Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Tiger Has Purple Eyes

Canadians that have gone onto recently will have been treated to an advertising alerting them of the opportunity to meet NBA legend Jerome Williams at Best Buy in the coming weeks. I'm quite amused that a player who averaged 7 points and 6 boards a game and was out of the League by the time he was 32 is being referred to as a "legend".

Which brings us to talk about something truly legendary - this year's Lakers team. After seemingly playing around with the Rockets before knocking them off, L.A. has the look of a champion now, or to get all cliche up in here, they have the "eye of the tiger". In their dismantling of Denver last night, Kobe and the boys appear to be out for blood. And it probably won't even matter who the Eastern Conference crowns as their champion, because the Lakers are stronger than both Cleveland and Orlando. As already mentioned here, Cleveland has been exposed as a championship-contender fraud, and Orlando probably doesn't have a legit chance at beating L.A. unless they get really hot from long range for the whole series.

Meanwhile, all the pieces are there for the Lakers to dominant the Finals - a superstar with a killer instinct, a big man who is happy playing the part of secondary star, role players willing and able to play their roles, and a coach with the most rings in NBA history. In fact, considering Kobe and Derek Fisher are the only members of the team who have blown out 30 candles on a cake, this Lakers team could be dominant for a long, long time. Assuming they can resign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, who has probably earned himself a big raise after his play this playoffs.

Which means I'm going to have to come to grips with my hate for the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite possessing the only Lakers home jersey with CEBALLOS on the back of it left in existence, the Lakers have always worn the black hat in my world. My distaste for them has only increased with the rise of Kobe Bryant. While commiserating with a fellow Lakers hater (who especially hates them due to Sasha Vujacic screwing him out of winning bets twice by hitting meaningless three-pointers at the buzzer of blowouts instead of dribbling out the clock), he hit the nail on the head why we don't like this team. In his words, they are like the spoiled rich kid villains in movies (Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, etc.) that terrorize the heroes, steal the girl and have everything go their way, only to have the heroes turn the tables and vanquish the bad guys at the end of the movie. Except, in the Lakers case, it doesn't appear like it will blow up in their face this year.

Additionally, as a Kobe "hater", both of the way he plays the game and the way he carries himself, I've always had the "can't win a ring without Shaq" defense in my arsenal. Looks like that is going by the wayside also. All biases aside, Bryant is having a great playoffs and is one of the rare players who actually posts better stats in the playoffs than in the regular season. I still believe LeBron is the best player in the game right now, but with the game on the line there is no one I'd rather have take the last shot than Kobe Bean. As much as all this pains me to say, the truth can not be denied.

So Lakers haters will have to come to terms with the fact that L.A. is probably going to win the title this year. And this could just be the start of the purple reign.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Down With The King?

We should have seen this coming, all the warning signs were there. But winning can cover up a lot of a team's flaws. And Cleveland has done a lot of winning - 66-16 in the regular season, undefeated through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Cavs looked like a lock to at least come out as the champions of the East, if not the champions of the "world".

So, what happened on the way to The King's coronation? The true Cavs team has showed up, that's what. It is true that this the best team that LeBron James has had since he can upon the scene, but that is more of a backhanded compliment than anything. The thought of Mo Williams as a solid second "star" on the team is laughable. Williams is apparently more concerned about listening to the sound of his own voice than the sound of the swish of the net after taking a shot. (As an angry aside, Williams and J.R. Smith need to SHUT THEIR MOUTHS. If your name is not LeBron, Kobe, Dwight, Chauncey or Carmelo, you have no business predicting victories. Since when do role players get to make such bold statements?).

So the fact that Cleveland is down 3-1 shouldn't come as a very big surprise. Orlando simply has more talent than the Cavs do. Dwight Howard is one of the best players in the League, Rashard Lewis is a two-time all-star still in his prime and Hedo Turkoglu could be the least-decorated best player in the League. What does LeBron have on his side? A borderline all-star in Williams (he only made it this season because a bunch of players got boo-boos and skipped the game) who is shooting under 40% these playoffs. The rest of the roster is dotted with washed up stars and role players. Not a recipe for a championship team. Or for keeping LeBron from jumping zip codes in 2010.

In fact, if Cleveland did win the title this season it would be the least talented team to take home the crown since Hakeem's 1995 Houston Rockets squad. Every other championship team since that time has had at least two stars to carry the load. Michael & Scottie. Tim & David. Tim & Tony & Manu. Shaq & Kobe. Shaq & Wade. Every team left in these playoffs, outside of Cleveland, has at least a couple of star players in place to diversify their attack. Cleveland has Mo Williams. And Delonte West. And Anderson Varejao. And it became quite apparent at the end of Game 4 that LeBron realizes that he has to try to do it all on his own. But it is a futile task, even for a talent like James - look no further than his turnovers and missed shots in overtime. So while James is a singular talent, that is exactly the problem - he's singular - he's only one man(child).

