Archives For NBA general

Nick Minnerath, One More Detour

Dave Murphy —  September 20, 2013

NBA training camps will soon open their doors. Well into the luxury tax and confined by the new CBA, the Los Angeles Lakers have been scooping up minimum salary free agents. There’s currently 15 guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts, including more than a few wild cards – it will be that kind of season.

Also in play are camp invites from the outer fringes, playing for exposure and the remote possibility of bumping someone else out of place. This is part of the league’s elusive allure, for veterans at the end of their careers, perennial D-leaguers and cautionary tales. Nick Minnerath is a skinny white 24 year-old with lots of ink, hailing from a fragile east coast spit of sand. He wasn’t drafted, was never an AAU prospect and in truth, was basically a washout, even apart from basketball.

This summer, Minnerath managed to get an invite to the Lakers training camp. A couple weeks later, he turned it down. He’s not however, giving up on his hoops dream.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts is a golden place during the summer – dunes and cord-grass, harbors and lighthouses, marshy inlets and terns and wheeling gulls. The population swells to about half a million and the road over the Sagamore Bridge becomes glutted with SUVs. Town boards have long fought against commercialization and to an extent, they’ve succeeded. The forces of nature have not been as kind, with land that constantly shifts and erodes. For three months out of each year, summer residents move back into their vacation homes and relive childhood memories and perhaps make some new ones, while just as many tourists snatch up overpriced rental cottages, months in advance.

When the crowds leave, the Cape changes. The long off-season can be cold and desolate, restaurants close and traffic thins. Nor’ easters blow sideways off the Atlantic, flooding homes and knocking down trees and power lines. The population is an odd combination of retirees, fishermen, construction workers and artists. There’s generational alcoholism and drug use. Cape Cod kids either look to get out or become resigned to a lifetime of limited economic opportunity. Nick Minnerath was a typical townie, baggy jeans and a Celtics hoodie. He would have blended right in except that 6-9 kids stick out on the Cape.

Minnerath grew up in Truro, the son of Michael Minnerath, a Cape Cod National Seashore Ranger. The town is second only to Provincetown at the end of the geographic line. It doesn’t have its own high school – Nick attended Nauset Regional in nearby Eastham. He skipped regularly, got into drugs and failed off the basketball team in his freshman and junior years. He admits he wasn’t particularly into it and had no hopes for college.

Nauset’s head coach Keith Arnold saw something different, size and raw athleticism, as well as a pure jump shot. Minnerath began working out seriously the summer before his senior year. The kid who had nearly bottomed out, approached the season with a new determination. Two games in, Nick Minnerath broke his ankle. A dream that had barely come alive, was already over.

Minnerath managed to graduate, attended a semester at Cape Cod Community College and then resolutely bottomed out. He was heavily into cocaine, took odd jobs – construction worker, cab driver in Provincetown, clerk at Cumberland Farms in Eastham. Cumby’s is one of the places that doesn’t close down during the off-season, it’s where you get your gas and scratchers and cigarettes. According to Nick Minnerath, “I was 19 and I felt like my life was already over.”

A trip to Lincoln, Nebraska with his father made a difference. They were there to visit his aunt and he spent some time at the local YMCA, playing pickup ball with a few guys from the University of Nebraska. He was out of shape but the potential was still there. They asked where he was playing. The answer of course, was nowhere.

Minnerath returned to the Outer Cape, to drugs and sitting on a couch. Something had changed however, a faint flame had been rekindled. “I’d probably be dead if I continued where I was going”, he says. His dad’s girlfriend Janet, suggested contacting junior colleges. She helped him with letters and emails, over 50 of them. Only one coach responded. Steve Finamore at Jackson Community College in Michigan extended an invite to an open gym in June, 2008. There were no promises made. Nick, Michael and Janet, packed their car and drove 900 miles. On a Midwestern basketball court, Finamore watched for ten minutes and then pulled Nick’s dad aside. He offered a scholarship on the spot.

