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10 Near-Trades That Would've Changed NBA History

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These NBA trades never happened, but they came close. In an alternate dimension, there's a Bulls team with Kobe, T-Mac plays with Iverson in both their primes, and Hakeem takes his talents to South Beach.

1. Michael Jordan to the Clippers for Five of Whatever the Clippers Had

According to Sam Smith's The Jordan Rules, Clippers owner Donald Sterling called Jerry Reinsdorf, his counterpart in Chicago, during the 1987-'88 season to offer any five Clippers players or draft picks for Michael Jordan. The Bulls were about to be knocked out of the playoffs yet again but, according to Smith, Reinsdorf didn't consider the deal too seriously. Still, the Clippers could offer two first round draft picks, and Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause apparently had his eye on some prospects and the team took time to consider the options anyway.

Obviously, Reinsdorf ended up telling Sterling, "Thanks, but no thanks." The Bulls went on to become The Bulls, while the Clippers remained the Clippers.

2. Charles Barkley to the Lakers for James Worthy and Elden Campbell

During the '91-'92 season, Charles Barkley was (unsurprisingly) outspoken about his displeasure with Philadelphia 76ers management and their failure to put pieces around him. "Wherever I play, I'll play well," he said, "I'd rather stay in Philadelphia, but that is not my decision." Rumors swirled of a swap that would send Barkley to the Lakers for James Worthy and Elden Campbell.

That trade never happened, and instead, Barkley was sent to the Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang after the 76ers failed to make the playoffs.

Barkley immediately found success on the Suns. They made the finals and he was named the league's MVP in his first year with the team. (The move improved his commercial game, as well.) Meanwhile, the Lakers were sent into rebuilding mode and had to wait for Kobe Bryant. Speaking of which...

3. Kobe Bryant to the Bulls for Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Ben Gordon, and Joakim Noah

In 2007, Kobe Bryant had come off his most frustrating season ever (it would eventually be topped). Sick of playing with Kwame Brown and Smush Parker, Kobe made his feelings known. Enter the Chicago Bulls, who put together an enticing package for the middling club.

People forget how close this move was to becoming reality. It eventually came down to Kobe's refusal to go to Chicago if they traded Deng—he saw the young forward as an ideal teammate and didn't want to risk playing for a squad that had given away all their talent. It would have been a Gift of the Magi situation—only with 100% more Smush Parker.

Instead, the Lakers managed to trade for Pau Gasol, and Kobe and Pau went on to play in three consecutive finals, winning two.

4. Larry Bird to the Pacers for Chuck Person and a Draft Pick

According to reports, in 1988, the Pacers tried to bring Larry Bird home by offering the Celtics Chuck Person and the 2nd pick in the upcoming draft. Even though Bird had missed most of the season with multiple injuries and surgeries, Boston rejected the offer. The Pacers kept the pick and used it to draft Rik Smits. Bird eventually did return to Indiana, as both a coach and GM.

5. Tracy McGrady to the 76ers for Larry Hughes

Here's an actual sentence that was written in a newspaper in 2000:

An NBA source confirmed last night that the Sixers placed another call yesterday to the Toronto Raptors to see if they were willing to part with swingman Tracy McGrady and a No. 1 pick for Hughes.

The Hughes in question would be Larry Hughes, pride of the St. Louis Billikens. At the time, Tracy McGrady wasn't yet the offensive savant he'd become, but the 76ers still showed a little too much chutzpah in trying to find a backcourt partner for Allen Iverson.

In the offseason, McGrady left the Raptors as a free agent and joined the Orlando Magic. The following year would see the 76ers make it to the finals on the back of Allen Iverson's Herculean MVP season. They managed to do it without Larry Hughes, who went to Golden State.

