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Representatives of the NBA players proclaimed that they hoped for a summary judgment in their federal litigation within sixty days of filing suit. The Owners claimed the players turning to litigation was a sham, meant as an improper negotiation tool, and likely ended any hope of an NBA season this year. Had the players stuck out their litigation, the Owners would have been right; but, regardless, the Players fell right into Stern’s trap.

Before the players disclaimed their Union, the NBA and the Owners, on August 2, 2011, filed suit in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York. As a time-reference, the case has basically gone nowhere in over three months. It is Civil Case 11-cv-05369, before Judge Paul G. Gardephe. In federal litigation, Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that defendants have 21 days to answer a lawsuit after the Complaint has been served; but, if the defendants waive formal service, they have 60 days to respond. While it is not clear when the various services were made in this case (which probably indicates formal service was waived), the court held a status conference on September 7, 2011, which is quicker than one might have expected. At that telephone conference, the Players indicated an intent to file a Motion to Dismiss, and, a week later, the Court ordered it filed by September 16, 2011. Any written opposition by the NBA (or its individual teams) was ordered due by October 10, 2011, with any response by the players to that opposition due by October 19, 2011. Other conferences were had with the judge, though, several delays were requested, and finally, the players filed their Motion on October 19th. The NBA’s opposition was filed shortly thereafter. The matter is still under consideration. This is the timetable one can expect from federal litigation.

No Union what?The NBA and its individual teams filed their suit as a preemptive strike, asking the Court to declare that any attempt to disclaim or decertify would be an improper action, a violation of the collective bargaining process. They pointed in their Complaint to a long history of the Players threatening to do this in an effort to leverage a better bargaining result, and asked the Court to find this bad faith bargaining, to find the lockout valid under antitrust laws, and the disclaimer invalid. The NBA and the pointed out that a different federal court had recently refused to order an injunction against the NFL lockout. The Players’ Motion to Dismiss, in which they essentially called the NBA’s suit bullshit posturing about “what if” scenarios and an improper legal response to the hard bluffs of negotiation, was a fairly good argument that the NBA’s suit was premature, and that there was as of yet no justiciable controversy. The problem is, the Players derided the “disclaim” option as totally unfounded, preposterous, and an option that wasn’t even being considered by the players, who, allegedly, were bargaining in good faith with the League. Oops. The day after the Players did disclaim their Union, the NBA wrote a letter to the Judge, arguing that the Players’ had done precisely what they threatened to do, and that any “what if” objections the players had were clearly moot. The Players’ attorneys’ response was a not-too-thinly-veiled we spent X hours preparing this Motion to get this fucker dismissed and the players did what? type of response. The Judge did not appear happy.

Meanwhile, the players, on November 15, 2011, filed two suits: one in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota and one in the U.S. Northern District of California. They ended up voluntarily dismissing the California action, perhaps they were forum shopping, hoping for a friendly judge, and ultimately realized the Minnesota court was where they wanted to be. Or, perhaps it was the fact that California Judge Samuel Conti set a scheduling order the date the suit was filed, ordering that the Rule 26 Conference be had on February 8, 2012, with another case management conference on February 29, 2012. This was Civil Case 11-cv-05525. A Rule 26 conference is what leads to the initial disclosures each side makes, and pre-dates any discovery, depositions, and most other court actions. So there’s another timetable. And this is typical of any case, let alone a multi-billion dollar case, which, I can assure you, no judge is in any hurry to decide. In a car wreck case, valued at $50-100k, judges like to allow the parties to negotiate and settle it between themselves. So what do you think is going to happen here? Regardless, the Players dismissed their California suit.

The Minnesota suit is Civil Case 11-cv-03352, before Judge Patrick J. Schlitz. Interestingly, each of the New York, California, and Minnesota suits requested jury trials. Did the players really think twelve random people were going to feel sorry for them only making $3M a year instead of $5M? But I digress. A week after filing suit, court records show service returns on the NBA, the New York Knicks, and the New Jersey Nets. It is highly unlikely the Court will hold any status conferences until everyone is served. So since we’re already two weeks out, even if served this week, each of the other 28 defendants will have 21 more days to answer. Or 60 if they signed waivers of service. If the players sent waivers. I would have just gone straight to formal service if I was trying to push along a case. But you would expect the NBA to ask for a dismissal or stay pending the outcome of their litigation in New York. So that would require briefing, argument, and time for the court to decide.

As for the players’ claims of summary judgment within sixty days? You can’t get judgment on a party that hasn’t answered. So while the NBA, Knicks, and Nets have to answer by December 13, 2011, expect for them to request an extension in the time to answer until all the defendants are served. So there’s no chance in hell a summary judgment is filed in 60 days, let alone decided. Plus, even ignoring the fact that the NBA and League would first file a Motion to Dismiss or Request For Stay, litigants have to give their opponents a minimum of 15 days notice when filing. There is no chance they could get a date set before New Year’s, and even once the Motion is submitted, even if oral argument is granted, the Court does not have to decide anything on the spot, and can take the matter under advisement, after which there is no rule controlling when a decision must be rendered.

Stern's way or the highway.Also, as opposed to a Motion to Dismiss, which merely focuses on the sufficiency of the Complaint, a Motion for Summary Judgment must be submitted with sufficient evidence, and the non-movant can, under Rule 56, always request a continuance (or denial) of the Motion if it needs more time to do discovery. And can you imagine in a multi-billion dollar case that a judge would refuse to allow the parties to conduct plenty of discovery? Not to mention that if a summary judgment is denied, and the case continues, it could be years before going to trial. Our legal sources, who asked not to be named, indicated that their last federal summary judgment action came 10 months after suit was filed, and a month later, no decision has been rendered. The last two federal trials that our same sources participated in took place over two years after the filing of suit. These are the timeframes we can expect from any litigation. Now or in the future.

