did you know Luis Scola has finished in the top 12 in scoring for power forward each of the last two seasons? I realize that's kind of a specific measure, but here's my point: Scola is really a pretty solid power forward.

He's easy to forget because he doesn't do a lot of anything that's flashy. He scores with tremendous touch and footwork. Nothing is really above the rim and nothing is really that eye-catching. It's a simple game, but it's ridiculously difficult to defend. He is a routine threat to go for 20 and when that soft little midrange jumper is happening, he's a serious problem.

47. Luol Deng, SF, age 26, Chicago Bulls
2011 stats: 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 46.0 FG%, 34.5 3P%, 15.58 PER
Composite rankings (random order):
42, 64, 44

The second best player on a team that just finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference should be higher than 48th, right? Seems so, but really, this is exactly where Deng fits. He scores just enough, is a premier defender, rebounds well and just kind of fills his spot.

But the Bulls needed more from him to advance past Miami in the Eastern Finals last year. Derrick Rose was often forced into being The Option for Chicago and it was always expected of Deng to do a bit more than just wait for an open look. On some nights, he would. Others, it was a quiet 14 points on 10 shots. It's probably not fair to expect more from him because that's not who he is. Instead, he's a quality role player that can give you points on a given night, but isn't that second option. Or at least he shouldn't be.

46. James Harden, SG, age 21, Oklahoma City Thunder
2011 stats: 12.2 ppg, 2.1 apg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 spg, 43.6 FG%, 34.9 3P%, 16.42 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 45, 63, 41

If only these were beard power rankings. Because Harden would be the cream of the crop.

But 47th isn't a bad spot for him. He just wrapped up his second season and to some, he's was a disappointment for about three-fourths of his two years, mainly because he was selected third overall. But you've got to realize what Harden walked into. He was an All-American scorer from Arizona State that stepped on to a team that went on to win 50 games in his first season. He has come off the bench virtually every game for these two seasons. He has had to figure out where he stands alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

And as he showcased after Jeff Green was dealt to Boston and in the postseason, he's definitely Oklahoma City's third member of a potentially evolving new Big 3. The idea of him is that he's a Manu Ginobili type player and really, that's pretty accurate. He passes, handles and can score. He fits into a role instead of trying to force his way into every offensive conversation. He's a wonderful compliment to Westbrook in the backcourt and with Durant on the wing. Next season he should start from day one, which could mean Harden rockets up this board 10 or 15 spots. He's trending upward and catching attention and it finally has a lot more to do with his game than the outstanding beard.

45. Josh Smith, PF, age 25, Atlanta Hawks
2011 stats: 16.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.3 spg, 47.7 FG%, 19.31 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 32, 37, 69


Talk about an infuriating talent. Josh Smith is 6-11. He runs the floor like a guard. He leaps like he's LeBron. He has long arms, a great build and by all appearances, should be one of the most uniquely gifted players in the league.

And yet as we saw last playoffs, he loves to hover outside and launch jumpers. The audible noise from Philips Arena every time he did said it all. It was one giant collective sigh as Smith pulled the ball up to fire from 20.

Thing is, he got it under control to some degree during the 2009-10 season. He went from shooting over a 3 a game to just 0.1. The official tally was 87 attempts to seven. That's a real effort to get shot selection under control. But then last season, he took 154 3s. So much for that.

In terms of straight numbers, he had a good 2010-11, because he really did. But it's about operating efficiently and in a way that helps your team win. I'm not sure Smith did that consistently last year. He's a top 20 talent that plays like a top 60 guy. Hence the 46th overall ranking I suppose.

Here's something that might blow your mind though: Smith is still just 25.

44. Joe Johnson, SG, age 30, Atlanta Hawks
2011 stats: 18.2 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.0 rpg, 44.3 FG%, 29.7 3P%, 16.46 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 43, 39, 54

Not too many guys making $120 million a year -- more than Dwyane Wade or LeBron James got last summer -- should find themselves on the fringes of the top 50. And I can't decide whose fault that really is. It isn't Joe Johnson's fault the Hawks overpaid drastically for him. What was he supposed to say? No thanks, I'm not worth that much?

But it's also not the Hawks fault that Johnson has never really realized his talent. Johnson seems to play his way or the highway. When he wants to isolate in the post, he's doing it. When he wants to launch a questionable 3, he's doing it. When he wants to stand harmlessly on the wing and fade into oblivion for an entire second half, he's doing it. It's a reason Johnson has always frustrated fans which led him to being booed by Hawk fans during the 2010 playoffs. Some worried if that would scare him away from Atlanta as he was to be a free agent that summer.

