The Works: Pat Riley Strikes Again, Mark Cuban Plays Monopoly
But first, Pat Riley leaves Stan Van Gundy drowning in a pool of his own sweat.
Fear and Loathing in Miami: Every once in a while, especially if you're on Facebook, you run across people trying to answer this neo-Proustian question: Who are the four people, past or present, you would invite to a dinner party?
My guest list changes all the time. But after their recent public shouting match, it's getting more and more difficult to keep Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy away from the party. Then again, I probably should have invited them in the first place. Not only would Riles and SVG provide interesting conversation, but the entertainment potential is high as it's not hard to imagine the night not ending up with them throwing fistfuls of mashed potatoes and peas at each other. I would be wise to dull the steak knives.
Then again, they don't need swords to cut each other deeply. That was done in Dec. of 2005 when Riley, with an assist from Shaquille O'Neal, threw SVG under the bus and then backed up over Van Gundy's legacy while adding to his own by leading the Heat to an NBA title.
Now, Don Riley has begun to pick at the scab. Van Gundy, who isn't Riley's punching bag any longer, fired back. Riley mentioned that the criticism, including that from Charles Barkley, was personal. Van Gundy let loose, and we paraphrase, "Damn straight it's personal. Can the lectures, Riles."
This is a fight, however, Van Gundy can't win no matter how right he is or how right he believes he is. It's a matter of public relations and public perception. As incredible and as honest as he is with the press, Van Gundy comes off as the classic shlumpy grinder. He's a guy who bends the game to his will with an impeccable white board and unassailable basketball mind.
In Riley, you have a guy who loves to live his part as impresario and hoops taste-maker. The man can coach because he can adapt. Have the best athletes on the planet? Showtime! Have a bunch of no talent hacks, with the exception of an All-Star center? Meet the early '90s Knicks. Add to that he has five rings as a head coach, all achieved in bespoke suits without breaking a sweat.
Throw out the salary cap for a moment (I'd like to) and imagine: Would Van Gundy have had a chance to lure LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Orlando? Nope. Too nervous. Too shrill. Too jealous. Too Van Gundy.
That may be the biggest rub of this whole thing. Van Gundy's excited retort stems from fear as much as it does loathing of Riley and his assemblage of max-contract mercenaries. Outside of the 15,000 true Heat fans, no one liked the signings and often weren't quiet about it.
Problem is, the Magic won't beat the Heat, even if Dwight Howard morphs into a more muscular version of Hakeem Olajuwon. That is what's really at the heart of this argument. Despite their shortcomings, the Heat have talent to burn. Riley knows it. So does Van Gundy.
The invitations, gentlemen, are in the mail. (RP)
The Benefactor, Season 2: Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has said he will donate $100,000 to the city of Dallas in order to help convince the municipality a property tax increase is not needed, according to James Ragland of the Dallas Morning News. Cuban said he felt as if the city had given him a lot over the years, and he wanted to help pay it back while potentially heading off the proposed tax increase.
Ragland, the columnist, commends Cuban, and sure, why not? Billionaires usually fight demands they fork over money to the government. This is why we have Swiss tax shelters, a permanent campaign attempting to abolish the estate tax and, some would argue, the Republican Party. For a billionaire to volunteer to cut a fat check to a government is really something.
Cuban is different, of course. He's always been a philanthropist (ask Raef LaFrentz), he's always embraced the spotlight (see: The Benefactor and Dancing With the Stars) and, well, he's a different dude. Forget about marching to the beat of his own drummer -- Cuban has a flautist in his head. That he would take this odd measure is no surprise to me.
That said, the whole idea a one-time $100,000 donation could replace the need for a property tax increase that would presumably raises millions of dollars a year is, well, cute. Cuban doesn't need just his fellow Dallas billionaires to donate $100,000 to replace the tax increase -- he'd need dozens upon dozens of such donations, repeatedly, until local property taxes can go back down. I don't see this happening, for some strange reason.
