Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

June 29, 2010

Transaction Analysis: Nets Dump Yi

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:29 pm

The NBA’s latest cap-clearing move saw the New Jersey Nets send forward Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards today in exchange for journeyman Quinton Ross. While the Nets didn’t have to give up a first-round pick, as Chicago did in (reportedly) dealing Kirk Hinrich to Washington or Miami did to get Oklahoma City to take on Daequan Cook, New Jersey did give up a fairly useful player in Yi. Here’s his projections, from our last look at team assets.

Player/Asset         10-11  11-12  12-13  Total

Yi Jianlian            1.3    2.4    2.2    5.8

The Nets saved just under $3 million for 2010-11, the difference between the salaries of Yi and Ross. On average, that amount of cap room is worth just 1.2 WARP per year, for a total of 3.6 over the next three years, so New Jersey has – on paper – hurt itself in terms of assets.

You’ll recall that last week I argued cap space had more value to the Heat because it allowed Miami into a different neighborhood of free agency. Is the same true of the Nets? I think that depends on the next move New Jersey makes. Per the numbers Chad Ford shared today on TrueHoop, New Jersey is now $3.15 million away from having enough room under the cap to sign two max free agents without asking them to take any discounts. Conveniently, Kris Humphries is scheduled to make $3.2 million next season. By sweetening the pot with cash and/or their first-round pick, the Nets should be able to rid themselves of Humphries by the start of free agency.

That leaves just one minor issue. Dealing Humphries would only shave $2.7 million off the cap because it would necessitate adding another minimum-salary cap hold. This is where I don’t quite get why New Jersey agreed to take back Ross, since the difference between his salary and the minimum for rookies would be enough to get the Nets room for two max contracts.

There may be more here than meets the eye. Perhaps New Jersey anticipates using another young player (Courtney Lee or Terrence Williams) in a deal with Humphries. Or maybe the $500,000 difference or so won’t matter to the players the Nets intend to woo – it’s a relatively minor amount in the grand scheme of things, and even if they deal James Johnson the Bulls will be farther away from being able to sign two players for the max, yet they’re still considered in that mix. Still, it is a bit of an oddity that New Jersey couldn’t make the deal without Ross, who wasn’t needed for cap purposes.

From the Wizards perspective, this is a much better deal than the Hinrich one. Yi is a better player than anyone Washington could have signed with the $3 million in cap space they spent on him, plus the Nets apparently floated enough cash to cover the difference in salaries next season. Yi may not turn into anything more than the middling contributor he was in New Jersey, but the cost to find out will be minimal.

June 24, 2010

Is Matt Walsh’s life really so awful?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:33 pm

I’ve never understood why so many basketball writers exhibit such a knee-jerk antipathy toward borderline college players placing their names in the NBA draft. By coming out early, you’re simply giving up an athletic scholarship in exchange for a shot at playing professionally. Thus the worst-case scenario is merely that you no longer get a free education, something that most of us never got in the first place. Losing your free education is not doom. It is instead a setback, something that all of us get all of the time. 

Take former Florida star Matt Walsh, the subject of this don’t-let-it-happen-to-you piece by Dana O’Neil. Walsh left the Gators after his junior season in 2005 but went undrafted. We can agree that Walsh would have preferred to have been drafted. We can even agree things would have been fun if he’d stuck around in Gainesville the following season. Presumably he would have been part of Florida’s 2006 national championship.

But Walsh wanted to take a shot at something even better. We know what happened, of course (he didn’t make the NBA), but what we can never know is what would have happened if he’d stayed for his senior season. It’s easy to say he would have “improved his game” and “become stronger,” but the truth is that just as often a four-year player’s age is cited as a “red flag” in draft discussions. There’s simply no guarantee that Walsh’s basketball career would have turned out better had he stayed on another year in Gainesville.

True, maybe if Walsh had stayed at Florida one more year he’d have a degree. But if he feels he needs his diploma he is still free to pursue it anytime he wants. He may not be NBA-wealthy, but with the money he’s earned playing professionally in Europe for four seasons he’s certainly more well-heeled than most undergrads.

Not to mention Walsh was the Belgian League MVP in 2009. He even looks pretty healthy and happy on his Wikipedia page. Forgive me if I fail to shudder at this particular cautionary tale.

Each decision to come out early needs to be evaluated on its own merits. And the decision to stay in school is not always the safe choice.  

June 18, 2010

Thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:11 am

With the end of the 2009-10 NBA season, I just wanted to take a moment out on behalf of Bradford Doolittle and I to thank our readers for your attention and your interest all season long. Thanks for your e-mails, your questions in chats, Twitter replies and everything else that both makes the time we spend worthwhile and improves our coverage.

Thanks also to our friends in the NBA’s burgeoning online community, too many to count, and all of the resources out there that help us cover the league.

The timing is still a little odd because in 2010, the offseason is as much of a story as the season in the NBA. Today, the Celtics and the Lakers join the other 28 NBA team in beginning to think about how to get better (or stay so good, in their cases) for next season. The draft is just a week away, free agency gets underway another eight days later and there will be trades and summer league to occupy our attention along the way.

