Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 8/12

Today’s Office Tip will serve you well no matter what profession you choose: Neverunder any circumstances—allow Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’” to be the last song you listen to before you leave the house. It implants itself like that bug did to Arnold in Total Recall and leaves its victims helplessly signing/humming it all day until co-workers become suicidal. Now that I think about it, that song is evil in two ways. Besides having a secret ingredient that makes you crave it, it’s also responsible for one of the more underrated “yuck” moments in film history (on the list right below Luke tongue-kissing whom he would later find out was his sister in The Empire Strikes Back): Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow performing that song together as father-and-daughter in Duets. Did they not look at the lyrics beforehand? This is not a tune a father should be singing with his daughter; that's what songs like "Hip to Be Square" are for. Forget about the “this is not a one night stand” line, Smokey/Huey coos for permission to “open up and go inside” and--after his request for access was apparently allowed--then proclaims, “I can just stay there inside you.” Ick. Why didn’t they just follow that up with a karaoke of Lil Wayne’s “Pussy MVP”? Just disgusting.

Anyway, we’ve traded the 38th pick of this year’s draft, G Kyle Weaver, to Oklahoma City for a 2nd round pick in next year’s draft. This transaction signifies either a) nothing of consequence or b) yet another scouting failure; I’m not sure which. Weaver was supposed be a selfless, solid defender—traits that usually transcend a player’s college-to-pro transition. But they didn’t—at least in the Summer League—so we’ve cut Weaver loose. The potential upside of this deal is if OKC continues Seattle’s futility and therefore the eventual pick we get next year will be higher up in the second round than this year's 38 (and the pool of talent is also deeper). I’d rather analyze the trade that way, because the alternative conclusion is that we simply guessed wrong on yet another pick.

One other item on this non-news generating week: in a comment to one of my earlier posts, Nate pointed out that our uniforms are ugly—not just ugly, 1980s Houston Astros ugly. However, unlike just about every other aspect of this team, I’m actually not eager to flog the Bobcats on their uniforms. True, the orange is ghastly. It looks like the old Denver Broncos jersey on crack. And yet, I have to give the look points for uniqueness, especially when those alternate blue jerseys are just so generic; they’re just like the Knicks/Suns/Wizards (that is, when they’re in non-C3PO mode).

But at the same time, I don’t think they’re transcendently ugly. Nate mentions the Astros, but before we leave our sport for comparisons, I’d ask him to look no further than Houston’s basketball team. Those mid-90s Rockets pinstripes were the uniform equivalent of New Coke. Other jerseys that I think are worse than ours (in no particular order):

1. The Philadelphia 76ers. Like the Rockets, their current look is especially unforgivable, because they also had a perfectly decent color scheme that they inexplicably ruined. Throughout the 80s, they had a simple red/blue format with a clean “Sixers” across the chest, and they desecrated it with that Vegas-style font and Viet Cong-black look. Spider-Man did this same switch back in the mid-80s, and the results were so disastrous, the hate mail so abundant (I actually wrote one myself to Marvel Comics at the time and turned it in as a 2nd grade writing assignment—and I got an “A”) that they eventually made the black uniform its own villain, Venom.

2. The Wizards. Need I say more? In fact, they’re the only team to pull off a double-double of sorts by killing both a cool name (Bullets) and a cool color scheme. And come to think of it, Michael Jordan was in the front office for these guys too! At this rate, let’s hope MJ never joins Boston’s front-office, otherwise the Celtics might adopt some sort of teal look.

3. The Bucks. Terrible name, terrible color scheme. I’ve said it before: their emblem is a literal deer-in-the-headlights.

4. The Warriors. I’m one of the few people who doesn’t like those retro outfits with the trolley on them—too “hand-drawn” looking.

5. This deserves special mention here: The 2008 US Men’s Team uniforms. Cluttered imprints, non-matching patterns, white-on-white lettering and background. Really, if you want to desecrate the flag, it’s a lot cheaper to just burn the damned thing. Not since Vanilla Ice’s flag-inspired Zubaz have I seen red-white-and-blue butchered so badly. I can’t believe Mamba blessed off on those digs.