Minnerath found a new focus at Jackson. He caught the attention of Coach Ray McCallum from the University of Detroit Mercy, was offered a scholarship and accepted. He broke into the starting five his first year with the Titans. By his senior year in 2011, Minnerath was attracting national attention. Five games into the season, he blew out his right knee with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. His father was called out of the stands. Michael said, “It was just the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Somehow, Nick Minnerath came back again. He graduated, rehabbed all summer, returned to the Titans for a redshirt season as a graduate student. He put up an average of 14.6 points and 5.9 boards, dropped 36 on Valparaiso, 34 against Cleveland State. He got an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational in April, had pre-draft workouts for ten NBA teams including the Celtics, Pistons, 76ers, Warriors and Kings. Minnerath’s number wasn’t called in June but he played for Sacramento during Vegas summer league. He also caught the attention of the Los Angeles Lakers.

At 6-9 and 215, Minnerath can run the floor, play above the rim and knock down the three-ball. For the Lakers, he would have been one more potential swingman in a glut of swingmen. He earned an invite to camp with the additional carrot of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Instead, he took one more detour on his unlikely basketball journey and signed with Obradorio CAB in the Spanish ACB League. Realistically, Minnerath made a decision that was good for him, both financially as well as on the floor. It would have been fun to see him give it a shot in Los Angeles. Yet for a Cape Cod kid once headed nowhere, Nick Minnerath is still living a basketball dream.

Free Agency has begun and with it, the rumor mill is running at full speed. The Lakers haven’t been active in the sense that they’ve gotten anyone to agree to a contract, but they’re reportedly showing interest in several players – both their own and ones from other teams.

This activity shouldn’t surprise anyone – the Lakers need to improve – and with their limited resources a shotgun approach that canvases the league in search of upgrades is one way to try to fill those holes. Plus, Mitch Kupchak has expressed his desire to hit a homerun this off-season and that requires aggression.

The player whose acquisition would most equate to hitting it out of the park is Dwight Howard. On Friday he met with the Magic’s GM and reiterated the fact that he’d like to be traded. Reports then put the Lakers in the conversation as one of the teams that would like to trade for him. However, since then, reports also state that he only wants to be traded to one team – the Brooklyn Nets – and that they’re the only team he’d commit to long term (either through a contract extension or as a FA when his contract expires). So, this would theoretically put the Lakers out of the equation. After all, if he won’t sign a contract extension with the Lakers (or re-sign with them after next season), the point is moot.

Theoretically.

Long story short, the team that owns Dwight’s Bird Rights is the team that will have the inside track to keeping him long term. The CBA has effectively done two things concerning player movement: First is that it’s made extending current contracts less lucrative than becoming a full fledged free agent and then using your Bird Rights to re-sign with your current team. Second, the CBA has made the difference in Bird Rights contracts and non-Bird Rights contracts bigger, meaning it’s more lucrative than ever before to stay on with the team that holds those rights.

If you had any doubts about this, look at Deron Williams’ stance right now. He’s reportedly deciding between staying in Brooklyn or leaving to play in Dallas. The difference in the contracts the Nets can offer versus the one the Mavs can offer is an extra year and roughly $25 million. Even though a star player can recoup that extra year in his next contract, the proverbial bird in the hand of that extra money and year right now is going to be appealing to any player. Which would explain the reports that Williams is leaning towards staying in Brooklyn.

As for Dwight, what further makes his proclamations about being all in for the Nets complicated is the fact that the Nets are reportedly interested in acquiring other players whose contracts will effectively remove their cap space moving forward. They’ve already inked Gerald Wallace to stay on for the next four years (at $10 million a year) and have Luis Scola and/or Joe Johnson on their radar as well. If either of those deals were to go through, there’s a strong possibility that the Nets wouldn’t have the cap space to sign Dwight outright next off-season. Said another way, if Brooklyn really is Dwight’s preferred destination the need to get there now via trade is very important because getting there as a free agent next summer may not be possible unless he takes less than the max (and potentially way less).

All these potential issues conspire to give Dwight’s next team (even if it’s not the Nets) the leg up in keeping him long term, making the prospect of a Howard rental less daunting. That said, should a team still take that risk?

