The Resigning Ilgauskus Debate… If They Come Back To You It Was Meant To Be!

March 23, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

I just LOVE debating topics of fairness.

Most people evaluate fairness through a one-way mirror. Their opinions and perceptions are skewed by the information they see, and are primarily concerned simply with how a situation affects them. They fail to recognize (or simply ignore) that they may not know or understand the “whole story.” When a situation occurs that impacts them negatively, it is deemed unfair. Yet they would have no problem with the situation if it were benefitting them in some way.

Think about that the next time you are watching a basketball game. Every time the ref blows the whistle half of the fans agree with the call while half disagree with it. They will scream for a charge every time one of their players is knocked to the ground while on defense, but will turn around ten seconds later and cry for a blocking foul when it is their team driving the lane. The difference is perception. Nothing has changed except the beneficiary of the call. When you are on the losing end, it SEEMS unfair.

There is a big difference, though, between something SEEMING unfair and something BEING unfair.

This situation with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have re-signed center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, is a perfect example of where one-sided perception makes something SEEM unfair. That perception is understandable until you look at ALL the facts.

On the surface, the Cavaliers SEEM to be getting something for nothing. In a trade which took place one month ago, the Cavs dealt away Ilgauskas and a first-round draft pick for Sebastian Telfair and Antawn Jamison. Now they are going to bring Ilgauskas back into the organization during the exact same season when they traded him away… it SEEMS unfair.

However, when you look at how the whole process played out, a different picture is painted. Stop me when this ACTUALLY becomes unfair:

  1. The Cavs traded Ilgauskas away in a completely fair way. The Cavs were willing to part ways with him knowing full well that he would become a player for the Washington Wizards.
  2. The Washington Wizards bought out Ilgauskas’ contract in a completely fair way. The Wizards had the opportunity to keep him on their roster, but decided they would rather “gain financial flexibility” and buy his contract out early)
  3. Ilgauskas became an unsigned free agent with the restriction that he could not sign with Cleveland for at least 30 days in a completely fair way. The Cavs traded him away and Washington did not want him. He is now eligible to sign with any other team in the league.
  4. No other team was able to make Ilgauskas an offer he was willing to accept. Thirty days passed, and now the Cavaliers can enter the bidding for Ilgauskas in a completely fair way. Every other team had 30 full days to sign Ilgauskas, but they failed to do so.

Nowhere in that process is there a guarantee that Ilgauskas was going to re-sign with Cleveland. When they traded him away at the trade deadline in February, they did so with the knowledge that he may never don a Cavaliers uniform again. The Cavaliers did not force Washington to buy out his contract and they did not force Ilgauskas to re-sign with them. They simply entered the bidding, just like every other team out there.

In contrast, the only truly UNFAIR thing to do in this process would be to prohibit Cleveland from re-signing Ilgauskas. As an unemployed, unrestricted free agent, Ilgauskas has the right to sign on with any team that makes him an offer. Preventing him from signing with Cleveland is restricting an opportunity for him to find employment. What if he had received no other offers? Is it fair for the NBA to force a player to remain unemployed simply because the only team that will have him is one that traded him away?

Likewise, because Ilgauskas is an available player who is not under contract anywhere in the league, the Cavaliers deserve the right to pursue him whether he played previously with the team or not. The only players who are “off-limits” to a team are those who are CURRENTLY UNDER CONTRACT elsewhere. The Wizards bought out Ilgauskas’ contract, making it null and void.

The Cavaliers organization should not be penalized simply because the system worked in their favor. At any point during the last 30 days EVERY SINGLE team in the NBA had the opportunity to meet with Ilgauskas and attempt to sign him. For whatever reason, those teams failed to do so. It is not the Cavaliers’ fault that Ilgauskas either chose not to (or was not invited to) play with those other franchises.

After 30 days, if the Cavaliers want him and no one else will (or can) take him, then he has every right to return to the team that traded him away. In a completely fair way.