On the flip side, I love just about everything the Nuggets have ever done. Whether it’s the current powder blues, the no-frills orange “Denver” ones, or the incomparably spectacular Alex Englishes with the Atari font and cityscape picture straight out of Missile Command, they simply cannot go wrong in my book.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 8/7

ESPN’s announcement that “Earl Boykins has joined the growing legion of veteran role players unable to resist the lure of European riches” raises a critically important question: how many people does it take to qualify for a “legion”? Depending on how you slice it, Boykins’ legion totals either 9 (anyone who played in the NBA last year who will play in Europe next year) or 3 (previously exclusive NBA players who will play in Europe next year). No wait—that should be eight and two, because one of those legionnaires is Carlos Arroyo, and he’s going to Tel Aviv, which is—technically--not in Europe. I suppose you could also say that Boykins is part of two legions, one more exclusive than the other.

But back to my original question: how many do you need for a legion? According to dictionary.com, you need to have at least 3,000 people to call yourselves a legion. Plus you have to be armed and Roman. Hmm, well Earl is going to play for Italy, but I don’t know what sort of weapons arrangements he’s negotiated into his contract. Never mind.

Oh wait, now I see this is one of those multi-part definitions. Let’s see…well, the other definitions have no specific ethnic or armament requirements, but they do stipulate that you need a “large” or “great” number of people in order to call yourself a legion. And I’m not sure if eight or nine cuts it. Take the “Legion of Super-Heroes,” for instance (that would probably be the best historical example): I seem to remember hundreds of them, to the point that I think the DC comics artists were just making ones up on a bet (The Dog Catcher, Cell Phone Boy, etc.). On the other hand, a legion like WWE’s "Legion of Doom" only consisted of two wrestlers. Even counting their football pads, that was probably a misnomer, though, and they should have just stuck with “Road Warriors.”

Anyway, bye-bye, Earl. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. He didn’t get here until February, and he only averaged just under 16 minutes of playing time. Never a great assister, his 2.34 A/TO ratio would have placed him 41st in the league if he'd played enough minutes to qualify--or the meat in a munchkin sandwich between Allen Iverson and Kyle Lowry. His defensive level was also Arena Football-caliber—he had just 14 total steals for the year.

Part of me feels like Sam Vincent didn’t allow him enough playing time to ever get comfortable, yet he also never really flashed any potential either. Even Adam Morrison contributed several “Wow” moments during his supposedly disastrous rookie season; Earl’s top games were (take your pick): his 14-point, 4-assist masterpiece in a March loss to Utah; or his 6-point, 8-assist, 1-steal tour-de-force in an April win against Toronto. These were mot exactly the types of games we’re going to be talking about 20 years from now, asking each other where we were when Earl dropped 6 on the Raptors. On the other hand, we paid less than a jumbo mortgage for him; at $350 K, he was a penny stock. So good luck in Europe, Earl: fly high, go hard like geese erection…

In other non(sense)-news, we signed free agent SG Shannon Brown for an undisclosed amount in order to…what? I’m not sure. Is it possible to use players as dummy corporations in order to launder money? That's about the only reason I can fathom for picking up yet another shooting guard. You know how in the movies the cops will say that Such-and-Such Restaurant is merely a “front”? Like the Bada-Bing in The Sopranos? I think that’s what we may have here. Shannon Brown is a “front” for Bob Johnson to hide money, or for stashing MJ’s gambling proceeds or something. That would also explain why the amount of the contract is “undisclosed.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 7/29

You know how one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure? In their enduring, Through-the-Looking-Glass style, the Bobcats have managed to create a scenario in which one man’s trash is the same man’s treasure. A year ago, Emeka Okafor laughed at a $12 million-per-year deal. This year, he signed basically the same deal (and I’m guessing he did so with gusto). Similarly, the Bobcats entered this off-season convinced their offer was way too high and appeared committed to playing hard-ball with Mek…until the less-accomplished Andrew Bogut and Andris Biedrins signed comparable deals with their teams. All of a sudden, $12 a year to a tweener forward/center with limited range and offensive skills seemed like a bargain to management. Ultimately, both Okafor and the Bobcats pulled the contract out of the toilet and placed it on their mantels.

