September 23, 2011
20 Things We Won't Miss About the NBA
The standoff between NBA players and owners over a new collective bargaining agreement has lasted for more than four months now, forcing the league to postpone training camps, cancel all of preseason and nix all regular-season games through Nov. 30. And yet, there's still no deal in sight. So, while lamenting the shortened season and fearing a lost season entirely, we asked a number of writers to tell us what they'll miss the most about the NBA, and what they'll be glad to live without now that some games have been canceled. Here's what they had to say ...
1 The 2010-11 version of the Miami Heat
Jeffery A. Salter/SI
The advocacy here is not for reporters to stop covering the Heat, or even over-covering the team. The Heat are a big story, and will remain so, for all the reasons mentioned earlier. But last season was ridiculous. Daily updates in November? Hundreds of reporters for regular-season games? A "Heat Index"? Surely the novelty has worn off by now.

Here's to hoping the glossy mags have all done their cover stories, the books have been written and we can go back to relying upon Brian Windhorst and a handful of good beat writers for our information. Because, once that happens, we'll actually get better information. It's how the sports world works: The more media that descend upon a team, the more that team closes ranks and shuts the media out, and the harder it is for any given reporter to develop the trust that's required to break stories. -- Chris Ballard

2 Derek Fisher's flops
John W. McDonough/SI

Derek Fisher might be the most respected player in the NBA. Supportive of his teammates, respectful of his opponents, cooperative with the media -- Fisher is in many ways the model pro athlete. When I wrote stories about the Shaq-Kobe tensions when they were Laker teammates a decade ago, Fisher was the Laker I could count on for candid, insightful answers to delicate questions. On top of all that, Fisher is president of the players' union, which means he will surely have a great deal to do with finally resolving this lockout. In short, there is a lot to love about him -- and one thing to hate: his flopping.

When the lockout ends and the players come back to the courts, I can only hope that Fisher's infernal defensive flopping doesn't come with him. Too often, he plays D like a dead fish, falling to the ground when an opposing player even brushes him, trying to draw the charging call. The one positive of the lockout is that as long as it lasts, I won't have to roll my eyes when Fisher plays defense by propelling himself backward as if he's being sucked out of an open airplane door, when in fact he's hardly been touched.

So, D-Fish, once you've helped end the work stoppage, would you consider a flop stoppage? -- Phil Taylor

3 Sub-.500 playoff teams
John Biever/SI

One group staggers in almost every spring, usually from the Eastern Conference, most recently Indiana and before that Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando and Milwaukee. Over the past six years, six sub-.500 teams have made the playoffs, and never have they advanced. Atlanta came close, winning three games in 2008, and Philadelphia took two the same season. But Detroit and Orlando were both swept, while Indiana and Milwaukee bowed out in five.

The first round is as competitive as ever, but a few undeserving entries further perception that the NBA's regular season doesn't really matter. Everybody makes the playoffs, the thinking goes. In Major League Baseball, a sub-.500 team has never qualified for the postseason. In the NFL, it happened last year with the Seattle Seahawks, and prompted discussion over whether the system should be changed.

The NBA model has recently favored the East, where records are substantially worse than the West. But the East has improved lately, and with the league's current depth of talent, eight teams from each conference should be able to climb over .500, adding even more appeal to the first round. -- Lee Jenkins

4 T-shirt cannons
Chris Szagola/CSM/Landov

Can we please have something new? I understand the goals of marketing and interacting with the crowd during timeouts and all the rest of it. I remember when the whole who-wants-a-T-shirt? thing was a new idea, so if the NBA was able to come up with that idea at that time then why can't it come up with something else now? Game after game, year after year, it's the same sideshow events: the dunking off the trampoline, little kids racing each other in some kind of gimmicky contest, T-shirt launching, and on and on and on.

