August 27, 2017

The 2017-18 NBA Schedule

I'm late. The NBA schedule for all 30 teams was released almost two weeks ago. Typically I write this post the day the slate of games for the Wizards is released. This year, a vacation and some vacation recovery messed me up. But enough excuses...the schedule is out! Winter is coming! NBA season is almost here. Below are my (for some reason) traditional seven points about the schedule. Let's get to it.

1. Early Start
The NBA season this year starts October 17. Yep, that's about a week to a week and a half earlier than the season has been starting for the last 37 years. Before that, the season routinely used to start in early to mid-October (believe it or not the Washington Bullets opened their 1980-1981 season on October 10). Of course, the regular season also ended in March back then.

So why the change? Well depending on your level of cynicism, it's either so the NBA doesn't have prime time television games with stars sitting out or to improve player safety by allowing more time between games and eliminating four game in five night scenarios. If you are a realist, it's probably both. What does this mean for the Wizards? How about a reduction in back-to-backs from 16 last year to 14 this year and a complete lack of four games in five nights (last season they had one). So in other words, not much. Still, the regular season is less than eight weeks away. Pretty excited!

2. Banner Night?
It's been 38 years since the Bullets or Wizards have raised any sort of banner and they've never done it in the I mean Capital One Arena. You got it right, it's been a long long long time since this franchise has won anything. Finally last season they won the Southeast Division.

Now, I can't imagine all teams celebrate a division title with much of anything special but the home opener has to feature a banner raising doesn't it? I mean it has to, right? Right? RIGHT? I've suffered through 17 years as a Wizards season ticket holder with no banner ceremonies. There has to be one on opening night. They should also make this game mini-banner giveaway night by the way.

On a side note, I'd love to see the team raise the missing Capital Bullets division champions banner from 1975. No matter how many times I reference my blog post of a couple of years on this subject, nobody seems to take this seriously. But just don't raise that one on opening night this year.

3. Early West Coast Swings
Each NBA season, the Wizards head to the west coast twice, typically road trips that find the Wiz taking on Phoenix, Portland, Golden State, Utah, Denver, Sacramento and the two Los Angeles teams. When I first bought season tickets, the pattern of these trips was generally one in December (although in 2003-2004 it was November) and one in the late winter or spring (March). Lately, they have been trending so that both trips occur after the new year. This past season, both occurred in March!!

So what, you say? Well my idea here is that it's a lot easier to recover from a west coast trip or two earlier in the season when you are fresher than late in the season when you are tired from the grind. This year the Wizards got lucky (at least that's how I see it) and have both trips out west prior to 2018. Hopefully that means improved performance out west and fresher legs at the end of the season. Remember if they had just won a few more games last year, they would have been hosting game one in round two (and maybe round three) of the playoffs at home.

4. Third Time's A Charm (Or Not)
Each season the Wizards play each of the four other teams in their division four times. They also play every team in the opposite conference twice. The remaining 36 games in the schedule are split between the other ten teams in our own conference. This is nothing new; all teams have this same pattern.

Do the math and you'll note that the Wizards are going to have to play some teams in their own conference three times, not four. Depending on who those four teams are, you could gain a slight advantage over your competition. Skip a fourth game against Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee and I'd say the Wizards made out pretty well.

Unfortunately, this year the Wizards three times opponents are the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers. There's no break here for the Wizards. ESPN actually picked those four teams to finish in the bottom five of the conference (Atlanta was picked below those four but we have to play the Hawks four times by rule). In other words, we get to play the good teams four times and get to play the worst only three times. Bummer here, by the way.

5. Balanced Schedule
Last year, whether you knew it or not, the Wizards schedule was incredibly unbalanced. At one point during the 2016-2017 season, the Wizards had played 10 more games at home than they had on the road, a home/away imbalance not felt by any other team last year. What did that mean? Well, it's difficult to say but I'm guessing there aren't many teams out there that want to play 15 of their last 21 or 8 of their last 10 games in the season away from home. Last year, the Wizards did both, winning just 12 of their last 21 and five of their last 10. No guarantees that their overall record would have been better, but home cooking has to be good 60 or so games into the season. Last year, the Wiz were mostly on the road after that point in the season.

This season looks much better. The maximum imbalance the Wizards will feel between home and away games at the end of any month during the season is two. Their last 30 games are split evenly between 15 home and 15 away. And their March/April schedule features 11 home games with just 9 roadies. That situation looks way better to me this year than last year's slate did. We'll see if it affects the Wizards' end of season push.

