Tag Archives: NBA

Injustices Across Sports Pt. 1

By BJ

It’s been an absolutely crazy week and a half in sports with superstars joining new teams via trades (Chris Paul) or mega-signings (Albert Pujols). But not to be overshadowed are the injustices that also seems to be breaking every other day. Let’s examine the darker side of sports.

NBA

Last week, Dan Gilbert made himself an owner to be dubiously

The desperate owner.

remembered–had anyone possibly forgotten about the LeBron James fiasco–by single-handedly getting the attention of Commissioner David Stern with this email I’ll re-post in its entirety.

Commissioner,

It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed.

This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.

Over the next three seasons this deal would save the Lakers approximately $20 million in salaries and approximately $21 million in luxury taxes. That $21 million goes to non-taxpaying teams and to fund revenue sharing.

I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. And it doesn’t appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard. (They would also get a large trade exception that would help them improve their team and/or eventually trade for Howard.) When the Lakers got Pau Gasol (at the time considered an extremely lopsided trade) they took on tens of millions in additional salary and luxury tax and they gave up a number of prospects (one in Marc Gasol who may become a max-salary player).

I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen.

I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.

When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?

Please advise….

Dan G.

I didn’t know you could shoot down a trade for fear of a team’s next move or that a player who averaged 12 and 7 last season is a max-salary player. (Marc Gasol quietly signed with Memphis Wednesday for four years and $57.7 million.) It’s nice to see the inner workings of NBA owners colluding to bring down better teams.

Whiny. Bitch.

Stern vetoed the trade citing “basketball reasons,” which sure as hell

The subject of all the fussing and fighting.

had nothing to do with ensuring the league-owned Hornets get as much as they can for their superstar.

What they got from the Clippers
Eric Gordon
Chris Kaman
Al-Farouq Aminu
1st-round pick

What they would’ve gotten from the Lakers and Rockets
Kevin Martin
Luis Scola
Lamar Odom
Goran Dragic
1st-round pick

I could make a case and simply say would you rather have Odom and Dragic or move up in the first round of next year’s draft? I’d argue you if you said the trade to the Clippers clearly got them better value nor did they have the foresight to see that marginal difference when they vetoed the first trade. Rather, Stern, Gilbert and co. saw the Lakers an already great team and the Clippers a non-threat.

Part of the reason the trade was admittedly vetoed was because they tried to prevent superstars from going to only big-market teams like L.A. That’s blatantly hypocritical to overlook the Clippers, who share the same stadium as the Lakers, as a big-market team.

Sunday, Lamar Odomwas traded to the defending champions for a

Maybe, 'Big Baby' Davis can finally hand off his nickname to L.O.

bag of peanuts. When responding to the trade, Kobe Bryant said they gave away the versatile forward “seemingly for nothing.” Now, you know how the Pau Gasol trade felt to everyone else. Lakers 1, Washington Generals 1.

Lakers fans have got the Odom giveaway all wrong. Or maybe, they’re just turning a blind eye as they do whenever anything doesn’t go their way. Odom cried his way out of the team. I can’t remember the last time someone got so publicly butthurt over a trade, failed or not, but the man missed both practices and had no intention of returning to the court in purple and gold. He got his wish, and there will be no sad eulogy for his departure.

MLB

Saturday, NL MVP Ryan Braun tested positive for PEDs and if it holds, will be suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 season. The injustice? No baseball award has ever been revoked, and there’s absolutely no talk of Braun losing his. But that’s the second injustice. How Braun ever won the award to begin with, or it even being a two-man race, is beyond belief.

Matt Kemp owned Braun across the board and was one homerun shy of 40/40, a feat that I believe would’ve made the voting a little easier for the Jayson Starks‘ out there. The only reason I could think of for voters choosing Braun over Kemp is because the Brewers made the playoffs, a criterion I hate in MLB MVP voting. Braun had Prince Fielder, who had as good a season as him; the Dodgers didn’t have a single other player even have a decent offensive season, which ensures better opportunity for Braun. As if the PEDs didn’t do that.

I disagree with everything Starks says in his article, defending Braun in that he should keep his undeserving award. From reasons ranging from ‘because it’s never been done in history before and if we do it to this, when will it stop” (like a total idiot) to ‘his stats weren’t any better this year than in his career’ (which is even worse; question his entire career), it should be a no-brainer that Braun should have to give up his award to the second-place Kemp. You know, the best guy who did not cheat this season.

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LeBron James and Karma

By Chris Le

LeBron James proved himself tactless—once again.  As his former team the Cleveland Cavaliers was in the midst of suffering what would be a 55-point lambasting by the Lakers, ‘Bron took this opportunity to take center stage (on Twitter), and somehow, in his bent, narcissistic thinking, made himself the victim.

Check me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Cleveland supposed to play the role of scorned lover?

LeBron needs to get over it.  I know he’s still hurt by the burning jerseys, the ranting letter (in Comic Sans) by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, the ubiquitous boos that rain down each time he touches the ball on foreign court, and the supposed unrelenting media criticism (which now, thanks to the Heat’s winning streak, has evolved into benign captivation)—but it’s time to grow up.

Is he so enclosed by Yes Men that he can’t empathize with his former Witnesses or conceive that he actually deserves the vitriol?  One could argue, using his rhetoric, that the backlash was, duh, karma for “The Decision.”

Regardless, as the game’s top talent, its face and just as a decent man, LeBron should be above prodding, especially at a franchise already licking its wounds.

LeBron is on the best team in the NBA (as of today), while the Cavs are arguably the worst, and to boot, he sodomized Cleveland with his best performance of the season in a 28-point win, which karmic enough, launched the Heat from their funk to where they are now—on top, as the most fearsome squad in the league. 

It’s done, dude. You got the last laugh. Isn’t that enough?

Apparently, not for LeBron.  He doesn’t just want a break up; he wants his ex to grovel, atone for their sins and admit life is bitter without him.

Though in a way, this ruthless revenge mentality is what makes the all-time greats great.  Jordan is the classic exemplar.  He took any slight, even if it wasn’t intentionally critical, and used it as motivation.  George Karl, in 1997, said Jordan was playing “not to get hurt” and was now a jump shooter.  It wasn’t a completely false statement, but Jordan still went out against the Sonics and dropped 45 – gleefully, I’m sure.

Jeff Van Gundy, in the same year, called Jordan a con man, saying, “His way is to befriend [opponents], soften them up, try to make them feel like he cares about them. Then he goes out there and tries to destroy them. The first step as a player is to realize that and don’t go for it.”

Van Gundy claims it was a compliment.  Jordan didn’t care and gave the Knicks and their coach 51 points for such effrontery.

All the greats seek revenge.  Hakeem did it to David Robinson.  Kobe did the same to Shaq.  But the greats keep it on the court–in Kobe’s case, after winning a championship–and it never feels petty.  The lesson of grace is one LeBron has yet to learn.

For now, LeBron should clam up, work on his post game and play magnificently as only he can.  For when he wins a ring, he can talk all he wants—he’d have then earned the right.  But I have a feeling karma has other plans, and come June, LeBron, remember you said it yourself: it’s a bitch.

NBA Predictions

By Chris Le

Is there any way this season lives up to the hype?