6. Hakeem Olajuwon to the Heat, Multiple Times

Flashback to 1992: Hakeem Olajuwon wasn't happy with Rockets management. His agent went to the press, saying, "If you have a disgruntled and unhappy superstar and there are irreconcilable differences, then a trade nearly always happens at some point." The Heat had already turned down a deal offered by the Rockets asking for Rony Seikaly, Glen Rice, and Steve Smith in return—the Heat refused to part ways with Rice and Smith. Houston came back, offering Hakeem and Sleepy Floyd for Seikaly, Grant Long and the rights to draft pick Harold Miner. That trade also fell apart.

Flash-forward to 1995: The Rockets win two NBA Championships in a row and Olajuwon seizes the crown of best center of his generation and best foreign-born player ever. What a difference a couple of years (and Michael Jordan's retirement) makes.

7. Dennis Rodman to the Suns for Richard Dumas

In 1993, the sun was setting on the Bad Boy Pistons, and Detroit was looking to make some moves. They had apparently locked up a deal that would send Dennis Rodman to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Richard Dumas and other players to be named later. The Pistons abruptly pulled the plug on the deal when they learned that Dumas was attending a program for substance abuse—an issue that forced Dumas to miss the '91 season.

Rodman was dealt to the Spurs and eventually headed to Chicago to be an integral (and colorful) part of the Bulls second three-peat. Dumas, meanwhile, returned to the NBA for two more seasons before playing overseas.

8. Scottie Pippen to Seattle for Shawn Kemp

According to Seattle Coach George Karl, the Bulls came to the Sonics in 1994 and offered to trade Scottie Pippen for Shawn Kemp. Seattle turned the deal down, Karl said, citing Kemp's bright future (he is four years younger than Scottie).

According to Bulls GM Jerry Krause, "We did not seek a trade for Scottie Pippen." Hmm. Perhaps he was just saying that so as not to upset his team's best player who had just led them to a 55-win season without the Birmingham Barons' Michael Jordan? Or maybe he was—no, wait, that's definitely what it was.

Pippen didn't go anywhere, Jordan came back, and the Bulls did their three-in-a-row thing one more time. Shawn Kemp stayed in Seattle and had some pretty sweet dunks.

9. Wilt Chamberlain to the Bulls for...Bobby Hull?

Wikimedia Commons

This cross-sport trade seems like the kind of thing two barflies would come up with after seven too many boilermakers, but apparently it was a real-life possibility. In the 1970s, both the NBA and NHL were faced with competition from two upstarts: the ABA and WHA. As the '71-'72 season was wrapping up, Bobby Hull made it clear he was displeased with his low Blackhawks salary and began speaking with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA. According to Bob Verdi, the Blackhawks' notoriously cheap owner Arthur Wirtz wasn't perturbed by Hull's behavior. However, L.A. Kings and Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was.

Cooke (a Canadian) feared the WHA would unseat the NHL if they were able to lure a superstar like Hull, so he allegedly offered to give the Lakers' Wilt Chamberlain (who had just come off a monster season) to the Chicago Bulls. Wirtz was securing a majority stake in the Bulls and he also owned Chicago Stadium, which the struggling basketball team was failing to fill. According to Verdi, "Cooke never denied the proposal and Wirtz never acknowledged it," but alas, it never materialized. Hull went to Winnipeg after the season and Wilt signed with the ABA's San Diego Conquistadors as a player-coach. Due to a contract dispute, Chamberlain wasn't allowed to play for the Conquistadors, and he retired before he ever suited up.

10. Chris Paul to the Lakers

Want to piss off a Lakers fan? Just mention this 2011 trade that was a done deal until, well, it wasn't. Three teams agreed to a trade that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, and Goran Dragic to New Orleans. The deal was in place and people were already wondering what the Chris Paul era was going to be like in L.A. when NBA commissioner David Stern interjected.

After listening to the protestations of uninvolved team owners, Stern cancelled the trade for "basketball reasons." We still got to see L.A.'s Paul era, just not for the team in purple and gold. The Clippers soon landed Paul for a group of players while the Lakers revamped their squad to include Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

How'd that end up? If that pissed-off Lakers fan is still talking to you, ask them.

Thanks to Brett Savage for research help. All photos courtesy Getty Images, unless noted otherwise.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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