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The Chemistry in Sports Debate – Chemistry… The Excuse When There Are No REAL Excuses

February 23, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

When Antawn Jamison catches a pass from LeBron James during a game, what thought do you think crosses his mind? Perhaps he is thinking, “I had a GREAT TIME playing Super Mario Wii with LeBron in the locker room last night. That guy is really cool, and I am glad to be a part of his team!” Probably not.

My guess is that he is instead thinking about whether or not he has an open shot, who he can get the ball to so they can take an open shot, or any other number of thoughts actually related to the game.

Team chemistry is nice. It allows teammates with great familiarity to add some flash to their game through understanding the slight subtleties of those teammates. When it is absent, the friction that can exist in the locker room may be difficult and unpleasant to deal with. It is not, however, a prerequisite for success.

People currently point to a disruption in the “chemistry” of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who, after trading Zydrunas Ilgauskas away for Antawn Jamison, have lost three games in a row. They will point to Jamison’s 0 for 12 debut as a member of the Cavaliers, will claim the Cavaliers had “a good thing going” and the Ilgauskas trade simply disrupted team chemistry, resulting in a three game slide.

The REAL problem, though, has not been a lack of chemistry. When breaking down the Cavaliers’ last three losses there are other MEASURABLE factors that come into play. The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets, for example, have the second-best records in the East and West Conferences behind the Cavs and the Los Angeles Lakers. Is it really THAT hard to believe that two of the four top teams in the league could beat another of the top teams in the league!?

The Cavaliers’ other loss during this three-game slide came against the Charlotte Bobcats. I know what you are thinking… ”The Bobcats are only 27-28 right now. They are CLEARLY not one of the best teams in the NBA. How do you explain that?!”

The explanation for that is quite simple. The Bobcats are just one of “those” teams that happen to have the Cavaliers’ number this season. It happens all the time in the NBA, where the better team on paper consistently fails to get results against one specific team (which is exactly why the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks got bumped out of the first-round of the NBA playoffs by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in 2007). Simply put, the Bobcats match up well against the Cavaliers. They have played four different times this season, and Charlotte holds the edge with a dominant 3-1 record. That means Charlotte managed to beat Cleveland two out of three games BEFORE the trade took place, when the Cavs’ so-called chemistry was intact. The Cavs were not losing because of a lack of chemistry. They lost because they faced equally skilled teams that are able to capitalize on the right matchups.

As further proof that chemistry is overrated and has no REAL impact on the game, look at the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000 through 2004. The relationship between teammates Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal was always contentious. After several inflammatory remarks made to the public during the 2003-2004 season, however, the “feud” boiled to a head. Nonetheless, a lack of chemistry did not stand in the way of the Lakers going on to win a total of THREE NBA Championships, with a FOURTH Finals appearance during the 2004 postseason, when tensions were arguably at their highest. Why? Because they are PROFESSIONALS.

The issue of whether or not the team has chemistry has very little (if anything at all) to do with whether or not those players can shoot baskets (or catch touchdown passes, hit homeruns, etc). At the end of the day, it was Shaq’s JOB to pass the ball to Kobe (and vice-versa), and it was the other’s JOB to convert that pass into points. Although the locker room atmosphere would have been more pleasant if everyone got along and had good chemistry, it did not impact their performance on the court one. Both executed their roles to perfection, and reaped the rewards of their success.

Similarly in your own workplace, there are most likely those whom you may get along with, and others whom you would prefer never to interact with. However, that contentious relationship should not impact your ability to successfully complete all of the tasks you are responsible for. Just because you do not like a person, or lack chemistry with a person, does not mean that you are unable to work together towards a common goal.

“Team chemistry” is a fluff phrase that the media trumpets to manufacture background and drama. When things are going good, the media plays up the entertainment factor of “how much fun” the athletes are having. Conversely, nothing incites a local sports audience more than finding out about some locker room conflict within their organization.

There is value in team chemistry only to the extent that it makes the workplace more enjoyable for the participants when it is present, and a lack of chemistry can create friction behind the scenes. It can augment other team circumstances (both good and bad), but it is hardly the cause for, nor is it the solution to, those circumstances.