For that to happen the majority of the following would have to occur: Chris Paul is 100 percent healthy and reenters the “Best Point Guard in the League” debate, the union and owners agree on a CBA, Yao Ming and Greg Oden play full seasons, Jeremy Lin ignites the Bay Area and becomes the Asian-American Jackie Robinson, Carmelo Anthony goes to the Knicks, LeBron enters the dunk contest, Blake Griffin and John Wall shoulder their respective teams to the playoffs, Kevin Durant averages 37 points per game, LeBron averages a triple-double, Beyonce performs at both the All-Star game and in the Finals, the Heat win 73 games and win the title after beating the Lakers in triple overtime of Game 7.

Will any of it happen?  Here’s my take:

1.  Carmelo Anthony will be a Knick. He wants out of Denver so badly that he ignored 65 million convincing reasons to stay.  The question is of where he’ll go.  As reported, it’s either Chicago or New York.  I’m crossing out Chicago because Denver would likely want Joakim Noah in the deal and the Bulls would be idiots to agree.  Noah is Chicago’s best defender, their emotional life vest and one of my top 5 favorite players.  And I want him to stay a Bull.  So this is more a wish than a prediction.  But that doesn’t change the fact that Chicago and Derrick Rose need Joakim Noah.  Carlos Boozer, rugged as he is, would not fill his void.

That leaves the Knicks.  They have Eddy Curry’s and Kelenna Azubuike’s attractive expiring contracts and could include Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas or Ronnie Turiaf as a throw-in.  It’s the utilitarian deal: the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, including Melo’s wife.  Lala is in the entertainment business (kinda—Hosting VH1 reality shows barely qualifies as “in the business.”) and Melo loves the celebrity lifestyle.  New York just makes sense.  It also preserves the possibility of another Super Team if/when Chris Paul joins the Knicks.  It’s inevitable.  As Bill Simmons says, this is the worst-kept secret in the league.

2.  The Rookie of the Year race will be more entertaining than the MVP race. I haven’t been this geeked about a Rookie Race since Durant vs. Oden in 2007.  (Let’s ignore how that one ended.)  And there haven’t been two rookies this obviously talented in seven years.  Two top overall picks.  Two athletic freaks.  Two of the most exciting players in the league; you can already see it.  The only way to describe Griffin’s game is “violent.”  He’s never seen a rebound he can’t put back for a dunk, and he goes after every rebound like he’s a bench player vying for playing time, only he’s already the best player on the team.  The kid’s a beast.

Expect at least one of these every three games:

And a dash of this:

He’s so good I was this close to predicting the Clippers making the playoffs.  Then I remembered they’re the Clippers.

But there’s a star quality to John Wall.  There’s a confidence to his walk. There’s a self-assurance that matches his considerable talents.  I’ve already stated that he’s the best prospect I’ve seen since LeBron, and now that I’ve seen a few preseason games, Wall somehow looks faster.  The combined over/under on the number of “holy shit” moments for Wall and Griffin has to be at 50.  At least.

Rookie of the Year
1.     John Wall
2.     Blake Griffin
3.     DeMarcus Cousins (Mark him down for a double-double, and 34,59,685 fouls)
4.     Who cares?

3.  The Spurs aren’t dead yet. No one besides me cares about the Spurs so I’ll keep this short and go to bullet points.

  • Manu is rested, back in the starting lineup and ready to overtake Duncan as the Spurs’ best player.  Watch out for the Gino and DeJuan Blair combo.  There’s chemistry there.  They know each other’s games and can read a situation, especially the pick-and-roll, on a dime.
  • Parker is in a contract year.  He’ll be playing for a raise.  Even if it’s not from the Spurs.
  • Richard Jefferson is no longer hesitant.  He finally looks comfortable.  No more looks of confusion that scream, “Should I drive or pull up?” which, last season, translated to an awkward hybrid of both, resulting in a turnover or bricked shot.  He’ll be more decisive this season.  Whether his shots go in is still a question … but at least he won’t look lost!
  • Tiago Splitter is exactly what the Spurs need.  A legit 6’11”.  Rugged back-to-the-basket scorer who likes to defend.  A Luis Scola-type.  Splitter along with Blair’s semi-emergence will alleviate a rapidly aging Timmy (L).

4.  The Miami Heat probably won’t win over 69 games. As if that’s a disappointment.  But let’s temper some expectations.  It’ll take a few weeks for them to gel.  Talent means nothing without chemistry (see the Clippers), and no one outside of Magic Johnson can instantly create a connection with teammates without a warming period.  LeBron, Wade and Bosh have a total of three minutes of game time together.  It’ll take at least 10 full regular season games to learn each other’s tendencies.  And as the preseason shows, health is never a given.

If healthy, here’s how I see the Heat season panning out: After a hobbled start of 6-3 including losses to Boston and Orlando, the Heat discover an identity, find a comfort zone with each other and go on a roll like Genghis Khan in 13th century Asia.  Expect 12-, 15-, 18-game win streaks, regular 20+ margins of victory, a whole lot of butt-slapping and a cheesy pre- or in-game gimmick or three, culminating somewhere in the province of 65-69 wins.

Bill Simmons almost guarantees under 70 wins, noting that the Heat lack a mental linchpin like Jordan with the ’96 Bulls.  Steve Kerr says his ‘96 Bulls won 8-10 games they should’ve lost because Jordan willed the team to victory.  I agree the Heat lack a Jordan-like security net, but I’ll stop short of saying 70 wins is impossible … because they might not need one.  The ’96 Bulls didn’t have the horsepower of the Heat.  Secondary options Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc were never pure scorers, the starting frontcourt of Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley was an afterthought, if not completely ignored on offense, and the burden to score was solely on Jordan.  The Heat have two pure scorers in Wade and Bosh and then LeBron, who can drop 30 while still facilitating.  Unlike Jordan, either of them can “take a night off” to little negative effect.  If Miami somehow builds a connection out the gates, 70 wins is entirely possible.

5.  Dwight Howard will be the MVP. The usual suspects will be out of the race this year.  Kobe won’t be as productive: The back-to-back-to-back seasons of non-stop basketball will catch up, and he’ll show evidence of age (watch his lift) while fighting through the usual nicks.  He’ll still be brilliant, but only in short bursts.  Pau Gasol is likely to up his production and steal some of Kobe’s thunder.  I know I’ve said Kobe has the “Best Player in the League” title until Durant or LeBron go further in the playoffs, and I stick by that, but it’ll be tough when both are more productive and healthier.  Speaking of which…

LeBron will be historically efficient, scratching at a triple-double average (My projection: 23.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 10.1 assists). *  But he’ll suffer from the Kobe/Shaq syndrome: having two of the league’s top four players on one team makes winning an MVP nearly impossible.  Kobe and Shaq, the dominant players of their era, have two combined.  It’s a travesty.  A travesty likely to repeat itself in Miami.  Wade will have a campaign of his own, taking votes from LeBron, fueling the fire of the haters (of which there are many) arguing that LeBron and the Heat’s brilliance are a result of osmosis.  Which, of course, will be bullshit. **

That leaves Durant and Howard.  Here’s how I see the two-man race breaking down.

