1. NBA reveals its official 75th anniversary team
A couple of weeks ago, I tried to predict who will make the NBA’s diamond jubilee team based on the profiles of the 1996 50th anniversary team (in case you missed it, click here and here). The league finally unveiled the 76 names (there was a tie) on its 75th anniversary team over the first three days of the regular season, which means it’s time to do a postmortem.
But before going through the hits and misses, let me first say how pleased I was to find out that everyone from the NBA 50 made it to the NBA 75. There was no mandate to keep them but I’m glad voters shared the same sentiments I had. Was the Top 50 a definitive list? Not really, as the 1973 Knicks had way too many guys on it (FIVE!!!). But it’s just more respectful to keep the old guys. I hope that next time they’ll just add 25 more names to complete the centennial team.
So how did I do? Let’s look at results per tier:
Over/Under Guys: 7/7
Dwayne Johnsons: 3/6
That’s 24 out of 27, which is roughly 89%. If you add Reggie Miller as a bonus write-in from the Lloyd Christmas group, yours truly got 25 of the 26 new names. Overall, I’d say an A- is a fair grade.
A quick word on Miller. We all knew he was going to make the NBA 75 team because of the 3-point revolution, but he had such a spotty CV. For one, he wasn’t even the second-best shooting guard of the 90s! He only had three All-NBA selections, all Third Teams; Mitch Richmond, who nobody even seriously considered for the Top 75, made three Second Teams and two Third Teams that decade.
Damian Lillard was the one guy I missed, while Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker didn’t make the cut. I placed all three in the Dwayne Johnson tier because I felt that their resumés were solid enough to merit near-lock status, but voters obviously had a different view.
Dwight has more All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defense selections than Dame, and was the best player on a runner-up; Dame hasn’t even won a single game in the conference finals. Dwight finished in the Top 5 of the MVP ballot 4 times, including a runner-up finish in 2011, whereas Dame has done so only once (finished 4th). Throw in the three DPOYs and it shouldn’t even be close. But I guess the panel wasn’t immune to recency bias and the image of Dwight that had been burned into their minds was his disappointing stints with the Lakers (2013) and Rockets.
Both Gasol and Parker had the same number of All-Star appearances as Dame (6) and had proven themselves on the biggest stage, which should have more than made up for their deficit in All-NBA selections (Gasol and Parker had 4 apiece compared to Dame’s 6). I may have overestimated the championship rule (aka the 1973 Knicks rule), but it’s still baffling because of how indispensable Gasol and Parker were to title teams.
And if you’re going with a non-champion, Nikola Jokic, who I had on the Lloyd Christmas tier because of the probable Shaq exception, seems to be a better choice. An MVP should count THAT MUCH, especially when compared to a guy with “only” 6 All-Stars. It also would’ve made more sense considering that the voters rectified 1996’s Bob McAdoo snub, the only MVP who was missing in the original Top 50. (Speaking of, getting all three “old” new guys in—McAdoo, Dennis Rodman, and Dominique Wilkins—was quite satisfying. Sidenote 2: no issues here with the exclusion of another MVP, Derrick Rose.)
Then what about Tracy McGrady? I didn’t have him on any of the tiers but he had one more All-Star and All-NBA than Dame and, I’d argue, a higher peak. T-Mac’s best two year run vs. Dame’s:
T-Mac (2002-2004): 142 GP, 30.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 27.9 PER, 24.5 WS, 0.209 WS/48
Dame (2019-2021): 133 GP, 29.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 26.3 PER, 22.0 WS, 0.217 WS/48
Not hating on Dame here. He was actually on the off-the-top list that I circulated to my friends (together with McGrady and Chris Webber) but once I started vetting, I had to cut him because his case just wasn’t strong enough based on pure merit. Just keepin’ it real.
My final takeaways from the NBA 75 team:
• Not enough love for the noughties (Gasol, Parker, Dwight, McGrady, Webber, Manu Ginobili)
• Not enough love for international guys (Gasol, Parker, Ginobili, Jokic)
• The 1973 Knicks rule didn’t carry much weight this time (Gasol, Parker, Ginobili, Chris Bosh, Joe Dumars, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green)
• There’s a new rule that was non-existent in 1996: three-pointers and clutch playoff moments (even if the reputation is overblown) trump being the Robin on a championship team and all-league awards, aka the Reggie Miller rule. But the centennial panel might need to refine that because Kyrie (The Shot IV) and Game 6 Klay both didn’t make it—and they’ve got the rings too. Or maybe part of the rule is having the word ‘time’ as part of your nickname, i.e., Miller Time and Dame Time. Alright, let’s roll with that.
• Dwight was so upset about the snub that he probably fought Anthony Davis on the Lakers bench last night because he felt AD took his spot. (We’re kidding, kinda.)
OK, I made that up (the backstory, not the fight). But here’s a true story: a reader sent me a message after part 1 of my list was published to highlight the exact same thing and said I should’ve put Dwight ahead of AD.
2. DeAndre Ayton and the Suns fail to reach an agreement on contract extension
Ayton is going to be a restricted free agent next summer. The short of it is that he wanted a max extension but the Suns weren’t willing to give him one because he’s not on the same level as 2018 draft classmates Luka Doncic and Trae Young.
