Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Winter Like No Other

Warning:  this has nothing to do with sports.

Tomorrow morning I head out to Florida from some golf, great camaraderie and warm temps.  Several of my regular readers will be joining me.  No big news here.

The amazing part is that, unlike every other time I've gone to Florida over the past 35+ years, I will neither be wearing nor packing long pants or jacket.

A week or so ago, I spent a decent amount of time strategizing over what to wear down to Florida. In my early Florida years, I would have a pair of shorts easily accessible in my carry-on bag so I could quickly get into Sunshine State mode when I got off the plane with a quick bathroom stop.  As my finances grew beyond pure subsistence level, I bought pants that can change into shorts with the slip of a couple zippers.  A week ago, I figured I'd go with the convertible pants and be proud that I had the foresight to have such versatile gear. 

I'll be leaving a little before 6am.  The expected temperature then is 58 degrees.  For my regular Saturday tee time at Gleneagles, my rule is that if the first number is a 5 or better, I'm wearin' shorts.  No need for the convertibles.  Yeah, but what about the return trip?  I'll be returning at about 7pm on March 20.  The expected Chicago temps are in the mid 70s.

The convertible shorts are staying at home...shorts all the way.

C'mon, this is flat-out crazy.

Did we have a single day this winter where the low temperature was below zero?  If so, it was only a day or two.  I actually had to think about turning on  the AC on Mach 14.  Is this that "climate change" thing everyone talks about or just a fluke?  Man, I don't know, but I'm all good with it.

Come Saturday, I'll be playing golf in Florida.  Temps in the 80s.  I could be staying at home and playing golf with temps in the 60s or 70s.  Is the Florida trip a waste? 

Nope.  While the temps may not differ much, Florida is a vacation and Chicago is not.  Still, this winter has been pretty odd.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bulls' Watson: No Ordinary Backup

Backing up a superstar is pretty much a thankless job.  I mean, no one wants to see you in the game and most fans anxiously count the minutes until you return to the bench where you belong.  This is C.J. Watson's role on the Bulls...backing up reigning NBA MVP, Derrick Rose.

So far this season, Watson has shrugged off the low expectations most have for him and is having himself a pretty remarkable season.

Make no mistake, Watson is no Rose, but the Derrick Rose impression he's been performing this year is damn close to spot on.  While most superstars' backups strive for competency, Watson is delivering excellence.  You could make a good argument that no NBA superstar has an understudy who so closely mirrors the real deal as Watson has mirrored Rose.

Rose remains extraordinary, leading all point guards with 23 points per game and is 8th in the league with 7.9 assists per game.  Rose also contributes 3.4 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game.  Rose's Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 25.2 is even higher than it was in his MVP season (23.5).  In other words, Rose is still a very  "tough act to follow."

Since Watson is averaging only 20.5 minutes per game to Rose's 36.1, C.J. can't be expected to put up the same sort of per game numbers as Rose, but on a per-36 minute basis, Watson's numbers have been beyond solid.

Watson's averaging 18.3 points, 7.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per-36.  Thanks to Watson's blistering 49.1% from beyond the 3-point line (3rd in the NBA), his "True Shooting Percentage," the best published measure of scoring efficiency, is .572 to Rose's .559.

Watson's PER is 21.4.  To put this in perspective, Watson's PER ranks 7th among NBA point guards, ahead of stars like New Jersey's Deron Williams, San Antonio's Tony Parker and Boston's Rajon Rondo.  No other backup point guard is even close.

Due to Rose's battles with "turf toe," Watson has had to start 3 games this season for the Bulls.  The team won all three of those games and Watson ran the offense well enough for the Bulls to average a whopping 109 points.  While Watson clearly can't take the ball to the basket like Rose (just about nobody can), Watson isn't afraid to create off penetration.  Combined with his deadly outside shooting, the Watson-led Bulls' offense is very nearly as effective as the headliners.

In last night's game against the New Jersey Nets, Rose was only able to play about 10 minutes due to back spasms.  For most teams, this might have created a sense of dread since the Nets' superstar is Deron Williams, also a point guard.  However, Watson again stepped in and stepped up big time, scoring 14 points, dishing out 11 assists and pulling down 7 rebounds in an easy 108-87 Bulls victory.

