Monday, July 03, 2006

An Open Letter to Every Team in the NBA, Except the Reigning World Champs.

Dear Losers,

Congratulations on finishing in [2nd through 30th]. Heck of a season for you guys, really. I'm sure you'll get over the hump in the next few seasons. Really.

Since I know all of you franchises thinks you are thisclose to either winning it all, going deep into the playoffs, sneaking into the playoffs, going games at a time without on-court brawls over the basketball (Quit staring around the room, Knickerbockers, you know exactly who I'm talking to), I am a little concerned about your state of mind.

I am sure you all feel you are just one piece away from achieving your goals. Hell, look at Miami last year, right? They added Shaq to one superstar with a bunch of washed-up role players, and now their all wearing rings. Perfect, right? So let's try that!

And see, that is why I am worried. No team will ever duplicate what the Heat did this season. It just won't happen; the circumstances were so unique and bizarre, no one could possibly imitate it and be successful. So please, please don't try.

Miami's "blueprint" worked for a few reasons, not the least of which was the superstar that they added was Shaquille O'Neal. Yea, this isn't the svelte, dominating Daddy from yore, but it was still Shaq. Shaq is the most dominating force basketball has seen since 23 hung 'em up for the third time. He's not equatable with any other "superstar" thats allegedly on the market right now.

(Boston - if you think AI joining pierce is going to equate in a ring, you're freakin' nuts. It'll be fun as hell to watch, but there's no way on God's green earth - you like that pun, didn't you? - that Boston will be throwing a confetti parade with those two leading the way. And KG ain't the answer either. The Big Ticket couldn't punch a playoff ticket for two seasons. He's not leading a team to a title any time soon. Unless he goes to the Cavs. Yea, the Cavs.)

The fact that it was Shaq that the Heat added can't be overstated. IT WAS SHAQ. Who saved himself all season for a title run (and it actually worked, which might be the most surprising thing). It didn't work the year before. It isn't going to work next year. Miraculously, it worked this year.

Plus, a legendary coach who the players were all dying to play for came out of retirement midway through the season solely for this purpose. Oh, and, they happened to have maybe the most clutch, unstoppable, unselfish guard in the league who has the refs so infatuated with him that it is borderline unfair.

So, before you think of adding "that missing piece," ask yourself the following:

  • Is the piece we are about to add the most dominating basketball force since Michael Jordan?
  • Are we adding him to arguably the best off guard in the league, who also has no problem sharing the ball with him?
  • Do we have a Hall of Fame coach that all can command all our veterans who are dying to win a championship?
If you can answer all three with "yes," then by all means, add that piece. But if not, hold your horses, cowboys. For the sake of the game.

Teams built like the Heat suck. Seriously. Teams intentionally put together with a small, minute window, who have to win now just suck. Where is the reward as a fan (or even as a team?) in winning that way? Watching a bunch of old guys with no chemistry tolerate each other for a season or two just to get a ring is not fun. The Heat - and the NBA - are lucky D Wade is about the most personable and likeable star in the league right now. With anyone else, anyone outside of Miami is rooting hard core for the Mavs to win. As it was, fans with no rooting interest were pretty much split on who they wanted to win.

Think what it must be like to be a Marlins fan. Yea, you got two rings, but you basically bought them, and then sold off the pieces like a Sion in a chop shop. Don't you think the Marlins fans feel a little empty with those rings? Whatever happened to a team working for years, drafting well, maybe picking up a solid contributor or two, battling through better, tougher opponents, in the playoffs and then finally, miraculously breaking through to win a title? Sure, the economics don't really allow for that anymore, to a certain extent, but I still think you can do it. Look at the Mavs this year. If they would have won, how satisfying would that title have been? To build yourself up from laughing stock to title contender...that just feels right, doesn't it?

I equate it to having a Picasso or a Rembrandt hanging in your living room. One catch - you had to steal it to get it. Sure, "buying" players isn't the same as stealing, but it kind of feels the same. Hey, maybe some people can still enjoy a stolen piece of art as much as if it had been purchased legally. I just couldn't. All I'm saying.

Plus, as hard as it was to cheer for the Heat, how much fun was it to watch them, speaking strictly aesthetically? Not very, save for D Wade in the open court. Their games were so predictable - either get the hell out of Wade's way, or throw it into Shaq and play off the double team's. Having two great guys and a bunch of others isn't fun to watch. Let's get 5 skilled guys out there - why do you think the West is so much fun to watch (And the East really isn't?).

Here's the deal: if the Heat repeat, you can build your team's any way you want. But if they lose -which they most certainly will - then you have to build real teams. Sound good? OK, handshake..sign here...lovely.

So there is my plea, NBA. Let the Heat be your answer to the NCAA's George Mason: a heck of a story, but ultimately a fluke that likely can't - shouldn't? - be repeated.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

128 Teams. Worst. Idea. Ever.

There's been some dumb ideas before.

