Archives For February 2008

Blogs, Credibility and the NBA

Kurt —  February 18, 2008

Sparked by emailed questions and conversations with people in the business of NBA information, I’m using the All-Star Break to look at some bigger picture questions about NBA blogging. Today’s topic: How credible are blogs? And how NBA teams are dealing with them?

It’s the first question asked about bloggers, the first charge thrown out by those criticizing something written on a blog — what makes this person credible? In the case of an NBA blog like this one, why put any credence in what I write? What other NBA bloggers write?

I asked that question of Clipper Blog’s Kevin Arnovitz and his answer matches my own thinking — obsession-compulsion combined with the ability to work the TiVo rewind button. I’ve said before I could never do this blog without my DVR. Plus I went to the old John Wooden Basketball Camp for two straight summers as a kid, so that should count for something, you’d think.

Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty (and AOL FanHouse) gives better-phrased version of a more common answer I often give:

What qualifies me is the same thing which qualifies the newspaper’s beat writer or the national columnist: I watch the games. I pay attention to what the players and coaches say. I understand the league. The great thing about new media and especially the blogdome: It’s all meritorious. We’re obligated to read the beat writer’s take (especially in one-paper towns), we have to go through him or her to get the info. You don’t have to read the local team blogger. If you do, it’s because you appreciate what they do and gain something from it. Having an audience, that vindicates your opinion, I think.

The Lakers have some great beat writers in guys like Mike Bresnahan at the LA Times and Kevin Ding of the OC Register. But you don’t have to go through them to get the information. You don’t have to take their word for what Phil Jackson or Luke Walton said after practice. Instead, you can go to Lakers.com and watch the video posted of those interviews after practice.

And in a world where there is more access like that, fans are looking for something different when they read up on a team. That’s at the heart of why Arnovitz said blogs are both credible and popular.

Blogs are filling a vacuum with more concentrate in-depth analysis of the team. Beat writers suffer from the constraints of their media. Once upon a time — before Tivo, before the internet — if you went out to dinner at 7:30, or had an evening class, or worked nights, then you missed the game. When you got out of the restaurant, maybe you’d be lucky enough to catch the score on the radio. Otherwise, you’d have to call a friend, get thirty seconds at 11:28 p.m. on your local news, or wait for the thwack of the paper on your driveway the next morning. The sports section was the only place to get any detailed description of what happened, and for that, it had intrinsic value. But these days, you can get a live box score and even a play-by-play rundown of the game instantly. By the time the beat writer finishes his recap, the dedicated fan is already informed of the game’s general narrative. If he saw the game live or on television, the beat writer doesn’t really add anything other than a pat quote from a coach or a couple of players. What the fan wants to know is *why* the defense fell apart in the second half. Who was slow on the defensive rotation? Why did the zone fail? How did the opposing PG manage, time and time again, to penetrate without resistance? But the beat writer can’t do this — or isn’t allowed to, or doesn’t care to. The rare exceptions are pros like Brian Windhorst at the Akron Beacon-Journal, who does a stellar job of breaking stuff down. But most beat writers either can’t or refuse to inject the kind of subjectivity that would elucidate the game for the loyal fan.

I think in Los Angeles, for all the media attention paid the Lakers are given, that vacuum of analysis is seems even larger. Outside of Frank Burlison at the Press Telegram (who spends the vast majority of his writing on high school and college) there is precious little insight onto the Xs and Os, the analysis of the NBA game and players. The soap opera is the focus — not a shock for a bottom-line driven media where drawing a large audience is all that really matters at the end of the day.

For the readers, from what you said when I asked you, credibility is something is earned. And in today’s crowded media marketplace, that is true for the columnists at ESPN or the NY Times or the LA Times as it is for bloggers. Commenter Underbruin summed up many commmenter’s thinking when he wrote:

I feel that trust can be earned pretty quickly. When I read a site that makes a fair amount of sense in its visible front-page posts, that gives me a good reason to believe it’s worth at least coming back to check out again. I don’t feel specific institutions such as print media automatically deserve more or less trust than a blog. If anything, they sometimes have financial concerns that make them less trustworthy because they have to keep in mind that the team is their ‘meal ticket,’ so to speak.

Clearly readers did not equate with credibility was access — it wasn’t handed out with media passes.

Still, getting some of that access matters to many bloggers, both for what insights might be gleaned being that close, and as a matter of respect. But teams are not sure how to deal with bloggers, and the level of treatment varies from city to city. Golden State has been receptive to bloggers (of course, Golden State of Mind has put together events that helped fill seats, and money always talks).

