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Category Archives: NBA
July 20, 2018Posted by on
Kawhi Leonard is 6’7” and weighs somewhere around 230 pounds. He wears his hair in cornrows and attended Riverside King in Riverside, California where he won a state championship and was named California’s Mr. Basketball. Since 1980, over 83% of the California Mr. Basketball recipients have been drafted into the NBA.
At San Diego State University, Leonard played for coach Steve Fisher who famously took over as interim coach at the University of Michigan in 1989 with just a week left in the regular season. The details of the previous coach’s dismissal are inconsequential, but entertaining. As interim head coach, Fisher led the team to the NCAA Championship which was played in the Kingdome in Seattle against PJ Carlesimo’s Seton Hall Pirates. Fisher’s team won the game 80-79 on a pair of Rumeal Robinson free throws in overtime. At the time of Robinson’s greatest basketball triumph at the Kingdome in 1989, Kawhi Leonard was not yet born. Carlesimo went on to win three NBA championships as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Fisher ran into Kawhi at SDSU, the Kingdome was blown to bits, and Robinson spent six-and-a-half years in federal prison.
While at San Diego State, Kawhi Leonard listed his hobbies as “grinding.” The three words he chose to describe himself were “It’s grind season!” (That is the first time I’ve seen a Kawhi Leonard quote with an exclamation point.) Speaking of grinding, the hip-hop duo Clipse released a hit track called Grindin’ in 2002 when Kawhi was probably 11 years-old. One half of Clipse is Pusha-T. Push recently had vicious rap beef with hip-hop recording star and Toronto native, Drake. In addition to the money and fame afforded to Drake as a rap star, he’s well-known as a Toronto Raptors superfan. On July 18th, 2018, Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors. In an Instagram post, Drake referred to Kawhi as a “poised clinical warrior.” Kawhi recently turned 27. He set all kinds of records in his two seasons at SDSU, but ultimately could not overcome Michael Cage’s rebounding records. Cage notably wore his hair in a jheri curl while in the NBA and is presently a broadcast analyst for the Oklahoma City Thunder where he offers insights with a shorn skull.
Kawhi has said he chose SDSU because he “wanted to go with who loved me first.” When he signed with the Aztecs, Doug Gottlieb, then of ESPN said, “one Pac-10 coach told me (Leonard) is better than anyone else who signed in the Pac-10.” 83% of California Mr. Basketballs make the NBA. Gottlieb played high school basketball at Tustin High School in California in the mid-90s when Leonard was probably in kindergarten. Tustin High is about 39 miles from Kawhi’s high school. Gottlieb did not win Mr. Basketball, Paul Pierce did.
Before he played an official game at SDSU, Coach Fisher, who also coached Michigan’s famed Fab Five group, said, “Kawhi has long arms and big hands and can be disruptive on the defensive end. He can play multiple positions and is someone that we believe can guard anybody from the one through four positions and eventually will be able to play all of those offensive positions.” In a story written by Tom Haberstroh for ESPN in February of 2016, it was revealed that Kawhi’s “hands are bigger than Anthony Davis’ … Of the active players who’ve gone through the combine since 2010, he has the widest hands on record, at 11 ¼ inches.”
Leonard is currently under contract with Nike’s Jordan Brand and “designed the Brand Jordan logo that appears on the back of his personalized sneakers. It’s 9 ¾-inch hand with the fingers forming ‘KL’ and his No. 2 jersey number notched into the index finger.” As of March of 2018, negotiations between Jordan Brand and Kawhi had “broke down abruptly.” Kawhi was 26 then and is now 27. (Personally, I dig the logo.)
On January 18th, 2008, Mark Leonard was shot multiple times at or around 6:15pm in Compton, California. He was pronounced dead at 6:44pm. Kawhi was 16 at the time and played in a high school basketball game the following night at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. Denzel Washington claims to have attended that game and recently told Bill Simmons that Kawhi “had about 29 points and 27 rebounds,” but the Los Angeles Times recorded Leonard had 17 points that night. The film He Got Game was released on May Day of 1998 when Kawhi was just six. In that movie, Denzel’s character Jake Shuttlesworth dons a pair of Air Jordan XIIIs as he embarks in a high stakes game of hoops with his son Jesus who’s played by NBA legend, champion, and amateur golfer, Ray Allen. The “He Got Game” XIIIs will be re-released by Nike this year to celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary (Where does the time go?). On July 23rd, 1993, when Kawhi was two years-old, James Jordan was robbed and murdered. His son Michael didn’t play another basketball game until March of 1995. Kawhi and Jordan are two of three NBA players to win Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP. At the time of this writing, Kawhi is still 27.
JJ Redick once said of Kawhi, “More than his length, his strength, his quickness, that motherfucker is so … locked … in … I have no idea what scouting report they give him, but he knows every play, and takes no breaks.” JJ Redick won the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year Award (a variation on California’s Mr. Basketball) not once, not twice, but thrice. 70% of Virginia Players of the Year since 2000 make it to the NBA though that number is skewed by prep basketball factory Oak Hill Academy which has accounted for half the Mr Basketballs to make it to the NBA. Kawhi Leonard did not attend Oak Hill Academy, he attended Riverside King where played Milwaukee Buck Tony Snell and won a state championship before going to SDSU, being drafted by the Pacers, traded to the Spurs, winning an NBA title, and then being traded to the Toronto Raptors on July 18th, 2018.
January 5, 2018Posted by on
I can’t say my first intentional experience with Oklahoma’s Trae Young was as uninterruptedly studious as I would have liked. My face was thawing after shoveling snow in the frigid Iowa afternoon. My nearly-10-month-old son was bouncing, cackling at unintelligible noises I made in attempts to distract him from the teething pain that’s turned our house upside down the past couple days. In the middle of the chaos was my Samsung TV, mounted to the wall above a gas fireplace that doesn’t work, presenting Trae Young to me in all his evolutionary glory.
Young is a 6’2” point guard from Norman, Oklahoma. He just turned 19 a few months ago and has a wispy moustache and hair that makes me think he could be Persian. Or maybe Native American or Indian or Filipino. I can almost picture him astride a horse, speeding across the Norman prairies and parking lots, thinnish hair whipping in the Norman wind, on his way to a game. He’s flirting with a unibrow and while he has a slight build, his shoulders are square and look prepared to carry more muscle and mass. Conventionally speaking, he doesn’t look the part though “the part,” as embodied by Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, or LeBron James, is being rewritten by two-time-MVP and two-time-NBA Champion, Stephen Curry who happens to be the stylistic predecessor to Young.
My timeline is far from definitive, but the first time I recall seeing the trickle down of Currynomics was when LaMelo Ball, late of Vyautas Prienal-Birstonas of the Lithuanian Basketball League, became a sensation as a 15-year-old sophomore for Chino Hills High School during the 2016-17 season. He scored 92 points in one game and audaciously made a half-court shot just seconds into another game. Aside from these attention-grabbing highlights, Ball frequently took and made shots from NBA three-point range and deeper. If you strip away the outspoken divisiveness of his father, Lavar, there’s a supremely talented and skinny young basketball player in LaMelo. My first thoughts when I saw his highlights were of young kids seeing the rise of Curry, with his 30-foot jumpers and “California Cool” (H/T George Karl) approach, and misinterpreting what they saw. Ball, who pointed to his spot before canning the half-courter I mentioned, became a poster boy target of sorts for the get off my lawn crowd most notably represented by Charles Barkley. Barkley, a league MVP as a 6’4” undersized power forward, once claimed Curry was “just a great shooter.”
However far off-base Barkley’s assessment of Curry was, it stands as a representation of a perspective held by many former players, and likely present players, that Curry doesn’t belong at the table with other NBA greats. For Curry, the suspicion isn’t limited to style as I wrote about during this year’s finals, but are inclusive of race via skin color and class with him coming from a well-off, fully intact NBA family. Barkley’s comments and sentiments are coded in the sense that boxing Curry into being “just a great shooter” discount his generational skill level, advanced ball handling, finishing at the rim, his passing, his selflessness and on. By labeling him, or anyone like him, as “just a great shooter,” any threat to Barkley (or those who share his view and comprehension) is neutralized because Curry and his ilk become the “other.”
LaMelo Ball isn’t alone in seeing something in Curry that could be applied to his own game. About a month ago, I attended a high school basketball game in Des Moines, Iowa. For someone who hasn’t attended a high school game in over a decade, the experience of merely walking into the building and being swallowed by giddy teenage energy is one of adjustment. I packed into the doors of North High School with the rest of the human cattle being corralled towards concessions and the gym. If you’ve been away for a while, it’s disorienting to see a mass of teens from a 37-year-old’s eyes and see your former self moving through those crowds in complete normalcy. North’s point guard and their main attraction is a smallish 5’10”, 170lbs junior named Tyreke Locure who looks to be taller than his listed height due to a dyed bushy faux hawk – similar to LaMelo’s. He’s a mid-to-low D1 prospect who posted 56 points on 33 shots just a couple weeks after I saw him. In the game I attended, Locure and his North teammates exhibited a trigger-happy penchant for chucking deep threes. In my most Chuck-ish, I found myself criticizing the game plan until those bombs started falling – which probably says something about my commitment to a strategy. Collectively, they were quick to pass up half-court opportunities in exchange for deep, often contested, threes. Locure’s game did not appear to be defined by hash mark threes. I saw him looking for the small spaces to let fly, but within that were probing drives, dump-offs, and floaters, but the Curry influence was evident.
