Representatives of the owners and players emerged from the umpteenth NBA lockout negotiation session on Wednesday (actually, Thursday — this one was of the 12-hour variety, 1 pm to 1 am), with an agreement to continue to negotiate on Thursday. Neither black nor white smoke emerged, but rather a bunch of smoke blown up our collective butts. That and the telltale sign from covering media via Twitter: ‘Two different press conferences, you know what that means.’ It means no basketball.
No news is not good news, it’s no news. Yet, people are forced to look for silver linings, some citing the mere fact that NBA commissioner David Stern “stopped the clock” (his words) on a previously given ultimatum of a 5 pm Wednesday deadline (for a player acceptance of the owners’ offer) as a positive sign. Afterward, neither side could publicly say whether progress was made.
“I can’t characterize whether they showed flexibility or not in certain system issues,” said player rep Derek Fisher. “Nothing was worked out today,” said Stern. Media sources have, however, indicated a semblance of progress. “Progress was made on three system issues,” wrote the Twitter account @WojYahooNBA.
When asked by Howard Beck of the New York Times if the NBA was in a position where they could give the players some semblance of what they want (in terms of in exchange for a 50-50 Basketball-Related Income (BRI) split) Stern said, “I don’t know how you would define ‘some semblance’.” Exactly.* Nothing appears as it seems, or vice versa.
Andray Blatche had himself a chat on ESPN.com Wednesday. Normally, would that even happen? Doubt it. The assumption is that this is more the doing of him deciding to re-acquire an agent this summer. Now that power-agent Andy Miller is on the scene — clients of his include: Trevor Booker, Kevin Garnett, Jared Jeffries, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, Brendan Haywood, Roger Mason Jr., Andre Miller, Michael Ruffin, Sebastian Telfair, Antonio McDyess, etc., etc. — Blatche is hitting the circuit of pumped positivity. And thus here we are.
Anyhow, nothing provocative or ground-breaking in his chat; it totally fits within the norms of prosaic NBA player media & PR fare. The highlights include: when asked about how his roll [sic in a very Ledell Eackles kind of way] has changed over his years with the team, he chats about, “listening to guys like Antawn, Brandon, Caron” … which actually got me very close to seeing if a “Brandon” ever played for the Wizards on Basketball-Reference.com before realizing that he was talking about Brendan Haywood.
The Sacramento Kings closed out their season with a very emotional home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, there was a strong possibility that it was last game in Sacramento after 23 years as the team‘s owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, looked to move the franchise to Anaheim, California. The Kings broadcasters broke down on air, and fans organized a protest by refusing to leave the arena after the contest’s conclusion. Kings players returned to the court to address their adoring fans. There was great sense of empathy amongst sports fans online in seeing a team ripped away from a fan base.
When the move appeared imminent, I caught up with Washington Wizards head coach Flip Saunders and swingman Maurice Evans to ask about their personal experiences playing in Sacramento. In the video below, Saunders talks about the Sacramento Cow Bells, and Evans provides a funny antidote about a passionate Kings fan that still supports him every time he returns.
As the NBA regular season has concluded and the playoffs are now underway, sports pundits peppered the airwaves and series of tubes last week with playoffs prognostications. Storylines were plentiful abound.
Can the Los Angeles Lakers three-peat? Will the Kendrick Perkins trade prevent Boston Celtics from a championship? Do the San Antonio Spurs have another title in them? Will Lebron James finally get a ring now that he’s surrounded himself with more talent? Can the Oklahoma City Thunder or Chicago Bulls parlay their regular season accomplishments into deep playoff runs?
While the opinions of media members and fans do carry some weight (just ask them!), I thought it would be a good idea to ask the players, who actually compete against playoff the participants, what two teams they see making the NBA finals and who will win it all.
I complied the predictions of Washington Wizards John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Mo Evans, Nick Young, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, JaVale McGee, Othyus Jeffers, and Coach Flip Saunders in the video below. Watch to find out which two players chose to be coy in their responses.
Thursday was exit interview day for the Washington Wizards. Players cleaned out their lockers for the offseason, engaged in parting conversations with the coaching staff, and met with the media as they trickled out of the Verizon Center with their belongings. JaVale McGee and Yi Jianlian lugged big garbage sacks full of their stuff while Nick Young was carefully leaving with a fat head poster of himself.
Throughout the individual interviews, there was an overlapping sense of reflection and relief that a long season had concluded. Jordan Crawford was thankful for the opportunity he received with the Wizards. Trevor Booker gave himself a B-minus grade for his rookie campaign. John Wall emphasized learning how to lead grown men in the NBA. And Nick Young mused nostalgic about his four-year career with the organization.
The past month of solid play provided optimism for next season, but since the Wizards missed the playoffs, the unknown future of a labor dispute is no longer looming. It has now officially moved to the forefront, with the clock ticking down to the end of June when the CBA expires.
