Playoff Droughts

Last season Golden State ended a 13-year postseason drought in spectacular fashion.  The Warriors broke an even longer streak by getting to the second round for the first time since 1990-91 when RUN TMC shocked David Robinson’s Spurs.  I thought it would be fun to go through and see the current longest postseason droughts.  Here’s a list of each franchise and the last time they made the playoffs AND actually won a round:

Atlanta Hawks:  Last in the playoffs in 1998-99, which is also the last time they won a round.  They have an outside shot of making it this year.

-Boston Celtics: Last time in the playoffs in 2004-05 and last won a round in 2002-03.  Expect both those droughts to end this year

-Charlotte Bobcats:  Playoffless since their inception in 2004-05.  Expect the drought to continue.

-Cleveland Cavaliers:  Went to the Finals last year.

-Dallas Mavericks:  Made the playoffs last year but lost in untimely fashion.  Made the NBA Finals in 2005-06.

-Denver Nuggets:  Made the playoffs last year but haven’t won a round since 1993-94.  They have a 40% chance to get to the second round this year.

-Detroit Pistons:  Lost in the Conference Finals last year.

-Golden State Warriors:  As mentioned, 2006-07 broke a bunch of streaks.

-Houston Rockets:  Made the playoffs last year but they haven’t won a round since way back in 1996-97 with Hakeem, Drexler, and Barkley.  This streak should finally end.

-Indiana Pacers:  The Pacers ended a long streak by missing the playoffs last year for the first time in a while.  They last made the second round 2004-05.  The playoff drought will continue this year.

-Los Angeles Clippers:  Last made the playoffs and the second round in 2005-06.  The 2005-06 run broke a playoffless streak that went back to 1996-97 and a second round streak that dated all the way back to the Buffalo Braves in 1975-76.

-Los Angeles Lakers:  The Lakers squeaked into the playoffs last year but they haven’t won a round since Shaq was last around in 2003-04.

-Memphis Grizzlies:  They last made the playoffs in 2005-06.  They haven’t won a round in their franchise history (which dates back to 1995-96).

-Miami Heat:  The Heat made the playoffs last year and last won a series in 2005-06 when they won it all.

-Milwaukee Bucks:  They made the playoffs last in 2005-06 and won rounds last in 2000-01 when the Cassell/Allen/Robinson team went to the conference finals.

-Minnesota Timberwolves:  Haven’t won a round or made the playoffs since 2003-04.  It’s been dark days ever since.

-New Jersey Nets:  Made the second round last year.

-New Orleans Hornets:  Last made the playoffs in 2003-04.  They haven’t won a round since 2001-02, the last season in Charlotte.

-New York Knicks:  Last made the playoffs in Isiah’s inaugural season of 2003-04.  They haven’t won a playoff game since 2000-01 and they haven’t won a series since 1999-00, when Jeff Van Gundy had those three strands of hear on the top of his head.

-Orlando Magic:  They made the playoffs last year but they haven’t won a series since 1995-96 when Shaq and Penny led the team to the conference finals.

-Philadelphia 76ers: Last made the playoffs in 2004-05 but haven’t won a series since 2002-03, Larry Brown’s last year in town.

-Phoenix Suns:  Obviously, they are a contender and they just barely lost to the Spurs last year.

-Portland Trailblazers:  Old reliable playoff team hasn’t been in the fold since 2002-03, when they lost a whacky first rounder to the Mavs.  The last time they advanced past the first round was in 1999-00 and the infamous loss to the Shaq-Kobe Lakers where they blew an 18-point lead in Game 7.

-Sacramento Kings:  They once mighty Kings made the playoffs last in 2005-06 and haven’t won a round since 2003-04.

-Seattle SuperSonics:  We go back to 2004-05 when the team surprisingly won their division and knocked off the Kings in the first round.

-Toronto Raptors:  They made the playoffs last year but their only playoff series win was in 2000-01 when they beat the Knicks.

-Utah Jazz:  They ended a small drought last year and made the conference finals.

-Washington Wizards:  The Wiz had a very long playoff drought before Gilbert Arenas came to town.  They made the playoffs last year and went to the second round in 2004-05.  Before 2004-05, however, they hadn’t won a series since 1981-82.

