An Open Letter to Sacramento Kings Fans

This was written in response to Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom’s hopeful post on his city’s chances of retaining the Kings by building a new stadium. While reading his post, it was hard not to hear haunting echoes of the long-shot plans and contingencies imagined by my fellow Seattleites in the year or two before the voracious darkness in Clay Bennett’s soul consumed our city.

Dear Sacramento Kings Fans:

I haven’t been following the stadium issues your community has faced in recent years, but as the situation grows dire, let me lend you some hard earned advice: pray.

It may not be what you want to hear, but the reality is there’s little else you can do. Trust me, I’m speaking from my own surreal experience of staring slack-jawed as the Sonics fled town trailing the bloody entrails of Seattle’s most loyal fan base.

What a facey trio

Although relocation now feels like a faint possibility, it’s more like a train whose headlight is only now rounding into view. Sooner or later you’re bound to notice that you’re tied to the tracks. If you get rescued, it won’t be because you wriggled out of your ropes. You have nearly zero agency in keeping your team—you know, unless you can elect public officials for whom a relatively poor economic investment is a top priority.

The NBA does. not. care. Ok, so maybe the NBA cares a little bit about fans (and charity and China), but only in so far as any good business cares about cultivating customers. To NBA Corp, your memories of Mike Bibby’s fearless performances and Chris Webber’s terrified “performances” aren’t worth the Ahmad Rashad-studded Inside Stuff tapes on which their legends live.

They say that sports business is only good business when it’s more than

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Advanced Statistics: What Would Auerbach Do?

This is the only known image of Red Auerbach without a cigar

I recently came across an interview that Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach gave for a 1987 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

While the focus of the article, mysteriously titled “Red Auerbach on Management,” was not basketball, Auerbach’s insights on management provide an intriguing look at his team building strategy.

In particular, a few quotations on assembling a winning squad seemed relevant today. The greatest talent evaluator and recruiter ever, Auerbach acquired three Hall of Famers– K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn and G.O.A.T. candidate Bill Russell– in a single draft. Clearly he could spot a great player, but back then Auerbach had to do it on instinct as much as metrics. Like a wayward explorer, Red survived the backwoods of the NBA’s early years using only the smells wafting on the breeze and a spear fashioned from a grizzly’s femur. Today, we have cell phones and Synergy Sports. “I had no scouts,” he says, “We had no movies, no video. Today we have six guys doing what I used to do.”

Now those six (more likely 15) guys are also spending time compiling statistics and crunching numbers. These advanced (accurate) metrics are the primary evaluating tool in today’s NBA, but here’s what Red said about the role of statistics in his 1987 front office:

Well, it started way back, when Walter Brown owned the team. I had this theory, which we still use. And that is, a player’s salary is determined by what the coaches see and what I see. What determines a player’s salary is his contribution to winning—not his statistical accomplishments.

I don’t believe in statistics. There are too many factors that can’t be measured. You can’t measure a ballplayer’s heart,

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“Mama there goes that meme!” Ep. 1: Carmelo Anthony wants to be traded

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a new weekly column on HoopSpeak in which Beckley and Ethan will examine, discuss, and debate a popular media meme. Ethan brings a heightened cynicism having spent a year subjecting himself to near toxic levels of meme-exposure while working in the NBA PR office. Our goal will be to analyze not only the validity of the prevailing sentiment, whatever it may be, but to offer some witty insight into why certain storylines have become popular.

The first installation focuses on Carmelo Anthony and the recent trade buzz surrounding the Nugget’s franchise player: is he any good, and does anyone deserve a slap-bounty?

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Beckley: Melo is the most recent NBA star to put himself on the trading block (link). He was the third leading scorer in the NBA at a 28.2/gm clip, so it that enough to warrant mass hysteria?

(Beckley Mason IM: I lobbed you a softball…)

Ethan: This isn’t a softball, it’s a beach ball, floating at my flubber bat. Of course Melo is overrated, of course his undeserved star status is the fuel and fodder for September speculation. If we pretend Anthony’s great, then perhaps the media can recapture some of that LEBRON FREE AGENCY 2010 link bait that they loved…before they hated James for having the audacity to make good on their hyping, which turned into link bait harping.

Now that the biggest free agency shakeup has passed, we still sense its presence like an amputated foot. Cut to spinning newspapers, blaring “Star wants out! League shakeup!” This wouldn’t irk me save for Anthony generating less than 6 in WP: Carmelo is not LeBron, his departure changes little. We’re bound to the MJ model, obsessed with perimeter scorers until that crazy day when Kevin Love’s shoes fly off

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Tyreke Evans and “Position” in the NBA

Yesterday Austin Burton of DIME magazine posted this:

Kings coach Paul Westphal has indirectly addressed Tyreke’s [Evans] position status in a couple of recent interviews.

“One of the things I like about him is he’s not a specialist,” Westphal told NBA Fanhouse in August. “He’s an all-around player who comes out there to win. And the more experience he gets, the better the players are around him, the more the team settles into a consistency, the more we’ll see him be who I think he can be in this League — which is somebody who can help you win games in a whole lot of different ways.”

