TrueHoop: League-Wide Issues

Openly gay player not so distracting

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
9:35
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Jason Collins
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
In Brooklyn, Jason Collins is making history evidently without harming the team.


NBA front office people, even the ones who swore they were socially progressive, fretted -- in various unattributed conversations -- that if they signed an openly gay player like Jason Collins it might be good for humanity, but bad for the team.

Why? Because the issue of the gayness would be a distraction.

The real-life research into that assertion is underway in Brooklyn, and the early returns are that there was never anything real to worry about.

Stefan Bondy reports in the New York Daily News that -- while Collins has endured the taunts of one unnamed opposing team "knuckelhead," (in Collins' words)-- it's tough to make the case Collins' public sexuality has harmed the Nets in any way.

Still a fringe rotation player whose main job is delivering fouls, Collins’ No. 98 jersey became the top seller on NBA.com, even as the media attention has died down to the point that he’ll leave a practice or locker room without an interview request.

Perhaps more than anything, the blending in will be the lasting legacy of Collins’ trailblazing stint which was put off until after the All-Star break, in part because of fears around the league that he’d be a distraction.

The Nets (35-31) certainly don’t seem distracted. They’re 10-3 since signing Collins, winners of 10 straight at Barclays Center ahead of Friday's game there against the Celtics.

“Not just for myself, but I think for everyone. This shows that ‘distraction’ is B.S. That it’s about the team, it’s about the sport,” said Collins, who signed for the rest of the season last week. “I hope this shows all players that you can still have your life off the court and not have to hide anything. And still have your life on the court or on the field or on the ice, I guess, in hockey. That’s a credit to my teammates and the entire Nets organization from ownership to coaching to teammates to everyone.”

Union reforms well underway

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
7:46
PM ET
By Chris Paul
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Clippers guard Chris Paul is the president of the National Basketball Players Association, and is writing in response to an Op-Ed on TrueHoop from agent Jeff Schwartz.

I am just one of 450 players fortunate enough to be a part of the NBA; all of us are playing the game we love, in front of the best fans in all of sports. As we move into the second half of the season, I can tell you that my teammates and competitors around the league have an intense and primary focus -- putting it all together in the stretch run to the playoffs. Win or lose, these are the moments we work for all year long.

And while what happens on the court is essential, I have another privilege off the court -- to lead my fellow players as President of the National Basketball Players Association. As a member of the L.A. Clippers, my job is to compete fiercely against the other guys in the league, but as the elected head of our union, my role, which I take with the utmost seriousness, is to protect the interests of every player, and to preserve the health and integrity of the game of professional basketball.

I serve with player representatives from every team and with an Executive Committee of players who spend countless hours worrying about everything from critical business operations and necessary benefits and assistance for our players to the overall image and reputation of the league. While more people follow the game of basketball than follow the business of basketball, without question the NBA is a serious business, and one that wouldn't exist without the commitment of our players. Alongside our partners in this endeavor -- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and team owners -- my fellow players and I accept and welcome our responsibilities for growing the game and enhancing the fan experience now, and for long after we've retired.

Working with our Acting Executive Director Ron Klempner, we've spent the past year reviewing and reforming the core policy infrastructure of our union, creating an organization that is strong, strategic, transparent and absolutely accountable to our players. Most notably, over the past many months, the NBPA's Executive Committee has been engaged in an extensive process and exhaustive search for a new Executive Director to lead the day-to-day operations of the union. For your average fan, this may not sound so important, but for our players, it's a big deal. Our next NBPA Executive Director will help define and shape the decisions that will govern the direction of the NBA in the decades ahead.

As ball players, we know a lot about recruiting, so in an effort to conduct a thorough and professional search, we partnered with outside consultants to identify over 200 professionals from the worlds of sports, law, labor and business who might be qualified to lead our union. Our Executive Committee has devoted the time, resources and energy necessary to narrow down this quality pool of potential candidates. During our All-Star Weekend Winter Meeting, we devoted virtually all of our time together to discussing the process that we've engaged in, and the procedures for considering and voting on our next Executive Director. We also heard from our leading candidates for the position to date, and players attending were able to take their measure.

I've been encouraged by the passionate interest in the outcome of these deliberations -- player agents, corporate sponsors, team owners, sports journalists and NBA fans. And while some of these interests have been critical or skeptical of the very deliberate steps we've been taking in this process, it's a testament to the commitment and passion we all have to protect our players and ultimately the game we all love so much. But make no mistake, the decision about our next Executive Director will be made by NBA players, in a process that has been and will continue to be open, transparent, painstaking and professional.

