Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Monday Night Farewell

I know, it's already Wednesday. And if you really want to get technical about it, I didn't see a single minute of the final ABC Monday Night Football game between the Jets and the Patriots. No big deal—football isn't my first love, and I had no desire to watch the limping Jets get pounded again (although, to their credit, they did wind up making it a game. Sort of). But I still wanted to weigh in a little as MNF moves to cable.

In short, I think it sucks. What's next, Saturday Night Live switching to HBO? (Although that would probably be a decided improvement.) 60 Minutes to CNN? Howard Stern to satellite radio (oh wait).

On one level, it doesn't affect me at all. I've got my 500 channels, and can find ESPN as easily as I can ABC. And NBC is getting the Sunday night games, so ESPN isn't getting any MORE games. But there are still a few things that bother me:

1) Despite what you may have heard, not EVERYONE has cable. And some companies don't include ESPN in their basic package (which is ridiculous). So you get the Sunday night game. That's great, but after watching the two afternoon games, how many people settle in for the third? I know I don't. But Monday night, that's traditionally the marquee matchup, the one everybody watches. Not anymore.

2) MNF on ABC is a tradition. A staple. And it gets switched—to the cable partner of the network, no less—over money? As a follower of pro sports for damn near three decades, I KNOW it's all just business, but you can only have your nose rubbed in it so many times.

3) ESPN is taking over the world. They've hired every columnist and commentator, gotten the NBA, now added MNF. They want you to think they invented sports, despite the fact that they're not much older than the Orlando Magic and they got their start showing log rolling and lawn darts. Admittedly, SportsCenter WAS the center of the sports universe for a time, but it's pretty much been all style over substance for the past half-decade or so. No one I know in the industry watches SportsCenter anymore—ESPN News is much better. ESPN doesn't want to report the story, they want to BE the story, and it's painful to watch. Chris Berman hasn't been funny since 1990, and Stuart Scott hasn't been funny since ever. And now this is who I have to turn to for Monday Night Football? No thanks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Totally Week

Well, it was the holidays, right? Spent some time on Long Island with the folks, and a lot of time (what else?) shopping. Ended up missing Kobe's 62-in-three-quarters versus Dallas, as well as the Knicks latest home stretch (where they lost to everyone but the Jazz). Ron Artest hasn't been traded yet, and once again Kobe outscored Shaq on Christmas and his team still lost. The funny thing is that—while heralded as more of a one-on-one matchup—the Lakers/Heat wound up to be a much more intriguing game than Pistons/Spurs, which was pretty much decided after the Spurs' anemic 8-point first quarter. Obviously Ginobili's absence hurts the Spurs, but the Pistons are looking pretty unbeatable anyway.

Which brings us to Larry Brown, who, at this rate, should be considering retirement by—well, last week. He's tried countless starting lineups, which have only served to confuse and piss off everyone on the team at various points. Stephon Marbury is getting booed, Eddy Curry is woefully out of shape (and every loss ups his price—as this year's first-round pickm which now belongs to the Bulls, looks more and more like a high one). Finally the New York media seem to be taking some well-deserved shots at Isiah Thomas and Brown—seeing that one assembled the roster and the other coaches it, one of them has to take much of the blame. Payroll is still astronomical, and Isiah's main talent seems to be in the draft—and he dealt their next two No. 1s.

Which means it's up to Brown to turn this mess around, because there's no magic deal that's going to bring them under the cap or add young talent or first-round picks. This is not particularly encouraging, as Brown has looked decidedly overmatched so far. It's hard to look at this team and see promise, and impossible to see results. James Dolan is paying $10 million a year for this?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Portrait Of The Artest

It just gets crazier, doesn't it?

First Ron Artest goes to the media to demand a trade, now he goes back to the media to say "Wait, I didn't mean it!" Oh well. Too late now. Jermaine O'Neal has already stated that his business relationship with Artest is over, and unless the Pacers want to trade their All-Star center/forward (who, I may add, piles up community accolades as well as triple-doubles) instead, their path is chosen. Artest made his bed—now all he has to do is lie down.

If this was simply a matter of talent, it would be a more difficult decision. Jermaine's a great guy, but Artest is probably the better player. He can score from inside and out, and can lock down everyone from point guards to power forwards. It's the fact that he's insane—and I'm starting to believe that more as an actual diagnosis rather than just a throwaway descriptive—that will make him an ex-Pacer as soon as Donnie Walsh gets an offer he can live with.

Magid Johnson said on TNT that Artest needs to be careful, that this will be his last chance if he doesn't watch himself. I don't buy that. Artest is too young and too talented to go the route of guys like J.R. Rider and Glenn Robinson. But I do think he'll be out of the League by 30 if he doesn't get help for his readily apparent problems. Maybe there's concern that what makes him so bad off the court is what makes him so good on it—that if he seeks help, he might lose the ferocity and focus that makes him the best defender in the NBA. Maybe that's even what people are telling him. You know what? At this point, it doesn't matter. The bad is already outweighing the good.

I guess the worst part of all of this is that his 70-plus game suspension last year didn't change anything. Even after that, he has managed to exhibit the worst kind of judgement, and he may have again torpedoed a promising Pacers season before the New Year. Wherever Ron winds up, let's hope he learns something this time.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Random Thoughts

Since I missed yesterday, and it's Saturday, I figured I'd just throw out some things I've been thinking about lately:

• If the Lakers did trade for Ron Artest (which seems unlikely), what book would Phil Jackson give him?

• Why do they still let fans vote for the All-Star starters? Yao Ming is leading all vote-getters while Marcus Camby is having an MVP season. At least he's second, I guess—oh wait, no, Amare Stoudemire is ahead of him, despite the fact that he hasn't played a single minute this season. Who's in third, Artis Gilmore?

• Hope Larry Brown's enjoying his dream job. And I hope the $10 million or whatever a year is worth the 10 years it's gonna take off his life.

• I'll give Ron Artest this—he gave a hell of a lot of NBA columnists a hell of a lot to write about. ESPN should sign him when he becomes a free agent.

• I read Ian Thomsen's Sports Illustrated story on Alonzo Mourning this week, and you know what? I still don't have much respect for him. Of course he wants to win a championship—so does every other NBA player. What every other NBA player does NOT do, is force a trade from the ONE team that was willing to take a chance on his surgically repaired body when no one else was (after blasting the same management that signed him), then force ANOTHER team to buy him out, then sign with the team he thought had the best chance of winning a championship.

Either the Nets or the Raptors should have said, you know what? We'll give you your money, but you're going to sit on our bench while you get it. You're going to come to practice and do the job you're getting paid to do. Nowhere does it say in an NBA contract that you have to have a shot at the title every year. (In fact, the Raptors should have the same thing with Vince Carter.) How far can a sense of entitlement go? At least Karl Malone let his cotract run out before leaving the Jazz.

And Mourning's comparing himself to Lance Armstrong is an insult. I know Zo has played very well this year, but Lance Armstrong LED his team to championships. Seven of them. Sure, he relied on others to help get him there, but in the end, it was just him. And he didn't sign on with the strongest team to give himself the best chance, either. No, instead he stayed with US Postal—the team that made him an offer when no one else would—and he did everything he could to lead them to victory.

Zo has built himself back into a great player, which is admirable. But for me, that's where it stops. Him and Riley deserve each other.

• Um, how about those Rockets? Tracy McGrady's just plain ridiculous (the fourth quarter in Seattle?).

• Ron Artest kind of needs to be a Trail Blazer at least once in his life, doesn't he?

• The Nets need to either play Marc Jackson or trade him before he kills somebody.

• Upon further reflection, if I'm Isiah Thomas, I give up any two players for Artest. Then—why not?—sign Latrell Sprewell, too.

• Anyone else find it funny that Ben Wallace was complaining about the same thing that Artest was (not being involved enough in the offense)? At least they agree on something. Hell, off the court, they'd probably be good friends.

• What this season is really missing right now is speculation about another Michael Jordan comeback.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thursday on TNT

The TNT studio guys are ridiculously dapper these days—even Charles Barkley. We've got Nuggets/Cavs first, sans Marcus Camby, the League's leading rebounder. I guess on some level that means there will be no distractions from Melo/Bron, but it definitely would have been more interesting with Mr. Camby in the paint. Francisco Elson, not so exciting. The drama, of course, is whether the Cavs will ever win again with LeBron scoring 30-plus (1-5 over the last 6). But there aren't many alternatives—it's not like Eric Snow can score. Meanwhile, on the Nuggets side, it's all about Carmelo, Kenyon, and who they'll trade Earl Watson for.

Marv Albert, Doug Collins and Steve Kerr are in the booth—the best national NBA announcing team around, IMO. "Kenyon Martin, he's come out shooting." That's not going to get it done. I've noted this before (prepare for nonsequitur), but I think that Zydrunas Ilgauskas would make an AMAZING James Bond villain. He's vaguely sinister looking, Eastern European, and he's OVER SEVEN FEET TALL. Someone cast him, please.