And with each Cleveland (and L.A.) loss, a little piece of David Stern dies.

Monday, May 25, 2009

MMA Manifesto - Float Like A Butterfly

If these NBA playoffs have been too rough and violent for you, then this column is probably not for you. Rather than to write some more about how great these playoffs have been, today it is time for The Hoops Manifesto to make way for The MMA Manifesto. If you don't know what MMA is, that is that sport where you are allowed to punch, kick and choke your opponent (and I'm not talking about hockey).

And if we are going to talk MMA, we have to talk about the man of the hour - newly crowned UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida. The Dragon's mix of Shotokan karate and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has taken the fighting world by storm, and his name is now in the mix for best pound-for-pound fighter in the world (along with GSP, Fedor and Anderson Silva). And, perhaps most interesting, he has shown that karate can be an effective tool in the octagon.

What the 14-0 Machida has done over his past two UFC fights is truly stunning. His knockouts of previous undefeated Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans were devastating, with neither opponent having a chance in either fight. His dismantling of Evans on Saturday was especially impressive, as, per usual, Machida barely got touched throughout the fight. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee couldn't be a more fitting description of Machida's fighting style. With precision, pin-point kicks and punches his offense is deadly, especially considering he leans back when he kicks his opponent, nullifying any chance of a counterstrike. But his defense might be even more impressive than his offense. Extremely quick and light on his feet for his size, The Dragon dodges and weaves his opponent's strikes and is next to impossible to take down.

Next up for Machida is apparently top contender Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. As formidable as the former champ is, he has no shot at beating Machida. Jackson has proven to have no desire to check his opponent's leg kicks, and it cost him the belt when he fought Forrest Griffin. The Karate Kid will eat him up with kicks, and Rampage's aggressive style will allow Machida plenty of openings to strike.

So if Rampage doesn't have a shot at beating him, then who does? Undefeated fighters don't stay undefeated for too long, so Machida is bound to lose soon, right? Maybe not. Scanning UFC's current light heavyweight division (perhaps the company's strongest weight class) there are no names that jump off the page at you as a potential knight to slay The Dragon. But there is one man who would have a shot at beating Machida. That would be middleweight king Anderson Silva.

Silva, like Machida, is a puzzle that few opponents can solve. Silva is also one of the rare fighters who can go up in weight and still be successful. So Silva going up to light heavyweight and fighting Machida in a "superfight" that Dana White is so fond of would be a no-brainer, right? Wrong. Silva and Machida are training partners and have stated that they have no interest in fighting one another. And even if they did step into the octagon to face one another, would they even fight? Both Brazilians tend to dance around the ring and wait for their opponent to make the first move. Would there even be a first move if these two went at it?

So what should be a dream situation for the UFC - two champions with awe-inspiring skills - could become a nightmare. With no one really having a chance at beating either man, where is the drama? The reason sports are interesting to people is because the outcomes are unknown. When these two step into the octagon, the outcome is pretty much known before the first punch is thrown. The only answer is to get Silva and Machida to go at it. And while Dana White talks loud and carries a big stick, his stick might not be big enough to make this dream a reality.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Read To Achieve

I'm assuming anyone checking out this site knows how to read (although a lot of the photos I put up here do tell a story on their own). So with basketball season almost over, it's time to take a look at some of The Hoops Manifesto's recommended readings for the hoops junkie this summer. Welcome to The Hoops Manifesto Book Club.

When March Went Mad
Seth Davis

You all will probably know Seth Davis as that handsome, young studio analyst for CBS' college hoops coverage. You know, the guy who likes to slip "Baba Boey's" into the middle of sentences. Well Davis is also an accomplished scribe and his latest offering is When March Went Mad, which tells the tale of the 1979 NCAA Championship game. The game otherwise known as THE GAME THAT CHANGED THE WORLD. Perhaps you've heard of Michigan State and Indiana State's star players from that season - Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird. Their head-to-head cage match for the NCAA title is still the highest rated NCAA game ever, and sparked a massive outpouring of interest in college hoops, and later on, the NBA. What many tend to forget is that their title game tilt wasn't a very good game - the Spartans were in control of the contest throughout and Bird played poorly. Luckily Davis' book doesn't just deal with the actual contest, but also doubles as a bio of the key antagonists' lives. A thoroughly entertaining read.

