Is there a difference between lucky and good? While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday WFNY!

I have to be honest, for sports fans like myself, the period from MLB post-All Star break to the start of the NFL season can be a bit of a drag. It’s not that I dislike watching the Indians. In fact, I have them on right now as I am writing this (yes, I write these on Monday nights, not Tuesday mornings). But in terms of really exciting events in sports, there just isn’t much.

NBA free agency has mostly wound down. Sometimes there are still some big trades, but August is typically the time most team executives take their vacations. NFL training camp is starting, and that’s fun, but it’s not always the most exciting thing in the world. English Premier League soccer doesn’t start until August 16th. These next couple weeks can be somewhat slow on the hard hitting headlines outside the annual Browns QB Competition.

I say all of this not to be a downer, but more to serve as a pre-emptive explanation/apology for today’s WWW being a little shorter than what I normally do and a little more outside the Cleveland Sports box. I just don’t have a ton of Cleveland Sports related things to talk about at the moment.

*****

What does it mean to be a “well run” NBA team?

I’ve been thinking about this a little bit lately. I’ve seen some talk about how lucky the Cavs are to have LeBron back and how it’s unfair that the Cavs are rewarded for their incompetence. I can’t sit here and say those people are wrong. I said last week that nobody in the Cavs organization deserves credit for LeBron’s return. Heck, we all know that if LeBron was from Omaha, there’s no way he’d be on the Cavaliers right now.

Scheiner and MoreyBut there can be a fine line between perception and reality within the confines of being a well run team. The Spurs are often credited as being the best run franchise in sports. Very few people would disagree with that. But the Spurs haven’t had to deal with losing Tim Duncan yet. The Detroit Red Wings were considered the best run NHL franchise just a few years ago. But after Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement, the Red Wings have struggled to regain their status as an elite franchise. Now some are question both GM Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock. Being a well run franchise is so much easier when you have that superstar anchor.

But perhaps the most fascinating case study falls with Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently after reading Matt Moore’s take on the Cavs’ “petulance” being rewarded with LeBron. In particular, Moore writes:

The big winners of the 2014 NBA offseason are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the big losers are the Houston Rockets. Except Houston has been run well, and Cleveland has been a disaster. Go figure.[…]

Meanwhile, on the other side, here’s Daryl Morey. He turned Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and picks into James Harden. He cleared space for Dwight Howard and successfully pitched him after years of building a competitive team while also accumulating assets. He found takers for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, contracts he signed because at the time, they were major talent upgrades. He offered Chris Bosh the chance to compete for a title now, in a role preventing him from having to bang down low and would maximize his talents in a tech-savvy organization with no state income tax.

Instead, he got Trevor Ariza.

The NBA’s not fair. And you can ask Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Greg Oden … or former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, who tried to build a winner the right way during his tenure. But the events of the past four days reveal more than just that simple imbalance. It reveals a legitimate flaw in the NBA’s design.

These are points that most people across the NBA would probably agree with. But not everyone is buying into this line of thinking, especially when it comes to Morey. Last week in a post on Medium.com, T.D. Williams wrote a scathing rebuke of Morey’s reputation among those in the media.

Whereas Moore listed the great moves Morey has made, Williams looks at it a little differently:

A close examination of Morey’s signings and trades raises as much skepticism as reason for praise: when the Rockets were forward-heavy and in need of a point guard, he traded Kyle Lowry and let Goran Dragic leave, only to replace them with an overpaid Jeremy Lin — a player the Rockets had on their roster the season before, at league minimum salary, before they waived him. He traded Nicolas Batum — a do-it-all small forward who might be an even better piece on a title contender than Parsons — for Joey Dorsey and a draft pick that became Sam Young. He overpaid the offensively limited Omer Asik, then gave max money to Dwight Howard, whose presence made Asik redundant. He wasted a mid-first-round draft pick on Royce White, a red-flagged prospect who provided Houston more headaches off the court than minutes on it. He has boasted about advanced strategy while employing a coach who is known more as a player favorite than a tactician. Houston’s supposedly revolutionary offense of driving and shooting 3s has often looked disorganized and short-sighted down the stretch in playoff games.