So, now, only weeks after claiming the Union was not protecting the Players’ interests, a deal looks to be worked out? Of course, to sign a new CBA, the players have to first dismiss their Minnesota suit and then reform the Union. So did the players tactic work? No. Stern is playing chess, not checkers. He’s not just trying to win this round, but the next. And in six years, when the new deal will likely expire, the NBA will file their New York suit all over again, and when the players respond that the mere concept of them “disclaiming” is ludicrous, that judge will shake his or her head and know the players are lying. The players filed suit claiming the Union could not help them, and that, resultingly, the NBA was instantly in violation of antitrust law? Yet, then, mysteriously, without the Union’s help, they reached a deal not even two weeks later, which, I would wager, looks suspiciously similar to the deal the Union had negotiated up to the point of disclaimer? The NBA’s preemptive suit argued that antitrust exemptions were not lost the instant a Union disclaims or decertifies, and their argument that the tactic of doing so is a sham just got stronger. Have the players thought that through? Their lawyers, who are the same high-priced antitrust sports experts, who tried similar cases decades ago for the NBA, and recently for the NFL, must be furious. What will their argument be next time?

Read the timelines referenced above again. No federal court case worth billions of dollars will be decided in any less than one year, and likely not for two or more years. That’s assuming, of course, no decision is ever appealed. Our sources were involved in a March 2006 federal lawsuit, whereby summary judgment was granted in September 2007. The other side appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. After briefing and argument, a decision was not rendered until September 2008. But, an en banc hearing was requested. That is, unsatisfied with the decision of 3 judges, one of the parties requested a hearing before the entire Fifth Circuit panel. After additional briefing and argument, a decision was rendered in December 2009. But, that too was appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted briefs and arguments, and in June 2010, over four years and three months since suit was filed, the matter was finally resolved. While it is possible a year could be cut off that timeline if the Supreme Court declined to hear the matter, if anyone thinks either the players or NBA would be content to let a trial court judge decide their billion-dollar fates, they’re crazy. This is how litigation works. It will not be over quickly. The parties will not enjoy it. No one wins.

So no is the answer to the question you haven’t asked, as to whether litigation is an effective tactic in professional sports collective bargaining disputes. By the time any resolution is reached, multiple seasons will have been lost. And if liability carriers are willing to settle cases for $50k to avoid maybe paying $100k, can you imagine the trepidation of either side in the NBA being found liable for billions? It will never happen. So what happened then? What was this litigation all about? It was a ploy. A stratagem. The players get to save face and tell the world they forced a resolution. But they also haven’t told us how many hundreds of thousands they spent on legal fees when they could have just paid for plane tickets back to the bargaining table with the NBA. And they’ve all but told federal courts that this is what they do, and that disclaiming is an empty, bogus threat. Just look at the November 26th news conference announcing a tentative deal: Fisher and Hunter were there. (No Union exists, but they are still negotiating with the League?  Even during the litigation? Judges will watch this process.)  Next time this comes to court, the Players arguing disclaimer is not a sham will look like liars. So the NBA wins. Sort of.

The biggest losers of this whole experience however, are the rest of us. The arena workers prevented from working. The fans unable to watch the games. The fact that multi-millionaires couldn’t agree to share a multi-billion dollar pot isn’t the biggest concern to most ordinary people. We just want basketball. Union, Players, Owners, Teams: at the end of the day who cares who wins? This isn’t about protecting the pensions of people struggling to pay mortgages; this isn’t about keeping wages up for people struggling to put their kids through school. This is one faction of the 1% calling the other faction of the 1% greedy bastards. Black, meet Kettle. Kettle, Black.

As for me, all I want is a fair system that gives every team the opportunity to win. A system that allows Chris Paul to be to New Orleans what Brett Favre was to Green Bay. Moreover, I want a league where the cult of personality does not decide the fate of the team; where, for example, a young Aaron Rodgers can be brought in to lead the next generation of small-town fans to frenzy when Favre walks. I don’t want losing Chris Paul to make people question whether New Orleans should even have a team. If that means caring who “won” the lockout, then maybe I do care.

But litigation wasn’t the answer. For either side. It was never going to solve anything. For both Players and Owners it was bullshit posturing. Now we get 66 games crushed in from December to April. And for what? I hope it was worth it for both sides, who spent so much of this summer not meeting. Remember that when you think of these lost 16 games and all the crying over lost revenue. Right now I just want to remember why I am such a huge basketball fan. Because, honestly, turned off as much as I have been by both sides throughout this process, it’s hard to remember why Samuel L. Jackson’s last lockout commercials (“The NBA, it’s faaAAAAAaaaantastic”) made sense.

Narrative Me This

By on June 11, 2011

Two teams, putting nine months of grind, exhaustive hours of coaching, film, and analysis, with rote dedication to mastering what some call a game, culminating in a determined fight to prove your team is the best in the world, while enveloped in millions of obsessive fans cheering and jeering every move, tells a story on its own.  That effort, that focus, which extols basketball as an endeavor of peak physical greatness and strategic mental acuity should be what these NBA Playoffs are about.

Or do you need the storyline explained to you? I’d like to believe there are plenty of fans around the world able to watch one of the greatest Playoffs in NBA history on their own, who will allow the Game’s brilliance to shine on its own.  Yet, the way some media outlets would have it, we need to be told over and over and over again the pre-fabricated storylines, written by moneymen, agents, and marketing people.  Case in point: the narrative that the speedy highlight factory, who, admittedly, is a maestro around the rim, but shot less than 40% from the field this Playoffs, and only 25% from deep (though attempting over long balls 6 a game), and had half as many turnovers a game as assists, is not only the best point guard of all time, but the best player in the League.  At least that’s what ESPN and TNT were selling before Derrick Rose’s exit stage left.

But I wasn’t buying.  I’ll make my own decisions, thank you very much.  If I want to know which point guard can dominate like no other in the League, I’m forgetting the TV commentary and replaying the Hornets-Lakers series; I’ll let my eyes tell me the truth.  Even on replay, I’ll let my soul feel Chris Paul’s heart and drive to win, even if he does play on a small market team.

Being the best, apparently, is not enough. It’s location, location, location.  Take Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire.  Are they great players?  Sure.  But I don’t care any more about them because they play in Madison Square Garden than I would if they were still in Phoenix or Denver.  The only reason I do care about them is because the people who think a collection of superstars without any regard for chemistry or strategy will deliver a championship are looking for a point guard to get NY to the next level, and our very own Hornets’ small cannon is number one on their list.  The fact is, New York Cityites are convinced that they deserve the biggest, best, greatest of everything (well, who wouldn’t want to be a Yankee, Giant, Ranger, Knick, etc.?): without regard for the fact that Chris Paul is the personal savior of basketball in New Orleans, could be elected governor tomorrow if he retired rather than be traded to the Knicks, and is, in fact, small.  Though he is the best and greatest.

