Sports Guy Blog: 20 fascinating subplots of Cavs-Pistons SLOTTED
May. 31, 2007 | feedback
My editors asked me to tackle the 20 most fascinating subplots from the Cavs-Pistons series as we head into Thursday night's crucial Game 5. Frankly, I wasn't sure if this was possible but screw it, let's give it a whirl.
18. The bizarre face LeBron makes after sinking a big basket -- when he squints his eyes, juts his chin out and tries to look as intense as possible. It always looks like he's finishing up an audition for Vivid Video. I can't get enough of it.
Five years ago, Bill Simmons sucked it up and kept a running diary of the
16. It's been strangely entertaining to watch the Cavs run the same play 225-250 times over the first four games. I'm not sure what this play is called, but here's a possible name: "Toss the ball to LeBron 25 feet from the basket on the left side and have Ilgauskas limp over and half-heartedly set a high screen, leading to a double-team because Z obviously isn't a threat to score from 25 feet, then LeBron either: (A) throws a baseball pass across the court to a wide-open teammate who bricks a 3-pointer, or (B) stutter-steps and forces a fall-away 22-footer with a hand in his face." I haven't seen such a lack of imagination from a coach since K.C. Jones posted up Larry Bird on the right block against Detroit 473 consecutive times in the '88 Eastern Conference finals.
13. This sequence killed me: At the end of Game 4, when the Pistons were trailing by four in the final seconds, they showed LeBron and Mike Brown screaming at Drew Gooden during a timeout that Rasheed was going to shoot a 3 and that Gooden shouldn't leave his feet. LeBron kept screaming and screaming at him, and you could see him pantomiming the whole "stand straight like a statue" routine -- and by the end of it, Gooden looked totally ticked off, like a teenager who'd just been screamed at by his parents for 20 minutes because he left the front door unlocked. So what happened? Detroit runs the pop-out play for Sheed, Gooden goes flying at him, jumps as high as he can and takes a giant swipe at the shot as it was released! You have to love the NBA sometimes.
(By the way, in case you think I imagined this, here's confirmation from Junior in Harrisburg, Pa.: "Reading LeBron's lips, it was clear he was saying, 'Just don't leave your f'ing feet!' For some reason, Gooden was arguing with this theory, despite the fact that a 3 and a foul was the only possible way for the Pistons to tie the game. Sure enough, as Rasheed Wallace launched his desperation 3, Gooden flew at him swinging his right arm like he was trying to spike a freaking volleyball. This is just one of a million examples why LeBron will never win a championship with this team.")
Here's a five-way deal that could rejuvenate my beloved Celtics, make the Lakers a contender, make the Bulls favorites in the East, save basketball in Seattle and shake up Indiana:
Celtics get: Seattle's No. 2 pick, Vlad Radmanovic, Kwame Brown, Maurice Evans, Chicago's No. 9 pick
Lakers get: Ray Allen, Jermaine O'Neal, Paul Pierce, Jamaal Tinsley, Ryan Gomes
Seattle gets: Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni (sign and trade starting at $6.2 million), Andrew Bynum, Ty Thomas, Adrian Griffin, Boston's No. 5 pick, L.A.'s No. 19 pick
Indiana gets: Lamar Odom, Nick Collison, Victor Khryapa, Earl Watson, Boston's No. 32 pick
Chicago gets: Kobe, Tony Allen
11. Scot Pollard making a late run at Sarunas Jasikevicius' title for "Best reactions on the bench by someone's who's not playing." He's taken a different route than Sarunas -- no fist pumping, no Cobra Kai imitations and no histrionics, but more of a grinning/nodding/slow-motion routine -- almost the way a stoner roommate would react if somebody showed up at 3 a.m. at his house with a pack of rolling papers, two jugs of Gatorade, a bag of Doritos, some Sour Patch Kids and the "Planet Earth" DVD set.
9. You have to like any series that leads to the following conversation between me and my buddy House on Tuesday afternoon before Game 4. Here's the edited/sanitized version:
Me: "Hey, if gambling were legal, I'd bang the Cavs tonight. Since Hughes is out, that means Daniel Gibson might actually play -- that's good for the Cavs I think."
House: "Why, you think the Cavs should be playing the only true point guard on their roster? Really? You think so, Doctor?"
Me: "Yeah, I love how it took Brown two-thirds of the season to play Pavlovic and Gibson, then he buried Gibson after he got hurt."
House: "Why, you think the Cavs should be playing the fourth and fifth best guys on their team more often when they're both shooting 40 percent from 3 and LeBron gets everyone open 3s? Really? You think so, Doctor? Is that your expert analysis? You'd rather see Gibson out there than Eric Snow?"
(Important note: After 10 years of watching "Boogie Nights," House is slowly becoming The Colonel. We'll know the transformation is complete when he shows up for an awards dinner with a 14-year-old girl.)
Cavs in six.
7. You know the phrase "matching wits?" I was trying to think of a word that would mean the opposite of "matching wits" and finally decided on "canceling wits." Anyway, it's been fun watching Brown and Flip Saunders canceling wits in this series. Flip had the edge for a little while before falling apart in Game 4. Now we're in a dead heat. Literally. It's a DEAD heat. In fact, there's never been a playoff series when the announcers have muttered aloud more times, "Wow, this is weird, I'm not sure why they're doing this" or "I'm sure there's a reason for this, I just can't think of it right now" or even, "I'm not sure why they'd want to play right into their hands like this."
But here were my five favorite boners/bizarre coaching decisions of this series so far:
(A) In Game 1, Cleveland trailing by two with the ball, coming out of a timeout with 36 seconds left and somehow not getting a two-for-one out of it when the Cavs have the most unstoppable guy in the league going to the basket. I loved this.
(B) The Cavs having superior athletic talent and a major speed advantage, but walking the ball up every possession so Ilgauskas can remain on the court and the Pistons not taking advantage of Z's glacier-like defense by going small and making him guard the likes of Sheed, Antonio McDyess or even Jason Maxiell. It's the rare case of both coaches willfully going for a disadvantage at the same time. I've never seen it before and, honestly, I'm just glad that it happened in my lifetime.
(C) Brown throwing Eric Snow out there in the final 35 seconds of Game 4, up by three with the ball, so they could play four-on-five on the biggest possession of the game. Fortunately, they were able to run a play called "22 Heave," in which LeBron stutter-steps from 22 feet with two guys on him, jumps backward and launches a terrible shot as the shot clock is winding down.
(Note: Please don't confuse this with "23 Heave," in which LeBron stutter-steps from 23 feet with two guys on him, jumps backward and launches a terrible shot as the shot clock is winding down.)
(D) Flip making the executive decision: "I'm not gonna make LeBron work on defense -- whoever he's guarding, we won't run plays for that person. We don't want LeBron to get in foul trouble or get tired. Also, I know Rip Hamilton thrives when he's coming off screens, but you know what? That's kind of a crutch. Let's give him the ball 20 feet from the basket and get out of his way, he'll be much more effective this way."
(E) The Cavs calling a set play at the end of Game 1 that involved LeBron passing up a game-tying layup or dunk so he could kick it out to Donyell Marshall for a game-winning 3 which would have been great if Marshall didn't stink.
(Note: Does anyone else love the thought of Cleveland's coaching staff sitting in a room and somebody saying, "Hey, wanna make any halftime adjustments?" and Brown responding, "Nahhhhhhh I think we're good. You guys want to play pinochle for 10 minutes?" I swear this happened before Game 4. Nobody can convince me otherwise.)
6. C-Webb threatening to transform himself into the most tragic "washed-up former star who's perfectly willing to humiliate himself for a ring" since Mitch Richmond weaseled his way into a ring with the 2001 Lakers. He's right on the brink. Maybe he's had a couple of effective playoff games (usually at home), but still this isn't like Walton on the '86 Celts or McAdoo on the '82 Lakers, when a former great adjusted to a supporting role and became a legitimate asset for a good team. He's been up and down at best. We forget this sometimes, but C-Webb was one of the top 10 power forwards ever, and arguably could have won the 2001 MVP. Now he's gimping around in the conference finals like John Salley at the end of "Eddie."
5. The half-decent chance that LeBron could inspire another Marv Albert call like the one after Bron YouTube'd Rasheed. To the rimmmmmmmmmmm! Ohhhhhhhh! Yesssssss! And the foul!!!!!!!!!!!!!
4. I thoroughly enjoyed this e-mail from Rob in Kailua, Hawaii: "I've been noticing that during the Detroit-Cleveland series Gooden and Rasheed get into arguments or little scuffles at least 2-3 times a game. Is there a history there? My theory is that Gooden's little patch of hair on his neck used to be the little patch of hair missing from Rasheed's head. Drew must have won some epic battle and now wears that patch as a medal of honor. That's the only logical explanation for such a ridiculous hairdo right?"
3. Announcers and studio guys steadfastly continuing to call Chauncey Billups "Mr. Big Shot," quite possibly the most undeserved sports nickname of this century. Here's a quick recap of Chauncey's career:
1997-2001: Bounces around from Boston to Toronto to Denver to Orlando to Minnesota.
2002: Plays well enough for the T-Wolves (0-3 in the '02 playoffs) that Detroit gives him a $30 million contract.
2003: Leads a Pistons team that eventually gets swept in the 2003 Eastern finals by New Jersey and gets destroyed by Jason Kidd in the process. Billups shot 11 for 40 in the series; Kidd averaged 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and 10 rebounds per game. To be fair, Billups was playing with a sprained ankle. Just pointing out that the "Mr. Big Shot" nickname hadn't kicked in yet.
2004: Shoots 39 percent in the regular season, gets hot in the playoffs, leads the Pistons to the title, makes some big shots along the way, and somehow picks up the name "Mr. Big Shot."
2005: Leads the Pistons to the Finals, makes some big shots along the way, then pulls a relative no-show in Game 7 (13 points, 3 for 8 from the field, no big shots).
2006: Heading into the playoffs, with the Pistons peaking as a 64-win team, I wrote that Billups was "one more killer spring away from moving into the pantheon of Big Game Guards, along with Sam Jones, Jerry West, Dennis Johnson and Walt Frazier. Out of anyone in the playoffs other than Kobe, he's the one who can make the biggest leap historically. Well, unless Artest charges into the stands again."
Didn't happen. During the last three games of the Eastern semis against Cleveland -- which the Pistons nearly blew -- Billups shot 13 for 34. In the six-game loss to Miami in the Eastern finals, he shot 39 percent and 3 for 14 in the deciding game. So much for the pantheon of Big Game Guards.
2007: Struggled in the Chicago series (39 percent shooting), then completely flopped in the first four games of the Cavs series (22-for-57 shooting, 32 turnovers, some killer mistakes at the end of Games 3 and 4), to the point that people are now openly wondering how much money he's costing himself this summer.
So here's my question: With all due respect to Billups -- who's been a valuable player, a gamer and a winner over the past few years -- can we really keep calling a 41 percent career shooter who slapped together one great playoffs and nine-tenths of another great playoffs "Mr. Big Shot"? Isn't that a little insulting to Robert Horry? I vote that we call him "Chauncey" or "Billups" unless he completely redeems himself over these next few weeks. This meeting is adjourned.
2. Doug Collins' hair.
(The Sports Gal summed it up best: "Wouldn't it have been easier just to buy a speedboat or a Porsche?")
1. LeBron's ongoing, Skywalker-esque struggle between positioning himself as the self-proclaimed "Global Icon" and actually earning that title on the basketball court. Allow me to make the following points:
(A) He's the greatest young player since Magic Johnson. It's impossible what he's doing right now -- he can throw up a 26-7-7 every night in the playoffs on cruise control. This needs to be mentioned constantly. I would never argue otherwise.
(B) His all-encompassing domination of Game 3 put him on another level as a basketball player -- for the first time, he shifted into MJ/Bird/Magic "there's no f'ing way I'm letting us lose this game" mode and unleashed all of his considerable talents in a big game at the same time. In Games 3 and 4 he was clearly in fifth gear for every minute of both games. Which is where he needs to be. All the time.
(C) Hence, the problem: The best young player in the league has gears already. Great players shouldn't have gears. When Barkley and Magic complain about LeBron on TNT, it's not because they're jealous, it's because other great players take it personally when they feel like someone isn't tapping into their considerable potential.
To be fair, LeBron is only 22 and has already dealt with more hype/pressure/responsibilities/publicity/expectations than any under-22 guy in the history of this league. Unlike someone like Wade (who has a permanent chip on his shoulder after the 2003 draft) or Kobe (who's singularly possessed), everyone's been telling LeBron how great he is since he was 15. He's been the savior in Cleveland since he was 18. He's been considered an elite superstar since he was 19. When you think about it, he's never really had to earn anything. It's like watching a ballyhooed young tennis player (think Andy Roddick or Andre Agassi) enjoying the fruits of his labor even though the labor hasn't been done yet. You know what happens to those guys? Half the time, they self-destruct. That's why it's so dangerous that LeBron is playing with a stick-shift already.
Along those same lines, here's a fascinating observation from Brian Windhorst, who's spent the last couple of years covering LeBron:
"Sometimes when you talk to LeBron before games you can tell he's charged; it happened a handful of times this season. The best I can remember was before the game in L.A. when he killed the Lakers. I have also written and told many people when they ask me about what LeBron is truly like that he can be moody. In Game 3 [of the Detroit series], he was in the mood to kick tail. It was the mood Michael Jordan permanently existed in."
That's the issue. Right there. Every true basketball fan doesn't want LeBron floating in and out of that mood. We want him to permanently exist there. That's why so many basketball fans find themselves abnormally frustrated by him (including myself); when you see someone with a chance to be great, you hope they take that gift seriously and care only about that gift. It's selfish of us to think that way -- after all, who are we to tell someone how to carry himself on a daily basis? -- but that's the price of the player/fan relationship. LeBron gets the spoils (fame, money, adulation), we get the right to cheer him and bitch about him and discuss him until we're blue in the face.
The fact remains, No. 23 happens to be the only interesting thing about this painfully disjointed Pistons-Cavs series. The coaches stink, the players aren't that good, the styles don't mesh maybe the intensity has been there, but you could say the same about a WNBA game, for cripes sake. Like many others, I'm looking forward to Game 5 solely because of LeBron. Like many others, I want him to shift into fifth gear, hush the crowd, rip Detroit's heart out and make the Vivid Video face after everything's said and done. Like many others, I will be disappointed if this doesn't happen.
And hey, maybe it's scary for the NBA's future that we're collectively hoping the best young player in three decades finds the right mood for a must-win game, but as my stepfather would say, "I guess it's better than a poke in the eye with a stick."
Sports Guy Blog: On trading Kobe Bryant SLOTTED1
May. 31, 2007 | feedback
Well, it finally happened -- Black Mamba came out and demanded a trade from the Lakers. The proclamation happened during an interview on Stephen A. Smith's radio show in New York City on Wednesday. Here were my first three reactions:
1. Cool, I actually have something to write about today!
2. Stephen A. Smith still has a radio show?
3. Time to hit ESPN's Trade Machine!
Sure, Kobe recanted the trade demands three hours later -- almost like someone backing out of an eBay bid or something -- but that didn't stop me from hammering the ESPN Trade Machine like Joe Cazalghe pummeled Peter Manfredo. After all, it's not often when an NBA team is forced to trade a marquee superduperstar in his prime. We might as well enjoy the moment while it lasts, right? In the past 35 years, only nine players were traded after a season in which they made a first or second All-NBA team. One of those players was past his prime (Gary Payton), and three were great players but not "superduperstars" at the time they were traded (Paul Westphal, Dennis Johnson, Jason Kidd). Here were the five superduperstar deals.
1975: Milwaukee trades Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman and Dave Meyers or as some would later call it, the "pu pu platter." Kareem ended up winning five more rings, three MVP awards (it would have been four if Bill Walton didn't win in '78 for a 55-game season) and even starring as Roger Murdock in "Airplane!"
1982: Houston trades Moses Malone to Philadelphia for Caldwell Jones and a No. 1 pick that turned out to be the third pick in the 1983 draft (Rodney McCray). It's worth mentioning that the '82-'83 Rockets bottomed out and ended up with the No. 1 pick (Ralph Sampson) as well. It's also worth mentioning that Malone won the MVP and led the '83 Sixers to a title.
1992: Philadelphia trades Charles Barkley to Phoenix for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry or as some would later call it, "the pu pu platter deluxe." Barkley lost 20 pounds, won the '93 MVP in Phoenix, and would have won a title if Kevin Johnson didn't completely melt down in the Finals against Chicago (everyone forgets this).
2004: Orlando trades Tracy McGrady (with Juwan Howard) to Houston for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato a trade that worked out so poorly, it led to the one and only time in NBA history that a GM (Orlando GM John Weisbrod) received death threats from his own fans.
2004: The Lakers trade Shaq to Miami for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, a future first-rounder and Brian Grant's gigantic contract (that was eventually used for an Allan Houston Exemption). The Lakers won four playoff games total in the next three seasons; Miami won the 2006 title and would have won in 2005 if Dwyane Wade didn't get hurt.
