Archive for April, 2014

Myles Turner picks the Texas Longhorns over the Kansas Jayhawks, SMU Mustangs, and others

Posted by    |    April 30th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

LET’S RIDE.

And there it is. Myles Turner, a five-star center and McDonald’s All-American from Euless (Tex.) Trinity, committed to the Texas Longhorns. Turner picked Texas over the Kansas Jayhawks, SMU Mustangs, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Duke Blue Devils, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Texas A&M Aggies.

Turner is ranked 4th nationally in the 247 Sports Composite Rankings. He joins Jordan Barnett, a small forward from Missouri, as Rick Barnes’ two-man 2014 class.

Myles Turner (No. 2 overall) commits to the University of Texas pic.twitter.com/f2hXyr45pk

— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) April 30, 2014

We’ve written ad naseum about Turner, but in case you need a few more words…

HOW HE FITS IN

I’d pencil Turner in as the starting 4, but it’s not a given he starts from Day 1. That starting gig is conditional on whether Jonathan Holmes‘ can develop as a 3, whether Barnes believes he can get consistent guard play from multiple returnees, and whether Turner is ready to make a move into the starting lineup in the first place.

Whether or not Turner starts, he should be a significant rotation player. Cameron Ridley averaged 25 MPG last year, and Holmes has yet to break the 25 MPG mark in any of his three years on campus. I expect that to stay static, meaning Turner’s minutes will come at the expense of Connor Lammert and/or Prince Ibeh (and any marginal minutes Holmes can play at the 3). Simply put, Turner–right now–is a better scorer than Lammert and a better defender than Ibeh.

Turner looks like a prototypical stretch 4 in the NBA, a position currently in vogue. At the Nike Hoop Summit (a USA Basketball event), Turner checked in at 6′ 11.5″ (with shoes), sporting a 7′ 3.75″ wingspan. For reference, he’s eye-to-eye with Lamarcus Aldridge, and an inch shy in reach.

Turner has a perimeter stroke that deserves respect, though he hasn’t exhibited the ballhandling skills of a big like Karl Towns. His ability to make hay in the post won’t be compared to Jahlil Okafor anytime soon, but he should be able to score inside due to sheer height, athleticism, and will. On defense, Turner is a plus shot blocker. It’s not a jump up and down exercise like Ibeh. Turner is opportune and should be a great help defender, especially with Ridley clogging the inside. Rebounding shouldn’t be an issue, assuming he has want to.

On offense, Turner will be a deadly secondary big next to Cameron Ridley. With Killa Cam taking care of everything inside, Turner provides 4-out floor spacing with the potential to add to Texas’ cadre of offensive rebounding studs. A twin tower defense sounds promising as well, though any good team worth its salt will force one of the giants to perimeter defend, counting on the fact that Texas will score less than it gives up.

There are guys who peak at 18, guys who hit the NBA running, and guys who take time to mature and develop. Kevin Durant made his first All-Star Game appearance when he was 21; Lamarcus Aldridge got his at 26.

Turner has worlds of potential, but I’d temper expectations. Remember when we expected Ridley to come in averaging 12/8 as a freshman? Check that development curve for bigs again. I don’t expect Turner the freshman to be a dominant freak of nature like Anthony Davis, nor am I banking on him flashing advanced low-post skills like a Jared Sullinger or Jahlil Okafor. Instead, he will need to maximize his existing strengths (good shot, tall tree, quick-twitch athleticism) and develop more competitive advantages over time.

There are folks clamoring that, a la Aldridge, Turner will stay two years. I personally think his size and skill set make him too enticing for a 2015 NBA Lottery team to pass up, but time will tell.

BEYOND TURNER

Marcus Smart. Julius Randle. The Harrison twins. Kelly Oubre. Justise Winslow. These are but a handful of recent elite Texas blue chippers that Barnes put on his wish list, only to see them commit elsewhere. The “We’re Texas” spiel hadn’t been working in Lone Star living rooms. Barnes looked to be digging a deeper hole after burning his Houston connections by running Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis out of the program.

Let’s just say things have changed. Last spring, Barnes surprised by landing Kendal Yancy from greater Dallas and Isaiah Taylor from Houston, plucking them from two historically anti-Texas AAU programs. Timing and luck played a factor, as Yancy was a December decommit from a USC program in transition while Taylor flew under the radar (300th best prospect in the nation, ladies and gentlemen!). You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from. Instead of landing another rotten apple to sign early, Barnes found two gems instead.

