I haven't taken a sweeping look at the NBA in some time, and that shall end today. It has been an interesting season. You've had a few new powers emerge, and some teams we expected to dominate went into the hamper like a well-thrown shirt.
You also had a furious brawl that took a top 15 player out of the NBA for a year. You had an ugly breakup of a dynasty in LA, which involved an accusation of rape, a dry snitching, racism, infidelity, a book full of cheap shots, hitting on someone's wife, bad Zen, and a guy forced off a title team he built. That's just the starters and the coach...dumping a Miss America wife doesn't even get you a headline with the Lakers.
The NBA, to a sports fan, is like some white trash cousin that you have to explain to your spouse at a wedding. "Sure, he wore a Boston College hockey shirt to a funeral, and he openly drank from a bottle of Johnny Walker Black for most of the ceremony today....but he's family." Once you get past the swamp, it's good property....and the swamp is pretty cool in its' own way.
The NBA's best(?) player can't drink legally, one of the best big men is from China, the basketball gold medal is in Argentina, a guy who makes $14 million can't feed his family, there seems to be a black Bobby Knight coaching Skip To My Lou and the boys up there in Toronto...and if there aren't men named Jameer, Carmello, Zydrunas, Pau, Raef, Antawn, Mengke, Speedy and Baron at your local pub- you simply ain't fannntastic, Holmes.
Basketball is the sport that I know best. I played it, coached it, watched it...I was weaned on it. My father was more French than I am, which is tough to do in Massachusetts. TV was difficult. Sitcoms made little sense to him, but sports hold a more universal appeal. His (and my) favorite team quickly became the Boston Celtics.
Many a Sunday afternoon that should have been spent running around were instead spent listening to a man snarling in French/English at Andrew Toney, World B. Free, Jeff Ruland, and whoever else imperiled our particular lifestyle.
How deep were we into it? Check it.... The CBS NBA team ofthe 1980s (which consisted of former Red Sox broadcaster Dick Stockton and former Celtic coach Tommy Heinsohn) was too biased towards the Lakers to be broadcast in our home. So the TV volume went down, and we'd listen to three hours of open hatred from Celtic radio voice Johnny Most (who authored the quote that is the title of this Journal).
It wasn't long before I was as rabid as he was...to the point where I was studying psychology, looking at a certain associative test, and thinking "I've been given this before."
So, even though I'm young, I've been intense for a good 20-25 years. I should prognosticate better than I do. I did an NBA season preview in October or so, and there were several curves that I couldn't put a bat on. Here's a few calls I blew in my pre-season special:
- Seattle... "Coughlotterycough."
- Chicago..."will have to go beyond themselves to be awful."
- Milwaukee...."should make the dance."
- Phoenix..."they overpaid Steve Nash like he has pictures of the G.M. with a gerbil."
Oh well...at least I married well, and I can always teach somewhere. AOL lost no money and little prestige when my sources told me that Argentina's Emmanuel Ginobli had won an Olympic bet with Tim Duncan that resulted in Big Stoic having to wear pantyhose for the first exhibition game. While I wasn't able to verify the veracity of it, people I know in Texas tell me that Duncan did look rather smooth that evening.
Basketball prognostication isn't for everyone. Everybody botches a few things. Even the great ones take a Mulligan once in their lives. George Washington lost battles before he won the War. Malcolm X was in jail before he ever delivered a speech. Air Jordan was cut from his high school team. Emeril burns a chicken now and then. To my credit, I did make some good calls, too:
- Washington...."should be interesting...they can put points on the board."
- New York...."will stink like Gin Baker's vomit."
- Orlando..."should slip into the playoffs if Grant Hill stays healthy."
Enough progress is evident to warrant the mid-season review. It is actually past mid-season, but the trading deadline puts a nice divider on the regular season....so heeeeeeeeeeere we go:
Shaq and Wade have teamed well, and they are the class of the East at the moment. The question of Shaq's extension is very much on the table, and the Diesel took a scary turn of the knee last week. If he and Wade retain their health, you can almost pencil Miami into the Finals.
They return the nucleus of a championship team. They've beaten a Shaq/All Star Guard combo before. They could hold either All Star team to 70 points a game for a series. They'd physically pound Seattle or Phoenix like a coastal storm. They can also be beat. Miami/Detroit conference final?
He He He....Boston has a good chance of sneaking into the third seed. Whoever wins the Atlantic plays untested Chicago in the playoffs. Whoever finishes second- even if it is a tie broken by conference record or points scored or a coin flip- either misses the playoffs, or goes down to Miami to deal with the Daddy. Antoine Walker is not a player you want to be paying $14 million...but if more than half a season's worth of that is paid, Antoine kind of pays for himself if he allows you to hold off Philly and host a playoff game or four.
"Speak not of the sophmore slump!" sayeth LeBron. He's quite possibly the best player in the NBA, yet he must continue to miss out on Safe Driver Premiums because he is under 25 years old. Scott Williams is kept on the squad simply to rent cars for LeBron in whatever city the team travels to.
