Friday, October 30, 2009
I won’t lie to you…I am tired of Kobe too. I’m tired of Stuart Scott confusing Kobe with his street patter. I’m tired of Lakers fans who use tags like BlackMambaCreatedTheWorldin7Days and refuse to countenance the suggestion that Kobe might wake up with bad breath. I’m tired of dicking around with the Kobe vs. Lebron question (Lebron), or Kobe vs. Shaq (Kobe). I’m tired of wondering whether he’s capable of a sincere human interaction that doesn’t involve anyone named Mrs. Kobe Bryant or Kobe Bryant’s Daughters. I’m even tired of hearing about Kobe’s Quest for Another Ring. Mostly, though, I’m tired of apologizing for Kobe.
Who cares, right? Why whine about it when we got the trophy last year? But when the best member of your squad is the American Civil War of the NBA (the motherfucker pits brother against brother), it grates on you. Because he plays basketball the way you wish the shooting guard on your team would play. Well, unless you are a Miami Heat fan; in that case go put on a white shirt and thank Avery Johnson every night before you go to bed. For the rest of you: let’s all agree that the media talking points suck, Kobe the person is not likable or adept in the spotlight, there’s an accusation of rape that David Stern has somehow declared Will Never Be Mentioned Again, and just for kicks his wife may be a psycho hose beast of Barbara Bush proportions. And let’s agree you would take him in your backcourt.
To keep things obvious, the Lakers NEED him in their backcourt. We have a Slovenian who supposedly improved his game this summer by cutting his hair. We have Shannon Brown, an unknown quantity of freakish speed and chaotic athleticism that may translate into more turnovers than points. We have a young point guard in his contract year who believes he should have been a starter three years ago but whose best defensive move may be hoping one of his ears clotheslines Aaron Brooks as he flies by for the -nth time of the game. Fish has been canonized at this point…in 2001 we guessed he was more Devean George than Norm Nixon, but he has proved his value with numerous integral plays over the years. So let me not seem ungrateful when I point out his legs will barely make it through another 100-game season; his shots still rainbow with that obscene arc, but now tend to go in fewer than 4 out of every 10 attempts. If it’s unclear why that’s a bad thing, I bet Daryl Morey has an ingenious algorithm to explain it.
What I’m clumsily implying is the Lakers’ chance at repeating as champions lies in its frontcourt. You’ve heard about the length, you’ve heard about the boy wonder Bynum and his injuries and large contract, you know Lamar has handled his role as sixth man without fault. There’s nothing revolutionary here, just a team built around size while most of the league went small. The Artest-for-Ariza swap? Your guess is as good as mine. Trevor was well-loved, as any young player would be if he makes the Leap on your team, especially on the way to winning a ring. Artest has been a long-time favorite in the same way I’ve enjoyed the speeches of Michelle Malkin…pure entertainment value, but please stay way the fuck over there. The only thing I can be sure of is Crazy Pills’ barber had better be sending royalty checks to Anthony Mason.
The one reason I’m not letting any of that ruin this season for me, or my hopes for another championship banner in our so-close-it-hurts attempt to outnumber those seventeen dusty green-and-white flags hanging in Boston: Pau Gasol. He yowls, he grows a beard that looks like it belongs in an underfunded Museum of Natural History, and he makes the whole damn roster click. He could pass to you across a Brooklyn-bound F-train car on a Friday afternoon. He can guard your center or your power forward, and might be able to move faster than both. He plays within any offense. He is the perfect number 2. He is the reason we were the last team standing in June, and he will be the reason if we do it again.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Editor's Note: The idea of team love is something that gets a lot of support throughout sportswriting. There's ESPN Philly and Boston and Chicago and all that shit. But there is seldom a writer that gets to expose their bias as completely as they want to (mostly because fans of other teams have no interest in hearing from us for too long). This got us to thinking. And thinking hard. So, throughout the NBA season, Pretzeltown is going to be an experiment: four contending teams (Boston, Denver, LAL and Cleveland) will be represented by four different writers sharing their thoughts on the process and progress. Now some Nuggets, uh, nuggets from Mr. Phony.
