Frank Vogel is an upgrade over Monty Williams — for a discount price

Frank Vogel is an upgrade over Monty Williams, who is now with Detroit

A year after getting unceremoniously released through the trap door LeBron James has designed into the floor beneath the head coach’s seat on the bench, Frank Vogel has re-emerged as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. The 49-year-old Vogel and the Phoenix Suns are familiar with each other’s games. Monty Williams’ Suns booted Vogel’s Lakers from playoff consideration in the penultimate game of their regular season.

On Friday, the Suns inked Vogel to a five-year, $31 million contract, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Last week, Vogel was named one of five finalists for the job alongside two assistant coaches, Doc Rivers, and Nick Nurse. After Nick Nurse accepted the Sixers job that reunited him with his former boss Daryl Morey, the Suns’ options became clearer. They had to take the best of the rest and Doc Rivers would have been a tough sell after his catastrophic three-year stretch in Philly.

Suns needed a veteran coach

With all due respect to Suns assistant Kevin Young and Sacramento Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez, this wasn’t a job management could afford to take a chance on a first-timer with. Vogel replaces Monty Williams, who was made the NBA’s highest-paid coach on Thursday. Vogel is earning half of Williams’ 13 million contract despite being a more accomplished coach. In three seasons as the Lakers’ head coach, Vogel went 127-98. Prior to that he coached the Orlando Magic for two seasons, and had his breakout success with the Indiana Pacers at the beginning of the 2010s, leading them to the playoffs every year but one, and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals twice. In the 10 seasons he’s been a head coach, Vogel has been the defensive Mike D’Antoni, with seven teams ranking among the top 10 in defensive rating and three times finishing first.

An emphasis on defense

Vogel’s coaching history has emphasized the defensive end as the root of his team’s success. The scoring will come naturally now that he’s coaching an offense spearheaded by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. The challenge for Vogel will be getting the most out of a roster that was depleted by the trade that brought them their greatest asset.

Vogel has experience in that arena as well though, assuming control in 2019 of a Laker team that was hollowed out by the trade which brought Anthony Davis to Los Angeles. Vogel will start a job that is pre-cooked on the Larry O’Brien Trophy grill. Vogel’s job is to craft a role for an aging Chris Paul. Amazingly, CP3 was still able to register more assists per night than all but 10 players, despite his body experiencing the final stages of rigor mortis. Due to his ballooning salary, the ideal trade Jones could make for Paul’s creaky joints would be with a med school that needs skeletons. Chances are, Paul will return.

Whether or not DeAndre Ayton is on the roster next season depends on how team president James Jones approaches restructuring the roster. However, in Vogel’s past stops he’s shown a preference for boa constrictor bigs who can choke off the paint and blot out the rim. Ayton’s 1.2 blocks per 48 minutes ranked outside the top 125 rotation players. However, he often appeared disgruntled with being in Phoenix in general.

That meager average put him behind guards such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Suns teammate Kevin Durant, who swatted 2.8 shots per 48, or Bismack Biyombo, whose 4.2 blocks per 48 minutes ranked fourth in the entire league. Ayton doesn’t fit the mold of Vogel centers in the lineage of Roy Hibbert to Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.

More importantly, Vogel has experience in high-pressure win-now environments. After grinding through three seasons in L.A. with aplomb, Vogel never lost his composure. If anything, he was the victim of circumstance in L.A. as James and Davis missed vast amounts of time after winning a title in their first go-round in 2020.

Vogel is an adrenaline-killing coach. The Suns won’t be fun to play. In fact, his teams will cause sleep crust to begin accumulating around your eyes, but give him a healthy roster with a high basketball IQ and you can practically guarantee he’ll get your team to the Conference Finals.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex

Monty Williams isn’t the only person from the Suns who could help the Pistons

Monty Williams got a record deal to coach the Detroit Pistons

There are a few talented teams in the NBA who’ve been waiting to pop like an unpollinated flower, and the Detroit Pistons are hoping Monty Williams is one such catalyst. He was able to help turn around the Phoenix Suns, with the assistance of Chris Paul and the blossoming of Devin Booker, and mold them into an NBA Finals team. The key to most of these rebuilds — beyond a generational talent — is getting young talent to buy into a culture of winning, and embrace accountability.

Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey are a solid foundation talent-wise, but the roster doesn’t feature an on-court presence who can show them how to maximize their talent, when to run a set, when to take over, and other tricks of the backcourt. If only there was someone who could help, who’s done this before, and who — unfortunately for him — is available.

Let’s be honest, at this point in his career, the only way Paul is ever going to win a ring as a player is by chasing it, and the window for him to do that as a productive member of a team feels like it’s shut. The Suns were arguably better without their starting point guard in the playoffs, and he wasn’t only a liability from deep (32 percent this postseason), but at times also was hesitant to take wide-open shots.

However, he can still up the standards of everyone on a squad, and run an NBA offense. In addition to Phoenix, look at what he did during his lone season in Oklahoma City. They ran a three-guard lineup, made the playoffs, which was the last time the Thunder officially did that, and his tutelage helped Shai Gilgeous-Alexander discover his path to stardom in the league.

Is it possible? Would CP3 even agree to go to Detroit?

First off, the Point God doesn’t have a say in the matter. The biggest impediment from the Suns shipping out Paul is his contract, and their salary cap situation. The Kevin Durant trade and the new CBA essentially sapped all of the team’s flexibility, because new owner Mat Ishbia didn’t look before he jumped, and they’re stuck in the inevitable role of buyers with little leverage.

I tried many different iterations in the trade machine to get Paul in a Pistons uniform, and none went through. The denial messages read like an error you get when your computer crashes, so maybe my reading comprehension doesn’t extend to front office jargon, or I needed a third team. I don’t know.

That said, it’s a rare hypothetical trade that would benefit every side (other than, I guess, Paul). Obviously, it’s easy for me to tell CP3 to swallow his pride and accept the last phase of his playing days. Yet, if he had an eye on life after his on-court career, something akin to a player-coach role would be a nice way to transition to the bench.

It would be disingenuous to act like NBA teams won’t be knocking down Paul’s door to hire him as a head coach when that day comes. So, while he doesn’t really need to button up a resume, why not get a jumpstart in the pursuit of an NBA title as a coach? He could help more than Cunningham and Ivey, too, and front offices will give him carte blanche if he unlocks James Wiseman’s upside. (Or he might just end up yelling at him like everyone on the Suns does to Deandre Ayton.)

Apologies if this wasn’t more about Williams, who has a Coach of the Year award on his mantle, and oversaw the undefeated, CP3-less run Phoenix made in the Bubble that preceded their official arrival as contenders. I love the hire because the Pistons badly needed a new voice in the locker room, and Monty is a consummate professional. My concern is it’s going to take much more than one worker bee to get this bouquet to flower. 

Anthony Bennett and the NBA Lottery’s biggest draft busts of the last decade

Image for article titled Anthony Bennett and the NBA Lottery's biggest draft busts of the last decade

Every day, fans of Aleksej “Poku” Pokusevski, Josh Green, or James Wiseman swear next year is the year their favorite players are not the bums the rest of the NBA thinks they are. I went through the last decade, from 2013-2023, and highlighted the 10 players who are on track to be the biggest busts during that stretch. Some of these players still have time to develop into a semblance of the player who earned their high Lottery selection. But for now, I’ve gathered the guys around the league who were selected between Nos. 1-10 in the last decade who are on track to bustville.

Image for article titled Anthony Bennett and the NBA Lottery's biggest draft busts of the last decade

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Pick: No. 1

Draft class: 2013

Bennett is the only No. 1 pick on this list, and is definitely the worst first pick of the last 10 years, especially now that Markelle Fultz and Andrew Wiggins have revitalized their careers on new teams. Bennett was out of the NBA by his fourth season and fourth team, lasting only a season in Cleveland and never averaging more than 16 minutes per game and 5.2 points per game. Bennett was supposed to be part of the rebuilding bridge between LeBron James’ first and second tenures with the Cavs, who had the brilliant stroke of luck of winning three No. 1 picks between 2011 and 2014. Bennett was an odd choice, as, by 2013, the league had evolved past the post-play of slow, vertically challenged bigs. And while the 2013 Draft was the worst of the last decade, the Cavs would have been better off picking any other player that was taken top 10.

