Don't buy what Cuban's smoking

Not long ago, we were talking with a professional sportswriter--a good one, with national name recognition--who didn't have any special, anti-blogger axe to grind.

Of course, we asked Writer X for his opinion anyway.

His experience was typical; he'll check blogs to monitor rumors and feels the pressure of an ever-faster news cycle. But Writer X was generally underwhelmed; a few times, he's checked into a blog's story of a pending trade or player news, only to learn it was just Internet hype or fiction. Meanwhile, when Writer X's slipped once or twice--as we all do--bloggers jumped all over him.

So we pressed him: Do these guys belong in the same locker room as you?

He didn’t think so. According to Writer X,

"Being a journalist is like being a doctor or a lawyer. It's a trade. You can go to school for it, you learn it, you get better over the years...I'm better now than I was 10 years ago, and hopefully I'll be better in 10 years still. These [bloggers]...they don't have that. They can write about [a proposed trade that was never discussed] and it doesn't matter."

It's a common opinion in the MSM, and Writer X expressed it more logically than most.

Too bad he's wrong. There's a reason citizen journalism is a reality and citizen surgery isn't.

True, the average piece of Washington Post political analysis is incredibly incisive, cogent, and clear-minded. Hundreds of WordPress posts on the same topic--nominally--don't come close.

But for a would-be writer with talent and drive, the learning curve from awful to OK isn't that steep; at the least, it's quicker than mastering laparoscopic surgery or understanding legal torts. Besides, plenty of reporters are awful writers and many columnists are annoyingly bombastic--it's just all ironed out by the newsroom, thanks to editors' rewrites and organizations' limits on what they can cover and argue.

Really, reporters only have three things that bloggers don't: Access, editors, and consequences.

But access--long the biggest barrier to legitimacy--isn't a problem in Dallas, thanks to Mark Cuban's decision to allow "all bloggers" to apply for Mavericks media credentials...regardless of age, affiliation, or experience.

Angry that his blogger ban was overruled, Cuban's clearly thumbing his nose by not establishing any ground rules--possibly hoping the policy will blow up.

Call us cynical, but it will. Access doesn't necessarily grant consequences, after all.

It won't go bad right away. But eventually, someone--with nothing to lose--will think he's making a name for himself by asking embarassing, inappropriate questions. Maybe he'll take and post pictures of players' body parts. Something bad. It probably won't be any blogger we've heard of, either, but someone who set up a blogspot address for the stunt appeal. And under Cuban's policy, only 30 seconds--the time it takes to register a free blog--separate any fan from the locker room.

Look, we need to be protected from ourselves. We've already demonstrated bad behavior, on a much smaller scale; after the experience below, do you think Sam Cassell is eager for more non-traditional interviews?

We love the Wizards but certainly don't expect credentials for WRG; the site's infrequently updated and has a small cadre of readers. Other bloggers don't want credentials, either; one Bright Side of the Sun poster just wants to keep writing in his pajamas, commenting on Phoenix without bias.

And we're not alone in responding cautiously. Over on Hardwood Paroxysm, Matt (and commenters) urge bloggers to self-select whether they have "something to offer" before applying for credentials, and to behave once they're issued.

We'd go farther in our advice for the rookie blogger who wants a press pass: Spend some time building a website and readership; write enough posts until you iron out the kinks. By the time you've earned an interview, you'll be a better blogger for it.

But unfortunately, "earning an interview" doesn't matter anymore.

Until today, it took talent, drive, and luck to get in that Mavericks locker room. Now, that's only true for the 15 players who actually work there.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 15:03, ,

Avoiding rookie mistakes: Fixing the draft

The college basketball season winds down, so NBA draft talk picks up. It's the order of things. Topics of the moment: Should the age limit be raised? Should the lottery be revamped? How "Beastley" will Michael's future be?

Currently unexplored: Should draft picks be able to say "thanks, but no thanks"?

So...let's consider it.


Truth is, despite its pomp, we all know the draft is an anomaly (in some ways, that's what it makes it so much fun). Every other level of basketball, the player's granted some choice: He selects his AAU team and can transfer between high schools. He's wooed throughout the college recruiting process and, with some penalties, changes programs if desired. As a professional, he'll likely weigh a number of offers over his career. Even an undrafted player gets some say over his fate.

