Tourney thoughts, a little O.J. and the Lopez twins
Mar. 24, 2008 | feedback
I spent the weekend lounging around the Sports Guy Mansion, watching college basketball and waiting for the Milwaukee Bucks to contact me about their suddenly vacant GM job. You're not going to believe this, but they never did. And you know what? I can't spend the next few weeks checking my e-mails 300 times a day and jumping every time the phone rings waiting for the Bucks to come to their senses and interview the one guy who'd actually generate some interest in the franchise and kick-start dinner-table conversations across Wisconsin like this one:
"Hey, did you hear that the Bucks finally interviewed Simmons for their GM job?"
"Bill Simmons, the guy who writes the 'Sports Guy' column for ESPN."
"No, I know who Simmons is -- who are the Bucks?"
Just kidding. I'm almost positive that more Sconnies know about the Bucks than me. But if you're a Bucks fan, here's what should scare you a little:
Noah Graham/Getty Images
Sorry, Bucks fans, Andrew Bogut has not developed into a franchise center.
(A) Not only are the 2008 Bucks headed for the lottery again, but there isn't a single player on their roster who could be the best player on a championship contender.
(B) If you're expecting the lottery to change things, know that there isn't a prospect in the 2008 draft who could be the best player on a championship contender with the possible exception of Michael Beasley (who has a little too much Glenn Robinson/Derrick Coleman in him for my liking).
(C) You can't sign a free agent who could be the best player on a championship contender because your previous GM killed your cap space for the rest of the decade.
(D) Of the available GM "candidates," there isn't a single one that could get their fans excited or even somewhat interested in any conceivable way.
(E) As tragic and depressing as this sounds, other than winning the 2008 lottery, framing LeBron James for a crime or bringing Don Nelson back to Milwaukee, the only realistic way that the Bucks could generate some local and mainstream buzz would be to make me a candidate. Think about it. They interview me and "Bucks Interview Sports Columnist for GM Job" becomes a national story, not because it's me, but because it would lead to a weeklong debate about whether a sports columnist could successfully run an NBA team. Name me another realistic move that the Bucks could make right now that would crack the first 10 minutes on "PTI," generate 100 comments on a sports blog or lead a sports radio show. You can't.
Now here's why points A through E should scare you if you're a Bucks fan: If your team had a creative, enterprising, thinking-out-of-the-box bone in their lottery-ridden body, it would have jumped on my "candidacy" quickly and tried to milk a few weeks of P.R. out of it. Why?
BECAUSE IT'S THE ONLY WAY THEY WOULD EVER GET A CASUAL FAN REMOTELY INTERESTED IN THE DAY-TO-DAY PROCEEDINGS OF THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS!
They could have made me think I had a real chance at the job, put me through the interview process, added me to the final list of candidates, then given the position to someone else in the end. That's a savvy move, right? Throw in the one-in-a-thousand chance that I'd impress the hell out of them and somehow get the job and it's the proverbial no-brainer -- just to get their fans chattering, they should have contacted me and thrown my name in the mix, even if they didn't really mean it. That's why the average Bucks fan should be thinking to themselves right now, "Wow, we're such a mess right now that we couldn't even figure out how to cash in on some easy P.R."
Anyway, since the Bucks refuse to acknowledge my candidacy, it looks like I'm going to have to shift to Plan B: Openly and frequently torturing them. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, allow me five extended thoughts on the first two rounds of March Madness:
1. On Thursday, I broke my longstanding "Never drive to Anaheim for any reason" rule to catch four first-round games with my friend Lewis. Anaheim might only be 35 miles from L.A., but it usually takes between two and five hours to get there thanks to a hideous deathtrap called the "5," the interstate everyone is forced to take from Los Angeles when you're driving to Disneyland, Angels games, Ducks games, Commerce Casino or the Center of Hell. You couldn't even call it "traffic" on the I-5. It's more like a meandering, overheated crawl, only with the remnants of major accidents every two or three miles and the added bonus that a truck might just decide to drive over your car. Remember the abandoned, bomb-infested highway that Snake Plissken navigated at the end of "Escape From New York"? That highway was less dangerous and more scenic than the I-5. I hate the I-5. Have I mentioned that I hate the I-5?
James Lang/US Presswire
Nothing unites basketball fans like hanging out in a bar and rooting against Duke.