Still, the Longhorns had little to show in the 2014 class. Aside from the Barnett commitment springing out of nowhere, about the only time the word “Longhorns” was uttered occurred when a prospect said he was no longer considering them (see: Mudiay, Emmanuel; Winslow, Justise; Jackson, Justin). Even the Turner recruitment stayed quiet, with the Kansas Jayhawks taking the early lead and national schools like the Duke Blue Devils seemingly feeling good about their position.

Barnes kept plugging away, turning in a surprisingly successful season that lent positive vibes to Turner’s recruitment. Barnes also hired former Longhorn Jai Lucas as a special assistant, an underrated move that built a bridge to Houston pied piper John Lucas, Jai’s father. Rebuilding capital isn’t one fell swoop; it’s finding inefficiencies and exploiting them over time. And for Rick, it feels like some kind of miracle.

Turner’s favorite player is Kevin Durant, a fact also uttered by former targets like Randle and Devonta Pollard. Unlike those prospects, Turner is actually coming to Texas. As Barnes looks to the future and has to find replacements for guys like Holmes, Ridley, and Taylor, prospecting in-state once again looks like a viable option. He’ll find the guys that want to go fill the shoes of not only Kevin Durant, but also Myles Turner.

What’s the bottom line?

We’re Texas. And we’re back.

Pound Sterling: Donald Sterling & The Cheap Currency of Media Outrage

Posted by    |    April 29th, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Welcome to Hollywood. Let’s all stay on script.

The reactions to LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s TMZ released audio recordings have been vocal and outraged.

Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports.

SB Nation’s Tom Ziller.

Those were the calm ones.  They’re understandable instant reactions, but I’ve yet to see many in the media advance the story beyond the obvious and unanimous.  One Los Angeles columnist tried, suggesting that Sterling might feel more comfortable owning a hockey team, missing the point impressively and proving she’s incapable of scoring against an empty net.  Sterling pulled his goalie on a power play and she managed to drill the puck into her own forehead.

The Background

Sterling’s former mistress – a half-black, half-Mexican woman more than forty years his junior recorded conversations with Sterling in which she baited the 81 year old owner into expressing neanderthal racial views, mostly centered around his insecurity for her “broadcasting” associations with black men.  Reading Yahoo’s Dwyer (who is usually fun and entertaining) paint her as a victim of misogyny was chuckle-worthy, but it keeps the narrative uncomplicated, the flows of outrage within the boundaries of the accepted banks.

Sterling operates a franchise in a black-dominated league and this creates, as the marketing types who make quote signs in the air with their fingers are wont to say, “bad optics.”  The league’s 30 owners are mostly white, their 400 elite employees are mostly black, but everyone’s mistresses span the color palette like a Benetton ad and they’re all united by green.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by Sterling’s comments.  Sex and jealousy have long been vehicles for dredging up unexamined racist feelings that men spew in a fit of impotent anger…

Much like driving in LA.

If a bile-spewing NBA billionaire chiding his bi-racial mistress for being seen with other minorities isn’t strange enough, Sterling’s unlikely defender – his current wife – contends that he was entrapped by a gold-digging opportunist with multiple aliases and a history of seducing rich men; a woman who had vowed “to get even with him” in part because of an on-going lawsuit filed against her by the ex-wife for Donald frittering away 1.8 million dollars in community assets on said mistress.

Reassuringly, the audio’s validity has been thoroughly investigated by the crack journalists at TMZ and apparently everyone is satisfied that it’s as reliable as a Lohan up-skirt video.

The truth is that Sterling has a lengthy history of reptilian behavior and no one is particularly interested in giving him the benefit of the doubt.  He’s Loathsome Rich Guy straight from central casting.  A propensity for wearing silk shirts unbuttoned to his navel while festooned in gold chains, a generally horrific history of ownership and a long record of these sorts of incidents does not help his Q score.

In short, Donald Sterling is a creep.  We get that.  Writing that article isn’t terribly hard.  But boy, it’s everywhere.

We can do better.

The Divine Right of Kings

Do racist creeps have the right to own a basketball team?

They do.  But it’s in the best interests of the league that they do not.  Or to do it much more discreetly.

The query freezes other NBA owners in their tracks. While they may not like Sterling, will curse him for his stupidity and will roundly condemn him for jeopardizing labor relations, they’re also not very interested in their peers impinging upon their privileges when they act badly.

