Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: NBA Preview

Relief in the City of Roses

Deep in the bowels of the Rose Garden

Lays a mausoleum, a skeleton-less, mummy-free catacomb

Where memories and dreams are Laid to rest Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Brandon Roy, Greg Oden

Their starched jerseys stretched across the walls in black, red and white, permanent defiance

Paul Allen and the sons and daughters of Portland weep when they remember

Clyde and Rick Adelman and Jack Ramsey are helpless to ease their pain

But what if hope landed in PDX in a

Lithe, lean, young point guard from Oakland

What if he was stolen out from under the inquisitive eyes of the analysts, the

Noses of the scouts who know

Talent when they see it

A sequence of events as fruitfully unexpected as prior tragedies had been unfairly unfortunate

Damian Lillard, not the flashy teenage prodigy or the

Entitled one and done junior maestro whose destiny is interwoven within NBA

No.

Damian, Dame, with his boyishly angelic face barely sprouting whiskers

Psalm 37 inked down his left arm in an expression of his faith

Reflected in his discipline and patience to

Wait it out in Ogden (to work it out in Ogden) while his peers bounded towards riches (?), professionalism, fame and the

Trappings that have become cliché

Dame waited

And waited in Ogden at the feet of hills and mountains, a cultural antithesis from the haunts of Oakland

While Portland languished through the inconceivability that Brandon Roy’s knees were without

Cartilage, just bone grinding on bone until the inevitability that Brandon’s knees couldn’t

Ever hold up

But that’s past now

Wearing number zero, zed, O—for Ogden, O-for Oakland,

O for the emptiness Portland can leave behind

Lillard is here with his mature pick-and-roll game, a generously balanced blending of inside-outside-all-inclusive

involvement that breathes anticipation and excitement into Portland’s sons and daughters

And for today and tomorrow allows Paul Allen the

Respite to forget and lock up the gates that provide entry to the

Dark, dank cemetery of dreams that sits in quiet and peace deeply forgotten beneath the Rose Garden

Can I have a talk with you? alternately, The Lost Season: A Tragedy featuring Andrew & Doug

I think it was a couple weeks ago after yet another hopeless Andrew Bynum update that I started ideating about a post chronicling the beginning-to-present saga of Bynum’s disappointing tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers. The comments below were easy enough to compile, but the format proved to be more challenging than I would’ve liked. I tried my hand at Storify, the web-based platform that allows users to aggregate social media and/or content into a single, cohesive story. It’s a beautiful presentation, much prettier than what you’ll find below, but it failed to suit my needs, so I’ve laid out the ongoing dialogue between Bynum, the Sixers organization and the media as it’s played out over the past eight months in the form of quotes, injury updates, speculation and frustration. My comments are included throughout.

*Prior warning: It’s a longish post that at times feels repetitive. I’ve bolded areas that I’ve found amusing, disturbing, intriguing and insightful.

bynum billboard

The trade was finalized on August 10th, 2012 and these are the first comments we get:

Andrew Bynum: “I’m leaning toward making this my home.” – 8/15/2012

Andrew Bynum: “I went through the whole season last year and didn’t have any setbacks…As of right now, my knees feel good.” – 8/16/12

Dancing with Noah (DWN): That comment about his knees seems ominously jinxing. I’m not the superstitious type, but given the benefit of hindsight, Bynum should’ve kept those comments to himself.

Doug Collins (Philly coach): “The day of the press conference we went back and he, I and Jason Richardson spent some time dougcollinstogether along with some of the other people in the organization and I think for Drew, I think a big part of him is he’s excited to be coming home. He was out in LA and I don’t think he ever really fit into the LA scene. I talked to him the other day and he was ready to go over to Germany to have the little procedure, the little injection done in his knee, he’s gotten home in the country here and is excited to be back near his family and everything like that. I think he’s excited that he’s going to be the primary focus of us playing through the post rather than being the third option in LA. He’s a very smart and bright guy, he’s articulate, he knows the game and we talked a little bit about it. Sometimes you say things and I think even he would agree that some of the things that he said came across maybe being a little immature a couple of times. He knows the play on JJ Barea is going to be seen forever and he will always be a part of that but I just feel like he’s in a great place.” – 9/12/12

Doug Collins: “When the opportunity to get an Andrew Bynum came about, you have to obviously do that because you can’t get a low-post center of that magnitude. I think all the things we’ve tried to do we’ve accomplished, but more importantly we did it in a way that going forward this organization is not hamstrung with bad contracts, we have flexibility.” – 9/14/12

Doug Collins: “Andrew is an incredibly well-spoken young guy. He’s articulate, he’s bright, he’s smart and he knows the game. I think he’s happy to be home. He just got a place in the suburbs here and said he loves being here on the East Coast. I think he views this as a great opportunity to be viewed as a central figure on a team every single night that’s going to count on him. I think he views this as a step in his career where he really has a chance to show what he’s all about. He’s got a good sense of humor. I feel really good about him.” – 9/14/12

DWN: At this point, over a month into the Bynum era, everything’s going great. Collins has publicly explained the trade, commented on Bynum’s comfort level, brought up his previous challenges with immaturity as a way of highlighting his current maturity level and even applauded the big man’s sense of humor—presumably this was not a reference to Bynum’s ever-evolving hairstyles.

bynum - 11-25-12

Tom DiLeo (Philly GM): DiLeo: Bynum came back from getting knee injections in Germany last week and “he says he feels very good.” – 9/24/12

Tom DiLeo: “His agent said he wants to come to the surroundings and see the team, see the atmosphere…He’s been very, very happy. His agent said he hasn’t seen him this happy in a long time. I think everything will work out. I think we’ll like Andrew and Andrew will like it here. At the appropriate time, we’ll do the negotiations.” – 9/25/12

DWN: Even if you’re approaching things in late September from a place of cynicism, you have to be feeling semi-good about Bynum in Philadelphia. His few comments have been positive. The coach and GM are thrilled to have the next in a long line of Philly big men that dates back to Wilt, Darryl Dawkins (he was entertaining at least), Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Dikembe Mutombo and now Bynum. Of course the more cynical of you were saying, “It’s Bynum! It’s only a matter of time before he gets hurt!”

John Mitchell (Reporter for Philadelphia Enquirer): Speaking of Bynum, he looks to be in great condition. He’s trim. He’s engaging his teammates and coaches. And if they were playing games right now, Bynum would be out there. – 10/7/12

Andrew Bynum: “I’m not sure, it’s really up to the trainers and the doctors right now, but I think if all the beans were on the table right now I’d be out there. It definitely feels better. A lot of it has to do with my pain threshold. It’s just to the point where I can’t run up and down with the team right now.” – 10/9/12

bynum - 01-17-13DWN: I think this is something, as a fan, journalist or blogger, we’re used to hearing (albeit, in different terms): If it was the playoffs, I’d be playing. Bynum’s “beans on the table” comment is something new and appreciated.

Doug Collins: “I just see he comes in and he’s got the little wrap and the brace on,” said Collins of Bynum’s right knee attire. “He’s out on the floor and he’s spinning and doing some stuff, doing some of the things he couldn’t do before. Plus, I see it in his personality, he’s happier. I think he senses he’s getting closer to play. Anybody that’s ever been injured, especially going to a new team where so much is expected, you want to get out there and play. It’s a downer. He’s worked his tail off. When he’s not watching he’s either doing something on the elliptical or in the weight room working and doing something. You can just sense that he’s feeling better. That’s a positive sign.” – 10/9/12

DWN: Collins continues to remain update and optimistic. After all, it’s still a few weeks from opening tip at this point. As the season goes on, you can feel this hopefulness slipping away not just in Collins’s tone, but also in his empathy towards Bynum.

Doug Collins: “If Andrew misses some games, we’ve got to be prepared to win some games without him,” Collins said prior to Saturday’s game. “Obviously, when he’s out there, our team is going to be a lot different.” – 10/14/12

Doug Collins: “Andrew’s doing well,” Collins said Monday before the Sixers improved their preseason record to 2-1 with a 107-75 victory over Boston at the Wells Fargo Center. “He’s progressing and on track to where I think he hoped he would be at this time. Obviously, the next step for him is getting running and weight-bearing. A lot of that is going to be how he responds to increased activity,” Collins said when asked if Bynum would be ready for the start of the season. “I know how important the home opener is, but we’re not going to do anything silly and have another setback where it costs you and now you have to miss those kinds of games.” – 10/17/12

DWN: I like how Collins is setting and managing expectations regarding Bynum. He’s saying the right things and most importantly, it feels like he’s being honest with the media, fans and himself.

