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May mailbag, part one: playoffs, LaMelo, John Stockton and *that* trade

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I miss the Knicks.

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NBL Rd 9 - New Zealand v Illawarra Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Hey. Good to see you. Let’s dive in.

1) What would be your ideal playoff format...since there is talk about changing the format in the next CBA? Taking into account entertainment, tradition, and money cause you ain’t selling any new idea unless everyone is making more money.

— Gyrk

Due to its potential to impact the league for years, I’d add “health & safety” to Gyrk’s triangle of competing interests. Get you some rhombus.

You know the billion-billion-billion-billion-billion-billion-billion-billion-billion dollar monopoly that is the NBA will 100% use the unprecedented unprecedentness of the Covid pandemic to test shit they were already thinking about doing. But even after the lockdowns are lifted, the Association is aware the current here-and-now is likely to be the new normal for a while. Like, a while while.

If there are playoffs this year, I’d take the top eight teams from each conference and put them in four groups of four. Each group is double-elimination: once a team loses twice, they’re out. The four group winners advance to a best-of-five conference finals, and the NBA finals is a best-of-seven. This addresses the rhombus of concerns and lays the groundwork for some big big-picture plans.

Health-wise, the league is already anxious about any concerns revelations regarding special treatment while so many people are still unable to be tested, much less safely resume their lives. So I’m gonna throw some bread to the circuses and leave all the lottery teams at home, thereby keeping about 525 humans away from wherever the league’s postseason bubble universe ends up. No doubt the players won’t all be broken up about the season ending, and with attendance revenues likely to remain devastated given that teams aren’t hosting games in their home arena, no lottery team wants players risking injury just to sprinkle a little chaos into the hunt for the 9th-best lottery odds.

Think of how the fun! The drama! The lightness of freedom from one of the mustiest vestiges of the old world NBA! Conference imbalance has robbed fans for years of potential postseason drama. Think about it: how many Eastern Conference series the past 20-30 years have had clear favorites? How about the West? I bet your answer for the West was lower.

You know why there were conferences, originally? ‘Cuz teams traveled by train and long train rides get uncomfortable for normal-sized humans, much less enormous ones, and teams weren’t as rich as they are now. Now teams all have private planes and Circadian gurus and comfy beds. Lose the conferences, Pointdexter. If you need you some hierarchy to get off, put each of the four best records in different groups.

Imagine Knicks/Bulls back in the day meeting in the NBA Finals. Knicks/Heat. The Shaq & Kobe Lakers vs. the Webber/Bibby Kings. Would any Finals matchup this year be more intriguing to fans than Lakers vs. Clippers?

As far as money, you may wonder at how much of it gets left on the table by leaving the losers at home. The NBA’s local broadcast partners are promised 70 games a year. Anything short of that and the league’s gotta refund the networks. With the impact of the Covid shutdown and the price of Daryl Morey being a decent human being nine months ago rising to at least $150M, the league has already missed out on mad money they expected. Why would they willingly give up more now? My reasons why are below the video, but I can’t put it any better than Ned Beatty did in Network.

The NBA’s biggest competitor is not the NFL. It’s not any American sport. It’s soccer. The NFL is the most profitable league in the U.S., but that’s like Brexit or Joe Biden winning elections: they do much better with some groups of people and much less so with groups more likely to still be alive in 20-30 years. When it comes to international fans and cultural relevance, basketball and soccer are global heavyweights. The NBA has made changes for years with an eye on competing with fútbol.

One of soccer’s best qualities as a viewing experience is its game flow. There are no commercial timeouts, so not only is there nearly an hour straight of action, the games are far shorter than American sports. A soccer game is done within two hours. The average NFL game lasts more than three hours. MLB, too. NBA games run about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Recent changes regarding timeouts and their usage in the last two minutes help maintain better flow.

Johan Cruyff popularized the soccer style known as “total football,” where every player is potentially positionally interchangeable. If a fullback sees an opening to play as an attacking player and push forward for a goal, go for it. The NBA, through rule changes, analytics and copycat coaches and front offices, has seen the old specialized world of five distinct positions mostly melt down to guards, wings and bigs, with more and maybe most players some kind of hybrid.

