All rise, and welcome to this sports court of public opinion we call Foul Play-by-Play -- the podcast that provides play-by-play and color commentary on foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court, and ice.

Headlines

Headline 1: Dolphins First to Release Potential Penalties for Anthem Protests

Since the Miami Dolphins are one of the first NFL teams to report to training camp, they were the first to put police brutality protest penalties in writing, as required by the league. I’m calling them police brutality protests instead of anthem protests because that’s what they are: the players are protesting police brutality against minorities, not the national anthem. Yet the media was quick to dub the protests as anthem protests, which has stuck.

If you search Google using the terms “anthem protest” you get 13.6 million hits. Using the search terms “anthem protests” you get almost 1.5 million hits. If you search “police brutality protests” you get just 187,000 hits, so simply assigning a name to these protests

The Dolphins stuffed the police brutality protests in with other acts of conduct deemed “detrimental to the club” punishable by up to four-game suspensions, but they reportedly have no intent of suspending players four games for protesting the national anthem. Co-owner of the New York Giants, Steve Tisch, has since announced that their players will not be subject to penalties for protesting police brutality during the national anthem.

The public backlash to the Dolphins’ announcement has forced the NFL to put a freeze on its national anthem protest policy, and the NFL Players’ Association and the NFL are finally working out an agreement to end the anthem feud, as should have been the case in the first place given the collective bargaining agreement.

Since the Dolphins’ announcement and resulting public backlash, Donald Trump has tweeted his displeasure with the anthem dispute, tweeting, “Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”

To answer your question Donald, players’ contracts do not include an anthem clause and neither does the collective bargaining agreement, and the commissioner taking your recommended stand could be devastating to the league given the NFL Players’ Association membership being almost 70-percent black. That union, at least, still has power. There is no NFL if only the black players protest during the anthem, and it hasn’t been just black players protesting.

I imagine the players value their right to protest less than guaranteed contracts but more than the right to use cannabis. On the topic of guaranteed contracts...

Headline 2: Le’Veon Bell to Play Without Job Security for Third Straight Season

For a third consecutive season, running back Le’Veon Bell will play for the Steelers without a long-term contract in place, providing him no job security if he were to be injured in 2018. Pittsburgh’s final offer to Bell, which is likely to be the final contract the Steelers ever offer Bell, was reportedly worth $70 million over five years. But it only contained $10 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. And Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com tweeted that the deal would have been virtually identical to...the last contract” Pittsburgh offered because the boosts in value would have been based on the increase in value of the running back franchise tag.

Bell’s franchise tag with Pittsburgh will pay him $14.55 million this season, but if he were to be injured, Bell might end up with a mostly unguaranteed contract in 2019 if he’s healthy enough to play at all.

Bell isn’t the only player griping about the NFL’s non-guaranteed contracts, but running backs seem to be the loudest proponents for guaranteed contracts and for good reason. Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley told TMZ Sports that all NFL players deserve guaranteed contracts and expects a lockout by the players to get them in 2021.

Running back DeMarco Murray chose to retire at age 30, and during his short, seven-year career, Murray amassed just over $25 million. That’s what Yu Darvish will make this season despite spending much of it on the disabled list. Murray, remember, led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage just four years ago. So a guy who was arguably the best player in the sport at one time made the same amount of money over his career as a top-30 starting pitcher will make this season despite appearing in just eight games thus far.

Major League Baseball, though, is not a hard-capped league. Owners could theoretically spend as much as they want on players, although not without paying a hefty competitive-balance tax. The same goes for the NBA, but the NFL and NHL owners benefit from a hard salary cap that limits the earning potential of players. It seems NFL players are better positioned in bargaining than they’ve ever been given decreasing viewership and youth participation. So what are the chances the NFLPA challenges the hard cap with a 2021 lockout, and how ugly is this round of collective bargaining going to get? And will it end the way the players want, with guaranteed contracts for all NFL players?

Headline 3: Randy Gregory, Banished for Cannabis Use to Deal with Anxiety, Earns NFL Reinstatement

Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory has been reinstated by the NFL, ending a two-year banishment for repeat violations of the league’s Substances of Abuse Policy. Gregory’s use of cannabis while at Nebraska is well documented, and he’s told multiple media outlets that he used the drug to cope with anxiety.

With the STATES Act getting the support of Congressmen and -women on both sides of the aisle, it seems the end of cannabis prohibition will be determined by each individual state. It’s safe to say Texas might be one of the last states to adopt medical cannabis laws, but regardless of the laws in Texas, the STATES Act would still allow the NFL to prohibit cannabis use, medically or otherwise and in states where it's legal or otherwise. With cannabis remaining federally illegal, the NFL can pretty much demand what it wants of its employees regardless of state law. But the NFL Players’ Association can and should make it a point to demand cannabis prohibition end in the NFL.

On the show two months ago we talked about a high school football player whose use of CBD oil, the non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis that has healing and pain relieving properties, eased his seizures so he could play the game. But the .3 percent of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis responsible for its euphoric effects, still present in his medicine made it impossible for him to realize his dream of playing for the Auburn Tigers due to NCAA rules. “We don’t want kids to give up their dreams of playing football for a living because there’s fewer and fewer of those kids in existence everyday due to concussion fears” seems like a strong message the NFLPA can use to get what it wants on this front.

Headline 4: Josh Hader Required to Complete Sensitivity Training for Tweets Made at 17 Years Old

Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader’s first All-Star appearance didn’t go very well, allowing three runs on four hits in a third of an inning, but what awaited him after the game was even worse.

Jeff Passan reported for Yahoo Sports that Twitter users uncovered a series of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets Hader made over an eight-month period when he was 17 years old. Hader thrice used the n-word, used the fist emoji followed by “white power lol” and another time tweeted, simply, “KKK.” “I hate gay people,” one tweet read, and two months before the Orioles drafted him in 2012, Hader tweeted, “Need a bitch that can bleep, cook, clean, right.”

Hader’s family and friends in attendance at the All-Star Game left Nationals Park with their Hader jerseys either inside-out or covered by generic, no-name National League All-Star jerseys. After the game, Hader called his comments “inexcusable” and said he was “deeply sorry” for what he said. “There’s nothing before that I believe now,” he added. “When you’re a kid, you tweet what’s on your mind.”

Regardless of age, those thoughts being on anyone’s mind should be troubling to anyone, and in my mind, it’s partially a result of just white, old-timers being white, old-timers and teaching their kids outdated and offensive habits, and partially a result of the segregation that persists in this country in the form of gentrification. Hader graduated from high school in Millersville, Maryland where 55 percent of enrolled students are minorities, according to U.S. News and World Report. But 71.3 percent of the city’s population is white.

Here in Minneapolis we have school segregation disguised as a “right to choose.” That is, parents and students have the so-called “right to choose” in which school they want to enroll, resulting in taxpayers like me paying more to bus white kids to mostly white schools further from the diverse neighborhoods in which they live.

Maryland also prides itself as a “right to choose” state, offering vouchers to low-income students to attend private and charter schools instead of public schools where the majority of students are minorities. That wasn’t the case for Hader, but he was sounding like Donald Trump before Donald Trump started sounding like Donald Trump. Hader’s tweets were published a year prior to the 2012 election that didn’t include Trump, but did see Barack Obama earn reelection by beating the pants off Mitt Romney.

So from where does this seemingly growing racist and sexist sentiment of young, white men start? Is it a direct result of the reign of white presidents coming to an end and a sense that white men’s power is finally being threatened?

Headline 5: Marcell Dareus Faces Two Sexual Assault Lawsuits

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is facing two lawsuits alleging sexual assault. The first, brought by an unidentified Texas woman, accuses Dareus of sexual assault and transmission of a sexually transmitted disease, according to Chris Parenteau of News 4 Jacksonville.

The second lawsuit stems from an alleged incident occurring in Florida in January 2017, according to Greg Aumen of the Tampa Bay Times. Dareus rented a mansion in Florida the week of the college football national championship game and allegedly invited the accuser to an afterparty at the mansion, where she said Dareus groped her against her wishes. She then “blacked out” from drinking too much alcohol and awoke next to a naked Dareus, aware that sexual acts had been committed.

Dareus will move to have the second lawsuit dismissed on Aug. 9, but regardless of how the lawsuits are settled, Dareus would be subject to suspension by the NFL and for a considerable amount of time. The baseline suspension for sexual assault is six games, but the NFL hasn’t had to issue a punishment for multiple allegations as of yet, meaning Dareus could miss up to 12 games this season.

Headline 6: Cardinals GM Suspended After Pleading Guilty to Extreme DUI

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was suspended by the team for five weeks and fined $200,000 after pleading guilty to extreme driving under intoxication on Tuesday. The suspension stems from an incident occurring the night of July 4th. Keim was arrested, booked and released the same night, but shouldn’t NFL GMs and owners be subject to the same conduct policy as the players?

Headline 7: Olympic Figure Skating Medalist Denis Ten is Murdered

Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten was murdered Thursday in Kazakhstan by a man who has since confessed to the crime in the presence of an attorney. Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city. He died in the hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.

Cheats of the Week

Our dishonorable mention this week is Milwaukee Bucks center Thon Maker, who was suspended three FIBA matches for delivering multiple flying kicks during a brawl between Australia and the Philippines in a World Cup qualifying match on July 2nd. Do you agree that flying kicks by a seven-footer would be considered cheating in a basketball brawl, Mike?

Winner of the Bronze Balls award this week is Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler, who was suspended for the first game of the 2018 season. Fowler’s bronze balls are massive, as he refereed a fight between his baby momma and current girlfriend in February of 2016, a video of which TMZ released. Fowler also has 10 traffic violations since December of 2015, and is charged with misdemeanor battery and mischief after an arrest on Tuesday. All of this comes in a contract year for Fowler, Mike.

The Silver Syringe goes to New York Jets receiver ArDarius Stewart, who tested positive for a substance designed to mask performance-enhancing drug use, Ian Rapoport reports. While a suspension hasn’t been announced, it’s expected to keep Stewart out for two games.

Our two-bit cheat of the week is former New York Knicks center Charles Oakley, who was arrested in Las Vegas for pulling back a $100 chip he wagered after learning he had lost his bet.

Historically Foul Play

Let’s get nostalgic and talk about foul play of the past, when news was delivered on paper and milk in reusable glass bottles. Here’s your sports-crime history lesson we call Historically Foul Play.

On July 20th, 1944, en route to a 20-win season, St. Louis Browns’ ace Nelson Potter became the first player in big-league history to be ejected and suspended for throwing spitballs. Potter denied ever loading up the ball with anything, and returned to play a big part as a reliever and spot starter in the Boston Braves’ World Series appearance in 1948.

The last player to be ejected and suspended for using a substance on baseballs is former Yankee and current Twin Michael Pineda, who was ejected and suspended for loading the ball with pine tar back in 2014. 

Published in Sports

When it comes to LeBron James, nothing is off the table, no player untouchable, especially on the Miami Heat roster. We must rid ourselves of all assumptions. We can’t assume LeBron doesn’t want to play with Hassan Whiteside. We also can’t assume Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman isn’t willing to take on Whiteside's massive contract spanning this year and next if he opts into his player option. Not too long ago general managers all over the league would have welcomed Whiteside, contract and all. He is still a very good defender. He may never duplicate his 2015-16 season and 2.4 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), but he still has value, especially when Cleveland could end up losing LeBron and get nothing in return, again.

James could simply opt for free agency and leave Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert shaking his head, empty hands in the air. But LeBron makes the most money signing with Cleveland, so a sign-and-trade deal is in his best interest and the Cavaliers' best interest as well. While we don’t know and can’t assume what LeBron or the Cavaliers or Pat Riley are willing to do, we do know what Riley would have to do to make room for LeBron's potentially record-setting contract of $205 million over five years.  Riley has to move some players he'd rather not and take on contracts he'd rather not.

Getting LeBron to Miami

The Heat's current roster doesn't give LeBron many reasons to re-relocate to Miami, but Josh Richardson, 24, Justise Winslow, 21, and Bam Adebayo, 20, are the best reasons right now. LeBron likely isn't interested in waiting for them to develop, though. They also won't be on the the roster if there's going to be room for LeBron's contract in Miami. Riley is going to have to draw LeBron's eyes to Miami by trading for Kawhi Leonard.

ESPN's NBA Insiders think Richardson, Adebayo, Winslow and Goran Dragic would net Miami Leonard and Patty Mills from San Antonio. San Antonio would have to send cash in the amount of at least $75,000 for each player they receive without sending a player or draft pick in return, but the money works, cutting $1,353,382 from Miami's books and leaving the Heat $17,167,521 over the salary cap, which isn't a huge problem. The real problem is Miami is giving up a lot and has no guarantee Kawhi will stay in Miami after this season. But bringing in LeBron would be the closest thing to a guarantee they could get. Kawhi has said he wants to play closer to home on the west coast, and specifically, Los Angeles, which might be what convinces LeBron to either sign a one-year deal with Cleveland and wait or a long-term deal with Los Angeles and wait. But we're trying to get LeBron to Miami, and he won't be coming alone.

There’s one player LeBron wants to bring with him whose gravity leaves James open despite being grounded and stationary. He knows his Miami teammates would benefit from that gravity, too. That gravity belongs to Kyle Korver, the man whose very presence on the floor improves his team more so than any other player in basketball – LeBron included. 