6. Merry Christmas
In my first 17 (not counting this one) years as a season ticket holder, the Wizards have played on Christmas Day just twice: in 2008 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and in 2014 against the New York Knicks. This year, they get their third in my season ticket tenure against the rival Boston Celtics. Well, except there's no Isaiah Thomas (well, maybe as of this writing), Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder (also a maybe), Amir Johnson or Avery Bradley on that team any more. So in other words, a completely new starting five for the Cs except for Al Horford. Who's been there all of a year.

Oh well, it's Christmas and it's Wizards time. And it's not a home game so I'm not going to be longing to be at Veri...did it again...Capital One Arena on December 25. Can't think of anything more satisfying after stuffing my face with delicious Xmas grub than to watch John Wall and co. take down the hated Celtics. Yes, I still hate them even though the team is turned over. Go Wizards!!!

7. Road Trips
This is the best part of the schedule release for me. Finally I get to see if I can advance my quest to see a Wizards game in all 29 arenas against all 30 teams around the continent. I previewed my desired destinations last month in a post on this blog.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good because the schedule looks like it's aligned pretty well around some of the places I wanted to head this year. There's a game on a Friday night in the brand new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on a Friday night in mid-January (Detroit was my number one ranked destination this year). There's also a game two weeks prior to that in Memphis (my number two choice). If I can make the economics work, looks like I'm taking a couple of road trips in January. Who's coming with?

It's now August 27. The first preseason home game is October 2. That's just five weeks and a day from now. The home opener is just 16 days after that. The good time of the year is coming. Can't wait for it. Bring it on!

August 10, 2017

G-League Logo Rank, Part 3

Over the past two weeks, I've posted 16/26ths of my G-League logo rank (or 8/13ths if you prefer to reduce fractions). Now it's time for the grand finale, the exalted top 10 of the NBA's minor league. Read on. There are some good looking logos on this list.

10. Northern Arizona Suns
The Phoenix Suns began play in the NBA way back in 1968. When they did, they rolled out a secondary logo that to me is still one of the best logos ever used by an NBA franchise. Yes, it was extremely simple, just a cartoon-like sun blazing away that would look at home in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon of that era. The Suns kept that logo, which also featured the word "Suns" across the center, until 1992. A piece of classic NBA logo history died for me the day they retired it.

The simplicity of that original logo has been recreated in large part in the Northern Arizona Suns' branding. It's the resurrection of that long dead motif that lands the Suns' G-League offering at number 10 on this countdown. Admittedly, there are issues with the re-use that are lost in translation. I'm OK with the basketball at the center of the logo (so it's really a basketball shining like the sun I guess) and I don't mind the compass point pointing north at the top of the sun. But I'm not such a fan of the wordmark below the logo and I hate the NAZ abbreviation. Nonetheless, I still like this one. It's simple enough to capture something that I really like.

9. Agua Caliente Clippers
For the first time maybe since the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (named after the Zollner piston manufacturing company) dropped the Zollner in 1948, corporate sponsorship returns to an NBA-affiliated team in the form of the Agua Caliente casino sponsored Los Angeles Clippers G-League team. The name's not really the point of this post I guess.

The parent Clippers team in my humble opinion have the absolute worst branding in the NBA, a videogame logo inspired mess of way too simple Ls, As and Cs put together in awkward combinations. I have to say they did way way better with their G-League branding. There's nothing too complicated going on here which is refreshing. They are still using the same boxy C as they are at the NBA level, but the abstract basketball with the color swirls (or whatever else you want to call those things) and the circular text ring at the perimeter for me come together in a coherent and pleasing logo. Thumbs up! Good job!

8. Canton Charge
I despise putting anything associated with the Cleveland Cavaliers this high in any ranking I'm responsible for but let's face it, when compared to the competition logo-wise in the G-League, the Canton Charge deserve a top 10 spot.

The Charge's primary logo features a cavalier (I'm assuming) thrusting a decidedly non-elegant sword towards the viewer. Other than the blade looking way clumsier that I would imagine a swashbuckler wielding, the logo is well designed and uses color as shadow to make it simple but not simplistic. There's movement and force in this design.

I'm not thrilled with the secondary logo, which looks like a chunkier, squarer version of the Cavs' cocktail onion on a sword toothpick logo but the primary logo is good enough to carry the day here.