Man, I can still see CP and Trevor Ariza at the podium after beating the Lakers, all smiles.  That’s what it’s about.  Those post-victory smiles.  Still gives me chills.  Yet, for some strange reason, Chris Paul, sans New York, does not appear to be part of the manufactured NBA narrative.  Why?

Paul is one of the greatest point guards ever, a once in a generation talent.  Yet, before the Playoffs, he had one national television appearance this year.  Let that sink in.  The Knicks had ten.  And that was before they added ‘Melo.  Ten.  I don’t need to be told the storied history of the Garden, I don’t need to know how many points Kobe or Lebron scored their last time there, nor do I need to be told Willis Reed won’t be walkin’ through that door.  Fuck that.  I’ll watch in amazement as Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol dominate from the #8 seed.  I’ll watch Darren Collison show up the presumptive, and ultimate (albeit imposter) MVP.  I’ll sit, rapt, and horrified as the Hawks take revenge on a discombobulated  Magic, despite one of the most impressive series performances I’ve ever seen, as Dwight Howard, even in defeat, shot 63% from the field and averaged 27-16-2 (all the more impressive considering that the small six-game sample size was twisted by his 8-8-1 performance in that Game 5 victory).  Give me more Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and the baby Thunders.  Because I can see the excellence in all that, in itself.  On its face.  The story is already written.

But that’s not good enough.  I mean, we haven’t even gotten to Lebron as-I-prefer-“Viscount” James.  His rise and fall is pre-scripted, and should be a TV movie any day now; or a Japanese anime.  But, it’s surfeit; even “professional writers” can’t say anything about James any more without just being penned paparazzi.  Some people call this hating, but I simply don’t be need to told anything about James at this point.  Literally.  I’ve already been told everything I need to know about him.  He’s greater than any player ever, and he was MVP the day he was born.  Yet, he’s never won championship.  Kobe has 5.  MJ 6.  Bill Russell 11.  So when you’re doing first name greatest last name ever calculus consider that Shaq won a championship with Kobe, Kobe won with Pau, Wade won one with Shaq, but Lebron couldn’t win even with Shaq.  (P.S.: never listen to Drake.  But I digress.)  The narrative, though, tells us that three great players (Wade, James, Bosh) can take a roster of 2 (Haslem, Chalmers), and a cast of hangers-on, and, through Pat Riley’s force of will, win a championship.  Or as Lebron predicted: eight championships.  You know, more than Michael and Kobe, but less than Bill Russell.  At least the man’s humble.

One problem: the Heat aren’t a great team.  They have great players, sure.  And they have amassed a bunch of wins, but the Heat are a deeply flawed team.  Really, it’s the same equation as the Olympic team, but with different variables.  Those guys were not a great team.  (Except when CP3 rolled out the second unit; but, again, I digress.)  The key was they had twelve unbelievable players, at every position, and no one team could match up with that, no matter their coaching or cohesion.  The Heat, however, have three great players, and despite all their talent, not enough to tie them together to make them a great team.  All year, teams have proven they were beatable (including the Hornets), and the Playoffs have only exposed a horribly weak Eastern conference, where Rondo and Shaq’s injuries were the biggest keys to victory for the Heat, followed by an entirely overrated, if effective, Bulls team.  Funny thing is, Stern and the League got a gift from the results: a Finals consisting of players colluding to form a superteam, with others taking pittance to make roster; against the second highest paid team in the League, paying over $20M more than most teams, to put together this übermensch team.

What greater evidence could you have that the League needs more equity?  Greedy players and greedy owners are ruining parity.  The League needs to level the playing field and save itself.  And what better way to make that case by pointing out all the future free agents will gather in a few select cities, and that teams owned by willing-to-spend billionaires may just buy their way to a winning team.  The next three highest paid teams are the Lakers, Magic, and Celtics.  Remember a Finals before this year when none of these four teams were in it?.  Me neither.  On the flip side, Miami, New York, and Chicago are just the beginning for the talent emigration without a new CBA.

But the 2011 Finals themselves?  Unbelievable.  The closest Finals ever, and getting the high ratings it deserves, despite all the beat writers and TV analysts trying to tell us their stories.  But the Mavs and Heat have their own stories.  It’s in their eyes.  Anyone who’s ever questioned Dirk Nowitski’s will to win need only look into his greyish blue hues to be rebuked.  Same with Terry.  You can talk about his his “jet” antics all you want, but the look in his eyes reflects the tattoo on his right bicep of the Larry O’Brien trophy.

As for James, Wade, and Bosh?  Only Wade has the experience and wherewithal to understand his surroundings, but even behind the assassin-like edge in his eyes is a glimmer of entitlement.  As for James, that’s the only thing.  You see, he knew he’d make the NBA and be successful there (keep in mind, coming out of high school, we roughly figured DeShawn Stevenson would be the next MJ too), knew he could lead the NBA in scoring at will, get a few MVPs, and, of course, roll in the dough, er, I mean championships.  You’ll excuse me if I don’t let him dictate the narrative either, and refuse to use words rhyming with “mobile” and “icahn.”  Bosh, well, no hit on him, but he just doesn’t have “it.”  Ask Robert Horry, Manu, or James Posey about it someday, Chris.

The media herd of sharks, not content to go into a feeding frenzy at the sight of blood, is eager to write about said blood to create the frenzy.  These writers panning Lebron everywhere now were the same ones lauding him before this series.  All these “analysts” were saying how Lebron had put his fourth quarter woes behind him after the Boston and Chicago series.  Two series among six years of playoffs is not a reliable marker.  But it fit the narrative.  Create a star and tear him down.  It’s bullshit.  Just speak the truth from day one and you won’t have to worry about re-writing the storylines.  Similarly,  the lazy narrative of “whose team is it?” pervades.  The question should be how can Spoelstra scheme around Wade-James-Bosh, and how has he done it?  But that question requires analysis, not gossip, which makes it hard.  So the major media takes a pass.

