Category Archives: Basketball

New York Knicks Trade Target(s): Ricky Rubio

It is Wednesday.

Going into the break, the New York Knicks have choked and swallowed their way to an inelegant 23-32 record. With no draft pick in 2017 and an interim head coach, it is hard to determine what, if anything, the Knicks have to play for.

Recent head coach Derek Fisher preached player development within the system, but with a starting lineup with only 2 players south of 30 years old, it is difficult to understand if that premise ever had any merit beyond the desperate equivocations of a coach who knew this bitch was going south in earnest, teeth and all. Some have even speculated that the aforementioned comment factored into the decision to fire Fisher in the first place. As many of these people reside within the New York media, it is difficult to say if the speculation has any merit. Those guys tend to be fucking assholes (exceptions made for Seth Rosenthal and Chris Herring who are decidedly chill).

Beyond Porzingis, things look bad. But hope looms narrowly over the immediate horizon! The trade deadline beckons! Given that, let’s take a look at the well-intentioned wreck presently occupying the Knicks point guard position and the boyishly handsome also-Spaniard who I would love to see rocking orange on Friday against the Nets.

The Incumbent

The East (and West) is filled with point guards who routinely shred Jose Calderon’s decrepit ankles (ankles which have become better suited for pig farming than for playing defense in the NBA). While Calderon offers some value as a locker room leader and a sharpshooter within the triangle, his liabilities on the defensive end preclude him from functioning as an effective starting guard in a league where every team (save the Knicks) has a dynamic (and often young) talent at the point.

On offense Calderon is safe but hesitant and is a step too slow to take advantage of the driving lanes that Robin Lopez’ work within the post opens up. He routinely looks off cutters to swing the ball around the perimeter, letting slightly high-risk opportunities for easy buckets fall by the wayside in favor of late-shot-clock Aaron Afflalo isolation plays. These work more than they should but not nearly enough.

Ricky Rubio

If rumors are to believed, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made starting point guard Ricky Rubio available of late. Rubio is about as dissimilar player to Calderon as can be readily conceived. Beyond their native tongue, comparing Calderon to Rubio isn’t quite comparing a mountain to a volcano so much as it is comparing a mountain to a platypus that can’t shoot three’s.

Rubio is utterly incapable of making a shot from more or less anywhere on the floor but is a crisp and decisive passer who looks to get others involved. He does not fit the conventional mold of a triangle point guard insofar as he is ball-dominant and a poor shooter. He is a good basketball player, however, and the Knicks are woefully short on those. Phil has come out numerous times and stated that any player can function within the context of the triangle. Ricky Rubio is a basketball player. Checkmate.

Rubio is also in the midst of what may be his best season statistically (18.1 PER and .122 winshares per 48 minutes) but has seen his role diminish to provide playing time to Zach Lavine at the 1 and allow Andrew Wiggins more opportunities to play on the ball. He plays solid defense despite weird unfounded comments that seem to exist everywhere to the contrary. Rubio is currently +9.6 points per 100 possessions and Rondo, everyone’s favorite actually-terrible league assists leader is at -3.1 points per 100 possessions. I only included Rondo in this comparison because he fucking sucks and I relish any opportunity to use him as a negative foil to someone I like better.

Despite Rubio’s solid-if-imperfect play, he is not without his warts. He is due 14 million dollars a year through 2019. Even with the impending rise in the cap, that is a number that can affect teams looking to be players in free agency. It also could loom as an issue for a team that will have to offer massive extensions to both Wiggins and Towns towards the end of that deal.

For the Knicks, that number would limit their flexibility for the next three years, which could be problematic if they are serious about being players for Russel Westbrook in 2017’s free agency period. Being a sane and reasonable fan, however, I cannot bring myself to think that Westbrook would go anywhere near the Knicks, mostly because I have followed the Knicks in off-season’s-passed and been infrequently rewarded with anything beyond signing one of Amar’e’s knees or re-signing Carmelo.

As for next year’s free agency period, moving O’Quinn and Calderon (the two pieces most often discussed in Knicks’ trade rumors) would take 11 million off the books. It is likely the Wolves, being awake and presumably giving a shit about whether their team is good, will need more than Calderon and O’Quinn to move Rubio. A Lance Thomas or a Derek Williams would give them some young pieces that could contribute down the road or come off the books next year should the Wolves want to be players in free agency themselves.

All-up, Rubio would be a huge upgrade for a Knicks team that could use more talent and youth at the guard position. He is only 25 and has gotten consistently better throughout his time in the league. He is a long and underrated defender. He can’t shoot the ball but would hardly be the first player to become competent from distance late in his career. He is an excellent playmaker on offense and defense who has a glaring deficiency keeping him out of the conversation as an elite point guard.

Rubio would make the Knicks better. Make it happen Phil.

What the hell happened Saturday? – Pt. 1: The Slam Dunk Competition and other takeaways from NBA All-Star weekend

This thinkpiece1 is part one of a tryptic of posts trying to wrap my head around what happened Saturday. Quick recap: The night started out with a GOP Debate that was clearly written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. During this time, the greatest NBA Slam Dunk competition in the history of ever happened (and by extension, the best overall mini-games day of All-Star Weekend in recent memory). Then, Chance the Rapper killed Saturday Night Live—like I-was-transported-to-an-otherworldly-church killed—presaging the release of Kanye West’s latest album, which is singularly the most erratic, momentarily brilliant filament of platinum I’ve consumed in a long time. Needless to say, I stayed up late trying to make sense of it all. I’m still digesting.

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“Man, did you hear what Drake just said? He said this is the game with the 24 best players in the world. You’re one of those guys. Embrace it all, because you never would have thought that when you were at Michigan State, and I never would have thought that when I was coaching Division II, but we’re here.” –Coach Gregg Popovich [to Draymond Green pre-tipoff]

“I’m not a role model…just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” –Sir Charles Barkley

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But who’ll raise the kids dunking basketballs?

If the world ever figures out how to put a gif on a tombstone, let it be known at this time in this place, this is the one for me:

Quick breakdown: You’re watching fingers-crossed-heir-apparent Andrew Wiggins’s brain melt into the same fluorescent color as his metallic jacket, while the rest of his body perfects the platonic form of the hold-me-back-but-prop-me-up-DAYUMMMM-I’ve-just-been-struck-by-the-spirit pose. Karl Anthony-Towns’ look of absolute disbelief then sudden and extreme joy reminds me too much of my son when I pretend to take his sister’s nose. Demarcus Cousins has to help his Kentucky running mate John Wall, whose legs have apparently lost the ability to perform a routine standing up maneuver. Thank god for DeMarre Carroll who actually blinked during the dunk in question, but looks so damn fly it doesn’t even matter.

The dunk contest might well have been worth it for giving us this gif alone. Alas, there were some jaw-dropping, dope dunks to go along with it. 2

Aaron Gordon’s mission was to give us four dunks we’d never seen before. He did that, and in the service of originality, he helped uplift this withering event to new heights, recast a banal event into must-see television, and reframed the very limits of what is humanly possible on a basketball court.

Dunk 1

Dunk 2

Dunk 3

Dunk 4

Dunk 5

Dunk 6

For years, basketball fans have been lamenting the absence of marquee names—a departure from decades-previous competitions that featured Michael, ‘Nique, Clyde, Kemp, Kersey, Vince and Tracy. Zach Lavine did well enough last year to abate that criticism, and with Gordon’s help this year, slayed the detractors.

Dunk 1

Dunk 2

Dunk 3

Dunk 4

Dunk 5

Dunk 6

The value of the slam dunk competition has been historically misregarded. Conventional wisdom says you need the biggest and best superstars to restore the Slam Dunk competition to its former glory, but the truth is: we never needed star power; we just needed great, mind-bending dunks.

The slam dunk competition, after all, is about awe, wonder, and capturing the child-like imagination.3 It distills, in its most potent form, what is humanly possible on a basketball court and acts as the perfect metaphor for the “I believe I can fly” narrative. It’s actually better that the dunk contest be stocked with young guys that casual fans have barely heard of; the relative anonymity of the dunkers only makes their rise more unlikely, dramatic, and, in some ways, relatable. It breathes life into this kid’s hoop dreams and dusted off my own, which I’d shelved years ago.

Unless it’s still unclear, Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon gave us the. Greatest. Dunking. Duel. Ever. Reminiscent of Travolta-Cage or Westley-Inigo or Iago-Othello or Travolta-Slater, Lavine and Gordon went at it old school mano y mano in double dunk-off, but in the freshest, most post-millennial way possible.

We used to worship human highlight reels, but this peerless duo gave us YOLO Snapchat dunks that’ll live forever on Vine in the era of we’ve seen it all already on seven different streaming services. Lavine and Gordon demolished the idols of old and did it rudely. They didn’t leave a farewell note or even bother to look back at the mess.

Seriously these guys are both 20.4 Meaning they can’t even legally drink and also that they don’t remember Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady in 2000, which means they don’t remember that dunk contest being compared to the all-time greatest faceoff between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in 1988. So perhaps they don’t fully realize the magnitude of their place in slam dunk history, but hey, they broke Twitter.5

Zach Lavine’s airy hangtime made human flight seem possible, and Aaron Gordon’s carved-from-marble strength made you think you were witnessing a previously undiscovered force of nature.

Everyone forgot pretty exciting Skills and Three-point Shooting Competitions

Karl-Anthony Towns, rookie and owner of the absolute disbelief mug above, won the Skills Competition! Not only is he talented. He’s tall, really tall—like seven feet tall. In fact, he’s the tallest dude to ever win the Skills Competition. To match the hype and the height, KAT snatched the title from the smallest competitor Isaiah Thomas in final-round-of-48, first-one-to-hit-a-three-wins-the-game dramatic fashion. Bullyish ball, baby.

Klay Thompson beat out Stephen Curry and Devin Booker to take home the three-point shooting title. Thompson is the best pure shooter in the NBA and deserves it. He had to sink just two corner threes on the final rack to win, and he drilled every. Single. One. Of. Them.6

Mama, there goes that man.

Now the Splash Brothers have matching shooting titles and that silly moniker is for reals something to be feared across the league. They’re adorable. The whole damn Warriors phenomena is adorable.7

Speaking of adorable. Devin Booker was included in a conversation with Steph Curry and Klay, and he’s like super adorable. I mean:

devin booker 1

C’mon man.

devin booker 2

Devin, you have to stop.

devin booker 3

Studs.

His inclusion in this conversation of best three-point shooters in the NBA is further testament to a surprisingly deep draft class. This baby face assassin was taken 13th overall and is barely 19 years old. I can’t wait to see him develop into a faster, stronger Ray Allen, as well as star on ABC’s The Bachelor season 23.

Drake’s hosts and posts some sartorial game

It’s well documented that that NBA players wear some ridiculous outfits off the court. 2016 All-Star MVP Russel Westbrook leads the pack in this regard. As de facto Toronto ambassador to everything and host of this year’s festivities, Drake took the opportunity to get in on the action.

