When the Great Ones F**k Up
14 turnovers. 37% from the floor. Errant threes, missed layups, wild passes, butterfingers, and general poor decision-making haunted the Spurs last night. Still, they kept it so close, even taking the lead at certain points. The situation was the same in Game Six, two nights prior, when they had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. That’s where the frustration comes in. For players, for coaches, and for fans.
I had no rooting interest in this series, but my hope was to see perfect basketball. Two teams playing at their finest, two heavyweights smart enough to wait for an opening to jab, and a chance to counter off a block. I expected a level of sloppiness from certain Heat players, of course. Wario Chalmers was on the warpath, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were alternating games in which the other would actually show up (Bosh took Game 7 off after Wade took off Game 6), and aside from a breathtaking clutch-as-f**k three from Ray Allen, the cadre of outside shooters at the Heat’s disposal had ben relatively quiet.
For many seasons now, though, nobody has bothered to expect that from the Spurs. They’re the machine, after all. So smooth and intelligent. The blueprint for how a basketball team should play, by focusing on the very word team. They’re not unbeatable, true, but they don’t beat themselves. At least, we hadn’t seen them beat themselves, until last night.
First of all, a ton of credit does go to the Heat’s defense. They played like they had been coached to: smothering, quick, and frightening. But there’s not a chance in hell they expected Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker to fumble the ball as frequently as they did. I had never seen Parker literally lose the ball without anybody touching him before. He just lost control while dribbling upcourt. What of the horrible passes of Manu Ginobili? Just passing right to Heat defenders, or even out of bounds. Nobody could control the ball once they got their hands on it, and it cost them dearly. Like the apex predator of the Heat himself, LeBron James, once Miami saw an opening, even for a split second, they took it, and they killed.
The amount of times I scremed MANU WHAT ARE YOU DOING? is beyond count. Even the last play the Spurs ran, the second-to-last chance they had, Manu got the ball, ran towards the basket at full speed, and… nothing. He got clogged up behind the basket. Where was he going? What was the plan? He tossed it away without even looking, a disgusting, inexplicable turnover. Manu also took the last shot for the Spurs, a hideous contested three. The past two games have been so horrible for Manu, the rumors that he’ll retire are running rampant.
Tony Parker’s “hero ball” was embarrassing to watch going up against LeBron James. The amount of blown drives and missed shots were baffling with Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard being on fire, and so many long-ball shooters waiting on the perimeter, wide open. What’s the point of having a great mind and a great distributor when they lose control like he did?
Danny Green was mentally destroyed last night, continuing a bad trend that started in Game 6. After five games of earning his spot and proving so valuable that he was in consideration for Finals MVP, Green went 2-19 the past two games. Despite his good defense, Dwyane Wade kept taking shots right in his face… and making them. That could not have helped his mental state, but for him, Tiago Splitter, the amazing Kawhi Leonard, and Gary Neal, they have games ahead of them. They can get rid of these haunting memories in the future.
For Tim Duncan, that might not be the case.
Duncan was amazing all series, averaging a 19 and 12, and shooting 49%. If you take out the ugly blowout loss to Miami, he averaged 20 ppg on 52% shooting. Statistically, that’s pretty amazing for someone his age, but more importantly, he passed the eye test with flying colors. Every time he got the ball in the paint, it seemed like he put up another silky turn-around one-hander off the glass and right through the hoop. Duncan was a bonafide force in this series, and towards the end of Game 7, when the Spurs were down by just a few points, Duncan started playing angry, swatting away low-fives offered to him by teammates, and sinking line-drive free throws with impatience. In the end, though, with the Spurs down two, 49 seconds to play, he had the ball four feet from the rim. He smoothly lays it up, despite the defense.
Miss. Rebounds it. Puts it up again, this time virtually at the rim.
Miss. Bosh rebounds it. Timeout Miami. Duncan can’t believe it. Twitter can’t believe it. Even the Miami fans can’t believe it.
On the ensuing play, LeBron makes an open jumper from 19 feet after Parker moves to defend Battier, forcing a too-distant Kawhi Leonard to quickly move into position, only to be able to stretch his arm and hope this somehow phases the greatest player of this generation, a man who has sought from day one to silence those who criticize his “clutchness”. Kawhi could’ve been in LeBron’s shorts, punched him right in the balls, speared him like Goldberg onto Raven, and LeBron still would’ve made that shot.
The Spurs f**ked up. LeBron did not.