But a would-be rookie has to sacrifice at least a year of his NBA career if he doesn't want to sign with the team that selected him--and there's no guarantee that he'll have any more control over the next two drafts, either.

Strong arguments favor the draft: The need to aid struggling franchises, to diffuse talent throughout a league, to see giant men in hideous suits. Minnesota probably wouldn't have gotten Kevin Garnett for a dozen seasons if he could've picked his fate out of high school; ditto for a Karl Malone ending up in Utah, or even a shy Larry Bird going to Boston.

Widespread rookie free agency, meanwhile, could tilt toward the deepest-pocketed franchises--witness baseball, where the best Japanese "rookies" have been signed by the juggernauts in New York and Boston--although the NBA salary cap would mitigate that, somewhat.

But frankly, we're in the camp that teenage phenoms just *might* not know what's best for them. After all, Kwame Brown wanted to go #1--"I won't disappoint you," he told then-GM Michael Jordan, sealing his case--and has spent his entire career failing to live up to expectations that he helped create.

Of course, players can have excellent reasons to hold out. Can we really blame Danny Ferry for trying to escape the disastrous Clippers? Even petulant Steve Francis--who wrongly dismissed Vancouver for being un-liveable--was right that the Grizzlies were a mess.

Thus. We considered possible compromises, no matter how out-of-the-box-and-one. Should the NBA adopt a "Match Day" system? Should Michael Buffer be hired to run a dutch auction? Should NBA teams just turn their front offices over to fantasy basketball players (who clearly, value players more accurately than one-third of the league's GMs).

Here's our simple solution.


On draft day, as soon as David Stern announces a team's selection, that player has a window--say, the five minutes until the next pick is made--to decide if he wants to accept his draft position. If so, it's business as usual; otherwise, the player's rights go back into the pool and the drafting team has two minutes to select again.

While this system gives players more choice, they're also accepting some financial risk--unlike today, when a draftee like Francis can get paid at his position and still force a trade. At the top of the NBA lottery, a contract is worth about 10% less for every subsequent draft slot, which translates to multiple millions of lost dollars. Nor would a player who rejected his draft slot be necessarily snapped up by the next team; that second franchise may have their own needs in mind or fear similar rejection. A player could fall--easily, unintentionally, and expensively.

Let's use Yi Jianlian as an example. Famously unhappy when Milwaukee selected him in last year's draft, rumors sprouted that Yi would prefer to play for Sacramento, given the city's location on the West coast and substantial Asian population. Under our system, Yi could've refused Milwaukee's selection at #6--and either refused subsequent selections or been passed over--until Sacramento selected him at #10. But for peace of mind, Yi'd be giving up nearly $3 million (assuming both teams exercised his third- and fourth-year options, as the graphic below indicates) over his rookie deal.

It's possible that, in Yi's case, California's greater endorsement opportunities would make up for his lost salary. Meanwhile, we're all spared a soap opera in Milwaukee; maybe GM Larry Harris actually selects a player who'll save his job.

Sure, the system would force players to make quick, momentous decisions of their own. But each team should have made its pitch weeks before, given that players spend months auditioning to be drafted; now, those auditions go both ways, as teams have a greater onus to convince players that their franchise offers them the best fit.

In some ways, this revisits PhDribble's open question on how teams develop their young players; although their locations may be less desirable than New York City, franchises like Portland and Utah can convincingly argue a track record of cultivating young players, giving them an edge over a dysfunctional team like the Knicks. Organizations would have new incentive to coach up rookies, rather than let them languish on the bench.


There'd have to be some protections against teams whipping around and dealing a player's rights, of course. And maybe the financial discrepancy between picks would need to be further staggered, to prevent against multiple players refusing to be drafted by some undesirable franchise (say, Oklahoma City at no. 16).

But imagine a draft using this system. And let's set aside the qualitative benefits to a player, or the jockeying of teams to convince a top prospect that their franchise is the right fit. Heck, let's even ignore that such a system would mitigate (to some extent) the need to tank; players might consider falling three-or-four extra draft spots to end up with a better team.