Buy it here (Canada): When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball

or here (Rest of world): When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball

The Madness Of March
Alan Jay Zaremba

The Madness of March deals with two of my favourite things - basketball and gambling (although I prefer to lose my money on cards rather than on teams). Professor Alan Zaremba chronicles the scene in Las Vegas during the opening weekend of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. And what a scene it was, full of colourful characters employing even more colourful language. Zaremba becomes fully embedded in the action, as both a bettor and an amused observer. The result is a fascinating, often humorous, look into the lives of the (mostly) men who converge on the desert every March with their "locks" and "sure thing" picks. The book also contains a sentence that fully sums up my thoughts on gambling: "How much difference is there between betting on tech stocks and betting on North Carolina?". One of the best books I've read this year.

Buy it here (Canada): Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas

or here (Rest of world): The Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas

And on a totally unrelated note - LYOTO MACHIDA IS A BAD MAN!!!!!!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Love This Game

I did the deed for SLAM tonight, so for my recap of the Orlando/Cleveland tilt go here. The only other thing I have to say about that game that I didn't mention over at SLAM was how refreshing it was to see some critical fourth quarter calls go against LeBron. Nothing personal against the King - its just that it is (rightfully) assumed that the superstars of the League have all the calls go their way. So when James got called for back-to-back charges early in the fourth, along with a travelling call with less than a minute left, it was refreshing.

Now if you haven't enjoyed the playoffs thus far you probably aren't a basketball fan - so get the hell off of my site! Just kidding - I welcome all the traffic I can get. But, seriously, this round of the playoffs has just been remarkable. Free Darko was just talking about historic moments in NBA playoff history. Well tonight LeBron had his. His game-winning three probably is being edited into a commercial as I type these words.

But this is just one remarkable moment of these playoffs. We've had close games, highlight reel plays, and probably most importantly to the "powers-that-be" (aka The Man), some of the League's brightest stars twinkling in the night sky. LeBron, Kobe, Dwight, Pau, Chauncey and Carmelo were all named on the All-NBA teams this year, and all are still slugging it out on the big stage. And if Kobe and LeBron end up meeting in the Finals, David Stern might spontaneously combust due to his excitement.

Perhaps most telling of how good the playoffs have been, I've been willing to stay up past my bedtime to watch the games. Now that's saying something. This really is where amazing happens.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Future's So Bright

I know I probably should be talking about the thrilling Lakers-Nuggets game from last night, but, to be honest, I didn't watch it. When you have to get up at 6:00am everyday, most playoff games end too damn late to watch (wow - what an old man comment that was). No, I'm here today to talk to you about the NBA draft. Besides, the future is always infinitely more interesting than the present. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side concept comes into play here.

First of all, condolences to Blake Griffin. A player with his skills and strong character shouldn't have to start his career off with the Clippers. To follow in the shoes of Michael Olowokandi, Darius Miles and Shaun Livingston is every ball-bouncing youth's dream come true. And to top it off, he gets to learn the ropes of his position and the pro game from none other than Zach Randolph.

Maybe Griffin will end up being a martyr for future pro prospects thinking of declaring early for the draft. Beware or you might end up a Clipper.

But the player's fate that I'm most interested in is the player who make the young girls' (and GMs') heart aflutter. A heartthrob and rock star on the level of Pistol Pete (minus the brooding). None other than the cutie pie below.

But Ricky does more than just make the girls swoon. He's also the most exciting player in this year's draft, an 18-year-old who had the label "Next" placed on him years ago. His ball-handling and passing ability is otherworldly, and he is a magnet for steals on the defensive end. And we need to make sure he gets drafted by Oklahoma City.

Why Oklahoma City you say? Because with Rubio on that squad they would become must-see-tv. A terrifically exciting - and flawed - team playing in relative obscurity. A backcourt of Rubio and Russell Westbrook - both undersized defensive menaces with no jump shots - would be like watching a summer league game all season long. And on OKC it wouldn't matter that Rubio isn't a shooter or scorer - that is what that Kevin Durant kid is for. And if the thought of one of the best young passer/playmakers in recent times dishing to the best young gunner in the League on a full-time basis doesn't turn your crank then maybe its time to get a new crank.

It doesn't appear that the Clippers will get in our way of making this dream a reality - they have stated that Griffin is their man. Now we have to get Memphis on board with the plan. We have to convince the Grizzly Bears that Mike Conley Jr. is the second coming of Zeke. And that O.J. Mayo is a very capable backup point guard. And that Hasheem Thabeet is Dikembe Mutombo resurrected. Even Ricky would probably prefer to play in Memphis, considering fellow Spaniard Marc Gasol is there. But trust us Ricky - we know what's best for you.