Only a few teams have really long droughts now.  The Hawks have the longest full absence but the Magic, Grizz, and Rockets (surprisingly) haven’t been deep into the playoffs for even longer (in the Grizz’s case ever).  I think Houston should finally win a round this year and Orlando has a small shot of finally going through to round two.

Quick Thoughts

1.    Kobe Stuff: The big this week has been Kobe Bryant-Laker situation.  Rumors were abound that Kobe was refusing to play because he sat out three practices for no apparent reason (he claimed injury).  More to the point, owner Jerry Buss, without much prompting, basically stated that the market was open for Kobe: “It’s just part of the game, to listen to somebody who has a dissatisfied player that you think is going to fit. You can’t keep too many loyalties. You’ve got to look at it as a business. He looks at it the same way.”

Now it’s not crazy to say that any player is available for the right price but to harp on Bryant’s satisfaction seems counterproductive.  If Buss was holding out hope to placate Bryant this ain’t going to do it.  Bryant had seemed pretty content since his June tirades.  Taking all these facts at face value (which is probably a little unfair), what does Buss have to gain by opening the market up for Kobe?

Frankly, not too much.  Unless there’s something we don’t know, the most leverage that the Lakers have is if they can at least pretend that Kobe has a chance of being happy in L.A..  A fire sale is more likely to create more leverage for the bidders.  It is possible that a fire sale could force teams to proffer their best offers but there are only a finite number of teams with cap room and Kobe’s blessing so a seller’s market is not likely.

There is another component to this that seems more psychological in nature.  Buss definitely seems like the type to speak his mind to either lay the groundwork for his decision or, perhaps because he can’t keep his decision making process bottled in.  In 2004, he made it pretty clear he didn’t want to pay Shaq and that he didn’t want Phil Jackson back.  In any event, it sounds like Kobe will not be a Laker by the end of the year.  This may have happened regardless but these are not optimum conditions to make a deal.

2.    Ten Years Ago: Can you believe that it’s been ten years since Michael Jordan’s final(ish) season and the crazy game winner over Bryon Russell and the Jazz.  Just for fun, I thought I’d run over the 1997-98 rosters to see whose left in the NBA as of the end of 2006-07:

Atlanta: Dikembe Mutombo, Alan Henderson, Randy Livingston

Boston: Antoine Walker, Bruce Bowen

-Charlotte: David Wesley

-Chicago: None

Cleveland: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Brevin Knight, Derek Anderson, Vitaly Potapenko

Dallas: Michael Finley, Kurt Thomas

Denver: Bobby Jackson, Tony Battie, Eric Willams

Detroit: Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Scot Pollard

Golden State: Donyell Marshall, Erick Dampier, Adonal Foyle

Houston: None

Indiana: Jalen Rose, Dale Davis, Austin Croshere

L.A. Clippers: Maurice Taylor, Eric Piatkowski, Lorenzen Wright, Darrick Martin

L.A. Lakers: Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher

-Miami: Alonzo Mourning, Brent Barry, P.J. Brown

Milwaukee: Ray Allen

Minnesota: Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury

New Jersey: Sam Cassell

New York: None

Orlando Magic: Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw

Philadelphia: Allen Iverson, Tim Thomas, Theo Ratliff, Joe Smith, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Anthony Parker

Phoenix: Antonio McDyess, Clifford Robinson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash

Portland: Rasheed Wallace, Kelvin Cato, Damon Stoudamire, Jermaine O’Neal

Sacramento: Corliss Williamson

San Antonio: Tim Duncan, Malik Rose

Seattle: Gary Payton, Aaron Williams

Toronto: Doug Christie, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups, Alvin Williams

Utah: Jacque Vaughn, Troy Hudson

Vancouver: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Antonio Daniels

Washington: Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Ben Wallace

Of this group, only eight were still on the same team on 2006-07.  Going even further, Ilgauskas, Kobe, Garnett, and Duncan were the only players to stay with the sane franchise the entire (the other four were re-acquire down the line).  There appears to be little to no correlation between the number of players who lasted ten years and how good the 1997-98 teams were but it was interesting to look at.

