PJ Tucker and Adventures in Low Usage

1.  Adventures In Low Usage, PJ Tucker:  Despite the high powered offensive era in which the NBA currently operates, PJ Tucker stubbornly refuses to shoot.  Currently, Tucker has started all 31 games he has played and racked up 28.5 mpg, yet he is averaging only 3.1 shots per game, which yields a miniscule 6.5% usage rate.  His shot creation is absurdly low: 100% of his baskets so far have been assisted.  Tucker’s other advanced stats are pretty gross as well: 5.0 PER, .059 WS48, -3.5 BPM.

Of course, Tucker has never exactly been an offensive powerhouse, racking up a 7.2% usage in 2020-21 (he had 7.7% in 32 games as a starter for Houston and 5.8% in 20 games with Milwaukee as a reserve).  Miami was able to get more offense out of Tucker last season, 11.3 PER, 11.7% usage (his best offensive stats since he was with Phoenix back in 2014-15).  Miami appeared to take care to make sure Tucker was somewhat involved in the offense.  Philly has defaulted Tucker back to his role in Houston/Milwaukee of standing in the corner and occasionally taking wide open three-pointers.

Can Philly win games with such an offensive sieve playing so many minutes?   For sure.  The 76ers’ offensive universe is centered around great scorers Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris, so Tucker just has to be enough of a threat to maybe make an open three that his defender hesitates before doubling.  One would think that opponents are going to dare Tucker to shoot more but it hasn’t really happened yet (Tucker was 0-0 in 20 minutes against the Clipps last night).

 You do have to wonder whether Philly could find a decent defender without such extremely low offensive output.  At the moment, the 76ers have an average offense (15th) and the 2nd best defense in the NBA, so perhaps Tucker is more of an asset than his low stats indicate.  Certainly Tucker has usually been useful in the grind out playoff games, where offense becomes harder to come by.

2.  Adventures In Low Usage, Charles Jones:  How historically unique is Tucker’s lack of shooting?  Quite.  According to Basketball-Reference, only one player in the modern era has a lower usage with a minimum of 26 mpg over a full season, Charles Jones of the 1989-90 Bullets. CJ had a 5.6% usage.  Late stage Dennis Rodman with the Lakers and Mavs also had low usages too (6.4 and 6.5%) but he wore out his welcomes quickly and did not play more than 657 minutes.

Jones was an undersized hustling center who forged a 15-year career basically leaning on centers.  In 1989-90, the Bullets had let had no legitimate starting center candidate.  They turned to Jones, who was a 32-year old reserve, to play major minutes.  Jones gamely played 27.7 mpg for 81 games and put up a whopping 3.2 ppg on 2.3 FGA/pg.  He did rack up 6.2 rpg and 2.4 bpg.  His advanced stats were not as bad as they could’ve been: 9.2 PER, .082 WS48, -0.5 BPM.  He took a season high 7 shots on one occasion.  He had nine games with no shot attempt (including from the line), and did not score in 23 games.  The 1991 Pro Basketball Handbook described him as “offensively bankrupt” but lauded his hustle and defense. 

Jones’ stilted skill-set didn’t seem to help as much as Tucker’s has for the current 76ers.  Despite giving CJ heavy minutes for defensive purposes, the Bullets were only 20th in the NBA in defense and were average on offense (16th).  The bad defense wasn’t Jones’ fault but he wasn’t a game changer who could cover for the more defensively challenged players.  For some more context, Washington went 31-51 on a team centered around a 33-year old Bernard King and a 28-year old Jeff Malone, who each had 29.4% usage (tied for fifth highest in the NBA that season):

King: 18.8 PER, .545 TS%, .099 WS48, 2.3 OBPM, -1.9 DBPM

J. Malone: 18.5 PER, .529 TS%, .098 WS48, 2.2 OBPM, -2.2 DBPM

As amazing as King’s comeback was from knee injuries, they were nowhere near as good offensively as current versions of Embiid or old Harden and the Bullets were just not good enough on offense to compensate for CJ’s lack of offense.   In other words, the Bullets/Wizards were futzing around with decent vets and had no direction as a franchise (this seems vaguely familiar to Washington fans).

3.  Low Usage Miscellany:  A few more random thoughts on low usage players…

-Since game logs have been kept, only five  times has a player logged 42 or more minutes in a game and did not take a shot:

Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia, 11/4/67): 44 mp, 1 pt, 18 rebs, 13 asts (won 117-110)

Wilt Chamberlain (Los Angeles, 3/27/73): 46 mpg, 0 pts, 14 rebs, 4 asts (lost 85-84)

Michael Smith (Sacramento, 1/14/97): 43 mp, 4 pts, 9 rebs (won 105-98 in OT)

Ben Wallace (Chicago, 3/31/07): 48 mp, 2 pts, 12 rebs, 2 blks (lost 112-108 in OT)

Joel Anthony (Miami, 1/18/11): 43 mp, 0 pts, 16 rebs, 3 bks (lost 93-89 in OT)

In case you are wondering, Philly was not thrilled with Wilt’s extreme non-shooting.  According to Wayne Lynch in “Season of the Sixers,” coach Alex Hannum told the press: “You’ll have to ask Wilt, [a]ll I can say is this was not my instructions.  Wilt’s version: “[t]he important thing is still to win, isn’t it?  And we did win, didn’t we?  I didn’t plan on having no shots.  You call it zero percent, I call it one hundred percent.”  Wilt seemed like a pleasure to deal with for coaches.

-Can a team win with a comically low usage player?  Well, Philly is winning now and the Lakers were pretty good with Rodman in 1998-99.  Other notable low usage, but useful, players were TR Dunn and Mark Eaton, who had roles as defense-only guys.  They worked as cogs because they played with Hall of Fame-level offensive teammates.  Eaton and Dunn also played in a more specialized time, where most players weren’t expected to shoot threes or handle the ball as much as they are today.

-If we look at low usage players since 2009-10, there are only a nine season  that are under 10%.  In addition to Tucker (who has done it four times), the group is exclusively small forwards who are corner three guys.  The lowest non-Tucker year came from Andre Roberson in 2017-18 (8.6%) for a very good Oklahoma City team that was top ten in both offense and defense.  Russell Westbrook (34.1%) and Paul George (25.7%) dominated possessions while Roberson, who was always a very poor shooter, was injured halfway through the season (which seems to have effectively ended his career).  When he did play in 2017-18, Roberson put up 5.0 ppg on 4.2 FGA/pg.  Unlike the other players on the modern list, he was not a three point threat and was exclusively a defensive player.  For what it’s worth, OKC was 24-15 in games Roberson played and 24-19 without him.