(Hold on, we have to give Lakers fans a few seconds to clear the vomit out of their mouths.)
(OK, we're good.)
With Kobe finally demanding out, two questions remain:
1. For the love of God, what took him so long? L.A.'s game plan for the post-Shaq era was so illogical, it earned Mitch Kupchak a seat at the First-Annual Atrocious GM Summit last year. Why would you build a young team around a franchise scorer in his prime? Why give him a degree of difficulty? What's the point of rolling the dice with projects like Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown, or wasting a lottery pick on a high school center (Andrew Bynum) and passing on players who could have helped the team right away (like Danny Granger)? How could they pass up a chance to acquire an impact player last February (like Jason Kidd or Jermaine O'Neal) when they had expiring contracts, draft picks and Bynum as potential bait?
2. What can the Lakers get for him?
To properly figure this out, you need to include a couple of variables. First, Kobe has a complete no-trade clause and is too image-conscious to play in a small market. He's not going to Memphis. He's not going to Milwaukee. He's not going to Sacramento. Kobe will want a big market that keeps him in the national limelight. Second, he'd want to play for a team that could contend right away; there's no way he'd agree to shepherd another rebuilding project or youth movement. And third, as much as a mega-deal makes sense with Kobe and Carmelo as the principals, you'd see O.J. move back to Brentwood before you'd see Kobe accept a trade that puts him in Colorado.
One more thing to remember: Right now, the Lakers are sitting at $57.66 million in salaries for the 2007-08 season. Conceivably, they could use a Kobe trade to clear enough cap space to sign a marquee free agent in 2007 or 2008. As Shaq and Kareem proved, NBA stars will always want to play in Los Angeles if they can pull it off. Between the weather, the women, the wealth and the Hollywood scene, the Lakers have an enormous free agency advantage over every NBA team but New York, Phoenix, Orlando, Miami and maybe Dallas. Keep that in mind.
Three other mitigating factors:
(A) A year ago, the Clippers had the assets (specifically, Shaun Livingston) and cap space to pull off a mega-Kobe deal. Not anymore.
(B) I liked Golden State as a prospective home for Kobe -- but Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis and the No. 17 pick isn't getting it done, and the Warriors don't have enough friendly cap contracts to pull off anything bigger.
(C) Sadly, tragically, there's no conceivable scenario in which the Knicks can offer a decent enough package for Kobe. They're not getting him for a Jamal Crawford-David Lee-Nate Robinson-Quentin Richardson package, and they're not getting the Lakers to bite on Stephon Marbury unless they can frame Kupchak for murder and blackmail him with the photos between now and June 30. It's not happening. Sorry, Knicks fans.
Anyway, with help from the Trade Machine, here were the seven most logical deals in descending order from "least likely" to "most likely."
Comments: The Lakers aren't getting LeBron or Gilbert Arenas, and 'Melo isn't happening (see above). So that makes T-Mac the best under-30 scorer available. Where would he take the Lakers though? They were already a .500 team with Kobe, right? And wouldn't T-Mac inevitably be unhappy going to another rebuilding team? Too big a risk for the Lakers -- the last thing they need is another unhappy superstar. They're already going to have 15,000 unhappy season-ticket holders as it is.
Comments: Mildly intriguing. The Lakers get a potential All-Star (Igoudala) and a shotblocker (Dalembert), and also end up with the Nos. 12, 19 and 21 picks in a loaded draft. Kobe gets to come home to Philly and play with Andre Miller, Kyle Korver, and oh, wait, there wouldn't be any other good players on the team. And not just that, but everyone in Philly hates Kobe. Forget it.
Comments: A more logical trade (Kobe for Paul Pierce and the No. 5 pick) doesn't work because Kobe would never agree to lead another youth movement. So could a Jefferson-Green-picks package work? I like the thought of Kobe and Pierce joining forces in a crummy conference, and it's hard to imagine the Lakers doing better in terms of potential cap space, premium picks and players with UPPPPPPPPPPPPPside (in my opinion, Jefferson is the best low-post scorer in the league under 24). Still, it's hard to imagine the Los Angeles Lakers trading their franchise player to the Boston Celtics. I just can't see it. It's too weird. Also, I think my dad's head would explode.
Comments: I'm intrigued by this one because (A) the Lakers would be competitive with a Howard-Terry-Odom-Bynum nucleus; (B) Kobe would solve all of Nowitzki's toughness/crunch-time problems; and (C) Dallas could probably win a title with Kobe, Nowitzki, the Diop/Dampier combo, Devin Harris and seven guys they found on the street. But would the Lakers ever trade Kobe to a Western contender? And would Cuban ever admit that Dirk was irrevocably damaged by the 2006 Finals and the Warriors-Mavs series, to the degree that he needed to acquire another crunch-time guy? If the Mavs didn't have the testicular fortitude to pull off a Shaq trade three years ago, they won't have the gulliones to go after Kobe.
Comments: Love this trade for the Lakers because Johnson replaces 75 percent of Kobe's scoring; Williams and Johnson give them two perfect triangle guys; they'd get a quality rookie like Joakim Noah or Al Thornton at No. 11; and they'd even get to dump their one shaky salary in the deal (four more years of Radmanovic at $25 million) for Lue's expiring deal. That's a pretty good haul. Also, the Hawks haven't had someone who could sell tickets since 'Nique; they could build around Kobe, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Shelden Williams, Free Agent Signing X and the No. 3 pick. They could tinker with this deal and substitute the No. 3 and Childress for the No. 11 and Williams and see if L.A. bites on that.
Here's the problem: I can't see Kobe accepting a trade to (A) a young team (even a young team with as much potential as the Hawks), and (B) a moribund NBA city like Atlanta. Seems too far-fetched. But this would be the best-case scenario for the league itself -- sticking Kobe in a big Eastern city, instantly getting another marquee franchise and ending up with a third superstar in a depleted conference. If David Stern has any juice left -- and it's unclear after the tragic events of May 22 -- he'll make this deal happen.
Additional notes: This deal works as long as the Bulls renounce P.J. Brown's rights; also, it means the Lakers would receive a mammoth (and appealing) trade exception in the deal.
Comments: This seems like the most natural home for Kobe -- it's a big city; they're a contender in the East; there's enough talent left after the deal to make a run, and even the MJ-Kobe symmetry works nicely -- as well as the best possible haul for the Lakers. The deal could work in a variety of ways: Instead of renouncing Brown's rights, the Bulls could include Andres Nocioni as a sign-and-trade (starting at around $5 million per) and renounce Mike Sweetney's rights instead of Brown's. If they wanted to get even more creative, they could make it Deng, Gordon, P.J. Brown (sign and trade -- one year, $10 million) and the No. 9 for Kobe. They could try to substitute Ty Thomas and a future No. 1 for Deng. Etc., etc., etc.
Two big obstacles here:
(A) Would the Bulls ever give up Deng? The Lakers would have to get him back in a Kobe deal, right? I feel like he's become slightly overrated over the past season -- he's definitely a potential All-Star; he definitely could become the second-best player on a championship-caliber team, but I don't see him getting much better than he is right now. Do you ever see him scoring 27-28 a game? Do you ever see him being the crunch-time scorer on a great team? If you could land Kobe and keep Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, Ty Thomas, Chris Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha, then sign one more veteran to help them out, that's a potential 2008 title team. Isn't the whole point to win a title?
(B) Would John Paxson ever roll the dice with a mega-deal for someone like Kobe? He seems to be happier stockpiling young assets and waiting for one of these other teams to offer him the likes of KG or Jermaine O'Neal for 30 cents on the dollar. By making a Kobe deal, Paxson would be shoving his chips to the middle of the table ... something he's been completely unwilling to do. We will see.
Now we're talking! Some of my favorite things about this trade include
(A) The Lakers ending up with a nucleus of Marion, Odom, Barbosa and Bynum, along with Farmar, Walton, Turiaf and the No. 19 pick, as well as the inevitable Kwame Brown trade to a moronic team that convinces itself that Kwame's career could be salvaged. That's a pretty good foundation.
(B) Phoenix trotting out a starting lineup of Nash, Kobe, Raja Bell, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw. Good golly. Sweet Jesus.
(C) Radmanovic realizing his manifest destiny of playing in Phoenix. It was meant to be from the moment Mike D'Antoni and Nash teamed up three years ago.
(D) Kobe and Raja as teammates. High comedy. The most improbable pairing since Rodman and Pippen 12 years ago.
(E) The most selfish player in the league (Kobe) playing with the most unselfish player in the league (Nash). What a fascinating sociological experiment. If Nash can turn Kobe into a team player, I'm voting him for our 2008 president even though he's Canadian.
Two potential problems: First, it's unlikely that the Lakers would be dumb enough to trade Kobe within their own division, although with Kupchak involved, anything's possible. And second, assuming that Nash has a say in front-office decisions at this point, would he really want to green-light a scenario that has him managing two enormous egos in Stoudemire and Kobe?
Well, lemme throw this at you: What if the Suns then swapped Stoudemire to Minnesota for KG, as I proposed in a May 14 column? That would give them the following crunch-time lineup: Nash, Kobe, Bell, Diaw and KG. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 World Champions! Just send them the trophy right now.
So that's my vote: Black Mamba, you're going to Phoenix to play with KG and Nash. And if it happens, I can guarantee that the 2008 playoffs will be more entertaining than the 2007 playoffs.
(Which isn't saying much, but still.)
Sports Guy Blog: 10 thoughts on the playoffs and links SLOTTED1
May. 18, 2007 | feedback
All right, we're pulling out all the stops today: NBA playoff thoughts, reader e-mails, follow-ups to last Friday's mailbag, some weekly links ... it's like the garage sale of basketball blogs. But before we get to that, I need to show you something:
|AL EAST STANDINGS|
Isn't that great?
God, I just love looking at that.
Hold on, let's blow that up and run it again.
|AL EAST STANDINGS|
Good times! This never would have happened if George Steinbrenner was still alive.
All right, 10 thoughts about the NBA playoffs that need to be mentioned:
1. Mike D'Antoni is one of the best coaches alive, but he choked in Game 5 by riding his big guns (47 minutes for Raja Bell, 46 for Shawn Marion, 46 for Steve Nash) even though it wasn't a must-win game. As Mike Francesa would say, that was a yoooo-ge mistake -- not only did it kill the Suns down the stretch in Game 5, but it could end up affecting them in Game 6. At the very least, don't you have to throw your bench guys out there in the second quarter and see if the crowd can carry them for a few minutes? And why wouldn't you have Pat Burke knock Duncan around, whack him a few times and keep sending him to the line? That's been D'Antoni's biggest tactical error of the series: Because Duncan goes into free-throw swoons from time to time, it's the only way you can get him to self-destruct during a basketball game. The Suns haven't explored this at all. Not sure why.
Anyway, here's my prediction for Friday night: The Spurs should win. They should. But I'm not willing to discount another officiating performance like they one from Game 4, in which Phoenix received a 29-14 FT advantage -- ON THE ROAD!!!! -- and Duncan was whistled for his fifth foul with nine minutes left in the game. Remember, we're potentially headed for a final four of San Antonio-Utah and Cleveland-Detroit ... not exactly a marquee group of teams, although it's not quite the same apocalyptic affect of this scenario: Ottawa vs. Anaheim in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals (which actually might happen). So I don't trust anything that might happen tonight. Not a thing.
2. I dare anyone to come up with a "Top 10 Moments from the 2007 Eastern Conference Playoffs" list. Go ahead. I dare you.
In case you missed the last three weeks of Sports Guy columns and posts ...
May 14: KG for Amare?
May 11: The Mailbag
May 10: Shelf Life for NellieBall
May 9: Duncan Rules
May 2: The Roar of the Crowd
3. In Wednesday's column about the Boris Diaw-Amare Stoudemire suspensions, I forgot to mention a solution I came up with during Game 4 for the whole "players leaving the bench" problem: They can't put seatbelts on the bench because players are constantly jumping up and down, and they couldn't put a rope around the players on the bench because a player could go flying into the rope during play and get practically decapitated ... but what about an electric fence-type device where they'd get shocked if they ventured onto the court, like what people use with their dogs in the backyard?
(Can you imagine if David Stern adopted this for the 2007-08 season? First the dress code, then the new ball, then the ruination of the Spurs-Suns series, then the Dan Patrick radio skewering ... and now, the electric fence! On the Power Breathalyzer, he's blowing a 0.32 right now. I don't care, I'd still vote for him in the 2008 presidential election. He could pull it together in time.)
4. If LeBron James is the future of the NBA, sign me up for a different professional basketball league, please. Did you see him lick that giant stamperoo and stick it on Game 5? I kept expecting to see him break out his BlackBerry while other players were shooting free throws and start texting his friends things like, "What time is the Guts game in my hotel room tonight?" and "Are we hitting Atlantic City before Game 6?" If he doesn't slap up a 42-12-13 tonight in New Jersey, I give up. Show us you care, Bron Bron. Give us a little taste.
(FOLLOW-UP NOTE: I never heard about LeBron's pregnant girlfriend fainting at halftime of Game 5 before writing the previous paragraph, which explains his seemingly curious performance in the second half ... although it doesn't cover the first half, or the way he played in Game 3. She turned out to be fine, but still, I would have written the previous paragraph differently before we posted it had I known. With that said, I still think he needs to slap up a 42-12-13.)
5. My apologies: Upon further review, John Paxson and the Bulls did the right thing by overpaying for Ben Wallace last summer and turning Tyson Chandler into P.J. Brown. If they didn't sacrifice Chandler and spend an extra $15 million this season on the Wallace/Brown combo, they would have lost to Detroit in five games instead of six, and they wouldn't have a washed-up center with a bad back locked up through his mid-30s for $14 million a season. My bad. When I'm wrong, I'm wrong.
6. Some lingering questions/comments about the never-ending barrage of TNT commercials ...
A. Alonzo Mourning had a kidney transplant, not a heart transplant. So why is he plugging "Heartland"? More important, can you really have an entire show about heart transplants? "Next week, somebody needs a heart transplant and time is ticking! And in a very special episode two weeks from now, you're not gonna believe this ... but somebody might die if they don't get a heart transplant!"
B. Also, you know how TNT splices trailers for Hollywood movies with NBA action? Why couldn't they splice the "Heartland" commercial so Treat Williams is talking to Lawrence Frank about Vince Carter? I just want you to know, if any heart becomes available tonight, I'll make it work for Vince. I promise you.
C. Which decision demonstrated a bigger lack of understanding for the NBA studio audience: David Blaine or the Pussycat Dolls? And was Clay Aiken "Plan B" for both choices?
D. Is Tyler Perry to black people what Dane Cook is to white people? In other words, they're both hugely successful but nobody can quite figure out why? I watch those "House of Payne" commercials and feel constantly confused. What about the part when he's trying to work the remote and his gigantic wife asks what he's doing and he says angrily, "I'm trying to turn you into Beyonce." That was the funniest clip they could pull for the commercial? I don't get it. That seems like an angry, unhappy show to me. And can anyone figure out the whole "comic dressing up in drag as multiple characters" thing? Why is this funny? I'm so confused by "House of Payne." It makes me feel sad every time they show the ad. Which is every three minutes.
7. I miss Stephen Jackson. I'm a mess without him. I miss him so damn much. I miss being with him, I miss being near him. I miss his laugh and his crazy smile. I miss his scent; I miss his musk. When this all gets sorted out, I think me and him should get an apartment together.
8. Regardless of what happens in San Antonio, I love what happened to Steve Nash this season; his competitive spirit, toughness and leadership reminds me of Bird, Magic, MJ and Isiah back in the day. That's the highest praise I can give. At the very least, you know the Suns won't get blown out -- they'll be in the game and fighting until the very end. You can count on that from them. He's the reason.
9. Um ... why doesn't anyone seem to think that Utah has a chance in the next round? You weren't impressed by those two impressive road wins (Game 7 in Houston, Game 4 in Oakland), the way the Jazz are dominating the glass or their various scoring options in crunch time? What am I missing? I will never understand why so many people underestimated them in Round 2 ... you'd think a lesson would have been learned. That's a good freaking basketball team.
(Follow-up note on this: If Utah wins the title, I think former Portland GM John Nash should get a ring for being dumb enough to trade them the No. 3 pick in 2005 for the No. 6 pick, the No. 27 pick and a 2006 No. 1 pick from Detroit because he made the talent evaluation that Martell Webster was a better fit for his team than Deron Williams or Chris Paul. Utah had NO BUSINESS getting Deron Williams. None. This should be mentioned every 20 minutes during the Western Conference finals.)
10. Speaking of trades, if the Celtics get the No. 2 pick and take Kevin Durant, here's the deal I want them to offer G-State: Paul Pierce, Bassy Telfair, Bassy Telfair's gun collection and the No. 32 pick for Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, the No. 18 pick and Sarunas Jasikevicius' expiring contract. And while I'm doing requests for the Celtics, here's another one ...