One of our greatest challenges as an organized group of players is managing the logistics that require us to be constantly moving throughout the country. However, we're in the last stages of implementing a plan that will allow every player to consider the candidates, discuss their merits with teammates and fellow union members and very soon, vote on new leadership for the NBPA. The process has taken time, but we know it has been time well spent.

Speaking on behalf of our Executive Committee and player representatives, getting this right has been far more important than just getting it done. This decision will be important to every current player, to our players in the years to come and to the sport of basketball itself. I'm excited and confident about the outcome, as the result will produce the strongest and most-qualified NBPA Executive Director to lead us into a great future for the NBA and our fans.

Process for NBPA's search must change

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:21
AM ET
By Jeff Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Editor's note: Jeff Schwartz is a prominent NBA agent. This is his first guest post for TrueHoop.

As a longtime and ardent supporter of the National Basketball Players Association, I am deeply troubled by the clandestine process to date in the search for the union's next executive director.

This is a critical hire for the players, who have been impacted so negatively by the most recent collective bargaining agreement. Salaries are down leaguewide, contracts are shorter and include less guaranteed money than they once did, and free-agent movement has been curtailed significantly at a time that NBA franchises are reaching record valuations. Leadership from the union's next executive director is essential to the ability of current and future generations of NBA players to restore many of the critical benefits that were lost in the last round of negotiations. But here we are again witnessing a search marked by the sort of troubling secrecy that has been synonymous with the NBPA for years.

One of the most frequent complaints voiced by players and agents against the previous regime was the union's obsession with secretive practices and compartmentalization. The expectation moving forward was that the NBPA would start to insist on transparency in everyday business operations and in the search for its next leader. The NBPA, however, has unbelievably yielded again to opaque methods in choosing the next union leader. This approach can no longer be tolerated.

The only way to repair the damage that has already been done, in my view, is to bring an immediate stop to the current process and then start the executive-director search over from scratch with a much broader approach.

Transparency in NBPA matters is essential for the healthy functioning of the union and for restoring the confidence and trust of players, agents and the public. Aside from a short meeting at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans -- which only a small percentage of players attended -- information on the search process has been withheld from anyone beyond the union's nine-player executive committee and a handful of NBPA staffers. No one else has been provided information about who was considered for the position, what qualifications were sought from the candidates, and how those qualifications were valued. Aside from the executive committee, furthermore, no one else has been afforded the opportunity to meet with and/or screen any of the purported candidates.

Despite the fact that it was widely reported in the media during All-Star Weekend that there are two finalists for the position, their identities have yet to be publicly disclosed. I've also spoken personally with a number of qualified candidates who either dropped out of the search due to the cumbersome process or say they were ruled out of the search without explanation. This is far too important a decision to be made via such an uneven process.

The next executive director should not be selected by a small group operating in a cone of silence. Players and agents alike should be involved in the process. They should be asked to identify possible candidates, provide their input regarding candidates and, most importantly, contribute to the composition of a list of finalists that is openly distributed to players and agents for consideration and vetting before any candidate is put forward for a vote. The union's announcement at All-Star Weekend that the process will proceed with players receiving video presentations from the two reported finalists is a rushed process at best and a manipulation of the process at worst. Players and agents have the right and responsibility to meet and question candidates face-to-face.

As strange as this sounds to me, I recognize that the prospect of involving player agents in this process is seen as a thorny issue by some in the union. I would counter by saying that the interests of agents and the players they represent, both individually and collectively, are indivisibly intertwined. Agents stand with their clients on the front lines of CBA negotiations with the NBA and represent players' interests during the draft and in contract negotiations with NBA teams. As such, we are stakeholders in this sport on a parallel plane with our clients and should have a voice in determining the NBPA's next leader. And from a strictly economic standpoint, no one is better versed in understanding what it will take for a new executive director to be successful in negotiating with the NBA than the agents.

All the proof you need can be found in the limitations of the current CBA. If the union and executive committee members had listened to some of us during labor negotiations in 2011, perhaps today our players would be rightfully sharing a larger piece of the NBA economic pie. Instead, our players will lose billions in revenue over the life of the current CBA thanks to the 7 percent decrease in their share of basketball-related income from the previous CBA, as well as the knock-on effects of shortened contracts and an increasingly punitive luxury-tax system on NBA teams that acts as a de facto hard cap.

At a time when some are projecting that NBA franchise values will cross the $1 billion threshold in the near future, only 58 players in the league are earning in excess of $10 million annually. Only six players are earning more than $20 million -- and five of those six players signed their original contracts under the guidelines of the previous labor deal. In Major League Baseball, by contrast, 22 players will make $20 million or more this upcoming season.