Getting LeBron and Korver to Miami

If LeBron James is the Sun, Kyle Korver is Earth’s gravity, subtly manipulating the orbit of the Sun’s opponents, the defenders of the Outer Rim, to allow the sun to shine through limited traffic, basking Earth in superstar rays of light that literally brighten the days of everyone and everything on Earth – except gravity. And while gravity never catches nor reflects the Sun’s spotlight, gravity prefers to remain in the shadows, unnoticed, grounded, taking silent pleasure in his work regardless of whom the Sun allows to shine brightest that day, because he knows without him, they would all fall off the Earth to be lost in space, where the Sun can’t even save them. But gravity would never do such a thing because he’s a team player...and because the Sun scares the hell out of him.

There are a few ways Korver can come along with LeBron to Miami. The easiest way would be for James to take a pay cut in the amount of Korver’s $7.56 million contract, basically paying Korver out of his own pocket next season, which might be worth it to LeBron given Korver’s Gravity rating. I only know what I read and see on TV, and Korver seems to be LeBron’s favorite teammate in Cleveland, but James isn’t gifting one of these homes to Korver.

LeBron could also take a paycut in the amount necessary to make the money work for Cleveland and Miami in a sign-and-trade deal. So if Miami needs to dump $5 million in salary to make a deal work, LeBron takes a $5 million pay cut. Simple, except all of these trade details would have to be negotiated before LeBron negotiates his contract. 

So how hard is the hard way? LeBron’s and Korver’s contracts next season total $42,910,000, which necessitates the trade of Whiteside’s salary. So now Riley is asking Cleveland to take Whiteside and Tyler Johnson, who has a 15-percent trade kicker clause in his contract, boosting his salary next season to $22,132,175.50 if he's traded. That's asking a lot of Cleveland, but again, Cleveland could end up losing LeBron to free agency. So if Cleveland has to take Tyler Johnson, they can demand Miami take a similarly over-paid point guard in George Hill off their hands.

Now Cleveland and Miami just need to make the money work in a sign-and-trade deal for LeBron, Korver and Hill. LeBron, Korver and Hill make a combined $61,910,000. Considering Tyler Johnson's trade kicker, he, James Johnson and Whiteside would make $62,218,138.50 in Cleveland next season. This keeps Cleveland under the luxury tax cap and would set the Cavaliers up nicely for a run at free agents in 2020, with all three contracts potentially expiring after the 2019 season (James Johnson has a player option for 2020). In order for both teams to avoid adding to their payrolls already exceeding the salary cap, Miami would have to send $308,138.50 to Cleveland as a part of the deal, which the Heat might as well include with the first-round pick they'll need to send Cleveland to close the deal.  

The Heat will have to part with at least one of their first-rounders if not both of them to bring LeBron and Kawhi together, so this is just a means to give Cleveland some long-term value that's lacking in the players they're getting in return from Miami. With the Heat in need of a backup for LeBron, Cleveland could send over Larry Nance Jr. and cash for the Heat's first-round pick in either 2019 or 2020. 

In summation:

  • Miami receives Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills and cash from San Antonio.
  • San Antonio receives Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson from Miami.
  • Miami receives LeBron James, Kyle Korver, George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. and cash from Cleveland.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers receive Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, and either a 2019 or 2020 first-round pick from Miami.

Is there a fair deal involving LeBron James? Of course. Is this it? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be for LeBron to make the maximum amount of money and leave Cleveland for Miami. I imagine it’s hard for Gilbert to say no to a man who single-handedly, quite literally, delivered his franchise’s first ever championship and more than doubled the value of that franchise. And he did all this after Gilbert publicly berated him as selfish for doing nothing more than exercising a right he earned to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to live and work. Golden State needed four stars to triple the Warriors’ value.

If Gilbert is in it for the money, the time to sell is before LeBron leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron’s plan is to leave Cleveland, wait for the Cavaliers’ value to fall in his absence before buying the franchise and becoming the first owner/player in professional sports. Then he can reap the rewards Gilbert enjoyed made off his name being attached to the franchise, and King James could finish his reign at home. For now, all we can do is speculate while we wait for The Decision: Part III.

Published in Sports

The NBA Draft is a night every NBA fan has reason for hope – or two reasons for hope – or three, or in the case of the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers this year, four reasons for hope. Here are the reasons fans of every NBA team should have hope following the 2018 NBA Draft.

Phoenix Suns

Reason for hope: Starting lineup gets two potential upgrades

The Suns got a lot better through the draft, and while they might have passed on the best player available, they did so for locally-grown talent like the Minnesota Twins did in drafting Joe Mauer over Mark Prior. While DeAndre Ayton is from the Bahamas, he played high school basketball in Phoenix, and a year of college ball at Arizona. Suns scouts probably saw more than enough of Ayton to be comfortable in making him the number one overall pick.

The Suns also acquired Mikal Bridges, who seems to be a can’t miss kid. He was the best value pick near the top of the draft according to the ESPN Stats & Info model. Bridges will likely be more prepared to play meaningful minutes in the NBA than the athletic Zhaire Smith, who the Suns shipped to Philadelphia along with a 2021 first-round pick that originally belonged to Miami. The Suns’ starting lineup likely got two potential upgrades in Ayton and Bridges, and Phoenix used the second round to draft project prospects with potential.

The Suns also scored the 20th overall player in point guard Elie Okobo out of France with the 31st pick. And even after moving their second-round pick to Orlando for point guard Elfrid Payton, the Suns used Toronto’s 59th overall pick to draft an accomplished defender with potential in George King. The Suns went from bad to better in one day.

Sacramento Kings

Reason for hope: Offensive ability of Marvin Bagley III

The Kings passed on putting a pair of Duke University one-and-dones on their roster. After drafting Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick, the Kings traded the rights to point guard Gary Trent Jr. to Portland for two future second-round picks and cash. But Bagley is Kings fans’ reason for hope. I’m a little jealous because fans in Sacramento are going to enjoy watching Bagley dunk, which he does whenever possible and leaves no doubt as to whether the ball went through the basket. He’s also a great rebounder whose second and third jump is quicker and higher than any center I’ve seen in college. Jay Bilas said the same on draft night and he’s seen a hell of a lot more college basketball players than me. Bagley runs the floor really well, has a complete repertoire of low-post moves, can handle the ball, is a strong finisher at the rim and will pull up and hit from three-point range. Kings’ coach Dave Joerger’s task will be teaching him how to play defense, which could take awhile.

Dallas Mavericks

Reason for hope: Luka Doncic

The Mavericks got the best player available in Luka Doncic, giving up their protected first-round pick in 2019 to move up two spots in 2018. He’s a perfect fit for Dallas, where international star Dirk Nowitzki’s career is coming to an end. Doncic is the new Dirk and will probably be worth the first-rounder Dallas dumped to get him. The Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr. and Doncic should run the floor well together.

The Mavericks filled out their bench with point guard Jalen Brunson of the NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats and acquired from Philadelphia the 56th overall pick in Ray Spalding – a long, pick-and-roll player who can flush the lob – and the final player drafted, Kostas Antetokounmpo – brother of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is reason enough to draft him. But Mavericks fans’ reason for hope is Doncic – the youngest player to ever win EuroLeague MVP. He’s not even old enough to drink yet.

Memphis Grizzlies

Reason for hope: Grinders added to grind-it-out roster

The Grizzlies drafted the top-ranked power forward in the 2018 NBA Draft at fourth overall. Jaren Jackson Jr. will fit nicely with or without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. He can guard all five positions and defends the rim with the best of them. He also dishes out the fouls, which should be appreciated by Grindhouse fans.

Also contributing the the Grizzlies’ Grindhouse atmosphere will be point guard Jevon Carter, who was one of the best defenders on one of the best defensive college basketball teams for what seems like forever in West Virginia. His struggle scoring shouldn’t be a problem playing next to MarShon Brooks, who averaged 20 points per game over just seven games played last year. ESPN’s analytics model ranked Carter 17th overall, so Memphis might have scored a steal in Carter, selected 32nd overall.

Atlanta Hawks

Reason for hope: Shooters and draft picks galore

The Hawks didn’t lose the trade with Dallas for Doncic. It was a fair deal. They got a protected first-round pick in next year’s draft for moving down two spots in the 2018 NBA Draft and got the sensationally shooting and assisting Trae Young to run their offense that exploits Taurean Prince’s ability to hit the right corner three-pointer.

The Hawks added even more shooting ability in shooting guard Kevin Huerter with the 19th overall pick, who will further stretch defenses, along with stretch big man Omari Spellman out of Villanova to conclude the 2018 NBA Draft’s first round. The addition of Young and Huerter will undoubtedly increase the number of three-pointers attempted by the Hawks, who were seventh in the NBA in that category last season.

Then the Hawks scored two future second-round picks for sending point guard Devonte’ Graham to Charlotte, so regardless of what the Hawks do this season, they could end up with three lottery picks in next year’s draft and another six picks in the second round next year.

Orlando Magic

Reason for hope: Length

The Magic got even longer by drafting Mohamed Bamba, whose 7-foot-nine-inch wingspan will be the longest in the NBA. Defensively, the Magic are going to alter shots like no other team in the league, especially after adding perimeter defender Melvin Frazier of Tulane. Orlando went all in on defense, trading Jarred Vanderbilt to Denver for Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. The Magic’s 19th-ranked defensive rating got a whole lot better in a hurry.

Chicago Bulls

Reason for hope: The rebuild is almost over already

With the addition of Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, the Bulls’ rebuild is almost over already. Carter can play both frontcourt positions, so he can give Lauri Markkanen a blow when needed and could probably start over Robin Lopez at center. The Bulls were hoping Hutchison would fall to them at 22 overall, and he did. He’ll fit in nicely as a versatile wing coming off the bench. It didn’t take long for the Bulls to become relevant again. The trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves that netted Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Markkanen seems much less lopsided now than when it was made on draft day in 2017, especially with the Timberwolves’ lone draft pick acquired in the trade playing four minutes all of last season.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Reason for hope: The Cavs got a scorer who can play right now

Whether LeBron James stays or goes, the Cavaliers have been in dire need of another scorer to complement James since trading Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the very draft pick that ended up being point guard Collin Sexton. Now they might need to replace the scoring James provides, and Sexton is a score-first point guard who runs the floor well. While he might not be a fit with James given LeBron’s affinity for handling the ball, he compliments Kevin Love’s spot-up shooting ability with his drive-and-dish game. He’s also healthy and can play right now, which is a message Cleveland needed to send James. Drafting a question mark coming off an injury like Michael Porter Jr. or a high-ceiling project who will take years to develop wouldn’t give James much reason to stay in Cleveland.

New York Knicks

Reason for hope: Kevin Knox will get plenty of playing time

Knicks fans who attended the 2018 NBA Draft didn’t like the Knox selection, but they didn’t like the selection of Kristaps Porzingis, either. Porzingis offered some advice to Knox after he was booed at the draft, but Knicks fans should actually be happy with this pick. Knox will get plenty of playing time in the absence of Porzingis, who could miss the entire 2018-19 season. Knox has plenty of areas to improve, especially on defense. Throwing him into the fire that is the NBA will give him an opportunity to realize his potential sooner, so when Porzingis returns, he’s a competitive, complimentary big man to the bigger man.

The Knicks also got a shot-blocker to stand in for Porzingis in Mitchell Robinson, the third-best center in the draft according to ESPN and 28th-ranked player overall, but the 16th-best player according to ESPN’s analytics model. The Knicks selected him with the 36th pick, and while Robinson fell in the draft due to off-court concerns, the Knicks could benefit greatly from the cautiousness of other NBA teams.

Philadelphia 76ers

Reason for hope: Saved some money to offer LeBron James and got a draft pick to offer in a trade for Kawhi Leonard

After giving us the feel-good story of the draft by selecting the son of their human resources vice president, the Sixers dealt him to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith to save a million dollars, according to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. Coming along with Smith is the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick from Phoenix, which the Spurs could find valuable in a potential Kawhi Leonard trade. Not to be overlooked is Smith’s athleticism and potential to be the best defender in this draft.

Oh yeah, and Philadelphia scored Shake Milton from Dallas for two of the final five picks in the 2018 draft. Milton is a six-foot-six-inch point guard who averaged 18 points per game for SMU and shot 43 percent from three-point range. Milton’s combine performance left a lot to be desired, but the 76ers can afford to be patient with Milton because they have Ben Simmons.

The Sixers also selected Isaac Bonga, an 18-year-old, point-forward project out of Germany. He was the 61st-ranked player overall according to ESPN, so Philadelphia saw something they really liked in the kid. They continue to “Trust the Process” without much concern for criticism despite their general manager Bryan Colangelo resigning in disgrace days before his biggest day on the job.

Charlotte Hornets

Reason for hope: Miles Bridges

The Hornets traded down one spot in the 2018 NBA Draft to add two players who can contribute immediately. Charlotte acquired two future second-round picks from the Clippers for trading the 11th pick for the 12th pick to get Miles Bridges, who fills an immediate need, instead of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who does not. The Hornets then flipped those future second-rounders to Atlanta for 23-year-old point guard Devonte’ Graham, who can play meaningful minutes and provide some healthy competition for Michael Carter-Williams.