So which one is right? They probably both are. To paraphrase Pat Riley, “this stuff is hard”. Building a team requires a lot of things, some of which is scouting talent, but a lot of which is luck. Daryl Morey is hardly faultless as a GM. And yes, I would argue he is pretty severely overrated as a front office executive. He makes a lot of moves that look great on paper, but his big picture plan is never really in focus. He cycles through player acquisitions at an insane rate, endlessly searching for that magical fit that will work. However, most teams would absolutely be thrilled to have Morey working for them.

As for the Cavaliers and their plan, well, up to this point the post-Decision plan hasn’t been working at all, and there are plenty of fingers to be pointed and plenty of deserving recipients of said pointing. However, if I have a point of contention with the likes of Matt Moore and Bill Simmons who have questioned a system that they feel rewards teams who are run poorly, it’s that I think the system is actually kind of doing what it is supposed to.

Basketball is a funny sport where teams like the 76ers and Celtics who try to lose and succeed at it are perceived as doing things right while teams like the Cavaliers and Bucks who have tried to win and failed are perceived as the ones benefitting from a flawed system. The NBA Draft Lottery was designed to be a safety net for teams that fail. The whole purpose of using a lottery instead of a pure record-based draft order is to prevent teams from tanking. The fact that the Cavaliers won the lottery from the ninth position this time or from the eighth spot with the Clippers pick in 2011 should be a sign that the system is working. Now, it’s bizarre that the same team keeps winning, but there’s nothing strange about teams jumping up to win the lottery. That’s how it is supposed to work.

Again, none of this is to say the Cavaliers have done things right. Their plan was not to finish outside the playoffs and then jump up to the number one slot. They got insanely lucky. And they are lucky that LeBron James is from Akron, Ohio. And they are lucky that LeBron is willing to stop chasing rings to instead try to bring that elusive title back to Cleveland. This isn’t a defense of the Cavaliers last few seasons, but rather, a defense of the system and a closer look at what makes a team a well run team. Morey’s reputation has been largely untouchable, but what separates him from RC Buford in San Antonio? Is it all structural and organizational, or is some of it luck that the Spurs have had Tim Duncan, a once in a lifetime kind of player and person? What happens to the Spurs when he eventually retires? Will the Spurs continue to be the class of the NBA, or, like the Red Wings in the NHL, will they become a franchise that flounders through continuous seasons of mediocrity and early playoff exits? Only time will tell.

*****

Kyrie Irving’s adjustment

I said on Twitter last week that in some ways, I kind of feel sorry for Kyrie Irving. Sure, he just signed a massive long term contract extension and now he gets to play with LeBron James and thus, for the first time in his NBA career, not be the sole point of focus for opposing defenses. So maybe feeling sorry for him is a bit strong.

kyrie editHowever, after everything he went through last season, all the insane levels of criticism, the doubting of his desire to be in Cleveland, the constant string of article after article questioning his commitment to the franchise and his commitment to winning, the fact is that Kyrie took all of about five seconds to agree to an extension with the Cavaliers. And he did so well before the LeBron rumors had really heated up. He answered at least that aspect of his critics’ questions about his commitment to Cleveland.

Sure, some will say “of course he signed right away….nobody else was going to offer him that kind of money”. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t criticize a guy all season and say there’s no way he’s going to stay in Cleveland, but then turn around when he does sign and say “well of course he did”. For many, maybe even most, Kyrie staying in Cleveland was not a certainty. So on a certain level, Kyrie deserves some credit for doing what so many thought he wouldn’t do.

And for a day or two, he did get the credit and recognition he deserved for it. But then the LeBron avalanche started and suddenly Kyrie’s commitment was an afterthought. No longer is Kyrie answering questions about himself, but instead it seems like every question he is asked is about LeBron. So where I feel sorry for Kyrie a bit is in my fear that fans are overlooking how important it was for Kyrie to buy in.

But now come the questions about Kyrie adjusting, and those are certainly fair. For the last couple years, despite being just 20-21 years old, Kyrie has been asked to be a leader on this team. Everything has been about building around Kyrie. The Cavaliers were his team, and when he signed his extension, we assumed it would be his team for the future. All of that changed when LeBron decided to return.

Now, this will immediately become LeBron’s team again and Kyrie will have to adjust to not being “the guy”. In late game situations with the game on the line, the ball will start in LeBron’s hands, not Kyrie’s. If Kyrie embraces this adjustment, though, it can be a huge thing for him. LeBron’s presence can finally give Kyrie a veteran mentor who can show him how to lead, and how to win, and how to deal with being the focal point of a team. LeBron’s presence could be and should be positively liberating for Kyrie.