-Royce O’Neale also clocked in at 9% usage the last three years for Utah for really good offenses.  He is at 13.3% for Brooklyn this year and has looked aggressive offensively at moments, suggesting that the O’Neale’s lack of shots was more by design, as they were loaded with other scorers.

-Reggie Bullock has also dipped below 10% this year.  He is a career 14% usage player and had 13.3% playing last season with the ball dominant Luka Doncic.  This season, Bullock has played the exact same 28 mpg but the drop in usage seems to be due to the fact that he can’t make a shot (.487 TS% versus .558% last season).  Bullock’s shot chart shows he is basically only taking three pointers now (83.4% of his shots versus 65.0% career and 78.2% last season) and he is shooting them poorly (31%).  Perhaps incidentally, Luka’s usage has hit a career high 38.1% this season (which would be 7th highest usage since the stat has been kept).

More On Kyrie (Sigh)

When I first heard about the latest Kyrie Irving controversy, I shrugged and basically ignored it. I’ve long been tired of Kyrie’s off-court baggage going back to his flat-Earth days and was hoping this most recent outburst would be given similar weight by the public and quickly dismissed.  The NBA and the Nets were clearly hoping the same, as they did not initially come down very hard on Irving and, instead, put out generic statements against anti-Semitism, without confronting Kyrie.  

Alas, Irving seemed unable to acknowledge that Holocaust denial is odious and has given quasi-defiant press interviews in which he did not apologize and the story has stayed alive.  Now, he is suspended at least five games and until such time as he does these six things:

-Apologize and condemn the film he promoted.

-Make a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes.

-Complete sensitivity training.

-Complete anti-Semitism training.

-Meet with the ADL and Jewish leaders.

Since the story won’t die, I reluctantly throw in my two cents as well and try to answer questions from all angles.  [full disclosure: I’m Jewish and find Holocaust denial to be hateful and unequivocally horrid]. 

Did Kyrie do something wrong in posting the video?

Yes.  Promoting a film that traffics in virulent anti-Semitism is wrong.   Even if Irving had no intent to focus on that aspect of the film or does not believe that part of the film, the views are wrong and overshadow any other point he was trying to make.

Did Kyrie’s prior issues with the Nets make the discipline worse?

Probably not but due to any Nets love for Irving.  Kyrie’s prior issues in Brooklyn are many and can be reviewed here.  I have to think that the Nets may be sick of Kyrie but they didn’t use this as an excuse to attack him.  If anything, they gave him multiple shots to fix the situation before resorting to suspension.  The kid gloves approach was not because they love Irving and more likely because the Nets desperately want to keep Kevin Durant happy and this saga has already annoyed KD.  

What about Kyrie’s free speech rights?

Unless the NBA and the Nets are considered government actors, the First Amendment isn’t relevant to this dispute.  Kyrie is not free from business or societal consequences of his speech if others feel it is offensive [yup, our lovely culture wars have jurisdiction to this controversy]. 

It’s arguable whether the NBA or the Nets are mortally offended by Irving’s conduct but they rightfully are concerned that fans will be offended and that this will hurt business to no good end.  Kyrie’s behavior certainly made it unlikely that I would want to root for him or buy his products.  Given this fair and objective concern, the NBA and the Nets have a right to protect their brands against this behavior. 

I get that Kyrie did something wrong but aren’t the NBA and Joe Tsai hypocrites?   What about supporting China?

Doing business with China is a problem for all American companies and the NBA is no different.  It would be nice if more American businesses would condemn Chinese repressive behavior but that’s not relevant to Kyrie’s controversy.  Would it be better if the NBA didn’t attempt to address any bad behavior just because they haven’t figured out what to do with China?  In fact, growing a backbone here may actually help in other instances.

Are the NBA players hypocrites for speaking out against Sterling and Sarver but have not nearly been as forceful against Kyrie?

I don’t think so.  The players were quite vocal when Donald Sterling and Robert Sarver were in the barrel and have been much quieter now.  It took a week for LeBron James to acknowledge that Irving’s post was hurtful but LBJ did give a clear statement.  It would’ve been nice if the players would’ve reacted a bit more quickly but players aren’t generally going to attack their co-workers for obvious reasons.  LBJ’s late statement was pretty strong when you consider the context.

Putting aside that fact, Irving’s post was ignorant but pales in comparison to decades of racist behavior of Sterling and Sarver.  Hopefully, Kyrie doesn’t go down that path and he has no prior public instances of such behavior.

Is Kyrie being treated more kindly than other players?

Here’s a sampling of a few other players who courted political/racial controversy:

-Last year, Meyers Leonard off-handedly used a Jewish slur while filming a live feed of a video game.  The slur was wrong clearly not pre-meditated.   Leonard apologized immediately but was fined $50,000 and suspended a weekDespite the contrition and the fact that the Jewish community forgave him, Leonard has not been signed by another NBA team yet.

-On the other end is former Bull Craig Hodges, who was a third/fourth guard with the Michael Jordan Bulls.  He didn’t do anything wrong that would warrant suspension but the NBA clearly didn’t appreciate his viewpoints.  He was politically active and would exhort MJ to do more for the African American community.  In 1992, when the Bulls visited the White House, Hodges wore a dashiki and brought a letter urging then President Bush to help poor and minority communities.  No team signed Hodges after the 1992 season ending his career.

-In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for refusing to stand for the National Anthem.  We did a deep dive on this issue back in 2016 during the Colin Kaepernick protest.  To briefly recap, Abdul-Rauf felt that standing for the Anthem went against his faith, which angered fans and caused him to get suspended until a compromise was made (he would pray during the Anthem).  Abdul-Rauf lasted a few more years but wasn’t  the same player afterwards. 

-Enes Freedom (nee Kanter) has repeatedly and vocally attacked the NBA for not doing more to address the terrible plight of the Uyghurs in China.  Freedom, who is 30, hasn’t been signed this year yet.

It’s not fair but a player’s ability dictates whether he will survive a controversy.  Leonard and Hodges were back-end players and any baggage (however light) was enough to knock them out of the NBA (though Leonard might make it back possibly).  Abdul-Rauf was a good player and was not explicitly drummed out of the NBA, though his path got harder afterwards.  Freedom was a solid regular but there is little chance that owners will take a chance on a loud voice who is a bench guy.

Kyrie is far more accomplished on the court than any of them.  He will likely sign somewhere after the season, though his market was already pretty weak relative to his ability.

Will Kyrie ever apologize and take the remedial steps that the Nets have demanded?