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Team: New York Knicks

Pick: No. 9

Draft class: 2018

This season, under the anonymity of Detroit, Knox began to revive his career. Up until this season, he had been an unmitigated bust. He has never looked like a Lottery pick, especially considering who was taken after him, including notable names like Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter Jr. Knox had the build and abilities to be the offensive perimeter weapon the Knicks were hungry for. But it was evident on his Draft Day suit, featuring Fortnite stitched into the inside of his jacket, he was not mentally mature for the task at hand. The Knicks fanbase is not known for its patience. Knox’s softness on defense and passivity on offense kept him out of the rotations of multiple head coaches on the Knicks, most notably Tom Thibodeau, who was in charge when Knox was traded to Atlanta.

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Team: Orlando Magic

Pick: No. 5

Draft class: 2021

This one hurts, as it’s still so soon in Suggs’s young career. An explosive, dynamic lead guard on a Gonzaga team that made the 2021 NCAA Tournament Final, it was expected Suggs would be the Magic’s unstoppable point-of-attack. The Magic already had a ton of talented two-way wings and saw 2020 first-round pick Cole Anthony as more of a backup, leading the way for Suggs to take over as the starter. But Suggs has fallen to the third-string point guard behind Anthony and Fultz. In his rookie year, his defense was atrocious and he was limited by first a hand injury and then ankle issues. Suggs finished his sophomore season with averages of 9.9 points, 2.9 assists, and three rebounds per game while appearing in more games (53) than he had in his rookie season (48). But there were some signs of life. He shot 32.7 percent from three on the year, a marked improvement from the 21.4 percent of his rookie season, and his defense improved, especially on steals. He also improved his impact on the starting line-up, showing opportunities for him to partially live up to his potential, finishing the season with a +11.3 net rating (113.7/102.4 split) in 58 minutes with the starting lineup.

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Team: Sacramento Kings

Pick: No. 8

Draft class: 2014

While Canada is making a claim as the second-best basketball country in the world, it’s not because of the Canadian-born Staukas, who has been in and out of the NBA since he was drafted in 2014. It’s rare to see a Lottery pick bounce around the Association and in minor leagues around the world like Stauskas. He’s tried a few times to mount comeback stories with the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics. What makes the Stauskas pick more painful are the players who were chosen after him, including multi-time All-Star Zach LaVine and back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokić. After a storied college career with the Michigan Wolverines, Stauskas was never able to carve out a role with any of the seven teams he has played for.

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Team: New York Knicks

Pick: No. 8

Draft class: 2017

Ah, “Frankie Smokes,” Knicks fans hardly knew ya. The Knicks had two shots at Lottery point guards in this draft, taking Ntilikina in 2017 and then trading for Dennis Smith Jr. in 2019, who went ninth in the same draft. Unfortunately for them, neither worked out for the Knicks. Ntilikina was never the planking lead guard he was projected as, instead, he fits more as a defensive-minded wing with a streaky shooting ability. He is currently part of the role-playing supporting cast around Luka Dončić in Dallas. He is a free agent this summer and might be on his way out of the league due to his poor shooting from the perimeter.

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Team: Sacramento Kings

Pick: No. 2

Draft class: 2018

Of all the players on the list, Bagley is having the best current career, currently playing for the Detroit Pistons as a part-time starter, averaging 12 PPG (shooting 53 percent on field goals), and 6.4 RPG. While Bagley has eased into a role-player role with Detroit, he is far from the offensive heavyweight projections that influenced the Sacramento Kings to select him second overall in 2018. It’s not just that he was selected second, but he was selected before Dončić (third), Jaren Jackson Jr. (fourth), and Trae Young (fifth). He will always be remembered as the player taken before Dončić, but that’s not his fault, but former Kings exec Vlade Divac’s. Bagley is still waiting for his three-point shot to come around after five seasons (29 percent career average). But he has maintained a solid career average of 13.3 PPG. If Bagley can become a threat from long distance, he could slot in as the future of the power forward position for Detroit and pair with fellow potential Lottery bust Wiseman in a frontcourt revival.

