What’s a Winning Streak?: Early Returns on Detroit’s Post-Josh Smith Post

(Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland, MLive.com)

(Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland, MLive.com)

They’re a juggernaut! They’re unstoppable! Next stop playoffs! Are all ridiculous things to say about the 2014-2015 Detroit Pistons. Especially the third one. And yet somehow it suddenly seems in play after the Pistons cut polarizing Power Forward Josh Smith. (NO JOSH! NO! SHUTUP! YOU ARE NOT A SMALL FORWARD! NOW, BE QUIET AND LET ME WRITE MY ARTICLE! HEY! I SEE YOU OVER THERE SHOOTING THREES! STOP IT! YOU’RE NOT A SMALL FORWARD!).

On December 22nd Tom Gores and Stan Van Gundy gave Detroit fans a Christmas present and Josh Smith a lump of coal and decided to just cut Smith, eat the $29 million remaining on his contract, and move on from yet another Joe Dumars mistake. The Pistons haven’t lost a game since. They are a sterling 5-0 without J-Smoove on the roster, and look universally happier and more productive. Now, this win streak is proooobably gonna come crashing down over the next couple games as the Pistons have to go on the road to San Antonio and Dallas in back to back games, but so what. I’m happy about the Pistons’ play for the first time this season.

The first thing this makes me think, then, is “Good Lord… how much of a locker room cancer must Smith have been?” In Joe Dumars’ last year at the helm in Detroit he brought in two guys, known to have attitude problems and to create locker room issues, Smith and Brandon Jennings. I obviously know nothing about what’s going on in the Detroit locker room, but I have to imagine something was up for such a drastic and immediate turnaround to happen. I mean… the Pistons grabbed as many wins in the last 5 games without Smith as they had in the entire season with him. They’ve gone from 5-23 to 10-23, and are somehow only 3 games back from the 8 seed in the East. It is also reassuring to see that Brandon Jennings (the other potential locker room issue) has seen his play return to the excellent form of early this year, (before he injured his thumb) in Smith’s absence, so it seems he’s not a problem at all.

In any event, the existence of locker room drama is not hard to believe when you consider all the Greg Monroe drama that’s been going on.

(Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

Greg Monroe is the keystone to Detroit’s 4 years and running rebuilding project. Detroit picked him #7 overall out of Georgetown in the 2010 draft, and he nearly immediately became the centerpiece of a new era of Detroit basketball. They followed that pick up by taking Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond as lottery picks in the next two drafts, and suddenly had the core of a new, young, exciting team loaded with potential. Now, they stupidly traded away Knight last year for Jennings, but the frontcourt core of Monroe and Dre is still intact (for now) and the only thing that ever made sense in my mind was for Detroit to build around these two.

Instead, however, Joe Dumars (put in the impossible position last year of make the playoffs or get fired) signed Josh Smith and threw everything off. Detroit had no need for Smith. Drummond was the starting center, and Monroe the starting Power Forward. Monroe was the backup center, and Detroit had a bevy of other 4s to back up Monroe at Power Forward (Jonas Jerebko, Josh Harrellson, etc). Signing Smith meant Detroit either had to start Smith at the 4 (his natural position) and bench Monroe or start Smith at the 3 where he would jack up innumerable terrible threes.

The Pistons ultimately tried both those plans… both of them failed… and they may have pushed Greg Monroe out the door in the process. This summer Greg Monroe signed his one year qualifying offer (something which NEVER happens) rather than signing a lucrative extension with the Pistons, risking his entire future and millions of dollars for an opportunity to not play in Detroit and not play with Josh Smith for the rest of his career. At that point I honestly felt like Monroe was out the door, and the team would NEED to give Smith his minutes since we would be moving on into the future with Smith as our starting Power Forward. However, now I have hope that that may not be the case.

Things are going so well right now, and there appears to have been so much tension lifted from this team with Smith’s departure, that I feel like Monroe may stop to make a calm, collected decision about his future after the season. He is obviously going to end up with a max deal, either in Detroit or elsewhere, so he needs to decide whether or not he was serious about leaving Detroit, or simply wanted to play without Smith. I think and hope it was the latter. And I think Monroe will see that too. The entire team, including Monroe, appears happier now, and if a few things fall right (a playoff run in the terrible Eastern Conference?), they could all be happier still.

Image via USA Today Sports

Image via USA Today Sports

When the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy they turned a page. All Van Gundy as ever done is turn losing franchises around and win games. You just knew he would fix the Pistons, we just didn’t’ know how long it would take. Now it looks like he may already have things on the right track. Can Detroit go 30-19 the rest of the season? Maybe. And if they do, and they end with a 42-40 record, which is probably good enough to make the playoffs in the atrocious East. Best case scenario for Detroit right now is to mimic Portland from last season.

(Photo Credit: Sam Forencich, Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Sam Forencich, Getty Images)

Two summers ago all the rumors out of Portland said that LaMarcus Aldridge wanted out and nothing would stop him. The Blazers had been a losing team for too long, and he wasn’t interested in spending the rest of his career in the lottery. What happened? Portland starting winning. And kept winning. And winning and winning and winning until they had somehow worked their way up to a 5 seed in the historically strong Western Conference last season, then parlayed that into an upset victory over Dwight Howard, James Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round. No more complaints of wanting out now, right LaMarcus? Winning fixes everything. Portland surrounded LaMarcus with a young studs in Damien Lillard and a cast of really good NBA players in their prime (Wes Matthews, Nic Batum) and it was off to the races. Aldridge re-signed in Portland and they’re now the TWO seed in the West. What a beautiful sight.

If Detroit made a run at a playoff spot maybe we could convince Greg to stick around in the same way. They already have the young stud to pair with him (Drummond) and have some solid players around him (Jodie Meeks, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jonas Jerebko, Brandon Jennings[love him or hate him]) There is a foundation for success here. It just hinges on Monroe returning to the fold and making his way into Stan Van Gundy’s oft grumpy but nevertheless loving arms. Moreover, the way the NBA salary cap works, Detroit can pay Monroe more money than anyone else, so if we can prove that we’re just as competitive as any of his other suitors it would only make sense for him to come back to town. Things are better now Greg!!! I promise!!! Look how happy your are with Andre in that picture up there!! ALL THE SMILES GREG!!! WE WILL GIVE YOU ALL THE SMILES IF YOU COME BACK!!!

Either way, I’m not gonna let myself worry about all that just yet. Right now I just want to enjoy this ride. It’s been quite a while since Pistons games have been imbued with “hope” (whatever that is… I wouldn’t know… I watched the Lions playoff game last night). So whatever happens this summer happens, but for now to Pistons look to be worlds better in 2015 than they were in 2014, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Time to sit back and enjoy the Drummond, StanVan, Monroe, and Jerebko era while its in front of us. [What’s that? You don’t think I should have included Jerebko in there? Think again fool. Look at this man.]