And never mind the benefits to Cuban and his richest local friends should the tax measure be defeated. Ragland notes Cuban would save several thousand dollars in taxes on his expansive mansion in Dallas should the rate remain the same. But what about American Airlines Center, of which Cuban is said to own a majority of the controlling company? The arena might very well be exempt from local property taxes -- heck, it was partially funded by local taxes.
If it is exempt from local property taxes, Cuban and Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks could do a nice service to the city by paying some fair share of arena revenue to help buoy the community that supports their teams. If the arena isn't exempt, the city council weighing the tax increase deserves to know how much the generous Mr. Cuban stands to save should the rates stay the same.
After all, Cuban's all about doing right by his city, right?. The people of Dallas deserve to know Cuban's motivations here. (TZ)
Vote Early: Yahoo!'s ace Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a wild line in a Saturday dissertation on Kevin Durant and LeBron James: "Durant isn't just taking Team USA to a title, but making himself the favorite for the 2011 MVP." I did an empty spit-take. But upon reflection, Woj is absolutely correct, and it's useless arguing that it shouldn't be this way.
In a perfect world, or in my perfect world, awards would be awarded based on objective assessments of performance. Coach of the Year would not be given to the coach whose team was the biggest surprise of the year. It'd go to the coach who coached the best. All-Defense team spots wouldn't blindly go to veterans who had won the recognition before. It'd go to the 10 best defenders in the league, be they anonymous or famous. And MVP couldn't be won in August, because the season starts in October and runs through April. Eighty-two games define the stakes, not a nine-game international tournament.
But we are human, and thus fallible, and nothing beats a good story. LeBron is not, and may never again be that good story. Thanks to "The Decision," recognition will now come in spite of James' approval numbers, not because of them. It's the opposite for KD, who has a rare zeitgeist right now, something like the combination of a Southern-bred "American Idol" winner, a gold-laden Olympic swimmer and a serial puppy rescuer.
Shoals discussed how we ought to view Durant through this burgeoning kaleidoscope of love a few weeks ago. For even the cynical, it's difficult (and un-American, frankly) to predict Durant will be LeBron the Person one day. To predict KD is well on his way to being LeBron the Player is safer, and likely more accurate.
But Woj is saying (in so many words) that LeBron the Person is allowing KD the Player and Person to catch up with LeBron the Player. In my perfect world, that sentence doesn't make sense. But in today's NBA, where how players make us feel is more important than how well they perform, the situation as it stands makes all too much sense. KD, the new darling of the free world, has a head-start on LeBron and any other MVP contenders this season. (TZ)
The Shape of Things to Come: One of the more important things to keep in mind as the world moves forward from the U.S. winning gold World Championship is not that Kevin Durant is good (we knew that) or that Andre Iguodala can play good perimeter D (and lockdown, too) or that Turkish cabbies have their version of the easy button (as in easy money).
No, one of the more important things is what's being left behind, namely the trapezoid lane, which was adopted by FIBA in 1956 and took its final bow in this tourney.
Thank goodness. Replacing it, as FIBA will, with the 16-foot rectangle that the NBA uses is a change that was long overdue. The trapezoid was an aesthetic abomination, 11-feet-10 wide (pardon 3.6 meters) at the free throw line and cumbersome six meters (19-8) at the baseline. Thin at the waist and thick at the ankles is not a good look for anything.
It forced post players away from the hoop and made the international game more of a perimeter one. There's nothing wrong with that, but considering the FIBA court is two feet slimmer than an NBA court, play along the sideline seemed squelched. It always felt as if games were being played at a local Y with a running track hanging over the court and shooting from the sides was done at your own peril. Chopping down some of the lane should free up that space.
FIBA will also nudge the three-point line back to 22-1.7 from 20-feet-6 should make it more difficult for pick-and-rolls at the top of the key resulting in wide-open looks. That extra foot-and-a-half will make a difference, especially for bigs who like to step-back and drain an easy three. Add to that, FIBA will add a restricted area under the hoop as the NBA does. Cheap charges will be more difficult to come by.
Will these changes ensure a U.S. romp in London 2012? No, Durant with a little help from LeBron and Wade should make sure of that. But when Team USA takes the court in '12, they'll take one that's far more familiar and that can't hurt. (RP)
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.