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Team: Philadelphia 76ers

Pick: No. 3

Draft class: 2015 

When the 76ers took Okafor in 2015, he was supposed to pair with Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel to form a dynamic and powerful frontcourt trio. Okafor was dominant in his time at Duke, shooting up to Lottery status with an array of back-to-the-basket post-game and rebounding prowess. But Okafor’s old-school post-game was being phased out of the modern pace and space game. He only lasted three seasons in Philly after a scorching rookie season where he averaged 17.5 PPG, 7 RPG, and 1.2 BPG. Knee issues hindered his development, and he was forced out of Philly during a strange disinformation campaign by then GM Bryan Colangelo involving the exec’s burner Twitter account. He would play four more seasons but only an average of 35 games per season. He left the league in 2021 after playing for the Nets, Pelicans, and Pistons.

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Team: Phoenix Suns

Pick: No. 4

Draft class: 2016

While Dončić has changed the dialogue around the toughness and superstar potential of European players, Bender was the blueprint for the kind of in-and-out league tenure overhyped Euros had in the 2000s. Bender was named as the best international player in the 2016 Draft. And he came with much hullabaloo around his potential, as he was the highest-drafted-ever Croatian and the Suns’ highest-selected draft pick since Armen Gilliam was taken second by the team overall in 1987. So the pressure cooker was already there and boiled up when he only averaged 3.4 PPG and 2.4 RPG in his rookie season. He only lasted three seasons in Phoenix and four seasons in the NBA, he was part of three different teams, including the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 5.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. He is most known for a particular fan using Bender’s jersey as a refurbished Kevin Durant jersey, as the two both wore number No. 25.

Image for article titled Anthony Bennett and the NBA Lottery's biggest draft busts of the last decade

Team: Phoenix Suns

Pick: No. 4

Draft class: 2017

Jackson only lasted five seasons in the league, Jackson spent two seasons with the Suns before being traded to Memphis in a four-player deal following the 2018-19 season, during which he played 22 games. After becoming a free agent, he signed with his hometown team, the Detroit Pistons, where he remained for a season and a half. Eventually, he concluded his career in the 2021-22 season with the Sacramento Kings. Before he was drafted, ESPN rated him as the nation’s second-highest-ranked player in the class of 2016. Throughout his tenure with the Kansas Jayhawks, he averaged 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, shooting an impressive 51.3 percent from the field. That potential never manifested itself in the league, shooting 41.6 percent from the field for his career and out of the NBA by the time he was 25.

Image for article titled Anthony Bennett and the NBA Lottery's biggest draft busts of the last decade

Team: Phoenix Suns (traded to Minnesota Timberwolves)

Pick: No. 6

Draft class: 2019

This one is still fresh, as Culver played his last game in the NBA this season after being waived by the Atlanta Hawks in January and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the G League acquiring him via trade from the College Park Skyhawks. Culver was supposed to be the athletic complement to Karl-Anthony Towns’ shooting ability. Culver had a minimal impact rookie season. In his second year, the SG/SF experienced a drop in nearly half in all of his major stats, including points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and even minutes. His three-point percentage dropped from an already below-average 30 percent to an unacceptable 25 percent.

It’s never sunny in Philadelphia: 10 years of trusting the process

Process or not, the 76erss were embarrassed in Game 7.

On a Tuesday afternoon in May of 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers officially entrusted their organization’s rebuild with a Stanford-educated egghead who had a bold vision for the future.

“We talk a lot about process—not outcome—and trying to consistently take all the best information you can and consistently make good decisions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you reevaluate them all.” – Sam Hinkie on his philosophy, May 14, 2013.