“You need that big guy to defend the Tim Duncans, the (Shaquille) O’Neals, the (Kevin) Garnetts,’’ GM Rod Higgins told the Observer. “The big guys control the game in the post, and that’s our guy when it comes to doing that.” I agree with Higgins, but I really wished he hadn’t named names, because he left me with no choice but check out those guys’ splits to see how they performed against us last year compared with the rest of the league. Against us, Duncan averaged about 6 more PPG than his season average (Garnett averaged about 3 more, same with O’Neal), and the shooting percentage of all three Bigs was up as well. And with the exception of Shaq, rebounding, blocks, and even assists were better for those guys against us compared to season averages. And unfortunately, once I let the cat out of the bag, you know I just had to keep rummaging: Chris Bosh scored more against us…Dwight Howard scored a lot more against us…Yipes, even Bogut scored more against us. Thank goodness Samuel Dalembert and Eddie Curry underperformed against us relative to their average, otherwise I would have needed to sign my own personal 6-day, 72 milligrams of Xanex contract. Maybe Higgins was just speaking abstractly, or perhaps he implied that without Okafor, things would have been much, much worse. I guess like the contract itself, this is all a matter of interpretation. My own interpretation is that I need a drink.

Beyond the numbers, however, signing Okafor sends a signal from ownership that they at least sort of care. Remember in high school, there was always that one kid who had parents who just didn’t care what he did? We had him, and the great thing about him was every weekend--if nothing else--we could always party in his basement. We didn’t even have to figure out a way to buy booze—his parents would just get it for us! Best of all, whenever I asked my own unsuspecting parents if I could go to this kid’s parties, and they asked me if his folks would be there, I could honestly answer “yes” every time. Bob Johnson is those parents, and the GM’s office has been his kids on a Friday night. Which makes we the fans the, ummm…the neighbors who have to deal with the noise and the garbage? I don’t know, this analogy’s gone off course.

The point is, it’s one thing to not spend money on one player if there’s the perception you’ll spend it more effectively on a younger, better player. It’s another thing entirely to not spend money on one player and just keep it for yacht maintenance, which is the impression Bob Johnson has done a good job cultivating throughout his tenure. In Okafor’s case there really wasn’t anyone else out there who could provide a rebounding/defensive presence, so letting him go would have been the equivalent of a parent shutting the door to the basement after the delivery guy tries wheels a keg of MGD downstairs (See, I brought it back!).

Anyway, whether or not we paid too much for Okafor, at least now we can form a better conception of the team’s capabilities. Until now, it’s been awfully hard to analyze this team without knowing Okafor’s status. Talk about conflicting perceptions; without Okafor under contract, the Bobcats were a Rorschach test that really did just look like a big ink stain. Now that the lead domino has fallen, we can see the pattern of strengths and weaknesses develop. And the ripple effect is that teams with mobile big men are going to continue to give us trouble, and therefore Sean May and Jarred Dudley are going to have to be ready for more responsibility, Nazr Mohammed is going to have to be more circumspect with his fouls, and someone from the Davidson-Hollins-Ajinca hydra is going to have to come forward and contribute 10-15 serviceable minutes a night. Larry Brown should be able to facilitate all of this—at least, better than Sam Vincent did. And Johnson can tell the fans that while he’s never going to be parent of the year, he at least took all the kids’ keys before he let them downstairs.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 7/24

I looked with great relief toward Saturday’s televised Summer League game with the Knicks, mostly because my ears were still ringing from the cacophonous mess or The Dark Knight, which I’d seen the night before. By the way, anti-props go to the Charlotte Observer’s Lawrence Toppman for his review of the film. I suppose it’s technically impossible to have a “wrong” opinion of something, but still, when Toppman writes that director Christopher Nolan “keeps the focus tight: All events take place in Gotham over a couple of months,” I can’t buy anything he says from then on. First of all, the movie didn’t take place completely in Gotham; there was an extremely long sequence in which Batman goes out to freakin’ Hong Kong to bust a bad guy. This wasn’t just a brief interlude, either—there was a lengthy build-up, complete with airline arrangements, a fresh new Bat-suit made especially for the trip, an elaborately-staged yacht-escape sequence, and the whole thing culminated with a (barely comprehensible—along with just about everything else in this movie) fight scene. How did Toppman forget about this?