Watson clearly is no Derrick Rose, but as reasonable facsimiles go, he'll do quite nicely, thank you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Bulls' "Gestalt" Vibe

Early in this strike-shortened NBA season, the Chicago Bulls currently own the league's best record at 12-2.  That's an 86% winning percentage which is really kinda crazy...the best regular season record of all time is owned by the 1995-96 Bulls who went 72-10 (87.8%).  They've outscored opponents by 10.3 points per game...3 points more than when they posted the best regular season record last season at 62-10.

How are the Bulls doing it?  The "usual suspects" of reasons for an extraordinarily quick start to a season just don't fly.

The home court advantage is huge in the NBA.  Lots of home games?  Well no, in fact the Bulls have played 9 of their 14 games on the team has had to play more games away from home.

Easy schedule?  Not hardly.  The Bulls spoiled the home openers for the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers who are a combined 15-8 and have beaten the Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics...all projected playoff teams.

An absence of injuries to key players?  Nope.  The team's key offseason acquisition, shooting guard Richard "Rip" Hamilton and backup point guard C.J. Watson have each missed 9 games and counting.  The team's lone superstar Derrick Rose also missed a game due to a toe injury.

So it must be that most of their players are having fast starts.  Sorry, but statistically that doesn't work at all.  When measured by Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the best available statistic to measure individual performance, this Bulls team is having a decidedly off season.  Point Guard Derrick Rose is putting up similar numbers that helped win him the league MVP award last season, but all of the other starters are down:

  • Rip Hamilton is down from 15.8 PER last season to 13.1 this season.
  • Luol Deng is down from 15.5 PER to last season to 14.0 this season.
  • Carlos Boozer is down from 18.8 PER last season to 17.9 this season.
  • Joakim Noah is down from 18.8 PER last season to 13.9 this season.
The Gestalt (and Defense) Factor

Even if you didn't study psychology, you probably remember this much about gestalt...sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  This is truly the only reasonable way to explain the Bulls' early season success.  Despite a greatly-compressed training camp and preseason, the Bulls have meshed quickly and hit the ground a team.

A lot of credit should go to last season's Coach-of-the-Year, Tom Thibodeau.  "Thibs" installed his defensive system last season and with a season under their belts, the team is executing it to near perfection.  The Bulls have given up only 83.8 points per game this season...the best in the league by more than 3 1/2 points.  Bulls' opponents have a shooting percentage of 41.3% versus a league average of 44.2%.

Rebounding is another reason for the Bulls early season dominance.  Their 46.6 rebounds per game is far and away the league's best.

To this point in the season, the Bulls are clearly the best team in the NBA.  As many expected, the second best team is the Oklahoma City Thunder at 11-2 (7 home games).  The next best are both "surprise teams"...the Philadelphia 76ers and the Indiana Pacers, both 9-3, both thought by the experts to be "bubble teams" come playoff time.The "superteam" Miami Heat is 8-4.  The defending champion Dallas Mavericks, after a slow start, are 8-5. 

Despite the fact that the Bulls had the league's best regular season record last season, only Derrick Rose was selected for the All Star Game.  This figures to be the case again this season.  Other than Rose, no one on the Bulls has put up any "All Star worthy" (read: scoring) numbers.  In fact, it's not even close.  This is because defense doesn't matter much when it comes to All Star selection.  I mean, the Bulls second leading scorer (behind Rose) is Deng at a completely pedestrian 14.9 points per game.  Who cares that Deng is possibly the best small forward defender in the league?

Other than Rose, the Bulls completely lack "star power."  I guess they'll just have to settle for being the best damn team in the NBA.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Angelo's Failure is Right Up Front

Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips informed Jerry Angelo this morning that he (Angelo) will not return as the team’s general manager for the 2012 season. Angelo had run the Bears' front office since 2001.

By all accounts, Jerry Angelo is a good man who worked hard and consistently kept his focus on the organization's goal of winning Super Bowl championships.  Unfortunately for Angelo, effort, focus and good intentions aren't enough.  Angelo's record is decidedly mediocre.