What is the idea of perfection? Some may a snowflake, or a circle, or a sunrise. Others may say Akira Kurosawa's oeuvre, a Jeff Tweedy lyric, or a rocking chair handcrafted in a backyard shed over many months, reeking of sweat and passion and love. Others - namely most NBA writers - would also add the Denver Nuggets' 2008-2009 season.
There's only one problem: they didn't fucking win anything.
Sure, they won the NW (but only via tiebreaker with the younger and not-quite-as-talented Trailblazers). They made the conference finals for the first time since 1985 (but beat two banged-up teams, the Hornets and Mavericks, to get there). They played the Lakers well in said conference finals (but posted an unforgivable no-show at home in Game 6). Call me crazy, but this sequence of but-fueled events doesn't sound "perfect" to me.
The logic was this: Denver was able to get rid of one thing they didn't need (A.I., a me-first shooter who didn't really make his teammates better) and get the thing they did need (Chauncey Billups, a floor general who would preach punchless George Karl's defensive mindset whilst simultaneously knocking down clutch shots; also, he's from Denver!). That this happened without a gigantic blow to their limited cap room was seen as quite the haul. The problem with this is that they were unable to persuade former Nugget Antonio McDyess to come with Billups, thus adding another veteran frontcourt body who could alleviate the rebounding-and-low-post-defending-the-pick-and-roll burden on Nene and Kenyon Martin. But, still, perfect, right?
Speaking of K-Mart and The Brazilian Hilarious one, that was the other part of the equation: Martin's knees didn't blow up like a suicide bomber in a crowded cafe, and Nene still has one testicle (that we're aware of). Apparently these two being healthy for two years straight is an unlikely scenario, but the Spurs staying healthy and possibly winning a title, with an average age of just under 47, is not.
And that's why nobody likes the Nuggets. Whenever prognosticators talk about who's going to win the title, it's always the same five teams: Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, LAL, and San Antonio. It's the whole "lightning can't strike twice" theory. But what is lightning? An athletic, talented team playing a bit of defense for the first time in forever, gelling at the right time in a down-year for the conference? And what is striking? That they started beating the teams they were supposed to beat, and eventually lost to a team that was superior to them?
It's true that the Nuggets didn't make any MAJOR moves in the off-season; signing Aaron Afflalo and letting Linas Kleiza and Dahntay Jones walk aren't big moves by any stretch of the imagination. It's true that they failed to land what they really need: a true center, like former Nugget Marcus Camby, or maybe Chris Kaman, aka someone who could allow Nene to move to PF, where he truly belongs and would likely dominate.
But it's true that they added something they lacked: a speedster guard (Ty Lawson) who would take crucial minutes away from the abonimable Anthony Carter, while at the same time saving Chauncey's aging legs. This made up for not taking DeJuan Blair in the second round. Almost.
Are the Nuggets the best team in the Western Conference? No. Are they the second-best? Probably not. Will they finish anywhere from 3-5, and again have a chance to reach the conference finals? You bet your signed Fat Lever rookie card. Sure, certain things have to happen - they avoid big injuries, Melo plays at a near-MVP level, JR Smith continues to mature and even show those playmaking skills he awesomely broke out in the playoffs, Birdman continues to be a defensive presence off the bench, Karl doesn't majorly jack shit up - but that is every team. This is the NBA, son - a marathon, a grind, a beast of a bitch with a mind to smack your whiny ass DOWN.
Lightning does strike twice. Mother Nature fucks Father Time without protection everywhere, around the clock. And Denver has a damn good team that is playoff-bound again. If you're a Nuggets fan, that's as close to perfect as you're ever gonna get.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Editor's Note: The idea of team love is something that gets a lot of support throughout sportswriting. There's ESPN Philly and Boston and Chicago and all that shit. But there is seldom a writer that gets to expose their bias as completely as they want to (mostly because fans of other teams have no interest in hearing from us for too long). This got us to thinking. And thinking hard. So, throughout the NBA season, Pretzeltown is going to be an experiment: four contending teams (Boston, Denver, LAL and Cleveland)will be represented by four different writers sharing their thoughts on the process and progress. Now some Celtics musings from BoL.
