The problem with value contracts

Where I’m from, avocados cost about two bucks. During some parts of the year, this might go up to closer to $3; other times they’re $1.50. Aside from the fact that this is the price which allows everyone along the chain of avocado production to make a little bit of coin, it is also the price which ensures avocado supply and demand stays pretty well balanced.

If you know anything about economics, this won’t be anything new to you. If one day the supermarket decided that the avocados should be priced at 20 cents, the first ten people to the supermarket would probably buy 100 each, and the rest of us would be ruing not having anything to put with our poached eggs. In contrast, if the supermarket suddenly upped the price to $50 per avocado, no one would buy them, and after a couple of days all the avocados would get thrown in the bin.

So what does this have to do with basketball, you might ask? NBA players, like avocados, have an inherent value. Of course, this is related to their ability to play the game and make a team better, rather than how much nutritional value they provide you with and what they taste like, but the concept is the same. The salary cap is a system which is roughly based around these inherent values, and is intended to ensure that talent is, at least to an extent, distributed across the league.

Another difference between players and avocados though, is that players have a say in their own worth. They can actively decide to sign a contract which doesn’t truly reflect their value. When they decide that they’re willing to take a pay cut so that their team can, say, sign Kevin Durant, the general consensus seems to be to say, ‘hey, good for them. Putting the future of their team ahead of their own personal needs’. As Draymond Green so pertinently stated after Game 1 of this year’s finals, ‘we’re out here trying to feed our families’, so why shouldn’t we laud them for making a sacrifice? Well, aside from the fact that I can’t imagine Dray’s family is going to bed hungry with the $16 million plus endorsements, appearances etc that he makes a year, it disrupts this concept of talent distribution.

Players shouldn’t necessarily be criticised for signing these kinds of contracts, and there certainly is an element of selflessness to it – though they aren’t exactly Nelson Mandela for doing it. This selflessness, however, is more related to the fact that they value a ring over an extra few million a year, rather than a desire to sacrifice for the greater good. It benefits their teammates, themselves, and their fans, but as for the rest of us? Not so much.

The NBA isn’t the most equitable league on the planet, but it isn’t the English Premier League, and as mentioned, the salary cap is one of a number of systems intended to ensure an element of competitive balance. This cap, as we know, acts to ensure teams can only have a playing group with a certain sum worth on their roster. When a player chooses to sign a contract which doesn’t reflect his true worth, it disrupts this system. The result? The Warriors.

I’m not one to say Golden State have ruined the NBA. They were that close to being beaten by Houston, and if that had’ve happened we would have all lost our opportunity to whinge and moan about them. Having said that – despite how good the Rockets are, the Warriors are clearly – clearly – the best roster in the NBA. If they play near their best, they won’t lose.

Now we have an NBA where other great players are scrambling to find ways to beat this juggernaut. Presumably, LeBron will join a far better team than the one he was on last season in a desperate attempt to challenge Golden State. Maybe that team will be Houston, but even if it isn’t the Rockets will no doubt be looking for that extra piece to their already Championship-quality roster as well. The balance is shifting, and a higher proportion of the best players in the league being on a select few teams is going to be the result. Of course the Warriors aren’t the first great team to get even better in their history, but they are the first 73 win team to sign the second best player in the world.

The Warriors themselves, of course, couldn’t give a single shit about any of this. They’ve been given the chance to be on the greatest team of all time, and seem to be having a hoot of a time while doing it. Good for them. I’d probably do the same. Unfortunately, I have about as much talent as Steph Curry’s little finger so don’t have that opportunity, and am instead forced to watch a league in which one team is clearly better than the rest, and everyone else is scrambling to stay competitive.

Draymond shouldn’t be criticised for taking a smaller contract than he could’ve demanded, nor should Durant. After all, they’re just trying to have a good time, and since so much emphasis is placed on rings, why not secure your place in history as one of the most successful players of all time? At the same time though, they do not deserve praise for earning a completely ridiculous amount of money instead of an even more ridiculous amount of money. Because just like the supermarket manager who decided to sell his avocados for well under their market value, they’ve upset the balance.

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NBA Finals: Who will win?

