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Interview with Álvaro Martín

Big day on Green Bandwagon. I recently sent some questions to Álvaro Martín and got several in depth responses back. If you are not familiar with Martín's work take a look at his his page on NBA.com. Also he will be doing play-by-play of tonight's Celtics/Suns game over on ESPN Deportes. I really appreciated Martín's honesty and you should definitely check out his answers below. Good stuff. Enjoy:

Green Bandwagon: The influx of quality international players is one of the main reasons the NBA is enjoying a noticeable increase in talent after over expanding to thirty teams. However, Pau Gasol is the latest European player repeatedly referred to as "soft" and only four international players made the 2008 All Star Game. Do you think there is a bias against players born outside of the United States?

Álvaro Martín:

"Without question. Manu Ginóbili not being invited to the All-Star game and his professional credentials and fourth-quarter heroics aside, Ray Allen being selected as a replacement instead of Hedo Turkoglu is just the latest examples. Who tends to lead the league in offensive charges taken? International players like Nocioni and Varejao. Don't tell me Ginóbili is soft, please.  By the same token, don't tell me Carmelo Anthony is a `hard' player, or for that matter Ray Allen, or Michael Redd, or Drew Gooden, or Vince Carter. No nationality has a monopoly on a trait.

The fact that these players were not brought up within the US developmental system (i.e.: the NCAAs) is held against them."

Green Bandwagon Note - I would like to clarify that I was not calling international players soft. Rather I was asking Martin's take on a perception that exists out there, whether I agree with it or not. And he makes some great points. Also, interestingly, players like Nocioni, Varejao and Ginóbili, and for that matter Raja Bell and James Posey, that take a lot of charges are also widely criticized for flopping. Finally, Ginobili's integral role on championship teams removes him from any debate of this nature. He's come up big in crunch time.  And not having him in the All Star game is inexcusable. Although with Hedo Turkoglu and José Calderón I'd argue that we could be seeing players making All Star teams when they no longer should (Jason Kidd and Ray Allen), while younger, more deserving players get passed over when they first deserve it. This happens frequently in football and baseball as well. Regardless there is a certain amount of xenophobia that exists amongst some American born fans of the NBA.

Green Bandwagon: Do you envision teams in Europe, or elsewhere abroad, competing in the NBA's regular season and playoffs within the next ten to fifteen years?

Álvaro Martín:

"The timing will be a strict matter of when NBA-quality arenas are built. The NBA recently revealed that five teams (a division) would be enough to start a European NBA conference, but I am not so sure. For marketing purposes, for scheduling purposes, I believe you need two five-team divisions. For these European teams, the West Coast trip will be pure hell. Let's say Philadelphia has to play Barcelona in a playoff series. Does that mean that all games have to start at around noon Philly time, so we can accommodate fans in Catalunya? There are a lot of unanswered questions here.  Let's say a LeBron James-type player emerges in a decade's time and Milan picks him first. I can see an American-born kid (and the powerful companies that pay him to endorse his products) pull every lever to end up with an American team. The league is motivated both by the prospect of growing, as well as the fear that these leagues are starting to acquire the economic strength to compete for talent with the NBA itself."

Green Bandwagon Note - I really like that point about an American phenom and whether his representation would be okay with him playing abroad. I'm torn. I could see LeBron James' people seizing the opportunity to make James a global icon, which he has previously stated is one of his main goals. But I don't know about Michael Beasley for example. Also Martin is dead on when he says, "For these European teams, the West Coast trip will be pure hell." I've heard David Stern speak about expanding the game overseas. And he is over the top positive. That is probably because he has more vision than the most of us. Also if it is ever going to happen negativity from him would drastically take away from the movement. Still when Stern says, as he did over All Star Weekend, that there is no difference between traveling from Seattle to Miami and Miami to London, he conveniently ignores the Seattle to London trip. Also I'm not entirely sure that having Zach Randolph and his Hoop Family cross the Atlantic is going to work. But maybe that's just me. Finally I am intrigued by the idea that the international teams could compete with the NBA teams financially soon. Given the weak dollar and how well the European teams treat their players we could be headed towards a situation like the old NBA/ABA encounter. And this time just coming to a financial settlement and incorporating some new teams might not be a solution.