Do Right And Kill Everything:

Drake coach

Noted Kentucky fan Drake channeled his inner Coach Calipari as he led Team Canada to victory in the celebrity game.

drake pink vest

Noted Furby fan that he is, Drake channeled every millennial’s favorite elementary school toy as he watched Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon defy the laws of physics in this cool pink fluffy vest that says, “Go on, pet it. You know you want to.”

drake mamba

Noted Kobe fan Drake dons a Farewell Mamba jacket from a 90s-style sweatshop that zapped Kobe of his killer instinct. What possible other reason did he go 4 of 11?

All-star game sets a record for points

The West scored 196 points and the East scored 173 points in regulation making the 2016 All-Star Game the most All-Star Gamiest—setting records for individual team and overall points scored in an ASG.

Five free throws were attempted, two blocks recorded on 286 field goals attempted 8 and exactly zero defense played—even when Lebron squared up against Kobe and slapped the floor Michael Jordan-style.9

Yes, it was a record, and yes, it was tons o’ fun.

I only wish Kobe had completed his triple double so he could have been in serious consideration for ASGMVP. Kobe deserves everything, and if you don’t think so, you’re ignoring the fact that the NBA—and basketball and ball-like objects getting thrown at hoop-like objects in general10—is better because of his career.11

Lebron James changes up his free throw routine

Lebron James, perhaps the most scrutinized athlete in the world, changed up his free throw routine last week and no one noticed! To be fair, Lebron didn’t shoot any free throws this weekend on the biggest stage, etc.,12 so I suppose we can forgive the basketball media elite for this oversight.

Top Luckswing researcher Phi Phan,13 however, noted James’ new routine during the February 10th Cavs-Lakers game. In a thoroughly filed report Phan noted, “He now steps back with his left foot while spinning the ball in his left hand.14 More importantly, James has also added a right shoulder shimmy a la Kevin Durant before he squares up for the release.”

The sample size is small, but since incorporating this new routine, James has gone 40% on 2 of 5 free throw attempts. Sources close to the situation say, we’re about to have a crisis on our hands.

This isn’t the first time he’s changed his routine or his mechanics at the charity stripe. It was noted twice last year and in 2013 when he was with the Miami Heat. Which begs the question: where are the pundits?15 Where’s the outrage? Who’ll be the first to cry, “THUG!”? Why aren’t the media heads spinning in the back with their grinning gun slinging god fearing swinging blinging top of the ninth inning bringing winning outrage machinery-ing?

Even NBA Reddit is quiet on this, which is like your drunk racist uncle downing a fifth of Knob Creek at Thanksgiving then proceeding to not have an opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s weird.

My only hope is, everyone’s noticed but is choosing to remain silent because there are more important things in sports to cover.16 In which case, I’m the only asshole writing about it.17

1/169: In the shadow of a Flip

This past weekend, 20-year head coach Flip Saunders died from cancer. That it happened the weekend before the NBA season opened, in the lull between pre-season and the much-anticipated (at least in my household), Chicago-Cleveland (or, for the nerds, the Atlanta-Detroit) matchup is not insignificant.

An outpouring of support followed.

John Wall said something nice:

KG posted a pretty cool homage:

http://instagram.com/p/9UfnWZgx8w/?taken-by=officialkevingarnett

Kevin Love was commemorative:

Public grief has always made me uncomfortable. There’s a performance aspect that should never be factored into the calculus of personal loss. I’m supposed to say people grieve in their own way, but fuck that. Coming to terms with grief–true grief–requires, at the very least, a moment of quietness, a singular silence in which to re-frame the rest of your life. Acting out the simulacrum of grief cheapens the loss and relationships of loved ones, and as the scale of this charade grows, the memories of those lost soften to the point that they become flat characters defined by singular adjectives and traits.

  • “He was a generous guy.”
  • “Her smile always brightened my day.”
  • “He had such a head for the game.”

I grieve for the grieving.

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Flip’s death comes on the heals of other prominent NBA figures Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone, Anthony mason, Jack Haley (shout out to my least hated Billionare marky-mark). Perhaps catalyzed by Flip, this NBA season amidst a sea of real, and overblown, reflection. Suddenly, this game that screams the pinnacle of schoolyard achievement is framed against real life, real emotion, real achievement, and real loss.

Flip coached some shitty teams. The overblown declines He oversaw, probably in the long run, get outbalanced by the underrated teams, but in the public eye–the same sphere in which his visage is now softened in memorial–he was absolutely roasted. It’s important to forget that. Sports is so ephemeral, and gut reactions, such a natural biproduct.

For some reason, I want to embrace this uncommon feeling of gravitas at the start of the NBA season. Drown out the shininess and bright lights, for a minute, to swim in a Mad Men-like haze of bourbon and cigarette smoke. Wallow in the inevitable nothingness of it all. Then crawl out from the bottom of the tumbler, dry off, and ball.

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3 fairly improbably predictions after day 1:

  • Detroit Pistons are going to make the playoffs. Apparently Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a beast. People have been saying he’s going to be good, and to date, he has shown very little to support that. A 21p on 4/7 3pt shooting is a good start to convincing the world otherwise. More importantly, Reggie Jackson looks like the forreal starting point guard he wants to prove he is. A +26 outing on 15p, 8r and 5a are all-star type numbers, and I’m betting them bearing out over the course of the season. Brandon Jennings at home:

  • The Bulls and Cavs will still be the best teams in the East. Sorry, Joey. The Bulls won a game on defense. Apparently, they haven’t forgotten how to play on that end of the court and the offense looked more competent for stretches than the accumulation of the last 3 years.
  • Steph Curry will be MVP again. 24p in the first quarter

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The five most interesting teams of this season:

Miami Heat

Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh are playing together for the first time ever. The starting 5–Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh, and Hassan Whiteside– May be as good and is certainly as lauded as any. Whiteside’s development will dictate how far they get into the playoffs (I.e. Whether or not they beat the Cavs). The offense will come along with Dragic at the helm over the course of the whole season; he’ll push the pace, which alone will raisethem out of the bottom 3 in points scored. Coach Eric Spoelstra will need to point a lion’s share of his focus on thedefense, however. The fluorescent Heat were dead last in rebounding and allowed more shots up than any other team in the league; only 5 teams allowed more points last season.

The bench: led by Gerald Green and Amare Staudemire, will make for good television as they may set records for both points scored and points allowed by a second unit ever. Beyond the scorers, the bench has an odd mix of really complimentary players, and may shock the world with how well they blend together. Mario Chalmers and Captain of the all-NBA man bun team (#androgeny) Josh McBob: distributor, stretch shooter. Green & Stoudemire: scorers, straw man defenders. Chris Anderson & Juwon Howard 2.0: rebounders, defenders, dark-alley grimacers. Justice Winslow & Tyler Johnson, schooled by a supremely talented pair of wings in Wade and Deng, could turn into real NBA pros defending on one end, euro-stepping into upper-mid-level contracts until 2025.

Houston Rockets

Kinda copping out… They were a top 3 seed in one of the Bestern Conferences in NBA history last year and they didn’t lose anyone. Their marquee addition Ty Lawson, however, coupled with the best driving Beard in the NBA will make Twister games of opposing defenses. Harden-Lawson are a low-key best back court in the NBA (and there’s a ton of competition). Instead of the dribble at the top of the arc, rumble to the foul line parade that’s plagued Houston games for the past three years, I keep imagining Lawson driving and kicking to Harden who drives and kicks to Trevor Ariza who drives and kicks to Terrence Jones who drives and kicks to Lawson who drives and kicks ad nauseum as if enacting a real life gif. Their transition game will be wicked. I mean little pin ball Lawson main lined jet fuel into several seasons of otherwise unspectacular Nuggets squads sprinting into consecutive 50-win seasons.

The bench: Two years ago, this team’s bench–headlined by Francisco Garcia and Patremy Beverlin–was much maligned. They over-corrected with last year’s Josh j.Smoov Smith (which I actually loved). And despite losing Smith, still boast a really good bench. Other than Clint Capela and the two dudes who’ve never logged a real NBA minute (Sam Dekker & Montrezl Harrell), everybody else is a legit NBA pro sans question marks, which somehow is a marvel in this, the most talented iteration of the association.

Power Forward is their only position of ambiguity. Though not thin on talent, the voltron 4 of Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, and the pair of rookies is packed with potential, but has been for a couple years now. Who’ll emerge as the guy to finish games will be an interesting sub-subplot to the season that will never come to fruition. Especially with the spread-the-floor three-point-shooting Rockets content with letting Ariza finish games as stretch mark 3 and a half.

Minnesota Timberwolves

These guys will be the centerpiece of the most entertaining irrelevant games on League Pass. I am more jacked for Wolves-Bucks, Wolves-Magic, Wolves-Celtics, Wolves-Pistons, Wolves-Nuggets, Wolves-Sixers than Spurs-Warriors. This is exhibit a in my NBA masochism.

In transition, they’ll be straight up scary. More half of their rotation has helicopter blades for arms: I don’t know for sure if that means theyre defensive, offensive or poop on some rims-focused. What a design, Flip.

*pours one out*

The starters: Ricky Rubio, Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Garnett, Karl Anthony-Towns. Lavine is the big question mark. Everyone knows about his athleticism and every opposing coach knows to exploit his atrocious defense. If he can develop into a halfway decent defender though, continue to show that spectacular off-the-bounce-game, and more consistently hit at range, Lavine will easily make up for the above-average-if-not-spectacular development of Wigz and KAT. To that point, the latter two are rare talents, whose skills are in some ways anchored in different eras. If just one of them, or both alternatingingly go on extended flashes that scrape the ceilings of the players they could be, then watch out Western Conference. They’ll at least disrupt seeding, if not make a legit run at the 8-spot.

The bench: a bunch o’ yungbloods peppered with Andre Miller, PhD and Tayshaun Prince, AARP.

As young as they are, they’ll obviously lack discipline, which is why this team more than any other is at the top of my Mr.-Commissioner-Silver-sir-please-can-we-trade-coaches-like-chattel-or-players List. Can you imagine if Rick Carlisle or Mike Budenholzer or venerable Pop or Doc had this squad to play with? I’ll be interested to see if Sam Mitchell has the coaching chops to design a high flying offense; he did steer a 2006 Raptors squad to a 47-win, borderline top-10 offense first round playoff bounce. That finish would exceed all expectations in 2015 Minnesota.

At the minimum, theyll fly on and above the court making them fun to watch, and now, they’ll have extra motivation. This season for the Twolves will be unlikeevery other team. Here’s to hoping they can keep the core together and developing. If so, Their NBA irrelevance (for the casual fan) will not be for much longer.

Milwaukee Bucks

The starters: Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe.

Pabari Jarker is back y’all! Its pretty easy to forget that he had a really good rookie year despite playing only 25 games–15p and 6.7r on 49% (per 36). He’s got pro size and skill set and will only develop into a better scorer.

The Bucks added Moose, The New Kidd on the Block, Greg Monroe (endless fodder here, anticipating at least 4 salt lick puns this season). A proven commodity in both buckets and boards.