Instead, consider the moments after a pick's been announced, with the Green Room camera watching a draftee nervously ponder his decision. The added speculation--Will Derrick Rose accept the Timberwolves at #1 or fall to the Grizzlies at #3? Will anyone draft O.J. Mayo, after he said no to the Pacers at #2?--would push the evening's pure drama to an all-time high.

Sure, the NBA Draft would probably go on all night, as opposed to a relatively speedy four or five hours.

But since when has more NBA Draft been a bad thing?


posted by Doctor Dribbles @ 22:45, ,

Why mighty Zeus is ashamed...

While any true sports fan's attention is riveted on the CBI tournament and the premier match-up of Sean Singletary's Virginia squad versus, well, somebody, other less-focused and more globalist fans have already turned their attention to the 2008 Olympics.

Or, rather, they have not. In fact, no one has. No one, that is, other than Mitt Romney, who is looking to reprise his 2002 Salt Lake role in the burgeoning Asian futures market! (Or he may be angling for a Veep nomination - it is hard to tell).

Anyway, the lighting of the Olympic torch today, presented in all of its lackluster glory, got Pedro thinking - why doesn't Pedro (and consequently, everyone else) care about the Olympics? Let's consider five reasons, and just to be festive, we'll consider each reason as one of the five Olympic rings.

Ring 1 - BLUE --- Inequitable balancing of professional and amateur sports.

It all began with the "Dream Team." If the Olympics want the best the sport of basketball has to offer, then the Olympics needs Bird, Magic, Barkley, et al. Sure, the Dream Team dominated (but note how the silver went to Croatia - even before the Yugoslav war was complete! They were itching for a fight!), but the Dream Team also spoke to the death of the amateur spirit in the Olympics. Today, the US fields a team of pros and cannot even earn gold let alone demolish the opposition in an athletic display of hoops hegemony. Lame.

Moreover, what about curling? There is no professional curling league, so how are we to get the best-of-the-best, only to see aforementioned best-of-the-best fall flat on their faces a decade later through their own hubris? (Sidenote: There are, however, professional ice maintainers for curling amateurs. That is similar to professional waterboys for an all-amateur NFL. And that is simply lame.)

Ring 2 - BLACK --- The legal morass of the Olympics.

Take your pick - sketchy deals, smoke-filled backrooms with wheelers and dealers deciding the fate of under-sponsored athletes, crooked commissioners... the Olympics has it all.

It is a legal tangle waiting to happen. Just look at what they did to John Candy in Cool Runnings! The man only wanted a last hurrah before hit bit the dust - and look at what they did to him. The shame.

Two recent Supreme Court cases drive home the insecurity of the Olympics. In 1987, in San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. United States Olympic Committee, the United States Supreme Court held that Congress could grant the exclusive use of the word "Olympics" to the Committee. How insecure do you have to be? What, is the Olympics like McDonald's now, which has prevented me from expressing my true views on things that I love due to potential trademark infringement? Now I can only "really be liking" something or be "extremely passionate" about it - no longer can I be "lovin'" it. (Note: Redacted by McD's).

In a more interesting case, 2007's Morse v. Frederick, the Court decided the now-infamous "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" case. The backdrop, of course, was the passing of the Olympic (can I use that word?) torch through Juneau, Alaska, where the offending banner was unfurled. Lesson? The Olympics(TM) clearly hates free speech.

Ring 3 - RED --- The lamest mascots and opening shows ever.

I mean seriously. Has anyone ever felt more sorrow for the world's collective artistic creativity than when faced with an Olympic mascot or, worse yet, an Opening Ceremony?

We need not step back too far into the past. Think back (if you can bear to) to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. The opening ceremony included ice dancers with giant (massive!) tumors attached to their heads. What does that say about the Olympics - that it is a cancerous mass on the world's athletic conscience?

I think so.

The plethora of other pointless and downright bizarre ceremonies need not be recounted here. I am sure that you, like me, awake in a sweat several times a week after having re-lived the Lillehammer or Seoul ceremonies in your nightmare.

But what of the mascots? This year's offering is a variation on a theme of pandas, some with seaweed dripping from their hair, others immolating before our eyes after having stood too close to the torch, etc. Odd. It is like a troop of Teletubbies, only Jerry Falwell would have likely considered ALL of them to be sexually-suspect. Even the Americans can't get this one right, as the 1996 Atlanta mascot was some sort of lightning blue blob guy. WHY CAN'T THEY BE NORMAL?

