I Call Shenanigans on LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Riley, and the Heat

July 10, 2010

That’s right, I call shenanigans. Why? Because we were all conned, and continue to be conned, by the free agent trio that just signed in Miami and team president, Pat Riley. In the aftermath of LeBron James’ primetime announcement that he was going to “bring his talents to South Beach” I’ve seen a few articles and tweets commending Pat Riley’s deft work in bringing these three max players to Miami. As a Knicks fan, my initial reaction was to begrudgingly agree with these sentiments. Then I got to thinking… “Wait a second, why DID Miami have all this cap room in the first place?”

Think about it. In an article posted to ESPN.com right before “The Decision,” Bill Simmons wrote the following in regard to who he considers an NBA “superstar”:

[O]nly LeBron, Wade, Howard, Durant and Kobe qualify. There’s a level just a shade below (the Almost-But-Not-Quite-Superstar) with Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Roy, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. (Note: I think Derrick Rose gets there next season.)

Now, let me ask you the following question: Which one of those teams were in a position to sign a max guy to complement their current superstar?  The Cavs, Magic, Lakers, Mavs, Nuggets, Blazers, Hornets, and Jazz were not financially able to.  The Suns could have, but their owner is a notorious spendthrift and they passed on Amar’e, arguably the 3rd or 4th best free agent available after LeBron and Wade.  The Bulls were only in this position because Rose and Noah are still young and playing under their rookie contracts, plus they basically gave away Kirk Hinrich.  So, if we count the Rose and the Bulls in this equation, that leaves us with exactly two teams with an NBA superstar in a position to sign ONE max free agent to complement their current superstar: the Bulls and the Heat.

Now, I am going to disqualify the Bulls because Rose has only been in the league for two seasons, so the Bulls haven’t even had a chance to realize how special he is and try to build around him.  What I am getting at here is all of the teams listed above have been trying like mad to build up their rosters AROUND their superstars.  What the heck has Miami been doing since 2008?  Why haven’t they been trying like mad to build around their superstar, Dwyane Wade, a player who already has a ring and an NBA Finals MVP under his belt? I mention 2008 because that is when this little nugget was published in Simmons’ column (mentioned again in the previously linked column):

And yes, I totally subscribe to the “LeBron, Wade and Bosh agreed in China that they’d sign with the Knicks in two years” conspiracy theory even though there’s no evidence to support it.

So what have they been doing? Check out the Heat’s rosters in 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10.  Blech, and I thought the Cavs did a poor job surrounding LeBron with talent.  Here’s the rub, Miami isn’t run by Dan Gilbert and Danny Ferry.  They’re run by Pat Riley, a man who has won multiple NBA titles and knows how to build a championship caliber team.  So here’s my ultimate question: Why did a team with one of the 3 best players in the NBA have only 1 person officially on their roster (Mario Chalmers) when LeBron James made his announcement on Thursday night?  Is this not a negligent way to run an organization?  What if the Heat struck out?  When you have a player like Wade shouldn’t you be trying to win every single year?  Some will point in the Knicks direction as evidence that, perhaps, Riley’s gamble wasn’t so bold after all.  Well, that would be ignoring context.  The Knicks were in salary cap hell and had no assets to speak of having either traded away their draft picks or blowing the picks by making bad choices.  The Knicks essentially had no choice but to blow things up and start over.  So why not have the gutting of the franchise culminate with the greatest free agent class in NBA history?  If you strike out on LeBron you’re bound to get someone else to build around and then you will still have cap flexibility to make trades and make other moves to improve the team (and this is exactly what they have done.)

Ultimately, I can’t quite make heads or tails of what Miami has been doing the past three seasons.  The Heat had the good fortune of having Dwyane Wade and the number 2 pick of the 2008 draft (Michael Beasley) on their roster and their best they could do was acquire a washed up Jermaine O’Neal to complement them? Again, this isn’t a team run by Isaiah Thomas. Pat Riley knows what he’s doing. Check out the following articles about Miami’s 2009 offseason (or lack thereof) here, here, and here.  Of course Riley’s prudence has paid off and now he looks like a genius.  However, I can’t seem to shake this bad taste in my mouth.  Of course it was wise to save cap space in 2009 to make a run at Bosh in 2010, but how come they were in a position to sign all 3?  The bottom line: the Knicks were openly tanking and trying to create as much cap space as possible for the summer of 2010 and even they didn’t have enough cap space to fit all 3 players (even if they all agreed to the take less like they did in Miami.)  So how come a team with DWYANE WADE was in a position where they were able to sign not 1, but 2 players to such massive contracts?