From here Burton’s post describes the “point guard controversy” in Sacramento between Beno Udrih, who Westphal wants to run the point, and the 2010 ROY Evans. He finishes the article as many of Dime’s fan friendly posts end—with a question: is Tyreke Evans a point guard or not?

While it’s a fun argument, I have to wonder if the answer should matter more to us as fans than it does to Evan’s own coach (Burton also had a great post about Kobe Bryant’s take on eroding position boundaries). What is the benefit of us knowing who the point guard of the Kings is? The answer seems to be that this knowledge essentially allows us to better judge Evans’s play vis a vis  his position.

However many of today’s NBA players upend these time-honored roles with excellent success. Dirk Nowitzki is 7 feet tall and his team’s best shooter, while LeBron James has a point guard’s brain encased in a power forward’s body like the galaxy-protecting critters of Men in Black. Earl Boykins, to choose a less talented example, is a travel friendly 5’5’’ but solely offers the ability to score.

No

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The Boston Celtics: Dying slower from the Miami Heat

Pat Riley assembled a squad sure to dismember your fathers in Boston. And that’s if they ever get there in time–it could all be a matter of which Eastern Conference buzzard first encounters the near-champs. Picture a shriveled leprechaun, slumped over a desert ditch. His hat’s been knocked off, he’s balding, sweating. His body weakens, his gold pot chances weaken concurrently. The hourglass funnels sand at double speed, a third run at the rainbow is a fading dream. He’s passing out, it’s bleaker than hell as he closes his eyes and remembers past glories.Then he empties his bowels, because like, that’s what happens when metaphorical leprechauns die. They poop green sludge as their souls fly to ethereal bliss. Don’t worry, it’s not gross–it smells like Guinness-steeped potatoes.

I’ve watched friends and relatives slowly pass away. It’s not a pretty process but it does lend itself to emotional preparation. When someone gets blindsided by a truck, everyone they know grapples with instant emotional wreckage. Humans need time to rationalize pain, death and the passing of time itself. Physics dictate that lengthening the time of impact lessens the impact. Is it true for the abstract world? Not in every case, but the people of Cleveland sure yelped throat-etching screams over the sudden death of the Cavs. Dan Gilbert was an egg hurled at concrete; he shattered faster than he was thrown.

And the Miami assemblage has added to hours to Boston watches. Toronto could have made the 2011 Playoffs. Cleveland would have made the 2011 Playoffs. In this scenario, Miami may have returned with another free agent in tow. Three playoff contenders became one, two teams nixed before the first game. There is opportunity in destruction.

There would have been a very real chance of a Boston lottery

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Introducing Ethan Sherwood Strauss

I’m excited to announce that Ethan Strauss (@sherwoodstrauss) will be joining HoopSpeak as a semi-regular contributor. Ethan spent a year in frightening proximity to David Stern’s toxic fumes in the NBA PR office, but seems to have emerged mostly unscathed. Now you can find him on the ESPN TrueHoop Network blog Warriorsworld.net and contributing to Salon.com, like a boss.

I’ve been chatting with Ethan for a few months and finally convinced him to help out here (or was it that HoopSpeak received a shoutout on ESPN’s TrueHoop blog?). In short, Ethan Sherwood Strauss is a fine young man of medium build that will add a great voice to the site, despite having a middle name only appropriate for an adult film star.

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How to compare LeBron James and Kevin Durant

After blitzing the “world” this summer at the FIBA Championships in Turkey, Kevin Durant recently was named the #1 athlete on ESPN’s Cross-Sport power rankings.

Somehow Durant’s silky performance vaulted him ahead of the incendiary Rafael Nadal, who beat a legitimately formidable rival, not to mention a stacked field, to win a career Grand Slam—something only seven players have ever done in the history of professional tennis—at age 24. Durant beat up on the field about as efficiently as anyone could, but let’s be real: every contender in the field was missing serious NBA talent.

It may say more about the popularity of their respective sports that the World Wide Leader placed Durant at # 1, though Rafael Nadal just entered a hallowed pantheon never breached by the likes of Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, or Bjorn Borg. Yet this is only one in a long string of accolades being eagerly foist upon Durant following his excellent play.

There is a bubbling stream of optimism running through the national commentary when it comes to Durant’s game. And as the enthusiasm overflows perhaps into the absurd, many have staked a claim on the prediction that Durant will supplant LeBron James as the greatest player on Earth over the next few years.

While I have been most disappointed by writers who use Durant’s clean slate to attack LeBron’s moral fiber (as is masterfully discussed by Tommy Craggs here), I’m not yet convinced that Durant’s professional growth will continue unabated until he is obviously superior to every player in the league both statistically and morally.

Perhaps Durant will surpass James, but I suspect it will be nearly impossible to statistically quantify any changing of the guard because the two players operate in such vastly different ways. Unless one of them

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