Who knows?  I find it hard to believe he will make a clean apology but it’s also not likely that the Nets can suspend him indefinitely.  Any path towards reconciliation can be found in how his flat-Earth stuff played out.  Let’s quickly review the timeline:

-In February 2017, Kyrie appeared on the Richard Jefferson/Channing Frye podcast and said: “The Earth is flat. … I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.”

-In September 2017, Irving slightly backtracked and told the Toucher & Reach radio show that: “All I want to do is be able to have that open conversation. It was all an exploitation tactic. It literally spun the world—your guy’s world—it spun it into a frenzy and proved exactly what I thought it would do in terms of how all this works. It created a division, or, literally stood up there and let all these people throw tomatoes at me, or have somebody think I’m somehow a different intellectual person because I believe that the earth is flat and you think the world is round. It created exactly that.  It became like, because I think different, does that knock my intellectual capacity or the fact that I can think different things than you? That was the intent behind it. Do your own research, don’t come to me and ask me. At the end of the day, you’re going to feel and believe the way you want to feel. But don’t knock my life over that. When I do something, I know my intent. And it proved what I thought it would.”

-In late October 2017, Irving appeared on Geno Auriemma’s podcast and said: “[t]he whole intent behind it, Coach, it wasn’t to bash science. It wasn’t to like have the intent of starting a rage and be seen as this insane individual. When I started seeing comments and things about universal truths that I had known, like I had questions. When I started actually doing research on my own and figuring out that there is no real picture of Earth, not one real picture of Earth—and we haven’t been back to the moon since 1961 or 1969—it becomes like conspiracy, too.”

While Kyrie’s stance on this issue was ill-informed, it didn’t really hurt anyone.  Or did it?  In late September 2018, Kyrie apologized for his flat-Earth stance at a Forbes summit.  Irving said “[a]t the time I didn’t realize the effect. I was definitely at that time, ‘I’m a big conspiracy theorist. You can’t tell me anything.’ I’m sorry about all that. For all the science teachers, everybody coming up to me like, ‘You know I have to reteach my whole curriculum!’ I’m sorry. I apologize. I apologize.”

Other than the presence of anti-Semitism now, flat-Earth controversy tracks very similarly.  In both cases, Irving insists he knows something and it is not receptive to the holes in his position.  Apparently, a bunch of science teachers convinced him he was wrong in the instance of flat-Earth. 

But who will play the role of the science teacher in the current controversy?  Unlike flat-Earthers, here, Kyrie strongly links his post endorsing the movie to his personal identity.   He has a strong emotional stake in this dispute.  Irving clearly views an apology as a partial repudiation of this identity.  How do you thread this needle?

Meeting with Jews who have been victim of anti-Semitism might help.  In addition, in other contexs, Kyrie understands red lines in terms of offensive words and behaviors.  On April 10, 2021, the normally placid Irving was ejected for a heated argument with the Lakers’ Dennis SchroederIrving was enraged when Schroeder called Kyrie the n-word (apparently in a trash talking way and not intending to say something racially insulting but Kyrie did not accept this lingo).  In addition to fighting Schroeder, Irving posted the following:

“The N-word is a derogatory racial slur! It will never be…

-a term of endearment



NEVER FORGET ITS FOUL AND TRUE HISTORY! Throw that N-word out the window, right alongside all of those other racist words used to describe my people. We are not slaves or N’s.”

This is a commendable stance.  Someone must explain to Kyrie that Jews view Holocaust denial (or minimization) as similarly hurtful.  Hopefully, Irving sees the connection and comes around on this point. 

How will this affect the Nets’ season?

The Nets appear desperate to take another shot at a title so any sincere apology will probably be enough to get Kyrie back on the roster.  A title run seems remote based on the terrible start to the season but the Nets are willing to do anything to try. 

It seems that, either way, Irving’s tenure with the Nets won’t make it past April 2023.  As for KD, he will have to be traded or the Nets will have to show enough progress to convince him to be happy with a quasi-rebuild like the Warriors did after he left town.  Given how close Durant is to Irving, this scenario seems unlikely.

NBA 2022-23: Western Conference Preview

We turn now to part 2 of our NBA preview, the Western Conference.  I find the West even more difficult  to predict than the East.  Yes, the Warriors are good but it’s hard not to remember that they were shaky coming into the 2021-22 playoffs and they rely on some very veteran players.  On top of that, at least five teams can make a credible argument that they will win 50 or more games.  So, let’s dive in to some assorted questions….

Could six or more Western Conference teams win 50+ game?

For sure.  Last year, four teams won 52 or more games and Utah (49 wins) and Denver (48 wins) were a hair away from joining them.  Since 1979-80, a conference has had six or more 50-win teams 14 times.  For kicks, here are some more fun facts on the subject (note that in years when the NBA didn’t play a full schedule, we defined a 50-win team as one with a winning percentage above .610)….

-From 1979-80 to 1988-89, no conference had more than four 50-win teams.  Yup, the Showtime Lakers had it really easy most of the 1980s.

-From 1989-90 to 1998-99, a conference had six or more 50-win teams three times. 1990-91 was the first time this happened when the West was stacked.

-From 1999-00 to 2000-09, things got funky.  Seven times, a conference exceeded six 50-win teams, with all eight playoffs teams hitting the mark in 2007-08 when the 57-25 Lakers drew the 50-32 Nuggets as the eight seed. Denver featured Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, and Kenyon Martin.  Still, Kobe and the Lakers smoked Denver, 4-0 and outscoring them by 13.3 ppg.

-From 2009-10 to 2018-19, the number of six or more 50-win teams regressed back to three times, though the 2009-10 West hit eight teams again.  That year, the Lakers again were the one-seed drawing a tough matchup against the 50-32 Oklahoma City Thunder with young Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.  This series was tighter than against Denver, as L.A. won 4-2 but had a ppg margin of only +1.7. 

-Since 2019-20, only one time has a conference exceeded 50+ wins with six teams.

-Weirdly, the Eastern Conference has only had six or more 50-win teams one time (1996-97), while the other 13 times happened out West.

Will the Draymond punch hurt the Warriors’ shot at repeating?

Probably not.  Draymond Green’s quasi-sucker punch was reckless and particularly inexcusable for a vet player.  Nevertheless, Jordan Poole wasn’t hurt and, regardless of intent, lack of injury is what matters most, as our prior study of teammate punching incidents found

No, the Warriors’ most pressing concern is keeping Steph Curry fresh and healthy.  As amazing as Steph still is, he had his lowest full season rate stat numbers since before GS became a dynasty.  He still should be really good but that is the real risk for a 34-year old who relies on perpetual motion to score.