Khris Middleton is a legit NBA pro, which a bit weird to write out loud. Not only did he exceed expectations on the offensive end at 16p on 47%, but he got after it on D with 5.3r and 1.8s (per 36).

MCW leaves a little to be desired, but the promise of point-center-savant 20-year old Greek Freak more than makes up for it. G’s per 36s are shockingly similar to Pabari and MiddleT, which brings up a great point Jalen Rose made in the Jalen and Jacoby podcast that I’m just straight stealing insights from: Head Coach Jason Kidd tallied the third most triple doubles and highest spilled beverages on the court rate, and now he’s opted a team that’s effectively comprised of long, thin Swiss Army knives. Everyone scores but isn’t a scorer. Everyone defends but isn’t a defender. It’ll be curious to see what this troupe of generalists can pull off.

A quick note on the bench: it’s been dramatically overhauled, and the Bucks are surprisingly deep with Miles Plumlee (who I think was more responsible for the Phoenix Suns sudden run at the playoffs two years ago, but more on that in a later post pontificating on Big Plum taking over Milwaukee), John Henson, Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo, Grieves Vasquez, Chris Copeland.

Those ain’t packin peanuts y’all…

Which is why you should watch out for J. Kidd trying to swing a big deal for a big name. JOE JOHNSON ALERT!

Seriously, you could spread Mayo’s stupid contract, not really have a need for Middleton and throw in a Rashad Vaugh-type for money reasons in exchange for a go to wing scorer that doesn’t give that much back on defense. I just convinced myself of this trade. It’s happening.

 

2015 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference, Round 1

Listen. Listen. Listen. That’s how I’ve been taught to get people’s attention—just repeating the word listen. Are you listening?

It’s been a while since I’ve written basketball things, but, like, it’s NBA basketball season 2.0, the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that ends the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that is the NBA season in a burning blaze of glory. And I should have plenty in the tank so to speak, since I haven’t exactly availed of the aforementioned idiomatic tank in a veritable long ass time.

Atlanta Hawks (1) v. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Alright, so Kyle Korver narrowly missed being the only dude ever to make the 90-50-50 club (with a paltry 89.8 FT%, 49.2 3PT%, 48.7 FG%), but let’s be honest and admit that back in November, this was what we, the basketball elite, and Hawks fans from Macedonia to Decatur were positive was going to be the most memorable thing the Hawks did this year.

Yet somehow Coach Mike Budenholzer has orchestrated a magical season, turning a watery (pretty muddy water at that) lineup into a fine, 60-win vintage with notes of juniper berry that finish with savory, peppery undertones (read: Coach Bud is Jesus, which makes Greg Popovich God). Four of the starters made the All-Star game, only the seventh time in the history of the NBA. Collectively, they balance the 10th best offense that assists the second highest total in the NBA with the 5th best defense—all without anyone averaging more than 17 points or 33 minutes per game (both: Paul Millsap).

The Hawks have given us shades of the Spurs-East, and at times have been the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA (sorry I’m not sorry, Steve Kerr). This has been in large part due to the revelation Al Horford has been, putting up numbers not unlike The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan, himself.

               Player A: 18.0p, 8.4r, 3.8a, 1.5b, 53.8fg%, 21.4 PER, 8.7 WS

               Player B: 17.3p, 11.4r, 3.7a, 2.4b, 51.2fg%, 22.6 PER, 9.6 WS

Hold the suspense. Horford is Player A. Let’s keep in mind, Horford played only 29 games last season and 11 games two seasons before that.

Lastly, in your NBA playoff bacchanalia that I’ve been assured other people do as well and is a perfectly normal ass thing to do in celebration of the greatest sports event ever, don’t’ forget to pour one out for Thabo.

PREDICTION: Give me the broom. Give me the broom. *sung to Biggie’s “Give Me the Loot.” Hawks sweep.

Toronto Raptors (4) v. Washington Wizards (5)

This will be the second most intriguing matchup in the East. 2 things to watch out for besides the backcourt battle:

  1. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri launching another f-bomb in a pre-playoff game hype train spinning off a geopolitical beef with Paul Pierce that may or may not include POTUS, launch codes, and chants of Buck the FlueJays till infinite.
  2. What banal and innocuous hygiene tool will DRAKE! turn into one of the most brilliant marketing schemes of the year? What could possibly be better than lint rollers? Floss? Toenail clippers (wait, Steve Ballmer, did we just stumble into something together?!)? Hair curlers? Those tiny paper cups that fancy people keep in a dispenser for rinsing mouthwash? Indentured servants? Lest we forget, since DRAKE! officially partnered with the Raptors organization as “Trill Ass Global Skrilla Ambassador” or T.A.G.S.A., they have gone from a 34-win team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years to one of the best teams in the shitty Eastern Conference to get bounced in the first round.

PREDICTION: Toronto will make it to the second round for the first time since 2001 and for only their second time in franchise history. It will take all 7 games, a whole goddamn country’s sheer force of will, and a Jimmy Brooks type effort.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Boston Celtics (7)

Kyrie Irving has never played in a playoff game before. Neither has Kevin Love. The Celtics are surging. Brad Stevens is a wiz. All true statements. There’s also this:

Oof, harumph, and bazinga. Lebron James in the playoffs has averaged 28.0p, 6.4a, 8.4r on a crazy 48.2 fg% in an inhuman 42.7 playoff minutes per game. 2013 Finals, Game 6:

2008 First Round, Game 1 (LBJ first career playoff game):

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7:

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1:

2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2:

2014 Finals:

He may just eat your babies:

PREDICTION: Cavs in 5.

 

Chicago Bulls (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

This matchup is super duper fun times for basketball wonks. The Bulls find themselves in a rare position where they’re facing a statistically superior defense come playoff time (although marginally so)—97.4 pts Bucks allowed per game v. 97.8 Bulls allow. Oddly, the Bucks score precisely the amount of points the Bulls allow—97.8. Jason Kidd has turned this band of long-armed avatars into the 8th best defense in the league with the most steals per game (9.6), all while sharing the ball at the 7th best clip with 23.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, the hustle J Kidd has inculcated into his young shapeshifters come at the cost of rebounds. They rank 24th in the rebounds while the Bulls tally the 3rd best rebounding rate in the NBA. Have I mentioned the Bucks height yet though? The starters come in averaging 6’9”, of which they’ll need every inch to corral Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, while staving off a deep and talented Bulls front court. The major storyline for the Bulls: emergence and resurgence.

Pau Gasol playing like it’s 2005, bumping Lil Wayne on his 512 GB iPod Shuffle on the way to a cool 18.5p on an alarming 49.5 fg% and even more alarming 46.2 3pt%—oh yeah, and there’s the career high in rebounding (11.8).

Nikola Mirotic making the case for Rookie of the Year and James (Harden) Beard Award honors averaging 20.8p, 7.6r on 44.1 fg% in just 30.8 mpg in March.

Jimmy Butler emerging as a go to offensive player in addition to the nightly guard-the-best-perimiter-player role he’s so dutifully filled the last few years; in addition to resurging this past month, following a few weeks of a bona fide injury scare.

Taj Gibson also coming back from injury in the last month to put up solid double-double-esque numbers.

Joakim Noah finally moving the floor like the 20something he is, running the floor, getting those assist numbers up from 3.5 in January to 7.2 in March.

Derrick Rose suiting up at all.

PREDICTION: Jason Kidd will find a way to get fined sans spilling drinks (though he’ll undoubtedly think about it), and it’ll be the most entertaining defensive slugfest you’ve ever seen. Bulls in 6

 

Doodads and Knickknacks

 

MVP for Lebron

Lebron James is a phenomenal basketball player and deserves the MVP award.

From a statistical standpoint, he scores more than Steph Curry but less than Harden. He assists more than Harden, but less than Curry. He outrebounds them all. He has the highest field goal percentage on the highest attempts. He is without a doubt the best defender of the group.

Then there’s the how-valuable-is-he-to-the-team wrinkle that gives blowhards like Colin Cowherd the leeway to say stupid shit on airwaves like Russell Westbrook is the second coming of Shaft and White Jesus.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: the Cavs we’re looking at now didn’t exist 12 months ago. The coach is new. Two of the three best players are new, and only four players remain from last season’s roster. Whereas the Golden State Warriors are effectively the same team. Even the Houston Rockets’ continued core brain trust of Kevin McHale, James Harden, Dwight Howard and those three other dudes that were also on the roster last season positively impacted this season’s record. If continuity establishes trust, which is the bedrock of the game within the game, the turnover and new environments must be considered. That James could perform comparably to Curry and Harden in brand new (old) conditions, points to his deservingness.

I tried to start this section with something like “Stephen Curry and James Harden have had prodigious years…” I really did try, and they totally have. But fuck that. I get it. Nobody likes to see the same person win everything for forever. But the shear amount of articles I get bombarded with about the closeness of this MVP race that don’t actually go into the argument for Lebron James is an insult. We only get Lebron for like another 5 years. Maybe. He deserves all of it. Everything.

Pitchforks for Michael Jordan

I had the good fortune of stumbling onto the below beauty of a quote from the G.O.A.T., His Royal Airness Michael Jordan. In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Jordan prophesized, “Ultimately, if you can say that I’m a bad owner and we’re winning championships, I can live with that. But if we’re not making the playoffs and we’re spending and losing money, then I have to look in the mirror and say maybe I’m not taking the necessary steps to doing what it takes to run an organization.” If by some miracle, MJ ever happened upon this paragraph (he won’t), I want to maintain a semblance of respect and dignity (a first), so I won’t say the thing I really want to say (also a first). I wouldn’t venture to say eat crow, but maybe the lackluster performance as owner is having disastrous effects on the legacy of MJ? Pish posh and thimbles and stuff. We love you anyway, you gambling, self-aggrandizing, conceited, arrogant, bald, beautiful old-ladykiller, you.

Bitterness and Glee Reign, Man

Last night, Shawn Kemp hosted a party in celebration of the Thunder missing the playoffs. It was amazing. Or at least, I think it was. I have kids and was building a bunk bed from IKEA while everyone was getting turnt at Neumos. Thank god for Twitter:

Open Letter to our Luckswing.com™ Reader

Dear embattled reader,

Since the beginning of time,

From the advent of the written word,

Ever since the dawn of mankind,

When the sun sets, it’s the moon’s time to shine!

We need help. Such is that indeed.

For those of you who check Luckswing.comTM twice or thrice a day (many, almost certainly) to bask in the opining of thought leaders, such as we are, in the respective fields of Mariners baseball, NBA basketball, and profound ponderings like “What is Love?,” you may have noticed a conspicuous absence these past several months.

The truth is, we became too successful.

Hmm, yes.

Such is that indeed.

Like J. Cole riding that wild mixtape hype train to Dollar and a Dream, we had scrapped and hustled our way to the pinnacle of bougie, critically-acclaimed sports writing. That’s right, we were your favorite sports writer’s favorite sports writers.

