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D-League needs to be used better for the players’ sake

Myck Kabongo, we hardly knew you.

If you missed the former Texas Longhorns star’s tour with the Texas Legends, few could blame you. It lasted all of five days and two games averaging six points before he was waived by the Legends. (By contrast, William Buford, who was taken in the same player pool, remains in Frisco, averaging 7.5 points per game.)

Kabongo’s fall from grace could be used as yet another example of athletes, particularly within basketball, who sadly fall victim to their own hype and see a promising career derailed because of it. At one time thought to be a first-round pick, he declared for the draft in 2013 following a sophomore season in Austin that saw him suspended for the first 23 games of that season for his contact with agent Rich Paul. A 14.6 scoring average in 11 games that year for the Longhorns was not enough to get him drafted, and he currently remains in limbo with no NBA experience (he was with the Miami Heat’s Summer League team and then signed with San Antonio before being cut in 2013) and stops in three D-League teams.

Chris Douglas-Roberts is another example who’s tumultuous path included a stop in Frisco. He was a second-round pick of the New Jersey Nets in 2008 after playing just one year at the University of Memphis. But Roberts is another currently unemployed player after he was traded from the Clippers to Boston and waived by the Celtics three days later. (Given how much the Celtics are desperately stocking up on young talent, that says something.)

Currently, Roberts’ six-year pro career has his best NBA season at just 9.8 points in 67 games with the 2009-10 Nets. He averaged 18.7 points for the Legends in 2013 before Charlotte signed him, praised by head coach Steve Clifford for his “toughness and experience,” but averaging 6.9 points for the Bobcats didn’t lead to much else, as he wasn’t re-signed and only averaged 1.6 points for the Clippers this season.

Kabongo and Douglas-Roberts thus join numerous projected NBA prospects that bring about one question: Would things have been different in a system where you know you start for a development team before moving to the big league instead of going there being an immediate sign that you can’t cut it in the NBA?

Basketball prep stars have made it clear that they really don’t want to play in college, having been convinced they’re being cheated by only getting a free ride to an education in exchange for the NCAA and school’s chance at making millions of dollars off their games. So they play one year expecting to declare for the draft after that. And that’s their right and choice. It’s pretty much still their best choice now so long as the NBA has its age rule of needing to be one year removed from high school – which I have advocated against for years.

The problem remains that, even with the D-League in existence, the NBA continues to force the NCAA to be its real de facto development league while continuing the culture that most prospects should enter the draft expecting to play in the big league immediately.

So with more people turning pro while still very green, the chance of a player turning out like Greg Oden or Kabongo is still more likely that turning out like LeBron James or Kevin Durant. And even if the player eventually does become an All-Star caliber player, chances are it’s going to be longer into his career than it used to be.

Consider: From 1979 to 1999, 14 number one draft picks averaged at least 18 points per game in their rookie seasons, including nine that averaged at least 20. Three others – James Worthy, Brad Daugherty and Chris Webber – went on to appear in at least five All-Star Games; Worthy was the only one of those to average less than 15 in his first season. Six of those 17 players are already in the Hall of Fame, with at least Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Webber and Allen Iverson likely to join them. Of those 17, only Magic Johnson, Iverson and Elton Brand entered the draft before their junior years in college. (Joe Smith turned pro after his sophomore year; he averaged 15.3 points his rookie year and never made an All-Star Game)

But since 2001, the year Kwame Brown became the first high schooler to be taken first, no number one pick has been taken with more than two years college experience; Blake Griffin is the only player to be taken first with more than one. Nine of those 14 top picks averaged less than 15 points in their rookie seasons, including four that failed to average double figures, bottoming out last year when Anthony Bennett’s 4.2 was the lowest rookie scoring average for a number one pick since 1948.

Simply put, the majority of players simply are not ready, they do not have the seasoning, the maturity or the realization of just how tougher the game is at that level just one year or less removed from high school.

How much more different could it be if draft picks weren’t expected to go straight to the NBA, at least if they were only a year or two removed from high school? If a player, instead of playing one year of college ball and then getting his fat thrown into the fire, instead could turn pro right out of high school but instead started by playing two to three years with a professional development team, coached by a staff that understood part of its job was to prepare players for the NBA as opposed to NBA coaches who need to worry about immediate success and nothing else, it’s not unreasonable to think the turnaround of top picks having immediate returns could return to what it once was.

