There was a lot of talk about conspiracy theories this week.
Seven years ago, the New Orleans Hornets’ outdated arena was underwater following Hurricane Katrina. They played two seasons in Oklahoma City, then returned to a city whose population had been dissipated and disenfranchised. Already one of the NBA’s smaller markets, they struggled to rebuild a consistent fan base. Their owner put the team up for sale, and the idea of relocation became a very real possibility.
So the NBA gave New Orleans an All-Star Weekend to spark the local economy. Then the league bought the team and appointed an executive to oversee the finances while searching for a buyer who would keep the Hornets in the Crescent City. Then Commissioner David Stern voided a trade of superstar Chris Paul that would have brought back high-priced veterans before approving a trade that landed the rebuilding tools of young players, high draft picks
and expiring contracts.
On Wednesday, the Hornets won the lottery and in less than a month will have the draft rights to Anthony Davis, a potential franchise cornerstone. And the conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork, accusing Stern of yet another rigged outcome and further damaging the NBA’s image in the eyes of the passive fan.
Before you start buying into crackpot theories about magnetic paint on ping-pong balls, ask yourself this: Why would Stern risk both his legacy and the long-term legitimacy of a thriving sport to rescue a team whose TV market isn’t in the top 50?
Make sure the Hornets are really good so … what? They can make the NBA Finals, produce terrible ratings that kill advertising fees and reduce the size of national TV contracts, and make every team in the league worth less?
What was it “Deep Throat” told Bob Woodward in All The President’s Men?
If you want to find the truth, follow the money.
And the money doesn’t get any bigger than the TV contracts.
You say the 1985 lottery was fixed to ensure Patrick Ewing landed with the Knicks to put a perennial contender in the league’s top market? Then why did Stern and the NBA sit idly by while the Knicks stunk for the last decade?
You say the league favors the big-market teams when it comes to the postseason? Then why would it allow the small-market Spurs to reach the Finals three times in five years and produce the three lowest overall ratings during Stern’s reign as commissioner?
You say playoff games are fixed to ensure certain teams advancing to the Finals? Then why would the Cavaliers lose to the Magic in 2009 and kill a Finals matchup of LeBron vs. Kobe?
I heard a pretty good one from an NBA employee a couple of years ago. He suggested that the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Kings was fixed because the TV contracts were up for renewal and a New Jersey-Sacramento Finals matchup would kill ratings and the league’s negotiating position.
A well-conceived theory, with some plain-sight evidence. With the Lakers facing elimination in Game 6, they shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter. Bryant got away with an elbow that could have brought a suspension for Game 7. Tim Donaghy accused two of the refs who worked that game of intentionally extending the series to benefit the NBA. Ralph Nader called for an investigation.
Except there is one minor problem. It makes no sense.
The NBA was going to do all it could to manipulate the outcome of Game 6 to even the series, then send the Lakers to Sacramento – perhaps the loudest, most raucous and toughest road arena in the league at the time – and say, “OK, boys, you’re on your own. Good luck.”
TRIVIA: Who is the last player to score at least 40 points in a Finals game? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Rapper Lil Wayne, who reportedly is worth nearly $100 million, made a stink over having to pay for tickets for Game 3 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. When offered tickets for Game 4 by both Kevin Durant and James Harden, Wayne used it as an opportunity to play the race card, telling the Associated
Press, “It’s the players stepping up, but of course the players aren’t white. I don’t want to be sitting there on behalf of you and I’m sitting next to a (person) that’s like ‘I don’t want this (guy) sitting next to me.’ (Forget) you … I’m in Forbes.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, speaking to his players in a timeout huddle while trailing Oklahoma City in the first half of the Western Conference final opener:
“Are we having fun yet?”
LINE OF THE WEEK: Rajon Rondo, Boston at Miami, May 30: 53 minutes, 16-24 FGs, 2-2 3-pointers, 10-12 FTs, eight rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, three turnovers, 44 points in a 115-111 overtime loss. Plenty of players have scored 44 points in the postseason; none has ever had as many as eight rebounds and 10 assists, which is why Rondo joined Kevin Love as the only players on losing teams to be honored in this section this season.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Ray Allen, Boston at Miami, May 28: 37 minutes, 1-7 FGs, 1-4 3-pointers, 3-7 FTs, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, one turnover, six points in a 93-79 loss. This was Allen’s second straight appearance in this space. He is doing his impending free agency a great disservice.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Oklahoma City at San Antonio, June 4. If the Thunder want to go the NBA Finals, they have to win a road game in this series. With the momentum of two straight wins, this will be their best chance.
