June 29, 2014
A “Super Max” Contract For Kyrie Irving?

In October, Kyrie Irving,  two-time NBA All-Star, will begin the fourth season of his Rookie Scale Contract. He will therefore, in the language of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, be a “5th Year Eligible Player” at the end of the 2014-15 campaign.

As a result, Irving is free to sign an extension with the Cavaliers starting this summer. Kyrie and his agent and the team have through October 31st to come to terms on an agreement. If they do not, Irving will be a free agent after the ‘14-‘15 season unless the Cavs make a qualifying offer of $9.7M - at which point Irving would become a restricted free agent (meaning the Cavaliers would have the option to match any competing contract offers).

No doubt negotiations between Irving’s reps and the front office will begin shortly after July 1st. While there is reason to question whether or not Irving is worth a Maximum Contract Extension, the Cavs have to at least play the game. Even owed max money, Kyrie would most likely be easily tradable.

How much money then are the Cavs set to offer the young PG? 

Per the CBA, a Maximum Salary Extension for Irving is determined by first calculating 25% of the salary cap at the time the contract is signed. The deal can be up to five years long, with a raise of up to 7.5% of the base year salary per year.

Here then is what the contract would look like based off a projected salary cap of $66.5M in 2015:

2015-16

$16.625M

2016-17

$17.871875M

2017-18

$19.11875M

2018-19

$20.365625M

2019-20

$21.6125M

TOTAL DEAL $95,593,750

(Note that the last year of Irving’s Rookie Scale Contract is revised as part of the extension. Irving signing a 5-Year Max Extension would give the Cavs control of his playing rights for four, not five, additional years.)

That said…

Irving may actually be eligible to receive a “Super Max” Contract Extension this summer.

What is a “Super Max” Contract Extension?

Notably, the term “Super Max” does not appear in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement; it appears to be a term that was invented by the press. The term though alludes to a specific section of the CBA that calls for Fifth Year Eligible Players to be eligible for a Maximum Salary worth 30% of the salary cap, instead of 25%, if he meets one of the following criteria (again, directly from the CBA): 

(i) the player is named twice to the All-NBA first, second, or third team

(ii) the player is voted in twice as an All-Star starter

(iii) the player is designated once as NBA MVP

Irving, everyone should know, has not yet met any of these criteria. Although he is a two-time All-Star, he was only voted in once; the first time he was selected by the coaches. 

Therefore, Irving is not eligible for a Super Max Extension… yet.

Max Extensions for Fifth Year Eligible Players are drawn up in a way to allow for the fact that a player could meet one of the above criteria during his fourth season.

This puts the Cavs in a precarious position. 

If the fans vote Irving into the All-Star game this season as a starter, he will meet one of the above-referenced criteria, and his deal will suddenly cost far more than originally planned. 

Here’s what Irving’s contract would look like if he gets the “Super Max:”

2015-16

$19.95M

2016-17

$21.44625M

2017-18

$22.9425M

2018-19

$24.43875M

2019-20

$25.935M

TOTAL DEAL $114,712,500

The difference is a staggering $19,118,750 over the course of five years.

The result is a perverse incentive for the Cavs to kill any effort by the fans to vote Irving into the All-Star game as a starter - which would force the team to give him the Super Max and therefore eliminate a portion of important cap space that could be used to help build the team moving forward.

Clearly, a winning number of votes for Irving would not make him a better basketball player. 

If the Cavs and Irving agree to an extension, then, should the team start an anti-Irving stealth campaign? Maybe it should just root wholeheartedly for a healthy Derek Rose and Rajon Rondo - and for John Wall to continue to get a whole hell of a lot better. 

June 22, 2014
THE CALCULUS OF LEBRON’S DECISION

Here is one flow chart of how LeBron James might decide what to do on or after July 8, 2014 —

1) Will Dwyane Wade opt in or out? 

2) Will Chris Bosh opt in or out? 

3) Given the above, which players can Pat Riley promise to add to the roster in Miami? 

4) Where will Carmelo Anthony sign? 