Los Angeles Clippers

Reason for hope: Modern NBA backcourt

The Clippers passed on filling an immediate need with Bridges and chose instead to build a modern NBA backcourt around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. This was clearly the Clippers’ “Plan A” because selecting Robinson with the 13th pick was the biggest reach of the first round according to ESPN’s Stats & Info model, which ranked Robinson 59th overall with a 44-percent chance of being a bust.

Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson complement each other perfectly. What Robinson lacks in length defensively, Gilgeous-Alexander has in spades. What Gilgeous-Alexander lacks in spot-up shooting ability, Robinson has in spades. Both will be effective in pick-and-roll play and force defenders to switch, allowing them both to play around their weaknesses by forcing mismatches that play to their strengths. Whether it’s DeAndre Jordan or Montrezl Harrell setting screens for the new Clippers’ backcourt, they’re likely to be the beneficiary of lobs fit for flushing.

Denver Nuggets

Reason for hope: Michael Porter Jr.

The Nuggets struck gold with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, or is it fool’s gold? Medical reports regarding Michael Porter Jr.’s surgically repaired back spooked Cleveland, so Denver took advantage of its current roster situation and draft position. With 11 players returning to a roster that was seven points from beating the Timberwolves and making the playoffs, the Nuggets can afford to bring Porter Jr. along at his preferred pace, like the Sixers did with Simmons last season.

At the small forward position, Wilson Chandler was better than a replacement player last season with a 0.6 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) while playing nearly 32 minutes per game for Denver. And while the Nuggets don’t have the cap space to re-sign unrestricted free agent Richard Jefferson, Torrey Craig was serviceable (-0.1 VORP) in his first NBA season, averaging 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game. If Porter Jr. is healthy, the Nuggets are probably a playoff team in 2018-19. If he’s not, the Nuggets could still be a playoff team despite redshirting their top draft pick for a season.

Denver also acquired power forward Jarred Vanderbilt, the 41st overall pick, from Orlando for Justin Jackson, the 43rd overall pick, and a future second-round pick. The Nuggets are getting a long defender in Vanderbilt, who has to increase his lower body strength and offensive game in the half-court.

Seven-foot center Thomas Welsh out of UCLA provides some G-League depth behind Mason Plumlee and Nikola Jokic, whose agent advised Denver to decline Jokic’s team option to avoid losing him as an unrestricted free agent after next season. Jokic would become a restricted free agent this offseason if the Nuggets were to decline his team option, but Denver would be able to match offers made to their star regardless of their absent salary cap space.

Washington Wizards

Reason for hope: Really young, backcourt bench depth

The Wizards used the 15th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to fill an immediate need – backcourt bench depth. They got it in Oregon’s Troy Brown, who can play four positions on both sides of the ball, but might need some seasoning in the G-League. He’s only 18 years old – the third-youngest player projected to be drafted. So with Brown, the Wizards not only got someone to give John Wall and Bradley Beal breaks, but can spell Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre, too. And his young legs should allow him to provide quality minutes regardless of his position on the floor when his offensive game is ready for the NBA. His defense should already play.

The Wizards weren’t through selecting youth. They also selected the second-youngest player expected to be drafted in point guard Issuf Sanon of Ukraine. Like Brown, Sanon’s defensive ability is ahead of his offensive prowess, and even more so than Brown’s. Sanon will take a few years to develop, but Washington hopes it has a sleeper in Sanon who could eventually join Brown as a potential replacement for Beal in 2021 and Wall in 2023 if they aren’t retained.

Milwaukee Bucks

Reason for hope: Donte DiVincenzo

The Bucks got just what they needed in Donte DiVincenzo. The point guard whose name just begs to be spoken aloud, which it was often during the NCAA championship game he helped win. DiVincenzo will serve as a combo-guard in Milwaukee, which suits the 40-percent three-point shooter just fine. DiVincenzo wasn’t shy about shooting from NBA distance last year, either. His shot plays in the NBA, but his six-foot-six-inch wingspan might make guarding taller players on the wings a challenge. What he’ll give up against taller wings, though, he’ll get back guarding point guards and shooting over them. DiVincenzo also provides Milwaukee some insurance with point guard Eric Bledsoe becoming an unrestricted free agent after next season.

San Antonio Spurs

Reason for hope: Lonnie Walker IV

After DiVincenzo was selected by Milwaukee, I immediately hoped Lonnie Walker would fall to the Timberwolves at 20th overall. I should have known better, because San Antonio didn’t hesitate to select the player I and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony think could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.

Immediately upon seeing Walker’s haircut on draft night, I flashed back to the game I watched him play against Duke in January. He led Miami with 19 points in 33 minutes, but I distinctly remember him being uncharacteristically hot from three-point range and causing all kinds of problems for the Blue Devils on defense. He was five of eight from three-point range and had four steals, and if it weren’t for Gary Trent Jr. going off for 30 points on six-of-nine shooting from beyond the arc, Walker might have led the 25th-ranked Hurricanes to an upset over the fifth-ranked Blue Devils.

You might think this example contradicts my claim that Walker could be the biggest steal of the draft because he’s not even as good as Trent, who went 37th overall. He probably isn’t as good as Trent – yet – simply because Trent’s best skill is the most sought-after skill in the NBA right now.

Trent shoots it better from long-range than Walker (40.2 percent to 34.6 percent last season), but Walker’s length and athleticism make him a better inside the arc than Trent (48.7 percent to 43.0 percent on two-point attempts). Walker is also the better facilitator, dishing 61 assists per 37 turnovers last season. Trent managed just 52 assists and turned it over 38 times. So Walker, now having at his disposal the best player development team in the NBA, can focus on improving the one skill he’s missing while Trent attempts to improve all the skills Walker already possesses.

The Spurs also drafted seven-foot center Chimezi Metu from USC. Like Walker, Metu has a lot of natural ability, but is more of a project given the defensive improvements he needs to make while also finding consistency with his jump shot.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Reason for hope: Jimmy Butler, and a three-point maker, maybe

The Timberwolves still have Jimmy Butler, and as long as that’s the case, Timberwolves fans have reason for hope. Even with coach and president Tom Thibodeau being the alleged source of a split in the locker room between old Bulls and young Wolves, Butler gives Minnesota a chance to contend – and not just for a playoff spot. They finally beat Houston in the playoffs after failing to do so in the regular season, but probably should have won Game 1 in Houston, too.

The Timberwolves are really good one through six, with Tyus Jones being the sixth man after Jamal Crawford opted out of his contract. The rest of the bench leaves a lot to be desired, though. So much so not even Thibodeau could hide its collective ineptitude, and if he can’t do it, no one can. He was the only coach to have three players finish in the top 15 in minutes played last season, and it would have been four had Jimmy Butler not torn his meniscus. It makes you wonder if Taj Gibson’s defensive rating last season (112 points allowed per 100 possessions) would have been closer to his career rating (104) had he been playing the 26 minutes per game he’s averaged throughout his career instead of the 33 minutes he averaged per game last year. But that’s a topic for another piece.

The Timberwolves didn’t get an offer they liked enough to trade down and pass on shooting guard Josh Okogie. With the three selections made prior to the Timberwolves being shooting guards, and five of the previous six being guards, it was a safe assumption that trend would continue, leaving few shooters left in the draft to fill Minnesota’s biggest immediate need.

In fact, trading down could have been devastating for Thibodeau and the Wolves, as shooting guards were selected with three of the four picks immediately following the Wolves’ selection at 20th overall, and guards were selected with five of the six picks behind Minnesota. The run on guards spanned eight consecutive picks, so moving down from 20th to just 24th could have left the Wolves with the 10th-ranked shooting guard, Anfernee Simons, instead of the fifth-ranked shooting guard in Okogie. The 12th-ranked shooting guard also came off the board in that short span, so Thibodeau made the right move not making a move.  

It couldn’t have taken much convincing for Thibodeau to draft Okogie, though. He’s a defender first and has the length for which coaches long. His offensive efficiency in college was adversely affected by carrying the scoring load for a bad Georgia Tech team, but he still hit 38 percent of this threes and was in the 93rd percentile on 62 catch-and-shoot jumpers. Too bad the Wolves don’t see many open, catch-and-shoot jumpers. Minnesota took more contested shots and the second-fewest wide open shots in the NBA last season, so Okogie better find ways to create open looks, because they’re not being created for him or anyone else in a Wolves uniform.

That said, MIke Schmitz’s scouting report on Okogie for ESPN reads: “Extremely rigid ball handler. Shouldn't be tasked with shot-creation duties in the half court.” I guess Thibodeau better start drawing up offensive plays, or better yet, hire someone to do so. Again, Timberwolves fans’ biggest reason for hope is Jimmy Butler, but the bench won’t be as abysmal in 2018-19.

Thibodeau filled another immediate need by drafting small forward Keita Bates-Diop with the 48th overall pick. Bates-Diop was the second-oldest player projected to go in the first round, so Thibodeau grabbing him with the 18th pick of the second round makes this at least look like a high-value selection. Some evidence to support that high value was provided by ESPN’s analytics model, which ranked Bates-Diop 15th overall, which would make him the second-best steal of the second round. Bates-Diop did drain almost two three-pointers per game his senior season and averaged 19.8 points per game. He likely dropped in the draft due to teams’ concerns with his underwhelming performances in his first three years at Ohio State and a foot injury that kept him out most of the 2016-17 season. But if Bates-Diop doesn’t end up healthy, at least the Wolves will finally get some meaningful minutes from their lone draft pick from 2018, Justin Patton, right?

Again, Jimmy Butler is Wolves fans’ biggest reason for hope.

Utah Jazz

Reason for hope: Grayson Allen

After DiVincenzo and Walker were off the board, I wanted Thibodeau to select Grayson Allen. Pairing him with former teammate and fellow national champion Tyus Jones would have given this Duke fan great pleasure. Instead, I long for Utah’s roster and salary cap situation.

The Jazz got one of the best shooters in the 2018 NBA Draft, and they got him with the 21st overall pick. Allen has NBA shooting range. He can shoot off the dribble just about as well as he catches and shoots. He can jump, and he can dunk. He runs the floor and plays with a now-controlled intensity that was downright dirty in his youth. But he’s never going to be a great defender. In fact, he might never be an above average defender, and not because of a lack of effort. But if the Jazz focus his attention on defending against perimeter shots and cheating help to his backside, at worst, he’ll be giving up tough twos and scoring threes.

With uber-assister Ricky Rubio and Allen on the court together (both of whom could be Timberwolves this very moment), the Jazz have a recipe to hang with the three-point exploiters like Houston and Golden State – if Donovan Mitchell is healthy.

Indiana Pacers

Reason for hope: Aaron Holiday, 2019-20 cap space

Both Darren Collison and Cory Joseph become unrestricted free agents after this season, so the Pacers filled a potentially empty position on the floor in 2019-20 by selecting Aaron Holiday 23rd overall. He was the fifth-ranked point guard in the 2018 NBA Draft and gives Indiana and Indiana fans plenty of reasons for hope.

Holiday’s long wingspan for a guard should help quiet any concerns over his height and assist him on defense, where he’s already NBA-ready. He can score, especially when he catches and shoots, and even with a hand in his face. He can hit the three, draining almost three per game and 42 percent of his attempts his junior year. The Pacers may very well have found their starting point guard of the future.

With the 50th pick, the Pacers filled another need at power forward by drafting Alize Johnson out of Missouri State. Thaddeus Young is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and Domantas Sabonis and TJ Leaf have club options the Pacers could reject next year. So, like Holiday, Johnson has an opportunity to slide into a starting role if his NBA game comes together quickly. Regardless, the Pacers could have almost $77 million in cap space entering the 2019-20 season, which is reason enough for hope.

Portland Trail Blazers

Reason for hope: Gary Trent Jr.

The Blazers were eleventh in the NBA with a 36.6-percent three-point percentage last season, but were just 16th in three-pointers made because they were 19th in three-pointers attempted. Gary Trent Jr. will improve all of those rankings. As I stated previously, Trent’s best skill is making threes, which will pay dividends for Portland right now. The Blazers will learn how to accommodate their rookie on the defensive end and shake off the turnovers if he’s hitting threes. Acquiring Trent from Sacramento for two future second-rounders and cash is a good deal for the Blazers, who had already drafted their guy.

The Blazers really liked Anfernee Simons, the least-experienced player in the draft. They liked him enough to use their first-round pick at 24th overall to draft the 34th-ranked player in the draft. Simons is coming straight out of high school. He spent a year playing against questionable competition with IMG Academy in Florida, and is at least two years from competing with NBA players, according to Givony. But if he develops as Portland and many others expect, Portland fans will be forever grateful. But right now, Trent is Portland’s immediate reason for hope.

Los Angeles Lakers

Reason for hope: Cap space, LeBron, Kawhi?

Seven-footer Moritz Wagner is a fine pick at 25th overall to replace Brook Lopez when his contract expires at the end of this season, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the Lakers’ 47th pick, can shoot it. But the real reason Lakers fans have hope is because of almost $62 million in cap space to offer LeBron James and/or others, and/or, perhaps pay Kawhi Leonard if the Spurs feel the Lakers have the pieces to make an acceptable deal.