I'm not saying to get rid of those things, because it's obvious that after all of these years fans still enjoy standing up and shouting for a free shirt. But isn't there a new approach that could involve the fans during timeouts while enabling the NBA to present a different point of view? (And no, I don't have any new ideas of my own, mainly because I unashamedly think it wouldn't be a bad thing to have some quiet time when people might actually talk with each other during a game.) -- Ian Thomsen

5 Donald Sterling
John W. McDonough/SI

He is the worst kind of sports owner: personally repulsive, professionally hopeless, in it for all the wrong reasons. He has been accused of housing discrimination, racist comments, hiring prostitutes despite being married, drafting Michael Olowokandi and being so cheap that when he puts a quarter in a parking meter he expects change.

NBA commissioner David Stern should have dropped the hammer on Sterling when he had a chance. The housing discrimination suit should have been beneath the league's standards. The NBA suspends players all the time for acts that embarrass the league. Shouldn't an owner be held to a higher standard?

Sterling's ownership was objectionable before Blake Griffin became a Clipper, but now it is downright depressing. Griffin is one of the most exciting players to enter the league in the last 30 years. Why is Griffin's career in the hands of this clueless, money-grubbing, racist lowlife? Don't Clippers fans deserve better? Doesn't the NBA deserve better? Hello? Is anybody listening? -- Michael Rosenberg

6 David Kahn

Maybe Kahn's a genius. Maybe his newest hire, Rick Adelman, will mold a Kevin Love-Ricky Rubio-Derrick Williams core into a legitimate contender. Until that happens, however, Kahn's two-year tenure as the Timberwolves' president has to be considered a total failure. He selected three point guards -- Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson, the last of whom was traded to Denver -- in the first round of the 2009 draft. He gave Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions four-year, $16 million deals and signed Darko Milicic to a four-year, $20 million deal when no one else was interested in him. Granted, Kevin McHale didn't leave Kahn with much when he was fired in 2009, but Kahn has done little to offer hope for the future.

How has he kept his job? Only Glen Taylor knows. While proven executives like Mark Warkentien, Kevin Pritchard and Jeff Bower have been let go over the last two years, Kahn remains employed. Taylor's history suggests that he doesn't like change -- McHale, whose teams won made it out of the first round once and who cost the Wolves three first-round picks and $3.5 million as a result of the Joe Smith debacle, held the top job for 13-plus years -- but unless the Love-Rubio-Williams trio shows significant promise, Taylor has to show Kahn the door. -- Chris Mannix

7 Wearing road jerseys at home
John Biever/SI
I'm not a blind traditionalist. I've learned to tune out those god-awful songs they play during games, I don't mind special holiday jerseys and I'd embrace almost any technological innovation that would improve officiating and fairness. Heck, toss some sponsor names on jerseys and I'd probably get used to it in a week. But there is something disorienting, random and desperately commercial (on a very small scale) about home teams deciding willy-nilly to wear their dark jerseys on a Wednesday night.

Home teams wear light colors in the NBA. This isn't difficult. If you want to have two light-colored home jerseys, like the Lakers do with separate yellow and white duds, fine. But let's keep this simple. -- Zach Lowe

8 Talk that LeBron might be better than Jordan

Maybe Scottie Pippen was trying to land a commentating job by going for the outlandish statement. Or maybe there was some suppressed Jordan jealousy all these years. Either way, enough with the talk that LeBron "may be the greatest player to ever play the game."

Pippen's late-May statement on ESPN Radio did have some qualifiers, but he should have known better than anyone not to stomp on those sacred hoops grounds. Lockout or not, there needs to be a permanent work stoppage placed on that argument. It's not just about championships, either. Sure, it'd be nice if we waited until LeBron had one-sixth of MJ's trophy total to raise that question, but it's made even worse because Air Jordan's legacy was largely built on the sort of postseason heroics that fourth-quarter-less James has struggled to pull off.