I'm a firm believer that NFL football is won by having your big uglies beat up on your opponent's big uglies, that is, "in the trenches."  I also believe that the secret to sustaining excellence in the NFL is by successfully drafting impact players with your early (rounds 1-4) picks.  In his time with the Bears, Angelo has had 45 of these picks, but has only drafted one, count 'em, one Pro Bowl caliber lineman on either side of the ball (Tommie Harris in 2004). 

His failed lineman picks from the first 4 rounds is enough to make any Bears' fan cringe: Marc Columbo, Terrance Metcalf, Michael Haynes, Ian Scott, Tank Johnson, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Josh Beekman, Chris Williams, Marcus Harrison and Jaron Gilbert.  In fairness, I didn't include anyone taken in the past two years (guys like Henry Melton, Corey Wooten, Stephen Paea and Gabe Carimi may still turn out to be players) and should give Angelo credit for his second-best lineman pick, DE Alex Brown (4th round 2002) who was a good, but never great pro.

These failures came home to roost with the sorry excuse for an offensive line the Bears have put in front of franchise QB Jay Cutler the past couple years.  On the other side of the ball, of the top 6 defensive linemen on the team, only Melton was drafted by the Bears.

Angelo's record in acquiring linemen via free agency has certainly been better than his drafting, but in the NFL, free agency needs to supplement your draft.  With Angelo, it was the other way around.  Still, though extremely pricey, Julius Peppers was a terrific signing and Israel Idonije has developed into a very solid running mate for Peppers.

For most of Angelo's Bears' tenure, the "faces of the franchise" have been Brian Urlacher and Olin Kreutz, both players Angelo inherited.  This said, Angelo deserves credit for the gutsy trade for Cutler and drafting Matt Forte and Devin Hester, who are likely candidates for future face of the franchise distinction. 

Looking back over the Angelo decade, his most important contribution may have been the hiring of head coach Lovie Smith.  Though many fans and media members aren't high on Smith, I've gained an appreciation for the man.  His teams have consistently played above their perceived talent level.  Until this season's 5-game losing streak, Smith-coached teams were known for following up bad losses with solid efforts.  They've never quit on Lovie.  I think that by consistently getting the most out of the limited talent he was given, Smith was sort of the Lysol to the musty odor of Angelo's failures.  I'm glad Lovie will be back next season.

As for Angelo, I wish him well, but it was time for him to go.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Your 2011-12 Strike-Shortened Chicago Bulls

Last season, the Bulls surprised the NBA world.  Picked by most of the experts to be a middle of the pack playoff team, they won more regular season games (62) than any other team in the league.  In the NBA as in most major professional sports, when you surprise folks, you win awards and the Bulls were no exception.  Derrick Rose took home the Most Valuable Player award, rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau captured Coach of the Year honors and General Manager Gar Forman shared the Executive of the Year award with Miami Heat President Pat Riley.

Unfortunately, the upstart Bulls couldn't pull off the ultimate surprise, falling to the Heat 4-1 in the Eastern Conference finals.

A Very Good Offseason Played in Two Parts

With two late first round draft picks (#28 and #30 overall), little was expected to come from the June 23rd draft.  What the Bulls needed was veteran help, particularly at shooting guard, and didn't figure to want two rookies taking up valuable roster spots.  Many predicted that the Bulls would trade one or both of these picks.  Again, they surprised.

The Bulls traded the 28th pick and their 2nd-rounder to move up to #23 where they selected 6-10 Euro-League forward Nikola Mirotic.  Some found the selection odd, not because Mirotic isn't a great prospect (some compare him to a young Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks' superstar forward), but because the 20 year old wunderkind had recently signed a long-term deal with the prestigious RealMadrid club that included a prohibitively-high buy-out option for the first 3 years.  For the Bulls, this works out just fine.  Mirotic can polish his game at someone else's expense and should be ready to come over just about when the Bulls can give him meaningful minutes.  After the draft, Mirotic revealed that the only reason he entered the draft was because the Bulls had told him they were interested...nice.

With the 30th overall pick, the Bulls selected Marquette guard-forward, Jimmy Butler.  Butler is 6-7 with an exceptional work ethic, very good defensive instincts and more than reasonable offensive skills.  While Butler only figures to get the occasional minutes in mop-up situations this season, early indications are that he just might be a player.

Eight days after the draft, on July 1, NBA owners announced that they were locking out the players until a new collective bargaining agreement was signed.  The lockout lasted until December 9th.  In the interim, teams could not approach the players or their was simply a 5+ month time out.

