Makes and Misses: Planting more bad seeds

It's great to see that even in the middle of summer – still seven weeks away from training camp – there are still plenty of avid NBA fans pining for basketball out there.

Thanks for the emails, everyone. Sorry I can't get to all of them. But I did my best to answer as many as I could.

Enjoy – and keep the emails coming. My comments appear in italics.

PLAYOFF FORMAT CHANGES ("The status woe," August 7, 2006)

The new playoff system is better, but not perfect. This whole thing of records is flawed at best. Let's say the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks play in a weak division and because of that they build up records that are over-inflated. In another division, they could all be competitive and thus have lower winning percentages, thus lower seeds. How about seeding the teams by their won-loss records against the teams that qualify in the playoffs? That way, the wins against non-playoff teams are ignored and, in my line of thinking, more reflective of the proper order of seeding.

Michael Stremme
Pleasanton, Calif.

Michael, I like the idea of thinking outside the box, but I've got three arguments against your idea. One, the NBA – unlike Major League Baseball – plays a fairly balanced schedule. Every team in each conference plays either three or four games against its conference foes, and two games against teams from the opposite conference. So the schedules really don't favor one team over another very much. Two, basing seeds on teams' records versus other playoff teams would be unfair. Some teams are good early in the season and bad late, or visa versa. What if you win two games against a great team early in the season, but then that team is hit with injuries, fades and fails to make the playoffs? Then those two early season wins are rendered meaningless. To me that doesn't make sense. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, shouldn't every game count? Fans pay a lot of money to watch games – each one of them has to mean something.

You argued that it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances to drum up a playoff seeding controversy, but I disagree. What if the top three teams in a conference came from the same division (very possibly the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls in the Central next season)? And what if the second- and third-place teams in that division had identical records? Would the difference between a second and a fifth seed be determined by a season split?

Randy Fairfield
Ellensburg, Wash.

Randy, that's a great point – maybe it's not "an extraordinary set of circumstances" as I wrote that would lead to another playoff seeding problem. But there's no doubt the chances are now more remote. The scenario you mentioned – while possible – is still somewhat farfetched. I have a hard time seeing all three Central Division teams (Bulls, Pistons and Cavs) finishing with better records than the rest of the East – and the Miami Heat, in particular. The real problem comes when you have one division that simply stinks, like the Northwest last season. That's what skews the process. But at least now a team like the Denver Nuggets would drop to the fourth seed, opening up the higher seed for a more deserving team like Dallas last season.

One thing I don't get is why they don't just have two divisions, the East and West. Sure, the league wants to reward teams for winning their division, but does it really mean all that much to have the best record among five teams? Denver and the Sacramento Kings had the same record last season. I don't see why one should get preferential treatment over the other.

Mark
Columbia, Md.

Mark, I hear you. The three-division format was put in when the league was expanded to 30 teams two seasons ago. The NBA liked the symmetry – six divisions with five teams each. But I liked it better when there were just two divisions in each conference. That's when a division title really meant something, and then the rest of the playoff teams fell in line based on record. It was very simple and effective, wasn't it?

This playoff revision still would not have helped the Memphis Grizzlies, who finished with a better record than Denver but was awarded a fifth seed. Basically, screw the divisions. All the teams play each other either three or four times in their conference and twice in the opposite conference, so what really do the divisions mean? Really? Absolutely nothing. I am sure you appreciate this fact but will not comment on it because the NBA wants it that way.

Scott Kloek
Memphis, Tenn.

Hey Scott, are you calling me out? Are you saying I'm just the league's little you-know-what? Come on, pal. I don't toe the company line. I speak my mind, and I criticize the NBA pretty frequently. But you're dead wrong on this one. The fact is, the new format would have helped Memphis dramatically last season. Denver would have been the fourth seed, not Dallas, which means that the Grizzlies (the No. 5 seed) would have played the mediocre Nuggets instead of the powerful Mavs in the first round. Oh, and by the way, Memphis would have had the home-court advantage, too, based on a better record than the Nuggets. Come on Scott, you're better than that – do your homework!

How likely is it that the Finals schedule be changed to the normal playoff 2-2-1-1-1 format? I think that was another controversy last year, especially for Dallas fans.

Matt Sinopoli
Dallas

Matt, no way the league will change back to the old Finals format. The 2-3-2 schedule makes much more sense logistically for the league, especially with the number of NBA personnel and media who have to be accommodated. The foreign press comes from all over the globe, and hotel and flight arrangements are much easier – and cheaper – under the current format. But I agree with you, the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule is more fair to the teams involved.

