Uncontested Shots - NBA News, Notes, and Observations From a Self-Described B-Ball Geek

If this is the first time any of you have heard of me allow me to give you a quick introduction. My name is Andrew Ungvari and I’m a 32-year-old screenwriter born and raised in Los Angeles.

During the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007-08 I decided to start blogging about basketball as a means to keep my creative juices flowing. I never realized at the time how much I enjoyed writing about the sport or that it would lead to anything more than just free storage space for my thoughts.

Within a few months I had developed a following of sorts and through my affiliation with Bleacher Report I was able to expand to writing featured stories for FoxSports.com, Sporsline.com, as well as become a contributor for a half dozen other basketball-related websites. I’ve also had the good fortune of being a frequent guest on radio shows like Sports Overnight America Weekend with Patrick Mauro on Sports Byline USA and The Dave Smith Show here in Los Angeles.

It is truly a privilege to be associated with the fine folks at FanSided. I have committed to writing 4-5 posts each week and I hope you check back often.

Uncontested Shots is a feature that will run at least once a week in which I provide a few stories from the world of basketball that seemed to have been overlooked by the mainstream media and give my two cents on each of them. I love stories on things like rookie hazing, NBA travel accommodations, groupies, and of course, the police blotter. So expect a lot of comedy.

This past season was my twentieth as a Lakers season ticket holder. I began sharing tickets with my 7th grade P.E. teacher Bill Smith—a former basketball coach at Beverly Hills High School, Santa Monica College and a member of Willie West’s storied Crenshaw High School Cougars of the 1970s.

In other words, my education of the sport came courtesy of 20 seasons spent watching the game while sitting next to a coach.

I’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed some of the most memorable basketball games of the past two decades including Michael Jordan’s first NBA championship-clinching victory in 1991, the Lakers game seven comeback against the Trailblazers in 2000, Robert Horry’s miracle shot against the Kings in 2002, Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, as well as eight different NBA Finals.

So on to round one of Uncontested Shots…

Really, Bill?

I don’t dislike Bill Simmons. I won’t deny that he has a passion for the game of basketball and it’s history and without him I probably wouldn’t have this space with which to share my own opinion. I would say that I tend to agree with him on 60 percent of his opinions on the NBA.

I just so happened to take issue with his postscript on this year’s NBA Finals mainly because of his attempt at trying frame the nation’s perception of this year’s Lakers team and provide outlandish talking points to the 90 percent of NBA fans who detest the Lakers. This is the same guy who posted “If I told you 2 NBA players just exploded after a homoerotic Sprite-like chestbump, wouldn’t your response be, “Vujacic & Farmar?”” on his Twitter page.

My biggest beef in general with Simmons is his refusal to allow comments to be posted on his articles and his constant proclamation that he doesn’t Google himself or read things that others write about him. The former is an act of cowardice while the latter is an outright lie considering his inflated ego (he calls himself “The Sports Guy” for crying out loud).

If you’d read Simmons’ writings from throughout these playoffs you’d notice his inconsistencies and constant contradictions. As if he would have truly believed that the Celtics/Bulls series in the first round would have been nearly as legendary had someone other than his Celtics participated.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a fantastic series. But a few overtime games in a first-round series between a tw0-seed and a seven-seed does not make for a legendary series—especially when the victor loses a seventh game at home in the next round.

The best response to Simmons’ piece was called Deconstructing Kobe and it came from Reed at Lakers Blog Forum Blue and Gold. I would recommend anybody read it because he points out not only the inaccuracies with this particular column but also mentions some of the other ridiculous comments Simmons’ made throughout the playoffs that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

In my opinion, the best point Reed makes is in response to Simmons stating that Kobe is no better a teammate now than he was in the past. He had this theory that Kobe somehow regretted sharing his workout regimen with his teammates on the Redeem Team because it forced them to change their practice habits and elevate their own game.

Reed writes:

“If Kobe proved so powerful in transforming superstars on the Olympic Team, then why don’t we believe he has had a similar impact on his Laker teammates over time?”

I agree wholeheartedly. Don’t you think his work ethic would have a much greater chance on rubbing off on teammates he hangs around with nine months out of the year as opposed to six weeks?

Ian Thomsen’s cover story in Sports Illustrated is also really well-done in that it describes Bryant as the type of leader who demanded his teammates play hard or they would find themselves on a different team.