Developing players in the minors works in baseball. It works in hockey. There’s no reason it can’t work in basketball.

There are, fortunately, those who want it to change. Donnie Nelson, owner of the Legends in addition to being the Mavericks, says the D-League is gradually working toward eventually having one separate affiliate for every NBA team. Currently, the D-League needs 12 more teams to make that dream a reality.

But more will need to change. Teams and owners have to rein themselves in and understand they can’t expect draft picks that turn pro so early to be NBA ready immediately.

It can start as soon as now with one general manager having the courage to say his first-round pick will play for his team’s D-League affiliate first, even if that player was taken number one. The league should seriously consider removing it’s current age restriction rule and replacing it with a (temporary) rule saying players can turn pro out of high school but must play at least two years for a D-League team first.

The NBA can’t expect college teams to fully develop players for them anymore; they need to start doing it themselves. And then maybe we’ll start seeing more Duncans and Shaqs than Kabongos and Douglas-Roberts’.

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Mavs may be in great position to thwart the Spurs after all

This was supposed to be the ultimate humiliation. An easy four game sweep for the San Antonio Spurs to prove what a worthless endeavor it was to get back in the playoffs and that tanking worse than the Sixers to fight for the right to draft an untested college freshman was the better way to go.

Oops.

The dream of so many to see the Mavs swept away in the first round came to a crashing halt Wednesday night, thanks to the Mavs’ 113-92 win in Game Two. The team that had lost 10 straight overall to San Antonio simply schooled them on their home floor, picking off balls everywhere and getting so many contributions that they easily won despite another subpar game from Dirk Nowitzki.

While some can grumble that they could have gotten two wins in the Alamo City had they not fallen apart late in Game One like so many times before, the truth remains that the Mavs got the split in San Antonio that they had to hope for. And now this series heads to the AAC with Dallas being the team that, except for six minutes, has been the better squad overall.

That doesn’t mean we still can’t be concerned about Game One slipping away. History has shown it almost always comes back to bite teams that lose a game in a series that they seem to have had won. The Lakers and Heat never recovered from early blown losses to the Mavs during the 2011 playoffs.

But maybe, just maybe this is one time that such a blown game could be a benefit more than a negative.

The Mavs have a bad trait of blowing big leads late – that everyone pretty much knows about. But unlike the regular season, the Mavs get to face that same team immediately again with evidence as to what they did wrong – and what to correct against this same team.

And while the Mavs can look back at the video and think that they could be up 2-0 in this series, the Spurs can look at it and see something worse. Just like the Ducks have against the Stars, they have not played well at all this series. And they’re in worse shape on the scoreboard that the Ducks were after two games.

And now they have to find a way to completely turn things around with the next two games in hostile territory. If the Mavs win Game Three on Saturday, this Spurs team could be in a lot of trouble.

This may be just overreacting. After all, every Western Conference series is currently tied or has the underdog with the lead in games. Does that mean all the top seeds are going to fall? Not likely. With how spread open the league is getting, we still may see the top seeds advance in the end; we just shouldn’t expect easy sweeps by the highest seeds in the first round anymore.

Like it or not, the Spurs historically are still among the best at adjusting. Even Dirk admits the Mavs have not been great at defending the home court this season. And expecting them to force more than 20 turnovers again may be asking too much.

Still, when you take into account that four number one seeds have gone down in the first round since the league expanded the round to best-of-seven (including both the Mavs and Spurs) and that the lower seed advanced the last three times these two met in the playoffs, saying this is still a gimme for the Spurs is way too premature.

We know this series ain’t ending in four now. And one way or another, it’s likely gonna last a lot longer than that.

Goodnight, it’s great to have the playoffs back in Dallas.

Please Spurs, just go away

Warning: The following has been written from the perspective of the extreme bias of a die-hard fan and may or may not be intended to be taken seriously.