Before you know it, we’ll be hard at work on next year’s edition of the Pro Basketball Prospectus and this whole cycle will begin once again. For now, though, thanks again for reading. 2009-10 season, it’s been a blast.

June 17, 2010

Transaction Analysis: Philadelphia-Sacramento Swap

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:03 pm

The 2010 offseason semi-officially got under way Thursday, hours before Game Seven of the NBA Finals, when the Philadelphia 76ers traded center Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for forward Andres Nocioni and center Spencer Hawes.

This is our first trade since I introduced three-year projections, so we can use them to evaluate how much sense it makes for both teams. First, the projections for the players involved.

WARP         Yr1    Yr2    Yr3   Total

Hawes        2.7    3.3    3.6     9.6
Nocioni      0.7    0.6    0.5     1.8
76ers        3.5    3.8    4.1    11.4

Dalembert    3.4    2.3    1.7     7.3

But I’m sure you’ve already guessed that the deal, like all in the NBA in the salary-cap era, is a bit more complex than that. From ShamSports.com, here are the salary commitments for the players involved.


Salary       Yr1    Yr2    Yr3   Total

Hawes        3.0                   3.0
Nocioni      6.9    6.7           13.5
76ers        9.9    6.7           16.5

Dalembert   12.9*                 12.9
* Does not include trade kicker

When you consider that the Sixers were sure to be over the tax (they had $66 million committed to 10 players, with the No. 2 pick due $3.8 million; the tax level is projected to be in the neighborhood of $67 million), saving $3 million in salary next year is pretty considerable. It’s possible Philadelphia could now avoid the tax entirely with a minor move, sharing in the revenue distributed from tax payments. Taking on the last year of Nocioni’s contract isn’t a big deal, since the 76ers are capped out for the foreseeable future anyway.

So I would say in general a deal of this nature made sense for Philadelphia. The question is whether it made sense to use an asset (Dalembert’s expiring contract) on Hawes. Public perception might be a little harsh on Hawes, who just recently turned 22 and is skilled. Those kind of 7-footers are hardly abundant. However, Hawes doesn’t seem like a good fit for the 76ers unless they are planning to draft Derrick Favors to put a more athletic defensive force alongside him. Hawes simply doesn’t have strong defensive instincts, and he’s an odd choice for Doug Collins‘ first marquee addition. (Nocioni, on the other hand, looks very much like a Collins player, probably to the Sixers’ detriment.) A Hawes-Elton Brand frontline could prove porous defensively.

While the Kings been in pursuit of Dalembert for some time, looking for more of a defensive presence in their own frontcourt, he will probably prove most valuable as an expiring contract. From that standpoint, Sacramento clears Nocioni’s $6.6 million salary from their cap for next summer, when they will have somewhere around $26 million plus whatever a first-round pick will make in committed salary, almost all of it going to young players.

The extra cap space the Kings cleared should on average buy about 2.7 WARP–similar to what the team lost in Hawes, who would have been up for a new deal by that point anyway. Sacramento could even spend the money on a more reasonable deal for Dalembert, though SCHOENE is not exactly optimistic about his ability to retain his value as enters his 30s.

June 4, 2010

They called him Coach

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:19 pm

John Wooden passed away tonight, and when I heard the news I thought of something that happened seven days ago.

I was doing what I do a lot of in the offseason, trying to learn more about basketball. The pursuit had brought me to the office of Butler coach Brad Stevens, who had graciously agreed to give me an hour. As intent as I was on getting as much information as I could out of 60 minutes, I couldn’t help noticing the familiar blue and yellow spine of Wooden’s autobiography, They Call Me Coach, on Stevens’ bookshelf. So I asked Stevens if he’d ever met or spoken on the phone with John Wooden.

No, Stevens said, he didn’t suppose that someone of Wooden’s eminence needed another pesky coach tugging at his sleeve, or words to that effect. I nodded in agreement, but I couldn’t help thinking: Are you kidding? Wooden would love to hear from you, the pride of Zionsville, the wunderkind who’s coaching in the very same building where Wooden played in the 1928 Indiana high school state championship game. Not to mention Stevens, coming off an appearance in the national championship game, is hardly just another coach.

Then Stevens said something that should have occurred to me before but that frankly I hadn’t realized: “This is how much of a role model John Wooden is for me. He retired before I was born, and I still try to learn everything I can from him.”  

Prospectus will be devoting two days to the coach’s legacy.

Monday:
John Wooden’s Century: 1910-2010
John Wooden was the most successful basketball coach of all time. He was also a modest man who was always open to change. Maybe there was a connection.

Tuesday:
Wooden’s Century: Meet Sam Gilbert, Again
The involvement of booster Sam Gilbert with the UCLA basketball program in the 1960s and ’70s is well known. But how much of an impact did he really have on the Bruins’ success on the court? Not nearly as much as you may have heard.

I give you fair warning that each of these pieces is the equivalent of several standard-sized Prospectus items. When you live from 1910 to 2010 and win ten national championships, this is what happens.  