There were five astounding things about the first round in Anaheim. First, the arena didn't serve any alcohol for the entire day. That's just un-American and I can't even come up with an adequate reaction of disgust for this decision. Second, everyone was forced to leave the arena between the first session (the first two games) and the second session (the last two games), which would have been fine if we were in downtown Boston or downtown Chicago, but, um ... we were in Anaheim. Half the arena spilled into the only bar/restaurant within a three-block vicinity, shattering the record for "most customers per waitress" and threatening to become the biggest mob scene in California since the Rodney King riots. And third, everyone at that same bar had more fun drinking and watching the K-State/USC and Duke/Belmont games on TV than anything we witnessed in our four games. It's absolutely incredible how many people despise Duke and how the entire place galvanized behind Belmont at the end like it was the 1980 Olympic hockey team. If Belmont had pulled off the upset victory, there's a 25 percent chance that we'd still be there drinking and celebrating four days later.
As for the fourth astounding thing, we happened to be sitting near the Cornell section for the Cornell-Stanford blowout and saw fans wearing Cornell jerseys and red paint. You have to love March Madness if only for the thought of someone buying a Cornell jersey five years ago and saying, "Some day, we'll make the NCAAs and I'll get to wear this thing during a 40-point blowout."
But all of those astounding things paled in comparison to the Cornell cheerleaders, a group that apparently was assembled hastily within 48 hours of the tournament. During the first half, they tried to do one of those pseudo-pyramids in which two groups of three girls lifted two other girls in the air, only one of the girls lost her balance and nearly tumbled face-first to her death before the other girls somehow caught her. Unfortunately, they had to finish their routines for the rest of the game, leading to a terrifying moment where they attempted the pseudo-pyramid again in the second half, only the girl who almost fell the first time had the same petrified look on her face as the babysitter in the last 30 minutes of the "When a Stranger Calls" remake. I don't think I've ever been so scared for someone in my entire life. Somehow they pulled off the pseudo-pyramid, although it was marred a little when the poor girl lost control of her bowels on the three girls holding her up. Just kidding. Again, you have to love March Madness.
2. The biggest tournament shocker for me: The "powerful" Pac-10 failing to live up to the hype, keeping just three teams alive in the first round and then having two of those teams nearly get toppled in the second round. (By the way, count me among those who thought the Pac-10 was better than every other conference. The lesson, as always ... well, you knew already.) The big disappointment was USC, an athletic team that looked like it was coming on thanks mostly to O.J. Mayo. Nearly a year ago, I wrote a basketball blog about the McDonald's All-American Game comparing Kevin Love to Mayo and predicted that Mayo might become my least-favorite player since Vince Carter before everything was said and done. Then the college season started and we realized that Mayo wasn't close to being the next LeBron; when Billy Packer slapped the "overrated" tag on him during a CBS game in December, for the first time in 25 years, I found myself agreeing with Billy. When the predictable "O.J.'s not that good!" backlash started, Mayo freefalled on the draft boards and became somewhat of an afterthought on the college scene.
In the middle of February, Someone Who Knows Things urged me to give Mayo another chance and think of him simply as a talented swingman and a potential lottery pick. I watched a couple of USC games and, much to my surprise, found myself becoming a semi-fan. All of Mayo's annoying chest-puffing and posturing had been shelved; his shot selection had been corralled considerably; and what remained was a world-class athlete with genuine gifts as a defender and passer, a streak scorer who took over games for extended stretches, someone with a first step so quick it's hard to imagine how he could fail as a pro (especially when you throw in his body and the way guys seem to bounce off him LeBron-style). Believing that the NCAA tournament would double as Mayo's coming-out party as a top-four pick, I picked USC to make the Final Four in a shaky region, never expecting an enigmatic K-State team to knock the Trojans out.
So what do we make of Mayo as a prospect? Drop the LeBron comparison and think of him more like Andre Iguodala, only if Iguodala was a first-class passer ... and if he isn't one of the top-five picks in June, I will be flabbergasted. He's too good. More importantly, thanks to Mayo's growth at USC over the past two months, Vince Carter remains safe as my least-favorite player of this generation.
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Stephen Curry can play in the NBA. Trust the Sports Guy.