Last year, seeing the Dallas Mavericks NOT be in the playoffs was painful. Now that they’re back, I’d say the time has come to not be objective. The playoffs are supposed to be about passion, so the time has come to be biased as all get out.

So I’m putting that all out at the risk of severely ticking off a few acquaintances and even a few relatives.

I am sick to death of the San Antonio Spurs.

I want the Mavericks to win this series almost as badly as I wanted to beat Miami in 2011.

If disaster occurs and the Spurs advance, I will root against them in the next round and the round after that. And if we get another Spurs-Heat Finals – well, that’s like choosing between Godzilla or Gigan; it doesn’t matter because whoever wins is going to devastate your city.

I hate the Spurs fans and how they claim their team represents all the good in the NBA. No, they don’t. They represent what’s wrong with it.

I hate the fact that the Spurs built this run of championships by the shadiest, most underhanded way possible: They intentionally tanked a season. How David Robinson, who is supposed to have such high moral standards, agreed to ever play for the Spurs again after they forced him to sit out the rest of 1997 with “back issues” I’ll never know. The Spurs should have been stripped of that draft pick and several others for what they did, and instead they got one of the last number one picks to actually be a franchise player. As a result, teams tank left and right nowadays to try and get the next Tim Duncan despite no such player being available, flushing all credibility for the league down the toilet.

Oh, and Duncan? Yeah, I’m sick of him too. His legion of fans in San Antonio love to claim how he’s this class act. This is a guy who believes he has never committed a foul in his life. He’s probably still pouting over that blocking foul he picked up in an AAU game 20 years ago.

I’m sick of the Spurs’ offense, which can best be described as “Cure For Insomnia.” The Spurs have the talent to be one of the most high-flying teams out there, and yet they intentionally try to play the most boring, sleep-inducing brand of basketball in history. Are the rumors true that every Spurs player gets fined if they score 100 in a game, even if they win? The way they play, they might as well go up and down the floor waving middle fingers at the crowd to say “we don’t give a f*ck about you.” They’re lucky to be playing in this era, where you can win with defense and absolutely nothing else. The Lakers and even the Celtics of the 80s would put up 150 on them every night.

I hate how Greg Poppovich is considered some great genius. Especially because he sits players on select games, once again proving this is a team that completely doesn’t care about the people that pay their salaries. Pop, you do know that there’s a very good chance that someone, especially when you go on the road, is watching your team for the first and maybe only time in their life and did so in order to see Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobuli (though for the life of me, I don’t know why), and you frequently deny them that chance on the claims that you have to keep players rested for the playoffs? If these guys aren’t conditioned enough to handle a full 82-game schedule like so many others are, maybe it’s time they pack it in.

I hate how their fans whine and complain that the league is out to get them because they’re “small market.” Excuse me? You ended up winning the draft lottery twice in 10 years, and you think the league is conspiring against you? Your star player whines every singe time he gets whistled, yet he almost never gets T’d up. You’ve brought home the trophy four times, and yet you constantly claim the league is actively trying to deny you?

You didn’t lose the title last year because of biased officiating or any other act on the part of the league to ensure LeBron and Co. got another ring. You lost it because your coach was stupid in Game Six. You had the chance to step on the throat and end it in that game, and what does Pop do? Start the fourth quarter with his worst lineup possible, allowing the Heat to creep back in. Then, in a tighter contest late, he keeps Duncan on the bench when you need defense and rebounding more than ever, leading to TWO offensive rebounds on missed free throws that turned into three pointers for Miami. You got complacent and didn’t go for the kill shot, like the Mavs did to that same team two years earlier.

When the Spurs lost in the first round in 2011, it looked like it might be the start of the end of this dark era. But sadly, thanks to a lack of good young talent flowing in to challenge the status quo, this old, unentertaining bunch gets to keep plodding on and turning more and more people over to hockey.

So please, Mavericks. Shock the world and send the Spurs home whining and crying just like you did in 2006.

Because I’m just sick of them.

Mavs’ Carlisle has right mindset of playoffs over draft

Rick Carlisle appears to be one of the few NBA coaches out there that has the full confidence from management, so it seems likely that, no matter if certain radio hosts accuse him of having “the personality of a knife,” he will be on the Mavericks’ sidelines for quite a while longer.