This was apparent in Mo Evans, Vice President of the NBA Players Association Executive Committee, articulating the Union’s positions of not budging on a hard cap, contract lengths or giving up the Larry Bird Rights that past generations of players had won. Also, Young proclaiming that he is basically unemployed was a chilling reminder that he might not have a job for awhile, with or without the Wizards.
People will say that the Atlanta Hawks lost to the Washington Wizards on Saturday night because they were without Josh Smith. Because they were unmotivated against a free-flying Wizards team with their playoff seeding already set. A date as the five seed going to Orlando to play the Magic awaits the Hawks in the first round, but did they have to get blown out by the Wiz Kids 115-83?
Regardless of Atlanta’s effortless situation, the Wizards countered with one of their best team defensive displays of the season, turning 23 Hawks turnovers into 27 points, partially thanks to 11 steals. And as the Washington Post’s Michael Lee has written, much credit is due to D-Leaguers Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers — Owens putting in 10 points off the bench and Jeffers scoring 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. The energy of on-the-cusp players has made some of the more contractually secure Wizards not take their situation for granted.
Jeffers’ contagious explosion of hustle shouldn’t be taken for granted for the next training camp the Wizards hold either. He, along with Andray Blatche, were big reasons why the Wizards got off to a 29-18 jump on Atlanta after one quarter. Blatche worked Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia to the tune of nine points, five rebounds and 3-4 from the free throw line in the period. And Jeffers picked up two boards, one offensive, and 3-4 at the charity stripe in six and a half minutes off the bench. The disinterest of Atlanta was especially evident when they allowed Yi Jianlian to counter Jamal Crawford’s 11 points in the second quarter with 10 of his own. Washington led 61-46 at half.
[The Wizards' ballsiest offensive players: Sam Cassell, JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford]
The young Wizards made a valiant effort last night in Boston, that they did. Losing 104-88, they were within four points at 87-83 with seven minutes before the Celtics pulled away. Individual talents and potential flashed nicely, but familiar inefficiencies combined to lead the team down the path of losing. Possession-killing shots form Jordan Crawford, a crucial missed one-handed, wide-open dunk from JaVale McGee that would’ve kept the Wizards within four points with five minutes left, newcomer Larry Owens letting the 35-year old Ray Allen beat him to a transition basket, the seven turnovers of John Wall (which combined with those of McGee and Andray Blatche totaled 17) — they all were there. But nothing unexpected.
The Celtics valued most of their possessions and functioned like coordinated birds in flight on many. Rajon Rondo took ownership of the night with 14 assists. Neither John Wall nor Jordan Crawford could sufficiently keep up with him without worrying about the coordinated movement from the rest of the Celtics and whether the Wizards could depend on each other for a combined effort on defense. Washington does not yet know how to fly together like Boston. They’ll get there as the core grows with time, but that begs the question, who’s part of the core?
Wall, Crawford and McGee? Clearly. Rashard Lewis? There’s not much choice. Andray Blatche? Signs point to yes. Nick Young? Things are more complicated with the free-agent to be. On Friday Ted Leonsis gave Young some blog love, touting him for Most Improved Player.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Washington Wizards last Friday, coach Byron Scott took his sweet time coming out to meet the media. Given how his team performed, I fully expected him to step out of the locker room and give journalists the Denny Green treatment. But when Scott finally emerged from the Cavaliers locker room after 20 minutes, he was rather calm in his words. Perhaps that was because he knew exactly why the Wizards defeated his team.
“I’ve got a few numbers on my mind: 68, 30, 19 and 62. 68 points by their frontline, 30 rebounds by their frontline, 19 offensive rebounds by their frontline, 62 points in the paint… you can’t win if you don’t come with a little bit more of a toughness and a presence in that paint area. You can’t win. Blatche and McGee dominated our guys. That’s something you just can’t account for. When we have to all of a sudden change a game plan to double team those two guys, you’re in trouble.”
Now, I’m no coach, I didn’t have to address the media after Washington lost in Indiana last night, and given that they have been out of playoff contention since December, I’m pretty emotionless at this point. But after watching the Pacers dismantle the Wizards 136-112, I’m in a Byron Scott state of mind, and I also have some numbers swimming thru my head: 136, 59.5, 54.2, 34, 32 and 10.
[Blatche celebrates a close win over the Pistons.]
Andray Blatche. Yes, that Andray Blatche … Party All Dray. He’s been a little bit different lately, hasn’t he? Sure has. Averaging 25.6 points and 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes in the last four games (up from his 17.4 and 8.7 respective averages per 36 for the season), since his return from injury is certainly a strong indication that things could be different for Blatche.
Straight and to the point, he’s been attacking the rim. Living in the paint. Doing the dirty work down low. All the good stuff the team has always needed Andray Blatche to do, but has never quite been satisfied.