Part 1 of Three-Part NBA Preview – Balls Out!

Part 1 of my NBA Preview.

Since the basketball season ended, here are relevant things I’ve done to prepare myself for this:
1. purchased “Lindy’s sports pro basketball 2014-15” at a bookstore in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood that specializes in gay porn
2. Got through half of Grantland writer Zach Lowe’s “33 crazy predictions”. “Crazy” is defined pretty generously in this column, as an aside. Lowe predicts such insanity as the Minnesota Timberwolves possibly trading one of their reserve veteran swing men during the season to make more playing time for Andrew Wiggins. It would be like if I wrote a column “33 crazy predictions for my next year in Los Angeles” and included such predictions as “will make some effort to play tennis” “might visit San Diego” “could create online dating profile, but infrequently try to use it”

Anyway, I am ill informed. Do not gamble based on my “predictions” as such. These are just thoughts about the 30 nifty basketball teams we have in the NBA right now. In reverse order to dramatically build up suspense.

30. Philadelphia 76ers

Philly is being too clever. The problem is young players playing on a team that doesn’t care about whether they win games. This breeds bad habits, the wrong attitude, etc. It’s not good. I feel like Michael Carter-Williams has already been fucked around with by this organization.

Also, there seem like numerous practical considerations Philly is not taking into account. Like their two most theoretically valuable actual players are Joel Emblid and Nerlens Noel, a center and a power forward. And the big prize of the next draft is Duke center Jahil Okafor. So: If they “suck-seed” at getting the #1 overall pick, that means, what? They trade the pick? They trade Emblid who probably has weird trade value because he won’t play this year? They trade Noel and make a “twin towers” formation? They just keep “stockpiling assets” with total disregard for whether the players might actual fit together in a real-life basketball game?
They will be spinning their wheels as a franchise for a while.

29. Orlando

Every year people go to law school because they are smart, motivated and have a plan to make a fulfilling, sustainable vocational pathway out of law school. But also I suspect some people just go to law school because they have no idea what else to do and even though they are borrowing thousands of dollars and spending their lives toiling away in front of large, poorly-written books, they are at least doing something with your lives.

It’s something easy and clear to tell yourself, your family, your friends, new people you meet: What am I doing with my life? Well, I’m going to law school.

There is also a subset of the population that have children for this reason.

And there’s a group of NBA franchises that re-build along similar philosophies. I think Orlando is one of them.

Like getting into a prestigious law school or having a physically attractive child, Orlando gave a glossy sheen to the whole process by improbably “winning” the Dwight Howard trade. That they actually came out the, relatively, best from that whole affair has made people cautious about thinking critical thoughts about their rebuilding.

I’m critical because I just don’t see where it’s going. What is the breaking point where they actually are expected to win games? They went 23-59 last year in an historically bad eastern conference and then dumped their most productive player, Aaron Afflalo, in the off-season to the Denver Nuggets, one of those sucka teams where the management actually cares about winning games.

The one thing going in Orlando’s favor is that their five young “assets” —
Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Nicola Vucevic and Tobias Harris — all could actually play on the floor together. But I feel like Orlando will dick around give Channing Frye a bunch of existentially meaningless minutes, even play Ben Gordon and Luke Ridnour, and not try to give their young five a chance to gel as a unit.

I just feel this team derives a certain depressing comfort being enveloped in the rebuilding process. But I really don’t know what I’m talking about and this team could semi-surprise. So this is the first of many predictive hedges, but ultimately my intuition is that Orlando will be sucky and forgettable.

28. Utah Jazz

What is the greatest experience I’ve ever had watching a televised basketball game? Maybe it’s a classic, brilliantly played, taut college basketball tournament thriller from the early 90s like when Duke shocked UNLV in the 1991 final four, or Duke beat Kentucky on Christian Laettner’s overtime buzzer beater the next year.

Maybe it’s watching an NBA team I was really pulling for capturing a tremendous upset win in the NBA playoffs, like when Houston beat Orlando in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals or when Detroit beat the Lakers in Game 1 of the 2004 NBA FInals.

Maybe it’s a game I attach special sentiment to like watching the three overtime NBA Finals game between the Bulls and Suns in 1993 with my Dad at my Grandma’s house in Vero Beach, Florida. Or the next year’s family vacation when I was in an Elkhart, Indiana hotel room when Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller scored 25 points in the 4th quarter to beat the Knicks, and grabbed his nuts while pointing toward Spike Lee. I fondly remember watching the local news that night.

Anyway, there are a lot of great candidates for my greatest basketball watching experience ever.

But there is only one nominee for the worst basketball game I’ve ever watched: last season’s regular contest between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, announced on WGN by Stacey King and Neil Funk.

The game happened on a Monday night in early December. I watched it in a 55 degree apartment in Chicago. We were not aware at the time that Chicago was about to undergo its coldest winter in history spurring me to leave the Windy City.

We were aware, though, that the Bulls had just gone from NBA title contender to a frustrating, grinding team because three days before Derrick Rose got injured again.