I know - we have hard work ahead of us, but pairing Rubio with Durant is worth every bead of sweat. Together I know we can make this dream a reality.

Monday, May 18, 2009

To Be The Man

"I have an opinion, I have a right to have one and that’s the way I feel. I felt I’ve played against the best over the years and felt right now that I’m the best player in the world."

Paul Pierce, Boston Herald, Aug 2008

Paul Pierce, the best player in the world? I never bought what Pierce was selling for a second, even after he won the Finals MVP last season. Pierce has always been a level below the top tier of players - LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, etc. - in my books - a star, but not a superstar. Yes, he won the championship and the Finals MVP, but the voters must have not been watching Game 3 when he went 2-14 or the close-out game when he was 4-13. And that whole wheelchair nonsense of Game 1 really rubbed me the wrong way.

But Pierce did outduel LeBron and Kobe in back-to-back series, so I guess he felt he earned the right to crow. But clearly Kevin Garnett was and is the Celtics' heart, soul and vertebrae. It's hard to be considered the best player in the world when you aren't even the best on your team. Don't get me wrong, Pierce is a nice player. He's one of those guys who gets the job done without being a "NBA-level" athlete, and that is always cool to see. But he's not the complete package - a franchise player. If he was Danny Ainge wouldn't have had to trade for Ray Allen and Garnett. But there is nothing wrong with that - there aren't too many guys who are legit franchise players anyway. However, when you call yourself "the best there is", you raise the stakes and leave yourself open for criticism from jerky writers like myself.

So with Garnett out of action for this playoffs, it was time for Pierce to change my mind. How did he do in Game 6 & 7 versus Orlando, when he had the chance to lead his team into the Conference Finals? 10-27 from the field, including 4-13 in Game 7. Not exactly "best player in the world" stuff. What Mr. Pierce must learn is that being the best player in the world takes more than a good playoff series or two. It takes consistently being the best player on the court, year after year. That is why Duncan, LeBron, Kobe and co. have the reps that they do. Because to be The Man, you have to beat The Man (consistently).

- In other news, my quest for complete domination of the World Wide Web continues.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Donkey Games

Now is not the time to be messing about. If you want to take games off, do it in November or December, not in May and June when the outcomes really matter. Yet the Lakers of Los Angeles think it is ok to only show up every other game, and wave off lax performances with a shrug and a "we'll get 'em next game". Sorry, in the playoffs, THAT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

The Houston-Lakers series should have been over games ago, after Yao went down with his injury. Instead Houston has won two games since then - with a lineup that wouldn't have even come close to making the playoffs, even if they played in the (L)Eastern Conference. Yes, somehow the Lakers are allowing the Rockets to fulfill the prophecy of another bunch of Houston's finest.

The Lakers 40-point blowout win in Game 5 shows that they think that they can just turn it on and off whenever they like. And against a decimated Houston team they probably can get away with it and win Game 7 on their home court. But if they think that they can show up only when the spirit moves them in the next round against Denver, they are in for a rude awakening.
Denver has a legit leader and champion running their team, and a scoring machine star holding it down on the wing. Throw in some athletic bigs and energy guys off the bench, and the Lakers will have their hands full. That is assuming they can even get past Houston tomorrow.

Now Cleveland, on the other hand, know what time it is. They are going about their business like it is just that - business, not fun and games. Get in and out as quick as possible then chill at home and wait for their next victim. As well as Houston is playing, there is no way the Cavs would be letting them hang around for seven games. Despite the Lakers having more talent than LeBron's squad, and having a "genius" coach, Cleveland has to be considered the heavy favourite to grab the title this year. And if the Lakers don't get their act together in time for Game 7 on Sunday, all this "we'll get 'em next game" talk will be fruitless - eventually there is no next game.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ringleader of the Tormentors

There is no way even the most prescient of fortune tellers, looking into their most reliable crystal balls, would have forsaw at the starting of the season the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets were a ruddlerless group of outcasts and misfits. The front office gave the word "inept" a bad name. Case in point - after coach George Karl decided the team would have to be better defensively heading into this season, the team shipped off defensive stud Marcus Camby in a salary dump.

Then Allen Iverson came to the rescue. Except, it wasn't on the court. As exciting a player as Iverson is, he hasn't been real great at helping teams win many games (YES, I know he got Philly to a Finals, but winning the Eastern Conference is like winning an Emmy to the Western Conference's Oscar). No, Iverson's biggest contribution to the Nuggets was the day he left town and Chauncey Billups rode in to save the day.