One interesting event has taken place the last couple of years in Atlanta, where the Hawks hosted a “bloggers night.” For one night, bloggers of the Atlanta Hawks (who should be pretty happy the last few days) got a chance to sit in on press row. Micah Hart, manager of Websites for the Hawks (and Thrashers of the NHL) explains the night and adds some perspective.

We have done Blog Night the past two seasons (and once so far with the Atlanta Thrashers, with their second night still to come). My rationale for doing it is with a team like the Hawks, we lack for national coverage because we have been so bad the past several years. I/We want to get more people talking about the team (good or bad), so I am hoping that by doing these kinds of activities it will inspire more of our fans to take an active interest in following the team.

I thought both years Blog Night was successful. In terms of how we decided who to invite – last year we basically cast a wide net, inviting any local bloggers (hawks-related or not) to come out and join in. This year, we were a little more selective, but that’s more because there are more Hawks bloggers out there now. We had about 10 people each year, which I thought was a pretty solid turnout. And, most importantly, the amount of posting these bloggers have done on the team seems to have spiked afterwards, which is really what we as the team were hoping to get out of it.

In terms of access, the Hawks have been pretty careful about doling it out. The bloggers were invited to listen to the coach’s post-game presser live, but not ask questions. Also, as it turned out, I got to take them into the locker room to talk with Al Horford, which I think everyone got a huge kick out of.

I don’t think you’ll see us giving credentials to bloggers any time soon, but that’s a PR decision, not a website one…. I do think it will happen in time as blogs become more mainstream.

Brian Kamenetzky from the LA Times Lakers blog has season media passes (which he puts to good use) and he adds some thoughts to this:

Some teams are more progressive than others in terms of recognizing the role of the blogger, though I understand the need for quality control. In terms of providing regular access, it does make sense for teams to be discriminating in which outlets they’d let in. Not all sites are created equal. It would be smart, though, for teams to differentiate between those independent sights with a well-established readership and reputation for quality content and provide access to those writers.

I have not personally ever asked the Lakers for access or an interview (other than questions sent to Ty Nowell, the guy who oversees content on the Lakers Website). There are really two reasons for this. First, this is still a hobby to me, I have a family and a job that take priority in my life. I can’t skip work to go to practice, I’m not going to go to a ton of games whether I have a pass or not because those are nights away from my kids.

But the second part is this: What can I do with a pass that would add to the insight of this site? Going to practice, scribbling down the same quotes as everyone else and putting them up here with some witty commentary is not adding to the understanding of the team or the game. We’ve got good beat writers doing that already. What I picture doing is more stuff like the Henry Abbot True Hoop interview with Kurt Rambis, which gave some interesting insight into the triangle and the Lakers thinking. (Although, I would have had to ask about growing the moustache back.)

As passes become available to bloggers, we need to ask ourselves how we are using this passes. What are we doing that is different and special? How do we not become like the media we think is often lacking?

Maybe as long as we’re asking those questions, we stand a better chance of keeping our credibility.

What’s The Deal With Blogs?

Kurt —  February 17, 2008

Sparked by emailed questions and conversations with people in the business of NBA information, I’m using the All-Star Break to look at some bigger picture questions about NBA blogging. Today the post talks about the growth of NBA blogs and why people are reading them — and a lot more of you are reading them. Tomorrow, the topic will be credibility of blogs and how NBA teams are dealing with them.

I’m amused now when I read a coach or media columnist (or politician, for that matter) say “the bloggers are doing X.” Because, from where I sit, that is as broad a statement as saying “all Californians are doing X” or “all white males” or whatever. With NBA blogs, the community has become too large and too diverse to pigeonhole

There has been an explosion in NBA blogs in the last few years — part of the overall explosion in blogging on the Web. But why so many NBA blogs in particular (on the heels of the same trend in baseball)? LA Times Lakers blogger and SportsHubLA founder Brian Kamenetzky points that the nature of the NBA fans has helped fuel that:

First, the NBA demographic tends, I think, to skew a little younger, with an audience that’s more into using new technology and new forms of communication to talk about sports and basketball in particular. Obviously, too, the popularity of the league is incredibly high right now, too, which helps.

Another point that Sactown Royalty (and AOL Fanhouse) author Tom Ziller points makes is that several NBA blogs and bloggers are now getting paychecks from the “mainstream media” — Henry Abbot’s True Hoop, which started as an independent blog and is part of ESPN, leads that way — and that has helped bring attention and key links to NBA blogs.