Maybe because this movie wasn't “tight.” It featured one main bad guy (the Joker), one secondary bad guy (Two-Face), a horde of sub-bad guys (miscellaneous gangsters), a superfluous returning bad guy (that guy with the bag on his head from the first movie), bad guy/good guys (crooked cops), bad-but-harmless guys (fake Batman imposters), bad-but-good-in-the-end guys (convicts who decide not to blow up a boat), mistaken-for-bad guys (terrorists who are actually hostages (I think—this scene really made no sense, and that’s saying something)), and good-but-pretends-to-be-bad-for-reasons-that-didn’t-make-much-sense (Batman himself). Even if you could keep track of all this gibberish, I wouldn’t call it "tight"—heck, look at the paragraph I wrote just to summarize this.

One more problem with this supposedly “tight” movie before I get to the game is the Joker’s total omnipotence/omnipresence. I understand that this is supposed to be a parable for post-9/11 America, with the Joker standing-in for Al Qaeda, and that’s all very clever and deep. But come on, that doesn’t mean the Joker can possibly rig huge boats with explosives without anyone noticing, arrange it so everyone evacuates all hospitals except one person while he slips in unnoticed, commandeer entire buildings to stage elaborate and incomprehensible hostage-situations (see above), get hold major public figures’ DNA to send death threats (at least, I think that’s what he did), etc, etc, etc. Basically, he was totally, inexplicably, unstoppable. Isn't some sort of explanation for how he did all this warranted? I really think there were so many explosions that everyone—the audience, the directors, the editors—got lost in the shuffle. No wait, that can’t be, because this movie was so “tight.”

Anyway, onto Saturday’s game—the final of the Bobcats’ Summer League season. Overall, the game was about as tight as The Dark Knight. Seriously, I’ve seen gas passed better than what these teams were doing with the ball. In all, the teams combined for 24 assists and 35 turnovers, which can basically be explained by the fact that D.J. Augustin didn’t play and the fact that Nate Robinson did.

The most notable participant was Alexis Ajinca, and it was for all the wrong reasons. This was my first look at the Frenchman, and let’s just say that if this game were the Batman franchise, he would be Katie Holmes; his appearance was brief and horrible. In eight minutes of utter goofiness that would have made Primoz Brezec blush, Ajinca committed 3 fouls, a turnover, and topped his Turd Sundae off with a missed 3-pointer (?). He was also so spectacularly out of position all the time that even opposing players were pointing out where he needed to be standing. He was burnt so repeatedly that the uncreative nickname “French Toast” popped into my head about halfway through his stay. Then he injured himself. Holy-moly.

If there was any upside to the debac-ular Ajinca, it’s that he made Jermareo Davidson look like Earl Monroe. In fact, sporting the Sprewell pig-tails, Davidson actually showed some good moves down low. In the second quarter, Davidson executed a stellar head-fake on some guy named Holland en route to a powerful slam. Davidson finished with an efficient 10 points in just 12 minutes, although he still needs to step his rebounding up (just 1 board).

The other two standouts for the Bobcats were forward/center Kyle Visser, a 4-year Wake Forest grad who looks similar to Lem from The Shield (that is, before Shane threw a hand grenade at him), and former Clipper guard Guillermo Diaz. Visser finished with 10 points and 7 boards, while Diaz contributed 14 points and got to the free throw line 5 times. I don’t even really remember when either of these guys did all this, which probably means it happened in the 2nd quarter. I say this because almost the entirety of that period was devoted to an interview with the barely-audible new Knick point guard, Chris Duhon. Like most athletes, Duhon is tragically unable to make eye contact with his interlocutors, with the twist that he’s one of those rare types who elects to look up rather than down while he’s not looking at the commentators. Thus, it was hard to know what was happening on the court while watching Duhon appear to count ceiling lights.