The union's interim executive director stated recently that there is a "healthy middle class” in today's NBA, with an average salary this season of $5.6 million and more than half of the league's nearly 450 players earning more than $2.6 million. But that “healthy middle class” is greatly exaggerated, with 72 percent of NBA players earning at or below the league average salary and 47 percent making less than $2.6 million.

Many of the fundamental benefits that players struggled for decades to achieve have been wiped out by the deal that ended the 2011 lockout. What is the union's strategy to reverse these trends? As the NBA moves forward into what we all hope will be a period of sustained growth and prosperity, it is incumbent upon the union to give its players every opportunity to share fairly in that growth and prosperity. The selection of the executive director who will lead the NBPA in this critical time in its history is crucial to making that happen.

The process leading to that selection, accordingly, must involve all of us who are concerned with the well-being of NBA players. The players have earned the right to find the most astute union head to protect and expand their interests in the 21st century. The next 10 years in the NBA are poised to be enormously profitable thanks to the fast-rising valuations of media rights and the global demand for the sport of basketball. The players have to make sure they are not left behind. The best way to do this is to bring the current process to an immediate halt and relaunch the executive director search again with the involvement of a larger group that includes the agents.

Jeff Schwartz is the president of Excel Sports Management. Excel's NBA clients include Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Tyson Chandler and Kemba Walker.

1-on-1 with Adam Silver at Sloan

March, 1, 2014
Mar 1
2:59
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com

Meet the new NBA

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
11:26
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Adam Silver
AP Photo/Bill HaberNew commissioner, new rules.
David Stern is from the Napoleon Bonaparte/Danny DeVito school: small man, big impression. He may not be large, but he's gargantuan.

On the flight to New Orleans for the first Sternless All-Star Game of my career I had a fleeting thought: Was All-Star Weekend possible without Stern? Or, for that matter, was the NBA? Maybe Stern was everything. CEO-as-bedrock.

So it's no surprise the lion's share of the news that Adam Silver is the new NBA commissioner has been built around the idea that Stern stepped down after three decades. Stern's absence has been the real headline. To the extent Silver has been defined it has generally been versus Stern -- for instance, he's taller, younger, more of a consensus-builder, etc.

A couple of weeks into the Silver Age, however, what's emerging is that there's a lot more to the new commissioner than the mere fact that he's not the old commissioner.

And in fact, the early evidence is that he'll be making his mark profoundly and quickly.

At Stern's final board of governors' meeting in October, a major function of which was the transfer of power to Silver, NBA executives suddenly began saying, repeatedly, that the worst reason to do something is because that's the way it has always been done.

It was not something I had ever heard them say before, and while it sounds canned, in fact it's a line that comes with huge implications. It means, essentially, that everything is up for review. It invites questions, which is an awkward thing to invite unless you intend to have answers.

Evidently it wasn't just corporate-speak, either. As Silver's agenda comes to light, it fits a theme: innovation. Silver addressed an invite-only crowd of powerbrokers (Mark Cuban, Vivek Ranadive and a few hundred others) at the Tech Summit in New Orleans on All-Star Friday. The talk was off the record, but word that everyone came away with from the conference was "innovation."

"He laid it down," a grinning team executive said in the hallway after hearing Silver talk. "It's a brand-new day."

Saturday, in his first major news conference, Silver sent more signals of change. Sponsorships on jerseys? "It ultimately will happen." The draft lottery? "The system's not perfect right now."

In a league that has long been dominated by lawyers, that counts as crystal-clear communication.

Meanwhile, the keepers of the game's rules, league executives Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe, disclosed on TrueHoop TV that their aim is to have real-time, off-site video review as soon as next season. Later it emerged that NBA personnel have already been building and rehearsing in a studio in New Jersey, stocked with a vast array of screens and digital tools. That's happening.

A couple of weeks into the job, D-Leaguers are wearing "performance analytic devices" in games, something that is still banned in the NBA. Things that have long been ideas are now happening.

Asked about all kinds of radical things -- speeding up the game, enlarging the court, 4-pointers -- Vandeweghe and Thorn sounded surprisingly open-minded tones.

"Players are faster, they're bigger, they're stronger. Coaches are smarter. ... With that you evolve the rules, too," Vandeweghe said.

But that's not to say Silver, a noted consensus builder, isn't aware that change can be scary. "People keep encouraging me to do new things," says Silver, addressing a question about the NBA's controversial new T-shirt style jerseys. "And then when we try new things, they say we've lost our minds."

There's almost no chance the NBA will look in five years like it does now.

Roy Hibbert's return to third grade

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
11:10
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The NBA says the third-graders at the Paramount School of Excellence in Indianapolis had no idea Roy Hibbert was coming to school. The results are wonderful, and will debut on TV later today.