With North, I find myself needing to justify their liberal bombs by pointing to their success. Under their current coach, Chad Ryan, and with Locure as starting point guard in 16-17, they made the state tournament for the first time since 1991. MaxPreps currently has them ranked 7th in the state. The approach is working. And where instinct pushes me to find justification, intellect tells me question instinct. This is probably where my conventional way of thinking, some inner-Barkley, is running into my embrace of revolution, my inner-Curry/Steve Kerr.
Locure and Ball represent different points on a spectrum of who and how Curry has influenced a culture of ballplayers. Ball is probably at the most polarizing end of the spectrum. A kid whose game built on the notoriety that comes with being something of a Curry-clone – though that’s unlikely how he views himself. Maybe some of that is unfairly worded by confusing the son for the father. Locure and his North teammates, by contrast, have had the game opened by a combination of their abilities, their coaching, and (I’m mildly confident in this assumption) by Steph Curry whose influence has become omnipresent – from the California coast and the Hills of Chino to the tornado alleys of Oklahoma to the cold December gyms of Des Moines and a billion Instagram clips in between.
In April of 2017, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck wrote a piece making a compelling case as to why the quest for the Next Michael Jordan had been on the decline over the past few years. In the story, Beck refers to the present as “Generation Steph,” and writes of high school coach and former NBA player Penny Hardaway that, “he’s had to admonish his players more than once for launching from 30 feet, like a band of mini-Steph Currys.”
Curry would be difficult enough to guard if he was, as Barkley said, “just a great shooter.” He’d be Kyle Korver or J.J. Redick – which isn’t to discount their non-shooting skills. Instead, the range and his ability to attack off the dribble, to both find the open teammate or finish around the rim at an elite level, make him, at times, the most disruptive offensive player in the NBA. In Jack McCallum’s Golden Days, he writes about Curry being a revolutionary player in that he’s doing things with range and accuracy that we haven’t seen before. In his notes about the book on his site, McCallum quoted Curry and wrote:
“Nobody talked much about long shots until three years ago,” Curry says. “When my father [Dell, a sharp-shooter who retired in 2002 after 16 seasons] was playing, heck, there wasn’t even much talk about three-pointers at all.”
Well, you pretty much started that conversation, Curry is reminded. He shrugs. “It’s not something I consciously set out to do,” Curry says. “Most of the long ones come when the defense is back-pedaling and I’m in rhythm. I don’t really think about what the exact distance is. It’s basically where I feel comfortable from.”
That is the key word—comfort. When something is new, it feels uncomfortable. Despite the fact that the three-point shot has been in the NBA since 1979, it never became a real weapon until the last decade, and even that is stretching it. Why? Coaches were never comfortable with it. We can always work it closer to the basket, went the thinking. But once Curry demonstrated that he could make the looooong ones, Steve Kerr did grow comfortable with it, and “four-pointers”–those long-range bombs that demoralize opponents to the point that they seem to be worth an extra point–became a big part of the Warriors’ offense … not to mention a big part of the NBA’s entertainment package.
McCallum makes the argument that Kevin Durant or even LeBron James are doing things we’ve seen – scoring, passing, rebounding – but doing it with evolutionary physicality. KD is seven-feet tall handling the ball like a point guard. Bron is built like Karl Malone with the athleticism of MJ and the court vision of Magic. He writes, “I doubt that 30 years ago, even 15 years ago, we could’ve envisioned such a complete player at that (KD’s) size.”
I accept McCallum’s argument that Curry is a revolutionary player. He’s been able to push out the boundaries of what’s possible on an NBA court and do it in a way that’s about as effective as we can fathom. It doesn’t mean that players can’t expand their range further as we’ve seen with Ball shooting from half court, but that, at some point, there are diminishing returns or that the long distance becomes a means in and of itself, not, as Curry says, “something I consciously set out to do.”
It’s unfair to seek out the Next Curry in every long-distance shooting teenager just like was unfair to label every dunking shooting guard as the “Next MJ.” Instead of seeking out the Next Anyone, it’s more accurate to identify the traits of iconic players in the next generation and establish a stylistic family tree of sorts. In terms of a basketball lineage, Ball and Locure are inheriting some of the stylistic genes of Curry. As kids who aren’t yet of voting age, how their futures map out are wildly variable, but in each, the fingerprints of Curry are visible.
The future of Trae Young, at just 19-years-old, is much more clearly defined. In the midst of the madness swirling around me during the Oklahoma-TCU game, what I saw was a point guard bending an entire half of the court to his own will. Young scored 39 points and had 14 assists yet, for me, he didn’t even play a great game. While there wasn’t a single TCU defender who could keep Young out of the lane, on more than one occasion, he left his feet and without a passing outlet, was forced to hopelessly fling a shot at the rim. He shot 9-23 for the game, but six of those makes were from three. Inside the paint, he was 3-7. While he struggled with interior accuracy, all those forays into the paint helped push his free throw attempts up to 18. (For the season, he’s impressively averaging more than one free throw attempt for every two field attempts.) He was able to beat his defenders into the paint with a combination of speed, quickness, the threat of the deep ball (see his shot chart below), and a purposeful handle developed well-beyond his age. (Here he is functionally pulling off the Shammgod earlier this season.)
14 assists is nice and all, but Young easily could’ve had more. He frequently found open teammates both under the hoop and along the perimeter. They made plenty, but missed some gimmes too. That they were so open is testament to Young’s playmaking and vision, his teammates shot making (and occasional shot missing), and coach Lon Kruger’s pro style deployment of personnel around the perimeter. Young frequently had release valves in the corners that he didn’t have to look for; he knew they were there. He had full court assists, no-look wrap around passes, jump passes off slaloms to the rim. More often than not, he made the right decisions. And while the 3-7 in the paint and seven turnovers look ugly, the indefatigable pressure he put on the TCU defense was more than worth the trade off to a teammate or alternative pace of attack. The game was ultra-high pressure, decided by a single point, and yet Young played the entirety of the second half and only sat two minutes all game.
The passing and driving are great, even titillating, but his range and shot release time are where the Curry comparisons become inescapable. I have no idea exactly how accurate the shot chart below is in terms of distance, but it’s accurate in the sense that the distances match up with what I witnessed. There are tracking systems that can tell us how close defenders were, but from my distracted viewing, a couple of those bombs were with defenders in his space, but unexpectant. By the time the defender realized what was happening, Young was already too deep into his motion with a release they couldn’t catch up to. Like Curry, or any deep shooter, this ability opens up mega avenues for penetration.
I don’t know if people look for the “Next” because we’re lazy or have bad habits or because we see points of reference in players. Maybe it’s the never-ending quest for immortality through progeny. Penny was the Next Magic. Eddy Curry was the Next Shaq. Harold Miner was literally Baby Jordan. The excitement I felt watching Trae Young wasn’t in seeing the Next Steph Curry, but seeing the possible evolution of what Curry has brought to basketball. I caught just a glimpse, the kind of glimpse that people turn into Loch Ness Monsters and UFOs and Yetis. Maybe it was just a tease and Young is more Jimmer than Steph. Or maybe it’s the next evolutionary step in audacious offense. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen the future, but I’ve seen Steph Curry and I’ve seen Trae Young and I’m good with that.
July 24, 2017Posted by on
Maybe it all started back in 2006, 11 years ago when Barack Obama hadn’t even taken office and the future was about as clear as Phil Jackson in room with sage, incense, and other clouds of organic nature. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James signed extensions with their teams: Bron three years with a player option for the Cavs. Melo, four years with a player option for Denver, and thus began a gradual resetting of courses that at one time appeared maybe, kinda parallel. The ensuing years have revealed not just a gap in on-court skill sets, but a gap in decision making and how these megawatt star players leverage their power to achieve both on and off-court goals.
Fast forward to 2010 when James (along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) declined his player option and infamously took his talents to South Beach. In that fell swoop, the Miami super friends seized power from teams, owners, and front offices. (It’s fair to question how much power was seized as each player took less money to join forces.)
By contrast, Melo was stuck in his remaining year in Denver where the core of the roster was set to enter free agency and watching his friends and fellow 2003 draftees must’ve felt like missing out on the biggest basketball party in the world. That Nuggets core included Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, and Chauncey Billups who had a team option remaining. Combine roster uncertainty with what was an almost guaranteed lockout in the following season and Melo had motivating factors for leaving that went beyond New York and his wife’s (La La Anthony) professional ambitions.
Where Bron and friends went for the off-season, long-term approach, Melo took a new tact and forced a trade in-season. Because he was set to become a free agent, he held the power as prospective buyers were rightly reluctant to give up assets in exchange for a player who wouldn’t commit to re-signing. This has become a blueprint of sorts which we’ve seen most recently with the Paul George-to-Lakers posturing and if George ends up staying in Oklahoma City, there will no doubt be second guessing in Lakerland over their decision to not pay up for the multi-time all-star when they had the chance.