Many League people, notably the Hornets’ Hugh Weber, have panned blogs and internet media as amateurs in their basements, wearing pajamas, barely worth the word “writer.”  But anyone out there who follows the games, who is connected on Twitter, and who reads enough blogs, knows that these people do a better job than 85.3% of major media, and 102.5% better job than TV analysts.  Personally, I’d like to read about how the Mavs’ late-game switches to the zone impact the Heat’s iso progressions; but, I guess some people prefer “Mama, there goes that man.”  Hope those people are Warriors fans.

So to those of you who have attacked the false narrative prevalent in the major media all year, and particularly now, in the Finals, my metaphorical hat is off to you ladies and gents.  To the rest?  Shame on you.  Journalism is supposed to be about what happens, described.  Imposing a forced version of that makes you no better than the people behind of the Rich, unrepresentative, Housewives of Wherever, at best; or, spitting empty rhetoric with no actual facts behind it, like Rush Limbaugh or so many “talk radio” personalities, at worst.  Anyone remember the pre-game interview with David Aldridge–when he may or may not have been drunk–alleging that the Hornets were demanding a new arena and that “many coaches” around the League were complaining about the officiating against the NBA-owned Hornets?  That fell into the latter category.

As for these Finals?  The coaches and players of two fine teams will deliver the final chapter to the 2010-2011 season.  But, if you want to skip ahead to the end, just look into Dirk’s eyes.

We Were Right And You Were Wrong

By on March 15, 2011

Guess what Monty Williams and Dell Demps?  Give Marcus Thornton 41 minutes a game and he might just drop 42 for ya.  On 13-20 shooting.  On 4-7 from deep.  Maybe the young guard who’s so explosive and agile, always avoiding contact, will only have 1 FTA (made) at half, but then the other team will be forced to hack him mercilessly on the other side, desperate to stop him, somehow: only to find the guy ending up at 12-14 from the line.  Maybe this mythical hero would also add 3 boards, an assist, and 4 steals for good measure.  Oh, and with ZERO turnovers.

And for those jokers out there saying Buckets could only do it on a losing team?  This came in a blow-out win.  Scoring is scoring.  It always helps.

In comparison, the Hornets’ starting 2, Marco Belinelli, went 3-10 (3-8 from deep), and his backup, Willie Green, went 7-16 (3-4 from deep).  Not bad, but that was 10-26 in 54 minutes of play.  Belinelli’s and Green’s combined 27 not even close to Thornton’s production, even with 13 more minutes of play.  Oh, and when the Hornets’ vaunted defense failed, it was their inability to keep pace with the high-scoring Nuggets that led to the loss.  Weird.

Ticktock6 said “Lil’ Buckets” graduated to just plain “Buckets” when he dropped 30+ on the Cavs last year.  Maybe now that he’s cracked 40+ he’s “Big Buckets” or “Bi’ Buckets.”  Take your pick, or twist it your own way.  Sadly, we’ll have to leave it to the Kings fans to decide.  Because the Hornets management couldn’t find a way to use either of two of the best five rookies from last year.  In particular, Thornton is immensely talented, and anyone who’s watched a modicum of basketball should have realized it.  Shame.  Our loss is their gain.

I’m happy for Marcus, though, and wish him the best.  I just wish it was happening in New Orleans.  To all those who felt otherwise?  (And you know who you are.)  Well.  We were right.  And you were wrong.

Gray Smash!!!

By on February 12, 2011

For those of you who don’t know it, I have an irrational dislike of Kurt Thomas.   As Mr. Thomas has aged (he’s now 38), he’s often been used as a center, instead of his natural position, power forward.  He’s 6’9″, 230 lbs.  In contrast, his presumptive position opponent at the New Orleans Arena tonight, the 26-year-old Aaron Gray, is 7′, 270 lbs.  Gray’s also twice as wide.  Lest I become an angry Bruce Banner-clone, Gray better do his best Hulk Smash!!! impression on Thomas tonight.  You don’t want to see me when I’m angry.

If you follow me on Twitter, or have watched a Knicks, Suns, Spurs, Sonics, Bucks, or now Bulls game with me, you know I can’t stand Kurt Thomas.  My hyperbole about his suckage is renowned, if, admittedly, a bit unfair.  Here’s the genesis.  Kurt Thomas was drafted 10th overall in the 1995 draft by the Miami Heat, played there two years, was shipped to Dallas for a year, and then established himself on several good Knick teams, from 1998 to 2005.  I was living in New York at the time.  Here’s a stat people some forget now, but one I’ll never forget, ingrained in my brain as it is: playing at a small college, Thomas managed to lead the NCAA Division I in scoring and rebounding in the same year, becoming at that time only the third player in history to do so, by averaging 28.9 and 14.6 per game.

In the real world, Thomas has career averages of 8.8 and 7.0.  His highest rebounding average ever was 10.4 a game, his last year with the Knicks.  His highest scoring average ever was 14.0, two years prior.  Nevertheless, nothing, and I mean nothing, would stop Breen or Frazier, the local TV announcers, from mentioning at least two or three times a game that Thomas led the NCAA in rebounds and scoring at the same time (“one of the only players ever!”), as if it was a question (“did you know….?”), and always with boundless enthusiasm.  Like viewers hadn’t heard this game after game after game after game.

Yet, New Orleans folks, Thomas is the quintessential Aaron Brooks (the ex-Saint quarterback, not the Rocket PG).  Yup, that sums it up nicely.  Just good enough to make you think he’s the guy who will win you games, but then, right then, at that point of hope, he inexplicably causes a series of losses singlehandedly.  Do you keep him?  Trade him?  Make him the Man?  (Ugh.) Thomas was never the star the Knicks thought he would be.  Since leaving the Knicks, Thomas has  never been more than a role player, yet the Suns and Spurs consistently paid him more than $6M a year (and as much as $8M), and you see his name among the “key free agents” available from year to year.

Why?  He’s a too-slow forward, has no moves other than an open jumper, and despite having decent rebounding instincts, he’s 6’9″ and totally outclassed by a legitimate center.  Can he defend?  Kind of.  But who cares.  I’d prefer Mbenga as a back-up center, at least that cat’s 7′.

