Saturday, September 29, 2007

NBA Preview: Teams I Should Care About - But Don't

Two teams transfixed us all when they met in the playoffs five months ago: Golden State and Dallas. In terms of pure entertainment, no series came close to matching the Warriors-Mavericks. In recent memory I can recount no matchup that brought so many high fives or frenetic group yells for two teams that essentially meant nothing to anybody in Boston. Golden State was that enticing to watch, and Dallas was equally well cast as "the team nobody actually likes."

Which brings me to this season. I am hardly thinking about either team. The Grizzlies excite me much more, for godsake. How and why did this happen? Any number of reasons, but the main one being that G.S.-Dal. last year was the perfect confluence of time, talent, and place. Dallas was going to power through almost any Western Conference team; G.S. was their kryptonite, and getting to see the Coliseum explode as Baron Davis led the most out of control good team in recent memory was a flashing glimpse of ecstasy. That series revealed the lofty side of Davis, Matt Barnes and particularly Stephen Jackson. It produced the NBA line of the year - "What makes us good is what makes us bad" - and it reminded us that as hard as David Stern comes down, the rawness of his players can still sometimes be magnificently displayed.

But needless to say the Warriors were handled by the Jazz the next round. And the point was made clear: lightning is spectacular when it hits, but don't expect it to hit again. On any given night the Warriors can beat anybody - but they can also lose to anybody. In many ways this makes them the perfect team to watch during the regular season - you will always get entertainment, though not necessarily good basketball. But what more can G.S. show us that they did not already perfectly proclaim to the world last year? Stephen Jackson cannot be that wild and that fantastic all of the time; it's impossible and we wouldn't want him to be, anyway. Neither can Davis, Barnes or anyone else. The paradox of the Warriors is that they have already given us their all, and what they achieve this year will be nothing unless they somehow outdo themselves and make it to the Finals.

Dallas, meanwhile, is just a boring team. Boring and effective. I have no doubt they will be near 60 or more wins again this year. During the regular season nobody keeps the machine oiled better than Avery Johnson. As it was last year, the Mavs will solely be judged by their playoff performance. This seems fully fair when your payroll is $85 million. But I don't know if it is fair on Johnson. It really helps to have a second star on your team, and try as he may Josh Howard is not that yet. Neither is Devin Harris, Jason Terry or Jerry Stackhouse. Therein lies the problem. While having an abundantly deep team with very solid players can lead you to tremendous regular season success, the playoffs are a different story. The postseason is when your stars step up, and Nowitzki does not have a Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili to assist him.

The irony is that the Mavs were a couple controversial calls away from winning the Finals anyway in 2006, even with Nowitzki as their only star. So maybe the Dallas formula can work. They play a refined, diligent, aggressive brand of basketball that is like bad vanilla ice cream going down. I hope they don't win it, because I always think an NBA champion should look better than the Mavs usually appear. Yet their success is rather extensive, and by having been through two straight heartbreaking playoff defeats, they are now as battle tested as any team. Don't be surprised if they sneak back into the Finals, as listless a thought as that may be.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.


So last night one of our good radio friends, DJ Easy Ed, came into the studio following our show and presented me with an LP record - "Not to be Denied! The Road to the Boston Celtics 15th NBA World Championship" compiled by WRKO back in good old 1984. First of all - what a nice gesture by the guy - the album is in mint condition. Secondly, I've already listened to it twice. Listening to Johnny Most and Glenn Ordway describe the aura and excellence surrounding the 1983-84 Celtics is a spiritual experience for the basketball purist.

Later in the evening I was watching SportsDesk and Jayme Parker mentioned that Pierce, Allen, and Garnett have 22 combined All-Star selections. I got goosebumps - when's the last time any Celtics team has had that kind of cache? When I was just a kid and the Big 3 was still intact but starting to break down: the early 90's. That was a long time ago.

Not saying this year's model deserves their own LP record. But the swagger is back. And we haven't had that in a LONG time.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Let The Happy Propaganda Begin

The fact that media day is actually being hyped as an event shows how much has changed in such a short period of time. I'm glad the C's are going Mediterranean on us, because that makes them harder for the media to cover. I don't imagine many local writers taking the hop over the pond when the Sox are about to hit the playoffs and Randy Moss just scored six touchdowns against the Bengals. Thank God. We are gonna be so inundated with happy shit the next few weeks, I don't need extra grease from local Chowda-Heads that can't tell the difference between Scalabrine and Big Baby. So enjoy media day, this is everybody's chance to gloat over Summer's fruits. But then let's get down to business and see if anything can be gauged while the C's are over in Europe.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Can Spears Be Critical?

Well, I tried to cut right to the chase with Marc Spears and asked him if he would actually call out Glenn for being, you know, Glenn. Here is his answer, and the rest of his chat transcript. I still feel like this could be the guy who finally doesn't give Glenn ridiculous slack. Hopefully he doesn't leave it up to Bob and Jackie, like he says he will, because both those writers are brainwashed at this point. Anyway, Spears strikes me as a decent writer, and more willing to side with players than most beat writers.

I waited longer than A.C. Green to make this post

Finally…The Fox…has come back…to the Shamrock Headband.

OK, so now you’re either wondering who the hell I am or if you do remember the few posts I’ve put up, you’re wondering where the hell I’ve been. I’ll make it easy for you. I’ve been enjoying the summer. Putting in the hard hours on my weekly radio show and frantically trying to push my fantasy baseball team to the playoffs and coming up just short (I also learned drafting Chris Carpenter with your 2nd pick can cause substantial hair loss in a 24-year-old).

I’ve been ravenous for hoops news. The Celtics signed KG and it seemed like the sky was the limit for NBA summer roster shakeups. And during the month of August – I saw nothing. I saw James Posey. And Scot Pollard. Eddie House. I was waiting for Ainge to sign up David Wingate, or Gerald Paddio, or maybe the immortal Steve Scheffler. What the hell are you doing Danny? Of all the inexpensive bench options you had, you grab throw-ins from late-90’s, early 2000’s Schick Rookie-Sophomore challenges. I could go on all day about this, but sticking with the story…

So I said “screw it, NBA.” I kept reading the excellent posts on this blog and waited…and now, suddenly, we’ve got Shawn Marion wanting a trade. We’ve got Andrei Kirilenko wanting a trade. As DJ Kay Slay would say, “Drama!”

To the Utah Jazz: help yourselves out! Kirilenko is dead to you, at least in Sloan’s offense. You could have Richard Jefferson starting at the 2 next year. Alternatively, you could have Lamar Odom starting at the 3. Both of these players have demonstrated skill in a half-court set, which is Sloan’s bread and butter. Make a deal!

To Shawn Marion: if you go anywhere, make sure they have a decent point guard. You’ve had the fortune of playing with Jason Kidd, Stephon Marbury (over 8 dimes a night at the time), and Steve Nash in Phoenix. You can stay there and challenge for the NBA title the next couple of years, or you can see a significant drop in production playing for a lottery team. But then of course, everyone and their uncle with the glass eye is demanding a trade, so we might not see anything here.

So now I’m back and I’m ready for the season. The kicker was clearly when I went to visit my dad for the weekend and the one thing he wanted to do was go to the grocery store so he could pick up the Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Lindy’s NBA Preview Issues (i.e. every basketball magazine on the rack). That’s when you know things are heating up: the preview issues hit the shelves.

I’m excited to watch The Ticket play for my home team. I love Jesus Shuttlesworth playing the 2 this year. Love him. Class act. But I’m not drinking, as my radio co-host would call it, the Celtics “cuckoo juice.” The Green is going at it this season with a trio of all-stars and a band of Smurfs. Why, they just signed a big Bolivian stiff this week. He can play Papa Smurf behind Fee-fi-fo-fum Perkins and eccentric Canadian singer/songwriter Pollard. What’s that? Batista is from Uruguay? My apologies. Welcome to town. But I don’t care if he’s from Bolivia, Uruguay, if he’s from Kamchatka (the country in the upper right hand corner of the “Risk” board) – I don’t care if he’s former Blue Jays slugger Tony Batista or Batista the roided-out pro wrestler. He’s another Danny Ainge, “post-KG special,” stiff. We’ll talk more on this in the future.