Green Bandwagon: Donnie Nelson Jr. is famous for signing the first player from both China (Wang Zhizhi) and the Soviet Union (Sarunas Marciulionis) to NBA contracts. Those deals, though only a small fraction of what he has done abroad, are tangible evidence of his involvement on the international basketball scene. One would assume that his employer, the Dallas Mavericks, is well versed in that area. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs struck gold when they drafted Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Currently what NBA teams have positioned themselves the best to make good decisions regarding international players.

Álvaro Martín:

"Portland has a great scouting staff, and they act on their convictions. Phoenix had that base with the Colangelos, but Bryan has moved all that savvy to Toronto. Just like in baseball or ice hockey, where internationalization has grown further in major North American sports, you cannot build a championship team without a blend of nationalities. There are NBA teams like the Bobcats, the Pacers and the Knicks who do not seriously look overseas for talent, to their detriment."

Green Bandwagon Note - In the back of my mind I do worry about the Celtics involvement on the international scene. The Jiri Welsch era did not work out and the 1 year + of Michael Olowokandi was not earth shattering. For now Boston is fine, but it will be something to watch as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen leave the game. Also if a GM gets good value in the second round - Glen Davis and Leon Powe - it does not matter where the player is from.

Green Bandwagon: Have you gotten a chance to see second year player Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics? If so, are you as impressed as Celtics fans are, many of whom predict he will make the All Star team someday?

Álvaro Martín:

"An All-Star Game for Rondo may be premature, but he has improved his medium-range shot noticeably, he has tremendous confidence, knows how to run and finish the fast break and plays the passing lanes with precocious wisdom. The fact that he is an important member of a high profile team helps, but who would you exclude from an ASG Eastern roster to include Rondo: José Manuel Calderón, Gilbert Arenas, Chauncey Billups, Mike Bibby, even Devin Harris?"

Green Bandwagon Note - I am not of the opinion that it should have happened this year or even in the next three. But if you look at Rondo's growth as a player from last season to this one and then factor in his age, 22 as of today, he could really be something special. Also Billups will be 32 in September. While a lot been made about Rondo's inability to guard Billups, is the reverse true as well? Meanwhile, Bibby will be 30 this spring and has never been an All Star. It might be a bit late for him to start. Three to five seasons from now the point guard landscape in the East could be drastically different. I'm just saying there is a chance.

Green Bandwagon: Can you talk about Kevin Garnett's impact on the Boston Celtics?

Álvaro Martín:

"Leadership, leadership, leadership. He knew the key to success would be an unending focus on defensive effort and that's what came out of his mouth from Day One. Secondly, he knew he had to be deferential to Captain Pierce and First Mate Allen, and submitting his ego for the good of the team has been remarkable. Notice I have not even mentioned what he can do on the court, which is almost taken for granted. But without those two guiding statements by Garnett, this experiment could have gone awry."

Green Bandwagon Note - Agreed.

Green Bandwagon: If the season ended today who would you choose as the NBA's MVP?

Álvaro Martín:

"KG, with the important caveat that no MVP can afford to miss 20 out of the 82 games of the season. Abdominal injuries are hard to overcome in-season, but that is his particular challenge, if he is to win another MVP award. Otherwise, you have a number of deserving candidates, including one who may surprise you: Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets."

Green Bandwagon Note - I'm not even sure what Chris Paul did to Jason Kidd during Kidd's first game in Dallas is even legal. But I don't envision a scenario where Paul gets an MVP award before LeBron James. Something to watch though.

Thank you to Álvaro Martín for his time and candor. Again you can catch him tonight doing the play-by-play for the Celtics/Suns game on ESPN Deportes.