Blind Man's Semaphore
A convergence of publishing, politics, pharmaceuticals,
and the personal.
All material copyright
I'd like to buy a response to global jihad
Pat Sajak spells it out:
Is it just possible that there are those who are reluctant to criticize an act of terror [the murder of Theo Van Gogh] because that might somehow align them with President Bush, who stubbornly clings to the notion that these are evil people who need to be defeated? Could the level of hatred for this President be so great that some people are against anything he is for, and for anything he is against?
Here's an invite to any of my NY/NJ-based readers: Ari Scott, a delightful singer-songwriter (and former official pre-VM girlfriend), is releasing her new EP I Can Open My Eyes at The Bitter End (147 Bleeker St., NYC) tomorrow night (Tues., Nov. 30) at 9:30pm! Join me, the official VM girlfriend, and a bunch of our friends at the show!
Also, buy Ari's first record, I Was Only Just A Chorus Girl. It's a blast.
Relatively uneventful Thanksgiving weekend. The official VM girlfriend cooked a fantastic meal for me, the official VM Mom and my college buddy Mark. There was duck, cornbread/chicken dressing, fig/zinfandel sauce, butternut squash soup, and a sweet potato pie to die for. And there were plenty of leftovers, as expected.
The weekend/vacation was punctuated by a trip to suburban Philadelphia for my 15-year high school reunion (small turnout, and I left my digital camera at a friend's house, so no pix).
My new assistant just started today, so I'm trying to turn my pontificate-o-meter down. It's hard work, but I'll figure out how to shut up someday.
"Freedom's Front Line"
Timothy Garton Ash--who wrote a pretty neat book about the East German surveillance file that was kept on him--has a great piece in the Guardian about the voter revolution in the Ukraine:
Yet until Tuesday, many west Europeans probably did not even know that there was a presidential election going on in Ukraine. We were all focused on that other crucial presidential election, in the US. And, shamingly, Americans probably have done more to support the democratic opposition in Ukraine, and to shine a spotlight on electoral malpractices, than west Europeans have. Poles, Czechs and Slovaks have been more actively engaged, understanding how much is at stake.
Take a few minutes and give it a read.
My new psychic technique is unstoppable
To quote my own NBA preview:
The Pacers believe they were one knee-tweak to Jermaine O'Neal away from getting to the Finals last year, which avoids the reality that Ron Artest is a freaking maniac whom David Stern would've given his left arm to keep out of the NBA's biggest stage.
So I was partly wrong. Jermaine O'Neal might not face much wear-and-tear this season, since he's suspended for 25 games.
It was wrong of the fans to throw stuff at the Pacers. It was wrong of Artest to race up into the stands. It was wrong of Ben Wallace to keep trying to incite Artest by throwing a towel at him.
But it was really bullshit of Artest to lie back on the scorers table, put his feet up, cradle his head, and preen for the opposing crowd, after he and Wallace were separated. That must've burned his general manager's ass (some guy named Bird) to no end, to see his player dump that much disrespect on the game.
I agree with the season-long suspension that Artest's been handed. Given his history of wig-outs, he needs some massive penalty to show him that it's time to start taking those meds.
Oh, and nice job selecting Dennis Rodman's number for your jersey this season, dick.
Weather With You
A year ago today, I embarked on a 15-day trip to New Zealand (click over to the 11/03 and 12/03 archives for wacky details). At the time, I was struggling pretty badly with a broken heart. During my two weeks on the other side of the planet, I discovered how the memory of joy and love can make a person whole. Before then, I'd always been the type to fixate on the past, on absent loves and blown chances. But 32 years of looking back was giving me a crick in my neck.
So, for two weeks, I got to rebuild love without having to center it on another person. It helped that I was in a different world, doing crazy-ass things—jetboating through a river canyon, helicoptering onto a glacier, table-dancing to AC/DC's Thunderstruck, taking The Leap off a 160-foot platform with a rubber band attached to my chest, drinking Flatliners with Australians—that I never would’ve done in my familiar environment. Since then, just about every day's been a wonder, a constant miracle.
After re-finding love in myself, I found it in someone else.
I’ve made great friends (but seem to have lost some others).
I've seen more of the country and the world than I expected to in the year since that trip: Las Vegas, Charleston, Orlando, Annapolis, Boston, the San Francisco-San Diego drive, Budapest, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and numerous trips to NYC, with Brussels and Amsterdam coming up next month. Sometimes the travel wears me down, but I'll take it over sitting at home week after week.
