Since we have a couple of days without a Golden State Warriors game, the GSoM staff took a gander at some of the basketball questions we care about the most as the season winds to a close. It’s like a podcast — but without weird intro music or people talking over each other!
The eighth seeded Denver Nuggets only have a half game on the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks. Meanwhile Oklahoma City and Memphis are basically tied for the seventh seed. Which of these teams scares you the most? And which one would you prefer to face in round one?
Derek: The Grizzlies’ unique lineups put a strain on the Warriors in a way that none of those other teams do. The Trailblazers, with their favorable locale and relative dearth of meat grinders in the front court, should be the Warriors’ preferred match-up.
Bram: Memphis scares me the most. Their team, though aging, still has the guts, savvy and experience to make life very hard for the Warriors; especially if they met in the first round. I’ll tell you which team definitely does not scare me: OKC. [Puts on sunglasses, strolls away]
Mike: If I had to pick one that I “fear” the most it’s Memphis, mostly for the reasons both Bram and Derek have alluded to. I have a close friend who is a Grizzlies fan, so that also happens to be my preferred match up, purely for bragging rights. I’m guessing, however, that the fans who don’t have a horse in this race would like to see Warriors vs Thunder.
Jason: I am the most scared of Memphis. I would prefer... Memphis. Here’s my thinking: out of those four teams, Memphis is the best. But barring injuries, the Warriors are favored in the first round no matter what. I’m a firm believer that defeating a tough opponent gives teams an edge as the rounds go by, and I think getting past Memphis would set up the Warriors the best for the second round. And if for some reason we lose in the first round, I’d rather it be to the Grizzlies than any of those other teams. Besides, what kin
gd of person makes choices based on what’s easiest?
Dhara: Grizzlies are the only team to beat us twice in this regular season (so far) and have the coaching and personnel to pose a challenge. Portland, Dallas and OKC are all equally preferable. The three-point shooting of Portland gives them the ability to steal a game depending on who gets hot, but the advantage is negligible. None of these teams would be able to take more than a game off the Warriors assuming everyone is healthy, but defeating Memphis would require the most effort.
Obviously, we all want Kevin Durant back as soon as possible, but let’s just look at the pessimistic side for a moment: How far do you think these Warriors can go without KD?
Derek: With the exception of the Rockets, every other team in the upper echelon of the West seemingly took a step back this season. Without Durant, a run through the Western Conference Finals and beyond is not out of the question.
Bram: I was suuuuper happy to see this last night:
Durant looked pretty comfortable shooting jumpers before the Mavericks game. didn't see him doing anything more explosive than this, though. pic.twitter.com/E51raIkkeY— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) March 21, 2017
So, I’m assuming he’ll be back, even as I pray that he doesn’t rush his return. But, if he does not come back, I actually still think the Warriors would be the favorites to win the title. Or, maybe second favorites behind the Cavaliers. As we’ve seen over the past week, the team is back from their mini-slump and have been playing and looking like THE WARRIORS!!!! for the first time since Durant’s injury.
Honestly, when Durant does come back, they might go through another rough patch — possibly in the playoffs, which is mildly terrifying — as he works back into game shape and as the team remembers how to get him the ball without sacrificing the flow and spacing they’ve rediscovered in the past few games.
Mike: Without him I would still like to see us get to the conference finals — assuming everyone else is at full health. From there it depends on the match-ups. I’m rooting for a Warriors - Rockets conference finals just to see how many offensive records could be broken. I’m more concerned about which version of KD we will see when he returns. We all know Curry wasn’t quite the same after returning from his injury last year; I don’t want to see Durant rushing back and not getting into form until next season like what happened with Curry.
Duby: Or worse, coming in at some partial fraction of readiness and gumming up the works...
Jason: No one is guaranteed the title, but there are realistically only a small handful of teams that can compete for it. With KD, we top that list. Without KD, we’re still one of those teams, but we’re not the favorites.
Dhara: Echoing Derek and Jason, Warriors could make it to the conference finals without KD. They would face a serious challenge in the Rockets or Spurs without him, and I think both those teams would beat a KD-less Warriors in 7 — though the Spurs should hypothetically be closer than Rockets.