Rounding out the squad, Jared Dudley was superb in a brief cameo, collecting a steal, 3 rebounds, and 4 points in under 7 minutes. Kyle Weaver was also on the scene, but he didn’t do anything other than look ominously like Ricky Davis. Orien Greene (14 pts) and Marcus Slaughter (10 pts) rounded out our double-digit scorers; unfortunately for them, we need more 3-4 swingmen on our team about as much as Batman needs another villain.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 7/14

All right, just like Sean May and Adam Morrison, my car’s back to near-functionality, and I’m ready to talk Bobcats basketball! But one thing before I do: you want to know an interesting conversation to overhear? An insurance company rep haggling with an auto-mechanic. This is what happened after I took my broken-in car to the nearest shop for repairs. The insurance company miraculously agreed to pay for the damages, so I put them on the line with (not kidding) Vinny from Brooklyn Auto-Glass to discuss an estimate. What followed was a Federer/Nadal-like virtuosic dual between two of the most bloodthirsty rivals anywhere. It was spectacular, really: two warriors at the top of their game, just going all-out in an epic showdown. Advantages were gained and lost. Several times when it looked like one of them had broken the other’s will, he would summon everything he had for a stirring comeback. And when Vinny finally hung up the phone (in a tough but fair fight, he was able to secure payment for the broken window, but alas, the insurance company wanted me to take the car somewhere else for a new radio), I nearly stood up and applauded the superhuman efforts of both competitors. It was almost worth the robbery.

Anyway, let’s talk Summer League…and that’s about all we can do, because we certainly can’t watch Summer League. If you haven’t tried to stream the games on NBA.com, don’t bother. Unless you’re writing a thesis for some goofball New Age journalism class about the “Importance of Broadcasters on Sports and Society” or something, it’s pointless (and if you ARE, you’re wasting your money—either drop the class and take physics or do something even more practical: sleep in). For these downloads, the screen is tiny and cannot expand, there’s no audio, and there’s no graphics—save for an illegible little “scoreboard” that hovers over the unrecognizable players like the ghost of a 1983 Speak’N’Spell.

(Side note: Is it me or is the NBA really dropping the ball when it comes to internet/podcast platforms? I don’t even like baseball, and yet I get more baseball podcasts even during their offseason than I do at the height of the NBA playoffs. And the League’s actually regressed in this area—last year you could occasionally download the NBA Fantasy show and random clips of their XM-radio broadcasts; this year there was nothing other than The Basketball Jones, MSR, and Chad Ford talking about a) the draft, or b) Joe Dumars—although to be fair, at least when the playoffs rolled around, Ford switched the subject to…Joe Dumars’ draft picks. And none of this content was NBA-sponsored; it’s totally frustrating…)

So this leaves us relying on second-hand accounts of our team’s progression, especially that of DJ Augustin. This can be problematic, however, given the wildly diverse impressions these games seem to be creating among pundits. Over on ESPN, Maurice Brooks opened his Liveblog by echoing one of the more inexplicable sentiments concerning our pick of Augustin: “I didn't think Charlotte needed another point guard.” We didn’t need another point guard?? We had Raymond Felton and Earl Boykins (who we’re probably not keeping)--that's it!! By my count, that’s only about a point guard-and-a-half. Meanwhile, we’ve got about 8 swingmen and 4 seven-footers who can’t rebound. We needed a point guard like John McCain needs sun-block, and this made me immediately suspicious of any more reports by Brooks.

On the other hand, the Charlotte Observer’s normally even-keeled Rick Bonnell has lately been leaning to the Matt Devlin/cornball-optimistic side, which hasn’t exactly reassured me of his objectivity. From a purely statistical standpoint, I’d say Augustin’s debut has been conservatively decent: 14 points and 2 assists in Game 1 vs. the Clips, 15 points and 2 assists (plus 5 turnovers) in Game 2 vs. the Hornets. Yet he’s “shined” and is “standing tall,” according to Bonnell’s recaps, leading Bonnell to conclude that, hey, “maybe size doesn’t matter.” Maybe not, Rick, but you might want to cut down on all the Pixar movies before you watch these games, especially after your syrupy, coming-of-age piece on Alexis Ajinka in the Sunday column that could’ve doubled as the script to the next American Tail cartoon.