It strikes me that a starting backcourt of Eric Snow and Greg Buckner could be the worst scoring backcourt in NBA history if they somehow ended up on the same team.

Good ol' Quicken Loans Arena. It's just so heartwarming. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Greg Buckner is outscoring the Cavs. Oops. And um, normally I love Wieden&Kennedy's Nike commercials, but from what I've seen so far, "The LeBrons" is just plain stupid. LeBron himself, on the other hand, is ridiculous. On offense he simply does whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And he's 20. 20! It boggles the mind. Must drive Kobe crazy, too. I hope LeBron reminds him of it constantly when they're going head-up. "Hey Kobe, I had your Laker jersey when I was 11!" "Kobe, when I was in 6th grade I really wanted your shoes!" "Kobe, I remember going home from junior high to watch you in the Dunk Contest!" And of course a few simple, "Damn, Kobe, remember when you were my age and you kinda sucked?"

I've come to the conclusion that I don't like the Denver Nuggets uniforms very much. Shiny pale blue looks like either WNBA jerseys or old college jerseys (actually, did the Minneapolis Lakers where shiny blue?). They'd be much better off going back to the rainbow skyline jerseys, or even the old ones with the pick on them.

Um, Alan Henderson is still in the League? See, he WAS a better choice for Mr. Basketball in Indiana than Glenn Robinson. You don't see Big Dog in the League anymore, do you? Thought so.

LeBron is not only going to wind up being the best player ever, but at this rate people are going to have to invent new words to use when talking about him.


Missed a bit of the second quarter there. Had to run across the street to the deli. My bad. Meanwhile Luke Jackson's in, and he just turned it over, and Adam Morrison is just going to add to this "white guys with bad hair" thing, huh?

Earl Watson's in the game playing with Andre Miller. If indeed he is just getting showcased, isn't that just free license to do whatever the hell he wants? It's sort of like being a free agent while playing. Must be liberating.

LeBron's back in, which is good. I just thought of this, too: Isn't it strange that two of the best players in the League—LeBron and Allen Iverson—were born to young, single mothers? (Was Shaq too? I can't remember.) Anyway, I just think of the Greek myths with Zeus coming down to father children with human women, and wonder if the old dog has still got it.

Kenyon Martin is a beast. He still isn't worth $80-something million. Although the Nets would probably like to have him back, the way they're playing. Wouldn't be a bad idea to shop Vince Carter for someone younger. Or, say, Ron Artest. Take Stephen Jackson back, too.

If Ron Artest thinks he has a mismatch every time he gets the ball, what does LEBRON think?

I kind of just realized this, but I really, really like Andre Miller. As far as earthbound NBA guys go, he might be my favorite. Don't know why, really, I just like the way he plays.

OK, Steve and Marv have essentially referred to LeBron as a cross between Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley. What's really scary is that they're right. And he's already a better outside shooter than either of them. If he gets his one-on-one defense together, other teams may have to start genetically engineering players to try and keep up.

DerMarr Johnson trying to guard LeBron is definitely a mismatch.

44-40 Cavs at the half. Please get this over 100?


Missed another big chunk, this time while wrapping a few Christmas presents. Gotta get 'em to the post office tomorrow. Cavs up 6 with three minutes left in the third. Not sure if either team will actually get to 100 in this one.

Hm, maybe keep Earl Watson? Just figured out that—well, that LeBron dunk on a backcourt steal would have been worth three in the ABA—Denver is missing their tallest (Camby) and shortest (Earl Boykins) players, who probably happen to be their two most entertaining players. Can't imagine that's all too common.

Tie game at the start of the fourth, hopefully it all goes down to the wire. And Eric Snow just took his first official field-goal attempt. What are you saving it for, Eric?

And while we're at it, maybe Earl Watson should be a starter. 4-4 from three—including that last one from 30-something.

LeBron turns 21 in just over two weeks, and needless to say, all opposing GMs should send over as much alcohol as they can afford. Maybe the Maloofs can put him up in one of their Vegas hotels for the entire offseason. Whatever works.

LeBron just took his first shot of the fourth with 4 and a half minutes left? Crazy.

Five-point Cavs lead with just under three minutes left. Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones stepped up in the second half, and I'm not sure if Larry Hughes did much of anything. Regardless, neither team looks likely to break 100, and this game might not end until 11. Lots of fouls. But what's with Greg Buckner hitting three threes? Can we get a drug test?

There's Larry Hughes. 10-point Cave lead, just over a minute. This one's pretty much over. Oh hell, it is over. You want the final, read a newspaper.

Might come back for the second game, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Peace To The Hedgehog.

I guess I do capitalize my headers. Fancy that. One of these days I'll have to put together a style guide so I can keep this all straight.

So yeah, Pat Riley back on the sidelines. Maybe Stan Van Gundy quit, and maybe he didn't (hell, it's not like you can give a guy a hard time for saying he wants to spend more time with his family), but I'm definitely thinking that no one tried very hard to convince him to stay. Quite frankly, Stan looked sort of uncomfortable (well, even more than usual) all year, and who could blame him? With Mr. Blow-Dried Armani Suit leaning so closely over his shoulder that he could probably smell hair-care products in his sleep, Van Gundy needed a reprieve more than Tookie Williams. Especially after Riles, in all his general manager genius, blew up a team that came within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals, to assemble a squad so potentially dysfunctional that even Homer Simpson would have run away screaming. Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker? I mean sure, you'd win the 1999 All-Star Game I guess, but that's pretty much over.

So then the season started, and Shaq rolled his ankle (by stepping on Ron Artest's foot, of course) and missed 18 of the first 22 games, as the Heat sputtered to a 10-11 start (despite the juvenation of Alonzo Mourning) and people everywhere started wondering what was wrong. Well, not everywhere—after all, you lose the most dominant player in basketball for 18 of your first 22, and it's generally assumed that things are going to get better when he gets back. But Riley had already been second- and third-guessing ever since the playoffs, and my feeling isn't that Van Gundy necessarily wanted to spend more time with his family (see: Jordan, Michael), but that he wanted to get the fuck away from this one. Can't blame him.

Of course Shaq had to come out and say that he didn't have anything to do with it, that while he'd certainly made clear that he loved the fact that he would get to learn from Riley, that he didn't choose for Van Gundy to go. Of course, he didn't say that he wanted Van Gundy to stay, either. In fact, if any member of the Heat had Van Gundy's back, they were probably just waiting for the right moment to stick a knife in it.


So on Monday night I had an NBA experience. No, I didn't hang out at Marquee until 4 a.m. with Richard Jefferson and the Olsen twins. Instead, I took the subway to the Upper East Side to get an MRI. But first, some background. For those of you who know me, I pretty much live on my bike. And when I started seeing a girl from Brooklyn this fall, I naturally rode to her place most of the time. I ride a fixed-gear, which is a brakeless road bike where the cranks turn as the rear wheel does. Now, my route took me up (down? across?) Dean Street, a rather nice tree- and school-lined one-way street with a wide bike lane and smooth pavement. This beautiful September day I happened to be going over early, and Dean Street was a nightmare. Parents picking their kids up from school simply double-parked in the bike lane, making the street at times impassable. I managed most of it pretty easily, but suddenly found myself in a situation—moving at a good clip, with a parked van in front of me, and another van coming up from behind. I had roughly two seconds to make a decision—hit the van parked in front, or GET hit by the van coming up from behind. I chose the former, going down in a heap but heroically popping up in time to flip off the driver.

Flash forward to three months later, and my wrist still hurts. I rode throughout the fall anyway, and it only seemed to bother me when I turned it a certain way, or when I hyperextended my thumb. Still, I figured it would just heal with time. Then, over Thanksgiving, I went to shoot hoops with my dad. Shooting was fine, but any time I tried to throw a one-handed pass, it hurt. A lot. This wasn't going away. I made an appointment with an orthopedist, got X-rays, saw nothing.

So that brings me to the MRI place, a basement office over on 72nd and York. My time was 7 pm, and I managed to uncharacteristically show up a half-hour early, thanks to another appointment I had nearby. There was brief concern over whether I'd have to take out my piercings, but that was quickly assuaged. The office was quiet—receptionists on their way home, TV overhead tuned to CNN's coverage of Tookie Williams's pending execution.

But it's the experience of the MRI that was most—or least—entertaining. Wrist and hand locked into some sort of contraption, jeans traded for a green gown (yet I could keep my sneakers on—take that, airport security), laid out on a table that's slowly sucked into a white cylinder. Having never been cremated, I can't speak to the experience, but I'd imagine if one were concsious while being fed to the flames, this is what it would look like. Fed in to just about eye-level, the MRI started up. Now, for a magnetic process, it's a noisy one. The sound was like being inserted directly into one track of a 64-track techno recording (mid-range beats), only you're the cone of the speaker. Good vibrations. I suppose budding MCs could freestyle. This goes on for roughly 20 minutes—or, in MRI time, 8,000 years—until you're passing the time by doing a home Rorschach test with the scuffs on the machine (well, that's what I was doing). And every time you'd think it was over, the tray you're on would nudge forward a billionth of an inch, and the whole process would start over again. And this was just for a WRIST. I can only assume full-body MRIs are catered.