Compare what Thomsen writes with what Simmons wrote:

“So many of his teammates are successful creations of this new, older Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza — none of them was viewed as anything like a championship contender until each began to play with Bryant. In turn, Bryant had to learn to see things their way, to help each of them develop as Bryant himself has matured in the seven years since he and Shaquille O’Neal drank the last of their champagne together.”

Simmons likes to point out that the 1986 Celtics were the greatest basketball team ever. He regrets that the defending champion Lakers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain when they lost in the Conference Finals to the Rockets—denying the Celtics the chance to avenge their loss from the previous season.

This year it was the Celtics who stood in the way of the Lakers chance at redemption. Simmons has no problem giving Ariza credit for the job he did in this year’s Finals but fails to mention whether or not it would have made a difference had it been Ariza guarding Paul Pierce in last year’s Finals instead of Vladimir Radmanovic.

But somehow he’s still convinced a healthy Celtics team would have repeated.

I’ll never forget what Simmons wrote after the Celtics won their title last season:

“Of the 10 best guys on this particular Boston team, seven of them weren’t Celtics during last season’s despicable tank job, and two of them weren’t Celtics as recently as January. As much as I like the new guys and everything they brought to the team, I still feel like I’m getting to know them. Posey, House and Brown were hired guns. Garnett belongs to Minnesota. Allen belongs to Milwaukee and Seattle. Powe, Rondo and Big Baby just got here. This season was like having a great fantasy team — the guys were thrown together and made some magic happen, but, still, they were thrown together.”

Perhaps that’s why Simmons is so bitter towards the Lakers winning it all this year. Not just because Kobe Bryant now has one more ring than his beloved Larry Bird but because the Celtics championship was a rental compared to how the Lakers bounced back from humiliation in 2008 to World Champions in 2009—just three season removed from missing the playoffs.

One Last Note on the Lakers

If you don’t know who Larry Coon is it’s time to get familiar. Coon is the authority on the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. He has his own NBA Salary Cap FAQ site and he is also a contributor to RealGM. Coon wrote a really descriptive article on Kobe Bryant’s options regarding his contract and possibly opting out.

Coon paints three scenarios:

Option 1: Opt out now and become a free agent in 2009: Sign a six-year deal for $135,070,031

Option 2: Opt out next year and become a free agent in 2010: Sign a six-year deal for $135,015,989

Option 3: Sign a three-year extension on top of the remaining two years for a total of  $127,654,734 over five years.

It seems that the best-case scenario for the Lakers would be Kobe opting out and signing a five-year extension now because his starting salary in 2009-10 would actually save the Lakers money as opposed to him declining to opt-out. Even though the difference in salary is only about $800,000 it would actually save the Lakers $1.6 million when you factor in the luxury tax.

What About Boston?

Disregard anything you hear regarding the Celtics attempting to trade Rajon Rondo.

First off, Rondo is eligible for a contract extension this year that would go into effect in 2010-11. Why in the world would an aging team trade a starter on a rookie contract who is one of only two building blocks for the post-Garnett-Pierce-Allen era (the other being Kendrick Perkins)?

If the Celtics decide not to extend Rondo then they risk having Rondo enter the market next summer as a restricted free agent and being forced to match an offer sheet. As good as the free agent class of 2010 is there will be a number of teams with cap space to burn who won’t land one of the prime free agents. Many of those teams will be forced to resort to overpaying B-level and C-level free agents and the Celtics don’t want to be forced to have to match an offer like that.

Now you know why the Lakers were so willing to extend Andrew Bynum despite the fact he was coming off of knee surgery. Had Bynum had the bounce-back year it seemed he was having before he got injured then the Lakers would have been forced to match an offer from a team like Detroit, Memphis, or Oklahoma City with plenty of cap space and money to throw at him.

The Celtics will and should explore trading Ray Allen, though. With Garnett, Pierce, and Allen scheduled to make almost all of the Celtics pre-luxury tax cap space and extensions due for Rondo, Glen Davis, Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, and Leon Powe, it would be in the Celtics best interest to trade a much-desired expiring contract for two players and possibly a draft pick instead of having to worry about re-signing Allen next summer when he’s 35, or worse, watching him walk for nothing and with no cap space to replace him.

Vince Carter to the Cavs?

This is one of those trade rumors that won’t seem to go away. Rumor has it that Nets owner Bruce Ratner is adamant about trimming the team’s payroll. While that’s completely understandable why in the world would the Cavs help Ratner out when the team that he should be most scared about LeBron James leaving Cleveland for is New Jersey.

