Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"We're Like Peas and Carrots..."

Same shit, different place, same pay. I hope all of my readers come join me. I'd address the three of you personally if I knew your names...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dear Summer...

Countless American lives literally revolve around sports. Throughout sporting fandom, calendars are marked in anticipation of the new year. Their acquaintance of old memories is never forgotten, but replaced by new moments to treasure-or lament-with the annual drop of not a ball, but a puck. Or a kickoff, a tipoff, or a first pitch. Many Americans new year doesn’t begin with Dick Clark, but with Dick Vitale. Amidst the streets of several metropolitan areas seasonal changes are revealed by hats and jerseys as if they were leaves or grass.

Me? I’m practically in hibernation until I hear Marv Albert. This is a particularly strange time of year for me as a sports fan. Because lately, this time of year reminds me of what kind of sports fan I really am. July is summer movie season. It’s concert season, six foot bird watching season, the flu season playoffs, practically anything but baseball season. Unless I’m there, it just bores the shit outta me. And I won’t go just anywhere either.

I've spent the past decade of my life in and out of Minnesota, which has a very respectable baseball team. The Twins don't exactly have deep pockets, but they remain competitive through cultivating one of the leagues most distinguished farm systems. Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Tori Hunter and Johan Santana are all homegrown talent and unsurpassable representatives of their respective positions. That's the MVP, the batting champion, the "nightly web gem" and only the fifth unanimous Cy Young winner, all within the last ten years. But the Twins bore the shit outta me. They play in a garage.

I spent my childhood in Chicago with two miserable baseball teams and never questioned my allegiances. I was a Cubs fan. I loved everything about the Cubs. The roster, the uniforms, and even then I recognized and appreciated the harmless fatalism that one could enjoy as a Cubs fan. "Well, we lost. Again. But that sure was fun!" I became obsessive about baseball. I had drawers, shoeboxes, bookcases and closets full of baseball cards. I'd watch alot of the games that I couldn't go to on TV, and in eigth grade I joined the JV baseball team. That's when I realized I didn't know shit about baseball and why I really loved the Cubs. They play in Wrigley Field.

I had never stood in front of a real competitive fastball. I never knew any of the intricacies that comprised the game. I just knew who was good and could only provide superficial reasons why they were good. I didn't even like baseball cards that much, I just liked the idea of how much money they were worth. I wasn't a baseball fan, I was just a Cubs fan. I was barely a Cubs fan, I was just a fan of Cubs baseball. I still am.

Whenever I make it back home I try to catch a game. The brick, ivy, and intimate residential neighborhood setting make Clark & Addison one of America's best places to spend a summer afternoon. But it's the retro scoreboard, the bleacher bums, and the seventh inning stretch that make it a unique sporting experience and a reminder of why baseball is still Chicago's pastime. Sitting along Wrigley's third base line on a hot day, with a cold brew, good friends and plenty of ladies are fond memories. Not just of mine, but countless others I've never met-many of a day in which I wasn't even alive. Despite a hundred years of futility, we are bound not by a woeful disdain, but by an appreciation of time well spent. See if you can generate that kind of warmth from four generations of Phillies fans.

However that leisurely pace doesn't make captivating television. I haven't watched an entire game in four years. It bores the shit outta me. The players stand still more than they move and the games last forever. The endless procession of foul balls, pickoff attempts, mound visits and pitching substitutions could cure even the most hopeless of insomiacs. Honestly, how many videos have we seen of adults slumped over and drooling at the ballpark? So I wouldn't stand a chance against the narcoleptic influence of midsummer baseball within the friendly confines of my living room. I'd rather rent a movie.


Friday, July 27, 2007

More Life Lessons..."What Percentage of the Time?"

First, some classic advice on fashion, fine dining and frontin' from Mr. Starks...

I've never owned a pair of Wallys in my life, they look like they were made for elves. But anyone with five bucks and hunger pangs would give Ghost's gourmet four stars. Although there was no mention of Ramen noodles. You could get a weeks supply for $3.00!

And for all you sharks who wanna bite Tony's sex game, I'd say it's about 37% of the time....

Jacked from Nah Right.

...Holding hands? And people say hip hop is misogynistic.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Life Lessons...

So I was at the bar last night with a friend of mine and he invited two girls to join us. Actually, scratch that, they invited themselves. Regardless, my friend decided to buy us all some shots and when the time came to toast, I noticed all of the Mexicans in the room and decided to make a slightly distasteful joke, cause well, that's what I do. "To Lou Dobbs..."


Long story short, there are now two girls in southwestern Minnesota who think that Lou Dobbs is the starting tailback for the Green Bay Packers.

Ladies, this one's for you....

From the good folks @ Dallas Penn

Thursday, June 28, 2007

It Was Inevitable Withdrawal...

I'll be back soon...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Their Kind of Town?

“I’m so outta here. They forget my contract is up soon too…This wasn’t bad for a while, I didn’t have to do much, I made twice the money I would’ve if I’d taken that front office gig and this might give me a legitamate excuse to retire before they try and expose me for not developing talent. Again. These kids don’t listen anyway, which is exactly why I wanted veterans. They’re hungry, they just need direction, not a damn babysitter. I tried to give Kwame ‘The Joy of Cooking’, something, anything to get the boy to use his damn hands and what does he do? Maybe I shouldn’t have called him a pussy, but who the hell throws cakes at people anyway, is this candid camera? Damn, I’m really dating myself there. Wonder what Red would do in this situation…. Why is Kobe the last to know about Buss’ intentions anyway? I told the whole damn world in my book. That kid should’ve gone to college if only to learn when he’s being manipulated…. I can’t blame Kobe again, can I? Or should I just start discrediting Skiles and Isiah? They aren’t championship coaches, I am….Actually, is there any way we can get Gordon and Deng, then Arenas next summer? Gil would eat this Zen shit up…”

“When Magic demanded a trade, I just fired Westhead…Nah…What was I thinking? Why would I let Jim deem Bynum untouchable and let Kupchack pass on every one of the kid’s suggestions? Who did Davis get traded for again? Speedy Claxton? Damn, that made us look dumb. Or deceitful. Like I was just using the kid to sell tix and avoid the luxury tax by developing young players. Is that what I was trying to do? And how would it have worked anyway if I gave him an option and that damn no trade clause? And where the hell is that waitress with my drink? And didn’t I tell whatshername to get me one too? Doesn’t anyone around here speak English? Spain. Never again….Maybe I actually should trade him. What are our chances of improving to his satisfaction before he can opt out in a couple of years and we get nothing? And he has to know that he tied our hands to negotiate with other teams. Who would trade anything to help a team with a disgruntled superstar, when they could manage their cap over the next two years and possibly sign that superstar? He’s the only player we can trade now, might as well move him while his value’s at it’s peak. This is a good draft, Chicago has that lottery pick and P.J. Brown’s expiring contract. And I do like that Zero Hero, I wonder what he’d want….I wonder if any of these girls can drive a stick….”

“..............Is Sonic open 24/7? I could really use one of those smoothies...........I miss Jerry West, he loved smoothies and he was so nice to me..............You know who else probably likes smoothies? That kid Sebastian Telfair....................Yeah, he’d be a good fit here, maybe that’d get Phil to lighten up a bit..................Gosh, he can be a real jerk when he doesn’t get his way, what did I ever do to him?...........I’ve gotta stop thinking so much, I’m gonna burn myself out...............................................What time is it anyway, am I missing ‘John From Cincinnati’?............I’ve got to learn how to work that damn Tivo...........................Man, this is a pretty good show. I wonder if he’ll heal that boy’s spine next week............. I can’t wait, not much else on TV this summer, makes it tough to find good conversation at the office..........Okay, relax, then smoothies, then Telfair..............Zzzzzz...”

“God, these Finals were a disaster. The kid could’ve at least made it interesting…. Kobe getting traded would restore a balance between the two Conferences and stop all this nonsense about realignment or reseeding. What the hell do they think this is, football? That reminds me, I need to fine Gooden for that neck goatee of his. I can do that right? Damn right I can! Plus LeBron, Wade and Kobe in the same conference would settle all this ‘Next Jordan’ talk unequivocally. All of them battling each other four times a year? It’d certainly give Shaq somehting to talk about for a while, I’m worried about him. Yeah, this is starting to sound good. People might not complain as much about Durant and Oden on so late if they had Chicago v. Miami as an appetizer. Actually, maybe Kobe could fix the Knicks? Nah, not until Isiah’s gone, that would be a disaster…. What am I going to do about him? Chicago is probably best, that Jordan story has legs. Long legs. Money too.... Where’s my phone?”

