This is one we didn’t expect. ESPN’s Zach Lowe, host of The Lowe Post podcast is one of the best, and most influential voices in the NBA media industry. He has a vote in the MVP race, as well as the All-NBA stuff and other awards. Howard Beck, another rock star in the field, formerly of S.I., NY Times, Bleacher Report, and other major outlets joins Lowe on a recent episode to discuss a bunch of things, including the heated MVP discourse.
But they were both clearly very angry with Daryl Morey. And I got the sense most of it was related to this recent tweet from the Sixers President of B-Ball ops:
media: "The MVP should come from one of the best teams in the league"— Daryl MorΞy (@dmorey) March 8, 2023
how they choose when their preferred candidate barely avoids the play-in tournament: pic.twitter.com/KzVIcy7muv
But of course some Twitter sleuths have already pointed out that it might even go back to this:
Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, on @975TheFanatic:— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) January 27, 2023
"Joel Embiid completely hosed once again."
Morey went on to specifically point out "the shameless Boston media" being "way over-represented" in the All-Star starter selection process.
It seemed harmless enough to us Sixers fans at the time. Just a GM whose much more online than your average lead exec supporting his perennial MVP candidate, the same type of stuff he did for James Harden back in Houston.
And Lowe, who clearly has a sense of humor, and who I’ve always enjoyed as one of the best analysts in the field, a great and illustrative writer and podder, has also enjoyed some apparently mild-natured ribbing in the recent past too. This one at Harden’s expense:
No harm no foul. I think most of us Sixer fans (who even spotted Morey’s tweet) simply felt he was supporting his player, Joel Embiid, who has had a bit of a rough go of it lately in terms of awards.
Dude has finished runner-up two years in a row to Nikola Jokic for MVP, and that cannot be fun. For Joel to also miss out on First Team All-NBA, the few years he’s been regarded as the second-best player in the league by MVP voting, also feels somewhat inconsistent; even if there are some league-imposed positional eligibility quirks that may be more to blame than voters on that last point.
And Embiid was not originally a starting All-Star this season too. So you can see why Morey felt like publicly backing a superstar many feel has been slighted to a disproportionate degree when it comes to awards.
Wouldn’t it at least be a bit weird if Embiid became the first center since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972 to lead the NBA in scoring two seasons in a row, while finishing runner-up MVP those same years, but still not make All-NBA First Team?
Morey’s tweet pokes fun at the apparently moving goal posts among media members and their choices for awards; winning big didn’t mean a ton last season when the Nuggets were just a sixth seed, but now some contend, winning is vital as Denver holds first place out West.
But we really didn’t expect Lowe to become so personally frustrated with Morey’s jab at “media” in general. Lowe says Morey calls out “voters,” so maybe he read “media” as one and the same.
Here’s more from Lowe:
“We’re gonna talk about the MVP right now. I don’t want to talk about the MVP. The MVP conversation has gone so far off the rails in like every single direction that everyone needs to just take a beat....drink a beer, remember what we’re talking about. The game where people throw a little orange ball through a little orange ring. I think some of these conversations including the most serious ones are worthy conversations and very serious things to interrogate.... I think the tenor of it has become toxic. I think the topics are all fine and very worthy of discussion including the race issue that [ESPN’s] Kendrick Perkins brought up....But the tone of the conversation has just got to chill out. There are three candidates for MVP right now. [Nikola] Jokic, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and [Joel] Embiid....they’re all incredible....”
That was basically the intro to the point he was really angling to get to about Morey. But before he did, he hit on one more key point. He wanted to offer his support for using things like past (season’s) performance, or even post-season performance to settle tie-breakers as a voter, (even though technically it’s supposed to focus on this current regular season campaign).
Lowe adds “...if it’s really close and you just can’t find a separator that you like, maybe you don’t like the VORPS and SCHNORPS, that’s fine.” If it’s too close to call, Lowe thinks one might consider “history, and postseason,” adding “if those things matter to you as a voter, they matter to me,” so that’s fine.
(As a Sixer fan, feel free to groan because Lowe is quite influential, and Embiid hasn’t been to the final four like Jokic, and he hasn’t won a title like Giannis; so obviously, he doesn’t fare as well with the type of tie-breaker analysis Lowe supports voters making.)
All of that was the backdrop and context for what was not fine.
Here’s where he vents on the Sixers President of Basketball Operations, and one who has been on Lowe’s podcast a handful of times in the past, although more recently he’s stuck to The Ricky.
