Mary Schmitt Boyer, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat writer for the Plain Dealer, moonlights as the president of the Professional Basketball Writers’ Association. She is the first female to hold that office since its inception in 1972. Amidst one of the most riveting first rounds in NBA playoff history and the historic ban of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, Boyer took some time out of her morning to chat with Scene about the league, its crazy trends, its new commissioner Adam Silver, and just where the hell the Cavs’ might be headed. (Hint: not even Dan Gilbert knows).
Sam Allard: Man oh man. These playoffs.
Mary Schmitt Boyer: I know. I cannot stay up late enough to watch these West Coast games, but boy, they are tough to turn off. I wake up on the couch watching some infomercial…
You missed one hell of a Clips-Warriors matchup.
Last year, I fell in love with those Warriors. They were just so much fun to play and they had been down for so long and the fans were so unbelievable. I told [head coach] Mark Jackson last summer when I saw him at the summer league: “Your team was unbelievably fun. You should be proud of yourself.”
It’s wild to me that some people are saying Jackson might be fired.
I’m shocked. I mean, listening to myself talk, I tend to take the coaches’ side in a lot of things…but you look at [Indiana Pacers’ head coach Frank Vogel]: Before they they made all those deals -- which Vogel didn’t make -- he was basically headed for coach of the year. And I don’t know who did it, if it was [GM Kevin Pritchard] or Larry Bird or who, but they totally blew up the Karma of the team, and now you might fire the coach because he didn’t or couldn’t rally the troops?
I’m only half-kidding when I say that signing Bynum was maybe the root of all Indiana’s problems.
As it turned out, I accidentally broke that story, because I walked right into Andrew Bynum at the airport when he was on his way to Indiana, and I thought to myself, ‘that’s a good move if they’re signing him to keep him away from Miami. But it’s not a good move if they’re planning to count on him in any sense.’ I mean, their PR guy could’ve called the Cavs’ PR guy and immediately learned that that was a bad move. It’s not like they had to do any deep background on this guy.
So Mark Jackson, Frank Vogel. I even heard that Scott Brooks in OKC isn’t 100-percent safe!
All I know is what I’m reading. And anymore, I don’t know if people throw these rumors out there to generate conflict and talk and hits and comments and… I just have no idea. But the coaching situation: It’s gotten to be a much more -- sadly -- kind of a reactionary thing. Like in New York, everyone but Mike Woodson knew that he was going to be fired. Here, I remember last year with Byron everyone knew that Byron was going to get fired, and Byron until his last day was insisting he wasn’t getting fired.
Whooee. So end-of-year voting is now transparent! This is like a huge deal in the basketball world, no?
I wish it were a bigger deal, and I wish I could take more credit for it, but it could not have been any less dramatic of a development. It’s something that’s been discussed for a number of years.
So what happened?
Honestly, all I did was send out an email. We meet twice a year, at the All-Star Game and the Finals, so ahead of the All-Star Game I sent out an email saying, ‘Anybody have anything they want on the agenda?’ People wrote back saying they’d like to talk about the voting. We had a very brief session with Adam Silver. We took a hands vote, “Are you in favor of making votes transparent?” It was not unanimous. There were a few dissenters. But we had, I’m gonna guess, 60 writers there and 45-50 raised their hands.
This is on the record, yes?
Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah, except there’s not much to the story. I put it on the agenda, we took a hands vote, we presented it to Adam Silver, who’s Mr. Transparency, honestly. It will be a hallmark of his era. Transparency is very important to him, as evidenced by the fact that the NBA bylaws are now available online. And he was all in favor, so boom, that was it. There was no arm-wringing. There was no negotiating. It was really, to use a cliche, kind of an idea whose time had come, and I was in the right place at the right time.
Do you think it’s a problem that writers and broadcasters affiliated with a certain teams are voting for league-wide awards? Is there a conflict of interest there?
A number of papers, including the New York Times, does not let its writers vote for these awards, and frankly, I have no problem with that. A very good argument can be made that none of us should vote for this because some of these players have bonuses for winning these awards which complicates salary cap considerations. And there certainly is conflict of interest in making your opinions on this matter public. The Plain Dealer’s kind of traditional in that the beat writers don’t write a lot of ‘columns’ advocating things, but with broadcasters in the mix, that taints it. I think a Phoenix broadcaster voted for PJ Tucker as Defensive Player of the Year…
That’s a stretch.
I don’t want to say ‘in his defense,’ because there’s no defense for that vote, but because he’s not a member of the Basketball Writers’ Association he wouldn’t necessarily know that the voting was going to be made public. There’s a guy who probably will be getting some blowback.