Durant’s projected resume:

  • 32.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and improved defense
  • League leader in scoring—by far
  • Three or four “wow” moments that you will remember at season’s end: buzzer beaters, maybe a 55-point game, a shootout with Melo/Wade/LeBron/Kobe in which Durant comes out on top, perhaps he embarrasses one of them in a game.
  • Extra points for being the most feared player in the league.  Who else can so demoralize a team with 50 points on any given night?  Will he dethrone Kobe and Kyra Sedgwick as the best closer?
  • Second seed (possible first?) in the West
  • Increased vocal leadership

Howard’s projected resume:

  • 21.1 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.9 blocks and improved offense
  • League leader in blocks, field goal percentage, dunks
  • Best defender in the league—by far
  • One of the better two-way players in the league?
  • Second (possible first) seed in the East.  And the East has better top-end teams than the West.
  • Possible signature wins against the center-less Miami Heat
  • Does more than Durant with a weaker supporting cast

It’s close.  But I expect dividends from the three days Howard spent with Hakeem Olajuwon, in the form of improved footwork, a better sense of spacing and touch, a drop-step move or any semblance of a post game.  Then again, Dwight might be an incapable student; for two years, Patrick Ewing, the most prolific jump-shooting center, mentored Howard, and he still can’t hit a jumper to save his life.  Maybe he just doesn’t have the scorer’s DNA.  So I have no grand delusions: Howard won’t be Dream-shakin’ anyone, and he’ll still clang more 12-footers than anyone in the league.  But he will be an offensive threat.  No more games where he takes under 10 shots.

Look at it this way.  Durant will be the best offensive player in the league, Howard the best defensive player.  That cancels out each other’s strength.  It boils down to their weaknesses: Durant’s defense and Howard’s offense.  At this point, the way I’m projecting it, I prefer Howard’s impact on offense.

*The wildcard: LeBron is angry.  His eyes have the glow of a scorned lover.  He remembers the reactions to “The Decision”: the burning jerseys, Dan Gilbert’s rant written in Comic Sans, the angry tweets, the racial slurs.  LeBron has a fire under his ass for the first time in his career, and he’s out to make the haters look stupid.  If he channels this rage and clicks into Jordan mode, I’m not betting against him.  But that’s if he channels his rage.  If LeBron doesn’t show the mental switch this year, he never will.

**And I don’t care what anyone says: This is LeBron’s team.  It may be Wade’s town and he’s got the history, but the better player always shines through.  Through sheer force of play and personality, LeBron will be undeniable.

MVP
1. Dwight Howard
2. Kevin Durant
3. LeBron James
4. Dwyane Wade
5. Pau Gasol

6.  The Miami Heat will win the title. In 2008, the Boston Celtics won 66 games and the title in the first season of “The Big 3.”  Winning a title in a new team’s inaugural year isn’t unprecedented.  Skeptics, however, point to two supposed Achilles heels: defense and the center position.

Defense shouldn’t be a problem.  Wade and LeBron could be a poor man’s Jordan and Pippen, two wing defenders so good that they compensate for a missing stalwart around the rim.  The mid-90s Bulls were great defensively, even with a plodding frontcourt of Luc Longley and Bill Wennington.  The same could happen in Miami.  LeBron showed glimpses in 2009 of a lockdown on-ball defender, a role I hope he fully embraces in Miami now that the offensive burden is lifted.  And Wade will wreak havoc in the passing lanes, leading to innumerable fast breaks.  Plus, teams should worry about outscoring the Heat more than the Heat should worry about stopping them.  They’re a tougher defensive assignment than the D’Antoni-, Nash-led Suns at their height.

(Lakers Nation, cover your eyes.)

The Heat’s biggest hurdle won’t be the Lakers.  After another long season and a possible WCF war against KD and the Thunder, it’ll be hard for Kobe to be Kobe.  He’ll need at least two Jordan-type efforts against Miami and with injuries and weary legs, I can’t see him taking over a game that late in the season (see Game 7 against the Celtics).

(Okay, you guys can look now.)

The biggest threat to Miami is Boston.  The Celtics have the team defense, veteran leadership, unselfish offense and most importantly, the size to exploit the Heat’s only weakness.  The wave of Perkins, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal could prove insurmountable for Big Z and Joel Anthony.  But at this point, Garnett, Pierce and Allen are more likely than Kobe to dwindle.

The title is ripe for picking.  And all signs point to Miami.  Can they live up to the hype?

Manu: Master of Strategery

Gino draws up the game-winning play.  He may have a future as a coach.

But then again, it was the Clippers.

Best in Draft

By Chris Le

The NBA Draft is a whole lot of guesswork.  A half-blind appraisal, really, with a success rate so low that NBA teams might as well let fans pick through an online poll, à la All-Star voting.

But that’s half the fun.  Opinions vary, as much as they are ubiquitous, and anyone who has read my blog knows I can’t resist chiming in.  But I don’t bother with draft order or team need.  I have neither the time nor the inclination to think about either.  I leave that to NBA front offices, and Chad Ford.

Instead I imagined, as I think all guys do at one point in their lives, that I was the GM of my very own NBA team—the San Jose Bowls of Pho, as I would call them.   Then I asked myself, “Who would I most want to build my franchise around, and in what order?”

That thought experiment led to this list.

Caveat: Only includes players I’ve watched.  So the likes of Paul George—who toiled in obscurity at Fresno State but now, after a few epic workouts, has scouts slangin’ their firstborns for a shot at him—are not included.  There’s only so much you can ascertain from highlight videos on YouTube; in the hands of a talented enough video editor, I’m sure even I could look like the Asian Manu Ginobili. And I suck at basketball.

Tier 1: Generational Talents

1.  John Wall, PG, Kentucky – You already know why so I won’t prattle.  The tangible tools are obvious: size (6’4, freaky 6’8 wingspan), redline speed that is tailor-made for the NBA, extreme aggression on the fastbreak, volatile athleticism and the best off-handle dribble I have ever seen in a prospect.  Complete left-hand control, even at full sprint, and he can finish with it, up and over for a dunk or with a gentle kiss off the glass.  Blows my mind every time.  No joke, it’s not far behind LeBron’s.

Physically, Wall is as impressive as Derrick Rose and shares his score-first mentality.  That’s not to say he’s selfish or can’t set up for others; just that he can score at any time so why the hell not, right?  Great demeanor, too.  He’s mature beyond his years and steps up on both ends in pressure situations (game-winner in his first college game, game-sealing block against Vanderbilt are among his highlights).  A scary combination of skill and will—the type of player I want to start a franchise with.  This kid has greatness in his eyes, and he isn’t afraid to embrace it.

NBA Comparison: Russell Westbrook/Derrick Rose

Tier 2: Immediate Contributors

(Picks 2-4 are as close as Anna Paquin’s eyes.)

2.  DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky – The highest potential—to boom or bust—in the draft.  Word is he’s lazy (came into the combine at 16.4 percent body fat and 292 pounds, about twenty north of his playing weight, despite claiming strict adherence to a salad and seafood diet.  Was it a “see food, and eat it” diet, DeMarcus?).  Courtside hissy fits also suggest that he may be a cancerous malcontent in a league eager to obviate prima donnas.

But Cousins was hugely productive in limited playing time at Kentucky (15 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks in only 23.5 minutes).  He is a behemoth in the paint and a physical mismatch, and will be even in the pros; imagine a destitute man’s Shaq.  That big ass of his and wide-as-a-truck shoulders can unseat most solo defenders and gain prime position to score or rebound.  What I like most, though?  His footwork and hands, which are Velcro and adequately supple to corral knuckleball rebounds or low trajectory bounce passes; if the ball is within reach, he’s gettin’ it and uprooting fools in the process.