More fans than ever are as likely to pledge allegiance to a player rather than a team. NBA teams now have ads on their jerseys, same as soccer teams — no dollar is left unturned at this level of business. The group stage idea would let the NBA capitalize on yet another revenue and media stream: televising the announcement of the groups. Think of how dramatic the draft lottery is. When Champions League groups and knockout matchups are revealed, it can be more compelling than some of the games.

We know the NBA wants to expand to 32 teams, and that it has its eye on somewhere outside North America. 32 teams. Eight groups. Four teams each. Everybody gets a shot. It combines the collectivism of European tournaments, where every team in theory has a shot at the trophy, while satisfying the Tiger Mom ring fetish of the American sports fan, one of the few places on this Earth where people would put Steph Curry ahead of Allen Iverson because three rings > none.

2) The Knicks are on the clock. Which player do you pick: LaMelo Ball who has a 100% chance of becoming the next John Stockton or Deni Avdija who has a 60% chance of becoming the next LeBron James?

— Jey Van Halen

I love this question! I’m taking Ball if I’m getting Stockton. The Johnny Sins of Salt Lake City, J-Stock combined an exceptional physical gift with a superhuman endurance, and every night he just kept coming on both ends. The all-time assists leader had nearly four dimes for every turnover and shot 52/38/82 over his 19-year career. His worst year from the field he shot 47%, his rookie year. That was his worst year! You know how many Knick point guards have shot as high as 47% in the past 28 seasons? This guy. That’s it.

The all-time steals leader was a five-time All-Defense selection and was named to 11 All-NBA teams. He played every game 12 of his first 13 seasons and each of his final five. Stockton played point guard like Mozart. Knick point guards usually sound like Homer Simpson’s one-man band. Give Amadeus.

3) If you could, would you undo the Kristaps Porziņģis trade?

— garfzilla

When I was 25 I kept falling madly in love. Loves takes many forms, one of which is shopping. Once in Toronto with two of the people I’d fallen for, we stumbled upon some impossibly magical shoe store. There used to be a British shoe company called Swears that made just the coolest shoes I could imagine, the kind of shoes people wear whenever movies are set in the future. Super stylish and sooo chunky — not these colors, but this style. We’d heard Swears was shutting down its North American distribution, so this was probably my last chance to buy them.

Nothing in stock fit my foot. The closest was two sizes too small. Before I tell you what happened next, I need you to know for years and years I only ever bought $20 shoes from Marshall’s. But only that now could be then. I was 25, and in love. $300 later, the kicks were mine.

What. The. $#%@. They. Were. Ridiculous. I was in physical pain wearing them and struggled to balance because I was basically walking on stilts. And you know what? I wore them to concerts. The club. Parties. I paid $300 for those shoes. I was gonna get my money’s worth even if it hurt.

A lot of reactions this past season to the KP trade did no more than take the temperature of how or what he’d done (or not) recently. A hot opening week meant Dallas had fleeced the Knicks. An injured and ineffective January and Porziņģis would never be healthy enough to justify that contract. A strong February = he and Luka Dončić are destined for greatness. 7-of-25 shooting over the Mavericks’ consecutive losses before the lockdown? Mama here comes that anemia again. We want a judgment. We want to know how to feel. Even if it hurts.

I would still do the trade, because the reason I supported it then is still in place now, that being my concerns about building around the player. Forget the draft picks and shattered free agency hopes. Forget Dennis Smith Jr. and The Wesley Matthews Experience. Forget whether word spreading of Porziņģis’ discontent with the Knicks would lower his trade value. He wanted a max extension and wanted it guaranteed, without injury protections for the team. Given how investments in injury-prone big men Antonio McDyess, Eddy Curry and Amar’e Stoudemire turned out, I’d pass on KP.

Even if he re-signed and the Knicks nabbed Kevin Durant last summer...I mean, what could be Knicksier? Imagine a dimension where you just sat through Porziņģis being out injured 25% of the time and the other 75% miscast as the lead option, while Durant’s out injured and beefing with Knicks Twitter while everyone speculates on whether he’ll return for a later-than-expected playoffs. No thanks, bub. I never thought of that pairing succeeding here. Porziņģis reminds me of one of my Toronto loves. They made me feel things I’d never known existed. But I always knew deep down they weren’t the one. It couldn’t last. It didn’t. They were going to hurt me. It was always a matter of when. So I left before they hurt me. Sometimes that’s as good as it gets.

That’s all for part one. More to come soon.