Boston Celtics

Reason for hope: Robert Williams III

My cousin and I both texted “Great pick” simultaneously after Boston filled an immediate need by selecting power forward and 12th-ranked player in the draft, Robert Williams III, at 27th overall. Concerns over Williams’ knee precipitated his fall to Boston, but there probably isn’t a better place for him to land. He’s already a great shot blocker, but Brad Stevens will get the most out of him defensively, as he does everyone. Williams can already come off the bench to spell Al Horford without being a liability given his pick-and-roll potential and passing ability.

Golden State Warriors

Reason for hope: Added depth with Jacob Evans

You might think Warriors fans don’t need reason for hope, but you’re wrong. This championship Warriors squad was almost done-in by its lack of depth. Golden State addressed that lack of depth with Jacob Evans, who fits perfectly in the Warriors’ positionless basketball lifestyle. He’s played point guard, shoots it well, and dished dimes twice as often as he turned it over in three college seasons at Cincinnati. He’s seasoned, so he should see minutes right away.

Brooklyn Nets

Reason for hope: Dzanan Musa

Yes, Nets fans have reason for hope, and his name is Dzanan Musa. Despite Brooklyn’s pick from Toronto being at the end of the first round, Brooklyn still ended up with one of the draft’s better scorers, who fell to the Nets because he refused to allow NBA teams to stash him on a professional team overseas. He wants to play in the NBA as soon as possible, which could be very soon given his 22-points-per-game average per 40 minutes against top European competition at the tender age of 18. He’s no Doncic, but he can and will undoubtedly score in streaks and can and will give Nets reason for hope and reasons to cheer.

The Nets used their second-round picks to select high-risk, high-reward talents in small forward Rodions Kurucs and shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, who they traded to Oklahoma City. Kurucs, of Latvia, struggled to stay on the floor with Barcelona, battling injuries and ultimately playing sparingly with the second team. Kuruc became a legitimate option for Brooklyn thanks to negotiations that lowered his buyout with Barcelona. Before his injuries, Kurucs was considered a lottery pick, so there’s plenty of potential there.

Detroit Pistons

Reason for hope: Bruce Brown’s defense

Bruce Brown was the only selection the Pistons made in the 2018 NBA Draft at 42nd overall. Brown was Miami’s elite defender and one of the best available in the draft, but before his sophomore season was interrupted by injuries, he was as close to a lottery pick lock as they come, displaying uncanny scoring and shooting ability that he has since struggled to summon. While he’s almost 22, Brown’s lost scoring and shooting abilities don’t need to be found for him to contribute to the Pistons in 2018-19, but his career as a role player will require him to knock down shots eventually.    

Houston Rockets

Reason for hope: De’Anthony Melton

If you thought Houston had plenty of open looks last season, just wait until point guard De’Anthony Melton comes off the bench for Chris Paul or James Harden this season. Melton had a knack for finding the open man at USC, averaging 5.1 assists and just 2.6 turnovers per 40 minutes as a freshman. He can also defend multiple positions, forces turnovers and rebounds the basketball like a power forward. According to ESPN’s analytics model, Melton was ranked 13th overall. He was selected 46th overall.

New Orleans Pelicans

Reason for hope: Anthony Davis, still, and strangely, Nikola Mirotic, not DeMarcus Cousins

Penn State point guard Tony Carr, the Pelicans 51st overall draft pick, isn’t going to lift New Orleans over Golden State and Houston with his defensive ability. But judging from the Pelicans’ play without DeMarcus Cousins, lost to an Achilles injury, New Orleans is better off without Boogie. That’s not a knock on Cousins’ game; it’s just a fact. The Pelicans were better defensively on the perimeter, and Anthony Davis is better when he’s running the show, especially with a long shooter like Nikola Mirotic to whom to dish on his dribble drives. The Pelicans were better on both ends of the floor without Boogie, so offering him a five-year, max deal coming off the most threatening injury to a basketball career would be a poor business decision. The Pelicans should feel no shame for telling Boogie to begone. It’s what’s best for the team, and he’ll have no problem finding work. I hear Dallas is interested.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Reason for hope: Paul George might stay, Devon Hall adds depth, Kevin Hervey cleans up the defensive boards

The Thunder drafted two players Thursday night, but neither is as important as Paul George is to Oklahoma City. Word is George could stay in OKC because he likes Russell Westbrook’s character. Westbrook went to bat for George after he was snubbed by coaches when deciding All-Star Team reserves, and that meant a lot to George. But the Thunder need more than just George to improve upon last season’s first-round exit to a soundtrack performed by the Utah Jazz orchestra led by maestro Ricky Rubio and carried by young soloist Donovan Mitchell. If the Thunder hope to drown out that music and compete with the West’s best, their big three has to be a big three, not a big two. I’m obviously talking to you, Carmelo.

In two seasons, Anthony has gone from a 2.9 VORP to a -1.1 VORP. It was the first season Anthony was less valuable than a replacement player, and some of that is likely due to changing teams and going from first option to third option. But this has not been a sudden fall for Carmelo. His final season in New York resulted in just a 0.8 VORP despite being the go-to guy. Anthony’s defense was the problem in 2016-17 and has been progressively regressing as you’d expect from a man who’s played 16 seasons. Playing two fewer minutes per game lifted Anthony’s defensive rating last season, but he had the worst season shooting the ball in his career. Carmelo’s effective field goal percentage was right on his career average, and his three-point shooting percentage was actually better than his career average. But his straight field goal percentage was 22 points lower than that of his rookie year, and his 76.7-percent shooting from the charity stripe last season was 10 points lower than that of his rookie year. Both were career lows. Somewhere between New York and Oklahoma City, Carmelo lost his legendary mid-range game and free-throw stroke.

Help is on the way, though, and the best help always comes on the defensive end, where Virginia’s Devon Hall shines. He was one of the best defensive guards in college basketball and the best one on the best defensive team in the country. Regardless of whether his offensive efficiency in his surprising senior season was skewed by Virginia’s scheme, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan is going to love subbing Hall for Westbrook when he needs a breather. Hall hit threes at a 43-percent clip and dished three assists per turnover in his senior season. No scheme makes the ball go in the basket, and schemes don’t turn the ball over, making Hall a good replacement for unrestricted free agent Raymond Felton, especially at 53rd overall.

Joining OKC’s rookie class is small forward Kevin Hervey, selected four picks after Hall. Hervey was whispered as a potential lottery pick if not for tearing both of his ACLs. He’s big enough to play strong forward, but can hit spot-up threes, too, and he rebounds the ball really well, averaging 11.6 per 40 minutes over four years at UT-Arlington. That’s likely what the Thunder are after. While Oklahoma City led the league in offensive rebounds per game, they were 26th on the defensive boards. Hervey should help OKC climb out of the bottom third in that category and serve as a serviceable stretch four coming off the bench for Patrick Patterson.

After the draft concluded, OKC acquired Hamidou Diallo, the 45th overall pick, from Brooklyn, in a deal that can’t be completed until July 6, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Diallo is dedicated to his craft and fits the physical mold of an ideal wing, with a seven-foot wingspan and good shooting mechanics. He struggled mightily at Kentucky last year, but he’s only 19 years old, so there’s plenty of time for the Thunder to mold Diallo’s NBA game.

Miami Heat

Reason for hope: Living in Miami, which LeBron also loves

The Heat didn’t have a pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but they and their fans probably have the best reason for hope: living in Miami, which LeBron also loves. But Miami doesn’t have the cap space to add LeBron in free agency. In fact, the Heat are $19 million and change over the cap, according to Sportrac.

The Heat might not have the pieces to acquire LeBron in a sign-and-trade deal either, since Hassan Whiteside’s value plunged in the playoffs and since the Heat would have to dump salary to add what is likely to be the largest contract in NBA history – $205 million over five years. The Heat do have first-round picks in 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025 to sweeten a trade proposal. They have just two second-round picks with which to work in 2022 and 2025, however. That should be enough to get Dan Gilbert salivating, but the money has to match, and neither team can take on salary, which complicates things thoroughly.

So despite two teams having no cap space and very short lists of valuable prospects to offer in a trade, here we are once again speculating that LeBron James will move to Miami. Why? Because it’s Miami, and anything can happen on South Beach. “Don't get me wrong, Chi-town got it goin' on, and New York is the city that we know don't sleep. And we all know that L.A. and Philly stay jiggy, but on the sneak, Miami bringin' heat for real.” Even though the Heat don’t have the money and might not have the prospects to acquire LeBron, they have two things working for them.

First, the City of Miami is “bringin’ heat for real,” as Will Smith so eloquently uttered. That heat scalds the eyes of those unfamiliar with the steamy sights of South Beach. “Ladies half-dressed, fully equipped,” screaming out “LeBron, we loved your last ‘ship.” That white-hot heat burns the nose like pure cocaine and brings tears to bloodshot, sunglassed eyes. “Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day, no work all play, okay?” The heat Miami’s bringing is so hot you’ll forget you’re at work, regardless of occupation. The heat Miami is sending LeBron in Cleveland is too hot to merely be a warm front. The heat emanating from the City of Miami is so hot, Pat Riley doesn’t even have to sell the City of Miami, or the Heat, to anyone. Just visit once and you’ll never want to leave. “Everytime I come I always wind up stayin’.” Miami sells itself, and the heat has LeBron reminiscing, but he isn’t sweating, because he’s in control, which is the second thing the Heat have going for them.

Dan Gilbert will try to accomodate LeBron, not because he feels he owes it to him after how he handled LeBron’s first departure from Cleveland, but because it’s in the best interest of the Cavaliers. If LeBron wants to leave he’s going to leave, but if the Cavs can get something, anything, instead of losing LeBron via free agency for nothing, Gilbert will take it. If James wants out of Cleveland but wants to go to a team without the cap space to sign him in free agency, the Cavaliers will get whatever they can to accommodate the Angel from Akron, Blocker of Shots and Courier of Cleveland Rings. He’s already made the impossible happen, so there’s no reason why LeBron can’t make something like the biggest blockbuster trade in sports history happen. James would be doing Gilbert a favor by agreeing to a sign-and-trade.

Getting LeBron Back to Miami

First, we must rid ourselves of all assumptions. Nothing is off the table, no player untouchable. We can’t assume Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman isn’t willing to take on Whiteside and his massive contract spanning this year and next. Not too long ago general managers all over the league would have welcomed Whiteside and his contract. But more importantly and perhaps more interesting, we can’t assume LeBron doesn’t want to play with Whiteside. Quite the opposite could be true.

What LeBron sees in Whiteside might be a personal challenge for himself to mentor a player and silence the critics who say James doesn’t make his teammates better like Michael Jordan did. LeBron might see a solid rim-protector and pick-and-roll, alley-oop partner who’s gotten a bad rep for speaking his mind rather than biting his tongue, the latter of which I’ve been told by licensed therapists to be unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Maybe Whiteside finds comfort or relief in expressing his thoughts. Getting it off his chest could put him at ease. Maybe his struggles on the court stem from his struggle to contain his thoughts and emotions at the behest of the organization. Simply put, we don’t know and can’t assume what LeBron or the Cavaliers or the Heat are willing to do, but we can venture a guess as to the names Cleveland would have at the top of their wishlist.

Rebuilds begin with youth, and Justise Winslow, 21, and Bam Adebayo, 20, are the Heat’s youngest studs. Winslow could replace James in Cleveland’s starting lineup and benefit from playing more minutes, but Adebayo’s offensive rating of 116 was tops on the team amongst players logging more than 300 minutes. He’s especially attractive because he comes with three years of team control. The problem is neither of them make much money, which necessitates the trade of Whiteside just to make the money work. His $25.5 million salary paired with Winslow’s $3.5 million and Adebayo’s $3 million gets us to just $32 million, and we haven’t even taken on any salary from Cleveland yet. So, Cleveland would likely be forced to choose between Winslow and Adebayo, taking Adebayo to pair with Whiteside. That’s $28.5 million, so the Heat need to dump another considerable contract to make the money work. Enter the Johnsons.

Tyler and James Johnson are statistical twins playing different positions. James is slightly better defensively, but Tyler scores a bit more. James is the better shooter inside the arc, and Tyler is better from outside. Cleveland will likely decide between the two based on age. Tyler is 25 and James is 30, so to Cleveland Tyler goes, taking his $19 million contract with him. That gets us over the money hump with $6.5 million for Miami to spread across two players from Cleveland.

Larry Nance Jr. would make sense given Miami’s loss of Adebayo at power forward. Nance makes just over $2 million. A center to replace Whiteside would also make sense, so welcome to Miami, Ante Zizic, and bring your $2 million contract.

Cleveland will no doubt want a first-round pick in the immediate future, because regardless of Nance and Zizic, LeBron is worth more than Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Johnson – much more. So the Heat will send over their 2019 first-round pick, and they’ll have to get something back that doesn’t bust the cap as per NBA trade rules.

The only player left in Cleveland with a salary small enough for Miami to absorb is small forward Okaro White. So Miami absorbs $46,770,104 and sheds $47,635,473. LeBron takes his talents to South Beach, but this time brings Nance, Zizic and White with him. That can’t be right. LeBron is going to demand something. There’s one player he wants to bring with him whose gravity leaves James open despite being grounded and stationary. He knows his Miami teammates would benefit from that gravity, too. That gravity belongs to Kyle Korver, the man whose very presence on the floor improves his team more so than any other player in basketball – LeBron included. No reason to struggle when you can get open shots standing still.