But that is a very diverse group of bloggers that readers are finding in those links. All bloggers really have in common is software Ziller adds:

‘Blog’ has become a method of publication more than a style. Certainly, something like Wizznutz is different than D.C. Sports Bog or Bullets Forever or Gilbertology. All the same subject, all the same software (at core). But the styles define the purpose, with is certainly varied.

And that plays into what a lot of you told me when last week I asked my readers where they get their NBA news and why.

The first thing that struck me is just how long gone the days of people having one or two sources of information for basketball are. Virtually everyone gets information both from the analysts on televised games and key NBA sites (Yahoo, ESPN, or local papers) and with alternative sites, like blogs. Brian P. summed it up well:

I basically hit anything everything up to soak up what people are thinking and I like to come here and watch people discuss those same ideas. In the end I make my own opinions with the multiple insights I get in addition to my own and I am content.

People also were drawn to the community of sites, a place where they can “converse” and learn from other fans. The size and tones of the communities on the various Lakers sites varies considerably, and that provides options for people of different tastes

Finally, there seems to be a craving for things less seen in mainstream media. For perspectives not considered “tinged with the negatives that come with the big sites,” to quote Kamenetzky. Certainly, these were questions asked of readers of this site, where people come because they like/are curious about new hoops statistics and a more Xs and Os breakdown, so the answers to the questions are going to be a bit skewed. But I think there is a reason that Kevin at Clipper Blog and this blog have had some success — for all the coverage of the Los Angeles Lakers (and Clippers) there is precious little hard on the court analysis. There’s plenty of national and local media who seem to love the soap opera of the LA teams, but few breakdowns of plays and players.

So fans come here. Or read Dancing Barry and ask questions at Lakersground. Or go to the guys at Lakers Nation (formerly Get Garnett). Or read Kelly Dwyer (somebody give the man a full time gig!). Or search out what David Thorpe says at ESPN.

I think that blogs are finding a lot of niches that existing media find hard to fill or keep up with. Henry Abbot’s True Hoop has success in part because he loves the game but doesn’t gloss over the warts (to borrow his phrasing). Traditional coverage tends to take a magnifying glass to the warts, skewing toward sensationalism first. Some blogs do that too, certainly.

But you can’t pigeonhole all blogs that way.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  February 14, 2008

Time to clear out the inbox (and the inbox in my head) of thoughts and notes heading into All Star Weekend.

UPDATE: The reports are back on Kobe’s finger injury and you can’t like the sound of it:

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has been diagnosed with a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament, an avulsion fracture, and a volar plate injury at the MCP joint of the small finger of this right hand, it was announced today. The damage occurred when Bryant dislocated the finger in the Lakers’ game at New Jersey on February 5, and was aggravated in last night’s game at Minnesota.

“My current thinking is to give my finger some treatment and rest for a few days, and hope I can still continue to compete at a high level after that rest,” said Bryant. “I would prefer to delay any surgical procedure until after our Lakers season, and this summer’s Olympic Games. But, this is an injury that myself and the Lakers’ medical staff will just have to continue to monitor on a day-to-day basis.”

Knowing what we do about Kobe, he will play through this unless the pain is unbearable. My initial guess, seeing how he played through it already for a few games, is he plays out the season and playoffs, as well as the Olympics. Then, if he still wants surgery, he’d likely just miss a little of camp. But this is something to seriously monitor.

• From the LA Times, Phil Jackson’s words to the team going into the All Star break:

“Stay off the ski slopes,” he said wryly.

• 7-2. Frankly, if the Lakers had Pau Gasol on board before this nine game East Coast road trip, I would have thought 7-2 would have been a good record. As kwame a. pointed out in the comments, if Dallas beats Phoenix tonight, the game between the Lakers and the Suns next week will be for first place in the division. And it should be Shaq’s debut.

• The Lakers are going to show up in plenty of trade rumors for the next week — I would be very surprised if any of them are more than some agent’s fantasy (or some other GM trying to gain leverage in actual negotiations). The Lakers do not need to make a move, they are contenders for the title right now. Let this team gel.

• In fact, the Lakers biggest problem is how to fit their borderline All Star center back into the lineup, as well as their best perimeter defender. While those are concerns, those are the good kinds of concerns to have.

• I’m late to this party, but I love Kareem’s new blog. Very smart, well rounded man.

• Happiest man in the world the wrtiter’s strike was resolved — Jon Stewart. I think Rob. L may be second on that list.

• Going to finally see There Will Be Blood this Friday. Unless somebody can convince me something else is going to win best picture.

• Does Devean George dare step outside his home in Dallas for the rest of the season?