“That call is coming soon. The pieces I’d have to give up to get K.G. would leave us without a dependable scorer and this team still wouldn’t have a definitive leader where we need it. I love Kevin, but once Gordon is gone, would he carry us through our scoring droughts, which are far too frequent? Would he take over the fourth quarter for us? Or would we have lost all of our youth, maxed out our cap and have not gotten any better where we need to? I’m just not sure about him and Ben certainly isn’t gonna put any points on the board either. I give up our lottery pick, Gordon, Deng, P.J.’s contract, and Duhon and we’ve still got enough to compete. I think that would satisfy L.A. too, besides they’re probably already sizing Arenas up as a replacement anyway. Hinrich, Kobe, Nocioni, Tyrus and Wallace could win the Conference next year if we could pick up a decent sixth man with our mid-level exemption. Cleveland showed what a defensive minded team with an explosive scorer can do. If LeBron had a perimeter game, Cleveland had a real shot in that series. Now it’s our turn. I’m glad we made the hard sell to the kid when he was a free agent. He knows we’re committed and that’ll play big in his decision making. He’d want to be here anyway. It’s the only way he’ll ever truly redeem himself, coming in here and overtly challenging Michael’s legacy. I think he can do it too. This is gonna happen, I can’t believe it. Where’s my phone? I gotta thank Isiah...”

Sunday, June 17, 2007

August 25, 2007...

...will be one of the greatest days of my life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Thank God it’s over. What?! One more?!

Can’t we just, um, fade to black?

This is no longer about the Cavaliers ‘learning experiences’. They got here on a fluke and Anderson Varejao’s next ill advised shots will only be to keep Cleveland from being swept. If they learned anything, it’d be that things work out better when the ball goes in the basket. This isn’t even about the premature crowning of LeBron James. The King’s reign is on hiatus after an anti-climactic performance in these Finals and an unpromised encore. If he learned anything, it’d be that things work out better when he puts the ball in the basket.

For now, this is about one thing: *

Yeah, that thing again.

After the dust settled in the 80’s only two teams were left standing, Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics. Boston had certainly maintained it’s reputation as a perennial contender with five trips to the Finals and three victories, but L.A. was the team of the decade. Showtime made eight Finals appearances from ‘80-’89, with five championships and the league’s first repeat in 19 years. They were a dynasty.

The Bad Boys back to back on the heels of this rivalry established Detroit as a great team, but they would merely serve as history’s prelude for the Bulls. Michael Jordan’s shadow loomed so large over the NBA from ‘91-’98 that his absence cloaked Houston’s consecutive championships in doubt. He separated himself from his predecessors with the league’s first threepeat in 27 years. Then he retired, came back, and did it again. Chicago witnessed a dynasty.

After the dust settled in the Staples Center only one man was left standing, Kobe Bryant. But before Star Wars went nuclear, Bryant, Shaq and Phil maintained a brief, but convincing rule over the league. Three straight titles is a dynasty. Right?

Then there’s the Spurs. And the lockout. And the fallout from Star Wars. And a Game 7 with Detroit. And no matter who you blame, there will always be this year’s suspensions heard ’round the world.

The San Antonio Spurs have proven themselves to be the leagues preeminent franchise yet again, but is this a dynasty?

Discuss. And don’t forget to turn the lights off on the way out.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Better Than Sex...

...or at least better than her sex tape.

Update: Better than the Finals too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

NBA Finals Preview.

What To Look For: The San Antonio Spurs are a very good basketball team and could in fact be the best of the past decade. Tim Duncan is a very good basketball player and could in fact be the best to ever play his position. The preceding sentences were structurally sound and served their purpose efficiently. But they were also fucking dull. Their measured and repetitious approach undermine the potency of their contents. Unlike the aforementioned sentences, the Spurs potency is due to their measured and repetitious approach. But they’re considered dull too. As the decade nears it’s end, Duncan & the Spurs have a fourth title within their grasp but the reverence of such dominanace remains at a distance. There are no accolades in fighting through screens and commiting to transition defense. There’s no difference on the scoreboard between a crisp bank shot and a rim rattling dunk. But there is one to the fans. Because of that, the Spurs have been buried underneath the red carpet rolled out for LeBron James. Will these NBA Finals be a coronation of the Air apparent or is San Antonio determined to prove that the King has no clothes?

San Antonio Strengths/Weaknesses: The Spurs are well equipped for any necessary adjustments in this series. They’re the deeper, more disciplined team and their familiarity with the big stage will allow them to get right down to business. Duncan’s unrivaled post game along with Parker and Ginobli’s penetration remain the catalysts for their offense, but as always, the Spurs pride themselves on the other end of the court. The quickness of their backcourt supplements Bowen and Duncan’s smothering defense and finishes off the subsequent fast break. San An’s strength is in their collective will to deny the opponent and create for each other. The only apparent weaknesses are in their underwhelming free throw shooting and inconsistent rebounding, partially due to their dearth of big men.

Cleveland Strengths/Weaknesses: The Detroit Pistons spent a majority of the Eastern Conference Finals arguing with each other, but they could all agree on one thing. The Cavs defense is for real. The size and moblility of Cleveland’s frontcourt allows them to adeptly contest shots, fill passing lanes, cut off penetration and secure several boards. This is a team that is not scored on easily. Which is good for them, because they certainly don’t score very easily themselves. Most of the players on this team are offensively limited and all of them are streaky shooters. What the Cavs need is someone who can force the defense to react and can create some easy shots. Oh, right. Despite his affinity for the perimeter, Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been a consistent presence in the paint with his offensive rebounding and his passing is an asset when the offense actually moves.

How They Match Up: If Larry Hughes can effectively play through the pain of his plantar fasciatis, his size and ball handling at the point would help open up the Cavs offense. He can post Parker up, but more importantly, he would keep LeBron off the ball so that the defense won’t be able to focus in on James so easily. Then Bron could attack the basket as a cutter and be more of a threat coming off of screeens and making the easy assist as the defense collapses. If he comes off the dribble, the Spurs will have to send help which only opens up the lanes and gives Cleveland’s shooters better positioning and more time. LeBron James is going to have to ask his teammates every night, “Who else wants to be a star?” The supplementary and second chance baskets that Ilgauskas can provide in the half court are important for the Cavs. If he’s going to extend himself to the perimeter to draw out his defender, then he has to make the shot or the right pass to keep the D honest. Otherwise, he’s just making it easier for the Spurs. Ditto for Drew Gooden. It’s also important for the Cavs to limit Parker and Ginobli’s drives to the basket. If they’re allowed to run free alongside Duncan’s inside/out game, it would shatter the Cleveland’s defense. But with the full court pressure they exhibted during their regular season matchups, the Cavs have shown they can frustrate the Spurs into low-scoring slugfests that Bron can take over in the fourth.

The X Factor(s): The refs. We all remember last year’s Finals. And Joey Crawford. And Manu’s free throw exhibition in Utah. What are we in store for now? This is going to be a physical matchup between two defensive stalwarts with plenty of flopping, whining and finger pointing. Officiating will decide at least a game in this series, and it could be the pivotal one.

Series Prediction:
San Antonio has a very good basketball team and they could in fact, be the best of the past decade. Spurs in six.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Heaven Is A Closet.

fetish [fet-ish, fee-tish]
1. a form of sexual desire in which gratification depends to an abnormal degree on some object or item of clothing or part of the body; "common male fetishes are breasts, legs, hair, shoes, and underwear"
2. a charm superstitiously believed to embody magical powers [syn: juju]
3. excessive or irrational devotion to some activity; "made a fetish of cleanliness"

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Raging Inferno.

I'm speechless. Seriously.

"We Only Said Goodbye With Words..."

Congratulations. On the Stones cover and that new/old man too.

"...I died a hundred times. You go back to him and I go back to..."

Memorial Day.

This ‘aint over.

He’s never been a sympathetic figure. But many of the things he’s done have been in pursuit of becoming the best basketball player he could be, the best basketball player ever. He feels as though it’s his turn, it’s his destiny.