Last off-season I examined a potential trade for Dwight and all of those positives remain true today. While I remain a Bynum believer – his skill set, size, and improvement trajectory are all impressive – there’s no question that Dwight is the better player. If player A is a multi time all-star, 1st team all-NBA performer, top 5 MVP finisher, and 3 time DPOY while player B is a one time all star and has made the all-NBA 2nd team once, there’s no debate.

But even with all these factors potentially making a Dwight acquisition more than a worthwhile risk, the question still remains if the Lakers should make their push to get the best big man in the game. And that’s where things get murkier. Howard is currently recovering from back surgery – which is still a very big question mark for a player whose athleticism contributes to so much of his success. His recent PR gaffes speak to a person who either gets bad advice or has a hard time sticking to decisions he makes. We often vent about Bynum’s maturity issues, but it seems Howard has some of his own and he’s an even longer tenured player with more experience dealing with the demands of being an NBA superstar. When you combine these factors with his strong intimations that he’d prefer to play in Brooklyn long term (and, by inference, not in Los Angeles) those are a lot of variables to overlook if making him a priority acquisition.

How the Lakers weigh the pros and cons of trying to go after Howard aren’t known. Are they dissuaded enough by him preferring to ply his trade in New York? Does his back worry them? What about his recent run of regrettable flip-flops? Or, maybe they trust in their franchise history and the fact that they’d be able to offer the most money next off-season. Most free agents look at two things: where the most money is and what’s the best situation. When the former is in the Lakers’ favor, it’s been some time since the latter wasn’t also right at (or above) any other teams’ status.

My gut tells me Dwight finds a way to get where he wants. Superstars normally do. But the Lakers must still have the discussion as Dwight’s that good a player and having him means you have one of the best 5 players in the league. That can’t be ignored.

It’s always a bitter feeling when the Finals roll around and the Lakers aren’t participating – especially when they’re one of the handful of teams with legitimate title aspirations. But, for the second season in a row, this is where we sit. However, as a basketball fan, this Finals match up is one that intrigues me to no end. Both teams offer elite star players in their primes, are well coached, and the results will impact the league for years to come. If the Heat win, they’ll have achieved what they were formed to do and can (potentially) build on this success for future seasons. If the Thunder win, they’ll be so young that it could easily tip the balance of power in their direction for the next several years (especially if their ownership is willing to go deep into the tax to keep the team together).

From the beginning of the season this is the match up many predicted and now we have it. As a Laker fan this may upset me but as someone that loves the game I can’t help but be excited. Here are a few of my thoughts heading into the highly anticipated first game…