Eastern Playoff Preview: Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls
It’s all he does, but they have to play him 30+ minutes per game, because Brook Lopez certainly can’t rebound. Together they make for a healthy Dwight Howard, but it leaves them with four players on the court… kind of. I guess I’m also down on the Nets because they don’t seem to have any kind of personality or fight in them. They were born out of fat contracts, two owners with their own cult of personality, and a new stadium that needed a team to attract fans to pay off its unbelievable cost. The Bulls were born out of cheap management, a gutsy, then injured, then cowardly point guard who’s made more appearances dominating teammates in practice than on the court, and a coach who plays 82 Game 7’s every season. They are wounded, they are frustrating, but they are the definition of Spartan soldier. There is no quit, even if it ends with their bodies being carried back on their bloody shield.
They are Jeff Hardy in his ladder match with the Undertaker. You know how they really won that game against the Nets? It took Carlos Boozer playing 46 minutes, Jimmy Butler 43 minutes, and Luol Deng 42 minutes, with a lucky as hell layup from Nate Robinson, who has been a godsend for this team’s offense. For every stupid question about D-Rose coming back from local columnists looking for gossip, for every inexplicable loss to Charlotte or Toronto, this team will not be broken. They will be forgotten once Derrick receives his sign from God or from his agent to grace us with his presence. He will get the credit for every win. He’ll stand at the podium. He’ll pose for the pictures. But it was THIS Bulls team that got us here, and it’s that team that I am proud to root for.
Prediction: Bulls win 4-1
Eastern Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks
First of all, big ups to the Hawks for getting to the playoffs with this team. I had them pegged as bottom dwellers this season, likely to dump Josh Smith for an unsatisfying player or two, and carry a funk around them all season long. Instead, they found a new leader in Al Horford, who took a nice-sized jump in his game, gaining the production he lost due to injury last season. Smith continued to be a consistent if unspectacular and sometimes-frustrating contributor. Jeff Teague took a little leap himself, averaging 14-7 while starting almost every game, and Kyle Korver brought production beyond PICK-AND-POP-PICK-AND-POP-PICK-AND-POP. It’s a shame Lou Williams got injured, otherwise he could be a nice little x-factor for them. Instead they are forced to turn to a bench with DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Tolliver, and Johan Petro. They have some young talent that’s thrived when given the minutes in Shelvin Mack, John Jenkins and Mike Scott, but it’s hard to imagine them being trusted in the playoffs, or given the minutes with healthy starters.
They’re facing the eternally-forgotten threat, the Pacers. They’re kind of becoming the Spurs of the East, with inconsistent minute distribution, and inconsistent play from everybody, yet it has, by-and-large, worked out. At least well enough to get them the #3 seed. Even their wins and losses have been seemingly random. Take their schedule from January 23rd to February 26th: three losses in a row, followed by five wins in a row, then back-to-back OT losses followed by five wins in a row again. They’re doing it with guys like Jeff Pendergraph, Orlando Johnson, and Lance Stephenson getting significant minutes. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a Spurs team! The problem is that while the Spurs have consistency in Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, the Pacers have a (uh oh) plateaued Roy Hibbert, a wilting Paul George, and David West, who’s consistent, but not meant to function as the best player on a team. What the hell Paul George is doing right now is anybody’s guess, as he can only seem to be consistently good for two or three games, before being consistently bad to mediocre for two to three games. The past three games he’s averaged eight points on 22% shooting (15% from three) in 35 minutes of play per night. That is awful, no two ways about it. Look at the three games before those, though, and you’ll find averages of 24 points on 52% shooting (31% from three) in 41 minutes of play. The good news is that he’s been able to nab rebounds every night, no matter his scoring output, something that the Hawks guard counterparts cannot do. The frustration with Roy Hibbert comes from the fact that he’s intelligent enough and athletically gifted enough that he should be the best center in the East, and instead has put in plenty of 30+ minute games where he’s made no impact at all, and it’s inexcusable. Averaging 12 points and eight rebounds with his body and his moves? What the fuck happened? This guy should be averaging Dwight numbers. Ridiculous.
On reputation, this series shouldn’t be close, but I think these Hawks are gonna bring it. The Pacers need to get every guy playing at 100% percent effort, or else we might see us an upset.