First it was Ethan Sherwood Strauss with the anonymous anti-Draymond Green stories. Now it is another ESPN reporter, Chris Haynes, citing an unnamed source in regards to the Warriors front office being “furious” over the treatment of Durant in his return to Oklahoma City. Are these leaks from internal personnel an issue? Or is this just ESPN fishing for clicks? Or both?
Derek: 95% the latter.
Bram: I mean, we were all furious over OKC’s treatment of Durant. I thought it was shallow, callous and mean-spirited. But I’m obviously biased. I think a larger issue here is … I don’t really care about either of those stories. The leaks could be from wherever. I don’t think they drastically impact the season one way or another. Health, flow and continuity are much more important, at least for whatever ends up happening on the court.
Mike: I concur with Derek. It’s not something that the front office shouldn’t be concerned about at all, but it’s mostly just guys doing their job and reporting what sells.
Check out the playoff standings (here) and make your predictions. What’s the seeding going to look like in the West? Any predictions on the final few weeks?
Derek: 1. GSW 2. SAS 3. HOU 4. LAC 5. UTA 6. OKC 7. MEM 8. POR
Possibly the biggest seed-implicating game of the season is OKC @ MEM on April 5. It’s a both-ways SEGABABA, with MEM traveling from SA and OKC traveling from MIL the night before. MEM clearly has an edge in that head-to-head game, but OKC has the easier remaining schedule.
Elsewhere on the list, I’m betting on experience to buoy LAC and POR above the fresh-faced UTA and DEN teams.
Bram: I agree with Derek, except I think Denver takes the eighth seed, and the world is introduced to the genius of Nikola Jokic.
Mike: My predictions at the start of the season weren’t too far off — for the West anyway.
My prediction (West):— Mike B (@MBhoops13) October 24, 2016
1 Golden State
2 San Antonio
3 L.A Clippers
8 ????? (Minnesota?)
I’m going to go with Portland for the 8th seed. I prefer Denver as a team — especially Jokic — however out of the 12 games they have left to play, Denver will play eight on the road and one of their home games is against Cleveland. Meanwhile Portland has three road games over their next 12 games with Houston, Utah and San Antonio being the only playoff teams left on their schedule. I also expect Memphis to grab the sixth seed over OKC.
Adam Silver recently flexed his commissioner muscles and warned of “significant financial penalties” for teams that rest players “without sufficient notice.” But he also inserted the expectation that owners be directly involved in rest decisions as they are more aware of the impacts on "fans and business partners." This comes just hours after an ESPN statement that said “...we're working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint.”
How much of a problem is this? Will the schedule need to change significantly? If there was one minor tweak you would apply to the season schedule, what would it be?
Derek: It’s everybody’s problem. Parents spend their hard-earned money to share a bonding experience with their kids; they want to see Stephen Curry and LeBron James be amazing. Likewise, the league makes money hand over fist selling tickets to the Curry and LeBron show, and consumer trust is essential for a company to thrive in the 21st century. Curry and LeBron, on the other hand, just want to optimize their chances at another title.
In this interwoven relationship, are the players getting fair enough compensation that we can disregard their wants and wishes?
For reference, the Knicks’ roster is hauling in a combined $102.8 million this season -- quite a bit more than the combined $0 the kids in the NCAA Tournament are making this year. It’s tempting to take their complaints of job-related hardship with a grain of salt in the light of their exorbitant game checks. Then again, the players are the product, and their compensation is a fraction of the overall value of the brand that they created and maintain. The Knicks’ roster, for instance, is being payed 3.1% of the franchise’s $3.3 billion overall value. League revenue has doubled from $2.9 billion to $5.9 billion since 2004. And that growth has a lot more to do with Blake Griffin’s dunks than it does with Steve Ballmer’s celebrations.
Without the players, Adam Silver is just a run-of-the-mill wealthy lawyer, not the $20 million per year commissioner of God he is now. As a fan of basketball, I tend to want the league to police itself with the intentions of creating the best basketball possible. It doesn’t, because Silver et al. are good businessmen. The league tends to police itself with the intentions of profiting.