Kobe Bryant is going to get what he wants. He just doesn’t know where yet. Half-hearted ultimatums and retractions aside, his 48 hour media blitzkrieg effectively granted the Lakers a two year amnesty. Chip or bust. Get down or lay down. Three years after his free agency loomed over the franchise, he’s proven he’s still in control and now everyone knows it. Which is why it’s time to trade him before it’s too late.

Long before him, basketball has been a stars game. One player can’t win titles alone, but he’ll get you damn close and so it’s only prudent to build around that star. Especially if he sells tickets. Therein lies a problem with all professional sports, but primarily in the NBA. The goal of the game is to win, but the goal of a business is to make money and the two agendas often intersect with disastrous results. This has held true for both the players and their respective franchises over the years. But even in a league of free agency with big salaries and big market benefits, to some, there’s still no substitute for winning.

The NBA is tough. Playing basketball 24/7 sounds like a dream to most, but the rigors of constant training, traveling and trades are very real and only truly known by professionals. Which is why it’s easy to see how some of them can grow fat on their success. A deeper hunger is needed from a player who seeks not only to improve or succeed, but to leave an imprint on the game itself. It’s the hunger to dominate. Just as Michael Jordan used Magic and Bird as a constant motivation long past their declines, Kobe has been chasing him. They all know they’re not truly the successor until they’ve out-achieved their predecessors. Everything Kobe’s done has been in pursuit of that lineage. Which is why he feels so betrayed by what is perceived to have been a con by Laker management.

The writing was all over the walls of Staples Center in the summer of ‘04. After a Finals upset by Detroit Kobe’s intrinsic value was still readily apparent, but his public perception was at an all-time low. The rape charges and internal feuding had taken their toll on him and he had begun to feel as though it was time for a change. He knew he’d never be considered a true great while playing in Shaq’s shadow and under Phil’s thumb. Management also knew this and while their rivalry may have weighed on his resigning with the Lakers, according to Kobe, it had very little to do with Shaq’s departure. Despite an impressive Finals performance, Shaq was clearly entering a decline and extending him would only be a burden on the salary cap as he regressed in his later years. So Jerry Buss made it clear to Kobe that regardless of his impending free agency decision, O’Neal was gone.

“He told me he wanted to trade Shaquille. He didn’t want to pay the $30 million or whatever it was. He felt he was getting older and it was time to trade him. He said, `I don’t care what you decide to do. I’m letting you know that I’ve decided to let (O’Neal) go. Now I hear that a Laker insider is saying this. Now I’ve got serious trust issues. They know I had nothing to do with that. Jerry Buss knows it. He called me on the eve of me making my decision, from his vacation in Italy.”-Kobe Bryant, 570AM w/ Petros and Money

But Kobe still had his reservations. Yes, the franchise had accommodated him throughout his trials, but he had always given them his best and the time had come for him to consider his future. Winning was the only answer to his problems and he wasn’t sure he could do that with the Lakers. Again, Buss reassured him.

“That’s the call that really swayed me. If you look at all the teams that have been quote-unquote dynasties, it normally takes about nine or 10 years to rebuild. That was my concern when I spoke with Dr. Buss. I said, `Are you guys on a nine- or 10-year plan? Are you on a long-term plan?’ Or do you want to try to rebuild this team right away and be aggressive. … That was my No. 1 concern, and he promised me that they would do whatever they can to go out and get players. They were going to be extremely aggressive. They are going to rebuild right now. This is not something where they wanted to wait. They wanted to get back to a championship level right now. That swayed my decision. I was leaning toward going to Chicago, and the Clippers as well, just for the fact that it was a new challenge and they have players that I’ve known for a while. … I wanted to play for the Lakers, and Jerry Buss called me from his vacation in Italy and promised that they wanted to rebuild right now. I trusted that promise and went with them.”

Who would deny Jerry Buss if he said he was committed to continuing the tradition of Laker excellence? Who would want to play with a guy who made no secret of his animosity towards their ambition? Not him.

Only now he realizes he’s been used. By everyone.

[on being blamed for the Shaquille O’Neal trade] “I’ve had many media people come up to me and say, `You know the Lakers are having you take the bullet for this one, right?’ I just shrugged it off, because it was about moving forward. Now when I see that a `Laker insider’ says I ran Shaq off, OK, now I’ve got a serious issue with that. I took it in stride the first time, because I assumed it was just talk. Now I find out that it’s coming from Laker insiders. Now I’ve got serious issues. I’m speaking my mind, because I’m not taking the bullet for something I did not say or did not do.”

[on the rebuilding process] “For the past few years, I’ve been meeting with Mitch and Dr. Buss in the offseason, talking to them about players. Most of the players call me, because I know most of them. Baron Davis called me and indicated he wanted to come out here and hoop with us. Same thing with Carlos Boozer. Same thing with Ron Artest. My response to them has been, `You know what? I love it. Let me call you back. I’m going to call Mitch and see what I can do. Let me (call) you back.’ Every time I had to call back and say they didn’t want to do it because of this or that. In Baron’s case it was because he was injury prone. In Carlos Boozer’s case it was because he can’t guard forwards. It was always something. Then they traded my man, Caron Butler, which made me feel terrible because he and I had been working out that whole summer. … Then I get a call, telling me that he’s been traded. They were asking me about my thoughts on that, and I said, `Why are you asking me my thoughts now? You already did the trade?’ Through all of these three years, and the time it’s taking to rebuild, enough is enough. That’s why I’ve been very vocal.”

Kobe felt as though he had some control and so did everyone else. Which is just what they wanted. But in light of recent events, the question has to be asked; if Kobe really did hold that much influence over the organization as to personally have O’Neal and Jackson jettisoned, then why didn’t it extend to acquiring Baron, Boozer, Butler or Artest? The answer appears to be that the Lakers never planned on spending any money. Management knew Kobe would be seen as a tyrant who banished two of the game’s treasures and it suited their agenda perfectly. The longer that he was nationally deemed the cause of the Lakers failures, the longer it allowed them to rescind spending to get back under the salary cap and luxury tax. Which meant not resigning Shaq or trading for players of ‘questionable value’. Local fans could be sustained by Kobe and the promise of a bright future, which was the integral piece to the team and the franchise moving through a transitional period as Buss nears retirement. He’s certain to pass control of the organization down to his children, Jim and Jeanie, whose quarrels on L.A. radio over the teams direction lit the fuse leading to Kobe’s bombshell.

The common thread throughout all of this? Phil Jackson.

Jim’s nurturing of prodigy Andrew Bynum has long been evidence of the Lakers commitment to a youth movement and his comments questioning Phil’s ability to foster it have been a point of contention for weeks within the front offices. Jackson chastised his students all year in the press and Jim wondered aloud whether this was best for a team in it’s developmental stages. Jackson, with his preference for hungry veterans, had always been critical of young players and the consequences of their immaturities. He was quoted as being less than impressed with his roster’s predilection for porn and video games and claimed that Jesus Christ himself couldn’t save them. There was an obvious rift between the coach and upper management.

Of course the coach also lives with upper management. After Jeanie Buss and assistant coach Kurt Rambis sounded off on Jim’s criticism of the Zen Master, it was clear that the power struggle of the Laker front offices had spilled into public view. Enter Ric Bucher, Stephen A. Smith and anyone else with a microphone breathlessly awaiting Kobe’s assessment of the situation. He probably would’ve gone on Imus if it were possible.

His solution? Bring back Jerry West. Not gonna happen. And why did West leave in the first place? Phil Jackson. Who prompted Kobe’s outbursts with tales of management’s long term rebuilding plans? Phil Jackson. Who reasoned with Kobe and averted another Hollywood breakup? Phil Jackson. Who was ultimately responsible for the first breakup? Phil Jackson.

It was Phil who ruffled West’s majestic feathers. It was Phil who was entrusted to end Star Wars, but chose to exacerbate the situation. It was Phil who left Kobe to the heavy lifting after he had dismissed the current roster as dead weight. It was Phil who coerced Kobe into speaking on his behalf when he had no leverage and when that talk pushed Kobe where he couldn’t follow, it was Phil who reigned him back in. It’s Phil who is looking for another title and another multi-year, multi-million extension. Phil Jackson has long been derided as a coach who manages talent rather than nourishing it and if Kobe were to leave Los Angeles, Jackson would be exposed for attack. He was the one who was brought back to placate Kobe and once again, he is the one mainpulating Kobe. He deserves as much as much of the blame for this as Jerry Buss. It's Phil Jackson who is selfish and avoiding his comeuppance.