At various points throughout the season, it seemed nearly impossible that we’d be faced with yet another incarnation of the Warriors vs Cavaliers saga which has engulfed the NBA for almost half a decade. Entering June, however, here we are. The league appears to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-like cycle from which it may never exit, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited for this matchup. Though the two teams are an incredible mismatch on paper, this rivalry has created some incredible moments in the past. It would take a monumental effort from LeBron James and his supporting cast to make a series out of this edition, but this is sport, and stranger things have happened. Many may think that the outcome of this series will depend solely on whether LeBron can defeat four All-Stars single-handedly, and while this is true to an extent, it isn’t the only thing worth discussing in the lead up to the 2018 NBA Finals.

Keys to the NBA Finals

When does Iggy return?

As strange as it seems to talk about Andre Iguodala before any of Curry, Durant, Thompson or Green, the health of the fifth member of the Hampton’s Five will have a huge impact on the series. Iguodala is the ideal final piece of the Warriors starting lineup, particularly against the Cavs. He is a competent enough ball-handler and passer to warrant attention and help to space the floor at the offensive end, and he is comfortably the Warriors’ best option to guard LeBron James.

A report by ESPN highlights just how much impact Iguodala’s defense can have on LeBron’s effectiveness. In last year’s Finals series, James managed only (“only” being by his standards) 31 points per 100 possession on 52.9% effective field goal percentage when Iggy was guarding him. Durant is the Warriors next option to take the King, and these numbers jumped to 42 points and 64.7% with this matchup.

LeBron’s supporting cast

Obviously LeBron himself will be the single most important player for the Cavs by an absurd margin. If the Cavs are to stand any sort of a chance though, he will need some serious help from his teammates. LeBron will perform to an incredible standard, that is a guarantee, but that alone won’t be enough against the juggernaut that is the Warriors.

Love is comfortably the most competent “other” on the Cavs, and his availability as he recovers from concussion will be a huge factor. He shouldn’t miss more than a game though, and his return will be a welcome one for Cleveland. For all of the criticism he cops, Love is a five time All-Star; a legitimate scorer and an excellent rebounder. He may have his flaws, but he is a far better player than he is often given credit for, and he will need to stand up this series.

Guys like Hill, Thompson, Korver and Smith won’t provide consistent offense for Cleveland, but all are capable of having big games and big moments. If the Cavs manage to win any games, they will be accompanied by a box score in which at least a couple of these guys come up big.

The big dogs

Of course, for all the discussion of the Iguodala’s, Love’s and Hill’s of the world, it’s the stars who will have the biggest say in the outcome of the series. Fortunately for the Warriors, of the five such players in this series, four belong to them. LeBron is the number one guy, but Golden State have numbers two, three, four and five. Essentially, what this means is that if they play to anywhere near their best then they will win the series. Certainly not a statement which elicits a whole lot of excitement for the matchup, but a valid one nonetheless.

LeBron has shown a remarkable ability to put a team squarely on his own shoulders and carry them to victory, and to even steal a couple of games in this series, he will need to do something phenomenal. Expect multiple 40+ point games and very few minutes on the bench as he tries to achieve what would probably be his greatest accomplishment yet.

After disappointing performances in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Rockets, Thompson reminded everyone that he is far from an afterthought on this incredible team, putting up 23 points in Game 5 before exploding for 9 3-pointers and 35 points in Game 6. With Curry also hitting decent form, these kind of performances make it nearly impossible to beat the Warriors. Highlighting this point is the fact that in the past two games of the Rockets series, the Splash Brothers combined for an incredible 24 3-pointers on 60% shooting. With Durant also chugging along for a lazy 30 points a game and a very well-rounded defensive lineup, it’s easy to see why Cleveland are major underdogs.

As unsatisfying as it is to say, at the end of the day the Warriors will win this series in a canter if they play anywhere near their best. Having said that, the Rockets showed that they are not the unbeatable force they are generally purported to be, and even if Houston is a far better all around side than Cleveland, this is enough to at least add a little excitement to this matchup. The Warriors will win this one in five, but I hope I’m wrong and the Cavs can make a series out of it.