The only conclusion I can come to is this thing was in the bag the whole time and we bought the charade hook, line, and sinker. How come Chris Bosh didn’t jump at the opportunity to go to Houston and play alongside Yao and Kevin Martin for max money? This was a situation that would have benefited both himself and the Raptors, since the reports indicated Houston was offering an attractive group of players for Bosh’s services.  Bosh, a Texas native, would have been able to play his natural position, power forward, close to home, for a lot of cash, and be THE MAN while surrounded by a very strong team with a brilliant GM.

How come the self proclaimed “King” James didn’t jump at the opportunity to go to New York and form the most explosive pick and roll combo in league history with Amar’e Stoudemire (not to mention Danilo Gallinari lighting it up from beyond the arc) and flirt with averaging a triple double for an entire season in Mike D’Antoni’s offense? As Simmons stated in the aforementioned 2008 article:

If he moves to New York, that becomes the biggest sports story of that year. And for all the Global Icon things he wants to accomplish — clothing lines, production companies, sponsors, etc. — he needs to be in New York or L.A on a daily basis. Those are the two cities in which Global Icon stuff happens.

Or, if James was truly consumed with winning rings, he could have jumped to the Bulls, made more money, played in a big city, and formed a devastating team with Noah, Boozer, and Rose.

Now that I look at the facts in black and white, nothing makes sense.  Bosh kept telling saying how he wanted the max via a sign and trade and that he wanted to play his natural position (power forward) and play for a winner.  LeBron couldn’t stop talking about his goal to be a global icon and a billionaire.  Coming full circle, we have the Heat, who have been seemingly treading water for three seasons of Dwyane Wade’s career rather than trying to build a team around a player who has proven he can be the focal point of a championship team, inexplicably having enough cap space to sign 3 players to massive contracts when a franchise that was openly trying to clear the decks only had room for 2.

Obviously, I am merely a hobbyist with no sources and no proof beyond logic and deduction. I have tried to tap into my inner Sherlock Holmes to make sense of what has transpired. I can buy LeBron, Wade, and Bosh becoming buddy-buddy during the Olympics and forming some pact, ala My Girl, to play together on an NBA team.  However, this isn’t something you stumble upon by happenstance some random offseason.  The mechanics of such a plan needs to be worked out.  After all, these guys still want to get paid, and paid they got. This isn’t chump change, folks, especially when you consider that Florida doesn’t have any state income tax. Also, since LeBron and Bosh will be taking up residency in Miami, they won’t get taxed on their endorsement deals either. Hmmm…

So you mean to tell me that the Miami Heat, a team that has a legit NBA superstar in Dwyane Wade, a team that has Pat Riley (*cough*tampering*cough*) as its team president, a team that plays in a state without a state income tax, had the foresight and the gumption to essentially tread water during at least two seasons of Dwyane Wade’s prime to have a “shot” at Chris Bosh? Then, not only were they able to acquire Bosh, but they were also able to convince LeBron James, the reigning two-time MVP to abandon his home state and a team that has won 60+ games in back to back seasons, to eschew his ambitions to become a global icon and billionaire (New York), and to pass up an opportunity to make more money while playing for a team that would have been similarly situated to win multiple titles (Chicago) to go take less money and play with them in Miami? Seriously? Pat Riley was that confident that he would be able to pull this off that he would gamble with precious prime seasons of Dwyane Wade’s career? Sorry, I’m not buying it.

What we witnessed (pun unintended) was unprecedented. Never before have 3 players of this caliber joined forces at such an early juncture in their careers in the name of winning titles. It seems that James, Wade, and Bosh are special individuals who have a special friendship and are willing to leave millions on the table to spend their 20s playing basketball together in a beautiful city. That’s great, but it only explains the “Why?” It does not explain the “How?” As in, how is it possible that a franchise that boasted one of the best players in the NBA was able to afford not just one, but two additional players at a reduced, but still massive price?


Money, Power, Respect – The Keys to NBA Free Agency

July 2, 2010

As Lil’ Kim and The Lox rapped back in the day, “It’s the key to life. Money. Power. Respect.”  I propose that this phrase holds the key to NBA free agency.

Whether or not this little get together where all of the big name NBA free agents got together to discuss their futures actually happened, we do know that they are friends and they do talk.  We also know that these guys are highly competitive individuals and businessmen.  This is why the speculation that this summit or the discussions revolved around notion that LeBron, Wade, and Bosh were going to team up in Miami to form a Dream Team makes no sense.  Why is that?  Well, let’s look at the facts and then add a pinch of conspiracy theory.