Wyc, Danny, Doc ... you guys all need to shut your traps. Seriously. Stop giving interviews. Stop telling your disgruntled fan base that you could have made the playoffs if not for so many injuries. Stop raving about your fantastic young nucleus of players and how they're in such high demand. Stop talking about Doc's great coaching when he won 56 games in two seasons. Stop sounding so freaking smug about everything. Just stop. Don't say another word until May 23. And if you don't start showing some humility and urgency about what happened the past two seasons, and you don't start recognizing that your fans are legitimately concerned that none of you have any idea what you're doing, here's what will happen: you're going to get written off by the majority of your entire fan base (basically, everyone with an IQ better than 80) until all three of you are gone.
It happened to Jeremy Jacobs, Harry Sinden and the Bruins; it's going to happen to you. You've reached that do-or-die point with your fans and season-ticket holders -- trust me, I'm getting the e-mails every day -- and the fact that none of you realize it is more disturbing than anything. So stop talking. Wait to see what happens with the Ping-Pong balls next Tuesday. You have to believe me, I'm speaking for just about everyone who loves your team. The lack of humility and urgency after two straight crappy seasons has been appalling. I can't emphasize that strongly enough.
Time for some e-mails and links ...
• From Rob C. in Phoenix: "Why is Steve Kerr calling every Suns-Spurs game? He has a minority ownership interest in the Phoenix Suns. Besides the excellent basketball IQ, wouldn't that be like Jay-Z calling all of the Nets-Cavs games?"
Or like Michael Vick calling the National Dogfight Championships on Versus! Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week. Meanwhile, the Versus execs are like, "Um ... there's a National Dogfight Championships? How much room do we have left in our budget? Could somebody get Brian Engblom's agent on the phone and lock him up to be safe?"
• From Alex in Puyallup, Wash.: "I was reading the comments of some of the other NBA experts on ESPN and one of them mentioned the fact that people would see the NBA as a bunch of 'thugs' if they allowed bench-clearing fights. Don't you think it's odd that baseball players aren't referred to as 'thugs' when they engage in a bench-clearing brawl, yet NBA players are often seen in this manner? Often times, a brawl in baseball is looked upon as a positive by the fans of the team. They see it something that gets the team fired up or it 'shows that they care.' So why are NBA players considered 'thugs' for doing something that's almost celebrated (in some circles) when it occurs in baseball? I have a suspicion as to why this is, and it has little to do with one sport wearing shorts and the other wearing pants. Just some food for thought."
My response: One of David Stern's biggest concerns has always been marketing a mostly black league to a mostly white fan base. The NBA has always battled covert racism to some degree -- if Kyle Farnsworth charges out of the bullpen and decks nine Red Sox players during a brawl, he's a bad-ass and it's all in good fun, but if Stephen Jackson does it, the black/white thing hangs over everything, right? My Page 2 buddy Jemele Hill and I exchanged some e-mails about that on Wednesday -- Jemele believes that the Horry/Nash incident wouldn't have received as much play if Barbosa had been sprawled below the press table instead of Nash. And you know what? I agree. Nash's involvement reminded me of the O.J. trial for this reason -- if Nicole looked like Regina King and Ronald Goldman looked like Usher, that wouldn't have been the most famous American trial of the 20th century. Same for the Nash/Horry play. It's still a big deal if Barbosa is involved ... but not as big of a deal as seeing America's favorite white point guard lying there, right?
• Andy S. in Sactown writes, "You finally got the Tuck Game right. After defending the call for all these years, you have seen the light. The call is not important; the rule is. The unbiased perspective (I'm not a Raider fan at all) is to blame the stupid, idiotic, foolish, moronic, brainless, unwise unintelligent, foolhardy, imprudent, thoughtless, obtuse and thickheaded tuck rule. Congrats, you finally came around. Now I can almost die in peace."
(Just to clarify, my stance has remained the same since the 2001 playoffs -- it was a dumb rule that was interpreted correctly, but the fact remains, Charles Woodson clubbed Tom Brady in the head when he nailed him, making that hit a penalty on Woodson that wasn't called. For whatever reason, this never gets mentioned when people discuss that play. Everything evened out. It's a fact. And besides, the Raiders lost that game because they had second-and-3 to clinch the game and couldn't run for three measly yards. So there.)
• I loved this e-mail from Dean S. in Cleveland: "I don't know how you could say the NBA playoffs would be the same without sideline reporters. For instance, at the beginning of the second quarter of Game 5 of the Cavs-Nets series, TNT's sideline reporter observed that the Cavs had already committed five turnovers. 'At that pace,' she noted, 'they would finish the game with 20.' And you know what? She's right! I checked! Hollinger better watch his back -- this woman is like some kind of human abacus. How could I hope to understand the game without real-time statistical analysis like that? Please apologize."
• Chris M. from NYC alerts us that he "received this week's Sporting News and on the cover is Duncan in a beautiful green Celts uniform. A giant single digit salute to the sadists at Sporting News. Of course, I immediately read the article. Duncan and McGrady and Nash. Why not throw in the Hall of Fame career that Bias was wrapping up? Heartless bastards. I hope that cover is some outstanding photoshop work, otherwise Duncan is as heartless as a 'Death Wish' era Charles Bronson. Oh, to dream the impossible dream ... I trust your father's health insurance will cover the consequences."
(My response to Chris: You still subscribe to the Sporting News? Do you read it after an especially inspiring game of Intellivision football, followed by the soothing sounds of your latest 8-track?)
• Bradley from Dallas has a funny follow-up to the section about tipping in last week's mailbag: "As a former Starbucks barista, I have to agree and disagree with you about the tipping. You are right about tipping if all you get is a cup of coffee. They push a button and the cup is full. However, if you are one of those people who orders an Iced-Decaf-Venti-Sugar-Free-Vanilla-Nonfat-2 Splenda-Extra Hot-Almond Latte. ... then we deserve $5 just for not spitting in your drink or throwing the boiling milk in your face for making us realize that our life sucks. Other than that, tipping is optional."
Also in last week's mailbag ...
1. I included a reader's story about Jack Nicholson's testicles, followed by me trying to come up with a porn movie title for his celebrity sex tape if it ever happened (my favorite was, "As Droopy As It Gets"). Well, suggestions came pouring in from the readers, including these goodies: "Terms of Engorgement," "The Two Jakes," "Terms of Endowment," "As Big as it Gets," "Ginatown," "You Can't Handle The Truth," "Sperms of Endearment" and "The Departed."
2. Eddy in Delaware had a correction: "Dude, you seriously missed the boat on today's mailbag question about potential Sugar Mamas. Julia Louis-Dreyfus fits the bill perfectly -- hot, talented, famous, mature and a ridiculously rich heiress. Check out this link from Forbes."
• Tony in Miami was very upset with me after Monday's column, explaining, "You wrote that 'Ginobili is at the point in his life where he could rear-end someone at a stoplight, then hop out of his car with his hands raised blaming the other driver for being in his way.' Did you just steal a Dane Cook joke for your column? Come on now, Bill, you're better than that!"
(Note: I did some research on this and yes, Dane Cook DOES have a routine about this, although I wasn't aware because I'm not a Dane Cook fan ever since the famous Crank Yankers story about him wearing a Yankees cap to a taping even though he grew up in Arlington, then telling one of the curious writers, "Don't worry about it." Trust me, the red light thing was a coincidence -- the equivalent of Jemele inadvertently writing a similar joke in August to something that happened in episode three of "House of Payne." You have to believe me.)
• An anonymous reader asks, "You are criticizing Bowen for his dirty play? Last season, you wrote an article on how Quinton Ross was a Bruce Bowen 2.0 and as to how softies like Vince Carter check out mentally when defended like that. You had made it seem like everybody should be trying like Bruce."
Look, I don't begrudge Bowen for doing whatever it takes to remain in the league. He's the equivalent of one of those Ken Linseman/Claude Lemieux types from back when I was still watching hockey -- an instigator who bends the rules, gets in his opponent's heads and ultimately makes his team better. Sure, he's a cheap player who's going to seriously hurt someone some day, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a valuable piece for a team that's probably winning the 2007 title.
Anyway, Ross has reached the point of his career that Bowen reached after the Celtics and Sixers dumped him -- he's a great defensive player but gets pushed around, struggles with his shot and lacks confidence because Mike Dunleavy pulled a Rick Pitino on him. He needs to realize what Bowen did: namely, that he needs to improve his 3-point shooting, escalate his chippiness and start doing some of the same "accidentally" dirty stuff that Bowen does ... that's his best chance to make an impact and earn a good contract. We'll see what happens. But he's a classic example of a potential starter for a 50-win team who's sitting there for a discount price, only just about everyone in the NBA is too dumb to realize it. I'd trade for him in a cocaine heartbeat.
• Speaking of Bowen, Mike in New York passed this story along: "I was in Vegas for a bachelor party last August during the week of the U.S. vs. Puerto Rico exhibition game. We all stayed at the Wynn where almost every basketball player was staying and learned three things: Dwyane Wade really takes care of his dad financially; Clyde Drexler is the coolest guy to play the minimum at the $25 blackjack table; nobody likes Bruce Bowen. Late one night, almost every blackjack table had multiple current or retired NBA players at them and huge crowds to go along with them. That is, except for the table with Bruce Bowen and only Bruce Bowen playing at it. All Bruce's teammates on the USA team were his regular NBA opponents and it was clear that none of them wanted anything to do with him."
• Nick from Minneapolis writes, "I'd like to nominate 'chippy' as the official buzzword of the 2007 NBA playoffs." Done and done.
• Matt from Phoenix writes: "I was watching T.V. the other day and happened upon 'Caddyshack' on HBO. Obviously, I had to watch it; it's a man rule. It was the boat scene where Rodney Dangerfield sees his 'buddy,' and decides to raise all hell and ultimately 'scratch his anchor.' Halfway through the scene, Rodney destroys a small fisherman's dingy (1:50 in the YouTube clip). The expression on the fisherman's face is priceless when he notices Al's giant boat bearing down on him. He bug eyes, and for a second, I thought it was a Tim Duncan making his film debut. The resemblance is uncanny."
• Eugene in San Antonio wonders, "Is it possible to get Ronald Jenkees from YouTube to do the opening track for the 'Eye of the Sports Guy' podcast?"
You know what? I'd be honored. I know the Jenk has become an Internet sensation, but maybe he can find time to come up with a 30-second synth riff for me. And while we're on the subject, I'm not even remotely tied to the "Eye of the Sports Guy" title, so if you can think of a better suggestion, definitely e-mail it to me. Please. I'm begging you.
• Some enjoyable links that my readers passed along from the past 10 days:
1. Daniel in Minny: "Here's Joe Posnanski's annual column on the end of the Royals' baseball season. You mentioned it a while back as one of your favorite rites of spring, so I thought I'd pass it along. Enjoy."
2. Robert L. from St. Louis: "Thought you would like this video of Baron Davis' dunk, Rocky Balboa style."
3. Shannon in Maine: "I was surfing YouTube for the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' scene from 'Wayne's World' and stumbled across an excellent video of a live tribute performance for Freddy Mercury with Elton John and Axl Rose singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody'."
4. A number of people sent this along: The U.S. Social Security Administration released its list of top 10 baby names from 2006. Always a riveting list. And speaking of riveting, Pacino and DeNiro are signed on for another movie! Let's hope it doesn't suck. Also, if you never read my "DeNiro vs. Pacino" breakdown from 2002, click here.
5. On the heels of ESPN's confusing "It's as loud in here as an orchestra" chart during the Jazz-Warriors game last week, Dan in Boston sends along "an article that presents the following chart about the relative decibel level of different noises. Sustained noise over 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss, according to the article. Shouting: 90 decibels. A subway train: 100 decibels. Jet flying 1,000 feet overhead: 103 decibels. Honking horns, jackhammers, loud music: 100-120 decibels. Jet takeoff at close range: 120 decibels." And then there's a playoff crowd for a Nets game: 10 decibles.
6. Sam L. in Maryland: "Per your mailbag on May 11 about the laptop stand for the toilet: Check this out, it's called the Lapinator. Seriously, my wife got me this and it is the best gift I have ever gotten from her. You can put your laptop on your lap without fear of getting singed."
7. JP in New York: "Check out Andrew Rostan, a student from Emerson University, who has won 5-6 times in a row now on 'Jeopardy.' Bill, this is high comedy. I urge you to fast forward to 50 secs and then 3:30. He's like Jim Carrey in 'Cable Guy' and gives a patented thumbs up and spaz-out every time he wins. He is absolutely out of control. I DVR this show now every night, fast forward to the interview and final jeopardy to see his antics. This is fantastic!"
8. Billy in Patchogue, N.Y.: "Zach vs. Slater, quite possibly, the most memorable fight of my generation. The less said, the better." Agreed. I have to say, this was a wildly impressive fake fight. I'd love to have Harold Lederman score it.
• One last note: Sunday marks the 10-year anniversary of the launch of my old "Boston Sports Guy" site on Digital City Boston (an AOL "digital newspaper" that doesn't exist anymore). My first column (May 20, 1997) was about the hopeless Celtics and their plans for the 1997 draft. It wasn't very good. A few columns later, I watched the draft at my father's house, kept a running diary of it, wrote all of our jokes down, honed it into something coherent, then posted it 90 minutes after the draft ended. It was the first time when I felt like I had tapped into the vast potential of the column -- not only was it different than everything people were getting in newspapers and magazines at the time, it was an immediate reaction to a major sports event that had just happened.
Within an hour, they were promoting the draft diary on the main page of Digital City, as well as the AOL welcome screen for Boston users, and almost immediately, I started getting e-mails from readers about what I had written, even though it was midnight and it seemed improbable that anyone would be online reading a sports column. And I specifically remember thinking to myself, "Holy s---, this whole Internet thing might work!"
Does it seem like 10 years ago? Absolutely. Sometimes it feels like 50. But it's been an incredible ride and I wanted to take a second to acknowledge everyone who hopped on board at some point along the way. Thanks for reading and thanks for spreading the word for me.
Sports Guy Blog: Tim Duncan and weekend playoff review SLOTTED1
May. 14, 2007 | feedback
If you want to win a championship, Tim Duncan remains the best player in the league to accomplish that particular goal. We covered most of the reasons in last week's magazine column, but three points couldn't be mentioned because of the 1,200-word limit:
Point No. 1
You might remember my annual "Who has the highest NBA trade value?" gimmick, a column I've been writing once a year since I had my old Web site. (Note: If you want to re-read those columns out, check out my complete subject archive and scroll down to the NBA section for every "trade value" link from 2001 to 2006.) Here were Duncan's finishes in that column: No. 2 (2000), No. 2 (2001), No. 3 (2002), No. 1 (2003), No. 2 (2004), No. 1 (2005), No. 3 (2006). For his entire prime, Duncan has been one of the top-three most untradeable players in the league.
You know why? Because he gives you a fantastic chance to win the championship every year, that's why. Maybe Karl Malone was better in '97 and '98, maybe Shaq exceeded him in '00 and '01, maybe KG matched him in '04 and Nowitzki matched him in '06 ... but overall, Duncan always seems to keep his teams in the hunt.
Here are San Antonio's numbers during his 10-year career: 559-239 during the regular season, 82-49 in the playoffs, three championships. Since the ABA/NBA merger, only four stars have been that consistently successful for a 10-year span: Bird, Magic, MJ and Shaq ... although I hesitate to put Shaq on that level because he's had six different teams get swept over the course of his career. But that's the list. Superstars like Kareem (nine playoff wins TOTAL in the four seasons before Magic arrived), David Robinson (never made a Finals before Duncan arrived), Hakeem Olajuwon (wildly unsuccessful for most of his prime), Patrick Ewing (played in only one Finals in his prime), Charles Barkley (ditto) and Karl Malone (played in four conference finals, never won a title) couldn't match Duncan's winning consistency over a 10-year period.
Point No. 2
In the deadly slow-it-down, grind-it-out, defense-beats-offense era (1999-2004), Duncan won two titles. During the transition period as everyone adjusted to the new rules (2005-06, when the NBA called hand-checking and allowed moving picks), he won a third title. And now that we're firmly entrenched in the drive-and-dish/offense-beats-defense/smallball era, he's more valuable than ever because he's one of the few big guys who's polished enough to punish players in the low post AND talented enough to guard quicker players on the other end. He's simply demolishing the Suns right now, averaging 33 points and 17.5 rebounds in San Antonio's two wins. Phoenix doesn't have an answer for him. Within the next three to seven days, they're going home for the summer because of Tim Duncan.
Point No. 3
I'm breaking out Hubie Brown's second-person routine for the third and biggest point. OK, you're Phoenix. Heading into this summer, you have the best roster situation in the league. You have a superstar (Nash), two All-Stars (Stoudemire and Marion), an emerging star (Barbosa), two valuable role players with fair contracts (Diaw and Bell), a fantastic coach (D'Antoni) and a realistic chance to have three No. 1 picks in a loaded 2007 draft, including a lottery pick if Atlanta doesn't land in the top three. You also have some urgency here because of Steve Nash's age (33) and back troubles, so you need to parlay your assets into two or three more players who can push you to another level. You also know that, until you figure out a way to neutralize Tim Duncan, you will always be entering the playoffs hoping and praying that ...