Are the Suns toast?

They are definitely a 50-win team but there is a sense, after the terrible end to 2021-22 and the ugly off-season tiffs with Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder and Chris Paul hitting age-37 that they are no longer inner circle contenders.  There are no stats to show this but that is my sense as well.

Can the Mavs continue to improve without Jalen Brunson?

Definitely.  Brunson was a tough loss but ultimately, the Mavs are a slow-paced (95.4 pace was slowest in the NBA) and average offense (15th) with a great defense (6th).  Most of the offense revolves around Luka Doncic isolations and he’ll need a little help at some point but this style should scale well for the playoffs.

Can the Lakers bounce back?

They can make the playoffs but the West is way too deep for this older team to compete.  We all agree that Russell Westbrook is a horrid fit with LeBron James and it’s concerning that management could think this would fit AND that it did not rebalance the roster after watching them play together.   This is potentially a mess unless Rob Pelinka can pivot.

Can the Clippers stay healthy?

I have no idea but did you know that Kawhi Leonard has never played more than  74 games in a season and he broke 66 games  played only twice?  On the stats-side, Kawhi has become a much better passer, though some of his dynamic stats (blocks) have lagged since his injury with the Spurs.  The Clipps should be really good but questions abound.

With all that said, here are my predictions, of which I have little confidence:

1.  Golden State Warriors

2.  Denver Nuggets

3. Los Angeles Clippers

4. Phoenix Suns

5. Memphis Grizzlies

6. Dallas Mavericks

7.  Minnesota Timberwolves

8.  New Orleans Pelicans

Play In Teams

9.  Los Angeles Lakers

10.  Portland Trail Blazers


11.  Sacramento Kings

12.  Utah Jazz

13.  Houston Rockets

14.  San Antonio Spurs

15.  Oklahoma City Thunder


Second Round

-Warriors over Grizzlies

-Clippers over Nuggets

Conference Finals

-Warriors over Clippers


-Bucks over Warriors

MVP: Joel Embiid

ROY: Paolo Banchero

COY: Doc Rivers

DPOY:  Giannis Antetokounmpo

NBA 2022-23: Eastern Conference Preview

With each season of the 2020s, the NBA becomes more and more opaque.  The 2021-22 Warriors were a very good team but were nowhere near as dominant as their prior iterations.  But Golden State, like most of the good teams, has a decent argument that it can win the 2022-23 title.  There are plenty of title-worthy teams but no prohibitive favorite and compelling arguments against nearly every team.

Today, let’s run through the some assorted burning questions and predictions for the East:

How will Boston do without Udoka?

In case you are curious, here’s the list of teams, since the NBA went to the 16-team playoff format in 1983-84, who made the NBA Finals and fired/lost their coach before the next season (note that a ton of coaches were fired during the season after making the Finals but that is a different inquiry):

1998-99 Bulls:  We all remember Michael Jordan’s Last Dance and how Phil Jackson was bid adieu with the rest of the team.  Chicago tried college coach Tim “Pink” Floyd as a replacement for the 1998-99 Bulls went 13-37 and were essentially an expansion team.

2000-01 Pacers: Larry Bird’s interest in coaching was limited to begin with and he quit exactly when the core of the Reggie Miller/Rik Smits team was due for a rebuild. Indiana let vets Mark Jackson and Dale Davis go for younger players and Smits retired. Isiah Thomas was brought in as coach and cobbled together a 41-41 record.

2004-05 Lakers: Phil Jackson (and Shaquille O’Neal) were pushed out by Kobe Bryant and management for various reasons.  Without Shaq, Los Angeles was not a serious contender and went 34-48 with Rudy Tomjanovich.  Rudy quit for health reasons after a 24-19 start and the Lakers cratered thereafter.  Kobe had a great statistical season (27.6 ppg) but was miserable with the results on-and-off the court. 

2005-06 Pistons:  This is the one scenario most similar to the Udoka situation.  The Pistons were still a really good team (with a great defense) when Larry Brown did his usual Brown things to get himself out of his contract due to his innate urges to leave jobs and to complain.  The Pistons replaced him with vet coach Flip Saunders, who led the team to a 64-18 record and kept the defensive intensity. 

Of the above group, only the Pistons situation even remotely resembles what’s going on now in Boston.  The Celtics, however, are a bit younger than that Detroit team and Boston has gone with the very young and untested Joe Mazzulla as coach.  He may very well be a coaching prodigy but more likely Boston may struggle a bit compared to last year.

Over the years, studies have shown that certain coaches typically get their teams to play better defense than others.  Here, there is evidence that the defense might not be a Udoka driven phenomenon. Udoka’s great defense only has a one-year track record and Boston has had good defensive teams in the past (Boston was top seven in defense each season from 2017-18 through 2019-20), with the notable exception of the 2020-21 team that struggled to defense and  was woefully weak in the middle (mostly playing Daniel Theis).

The interesting ancillary question here is how much of the Celts’ lockdown defense can be maintained without Ime Udoka.  DBPM gave a ton of credit for the defense last season to Al Horford (2.9) and Robert Williams (3.1) and these stats jive with the eye test.  Horford is turning 36 and has never had a defensive season quite this good.  Williams has been really slowly recovering from knee surgeries.  Defensive regression, to some extent, seems probable.  This is a seriously talented team but not quite where they were a few months ago.  Jayson Tatum will have to reach an even higher lever to offset this.

What will happen in Brooklyn?

I have no idea either.  Yes, the array of plausible outcomes range from miserable to title contention.  My sense is that things snowballed so badly last year that it is unlikely that something so bad happens again.  60 games of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons is worth about 50 wins.  There are serious questions how this will work on the court and I’m pretty intrigued to see what it will look like, even if I’m not overly optimistic.

Can Julius Randle return to form?

Let’s take a look at Randle’s three-point shooting the last few years:

2018-19: .344

2019-20: .277

2020-21: .411

2021-22: .308

Time to accept that 2020-21 was the anomaly but the hope is the Knicks can get, at least, the 2018-19 Pelicans version.  Either way, New York needs to tread water and continue to wait for that elusive star that they’ve been waiting for since Carmelo Anthony times.

Will there be any regression in Milwaukee?

They still have the best player in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo and they have a really easy division.  The primary question is whether the key supporting players are starting to fall off:

-Brook Lopez is 34 and missed most of the season with back surgery.  On paper, he was slightly less effective than he had been prior seasons.

-Khris Middleton is only 31 and had a season very similar to 2020-21 but he missed most of the playoffs and has had lingering wrist and leg issues.

-Jrue Holiday was really good last season but will be 32 and regressed a bit in the playoffs.