Nope. Because the Hawks offered him $120 million. Not too hard to endure a few boos when you're making that kind of paper.

43. Stephen Curry, G, age 23, Golden State Warriors
2011 stats: 18.6 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.9 rpg, 48.0 FG%, 44.2 3P%, 19.46 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 38, 46, 46


I want to see Curry play a season without Monta Ellis in the backcourt next to him. I really want to see what Curry's completely capable of as a featured player. Because right now in Golden State, it's hard to figure where he fits or what his job is. I think he's the team's point guard, but I'm not really sure. Some nights he plays like he is, other nights he's the go-to scorer. Maybe that's by design or maybe it's a flaw within the roster structure.

Regardless, Curry has one of the most seamless strokes in basketball. It's just so very, very pure. When he lets a jumper fly, he's one of those guys you're convinced it's dropping through. It feels like he doesn't miss. He's undersized, sure, but that's never held him back in terms of ripping up defenses.

He's pretty overwhelmed defensively, which is one big reason he's not higher up. But in terms of offense, he's a borderline savant. He was born to score and that's exactly what he does.

42. David West, PF, age 30, New Orleans Hornets
2011 stats: 18.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, 50.8 FG%, 20.51 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 37, 42, 51

I don't know if West's seemingly low ranking even has as much to do with last season's injury as you might be guessing. Yes, he suffered a devastating knee injury that could affect his career going forward. But that probably only dropped him 7-10 spots or so. West's a very good player, no doubt. But really when you start getting into the top 40 players, it's hard to really justify West being in front of a lot of those guys. Is he better than Lamar Odom? Better than Marc Gasol? Better than Rudy Gay?

I've always kind of had to wonder too if West simply rode the good fortune of having Chris Paul get him the ball too. How much better did Paul make West? All those 18-footers West has drilled -- how many came as a result of Paul drawing the defense and making it happen for him? Not to take anything away from West because he's a top power forward for sure, but I get the feeling people will say, "Forty-three!?! That's WAY too low!" Maybe it's the injury stuff or maybe it's just that West isn't a truly elite player.

41. John Wall, PG, age 20, Washington Wizards
2011 stats: 16.4 ppg, 8.3 apg, 4.6 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 15.85 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 50, 45, 34

I don't get the sense Wall will be staying anywhere near the 40s for long. His rookie season would've grabbed a lot more attention if it weren't for that mammoth dunking over cars out in Los Angeles. Looking at his year -- 16.4 points and 8.3 assists per game -- that's pretty darn good for a rookie point guard. Especially considering he was dealing with a mostly dysfunctional roster and teammates that may or may not have been told they were playing in the NBA.

Wall's place is temporary so really, it's more of a question of where he's going to eventually end up rather than where he sits currently. Is he going to be on the level of Rose and Westbrook? I absolutely think so. And if that's the case, in another year or two Wall will likely have carved out a spot at the table in the top 15. Point guards are making big jumps in their third seasons nowadays. And that's still another to go for Wall. Somehow he found himself overlooked a bit last year but as he progresses and trends more toward the top 20 and maybe top 10, he'll have plenty of attention.
Posted on: July 24, 2011 2:02 pm
Edited on: July 24, 2011 2:34 pm
 

Image is everything: On tattoos and perception

Posted by Royce Young



Maybe you don't remember the old Canon Andre Agassi commercials. But I'm sure you remember the tagline. Image is everything.

Sure, it was just a clever way to tie in high-quality pictures with a tennis star who had quite a rebellious, care-free image, but that idea lives on. Especially with high-profile athletes. Marketing, branding, visibility, likability -- all that crap is essentially what leads to more money. The more people like you, the more people trust you. So when you endorse a product, whether it be a brand or even yourself, appearance and image, are what matter.

And nobody in the NBA has a more squeaky-clean image than Kevin Durant. He's a superstar, but one that's humble, soft-spoken, team-oriented, committed, loyal and basically 50 other words describing how good a dude he is. He caught a lot of attention when he sheepishly announced his grand five-year max extension with the Thunder while LeBron was prepping for a one-hour special, but it goes back a lot farther than that. He would run the scoreboard in college at Texas during intramural games. He plays video games with neighborhood kids. He signs every autograph. He introduces himself as you wouldn't know who he was. "Hi, I'm Kevin." I mean, we're talking about a global basketball superstar that has two straight scoring titles, was the second-leading vote-getter in the West last season and one of the most visible and brightest stars in the league.