Prediction: Pacers win 4-3
Eastern Playoff Preview: Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks
Truth is, these two teams are a very close match for one-another. As good as the Knicks offense has been, the Celtics defense has been just as good. Same goes for the Knicks terrible defense, which matches the Celtics terrible offense. What the series will likely come down to, then, is individual performances. If Melo can pitch in even a couple of the performances he’s shown this past week, with J.R. Smith staying sane, any of their bigs returning from the dead, and solid contribution from guys like Felton, Shumpert, Novak, or even Copeland, this might be over quicker than we think. It feels like that’s asking a lot, but when you look at this streak, that’s how it’s been. They’ve been that consistent, in ways that shouldn’t hold up. It’s not like they’ve been scoring 120 a night like the Rockets, or shooting particularly accurate. The team is just playing really well, with solid minute distribution and consistent gameplans from Coach Woodson. If you’re able to combine that with Melo playing possibly his best basketball, that can make for a very dangerous team, or at least one that’s good enough to beat the Celtics.
This Celtics team will fight valiantly, though. But they actually have a greater likelihood of beating themselves than anything else. They’ve gone .500 since the start of March, and the record really tells the whole story. The team actually has been a stronger unit as a whole since Rondo left, at least mentally, but there’s weak spots beyond the age of, ahem, certain players. Jeff Green has been quite good on offense, and seems to have matured into a critical player for Boston. It’ll be interesting to see who the Knicks throw at him to prevent him from having a major impact. Unfortunately, his defense remains spotty, to be kind, and it’s hard to imagine either him or Paul Pierce handling Anthony. Courtney Lee may be that defender, but then you have Lee’s offense, which ranges from non-existent to bad. Non-existent is probably what Celtics fans wish was Jordan Crawford’s game was, as it would be far preferable to what he’s doing now. Seriously, Jordan Crawford is bad, and he should feel bad. Instead, he’ll just keep shooting, and that drives me fucking crazy.
I can’t say this will be an easy series for the Knicks, but it’s sure as hell going to be a hard one for the Celtics. Both these teams need leaders to step up in legendary ways, and truly play like it’s the playoffs. For the Knicks, that will have to be Carmelo, with an average of at least 30/6/2. For the Celtics, they’ll need someone who can drive to the basket, coordinate things on the court while keeping a pace that favors the Celtics, and who thrives on national television with his fierce style of play. The only guy on the Celtics who can do that is Rajon Rond… oh.
Prediction: Knicks win 4-1
Eastern Playoff Preview: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
It’s virtually a given at this point that the Miami Heat are going to slaughter the Bucks, what with the Heat’s best players getting rest, and an aura of confidence that I haven’t seen from any team in quite some time. This isn’t the kind of confidence the Celtics usually try to bring, where they legitimately believe they can win any game, but privately acknowledge it’s going to take them sticking to a game plan, playing tough D, being healthy, etc. The Heat, on the other hand, have mastered the art of not giving a fuck while simultaneously being so focused that they can decimate anybody (except when they don’t). Their historic streak was not a fluke, though many will point to the close games they had and some inferior competition. There’s a case to be made in that, sure, but is anybody saying the Bucks don’t deserve to be lumped in with that “inferior competition”? They’re an 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, with a fan base that even Atlanta Hawks fans laugh at. So what’s the challenge for the Heat?
There is none, but there might be a scenario in which the Heat have to earn it in the fourth quarter. Looking at the final game of the season series between the two, in which the Heat won 94-83, the Bucks were only down by one at the half, and even briefly had the lead. They were able to keep it close by sinking threes, courtesy of Brandon Jennings and JJ Redick. They were avoiding low-percentage mid-range shots for the most part, and making the most of possessions. It’s all basic basketball 101 stuff, but there’s a reason it’s basic: because it works.
So how’d they lose? An atrocious third quarter can be blamed, in which they only scored 13 points and shot 4-for-17, including 1-for-8 from three. Throw in nine turnovers, and it’s a recipe for killing any momentum you had, and preventing any from being created. Credit should be given to the Heat’s defense as well, but seeing as seven of those third quarter turnovers were defined by Basketball Reference as “bad passes”, it’s clear that Milwaukee was not in sync. Considering how many players on the team have what could generously be called “offense-only” game, they’re going to need Larry Sanders, Goose Ayon, and Sam Dalembert (who was DNP-CD for this game) to step it up in penetrating the post, hopefully causing some kind of mismatch with Miami’s small-ball. It may be a moot point, though, if Birdman and Haslem are going to be playing. Both cleaned the glass against Milwaukee, nabbing 9 and 15 boards, respectively, and that’s with Haslem showing up a strong rebounder in Sanders at the center spot.