NBA Conference Finals: What to Watch For

Well, here we are. The final four. After all that excitement in the west, the jostling for playoff positions, the good teams being eliminated in the first round, there are just two teams remaining, and lo and behold it happens to be Houston and Golden State. In the east, the Conference Final matchup is exactly what people expected 20 games into the season, and probably not at all what people expected 60 games into the season. The Cavs looked like a genuinely bad team for a long time, but LeBron is LeBron and the rest of their team is playing a bit better, and while a look at the Celtics roster doesn’t make for great reading, their team as a whole is very good.

So who will force their way through and fight it out for a ring? Will it AGAIN be the Cavs and the Warriors? Will the Rockets stake their claim as one of the best offensive teams of all time by beating the best offensive team of all time? Will Brad Stevens continue to prove just how much better a coach he is than Dwayne Casey?

Houston Rockets (1) v Golden State Warriors (2)

Sarcasm about how predictable this matchup was aside, this series will be incredible viewing. Two of the most potent offensive sides you could ever hope to see, combined with an inordinate number of elite players on the floor mean this will probably be the most compelling viewing of the season. Houston was seemingly unbeatable throughout the regular season, and while the Warriors were not, they are back to full strength and appear ready to step things up a notch.

Players to watch

There are roughly seven players who are deserving of a mention in here, but for the sake of keeping it brief I’ll chop it down to two. Apologies to Durant, Thompson, Green, Paul and Capela.

James Harden – The probable MVP hasn’t been at his absolute best for much of the playoffs to date, though his 28.5 points and 7.4 assists per game are still solid enough numbers. There’s no doubt he’s been inconsistent though; he started off the postseason with 44 points, and followed that up with just 12 on 2-for-18 shooting. Against the Jazz he scored 41 points in Game 1, and then watched his scoring numbers gradually reduce each and every game for the rest of the series.

He’s only faced the Warriors twice so far this season, and they’ve managed to contain him reasonably well in these games. Having said that, he had 27 points and 11 assists in the first outing against them. In the most recent of these games though, he scored just 22 points, and his 8 assists were accompanied by 6 turnovers. Houston will need a huge series from him if they’re going to get over the line, so he’ll need to improve on these numbers to give them a chance.

Steph Curry – Despite the presence of Durant, Green and Thompson, this guy is probably the single most important player on the Warriors roster. He was solid without being spectacular in the four games he’s played since coming back from injury, but regardless of whether he actually plays well, his presence on the floor is invaluable to Golden State.

Even if he doesn’t get on the scoreboard as much as he likes, he’ll make it that much easier for Durant and Thompson to get good looks, and with all three of these elite shooters on the floor it’s inevitable that at least one of them will get hot during the course of a game. Curry is more than capable of winning a game or two off his own hands, and in what could easily be a six or seven game series, this could be the difference.

Prediction

As impressive as Houston has been all season, I can’t imagine how any sane person could tip against the Warriors. They’re still the same team that people were certain would win the Championship in a canter at the start of the season, and the same team that won 73 games two years ago now WITH Kevin Durant. Houston are really, really good and will probably win at least a couple of games, but beating the Warriors over the course of a seven game series would take some serious doing. Golden State will win this in six.

Boston (2) v Cleveland (4)

At Christmas time, these sides seemed like the two most likely to face off in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were both above .700; the Raptors had yet to establish themselves as anything other than the same good team which would fail to perform in the Playoffs that they had been in previous years, and the Sixers were sitting at 15-18. From there, the Cavs season spiralled dramatically downwards, while the Celtics got progressively worse and eventually lost Irving for the season. Despite all that, they’ve both rallied, made the ECFs, and kicked off the series we all expected many months ago on Sunday afternoon. The early signs weren’t good for the Cavs, with Morris doing a great job on LeBron and the Celts generally spanking their opponent’s asses.

Players to watch

LeBron James – Pretty unsurprisingly, LeBron is the most important player in this series by an alarmingly long way. He played extremely poorly by his standards in Game 1, and Cleveland got belted – who would have guessed!? Of course, the performances of the likes of Kevin Love, Kyle Korver and to a lesser extent JR Smith will also help to shape the series, but from the Cavs perspective, it’s LeBron who will have the biggest say on its outcome.