So in terms of image, Durant has about as good a one as you can get. I think you'd have a better chance of finding the Holy Grail than finding someone with a bad word about KD. You know a guy is solid when other fan bases say things like, "Yeah, I can't hate KD. He's just too awesome."

Which is why you might be surprised to know that picture up top is actually of Durant. A lot of people were stunned to see the clean-cut, humble dude from conservative Oklahoma City so inked up. As a result, it started a minor frenzy. Virtually every major blog has picked up the photo of Durant standing in China with his shirt off and subsequently shocked the masses by what was revealed: Kevin Durant has tattoos. Not just one, either. Lots of them.

But what caught so much attention isn't the fact that he has them. It's where he has them. Not on his arms. Not on his neck. Not on his wrist, leg or shoulder. KD only has tattoos on his chest. Almost in a comical square pattern. Almost like he has them there so that they'll stay covered up when he's wearing, you know, a basketball jersey.

Some have wondered: Is this just KD maintaining his image?

Potentially. And if so, you kind of have to respect that self-awareness of his image and brand.

I understand that with tattoos, along comes a certain perception of the person getting them. Especially when they come in excess as in Durant's case. It's a pathetic stereotype, but there's a certain thinking that if a person has a bunch of tattoos, that must say something about who they are, something about their character. You didn't see a bunch of ink all over Martin Luther King Jr. or the Dali Lama. Obviously, that's silly, but that type of idea is unavoidable.

Which is why some have figured that Durant is trying to have the best of both worlds with his tattoos. Keep up that sharp-dressed-man look on the court with clean arms, but have his ink hidden underneath where it would only be seen if for some reason the NBA went shirts versus skins.

I get that theory. It makes sense. But it shouldn't matter. Durant got the tattoos because he wanted them. He had them put on his chest because that's where he wanted them. And if he wants one on his shoulder or arm, he'll get it. Durant is always, always himself. The image people have of him is great, but he's not trying to live up to that. He's not changing who he is just to try and be the person we all think he is or should be. He's simply just going to be him. If some ink on his skin changes the way someone looks at him as a brand, a role model or a player, I think that says a lot more about the person than it does about Durant.

The entire Thunder team has sort of been branded as this choir-boy bunch of kids that say yes ma'am and no sir while having no piercings or nasty body art. Maybe that's because it really fits the conservative nature of Oklahoma and people ate up the fact that the players adhered more to weird community social standards than to the perceived "thug life" of the NBA. With Durant being the face of the franchise, everything fell in step behind him.

But if he has ink, what does that say about the perfect little Thunder? Can we not root for that team now? Should fans not love them as much? Do we tell kids in school not to be like them now? I mean, really, how stupid is it that all of this is because of some ink on a guy's skin?

There is a line and even David Stern acknowledged it when he instituted the dress code a few years ago. There's a certain level of professionalism that has to be upheld for the general public to be able to be to connect with players. It's a touchy area, but understandable. I suppose you could apply those same principles to Durant and his ink, but what does it matter?

A lot of stars have tattoos all over their bodies. Kobe and LeBron have clearly visible ink. Some players don't -- like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Most would've had Durant in that category, too. But does now seeing him inked really change anything? And more importantly, should it?

Ink is ink, a player is a player and most importantly, a person is a person. All three aren't necessarily related.


Posted on: July 23, 2011 3:36 pm
Edited on: July 23, 2011 4:11 pm
 

Video: Durant and Harden rock the Philippines

Posted by Royce Young

There was already the Kobe to Rose alley-oop that was very nice. But not nearly as nice as the one that Kevin Durant tossed to teammate James Harden. The NBA players won 131-105 with Durant scoring 22, 20 coming in the first half. I couldn’t find a story with how many Harden had, but I can be certain he had at least two. Two that might as well been worth 20. Because holy mother of oop.



Goodness, I miss you NBA.
Posted on: July 21, 2011 2:53 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 8:55 am
 

Durant to lead Goodman League against Drew League

Posted by Royce Young

You need basketball. I need basketball. We wouldn't have it now anyway, but the prospect of not having it at all next year is a terrifying idea. That's why people have taken an odd amount of interest in players participating in exhibition games overseas.