What the Nuggets were lacking all along was a ringleader for their group of misfits. And make no mistake about it, the Nuggets are misfits. A former junkie who spikes his hair and thinks he's a bird (man) every game. A center with one name, coming off knee and cancer surgery. A heavily tatted guard coming off the bench whose next ink job should say "mercurial". An underappreciated and underperforming superstar. A power forward with the League's largest "swagger to actual skills" differential. Billups is what this team was missing. While Iverson was just another misfit, Billups is their ringmaster. The one who can bring all the misfits together and make them one.
Now the team actually plays defense, even without Camby. Now Melo doesn't have to worry about being a leader and can just punish opponents with his unorthodox game. Now J.R. Smith can just come off the bench and bomb. Now George Karl can look like a good coach.

What is forgotten in all this is that Billups is a misfit himself. After going third overall in the draft, he played on four different teams within his first four years in the League. He really didn't establish himself until his sixth season in the L, and his fifth team, Detroit. Then he goes and wins a Finals MVP, even before he becomes an All-Star? Things like this don't happen. Draft lottery busts don't go on to become MVPs and All-Stars and potential Hall-of-Famers after burning through five teams.

While Denver is sure to be underdogs the rest of the way through the playoffs, the way they're playing they very well could win it all. Its all due to the fact that they got their math correct finally: Billups > Iverson.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'll be a guest on ESPN radio in Hawaii on Thursday at 12:20pm Eastern, dropping knowledge on the upcoming NBA draft. All of you with ears and the internet should take a listen.

In the meantime, I'm off to watch the Nuggets finish off the Mavs, and should be back in the next day or so with an ode to Chauncey Billups.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Game Recognize Game

I've been accused of being sacrilegious for stating this, and I admit that it is premature, but here it goes anyway: "LeBron James has a good chance at ending up better than Michael Jordan".

A ridiculous statement, right? Typical sportswriter hyperbole, just trying to shock people and get attention. I would have thought the same thing not so long ago until I put more thought into it. Now I truly believe the above statement.

Now, before you call me the devil incarnate, a few important caveats. Notice I said LeBron has a "good chance" at being better than Jordan. In no way has the King accomplished enough to be considered Jordan's superior, or even equal. And, like most other thirtysomething hoops junkies, I grew up a MJ fan, so there is no LeBron based bias here. (Plus this story of mine should have cleared that up anyway). And, no, I'm not comparing the two on an aesthetic basis. Both guys are different types of players. What I'm attempting to prove is that while most consider Jordan the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All-Time for those of you not hip), at this point in his career young LeBron isn't too far behind Air.

Like all good manifestos, I have facts and data to back up my bold proclamation. Since I can't predict the future (at least 100% accurately), I compared both superstars throughout their first six seasons in the League (MJ from 1985-1990, LeBron from 2004-2009). And when you look at all the data, LeBron holds his own, and arguably even is ahead of Jordan at this point.

First, with the math:

Player's averages over first six seasons in the NBA:

Michael Jordan
32.8ppg, 6.3rpg, 6.0apg, 2.8spg, 1.1bpg, 3.3tov

27.5ppg, 7.0rpg, 6.7apg, 1.8spg, 0.9bpg, 3.3tov
LeBron James

Bet those numbers are a lot closer than you'd have expected. And this isn't just a small sample of data - both guys had played over 400 regular season games in their careers up to this point.

While numbers are helpful, they don't tell the whole story. How about comparing how they did in the hardware department.

All-Star selections - Jordan 6, LeBron 5
All-NBA selections - Jordan 5 (4 first teams), LeBron 4 (2 first teams)
Rookie of the Year and MVP - Both won each once
All-Defensive selections - Jordan 3 (including Defensive Player of the Year award), LeBron 1

Jordan has him beat, but it is real close.

Since it is a team game, and the purpose of playing is to win championships, and true superstars step it up in the playoffs, lets compare their playoff careers.

Jordan - 24 playoff victories, 5 series won, 0 appearances in the NBA Finals
LeBron - 34 playoff victories, 7 series, 1 appearance in the NBA Finals

To the surprise of many, LeBron has him beat in this category, plus he'll be adding to his totals once the next round of this year's playoffs begin. And before you argue that the Eastern Conference was stronger in Jordan's day, an Eastern Conference team has won the NBA title three out of the past five years, and an Eastern team won the title three out of Jordan's first six seasons.
So it is not so ridiculous stating that LeBron could be better than Jordan in the end. The man has kept up to the original 23 in most categories and has enjoyed more success than Jordan in the playoffs so far. And if he can win a title this year he will be one year ahead of Jordan, who didn't win a title until his seventh season in the L (and had one of the NBA's 50 greatest players of all-time riding shotgun with him - LeBron has Mo Williams).