High risk, high reward.

However, a strong locker room presence—the right coach or a veteran leader—who can mentor Cousins as a player, and as a man, is vital.  Proper tutelage could make or break his career.

NBA Comparison: Erick Dampier to Al Jefferson

3.  Evan Turner, SG, Ohio St. – Should sexiness, as in pizazz and excitement, play a role in drafting?  Probably not, but as GM, I also realize that a prospect’s sexiness is proportional to his potential.  And Turner is as sexy as under-the-covers missionary position—effective, to the point, all business, but lacking a little sumthin’ sumthin’, kinda like Brandon Roy did in 2006.

The Brandon Roy comparisons are belabored but fitting.  Turner is a fairly accurate carbon copy: half-court extraordinaire because of his handles, advanced mid-range game and high basketball smarts, with slightly better rebounding and versatility.  Only slightly because Turner measures in at a marginal 6’5 ¼”, without shoes, spreads a 6’8″ wingspan (same as John Wall’s, by the way) and his athleticism is merely above average; I don’t foresee his dynamic rebounding translating to the league, at least not at his college clip of 9.1 per game.

In the end, I have Cousins at number two on my Big Board because of Turner’s lower ceiling, even if his floor is higher.  A gamble I’m willing to take.

NBA Comparison: Anthony Parker to Brandon Roy

4.  Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech – How long and athletic is Favors?  He measures favorably to Dwight Howard (within half an inch in height, reach and vertical)—a freak athlete with potential to spare.  They also share the same penchant for defense.

Okay, he’s a physical beast.  So why the low production in college?  This concerns me.  It’s not quite a red flag—a pink one, maybe—but enough to make me think twice about taking him at 3, though not past 4.

Like Howard, Favors lacks assertiveness, which prevented him from becoming the dominant presence his physical gifts hint at.  I’m always wary of overwhelming talents with underwhelming college careers.  It usually points to a mental quality.  Is he too much of a nice guy?  Does he have the telltale signs of a second fiddle and not a star?  I don’t know, but he didn’t leave the mark at Georgia Tech that I expected.  He did not separate from a mediocre team, and instead played down to his teammates.  Not exactly what I want for my rebuilding team.  The Dwight Howard comparison is optimistic, but Favors is a great prospect nonetheless and should immediately make the starting lineup.

NBA Comparison: Antonio McDyess to a less bouncy Amare Stoudemire

Tier 3: Solid Building Blocks

5.  Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest

6.  Wesley Johnson, SF, Syracuse

Both are similarly long and athletic, epitomes of mismatches in waiting.  But like insurance companies, NBA General Managers are ageist.  Johnson, 23, is NBA-ready and polished but middle-aged by draft standards.  That’s why I’d rather have Aminu, a rough gem who is young for his class at 19, with extra years before the verdict (bust or boom?) is set.

But Aminu needs to use, and further develop, his perimeter shot.  That’s the only thing keeping him from Tier 2 status.  As is, however, Aminu is a freak athlete who works best in transition, and he isn’t afraid to get dirty on the boards either—a quality I love in a prospect.  Plus, he’s got two kickers: 1) He’s a descendant of Nigerian Royalty, so he’s got to be badass, and 2) His name translates to “The chief has arrived.”  That alone almost ranks him above the ninny-sounding Wesley Johnson.

NBA Comparison: Thaddeus Young to Marvin Williams to Josh Smith

Wes has the opposite problem.  With his physical tools, which should allow him to penetrate at will, Johnson’s reliance on his jumper is disconcerting.  Too often he settles for the bailout perimeter shot, instead of attacking; though aversion to physicality, I hear, is a classic characteristic of middle age.  (That was a joke.  I agree, not that funny.)  He was productive in college, as he will be in the pros.  But just that—productive, in a ho-hum manner—without much star quality.

NBA Comparison: Travis Outlaw to Shawn Marion to Joe Johnson

Tier 4: Projects

This is where the draft nosedives.  The aforementioned players are elite—top ten picks in most any draft—with John Wall being a transcendent talent.  The following players have athleticism and/or skill—lottery level athleticism and skill, some would argue—but each has a distinct weakness, a peccadillo that could translate into an Achilles Heel in the pros: lack of size or athleticism; a jack-of-all-trades, master of none; or an absent killer instinct.  Whichever team decides to pick these players should have surrounding talent that masks the prospects’ deficiencies.

(Gut Pick Alert!)

7.  Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky – Bledsoe’s draft stock has taken a hit because he didn’t play much lead guard at Kentucky.  (Fellow freshman John Wall was too busy kicking ass as floor general.)  This is a problem for Bledsoe because he projects as a point guard in the NBA.  Despite his inexperience, however, I think Bledsoe can run the point; maybe not as a pure guard in the vein of Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, but as a scorer/defender with “Holy shit” athleticism.  This pick might not make sense today, or even next season.  But it will three years from now.

NBA Comparison: Poor man’s Russell Westbrook

8.  Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina – Right now, Davis is a one-sided player; that side being defense.  Despite his lack of girth, he projects as a solid rebounder/shot-blocker combo based purely on his hustle and intensity.  And he runs up and down the court smoothly, a good sign that his body (more importantly, his knees) can withstand the herk-and-jerk of 80+ games (unlike Oden and Thabeet, who both labor to get back).  With an additional 20 pounds of muscle, Davis will  be highly productive on and off the ball defensively, but still not much of an intimidator.  His natural slenderness, along with his crude skills, will hurt him on offense, where he’ll struggle to shed defenders.

NBA Comparison: Udonis Haslem to maybe-but-probably-not Chris Bosh

9.  Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown – I’ve questioned Monroe since his high school days when he was a top recruit.  Now that he’s entering the draft, my reservations are the same.  Monroe shies from the ball, notably in the clutch, and there’s a little too much finesse in him to play a power position.   I don’t see the heart to be a star.

Can you say Chris Webber?  And a Webber ceiling might be generous.  But would I take a player who’s versatile, highly skilled and may one day give me 15-9-3-1.5 a night but can’t be relied on in the crunch with my 9th pick?  Sure.  Just as long as he’s not my best player, or second best player.

NBA Comparison: Josh McRoberts to Brad Miller to Lamar Odom

10. Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas – Good height (6’6), great frame (210 pounds).  Too bad he doesn’t know how to use his size yet.  Henry can finish nicely at the basket; the problem is getting there.   He doesn’t have the quickest first step so turning the corner on a defender will be difficult.  But teams will draft Xavier (pronounced Zah-vee-A; how fancy) for one thing and one thing only: his three point range.  Henry may struggle to create but will serve as a dangerous spot-up shooter and a solid complimentary player.

NBA Comparison: James Posey

Bust Alert

Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas – One word: Limited.  Defensively, offensively, athletically … he’s limited.  He’s constantly compared to Joel Przybilla.  But is that supposed to excite me as a GM?  Hell yeah, the next Joel Przybilla!  Clear the cabinet for future championships!