Enter tonight’s match-up.  Thomas vs. Gray.  Gray is no Dwight Howard, but he’s not the patsy some say he is.  Did Howard post 20-17-1-1-3 (pts/rbs/stl/ast/blk) against Gray, who only managed 8-8-2-3-2?  Yes.  But did Howard have -10 and Gray +8?  Yes.  There’s something to that.  Though Gray may have been outclassed by Howard, the Hornet held his own and helped anchor a defense that was finally clicking again.  Considering he was playing against Howard, an MVP candidate, that’s saying something.

Gray has long been a conundrum among bloggers (not journalists, because so few actually use advanced stats).  This year, by way of comparison:

  • Gray has a PER of 13.5 and True Shooting % of 63%
  • Thomas PER of 11.0 and TS% 55%
  • (Howard PER 25.3 and TS% 60.0)
  • Gray’s Total Rebounding percentage is 18.2%
  • Thomas’s is 13.9%
  • (Howard 21.8)
  • Gray’s offensive rating is 115.
  • Thomas’ is 111.
  • (Howard’s is also 111?)

I could go on.  The point is Aaron Gray is a good player; he just needs minutes.  Clearly, he deserves to be in the rotation, and can do so on a contending team.  And all it took for him to get the chance to prove it was an injury to Emeka Okafor and illness from Jason Smith.  Shame on you Monty Williams.  The numbers have been there.  They come as no surprise.  There’s only so many seven-footers out there, and only so many who can actually play well. Gray’s one of them.

Not to mention the fact that Aaron”s an excellent passer out of the post.  The Hornets  can run their screens, pick downs, and other sets with him in the game, he can help ball movement, and he can find your cutting and screening shooters.  Also, as an aside, I’ve met him, and he’s just an awesome person, so I’m biased.  (Kurt Thomas may be nicer than Oprah, but I’ll never know, nor do I want to.  “Irrational,” remember?)  Regardless, if I’m the New Orleans Hornets, I actively get Gray involved in the offense tonight and have him smash Thomas in the low post.  Plus, you have this kid named Chris Paul who seems to be good at finding good looks for his players.  (And, no, Rose won’t help Thomas the same way.)

Gray might not be getting alley-oops like Tyson used to.  But you might see the jumbotron go Gray repeatedly tonight

The New Orleans Hornets are currently one of two teams (the Oklahoma Thunder being the other) that start each game with an Arena-wide, pre-game prayer.  This strange occurrence is a hybrid of religious zeal and moneymaking, as the Hornets sell this slot of proselytizing to the highest bidder.   While I’ve been told that anyone can pay for the privilege of delivering this prayer, and, indeed, we’ve heard Jewish Rabbis come forward multiple times, nine times out of ten it’s a Christian prayer. In contrast, I have yet to hear an atheist step on the hardwood and dedicate a few moments to reason and logic, wish the players well, admit that each player’s health is a motley mix of conditioning and pure chance, and wish them the best. Instead, we are subjected to a game day prayer to Jesus (no, they rarely say his name, but they almost always say something similar to “In Your Name We Pray,” it’s not hard to read between the lines) to  ask the big guy in the sky to bestow good health to the players on both sides of the floor. What’s missed in the well wishes is the excessive entanglement with religion in a place where it is simply out of place.

The Hornets, as opposed to, say, LSU, or Benjamin Franklin High, are a private institution, not run by the state or any of its many subdivisions. This means, strictly speaking, many Constitutional provisions that would guarantee freedom, equality, and non-discrimination do not apply to the Hornets; that is, unless the team determines that such values correspond to its corporate mission. Private institutions, otherwise, are, in part, free to espouse whatever values they want. For example, you’ve no doubt seen Chick-Fil-A around town. They have an expressly Christian value-system built into their corporate ethos, and have even been known to fund anti-gay causes. The New Orleans City Council can’t do that, but Chick-Fil-A is free to hate whomever they want.

The rub is that the Fourteenth Amendment allows Congress to prescribe prophylactic remedies, such as Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) laws, and these statutes can touch even private institutions. The basic gist is that employees cannot be discriminated in the workplace because of race, religion, sex, nationality, etc. There is a “religious organization” exception, i.e., if the organization’s purpose and affiliation is overtly religious, such as a church, or if the company’s or charity’s articles of incorporation state a religious purpose. The NBA is not one of these groups. As such, its non-discrimination policy reads:

Equal employment opportunity is a fundamental principle at the NBA. Accordingly, the NBA’s EEO Policy provides that all employment decisions will be based on merit and valid job qualifications and will be made without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, alienage or citizenship status, ancestry, marital status, creed, genetic predisposition or carrier status, sexual orientation, veteran status, familial status, or any or status or characteristic protected by applicable federal, state or local law.

I added the emphasis to the above quote.  So how is this relevant to the Hornets? Because the NBA owns the Hornets. Therefore, every single Hornets employee is an NBA employee.  Hornets’ blogger, Joe Gerrity, was recently brave enough to question the Hornets’ pre-game prayer. Although the poll Hornets247 ran concomitantly with that article is gone, approximately 65% of people were in favor of the pre-game prayer, about 25% were against it, and the remainder didn’t care. But that is precisely the point of anti-discrimination statutes: to preclude a majority of people from discriminating against the minority.

For Christians whose beliefs are in-line with the pre-game prayer, it is an innocuous blessing. For those of opposing beliefs, it may be less so. And for those that believe in no higher power, but instead rely upon science, logic, ethics, and reasoning to guide their lives, the entire thing is a travesty. The point is not which side is “right.” The point is, if it is opposed by as many as a quarter of the people who care, it should be done away with, regardless of NBA rules.  Why stir such strong sentiments when they are ultimately irrelevant to the product produced by the NBA?

Regardless, the NBA’s own anti-discrimination policy forbids the pre-game prayer. Similarly, if my private, non-religious employer decided to start the work day with a prayer, there is no doubt that it would violate the tenets of the EEO Act. It is harassment. Plain and simple. If you’re a Christian, it probably is not. If you’re a non-Christian it is. End of story. This is the part that is difficult for the dominant, Christian majority to get: some people are offended by your religion.