7. Delaware 87ers
Yes, the 87ers logo is pretty much an exact copy of the Philadelphia 76ers 2009 logo recreate featuring the classic 1977 Sixers logo with "87" placed where "76" was on the original logo. On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with this; this logo is one of the most beloved (by me) NBA logos of all time.
On the other hand, they got one thing very wrong. In the original logo, the top of the "7" is curved, which creates a perfect negative for the circle of the 13 stars from the first Stars and Stripes flag to sit. In the 87ers logo, the same curve is applied to the "7" but the circle of stars sits awkwardly above the top of the "8" and not nested in the dip like on the original logo. Who knows, maybe they tried moving it over and it looked out of place in the middle of the logo. I still say they should have done it. Good, not great, here.

6. Raptors 905
I didn't particularly know what it was quite about the Raptors 905 logo that appealed to me until I wrote this piece. Let's face it, I couldn't state "yep I like this for no particular reason" and put them in the 6 spot. It's the details for me. I love the simple symmetry of the logo, right down to an attempt to make "9" and "5" mirror images of one another (they are decidedly not in real life). I also LOVE (yes, LOVE) the raptor claw marks on the top of the ball where the seams are on the bottom. As much as I hate the Raptors' name, I am almost giddy about this design.

The secondary logo for me is OK. It's (I guess) a map of Ontario (didn't really know the shape of Ontario) with a plan white "M" for Mississauga, the town where the team plays. This looks either like a saddle with an M on it or an old college blanket of a school beginning with M draped over the back of a couch. Or both. I know, I said I love map-themed logos. I don't love this one. It's good at best. It's the primary logo that lands Raptors 905 in sixth.

5. Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Yes, it's already obvious I have a soft spot for teams that pre-date the NBA's true takeover of the G-League, especially when they have kept their names and logos intact. The Mad Ants are the first of three consecutive in that camp, although the Ants have surrendered their red and yellow color scheme for a more Indiana Pacers-themed blue and yellow package.

The Mad Ants' (named after General "Mad" Anthony Wayne who was also whom Fort Wayne was named after) logo is fairly simple: an ant head in a circle with a triangle beneath, if that makes sense from the picture above. It's the words more than anything else that get me liking this one. I love this font. It reinforces the name more than the voracious ant with mandibles ready to chomp into anyone who opposes him.

4. Reno Bighorns
The Mad Ants predate the Pacers' takeover. Out west in Reno, the Bighorns are the last of the original west coast franchises. The Idaho Stampede are gone; the Bakersfield Jam are gone; but the Bighorns remain in Reno. And just like the Mad Ants, the Bighorns have allowed the now-parent Sacramento Kings to change their green and gold colors for the Kings' purple and silver.

If I've got a soft spot in my heart for the classic NBDL (and before) franchises, I've also got a huge spot there for bighorn sheep. I've looked for these things in the Black Hills of South Dakota; Yellowstone National Park; the stretch of Nevada between Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam; and Zion National Park in Utah (saw one far far away) before finally laying eyes on a whole herd in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. The image presented by the Bighorns' logo is simple and strong and shows one of these gorgeous animals in a classic pose seen from below. I'm in full support of this logo. I even like the insertion of the Kings' crown from their logo into the wordmark.

Now about that secondary logo...I'm just ignoring this thing. I don't like it at all. It's not as bad as the Legends' "TL" or the Drive's "GR" but it's not adding anything. The good outweighs the bad here by a long shot.

3. Maine Red Claws
I'm just going to throw this out there: the top three logos in the G-League are better than the top three logos in the NBA. There! I said it! And that's including the homer pick Washington Wizards being in my NBA top three. Let me prove I'm right.

Sitting at number three on my G-League logo rank is the Maine Red Claws and their lobster logo  that looks like he's about to put a beating on some dude that owes him some serious money. Huge powerful claws draped either side of the Red Claws' wordmark are intimidating, especially when combined with that facial expression that says to me "you better not drop me in no boiling water or else." He also looks none too pleased by the cute little basketballs someone has glued on to his antennae or whatever they call those things on lobsters.

Unfortunately for this crustacean, he's red, which means he's already cooked (and yes still somehow alive). But we can suspend disbelief here a little right? The secondary logo's not quite as good but if it were the only logo rolled out by this team, I still think it would get a top 10 nod. Bravo, Maine. You finally found something for me to like about your state.