NBA Comparison: Offensive-minded Joel Przybilla

Also beware of: Daniel Orton, PF, Kentucky; Gordon Hayward, SF, Butler

Sleeper Alert

Brian Zoubek, C, Duke – Another Przybilla clone. (Man, not a good crop of centers if Joel Przybilla is the most used comparison.)  Zoubek probably won’t get drafted.  And why should he?  He’s foul prone, uncoordinated, laterally slow as molasses and can barely dunk despite being 7’1″.  But he does one thing exceptionally well: rebound the offensive board.  No one in the last decade compares, except maybe DeJuan Blair, and if you can rebound, that just might be enough to have a career in the NBA.  Also overlooked is Zoubek’s passing.  He can pass in traffic or, as he likes to do, out of the post—a skill that should keep him on some NBA roster.

So if they’re both splices of Przybilla and dog turd, why is Zoubek a sleeper and Aldrich a bust?  Location, location, location.  Aldrich will be taken in the lottery while Zoubek is likely a free agent signee, maybe a late second rounder.  Zoubek may be an inferior prospect, but they both project as similar players.  More bang for your buck with Zoubs.

NBA Comparison: Joel Przybilla.

Also watch out for: Greivis Vasquez, PG, Maryland; Jordan Crawford (aka “Dude Who Dunked On LeBron”), SG, Xavier; Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati

Post-NBA Finals Thoughts

By Chris Le

What a season.

Removing bias (that is, my man crush on LeBron and the Spurs and my hatred for anything Lakers), this was a season that genuine basketball groupies will remember for a long time.

Drama, unpredictability, history—all there in hefty doses. Which made for a season of simple, childhood-like fun.  So fun, in fact, I’m erasing from memory accepting that it ended with the Lakers hoisting the trophy.

From an analyst/writer’s perspective, what’s most appealing about the NBA year is that it provides and answers its own questions.  Throughout the course of the eight-month season, opinions are verified (like, which is the best team?), some amended (who’s the best player?) and others left to be determined (who’s the best ever?).  And it keeps us guessing.

This season was especially fickle: LeBron raped the regular season, the Lakers faded with Kobe looking old and beaten, ditto with the Celtics; then in the playoffs, the Magic looked invincible, then vincible (which is an actual word according to dictionary.com.  I’m willing to overlook its omission from the more credible Merriam-Webster because it’s probably the most apt description for the 2010 Magic that could ever exist—unless the Oxford English Dictionary approves “Rashardible.”), the Celtics rode the Delorean back to 2008, and Kobe clicked into Jordan mode.

Each turn of event, at its respective moment in time, altered the basketball landscape and, in my mind, projected a different Finals matchup.  Between LeBron and Kobe, the Lakers, Celtics, Magic and Cavs, I vacillated about 745 times.

And yeah, I realize the irony with my last post, in which I bemoaned the tendency to overreact.  Yet here I sit: a prisoner of the moment, a hypocrite, even worse, the dreaded flip-flopper.

But I couldn’t care less.

Whenever I’m accused of hypocrisy, I think back to junior year of high school, Mrs. Marc’s class, English 11 Honors: American Literature—the first time I laid eyes on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Emerson, in the essay that changed my life, once wrote:

Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.

If the pimpest of all Transcendentalists (sorry, H.D. Thoreau) supported waffling, then I can do the same without indignity.

So, summoning my inner Emerson, here is—in hard words—what I think today.  But ask me again tomorrow.

Before the Playoffs: Deron Williams is the best point guard in the league.

After: Deron Williams was the top dog during the regular season and throughout the first round.  As the most consistent, and at times most dominant, lead guard all year, the race wasn’t close at all, really.  And once he finally convinced me, I stayed convinced for about, oh, five seconds.  Rondo then went into “Fuck around and got a triple-double” mode.  Followed by Nash decimating the Spurs, displaying a ruthlessness and a will to win on par with the legends—only to be dismissed by the Lakers.

So, to recap: I went from Williams, to Rondo, to Nash, and back to Rondo.  I’ve flip-flopped more often than Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Vlade Divac combined.

Have I learned my lesson?  Have I finally grown a pair and stuck with Rondo?

Not quite.  Like George Clooney, it’s up in the air.  Because I’m still waiting on my boy Chris Paul, who, once healthy, will run a train on the league worse than the one given to Edward Norton in the shower by that big Nazi guy in American History X.

Before the Playoffs: The two-month-long NBA postseason is the most entertaining stretch in sports.

After: Confirmed.  More than ever, perhaps.  With this year’s unpredictability—from the demise of the Cavs to the Celtic phoenix rise—and the added theater of free agency and a looming draft, it’s bar none.

The playoffs can, however, be improved.

How?  Show more crowd reactions.  Aside from the game itself, it’s my favorite part of watching the NBA on television, really.  Nothing makes me smile like an entire section of people—always of jumbled demography—erupt in spontaneous orgasm after a play, or seeing the team bench rolling on the floor and holding each other back, with faces of something filthy like they witnessed an emcee lyrically murder another in a freestyle battle.  Grown men with potbellies jumping like children after a LeBron tomahawk slam, the pure joy on their homely faces is immediately transferred to anyone watching at home.

More shots of Kim Jong Il's sister at Lakers games!

Sixty percent of today’s reactions, I realize, would consist of frat boys chest-bumping, flexing biceps and lifting their Affliction T-shirts to reveal their not-really-but-maybe-at-the-right-angle-and-in-the-right-lighting six-pack abs.  It’s a risk, but a risk worth taking.

That’s why I miss the old days.  Check out any highlight reel from the mid-80’s on back and you’ll see balding middle-aged white guys who look like accountants awkwardly high-fiving or cupping their faces in awe.  (Like this.  Or this Zach Galifianakis-looking dude.)  White people are awkward.

Before the Playoffs: Katy Perry is annoying and can’t dance.

After: She still can’t dance (which, for a pop star, isn’t a career death warrant; look at Rihanna and Mary J. Blige), but “California Gurls,” an irresistibly charming paean to West Coast hotties, has momentarily saved her from my immediate criticism and maybe even bolstered her mass appeal.

Despite the ebbed novelty, my ears show minimal fatigue from its looping replay, and because of that, “Gurls,” followed by Drake’s “Find Your Love,” is a strong candidate for Song of the Summer.

Third in line?  I’m surprised—almost ashamed—to say I like the Black Eyed Peas’ “Rock Your Body.”  Their electro-infused brand of hip-pop—a sound once reserved for trashy, Euro discothèques—has finally kept my attention, and not my disdain.  And just in time for the biggest sporting event in the world.  It’s not the official song of the ’10 World Cup (this is), but Black Eyed Peas, musically, are made for the Cup.  Their brew is simple: energetic beats with lyrics of cheesy bonhomie that don’t clog the brain.  A mix that aligns perfectly with international sensibility and is gobbled on the world’s stage.  (See: Ricky Martin’s “Cup of Life” for the ’98 World Cup in France, which, I think, should be the official song for every World Cup, now and forever.  It’s perfect.)  It explains their overseas success, but not the inexplicable domestic obsession.  Will.i.am is, otherwise, the worst emcee in the business.

What does this have to do with basketball?  Absolutely nothing.  I’m just riffing on my previous blog.

Back to basketball …

Before the Playoffs: LeBron is the best player in the league.

After: Kobe.  Hate the guy, hate the team, and I hate to say it.  But it’s the truth.

