Kevin Durant, Superteams, UFC 200 and more: While We're Waiting

It's a very long WWW discussing Kevin Durant, Superteams, and the stacked card at UFC 200 even without Jon Jones. Get your weekend off to a nice start.

I can't believe that the 4th of July is in the rearview mirror already. I know it's considered trite conversation, up there with the weather, but really, where has the first half of 2016 gone? Regardless, we're here to help drag you into another weekend. While we're waiting...

Kevin Durant, Superteams, and fixing NBA player movement without being anti-player

I've been on the record saying that super teams are not good for the NBA. I said it when the Cavaliers lost LeBron James to the first modern super-team created via free agency in Miami. I said it even as the Cleveland Cavaliers were beneficiaries of it when LeBron James came back and paved the way for the Kevin Love trade. Even as I've never experienced anything in sports as joyous as the Cleveland Cavaliers' championship, in my soul I know that professional sports rely on fans having hope and that super teams reduce that hope in all but, at most five NBA cities. 

There has been a lot of talk and equivocating since Kevin Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors. On the one hand, I have said that I think that team should give other NBA cities hope. It won't give most fans hope for the upcoming NBA season, of course, but what the Warriors have done isn't impossible. They woke up one day with Steph Curry as an MVP candidate and winner. They woke up one day with Klay Thompson joining him as they formed "The Splash Brothers." They kept the team together and had the good fortune of second-rounder Draymond Green becoming a real force in the NBA. 

The signing of Kevin Durant now seems wholly ludicrous and unfair in so many ways, but everything else the Warriors have done is possible in basically any NBA market. It may not be likely, and you can't possibly eliminate luck from the equation for the Warriors. You also can't remove the taste it leaves in the mouths of fans in other NBA cities, starting in Oklahoma City, of course.

Much of the talk I've been reading focuses on players' rights as free agents. I've heard talk about the attitudes of fans and NBA owners that discusses the dynamics between them and the players. There's an underlying tension that we in Cleveland know all-too-well, having been through "The Decision." Many of the reactions from fans and owners are overblown and ugly, creating some justifiable criticism that cities feel they "own" players. I can't disagree that stench is in the air at times, and I certainly can't disagree that this is wrong, but I also think we need to face facts concerning player movement.

When players have too much say in player movement, it's dangerous for NBA fans. The NBA is an employer with many franchises, but one of the main reasons there are rules about contracts and salary caps is to help level the playing field. Kevin Durant going to Golden State might be all right, technically, because that's what Durant wanted to do and the Warriors had space, but it's not all that good for the game as a competitive entity.

In a perfect world, every NBA team would have at least one NBA star on the team. In a perfect world, the NBA would be like the ultimate pickup game where every team had one superstar and a cast of supporting players of varying abilities and skill levels. To consolidate too many of the best players in one place is not how anyone would design a league if they were sitting with their friends. In fact, the way the NBA is structured wouldn't pass muster in any fantasy league for this very reason.

Before arriving at a solution, however, you must agree on the problem. If you think there's no issue with super teams or the governing of player movement in a league like the NBA, then we might as well stop the conversation right here. Once we agree on the problem, however, the real talk can begin. The real debate to me should be finding the solution.

I think some fans and media get confused because they want to advocate for players in a political fashion. I see a lot of apologist behavior among my peers who think it isn't their right to be critical of legal player movement in the NBA. I understand the noble basis, but I think it's misguided. I believe that it protrudes from a desire to be pro-labor. That makes sense because we're all in it for the entertainment, and the players themselves are the ones supplying it with their irreplaceable abilities. I think there's room for more nuance, however. 

That gets messy, not because people shouldn't be pro-labor, but because we're talking about the most privileged labor force on the planet other than maybe professional soccer players. 

I used to make that mistake too. I thought that because players were the worst at determining talent distribution in the NBA, and that the only way to control player movement was via financial restriction. I had it all wrong. Regardless of how the game should be structured or fixed, the solution can't remove a penny from the player's side of the ledger. NBA players earn their giant piece of the financial pie, and we shouldn't spend a second talking about negotiating money away from them as a means of trying to fix anything.

However, in exchange for that piece of the pie, NBA players shouldn't have all the flexibility to work wherever they want. The choice is to cash an NBA paycheck or not and of course make some decisions for their career within reason. At a certain point, the NBA has to make it financially material to players, to distribute talent more uniformly across the league. I propose to do this not by introducing punitive restrictions to the players. Instead, I'd dangle an even bigger carrot.

I've brought this up before, but my solution is to designate the very best, most valuable players in the league and give them access to even more money than they can make in the NBA today. I don't have all the answers, but I think every team should be allowed to have an uncapped super-duper star player. The NBA's max contract remains, but each team should be able to have a super-max player. The Golden State Warriors can have one guy who is Super Max status and can make, say, $50 million per year that more reflects his actual market value to the team. But, if they bring in Kevin Durant and give him that $50 million, then when Steph Curry gets finished with his contract and wants to be a Super Max player, he must choose among the teams that have an available Super Max slot available. Maybe that's the rebuilding Lakers, or maybe it's an upstart Detroit or Philly. 

That's the kind of solution I think the NBA needs. It values players more than they are valued today, as opposed to less. It gives teams more of a chance to snag that superstar, so there's still player movement, but it also creates something special in each NBA city. It creates a switching cost for Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, or any number of would-be NBA superstars. It's pro-player. It's pro-owner. And it's pro-fan. Instead of wondering if your team would ever get a star player on their roster again, each team would have that slot available, presumably to grab one of the 30 best players at any given time. A good solution is one that works for everyone. Tell me what I'm missing.