The schedule should be changed significantly. It won’t be.
Bram: I agree with what Derek said. It’s such a strange, complicated partnership. Silver “cracking down” on this makes me squirm, to a certain extent. Like, how can you force anyone to do anything? It’s not like the players are missing practices or no-showing for big games. It’s an organizational decision from top to bottom. The sensible thing would be to remove, say, fifteen games from the schedule and eliminate back-to-backs all together — especially on nationally televised games at the end of league-devised, nonsensical road trips. But, you know the owners will NEVER approve that, as that’s 15 games worth of tickets sales, beer sales, food sales and brand exposure. That’s millions and millions of dollars you’d be stripping from their pockets. As always, Gregg Popovich, the creator of this fire-storm, put it best:
"There is still no rule because it's a bucket of worms. And it's hard to make a rule. … I think the league has to understand the science of what we do is a whole lot more sophisticated than it used to be. We have definitely added years to people's [careers].
''So it's a trade-off. You want to see this guy in this one game? Or do you want to see him for three more years in his career?''
Jason: Let’s be real. The league does not care about the fan experience outside of its effect on their business. To anyone on the money side of the NBA, you are a data point. A target. A variable in a large equation designed to generate cash. And when they’re pointing to the unfortunate kid who didn’t get to see his favorite player and using that as an excuse to put pressure on the players and coaches, they don’t really care about that kid. They care about next season when that kid’s parent gets wise and says, “Let’s not buy tickets to this game that’s the second game of a back-to-back.”
Truthfully, I think it’s the coaches and players who actually feel for the fans a lot. And I think they want to play every game they can. But there are two things they want more than anything else: winning a championship and prolonging their careers. Breaking down your body isn’t conducive to either of those goals. And as far as I know, rubbing money on tired legs doesn’t make them any less tired.
I’ll support the league punishing teams for resting players when the league starts refunding us money for the games they black out on NBA League Pass.
Dhara: The argument over rest seems to manifest itself in several ways. There are those that use player’s resting as a referendum on the quality or strength of the league relative to how it used to be — e.g. “Back in my day, so and so player would play every game, drive the bus and sew the uniforms.” This argument seems less compelling than the one couched in the fan experience; cue the gratuitous video shots of a family who traveled many miles and spent many dollars to see Stephen Curry play and were robbed of that experience.
Regardless of one’s personal views behind the motivations or justifications for rest, it’s easy to sympathize with the common fan. But how far does that sympathy go in light of the very real demands of a schedule that is probably 10-15 games too long and places a grueling burden on the players?
What complicates this issue further are the media contracts Derek alluded to. The distribution problem of rest lies in the fact that the incentives of each individual team are incongruent with that of the league in the sense that a franchise disproportionately benefits from resting a player compared to the league as a whole. Adam Silver surely feels pressure from media partners, especially when a highly marketed national game looks like a D-League contest at tip-off.
One point to consider would be how the recent TV deal and more recent CBA affects this issue. Certainly player rest was brought up during both occasions and the resulting status quo reflects the reconciliation of the collective preferences of the involved parties. With the TV deal lasting for 9 years (signed in October 2014) and the CBA lasting for 7 years (signed in December 2016, with an opt-out clause for both parties after 6 years), the media companies and league office may find themselves without the leverage necessary to create meaningful progress on this issue.
While the NBA schedule may never change drastically, as Bram points out, with so many people making money off each game, including players, owners, media etc., a de facto solution may be teams resting players on non-national TV games.
This does little to help the common fan in attendance at a game in which marquee players are resting, but as Jason points out, the “fan experience” is a priority for the league insofar as it aligns with their own interests. The counterbalance for fans may be the increased visibility of the practice of resting, and with it the growing understanding of which games are most likely targets for rest. Consumers may affect ticket prices for those games by refusing to purchase those tickets. This “free market” relief seems unlikely however as there will always be demand for NBA games. And player rest may follow patterns, but it’s not exact enough to allow for a foolproof determination to be made about purchasing tickets for a game in advance.