But first, why Jeff Green and Aaron Brooks aren't getting offered extensions.
Keep Passing Me By
You can keep your sky-high Kevin Durant, your cyborg point guard Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, aka Amar'e with a conscience. If anyone is to take credit for the Oklahoma City Thunder's peculiar positional formations -- outside of Sam Presti and Scotty Brooks, who set it all into motion -- it's Jeff Green.
The Thunder only started to click when, against much prevailing logic, Green was scooted over to the PF slot full-time. Green, however, proved up to the challenge. This allowed KD to settle into his natural, all-purpose three (instead of ping-ponging between the perimeter and the rough-and-tumble paint); by the time last season's playoff appearance rolled around, the two was a flex-position, inhabited by either Thabo Sefolosha's lockdown guts or James Harden's emerging offensive punch.
Does that make Green a rock, the foundation, the Jenga piece that holds the Thunder aloft? Or is he a historical accident? The Thunder's unwillingness to offer him an extension suggests the latter. With Jeff Green, then, we would be looking at a fairly unprecedented situation: a young player, expected to help anchor a team for years to come, who ends up both more valuable and more expendable than expected. Jeff Green was the ideal, if unlikely, placeholder, whose combination of skill, zeal, and willingness to try new things set the tone for the Thunder.
Except Ibaka, and Green's own limitations -- I gave up defending him during the Lakers series -- now conspire to bring him down. Young teams trying to get it together and find an identity sometimes need a unsung, improbable hero like Green to facilitate everyone else landing in the right place. That doesn't mean, though, that this player -- more fulcrum than keystone -- gets to come along for the ride. There's no reason for Green's stabilizing influence. He filled in the blanks, but those blanks aren't there anymore.
Green may not be fuming over not having had his rookie deal extended this summer, but that doesn't mean he's oblivious to the fact that KD got re-upped and he didn't. Green has vowed to play his ass off, and earn the large extension that, as part of this team's original core, he feels (TRANSITIVE PROPERTY ALERT!) he has coming his way.
The problem is, the Thunder shouldn't necessarily want to welcome back a revitalized Jeff Green. Even if he somehow takes a leap, and makes a case for himself as relevant beyond the construction of OKC's system, Presti needs money for Westbrook, and Ibaka -- while a more conventional big man -- is also an absolute monster-in-training.
It's an awkward position for the organization to be in, and the closeness of the players certainly won't help it. But Green is not as good as he is -- or, once was -- important. Even if he does live up to the reputation that he only incidentally helped create, the Thunder don't necessarily need the services of Jeff Green 2.0. Some team might, but not them. The team's evolution made him important. Ironically, though, it's now made him irrelevant, even if Green turns into a superstar overnight.
You see something similar, if not quite as wrenching, with Aaron Brooks and the Rockets.
Brooks, last year's Most Improved Player, actively wishes he were signing a new deal, rather than go restricted at the end of the year (also, it should be noted, once the new CBA has kicked in). Brooks is forgettable as a playmaker, and gets by mostly on his ability to zip across the lane before anyone notices. He put up much-needed points for two years worth of under-manned Rockets -- a rare case where "someone has to score" ended up being a pivotal part of a winning team's strategy.
With Kevin Martin on board, though, Brooks will be judged more as a point guard. By these standards, he's just not that special. That Daryl Morey re-upped Kyle Lowry over the summer didn't just send a message to Brooks, or make a statement about the kind of team he wants to field. Brooks mattered for a while, but circumstances change, and looking down the road, the Rockets could use a different kind of player at the one. Lowry doesn't need to be the focus of things to produce; he knows to be conservative in his shooting, gets to the line a bunch, rebounds and grunts, and understands how to run an offense without over-reaching.
The Rockets might miss some things about Brooks. But he's inessential, and certainly not as valuable to the team as past performance would suggest. If anything, the best thing for all parties involved is to acknowledge that teams change, sometimes in a blink. And sometimes, seemingly key players can turn out to have merely been liminal blips, or flukes that had no place in long-term plans. It sucks for Green and Brooks that they play for teams whose GMs aren't easily fooled -- and who like to think a few steps ahead. Does that mean these two should be looking to embrace their roles as NBA con men? Not sure, though that's certainly a harsh stamp to put on an athlete's best years. Maybe this is where ring-chasing offers a graceful, dignified way out.