The Lakers differ from the Knicks trading for Melo in that they weren’t willing to give up certain assets (Brandon Ingram, the second pick) for a player they have a chance at signing in 2018. The Celtics took a similar tact in their George conversations. The Knicks gave up a handful of low spades (h/t Bomani Jones) to acquire Melo including three picks; one of which turned into Dario Saric in 2014 and a pick-swap in 2016 that turned into Jamal Murray.
Let’s pause here and look at where James’ and Anthony’s decisions had landed them heading into the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season:
- The 2006 decision to re-sign for an extra fourth season pushed Melo closer to financial uncertainty heading into the 2011 lockout whereas James had signed for a highly-flexible six-year deal with Miami in 2010 with years five and six as player options.
- The 2010 decision by James to join Miami landed him with a proven-winner in Pat Riley, an NBA champ in Wade, and a third all-star in Bosh. It was the ultimate in player agency and self-determination.
- Melo’s 2011 forced trade didn’t leave the cupboard bare in New York, but placed him alongside a 25-point-scoring Amare Stoudemire, an aging Billups, and a Marcus Camby-type figure in Tyson Chandler. In addition, he agreed to a three-year extension.
- At this point, neither player had won a title.
While it’s fair to look at how the Knicks have devolved since 2011, at the time, it wasn’t the worst assortment of talent. In December of 2011, using the playbook Melo put together, Chris Paul was reportedly trying to force his way to New York to join Melo and Stoudemire. As NBA players and agents quickly learned from each other how to gain and use leverage, the attempts of Melo, Stoudemire, and Paul to converge in New York was a combination of the Melo leverage play and the Bron/Heat super friends approach. I don’t know if it was quite unprecedented, but it did signal what the future of player movement and team building would look like.
The Paul deal never panned out, Stoudemire was crushed by injuries, Billups fell off and the Knicks didn’t take up his option. Competent executive Donnie Walsh left prior to the 2011-12 season as well, stripping the team of probably its sanest and smartest decision maker.
Melo isn’t responsible for the decisions of the Knicks front office any more than he’s responsible for Stoudemire’s injuries. But positioning yourself as a power player creates a natural, fair or not, over-analysis of your decisions. And the Knicks with James Dolan as owner had a long history of bumbling. That they teased fans with a successful 2012-13 season before spiraling into sub-optimal mediocrity under Phil Jackson is hardly a surprise.
Heading into the summer of 2014, the chasm between James and Melo, which had once been moderate back in 2010, had grown massively and not just because James was the better player, but because he played the decision-making game better. By aligning himself with healthy, in-prime all-stars, and a stable front office, he was fully empowered to excel on-the-court.
In June of 2014, Melo declined his player option with the Knicks and went on a free agency tour that included visits with the Bulls, Lakers, Mavs, and Rockets. Except for the Lakers, the other teams Melo met with offered a combination of proven stars and teams flirting with 50-win seasons – so of course two of the final three teams on Melo’s list were non-playoff teams: the Lakers and Knicks.
In hindsight, bypassing the soon-to-be-ravaged-by-injury Bulls was a stroke of luck and besides, Melo would get his chance to join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in New York a couple seasons later. But at the time, opting back in to New York was interesting if unsurprising. In what should have foreshadowed future acrimony, there was strain between Jackson and Melo even during the free agency process as Jackson publicly needled Melo to take less money. For Jackson, the notion of courting a star has always run counter to convention or common sense, but when you have two hands worth of rings as your resumé, leeway is granted.
Meanwhile, after getting smoked in the 2014 finals by the Spurs, James returned to the Cavs, but not without assurances; namely Kevin Love. At the same time, Melo either bought into Jackson’s vision of the future or he went with the creature comforts of home. It’s funny to read immediate reactions from Melo’s signing and see where the focus was so heavily directed at title contention – not in 2014-15, but sometime during the Phil/Melo regime. Sweet hindsight provides a clarity inaccessible to the intoxication of a $122M reunion and a future envisioned by a man referred as the Zen Master. Not everyone was on board with Melo’s choice though as GQ’s Bethlehem Shoals was scraping away at the same Melo issues that have reared their head three years later.
By gaining assurances on landing Love and pairing him with Kyrie Irving, the Cavs didn’t offer James a glimpse of the future. They offered him a concrete present where the path to the finals was visible for the most nearsighted of eyes. Owner Dan Gilbert’s commitment to competing, regardless of cost, made it possible to build a complementary team of shooters and cheap veteran talent to land a championship roster. (This looks a little different three years into the James return as Gilbert has fired championship GM, David Griffin and as of this writing, the front office remains somewhat in limbo and the Kyrie Irving trade demands cast a shadow on the whole of the Cavs [including Bron’s] management.)
By contrast, Jackson continued to insist on the triangle in New York; continued to insist on the team playing his way, not tapping into the skills of its $122M superstar. It’s not that Griffin’s or Jackson’s approaches to team building are right or wrong. They’re different philosophies with different degrees of flexibility and rigidity depending on personnel. That James chose the more complementary team or managed to gain influence over that team is a testament to either his foresight or power or a combination of both. Melo re-upping with New York without an obvious road to future success speaks either what was most important to him (financial security, New York family) or an inability to assess the NBA’s competitive landscape and how that Knicks team fit into it. Ten to 14 years into the Melo/Bron journey, we’ve seen James continually make decisions that align with his off-court interests and his on-court aspirations while Melo awkwardly fights with his GM and soaks in life as one of the most popular athletes in New York.
The big wrinkle in Melo’s 2014 contract was the inclusion of the no-trade clause which gave him the power to veto a deal to any team in the association. For all of Anthony’s questionable decision making over the years, this was one of his shrewder and smarter demands and is the kind that only a few players can make. Unsurprisingly, it became the greatest tool in his belt to fend off Jackson’s repeated attempts to banish him from the Knicks forever.
Alas, even Melo’s better decisions create potential stumbling blocks. Reportedly, Melo refused Phil’s attempts to move him out of New York. For much of the 2016-17 season, an updated Melodrama (Melodrama III if we’re counting, but there’s a minimum amount of relevance required to have your foibles named and Melo’s relevance is nowhere near its peak of 2011) played out across the headlines of New York publications with Jackson doing everything in his power to sink his star’s value while simultaneously trying to trade him. Throughout it all, Melo steadfastly refused to be dealt until Jackson was finally fired in late June. Less than a week after Jackson was dumped, it was reported that Anthony was now willing to waive the no-trade if he was dealt to Houston or Cleveland. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote, “Given that Anthony largely controls the process, it will be difficult for New York to demand significant assets in any trade.” Which makes one wonder what Melo’s true motivations are or were. Did he just want to outlast Phil or did he truly want to remain a Knick? Does winning matter or does it just matter once Melo has everything else Melo wants?
There’s no small amount of irony comparing James to Melo in terms of decision making. After all, Bron is the player who set up an entire televised special to announce he was leaving his hometown Cavs to play for the Miami Heat. His decision and the manner he delivered it exhibited tone deafness and a lack foresight. He’s exhibited passive aggressive behavior towards teammates and front offices, sub-tweeted teammates on social media, taken a shit on fans after losing to the Mavs in 2011. In short, the follies of maturation and shortcomings in interpersonal communication styles have been on loop for all of us to watch for the past 15 years. While his platforms and message have sometimes lacked a broad view, his choices in terms of teams and teammates have been masterful. If you believe him to be a shadow GM, well, his player personnel decisions are much more impeachable.
So we land here in July of 2017 and Melo, after long stating he wants to stick it out in New York hasn’t just lifted the no-trade clause for a couple of teams. Rather, according to Woj, “he’s made it clear to them (the Knicks) that I want to go to Houston. I’m not interested in talking to you about being reincorporated back into this New York roster.” He may have outlasted Phil and resumed his role as controller of his own destiny, dictating his next destination to Steve Mills and Scott Perry. It’s an enviable position to be in and one that he’s managed to land in three separate times in his career. It’s no small thing for a worker to seize the reins of power from management and ownership, but Melo’s done it. And for once, his desire to join a pre-made roster instead of sitting at the center of a future-facing plan looks to be real. Was it all as simple as a power struggle with the ancient Phil Jackson? Or is Melo’s basketball biological clock ticking as sneaks glimpses of pro basketball mortality? We’ll never know. Assuming Melo lands in Houston, without the weight of a franchise on his New York-born shoulders, one only can hope he finds a peace and satisfaction that was always out of grasp at home.
July 5, 2016Posted by on
I woke on the morning of July 4th, 2016 fumbling for my phone, looking for Kevin Durant updates. Instead my mom had accidentally butt dialed me and I went back to sleep. It was 7:39 AM PST. I dozed off and assume I checked the phone a couple more times without updates until 8:48 AM when in my holiday morning grogginess, I squinted at the Woj tweets:
8:39 AM: @WojVerticalNBA: Kevin Durant will sign with Golden State, he writes on the Players Tribune
8:42 AM: @WojVerticalNBA: Process w/Durant and Golden State players has been ongoing for months. They sold him on winning multiple titles together, easing Cu…
I had planned on going back to bed and enjoying the rare Monday off, but this was the Woj Bomb of Woj Bombs: Peak level Kevin Durant at 27-years-old, whose only modern statistical peer is LeBron James, is joining the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
It’s not enough to write it or see it on paper or text with your NBA junkie buddies about it; though that last part is significantly helpful for processing those morning feelings that somehow cause 35-year-old men to pause and think and feel – or if Twitter’s your bag, just tweet through it.