Of course, I got a call from the orthopedist the next day—no tears or fractures, just swelling around the ligaments and bone contusions. Another month or two to let it heal, hopefully. Not even a stint on the inactive list. Damn. And I wanted to spend more time with my family.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

So much drama in the NBA

I keep forgetting whether I capitalize all the words in my headers or not, then I'm too lazy to go back and look. I apologize in advance for any inconsistencies. My bad.

So yeah, crazy week already and it's only Tuesday. Ron-Ron demands a trade, saying among other things that he's become too much of a distraction, he doesn't feel like he gets enough touches in the offense, and he would love to play in New York. Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle and Jermaine O'Neal must have all been thrilled. And in unrelated news, a Van Gundy is out and it isn't Jeff. Nope, the Hedgehog is out and Riles is back in down on South Beach. Stan Van officially quit, but then again so did Lenny Wilkens.

We'll start with Mr. Artest, who seems to have simultaneously stabbed his coach in the back and pushed his teammates under a bus. For starters, there's no way the Pacers get equal value for Artest anymore, if that was even a possibility before. I'm sure right now Isiah Thomas is eagerly figuring out how to give up Quentin Richardson or Malik Rose, and Donnie Walsh is reading Chris Sheridan's Insider column on about potential deals that would work with all 29 other teams and cursing himself for not dealing the Tru Warier this summer. Meanwhile Jermaine O'Neal is using the Mafia "he's dead to me" approach in interviews, and the Pacers title chances are looking about as bright as their having a 70-degree Christmas in Indianapolis.

As for the distraction/new start/past haunting him in Indy/starting fresh somewhere else stuff, I'd just like to say this: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Because you know, no one outside of Indianapolis saw the footage of the brawl or anything. Ron, the only way to get a fresh start would be to go work at Circuit City, or maybe get traded to a team in a remote Siberian village with no TV, although it's unlikely they'd have anything the Pacers would want. (Vodka? Fur hats?) No, Ron, you leap over the scorer's table into the stands to beat the shit out of some fan, people are going to remember that everywhere.

And then you want to be a bigger part of the offense, too. Which is understandable, given that you were scoring at a 25 ppg clip before you got suspended. We know you can score. But to say that every time you get the ball you feel it's a mismatch and you should be getting more plays run for you? Hey Ron, guess what, that's how EVERYBODY in the NBA feels, with the possible exceptions of Calvin Booth and Michael Olowokandi. The difference is that they don't go to the media and blow up their coach about it. Although hey, if what you really wanted was a trade, you probably did exactly the right thing. Just don't be surprised if they send you somewhere other than your first choice.

Let's talk about that first choice for a minute, shall we? New York. The place you grew up. Sure, there won't be any distractions there, right? It's not like the tabloid reporters won't be getting into fistfights to cover you or anything. And it's not like the New York press has a history of exagerrating and exacerbating (shout out to Clyde Frazier!) things or anything. Besides, playing at home's worked out so well for Stephon Marbury so far.

And Larry Brown, yeah, he should be much more willing to tear down what he's been working on to give you more touches in the offense. Fuck that Channing Frye kid, he's just a rookie, right? He can get shots some other year. And Steph'll totally understand, too.

Most of all, though, why would you so badly want to come to a franchise that passed on you in the draft for FRED WEIS? Not only a white stiff center, but a FRENCH white stiff center? One that didn't play a second in the League. That doesn't still sting a little?

The Pacers did all the right things, standing by you when it seemed like the whole world was against you. Now you humiliate them, in the worst possible way and at a horrible time (why not have quietly relayed your concerns to Carlisle, Walsh and Bird in the offseason?). Your past is haunting you now? It's just getting started.

Dammit, gotta run out. Riles v. Van Gundy tomorrow.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Staying Power

After going after the teams and the League a little bit on Saturday (if that post made any sense—sometimes I'm not so sure), I figured I'd talk a little about the players today. (I actually started writing this on Sunday thanks to the wonderful world of the NFL, where the ONLY nationally televised game on at 1 p.m. was Raiders/Jets.)

Ben brought up a good point in his comment on my last post, and that is that it's hard to have an ideal League when the players keep moving around. Which is true. And while I'm undoubtedly a fan of free agency (Curt Flood!), it definitely makes it more difficult for smaller-market teams to stay competitive. It also makes it easy for a skinflint owner like Donald Sterling to save money by simply turning the team into a revolving door of lottery picks, never quite getting good enough to make the playoffs, but never quite getting bad enough for all the fans to take their ThunderSticks and go home (I know, this year the Clippers are good, and some guys have actually gotten extensions. We'll see how long it lasts). Everyone gets rich in the modern game, but if anything, the heightened salary scale has seemed to INCREASE player's needs to get more than the next man. Each new ridiculous deal sets a new benchmark that every agent and player re-figures their own worth by: "Hey wait—(A) is making more than I am? I averaged more (points/rebounds/assists/post-game interviews) than him!" It doesn't occur to player B that his salary is already higher than 99.9999999999999999999 percent of the population, and maybe that it's quite enough to live on. (It's a good thing the NBA instilled a salary cap when they did, or the Juwan Howard $100 million deal may have led to the planet's financial collapse.) So everyone seems to be constantly on the move, making themselves available to the highest bidder, loyalty be damned. I can't count on both hands the number of players I've heard (either directly to me, or in other interviews), that "the NBA is a business." They're right, of course.

But it's a shame. The thing is this—a few high-profile exceptions (Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson) aside, the best of the best generally played out the majority, if not all, of their careers with one team. From Bob Cousy to Larry Bird, from Bill Russell to Hakeem Olajuwon, from Willis Reed to Patrick Ewing. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, David Robinson. For the most part you knew, as a fan, that your star was going to stay YOUR star. You could comfortably buy his jersey without worrying that he was going to get traded for a backup center and four second-round picks. Reggie Miller retired last season after remaining a Pacer for life, and the first thought was "what was he thinking?"

I'm not sure exactly when this changed—Dr. J being sold to the 76ers was an anomaly (and a special circumstance), so I'm thinking it was either Dominique Wilkins being traded to the Clippers, or the Sixers trading Charles Barkley to Phoenix. But trades like Barkley and Nique were exceptions, not the norm. The face of the franchise was rarely let go. After all, a team's identity was as important as its record, and the money being thrown around wasn't nearly what it is today. You could actually afford to have a superstar AND build a team around him. (Remember when Magic Johnson signed his last deal with the Lakers, and it was 25 years for $25 million? That amount seemed shocking at the time.) Loyalty actually seemed to mean something—Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were able to retire as Celtics, and Robert Parish probably would have if he didn't decide to play for 200 years. (Sure Boston ran aground in the end, but that was more because Len Bias and Reggie Lewis DIED.)

I decided to go back through NBA Drafts one at a time, to see how many players I could find who were still playing for their original teams. The most recent was in 1995, where one player—Kevin Garnett—is still with the franchise that drafted him. The 1996 Draft? One as well—Allen Iverson (although Kobe Bryant was traded to the Lakers on draft day). From 1997 there are two, Tim Duncan and Adonal Foyle. And from 1998, yep, one—Paul Pierce (Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by Milwaukee and traded to Dallas). There were a shocking four from 1999 (Wally Szczerbiak, Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko and Manu Ginobili) and two (Morris Peterson and Michael Redd) from 2000. 2001 is the first year's draft where you actually have to count carefully.

So between 1995 and 2000, including the draft-day trades, that's 13 guys. The lucky 13 in six years, stuck on their original teams (only two overall number ones, Duncan and Iverson). And most of them, with the exclusion of Duncan, Ginobili and Kirilenko, have been linked to various trade rumors over the years. Six of them—Garnett, Iverson, Bryant, Duncan, Pierce and Nowitzki—are the undisputed faces of their respective franchises. Hopefully it stays that way.

Because with other guys—put it this way: If you buy your three-year-old a jersey, you have to hope he outgrows it before it becomes just another throwback. Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Stephon Marbury, Vince Carter, Penny Hardaway, Jason Kidd, Alonzo Mourning, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Keith Van Horn, Kenyon Martin, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Elton Brand, Sam Cassell, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Baron Davis—how many franchise saviors or would-be saviors have left, or been dealt, either before they were given a chance to succeed, or after their demands ran too high?

There are a lot of factors for this, obviously. One is the rookie contract scale, which means that players are coming up for their first big deal before teams have a good idea about what they're going to be able to do. Combine that with the influx of high-school guys, and teams were forced to decide whether they should invest $70 million or so in guys like Jonathan Bender, Tracy McGrady, Tyson Chandler, Jermaine O'Neal before they really knew what they were capable of—or, at least, before they saw solid in-game numbers. Better than Glenn Robinson asking for $100 million straight out of college? Maybe. But not by much.