The invisible battle

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
2:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Almost every possession of every NBA game, the two teams fight and scrap for a precious strip of territory that runs right down the middle of the floor. David Thorpe narrates the battle.

 video

James Harden settles in as a star

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
10:42
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
James Harden
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Sport"I’m still new to this whole 'star player' thing" says the Rockets' leading scorer, James Harden.
The most famous beard in the NBA was getting a touch-up, and it needed it: In minutes, it would be starring in a major ad campaign.

“I’m super selective,” said James Harden from the stylist’s chair on the Houston set of the ad shoot, “about who trims my beard.”

It was an off day in mid-January, and Harden was in full NBA-leading-man mode. It's not just that the iconic global brand on his chin was being groomed. It's routine offseason trips to Asia on behalf of sneaker companies, his status as a shoo-in All-Star, his highlight-ready score-from-anywhere game, his flirting with the unofficial "NBA's best shooting guard" title. On top of all that, Harden had a reporter on speakerphone and an assortment of “people” hovering at the ready -- from Foot Locker, from various agencies -- to fetch things or chime in to protect Harden, the beard or the brand, as necessary.

Although Harden has a disarmingly low-key way of talking -- part of his appeal is everyday nonchalance -- his message can veer into star territory. At one point, he circled back to add “you know, me and Dwight,” after, accidentally or not, calling the Rockets “basically my own team.”

And the commercial he's in the middle of making pivots, with a wink, on the notion that Harden is incredibly famous.



Of course, there’s nothing wrong with one of the best basketball players in the world acting and talking like one of the best basketball players in the world. Harden is a business worth many millions. He is the centerpiece of a team that’s hanging tough in a stacked Western Conference. He is one of the most skilled scorers in the game. He is all that.

The surprising part of Harden’s place in the spotlight is that Harden was known, not long ago, for the opposite.

Less than two years ago, Harden was a delightful young surprise off the Thunder's bench, and his GM in Oklahoma City, Sam Presti, was telling The New York Times that what made Harden special was that fitting into a team was “really more appealing to him than being a focal-point player.”

If that was wishful thinking from a GM hoping to hold his contending squad together, it didn't sound like it. Everyone in the organization, including Harden, talked like that. It was believable, and, to those fans who prefer players who don't act like millionaires, delightful. Here was a player you could love for his jaw-dropping highlights, his blue-collar attitude or both.

Then, in the summer of 2012, coming off an NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat, the Thunder faced a dilemma. Assorted hard realities -- no team has ever had three maximum-contract wing players, the owners were feeling a financial pinch, the team was destined for heinous salary-cap and luxury-tax issues -- drove Presti to offer Harden less than a max deal to remain with the team.

When Harden declined, he was promptly traded to the Rockets, causing an uproar that still simmers. “If the Thunder could have kept Harden” is one of the league’s enduring memes.

In Houston, famously analytical general manager Daryl Morey was ready to pounce. He had examined Harden’s production every which way and saw the elite double-team-drawing scorer his team sorely lacked. The Rockets were only too happy to give Harden all the dollars, minutes and touches any All-Star could dream of. And, more than any other move, nabbing Harden made Morey's early career. Although there will always be grousing about Harden’s defense (it’s not great) and his high usage rate (he shoots a lot) -- not to mention the coming barrage of "What has he won?" critiques that are standard for ringless All-Stars -- there's no disputing that Harden is a top-tier NBA scoring talent, and now he's a Rocket.

Yet Harden remains a source of anguish. The Thunder had the closest thing the NBA has to a fairy tale -- all those supertalented young Durants, Westbrooks, Hardens and Ibakas putting the team first. A lot of NBA watchers and Thunder fans liked the idea of Harden sticking around for the long haul as an icon of good-natured ego management. A lot of people wanted the dream of that Thunder team to last forever. Even Harden sounds wistful at times, saying, for instance, that he wishes the team could replay Game 2 of the Finals the Thunder lost to the Heat.

But it's over. And, in part, Harden plays the hero in that story -- as the player everyone wanted. At the same time, he's part villain. His insistence on more dollars helped bring it all to an end. At times, Harden has been reluctant to discuss his transition from Oklahoma City backup to Rockets leading man, but, from the beard stylist's chair on the set of a commercial shoot in Houston, he was gracious enough to address it in some detail. The conversation has been edited for length.




Can you talk? Are you allowed to move your jaw while you’re getting a beard trim?

Yeah. Little movements. But I can do it.

Challenging environment.

Right.

Do you have a beard-care strategy?