3.    More Euro Stuff: Last week, we noted the rise in NBA/FIBA games the last few years.  When we last looked, the NBA teams were 2-1 against FIBA teams in Europe.  Since then the series has completed with the NBA teams going 8-1 the rest of the way against FIBA (and the Chinese National Team).   The second loss was in a close game where Real Madrid beat Toronto by a point in Madrid in a game where Chris Bosh did not play.  Real Madrid was led Louis Bullock, the former Michigan standout.  In the U.S., the games weren’t very close.  Of the eight games, only one NBA victory (the Raptors’ 6-point win over Zalgiris Kaunas), was by less than 19 points.  It’s hard to say that these results me too much  but the homecourt does make some advantage.

A Little More on GP

Usually when a Hall of Fame level player retires, we like to do a comprehensive write up of his career.  Clearly, Gary Payton falls into that category.  In Payton’s case, we already gave him that treatment back in 2004 when he returned to Seattle for the first time.  More recently, J.A. Adande wrote a nice article on Payton’s current state of mind (GP is 99% sure he has retired) and reflected on his career a little bit.  John Hollinger wrote a nice side piece about Payton and how he is underrated.

Hollinger had Payton as the third best modern point guard behind Magic Johnson and John Stockton, while many other experts had him behind Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, and Jason Kidd.  Hollinger laid out that Payton was a much more complete player than Nash (can’t defend), Kidd (can’t shoot), and Isiah (smaller player, had a very short career, and was not quite as good overall).  Frankly, Hollinger has a point about Payton, who is ridiculously underrated and whose sustained peak from 1994-2003 was an astonishing run.

It does bear mentioning, however, that while Kidd and Nash have been almost universally loved by teammates, Payton had his moments where he wore thin.  Payton was always a little more openly brash.  Even as a rookie part-time players, he was always talking.  You need look no further than the Sam Smith’s classic “Jordan Rules”:  “The Bulls had played Seattle three times during the exhibition season, winning two.  In the one loss, brash SuperSonics rookie guard Gary Payton had played well, and told USA Today‘s Peter Vecsey that he could defend anyone, including [Michael] Jordan.  Later that night the two met by chance at a Seattle nightclub and Payton began to taunt Jordan: ‘I’ve got my million and I’m buying my Ferraris and Testarossas, too.’…[Later, when the Bulls and Sonics met in the regular season for the first time] Jordan would out of the locker room he promised, ‘I’m going to show that little sucker.’  The first time Payton had the ball, Jordan stole it, drove for a lay-up, and was fouled.  The next time Payton had the ball, Jordan stole it again and drove all the way down court and slammed for a 6-0 Bulls lead.  The third time Payton had the ball, Jordan destroyed his dribble…It would be an easy Bulls win, 116-95, as Jordan had 33 points and 7 steals before the end of the third quarter.”

Despite the fact that he developed slowly, Payton also told the media early in his career that point guards like he and Magic Johnson come around once a decade, which confounded the media a little bit.  GP also butted head with coaches most of his career, in particular Paul Westphal, whom Payton seemed to have no respect for.  Payton also had famous incidents where he (1) berated Detlef Schrempf for not shooting and costing him assists, (2) got in a full-scale brawl with teammate Vernon Maxwell, resulting in the two trying to assault each other with blunt objects (chairs and free weights) and injuring teammates Chuck Person and Horace Grant when they tried to break up the fight, and (3) Payton was suspended for screaming at Ruben Patterson on the bench during a game.

But despite all his woofing, Payton was a hell of a player and he won regularly.  He did develop into the player he thought he was and at his absolute peak from 1995-97, there was no better point guard (he thoroughly outplayed John Stockton in the 1995-96 playoffs and did a credible job on Jordan in the Finals).  Payton also did chill out a little bit with age after he left the Sonics (he even took his benching by the Lakers in 2003-04 in stride).  Still, you can’t separate Payton the character from the player and for that reason alone, there is ample evidence for a GM to prefer Jason Kidd or Steve Nash (Isiah is another story in that he had such a short career and wasn’t exactly loved by teammates either).  If I had to choose one of this bunch as my point guard to lead my team for  15 years, Payton would be my top choice–provided that I had a strong enough coach to keep him semi in check.