Another is impatience—simply that, with SO much money tied up in payroll, teams are on a "win now or else" track. Coaches are hired and fired, rosters are shuffled so fast that experienced card sharps would have trouble keeping track. Player turnover is so high that some teams need to make their media guides monthlys. Instead of picking a roster and a coach with a particular system, then having patience and seeing if things work, GMs just do patchwork fixes—and end up with situations like Don Nelson coaching a rookie Chris Webber, or Larry Brown with a whole mess of rookies.

The solution, of course, is that there is no solution. Extending the rookie deals and setting an age limit should make it easier for teams to invest money in players—by the time they come up for their first extensions, they should be closer to finished products. But there are still no assurances. When LeBron's deal is up, despite his solid ties to the Cleveland area, he's be silly not to consider the financial implications of a move to a bigger market. Or what about Dwyane Wade? Miami is fun and all, but with Shaq on the decline, why not seek out greener pastures later?

Until then, hold off on the jerseys.

Gotta run out for now, so I'm just going to post this while reserving the right to edit later.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Pity Parity

So I just got done reading Bill Simmons' (The Sports Guy) NFL picks on, where he spends most of his time discussing the general suckiness of the NFL. Too many bad teams, not enough great ones. Parity running towards overall badness. And after flicking through a bunch of NBA games on LeaguePass last night, it sort of strikes me that the same thing has happened in the NBA. I mean, does a casual fan want to see a San Antonio/Detroit final? Or, even worse, a San Antonio/New Jersey? "Um OK, when does the Celtics/Lakers series start?"

The problem as I see it is this: everyone wants the small market teams to be able to compete (otherwise it's just boring), but they don't want them to be TOO competitive. When all is said and done, you want the Lakers/Celtics Finals, or the Steelers/Cowboys Super Bowl, or the Yankees/Dodgers World Series. Because—and baseball's been the best example lately—when someone like the Florida Marlins or the Arizona Diamondbacks ends up in the Series with a bunch of overpaid mercenary players, WHO CARES? No one grew up rooting for those teams, and everyone knows they'll be dismantled before the champagne is even dry in the locker room. They're just a team that exists for the present (with crappy uniforms to boot) and more often that not people are just waiting for them to go away.

I didn't mean this to be a diatribe against MLB, although my disdain for baseball of late is well-documented (and will probably be discussed at greater length down the road). The problem comes from the fact that I was watching the Bulls/Lakers last night—the 1991 Finals rematch—and the game was just plain awful. It was only magnified by the halftime retirement of Scottie Pippen's number, when one couldn't help but realize that if you gave uniforms to Pippen, Jordan, Rodman, Oakley, Grant, Randy Brown and Craig Hodges, they could probably whip both teams, in back-to-backs, even.

There, of course, is nothing that says that these teams have to be great. But the casual NBA fan, seeing a bit of this game and thinking back on Michael and Magic, would have to assume that the rest of the League was terrible as well. I mean, the Lakers have an 18-year old playing center and a guy named Smush running the point. Are they an NBA team or the Junkyard Gang? It would be hard to convince someone that the League's best teams are in Detroit, San Antonio and Phoenix; and that the League's best player was in Cleveland.

A big part of the problem, the way that I see it, is overexpansion. There are already 30 teams in the L, and DavidStern seems intent to expand further—to Beijing, Mexico City, Oklahoma City, Neptune. There seems to be the thought that since the entire world is providing NBA players now, that there's this incredibly deep talent pool that has only begun to be tapped into. You know what? I don't buy it. For starters, how many foreign-born bona-fide STARS are there in the League? Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash. Anyone else? Yao Ming remains a work in progress, Darko Milicic STILL hasn't done much of anything, and don't even get me started on Nikoloz Tskitishvili. Maccabi Tel Aviv might be the best non-NBA team in the world, and their best player is Anthony Parker—an American who couldn't make it in the NBA.

And as with American players, NBA teams are pursuing younger and younger internationals, which is having a detrimental effect on their games (as well as making it harder and harder to predict success). We're bringing them here so young that they're not even getting a chance to learn the European game—which is what made some of the biggest successes of the past, like Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic—so successful in the first place. Now they're just like American players, only they don't have as good a grasp of the language, and they may need to take hip-hop 101 before setting foot in a locker room.

Look at someone like Tskitishvili, who was drafted in the top 10 by the Nuggets and hasn't done a damn thing since. He's played all of zero minutes with the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, and has already demanded a trade. Or Darko "Before Carmelo And Dwyane" Milicic who hasn't had much more luck with Flip Saunders than he's had with Larry Brown. (He has, however, been arrested for having his front windows tinted too darkly.)

So yeah, 30 teams isn't enough? I think you could argue it's at least two or three too many, given the performance of the Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Raptors (and the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, who, with the exception of Chris Paul, don't really have much to write to their either homes about). The Grizzlies failed in Vancouver, the Hornets flamed out in Charlotte (and, before the flood, were well on their way to doing the same in New Orleans). Is adding international teams—and the resultant insane road trips—really the thing to do? Not to be xenophobic or anything, but if the Beijing team made the Finals—or hosted the All-Star game—wouldn't that be patently unfair to fans of the NATIONAL Basketball Association?

Since my structure of this whole piece is fucked beyond belief anyway, I'm just going to jump back to the downfall of typical powers. Chicago sucked for years after Michael Jordan left. The Lakers fell apart between Magic and Kobe, and now after Shaq. (They actually sucked between Magic and Phil Jackson, but hey.) The Knicks have pretty much sucked since the 1973 championship, except for when Spree and Camby made their improbable run to the '99 Finals (and have been unwatchable the entire time except for that run). The Celtics haven't been good since Larry Bird retired, except for their own one improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000.

So what to do? Because obviously the owners can't be counted on to do the right thing—the Knicks have spent money like George Steinbrenner on crystal meth and have absolutely nothing to show for it. The Lakers picked Kobe over Shaq—and then replaced Shaq with an 18-year old and Kwame Brown. Oh, and Chris Mihm. That's all right then.

Quite frankly, desperate times call for deperate measures. When one of the big teams loses their biggest player—the best example being the '97 Bulls, who lost Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen AND Dennis Rodman—the number-one pick in the draft just isn't enough. Let them grab another team's player in an "expansion" draft, and give them a regional draft choice. Carmelo to the Knicks? Dwyane Wade to the Bulls? Because honestly, you want the smaller market teams to be able to fight back, but when the sheep start eating the lions regularly, something's just plain wrong.

Friday Night Live II

Man, this is embarassing. Under three minutes and the Lakers up 8. IN CHICAGO. This is just plain unacceptable for a playoff team, even with Ben Gordon on the sidelines in chalk stripes (nice suit). Meanwhile, the Knicks are building their lead in Phoenix. Shows what I know.

And the Bulls have NEVER LED. Is it too late to activate Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Oakley? Guess so. Under a minute. This is over. And Kobe is just ridiculous, even though his overall game wasn't all that. Guess it's back to the Knicks, ane the Warriors/Pistons, already in progress. Hey, impressive job by the Lakers tonight, though, I ain't gonna lie. Wrapped.

Apparently it's the Warriors's broadcast, because I just flipped over to catch A's highlights. Rad. And they're up on the Pistons, which I suppose is par for the course tonight. And wow, I COMPLETELY forgot that Antonio McDyess was on the Pistons. Is that bad? I just hope I see some Darko action. And apparently most of the Warriors have the flu, so we're getting a lot of Caparkaba, among others. Yes!

Eh, done for now. The Bulls bummed me out.

Friday Night Live

Well, the girlfriend's in Massachussetts, it's an icy night out, and I've got a six-pack in the fridge and Leaguepass on the TV. Denver/Miami and the just-about-to-start Bulls/Lakers on flipback. Can't imagine the Bulls/Lakers will be all that great a game, but Scottie Pippen's number retirement is worth watching (so they'd better show it).

Meanwhile, Denver/Miami features the matchup of the best centers in the League: I'm talking, of course, of Marcus Camby and Alonzo Mourning, both of whom will almost certainly not be selected to start in the All-Star Game (it'll be Yao and Shaq). Menawhile, Camby is posting 30/20s, and Zo is blocking shots like it was 1993. And actually, forget Marcus starting in the All-Star game—let's just hope he stays healthy long enough to play in it.

OK, the Bulls player introductions (still set to Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius"), still gives me the chills. It's somewhat sacreligious, to be introducing guys like Andres Nocioni and Michael Sweetney with Mike and Scottie's music, but oh well. (I just noticed the ESPN doubleheader is Nets/Cavs and Knicks/Suns. Knicks/Suns on national TV? Really? The Suns are going to win by 20, right? Is anyone outside of those two cities going to watch to the end? I'm not.)