2. Memphis Hustle
If you know anything about my love of logos (or if you've ready past posts from me about NBA logos and haven't just dismissed the information like you probably should have), you'll know I think the Memphis Grizzlies' bear head logo is the best in the NBA hands down. Well, I got some news: the Grizz outdid themselves with their G-League branding because this stuff is even better than the original.

The look for the brand new Hustle team set to start play in a few months consists of three logos: a bear head silhouette with Memphis Hustle written in font eerily similar to the old 1970s pump triline font (pretty much anything from the 70s makes anything more awesome) complete with a finishing star on the "e"; a stylized "mh" using a similar font to the one in the bear head; and a circular "grit & grind" logo (again with the star). I love the colors here, I love the fonts and I love the callbacks to a bygone era when Memphis was cranking out some of the funkiest music around over at the old Stax Records studio. Thumbs way up all around. They might just be the best in the G-League if only...

1. Santa Cruz Warriors
Let's gloss over the alternate logos (and their variants) that make up the Santa Cruz Warriors' branding package just for a moment shall we? These things are good but not great. I'm even not upset about the "SC" logo and we know how I feel about jumbo initial logos by now. These secondary designs are not why the Dubs are number one in this countdown.

If there's a simple more elegant logo in professional basketball in the United States, I'm not aware of it. This thing is awesome. The Warriors have taken their own color scheme and circular motif and blown the doors off Santa Cruz with this baby, a trident in the shape of a capital W that simultaneously identifies the franchise and their coastal location. I also love the way it is not constrained by the circle but instead breaks through to stand on its own. This is an A+ design. If I lived in Santa Cruz, I'd have all sorts of swag with this look on it.

So that's it! 26 down, four to go (sort of). I'm expecting at this time next year we'll at least have a 27th team in the mix in the form of my very own Washington Wizards as yet unnamed G-League team so I'll need to spend a few days at least digesting how that look shakes up this countdown. In the meantime, that's all I have on this subject. Opening night at this point is just a bit more than two months away. Can't wait!

August 4, 2017

G-League Logo Rank, Part 2

Last week I published the first in a series of three posts ranking team logos of the 26 teams that make up the G-League or Gatorade League, the minor league farm system of the NBA, formerly known as the NBDL. I took on the eight worst (in my humble opinion) packages of logos adopted by the teams that make up that league. Here's part two, which also features eight not so good but certainly better than last week's logos. Once I'm done here, I'll conveniently have ten logos remaining for a triumphant top 10 in next week's post.

Enough gold plating something that has really no importance whatsoever but which strangely means something to me in the dead of summer when there's no NBA. Let's start in Grand Rapids.

18. Grand Rapids Drive
In part one of my G-League Logo Rank, I mentioned that I sketched the initial draft of this post series some months ago. In the first pass, the Grand Rapids Drive, which have pulled together a really pretty awesome looking primary logo with an absolutely abominable wholely unnecessary jumbo "GR" as their secondary look, were actually ranked much higher. So why the drop? Turns out it's because of what their parent club the Detroit Pistons went and did.

Let me explain. I love the old Detroit Pistons logo that the team used from 1979 to 1996. The complete loss of that logo in favor of (initially) a fire-breathing horse with tailpipes and a subsequent plain looking basketball with some strangely fonted arched wordmark over it was distressing to me. The only thing that came close to that classic look was the Drive's main logo. And I loved it (still do). But now the Pistons have adopted a logo that's closer in appearance to the 80s and early-90s one than the Drive's. Consequently the Drive's logo just ain't that great for me and the absolute horrorshow that is the giant "GR" becomes more dominant. I'm maybe being a bit unfair to the Furniture City (I'm serious with that name) but whatever. Get rid of the "GR" please.

17. Salt Lake City Stars
Does the Salt Lake City Stars logo seem unusually small to anyone or is it just me. Check out the full selection of primary G-League logos on Chris Creamer's site and tell me it doesn't. Other than the Northern Arizona Suns (terrible name), the Stars' logo is way smaller than any other team's. I think that's the first thing that bothers me. It shouldn't because taken in isolation the Stars' logo is neither bigger nor smaller than anything. But it does all the same.

As a logo, the Stars look isn't all that bad. But it isn't all that good either. It's just a star with a basketball in front of it and another couple of stars on either end of the wordmark. Ironically (considering where this sort of thing got the Grand Rapids Drive and Texas Legends) the Stars might actually benefit from a secondary logo. Maybe something a little more exciting. Two thumbs sideways here.