5) Given the above, what is the probability of the Heat winning the East? This can be calculated to some extent using estimated wins in combination with analyzing match ups and gut instinct. 

6) Which other teams in the NBA are realistic options for LeBron to sign with? 

7) If any of these teams are in the Western Conference, what is the probability of said team making it to the Finals? Again, this can be calculated to some degree.

8) Do the Heat have a higher probability of making it to the Finals than team B in the West? I suspect the answer to this is likely “yes” unless Melo signs with Chicago and then the answer is a little more gray.

9) What is the overall probability of team B in the West winning the championship? What is the overall probability of the Heat winning the championship given the above factors?

10) Which situation offers the highest probability of winning a title?

Note that this examines the decision on the basis of winning a title in 2015 and nothing else. The choice becomes far more complex if the calculus involves winning multiple championships over multiple years. The number of variables increase exponentially. 

This analysis is also based in the idea that LeBron will execute on a robot-like thought process grounded in one simple question: “What gives me the highest probability of winning a title in 2015?”

We have been taught to think about a free agent’s decision in far more emotional terms, factoring in qualities like loyalty, legacy, and quality of off the court life. As computer analysis becomes a deeper part of our culture, this may or may not change in sports, which are a replacement for religion in many ways in an increasingly secular America. In general, I think the question of legacy is a silly one to discuss while a player is still playing. Not only are we comparing what he does to what other players did in a fundamentally different world, league, and game, we are also trying to establish something - a legacy - that by definition can’t be established until after a player’s career has ended.

Certainly people in some sectors would deride LeBron if he “chased” championships with different teams for the rest of his career. But if he were to win, say, eight more championships (yes, the probability of it being this high is low) and largely remained the best player on his team throughout this period no one at his Hall of Fame induction speech could really say shit. 

June 17, 2014
RE-ASSESSING THE IDEA OF “TEAM,” LEGACY, AND FANDOM IN THE NBA

Teams win championships we are told. Not players. But when it comes to judging the greatest players of all time the average fan falls back on discussions about how many rings said player has won:

"LeBron is a schmuck! He only has two rings! Kobe is the greatest… except for Jordan because he has one more ring! No one will ever be better than Bill Russell!"

When was the last time you heard someone having an argument about which franchise was the greatest franchise in history? Sure, it happens. The conversation though is primarily limited to the Lakers and the Celtics due to the success of those teams when the league was fundamentally a different concoction than it is now - with fewer teams to spread a smaller wealth of players (the international game wasn’t what it is now).

Players who are concerned with their legacy then must be focused on winning as many championships as possible, given how we treat them if they don’t win “enough.”

I believe that we should judge players based on individual accomplishments within the confines of a team game. Did a player have a career in which he made his team better? How much better? Although this can be a difficult question to answer, or at least quantify, data like WARP and Real +/- help.

To this end it is important to remember that teams are organic, evolving creatures. Players, coaches, and management change from year-to-year. Ownership changes, too, albeit less frequently. 

Assuming that things about any given team change every year anyway, why should we criticize players for going to a different team? They are simply changing the players and the coach and the general manager and the owner around them - all things that would have happened (to different degrees) if they had simply stayed in one place.  

Is a player really any worse because he’s playing with a dumb team name (sorry, Pelicans) on his chest? 

He isn’t. And we shouldn’t criticize a player who changes his teammates and his organization unless we truly are a culture that wants to reward faith in upper management… and I know too many of you have watched THE OFFICE or OFFICE SPACE or read about the 2008 financial crisis or the War in Iraq to truly believe in that premise. 

Next season if LeBron is playing half of his games in Miami with different players or half of his games in Los Angeles with different players there is technically no difference. In a sense, switching teams is a greater risk for him - that should like most risks be appreciated and carefully observed - because he is then acting not only as a player but also as a partial GM instead of simply hanging around and relying on two old white guys in Miami. 

Fans of specific teams won’t agree with this idea, but that’s OK - they are by definition fanatics with irrational allegiances and emotions.