Ring 4 - YELLOW --- Free Tibet, oxygen, et al.

How many more distractions from pure unadulterated competition can one bear? Even the opening of the 2008 Olympic season today was interrupted by Tibetan protestors. China's notable pollution problem is likely to prevent marathoners from breaking any records, though hopefully not from competing at all. Athletes are testing positive for steroids left and right. (Not sure how all those East German female shot-putters got through). All we hear about are these side issues. Why can't we get to the actual competition? Which brings me to the final ring (kind of like the 200 meter sprint in a pentathlon...)

Ring 5 - GREEN --- The Olympics have not been fun since the end of Communism.

Remember how amazing it was when the United States defeated the Soviet Union to win the 1980 gold medal in men's ice hockey? No? Allow Disney to refresh your mind...

Better? Yeah! Remember how good that felt? Do you know WHY it felt so good? Because it was the athletic equivalent of dropping a giant nuclear weapon on Moscow and wiping out all the Commies in a single blow!

Let's be honest with ourselves - what is the point of a competition based on nations other than to serve as a proxy for actual war between them? Don't even bother to try - you won't think of one.

The Olympics were initiated by the Greeks, who knew a thing or two about fighting (I haven't seen "300" yet, but I hear it's pretty good. Of course, I HAVE read my Herodotus, so I don't need any silly movie, thank you very much). Obviously the Greeks wanted to get their collective fight-on when the phalanxes weren't quite ready. Fast-forward through the nuclear age, and you get to a time when the Olympics were made to have G.I. Joe and Cobra (a.k.a. Russians) square off in the pit of sport combat.

I rue the day the Wall came down. It may have symbolized the re-birth of the East for many, but for me it marked the end of the Olympics. I just plain don't care about it any more.

You hear that Bode Miller!? I DON'T CARE!


posted by Pedro Cerrano @ 18:02, ,

Root of the problem: New website, same old complaints

Something us Slate fans have noticed: The site's been teasing articles from The Root, another Washington Post-owned property that's aiming to be a "Slate for black readers."

Of course, this raises the question: Why can't Slate be a Slate for black readers? After all, the magazine's incisive political commentary and snarky cultural coverage should cut across racial lines.

But let's get that sensitive question out of the way--The Root's a noble venture, we acknowledge the benefits of hearing from diverse voices and focusing on different perspectives, blah blah--to focus on our real concern:

Why are black readers getting vintage Slate crappy sports writing?


Sure, Slate's "Sports Nut" column has grown progressively more interesting, with one writer describing how he convinced Mark Cuban to try "free throw defense," or this week's neat story on Belmont's near-upset of Duke. But when it launched, Slate's sports commentary was insipid and wrong (Bryan Curtis's hatchet-job on Cal Ripken's 2001 retirement comes to mind; so does Malcolm Gladwell's opinion in 2000 that the "toothless" luxury tax was going to allow the Portland Trailblazers and New York Knicks to dominate this decade).

Now appearing on The Root, Martin Johnson's piece--"I Don't Do Brackets, and Here's Why"--inherits this ignoble tradition.

Johnson, who describes himself as a "curmedgeonly" 47-year-old--and who covers the Knicks for the New York Sun--says his "hackles start to rise" when March Madness is praised as America's greatest sporting event. Sure, it's an exciting tournament, he acknowledges. But thanks to NBA early entries and a lack of fundamentals, Johnson grumps, the quality of NCAA play has declined and isn't coming back.

There's some truth to his complaints. Johnson bemoans how last month's Tennessee-Memphis clash--a much-hyped contest between teams ranked no.1 and no.2--was beset with spacing errors and poor free throw shooters. He notes that Kobe and Garnett's migration to the pros has inspired similar defections, depriving the NCAAs of dozens of elite players.

But mostly--like Joey Dorsey from the free throw line--Johnson misses the point.

Yes, the lack of basketball fundamentals is disturbing...but as a central bone of contention, the idea is ancient. For example, players supposedly abandoned boring mid-range shots and skyhooks to ape high-flying Julius "Dr. J" Erving--in the 1970s. Given that it's 2008, complaining that declining fundamentals hurt March Madness is like arguing that the D.H. is ruining the World Series.