It was a funereal like atmosphere, to say the least. I’ve actually felt happier at some funereal processions than watching this game. The crowd booed Carlos Boozer, a former Jazz man that signed with the Bulls, and Boozer responded with his typical, faux-I’m-fired-up bullshit. Kirk Hinrich was centrally involved.

The Jazz won in overtime, continuing the NBA’s streak of at least one team winning every single game in league history. I pretty much hated everyone and everything after I saw this game.

Anyway, there is one thing I like about the Jazz and one thing I don’t like:

The thing I like is that Tyrone Corbin is no longer their coach. Maybe Zach Lowe’s best piece of writing ever is carefully destroying Corbin as one of the worst coaches ever. Quinn Snyder has to be better.

The thing I don’t like is that for the past three years they have drafted point guards – Alec Burks, Trey Burke and now Dante Exum, the black Luc Longley (Exum, of course, has nothing in common with Longley other than their common Australian heritage. But I amuse myself by calling someone the “Black Luc Longley.”)

I guess Burks can play shooting guard, but it just seems like kind of a jumble.

I mean, like Orlando, Utah, in theory has a line-up full of young talent: Burks, Burke, the lavishly paid Gordan Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (the Turkish Luc Longley). So they could just play them all together and see what develops, but I almost feel like that would just expose the team as not doing that great of a job stockpiling talent to produce a winner. Favors and Kanter seem particularly underwhelming.

27. Sacramento Kings

They have the worst back court in the league on paper and they play in the Western Conference. It’s fun to talk about Boogie Cousins, but I feel the prior sentence suffices as an exhaustive preseason analysis of this year’s Sacramento Kings.

26. Milwaukee Bucks

As someone who admittedly didn’t see many Bucks games last year, I don’t totally understand the Giannas Antetokounmpo buzz. If G.A. is really that good, I guess I’m underrating Milwaukee.

But this looks like a bad team on paper, and I have no idea how Jason Kidd will be as a Bucks coach. I don’t see Jabari Parker as a player that can single-handedly make a bad team not bad.

Also, I think this team will leave Milwaukee and that’s going to color stuff the next couple of years. Finally, I think this team has stuck with their forest green uniforms for too long.

25. Boston Celtics

Barf. Rajon Rondo is good, Marcus Smart is probably good, and Avery Bradley plays good defense. But they all play the same position! And those are the three most appealing players on the team.

They’re going to start men named Marcus Thronton, Tyler Zeller, and Jared Sullinger, according to this basketball preview issue I’m flipping though. Brandon Bass and Kely Olynyk round out the front court “rotation.”

Boston is ranked ahead of better-on-paper teams like Orlando, because Brad Stevens is a notably good coach, they are a better-run organization, and, consequently, will get something significant from Rondo and Jeff Green, either from their contributions as players or trade pieces.

24. Indiana

Unless Roy Hibbert converts to Islam or something and rediscovers his career, they’re going to tank.

The Larry Bird-era Pacers seem really cursed. They were fucking 40-12 at one point last year! Their swoon here is akin to their post-Malice at the Palace swoon. The Paul George injury was horrible, of course, but this team headed a free fall already. I mean, not re-signing Lance Stephonson is a pretty strong indication of the realization that things weren’t working.

23. L.a. Lakers

I don’t know. Everything about this team screams they’re going to be awful, including Coach Byron Scott. They are expecting big minutes from Carlos Boozer.

That said, they have Kobe Bryant and there’s a chance Bryant will keep them competitive. He was leading the league in scoring in 2012-13. My only sure-fire prediction is that it will be easier for me to get Lakers tickets than Clippers tickets.

22. Phoenix Suns

Here’s my first wild and crazy prediction. Phoenix, a young team last year that finished 48-34 in the exceedingly difficult Western Conference will finish about 35-47 this year in the still exceedingly difficult Western Conference.

Here is my defense for such an irresponsible prediction –

1. Phoenix was supposed HORRIBLE last year. Their Vegas over/under for wins was 18! I think you can plausible deduce from that, while to a large extent, we really, really underestimated this team, to a partial extent they really over achieved. Goran Dragic and Gerald Green particularly played so much better than they have ever played before that it seems hard for those players to replicate that level of individual success and hard for the team to replicate their overall success

2. They went overboard in not re-signing Channing Frye and then spending that money on Isiah Thomas. Even the Detroit Pistons great three-guard rotation of short basketball men featured Joe Dumars, a legendarily great defender of shooting guards. The Suns three-guard rotation of Dragic, Eric Bledsoe (also signed to a HUGE contract this summer) and Thomas are three point guards. Even by the NBA’s current trend of basing your scoring around your point guard, this is wildly excessive.

How will this work defensively? With floor spacing? I think the Thomas signing is the sign of a team too enamored with its own surprising success.

21. New York Knicks

Wait a second, why is this team not supposed to totally suck? Because they hired Phil Jackson in some kind of advisory role? Because Coach Derek Fisher will implement the vaunted triangle offense, an offense that has admittedly had historic successes on teams with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (Get in your space, Carmelo!)

