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Are You Ready for Some Basketball?

After the break for the All-Star festivities, the NBA’s 82-game season gets interesting. This year, as usual, many teams were remade at the trade deadline. Each has about 25 games left. No team in the West or East is way ahead of the field. The Warriors will struggle just to make the play-offs and their chances of winning another championship seem slim. 

The new owner of the Phoenix Suns mortgaged the team’s future by trading two very good young forwards, Cam Johnson and Miles Bridges and the always useful Jae Crowder –plus four first-round draft picks!– to acquire two injury-prone forwards, TJ Warren and the great Kevin Durant. If KD doesn’t bring the Suns a championship this year or next, the trade will go down in the annals of wasted time as a true disaster. The future in Phoenix will be gloomy, anyway, because the Suns will be too old to contend, even with Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton in their primes. 

Consider the recent history of the Los Angeles Lakers. Since the 2016-17 season they have traded away Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., D’Angelo Russell, Reggie Bullock, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mo Wagner, Ivica Zubac, and Montrezl Harrell, plus numerous first- and second- round picks. For recompense they got LeBron James, who brought them a championship in 2020, and then Anthony Davis, who has been frequently injured. Was one championship worth six seasons of being totally out of contention? 

This year the Lakers front office changed their approach and traded for youth, giving up on Russell Westbrook, 34, and re-acquiring D’Angelo Russell, a guard who can really shoot and seems like a much better complement to King James. LA also got underrated Malik Beasley and Jarred Valentine from Minnesota, a franchise that seems intent on tanking (losing on purpose). The team with the worst record in the league has the best chance of getting the top draft pick, which this year will undoubtedly be Victor Wembanyama, a French teenager who stands 7’4! and can shoot and handle the ball like a point guard, according to that Bible of the sports world, The Guardian. 

(The Lakers franchise moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960, which made the name totally absurd. Minnesota is “the land of 1,000 Lakes;” Los Angeles is the desert in disguise.) 

The Denver Nuggets have the best record in the West, the best center in Nikola Jokic, and three other great players – Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter, Jr., and Jamal Murray. Hard to see Phoenix overtaking Denver if their big four stay healthy – a big if in a league where men take terrible falls and elbows fly under the basket. The reffing is bad and painfully inconsistent. If the refs called just one third of the fouls committed against LeBron, his team would never lose. 

As for your Golden State Warriors, even if Steph Curry returns in a few weeks and immediately regains his form, they’re under-sized. Their center, Kevon Looney, is asked to guard bigger men night after night, and his endurance has been remarkable. Their back-up center is a forward, JaMychael Green. The Dubs have given up on James Wiseman, Looney’s hoped-for successor, who they landed with the #2 draft pick two seasons ago. 

“Give the Warriors a top-three pick,” Steve Howland observes, “and they’ll find a way to screw it up. You have to go back to ‘65 to find the exception.” He enters this list into evidence: “Wiseman (2) ‘20, Mike Dunleavy (3) ‘01, Joe Smith (1) ‘95, Chris Webber (1) acquired for Penny Hardaway (3) ‘93, Chris Washburn (3) ‘86, Joe Barry Carroll (1) ’80,. Clyde Lee (3) ’66,. Fred Hetzel (1) ’65, Rick Barry (2) ‘65.”

Penny Hardaway, who the Dubs traded for Chris Webber, had a good career, and so did Webber, but it wasn’t with the Warriors because he couldn’t stand Don Nelson, the coach, yelling at him. Rick Barry had two great seasons with the San Francisco Warriors back in the ‘60s (when their home court was the Cow Palace), but then jumped to the Oakland Oaks of the new American Basketball Association. Wikipedia describes Barry as “the first marquee NBA player to jump to the rival league. Not only was the three-year agreement worth a reported $500,000, which would make him one of basketball’s highest-paid players, it afforded him the opportunity to play for his former college coach Bruce Hale, who was also his father-in-law. In addition, Barry received 15 percent ownership in the franchise as well as 5 percent of all ticket sales in excess of $600,000 for home games. 

“The courts ordered Barry to sit out the 1967–68 season for the Oaks, upholding the validity of the reserve clause in his contract. At the time, all NBA teams had one-year options on player contracts, however, and the Warriors were quick to exercise theirs. He preceded St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood, whose better-known challenge to the reserve clause went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, by two years as the first American major-league professional athlete to bring a court action against it. The ensuing negative publicity cast Barry in a negative light, portraying him as selfish and money hungry...”

Barry returned to the Warriors in 1972 and would lead them to the NBA championship in 1975. Wikipedia notes that “Barry is widely known for his unorthodox free throw technique. His career .880 free throw percentage ranks No. 1 in ABA history, and his .900 percentage was the best of any NBA player at the time of his retirement in 1980.”

Routinely pointing acknowledgment to the player who fed him a great pass was an original contribution to the game for which Barry has never been credited. The gracious gesture caught on and today everybody does it. 

It’s astonishing that more NBA players don’t shoot foul shots underhand. The superiority of the underhand foul shot is a matter of physics – the ball approaches the rim from below, slowly! Many fans with whom I’ve shared this wisdom assume there’s an NBA regulation against the underhand foul shot, but there isn’t. The unwillingness to shoot underhand is simply a function of machismo! It’s really sad. Inability to make free throws changes a player’s game, makes them reluctant to drive to the basket and risk having to go to the line and embarrass themselves. This reluctance made Andres Biedrins, the Warriors’ center (2004-2013) afraid to shoot, knowing he’d clank his free throws. Today that fear is inhibiting Ben Simmons, who would be a super-star if he was willing to take it to the hoop. The Nets ought to bring in Rick Barry to mentor and encourage him to shoot underhand. 

And the Warriors ought to get in touch with DaMarcus Cousins. Last year in the playoffs “Boogie” subbed ably for Jokic. This year he’s out of the league. Kevon Looney needs help! 

One Comment

  1. Fred Gardner Post author | February 21, 2023

    I was wrong about Minnesota tanking. They’ve had too good a season to enter the race for the bottom. Those with a serious basketball addiction will have a hard time till play resumes Thursday. evening. MJ won’t help.

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