No strategy. I just let it grow. It’s got a mind of its own. If it needs trimming, it gets trimmed. I’m super selective about who trims my beard. My barber usually does it to make sure it’s fresh. But if he’s not around, then I usually comb it a lot and occasionally trim it myself.

Take me back to June 12, 2012. You were up 1-0 over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, and I think, if you asked Vegas, people would have bet that the Thunder were about to reel off multiple championships. What were you feeling like that day?

Oh. Three more. Three more, and our next game is at home. We’re going to win that game, and try to take care of business in Miami. Three games away from a championship is closer than ever. Seems like everything slipped away from there.

I guess the vast majority of NBA players never get to that point.

Right. It’s so tough in this league. You’re talking about championships, and some players go 10, 15 years without even making the playoffs. So it’s difficult. You have to cherish it every single time that you’re there.

Did you picture it? Did you picture winning it all?

Of course! Of course we pictured it. Like I said, we were there. We needed three more games. Our Game 2 was at our home court, and it was tough to beat us there. We would have to steal two in Miami. And if we didn’t, we would come back home. Like I said, it seemed like it just slipped away from there, and we lost four straight.

Miami did a pretty good job in just doing what they did. They were in that situation the previous year, and so they kind of knew, you know, how to play and especially on the road in the Finals. They stole one! And then they came home and took care of business at home.

If you had won that year, would you be in Oklahoma right now?

I have no idea. It’s a great question. I wish we could go back and play Game 2 again.

Then you had that crazy summer of contract uncertainty. I know you played it cool, but it must have turned your stomach a little not knowing what was going to happen.

No, not really. That summer was pretty busy for me. I didn’t really have time to think about it. Right after the Finals, it was off to USA Basketball for the entire summer, so I really didn’t have much time to think about it.

We started discussing it right after the Olympics. That’s when the discussions really started to begin.

It ended up they had some salary cap and money concerns and didn’t offer you as much as you could make elsewhere. If the money had been equal and you could choose OKC or Houston, where would you have chosen?

Um. It’s a tough question. It’s a tough question.

I don’t know.

Like I said, I grew in Oklahoma City. They taught me a lot. Now I’m in Houston, I’ve got my own, basically, my own team. You know, me and Dwight. It’s kind of different situations. Oklahoma City: came off the bench. Now, I’m starting. There’s a larger role. Both are great situations.

I found this old Sam Presti quote: “James really wanted to be a part of something … [being part of something bigger] was really more appealing to him than being a focal-point player. We loved that mentality. We thought it was a really mature outlook.” Was that a phase? Was it never really the case?

Definitely that was the case. Winning is the most important thing. Winning is how anybody gets recognition. We already had our groove. We had me coming off the bench, the starters did what they did. Everybody felt comfortable in their role. That’s how it worked.

I fit in, and I bought in. And it was good for us.

Could it have ever lasted? One thing someone explained to me, that makes sense to me, is that no team has three max wings. It has never happened. If you had gotten there first, and Kevin Durant had arrived later, it would have been a no-brainer that he would have looked for his own team because he’s Kevin Durant. That you happened, by random chance, to get there later, doesn’t make it weird that you’d like to run your own team, because you’re James Harden.

I didn’t look at it that way. Like I said, those were my brothers; we were focused on one thing, and that was winning. If I had to take a backseat, I was comfortable with it. Just ’cause, you know, the most important thing was winning.

You have this incredible array of ways you score. Jabs, step-backs, Euro-steps, floaters, hesitations ... how does that evolve? Does it come from the offseason? Does it come from watching film? Do you steal from other players? Do you have a personal coach who helps you with that? Is it Rockets staff, do they help you develop it?

All of the above. I do a lot of work in the summertime. I have coaches helping me out with the Rockets. I watch a lot of film and see how defenders are guarding me. Even during the season, every single day I’m constantly working on something in my game. I’m still new to this whole "star player" thing, so I have to be on point at all times. Just me working every single day is going to help me out.

If you work on something alone, how do you know it’s going to work with defense there? What are the signs of a good maneuver?

Just by watching film. Like I said, by watching film and seeing how different defenders are guarding me and different counters to how they’re guarding me. Obviously, it’s a lot different when they’re there, but if you focus on the move and you go hard enough, it doesn’t matter if the defender’s there or not.

How deep is your shooting range? If they had 4-pointers that were 35 feet or whatever, would you take ’em?

I would probably take ’em. But not often. Not often. I’d leave that to other guys in the league.

People can do it though, right? In practice, people can hit very long shots.

Oh yeah, definitely. I see it all the time. I see it all the time. But I wouldn’t be one of those guys to take a lot of 4-pointers.

Does your left hand, still, at this level, get you buckets from the fact that people are used to guarding righties?

Yes.