“....do not yell and scream like someone voting for the guy that’s not on your team is a f—g moron who knows nothing about basketball and life because they happen to think Giannis not Jokic is the MVP.... I am specifically talking about people like Daryl Morey, who has frankly been juvenile on twitter.... he’s making these silly arguments.....and Daryl Morey is a steward of the game, he is the General Manager of a Sixers, stop making fun of people who might vote for someone other than Embiid as if they’re morons, with your silly tweets of children playing little square peg round hole games.”
My round up here certainly won’t do Lowe or Beck justice (or whatever the word is). So give the full pod a listen, and see for yourselves.
For example, they talk about how the point Kendrick Perkins recently made about potential racism in the voting process is worth interrogating and MVP voters should examine their own latent biases. They talk about how some of those biases are proven across industries, and subconscious.
When they get back to basketball, Lowe also takes out some frustration on Nuggets’ head coach Mike Malone for something he recently said. He even calls Jokic a not above-average defender, to balance things out a little. I’m just trying to get you some of the flavor.
Lowe continues, circling back to Sixers specific content:
“And I understand you gotta campaign for your guy, that’s fine, you can campaign for your guy without being like ‘you’re a moron if you don’t vote for this guy. Daryl Morey’s tweet was like something about voters trying to parse team success and individual numbers... you run the freaking nerd conference!”
After that segment, Lowe makes the point that Morey is complaining that Jokic won MVP despite that 2022 Nuggets team finishing as a sixth seed last year. And Lowe argues Morey, of all people, should understand that the 2022 Sixers (a four seed) weren’t all that much better.
(Interestingly, the 2023 Nuggets are only 1.5 games ahead of the 2023 Sixers right now.)
"...do not yell and scream like someone voting for the guy that's not on your team is a f--g moron....I am specifically talking about people like Daryl Morey, who has frankly been juvenile on Twitter."— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 10, 2023
-Zach Lowe was furious w/ Morey for the tweet below, supporting Embiid for MVP https://t.co/o9XBTn1j9k pic.twitter.com/otb31A2cqb
Lowe adds that he keeps:
“...seeing and its driving me crazy, all of this stuff about ‘how can you give Jokic [Lowe said he voted for him last season] the MVP when he hasn’t done anything in the post season?’ When did Joel Embiid’s post season track record become better than Jokic’s?... One of them has made the Conference Finals, and that is not Joel Embiid, that’s Nikola Jokic. Jokic’s postseason numbers are flat out better than Embiid’s, they don’t include defense....but I just wish we could have this conversation reasonably and I guess we’ve just reached the point where it’s just not possible. Everyone is either right or a moron who should be thrown out of basketball and media forever, should be fired, on the street, lost their family, their children, take away their house, takeaway their car-
Beck: “Zach just literally backed away from the mic just now....”
Lowe: “‘Cause it’s basketball man, it’s supposed to be fun. We’re supposed to be able to have these conversations and just like have a good time with it.”
Astute readers will note that he accused Morey of setting up this false dichotomy where you vote Embiid or you’re an idiot, yet he uses the same phrasing to contradict a point Morey did not make regarding postseason success.
That’s conflating, or a straw man by Lowe, something he accuses Morey of doing here several times.
Howard Beck agreeing w/ Zach Lowe that Morey has contributed to false-binary in MVP debate.— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 11, 2023
"I feel like it is concerning the way he has kind of weighed into this....this is feeling a lot like politics where ....if you are against Joel Embiid you're now are against freedom..." pic.twitter.com/vdi5eXtKRJ
Not long after that, Beck addresses Perkins’ claims that there may be racism involved, before circling back to Morey.
“But to your point, and I want to bring it back to this, the toxicity of the MVP debate arrived a long time ago. It’s been increasing over the last couple of years. And part of it is driven by - you mentioned Daryl, I’ve had offline discussions with him, I won’t go into it. But like, I’ve talked to him about this ‘cause I feel like it is concerning the way he has kind of weighed into this, I don’t know, trying to put his thumb on the scale. This is feeling a lot like politics where people start grandstanding and creating these false-binaries that make you either for or against freedom. And that’s what it’s become. If you are against Joel Embiid you’re now are against freedom and the American way, you are against all that is good about basketball. It’s exactly as you said.”
Beck does add a chuckle in there to lighten what I can see may read as pretty zany. Here’s where a few of you on twitter have used the “I think you should leave” hotdog guy meme “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this!”