Once the free agency began earlier this month, the Bulls situation was simple.  All of their players were signed with the lone exception of 39 year old third-string center Kurt Thomas.  What the Bulls needed was a legitimate shooting guard.  In the 2010-11 season, the team had filled the position by committee...Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver shared the job.  While Bogans started every game for the Bulls last season, both Brewer and Korver played more minutes.  The 62 wins notwithstanding, they needed to put this patchwork approach behind them.

Because the team is over the league's salary cap, their alternatives for filling the shooting guard hole were limited - they could sign a free agent for up to the $5 million "mid-level exception" or they could try to obtain a player via trade. 

Throughout the offseason, it seemed that every Bulls' fan had his or her own favorite shooting guard candidate.  Personally, I wasn't very optimistic.  The names most often mentioned fell into 3 categories: over-the-hill big names like Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter, pure "gunners" like Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith who had well-deserved reputations for finding defense beneath them and excellent players who only the delusional believed would accept the $5million or be made available in a trade.

The early results of the free agent signing period confirmed my fears.  My top two free agent candidates, Caron Butler and Jason Richardson, signed elsewhere for well above the mid-level exception amount.  Nothing seemed to be happening on the trade front.  Bulls' fans, me included, were getting nervous.

Then about two weeks ago, an intriguing rumor came across the wires.  The Pistons and their three-time All Star shooting guard Richard "Rip" Hamilton were working on a buyout of the $12.5 million Hamilton was to be paid this season.  There were even whispers that Hamilton's team of choice was none other than my beloved Bulls.  I don't usually put much stock in rumors, but I badly wanted to believe in this one.

On December 12, the buyout was formally announced.  Hamilton "tweeted" that he was looking at 3 teams, the Bulls being one of them.  It turned out that this was only a tease and Rip quickly signed a 2-year contract with the Bulls for the $5 million ($10 million total) mid-level exception.

The Bulls got their shooting guard.

Then yesterday, the Bulls capped off their offseason by announcing the signing of Rose to a 5-year contract extension.  While this wasn't a surprise, it was easily the most significant move the Bulls have made since, well, when they drafted Rose.

Hoping for a Short, but Sweet Season

The 2011-12 regular season has been shortened to 66 games.  To get these games into the time available, teams will need to play nearly one more game each week.  Back-to-back games will be more frequent and each team will need to play at least one back-to-back-to-back stretch.  A deep roster will be a decided advantage...and the Bulls probably are the deepest team in the NBA.

As NBA fans know, most teams use an 8-man rotation during the regular season then shorten it come playoff time.  A few employ a 9-man rotation.  The Bulls use 10 players every game.  This season, the starters are expected to be Rose (point guard), Hamilton (shooting guard), Luol Deng (small forward), Carlos Boozer (power forward) and Joakim Noah (center).  The "Bench Mob" consists of C.J. Watson (point), Ronnie Brewer (shooting guard-small forward), Kyle Korver (shooting guard-small forward), Taj Gibson (power forward) and Omer Asik (center).  All of these subs figure to play 11+ minutes per game, with Brewer and Gibson getting somewhere around 20 minutes.  The "deep bench," players who often won't play at all in games, will be made up of the rookie Butler, resident cheerleader and pseudo-assistant coach Brian Scalabrine and point guard John Lucas III.

Some thoughts on each of the Bulls rotation players:

Rose: You all know the story...he went from a struggling rookie (though he was Rookie-of-the-Year) to an All Star in year 2 to a truly elite player and MVP last season.  No one's sure what's next, but the kid just keeps working his tail off so it should be great.

Hamilton: He'll be 34 in February and is coming off a season of discontent where he was among the players who boycotted practice in an effort to get his head coach fired (which of course resulted in making it impossible for Pistons' brass to ax the head coach until after the season ended...not too bright, Rip).  He's always been in great shape and this looks to be the case this season as well.  Hamilton is an extremely smart player who knows where to be and what to do when he gets there.  He's a good and willing defender and he can score, averaging 17.7 points per game over his 12-year NBA career.  Though you'll hear that his numbers dropped off last season, this was entirely due to him playing only 27 minutes per game (his per-minute stats were right on his career averages), his lowest minutes total since his rookie season.  I expect the addition of Hamilton to be a huge plus for the Bulls this season.