First and foremost, when it comes to professional sports, always remember what Wu-Tang preached: Cash Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.) Just follow the money, baby.  There was no way Joe Johnson or Rudy Gay leave their teams if their respective franchises offered them the max, and it seems like this is exactly what is going to happen.  This reason #1 why I doubt a Bron-Wade-Bosh team-up happens.  I think Bosh knows he can get the “uber-max” via sign and trade and there were rumors last week that this is how Bosh would end up Miami.  This means both Bosh and Wade would be earning more money than LeBron.  Do you really think King James is going to go to a franchise where: A) He won’t be the alpha-dog (Miami is Wade’s town) and B) TWO players are making more cash than him, the reigning two-time MVP?  I don’t think so.  This is also why I don’t think Bron and Bosh is happening in Chicago.  I cannot see a scenario where LeBron isn’t the highest paid player on his team (or co-highest – FORESHADOWING!)  In sum, I can’t see these three teaming up because LeBron and Wade are too competitive to share the limelight and both want money, power, and respect.  Sure, they could acquire all of these things together, but who knows how the public will view their individual legacies if they decide to go down this path.  When you operate on the level of LeBron and Dywane Wade, you don’t want to share with anybody.

This is why I think the conspiracy theorists have it all wrong.  These “summits” and discussions aren’t to form some unstoppable “Voltron” of a team.  Think about it.  When was the NBA at it’s apex?  If you’re thinking to yourself: “MJ’s Bulls” then you’re wrong.  The most exciting time in the league was when Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics would battle for titles and they had the greatest rivalry in sports history.  LeBron and Wade love this game and they’re businessmen too.  They know there is a more exciting option than them forming an alliance with Chris Bosh.  Instead of them all teaming up together and dominating the league, Wade teams up with Bosh, LeBron teams up with Ama’re and then they battle it out every year to see who wins the championship.  Seriously, what would be more fun and exciting than this?  What would be better than a modern day Magic vs. Bird rivalry with Ama’re and Bosh as the All Star complementary players?

Think about it.  I’m sure a Heat team featuring LeBron, Wade, and Bosh would get crazy ratings the first time they made the finals.  The excitement might even be there the second time around.  But think of how we chew teams up and spit them out these days.  We got sick of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, people despise the Patriots now (ditto the Red Sox,) and the Yankees have been hated for an eternity.  Jordan’s Bulls might be the only exception, but you know what?  We need to stop bringing Jordan up.  Jordan was an aberration.  There will never be a player and an individual quite like Jordan.  For whatever reason, no one ever got sick of Jordan the same way they get sick of most athletes that dominate their sport.  However, think of how exciting it would be to see LeBron and Wade have a showdown in the Eastern Conference finals every year to see who gets to play Kobe/Melo for the title.  While we may get sick of dynasties, we LOVE our rivalries.  Lakers-Celtics; Cowboyws-49ers; Knicks-Heat; Yankees-Red Sox; North Carolina-Duke; etc., etc.  Heck, the Knicks-Pacers rivalry got a 30 for 30 documentary and the Knicks-Heat rivalry was must see TV and I wouldn’t consider any of those team pretty to watch.  For all of you locked into the World Cup right now, the beautiful game it was not.

There you have it.  This is what has to happen.  LeBron and Wade know what’s up.  They don’t want to share the glory.  They know how to make money.  They know what will get ratings and exposure for the league.  Folks, we’re about to enter an NBA golden age.  LeBron and the big man of his choice vs. Wade and the big man of his choice.  Personally, I’m excited to see which duo can bring a team together and make get the most out of their teammates because, after all, it is a 5 on 5 game.  However, in the center ring will be LeBron and Wade, duking it out for all the money, power, and respect.  And the only way to do so is to win titles.  May the best man win.

For The Kids

February 19, 2010

Our President has called on each of us to serve our communities.  In that spirit, I think it’s important to recognize one of the most unique and successful entirely student-run efforts in history – the Penn State Dance Marathon.

I am a Penn State graduate, class of 2006.  As much as I am a Penn State alumnus, perhaps it’s more important  to me that I’m a Dance Marathon (or “THON”) alumnus.  I know that when people think Penn State, the first things they think about are football, Joe Paterno, and white helmets.  But Penn State has one of the most wonderful and selfless events in the world taking place on its campus, and has acted as a model for dozens of other school’s programs around the world.

THON is year long fundraising drive that culminates in a 46 hour no sitting and no sleeping marathon to benefit the Four Diamonds Fund, which raises money to help families struggling with pediatric cancer.  Since it began in 1977, THON has raised over $60 million to help families in need.  In the process, it has shifted sites on campus, beginning with the small gymnasium in the White Building.  But as the popularity of volunteering, dancing, and observing began to increase, the venue had to move to the near 8000 seat Rec Hall, the old basketball and current volleyball arena.

