How Did the Worst Team in NBA History Become a Title Contender?

Kobe Bryant says that “other team” in LA – the Clippers – are title contenders in 2013.

And Kobe made this statement before the Clippers defeated the Lakers on Friday night and then destroyed the Golden State Warriors (who are currently a playoff contender in the West) the next night. 

Yes, the 27-8 Clippers look like contenders. 

Of course, fans in LA can easily remember the last time this happened. That was back in …

Okay, this has never happened.

Unlike every other big market team in North America, the Clippers have never, ever, ever been a title contender.  In fact, the very best season in franchise history was last season.  When the 2011-12 regular season ended, the Clippers had a mark of 40-26.  This mark was surpassed by seven other teams (including Kobe’s Lakers).  In the post-season, the Clippers reached the Western Conference semi-finals -- where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.  

Such a season likely left many NBA observers thinking the Clippers were a “good” team, but hardly a real title contender.  Again, though, this was the best team in the history of the Clippers.  For the first time in franchise history (which began in Buffalo in 1970-71), the Clippers won 60% of their games. 

In 2012-13 the Clippers have moved beyond being the best team in franchise history to being one of the very best teams in the NBA.  After 35 games, the Clippers have a 0.771 winning percentage; a mark that – as of Tuesday morning – currently leads the NBA.

Clearly the Clippers are better than they were last year.  And that leads one to wonder… how did this worst team in NBA history become a title contender?

How Can A New College Football Coach Avoid Getting Fired?

More than 25 college football teams have decided to change head coaches in the past few weeks.  As the new coaches get hired and settled into their new jobs, one suspects that all of them believe that they will be the person who will change the fortunes of their new schools.

Unfortunately – as published research seems to indicate – it doesn’t seem likely that many of these coaches will really make a difference. Aside from that ambition, these coaches are definitely hoping to stay in their current position until they decide to voluntarily leave for an even better paying job.  In other words, these coaches hope to avoid getting fired.

Is Changing the Coach Really the Answer?

Much of the focus today on college football is on the teams at the top.  Will Notre Dame win the national title and finish undefeated? Can Alabama win another championship?  Then there are the 34 other bowl games.  In all, 70 teams have an opportunity to finish the year as a winner.

For those without this opportunity, though, this past season was a disappointment.  For these “losers,” the focus these past few weeks has been strictly on preparing for the next season.  And part of that preparation appears to be changing the head coach.

Already, at least 25 schools have announced that the head coach from 2012 will not be on the sideline in 2013.  For some, this is because a successful team lost their coach to another program.  In many instances, though, teams have asked a coach to depart in the hope that someone else will alter their team’s fortunes.

The Man Who Changed Professional Sports

Marvin Miller passed away last week.  When this happened I immediately began work on a post detailing the important impact Miller’s work -- as the first leader of the Major League Baseball Players Association -- had on sports.  And then I noticed that many other people had the same idea (see Jayson Stark, Jon Wertheim, Lester Munson, and Richard Justice – among many others).  Given all the wonderful writing on Miller’s life and career, I decided to focus on how Miller impacted our understanding of both sports and economics. 

Such a post... well, I could write more than a few thousand words on just that topic.   Since few people want to read that many words at a blog, I am going to focus on Miller’s work to end baseball’s reserve clause (and what that has meant for baseball, sports, and economics).

Our story begins back in the 19th century. As noted in a wonderful article by E. Woodrow Eckard in the Journal of Sports Economics, the National League began in 1876 with a labor market quite similar to the markets we tend to observe outside of sports. 

Does the “Best” Team Win the World Series?

It’s been a few days. And although I ain’t over it yet, I think I can write about the Detroit Tigers losing the World Series.

When the playoff in baseball began, 10 teams – and their fans – were very happy.  But the playoffs being what they are, we knew that only one team – and its fans – would actually be happy when the whole thing was over.

After the best-of-five series, the Tigers – and this fan – were quite happy.  When the Tigers swept the Yankees, I was very happy.  And then when the Giants swept the Tigers… okay, I wasn’t happy anymore.

So what did the Tigers and all the other “losers” (and yes, that includes the Yankees) learn from the playoffs?

The Oklahoma City Thunder Stumble While Following the Oklahoma City Thunder Plan

Much has been made of the plan the Oklahoma City Thunder followed in building a title contender.  Here are the basic steps the Thunder supposedly followed:

1.Lose a bunch of games across a few seasons, which allows a team to accumulate lottery picks
2. Draft “stars” with lottery picks
3. Sign “stars” to long-term contracts
4. Win a title (or more)

The Thunder did well with step one.  Starting with their last two seasons in Seattle in 2006-07, this franchise had three seasons where it won 31 games, 20 games, and 23 games. 

These performances primarily led to the following four high picks in the draft:

Money Didn’t Buy Happiness in Baseball in 2012

If you wish to win in baseball, your team has to spend money. Just look at the New York Yankees. USA Today reports that in 2012 the Yankees led the American League in spending.  And the Yankees finished with the best record in the American League.

Of course, one data point doesn’t a trend make. What do we see when we look past the Yankees?

It Really Is All About the Players

Economists are often asked – and perhaps, just as often just volunteer – to make predictions. This is odd, since – as the old joke goes – economists only seem to exist to make meteorologists look good.  In other words, economists often get their guesses about the future wrong.

Given this tendency, I always like to note when I get a prediction right (and it has actually happened before).  And prior to the Olympics, I did predict that the U.S. would win the gold medal in men’s basketball.  And on Sunday, that prediction came true.

Okay, that wasn’t much of a prediction (did anyone predict that wouldn’t happen?).  And despite the lack of challenge with respect to this prediction, I also heavily qualified my original forecast. Nevertheless, I did make something that could be called a prediction.  And it was right.  So that means something!

Woulda, Coulda, and the Real Story Behind the Redeem Team

ESPN.com recently offered a somewhat confusing article comparing the 2012 U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team to the 1992 Dream Team.  The headline of the article – "LeBron: We Would Beat Dream Team" – makes it clear that LeBron James believes the 2012 team would defeat the 1992 Dream Team. 

The first line of the story, though, makes a somewhat different claim: “LeBron James has joined Kobe Bryant in saying that he believes this year's Team USA Olympic men's basketball team could beat the 1992 Dream Team.”

And then further in the article, we see...

James's comments echoed those of Bryant, who two weeks ago made a similar proclamation.

"It would be a tough one, but I think we would pull it out," Bryant said at a news conference. "People who think we can't beat that team for one game, they are crazy. To sit there and say we can't, it's ludicrous. We can beat them one time."

Bryant appeared to soften those comments a bit Friday, telling reporters, "I didn't say we were a better team. But if you think we can't beat that team one time? Like I'm going to say no, that we'd never beat them.

"They are a better team. The question was 'Can we beat them?' Yes we can. Of course we can."

Price Controls in the NBA Force Teams to Find Different Ways to Keep Their Stars

The NBA free agent market opened this month and the moves making headlines include:

Steve Nash signing with the L.A. Lakers
Ray Allen signing with the Miami Heat
Jason Kidd signing with the New York Knicks
Deron Williams re-signing with the Brooklyn Nets

And then there is the Dwight Howard saga. 

Each of these stories appears to be summarized by a familiar line: 

Big star signs in Big Market.