The NBA's Biggest Lies of 2012
Honesty may be the best policy, but you'd be hard-pressed to find much about it in the NBA rule book.
Aside from the recent amendments regarding flopping, of course.
A certain degree of mendacity is to be expected in and from a sports league as visible as is The Association. There are reputations to protect, images to craft and no shortage of foul play behind the scenes to cover up in service of the former two.
The league's furious foray into the realm of social media—with its constant visibility, instant opinions and widespread reliance on the words of anonymous "sources"—has only exacerbated the prevalence of fabrication.
Even so, the extent to which folks in and around the league have leaned on lies during the 2012-13 season is getting to be ridiculous.
We're just five weeks into the campaign and already people at nearly every level of the NBA, from the commissioner's office and the front office to the coach's quarters and the locker room, have invoked prevarication as a first response rather than as a last resort.
Amidst a laundry list of libel, these seven instances of subterfuge stand out.
7. The Los Angeles Clippers and the New York Knicks Can't Contend
Aside from the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers stood out as the most active on the market among teams with playoff aspirations this past offseason.
Both loaded their respective supporting casts and benches with wily veterans, thereby signaling that the time was nigh for title contention.
Except, the national punditry wasn't buying it.
The Knicks were laughed off for expecting the likes of Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace to better organize a disheveled team built around the disparate talents of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The Clippers, on the other hand, might've had too many quality players in their rotation and a coach, in Vinny Del Negro, who was ill-equipped to juggle them all successfully.
So far, so good. New York is tied with the rival Brooklyn Nets for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a record of 12-4. The Knicks have been impressive from long range and in locking down opposing teams under Mike Woodson.
And they've done it all with Amar'e Stoudemire still sidelined by a knee injury.
As for the Clips, aside from some bumps in (and on) the road, they've sprint out to an 11-6 mark, with wins over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs and the not-so-mighty Lakers to boot.
And now that Blake Griffin and Lamar Odom are rounding back into form and Chauncey Billups has returned from his torn Achilles, the Clips' cache of experienced weapons—including Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler—looks as lethal as ever.
Lethal enough to paint the Staples Center red, white and blue by season's end.
6. The Solutions to the Lakers' Roster Problems
Speaking of the Staples Center, the Clips' co-tenants haven't had quite as smooth a ride in the early going as most expected. The Lakers have herked and jerked their way to an 8-10 record through their first 18 games amidst changes to their roster, their system and their coaching staff (more on the latter two later).
Yet, for all their shortcomings—Dwight Howard's poor free-throw shooting, a lack of chemistry defensively, a rash of turnovers, an interest and energy that seems to fluctuate from moment to moment—the lines out of the Lakers' locker room appear to pin the team's hopes, dreams and struggles on two guys who were last seen in street clothes.
First, there's the notion, so often perpetrated and perpetuated by Mike D'Antoni, that all will be well once Steve Nash returns. The 38-year-old point guard is the missing piece to a puzzle that doesn't make any sense without him.
There's something to be said for Nash's ability to orchestrate D'Antoni's offense and keep everybody happy, and how said ability will bolster the team's efforts once he returns from a fractured fibula.
But Nash's presence at the point won't relieve the Lakers' bigs of the constant need to help that they've faced on the defensive end. Nor can he be expected to play the big minutes that LA needs out of a primary playmaker.
Nash has also been touted as a cure for Pau Gasol's problems. The 32-year-old Spaniard is enduring the worst season of his NBA career, prompting both D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant (among others) to call him out publicly.
Except, Gasol's struggles have less to do with whether his pants are of the "big boy" variety and more with the health of his knees and his role on the team. Pau's lackadaisical effort would seem to be more reflective of the persistent tendinitis that's since sent him to the bench. Neither has the shift from a first or second option as a post-up center to a third fiddle as a jump-shooting power forward done Pau any favors.
Oh, and good luck finding a trade partner willing to take back a declining Gasol on his exorbitant salary.
5. The Solutions to the Lakers' "System" Problems
Pau's knees and Nash's leg have hardly been the only issues to command attention in Lakerland this season.