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The 2010 NBA Trade Deadline Debate – Not Even Blackstone Could Have Pulled Off This Kind of Magic

February 22, 2010

Read opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

If I were the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, would I have been seeking a trade of any kind? Probably not. Entering into the trade deadline last week, the Cavs found themselves in a unique (and potentially dangerous) position. They were the hottest team in basketball, riding a 13-game win streak. They have the best record in the league. They also have the best player in the league, along with a very strong supporting cast. So, why make a deal?

Then came the swirling rumors of a potential deal with Phoenix that would have brought Amare’e Stoudemire to the shores of Lake Erie. While Stoudemire would have brought an offensive upgrade to the Cavs, the rumors all indicated that the cost for Stoudemire was Zydrunas Ilgauskas and J.J. Hickson.

Once again, my “If I were the GM” buzzer was going haywire! Not only was the Cavs front office forcing a deal that did not need to be made, they were doing it at the long-term expense of the team.

As much as I can appreciate the sentimentality of keeping “Z” in Cleveland, it was not the risk of losing him that worried me. He was a “good guy” on the team, and he seemed genuinely happy to play in Cleveland – even through the ROUGH years of the late 1990s and early 2000s (pre-LeBron). I will always have issue, though, with a seven-footer who is unable to play physical defense. And, teams do not need a seven-footer taking three-point shots. It was actually the loss of J.J. Hickson that concerned me as a fan of the Cavs.

LeBron James has consistently given the indication that he wants to play for the team which gives him the best opportunity for MULTIPLE championships. As important as it may be to win the first one this year, he is looking for some assurance that it will not be a one-and-done occurrence. Just ask Dwayne Wade about that feeling. After winning one NBA Championship, the Miami Heat virtually dismantled the team, and now Wade is left on a team that may not even compete in the playoffs, let alone have a shot at the NBA Finals.

LeBron does not want to be in that same situation, which is why I simply cannot comprehend the fact that Danny Ferry was trying to bring Stoudemire to Cleveland for only half of a season, with no guarantee that he would stay beyond 2010, and was willing to give up a great deal of potential in the always improving J.J. Hickson. It just did not make sense to me!

Perhaps it did not make sense to Ferry either, which is why I was impressed to find out that the Cavaliers did not deal for Stoudemire after all. Instead of sacrificing long-term viability for potential short-term gains (that may not even be necessary), Ferry pulled off the steal of the season (perhaps the steal of the DECADE).

In a move that should qualify Ferry as the leading contender for GM of the Year, he managed to upgrade his team on offense by bringing in Washington Wizards sharpshooter Antawn Jamison, all while preserving his team’s long-term viability… and he did it for essentially nothing!

Ferry did have to give up “Z” but that was no surprise. The Cavs may be losing a friendly face, but in terms of production they have only lost seven points, five rebounds, and 20 minutes per game. In return, they gain 20 points and eight rebounds from Jamison. But that was basically ALL that Ferry gave up, and it will likely only be a short-term loss. Most people anticipate that the Wizards will offer Ilgauskas a buyout on his contract, and he would be available to return to Cleveland after a 30-day waiting period, an option that Ilgauskas is very likely to pursue.

Along with Ilgauskas, the Wizards will get the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick for the 2010 draft. However, because of the championship aspirations in Cleveland right now, that first-round pick is likely going to be between somewhere in the neighborhood of the 28th through 30th spot. Additionally, the Cavaliers would likely ship whomever they selected off to the D-League, and may never see that player on the court in Cleveland anyway.

Ferry made a deal without REALLY having to make a deal! It was BRILLIANT!

Basically, the Cavaliers picked up Jamison, an outstanding scorer who can definitely upgrade the Cavaliers at the four position (which is by far their weakest spot on the floor), all for the cost of a yet-unknown prospect who would not have even made the Cavaliers active roster, and the (likely) 30-day loan of one of the teams sentimental heroes.

It should also be noted that Jamison is a cheaper option than Stoudemire, although he brings much of the same benefits that Stoudemire boasts. In addition, the Cavs are able to retain Hickson, a player with a bright future that could help Cleveland for MANY years to come, and the cost was virtually NOTHING.