Kobe’s rumored destination? Chicago, hungry for past glory after a controversial rebuilding process and the tumultuous departure of, um, Phil Jackson.

But no matter what he whispers in Kobe's ear, Phil Jackson can’t save the Lakers. Not soon enough. And as Kobe continues to age at a rate belied by his years, today will haunt the franchise until he puts pen to another contract. He now feels as though he’s been slighted by the entire organization and isn’t likely to forget it. How long can the Lakers delay the inevitable? With a trade veto and the clock ticking, Kobe Bryant is going to get what he wants, he just doesn’t know when yet.

Monday, May 28, 2007

When Will I See You Again?

"It's probably the biggest game of my life and the biggest game ever for this organization, and I have to go out there and recognize it." -LeBron James, before Game 3.

Maybe this was why so many have been critical of LeBron James performance this postseason. He has the potential for this every night, yet we only see it intermittently. And yes, he's only 22, but the number in question is 23.

We've all noticed the homages to Michael Jordan in his number, his pregame routines and even in his commercials, but it would be nice to see it more often in his game. Of course there's the familiar refrain of "He's more Magic than Michael.", but LeBron made his choice and he realizes the near impossible standard he's being measured against. Jordan was acutely aware of the heightened expectations his play garnered and he continually bounded over them. That is the only part of Money's persona James should be concerned with emulating.

Bron took a big step forward last night. Now he has to find a way to do it again.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Deja Vu.

We just saw what we already knew.


Mike Brown, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers just aren’t ready.

Cleveland is no longer in New Jersey where the Cavs roamed freely about the paint and dominated the glass. They’re in Detroit, where the backups backup will come in and score at will against their soft and inexperienced front court. Jason Maxiell provided the timely baskets that Detroit needed while spelling Roscoe and the Cavs had no answers from their starters. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden had a combined seven points and eight rebounds tonight, out produced by their own backup, Anderson Varejao who labored for 14 &14. Their collective reluctance to execute on the blocks and an unhealthy dependency on jumpshots leaves the team without another reliable scoring option, which makes it all the easier for Detroit to defend LeBron James.

Bron attacked the basket early and often in the first half and his penetration put the Pistons at a disadvantage. He seized upon their defensive indecision, dishing and dunking the Cavs to a twelve point halftime lead. But his offensive limitations were revealed when Detroit began to consistently shadow him with a help defender. His driving lanes were shut down and with no jumper to fall back on, he forced passes which quickly became turnovers. The second half offense was stagnant and predictable, isolation plays that went nowhere. Detroits team defense is too skilled and aware for them to be beaten by Bron off the bounce and they simply watched him dribble away the shot clock before collapsing on him. Cleveland continued to flail away from three instead of nourishing their halftime lead and suffered through an eight minute drought which kept the Pistons around.

Then he did it again. This time ahead by one, with a chance to extend a lead, LeBron attacks the basket and draws a cluster of white jerseys. As he and the primary defender both left their feet, Bron had a prime opportunity to draw contact and a whistle by attempting a shot at the rim. Instead, he passed out to Sasha Pavlovic, who wasn’t ready to shoot and traveled. Thirty seconds earlier, he missed the first of two free throws. Coincidence? I think not.

Rasheed Wallace recognized and exploited his mismatch with Varejao throughout the fourth and put Detroit ahead with a clutch fallaway over James. Instead of going for a quick two and fouling to extend the game, Mike Brown, who had wasted all of his timeouts anyway, called another isolation play for his star. After pushing off of Richard Hamilton to get a step, LeBron spun directly into his outstretched arms in a weak attempt to draw a foul and was denied. As if. The Cavs scrambled for two more attempts, but the game was sealed with a technical foul on an incredulous Coach Brown as the King was left shaking his heavy head.

Cleveland loses 79-76. Again.

And Detroit hasn’t even played well yet.

*And no Cleveland, you don't get to complain about the refs unless you're also gonna acknowledge that Bron should've been suspended.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Twenty Three Years Later...

The last time the Portland Trailblazers passed on a college phenom because the respective position was filled, they missed out on Michael Jordan.

Lets hope it doesn’t happen again.

The Blazers are already stocked with post players and they could use talent at the swingman. But if GM Kevin Pritchard knows what’s good for him, he’ll take the phone off the hook and ignore any trade offers or advice to draft Kevin Durant. No, Durant isn’t Sam Bowie, but Greg Oden is the only answer. Even if the team is swollen at that spot, draft the best player and work it out afterwards. It’s better to have him and be able to make a trade later than to regret not having drafted him at all. Does anyone think that Oden’s value is going anywhere but up? So pick him and experiment.

No matter how much the game may open up in the next decade, Oden has the athleticism and skill set to keep up and is certainly equipped to dominate the half court game. He has the wingspan and mobility of a condor and pairing him with another seven foot wunderkind in LaMarcus Aldridge gives Portland a frontcourt that could feast on the Western Conference well into the future. Zach Randolph has elevated his game to All-Star status, which is why there’s no better time to trade him. No matter how far he’s come, he’s still the expendable player in this situation. Just as Ricky Davis was jettisoned far from an impressionable LeBron James, Z-Bo and Darius Miles should be shopped to officially end the Jailblazers era. Headcases that they are, they’d still fetch some spare parts and a quality point guard to complete the backcourt alongside Brandon R.O.Y. Jason Kidd? Mike Bibby? Jason Terry? Mike Conley? This could be a playoff team next year. Best believe Bill Walton broke out the special stash tonight.

And it was all shitty just a week ago. The Sonics had no GM or a head coach and looked as though their next playoff appearance wasn’t even going to be in Seattle. Owner Clay Bennett wasn’t getting the legislative support he needed for a new stadium and was involved in an increasingly bitter relationship with the media. Assuming that everyone will be more inclined to work things out now, the team should have their pick of coaching and managment talent to steer them deep into the playoffs. If they choose to re-sign Rashard Lewis, with Durant and Ray Allen the Sonics would have the personnel to rip and run with the best of ‘em.

Who didn’t fax their resume into Seattle front offices tonight?

But who knows what will happen in the upcoming weeks? Except that which was already promised to be an eventful offseason just got all the more interesting. We’re heading into a summer with Chauncey Billups, Vince Carter and Jermaine O’Neal on the market and Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett (allegedly) on the trading block.

Specualte to your heart’s content, just know that Durant and Oden will both end up with the swoosh. Some things are just meant to be.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Women I Would Settle For, Vol. VI, "Now How You Gonna Go And Do That?"

This is supposed to be the definitive list of sexies and she doesn't even make the Top 100, but Fuggie is in the Top 10?!

No wonder I don't read that shitty magazine.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Podoloff's Box? Part I.

val·u·a·ble [val-yoo-uh-buhl]–adjective
1. having considerable monetary worth; costing or bringing a high price: a valuable painting; a valuable crop.
2. having qualities worthy of respect, admiration, or esteem: a valuable friend.
3. of considerable use, service, or importance: a valuable player.
4. apparently not Jerry West. (But he got the logo, so it's all good.)

NBA greats are a unique breed in the sporting pantheon. No athlete can impose pure will on his respective sport like a basketball player. There’s no disconnect between offense and defense, which gives a player more influence over his teammates on both sides of the ball. They’re the only athletes who can make a play for the crucial score and inasplitsecond make a stop that seals the win. In fact, most times they are expected to. Basketball players carry a heavier burden than their contemporaries. This is what makes the NBA’s Most Valuable Player so special. A Podoloff Trophy is the mark of greatness.

How is greatness measured? By the media. Every year, 125 pen, pad and agenda carrying sportswriters and broadcasters-with legends to build and stories to sell-decide upon whom to bestow the game’s crowning individual achievement. Truth is, if you locked those guys in a room a until they could decide upon a criterion for the award, they’d die in there. The MVP is a popularity contest, an award for modern marvels and sentimental favorites. Analysis of voting totals over the past twenty plus years reveal neither rhyme nor reason. There are numerous instances of both personal and team improvement having been in vain, while post and perimeter players are alternately fawned over and ignored. Players in contention are expected to take their teams to the postseason, yet postseason play doesn’t factor in the award? Practically every year reflects a different rhetoric.

So what is the formula? Carpe diem. Since 1984 there have been a dozen different Podoloff winners. Three men laced ‘em up and forged their own destines. Others labored to receive their due recognition. There were a couple guys you couldn’t help but love, and a few just got fucked over. Using the playoffs as a litmus test, let’s reminisce...

