Investments and Exchanges

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Transactions are subsidized by investors under the impression their ‘stock’ or investment will compliment the others within their investment portfolio.  In a way NBA GMs, and more specifically Flip Saunders, are investors consistently entertaining potential exchanges doing business on the open market. Hence, in NBA terms, trades, draft selections and free agent acquisitions are all investments. This is not a breaking discovery.

Earlier this season the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Derrick Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute. While it’s still too early to have received dividends — exchanging the former number-two overall draft selection for a player with a defined skillset — the interchange didn’t result in the obtaining of a player whose value is ‘in the red,’ nor did the Wolves sell an asset that is making a significant impact for a different firm or, in this context, franchise.

Determining Asset Value

Williams, the highest draft pick selected in franchise history did not implement, nor sustain, his presence within the roster during his time with the Wolves. During his rookie season, whilst appearing in 66 games (15 starts) he failed to score at least 10 points per game. Williams also struggled playing under the NBA’s dynamics. His three-point shooting was non-existent (less than 30%) and the inability to consistently connect on free-throws (>70%) posed frustrations for all those expecting greater things from Williams during his rookie year. Conversely, he was still a rookie and first year players hardly ever perform to their potential upon entering the league.

Last season, Williams marginally improved in certain aspects of his game. He appeared, and started, in more games because of Kevin Love’s absence. With experience under his belt, Williams bumped up his averages in nearly every statistical category. However, there were still questions surrounding the Wolves investment. Was Williams, who stands at 6-feet 8-inches tall, a power forward or a small forward (swingman). Was he better adept playing the 3 or 4 position in Rick Adelman’s offense?

Adelman’s variation of the Princeton offense opts to run offensive sets from the high post. Most possessions start with Ricky Rubio feeding Love at the elbow, or the areas above the free-throw line. This is expressed statistically in terms of ‘touches per game’ thanks to NBA.com’s player tracking. Love averages 86.9 touches per game, the sixth most compared to the rest of the league, he is the only non-point guard in the top 15 in this category. Rubio, the Wolves starting point guard, averages less touches per game (83.2) than Love. Some of this can be explained by Love’s rebounding, a rebound is considered a touch, but most of his touches are attributed to Adelman’s scheme.

Williams, still, is too small to successfully post-up on most of the league’s power forwards, lacks ball-handling skills, and never became instinctive enough to perform some of the off-ball cuts required in Adelman’s system. During the 2012-2013 season, Williams shot 33 percent (10 of 30 FG attempts) in post up situations. Ideally, he would have taken — and converted — more attempts in Love’s absence, but that wasn’t the case. Williams is also not a very good distributor; expecting him to make passes outside of the high post like Love is simply unrealistic.

This team wasn’t the adequate opportunity for Williams to succeed, although it’s fair to say he didn’t grasp the opportunity placed before him. Adelman and Saunders moved Williams accordingly because a young player still may have value elsewhere. Howlin’ T-Wolf’s own, Derek James, narrated more about Williams and his new opportunity with the Kings. There was no uproar among the Wolves fans base regarding the trade — the transaction that sent Williams to Sacramento was seemingly the best scenario for all parties involved.

What about the asset the Wolves received in return?

On a personal level, the timing of the trade seemed strange — why now? Could the Wolves have moved Williams prior to the season? Why not hold onto the asset until closer to the trade deadline when, theoretically, Williams may be more valuable to any ‘buyers’ hoping to acquire his services. All of that remains speculation.

@talkhoops I agree with that. But what they got in return. Not helping at all.

— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) March 17, 2014

Michael Malone, head coach of the Kings, began starting Mbah a Moute just before he was sent to the Wolves in exchange for Williams. The following quote was published at Cowbell Kingdom, strangely, on the same morning the trade had been announced.

“He’s a guy that’s kind of made his name in the NBA as a defensive player,” Malone said. “And he’s a guy that when he was in Milwaukee and I was coaching in Cleveland, he would literally guard one through four – Mo Williams to the power forward. So, I think he has a high IQ and he embraces that end of the floor.”

Exchanging Williams for Mbah a Moute was an obvious effort to fulfill the defensive void lost when Andrei Kirilenko declined the option to resign with the Wolves during the offseason. Corey Brewer, albeit he led the league in points scored in transition opportunities at the time, is neither the resourceful offensive player or defensive force that is “AK47″. It’s well-established that Adelman was not a proprietor of Williams, so, swapping the underachieving, misfit player with a capable and versatile, defensive component was undoubtedly going to be a net-positive for the Wolves moving forward this season.