Deng: Though many claim that last season was Deng's best, statistically he was right around where he's always been.  He did however, add a 3-point shot to his game, taking about 4 per contest and making a very respectable 35% of them.  Coach Thibodeau calls Deng his "glue guy" and he's indispensable to the team's success.  Deng was 3rd in the league last season in minutes played.  The Bulls need similar durability from him this season.

Boozer:  Boozer was the team's big free agent acquisition a season ago.  Injuries have plagued Boozer throughout his career and unfortunately, last season continued the trend...he missed 23 regular season games and was a non-factor through most of the playoffs nursing a "turf toe.".  When he was completely healthy, he was pretty effective on offense.  On defense, well, let's be kind and just say he's never been much of a defensive player.  A healthy Boozer gives the Bulls a much-needed inside offensive weapon.

Noah: Like Boozer, Noah battled injuries over the course of last season and into the playoffs (he missed 34 regular season games).  When healthy, Noah is an energy source for the Bulls and he's one of the best defensive centers in the game.

Watson:  Watson's job is to spell Rose for about 10-12 minutes each game and he's ideally suited to the role.  Like Rose, he's he can carry the offense for stretches and is a better 3-point shooter (39.3% last season) than Rose.  He's also a tenacious defender.  Nice player to have on the roster.

Brewer: Brewer is an exceptional athlete and an elite defender.  His problem has always been his outside shooting (due to a childhood accident, he's unable to get his right elbow to the proper inside position).  Brewer came on offensively late in the season and in the playoffs (he made a kinda stunning 43% of his 3-pointers last postseason).  If he can become more of an offensive threat, the Bench Mob will be in great shape.

Korver:  Korver isn't particularly big...or quick...or fast.  Though he tries hard, he's a bona fide defensive liability.  However, like KFC, he does one thing very right and that's shoot the rock.  Coming off his pretty much insane and record-setting 53.6% 3-point performance during the '09-'10 season, his 41.5% last year was a bit of a disappointment...but it's still very damn good.  Korver's role last season was twofold - be the primary scoring option on the bench mob and play shooting guard with the starting unit down the stretch of games.  With Hamilton on board, Korver will likely see his minutes cut and only see spot action late in games.

Gibson:  Gibson plays defense, rebounds the ball and blocks shots like a NBA starter.  Like Brewer, he's a little offensively-challenged, but still manages to score about 12 points per 36-minutes played.  A great guy to have on the team, and making just a little over $1million/year, he's one of the best bargains in the league.

Asik:  If you're a fan of great defense, do yourself a favor and focus on Asik's work on that end of the floor the next time you watch a Bulls' game.  The guy's a beast.  He has exceptional quickness, instincts and quick feet for a 7-footer.  On offense, watch someone else unless you're a solid screen aficionado (he really does set nice screens).

So how are the Bulls going to do this season?  I expect them to be neck and neck with the Heat winning 50-52 of their 66 regular season games.  Look for a rematch with the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals...this time with a different result.

As I said earlier, this team just loves a good surprise.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The New Economic and Competitive NBA Models

Yeah, yeah, I know...I've been a lazy ass.  My bad.

As you've probably heard and read, the NBA and its players finally reached an agreement and are expected to begin their abbreviated 66-game regular season on Christmas Day.

As expected, the owners pretty much routed the players in these negotiations though it would be inaccurate to say that the owners got everything they wanted...they only got most of what they wanted.

I won't bore you with all the details of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NBA players and owners.  Rather, I want to focus on the highlights and on some of things casual fans might want to know.

The Economics

In the old CBA, the players were guaranteed 57% of "Basketball-Related Income," aka BRI (BRI includes just about anything you can think of from TV/Radio, ticket sales, concessions, name it).  Both sides knew that 57% was too high given the current economy so the players quickly moved to 54%.  Though the owners initially were looking for a BRI split that would eventually end up with the owners getting something like 61%, this was pretty much silly negotiating posturing.  The owners hardcore number was 53% (47% for the players).  While this is what the owners wanted, it was only relevant if the 2011-12 season had to be cancelled.  As things played out, it became clear that the owners would accept a 50-50 split if the season could be saved.