If anything, the NCAA tournament highlights fundamentals, by giving ample TV time to less-athletic, veteran-laden teams like Belmont, Butler, and Davidson. The tourney also weeds out teams too-high on hops and too-short on basics; a Connecticut squad laden with future pros was upset by deliberate, defensive-minded San Diego on Friday.

Next, Johnson proclaims that "Crowning a champion is not just about having a good time; it's about rewarding excellence, and if you're lucky enshrining greatness." He then recalls the 1970s and 1980s, name-checking players like Magic Johnson and Hakeem Olajuwon--both of whom declared for the NBA early, we might add--who led their teams to NCAA finals, and invokes schools like UCLA and Indiana, which stockpiled talent on their way to record-breaking seasons.

Sure, there's less star power at the top of college basketball, but blaming this solely on the players is asinine. Traditionally dominant programs don't have as many scholarships--down from 15 to 13--which spreads talent throughout the country. Meanwhile, players are more inclined to pick from a range of schools--like Davidson and Gonzaga--as ESPN's army of networks televises practically every team over the year. And today's champions are still plenty compelling. Because they didn't become NBA stars, we remember Juan Dixon and Mateen Cleaves differently than Magic and Hakeem--but that doesn't diminish how shining their moments were at the time.

Plus, there were plenty of midgets among Johnson's beloved giants. The "survive and advance" N.C. State team of 25 years ago was hardly a team for the ages; ditto for the Villanova champs two years later. Conversely, the past three schools to win the tournament--Florida, North Carolina, and Connecticut--were seeded with future pros, well-coached, and extremely fun to watch as a result.


What Johnson ignores is that March Madness isn't a year-to-year product, which fans can compare like seasons of The Wire. It's a singular event that always delivers natural, incomparable drama.

It's 300 universities--representing communities coast to coast--first competing in league tournaments for a shot at the crown. It's quick cuts and simultaneous action taking viewers to the most compelling games in progress. It's the thrill of many players' fight to continue their careers. None of this is dependent on fundamentals, on star power, on subjective "greatness." As we've implied--and as other, better riters have said--the leveling-out of college basketball makes for an ever-more compelling tournament, if anything.

In fact, we're curious what Johnson would put forth as the "greatest" sporting event in America if not March Madness.
Look, we love curmudgeons; We Rite Goode is nearly as critical as the next guys. However, we can't stand grouches who make tired, skewed arguments. And especially not sportswriters who should grasp the chance to watch basketball beyond the Knicks!

But perhaps Johnson just had an off-day (other pieces are good reads). And The Root is pretty new, so it's likely not too-discriminating on submissions--the site's probably hungry for content.

So, Mr. Gates, we'd like to make you an offer...

Let us chip in with NCAA tournament coverage. Or NBA draft previews. Or meta- posts about blogs writing about newspapers that critique blogs. Really, anything to get in on the ground floor of Slate 2.0.

We'll even break our WRG policy on hiding our identities--and more on that this week--to reveal this much: We're not black. (As far as we know; we haven't used The Root's genealogy tool yet.) But we can challenge the conventional wisdom and recycle old stories. And definitely do grumpy.

Which appear to be the major criteria to write about sports for a Washington Post-backed website.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 08:47, ,

Evidence mounts: This guy is Goode

It's tough to select your blog's official athlete.

(Truly, try it sometime. It's like a combination of choosing a college or naming your firstborn.

But harder.)

Should he be a recognized star or an emerging prospect, in keeping with your site's identity? Is he known for gritty perseverance or fluid grace, like your writing style?

Heck, should he be a he?

For WRG, we've narrowed it down, via a calculus of factors that can be parsed to these simple requirements:

He has to be Goode. As in, of both ability and stock.

We're not rugby fans--otherwise, we'd celebrate the exceptional Andy Goode; while we have some loyalty to the Terps, tight end Jason Goode avoided our notice last fall, much as he escaped Boston College defensive backs.

Really, from the first moment we saw his play and stat lines, the answer was obvious.

Jeremy Goode, come on down.

A sophomore point guard for Mount Saint Mary's, Goode led his team to the first win in this year's NCAA tournament: Tuesday's play-in victory over Coppin State. However, he initially registered on the WRG official radar back in December, recording a near-triple double in an upset of Loyola, and then winning league player-of-the-week 10 days later.