Well, now there's going to be a pretty significant streetball exhibition and it's happening in Washington, D.C. We told you there was a possibility of this and now it's pretty much definitely happening.

The legendary Goodman League is set to take on the legendary Drew League in a showdown taking place Aug. 20. (You can watch a stream of it here.) And the rosters aren't going to disappoint.

Kevin Durant leads the Goodman and joining him will be John Wall, Ty Lawson, Gary Neal, Tyreke Evans, Michael Beasley, DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Selby, Sam Young, Donte Greene and from the And1 Tour Hugh Jones, Emmanuel Jones and Warren Jefferson.

For the Drew, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Nick Young, Dorrell Wright, Brandon Jennings, JaVale McGee, Craig Smith, Pooh Jeter, Bobby Brown (Aris BC), Marcus Williams and three more players yet to be named.

Durant, of course, has been playing in the Goodman League at Barry Farms for a long time, kind of making it his second basketball home. It's sort of the place to be for good pro-am hoops on the East Coast right now. The Drew League has become the premier pro-am league on the West Coast. So it's only natural someone organized a showdown.

With a dark summer of no official basketball because of the lockout, you should be very, very excited for this. And there’s no doubt the Goodman has a major edge here. First, it’s in D.C. Second, look at that roster. KD, Wall, Lawson, Reke and Beasley are quite the core. Harden’s been tearing up the Drew (he scored 52 there a couple of weeks ago), but the Goodman roster is way better.

I mean, who the heck is guarding Durant? Dorrell Wright certainly will get the call, but the Goodman has a ton of speed. Of course, I'm hoping to see Harden on Durant for most of the game, for obvious reasons.

You can be sure this showdown will be awesome. And you can be sure I’ll be watching. You better be, too.


Posted on: July 11, 2011 6:23 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 10:23 pm
 

What teams risk in a lockout: Northwest Division

A look at what is at stake for the NBA's Northwest Division if a whole season was lost due to the lockout. Posted by Ben Golliver.

ricky-rubio

Talk of losing an entire NBA season is a bit ridiculous. But it's a possibility. And with all this hardline talk going on, it seems like neither the players nor the owners are wanting to budge. There's incentive for teams to get a deal done and not just for the money, but because a year without basketball and more importantly, basketball operations, could greatly affect each and every NBA franchise.

Earlier this week, we took a look at the Southeast Division, the Atlantic Division, the Central Division and the Southwest Division. Let's continue with the Northwest Division.  

MINNESOTA Timberwolves


The NBA's worst team won just 17 games last year, had the league's seventh-worst home attendance and is generally mentioned at the top of the list of examples that "prove" the NBA's economic system is broken. That's because their local television, ticket and memorabilia revenue simply cannot compete with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics of the world. Despite all of that, the Timberwolves might very well have more to lose than any other team in the Northwest Division if the league were to miss an entire season.

Let's start with 2009 lottery pick Ricky Rubio, who against all odds took the plunge and decided to finally join up with Minnesota. For multiple seasons, Rubio has represented hope, carrying Timberwolves fans through ugly winters and late-season collapses. The wait was excruciating. The uncertainty about whether he would or wouldn't stay in Europe further into the future made it worse. Now that he's on board, he's been greeted at an airport, introduced to his teammates, sold some jerseys and rallied the collective fan spirit a bit. To lose an entire season would make that interminable wait that much longer. It would also rob Rubio of a valuable development and acclimation year, which would be an absolute disaster. This is a point guard who needs to start on Day 1, entrusted with the full support of his coaching staff and allowed to make mistakes and build chemistry with his teammates while learning on the job. No season means no opportunity to do any of that.

Aside from Rubio, there are financial risks as well. That might be surprising, because the Timberwolves currently are the only team in the NBA that does not have anyone on their books for more than $6.3 million next season, a fairly astonishing accomplishment. Of course, there's a catch: All-Star power forward Kevin Love is on his rookie deal. Indeed, Love is heading into the last pure season of his rookie deal before Minnesota either must issue him a qualifying offer or sign him to an extension. Worse yet, it's possible that Love, one of the league's premier rebounders, will command a mini-max extension or close to it. The point here? He's set to make just $4.6 million next season, a bargain for his production. If the season is lost, the Timberwolves miss out completely on that outstanding value and are one year closer to biting the bullet on extending him without having reaped full benefits. That's tough.