Us lefties are very rare. So, um, I don’t know if people forget sometimes that I’m left-handed or whatever, but it’s difficult to guard.

What was your role in recruiting Dwight?

Very small. I guess Dwight knew his choices and options and what he wanted to do and where he wanted to spend his career, and he chose Houston for the reasons that, you know, he did. As far as that we have a lot of options and a lot of growth. I guess he felt this was the right fit for him.

I saw that, when teams were pitching Dwight, some people told him that James Harden uses the ball just as much as Kobe does, so he shouldn’t go play with the Rockets because he won’t get the ball. How does that make you feel?

Uhh ... I mean, I never heard that. But I handle the ball a lot. A lot. As far as bringing the basketball up. But I’m definitely a willing passer. I would rather average 18 points and 10 assists than 28 points.

So, whatever it takes to win, that’s the kind of team player that I am. You know, my job is to make my teammates happy, and Dwight happy.

Harrison Barnes' new brand: Bust?

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
11:19
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Harrison BarnesRocky Widner/Getty ImagesAfter building a buzz last postseason, Harrison Barnes has crashed back to earth -- hard -- in Year 2.
In a moment, Harrison Barnes reminded fans that the hype isn’t wholly empty. On Thursday night against the Clippers, he raced behind a weaving Jordan Crawford, received the pass, then soared past Willie Green for a powerful and-1 dunk. If the crowd's crazed reaction for a merely cool second-quarter jam was a little over the top, it may be attributable to a certain nervous energy regarding the Barnes situation. He’s been adrift on this roster this season, and the murmurs of doubt and disappointment have been growing louder.

As Anthony Bennett hogs the national “draft bust?” spotlight, it’s easy to forget that there are other young players under local scrutiny. In an ideal world, we wouldn't hold these young men to expectations they didn't set, but that change isn't happening anytime soon.

In Barnes’ case, the expectations don’t stem just from being the No. 7 pick. There’s more to the anxiety of “Is this it?” than his lottery status. First, Barnes didn’t storm the scene just last season as Bennett did en route to becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Barnes is coming off his rookie season, but the former No. 1-ranked recruit has been underwhelming nervous fans for years now.

Barnes played for a high-profile North Carolina program and was featured before a March Madness TV audience that dwarfs that of Warriors games. His freshman year at Chapel Hill was underwhelming, albeit mildly so. Barnes scored, but didn't do it that efficiently, and did little else. He still probably would have been a top-three pick if he had opted for the draft then, but he elected to stay a year, which worked out badly for his draft stock, if not his “brand.” Sophomore Barnes played like freshman Barnes. His "NBA body" continued to move as though animated by what draftniks might call a "low motor." His handle remained stilted, his shot remained average, and his disappearances from the team’s offensive attack remained frequent.

As Barnes drifted through his final college season, the Warriors set about a deliberate course. They tanked mightily in pursuit of a top-seven protected pick. The process was excruciating for just about anyone who followed the team closely out of either obligation or habit. It made a grim mockery of Mark Jackson’s first season as head coach as he strove to prove himself with suited stars and a massive organizational incentive to lose, lose, lose.

Barnes was the prize, the guy who would vindicate the intentional indignity of 2012. And in the 2013 playoffs, after Warriors fortunes had dramatically reversed for the better, Barnes appeared to do just that. His rookie season was uneven, but Barnes got something of a spotlight during Golden State’s first-round upset of the Denver Nuggets. David Lee went down with a hip injury, and Barnes, who had seen almost no time at power forward to that point, was called upon to be the replacement.

Barnes thrived with more space on the court, using his long strides to sail toward the rim. Denver frequently left him open beyond the arc, allowing Barnes to shoot 40.6 percent from deep in the series.

The following Spurs series didn't help Harrison’s efficiency, but it did bolster his national cachet. Tony Parker "hid" on Barnes defensively, which goaded the Warriors into bogging their offense down into repeated post-ups with their rookie. The result was plenty of points for Barnes (an average of 17.3 over the six-game series), but at a below-average 51.4 percent true shooting mark. Since raw point totals still command a lot of respect, many filed Barnes’ series as a breakout performance.

The Warriors themselves were reputed to be highly optimistic about Barnes during last summer’s training camp, even if they did bring Andre Iguodala in to take his starting spot. Rumors about Barnes' killer training camp set off yet another drum roll in a career comprised of so many anticipatory drum rolls.
[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
Rocky Widner/Getty ImagesBarnes has struggled to produce despite ample opportunities.