Think about this: if we were talking about basketball at a public school, like either of the aforementioned LSU or Benjamin Franklin High, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that an opening prayer would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion”), which is applied to the states and their subdivisions by the Fourteenth Amendment. There are a number of similarly decided lawsuits related to high school football games that are squarely on point.  This is because governments and their many subdivisions are precluded from favoring any religion over any other religion, or even favoring believing in any religion over believing in none at all.

If a pre-game prayer at a public school is viewed as religious coercion, excessive entanglement with religion, a message sent to a minority that they are outsiders, or an establishment of a “normative” religious belief (all language used by the U.S. Supreme Court), why, just because the Hornets are a private organization, would the team want to do something so blatantly discriminatory, when it doesn’t need to go there at all? Basketball should be inclusive, not decisive; sport is about bringing together people of all sorts to witness elite competition, to see others striving for physical perfection: not an opportunity for ecumenical proselytizing to a captive audience.

Arguably, sport is the antithesis of religion. It involves physical contact, facts, strategies, cause and effect. Religion involves intangibles, faith, and suspension of disbelief. Players cannot afford to trust in god they won’t get hurt; they have to stretch and condition. Players can’t just pray they make their shots; they practice, practice, and then practice more. Nor do coaches read the Bible in search of parables in lieu of drawing up X and O plays.  The prodigal son doesn’t know how to defeat a zone.  

Many players and coaches are religious, and that is fine. That is their personal belief. But in opposition to religion; where people are supposed to merely trust that their traditions, priests, and God have their best interests in mind and are subsumed by acquiescence to belief in a omnipotent benevolence, no questions asked; NBA players and coaches cannot afford to simply do what has always been done: they must evolve,they must innovate.  To be elite in the NBA, players and coaches have to watch game film, strategize, and think through each game plan and opponent: reasoning their way to success, practicing and honing those strategies on a daily basis, and executing them all at the highest level to achieve victory.  Thus, unlike religion, basketball is palpable, responsive, and falsifiable.

So even were the NBA not the Hornets’ owner, it is clear that religion has no place in the NBA. But seeing as the NBA is the Hornets’ owner, and all the team’s employees are Hornets employees, exposing them to religious prayer before every game is a form of religious intolerance; because, as the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, religious discrimination is not just favoring one religion over any other, but favoring belief in religion over non-belief.  Twenty eight teams in the NBA get it right.  Two do not.  One, the New Orleans Hornets, is owned by an organization professing non-discriminatory principles. Yet, the Hornets’ pre-game prayer violates those principles every home game.

Forty-one times a year, the Hornets and the NBA offend me and many others.  Maybe more this year if the team makes the Playoffs.  It needs to change.

Stern is a Genius

By on December 8, 2010

If you were in the middle of a public relations war with a powerful union, and had thus far failed to convince the public at large that your claims about NBA teams losing money was true, what would you do?  If you were David Stern, you’d buy the Hornets on behalf of the NBA and present them as Exhibit A to that skeptic public.

Leaked financials?  Tales of woe?  A steadfast determination to prove that in today’s economic climate the only way to survive is to slash player salaries?  Stern has hit a home run with this one.  By opening up a team to public examination in a way that would be impossible with an owner-owned club, Stern has laid bare the problems that can plague a franchise, and possibly even cause a fanbase to lose their loved team.  What fan wants that?  He’s put it all out there, plain as day, evidence of how your city could lose their team too.  Unless, of course, the collective bargaining agreement is severely altered.

It’s why Stern’s in no rush to sell the Hornets.  I mean, if a bunch of Nola-purchasers show up on his doorstep, he’s sure to sell the team back. But, either way, he’s had the ability to parade about his example of NBA finance, and what is wrong with it; he’s made his argument to the public that players are paid too much.  And for one, I’m buying into it.

Guaranteed contracts have to go.  Max caps need be lowered.  The only other options are increased game tickets and concessions.  And I can tell you which path gets my vote.   In the end, Stern’s game is public relations.  He’s won this round.  He also gets the moral high ground of having saved the Katrina-plagued Hornets.  Which, in part, is why Stern won’t let New Orleans lose the Hornets.   He wants this win on his record.

So for all the nay-sayers out there.  Keep talking.  I’ll keep doing everything I can to save the Hornets.  And along the way.  I might even find myself grateful to David Stern.

You Buy It, You Don’t Break It.

By on December 6, 2010

So far, the popular reaction to the Hornets’ takeover seems to be that if when the NBA buys the Hornets, the management’s hands will be tied and the team will be in terrible bind, akin to a torrential downpour when the water’s already high on the levees.  Not necessarily.  While the reality is that the obligations of the NBA will likely be contractual, at a base minimum, the NBA will have a fiduciary responsibility to treat the Hornets as if they were an impartial owner, and as if winning a championship was all that mattered.  To be any less would violate the integrity of the sport and may even be illegal.  This is why the NBA has hired a hockey executive, Jac Sperling, to run the team on an interim basis: the NBA needs someone who can be seen as impartial and honest, yet driven to succeed, and who’s capable of succeeding.  And as a bonus, for us, he’s a New Orleans native.

The other issue is the potential conflict of interest between the NBA and its collective group of owners having a piece of the Hornets.  By default, the other owners want the Hornets to fail, as, inversely, they all want their own teams to succeed.  Yet, the NBA must avoid the appearance of any impropriety.  So not only do I believe Sperling will be authorized to make his own independent decisions about the Hornet’s finances–without having to consult the NBA–but I would assume the NBA is prohibited from influencing his decisions.  Sperling will have to make his decisions based on what is best for the team, because, ultimately, that is what will make the Hornets more marketable, and hence, sellable.

So when if Dell Demps tells Sperling that he wants to move David Anderson and the team’s full trade exemption for Melo in a sign and trade, I think Sperling doesn’t blink.  I believe that if Demps wants to trade Banks, Green, and Mbenga for Iguodala and his massive contract, Sperling will have the ability to sign off on it.  Whatever comes to the table, Sperling will have to make based on what is best for the team, and no other consideration.  Demps is likely not done tinkering, and it seems that the last trade with Toronto was really just setting the table for another trade before the deadline.  Sperling is used to building a winner; I don’t see him wanting to do anything different here.  Besides, who doesn’t believe Stern wants to hand himself the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of year?