Andrew Bynum: “I think pain and swelling are indications of what’s going on,” Bynum said. “I don’t feel pressure, but psychologically it stinks. It’s tough. I want to come in and help out.” – 10/25/12

Tom DiLeo: “He is improving,” DiLeo said. “It’s nothing new. It’s just not completely healed. It’s our understanding that when this heals, it will be over.” – 10/25/12

Doug Collins: “I have no idea,” Collins said. “It’s all hypothetical. We’re not going to look over at (Bynum as) a lifeline. If this team feels like we can’t win without him, we won’t win.” Collins also said he’s “sure Andrew is incredibly disappointed. When you’re hurt and can’t play, it’s no fun. I’m sure he wants to be out here as much as anybody.” – 10/25/12 doug collins 2

DWN: It’s been a slow progression regarding the comments. Collins had previously communicated that he might miss games and now DiLeo’s including the qualifier, “it’s our understanding” which opens the door for things to change. Collins’s comments on the 25th introduce the possibly of the unknown whereas just eight days previous, it was a different diagnosis.

Tom DiLeo: “He’s improving, but it’s still the same situation…” – 11/6/12

NBA.com: Andrew received a fresh MRI and was seen again by Dr. Altchek this past week on Monday, November 5. At that evaluation, Dr. Altcheck extended Andrew’s return date for a second time by an additional three weeks. – 11/6/12

Brian Windhorst (ESPN): Sixers fear Andrew Bynum has done additional damage to his knees by bowling recently, multiple sources told ESPN. Story link coming. – 11/17/12

Brian Windhorst: Andrew Bynum confirms he hurt his knee bowling. Said it swelled up after he hit lanes. – 11/18/12 (date of bowling incident was 11/10)

DWN: If the mood had been dimming the previous couple weeks, the bowling incident officially cast a pall over the Sixers and Bynum in particular. Up to this point, stories relating to his knee condition(s) were primarily Philadelphia-based sources and were mostly sympathetic to his situation. ESPN gets a hold if this oddball piece that reveals Bynum to be somewhat careless and suddenly it’s not just Philadelphia that has an opinion on him, but sports fans across the country.

bynum bowling - 03-12-13Tom DiLeo: “We have to continue to be patient,” Sixers GM Tony DiLeo told reporters recently. “We want to be cautious. We’re looking long term in this, not short term, and big picture. We’re going to do what’s best for Andrew and what’s best for the organization and try to get him as healthy as he can be and get him back on the court when he is ready.” – 11/21/12

Tom DiLeo: “We’re anticipating he’ll be back at some point,” DiLeo said. “We hope he will be back. We have plans for the future if he is not back with us, but we are anticipating this is a short-term thing. We want to plan on him for the long term.” DiLeo’s primary message during the nine-minute session with the media was to say the Dec. 10 target date for Bynum to return to basketball-related activities is off, he is out “indefinitely” and there is no timetable for Bynum’s return. “We don’t know when he’ll be back,” DiLeo said. “Only Andrew can answer that question.” – 11/25/12

DWN: Within a week of ESPN breaking the bowling story, Bynum’s status has become increasingly bleak. DiLeo’s changed the perspective to “long term” and “big picture” and in the same sentence makes the leap from “anticipating” to “hope.” The cherry on top though is the final comment that “only Andrew” can answer about when he’ll be back. These are statements that, to my untrained public relations eye, are completely misplaced. By putting the responsibility of insight into this mysterious injury on the player, DiLeo is (whether intentionally or not) implying Bynum either knows when he can return (and isn’t sharing) or is able to return and is choosing not to.

Tom DiLeo: “At the time of the trade we had four doctors look at his MRI. We knew it was a calculated risk. We also knew we were getting the second-best center in the league, a franchise type player. We took that risk,” Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo told reporters. “His knees now and the MRIs are not the same. It’s a different type situation. But we are still looking at big picture and long term. We’re hopeful that after this situation heals we can get him back on the court and he’s got a future here.” – 12/6/12

DWN: Neither Collins or Bynum has commented to the media since 10/25/12. DiLeo’s acting as the mouthpiece and attempting to explain that Bynum’s knees have changed since August. A statement that will be reinforced later on in March by Sixers CEO Adam Aron.

Andrew Bynum: “My left knee is still really sore, right knee is actually better, so that’s good,” said Bynum, who last spoke with the media on Nov. 25. “It’s just pain, just by walking around. Worst case scenario it’s another month.” Asked if he was going to get an MRI (or two) at that time, Bynum said: “Probably so, I’m not sure yet but probably. There’s nothing I can really do about it. It’s arthritis in the knees, cartilage is missing so that’s not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, in the next 3 to 5 years maybe there’s something out there that really does help, but for right now it’s really just a waiting game. If this was the Finals and it could be potentially the end, I’d be helping this team win because I think that’s a serious time and you want to be a part of that. But other than that I don’t think, especially right now, it would be a good time to risk anything. Why risk it when you have time to come back and be 100 percent? My right knee is feeling really, really good. I would definitely test it on the right side. I think it’s more evidence that my knees weren’t right if they got hurt playing because it’s definitely going to happen if I play basketball [right now].” – 12/10/12

Tom DiLeo: Asked about the progress of Andrew Bynum before the game, Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said there really is no update and that Bynum is progressing from his knee issues. Asked if Bynum was past the first of the six stages of progress toward recovery, DiLeo said yes but was very vague as to what that means. There probably will be an update when the team returns from its road trip next week. – 1/2/13

DWN: We’re into the new year and there aren’t any updates. Bynum’s comments in December referred to arthritis and missing cartilage and speculated on the potential for cartilage regeneration in the future. Then a few weeks later, reporters and DiLeo are discussing “six stages of … recovery” while simultaneously being described as “vague.” There’s a clear frustration on Philadelphia’s part and it’s unclear how much is directed at Bynum and how much is directed at the situation itself. Keep in mind, Bynum’s bowling excursion didn’t help anything and he’s still making statements like “If this was the Finals … “ and implying that he could play. Given that his contract expires at the end of the season, this is a terrible situation for Philly. On the one hand, you want your potential star big man to take his time and not damage his knees further. On the other, you’re looking at a potential scenario where you traded away an All-Star for an injured player who you’re paying $16.5 million this season just to rehab, potentially get healthy and sign with another team the following season.

bynum_notimetable

Andrew Bynum: “It’s definitely moving in a positive direction,” Bynum, who has been out with bone bruises and swelling cartilage, said. “I’m feeling better every day. I’m back to the weights and on the treadmill and I should be running here soon.” – 1/7/13

Andrew Bynum: “I have no idea exactly, I just want to get back,” Bynum said Monday. “I think, I’m hoping around the all-star break. That’s what I’m hoping. I have no idea exactly when I’ll be back. It’s minimal,” Bynum said. “It’s not hurting.” – 1/14/13

Doug Collins: “All you want is a chance, you want hope. You are starting to get hope again.” – 1/18/13

DWN: It’s unclear if Collins’s comments on 1/18/13 are motivated by Bynum’s public (and likely private) comments from a few days previous. But Collins’ use of “hope” feels genuine while Bynum’s use is closer to our daily usage of the word which is more absentminded without actual feeling behind it. As we progress into the spring, you start to wonder about the honesty and intent of Bynum’s comments. Does he really think he’s coming back or is he just trying to please people or even play them? Let’s get going here.