Barnes began this season with a foot ailment, and he’s been, to put it bluntly, quite bad so far. It's not often that you’ll see a player with a 9.95 PER get so many opportunities. Jackson continues to post Barnes up as though his high-flying wing is Al Jefferson waiting to happen. The results have been miserable, mostly because Barnes claims neither the shooting ability nor passing vision to capitalize on frequent post-ups. It’s not all Jackson’s fault, though. Barnes dribbles with the stultifying caution of someone who fears the ball might set off land mines. He also holds on to it with the slow, deliberate focus of someone consulting a Magic 8 ball. To summarize, he’s a ball-stopper, but without the gaudy individual offense that many ball-stoppers can conjure up in isolation.

Though blessed with the body of an elite perimeter defender, Barnes has shown none of the instincts this season. While it’s understandable that a younger player might struggle on defense, Barnes’ flaws on that end are highlighted by the dogged defensive efforts of less-touted second-year man Draymond Green.

Draft disappointments don’t just let fans down on their lonesome, as disappointment needs a comparison to some better, imagined outcome. Sam Bowie wouldn't be “Sam Bowie” without Michael Jordan. Perhaps the most agonizing aspect of draft pick disappointment is the emerging picture of the alternatives. As the draft pick hindsight gets more clear, less blurry, it shows Andre Drummond dunking off a high screen lob from Stephen Curry. It shows John Henson blocking a shot simultaneous with Andrew Bogut. It shows Terrence Ross claiming membership as a Splash Brother with a 51-point opus. It shows Terrence Jones as an even better stretch 4 than Barnes in the Denver series. It shows Jeremy Lamb as what Kent Bazemore was supposed to be defensively. Depending on the day, it might even show the better side of Jared Sullinger, Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten.

Barnes still has time and still has plausible excuses (remember the early-season injury?). Mark Jackson repeatedly extols his work ethic. Nobody on the team has criticized Barnes for a lack of desire or effort. If you’re hopeful about Harrison, you’ll have to lean on the subjective because the statistical profile is looking bleak. If you’re looking for optimism, you’ll have to consider what Curry said about Barnes after the victory over the Clippers: “He’s still young. He’s still trying to, you know, find his way. New role this year, obviously, coming off the bench. He’s going to get it. We still have confidence in him, we keep staying in his ear; he has confidence in himself, and obviously he’s shown that he can make a huge impact.”

Bring on the 4-pointers

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
2:19
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Tom Haberstroh has a HoopIdea for incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

The odd lottery

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
9:06
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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The idea is that the NBA draft will help the weaker Eastern conference catch up to the West. And it might. But ... some good West teams will be rewarded with much better picks than they'd get in the East. Here I reiterate a point I first learned about from Curtis Harris.

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The Nuggets take a bold step forward

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
11:49
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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NBA players' contracts require them to make a certain number of community appearances on behalf of their teams. They’ll pay visits to hospitals or schools and show up at charity functions or galas. Outside of what they do for their teams, most players will get hit up by nonprofits or organizations who want them to lend their faces, names and free time to the cause. Most of the requests are well-intentioned, but players generally don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. Nobody will force them to say yes. And if they say no, they still have a laundry list of good works performed on behalf of team and league they can cite.

That’s why the Denver Nuggets’ You Can Play spot featuring Kenneth Faried, Randy Foye and Quincy Miller is meaningful. You Can Play’s mission is to promote an inclusive environment on playing fields and in the locker rooms for gay athletes. You Can Play has forged formal partnerships with NHL, MLS and NCAA teams. A number of pro athletes such as Klay Thompson have participated in YCP videos, but the Nuggets become the first NBA team to have multiple players featured in support of the project.

As agendas go, YCP’s is radically moderate. It wants a world where gay athletes can suit up and play without fear of harassment, physical harm or having their talents passed over because of who they are.

That last item is a big one. Being on the receiving end of an epithet is an indignity, but what really terrifies a competitive gay athlete is not just the threat of physical or verbal abuse, but the prospect of never getting a rightful opportunity to perform and succeed. This discussion isn’t about being nice; it’s about being fair.

Thanks to You Can Play and many others, great progress is being made at the collegiate and high school level, but it’s been a tough season in the NBA. Jason Collins moved the conversation forward when he came out last April. Around the NBA, players have reported that his announcement inspired the most honest conversations to date about homosexuality in basketball. But the aspiration was for something much larger: bringing hypotheticals to real life.

By now, many of us wanted to be talking about how integrating a gay ballplayer into an NBA locker room was made easier, how morale was compromised at first because change is by its very nature disruptive, how that discomfort ultimately receded thanks to strong leadership and an appeal to our better selves. With Collins not on an active NBA roster, we’re not talking about those things. We can debate what role his identity as a gay man plays in that reality, but NBA executives and agents have stated that it’s a factor larger than zero.