Ring-chasing before the rookie contract is up. That's certainly a career arc we haven't seen before, at least not from players of some acclaim. Luckily for Brooks and Green, there's always going to be some GM dumb enough to keep us from reaching this Moneyball-like dystopia in the NBA. At least for the foreseeable future. (BS)
Eyes Playin' Tricks On Me
Aaron Brooks, as noted by Shoals above, is still working on his rookie deal, hoping in vain to get that all-important early extension from Houston. The real kicker? Brooks turns 26 in January, a month after LeBron James does. LeBron, of course, is on his third massive contract (worth $110 million), having already earned $62 million from the Cavaliers.
Brooks isn't the only so-called "young dude" whose age relative to LeBron's is depressing and/or hilarious. Check out this comprehensive list of "young dudes" who happen to be older than King James.
Louis Amundson, Nene, Emeka Okafor, Hakim Warrick, Kelenna Azubuike, Will Bynum, Joey Dorsey, Channing Frye, Randy Foye, Danny Granger, Devin Harris, Coby Karl, Carl Landry, Al Thornton, Ronny Turiaf, Jawad Williams, J.J. Barea, Renaldo Balkman, Andrew Bogut, Josh Boone, Bobby Brown, Rodney Carney, Quincy Douby, Ryan Hollins ...
... and the kickers: J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison. Yes, the stars of March Madness 2006 are both older than LeBron.
In the spring of 2006, LeBron finished second in MVP voting. What a world! (TZ)
The Works Season Previews: Golden State Warriors + Washington Wizards
Nobody has the entire National Basketball Association at his fingertips, and believe it or not, the brains of Msr. Ziller and Msr. Shoals are not connected by tape and electrical wire. To get prepped -- and pumped -- for the upcoming season, we will interrogate each about the darkest corners of this league. For each team, some questions. And for each question, some answers. First, the Warriors.
TZ: Should we still consider Monta Ellis the best guard on this team? He did average 25/5 last season. The others who have done that this milennium: Kobe, LeBron, T-Mac, Grant Hill, Stackhouse, Wade, Iverson and Arenas. If not, does Stephen Curry's ascension mark a paradigm shift in how we view scorers, a serious victory for efficiency over volume?
BS: I have been a tireless Monta booster since forever, and when Curry entered the league, I wished him the worst. I speak this not to trounce my credibility, but so all good readers will know what it means when I say that Stephen Curry is, definitively, better than Ellis. We don't even need to broach the tiresome, bottomless question of whether Monta's 2009-10 stats were a mirage. Curry can run the offense, has learned to make sharp, sometimes flashy, passes that take him well past caretaker, gets to the basket far more readily than had been expected, and handles marvelously in traffic. Oh, and he's an impeccable 3-point shooter. Ellis isn't bad, he's just not on the level of Curry, who is only entering his second season, and his first in an environment that doesn't scream dysfunction.
That said, Monta remains absolutely deadly when attacking the rim, or pulling back for the mid-range jumper. He lacks Curry's range, but is underrated as a rebounder (athleticism does count on long boards) and passer (just don't make him the primary decision-maker). His body control is absolutely outrageous, and who knows, in a different universe, we might be talking about him the way we do Derrick Rose. Alas, Ellis is first and foremost a scorer, and not one who has learned how to use penetration in the service of getting others involved. Or a guy who hesitates just enough to make it seem like he's surveying his options. He's not so much an antiquated form of player as simply lacking the precision, variability, and high ceiling of Curry.
Ellis could be efficient if he didn't shoulder so much of the load. He certainly has the tools for it. But Curry just does too much -- not only well, but coherently. The Warriors robbed Ellis the chance to show that he makes sense as a player. Curry requires no such context. Plug him in anywhere and he can excel. Ellis requires a little more deliberation.
TZ: Is Keith Smart a de-facto leading contender for Coach of the Year by virtue of not being Don Nelson? What would Smart have to do to screw it up?
BS: Smart coached some last year, and who knows how much he actually did behind the scenes. It's a tad bit unfair to say that Nellie leaves the team in utter shambles, since they did have injuries galore. Still, if it wasn't karma at play, Nellie did have to deal with players traumatized, and in some cases simply confused, by life under his iron fist. That's not something that goes away just because the man himself has disappeared from the bench. It's tricky for Smart: Does it make since to completely depart from Nellie's ways, or does this roster, and its mindset, require some semblance of Nellie-ball for a smooth transition? Does he even want a smooth transition? Perhaps the ideal plan is to spend the first half of the season tearing it all down, and weeding out who works for Keith Smart, his own man.