That means he has the freedom to help make sure his roster is primarily contained with players he trusts to play. So there won’t be a ton of young players wearing Dallas jerseys for the time being, as it’s clear Carlisle doesn’t put a lot of trust in them – see the playing time of Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo for that.

So it shouldn’t be that surprising that the Mavs’ coach has flat out said he’s not concerned with how the Mavs’ return to the playoffs will almost certainly cause them to be a non-factor in this year’s NBA Draft.

If the Mavs finish with one of the top 10 records in the league, they lose their first round pick to Oklahoma City as part of that infamous Lamar Odom trade that all parties are wanting to forget as soon as possible. And the dearth of good teams in the East makes that almost a given even if the Mavs finish with the eighth seed in the West.

Carlisle’s response, according to the Star-Telegram?

“Who cares? This draft ain’t that good. It’s more important to be playing this time of year and competing than worrying about the 20-something pick in the draft. That guy ain’t going to help us much next year, regardless.”

Rick, I love you even more.

Carlisle just blurted out what I have been saying for a while now. Everyone has been talking about how supposedly so much more loaded this upcoming draft is, especially compared to last year, which resulted in three of the top five picks failing to score even five points a game (yeah, yeah, beating a dead horse). How oh so convenient it is that this would be the year the Lakers would bottom out and be in position to find the next Kobe and, once again, why the Mavs would be more proud of a supposed first-round exit over getting some young gun guaranteed to shine alongside Dirk and single-handedly turn the Mavs back into championship contenders.

Why? Because the Mavs have a better chance of making the Finals with the eight seed than finding the next Dirk in this or any draft for the foreseeable future, and that’s just the truth.

I have people saying that nowadays, you’re not getting an impact player if you aren’t in the top three to seven picks. I’d argue not even those picks are a guarantee. Regardless of what the hype machine at ESPN says, this is still a draft loaded with freshmen out the wazoo. And that’s not a good thing.

Most players that have NBA caliber dominate in high school with almost no real competition. Whether it would be coming straight out after that or after just one year in college, that’s simply not enough of a playing resume to completely determine if someone truly has what it takes to make it at the highest level. Because it’s not just about what you have, it’s about having the intelligence and maturity to know how to use it to your full potential.

And the truth is that almost all of these freshmen come in thinking they’re going to dominate the NBA just like they dominated high school, thinking there will be no need to put in extra effort. And they find out too late that their toughest high school opponent wouldn’t be a 12th man in the NBA, unable to recover and turning into yet another basketball version of David Clyde.

Just ask Michael Beasley, who, after leaving Kansas State after one year, has been cut by one team and traded twice in six years and now wonders if he in fact made the right decision.

The days of getting Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing or even Tim Duncan are long gone. You’re far more likely to end up with a Michael Bennett or Greg Oden than a Kevin Durant.

Hence why there is very little turnover nowadays between the teams in the lottery and in the playoffs. The Hornets and Kings are once again looking at ping pong balls while an aging San Antonio roster is again looking at the top seed in the playoffs.

This is why new commissioner Adam Silver is highly considering changing to a two-year rule. I would personally prefer finding a way to turn the D-League into a true minor-league development system.

Either way, Carlisle has the right mindset for now. With a seemingly ageless Dirk playing alongside Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, the Mavs are a playoff team and would have a top seed if they were in the East. They admittedly still need to find another Tyson Chandler-like presence in the paint to seriously be a title contender again.

But they’re more likely to find that through an off-season trade or signing after whatever happens to them in the postseason.

They’re not likely to find that in a class of 20-somethings most likely to be bust over boom.

Mavericks May Quickly Learn That Wright is RIght

Christmas may have come early for the Dallas Mavericks, with them receiving a six-foot-ten present of energy in the form of Brandon Wright.

And not a moment too soon, in their minds. Going into Wednesday’s game against Memphis, the Maverics still stand at just a few games over .500 at 14-10, which currently hast them holding the eighth spot in the West and seven games behind front-running San Antonio.

