Monthly Archives: February 2009

Buyouts 101

Will we see this pairing again?...

Will we see this pairing again?...

...Or maybe we'll see this paring again...

...Or maybe we'll see this paring again.

The trading deadline isn’t exactly over. While teams can no longer trade for players, they can sign free agents up until March 1st and still have them eligible for a playoff roster spot. This means that if a team buys out a player’s contract before March 1st, then a contender can try to sign him.

The disadvantage to this is that the players that this historically applies to are older, lower impact players who don’t fit into their current teams’ long term strategies, so they’re more of a band-aid than a long term addition. An example of this is Sacramento Kings. They have a 22 year old power forward named Jason Thompson, and a 32 year old power forward named Mikki Moore. Because they’re not making the playoffs, Mikki Moore will probably agree to the Kings buying out the remainder of his contract for less money, so he can try and win a championship with Cleveland or Boston. Usually Moore can expect to recover any money he lost in the buyout by signing a deal with a new team for the remainder of the season. And if he plays well, this often leads to him getting a better contract offer this summer from a new team who saw him make an impact in the playoffs.

Every team (Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Cavs,  etc.) can also try and sign the same players, so no one has first dibs on guys the way they did at the trade deadline when teams like Cleveland and Portland could offer Wally Szczerbiak’s and Raef LaFrentz’ expiring contracts around the league.

But there is one more card to play, which is called the “Mid-Level Exception”. The mid-level exception is a clause that was implemented to give teams who are over the salary cap an extra $5 million of salary cap space. It was put in place so teams can still improve a bit, even when they would normally be out of options.

This exception is normally used to sign a free agent in the offseason, but the Cavs didn’t use their exception over the summer, while Boston, LA and San Antonio did. So Cleveland can actually offer more money than anyone else in contention for the title.

So there’s about a 50-50 chance the Celtics, Spurs  and Cavs still pick up one more piece. The biggest catch is  Joe Smith, the power forward from Maryland who played power forward for Cleveland last year and is currently stuck in Oklahoma City. Smith played with Kevin Garnett for a few years in Minnesota, and the two are friends. So we’ll see who he signs with, but Boston needs his services more than Cleveland does, so he could end up being that eyelash that either Cleveland or Boston wins by.

Homeland Security

dr-strangelove

The first undeniable role of the federal government is to protect its citizens from harm. After all, what is a government if it’s not seeking to guard its citizens? But while many lawmakers are eager to stress homeland security as part of their agendas, they often overlook the versatility of vulnerability.

The prevention of an attack on our country is certainly grounds to mobilize a coordinated military presence, but we are also susceptible to attacks on the weak points in our public health and education systems.

Consider heart disease. It has killed more Americans over the last 5 years than every military campaign in US history combined. The same can be said for cancer and strokes, and relatively, we take these epidemics lightly.

If consistent clinical and preventative medical treatment was guaranteed to every American, if we’re more aware of what chemicals are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink, would we not be safer? The same concern over safety can be argued for the merits our education system, which despite being an issue that George W. Bush emphasized during his presidential campaign, ended up being dwarfed by an interest in increasing military spending.

And as the world becomes smaller, an education system that is only universally funded through high school is at risk of getting overtaken in the tide of globalization. If a master’s degree from a school in India is interchangeable from a master’s degree in the United States, but only 26% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, then the remaining 74% of Americans are going to be inevitably locked out of entire sectors of employment.

By viewing education and health care through the lens of homeland security, it becomes clearer that wars are being fought outside of the traditional military battlefield. And if the United States wishes to remain a world leader, there must be a collective realization among legislators and their constituents that any country turning out unhealthy, undereducated citizens will never be able to sustain a high level of innovation.

Marcus Camby

Dwight Howard would have his hands full if Cleveland had Marcus Camby (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Dwight Howard would have his hands full if Cleveland had Marcus Camby (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The NBA trading deadline is less than a week away, and with the crazy financial market, there should be a series of moves coming any day now.

Cleveland is in an advantageous position because they have $21 million in expiring contracts to offer around, but due to their better-than-expected record, GM Danny Ferry has been grappling with the idea of bringing in a new guy into a locker room that has been harmonious thus far. Order for Ferry to feel good about making a move, the incoming player can’t disturb Cleveland’s locker room chemistry.

Fortunately for Ferry, the Cavaliers have one of the few stable locker rooms in the NBA. They have an unquestioned franchise player and a respected coaching staff that has the full backing of the front office.  Only the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs can match or top Cleveland in that regard. They could bring Dennis Rodman out of retirement, let him play every game in a wedding dress, and not worry about capsizing the boat.

But considering how well the Cavs have played, Danny Ferry is unlikely to go for the home run, and he probably doesn’t need to. The Cavs just need one more rotation player who can play defense and distract the opposing defense enough for Lebron to get open. It doesn’t matter what position he plays, as long as he’s committed to defense, Coach Mike Brown will put him on the floor.

The most glaring weakness on the team comes when opponents go with a big lineup. Delonte West is a very good shooting guard, but he’s gets posted up by bigger guys. The easy remedy for this is to slide Lebron down to the 2, but it forces Brown to put Sasha Pavlovic into the game. Pavlovic is a big, solid defender on his own, but he’s an offensive liability, and a terrible ballhandler. Upgrading the swingman spot with a big, athletic guard that can hit shots, is ideal, but the market for swingmen is underwhelming. Plus swingmen often demand shots away from the basket, which could disrupt Cleveland’s offensive rhythm.

Instead, it’s probably better to bring in a bigger guy who can defend the 4 and 5 spots, so Lebron doesn’t get worn down banging against guys his size. Given the current market, the best guy for a Cleveland is probably Marcus Camby of the LA Clippers.

