The Nets came into last night’s Toilet Bowl having allowed 107.5 points per 100 possessions, the very worst mark in the league. They outdid themselves against the struggling Knicks, allowing the equivalent of 130 points per 100 possessions in a game that began as something of a snark spectacle and gradually became a serious embarrassment for a team with absolutely no clue right now on either end of the floor.
The Knicks did nothing special, though they did come out in the second half clearly committed to running more motion-based plays and generally playing the kind of offense an NBA team should play. They ran a few Carmelo Anthony–Andrea Bargnani pick-and-pops, and they thrived whenever they posted Anthony up against the game but overmatched Alan Anderson. Anthony loves to catch the ball, face up in one-on-one situations, and take midrange jumpers off the bounce. That is glamorous, highlight stuff.
The NBA landscape will look much different toward the end of the regular season than it does now, but it’s still insane to think about. If the season ended today, the Toronto Raptors, who aren’t even sure if they should be trying to win this season, would “earn” the no. 4 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference by capturing the Atlantic Division. In related news: They are 5-7, and not very good at professional basketball.
The Atlantic Division probably won’t stay this awful, though that depends almost entirely on one of the New York teams finding its footing. And that seems less a certainty now than it did a week ago, as early-season hiccups morph into long-term problems. The Knicks are 3-8, miserable on both ends of the floor, with a defensive keystone who still might be a month away from returning. The Nets are also 3-8, looking old and slow, with half their roster injured. Meanwhile, the Sixers have regressed after the 3-0 hysteria, and the Celtics are bad — and could make themselves worse via trade.
Here’s the irony: The 2011-12 Blazers serve as my personal reminder against overreacting to any team trend over the first 10 or so games of the season. Those Blazers started 7-2, and the wins included an icy coldcocking of Oklahoma City on the road. LaMarcus Aldridge was cementing his status as one of the league’s 15 best players, and Gerald Wallace, still starting ahead of future nut-puncher Nic Batum, was playing the very best basketball of his life. Lots of teams have gotten off to unsustainable starts; witness last season’s Bobcats and this season’s Sixers. But Portland had been a solid playoff team three years running; this felt like a good team taking the next step, overcoming a sad injury history in the process. It felt real.
We know what happened after that: Raymond Felton forgot how to dribble, infighting engulfed the team, and the front office eventually waved the tank flag by dealing Marcus Camby to Houston and fleecing the Nets in what became the Wallace-for–Damian Lillard heist.
The NBA is concerned about the length of games, which is why I proposed over the summer that the league should cut the game time from 48 minutes to 40 — an idea incoming commissioner Adam Silver is said to be interested in. (Silver informally proposed the 40-minute game, as well as a three-minute overtime, to owners over the last couple of seasons, according to several team sources. The proposals, to be totally clear, were very informal, intended only to gauge opinions.)
Michael Carter-Williams is here to make basketball fun again.
What. Is. Happening!?
Zach Lowe: Here's how bad it was: My annual column of "bold" predictions hadn't been out even 30 minutes when an executive on a non-Sixers team emailed to challenge my call that the allegedly tanktastic Sixers would win at least 10 games, thus avoiding the infamy of tying the league's all-time worst record in an 82-game season. "I say under nine wins," the exec proclaimed. "Lunch on whoever loses the bet." That's right: Very smart rival executives were so pessimistic about Philly, so put off (in some corners, anyway) by perhaps the most naked tanking scheme in NBA history, they were willing to wager meals on it. And I'm not above ordering steak for lunch.
It has been quite a year for [clears throat] LARRY SANDERS!. He broke out last season, blowing away his previous minutes totals, cutting his once astronomical foul rate, cleaning the defensive glass, and scaring the hell out of any opponent who dared enter the lane. Milwaukee’s defense collapsed whenever SANDERS! hit the bench, and his rare combination of elite rim protection and deft footwork against the pick-and-roll earned him a monster extension that kicks in next season. He is now the face of the Milwaukee Bucks, as strange as that sounds.
The debut of the funky-as-ever Bucks did not go well Wednesday night against the Knicks. Brandon Knight tweaked his hamstring less than two minutes into the game, SANDERS! barely played because of foul trouble (that old bugaboo), and a feisty group of reserves couldn’t complete a comeback down the stretch.
After the game, SANDERS! sat down for an extended one-on-one with Grantland. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
Teams already know more about this version of the Miami Heat than ever before. And they're taking advantage of it. In last year's NBA Finals, the Spurs introduced a quirk Miami hadn't seen before, one the Heat nicknamed "The Danny Green Cut," according to Shane Battier. It looked at times like Green was getting open simply because Miami defenders plum forgot about him. That was the case on a few plays. But rewatching the flaming carnage reveals that the Spurs added a Heat-specific quirk for which Miami was not prepared.
