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Recently I had a chance to answer some Eastern Conference-related questions for Eddy Rivera of MagicBasketball.net, a longtime friend of the BBR Blog. In the interview, we chatted about not just the Magic, but also the Heat and the Celtics. Check it out!
"Trying to compare the Heat to anything that has ever come before is an exercise in futility. You have the best player in the league, who happens to LOVE to pass teamed up with the second-or-third best player, who also is pretty fond of passing to the open man. They may both have had similar styles, but they ended up in those styles due to their teams' set-ups. How LeBron will act now that he can people to pass to who are good in their own right cannot be predicted with the information we have.
There's never been anything like it before. Every Heat game is going to be worth watching, especially against the crappy teams, because you don't know what sort of thing they'll bring out when they're way ahead. It wouldn't surprise me if they have regular season games where Miller shoots 20 3s and scores 30+ points, just because they think it'd be fun to do. This Heat team goes way beyond special into the realm of surreal."
Here's a post for fans of players who provide a lot of bang for the buck: over at Basketball Prospectus, Marc Normandin used their SCHOENE projection system to put together a list of this summer's best under-the-radar acquisitions (including underrated new Chicago Bull Ronnie Brewer).
"...It's not even the high cost of mediocrity that kills teams--it's the duration of it.
This jumped out at me over the course of compiling my position-by-position rankings of free agents. Sprinkled throughout these lists are players who have long since ceased to have any value to their team and have hung around solely because of their contract. [...] Often, like Antonio Daniels or the more extreme case of Cuttino Mobley, injury is a culprit. Sometimes, the player just aged. And occasionally, as in the case of Trenton Hassell, the contract was simply a mistake from day one.
...I see the takeaway as how teams can get themselves in trouble with the lengths of the contracts they offer as much as the yearly salary."
This is definitely true, and it's something the stats community has argued for a long time. True superstar free agent deals (Michael Jordan re-signing with Chicago in '96/97, Shaquille O'Neal signing with L.A. in '96, Kevin Garnett re-signing with Minnesota in '97, Tim Duncan re-signing with San Antonio in 2000, etc.) have largely been worth it. Likewise, low-cost players at the other end of the free agent spectrum invariably produce a good return on the investment: they come at no risk, and they’re usually just short-term deals, so if they flop, there are no long-term repercussions.
The middle class, however, is where ugly contracts are born. GMs have a long history of ignoring obvious warning signs when going after middle-class “established veterans”, which is why using the mid-level exception is usually a detriment to teams, not an advantage. The moral of the story is this: go all-in with your superstars, but when filling the rest of your roster, stick to the low-budget model of building through the draft and signing useful low-priced FA’s. And whatever you do, don't give long-term deals to middling players, because you will get burned.
Basketball is all about sharing, about unselfishness, about legends like Bill Russell doing whatever it takes to win. But apparently it's also about who has the bigger... um, contract.
You see, all we heard these past few days was whether LeBron and D-Wade could co-exist as "Alpha Males", or that LBJ joining Wade in Miami is supposedly something a true "Alpha Male" (ostensibly referring to Kobe or MJ) would never do... It's curious that this hyper-macho view of basketball first began to emerge less than two decades ago, though. Like a commenter said yesterday, the Michael Jordan era was so transformative that we may very well have have convinced ourselves that the MJ-Pippen formula (and the Alpha-Beta designations contained therein) is the only way to view the game. Heck, Bill Simmons even wrote a 700-page book that revises the entirety of NBA history to match that ultramasculine theory of basketball.
Yet in those same pages Simmons also extolled the virtues of "The Secret", which is allegedly about sacrificing numbers, money, and individual glory for team success... Well, isn't what LeBron did last night the living embodiment of The Secret, leaving millions on the table and turning himself into a hometown villain, all for the sake of winning? If Vince Lombardi was right and "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing", then LeBron made the only rational decision last night. But the dirty secret of commentators like Simmons is that winning by itself is not good enough -- you apparently also have to win while simultaneously vanquishing the idea of another male rival sharing your spotlight, because god forbid that another Alpha could possibly question your hoops authority when you're doing all that winning.
Oh, but I forgot, basketball is the ultimate team game, and it's all about sacrificing stats and glory for championships, right?
I guess this LeBron situation provides the ultimate opportunity for people to put their money where their cliches have been all these years.
"Miami Thrice," they're calling it, and it would be perhaps the most impressive collection of individual superstars ever assembled on a single team. What seemed incredibly unlikely at the start of the free agent period is actually looking more than possible now, as reports claimLeBron James is "leaning towards" joining Dwyane Wade and the newly-signed Chris Bosh in South Beach to create a megateam of historic proportions.
But here's the question: if this trio gets together, what kind of damage can we expect this wrecking crew to inflict on the rest of the NBA? ESPN's John Hollinger weighed in with a PER-based analysis a week ago (he said Wade + Bosh + James + 10 replacement level ballers = 61 wins), but his system also dramatically underrated what the 2008 Celtics would do (he said 51 wins -- and I said 48, btw, so he didn't have a monopoly on being wrong), and that's the most recent example of a similar 3-star amalgamation.
In fact, the only method that correctly ballparked the C's greatness? Adjusted and/or Statistical Plus-Minus. So let's see what those systems see in the cards for a team with James, Wade, Bosh, and a bunch of nobodies.