You beatiful hunk of man you, Jonas Jerebko. Keep doin' them Jerebko things.

You beatiful hunk of man you, Jonas Jerebko. Keep doin’ them Jerebko things.

Anyway, enjoy the Deeeeeeeeeetrooit Baaasketbaaaaaaaall folks.

Bridging the Pacific 94 Feet at a Time

great wall

The summer between my Junior and Senior years in college (May 2011) I went abroad to China for a month. This was a really amazing experience for me because I studied East Asian History. However, while I went to observe Chinese historical landmarks like The Great Wall (the brick one not the Dancing One), The Terracotta Warriors, and Tian’anmen Square, but the part of my trip I found most interesting involved a lot less pretentious history nerd stuff and a lot more frivolity (just the way I like to live my life).

No no no... not that Great Wall, the once with brick and stuff

No no no… not that Great Wall, the once with brick and stuff

I was in China from late May and early June, right in the middle of the NBA playoffs and finals, and while I never would have guessed it, this fact ended up shaping a lot of my trip. A group of other guys on the trip and I would always stop into various bars and watch some playoff games whenever we could just to get a taste of home. Now, at first this seemed like an incredibly mundane activity, but eventually it dawned on me that it was more unique than that. First off, we’re in China!! Why were they playing NBA games at all? And furthermore, there’s a twelve hour time difference between the US and China, meaning these games that start at 8pm in Miami would be starting at 8am in Shanghai and Beijing. In spite of this, Chinese bars would be packed early in the morning with guys heading to work, trying to watch as much of a game (which was taking place half way around the world) as they could before they ran off to their manic jobs in a nation obsessed with financial growth.

Dem Duckets Though....

Dem Duckets Though….

Moreover, this was all happening in a post-Yao Ming world. Everyone knows that Yao opened China as an NBA market. Chinese people looooooooved to root for Yao, and the Houston Rockets famously capitalized on this being the first team to grab a foothold in the Chinese market. But Yao has since retired, and his heirs have failed to capitalize on this growth and expand on it. (Yi Jianlian I’m lookin’ at you.)

You just never quite measured up, didja Yi. Never looked quite the same when you weren't posting up folding chairs... (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images North America)

You just never quite measured up, didja Yi. Never looked quite the same when you weren’t posting up folding chairs… (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images North America)

In the past I always assumed this meant the Chinese desire to watch the NBA would decrease rapidly. The narrative went, “Chinese people love to watch Yao. They like to watch a Chinese man compete with the Americans at their own game, but they don’t actually care about the game itself.” And yet… here I was in a different packed bar every day watching the NBA playoff games. But because I am as observant as a sleeping sloth none of this registered with me at the time. Ok hold that thought.

Don't worry, I'll get there eventually

Don’t worry, I’ll get there eventually

SO ANYWAY, while we were in Beijing we went to a university and got to hang out with some of the students there. I ended up meeting this Chinese guy who went by Jack and he was nice enough to show me around his campus. He pointed out all the security cameras as well as the paramilitary police stationed on every corner, all the political stuff I thought I was in China to see. While we were walking, however, he asked me where I went to school. I told him I went to UK and as I was preparing to explain to him that no, I did not mean the United Kingdom, I mean the University of Kentucky and to explain where exactly Kentucky was on a map he goes “Oh I know Kentucky. Rajon Rondo played there. He’s my favorite NBA player.”

a pair of rondos

I was stunned. Apparently, as I quickly discovered, Jack was a huge Celtics fan and loved watching the NBA. This was shocking for me for a few reasons. I was under the impression that lots of Chinese people loved the NBA but only to watch the Rockets and only if Yao was playing. But Jack explained to me that a lot of people are huge fans of the league. Moreover, he and his friends actually would hack through the “Great Firewall of China” on a regular basis so that they could watch games online and read ESPN.com articles (in English no less) about what’s happening in the league.

J.R. Smith was one of many NBA players to take the cash grab in China during the lockout (and find themselves temporarily stranded there afterwards http://www.craveonline.com/sports/articles/178911-nba-players-stuck-in-china).

J.R. Smith was one of many NBA players to take the cash grab in China during the lockout (and find themselves temporarily stranded there afterwards http://www.craveonline.com/sports/articles/178911-nba-players-stuck-in-china).

We also discussed the then upcoming lockout that was looming over the NBA. I asked him if he was excited that so many NBA players would be coming to play for Chinese teams during the lockout (as was rumored to be the case and ended up happening) but he was just as mad as most American fans about the whole situation. He was a Celtics fan. He wanted to watch the Celtics play, and he didn’t care if NBA talent was on loan in China. He just wanted to watch basketball of the highest level being played and didn’t want Chinese teams acting like vultures pulling players out of the league he loved.

What Jack’s story meant to me was that the NBA had formed a truly cooperative cultural bridge between China and the US. This isn’t necessarily a new concept. Sports can do this and its been proved it time and again. What is new, however, is just how little inherent animosity and antagonism appeared to exist in the relationship. A lot of times in the world of East Asian Studies “Westernization” is a dirty word because it evokes images of American cultural imperialism. Because of this even positive things like the use of baseball as a cultural bridge in Japan after WW2 can be viewed in a negative light (due to the fact that baseball was brought by the American Occupational Forces; the conquering heroes who taught Japan their game). One can also look at the antagonism between the NHL and KHL where the rival Russian league capitalizes on every opportunity to attack the NHL by luring away NHL players and violating NHL contracts to see how a shared love of sport doesn’t always bypass political animosity.

China and the NBA appear to be different. People become fans of the teams they love because they love a style of play or a specific player’s game. So near the end of my trip while I was sitting in an imitation Brooklyn-style Pizza restaurant in Hong Kong and watching the Dallas Mavericks upset the Miami Heat for the 2011 title I couldn’t help thinking about Jack. China is a country in somewhat of an identity crisis. An economic powerhouse which is ostensibly Communist but de facto capitalist, a merger of Western modernity and Eastern history and traditionalism. A country which denies many basic freedoms to its citizens but whose people bypass their government at every opportunity, all while being the second biggest market for the NBA, a socialist sports league which, in true capitalist fashion, creates more millionaires year after year than almost any company in the world.  In some ways then, the NBA really does define China better than a long wall, some clay soldiers, or the site of a 20 year old failed protest. Basketball and the NBA talk about China’s ‘now’, and are a big part of the current culture of China. This is today’s China. A hybrid chimera more interested in function than form even when traditional rhetoric begs to differ. So I guess in the end it makes perfect sense that a college kid in China would hack through a government enforced firewall to watch a kid from Kentucky play basketball in Boston 6,800 miles away. Basketball is just a game, but by watching this game modern Chinese citizens are defining their national identity, and choosing to pursue their own interests outside of a nation’s rhetoric.