Transactions 8/18-10/15

Atlanta Hawks

10/1    Sign Antwayne Robinson, Steven Smith, Jamaal Tatum and Mario West

Not much here, just cutting of the fringe guys at the end of the roster.  In other Hawks news, Marvin Williams has looked quite good so far this preseason (19 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Speedy Claxton hasn’t (2 ppg and .222 FG% in 20  mpg so far).

Boston Celtics

9/27    Sign James Posey

9/28    Sign Esteban Batista and Dahntay Jones

The natural consequence of the Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen acquisitions was to make Boston bereft of depth.  Signing Posey gives them a very average player, which is a perfectly fine thing to have, especially on the cheap (2 years and $7 million).  Jones isn’t great (he can’t pass and fouls too much) but he shot okay and can jump and he’s even cheaper than Posey ($800,000 for one year).  Finally, Batista played very well in the FIBA games but he’s looked pretty bad with the Hawks.  The hope is that he can maybe show a decent little peak a la Primoz Brezec, another limited big guy who proved himself quasi-useful.  In all, this is a decent haul.  It doesn’t solve the Celts problems but Posey and maybe Jones will get some key minutes.

Quick Thoughts

1.    More Isiah: Last week the jury spoke, finding the Knicks, James Dolan, and Isiah Thomas guilty of harassment and retaliatory termination and giving Anucha Browne Sanders $11.6 in punitive damages.  Isiah was not found to be guilty in the firing portion of the claim but he and the Garden took a rather big hit.  Browne Sanders is also due compensatory damages (lost earnings, etc.) to be determined by the court.

In the aftermath of the trial, a few questions have been bandied about:

-Why doesn’t the NBA step in and punish the Knicks?

Well there are a lot of reasons.  First off, despite what so many people are saying, the Knicks weren’t found “guilty.”  This was a civil action and though punishment may be appropriate in some instances, the NBA refuses to act on civil verdicts.  There are certainly good reasons to treat such a proceeding very differently than a criminal proceeding.  There are differing burdens of proof (preponderance of the evidence in civil case versus beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases) and civil complaints are not always “illegal” in the penal code sense.

On another level, I’m sure David Stern and company are not happy about the trial and the behavior of Garden employees.  He may be privately peeved but Stern won’t help the Knicks by piling on publicly, particularly where the Knicks have contested the verdict and plan an appeal.  In addition, Stern surely doesn’t want to take actions against the Garden that might invite more sexual harassment suits against the Knicks.  Indeed, a few more suits have already popped up shortly after the Browne Sanders verdict.

Obviously there are a lot conflicting interests here.  In an ideal world, Stern would condemn the Knicks and vow to clean up the Garden but the world is not ideal.  The NBA is a big business and the Knicks are a key asset to the league.  To invite further exposure in lawsuits against the Knicks and more bad publicity just isn’t good business (As a quick note, I recognize that, arguably, a reprimand by the NBA might not be admissible evidence in a later harassment suit but it’s still a pretty risky public statement to make).  Dr. Martha Burk, a leading advocate for women, gave an interesting interview for True Hoop, where she expressed dismay at the NBA’s refusal to publicly treat this case as a moral issue.

But Stern has made some comments on the issue, albeit while he was out in Turkey, which may have made the comments fall under the radar a little bit.  Stern condemned harassment generally, without weighing in on his beliefs of the merits of Browne Sander’s suit: “It’s very troubling, personally.  I’ve known Anucha Browne Sanders going back to her days working with I.B.M., and I’ve known Isiah and his family since his days as a player.”  Stern also noted that the burden of proof is much higher in criminal cases, which makes the findings of fact more definitive.  Moral issues notwithstanding, Stern’s comments are probably as much as one could expect from the commissioner under the circumstances.

Will Isiah be fired?

The verdict is only tangentially related to Isiah’s fate with the Knicks.  There are tons of athletes and persons of importance who have been accused harassment or even convicted of physical abuse against women and most of these accusations/convictions have been forgotten if the accused person was subsequently successful in his job.  If Isiah wins as a coach, most fans just won’t care.  If he loses (which seems quite possible based upon his tenure so far) he should be gone–and that is an assessment one could reasonably make based upon performance, regardless of his office behavior.