Before him, when a player was trapped in the post by an aggressive double team, he either passed the ball into a corner, called a timeout, or forced a shot. He didn’t throw it blindly over his head and through the outstretched arms of the defense directly to a teammate under the basket for an easy bucket. Before Earvin Johnson the game had flair, but no Magic.

His lengthy 6′9″ frame inhaled rebounds, his vision and dexterity maneuvered the court in bullet time, and his immaculate touch blessed those passes which always found a teammates hands in the shooting position. But it was his smile that explained it all. It was that smile that said, “I didn’t go behind my back for a lookaway pass to show off, I did it cause the defender in front of the hoop was trying to deny me the left, and it was the best way for me to hit my streaking teammate on the right without the D being the wiser.”

Before him, when a 6′10″ forward attacked the baseline only to be met midair by the extended arms of the opposing center, he either got blocked or traveled. He didn’t toss the ball overhead off the backboard, box out the center during his landing, catch the pass-to himself-and finish off the play with an easy lay in. Larry Bird was pretty good his damn self.

His size made him a post presence and he only needed the smallest window of space to get his shot off thanks to those thick, strong, wrists but other than that, he played a game of athleticism with no physical gifts. Regardless, he dominated with an ease and confidence of men with twice his ability. Actually, calling it confidence is an understatement. “In your fucking face” might have been his middle name. Bird’s perpetual swagger was that of a man who had immersed himself in the game, a man who had seen and done it all. So whether he was tiptoeing the baseline-behind the backboard-or was trapped in a corner behind a double team, when he shot it over them, he knew it was going in. And he’d let you know too, before, and after it happened.

Their impact was immediate and widespread. They not only improved their respective teams, together they changed the game and saved the league.

It was almost cruel to choose between them, but from the beginning, to the powers that be Bird was the word. French Lick’s finest had bested Buck to capture Rookie of the Year in 1980, and finished fourth in that years MVP balloting. The winner? Magic’s supposed benefactor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose scoring went up a point (23.8 to 24.8), but averaged two less boards and one less assist per game than the previous year (12.8 & 5.4 to 10.8 & 4.5). After replacing his injured center in an unforgettable Game 6, Johnson won his first Finals MVP, but wouldn’t crack the top five on the regular season ballot until 1983.

He was sidelined by an injured knee in ‘81 resulting in only 37 games, and was besmirched by scandal in ‘82 after demanding a trade. Instead, Jerry Buss fired coach Paul Westhead, who favored a more conservative offense over Magic’s freewheeling play, and entrusted another visionary in Pat Riley. The Lakers regrouped and won 57 games in(50-21 w/ Riley) ‘82, best in the West, but the damage to Magic’s image had been done. He missed a triple double average by fractions (18.6, 9.6, 9.5), jacked a lig leading 2.7 steals, and it didn’t matter at all. The man finished eighth. He’d have to settle for another chip, and another Finals MVP.

Since the addition of Robert Parish & Kevin McHale in ‘81 (Championship year), Larry Bird was the MVP runner-up for three straight years. He claimed his first Podoloff in ‘84 and promptly propelled the Celtics into the Finals for the second time. Magic Johnson had three Finals appearances, two rings and two Finals MVP awards when he collided with his nemesis in the 1984 NBA Finals, but Bird was still seen as the better-and more valuable-player.

1984 NBA Finals, Game 7, Lakers @ Celtics

Magic didn’t do enough to change that perception.

1984-85-The Celtics (63-19) and Lakers (62-20) marched through the regular season towards the inevitable Finals rematch. Haunted by the mistakes of last year’s Finals, Magic answered critics questions about his leadership with a healthier season of increased scoring(18.3,6.2,12.6) as the Lakers took the West for the fourth straight year. Bird responded with career highs in points and assists, (28.7,10.5,6.6) including a 60 point masterpiece-only the 10th player in league history to do so.

Terry Cummings (23.6,9.1,2.9), Moses Malone (24.6,13.1,1.6), and Alex English (27.9,5.7,4.2) led the Bucks (59-23,+9 games), Sixers (58-24,+6 games) and Nuggets (52-30,+14 games) respectively as the league’s only other 50+ win teams. What could have been a close race turned out to be a landslide for Bird.

  • Four of the league’s top five clubs had teammates that received votes. Even the 24-58 Knicks squeezed two guys in. How is Bird the only Celtic? McHale (19.9,9.0,1.8) and Parish (17.6,10.6,1.6) were hardly slacking.

  • Why wasn’t Magic similarly recognized as the de facto leader of the Lakers? Was it Bird’s scoring?

  • English & Natt combined to make the Nuggets the league’s most improved team and won their division. Where’s the love? Especially when there’s two Bucks in the top ten?

  • Bird probably should have won, but by so much? Magic gets only one first place vote? Even the rookie got two!

What happened when the immovable object met the irresistible force? Magic Johnson earned the first Honorary T.R.O.Y. Retroactive M.V.P.

1985 NBA Finals, Game 6, Lakers @ Celtics

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar may have been the MVP of this series, but he was also 37 years old at the time. His performance was certainly worthy, but primarily ceremonial. He became the playoffs all time leading scorer during the series and the cognoscenti were feeling nostalgic. The man was past his prime and everyone knew it. Magic was the driving force behind that team, he was Showtime. He was the one who had improved his already exceptional game, resulting in an eight game improvement in the win column. He was the one with demons to face. Who would’ve shouldered the blame if the Lakers lost again? So let him reap the benefits. The Memorial Day Massacre should have crippled their confidence. Instead they became the first-and only-visiting team to celebrate a chip in Boston Garden. Kareem was a workhorse, no doubt, but Magic (15 APG in the Finals!) was the glue that held the team together.

1985-86-Not much of a contest. Widely considered to be one of history’s ten best teams, the Celtics went 67-15 and after some minor hiccups…

1986 Eastern Conference Playoffs First Round, Game 1, Bulls @ Celtics

1986 Eastern Conference Playoffs First Round, Game 2, Bulls @ Celtics

…they cruised to their second title in three years.

Bird’s third consecutive MVP was legit, but there’s still a few lingering questions.

  • Showtime went 62-20 and Magic comes in third? Not one first place vote?

  • Dominique Wilkins (30.3, 7.9, 2.6) carried the Hawks to 50 wins and finished in front of Johnson wiht five first place votes. Granted, there was a sixteen game progression, but still a dozen wins less than Los Angele, a perennial contender. Are the voters saying ‘Nique did more with less?

  • Again, why were Magic (18.8,5.9,12.6) and Cap (23.4,6.1,3.5) sharing votes when Bird (25.8,9.8,6.8) and McHale (21.3,8.1,2.7) weren’t? Because Cap was a legend and McHale was in his fourth year? They were both All Stars that year. Because Cap finished the plays and Magic only passed it to him? Despite all of his brilliance, Magic was a guard. Guards didn’t win MVP. Right?

1986-87-The takeover. This season was the first time in the history of the MVP award that the winner and the runner-up were both guards. It just didn’t happen. Since the game’s inception, big men-particularly centers-were deemed higher in the game’s pecking order than their counterparts. The big man’s ability to score from the interior with a high field goal percentage, in addition to an imposing defensive presence and steady rebounding was crucial to team success. Their overall impact on a game was greater than that of smaller players dependent on their jumpshots and ill equipped to battle in the paint. The name of the game was to put the ball in the basket, and the man at the basket controlled the game. From Russell to Moses, post players won championships, so they were inherently more valuable. Right?

The efficiency of the game was with the big men, but they had their limitations. They couldn’t handle the ball as well and their decision making in the open court was generally suspect. They were considerably slower than guards and more predictable due to their limited range and movement. Post players were chained to the basket and needed the ball fed to them.

The soul, the creativity, the artistry, the future of the game was with the guard.

Magic Johnson (23.9,6.3,12.2) had a statistical buffet, gorging on the competition in 65 Laker victories. Only the fourth guard to win the Podoloff in it’s 31 years, he certified his value in another iconic postseason.

1987 NBA Finals, Game 4, Lakers @ Celtics

Then there was Michael Jordan (37.1,5.2,4.6). A streaking explosion of coiled muscles. A barrage of pivots, pump fakes, reverse pivots, jab steps, pull ups and fallaways. A cavalcade of double clutches, up and unders, baby hooks, runners, reverses, teardrops and bankshots. Then there were the dunks. It was endless.