Former NBA commissioner David Stern, for all of his condescending bluster, was terrified of Sterling’s litigating prowess and never had the courage to tackle him.  Donald’s previous offenses never created a coalition of outrage sufficient for action.  Adam Silver has a clear coalition for action and the lifetime ban was a necessary use of that power.  The NBA leadership didn’t suddenly grow deep principles.  This is self-preservation.

Will the owners vote a 3/4 supermajority to force a sale?

Generally, kings don’t support revolutions against other kings. Even bad ones.  Keep up the charade of divine rule for all or it may be your head on the guillotine one day.  Precedent is a dangerous thing.  Instead, they’ll lock him in a dark tower in an iron mask.  Banishment should suffice.

Cry Me A Rivers

While Sterling’s deep dive into his primal brain reveals ignorance, who are his victims? His victims in various housing discrimination lawsuits are clear enough.  Who are they here?

Who did Sterling harm?

I mean beyond the general societal sense of rhetorical pollution poured into the commons.  Or himself.

According to most of the media, the specific harm is to his players, his coach and NBA players in general.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Sterling’s reputation is well known and assiduously documented.  For every public story – and there are plenty – there are a dozen more in the NBA grapevine.  The latest orgy of outrage is a day late and a pound sterling short.

Sterling has had a long record of hiring black executives (Elgin Baylor had a two decade run as his GM) and coaches (Paul Silas, Dennis Johnson, Alvin Gentry, Don Chaney, Doc Rivers) and his player composition was never classic Bostonian.  Whether in basketball or mistresses, clearly Sterling can compartmentalize.  He was also cheap, small-minded and terrible.  When the cheap part changed and the Lakers tanked, suddenly working for Donald Sterling didn’t seem so bad after all.

This clearly informed the talent market.

A respected black head coach, Doc Rivers, chose the Clippers because they had great players, he had no interest in a Celtics rebuild and SoCal is a fun place to be wealthy.  We’re to believe that this was the first time a 30 year NBA (playing & coaching) veteran had heard of Donald Sterling’s issues?  He didn’t ask around before taking the gig?

Are we really going to play that game?  If we are, the necessary partnering assumption is that Doc Rivers has an IQ close to his old jersey number.  Nope.

What about the Clipper players?

In 2012, Blake Griffin chose to extend with the Clips for five years and ninety five million dollars.  Chris Paul chose to come there and play Pied Piper for other free agents.  He just extended in 2013 for five years and one hundred and seven million dollars.  These are two smart, aware guys who understand their brand.  They didn’t know about Sterling? They’ve never seen a newspaper?  There’s no institutional knowledge in the NBA?

This is not a plantation.  This is a market.  With intelligent, informed labor performing their own calculus of risk and reward and choosing the best organizational expression for their amazing talents.  Spare us the junior college sociology exploitation diatribe.  It fails on every conceivable level.

Everyone in the Clippers organization knows the deal with Donald Sterling.  So does everyone in the NBA.  No one is shocked right now, whatever their pantomime for the press.  They may be pissed.  They may be disappointed.  If they’re hurt, it’s because the cold exchanges of the market have been laid bare before a finger-wagging press and they’re now expected to do something besides work hard and cash checks.  You’ll see something symbolic tonight meant to heal us all.  I’m sure some will find it poignant.

The affirmative choice by black coaches and players to work for the Clippers with free agency – in every sense of that phrase – describes the real complexities of this league and human interactions.  These are grown men who clearly believed Sterling is a distant buffoon with minimal impact on their day-to-day lives.  The owner’s actions broke his part of their implicit agreement – he was supposed to keep his ignorance manageable.  Before the latest incident, they found his behaviors relatively inconsequential compared to the money, the promotional opportunities and social connections of playing in LA as part of a legit title contender.

There are Apple employees who performed a similar calculus the first time Steve Jobs bounced a crumpled piece of paper off of their heads and called them idiots.

The Clippers players and coaches were never there to vouch for Donald Sterling’s character.  Nor are they his victims.  They don’t need protection or pity.  They’re smart professionals who went to work for an awful boss and underestimated his ability for public suicide.  The eventual upshot is a better organization once the trash gets taken out.

Spare us the violin music.