My own preferences were no doubt a source of my conflicted feelings. I loathe this collection of Golden State Warriors. Steph’s mouth guard-chewing half-swagger, Draymo’s muscle flexing and nut striking, Steve Kerr’s “aw shucks” demeanor, their legion of bandwagon fans – you’ve read or heard it all before, it’s nothing new. A large part of my fandom is wrapped up in villainy and sometime during the 2014-15 season these Warriors firmly took a torch that’s most recently been held by the 04-07 Pistons, 07-11 Celtics, and loosely and limply by the 12-14 Spurs. On the other side, I’ve always been a Durant fan dating back to his days in Austin and the 10-15 times I saw him as a rookie in his one season in Seattle.
These 2015-16 playoffs with their history-altering unpredictabilities and hopelessnesses that turned into triumphs were a bonding agent I didn’t even need. The Warriors and all their 73-win glory with their national media hype man in Mike Breen were roundly slugged in the mouth, against the ropes, bloodied and swaggerless down 3-1 to OKC. Hope was palpable; we were given something we could feel. And in game five, there was Durant high fiving teammates, optimistic about a closeout game six in OKC. And there were the turnovers and Klay Thompson’s all-timer game and that hope fizzling, ungraspable. That game six which has the look and feel of a pivotal moment in NBA history and is a game I’ll always remember like game seven of the 2000 Western Conference Finals or game six of the 2013 NBA Finals; but the ramifications of this Saturday night in May something altogether unique in terms of basketball butterfly effects. Finally there was what felt like inevitability in the game seven defeat.
Throughout the playoffs, KD futures rose and fell stock market style: OKC wins and there’s no way he can leave the team now. OKC loses and he’s got to explore the open market; can’t win with Russ playing like this.
At the end of it though, when the wins and losses were stacked up, even in defeat it felt like these Thunder players had broken through. They’d figured out how to beat the bombers from Oakland and it was a matter of execution more than anything else. Hell, it was Billy Donovan’s first year as head coach and Steven Adams was a revelation. After nine long years, it looked like the 10th would be Durant’s.
The morning after OKC’s loss, I remember seeing stories about KD’s pending free agency and scoffing at the idea that he would leave the team with whom he’d just been to war. In my hopeful naiveté I interpreted the stories as clickbait guaranteed to stir conversation and generate more ad impressions. The concept of a departure was alien.
I don’t care to recap the daily play-by-play of Durant’s free agency visits except to say that with each passing hour (which felt like drawn out days punctuated by Twitter and text updates) what once felt like an inevitable return to OKC for a 1+1 deal seemed to ebb away like OKC’s 3-1 lead. With the exception of maybe an upgraded Boston with Al Horford, the other three teams (Clips, Spurs, Heat) were far behind the incumbent OKC. Golden State was the only team that offered some sort of up-level and it was the type of level-up that some think shouldn’t be available and only became available due to this once-in-a-lifetime spike in the salary cap and a perfect storm of events that opened up the possibility for four of the top-15-to-20 players in the league to join forces in their physical primes.
On the afternoon of Sunday the 3rd, I took the news that he would make an announcement by Monday as a sign that the decision had already been made. There was supposedly a second meeting with OKC and the closer call with GSW Exec/NBA logo Jerry West and the news on Sunday night that it was a two-horse race between GSW and OKC and then it was just the wait for what felt like a simple formality of an announcement.
I never preferred Durant stay with OKC. I didn’t care one way or the other. The drama of the meetings and the possibility of NBA shakeups are hugely entertaining, future-altering decisions. Lives change, jobs are won and lost, legacies defined by decisions like these. Durant’s destination only mattered to me as long it wasn’t Golden State. For the villain to be the winningest team in regular season history and then to somehow get better and get better by snatching up their primary rival and all the while to be a supporter of that rival? In all its possibility, it wasn’t comprehensible in the sense that I didn’t want to comprehend it even though the image of a Curry-Klay-Iggy-Durant-Draymo lineup leaves me with some kind of confused attraction. How do you guard that lineup? It’s not unfair, but it is unguardable. The entire plot reads like a WWE script, but without the obvious literal chair in the back.
Here in Seattle and across the basketball-sphere, some folks are celebrating OKC owner Clay Bennett’s loss today as a “how’s it feel to lose something you love?” Screw Clay Bennett. But more than Bennett being the thief in the night, the system of professional sports with its exploitative model that strong-arms cities and states for publicly funded arenas, the former Sonics owners led by Howard Schultz, and of course then-Commissioner David Stern were all complicit in this jacking. My personal experience separates the pro sport monolith (with its own unique dramas) from the game and front office operations. As soothing as vengeance can be, the day-to-day of weight of a 24-7 talk track world infatuated with the Warriors is the greater of two evils. I prefer a world where Bennett gets his comeuppance and the Warriors get theirs as well. But in this reality, Golden State’s now delivered consecutive back-to-back soul crushing blows to the former Sonics franchise.
The remainder of this piece of is a personal log of sorts whereby I offer up a basic analysis and open-ended questions of what this all means:
- What are the CBA ramifications? The owners and players association will be embarking on new negotiations and one can only imagine that more than a few owners are going point to KD’s departure from small market to large market as a chief reason for finding more ways for incumbent teams to keep their stars. Does this mean changes to the max structure? The league wants parity but as long as stars have a cap on their earning potential and freedom of movement, they’ll continue to join forces in order to win. Hard caps and max adjustments have been tossed around as solutions, but personally the removal a player max is the radical and balanced equalizer. I won’t hold my breath though as the NBA’s bulging middle class is a majority and stands to lose the most in a no max scenario.
- Before the draft, as the details of what GSW would have to do sign KD came out, it seemed like an overreaction for the Warriros to dump two starters and at least one key reserve for just one player. They won 73 games and were one of the most dominant and popular teams I’ve ever seen at a time when the league is reaching broader audiences all over the world. But it always came back to Durant’s talent. Certain players are worth moving mountains for and 7-foot 27-year-olds who average 27-points, 7-rebounds, and nearly 4-assists in over 600 games in their first nine seasons are worth it. The only other guys who have done this through their first nine seasons are LeBron, Kareem, Rick Barry, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Wilt, and Elgin Baylor. Kevin Durant is that kind of dude. But, it’s not without risk. Bogut’s gone, replaced by Zaza Pachulia. Golden State will sign other ring chasers and fill out a roster the same way we’ve seen the Spurs, Cavs, Celtics, and Heat do successfully. It’s a model that can and does work. Areas that still give me pause about this GSW team are in the paint and on the boards. It wasn’t just OKC’s ability to switch with length or the Cavs utilization of Tristan Thompson on defense that allowed those teams to find success against GSW. It was a relentlessness on the boards that battered and wore them down. That won’t change much if they start Draymo or Zaza at center. The potential for the greatest scoring team of all-time that happens to project as an excellent defensive team is the obvious counter-argument.
- Golden State was battered and without Bogut for much of the Finals. All those shots Harrison Barnes missed in a series that went seven games and culminated with a five-point difference? Got to think Durant easily covers that type of gap.
- When LeBron went to Miami there was consternation and hand-wringing over whose team it would be — Bron’s or Wade’s? I don’t anticipate the same type of concern, but GSW has a clear alpha dog leader in Draymo. Curry is its more mild-mannered best player, but Draymo is their heart and soul. How does Durant, another alpha dog, plug into this existing hierarchy? As always, winning cures all and my gut tells me everything will be copacetic.
- Probably the most impressive and awful part of this signing is the aforementioned complete destruction of OKC as a Western Conference contender. It’s not like Anthony Davis left a crappy Pelicans team or Damian Lillard left a decent Blazers team. The best fucking player on the Warriors’ most dangerous West opponent just joined them. In one fell swoop, KD turned Golden State into an All-Star team while eliminating their top rival. Anything can happen in sports when fragile, imperfect humans are involved, but assuming a modicum of health, these Warriors have just the Spurs and maybe the Clippers as potential West challengers. The Clippers are running back the same squad from last year but without Cole Aldrich while the Spurs appear to be replacing Tim Duncan with Pau Gasol and potentially losing Boris Diaw. On paper, OKC was the challenger. Now? On paper at least, all roads lead to Oakland.
This move wraps up what feels like one of the craziest 2-3 month stretches the NBA’s ever experienced. I can only imagine the shockwaves falling on fans in OKC and the Bay Area right now. Hurt and anger, elation and renewal – and it’s only July. Depending on perspective, is the worst/best behind us or is it yet to come? Is this the burial or the resurrection? Summer is here, the pieces are settling into place, we have three months to rest up and mentally prepare. If pro sports exist to give many of us an escape from daily stressors and the absurdity of existence, then the NBA and Kevin Durant have delivered in spades.
January 29, 2016Posted by on
The media and Dwight Howard have always positioned the Houston big man as some kind of heir to Shaquille O’Neal in the same way it was en vogue for years to saddle two-guards with the dreaded “Next MJ” tag. It was wrong with Dwight in the same way it was wrong with Vince Carter and MJ. The closest thing we have to Shaq is in Sacramento in big barrel chested DeMarcus Cousins. And for the sake of perpetuity, we must not forget what Cousins did over a pair of games in late January 2016.