We love that Goode is cat-quick and apparently "mercurial"; we like less that there's no footage of him online, save a few seconds of dribbling out the clock. He's also exceptional at driving the lane and drawing fouls, with one of the top free throw rates in all of D1 despite his shorter stature.

Courageous, talented, a winner.

All ways I've been described. Oh, and I guess Goode gets that sometimes too. He's an appropriate WRG flag-bearer, especially during the NCAA tournament.


It's been noted before: Sports is a business. And who's to say that another player won't come along to grab our eyes? Or that, with tourney success, Goode will grow too big for WRG and start demanding to be the official athlete of Storming the Floor or the Mid-Majority instead?

So, why lock both sides into something we might regret? Jeremy, let's just say you're one of our few faves, pending official blog athlete arbitration.

But, readers, I guarantee: We'll definitely stick with Goode as long as the Mount survives in the NCAAs. He'll get the consistent, nurturing support our site is known for. On an unrelated note, good luck to the team in their game tonight...what was it, vs. UNC in Raleigh?

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posted by Doctor Dribbles @ 04:14, ,

Why no one minds Kobe's sting

From the archives:

Kobe Bryant absolutely, must be traded. Staying with the team is an "impossibility," says his agent.

Last fall, before the Lakers morphed into contenders?


(And shouldn't you be ready for our fake-outs by now?)

Try 1996 on for size.

As occasionally referenced during today's National Celebration of Beans, Kobe was originally a Charlotte Hornet; the team snatched him at no. 13, the final pick of the 1996 lottery, before swapping him for the Lakers' Vlade Divac. Of course, this is one of those footnotes in NBA history that many fans do know, and imagining a league without the trade--one of the "most lopsided" in history--can be fun. Minus his All-Star wingman, would Shaq have won any rings in L.A.? Might he have wanted to come partner with Kobe, instead of Dwyane?

But forget "What If."

Instead, let's ask "Why"--as in Why has Kobe always gotten a free pass over demanding out of Charlotte? Why does no one question that he forced a trade from a franchise that crumbled a few years later?


Think about that for a second. We'd bet you've never really considered it a black mark on Kobe's career. And you wouldn't be alone.

Take Kobe's detractors, who are quick to seize on any anti-Mamba ammunition; unfairly or not, here's their common criticism from across the 'net:

1. Kobe's selfish.
2. And phony.
3. He'll cheat during the game.
4. And on his wife.
5. Bah--who needs a reason to hate Kobe? It's just fun.

Of course, Kobe doesn't have a stranglehold on labels like "selfish", "phony," and "philandering" among professional athletes; however, while many fans hate draft-dodgers--especially those who mess up a franchise's fortunes--even Kobe's worst enemies won't bring up the Charlotte trade demand. Note that other star athletes, like the following three, still take considerably more criticism for asking out on draft day; just look at any blog post about Steve Francis's flagging career--at least one commenter always connects karma to Canada.


Naturally, each draft-day trade demand plays out differently, leading to varying degrees of acrimony and fan grumbling, although players can mend fences with time and actions. Consider Yi Jianlian; once he recanted his desire to escape Milwaukee and started the year strong, he became a fan favorite. Meanwhile, Danny Ferry--a top prospect himself, so many years ago--stuck to his guns when drafted by the Clippers and postponed the NBA; while Ferry burned many bridges, he eventually became a respected player in his late career and was hired as Cleveland's GM.

In Kobe's case, he's never needed to apologize to the Hornets, and the intervening years aren't the reason why--he wasn't grilled much to begin with. Instead, here are the five key reasons why Bryant's rejection of Charlotte didn't draw much eyre then or now.

1. Because Charlotte didn't want him, anyway.
It seems ludicrous in retrospect, but the Hornets felt they were set on the perimeter, with swingmen Glen Rice, Larry Johnson, and Kendall Gill, and guards Kenny Anderson and Dell Curry. Instead, the team was desperately looking for size, and hoping that...drum roll, please...Todd Fuller or Vitaly Potapenko would fall to them in the draft.

According to then-Hornets Coach Dave Cowens, if the team couldn't select either of these franchise-changing players, "I don't know what we'll do...[probably] take some Maalox."