Bulls/Lakers are set to tip off as Miami/Denver goes to halftime, and I just switched back in time to get the jump.
Wow, they've got Pip's number and signature on the floor, which is cool. Although it looks a lot like one of those NASCAR stickers that you usually see in pick-up truck rear windows. Can't see well enough to tell whether someone broke out some old Air Pippens, but I guess it's doubtful. Um, Michael Sweetney just swatted the hell out of Smush Parker, and despite his extra tonnage, I like him a LOT. He's relentless on the glass, scores consistently underneath, is a master at coralling his own offensive boards. I just hope Sweetness (um, maybe he can't be called that in Chicago, actually) has a longer/better career than Oliver Miller.

At 6:47 left in the 4th, it's brought up that Lamar Odom is supposed to be the Lakers Scottie Pippen, only he isn't that good a defender. Yeah, let's leave that one alone for rest of the night, huh?

Seeing Phil Jackson in the United Center coaching another team kind of makes me feel like Kobe should have left the Lakers while he had the chance. No matter where he goes, the goal would be a championship, but he's already won 3 as a Laker. And he won't be winning anymore until they pair him with another superstar, or develop a system with LOTS of complementary parts (not that that's guaranteed to work anyway). I guess what I'm driving at is that I can't imagine him being satisfied by anything less than a championship, and will another Laker title ever feel like the first three? As a Laker, he's always going to have to endure the Shaq questions (and lets face it, Shaq is 100 times more likeable than Kobe), and take the blame every year they don't win. If that's not reason for a fresh start, I don't know what is.

Of course now the Lakers are beating the crap out of the Bulls—up 14 with the first quarter coming to a close—and they'd better hope Pip doesn't just up and leave before halftime. 33-19. Yeesh. Meanwhile we've got a three-point game in Miami—er, two—with the Nuggets up. One point, now. Melo just threw a ridiculous pass to Camby for a layup. Back to three. If Camby stays healthy and Kenyon Martin manages to play well, I don't know if there'll be a spot for Nene when he gets back. Or maybe they deal Kenyon and re-sign Nene for less. Regardless, not the best situation for Nene.

Back in Chi, they just said that Lamar Odom has guard skills, which is impressive for someone that's 6-11—and I agree, except for the 6-11 part—but if that's the case, why isn't he another KG? At some point potential has to translate to numbers, right? It can't ALL be Kobe's fault?

There's definitely a lid on the Bulls basket—three of their last 21. Make that 22. Maybe Scottie and Horace should suit up? Oh yeah, and Chris Duhon has three fouls. Great.

Time-out. And speaking of potential to numbers, it's kind of funny that Tim Thomas isn't even in the building tonight. Because he was probably the best player in the high school class of '96—better than Kobe, better than Jermaine O'Neal—and he really hasn't amounted to much of anything. And an awful lot of people probably thought he'd be a better pro than, say, Scottie Pippen. Amazing the difference a little bit of desire and work ethic makes. Thomas could still be a very good NBA player, but I just don't think that's what he wants.

Eddie Basden is in for the Bulls, and I can't remember quite who he is. Undrafted rookie, I think. And it's back to a single-digit game, thank God. Add Chris Mihm to the short list of guys wearing Pony. Ricky Davis is the only other one I can think of offhand. (It's doubtful, however, that Mihm has "Get Buckets" embroidered on his kicks.) I do like the Bulls defensive scheme of running eight guys at Kobe and letting the other guys shoot. Take that open three, Luke Walton. Please. Five-point game, with the teams going a combined 5-23 in the quarter so far. Sweet.

And now Brian Cook's on a hot streak, and Kobe has 7 assists, and it's back to a 9-point Laker lead. Do it for Scottie, Bulls! Bob Love's in the tunnel, as is Toni Kukoc, getting ready. It's going to be a 10-point Laker lead at the half, which sucks. Maybe not? Maybe so. Now just have to hope they show the number retirement ceremony.

Here we go! Pip's got the goatee back, Jordan is still with the single hoop earring. And Rodman, Randy Brown, Craig Hodges. Hell, this was worth it for the highlight reel alone. Murderous. Scottie could finish just as well as Jordan could—and that dunk on Ewing was simply fucking EPIC. The song kind of sucked, but that was expected. And wow, this song is awful, too. Bill Wennington is back there, Tex Winter, Will Perdue. The "Scottie" chant was pretty good, too. Johnny Back and Frank Hamblen. Scottie's high school and college coaches. Craig Hodges has a HUGE "33" pin on his suit jacket which looks really silly. Good God, Stacey King and Charles Oakley! Dennis Rodman is wearing a bandana under his fedora? And David Stern delivers a taped message—weak sauce. What could possibly have been more important? Scottie does NOT look impressed—and the fans actually booed. Ha ha. The next speaker couldn't be there, either. Sheesh. And John Paxson couldn't be at his own team's game? I'm sorry, I just don't get that. Third in a row not here! Doug "Eminem" Collins. In front of a TNT banner, which is rather tacky. No wonder he got fired. I'm assuming they're gonna get to Phil Jackson and Jordan soon. But first Charles Barkley from the TNT set—and of course he dogs Jordan. Who has to smile. Jackson's now, and he gets a hell of a response, considering his current team's up a dozen. "He was the best, he worked hard at this game and he had an aptitude for this game." Wow, and he brings up the migraines. Nice, Phil. "Michael was giving 'em hell, and Scottie was patting 'em on the back." Yep, that's what we heard. Now, what will Jordan say? He didn't even wear a suit, which is pretty ridiculous. "This is like a brother in arms." "He started fights that I had to finish, most of the time." Ha ha, sheesh.

Is Pip gonna talk? I kind of hope he does. And the fact that Reinsdorf doesn't speak is pretty wrong. What, is he still celebrating the White Sox victory? Jerry Krause, well, I didn't expect him (although I'm kind of surprised he isn't there to gloat about fleecing Seattle for him). And Scottie gets gifts! A collage, which is pretty tacky. And miniature championship trophies, which are rad. As is the framed jersey and banner. Dammit, I miss Pip. And here he comes. His kids are pretty damn cute, too. Come on Scottie, tear up!

Glad he's speaking, glad he's drowned out by cheers. His voice is still unmistakeable. He's quite under control, very thoughtful. Very sincere-sounding. Jesus, I'm about to tear up here if he isn't. I can't believe they actually have to play a second half. That was pretty damn great.

And now back to the terrible game already in progress. Kobe's the only guy on the floor whose number will definitely be retired no matter what. I presume the Lakers will retire Shaq's as well. The Bulls are probably done for now, unless they consider guys like Grant, Paxson, Cartwright, Rodman, etc. Um, not that there's much point in retiring 91, I guess.

Oh. The Nuggets are up seven with 2.9 seconds left. So much for that game. Speaking of Shaq, the Heat could use him back.

Jesus, it's not like Chris Duhon can guard Kobe. That's the problem with the Hinrich/Duhon backcourt. Although if Kobe shoots 450 times maybe they'll lose. Then again, at least he CAN shoot, unlike Tyson Chandler. Yikes. And the Bulls announcer just called them the Bears, which is pretty funny.

And wow, the Nets are going to beat the Cavs in Cleveland. It would be doubly nice for the Bulls to win tonight then, but they're going to need to step it up. Bill Walton on the mic is something I don't need any more of—thankfully I didn't watch this game.

The Bulls only have three turnovers and they're still down 5. That doesn't compute. Three now, thanks to a Chris Duhon drive. The Bulls are trying their damndest to make me not hate Duke (and they would have been farther along had they never traded Elton Brand), but I refuse to relent. Kirk Hinrich can definitely make me like Kansas, though.

Is Kobe wearing tights? What the hell is going on here?

Two-point game, and we've got Darius Songaila and Jannero Pargo up in here. Considering there are only two Darius's in the L, is it safe to say that they're as opposite as possible? One's from East St. Louis, the other's from Eastern Europe. And—you know what, let's leave that alone, because Michael Sweetney just hit a sick shot, caused Chris Mihm to commit his 5th foul, and seriously made me consider getting a No. 50 jersey.

The Knicks are up on the Suns by two late in the 1st, and hey, anything can happen.

Lovie Smith! How does a grown man go by "Lovie"? Seriously. And the Lakers are back up 8, which is depressing. You HAVE to win on Pip's night. And you especially can't lose to LaRon Profit. Can you? Dammit.

Meanwhile, back in Phoenix, the Knicks are up 7 in the 2nd. Seriously. With Penny Hardaway clocking minutes. And Malik Rose checking in. Good to see that Larry Brown's substitution patterns still make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

OK, so the Bulls are having a really tough time here. I guess there's pressure with Jordan, Pippen, et al in the building, but still. The Lakers are a lottery team, and the Bulls aren't. This is pretty embarassing. I need to regroup. Be back.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Retired Numbers, Part 3

Yeah, I know—first I skip a day, and now I'm going to talk about retired numbers AGAIN. At least this time it won't be about the Celtics. But before I do that, I have to post this one link to the greatest NBA blog ever. I present to you, Flea.