Camby is a great defender and rebounder who gets his points off of put-backs and dishes. His teammates have always liked him, and judging by the double-double he’s averaging on a terrible team, plays hard every night. And at age 34, he would likely play as many or as few minutes as needed, as long as it gives him a chance to earn a championship ring.

Mike Brown has publicly stated that he doesn’t want another big man, but a lot of that belief hinges on giving minutes to rookie JJ Hickson. Once the playoffs roll around though, it’s unlikely Hickson will be seeing meaningful minutes.

The main obstacle to making a trade is the overall incompetence of the Clippers’ front office. Owner Donald Sterling dslikes trades, based on the belief that if a team is offering a player, there has to be something wrong with him. But considering that Sterling is a notorious cheapskate, the prospect of saving almost $10 million by trading Camby for Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract might be enough to get the deal done.

A notable kicker about Wally Szczerbiak being the primary trade chip for Cleveland, is that he likes playing for the Cavs, making him likely to demand a buyout from whoever trades for him, and rejoin Cleveland after a month of NBA-mandated rest. So in a way, the Cavs would be trading nothing in order to make a late season acquisition.

This trade, if accompanied by a healthy Cleveland roster, would give the Cavs the best front line in the NBA, and the best chance to win the NBA championship. The Cavs’ major obstacles are Boston, Orlando, and the Los Angeles Lakers, and adding another big man means that Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol would be guarded by a very good defender (the platoon of Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace, and Marcus Camby) every minute of the game, while also affording Zydrunas Ilgauskas the opportunity to save his energy for the offensive end.

Bump fouls

Lebron is on the inside of this pass, and there is no clear possession (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Lebron is on the inside of this pass, and there is no clear possession (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The standout moment of the Cavs-Pacers game came after TJ Ford hit a jumper with .8 seconds left to give the Pacers a 95-93 lead.

Last night was the first time of the season that Cleveland was put in the situation of having to inbound an alley-oop pass 30 feet into a defense that knows the play is coming. Normally, the defending coach will instruct his team to collapse on the guy rolling towards the rim, and start to celebrate because this play fails 99.9% of the time.

But as Mo Williams made his desperation heave towards the basket, it became clear that Lebron could conceivably score off of this play. The physical requirements of outjumping your opponent and muscling ball through the hoop, while your defender is left with no choice but to foul you relentlessly, fall directly into Lebron’s repertoire.

Danny Granger must have made this same realization, because as the ball went up, he knocked his hip hard enough against Lebron’s for the ball to sail through his hands, and out of bounds. Pacers fans were understandably pissed off by the late foul call, but if you check the replay, you can clearly see the hit. Every contender should also watch this replay, because without a foul or a ref swallowing his whistle, I’m not sure if you can stop Lebron from scoring.

The negative side to this revelation comes with the referees calling a foul with so little time left in the game. On the ensuing possession, the Pacers tried the same exact play, and received a practically obligatory foul call that sealed up the win for them. It’s important to note, however, that Lebron didn’t foul Granger. There was no hip contact, and Lebron had the inside positioning on the pass, so any contact should have at least resulted in a no-call. But it’s the home crowd, and many foul calls are subjective with.

One gem that might be overlooked is that Lebron sunk two high pressure free-throws, either one of which would have lost them the game right there. It’s an MVP-prerequisite play, because I believe Kobe and Wade would have made those.

Michael Phelps smokes weed

phelps_watch

Michael Phelps has just earned my respect.

Phelps, the uber swimmer, was caught on film smoking a bong at a house party in South Carolina. But in a display of honesty rarely seen by public figures, Phelps admitted to and apologized for his actions. He did not make any denials about using his monster lung capacity for purposes other than swimming, or even making the easy claim that the tobacco water pipe  he was caught using, was actually filled with tobacco. Instead, Phelps  issued a public apology, acknowledging “regrettable” behavior and “bad judgment”.

But by being honest about making a bad decision, Phelps is being raked through the coals by tiny hypocrites. In a comical cut-and-run decision, USA Swimming, apparantly displaying less short-term than their meal ticket swimmer, has suspended financial support for Phelps, and banned him from US competitions for three months.  And as if operating on an unlimmited administrative budget, the Richland County Police Department has announed that they will consider pursuing criminal charges against Phelps.

“The bottom line is, if he broke the law, and he did it in Richland County, he’s going to be charged,” Lt. Chris Cowan said. “And there’s no difference between Michael Phelps and several other people that we arrest for the same type of a charge everyday.”

Under South Carolina law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30 days in jail for the first offense. Possession of paraphernalia is a $500 fine.

So Columbia, SC is going to put public funding into an investigation against an out-of-state millionaire who could raise an army of lawyers on a whim, with the absolute best case scenario being a recoup of $700 and 30 days in jail? The charges haven’t even been filed and this case already reeks of a pissing contest.

But in general, we as a nation have our priorities completely backwards. Phelps was initially praised for being a tremendously successful American who openly sold his fifteen minutes in the spotlight to any endorsement opportunity available. Why does blatant prostitution recieve praise, while apologizing for smoking pot gets you burned at the stake?

In a way, an incident such as this shows how little Americans actually know what they want. Isn’t honesty supposed to be a characteristic that we look for in our public figures? Isn’t forgiveness a trait that we all hope to recieve when we admit to a mistake?

I have been rather vocal about Phelps being the perfect example of a tremendously successful athlete who does not qualify a hero, because he never showed any courage. He worked his tail off to reach the top of the podium, smiled for the cameras, and cashed the checks, but he never said anything of substance. And now, after showing a side of vulnerability, America has turned its back on him.  But I won’t. Michael Phelps was honest when he could have easily lied. And that takes courage.