As previously stated by coach Malone, MBAM’s reputation as an NBA player is defined by his defense. During only nine games with the Kings, Mbah a Moute scored a mere four points and collected three rebounds whilst averaging 21 minutes per game. These numbers are small, but, his aforementioned defensive prowess remains as the primary reason the Wolves parted with Williams in exchange for Mbah a Moute.

Dividends

Upon thorough analysis, an investment option promises safety of principal and a satisfactory return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.

While there are moments when it seems Williams is ‘flourishing’ with the Kings; perception is not always reality. Sacramento is 24-44 and the third-worst team in the Western Conference. Williams has exploded on multiples instances this season, offensively anyway. He had a 31 point performance in a win over the Dallas Mavericks last December, but it’s his production against his former team that has Wolves fans up in arms. He has played an average of 27 minutes per game, and during that time, Williams averages 16 points and six rebounds a game when facing his former team.

Those explosive performances may have been detrimental to Kings opponents, which in some cases has been the Wolves, but aren’t enough to justify Williams status as a second-overall draft selection. Yes, not all expectations may be paired with the draft-selection number, but his talent and potential made him the undeniable second-best prospect behind Kyrie Irving. Thus far, Williams (22) status remains as an underachiever since he entered the league.

Not long after the Kings acquired Williams, they obtained Rudy Gay by way of trade from the Toronto Raptors. This was another forward that would sit before Williams on the depth chart, he’s started in only 13 of his 54 appearances since his departure. 

As for the Wolves; they’ve had larger proverbial fish to fry throughout the season. While Mbah a Moute hasn’t made a noticeable difference since his arrival, he didn’t and hasn’t provoked the Wolves execution deficiencies during late game situations. MBAM hasn’t hindered the Wolves, if anything, there’s been more dispute regarding Adelman’s use of the defensive specialist, or lack thereof. Back in January, the Kings defeated the Wolves at the Target Center, Mbah a Moute recorded a DNP-Coaches Decision and watched helplessly as Gay and Williams combined for 49 points.

“… (I) came within about two seconds of putting him (Mbah a Moute) in the game, but … I don’t know … I tried to go with the group that has been playing pretty good — the bench — and it didn’t happen. So, it’s certainly something that you can look back on and think about that you could have done. That’s where he can be very, very helpful.” -Adelman said postgame after the Wolves three-point loss.

Investment Protection

Ultimately the trade is neither a win or loss for the Wolves yet. Mbah a Moute scores only three points and collects two rebounds playing an average of 12 minutes per game in 42 appearances since arriving from Sacramento this season. He’s going to continue producing lackluster offensive numbers because, as we know, that isn’t MBAM’s game — he’s a defensive player. To date, Adelman has used 10 lineup variations of which have played for over 40 minutes on the floor, together, this season. Only two of the qualifying groups of five have a defensive rating that is less than 100 (defensive rating is defined as how many points opponents score per 100 possessions), both of those lineups feature Mbah a Moute.

The Wolves have underachieved this season, but this may end up being the best season in franchise history, excluding the Kevin Garnett era. I expect them to win 40 games, something they haven’t done since the 04-05 season when they recorded 44 wins, but they will also likely miss the postseason. Meanwhile, Rubio and Love have remained healthy (knock on wood), Kevin Martin is playing as well as any shooting guard in franchise history, Chase Budinger may potentially return to his pre-knee surgery form and Nikola Pekovic — aside from his injury woes — is inked to be a Timberwolf for years to come. In addition to the offseason retained and acquisitions, draft selections Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have both shown signs of visible progression at their respective positions.

For Derrick Williams, seeing few instances of improvement playing for another team is no reason for worry. He’s a young and developing player with freakish physical attributes. However, Williams now plays on a dysfunctional, losing roster and hasn’t presented any consistent production that has me stressing over his departure. As a fan, I would wish Williams all the best.

In the case of Luc Mbah a Moute there isn’t enough samples insisting his production has hindered the Wolves in the slightest. He’s certainly not the most potent offensive player, but, for now he’s an irreplaceable presence on the defensive end that the Wolves don’t possess. Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel and Dante Cunningham are all offensive minded wing players, this signifies that Mbah a Moute is a complementary asset to the roster currently in place.