Does Anucha have a date with the taxman?

This has little to do with basketball but you do have to wonder if the IRS was paying attention to the case.  It came out in the case that Browne Sanders’ business deductions on several tax returns were apparently without any basis, based upon her own sworn testimony that she had no business of her own during that time yet took at least $200,000 in such deductions in a four-year period (the number was initially $320,000 before she amended her returns recently).  Unless she reached a preemptive settlement with the IRS, it would seem that more meetings are inevitable, just another thing to watch for in the story that never ends.

2.    NBA Europe: Interesting happenings in Europe, where several NBA teams have been touring the continent and playing local squads.  Granted these are early October exhibition games but the Euro squads have been playing NBA teams pretty tough.  Minnesota nipped Efes Pilson and Toronto had a close win over Lootomatica Roma.  Last night, Memphis lost to Unicaja Malaga 102-99.  Unicaja had a pretty balanced attack behind a couple of former NBAers in Daniel Santiago (14 pts, 10 rebs) and Marcus Haislip (18 pts, 11 rebs).

It’s not clear how much, if any, weight these games should be given.  Still, it’s interesting to see how the data is forming as we get more and more NBA/Euro games.  It’ll take some time to absorb this data but on a larger level it’s clear that the NBA is pushing more and more of such games.  From 1999-2002, the NBA and FIBA had no official games against each other.  That has since changed.  Here’s how often the NBA/FIBA have played since 2003:

-2003: NBA went 2-0, winning one game in Barcelona and one in North America.

-2004: NBA went 1-0, as the Toronto beat Panathinaikos in Toronto.

-2005: NBA went 1-1, Maccabi Tel Aviv toured the North America and beat Toronto and lost in Orlando.

-2006: The number of games jumped to 12.  NBA teams went 6-2 in Europe (FC Barcelona took out the Sixers and CSKA crushed the Clippers by 19) and were 4-0 against the Euros in the U.S./Canada.

-2007: So far the U.S. is 2-1 in Europe but nine more games are scheduled, mostly in Europe.  Notably, Maccabi comes to the Garden to play the Knicks tomorrow.

The one fact we can take from this is that the NBA-FIBA relationship is growing and European expansion, in some form, is inevitable.  Frankly, this is a pretty exciting development.  In the meantime, let’s watch these games and see what we can learn from more and more Euro match ups.

All-Time All-Rookie Teams: Northwest Division

This is your basic middle-aged division.  No really new franchises (Minnesota is the most recently created squad) but most came into the NBA in the mid-1970s.  So, you wouldn’t expect too many deep All-Rookie rosters.  Let’s take a look and see…

Denver Nuggets: Denver is one of the few franchises without actually having a Rookie of the Year winner.  Many of the franchises great players were actually rookies elsewhere.  Alex English came up with the Bucks.  Calvin Natt and Fat Lever came up with Portland (Natt first via New Jersey).  Michael Adams started with Sacramento.  In addition, the great Nuggets of the 1970s really are from the ABA and thus aren’t counted in our inquiry.  The closest that the Nuggets came to getting Rookie of the Year was Dikembe Mutombo in 1991-92.  He was leading the field rather handily most of the year (he came out really strong averaging about 20 ppg his first month) but tailed off and missed all of April with injuries.  His fall, coupled with Larry Johnson’s surge in Charlotte, shifted the award to LJ.  In any event, Mutombo was very good and is still the only contender for top rookie center in Nugget history.

Moving over to power forward, the Nuggets accrued plenty of nice contenders in the 1990s alone with Laphonso Ellis, Antonio McDyess, and Raef LaFrentz.  Raef was off to the best start only to have his rookie year ended after 12 games because of a knee injury, a recurring theme in his waning career.  Not much separates Ellis and McDyess but Ellis boarded a little bit better and played a little more.  We’ll also give honorable mention to part-time power forwards who had competitive per-minute stats in Nene and Mark Alarie.  Small forward is pretty easy to choose.  Kiki Vandeweghe and Rodney Rogers did well in small roles but Carmelo Anthony was already starting, scoring, and playing tons of minutes as a rookie.