Andrew Bynum: “It’s going pretty good. I shot around at shoot-around (Monday morning) with the guys so I’m getting a bit better on the court. If the treadmill would stop breaking down I would be able to do a little bit more, but I’m going well. It’s like every 3 days or so it needs service, so I don’t know. I’ve been involved a little bit in practice just shooting around with the guys and stuff like that. My knees feel good and I’m not feeling any pain so this is all good and I just want to keep it going.” – 1/21/13

Tom DiLeo: “We’re hoping for the first of February for practice,” DiLeo said. “But we have to just wait and see how it goes. He’s done a lot of work, but he hasn’t had to go hard and stop and start. That will be important.” – 1/29/13

Michael Curry (Philly assistant coach): “It’s exciting. You give up a lot to get him, and when he’s healthy and on the court, he’s one heck of a player,” said associate head coach Michael Curry, who ran practice Sunday in place of an ailing Doug Collins. “The fact that his level of activity has picked up and he’s here working three hours or so, you’re going to get excited. You start to get ready for the next phase, so we know what kind of sets we want to run and what kind of personnel we want on the court with him.” – 1/29/13

DWN: I like Curry’s comments here. He’s articulating something that I imagine the front office, Collins, Sixers players and Philly fans feel, but the difference is that Collins’s and DiLeo’s jobs could be on the line with this. These guys are excited too, but I think they have more riding on Bynum than Curry does. I don’t say this to imply Curry’s just along for the ride in Philadelphia, but rather to point out that any frustration I might be reading into regarding Collins and DiLeo is likely a justified or at least understandable frustration. This can’t be fun …

Andrew Bynum: “February is the target, I guess, My doctor said it’s just a fear of a big bone bruise, so I have to nurse it all the way back up to playable conditions without pain or a setback. They (the injections) didn’t really help that much,” Bynum said. “My right knee feels phenomenal and the left knee still feels some of that stuff a bit. It was an attempt to ease the pain a bit, but nothing has really changed that much.” – 2/4/13

Tom DiLeo: “When he practices, bangs, jumps, moves — that’s really the most critical part,” DiLeo said on the court prior to

Philly GM, Tom DiLeo

Philly GM, Tom DiLeo

Wednesday’s game against the Pacers. “We’ll just have to see how he reacts during that phase.” DiLeo denied that he told reporters he expected Bynum to practice this week and is unsure when Bynum will be able to work out with the team. “I never said he would practice with us the first week of February,” DiLeo said. “I said he would increase his basketball activities the first week of February. I don’t know where that came from.” – 2/7/13

Andrew Bynum: “I’m not really optimistic. When I get on the court, that’s when I’ll be ready. I’m trying as hard as I can. It would suck to play through pain, but sometimes you have to.” – 2/11/13

Dough Collins: “The question’s going to be, at some point and time, of him getting out there. Right now, he has not done anything with contact.” – 2/18/13

Jrue Holiday: “I just want him to come back healthy, whether it’s this year or next year.” – 2/18/13

DWN: I can’t tell if it’s just from me going through this material so many times or if it’s equally evident in the quotes and the repetition, but there’s sadness (Bynum), frustration (DiLeo), helplessness (Collins) and desperation (Holiday) in these words and by mid-February it had only gotten worse. The hope in January and February comes off as nothing but a tease. How could you not presume the worst at this point?

Andrew Bynum: “Yeah, [I’m 100 percent sure I’ll play this year],” Bynum said. “I don’t see any surgeries and no doctor has told me I need them. I think I just have to grind up the cartilage that’s loose and I’ll feel better, so that’s what we’re working on doing. I think it’s just dealing with it, to be honest. Without some type of intervention or surgery it’s just dealing with it.” – 2/19/13

Doug Collins: “He’s really the only one who knows. Everyone else is just speculating,” Collins said. “But I think he’s feeling better and I think he knows that at some point he’s going to play through pain. I talked to him this morning and told him that once you’ve been around the NBA for a while and have had some injuries, very rarely do you feel great. You always have some aches and pains. But I think he can compete and do well.” – 2/19/13

DWN: Those last two comments feel like indirect communication; almost as if Collins and Bynum are sitting a room with a therapist that happens to have a tablet and a Twitter account with millions of followers. Doug and Drew won’t speak directly to each other, but by opening up to the therapist, they open up to the whole world.

Doug Collins: “He looked like a guy who hadn’t played in nine months,” Collins said. “I don’t think any bells and whistles should be sent off that he’s close to playing. Collins said Bynum would inform them of any future updates, as he has during the entire process. You should talk to him,” Collins said. “I don’t want to be the messenger because they shoot messengers.” – 2/24/13

DWN: For starters, Bynum informing the team of updates seems like the wrong direction for the communication to flow, but by allowing Bynum’s personal orthopedic doctor to run the show, the Sixers have somewhat hamstrung themselves. Beyond that, once again we see Philly going out of their way to put the onus on Bynum—not on Bynum’s knee, not on Bynum’s doctor, but directly on him. Money absolutely matters, but all things being equal, I’d guess Bynum will remember the lines the Philadelphia brass has drawn in the sand.

Doug Collins: “He played the five-on-zero Friday,” Collins said. “I saw him yesterday and he still hadn’t been able to do anything yet. I didn’t ask him [about any pain]. I just had a chance to visit with him a little bit. I know it is tough on him. He wants to play. We traded for him to come in here and play and he hasn’t been able to and that is hard. Hard on him and hard on everyone, and so I feel badly. For us, it is a little different. We traded three guys to get a guy who hasn’t played all year,” he said. “The Bulls have a player that is injured, but he has been here the whole time. Our guy came in, so the dynamics are different. We gave up a lot in that trade and that has been tough.” – 2/28/13

Andrew Bynum: That’s true, I don’t want to play in pain,” the Sixers center said. Bynum then reiterated the fact that he doesn’t care about the public perception of that: “I’m 25. It’s my life. They just grew cartilage in a petri dish, science is looking at it,” Bynum stated, possibly alluding to the future creation of cartilage. “Doctors are looking at it, they’re going to come up with something.” – 3/1/13

Andrew Bynum: “Now it’s getting a little late, so I really don’t know,” Bynum said when asked if he were considering sitting out the final two months of the 76ers season. “I played in one scrimmage and [I have] a four- to five-day setback,” Bynum said of his latest setback. Bynum added that he is “just getting treatment and trying to push the fluid out” of his knee. – 3/1/13

DWN: On 2/19, Bynum was 100% sure he’d play this season and over the course of less than two weeks, he’s revisiting his “cartilage in a petri dish” idea, taking a defensive stance (“I’m 25. It’s my life.”), and finally putting it out there that he may not play.

Doug Collins: “During this period of time, he’s not made any progress, and that’s obviously very concerning,” Collins said. “His concern that he was moving forward and he got to a point with the swelling where he’s making no progress.” – 3/1/13

Adam Aron (Philly CEO):This is a move that should have worked,” Aron said. “But, unfortunately, he got an injury in September and it’s been compounded since, post-trade and we haven’t seen a day. The fans hopes were justifiably high that the Sixers had made a move, a bold move, that would catapult us back into the top teams in the NBA. It hasn’t worked. I can’t get into his exact medical condition,” Aron said. “But I can say this, which is obvious to all of us: All season long he’s had bone bruise issues. He’s had cartilage problems. It’s March. He’s still not playing. He hasn’t played basketball since last May. Clearly, Andrew is dealing with some knee problems that have prevented him from playing in the NBA. Aron said “four doctors cleared the trade in August, and six doctors have actively been treating him and examining him all year long.” The Sixers’ CEO insisted that the team, until now, was confident Bynum would play this season.

“We certainly thought he was going to play in August,” Aron said. “That’s why we made the trade. Even in early October, we thought he would play on opening night. Then there was a delay. Then there was [another] delay. Even when we announced that he was out indefinitely, inside the team we thought he would play in January or February. He himself, in February, said he would play in February. But here we are in March and the team is disappointed. Our fan base is disappointed. And that’s the story of the season. Right now, none of us really know where Andrew Bynum will be in four days or four weeks, let alone in four years.” – 3/4/13

Tom DiLeo: “I think we’re all trying to gather information and see what the best course of action is,” DiLeo said Tuesday, before the Sixers hosted the Boston Celtics. “So I’m sure Altchek will have an opinion, our doctors will have an opinion, and Andrew basically will have an opinion. It’s just gathering information. Like I said before, he’ll continue to rehab, see how that goes. There’s an option of washing it, see how that goes.” – 3/6/13

Doc Rivers (Boston Celtics coach): “He’s (Collins) a friend, so I don’t want my friends to do poorly, unless it’s against me,” Rivers said. “It’s very similar situation to one I had with Grant Hill (in Orlando). It’s tough because your guys see him practicing every day. And with Grant, he played seven games that one year (four, in 2000-01). Each game, he was going to play and didn’t play. And this is the week, next week, he’s going to play in. You just felt like you were always caught in limbo. The thing with Doug can be tougher at times because with Grant, we’re small, we’re athletic and we’re going to play the same style. With Andrew, you’re going to change some of the way you play when he comes back. It’s just hard for everyone. We endured it in Orlando, we got through it, but it was no fun.” – 3/6/13

DWN: I was glad to come across that Rivers quote as Grant Hill’s a great example of a worst-case-scenario for Bynum. Hill ended getting huge paydays and is likely set for life in terms of finances, but when Bynum thinks about returning this season to a team that has zero chance of winning the NBA Championship, I wonder how much Grant Hill’s situation or the potential for a Grant Hill situation weighs on his young mind.  