But just like our man Cole Cole World could tell you and has often reminded us, it’s a cold cold world out there for a pimp who makes a shitty debut album and suddenly owes hella capital to the record label. (Hmm, yes. Such is that indeed.) We—like our favstar Hollywood Cole—had spun our wheels into oblivion writing strictly for the fans. Not the ones we had, but the Sapphic ones;—the ones we wanted;—the ones we lusted after. (Read: we were basically targeting all of our ads at people who read Jezabel and Thought Catalogue)

We gave them what we thought they wanted (read: our big, gargantuan divergent jokes), spurned the trials and tribulations of our origin story (read: Gilgamesh’s prolific procreation), and neglected that essential truth of what had brought us all that hype in the first place (read: THE LOVE OF THE GAME).

We monetized.

We sold out.

We C.R.E.A.M.ed. So hard. (I’ve been wearing black pants for like 6 months – J)

We needed to re-group. For ourselves. For our fan.

In our efforts to monetize, we lost sight of the readermen. Caught as we were in the cycle of universal praise and approbation, we rendered you as an abstract collective – milling in the pit as we shouted from the dais rather than a participant in the dialogue of our mutual passions. We now move to curb our unexamined solipsism, to speak honestly to the bedraggled, content-fiending everyman for which our project began. You, the bluish-white-collar multitude, sitting behind computer screens for 9 hours a day with nary a tab to yourself, your khakis stained in passionate exertion, your collar folded with neglect—this is for you.

We have taken this hiatus to re-strategize, re-positioning the re-Luckswing.comTM firm to be even more re-successful than ever. Like our man Jermaine rising like a fiery bird from the ashes to find new heights of bougie-ness and acclaim (by returning home, that is), we too are resurgent.

Already, we have broken math. As in we can’t even calculate how much more we’ve written with this single post than in over the last two months. Seriously. Try it. You can’t divide by 0. Suck it, Pythagoras! Such is that indeed;—and in deed!

As a symbol of our new brand which symbolizes the rampant symbolism of renewed dedication, clarity of thought, and altitude of vision you will note the new logo.

Red, the blood of our earnest, earnest hearts.

Black, the way our hearts once were, and will never be again.

(Basically a sunburned Cajun salmon filet, if you squint at the screen and have an old-ish monitor).

And if you look under a microscope at the letter U, a portrait of either founders on each end, that if printed with a 3-D printer becomes a micro-bust. Trust us. This year is going to be a kicker!

Sincerely,

Joey Kern & Dujie Tahat

The Crossover: Greetings from Earth, Basketball is the Best I Ever Had

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests (this is hardly true). There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you: The Crossover.

Shea Hurley:

Dujie,

Please respond to this email having something interesting to say about basketball. I’m a little bored. You’re probably not: congrats once again.

Michelle and me went to Leavenworth last weekend and climbed a proper mountain so it’s safe to say my ankle is mostly healed. I talked to your mom at the wedding, she said you felt at fault. I said you weren’t but that it was fine you going on thinking you were. So it goes.

Dujie Tahat:

I do feel at fault. You’d never played basketball really before and I should have warned you sooner that an ankle injury was inevitable if you didn’t get any basketball shoes. Unfortunately, yours was much, much worse than most (almost grotesquely so), and your subsequent employment was dependent on your physical prowess (not all of us can be 6’4”, a sinewy 215 and have a perfectly symmetrical face—so fuck you love you!) . Also, that was just one of the worst-sounding, -looking, gut-bending injuries I’ve ever been on a basketball court to witness. That definitely added to the guilt (for your stupid affinity for Tom Brady):

I’m over it now.

On this topic though, I have been meaning to ask you a question: what it was like to fall in love with basketball?

Yes. Love.

I’ve spent nearly as far back as I can remember playing basketball and can’t remember what it was like in the early years/months. Of course, over that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with the game, and subsequently, recommitted myself. Even then, there’s a rush when I lace up for the first time in a long time. The distinct tightness and traction of basketball shoes, a mishandled dribble, the first swish, when muscle memory takes over, even the pennies and compression shorts— it’s thrilling.

In those moments, during games, I find myself in complete ambivalence–one of those truly unsettling moments where you’re equally culpable to opposing forces. One the one hand, I am reorienting myself to the logistics of the game: positioning, spacing, assessing my side’s needs and focusing on those (i.e. rebounding, shooting, etc. (not et cetera: those are actually the only two things on a basketball court I can actually do)). On the other hand, I fight to get in “the zone”—which is already a losing battle I think because the sensation has always felt more like finding “the zone.” As if I had drunkenly, haphazardly and accidently stumbled into that state of mind that I’d characterize by a sharp dullness, or a sluggish honing.

It is a strange position to be in—rediscovering something you know so well—holding both these necessarily contradicting thoughts in a singular mind, in a singular body, in a singular game.  One requires thought and analysis; while the other demands near-blankness.

xoxo

 SR:

My affinity for Tom Brady—the great protagonist of the American Dream—is childish, sure, but it is not stupid. Lupe Fiasco is stupid, so were running shoes and I should have known that much without needing to be told.

As for love and basketball, I’m a little hesitant to throw love around while talking about a sport so new to me. But there was definitely something pseudo-romantic going on. Playing basketball had the same kinds of insecurities as a new love. I knew I was going to have to stop for a long time very soon and I was reminded always that it was a risky way to get in shape. If basketball was a love interest it was a fem fatal minx. I was infatuated, I had everything to lose, and I knew that at any moment it could expose me as a klutz and a fraud. I just didn’t think it would be so dramatic, or have such severe consequences when it happened.

Generally speaking, it is a bad situation to be in when your employment is dependent on your physical condition. Sometimes the job is worth it—it seemed like it was to me—most of the time it’s probably not.

As it turns out the premier rappel and jump bases in the country are both on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington. I asked one of the older hotshot guys why he never jumped and he told me to put a 100lbs pack on and jump off my house. That was why, he said. Needless to say aerially delivered fire-fighters get hurt constantly. A jumper a few years ago, seeing the rocks ahead of him, threw up in his flight helmet before breaking both his legs on impact. The point here is that an injury was likely all along, so no worries; I’d rather beef it in the gym in front of ten people than in the wilderness in front of, like, no one at all.

Anyway, back to basketball. They say if you’re new to something it is best not to be nervous when doing it and visa-versa, when you are skilled at something the nerves can heighten your senses and are generally good for performance. This was the pendulum swing I found myself moving through and I felt much more natural, even in the zone, while I was able to think less. Thinking less, of course, I can’t do consciously. When I was thinking more it was about what a big rube I must look like, with my tall socks, ticking-bomb shoes and general lack of basketball paraphernalia. Or maybe a ruse instead of a rube, like a big, cruel trick in the form of a rangy, althletic-looking body who you could be pretty sure played at least JV in high school but who was really completely inexperienced and (initially) completely unskilled. Brick, sorry. That’s the punch-line and the joke’s on you, teammates.

I only wish I found the game sooner.

stay dreamy

DT:

Lupe Fiasco is not stupid. He’s a God. Toe shoes are stupid. I mean for Christ’s sake, wear regular fucking shoes! Or go barefoot! Mostly just pick one—stop trying to do both!

Also Tom Brady is not, I repeat not, the Nick Carraway of the American Dream—way more like Gatsby, or our 21st century version:

I mean, sure, seventh round pick, career back up, turned his one opportunity into multiple MVPs and Lombardi trophies, but whatever: the dude benefitted from the most effective pro football system since Vince Lombardi’s 1960s patented “Our endzone is that way, idiot!” offense.

Tommy Boi went to private school, went to football camps led by former Atlanta Falcon (and ArenaBowl Champion!) Anthony Graziani and grew up in San Mateo, California, among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S. (just under $83,000 per capita), and the third wealthiest in California. There’s only one paradigm in the American Dream that his ascendency captures: MORE!

(Also, thanks Wikipedia for not failing to prove my point. This time.)

As far as basketball goes, I hadn’t meant love in a romantic sense. An initial pass makes that seem way too limiting, but I think you might be onto something.

Upon further review, I realized that I recently married a woman I’ve been on and off with for six years. Our relationship bears many of the characteristics of the relationship I have with basketball: there’s a definitive muscle memory to our motions, reading and reacting, learned instinct, a general machinery and lines that dictates the parameters but that wouldn’t mean a thing without the sheer joy of improvisation and cooperative freeplay.

There is one undeniable difference though: primarily that all sport ends.

I don’t believe that any human relationship ends—especially one that bears love. It just changes form.

To that end, when does basketball end? Surely, Basketball does not.

I get great joy from watching—marveling, really—at professional basketball players whose whole livelihood, whose whole identity and techne are contingent on what their bodies can do, a physical limit. To them, basketball never ends. They are the closest thing there is to the embodiment of Basketball. And yet, their’s is a precarious agreement with fate. Their very existence is all a gamble, a tightrope walk. Thousands of jumpshots, rebounds and crossovers a season, not to mention practice, conditioning, playing with the kids, each an opportunity to cripple these giants of the game.

I mean, can you imagine, these guys as fragile?

I’ve said it before, you need to watch Hoop Dreams. Not only will it keep warm your fire for the hardwood, but it’s just a great fucking movie. It changed the way documentaries were made thereafter. I bring it up though because what could be harder than your employment relying on your physical ability? Probably that the only opportunity you’ll ever have at any social mobility relying on your body.

To preempt some of your certain criticism: Yes. It’s not fair. Big picture, it’s a social condition that needs to be addressed.

The fire fighter that jumps out of a helicopter with a 100lbs strapped to their back into a blazing wildfire is perhaps the perfect metaphor for those kids. They’re the elite of the elite, playing men, acting like men when they’re probably only still boys, carrying their families and communities on the shoulders into a situation that will almost certainly eat them alive.

One of the kids Hoop Dreams follows, William Gates, suffered from a debilitating knee injury just as he was turning on in high school and college scouts were starting to pay attention. In fact, he had gotten into private school on a basketball scholarship. He never made it. He got swallowed by the fire.

I was never that elite of an athlete at anything to merit that kind of attention or even fancy. We were poor but, my parents insisted on education as my way up the ladder. I guess in many ways I’ve been tremendously lucky. It almost seems like a crime to insist that I, too, had and hold onto my own Hoop Dreams.

xoxo

SH:

Fine Dujie,

Tom Brady went to private school in San Mateo. But any descent parents would send their kid to a school that good if they could, if only to buddy-up with the crowd. And I should hope that when hardworking parents succeed in supplying their children with this quality of upbringing they do not resent the child as you seemingly resent the adult for what he got. So what if he went to private school in San Mateo? Tommy Jr. didn’t have say in the matter. This is to judge the son by the sins of the father (which—tsk-tsk—is anti-enlightenment and un-American) and frankly a sin I think you would readily commit.

But say (as you do) that Brady’s rich and lazy, embezzling, glitterati parents managed to jostle him into the lowest tier of a public university’s football program. Let’s give him the debts and credits starting there. Remember when he got to Michigan he was a timorous figure in the long shadow of Brian Griese, was 7th on the depth chart and seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety. He had to claw for the starting job at Michigan and for his spot in the pros. As a football player, it doesn’t seem like he was given much of anything besides talent, a pure apprehension of failure and a work ethic to channel it. These characteristics, thank you for noticing also, do evoke shades of Jay Gatsby.