Much was made of Mike Brown's switch to the Princeton offense, dating back to when it first made headlines over the summer. Would such a system suit the Lakers' roster? How so? Once Nash and Dwight Howard were brought on board, how would those two fit into a read-and-react system? Would the scheme be too complicated for this revamped roster to pick up? And why did Mike Brown opt for the offense in the first place?
So when the Lakers fired Brown just five games into the 2012-13 season, general manager Mitch Kupchak quite predictably cited the Princeton offense (and its supposed failures) as one of the major factors involved in pulling the trigger on the coach.
Except, Mitch also mentioned a more important point—that the Lakers weren't really running the Princeton offense, per se (via Trevor Wong of Lakers.com):
To some degree, it was unfair to be categorized as the Princeton offense. It really wasn’t the Princeton offense; there were derivatives of the Princeton offense; there was a lot more mixed into it.
Also, at the time, the Lakers ranked among the top 10 in most statistical categories offensively. Scoring wasn't the problem in LA; defense was.
And, to a troubling extent, still is.
4. What's the Deal with Andrew Bogut's Ankle?
Clearly, scandal in the state of California goes far beyond giving proper driving directions. Believe it or not, though, the Lakers aren't the only ballers on the Left Coast who've attempted to dupe the public.
For instance, take the Golden State Warriors. They acquired Andrew Bogut during the 2011-12 season, knowing full well that he wouldn't be ready to play right away on account of ankle problems.
Yet, the Warriors claimed Bogut might be back for the end of the campaign Then, perhaps, for the 2012 London Olympics. Then, hopefully, in time for training camp.
None of those prognostications came true. Golden State continued to tell anyone who would listen that the surgery Bogut underwent prior to his trade from the Milwaukee Bucks was of the minor, arthroscopic variety. The big Australian made his way into four games for the Warriors early on in 2012-13, but he never played more than 20 minutes per contest and soon returned to the training table.
In late November, the Warriors finally came clean, at Bogut's behest. As it happens, Bogut had, in fact, undergone microfracture surgery, a procedure far more serious in nature than the one originally reported. He was tired of fielding question after question about when he'd be back and, in turn, felt compelled to give those who asked the honest truth.
So why would the Dubs go out of their way to lie about Bogut's ankle? To drum up interest in the team's playoff prospects, perhaps? To sell more season tickets? To placate the legions of fans who were so upset to see Monta Ellis shipped off to Wisconsin in the Bogut trade?
Whatever the case may be, Golden State's handling of this whole situation stinks of shady business.
3. The Breakup Between James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder
Neil Sedaka was right—breakin' up is hard to do.
James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder dealt with a difficult separation of their own just prior to the 2012-13 season. With the deadline for rookie-scale extensions looming, the Thunder shipped Harden and a slew of benchwarmers to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a grip of draft picks.
The move sent shock waves through the NBA, and not solely because The Beard got the news while dining at the Cheesecake Factory. Folks around the league knew the negotiations between Harden and the Thunder had been contentious and the gap in compensation between them relatively small.
Debates raged over whether OKC should give Harden the full $60 million he could've earned or if the reigning Sixth Man of the Year should settle for a number between $50 and $55 million.
After all, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka had each sacrificed some earning power to keep the band together in OKC. And, by all accounts, Harden was prepared to do the same.
So why, then, didn't Harden take the deal that was on offer from the Thunder? And why was general manager Sam Presti so quick to jettison Harden to Houston? Could a difference of $5 to $8 million (i.e. approximately eight to 13 percent) over the course of a lucrative, four-year deal really have driven such a stunning wedge between such closely-knit parties?
The short answer: no. The long answer: no, because there was much more at stake than "just" a handful of millions. The Rockets could afford to offer James a five-year pact worth $80 million—or between $25 and $30 million more than what OKC had on the table.
Perhaps, then, Harden wasn't lying when he'd claimed that he was willing to sacrifice to stay in OKC. Upon his return as a member of the Rockets, Harden told Sam Amick of USA Today that he hadn't been made aware of Houston's interest until the deal came down. In turn, he probably had only a faint idea of what he'd be able to rake in elsewhere.