• Why would George nix a trade just a week after he asked to be traded. Well, aside from enjoying ratcheting up the blood pressure of a billionaire, there are other reasons. I’ll let agent-in-training JonesontheNBA explain:

For George it’s about leverage. By keeping his Birds rights he makes it so he could get paid more via a sign and trade if he wants to go to a team that is over the cap, but unable to use their mid-level. As well, he doesn’t want to nix the opportunity to be included in a sign and trade this summer with a 1 year sweet deal if Dallas tries to package him in a deal to get another player. Basically it’s just all about the options for him.

• By the way, I still think he may change his mind over the weekend.

• Can’t say it enough, the best part of all these Western Conference trades if you’re a Lakers fan — Phoenix and (if the trade goes through) Dallas get a lot older, pushing all their chips in for this season. Maybe next season, if all the key parts can stay incredibly healthy in their mid 30s. The Spurs are an old team and may be finally showing it. Meanwhile the Lakers key cogs are under 30 — Kobe, Pau, Bynum and Odom. The only guy over 30 is Fisher, who is basically splitting time with the rapidly-improving Farmar. The Lakers window is at least four years right now.

• Just like Jerry Seinfeld, things in my life tend to balance out. Since the Lakers are going great, it explains a lot about what is going on with Newcastle United.

Records: Lakers 34-17 (5 seed); T-Wolves 10-40 (Hello Michael Beasley)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113 (3rd); T-Wolves 101.9 (29th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (8th); T-Wolves 111.5 (27th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radminovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
T-Wolves: Sebastian Telfair, Marco Jaric, Corry Brewer, Ryan Gomes. Al Jefferson

UPDATE: Kidd Going To Mavericks. ESPN is now saying this is basically a done deal: Kidd to Dallas for Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Devean George and Maurice Ager. Malik Allen also goes to Dallas. Jersey is expected to buy out Stackhouse, who may then return to Dallas (which is big for their depth).

My first reaction is not unlike the Suns getting Shaq — I’m not sure this makes them a lot better. It slows the Mavs down a lot and I’m not sure their defense really gets better. But, like the Shaq trade, if Kidd has another gear that he has not shown so far this season it could be a bigger help for the Mavericks than I see right now.

Commenter Reed lives in Dallas and had these thoughts:

Talent aside, the trade still is a huge needed boost for the Mavs as they were looking a little broken. I’m in Dallas and it has become apparent the 2 tragic playoff losses, injuries, and recent losses had gotten to the team. They needed a jolt and Kidd provides that.

One thing it does for the Mavs on the court is get Terry on the floor more. Avery did not like to play Harris and Terry together because one would be exposed defending 2’s. But Kidd is much better defending 2’s than 1’s these days because of his strength and diminished speed, allowing Terry to stay with the point guard. Terry also fits extremely well next to Kidd because he is a spot up shooter who doesn’t need a lot of time to get his shot off. Harris, Howard, and Dirk are not playmakers who were great at setting up shooters, but Kidd will be able to create more easy looks for him. I still don’t like Kidd with Dirk and Howard though — those guys don’t like to run, don’t cut to the rim, don’t run off screens without the ball, etc. Kidd also isn’t very good in the pick and roll anymore because the guard can just go under the screen and force him to shoot — meaning Dirk isn’t going to get the pick and pop or switch mismatch. Though, maybe they’ll just keep running the Terry/Dirk pick and roll for that reason.

Lakers Notes: Last game before the All Star break seems like a good time for a little reflection.

Remember a couple weeks ago, the Lakers were heading out on a road trip having just played some of their worst basketball of the season? I actually predicted a 4-5 road trip, looking at the way the Lakers were playing and some of the good teams coming up.

Those days now seem like five years ago.

The Lakers rose to the occasion against Detroit — only losing on a last-second shot — and then came the Pau Gasol trade. Since the moment he stepped on the court the Lakers offense has been a force, Pau is a natural fit in the triangle, with his ability to play at the basket or 18 feet out. With him and Kobe on the floor drawing doubles, the looks that shooters like Vladimir Radmanovic and Derek Fisher get are more open. Lamar Odom looks more comfortable in a lower-pressure role, grabbing rebounds and getting some points. The team is clicking on offense (covering up some defensive issues of late).

And the Lakers are now 6-2 on this long road trip, with a winnable game tonight.

With two of the Lakers best defenders due back next month (Bynum and Ariza), it’s hard not to be walking around with a big smile on your face.

And for the long run, remember this — the Lakers schedule gets easier from here on out. (Hat tip True Hoop)

The T-Wolves Coming In: While Minnesota has won just 10 games on the season, four of those have come in their last 10 games as the team shows signs of growth.