We all know what he did in the first two rounds of the playoffs, particularly against the Raptors, but can he repeat it against a Celtics side with the most suitable matchup for him he’ll have faced in this postseason, and against arguably the league’s best defensive unit? So far this season, he hasn’t been able to completely dominate Boston like he has some other sides. He didn’t pass 30 points in the three regular season games against them, averaging “just” 24 points to go with 8.3 dimes. He’ll probably need to do more than that to get his Cavs over the line in this series, and expect him to respond in a big way after a slow start in Game 1

Al Horford – Boston are far more a team than a collection of individual’s, but Horford is still arguably their most important player at both ends of the floor. He plays an integral role at the offensive end, contributing significantly to their excellent ball movement and strong off-ball action. Defensively he will play a major role predominantly on Kevin Love, but his switchability fits Stevens’ game style perfectly and will likely see him finish a lot of defensive stands on other players, including LeBron.

Horford isn’t as integral to Boston as LeBron is to Cleveland, and if he doesn’t contribute enormously in a game or two it doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for the Cavs. If he can play like he did in Game 1 though, where he scored 20 points on just 10 shots, and dished out 6 assists to go with 0 turnovers, it will go a long way.

Prediction

Betting agencies have this one at even money, and it’s hard to argue with them. The way LeBron has played so far in these playoffs, and the good form of Love and Korver make it hard to go past the Cavs if they play at their best. Whether they can consistently do this, however, is debatable. In contrast, the Celtics probably have a lower ceiling, but their floor is higher than Cleveland’s. So basically, whichever team plays better will win. How’s that for analysis?

It’s virtually a flip of the coin, but with an ability to ramp things up to a higher level than their opponents, it’ll be the Cavs who sneak home with it. They’ll go down 3-2, get things done at home in Game 6, before heading to Boston to break the hearts of Celtics fans in Bean Town.

Both of these series will be compelling viewing. The Eastern Conference Finals will almost certainly come down to the wire, and will be an interesting matchup between a great team not particularly reliant on any one player, and a pretty average team extremely reliant on exactly one player. In the west, the two best teams in the league will fight it out, and the winner will head to the NBA finals as the favorite. In summary: watch these series’ – they’re gonna be good.

LeBron James’ Greatest Moments

Even before Cleveland inbounded the ball with the scores tied and just over eight seconds remaining in Game 3 against the Raptors, there was an air of inevitability about the outcome. LeBron has made a habit of destroying Toronto in recent years, though the Raps are not alone in having their hearts broken by the King. In the wake of yet another playoff series in which he has placed his Cavs teammates squarely on his back, it seems like an apt time to take a look back at some the greatest moments of his career.

Game 5 – 2007 Conference Finals v Detroit 

It’s difficult to go past this 13 minute stretch of game time as the best of LeBron’s career. As a 22-year-old, he was yet to lead his Cavs to the NBA Finals, but locked at 2-2 in the Conference Finals against the Pistons he had perhaps his best chance yet .

Detroit seemed destined to take the series lead in front of a rambunctious home town crowd when they led 88-81 with 3:01 seconds left. Destiny, however, clearly meant nothing to the young LeBron James, who scored 9 of Cleveland’s 10 points in these last three minutes, including a game-tying dunk with less than 10 seconds to go to send the game to overtime.

The first overtime period saw both teams score 9 points, or, more accurately, Detroit score 9 points and LeBron score 9 points. The first 4 minutes and 58 seconds of the second overtime saw a similar story unfold; Detroit scored 7 points, and so did LeBron. With 2.2 seconds left though, James charged into the lane, made a game-winning layup, and gave his Cavs a 3-2 lead which they would never relinquish.

To summarize: in what was an extremely important, conference-deciding matchup, James scored 29 of the Cavs’ last 30 points to drag them back from a seven point deficit, and also hit the game winner with just two seconds left. Not bad.

Game 2 – 2009 Conference Finals v Orlando

This was probably the single greatest shot of LeBron’s career to date. After losing Game 1 of the Conference Finals despite 49 points from the King, a loss here would have made it difficult for the Cavs to advance out of the east. With exactly one second remaining in the game, it seemed that was the way things were headed.