For instance, Nelson hates big men, or at least every single one he has had at his disposal since returning. The Warriors prize offseason acquisition was David Lee -- a big man Nellie might have loved, but a big man regardless. A team built around Curry and Lee is going to require scrapping much of what this team is conditioned to do, and in some cases, a rude awakening about who is capable of what in a more structured setting. Will Smart win Coach of the Year for overcoming the ghost of Nelson? Of course not, but that's the only way to meaningfully do "anything but Nelson." Boris Yeltsin was stuck with the messy business of trying to bring Russia into the capitalist world, with blessedly mixed results. He also set the stage for Vladimir Putin, who seems intent on moving the country backward. But at least Yeltsin tried. And for that, history will remember him fondly. No Coach of the Year, though.
TZ: More worthy of their substantial hype: Jeremy Lin or Reggie Williams?
BS: Reggie Williams was on the cover of Vogue?
And now, the Wizards:
BS: I have to ask this, and there's really no clever way to make it less obvious. Will Gil and Wall be the starting backcourt all season? Will it work?
TZ: I think the Wizards are committed to making Arenas+Wall work. But then again, the Kings last year were committed to making Kevin Martin+Tyreke Evans work. The draft is all about predicting the quality of the players in front of you, when it comes down to it. But in that, we forget how hard it is to assess what type of player a guy will be at the NBA level. Michael Beasley, for instance, is pretty decent at the style he played in Miami (long creator/gunner). But his style was expected to be much different, and much more valuable (as a crush-everything athlete with a jumper). So he's an obvious disappointment.
Wall doesn't run the same risk; he'll be valuable no matter if he turns into a perfect playmaking lead or a scoring dynamo. But if he's the latter, it's just not going to fit with Arenas. It's almost exactly what we saw in Sacramento. This isn't to say Evans+Martin was necessarily a failure. It simply muted the benefits of either due to overlap. Martin was no longer worth his salary value in the league's trade market or even role. So the Kings made the switch. Tyreke couldn't be TYREKE by deferring to a star scorer next to him.
That's where the peril in Wall+Gil comes, not in the backcourt's members not being good enough, but in Wall not being the type of point guard needed to bring out the best in Gil. Unfortunately for Washington, Arenas has no value on the trade market, so if he doesn't work well with Wall, he's a very high-priced bench player. But on the flip side, Kirk Hinrich looks a lot like Beno Udrih ...
BS: This team is an interesting combination of once-vital vets who have come on hard times (Arenas, Josh Howard) and youngsters we've been waiting on forever (McGee, Blatche, Yi). Are these the same, or polar opposites? A good combination, or disaster waiting to happen? Is it up to John Wall to blandly unite everyone?
TZ: It's linear, and will probably end up boring, because it looks interesting at the outset and these things (team identity especially, but also narrative) always surprise you. I can't say I understood the Howard re-signing, even at a discount; of course, the team has a gaping hole at small forward, but unless management seriously thinks a playoff berth is in order, there's no reason for him to be there.
Yi, not Wall, is the bridge here, or at least the key test case. It's hard to assess what the Wizards think of Yi since he was a cap pick-up, but he certainly was once in the McGee mold, and is now moving toward Howard (without the baggage). Truth be told, Yi's in the least interesting section of the progression: No longer a lost youth, not yet a quixotic failure.
BS: Who is this team's coach and does that even matter?
TZ: Flip Saunders! He continued his embrace of cool gadgets bought on company plastic by replacing last season's iPod Touches with full-blown iPads for the entire team, with each one carrying the Wizards playbook. Clearly, he owns AAPL stock. Also, if the Wizards tank this season (which our man Kevin Pelton thinks is likely, and is completely possible given the roster), it will be the second blow for the iPad's NBA status, after the savaging Adrian Wojnarowski gave to Daryl Morey's Bosh iPad presentation.