February 26, Nets @ Bulls

March 4, Bulls @ Pistons

March 24, 76ers @ Bulls

He only stopped because the schedule did. Jordan had torched the NBA for it’s first 3,000 point season in 24 years-from the two spot. Finishing second, he would have joined Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bob Petit as the only players from losing teams (40-42) declared MVP. That year’s ballot indicated a changing of the guard.

  • Dominique Wilkins (29.0) was the L’s second leading scorer and the Hawks (57-25) conquered a Central Division with two other 50+win teams and the Bulls. Atlanta had the third best record in the league and the next highest scorer on that team was Kevin Willis (16.1). He was supported by Doc Rivers (12.8), Randy Wittman (12.7) and Mike McGee (10.4). He took less shots (24.3 to 22.6), had less turnovers (3.2 to 2.7) and more assists (2.6 to 3.3) Drowned out by cheers for Jordan, he didnt get one first place vote, and even Kevin McHale finished with twice as many points as him (254/128). So was Nique rewarded for lifting his team the previous year, or just reaping the benefits of Jordan’s absence?

  • Speaking of McHale, he did improve that year, but shouldn’t that be a testament to Bird’s influence as it was in the past? He only had three points last year, having played only nine less games. Did this mean the voters suddenly couldn’t tell who was responsible for the Celtics success?

  • Bird (28.1, +2.3 on ‘86) was the Lig’s fourth leading scorer, and averaged a career high in assists (7.6). The Celtics (59-23) held down the Atlantic-and the East-again. How does anyone from a sub.500 team finish with twice as many points and a ten to one first place vote ratio? Isn’t this the reigning three time MVP?

  • Isiah Thomas (20.6,3.9 & 10.0)? 52 wins? Anyone? Only 17 total points? Anyone? Anyone?

“It would have been tough, if not impossible to keep scoring like I did during the 86-87 season. I attacked from he opening tip until the last whistle for 82 games. That was my mentality. In terms of physical talent we probably has less on that team than any other Bulls team I played on. I knew I needed to score if we were going to be successful. I’m pretty sure Doug Collins felt the same way. I had one streak of nine straight games with 40 or more points. You have no idea how much energy it takes to score 40 points one night. The difference between averaging 32 PPG over an entire season versus a little over 37 is significant. Think of it this way: If I scored 32 one night then I had to score 42 the next night to get even. But that was a different era. Very few teams were as sophisticated defensively as they are today. And no team, with the exception of Detroit the next season, geared its entire defensive gameplan to shutting down one player…

In the early years I compared myself to Magic and Larry. What could I do to elevate my game past theirs?”

1987-88-The blueprint. He already left defenders helpless. But it was his defense that terrorized opponents for the breadth of the court. He was a one man press. His strength, quickness, leaping, anticipation and recognition made him a more intimidating defender than men twice his size. He filled passing lanes, blocked shots from the weakside, stripped penetrating dribbles, skied for rebounds and started countless fastbreaks-which he emphatically finished.

Michael Jordan recorded more than 200 steals and 100 blocks for the second year in a row, a feat never acheived by any other guard even once (236 & 125 in ‘87 to 259 & 131 in ‘88. ). This garnished him the 1988 Defensive Player of the Year Award. Silencing critics who claimed that he was a one man show, Money made a concerted effort to involve his teammates which resulted in a scoring dip (37.1 on 27.8 SPG to 35.0 on 24.4SPG), but also an increase in assists (4.6 to 5.9) and shooting % (48.2 to 53.5). Aside from a paltry 3P % (13.2), his game was utterly flawless.

The Bulls (Seriously, look at that roster. Now.) somehow went 50-32 only to be matched up against a talented Cleveland squad, far better than their 42-40 record after the addition of veteran Larry Nance in a midseason trade. Outmatched and unfazed, Jordan opened the playoffs with consecutive 50 point games against the Cavs, another first in NBA history.

1988 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 1, Cavs @ Bulls

1988 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 2, Cavs @ Bulls

He would go on to average a record 45.2 PPG in the five games and win his first playoff series before falling to the Pistons (4-1) in the next round.

His performance in ‘88 was valuable not only to Chicago, but to the entire league. It was transcendent.

“…They were great all-around players, but they were never known as great defenders. I realized defense could be my way of seperating myself from them. I decided I wanted to be recognized as a player who could inflence the game at either end of the floor. The one thing people saw in me that they didn’t see in Magic or Larry was the athletic ability. They had great talent, but in terms of raw athletic ability I think I had a little more. To some extent I think it was hard for people to believe anyone eho jumped and dunked could also be a complete player. But that’s what I did at North Carolina and that’s what I was trying to do in the NBA. After the 1987-88 season the critics had to say, ‘This kid can have an influence at both ends of the court. He’s not just a scorer.’ Now when they talked about Magic and Larry they also had to talk about defense. I felt like I made the seperation, at least individually, to some extent that season. But I knew I’d never completely be recognized as their equal until we won championships.”-For the Love Of the Game, by Michael Jordan

  • Kevin McHale played in 13 less games, and saw a decrease in his averages (26.1, 9.9 & 2.6 to 22.6, 8.4 & 2.7) . Bird took two more shots a game that year, and all of McHales MVP votes?
  • Once again, Dominique Wilkins (30.7, 6.4 & 2.9) is a complete afterthought. Sixth place, huh?

1988-89- The Lakers had become the lig’s first back to back champions in twenty years and despite the reduced minutes and production of Cap’s farewell tour (10.1, 4.5 & 1.0 in 22.9 MPG), Magic considered that year’s team to be the deepest and most talented of his career. Assuming more of a scoring role in the offense, he also increased his assists and rebounds (22.5, 7.9 & 12.8), leading Los Angeles on a collision course with friend and rival, Isiah Thomas.

Magic Johnson broke the mold of the traditional point guard with a size and versatility that impacted the game more than his smaller contemporaries, but Isiah Thomas more than matched his adversary in skill and will. Zeke valiantly fought off a severely sprained ankle with a historic 25 points in the third quarter of the previous years Game 6, bringing Detroit within arms length of a championship, only to succumb to Showtime in seven games. The memory of such a narrow defeat drove Thomas and the Bad Boys to a franchise best 63-19 record in ‘89, securing the all important home court advantage for their Finals rematch.

In an anticlimactic twist of fate, both Magic and Byron Scott would injure their hamstrings, clearing the way for a Pistons sweep. Though Johnson had captured the season’s MVP, the vindication of a title helped Thomas forget that he only received one vote and one point on that years ballot.

But Michael Jordan (32.5, 8.0, 8.0 & 2.9) was more valuable than both of them.

Jordan spent a significant portion of the season at the point dominating smaller guards and during a three week span (3/28-4/14) recorded a triple double in ten of eleven games. However trading away their rebounding enforcer in Charles Oakley caused the Bulls to take a step backwards as a team during the ‘89 regular season. Chicago struggled to stay competitve while incorporating the awkward low post game of Bill Cartwright and developing second year talents Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. Their modest record of 47-35 was buried in the Central Division and as they stumbled into the playoffs losing eight of ten, playoff expectations were nil.

The Cavaliers (57-25) had taken all five games of the season series and were hungry for playoff revenge. Jordan opened a can of whoop-ass instead, stuffing Cleveland with 39.8, 5.8 & 8.2 before putting them to bed with “The Shot”.

The Bulls won their semi-final matchup with New York (52-30) and handed the Pistons what would ultimately be their only two losses of the postseason in a suprsingly tight six game series.

If the objective of the game is to win a championship, then shouldn’t the most valuable player be the one who gives his respective team the best chance to win? Magic and Zeke steered their talented squads towards June, while Jordan maximized the potential of a team that shouldn’t have lasted past April. An elite player on a mediocre team is needed more, expected to do more, and the fact that the opposition knows this only increases the burden. Off nights aren’t allowed. There is a distinct difference between leading a team and being the team.

With that, I present Money with the second Honorary T.R.O.Y. Retroactive M.V.P.

Stay tuned for part two.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Suns v. Spurs Preview.