Basically, the likelihood of a sweep is very, very high, and considering LeBron only had to play 30 minutes in that final game, with neither of the other Big Three members, this series would allow Miami to give some bench warmers good playoff minutes and allow them to acclimate to the tempo, while resting their best for tougher competition… if there is such a thing in the East.
Prediction: Heat win, 4-0
Essay: How Carmelo and the Knicks Stopped Making Sense
As the value of “superstars” in this league continues to rise, a separate stock has emerged as equally valuable: the Hercules. The players who are so good, they can win games on their own. Their will-to-win terminates any sort of advantage opponents had over them.
This isn’t referring to players who can have really, really good games on occasion, like Kobe Bryant when his shots actually go in, or Rudy Gay when the Raptors face the Bobcats. It refers to players who every night have the aura of greatness, as if angels should blow horns, heralding their arrival to decimate your pathetic team. LeBron James is the obvious prime example of this, effortlessly putting up 26 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists every night. While many choose to focus on Kevin Durant’s scoring, he has an exceptionally well-rounded game as well, notching 28 points a night, eight rebounds, and four-and-a-half assists.
Credit can be given to the maturity of these two guys, as well as their ability to lead their teams and command respect. Throw in their unique physical figures (LeBron’s super ripped, tight end body, Kevin’s bizarre lanky-yet-muscular stature) and they’re two unbeatable players. They are Gods amongst men.
After the week Carmelo Anthony has had, if he isn’t a God, he’s damn sure got a great-looking robe and a long white beard.
Most of the media and fans have pretty much accepted Carmelo Anthony as one of “those” players. Y’know, the ones who are great, all-star caliber, deserve a max contract, lead the team in scoring, blah blah blah. He’s a superstar, sure, but he’s a human one. He has flaws, so therefore he’s only really great until someone brings up LeBron or Durant, or better yet, Melo’s playoff record (one round and out in eight out of nine appearances). After a very, very hot start to the season, the Knickerbockers had quite the cold January, February, and first half of March. Not all Carmelo’s fault, mind you. In fact, it was barely his fault. It was hard to believe that if Carmelo was on the same level as Durant and James, that the collapse they had would have happened.
Yet, the Knicks have bounced back and are playing the best basketball of the season, and they’re doing it the same way they got those 6- and 5-game win streaks earlier in the season. They’re playing tough defense, and the threes are going down smooth. It doesn’t hurt to have JR Smith absolutely gunning for that Sixth Man of the Year award, either. It’s been agreed that this has been Smith’s best season anyways, but in during this win streak, he’s averaged 24 points, six rebounds, a couple of assists and a steal in about 35 minutes of play per night.
Throw in four games of over 30 points, while putting up 49% shooting and 35% from downtown over 12 games, and it seems Smith has secured his place as a key factor on this Knicks team. It’s been Carmelo’s play over the past four games that has got people noticing these Knicks, though, and may very well change the playoff picture.
There’s been no shortage of praise for Anthony’s scoring abilities, both in his jump-shooting and ability to get to the line. Prior to these four games, he already had 23 games in which he scored 30 or more points. That’s over a third of the games he’s played this season. It’s also not the first time he’s been able to string together multiple games of scoring 30+, having scored like that in back-to-back games nine times already. It’s the sheer amount of points, and more notably, the timing of his personal streak that has potential playoff opponents nervous, including those at the top
Over the past four games, Melo has averaged 42 points per game on, get ready, 61% shooting and 56% from downtown. Tack on eight rebounds, and the numbers are nearly gobsmacking. So who has he been demolishing? Well, it all started when he dropped 50 on a LeBron-and-Wade-less Heat while shooting 69% on the road. The next night (yes, the next night, not just the next game) he went into Atlanta and casually put up 40. 90 points in two nights is the stuff of legend. But he one-upped himself, putting in 41 points against the Bucks, and throwing in 14 rebounds for good measure, in just 37 minutes of play. Certainly plenty could scoff at a great player like Melo running down teams that are generously described as “playoff-caliber”, but there’s no ignoring what he did against the Thunder in the fourth game.
In what was hyped, rightfully or not, as a head-to-head battle for the scoring title, Carmelo easily beat out Kevin Durant on KD’s home turf. Scoring 36 points to Durant’s 27 put Anthony in the insanely slim lead for the PPG title, but going deeper than that, he outright played better on every level. He shot 51% to KD’s 41%. Twelve rebounds to three rebounds. Zero turnovers to four. True, KD got more assists, but considering how Anthony usually plays, nobody’s quick to point that out.