Now comes the hard part for LeBron - trying to keep up with Jordan throughout the rest of his career. That would involve winning six championships, six Finals MVPs and four regular season MVPs. Heady stuff indeed. But if anyone can do it, it would be the 24-year-old James. Ever since Michael hung up his Air Jordans, people have been looking for Air's heir. The search could be over.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Houston, We Have a Problem (Again)

Houston fans will have to get used to seeing these two sitting on the bench beside each other again. With it being announced that Yao Ming will miss the remainder of the playoffs due to a broken foot, the Rockets dream of a championship this season has crashed and burned. And a playoff series that was just recently hyped in this space as must-see-TV has become about as compelling as a Friends rerun.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise though. Yao hasn't played a full 82 since 03/04. McGrady has never. The thing I've always wondered is why? Why are certain players always injured? Why was Bill Walton's playing career AND broadcasting career cut short by injury?

My knee-jerk reaction is to chalk it up to toughness, or rather, the lack thereof. While that is probably the case with many players with minor injuries, you can't really fake a broken bone or a knee requiring microfracture surgery. Is it due to a player's style of play? For players like Gerald Wallace and Dwyane Wade, who use their bodies as wrecking balls, probably. His physical makeup? Big guys like Walton and Yao tend to have the foot problems, so possibly. Or are some guys just snakebitten, like McGrady, doomed for eternity to the injury list and the first round of the playoffs?

Whatever the reasons for the injuries, Houston finds themselves with a dynamic, damaged duo in Yao and T-Mac. And they need to get rid of one - or both - of them to improve their championship odds. After five seasons together, and only one appearance in the second round of the playoffs, Yao and McGrady have proven that they aren't capable of carrying a team to a championship, alone or together. And considering they will make a combined $40 million next season, expecting a championship as a return on that investment isn't an unreasonable demand.

They probably won't want to get rid of Yao, because even if he isn't going to win you a championship, he does bring a financial windfall to the team. But they really should consider shipping him out. If the man can't stay healthy while in his 20s, there is no way he's going to when he hits 30. Despite his injury concerns, quality big men are at such a premium that Houston should find plenty of suitors for him.

McGrady, on the other hand, is definitely expendable and will be coveted by some teams this offseason. This isn't due to his skills - oft-injured 30-year-olds coming off microfracture surgery aren't in high demand - but rather his expiring $23 million contract. Coming off the books just in time for the much-hyped 2010 free agent class, McGrady should be a very popular guy next season. If Houston can't find suitable compensation for him, they may decide to write off next season, keep McGrady and take their chances on landing one of the 2010 big fish free agents once T-Mac is off their payroll.

Either way, the Yao-McGrady experiment has to come to an end.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rolling and Tumbling

There is nothing better than some rough stuff to make a series interesting. I was only moderately interested in the Houston-Lakers series until the mayhem that ensued in Game 2. Now this series has become must-see-TV.

It comes as no surprise that Ron Artest found himself in the middle of the bro ha ha. What is surprising is that he isn't being portrayed as the villain for once. There is perhaps only one player in the League that is capable of taking the villain role away from Artest, and that would be one Kobe Bean Bryant.

Kobe has been known to throw some 'bows, but the talk that he wasn't suspended after Game 2 because he is a superstar is just silly. The elbow he laid on Artest was hardly blatant or malicious. However, the fact that he wasn't punished and Artest was kicked out of the game for getting into his face about it does cater to the belief that superstars are treated differently. Now Bryant knows that he can get away with throwing elbows without any action from the League or from opposing players. If a player can't even get into Kobe's smug face to challenge him after a hard foul without getting tossed., there is not much risk that anyone is going to be willing to retaliate physically to a Bryant cheap shot (with the exception being Raja Bell).

Which brings me back to reminiscing of the good old days, where frontier justice ruled the NBA. A time where players like Laimbeer, Mahorn, Oakley and the X-Man weren't afraid to dish out the punishment (and cheap shots) to opponents. A time where players could stand up for themselves without getting lengthily suspensions. The way things are now, you can't even foul someone relatively hard without getting a flagrant foul and/or fine and suspension. The Kenyon Martin foul on Dirk being the prime example.