In Montevideo This Man Is A God

Well, I am pleasantly surprised by the additions of Esteban Batista and Dahntay Jones to the roster. Like we learned with the Posey deal, it appears Wyc is gonna let it all fly. I know these are both minor signings, but I appreciate them nonetheless, especially Batista, who adds always welcomed size, and should definitely make the final roster. I'm not so sure Jones will, but if I were Jackie Manuel or Brandon Wallace I would certainly be concerned right now. It was good also to see Glenn start talking about potential eccentric lineups, if nothing else it's enjoyable for a laugh. As always Glenn's ideas sound good on paper; I'm sure his three guard offense of Ray Allen, Tony Allen and Eddie House will be enlightening.

Today I feel compelled as well to touch back on John Paxson's Bulls, mainly because I have been getting killed by Bulls fans from across the country. Having cooled down from my (appropriately) irate posting about Eastern adequacy, I realize now that I came down too hard on Paxson. The fact that I hate watching the current Chicago team does not mean Paxson is doing a lousy job. It was grossly unfair for me to lump his work on par with Rod Thorn's the past few years. Paxson does have a vision - it's just a painstakingly slow process to watch it play out. If all the pieces fall correctly (resigning Deng and Gordon, having Noah and Thomas develop nicely, no major injuries) the Bulls might be the favorite for the 2010 championship.

But my point in the post was that in no shape or form does Chicago deserve getting to the Finals yet, just like Cleveland did not deserve to go last year. It is an indictment on the Eastern Conference that Chicago is my tentative favorite. In short, Paxson's vision for the future could pay off immediately, and he doesn't deserve that. My calling for Kobe was rather glib, it would take some kind of crazy dubious trade like this, but nonetheless I think Paxson should go hard after a bona fide star. It's just too hard to win a championship without a top five player. I respect his developmental ideas intellectually, but hate seeing the baby steps year after year.

Matrix of Discontent

Henry over at Truehoop has been all over this one as usual, but Suns forward Shawn Marion has gone public with a trade demand, claiming that he's gotten tired of the trade rumors that have swirled around him basically since Phoenix signed him to a highly inadvisable long-term contract, the sort of which are always in fashion in the NBA. The talented-yet-enigmatic (a great sports euphemism for "moody asshole") Marion seems to be under the impression that the best way to stop hearing trade rumors about yourself is to publicly ask to be traded, but we're not here to interrogate that logic.

Marion's a really, really good player who'll certainly catch on somewhere. Over at CNNSi, Marty Burns has written a column speculating where that place might be, and Simmons has followed suit. A few months ago, during the dark days of desperation, I even wrote a post (photo has apparently been removed; go figure) passionately arguing for the C's to trade for the talented-yet-enigmatic one. Truthfully though, the most likely outcome is that Marion will stay put in Phoenix, and this whole episode will just go down as another footnote in the case for Marion as a prickly malcontent, a case which honestly seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I mean, I'm not really sure what situation Marion sees himself in that'll be better than the one he's in now. Sure, he could go to a crummy team and maybe put up slightly bigger numbers and have more billboards with his face on them, but he won't get the "recognition" or "respect" he so clearly craves. Rumor has it he's thinking Lakers, which would keep him in the larger spotlight, but if this guy gets pissy about sharing the stage with Steve Nash then it's probably best to keep him as far as possible from Monsieur Mamba. Maybe Utah is a possibility, since Kirilenko wants out as well, but I can't help but feel like the Jazz are going to have to offer up a hell of a lot more than just AK-47 to pry Marion from the Suns at this point.

And this leads to my other observation, one directed both towards Marion and Kirilenko: what the hell are these guys doing asking for trades NOW? It's practically October! I mean, I might be missing some sort of power strategy here (seriously, if I am, someone please jump in and correct me), but this really seems a foolish time to start getting all dramatic about how you've decided your days in X city are done. I mean, if you pull out that card at the beginning of the summer then at least your team has a solid 3-4 months to look into mollifying the situation (even if, in the case of the Lakers, your solution is to stick your fingers in your ears and hum loudly to yourself). Both Marion and Kirilenko have given their teams roughly a month to figure out how to trade two of the NBA's more undesirable contracts, and in the case of Marion, one of his team's genuinely indispensable players. Make no mistake, the Suns will not trade Shawn Marion for eighty cents on the dollar. That's why, if you're the Suns, you're outraged right now: if they'd known this back in June, don't you think Steve Kerr might have approached the offseason just a little differently? And the same goes for the Jazz, who are all of a sudden having to deal with reverse-defection threats in the wake of their best season in years. It doesn't make sense for anyone, since the most likely situation here is that Marion will be in the Suns' lineup in a month, with lip service paid to reconciliation but with him secretly hating the organization and them secretly hating him back even more, and every Suns fan knowing in his/her heart of hearts that the Matrix doesn't want to be there. Awesome.

As a postscript, if Marion had just managed to keep his mouth shut and stick it out in Phoenix for another year or two, there's a good shot he'll win a title, and then all of a sudden with a few more good years he starts sneaking his way into Hall of Fame conversations. Don't look now, but Marion has a 19 and 10 line for his career (guys have certainly gotten in with less), plus he'll have that nice sheen of winning at least one ring with the team he spent most/all of his career with, and voters eat that shit up. And then guess what, Shawn? You're finally getting that respect and recognition. Granted, it's a long shot, but it's honestly a no-shot if he goes to Memphis or Utah or LA or anywhere else that he doesn't have Steve Nash feeding him the ball on the break every night. The primary knock on Marion is that he can't handle the ball and therefore needs a point guard to take advantage of his explosiveness, and right now he's playing with the best point guard since Stockton and instead he wants to go help "develop" Jordan Farmar. Who ever said NBA players were selfish?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NBA Preview: John Paxson's Pipe Dream Is Your Nightmare

Well, I've been writing about Eastern Conference parity all summer long, and I have no choice but to really illuminate the core of it. The foreignness of Toronto, or the spunkiness of Philly and Atlanta - those are fun things about Eastern parity; but the reality is much bleaker. Parity in the East is not a good thing - actually it's terrible. I only recommended it in small doses, both for your mental health and your basketball perspective. After a summer of Eastern immigration (KG, Z-BO, Rashard etc.) I wish I could promise you more, but I can't.

The two most talented teams in the East are Boston and Detroit. We've obviously discussed the C's, and have gone in depth about the Pistons as well. What holds both these teams back from elevating their status above everybody is the atrocious coaching. Insane coaching masks the true excellence that both these teams ought to be able to achieve. This will be most obvious come playoff time, but will probably rear its ugly head well before then, and reflect itself in underwhelming winning percentages for both teams.

The club after Boston and Detroit with the most talent I suspect to be Chicago. And I kind of gag when I say Chicago is the favorite in the East. That basically sums up everything that is wrong with the conference. The Bulls are a nice team - they have lots of young talent and some veteran help. But that should not be enough to get you into the Finals. To win the championship you basically need a superstar - something the Bulls severely lack. The one exception in the last 25 years was Detroit in '04. I suspect that John Paxson is trying to mimic that Detroit team. I would suggest he try to mimic all those other championship teams instead.

So trade for Kobe. I know Luol Deng could become a superstar, but that's a huge gamble. At 22 he certainly can't be qualified as near that stratosphere yet. Meanwhile he and Gentle Ben are about to become expensive, and all of a sudden the Bulls are going to be in luxury tax limbo. What I'm saying is simple - go for it now! I have little faith that Paxson will pull the trigger, ever, because he didn't go after Gasol last year and strikes me along with Rod Thorn as the most gutless GM in basketball. Maybe Paxson's plan will work, maybe Ty Thomas will turn into Amare Stoudemire, but I am sick of Chicago as they are constituted.