(Side note 2: In that article, Bonnell writes that it wasn’t until Ajinka was 12 years old that a cousin told him he might want to consider taking up basketball. I ask you, how could that be? Presumably, Ajinka was already well over 6 feet at the time and a great athlete, so did he really need a cousin to point out to him that he may have a future in basketball? Had it really never occurred to Ajinka (or at least his parents) sometime before? I don’t mean to single out Ajinka on this either, because it seems like I’ve read this line a lot when it comes to basketball players who were reportedly “late-bloomers,” and I’m always skeptical. Either these guys are disturbingly un-self-aware, or the writers of the articles are embellishing things a tad. I don’t know about you, but we had a kid who was almost 6-feet tall in the second grade, and not a day passed without at least one person (including the teacher) “helpfully” pointing out to him that he should be a pro basketball player someday.)

Anyway, as if there weren’t enough angst already surrounding the rookies, Emeka Okafor’s contract/possible departure to the Clippers, Morrison’s and May’s injuries, and Larry Brown’s impact, Bonnell was also busily debunking trade rumors. Gerald Wallace and May for Carlos Boozer is NOT happening, folks, nothing to see here. Phew! Okay, great. Nothing like squashing rumors I didn’t even know existed...We need the regular season to come back soon—if nothing else, it’s easier to follow…

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 6/27

Sorry it’s been so long since you’ve heard from me (or in some cases, you’re welcome!), but I’ve been in the process of moving. When the supposedly edgy, punk-y, and cheap East Village is renting studios at $1,800 a month that are smaller than my old Army barracks room, that's when it’s time to move to…Brooklyn! And because I knew very little about the borough other than to avoid any neighborhoods shouted-out in a Jay-Z song, there’s been moderate-to-very-little sleep 'til Brooklyn while we’ve searched for a place, preferably with at least one bedroom.

So we moved last week, and in a touching ceremony that really made my wife and I feel like family, our historic and beautiful old neighborhood promptly welcomed us with an ancient ritual: burglarizing my car. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this traditional native custom, it involves showering the sidewalk with tiny, intricately-cut shards of your car’s passenger-side window, followed by the delicate removal of your radio, and finally the spreading of your glove compartment’s contents to complete the coronation. In certain cases for those with a prized vehicle, the natives will also open your trunk as if it were a flower in bloom and set free whatever is inside; unfortunately, our 2002 Corolla (with manual roll-down windows) didn’t qualify for this treatment, but it was a special event nonetheless.

Anyway, before I make you all jealous, let’s get to this draft. “With the #9 and #20 picks in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Bobcats select…a bunch of really angry fans no matter who they pick.” I thought long and hard about this draft, and early yesterday morning I came to the following two conclusions: 1) every one of these picks after the first two (and maybe even the first one) has at least one serious flaw, either in general or with the Bobcats in particular; 2) it’s the 9th and 20th picks, so there’s no real point in fretting about it.

If you concede that our two most pressing needs are a point guard and a rebounding center (and everyone except possibly the team itself has conceded this, considering they were also the same two needs before last year’s draft), then you knew going into this thing that we weren’t going to get a very satisfying pick either way, especially with our higher pick. The options at center were discouraging, as the only lottery-worthy 5 was Brook Lopez, who has a questionable attitude about anything other than Disney characters and—oh yeah, can’t rebound. The other possible center draft candidate was Kevin Love, whose physical fitness seems to fluctuate like Oprah’s and who seems more suited for the 4-spot, where Emeka Okafor is calling home, at least for now.

As for the 1, after Derrick Rose, four of the top five guards (OJ Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Jerryd Bayless, and Eric Gordon) were not even true point guards. This was worrisome, because last year we didn’t even know what to do when we DID have a true point guard: Raymond Felton played virtually the whole year at the 2-spot. The last thing we need is more “trans-guard” ambiguity. Thus, the fifth of the bunch and our eventual pick, DJ Augustin, was a serviceable choice.

Augustin’s size and defense are a concern, but even more alarming were the reports that our incumbent guard, Raymond Felton, is suddenly fighting for his job. Chad Ford even calls Augustin an “upgrade” over Felton!? Really? Size-wise, Augustin is barely an upgrade over David Stern! DJ is one of the few draftees Stern didn’t have to squint up at like he’s reading a billboard advertisement for Gossip Girl and trying to figure out what “OMFG” means. Everyone is asking if the Augustin selection (and some guy named Kyle Weaver with the 38th pick) means we’re now shopping Felton, but what I’m really curious is Earl Boykins. We can’t possibly be retaining Earl with Augustin now, are we? How’s that team practice going to look? For the 5-on-5 scrimmages it’s going to be Arnold Drummond covering Webster.