But, going back to Artest again, after what he did in Detroit (aka the Malice in the Palace) we will never get back to those good old days again. The NBA is so sanitized now that a player can't even take a step away from the bench during an altercation without being suspended. But, what the powers-that-be should realize is that violence sells - why do you think hockey still allows fighting. And a little rough stuff is the best way to create an intriguing, emotional, intense playoff rivalry. And, because of it, I'm more interested than ever in Rockets/Lakers proceedings.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Glimmer Twins

The NBA has a rich history of players being inextricably linked together - Wilt & Russell, Bird & Magic, Shaq & Kobe, Deron & Chris. Normally there is a logical reason for the coupling, either a team rivalry, a battle for positional supremacy or just good old fashioned pure hatred. However, the pairing of J.R. Smith and Josh Smith don't fall into any of these categories. One guard, one forward. Teams aren't rivals. Players aren't rivals.

Nonetheless, both Smiths have been linked since they both got selected in the 2004 NBA draft (selected back-to-back, naturally). Other than the last name, they also share other characteristics too. Both were born a few months apart in 1985. Both bolted directly from high school to the NBA. Both had/have "character issues". Both are crazy athletic. Both have the requisite tats, headbands and swagger. Both got punked by a girl in a dunk contest.

And, lo and behold, both are enjoying a career renaissance of sorts, at the ripe old age of 23. It is not as if Josh and J.R. have really changed too much - if you check the stats what they did this regular season is pretty much what they have always done. The thing that has changed is that they are now doing it on a winning team. Not only are their teams winning, but they are winning when it counts - in the playoffs. And the Smiths aren't just along for the ride - they are key cogs in the machine. Anyone can put up big numbers on a crappy team. People notice if you do it on a winner.

J.R. seems to have settled into the perfect role for his skill set (and emotional state) - come in off the bench and tear it up. No trying to make him a ball-handler or defensive stopper or anything else. Just give him the ball and get out of the way. Let him jack up threes, dunk on guys, create havoc. Every team needs a spark plug off the bench, and that is what Smith is. Yes, he still makes bonehead plays and takes questionable shots, but with him playing limited minutes off the bench that doesn't matter as much. He is reaching his full potential because conventional goals aren't being thrust upon him - if he has a big game off the bench it is a bonus for the Nuggets, not something that is a necessity.

Josh, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. A freakish athlete, with good size for a wing player, but no outside shot. Can get his slashing to the hoop but also can post up. Great shot blocker. Watching him do his work versus Cleveland in Game 1 made me think of how he could be another Amar'e. Sure, he's a bit smaller and doesn't have the jumper, but his athleticism disrupts the game just like STATs, except Smith's carries over to the defensive end, where he is a shot-swatting machine. But, like J.R., he is also prone to boneheadedness.

Both J.R. and Josh are probably never going to be franchise player level guys. They are both too raw and prone to outrageousness. But that is what makes them who they are. To try to smooth out their rough edges would take away what makes them special players. Like a musician that doesn't care if some bum notes make it onto his album because they'd rather it sound raw and real. Josh and J.R. are raw and real. And they've proved now, deep into the playoffs, that they can contribute to a winner, flaws and all. Eventually we all grow up and learn to become productive members of society.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again

So LeBron James was named the 2009 NBA MVP today. Be still my beating heart. My apologies for going against the grain here, but there is nothing about LeBron James that interests me. That's right - I find LeBron boring.

Now, before you all go and get your knickerbockers in a knot let me clarify myself here. I firmly believe that James is the best player on the planet and was pretty much a no-brain selection as the MVP this year. He no doubt will go down in history as one of the best to play Dr. Naismith's creation. His combination of size, athleticism and skill are dreamlike. Its almost as if a mad scientist with a serious case of the basketball jones concocted him one dark and stormy night in his lab.

With all that said, I still find him boring. I've been spending time soul searching as to why this is the case. It could be that the man is as plain as vanilla ice cream off the court. No controversy. No interesting quotes. No serious trash talking. To think, the biggest scandal he's been involved in is the choice of baseball hat that he wears.

Not that I really want the man to be out there raping and pillaging and acting like a NFL player. Just anything more interesting that the standard "Republicans buy sneakers too" shtick that Jordan made popular decades ago. Jordan is one of the main problems here. With all players after him following his script - on and off the court - there is not much room for originality. So whenever a player like Lebron or Kobe does something - once again, on or off the court - its a case of "been there, done that" for basketball fans. So while Jordan was brilliant and helped make the NBA the global brand that it is, he also helped ruin the game.