Last but not least, a lost season is the perfect excuse for any franchise to delay tough decisions or to talk themselves into trying to make things work. With an imbalanced roster full of mixed and matched pieces, the Timberwolves, despite their accumulated talent, are going to struggle mightly again next season. The pains of those struggles, theoretically, could be enough to finally convince owner Glen Taylor to pull the plug on president David Kahn, a man who hasn't shown the ability to construct a team and outright wasted two second round draft picks on technical mistakes during the 2011 NBA Draft, by trading a hurt player (Jonny Flynn) and drafting someone who lied about his age (Tanguy Ngombo). A year without games, then, is a year without losses, which means another year for Kahn to preach patience and wiggle out of responsibility for this mess. The sooner Kahn is gone, the sooner this ship turns around. A lost season will make "sooner" feel like never.

OKLAHOMA CITY Thunder

While the Timberwolves need to get headed in the right direction, the Oklahoma City Thunder are already there. With the best designed roster in the league, two young All-Stars, an undisputed Northwest Division title and a Western Conference Finals appearance under their belt already, and a passionate fanbase that is guaranteed to provide 40+ home sellouts next season, the Thunder would happily start the season today. A lost season, then, would be a nightmare.

Name something, anything, and it's at risk for the Thunder. They lose the value of Russell Westbrook playing on a rookie deal. They lose the value of James Harden on a rookie deal. They lose the value of Serge Ibaka on a rookie deal. They lose one year of Kevin Durant's Hall of Fame playing career. They lose another season of playoff experience. They lose a very good chance at making a run at an NBA Finals. They lose a season of having their top eight players (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefalosha, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor) all locked into affordable contracts. They lose the chemistry and momentum that goes with having an entire nucleus together for multiple years.

What's worse: they have nothing to gain from a work stoppage, other than perhaps the money that would come with increased revenue sharing. Without a single bad or untradeable contract on their books, there is no financial reason OKC would root for a year away from the game. In fact, any change to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that firms up the cap would make it more difficult for the Thunder to keep all this talent in house. That means they wouldn't get the chance to win now and their ability to win later could be compromised.

Usually, young teams that make a deep run through the playoffs can't wait to get back on the court for a second go-around. Multiply that feeling by about 10 and that's the situation facing OKC. 

PORTLAND Trail Blazers

lockoutYou might think the injury-plagued Trail Blazers would welcome some time off to lick their wounds and assess the damage, but missing an entire NBA season wouldn't necessarily be a good thing for this franchise. Really, it's a muddled picture.

The main benefit is clear: the Blazers have a very difficult cap situation next season, thanks to a mini-max contract for guard Brandon Roy, who is apparently no longer capable of reaching his previous All-Star level of play. Saving the $15 million owed to Roy, as well as the $10.5 million owed to aging center Marcus Camby, would be a tempting proposition for most small-market owners. Money aside, saving the miles on Roy's knees wouldn't hurt either.

Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, however, has dealt with serious health problems in recent years and is clearly in spend-big, win-now mode. He would cut a check tomorrow for five times his team's total salary cap if it meant a shot at the NBA Finals, no questions asked. It's difficult to imagine a financial enticement that would make it worth Allen's while to take a year off. 

Aside from Roy, the other big question is center Greg Oden. Missing an entire NBA season doesn't play in Oden's favor, as he hasn't taken the court for an NBA game since December 2009. A lost season means his layoff would extend nearly three full years to October 2012. That's a long, long time to be away from basketball. Complicating that further for the Blazers is the fact that Oden is a restricted free agent this summer. The Blazers would retain matching rights on Oden if a season was lost but they would be forced to offer him an extension without being able to see whether he recovers fully to be able to take the court and, more importantly, withstand injury once he's out there. Oden could command a mid-level type of offer on the open market, which would be a major investment for Portland, because the Blazers have already committed to nearly $80 million in salary for next season, with contracts to Roy, forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace and guard Wesley Matthews already on the books into the future. Without another center on their roster who is in their long-term plans, though, the Blazers wouldn't have a choice. They'd have to pay up. Given that situation, you want as much information as possible; a lost season would mean no information.

