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.