The Mid-range Jumper: Persistent Dinosaur in the Analytics Age

(Image via Wikipedia and chensiyuan)

(Image via Wikipedia and chensiyuan)

The mid-range jumper and the long 2 have earned a reputation as the most inefficient and stupid shot in basketball at any level. Modern players just can’t seem to convert the shot on a consistent basis. Defenses are engineered to force opposing teams to take that specific shot. And it simply isn’t worth the risk if you’re going to create a long rebound which your big man can’t grab for you. In short you’re just really hurting your team with that shot. You probably won’t get points, you wont get the rebound, you risk giving up points on the other end on a fast break… its just stupid.

Now, I don’t mean to sound like a crotchety old man here, but I can’t help but believe AAU ball has something to do with this. Guys are taught to take it hard to the rack and get fouled. Use your superior speed and athleticism to either score, get an and-one, or shoot free throws. Now, this kind of play works great in AAU and High School games. It even still works with some guys at the college level, but once you land in the NBA that style of play has run its course for all but the truly elite.

(Photo Credit - Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

(Photo Credit – Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

 

Conversely, the layup and dunk will always be considered great shots as long as you’re not fouling someone. The terms “layup” and “slam dunk” have entered the vernacular meaning something that is so easy that it is almost certain to happen. So in short, if you can engineer a layup or a dunk under the basket for your team, you are helping them immensely. You have a high percentage chance of scoring 2 points and allowing your team to get back on defense and set themselves up to stop your opponents.

(Photo Credit - Rocky Widner, Getty Image)

(Photo Credit – Rocky Widner, Getty Image)

 

The other option scoring option (besides a mid-range jumper or a bucket under the basket) is a three. This shot goes in a lot less than a dunk and actually it goes in less than a mid-range jumper. However, with a jumper you are risking losing the ball and giving up points IN ADDITION to not scoring for only a 2 point return. With a 3 pointer you gain the incentive of an extra point, making it worth the risk, according to the NBA Analytics community. The opportunity cost is there and makes up for the risk. Moreover, the risk is further minimized when you shoot a three from the corner. A corner three is only 22 feet from the basket while a three from the arc is 23 feet 9 inches. A corner 3 is 21 inches closer to the basket and still gets you that extra point, so its a beautiful shot.

(Photo Credit - Pat Sullivan, AP Photo)

(Photo Credit – Pat Sullivan, AP Photo)

Enter the Houston rockets, Daryl Morey, and yes the Rio Grand Valley Vipers. Daryl Morey is the GM of the Rockets and the Vipers are the Rockets’ D League affiliate. Because we know 3s (especially corner 3s) and layups/dunks are the only shots reeeeally worth taking, and because we know that the mid-range jumper is both a bad shot and a team hurting shot, Daryl Morey, the mad scientist, has decreed that his NBA D-League team should shoot nothing but those 4 types of shots (dunk, layup, corner 3, and iiiiiiiiif you haaaaaaaaave to… a normal three).

On the surface this looks like a perfect plan. We have used scientific analysis, mathematics, and reason to determine what the best shots on a basketball court are. By taking these shots and avoiding inferior shots, science would dictate that this team win constantly. And actually, the Vipers DO win… A LOT. They’ve won 2 of the last 5 D League Titles and were runner up another year. Three trips to the title game in five years seems pretty good to me. So, this is the mindset the Houston Rockets entered into the playoffs with this season. The Rockets believed they had cracked the code to basketball success, and perfectly constructed a team to exploit these perceived market inefficiencies.

(Photo Credit - Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit – Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)

 

They had one of the best centers in the NBA, Dwight Howard, who can convert with ease under the basket offensively, and can prevent the other team from converting layups on dunks (allegedly the best shots in basketball) on the other end. They had an arsenal of lanky perimeter players who could run the court and bomb threes to exploit the other market inefficiency, the three point shot (and corner 3). And again, Howard is the 3 time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, so as long as their laboratory-built offense succeeded, he should have been able to clean up everything else on defense. A perfect storm. The only problem? They had to play LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers in the first round.

The Blazers are loaded with perimeter players just like the Rockets. Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and even rookie C.J. McCollum can hit 3s at an incredibly high rate, thereby neutralizing Houston’s 3 point advantage. Moreover, Aldridge hits the mid-range jumper beautifully meaning their plan to plant Howard under the basket and shut down dunks and layups is neutralized as well, because Portland can take, and make, a mid-range jumper instead.

Simply put, the long two is a part of Aldridge’s game. Over a lifetime he worked to add this shot into his arsenal, and has therefore given himself an advantage over the rest of the league. With a basketball culture that, from AAU ball through college and into the pros, has neglected this shot and in extreme cases (like Houston) even shuns it vehemently, Aldridge is a rare breed. And in the end the upstart, spunky Portland Trailblazers upset the mighty (and scientifically proven) Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

So Aldridge’s case, dovetailed with the AAU hypothesis, provides us with an alternative narrative to the mysterious case of the mid-range jumper. I think it is more of a lost art than a truly bad shot. In fact, it isn’t a bad shot at all because the individuals, like Aldridge, who have the shot in their arsenal find themselves with a monumental competitive advantage in the modern NBA (or college basketball for that matter).

(Photo Credit - Randy L. Rasmussen, The Oregonian)

(Photo Credit – Randy L. Rasmussen, The Oregonian)

Defenses are no longer prepared to defend the shot as efficiently as they could be because it is considered common knowledge that the shot is so bad that it defends itself. Yes players defend it, but a truly well executed mid range shot, like Aldridge’s, will simply be unstoppable.

Moreover, this phenomenon has resulted in a shift in the NBA. When I was growing up the narrative was always, “there are no big men in the NBA! You need to go all in for big men whenever you can!” and “guards (specifically shooting guards) grow on trees, never put any effort into finding one for your team cuz you can pick one up off the scrap heap whenever you like.”

However, this is no longer true. There are tons of big men in the league now, and there is a dearth of shooting guards in the NBA. Moreover there is a wealth of point guards… guys who can dish the ball to big men down low (for dunks) drive to the rack themselves (for a layup) or kick it out to an open teammate (for a 3). However, what we don’t have much of anymore is the big man who can step outside the paint and hit a jumper. We don’t have the shooting guards who can abort a drive and pull up from mid-range after breaking his man’s ankles and drain a shot.