Hedo Turkoglu dropped in a jumper with just a second to go to give his Magic a 95-93 lead. The Cavs promptly called a timeout, during which one can only assume LeBron told inbounder Mo Williams to pass him the ball and everyone else to get out of the way. As Williams stood with the ball waiting to inbound, a few half-arsed screens and irrelevant motions were run by his teammates, while LeBron hopped back and forth around the foul line.

He then took three quick steps to his left, caught Williams’ pass, and with a sizeable hop back, put up a shot that would send the roof off of the Quicken Loans Arena and nearly break the vocal chords of Marv Albert. It dropped, the Cavs won, and the series was tied at 1-1. Unfortunately they then went on to lose the series, effectively rendering the shot irrelevant, but it makes for a better story if we all ignore that.

Games 5, 6 and 7 – 2016 NBA Finals v Golden State

Whether or not it’s reasonable to include three whole games as a ‘moment’ is debatable, but they were all so impressive that I’m going to do it anyway. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the background – a small-town boy from Akron making it big in the success-starved city of Cleveland, only to leave them for the glitz and glamor of Miami, only to return. Could he finally bring them that elusive Championship for which they so yearned?

Down 3-1 against a team boasting the likes of Curry, Thompson and Green, it seemed like the answer was no. Enter LeBron. Game 5, in front of a rabid Oakland crowd, staring down the barrel of a 4-1 Finals loss, James went 16-for-30 from the field, 4-for-8 from downtown, and accumulated 41 points, 16 boards, 7 dimes, 3 steals and 3 blocks. It’s worth noting that he received a little help from Kyrie, who also managed 41 points (on 17-for-24 no less). Series still on.

LeBron obviously took a liking to the number 41, because in Game 6 he once again scored that many points. This time it was on 16-for-27 shooting, to go with 8 boards, 11 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He had forced a Game 7 out of pure will and dominance, but still the Cavs had to manage another win in Oakland for the fairytale to be complete.

LeBron’s stats in Game 7 were comparatively poor, which is funny considering he had 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. The most important of all these stats, of course, was ‘the block’ which he executed with 1:50 left in the season. Tied at 89, Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala were steaming up the court. Steph led Andre into a relatively open basket, but LeBron promptly came out of nowhere and slammed the ball into the backboard. Irving then nailed a dagger up the other end, and Cleveland’s long drought was over.

Considering the context of this scenario, namely the historical ineptitude of Cleveland-based sporting teams, this might be the most memorable stretch of his career.

Game 2 – 2018 Conference Semis v Toronto 

Maybe (definitely) there’s a little bit of recency bias here, but that performance last week was so ridiculous that I want to write about it. LeBron went 19-for-28 from the field on the way to 43 points, dished out 14 assists along with just a solitary turnover, and grabbed 8 boards in a complete decimation of the poor Raptors.

LBJ’s shots were a joke. I don’t know if he’s ever shot as well in his life as he did this game. He went 6-for-9 in the third quarter, hitting a couple of 3’s and a tough turnaround jumper, which was nice. In the fourth, he went bananas. He connected on 6 more mid-rangers, and virtually all of them seemed like extremely low percentage shots. Low as in you might make them one out of ten times, but he made them almost every time. Toronto actually played reasonably well, but got belted by 18 points. This was a one-man show if ever there was one.

LeBron is pretty good. Everyone knows that, and his past couple of weeks of dominance aren’t particularly unexpected. With two game-winners and another extraordinary statline or two in the first two rounds of the 2018 playoffs though, he’s poised to grow his reputation even further. Most likely, the Cavs will make it out of the east and run into a Warriors machine which will slice them into pieces, but if James can somehow, miraculously lead his side to victory, MJ will be getting sweaty.

The Conference Semis: What to Watch For

Round 1 of the playoffs saw most things go as expected. LeBron James lifted his game a notch or two, Russell Westbrook took far too many shots, and the Warriors won without breaking stride. All of this was pretty predictable, which just goes to show that the playoffs never lie. Here’s a few other obvious truths you can expect to be laid bare in the Conference Semis.