But that growth did not include last night, when Minnesota fell to New Jersey. According to senor Dwyer over at Yahoo!, Minnesota had no answer for stepped up defensive pressure that New Jersey applied late.

Over the summer Kevin McHale took a lot of heat for the Kevin Garnett deal, with people saying he should have done it earlier and that way gotten more back. Maybe so. But he did get Al Jefferson back, giving the T-Wolves a very strong, All-Star caliber center to build around. And when you look at some recent rebuilding-move trades, suddenly that trade doesn’t look so bad.

Of late Jefferson has been a beast — in the last 10 games he is averaging 25 points on 50.5% shooting, plus he’s pulling down 13 boards.

He’s been getting more help — if not consistent help — from some of the other young players there. Last night it was Telfair, who put up 24 and (again according to Dwyer) did some nice things on the pick and roll. Also, Gomes has had big nights against the Lakers — he can shoot the ball if you leave him open.

Randy Foye and Rashard McCants are injured and may not play (or would see limited minutes).

Keys To The Game: The second night of a back-to-back for the Timberwolves, and while they have young legs and like to run a little the Lakers should be able to pick up the pace and wear the Wolves down.

The key to slowing the Wolves is to stop the offense running through Jefferson. The Lakers need to keep Jefferson from getting great position deep on the block — he likes to do that early in the clock, trailing any break and before the defense gets set. Once down there, the Lakers do not have a body that can move him (who does?). The other key to slowing him is to pressure the less-than-amazing passers that handle the ball a lot of Minny — don’t let them get him the ball on the block.

According to the scouting report at Lakers.com, don’t be shocked to see the Lakers double Jefferson and try to make him pass out — that leads to turnovers.

The Lakers should be able to get their points — Minny plays a pretty basic defense with Jefferson trying to sag off and guard the paint. If he covers Gasol, the Lakers could score a lot with a high screen-and-roll — if Jefferson sags off, Pau drills the midrange pick-and-pop, if he comes out Fisher/Kobe/whoever has no big body defending the rim on the drive.

Also, you have to keep a body on Jefferson when a shot goes up, the Lakers did an iffy job on Dwight Howard in that regard and need to improve tonight.

Often the last game of a road trip and the last game before the All Star break are games that teams mail in. If the Lakers do that tonight they will be in a tough fight with a team who has some talent. If the Lakers show up focused like they have the last few games, Kobe may be able to leave early for New Orleans.

Where you can watch: Thank Buddha the Lakers back west of the Mississippi — game time is 5 p.m. and there is no tape delay out in LA. Nationally you need league pass (although I might flip over to that Suns/Warriors game on ESPN, which could be very entertaining).

Getting Your NBA/Lakers News

Kurt —  February 12, 2008

Today, I want to ask you a few questions. And for a change it is not about on-the-court basketball or front office moves. (We’ll be back to those topics tomorrow.)

Rather, it’s about where you get your NBA/Lakers news and information. And, how you evaluate the options out there. The reason I’m asking is for a post that will go up during All-Star weekend talking about blogs, their role in NBA coverage, and what is driving their popularity. I’m sending emails out in the next 24 hours to a number of bloggers as well asking them questions, but what really matters is what and why you read what these bloggers write, and who else you read.

For example, this site has never been intended as a Lakers news site — my assumption has long been that by the time you come here you know the results from last night or about things like Chris Mihm needing another surgery. The goal here was to provide some analysis and a place for a thoughtful discussion of those issues.

Certainly all blogs do not follow this model (nor should they). And we all get information from multiple sources, going to other sites to hear other views. Or talk about rumors and potential trades.

So, here are my questions, please answer in the comments:

1) Where do you go to get your NBA information? What sources do you use: television, Web sites, print media? Which ones? How many games do you watch a week?

2) How do evaluate what shows/sites/writers you go to and trust? For example, do you give a working beat writer a certain amount of trust automatically? What about a columnist/analyst for a major newspaper or publication? How do you determine which blogs and fan-based sites do you read?

In the case of the Lakers specifically, where do sites such as Lakersground and Club Lakers fit into the mix? What about sites like the LA Times Lakers blog?

Some quick ground rules: This is not about slamming a particular writer or site, but rather me trying to get a better understanding of how some fans get and digest their NBA news. Let’s be civil. I’m fine with you using a writer’s/site’s name to hand out praise or to say you don’t read/like their work, we all have our tastes and preferences. What we’re going to avoid is “I don’t read X because he’s an idiot.”