It was a Saturday night, January 23rd to be exact. The Kings were hosting the run and gun (?) Indiana Pacers of Paul George fame. Boogie, as the big man is known, had already been enjoying a pleasant new month of the new year, posting and toasting all comers to the tune of 31ppg. The Pacers were without defensive stalwart, starting center and possible Francophile Ian Mahinmi. Journeyman Jordan Hill, rotation player Lavoy Allen, and young upstart Myles Turner (fresh off a 31-point game against Golden State) manned the ramparts in his absence. And like any Jaws in any sea, Boogie smelled blood in that water.
Cousins is listed at 6’11”, 270lbs, but I swear to shit this man weighs more than 270lbs. His upper body defies NBA body types. It’s broad with massive shoulders, filled out in the way someone who chops down trees and carries stumps around all day would be with big, tattoo-covered arms. But where he deviates is in his trunk. Many NBA players have the classic v-shape with broad shoulders and narrow waists, but Cousins doesn’t thin out like Dwight. He’s thick all the way through and uses his body in the most Shaq-like of ways to create space and room to breathe to get up little jump hooks and lay-ins.
But life as a Boogie Cousins isn’t about playing the traditional back-to-the basket game. Against the Pacers, Cousins more frequently caught the ball on the wing, which is anti-Shaq/Dwight/tradition. In 2015-16, he has three-point range, which is like Paul Bunyan having the domestic sensibilities of Martha Stewart. Cousins catches on the wing, throws in a couple fakes and the defenders – be it Hill, Allen, or Turner – have to respect it. While taller players like Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Porzingis are rewriting concepts about what 7-footers can and can’t do, traditional centers shooting threes are still an evolving species. Defending those players is no easy task for semi-mobile 7-footers and so Cousins making over a three/game has opened up dribble driving attacks that maybe weren’t there earlier in his career. (Prior to this season, Cousins’ had taken 69 threes in his career. This year, in 37 games he’s taken 129 and made four times as many threes than in his entire career.) These defenders have to offer a cushion in defense, but Boogie’s handle is good enough to attack which he loves to do. Throughout the game against Indiana, Cousins repeatedly put the ball on the floor and penetrated. He was often off-balance, had his shots blocked from ending up in terrible position under the hoop, but he was still effective. He drew fouls and made at least six of his 17 field goals on these dribble drives.
Cousins has a sure-footedness you may expect in a giant amateur ballerina. He’s not the most graceful, but in addition to attacking defenders off the dribble, he’ll occasionally hit them with spin moves that leave defenders grasping at air where Cousins used to be. Against the Pacers, on three separate possessions, he found different ways to leverage the spin into buckets. In the second quarter, he caught it in the post, set up Lavoy Allen to overplay to the middle of the lane, took a couple dribbles and with his left shoulder pushed the defender deeper out of position, and once space had been established, pulled a quick spin for a dunk. This spin reminded me of Shaq in all the glory of his power and quickness.
Later the spin accompanied one of his many dribble drives and resulted in a lefty layup make. And finally, feeling Allen overplaying on a post-up, he spun baseline for an unmolested catch and score.
The final tally was a career-high 48 points on 29 shots, a single three, 13-20 from the line a team-best +18, and the Kings fifth straight win.
Two nights later on the Monday when most everyone in the NBA solar system was focusing their undivided attentions on the Spurs at Warriors main event, Sacramento decided to host the Charlotte Hornets. Like the Pacers, these Hornets were shorter than normal and short-handed. Perennial double double Al Jefferson was out with knee surgery and his backup Cody Zeller sat with a shoulder injury. Crying MJ’s Hornets went to battle with a front court that included native Pacific Northwesterners Spencer Hawes and Marvin Williams bolstered by Frank Kaminsky and Tyler Hansbrough off the bench. As Shaq so delightfully enjoys exclaiming: Barbeque Chicken!
And while Warriors-Spurs descended into the East Bay Evisceration, the undermanned Hornets and Kings of Cousins ratcheted up intensities with competitive basketballing. With a banged up crew, the Hornets decided to front Cousins if Williams or Hansbrough guarded him with Hawes or another defender helping on the backside. If Hawes was on Cousins, he’d play behind him. This strategy and the overwhelming physical advantage the Kings had allowed for a different exploitation than what Cousins showed against the Mahinmi-less Pacers. With a weakened frontline, the Hornets were like Goldilocks and Cousins was all three of the bears happy to maul his all-too-human opponents. No less than six times the Hornets ended up fronting Cousins and the Kings, particularly with Rondo recognizing the opportunity, took advantage. Even if Hawes was able to help over, Cousins was too big, too quick, too skilled scored easily.
This time it’s not even Hawes able to help out, but 6’4” Troy Daniels who’s maybe slightly more effective than I would be at pestering Cousins (course I’m 6’3″ 250 and run a 4.5 forty):
But later we see Hawes as the help man and even though he anticipates the post entry, he’s powerless and gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and-1 DeMarcus:
As the game unfolded, it had the feeling of some kind of lopsided battle royal playing out on the basketball court. Cousins and his teammates continued to pound the ball inside, almost growing with greed. A mix of jump hooks, dunks, layups and free throws were there for the picking. But all that post work is exhausting for a man carrying what Cousins has. The catches and fouls, scoring with 240lb-men draped over your shoulders can wear on the biggest ox. As the game shifted into overtime, it felt like a battle of attrition and I wondered who would collapse first: Big Cuz or the entire Hornets front line? Williams fouled after Cousins dunked on him on a lob, then it was Hawes and finally Hansbrough went to the bench with his sixth which left the relatively slight rookie Kaminsky to defend the most dominant post scorer in the league. A bully mentality is a great asset to any big man, but that wasn’t enough for Cousins against Frank the (tiny) Tank. He had the audacity to mix in a hesitation dribble on a drive the likes of which I can only assume Kaminsky never saw in the Big 10.
But mercy was on the side of Kaminsky and the Hornets. In the second OT when the world of basketball was firmly united in cheering Cousins towards his 60th point and the team’s sixth straight win, a referee named Zach Zarba bailed out Kaminsky by whistling Cousins for his sixth. In the league’s official review of all calls that occur in the final two minutes or OT, they deemed Zarba had made the correct call, but as any of us who watched the game can attest, it was not the correct call in the sense that Cousins was essentially penalized for being bigger and stronger than his opponent. And what a way to wrap up a night in which a man has appeared to be truly Shaqtastic – by being penalized in a way in which Shaq was oh so familiar.
Final tally was a new career-high 56 points on 30 shots, a single three, 13-16 from the line, a team-best +13, and a Kings loss.
The following night a bedraggled Kings team headed north to take on the Blazers in Portland. They were soundly thrashed, losing every quarter of the game. Our hero Boogie fell back to earth with a thud scoring 17 points while shooting 4-21 from the field. But who reserves space in their memory banks for the second games of back-to-backs? Who has time for such letdowns when we’re given 104 points over a two-game span? Cousins might not be Shaq, but in an evolving NBA where skilled back-to-the-basket big men appear to be a slowly dying breed, Cousins is without peer when it comes to dominant big man. While he may make head scratch-inducing decisions and have the occasional poor judgment on the court, enjoy him while we can and let’s not forget the time he scored 104 points in back-to-back games.
Final two-night tally: 104 points on 38-59 shooting (64%), 2-5 from three, 26-36 from the line (72%), 25 rebounds, 10 fouls, 12 turnovers, 84 minutes, 1-1 record
November 12, 2015Posted by on
A while back I started researching the enormous amount of NBA minutes LeBron James has played in his decorated career. I’ll be exploring this in future work, but focusing on something different today: The 4,000 Minute Club because Dancing with Noah is interested in nothing if not interested in creating exclusive clubs for groups of large men that strut into statistical significance.
The 4,000 minute club is made up of any player that has appeared in 4,000 minutes or more combined across regular season and post-season for a single year. It’s a testament to some elite level of indispensability to your team, Cal Ripken-ish durability, and team success.
The 4k club is unique in that it’s possibly nearing extinction as you’ll see through the numbers below. While NBA Finals participants have the opportunity to appear in more total games than their NBA forebears due to playoff series expansion, things like sports science or common sense have resulted in minute reduction. A good, but isolated example of this is last year’s MVP Stephen Curry appearing in an MVP record-low 32.7 minutes/game. Golden State’s a unique example in that they’re able to blow out opponents without big minutes required of their top dog, but last season’s league leader in minutes played was James Harden who appeared in less than 3,000 minutes for the regular season – the fewest minutes played in a non-lockout season since 1958-59 when the NBA only played 72 games. These are microcosms of the broader downtrend in minutes played.
To arrive at a modern, contextual list of players, I separated the NBA/ABA into a pre-modern and modern era:
- Pre-Modern: beginning of time to 1979-80
- Modern: 1980-81 to present
The 4k threshold has been surpassed 55 times in NBA/ABA history with 36 of those seasons occurring in the pre-modern period when Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell stalked North America feasting on the blood and bones of knobby-kneed opponents. The top-10 of most combined regular and playoff minutes all occurred between 1961-62 and 1973-74 when pros wore low-top Chuck Taylor’s, shorts that would make John Stockton blush, and didn’t yet have the perks of chartered air travel or modern exercise science. The list below is made up of Wilt and Kareem, then four guys from the ABA which had an 84-game season.