Keeping Korver and LeBron Together

If LeBron James is the Sun, Kyle Korver is Earth’s Gravity, subtly manipulating the orbit of the Sun’s opponents, the defenders of the Outer Rim, to allow the sun to shine through limited traffic, basking Earth with superstar rays of light that literally brighten the days of everyone and everything on Earth, except Gravity. And while Gravity never catches nor reflects the Sun’s spotlight, Gravity prefers to remain in the shadows, unnoticed, grounded, taking silent pleasure in his work regardless of whom the Sun allows to shine brightest that day, because he knows without him, they would all fall off the Earth to be lost in space, where the Sun can’t even save them. But Gravity would never do such a thing because he’s a team player...and because the Sun scares the hell out of him.

There are a few ways Korver can come along with LeBron to Miami. The easiest way would be for James to take a pay cut in the amount of Korver’s $7.56 million contract, basically paying Korver out of his own pocket this season, which might be worth it to LeBron given Korver’s Gravity. I only know what I see on TV, and Korver seems to be LeBron’s favorite teammate, but James isn’t gifting one of these homes to Korver.

LeBron could also take a paycut in the amount necessary to make the money work for both sides. So if Miami needs to dump $5 million in salary to make the deal work, LeBron takes a $5-million pay cut. Simple, except all of these trade details would have to be negotiated before LeBron negotiates his contract. If you don’t think LeBron has people working on the exact “what-if” scenarios similar to what I’m investigating, you don’t know LeBron. He prepares, and he’ll hand-deliver his trade request(s) to Altman and Gilbert, complete with perfect arithmetic and adhering to NBA rules.

So what about the hard way? LeBron’s and Korver’s contracts total $48,560,000, which again necessitates the trade of Whiteside’s salary. And if Cleveland won’t budge on Adebayo, and they shouldn’t, the Heat have to really focus on sending ugly salaries Cleveland’s way instead of the quality players the Cavaliers might value.

Whiteside’s and Adebayo’s contracts total $25,434,263, and Tyler Johnson brings the total to $44,679,633. With about $4 million to go and contracts yet to absorb, the Heat could send Josh Richardson packing for Cleveland. That brings Miami’s total salaries traded to $54,046,833, leaving the Heat $5,486,833 to spread across two players. Again, Nance and Zizic make the most sense, totalling $4,225,151.

With $1,261,682 in cap space to spare, Miami gets LeBron, Korver, Nance and Zizic for Whiteside, Adebayo, Tyler Johnson and Richardson. If Cleveland requires a first-round pick to complete the trade, which it definitely should, Miami can only absorb part of White’s contract in exchange, so swapping draft picks would be necessary. It’ll be awhile before Pat Riley can actually use whatever pick the Heat get in return because Cleveland only has second-round picks in 2023 and 2025. When it comes to draft picks, Riley just needs to do what it takes. You know what you’re getting with LeBron James; you don’t with any draft pick. Miami’s first-rounders in 2019 and 2022 for Cleveland’s second-rounders in 2023 and 2025 should do it.

The only issue with this trade is Cleveland taking on $1,261,682 in salary while already $16.5 million over the luxury tax cap. While it’s a modest amount, I’m not sure if it would fly with the Commissioner’s Office. I am sure Miami would happily send over the difference, but the rules would require them to get something of value back. Gilbert would no doubt like to dump contracts himself, but his contracts are even worse than Miami’s.

Bringing a Third Partner into the Bedroom

If Gilbert wants to get under the luxury tax cap, a third team with cap space will be required. Teams with the cap space to take on the $16,521,661 Cleveland would have to dump in order to avoid paying the luxury tax are Atlanta (who would probably require the acquisition of Dennis Schroder), Chicago (probably more interested in making a run at free agents), Dallas (might use cap space to get DeMarcus Cousins), Houston (dedicated to free agency), Los Angeles Lakers (dedicated to free agency), Philadelphia (dedicated to free agency), Phoenix (perhaps) and Sacramento (perhaps). Let’s investigate.

Sacramento might be willing to take on Tristan Thompson’s two-year, $36 million contract with Kosta Koufos an unrestricted free agent after the season and Willie Cauley-Stein a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The Kings have a familiar face to LeBron in shooting guard Iman Shumpert, but he’s only under contract for one year. That might be the deal Gilbert and Altman have to swallow to avoid paying the luxury tax and Thompson’s contract. Buddy Hield is also stashed on the Kings’ roster and comes with two years of team control before becoming a restricted free agent, but the Cavaliers would probably have to sweeten that deal a bit, and they’re low on sweeteners.

Phoenix could also accommodate Tristan Thompson, as center Alex Len is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The same goes for Tyson Chandler after this season. As far as players the Suns could send back to Cleveland, both the Cavaliers and Heat would probably take Devin Booker, but they might not be able to coax Phoenix out of its best player last year. If so, it’s going to take a lot more than Tristan Thompson. Sacramento seems to be the one to invite into the bedroom, and Shumpert might be the one Cleveland lets under the covers. They’re at least familiar with each other, so it shouldn’t get weird. Cleveland doesn’t have to trade Shumpert to Miami, though. He could replace Korver to give Cleveland three shooting guards, and Miami would roll with Korver, Dion Waiters and Rodney McGruder. If the Kings don't feel they're getting enough to absorb Thompson's contract, Miami could swap draft picks with the Kings or send a pick in exchange for cash.

In summation:

  • The Miami Heat receive LeBron James, Kyle Korver, Larry Nance Jr., Ante Zizic, a 2023 second-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick from Cleveland.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers receive Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, a 2019 first-round pick, and a 2022 first-round pick from Miami, and Iman Shumpert from Sacramento.
  • The Sacramento Kings receive Tristan Thompson from Cleveland.

Is there a fair deal involving LeBron James? Of course. Is this it? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be for LeBron to make the maximum amount of money and leave Cleveland for Miami. I imagine it’s hard for Gilbert to say no to a man who single-handedly, quite literally, delivered his franchise’s first ever championship and more than doubled the value of the franchise. And he did all this after Gilbert publicly berated him as selfish for doing nothing more than exercising a right he earned to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to live and work. Golden State needed four stars to triple the Warriors’ value.

If Gilbert is in it for the money, the time to sell is before LeBron leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron’s plan is to leave Cleveland, wait for the Cavaliers’ value to fall in his absence before buying the franchise and becoming the first owner/player in professional sports. Then he can reap the rewards Gilbert enjoyed off his name being attached to the franchise, and King James could finish his reign at home. For now, all we can do is speculate while we wait for The Decision: Part III.

Published in Sports

Each week at Foul Play-by-Play we cover the law-related, sports stories, including the Colangelo Twitter scandal, and we dive deeper into a possible cheerleaders' union with former union rep and sports-labor expert Al Neal of PeoplesWorld.org and GrandstandCentral.com. Here are your headlines, "Cheats of the Week," "Historically Foul Play" and "Statistically Significant Foul Player" for the week ending June 10.

Headlines

Bryan Colangelo and Philadelphia 76ers Part Ways

Bryan Colangelo resigned on Thursday as president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers after his wife admitted to using Twitter accounts to criticize players and support her husband. Sixers coach Brett Brown will oversee basketball operations on an interim basis.

An independent investigation found Colangelo to be the source of the sensitive information shared by his wife, Barbara Bottini. Colangelo said his wife was “operating without his consent” and that “at no point did I ever purposefully or directly share any sensitive, non-public, club-related information with her.” So how did she come across this information? You say you didn’t directly share sensitive information, so sas she getting it from someone else in the organization? You say you didn’t share it on purpose, so was it shared in the throes of passion?

Barbara taking the blame on this obviously doesn’t make Bryan innocent. She can’t be guilty without having an accomplice giving her the information. It’s a miracle, frankly, Bryan Colangelo wasn’t fired. The Sixers are either being incredibly nice or didn’t want to file the paperwork to fire the man because sharing trade information is a fireable offense.

I don’t see Colangelo working again, regardless of this being a resignation and not a firing. Even if he didn’t know about the Twitter accounts, he still shared sensitive information with someone he shouldn’t. When there’s a big trade on the table at work, you don’t go home at lunch and spill the beans to your wife before it’s final. You don’t spill the beans to anyone outside the organizations involved. 

Delaware Sees $322,000+ in Sports Wagers on First Day of Legal Betting

More than $322,000 was wagered on the first day of legal sports betting in Delaware, Tuesday. Delaware Governor John Carney made the first wager and won, risking $10 on the Philadelphia Phillies to beat the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies won 6-1. That must have paid well.

Delaware was already offering parlay betting during the federal ban since 2009 and built sportsbooks within its casinos, waiting for the end of the federal ban. It’s estimated that $350 million to $760 million could be wagered annually if online betting is fully implemented. 

Mother of G Leaguer Sues NBA after Son Collapses on Court, Dies Two Days Later

The mother of Zeke Upshaw, former swingman for Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate Grand Rapids Drive who collapsed on the court and died two days later, has filed a lawsuit accusing the NBA and the Detroit Pistons of negligence.

Upshaw, 26, collapsed during a game in Grand Rapids on March 24 and died two days later of what a Grand Rapids medical examiner called a sudden cardiac death with cardiac abnormalities. Upshaw had a “slightly enlarged” heart, which is not entirely unusual in athletes and could be unrelated to his death, but the Grand Rapids team doctor was not at the arena when Upshaw collapsed on March 24, so life-saving measures were not attempted, no CPR initiated and no defibrillator used, but Upshaw died two days later.

Links to video footage, lawsuit, and media advisory!

Cheerleaders Sue Houston Texans Alleging Hostile Work Environment and Withholding Pay

Five former NFL cheerleaders sued the Houston Texans on Friday, accusing the franchise of paying the women less than the $7.25 per hour they were due, not compensating them for making public appearances and creating a workplace where the women were threatened with termination for voicing complaints.

This isn’t the first time NFL cheerleaders have sued their employers. I wrote a column for the Livingston Enterprise about the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleaders who sued citing similar allegations back in 2014 or so, and spoke to their attorney who recommended NFL cheerleaders unionize. During my painstaking research of NFL cheerleaders, I found that each NFL team employs between 32 and 42 cheerleaders. With 32 NFL teams that brings the total number of cheerleaders employed by the NFL to just over 1,000, which isn’t enough to form a union with any real bargaining power, so this union will have to be formed of cheerleaders and dancers across all sports.

There are usually about 20 Laker Girls employed every season, but the Timberwolves have just 13 dancers. If each NBA team has about 15 dancers, that’s another 450 potential union members.

Most hockey teams employ “ice girls” to shovel the ice during breaks in the action, and many have expressed similar working conditions cited by NFL cheerleaders, according to a 2014 story by Mother Jones that actually resulted in the Flyers eliminating their ice girls and then bringing them back when the men who replaced them were quite literally booed off the ice.

The Vegas Golden Knights held auditions to fill 40 positions on its ice, cheer and gameday crews, however, so these jobs aren’t going anywhere. With another 30 teams employing at least another dozen entertainers, and I’ll get to why it’s 30 and not 31 in the Historically Foul Play segment, that’s 360 more potential union members, bringing the total to just over 1,800. If we include mascots in the union, there’s at least another 123 union members to get us closer to 2,000. But won’t there always be cheaper bodies to objectify regardless of whether a cheerleaders’ union is formed and regardless of how encompassing its membership is? I just don’t think the backlash from having less attractive or less entertaining cheerleaders would affect the NFL owners’ bottom line.

Indianapolis Colts’ DE Chris McCain Arrested for Domestic Assault

Colts defensive end Chris McCain was charged with battery stemming from an incident that occurred in January in Los Angeles, according to TMZ. McCain is accused of spitting on a woman and “forcefully grabbing her neck.” He’ll likely face a suspension.

Ottawa Senators’ Assistant GM Arrested for Alleged Harassment

Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee is accused of inappropriately touching and making lewd comments toward a hotel shuttle driver while in Buffalo for the NHL's scouting combine. He was charged with second-degree harassment on Friday after being arrested and spending the night in jail. If Bryan Colangelo thought he had problems, at least he’s not Randy Lee. It has to be considerably more difficult to get a job as a sexual harasser than a trade-secrets sharing pillow-talker, right?

Historically Foul Play

I promised I’d tell you why just 30 NHL teams employ “ice girls,” and here’s why. In December of 2007, the media’s and masses’ eyes were affixed to a New York Knicks scandal involving former coach Isiah Thomas, who was found by a jury to be guilty of sexual harassment. The plaintiff, a former Knicks’ executive, was awarded $11.5 million in damages, paid by the owners of Madison Square Garden. But that wasn’t the only foul play in the Garden at the time.

Three days after the Thomas verdict, a settlement between Madison Square Garden and a former captain of the New York Rangers’ cheerleader squad flew under the radar. (Court documents of lawsuit filed.) No details were released, but the accuser alleged that her supervisor, Ryan Halkatt, told her which skaters had to lose weight or “stuff their bras” to appear more alluring. That was the last year the Rangers had “ice girls.”