The market is always fluctuating and there are those constantly watching the rise and fall of investment values as they occur. Thus far, the Wolves swapping stock with the Kings is a wash. Neither Williams or Mbah a Moute have payed excessive dividends to their respective brokers, or firms. However, the state of things in Minnesota remain unfathomably more promising than the state of Sacramento — perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the Wolves early season investment helps get things ‘in the black,’ somewhere the franchise hasn’t been for quite some time.

Gorgui’s Block Party: Timberwolves top Kings 104-102

Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season

Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season

The Kings came to Target Center at the end of a seven game road trip and playing on the second night of a back-to-back. The Timberwolves needed a win to keep their small playoff window open, but would have to do so without the services of Nikola Pekovic. On the other hand, Sacramento would be without DeMarcus Cousins, mostly nullifying Pekovic’s absence. And when Mike Malone slotted Aaron Gray at the center position, Rick Adelman countered with Gorgui Dieng. Not exactly the premier matchup the Target Center faithful were hoping for, but it would work for a night.

Looking to put this one away early, the Timberwolves came out blazing. Kevin Martin dished to Kevin Love from three and Ricky Rubio did the same nearly a minute later to reclaim the lead early in the first. Minnesota continued to build their momentum with a 12-3 run with 6:41 to go in the frame. Then the Kings would rally behind the superb bench play of former Timberwolf Derrick Williams. Williams quickly hung 10 points on the Timberwolves, even with Corey Brewer and eventually Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute on him. It was fitting since Williams said before the game that while he has nothing but good things to say about the Timberwolves, he still got especially excited to play in Minnesota. Fortunately, the Timberwolves were able to take a modest -32-29 lead into the second quarter.

Though the Timberwolves led by as much as 10 early in the first, they were now locked in a game of battleship because their defense had become as bad as the movie of the same name. In fact, the only real playmaker on defense was Dieng– who finished the first half alone with three blocks. In spite of Rudy Gay (3 for 8 in the first half), the Kings shot the ball incredibly well and kept the turnover battle even to keep them in the game.

Malone also said that he was concerned about the matchup between rookie Ben McLemore and Kevin Martin since Martin annihilated the rookie in their previous meeting. Martin had 16 points in the half, while finishing with 31, but got McLemore to foul out of the game while going to the line 14 times on the night. Additionally, Martin made all 14 attempts that not only made the fouls worse, but negated much of an overall poor shooting performance by Martin.

Williams really was the spark for the Kings since Isaiah Thomas had been kept mostly in check with five points, but his six assists still made his impact felt. The energy the Timberwolves initially had faded by this point and found themselves down 54-53 at the half. I don’t know if the team knew that it was supposed to blowout the Kings because I was there and all the games I’ve been to have been blowouts, but they were in a very close game. I mean, it’s not like they were missing one of their best players or anything.

Despite blowing a double-digit lead and letting the visitors build on that momentum, the Timberwolves had done an admirable job of not letting things get out of hand. They quickly regained the lead with a Rubio dunk and Love’s three pushed their lead to six. Yet, the Kings would manage to tie things up late in the half thanks to Isaiah Thomas who had 13 of his 18 points in the quarter. Also, defense…the Timberwolves were not about to try winning this game with defense.

Some important things of note happened in this quarter. First, Dieng earned his first career double-double while staying out of foul trouble. Secondly, Martin made his 1,000th three. Finally, Thomas dished out his 1,000th career assist. Why did I make a note about Isaiah Thomas? Because Isaiah Thomas is the fucking best. In short, cool stuff happened tonight. For proof, Thomas was the only who was impervious to Dieng’s shot blocking.

The two teams traded the lead for the first half of the fourth quarter in what wound being an exciting finish. They say basketball is a game of runs, but this is how the fourth played out: Timberwolves lead by four, then Kings lead by three, Timberwolves lead by five, and then Kings by one.

And after Williams made the free throw to give them the late lead, the Timberwolves charged back. Love hit what would be the go-ahead three pointer and Martin nailed a pair of free throws to put them up five. Then, Isaiah the Great hit a three to cut the lead to 102-98 with with six seconds left before hitting another triple to bring them within one. You could hear the collective gasps of the now-engaged crowd as Thomas hit the second three, but Martin would put the game away for good with two more free throws.