To be fair, Pippen probably said what he said because we were seeing something different for once. James had just destroyed Chicago on both ends in the Eastern Conference finals, and Pippen wasn't the only one wondering if he might have finally learned how to meet those moments. The NBA Finals against Dallas, of course, would show us a more familiar side. -- Sam Amick

9 Owners whining about economics affecting parity

Of the few positives to come out of the lockout, the most satisfying may be the end of protecting poor management. From Sacramento to New Orleans, the cry of economic hardship has long been part of the business model. With a larger market and a better local broadcast contract, a host of middle- and small-market clubs argue they could dig deep into free agency for that missing piece. Plus, they could retain what star talent we have to attract better supporting players. Or so they say.

With owners looking for certainty of profit in the next labor deal, the end of the lockout should pour greater revenues into owners' pockets. And with more mid- and small-market teams than large, it's probably safe to assume the league will emerge with some move toward a greater distribution of assets -- be it talent or revenue. That will hopefully bring an end to excuses for front-office failures -- the busted draft picks and overpaid mid-level free agents. Market size may afford teams like the Knicks a cushion to absorb bad decisions, but it isn't an all-encompassing barrier. San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Utah all have shown that. Luck plays a part, but so, too, does smarts. Expansive scouting, prudent financial management and effective coaching go a lot longer than a fat checkbook in building a good organization. A new labor deal will make that clear to all. -- Paul Forrester

10 James Dolan and Isiah Thomas
Jason Szenes/EPA
Didn't this pass into the realm of farce long ago? Is there anyone in America who follows basketball who thinks canning Donnie Walsh (though Walsh insists he left on his own terms) and bringing back Isiah in some capacity -- any capacity -- was a good idea?

Unlike the Heat and the old Shaq-Kobe feud, this is the kind of melodrama that does nothing to enhance our enjoyment of the game. It's just sad and frustrating. Dolan's had his run as a meddling owner and we saw how that turned out.

Is it too much to ask that he just hand the reins to someone who knows what they're doing? -- Ballard

11 In-game interviews with coaches
Icon SMI

When the Lakers played Oklahoma City in the playoffs a couple of years ago, sideline reporter Craig Sager interviewed Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson before the fourth quarter of Game 3. He asked for Jackson's assessment of the Thunder's home crowd. Jackson just stared at Sager for several seconds before offering a one-word answer: "Noisy."

That, in a nutshell, is why in-game interviews with NBA coaches should be history once the lockout ends. They're about as uncomfortable as the dinner conversation on a bad date, and they rarely yield any information of value. The only thing they're good for is making me cringe. I just want them to end before poor Sager or Doris Burke asks a question that makes annoyed Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's head explode. I'm not sure what there is to be gained from pulling a coach away from his team at what is often a crucial point in the game in order to make him give a distracted couple of answers. It also seems unfair to make, say, Doc Rivers chat with a reporter while Tom Thibodeau gets to plot strategy with his players and assistants.

The lockout is affording the powers that be at the NBA's broadcast networks plenty of time to reassess the way they bring us the games. Here's hoping that extra time helps them realize it's a bad idea to start the fourth quarter with an exercise in awkwardness. -- Taylor

12 Free-agent speculation years in advance

In 2008, NBA teams were already planning for the summer of 2010, and they had good reason. The list of free agents, headlined by LeBron, would change the landscape of the league. The summer of '10 was fantastic for Miami, not so much for everybody else, as fans in every other city became gripped by fear that their favorite players would also up and leave. Blake Griffin was halfway into his rookie season when the narrative changed from, "He can jump over a car!" to "He will be a free agent in 2014!"

It is impossible to predict where these players and teams will be in more than two years, what injuries they will suffer or reinforcements they will acquire. Every sport has free agency, but because the NBA is so star-driven, no other league is as consumed by the stars' plans. What they say in wedding toasts, and what they don't say in press conferences, is all parsed for greater meaning.