The idea of Rasheed Wallace is one that cannot be fathomed by humanity. He is a singular vision in frustration wrapped in blissful basketball pageantry. In beckoning his brilliance, the Celtics have signed themselves up to be the loudest, most inane group of assholes since Degeneration X plagued the WWF. (Garnett being HHH, Rondo being X-Pac, Paul Pierce being Shawn Michaels, Ray Allen being "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn and Perkins being "Road Dogg" Jesse James-- meanwhile, Sheed is left out of this entire process and I know, the tag team between Ray and Perk makes no sense, but Road Dogg and Perk remind me of each other, OK?). This is classic heel work and classic Boston Celtics material.
Only, I don't buy it. I know I should-- the ref-baiting, shit-talking and mean-mugging will be there, yes-- but will this team be any more reviled than any other championship-level "bad boy" team? Think about it-- people hated Bird and McHale way more than they hate KG, Ray and Paul Pierce. People hated Antoine Walker more than Perkins because Walker pretended to matter more than anyone on the court. Sheed draws ire, but more than McHale after the clothesline?
I mean, we're not discussing Detroit under Daly , here. We're not talking about a team that really looks hateable. They are a bunch of vets looking for one last shot together. They are too old to be hated, really. Shaq, who has weaseled his way out of another franchise with pity on his side somehow, or Kobe, or a team that still employs Vajucic, or Hedo Turkoglu, or Vince Carter--maybe they draw ire. But KG and a sixth man Sheed? Pierce? I just don't see it. Fans would be better suited to waste their time hating their spouses or kids for not being perfect than hating a team that will be "too focused." Hate the Spurs, hate the Lakers, Hate Shaq but it doesn't seem worthwhile to hate the Celtics for being the old team that refuses to go away, becuase when they do, you will have seen three years. That's it: three seasons, maybe four before they're gone.
As the year progresses, I'm sure everyone will find reasons to hate this team despite my pleas. Just don't waste my time with it. It's not often you get this much focus from a team so apt to break down, so I am just going to enjoy it while it lasts (at least most of it-- Doc loves getting under my skin with stupid lineups and I can't wait for Marquis Daniels to be the first player to play four positions and be overrated at all of them). I suggest everyone do the same. Don't Vince MacMahon my good time.
Editor's Note: The idea of team love is something that gets a lot of support throughout sportswriting. There's ESPN Philly and Boston and Chicago and all that shit. But there is seldom a writer that gets to expose their bias as completely as they want to (mostly because fans of other teams have no interest in hearing from us for too long). This got us to thinking. And thinking hard. So, throughout the NBA season, Pretzeltown is going to be an experiment: four contending teams (Boston, Denver, LAL and Cleveland)will be represented by four different writers sharing their thoughts on the process and progress. First up is Ryan Dee-- a man amongst Gods and an all-things Cleveland fanatic.
The Great North Coast Volume1:
With the 20th pick in the 1996 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected a center from Lithuania named Zydrunas Ilgauskus. A practical and talented scorer, with a wealth of size (7’3”) who had already played professionally in Europe but was a virtual unknown in America, he was part of a growing philosophy amongst General Managers and coaches. Experienced players in the European style could contribute to the American game. The selection was met with little fanfare, and when drafted in tandem with Vitaly Potapenko, Cavs fans were discouraged to consider that Michael Jordan’s ghost had exhausted the organization and the time had come to rebuild.
The rebuilding did not go well. The roster that Z joined boasted the likes of (teenager) Bobby Sura, (slightly more follicled pre-GM) Danny Ferry, (fat) Shawn Kemp, (not the novelist) Henry James and (not the quarterback) Derek Anderson. Ilgauskus spent the better part of three years disabled and going through painful foot surgeries that have basically replaced his once human Lituanian feet with some kind of early James Cameron-science-fiction-scrap metal set of feet certain to withstand the perils of nuclear holocaust but less likely to extend a career in professional American basketball.
