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Luka Needs Help? Hey, Just Call Zion And Form a Superteam

The NBA’s upward-mobility portal could have a new round of frustrated stars in due time, from Lillard to Doncic to Williamson, which isn’t healthy for a league with two superteams contending for a 2021 title

Jay Mariotti

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Psst, I have an idea. It’s evolutionary, revolutionary and extraordinary, and absolutely no one has thought of it before. Why not have Luka Doncic, who is frustrated and needs help, contact Damian Lillard, who is frustrated and needs help, and maybe they can Face Time with Zion Williamson, who is frustrated and needs help, and plant the collective seeds for — trumpets, bells, sirens, rappers — an eventual NBA SUPERTEAM?

My sarcasm is about to fade to resignation. What once was a trend — frustrated superstars forming their own powerhouses, beyond traditional league control and formatting — now becomes an imagination brainstorm every time an elite player loses before he’d prefer. As the Dallas Mavericks were blowing the final two games of their opening-round playoff series, Doncic was seen barking at coach Rick Carlisle, “Told you not to call a timeout when you don’t need it!” And as the Trail Blazers failed to support Lillard, whose Game 5 masterpiece was aptly described by Kevin Durant as “a spriritual experience,” a showman who clearly is tiring of small-market life launched a power play against team management.

NBA: Luka Doncic admits 'I'm not in my best shape'
Courtesy: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“I don’t know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously, as is, it wasn’t good enough,” said Lillard, who demanded that Jason Kidd or Chauncey Billups be named coach when Terry Stotts was fired, with Kidd needing two nanoseconds to say no.

Instantly, the usual suspects phoned the Blazers, who almost certainly will be trading Lillard. Miami is front and center on the list, and with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo rested after a short offseason last fall, Lillard’s addition would anchor the Heat as a potential superteam. We are a few seasons away, of course, from any free-agency alignment between Luka, Dame, Zion and anyone else who enters the get-me-out-of-here portal. But trades are more than doable — Lillard has four years remaining on a $196 million supermax extension — and you know what’s about to happen on NBA Twitter and throughout the most gossipy, social-media-driven league in sports.

Speculation! Manipulation! Fabrication! 

The narrative, especially in Doncic’s case, becomes how he leverages his future and where he ultimately goes. Because like Lillard and Williamson, who can’t maximize their legacies in Portland and New Orleans, he plays in a city that isn’t attractive to monster free agents. In producing some of the most  staggering numbers ever in a playoff series — such as scoring or assisting on 77 points, most by a player in a Game 7 — Doncic also exposed Kristaps ($158 million) Porzingis and the Dallas supporting cast as lame. He’s just 22 and only three years into his NBA journey, yet he knows the story of Michael Jordan, who toiled for seven years until enough pieces were assembled around him to win championships. For now, Doncic is making no demands.

“I think that’s a question you should ask the guys that make this team, right?” he said Sunday. “I’m just a player here, you know”

But when asked if he could take solace in his numbers — he finished the series with 250 points, 72 assists and 55 rebounds, while nursing a cervical strain in the final three games — he said he “hates” losing and hasn’t achieved anything in his view. “Nothing yet. Been to playoffs twice, lost both times,” Doncic said. “You get paid to win. We didn’t do it.” For the better part of a decade, Lillard had been similarly patient and respectful of management. Finally, he snapped, knowing his glory clock is starting to tick.

Thus, with recent history and patterns as a compass, the gradual search is on for destinations that serve championship aspirations. And they’re aware of the most golden paths to date: LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and won two championships with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh … Durant took his backpacks to Golden State and won two titles with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green … and James took his show-biz dreams from Cleveland, where he finally won a title for his people, to Hollywood, where he won a title with Anthony Davis. Superteam Fever was only starting.

Today, the favorites to meet in the NBA Finals next month are two contrived groupings formed by agents and egos, not drafts or in-house development. The Brooklyn Nets, the collaborative destination of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, are Eastern Conference favorites despite Harden’s hamstring issues. And the Los Angeles Clippers, the chosen terminus of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, finally shed a longstanding franchise curse to do the unthinkable: remain a championship contender in L.A. after the beloved Lakers have fallen in a postseason. Neither the Nets nor Clippers are the entrenched heirloom teams in their cities, yet based in New York and L.A., they provided upwardly mobile stars a landing place in a major market.

“Games aren’t won with one or two players,” Leonard protested after ousting Doncic and the Mavs. “You need a whole 16 or 17.”

Funny how no one says that on the first of July, when free-agent madness grips the hoops universe, and the stars inherit most of the money.

None of which is healthy for the league. Leonard hoisting a trophy in Kobe Bryant’s town is almost blasphemous. Same goes for Durant, who came to Gotham as a business mercenary, not unlike any Wall Street raider. Chances are, one of their superteams will host the parade. It’s hard to imagine the Nets rolling across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s harder to imagine a Clippers’ caravan on Figueroa Street, where the Lakers still haven’t had the chance to celebrate their Bubble triumph, especially when you can pay face value — or less — at Staples Center to watch their upcoming series against top-seeded Utah.

But such is the modern NBA. Leonard won in San Antonio, wanted out, won in Toronto, wanted out, and finds himself in his native southern California, where he would have wanted out had the Clippers been eliminated. Durant couldn’t win in Oklahoma City, wanted out, won in Golden State, wanted out, and will opt out again if the Brooklyn experiment fizzles.

Kawhi Leonard: The superstar forward's 5 most impressive NBA records
Courtesy: ClutchPoints

Here I hoped Giannis Antetokounmpo would start a movement when he stayed in a small market, Milwaukee, and signed his $228 million supermax extension with the Bucks. I’m afraid it was an aberration. Hell, some even wonder if Curry, with unrestricted free agency looming after next season, would flee the Warriors for a better shot at championships in his twilight. Are we 100-percent certain he’ll re-up? “There’s no reason to think why that won’t happen,” coach Steve Kerr said.

But that’s what they said about LeBron … and Durant … and Leonard … and all the rest. Besides, you can’t spell a Lakers Future without L-U-K-A.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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