I thought the playoffs were supposed to determine what team will emerge as the world champion. What difference does it make if you are a one seed or an eight seed? If this format is for television, then I understand. To me, if I were a player, it does not matter who we play or when. Only one team will become the champ. If you are in the playoffs, throw the ball up and let's play.

Kenneth Robinson
North Chicago, Ill.

Kenneth, I have to disagree with you. When I was a player, I always kept my eye on the schedule the last few weeks of the season, trying to anticipate who my team would play in the playoffs. The hope was to avoid the teams that gave us trouble for as long as possible. Some matchups are just more difficult than others, so as a team you want to be on the opposite side of the bracket from the teams that give you difficulty. There are so many variables involved – injuries, matchups, momentum, etc. – that you just want to survive and advance, and it's easier to do that against the weaker teams.

CHRISTMAS DAY GAMES

Waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh, Kobe and Phil have to travel to Miami and get all that national exposure. What are you getting soft on me, Kerr? Love your columns, brother, but to suggest that it's unfair for the Los Angeles Lakers to travel to Miami three years in row because they're away from their families is ridiculous. They can fly their whole families and cousins for that matter to Miami if need be. Pay me half of one of their contracts and after I go to Miami, I'll give up a toe as well. Sincerely, a lifetime Lakers fan who has been puking yellow and purple ever since Jerry West left and the Lakers went from a well-oiled machine to a hooptie without the hoops.

Alex Ritz
Rochester, N.Y.

Dear Scrooge, I mean Alex: I'm sure you'd be thrilled if your boss sent you to Miami three years in a row on Christmas Day. And by the way, speaking of "Waaaaaaah," you ought to quit crying about the money Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson are making. They're the best in the world at what they do, and they work in a huge, billion-dollar business. This is America, Alex! The land of opportunity. Would you be happier if we converted to socialism, lived in communes and all worked in factories making the exact same wages? I realize your Lakers have struggled the past couple of years, but don't take it out on me – and good old American capitalism!

I understand that everyone wants to be home for the holidays. It's important, but if you're getting $20 million a year or even $10 million, there is not a lot of sympathy. They could easily afford to go home after the game or take their families with them if they want. If they don't like it they could stop playing and be like the rest of the world. It's funny to me that players being away for one holiday makes you write about how the league should change their policies. Maybe you should think of the people who have been away from their families for one year and miss birthdays and Christmas, Thanksgiving and sons and daughters being born. All for the defense of the country. Funny, right? After reading this, maybe that one game is not so important to write about.

Jose S. Avila
Chicago

Jose, I write a basketball column, not a political one. Trust me, if it were up to me, all of our servicemen and women wouldn't have gone to Iraq in the first place. They would also make a lot more money than they do now. So would schoolteachers, by the way. But I don't think people log onto this web site to read my social and political views. They want my opinions on the NBA, and my take is that players shouldn't have to play on Christmas Day year after year. I played on Christmas five or six times in my career, and it was fine – as long as my team played at home. Being on the road on Christmas stunk. Hey, there are plenty of good teams in the NBA – the league should rotate the schedule a bit so that the same teams don't have to play every year, that's all.

Steve, I usually agree with everything you say except for your proposal: "Teams should not be allowed to play two seasons in a row on Christmas." Are you metrosexual? Where's your manhood? These guys make MILLIONS OF DOLLARS PER YEAR TO PUT A BALL IN A HOOP while BILLIONS of people slave away in conditions that stagger the imagination, and they can't play on Christmas two years in a row? GET REAL. Your proposal made me want to gag.

PK
Los Angeles

Hey PK, trust me. I'm not metrosexual. I don't dress nearly well enough. In fact, my transition from NBA player to sportswriter was an easy one – I didn't have to change my wardrobe. I went to the Steve Nash school of fashion. As far as my proposal is concerned, I'm not going to give you the old, "NBA players are people, too" argument. I'm just saying that, well, NBA players are people too.

Steve, I read your comments on the Heat and the Lakers on Christmas Day. Although it might be a great idea to let them rotate games, I will add my two cents – play only on Christmas Eve and the day after. I think these guys play hard enough for the entertainment dollar. They should be home on that day with their families.

Phil Brunt
Corona, Calif.

Finally, someone with a heart! Just because NBA players make a lot of money doesn't mean they don't deserve to be at home for the holidays. Feel free to call PK, Jose and Alex and let them know they're mean-spirited and bitter.