And eventually, as LeBron gets older and starts to slow down, the team can transition into Kyrie’s hands when he’s more ready for it. Similar to how the Spurs slowly morphed from purely being Tim Duncan’s team into Tony Parker’s team. The same kind of mentorship program can exist in Cleveland. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see how Kyrie accepts his changing role on the team.

*****

Dare we talk about prison on a sports site?

Ok, I’m going to go way off topic here. When we initiated the change in format to WWW with Scott, Rick, Craig, Jacob, and myself each taking a designated day of the week, I wrote that one of my goals for this change was to allow all of our personalities and interests to carry through. Some of that will extend beyond sports. Obviously sports will always be the main topic of WWW, but sometimes we like to show some of the other sides of our personalities and the things that interest us. So, with that being said, why not try talking about something quite different here?

By now you guys who read WWW every day know that I am an enormous fan of John Oliver’s work on HBO’s phenomenal “Last Week Tonight”. This week, his main segment touched on America’s broken prison system:

This was a pretty coincidental topic, because another one of my favorite forms of entertainment is listening to NPR podcasts and, in particular, one of my favorite shows “This American Life”. In Act Two of this week’s show, “Mind Your Business”, they talked about the recent scandal involving Los Angeles County’s abuse of inmates. So, with two of my favorite shows talking about incarceration this week, I thought I would share these links and encourage everyone to watch/listen.

I’m far from qualified to offer up any kind of solution, but it’s clear to see we have an issue in America. Our prisons are becoming increasingly overpopulated, creating an increasing burden on tax payers. And while some feel the solution is the privatization of jail services, these cost cutting businesses open the door for severe human rights issues. The treatment of prisoners is pretty alarming in some situations, particularly with what happened in Los Angeles County. And while I know some people feel that we shouldn’t care what happens to people in prison, that they deserve whatever happens to them there, I struggle with that line of thinking when these kind of studies exist.

At the end of the day, like I said previously, I recognize that I don’t have the answers. Yet I feel like turning our backs on issues because they don’t personally affect us isn’t the best way to find answers. There are so many bleak stories on the news and we are trending toward apathy. I’d love to exist in a world where issues like this, and the environment, and energy, and equality would transcend politics. I get disheartened when conversations boil down to liberals and conservatives rehashing tired party lines. I’d just like us to at least be able to agree on what the problems in America are. It’s hard to figure out answers when we can’t even agree what the issues are.

*****

Anyway, that’s it from me this week. Hope you all enjoy the rest of your week, and I’ll be back next Tuesday where we might have some actual Browns stuff to talk about! Cheers!

  • mgbode

    Spurs – they are a first class organization for a few reasons.

    (1) Popovich – demanding coach who is able to adapt differing systems to take advantage of NBA rule changes and the players he has on hand.

    (2) International Prospects – the Spurs were the first team to go full bore on international scouting, which gave them a huge initial advantage. But, that advantage still exists to some extent because those scouts made contacts who appreciate the Spurs shining the light on European basketball and reportedly still give them more inside info than some other teams (locally said at least – does make some sense).

    (3) Duncan/Parker/Ginobli – somehow they not only have all stayed in SA, but have not chased the highest $$$ that they could have and forced the Spurs to pay them top dollar. It is crazy to think how much easier that makes life for Buford.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    One note on the “overcrowded” prisons – while sure, they’re overcrowded and agreed, we need to figure out ways of handling it better, the jump people often make [not you in this piece] from that is that we must be arresting too many people. Meanwhile, crime rates are falling consistently, especially violent crime rates.

    While we certainly would like to do a better job of keeping people from desiring or feeling compelled to commit crimes, until we figure that out, jailing criminals is by far the most successful way of keeping people from committing additional crimes and protecting citizens. James Taranto of the WSJ has a column called Best of the Web where he often touches on this in a segment called “Fox Butterfield is that you?”, usually mocking reporters who write stuff like “even as crime rates fall, prisons keep busting at the seams”. Yes – crime rates fall when criminals are in prison. That’s what prisons are for.

  • mgbode

    I agree that you need to have consequence for actions to prevent the same action from occurring again. But, I do wonder if we could figure out better consequences for some crimes.