The Opportunity

Fortunately, there’s an opportunity here.  Sterling’s lifetime ban effectively denies him enjoying the privileges of ownership to such an extent that his only way out is a sale – quite possibly to Magic Johnson’s ownership group – a fitting coup de grace and a nice lesson about what real empowerment looks like.  Sterling has little leverage and Magic can now put the negotiating screws to him.  Johnson is already banging Twitter so that the owners will force Sterling out within a specific time frame, robbing Donald of even a shred of leverage and the chance for competing bidders to ready their best pitch.  Magic still sees the court better than everyone else and he knows how to break down a defense.

Justice is best served cosmic.

Tolerance Lessons By After-School Special

The same theater and concern for optics that underlies so much of this was at work when the Los Angeles NAACP recently rescinded their offer of Sterling’s second Lifetime Achievement Award.  That’s right – the word preceding Lifetime Achievement was SECOND.  Revealing that the Los Angeles NAACP has trouble understanding the concept of a lifetime as much as the concept of achievement.

The concept of tolerance is most often talked about in its elevated, abstract, groovy forms and once admirable but now corrupted organizations are too often our societal anointing agents.  But a grittier, real world form of tolerance is more crucial for societies and markets to work – tolerance for that which we find distasteful but does not actually harm us, particularly when the benefits outweigh the negatives.

The Clippers and the NBA exercised tolerance for Sterling’s prejudice because it was largely inconsequential next to the larger merits of his franchise, just as Sterling “tolerated” paying black men to run his basketball empire because of their skills and genius.  A billionaire who may privately think poorly of the millionaires in his employ isn’t necessarily harmful to them without consequential actions behind it.  If revealed, the harm is only perceptual.   But perception drives markets and undermines confidence.  We all see that now.  Sterling forgot it.

Every day we transact with people whose views – particularly if they were revealed to us through the prism of their calculating ex-mistress – would startle and offend us.  But we don’t need to love, to like or approve of someone to find use in them when we enter into consensual agreements that benefit both parties.  We’re also free to shun them. And sometimes should.  This is the real world of grown-ups – not the staged theater of outrage.

While tabloid recordings force us to shake our heads at an insecure dinosaur and we bate our breath for V Stiviano’s sex tape reality show next career move, it seems for many in the media that their real discomfort is in moving beyond easy outrage and exploring a much more interesting world beyond.

Earl Thomas Gets Paid

Posted by    |    April 29th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

One of the NFL’s leading Longhorns makes good.

February’s demolition of Peyton Manning and the Broncos earned Earl Thomas his first Super Bowl ring. If Earl wants to buy some more bling to accentuate it, it’s unlikely that he’ll need to use the Dez Bryant Layaway Plan.

The former Longhorn got paid to the tune of a 4 year, $40 million extension from the Seahawks for doing things like this:

Thomas’ deal makes him the league’s best-paid safety in terms of Average Annual Value (AAV) with a cool $10 million per. His only real competition for Best Centerfield Safety honors, Jarius Byrd, hauled in a 6 year, $54 million contract from the Saints. Thomas’ deal has Byrd’s beat on total guaranteed money ($28 million to $26 million) and the fact that Thomas is very likely to see every dime, whereas Byrd faces long odds of cashing the combined $17.2 million due him in his age-31 and -32 seasons. In fact, Thomas has a good shot of landing one more big-money deal in his career as he’ll only be 29 when this contract is up.

Is he worth it? Getting paid by the Seahawks is one good indicator – the Carroll/Schneider regime is smarter on defense than anyone in the league (we’ll just politely cough and ignore their Sidney Rice/Zach Miller foibles on the other side of the ball.) More objective measures are…tough to come by. Baseball has made great strides in assigning objective, dollar-based value to performance while football is still closer to tummy time than to baby steps. I’ve taken a crack at a performance-based system for the NFL (here’s a rough outline of the concept), and it put a price tag of $7.2 million on Thomas’ 2013 performance. If that evaluation was dead-solid-perfect (and it certainly isn’t), paying $40 million for four years of that performance isn’t a bad deal at all. 2015-2018 cap dollars will be undergoing serious inflation according to current projections, while Thomas’ athleticism shouldn’t suffer any real age-related fall-off during that stretch.

What’s more, my system almost certainly understates Thomas’ real value. It’s largely based on objective measures of his passing-game performance – a melange of cover snaps played to number of times he’s targeted, yards allowed per coverage snap, receptions allowed per coverage snap and Yards Per Attempt on balls thrown his way, with touchdowns and interceptions factored in. What the system can’t measure is how much Seattle’s base, single-high safety scheme demands from Thomas in terms of range, instincts and playmaking ability.