Love finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Martin burned the rookie for 31 himself. Williams gave the Kings 26 points and 11 rebounds off of the bench in just under 28 minutes. Thomas finished with 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds and him keeping the ball out of Gay’s hands late enabled the Kings to give the Timberwolves a late scare.

However, the player of the game was undoubtedly Gorgui Dieng. Hell, the story of the game was Gorgui Dieng. His 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks saved the game for a Timberwolves team that was short both Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf. Had he also not avoided foul trouble the team would have been scrambling at the center position for help. Yeah, he finished with four fouls, which is high-ish, but he played 37 minutes.

After all, this is the same player who averages 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes.

Adelman praised Dieng’s performance afterwards saying, “He has habits when the guards are coming at him or people are coming at him of getting his hands down and that’s where he gets his fouls. He just needs to use his length and keep backing it up, don’t just go after the guys. Back it up and you don’t have to block, you just have to alter the shots. The more he got into the game, the better it was. The other thing was that he worked really hard and he played 37 minutes and handled it. That gives him a lot of credit for the extra work he has been doing.”

We saw the positive change during the game, for instance, when Jason Thompson would go to back Dieng down and Dieng kept his hands up and forced Thompson to take an absurdly difficult shot over his wingspan. The worst thing a rookie can do is try to do too much and that sounds like what is at the core of Dieng’s foul trouble. An altered shot may not show up in the box score as a block, but it does show up as a missed field goal, and that’s as good as a block. Remember, even without Cousins, if he is unable to do this the Timberwolves likely don’t walk away from tonight with the win given the play of his teammates on defense.

As a whole, the more Dieng has been able to stay on the floor this season, the better. On-court the Timberwolves are a -12.9, but a dreadful -17.9 with him not on the court. Coupled with a 97 Defensive Rating and we say that Dieng is not just a defensive playmaker, but that he’s also been an impactful defender as a whole.

Furthermore, his 11 rebounds were just shy of his rebounds per 36 minutes average of 12.6, including an impressive 3.9 offensive rebounds per 36. This means, of course, that he is giving his own team second chance points and taking them away from opponents. In fact, Dieng grabbed three offensive boards and the rest of the Timberwolves grabbed four.

Yeah, his offense isn’t there and maybe it never really gets there, but so what? He still finds other ways to affect the game and not everyone needs to be a scorer. Besides, when healthy, this team does not need him to be a scorer. In fact, he may be the last guy or second-to-last guy they need to rely on to score. Adelman decided last minute to throw him in the starting lineup once he found out the Kings were starting Gray and the rookie made the most of it and gave his team the boost they needed. That’s what good teams get out of their rotation guys on a consistent basis, and has been something that has been lacking all year long.

There was a funny moment on the sideline when Dieng took the final free throws of the game. Dieng, a poor free throw shooter that is shooting 44 percent on the season, missed the first of two attempts. Adelman burned a timeout with one second left in the game that seemed to lack any and all reason. Of course that wasn’t the case. Adelman said afterwards that he called it to tell Dieng to just hit the rim. However, Dieng tells it differently. Dieng said while laughing that Adelman called the timeout to miss the free throw, but how to miss it if he is going to miss it. Adelman also added that they would have been happy if he had made one, but wanted to make sure that if he missed it he at least hit the rim in order to avoid penalty.

“I was just like ready. I was ready to play. I knew they needed me tonight and the other guys on this basketball team. When you got a chance you just have to step up,” said Dieng about his surprise start.

Cousins or no Cousins, Dieng knows that he has a job to do. He added, “I think I’ve faced a lot of guys in this league already. I played against Bynum and Dwight Howard and all those guys. I choose to be a basketball player, and I don’t mind facing him”

This is probably way too many words already, but the way Dieng played as a rookie as the only real center left on their roster was impressive. He saw extended time and did not shy away from the challenge. For this, Dieng is truly the player of the game.

The Tie That Binds: Timberwolves-Nuggets Preview

Normally, I would talk about what has recently happened for both teams coming into the game tonight. I might talk about how the Timberwolves hung with the Pacers for 40 minutes before Indiana put them in the vice and slowly crushed the life out of them. I might want to play up some angle about looking to get back on the right track at home, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But you don’t want to hear that; no, not after the Derrick Williams trade to Sacramento.