The ultimate agreement was a BRI split within a band of 49%-51%.  The percentage the players receive depends on whether the league's revenue projection is met (50-50), exceeded (51% for players) or falls short (49% for players).

The agreement on the BRI split doesn't actually change any player's salary, so all players will have a 10% deduction from their paychecks which will be deposited into an escrow account.  To the extent that players salaries exceed the prescribed level, the owners will be able to get the money from the escrow account.  If the total escrow account isn't enough to cover the owners' shortfall, the escrow deduction % will be increased the following year.  In the unlikely event that the players' salaries fall below the prescribed level, the owners must immediately cut a check to the players.

As long as the economy doesn't get any worse, the agreed-upon BRI split should put the league, as a whole, on a profitable footing.  It will then be up to the owners to put an expanded "revenue sharing" program in place that moves sufficient money from the big-market teams to the smaller-market teams to ensure that the league continues to have a financially-viable 30-team league.

In purely financial terms, the new CBA ought to work.

The New Competitive Model

This is where it gets least to me.

The old CBA had a "Luxury Tax" (LT) provision that required teams whose payrolls were over a certain level ($70mil in 2011) to pay a dollar-for dollar tax on their excess salary.  The intent was to discourage big-market teams from attempting to gain a competitive advantage simply by grossly outspending the smaller-market teams.  What the league learned was that a dollar-for-dollar tax was little more than a speed bump to teams like the Knicks and the Lakers one bit.  For the 2006-7 season, the Knicks willingly paid $45.1mil in luxury tax alone...nearly as much as some of the smaller-market teams were paying in total salary.

In the new CBA, the owners initially proposed a hard salary cap.  A hard cap is foolproof.  Each team can spend only a set amount on players and that's that.  They moved off the hard cap proposal fairly early in the negotiations and eventually settled for a LT that starts at a higher penalty rate ($1.50 tax for each dollar over the tax limit) with the tax rate going higher for each additional $5mil a team exceeds the tax threshold.  As an example, if a team exceeded the tax level by $45mil like the Knicks did 5 years ago, they'd be forced to come up with a total tax payment of about $147.5mil.  As a late concession to the players the owners agreed to delay this new, more punitive LT system until the 3rd year of the new agreement, so the LT remains only dollar-for dollar for this season and next.

While the season 3 graduated tax system is not a hard cap, the NBA hopes that their graduated financial penalties will effectively "even the playing field" in terms of spending on players.  However, keeping in mind that the reason big-spending teams spend big is to gain a competitive advantage, they've also targeted new "competitive penalties" to LT-paying teams. 

One of the key new competitive penalties involves what is called the Mid-Level Exception (MLE).  In the old CBA, any team over the salary cap was allowed to sign one or more free agents so long as the total first-year salaries of these players didn't exceed the average NBA player's salary ($5.8mil last season).  Using this exception, even teams at the top of the spending list could add very solid players to their rosters each season, and since these high-paying teams were among the most attractive franchises to play for, they usually had first choice among the MLE-type free agents.

In the new CBA, the MLE has been reset to a flat $5mil first-year salary with contracts of up to 4 years in length.  However, for LT-paying teams, the MLE is only $3mil and the contract length can't exceed 3 years.  LT-paying teams will no longer be the destination of choice among MLE free agents.

Another competitive penalty for LT-paying teams is that they can no longer use the "Bi-Annual Exception," which, every other year, allows teams to sign a free agent to a 2-year contract starting at $1.9mil.

LT-paying teams also have more restrictive rules with regard to trades than non-taxpaying teams.

Net, in the new CBA, the NBA learned from their past LT mistakes and is aiming for greater parity by attacking the big spenders on both the financial and competitive fronts. 

Is all of this good for the (NBA) game?

Yeah, I think it is.  Each of the past 5 NBA champions were LT-paying teams.  Fans of smaller-market teams stopped believing that their teams could become legitimate contenders and lost interest.  The changes in the new CBA should, over time, give these disaffected fans new hope. 

