The NBA as a “niche” sport: Why?

Dan Shanoff and Tom Ziller had an excellent war of words around the NBA as a niche sport. The NFL is on it’s own level, MLB and College Football are in the 2nd group, college basketball (for March Madness alone) is next, and the NBA is right behind. I agree with Mr. Shanoff based on a lot of reasons, most of which I am a huge sports fan and I am not, nor do I know any hardcore sports fans. I grew up in Chicago during the Jordan era. I was 8 when they won their first title and 14 when they won their 6th. I remember the parades and riots and some basketball but I was too young to appreciate what I was witnessing. Fast forward 10 years. I am a VERY casual basketball fan. I watch the playoffs and an occasional game during the season but there isn’t a lot of love. So I started to wonder, why is it that pro basketball has fallen off the radar?

  1. Attention span – People in general don’t have the attention spans they did 20 years ago. There are so many cable channels, video games, the internet that people have so much else to do it’s hard to pay attention for 82 regular season games. (I can’t even sit in front of the TV without my laptop being I need to be doing multiple things at once). It’s the same reason MLB suffers the summer lull Mr. Shanoff referenced. Add to it that the NBA playoffs drag on for an eternity and by the end people can’t even remember the beginning.
  2. Meaningless regular season – The NBA’s playoff structure is a joke. 16 of 30 teams make the playoffs, that’s more than half (!). Consider that the previous two seasons there was one team in the playoffs with a losing record and at least one that was exactly .500. This year is shaping up the same. That means even if you lose more than you, you are still in the playoffs. The NFL (6 out of 32) and MLB (8 out of 30) make you at least sort of earn it. This makes it tough to get excited about regular season games, especially when a team like the Spurs doesn’t really start trying until after January 1st.
  3. Fantasy – Fantasy sports are out of control. I am not going to spend this time talking about everything I dislike about them, but they drive a lot of attention to the NFL and MLB. I am fairly convinced that fantasy baseball is one of the main factors for keeping people interested in the summer months. Fantasy football is so big that most people spend more time researching their fantasy team than their favorite team and I would guess that a lot of fans would root for their fantasy team over their own in a lot of circumstances. Fantasy basketball doesn’t seem to be near the same level.
  4. Gambling – I already mentioned March Madness and we are right in the thick of Office Pool Madness. It’s amazing to me how many people who couldn’t name 10 college basketball players before March 1st talk to me about their brackets. I don’t mind, it’s nice to see the interest in the college game. The fact remains, especially with the 1-year college rule, that office pools are about the only thing that keep college b-ball out of the “niche” classification. The NFL has even more gambling associated with it. Major websites (*ahem* Bill Simmons) give their weekly picks with the spread. It actually surprises me how many people openly talk about betting on the NFL.
  5. Bad Timing – The NBA has experienced bad timing in two ways. First, it’s season takes place in horrible months. When the season starts in October, it’s competing with the heart of the NFL and College Football season. By the time the Super Bowl ends, they have about a month before March Madness. They wisely put their All-Star game in this time frame and pick up some casual fans during this time (I am usually one of them). Then right as the NCAA Tournament ends baseball season starts. So right as people are getting amped about the start of baseball, and the NFL draft, the NBA playoff marathon starts. When during that span are they supposed to pick up casual fans? Baseball has June through August almost to themselves, plus it’s warm out, people want to be outside at games, etc. Then there was the issue of the lockout. The NBA lost Jordan and then missed a bunch of games. They lost a lot of fans then. Baseball struggled until the Home Run Chase of ’98 revived things. The NBA is STILL going through what hte NHL is going through. How do we get the fans back? Unfortunately David Stern is bad at figuring that out.

When you consider all of that, it’s not crazy to see how the NBA could have become a niche sport. It’s surprising when you consider the fact that about 20 years ago the biggest sports star on the planet was an NBA player. The sad part is that the NBA is too stuck to their “traditions” to make the radical changes they need to make to bring back fans. Radical changes helped MLB freshen things up, hopefully the NBA gets that wake-up call before it’s too late.