Drew Gooden has made no one miss Boozer, Jeff McInnis has solidified the point, and Zydrunas Ilgauskakausksus has managed to not have a season ending injury ... something he managed to do 3 times in the last 82 games he actually played. This will be their first playoff test, and I would bet that no one wants to square off with them and watch LeBron rip them apart like Bernard King or Isiah.
Arenas, Hughes and Jamison simply out-gun pretty much 3/5 of whatever teams they meet. They could easily win a playoff series, or they could easily be dissed like a roach by a three game stretch of solid defense. It willbe fun to watch, and Washington fans sure do deserve it. If Washington were still in the Atlantic, I'd be calling my bookie before the first round game and saying "I gotta take a Wiz."
These guys were awful,and many people were calling for Scott Skiles' blood. Then the Towers started playing well, they got the new Vinnie Johnson, they started working on D, and here we are. There are huge flaws here, but they seem to have climbed out of the Lottery. Much like Cleveland or Washington, they have waited a long time.
Grant Hill has stayed healthy, which is exactly equal to the surprise a serious NBA fan would get if he woke up out of a year long coma and saw Orlando over .500. Stevie Franchise has been superb, Dwight Howard is a good defensive big man, and Johnny Davis deserves an extension.
I must say that the Christie trade was awful, though....Cuttino must have crossed noted Orlando-area powerhouse Mickey Mouse at some point....poof, off to California, never to see Central Florida again.
Note: Even with more time off than he asked for, Ron Artest has been unable to score success with his TruWarrier record label. Talk about a bad year...
What if? There is no Western powerhouse. This team won 60+ games last year. They can score, but are built to defend. They have size, speed, shooters, stoppers....but then a big fight happens, and it all goes out the window.
Jermaine and the boys are still dangerous, but they can be had. Pencil in 30 points a game for whoever has Austin Croshere or Reggie guarding him, and hope that Artest comes back in shape/in synch.
Those are your top 8 seeds, if the season ended today. The Bubble got a lot more interesting Thursday.
Look at it this way: They are a game and a half behind 3rd seed Boston...or two wins and three losses behind likely 8th seed Orlando. The Webber trade was huge, because it should push them past Boston into a favorable Chicago series. Sure, he's old,injured, and overpaid...but with the third seed just there for the taking, you can understand why Philly made the move.
I've actually had a few chances to watch Phully play, and I have to choke down that "selfish gunner" quote I made about Allen Iverson. Sure he guns....but wouldn't you if you had his team? Watching he and Webber work together should be veddddddddy interesting.
New Jersey (24-32)
Rather than pay K-Mart the maximum dollar, they sent him away for draft picks. Jason Kidd was angry and injured, and Richard Jefferson carried the team to an awful start. They managed to get Vince Carter for peanuts, and things started looking up...until Jefferson got a bad case of the Out For the Year's Virus. Not only would they have to go on a tear to make the playoffs...the bottom has to fall out of someone else.
Jeff takes acoolposter picture, though....
And that's 23-32 in the Atlantic. This team has been as awful as we thought it would be. Skip To My Lou- who should be walking around smiling like a man with a guaranteed, long-term contract- is instead threatening to quit. His coach tries to fight the players. Good soldier Eric Williams is begging to leave. Jalen Rose has been slacking. They blew their 2004 draft.
That's the bad news. The good news is that Chris Bosh is emerging as a superstar. Mo Peterson has equaled Vince Carter's stats, which means that they were basically given a few draft picks to buy out Mourning and upset Eric Williams. They will have a nice draft pick...and the sun will come out, tomorrrrrrrrrrow.
New York (23-33)
Yikes. They spend like the Yankees, and lose like Wild E. Coyote. They have no one in the center, no one on the wings, and they are wasting a perfectly fine backcourt. They had a servicable center, but they traded him away to start the 6'8" power forward in the pivot.
Isiah has one chance to save his reputation- a serious impact in the 2005 NBA Draft. Otherwise, he may win the Ted Stepien Award for Poor General Managership. New York would do better to find someone with a good fantasy basketball team to run the club.
They cleared enough cap space to sign Micheal Redd, but would you want to stay here? Joe Smith is average at best. The team is hoping they didn't keep the wrong nondescript point guard. Mase is a good scorer, but his game is flawed like a submarine with a screen door.
Right now, they have 2 reasons for hope.
1) The number 6 pick in the draft will look mighty good playing with the Redd Mike.
2) Just kidding....there is no second reason.
They knew they were going to stink, so this season will be easier to swallow. They have an absolute stud in Emeka Okafor, they have a fairly good center in Primo Brezec, and Brevin Knight will trade you some good passing in exchange for not being able to guard anyone.
They will have a superb pick with which to put a star beside Okafor, and it just may be their most important draft pick for the next 10 years. They have a fine building block, and they need to add just the right piece to play with him. 2 good drafts puts this team on the map in 2008.
For a state with fairly serious laws on sodomy, this team sure has set itself up to get reamed for the next 4-5 years. Their best player is Al Harrington, who is more of a complementary player than a star. He's the fries, not the double cheesburger. Josh Childress is a fine player on a good team, but he will suffer as this one loses again and again. Josh Smith may or may not be able to play, but he sure can jump. When guys jump up and grab quarters off the top of backboards, Smith is the guy who put the quarter there in the first place.