Still my wariness towards the Bulls is nothing compared to my feelings towards Thorn and his New Jersey Nets. I fucking hate the Nets. This is the same goddamn team every year, and they have the audacity to call themselves contenders. The Nets are not contenders, they are a completely adequate team that is lucky enough to play in a conference where there are no real contenders. I am so sick of people believing that the Nets really could be good. They are not good; I don't care if they win 50 games this year, they still suck, and have no legitimate shot at winning the championship. How can you watch this team consistently and not get sick? It's the same old shit, and it's completely Thorn's fault for not pulling the trigger on a substantial deal since he traded for Carter. Either go for broke or blow it up, Rod, but for the love of God do not stay pat for another year. Brooklyn will not want your sorry asses.

Then there are the Wizards of Ernie Grunfeld, Thorn's bastard son. Arenas said this past week that the Wizards were the best team in the East. The fact that Gilbert can even utter this without the interviewer pissing himself laughing shows how despicable the conference is. Let me tell you what you have to look forward to from the Wizards this year - absolutely fucking nothing, except the inevitable Brendan Haywood - Etan Thomas cagefight. I mean you know something is fucked up with Grunfeld when he refuses to trade either of these mediocre centers even though they keep on fighting each other. He's got Gilbert and Caron Butler, two of the more intriguing players around, and this team is just torture to watch. That should not happen. It's not Eddie Jordan's fault, it's not Jamison's fault, it's not Gilbert's fault, it's not the dueling centers' fault, and it's not "Big Boi" Blatche's fault. It's Ernie's. Let's stop giving him credit for being a good GM when he has done nothing to vastly improve his team. Arenas can opt out next year - we'll see who's brilliant then.

So this crap is the reality of Eastern parity. I'm sorry I got so worked up, but it is a minor crime to humanity that the Bulls, Nets and Wizards are on national TV so much. As you can see, I respect much more the teams that go for broke or blow it up to those that are just consistently adequate. I think adequacy such as New Jersey's is much worse - because the Nets obviously don't care about reaching the summit nearly as much as filling seats by having Vince Carter dunk (and take incredibly ill-advised three pointers.) As a fan, these are the type of things I get pissed about. The Timberwolves are much more interesting.

This year we have four outstanding teams out West - Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. For the sake of the NBA, let's hope an outstanding Eastern team can join one of them in the Finals, whether it takes a trade or a firing. I'm getting tired of always having to stay up late to watch fantastic basketball.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.

Come Home, Eric Williams...

Don't look now, but there's actually some Celtics news to discuss. Marc Spears writes in his "Notebook" column today that the C's are exploring the possibility of bringing back longtime favorite Eric Williams. E-Dubs is a free agent and averaged 2.6 points and less than a rebound a game for Charlotte last year, but I have to imagine he was the most intangibly productive 2.6-0.8 guy in the League. I love Eric Williams... he's a hard worker and a great team guy who always seems to make plays. Granted, he's 35, but I can't conceive of a universe in which even a 35-year-old Eric Williams couldn't help a team in some capacity. If they can get him for cheap I say do it. At the very least he's manpower when Perk gets into his first fistfight with Zach Randolph.

Also working out was former All-Star Kelvin Cato, desperately trying to resurrect his career. Nah, I'm just kidding: Kelvin Cato was never an All-Star. That'd be ridiculous. He is desperately trying to resurrect his career, though, and he did work out for the Celtics.

Aaaaaand, that's pretty much all I've got. Goddamn I need these guys to actually start playing basketball.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Kirilenko Affair

The (fairly) recent news of Andrei Kirilenko's dramatic trade demand is striking on a number of levels. First, it's always interesting when a (once) marquee player throws down a "trade-me-or-else" ultimatum, but secondly, Kirilenko's apparently legitimate threat to abandon his US career and return to Europe signals a shift in the hegemonic wisdom that the NBA is the be-all, end-all of basketball leagues. After all, it wouldn't exactly be a small amount of money that the player once known as AK-47 would be walking away from: it'd be roughly $63mil, all in the name of personal and professional happiness that would ostensibly be better fulfilled by playing overseas, and the very fact that this suggestion is being taken seriously illustrates the changing nature of international basketball as a business. Until recently the European leagues were seen by most casual NBA fans as a sort of glorified farm system, but it's hard to imagine a high-end baseball player choosing to play in Durham or Buffalo, so clearly this analogy no longer holds. Furthermore, mainstream media widely (and, I'd add, foolishly) ridiculed Stephon Marbury's assertion that he'll be heading overseas when his contract expires, but Kirilenko's claim will be taken more seriously, if only because he has nationality on his side.

Still, as one who as recently as a few months ago repeatedly endorsed the Celtics exploring a trade for Kirilenko, I find it difficult to believe that this threat will come to fruition. The "name player" is an irresistible entity in all sports but especially the NBA, and Kirilenko is certainly that, even if that name in his case is difficult to spell. The NBA's most famous practitioner of open marriage was an All-Star in 2004, and has been repeatedly held up as one of the league's most dynamic players. Granted, he had an abysmal year last season and hasn't played in all 82 games since his rookie year, but the basketball media has been falling all over themselves to praise the Rockets for their acquisition of Steve Francis, a player whose pronounced decline in production has been far more disturbing than Kirilenko's. In this sense, Kirilenko represents a sort of late entry into the NBA trading scene, a market which has been mostly dead save for areas such as LA, where inaction grows increasingly embarrassing with each passing day. It says here the Jazz will find a taker.

Sorry this post isn't more Celtics-related, but the Glenn Rivers-penned "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay that we were planning to run came back all sticky and full of typos. After my indulgent ruminations on the perpetual Knicks Crisis I'd be remiss if I didn't direct people to this outstanding Jemele Hill column on the disturbing misogyny/racism of Isiah Thomas. Page 2 is more or less a joke these days, but Hill is consistently excellent and does her best--along with Simmons--to hold down the fort in the face of Scoop Jackson's regressive idiocy and more pointless lists than you can shake a stick at.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fear and Trepidation at the Outset

Ah, there's nothing finer than seeing KG jet ski joyfully off the shore of Revere Beach...seriously, though, some of you might be wondering why I have not been writing about the Celtics recently. I mean, since when did Andre fucking Miller become more important to this blog than the fact that Larry Brown was almost Glenn's assistant? Well, the answer is simple - kind of. While most C's fans seem genuinely gilled up with excitement over the soon to be visible sight of the triumvirate playing, I am full of trepidation and anxiety. As you would probably expect, this has nothing to do Ticket, Paul, or Ray, and everything to do with Glenn and the inevitable mediocrity he will bring. How exciting will it be when we are 8-8 on December 3rd? How quickly will Glenn point fingers? How many scapegoats will be hectored before the real culprit is called out? These things scare me, damper my enthusiasm, wallow my spirit on a clear September day.

And I am very excited about the season. I hungrily bought tickets as soon as I could this week. I eagerly read Paul's chat on the Celtics website. Hell, I reveled in watching Ray Allen charm us at a FSN TV promotional dinner, for chrissake. In a way I'm as pumped as anyone. And the first month (you know, before we actually play a real game) should only heighten these feelings. KG will jet ski in the Gulf of Naples as Paul and Ray praise how awesome Rajon looks. Glenn will stand in back of it all, the perfect mouthpiece of cautioned optimism. You will feel the excitement. But...

Because it's still Sunday, let's use football to illustrate what I'm trying to get at. Imagine if Randy Moss didn't have 403 receiving yards and five touchdowns already; and imagine that the Patriots weren't actually scoring 38 points every game. Let's say instead that Randy had like 13 catches and that the Patriots were 1-2. Going into the season that seemed highly possible; Moss missed all preseason and the Pats had to play the Jets on the road and then the Chargers. Anyway, let's say this happened, and let's say after a close loss to the Chargers, in which Randy was okay but not spectacular, he said something a little spicy to the media. How quickly do you think the Boston media would pounce on him? I'd expect instantly, and with no real justification.