It’s essentially the same story as before: The Mavs have played decently. But decent is not good enough in the Western Conference. They might be a top four team in the East, but they remain barely in the playoff window in their actual conference.

Still, Dallas has managed to tread water and stay in that window, despite playing the most back-to-backs of anyone in the league for the first six weeks or so, along with the same issue as last year – injuries.

But the latter of those is being solved much sooner than last year, and fortunately never was as serious. While the Mavs spent the first two months of 2012-13 without Dirk Nowitzki and at least another month with him struggling to get back into shape, they have simply had to deal with the absence of Wright and Devin Harris. Important pieces for sure, but not devastating losses.

However, it was this past Saturday that they saw how big one of those can be when Wright finally got on the court this year

The result: Nineteen points in 19 minutes, allowing Dallas to beat Milwaukee rather easily despite Dirk and Coach Carlisle being out with illnesses.

I said even during the off-season that Wright would be one of the most important pieces for the Mavericks, perhaps giving them what they have sorely lacked for the last two years on the inside.

The center position has evolved over the past few years for sure. The days of Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon are simply no longer in a time when zone defenses combined with the shot clock greatly reduce a center’s offensive effectiveness. This has put even more of a premium on the big man who simply provides defense and energy.

Unfortunately, that is a lot harder to find that one would like. When big men finally reach the NBA level, many are unable to accept that they simply can’t dominate at this level like they may have in high school or even college (although the dominance of centers in college was dropping before it was in the pros). Too often then, they become unmotivated and lackluster, like Brendan Heywood or Shawn Bradley – or Samuel Dalembert.

That more than anything is why Mavs fans can be disappointed their team could not hold on to Tyson Chandler, who, despite concerns for much of his career, became the emotional spark and defensive presence that Dallas had needed for so long.

But Wright could be just the guy the Mavs need to fill that hole in the middle, if he gets the minutes and proves he can give that effort on a consistent basis.

The next two weeks could be crucial to seeing how well this Mavericks team can really play, even as they still await Harris’ return. With Dalembert likely to be in Carlisle’s doghouse for some time, it’s Wright and Dejuan Blair’s job to hold the middle for Dallas now.

Whether or not they can do it is an unknown factor for sure. But it’s still a much better prospect than what they had a year ago.

Mavericks: Team Tank? No Thanks

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Two games into their three-game trip to the West Coast, most would be thrilled that the Mavericks would be 1-1 in them. They just didn’t expect the one win to be in the first game.

But thanks to Monta Ellis’ heroics, the Mavs got out of Portland with perhaps the biggest statement of a win they’ve had this season. Of course, I’m writing this just minutes after they followed that with a disappointing performance in Sacramento.

Despite that, and despite having to play more back-to-backs in the first month than any other team, the Mavericks have managed to stay above .500 at 13-9 and just a couple of games from going from the seventh spot in the west to the top four.

Not bad for a team that some people wanted to forfeit all integrity and tank this season for a top draft pick that would guarantee to single-handedly transform them from a lottery team to champions overnight.

And how are those top draft picks that those other teams SUPPOSEDLY tanked for doing?

Three of the top five picks in the last draft are currently averaging less than three points per game. That includes Anthony Bennett, who may already be challenging for the worst number one draft pick in NBA history, as he has yet to start a game for the Cavaliers and just recently bumped his scoring average up to 2.1 points per game. Alex Len is doing even worse than that at 1.8 ppg.

Now maybe it isn’t fair to include Otto Porter, since he was just recently activated after starting the season injured. But we’re still talking about the third overall pick, who didn’t score a point in his first two games with the Wizards.

And he’s already guaranteed to have played more games than Nerlens Noel, who was supposed to have been the number one pick before his ACL tear at Kentucky dropped him all the way down to sixth. The 76ers will have to wait until 2014 to see if he was worth getting in a trade from New Orleans.

Not good when Victor Oladipo, the second overall pick for the Magic, is currently the leading scorer among the top five at a whopping 13.6 points per game. Surely he has already made the people in Orlando forget all about Dwight Howard.

Heck, the Mavs have yet to get much of anything from the guy they ultimately got out of the draft, as Shane Larkin is only averaging 2.9 points in 12.2 minutes. Yet here the Mavs are with a better record than any of those teams with a top five pick.