But stars can be mercurial, and while Carmelo really did want out of Denver, Kobe backed off his demands to leave Los Angeles. When a player is a year or so from free agency, start the countdown clock, but before that it can drive you crazy. -- Jenkins

13 Rookie-Sophomore Game during All-Star weekend

This might just be the worst game every year in the history of basketball. Look, I've gone back and watched the old black-and-white films of college teams in the 1930s and '40s that were shooting 25 percent from the field and tossing up all kinds of hopeless set shots and wild running hooks, and I can say those games weren't as bad as the rookie-sophomore game. At least those teams, as unskilled as they used to be, were trying to win.

This game does nothing but set back the NBA and lower the standards for young players, telling them they're stars before they really are and then encouraging them to behave like stars before they grasp the responsibilities. So they go out and try to mimic the real All-Stars by standing aside and letting opponents dunk while encouraging each other to do all of the wrong things. Why promote an exhibition that does so much harm and so little good for the league's image and its future? For the life of me I don't know why the NBA sabotages itself by perpetuating this junk. -- Thomsen

14 The NBA owning the Hornets
Greg Nelson/SI

Leagues should not own teams. It is an inherent conflict of interest, like a judge serving on his own jury. And the Hornets' situation is especially sticky. Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison (his company is called Oracle; I cannot confirm or deny that he is himself an oracle) offered $350 million for the team. According to various reports, the NBA bought the Hornets for $300 million. Now, of course, the league is claiming that it can't make any money, which makes you wonder why it was so interested in buying a team.

New Orleans has one of the league's brightest stars in Chris Paul. He can be a free agent next summer. Would the NBA authorize a trade-deadline deal to increase payroll and improve the team, thereby increasing the chances that New Orleans can keep Paul? Or would the league rather nix a deal, keep the Hornets down and have Paul sign with the New York Knicks next summer? If Paul makes a New York team into a true contender, wouldn't the league's $300 million investment be worth it? Hmmm.

If you are an NBA fan, that scenario has to make you suspicious. It makes people in the league suspicious, because the league is full of conspiracy theorists anyway, and this one is easy to believe. The NBA should never have gotten into this situation. And it can't get out of it soon enough. -- Rosenberg

15 James Harden's beard
John W. McDonough/SI

OK, so Harden's beard is popular. It has its own Facebook and Twitter pages and has helped the Thunder guard become a cult hero in Oklahoma City. And Harden has played pretty well with it, too. Last season he averaged 12.2 points (up from 9.9 his rookie season) and 2.2 assists per game, wheeling and dealing like a young Manu Ginobili. He will likely step into Oklahoma City's starting lineup next season and has all the makings of an All-Star.

But come on: The beard is getting unruly. What started as a little bit of scruff on draft night has turned into a long, shaggy mane that rivals that of Brian Wilson, Ricky Williams and Kimbo Slice. It's become a national punch line ("Scientists fear that Harden Beard's gravitational field may inadvertently disrupt the path of a stray meteor and bring it to OKC.") and hasn't landed him any Troy Polamalu-like endorsements. It was a good look for a while. Now it's time to go. -- Mannix

16 Oklahoma City's stagnant late-game offense
Greg Nelson/SI
The Thunder have to do better, and they almost certainly will, as Westbrook gets more experience as a true point guard, Durant finds ways around those pesky ball denials, Serge Ibaka becomes a more consistent offensive threat and Harden gets so good that Westbrook has to share late-game ball-handling duties. Even putting aside coaching stuff, this team is just going to be too good to have Westbrook dribble around for 20 seconds and chuck up a contested jumper without passing even once. More of just about anything in the playbook will help, too -- more pick-and-rolls, more off-ball movement, more second options and counters to those counters.

This team is ready for more, and they'll need it to take the next step. -- Lowe

17 Offensive goaltending
Brian Blanco/EPA/Landov

We should be having a conversation about the rim itself. Go for 10 1/2 feet, maybe 11, but get it up a bit as a formalized way of leveling the playing field in this modern era in which dunking has become so passé. But since that won't be happening anytime soon, mainly because it would be deemed sacrilege, this is a decent alternative.