Why is this relevant? Well, because it turns out that Luc Mbah a Moute — the player the Timberwolves received in return for Williams — is the common thread between both teams. No, Mbah a Moute never played for the Nuggets, but he almost did.

When Mbah a Moute’s contract was expiring in the summer of 2011, he was sought after as an upcoming perimeter defender in the NBA. Coming off of a rookie deal, he was a restricted free agent and Denver wound up making him an offer. Sure enough, the Bucks couldn’t let him get away, and certainly not at the inexpensive price tag of around $5 million annually. So, the Bucks matched and the Nuggets drafted Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier. Of course, they would trade for Andre Iguodala to be their shutdown perimeter player as a one-year rental. Although, Nuggets fans probably won’t want you asking about that.

What does this mean? Nothing really, but it’s just an observation that Mbah a Moute will make his Timberwolves debut against the team that he nearly landed on two years before. Oh, and the Kings are starting Derrick Williams at small forward, proving that they’re either masochists or they really can’t stomach starting Travis Outlaw or John Salmons any longer. I could see it either way, personally.

Where: Target Center; Minneapolis, MN

When: 7pm

See/Hear It: FSN and WCCO AM 830

What Luc Mbah a Moute Could Bring to the Timberwolves

Photo: NBA

If you’ve been on Twitter today and are a Timberwolves fan you’ve undoubtedly heard the Derrick Williams trade rumors. Apparently they spread locally and something was supposed to go down today, and it didn’t Then ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped these nuggets and some validity was added to the speculation:

 

By dealing Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute, the Timberwolves would get the consistent perimeter defender that the lost when Andrei Kirilenko headed east for Brooklyn. Mbah a Moute, averaging just 4.4 points per game, will never be accused of being a great scorer, but will score in the ways that Williams scored best: within the flow of the offense as a cutter/spot-up guy. In fact, MySynergySports.com  says that he has been above average in those categories so far this season.

Mbah a Moute has been damn-near shutdown on the wing so far, holding opponents to just 39.5 percent shooting and a strong 0.84 points per possession. For comparison’s sake, Corey Brewer is averaging 0.80 ppp and with Mbah a Moute, the two would combine to give the Timberwolves another defender on the perimeter. Now, would you ever play the two together? Probably not too much since they could leave the Timberwolves with too few scoring options on the court, but that might depend on the lineup. However, if they did play them both, Mbah a Moute has shown to be a better spot up shooter and Brewer a better transition player, so that could work; the only way to really know is to try it out.

For Williams, he would get the change of scenery that he needs. After a relatively productive season when he was asked to step up, his minutes have fallen and so has his production. Or his production is down because of his minutes…either way. With a healthy Kevin Love and Dante Cunningham, the Timberwolves just don’t seem to have a use for Williams. And without a superstar at either forward spot, Williams will have the opportunity to earn all of the minutes that he desires. Which is good, because he is a useful player when he is used right and can even be a capable defender for spurts.

Williams’ production has been concerning, but that’s more of an effect of the lack of playing time so far. The last time Williams has been asked to play this few minutes was probably, well, never. So, the adjustment to 14 minutes per game has made it difficult for him to get a feel for the game and in rhythm. Williams’ percentages have fallen from respectable averages of around .430 percent and .333 percent from three last season, to .335 and .133 this season, despite taking fewer threes per 36 minutes. For Derrick, he’ll be in a more advantageous position competing with Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson for minutes instead of Love and Cunningham. If he can someday prove to be a serviceable small forward, he’ll only be competing with Travis Outlaw and John Salmons, so this will be a good opportunity for him.

From day one it seemed like it was going to be a challenge for Derrick Williams to succeed here. There was always one too many players in front of him and the Timberwolves tried to get him on the floor where and when they could. Last year, Cunningham joining the team immediately seemed like it was going to push him out of the rotation, and it did. This season, Chase Budinger came back and Robbie Hummel impressed Rick Adelman enough to earn his favor. Adelman spoke of Hummel on Media Day as a solid player that never tried to do anything that he couldn’t do, which was a fault of Derrick’s at times. This isn’t too say that Williams didn’t put in the work, because he absolutely did by losing weight, trying to work on his game and exerting effort on defense. This worked last season and Adelman praised him for it, but it appears this was always going to be his role on this team had everyone been healthy as they are now. It’s just where Derrick is at this point in his career, and he can have success in the NBA, but it just won’t be here.

As Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reports, the deal will go through tomorrow pending physicals and Derrick Williams’ time as a Timberwolf will be done. Sacramento isn’t traditionally known as a hotbed for player development, but DeMarcus Cousins has made strides and Williams’ attitude and work ethic gives him as good of a chance for success as any. If this goes through, expect it to be a straight deal with no picks or cash being exchanged.

 

 

Happening in Vegas: Oh, We’re Playing Again Today

The tough thing about being in Las Vegas to cover summer league is that, for starter’s, you don’t know how long you’re going to have to cover a team, and secondly, after the preliminary games you don’t know when that team is playing. Fast forward to this morning and that’s exactly what happened to me when I awoke to the updated schedule. So, today is game day with the Timberwolves playing the Kings at 7pm CST. I highly doubt this will be televised, so I would recommend keeping Twitter close if you’d like to follow the game, though I’m sure it will re-air later on.

For going 1-2 in pool play the Timberwolves earned the 13th seed, which is second of all teams with the same record and differentiated by things like quarter-by-quarter scoring (You get points in the tournament for things like wins, obviously, but a half point for things like winning quarters, which the Wolves have; they’ve just blown a couple of late leads, which is somewhat advantageous.) The winner of this game will play the undefeated D-League Select team at 7:30 CST tomorrow evening.

The Select team was the team that also defeated the Timberwolves in their first game.

Ben McLemore is of course a player of interest for the Kings. However, before yesterday’s terrific perormance McLemore look lost; you could almost say he bough his game at a “Thrift Shop”…eh….eh? No? Okay then.

Ray McCallum has also looked good for the Kings. The guard has shot .444 percent through three games with averages of 14.3 points , 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

As for the Timberwolves, they will need better from Shabazz Muhammad after yesterday’s win despite their victory. It looked like one of those days where nothing you throw up goes in, so this could very well be a return to the Shabazz that we saw against the Suns on Saturday.

I’m also counting on a Robbie Hummel redemption game today, as well as more strong play by Chris Johnson.

Additionally, while the Timberwolves have done a good job forcing turnovers, they really need to curb their own turnover issues. Through three games they are averaging 23 turnovers per game, which is in credible; the team finished with 28 alone yesterday. If they hope to play more games, enabling them to give their prospects more reps to grow with, then they need to take care of the ball better. Minnesota has lost momentum in each of their last games by giving up a couple of turnovers where the other team turns them around for easy baskets, and suddenly that once dormant team has found new life. Even things like Solomon Jones having three illegal screens on Saturday count and matter. In fact, Jones averaging 3.0 turnovers per game in 13 minutes per game is a big part of the problem, but he’s also far from the only one.

This may sound like a lot of thought put into a summer league, but it’s actually important. It matters to the Timberwolves and their future to get their prospects the developmental reps and it matters to the fringe players who aren’t just trying to woo NBA teams, but also those that are trying to impress D-League and overseas scouts also in attendance. So for guys like Lorenzo Brown, Demetri McCamey and John Holland, these games are huge for them, so that makes them a little more interesting.

Anyway, Timberwolves-Kings at 7pm CST. You can always follow along as I live-tweet from Cox Pavilion from @DerekJamesNBA or check the site following the game for my recap.

The end of things as we know it?

How about those NBA Playoffs?! Derrick Rose is leading the Bulls like a once-led-by Jordan team did back in the day. Russell Westbrook has established himself as just as worthy and important to the OKC Thunder as teammate Kevin Durant — might there be some jealousy clouding the team’s Playoff hopes? We already witnessed the Hawks of Atlanta beat down Orlando and their muscly-chiseled giant and could very well see Memphis take the Best of the West down too. All that in the opening round, and it’s just heating up.

It’s really unfortunate that these lively and entertaining Playoff games have to be dolefully overshadowed by the unfortunate situation in Sacramento. Some may think nothing of it — Why should we care about what’s going on in a poor basketball town like Sacramento? But when the league’s integrity is at stake, it should be considered a big deal.