I do not care what anyone says about three-game losing streaks, that Jamison’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform resulted in an 0 for 12 performance from the field, that the chemistry of the Cavaliers team has been disrupted, or any of the other so-called negatives that all those doom-and-gloomers out there will harp on incessantly. The Cavaliers are a better team WITH Jamison than they are WITHOUT him. Likewise, they are better with Jamison than they are with Ilgauskas. The fact that they may wind up having both men on their roster is just the icing on what is hopefully a championship cake for the city of Cleveland!

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The Fire Mike Brown Debate – In Defense of Mike Brown

June 12, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s opinion.

We’ve all had a bad day at work before, right? Somebody says something snarky in a meeting, or grates on nerves, or steals credit for a project. Instead of just letting it go, what do you do? You vent. You might vent to a co-worker in a back room or call a friend in a hallway. When you vent you don’t think about being politically correct, or taking everyone’s feelings into consideration. You just want to vent… you want to get those negative feelings out of you. Who’s to say having a front office job for a major NBA franchise doesn’t have the same situations taking place? My guess is that’s all that happened – in contrast to the “reports” that surfaced Thursday stating the Cleveland Cavaliers were considering firing reigning Coach of the Year, and owner of more pair of fashionable glasses than any other grown man, Mike Brown. The sports media is, once again, making a big deal out of nothing. Plus, Mike Brown does not deserve to get fired.

How does a guy get a prestigious award like NBA Coach of the Year? Coaching a team that went 66-16 in the regular season, and 39-2 at home, is a good start. Brown has been credited far and wide for inspiring his star LeBron James to put in the same effort on the defensive end of the floor as he always has on the offensive end. Mike Brown has made LeBron James a better defender and a more complete basketball player. In fact, James has grown so much as a player in the 2008-2009 regular season that he earned his first NBA MVP award this year. Mike Brown is good for LeBron James.

Mike Brown has also improved as a coach each year he’s been in the NBA, despite the fact that he has really only had one consistent contributor on the roster since he started coaching – LeBron James. Brown, like James, has suffered from a lack of talent and depth on the roster. It’s hard to install elaborate motion offense if the other players on the team cannot hit an open shot. Which leads me to my next point…

The Cavaliers do not have abundant talent on their roster, Bleacher Fan. How can Mike Brown be asked to create a championship team with only one championship player? The Cavs have no dominant big player (a must for any championship-quality team in this era of the NBA). They also lack depth in the backcourt. For Bleacher Fan to claim the Cavaliers had superior talent to the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals is completely false. The Magic have 4-5 players who can take a game winning shot – the definition of a true team. The Cavs have one, which they proved.

Those realities make it unfair to place all of the blame for the Cavaliers unlikely demise at Brown’s feet. Name any championship coach in NBA history – Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, Greg Popovich – and it’s easy to see they all had more than one championship caliber player on the roster who performed well on a consistent basis. It’s unfair to expect championship quality teams from Brown, but not give him the tools to live up to those expectations. The mismatches Bleacher Fan talks about were not manufactured by a coach. Stan Van Gundy didn’t make Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu grow to 6’10.” He didn’t sign them to contracts, either. Their General Manager Otis Smith did. Mike Brown is in a difficult situation because the lack of talent, height, and depth on the Cavaliers roster.

Brown’s job as a head coach is to formulate a philosophy that will win championships. He chose defense – a proven path to the Larry O’Brien trophy. The players even bought into that philosophy and played hard for him – another proof point that Brown is an effective coach.

Not only should the Cavs not fire Mike Brown, they can’t act unilaterally. It’s also important to note that LeBron is in a position in Cleveland where all decisions regarding coaches and personnel must be approved by him. You can’t fire the coach for the best basketball player on the planet and not consult him… unless you want zero chance of resigning him when his contract expires in 2010.

The key to helping Mike Brown fully realize his potential as a coach is getting him more good players that perform consistently and fit his philosophy. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is not an athletic, tough center. Neither is Anderson Varejao. Or Joe Smith. Or JJ Hickson. Mike Brown’s success is in part tied to Danny Ferry’s ability to surround the franchise star with more talented players. Even good coaches can’t make something out nothing.