Finally, the Blazers have a big question at the starting point guard position. His name is Raymond Felton, and he was acquired in a draft day trade for previous point guard Andre Miller. Felton is in a contract year and hasn't played meaningful minutes with any of his current teammates, except for a stint in Charlotte with Wallace. Felton will require a good-sized contract extension next summer as well and the Blazers would surely like to see how he gels with their core, particularly Aldridge, before they commit to him long-term. Without any starting quality options on the roster, they would again find themselves stuck in a corner, forced to do what it takes to retain Felton without a readily available back-up plan.

To boil it down: the Blazers have enough questions without a lost season. Missing a full season would simply create an array of complications and made some tough roster decisions that much more difficult and, potentially, costly. 

DENVER Nuggets

Sure, the Denver Nuggets lost franchise forward Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks, but they did an excellent job of stripping their roster down to allow for a quick bounceback rebuilding effort. The Nuggets, somewhat like the Thunder, are in a financial position where their salary cap situation makes it more advantageous for next season to take place unhindered. The Nuggets currently don't have a truly horrible contract on their books, although the mid-level deal for Al Harrington and the $15 million or so left to be paid to Chris Andersen over the next three years are regrettable. Indeed, the Nuggets have committed to less than $40 million in salary for next season, pending a potentially major financial commitment to big man Nene, who has decided to test the free agency waters, and a decision on guard J.R. Smith.

The biggest risks for Denver would be missing out on the value of point guard Ty Lawson on his rookie deal and managing whatever concerns might arise about Denver's ability to use its salary cap flexibility to continue work on its rebuilding situation. Most analysts believe teams with salary cap room will be in a position of strength, regardless of how the new CBA shakes out, so perhaps that uncertainty is more of an annoyance than a true concern. 

The Nuggets have a lot of questions. How will they spend their money? Who will they bring back? Who will they let go? Are the players under contract currently good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference next year or is it better to continue slashing and burning for another season? These are good questions to have because they all point to one fundamental truth: The Nuggets have flexibility thanks to their young, cheap assets. The worst case scenario is that Nuggets fans have to wait a year to watch a promising, athletic upstart group entertain. That's not too bad. 
 
UTAH Jazz

If I'm the Jazz, I'm totally cool with taking a year off. A lost season means that Utah would save $14 million owed to Al Jefferson, $10.9 million owed to Mehmet Okur, $9.3 million owed to Devin Harris and $8.1 million owed to Paul Millsap. While Millsap is probably worth his number, the other three certainly aren't worth theirs, especially on a team that lost its foundational identity when it shipped franchise point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets at the trade deadline.

Right now, Utah's finances are pretty tight, with $61.5 million already committed for 2011-2012. Look ahead just one year, though, and that number drops to $48.7 million. To make things even nicer, Jefferson, Harris and Millsap will all be expiring that season. The Jazz will be poised to take advantage of their new-found flexibility, keeping the parts that fit (probably only Millsap) and dispensing with the rest.

The biggest risk in a cancelled season for Utah would be the lost development for younger guys like Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and 2011 first-round picks Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. In Favors, they have a potential franchise forward who needs to start enjoying a loose leash so he can blossom into the player the Jazz expect him to be. Forcing him to take a year off does him no good and, depending on how he responds, could do him some harm. Kanter, meanwhile, looks like an even bigger risk on paper because he was forced to sit out last year at Kentucky, his only year at the college level, due to eligibility issues and because he hasn't yet tasted the NBA game. A lost season would mean two full years away from competitive basketball, not an ideal situation for someone the Jazz selected with the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft. As for Hayward and Burks, they are lesser concerns. Both have shown promise and clearly have room for improvement. Losing a year wouldn't be critical, but it would be better for them individually if it could be prevented.

On balance, the financial rewards seem to outweigh the development risks for the Jazz.

Salary numbers courtesy of StoryTeller's Contracts.
Posted on: July 4, 2011 12:05 pm
Edited on: July 5, 2011 9:37 am
 

Hard cap could mean hard times for small markets

Posted by Royce Young



NBA owners want a hard cap. It's probably one of the three biggest reasons we're stuck in a lockout right now. Owners want a hard cap, or at least one they're trying to disguise by calling it a "flex cap," and the union has basically said they will never, ever accept a hard cap.

And when the hard cap topic is brought up, people always wonder how a $55 million hard cap would affect a team like the Miami Heat. Between Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, those three soak up about $47 million on the Heat payroll. And that's just for 2011-12. In 2013-14, that number will be about $58 million, so even the suggested $62 million "flex cap" the league talked about would leave the Heat only $4 million to fill out their roster.