The 90s are gone and they took their wealth of shooting guards with them. (Images via Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated and shattertheglass.com )

The 90s are gone and they took their wealth of shooting guards with them. (Images via Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated and shattertheglass.com )

I think the game of basketball is much worse off this way. Again, I’m sounding like an old man watching basketball in the 50s but we need pure skill and shooting ability to return to the game. The way things are now you really can break the game down to a science where its all numbers and percentages like the Rockets do. You can just grind away at those low variance, high benefit shots while ignoring the rest of the nuance of the game of basketball. You can’t really do this at the NBA level simply because there is so much talent around, but college? High School? And the lower levels of pro basketball like Europe, China, and the D League, you can, and that seems kindof sad to me. I hope in the future we can have more guys who can hit these mid-range shots coming up through the ranks, but I’m not sure the AAU culture will allow it. Its going to remain a select few. So maybe I’ll just have to settle for the loving the rare few who can do it for their competitive advantage and the utter domination they can unleash on their opponents.

(Photo Credit - Greg Nelson, Sports Illustrated)

(Photo Credit – Greg Nelson, Sports Illustrated)

In StanVan We (Must) Trust

(Image via Insider Sports)

(Image via Insider Sports)

The Detroit Pistons are a mess. Joe Dumars is a franchise legend, and his shrewd managerial skills brought Detroit the 2004 NBA title. In spite of this, however, he definitely needed to go this off-season. He was left with a win now mandate by new owner Tom Gores which is always the wrong thing to do since it encourages a GM to make ridiculous short terms moves to try and save his job, but Gores wanted, and needed, a way to cut bate with Dumars cleanly. In response Dumars, predictably,  made a lot of desperate moves in response.

(Photo Credit - Rocky Widner, Getty Images)

Brandon Jennings (left) and Coach Cheeks(right) (Photo Credit – Rocky Widner, Getty Images)

 

He brought in Maurice Cheeks (a borderline Hall of Fame caliber player as a point guard) as a coach, presumable to groom 2011 lottery pick Brandon Knight and help him finally reach his potential as a point guard. Then he promptly flipped Knight in a trade with the Bucks for Brandon Jennings… soooo you traded the much higher ceiling Knight, for whom you JUST handpicked a coach, and traded him for the better (for now) guard with a much lower ceiling in Jennings.

*sigh* goodbye again Brandon... (Photo Credit - Rob Carr, Getty Images)

*sigh* goodbye again Brandon… (Photo Credit – Rob Carr, Getty Images)

 

Then you brought in Joe Smith in free agency which sounds great on paper until you see the log jam Detroit’s anti-spacing glut of big men created in the Motor City. However, even this wouldn’t have been so bad when you consider that the Memphis Grizzlies had just fired their coach, Lionel Hollins, that off-season. Hollins is the coach who made Memphis’s spacing issues and overabundance of big men work to the tune of 4 consecutive playoff appearances and 3 series wins… including a trip to the Western Conference finals is 2012-13. Might have been a good coach to bring in to coach Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe (in a contract year), and Josh Smith, no? But oh wait… we hired a coach to groom the point guard we were going to trade. Got it.

(Photo Credit - Justin Ford, USA Today)

(Photo Credit – Justin Ford, USA Today)

So long story short, Dumars, partly of his own doing and a little bit because of the win now mandate he was saddled with, has left this team a mess. I had no clue how the team was going to move this off-season to try to fix things, but I wasn’t especially confident. I was hoping we’d go for Hollins as coach (which we should have done last year in the first place) and was just praying we would bring in ANYONE except Isiah Thomas to run the front office. Isiah will always be a Piston’s legend, and honestly I wouldn’t mind if Gores let him pull a Magic Johnson, grab a little corner of the Pistons ownership pie, and have a little bit of input with the franchise, but his stay in New York taught us he is anything BUT a good GM. He was one of the five worst GMs of all time.

(Photo Credit - Al Bello, Getty Images)

(Photo Credit – Al Bello, Getty Images)

However, it seemed fairly likely and somewhat reasonable to think they team would go for Hollins on the court and Isiah in the front office this off season. The main reason being this team needed a new face of the franchise. Drummond is so young that I don’t want to put that weight on him, and no other player on the roster warrants that kind of status. Things had gotten so bad that Dumars was  the face of the Pistons the last few years, and Detroit now needed to fill the void. This is why the rumors were yet again flying of bringing in Tom Izzo and handing him the triple title of President of Basketball Operations, GM, AND Coach. Now, I love Izzo as a college coach but this would have been an absolute disaster. At least a guy like John Calipari has NBA experience. Izzo is 59, and has 0 NBA experience. I would have been worried to give him the coaching job, let alone full control of the team. So with this possibility dangling on the table I would have been a lot more confident with Hollins, a proven winner with this type of roster (although no Marc Gasol would hurt Hollins’ and the Pistons’ chance of reproducing what Memphis has) as coach and Isiah *shudder* filling both the GM (hopefully with Gores and Hollins keeping his stupidity in check) and face of the franchise roles.

(Photo Credit - Eric Gay, AP)

Izzo could have been a face of the franchise and fans would have gotten behind him with the Michigan loyalty stuff, but… I mean… is this really the face you want to be the face of your franchise? (Photo Credit – Eric Gay, AP)

With all these things staring me in the face, then, I was ecstatic to hear we were bringing in Van Gundy. I got a little scared to hear we had given him so much control over the team when he too is untested in this arena. However, as a coach he is far and away better than anything I could have expected. This guy is way out of Detroit’s league of who they would have been able to get as their second target. Everyone knows how Pat Riley swooped down to steal Stan Van’s 2006 title victory. That was unfair enough considering it was Stan Van Gundy who kept that ship afloat before the Shaq trade. Stan still didn’t have any luck at his next stop either when the 6’10” 260lbs infant that is Dwight Howard decided he didn’t like trying hard, got his coach (SVG) fired, and then promptly left the franchise. Serves Orlando right anyway… HOWEVER before the Howard hissy fit Stan Van took the Magic in a Cinderella run to the NBA finals.

(Photo Credit - David Santiago, AP)

(Photo Credit – David Santiago, AP)

 

So the guy knows what he’s doing as a coach, and considering the current state of Deeeeeeeeetrooooooooit Baaaaaasketbaaaaaaaall he was waaaaaaay out of our league. As a coach this is beyond my wildest dreams for the off-season. If anyone is going to figure out how this mess (talent laden but a mess) could work, its Stan Van Gundy. The only fear, then, is with this President of Basketball Operations role. Stan is completely untested in this capacity, but honestly the only way for us to get Stan the Coach was to hire his buddy Stan the President and I’m fine with that. Someone who has as acute a basketball mind as Stan will figure this out. It was beyond gut wrenching to lose our lottery pick last night so that Cleveland could get their 3rd #1 pick in 4 years and 4th consecutive top 4 pick, but from now on I’m all in with the mantra of “in Stan we trust.”