As for all us Hornets fans?  We can’t sweat it.  What we need to do is keep buying tickets to games.  We fill seats through the end of the year and all the talk of moving the franchise is moot, as we’ll be locked in for several more years.  By then, we win a championship, the city and state won’t let us leave, and hordes of locals will be fighting for the right to buy the team.  Also, after his retirement, CP3 is voted governor by 99% of the popular vote.  Right?  Right.  All right then.

Media for Dummies

By on July 3, 2010

There’s a lot of buzz as free agency begins about this trade or that signing or this or that rumor.  There’s also a lot of criticism of jumping-the-gun-scoops foiled by second-thinking, changes of heart, misinformation, and, well, just flat-out wrong reports.  So here at the Hype, we’re going to help y’all wade through it.  Writers, by their nature, are good with words.  Readers, by nature, read too fast and, as a result, often miss certain nuances.  Also, for those of you with too little time, sometimes scanning the headlines is the way you roll.  One problem with that is the editor often writes the headline, not the author; in either case, the by-line can be confusing.  Seeing as how we’re a Hornets blog, let’s use some New Orleans examples.

July 2, 2010, headline on page D-1 of the Times Picayune: “I Want to Win Now.”  Subtitle: “Once again, Chris Paul reiterates his desire for the Hornets to step up their efforts to build a contender in New Orleans.”  Implication: improve now or trade me.  In fact, the connecting headline on D-4 is: “Trade rumors continue to swirl.”  Lesson #1: context.  When did CP3 say these things?  What were the questions?  In this instance, the key comment comes on the 3rd paragraph of column 2 on D-4, “I love everything about the city, but at the end of the day, I want to win.  I don’t want to win years from now.  I want to win many, many championships here, but I just want to make sure we are committed to winning.”  Funny how the headline “CP3 Wants to Win Many Championships in Nola” wasn’t used.  Simple.  That’s not the story this reporter/editor/news outlet wanted to sell you.  The problem by crafting a story is that it gets carried to other outlets, and like a game of telephone, suddenly, it’s all about CP wanting to get traded, which, if you didn’t know better, you would never know is nothing remotely connected to reality.

Readers also need to beware ellipses and brackets.  This allows an author to omit or ostensibly change words to provide clarification.  It can also allow the author to push their own agenda by selectively picking and choosing what to include in their article.  Check out how the above quote from CP3 could have been printed: “At the end of the day, I want to win…are [we] committed to winning”?  Now, I stretched the bracket a bit, but this makes a point.  Is he worried that New Orleans is committed to winning, or wanting to win many championships here?”  Depends upon how you quote him.  Also, watch out for really short quotes.  Movie ads like to do this.  “Fantastic” says so and so.  Well, what if the full quote was “fantastic special effects, but horrible acting, and no plot whatsoever.”  Did that critic really mean the movie was “fantastic”?  Hardly.

Consider this video from WDSU’s @FletcherMackel over at http://www.wdsu.com/video/24122619/index.html.  Is the first question asked live or dubbed back in?  It’s unclear.  As for many of Chris’ other answers, you can’t hear the questions, or they are edited out.  By the way, the part about CP3 welcoming any of the League’s talented free agents to New Orleans with open arms?  That quote didn’t make the Times Pic (although several of these other quotes did, so its reporters were obviously there at the same time as Mackel).  Instead, the Times Pic ends with a quote from CP’s dad about his son just wanting to win.  My point is that if you don’t know the question, how can you contextualize the answer?  Theoretically, if Mackel could have asked CP3 the following question: “If a small asteroid hit New Orleans and totally wiped it out, would you demand a trade?”  CP laughs, and answers: “Yes.”  Next day’s headline: “CP considers demanding trade.”  A lie?  No.  Misleading?  Yes.  The context wasn’t made clear.  And no media-folks, if the asteroid question is buried in the second last sentence of the article, on the back page, you don’t win any kudos.  You’re still trying to fool people and your integrity is suspect.

Now, back to the Times Pic, and considering all the above, the second Hornets’ article on D-1 is entitled: “Paul, N.O. still not on same page is alarming.”  Wow.  So Chris wants to win.  Stop the presses.  But did I miss the article where the Hornets’ management said they didn’t want to win?  (Actually the other article on D-1 cited Shinn’s statement that Nola is “committed to building a winner around Paul, but, of course, as continued on page D-4.)  Listen folks, there is this thing called the salary cap, all right?  New Orleans, like many talented teams, cannot bring in a max contract player, or even close (they can’t offer more than the mid-level exception, about $5.6 mil).  But this doesn’t mean that the brass aren’t looking to see who is available once the big names ink, or that they’re not thinking of trades to be made.  But, listen, these trades aren’t going to happen until the free agency mess happens, okay?  And of all people, Bower is not about to give away what’s in his head.  Any way, back to the article.  This piece of shit was written by notorious curmudgeon John Deshazier, and opens by saying that Paul’s comments reiterated his claim last week that he was “open to a trade” if the Hornets couldn’t move into the ranks of the NBA’s elite teams.  Where to start?  Nothing in any article or video that I have seen from CP’s golf tournament (where these interviews were conducted) referenced an interest in being traded.  To the contrary, CP said he wanted to win here.  Fact check, Deshazier.  I guess this is a good time to start discussing language use.  Line return.

