Scott Carefoot contributes to The Basketball Jones and edits RaptorBlog, which he launched in 2002. He's been a solider in the Score army since 2008 and is convinced that he enjoys coming to work every day more than almost anyone, ever. The majority of the movies in his personal Top 10 list were made by either Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers.
Winning an NBA championship is hard. This isn’t news to anyone, especially when you consider that the past 32 championships have been divided among just nine franchises. It’s also extremely hard to just make the NBA Finals — nine teams have participated in the Finals over the past 10 seasons, including this one. This means that over two-thirds of the 30 teams in this league haven’t even been in the vicinity of the Larry O’Brien trophy within the past decade.
Whether or not the Oklahoma City Thunder emerge triumphant from their championship series with the Miami Heat starting on Tuesday, it’s a tremendous accomplishment that they’ve made it this far just three seasons removed from finishing with a .280 winning percentage and the fourth-worst record in the 2008-09 season. But the meteoric rise of this youthful roster — the top four Thunder players in minutes played this season are all 23 years old or younger — could not have happened if a number of events didn’t play out in a very specific and incredibly fortunate way for Oklahoma City.
If you believe some people, the NBA is as rigged and scripted as WWE and the fact that the league-owned Hornets won this year’s NBA draft lottery confirms that David Stern pulls the strings for every significant occurrence in this league. Let’s ignore how a team in San Antonio winning five championships in 14 years (you’ll see) fits into that narrative. If you believe the big brains behind HoopIdea — you know, the basketball experts who strive to save the NBA from itself — the scourge of tanking is what really threatens to destroy the sport we all love.
I’m neither for nor against tanking in the NBA, but I feel like the fact that the team with the worst record only has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery means that the odds of blatant tanking paying off are low enough that we don’t need to get worked up about it. The 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats may have tanked harder than any NBA team has ever tanked, and what did it get them? Not Anthony Davis, that’s for sure. And it’s not bad luck that they didn’t win the lottery, because there was a 75 percent chance that this would turn out the way it did.
It’s not exclusive to the NBA, but it never ceases to amaze me how much people underestimate the importance of luck. Every year, fans of non-playoff teams who didn’t win the draft lottery lash out because they inexplicably feel like their team’s management should have known their team would have won the lottery if they had finished exactly where the lottery winner finished. This belief overlooks the fact that there are no guarantees in this life, aside from death and taxes. Anthony Davis is certainly the best prospect in this draft class, but there are a number of factors that could conspire against him having the best NBA career out of this crop of 2012-13 rookies.
There’s no question that you can’t win an NBA championship without a great deal of on-court skill and front office intelligence, but there should also be a complete lack of doubt that luck plays just as large a part in achieving that goal. NBA draft history is littered with “what-if” disappointments — Len Bias and Greg Oden come to mind — as well as the countless mid-to-late draft surprises who contributed significantly to multiple titles. The San Antonio Spurs would like to reintroduce you to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Clearly, tanking is not a strategy that should be encouraged in this or any other sport. But when somebody tries to tell you that tanking is some kind of perversion of the the true spirit of competition as well as a shortcut to “earning” success, make sure you show them Charlotte’s 22-60 record next season. Yeah, tanking worked out real well for them.
Another day during the NBA season, yet another reason to talk about how “unclutch” LeBron James is. After LeBron missed two free throws and he shot none of the Heat’s three field goal attempts in the final minute of the Heat’s 78-75 loss to the Pacers last night, we had a whole new opportunity to declare his poor performance in game-deciding situations. As always, ESPN commentators like John Buccigross could be counted on to join the fun.
There will be a lot of invective unleashed as a result of Metta World Peace’s vicious elbow to James Harden’s head late in the second quarter of Sunday afternoon’s Thunder-Lakers game. The event was significant because of the teams involved, because of the players involved, and most specifically because of Metta’s history of violent, erratic behavior. If most other NBA players had thrown that elbow during a dunk celebration, people would be more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t intended to connect to Harden’s head. This particular perpetrator used up his “benefit of the doubt cards” a long time ago.
It’s the question that never gets answered and never goes away — Why is flopping tolerated in the NBA when it’s almost universally reviled by fans? Obviously, we all hate it when a player does it against our team and he gets a call from it, but I’d like to think that most of us feel at least a touch of shame when one of our own players flops. Is that really how you want the game to be played?
The biggest obstacle to identifying and punishing flops is that they’re usually subjective. How do we really know what’s a flop and what isn’t? In the video at the top of this post, Jeff Van Gundy goes off on a rant on how he believes the NBA condones flopping and how he thinks it would easy to eliminate it from the league. He yells, “I have easy remedies. You fine ‘em, or you treat ‘em like technicals — when you flop ‘X’ amount of times, you’re suspended.”
When broadcast partner Mike Breen points out that it’s hard to tell what’s a flop and what isn’t, Van Gundy responds, “That’s not hard! Technicals are subjective, too!” And he makes a solid point here. Many calls that basketball officials have to make are subjective. Was that a charge or a blocking foul? Did he get all ball or did he hit the arm on that blocking attempt? Could it be the NBA officials don’t want to be burdened with yet another type of subjective decision to make on the court?
In the four NBA seasons before this one, the Orlando Magic were much less interesting to me than a perennial 50-win team that made the Finals once and the Conference Finals another time should have been. I appreciated what they were trying to do with their strategy of surrounding the most dominant center in the league with three-point shooters — I just didn’t find it particularly engaging.
This season, everybody became very interested in the Magic because of the mystery surrounding the future of Dwight Howard in Orlando. While Dwight continued to waffle about his intentions and led on this organization and its fans, I came to his defense on this blog because I felt he had given this dysfunctional franchise enough of a chance to build a championship-level team around him. In light of Magic coach Stan Van Gundy’s explosive revelation earlier today that Dwight has lobbied management to fire Stan on multiple occasions, it’s apparent that I misjudged Dwight’s character.
This is really something to behold. I could have taken some time to attempt to craft a melodramatic narrative about Stephon Marbury’s journey from burgeoning NBA star to overpaid problem child to team cancer to unwanted whack-job to foreign hero. But that story has already been published by other writers and this video shouldn’t be cheapened by literary ego-stroking.
Some people might say that the only way that this video could have more emotional impact would be if Allen Iverson was in Marbury’s shoes. I disagree. Iverson is still placed on such a pedestal that most people would probably be legitimately bummed out by seeing him react to a Chinese Basketball Association championship like this.
For Marbury, this is a triumph because he’s finally found a place where he’s embraced, where his idiosyncrasies are recognized as part and parcel with his basketball talent. Finally, he’s the conquering hero he’s always believed he was meant to be, and the relief at finally achieving that goal is overwhelming.
I never liked Stephon Marbury before I watched this video. Inexplicably, I was teary-eyed by the end of it. Redemption tales are funny like that, aren’t they?