What To Look For: So wait, now Steve Nash got screwed and a 61 win team-with homecourt advantage are underdogs? What the hell is going on here? This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen. One of these teams was supposed to stumble out of this series only to be trampled by the rested Mavericks, while the other found themselves one step closer to euthanization. Instead, Phoenix and San Antonio will now face each other in the Conference Semis as the top two favorites for not only the West, but the whole thing. It should be expected that they’ll play accordingly. Both may be facing their last legitimate shot at a championship, as their stars age by the day. That urgency will show in the follow through of every J and the intensity of every rebound. After a dismantling of the Nuggets fast break with their defensive fortitude, many expect the Spurs to continue their success by frustrating the Suns in a similar fashion. Tony Parker was the standout player of the season series, attacking with 28 ppg, including a 35 point performance (4/5) in which he frustrated the reigning MVP into foul trouble and the Suns were held to 38% How will Nash respond? This series should also prove to be another epic battle of post positioning between Tim Duncan and Amare Stoudemire. The NBA Finals are happening in May this year, and they’re gonna be great.

Phoenix Strengths/Weaknessess: Scoring quickly and consistently, even off of the inbounds. Strength and athleticism in the frontcourt, snipers on the perimeter and consistent from the line. Oops from half court and beyond, no look passes down the baseline for three, fast break, pick n’ roll, can’t board, spotty defense, yadda, yadda, yadda….It’s amazing how describing something so beautiful can become so tedious after so many viewings. It’s like trying to explain to someone why ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is so great in less than twenty minutes. Just watch.

San Antonio Strengths/Weaknessess: The Spurs are the lig’s most versatile and balanced team. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli penetrate at will, and are capable of making the open shot if defenders don’t fight through the pick n’ roll. Their passing and decision making in the open court consistently create easy baskets for streaking teammates and they make a Spurs break as dangerous as Phoenix’s. Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan anchor a suffocating Spurs defense that is committed to transition defense and disturbing the pick n’ roll. That defense broke Denver’s will, leaving them dependent on shaky jump shooters. The uncontainable Allen Iverson was confounded by the seamless efficiency of the Spurs trapping and rotation, missing contested shot after shot which fueled fast break opportunities for Parker and Ginobli. But obviously San Antonio executes best in the half court when the ball goes through the big fundamentals. His endless repertoire of post moves invariably draws a double team, which allows him to feed his strategically placed teammates. San Antonio spaces the floor well and has two more excellent shooters and penetrators in Michael Finley and Brent Barry waiting on their bench. The Spurs shortcomings will be a focal point in this series. Their free throw shooting is abysmal, and they don’t rebound particularly well as a team. Even though they took the season series from Phoenix, San Antonio was outrebounded by the Suns, who are hardly dominant on the glass.

How They’ll Match Up: Tony Parker is going to continue to attack on the offensive end for points in the paint, and Steve Nash is going to have to do his best to stay in front of him in addition to responding on the other end. He’s not going to morph into a defensive stalwart overnight, but his team’s best chances are with him limiting Parker’s easy opportunities, and he knows it. The energy he’ll need to expend defensively will be an additional strain that may limit his effectiveness. Nash is going to need help from his front line to limit penetration, and the Spurs are facing the same problem, so expect plenty of flopping and bitching from both teams as they try to work the refs. Raja Bell and Manu Ginobli might actually just play the whole series on their backs. STAT will hold down the paint with high percentage buckets for the Suns, just as Duncan will for San Antonio, but whoever has the more reliable shooters and can own the boards in this series will be victorious. Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw and Kurt Thomas are superior to the Spurs supplementary bigs, Fabricio Oberto and Fransisco Elson. If they can prove that with offensive rebounds and by making the defense pay for doubling STAT, then Phoenix has a better chance than advertised.

The X Factor(s): Both teams will pick n’ roll each other to death, who is going to make the proper adjustments first? Can San Antonio rebound and make their free throws? Will their bench wear the Suns out? Can Phoenix maintain the defensive intensity that they showed in L.A.? Will they live, or die by the three?

Series Prediction: PhP..Pho.PhPPhoenix in seven. Ugh. I have to go wash my hands…

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Pistons v. Bulls Preview.

What To Look For: Youth versus experience. While Detroit is considered a narrow favorite, Chicago’s 3-1 season series advantage has some thinking that their fresh legs and athleticism will triumph over the playoff tested Pistons. The Bulls collected their first playoff series of the post-Jordan era at the expense of the defending champs and are looking for more. The danger of a team with nothing to lose has been made readily apparent, and Chicago owned the season series on the boards, including last month’s 106-88 stampede without center Ben Wallace. This has all the makings of another upset.

Detroit Strengths/Weaknesses: Detroit has replaced the smothering defensive presence of Ben Wallace with the versatility of Chris Webber which has completely opened up the offense. His ability to stretch the defense with consistent perimeter shooting coupled with the easy baskets he can create with his interior passing are the perfect fit for their frontcourt. Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace mirror those attributes, in addition to a superior mobility that can finish off the fast break. Richard Hamilton’s sharpshooting along with Chauncey Billups leadership and decision making round out the Lig’s Fav Five. Every starter on this team is capable of scoring twenty points-on the same night. Despite only 96 PPG, Detroit has all the offensive synergy of a Phoenix or Golden State without sacrificing any defensive discipline. There’s a reason it’s called “Deeeeettttrrrroooooooit Bassssskettballlllll!”, They’re long, loud, in your face and it’s gonna be that way for 48 minutes. The Pistons led the league in block differential (+2.21) and were sixth in steals (+0.75). They communicate well, always make the proper rotation, and the length of their frontcourt fills the passing lanes and contests shots. The only area where the Pistons disappoint is rebounding. Despite the size and vision of their players, the Central Division Champs leading rebounder was Rasheed Wallace with an underwhelming 7.2 per. It could be their undoing.

Chicago Strengths/Weaknesses: They aren’t babies anymore. These are grown ass, um…Bulls? Chicago boasts strong interior play, impressive outside shooting, and a dangerous fast break. Da Bulls led da Lig in rebounding (43.67, +2.78 diff), dey were fourth in steals (7.79, +0.30), dey were sixth in blocks (5.42, +0.14 diff), and finished second in 3PT% (38.8%). They’re not without their problems though. Chicago has trouble scoring within the half court and go through frequent dry spells. Ben Gordon is the only player who can consistently create his own shot, and they’re a horrible free throw shooting team (73.4%, 23rd.).

How They Match Up: The 3-1 season series advantage is deceptive. Chauncey (1/6) and Rip (3/29) were missing in Detroit losses, and no Piston starter played more than 30 minutes in their final meeting of the season (4/4). Detroit’s backcourt is superior in size and strength, not to mention experience and it should show. Billups is strong enough to post up any defender, and his defense on Hinrich could disrupt a fragile Bulls offense. Hamilton will be able to get his shots off over Gordon if the screens haven’t already tired him out and his size advantage should help him on the other end. Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni played exceptionally well against Miami due to mismatches, but whether they can have a repeat performance against Tayshaun Prince remains to be seen. The collective shooting and ball movement of the Pistons frontcourt should keep da Bulls plenty busy when they’re not figuring out how to score themselves. No post player for the Bulls can be relied upon for consistent easy baskets and that will hurt them over the course of this series.

The X Factor(s): The future is now. Chicago is motivated by recent success and don’t know if they’ll ever get this far again, they’re going for broke. Detroit is motivated by past success and with Ben Wallace as a looming reminder of Chauncey’s impending free agency, they don’t know if they’ll ever get this far again. They’re going for broke. There will be plenty of jumpers, and this series will be decided in the paint as the Bulls look to continue their dominance on the boards and stifle Detroit’s second chances or fast breaks. Chicago’s hunger may drive them to keep things competitive but as this series progresses their need for a star of Billups magnitude will be apparent. Who are they going to depend upon for scoring during a drought? For a statement bucket? In the fourth quarter?

Series Prediction: Don’t believe the hype. Pistons in six.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Doubt Is A Four Letter Word.

"I'm 28 now. I shouldn't miss a free throw down the stretch, but it happens. We're all human. If we were all machines, it would be boring. Emotions play a factor in a big game like that."

"I think anyone who says they don't get tense is lying," Nowitzki said. "In big games, you've just got to find ways to stay loose and relaxed. I've been doing a decent job of not letting the pressure get to me and still enjoying the moment.

"I love to have the ball at the end of games. That's what it's all about, that your teammates trust you and you have confidence in yourself that you can get it done. It's a great situation to be in."
-Dirk Nowitzki

"Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen."
Michael Jordan

The definitive excellence of Michael Jordan was in his ability to consistently meet-and raise-expectations. Reaching the pinnacle of success is a lonely and perilous journey. The air gets thin up there. A successful reputation is twofold; the more successful one is, the more seriously they will be taken and the more cautious opponents will be in their plan of attack. For some, with continued success comes a fear of failure. A fear of exposure, belittlement, infamy. They know that players don't gracefully descend this mountain, they are thrown off by someone hungrier, and recovery isn't promised. Only the strong survive.