Now I know KG and Allen enjoy much better public images than that of Randy's, but I think my point is rather clear. When shit hits the fan this season, I see no possible scenario where the triumvirate get fair judgement from the mainstream media. The theory that "these guys are way too good for even Glenn to fuck it up" is much too prevalent. Still the majority of my fellow fans seem to hold this belief. And that is why everybody is so ga-ga. But where it smells like shit, there is usually shit.

So I am going to be a voice of restraint when it comes to getting jiggy in October over the Celtics. Believe me, I am quite aware of how special this season could be. It's just in my mind there seems to be an equally good chance that it will be special for completely horrific reasons. When and if Glenn is fired this year, I will lobby hard to get our site banner photo of Paul taken down with the line "It Ain't Easy Being Green..." In it's place will be KG jet skiing with the line, "We Got KG, Bitch!" But there's a reason that hasn't been switched yet. It still ain't easy being green. You know why.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

NBA Preview: More Entertaining Adequacy

I'll start by saying that I can't even fathom Larry Brown as Glenn's assistant. Also, I really hope AK 47 gets traded, and Miami, LAL, NJ, and Washington would all be fools not to go after him. And they all have attractive enough pieces to possibly get the deal done. Richard Jefferson could be in Salt Lake City in a week; it would shake things up a bit.

Now onto today's topic: ethereal entertainment on adequate basketball teams. If this seems to be a running theme throughout much of our season preview, it is only because there is such a plethora of adequacy in the NBA that we have no choice but to scribe about it. ESPN can do the highs and lows, I'll take the middle ground. So all you fans of the Suns and Timberwolves will have to wait.

Today's two teams, Philly and Atlanta, are alike in many ways, one of the most glaring being that many people expect both of them to suck. I personally have hopes for both, more so for the Sixers than the Hawks. I don't know if I can explain this, the Hawks have a much more attractive roster, but so it goes. In all likelihood the fact that the Hawks always suck has something to do with it. Anyway, for both being so damn adequate, Philly and Atlanta are exciting - led by the majestic Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith, respectively.

Iguodala meant nothing to me before Iverson was traded. He was a talented wing, but those are a dime a dozen in the NBA. I noticed that his box scores rose dramatically after the trade, but was not smitten till I saw him in an otherwise forgettable game against the C's March 30. He had twelve assists, but what stood out was how much of a creator he was. Now that he was actively handling the ball instead of watching Iverson, Iguodala had a lovely sense of where his teammates were on the court. He did some brazenly crazy passing that I honestly don't know he would have tried if the game meant anything, but it was very exciting.

Iguodala seems capable of almost being the point guard out there, and what is nice for Philadelphia is that he does not need to be the point guard. Despite Iguodala's exceptional playmaking skills, the real playmaker on the Sixers is Andre Miller. Miller is simply one of the most underrated guys in the NBA. He played on a shitty Cleveland team, a dysfunctional Clips squad for one year (Elton Brand, Maggette, Odom and Miller - hell of a 27-55 team), and a Nuggets team which always seemed to have a screw loose. So coming into Philadelphia's situation for him last year was par for course. Miller proceeded to do what he does - set people up on a very consistent basis, push the pace some, and making sure everybody was involved.

And I guess that's why I think (somehow) Philadelphia is going to make the playoffs this year. I like the fact they have two major playmakers, especially when one of them is only 23 and a former deserving slam dunk champion. Everything else seems shaky. Besides Dalembert (hurt, supposedly healthy in a few weeks) they have very little proven size. None, basically. I mean I feel kind of crazy saying they'll be good when I see their lack of proven size. Reggie Evans will get a ton of rebounds, but jeez. The other reason I like this team is Thaddeus Young, the darling of Hollinger and myself. But I have no idea if he can produce at the age of 19.

So maybe I'm being too lenient with the Sixers, letting the fact that I like a few things about them override their noticeable flaws. When you're wading in such a muddled pool as the Eastern Conference, it's easy to do this. I'm feeling that the Sixers catch the zeitgeist this year, do some running and gunning, and Billy King saves his job.

It is much easier to argue that the Hawks are the team that should be able to raise their accomplishments. That is because if it not this year, when the hell will it be? Josh Smith is playing for a big contract. You have Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Childress, Zaza, and Speedy all coming back. Plus you add Al Horford and Acie Law. I mean the talent's there. If Rick Carlisle was the coach instead of Mike Woodson I'd have them as a six seed without question. But the Hawks are the Hawks, and the current ownership mess just underscores the perpetual mess that has been the Hawks organization. No one talks about how lucky they were to end up with the #3 pick this year, because if they had been one pick lower it would have been Phoenix's, and it would have just been another indignity that they foolishly imposed upon themselves.

All this said, the talent is there for Atlanta to succeed, and I can understand some people seeing them as a sexy team to pick as a sleeper. The Hawks can certainly be abundantly entertaining, and that all starts with Smith, who may well be the most electrifying player in the NBA. There is no closer an approximation to what Bill Russell's athleticism must have been like on the court than to watch Smith. That's a crazy compliment. Smith's game is vastly different from Russell's, and obviously he's only the fraction of the player, but there is no one presently whose pure talent you can so clearly revel in. Show Josh Smith to some Sherpas on a mountain and they will like pro basketball.

Smith is 21 years old and many people consider him out of control. This is the type of rep you get when you are suspended at the end of the season when you just have to be on cruise control to sign a huge extension during the summer. But fuck it. He's still amazing to watch, and if he does mature, as 21 years old often do, you are going to be looking at an incredible player. No one blocks shots like Josh Smith and no one jumps like Josh Smith. That's special - particularly when you can also shoot from the perimeter and are a gifted passer. He's gonna have to really fuck up not to get a huge contract from someone, especially saying that he is exactly the type of player that opens up the gate to the casual fan.

All in all I have Atlanta penciled in as the worst team in the East, but that means next to nothing. With such parity if the Hawks get lucky they can be in the playoffs. That'd be a new experience. I'd like to say Atlanta deserves that, but don't know if I can. What I can say is that both Philly and Atlanta have some primo athletes with high basketball skill. There are worse things than that. Actually that is why in my mind the NBA is far superior to college ball. You see some unique things.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Blowing Up

Alright, the title of this post is a little facetious. Nonetheless, we seem to have some new readers these days, thanks to some kind words from Free Darko and then yesterday from the venerable Sports Guy's World. Obviously we're fans of Simmons, whose words are surely influential in these parts, and Free Darko, well, as far as I'm concerned Free Darko is to the basketball blog what James Baldwin was to the essay. So many thanks to both of them, and thanks for stopping by.

Now that that's out of the way let's talk about basketball, goddammit. If you happened to read the estimable Bethlehem Shoals' mention of us the other day, you'll know that aside from his compliments he took us to task for "inveterate homer-ism," a sort of Celtics exceptionalism, if you will, in regards to this post I wrote a few days ago. And you know what? I plead guilty. Hey, we've always been and always will be first and foremost a Celtics blog and honestly, what the hell is sports fandom without occasional doses of irrational exceptionalism and superstitious fatalism? I fully agree that Boston fans have a thoroughly distasteful predilection for this sort of shit, and we try to stay above it around here for the most part, but sometimes it comes through, like if you found a cute little wolf puppy in the woods and tried to raise it like a regular dog but someday, rest assured, that thing might just up and bite you. It's a feral thing we've got going on.

Moreover, I do actually think that the tanking narrative is more easily inhabited by the Celtics than any of their lottery brethren. The game in which the reserves were left in to squander an 18-point lead in the second half jumps prominently to mind, but the hyper-suspicious Glenn Rivers "you-scratched-our-backs-now-we'll-scratch-yours" contract extension is probably the closest thing to a smoking gun. And I suppose I should have been more clear in my Oden post that I never meant to imply that the Celtics deserve this bizarre redistribution of fate: in fact, in light of the team's rather disgraceful carryings-on last season, probably the most righteous outcome in all of this would have been for them to land Oden in the lottery, only to lose him for the season before he ever put on a uniform.

Granted, all of this could still be accurately characterized as Boston exceptionalism, and maybe I went a little overboard in declaring them the luckiest team in the NBA, but I guess that's just going to happen sometimes. I regret nothing.