A clear-cut strategy of “guard-first/big man-second” was illuminated earlier in the day when the Cats obtained the rights to the #20 pick from the Nuggets, meaning they could use it to take from the pool of late-round 7-footers who are generally undeveloped and largely indistinguishable. Except…we STILL managed to throw a curveball-zinger in there by selecting France’s Alexis Ajinca over the more logical choice of Ohio State’s Kosta Koufos. Coach Larry Brown (sort of) explained the rationale behind the pick to the ESPN crew later by saying he “fell in love” with Alexis in a private workout. Besides being unintentionally funny and vaguely homoerotic, I’m not sure if this explanation did much for me. Exactly how bad was Koufos at Ohio State that he warranted a snub from a 5-point scoring Frenchman? Unless points in French convert to American points like Euros to dollars, this move seems a little batty.

And say what you will about Koufos, at least he was guaranteed to show up at training camp. Going that low in the draft puts Ajinca at risk to stay in Europe—let’s hope LB’s love for AA is similar to Andie MacDowell’s love for Gerard Depardieu in Green Card and convinces the Frenchman to come to the States permanently. But even if he does, are we now going to have a bench squad of Ryan Hollins, Jermareo Davidson, and Ajinca? That’s three 7-footers who can’t rebound, and who all shoot/peg the ball exactly like Kevin Garnett’s and-one just before half-time of Game 6, except our guys do it even if they’re wide open (and they miss). Finally, someone better make sure those three, Boykins, and Augustin are distributed evenly along the pine, otherwise we’re going to have a see-saw going.

But for everyone who's agonizing about what we did last night, just remember, all of this muck and angst is mollifiable if you go back to my Conclusion #2, which is, hey, it’s the ninth and twentieth picks. Forget about the 20th for a second, do you know who the last five ninth-overall picks have been? Joakim Noah, Patrick O’Bryant, Ike Diogu, Andre Iguodala, and Mike Sweetney. With the exception of Andre, none of these guys is destined to make much of an impact, so fretting over these picks is like fretting over which Combo Meal to get at McDonald’s: it’s cheap and it’s probably going to be mediocre no matter what you take, so just pick something and let’s go. And who knows, if either Augustin or Ajinca can do anything other than blow out an ACL, think of it as that rare Happy Meal with the cool toy.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bobcats Thoughts, 6/12

One of the many tragic elements of prolific author David Halberstam’s death last year is that right now would have been the perfect time for him to write another basketball book. Halberstam’s first take on hoops, the vaunted The Breaks of the Game, profiled the nascent League in the throes of its 1970s growing pains. In 1998’s Playing For Keeps, Halberstam analyzed in deft detail the Jordan-era League that was cresting in popularity yet already wary of the void soon to come with 23’s retirement. This year—an even decade later, with the NBA enjoying its first real post-Jordan renaissance, fueled by a new generation of stars and punctuated by a classic Celtics-Lakers Finals match-up—is screaming for a Halberstamian encapsulation to complete the trilogy. Too bad the legend can no longer provide one for us.

If by chance you haven’t read either of his two NBA books, I cannot recommend them highly enough. The Breaks of the Game is particularly edifying, because the reader has the chance to examine all of the ways the game has and hasn’t changed in 30-odd years. I found it fascinating how obsessed all of the players were with three things back then: their contracts, their race, and their knees. I'm barely exaggerating; regardless of the player, he felt he was signed to a contract that was too long, too cheap, or—on the flip-side—too burdensome. If the player was black, he almost always felt underpaid, unappreciated, and alienated, while if he was white, he was anxious to live down the rumors that he was overpaid or part of a “quota”-conspiracy, plus he was sensitive to stereotypes of being un-athletic. But above all—above the anguish surrounding contractual and racial issues—was the persistent fear of health problems, especially regarding knees. Every player was either suffering from knee injuries, getting over them, or worried about them, and therefore his career was constantly teetering on the brink. As a result of all this anguish, and for the turmoil in the front office over television rights and mounting expenses, 70s basketball was a grim landscape indeed. And we learn this through Halberstam, whose expert reporting of the NBA in its dramatic, Darwinian early stages, makes The Breaks of the Game an enduring classic.