What was your ballot?
I voted for Noah for defensive player of the year. He’s the best defensive player on the best defensive team. I voted for Kevin Durant for MVP. I thought he was more important to his team this year, given the injuries OKC had, though I still think LeBron’s the best player. I think Durant was more valuable this year.
Do you think voter fatigue’s a real thing? That writers might be getting sick of LeBron winning year after year?
You know there could be some of that, but I like to think my colleagues give thoughtful consideration to their votes. I like to give them more credit than that. Anyway, I voted for Jamal Crawford for sixth man. And most Improved I voted for Dragic in Phoenix.
Initial reactions to the Donald Sterling fiasco?
I don’t think Adam Silver could have done a better job. Three months into his commissionership, I think that everything he said and did was absolutely the right way to go. That it landed on Adam Silver’s plate is a little curious.
You mean because people say Sterling should’ve been ousted 20 years ago?
Right. And I know that Adam Silver was asked about that at press conferences. But I think that’s unfair. [Under former Commissioner David Stern], Silver was not making decisions. He may have been in the room during discussions, but he didn’t make them. When it was his turn to make a decision, he made a very forceful one. I have not heard anyone who was not pleased with how he handled things Tuesday. In a terrible situation, he did exactly what was needed.
Let’s talk Cavs. Any word within the organization about guys they’re eying in the first round?
None. It sounds absurd, but they’re still sort of in their rating process. They’ve certainly done their initial research, but it’s difficult when [interim GM David] Griffin doesn’t even know if he’s gonna be here. In conversations I’ve had with Griffin, he can’t do anything but act as if the job is his. The combine is in Chicago in two weeks and you would have to think, that Dan Gilbert would have to make a decision before he starts to send people to the combine.
What’s the hold up?
My problem speculating is that I have not spoken to Dan Gilbert. A lot of times he’ll talk, and everything will be off the record, but at least you have some idea of what’s going on, but there’s been no conversation here. One school of thought holds that perhaps he feels as if he acted too fast last year. By this time last year, they’d fired Byron Scott and hired Mike. So he’s taking an extraordinary amount of time this year, at least it feels like to us.
Do you think he’ll fire Mike Brown?
My gut reaction is no, if they don’t make major structural changes.
Do you have a personal fave in the first round, one that’s realistic for the Cavs at #9?
Well it’s not realistic, but my guy is Jabari Parker. I mean, what’s not to like? But David Griffin indicated at the press conference that maybe they don’t even make a pick. Maybe they try to trade. You can sense a real willingness to trade the pick.
Just please not another undersized power forward.
I mean that’s obviously a problem because they’ve done that two of the past three years. Look at back when Kyrie was drafted. There actually was a debate between Kyrie and Derrick Williams. An actual debate. I think before we even… we just need to figure out who’s in charge of the Cavs. I think David Griffin’s thinking is ‘we’ve got enough young guys right now.” He said they don’t want to be in “asset accumulation” mode; they want to be in “target asset” mode. I sense that he’s not a big fan of bringing in more young unproven players into the mix.
Do you sense that the Kyrie/Dion rift is a fixable problem?
Griffin certainly believes it’s a fixable problem. The thing that will determine what happens is the whole contract issue..
Uh-huh. I would not want to be in the Cavs’ shoes right now. I don’t think, from a public relations standpoint, you can not offer him the max contract. Even if you’re not sure that he’s worth it. And there’s debate about his injury history, his leadership, his attitude. “Debate” is too strong. But there’s discussion about whether he’s really worth the max contract. But if you don’t offer him the max, I can’t imagine him accepting anything less. And if you don’t offer it, are you forcing him out? If you do, are you handcuffing yourself? I’m just glad I don’t have to make that decision.
Do you think he’s worth it?
Put it this way: He is their best player. He is not their leader. He wants to be the leader. He recognizes that for better or worse, he’s the face of the franchise. But he is not their leader.
And the Specter of LeBron?
Is always out there, but I don’t think for one minute that the Cavs have rejected deals in order to stay open for LeBron. They want to keep themselves in that mix should LeBron actually consider coming back. That has to be in the back of their minds. I don’t think they’d bypass a pretty good deal. But again, that’s David Griffin.
Latest rumors on Kyrie’s social escapades?
I’m aware of the rumors… I don’t know that the Cavs have addressed it in any way with him or find it worrisome. We’ve all heard the same Barley House rumors... Let’s face it. He hasn’t been the leader everyone was hoping for. Certainly the supporting cast has been suspect at best, and one man can’t make a winner. But he he hasn’t been the winner everyone was hoping for.