Is Ayton being unreasonable? Or are the Suns being cheap? Well, the answer isn’t straightforward. Last season, he averaged 14.4 points on 62.6% shooting to go with 10.5 boards and 1.2 blocks. Certainly not max numbers, right? But remember, he sacrificed his scoring by design for the good of the team. During his rookie season, he averaged 16.3 points on 12.2 attempts; in his sophomore year, he put up 18.2 points on 14.9 shots. Last season? His field goal attempts went down to 9.7. Could he have been a 20-10 guy? Certainly seems like it based on his trajectory. Ultimately, the team finished with the second-best regular season record thanks in no small part to Ayton’s sacrifice.
And we’re not even talking about the playoffs yet. Full disclosure: Ayton was my favorite player last postseason. He always seemed to do the right thing on the court—he knew what his strengths were and never tried to do too much. He’s a coach’s dream. The Suns big averaged 16.0 points, 12.1 rebounds and shot 67.6% from the field in the playoffs. He had 15 double-doubles, including a monster 22-point, 19-rebound outing in his Finals debut. And there were times when he looked like the Suns’ true MVP. His offensive rebounding was huge throughout, particularly in the Clippers series when the Suns went through dry spells; his 4.5 offensive boards per game generated much-needed extra possessions for his team.
In a way, it’s easy to understand where Ayton is coming from. He gave up his scoring to give his team the best opportunity to succeed and the Suns ended up two wins away from the title. He did everything the team asked and was a good soldier, but suddenly the Suns wouldn’t give him the max? That basically sums up the frustration of every employee.
Robert Sarver has a reputation for being a stingy owner, so it’s easy to pin the blame on him. (Sarver also has other things to worry about after allegations of racism, sexism and harassment have apparently been made against him in a “proposed story” by ESPN. This coming after the NFL’s GrudenGate email leaks.)
However, we can’t deny that Ayton isn’t quite on Luka and Trae’s level, with or without his sacrifice. He is yet to make an All-Star team and while he has made strides as a defender, he’s not quite All-Defense yet (he didn’t receive a single vote in last season’s All-Defensive Team balloting).
The Suns know the going rate for centers. There are only 4 making the max: Jokic, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, and Karl-Anthony Towns—guys who are either elite shot-creators or elite defenders (or, in the case of Embiid, both). Last season’s other 20-10 centers are earning below max: Domantas Sabonis ($20M) and Nikola Vucevic ($25M). Clint Capela had comparable regular season stats to Ayton and he’s getting $18M. While Ayton is younger than these guys and should receive a premium for the upside, he doesn’t have the skillset of max-caliber centers. At least not yet.
But the counterpoint for Ayton is that Denver and OKC gave Michael Porter Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander max extensions despite zero All-Star appearances between them. Moreover, neither of those guys has had an impressive playoff run like the one Ayton just had.
Ayton will get the chance to earn his max this season, but he’ll have to do it predominantly on the defensive end because the Suns’ two-guard setup would naturally limit his touches. I hope he makes a run for the DPOY, but if things don’t work out in Phoenix, I think he’ll be the perfect partner for Luka in Dallas.
3. Ben Simmons pleads insanity
The Ben Simmons soap opera is becoming unintentional comedy gold. Here’s the past week in the life of BS:
• Monday: Simmons shows up for practice looking like he’s about to throw a tantrum.
• Tuesday: Doc Rivers throws him out of practice for not being engaged. Sixers then suspend him for the season opener.
A clearly frustrated Joel Embiid told the media that it wasn’t his job to “babysit somebody.”
Then there were rumors that Simmons hit up a strip club after being tossed in practice. To be honest, the first thought I had was him throwing dollar bills but missing the stage.
• Wednesday: Simmons lists his Philadelphia-area house for $5M.
Daryl Morey appears to have gone full scorched earth when he said in an interview that “people should buckle in, this is gonna go a long time.”
The Sixers’ 20-point rout of the Pelicans in their season opener ends up being an afterthought.
• Thursday: Simmons skips individual workouts due to “back tightness” and informs the Sixers that he is not “mentally ready.” You know where this is going; Rich Paul is taking a page out of Naomi Osaka’s playbook and has advised his client…
Sources say that team officials think Simmons is faking both his back injury and mental unpreparedness and are reportedly “livid” with the point guard.
Even Philadelphia Eagles Pro-Bowler Jason Kelce weighed in and went viral for his ice-cold take:
• Friday: Simmons misses Philly’s home opener against Brooklyn after meeting with members of the organization and telling them that he wasn’t mentally ready to play to his expectations and needed time to step away. He reportedly plans to meet with medical professionals for an evaluation but as Woj notes, there’s actually a provision in the CBA that states a player’s salary cannot be withheld for failing to render services (e.g., practice and play) “if such failure has been caused by the player’s mental disability.”
Oh, boy. He’s really going down that rabbit hole. Apparently, he’s never seen Tropic Thunder:
I don’t mean to make light of mental health issues, but we all know BS’s play here. And I’m calling BS on BS.
The funniest thing about the entire predicament is that everything is 100% Ben and his agent’s fault. They hired Ben’s brother, Liam, a former low-level Division I guard and assistant coach, as shooting coach in 2018. The results were for everyone to see as he shot 34.2% from the free throw line last postseason. Everything came to a head when Simmons passed on an open opportunity at the rim in order to avoid getting blocked by renowned rim protector Trae Young and going to the line late in Game 7 against Atlanta. He threatened to hold out in the offseason but eventually came back to Philly with his tail between his legs after the Sixers started withholding his salary and imposing fines. And then he and Klutch come up with a god-awful excuse to get out of the shithole they created.
Simmons has already lost any leverage he may have had, but more importantly, he has now lost the respect of Doc, Daryl, and Joel. That’s why they’re practically treating him like a candy-ass.