At the time I write this, it’s March 12th, 2013; six days after the latest official update has been released and Bynum has yet to suit up in a Sixers uniform. I feel for both sides here and I get the frustration in as much as I’m able as a third party observer with no skin in this game. I get both sides and believe there’s a conflict of goals here. With the exception of proving he’s healthy and can play, Bynum has little-to-no incentive to return this season and risk further injury prior to entering an off-season without a contract. As I mentioned above, Philadelphia’s in a terrible position. Gone are Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a future first round pick. In return is nothing but stress and frustration. And throughout this past eight months, even in public comments you can feel the rising and falling emotions, the expectations, confusion and resentment. If this is what’s going on in public, you can fairly easily assume what’s going on behind closed doors—my guess would be the Sixers have at least had discussions around the “injury in September” (Aron, 3/4/13), the potential to get a recoup lost expenses, the bowling incident, the pre-trade MRIs, etc. I don’t see any of the topics coming out of spite (even if it has possibly become personal on some level), but more out of a sense of desperation. You hear this most in DiLeo’s and Aron’s comments.

For the present, there are no winners. Just question marks and an unknown, fearful future for Andrew Bynum, Doug Collins, Tom DiLeo, Jrue Holiday, Michael Curry, Adam Aron and the Philadelphia faithful.

The Dunking on of Brandon Knight by the Giant DeAndre Jordan

The Chorus

The Chorus (all player cutouts were pulled from the original photo found here: http://ow.ly/i/1F3Lo)

The chorus from left to right:

  •          Eric Bledsoe wearing a black suit, his view almost blocked by a teammate. His expression is one of in-the-moment processing mashed up with the first hints that something smells awful.
  •          Ryan Hollins: Hands on head, shock and surprise. Perhaps one of the more excitable players in the league already; this moment will likely be the highlight of his season—even if the Clips win a title.
  •          Trey Thompkins: Fairly certain this is Thompkins and Thompkins has seen the light. He looks like a man seeing the gates of Heaven open before his eyes and he can’t believe he’s worthy of being there.
  •          Jamal Crawford: Arms extended above his head in a classic NBA Dunk Contest pose that simultaneously communicates his rating of a 10 and the ending of the contest (or in this case, the game).
  •          Blake Griffin: A dunker extraordinaire in his own right, Griffin jumped off the bench and can be seen looking to his right where he promptly ran although his destination was undetermined. He eventually had to be restrained by coach Vinny Del Negro.
  •          Maalik Wayns: Just signed to a 10-day contract a couple days ago, Wayns’ reaction was natural, unbridled.
  •          Willie Green: It was almost like Green was being swept away in the reverberations of the dunk and collision. The face stretched with the mouth agape in a stretched out “OOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH” is clearly one of the more natural reactions to aerial collisions that occur with this force.
  •          Joe Resendez: Had to do a big of digging to identify Mr. Resendez who acts as the assistant athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach. He kind of looks like Ben Stiller, but that doesn’t matter much. We expect our coaches and staff members to stay mostly buttoned up, but Resendez looks caught up in the moment. His teeth are clenched, his face masked in aggression. He’s enjoying Brandon Knight’s pain.
  •          Marc Iavaroni: The half of his face that we can see looks a little like a young Brent Musburger. Of all the faces we’ve seen so far, Iavaroni’s is the first that shows an actual concern for Knight.
The Witnesses

The Witnesses

The witnesses from left to right:

  •          Caron Butler: It’s hard to gauge his reaction at this point. On the video clip, we can see him making faces, but in this fresh, post-dunk moment, he seems to be contemplatively pitying Knight.
  •          Charlie Villanueva: Perhaps the most telling reaction of all the players. Villanueva’s is one that expresses to us not just the ill fate of his teammate, but that Knight’s embarrassment is symbolic of Detroit’s night: Far away from home in your opponent’s house without a friend in sight. Not only are you and your mates thrashed by 32 points, but your opponent is humiliating you and enjoying a celebration at your expense. This is a terrible moment for Detroit’s morale.
  •          Lamar Odom: In the video, you can catch Odom yelling enthusiastically, but at this point he seems more interested in the bench’s reaction. He was drifting away from the play after setting a screen on Villanueva and was the player on the court furthest from the epicenter of the carnage.
  •          Greg Monroe: Possibly my favorite reaction. He’s frozen; caught between his natural urge to react similar to the Clippers bench. You can see his lips prepping for the “OOOOOOOHHHHHHHH,” but his self-control is strong enough to maintain his composure. So he stands and stares, paralyzed between his urges and his self-control.
  •          Chris Paul: The archetypal table setter, Paul tossed the lob that led to the thunderous smash and celebrated appropriately.
The Officiant

The Officiant

The Officiant:

  •          Bennett Salvatore: Salvatore is serious, committed to professionalism and has spent decades witnessing up close the athletic feats of NBA players. That being said, there’s a sense of surprise and hints of entertainment hiding in those creases and behind the eyes.
The Combatants

The Combatants

The Combatants, from left to right:

  •          DeAndre Jordan: The destroyer incarnate. A story on NBA.com suggested there’s a 76-pound difference between the 6’11” Jordan (he looks more like 7’0”+) and the 6’3” Knight. In today’s NBA, Jordan’s reaction was completely within the boundaries we’re used to. He had this to say about his dunk: “I didn’t see Brandon until I caught the ball … After that it was just a wrap. Usually, when I get that dunk nobody is right there, but this is the first time somebody tried to block it.”
  •          Brandon Knight: Handling things well:
The Victim

The Victim

And if you’ve made it this far, here’s the dunk in all its glorious violence:

How Reggie Evans referred me to Akeem Olajuwon on December 17th, 1989

Last week I wrote a brief piece on Manu Ginobili’s 15 assists in 23 minutes of play. And previous explorations of statistical oddities have included Al Jefferson playing +50 minutes and attempting zero free throws, Isaiah Thomas scoring 27 points in under 16 minutes and Rajon Rondo’s 3×15 triple double. Through the research of these anomalies, I always learn a little something like Bob Cousy never shot over 40% from the field for his entire career (it was a Jamal Crawford stat that led me there). Last night I was digging through box scores looking for stories I had missed during the evening and despite Deron Williams’s immaculate night from three (11-16 from deep) and Kobe’s much-needed heroics, the oddball line of the night went to the University of Iowa’s own Reggie Evans who got to the line 16 times and grabbed 24 rebounds.

That line put him in the company of some of league’s best and most dominant big men of the past 30 years:

Reggie's company - 03-09-13

It’s no surprise to see Shaq, Dwight, Hakeem or Charles Barkley on this list. Lorenzen Wright and Joe Barry Carroll are more of the Reggie Evans variety, but Wright played 44 minutes and Carroll (aka Joe Barely Cares) played 55 minutes so it’s a bit more of a volume play. Evans played just 32 minutes (the only guy on the list under 40 minutes) and is also the oldest player at nearly 33 years. He grabbed just under 35% of the total possible rebounds while he was on the court. By comparison, Evans leads the league in this stat at 24.9%.

This is where these little weekend posts typically end. I’ll throw a youtube clip on the end of it and put it out into the world for consumption, but not this time. If you look back up at the table above and find #4 on the list: Hakeem Olajuwon’s 32-point, 25-rebound, 20-free throw attempt, 10-block performance against a hapless Magic squad on a chilly Sunday night back in December of 1989. I was nine years old at the time and most likely completely oblivious to The Dream’s ridiculous performance what with my age and the fact that Christmas was a week away.