Now, THON is so popular on campus with students, parents, and faculty that Rec Hall became far too crowded.  So my year, we said goodbye at Rec Hall’s final dance by raising a record $4,214,748.18!  Of course, when THON moved to the 16,000 seat Bryce Jordan Center world class arena in 2007, they raised over $5 million.  Last year, even as the economy spiraled downward, THON raised over $7 million. Can they break the elusive $8 million mark?

But the big questions remain – how is THON so popular on campus? And why no sleeping and no sitting for 46 hours?

15,000 students participate each year because THON gives us hope.  It gives us courage and strength knowing that these little kids, as young as a year old, can struggle against a disease that’s larger than they are and come out on top.  15,000 students per year take time out of their busy schedules of classes, relationships, parties and sports to come together and run everything from the website and the live webcast, to the pre-THON galas and hospital visits, to the events that occur to entertain the dancers and kids during THON itself.

Being a THON dancer is special.  Only 700 are selected to dance, and almost no one ever stops.  But why?

At first, everyone wants to dance for themselves, even if they say otherwise. They want to see if they can do the impossible.  They want to stand out amongst their peers.  Then, around hour 8, your feet begin to swell.  By hour 16, your legs begin to burn.  By hour 24, your back aches, your knees are buckling, and you’re leaning on your friends and family for support in the final day ahead.  You just keep dancing.

By hour 36, you’re so tired and drained that the pain in your body has made you essentially numb.  And then you look around at the 3 year old boy sporting a bald head from months or years of chemotherapy.  He’s running around at 11 PM with a squirt gun, having the time of his life with his “big friends.”  He smiles, maybe for the first time in months.  And you smile and hold your head up higher.  Because all this time, you thought THON was about you.  But at that moment, you’re quite aware that it was never about you to begin with.

THON is for the kids.  It’s for kids that deal with that kind of pain on a round the clock daily basis.  What’s 46 or 48 hours to us?  They’re braver and bolder than we’ll ever be.  That’s why we dance.  When we find a cure, we’ll dance for joy.  Until then, we dance for life.

The truth is, there’s nothing more important for me to write about than this.  Please take a minute out of your day and check out the website and the history of Penn State Dance Marathon.  Donate if you can spare it, or check out your local university’s own dance marathon.  I know for certain that they exist at Florida, Iowa, Rutgers and NC State.



Gator Bait

January 29, 2010

Any general manager of an NFL team who uses a first round pick on Tim Tebow should be immediately fired.

There.  I said it.  And I’m not ashamed of it.

Sports Illustrated‘s Don Banks, author of the “Inside the NFL” column, has Tim Tebow locked in with the Arizona Cardinals at selection 26

“This one is pure projection on my behalf, but hear me out: Tebow’s rough week at the Senior Bowl notwithstanding, it’s only going to take one team to fall in love with him to make him a low first-rounder. Why the Cardinals? If Kurt Warner retires Friday as expected, does anyone think Arizona has 100 percent confidence in Matt Leinart at this point? And we already know Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t mind playing two QBs in the same game, because he did it with Warner and Leinart in 2007. As rough as things were for the Cardinals defense in the playoffs, that side of the ball probably should get first-round attention. But for now, we’re sliding our Tebow chips to Arizona’s square.”

Kurt Warner has retired today as of 2 P.M.  Matt Leinart is most likely not the answer at quarterback for Coach Whisenhunt and staff, according to ESPN’s NFC West blogger Mike Sando.  The Cardinals have had incredible success the past two years with Warner at quarterback.  They will not be selecting high enough in the first round to take either of the two consensus top pro prospects, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma (shoulder injury inspection notwithstanding) or Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame.  With that in mind, why not take a chance on perhaps the best college football player in modern history?

How about these reasons?

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On Reason and Humanity

January 27, 2010

Sounding reasonable doesn’t make you reasonable. Being “logical” doesn’t make you humane. And being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian doesn’t make you anything but craven for attention.

Former NBA basketball player (and I use that term rather loosely) Paul Shirley recently penned a long and elegantly written statement on the plight of the Haitian people. Unfortunately for Mr. Shirley, “long” and “elegant” are not synonyms for “knowledgeable” and “insightful.”  If nothing else, it would have behooved Mr. Shirley to have done some research into his assumptions before foisting his nonsense on the rest of us.