Sorry to sound all boring and unsnarky. The anniversary of the trip (which was really the first trip I ever took that didn’t involve family, friends, or work) got me thinking about all that joy, so I figured I'd share it a little.
Drink a Flatliner for me this weekend.
On second thought, don't; you'll just curse my name for the rest of the week.
I think this whole blackmail plot about Gary Sheffield's wife's sex-tape with R. Kelly is made up. I mean, there's no way the tape is real. Think about it: the tape was supposedly made 10 years ago, but Gary's wife would've been older than 15 back then. QED.
I'm not fat, I'm just big skeletoned!
How could you not read an article that includes the line: "Davis still believes in innovation. As one example, the company recently started making a folding coffin bed"?
Coffins for fat people. From a company called Goliath Casket. I can't make this stuff up.
I have a new favorite site.
It's like the Source Awards in here!
This story just can't be true . . .
Cheech and Chong were pikers
Nice try, but I hear that you can't get the squid smell outta your nose for weeks . . .
Try my Wu-Tang style
Ol' Dirty Bastard died last night. His "taking a limo and an MTV News crew to the welfare office" shtick was pretty funny. I never listened to his solo stuff or the Wu-Tang Clan till a few months ago.
He was only 35. For some reason, I thought ODB was, well, a bunch older than I am, but he was only two years up on me.
Heaven knows how many kids he left behind.
From Judith Miller's obit for Yasser Arafat:
In the 1960's, he pioneered what became known as "television terrorism" - air piracy and innovative forms of mayhem staged for maximum propaganda value. Among the more spectacular deeds he ordered was the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In 1986, a group linked to Mr. Arafat but apparently acting independently seized the Achille Lauro cruise ship and threw overboard an elderly American Jew in a wheelchair.
Yeah: "spectacular". I know it's got a range of meanings, but that might not've been the best word-choice. But "massacre" was pretty appropriate.
Just finishing up a pharmaceutical conference down in Baltimore today, before heading home to the palatial VM estates.
I went to a hospitality event at the Maryland Art Place last night, which was fun. Problem was, the directions to the event just consisted of a map, not a "stick to Pratt St. and then turn left" set of directions. So I made an early left, so as to get to Baltimore Ave. and reach the site pretty quickly.
Unfortunately, I had no idea that this would put me on The Block, which is populated entirely of porno joints and strip clubs, and is situated one block over from the police station. The locals were pretty friendly, inviting me into all of their establishments, but I declined their hospitality, even at the offer of "6 to 8 pretty girls". And then I passed a police officer handcuffing a gentleman on the street corner, shouting, "I have it on tape! Don't LIE to me AGAIN!"
And I thought, "Maybe there's a reason they set those crime shows in Baltimore . . ."
Thanks for putting up with my NBA ranting. Next year, I'm going to try and get it written up far enough in advance that we can post a division a day, leaven those posts with my usual ramblings, and keep VM on a more even keel.
As it is, I don't think any newsworthy events happened in the past week. Let me know if you can think of anything I missed.
PS: Oh, yeah. I forgot: you think maybe Pim Fortuyn had a point?
NBA Preview: Atlantic Division
by Gil Roth
Danny Ainge is a goddamn idiot. For years now, Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks has played a high-stakes game with his players' contracts: he tends to overpay, but at least he keeps enough desirable assets on hand that teams would take on one of his bad contracts just get the rights to one of his useful players.
A few years ago, I thought that practice would crash and burn, because Cuban gave Raef LaFrentz a 6-year/$60 million deal. No one would take that contract off his hands, I figured, reducing the Mavs' flexibility for years.
What happens? Boston GM Ainge trades for him, sending back Antoine Walker's contract, which Cuban just parlayed into an affordable scoring point guard in Jason Terry, and another expiring contract in Alan Henderson. The rich get richer, and the poor get a Mormon.
Ainge, not content to saddle Boston with a gigantic contract for a player who can barely play, went on to make several more deals, driving his coach to quit in mid-season. The upshot? His team now features one legit star (Paul Pierce(d), who is the most sullen top-12 talent in the league), one knuckledheaded but unstoppable talent (Ricky Davis), and one over-the-hill-but-too-prideful-to-admit-it malcontent (Gary Payton, who seems to have entered the weight room exactly once in his career, and that was only to grab a dumbbell to throw at teammate Vernon Maxwell). To recap: that's three pouting egomaniacs who need the ball to be effective now taking up the 1, 2 and 3 positions on the "once-proud" Boston franchise. Recipe for disaster, coming right up!