This game sent me on a bit of search today; a search to have some context and understanding around Olajuwon’s game. The quest took me from the Houston Chronicle’s archives to the Orlando Sentinel’s archives to USA Today’s archives, then the SI Vault, onto reviews of newspaper database sites and finally to what felt like the grail of news of resources: NewsLibrary.com which has an easy-to-use/search database of hundreds of millions of articles and stories. Throughout this search, I was continually appalled by the lack of quality, the lack of results and terrible usability on some of the aforementioned sites. Most notably, the Houston Chronicle and USA Today have truly pathetic archive sections that either don’t work as intended or are impossible to find.

Media critiques aside, what Olajuwon accomplished in Orlando that night hasn’t been done by another player in the league in the 28 years covered by Basketball-reference’s box score database. In digging through the stories and recaps of the game, it’s plain to see the Magic were overmatched from the get go. This was Orlando’s inaugural season in the league and their roster reflected it with a group of pro basketball rejects; unwanted and unloved by the rest of the league’s General Managers. The team featured Scott Skiles, rookie Nick Anderson, Reggie Theus and other guys you likely haven’t heard of unless you’re around my age (32) or older. On the night Olajuwon crushed them, they started Mark Acres at center and Sidney Green at power forward. Missing from the lineup was their scoring leader and rugged PF, Terry Catledge. So it was Acres, Green and rotation guy Jeff Turner (owner of a 6ppg career scoring average). To compare the post mismatch in today’s terms, it’d be like sending Mark Madsen, Shelden Williams and Reggie Evans to war against well … no one in today’s game compares to the 1989 Olajuwon, so just imagine those three guys I just mentioned trying to stop the Dream.

I don’t mean to put down Turner, Acres and Green, but rather to show how outmatched the Magic were. The Orlando Sentinel’s write-up (written by Barry Cooper) praised the bench group (which Turner was a part of) for their hustle while spelling out the facts simply: “…Acres played hard against him (Olajuwon), but most of the rebounds Olajuwon grabbed were nearly uncontested.” As for Green who started in place of the ailing Catledge, “perhaps the Magic’s best post-up defender, didn’t take a shot and had only two rebounds in 10 minutes.”

Here’s the box score where we see Olajuwon had a ridiculous D-Rating of 72 for the game. It was his second triple double of the season and the fifth of his career. The 25 rebounds tied his career-high at that point and the 20 free throw attempts set a new career-high. In calling out that Olajuwon hit just 12 of his 20 FTAs, Houston Chronicle writer Eddie Sefko interestingly wrote “But for a change, not everybody jumped on Olajuwon’s back.” Given that he averaged over 24 points while leading the league in rebounding at 14rpg and blocks at 4.6bpg, played 39mpg while appearing in all 82 Rockets games; it’s intriguing that Sefko mentions this and reminds me of the Olajuwon section in Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball where he references some of the less desirable traits of Olajuwon’s. While Sefko’s message is partly referring to his poor free throw shooting, you can piece together something of a love/hate relationship that existed between Houston fans and Olajuwon during this period.

The Chronicle’s recap also includes a quote from Orlando coach Matt Guokos that was left out of the Sentinel’s home town recap: “The discouraging aspect of going to the basket and getting shot after shot blocked kind of got to us.” Imagine the psychological impact of Olajuwon patrolling the paint that night. Your leading post scorer is out for the game, you’re an expansion team that was thrown together with spare parts. It’s almost Christmas and the excitement of being part of a new franchise has worn away and the reality that you’re playing against the best center in the league is wholly evident. You try to get in the paint for high percentage shots, but every time you turn a corner or beat a defender, there’s Olajuwon, crouched in his defensive position, but he’s a predator, he’s the hunter. He waits and times his jumps perfectly. Sure, he blocks 10 of your shots, but how many does he alter? How many times do you second guess penetrating? And at the end your coach finally admits what you and your exhausted teammates had been feeling all night long: It’s discouraging. He was just too good.

Olajuwon himself acknowledged the mismatch: “In a game like this, they really don’t have a legitimate center in the middle, so we have to take advantage of that.”

The Rockets underachieved in this game and it led to Olajuwon playing big minutes (43) out necessity more than anything else. Despite winning by 15, Houston was up just one point heading into the fourth quarter. By that point, the Magic were done driving into the paint and settled for jumpers which Olajuwon presumably tracked down on his way to the 25 boards. It was the perfect setting for Akeem to have a big game and he took full advantage.

My journey into the rabbit hole of box scores and recaps today is just an extension of the box score readings I used to do when I was a kid. I’d find the Sports section in the Des Moines Register, flip to the back to see the box scores and look for the explosions, the inconsistencies, the triple doubles, the 50-point outbursts and find some sense of satisfaction in the deviations. So many years later and years removed from reading box scores and getting dark ink smudges on my fingertips and thumbs, I’m still intrigued by the abnormal accomplishment and appreciate it for being one of the few things in sports that’s still so unpredictable; just like it’s unpredictable that a Reggie Evans 24-rebound, 15-free throw attempt on a Friday night in March in 2013 would lead me to contemplating Akeem Olajuwon’s relationship with Houston fans in the winter of 1989.

Twin Tower days prior to Olajuwon's obliteration of Orlando

Twin Tower days prior to Olajuwon’s obliteration of Orlando

Guess Manu’s Strange

Trends and their meanings and sources are always insightful in sports, but I’m just as interested and sucked into the completely random stat line or statistitical accomplishment like the one that occurred on Friday night in the whipping the Spurs applied to the Kings. After dropping a stunner to the Suns in overtime a few nights before, the Spurs took out their frustrations on the Kings in the form of a 130-104 victory where San Antonio shot just over 60% from the field and scored 130 points on just 84 shots.

It was this environment of cleanliness and efficiency that Tony Parker went down with an ankle injury forcing Manu Ginobili into playmaking duties where Ginobili set a career-high with 15 assists and did it while spending less than 23 minutes on the court. That makes him one of just three players to achieve this random act of prolificacy over the past 28 seasons and of the accomplishment Manu had this to say: ”Yeah, it just happened…” For that, I guess Manu’s strange:

Manu dimes - 03-02-13

The Odyssey of Terrence Williams

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time” – Homer, the Odyssey

It only seemed appropriate that I should be traveling on foreign soil and wake up under a Mexican sun when I found out Terrence Williams was being invited back into the NBA; this time signing a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics. This basketball-playing vagabond of sorts with hush hush off-court baggage and the on-court potential of an NBA all-star has been a ship without a port since departing Louisville back in 2009.

A quick review reminds us the Nets grabbed him in the 2009 lottery with the 11th overall pick followed by a demotion to their D-League affiliate where he casually averaged a triple double in three games. The Nets tired of his antics (publicly communicated that he missed practices, but if you’re willing to trade a lottery pick after less than two full seasons, there’s likely more tumult occurring beneath the surface) and shipped him southwest to Houston where he failed to establish himself, so they outright cut the problem child and in the process GM Darryl Morey essentially plagiarized Nets’ GM Billy King’s rationale for dumping the kid:

King in December of 2010: “He’s getting a clean slate in Houston, a new start. He was not going to be a good fit for the future here. The opportunities are better for him in Houston.”

Morey in March of 2012: “We’ve got a very strong wing rotation…and we wanted to give Terrence an opportunity to play somewhere in a contract year.”

Aw, the GMs of this league are a caring bunch, so eager to provide kids with opportunities on the rosters of their opponents. I don’t mind calling bullshit on these quotes and acknowledging that while yes the opportunities are better elsewhere, the real reason is that anything that was going on off the court outweighed the few positives Williams delivered on the court. The coaches and front office in New Jersey were a little more honest in their dealings with the media whereas Houston didn’t even bother.

Like so many Americans before him, it was a westward journey for Williams and he landed in Sacramento last season where he appeared to thrive on the court, but again couldn’t establish himself enough to be offered a contract this past summer. Most official reports out of Sacramento were positive; they appreciated what Williams did in his limited tryout, but when it came time to make a long-term decision on the 6’6”, 220lbs combo guard/forward, they were simply unwilling to commit. Next on the Official Terrence Williams Pro Basketball Tour was an invite to the Pistons training camp. This time around, Williams couldn’t even find a spot on the roster and instead found himself homeless (n the basketball sense) and contract-less to start the season so he did what many before him have done and took his talents to China where he signed on with the Guangdong South Tigers where he played on his first winning team since his Louisville days and helped lead the Tigers to a league-best 27-4 record. 