This said, the new CBA isn't very "Bulls-friendly."  After years of mediocrity, the Bulls finally have an elite team again.  With center Joakim Noah getting his salary bumped from $2.3mil to $11.3mil this season and reigning MVP Derrick Rose set to be extended for a contract starting at over $17mil next season, they'll have an elite payroll to match. Just when the full penalties of the LT kick in, the Bulls team payroll figures to be at its zenith.

A lot has been made of the fact that the Bulls have never paid so much as one penny of LT.  This fact has been used to support the position that the Bulls (i.e., Jerry Reinsdorf) will never pay any LT.  Don't believe it.  Reinsdorf never paid the LT because until now, he didn't have a team that warranted it.

In the end, if you're a Bulls' fan, I wouldn't worry.  The team will pay what it takes to remain an elite team and ideally to become a champion. 

As an NBA and die-hard Bulls fan, it'll be great to have the games back.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bears' Briggs is way out of line

In 2008, Bears' Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs tested the NFL free agent market and ultimately re-upped with the Bears for 6 years and $36million.  He's exactly mid-way through this contract.

So why on earth is Briggs, through his agent Drew Rosenhaus, requesting a trade if his earlier request for a new contract is not met?

I suppose the flippant answer is because it never hurts to ask.  Also, if you can get past the noble principle that once you sign a contract you should live up to it, you can understand that, since Briggs will be nearly 34 when his current contract ends, he'd like to improve on the $14.4MM left in what likely will be Briggs' NFL career.

However, the timing of the Briggs/Rosenhaus request is a little baffling.  There's clearly no way that the Bears are going to re-work Briggs' contract at this point...the precedent would be awful.  It's just as clear that Briggs would be foolish to attempt to use his only real leverage, a hold-out, this season...from a purely financial perspective, it's extremely unlikely that he can force the Bears' hand and would simply lose his $3.9MM 2011 salary.

The Bears had a surprisingly successful 2010 season and have had a fairly positive 2011 preseason, avoiding key injuries and somehow shoring up their woeful offensive line without making any major personnel additions.  On paper at least, they're a better team than they were entering last season where they fell only one win short of playing in the Super Bowl.  It's not surprising that many on the team have visions of 2011 glory dancing in their heads.

So Lance/Drew, why now?  Very little positive can come from this trade request, and if you actually decide to withhold your services, you'll not only alienate your teammates (who understandably hope that their comrades can get as much as they can from management as long as it doesn't affect them or the team), but league executives as well (what good is signing a contract with someone who's proven that he won't live up to its terms and will put his own selfish interests ahead of the team).  Even if you continue to play under your contract, you're putting yourself unnecessarily under a media/fan microscope...any minor injury or unproductive game will lead to speculation about whether you're using the playing field as your negotiating table. 

Lance, reality check here.  You're unquestionably a very good player, but not remotely a superstar.  You play weakside linebacker in a defensive system designed to make your position look good, but not to rack up sacks or Sports Center highlights.  What you do very well makes for great defense, but isn't very sexy/lucrative.

Drew, by all accounts, you're one of the better/more reasonable player agents.  You understand that your client didn't sign any sort of "home town discount" deal back in 2008.  It was pure market value...the best you could get.  Since you've represented many Bears' players over the years, you also understand how, once a player hangs up his cleats, a former Bear's popularity can translate into very real money in this major market city.  Chicago fans generally LOVE their former Bears' heroes, and Briggs, a very well-spoken guy, has serious post-career potential.

Unless, of course, you allow him to turn himself into a selfish, Super Bowl-sabotaging villain in Bears fans' minds.  Trust me when I tell you that they won't forget this sort of unprecedented betrayal.  If you let this happen, your client's financial opportunities (and your commissions) in Chicago will end on his last NFL snap.

I sincerely believe that Briggs and Rosenhaus have seriously misjudged and mishandled the situation.  They're out on a pretty tenuous limb and have no one to blame but themselves.  Had they had been more patient and private, just between Briggs/Rosenhaus and the Bears brass, they might have gotten something positive accomplished in 2012.  Unfortunately, they put themselves and the Bears in a lose-lose situation.

While some irrevocable damage may have already been done, my advice is for Briggs to publicly "clarify" his stance quickly stating that his agent's attempt to better his lot will have no effect on his play this season.

As a general rule, no matter how far down that wrong road you may go down, the sooner you turn back the better.  Lance/Drew, it's time to try to turn back.