After the down season he had last year, it seems Carmelo Anthony is finally putting this team on his back, but he’s had a lot of help, too. For all the clamor and hype about “superstars” and contracts and markets, Carmelo has emerged as a leader above all else, and these Knicks are prepared to follow him. Currently sitting at the number two seed, the Knicks are projected to take on the Boston Celtics in the first round, a team they’ve been able to handle this season. The Pacers could provide a real challenge in the second round, but of course, everybody’s looking at the potential of LeBron vs. Carmelo in the conference finals. Can Anthony will this team, and himself, to a victory over a god? To quote Hercules himself, “Whatever Thor canst do, Hercules canst accomplish more mightily!”
Of course, that’s Marvel Comics’ Hercules saying that, but hey, anything is possible.
Comic Book Review: Young Avengers #1-3
As it would turn out, graduating from college and applying to jobs takes up a lot of time, especially when punctuated with episodes of crying and wondering what the hell you’re going to do with your life. However, I have been able to keep up with some of Marvel’s new series, and few series got me more excited than the new Young Avengers. For the first time in the series’ relatively brief history, the title is under a creative team other than Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung. One of the biggest complaints about Young Avengers arcs in the past has been the delay in their publishing. Due to Heinberg’s outside writing commitments, Young Avengers was an infrequently published title, and there was usually a two-month wait between issues. This time, the title is headed by writer Kieron Gillen (Uncanny X-Men, Journey Into Mystery, Iron Man) and artist Jamie McKelvie (Defenders, X-Men: Season One), who worked together prior to their Marvel days.
Thus far, Gillen and McKelvie have masterfully worked with and played towards Young Avengers’ tight-knit fanbase, updating their Tumblrs with notes on each issue, giving thorough commentary on pages, and interacting with fans on a daily basis. This is probably the most accessible work Gillen has made so far, with his runs on Uncanny X-Men, JiM, and even his current run on Iron Man getting derailed by the major Marvel “events” of the past two years, such as Fear Itself and AvX. Rather, the Young Avengers are really off in their little corner of New York, though they have paid a visit to Avengers Mansion already. While each team member has been around the Marvel Universe for a while now, we’re getting a chance to see Gillen work without interruption and with the ability to keep the flow from storyline to storyline going without fear of having these characters be changed by major Marvel events. Plus, he gets new team members to play with.
So with all that said, I suppose I should actually talk about these three issues. Since the events of Children’s Crusade and the effective breakup of the team, each member has gone off to a fairly normal life, with Kate part-timing with Hawkeye and hooking up with Noh-Varr (Marvel Boy), Billy and the orphaned Teddy living with Billy’s foster parents (and still being a couple), while Eli and Tommy are nowhere to be seen (RIP Cassie). Meanwhile Kid Loki, one of the most beloved characters from Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery (a series I admittedly never understood) is able to detect that grave danger is coming, and that Billy will be the source. Thus he summons the fairly unknown Miss America Chavez to kill Billy, which she isn’t into at all, and she attempts to kick Loki’s butt. So what was this grave danger Billy was putting everyone in? Well, after getting into an argument with Teddy and feeling guilty, he decides to bring back his dead mom from a universe in which she’s alive. Turns out, though, that the “mom” he brought back is actually some kind of horrible living parasite taking over people’s minds and bodies while being made of melted puddy. Oh, and Kate and Marvel Boy are fighting Skrulls in spaceships, though we haven’t seen them since issue one.
Let me just say, these threes issues are quite good. Granted, being a huge fan of the original team and series, I was way too excited for this. The first issue is in no way action-packed, and the team doesn’t exist yet, so we get a lot of one-on-one, serious business conversations. The wit that filled previous issues isn’t appropriate in these first three, though I loved the Game of Thrones reference (of course Billy and Teddy are huge fans). Still, the dialogue is very natural between characters, and their personalities remain relatively true to their teen ages. Which is perhaps why I can somewhat forgive how the whole crisis this storyline surrounds began. Billy, after arguing with Teddy about the fact that the latter was still going on patrols, especially after two of their friends had died last time ’round, feels bad about getting so angry, since hero-ing is all Teddy has without a family. So Billy decides to rip open some holes in the universe to find his mom.
Y’see why that doesn’t make sense? Why would the character, who’s powers manipulating space/time/reality resulted in dead friends, who got angry over his boyfriend knocking out some thugs, decide that his first act of using his powers since, would be to do… THAT? Gillen has Billy contradict himself three pages in! Again, I’m willing to overlook this because he’s a teenager, and teens are sometimes compulsive idiots who don’t think before they act, and often act selfishly, even when trying to help others. You’d think a superhero teen who has seen some shit and who’s powers got WAY out of hand previously would exercise a little more caution, though.