The bitingly humorous take on Mr. Shirley’s work has already been done (and done extremely well) by the Kissing Suzy Kolber blog.  I will, as I’m sure you’ve guessed already, be taking a wholly different approach (albeit rather long) to the matter.  For the record, I do not and could not disagree with respect to the idea that money donated to the Haitian disaster relief effort should be distributed and utilized in a way that rebuilds the impoverished nation with an eye toward protection from major natural disasters such as last week’s earthquake that has claimed at least 150,000 lives. That is, I believe, generally incontestable. Dialogue is important, especially when the amount of money that has been donated is inevitably billions of dollars.  We need to be sure that relief goes both directly to people and insures against future catastrophe.

That being said, while Mr. Shirley’s piece may make some academically and philosophically interesting points about self-sufficiency and aid, it is also fundamentally wrong in several respects, which undermines his credibility on the subject.

Take, for example, his comments on the homeless at the beginning of the post:

“I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him.”

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Reflections on Cynicism

January 27, 2010

“I ask this particularly of the young people who watch. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Conan O’Brien, 1/22/10

As a full-throated supporter and card carrying member of Team Conan, I wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment (with many thanks from Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post).

Today officially marks my 26th birthday.  26 is somewhat strange. It’s not a particularly noteworthy number.  I’ve been able to drive a car (17), vote (18), and drink (21) for more than several years now.  25 is a milestone birthday, one of those that you’ll theoretically look back on one day when your kids ask you what your 20s were like.  It was a good year.

26 is rather unremarkable to most people, but I’ve put some thought into it throughout the past several days.  On reflection, it turns out that 26 is a crossroads for me.  It means the end of my formal education, the beginning of my career, and a commitment to the city that I spent an entire childhood admiring.  For me, 26 is the end of some things and the beginning of many more.

Professionally and scholastically, I have been remarkably blessed. I have spent three years of my life at an institution that has provided unparalleled guidance and support.  I have been the beneficiary of brilliant professors whose instruction has given me the tools to succeed not only in the legal industry, but in any line of work.  And I have worked hard enough and been lucky enough to land a job in a difficult economy in a growing field of the law.

I realize the opportunity that I have been given in September could be ripped away from me at any time.  Economies collapse, jobs are lost, relationships don’t always go smoothly.  Mr. O’Brien certainly understands that better than anyone.  “I’ve had more good fortune than anyone I know,” he said.  “And if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-11 parking lot, we’ll find a way to make it fun.”

Being in the right place at the right time with the right type of luck can get you everything you’ve ever wanted, but it can all be taken away in an instant.  No one in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get.  But I’ve worked hard, and I’ve been kind.  I believe in the good in people, and I believe that amazing things will happen.  It only took an embattled comedian for me to be able to put it into words.

Keith versus the Meme: Defending Jay Leno

January 26, 2010

Look, let’s get one thing straight: I am a Conan O’Brien fan.  This doesn’t mean that I dislike Jay Leno; I just prefer Conan’s brand of comedy.  However, I would like to address the notion that Leno is the villain in this NBC Late Night Drama.

Now, I have no way of knowing whether or not Jay Leno is a bad dude.  For all I know he may be, but whether he is or isn’t a good guy is irrelevant.  The reason?  Because JAY LENO GOT SCREWED FIRST.

Think about it.  The guy hosted the #1 late night talk show for years and NBC was all set to push him out the door for Conan.  But when the time came for Conan to take over the tonight show, NBC got cold feet (and rightfully so.)  Mark Cuban actually blogged about why we should be applauding NBC for taking a risk and giving Leno a shot at 10pm and I agree with him 100%.

So while I was sad to see Conan kicked off The Tonight Show after only 7 months (I do believe he would have eventually figured it out and got better ratings), the facts are clear as day: Leno dominated that time slot for years and Conan was struggling mightily.  Of course Conan supporters will point to mitigating factors and they do have a point.  But you can’t argue with the stats and the stats say Leno gets the eyeballs.  Conan supporters also point to Leno’s 2004 statements regarding his passing the torch to Conan and retiring.  Well, what did you expect him to say!?  NBC was putting Jay in a retirement home so they could move in their hot new girlfriend.  He really had no choice.

This brings me back to my ultimate point.  Whether you love Jay Leno or hate Jay Leno, you cannot deny that the guy was screwed.  If you or I were in his position, we would be pretty pissed that our employer would fire us after years and years of finishing ahead of our competition.  So please, don’t leave comments discussing the merits of Jay Leno the comedian.  That’s not the point here.  The point here is that Jay Leno got the shaft long before Conan, yet somehow no one mentions this.