Either Fuller or Potapenko in action at draft campAction shot of Fuller. Or Potapenko. Or maybe both. Now that we think about it, they were never seen shuffling down the same basketball court at the same time...

The Hornets also worried about projecting a high school player's development on the NBA level, given that only three preps-to-pros were selected between 1975 and 1995; with few comparisons, it was difficult to predict if an 18-year-old was the next Bill Willoughby or Kevin Garnett, and it was even harder to project the transition for a high school guard. Moreover, the Hornets feared that they'd spend several years teaching and cultivating an under-prepared teenager...just in time for another team to swoop in, when the player's rookie contract expired.

As a result--and with Fuller and Potapenko sadly off the board at nos. 11 and 12--Charlotte was merely picking for Lakers GM Jerry West, who'd eyed Bryant as a piece for a new-look in L.A.

2. Because the trade demand only mattered for a few days.
Kobe's Hollywood dreams didn't go public until after the draft, when Divac said he'd rather retire than leave L.A.--forcing Charlotte to explore other trade possibilities. (Whoops). Arn Tellem, Bryant's agent, immediately insisted that Kobe "is going to be a Laker, and that's the only team he's playing for"; this kept with Tellem's secret pre-draft strategy, when he'd warned other lottery teams not to pick Kobe, since he would only play for the Lakers. Scared away, the New Jersey Nets used their no. 8 draft pick on shooting guard Kerry Kittles instead. In retrospect, maybe they lost that game of chicken?

However, Kobe's demand only stood for a few days before Divac relented and agreed to be dealt; unlike Francis visibly sulking through the 1999 NBA Draft, Elway calling his own press conference to demand out, or even the messy circus last year, Kobe's "get me to L.A." demand was handled reasonably quickly and by proxy. Plus, when pressed by reporters, Kobe successfully deployed the "I'm just 17 years-old--what could I possibly know about where to play?" defense--in retrospect, the best defense that he played all rookie season.

3. Because the Hornets were immediately successful.
Unlike the similarly scorned Colts or Grizzlies, which languished for years after being rejected by potential franchise-changers, the Hornets promptly improved after dealing their wayward draft pick. While no superstar, Divac was a nice upgrade over incumbent center Matt Geiger, as he and fellow acquisition Anthony Mason gave the Hornets one of the great-passing frontcourts of recent years.

In fact, the Hornets were much better at exceeding short-term expectations than the Lakers, who had championship aspirations after adding Shaq to replace Divac. Despite preseason predictions that the Hornets were lottery-bound again, the 1996-1997 squad rolled to 54-28, the best record* in the franchise's 20-year history, and won another 51 games the next season.

* Until next month.

4. Because Kobe quickly had success elsewhere.
Unlike Francis, whose career appears to be winding down and will never escape the shadow of Vancouver, Kobe obviously bloomed in Los Angeles. Sure, the first few years had some rough moments--several playoff airballs against the Jazz stand out--but Kobe got so good, so fast, and won three titles before he turned 24.

Just as Eli no longer has to answer questions regarding his forced deal to the NY Giants, Kobe proved he was worthy of special accommodations long ago.

5. Because the Hornets didn't fail in Charlotte because of him.
It would take an incredibly evil and conniving athlete to force a trade simply to destroy a franchise--and even Mamba's biggest detractors wouldn't say he's that Machiavellian. Instead, most of the blame rests with owner George Shinn, whose personal scandals ruined the Hive's sweet thing; by 2001, local hatred of Shinn had helped drop average Hornet attendance to under 12,000, with some games dipping into the four digits.

Of course, having a draw like Bryant in his prime could have boosted the Hornets at the gate. But when Kobe asked out in 1996, the team was selling out at home--even during a .500 season--and how could he foresee Shinn's coming troubles? Bryant can do many things, but as the Bynum and Kupchak brouhaha proved, predicting the future isn't among his skills.


See--you didn't have to worry, Kobe Bryant fans; for today's national Wagyu Cattle Holiday, even potentially critical blog posts of Mamba are gently explained away.

Of course, this whole post broaches on an even-deeper question: Should professional athletes be able to demand their way out of a league's entry draft?


You know what? We'll save that one for Leon Wood Day.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 02:55, ,

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