A. Someone else knocks off the Spurs before you play them,
B. Duncan blows out his knee or suffers a catastrophic household accident, or
C. Duncan's eyeballs actually fly out of his head while he's reacting to a bad call.
(End of the second-person routine.)
So here's my solution: If Phoenix gets bounced this week, don't they HAVE to trade Amare Stoudemire for KG?
Right now, Stoudemire is a base-year compensation player because he's finishing the first year of his contract extension (five years, $73 million). The deal I'm proposing can't work under the cap until mid-July, when Stoudemire's cap figure morphs into the value of his current contract ($13.2 million for next season) and makes him infinitely more easy to trade (for details, check out Larry Coon's NBA salary cap FAQ). But they could still agree on a pre-draft trade that wouldn't become official until a few weeks later.
Assuming Atlanta's pick doesn't land in the top three, here's my proposal: Stoudemire, Atlanta's pick (depending on how the lottery shakes out, it would be as high as No. 4 or as low as No. 6) and Marcus Banks (for cap purposes) to Minnesota for Garnett and Minnesota's pick (as high as No. 7, as low as No. 9).
Here's why both teams should do it:
Minnesota: That's practically 100 cents on the dollar for KG. They're getting a first-team All-NBA big man who's younger than KG, plus they're jumping into the top five of the draft with a chance to add another blue-chip forward (either Brandan Wright or Al Horford). Examine the T-Wolves roster and you'll notice that they don't need a four-for-one deal for KG; they're looking at an immediate future in which the Clippers and Celtics own two of their future first-rounders within the next five years, so it wouldn't make sense for them to bottom out with picks and young players. Stoudemire is the best and most sensible option for them. Period.
Phoenix: KG solves four problems for the Suns. First, they don't have to worry about the debilitating Marion/Stoudemire alpha-dog battle anymore. Second, they don't have to worry about Stoudemire's surgically reconstructed knee anymore. Third, between KG, Nash and Bell, the Suns would have more than enough toughness/intensity/competitiveness to compete every spring (a real issue for them, even this season -- they're just not nasty enough). And fourth, they'd finally have someone who could potentially play Duncan to a draw (or as close as possible). Stoudemire just isn't a good defensive player -- he's prone to foul trouble and gets discouraged easily (as we witnessed while he pouted on the bench in Game 3). As for the age difference between KG and Stoudemire ... do you realize that Amare is only six years younger than KG? Crazy but true. And slipping two to four spots in the draft wouldn't hurt the Suns because they could still take Joakim Noah, an athletic big man who's perfect for them (and could play right away).
Let's say the Suns make this deal, package their other two No. 1 picks (No. 24 and No. 29) to move into the mid-teens for Acie Law IV (the most NBA-ready point guard in the draft), then spend their free agent exemption on an athletic swingman like Matt Barnes. Maybe they'd be paying the luxury tax, but screw it -- how many times can you put together a potential 70-win team that's a prohibitive title favorite and the top TV draw in the league?
Check out this nine-man nucleus: KG, Marion, Bell, Barbosa and Nash as the starters, with Noah, Diaw, Law and Barnes coming off the bench. They'd be covered for every conceivable situation (smallball, grind-it-out ball, run-and-gun, you name it) and they'd be led by two desperate superstars (KG and Nash) who'd basically be ready to give 10 years of their lives to win one title.
Would you bet against that team in the 2008 playoffs? Me neither.
One other fun thing about this trade: On paper, it's the biggest NBA deal ever. We've seen superstars traded for multiple players and/or picks (Kareem and Wilt); we've seen superstars given away for 50 cents on the dollar (Shaq, Moses, Maravich and Barkley); we've seen superstars sold for cash (Dr. J); we've seen gigantic deals featuring multiple stars (like the Brandon-Kemp-Baker deal, or the one that sent J-Kidd to Phoenix); one-for-one swaps featuring All-Stars (DJ-Westphal and Marbury-Kidd); and we've seen major deals that became bigger as the years passed (Joe Barry Carroll and Larry Brown for Robert Parish and Kevin McHale). But can you think of another trade featuring as much star power? One of the best forwards of all time getting traded at the tail end of his prime for a first-team All-NBA player? No offense to Billy Paultz, but that's a whopper.
Anyway, watch how the Spurs attack Phoenix tonight with Duncan and tell me that KG wouldn't have helped. Not only should the Suns make a play for him this summer, they have to make a play for him this summer. If only for Nash's sake.
(And if they don't? Get ready to read more boring "Tim Duncan is the best" columns for the rest of the decade.)
Some other scattered NBA thoughts from the weekend ...
• Congratulations to Greg Willard, Tim Donaghy and Eddie F. Rush for giving us the most atrociously officiated game of the playoffs so far: Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs series. Bennett Salvatore, Tom Washington and Violet Palmer must have been outraged that they weren't involved in this mess. Good golly. Most of the calls favored the Spurs, but I don't even think the refs were biased -- they were so incompetent that there was no rhyme or reason to anything that was happening. Other than the latest call in NBA history (a shooting foul for Ginobili whistled three seconds after the play, when everyone was already running in the other direction), my favorite moment happened near the end, when the game was already over and they called a cheap bump on Bruce Bowen against Nash, so the cameras caught Mike D'Antoni (the most entertaining coach in the league if he's not getting calls) screaming sarcastically, "Why start now? Why bother?" What a travesty. Not since the cocaine era from 1978-1986 has the league faced a bigger ongoing issue than crappy officiating.
• Another reason why the officiating stood out in that game: Have you ever seen more players utterly convinced that they've never committed a foul in their lives than the guys from this Spurs-Suns series? What an annoying bunch of whiners; it's like watching the 2006 World Cup with more whistles. If that's what we get for having "the most international NBA playoff series of all time," then screw it -- let's make rules that no team can have more than three foreign players so we don't have to watch these guys bitch and moan for two straight hours. For God's sake, Ginobili is at the point in his life where he could rear-end someone at a stoplight, then hop out of his car with his hands raised blaming the other driver for being in his way. Give it a rest, Manu. We're begging you.
• Three notes from the Jazz-Warriors series: (1) hope everyone noticed that Kirilenko has destroyed Stephen Jackson so far; (2) hope everyone noticed the dramatic upgrade from the Giricek/Harpring/Brewer trio to Derek Fisher; and (3) hope everyone noticed that Jason Richardson has emerged as the make-or-break player of this series.
As weird as this sounds, Richardson has been exposed AND it's been his coming-out party as a player. He's clearly a competitive, skilled, tenacious 2-guard who would be an asset on any playoff team, someone who's as good as Michael Finley in his prime. At the same time, they're paying him franchise money and there isn't a single guy on Utah's roster who can guard him ... but he's not quite talented enough to swing the series in Golden State's favor. He's having good games and putting up good stats, but they needed more from him than that. That makes him a tweener of sorts -- better than a complimentary player, not quite an All-Star talent. When your fate rests in the hands of someone like that, you're not beating a good team in May.
• Heard conflicting reports on the Oakland crowd last night, but just from watching Game 4 on TV, the crowd paled in comparison to the crowds from the Dallas series, which made me wonder if the "renaissance" of Warriors basketball had inevitably caused the stands to be filled by bandwagon fans and rich a-holes who always end up ruining these sorts of things because they don't care who wins or know how to affect the games ... they just want to be there because it's the place to be. I hate when this happens. Anyway, Will from Oakland sent me an interesting e-mail:
"I have been a Warriors fan since age 3 and attended every home playoff game this year at different locations -- Warrior fans in the first round were worthy of the praise bestowed upon them by the media (you included). Last night, I was disgusted to be at the Oracle. The Dallas series was packed with REAL fans, a raucous arena full of people who had really been waiting 15 years. Once we upset the Mavericks though, we became obscenely trendy. Now, rich suburban families who couldn't name half our roster decided it would be fun to take the family to a game, and prices went up to $250 a seat for the lower bowl. Goodbye real fans, hello normal NBA crowd. The arena was subpar in the Game 3 win, but was absolutely SILENT in Game 4. I got in fights with fans around me after screaming at them to make noise. It's a sad day for Bay Area basketball. The fans get credit for the wins, we deserve the blame for this loss."
• Congrats to LeBron for completely mailing in Game 3 in New Jersey. Hell, even Bill Walton called him out. If you want to be considered the best player in the league, then you can't mail in playoff games. Period.
• It's hard to imagine anyone killing their coaching stock quite like Scott Skiles did in this Pistons-Bulls series. Where have Ty Thomas and Chris Duhon been? Why is Ben Wallace playing so much? Why is P.J. Brown playing at all? Completely inexplicable. The Chicago fans are justifiably going crazy right now. If I were a Bulls fan, I'd probably have to be sedated. I'm not kidding.
• From Eric in Michigan: "Why did the NBA hire the director of 'The Blair Witch Project' to shoot the playoffs? It's nauseating to have the camera in constant motion."
Couldn't agree more. Trying to follow the action in Saturday's Spurs-Suns game made me feel like I had just dropped peyote with Tony Soprano. Did I miss the meeting where everyone decided, "Hey, the midcourt camera for NBA games just isn't cutting it anymore, our fans like it and they're used to it ... instead, let's use a really weird camera angle that makes them sick!"
• Another good point from Drew in Tallahassee, Fla.: "In Game 3, the decibel level at the Golden State game hovered around 100 decibels. You know how loud that is? Well, according to ESPN, it's about as loud as a 'large orchestra.' How many dudes (or chicks for that matter) watching the game know how loud a large orchestra is? I need a better comparison. Help me out."
Sorry, I can't. But you're right, why couldn't they use comparisons that the average NBA viewer could understand -- like "it's as loud as that THX Dolby Digital sound effect at the beginning of a movie" or "it's as loud as listening to someone mow their lawn from four feet away?"
• From Jared in Utah: "I was watching 'NBA Shootaround' on ESPN before the Warriors-Jazz game and I thought that Jim Carrey had made a career change. To my surprise it was Rick Carlisle! Why hasn't anyone noticed this yet?"
• Graham in L.A. raised a great point after Game 3: "After Game 1 of the Spurs-Suns series, the sideline reporter asked Tim Duncan, 'In one word describe to me how important today's win was?' Duncan looked very confused as he uttered, 'Very ... important.' What an inane question. I cannot figure out a possible correct response to this question."
Graham, I noticed it as well and actually felt bad for Duncan. This whole debacle with sideline reporters reminds me of a time when I was working for Jimmy Kimmel's show and one of the writers sarcastically screamed at a producer, "Do us a favor, don't show up for work tomorrow, we'll see if the show's any different." It was such a magnificent diss on so many levels ... and I feel like you could say that to any sideline reporter in the playoffs. Seriously, sideline reporters, don't show up for work this week. Let's see if the playoffs are any different.
• Wanted to mention one correction from Friday's mailbag: I totally screwed up the question about tipping with one of my all-time brainfarts. Here's was the section:
"Q: I think you are the man to settle a nationwide dilemma: How much do you tip when you are getting takeout? Can we set a standard on a to-go order please?
--Alex, Bangor, Maine
"SG: Like everyone else who ever worked as a waiter and/or bartender, I always over-tip unless the service was terrible. So I'm probably a bad person to ask because I always give 20 percent for any takeout order (at the very least, you should give 15 percent). But here's a realistic tipping scale for unconventional service people:"
Here was the problem: In that answer, I was referring to delivery -- not takeout -- which was doubly stupid because I missed the entire point of the question. I have no excuse. None. I'm just an idiot. For takeout orders, I never leave more than a buck or two depending on the order. For instance, let's say you're getting two pizzas for $23.75 and they give you back $6.25 in change. You throw a $1.25 in their tip jar and you're good to go. At least that's what I do. If it's a $55 order, maybe you leave a couple of bucks. Anything more than that would be absurd. Anyway, my apologies for that one.
• Finally, I received two follow-up e-mails on Derek Fisher's situation and felt obligated to pass them along for any parents out there:
1. Michael Norwood in North Carolina: "I am a devoted reader of yours and played basketball for UNC from '85-'87. Watching Fisher was very difficult because it was so similar to what my wife and I went through with our daughter. Don't know why I am writing this to you but sometimes these things help. Nell died one month after this article was written."
2. Jason Christie in Maine: "With all of the coverage of Derek Fisher's situation, I thought this was a good opportunity to spread the word. My son was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma at six weeks of age. He is still undergoing chemotherapy and laser treatments. I've noticed that the media coverage has given the name of the disease, but not given the warning signs. My son, myself and other Retinoblastoma sufferers would greatly appreciate if you mentioned what to look for in a line of your blog. I got lucky and noticed something wrong in photos of my son. A major indicator of Retinoblastoma is 'white eye' in photos instead of the normal 'red eye' that we all get. Something as simple as noticing that can mean the difference between losing sight, the disease spreading or worse."
Sports Guy Blog: Warriors, playoffs and links SLOTTED1
May. 11, 2007 | feedback
With the Warriors heading for one of those gut-wrenching, "How the hell did we lose that series?" exits, just remember, there are specific reasons why they're trailing Utah 2-zip. Warriors fans can look back at Game 1 and say, "If Stephen Jackson makes that 3-pointer, we win it," and they can certainly look back at Game 2 and say, "We choked." Both of those points are true. If Utah advances, those two games will haunt G-State fans for the rest of the spring and summer.
But here's the real problem: Because of their unconventional personnel and reckless style of play, the Warriors are actually predisposed to squander winnable games against good teams. It's not much different than succeeding in the NFL playoffs, when you need to succeed in specific categories to give yourself the best chance to win: run the ball and stop the run; take care of the football and force a couple of turnovers; win the special teams battle; make two or three big plays. That's really it. Take care of those pieces and you'll probably win the game.
Well, the basketball playoffs are just as simple. If you made a list of the top five things that invariably kill playoff teams in May and June, it would look like this in some order:
1. Can they control the boards when it matters?
2. Can they bury their foul shots in crunch time?
3. Can they get a defensive stop when they absolutely need one?
4. Can they maintain their poise at the most crucial times?
5. Can they get quality shots when it matters?
Look at the two games that Golden State just lost in Utah and ask those questions again:
1. Can they control the boards when it matters?
Considering the Warriors have been out-rebounded by a whopping 114-68 margin in two games, I'd say no.
2. Can they bury their foul shots in crunch time?
We know the answer to this one: Pietrus and Davis missed three of four free throws in the final 16 seconds that would have iced Game 2. For the game, G-State shot 26-for-37 (70 percent) from the charity stripe; Utah finished 28-for-33 (84 percent). The thing is, everyone who followed the Warriors knew they'd blow at least one huge playoff game because of free throws: Jackson was their only core guy shooting better than 76 percent, and Harrington (68 percent), Richardson (66 percent), Pietrus (64 percent) and Biedrins (52 percent) are legitimately shaky. That was their achilles heel. Everyone knew it.
3. Can they get a defensive stop when they absolutely need one?
Well, the Warriors can't stop penetrating guards (as evidenced by Deron Williams easily getting off the tying shot in Game 2, or all the damage Devin Harris did in Game 5 of the Dallas series), and they can't protect the defensive boards (it didn't kill them against Dallas, but it's destroying them against Utah). So the answer is no.
4. Can they maintain their poise at the most crucial times?
Not a major problem so far, although they melted down in Game 2 at Dallas. Am I confident that they can make it through this Utah series without Jackson or Davis melting down and getting thrown out at the worst possible time? No.
5. Can they get quality shots when it matters?
Another problem with NellieBall: When you're creating a chaotic pace and trying to shoot 35-40 3-pointers a game, you adopt a certain "I don't give a f---" mind-set for the first 45 minutes of the game ... and then those last three minutes roll around, and you have to slow things down and get good shots and take care of the ball, but you can't because you've already committed to that "I don't give a f---" mind-set. So the same carefree, balls-to-the-wall mentality that got you where you need to be ends up killing you in the end. We didn't see this problem against Dallas because three of G-State's four victories were by 10 points or more. Against Utah? It popped out like a giant pimple.
We've been down this road before with Drexler's Blazers (1989-1992); with the '01 Bucks, '85 Nuggets and '87 Bucks; with Nellie's Dallas teams; even with Nellie's Warriors in '91 and '92. It's one of the reasons I picked Utah to win in five -- not because they're a better team, but because they're a better playoff team. Playing "NellieBall" (or whatever you want to call it) is almost like watching someone playing recklessly/aggressively at a poker table -- maybe they stand out, maybe they're fun to watch, maybe it can work for awhile, but eventually, they're going to get screwed on the river. That's what happened to Golden State in Utah.
There's no way the Warriors are losing Game 3 in Oakland. It's not happening. The Jazz will need one game simply to adjust to that frenetic crowd. But I see them squeezing out another nailbiter in Game 4, then closing Golden State out at home in Game 5. The fact is, Golden State couldn't have asked for a better situation in Utah -- two close games, no Derek Fisher in Game 1, foul trouble for Deron Williams in Game 2 -- and couldn't get it done. Just don't say the Warriors choked. There's an old saying about this that involves a sword. I'll spare you the cliche.