“The Child is the father of the Man” as Wordsworth put it, probably holds true for both figures. I imagine the newly invented penniless Jay Gatsby looked out at the copper-kahuna, Dan Cody from the shores of Lake Superior much the same way the young Tom Brady Jr. regarded Joe Montana from the aisles of Candlestick Park.

The difference of course is that Brady does not come from piss-pot North Dakota. He did get his Daisy: the far-flung, sylphlike wonder of femininity Gisele Bündchen, and hasn’t yet suffered tragic decline and demise by the careless lies of careless people. Not to get too far ahead of myself though, he does play for the NFL, and with Junior Sau in mind, he might shoot himself in the chest before it is all over.

As for Lupe, I wouldn’t want it thought that I set myself up (and what a set-up it would be) so I will be short: He has paranoid delusions about the government of the United States, which is pitiable in its way, but also annoying because of his swollen following of credulous discontents who will take a junk-theory over the facts in plain view, if only to distinguish themselves from the presumed naiveté of cow-eyed parents and classmates and I guess whoever else.

~ ~ ~

Long break here. Work sleep work sleep work.

~ ~ ~

At age ten, I was deposed of my spot—middle back row—on class-picture day because I wasn’t any longer the tallest kid in class. It hurt then like no bad grade ever had or could. I feel a pathetic now remembering it, but I was young, and regarding at least my height, I grew up. Priorities, anxieties and pressures all changed. Problems might have arose if they didn’t, and games are a good example because maintaining skill at them becomes increasingly less practical as time goes by.

I’m not like William Gates (is the irony of that name addressed in Hoop Dreams?), who might have turned fragile athleticism into a career (i.e. a person for whom the game is practical). That was made clear to me early on. Time to go? Okay then, won’t have to tell me twice. The problem is with people hanging around after they should have left like drink-spilling old men at college bars: It’s just not going to happen these people and they’re the only ones who can’t see it.

Gates is exactly the kind of cautionary, all-eggs-in-one-imploded-basket-tale that 17 year-olds are hard wired to ignore in lieu of stories of guys who made it. If you can dream and not make dreams your master… If only. Outliers is bunk by the way.

Speaking of practicality and dreams and the boy being the father of the man, the image of the adult offered by the NBA—by pro sports in general—is not in the least bit practical. It provides a select few, a pre-selected few even—because DNA transcription is really more important here than anything that might follow—a chance to be rich and eccentric and idolized while it strings everybody else along.  Right now there is a guy just down the way on a barstool lamenting his wretched heap of a life to some poor stranger all because, he says, coach wouldn’t put him in, or his knee went out, or Ms. Bitch English teacher failed him out of eligibility. You’ll notice that when you chance upon this tedious foe (you have, and you will again and again and again) he is reliably incapable of prompting your sympathy.

The owners of the NBA—here I invite you to pause and muse with me on the oatmeal colored folds and gathers of Donald Sterling’s collapsing face—are nothing if not shrewd capitalists. Having an underclass of snowflake-or-bust kids who are made to think their endeavors on the court, or the field are more likely to repay their efforts than what they do in the classroom is agreeable; friendly; face-sucking, hand-under-shirt, over-bra simpatico to the status quo. The status quo being, of course, that the kids are without skills or footing and people like Sterling (who has excess money in almost exact proportion to excess skin) go on selling them hoop dreams. Dreams which are, to borrow a phrase nothing but net.

As I realize there is a Macklemore song about this I fill with self-loathing.

Talk to me

Shea

DT:

You did a whole thing there where you grew up and became a cynical old curmudgeon in the span of your last five ‘graphs. Good for you!

I’m going to try and keep this under 3000 words because I turn into a pumpkin after that.

Very quickly on Tom Brady: I would send my kids to private school. I hope to. But let’s not amplify the narrative. His ascendancy is limited to football—which, frankly, isn’t a mountain he could climb without coming from an upper-class, white, privileged family. I take no offense to his unlikely (sports) myth. As a fan of sport, I cannot help but to admire it. I do take offense to calling it the American Dream, and him the main character of it. America is no longer just a sea of pretty white boys (bad news for you). The American Dream connotes there is no alternative. His life wasn’t on the line and neither was the socio-economic outcome of his children. With or without football, Tommy Jr. probably would have still been rich, and his kids would still have their trust funds.

191 words to go.

The Brady discussion seems the perfect digression for the irony of William Gates’ name.

You are unassailably right about how the NBA is structured and capitalism in general. It sucks to be a Plebian. It’d be way cooler to wear a toga and admire little boys. But it sucks much less to be a Pleb that has mastered—or at least gets the daily opportunity to master—a craft as endlessly surprising and infinite as basketball.

Gates is a cautionary tale. There are a dozen of him for every Jimmy Butler. But you can’t blame people for doing what they’re good at, and hoping to achieve the highest form of success doing it. Anyone who can commit to that, seems to me, is the true “protagonist of the American Dream.” Failure is part of the equation. Much less talked about (makes a less inspiring poster), but completely necessary.

I know you’ve probably got some cheeky rebuttal, but this email exchange is my thing, so you’re going to have to hold onto it until next time.

xoxo

The US B-squad: Nationalism v. Not Playing and Other Takeaways from this Weekend’s Friendly with Brazil

Basketball is back! Basketball is back! Basketball is back!

Well sort of.

This weekend’s matchup of Team USA v. Brazil marked the first international competition leading into this year’s FIBA World Cup.

20 years ago, the generation that produced the Dream Team understood the greatness of the US in the context of having achieved that greatness. Charles Barkley, David Robinson, MJ, Magic, Larry and the lot lived, at bare minimum, through the conclusion of the Cold War—Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf.

On the other hand, we 20somethings—including the 16 on the US Men’s Basketball roster—have spent our entire lives being the best goddamn country in the world. At least that’s what our leaders have told us for our entire recollection. Living in a country that uses that same line to score cheap political points as often as American politicians do, it’s no wonder that generation at large has acquiesced into a quiet, unexamined cynicism of anything that comes close to resembling nationalism.

I am sympathetic to this point of view, but I unequivocally reject it.

I was born in the Philippines and came to America by way of Jordan. I’m not saying my life was particularly harder than the next immigrant’s. It wasn’t. I was tremendously lucky in many ways. But as I begin the work of assembling, to the best of my abilities, the modern American Dream—providing a comfortable home, plenty of food and quality education for my kids and wife—I am struck by how many people take these things for granted, as if it were a birthright. They’re not. And it takes a uniquely special place to allow the “Dream” to become possible through the sheer force of will alone.

What does this mean against the backdrop of basketball?

Well it’s easy to fixate on the negatives, easier still if the negatives of the country you live in become the predominant narrative. Who wants to play for a country with an intractably divided government? Who wants to represent a country with hackneyed foreign policy that more resembles Settlers of Catan than responsible world leadership? Who wants to be the face of a country whose caricature of itself in the world community is goofy, glutinous and rude?

These aren’t at all the reasons so many NBA stars aren’t competing in this year’s FIBA World Cup. But that they are all true, make the decision that much easier. The disastrous injury of Paul George provides the perfect out. With loudmouths like Steven A. Smith in their corner, it’s almost a wonder that Rudy Gay even answered Jerry Colangelo’s call.

That said, I appreciate Gay not just because off his healthy dose of Nationalism, but because he understands at some level, for pure, selfish basketball reasons, this is how you get better: by competing with the best in the world against the best in the world.

Anthony Davis as the go to guy

With 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in 26 minutes, Davis was clearly the go guy for Team USA. The blocks and alley-oops were to be expected. But the insistence—and more telling, the allowance—of the 15-foot jumpers that rimmed off early on speak volumes to where Davis lies in the totem pole of the team.

Early in the fourth quarter, Davis’ dive into the second row to save a ball sparked a 10-0 run. Three of the next few plays featured Davis blocking a shot only to retrieve the ball while falling out of bounds, finishing an alley-oop out of nowhere and a textbook 25-foot jumper that netted nothing but, well, net.

With all the talk of him being “next,” the heir apparent to Lebron James and Kevin Durant, it’s easy to forget Davis is only 21. Of course he’s faded in and out throughout his first two seasons in the NBA. He couldn’t even drink! But this weekend, he was bodying Tiago Splitter with little remorse. Asserting himself more fiercely than the boy-king has been given the opportunity to show. With Monty Williams on the US Basketball coaching staff, this only helps to make Davis less boy and more king.

The Great White Hopes

I know Coach K is of Duke. He loves white dudes, especially white dudes who think they can rap. But seriously, remaining on the US roster:

  • Kyle Korver
  • Gordan Hayward
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Mason Plumlee
  • Klay Thompson

Ok, so Thompson is half Bahamian, but he doesn’t try nearly as hard as his Splash Brother at being Black. Of greater concern: what are Gordon Hayward and Mason Plumlee still doing here? At one point the announcers mistook a lob for Parsons as one for Plumlee.

It was weird.

The Manimal Mannihilates

Keneths Faried’s development had been interesting to track all last season. As Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson and every other offensive asset for the Nuggets fell to injury, Faried turned his balls-out effort game into an unorthodox offensive game replete with funky jumpers, twisting hooks and the occasional, surprising guard-like spurt.

Early in the first quarter, Faried scraped the potential of what he could become though. With the ball 20 feet out near the elbow, Faried put the ball on the floor, splitting defenders. As he got close to the  basket, he drew Davis’ defender at which point Faried flips a nifty one handed, hook-ish pass to an open Davis for an easy bucket.

Then early in the third, on the other end of the floor, Faried knocks the ball loose on an entry pass and winds up with the steal. Instead of hanging back and letting an “All-Star” finish the play after his outlet pass, Faried runs the floor anyway—literally the only other team USA player in the picture.

11 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Classic Manimal.

If Faried continues this play into the NBA season and “takes the next step,” the Nuggets could be fun to watch. More intriguingly, he can transform from the exemplar of hardwork into a titillating trade chip.

James Harden might be a selfish dude…

Which is a strange thing to admit considering that just three years ago, he was the best sixth man on the planet (I still love you Jamaal. Don’t ever leave me!)—a position that necessarily requires astute self-awareness, honest evaluation and a coming to terms with collective success outweighing personal glory.

This offseason, Harden’s seemed to turn his on-court game of give-me-the-ball-I’ll-mash-turbo-into-the-lane-and-I’ll-probably-get-fouled-and-get-mine-while-you-just-stand-out-there-wide-open-and-I’ll-pass-it-to-you-some-day-maybe-I-promise-I’ll-probably-think-about-it into the perfect metaphor for the way he lives his every day, non-basketball life. Even if Donatas Motiejunas was misquoted and Dwight Howard, D-Mo and Harden all rendezvoused nightly to McGangbang Double QPC’s like they were racing to a heart attack, the Chandler Parson’s saga does not instill confidence in Harden’s leadership ability (to be parenthetically fair, almost everything involving Chandler Parsons or Chandler Parsons’ hair is, to some varying degree, a saga. I mean have you seen his perfume commercials? Epic pretty man, pretty girl saga).

