Court Vision: An important distinction between losing and tanking
• The further removed from the NBA offseason, the easier it gets to misconstrue prudent teambuilding as detestable tanking. Howard Beck of Bleacher Report tackled the tanking issue head-on in his latest column with a case-by-case look at all of the teams allegedly slumming it this season for a chance to grab a top pick in the 2014 draft. It's easy to look at Milwaukee's record and forget that the Bucks began the season gunning (and spending for the playoffs), to take shots at the Jazz for letting go of two quality bigs in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson or to lump in the Celtics with those teams who have deigned to lose by design.
Beck does a terrific job of explaining why the tanking problem -- while surely problematic in theory -- isn't in any kind of unique effect this season. With the prevalence of the topic have come greater and greater stretches of the term -- as if every losing team achieved that end through the same course.
And this is the most troubling aspect of the overheated tanking discussion. It allows no room for actual, honest rebuilding. The NBA is a salary-cap league. Teams have limited resources to acquire talent. If they spend poorly, they are trapped in mediocrity for years to come and shut out when the top free agents hit the market.
We mock the foolish spending binges by the Pistons, Bucks and Knicks. We howl over bad contracts, like the six-year, $123 million deal the Hawks gave Joe Johnson in 2010. We should praise teams when they instead manage their cap wisely and plan for the long term.
In a normal year, no one would be criticizing Utah's tactics, or Orlando's. But the allure of [Andrew] Wiggins, [Jabari] Parker, [Joel] Embiid and Dante Exum has skewed the discussion. Scouts fell in love with this draft class, and the draft thus became the prism through which every team's moves were (cynically) viewed.
• The Cavs aren't the first team to use the hardwood as a projection screen, but this tribute/lineup introduction from Zydrunas Ilgauskas' jersey retirement ceremony was pretty rad.
• This post is just as much about the city of Sacramento as DeMarcus Cousins, but the marriage of the two is a perfect introduction to "Boogie Week" -- an extended tribute to Cousins over at Hickory-High.
• LeBron James has been hit with deserved criticism for taking possessions off on defense this season, and lately Kevin Durant has been guilty of the same. Fatigue is understandable given how much heavy lifting he does for the Thunder, but complete disengagement is inexcusable.
• Wizards center Marcin Gortat is one of the best interviews in the NBA, and in a sit-down with Kyle Weidie for TrueHoop, he discussed ripping towels in half, his political aspirations, "Storage Wars," and trance music. On the basketball side, Gortat offered this great bit on the value of patience for guards utilizing a screen, specifically in the case of John Wall:
From my perspective, I definitely taught [Wall] to slow down a little bit on the pick-and-roll, because sometimes he’s going 100 miles per hour. He’s got to understand that to get a good screen in his situation where he’s not a perfect, perfect sharp-shooter, the big man needs a half a second longer to set a good screen for him, and I think he’s learned to be patient and use the screens the right way. Sometimes we re-screen two or three times in one possession, which is really good. I’ve been working with him, I’ve been on him constantly in the past few months, and I really think that he has started trusting me a little bit more, and we’ve developed that relationship and chemistry.
• Colin McGowan of Sports on Earth on the Chicago Bulls: "To my eyes, the story of their season is consummate professionalism as a way of avoiding constant beatdowns. It’s less prideful than desperate. Have you ever had to work incredibly hard at something because you were deathly afraid of being terrible at it?"
• Poor awareness, lazy defense, over-dribbling, slow lateral movement ... Evan Turner's faults came to bear on a particularly nasty four-possession sequence on Sunday.• Miami's front line is often undersized enough that bigger teams can create leverage on the offensive glass, but in their matchup with the Heat last week Gregg Popovich's Spurs saw no need to do so. Rather than send Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan deep into the paint to vie for extra possessions, San Antonio was incredibly conservative in its transition defense. As many as four Spurs were trotting back down court as soon as shot went up, ensuring that if nothing else, the transition work of LeBron James and Co. would never come easy.