The Warriors are easily the best team in it

This couldn’t be more clear, but for some reason a narrative seems to have developed throughout the course of the season that they’re vulnerable. Before the playoffs tipped off, betting agencies even had them listed as only $2.20 favorites to win the Championship. For those of you who aren’t familiar with punting, this means that they were apparently more likely not to win the title than to win it, which simply wasn’t, and isn’t, true.

There has justifiably been a lot of excitement about the Pelicans. Their starting five is really, really good, AD is extraordinary, and they absolutely annihilated a Portland team which went 17-7 after the All-Star break. They are a talented unit in excellent form, and in Game 1 the Warriors tore them to pieces – and did so without Steph Curry on the floor. Game 2 was a little closer, but Golden State lifted a gear in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line, which they can do because they have four of the best 15 players in the league on their team.

Houston are an excellent team, and – assuming both they and the Warriors advance – will probably give us an exciting Western Conference Finals series, but the Warriors should still be strong favorites against them in a seven game series. After that, the winner of the east beckons. It goes without saying, that team won’t be expected to win.

The Raptors suck at the playoffs, and LeBron is very good at them

It’s easy to say this after a Game 1 which saw Toronto give up a 14 point second quarter advantage to eventually go down in overtime, but even before that happened, all the evidence pointed in the same direction.

A quick recap on the Raptors recent history: in the past four seasons, they’ve won at least 48 games in the regular season and haven’t finished outside the top 4 in the east. In this time though, they’ve twice been bundled out in Round 1, and haven’t made it past the Conference Finals. Sense a pattern? Lowry and DeRozan are both stars and are the reason for Toronto’s regular season success, but neither of them has been able to consistently step it up to the required level in the playoffs.

LeBron James, in contrast, loves the postseason, and has enjoyed feasting on the Raptors in the last couple of years. Last season, he averaged 36 points in Cleveland’s sweep of Toronto, shooting an outrageous 57.3% from the floor and 48.1% from downtown. The season before he only averaged 26 points and 6.7 assists, but this came when he actually had two other good players in good form on his team, and as a result his usage was way down. He racked these points up on a ridiculous 62.2% shooting, and his 6.7 assists were accompanied by just 2.3 turnovers a game.

For these reasons, Game 1 didn’t bode well for the rest of the series for the Raps. Though James had 26 points, 11 boards and 13 assists, he wasn’t anywhere near his best offensively. He settled on eight 3-point attempts and seven more from mid range, and didn’t hit a whole lot of them. He went 12-for-30 from the floor, something he won’t do again this series, and yet still the Cavs got over the line on the Raptors home floor – despite Toronto having about 11 bites at the cherry to make a game winning layup in the final seconds. He’ll lift, the Raptors won’t, and it will be another early exit for the boys from Canada.

Brad Stevens is a genius

A look at Boston’s current available roster shouldn’t fill Celtics fans with a whole lot of belief, and yet here they are, having warded off a far more talented Bucks outfit, and up 1-0 against a far, far more talented 76ers outfit.

Sure, Al Horford is a terrific player and a major reason for their prowess at both ends of the floor. Terry Rozier isn’t a star, but he’s playing out of his skin. Smart is just about the best hustle player in the league, and Tatum and Brown have a lot of talent. These are all nice pieces, but not Conference Semi-Finals level pieces, and certainly not Conference Finals pieces. And yet here they are.

Most sides would fall to pieces if they lost their two best players, but the Celtics haven’t, because their coach is a genius. To compensate for their relative lack of talent, Stevens’ offense relies on a whole lot of dribble handoffs and off ball action to get the ball moving, and to keep everybody involved. At the other end of the floor, his players know their defensive rotations better than anyone, and with one of the more switchable starting lineups in the league it’s nearly impossible for oppositions to get any sort of mismatch.

On talent alone, the Celts shouldn’t get close to the 76ers. Already though, they’re 1-0 up. Philadelphia are still deserved series favorites, but if Game 1 taught us anything it’s that they won’t have it their own way. Boston will force a tight series at the very least, and for that you can thank Brad Stevens.

 

The playoffs are starting to heat up, and our partners, children, parents – anyone who doesn’t follow the great game – are wondering why they’ve suddenly been forced to play second fiddle to basketball. They better get used to it because we’ve still got well over a month to go, and even if the Warriors are probably going to win, it’s still sure to be compelling viewing.