Six Pack: Ridiculous Rigging & Rotten Refs?
HOOPSWORLD’s Senior NBA Analyst Tommy Beer takes you through his most recent musings on the National Basketball Association in this latest installment of the NBA Six Pack…
1. Breaking News: Referees are Human Beings
The NBA conspiracy theorists were out in force on Wednesday night. First, folks got all worked up claiming that the David Stern and the NBA rigged the lottery. In addition, many pundits lambasted the refs in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. We’ll tackle the matter of officiating first.
Poor refereeing is a topic that inevitably arises from time to time, although far more frequently in the postseason, as each game garners additional attention. This is a theme that certainly isn’t limited to the NBA; all professional leagues are beset by outraged fans and columnists at one time or another.
My response is almost always the same: refs, just like players, will make mistakes. When Ray Allen misses four free throws in an playoff game, it’s not because he is being paid off by bookies, or because he and David Stern made a backdoor deal to ensure the Miami HEAT advance to the Finals. No, it’s because he’s not perfect.
Michael Jordan famously missed over 9,000 shots in his career. Ted Williams, even when he hit .400, “failed” 60 percent of the time he stepped in the batter box. Jerry Rice didn’t catch every pass thrown in his direction. Point being, even the greatest athletes in history drop the ball every now and then. If we know it’s unfair to expect perfection from MJ, why do we seemingly insist a mere mortal NBA referee must make the right call every time he blows his whistle?
If I’m a coach, I sit my team down in training camp and explain that we will go into every game expecting bad calls will cost us five or six points on a nightly basis. I’d constantly remind them that we need to attempt to build a three possession cushion every night, anticipating a few calls won’t go our way (especially when we are playing on the road).
The most frustrating part of this debate is that the complaining party is almost always the team that just lost. As a result, they cite all the calls that favored their opponent, while ignoring the whistles that went their way. For instance, it’s weird, but Boston fans seem to be a lot less critical of officials missing calls when those same refs don’t call Kevin Garnett for illegal screens every trip down the floor.
Eventually, the calls typically even out over the course of 48 minutes. If a ref is inadequate, he’s typically consistently bad for both sides. Moreover, refs are judged/graded by the league office after every single game they officiate. If a referee regularly fails to live up the standards set by the league, he’ll get fired.
If you want to argue that the league should increase its use of instant replay, I totally agree with that idea. However, as long as we are relying in human being to make split-second decisions, we need to fully understand and accept they will not always make the right call.
2. Conspiracy Theories Abound
The NBA is a multibillion dollar, multinational industry. Many powerful people would have A LOT to lose if they league was ever caught illegally and intentionally manipulating the results of an event as important and high scrutinized as the NBA Draft Lottery. If malfeasance was ever proven, the fallout would be apocalyptic. Untold millions would be lost, the immoral masterminds would likely be jailed and the league would never fully recover from the scandal.
Still, with all that as the backdrop, there are somehow plenty of people convinced David Stern and/or the NBA league office clandestinely conspired to rig the lottery.
Other than saying, “C’mon man! Are you serious?” – I guess my first question to conspiracy theorists would be “Why?”
Stern and the NBA have so much to gain by keeping the league on the up-and-up, and so much to lose by cheating. Would the payoff, gifting the #1 overall pick to the New Orleans Hornets, be worth the potential consequences if caught?
Granted, the NBA took some heat (rightfully so) with the way they handled the Chris Paul trade last winter, and the Hornets winding up with the #1 pick makes that trade, and the future of the franchise, look more favorable. But the NBA had plenty of potential buyers lined up to buy the team as soon as it went on the market and Tom Benson had already purchased the Hornets. Was he going to back out of a deal if the Hornets ended up with the #4 pick in the draft instead of #1? Of course not, so why on earth would Stern and company to put their necks on the line?
Better yet, what would have happened if the Brooklyn Nets won the lottery? You would have heard an endless outcry from newfound conspiracy theorists about how Stern and the NBA rigged the results because the league so favors “big market” teams that they were determined to do whatever it takes to make sure the Nets moved to Brooklyn with Anthony Davis and Deron Williams in tow. Of course, those same people would conveniently forget that two small-market teams (OKC and San Antonio) are battling for supremacy out west, while both teams from Los Angeles and the Knickerbockers from New York are sitting at home.
Or if Charlotte had hit the lottery, others would argue that the NBA wanted to reward Bobcats owner Michael Jordan for all he had done for the league. Nearly any way the ping-pong balls had bounced, an equally nonsensical conspiracy theory could be applied. Doesn’t that simple fact instantly diminish the validity of the current conspiracy claims?
It simply makes no sense for David Stern to illegally “award” one franchise with the #1 overall pick, especially when he is works directly for all 30 owners collectively.
Almost as an aside, there are 20-plus people, including journalists and team executives, in the room when the lottery is held. Even if there was a valid reason and clear intent to consider this type of enterprise, pulling off and successfully covering up such a scheme would basically be impossible.
And again, at the end of the day, follow the money. If the NBA was ever going to consider wrecking the sport, I’d at least listen to you if you convinced me they stood to gain billions in the process. But to suggest Stern would potentially destroy a league he spent 25 years building up, solely to make himself look like a savvy GM or help sell a team that had already been sold; well, that’s just ridiculous.
The fact of the matter is this: No amount of proof or ironclad common sense will ever be enough to placate people that are already convinced of a conspiracy.
3. Rajon Rondo Produces a Game for the Ages
As we transition back to the actual game of basketball, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss, at least briefly, the incredible performance submitted by Boston point guard Rajon Rondo in Game 2 versus Miami.