June 3, 2010

Feds, as distinct from fruit of the amateur tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:03 pm

One of the most pundit-friendly aspects of college sports is surely the fact that its scandals can so often be viewed profitably through the medium of a 20-odd-page pdf.

Take the ticket scandal at Kansas. Here’s the report, one that, admittedly, has its limitations. For one thing, it’s an internal report commissioned by the university itself, so it doesn’t concern itself with the role played by those handy guys from California, the Pump brothers. (By “handy” I mean semiotically. They just look the way guys who are “college basketball power brokers” named “the Pump brothers” should look.) In the version of the scandal bruted about by Yahoo! Sports, said brothers were dragged rather doggedly into the center of a crowded stage, one where tickets and, more saliently, cash were flying in every direction.

Who knows, when all is said and done maybe the brothers Pump will indeed turn out to have been the main actors in this sordid tale. But as KU’s internal report makes clear, when it came to making things really good and sordid in Lawrence the Pumps had a ton of on-site help. When a junior employee rather guilelessly volunteers to investigators the fact that he has $19,000 in supervisor-approved personal cash on hand, you have a problem specific to your own organization.

Maybe it’s a lingering reluctance to acknowledge actual crime when it dons a white collar, but in the most central and teachable respect the report is exactly right about something that even a sharp and usually trustworthy observer like Joe Posnanski got horribly wrong this time around. This is not a “college sports scandal.” This is criminal behavior (“downright theft of money which rightfully belongs to the University of Kansas,” in the words of the report), and a handy heuristic here is when you hear the words “federal investigators” you are looking at something far more weighty than whether or not a high school player got his grades changed or his rent paid. 

Which brings me to Eric Bledsoe. This is a college sports scandal, in the sense that any indignation or outrage we feel should be rightly understood at all times as outrage operating at one remove from reality. Indeed writers look silly precisely to the extent that they appear genuinely aggrieved by a player who, allegedly, had rules bent and rents paid for him by grown-ups in Birmingham in 2008.

The NCAA requires its athletes to meet certain academic requirements and to say no to gifts, favors, and cash. That’s the NCAA’s prerogative, and if basketball players fail to meet those scholastic requirements or if they’ve said yes to goodies, there are of course other ways for them to kill the year after their 18th birthday besides playing D-I basketball. That is the alpha and omega of all such scandals, whether or not the player in question will get to play D-I hoops, or whether one that already has played was granted that access under false pretenses.

Those are extremely low stakes, relatively speaking. If D-I experience were mandatory for all NBA draft picks, you’d have a genuine injustice to fulminate about. Happily, however, that’s not the case.

So long as the NCAA continues to require its athletes to be amateurs in the strictest sense, you will continue to see sparks fly as the larger world operates according to its own rational and perfectly legal but pointedly contradictory calculus. We should get used to it.  

BONUS roll-out! The Lew Perkins Fallacy. It’s been a rough few years for independent evaluators, be they auditors, credit rating agencies, or, yes, sportswriters. Kansas has noted that its ticket office had received a clean bill of health from more than one independent auditor. This means the auditors missed dummy accounts set up by one Charlette Blubaugh with too-clever-by-half names like “Harridan Consulting” (auditors apparently need better vocabularies) and with street addresses that, wonder of wonders, matched Blubaugh’s own past or present home address.

So in a sense I’m sympathetic toward KU athletic director Lew Perkins, who was apparently victimized by less-than-diligent due diligence. But the larger lesson to be learned here surely concerns the myth of the omnicompetent and irreplaceable leader, a myth that within athletic departments started with the basketball coaches but has now spread upward to include their bosses. Having an inflated sense of someone else’s importance probably isn’t too awful, but paying them according to that sense is.

Thus the Fallacy: If you preside over an operation that generates a lot of revenue, your compensation, no matter how absurd, isn’t absurd.

Let’s say I have an athletic department that generates a lot of revenue. It will fall to someone to lead that department. Now, you there, random Prospectus reader. If you’re a reasonably coherent sort, one who bathes regularly and stays on top of your email, I’ll wager you could hit the 50th percentile in your performance as the head of an athletic department. So I hire you.

Soon you’re pegging your compensation at five or 10 or even 25 percent of net proceeds or even gross revenues and telling me how very specialized and invaluable you are. After all, look at all this money the department is raking in. But it’s the position that’s the rare quantity, not you. Being hired into a position where your specious math is not only accepted but is actually expected is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

Perkins reportedly makes more than $4 million a year, which by my math translates into close to $2,000 an hour. Yet the department over which he presides had so little organizational competence that it paid “consultant” Tom Blubaugh (Charlette’s husband) $115,000 in a little more than two years, this despite the fact that for a good part of that time Perkins literally didn’t know Blubaugh was still on the payroll. Perkins could be an absolute genius in his field, but I could throw a dart at the KU faculty-staff directory, pay my random target $150K a year, and KU would see a dramatic upswing in the position’s performance-to-compensation ratio from the very first minute of my lucky carbon blob’s tenure.

Of course the Lew Perkins Fallacy isn’t specific to sports, much less college sports. It just so happens that fate’s happy updrafts have put me in the LPF’s path hereabouts. So: j’accuse.

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