Of course, maybe the past draft was just a bad year. The belief that the college ranks currently have one of their best crops of freshmen talent in history will surely lead to people claiming next year’s draft class will be much better.

To which I will steal a line from WWE star The Miz and say, “Really? REALLY?”

We’re really going to just believe that this class of freshmen coming out to the NBA after just one year is going to be the group that takes the league to the next level?

Because here’s the real truth: In today’s draft, you’re much more likely to get a dud than a stud. And it will continue to be like that, possibly getting worse, as long as players go straight from college to the big leagues well before they’re ready.

The problem isn’t the talent level; it’s the fact that too many wet-eared kids are so eager to legally get paid that they jump into the fire too soon and their team owners/coaches won’t have the patience to put them on a D-League team where they need to start.

This is all getting into territory for a different column that I should put together at some point in the future, so I should probably pull back for now.

The main point is, the performances of the class of 2013, even at this early stage, shows the Mavs did the right thing in not packing it in to conclude last season just to get a better pick. And tanking again this year would have not given them any better of a chance.

Instead, they went and did what Donnie Nelson usually does best; look for shrewd trades and other acquisitions. Not deterred from the fact that last year didn’t work out (and an injury to one Mr. Nowitzki had quite a bit to do with that), they tried again. And so far, despite again getting hit with injuries to the likes of Devin Harris and Brandon Wright, the group of Monta and Company has managed to keep the Mavericks in the playoff picture for at least the first six weeks of the season.

But more than that, they’ve maintained their integrity by refusing to tank. And that for their fan base is invaluable.

Counting the Mavericks out? They’ve Been There Before

I’ve been through this before, when everyone counted us out.

Let ‘em.

Okay, maybe it’s not the best thing to quote silly family baseball movies from 1994. But the basic premise still applies.

As the next NBA season gets underway and the Mavericks begin their quest to get back to the playoffs, many want to already throw them under the bus and declare them a lottery team.

CBS Sports’ Matt Moore has already declared the Mavs to be “dead meat” and finishing last in the Southwest Division – which, remember, still contains that team from New Orleans, whatever its name currently is.

Just remember two things.

One, most of them are the same people who want to put the Lakers and the Heat in the Finals now because they both won their first game yesterday.

And second… they all counted the Mavericks out in 2011 as well. How did that work out?

The Mavericks are no different than the Rangers in this town in that no one has ever expected them to win anything ever. Perhaps they don’t even want them to win. During my annual season’s rant about the lack of baseball support for this town, some told me the Mavs have it worse. Maybe they’re right.

Ninety percent of those who call themselves MFFLs? Likely didn’t watch a game prior to Game Six of the 2011 Finals.

Before that? Dirk Nowitzki – soft Euro. Jason Kidd – too old, terrible shooter, couldn’t get it done. Jason Terry – thug who was a cancer that wouldn’t play defense.

And it was a guarantee that the Mavs would be bounced in the first round that year.

Instead, they became the NBA and ESPN’s worst nightmare, delaying their crowning of Lebron James and the Miami Heat as the greatest ever and trumpeting their belief that throwing away money and buying talent always beats hard work and building a roster of players who want it more.

I think ESPN is still petitioning the league office to just nullify that Finals result so they can hands down declare the Heat the best team in the last three years.

The main point of this rambling is, go ahead and declare the Mavs a dead franchise and jump on the backs of people wanting another year of “Team Tank.” See how well that’s going to work for the teams that did it last year. Heck, I can’t even remember who the number one draft pick was in June, so it’s not like he’s guaranteed to be the next savior.

The look of the Mavericks franchise certainly took a blow when Gersson Rosas stepped down yesterday as general manager after just three months on the job. Those media guides are certainly going to look awkward now.

On the other side, Mark Cuban already got one major victory a few weeks ago when, after years of battle, beat the SEC (not the sports conference) in their insider trading charge against him, and he naturally had his choice words about them being bullies.

 

Compared to that, the bullies of the press and glass-is-always-half-empty “fans,” are nothing. And we’ll just see who gets to call out who after game 82, not game one.