If you’re not up to date on the Sacramento situation, here’s where we are now: The Maloof’s, Sacramento’s “proud” owners of their Kings, screwed up, ran out of money, cut the costs of operations throughout the organization and now they’re in a pickle looking for a new arena and a new beginning. Unfortunately, a city as small as Sacramento can’t afford a new arena to please the Maloof brothers’ requests and they’ve explored the option of relocating. “Relocation,” it’s the only word that provides enough motivation in the word itself to bring a community together to fight the stronger powers of the world. So as the city of Sacramento rallies itself to save their lone professional franchise — The Maloof’s already allowed their WNBA team to hit the fan — the fate of the Sacramento Kings is now in the NBA’s hands, as they’re now figuring out if it’s worth their interest to keep the franchise afloat in a dismantled NBA market.

In Sacramento’s case, we’ve quickly learned the fact that smaller-market teams are ruining the NBA’s limelight. By that I mean that they’re low attendance, poor marketing and tendency to withhold franchise players from going to a preferred destination hinders the league and its owners — and in Lebron James’ case, can curse a franchise and its fans. That won’t get you on David Stern’s good side, where he pictures the NBA as joyful as a fairy tale, where Chicago, New York, Miami, Boston and L.A. are all an integral part of each season and postseason.

But we’ve seen this all over, especially as of late with the Kings on the fence and other franchises in limbo. To make matters even more relevant than it blatantly should be already is that it happened in our very own city. Kevin Garnett hoisted this franchise onto his back and hauled it for 12 long, demanding seasons. But when KG left at McHale’s request — and ultimately for the good of the league — the franchise turned into a crippled and demoralized heap of excrement that proved to be more detrimental to the league than helpful. After that, all those involved, especially the fans, grew detached from the situation entirely. And now we’re winding down an awfully similar, and eery, path that the Kings tumbled down. We’re watching operation costs getting slashed, the fan support is decreasing and they haven’t caught a glimmer of luck, or hope, yet.

We’ve seen very similar situations happen multiple times — Seattle and New Orleans most recently — where the NBA’s front office has had to intervene in one organization’s business because either A) Owners go broke, B) Fans grow disinterested for any number of reasons, or; C) The team just flat out sucks. But more importantly, what all these troubled teams have in common is they’ve just failed to catch that break and, honestly, were never in the right caring hands to begin with.

Why didn’t the situation implode? Because Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge showed up. Because owner Paul Allen embraced how deeply Portlanders identified with his franchise and started emphasizing character. Because Allen hired an enterprising front office that used his money as a competitive advantage, buying extra draft picks, thinking outside the box with creative free-agent offers and raiding cost-cutting teams of solid veterans. The team built a good enough foundation to survive a few bad breaks (most recently, Oden and Roy), and now they’re giving the Mavericks everything they can handle in Round 1. Maybe the Blazers haven’t been totally lucky, but they’ve definitely been smart.

Bill Simmons said that here and I advise taking 15-20 minutes out of your day to read the article in its entirety. Anyways, back to the point: Teams in smaller markets are doomed in the NBA. Unless they’re being run by very smart people, such as the Blazers, or have just caught some lucky breaks, such as the Thunder, you’re years in the NBA, or at least in a specific city, are limited at best.

The next question is how can we fix this dilemma. Underprivileged owners in poor markets don’t have the gonads or the resources to survive in the NBA. It could very well lead to a contraction process in the NBA. Would contraction be a bad thing for the NBA? Looking forward both economically as well as the entertainment factor, a condensed and consolidated league could be the best thing going forward. No longer would Stern have to worry about bankrupt owners. No longer would city’s sit through season after season of suffering and aching. No longer would down-to-earth athletes have to make a professional decision about leaving their “home team” because of a “business decision.” The league would flourish in mounds of cash, sponsorships and the overwhelming amount of publicity they’d receive with all the different rivalries that could stem from big name players moving from one big name city to the next.

But at the same time, you can take Minnesota’s perspective and shoot all of those glamours of contraction down. We have the talent to turn things around. We have enough fan support, as we showed during the KG era, to make a statement amongst a league of coast-dwelling, tax-free states that have all the night clubs and warm weather to attract any talent they sought after.

The league doesn’t need to jump to any conclusions: If they find the right hands for a franchise like Sacramento, there’s hope. And if they also hit the lottery like OKC has, they could very well be the Blazers of tomorrow, even in a city as irrelevant to basketball as Portland once was. Minnesota is no different. Given the right amount of time and brains working behind the curtain, any team can be flipped right-side-up.

It’s just a matter of luck and intelligence. Isn’t everything?