What a long strange trip it's been

What a long strange trip it’s been

I don’t claim to have the keenest, most well-developed scout’s eye, but I swear talent isn’t the problem with T-Will. And the fact he’s been able to consistently find work despite his miserable shooting and the whispers about his off-court unprofessionalism lead me to believe NBA front offices and scouts see something similar. Fellow Seattleite and Celtic Jason Terry articulates what a lot of fans and scouts see in Williams:

“Playing with him in the summer, playing against him, just seeing him and seeing his work ethic, I know he’s a tremendous talent … A freakish athlete, can handle the ball, and he’s a physical guard. I just can’t wait to see him get an opportunity.”

There it is again; this word “opportunity” follows Williams around like a sad little puppy, or more likely it’s Williams who’s crisscrossing the globe in search of opportunity. His ex-GMs use it as an excuse to dump him (“You’ll be happier without us…”) and his new teammates use it to tout him. Meanwhile, Terrence travels in pursuit of it and along the way encounters unseen sagas and imaginary enemies.

Beyond my wholly fallible eye-assessment, why do I keep getting sucked into this nebulous web of Terrence Williams? I took a look at the scattered sample size that makes up his career and was crestfallen to see how bad things have been. In questing for statistical redemption, I came up mostly (and sadly) empty-handed. I’ve searched the stats of 129 career games that include nothing more than a handful of games where he’s appeared in more than 35 minutes and see he has a total of nine career starts, he’s an above average rebounder for his size and positions, and has a fairly robust usage rate relative to the amount of action he’s seen. His shooting can generously be described as putrid and you can apply that description to nearly any spot on the floor. Unless he’s dunking, he doesn’t have a “sweet spot.” Interestingly enough, a little sliver of light shines through in increased playing time. For Terrence, his efficiency improves as he sees more on-court minutes:

Min Total Min FG%
0-19

665

35.0%

20-39

1846

41.3%

 

Not only do his ratios improve when he sees more floor time, but his per-36 numbers improve almost across the board with the exception of steals and blocks:

t-will per36

 

Williams appears to get better as he gets more opportunity and in-game rhythm. I think a lot of us can relate to this in that the more we do something, the better we are at that task which of course doesn’t make it acceptable to shoot 35% from the field, but at least provides some possible color around his deficiencies. If it feels like I’m grasping at straws of efficiency, then maybe it’s because I am. But this is part of what I wanted to discover in this investigation: Why am I fascinated with Terrence Williams? I can tell you the fascination began back at Louisville when I first witnessed his awesome athleticism, his versatility, his above average court vision and who’s not excited about a 6’6” playmaker?

Sadly though, the numbers hardly validate my fascination in the same way occasional on-screen Hollywood plots put countless obstacles in between two characters that are madly in love with each other despite the obvious hurdles and incompatibilities. Sometimes we just can’t let go even when all the evidence suggests, no, demands we should. To follow and support T-Will is to bet your whole hand on a Joker wilder than JaVale McGee. There’s a reason T-Will’s being offered 10-day contracts while Joel Anthony flaunts his championship ring and it has little to do with actual ability—which isn’t a knock on Anthony. To bet on Terrence, to write this story on vacation with skin burning under the high Cabo sun is to invest in the hope that people can change.

The data above tells me there could be a formulaic element to Williams’s success and it includes steady minutes (20-30/night) on a team where his role is clearly defined; a team that takes advantage of his ball handling and playmaking while encouraging him to scale back his three-point attempts. We’ve never seen Williams on a winning team in the NBA so it’s difficult to assume how he’ll perform with a veteran Celtics squad, but if his previous roles in winning situations are an indicator (at Louisville and Guangdong), he’ll hopefully be able to blend his strengths (rebounding, ball handling, defense) into the existing structure in a supporting role. And this would merely cover the on-court piece of the equation and it appears the off-court stuff has often been a challenging aspect for Williams.

Having undergone a series of changes in my own life since crossing the age-30 threshold, I can only hope that young Terrence (he’s still only 25) can discover his own path towards NBA success; which for him should simply be stability. And if not, perhaps he’ll just become the greatest D-League player of all time.

*I wanted to add a note here that I was and still am unable to resolve about Williams. As an outsider, the only off-court transgressions I have access to are those reported by teams to the media. In Williams’s case, that means a couple run-ins with Avery Johnson during his time in New Jersey and public comments by Williams regarding playing time in Houston. There weren’t any notable issues in Houston or Sacramento, but off-court issues in Sacramento have been alluded to and it’s unlikely the Rockets would outright cut the kid just to give him more opportunity to play in a contract year. I acknowledge that I don’t recall how far out last year’s trade deadline was extended, but it seems the Rockets would’ve at least tried to get something for him in a trade. And lastly, yes his stats leave something to be desired, but there’s something odd about a 25-year-old kid with his unique set of skills who is unable to latch on in the league. It’d be a lot more understandable if there were more published instances of him having run-ins with coaches or getting into trouble with the law, but there are just a handful of documented issues so I/we are forced to speculate on how/why this kid has struggled to latch on somewhere. I tend to believe there’s more going on off-the-court as opposed to teams avoiding him due to his poor shooting.

Ode to LeBron Raymone James

A post-Jordanian titanium mass of a man,

Rings be damned

If he never wins again

What we have is enough

Memories (feats, destructions) to last us a

Million basketball-less summers

Memories aren’t just for the lonely,

But for the longing too

And the longing don’t have to be lonely

The longing and/or lonely don’t

Need rings or royalty

 

Just a man moving through a

Slow-motion world of

Blank-faced helpless defenders,

A screaming freight train barreling towards punctuality

Narrative be damned

His ability exceeds our qualifications and

Accolades,

Definitions and Parameters,

His existence on-court is

Independent of contemporaries and

Forebears

I’ll take a ghetto blaster and destroy the

Trophy cases with heavy bass

I can’t wait to invent a ray gun just to melt the

Infinite statues symbolizing his greatness

I’m resurrecting René Descartes to help imagine a devilish saw and equations that

Undercut the stats and tables we use to articulate greatness

  

What is victory

Without the struggle?

What is war

Without the sacrifice?

What is success

Without the failure?

The anticipation of a hundred thousand years is

Finally over

We made it

We’re here

And free to believe in whatever we please

 

Rondo Interrupted

I’m not a Boston fan

I don’t love the city or their teams

I don’t drape my shoulders in anything remotely Celtic Green

But my heart can ache

For the injured Alien whose

Ligament(s) tore, ripped, shredded

Like sheets of paper

Covered in inky dreams

The point guard from another planet, another world or underworld

With extra-terrestrially long fingers

An infinite scowl that’s

Like looking into the bottom of an inkwell

Shifty shifting eyes straight from a Gorillaz animation,

Demeanor borrowed from Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic Thunderdome,

Always alert, always suspicious,

Trusting no one, no thing, not even the man-made ligaments he was given

A black hole mood that rises with the moon

…yes, Rajon Rondo has fallen

Kids choke back kelly green tears

Garnett & Pierce in their wizened years

Understanding now more than ever

The importance of young Rondo

But the shredded ligament (that we didn’t know he had), the last

Single elastic straw that held up

The hope of a million Celtics fans

Collapsed under the expectations

And amid the rubble, Celtics fans attempt to

Soldier on

While Danny Ainge painfully retrieves a stuffed,

Frayed, and Faded manila folder

Stenciled with red letters spelling out:

DECONSTRUCTION

Danny and Doc deeply contemplate deconstruction

While Rondo sits in a chair in the corner

Quietly sipping seltzer water

Thinking of the Moon

A Tale of a Half of a Half; Alternately: Quarters

The other day I spent a bunch of time writing a recap about being at the midpoint of the season with the emphasis being on the Eastern Conference (the West was to come later), but after closer examination, I didn’t enjoy what I had written and writing something you disapprove of is sort of like holding up a mirror to your face or your actions and not liking what you see (at least that’s the way it is for me sometimes). But if you’ll excuse my pissing and moaning, we can get on to the new and approved Eastern Conference midway point review which, sadly, isn’t as entertaining as the Western Conference. Also, I apologize in advance for the length; I swear on the NBA rulebook that the Western Conference version will be an exercise in concision.