The art is spectacular, but not in a flashy way. Faces are drawn very well, and the clothes each character wears fits them perfectly. The colors stand out most, though, with even the darkest scenes being filled with rich, vibrant tones. McKelvie’s art meshes the cartoon-style of the comic book world with the real emotion and look of modern cities and people. Aside from some odd-looking faces on occasion, McKelvie’s art fits the emotions of these characters perfectly. As lumpy as the start of the series has been, I have total confidence in this creative team that they’ll make sure their Young Avengers are as worthy of the love of their fans as the previous iteration was.
Also, Noh-Varr danced around in his undies to Motown records. So there’s that.
In case you missed it, my name is Aaron Weiss, and this is my website, warts and all. It has all of my published work, both non-fiction and fiction, serious and satirical, this and that. It’s alright if you didn’t catch that the first time around. You’re a busy person, what with your job and the kids. I get it, really.
I am a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH, having received my Bachelor of Arts in Communication, majoring Telecommunications with a focus in Radio. I’m pursuing my great love of writing on a both creative and functional scale, and doing my best to make a living at it. If you’d like to contact me with questions or regarding a job opening, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at (708) 822-5963.
Josh Smith is Predictable Money
We pretend like basketball is something we can predict. That we know how games are going to go, how players are going to perform, and who will be victorious in the end. This isn’t like football, where the season is so short and the game so physical that having a “bad day” could mean a ticket to the playoffs or not. It’s also not like baseball, where there’s so many games, a team could have dozens of hot or cold streaks in just a couple of months. Basketball can’t even be compared to hockey, because it’s so low-scoring, it could very well come down to a guy being in the right place at the right time, no matter how good or bad the team is. With basketball, the ball don’t lie. You can watch every play, see every movement from every player, and know how things are going to go. You know how the teams are going to match up. That’s not to say an inferior team can’t win, it happens all the time. Except you know that when it counts, they won’t win. The other team is better, because they play better, and usually, because they want it more.
There are exceptions. Jeremy Lin was quite a surprise last season, but we can chalk that up to either poor scouting, right place/right time, and the fact that Jeremy just got better. He’s come back to Earth now, but still shows that incredible skill on occasion. I’m sure not many people predicted the Lakers doing this poorly, though we knew they’d still be human. We saw the depth of their bench (none), and looking at how a previous super team worked out (the Heat, duh), we knew that it’d probably take a year before things really clicked.
Of course, nobody predicted how much Jim Buss would shit the bed and panic, but that’s another story for another time. On the subject of predictability in the NBA, there may be nothing more so than the trade deadline. In a game that seems easier and easier to predict, fans are constantly searching for solutions to losing streaks, sudden injuries, and humps that seem impossible to get over. One of the main reasons Jason Collins is still in this league, while bouncing around from contender to contender, is because he’s able to stop certain centers from playing their best, particularly Dwight Howard. How can a guy with a 52 rating on NBA 2k13 be more coveted by a playoff team than, say, Rudy Gay? The answer is money. The answer is almost always money. It’s the reason why Josh Smith wasn’t traded before the deadline.
In retrospect, despite all the discussion surrounding his name, and the sheer volume of rumors that were out there, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Smith stayed put. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is no idiot. Why take on a bunch of contracts in a pu-pu platter of guys who won’t really help you improve? The rare exception to this would be a move like Danny Ferry made to ship off Joe Johnson, and help kickstart the rebuilding process. In return he received Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, and Jordan Williams.
With the exception of Stevenson, all are already gone from the team, with Stevenson’s next two years on his contract being non-guaranteed. So yeah, they got basically nothing but a first round pick in a shitty draft… this year. It’s what they might have for next season that matters, because they might have the best team in the NBA. They might have Chris Paul. They might have Dwight Howard. Brandon Jennings, Manu Ginobli, Andrew Bynum, and Al Jefferson are all guys who could possibly end up with the Hawks. Heck, maybe a couple of these guys could.
That’s because The Hawks will have less than 19 million dollars on the books for this upcoming offseason. That’s it. Al Horford, Lou Williams, and rookie John Jenkins will be the only players with guaranteed contracts. That leaves room for at least one max contract, and if it’s a big enough name, who knows who’d be willing to play for less for a shot at a ring? The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a similar move, no surprise as GM Chris Grant worked directly under Ferry until the latter’s resignation in 2010.