I’ve always argued that, while Kobe is more skilled, LeBron’s overall impact on the game and teammates makes him more valuable, in the sense of being indispensable.  That may still be true, but I can no longer dismiss Kobe’s closing ability—a skill in which LeBron is proficient but has yet to master—and his insatiable will to be great.

That last part is important.  When Kobe lost to the Celtics in 2008, I could picture him at home replaying over and over in his mind Kevin Garnett’s “ANYTHING IS POSSIBBLLLLLEEEE!!!” war cry (which trails off into a high-pitched, incoherent ramble).   I could picture Kobe seething in his seat, eager to be better, thirsting for another ring, hungry to prove that he’s as good as he thinks he is—and believe me, no matter what Kobe says, he thinks he’s the best ever.

I don’t get this feeling from LeBron.  He’s probably at home right now watching SportsCenter, more worried than angry.  Worried that he has that much more to prove.  Worried that he might disappoint.  Worried, most of all, that he might fail.

And that’s the difference between him and Kobe.  Kobe is motivated only by his own hunger to be great; and LeBron, it seems, is motivated by the fear of losing.

Looking back, I was blinded by LeBron’s numbers.  Could you blame me?  They’re historic. Never have we seen such an exemplar of physical evolution, or such production, which is comparable only to the luminaries; LeBron is amazing on both television and paper.  Which made me forget that, while stars are made in the regular season, legends are made in the playoffs.  And the playoffs are one territory King James has yet to conquer.

But the gap is slim—slimmer than the media makes it out to be—and I’ll stop short of saying the pecking order is solidified for the next few years because age creeps furtively and suddenly.  Kobe turns 32 this summer, with battle-worn knees from some 1,200 games and 45,000 minutes.  Youthful legs are a finite gift, as Tim Duncan and KG can attest, and the end is always sooner than expected.

But otherwise, no more premature anointment.  Even if next year LeBron drops 30-10-10 a game during the regular season.

Kobe is in the lead until LeBron goes further in the playoffs.  It’s the only way to decide this debate.

Before the Playoffs: Kobe is the third best guard of all-time behind Jordan and Magic, and sits outside the 10 greatest players ever.

After: The first statement remains true … but not the second.

Kobe now has five rings, two of which he can claim to have earned “on his own” (whatever that means), and once again, displayed a brilliance reminiscent of Jordan.  With that, Kobe cements himself as the sixth greatest player ever.  Yes, the sixth greatest player ever.  Ahead of West, Robertson, Olajuwon, Shaq, Wilt and (sigh) Tim Duncan.  Those are some big-swinging dicks who are not easily unseated.  But on pure skill, years as Best Player on the Planet, sheer numbers and total times he makes you say “Fuck, this guy is just too damn good,” it’s hard to argue against Kobe.  Dude has earned it.

However, he remains looking up at Magic, Bird, Kareem, and of course, Russell and Jordan, both of whom likely will never be supplanted.

So, why do those five rank ahead of Kobe?

First of all, it’s not like Kobe had an all-time great series against Boston.  Aside from a brilliantly balanced Game 1 and a few jaw-drop moments here and thereafter, Kobe didn’t impress me—not by his own lofty standards.  He routinely disappeared in the 4th, was saved by Derek Fisher in Game 3, looked lost at times against the Celtics defense and had his worst offensive performance in the deciding Game 7.  You think Jordan would’ve gone 6 for 24 in a Game 7?  (Oh yeah, Jordan never needed a Game 7 to win a title.)

But what it boils down to is, I don’t think Kobe is as good a teammate.

I know, I know: blah, blah, blah—this rant again?  Didn’t Kobe prove last year that he’s unselfish?

He’s made improvements, sure.  But not a quantum leap.

Leadership-wise, Kobe has the look of young Jordan—the Jordan before he fully accepted “team ball” and won a title.  Which, obviously, is still enough for Kobe to win a championship.  But this is the Greatest of All-Time debate; it’s all about picking nits.  The inability of Kobe’s team still visibly weighs on him (kinda like LeBron), with frustration setting in and affecting his play.   After a brainfart three by Artest, for example, or a Vujacic missed rotation, Kobe will glower, showing disgust and disappointment—a look that screams, “Idiot!  Do I have to do everything?!”  Then he’ll turn into me-first Kobe and force the situation, though, to his credit, this tendency has waned of late.

When things are good, Kobe is the greatest teammate in the world: high-fives all-around, butt pats for everyone, even poor Adam Morrison, he’ll even bust out the “heartfelt” forehead-to-forehead motivational speech.

When times are bad?  Not so much.

Russell, Magic and Bird were always their teammates’ biggest fans, or, when upset, vocal in a constructive manner.  Latter-day Jordan was always cool and even deferred to 7th man Steve Kerr in the pivotal moment of the 1997 NBA Finals.  Call me when Kobe heads into a game-deciding situation with the intention of finding Jordan Farmar or Lamar Odom to take the last shot.  Yeah, I thought so.

It’s been a while since I last sat down, studied the résumés and made a list, but this is how my All-Time list currently looks:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. Bill Russell
  3. Magic Johnson
  4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  5. Larry Bird
  6. Kobe Bryant
  7. Wilt Chamberlain
  8. Tim Duncan
  9. Jerry West
  10. Oscar Robertson
  11. Hakeem Olajuwon
  12. Shaquille O’Neal

Kobe jumped from outside the top 10 to number 6, leapfrogging six demigods in the process.  Overreaction?  Am I, once again, just a prisoner of the moment?

We’ll see.  But that’s the great thing about basketball: Kobe has next season to prove me right or prove me wrong.  And that’s why I love the NBA—you just never know.

On the Second Round and Beyond (NBA)

By Chris Le

The most common reaction in sports is overreaction.  At the end of a season or series—hell, after one game—logic flies out the window and fans become prisoners of the moment.  We are captured by emotion, good or bad, and lose foresight of how the next months or even next days can reverse the present circumstances.  But if I’ve learned anything about sports, it’s that momentum is a powerful ally—and that it’s a fickle bitch.  Today’s success can just as easily be tomorrow’s failure.  The thing is, though, it’s hard to see past today’s success.

With three sweeps and the elimination of the league’s best player in the second round, hyperbole was inevitable.  Such decisive victories—or losses, depending on who you were cheering for—are ground zero for exaggeration.

Luckily for you guys, I’m here to provide perspective.  Here’s a list of what should and shouldn’t have you acting like Tom Cruise on Oprah.

The “Don’t Go Overboard” List

1.) People are high on the Suns. And it’s understandable.  Steve Nash and his bygone mix of underwhelming athleticism,  goofy looks (short limbs + baggy shorts = a junior high kid) and transcendent skills are so likable it makes me want to spoon my eyeballs out; the Suns’ slicing style of play is exceedingly fun to watch; and vanquishing of their longtime vanquishers, the Spurs, combined with the prospect of defeating the Lakers makes for a feel good story worthy of a Lifetime movie.  It just feels meant to be, like this is their year.  That’s why some are picking the Suns to beat the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

That’s foolish.

Don’t be conned by the Suns’ makeover, and their subsequent sweep of the Spurs: they can’t beat the Lakers.  Not the same way they beat the Spurs, anyways.  If Nash and Co. think the half-court game that so bedeviled the Spurs can do the same against the Lakers, it will be the Suns’ undoing.  Because—NEWS FLASH—the Spurs are not the Lakers.