BAD CELTICS, SIXERS AND WARRIORS

I'm a big Boston Celtics fan and this year's team is my favorite since the early 80s. I'm glad Danny Ainge didn't sell off any of the young kids for some old guy. It's funny how I keep hearing that you need "veteran leadership." Not true. You just need leadership. I remember my first job selling real estate around 1983 on Cape Cod. My boss had 20 years experience – a real estate "veteran" who considered himself a "leader." … He never made much and I went on to make millions. Point is, being a "veteran" is overrated.

Steve Backus
Brewster, Mass.

Steve, congratulations on making millions. But since you're rich, I want you to know that most of our readers would have no sympathy for you if you were forced to spend Christmas away from your family. Anyway, I digress. I like Boston's young talent, but I don't know if they're good enough to support Paul Pierce and make the Celtics a playoff team. The move I didn't like, though, was trading for Sebastian Telfair. I think Brandon Roy and Randy Foye are both going to be excellent players in this league, and Boston could have had one of them with the seventh pick. Anyway, Telfair may prove me wrong – we'll see. But if Boston is going to be any good, all those young guys will have to come through in a big way.

I think you missed the point about the Philadelphia 76ers. All the focus on Allen Iverson and Chris Webber obscures the fact that the Sixers were one of the youngest teams in the league last year. Players like Andre Iguodala, Samuel Dalembert, Steven Hunter, Kyle Korver, and Willie Green have only played major minutes for about two to three years and finally should be ready to hit their primes this season. Also, Rodney Carney is a major upgrade at small forward just for the fact he can play defense. The team lost a lot of games in which they led in the fourth quarter last season. I think a little maturity from their young guys will put the 76ers firmly back in the playoffs.

David Kaufman
Washington, D.C.

David, you're the most optimistic Philly fan I've ever heard, in any sport! I hope you're right about the Sixers – I'd like to see them have success. But I have a hard time seeing them make that much improvement just by letting the young guys mature. The worst part of the situation, though, is the major salary cap problems. The team's hands are tied with Iverson and Webber for the next couple of years.

What would you have done if you were in charge of the Sixers? Would you have traded A.I. for a couple of role players and cash, or would you have traded some of the extra weight on the team and gave A.I. a fighting chance to win?

Ricardo Casanova
Oklahoma City

Ricardo, the Sixers made the right choice in keeping Iverson. He's not going to lead them to a title, but he's still a major draw around the league. More importantly, there wasn't a great deal out there to be made. No trade is always better than a bad one.

Why are you so gentle on Mike Dunleavy of the Golden State Warriors? He's a former No. 3 overall pick that has proved to be not much more than a "white hope," yet most of your comments put the onus on Baron Davis. Why the kid-glove treatment of Dunleavy? I enjoy your column, but you're as easy on him as the local press tends to be. They really pander to the readers from the suburbs. We in the inner city clearly see the double standard. You shouldn't play to it.

Steven Millner
San Jose, Calif.

Steven, the reason I don't mention Dunleavy in the "Why aren't the Warriors making progress?" discussion is that I don't think he's capable of making a big difference. The difference maker on the team is Davis because when he's right and in shape he's an incredible player. Dunleavy is what he is: a decent NBA three man who is way overpaid. But if he has a really good year, I don't think it will matter that much to Golden State. They're still not going to be very good. Davis, on the other hand, can take the Warriors to the next level because he's amazingly gifted and can control a game. The onus in the NBA is always on the stars, regardless of race, color or creed. If Steve Nash has a bad year, the Suns won't be that great. If Kobe is injured, the Lakers won't be any good. So why would I waste my time ripping Raja Bell or Chris Mihm? Stars are stars; role players are role players. It's not my fault the Warriors made a huge mistake giving 45 million bucks to Dunleavy.

How do general managers and the like who make bad decisions year after year get and keep these jobs? I am not a basketball genius, but I can sure make fewer mistakes than I have seen with some teams. Is there a job posting board somewhere I can get on? Keep up the great work. You have a great sense of humor.

Steve Burch
Pleasant Hill, Calif.

Steve, being a general manager is a tough job. There's a lot of luck involved in the business, and things have to fall your way. Evaluating talent is not a science, and everyone has hits and misses. With that said, there's no question that there have been some poor jobs done over the years. My biggest pet peeve with GMs is not making a poor draft pick, but overpaying for underachieving big men. Thirty million bucks for Jerome James? Thirty-five million for Jim McIlvaine? Thirty million for Benoit Benjamin? Come on! Those guys had all been seen for many years in the league before signing those deals. They weren't that good and yet they were handed these huge contracts based on "potential." You can draft on potential, but don't sign free agents based on the P word. I don't get it. … Send in your resume, Steve – you never know.