Tonight, at halftime of the Bulls/Laker game, Scottie Pippen will see his No. 33 raised to the United Center rafters, joining Jerry Sloan's 4, Bob Love's 10 and, of course, Michael Jordan's 23. Jordan himself is supposed to be on hand, as will Phil Jackson (because, you know, he sort of coaches the Lakers now). It will be interesting to see which other teammates show up—Horace Grant, who was a fellow rookie in '87 is expected, as is (maybe) the mercurial Dennis Rodman.

There was a time in the '90s when Pippen, not Jordan, was my favorite Bull. It was some combination of his tenacity on the defensive end and his ferociousness on offense; his uncanny ability to bury a pull-up three whenever it seemed the Bulls most needed a bucket. It also had something to do with Jordan's superhuman fame—which, while deserved, seemed to push Pip into the background more than he deserved.

Pippen was his own worst enemy for a while—constantly whining about his below-average long-term contract (which he had, of course, signed), those ill-timed migraines against the Pistons, that horrible 1.8 seconds when he refused to be a decoy and was yelled at on the bench by Bill Cartwright (then had to watch Toni Kukoc sink the game winner). Scottie seemed to feel—and rightly so, at times—that he wasn't recognized enough.

But any true Bulls fan can tell you that his perception was wrong. Just as Pippen was elevated by playing next to Jordan, the opposite also held true. They drove each other to new heights in practice, and Pippen often took the opposing team's best scorer to enable Jordan to use most of his energy on offense. How many charges did he draw? How many clutch baskets did he hit? How much time did he spend in the weight room, transforming himself from a skinny rookie to one of the most cut guys in the L? How often did he defer his own considerable talents to the greatest player to ever play the game?

Let's not forget, when Jordan retired the first time, the Bulls didn't exactly fall off the face of the earth. In '93-94 they started 4-6, but still finished the season with 55 wins, sweeping the Cavs in the first round before falling to the Knicks in 7. The following season they won 47 games, before falling in the second round again, this time to the Magic (and with Jordan, who had returned for 17 games of the regular season). Pippen was the All-Star MVP in 1994, his game eclipsing even his garish all-red Nikes as he went for 29 points (including five threes) and 11 boards. His ferocious baseline dunk on Patrick Ewing in the '94 Playoffs (with a stunned Derek Harper looking on) remains one of the L's most indelible images.

And maybe that's what made Pippen my favorite. When Jordan left the game to play baseball, Scottie shouldered the load he left behind. And while he wasn't able to single-handedly lead the Bulls to another title on his own, he DID lead. And when Jordan returned from his year-and-a-half cojourn to the field of dreams, Pippen once again quietly stepped back, retaking his prior role of "sidekick" (which was always an offensive term). After that embarassing loss to the Magic, Michael rebuilt his game and reaffirmed his superiority to the tune of another threepeat. But it's worth remembering that through it all, Scottie Pippen never left.

In the end he did, of course, as Jordan's second retirement sent all parties outward, leaving the Bulls in rebuilding hell. Scottie got his big contract and found himself in Houston, joining a Dream Team lineup of Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. Only they were all too old, with too many miles on the clock. And Pippen was his old irascible self—I went to Houston to write a feature on him for SLAM, and he basically didn't talk to me for three days straight. Only a voluble Sir Charles saved that trip.

Pip moved on to Portland, joining a massively talented but massively flawed team. They had the talent to hang with anyone, but not the temperament. They suffered one of the worst collapses in NBA history in 2000—up 15 in the fourth quarter of Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals, they collapsed down the stretch. Pippen wouldn't play in another Finals.

His career ended where it started—in Chicago, in the house he half-built. As he neared 40, Pippen became a mentor to the young Bulls, essentially serving as a coach as he struggled through 20-something games. He's been more forthcoming of late, doing some announcing, and helping out Phil Jackson in Los Angeles. Tonight he receives a tremendous honor, one which he has long deserved. HIS night. And his alone.

NBA on TNT 1

Just home in time to catch the fourth quarter of Wizards/Pacers. The Pacers are kicking the crap out of the Wizards on a snowy night in Indianapolis. Marv and Steve Kerr are gonna have a lot of time to kill tonight. And maybe Etan Thomas can write a poem about it. Pacers up 20, under 10 minutes to go.

The most amazing thing about the Pacers, to me, is how many minutes Anthony Johnson plays. I mean, dude was a career backup, and now he's the main point guard for one of the best teams in the League? How did this happen? He even dunked on someone the other night. I'm sure Jamaal Tinsley is probably more confused than I am, but still.

At this point, Stephen Jackson has 30 and the Pacers are up 20-plus still. It's too bad there aren't any other games on right now, because it would definitely be a good time to switch to one. The second of this doubleheader had better be better. What's amazing is that the Pacers did this without Tinsley and Ron Artest, who tragically has let his hair grow back in.At least Andray Blatche is getting minutes.

Although Rockets/Kings? Yeesh.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Retired Redux

Upon further inspection of the Celtics retired numbers, it's interesting to note that the entire run of 14-25 is in the rafters, with the sole exception of 20. There have been 22 number 20s in the Celtics history—along with number 11, it's the most-worn C's number. The current number 20, backup point guard Dan Dickau, is unlikely to wind up hanging with Larry Legend, McHale and the Chief. (It also doesn't bode well for Disaster that the last eight No. 20s only lasted year apiece in Boston.) I present to you the Celtic 20s. They are:

Al Lucas 1948-49
Dick Hemric 1955-57
Lou Tsioropoulos 1956-59 (also wore No. 29)
Gene Guarilia 1959-63
Larry Siegfried 1963-70
Rex Morgan 1970-72
Phil Hankinson 1973-75
Fred Saunders 1976-78
Wayne Kreklow 1980-81
Scott Wedman 1982-83 (also wore No. 8)
Ray Williams 1984-85
Darren Daye 1986-88
Brian Shaw 1988-89 & 1990-92
Sherman Douglas 1991-96 (also wore No. 4)
Tyus Edney 1997-98
Marlon Garnett 1998-99
Doug Overton 1999-00 (also wore No. 9)
Bryant Stith 2000-01
Erick Strickland 2001-02
Jumaine Jones 2003-04
Gary Payton 2004-05
Dan Dickau 2005-present

Q and...Q?

So, word today is that the Knicks want to bring in Qyntel Woods to fill their hole at small forward. Qyntel Woods? THE Qyntel Woods? Forget for the moment that—in a decidedly questionable move—we at SLAM proclaimed Qyntel to be the rookie of the year before he played a single NBA minute, and remember that this is a guy who got in trouble for mistreating dogs in Portland, and is being paid $400,000 by the Celtics this year to NOT play for them. Last I checked, the Celtics weren't exactly running away with the East.

Nothing against Qyntel personally—I've never even met the dude—but does he really sound like a Larry Brown guy? I mean, the TRAILBLAZERS waived him, and they keep a guy like Ruben Patterson around? I understand that Patterson has a lot more money due him than Qyntel did, but Ruben also—despite being absolutely insane—plays some tough D and is super competitive. Well, maybe a little too much. And let's not forget Mighty Mouse, Damon Stoudamire, like Popeye, a superhero who relied on the green stuff. Or Darius Miles, who only got suspended for cursing out then-coach Mo Cheeks. The Blazers then later fired Cheeks. Not exactly an overly strict franchise. Of course, Qyntel was actually convicted of a crime, while the others skirted the long arm of the law.

Vague rumor has it that the Knicks released Matt Barnes, who'd actually been their starting small forward for five games, because he was a loner in the locker room and that went contrary to Brown's desired family atmosphere. How's Qyntel going to fit in? Kid from the deep South, already been on three NBA teams, convicted of animal abuse. Yeah, he'll be a favorite for sure. Don't get me wrong, I believe in second chances, I just don't know whether this particular one is a good idea.

Monday, December 05, 2005


The Boston Celtics have existed since 1946. In that time, they've retired 21 numbers, from 1 (for original owner Walter Brown) to 00 (for ageless center Robert Parish). Assuming that numbers are used in their normal fashion, there are 101 possible combinations of jersey numbers: 0-99 and 00. And assuming that the Celtics continue to retire numbers at their current pace, they'll be entirely out of them sometime during the 2229-'30 season. Assuming (and it's a big assumption) my math is correct. So Boston, please, stop the madness before it's too late. Don't make our grandchildren have to root for numbers 1.4 and -6.

The Good, The Bad, And The Obvious

I've never been a beatwriter. Never really wanted to be, especially after closely watching the New York/New Jersey guys so often left with no choice other than to make something out of nothing. Gotta feed the beast. And today's Houston Chronicle bore a perfect example of that, in a story headlined "Rockets Changes Coming." Hm, really? You think? They're 4-12, dead last in the West, and just lost a game in which they trailed by 20-plus at the end of the first quarter (the first time they'd ever done that in team history). Change? Can't imagine why.