Simply put there is a lot of talent on this roster. There is a lot of materiel to work with. I don’t know if Stan will be trading some guys to move pieces around, simply letting some guys walk, developing the guys we have or just cleaning house, and I really don’t care. I’m not staring into the abyss of an Isiah Thomas as GM era and if that means having the unproven SVG picking our assets then so be it. And in any event, I wholeheartedly approve of Stan the President’s first off-season move… bringing in Stan the Coach.

(Photo Credit - Jonathan Daniel)

(Photo Credit – Jonathan Daniel)

The Taj Mahal and Basketball: Making American Professional Sports Relevant in India

Million-Dollar-Arm-WeLiveFilm-Movie-Review

So Disney is coming out with this sports movie, Million Dollar Arm, this weekend, and ESPN (being property of Disney) and Bill Simmons (being associated with the movie AND a good company man) have been plugging it relentlessly. Now the movie is apparently PG and everyone plugging it is telling you to go in expecting a movie aimed toward kids BUT whether it is Stockholm Syndrome or legitimate excitement I’ve somehow talked myself into wanting to see this movie. I like John Hamm and the story sounds like one I’m legitimately interested in.

Dinesh Patel [left] and Rinku Singh [right] (Photo Credit - Doug Benc)

Dinesh Patel [left] and Rinku Singh [right] (Photo Credit – Doug Benc)

The film follows the unlikely story of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Long story short a down on his luck baseball agent heads to India to try to find the best cricket bowlers in the country, convert them into baseball pitchers, and be the first guy to bring an Indian baseball star to MLB. Now, Rinku and Dinesh ultimately didn’t make it big (although Rinku did become the first Indian player to play minor league baseball, and is still in the Pirates’ minor league system although he looks unlikely to get a call up to the majors) but that doesn’t make the story any less interesting. However, what I’m more interested in here is the broader story of American professional sports and an Indian audience.

Simply put, people involved in the business side of pro sports in America (and even England with the Premier league etc) see India as a massive market for expansion in terms of both fans and merchandising. The NBA is the poster child for this stuff in the post Yao Ming world. You see, before India was this lucrative gem of a market, China was where these guys wanted to expand their presence. Moreover, largely because of Yao, the NBA was able to sell a very non-traditionally Chinese sport to China with great success.

(Photo Credit -  Jeff Gross, Getty Images North America)

(Photo Credit – Jeff Gross, Getty Images North America)

So now these guys, and specifically the NBA, want to follow the same route with India [and again, I’m going to focus on the NBA because they seem to be the most likely to succeed to me due to multiple factors we’ll discuss, but soccer, baseball, and many other sports are going to be making the same efforts]. This makes sense financially. I mean… if you could get every person in India to give you one penny you’d have $12.4 million… which is enough money to pay for a year of Tony Parker, Kevin Garnett, or Serge Ibaka, its $100,000 more than you need for David West, a$1.3 million more than you need for Joakim Noah, and a whopping $2 million more than you would need to pay for Tim Duncan’s services for a year. Simply put there is a huge financial gain to be had here.

Ok, so there is definitely a lot of potential to grow the sport of basketball here . Moreover, as we already mentioned, the China experience provided a template for how the NBA in particular can expand into one of these leviathan sized markets with little history of liking their sports. Moreover, in some ways I think India is an even easier sell than China was. India already has an incredible sports culture in their country. The only issue for Americans hoping to expand there is that the sport of choice is cricket, a sport most Americans have zero experience with. Even further complicating matters is the fact that cricket absolutely DOMINATES the Indian sports community the same way Soccer dominates Europe. Everything will always be 2nd best to cricket in India.

Cricket is absolutely enormous in India and they, along with legendary rival Pakistan, are the sports best. (Photo Credit - AP and India Today http://indiatoday.intoday.in/gallery/ind-vs-pak-t20-world-cup-2012-photos/1/7859.html)

Cricket is absolutely enormous in India and they, along with Pakistan with whom they have a legendary rivalry, are the sports best. (Photo Credit – AP and India Today http://indiatoday.intoday.in/gallery/ind-vs-pak-t20-world-cup-2012-photos/1/7859.html)

So there’s one problem for the NBA. In China the NBA didn’t have any other sport to compete with BUT I don’t think the NBA is stupid enough to try to compete with cricket. All they need to do is coexist with it. As long as they go into the country with that attitude I think everything will be fine. Moreover, China had virtually no sports culture in the country when the NBA began taking its first footsteps into the country as a result of many factors such as Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution among other things. The NBA then built a sports culture in that country from scratch so I have faith that they can grab at least a corner of India’s sports consciousness.

However, as Yao Ming taught us, you can only truly energize the entirety of a potential market like this (rather than just those people who would have gravitated to your sport because they like the sport itself) by bringing in a national from that country to your league. That’s the kind of move that will make every day people pay attention to your sport. That’s the kind of thing that makes a Taxi driver in Mumbai chat with his customers about your sport.

However, as we learned from Yi “The Chairman” Jianlian, you have to be reaaaaally careful not to let greed get ahead of your scouting when you’re looking for these prospects from your desired market because you can end up with a major bust on your hands if you act too hastily.

Oh Yi... well... if you're gonna get posterized by Lebron James on live TV I guess you might as well do it with a smile... (Photo Credit - Mark Duncan)

Oh Yi… well… if you’re gonna get posterized by Lebron James on live TV I guess you might as well do it with a smile… (Photo Credit – Mark Duncan)

With that in mind, however, this year is setting up to be a critical period in the NBA to India efforts. To start with, about 12 months ago to the day (May 16, 2013) the NBA and Maloof family agreed to sell 65% of the Sacramento Kings to Vivek Ranadive, making him the first owner of Indian descent in the NBA’s history. Moreover, the other NBA owners approved Ranadive’s purchase of the Kings for around $535 million, when Seattle businessman Chris Hansen was offering more than double that amount as long as the NBA would allow him to move the team to Seattle and return the Seattle Supersonics to the NBA. On the surface this is a curious move. Why would the other owners have turned down DOUBLE the money AND a substantial relocation fee (of which each of them would get a part) in order to keep a team in Sacramento (a very small fanbase, and one which is not growing… aka not a lot of money coming in and not much more on the horizon) instead of moving the franchise to Seattle? Seattle is an enormous market comparatively with an already established fanbase… meaning there are piles of money ready to be poured into the league [for instance, jersey sales and all NBA affiliated gear does not go to the specific team whose name is on the jersey… it goes to the league and then aaaaall the money from aaaaall the team jerseys are split up evenly amongst the owners. So since you could sell a hell of a lot more Supersonics gear than Kings gear it would have been in the NBA’s best interest to put the team in Seattle].