Now, Cleveland has 32 million dollars in guaranteed contracts this summer, but it’s the players signed to those contracts that matter: Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, Marreese Speights, and Alonzo Gee, with Irving, Waiters, Thompson, and Zeller all playing on rookie contracts. They’d be even sweeter off for the next off-season, with even more contracts off the books, and perhaps the return of Lebron, as the King himself has publicly teased.
So why would a team ever pay the maximum for a guy like Josh Smith, who is an All-Star caliber with poor decision-making skills who has shown no interest in being a team leader, and who’s skills have plateaued? Because this league is all about the haves and the have-nots. It’s about who you can put on the marquee to make money. As an owner, giving a talented, well-known player huge money really isn’t that much of a risk. Josh Smith will draw enough attention and buzz around any team he goes to, so the sales of tickets and merchandise will rise, and that’s the real bottom line for team owners. Even if you end up losing, you can keep baiting fans into buying tickets by drafting touted players, making trades, LOOKING better than you did the prior year, even if that facade is broken come playoff time, when you’ve put together another 7-seed that’s getting bounced in the first round.
Of course, there’s a reason Josh Smith can’t come back to Atlanta. The long con that was Johnson/Smith/Horford dried up at least a year before Johnson was traded to Brooklyn. The fans caught on, and tickets weren’t being sold. It took years for that to happen though, and as an owner, if you’re getting years of price-gouged tickets being sold to duped fans, buying 30-dollar t-shirts and 5-dollar hot dogs to watch your team lose by 15 to the Heats and Thunders of the league. The added bonus, of course, is that if your team is actually good, then you don’t look like an idiot for giving Josh Smith all that money! But you have to be really good. The Bulls are learning this the hard way *COUGH* Carlos Boozer *COUGH*.
What the player get out of this though? Uh, money. They get money out of this. “Sure, sure,” you say, “but won’t they look like douchebags for accepting so much money even while losing? Won’t the fans resent them?” Well, maybe. Depends on the player. Kobe Bryant is set to get about 30 million next year. But a) he has rings and, more importantly, b) he looks like he’s trying really hard not to lose. When you see Dwight Howard jack up 15-footers while double teamed when the Lakers are down by 9 with 2:30 left to play, then not hustle back on defense and smile and goof off in the huddle, yeah, that’s pretty fucking infuriating. But because Kobe, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and other truly great players never, ever quit, and are violently ill with competition, you don’t mind.
Why do you think Dwight smiles, then? Because he’s getting paid a lot of money to play his favorite sport for 7-9 months, then getting to do whatever the fuck he wants during the summer, all while being young, ripped as hell, swingin a big dick (probably, right?) surrounded by beautiful women, beautiful homes, beautiful cars, and adoring fans. I mean, c’mon, I’d be starstruck as hell if I ever met Dwight, and I think he’s an asshole. The point is, Dwight’s not sweatin’ when freaking Byron Mullens drops a three in his face in the second quarter when the Lakers are up 13. He probably should, but it’s hard to blame him when he doesn’t.
So don’t be surprised when Josh Smith gets overpaid. Don’t be surprised when either the Heat or Spurs win the title, despite not having a single player signed to a max deal. Most importantly, don’t be surprised when the answer to all your questions – “Why didn’t we sign that guy?” “Why didn’t we trade for that guy?” “Why did we give that guy such a big contract?” “Why aren’t we getting better?” – turns out to be what it always is: money.
How The Bulls Are Blooming Without Rose
Even as a Bulls fan, I often forget that Derrick Rose was ever named MVP. It just feels like we’ve been living in this era where LeBron dominates everything, and anything he doesn’t, Kevin Durant does. R0se won the award based on his numbers and his talent, as all MVPs do, but it took a lot to get those numbers and to reach that talent. He was only 22, and in his first season with coach Tom Thibodeau.
A lot of the improvement from Thibs’ coaching would come the next season, in his defense and outside game. That MVP season and that run in the playoffs was based on will. Desire. Passion. That’s also what’s keeping this Rose-less team not just afloat, but succeeding beyond wildest expectations. Chicago is in third place in the Eastern Conference, and with Rose returning to contact practices, it seems a matter of time before they retake first place. So how does the fight in these Bulls translate to actual wins?