Regardless of how it’s explained or rationalized, it’s difficult to wrap your head around Wilt the Stilt playing 48.5 minutes/game over the course of a 92-game season. He appeared in more than the available regulation minutes not for a game, a week, or a month, but an entire damn season. These super charged numbers are incomprehensible in the way Babe Ruth’s hitting and pitching stats are impossible, in the way Cy Young won over 500 games and threw nearly 750 complete games. They are so far beyond any current comprehension that they’re not comparable to the modern, post-Wilt game.
Instead, the modern breakout exists in a world closer to current standards of sanity and tolerability. Successful teams like the Spurs and Warriors have readjusted what is and isn’t acceptable with NBA player workloads while coaches like Tom Thibodeau are regularly admonished for throwing big minutes at players that who hobble on future arthritic joints.
The modern list is different and while it’s likely less of an achievement, it still speaks to something of the implicit meaning of the US Postal Service’s “rain, sleet or snow” motto that American’s love and cherish so much: We work hard.
18 players appear 19 times on the list of modern guys who have surpassed the 4k limit. They range in age from 22 to 34, in total games from 94 to 107, from MVPs to a lanky, lean Tayshaun Prince. 14 of the 19 occurrences made Finals appearances and every player on the list appeared in more than 40 minutes/game in the playoffs. Enough with demographics, take my hand and let’s explore this wonderful numerical forest.
The table above is sorted by total minutes and right at the top of this who’s who of NBA MVPs is “Thunder” Dan Majerle. Not exactly the two guard I would’ve expected to see at the top of the list, but when the Suns made the Finals in 1993, Majerle was an indispensable spoke. He appeared in all 106 games for Phoenix with 33.5% of his total 4,270 minutes played coming in the playoffs. His playoff MPG (44.6) represent the highest lift over regular season MPG with an increase of 5.6 minutes capped off by a 28-point performance on 6-8 from three in a 59-minute triple OT game in the Finals.
Only one player made this list without even advancing to the conference finals. Back in 2002-03, Allen Iverson appeared in all 94 of Philadelphia’s games, averaging a whopping 43 MPG. I don’t think anyone questions Iverson’s toughness, but for a player who weighed under 170lbs and averaged nine free throw attempts/game to play 43 minutes every night for 94 games is remarkable. Worth noting: The following season Iverson appeared in just 48 games.
Michael Jordan is the oldest player to reach 4k minutes and the only player in the modern era with two 4k seasons to his name. We’ll focus on his age-34 season when he appeared in 103 games averaging 39.3 MPG. While lacking the nightly minute madness of Iverson’s 2003 or Majerle’s beastly playoff run of 1993, MJ carried a massive load for 1998 Bulls. Scottie Pippen spent the season fighting injuries and the Bulls front office over contract issues and the result was a 34-year-old Jordan leading the league in usage while appearing in the most total minutes of his career. The combination of shouldering the load for this Bulls team and navigating the front office shenanigans of GM Jerry “Crumbs” Krause no doubt added to MJ’s decision to hang up the high tops following 1998.
We’ll wrap up the player-level analysis with the youngest guy on the list and the one who originally led me on this 4,000-minute quest: 22-year-old LeBron James in 2007. He was probably a year ahead of schedule carrying a team that just wasn’t that good all the way to the Finals. Playing 40 minutes/night in the regular season and nearly 45/night in the playoffs was the only way this team could compete and it wore down the young LeBron. After exceeding 55% true shooting in the regular season, he dipped below 52% for the playoffs.
The glut of minutes coupled with an average team and more creative defensive looks in the playoffs sucked the life out of Bron’s 2007. It’s telling that there’s only a single point guard (Gary Payton) on the list above. And with James so frequently playing that ball handling/offense-initiating role, it’s fair to wonder if that and a dose of Spursian common sense have resulted in just one 4k season for him.
The last time we saw a player cross the 4k barrier was 2008 with a 29-year-old Kobe Bryant. Given the aforementioned stats about Steph Curry and Harden last year coupled with theories that players are more susceptible to injury due to a multitude of factors (sleep deprivation, poorer diets, playing tons of basketball at younger ages, and poor weight training habits) and advances in sports medicine and biometric testing point to what should be a smarter, more cautious approach to managing player health and minutes, aka assets and investments. Though one could make the counter argument that advances in science may reveal new and better ways for athletes to protect their bodies and thus play even more minutes. The future is a damn abyss to which we’re all inevitably hurtling and nothing should be a surprise. But if teams follow the lead of two of our league’s most successful franchises, then we’ll no doubt see minutes trend downward and friends of the 4k club remaining a tidy, fraternal group of 17 (RIP, Moses Malone).
May 5, 2013Posted by on
Free Darko gave us the concept of “Spirit Animals” in their first book and five years late I’m still inspired enough to imagine “Spirit Weapons” for the 2013 Playoffs where NBA players are partnered up with ideal weapons that suit their style and personality. Since my own experience with weapons doesn’t extend much beyond handling a machete, using a rake as a staff, and familiarizing myself with the basics of nunchakus in my teenage years; I may not be qualified to make these connections, but we’re wasting time dwelling on it, so let’s get down to the bloody business of weaponry:
Mike Conley: A well-crafted, handmade, pearl-handled switchblade:
When I think about switch-blades, my first thought is greasers with slicked back hair, white t-shirts, leather jackets, cigarettes. I don’t think about Mike Conley. But when I think about a switch-blade, its conveniently compact style able to be tucked discretely in the pocket of your jeans; the easy access and ability to operate with a single hand; I think about economy. Mike Conley is a point guard of economy and efficiency. He’s a law-abiding player, quick to stick to Lionel Hollins’ plays and plans, but like the greaser, he’s a lethal opportunist, happy to heartlessly carve up opponents who discount or disrespect him.
Zach Randolph: Brass knuckles
The man known as Z-Bo is the physical embodiment of brass knuckles. He’s like a human knuckle: Curved, but solid, blunt, powerful, made of raw American brutishness. Z-Bo’s fists do plenty of damage on their own (just ask Ruben Patterson’s orbital bone), but his spirit animal is the loaded fist; a lethal weapon residing in the painted area of basketball courts from Memphis to Los Angeles. When Z-Bo’s around, learn to duck.
Steph Curry: Flame thrower
One thing you’ll notice about all the weapons here is that they’re handheld and no guns or machinery are included. But for Curry, the flamethrower is remarkably appropriate. Opponents feel the intense threatening pressure of his jumpers which come from anywhere at any time. He creates his own shots and dazzles and intimidates with his constant heat checking. For further evidence of this flame throwing point guard, refer to the deep burns left on the 2013 Nuggets.
Russell Westbrook: Wolverine’s adamantium claws and skeleton
I read some comics back in the day, but was never sucked into the sub-culture and have never been to Comic-Con. I know enough to know that Wolverine’s claws and skeleton were made of some imaginary substance called adamantium which is apparently an indestructible metal alloy. Wolverine has super-human healing powers and up until last week, we all thought Westbrook did too. The man hadn’t missed a single basketball game in his entire career: That’s high school, college and five full seasons of NBA brutality. Add in the dichotomies between the on-court/off-court Russell Westbrooks which are akin to the Wolverine/Logan personas and the circle is complete.
New York Knicks: Vega claw
For those of you familiar with Street Fighter II, you’ll remember Vega as the masked matador from Spain who’s equipped with a long metal claw on his left hand. Vega’s claw and speed allow him to excel at long-range attacks, but he’s also one of the weaker characters on the game. Vega is the video game version of the Knicks: A diverse amalgamation of talents (Vega combines Ninjutsu with his bull-fighting skills), finely tuned and highly skilled, but more than susceptible to being popped in the mouth and defeated by opponents of a greater mental fortitude.
Chicago Bulls: Broken beer bottle
This isn’t to say the Bulls are like a gang of marauding drunkards going from bar to bar and smashing beer bottles over the
heads of any man, woman or child crazy enough to incite them. The broken beer bottle in this case symbolizes toughness. I don’t know if the Bulls are being struck with beer bottles or they’re doing the striking, but I feel like you could put this group in any situation and they’d find a way (whether through broken beer bottles or some other non-traditional method) to make their
opponents rue the day they confronted the Bulls.
Paul George: Rattan sticks
Rattan is described on Wikipedia as “hard and durable, yet lightweight.” George’s lean muscle, length and versatility are the basketball-version of a pair of rattan sticks thwacking away at foes too dumb or naïve to challenge George. Imagine his harassing defense as a painful rap across the knuckles; his dunks as a vicious head-body combination. His understated expressiveness wound tightly in the simplicity of these dangerous weapons. Don’t be stupid, avoid the George.
Blake Griffin: War hammer
The most famous and well-known war hammer is probably that of Thor, the comic-book character based on the thunder god of Norse mythology. Thor’s hammer had a name (Mjolnir) and could be picked up only by those who were worthy. This is Blake’s spirit weapon. Others can dunk with violence and aggression, but none approach the dunk shot with the fury of the NBA’s god of dunk, Blake Griffin. And like the war hammer which is used in close combat, the dunk typically occurs in close quarters where giants battle and more often than not, it’s Blake and his war hammer slaying inferiorly talented or poorly-positioned supersized humans.