One more thing about last night's game: Like everyone else, I was amazed and touched by the unforgettable Derek Fisher saga, one of those rare sports moments that was genuine in every respect -- the way he was greeted by the fans, the way teammates and opponents hugged him during the game, the way he channeled his anguish into the basketball game, the appreciative way his teammates were interacting with him, his monster 3 that clinched the game, his heartfelt interview after everything was over, even the gracious words of the TNT guys after the game. We'll always remember it as the Derek Fisher Game, one of those special nights that made me remember why I chose to write about sports for a living. Those nights happen from time to time, not always for the most uplifting reasons, but they always resonate. Sometimes it's not about winning and losing. We forget this.
Anyway, best wishes to Fisher and his family.
Four leftover NBA thoughts/questions from Round 2:
• Did it really take Scott Skiles seven quarters to realize that he needed to go small against this Pistons team? Why not just play Ty Thomas, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Kirk Hinrich/Chris Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha for an extended stretch and see how it plays out? I can't believe P.J. Brown or Mike Sweetney saw even a single minute of that series. And don't get me started on Ben Wallace. ...
• Did it really take Mike Brown five months to realize that LeBron, Hughes and Pavlovic should all be playing at the same time? Really, you think so, doctor? You think it's a good idea to play your best three perimeter guys at the same time? Anyway, it seems like they've finally settled into a groove -- especially defensively, where they get their hands on a ton of balls -- and the rest of the team is falling in place (even Ilgauskas has been decent lately). With LeBron peaking at the perfect time and making a run at the "42 Club," I have to say ... I'm not sure I'd want to play the Cavs right now. They could absolutely beat the Pistons.
• There is no excuse for Marv Albert or Kevin Harlan not being involved in this Warriors-Jazz series. None. Zero. Zilch.
• Here's why Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the league: Phoenix makes its big adjustment in Game 2 (playing Kurt Thomas to cover Duncan one-on-one), and it's clear from the beginning that it's just not San Antonio's night -- they're not getting any calls, they're missing free throws and 3s, it's just not happening. So he lets the game unfold without a big counter move and Phoenix pulls away in the fourth quarter, which probably would have happened regardless of whatever Pop did. Now we're headed to Game 3 and Phoenix still has no idea how Pop will counter the Duncan/Thomas thing. Watch what happens in Game 3: the Spurs will counter (I predict they go small with Duncan and four perimeter guys, force Amare to guard Finley, Ginobili or Barry 20 feet from the basket, then pound the ball inside to Duncan) and Phoenix will take an entire game to adjust. If they had done this in Game 2, it wouldn't have mattered because Phoenix was winning the game, anyway. I swear, this will all make sense when you're watching Game 3.
And now, a few links to tide you over until tomorrow's column (which will be up by lunch time on the East Coast) ...
• From JB in Chicago: "Here's an article from Drew Sharp about the '88-'91 Pistons/Bulls rivalry. It's really more of a mini oral history, with amusing quotes from Mahorn, Laimbeer, Paxson, Armstrong and others. I send it because it touches on a lot of points you've made about the NBA and its decline: old-school nastiness vs. new-school warm fuzziness, talent dilution, the genuine evil of Bill Laimbeer, and the changing role of fans as arenas became larger, cleaner and less intense."
• I received the following link about a kazillion times on Monday and Tuesday. Luke in Yonkers explains: "Did you hear Suzyn Waldman announcing on Yankees radio right after Clemens announced he was coming back? She went Jim Ross on us! Be careful, the audio is massively disturbing."
(Note: Luke isn't kidding. We need to create an event in the Olympics for female announcers and sideline reporters who are intentionally trying to deepen their voice to disturb the hell out of us -- it could be the worst sports media trend of this decade. I like my female announcers and sideline reporters to, you know, sound like females. I'm old-fashioned that way.)
• Steve from Indy passes along "The Best of Paulie Walnuts," which wins the title of the most riveting YouTube clip of the week.
• If you missed the superb NBC special about "Saturday Night Live" in the '90s last weekend, New York Magazine re-ran Chris Smith's hatchet job of the 1995 cast because it was mentioned in that show. It's a brutally honest feature and a classic example of why you should never give a writer inside access to a struggling TV show. During my first year at "Jimmy Kimmel Live," an Entertainment Weekly writer hung out with the show for a couple of days, laughed at everyone's jokes, kissed Jimmy's butt, seemed like the nicest lady in the world ... and then, she skewered us two weeks later in the magazine. The thing I'll always remember is her sitting at the writer's table during our daily writer's meeting and nearly dying with laughter during some of Adam Carolla's jokes; of course, in her piece, she demolished him for having a juvenile sense of humor. Such a hypocritical, slimy, scummy move. Anyway, I don't know if Chris Smith (a really good writer, by the way) pulled the same routine with SNL because I wasn't there, but it's a fascinating piece to read.
• Mike from Alexandria is excited: "CBS is finally upgrading it's HD coverage of the NFL, and hey, by 2008, all games will finally be in HD. How many years is that?
• Some fascinating bitterness from Matt Barnes about Mo Cheeks in this article. Makes you wonder how many potentially good NBA players slip through the cracks simply because they were playing for the wrong teams and wrong coaches. Matt Harpring was like that, too. And Mikki Moore.
• Eileen from Southie passes along some depressing news: "Did you see that the NBA has banned Don Nelson from taking Bud Light into his interviews? Yet another reason to cheer for the Warriors."
(Speaking of postgame beers, I couldn't agree more with this e-mail from Ed in Dallas: "Does the coverage of the Josh Hancock accident perfectly illustrate the double standard we have with different sports? If a tattooed, cornrowed NBA player had been been in a fatal, single-car accident with a BAC level twice the legal limit, allegedly on the phone with a woman arranging a hookup and with a stash of weed in the car -- he'd be posterized as everything that's wrong with the NBA. Since it's a clean-cut white guy, he's being treated like Barbaro.")
• Multiple readers passed along Sam Smith's column about Miami being handcuffed by Shaq's contract this week (a story that gained steam as the week rolled along). Hey, here's a trade that works: Shaq to the Clippers for Chris Kaman, Cuttino Mobley, Sam Cassell (contract expires 2008) and the right to swap 2007 picks (so Miami would jump six spots into the tail end of the lottery). Imagine Shaq returning to L.A. to pump some life into the Lakers-Clippers rivalry? And wouldn't Miami have to make that deal because it'd be getting younger and chopping off $20 million (Cassell, Jason Williams and Alonzo Mourning) after 2008, giving them more than enough room to sign another marquee guy?
• Our long wait is over ... the great Ronald Jenkees finally finished his "Rocky Remix." If we could only get him into the studio writing songs for Sean Stewart.
• Finally, I keep getting e-mails from readers wondering where they can find older blog entries or older columns. To find the blog posts, check out the calendar on the top right of this page, then click on any of the dates with links (you'll also see the monthly archives below). You can also check the complete archives for every column in reverse order (from newest to oldest). We're in the process of revamping the "Sports Guy's World" page, but apparently there's a target date of 2025. In the meantime, those are the easiest ways to catch up.
Sports Guyl Blog: De La Hoya-Mayweather and Clemens - SLOTTED
May. 8, 2007 | feedback
When we're shelling out $64.95 for an HD boxing pay-per-view, our ultimate hope is that the telecast won't end with everyone saying, "Crap, that wasn't worth it." Well, nobody was saying that Saturday night. We had the chance to watch two legends lift themselves to a higher place, a ferocious battle that left everyone drained and exhausted for days. We can only hope and pray for a rematch. And I'm not going to rest until both champions are signed.
Just to be clear, I'm not referring to the Mayweather-De La Hoya fight. I'm talking about Larry Merchant's interview of Floyd Mayweather's father, which could have been boxing's greatest eight minutes since the Hagler-Hearns fight. Merchant has been a perennial Unintentional Comedy All-Star since the scale was invented in 2000, but since he glided into his mid-70s, he has taken his "tipsy uncle trapping two nieces during a wedding reception and telling them a 35-minute story" routine to a whole new level. It would be unfair to call Merchant "incoherent" because there is a coherence about him. He's not talking gibberish. There's an appealing eloquence to the way he speaks, almost as if he's reading us a bedtime story with every monologue. It's just impossible to follow what he's saying. The important thing to remember is that Merchant understands what he's saying, and maybe that's all that matters.
Spurs-Suns: Game 1 confirmed that Phoenix can't win the series; the Suns can't control the boards and they can't handle Duncan or Parker. Spurs in 6, possibly 5. At the very least, let's hope the rest of the series lives up to the near-impeccable quality of Game 1.
Pistons-Bulls: Impossible matchup for Chicago because the Bulls can't play Gordon and Hinrich at the same time against Billups/Hamilton for defensive reasons and Prince negates their best player (Deng). You can hurt Detroit with energy and one good low-post player; the Bulls have one but not the other. Pistons in 5.
Cavs-Nets: Two roller-coaster teams who aren't that good in gambling parlance, it's the proverbial stay away. At gunpoint, I'd go with the Cavs in 7 only because LeBron will get every superstar call in a Game 7.
Jazz-Warriors: A worst-case scenario for GSW. The Warriors would have crushed Houston; now they have nobody to defend Carlos Boozer (an emerging superstar), the Williams-Davis matchup is a wash and their home-court advantage has been nullified because Utah can win anywhere (as it proved in Game 7 of the Houston series). As much as it kills me Jazz in 5.
As for Floyd Sr., he looks like a cross between Otis Nixon and the Predator. We might as well start there. If Roger Mayweather is the Flavor Flav of boxing, then Floyd is like Flavor Flav after about eight drinks. He contradicts himself with every other sentence, only there's an eerie confidence about him as he's contradicting himself, almost as though his long-term memory lasts for only two seconds at a time. If you made Floyd a cup of coffee, he might say to you, "Wow, this is some great coffee, it's really good, it's delicious I can't drink this coffee, it's too strong." Before the fight, Larry asked Floyd Sr. whether it bothered him that his son picked his uncle to train him (and not Floyd Sr.). Here was Floyd's answer:
"If Oscar if it just so happens that Oscar don't do what he's supposed to do he still should have picked the father anyway and then again, you know, a lotta people would say, ohhhhhhh, if Li'l Floyd will be beating Oscar all the way through this fight and Oscar somehow finds the range or the distance to get his left hook off, a lotta people gonna say it was luck Oscar got lucky there's no such thing as luck in a fight "
This went on for another 20 seconds. It was like the Lincoln-Douglas debates, only the exact opposite. After the fight, when Larry pressed Floyd Sr. for his verdict, Floyd vacillated between his son and Oscar, with Larry trying to interpret what Floyd was saying, then Floyd babbling about the point system, then Larry finally cutting him off, leading to this exchange:
Floyd: "If you look at the point system, man
who's judging who the most
Larry (frustrated): "Oscar or Floyd, who won?"
Floyd (thinking): "Hey man if you had to go by point system you've gotta give it to Oscar."
Larry (relieved, throwing it back to Lampley): "Thank you! Jim?"
Unfortunately, the Merchant-Mayweather interviews overshadowed the fight itself. Nearly 36 hours have passed, and I find myself getting angrier and angrier about what happened -- not just that boxing screwed up its last chance to win back a mainstream audience but also the lack of do-or-die competitiveness displayed by both guys. We're conditioned to watching boxing movies where both fighters leave everything in the ring, where they're not thinking about tomorrow, where all they care about is beating up the guy in front of them. Oscar and Floyd treated their 12-round fight as if it was a glorified sparring session. The next boxing "purist" who calls this a great fight or a superb chess match needs to be punched in the face. This wasn't a fight; it was a business arrangement. These guys didn't want to do whatever it took to win the fight; they wanted to make it to the final bell without looking bad.
Hence, we watched them pick their spots for a solid hour. Once or twice per round, De La Hoya pressed the action and slapped together an awkward flurry of punches, with most of them either missing or getting blocked by Mayweather. Every so often, Floyd snapped a crisp jab or a straight right, but most of the time, he danced around the ring so Oscar couldn't pin him against the ropes. For all of Floyd's bravado on HBO's "24/7" show, he seemed perfectly content to do just enough to win seven or eight rounds, grab his new belt and go home. He certainly didn't have a pressing need to dominate Oscar or break his will, that's for sure.
Oscar made a big deal about how he "tried" to force the action, but come on anyone who watched Chavez or Hagler in their primes knows what it's like to watch an elite fighter chase down an opponent and physically beat him down. There was never any urgency from Oscar's side; he seemed perfectly content to head to the scorecards and let the potentially corrupt judges work their magic. When he lost the fight by a scant two points -- if the third judge had scored one round differently, it would have been a draw -- Oscar didn't even seem perturbed or bummed out. And that has been the defining theme of his career: After every loss, we've watched him graciously recap the fight in the ring with the happy-go-lucky demeanor of someone who just blew a $10 blackjack hand. Unlike overcompetitive killers like Hagler and Chavez -- street fighters who felt a fundamental need to destroy everyone in their path -- we'll remember Oscar as an exceedingly nice guy, a shrewd businessman who happened to box for a living. I'd rather be friends with Oscar, but I'd rather pay $64.95 to see fighters wired like Chavez and Hagler.
One thing's for sure: After Saturday's fight ended, both Mayweather and De La Hoya looked as though they could go another 10 rounds. You shouldn't feel that way after a big fight, right?
Here's what really bothered me
In the final 10 seconds of the fight, both guys let loose for the one and only time, trading hard punches even after the final bell, almost as if they were testing each other's chins for the rematch. Maybe I'm a cynical guy, but I thought this was the most telling moment of the night. Watch any great fight on ESPN Classic and the boxers always test each other well before the final round; they'll trade bombs just to see what happens, out of sheer competitiveness more than anything else. On Saturday night, this didn't happen until the very end, as though Floyd and Oscar decided beforehand that the fight would conclude that way to whet our appetite for a rematch.
Looking back, everything about this fight was a little contrived -- the HBO reality show, the "bad" blood, the scorecards at the end to make the fight seem closer than it was (how could anyone give seven rounds to Oscar when he missed 80 percent of his punches????), even 12 cautious rounds of calculated, danger-free action. It was like paying to watch Stallone and Tarver film the boxing scenes for "Rocky Balboa."
Come on, guys, make it look as authentic as possible!
Hey, I don't care if two guys wanted to fight for a super welterweight title without getting hurt, but I do care that I paid $64.95 for it. Fortunately, Larry Merchant and Floyd Mayweather Sr. saved the day. Next time, we might not be so lucky.
As for Clemens signing with the Yankees, I was surprised by my lack of emotion as I watched him pull a Jimmy Chitwood and address his forgiving lapdogs at Yankee Stadium (who seemed perfectly willing to forget that Clemens screwed them over a few years ago by fleeing to Houston). I didn't really care. I swear, I didn't care.
In fact, here are 10 reasons I'm happy the Rocket signed with the Yankees.
1. There's finally a villain on the 2007 Yankees. Just like the good old days. I was tired of talking myself into despising A-Rod and Posada.
2. Since he didn't sign with Boston, I wasn't put in the position of (A) having to boycott his starts and (B) feeling constantly sick because so many Red Sox fans would have been perfectly willing to forgive him if he came back. This would have been awful. I would not have handled it well. Now I get to look forward to the possibility of Clemens pitching in Fenway in three weeks while the entire crowd chants, "H-G-H! H-G-H! H-G-H! H-G-H!" Much better.
3. He burned his bridges with yet another city (Houston). Love when that happens.
4. Watching the inevitable "Brokeback Mountain" parody trailer on YouTube with Clemens and Andy Pettitte. It hasn't happened yet, but you know it's coming.
5. If he'd signed with Boston, between Dice-K Mania, Beckett's quest for 30 wins and the return of the greatest Red Sox pitcher ever, Curt Schilling might have snapped from a lack of attention -- we could have seen him break a baseball bat over a Japanese photographer's head just to grab the spotlight again. Glad we avoided this.
6. Honestly? I don't think Clemens will be that good for the Yanks. He turns 45 in August and has been pitching in an inferior hitting league for the past few years. Physically, it just doesn't add up. He's defying the career paths of every other pitcher in the the history of baseball I mean, even a freak of nature like Nolan Ryan started to break down in his mid-40s. How is Clemens still chugging along? How? I just feel as though the odds of Clemens either breaking down or becoming involved in a massive scandal seem to be much greater than the odds of him continuing to be an elite pitcher. And if he stinks it's going to be glorious. Just glorious.
7. The Yankees' clubhouse is already fragile enough now they're adding a guy who abides by his own sets of rules, flies back home after every start, drags his kids around with him like Michael Jackson, and comes and goes when he pleases? Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? If he struggles out of the gate, the Yankees' fans will turn on him faster than the WWE fans turning on John Cena during a pay-per-view.
8. We're coming closer and closer to my dream of Clemens' Hall of Fame plaque featuring a cap with a dollar sign on it. I feel as if that's a genuine possibility at this point.