Let’s break it down, player-by-player. First, there’s Joakim Noah, arguably the team leader at this point, a role he may very well keep when Rose returns. JoNo has always been an emotional player, but in his early years it translated to petulance and streaky play. Thibs has finely channeled Noah’s passion into a full-court monster, executing in almost every facet. He almost has to, considering he’s averaging a jaw-dropping 38 minutes per game, unheard of for a big man, especially one coming off a season with multiple ankle injuries.
His field goal percentage is at a career low 45%, but he’s averaging a career high 10 attempts and 12 points per game. He’s also improved his finesse game, getting less than three fouls per game (pretty good for a big man) and getting a career high four assists per game, executing a sweet drive-and-dish move frequently. Add on his usual 11 rebounds and career-high two blocks, and Noah becomes the Bulls captain on both ends of the court.
The other Bulls All-Star, Luol Deng, led the league in minutes per game last year with 39.4. This year? 39.6. Except this time, he’s brought back his lethal scoring, averaging more points and better field goal percentage than last season, with career-high free throw accuracy. Add in his usual all-around game (six-plus rebounds, three assists), and it’s no wonder why he’s regarded as the prototypical small forward. He’s a better defender than Danny Granger or Rudy Gay, but a better shooter than Metta World Peace and Gerald Wallace. He’s not a superstar like LeBron or KD, but he’s very, very good. Hence the second straight trip to All-Star Weekend.
The player with the All-Star contract, Carlos Boozer, has blossomed this season. He was much maligned the past two seasons for failing to live up to his contract and staying on the court in crucial situations—such as game six against Philly last season, when he sat out the entire second half in favor of defensive wünderkind Taj Gibson. I called for his head, for his contract to be burned at the stake.
This season he’s returned to form, averaging almost 16 points and nearly 10 rebounds in 31 minutes per game. His counterpart, the aformentioned Mr. Gibson, has continued to bring his consistent rage and smashiness to the game, maintaining his averages from the past two seasons. It’s concerning that he hasn’t grown more, but considering Thibs is keeping his minutes at 20 for the past two seasons, it’s hard to see how he could. Time will tell what his ultimate contribution will be.
Marco Belinelli has taken the Kyle Korver role, and reveling in it. It doesn’t hurt that he had a few clutch moments in a row. If you do a side-by-side comparison, there’s not much difference in their overall contribution, until you take into account that Belinelli is also younger, leaving room for improvement. He’s also quicker, making him a more consistent threat on the fast break. He offers a fresh break from the ancient Rip Hamilton. That’s not meant to be a diss on Rip. He’s still putting up 11 points and a couple of assists per game. He may be the only outright failure as a deal for the Bulls, but that’s not saying much, as he still contributes…to a degree.
Then there’s the yin and yang of Hinrich and Robinson, and I don’t mean it in a black/white way. Hinrich is a big distributor, already averaging over three more assists than last season in just three more minutes, and he’s scoring more. Injuries aside, he’s earned his title of “Captain” Kirk. Nate Robinson, on the other hand, has earned his title of “crazy.” The ultimate microwave scorer, Nate has only started five games, but has played in all 44. He’s had multiple games where he’s been the top scorer, and the Bulls have won some of those too. Despite being in the mix as someone who could get released in early January, Robinson made himself important to the team’s success, as an irrational-confidence guy coming off the bench. He’s been doing it his whole career, and for a team that has won 40 straight games when scoring 100 or more points, you need performances likethis.
Topping it all off is the steal of last year’s draft, Jimmy Butler, or has he’s been suddenly dubbed, Jimmy Buckets. Butler was a drafted to be a defensive stopgap for Luol Deng when Deng was on the bench, which would allow for bench players to score more. Not many points to distribute between Boozer, Deng and Rose, ya dig? Within the past month, though particularly the past week or so, he’s become a new scoring threat, scoring 16 against the Warriors and Hawks, 18 against the Pistons and Grizzlies, and a career high 19 against the Bobcats.
Butler is the epitome of the Bulls this season, doing everything you’d expect him to, plus one or two things you didn’t. You expected the Bulls to stay strong on defense, having an awesome 97.8 defensive efficiency, and holding opponents to just 91.5 points per game, both good for third in the league. But they haven’t dropped off in offense, either. Last year they were 18th in points per game. This year? 20th. Last year they were 12th in field goal percentage. This year? Eighth.
Granted, it’s an ugly eighth, and it’s actually two percentage points worse than last year, but it shows they’re still playing the game they want. They’re winning with Bulls basketball. The question is, can Derrick Rose still play Bulls basketball?