    Another issue is that the justice system wants to at least attempt to give each similar crime a similar penalty, but the motivations for the crime may help determine the proper recourse for future prevention.

    And, of course, the issue is that if you have a sliding scale with differing consequences, then you will have lawyers figure out how to get their client off with the penalty that they prefer rather than the one that might actually help stop their actions.

    Therefore, the answer, as always, is that it is the lawyer’s fault.

    http://www.bite.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/jurassic-park-jurassic-park-32625442-500-266.gif

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Yeah, I see the issue as being more about mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes. I think everyone agrees that violent criminals belong in prison. And obviously it’s hard to take intent into consideration in a system that is supposed to treat everyone the same, but I think there’s something to the motivation aspect of this as well.

  • MrCleaveland

    I have a hard time caring what happens to violent people who murder, rape, and commit other vicious acts of mayhem against innocent people. They can all rot in prison and then they can all burn in hell.

    If people want to feel sorry for them, go right ahead. Count me out.

  • mgbode

    And, one of the tough aspects is how to determine what qualifies as a non-violent crime. There is more gray area than black and white, yet we seem to treat everything as black and white.

    Also, for whatever we do classify as non-violent crimes, I think that we should have a reward system in place. For instance, if you are in jail and do not have a diploma or GRE, then you can get a certain amount of time knocked off your sentence for obtaining it. Add more vocational studies as well.

    Basically, I would like to see us try to find consequences that help society and actually go towards rehabilitation for those criminals that are getting back out.

    Of course, that also gets back to the issue of education in the first place as there are people/papers that believe different things about how to better the education process to help limit future crime.

  • Garry_Owen

    Oh. Lawyer jokes. I see. Funny as always.

    http://www.gurl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/not-bad.gif

  • mgbode

    I do not feel sorry for them at all. They have chosen their actions and they need to be held responsible for them. But, many of them are going to get back out into the world, and I would prefer to figure out how to make sure they do not do it again to protect other innocent people.

    Also, as noted in the Donte Stallworth discussions, there are obviously different degrees to people who get classified under murder and other crimes.

  • Garry_Owen

    Intent, and the varying degrees thereof, is a necessary element of every crime, and informs the sentence.

  • Garry_Owen

    Those things do exist.

  • nj0

    What about the other three quarters of the prison population?

    “Overall, nearly three-fourths (72.1%) of federal prisoners are serving time for a non-violent offense and have no history of violence.”

  • Samuel Barrick

    The topic of crowded prisons is tricky because there are so many potential causes that are hot button issues themselves. Such as the militarization of the police and the failed war on drugs.

  • Garry_Owen

    And the general moral decline of society.
    And the absence of strong family structures.
    And the failed war on poverty.
    And the incompetence of government.
    And the misappropriation of tax funds on fantasy programs and initiatives.

  • saggy

    Ahhhh Morey. Glad to see some non-revisionist history.

    Remember: if you’re hitting .400, on turf, against lefties in day games, that’s what you go with. And so it is…

  • MrCleaveland

    I don’t know, of course, but I wouldn’t think that prisoners at minimum-security Club Feds are being abused.

  • saggy

    i would go so far as to say it’s also the fault of the police departments (and/or the DAs) who overcharge in hoping to just get a plea.

    It’s ruinous on our legal system because it does two things: It lets people off, as you said, with punishments that don’t befit the crime; or it causes those accused who are smart and/or rich enough to fight the battle in court, thus tying up municipal courtrooms for decades on cases that should otherwise not have happened.

  • nj0

    Yeah, just because it has produced one desired outcome doesn’t make it a good long term solution. We’re creating a permanent underclass of people who cannot find decent work nor get higher education (no federal loans for you!). So while it’s great (and many times) fair to say, “they got what they deserve”, I think there’s a real issue of creating a healthy, viable society. Reap what you sow and all that.

    I’d also point out that something like 50% of federal offenders are in for drugs. On the lower levels, that percentage is much lower but still substantial. Then there’s the demonstrated racial biases where minorities get convicted at higher rates than whites even for the same crimes. Again, it’s a system that may prevent violence in the short term, but ultimately doesn’t seem all that healthy. Considering that the rest of the civilized world prevents crime, especially violent crimes at better without imprisoning large swathes of young men, I think it’s worth at least revisiting the basic proposition and seeing if we can’t find some better more cost effective way to deal with it.