Chris Hansen has been denied in multiple attempts to bring a team back to Seattle after the NBA colluded to steal their original team and move them to Oklahoma City. (Photo Credit - Elaine Thompson, AP)

Chris Hansen has been denied in multiple attempts to bring a team back to Seattle after the NBA colluded to steal their original team and move them to Oklahoma City. (Photo Credit – Elaine Thompson, AP)

The reason, of course, was that there are a lot more potential jersey wearers in India than in the city of Seattle. Vivek Ranadive was given the OK over Hansen because of his Indian heritage. Ranadive is very open about his desire to grow the sport of basketball in India. I really like the guy, even more so when you see how much he obviously loves the sport of basketball, and I think the other NBA owners saw this too (although for perhaps more disingenuous reasons). Ranadive, then, was allowed to purchase the Kings if he kept them in Sacramento. This helped the NBA in two ways. First, it allowed them to avoid another PR nightmare about stealing a team from another fanbase like they did to Seattle, and second it gives them their much needed in into India. Ranadive didn’t care about keeping his team in the smaller American market of Sacramento because he is trying to think bigger. He thinks the entire nation of India is his market, so why would he bother moving the team to another city? Moreover, he already got the ball rolling on his efforts to mobilize his Indian fanbase when he implored them to help make his superstar, Demarcus Cousins, (or as he would put it their superstar, the superstar of India’s team) into an all star this year.

(As an aside: I think that video actual does some really excellent subtle things when trying to energize Indian’s about NBA basketbal, specifically having the dance team perform a Bollywood inspired number dressed in Bollywood inspired cloths at the 1:06 mark. This is something Ranadive has (brilliantly in my opinion) pushed with his team, even dancing with his daughter in one such number during a halftime show)

The Ranadive family bringing Bollywood to the NBA!

The Ranadive family bringing Bollywood to the NBA!

The Cousins to the All Star game efforts ultimately failed in large part because of the many talented players in the NBA’s Western Conference, but also because of Boogie’s alleged attitude problems, but the point remains that Ranadive is for real about this India thing. If Ranadive’s longer term efforts are successful they won’t just benefit the Kings, however, but the league and the sport as a whole, and honestly I find the guy to be so like-able that I can’t help but hope for his success, even if it means the other, less fan-friendly owners benefit as a result.

Ok, so part one of the burgeoning basketball to India effort is this guy Ranadive being an NBA owner, but again, China showed us that really matters is players not owners. Chinese fans wanted to see their guy out there battling on the court with his country on his back, and I believe Indians will want the same thing. Enter the  7’5″, 360 pound Goliath that is Sim Bhullar.

(Photo Credit - Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

(Photo Credit – Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

As far as his basketball skills there’s no denying that his presence is felt on a basketball court. In his two years at New Mexico State, Bhullar led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament both years. While they were seeded fairly low and lost in the opening round both years, this year they took San Diego State (a 4 seed) to overtime and nearly pulled off the upset when Bhullar put the team on his back and went full beast mode. However, I’m still a little worried that he declared for the NBA draft too soon. I like that unlike a lot of these freakishly tall guys who run for the NBA he actually has weight on his frame… unfortunately he seems a little heavy. I would have liked to see him continue to develop his skills and tone his body at the college level. Ultimately, however, now seems like as good a time as any for him to declare since his stats didn’t improve at all between his freshman and sophomore years so he probably wasn’t going to improve any more at New Mexico. It makes even more sense  when you consider the NBA’s power play for Indian sports fans.

Bhullar almost led New Mexico State to an upset of #4 seed San Diego State in this year's NCAA tournament (Photo Credit - Steve Dykes, Getty Images)

Bhullar almost led New Mexico State to an upset of #4 seed San Diego State in this year’s NCAA tournament (Photo Credit – Steve Dykes, Getty Images)

If anything I think he’ll be a late second round pick if he’s lucky, and I’m just hoping a team takes a chance on him in hopes of gaining ground in India. It could be the Kings or anyone honestly as 2 teams pushing Indian fans would likely be better than one. Either way I think this is an important moment for him and  the league and I hope he succeeds. This year has been big for the NBA and its push for India and I hope they can make the next step. I hope this kid is closer to India’s Yao Ming than their Yi Jianlan. However, even if he fails the NBA is making a long play effort in the country by building basketball courts throughout the country in hopes that one day we can have an Indian John Wall or Steph Curry. Whether Bhullar is the guy or not, the NBA is serious about finding their Indian Yao.

In any even I have high hopes that the NBA will succeed with these efforts to become the second sport in India. They have the “cool” international sport (by American standards) and dwarf the NFL on an international scale. They made a move to bring in an owner of Indian descent who is hell bent on pushing his team and his sport in his home country. They have succeeded with this kind of play in a massive international market before with China, and they have a young kid right at their fingertips who, though he is incredibly flawed, could become the first Indian player in their league. I say all the time that my favorite thing about sports is rooting for flags. That’s why the World Cup is my favorite sporting event every year. I love when a nation gets behind a sports team, and I love how much those major competitions mean to everyone involved. For now, then, I’m rooting for India’s flag, and I hope the people there can fall in love with the sport of basketball the same way I did, and join the ever growing international community of basketball fans.

Indian-Flag-Wallpaper-Dekstop-600x375

There is no Jazz in Utah

So as I’ve mentioned before I’m big into sports nicknames and branding. I love when the identity of the team, the identity of the fans and the region, and the nicknames and uniform all come together in one big happy amalgamation of marketing love. That’s why I love the St. Louis Blues so much.

6097_st_louis_blues-alternate-1999

 

St. Louis may lose out to Memphis on the oldest appearance of the “blues” as a music genre on the American cultural scene, but the piano based blues of St. Louis, Missouri has its own vaunted place in music. Moreover, “blue” accurately describes the collective emotions of their fanbase and players over the teams 5 decades of existence, as they have repeatedly been denied postseason success (all the more painful this year after being upset by hated rival Chicago) and have never won Lord Stanley’s Cup. Plus, music based nicknames are just really cool. And I love that thing they all do with the music note in the logo. ANYWAY.