We’re all trying to find the guy who did this pic.twitter.com/eBMsPBku3g— Capricorn Iscariot (@CaprcrnIscariot) March 11, 2023
Can you bemoan the MVP discourse having “gone off the rails” and then run them that much further off? Morey’s silly tweet contributes to a false-binary where it’s you’re right or you’re a moron who deserves to lose your job? His tweet perpetuates a culture of vote for Embiid or you hate freedom? Really?!
This is starting to sound kind of toxic to me.
Beck goes on to note that we have had MVP’s in the past who weren’t great on defense, like James Harden and Russell Westbrook, so we “can’t all of a sudden use [a lack of defense as] this as the defining reason to deny one guy, in this case Jokic.”
Making matters more intriguing, Lowe doubled down on this argument he says he keeps hearing from some “corners.”
In his Friday’s 10 Things, he writes, in a segment (purportedly) about Michael Porter Jr., even more about how Jokic has a better post-season resume than Embiid.
And Embiid himself even “liked” someone’s sarcastic tweet, as Jackson Lloyd wondered why Lowe felt compelled to criticize Joel’s post-season resume in this Porter Jr. segment of all places:
Embiid liked this one pic.twitter.com/lzZh1nmVZB— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 10, 2023
So all in all, I guess I find Lowe and Beck’s position a bit off putting.
For starters, I didn’t personally get the sense, when I first saw Morey’s tweet that he even meant specific voters. He said “media.” So is it impossible that Morey just flipped on NBA TV or ESPN2, like I have a million times, and heard someone who doesn’t even have an MVP vote argue something clearly hypocritical? Morey respects Lowe, I certainly don’t suspect he’d assume Lowe made this terribly reductive analysis. So then is Lowe defending others? If so, I can’t imagine they care as much as he seems to.
What about the tweet did Lowe and Beck take such personal umbrage to?
I’m pretty entrenched in this debate online, and I have to admit, I haven’t personally encountered a ton of Sixer fans arguing that Jokic does not deserve MVP because Embiid has had more post season success. I’m not saying Lowe has not encountered the sentiment. But he chose to trumpet that position, in order to make another point about Morey, and it doesn’t quite fit. If you don’t buy some ludicrous argument, don’t dignify it with so much content on your platforms; and if you must, make very, very clear Morey has nothing to do with that other point.
(By the way, imagine the irony of Jokic going one round further than Embiid has and that being used against Joel in an MVP “tie-breaker” today when it was partly because Doc Rivers with the Clippers overplayed Montrez Harrell vs. those Nuggets in 2020? I’m losing it, clearly.)
I have heard that defense should be factored in more heavily, and that the gap between Jokic and Joel on offense isn’t as significant as the gap between them on D. I have made some of these jokes myself.
March 9, 2023
So they accuse Morey of using straw man fallacies, and then proceed to use a few themselves. They accuse him of grandstanding, and contributing to a toxic MVP discourse, while delivering some impassioned grandstanding that vibe pretty toxic in my book.
Give me Embiid or give me death seems like something that might be written on the Liberty Bell, but nobody was actually saying this stuff.
You know what I think? I think as Lowe says, “the MVP conversation has gone so far off the rails in like every single direction that everyone needs to just take a beat....drink a beer, remember what we’re talking about. The game where people throw a little orange ball through a little orange ring.”
There’s going to be debates the rest of the way. Some people in the media, perhaps some with votes, and some without may get a poke here or there. It’s OK. What Morey does online and with the media is a heck of a lot more fun than what say Knicks President Leon Rose does, and never utters a peep except a bi-annual interview with voice of the team Mike Breen. We’re lucky to have Daryl in the same conversations we are, and I get that blurs some lines. But he’s not saying you’re all idiots.
He’s saying there has been some hypocrisy and some moving goal posts among media. And that’s valid. Those nameless victims of the gag probably care one tenth as much as Lowe, who I don’t even think was one of his targets at all.
It’s supposed to be fun. At best, they got mad, they vented, it’s over with. At worst, there’s something going on here, and Lowe being so mad at Morey, has compelled him to squeeze into places they probably don’t belong (like some Porter Jr. analysis) that Embiid lost to the Celtics in five back in 2018 or got swept in 2020, and doesn’t have the post-season resume like the other top candidates; and that stuff can be used to settle close calls in today’s race. If there is some personal issue, it shouldn’t blend into this 2023 race.