But first, we wade into Ricky Rubio's bog.
The Prodigy Strikes Back: When the air takes on that distinctly international scent of FIBA Basketball, you know it's time for a Ricky Rubio argument to erupt. The Ricky conversation has always been contentious, but clearly the results of the 2009 NBA Draft have further polarized the discourse. Rubio did himself no favors by avoiding the workout circuit in the run-up to the draft, and his wishy-washy reaction to landing in star-starved Minnesota painted him in unflattering light.
That said, Ricky was simply terrific in Euroleague and ACB competition this year, showing the attributes which made him the No. 5 pick in a good draft. He's back, hoping to help Spain defend its FIBA World Championship title. The spotlight will be as bright as ever with Jose Calderon ruled out, launching Ricky into the starting role. Per usual, American players raved after Rubio's performance in Sunday's tight warm-up game; the replication of what fellows like Chris Paul said after Ricky's 2008 Olympic gold medal game is eerie.
That said, in the Sunday warm-up, the one which American players raved about, Rubio had seven points, three assists and four turnovers. That's not exactly incredible output.
And here lies the ongoing concern with Rubio: is he a basketball ingenue, or is he a sideshow? The brilliant, almost casual no-look behind-the-neck pass to Rudy Fernandez in the closing seconds -- here, take a look at the six- and 26-second marks:
That is absurd on so many levels. Chris Paul does not make passes like that. Derrick Rose sure as Hades does not make passes like that. To deliver a ball in that fashion, in that situation, at this age -- it's straight-up Mozartian.
But Jason Williams passed like that, and one could argue Ricky's countryman Sergio Rodriguez can pass like that. That's where Rubio loses advocates -- a certain brand of stodgy American fan sees those passes as not just creative flourishes in an artistic sport, but signs of weakness, as if the cleverness of the dime is meant to mask deficiencies elsewhere on the court.
A certain brand of observer actually takes offense at the overly florid pass, and thinks it bespells a rejection of meat-and-potatoes, bounce-pass, John Stockton basketball.
It's as if Bob Cousy never existed!
Rubio will be fine when he gets to the NBA. Maybe he won't be an MVP candidate, but neither is Deron Williams, and he's doing pretty well for himself. Just because David Kahn likes a player doesn't mean all reasonable people have to take the opposite tact. You can appreciate the potential of Ricky and bemoan his situation at the same time. It's what we do for Chris Paul, after all. (TZ)
Protips for Heisley: Among the most amazing things Michael Heisley said during his burning-down-the-house interview with Chris Vernon of 730 Fox Sports Radio in Memphis Monday is that he, the owner of an NBA franchise worth roughly $250 million, had never looked at the league's collective bargaining agreement, the document which governs teams' relationships with players. That's why he didn't know about the 20-percent rookie scale bonus until this year -- one of his basketball people mentioned it to him, and he wondered why he wasn't using it.
In the spirit of helping Heisley discover the joys of the CBA, which hundreds and hundreds of fans have read with enthusiasm, here are some other notes he should be made aware of:
* The league helps pay for veterans on minimum contracts. Want to save some money? Sign a few veterans to play on minimum contracts. This season, the league will reimburse you anything the difference of their salaries and $884,293. They do this every year, though the amount changes a bit. Say you sign Rashad McCants to a one-year, minimum-salary deal. He will make $947,907. But the league, under a CBA clause aiming to promote the signing of veteran players, will pay for $63,614 of that. So you'll only end up paying McCants $884,293. What a deal!
Casey Jacobson? He'll also cost you just $884,293. Juan Dixon? $884,293. But the great thing is that these players count for much more on the salary cap rolls. Rudy Gay's exorbitant salary nearly gets you to the minimum payroll threshold -- why bother with Tony Allen? Just sign a bunch of minimum-contract fellows and reap the rewards!
* Restricted free agency gives you power. It's clear no one has told you, Mr. Heisley, about restricted free agency, considering the Grizzlies withheld qualifying offers for Hakim
Unfortunately, you don't quite get the rules, because you forfeited with Warrick and Brewer and fell victim to the powerless Boba Fett in the Gay negotiations. Don't sweat -- this happens in Risk! all the time, when a newbie stacks armies on Mexico for no good reason, considering they hold both Americas. You just need to brush up on the rules. I'll refer you to Article XI of the CBA for more info.
* You can renounce your rights to Xavier Henry. Want to really play hardball with Henry and his agent Arn Tellem? Renounce your rights to him. That will knock him off the salary scale, and once he realizes that no one else in the league thinks he's worth a damn -- you did intimate in your interview Monday that if Memphis wasn't so kind as to draft him No. 12 he could have fallen into the mid-20s -- Henry will be begging you to sign him to a minimum contract. You know, teams don't actually have to sign their rookies to rookie-scale contracts. Stern isn't holding a gun to your wallet. Take your ballsy, courageous stand to its illogical extreme. Waive Henry. Save money. If no one else in the league is using this loophole, that's their problem. There's a reason you're a billionaire and that schlump Wyc Grousbeck isn't. (TZ)
FIBA Quiz Bowl: Spain-based HoopsHype, a site that has over the years become a hoops rumor bible, enterprised out an escapade at Team USA's media availability last weekend in Madrid. The goal: see what the Americans knew about their competition in the FIBA World Championship.
Verdict: not so much. Derrick Rose thinks Juan Carlos Navarro played on the Raptors, Stephen Curry can't name a single non-NBA player in the tournament, and Lamar Odom can't remember that Yugoslavia won the 2002 Worlds. And, though it isn't explicitly stated, this is obviously aimed at making us shake our heads at the lack of respect for the international game our best and brightest have.
Of course, that's the point of Leno's signature Jaywalking bit too. The problem with Jaywalking, where Leno asks everyday people on the street questions they should know the answers to, is that it reflects an audience. Leno has built his career on the backs of folks who can't tell you whether Rutherford B. Hayes was a U.S. president or syrup pioneer. Likewise, the community of NBA fans -- these players included -- has never really needed to keep up with international basketball.
Why should Rose be able to answer whether Darko Milicic is playing in the Worlds, or where Navarro played during Rose's college season? Why does Curry need to be able to name an international coach? Can the average NBA fan do either? Can Navarro himself tell you who won the World title in 2002? Has Jay Leno heard of Rutherford B. Hayes?
The telling snip is that Jim Boeheim, Syracuse coach and assistant to Mike Krzyzewski with the U.S. program, can't answer most of the questions either. Who exactly do we expect to ace this test in order to make us feel good and superior? Does it really help Team USA's chances if Lamar Odom can tell you about what Ruben Magnano has done for Brazil, or if Stephen Curry can wax on the return of Dusan Ivkovic?
FIBA does not sponsor a quiz bowl. It's a basketball tournament, and while it'd be nice to show a bit more respect for the international game and its stars, in the end, it doesn't matter enough for anyone to take offense. (TZ)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.