Thomas is a versatile guy, and he’s capable of dropping down to cover the slot. Check the above video at 2:51 for a great example of him handling a fade from the slot and turning in a cornerback-caliber hip flip/box-out/high point combo. But the majority of Seattle’s defensive looks have Thomas lined up 15-18 yards from the line in centerfield while strong safety Kam Chancellor patrols the box. They work the “you got the box, I got the back” division of labor is well as any safety duo since Tim McDonald and Merton Hanks* for the early-90’s 49ers. Chancellor and Seattle’s outstanding LBs play up and annihilate the spread passing/quick game concepts that teams like Denver used to destroy lesser secondaries. Richard Sherman and Unsuspended Seahawks Corner Du Jour play Cover One man or Cover Three deep-thirds while getting to cheat against out-breaking routes, and Thomas holds the whole thing together on the back end.

Want to hit a home run on a deep post? Forget it. Thomas is on the case, and his outstanding diagnosis and recognition capabilities mean he’s not going to drift if that’s where he’s supposed to be. Want to take your chances with a one-on-one jump ball against a corner up the sideline? Welp, now it’s two-on-one, because Thomas just covered more ground than a dude is supposed to cover and is arriving with the ball (1:30 above – later than usual, but still turning an incompletion into an interception against Larry Fitzgerald.) Want to work the soft zone between the middle linebacker and the deep safety?** Soft zone just got hard, bro – Bobby Wagner and Earl just put your tight end in a vice (5:03 above – Earl says no to Jimmy Graham.) And as a bonus, he’s plenty capable against the run (5:53 above – Earl gets a small measure of sweet revenge on Mark Ingram.)

All in all, it’s a richly deserved payday for one of the league’s most unique and indispensable dudes. Congrats and Hook ‘Em, Earl.

*Cowboys Fan Footnote #1 – %#$@ Merton Hanks.

**Cowboys Fan Footnote #2 – Also known as Jerry’s Free Candy Emporium when the MLB and deep safety in question are Ernie F. Sims and Jeff Heath.

Donald Sterling: Banned For Life

Posted by    |    April 29th, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Donald Sterling is being forced out of the NBA – but he will receive a nice parting gift -a 700 Million return on investment.

Donald Sterling, a breathtaking blend of incompetence and bigotry, is being told by the NBA to GTFO.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday that the owner of the San Diego Clippers will be fined $2.5 million and is banned for life from the NBA.

Sterling, 81, long known inside professional sports as an idiot owner who also held contemptible views on race, outed himself this past week  with the help of his 31-year old mistress.

Siver announced that he would recommend that the NBA Board of Governors elect to force a sale of the Clippers as soon as possible.

Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12 million. Estimates are that the Clippers, in the 2nd largest media market in the US, are worth at least $750 million.

After running the franchise into the ground for most of the past 33 years, Sterling will be forced out of the league with a $700 million ROI.

Is this a great country or what?.

McDonald’s All-American Myles Turner to announce collegiate decision on April 30

Posted by    |    April 29th, 2014 at 10:42 am

Please be Texas.

Decision day is almost here. Myles Turner, a five-star center and McDonald’s All-American from Euless (Tex.) Trinity, will announce his college decision tomorrow, April 30. Turner plans to announce his decision live on ESPNU’s Recruiting Nation, broadcast starting at 3:00 p.m. central time.

Turner never quite cut down his final list, though he ended up taking official visits to the Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kansas Jayhawks, Duke Blue Devils, and Texas Longhorns. Turner also took unofficial visits to the Texas A&M Aggies and SMU Mustangs, two other finalists. Over the past couple of weeks, Turner hosted in-home coaches’ visits from all of those schools except Ohio State and SMU.

Texas and Kansas are commonly thought of as the two front-runners, though local program SMU is a sneaky darkhorse. According to 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, Kansas still leads with 48% of experts selecting the Jayhawks (at time of publication). However, the “page 2” tab, representing the latest picks, shows 19 of 21 recruitniks choosing Texas. That includes Jerry Meyer, 247Sports’ national lead writer, and Matt Scott, a recruiting expert from 247Sports’ Kansas site.

Will Turner prove those recruitniks right by staying home to play for Rick Barnes and the Horns? Stay tuned.