Statistically Significant Foul Player

Sticking with hockey, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Their statistically significant foul player is, of course, Tom Wilson, who spent twice as much time in the penalty box as the next most penalized player on his team. His 187 penalty minutes during the regular season was just 25 off the pace set by Florida’s Micheal Haley this year. Haley’s 212 penalty minutes in a single season doesn’t even put him in the top 250 all-time. The NHL record for penalty minutes accessed in a season is 472 by Dave Schultz in the 1974-75 season. That’s more than five games spent in the penalty box.

Cheats of the Week

Bronze medalist: Julian Edelman is appealing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Edelman has reportedly taken “hundreds of tests” and never tested positive before.

Silver medalist: Free agent left-handed reliever Fernando Abad received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Stanozolol. A lengthy appeals process will make this a short ban for Abad, as the suspension began upon the filing of the appeal. Any team who signs Abad knows he must sit out most of this month, but given the overuse of Ryan Pressly, Abad would be a great fit for the Minnesota Twins. Their splits work out well together, as Abad has been more effective against lefties in his career and Pressly righties, with neither being that bad in either situation. If you’re Paul Molitor, you have to like being able to bring in Abad when two of the next three batters are lefties and Pressly when two of the three are righties.

Gold medalist: Boston Red Sox fans used the flashlights on their phones to distract Detroit Tigers hitters, angering manager Ron Gardenhire, who we know runs hot. The foul play caused a short delay in the seventh inning as security asked fans in the center field sections of Fenway Park to stop using the lights on their cell phones to distract batters for obvious safety reasons. Red Sox manager Alex Cora called it “a good weapon,” which it very well could be if someone were to be hit in the face with a fastball because they’ve been blinded by a flashlight. 

Published in Sports

Each week here at Foul Play-by-Play we cover the week's law-related, sports stories. So here are the cheats, cheap shots, and alleged criminals in sports for the week of May 28.

Headlines

Philadelphia 76ers Launch Investigation of Colangelo’s Alleged Twitter Usage

The Philadelphia 76ers launched an independent investigation into the Twitter usage of president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Wednesday after a report by The Ringer cited circumstantial evidence indicating Colangelo allegedly using anonymous Twitter accounts to defend his work and criticize his current and former players.

Tweets from those accounts alleged by a source cited by The Ringer to belong to Colangelo questioned Joel Embiid's ego, blamed Markelle Fultz's shooting woes on a former mentor of the No. 1 overall draft pick, pushed a theory that a possible Jahlil Okafor trade fell apart because he failed a physical, and called Nerlens Noel a "selfish punk."

Colangelo has denied the Tweets are his, going so far as to call Embiid to express his innocence. Colangelo’s wife has since been implicated as possible owner and operator of the Twitter accounts.

Mother of G Leaguer Sues NBA after Son Collapses on Court, Dies

The mother of Zeke Upshaw, former swingman for Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate Grand Rapids Drive who collapsed on the court and died two days later, has filed a lawsuit accusing the NBA and the Detroit Pistons of negligence.

Upshaw, 26, collapsed during a game in Grand Rapids on March 24 and died two days later of what a Grand Rapids medical examiner called a sudden cardiac death with cardiac abnormalities. Upshaw had a “slightly enlarged” heart, which is not entirely unusual in athletes and could be unrelated to his death, but the Grand Rapids team doctor was not at the arena when Upshaw collapsed on March 24, so life-saving measures were not attempted, no CPR initiated and no defibrillator used, but Upshaw died two days later. 

Links to video footage, lawsuit, and media advisory.

Cheerleaders Sue Houston Texans Alleging Hostile Work Environment and Withholding Pay

Five former NFL cheerleaders sued the Houston Texans on Friday, accusing the franchise of paying the women less than the $7.25 per hour they were due, not compensating them for making public appearances and creating a workplace where the women were threatened with termination for voicing complaints.

This isn’t the first time NFL cheerleaders have sued their employers. I wrote a column about the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleaders who sued citing similar allegations back in 2014, I think, and spoke to their attorney who recommended NFL cheerleaders unionize. I think these NFL owners continually take advantage of these women because there will always be a cheaper body to objectify, even if there was a cheerleaders’ union.

Tampa Bay Rays’ Carlos Gomez Alleges MLB’s Drug Testing Not Random

Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder Carlos Gomez alleges that Major League Baseball targets older players and Latino players for drug testing in an interview for a Yahoo! Sports podcast the day after Mariners’ All-star Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games. Gomez said, “One month into the season I got like seven drug tests. Something like that. Between five or seven. That’s not right. We have a guy on the team who for sure hasn’t had one drug test.” Three days after coming off the disabled list, Gomez was again drug tested.

MLB defended its drug testing policies in a statement made to the Tampa Bay Times: "Our Joint Drug Program, which is negotiated with the Players Association, is independently administered and has random testing procedures in place with no regard for a player's birthplace, age, or any other factor," the league said. "Every aspect of the test selection process is randomized and de-identified, and every player is included each time random selection is conducted. This results in some players being tested more often than others, but, as a whole, MLB players are tested more frequently than any athletes in professional sports.”

Like Gomez, the three Major League players suspended for failing performance-enhancing drug tests are from the Dominican Republic. Gomez wants MLB to prove to him the process is randomized, and won’t believe it is until they do so. MLB isn’t required to reveal anything, though, and probably insulates itself from any wrongdoing by outsourcing the testing to an independent firm.

Cheats of the Week

Dishonorable mention: San Francisco 49ers receiver Victor Bolden Jr. has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Bolden is trying to make the team as a kick returner and has considerable competition.

Bronze medalist: Anthony Rizzo, last week’s Statistically Significant Foul Player for his uncanny ability to be hit by pitches, slid into the feet of catcher Elias Diaz of Pittsburgh to break up a double play. He was successful, as Diaz threw the ball into right field allowing two Cubs’ runners to score. While umpires on the field called it a clean play, reviewed it and upheld the call, Major League Baseball said the slide wasn’t legal. Rizzo clearly altered his path to contact the catcher, sliding late and well inside the baseline.

Silver medalist: Washington Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson blindsided Jon Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The hit came well after Marchessault had handled the puck, but Wilson, who has a history of questionable, physical play, avoided a suspension for the hit. Marchessault was unable to stay on the ice for the 4-on-4 that resulted from Wilson’s two-minute minor that should have probably been a five-minute major penalty.

Gold medalist: Wilson’s hit might have been the cheapest shot taken in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn’t the most effective form of cheating used in the game. Vegas Golden Knight Ryan Reaves scored a game-tying goal in the third period as the result of a cross-check on Washington’s John Carlson. The goal was a quick response to the Capitals’ go-ahead goal scored just 91 seconds earlier, and swung the momentum back to the Knights.

Historically Foul Play

Mel Bridgeman of the Flyers served 53 minutes in penalties in 1980 against the Islanders, the most by any player in one Stanley Cup Final. Chris Nilan of the Canadiens is next with 49 minutes in 1986. They play 60 minutes in a game if you’re unaware.

Statistically Significant Foul Player

Vegas’s Erik Haula has spent 19 minutes in the penalty box during this Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals, which is almost half as many minutes as he’s skated in the series.

Published in Sports

Each week at Foul Play-by-Play (follow the link to listen to the audio) we will review the week’s cheats, cheap shots and alleged criminals in sports for a sports talk radio show, eventually airing online and on GCNLive radio affiliates. Here are your top law-related sports headlines and cheats of the week for May 11-17, 2018.

Headlines Audio: Legal Sports Gambling and Domestic Violence

Cheats of the Week Audio: Rafael Palmeiro, Robinson Cano, and Mark Ingram

Headlines

The Supreme Court Allows States to Determine Legality of Sports Betting

The Supreme Court struck down the federal law prohibiting state-sponsored sports betting after almost a six-year legal battle. States can now decide whether to allow or disallow sports gambling, with 20 states having already proposed bills to legalize sports gambling.

New Jersey expects to have its sportsbooks up and running before the start of the NBA Finals, but tribal casinos could theoretically open sportsbooks immediately because they are their own sovereign nations. The 1993 Nation-State Gaming Compact authorizes the Oneida nation of New York to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted without any further approvals by the State. They intend to open a sportsbook as soon as possible.

Tribal casinos in rural America have the most to gain from the Supreme Court’s decision, because sports gambling could actually cut into the profits of urban, tribal casinos by moving money from most profitable gaming machines to less profitable sportsbooks. Setting up a sportsbook is also expensive, especially an online sportsbook, which gamblers will demand. The cautious approach of urban, tribal casinos to open sportsbooks could allow rural, tribal casinos to be first to market in the American online sportsbook industry. But your state, Montana, has long been against sports gambling. It’s one of nine states prohibiting residents from betting on fantasy sports.

While the consensus of casino experts seems to be that the estimated $140 billion per year illegally wagered on sports in the U.S. according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) is overestimated, there’s tons of money to be made by a score of entities outside the gaming industry. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants his league to get one percent of all bets made on its games. Local newspapers and radio entities in states with legal sports gambling will now be able to provide content related to sports gambling instead of dancing around the subject. Most importantly, though, most of the billions of dollars Americans have stashed with online bookkeepers overseas will find its way back to the states and stimulate the American economy. I say most because these online bookkeepers overseas have been fraudulent in the past.

New Detroit Lions Head Coach Defends his Innocence 22 Years Later

Newly hired coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia, was forced to once again express his innocence when Robert Snell of The Detroit News published a story about sexual assault allegations brought against him that resulted in an indictment but no trial for Patricia 22 years ago. Patricia’s accuser declined to testify citing “stress” as a reason, but Patricia and his attorney vehemently denied the abuse ever occurring.

As a former journalist, I’ll just say that Robert Snell of The Detroit News isn’t starting his work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions on the right foot. I had the difficulty of covering a similar story involving a high school golf coach with an alleged history of sexual harassment of female golfers. But when that teacher/coach was first hired by the district, no story was written about his alleged past because no charges were brought against him and his former district sealed all details of the allegations from the public as part of the terms of his termination.

No charges were brought against the coach the second time, either, but despite that, my employer wanted me to write a story based solely on unsubstantiated allegations that could further undermine that teacher/coach’s career. It ultimately resulted in me submitting my resignation, and I feel I was correct in doing so.

Patricia’s case is entirely different because he was charged and indicted, and while I think Snell might have risked his employer’s work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions, somebody should have and would have brought attention to this 22-year-old story.

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are Still Looking for Work

Also in the news, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, a couple of capable football players who can’t find jobs because of the expression of their personal views, are working out together with hopes of landing on an NFL roster.

Both players have waged grievances against the league for colluding against them to keep them from making a living in their chosen profession. Reid was asked about his anthem protest plans by the Bengals, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, and Kaepernick was similarly asked about his plans for the anthem by the Seahawks, who postponed a scheduled workout with the Super Bowl quarterback because Kaepernick reportedly had no plan in place, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport.

But these players aren’t breaking any rules. The NFL owners and players’ association could have collectively bargained for players to be required to stand of the national anthem had they foreseen it as an issue. The NBA did, but the NFL didn’t.

I think my biggest problem with all the haters of these anthem protesters is their attempt at justifying their hate. For once I’d just like to run into someone who says, “You know, I just really like the national anthem as a song, and the protests don’t allow me to enjoy it as much.” I think that’s the only justification for disliking the anthem protests. The whole “honor the military and stand for the flag” argument just doesn’t compute with me because I’ve never seen the flag or the anthem as representative of our military specifically. To me, it’s representative of this nation and the rights of those of us who reside here, especially the right to free speech, which I feel is the First Amendment of the Constitution because it’s most important. Kaepernick even altered his protest, going from sitting to kneeling, acknowledging and accepting the opinion of ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer.

My least favorite justification for hating the anthem protesters is the ‘if I did that at my job I’d be fired’ defense. My old man made that argument just a few days ago, and I wanted to tell him he shouldn’t be mad at Kaepernick for using his workplace as a means to create awareness for a cause for which he’s passionate. He should be mad at himself for not obtaining a job that would allow him to also do so.

The railroad workday is not televised, and they don’t kickoff the railroad workday with what was, for the longest time, a paid advertisement by the United States military exploiting the national anthem to appeal to the patriotic sensibilities of the NFL’s mostly American audience. But imagine every American industry started the workday with the national anthem. Before an attorney tried a case the national anthem would be played in the courtroom. Before I could sit at my desk and read the news, the national anthem would be played over the intercom. Before my dad could fix a locomotive, the national anthem would be played throughout the roundhouse.

Now, assuming the same situation facing the NFL, where players are not contractually obligated to stand for the national anthem, employees of all industries could use the anthem as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves, and, in turn, a cause of their choosing. You might not have the media reporting on a railroad machinist’s decision to kneel for the anthem, but his fellow coworkers would probably ask why he didn’t stand for the anthem.

You might even have employers like NFL owners who dismiss employees for their anthem protests. They’d have good reason if morale or production is effected or damage is done to the employers’ brand. But, I ask you, is it not still illegal for an employer who has terminated an anthem protester to contact all the other employers in his industry and make sure they never hire that employee? It indeed is, and if that’s the case, wouldn’t that employee be due lost wages for the employers colluding to take away his or her right to work? He most certainly would. I don’t understand why so many people insist these guys should be banned from the sport and forced to find a new job. If you were fired from your job for expressing your political views and then colluded against by the employers of your chosen career, would you accept that you were terminated justly and humbly find work at a convenience store?