Chris Paul “open to being traded.”  Open to?  Does he “want” to be traded?  Is he “looking” to be traded?  “Demanding” a trade?  No, no, and no.  Look, any contextual analysis will tell you that Chris was asked if Nola was not a winner, and wasn’t looking like a winner in the next two years, would he be open to a trade?  His answer: yes.  So every reporter blows up the things with the boxes and wires and electricity connected and puts in the binary codes to spit to the world: “CP Open to Trade.”  All of this ignores the fact that this quote was prefaced by Chris saying: “My first choice is to be in New Orleans.”  Why wasn’t that the headline?  No.  Instead, for days, ESPN headlines were in the sidebar, speaking of a “frustrated” CP3.  But again, has he asked for out, or just asked for help?  Big difference.  And would even Nola fans want him to be content with losing or missing the Playoffs?  Of course not.  But instead of being cast as one of the Paul Pierce or Kobe Bryant types, who will build their teams into champions, the implication is that he’ll be a Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter type, and just pout and “want to win” while not really meaning it.  Why?  Because media types get the subliminal jealousy most people have of those that are more successful than them, and are always looking to tear others down.  But the media only gets half the rib for that; too many readers live for it.  The worst is when anyone with a pen who falls into the latter category claims to be someone in the former.  Case in point.
Some sites, like Fanhouse, have gone so far as to report: “Chris Paul Trade Rumors Could Be the Next Talk of the Town.” Excepts: “team on the decline…bleak organizational outlook…'[Paul’s frustration] is very real, very real’ said a source close to Paul.”  Okay.  First of all, they put their own spin on his “frustration” by prefacing the quote by saying the team is headed downhill with no future.  First of all, it’s called health.  People forget how many games our starters have missed over the last two years.  No NBA team with CP3-West-Peja healthy will miss the playoffs.  Take that to the bank.  Second, note how “Paul’s frustration” is in brackets.  Was “frustration” the thing being discussed explicitly, or was it inferred by the author?  Was it even Paul’s “frustration” or someone in his crew talking about him?  We’ll never know. Third, “said a source close to Paul.”  Fuck the media and their sources, man.  Seriously.  I get it, kind of.  But what does that mean?  His girlfriend, his trainer, his chef, the team waterboy?  It could be any of them.  Just watch how such “sources” are described; it’s telling.  No doubt, some are legit, but, really, take it with a grain of salt.  Then, continuing the article’s theme of gloom and doom, the piece continues: “and his general Manager (Jeff Bower) is now reportedly hoping for an exit of his own to New Jersey.”  This assertion is linked to a Nola.com article.  Go ahead and read it.  The exact phrase from the cited piece is: “Bower, who is under consideration for the New Jersey Nets’ general manager job, was out of town Friday.”  That’s it.  How the hell did Fanhouse get to Bower is “hoping for an exit” from that?  Because it has a pre-written story, an agenda, that it wants to sell.  Moreover, look closely at the next words: “an exit of his own.”  The final words again imply that Bower’s escape is in addition to CP hoping for an escape.  Ridiculous, and unsubstantiated.

Listen, these CP3 rumors started because teams told reporters they were calling Bower about Chris Paul trades.  Really?  Duh.  BREAKING NEWS: every team wants CP3.  Give me a break.  And then, Bower, always playing his cards close to his vest, simply said he was “having a dialogue with other teams concerning ‘all of our players.'”  Wow.  So your job, as GM, is to make and take these calls, and you in fact did you job, which probably involved telling teams like New Jersey that if they gave up Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, and four first round picks, you’d think about it, and then (unsurprisingly) not getting a call back.  Of course Bower makes and takes those calls.  That’s his job.  So why are surprised that he “had a dialogue” with other teams about Chris Paul?  What does having a dialogue mean?  It could have meant, “hey, we’ll swap Harris for Paul.”  [Pause]  “Fuck off.”  [Click]  You know?

So, please, people, watch the words.  Anything like “might”, “probably”, “considering”, “talked about”, mean just about nothing.  Nothing.  Writers hide behind these words.  Writers craft their own stories around these words, rather than writing about the story there is.  But in today’s quasi-celebrity world where just being yourself, just having your job, isn’t good enough; no, everyone needs to be famous.  Like certain owners.  Like certain refs.  People that can’t just keep the spotlight where it belongs: on the game and the players that bring it to us. The media, more and more, is guilty of this.  They are no longer content to report the news.  They want to be the news.  They want to see their name under the big, juicy headline: “Chris Paul Demands Trade.”  But Chris isn’t saying that, and they can’t stretch things that far.  Which is why the national media frenzied over this story last week before free agency begin and, now, only the Nola media is running with the new quotes.  They were just bored, so they invented a story.  Readers, beware.  They’re trying to sell you on their story.  Their answers.

Find your own truths.

Except to say I am inordinately entertained by this picture from last night’s Celtics/Magic Game 2:

Vince Carter was Kung Fu Fighting!

Vince Carter was Kung Fu Fighting!

I am pretty sure this is from the end of the game when Pierce fouled out, but it didn’t look anything like that on TV. I don’t want to tell you how many moments of staring it took me to realize that that object was a shoe. It would just be embarrassing for me.

In other news yesterday, the Hornets unsurprisingly got the 11th pick in the draft lottery. Go, #11, whoever you may be!

This has been today’s pointless playoff picture. You may go about your business. Move along.

Should that even be the question?  How about “to watch the games or not to watch the games?”  Like the Hornets themselves, I’m not originally from New Orleans.  That means, I loved the NBA before I loved the Hornets.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hornets now and am die-hard, or else I wouldn’t even be here writing this. But my question is, with our team out of the Playoffs, what should our role as Hornets fans be?  I think it’s still to watch the games that remain.

Sure, I really appreciate what atthehive.com and hornets247.com are doing; both blogs are doing great speculative analysis of what the Hornets should do, which coaches they should go after, analyzing what went wrong with this season, and what the team’s needs are for the upcoming draft.  Of course, the media, never failing to miss the point, is focused on manufactured storylines more than actual play, and is too busy crafting headlines like “As Celtics eliminate Cavs, all eyes turn to James.”  Thanks Times Pic.  Listen, let me start with the easy one.  I don’t care about Lebron James.  Seriously.  If he ends up playing with Josh Childress and Linus Kleiza for Olympiakos for $50 a year so he can become a “global icon” and billionaire by 32, sweet.  Seriously. And Nike, what, do you not have a bloody, Steve Nash muppet?

Fuck all that.  This is the time of year when only the best of the best remain, and this year that doesn’t include the Hornets or the Cavs.  So while I’m always one to hype the Hornets, and glad other people are talking about what our team should do, I can’t care too much myself because I’ve been so focused on watching great Playoff basketball.  Hopefully the Hornets are watching too, because it should be making them antsy to know that this is what they want to achieve, and that they have a lot of hard work to do to get there.

Until then folks, enjoy the real final four.  Laissez les bons balles rouler.