I can't wait for UFC 200 (even without Jon Jones)

UFC 200 took a big hit when the anti-doping folks disqualified @Jon Jones from participating. At issue is a drug test from the middle of June, and even if Jones ends up getting cleared on appeal, it's been ruled that there's not enough time before the fight, and he must be scratched. No matter, I say! Why? Here comes Brock Lesnar.

I've discussed Brock Lesnar at length with many people. I love Lesnar because he's such a fascinating story. He's one of the most monstrous humans ever to fight in the UFC at 6-foot 3-inches, and a reported "walk around" weight of over 280 pounds. Lesnar drops to 265 to make weight, but his actual weight is much heavier. He has the biggest hands I've ever seen in MMA gloves. He has unbelievable punching power, and his collegiate wrestling skills are not to be confused with the sports entertainment maneuvers he mastered for Vince McMahon to face The Undertaker. 

Lesnar was on a four-fight winning streak before he lost the championship to Cain Velasquez. He lost another fight to Alistair Overeem, but it came out later that Lesnar probably shouldn't have been fighting with diverticulitis. 

That brings us to this weekend when Lesnar will face a dangerous heavyweight in Mark Hunt. Since losing to Cleveland's champ, Stipe Miocic, Mark Hunt has won two fights against Antonio Silva and Frank Mir. Hunt has undeniable punching power and is as fit and focused as we've ever seen him at age 42. 

There are other fights on the card that have me excited, but it's all about Brock Lesnar. I don't know if he's going to win or lose, and ultimately it doesn't truly matter. Brock Lesnar is back in the octagon, and that makes for a compelling storyline, regardless.

The Purge: Election Year pushes a fresh genre forward

I don't know if I've said it here on these pages, but I love The Purge as a concept. I think this concept carries the material to the point that I would watch bad versions of movies in this concept even while recognizing them as bad. I said that specifically after seeing the second installment, The Purge: Anarchy, but before I get there, here's the premise. 

In "the future," in the U.S. there's an annual 12-hour period from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. March 21 to March 22, where all crime is legal, including murder. The idea was put into place by "The New Founding Fathers of America" (NFFA) after having been voted into office after an utter economic collapse. During this period all police, fire, and emergency medical services are unavailable. Weapons above Class 4 are banned, keeping the plots in check. If it were legal to be Tim McVeigh once per year, the concept wouldn't work so well. 

It's awesome. It creates a set of rules. It draws strange lines between good, evil, and justifiable bad behavior. It has political implications based on morality and social structures. It's fake enough that you don't feel too badly watching it, but it's real enough that you can't divorce yourself from the stories completely.

The first movie takes us inside the rich man's house where James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), is a salesperson of security systems for rich people to put on their houses for Purge Night. Surveillance and reinforced windows and doors are all part of the menu.

The second movie, The Purge: Anarchy, takes us to the political implications and introduces an anti-Purge group that is challenging the system as an attack on the poor. 

That brings us to the third film, The Purge: Election Year. Senator Charlie Roan is running for President, and she's the anti-Purge candidate. She's played by Elizabeth Mitchell of Lost, in relatively ho-hum fashion. She's opposed by the pro-Purge NFFA candidate and a good versus evil, left versus right, red versus blue battle unfolds, replete with white supremacists, bad government troops, and resistance fighters. 

Like the other films, the performances leave a lot to be desired. There are a couple of young girls who emerge as bad guys on Purge Night who give some of the most over-acted performances you'll ever see. Betty Gabriel played Laney Rucker, the badass-in-remission-only-to-re-emerge, really well, but her entire character - including looks - might as well have been ripped from The Walking Dead. Think Michonne meets Sasha. Frank Grillo was only a little bit better as the senator's bodyguard, Leo Barnes, but the concept doesn't rely on stellar performances or dialogue.

As the closing credits roll you've had some scares, some violence, suspense and intrigue and probably a lot of fun. If you take it too seriously, you might feel bad about yourself, but I implore you not to do that. The Purge is an excellent ride in a strange universe. It's got the same dystopian concept as so many other films, but I don't get the sense it ever meant to take itself as seriously as The Hunger Games or even the plodding Divergent series. 

Without spoiling anything, the end of Election Year is open enough that there could be more Purge films coming. Even if they decide to stop the story there, it's a concept and universe that could jump all over time and geography to tell more stories. Based on the box office, it's reasonable to assume there will be more coming. These movies are small budget, and they keep doing better and better at the box office. The second film did over $110 million worldwide on a budget of $9 million. As I write this, Election Year has already done $45 million on a $10 million budget.

I say bring it on. I'll watch a movie in this genre once every year or so.

Your weekly moment of soccer zen...

I know some of you hate when I post defense or other non-goals, but I was a goalkeeper. It's in my nature to occasionally post a clip that ends with a phenomenal save. Sometimes in American football, you see a gorgeous pass and catch that ends up not resulting in a score. It doesn't take much away from the phenomenal play, does it? I submit to you it does not. So, watch this amazing footwork and ball movement. It just so happens the keeper makes a nice save at the end. (Sticks tongue out.)

That's quite enough from me for one week. Stay tuned to WFNY for new announcements soon on some new premium initiatives. Hope you have an excellent weekend.


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