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…