The super-together, we're-a-real-team Mavericks? Yeah, their total payroll added up to nearly $90 million last season, third highest in the league. That's about $30 million over the current salary cap but because it's a soft cap, it was fine. (Fine in the sense it didn't break any rules, but still, pretty outrageous.)

The feeling though with this hard-cap business is how much it'll affect teams like the Lakers, Heat, Bulls and Knicks. Now their greatest assets -- money and market -- don't mean as much because in a hard-cap system, signing multiple big contract stars just isn't an option. Victory for the small markets, right?

I'm not so sure about that.

I wonder about a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the smallest-market teams in the league. The feeling is that a hard cap would help smaller markets compete because talent would get distributed a bit more evenly throughout the league. With teams unable to pay a bunch of guys on the roster $15 million or go $30 million over the cap line, either players would have to take a serious pay cut or go somewhere else.

Except in the case of the Thunder, a straight hard cap would destroy them.

Kevin Durant just signed a five-year extension that will pay him around $16 million a year. Russell Westbrook, an All-Star point guard at the age of 22, is eligible for an extension and would probably have it if there weren't a lockout. He's probably a max player or close to it. So that would be another major mark on the cap for the Thunder. Then the other guys -- Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Eric Maynor -- are all eligible for extensions next summer.

If the league has a stiff cap of even $60 million, how can the Thunder dream of re-signing these guys and keeping the core intact?

Answer: They can't.

That has been Thunder GM Sam Presti's plan since Day 1, though. He wanted to draft a bunch of young guys and let them grow together. Let them progress, develop and become a team all together. And when they did, lock them all up long-term and have yourself a contender for the next decade. It has worked. The Thunder just went to the Western Conference finals with one of the youngest teams in the league and should be in the mix for at least the next five.

Unless of course they have to let a couple of their big pieces walk.

Last season the cap was set at $58.04 million and the Thunder were one of only five teams under that number. While a lot of smaller markets prefer not to bust into luxury tax territory, most likely OKC would be there after those key pieces were extended. So while they're under now, that probably wouldn't be the case in the future.

Reality is, a hard cap might have more of an affect on the little guys, which is who the league wants you to think it desperately wants to protect. But basically, with a hard salary cap system, building through the draft and letting a core grow together is no longer the way to go. Put together a roster with five good players that need extensions and you're out of room after three. Maybe you can get four, but how do you add another nine guys to fill out a 13-man roster?

What we might see is the Maverick Plan instituted as the way to win in the NBA. Now again, they totaled nearly $90 million, but I just mean the idea. Grab one star player and fill in the rest with a couple rookie-level contracts and a bunch of aging veterans willing to take $5 million or less. The Mavs had one star and everyone praised them for it. But in a hard-cap world, that might be best philosophy.

Because a team of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka probably can't exist just as one of LeBron, Wade and Bosh can't. Doesn't exactly seem right, does it? The idea is a hard cap would help restore some competitive balance and the bigger markets wouldn't be able to just dwarf the small ones by going $30 million over the cap like the Mavericks did. The Thunder would never do that.

At the same time, while the playing field might be leveled in terms of payroll, it could come at the cost of breaking up the band and redefining how a small-market team must build.

Every team that's using the draft to build -- which is the sound and socially blessed way to structure a team -- would have to reconsider. The Cavaliers might've just committed 80 percent of their future cap to Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson if those two pan out. Same for the Jazz with Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. The future for those teams might be just enjoying the four years you get with them on their rookie contracts and then choose one to keep. I don't really think that's what the NBA has in mind, but that's going to be what happens. Small markets probably will take the brunt of a hard cap much harder than the big ones. Or at least the good small-market franchises that understand how to build.

Who knows what the NBA landscape will look like when the dust clears in this lockout mess. The players have taken a hard line on a hard cap and supposedly will refuse to back down. The owners though are committed in their efforts to get one. Yeah, it'll reduce salaries. Maybe the system will stay the same but just instead of Harden getting a $10 million-a-year extension, he would get $6 million. That's possible.

But this is the NBA and just because a new salary system is in place doesn't mean the league doesn't have impulsive general managers that are ready to snatch away a player like Harden and give him that $10 million a year simply because they know the Thunder can't go that high. That'll be the world teams operate in. One where the Thunder Way is no longer the blueprint for small-market building success.

Maybe the players have a point, huh?
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com