16. Long Island Nets
Speaking of not all that bad, but not all that good either, let's take a look at the Long Island Nets. If there's a traditional logo that looks like it was borrowed from another decade and another sport, it's the Nets' look. This simple basketball with a script "Nets" written in front of it looks like it could be straight out of Major League Baseball in the 1970s. Not much more to say here. The Nets have crafted something innocuous enough not to be marked down for being bad but without much merit deserving of praise.

15. Erie Bayhawks
Last December I made it to my first Erie Bayhawks game. A couple of weeks later I found out the team had been sold to the Orlando Magic, which meant the complete death of yet another longstanding independent team before the one-to-one affiliations and outright ownership by NBA parent teams began to consume the league. For the Bayhawks, it meant that the 2016-2017 season would be their last. No more Bayhawks. No more complicated but independently proud Bayhawks logo.

Since my trip to Erie, the Bayhawks have moved to Lakeland, Florida and have become the Lakeland Magic. Yet the Bayhawks remain for one final season because the Atlanta Hawks' G-League franchise doesn't have a building to play in yet. So they agreed to stash the team in Erie under the old Bayhawks name. It's an odd circumstance that has nothing to do with ranking the team's logo, which is neither that good nor that bad. This is likely the Erie Bayhawks will be featured in any logo rank and I think that's sad.

14. Rio Grande Valley Vipers
The Vipers, just like the Bayhawks, are one of the holdovers from the pre-NBA team ownership era of the G-League (or the D-League actually), a team with a name not aligned with any NBA team's branding in a city somewhat far from the home club. Only their logos are better than those in Erie.

The primary logo is the best Vipers look here, a basketball (which oddly enough is one of the microfiber composite basketballs the NBA rolled out in 2006 and then kicked to the curb on January 1, 2007) with a viper, which are endemic to the Rio Grande Valley where Hidalgo (the Vipers' home town) is located, wrapped around it. It's well designed and proportioned and makes me believe that one of these things could wrap itself around a ball as a hands-off-this-is-mine gesture.

The secondary logos are less successful, mostly because the snake looks really stubby. There's not way a normal snake body is present between the head and tail in the alternate logos.

13. Sioux Falls Skyforce
The Skyforce are one of the G-League's oldest franchises, tracing their lineage all the way back to the old Continental Basketball Association in 1989 with no change in location or naming (although they flexed on the color) despite the fact that the Miami Heat moved into single affiliation status in 2013. They are one of the league's true survivors. For now.

There's not much to the Skyforce's logo. It's a simple basketball moving at rate of speed high enough to cause some sort of warped matter trail as it moves from left to right and down to up. It worked better with the team's old colors in my opinion (I've included the new scheme above and the original at the top of this post) but the Heat color scheme doesn't detract from the look that much. Simplicity (and my insistence on letting nostalgia for the good old days of the D-League and before) puts the Skyforce just inside the top half at 13.

12. Austin Spurs
I like the San Antonio Spurs logo. I like it so much that I've put it in the sixth position in my NBA logo rank each of the last three years. As much as I do like it though, I don't need to give that organization credit for just duplicating their look and foisting it on their minor league Austin-based franchise. It is as close to the original look as it could possibly be. The Spurs finish here because of just plan lack of originality.

11. Iowa Wolves
This offseason the Minnesota Timberwolves re-branded themselves completely. Well, maybe not completely because they still have the same nickname and their howling wolf logo looks suspiciously like previous howling wolf logos they have used. But they changed their color scheme a little, the wolf looks decidedly less rabid than he or she did in the past and their look now prominently features a four pointed north star in some sort of deep chartreuse color

Turns out the Timberwolves want the same look for their newly acquired G-League in Des Moines, the former Iowa Energy and now the Iowa Wolves. No howling in this one. Instead the wolf is looking straight at you and it doesn't look friendly. Not raving about the primary logo here; it's clearly a 2-for-1 special from the ad agency who redesigned the parent company's look. But I like the (again) map-based secondary logo if for no other reason than Iowa never seems to get a lot of pub as a state shown in isolation. I'm thinking the star is a bit too low for Des Moines, though.

16 down; 10 to go. I know all you G-League fans are already debating in your heads which of the remaining 10 franchises you'd put in which order. Eh, who's kidding whom. At least 90% of the people who will read this couldn't name five of the remaining 10 teams. If you are not motivated to look it up (and let's face it, who really is) stay tuned next week to this spot for the top 10.