(Side note: this third obsession with knees also revealed a profound shortsightedness of the era. For all of the paranoia, nobody (including Halberstam) seemed able to pinpoint the root cause of the pervasive knee injuries, a cause that is painfully obvious decades later: the feeble sneakers back then, which were woefully inadequate for the high-impact jumping that the game entails. Instead, players attempted to build leg strength through faddish exercises (there seemed to be a lot of “hitting the Nautilus,” which I must admit to not fully understanding—did the “Nautilus” start out as just one type of machine, rather than an entire brand of fitness equipment? If so, what was it—a stationary bike?), tried to ration out the amount of jumping they did, altered their diets, sought out specific surgeons, etc. It was kind of macabre, really—sort of like reading one of those first-person accounts of life in a frontier village in the days before it was understood that mosquitoes spread malaria, wherein the author concludes that all of the premature "fever and ague" deaths were a fact of life and probably attributable to “evil spirits.”)

If he were still here and composing a third book, I wonder whom Halberstam would have chosen as his muse? Each of his books has had a team or player serve as the vehicle for Halberstam to drive his narrative of the League as a whole. The Breaks of the Game used the 1980 Portland Trail Blazers as the conduit, while MJ himself was the apotheosis of 1990s NBA athleticism and commercial success in Playing For Keeps. This year, Halberstam would have had a few options. LeBron James probably best represents the new wave of NBA superstars, not just for his dominance on the court, but also for the influence he has on owners and coaches, and of course his image proliferation globally and in cyberspace (both of which are characteristic of the League as a whole). Kobe Bryant also would have been an excellent choice, for Halberstam could have used him as the symbolic bridge between “old” and “new,” plus The Mamba has the added advantages of being a) in the Finals, and b) one of the most compelling figures in all of sports. A third candidate could have been Commissioner Stern, who—for better or worse—has been the architect of the League’s past and present status, the erudite pilot at the helm of its fits and starts and triumphs and shortcomings for the past 25 or so years. Either way, Halberstam would have had a wealth of options.

Of course, these choices wouldn’t be exclusionary, for Halberstam’s books always thoroughly encompassed the entire landscape of the League. The players, the owners, the agents, the media, the style of play—Halberstam illuminated all of the NBA’s branches and tentacles. Halberstam wasn’t so much a genius as he was a consummate investigator and thoughtful sociologist. I grasped his true greatness about 2/3 of the way through The Breaks of the Game. There was a passage in which Halberstam was reflecting on the delicate balance between individual greatness and team success in the NBA, and how they often subtract from each other, and how this is unique compared to other sports, when it suddenly occurred to me: every single significant thought I’ve ever had about the NBA—its cultural significance, its comparative advantages and disadvantages with other sports—has already been taken by Halberstam. Not only that, he’d done it all some 30 years ago! I found this to be simultaneously humbling, daunting, and amazing. Halberstam’s ability to draw conclusions through research, inquiry, and critical exploration were his unsurpassed gifts.

Random epilogue: Officiating, officiating, officiating! The refs are ruining everything! After Game 2 in Boston, everywhere you turn, people are pissed that the refs are making bad calls, or too many calls, or not enough calls. Then Tim D. poured more gas on the fire. Some people even go so far as to say officials are holding back the sport as a whole.


Just remember all of this hoopla when the NFL season roles around again, and after each week there’s a firestorm about a bad pass interference call, or a QB who should have been ruled “in the grasp,” or an impossible-to-verify ruling about a receiver being pushed out (or not). Wait a second, you don’t even need to wait that long: how about the lack of instant replay in MLB screwing up outs, foul balls, even home runs—home runs! At least our officials can accurately determine when someone scores. And don’t get me started on the strike zone, which has shrunk to the size of Manu Ginobli’s bald spot. The NBA does not “suffer” from “subjective” calls any more than any other sport.