Now I know how the Detroit Lions feel (a.k.a Neverending Rebuilding)

It’s been a long time since I posted but there hasn’t been anything I really felt the need to talk about. Now there is…I am not a huge Chicago Bulls fan. Sure I lived through the Jordan era, but I was only 8 when the Bulls won their first title, and 14 when they won their last. I remember the rallies and parades and some of the games but I didn’t truly appreciate it for what it was. After Jordan retired the Bulls entered rebuilding mode. They used the first overall pick in 1999 to take Elton Brand, who was a solid player but not a franchise guy. The next year they took Marcus Fizer and Jamal Crawford. In 2001, they gave up on Brand and ended up with Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. They appeared to be the perfect complement of eachother, one all offense, the other defense. Curry was the laziest player ever and Chandler didn’t pan out until the Bulls gave up. In 2002 they tried to add Jay Williams, but he would hurt himself in motorcycle accident and never play again. That ended rebuilding phase #2. The third phase began in ’03 when they took Kirk Hinrich 7th, the 3rd first round PG they had take since Jordan left.  They continued to add high first round picks and looked on the verge of busting out, but this year they have just been a bust. The team is a mess and it doesn’t seem like this is the team that can go places. So what should they do?

Here is who is signed for 2009 and last when they which summer their contract is up (t-team option, r-restricted):

  • F Drew Gooden (2009)
  • G Thabo Sefolosha (2009-t, 2010-r)
  • G JamesOn Curry (2009-t)
  • F Cedric Simmons (2009-t, 2010-r)
  • F Tyrus Thomas (2009-t, 2010-r)
  • C Aaron Gray (2009-t)
  • C Joakim Noah (2009-t, 2010-t, 2011-r)
  • G Larry Hughes (2010)
  • G Kirk Hinrich (2012)
  • F Andres Nocioni (2012)

That’s 10 guys under contract for next year. Add to it that Luol Deng and Ben Gordon are restricted free agents next year and likely a lottery pick this year. So what do the Bulls do?

  1. Re-Sign Deng and Gordon and hope things come together – I don’t think this is all that likely. Although they Bulls can match any offer and since they have 10 guys under contract for next year they might have the cap room for it. They can hope that this year was a hiccup and that with (hopefully) a new coach next year things come together and this team can have a shot in the East. Sefolosha, Thomas, ad Noah have shown growth and maybe this year was a hiccup.
  2. Re-sign Deng or Gordon – Another option is to bring back just one of the two. Deng is probably the better player, and still looks like he could be a solid 2nd or 3rd option behind a star. Gordon is basically a shooter who doesn’t play great defense. With Larry Hughes on board for two more seasons, there is almost no way Gordon is back.
  3. Let both Deng and Gordon walk – It’s possibe that both guys will move on. If this somehow happens, there would likely be one sign and trade involved. Don’t forget the Bulls have a lottery pick that could be a good spot for a point guard. They could take someone like DJ Augustin, play him at the 1, and Hughes at the 2, and rotate Hinrich at both. Then rotate Tyrus, Gooden, Noah at the 4 and 5. As for the 3, they could use the money left over to get someone like Corey Magette or Antawn Jamison to be that veteran prescense. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind getting a guy like Jamison. Another option could be to go after an ETO guy like Jermaine O’Neal.
  4. Blow up the team – One option is to plan for the big free agent class of the summer of 2010. The Bulls only have two guys under contract for then, Hinrich and Nocioni. Tyrus, Thabo, and Cedric Simmons will all be restricted that summer and Noah will be under team control if they want to keep him. In 2010, LeBron, Dirk, McGrady, D-Wade, Amare, LaMarcus Aldridge (restricted), Ginobili, Bosh, Boozer, Deron Williams COULD all be free agents then. A lot of them won’t make it without new contracts but who knows. With Larry Hughes big contract expiring at the same time, they have that to look forward to. Of course there is a ton of unknowns here. Could they actually get one of the big guns? Will any of the current guys pan out by then? Thabo is coming along, it’s only his 2nd season and he was a foreign player. Since they are stuck with Hughes, Noc and Hinrich, they can keep playing those three while bringing along Noah, Tyrus, Thabo and whoever they draft in June. And hope in the next two seasons the team grows just the right amount to add a superstar and put them over the top.