We’ll start at where we left off last season: with LeBron James standing atop the NBA landscape with his thick headband obviously hiding an obviously receding hairline. LeBron took the 2012 year and molded into a year-long celebration of magnificence that began with him blazing through the shortened 2011-12 season, followed by an MVP award, an NBA title that many people thought he didn’t have the mental strength or commitment to earn, followed by a shiny gold medal at the London Olympics, a brief respite from the hyperactive camera lenses, mics and recorders that follow him around in hopes of simultaneously feeding our appetite for all things celebrity and enhancing that same appetite, to the 2012-13 season which is where we’re at today. And yes, the Heat is a team, an organization made of up of a lot of people who bust their asses to do great work every day, but as so many of us have realized, not everyone gets to be king, but LeBron James does. In any of our strongest pursuits, I’d say we strive for greatness and a chance to reach our potential. Well, if you value hard work, dedication (sorry, Floyd, but it fits), improvement, overcoming adversity (even if it’s self-made) and continually searching out ways to become better, then Bron’s your guy. Except for an anomalous fourth season (I’ll dive into this aberration at a later date), James has improved every season to the point where he’s shooting 55% from the field and 40% from three and leading his team to the best record in the east despite Miami not having an actual center.

Way up north of Miami where the weather’s cold and basketball fans are extremely serious about things like Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn and Jay-Z, the Knicks have found some kind of magic adhesive gel that’s united their team into something much greater than competent. The Knicks are the oldest team in the league and the presence of wise basketball sages like Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas combined with the all-inclusive embrace of Tyson Chandler (really though, when Tyson stretches his arms wide, the entire Knicks family, friends and fans can huddle up inside and commiserate or do what it is Knicks fans do) has maybe (as I write that word, I’m making face … my lips pursed together, my shoulders shrugged in complete uncertainty) had a positively profound impact on Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s a trending topic this season and while I think any talk about him as the Most Valuable Player in the league this year is completely out of line, I also recognize that he’s playing with a crispness and consistency (and a massively improved three-point shot; Olympic carryover? Sustainable?) which have been tough to come by in his career. Add in the JR Smith Effect (some kind of mad Evel Knievel of the hardwood) and you have regeneration at MSG. Regardless of where the Knicks fall on your list of favorite or least favorite teams, it’s fair to acknowledge and admit that a good basketball team in New York City is good for the league.

I haven’t seen the Pacers play much and maybe that’s because there are just other teams that I prefer. Or maybe it doesn’t matter why I have or haven’t watched the Pacers, but it just matters that you’ve seen the Pacers and their suffocating defense which, I suppose, probably tells me why I haven’t watched them much: they’re a defensive-minded squad and when you have a League Pass-worth of games, defensive stalwarts are rarely the first choice. The Pacers, despite missing one of their premier players in Danny Granger, have become a platform for the exploits of Paul George; a 6’8” wing who launches threes with grace and dunks with aggression, but most importantly for this team, uses his great physical gifts to impact the game defensively. George leads the league in defensive win shares and is fourth in defensive rating and most basketball fans can appreciate him without condition (as an aside, give it a couple years and a big contract until people are poking holes in his game with the tiniest needles until a bit of daylight shows through at which point we can all push our critical urges through because this is what we do). Then there’s Roy Hibbert who just signed a huge contract, but is painfully struggling to live up to expectations on the offensive side of the ball where he’s shooting .415—the worst FG% in league history for a man 7’2” or taller:

Roy Hibbert's Woes

At least Hibbert hasn’t let his offensive struggles impact his defense though. He leads the league in defensive rating and is third in blocks/game. Sticking with the Central Division, the Bulls have warmed my heart this season with their commitment to executing Tom Thibodeau’s thoroughly disciplined approach. This is a team that was decimated by free agency over the summer and has been without Derrick Rose for the first half of the season and they still go out there every night and grind hard, all the way down to the pavement (or the bone) where most teams don’t want to engage them. Credit goes to Gar Forman or John Paxson or whoever’s calling the shots here because the roster’s made up of guys who buy in and in this league, that’s a soft skill that’s more easily assumed than it is actualized. The Bulls trot out guys like Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli … in crunch time—and win. It’s such a scrappy crew made up of a bunch of guys who hit the floor without reservation. The only oddball of the bunch is Carlos Boozer (oddball relative to the rest of the roster) and he’s been playing great in 2013, averaging 22ppg, 11.5rpg and shooting 52% (compared to under 46% in November and December). But the guys Thibs heavily relies on are Luol Deng and Joakim Noah who’re both near the league leaders in minutes/game. Noah’s playing nearly six minutes more per game than at any other time in his career. I know six minutes is a drop in the bucket in most of our lives, but six NBA minutes where you’re banging against guys who are well over 250lbs of chiseled muscle and sharpened bone and you’re running and jumping on a wooden floor can be an eternity; look no further than D. Rose’s freak ACL tear last year. Speaking of Rose, I don’t know when he’s supposed to return or who he’ll be when he comes back, but his game change-ability alters the second, non-Miami, tier of the East.

There are a lot of cosmetic things I like about the new Brooklyn Nets: the floor color, design and lighting at the Barclay Center, the new black/white jerseys, an attractive roster on paper. Toss in an owner who’s willing to challenge Vladimir Putin and it sounds like something that could become an HBO series; or at least one of those mini-series’ like Generation Kill. Instead, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are playing below our (and Prokhorov’s) expectations. Deron’s developing a reputation as a coach killing malcontent, but this probably isn’t completely accurate, just an easy label. But at least they have Reggie Evans who does one single thing probably better than anyone else in the NBA does one single thing. With the exception of Dennis Rodman, we haven’t seen someone gobble up more possible rebounds than Evans is gobbling up this season:

Reggie Evans

There’s not much to be excited about in Atlanta or Milwaukee where GMs grab headlines as frequently as the players. If Atlanta doesn’t care about the Hawks, why should I? Well, that was a rude Q:A, but honestly, I’ve been tuning into Hawks games for years and unless it’s the playoffs, the seats in the lower bowl are consistently half empty. Perhaps the fans are as tired of this team as I am though. They grossly overpaid Joe Johnson and then sat on the same team for what seemed like an eternity until Danny Ferry finally showed up this summer like a refreshing scent on garbage day and somehow managed to rid this franchise of that wildly inaccurate contract. We’ll all just have to hope Ferry has more up his sleeve than a dirty arm. Up north in the frigidity of Lower Canada is the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks play in the Bradley Center which is really just a warehouse playing dress up as an NBA arena. It’s not a place for vibrancy or colors, but for serious and mindless endeavors like bulk shopping. I don’t say these things to put down Milwaukee or their basketball team, but because the Bradley Center is outdated and the team’s management is imitating its arena. They’re a queer bunch who float through the league’s purgatory without hope or fear. I mean, what is success defined as for the Milwaukee Bucks? They have a 22-18 record today and should make the playoffs where Brandon Jennings can get more much-needed experience, but since they weren’t able to extend him when they had the chance, what’re the odds this spindly ray of sunshine sticks around? There is Larry Sanders though and while he’ll never carry a team, he’s proving his ability to be a satisfactory anchor on defense where he leads the league in blocks at 3.2 and is third in defensive rating. *If the NBA ever decides to contract teams, these are two I’d recommend and it doesn’t have anything to do with the fans. It has to do with front offices and/or owners who’ve proven they’re either unwilling or unable to commit to improving.

I wouldn’t add Toronto to the list of contracted teams even though Bryan Colangelo has a résumé built on the shoulders of below average teams. The reason I give a thumbs up to Toronto is their borderline Euro-soccer enthusiastic fans. I’m reluctant to say any fan base “deserves” this or that, but Raps fans could use a lovable star who returns the love as well as he receives it. Similar to Milwaukee, the Raptors won the draft lottery, but have little-to-nothing to show for it. Andrea Bargnani’s banged up (again), but I have a feeling I’m in the minority in believing there’s still an NBA contributor lurking around inside Barganani. Sadly though, it may have to be rediscovered in another city, in another uniform and with a different set of supporters.