Allowing the ball to remain in play after it touches the rim would be a way to feature the athleticism that is in such spectacular abundance in the league today. Players like LeBron and Dwight Howard would add another wrinkle to their defensive repertoires, consistently batting the ball away as it rolled around the cup. The offensive upgrade would be an aerial delight, with the league's legion of high-flyers finishing with an emphatic slam on the offensive end.

It's a rule change that is already in place in FIBA and the NBA's D-League, which leads plenty of folks to wonder if it is, in fact, coming to the NBA sometime soon. Here's to hoping it is. -- Amick

18 The barrage of the senses in arenas
Jerome Miron/US Presswire

Allow us a moment to shoo the dance teams off the court and mute the sound effects. We need some peace. With the nonstop assault on the senses found in NBA arenas, it's clear no team feels the game is enough. Players are introduced to streams of fire. Defensive sets are deployed with pleas from the PA announcer to clap in rhythm. And timeouts are called so shirts can be air-cannoned into the third deck. The game sometimes feels as if it is just another distraction in a series of them.

High ticket prices bring a crowd that isn't necessarily courted for its basketball IQ, so turning a game into an event is good business to an extent. But there are moments when a soundtrack isn't needed. Give fans the space to think about who set the pick that freed up Dirk Nowitzki for a jumper and you just might get a fan who'll still come when a team struggles. Allow the buzz of a late, tied game to build suspense rather than some player yelling in a video for more noise and you'll get a crowd that identifies with a team, and doesn't just watch it. After years of watching teams try to pump life into fans with the same stale mix of Billy Idol tunes, could silence really be that worse of a sell?. -- Forrester

19 Mark Cuban, too good for conventional media
Greg Nelson/SI

When the NBA resumes, I hope that Cuban divests himself of the notion that representatives from websites should not enter his hallowed Mavericks' locker room.

"I'm not sure I have a need for beat writers from, Yahoo! or any website for that matter to ever be in our locker room before or after a game," Cuban wrote on his blog with a nose-in-the-air hauteur. He fears the "paparazzi" aspect of what used to be labeled as alternative media and theorizes that website writers are generally too negative and too nosy.

"All press is not good press for a sports team," wrote Cuban.

No kidding. Nor is it supposed to be.

Beyond the fact that issues of locker room access are not within an owner's province -- I assume they belong to the NBA -- Cuban is just going to have to suck it up and realize that we're in a new journalistic world. Not necessarily better (and I assume we're in agreement on that point) but different. That should be easy for a man who made his many millions by coming up with new ideas while tweaking the establishment. These days? He sounds like the codger who sits on the porch and waits to chase the neighborhood kids off his lawn. -- Jack McCallum

20 Rampant third-personism
Tannen Maury/EPA/Landov

It never much bothered me when old-school NBA guys used the third person. Moses Malone actually did the listener a favor, with each "Moses" he uttered, by supplying a verbal grapple hook in an otherwise mumbling stream. I could even put up with George Gervin going second-order third person -- that's when a guy refers to himself by his nickname -- because The Iceman was so entertaining. Who can forget Bartlett's-worthy lines like, "Jesus Christ forgave. Why not Ice?"

But usage of the third person today is all about excessive self-regard. The problem extends beyond Glen Davis' letting us know that he just wants "to make sure I'm Glen Davis, whatever I do," or J. J. Hickson's assuring us that "The Kings got a great player in J. J. Hickson." JaVale McGee, using his nickname Pierre, actually tweets in the second-order third person. And LeBron has so marinated himself in the third person that he inhabits a kind of self-branded world, to judge by such specimens as "A LeBron James team is never desperate," and "I'm back to playing LeBron James basketball."

Guys, please spend the lockout honing your mastery of the first person, or the second person, or even the Chuck Person. And leave your proper noun to us, OK? -- Wolff


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