Oh, and as a sort of postscript, I've become increasingly obsessed with the Tony Allen comeback B-story, hence the photo above. The more I think about it the more I become convinced that a healthy and productive TA might be the difference between a second-round playoff exit and a spot in the Finals. Honestly, I wasn't a Tony Allen true-believer during that 18ppg stretch he put together right before the infamous knee blowout: Pierce was out and TA was, for the most part, putting up table-scrap points in losing causes. However, in terms of the new roster he becomes far more crucial, since this team desperately needs his strengths--defensive havoc, hustle points and a shrewd ability to capitalize when opposing defenses break down--and now has the personnel to counteract his weaknesses, namely the frequently disastrous results when he has the ball in his hands for more than five seconds. Rest assured, this season Tony Allen has a chance to be somebody.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NBA Preview: FIBA Rapture

I have to admit, my passion for NBA previewing has waned in the past week. With the season so close to commencing, I find myself with nearly nothing intelligent to write. That said, I feel required to at least mention Russia's upset of Spain in the Eurobasket Championship on Sunday. That victory got me thinking about a few things. One was that I wish that David Blatt was hired by the Celtics as lead assistant this summer, as was rumored for a while. Blatt is approximately seven hundred times a better coach than Glenn.

But the more profound thought the Russian upset brought me was about chemistry, international ball, respecting your opponents, and how all that translates to the NBA. Obviously the best NBA teams usually have some of the best chemistry and commitment. There's no need to discuss this presently. What is worth bringing up, though, is how all these FIBA elements correlate to the Toronto Raptors - the one team in the league that is truly international.

Rasho Nesterovic, Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Jose Calderon, Carlos Delfino and Maceo Baston are all international players. That is astounding. I mean that's half their fucking squad. The Raptors at times feel like a FIBA team. The chemistry seems better, the basketball IQ elevated, the flow of the game more sound from a fundamental standpoint. Particularly unusual are those brief moments when Toronto's offensive spacing seems vastly different from any other team in the NBA. It's pure FIBA - excellent passing leading to weird mid range jumpers, inside finesse with little raw strength, and idiosyncratic knowledge of where every player is on the court. In brief, this is not your uncle's Atlantic Division champ.

Further amping up the quirkiness of the Raptors is their best player's qualities. Chris Bosh's game can fit into the FIBA system well, he's feathery and smooth, but his style really could only be made in America. His length and (at times terrifying) athleticism can wreak havoc even on an off night. He is a prototype modern NBA power forward - but the fact he is playing almost exclusively with Internationals is completely new to the NBA. Perhaps nothing argues more strongly for the success of the foreign invasion than this.

Sam Mitchell, meanwhile, did not seem to be the wisest choice to lead such a worldly team at this time last year. He was known as being too much of a screamer, a prodder; the perfect example of a tough love coach. Yet Mitchell's uniquely grouchy American persona proceeded to mesch fluidly with his European pupils, perhaps better than it ever could have with American players. This is because the internationals wanted to leave it all on the court - for guys like Garbajosa or Calderon that was the only way to do it. So Toronto, despite clearly subpar talent, won 47 games. Mitchell deservedly won coach of the year. It was a beautiful union of coach and players pushing each other along.

Bosh and Mitchell, along with T.J. Ford, are the primary American elements on the Raptors. Almost everything else seems cosmopolitan. Guys like Jason Kapono are FIBA players who happen to be in the NBA. What Bryan Colangelo has in mind with all this is still unclear to me. Originally many of us thought Colangelo was gonna bring the run and gun mentality with him from Phoenix. Instead he brought us a Canadian FIBA team, which is kind of awesome - but not necessarily for its effectiveness as much as the originality of product. Colangelo needs Bargnani to turn into a star, or to make other substantial moves. Otherwise all these cool FIBA elements are going to struggle to rise above adequacy. But it's a unique adequacy at least.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Turn

Even two full days after the fact, the news of Greg Oden's premature 2007-08 demise is nothing short of shocking. On Tuesday of last week I threw up a post ruminating on the news that Oden was having "exploratory" knee surgery, wondering aloud if maybe all wasn't right as rain in Portland (where it rains frequently). I was merely thinking that Oden might be gimpier than anticipated, a guy who tends towards 30 productive minutes a night, 70 games a year. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see the news, Thursday afternoon, that Greg Oden wouldn't play at all this year and that the Blazers would move from a potentially franchise-altering triumph to a potentially franchise-crippling nightmare before even witnessing Oden's first outlet pass to Brandon Roy. Make no mistake: for anyone who loves basketball, this is crushing. Oden wasn't just a potential League-changer, he also seemed like a down-to-earth and genuinely likable guy, something professional sports in general can always, always use. Free Darko chose to take the glass-half-full approach, predicting that Oden will make a full recovery and return in 2008-09 to a more mature supporting cast that might even be one more high draft pick deeper. Simmons, on the other hand, quietly invoked Sam Bowie, even while torturedly apologizing for doing so. I personally don't know what to believe; it's certainly a hell of a thing to come back from. Amare and J-Kidd have pulled it off, but then there are guys like Kenyon Martin who've never been the same. The one thing that's for sure is that it's going to be a long while before we see Greg Oden on an NBA court, and that's just a shame.

Now, that that's out of the way, let's address another topic that's been understandably buried amidst the Oden hand-wringing: namely, the unbelievably, almost otherworldly reversal in the fortunes of the Boston Celtics. As none of us needs to be reminded, in the twenty years since the Len Bias draft the Celtics have been plagued by bad luck and bad decisions (both of which feed into each other until it becomes a chicken-or-the-egg situation). May 22 of this year, when the ping pong balls dealt the C's the fifth pick, felt like just the latest excruciating blow to a franchise that seemed to deserve better. Now--and I cannot believe I'm writing this considering where things were just three months ago--the Celtics stand as the undisputed immediate winners of the 2007 NBA Draft. I know, I know, Seattle got Durant, but the Sonics aren't going to the playoffs next year, and possibly not even the year after that. Durant might put up 24 and 8 but he'll do it for a team that will probably win 35 games; there's too many question marks at the moment in Seattle, although they're headed in the right direction. The Celtics, on the other hand, turned an apparently crushing misfortune into one of the greatest offseasons in recent sports memory, managing to transform themselves from a disgraceful tank job into a semi-legitimate title contender within the span of a few months. They've gone from the worst team in the Eastern Conference to quite possibly the best, and all of this is entirely due to what came out of that envelope one Tuesday back in May.

Now let's allow ourselves to think, for a moment, of what happens if the Celtics win the 2007 Lottery and draft Greg Oden (and let's face it, there's no way they were ever planning on doing anything else). For three and a half months the city of Boston is abuzz: billboards pop up, jerseys fly off the shelves, Oden throws out the first pitch at Fenway to a standing ovation, etc., etc. Let's go even further and suggest that Paul Pierce, seeing that the C's truly are going in a new direction, quietly steps up his trade demand, and management acquiesces, dealing him to a contender for a couple of youngsters and a choice draft pick or two. Boston barely notices, content to move forward with a front line of Oden and Big Al that will be unmatched in the NBA for years to come. Then, on September 13, the team announces that Greg Oden will miss the entire 2007-08 season, and on top of that, might never again be the same player who hung 25 and 12 on Florida and damn near singlehandedly won a National Championship for his otherwise woefully overmatched team. That Greg Oden, all of a sudden, is not walking through that door, folks, at least not for another year or few. All of a sudden the 2007-08 Celtics are the 2006-07 Celtics, only somehow even worse.

And... scene. Take a breath. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce are still in Boston, and for the first time in twenty years the Celtics are the luckiest team in the NBA. What a world.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Maybe it's better we got KG

Holy shit. I told you Durant was the safer pick...actually I didn't, but maybe wish I did.