Nothing against Jonathan Feigen, who I think does a great job on the Rockets beat, but this is news? A team that was expected to be second to only the Spurs in the West comes out of the gate—well, falls out of the gate—and the fact that changes are coming needs to be reported? "Changes Not Coming" would be a headline. "Changes Coming" isn't news. Especially since no details are given (as usual, Jeff Van Grumpy is playing things close to the vest).

I don't know about Van Gundy. Had doubts about him ever since he was with the Knicks—the only reason he took them to the '99 Finals was a mind-blowingly lucky Allan Houston shot, and Patrick Ewing's injury (which forced him to finally play Marcus Camby, who, teamed with Latrell Sprewell finally brought some excitement to the Knicks offense). Now he has a Rockets team with no identity, a superstar with injury issues, and a center whose fame exceeds his talents. Or at least his desire. Yao Ming needs to be MEAN to succeed (and succeed Shaq as the best center in the L), and it just seems like he doesn't have it in him. Ironically, with Shaq injured, the best center in the L has been the aforementioned Mr. Camby, who racked up a 30/20 the other night. And the second-best is probably Alonzo Mourning, whose leg Van Gundy famously humped in the infamous Zo/LJ brawl. Another funny thing is that Vin Baker, Charlie Ward and Clarence Weatherspoon all remain on the Rockets payroll, despite the fact that all three are out of the League. Seems like Jeff is still working for the Knicks.

The Rockets can still come out of this and make the playoffs (maybe), but it'll certainly be an uphill battle. And that, that will be a story.


Want to know how bad the Atlantic is, compared to how competitive the Central is? The Bulls are in last in the Central at 8-7. The Sixers lead the Atlantic at 8-10. If the playoffs started today (I hate that phrase, but I had to do it), the entire Central would be in.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Took in the Knicks/Celtics at the Garden today. It was a 1 p.m. start, which means it's a bacon game—as in the media dining is breakfast. Mostly fatal products, including undercooked, greasy bacon, sausage links, scrambled eggs, pancakes and donuts. No wonder so many sportswriters are fat.

Sat next to New York 1's Tom McDonald in the Gate 64 pressbox, and at the end of the game (a three-point Knicks loss, dropping them to 5-11 overall), he brought up a good point. If the Knicks head coach were someone other than Larry Brown, wouldn't the media be screaming for his head? One could also question the moves of GM Isiah Thomas, but for now let's stick with Brown.

He hasn't exactly looked like a genius. In fact, one could certainly assume that Herb Williams would have the Knicks at 5-11 or better right now. Don Chaney, too. Meanwhile, Brown uses substitution patterns that make no sense (including today's benching of November Rookie of the Month Channing Frye after he'd been introduced as a starter), using 10 different players in the first quarter alone. Malik Rose, stuck to the bench for the entire game, came in for the first time with 10 minutes to go in the fourth. And Maurice Taylor didn't get off the bench at all. Stranger still was the notice in the press room that Matt Barnes had been released. Barnes, you'll remember, made the team as a training camp invitee, and was the STARTING SMALL FORWARD on opening night. Figure that one out.

Brown's teams have historically had slow starts, and this Knicks squad is a particularly young group. Which is another issue—why Brown even took the job in the first place. This is a very un-LB team. Lots of rookies, score-first guards, no blue-collar defense-first guys. Their best rebounder is shooting guard Quentin Richardson. While the Knicks may have been Brown's dream job, this roster was probably his nightmare. It's like when Jason Newsted joined Metallica then discovered that they weren't all that interested in playing heavy metal anymore.

But Brown did take the job, and the expectations that came with it. He's got a good crop of rookies—Isiah can draft real well, it's just too bad he builds the rest of the roster like a kid with dad's AmEx Titanium card—and centers who are roughly center-shaped, but not much else. The playoffs are a possibility, but one that's shrinking with every passing loss. Maybe LB should have simply kept dreaming.


Random thought while discussing Kobe with ESPN mag writer Chris Broussard—is it just me, or is he trying to live Michael Jordan's career backwards? First he got the rings in the triangle while still getting his numbers, and now he's shooting 40 times a game on a bad team. Maybe Phil Jackson needs to give him a copy of The Last Season.

Friday, December 02, 2005

ABC through the L (Part 2)

OK, where was I?

MILWAUKEE BUCKS. Did anyone do more to improve their team over the summer than the Bucks? They grab Utah center Andrew Bogut with the first overall pick in the draft, sign the L's Most Improved Player in swingman Bobby Simmons, and then trade athletic yet expendable Desmond Mason for All-Star center Jamal Magloire. Not bad. Of course, the biggest gain of all was the return of one of their own—point guard T.J. Ford—from spinal surgery. He still makes banzai charges into the lane, disrupting defenses like no guard in the League with the exception of AI. And with targets like Magloire inside and Michael Redd outside, even Terry Stotts looks like a genius.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES. Whither KG? Will he get traded? Will the Wolves rebuild around him? Playing his first full NBA season without coach Flip Saunders, Garnett looks overworked and generally downcast, an unnatural look for the Big Ticket. It doesn't help that Marko Jaric, brought in for malcontent Sam Cassell, has been uninspiring while Cassell has lifted the Clippers. Add in perennial underachiever Michael Olowokandi and you can imagine that Garnett may even miss Latrell Sprewell some days. At least Troy Hudson continues to pull his weight.

NEW JERSEY NETS. The popular thought is that they're a three-man team—Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson—and while they might be the class of the Atlantic, that isn't saying much. While Kidd, Carter and RJ are definitely the stars, let's not forget big man Nenad Krstic, who is the first Net big with a pulse in quite some time. You also can't help but like a team that brings Uncle Cliffy off the bench (Troy Murphy told me a couple weeks ago that Cliff hands-down had the best cars on the Warriors, so there is that). Not to mention Jeff McInnis and Marc Jackson.

NEW ORLEANS/OKLAHOMA CITY HORNETS. It's amazing how much better the arrival of rookie point guard Chris Paul has made them. The leading candidate for the Rookie Of The Year (although the next entry has a good one, too), Paul already leads the team like a seasoned vet. And speaking of seasoned vets, P.J. Brown is still doing his thing at 36. Other than that, a lot of Euros and youngsters (and young Euros) that will take a while to gel. When they do, Byron Scott will be standing there. With his arms crossed.

NEW YORK KNICKS, An enigma wrapped in a mystery stashed inside Larry Brown's head. He hasn't snapped and killed anyone yet, which is a plus, as is the fact that he's already shown a tremendous amount of faith in his three rookies. One, Channing Frye, was named rookie of the month for November, which must have Darko Milicic looking through the Soldier Of Fortune classifieds. They still don't have a starting small forward, and the rotation is more like an octahedron, but it's starting to look like things are headed in the right direction. Maybe.

ORLANDO MAGIC. Apparently, according to local reports, Jameer Nelson has proclaimed himself the driver of Dwight Howard's bandwagon and pronounced the two inseparable, which, given Howard's promise and youth is probably a good move on Jameer's part. Steve Francis—well, you just don't hear about him as much as you did in the Houston days. And the fact that Brian Hill is back as coach is just weird. He should trade for Penny Hardaway and then cut him just out of spite.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS. I don't even understand how Allen Iverson is doing it at this point. Ninth year in the League, ninth year of getting the crap kicked out of him every damn night, and he's playing better than ever. Maybe it's the return of the prodigal Mo Cheeks, maybe Chris Webber is the sidekick he's always needed, maybe it's Kyle Korver's hair. Whatever it is, it's working. These guys could win the Atlantic as well, but then again, so could Jersey, New York or Boston.

PHOENIX SUNS. Losing Amare Stoudemire with the most terrifying surgery possible (at least for a basketball player's knee) has got to be slightly alarming. And then trading both Quentin Richardson AND Joe Johnson may have been a bit extreme. Did D'Antoni just want this season to be more of a challenge? But the Suns still have Steve Nash, MVP, and so far all he's done is shoot the lights out and make Boris Diaw look like a basketball player. Wonder how Kurt Thomas is enjoying all the running?

PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS. Yep, these are the Trailblazers. Ruben Patterson demanding 25 minutes a night or he won't play at all? Ruben, even Terrell Owens thinks you're crazy. And I don't care how good he is, when this contract is up, he might as well move into a house with Latrell Sprewell, or buy into Vin Baker's restaurant. I'd say he wasn't exactly putting his Cincinnati education to good use, but it's not like he got one. Also, having $130 million tied up in Zach Randolph and Darius Miles doesn't seem that smart, especially when you bring in a disciplinarian coach to deal with slacker players. At least Sebastian Telfair looks good. And, inexplicably, Ghostface Przybilla.