So, there is moderate concern but these three should still be largely as good as they’ve been.   With Giannis as the heart, they should still be on the short list of title teams but the one seed might be hard to get.

What will Philly look like this year?

There are a few fascinating things to watch here.  First, a full season of James Harden in lieu of Ben Simmons should complete the transformation from a defensive team to an offensive team.  In 2020-21, Philly was a decent offensive team (13th) and really good on defense (2nd).  Last year, the pace really slowed (25th) and the defense fell (12th).  Granted, the 76ers had neither Simmons nor Harden for a good chunk of the season. Still, a Harden/Tyrese Maxey backcourt sounds leaky.  Despite this misgiving, the 76ers are a good team with peak Joel Embiid and plenty of options.  Doc Rivers has some postseason issues but they are poised to have a nice regular season. 

How are a couple of 33-year old star lead guards going to do?

Yes, Jimmy Butler and James Harden are the same age and I’ve been low-key obsessed with how their skill sets will age.  Harden has been on quite a ride, forcing trades and “modulating” his effort level from time-to-time.  Putting all this aside, here are Harden’s raw numbers from the last four years:

-2018-19: 78 games, 30.6 PER, .254 WS48, 11.0 BPM

-2019-20: 68 games, 29.1 PER, .245 WS48, 9.6 BPM

-2020-21: 44 games, 24.5 PER, .208 WS48, 7.2 BPM

-2021-22: 65 games, 20.9 PER, .152 WS48, 4.0 BPM

There are reasons for the decline here but the trendline is straight down.  Even 2021-22 Harden is an All-Star level player and his playoff stats were really good the whole time except for last season, when he had his worst playoff performance of his career by far (16.8 PER, .112 WS48, 1.9 BPM).  Winter may not be here yet but its coming.

As for Butler, things look a little different:

-2018-19: 65 games, 20.2 PER, .173 WS48, 3.7 BPM

-2019-20: 58 games, 23.6 PER, .221 WS48, 5.4 BPM

-2020-21: 52 games, 26.5 PER, .255 WS48, 7.7 BPM

-2021-22: 57 games, 23.6 PER, .228 WS48, 6.3 BPM

Butler misses games but has been largely the same player the last three years.  Can they keep it up?  History is pessimistic.  Here’s the list of guards, 6’5 or bigger, at age-33, who had positive BPMs (minimum 1,900 minutes played):

Michael Jordan 1996-97: 8.9 BPM (had 10.5 BPM the previous year, fell to 6.9 at age 34)

Manu Ginobili 2010-11: 5.4 BPM (had 6.7 BPM the previous year, jumped to 6.9 BPM at age 34 in only 792 minutes.  Was slightly less effective in fewer minutes the next couple of years after that)

Ray Allen 2008-09: 4.0 BPM (had 3.0 BPM the previous year, fell to 1.2 the year after.  Averaged 2.5 BPM the next couple of years after that)

Clyde Drexler 1995-96: 4.0 BPM (had 6.5 BPM the previous year and 4.8 BPM the year after. Retired at age-35 with a 3.4 BPM)

Kobe Bryant 2011-12: 3.3 BPM (had 5.2 BPM the previous year and 4.6 BPM the year after but tore his Achilles, which basically ended his career)

Kyle Korver 2014-15: 2.8 BPM (had 1.1 BPM the previous year and -1.0 BPM the year after.  Korver had a career year at age-34 somehow and regressed immediately)

Vince Carter 2009-10: 2.0 BPM (had 2.4 BPM the previous year and fell to 0.3 BPM the year after. Was mostly okay after but did have a nice year at age-36 randomly)

Jamal Crawford 2013-14: 1.6 BPM (had 1.0 BPM the previous year and fell to 0.7 BPM the year after. He lasted for years but was negative player all that time)

Doug Christie 2003-04: 0.8 BPM (had 3.2 BPM the previous year and fell to -1.3 BPM the year after and career ended shortly after)

We should ignore MJ because he can’t be compared to anyone.  Manu played well but in many fewer minutes.  The best hope for Butler and Harden come from Drexler, who played at 3-4 BPM level in his later years.  Allen was able to be helpful for years but was no longer a lead guard.  In all, the data tells us that the chances are both Harden and Butler are due for some decline.  Of course, the aging curve is constantly changing over time but regression is likely over the next two years.

East Final Predictions:

1. Philadelphia 76ers

2.  Milwaukee Bucks

3.  Boston Celtics

4. Miami Heat

5.  Brooklyn Nets

6.  Toronto Raptors

7. Cleveland Cavaliers

8. Atlanta Hawks

Play-In Teams

9.  New York Knicks

10.  Chicago Bulls

Lottery Bound

11.  Charlotte Hornets

12.  Washington Wizards

13.  Detroit Pistons

14.  Orlando Magic

15.  Indiana Pacers

Playoffs Second Round

-Nets over 76ers

-Bucks over Celtics

Conference Finals

-Bucks over Nets

Stay tuned for Western Conference preview and Finals prediction….

Udoka and One-and-Done Coaches

It’s hard to really process the bizarre saga of Celtics coach Ime Udoka and his recent mysterious year-long suspension but let’s do the best we can with what is out there.  We don’t have the full details but the generalities sound bad and it seems likely that Udoka will not return as coach once his suspension is lifted.  Indeed, it’s hard to see how Udoka can credibly coach his team if his character is so compromised.  Rather, the more likely outcome is that Boston is seeking to impose a financial penalty to save some of the money it would owe Udoka when they terminate him in about a year.  Yes, they could argue that Udoka was terminated for cause, which could void his contract, but the suspension is likely less contestable than an immediate termination and it shows the public that Boston took the misconduct seriously.

Since it is likely that Udoka will be canned after a single season and might never be an NBA head coach again, it got me wondering how many one-and-done NBA coaches there have been.  There are a bunch of rookie coaches who quit or were fired part way into the season (Jerry Tarkanian and recently John Beilein) but there haven’t been too many who lasted a full year and were kicked to the curb and never coached again in the pros.  Of that specific group, a few of them are young enough that they may get a second shot at some point:  Igor Kokoskov went 19-63 in 2018-19 with Phoenix and is now an assistant again and Nate Bjorkgren went 34-38 with Indy in 2020-21.  Putting aside those two maybe future NBA coaches, here’s the list of NBA one-and-done coaches whose careers are certainly over and how their mini-tenures went down…

Quinn Buckner, Dallas 1993-94:  Buckner was the heady Hoosier point guard who had a solid NBA career mostly for the Celtics.  He went on to be a pretty good broadcaster.  His reputation as a player and analyst got him a shot with the rebuilding Mavs.  Lord, did that go badly.  The Mavs were coming off of an 11-71 season but had a few talented players (Derek Harper and young Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn).  Buckner might’ve had a bit too much of the Bobby Knight shtick in him and the players really didn’t like it.  The Mavs started out 1-23 and, according to an agent, Buckner had “alienated everyone in the organization, including the towel boy.”  The Mavs finished 13-69 and Buckner was fired for, according to owner Donald Carter, “burned bridges.”  Buckner seemed to overestimate his leverage over the players and was a bit too belligerent.  Carter said: “It wasn’t just the young players. Let’s face it, it was young and old. The bridges that were burned weren’t just over young players.”   Buckner returned to the television booth thereafter and coaching was never again on the radar for him.