  • The LeBron vs. Durant match up will be the headline grabber but I think one of the most important tactical match ups will be Bosh vs. Ibaka. Bosh’s ability to spread the floor and play in space will challenge Ibaka’s desire to guard the rim and play close to the paint. If Serge can’t guard the rim effectively, LeBron and Wade will have a much easier time finishing off drives.  And if Serge decides to leave Bosh to still help at the basket he’ll be put in the difficult position of having to challenge without fouling while also leaving one of the premier jump shooting big men alone. If Bosh is able to hit his jumper like he did in game 7 vs. the Celtics, it will be interesting to see how the Thunder counter that match up over the course of the series.
  • The other match up that interests me is Wade vs. Harden. Wade hasn’t looked himself these playoffs and with reports about him getting his knee drained against the Pacers, it would not surprise me if he’s banged up. But he’ll need to be at, or close to, his best this series if the Heat are to win, especially when matched up with Harden. Wade will need to make Harden work hard on both sides of the floor and wear him down by running him off picks and attacking him in isolation from both the wing and the post. When the Thunder played the Lakers (and early in the Spurs series) Harden seemed to tire on offense when he had to guard Kobe on the other end (and Ginobili when he was coming off the bench). If Harden struggles, the Thunder become more beatable as he’s the bridge between Westbrook’s all out attack game and Durant’s more patient approach. Harden will need to perform well on both ends but that’s a tall task if it’s Wade he must go at consistently.
  • It will be interesting to see how much Perkins and Joel Anthony play in this series. My hunch is that they’ll be matched up a lot with each other but when Perkins sits, Anthony won’t play at all. I don’t think the Heat can afford to play him on a jump shooting big like Ibaka or Collison. Perkins, on the other hand, will likely play more than he should – especially when the Heat go small. I think his foot speed issues will be exploited when James plays PF and Bosh plays C. Whether he can make up for that on the glass and in the halfcourt by getting his teammates open in OKC’s screen game remains to be seen, but I’d be weary of playing Perkins too much when there’s an abundance of speed on the floor for Miami.
  • Which role players will step up? Will Ibaka have one of those games where he’s nearly perfect on his mid-range J? Will Battier or Mike Miller have a game where they get hot from behind the arc? Can Haslem still make a difference even though he looks like he’s not right physically? Can Fisher summon another hero moment and twist another dagger into an opponent? I’ve seen too many big games turn on a performance from a role player to not expect one or more of these things to happen over the next couple of weeks. The stars may headline, but at least one time a supporting cast member will steal the show.
  • Out of all the players in this series, Russell Westbrook may be the true difference maker. Every other star player has a counterpart at his position that is nearly just as key except for Westbrook. If he torches Chalmers or finds his groove shooting his mid-range jumper, the Heat will need to start to trap him and shade their defense his way. This will open up opportunities for other Thunder players on every possession. By the end of the Spurs series Westbrook was making the D pay by making smart passes when they overcommitted to him. If Miami is forced to do the same, they may be in trouble.
  • Ultimately, every time I try to pick a winner to this series I can’t really decide. Neither the Heat nor the Thunder have faced a team like the one they will tonight. OKC hasn’t seen a team with Miami’s defensive ability and athletes to match their own. And the Heat haven’t faced a team with as explosive an offense nor the depth and size of the Thunder. Both will be in for a bit of a shock tonight and will need to adjust accordingly. Predicting this series is as much about who navigates that change best and at this point, it’s toss up. If I had a gun to my head I’d choose Miami to win in 6 games but I’m about as confident in that pick as I am in winning the lottery.

However this series goes, we’ll be in for some great basketball. And while not having the Lakers still playing is disappointing, I can’t say this match up has me at all upset. These two teams have been on a collision course all season and to see it actually happen has me excited.

Of the exit interviews I watched yesterday, I felt Ron’s was the most intriguing. It definitely wasn’t necessarily the most profound or the most eloquent of the interviews, but it may have been the most eye-opening and showed his ever-growing maturity as a man, basketball player and teammate. When I watched Ron’s interview, I saw a guy who has the ultimate confidence in his teammates, a guy who understands what a weird season this was, and a guy who was willing to take accountability for the Lakers inability to get over the hump in this year’s post season. Ron has come a long way from his younger years in the league, and his 20+ minute interview really highlighted who he is and the genuine care he has for his coaching staff, teammates and organization.

During the interview, there were a few segments that really stood out to me. One was on the fact that Mike Brown put the Lakers in a position to win this series against Oklahoma City, and the Lakers weren’t able to make the plays down the stretch during a couple of key games to pull it off.

“Mike wasn’t out there guarding Kevin, it was me, Kevin scored on me. Mike didn’t throw turnovers at the end of the game. Mike didn’t miss three-point shots, I missed three point shots. Mike didn’t come in out of shape — well he did come in out of shape (laughs). But it’s all mental for coach, it was the players.”