Let’s bring this back to the NBA. Relocation of teams sucks, but it happens. Fanbases give up on teams, scumbag owners steal teams, whatever. However, I think that whenever you steal a team, you shouldn’t be allowed to steal their name and their history too. I constantly root against the Thunder because those criminal owners stole that team from Seattle. I understand relocation as a sometimes necessary evil. If fans aren’t supporting a team, and another fanbase would, then fine… move them… However, in Seattle the fans DID support their team. Howard Schultz, Clay Bennett, and David Stern conspired to rip off the city of Seattle over a bullshit public funding hangup with a proposed new arena and shipped the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Now, at least they had the decency to change the team name, but whats more disgusting is that they stole the Sonics history as well. The Thunder claim to have won the 1979 NBA championship. Which is curious because they didn’t exist until 2008.

OKC... its bad enough that you stole their team AND stole Kevin Durant [2nd best player in the NBA] from them, but to ask for their memories too? No sir. (Photo Credit - Grant M. Haller)

OKC… its bad enough that you stole their team AND stole Kevin Durant [2nd best player in the NBA] from them, but to ask for their memories too? No sir. (Photo Credit – Grant M. Haller)

So theres a couple problems with this. The first is that I personally believe once a pro sports franchise has won a title in its current city it should never be allowed to leave. If a team is able to reach the pinnacle of its league, they stay put. This is why I had to give up my dreams of moving the Tampa Bay Lighting to Quebec City to bring hockey back to Quebec. The 2004 Stanley Cup makes the Lightning a permanent fixture in the NHL. So ok… OKC broke a golden rule of franchise movement… but then to steal the team’s history as well??? Come on… If you’re going to steal a team you should start from scratch.

Martin St. Louis earned the Lighting the right to hang out in Florida for the rest of their existence... in spite of the fact that hockey in the south is preposterous... and the fact that Florida already has another team... (Photo credit - Dirk Shadd)

Martin St. Louis earned the Lighting the right to hang out in Florida for the rest of their existence… in spite of the fact that hockey in the south is preposterous… and the fact that Florida already has another team… (Photo credit – Dirk Shadd)

The books should be wiped clean. As it stands now, even if Seattle managed to get a new team (something the other 29 owners refuse to do. Chris Hansen has offered double for both the Kings and the Bucks when they recently went up for sale AND offered to pay the league a relocation fee, but was turned down both times in favor of owners who would keep the teams where they were) they would not be free to name the team the Sonics (the scumbag Clay Bennett and his Thunder still own the rights to the name and any Sonics branding and merchandise) and they would not even be allowed to hang a banner for the 1979 title that that city won (because dontcha know… the THUNDER not the SONICS won that title).

In short it is absolutely despicable for teams to steal names and history from another city in addition to stealing their team. Its also terrible when guys like Vincent Tan come out of the blue and buy a 120 year old football club and unilaterally decide to change the team colors from blue to red which have been the same for those 120 years (and promptly drive the team into the ground as well).

Damn you Vincent Tan!!!

Damn you Vincent Tan!!!

Anyway, to return to the Seattle point I can’t be totally mad when Hansen gets blocked by other fanbases trying to save their teams. I like the idea of the NBA allowing Vivek Ranadive but the Kings instead of moving them to Seattle. Ranadive doesn’t care if he’s at a permanent economic disadvantage because as the NBA’s first Indian owner he things his real market will be back home in India, the same way Yao Ming made China Rockets fans. I for one am skeptical as a big reason basketball took off in China was their general orientation toward America (vs. an orientation toward England and the Commonwealth nations in general for India) and the presence of a legitimate superstar Chinese national (Yao) in the NBA. If Vivek can create enough interest now to get Indian kids to start picking up basketballs instead of cricket bats and push for an Indian NBA player in the next 10 years, then I think he’ll really have something, but for now I’m skeptical. The other owners don’t care if his franchise succeeds, however, because they’re just desperate for another massive marketplace to peddle their goods like they now have in China. Globalization in sports is huge now.

I for one am excited about the possibility of the NBA making strides in India, and I really like having Vivek as an owner, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the sport will actually take off in India. (Photo Credit - Jonathan Santiago)

I for one am excited about the possibility of the NBA making strides in India, and I really like having Vivek as an owner, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the sport will actually take off in India. (Photo Credit – Jonathan Santiago)

ALSO I’m not mad that the Bucks stayed in Milwaukee cuz, again, they’ve won a title in Milwaukee and I think that earns them to right to keep their team. They’re building a new arena so the Seattle excuse can’t be used against them. And Wisconsin is secretly a state that loves basketball. Marquette University and Wisconsin play top level college basketball, and the Bucks are honestly a fixture in the state.

The fan support behind the Bucks felt great, and I'm glad they don't have to lose their team. (Image via https://twitter.com/brewcitypaul/status/413752662140542976/photo/1 )

The fan support behind the Bucks felt great, and I’m glad they don’t have to lose their team. (Image via https://twitter.com/brewcitypaul/status/413752662140542976/photo/1 )

So Seattle will need to wait for their team. But thats not the real issue here. To turn back the clock to 5 sidetracks ago, lets talk about New Orleans Basketball. The Jazz was one of the best fitting nicknames in sports. It was so perfect. And then the Mardi Gras colors on the logos and jerseys? It was a beautiful site to behold. Look at it!

nojazz

Just perfect. However, things began to go south after the teams first 5 seasons in existence. New Orleans is honestly too small for 2 professional sports team, and if forced to choose, 80% of New Orleans residents would pick the Saints (another perfect nickname by the way) over the Jazz/Hornets/Pelicans/FightingAnthonyDavises.

So long story short it didn’t work out and the team moved to Utah. HOWEVER a cardinal sin was committed! Utah kept the name Jazz! Now, the nickname is still awesome. I still love the jerseys. But this is a terrible match! Jazz has nothing to do with Mormon Mountain Country! Over time the issue has become somewhat complicated I suppose by the fact that the Malone – Stockton – Sloan Jazz had some real success and now the name has become attached to Salt Lake City for a lot of guys 40 and under. But they haven’t hit that golden threshold of winning a title yet so I think changing the name is still fair game.I’d much rather root for Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Jazz than the freaking horrorshow pelicans…

This is the stuff nightmares are made of... not a mascot... (Photo Credit - Derick E. Hingle)

This is the stuff nightmares are made of… not a mascot… (Photo Credit – Derick E. Hingle)

However, I think there is one excellent solution to this whole issue. Jabari Parker.