    Basically, it’s complicated. But I don’t think it’s healthy. Especially considering how things like the aforementioned abuse of prisoners produces a more hardened type of ex-con.

  • MrCleaveland

    My wife and I recently took a tour of the Mansfield reformatory where they filmed The Shawshank Redemption 20 years ago. (Extraordinary architecture, BTW).

    I couldn’t believe how small the two-man cells were. I can’t imagine living like that for years or decades. It was worse than Alcatraz. When I mentioned this to our tour guide, she said that the recidivism rate for these prisoners was less than 5%, which she said was far far lower than rates today.

    I can understand that. If I had been caged in that hell-hole, I would never ever want to go back.

    Something to chew on.

  • mgbode
  • mgbode

    and it bumps up to .489 when you are batting 5 through 7 in the order in those situations.

  • nj0

    For the issue at hand, the LA County scandal, guards and officials were beating visitors to the prison along with prisoners. They also harassed FBI investigating the corruption. So yes, I am going to feel sorry for the victims. If this is what it takes to get people like this caught, I can’t imagine the horrors others experienced at their hands (all while the guards were being paid by Joe and Jane Taxpayer).

  • MrCleaveland

    Trouble with this discussion is that we’re all coming from slightly different angles and commenting about different dimples on the golf ball.

  • nj0

    True. “Very bad people don’t deserve sympathy” vs. “Serious organizational failure means a need for reform”.

  • nj0

    If only Johnny Manziel could do something dumb to give us something worthwhile to talk about. NFL cannot get here fast enough.

  • nj0

    Basically, The Wire.

  • Garry_Owen

    There’s plenty of blame to go around.

  • Garry_Owen
  • Steve

    Of course, no one who deserves to be classified as a sabermetrician would ever look at that data. But, hey, it’s always easier to attack a strawman.

  • porckchop

    I’m going to dodge the prison argument all together and pick up Andrew’s slack for music – yet again (Weird Al is still waiting for an apology).
    I have been on vacation and getting baby ready so I don’t know if this was mentioned but Strand of Oaks; Heal is an awesome album. You can hear a ton of influence from the best the 80’s had to offer but without all of the excess. If you liked the War on Drugs Lost in a Dream please check this album out.
    The Reigning Sound; Shattered. Definitely mellowed from previous albums. Just really good music. Reminds me a little of a Little Feat album, just really good summer music.
    Oh what the heck. If we stopped allowing the alcohol and pharmaceutical cartels the ability to write laws that arbitrarily determine which drugs are “good” and which are “bad”, and we simply allowed adults the right determine what they want to put in their bodies, we could legally sell all sorts of recreational drugs and wipe out a criminal enterprise that is the cause of more than 3/4s of our prison population*.
    *Taking into account not just the people arrested specficially for taking part in the buying, selling and manufacturing of illegal drugs, but also the number of people incarcerated because of the ripple effects of drug incarceration. For instance children who grow up in poverty because 1 or both parents are in the system, the number of people who are killed in drug related disputes, the number of robberies that occur because the black market artificially inflates the price of drugs, and so on.
    No its not this simple, there are huge hurdles and very real dangers relating to legalizing all sorts of drug use. But if you can’t acknowledge that our drug policies are nonsensical and cast a shadow on almost every facet of debate over the prison system, than you really can’t be part of the discussion.

  • nj0

    Poor people do drugs. Rich people take medicine.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Thank you again for picking up the slack. July has been killing me. I was just complaining to Craig today that there just hasn’t been much new in July that has grabbed me. Haven’t checked out Strand of Oaks yet, but I will do so now that you name dropped War on Drugs in comparison.

    I wanted to like that Reigning Sound album so much. Just like I wanted to like the last Oblivians record. I like what Greg Cartwright is all about, but I dunno, those last two albums I mentioned just haven’t been able to really draw me in. Probably worth a couple more listens, though, for sure.

  • Porckchop

    I kinda agree on RS. I really liked it thefirst time through but it didnt quite get there the 2nd. I have a feeling itll stay in rotation through the summer and get bumped for something in the fall. We are defintely in the doldrums for new releases.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Many thanks again for the Strand of Oaks recommendation. Listened to it this morning and it’s pretty excellent. Sometimes this style of music can feel a little redundant to me, but with this album, it felt like it was consistently unpredictable, blending a LOT of different sounds and genres. Really, really good stuff. Thanks.