I mean with the major exception of having Carmelo Anthony they don’t look that much better than the Celtics on paper. They’re going to rely on big minutes from the likes of Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani and Tim Hardaway, Jr. I’d say Iman Shumpert is probably their 2nd best player.

By trading Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Calderon, they are probably a less talented team than last year’s team that missed the playoffs.

This is going to sound semi-insulting, but it isn’t- Carmelo is basically the Dominique Wilkins of this generation. Which means that he’s a hall-of-fame player who can carry a team that is otherwise limited offensively. But also means that he’s not necessarily good enough to carry a team – like last year, during his contract season.

Because they’re the New York Knicks, there seems like a vague feeling that the team deserves the benefit of the doubt that they will be relevant. But this team just doesn’t have much potential to do damage, and, I think, will just simply be bad.


Against Tanking


Chicago’s skid since Derrick Rose’s latest season-ending injury has drawn cries from Bulls fans to “tank” the season. Hey, maybe the Bulls win the lottery and get Andrew Wiggins or get the second or third pick, and select Jabari Parker, who, like Rose himself, attended Simeon HS in Chicago.

Deliberately losing, such as staying in bed for 20 hours each day, is a tempting path of least resistance if things aren’t going well. But using this strategy in the NBA is out of control.

The Sixers, Raptors, Celtics, and Magic, in the East alone, are throwing away today for the illusion of a glorious tomorrow. The Bucks, after their best player got injured in a bar fight, have also plunged into the tank. So the Bulls must “contend” with those teams, plus the Jazz in the West. Given that dirty half-dozen, plus squads that involuntarily suck like the Knicks, the chance that a team with a Deng-Boozer-Noah frontcourt loses enough to win is slim, present slide notwithstanding.

But, regardless, of the Bulls pickle, I find distasteful the idea that tanking is shrewd, Continue reading Against Tanking

Kyrie Irving and the contemporary point guard

The Cleveland Cavs season is so far disappointing and so far defined by a feud of sorts between Kyrie irving and Dion Waiters. I think this shows the limitations of the so-called golden era of NBA point guards.

Irving is averaging like six assists a game. This is par for the course in today’s NBA. Other all-star level point guards like Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, also average like six assists a game, and get more than three times as many points as they have assists.

Things were different in the last golden era of point guards: the Magic-Isiah-John Stockton-Kevin Johnson-Tim Hardaway-Mark Price era of the late 80s and early 90s. Continue reading Kyrie Irving and the contemporary point guard

The Grand Meaning Of An Obscure Book About An Obscure Basketball Player

You love to hear the stories again and again.  The potential of basketball players with cocaine problems or, less exotic, alcoholism or a heart condition or the victims, in some way, of something tragic.

Michael Ray Richardson could have been as good as Magic Johnson.

Roy Tarpley could have been as good as Moses Malone.

The potential of Len Bias, drafted between Brad Daugherty and Chris Washburn in 1986, grows with each passing year from his fatal cocaine overdose. Continue reading The Grand Meaning Of An Obscure Book About An Obscure Basketball Player

’93 NCAA Title Game Revisited, aka the ‘time out’ game

I have watched in its televised entirety the 1993 North Carolina-Michigan NCAA men’s basketball championship game, the game in which Chris Webber called a timeout that his team didn’t have with Michigan down by two with 11 seconds left. The game is available here.

Some impressions….

* North Carolina was up by three and had the ball with 45 seconds left when forward Brian Reese stepped out of bounds, giving Michigan the ball back and basically keeping alive their chance of winning the game.

That was the second big blunder Reese made in the NCAA tournament that year. Continue reading ’93 NCAA Title Game Revisited, aka the ‘time out’ game

Chris Webber is my semi-hero

Zach Lowe’s Grantland article today is about whether Chris Webber should be in the Hall of Fame. Lowe sets the tone with some self-awareness saying that it’s difficult, even for him — someone who loses readers with semi-scientific breakdowns of why DeMarcus Cousins is bad on defense, to emotionlessly evaluate Webber’s Hall of Fame credentials.

But then he actually almost does that, even going so far as comparing Webber to Elton Brand, someone I truly don’t have any feelings toward (the quirkiest thing about Brand is that when the Bulls drafted him then GM Jerry Krause insisted Brand was taller than he really was because he had a really stout neck and necks somehow equaled superfluous height).

There are a couple of problems here with Lowe’s approach.

The first is that applying analytic rigor to a column about whether Player X should be in the basketball hall of fame is folly. There is no discernible standard to being in the hall of fame. Sometimes useful championship team role players Jamaal Wilkes and K.C. Jones are in the hall of fame. Sometimes healthy scoring small forwards Bernard King and Chris Mullin are in the hall of fame.

Ralph Sampson, a human being whose life is synonymous with such burdensome concepts as disappointment, the unmet promise of youth, the inability to adopt to one’s environment, and plain misfortune — a man whose melancholy mustachioed face and barely defined limbs scream “FRAGILE” — is in the Hall of Fame.

I mean, you talk about “star crossed” — compared to Sampson, Webber is Tim Duncan. Continue reading Chris Webber is my semi-hero