Carter is signed through 2011 with a team option for the 2011-12 season. Without Carter’s contract on the books the Nets would only have $6 million for two contracts for 2010-11 and plenty of cap space to go after two max players.

While Carter would definitely help James in the scoring department the Cavs need either a center or power forward that can score points in the low post.

Miami’s Catch-22

I’ve been writing for months about the dilemma that Pat Riley and the Miami Heat are facing in the afermath of the Jermaine O’Neal trade.

While it’s understandable as to why Riley traded Shawn Marion for O’Neal and Jamario Moon it hasn’t really panned out as Riley would have hoped.

At the time of the trade I had written that Riley had bought himself a year with which to move O’Neal’s contract instead of losing Marion in free agency or being forced to give him an extension. What Riley failed to realize is that most of the teams that will be interested in trading for O’Neal’s expiring contract are the same teams that will try to make a run at his biggest star next summer.

Last month I wrote about how little attention the story received when Riley mentioned the Heat planned on offering Wade an extension this summer. Ira Winderman wrote in the Sun Sentinel what I’ve been writing for months.  Riley is now realizing that Wade won’t sign an extension until he knows that Riley has given him a team that can compete for a championship over the duration of the contract. The problem is that Riley doesn’t really have any assets that he’s willing to part with in a trade.

Riley needs the young guys on rookie contracts like Daequan Cook and Mario Chalmers because he’s going to have to fill an entire roster next summer to surround Wade with. Udonis Haslem has value but he’s probably the greatest veteran influence on the younger guys and a Miami native.

James Jones, another Miami native, is a great shooter who has to prove he’s healthy before another team will trade for him and Dorrell Wright is another oft-injured enigma who has yet to prove he can be anything more than a team’s ninth or tenth best player.

That leaves Michael Beasley and there’s no way that Riley will trade Beasley for two reasons. First, Riley understands that every team that has won a championship since 1998, including his own 2006 Heat team, has had at least one starter either playing on a rookie contract (Tim Duncan in 1999, Tony Parker in 2003, Tayshaun Prince in 2004, Wade in 2006, Rajon Rondo in 2008 ) or one starter getting paid well-below market value (Derek Fisher in 2000-2, Bruce Bowen in 2005, Michael Finley in 2007, and Ariza in 2009).

Riley knows that the only way the Heat can compete for a championship and stay below the luxury tax is to hope that Beasley will pan out.

The other reason that Riley won’t trade Beasley is that his value isn’t really all that high right now. Beasley didn’t really help himself when he got busted at last year’s rookie symposium for smoking weed and got fined $50,000. When you consider that Beasley is just two more seasons away from being eligible for a huge contract extension you can understand why teams won’t be offering the moon for him.

If Riley can’t move O’Neal he might not have a choice but to trade Haslem. I’m betting if you asked Riley whether or not he regrets the trade he’d say he’d have been better off letting Marion’s contract expire and taking whatever cap space he’d had to make a run at Lamar Odom again.

How Low Can They Go?

With each passing day another embarrassing story about the Warriors seems to surface. The latest is from Tim Kawakami’s Talking Points Blog in the San Jose Mercury News. It’s titled “Does Anybody Want to Play For the Warriors?”

Kawakami reveals that Ricky Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Stephen Curry have all declined to work out for the Warriors. It seems that the Warriors have burnt bridges with so many high-profile agents that many are declining workouts in the hopes that the Warriors will pass on their clients.

The only high profile prospects to work out for the Warriors are Jordan Hill, Earl Clark, and Brandon Jennings. If the Warriors end up drafting a point guard, according to Kawakami, then Monta Ellis may want out.

The Warriors have the 7th pick in Thursday’s draft. It should be interesting if they end up drafting one of the players who declined a workout.

Mock You

Looking at the dozens and dozens of mock drafts on the Internet it’s hard to know what’s legit and what’s just a GM attempting to throw other team’s off from what their intentions are. Right now it seems the only certainties are that Blake Griffin will got first and that the Raptors will select DeMar DeRozan with the 9th pick.

Johnny Flynn, James Harden, Hill, Holiday and Evans seem to be the guys who could go anywhere from second overall to 10th. Should be a dramatic draft, albeit a weak one.

Mitch Kupchak implied that the Lakers may try to move their first-round pick (29th overall) for a future pick or draft an international player that they can stash in Europe for a year. Nick Calathes is a possibility. As is Israel’s Omri Casspi or Sweden’s Jonas Jerebko.

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