SACRAMENTO KINGS. One could argue that it wasn't in Mike Bibby's best interest to spend his summer trying to turn himself into a middle linebacker. Didn't work too good for the Kings, either. Meanwhile, they're also discovering that the bloom is off the Rosejakovic. Peja has been injury-saddled, and ridden hard and put away wet by new acquisition Bonzi Wells on account of it. Meanwhile, Shareef Abdur-Rahim just looks sad. This may be the end of the Adelman era.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS. I give up—they're going to defend their title this year. Happy?

SEATTLE SUPERSONICS. I really have no idea. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis can shoot, Vlad Radmanovic can complain (maybe put him in with Spree and the Nanny Stopper), Danny Fortson and Reggie Evans can break things. They get extra credit for giving Rick Brunson a real deal, and for keeping Robert Swift around to sweep up or whatever it is he does. It's unfortunate they lost Nate McMillan to their cross-uh, states, rivals, but if Nate was so loyal to the Sonics, the money shouldn't have been the deciding factor, right?

TORONTO RAPTORS. Well, you were right about Charlie Villanueva. He can play. And you're still 1-15. Good job.

UTAH JAZZ. Deron Williams looks good, although not as good as Chris Paul. Carlos Boozer has been a pretty useless signing, seeing that Mehmet Okur has been much better (and actually playing). Hell, even the return of the prodigal Ostertag has been better than the Booze. Then again, as long as they have Andrei "Do Everything" Kirilenko and Jerry Sloan, they should be OK.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS. Getting rid of Kwame Brown is the best example of addition by subtraction I can think of in recent years. Caron Butler makes up for the loss of Larry Hughes, and Gilbert Arenas remains out of his mind in every sense of the phrase. It would be nice if they'd change their name back to the Bullets, but then Etan Thomas would probably have to write a poem about it and we'd all be sorry.

ABC through the L (Part 1)

Well, I just figured I'd go through every team in the L today—in alphabetical order, no less—and just post some random thoughts about them. OK, half today and half tomorrow. I know Lang did the game-by-game thing on the Links, and the ├╝ber-prolific Sports Guy just went through every team on, but hey, I'm just tryin' ta live (Devin Tha Dude is awesome). And is it just me, or is just trying to take over via blanket coverage? Sports Guy, Scoop, Ric Bucher, Chris Broussard, Chris Sheridan—I mean, I like all those guys (and know all of them except SG personally), but damn, how many words can you run a week on basketball? And then there's John Hollinger—early MVP picks? In DECEMBER? It's bad enough you can vote for the All-Star team now. Whoever approved that story is out of their freakin' mind. Kind of curious to look back to last season and see who was playing at an MVP level on December 1st and how they finished, but not that curious. Anyways...

ATLANTA HAWKS. I haven't watched them yet this year, at least not a full game. (Um, that's going to come up a lot.) I know they're young and athletic, and everyone including the concessions and media relations people are 6-8—and if they get the number-one pick next year they'll probably add UConn sophomore Rudy Gay, who also fits that mold. Bad enough that they're the Hawks, but starting center Jason Collier DIED before the start of the season. That's not good.

BOSTON CELTICS. Nope, haven't watched them either. I know Paul Pierce has been playing out of his mind and Mark Blount simply IS out of his mind. And Ricky Davis may very well fit into both of those categories. While Kendrick Perkins played quite well last night, Al Jefferson remains the big to watch. And Gerald Green may not be getting much burn, but he's still the best nine-fingered player in the L.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS. Say it with me, haven't watched a game. John Hollinger called Gerald Wallace an early MVP candidate, and while I think that makes ol' JH certifiable, Gerald has been tearing it up. Wait, or was it Kareem Rush? Regardless, both of them have about the same chance—that of a snowball in hell. Emeka Okafor is continuing to do his thing, despite the fact that defenses know him a little better now. And I like the pick of two teammates from North Carolina, although Sean May and Raymond Felton aren't quite Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan—or even Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. At least, not yet.

CHICAGO BULLS. These guys I've definitely watched. Michael Sweetney is a more than capable replacement for Eddy Curry (although it would be nice to see him go down a size or six before he has heart troubles of his own), Kirk Hinrich is becoming an elite guard, and Luol Deng is healthy. And despite getting posterized by Trevor Ariza last night, Andres Nocioni gives considerable muscle and swagger. It would be nice if Tyson Chandler could find at least a TINY scoring touch, and if Ben Gordon could recapture some of his rookie magic. But let's face it—in a division with Indiana, Detroit and Cleveland, all they need to worry about is being one of the top eight in the East. Why not? (Tim Thomas, ha ha ha ha.)

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS. Watched them, too. LeBron James finally has a supporting cast, and he's just gotten better himself. With Donyell Marshall outside the arc, a miraculously fracture-free Zydrunas Ilgauskas inside and Larry Hughes providing even more athleticism in the backcourt, you can count on this—no one, and I mean NO ONE, is going to want to face them in the first round. And they'll be there for sure.

DALLAS MAVERICKS. Haven't watched these guys, but I don't have to in order to know that Erick Dampier is underachieving and Dirk Nowitzki is still really good. Oh, and Pavel Podkolzine is big. I also can't think of a more unlikely duo than Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels. Both acquired the same year, and both major contributors. Jason Terry is a badass, too. Unfortunately, you just can't trust a team with Keith Van Horn on it. Just ask Kenyon Martin.

DENVER NUGGETS. And speaking of Kenyon...actually, forget Kenyon. Marcus Camby is out of his freaking mind. Well, Marcus has always had that kind of ability, it's just that he always gets hurt. Maybe this year he finally stays healthy? I'm sure it would suit Denver fine, since this is the second straight year they've lost a starter on opening day. This year it was Nene, who opened up more minutes for Kenyon and Mr. Camby. He also managed to get hurt RIGHT after turning down a big extension. Oops. Now he'll never be able to buy his last name back. And extra points (literally) for the vanity signing of Earl Watson. Nope, I don't get it. (Carmelo, stop hurting yourself.)

DETROIT PISTONS. It's sort of nuts, but they really didn't miss a beat. Rip is still running off screens, Chauncey is setting people up better than ever, Rasheed is still Rasheed, and Ben Wallace is still scary. They're probably just so happy to not get henpecked every day that they'll go on to win the championship. For the record, Rip Hamilton is my second-favorite superhero in a mask after MF Doom. I do have to say, I thought Darko would be getting more minutes by now. Not that he's necessarily doing much with them—and that's a hard lineup to crack—but the potential needs to turn into actual skill before it curdles.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS. Goddamn. Between these guys and the Clippers, the whole West is turned upside-down. Well, except for the Spurs, of course. But Baron Davis came to the Yay last year like a Jose Canseco steroid shot, spiking a team that hadn't been much to watch since the Run-TMC days. They got a team to the playoffs in the meantime, unfortunately it was the Washington Wizards. Now, with a locked-up core under 30 (Baron, Troy Murphy, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy), and a guy with rings (Derek Fisher), they just need to see if they can win anything with Adonal Foyle as their starting center.

HOUSTON ROCKETS. Talked about them a few entries ago. Disaster! T-Mac's hurtin', Yao ain't franchisin', and the Stro Show ain't what it was supposed to be. Jeff Van Gundy is gonna need a miracle—or a new playbook—to last the season in H-town. Hurts even more that they swapped Mike James (who?) MIKE JAMES for Rafer Alston and watched James become an offensive juggernaut in T-dot.

INDIANA PACERS. Ron Artest is even crazier than we thought. I definitely like the new 'do, though. And I still like the Pacers to win it all, although I'm not sure who takes the big shots down the stretch. Jermaine O'Neal? Ron-Ron? Stephen Jackson? The new uniforms are nice, too. About time they got rid of the pinstripes, too—they served their purpose in slimming Reggie Miller.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS. I'm suspicious. It seems like every year they start hot, then go up in flames sometime after the All-Star break. At least that's how I remember it. Sam Cassell is definitely an improvement over Marko Jaric, and Elton Brand is being Elton Brand only even more so. He'd better be an All-Star this year or else. Meanwhile, they also hope that no one tests Corey Maggette as to whether he's actually human or not.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS. Anyone not see this coming? Kobe taking 50 shots, Phil not really caring too much, Lamar Odom probably becoming homicidal. Meanwhile Kwame Brown is whatever, and Andrew Bynum is 17. Love Smush Parker, though. And enjoy the 82, because that's probably going to be it.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES. I can't see anything else through Pau Gasol's beard.

MIAMI HEAT. A season-long episode of "I Used To Be A Superstar—Get Me Out Of Here!" Maybe not if they keep rolling, but if things fall apart, prepare for an implosion of epic proportions. (Gary Payton?) They'd also better hope Shaq is healthy come playoff time. And I wish I could be happier about the resurrection of Alonzo Mourning, but I still hate him for what he did in leaving New Jersey (and refusing to report to Toronto). Straight-up bitch move. Lucky for Riles, Dwyane Wade will be around longer than anyone.