Jarret Jack: Head
I’m convinced Jarrett Jack’s skull is thick, hard like steel and impervious to pain (this isn’t a euphemism for Jack’s questionable decision-making). Is it possible for your spirit weapon to be part of you? It’s never happened before, but Jack’s the perfect guy to test it out on. Like his game, Jack’s dome is cleanly shaven, suggesting honesty and openness—you know what you’re getting with Jack. He’s strong for a guard, casually shrugging off defenders with his strength and intimidating them with his battering ram-like head. I’ve often wished the Warriors would celebrate wins with Jack ceremoniously crushing a brick with his skull, aka his spirit weapon.
Kevin Durant: Trident & Cast net
I struggled to find the appropriate spirit weapon for Durant and in the end the trident coupled with the cast net seemed to jive best his spiritual basketball self. The trident is described as being “prized for its long reach and ability trap other long-weapons between prongs to disarm their wielder.” The cast net is used in tandem with the trident as a way to trap or ensnare enemies; almost like a massive human web paralyzing prey, leaving them vulnerable to the trident attack. How appropriate is that for Durant? His nickname Durantula is due in part to his spidery-like limbs. Not known for physical strength; his length, skill and deliberateness are complemented by the trident’s long reach and deadly attacks. It’s completely possible Durant carries a net in his post-game backpacks.
Chris Bosh: Bull whip
Many of us were likely introduced to the bull whip through the adventures of Indiana Jones, but unless Bosh is scared of snakes and has a fetish for brown fedoras, the similarities between the two begin and end with the whip. It’s a weapon that requires a high level of skill to best utilize and for all the Bosh-hating that goes on, he’s one of the better-skilled big men in the league. His range brings to mind one of the whip’s most valuable attributes: its length, which allows its user to maintain a safe distance from any assailant. Additionally, Bosh has never had a reputation for bruising and banging.
Tony Parker: Meteor Hammer
Before you shriek out, “Tony Parker? Meteor hammer?” in complete disgust, let me explain. The meteor hammer is a chain with two weights (think steel objects, like steel globes) at either end (see image). The main strength is described as “its sheer speed” and it was named as such because it strikes “as fast as a meteor.” Additional descriptions: “When used by a skilled fighter, its speed, accuracy and unpredictability make it a difficult weapon to defend against.” That’s the perfect description of Tony Parker; a lighting quick guard with abnormal accuracy from the field who uses his head-to-head speed to keep defenders on their heels.
James Harden: Chakram
I had never heard of the chakram prior to writing this story. The chakram is a disk without a center that has razors around its outer edge. It’s used as a throwing tool, but can also be used in up-close combat. The razors on the outside were sharp enough to chop off limbs. Sooooo … we’re talking about a deadly metal Frisbee that can be thrown with accuracy from anywhere between 40 and 100 meters. And if you get close to the chakram master, watch out because he’s likely to use it defensively or to hack off an arm with it. Harden’s not chopping any limbs that we know of, but the combination of his outside shot (finished 6th in the league in threes made) and inside attack (led the league in free throws attempted) are frighteningly chakram-esque.
Dwyane Wade: Macuahuitl
Wade’s always been a physically imposing player. He’s 6’4” and built more like an NFL player than one of the best two guards in the league. In that regard, he’s always been unconventional. The macuahuitl (don’t ask how to pronounce) is similarly unconventional. Consider it as an earlier, more aesthetic version of a baseball bat with barbed wire wrapped around the barrel. The macuahuitl was a wooden club with sharp chunks of obsidian embedded in its sides. The obsidian was sharp enough to decapitate enemies. The blunt force of the club and the shredding capacity of the obsidian cut to the core of Wade’s on-court skills. His strength and speed have delivered two championships, a scoring title and numerous individual accolades. The macuahuitl is a weapon that knows no mercy, just like Wade.
LeBron James: Katana
The Samurai sword, known and revered for its “sharpness and strength” is the perfectly crafted weapon for the perfect warrior our league has. You can make a case that this blade is more suited for Kobe who’s come to define the basketball-playing warrior archetype with his commitment to winning and playing through injury if at all human possible, but for now, LeBron is the katana. The gods gifted him with the perfect physique for the game today. He’s too strong, too fast, too skilled and just too damn good for any of his contemporaries to slow down let alone defeat. Whether or not he follows the Samurai codes of honor is debatable, but it doesn’t change that he’s masterfully suited to be paired with the most resplendent of weapons.
Other players who just missed the cut (no pun): Tim Duncan (hook swords), Ray Allen (cross bow), Rajon Rondo (claws of some sort), Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan (battle axes), Milwaukee Bucks (scissors), Reggie Evans (baseball bat). Weapons that missed out cat o’ nine tails, flash grenade, nunchakus, mace (the spray, not the mallet), chain whip.
Good luck to all the remaining playoff participants and please stay safe. Dancing with Noah doesn’t condone the use of any of the weapons listed above. For more information about local laws, please check your government websites.
April 30, 2013Posted by on
On the eve of Dancing with Noah’s two-year anniversary, I’ve been through a Monday (4/29/13) overflowing with reverberating NBA news:
- Jason Collins came out of the closet – this is a beautiful thing and people who don’t realize that or see this as a non-story would be wise to take some time to listen to the struggles faced by anyone who’s ever had to hide a part of themselves for fear of being judged, blackballed, ignored or rejected. You don’t have to be thrilled about it, but this is one more person who’s making a massive leap into the world. Be happy for him.
- The NBA’s Relocation Committee voted unanimously to deny the Kings request to move the franchise to Seattle. For whatever it might be worth, the NBA Relocation Committee is made up of: Clay Bennett (the NBA can’t not see this as a terribly ironic placement), Peter Holt (Spurs), James Dolan (Knicks), Herb Simon (Pacers), Larry Tanenbaum (Raptors), Glen Taylor (Timberwolves), Jeanie Buss (Lakers), Robert Sarver (Suns), Greg Miller (Jazz), Wyc Grousbeck (Celtics), Ted Leonsis (Wizards) and Micky Arison (Heat).
So here we sit with a day that will reverberate throughout the NBA’s near-term, and potentially long-term, future. I’ve lived in Seattle since 2004 and I attended around 10-15 games per season when the Sonics called Key Arena home. It’s a progressive city, one that promotes diversity and supports alternative lifestyles. You can find anything from thriving art and music scenes to reenactments of medieval battles. It’s a populace that takes full advantage of the gifts nature has bestowed upon it which include the Cascade Mountain range, Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park, the San Juan Islands, Lake Washington, Lake Union and a million other outdoor activities enjoyed by Pacific Northwesterners year-round.
This past summer I read Jim Bouton’s classic insider account of life in Major League Baseball: Ball Four. Bouton was a 30-year-old knuckleballer who pitched for the then expansion Seattle Pilots. In a nod to the city’s long-standing struggle with pro sports franchises, the Pilots lasted a single season in the Emerald City before relocating to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers. It wasn’t until 1977 that the Mariners came into existence. Bouton spent the spring and summer of 1969 with the Pilots and I recall a small portion of the book touching on the lukewarm support from Seattleites. This is dating all the back in the late 60s. A forward-looking view shows the city’s often strained relationship with the pro franchises they simultaneously support:
- In the mid-90s, the Mariners owners threatened to relocate the team if a new arena wasn’t built. In 1995, voters defeated a ballot to pay for a new stadium. Then the M’s made the playoffs and the state Legislature capitalized on the momentum to come up with an alternate funding plan which included a .5% tax on restaurants, taverns and bars and a 2% tax increase on rental cars. Disaster was averted and the M’s got the stadium they demanded. The balance came out to $340mill from the public in the form of tax increases and $75mill from the M’s owners.
- In 1995, there was a proposal to issue county bonds to pay for a remodeling of the Kingdome (the Seattle Seahawks stadium at the time). The proposal was rejected (not surprising given the Mariners had just asked for public money as well). At the time, Seahawks owner Ken Behring did what comes so naturally to businessmen and sports franchise owners: He threatened to sell or move the team. Microsoft founder and billionaire, Paul Allen stepped in and committed to buy the team if a new stadium could be built. After some legal/political wrangling, there was a final public/private partnership that included the public contribution capped at $300million and Allen’s company First & Goal Inc. to contribute up to $130million.
- On June 16th, 1994, construction began on what was then called Seattle Central Coliseum and would eventually be renamed as Key Arena. The city picked up $74.5mill while the Sonics covered ~$21mill. The intent of the makeover was to bring the then-32-year-old arena up to par with other NBA arenas.
- And of course, the Sonics/Howard Schultz/Clay Bennett clusterfuck that resulted in the Sonics being sold to an out-of-town group on October 31st, 2006—so strangely appropriate that the deal was consummated on Halloween.
It’s no surprise that pro sports teams make threats and cities respond. In many cases, new arenas are necessary and the threats are nothing more than negotiation tactics that happen to play on the hearts and minds of local fanbases. But in my limited experience as an observer of these scenarios, it’s somewhat unique for a city to face three of these threats in just over a ten-year span. For a city that was already lukewarm on supporting pro teams with public funds, the Bennett/Stern false ultimatum was the straw that broke the camel’s back. For me personally, this was a watershed moment. I initially sided with the “Save Our Sonics” contingent and would cringe at the numerous editorials telling Stern and Bennett to pound sand. Over the next three years, I would reverse that stance.