3. Speaking of the draft, did anyone else find it interesting that Texas A&M's DeAndre Jordan was ranked 10-15 spots ahead of Love on every draft board for most of this season, but when they crossed on Saturday night Love dominated on both ends down the stretch while Jordan looked like the illegitimate son of Kwame Brown and Darko Milicic? You're telling me that Love isn't one of the best 10 prospects in this draft? Really? What else needs to happen?
While we're here, Davidson's Stephen Curry couldn't crack the first round of anyone's board because he's an undersized shooting guard, even though he's probably the closest thing we've seen to a one-man team in the tournament, and even though we've seen him win two (and counting) March Madness games by himself. Hey, here's an idea -- if you have a taller point guard, just draft Curry in the middle of the first round (the right spot for him), play him at 2-guard on offense and have him defend point guards on the other end. That wouldn't work? Offensively, Curry reminds me of a smaller Brandon Roy because of his patience and his Iversonian ability to find little seams and get his mid-range shots off, only if Roy shot 3-pointers like Jason Kapono. There's no way Curry wouldn't score in the NBA. It's impossible. Stick him on a team like the Clippers or Nets (who have two first-rounders), team him up with a taller point guard (like Devin Harris or Shaun Livingston) and watch him turn into a mini-Monta Ellis. I love him. Even if it's unclear whether he has any body hair yet.
4. Most common question from the past four days: Does Texas qualify for the Ewing Theory? Of course it does. I may be drinking the Kevin Durant Kool-Aid, but he's never won anything and Texas is doing better without him. These are the facts. While we're here, of any potential first-round pick remaining in this tournament, I think D.J. Augustin is the one who can help or hurt his stock the most over these next two games. Right now, he's either the second- or third-best point guard in this draft -- depending on how you feel about Darren Collison, who's been coming on like a freight train lately -- but he hasn't had one of those "In case you didn't know, I'm REALLY good" games along the lines of the way he demolished K-State earlier in the season. At some point, you need to play well in the Big Dance if you're a fringe lottery pick and he hasn't done it yet. Meanwhile, Collison played out of his mind in the Pac-10 tournament and rose his game when it mattered against Texas A&M (as did Love and Russell Westbrook). Either way, "Collison vs. Augustin" is going to be an interesting draft debate when we get there.
(Important note: I'm still sorting out my "Favorite Players In the Draft" list, but many of them are playing in the Sweet 16, including Derrick Rose -- the guy I'd take first over Beasley -- Augustin, Curry, Joe Alexander, Kyle Weaver, Brandon Rush, Scottie Reynolds, the three UCLA stars and ... um ... well, let's give this its own section.)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Ignore the androgynous name: Brook Lopez is no Jason Collins.
5. All right, I have to come clean on something ...
After watching them multiple times this season and seeing them in person last Thursday, I've become a fan of ... (gulp) ... the Lopez brothers. (I know, I know. It's like you don't even know me anymore.) I'd be the first to admit that everything about them cries "bust" -- the twins gimmick, the Stanford pedigree, the androgynous first names, the Jose/Ozzie Canseco talent differential between them -- and yet, if you watch them closely and ignore all the fringe stuff, you'll realize pretty quickly that these guys are not the next coming of the Collins twins.
What's weird is that Brook has been ranked too high (top-three) and Robin has been ranked too low (second round) by the draftniks; Brook might be a better scorer at the college level, but Robin projects well as an energy rebounder/defender in the pros, like a cross between Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao (right down to his hair). I actually think Robin is a safer pick than Brook, even if he'll go 20-25 picks later. Can Brook score down low in the pros? Could he guard bigger centers? I don't know for sure ... but I definitely know Robin could do the Noah/Varejao routine. Ideally, they'd land on the same team because they complement each other so well.
Now, the reason that we're inherently prejudiced against the Lopez twins is simple: They're charter members of the Lindsay Hunter All-Stars for "Athletes with names that make them sound like hot girls." In other words, because their names make them sound like two smoking-hot juniors at an all-girls prep school, it's impossible to take them seriously as NBA prospects. If their names were Dwight Lopez and Isaac Lopez, you'd feel much better about them in the first round. You would. On the flip side, you could argue that O.J. Mayo received so much hype over the past two seasons simply because he had such a fantastic name. Anyway, watch the Lopez twins this week and pretend their names are Dwight and Isaac. You'll feel much better about them.