Still, as hard as Harden may pretend that money wasn't an issue with the Thunder, even he couldn't deny its ultimate importance (via Sam Amick):
No, it wasn't (about money). Well, I mean obviously it was majority, partly about the money, but…I was put in a tough situation to where things didn't happen the way that (he) wanted (them) to.
2. The Lakers Didn't Want Phil Jackson...and Mike D'Antoni Was the Better Fit
You know what can be even harder than breaking up? Getting back together. Such requires contrition on the part of at least one of the parties involved.
The sort of contrition that the Lakers' brass (namely, Jim Buss) couldn't quite conjure up during an abbreviated coaching search following Mike Brown's ouster.
All signs seemed to point to Phil Jackson unretiring (again) for his third go-round in LA. He was still living nearby and dating the owner's daughter. He'd allegedly kept tabs on the Lakers' season and, like anyone with even half a brain for basketball, was intrigued by the tremendous talent on hand.
He'd won titles with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and ran a post-heavy offense (the Triangle) that could take full advantage of Dwight Howard's particular talents.
Also, the fans made no secret of their preference. So the Lakers' braintrust made its way down to the Zen Master's abode and sat down with the Hall of Fame coach. The nature of the discussion was and remains a matter of some confusion, thanks in no small part to leaks from unnamed sources (i.e. agents).
Whatever went down, it ultimately didn't favor Phil. The following night (November 11th), word broke that the Lakers had hired Mike D'Antoni to take over their operation. Jackson got the call shortly thereafter, later characterizing the whole process as "slimy."
But the fishiest part of the whole fiasco came several days later, when Mitch Kupchak claimed that D'Antoni's hiring was purely a basketball decision, that the Lakers felt the mustachioed man's uptempo system to be the better fit for their roster (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com):
Without going into great detail, some of our guys, I don't think would be very successful in the Triangle. Some of our newer players might take a long time to learn the Triangle.
(D'Antoni) plays the way we see this team playing and our personnel executing, the guys that we have on this team.
Right. Because it makes so much more sense to put a roster of aging perimeter players and brilliant low-post threats in the hands of a coach who prefers to push the pace and run the pick-and-roll.
Because it makes more sense to hire a coach who might maximize the contributions of the team's oldest and least-available player (Steve Nash) over one who'd likely understand how to please the presumed future of the franchise (Dwight Howard).
Because an innovator lacking a championship pedigree makes more sense for a veteran roster for the most successful coach in NBA history.
And who, exactly, were the Lakers expecting to swallow this bit of fiction without complaint?
1. David Stern Is Concerned with the Fans, First and Foremost
When looking for liars, lawyers usually make for a solid starting point, and there's none bigger in the NBA than David Joel Stern.
His latest fib? That the NBA really, truly, deeply cares about its fans. He came out, guns blazing, when news broke that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had sent home four of his top players ahead of a marquee matchup with the Miami Heat on TNT in late November (via Ken Berger of CBS Sports):
I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.
As if most fans, casual or otherwise, were tuning in to see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green. As if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (who all played that night) weren't the main draws. As if the NBA's supporters have ever taken a particular interest in the Spurs, who've generated terrible ratings whenever they've crashed the Finals.
Say what you will about who was right, who was wrong and whether or not Stern should've levied a $250,000 fine against the Spurs.
The point is, Stern's reaction to Pop's move was only motivated by the fans insofar as they drive the economics of the NBA. It's unlikely that fans in Miami who would've otherwise gone to the game avoided American Airlines Arena after hearing of San Antonio's shenanigans.
And, as Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out, it's tough to imagine one game having too drastic an effect on the league's TV contract and advertising sales.
Nonetheless, Stern had a product to protect, though after allowing teams to charge season ticket-holders regular prices for exhibition games, forcing a prolonged lockout and offering League Pass subscribers only a modest discount, it's even more difficult to picture the commissioner fining the Spurs primarily or even secondarily on behalf of "enraged" hoops heads everywhere.