To pour salt in the wound, I will add that I tend to think the idea of being a fan of any one city’s teams is archaic, as it is rooted in an era when it was impossible to watch every single basketball game on television on any given night… when going to games was a definitively better experience than watching them at home and only local games were on TV. Now we have access to NBA League Pass and can watch any team we want to as much as we want. Why should any child grow up rooting for the team nearest to him if he doesn’t actually like the guys on that team more than the guys on some other team he can watch on the same flatscreen TV?

He shouldn’t. That would be illogical. Especially since as I’ve already discussed the players on a team change over time anyway. Fandom, in other words, shouldn’t be static. Why would anyone root for a mascot or a name or an ownership group? They wouldn’t. They root for the players on the floor. 

The NBA’s growing global audience is particularly aware of the inanity of loyalty to any one team. What difference does it make to a kid in India if LeBron is playing in Cleveland or Miami or Houston? Geography is doubly meaningless to him. 

Although teams win championships and great players are judged on the number of rings they keep in their jewelry boxes, we are ultimately fans of players, not  teams. Even if we are only fans of a player when he is on a certain team… we aren’t rooting for a mascot.

Yes, if Lebron leaves Miami for another city he will be chasing more rings. But he’ll be chasing more rings if he stays in Miami, too. He’ll just be doing so by a different mechanism, one in which he will have less ownership. And he knows that if he doesn’t get to six rings you will never be willing to acknowledge that he was better than Jordan anyway. You will root against him no matter what… while the kid in Beijing will simply dial up NBA.com and order a new jersey. He needed new clothes for school anyway. 

March 21, 2013
Byron Scott, Stan Van Gundy, and Expected Wins

Across the course of my entire life, I’ve only been able to convince my dad of one thing when it comes to sports: Byron Scott is not a very good coach. Therefore, after nearly every Cavs’ game, we have some spirited discussion via email that Scott should be fired at the end of the season and replaced by my hero, Stan Van Gundy, who is absolutely brilliant on “The Dan Le Batard Show” every Wednesday.

It’s hard to find public data on coaches. I’m sure teams and gamblers have it, but as far as I know the usual sites only keep track of the basics, like winning percentage. Therefore, I’ve gone on a search to find data to support my belief that Scott is an old school coach who has watched unwittingly as a league and a franchise growing more and more focused on statistics passed him by.

Last night, after the Cavs lost to the Heat, I decided that one possible way to quantify the impact of a coach would be to measure a team’s expected win-loss record (based on point differential) versus its actual win-loss record… my theory being that the gap between the two - whether a team won or lost more games than it “should” have - could be attributed, in part, to coaching.

This afternoon I added up some numbers comparing Scott to Van Gundy. Here’s what I found: 

Counting partial seasons, including the current campaign and the two years in which Scott was fired by the Nets and the Hornets, respectively, his teams have won 2 more games than expected, based on their point differential. 

Counting the partial season in which he was replaced by Pat Riley in Miami, Van Gundy’s teams have lost 9 more games than expected, based on their point differential. 

Hard to say what this proves, if anything. It certainly suggests that Scott’s teams perform better in close games than Van Gundy’s - although how much credit the coach should get for that is debatable. Interestingly enough Rick Carlisle’s teams have won 13 more games than expected over the course of his career in Detroit, Indiana, and Dallas…

For what it’s worth. 

December 6, 2011
The Browns Tell You It’s OK To Suck Forever As Long As You Never Quit

The Browns posted the above article on their Facebook page today. I was going to comment on the post there, but I thought, “What the hell?” why not write a blurb for Mesa instead.

Here then are my thoughts —

LOL at the organization that has gotten knocked down about 42K times since reforming in 1999, only been to the playoffs once, and generally shown little to no improvement from year to year emphasizing “getting up after each fall.” 

Last time I checked, based on the fact that the team is still an operational business that is part of the National Football League they are contractually obligated to “get up after each fall.”

Congratulations, Browns. You were scheduled to play 16 games this year. Therefore, you must “bounce back” against the Steelers.

And don’t worry: No matter what, your fan base will stay loyal.