Guess that's what happens when you schedule three games for a Sunday. Just about the only person happy about this scheduling glitch has to be Magic Johnson, who got a big run of Law & Order on TNT. Me? I watched (sort of) the Mets win while sorting out a 4 gig playlist for my iPod Mini. Exciting! Now I've got the Yanks/Mariners on, strictly to have my TV showing sports programming. Pathetic, I know. (I'll know it's REALLY bad when I start imagining what Charles Barkley would be saying about the game between innings. Actually, that would improve the game tremendously.)
Speaking of Sir Charles, I considered picking up his book today. I'm currently between books (just read Adrian Wojnarowski's terrific "The Miracle Of St. Anthony's"), and Charles is always entertaining. Instead, I picked up "Hoop Dreams" on DVD (finally!) and--bowing to the power of self-promotion--"Who Is Mike Jones?" Better yet, it's the allegedly limited-edition double-disc, with a "chopped and screwed" version of the entire record. It's just too bad that DJ Screw didn't live long enough to see this. Although it's probably for the best he can't hear it. MIKE JOOOONES!!!!!
I'm having a weird computer problem lately--I've got a Mac G4 laptop that's roughly a year old, and the letters have worn off about half the keys. And seeing that I never bothered to learn to type correctly, it makes for some entertaining hunt-and-peck sessions. In fact, my typing is much like my bowling. I've pretty much mastered both the beginner way (two-finger typing, straight-on bowling) and I've just never made the leap to the advanced technique. Maybe I should try both at once. Then again, I probably haven't been bowling in over a year. (See what happens when there are no NBA games on? I develop adult-onset ADD/Tourette's. Good thing it's not almost summer. Oh, wait.)
Well, to get back to basketball for a minute, someone asked about the Mavs inability to defend the pick-and-roll. Specifically, I believe, it referred to Erick Dampier, who, according to Erick Dampier, is the second-best center in the NBA. That topic we can tackle later (or, right now--he isn't). The question was, how can someone get this far without learning such a basic fundamental? (Follow-up question being: How would Larry Brown commit suicide if he had to coach Erick Dampier?)
It's easy, to be honest. There are two kinds of players in the NBA, as best that I can tell--those that play to become the best player in the League, and those that play to become the best-PAID player in the League. Obviously, becoming the first inevitably leads to the second. But the person who's playing to become the best doesn't stop improving just because he got a big contract. Look at Kevin Garnett. His combined contracts so far are enough to buy Minnesota, and probably at least one of the Dakotas. Yet he hasn't rested on his laurels. He wants a championship, and is willing to do whatever he has to do to get there. (Don't mind the fact that the Wolves missed the playoffs this season.) He works hard each summer to come back with a new wrinkle, a new level. Those tears during the All-Star weekend interview with John Thompson? Those were real. I've interviewed him on multiple occasions, looked into his eyes. The money is important, yes, but it's the game that drives him. The money--silly as it sounds--is secondary. It's a cliche, but I fully believe that Kevin Garnett would be playing just as hard if he wasn't in the NBA.
Then you have the other half. Guys who are supremely talented, who, for whatever reason, decide to coast on what they have. And why not? In today's NBA, when multi-million dollar deals are given to anyone over 6-9 agile enough to pass a field sobriety test, it's easy money. (Remember when Glenn Robinson got a $60-something million contract as a ROOKIE? I know there are limits now, but that blew my mind. What other profession would give you GUARANTEED millions before you even STARTED work? I knew I should have practiced more.) Some guys manage to develop certain skills (say, scoring or rebounding) and become stars in spite of HUGE shortcomings in other areas. (Like this one point guard that won MVP despite a glaring lack of defensive skills--but I digress.) So who needs to spend two hours a day learning how to defend the pick-and-roll? Sure, you might make $75 million with it, but if you can make $70 million without it, why bother? By the way, this theory also can be used to explain the virtual death of the mid-range jumper, the over reliance on the three-pointer, and Vin Baker.
You can figure out who fits in which category without my even naming names. And it's not all about talent. There are plenty of guys in the League working day-in, day-out, who simply don't have the innate athletic (and mental) ability to be a Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady or Shaquille O'Neal. And there are at least a few quite talented players who probably haven't maximized their skills. But they've maximized their bank accounts.
The solution? There really is none. Shorter contracts would help (the "contract year" phenomenon is real!), but there's nothing out there that will make someone work who just doesn't want to. And the guys who are driven to get better will just do the same things they've been doing anyway.