The Knickerbocker Chronicles - Bonus Sexual Harassment Edition

As one might expect, Deadspin is already thoroughly on top of this, as of course are the New York tabloids, but the Isiah Thomas sexual harassment suit keeps managing to get uglier and uglier--as such suits tend to do, which is probably one reason they're so often "settled." Highlights so far have been Stephon Marbury sleazily admitting to having sex with an intern in the back seat of his truck (a tale immortalized in the Post under the headline "Scoring Machine"), and Isiah frequently addressing plaintiff Anucha Browne Sanders as "bitch," perhaps most memorably in the immortal sound-byte, "Bitch, I don't give a fuck about these white people," allegedly uttered in reference to the Knicks' corporate sponsors. Truthfully I find it pretty hard to get worked up about that one, since I generally don't really like white people either and I'm white myself.

Regardless though, what a fucking mess of messes the Knicks are. Weren't things embarrassing enough for these guys just in terms of on-court misadventures? If anything, this just continues to show how completely and utterly insane James Dolan is. Let's think about this: in cases like these, there are two competing versions of reality at work. In the first, Isiah is a fucking dirtbag who's dangerously inappropriate and unpredictable. In the second, Browne Sanders is an extremely vindictive and unpredictable former employee with a serious axe to grind. In either case, do you really want this thing going to trial? I'm honestly inclined to believe the first reality--Sanders doesn't seem crazy and her stories of misconduct seem too specific and detailed to be completely fabricated--but even if Isiah is innocent, this case is already a huge embarrassment, as you have the team's marquee player admitting on the stand to referring to female employees as "bitches" and having (consensual) sex with interns outside of strip clubs. Neither of which are illegal in and of themselves, but both of which further enhance the image of the Knicks as an out-of-control operation. I mean, everyone hated Marbury before this garbage came out; this just makes everything worse.

But hey, at least they've got Zach Randolph coming in to clean up the culture and provide some much-needed veteran stability and leadership.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NBA Preview: Northwest Expenditure

With the Greg Oden knee blitzkrieg coming out, the Trail Blazers are once again the story of the NBA, as they have been for much of the offseason. While it does seem pretty sucky for Mr. Oden, who Jack ominously compared with Brad Daugherty yesterday, and who I will presently compare to Bill Walton, please shed only crocodile tears for the Blazers.

My dissatisfaction with the Blazers has to do with their profligate spending. In many ways Paul Allen is the George Steinbrenner of the NBA, without the championship rings. Who can forget his quasi all-star team of 2000, which would have won it all except for choking in game seven against the Lakers? Allen has never been a frugal owner. But it's only in the last few years that he has really gotten my goad.

That's because Allen and his management staff have done some stupendously dumb things with their payroll recently. It is only luck that has made them darlings of many of the mainstream media. The first thing that pissed me off was Allen's refusal to trade Darius Miles to the Knicks. When you get a chance to dump Miles and his huge contract you don't think twice - as good as he was in The Perfect Score, Darius has been nothing short of a bust since he entered the NBA as the next big thing in 2000. It was indefensible not to get rid of him and his cancerous contract (which still has three years and $26 million left on it.) Miles, of course, hardly played last year after having micro-fracture surgery, and at best he is only an adequate player when healthy.

The Miles non-deal was horrific. Less bad, but subtlety irritating, was Portland's trade with our beloved C's on draft day 2006. This was GM Kevin Pritchard's "brilliant" deal that landed him Brandon Roy with the draft pick he received from the C's. Less brilliant was the bloat that came with Roy - Raef Lafrentz and Dan Dickau. Raef's contract looked like shit when we got it from Dallas in 2003, and it still looks like shit today. There are two more years and $24.5 million left on that puppy. That's a lot of money for a player who is worthless for you on the floor. While I love Roy, acquiring the girth of Raef's contract was a hell of a collateral. So I can't laud Pritchard for this deal, although the Ratliff contract he dispensed with was also bad. What bothers me is how people glaze over the fact that the Blazers had to take LaFrentz to make the trade happen - and that seems to be exactly what Allen and Pritchard want. They aren't afraid to eat money to save face.

And that was never more true than this summer. After luck hit them again by winning the lottery (I also consider it luck that other teams were stupid enough to pass on Roy the year before), Portland proceeded to do one of the silliest draft night trades in recent memory. Jack touched all these bases last week, but I'd like to expound on some of these points from the Blazers perspective. You trade Z-Bo, who was one of the league's twenty best players last year, for Channing Frye and Stevie Francis. You then proceed to buyout Francis for $30 million dollars. Whaaaa???

So you get Channing fucking Frye for Z-Bo? I don't care how insane Randolph is, you ought to be able to at least get something positive by trading him. A decent player and $30 million in dead money is getting fleeced on a grand scale. I mean, what a terrible fucking transaction for Portland. The Blazers never should have done it. Between Raef and Stevie you now have $55 million in bullshit salary over the next two years. And you can't even trade Stevie's away, it's locked in. Jesus almighty...

So Portland, in short, is lucky and rich. I can think of no other owner who would so ably consent in acquiring so much crappy money on the payroll. If Portland played their cards right with Z-Bo, and actually figured out what the market was for him, they could be good immediately. Instead, we are all ready hearing Nate McMillan say that the Blazers might not be as good as last year.

I just don't like Portland's smugness with their money, they seem oafish to me, and are fortunate to have an owner whose bankroll can easily conceal this. Their northwest counterpart is almost the opposite. God knows where the Supersonics will be in two years. GM Sam Presti has literally no fan optimism around him, the inverse of Portland. The fans who should be excited about Durant are all too pissed at the owners to care. So instead of wasting money and still being crappy, like Portland has done, Presti decided to blow up the ship. Gone is Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. In their place comes youth and cap flexibility. Seattle has attractive expiring or near expiring deals (Wally, Kurt Thomas and Chris Wilcox) and tons of young talent and future picks. So that means Presti can do anything - he has so much flexibility that it is hard to say what he will do, but it seems bound to succeed.

In the meantime, Seattle will suck. Presti won't say it overtly, and neither will P.J. Carlesimo, but the implications are clear. And I think that's fine - because it is understood that Presti and Carleismo are doing everything in their power to make this a championship club in an intelligent manner. With Durant and all the pieces they have it should be sooner than later.

In conclusion, imagine if Sam Presti and Kevin Pritchard switched places. Portland would certainly be a playoff team immediately. The Sonics would still have Ray Allen, probably Rashard Lewis, and zero cap flexibility. Portland and Seattle's payrolls look about the same, but don't be deceived - there are two totally different modes of thought going on in the GM's office, as well as two appreciably fucked up ownership situations.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It Tends To Be Cloudy in Portland

This has nothing to do with the Celtics (FUCKING LOTTERY), and Truehoop's pretty much got it covered, but it's still worth ruminating on... Greg Oden is having "exploratory" arthroscopic knee surgery this week, which can't be a good sign. This is Oden's third surgery since leaving high school (granted, one was a tonsillectomy, but still) and if you're a Blazers fan you might be starting to worry that your franchise player could resemble Frankenstein by the time he turns 21. Don't get me wrong, I still think Oden's a once-in-a-blue-moon talent who could and probably still be a dominant force for years to come, but after a solid year of Bill Russell comparisons, Brad Daugherty might start making his way into the conversation as well.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

NBA Preview: Fuck L.A. Edition

When we originally were tossing around the idea of an NBA season preview, a consensus was reached that it only really made sense to go team-by-team for particularly noteworthy Celtics opponents. That is to say, Atlantic Division co-tenants and Eastern Conference contenders, then primarily leave the rest of the League--those teams we only play twice a year--for broader, more sweeping analysis, maybe in a divisional format or something. But try as I might, I can't resist throwing up a post on the team that has quietly had one of the most dysfunctional off-seasons in recent memory: the always-despised Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, one could make the case that the Lakers are a noteworthy Celtics opponent, due to the historic rivalry and the Celtics' newfound position as Finals contenders. To be honest, though, for the first time in--what, 15, 20 years?--the Celtics have a far, far better shot at reaching the Finals than the Lakers. My God, it still feels good typing that.