Upon Parsons signing with the Dallas Mavericks, Harden said:

Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.

Harden’s defense remains that he wasn’t specifically talking about Chandler Parsons. Two things here:

1)      Even if you weren’t talking about Parsons, there are still 10-12 other dudes on your roster. If my Masters in NBA Management from the University of 2K has taught me anything, there are three other Starters and one Sixth Man in addition to the two to four Role Players and remaining Bench Warmers. The four dudes not in Role Player role do not like it when you downgrade them like that—especially in public. That demonstrates cloudy thinking at best and an egomaniacal philosophy of basketball at worst.

2)       Harden was clearly talking about Chandler Parsons!

Apparently, Harden and Parsons have squashed the beef. But even in the way he talked about the reconciliation, he can’t seem to remove himself:

No matter what, if the Rockets are playing good, Dwight and James get the praise. If we’re doing bad, Dwight and James gets the bulk of criticism.

I’m still waiting for Parsons to trip Harden or snip his beard or something as he finds a spot to sit.

Lastly (I could probably round up three or four more obscure supporting points, but because I’ve withered away too many neurons on this point already), when asked about Paul George’s tremendously unfortunate injury, Harden still couldn’t remove himself. The first words out of his mouth:

I gotta amp up my game. I’m not just a scorer, I’m a playmaker as well.

YOUR EXPERIENCE IS NOT THE DEFINING NARRATIVE, JAMES!!! That said, I’m probably still picking Harden in the first round once fantasy basketball season rolls around.

Have you heard yet? Derrick Rose is back.

Reading the reports on US Basketball PPGI (Pre-Paul George Injury), one would think Derrick Rose is the only player on the team. After watching a game, it makes sense.

With 4.6 seconds left in the first half, Coach K put Rose back in (after getting cut on the face). Rose said his instructions were to run the floor and get a good shot. Rose did. Like a flash of lightning, he drove right by an impending trap, leaving two Brazilians stunned in disbelief. Sprinting the full 94 feet, letting a floater bank off the glass, he masterfully executed with such contradictory force, I have to believe he could run for public office one day.

There was also the ridiculous cross over near the end of the third, where he went right to blow by his defender only to change hands in mid air, only kind off avoid a big, finishing with the left.

I can’t wait for new D. Rose .gifs…

Rose ended the game with only those two fieldgoals (7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers), but more impressive than the actual plays were the ferocity of his demeanor. He was the fastest, hardest dude on the floor the whole game. He had some missed floaters and even a missed dunk, but that he was convincingly there for those is a reassuring sight for sore, sore, Chicago eyes.

This game featured more words than I’d ever heard Rose speak at once—sans his MVP acceptance speech (but to be fair I started bawling as soon as he talked about his mama, so I really didn’t hear half of it). My immediate reaction: it seems like Rose is more comfortable being vocal. This is fantastic news for the Bulls who need an assertive Rose to reclaim MVP form.  Rose has always strictly been a “let my play speak for me” kind of player. He was in the right situation for that. No one ever criticized Rose for it because his play was exceptional. The combination of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer let him lead in deed and not in word. It’ll be fun to watch Rose become the guy again on and off the court.

70 days. Does my breath smell bated?

 

The Crossover: The Dangers of Fandom, et al

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests. This is hardly true. There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you the first installment of The Crossover.

Dujie Tahat:

Dude, I’m only kind of into the Mariners. I said it. Or I wrote it. Or whatever. It’s out there. There are pangs of guilt and all. But I can’t bring myself to do it anymore. I love being a shameless fan of pretty much everything (Lebron, mahjong, froyo), but I think I’ve found my limit—or at the very least, I’m awfully fucking close to it. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s awesome that they’re much better than they’ve been in a long time (and of course it had to happen the year the AL West wasn’t a fucking pig sty). But frankly, it’s hard to get excited about simply not sucking.

My floating apathy has made it so I’ve watched precisely and only one inning of Mariners baseball pretty much all season (sure I’ve skimmed a few games, even saw that one live that they lost, but nothing close to the pitch-by-pitch, frame-by-frame intensity of this last game).It was the 9th inning of the game against the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Bottom of the inning: the first M up to the plate Kyle Seager grounds out easily to the first-baseman. Been there. Done that. Now Kyle Seager is one of six dudes on the Mariners I could name or pick out of a line up. At this point, my hopes have been dashed so many times, I can’t even muster the strength to put names to constant revolving door of faces that is the Mariner’s lineup in recent years.

Down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth, somehow a tying run gets to first. Somehow. Something tingles inside of me. I see a dude with an upside-down fedora on his head, and what are certainly Microsoft bros doing some kind of jig to get on the jumbo screen. It seems like a classic American baseball moment—the kinds that scream Underdog and Self-Reliance. I allow myself to get invested.

Then the dude with the wicked cool white beard at the plate for the M’s grounds to the pitcher (the pitcher!) who swings it to the second baseman who swings it to first. Double play. Game over.

Vindication of suspicion. Festering betrayal. And now we’re here.

xoxo

Joey Kern:

Consternation understood.

I was recently having a conversation with Owen who is probably one of about 4 people I know who still labors under the masochistic delusion that the Mariners might someday be good. It takes a special kind of internal fortitude to care deeply about a team that has been godawful for so long without so much as hinting towards improvement in the meantime. Note that the context of this conversation is the Mariners’ recent reacquisition of Kendrys Morales, a DH who is playing poorly for Minnesota following a contract holdout who turned down a qualifying offer from the Mariners this past offseason and also expressly stated that he had zero interest staying in Seattle and signing an extension. People really hate playing baseball here.

In bullet form below are some of the comments that I think are more or less indicative of Mariners’ fandom at large:

  • We just traded for fucking Kendrys Morales
  • Bleh
  • I’m going down with this ship (to the moon!)
  • But I won’t put my hands up and surrender. There will be no white flag upon my door, I’m in love and always….will be
  • I’m Mother Teresa, I get off on the weak and pathetic—come die with us Kendrys
  • I heard we are calling up Chris Taylor
  • The more the merrier!
  • #wacotexas
  • #davidians
  • #masssuicide
  • Let’s see Felix tomorrow
  • Sounds good I think I already have tickets if not let’s go ahead and buy them because after all, we are white
  • The color of Kings!
  • And prophets
  • Lost Prophets
  • Last Train Home

I would say that pretty much runs the gauntlet of Mariners fandom with a quick nod to white privilege and the Pacific Northwest at-large in the end there.

What has been sort of incredible about the Mariners is their consistent ability to put solid pitching staffs together without any real success in terms of wins. Pitchers are considered a volatile commodity in baseball and that consideration has been largely validated in light of the recent rash of elbow-injuries that has more or less decimated the “next wave” of great pitchers.

The Mariners have developed multiple arms that have proven to be effective, durable big-league players and despite this advantage over several other organizations who haven’t sniffed the kind of consistent success generated by pitchers coming up with or acquired by the Mariners (Fister, Vargas, Felix, Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, etc.), we have not been able to parlay this organizational strength into wins as it is offset by a near-mythic weakness.

What has hurt the Mariners is their inability to do what many other organizations take for granted: develop young high-talent position players. There has been almost no way to explain this decade-long trend save to perhaps chalk it up to wacko pagan superstition or blame the ballpark (which is nonsense, the spacious outfield in Safeco actually should be a great place to hit for guys willing to adopt a reasonable, line-drive approach and the power alley in right is hardly so far away as to not work for guys trying to hit for reasonable amounts of power. Kyle Seager is on pace to hit for just shy of 30 dingers and he is not a big or imposing figure by any stretch of the imagination and oh by the way his middle name is Deurr). The reality is that, for whatever reasons, solid fast-rising minor-league performers have been called up to the Mariners to die—their only real chance for healthy, productive careers being basically predicated upon a move to another, more God-fearing organization.

DT:

White guilt might be favorite part of interacting with Seattlites on the whole. Love the bulleted list—bonus points for demonstrating visual acuity!

(See! I’m doing it again! Dammit, have I become the Pharrell Williams of sports blogging—too happy with everything!)

I am ardently sympathetic to loving teams that don’t love you back. Mine left me. Or should I say, was stolen from me, 19th century Peshawar-style stole my betrothed. As if it were my fault that I somehow miscalculated the overly complicated agrarian-collective-bargaining-agreement dowry system. I mean, doesn’t five chickens seem equitable to three sheep to you??

Anyhow, I’m still scaling the peaks and spelunking the caverns of the Torabora-like landscape of my fandom. As of late, I feel like I’m over compensating. I mean I really, really, really got into the Phoenix Suns this season. Unreasonably so. To the point that when they lost their second to last regular season game against the Memphis Grizzlies (falling out of playoff contention), I felt personally scorned. For days, I shit on the Eastern Conference. I fucking love the Eastern Conference. I’ve shown time and time again, I can’t help it. I have Stockholm syndrome, and Marcin Gortat is my captor:

With 48 wins, the Suns would have been the third seed in the East! Everyone thought they were tanking. They weren’t supposed to be that good. Correction. They were supposed to be terrible. They’re rolling out two point guards: one who can’t shoot and one who’s European. Gerald Green is their “sparkplug.” Channing Frye is coming off a season off due to open heart surgery. Who’s P.J. Tucker? Which Plumlee is that again? How do you tell Marcus and Markieff apart when they have the same tattoos?!?! These were the Lost Boys of the NBA and Hornacek was Peter Pan—it might as well have been magic! The Suns finish the season with the 9th best offense and the 10th worst defense. They tried hard, and it somehow seemed to work!

Maybe it’s precisely due to the blindsiding whirlwind with which the Suns entered my life that I fell so head over heels for them. In some ways, it wasn’t so different from the last great Seattle Supersonics season, 2005. Talk about a franchise that didn’t hang its hat on sustained excellence…

Coming off a 37-win season—which wasn’t terrible considering the roster and that they had posted the third best offense—the Sonics somehow exploded for a “salty” 52 wins, and a third seed in the West. The roster: Ray #JesusSaves Allen and Rashard #AmnestyKing Lewis, the second highest scoring duo that season (behind none other than Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, baby! Man this was weird time in the NBA…) and most recently spotted singing backup vocals for the King and his Court on South Beach. Luke Ridnour the boy wonder. Reggie Evans, I’m fairly certain is a Pokemon. Jerome James, most famous for the fast one he pulled on Isaiah Thomas the greater New York metropolitan area. Danny Fortson, the Enforcer LOL. Antonio Daniels, the Popovich-schooled sage. Vladimir Radmonovic, who couldn’t miss a three all season and was my introduction into high-integer jersey numbers (#77). Vitaly “lay the lumber” Potapenko. Nick Collison, last seen digging a shallow grave for himself in the hard Oklahoma country. And the greatest glue-guy of all time: Mateen fucking Cleaves. There were some Robert Swifts in there and a nephew of Dominique Wilkins but whatever.