Cheats of the Week

Honorable mention: Former Texas Rangers’ first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, at 53, got a hit in his second at-bat with the Independent League’s Cleburne Railroaders, his son, Patrick’s team. Patrick also had a hit and made a great play at third base, throwing over to his dad at first to complete it.

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stu Gotz there’s no way Palmeiro makes it back to the majors because teams want nothing to do with him after lying under oath about using performance-enhancing drugs.  

Bronze medalist: Seattle Mariners All-star second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for use of the banned substance Furosemide, a diuretic commonly used to mask performance-enhancing drug use. Cano said in a statement that he was given the substance by licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical condition. Furosemide is used to treat fluid retention in people with congestive heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disorders, as well as high blood pressure, or hypertension. Under MLB's drug policy, a player is not automatically suspended for use of a diuretic unless MLB can prove he intended to use it as a masking agent. Cano reportedly tested positive for the drug prior to the season and appealed the potential suspension, but MLB was apparently able to prove his intent, resulting in Cano dropping his appeal. It will cost him $11,850,000.

Silver medalist: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Rick Brunson resigned amid allegations of “improper interactions with several women while on the job,” according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. Brunson is still married despite admitting to an extramarital affair with a massage therapist in June 2014 that resulted in him being charged with attempted criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, aggravated battery and domestic battery. Brunson was acquitted of the charges.

Gold medalist: New Orleans running back Mark Ingram not only failed a drug test and was suspended four games for a drug “permissible with the proper use exemption from the NFL,” but will also sit out voluntary organized team activities entering a contract year. I probably don’t need to tell you, Mike, but Ingram had one of his best seasons last year, scoring 12 touchdowns and setting a career high in rushing yards.

In Ingram’s case, amphetamine was likely the drug “permissible with the proper use exemption,” a drug that has long been popular amongst athletes, especially baseball players. "'Greenies’" (Dexedrine) were a club house staple for decades beginning just after World War II, when ball players drafted into the military returned to the diamond having been exposed to the stimulant pills, which the armed forces dispensed by the millions. Another incubator of baseball speed-freakery was the winter Caribbean baseball circuit. There, players on seasonal hiatus discovered the two coffee pot system, where each club house had one pot with regular coffee and one with an amphetamine additive."

As of 2009 according to Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times, “[t]he 106 players who received exemptions for attention deficit disorder represent about 8 percent of the major league players, based on 40-man rosters. The percentage of American adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder is somewhere between 1 and 3.5 percent, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, although some experts believe the actual number is much higher, citing a large number of undiagnosed cases.”

As someone diagnosed with Adult Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AADHD), I can tell you it’s very easy to obtain a prescription for amphetamines if you familiarize yourself with the symptoms prior to taking the tests medical professionals administer. I answered the questions as honestly as I could because I long suspected I suffered from ADHD. As early as first grade I would do something, anything, to break the boredom of being seated at my desk in the classroom. It got to the point my teacher had a sticky note attached to my desk with each day of the week, and she would mark the days that I behaved with a smiley face and the days I didn’t with a frowny face, delivering reports to my mother. When I was introduced to pens I clicked them incessantly. Even after being asked to stop, I would revert back to the habit in times of boredom. My teacher’s eventually inherited enough of my pens to never have to visit the school’s materials closet.

Amphetamines streamline your focus, and I imagine it slows down the spin and speed of a MLB fastball ever so slightly. For a running back like Ingram who relies on his vision to find holes in the defense, I’m sure it slows down that part of the game for him to react quicker. He won’t be doing any reacting for the first four games of the Saints’ season, though, and likely won’t be back with the Saints after this year given his free agent status and the abilities of their second-year back Alvin Kamara.

Published in Sports

The United States Supreme Court ruled to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) by a 6-3 vote. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling, with Nevada being the sole exception.

The ruling allows states to determine whether they want to allow gambling on sports. While New Jersey expects to have sportsbooks open prior to the start of the NBA Finals, Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are all prepared to get into legal bookmaking. But Indian nations could beat even those states to market.

Casinos on Indian reservations could theoretically open sportsbooks today because they are sovereign nations. The 1993 Nation-State Gaming Compact authorizes the Oneida nation in New York to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted without any further approvals by the State. They intend to open a sportsbook as soon as possible, but other tribal nations are taking a cautious approach.

The reason behind the cautiousness is the fact sports wagering isn’t all that profitable for casinos. According veteran Nevada sportsbook operator Art Manteris, sportsbetting “generates only a four- to six-percent margin, is labor-intensive and requires a major capital investment,” according to a story by Dave Palermo of Legal Sports Report.

Consider this: “From March 2015 to February 2016 a Nevada Gaming Control Board Gaming Revenue Report shows that the “total gaming win” (the casino’s win) over twelve months from slots was $7,066,306,000 (about 7 billion) total. Meanwhile, the total table games win was $4,094,401,000 (about 4 billion). The implication of this is that, even with sports gaming’s comparatively small return of $19,236,000 (about 19.2 million) considered, no casino game even comes close to slots in terms of revenue for the casino.” That’s according to Fact/Myth.

Palermo reports that “16 percent of the tribal casinos – many in urban areas – generate 71.5 percent of the $31.2 billion industry, according to senior economist Alan Meister of Nathan Associates.” These urban, tribal casinos might not have much reason to venture into sports betting since any dollar spent at the sportsbook instead of in a gaming machine is more likely to result in a loss and will certainly result in smaller margins of return.

But rural, tribal casinos could see sports betting as an opportunity. Places like 4 Bears Casino and Lodge in New Town, N.D. could supplement its revenue used to fund the needs of reservation residents by providing the first online sportsbook for North Dakotans.

While the consensus of casino experts seems to be that the estimated $140 billion per year illegally wagered on sports in the U.S. according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) is overestimated, there’s tons of money to be made by a score of entities outside the gaming industry.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants his league to get one percent of all bets made on its games. Local newspapers and radio entities in states with legal sports gambling will now be able to provide content related to sports gambling instead of dancing around the subject. Most importantly, though, most of the billions of dollars Americans have stashed with online bookkeepers overseas will find its way back to the states and stimulate the American economy. I say most because these online bookkeepers overseas have been fraudulent in the past.

The Supreme Court decision is long overdue given the amount of revenue that could be raised by state and federal governments simply from administering a sin tax on gambling. Twenty states have already proposed bills to legalize sports gambling.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl, Travelers411, What’s Cookin Today

Published in Sports

Before the National Basketball Association (NBA) season began, almost anyone with any awareness of the NBA’s existence felt they knew which teams would be playing in each of the Conference Finals. Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics would meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors would play the Houston Rockets’ James Harden and Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals.

That’s exactly how it turned out, minus Irving, who barring injury, would be suiting up against his former teammate in a Conference Final I’d actually watch. Now, I’ll wait to see if Houston can force a Game 7 against Golden State before tuning into the NBA Conference Finals, and it took me betting on Houston to win it all to even have an interest in that series. Basketball’s predictability is the very reason I prefer the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Giant men wearing armor and wielding weapons in their hands and on their feet skate at immense speeds on an ever-changing playing surface chucking a rubber saucer at speeds even faster than their feet can carry them or baseballs are thrown while their opponents do all they can to get in front of that unpredictable projectile. Hockey is a most unpredictable sport, and that’s what holds my interest. The fact it hardly has any stoppages for commercial breaks, provides coaches with just one timeout, and requires live substitutions are all just big bonuses for the sport with the best postseason -- a postseason that can still be improved.

The NBA is also looking to improve its postseason, thankfully. Commissioner Adam Silver floated the idea of eliminating the conferences for the postseason and simply seeding the top 16 teams based on record. This would result in less chance of a lopsided NBA Finals series. For instance, the series most of us believe to be the actual championship series between Houston and Golden State would actually be played for the championship. Houston and Golden State would be the first- and second-ranked NBA playoff teams, respectively, and would only meet in the NBA Finals under the proposed postseason alteration.

While travel concerns and the fact that the seeding of Eastern Conference teams would be skewed based on them playing half as many games against the more dominant, deeper Western Conference might thwart the NBA’s efforts to improve the postseason. But they shouldn’t. As long as there are no back-to-back games scheduled in the NBA Playoffs, travel shouldn’t be a concern. And the seeding of teams from different conferences could be based on their play against similar opponents. For instance, if an Eastern Conference team finished the regular season with a better record than a Western Conference team but lost both games to that Western Conference team, the Eastern Conference team could be seeded behind the Western Conference team based on its performance in head-to-head matchups.

The dominance and depth of the NBA’s Western Conference is forcing Silver to find a way to remedy the lack of intrigue in his sport’s predictable playoffs. A lack of competitiveness results in a loss of fans, which is exactly what has happened with elections due to partisan gerrymandering. Because elections have become so uncompetitive, fewer people vote, thinking their vote doesn’t matter, which, of course, is the intent of partisan gerrymandering.

The same is true of American capitalism. “Free” markets work for the consumer when there’s competition. But businesses want markets working for them. It’s why six companies own the majority of media in America or the means to deliver media messages. Hollywood called this “vertical integration” until the Supreme Court eventually forced movie studios to divest their interest in theaters.

But it’s happening again, and on a much more massive scale. Not only do media moguls own the media produced but the means of distribution. Comcast owns the “movies” it makes and the “theaters” that distribute them. The theaters are the cable, internet and mobile data arms of Comcast, so not only are they pulling revenue from ad sales of their shows, but they’re making two trips to the bank on just about every customer by being either one of two or the sole provider of cable, internet or wireless data in that customer’s area.

The increasingly deregulated capitalistic markets reward monopolistic businesses at the expense of the consumer. Mergers are great for big business, but they aren’t good for consumers. Sprint merging with T-Mobile would result in one less competitor in the mobile data and mobile phone markets, and with each fallen competitor the price for those services increases.

If you live in rural America you’re probably familiar with the price gouging that occurs because of a lack of competition, especially in the cable, satellite, internet service and mobile data industries. Verizon actually kicked Eastern Montana customers off their data plans because they used too much data. Many of those customers don’t have access to internet otherwise, so Verizon knows they’ll have to come back, and will pay more to do so.

So I don’t watch the NBA Playoffs for the same reason I despise American capitalism: a lack of competitiveness that results from monopolistic mergers, like Durant going to Golden State. Maybe when my Timberwolves actually win a playoff series I’ll give the NBA Playoffs my divided attention. But even with my Minnesota Wild eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I have and will continue to watch the NHL postseason, because there’s no telling what could happen.

Published in Sports

The NBA Playoffs tipped off over the weekend, and the results of every Game 1 gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in the first round. Here’s what we learned from every NBA Playoff Game 1.

1. Even without Stephen Curry, the Warriors are too much for the Spurs

If Klay Thompson keeps shooting like he did on Saturday, the Warriors won’t need Stephen Curry in the first round. He was 11-for-13 from the floor and hit five of six three-point attempts to lead the Warriors. All the Warriors’ starters had positive plus-minuses, though, so Thompson could have an off day and Golden State would still give San Antonio fits.

Dejounte Murray was the only Spurs’ starter with a positive plus-minus on Saturday. In fact, only two Spurs finished with a positive plus-minus. LaMarcus Aldridge was terrible, going five-for-12 from the field for 14 points, and the age of Manu Ginobili (-15) and Tony Parker (-17) showed, especially on defense.

2. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can struggle, and the Raptors can still win

You don’t need to see it to know it -- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s collective reputation precedes them. They struggle in the playoffs, and they struggled in Game 1, especially in the first half. But Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in support, as the Raptors won a Game 1 for the first time in 11 tries.

These new Raptors can win when Lowry and DeRozan struggle shooting because of their new “all hands” offensive approach. They’re seeking the most open shot, regardless of shooter, which is why DeRozan could finish six-for-17 from the floor with 17 points against the Wizards and the Raptors still won Game 1. DeRozan also had six assists, and Lowry added nine, mostly on open three-pointers. The Raptors hit 16 of their 30 three-point attempts.

4. Even without Joel Embiid, the 76ers are too much for Miami

Ben Simmons was a rebound away from scoring a triple-double in his first playoff game, and the Heat couldn’t contain JJ Redick or Dario Saric on the perimeter. They both went four-of-six from three-point range. Hassan Whiteside was a non-factor, playing 12 minutes. The Heat couldn’t even contain Marco Belinelli or Ersan Ilyasova, a couple of late-season waiver claims. They scored 42 minutes combined. How the Heat became the most popular pick of analysts to score an upset in Round 1 is mind-boggling.

5. Even without DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans can upset the Trail Blazers

Anthony Davis has picked up his game in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins. He scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and scored four blocks, and despite being just +1 on the night, his supporting cast was just good enough for the Pelicans to steal Game 1 in Portland. Nikola Mirotic hit four of his 10 three-point attempts to lead New Orleans in plus-minus (+13), and Jrue Holiday made half of his shots to finish with 21 points (+12).

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard struggled shooting inside the three-point line, going six-for-23 from the field but four-of-nine from three-point range. CJ McCollum didn’t offer much relief, going seven-for-18 from the field despite shooting four-of-10 from three-point range. Davis defended the rim effectively, and the Pelicans made the Blazers win on the perimeter. They didn’t, shooting under 31 percent from beyond the arc.