That means that there’s work to do -- and the Nuggets, Faried, Foye and Miller are doing it. In the absence of an out gay player in uniform, the onus returns to individual teams and players to lead on the issue. Nothing in the body of the NBA charter or these Nuggets players’ contracts stipulated that they needed to, but they did.

Too many games hurt NBA's regular season

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
11:02
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Kobe BryantBarry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesThe NBA is better than ever! ... Right? The injuries, losses and forced rest are starting to pile up.
The NBA is winning. It's already a "global money machine," according to Forbes, and new TV deals will only make that sweeter.

Not to mention, it's fun! The NBA's young players include an embarrassment of promise -- not just "plenty years left" stars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but also James Harden, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and so many others. This year and every year for the foreseeable future, the playoffs will feature one amazing showdown after another. Hats off to all involved.

So, it's time to rush out and buy a ticket to a game, right?

Well ...

"Listen, I do feel badly for fans," said Jeff Van Gundy, on the phone to The Herd from San Antonio on Wednesday. "I feel awful that we make them watch back-to-back games that often turn out to be, you know, low-energy affairs. I think the league has to eliminate back-to-back games, or at least reduce the number."

So sometimes you'll see a team that's mailing it in.

But what about if you go and see a primo team, a team thick with stars, like the Heat? You'd be safe then, right?

That's a little tricky, too. "Their performance over the last couple of weeks has been totally substandard, when it comes to championship focus and effort," Van Gundy said of the defending champions. He pointed out that this is hardly the first time the Heat have mailed it in. "Now last year they also were in a point of struggle, until they ripped off that 27-game winning streak."

In other words, there are times the Heat are the best team in the land, but it's in fits and starts, not every game. They save their best efforts for certain moments, and the regular season is iffy.

That's also true of many good teams, including last year's other finalists, the Spurs. They frequently sit their best players for part or all of regular-season games, in the name of rest -- something that's emerging as a trend among cutting-edge teams.

And, evidently, with good reason! Yet again this season, stars who play long minutes, going hard all regular season, seem to be getting hurt at a bummer of a rate. Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are all out for extended periods. Dwyane Wade is in and out of the lineup. Eric Bledsoe, Kemba Walker, Al Horford, Brook Lopez, Danilo Gallinari, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday are needle-moving players who are on the shelf.

It has been a decade since a team won a title with its top players playing heavy minutes, and that's a reality that contending teams wrestle with all regular season. As much as Erik Spoelstra may want to delight fans by playing Wade every night, doing so evidently hurts his team's chances in the postseason. What would you do if you were in his shoes?

And of course, we haven't even yet mentioned the biggest problem with the regular season: A lot of the teams don't even want to be there. Every season many teams have front offices who hope the entire 82 games go by in a flash, having created intentionally putrid rosters designed to lose now, with an eye on draft picks. This season, for a lot of teams, culminates not in title hopes, but in lottery hopes. The tankapalooza is on.

Injuries. Fatigue. Forced rest. Intentional losses. Buy a ticket to a regular-season NBA game, and there's an excellent chance one or more of these factors will keep you from seeing the best basketball in the world.

There's a unifying theme, there, though. A root cause: Too many games.

The promise of buying a ticket to an NBA game is seeing the best athletes in the world at peak performance. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose ... the best players in the world are the league's most precious resource. And they are as well prepared and competitive as humans get. But the facts on the ground are that their best efforts are finite, and 82 games appears to be too many times over a year to ask them to turn it all the way on. Whether limited by injury, fatigue, schedule or strange draft rules that reward losing, the simple fact is that 1,230 regular-season games is, evidently, and increasingly obviously, more than we can reasonably expect the NBA's 400 or so athletes to produce their best. All kinds of players and teams are limited in delivering their best level night in and night out.

One of the worst strategies you can have, in this ultra-marathon, is to go all-out every minute. That, as we'll be exploring more as the season unfolds, is exactly what fans rightly want on any given night, but it's not a good long-term plan in a game where injury avoidance and rest are paramount to title chances.

So, yes, the NBA is in fantastic shape, because of its global fans who delight in the hard work and brilliance of its players, coaches and executives -- and despite the excessive and compromised regular season.

Chad Ford mocks the 2014 draft

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
2:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Can we still call it the Andrew Wiggins draft, even if a lot of teams would draft Joel Embiid higher? Chad Ford on forecasting one of the best drafts in a long time.

The NBA's "global money machine"

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:49
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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In Forbes' 2014 ranking of team values, the NBA is said to have become a "global money machine," with almost every team making money and franchises like the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls worth more than a billion dollars each. Editor Kurt Badenhausen explains.
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