Seriously though, writing that just sent me back to freshman year of high school, sitting cross-legged on my bed listening to untelevised games (which there were quite a few of because they were supposed tot be terrible) on my alarm clock radio. My alarm clock radio! Jesus, who was I?

Xbox, play ESPN.

Suffice to say, I’m utterly familiar with holding out hope. That singular aberrational season, at one point in my life, deluded me into thinking: “Yeah, that Johan Petro/Mikhael Gelabale/Mohammed Sene/any other Sonics-drafted foreigner is ahelluva potentially game-changing prospect, bro!”

Shades of that one ever weirder season—shortly after a decade of good Sonics ball—that teamed up a 32-year old Gary Payton with a 38-year old Patrick Ewing (only his penultimate season playing in the Association!).

Seriously, let’s never forget that this was a thing:

That was the season Nate Macmillan was promoted to head coach after a 6-9 start. They actually won 44 games that season, but missed the playoffs. Maybe they were more like the Phoenix Suns…

It was Desmond Mason’s rookie year and there bears a lot of resemblance to Gerald Green:

     

I’m pretty sure I had a point here before I went .gif hunting.

It was probably that 13 years is long fucking time to go without even a glimmer of hope. In my mind’s history of things, I generally characterize the Sonics as being a pretty bad team, but that isn’t really true. At least they gave us something to root for every few years.

Does this mean the Mariners are due for a big one?

xoxo

JK:

No. The Mariners are not due for anything because in baseball there is no semblance of enforced parity and the illusion of benefit provided by the draft doesn’t really fool anybody anymore.

In basketball you can suck your way into being a good team. It happens all of the time. The 76ers have consecutively drafted 2 project big men coming off major surgeries with absolutely zero expectations regarding their immediate contribution. Actually, that isn’t even correct. They did have expectations regarding the aforementioned-and-now-named Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. They expected neither of them to contribute at all. The 76ers did not draft Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid despite their injuries, they drafted those players because they were hurt.

And why not? The 76ers understand exactly what the score is in the NBA. With a fairly strict cap and some extremely complicated logistics regarding trades (where players are moved like cattle from team to team over and over again despite any real value due purely to the fact that they have a cap number that allows them to match up with a trading partner’s asset’s salary), the quickest path to success in the NBA is the path that would at first glance seem the most ponderous—developing high-upside and talent.

I love the New York Knicks. They were the first basketball team I cared about and when the Sonics got pulled out from underneath me, they were the only team in the NBA that I had left to cling to. The Knicks are a blueprint about what not to do in the NBA. James Dolan is a drunken fuck-wad of a human being whose face is perpetually fixed in the stubble-clad rictus that seems to simultaneously project a kind of leud impertinence, a fierce impatience, and a lack of the kind of mental firepower which would be required to reign in either prior impulse.

His body’s presence in this universe being an abuse of the space it occupies, Dolan’s swelling girth and ever-swarthier features are simply an exaggeration of that abuse—a fact that now lends my perception of him a unique sort of disdain usually reserved for highly-televised white-collar criminals, a profound, deep yet somewhat passive disapproval and smoldering hatred founded in both expectation and hardwired bourgeoisie disgust that is inextricably tied to discovering a billionaire is an idiot whilst simultaneously assuming that they should fucking know better.

James Dolan does not want to build through the draft. James Dolan doesn’t give a fuck about the draft. James Dolan thinks that free agency is a quick fix. Free Agency is quick but it doesn’t fix a hell of a lot. As a rule, teams should do what Dolan does not do in the NBA. The 76ers know this. Sam Presti knows this. So when the 76ers draft Joel Embiid, they see more than the project that he is as a player. They see the opportunity to grab a high-upside talent that they can develop along with the added bonus that his initial limitations will keep them out of the mediocrity doldrums. It is good to suck in the NBA. It is crippling to be average.

Baseball doesn’t work this way. Baseball doesn’t give a fuck about your rules. Salary cap? Lol. There is a luxury tax (sort of) that teams are trying a bit harder to avoid (as there is now a stipulation that teams are charged a greater penalty for being over the luxury tax multiple years consecutively) but it isn’t that big of a deal and most teams fall well below it. The difference in payrolls between a team like the A’s and a team like the Dodgers is astronomical. Baseball is less about the matching of salaries and more about the gravitas of a franchise and the amount of money a team is willing to pay. The Mariners signed Robinson Cano because they were willing to pay 40 million dollars more than anyone else. There was no cap number to work with, it wasn’t a matter of Robbie getting multiple “max” offers and choosing from among them based on location, strength of the franchise, etc. Robbie went to Seattle because we backed a truckload of guaranteed cash into his lap over a ludicrous ten-year deal that pays him more than Lebron is paid now until he is 40 years old even if he were to break his leg in half and never even watch a baseball game on TV for the rest of his life. Note that this number is also representative of his base salary and does not consider some of the incentives and performance escalators built into the deal that are often underreported because cosmically, who fucking cares.

So you see that Free Agency is a cluster-fuck where a team can buy their way into contention. Every team cannot do this however. The Dodgers seem to have at least 5 guys on their team making more than 100 million dollars over the next 5 years. It goes without mentioning that the A’s cannot and do not have similar resources at their disposal, seeing as they are still posting the lowest attendance in baseball despite possessing the best record in the league.

If we switch gears to operate from the NBA perspective, we can point to clever drafting as a solution, but in baseball, the draft is more or less worthless unless you luck out with a Strasburg or a Trout, but even then, Mike Trout was drafted among the last 10 picks of the first round of his draft. Baseball players are never proven entities until they have played and performed well in the major leagues for multiple seasons. Baseball is too difficult and too unique of a sport for someone’s physical talents to mask other aspects of their game that lack refinement.

A guy can have Lebron’s strength and Usain Bolt’s speed and still never amount to anything. It happens all the time though with less hyperbolic comparisons. Carlos Peguero was a Mariners prospect who could hit a baseball about as hard as I have ever seen a guy hit a baseball. Carlos Peguero was and remains fucking terrible, and the last time he was in the headlines involved his wife going on an online shopping spree with Felix Hernandez’ wife’s credit card.

All of the aforementioned issues are compounded by the fact that only American players are eligible to be drafted in baseball at all. Ever notice that there are many players in the league with names like Carlos? Yasiel? Masahiro? Most of these players were never subjected to the draft process and were instead offered the opportunity to choose their own organization to play for since, you know, it is their fucking career. (Small exception to be made for Japanese players. Though, in the new posting system, a team need only bid the maximum 20 million in order to negotiate with the player in question, which makes the process identical to true free agency albeit with a pay-to-play element that eliminates some of the less serious names from competition)

These players are subject only to restrictions that have recently been put in place regarding international signing bonuses. That being said, these restrictions are flimsy and do little to change the landscape. High-profile teams are therefore in the driver seat to land international free agents based on the strength of their international popularity as well as the iconic nature of the franchise itself. That is why a guy like Yasiel Puig is far more likely to end up in Los Angeles then say, Minnesota. It is fucking cold in Minnesota and if you were a guy who just defected from Cuba you are not going to want to go play in the cold in front of small crowds for less money—not when Los Angeles is off to the West throwing dollars at players like its Magic Fucking Mike. A similar statement can be made for the Yankees, whose storied franchise is often on the tip of young international player’s tongues as they offer the kind of panache and international celebrity that any young, insanely talented man dreams of.

The result is that the MLB is more of a “rich get richer” kind of league, lacking some of the parity of the NBA or NFL. That being said, allowances have to be made in regards to the successes of low-budget phenoms such as the Oakland A’s or, to a lesser extent, the Tampa Bay Rays. These teams lack both the appeal of a high-profile destination and the backing of crazy-rich owners. Despite this, Oakland has found success by targeting undervalued assets buried within asset-rich organizations. Baseball teams are unique to basketball and football teams by virtue of the fact that they function as much larger organizations with several minor league affiliates under their direct control. The result is a wealth of assets in each organization that can at times become either overlooked or simply lack a place in the vision of an organization.

The A’s get a lot of kudos for player development, but their true strength lies in targeted scouting of existing undervalued assets in deep organizations. That is why when the A’s are linked to a guy like the Mariners’ Nick Franklin, it makes a lot of sense. Nick Franklin plays second base and is blocked for the next 10 years by Robinson Cano. He has consistently shown that he cannot play Shortstop at the major league level but he is young and has a highly projectable bat with some impressive power given his diminutive frame. Franklin has a good chance of being a solid major league player, but he has no place on the Mariners. Enter the A’s, they realize the positional issues with Franklin and identify him as an asset. Further, by recognizing that the Mariners have to trade him at some point in time to derive any value from him (he will not replace Cano) they ensure that they have all of the leverage in any ensuing negotiations. That is why the A’s never seem to give up anything to get the guys they do. They look for overabundances of positional talent within an organization and negotiate aggressively with trade partners that lack any real leverage.

The Mariners aren’t like the A’s. We are a bad organization run by bad people operating in the middle ground between the big boys who just make it rain on free agents and the clever guys who maximize their assets as well as the assets of others. We either need Paul Allen to swoop in and start throwing scrillions at guys or a new front office with more maneuverability and less interference on the part of ownership. We lack these things presently. That being said, we are playing pretty well now so whatever maybe we turned it around.

Go Mariners!

DT:

Hmmm. That was the clearest explanation of off-season baseball I’ve ever encountered, and I have tried maybe a dozen times to figure it out over the years. The “Magic Fucking Mike” metaphor is almost certainly what drove the point home.

Acquisitions and franchise structure in the MLB seem to oddly resemble the structure of a lot of soccer leagues (enter a healthy dose of nationalism juxtaposed with that game that they use their feet in that we just refuse to call football though, literally, everyone else in the world calls it that).

There are clearly issues with the way baseball teams conduct business (looking at you Jack!), but if they have something right on the whole, it’s got to be in player development. I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how the NBA is doing it (and I’m working on a piece now that’s got some ideas).

Perhaps it boils down to talent. History has proven you can’t win an NBA championship without a top ten (maybe 15) player. The game of baseball inherently diffuses talent across the park, and this results in (overblown) underdog movies starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. I’m no expert, but I’d venture to say the talent disparity between a Mike Trout and Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A MVP Ryan Goins is not nearly as steep as the one between Lebron James and NBA D-League MVP Othyus Jeffers.

That is probably a pretty obvious goddamn statement, but it’s almost 4,000 words later. It’s been an interesting ride, for sure. That said, I kinda like this format.

Thanks for trying out the experiment, Joey. We’ll do it again soon.

And, reader, if, defying logic, you are indeed out there: God bless your eternal soul.

 

The Enlightened One: Lebron James Going Home (Part 1)

“What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?”

-Lebron James, “I’m Coming Home”

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James has been “The Chosen One” since he was in utero. It’s a good moniker, no doubt. But his style of play—his insistence of team, his vision, his willingness to defer in the right situation—has repeatedly shown that more than anything, James is “The Enlightened One.”