The good news out of LA? Phil Jackson was recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and during his speech referred to himself as "the luckiest coach of all time," which surely made Red Auerbach grumble somewhere in agreement. Besides that? There is simply no good news for the Lakers, who've suffered through an offseason so disastrous that it's amazing it hasn't commanded more media attention. Even the venerable Jackson himself has jumped into the fray, ripping ownership for failing to improve the club.

As is so often the case, it all starts with Kobe. Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. Don't we think it's time to consider the possibility, particularly in light of LeBron's heroics in the postseason last year, that Kobe Bryant might be just a bit overrated? Or, perhaps more accurately, simply "mis"-rated, if that makes sense? Make no mistake, Kobe is an astonishing talent and capable on any given night of being the best player in the League, but after years of erratic behavior it's hard not to wonder if his personal flaws are getting in the way of his professional career. This offseason is the latest and most spectacular example of the bundle of contradictions that comprise Kobe: complaining about the makeup of the team while simultaneously sabotaging it (the infamous Bynum video tirade); wanting to be "the man" while demanding a trade to a team with well-established veteran stars; the list goes on and on.

The Kobe problem is compounded and exacerbated by the glaring incompetence of Laker ownership and management, a problem since Jerry West left but one which has increased exponentially in recent years. I'm not going to be one of those idiots who argues that they should have kept Shaq and let Kobe walk a few years ago--let's face it, Shaq comes with his own bundle of issues. Rather, with good management in place this never would have been an either/or situation in the first place: Jerry West would never have let that happen, nor would the Spurs, the Pistons, the Suns, or almost any other first-rate NBA franchise.

Clearly, though, the Lakers are blind when it comes to Bryant, and it is this blindness that seems to have completely obscured the possibility that they might, in fact, be better off without him. Let's think about this: in past years Bryant has alienated Shaq (one of the League's more popular players), flipped out on Karl Malone, thoroughly demoralized Lamar Odom and savagely crushed the confidence of up-and-coming Andrew Bynum. Honestly the Odom situation is arguably the most gratuitous: Lamar Odom is potentially one of the most unique and dynamic players in the NBA, the perfect Pippen to Bryant's self-appointed Jordan, but Kobe's selfishness and dubious leadership have perpetually left Odom grasping at straws as to his role on the team. With all of this said, it's time to start acknowledging the possibility that there might be a rising number of very-good-to-great NBA players--exactly the type of players Kobe professes to want to pay with--who have no interest in playing with him. This more than anything ought to suggest to the Lakers that it might be time to move as far away as possible from #24.

But no; mark my words, Kobe will be a Laker when this season opens, as will Javaris Crittenton, the team's latest not-ready-for-prime-time draft pick. Jermaine O'Neal rumors continue to swirl, and honestly, if the Pacers can get Odom and Bynum out of the Lakers for O'Neal and change they should do it in a second. Jermaine O'Neal will hobble through 60-70 games in the Western Conference and lead the Lakers to a low seed in the playoffs; things change, but nothing really changes. Phil Jackson will leave, tired of the dysfunction, and Kobe will reprise his role as the NBA's Hamlet.

Fuck, I hate the Lakers. I'm excited.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

NBA Preview: The Knickerbocker Chronicles, Part 2 - Knicks In Space

As promised last week, here is the second (and hopefully final) entry into my monumentally self-indulgent glimpse into the trials and troubles of the Celtics' dysfunctional Atlantic Division Rivals, the New York Knicks. Last week we focused on the halcyon years of the mid-1990s into the embarrassingly epic failures of the new "Dolan" century. Today we strive to answer the most (some would argue "only") relevant issue on the table: what the fuck is up with this year's Knicks??

What the fuck is up, indeed. Isiah Thomas has certainly fielded (courted?) some insanely-constructed teams since he took the helm in 2003, perhaps peaking with the ill-fated Stephon Marbury-Steve Francis-Larry Brown triumvirate that catastrophically imploded a few seasons ago. But this year... ah, this year Zeke has outdone even his own lofty standards. In what honestly might have been his greatest draft-day heist ever (and that's truly saying something for Thomas, who for all his flaws certainly knows how to work a draft), the Knicks' President/Coach managed to steal the prodigiously talented Zach Randolph (see mugshot) away from the Blazers in exchange for an overvalued second-year player (Channing Frye) and a washed-up two-guard with an insatiable appetite for clubbing (Steve Francis, whom the team promptly bought out). In Portland's defense, Randolph is pretty much the dictionary definition of "character issues," and I'm fairly certain the team was outright terrified of Randolph exerting too much negative influence over Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and of course Greg Oden. Still, to let a 23-10 guy go for 20 cents on the dollar is stupid as fuck in any circumstances, and the Knicks brilliantly reaped the benefits of Portland's panic.

The addition of Randolph now gives the Knicks two potentially dominant frontcourt players, at least on the offensive end, which is really one more than any other Eastern Conference team has. The rest of the team is startlingly deep as well. Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, David Lee, Quentin Richardson, even Renaldo Balkman: all of these guys can play and play very well, and if they all played on different teams and Isaiah was in a rotisserie league, well, you have to figure he'd have it wrapped up. Unfortunately there's only one ball on the court, which leads to the million-dollar question for Knicks fans and casual observers (and I certainly count myself among the latter): can these guys play together?

Fortunately for Celtics fans and unfortunately for New Yorkers, I've got to say that I think it's unlikely. Start with the Curry-Randolph front line; despite Curry's height advantage, these two are remarkably similar players--offensively fantastic and defensively indifferent. The big difference is that Randolph's just much, much better; a better scorer and a far better on the boards, out-rebounding Curry by 3 rpg even though Curry's got a solid three inches on him (honestly, pound for pound is there a worse rebounder in the NBA than Eddy Curry? I seriously doubt it. Both of these guys need the ball in their hands to be successful and Randolph is just far more adept at acquiring it. Furthermore, Randolph can be a notoriously abrasive character while Curry is notoriously thin-skinned. By January I predit they'll be barely speaking to each other, with Curry publicly sulking about touches and Randolph making thinly-veiled swipes at his center's sexual orientation in SLAM magazine. Truthfully, Randolph-David Lee is in many ways a more intriguing combo than Randolph-Curry, but there's no way Zeke can bench Curry or even scale back his role, not after what they gave up for him.

As for the guards, well, what can be said about Steph Marbury that hasn't already been said by somebody somewhere, usually with a string of expletives attached. I don't hate Marbury in the slightest--as mentioned before, I think his Starbury endeavor is one of the few truly socially noble acts committed by an athlete in recent memory--but I do think he's pretty bad at basketball and only seems to get worse. It's truthfully not all his fault; he's had so many coaches at this point that I think his game is just one big ball of confusion. It's easy to forget that Marbury used to be really, really good (albeit for bad teams), consistently putting up 20+ points and 8+ assists a night, and when he first came into the league as a 19-year-old out of Georgia Tech he had a Chris Paul-like aura about him. Now he's fucked and playing for his last chance at some sort of career redemption. Equally as intriguing is Jamal Crawford, who honestly should probably be playing for another team. He looks to be the fourth option on a team full of ballhogs, which is idiotic since the main thing Crawford is good at is creating match-up nightmares and scoring in explosive bunches. I mean, what's the point of having a 6-6 combo guard who can drop 50 on a given night if you're not going to get him the ball? His currency as a decoy certainly isn't going to last too long. Truthfully they should probably just trade him for a top-flight defensive role player or two, but that'd be too logical so look for Crawford to be criminally misused and then possibly demanding a trade by mid-season, leading to further inter-squad turmoil.