A lot has been said about Mike Brown this season. He was given a raw deal by Lakers fans before the Lakers even began training camp. After two pre-season games, folks were asking for him to be fired and after this post season, there were questions about whether or not Brown should be on the hot seat. These ideologies are generally ridiculous, especially considering the way this season began, the shortened training camp, the loss of Lamar Odom and eventually the loss of Derek Fisher. The Lakers were inconsistent on the floor this year, no doubt, but the circumstances in which Brown was dealt were equally as inconsistent. However, despite the slow start, the change in both offensive and defensive philosophies, the changes in personnel, this Mike Brown led basketball team was in position to win two playoff basketball games in which they’d ultimately go on to lose do to turnovers down the stretch. I often grew frustrated with Brown’s ability to make adjustments on the fly, he never really figured out his rotations this season and his offense unsuccessfully tried to gain steam more than once this season — but Brown had to learn the intricacies of this team on the fly just as this team had to adjust from Phil’s style of coaching to his with a shortened, condensed season with a nine-day training camp. This season, the odds were against Brown’s success before we even knew if there would be a season at all. Ron understood that and realized that this team had to take accountability for their play down the stretch of those two depressing losses that could have had the Lakers up 3-2 with a close out game in Staples. They had a 7-point fourth quarter lead in one game and a 13-point fourth quarter lead in another, and Brown deserves some credit for that considering most pundits felt the Lakers didn’t have a chance to beat this Thunder team.

More Ron:

“I think at the end of the game, guys gotta trust themselves more,” said MWP. “I think sometimes, not myself, but sometimes guys, they look to Kobe too much. I think they gotta understand Mitch (Kupchak) brought you here. Mitch also assembled teams that won championships, so he knows what he’s doing. And he brought you here for a reason. Because you’re good. So believe in yourself[...]

“You’re playing with a great player. Five championships. I don’t know how many people can say they got five championships in any sport. So no matter who the player is, you come to this team, you will look at Kobe as one of the greatest players ever. You know? But playing with Kobe for a long time, I understand I gotta chip in. I must chip in. So I think the young guys, not the older guys, a lot of young guys went through it this year. And I think coming back next year, they just have to understand, we gotta chip in.”

For those who didn’t get the opportunity to watch Ron’s exit interview, I think it’s important to note that he really emphasized how much he believes in the younger guys and how much he thinks the organization believes in the younger guys as well. He spoke a lot about self confidence and the the ability to chip in more often with said confidence. He talked a lot about Ramon Sessions who he said was a very good point guard and Devin Ebanks who he felt played great in limited, inconsistent minutes. I think the same applies to Jordan Hill should he come back. The operative word here is genuine, as there was no point where it felt like Ron’s answers were scripted (have they ever?) or that what he was saying wasn’t heart felt. He honestly believes that when the younger guys get over the fact that they’re playing with one of the greatest players ever (Kobe), that they’ll be able to “chip in” during the times when the Lakers need it most. I do find some truth to these sentiments, as Sessions, Ebanks, and Hill have all had some very good moments against some very good basketball teams when they’re playing with their head in the game instead of playing with their minds on Kobe. This must be reciprocal, of course, because nothing is harder than trying to play with out watching Kobe when Kobe is dominating the ball — but even in those games Sessions has looked off Kobe to penetrate or to dump it into Bynum/Pau for easy buckets; Ebanks has slashed off the ball and made tremendous defensive and hustle plays; and Jordan Hill was a monster on the boards for about 70 percent of the games he actually got real playing time with the Lakers. Ron has seen the positive in the younger role players (and even Steve Blake, who is a bit older, but is in a similar caste in the Lakers system), and chose to focus on those positives in hopes that they shine a bit more next season. This is admirable after a tough season.

The last Ron quote follows:

“The Lakers, they did a lot for me so I like it here,” smiled Metta “I like it here. But whatever is best for the Lakers. If it’s me not being here, if it’s good for the Lakers, it’s good for me because the Lakers, they did nothing but great things for me. I got a championship here, something I always wanted. And then being here is great also. I’ve liked it. I’d definitely would like to be here. I don’t really talk about myself. I always talk about what could make the team better. Whatever is in the best interest of the Lakers, that’s what’s important to me.”

