This will be my fourth summer in Austin. I arrived in an old Explorer, since gone to scrap heaven. The journey began on Cape Cod which in of itself, had been a four-year chapter. The drive wasn’t bad until I hit an unyielding wall of heat in Arkansas - the triple-digit days would continue without relief for the next two months. Now, the blast-furnace is here again, its scaly eye unblinking. Our esteemed Governor, who doesn’t accept climate science, has issued an official proclamation calling for "three days of prayer for rain". I'm not lying.
The CBA runs out June 30th. If a new deal isn’t in place by then, the league shuts down. The players were able to retain the existence of fully-guaranteed contracts on Friday and a pivotal full-scale meeting is scheduled for tomorrow. The big issues we keep hearing about are the hard cap and sharing of revenues. It’s the latter that receives the least publicity and which I believe, is the most complicated - the definition and exploitation of internet/new media profits remains the league’s wild frontier - mobile devices just weren’t contemplated in the formative boilerplates of the past.
Play the player, not the game. Owners have always had the ability to self-limit salaries but the wealthiest and most successful chose to pay the tax in order to monopolize the talent. Now they’re screaming poverty and foul when in fact, they’re trying to put their lesser counterparts out of business. Crazy-talk you say? Consider this, why would the most profitable owners willingly lock down and forgo billions in sales, network and ancillary streams? To screw the players? Hardly. They’re looking to narrow the field and command a greater piece of the pie, further down the line. It’s the first step in the vertical integration of the league. If they can break the players’ union in the process, all the better.
The league's already dismantling its machinery - teams are laying off employees and Summer League's been cancelled. A depleted draft still looms however - this Thursday, a week before Armageddon. The Lakers traded away their first-round choice in the Sasha/Smith swap but still have four picks in the second - numbers 41, 46, 56 & 58. As Mitch Kupchak recently explained, players in the late second-round tilt toward singular dimensions. Still, there's a cluster of point guards in the nose-bleed seats - here's four of them:
Darius Morris probably won’t slip this far but if he does, we'll nab him. He’s a 6-5 sophomore point guard out of Michigan, doesn’t have outstanding speed or a perimeter shot but has size, leadership skills and a pass-first mentality that would fit well in a Kobe-dominated system.
Corey Joseph’s from Canada, came to UT here in Austin for his freshman year. He’s 6-3, 200 lbs and can flat out score the ball. Jumpers, floaters, reverse lay-ups, can hit if from pretty much any angle including distance. He’s a solid defender but still green - would probably be parked in the D-league or overseas for seasoning.
Isaiah Thomas (no relation) stands 5-10 on his tippy-toes which means he can easily be stashed in Bynum’s back pocket. He’s a speed-burner, has a wicked crossover and is fearless driving to the basket and drawing contact. He never would have caught a glance during the Phil era and we’re probably overdue for some wee little people.
Finally, guard fixation aside, offered is the cautionary tale of Jeremy Tyler. The 6-11 center came under the spell of Sonny Vaccaro and skipped his senior year of highschool, earning a one-year eligibility suspension from the NBA. At age 17, he played in the Nike Global Challenge. 2009 found him with Maccabi Haifa where he played sparingly, butted heads (literally) and quit with five games remaining in the season. More recently, he's been with Tokyo Apache. Dan Wetzel once had this kid pegged for the number one overall pick. The fact that he's now in the bottom half of a weak draft, at age 20, says it all. Still, his raw talent has never been questioned and a modest gamble could be warranted, especially with the rumor that Derek Caracter won't be asked back.
Thanks to Draft Express whom I ripped off liberally for the above thumbnails. Their mock draft can be found here.
If the league shuts down, the future for most of these bubble players will be dim - next year's draft promises to be stronger and team retraction with be front and center - fewer teams means fewer spots.
Finally, there's been plenty of good reading lately but one piece in particular has been linked and tweeted far and wide and for good reason. Here it is again, Chris Ford's fine article on Jimmy Butler. It's the kind of story that gives me hope for the future, until I remember what's become the modern catch-phrase among both management and players - it's a business. Soon, there may not even be that.