"Tin Cup" going for the green at the Open instead of laying up. The Knicks handing the keys to Isiah (they did see what he did to the CBA, right? He drove an entire league completely out of existance. Has that even ever been done single-handedly before? They were aware of this, weren't they?) Joe Namath saying, "Interview with Suzy Kolber? Suuuure...let me just finish this last beer..."

Expanding the NCAA Basketball Tournament to 128 teams is just as bad of an idea. Trust me.

Before we go through the litany of reasons why this is an awful idea, let me get one thing off my chest. If one more person - coach, analyst, news reporter, my own mother - refers to "expanding to 128 teams" as "doubling the size of the current field," I will go on a boobey-trapping rampage the likes of which hasn't been seen since Makuley Caulkin got left home alone. Both times.

You know why it isn't doubling the current field? Because doubling the current field gives you 130 teams, that's why, because the self-indulgent, money-grubbing, sanctimonious bastards at the NCAA have 65 teams in the current field. So if you really want to "double the field," then make it 130. If you want 128, call it that. Thank you.

Alright, now that that's out of the way, let's get to the bottom of this. Why does this idea make Tin Cup look like an innovator? Here are "the coaches" reasons - from this article - for wanting to expand to 128. Let's debunk them, one by one. It'll be fun!

• The number of Division I teams has increased significantly since the last major expansion more than two decades ago. The field went from 48 to 64 teams in 1985, then added a 65th team to the field in 2001 when the number of automatic bids went from 30 to 31.

So there are now more teams, so let's have a bigger playoff. Seams reasonsable. But that's not the reason coaches want to expand. They want to be able to say, "Hey, look, I made the tourney 4 years in a row (please forget I got bounced in the first round every time), so you can't fire me. I'm successful!" Its a complete and direct lie that coaches feel more total teams should equate to more teams in The Dance. They just want greater job security. (Hey, with so many different teams, aren't there more job opportunities? Jus' sayin...)

And 128...the sole reason that number got picked is because it creates a "perfect" bracket. No team needs a bye and no teams are penalized with extra games. But 128? C'mon. There are teams in the tourney now with sub-.500 records...imagine when it is doubled? Who needs the opening weekend filled with teams who couldn't even win half their games? The first weekend is the best part, anyways. This would ruin all that fun; half the games would end in lopsided blowouts. That's no fun.
• George Mason, which was one of the last at-large teams to make the field this year, proved parity in college basketball is real. The combination of prominent programs losing underclassmen at faster rates and scholarship reductions have helped mid-major schools become more competitive. The coaches believe they deserved to be rewarded accordingly.
Is anyone buying this? Anyone? You really think the coaches in the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, etc. are really up and arms that some "worthy" mid-majors or small schools are being left out? Please. They could care less. And sure, some of those bids would go to the mid-majors or smaller schools, but the overwhelming majority would go to .500 or below teams from the power conferences. Does anyone really want to get excited about Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt? I didn't think so.

(And besides, if some mid-majors do get in - either at the expense of some power schools or knock off some power schools once they are in - that does not bode well for those coaches who are worried about their job security. No, the last thing this is about is the mid-majors.)

Any by the way, parity isn't "real." George Mason was a fluke. (Not the team, but the fact that a mid-major went to the Final Four. Don't expect that to happen again anytime soon.) The reason mid-majors RPI's are so high is because they all play eachother (give them credit, they do have good records). It's not like mid-majors - with the rare exception - are regularly polishing off power conferece schools. Throw any mid-major in a power conference, and they aren't entering The Dance with 25-3 records - if they are going at all.

Yea, the gap is shrinking, but slowly. A 16 still won't beat a 1. What's shrinking faster, the small schools distance between the big boys, or US Soccer's gap between them and the rest of the world? Who knows. Translation: they ain't close yet.
• Now that the NCAA controls both postseason tournaments, coaches think it's time to include some of the bubble teams that annually complain when they are left out.
You think teams 129 and 130 and 131 won't have a gripe under this system? No matter where the cutoff line is, the teams just on the outside of it will complain. Just the way it is. The only way to stop that would be to let everyone in - and then there would still be complaints about seedings and where games were played...just draw a line and be done with it. 64 is perfect.

The coaches, by asking for 128, may get a significantly lower number - mayeb 68, 80, 90. So give 'em credit, they aren't stupid. But don't think for a second this has anything to do with mid-majors. George Mason is merely a fortunate catalyst that fell into the laps of the teams that regularly finish 5th and 6th in the power conferences.

Of course, there are some upsides. Gus Johnson would get to call more games. So that's a positive if there ever was one. But that's about it.

Please, please, live The Dance the way it is. Its about the only thing the NCAA hasn't completely screwed up. Please.

64 is perfect.

Read the Rest After the Jump...