Michael Curry, Detroit 2008-09: Curry had a nice career as a defense-only role player, mostly with Detroit. He was an assistant coach with the Pistons in 2007-08 and was slated to take over this great defensive Pistons team that had been title contenders for seven years.  Detroit had just canned Flip Saunders after a 59-23 season where they lost in the Eastern Conference against a powerhouse Celtics team.  Two games into Curry’s coaching career, Joe Dumars traded their best player, Chauncey Billups, for an a 33-year old and ill-fitting Allen Iverson.  Even if the trade hadn’t been made, this was a tough job as core players Rip Hamilton (age 30), Rasheed Wallace (age 34), and Antonio McDyess (age 34) were declining in any event.

Detroit fell to 39-43 and were swept as an eight seed in the First Round.  The title contention run was decisively over and Dumars fired Curry.  At the time, Dumars called the firing “difficult” but stated that “it has become clear that we needed a more experienced coach to help guide us through this [rebuilding project].”  After his firing, Curry did some assistant coaching with Philly from 2010 to 2013.  Since then he has coached in college.

Frank McGuire, Philadelphia 1961-62:  Unlike some of the other coaches on this list, McGuire was a Hall of fame college coach.  He coached St. John’s from 1947-1952 before coaching UNC from 1952-1961, where he beat Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in 1957 to win a title. McGuire was forced to resign in 1961 due to NCAA violations (and was replaced by his assistant, Dean Smith).  Eddie Gottlieb of the Philly Warriors lured McGuire to coach a young pro Wilt immediately after.  McGuire said in “Tall Tales,” that, since 1957, he “had been intrigued with Chamberlain.  I had read that he was uncoachable and a bad guy, but I refused to believe that….I looked at films of Wilt and the more I saw, the more I wanted to coach him.”

McGuire said he told the players that “Wilt was the most dominant force in basketball history and I wanted him to get him the ball two-thirds of the time.”  The Wilt-centric offense worked well enough, as Wilt scored 50 ppg and the team went 49-31 (though the offense was 4th of 9 teams in efficiency) before losing a tough seven-game series to Boston in the Eastern Finals. 

After the season, the Warriors moved to San Francisco and McGuire opted to go coach at South Carolina where he lasted from 1964 to 1980 and made a few Sweet 16s.  McGuire said he left the Warriors because the NBA was rinky dink compared to college: “I was amazed at how small-time the NBA was, compared to college….Wilt was making a hundred grand and we had no tape for his ankles.”

Kevin O’Neill, Toronto 2003-04:  O’Neill had coached Northwestern in the 1990s and was an assistant in the NBA in the early 2000s before getting the Raptors job in 2003.  He was tasked with salvaging the Vince Carter Era, which was teetering after a terrible 2002-03 season.  O’Neill, however, went 33-49 and made questionable decisions on and off the court. 

As described by John Hollinger in his 2004-05 Pro Basketball Forecast, O’Neill insisted on playing offensive zeroes Robert Archibald, Lonny Baxter, Corie Blount and the aforementioned Michael Curry.  Hollinger pointed out that “Curry finished the year with an impossibly low PER of 3.61, the worst in the NBA, and killed what was left of the offense [they finished 28th].  Toronto’s Offensive Efficiency was nearly 11 points lower when Curry was on the court….O’Neill nevertheless managed to find 1,230 minutes for him….That playing time often came at the expense of [Jerome] Moiso, but also superior players like Morris Peterson, Lamond Murray, and about half of the NBDL….Half the fractured locker room thought [Curry] was a spy for O’Neill.”

So, O’Neill made bad decisions and had a bad vibe with the players. Moreover, he sealed his fate by popping off publicly after the season and stating that “the franchise is just excited to be part of the NBA and not focused on winning.”  Interim GM Jack McCloskey said O’Neill admitted that the statement was bad: “[h]e said ‘You know, Jack, I screwed up yesterday. You told me to play things cool. I made a mistake.”  O’Neill was still defiant and told the press that “I’m not for everybody.  I’m not a guy that walks down the hallway and is warm and fuzzy. If being dedicated to winning is abrasive, I’m abrasive.”  O’Neill never got another NBA head job but also had a messy firing with USC in 2013.

Leonard Hamilton, Washington 2000-01:  Hamilton was a solid college coach who GM Michael Jordan tabbed to rebuild Washington.  MJ hoped for a playoff run with vet holdovers (Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond, and Rod Strickland) and second-year prospect Richard Hamilton.  The same core was bad the year before (29-53) and Jordan had little reason to think it would get any better.  Still, this seemed like the start of a rebuild and time for Hamilton to learn the ropes and develop Rip Hamilton.

The Wiz were actually worse in 2000-01, dropping from 29-53 to 19-63.  Leonard Hamilton abruptly quit right after a game in early April 2001, without warning the players.  Though it was a resignation, it was very clear that Jordan, who was quite frustrated with the losing, had a hand in the removal.  Hamilton was cursed out on the bench by fringe player Tyrone Nesby in a game in January and was not apologetic about it.  Hamilton had a three years and $6 million left on his deal guaranteed and he quit right after a long meeting with Jordan.  It was pretty likely that Hamilton took some sort of buyout to get out of the misery (as a post-script, Hamilton was and is still a very good college coach.  He was hired by Florida State in 2002, and has been the coach there ever since.  FSU was first in the ACC this year before the tourney was cancelled).

John Wetzel, Phoenix, 1987-88:  Wetzel had played with the Suns for years and had been assistant from 1979 to 1987.  Wetzel’s timing couldn’t have been worse.  The Suns were hit with a big drug scandal that season and slumped to 28-54 due to the tumult.  Jerry Colangelo wanted to clean house and try again with Cotton Fitzsimmons, so Wetzel was canned.  It was not clear what soured the Suns on Wetzel specifically, but Colangelo said he wanted a coach with experience “with a presence who can mold [a young team].” 