Those are the options, but which do I prefer? I wanted the Kobe trade last summer and it’s evident that this team needs a star. I would let Deng and Gordon walk. I think they will likely get sign and traded or take the one year and walk. That would be ok, but I wouldn’t sign them long term. Optimally I would trade them for contracts expiring in summer of 2010. I would use my first round pick on a point guard. Derrick Rose is the dream scenario, but Bayless, Westbrook, Collison or Augustin should still be there when the Bulls pick. I would do whatever I could to prepare for the summer of 2010. I would trade my first round pick in 2011 (banking on signing someone the year before) for parts that would help me in two years.

Of course that isn’t what the Bulls will do. They will trade Gordon, re-sign Deng. Waste the 1st round pick on some mediocre, high risk big man (DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Love, and Hasheem Thabeet come to mind), try to trade Tyrus Thomas (since you have Drew Gooden and the aforementioned draftee), make the playoffs next year, lose in the first round, get a crappy draft pick, make a bad signing (Iverson, Rasheed Wallace) thinking its the solution and get caught in the same cycle

Billy Beane: Always ahead of the curve

Billy Beane has been called a genius on more than one occasion. Nowadays it seems like a lot of people will say that the whole Moneyball concept was blown out of proportion, but that’s just because it seems so obvious now. Beane was the first guy to seriously look at OBP as a key stat, and I fell in such love with the concept when I am evaluating a player’s worth I key on OBP (that is when better stats like EqA, WARP, etc. aren’t handy). A guy who hits .230 but has an OBP of .410 is more valuable to me than one who hits .320 with a .350 OBP.  He also adopted the small market attitude of drafting slight lower ceiling college players who are closer to the majors vs. high ceiling high school guys who had a lot of growing to do.

It seems Beane is ahead of things yet again. Beane realizes that trading veterans near the end of contracts for prospects just doesn’t happen anymore.  The trend is to trade young stars who have cheap years left for free agents. Like he did with Danny Haren, like the O’s did with Eric Bedard, and like Beane is about to do with Joe Blanton. I am not an A’s fan so I don’t know how I would feel about what Beane is doing. These are the same young future stars that he acquired in previous trades of his stars (Mulder and Hudson) and now he is flipping them for more talent.

Looking back the Hudson and Mulder deals look good. If you use the transitive property the amount of talent he got for those guys is phenomenal. But there has to be a payoff. I understand it’s hard to win in Oakland, and Anaheim and Seattle are primed for runs in the next couple of years. I am sure Beane is positioning himself for a couple years from now, but how long will he play this game? What do A’s fans think?

A slow time for sports

Mid-February to mid-March is one of the slowest times for sports. Between the Super Bowl and March Madness it can be a bit rough. The Pro Bowl is crap, I don’t watch golf, the NBA regular season couldn’t get more boring and for whatever reason I can’t get into college basketball this season. About the only thing I am for sure going to watch is the Daytona 500.

I take a lot of crap for this. Most of my friends despise NASCAR. And truth be told, I don’t go out of my way to watch NASCAR throughout the year, but I have seen the Daytona 500 for like the last 10 years. It’s such an event. Is there any other sport that kicks off their season with (arguably) their biggest event of the season? I am a bit of a hypocrite because one of the reasons I watch this is the tradition and history, yet I never watch the Masters or World Cup.

Part of this post was to serve as an explanation for a lack of posting. I am planning a division by division preview of the 2008 MLB season starting next weekend.

Quick thoughts on the Johan trade

I have been planning a more in-depth Hot stove post, but I had to at least post a quick thought on the trade of Johan Santana to the Mets. It’s been said already (by Keith Law) but it looks like the Twins dropped the ball here. They didn’t get the Mets top prospect or anyone with significant Major League experience.

It’s been noted that the Yankees and Red Sox offered better packages so there must be something we are missing. The only theory I have is that they wanted to keep him out of the American League. The Twins are serious about contending in the next few years and with all the talent they are stockpiling they could pull a Clevenland-esqu run off in a couple of years. You don’t want to have to face Johan twice before the playoffs.

As a [White] Sox fan, this works for me. According to Baseball Reference, Santana was 13-6 with a 3.24 ERA against the Sox in his career. I thought he was a lot more dominate but that is actually higher than his career ERA. Still, it’s a good thing not facing him 2-4 times a year.

Edit: When I said Sox in the last paragraph, I meant White Sox. Sorry for the confusion.