It's never shown in the box scores of a game, but the psychological and emotional advantage are just as important as the actual point totals. The playoffs are a battle of wills, and any sign of weakness is exploited. To doubt one's own will can make even rudimentary exercises such as a trip to the line excruciatingly difficult. Ask Nick Anderson, Karl Malone, or Gilbert Arenas. By definition, free throws should be easy, but in a tight game situation it's that very assumption of simplicity which complicates the process. It's also the reason there often isn't a repeat champion. Maintaining a competitive edge in this league is difficult enough, but the added burden of expectations can absolutely cripple a player and a team.

It's one thing to perform well during the monotonous redundancy of the eighty two, but to sustain that effort amidst the pressure and finality of the playoffs is something else entirely. Ask the '94 Sonics or the '99 Heat. In a game of synergy and snap decisions, the physical and mental manifestations which spring from a seed of doubt are anathema. Hesitancy or over thinking, lead to bated breath and quickened pulses, which produce dry mouths and sweaty palms. Nerves. As the crowd roars and the lights shine, the ears plug, the throat closes, and the vision blurs. Passes and rebounds are mishandled, defensive rotations are missed, jumpers get short armed, and games are lost. It's called choking, and once it starts it's hard to stop.

That's the beauty of being an underdog. They can't choke, they can only induce it in others.

"We will not sweep Miami"

-Andres Nocioni

He knew what he was doing. He knew the defending champion Heat were no strangers to injuries or 2-0 deficits. He knew Miami's talent and experience could fuel a rally and that many would in fact, expect that to happen. The Bulls were not the favorites in this series, and wouldn't be unless they won game 3, which is why Chicago withstood the inevitable Heatwave (womp, womp....) with a marked composure. Miami came out aggressive, took excellent care of the ball and led by seven at the half. They were riding an eight game home playoff win streak, and had won 26 consecutive playoff games which they led at halftime. The Bulls were uncontrollably turning the ball over and the Heat carried their lead into the fourth quarter. It all fell apart in one possession.

The Bulls raced to the other end and Hinrich attacked Shaq with a floater in the lane. The doubt O'Neal had instilled in Chicago with his earlier dominance was supplanted by confidence. A few possessions later Gordon would also lob one in over the Diesel, and that began a parade to the paint which resulted in a 15-2 run of nothing but free throws and easy buckets for the Chi. Miami lost their composure, the game, and now are looking not to be the first defending champs to get swept in the first round.

Why didn't Shaq dunk the ball in that earlier sequence? After he elbowed Ben Wallace in the head to clear his way to the basket, he certainly could have. Maybe he was just shocked he got blocked and rushed his followup. Or maybe he rushed that follow up because he was scared of the line. He and Dwyane Wade were a combined 7-22 from the charity stripe (The team shot 19-35). Miami's bid for another title is essentially over because they couldn't make their free throws. Karma's a bitch, ain't it?

"Dirk said that they gave us the championship last year. But he's the reason they lost the championship, because he wasn't the leader he's supposed to be in the closing moments."
-Dwyane Wade

"You look at what happened to him last year in the Finals. You can't let your team give away games like that, in the biggest series of your career. Look at what he did this year in their biggest games. When they played Phoenix, he made bad decisions, he made stupid plays late.

"And then he admitted to feeling pressure. He admitted it. That's the worst thing you can do is say, 'The pressure got to me.' My God, even if you feel that, why would you say that?"
-Rick Barry

"I'm coming back with a bunch of schmoes"
-Don Nelson

The whispers started a while ago, and he didn't do much to quiet them. 'Is Dirk a clutch player?' Hmmm... If there ever was a time for the 'we have nothing to lose' routine, this was it. He's openly acknowledged that he can be rattled and that anything less than an O'Brien this year is a letdown, so why wouldn't Nellie apply the pressure? His barrage of compliments towards Dallas are an obvious ploy, and so far they're working.

They're younger and more athletic, but Golden State's strength is in their fearlessness. They ain't no punks to begin with, and they're coming off a 13 year playoff drought? Against a team they took three from already this year? Sheeeeeeeeet..... S-Jax'll tell ya, "Toss that muthafucka up there and let's get this shit poppin'!"

That emotion can get the best of them, as it did in Game 2, but when questions arose of whether the Warriors would completely unravel, it was Dallas who lost their cool in the following game. This was supposed to be a five game series, six at the most. That prediction might actually prove true if the Mavericks don't find themselves. This is a 67 win team? This is the MVP? Everything is on the line and everyone is watching, how will he respond? If his first few shots don't fall, will he fall apart? Has there ever been a shakier 90% free throw shooter?

Observance changes that which is being observed, and tomorrow night the delicate flower that is Dirk Nowitzki will be our latest case study. He will either prove to be a shrinking violet, or his leadership will finally blossom before the world. In order to be effective he needs to exhaust the versatility of his game. He may be pestered by smaller, quicker players, but he can shoot over them, and post any one of them up-which should provide scoring opportunities for teammates. Either way, Dallas will live or die with him and he can't lead with the same self-effacing blather he's been spouting all year. It's time for him to drown out the whispers with a battle cry of ...

"If we don't get out of the first round this year, it's on me!"
-Tracy McGrady

In what appears to be an effort to circumvent media pressure, TMac has played himself right into Jerry Sloan's hands. It's unclear whether McGrady doesn't trust Yao enough, or if he's simply overzealous, but what's quite evident is that the Jazz are running to minimize Ming's effectiveness and his teammate is allowing it to happen. Despite playing only seven more minutes than his center (154-147), Mac has taken sixteen more shots (87-71). This in itself is not a completely telling statistic, but Yao has taken nineteen more free throws (39-53/26-34), while McGrady continues to struggle from the field (32-87, 37% in addition to 28% from three, 6-21). He's never been out of the first round because he's never had good teammates, and now that he finally has them, they're underutilized. Why? Expectations.

And don't get me started on Kirilenko.

"I thought they played harder than we did," "And we didn't stick to our game plan like we did in the first two games. We were a step slow and we weren't in the right spots. Defensively, we need to concentrate and be in the right spots."
-Steve Nash

"We had a chance to put them away," "They shot the ball well, Kobe was on fire. Game 4 will be a different story. We normally take care of the ball, but they were the aggressor."
-Amare Stoudemire

"It was effort. You can go over execution and X's and O's all you want. What you have to have is effort."
-Kobe Bryant

Foul trouble, missing open jumpers, poor defensive rotations and rebounding, whatever. However Phoenix lost the edge in this series doesn't matter as much as how they plan to re-establish it. They must look forward, not back. They have to give that same effort that built them a seventeen point lead in Game 3, and they have to know that L.A. will match that intensity. They have to know that Laker defenders are going to continue to show and hassle Nash on the screen/roll, that they will continue to attack the basket and crash the boards. Just as the Suns bent countless opponents to the will of their fastbreak, they have to know the Lakers seek to do the same through controlling the paint. Kobe wasn't on fire, he was waltzing to the basket for uncontested layups. So was Lamar, and so was Kwame.

Phoenix might be under more pressure than Dallas this year. They're interchangable title favorites comprised of All-Star rosters, led by interchangable MVP candidates. Neither should be struggling in the first round, but Phoenix is having this problem for the second time with the same team. What will happen tomorrow if the intimidator fails to intimidate? Again? As Marion disappears for quarters at a time and they continue to be outrebounded by a wide margin, will the Suns feel an added pressure to make every shot? What if there's more foul trouble waiting for them? Will they have to forego their plans for second round rest and acknowledge that this series isn't over yet? Home court or not, do they really want a best of three with Kobe Bryant? Will they feel that dream slipping away? Again?

As the final buzzer sounded on Game 3, Smush Parker attempted a dunk that would have put an exclamation point on the jubilant roars of the Staples Center. He was fouled by Raja Bell, and Mike D'Antoni was incensed by Parker's supposed lack of sportsmanship. Or was he trying to motivate his team through this perceived slight to keep their spirits up? To alleviate the tension? Anything to keep them from remembering this?

Can it happen again?

I don't doubt it.