And with those words, “The Process” was born. On the 10-year anniversary of the Philadelphia 76ers hiring a 35-year-old Daryl Morey acolyte to lead their franchise into the future, the Boston Celtics added a new layer of schadenfreude to The Process’ era.

The process has broken down

Ironically, Hinkie’s manifestation of The Process is a 280-pound, 7-foot throwback low-post MVP with a dash of a contemporary floor-spacing range. The spirit of Hinkie’s progressive tanking experiment lives on in Joel Embiid and through current Sixers general manager Daryl Morey. The bleak reality is that Hinkie ignored the tangible dynamics that bind teams on and off the floor. His early rosters regularly scraped the salary cap floor and Philadelphia’s 10-72 record after 2016 demoralized the team, fanbase and left him open to criticism from the league office. He struggled merging the eye test and psychological evaluations that scouts use with his quantitatively driven analytical methods. Hinkie could crunch the numbers, but couldn’t supplement that wonkiness with the common basketball sense of a professional hoophead.

Over time “The Process” has decayed into a cosmic joke from the outside looking in. Some of the allegedly brightest minds in basketball either bungled the job regularly or were frequently struck by lightning. Former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz forgot how to shoot, Jahlil Okafor devolved from Rookie of the Year candidate to benchwarmer in record time, Ben Simmons’ historic aversion to launching jump shots belongs in the Bad Basketball Hall of Fame, and that’s before he developed the yips in the paint against Atlanta in Game 7 of the 2021 semifinals.

Mikal Bridges is still the best player not named Embiid, drafted by the Sixers. The local Villanova national champ whose mom worked for the organization was overjoyed at being drafted by the Sixers on Draft night before being unceremoniously traded for a Texas Tech swingman who missed his entire rookie season because of an extreme allergic reaction and never worked his way into an NBA rotation. Bridges was one of the catalysts for Phoenix’s runner-up finish in an NBA Finals, was named All-Defense while guarding premier offensive playmakers and emerged as the two-way cornerstone for Brooklyn’s franchise rebuild after the trade deadline.

Philly bleeds talent and playoffs losses

The Sixers don’t just lose prospects, they lose playoff series in memorable fashion. Some haunting experiences can’t be repressed. This weekend was the four-year anniversary of Kawhi Leonard reducing entire Philly families to emotional rubble.

On Sunday, James Harden was so spooked by another legacy-defining game that the only reasonable explanation for his performance is that he keeled over at some point after Game 5 and the Sixers trainers refused to share that his apparition was starting Game 7. This was the worst loss in the entire Process era. Through five games Philadelphia had the series in hand heading back to South Broad Street. In the final two games of this series, Harden tallied 22 points, shot 25 percent from the field and committed 10 turnovers. As I warned during the first round, Harden’s diminished burst and expanding waistline exacerbate his traditional decline in play over the course of a series when everyone has adjusted to his tricks.

The cruelty of Jayson Tatum being the driving force behind Boston’s comeback and Philly’s latest Hindenburg makes Philly’s elimination even more excruciating. In 2017, the Colangelo administration traded up with Boston in an effort to land Fultz over Tatum while Boston deftly picked up the best player in the draft two picks later.

Then there’s Jimmy Butler, who was Philly’s sherpa on their highest ascent in 2019. One of the common misconceptions is that Butler opted against re-signing Butler so that Philly could re-sign Tobias Harris. In reality, Harris was more palatable for Simmons, but it was never about Harris vs. Butler. As Embiid and others would reveal years later, Butler leaving was an ingredient in keeping Simmons happy after he’d already signed an extension. They also created a spacing issue. Butler’s on-ball tendencies never meshed on the floor together with Simmons’ point forward skillset. As the third man who needed space in a clogged lane, he was the odd man out, leaving Embiid alone to wade through the muck.