Kevin Durant’s rookie year in 2007 was a disaster. The Sonics had been gutted in a way that reminded me of the plot from Major League where widow of the Cleveland Indians’ owner builds a crappy team with the purpose of moving to sunnier climes in Florida. The 2007 Sonics were in full blown rebuilding mode in a city they’d soon be saying goodbye to. They finished with the 2nd worst record in the league and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in attendance. The “save our Sonics” chants that would randomly ring out throughout the season were painfully pathetic; pathetic in the sense that it was a futile chant from a half-empty arena of half-enthused fans. As a regular ticket buyer, I would get promotional emails every few weeks offering lower bowl seats for $15. I’m talking 10 rows back at an NBA game—for $15! No one else was going to the games, so they damn near gave tickets away. Every Durant jumper or glimpse of success was lifeline of hope for Seattle fans that somehow, someway the team would remain here. There were lawsuits, talks of Steve Ballmer buying the team, dreams of investors who preferred Sonics jerseys to shining suits of armor. But it was all for naught and over time I accepted that the team would relocate. It certainly helped that from the time the Bennett group purchased the team up to the release of Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team in 2009, evidence mounted revealing what most people suspected already: The Sonics had been purchased with the intent of relocating to OKC. After so many months of being lied to, the confirmation of these assumptions at least validated the anger. And with that in mind, please forgive the people of Seattle for not rallying with a Kings-like battle cry.
Watching Durant and Russell Westbrook thrive in OKC didn’t enflame the ill feelings I felt for Bennett or Schultz or Stern. Rather, it hardened me to the cold reality that sports are a business; a chillingly merciless business that, as a collective, isn’t concerned with fans beyond the amount of money they spend or demographics they fall into. This was the end of the child-like innocent fan that lived inside of me. Maybe being 26 or 27 is too old to come to that obvious conclusion, but it reshaped the way I watch and interact with sports and to some degree, I’m thankful for it.
Fast forward to 2013 when the owners of the Kings agreed to sell the franchise to Seattle-born billionaire Chris Hansen. The Seattle streets were covered in throwback Sonics hats, shirts and jerseys. Oskar’s, a local bar just a few blocks from Key Arena, owned by former Sonic icon Shawn Kemp, has been aglow in the potential return of the team. Sonics fans and Kings supporters have sniped at each other on blogs, Twitter and in comments sections. It was a petty, trite game being played; as if mutual love for basketball teams was reason enough to fight with a stranger. Meanwhile, the actual men in control of the situation (Stern, Hansen, Kevin Johnson, the Maloofs, the Kings new prospective ownership group) skated by with minimal criticism outside of Seattle and Sacramento. All of us sat and waited anxiously for the verdict of a 12-man jury; the aforementioned Relocation Committee. They voted unanimously to keep the Kings in Sacramento. For once they voted to eschew the money in favor of doing the right thing; of doing what they should’ve done six years ago when Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics. For once, this money grubbing association got it right. With any luck, the league’s setting a new precedent for itself; one that will see it work more closely with local politicians instead of divisively as we saw with the Sonics situation. (The Sacramento arena deal breaks out like this: the city takes on $258mill [primarily from parking fees and ticketing fees] while the investment group would account for $189mill and be responsible for all capital improvements.)
In the process of the vote, the NBA changed the rules of the game on the people of Seattle while simultaneously getting it right for the fans in Sacramento. For the people of Seattle who supported this team and league uninterruptedly for 40 straight years, this vote is grossly unfair. The league created an environment where inconsistency exists and it’s within that environment that they should have alienated a market, but sadly that won’t be the case. People will still invest time, money and emotion in getting pro basketball back to Seattle and I do respect their resilience; their ability to separate the anger from their passion.
As for Jason Collins … I’m happy for the man. I find it amazing that this is still a topic for discussion. Part of my amazement may stem from the fact that I’ve become an adult in ultra-liberal Seattle where terms like “social justice” and “white privilege” stay on the tips of tongues; where marijuana and gay marriage are both legal. I spent my Saturday night at the Seattle Poetry Grand Slam where young, creative, expressive, strong poets stood vulnerable on a stage and expressed themselves and, in some cases, their sexuality in front of a packed Seattle Town Hall. They expressed their struggles through beautiful emotive words with a raw, but harnessed energy, but their descriptions of their love didn’t escape my realm of knowing or comprehension. The pain and sadness of not being accepted rang through their voices and met the crowd who groaned in painful understanding. And I think about Jason Collins alone in locker rooms, on buses and planes, surrounded by homophobic slurs that stung; sometimes more than others. That loneliness is so unbelievably unfair. For this man to finally reach a level of comfort to expose himself on the largest stage in the world makes me want to hug him in acceptance and support.
After John Amaechi came out in 2007, I think there was a hope that his revelation would lead to more gay athletes following suit, but in terms of the major sports leagues, that hasn’t been the case. With gay marriage gaining nationwide support, the issue has again risen to the forefront of athletics where former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo recently commented that four NFL players may come out on the same day as a way to relieve the pressure of going it alone. Whether or not Collins’s decision is based in large or small part on the current climate of improved gay rights awareness, his coming out is nothing but a positive and it feels good to see an NBA player leading the way and getting the overwhelming support he received today.
It’s a good day to celebrate the two-year anniversary of a blog and it’s a good day to honor what this game has brought me not just over the past two years, but the past 25 years of my life where basketballs have been bouncing, nets splashing, struggles struggling—be it labor wars, substance abuse, homophobia, media, marketing, or the actual on-court product. Basketball has provided me an outlet from the stresses of being a living human being in the 21st century and given me a lens through which to see the world unfold in a most a familiar context. I’m thankful for days like this when the league gets it right even if they’re jobbing my city in the process.
January 24, 2013Posted by on
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:
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:
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.
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
October 30, 2012Posted by on
As an NBA fan, I can’t help but have my favorites and least favorites. Besides being a dope name for a blog, Dancing with Noah is about expression, about the individual, about finding yourself and being comfortable in what you find. I wish I could say that was the case with me more often than it actually is, but as it stands, my partial self-discovery makes me honor and celebrate the individual even more intensely. But to take that idea even further, I celebrate the authentic individual even more if the journey is painful (isn’t it always?). That whole martyr yourself for yourself thing that’s not really a thing. But to make all this shit more relevant to this basketball world: I hope to god JR Smith blows up. I hope Earl Clark becomes a better Tim Thomas. I can still remember all the Eddy Curry scouting reports about how his gymnast background made him a light-footed, unstoppable giant…still waiting. I’ve mostly given up on Anthony Randolph, but that game when he goes for 18pts, 13rebs and 7 blocks, a small part of me will flicker…it’s the same part of me that wants to believe in ghosts and the supernatural…but that flicker of hope will be suffocated by the latex-gloved sterile hands of logic. And please don’t allow me to run alone through thickets of my imagination with Terrence Williams. Otherwise, I’ll be referencing D-League triple doubles, bad breaks, worse coaches and mini-Lebrons.
But on the eve of war, this is what I got:
Kobe Bryant to Koby Karl,
To the Griffins, here and gone … Blake, Adrian and Eddie
Drink to Kings and Sonics, Braves and Thunder, Vancouver and Memphis,
Lab geek rats and playgrounds,
Plus/minus, double rims, chain nets,
Crossover commonalities of Jay-Z and Tim Hardaway,
Learning the hard way,
Eddy Curry’s waistline to the baseline,
Mount Harden sitting on an ever-growing tangle of black forest,
Bynum’s knees channeling Bill Walton’s feet, Rose’s and Rubio’s ligaments, Eric Gordon’s fragility, breaking Bogut, culture-shocked Euros,
Bounce bounce bounce, we’re bouncing…
Playground to gymnasium to arena, stadium, center, garden, and Palace—aren’t we so royal?
When Ernie Johnson mentions your name on a Thursday night for the first time, you’ve made it,
Studios, columns, blogs, Twitters, predictions, swagger, anything’s possible, but only a few things will actually happen.
This is a Malcolm Gladwell explanation, it’s hard work, talent, discipline, sweat, soul, life, Sonny Vaccaro, William Wesley and your AAU coach, it’s a Michael Jordan poster and your first pair of Jordans (blue IVs for me), it’s all a dream like Biggie said,
Fraternal orders, culture crossing …
It’s the eve of purpose for the Heat, Lakers, Thunder, and Spurs.
It’s the eve of hope for the Celtics, Pacers, Clippers, Nuggets, and Nets.
And above all else … it’s OK to be hopeful in the face of guaranteed failure.
It’s the final opening evening for a few, the first opening night for a few more, another in a boring series of many for the unappreciative, the 15th for Vince Carter, the second for Kyrie Irving, will be watched from home, if at all by Allen Iverson and Michael Olowokandi and I’m sure there’s at least one dude who thinks the season’s already started.
Dust off the kicks, squeak the soles of those shoes on the finely polished floor for the first time all over again, fire up League Pass, get your beverage of choice and some snacks and settle in for disappointment, fulfillment and surprise … this is basketball, this is life.