The slow-down offense was successful for the Suns because (1.) the Spurs couldn’t rotate fast enough, and (2.) the Suns were afforded a slower tempo by the Spurs’ inability to score.  Timmy was wheezing by the fourth quarter, and the duo of Parker and Ginobili couldn’t get into the lane.  That’s 95 percent of their set plays gone.  The Spurs simply didn’t have enough firepower.  Credit the Suns’ improved defense but also Dirk Nowitzki’s elbow, which shattered Ginobili’s nose and, more damagingly, his rhythm, even if Ginobili brushes off such a suggestion.

The Lakers, however, have the requisite size, length and youth (which the Spurs so sorely lacked) to consistently score in a set offense or on the run.  If the Suns, even with Robin Lopez, fight power with power, half-court offense versus half-court offense, they’ll be sodomized on the block.  That’s why the Suns will need all the points they can get in transition.  Thus, they need to revert to the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns and run the ball down the Lakers’ throats.  It’s their only hope, but I’m still not sure that’s enough.  Lakers in 6.

2.)  Cool it with the LeBron to New York talk. He ain’t going there. The only bargaining chips the Knicks have are the biggest media market, a great nightlife and enough cap space for two max-deal studs but no role players.  That isn’t enough.  Even if Bosh or Stoudemire join LeBron in New York, they don’t have an adequate supporting cast under contract.  Here’s a rundown of currently signed Knicks players: Eddy Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Sergio Rodriguez, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Giddens, Toney Douglas and Bill Walker.  I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.  They’d be worse than the present Cavaliers team.  So, if LeBron chooses the Knicks, it will prove being a global icon is more important to him than being the greatest basketball player of all time.

Where to, LeBron?

Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski makes an interesting case for the Cavaliers, however.  The Cleveland fans and media, Wojnarowski said, have been patient with LeBron.  They adore him and have literally built monuments to his greatness.  Understandable, as he is their “savior.”  But what shouldn’t be overlooked is how this eternal patience and faith have created a protective cocoon from criticism.  When he wears a Yankees hat, Cleveland fans begin to sweat but don’t scorn his disloyalty.  When he loses in the playoffs after having the best regular season record, Cleveland begs for his return and don’t bemoan his shortcomings.  LeBron can do no wrong in their eyes.  He won’t have such shelter from the high-expecting, harsh critics of New York and Chicago.  And if he’s as mentally fragile as he appeared against the Celtics, he should think twice about leaving his home state.

Here’s how I see the percentage breakdown:

33% He stays in Cleveland

33% He goes to Chicago and joins its enticing nucleus of Rose and Noah.

33% He goes to New Jersey.  That is, IF the Nets get the number one draft pick (John Wall) and trade Devin Harris for another building block.  But with high-potential players and a Russian playboy/owner with deep pockets who can sign expensive free agents and take the luxury tax hits, the New Jersey Nets are the wild card.  That’s not even mentioning LeBron’s bromance with Jay-Z.

So, at this point, it’s a crapshoot.  But I know he won’t be a Knick.

3.) Don’t read the Spurs’ obituary just yet. I’ll admit that I’m ever the optimist (read: irrationalist) when it comes to my Spurs.  But this isn’t a case of denial.  I’m not clinging onto false hope nor am I grasping at straws.  I honestly believe it true.  The Spurs’ near-future success, however, does hinge on a smart offseason, which should begin with the acquisition of Tiago Splitter, the 25-year-old 7-footer from Brazil.  The Spurs drafted Splitter in the 2007 draft with the 28th overall pick—a shrewd selection typical of San Antonio, as Splitter was considered a lottery-level talent.  But he had a huge buyout (which the Spurs weren’t going to pay), and then he pulled a Ricky Rubio, spurning the NBA for the Euroleague and its higher paychecks.  The Spurs still own his draft rights, though, and it appears he’s heading to San Antonio this summer.  Timmy will be happy, as he desperately needs another big beside him, and Splitter is regarded as the best big man in Europe.   He has a serviceable post game and is a good pick-and-roll defender.  (Think the Spurs could’ve used him against the Suns?)  So Splitter could be one piece of the remedy.  (Another piece would be keeping Tony Parker; shipping him would be idiotic.  Another piece would be the lump of trash disguised as Richard Jefferson making a jump shot once in a while.)

So please, Tiago, for the love of all that is good in this world, please come to the Spurs next year.  PLEAAASSEEE.

The “Go Ahead, Go Crazy” List

1.) Nash is a baller. He’s worthy of the effusive “All-Time Great” talk.  And he still might be underrated.  I don’t think people realize how unique he is or how fortunate we are to bear his witness.

Dude doesn’t even have to think about dribbling.  The ball is just permanently attached to his palm, no matter the circumstance: trapped in a corner, forced to go baseline, double-teamed at mid-court—doesn’t matter—Nash calmly spins, crosses-over and hops to clear territory like a running back, somehow with the dribble still alive.  Not even CP3, D-Will or Rondo have his overall handle.  And Nash is 76-years-old.

Equally impressive is the manner in which Nash scores.  His layups are a joy—yes, I said joy–to watch.  Pay close attention the next time he drives in the lane.  He’ll usually split a double-team or curl off a screen, slow down as he approaches the rim, creating contact with his chaser, and uses his body to distance the ball from the would-be blocker and then, nonchalantly hook the ball into the hoop, leaving the 7-foot defender to look foolish.  Right then, you realize you’re witnessing a master of the layup.  And the spectacle of it is like a magic show  The motions are slow, seemingly predictable (you just know the ball will be sent into the fifth row), but it works every time and you have no idea how.  You are amazed.  Nash is a wizard or something.  I’m sure of it.  How else can you explain why he never makes a mistake and always seems to lift his team when needed?

But that aside, Nash’s dribble, Mensa-level basketball IQ and pure stroke (heinously overlooked) combine to make him … wait for it … the third best closer in basketball behind Kobe and Wade.  Boom.  Yes, I said it.  Nash has developed into an absolute killer in the clutch, with the eye—quite literally, one eye—that says, “We are not losing, and I’m gonna make damn sure we don’t.”  That killer instinct displayed by the legends of the game, the presence of mind to step on an opponent’s throat to squish that last bit of hope—I see it in Nash.

If you’re playing against a Nash-led team, do not leave him within striking distance.  You better bury them with a 20-point deficit in the fourth, chop off their head and burn the corpse.  Otherwise, Nash finds a way to beat you or at least make you want to shit your pants from fear.  He’s done it countless times to me and my Spurs.  His clutchness and toughness and singular determination to win at the expense of his body are verging on—brace yourselves, Lakers fans—Kobe territory.

(Waits five minutes.)

(Is everyone okay?  Lakers Nation, you conscious again?  Okay, good.)

Add everything up, and Nash looks like a Top 10 All-Time Point Guard.  I don’t even care that he’s ring-less.

And coming from a grieving Spurs fan, this is a huge testament.  And that really is the ultimate test of a player’s greatness: The Rival Test.  I’m a prime example.  I just witnessed my favorite team in sports (the Spurs) get run off the court, with my favorite player of the last decade (Timmy Duncan) looking half-dead—all at the hands of Steve Nash.  I should be cursing his name and wishing him painful genital sores.  But I can’t.  He’s just too damn good to brush off.  He has forced me—through sheer will—to respect him.  My only option is to swallow some pride and realize his greatness.  Everyone should do the same.