‘The Process’ stuck by Ben Simmons

A rational organization would have taken note of the undeniable chemistry between Butler and Embiid and contrasted it with the poor dynamic on and off the floor Simmons had with… almost everyone of consequence. At the time, Simmons was still considered a franchise player with high upside in certain corners of the league, who could have netted the Sixers someone like Chris Paul (four years younger) or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. As usual though, Philly flunked the test in the 2019 offseason.

For years, I too was a devout member of The Process cult. And like most cults, when the desired results never arrived as predicted and then when Hinkie resigned in disgrace, I rationalized Hinkie as a martyr and filed away his 13-page resignation letter as a pseudo-religious doctrine. At this juncture, my Process goggles fell off and I realized this organization was the punchline in a celestial dark comedy.

Since then, Jimmy Butler has shepherded the Miami Heat to three Eastern Conference Finals berths in four years and an NBA Finals loss in 2020. This year, he has Miami back on the brink of the Finals as an 8-seed. And yet, he still speaks with regret about not having Embiid as his teammate.

James Harden is not the guy

Butler’s steely resolve is the exact opposite of Harden’s passivity when the going gets toughest. The universe chuckled when Harden sank a game-winning corner 3 in Game 4 that knotted the series up at 2-2.

Harden has always been a rich man’s Ben Simmons in the postseason, but for different reasons. Typically Harden’s playoff farts can be attributed to him shooting too many lazy stepback contested jumpers and hunting calls he used to inflate his stats and manipulate refs into making during the regular season that was instrumental in him maintaining rhythm. Throughout Game 7, Harden passed out of clear shots at the bucket to struggling shooters who needed an adrenaline shot from their stars on the road. Harden was ready for his summer vacay.

In his last three fourth quarters, Harden has gone scoreless in 32 minutes and can’t even point to the game-altering defense the guy they traded him for could tout. Al Horford, 36, registered nearly as many points as Harden in Game 7, and sent back or challenged a litany of shots. After Game 5, Joe Mazzulla finally re-inserted Robert Williams into the five-man starting lineup that Boston nearly led to the Finals a year ago.

Sunday’s Game 7 was the seventh time Doc Rivers has lost a series he led 3-1 or 3-2. A normal organization would find a new voice for that locker room, but the 76ers have become numb to pain. There were no tears. All anyone can do anymore is laugh at how comically The Process underwhelmed again.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex 

Misfortune has once again befallen the Clippers

Fate has come for Kawhi Leonard.

The poor Los Angeles Clippers have no luck. In 2019, they acquired what appeared to be the perfect tandem in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers are currently the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and tied 1-1 with the Phoenix Suns in a first-round playoff series. On Thursday night at home, they will be without both George and Leonard.

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk reported that Leonard will be out for Game 3 with a sprained knee. It is the same knee in which Leonard suffered a torn ACL during the 2021 playoffs. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Leonard’s current injury is not related to the previous one.

George has been out of the lineup since late March after suffering a knee injury. There is no definitive timetable for his return, but he is expected to remain in street clothes for the entire first round.

The Clippers are stymied by injury again

In 2019, the Clippers were one of several teams who went all in to attempt to build a championship roster on the fly. They traded likely 2022-23 NBA All First-Team guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five unprotected first-round draft picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for George. The Clippers signed Leonard shortly afterwards. The Los Angeles Lakers traded away starters and picks to acquire Anthony Davis. The Brooklyn Nets signed Kevin Durant.

So far the moves have only paid off for the Lakers, who won the muted bubble championship of 2020 — and have produced more drama than winning since. Durant currently plays for the Suns, and the Clippers are stuck. The only postseason in which George and Leonard have been healthy the entire time was the Clippers 2020 choke job in the bubble. Fast forward to

2023, in a home playoff game that they desperately need to win, neither player is on the floor.

Even if Leonard can play again in this series, there is a good chance that this knee issue will not be a one game occurrence. The Clippers still don’t know when/if George will return, and they don’t have a first round draft pick until 2027.

They followed the wave in 2019, and had better hope that at some point either this season or next that George and Leonard can get out of the water and back on their surfboards. If not, that new Intuit Dome will be mighty quiet for the foreseeable future.