Still, Z worked his ass off on awful teams where he was often the best offensive weapon. He became an All-Star and earned his 71-million-dollar contract by establishing a smooth 17 foot jumper that is difficult for Big Men to defend and also saves his body and METAL FEET from banging around under the basket.
In 2003, the Cavaliers were smart enough to be bad enough to draft something from Akron called a LEBRON JAMES (not a car made by Chrysler). And God was in Heaven and all was right with the World.
You would think that basking in the BENEVOLENT EVERLASTING LIGHT of BRON for the past five years would have shone a light on the big man-- who has consistently averaged 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds (and again named an All Star)-- but he is still included in the “when is LeBron gonna get some help” and “the cavs have LeBron and a bunch of stiffs” categories.
This year, the Cavs will not have that excuse.
Again, Z will concede to a Great Charismatic Athletic Monolith in Shaquille O’Neal, (I think he was the guy who broke backboards in the 90’s) the last great artifact of the attitude of Basketball in the last generation. Pre-tweet and Pro-Kazaam. And, it may just extend his career again. With Shaq taking a lot of the blows from the first teamers, Z is going to get favorable match ups against bench players which will allow him to easily spread the floor and bring slower centers closer to the perimeter allowing Cleveland’s back court and swing men James, Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to slash and score, which me likey very much.
It has been rumored that if they win it this year, Z will retire. It is also rumored that if the Cavs need to make a move (specifically concerning the Delonte West situation) that it may again, be Z (and his tempting, firm, luscious expiring contract) who is asked to make room for yet another star to improve Cleveland’s chances of licking David Stern’s GREAT BRASS RING, and having an excuse to make a parade in Cleveland.
This season, there will be an uncomfortable amount of references to the greatness of and possible departure of LeBron James and his relationship to the City of Cleveland, the City of Akron and the City of New York. Every Cavs fan will have to confront this possibility again and again via national broadcasts (I’m looking at you, Reggie Miller). This will be the storyline.
But there is another storyline coming to a conclusion: Zydrunas. The European experiment has been a success and we will get the opportunity to see Z reinvent himself again this year as a sixth man, complimenting and improving the dynamic of Cleveland’s second team, even if it is only until the trade deadline. And while there will be much written about the Native Prodigal, let’s take this year to enjoy watching the big, strange Lithuanian who has chosen to make Cleveland his home and who has enriched our basketball experience as Cavs fans with his loyalty and consistency over the last decade.
The locker room has changed a lot since 1996 and for four years now the Cavaliers have been, and their fans have been able to enjoy, a legitimate contender. So, if this is the last year of their dominance and if this is the last year of LeBron allowing his GOLDEN GOD DUST TO SPRINKLE DELICATELY OVER THE ROOFTOPS OF CLEVELAND’S ECONOMY AND SPORTS HOPES AND FUTURES then so be it. I’m just glad I’m not rooting for Fat Shawn Kemp and fuckin’ Bobby Sura this year.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
But when I did the NL West, little did I know that I would accurately - and by that, I mean PERFECTLY - predict both the record and place finish of my Padres. Did I really think they'd win 75 games? No. They were supposed to be terrible. And they were, offensively. I would've been happy had they avoided 100 losses like 2008.
Yet they had decent starting pitching, a good bullpen, a fantastic year from Heath Bell, and some timely hits here and there. They were one of the best teams for the last 3 or so months of the year. Kyle Blanks and Will Venable emerged as possible slugging stars to bookend Adrian Gonzalez, the most unheralded star in the game. Everth Cabrera and Tony Gwynn Jr. proved that speed up the middle is a good thing, especially in a park slightly smaller than Yellowstone.
So thank you, Padres, for a completely-not-terrible year. Yes, I was proud of 75 wins. Damn proud.
(But not too proud of picking the Rockies to finish dead last. You've made a powerful enemy today, Jim Tracy!)