9. The Red Sox spitefully giving No. 21 to someone else this season, preferably the worst pitcher on the team. In fact, I vote that they bring Rich Garces back, feed him burritos until he passes the 400-pound mark, then squash him into a No. 21 jersey and hire him as the bullpen coach.
10. Looking forward to an entire season of e-mails like these
RC in Guatemala City: "So let me get this straight we're supposed to be scared of the Yankees hiring a 45-year-old fat dude with groin problems? Really?"
Jason T. in Maine: "I'm happy Roger is going to the Yankees. Trying to bring him back to Boston made me feel like Forrest Gump at the end of the movie. You know, when Jenny, the used-up coke fiend, came back to Forrest to die of AIDS after screwing half the continent. After the last two series, the amount of hate for the Yankees, at least in my heart, was in serious decline. Now I feel reinvigorated, full of hate for all things pinstriped."
Gary in Somerville, Mass.: "I thought you were nuts last year when you were openly hoping that Roger didn't come back to Boston. But after he dangled himself in front of the Yanks, Sox and Astros AGAIN this year I snapped out of it and realized that some things just aren't worth another championship. That grotesque display today IN THE MIDDLE OF A GAME told me I made the right choice. Am I the only one that finds this Clemens/Pettitte thing more than a little odd? I can imagine that when Roger told his wife that he was going back to the Yankees she had the same look on her face that Michelle Williams did when Heath Ledger told her he was going 'fishing' with Jake Gyllenhaal."
John F. in Kansas: "This is historic who ever heard of a rat jumping ON a sinking ship?"
Basketball Blog: Mavs-Warriors finale - SLOTTED
May. 4, 2007 | feedback
Dirk Nowitzki was outscored by Maurice Ager. Dirk Nowitzki didn't attempt a shot from closer than 13 feet. Dirk Nowitzki got dunked on by Matt Barnes. Dirk Nowitzki finished with more turnovers than field goals. Dirk Nowitzki's 67-win team got bounced in a deciding game by 25 points by a No. 8 seed.
And you know what? It still wasn't the worst performance by a good player in a deciding game.
That dubious honor belongs to Dennis Johnson, who dropped an 0-for-14 stink bomb in Game 7 of the 1978 Finals. One year later, Seattle won the title and DJ won the Finals MVP. His career turned out fine. So for anyone playing the "Nowitzki's career will never be the same" card, throw some water on yourself. In the last 30 years, only two NBA players had their careers sidetracked by a bad game -- Nick Anderson and John Starks -- which shouldn't happen to Nowitzki because he's a much better player. At the same time, it's hard to remember an elite player taking such an enormous step backward for no real reason. Not even 11 months ago, with his team trailing by three in the final 20 seconds of a Game 7 in San Antonio, this was the same guy who bullied his way past Bruce Bowen toward the rim, got hacked by Manu Ginobili while he was challenging Tim Duncan, forced the ball in and made the free throw for the tying points. Two weeks later, I declared that Dirk was "playing at a higher level than any forward since Bird." And it was true.
Well, what happened to him???? Where did he go? Game 6 wasn't an aberration because Nowitzki looked like a mess for two weeks. The problems first surfaced in mid-March, when Phoenix and Dallas played on the night before March Madness started. Although the game was billed as a battle between the two top MVP candidates, Steve Nash emerged as the dominant player, notching 32 points, 16 assists, 8 rebounds and nearly every clutch play in a double-OT victory. Watching the game with two buddies, we agreed that it was a seminal moment of the 2007 season -- Nash just wanted it more than Nowitzki did. You could see it. I still remember my buddy House hissing, "So much for the MVP race."
Neither the Mavericks nor Nowitzki has been the same since. Looking back, everything about the Mavs' season was a little misleading. Yeah, they were a 67-win team, but not in the conventional sense -- they stayed healthy (unlike nearly everyone else), played in fifth gear every game and benefited from a particularly crummy league more than anything else. Nowitzki emerged as the leading MVP candidate not because people were watching Dallas games and thinking, "Wow, that guy's GREAT," but because he was the best guy on the best team and they couldn't think of anyone else.
Then, a surging Golden State team exposed every chink in Dallas' armor: You could go small against them because they didn't have a low-post scorer; you could attack Nowitzki defensively; you could make them settle for jumpers and 3s; you could get their offense to break down because they didn't have enough slashers; and most important, you could bully them with the right players. You know what the underrated subplot of this series was? With the exception of Jerry Stackhouse, the Mavericks were afraid of the Warriors. For instance, I don't think Nowitzki wanted any part of Stephen Jackson -- didn't want to post him up, bang bodies with him, trash-talk him or anything of the sort -- and even worse, I think Jackson knew it. Just reading the body language of the Warriors in that series, every moment they seemed to be thinking, "We got these guys, they're afraid of us, they can't stop us." And they played accordingly.
(The most telling moment: When Austin Croshere hammered Baron Davis and Davis sprung up in his face last night. All four of Davis' teammates rallied to his defense; only one Dallas teammate rallied to Croshere's defense. That was the series in a nutshell. There was a playground edge to the Warriors that the Mavericks simply didn't have; it was like watching a prep-school team from Connecticut getting worked over by the kids from Lincoln High.)
As for Nowitzki, he's turning into this generation's Karl Malone, a fantastic NBA forward and future Hall of Famer and someone who might be missing that extra something when it matters. Malone was blessed with John Stockton, a clutch player who learned how to make up for Malone's crunch-time deficiencies by taking over at the end of games. Nowitzki doesn't have anyone like that, although he played with someone who turned into such a player (Nash) after he was discarded by the Mavs so they could spend $70 million on Erick Dampier. And that's the real problem here: Dallas' arrogant belief that it didn't need Nash to win a championship, or that it didn't need to do anything last February when it had the young player (Devin Harris) and the expiring contracts to acquire one more playoff-proven star like Ray Allen or Jason Kidd. For those two mistakes alone, the Mavericks deserved the ignominy of being on the wrong side of the biggest NBA upset ever.
Still, I'm not willing to write off Dirk Nowitzki as a Pantheon player. He's only 28. He's shown flashes of brilliance in the past. He's been under the spotlight lately because he doesn't seem like the stereotypical no-brainer MVP choice -- as I covered on Tuesday -- not because he's overrated or anything. Maybe he needs to spend the next few months answering "What happened to you?" questions to be properly toughened up down the road, like how years of public doubt toughened Peyton Manning in the end. Hey, if Dennis Johnson can bounce back from 0-for-14 and win the Finals MVP 12 months later against the same team, anything's possible.
Some other lingering thoughts heading into one of the greatest sports weekends ever:
• Kudos to the Warriors' game entertainment people (for basically turning the music off for the entire game and letting the crowd carry things) and TNT (for sending Marv Albert and Steve Kerr to Game 6). You couldn't ask for better announcers or a better crowd. When's the last time we had a "Na na na na HEY HEY HEY goodbye!" chant at an NBA game? When's the last time an NBA crowd stood for the entire second half? I'm still giddy.
• When Davis injured his leg Thursday night, I was sitting there thinking, "Great, great, what a fitting way for this to end -- the one star player who always gets hurt ends up getting hurt at the worst possible time" and kicking myself for not seeing it coming. Then he pulled a pseudo-Willis Reed on us. Just an amazing performance. Also, Steve Kerr did a nice job of bringing up Davis' career 3-point stats (32 percent for his career, 30 percent this season, 46 percent in the Dallas series) to spell out exactly how on fire Davis was.
• Don Nelson's best move of the series was starting Matt Barnes in Game 6, going with his best five (Davis, Jackson, Barnes, Richardson and the Biedrins/Pietrus combo) and burying Monta Ellis and Small Al Harrington. You rarely see coaches admit the obvious and say, "I'm not screwing around anymore, we're living or dying with these guys and everyone else can cheer from the bench." Love that.
(Note: I received a slew of e-mails wondering where Golden State's win ranked on the Vengeance Scale considering all the bad blood between Nelson and Mark Cuban. You know what? It's a solid 9.7. Cuban was a rifle and a bathroom away from turning into Private Pyle last night.)
• Warrants mentioning that the Celtics investigated trading for Baron Davis two Februarys ago, blanched at his injury problems and uninsured contract and acquired Antoine Walker instead. I actually agreed with this decision then and still do -- the risk was too great and they had already been burned with the LaFrentz/Baker contracts in the previous four years. But look at the way the Warriors were built: They took fliers on two quality players who were available for major discounts (Jackson and Davis), signed a journeyman free agent who anyone could have had (Barnes), drafted fairly well (Pietrus and Biedrins as late lottery picks, Richardson as a top-5 pick, Ellis as a second-rounder) and made a "Godfather" offer to a retired coach (Nelson). Pretty simple game plan.
Here's the thing: They took a few chances. I didn't agree with half of them, but at least they were rolling the dice. This past February at the deadline, did one team take a chance with a big move? Of course not. Everyone thought they were good to go. Ridiculous. This league drives me crazy. I can't take it.
That reminds me, with everyone weighing in on the "Where are the Lakers going from here?" debate, it has to be mentioned that their overall game plan never, ever, EVER made sense. Why waste two years of Kobe's prime by trying to develop young players like Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown over targeting gamers (dealing Caron Butler never made sense) and using expiring contracts to acquire playoff-proven guys (for instance, they could have had Kidd if they included Bynum in the deal). How could they allow all those contracts (over $10 million worth of expiring deals) to simply expire without taking a flier on someone like Stephen Jackson? And why aren't Lakers fans more furious that their team willingly threw away Kobe's prime like this? I don't get it.
• From Michael in Spokane: "If jail existed for sports bigamy, Snoop Dogg would be doing 25 to life."
• From TP in Philly: "Sarunas Jasikevicius is the best Jack Haley since I guess Jack Haley. I find myself looking forward to breaks in the action if only to see that crazy Lithuanian jumping around like a little kid."
• I keep getting e-mails from Bulls fans wondering why (A) I haven't written about their monumental sweep of a Miami team that could have doubled as the cast for "Cocoon 3," (B) I haven't admitted that I was wrong about Chicago declining to trade for Pau Gasol last February and (C) I haven't recanted my running argument that Chicago should have kept Tyson Chandler and not signed Ben Wallace. First of all, I picked the Bulls in five; it's not like the Miami sweep was shocking. Miami was a complete mess. Second, I still think they should have traded for Gasol, although it's clear that Luol Deng is untouchable at this point -- I'll admit it, I definitely underestimated his talents -- but still, they couldn't have gotten Memphis to bite for Thabo Sefolosha, Tyrus Thomas, expiring contracts and the Knicks' pick? And third, I still don't believe they can beat the Pistons without any low-post scoring. You're not beating the Pistons with jumpers. You're just not. That's why I'm picking the Pistons in six. So if that happens, and you think it was a good move to spend $64 million on Wallace for a second-round exit that would have happened, anyway, I don't know what to tell you.
• Three more predictions: Jersey handily thumping Toronto Friday night, Mayweather taking a decision from De La Hoya, and Utah shocking Houston in Game 7. By the way, are we really prepared to live in a basketball world where Nowitzki is the reigning MVP and Sam Mitchell (badly exposed in the Nets series) is the "Coach of the Year"?
• There isn't a happier team than the Spurs right now. Not only are they peaking at the perfect time, but Dallas was the one contender that matched up perfectly against them. Now they get the Suns (as much as I love watching the Suns, the Spurs are a terrible matchup for them), then the winner of Houston/Utah-Golden State, then whatever flawed team comes out of the East. Are you kidding me? During Thursday night's game, TNT should have had cameras at Tim Duncan's house, like how CBS has cameras at various colleges during the NCAA Tournament selection show. We needed to see the Spurs celebrating and pouring champagne on one another. Might as well start early. For all intents and purposes, you can put a fork in the 2007 NBA playoffs.
• A few links and then we're done
1. Matt from Naperville, Ill.: "My friend Josh convinced me to send you these videos I made from school with my two roommates. The first one became a bit of an underground sensation, which led us to make the second a few months later. However, one of my roommates said he was too busy with finals to take part in the video. Needless to say, I had to take matters into my own hands and get him into the video, one way or another. The best part is, people keep asking us if he's dead, and if he's really 35. The age thing is a bit of an inside joke, but basically I just give him a bunch of crap for being 27, when he could probably pass for 20. Anyways, I hope you enjoy."
Note to Matt: I did. These clips killed me. In the late '80s, my buddy Bish and I dunked on a 9-foot rim for two hours with a video camera filming, then spliced it into a dunk video with a Michael McDonald song in the background. (Yes, all copies have been destroyed. As far as you know.) But a nerf hoop? Genius.
2. If you're wondering what it's like to be Stephen Jackson, check out Part One and Part Two of a feature some radio station filmed about him before the 2007 season. Sadly, they didn't follow him around on the night he headed to a strip joint with Jamaal Tinsley.
3. From two weeks ago: I really enjoyed Dan Le Batard's "20 Questions" interview with Shaq. And while we're here, I also enjoyed Michael Lewis' Jock Exchange, Robert Kolker's NY Mag piece on the NYC subway hero, Sam Smith's piece about a distraught Larry Legend, and Scott Ostler's column about Stephen Jackson.
4. The runaway contender for the "most disturbing eBay auction item of the year" so far.
5. The greatest NBA shot ever finally makes YouTube: Jeff Malone's running heave in 1984. Seriously, I want to see an All-Star Skills competition where NBA players attempt to make this shot. Would you rather watch that or Michael Cooper trying to make half-court shots as Lisa Leslie stands next to him?
6. The Philly fans want you to know that they're extremely, extremely depressed right now.
7. Finally, a link to my favorite moment of the 2007 season so far: Matt Barnes' dunk on Dirk that capped an 18-point run and nearly blew the roof off in Oakland and if that wasn't enough, Marv Albert sounded more excited than he's been since the '91 Finals and even dusted off the term "facial." You couldn't have scripted this any better. I'm still fired up.
Enjoy the weekend.
Basketball Blog: Mavs-Warriors, crowd SLOTTED
May. 4, 2007 | feedback
It's easy to discount the spiritual impact of basketball crowds if you haven't attended a playoff game with special fans before. There's no way to understand it unless it definitely has happened to you. Then you know. As strange as this sounds, it's like a woman being unable to tell whether she's ever had an orgasm. If she thinks it might have happened, or it felt like it kind of happened one time ... it didn't happen. When it happens, they know. Then they feel stupid for all the other times when they thought it had happened.
After I wrote last week that two special NBA crowds remain -- Madison Square Garden and Oakland's Oracle Arena -- the predictable slew of e-mails arrived from Sacramento, Chicago, Toronto and many other cities, all of them asking, "What about us?" I don't blame them for being deluded because they don't know any better. (See example above.) When the Celtics climbed to the Eastern finals five years ago, I convinced myself that we'd turned the FleetCenter into the old Garden all over again ... but looking back, that wasn't really the case. Maybe it was loud, maybe it was raucous, maybe we willed the boys to come back in Game 3, but since New Jersey captured Games 4 and 6 in Boston, were we really that great?
Just wanted to go on the record: I'm predicting an easy Utah win tonight. Once the Jazz finally figured out that nobody could hurt them except T-Mac, this series took on a totally different feel after Game 2. Utah has three guys who can get quality shots -- Williams, Boozer and Harpring (coming off screens) -- whereas the Rockets have T-Mac and that's it. And to answer your "What about Yao?" question ... exactly. What about Yao? Defensively, he has been a liability; offensively, he can't even post up 6-7 Paul Millsap, much less Boozer or Memo Okur. It's his fifth season in the league. He should be killing a team like Utah -- the Jazz don't have a single guy to guard him. So why isn't he killing them? Great question. If you're a Rockets fan, you should be petrified right now. Your team needs a superhuman performance from T-Mac to win one of these next two games. Anything less and they're going home.
Once upon a time, the Celtics had the most significant home-court advantage thanks to 15,000 savvy hoop lunatics crammed into an overheated lunchbox. Since I was blessed with the chance to attend most of their pivotal games during the Bird Era, you have to believe me on this one -- we swung the outcome of six series ('81 Sixers, '84 Lakers, '87 Bucks, '87 Pistons, '88 Hawks and '91 Pacers) in which superior opponents failed to handle the mythical combination of Bird and the Garden. Off the top of my head, I can remember 20-25 games in which we carried the team to a higher place.
Now, you're saying to yourself, "Doesn't every crowd do that?"
Actually, no. More than in any other sport, the fate of a basketball game hinges on the connection between players and fans. Last year, you could have dressed in white, headed to a big Miami game, stood and cheered at all the predictable spots and convinced yourself that you impacted the game ... but you really didn't. You did exactly what you were expected to do, nothing more. You obeyed the giant video screen, followed the musical cues and served your purpose. In other words, you were just like every other NBA crowd.
These things don't happen at Warriors and Knicks games because they're the only two places left with old-school fans, fans who have been coming to games for 30-40 years, fans of all colors, fans who genuinely understand basketball and every nuance that comes with it. They don't need a giant video screen to help them out; hell, they don't want the giant video screen to help them out. These are the fans who recognize a beautiful pass as it's happening, not after it happens, simply because they love basketball and see the same angles players see. These are the fans who instinctively understand stuff like, "Mickael Pietrus just threw down a ridiculous putback; I'm going to stand and keep cheering for an extra 30 seconds because he's a young kid and we need to keep pumping him up so he'll do it again."