With his essay published on Sports Illustrated website announcing his move back to Cleveland, James is perhaps (hopefully) elevating his off-court persona to match his on-court game.

«»

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I [/dropcap]  was saddened when James made his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. In the months between his announcement and the 2010  season, the sadness of “The Decision” fixated on its showiness of it–excacerbated by SportCenter and every other sports media outlet, it festered into full-blown animosity.

I didn’t burn jerseys, publicly try to humiliate James (or myself in the process) or really anything beyond bear an unfounded resentment for the guy. Still, to Lebron James and his family:

I am profoundly sorry for the intensity, acrimony and utter absurdity of the feelings I felt.

[There are many things wrong with the preceding statement. I know that. It brings up lots of questions about the rights I have as a fan to place expectations on an athlete, where the ownership of performance/achievement lies and the inequitable selfishness inherent in a fan-celebrity athlete relationship. In practical terms, this apology serves nothing insofar as no one, I repeat no one, in the James clan will ever read this, so it doesn’t really matter except that it matters to me that this is written somewhere, recorded somehow and declared publicly. Something tells me James would appreciate this latter notion.]

»«

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] W [/dropcap] hat I love most about James’ recent decision is that he wrote an essay. He didn’t tweet it. He didn’t have a lackey leak it (although Rich Paul might have). He didn’t even play coy with the media.

The greatest player in the world publishes a humble and revealing missive on the sports equivalent of the Washington Post.

In the essay, James writes about and gives us all-too-short meditations on family, the idea of home and the realistic expectations of winning and playing in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform again with the team as it is presently constituted.

If anything, the essay demonstrates that for James, Miami clearly was “like college for other kids.” Shown for all to see is a deliberate maturity that, in prowess, matches only his physical gifts and basketball talents, and perhaps more pointedly, it’s a maturity that just wasn’t there four years ago.

There is no greater metaphor for that than the fact his essay exists.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James is the best basketball player in the world. It’s been well-documented, and he’s earned his stripes and accolades and then some. But hidden in his essay is James’ basketball philosophy, the one we’ve been guessing at since we saw More Than A Game.

“I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.”

James gets it: the game above the game.  He understands roles, spacing, teammates’ abilities, opponent’s tendencies and can calculate his next move in less time than it takes us to say “Erik Spoelstra is the luckiest coach on the planet!” James is a basketball genius, and his aim is to conduct, facilitate and generally be the embodiment of a higher state—the vipassana, if you will—of basketball. He plays basketball; his aim is Basketball. There is no real measure of this, no data point we can boast or visual we can capture. The Heat’s 27 game win streak in the 2012-13 season is probably the closest thing. James knows that better than anyone.

“I’m not promising a championship.”

James also knows how hard championship trophies are to earn. And he’ll spend the next few years ply his young, new teammates with the genius-wisdom it takes to achieve the highest state of basketball ever conceived.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] “I [/dropcap] feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously…I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile.”

And with a nod towards himself, the preeminent figure in all of basketball returning to Ohio, James is returning home to lead by example:

“Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

When James bounced to Miami, it was in the midst of the recession. Ohio did not take it well. Just before “The Decision,” Forbes listed five Northeast Ohio cities (Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown, Akron, Canton) among the 20 most miserable in the US—including James hometown.

With downtown revival and having recently earned the bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, Cleveland seems to be on the rise (there’s a joke to be made about the RNC here, but low-hanging fruit and all).

James return not only signals that resurgence but bolsters it. How many things can you put Lebron James face on and the phrases “I’m coming home” or “#OH” or “I’m baaaaack”? There are millions of dollars of revenue returning to NE OH with Lebron.

“I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] “I [/dropcap] ’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted.”

Lebron James wrote this essay. Sure Lee Jenkins helped—probably cleaned up the language and focused the ideas—and it could very well be that what’s on SI is dramatically different from what James started with. But I have to believe—ardently and fully in my own made-up narrative of the man—that after James made his decision to go to Cleveland and made the subsequent decision to publish his personal, written decision, he sat down at a computer and hammered on a keyboard until it all made sense.

The essay reveals so much about James’ rationale and where his heart lies. It was measured and thoughtful. But nothing is more revealing than his choice to write the essay in the first place.

I can’t wait till he writes the next Life on the Run and runs for office.

 

Melo le Bro, Mellow Lebron: The Rise of Player Power

“Being able to have flexibility as a professional, anyone, that’s what we all would like.” –Lebron James

“The grass isn’t always greener.” –Carmelo Anthony

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] T [/dropcap] he stage is set for The Decision 2.0. And you can’t throw a cat a sports blog without it digging its claws into a juicy cramping Lebron calf—which is to say, it’s been covered.

In this free agency, everyone seems bizarrely prepared for any outcome. The shock of James leaving Cleveland in 2010 so thoroughly rocked the sports-voyeurism world that, at this point, everyone is prepared for any possible narrative: betrayal, redemption, a new chapter, the second coming, locusts.

Since James’ agent announced his intention to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat, Bleacher Report has posted 81 click-baiting click-stravagant click-shows ranging from the 24 Hair Styles Pat Riley Wore That Reveals Everything Was Not Fine In Heatlandia to the 17 Instagram Posts From Miami Strippers Promising Lebron Will Return To South Beach (only one of those is made up).

On the flip side of the same coin, suddenly half the NBA teams seem like they’re in position to court the King, and GMs the league over are logging 17 hours a day on ESPN’s trade machine, discussing with Ray Donovan their options for disposing of Emeka Okafor/Roy Hibbert/Kris Humphries’ dead bodies.

Needless to say, free agency has changed. At the very least, it is at an inflection point. It has gone from desperate clamor to full on frenzy.

James bailing on the Cleveland Cavaliers was among the greatest things to happen to NBA players (I never thought I would write that sentence seriously). Such a public display from the best baller in the world—while causing much pain for some—put the power squarely in the hands of players: a striking divergence from the long, sordid history of rich white NBA owners and David Stern! getting richer, older and whiter at the expense of players getting blacker, younger and (markedly less) richer.

Whilst in the shadows of the last throes (he said, hopefully) of owners self-inflating their resources into magnanimity—or worse, benevolence (read: Donald “But I love Coloreds!” Sterling)—the emergence of player power seems be making its strongest case ever.

Don’t get me wrong. Steve Ballmer and Mark Cuban aren’t suddenly making way for players at their super-secret ultra-exclusive billionaire masquerade sex balls or even the pantheon of Forbes lists they find themselves on the top of. But the money bags are no longer the greatest determinant of the basketball landscape (never thought I would see that sentence outside of the Luckswing #BREAKING section).

The two biggest influencers of the NBA’s immediate landscape are James and Anthony.

That’s a good thing.

Self-aware players are a good thing. Self-awareness leads to self-determination. Marquee players are the tent poles of the NBA, and so long as they make these self-aware decisions in relation to that, the NBA’s future is truly in their hands. Ever conscious of their role in the NBA—and, to a grander extent, popular culture—players are untethering from the traditional moors of money, big markets and money. Hopefully.

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] A [/dropcap] s Carmelo Anthony earned his comeuppance in the NBA, he was often labeled selfish.  A criticism he fought to shake in New York.

By all accounts, ‘Melo is ready to win now, to sacrifice pay and stats, to, in short, kick it with the bros. If he signs with a team outside the Knicks, he leaves $39 million on the table and an extra year of job security (a premium considering he’ll be 34 at the time).

Unfortunately, at his peak this last season, he had the least amount of help. Tyson Chandler got hurt, then old. Raymond Felton thought he was Gilbert Arenas—and then carried guns places. Iman Shumpert’s plateaued. The Andrea Bargnani experiment was a colossus of a failure.  J.R. Smith kept doing J.R. Smith things. Rasheed Wallace, Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries weren’t there to save New York (this sentence, I was prepared for).

Couple that with never having been a true free agent before and of course Melo’s gone on the biggest, baddest wine and dine tour outside of American electoral politics.

Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement born of the 2011 NBA lockout, teams have more money and player contract longevity has decreased. Technically, this is called “player sharing,” but for 2K addicts, this is Fantasy Draft activated in Association mode.

Among the frontrunners, here are the teams he should go to, the one he won’t and the one he will:

The Dallas Mavericks

Rick Carlisle: one of only a handful of coaches that move the needle/maybe the second best coach in the NBA.

Dirk Nowitzki: one of the greatest power forwards of all time.

Monta Ellis: Monta ball can be made to succeed, anything can be made to succeed.

Tyson Chandler: buddy.

Texas: big hats, no state taxes.

Mark Cuban: you’ll be set for life.

Vince Carter’s Knees: a path to follow as ‘Melo ages.

No state taxes.

The Chicago Bulls

Tom Thibodeau pushes his players to the brink. He labors his stars with so many minutes that they miss multiple seasons, allowing them to casually get injured while running routine plays.

Sorry, Chicago, that I’m not sorry.

Joakim Noah not-so-jokingly told his coach he’d hate him if they weren’t winning. ‘Melo is north of 30 now. Being a Bull would shorten his career by three years.

The New York Knicks

New York is home. And there is something to be said about being the hometown hero, and being the guy championship teams are built around. It sounds silly, but can you imagine what it’s like to score 62 in Madison Square Garden? (you don’t because no one has ever done it) Drag a subpar team to the playoffs in the city you grew up in? Be the best player on the first team in NBA history in the state that made you a college basketball god?

Sure. These are pie-in-the-sky aspirational narratives, at best. Seeing this things to fruition requires tremendous risk and work. But Phil Jackson is a persuasive man, and he’s hellbent on doing the Pat Riley thing—but, like, with Zen.

Also (and I hate to admit this), Melo kind of fits the mold of the great players that have never won. George Gervin, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins make way on the Mt. Rushmore of Losers!

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] L [/dropcap] ebron James is staying with Miami. I want to indulge in the circus display of what he ate today, but not really.

The Heat are a second playmaker and a combination of serviceable point guard/center away from pushing the Spurs to seven—if not winning it all.

It’s hard for me to admit. I want more than anything for James to accept the role of mercenary. There has never been an all-time great mercenary. Imagine, for a moment, a universe wherein LBJ took six teams to the NBA Finals, winning eight Larry O’Brien trophies only to recuperate his image spending the last three years of his career in Cleveland as an elder statesman of basketball.

I called my psychic, and Cleopatra told me that James is waiting on the Heat to sign someone who moves the needle. Tops on the list, Lance Stephenson.

Ya. That guy. Stephenson would be a perfect fit for the Heat. He’d effectively be Dwyane Wade’s replacement, with better defense and passing.

Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Steve Blake, Jerryd Bayless, DJ Augustin, Patty Mills, Greg Monroe, Jodie Meeks, Luke Ridnour, Chris Kaman, Xavier Henry, Brian Roberts, Spencer Hawes, Nate Robinson, Channing Frye, Pau Gasol, Greivis Vasquez, Mo Williams, Shaun Livingston, Emeka Okafor are all viable options across the pay scales. Adding any two of these guys would make the Heat that much more dangerous.