You don’t hear these kind of sentiments from a guy who loves the position he’s in, but Ron is a different kind of fellow (understatement), and again, I felt that he was truly genuine when he said that he wanted whatever was best for the organization. It’s not a secret that the Lakers are going to try and cut down on salary for the upcoming season, and Ron could easily be one of the guys that ends up at Staples as a visitor at some point next season — and I’m sure he’s fully aware of that fact. There’s a certain level of respect I have for people who put others above their own well-being, and this is just another example of Ron doing just that. He hasn’t been perfect this year (the elbow to James Harden, intentional or not, brought back glimpses of “Indiana Ron), but if nothing else, he cares about his coach, his teammates and this Lakers organization even if one, or all three, don’t have his general well-being in mind. I personally would love to see Ron stay in the Forum Blue and Gold and get acknowledged for his contributions on the defensive end of the floor next season, fully aware of how much his contract is worth. I believe his maturity will being an element to this Lakers organization that’s just as valuable off the court than it can potentially be on the court if we can see him healthy for a full season again. With every risk, the reward isn’t always promised, but with Ron, I think we won’t only be rewarded by his presence as fans, but the coaching staff, his teammates and the whole Lakers organization will be rewarded with is knowledge of the game, the fire he’ll light under the younger guys and his dedication to being the best Lakers he can be on and off the court.

The trade and free agent rumors are coming fast and furious. Every “available” player is now seemingly being linked to the Lakers. Just taking an inventory, here are the names that I’ve read the Lakers are interested in acquiring either via trade or in free agency (includes potential amnestied players):

  • Dwight Howard
  • Chris Paul
  • Jamal Crawford
  • Baron Davis
  • Rashard Lewis
  • J.J. Barrea
  • Tayshaun Prince
  • Aaron Aflalo
  • Shane Battier
  • Delonte West
  • Josh McRoberts
  • Jason Kapono

Granted, all of these names in some way, shape, or form make sense. They’re either some of the best players in the league or fill skill and/or positional holes for the current Lakers team. In a lot of ways, the Lakers would be well off to have even one of them, much less two or three of them.

But lets forget the names for a second. After all, if the Lakers actually acquire a player, we can analyze it at that point. Instead, lets focus on how names end up being reported in the first place.

Leaks of information almost always come back to establishing some sort of leverage. Whether to increase the dollar amount of a contract offer, to sweeten the pot of players included in a trade, to play agents or teams off each other…there are countless reasons information ends up in the hands of the media to be reported to the masses. I mean, teams, agents, and players are all looking for the best offer for them and however they can get there is fair game.

Relating this back to the Lakers and the names listed above, this is the perspective that needs to be taken into account when considering whether any acquisition is really possible. Do you think it’s more likely that the Lakers could actually acquire both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul or that there’s been some sort of leak to play parties off each other in order to execute a favorable deal? Do you think it’s more likely that the Lakers sign all those FA wings or that the information given to the media is being used advantageously to get a client a better offer?

Remember, this isn’t the first time the Lakers’ name has been dropped in a trade a rumor. Last season it was Carmelo Anthony. The year before that it was Chris Bosh. Right now it’s Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Give it enough time and Deron Williams name will pop up too.

The Lakers have the types of assets to make a deal; this much is not debatable. And, like every other team in the league, they’d surely have interest in acquiring the best players currently lacing up their sneakers. However, the internal workings of how a trade actually gets done is rarely broadcasted to the masses. At least, not with this Laker team; not with Mitch Kupchak running the show.

And this is where leverage comes into play. From a team’s standpoint, a trade will always be about getting the best asset possible while giving up as little as possible. From a player’s and agent’s standpoint, it’s about getting to the most desirable destination while getting the maximum amount of money. The information that is given to the media is meant to help accomplish those goals from whoever is doing the leaking.

Understand that right now the Lakers are a natural target for anyone and everyone. As mentioned earlier, they have the trade pieces to placate an opposing team’s wants in a deal. As a free agent destination the Lakers are also prime real estate as a championship contender with a fixed contract to offer that other teams will have to exceed to acquire any given player. Using this information as leverage in the whirlwind market in front of us is also the natural maneuver.

So, take a step back and see these rumors for the leverage seeking moves that they are. It doesn’t mean that a deal won’t happen, but as history has proven – especially with this Lakers team – it surely doesn’t mean it will either. At this point we’re all best served avoiding the circus. I know I will be.