6. Even without Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have enough to dispatch the Bucks

Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were good enough for Boston to beat Milwaukee in Game 1. And they can be enough to carry the underdog Celtics without Kyrie Irving over the East’s seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who turned the ball over a ton. Horford was huge for Boston in Game 1 and is capable of carrying this team into the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he won’t.

7. The Bucks will still prevail over the Celtics

Milwaukee’s defensive adjustments late in Game 1 got them back into the game, and should get them a win in Game 2. They finally started forcing turnovers to make up for the 20 they lost, and although the Bucks lost in overtime, Boston showed its susceptible to losing in front of its home crowd. Once that happens, the Bucks just have to win their home games.

8. LeBron James could miss the Finals for the first time in eight years

The Indiana Pacers are really good. Victor Oladipo looked like a superstar in Game 1, and Lance Stephenson did what he does when he’s right, holding LeBron James to a -13 plus-minus despite scoring a triple-double with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Every Pacers’ starter had a plus-minus of at least +14 while James was the only Cavalier starter in double figures.

LeBron James lost a Game 1 in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in his career, and it happened on his home court. Even King James might not be able to carry these Cavs into the NBA Finals. Even if it’s not Indiana that eliminates Cleveland, Philadelphia very well could. The Cavs have already lost their home court advantage in Round 1 and won’t likely have one in Round 2.

9. Oklahoma City’s bench will be just enough against the Jazz

Paul George scored 36 points and finished the night +3. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points but was -1, and Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points to finish +1. The Thunder pulled away from the Jazz when their bench was on the floor, despite Utah’s bench outscoring the Thunder bench 34-17. Alex Abrines led the Thunder in plus-minus (+14), Jerami Grant was second (+12), Raymond Felton was third (+9), Patrick Patterson was fourth (+6), and Terrance Ferguson tied George for fifth on the team in plus-minus.

10. The Timberwolves might have discovered a formula to beat Houston...at least once

Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau might lack an effective offensive strategy, but his defensive strategy against Houston seemed to be “make James Harden beat us.” He did, but it took 44 points and 58-percent shooting, including a seven-of-12 effort from beyond the arc. Harden was simply brilliant, but Houston can’t expect him to keep shooting damn near 60 percent from the floor. Once the Wolves locked down Clint Capela, who had 20 of his 24 points in the first half, the Rockets needed every one of Harden’s points to hold off Minnesota.

Is this the recipe to beat the Rockets? Sunday was the closest the Timberwolves have been to beating Houston all season. They lost all four regular season games against the Rockets -- three by 18 points and the final game by nine points. Harden was +10 in that nine-point victory, scoring 14 of his 34 points from the free throw line. Despite 44 points on Sunday night, the Rockets were just +5 with him on the floor. Had the Wolves gotten anything out of Karl-Anthony Towns, they would have stolen Game 1 in Houston. We’ll see if they can steal Game 2 instead, which would be the biggest surprise of the NBA Playoffs.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Published in News & Information

I don’t enjoy writing the “fire the coach/GM” letter. I hope no one does. Calling people’s job performance into question publicly isn’t something I long to do. I’m not the current President. Firing people isn’t my thing. But when I feel a change is needed to improve the product for which I and my neighbors pay handsomely, I’m not going to bite my tongue and suffer in silence.

Twice I've written letters calling for sports executives to be fired, and in both instances they were. On Oct. 17, 2011, I called for Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith to resign. Less than a month later, he was dismissed. On July 14, 2016, I called for most of the Twins’ front office to be fired, including Smith’s predecessor and replacement, Terry Ryan. Four days later Ryan was fired.

It’s not that I think these “fire the coach/GM” pieces actually instigate change. I doubt they even reach the decision-makers. But they make me feel better and, hopefully, provide you some insight into the thoughts and feelings of a frustrated season ticket holder and the reasons for that frustration.

In the past, I wrote my “fire the coach/GM” letters in reactionary anger. They were fueled mostly by emotion, not logic. With Ryan, it was an inactive trade deadline that set me to punching the keys. With Smith, a slew of bad trades got me started down the same path (JJ Hardy, Johan Santana, Wilson Ramos). Only the Twins’ on-field success kept me from writing. But when Smith traded Delmon Young for Minnesota local, lefty Cole Nelson in A-ball and Lester Oliveros, I had had enough. I didn’t need to know both players’ careers would end three years later to know the trade was no good for the Twins. And while Delmon Young was hardly a hot commodity, he did go on to carry the Detroit Tigers to a World Series, winning ALCS MVP honors the following season -- a year after posting an 1.170 OPS in 21 plate appearances for the Tigers in the 2011 ALDS.

This time I’m taking a different, more reserved approach. I’ve been putting this off for months with hopes of Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau giving me a reason not to write this. He hasn’t, so I am.

I’ve been a supporter of Thibodeau’s since his first season with the Chicago Bulls. In fact, I hadn’t watched an NBA game since Jordan’s last in 2003 until Thibodeau took over in Chicago and installed an attitude instead of an offense. The Bulls’ physicality on defense was nostalgic in its ferocity, raising memories of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman frustrating the hell out of everyone they guarded. I always liked the idea of figuratively “punching opponents in the mouth” and literally hurting them with physical play on defense.

I enjoyed watching low-scoring games in which baskets were hard to get, and scars and bruises were just the price paid to play in the paint. I loved hard fouls, not because of the violence or the further potential for violence they sometimes instigated, but because I am a firm believer that if you’re the last line of defense between your opponent and the basket, and your opponent gets by you, it’s your job to make sure your opponent doesn’t hit a shot. And if you could put them on their ass in the process of fouling, you did your job, even if your opponent hits the foul shots. Now everything’s a flagrant foul and players on defense are more apt to shy away from contact rather than initiate it.  

I so wanted Thibodeau to succeed while much of the league started exploiting the three-point line. I feel like it was the last chance to save basketball as I knew and loved it, and Thibodeau inherited a pretty good team when he left Boston for Chicago. The Bulls finished at .500 the season prior to Thibodeau’s arrival and were 11th in defensive efficiency but 27th in offensive efficiency.

Thibodeau made me look like a genius that first season, as the Bulls finished first in the Central Division at 62-20, 11th in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency. But was it Thibodeau who made me look like a genius or league MVP Derrick Rose? It certainly wasn’t Thibodeau’s offensive schemes, which boiled down to Rose playing in isolation, driving the lane, with or without a screen, and either dishing or finishing.

Not much has changed, except instead of Rose driving and dishing or finishing, it’s Jeff Teague dribbling and dribbling and dribbling until the shot clock expires. Teague can’t finish at the rim like Rose could, so defenders happily trap him under the basket where they know he can’t finish over them and an interior pass is difficult. Teague can’t hit the three, either, so defenders can play him closer to the rim, limiting the effectiveness of Teague’s dribble drive. It’s hard to beat a defender off the dribble when he’s so far away, and if there’s no help needed to defend against the dribble drive, there’s nobody left open to take a shot off Teague’s pass.

Thibodeau has done very little on the offensive end to adapt to the players he has and the skills they possess. It’s still isolation plays in a spread offense with virtually no movement away from the ball except the occasional high pick and roll. He’s not putting his players in a position to find success or even an open shot. Phil Mackey crunched some numbers at NBA.com, and the Wolves take more contested shots than any team in the NBA and take the second fewest wide open shots. A team that struggles shooting like the Wolves needs all the open shots it can get.

Thibodeau has long been known to be a defensive guru, but his offensive schemes leave much to be desired. The Timberwolves didn’t hire him to improve their offense, though. It was already ranked 12th in efficiency before he got there, thanks to an effective facilitator in Ricky Rubio, whom Thibodeau traded for Oklahoma City’s 2018 first round draft pick and cap space to sign Teague. Thibodeau blew up a successful offense to add a score-first point guard on a team with its three top scoring options already established. It seems Thibodeau thought he could just assemble five effective scorers and not have to worry about designing offensive schemes for them. If they can all create their own shot, there’s no need to run a play, right? But this time he didn’t have a 22-year-old Rose to hide his lack of offensive ingenuity behind highlight reel finishes at the rim.

So Thibodeau made the move that sold seats at the newly renovated Target Center and gave Wolves fans reason for hope. He traded for Jimmy Butler -- a trade that already looks like Chicago won despite almost everyone in the sports media agreeing the Wolves had fleeced the Bulls on draft day. Regardless of who won the trade, the Wolves won my money. I became a season ticket holder because Butler was coming to town (and the seats at Target Center were comfortable). He was my favorite player in the league at the time because, again, he plays defense, and does it better than almost anyone. Since he’s been gone, we’ve all seen how truly invaluable he is. Before Butler went down with a torn meniscus, the Wolves had the eighth best net rating in basketball (2.6). Since Butler’s injury, the Wolves are 19th in net rating (-1.0).

Butler was Thibodeau’s way of covering for his weak defenders until they learned how to play defense. Correcting poor footwork takes time. You can’t blame Thibodeau for the poor defense of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Expecting him to turn Towns into the young Joakim Noah (4.2 DBPM in 2010-11) and Wiggins into Ronnie Brewer (3.2 DBPM in 2010-11) in two seasons is unfair. Noah was already an elite defender before Thibodeau arrived (3.3 DBPM in 2009-10, his third season after four years in college), and Brewer was already trending up in his fourth season (1.6 DBPM in 2009-10). Wiggins is also trending up on defense in his fourth season, albeit from a lower starting point. His -1.5 DBPM this season is a vast improvement on the -2.9 and -2.5 DBPM he posted the two previous seasons. Towns’s 1.0 DBPM is better than positional peers Kevin Love (-1.5), Channing Frye (-1.0), Tristan Thompson (-0.7), Tyler Zeller (-0.6) and Robin Lopez (-0.2).

Both Towns and Wiggins have the offensive ability to make up for their subpar defense, though. So if they aren’t scoring -- a lot -- they’re a liability. With Butler gone, they’re the top two scoring options -- just like they were last year. Towns gets the touches on offense to cover for his defensive shortcomings. He had 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting for a +10 rating in Denver, Thursday night.

Wiggins doesn’t get those dedicated touches Towns demands in the paint, however. He has to settle for Teague’s desperation passes when his dribble drive fails to draw a helper on defense, which never leaves Wiggins an open shot and forces him to shake a defender before settling for a contested jump shot at the end of the shot clock. Wiggins is at his best when driving to the basket, but you don’t see too many high pick and roll plays called for him. In fact, it’s as if Thibodeau’s spread offense has gone and made the Wolves’ best athlete into a spot-up shooter, and a bad one at that. Wiggins had nine points on Thursday night on four-of-12 shooting, and the Wolves allowed 13 net points while Wiggins was on the floor. He needed to score 22 to avoid being a liability. If the defense isn’t there yet, the offense must be, or there’s no reason to have Wiggins on the court. The Wolves were 11 net points better with Jamal Crawford and 24 points better with Rose on the court. They scored nine and four points, respectively, but were buoyed by their defensive ability.

Minnesota doesn’t have much time to rebuild their chemistry with Butler, but they’ll immediately be better thanks to Butler guarding the opposition’s best player whenever possible. What’s worrisome is that Butler’s addition doesn’t seem to be showing itself in the numbers. Minnesota’s defense was 27th in efficiency last year, and the Wolves remain the 27th-ranked team in defensive efficiency after adding one of the best two-way players in the game. Butler’s DBPM is just .1 this season, a career low and way down from the 1.1 he posted last year. His defensive rating is also at a career low this season, so Butler is having a down year on defense, and his offensive numbers are understandably down having gone from a team where he was the scoring option to a team with ample scoring options.

All that said, after the season, regardless of outcome, Thibodeau should step down as the Timberwolves head coach. I don’t have much faith in his ability to act as president of basketball operations, either, but he did bring me Jimmy Butler, and for that I am forever grateful. For that, he should remain the president of basketball operations. I don’t even mind him serving as a defensive coordinator on the coaching staff, but the best thing he could do as president of basketball operations is go out and hire the offensive Yin to his defensive Yang. The Timberwolves could have avoided giving Thibodeau so much control and just hired David Blatt like Joseph Gill recommended at SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus back in January of 2016. But Thibodeau can make it up to them by hiring Blatt himself. It would be a classy move and allow Thibodeau to focus on team-building and management, so Minnesotans have a quality basketball team worth watching for years to come.

If Thibodeau fails to win a playoff series, he isn’t going to be on the hot seat. But the Tweeters are rumbling and the word “fire” is being thrown around the Internet. That’s the spark that leads to letters like these being sent to ownership and published online, and then as letters to the editor in newspapers (although getting this down to 700 words will be a challenge).

You have to give Thibodeau some props, though. Despite running his players into the ground under an avalanche of minutes, potentially shortening Derrick Rose’s and Joakim Noah’s careers, and being known for having an abrasive attitude, his former players love and defend him. Without Thibodeau, the Wolves wouldn’t have Jimmy Butler or a shot to make the playoffs, so despite me calling for the end of his head coaching career, I’m just like one of his players. I love Thibodeau for giving me a reason to watch professional basketball again, and I’ll defend his ability to build a winner, but I can’t defend his offensive strategy anymore. 1953 called, Tom. It wants its pace and playbook back.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Published in News & Information
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