Where can Terrelle Pryor get the most playing time?

If you haven’t seen highlights of Terrelle Pryor playing football, just search YouTube. I have, and let me tell you the hype seems to be accurate. Pryor doesn’t seem to have the same level of fanfare as last year’s Rivals #1, Jimmy Clausen. Clausen was the youngest of a trio of solid QB brothers (joining Rick and Casey). Some say he is destined to become better. I don’t remember enough about ’06 #1 Percy Harvin’s decision or much about ’05 #1 Derrick Williams decisions. Looking back at those two, Williams had an amazing freshman year but has been lackluster since. Harvin seemed to breakout this year as sophomore and could be a Heisman contender this year. Clausen was hurt and had a horrible O-Line so we don’t know what his deal will be. But back to Pryor.

The Vince Young comparisons seem fair. Pryor was a lot bigger than I expected to be and seemed like a much better passer than you would expect an 18-year old who is that big to be. The consensus seems to be he is more “polished” at this age than Young was, but as Brian from mgoblog eloquently put it, Young improved about 1,000x at Texas. One thing about Young that a lot of people take for granted, is that he redshirted his first year (how often does the #1 recruit do that?), then only started 7 games as a redshirt Freshman. Even then it wasn’t until the end of his 3rd year that he really broke out (see the Michigan Rose Bowl as what I consider his breakout game). The rest is history.

Pryor’s situation will likely be different. If he goes to Michigan he will start from day 1. He will take his lumps and learn on the job. The college game is obviously different, but this doesn’t often work in the pros. The thing is, Michigan will be learning a new offense and have nothing to lose. If he goes to Ohio St. he won’t start in ’08 because Todd Boeckman will be using his experience to lead a MNC contender. In all likelihood Pryor would own the job in ’09 after a year as backup (Antonio Henton is his best competition and it’s not a lot). We have heard Florida, LSU, Oregon and Penn St. are still in the mix.

Obviously Florida means he has at least one year to wait behind Tim Tebow. My gut says Tebow comes back in ’09.  Even so, they recruited two solid guys in ’07, Cameron Newton and John Brantley. Newton will be a sophomore in ’08, Brantley a redshirt freshman. Meaning unlike UM and OSU, if he goes to Florida he will have some serious competition in ’09, even if Tebow leaves.

At LSU, he would spend at least one year behind Ryan Perrilloux who has bided his time and earned his chance. He has two years of eligibility left but might be cocky enough to test the pros next year. If he’s smart he stays through ’09. LSU has picked up 4-star QBs in both ’07 and ’08 so there would be some competition here, but Pryor still would be the front-runner as soon as Perrilloux left. Although it’s worth nothing that Perrilloux doesn’t own the job as tightly as Boeckman or Tebow so I guess Pryor could work his way in somehow.

Oregon has redshirt sophomore Jason Roper has the likely QB in ’08. He’s nothing to get crazy about, and they do have a solid 4-star dual threat, Darron Thomas, coming in this year. He is likely the future without Pryor. Pryor wouldn’t be handed the job here but could probably come in and win it, if nothing else by midseason. The downside to Oregon is that they don’t have the same level of talent Michigan does, and they play in a tougher conference.

Penn St. will have a new starter at QB in ’08, likely redshirt junior Daryll Clark is the guy. Redshirt sophomore Pat Devlin is the only other likely option. Pryor would have a shot in ’08, but would have a very solid chance in ’09 to be the starter.

So realistically LSU and Florida seem out due to lack of playing time. Oregon is a longshot because of the talent level and distance. So it’s really the three Big Ten schools.

Norm Chow: What now?

Norm Chow is out as Titans offensive coordinator. The quick question is, does Hawaii have a coach yet? Supposedly they are about to announce defensive coordinator Greg McMackin as new head coach as early as tomorrow. The question is, will they backpedal and hire Chow? Chow was born in Hawaii and has been a coveted head coaching candidate in college and the NFL. If Hawaii doesn’t hire him, Chow is likely out of luck for ’08 in the NCAA.

He could become a candidate elsewhere in the NFL for an offensive coordinator, but since he only lasted three years before getting fired, the odds aren’t good. My prediction is that he takes the offensive coordinator position somewhere and then gets a head coaching job next year (Washington perhaps?).