The rest of the team is all right, with the exception of Nate Robinson, who's honestly one of the worst players in the NBA. How he continues to get major minutes is beyond me. Honestly, a guy like Renaldo Balkman--whom Isiah took so much shit for drafting a few months back--might be the best possible player for the Knicks right now, because he can impact the game without needing to touch the ball. As a fellow Headbander put it to me a few weeks ago, the main problem with the Knicks is that they have no leadership: seriously none whatsoever. Isiah is one of those laissez-faire "players' coaches" who'd rather be one of the guys than draw up strategies, and nobody on this team seems to possess the character of a Kevin Garnett, a Paul Pierce or a Ray Allen. The Knicks will be better this year, make no mistake, but when it comes time to play teams with a solid core of veterans who understand how to play basketball--teams like the Celtics--I can't help but feel they'll be totally exposed. I think they'll win 40 but not 50 and there will be at least one major team distraction during the season. At least one. And as always, it's gonna be fun to watch.

Two Is Not Three

I'm a little bummed they gave Pruitt a three year deal and only a two year deal to Big Baby. Have I gone overboard on my hope for Davis? Maybe. But I'm not the only one. I liked the thought of having Davis under contract for three years. All this means is we are going to have to pay him sooner. And honestly Brandon Wallace excites me more than Pruitt. We'll see, but it was interesting maneuvering by the Celtics getting Pruitt signed first...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

NBA Preview: Flipping Off Depth

I think for a lot of fans the Pistons have held a continuous fascination since they won the title in 2004. Not for me. I was enthralled when they kicked the shit out of the Lakers and became the first team to win the Finals without a supernova since Seattle in 1979. That was a hard team not to like, their upstart camaraderie was a welcome change from the continual Lakers/Spurs dominance of the early 2000's. But I was already tired of Detroit by the next year, and didn't admire them again until they gave the Spurs all they could handle in the Finals. I figured with Larry Brown's bitching, and against that dynamic of a Spurs team, the Pistons didn't have a chance. When they took it to seven I realized how together Billups, Hamilton, Prince, and the Wallaces were. Still, I didn't really like watching them all that much anymore.

Brown's departure was inevitable after the end of '05. With the burden of an overbearing coach off their shoulders, the Pistons starting five proceeded to just destroy the league the first half of '05-06, going 37-5. Fans were transfixed, as the Pistons played some truly awesome basketball during that historical stretch. Suddenly they were the most efficient offensive team in the league, as well as one of the most fearsome defensively. It all seemed too easy, always a bad sign.

And then the problems began appearing. As bitchy as Brown had been, he was the perfect coach for Detroit, because he stressed fundamentals and defense above anything else. New coach Flip Saunders stressed offense instead. And while the Pistons looked stunning during much of the regular season, they did not have a coach like Brown to bring them back down to earth come playoff time. These flaws were exposed by Miami during the Conference Finals, when Detroit lost in six.

That series two years ago revealed one main point: Flip Saunders was a lousy coach. Miami was probably not the better team in that series, but they had a better coach, and a superstar in Dwyane Wade. With a team as tough and supple as Detroit was that year, to lose in such a way was embarrassing. Ben Wallace was right in wanting to get the fuck out. The greatness of the Pistons after Larry Brown left was just a honeymoon period. It was like when Parcells left the Patriots and Pete Carroll took over. Once everybody stops foolishly lauding each other, reality hits.

Last year was predictable for the Pistons, the only shocker being that Mike Brown outcoached Saunders in the Cleveland series, which is about as low as you can go on the pro coaching totem pole, unless your name is Glenn Rivers. Detroit has become insufferably boring under Saunders. It's basically the same players as always, playing at a level below the peak years under Larry Brown, which wasn't always the most pleasing basketball to watch in the first place. While with Brown you felt like Detroit always had a chance, with Flip you know they don't have any chance at all.

And the whole point of this historically-based rant is that it does not have to be this way for the Pistons. GM Joe Dumars has made his share of mistakes during his tenure, but there is a reason he is still so highly regarded. He knows talent, and brings it in at a reasonable price. The 2007-08 Detroit Pistons should not resemble the 2003-04 Pistons. While Billups, Hamilton and Prince all deserve huge minutes as usual, there are plenty of other pieces available that could help carry this team back to the Finals.

First let's briefly discuss Rasheed. At this point his psychotic shtick is getting old. I don't know how you handle him, but he needs to be handled. If that means just dumping him and not getting fair value in return then maybe you have to do that. If there is a way to positively harness his energy in a productive manner, even better. But the point is that the team cannot be subject to his negative imprint.

And Detroit does not need to acquiesce to Sheed because they have quality bigs. Without counting Webber, who could definitely resign, they are still loaded at 4 and 5. Antonio McDyess is as solid as they come, and his PER was a stellar 18.2 last year. Jason Maxiell was good in the limited minutes he played, and surely deserves longer burn this season. Nazr Mohammad signed a five year, $30 million contract a year ago, and Flip proceeded not to play him. That was shocking, more so given the fact that Nazr played fine when he was in there, posting a 16.5 PER. Mohammad has always been an estimable player, and Flip's negligence of him was ridiculous. Finally there is Amir Johnson, who is getting an absurd amount of hype. If he lives up to half of it, I'm not sure if the Pistons need Sheed at all.

Dumars also drafted Rodney Stuckey this past draft, who I have high hopes for, even though I have never seen him play. Anybody who is consistently compared to Dwyane Wade is okay in my book, and on top of that Hollinger had him rated in his top ten. So Stuckey should be able to help Billups and Hamilton immediately. He will be joined by the always pesky Lindsey Hunter, as well as Flip Murray and Arron Affalo. Dumars also signed Jarvis Hayes from Washington to play on the wing, which could be an excellent signing if Hayes can stay healthy.

So Detroit is deep, and the only reason I write them off is Flip, whose atrocity will surely ruin this team. All Dumars has to do is look down the bench at Terry Porter or Dave Cowens to see two much more capable candidates to fill the lead coaching role. For his sake he should pull the trigger. But it will probably take a team mutiny to have that happen. As long as Sheed is around, that is a fully possible occurrence.

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Saturday, September 1, 2007

NBA Preview: An Ending Is A Beginning

In many ways the Spurs never looked more dominant than this past year. As much as I would like to think how the Suns could have beaten them if not for the suspensions, I doubt they would have. That Spurs team was just too good; they got back on defense so well and had such an impressively vast array of veteran knowledge. They were awesome, they were subtle, and basically everyone knew it.

With that said I think that might be the last championship we see the Spurs win in the Duncan era. I have no great explanation as to why this is, just a hunch. Maybe a stupid hunch. It is often mentioned that the Spurs have never been back to back champions, and I guess that has a part to do with my foreboding feelings, but that's kind of a bogus reason to write them off. And even though the Spurs are always thought of as being long in the tooth, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are all of 31, 30 and 25 respectively. So, really, if anything, the Spurs should be in their prime. However, I cannot shake the sentiment that their reign is over. It is very strange.

The Spurs supporting players are indeed old. Bowen, Finley, Barry, Oberto and Horry are all well over thirty. This is a cause of concern, but maybe it shouldn't be because these guys are only supporting players, and not your big money dudes. It's like with the Patriots, where we criticize minor stuff because there's just nothing major to criticize. The Spurs are a lock to be really damn good for the next few years. I can't explain why I don't think it will mean another ring for them.

On the other hand, if I were to predict the 2008-09 champions, I would have to say the Rockets. Before Yao got hurt last year he really was looking like the MVP. I never thought he would be that good. He's huge and he's highly skilled. And that's all you need when you're 7-5. T-Mac is the perfect complement, he's matured greatly over the last couple of seasons. On many days I would take him over LeBron or Kobe. The key for both Yao and T-Mac is health, if they are healthy Houston is guaranteed beautiful things at this point.

The Rockets no longer have to worry about depth. Daryl Morey has stocked up on quality players. He's added Stevie Francis, Luis Scola, Mike James, Jackie Butler and Aaron Brooks. And they already have Battier and Bonzi, who now will be playing for one of his favorite coaches in Adelman. Plus they have Rafer Alston in case they need a good knife man. Things are looking rosy, and T-Mac should finally get to experience the magic of the second round of the NBA playoffs, if not beyond.

So the Spurs and Rockets are two very good teams going in opposite directions. We are seeing the gradual evolution from one superstar team to another. I just wish I could write these words with more conviction. To be simply guided by the cosmos can be unnerving.

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