Why are New York and Oakland the only two throwback cities remaining in the league? It's simple. The Knicks haven't priced out their real fans because so many people have money in New York that it's impossible to price everyone out. They also have an old-school arena with luxury boxes situated 50-60 rows away, so fans are crowded around the court and it's a much more communal experience. And since New York has always been the capital of basketball -- for further details, read the Pete Axthelm classic "The City Game" -- the fans have an inherent appreciation and understanding of the sport that distinguishes them from fans in nearly every other city. (Yes, including Boston, which will always be a baseball town.) The real tragedy of Isiah's catastrophic tenure is that we were robbed of some monster basketball crowds. The Knicks should always be good, if only to show every other fan base how it's done. Or, used to be done.
As for Warriors fans, it's a little more simple: They play in Oakland and have the most eclectic mix of fans in the league, so their home games have a different feel, almost like an upscale version of Rucker Park. Earlier this year, my wife and I were trying to determine whether we wanted to leave L.A. and live somewhere else for a few years (just to mix things up), and during the course of the discussions, she brought up the Bay Area. Well, you know why I couldn't live there? Because of the Warriors. If we moved there, I'd end up purchasing Warriors season tickets; inevitably I would be compromised by those unique crowds, placing me in a precarious sports bigamy predicament since I'm utterly and completely disgusted by the Celtics' front office and ownership right now. It would be like a guy who hates his wife hiring the hottest 20-year-old Danish au pair on the planet. Just a bad idea all the way around.
What does this have to do with Game 6 of the Warriors-Mavs series tonight? In the words of Russell Hammond, everything. I don't believe the 2007 Dallas Mavericks have the collective heart to prevail in Oakland, not with the Warriors' fans smelling blood and providing one of the all-time electric/rabid/emotional/crazed atmospheres in recent sports history. As good as they were in Game 3 and Game 4, the fans will be better tonight. They will rise to the occasion. They will. I am convinced. They have been waiting for a night like this for 30 long years. Literally.
Maybe a veteran team such as the Spurs wouldn't be fazed, but the Cuban-era Mavs have proved time and time again -- in Miami last June, against Phoenix two years ago, even last weekend in Oakland -- that they have no qualms about folding at the worst possible times. The right crowd can get to them. The right mix of shaky calls can get to them. They fall apart when you least expect it. In fact, they squandered a 21-point lead in Game 5 and would have ended up on one of TNT's "Gone Fishin'" cards if (A) the Warriors hadn't stupidly slowed things down with a six-point lead, and (B) the Mavs hadn't gotten four major calls in the final 50 seconds: Barnes getting whistled for a clean strip of Nowitzki, Nowitzki not getting whistled for clobbering Richardson on a go-ahead 3, Davis getting a sixth foul for not touching anyone and Nowitzki going over-the-back on the biggest rebound of the game. Whatever. The league wanted this series to go back to Oakland, and it did.
To beat this particular Warriors team -- an undersized group that thrives on dunks, killer 3s, alley-oops, energy plays and everything else that ignites a great crowd -- when they're playing at home, you need five guys who won't be afraid (as far as I can tell, Dallas has Nowitzki, Stackhouse and Howard and that's it), and one special player who can pull a Clint Eastwood and jam a stake in the crowd's collective heart. On paper, Nowitzki should be that player -- we even caught a glimpse in Game 5, when he did a superb impression of the 2007 MVP during the final three minutes -- but as I wrote in Tuesday's piece, he has looked like a mess for most of this series. Even in Game 5, Nowitzki disappeared for nearly the entire second half. This was an elimination game! How could a team's best player attempt only two shots in the first 21 minutes of the second half against a surging Warriors team that clearly smelled an upset?
When Dirk finally stepped up with a couple of 3s and a monster block, TNT headed to a commercial as Dick Stockton excitedly yelped, "Dirk Nowitzki, playing like an MVP in the last minute!" Really, a whole minute? That's what it takes to be an MVP these days? Sure, you can't discount Nowitzki because he has shown flashes -- like the end of Game 5, or his incredible three-point play to save the Spurs series last spring -- but at the same time, not since Kevin Garnett's Game 7 against the 2004 Kings have we seen an NBA superstar face a bigger career gut check than the one Nowitzki faces tonight. KG was playing at home and came up huge (32 points, 21 rebounds). Nowitzki will be playing in one of the toughest environments in sports. If he ever wanted to be challenged as a basketball player, tonight's the night. If he shows any sign of weakness at all, the crowd will smell it. If he falters at all, so will the Mavs.
It's the second best subplot of tonight's game, right behind the crowd itself. For the past week or so, I've been swamped by e-mails from readers who were unequivocally delighted by this series -- not just Golden State's fan-friendly style of play but those two home games in Oakland and how much they meant to anyone who cares about basketball. It's been a throwback to the days when crowds actually mattered, when players liked playing with one another, when every playoff game didn't end with the same predictable "everyone clear out for the alpha dogs so they can go one-on-three" sequence. I haven't been this excited for a non-Celtics game in years.
Maybe the winner tonight doesn't matter, just that the game is happening at all does. But I'll be rooting for the Warriors for selfish reasons: If they advance to Round 2, I'm flying to Oakland and attending the next slew of home games. Maybe it won't be as good as hopping into a time machine and heading back to the old Boston Garden, but it's better than nothing.
Basketball Blog: Mavs-Warriors series
May. 1, 2007 | feedback
We're headed for the most awkward moment in NBA history within the next 10 days. Here's how it will play out:
(We see Jim Gray, David Stern and Dirk Nowitzki standing awkwardly in front of a single camera at halftime of a Round 2 playoff game.)
--Gray: "I'm here with NBA commissioner David Stern. David--"
--Stern: "Don't talk to me. Seriously. You're lucky I haven't had you killed yet."
--Gray: "Gotcha. Um ... and now to present the 2006-07 Most Valuable Player Award, NBA commissioner David Stern."
--Stern: "Leave. Now."
(Gray slinks off.)
--Stern: "Well, Dirk, maybe the playoffs didn't turn out the way you planned, but for 82 meaningless games during one of the worst seasons of my 23-year tenure, you were the best player in a terrible league. Unfortunately, voting for the award happens right after the regular season, so voters weren't able to factor in your complete meltdown in Round 1 against Golden State. You didn't just fail to step up like an MVP should, you whined and complained the entire series, disgraced your teammates and embarrassed your fans. Not since David Hasselhoff has America been so embarrassed by a German. I don't know whether to hand you this trophy or smash it over your head. Lucky for you, this is being televised, so I can only hand you the trophy and congratulate you on the 2006-07 Most Valuable Player Award. I'm going to leave now so I can throw up."
--Dirk Nowitzki (taking the trophy): "Thank you, Mr. Commissioner."
(Stern waves disgustedly at him and walks away.)
And ... scene!
Has Nowitzki been that bad in the first four games against Golden State? Actually, yeah. You can't kill him for struggling in a playoff series because, admittedly, it happens to the best from time to time. For instance, the Basketball Jesus stunk out the joint against the '85 Lakers and '88 Pistons. MJ submitted a stinkbomb against the '95 Magic. Magic choked in three different losses to the '84 Celtics. Bring up an NBA legend and I could point you to a crummy playoff performance within three seconds.
The difference between Dirk and the others: He's having a complete breakdown as a basketball player. Mentally, he's a mess. You can see it on his face. From a leadership standpoint, he's shown nothing other than a couple of front-running fist pumps and a few "Die Hard" sneers. Every time Dallas needed him to come through in Games 1, 3 and 4, he disappeared. And he made crucial mental mistakes after Game 3 (saying the series hinged on Game 4 for Dallas, which was just dumb) and Game 4 (doing the whole "woe is me, I can't get it going, I'll just have to help us in other ways" routine). For historical purposes, he's edging dangerously close to Karl Malone territory here.
As you know, I didn't have an MVP vote this season because it makes too much sense for the league to give votes to younger writers who obsessively follow the NBA over older writers who secretly despise the league, can't identify with it and would never dream of spending their own money on NBA League Pass. This is how we end up with a system in which Isiah Thomas gets a "Coach of the Year" vote. (By the way, that's a whole other column.) But here's how I explained my decision not to give Dirk the MVP vote that I didn't actually have:
"He can't affect games unless he's scoring, doesn't make his teammates better and plays decent defense at best. If you're giving the MVP to someone because of his offense, he'd better be a killer offensive player. You can't say that about the 2007 Dirk Nowitzki."
One week later, the Golden State series starts. Dirk can't get it going because the Warriors smartly throw Stephen Jackson (a legitimate pit bull) on him -- a smaller player who gets right in his face and keeps trying to poke the ball every time Dirk puts it on the ground. Now, everyone thought Dirk solved the whole "smaller/quicker guys can shut me down" thing against San Antonio and Phoenix last season, but that wasn't necessarily true -- he could shoot over Bruce Bowen and Raja Bell and put the ball on the floor against Shawn Marion. He can't do either of these things against Jackson (or Jason Richardson, for that matter). And if that's not enough, Nellie keeps throwing second guys at him from odd angles, so he never knows when the double team is coming. Believe me, there are legitimate reasons why Nowitzki is struggling against the Warriors. It's not just a shooting slump.
But that's why Dirk shouldn't be the MVP: Take away his scoring and there's not a lot left. Yeah, he'll grab some rebounds and create a couple of easy shots for teammates, but he's not putting his imprint on the game, right? I can see someone winning an MVP award with those limitations, but again, you better be a KILLER offensive player. And he wasn't. As I described his credentials in that MVP column, "(He had a) well-done and thoroughly efficient season. I enjoyed it. He took the Fist Pump/Sneer to new heights. I just don't think he was the MVP."
For example, if you watched T-Mac in Monday night's hard-fought win over the Jazz (16 assists!), that was the quintessential example of a great player beating a good team on a night when his shot wasn't falling. Tim Duncan has those games all the time; he doesn't need to score 25 points to control a game. Same for Jason Kidd. Same for Steve Nash. On the flip side, Kobe needs to score to control games and manages to do it on an astonishingly consistent basis. He's a dominant offensive player, whereas Nowitzki is an efficient offensive player. Big difference. Teams can turn Dirk into a complementary player if they try hard enough. Does that sound like an MVP? Didn't think so. When Kobe's team loses a playoff game, you still know he's there. Same for Nash. Same for Wade. Same for Duncan. Same for LeBron. I thought Nowitzki had reached that point last season -- remember this column? -- but now he's taken an enormous step backward and if the Mavs gets knocked out this week (which I think they will) he becomes the worst MVP choice since Karl Malone in 1997.
As for the magnificent Warriors-Mavs series, it's been said a million times but warrants mentioning again: When they showed the starting lineups for Game 1 and revealed Dallas was going small, I actually screamed out loud. I'm not kidding. For God's sake, even if you plan on eventually going small against a quicker team, you can't change your starting lineup for a No. 8 seed! You knew Nellie was standing there thinking, "I got him, I got him ... I'm in Avery's head!" As weird as this sounds, I thought that was the biggest moment of the entire series. The Warriors probably went into that game thinking they had a puncher's chance, then Avery went small and Nellie was probably standing there in the huddle screaming at them, "We have them! We have them! THEY ARE AFRAID OF US!"
Ten other things that need to be covered before Game 5, which I fully expect the Mavs to win thanks to a 48-20 free-throw advantage and between three and 35 technical fouls on the Warriors, along with the 10 percent chance that Dallas police might need to use a taser on Stephen Jackson before everything is said and done:
1. If the Warriors end up winning the series -- and just for the record, I don't think Dallas can win in Oakland under any circumstances -- it wouldn't be as big an upset as you'd think. After all, Dallas wasn't really a 67-win team (just a very good team that stayed healthy and played hard every night in a terrible league), and G-State wasn't really a No. 8 seed (the Warriors didn't get healthy and gel together until the tail end of the season). In my opinion, the '94 Nuggets (over the '94 Sonics) and '81 Rockets (over the '81 Lakers) were much bigger upsets.
But here's what I can't understand: Where was Vegas during this whole thing? How could they make the Warriors 9-to-1 underdogs when they had three of the best five players in the series and a coach who was put on the earth to win a series like this? Dallas was NINE TIMES AS LIKELY to win this series? Really? Seriously? That was the single strangest series line since Hakeem and the Rockets (defending champs, by the way) were more than 2-to-1 underdogs against a painfully young Magic team in the '95 Finals. Bizarre.
2. I'd like to request that Al Harrington changes his nickname from "Big Al" to "Small Al" or "If We Blow This Series I'm The Reason Al." Thanks.
3. Take it from someone who just spent the last six months watching Doc Rivers and Mike Dunleavy: If you want to see how an NBA game should be coached during the game, watch this series and watch how Avery Johnson uses his timeouts, or how Nellie tests his struggling guys (Harrington, Pietrus and Ellis) every game and yanks them for good at the exact moment it's clear that they don't have it. Really fun to watch.
4. I've seen hammered college kids playing "Pop A Shot" at 3 a.m. with better form than Andris Biedrins from the FT line. Why does it look like both of his arms are in plaster casts? Does he have elbows?
5. No offense, TNT execs ... but Kevin Harlan or Marv Albert should be calling this series. End of story. You screwed up.
6. Just about everyone forgot this because of his on/off the court problems, but Stephen Jackson happens to be a genuinely good player who's played for some quality teams and definitely fits the "I'd go to battle with him" profile. (The Spurs wouldn't have won a title without him in 2003, remember?) I'm always amazed that NBA GMs don't value playoff experience more than they do -- for instance, Indiana tried to give away Jackson for three straight months and nobody bit. By all accounts, he's a loyal teammate (and then some, as witnessed in the Artest melee); Reggie Miller even defended him during one of the playoff broadcasts by saying something like, "People don't realize this, but Stephen's a good guy, he really is." Considering his reasonable salary (averages out to $7 million per year through 2010), his playoff pedigree and his fearlessness in big games, it's hard to believe that a contender like the Suns, Nets or Jazz didn't say, "Screw it, let's take a flier on this guy."
And then, you get e-mails like this one (from Lorenzon in Thousand Oaks, Calif., during Game 2) and it all makes sense: "Just watched Baron Davis and Jason Terry pretend to want to fight each other, and thought the most interesting part of the 'brawl' was the reaction from Stephen Jackson. If you watch closely, his back is turned to the action at the start of the fight. When he turns around and sees his boy about to get at it, he apparently has an Artest flashback, because the crazed look in his eyes is priceless. Unfortunately, nothing interesting came of it, but for a brief moment we had an HD view into the window of a madman. For some reason I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of Stephen Jackson."
7. Reason No. 132 why I love this series: It's not often that you can follow a series, then midway through it, have to call one of your friends just to ask, "Hey, is it just me or did Matt Barnes add a new tattoo on his neck for this game?"
(The NBA ... it's FANNNNNNNNNNN-tastic!)
8. Reason No. 133 why I love this series: The winning coach showing up for his Game 4 news conference holding a can of Bud Light.
9. Yikes, how have I not mentioned Baron Davis yet? And not just because he broke out a fedora with bullets on it before Game 3 -- my favorite moment of the playoffs so far -- but because he's finally healthy and attacking the basket again. The thing is, we always knew he had it in him. Kenny Smith summed it up nicely by recounting a story about the time he asked Baron something like, "Is there anything offensively that you can't do? Is there anything defensively that you can't do? Well, why aren't you one of the best players in the league?"
Was there an answer? Kenny thought it was more of a mental hurdle than anything and I'd have to agree -- thanks to Nellie and his style of play, everything came together for Davis this season. But you can't say it's a surprise because he's done this before: Look at his box scores from Game 3 and Game 4 of the Orlando series in 2002. That was the frustrating thing about Baron Davis' career: He DID have this in him. And we knew it. Now we're seeing it. He's been the undisputed MVP of a series that happens to include the soon-to-be-named MVP of the league.
10. Three more pertinent e-mails and we're done:
Ryan M in Dallas: "Has any city had its collective sports groin kicked in more in 12 months than Dallas has since last June? Summer 2006 gets our hopes up to unprecedented levels as the Mavs pull off the impossible and win an OT Game 7 in San Antonio. So follow that with the worst collapse in NBA Finals history. Two words: Tony Romo. This summer, the Stars (an NHL team ... that's pro hockey for those who forgot) rally back from down 3-1, only to totally fall apart in the third period of Game 7 in Vancouver. And then probably the worst of all, the Mavs win 67 games in preparation for healing the wounds of 10 months ago, only to pull what looks to be the greatest no-show stunt in sports, ever. Have five million people ever simultaneously sworn off sports fandom forever?"