But I believe the main reason that LeBron doesn't intrigue me is that everything he does seems to be pre-ordained (now I can't remember if I can up with this theory myself or if it is something that I read on FreeDarko, so unless I get a strongly worded e-mail from their lawyer I'll claim it as my own). Of course LeBron won the MVP award. Of course he is going to win a championship, if not this year then in the near future. Of course he is going to be one of the greatest of all-time. There was and is no struggle or mystery involved. With LeBron it was never a case of "if" but "when".

Ever since he appeared materialized on the basketball scene as a youngster, this was all expected of him. He was a fully formed player practically out of the womb, with the game, muscles and tattoos all in place already. Where is the intrigue there, when all that was predicted about him years ago now is coming to pass? He had 25 points, 9 assists, 6 boards and 4 steals in his first NBA game. He averaged 21/6/6 his rookie year. No struggle - just consistent brilliancy. Even Jordan was a bit of a surprise when he hit the scene - hell, he wasn't even the first or second pick in the draft. With LeBron, it is like reading a book that you already know the ending to. There is no ad libbing from the script.

While consistent brilliance is brilliant, it can also be boring.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Child Shall Lead

As I watched the end of the epic Celtics-Bulls series today, lots of thoughts ran through my demented mind. Like how Ben Gordon reminds me of the black hole pick-up player that you pray doesn't hit his first shot because then the permanent green light in his head will become even greener. How if Joakim Noah grew up with a rich dad, then why didn't he get braces? Or how Brian Scalabrine, with his looks and his play, has set the "white man got game" movement back decades.

But mostly I was disapointed I couldn't see more of the point god battle between Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. No doubt these two are The Future of the Most Important Position in the Game Today. Even such an astute and wise commentator as Doug Collins (that's the problem with the written word - sarcasm is hard to convey sometimes) stated tonight that point guards now rule the NBA world. And when you think of the five best young point guards in the game today, they are about as a disparate group as you can find.

Chris Paul
The Leading Man

Boy next door looks. The savior of New Orleans. So small and cute, with his puppy dog eyes and slight stature. Assassin on the court. Lightning quick. Equally adept and scoring or "dropping a dime", as the kids like to say. Considered to be a really swell guy, despite giving Julius Hodge's boys a love-tap while in college.

Deron Williams
Like, So 2007

First name is spelt weird, which can confuse some people into pronouncing it exotically. Was once considered to be Paul's equal, but that sentiment is like so 2007. Built like a tank - you know, a tank with tons of tattoos that plays tough D and can score at will and run an offense. Pretty much forgotten about now, probably partly due to the fact he plays in Salt Lake City and his coach collects tractors as a hobby.

Tony Parker
The Villain
Could be the fastest player in the game, and is a proven winner. But, he's a foreigner, and people don't like foreigners. Especially ones with French accents. If that wasn't enough for people to hate on, he is married to a famous actress, plays for the Spurs and women think he is sexy. Did I mention he released a French rap album?

Rajon Rondo

A superfreak, in both body and game. Huge hands. Quetzalcoatlus pterosaur-like wingspan (Wikipedia it). Just as likely to get double-digits in steals or rebounds than assists. Triple doubles ain't no big thing to him. Goes after rebounds like a center. Shoots jumpers like a center.

Derrick Rose
Hometown Hero

Athletic marvel. Beep-beep quick. Jumps like the floor is a trampoline. Defensive menace. Can't shoot a jumper to save his life. Painfully shy. Looks like his jaw is wired shut when he talks. For some reason is nicknamed after feces.

The big man is dead. Long live the point god.

The Hoops Manifesto

Follow my lead my faithful minions, for I shall lead you to hoops bliss. This is the Hoops Manifesto:

Thou shall enjoy the NBA but thou shall prefer the collegiate version, with its raucous crowds and players with upside and length.

Thou shall view with disdain players who writhe around the floor in pain, dramatizing their injuries (we speak your name, Paul "Mr. Wheelchair" Pierce).

Thou shall worship the wise sage known as Hubie Brown, for he is truly a god among men.

Thou shall miss Bill Walton and his innumerable mentions of Elgin Baylor.

Thou shall believe that timeouts should be banned in the last minute of games, for there is nothing more annoying than over coaching.

Thou shall prefer players who display originality and march to their own drummer.

Thou shall believe that hip hop music died at the end of last century, so all musical references within these hallowed walls shall be from 20th century hip hop (and maybe some Dylan).

Thou shalt refrain from the use of cliched slang such as "swag" and trite nicknames that involve initials and jersey numbers.

Thou shall pine for the good ol' days of the NBA, when players were allowed to mercifully foul thy opponents.

Thou would have liked to come up with some more commandments, but thou is tired.

Now go my children, go and spread the gospel across the land.