As to Saunders: perhaps no one (other than Gil himself) has been as damaged by the Pick 1 saga as Coach Flip. Not that the Wizards were good before the locker room face-off. They weren't, and the constant story was how mystified and disappointed Saunders was with his team. But the explosive gun story set off a chain that resulted in Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison being sold for practically nothing. Saunders went from picking his job and salary to starting Randy Foye and Nick Young multiple times.
Only Wall saved him, and can save him, at least as far as future employment and legacy go.
Presenting ... The D.C. Dischord
In terms of producing incredible and/or weird players, no American metropolis can beat Washington, D.C., now. Kevin Durant is the obvious ringleader of the D.C. NBA circus, but talents like Michael Beasley, Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert also called the District home. Add in nearby Baltimore, with Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and Donté Greene, and the area is spectacularly full of talent.
The same could be said of D.C.'s hardcore scene from the '80s on. Nothing personifies the scene like the star-studded Dischord Records label, which featured most of the best acts of the genre.
So we tabbed FanHouse managing editor Randy Kim -- a hoophead and hardcore enthusiast -- to put together the definitive theoretical tracklisting of Dischord artist songs that best fit each of our D.C.-area bred NBA players. If you're wondering, Carmelo Anthony requested and was granted a trade to team New York City (good luck with Sebastian Telfair as your point guard!), and this team's anthem is Fugazi's "KYEO."
We will not be beaten down! Take it away, GM Randy. (All links should be considered not safe for work, unless your boss is totally into loud rock music.)
Kevin Durant -- Dag Nasty, "Values Here"
When it came to D.C.H.C., Minor Threat were the LeBron-esque undisputed kings of the scene. Until Dag Nasty arrived and forced the straight-edge skinheads to have the "Who's best?" conversation far sooner than anyone imagined they'd have to.
Michael Beasley -- Void, "Who Are You"
I wake up and I see you everyday / Never hear a thing I say / I come to you with all my problems / You don't care, you won't be bothered / Who are you, why am I here? (x4) ... It's pretty easy to see Beaz writing those words on the walls of Riles' Miami office. In urine.
Rudy Gay -- Scream, "Bet You Never Thought"
Like the Grizz, Scream toiled in relative obscurity, even during its D.C. heyday. Only later when it came to light that Dave Grohl pounded the skins for this talented band did anyone take notice, but by then it was too late. Sadly, it's not a stretch to see the same happening with Gay's legacy in Memphis.
Donte Greene -- Q And Not U, "Hooray for Humans"
Angular math-rockers never came close to delivering on the hype that surrounded them and stood for a lean period in Dischord's history. None of this is to say that the same is guaranteed to be true for Greene, but let this catchy cut be his siren song.
Delonte West -- Lungfish, "Put Your Hand in My Hand"
Renowned for the intensity of his live performances, Lungfish singer Daniel Higgs teetered, lurched and growled on-stage, spewing pure mad-poet range at rapt (frightened?) audiences throughout the 90s. One likes to think that if West was standing in the crowd for one of these shows, the guns and the depression just might have been kept at bay.
Roy Hibbert -- Jawbox, "Cut Off"
J. Robbins and Jawbox were poised to be the next great Dischord band in the mid-90s until they abruptly made a jump to Atlantic Records, only to later make nice and re-release their major-label albums on Dischord. Hibbert was surrounded by hype at Georgetown as well, only to fall off upon reaching the NBA, but he now appears to have leveled off quite well.
Jeff Green -- Embrace, "Dance of Days"
There's a serious, workmanlike approach to Green's game that's similar to Embrace's direct, yet moving, emo fare. Plus, in the same way that Green is identified as KD's sidekick, Embrace was best known for being Ian MacKaye's next band after his Salad Days with Minor Threat.
Roger Mason -- The Make-Up, "They Live by Night"
Ian Svenonius and the The Make-Up were really weird and really funky, with the weird barely edging out the funk (which is probably why they wound up on Dischord). Were the Roger Mason Experience an actual band, there's no doubt they'd/he'd share a bill with these guys, with both acts hopefully both opening for Go-Go meisters E.U.
Ty Lawson -- Trusty, "Kathy's Keen"
This punchy, up-tempo pop-punk outfit from Arkansas stood out on Dischord's principled, serious-minded roster. As the only point guard on this list, Lawson gets a track as contextually unique as him, with it also being one that he can run the break to.
(Thanks again to Randy for the enthusiastic rendering of this vision.)
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.