And the fact that he’s Canadian, inexplosive, fundamentally flawed (defense) and weird looking makes it all the more captivating.  Dude looks like Skeletor.  With stringy hair.  And did you know he dated Elizabeth Hurley?  Puzzling, right?  Gives me hope with Beyonce.

Speaking of which…

2.) This isn’t basketball related, but I have to mention the Maxim Hot 100. Such atrocities cannot be ignored!!  I’m thinking of the children’s sake here, really.  They need to know who truly is and isn’t hot.  Here’s lesson one.

Firstly, Katy Perry at the top spot?  Really?  If she weren’t sporting Double-Ds or marketed to have a penchant for girl-on-girl action, she’d be a less-cute, trashier version of Zooey Deschanel (73).  Katy Perry is a full dozen or two spots too high.  (This is pretty catchy, though.  But catchy in the sense that I like it now but will likely want to eat a bullet when I hear it for the 34th time.)

Megan Fox (5), on the other hand, I can accept at number one—even though I don’t find her especially beautiful, and picking her has become cliché, like choosing Brad Pitt or George Clooney for the men’s list.  She just exudes sex.  Which I credit partly to her relentlessly wanton gaze, but mainly to her mouth.  It’s always agape, as if she’s panting or sex-hungry, and in any given pictorial, she’s either sticking something in her maw or licking her DSLs.  If I were to make a list of things girls should do to get attention, that’d be three of the top five.  Again, not the hottest to me, but understandable.

Of Maxim’s top ten selections, I would’ve gone with Brooklyn Decker (2).  Her bod is just … damn (bites fist) … it could launch a thousand ships.  Launched one in my pants just now.

But the list’s most egregious sin—one that cannot be forgiven—is the exclusion of Beyonce.  When I couldn’t find her, I almost threw myself out the window and unloaded a clip into the air with a soul-aching shriek, Johnny Utah from Point Break-style.  Her absence is baffling.  Even more baffling in light of some inclusions: Kelly Ripa (94), Kara DioGuardi (93) and Christina-freakin’-Aguilera (at 18, no less!).  But no Queen Bey?  Blatant injustice, and I’m pretty sure it’s against God’s will.  As I understand it, this list is a composite of beauty, aura and general persona.  So why Christina Aguilera?  She hasn’t been relevant since, when, 2004 with “Beautiful”?

Number 1 in my heart - always and forever

Beyonce pretty much rules the modern world.  And you have to go retro to find a comparison.  Not since Elizabeth Taylor has an entertainer simultaneously garnered the admiration of women and men’s lust—the rare “Women want to be her, men want to be with her” status.  She is gorgeous (several of my very straight female friends have said they’d switch-hit for her), the best performer in recent memory, has a ghetto booty, is one-half of the most powerful couple in entertainment, stays out the tabloids and had a banner year with the most iconic video of the decade.  And if you want to argue relevance, only Lady Gaga can contest her for Top Female Artist honors.  (The ‘09-’10 power rankings look something like this: 1.) Lady Gaga, 2.) Beyonce, 3.) Taylor Swift, 4.) Rihanna, 5.) Everybody Else.)

You’re telling me Regis’ sidekick, Simon’s ho on the side and the irrelevant Christina Aguilera are more desirable than Beyonce?  That’s like eating at gas station hot dog over a dry-aged ribeye.  Which proves that the Maxim editors are either blind, idiots or gay.  (Scratch the last one; gay people love Beyonce, especially drag queens.)  Because I’ve said it before: It’s a metaphysical constant—like the speed of light or gravity—that Beyonce is the most beautiful woman in the world.

Phew.  Okay, now I can breathe again.

3.) The Celtics are healthy, they’re confident and they’re good. If I had any balls whatsoever, I’d pick them to come out the east.  Magic in 7.

4.) I’m not sure if LeBron’s supporting cast sucks or if he isn’t who we thought he was. The fact that I have to ask this has huge implications.

On the one hand, LeBron proved to be, for better or worse, the most valuable player in the league.  That statement, I should point out, is more an indictment of his supporting cast than it is praise of LeBron.  I can’t remember a group of role players so dependent on not only their superstar’s production, but also their superstar’s mentality.

When LeBron is on, they’re on.  When LeBron isn’t in top form, they blow.  It’s symbiosis, with the only constant being LeBron.  Translation: They don’t have mental grit.  Which is just one way of saying, they aren’t good basketball players independent of their superstar.  Another way of saying it would be, they suck.  And yet even another way would be, they’re a bunch of chokers.

Jamison will be on fire if the Cavs are up by 12 in the fourth, but a brick machine when facing a deficit.  Anthony Parker will drain threes when riding high on momentum but will fail when the team needs an injection of energy.  Mo Williams will display scoring outbursts in the first half, but then disappear in the second when he’s most needed.  It’s a classic case of front-running.  They cannot be relied upon to lift LeBron out of a slump, like Gasol can for Kobe, or VC, Rashard and Jameer can for Dwight.  When LeBron’s game is off, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison prefer Karl Malone’s technique of curling up in a ball.  And LeBron knows this.  He has no confidence in his teammates whatsoever, and far more cancerous, he now views them as a liability.

The current roster is what Peyton Manning and the Colts used to be: a team built for the regular season but gets exposed in the playoffs.  And I don’t see a change in the future.  With the Magic looking more formidable by the year, the Cavs need an overhaul.  This isn’t an overreaction in my opinion, for the reasons stated above.  The Cavs, though, don’t have the trade assets or the cap space to drastically improve.  So, I’m sorry to say, Cleveland, but it’s time that LeBron go elsewhere.

But at the same time LeBron’s body language scared me.  He was listless, routinely careless with the ball.  Confusion and apathy alternately washed over his face.  And I couldn’t help but be nervous by his always-known habit of fingernail chewing—which now projected not as an involuntary mannerism but as a sign of weakness.

Maybe he’s finally cracking under the astronomical expectations.  Would you blame him?  As an 18-year-old, he was anointed the savior of a star-crossed town starving for a championship.  When he drops 25-7-7, we ask what’s wrong with him?  This is a kid who will end up being a Top 15 Player of All-Time—and that might not be enough.  The advertisements, the hype, maybe it was even our own desires, but we saw him someday surpassing Jordan.  That’s the biggest burden to bear since Jesus and the cross.  And maybe his free agency was the final straw, the entire spectacle becoming too overwhelming and the pressure swallowed LeBron.  Maybe.

But I’m hesitant to say he choked or quit because he’s been clutch in the past and has no history of surrender.  But I do know he allowed his team to quit.  Whether scorning them or using positive reinforcement, LeBron did nothing to galvanize his teammates.  Kobe or Nash, in moments like these, would have instilled in their teammates the fear of losing or the confidence to win.  LeBron stood there, stolid, gnawing his fingernails.  And that’s the most glaring weakness in his game.  Not the jump shot or the high turnover rate or the lack of a post-up game—but his lack of leadership.  LeBron is a great teammate (maybe the best in history), but he’s not yet a great leader.

It’s too soon and too unfair given his supporting cast to define LeBron’s legacy or even label him a choker.  But the series against the Celtics did show a hint of his psyche—a peek into his personality that could be the tipping point of how he will be remembered 100 years from now.  How it tips, I have no idea.  But I’ll be watching.