A review of two big moves that broke Friday evening:
Wizards Trade Emeka Okafor and 2014 First-Round Pick (Top-12 Protected) to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, and Kendall Marshall
This is what happens when an owner gives his general manager, in the final year of his contract, a very loud mandate to make the playoffs. The Wizards might have been able to make a run at that goal with their pre-trade roster — even though Okafor, co-leader of their surprise top-five defense last season, is out indefinitely with a herniated disk. Look at the Eastern Conference outside the top four teams. You’re telling me a core of John Wall, Nene, and Bradley Beal couldn’t snag the no. 7 or no. 8 seed, provided anything close to competent play from the supporting cast? The Wizards gave Wall a max-level extension, voluntarily took on Nene’s $13 million annual contract, and can’t stop talking about what a wonderful player Beal is going to be. But they’re not good enough to carry the Wiz to the last playoff spot in a top-heavy conference? Things are so precarious that a team that should still be building to the future has to sacrifice a first-round pick — and potentially a first-round pick in the most loaded draft in years — to acquire a league-average center on an expiring contract? All for the short-term endgame of losing to Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, or Indiana in the first round?
You've noticed, if you've been watching the NBA's overlong preseason, that it is dreaded "point of emphasis" time — the phase of preseason in which officials go crazy calling all sorts of things they haven't generally called much when the games count, but swear they will this season. It's a warning shot: "Unlearn this behavior now, because we'll continue punishing you when the real games start."
And nobody believes it. People within the league are skeptical that officials will stick to these strict new interpretations if doing so slows down games that already last too long. And fans, justifiably, have cried out against zealous enforcement that introduces more pauses into a sport that already has too many — and isn't meant for such stop-and-start action. The poster children so far have been the comically over-whistled delay-of-game calls when a player on a team that scores a basket touches the ball after it goes in. That's a clear no-no in the rule book, since a team switching from offense to defense can delay the opponent's transition game by taking the ball, rolling it toward the baseline, or lobbing it very politely — and very slowly, with a ridiculous arc and softness — to a referee.
Rookie-scale contracts have given teams time to assess talent, but they still have to make bets on very young players, often committing borderline star money to guys who have never worked as anything close to primary options — or who have perhaps not even started for their own teams.
The Jazz made such a wager over the weekend, reportedly signing Derrick Favors to a four-year, $49 million extension (though the team has never confirmed those numbers, and wouldn't over the weekend) that will pay him a tad more than fellow defense-first extension signee LARRY SANDERS! Favors will earn about $12 million per season — in the Joakim Noah/Al Horford salary range, about $2 million less than what Favors could have earned on a max-level contract (and what DeMarcus Cousins will earn on a contract that surely hovered over the Favors negotiations).
Andrew Bogut’s impending free agency was going to be a secretly fascinating subplot to the coming NBA season, but Bogut, delightfully candid as always, yanked back the curtain by revealing the status of contract-extension talks with the Warriors in a chat with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper.
Seriously, Bogut went off about everything.
• That the two sides have exchanged salary proposals, and that while the Warriors’ offer was lower than Bogut’s desired mark, the numbers “weren’t insulting.”
• That Bogut will agree to an incentive-based contract that kicks up his annual salary if he plays in a certain number of games.
• That Bogut will not agree to an Andrew Bynum–style contract in which giant portions of the deal are entirely unguaranteed, allowing the team to cut bait at minimal cost.
• That California’s high state income taxes will factor into his decision.
• That other Western Conference teams have already expressed interest, presumably to Bogut’s agents, in signing him this summer as a free agent — even though he’s still very obviously under contract with Golden State.
• That the Warriors’ lusty pursuit of Dwight Howard will factor into how Bogut approaches free agency. The Warriors shoved loyalty aside to chase a superior talent, and Bogut warns he’ll do the same to chase superior money.
To the NBA junkie, almost every team inspires some mix of excitement and curiosity as a new season approaches. One team executive recently compared the first wave of regular-season games to unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning: How will the coach fit New Player X into his team's rotation? How will Player Y and Player Z mesh on the floor? Even the bad teams are exciting: How experimental will Brett Brown be in Philly after years of stodgy Doug Collins offensive philosophy? Who will win the race to lead the league in turnovers between Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke? (Advantage MCW after Burke broke his finger over the weekend.)
But the Knicks, the wackiest bunch of wackadoos in the league, are starting to conjure an unnerving anxiety. That's a strange thing to say about a 54-win team coming off its best season in years, having puked up draft picks for a starry name in Andrea Bargnani and shrewdly inked bargain deals for Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace.
True story: There is an NBA mascot convention every summer, where about two dozen mascot performers get together, exchange best practices, show off their best highlights from the prior season, and even meet with various consultants from the league and mascot-related industries.
They also give out various awards, sort of a mascot Oscars — best video skit, best overall mascot for the year, that kind of thing. For several years, the mascots also created a joke award: the Craptor. It was a plunger, painted gold, that they awarded to whomever experienced the worst blooper of the season — the worst accidental pratfall, the video skit that flopped, or some other lowlight that television cameras had caught.