TRILLION WATCH: It was a quiet week on the absolute zero front until Friday, when Boston’s Ryan Hollins – already sharing the postseason lead with Miami’s Juwan Howard at 4 trillion – wrecked a perfectly good 6 trillion by committing a foul. Miami’s “Big Three” of Howard, Dexter Pittman and Terrel Harris all had 1 trillions in the same game, as did Celtics guard E’Twaun Moore.
TWO MINUTES: It was nice of Bobcats executive Rod Higgins to have owner and long-time crony Michael Jordan’s back while selling former coach Bernie Bickerstaff down the river. In an interview with WFNZ Radio in Charlotte, Higgins said the 2006 draft selection of bust Adam Morrison with the third overall pick was made by Bickerstaff and not Jordan, who had bought the team 13 days earlier. “When you talk about Morrison, I’ll just be specific. That was a different regime,” Higgins said. “I wasn’t here at that particular time. I thought it was Bernie Bickerstaff.” It’s hard to imagine Jordan not taking immediate complete control of shaping his team and allowing someone else to make his first draft pick as an owner. It’s easy to imagine him remaining silent now and hanging Bickerstaff out to dry. … After an exhausting overtime loss in Game 2, the Celtics got back into their series with a home win over the Heat in Game 3, leading to a bit of brash talk from Boston guard Rajon Rondo. “They defended their home court,” he said. “In a couple of days, we’ll do the same.” A year ago, the Celtics were in the same position vs. the Heat and lost Game 4 at home in overtime. … Through seven games of conference finals play, 17 different referees have drawn assignments. Among those, James Capers, Dan Crawford, Ed Malloy and Ken Mauer have worked two games, so you can pencil in each of them as part of the dozen officials who will work the NBA Finals. … After Kawhi Leonard went for 18 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2 – the first double-double by a Spurs rookie in the postseason since a guy named Duncan went for 32 and 10 in his first career playoff game in 1998 – coach Gregg Popovich had this to say: “I’ve learned as the year went along to believe in him more and more. Now I just wish he knew our plays.” … Boston’s Ray Allen missed nine free throws in 106 attempts during the regular season. He has missed 12 free throws in 30 attempts in the postseason. When he missed four foul shots in seven tries in Game 1 vs. the Heat, it was the first time he has missed four free throws in a game since going 4-of-8 on Dec. 26, 2007 with Seattle vs. New Orleans. … There was plenty of celebrating in the Crescent City as the Hornets’
tanking rebuilding plan worked, giving New Orleans the first and 10th picks plus potentially $25 million in salary cap space. Also positioned to get better in a hurry are the Trail Blazers, who also have two lottery picks (Nos. 6 and 11) and similar cap room. Now only if Portland could hire a GM. Interim GM Rich Buchanan has said he doesn’t want the job, and candidates include Pacers GM David Morway, former Hornets GM Jeff Bower and possibly Sixers senior VP Tony DiLeo. (Clippers GM Neil Olshey was in the mix until re-signing this weekend.) According to the Oregonian, the problem is each candidate is the favorite of someone different in the team’s heirarchy. The Blazers were not awful last season, although they did take a step back. This could be a plum job with lots of options, flexibility and an owner (Paul Allen) willing to spend. But it also could be a nightmare because of the number of potential masters to serve. … Sixth Man Award winner James Harden did not attempt a free throw in the series opener against the Spurs, marking the first time he didn’t go to the line in a game in over a year. The last time was Game 5 of the first round vs. Memphis in 2011. … Wanna know the secret to San Antonio’s efficient, unselfish play? “When you have Coach Pop screaming at you every day, it will make you pass the ball,” Tony Parker said.
Trivia Answer: Kobe Bryant in Game 1 in 2009 vs. Orlando. … Happy 69th Birthday, Billy Cunningham, the ”Kangaroo Kid.” … Now that Adrienne Maloof has made an appearance at the draft lottery, maybe we can get DeMarcus Cousins to have a cameo on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.