 My relationship with these Celtics, the KG-Pierce Celtics, has never been as flat as my relationship with the Hawks or Bucks. Kevin Garnett’s arrival in Boston stirred up a profound, but vaguely natural hatred in me. I hated KG and Perkins and Pierce not because they won, but how they went about winning. Now that the end’s probably in sight, my hate for this Boston team has receded and I find myself (passively at best) disliking this team. (Someday I’ll write a post called The Great Thaw of Boston; but that day’s not today.) There are plenty of other people (like Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler) to spew my venom towards. And that’s what occurred a couple weeks back when the Celts and Knicks were in the middle of an old fashioned east coast dustup. KG was deep inside the psyche of Melo, poking, prodding, disrupting and annoying the hell out of him and I encouraged it from my couch. I laughed and cajoled and gave myself high fives. For a moment, Boston had rediscovered their attitude and used it to upset a superior Knicks team. A week later, it was the Bulls turn and instead of getting rattled, they remained calm, focused and victorious and the Celtics, for me at least, were back to their villainous ways. It’s not the same with Boston anymore because the mystique has gone with time and fading ability, but their win over NYK and the manner in which they went about it was a little reminder for the rest of the league and for all of us that this team can still be dangerous. But if you want to purchase the headstone, let me know and I’m happy to help write the epitaph.

As of today’s date, Philly’s the big loser in the Dwight trade from this summer—and that’s saying something given the Lakers struggles (actually, the Lakers are likely the bigger loser given the shit show brewing in LA). Not only has Andrew Bynum failed to play a game in a Sixers uniform, but the players they gave up have played fantastic: Nikola Vucevic has been brilliant in Orlando and Andre Iguodala has at least been decent in Denver. In addition to those two, Philly lost Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams, but brought in Dorell Wright and Nick Young. It’s a young, young team with their top-three players (not counting Bynum) being 24 or younger. Stylistically, Doug Collins has these guys playing to their athletic strengths as a defensive team, but they’re not even very good at that. Surprisingly, they take care of the ball well (except for Jrue Holiday at 4 TOs/game); they just don’t do much else very well. If grades were associated with this team, they’d get an incomplete. As disappointing as Bynum’s injury has been for the Sixers, Holiday’s confidence and improvement have hopefully been appreciated by the Philly faithful. At just 22 and already in his fourth season, he’s making leaps this year. Did you know he’s the only player in the league this season averaging 19 or more points and 9 or more assists per game? And just to provide a bit more context around this, the only players who’ve accomplished this in the past 12 years are Chris Paul, Gary Payton and Deron Williams. And Jrue’s only 22! I feel better now that I’ve discovered this.

Jrue's Holiday

The rest of the Eastern Conference starts to get muddled because intentions aren’t as clear. We have what should be a full-fledged youth movement in Detroit, but it’s difficult to move forward when Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva are still around. This isn’t any fault of their own, but these are throwbacks to the John Kuester era which was an undeniable disaster of almost mutinous proportions. If that same Pistons group would’ve been at sea and Kuester was their captain, my guess is he’d be fish food. That being said, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond appear to be a legitimate big man tandem; even if Monroe is possibly a bit on the timid side. In a league devoid of strong post players, what kind of advantage would Detroit have with a pair of near-seven footers who are young, talented and motivated? If I’m a Detroit fan, the biggest gripe I have is that my team hasn’t shifted full on into the youth movement. It’s actually gone the other direction with Drummond playing better in nine January games, but seeing less minutes than he did in December. Lawrence?

In the Southeast Division, Orlando and Charlotte are in similar situations where success is measured by player development and asset acquisition. Both teams have first-time head coaches in Jacque Vaughn and Mike Dunlap and both coaches have gotten their teams to play particularly hard. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Kemba Walker’s progression and the entire Magic team’s competitiveness. Where the Bobcats are a young team just trying to find a way, any way, the Magic are composed of youngsters and steady vets in Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Big Baby and JJ Redick who, on the surface at least, take their profession seriously every night. And if that’s not enough, Nikola Vucevic, who was tossed into the Dwight/Bynum trade, is proving to be a bloody savage on the glass where he’s averaging 11 rebounds/game and had a 29-rebound night against the Heat. On top of that, he’s shooting close to 52% from the field. He’s only 22 and I’d love to read an in-depth scouting report detailing his possible ceiling—which I’m guessing is lower than I hope it is.

And now we arrive at the Wizards and Cavs; a couple teams clearly playing for the future and developing today. In basketball terms, both of their seasons have been strained with injuries. John Wall’s missed over 30 games for the Wiz and Anderson Varejao developed a blood clot in his lung and is out for the season. Varejao’s injury in particular is painful for me to bear. Here he was in the midst of an absolute career year at age 30, averaging 14 and 14 with a career-high PER of 22.8 (previous high was 18.9) and like that it’s gone. John Wall will have other seasons and other chances, but for Varejao, the opportunities will only shrink. And Kyrie Irving. He’s not a traditional pass-first playmaking point guard and it’s refreshing his pro coach hasn’t tried to make him one. He looks for his shots in part because he’s a scorer and in part because the Cavs don’t have anyone else who can score that frequently; except for Varejao who’s all done, no one else scores with volume and efficiency. If Dion Waiters develops more consistency, it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact it has on Kyrie’s game.

This concludes the 2012-13 Eastern Conference mid-season review. Getting through the EC is a slog. The weather’s cold, the basketball is grittier, the collection of talent is less than in the west. Talent isn’t distributed nearly as well here where six of the 15 teams are in rebuild/development mode, four teams are stuck in NBA purgatory and the remaining four teams (Brooklyn, New York, Chicago and Indiana) are chasing Miami, but doing so with what almost amounts to futility.

*Note: All stats are as of games completed 1/22/13

Things have changed for the better

Things have changed for the better

Jarrett Jack: Author of Indispensability

It wasn’t always about Jarrett Jack, but for now at least it will be about him; this burly, hard-headed (in appearance) man with his brick wall frame, compact like a boxer’s, eyes locked in what appears to be a perpetual squint—in anger or humor—eyes given by mom or dad, eyes passed through the gene pool generations ago perhaps, a head that looks almost too big for its body; always cleanly shaven as if he calmly stands in front of the mirror before games and at halftime, straight razor in-hand, head covered with thick white shaving cream, slicing the hairs away from that immense rock-like brown dome with the same precision he’d cut open an adversary’s throat; a face and appearance (particularly in scowl mode) that draws comparisons to emcee Sticky Fingaz and could land him a spot in the aforementioned’s aggression-fueled hip hop group from the 90s, Onyx, with their furious black baldness, black hoodies, black pants, black boots. This is about Jack, who’s traveled the jet streams of the NBA; from and to teams I couldn’t even recall off the top of my head (completely blanked out on the long lost Pacers days). A journey begun back at Georgia Tech with BJ Elder and Paul Hewitt and moved on to Portland and Indiana and Toronto and New Orleans and now Oakland. Always steady, but never anyone’s first choice. Passed over in favor of Jose Calderon, traded for Jerryd Bayless not once, but twice, a multi-time trade casualty …

Typically in the background

Typically in the background

When I see Jack in 2012 playing with Steph Curry (as a replacement of sorts for Monta Ellis) I see indispensability and luxury. In terms of pure ability, it doesn’t matter how he compares to Monta, but in terms of the Golden State Warriors, he’s a flawless fit, pragmatic and versatile, complementary and embraceable. He’s glue, Velcro, a viscous player that appears in 83 games in an 82-game season, oblivious to any limitations. He’s the kind of dude every team needs even though they’re quick to send him on his way. Call him a liberator in that he can relieve Curry of his playmaking duties.

2012 isn’t the Year of Jarrett Jack, it’s just another in a career of underappreciated years. What’s so profound about Jack is that there’s nothing profound about him. He does what he’s called on to do and in a league of specialists and superstars, he’s easily taken for granted—just like the PJ Browns and James Poseys of the world. I’ve been thinking about this all season and now I’m expressing it in full, or maybe just in part because I’m fairly certain Jack will provide plenty more reasons to write and think and consider his uniquely simple place as a backup guard in a league gone mad with awards, titles (of the individual variety) and over-analysis.

(and no, this hasn’t turned into a Golden State Warriors fan blog)

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