(Photo Credit - Deanne Fitzmaurice, Sports Illustrated)

(Photo Credit – Deanne Fitzmaurice, Sports Illustrated)

 

As a Kentucky basketball fan I pay way too much attention to basketball recruiting. As such I’ve been following Jabari since his days dominating Chicago high school basketball at Simeon High. This guy is a stud and even though he chose Duke over Kentucky, I still enjoy following him. I wasn’t the only one though. The entire state of Utah, including the Jazz front office, has been following this kid. Why? Because Jabari Parker is a Mormon. Moreover, he, along with Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins, was in the top three battle to be the #1 overall selection in this years draft from the preseason onward. Moreover, I think its no coincidence that this year of all years is the season Utah chose to tank. Utah has been a contender for the playoffs or [more often than not] a playoff team. I think its no surprise then that they chose to blow up their team (letting both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap go this offseason for nothing) tank, and rebuild this season of all seasons. They’re in this for Jabari, and they’re almost there.

So … heres what I propose we do… to the rest of the NBA I would like to say… don’t you dare draft Jabari Parker… and to Utah once we give you Jabari Parker you better freaking do the right thing and become the Utah Mormons, the Utes, the Mountains, the Rockies, or whatever the heck you want you’ll have a superstar in the making to build around and one who matches your city and state better than any other …but whatever you do, just give New Orleans back their name, and let’s set at least one Franchise history wrong, right.

Do it for Pistol Pete Maravich, Utah. Do it for decency. Do it to prove you're not jerks.

Do it for Pistol Pete Maravich, Utah. Do it for decency. Do it to prove you’re not jerks.

The Precarious World of Pro Sports Branding

(Photo Credit - Charles Rex Arbogast)

(Photo Credit – Charles Rex Arbogast)

I love John Wall. That kid helped save Kentucky from the Billy Gillispie death spiral, and turned into a recruiting springboard that Calipari could use to keep the recruiting freight train that is Kentucky Basketball rolling.

Billy - "C'mon man!! Will the cheap shots never end?!?!" No Billy... they won't... (Photo Credit - Chris O'Meara)

Billy – “C’mon man!! Will the cheap shots never end?!?!” No Billy… they won’t… (Photo Credit – Chris O’Meara)

So anyway I’ve had a lot of fun watching this Wizards team knock out the Bulls. I forgot just how beautifully John Wall moves on a basketball court and how easy he makes it look. The guy is like a freaking ice dancer out there. Its beautiful to watch. However, I’ve actually enjoyed watching the entire process of the Wizard’s rebuild and re-branding that started in 2010 with the drafting of Johnny Wonder. I watched the NBA lottery that year and rooted for Washington to get the #1 pick the whole time. I always pay attention to whose gonna get drafted by the Wizards and who they bring in during the offseason. Most of the time that was a miserable cast of Nick Youngs and Andre Blatches, but this year they finally figured something out. And what’s more, that something is hilarious and fun to watch! I mean.. the Polish Hammer ALONE is enough to make me love this team. Who doesn’t love a big sloppy white eastern European center!

Look at this guy! You embrace that nickname you beautiful man you!

Look at this guy! You embrace that nickname you beautiful man you!

SO ferocious! Noone can stand in his way!

SO ferocious! Noone can stand in his way!

But he also has a tender side! He's the full package!

But he also has a tender side! He’s the full package!

So anyway, between Wall and Gortat I clearly approve of the Wizards’ roster overhaul. That’s not the only thing that changed though. In 1997 Abe Pollin announced that Washington’s NBA team would no longer be known as the Bullets. It was decided that in the wake of the “war on guns” and in light of the area’s extreme problems with gun crimes a name like “bullet” sent a bad message to young kids in the area watching the NBA. Now, this would all be fine and well, but they made two atrocious mistakes in re-branding their team. One was changing the colors away from red white and blue… there was no reason for this! And the other was choosing their new name… the Wizards… I’m a big proponent of team names fitting their area. So for instance I think the St. Louis Blues might be the best name in sports right now, and the New Orleans Jazz was the best sports name ever conceived (DAMMIT UTAH!!! GIVE NEW ORLEANS THEIR NAME BACK!!! Just become the Utah Mormons already). Wizards though? As far as I know there are no Gandalfs or Dumbeldores in Washington…

Look at this shit show. The colors... the concept... its all terrible... in fact, I would venture so far as to say this is a hate crime against Wizards everywhere. Someone contact Hogwarts and let's get litigious on this atrocity!

Look at this shit show. The colors… the concept… its all terrible… in fact, I would venture so far as to say this is a hate crime against Wizards everywhere. Someone contact Hogwarts and let’s get litigious on this atrocity!

HOWEVER starting in the 2011-2012 season the Washington Professional Basketball Team (copyright Bill Simmons and Joe House) reverted back to their original colors of Red White and Blue. This is only fitting seeing as they play in our nation’s capital. Now, they didn’t change the team name, but hopefully that’s in the works. They did, however, change something else to disastrous effect… the team logo…

wizards_alt_logo_hand

Ok so there are definitely some good things here. I like the simplicity of it. I love associating with DC and the subtlety of the basketball reference. However… and there’s no way to put this lightly… but… that, my friends… is clearly a phallus… there’s no way around it… *sigh*

I don’t know what this says about me but I realized this immediately a couple years ago when they launched this thing. I can’t believe I’m the only one, but apparently nobody in the Wizards organization realizes this. Either that or they already rolled it out and are now in full on ostrich head in the sand mode.

Ostrich Wizard

Now I assume they rolled out this logo with a couple things in mind. First it hearkens back to the old Bullets logo, and second its nondescript enough that if they do change the team name they can at least keep the logo. It associates with the team and the city but not the ‘mascot’ or ‘nickname’ so it left their options open. However… I think a redesign is necessary guys.

Clearly they drew inspiration for the "hands reaching for the ball" thing from their own logo, even if they didn't think things all the way through.

Clearly they drew inspiration for the “hands reaching for the ball” thing from their own logo, even if they didn’t think things all the way through.

I realize logos, nicknames, and colors shouldn’t matter to me. These are all branding things. They’re developed by marketing guys who just want my money. What should really matter is the team, the players, the history. However, this stuff has always mattered to me and always will. Teams that are associated with their area’s history and background just resonate better with me. The Cowboys in Dallas, The Bison in North Dakota, the Steelers in Pittsburgh. These are just great and they blow the Toronto Raptors (chosen because Jurassic Park was hot at the time and they thought it would make kids force their parents to buy the gear) or the Charlotte Bobcats (chosen by then owner Bob Johnson because he wanted his name to be included in the team name…). So I really hope the Wizards go through with this renaming thing, and redesign the logo while they’re at it. Then I can go back to being a bandwagon fan from afar of my beloved John Wall and Marcin Gortat. Otherwise this picture of Marcin Gortat cupping two balls will be forever tainted for me… and I just can’t have that.

gortat