Jennie in San Diego: "As you probably saw at the beginning of the second half of Sunday night's Warriors/Mavs game, TNT showed us all of the celebrities at the Coliseum Arena. I could not believe that they showed Ron Artest sitting in the stands only one time! I feel cheated that they never panned back to him for reaction shots. Stephen Jackson is fricking nuts and to know that Ron Ron is watching him from the sidelines, TNT knows this and where he is sitting and has a camera readily available and STILL doesn't give us reaction shots?! We deserved it as fans for sitting through hundreds of hours of incessant media dissection of that fight! They owed that to us."
James in Boulder: "Couldn't agree with you more when you talked about the greatness of the Golden State fans. I'm a diehard Nuggets fan and was at the game on Saturday night. Late in the game, the Nugs were down five and the crowd started chanting, without prompting, "Let's go Nuggets!" (clap clap clap-clap-clap). It was INCREDIBLY loud. So what do the geniuses at the Pepsi Center do? They start playing some stupid video on the Jumbotron telling us to yell louder while accompanying it with Van Halen's "Right Now." What did the fans do? We had no clue what to do, so the chant ended up getting drowned out by the video. Golden State's management knows how to run the sound during a game and I salute them for it."
Simmons Blog: Live from the NFL draft SLOTTED1
May. 1, 2007 | feedback
If Bill Belichick arrived at practice in a Ferrari Enzo one day, everyone would assume the Patriots coach was battling a severe midlife crisis. But seeing him trade a fourth-rounder for Randy Moss? Nobody knows how to react. Every Patriots fan I know was legitimately speechless after the trade. We'd heard the rumors for weeks but never believed this thing would, you know, happen.
Maybe Moss isn't a brand-new Enzo, but he's definitely a Ferrari -- one of those with about 75,000 miles on it that you'd buy from a rapper who's going bankrupt. You're not exactly sure what condition it's in. It might be more trouble than it's worth. You have to keep it covered almost all the time. The parts are expensive. At the same time, it's a Ferrari and you're getting it at a discount, right? If you have the money and you always wanted a car like that, you have to make the deal.
The case against a Moss trade: He's a potential cancer on a team that's always thrived on chemistry and character. He's a deep threat with hall of fame skills playing for a franchise that historically has terrible luck with deep threats with hall of fame skills. He's a polarizing African-American athlete playing in a city that usually has trouble being fair to polarizing African-American athletes. Everyone agrees that he lost a step over the past two seasons, although he may have just lost the will to live with Kerry Collins, Art Shell, Aaron Brooks and Norv Turner in his life. If he starts out slow, you can count on the MAWBM (Middle-Age White Boston Sports Media) ripping him to shreds at every turn. (To nobody's surprise, Dan Shaughnessy started early.) On paper, there hasn't been a Boston-related disaster this predictable since the Big Dig planners decided the tunnel would go right under the North End.
The case for a Moss trade: They only sacrificed a second-day pick for him and could cut the cord at the first hint of trouble. The team looks so loaded, they could probably win a fourth Super Bowl with or without him. (I'm even getting, "Congratulations, you guys are the new Yankees" e-mails, which is funny because there's a salary cap in football.) Going from Collins/Brooks and Turner/Shell to Brady/Belichick, it's hard to imagine a better candidate for the Juvenation Machine in recent sports history, especially if Moss reins himself in like Dennis Rodman did in Chicago. For football purposes, he's the ultimate luxury -- a home run threat at an expendable position, a potential gamebreaker who makes the 2007 Patriots effectively unbeatable. You could even say he's a 2004 Ferrari Enzo with 90,000 miles on it.
Five years ago, I don't think Bill Belichick makes a move like this. I really don't. So that leaves five possible explanations why it happened now.
Explanation No. 1: You could almost picture Tom Brady heading into the coach's office after last season and saying, "Um, I don't know if you realize this, but I turn 30 this season. You just wasted a year of my prime. I'm never getting it back. I took a little less to stay here, you promised to build a quality team around me, then you traded Deion Branch and stuck me with Reche Caldwell as my No. 1, so my season came down to a third-down play where I crossed signals with a 38-year-old guy who should have been coaching our receivers instead of trying to get open on THE BIGGEST EFFING PLAY OF THE SEASON!!!!!!!!!!!!! COULD YOU GET ME SOME HELP PLEASE! THERE'S A CHANCE MY EX-GIRLFRIEND PULLED THE GOALIE ON ME THIS WINTER, COULD YOU THROW ME ONE EFFING BONE HERE! JUST ONE! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK???"
This offseason has felt like a prolonged apology to Brady. Here, you wanted a real slot guy, right? We just traded for Wes Welker. You wanted a deep threat, right? How's Donte' Stallworth sound? You wanted a potential gamebreaker, right? How's Randy Moss sound? The only thing Belichick didn't do was to convince ABC to cancel "Six Degrees."
Explanation No. 2: This entire weekend was Belichick's "I'm Keith Hernandez!" moment. On the heels of the NFL instituting new character policies, Belichick drafted one of the most notorious players in the draft (Miami safety Brandon Meriweather) and traded for one of the most notorious players in the league (Moss). It's almost as if he decided, "I already won three titles with the three C's (character, coaching and chemistry) -- just for fun, I want to try to win one with a couple of lunatics. I'm Bill Belichick! I won three Super Bowls in four years! If anyone can pull this off, it's me, baby!
Explanation No. 3: Belichick believes the leadership and character on this season's team is solid enough that they can take chances on two shaky guys, almost like the family from "Seventh Heaven" deciding to adopt two troubled foster kids and turn their lives around. He did it with Corey Dillon a few years ago; now he's doing it with Moss and Meriweather. And if they end up winning the Super Bowl, he needs to raise the degree of difficulty bar by leaving the Patriots, taking over the Bengals and immediately trading for Terrell Owens.
Full disclosure: For years and years, I've been writing that any team can survive with one head case as long as it doesn't give him another head case to hang out with. For instance, Stephen Jackson is thriving as the Token Head Case in Golden State right now, just like Ron Artest thrived in Indiana for a couple years under that same role. You can always get away with one. But when Jackson and Artest landed on the same team? We ended up with the ugliest sports brawl in three decades. I'm not saying this will happen with Moss and Meriweather on the Patriots. At the same time, it's probably a good idea if they're not allowed to meet, interact or even use adjoining urinals at the same time.
(Please note that I was excited for the Meriweather selection when it happened, if only for my dad's verbatim defense of the pick: "Well, the stomping thing was pretty bad, but he did have a license for the gun." He was dead serious. The NFL draft ... it's FANNNNNNNNNN-tastic!)
Explanation No. 4: Just for the hell of it, Belichick decided to build this season's Patriots offense the same way I doctor my "Madden" roster every August by making as many shady Patriots-related trades as possible. I swear, I would have ended up making all three of those moves in four months, even if they hadn't happened.
I wonder if Miami will be dumb enough to trade me Wes Welker for a second-round pick? (Pause.) Wait ... the Dolphins agreed to the deal?
I wonder if Donte' Stallworth's agent will be dumb enough to sign a multi-year deal in which only the first year is guaranteed. (Pause.) Wait ... he said yes?
I wonder if the Raiders will accept a fourth rounder for Moss. Screw it, I'll make the offer. (Pause.) Wait, I just got Randy Moss?
You have to admit, at the very least, we have the greatest "Madden" offense in Patriots history: Brady, Maroney, Watson, Moss, Stallworth, Welker, Caldwell, Gaffney, Brown. I mean ... are you kidding me? Can I run a seven-receiver offense next year? Is that legal?
Explanation No. 5: Belichick really did have a midlife crisis ... but instead of buying a fancy sports car, he went out and traded for Randy Moss. Maybe the coach knew he didn't really need a sports car, knew the car might remain in the garage for long periods of time, knew his friends might make fun of him, knew his insurance might skyrocket, knew he'd probably regret it in the end ... and you know what? He did it, anyway.
"Screw it," he probably said to himself. "I've always wanted to drive one of those things."
So if this was true, it's safe to say that Patriots fans were like kids playing in the front yard when that 2004 Ferrari Enzo pulled into the driveway, followed by our midlife-crisis-suffering father climbing out of the driver's seat as the doors shot straight up into the air. We're walking around the car in shock. We don't know what to think. It's quite possible that dad just lost his mind.
And yet, we can't stop thinking about one thing ...
That's a pretty cool car, isn't it?
I spent last week in New York City for the Tribeca Film Festival. Every time I return to Manhattan, weird things happen to me. On Wednesday night, I was sitting in the bar of the Tribeca Grand having a drink with friends when a giant photo of Jeremy Irons fell off a makeshift wall and nearly decapitated my friend Hench. On Thursday afternoon, I was walking around Soho and nearly stepped in a pile of human feces that may or may not have been left by Vito Spadafore Jr. On Saturday afternoon, my cab driver got into a NASCAR-like "you're not getting ahead of me and I don't care if I kill everyone in this cab!" duel with someone driving a town car, culminating in a near-street fight when we finally reached our destination and me actually saying the words, "If you want to fight him, I've got your back." On Saturday night, I went to a seemingly normal bar that had three plasma TVs showing Skinemax porn behind the bar, including a sex scene between two people who were working out in a gym, then decided to fornicate while the guy continued to work out.
The last one especially blew me away. We live in an era where nobody wears bras, casual sex is OK, women take pride in being in shape, female celebrities show off their private parts when they're leaving limos, and bars show softcore porn scenes at 12:30 at night and nobody bats an eyelash. I want to know what's next. Women heading out for dinner topless? Where do we go from here?
Anyway, I was supposed to be seeing movies on Saturday and ended up getting sidetracked by the start of the NFL draft. Four hours later, I was still sitting in front of the tube in my hotel room saying, "All right, all right, one more pick and I'm leaving." I don't get how anyone can call themselves a football fan and not completely love the NFL draft. It's just too good. But here were my favorite moments:
• Miami trading Wes Welker for a second-round pick, then wasting the ninth pick on the draft on Ted Ginn Jr. (who won't be good for two years) when they could have taken Brady Quinn, then basically explaining it like this: "Well, we won't really need a QB because we have Daunte Culpepper and Cleo Lemon and we might trade for Trent Green." That killed me. How many games will Green survive on a crappy team with a shaky offensive line? Five? Six? The VP of Common Sense goes crazy during the NFL draft.
(Note: Miami passing on Quinn reminded me of the Raiders passing on Leinart last spring -- at some point, if you're a potentially crappy team and everything's equal with the guys on the board, you HAVE to consider your fans, right? Pick Quinn or Leinart and they become the face of your franchise, the one guy on the team that everybody knows -- men, women, old people, kids, you name it. You're not getting that with Ted Ginn Jr. So if you need a WR and you need a QB, and everything's equal, how are the fans not the tiebreaker there?)
• Another example: Dwyane Jarrett scores 45 TDs at USC and looked like the best player on the field in the Rose Bowl, hands down ... then he runs a 4.63 40-yard dash and drops to No. 45 (Carolina) in the draft. Meanwhile, Justin Harrell spends his whole career hurt at Tennessee and goes 16th to the Packers. If you had to bet your life on Harrell being a better NFL player than Jarrett, would you do it? Seriously, would you? Call me crazy, but I'd bet on the guy with 45 TDs.
• Reader Joe D. summed it up best: "Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face!"
(Note: Like everyone else, I was dying for the poor kid and thought he handled himself about as well as anyone could have handled that experience. In fact, I'd love to see an ESPN Classic marathon filled with edited footage of every draft pick waiting to get picked and eventually dying a slow death. I'd even call the show "Dying A Slow Death." It's just too bad the draft picks aren't allowed to drink like everyone at the Golden Globes. And by the way, it's moronic that a potential franchise QB could drop to No. 22 in this draft only because everyone spent the last year picking him apart because he stayed in college too long. I love when a team like the Packers passes him up under the logic, "We're already set, we have Aaron Rodgers" or the Vikings say, "We don't really need a QB, we have Tarvaris Jackson." Classic. These teams are soooooo stupid. In case you missed it, Malcolm Gladwell and I wrote a back-and-forth partially centered on the topic of teams out-thinking themselves at a draft. Everything held up on Saturday, that's for sure.
• Speaking of stupid, my all-time draft pet peeve: When a team built around a franchise QB wastes a top-50 pick on another QB, like Philly did with Kevin Kolb at No. 36. (Check out this YouTube clip of the Philly fans reacting -- high comedy.) Forget about the fact that they reached for him; when you have a definitive window to win a Super Bowl, how can you throw away a top-40 pick like that? At the very least, why not trade the pick for Indy's No. 1 next year (like San Fran ended up doing at No. 41)? I'm telling you, the VP of Common Sense goes CRAZY during the NFL draft. These guys make NBA GMs look like rocket scientists.
• I'm not prepared to live in a world in which the Lions do the right thing in the NFL draft.
• But seriously ... would the Texans have overpaid Matt Schaub and given up two high picks for him if they knew Quinn would be sitting there at No. 10? Ouch.
• Around 2:30 p.m., right as the run on defensive players was starting and it looked bleak for the Pats to end up with two blue-chippers in the secondary, I called The Guy Who Knows Things and asked him, "Hey, is there any chance the Pats can trade one of those first-round picks for a 2008 No. 1?" And he said, "I don't see it, nobody really likes this year's draft, especially near the end of the round, next year's No. 1s are more valuable. But if anyone can pull it off, it's Belichick." Two hours later, Belichick swapped the No. 28 for San Fran's fourth-rounder and a 2008 No. 1 pick. Unbelievable. Having Bill Belichick run your NFL team is like being friends with a billionaire hedge fund guy who tells you, "Hey, if you ever want to invest with me, lemme know."
(Gary A. in Florida brings up another point on this: "If the Pats hadn't made the Branch trade last year, they wouldn't have had an extra No. 1 to trade ... so they parlayed that No. 28 into two picks, then traded one of them for Moss. If you think about it, they lost a year of having Branch, but they basically turned a possession receiver into Randy Moss and San Fran's 2008 No. 1 pick. Not as good as Dallas dropping four spots on Saturday and picking up Cleveland's No. 1, but still, pretty good.")
• My three favorite first-round picks: Joe Thomas to Cleveland at No. 3 (you can never go wrong with the marquee left tackle, unless his name is "Mandarich"); Reggie Nelson to the Jags at No. 21 (one of those picks where you know instantaneously that it's the right player for the right team, like when the Ravens drafted Ed Reed a few years ago); and Aaron Ross to the Giants at No. 20 (you have to like any starting CB who can also be described as "the next Devin Hester"). I would have thrown in Darrelle Revis at No. 14 to the Jets but I've never been a big fan of teams overpaying with picks for a player who won't make or break their team.
• Random note: I flew back Sunday afternoon on Delta and toggled between the fourth/fifth/sixth rounds on ESPN, "Heads Up Poker" on NBC and a "Sons of Hollywood" marathon on A&E. Now that's a fun flight. You have to admit. Where does the whole "getting to watch TV on an airplane" technological advancement rank among the most underrated tech advancements in the past 25 years? Ahead or behind suitcases with wheels? I can't imagine enjoying a flight more than that one. In the words of Sean Stewart, "Those are some big shoes to fulfill."
• Finally, we're officially starting the Basketball Blog on Tuesday through the rest of the playoffs, but I did want to mention something: Thanks to the Warriors fans for giving us two magical basketball games in Oakland this weekend. I wasn't surprised because I attended a phenomenal Warriors-Kings game there in 1999 (C-Webb's first season in Sacramento, when the Warriors fans still hated him and rode him mercilessly throughout the game) and was so enthralled by the whole experience, I ended up purchasing a throwback Warriors T-shirt that remains in my starting rotation to this day. I never wear shirts for non-Boston teams -- ever -- but that's remained my one exception for the past decade. I loved that game and loved the fans.
And that's why I believed Golden State had a chance in this series -- not just because of the matchups, but because it's nearly impossible to beat the Warriors in Oakland if the crowd gets involved. So you can imagine my delight when they delivered the goods this weekend. Games 3 and 4 reminded me of The Good Old Days, before the NBA priced out the true fans, constantly blared music on the Jumbotron and inadvertently created an environment in which casual fans couldn't think for themselves and had no real clue how to affect a game. We've reached the point that the only two old-school crowds left belong to Madison Square Garden and the Oakland Coliseum. Sad but true. You can't overstate this point: There is no way in hell that the Warriors could have beaten a ticked-off Mavs team in Game 4 without their fans coming through like that. It would not have happened.
So thanks to everyone who attended those two games -- you lived up to the hype and made every true NBA fan proud. As Neil from St. Cloud pointed out last night, "Game 4 of Warriors/Mavs was literally created for Gus Johnson. I can't recall a playoff basketball game in the last five years that had more cold-blooded 3-pointers and steals in four quarters, and that frenzied yellow crowd would've charged Gus up like a super conductor. What would he have said after Baron Davis' half-court 3? You'd think that his reaction to Matt Barnes' clinching 3 at the end would fall somewhere between involuntarily soiling himself and his eyes rolling back as he goes into shock. Even though I just watched one of the greatest games I can remember in a while, I still feel deprived."
Me, too. But just by a little. And if you think I didn't break out that throwback Warriors T-shirt last night, you're crazy. Good times.