In fact, I stumbled onto the answer when I happened to be reading “Breaking The Rules,” Mike Tulumello’s recount of the 1995-96 Suns. In one passage, Tulumello wrote about how Colangelo compared then-coach Paul Westphal with other ex-Suns coaches: “Colangelo had decided that Wetzel, a fine assistant coach, was too low key to run the team In addition, Colangelo had been taken aback by Wetzel’s reaction to the decision he and Fitzsimmons made to trade Larry Nance, the team’s cornerstone…Wetzel acted with deep emotion to the trade, a response that raised Colangelo’s eyebrows to the roof. This was, after all, a business in which bodies are moved constantly, usually with as much sentiment as trading pork futures”

So, Colangelo was sure that Wetzel was not head coach material abruptly. Fitzsimmons did immediately turn the Suns into a contender.  Wetzel remained an NBA assistant through 2004.

Mike Dunlap, Charlotte 2012-13:  Coming off of a moribund 7-59 2011-12 lockout season, Charlotte reached for Dunlap, who was an assistant coach for a blah St. John’s team.  In addition, Dunlap had very limited pro experience (two years in Denver as an assistant to George Karl from 2006-08).  So how did this happen?

 According to ESPN at the time, “the Bobcats had narrowed their choices to Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan, Indiana assistant Brian Shaw and Lakers assistant Quin Snyder, sources said…Sloan pulled himself out of the running last week, and after meeting with Shaw and Snyder, Jordan decided to re-open the field and brought Dunlap back in for an interview on Monday, sources say. Impressed, Jordan offered Dunlap the job.”  Charlotte GM Rich Cho said they chose Dunlap because they had “a strong emphasis in player development was extremely high on our priority list,” and Dunlap was known “as a teacher of the game amid his peer.”

The Bobcats did improve, marginally, to 21-61 under Dunlap and the SRS “improved” from -13.96 to -9.29. One would figure that Dunlap had a few years to turn around this dumpster fire but he was fired after his first season.  Conner Boyd of Bleacher Report argued that the firing was quite proper.  Boyd wrote that “Dunlap’s rotations were mind-bogglingly awful and lost this team more than a handful of games. Having his entire bench on the floor with a single-digit deficit with two minutes left is bad coaching, and Mike Dunlap is to be held responsible.”

Boyd also noted that player-relations was a problem too: “[Dunlap] pushed four-hour practices regularly and exhausted players on or before game days….Many players had predominantly negative things to say about Dunlap after the season ended. Qualms ranged from long practices and pure exhaustion to his cold demeanor and inability to connect with the players. For a guy who was supposed to develop the young core, Dunlap instead was viewed as negative and unapproachable.” 

Charlotte jumped up to a playoff team under Steve Clifford the next season.  Dunlap went on to have a decent stint as a head coach at Loyola Marymount from 2014-2020.  Since then, he has been assistant with the Bucks where he helped win a title. [Thanks to www.BlogaBull.com for catching that we missed Dunlap initially].

Bismack Biyombo’s Journey from Yemen to the NBA

In passing, I noticed that Phoenix’s Bismack Biyombo just turned 30 years old.  This gave me a little reminder to revisit the legal saga between him and his former European agent Igor Crespo.  In 2015, we did a deep dive on the lawsuit, which was filed in New York State in 2014. At the time, the litigation was in its early stages and I summed it up thusly: “Did Crespo take advantage of Biyombo?  Did Biyombo screw over Crespo?  Without all the facts, it is hard to really know.”  I hadn’t looked into the case since then.  With the trigger of Bismack’s birthday, I reentered the fray to see what more we could learn.  Here goes….

Summary of the Dispute

To recap, Crespo sued Biyombo and his NBA agent Wasserman Media Group, LLC, alleging that Biyombo and Biyombo’s father signed a contract agreeing to give Crespo 10% of all future basketball earnings and 20% of any advertisement/sponsorships.  Specifically, Crespo claimed he discovered Biyombo, who was playing in Yemen, and invested about $164,000 to train Biyombo.  Crespo, ultimately, did get Biyombo a contract in Spain and Crespo got his 10%. 

Biyombo was then drafted by Charlotte and Crespo, who was not a certified NBA agent, claims to have negotiated a contract with Charlotte but was terminated by Biyombo and never got a piece of that revenue.   Crespo’s complaint sued for breach of contract and for unjust enrichment and tortious interference by Wasserman with the Crespo/Biyombo contract.

When Biyombo moved to dismiss the complaint, things got interesting.  Crespo alleged that, because he wasn’t an NBA agent, he referred Biyombo to Leon Rose of CAA (now a Knicks executive) and that Rose had already agreed to split his share with Crespo (4% was the maximum agent share permitted under NBA rules).  Biyombo, instead, hired a different agent and terminated his contract with Crespo.  The contract with Crespo permitted termination on 90 days notice but the termination came after Biyombo signed his rookie contract with Charlotte that was worth (according to Crespo) a guaranteed $5 million plus option years worth a total of $6.2 million.

In 2015, the New York court dismissed the breach of contract claim to the extent it sought a percentage of his NBA earnings.  The court found the 10% figure was illegal under NBPA rules.  Alternatively, Crespo argued that he should get 2% (which represents the share that Rose agreed to give him).  Interestingly, Rose never signed a formal agreement with Crespo so this argument was rejected as well.  The court did permit Crespo to proceed on his claim for 20% of ad revenue. 

The court also let Crespo proceed on the unjust enrichment claim to the extent that Crespo paid to develop and promote Biyombo.   Crespo had argued that he invested at least $164,000 in Biyombo and that Biyombo wrote an email to Crespo’s colleague, terminating the agreement but acknowledging he owed Crespo some money: “[i]t has been hard to make that decision, but I hope you understand it.  Although you do not have your money today, you will have it tomorrow.”

Subsequently, Wasserman moved to dismiss the action noting that Crespo was not an NBA agent and thus could not interfere with Crespo’s non-NBA rights.  Shortly after the filing of the motion, Crespo discontinued the case against Wasserman.  It is possible Wasserman settled for cash but it seems more likely based on the strength of the Wasserman’s motion and the swiftness of the discontinuance that Crespo just punted because the claim was weak.

This left Crespo to litigate with Biyombo over a much smaller scope of 20% of ad revenues and a recovery of the funds invested in Biyombo’s career (at least $164,000).  Had Crespo been permitted to recover NBA earnings, the case would be a good deal bigger.  According to Basketball-Reference.com, Biyombo made $12.5 million on his rookie deal. 