The first year the NBA playoffs were held was 1947. In the 65 years since, thousands upon thousands of playoff games have been played, yet no one ever poured in 44 points, dished out 10 assists and grabbed 8 rebounds in the same game. That is, until Rondo did it on Wednesday night. Think about that. Not LeBron, nor MJ. Not Wilt, nor Larry Legend, nor Magic. No player in NBA history matched those numbers in all categories in a playoff game.
There has been some interesting debate over the last 24 hours about where this virtuoso performance deserves to be ranked amongst the all-time greatest single-game efforts in NBA history. As amazing as Rondo’s masterpiece was, it is very difficult to rank it ahead of many other incredible individual efforts in which the protagonist’s team won. If the C’s had somehow pulled out a victory, I’d be far more comfortable putting Rondo’s game near the top of the list. But the C’s losing to Miami has be factored into the conversation. For instance, I’d slot LeBron James incredible Game 4 season-saver at Indiana (40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks) ahead of Rondo’s Game 2.
That said, it certainly doesn’t take away from the appreciating the magnificence that Rajon brings to the table. Danny Ainge has made a number of great decisions during his tenure as a Celtics executive, but locking up Rajon long-term via an affordable contract back in the summer of 2009, ranks right up there near the top.
Rajon Rondo will be paid a total of $23 million through 2014, which is less than what Rashard Lewis will make next season alone. A strong argument could be made that Rondo’s current pact is the best “bang-for-the-buck” contract in the NBA (excluding players on rookie deals).
4. Quote of the Week:
“I want some nasty.” – Gregg Popovich (during Game 1 of the WCF)
5. David Stern discusses the state of the NBA
Commissioner David Stern addressed several subjects via a press conference with gathered media before the Draft Lottery on Wednesday night, including the Nets-Knicks rivalry, the Olympics, the players’ union appeal for a clarification on Bird rights and the growth of the league in its return from a lockout. The tidbits transcribed below represent a few of the more interesting statements.
When asked about the Brooklyn Nets-New York Knicks rivalry: “We are awaiting the summer to see how the Nets fulfill their assurances and their aspirations, but we have seen the Knicks moving up quite a bit, and I think that we are going to have, you know two, sold-out arenas, not just for games against each other, but for all games…I’ve been out to Brooklyn. It’s going to be kind of interesting. I’m not sure how much I’m going to drive there but I’m going to get there and it’s probably easier not to drive,” said Stern.
What is it like having two small-market teams in the Western Conference Finals?: “When Tim Duncan does something, it is going around the world on social media. When Kevin Durant does something incredible, there are a billion fans that are looking to stream video highlights on NBA.com, that are looking at Kevin Durant. And it’s one of the reasons why our ratings were high during the regular season. We want to get to the place where that question isn’t asked, and for us to mean it and you to believe it, okay, because no one asked it when you see Green Bay, New Orleans and Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.”
Do you have an opinion on the union’s contention that waived players should retain Bird rights? (a hearing is set for June 13th with an independent arbitrator): “We believe that the position that we are espousing here is the one that the contract says is the one and that the arbitrator will confirm. And whatever the outcome, it won’t affect the rivalry between the Knicks and the Nets.”
Would you consider changing the draft process, including the lottery?: “What I’m thinking in my mind, which shouldn’t pass my lips; you can’t win. We’ve had a system for those of you too young to remember, where the worst team would get the pick and then it was a coin flip, so you had what we called the race to the bottom to be in the coin flip. And then we did the lottery. And the lottery was, everyone had an equal pick… But then we went to more teams in the first round and the lottery expanded, and so we changed the lottery to not be equal for everybody, but then Shaq and Penny Hardaway came, like back-to-back, and everyone said, Ohhh, you shouldn’t have a team like Orlando, that’s going to have a chance to do so well and win two lotteries in a row. So we remodeled it a bit, and so now we have our current system.”
Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Week:
* From Elias: Of all the nay-saying in sports, we’ve often thought that top honors go to teams that trail, two games to none, in a postseason series. “It’s all over.” “They don’t belong on the same court (field, ice).” “Call the series off right now.” And so forth. And yet – if the team trailing two games to none just wins the next game – well, the series, at two games to one, is as close as a series can be after three games. The Thunder taught that lesson anew by pinning the first loss of these playoffs on the Spurs, 102-82, on Thursday night. However, none of the last six NBA teams with a win like that – by 20-or-more points in Game Three when trailing in the series, two games to none – went on to win the series. The last team that won a playoff series after being in a two-games-to-none hole and winning Game Three by a 20-point margin? The Lakers, in a 2004 Western Conference Semifinals series, when they used a 105-81 victory in Game Three as a springboard to win four in a row – over Gregg Popovich’s Spurs.
* Thabo Sefolosha recorded six steals for the Thunder in their 102-82 win over the Spurs. That’s the highest playoff steal total for the franchise since Gary Payton had six for Seattle against Utah on May 3, 2000. It was the most steals by any player in a postseason game against San Antonio since Dirk Nowitzki had six on May 14, 2001.
* The Thunder won by 20 points despite uninspiring shooting performances from their “Big Three.” Kevin Durant shot 8 for 17 from the field, Russell Westbrook was 5 for 15 and James Harden went 5 for 10. Oklahoma City had been 4-8 all-time in playoff games in which all three stars played and none shot higher than 50 percent. And only once had they won such a playoff game by more than 10 points: a 27-point second-round win over the Grizzlies in 2011.
* From Elias: Dwyane Wade has scored at least 20 points in each of his last 12 playoff games against the Celtics. The last player with 12 straight 20-point performances versus the Celtics in the playoffs was Jerry West, who did so in 18 straight games from 1966 to 1969, all in the NBA Finals.