It’s not clear how damages should’ve been calculated but if one assumes that the deal validly cancelled in 2011, Crespo’s damages would’ve been capped to the rookie deal, which comes to, at best, 10% of that income or, at least 2% that Rose would’ve given him (which comes to about $250,000).  (Note that New York law usually provides for 9% interest on a claim, so the delay in the case would accrue to Crespo’s benefit).  As for ad revenue, Crespo did get Biyombo a deal with Nike, though I haven’t noticed many giant Bismack ad campaigns.

Discovery Fun

Once the parties went through discovery, we received a treasure trove of inside testimony and documents that are worth reviewing.  Here’s the condensed version of the new interesting facts:

-Crespo said he got Biyombo into the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, where Bismack shined (he had the first triple-double in the event history) and got NBA draft buzz.  Crespo claimed he paid for the trip and ancillary costs totaling at least $200,000.

-Biyombo’s affidavit complained that Crespo negotiated a contract with his Spanish team (Fuenlabrada) that was heavily backloaded and had an NBA buyout worth $1.5 million plus making Biyombo responsible for VAT (essentially, the tax costs of the transaction).  Crespo allegedly told Biyombo that the club would never want a substantial sum for the buyout and not to worry about it.  In the end, Biyombo had to pay about $1,000,000 of the buyout and he felt that cost should, at least, offset the money paid by Crespo.

-Biyombo’s Nike contract was 27,500 euros, limiting Crespo’s recovery to about $5,500 (plus interest).

Crespo also annexed Biyombo’s deposition transcript, which was a fun read.  Most NBA players do not sit for 200-page interviews and we get some real background on Bismack’s life.  He speaks French, English, Spanish, Swahili, and Lingala.  In the Congo, he was a great soccer player but transitioned to basketball  at age-14.  At age-16, Biyombo got his first pro contract but was playing in the real boondocks (Yemen) making $600 per month before he was discovered by Crespo.

Biyombo’s father, an IT specialist, worked with Crespo on a contract in Spain.  The contract was not particularly generous and Biyombo said he had virtually no spending cash, though his team would pay for food and lodgings.  Without cash, he did borrow from Crespo for some living needs and he admitted that Crespo helped with the transition the United States and with finding agents.

Crespo brought Biyombo to Rose.  Interestingly, Crespo became angry when Biyombo asked Rose questions: “that’s when Igor called me back and said I was crazy for asking those questions to Leon, and what kind of power did I have.”  It was at that point that Biyombo became disenchanted with Rose and terminated the CAA deal. 

Biyombo had strong command of all the facts of his career, including the exact amount of his buyout he was responsible for.  A funny yet revealing exchange came when Crespo’s attorney  asked Biyombo about the recent big contract he signed with Orlando:

Q:  What are the terms of that [Orlando] contract?

A:  It’s a four-year contract.

Q:  What is the compensation per year?

A: 17 million.

Q:  Per year?

A: Uh-huh.

Q:  Times – does it increase each year, or [its] flat 17 per year.

A:  Times four.

Q:  Is that a guaranteed contract, or is it—

A:  It is guaranteed.

Q:  You have good agents.

A:  They are.  That’s why I love them.

During the rest of the deposition, Biyombo tried to cast Crespo’s costs as minimal while Crespo’s attorney juxtaposed Biyombo’s current huge salary to Crespo’s relatively more modest claim.

Summary judgment and settlement

In 2019, Biyombo moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint (this is different from the earlier motion to dismiss the complaint as a matter of law).  Biyombo argued that Crespo could not show any endorsements existed  that were covered by Crespo’s agreement and that any earnings were more than offset by the huge buyout that Biyombo had to pay to get to the NBA.

Crespo countered that he had tangible out-of-pocket expenses, including hotels, trainers, and meals and made an alternative exotic argument regarding a “mistake of fact” that voided the agreement and entitled Crespo to additional expenses through 2015.  The court swatted away the odd “mistake” argument but found that Biyombo had to go to trial on the 20% of the 2011 Nike deal for 27,500 Euros. 

As for expenses incurred by Crespo, the court dismissed any costs incurred while Crespo was already receiving commission for salary but NOT for expenses incurred when no commissions were being paid In another twist, Fuenlabrada paid Crespo 58,200 euros for Biyombo’s services but Crespo had to sue the team to obtain a money  judgment to enforce the deal (who said getting paid was easy?).  Since the record did not delineate these facts, the court held that these could be determined at trial.

Shortly after the court’s decision, the case settled for undisclosed terms.  It’s clear that the court made an easy roadmap for the settlement terms (ie 20% of the Nike deal plus any expenses incurred in years where Crespo wasn’t paid a commission by anyone).

Are there any good guys?

There are sharply different stories presented by Crespo and Biyombo.  Crespo’s version is that he discovered and invested in Biyombo, only to be jilted the second Bismack hit the big time.  Bismack’s story is that he was an indentured servant and Crespo demands were burdensome and he was not acting in good faith.  Based on the available documents, here’s what I found happened:

-Biyombo was toiling in Yemen for $150 per week as a teenager when Crespo helped him get to Europe

-Devoid of leverage, a teenage Biyombo signed an onerous deal with Crespo

-Biyombo made it to Spain but was essentially playing for cost-of-living

-Crespo made huge efforts to get Biyombo to the NBA only for Bismack to abruptly fire Crespo when it looked like the deal with CAA was shady

-Crespo might’ve screwed up Biyombo’s buyout (we don’t have any info on Crespo’s leverage on the deal with Fuenlabrada, so it is possible the buyout was standard and not negotiable)

-Crespo paid at least $165,000 to prop up Biyombo and was paid about $60,000 from Fuenlabrada. 

-Bismack has made about $89 million in his NBA career (that Orlando contract was a bit crazy to be honest) and he could easily pay Crespo to go away, regardless of the merits of the case

-We don’t know what Crespo settled for but probably barely broke even on his investment

-Biyombo is a smart and thoughtful guy who seemed very aware of where he came from and where he might be going.  Once he had the leverage, he dumped those he considered bad actors

The entire situation is distasteful.  Crespo did help Biyombo but the lack of rules to protect young African players permitted this entire dispute to simmer.  To be fair, there are plenty of agents and pseudo-agents who try to get their hooks in young American players too.  It also appears that the NBA and FIBA are trying to make African player development less haphazard.   In the end, Biyombo was sympathetic on the merits in his dispute with Crespo.  The real story that stuck with me, however, is that Biyombo has gone from Yemen to $89 million in about 12 years.  That’s amazing and he does have reason to love BJ Armstrong.