They've also got a bunch of young draft picks, including some 18-year-old who was putting up Chamberlain-like numbers in high school (like 42 ppg and 19 rpg). This team could feature a reprise of Gary Vs. Vernon, with Ricky filling in for Mad Max. I'd pay $34.95 to see that one on Pay-Per-View, but I'm not right in the head.
New York Knicks
The Knicks floundered for a few years, and then brought in Isiah Thomas last year as GM, and he shook things up. Unfortunately, he ended up with lots of offense, but no coherent defensive philosophy. That's death in the NBA. This offseason, he traded all of his expiring contracts (the most important asset for trades) for Jamal Crawford, a wanna-be point guard (see Rose, Jalen) who can score in bunches but doesn't shoot a high percentage.
He oughtta get along great with Stephon Marbury. And Tim Thomas. And Penny Hardaway. And Allan Houston, if he ever comes back from knee surgery. Speaking of too much offense, this squad actually includes three players who've put up 50 in a night (Crawford, Marbury and Houston). Given how bad their defense is, they might need all three of them to do that if they want to win.
Supposedly, they have a rookie who's a great leaper and electrifying player, but seriousy, those are a dime a dozen. Tamar Slay and Lavorr Postell were two recent ones who played for NJ and NY, and they didn't catch on really because they don't have an awful lot of talent.
The team's top pick last year, Michael Sweetney, looks too doughy to be a good power forward, but he looks better than the team's centers, Nazr Mohammad and Vin Baker, who's recovering from heart surgery, alcoholism, and the fact that his drinking cost him at least $35 million.
If they can somehow learn to play D (not likely under Lenny Wilkens), maybe they'll win this weak-ass division and get swept in the first round by a more organized, better-disciplined team (almost any of the other 14 squads in the east).
New Jersey Nets
Don't get me started. I wrote a lengthy diatribe against this team and its horrible offseason, and then they got worse. Two of last year's starters are gone, Jason Kidd is recovering from a knee injury, and their center—whom they signed for $22 million despite a deteriorating kidney condition—has announced that he wants the team to pay him most of the money and let him leave so he can sign somewhere else to try to win a championship.
The only positive on the squad is Richard Jefferson, who got a pretty lucrative extension in the offseason. He's an amazing talent, but he's going to be burned out by carrying too heavy a load in the first months of the year (provided Kidd comes back and contributes a bit before he gets traded to Dallas (Jason Terry and spare parts) or Denver (Andre Miller and Marcus Camby).
Otherwise, it's a pretty terrible roster, filled with role players and no big talents, including one guy who has played on seven teams in his first eight seasons.
Allen Iverson is the biggest enigma I've ever seen in the NBA. He flat-out cannot play with any teammate who deserves more than role-player status. Oh, he's fine when you surround him with defensive guards, shot-blockers, rebounders, and perimeter defenders, but just try to send in a single player with a scoring dimension, and it all melts down. Want a list? Try Jerry Stackhouse, Tim Thomas, Larry Hughes, Toni Kukoc, Keith Van Horn, and most recently, Glenn "Antoine Carr" Robinson. Now, the big tip-off should've been when he couldn't get along with Kukoc. Unfortunately, they traded the Croatian Creation for the Mongo from the Congo (Dikembe Mutombo) and reached the NBA finals that year, so people seemed to think that it made sense to keep surrounding Iverson with role players who wouldn't get in his way.
Of course, he started breaking down—a natural result of relying on natural speed and quickness and never bothering to work out—and the team began deteriorating. Now, they've got a defensive-minded coach who's already worked in one of the most bizarre scenarios in hoops: the Boston Celtics of Pierce-Walker vintage, which featured two uncontrollable outside scorers and little else. Coach O'Brien somehow brought this strange group to the eastern finals a few seasons ago; no one is sure how.
The belief is that he'll get the Sixers playing tough defense, and let the scoring work itself out. If Iverson stays healthy enough to play 75-80 games, they might be alright. The coach has already benched (prelude to a dumping) Glenn Robinson in favor of some defensive-minded rookie. Weirdly, he also benched defensive-minded center Samuel Dalembert, the Haitian Croatian, for Marc "Don't Call Me Mark" Jackson, who doesn't play D but loves to shoot 12-footers.
I have no idea how all this is going to turn out, especially since Robinson seems pissed off and might end up getting waived, but I think they'll win the weak division, and get home court in the first round.
Long-term, this team is doomed. A few years ago, ownership overpaid a bunch of players just to induce star swingman Vince Carter to stay. Carter then turned out to be moody, brittle, and too eager to settle for a jump-shot, moody. Worse, the guys they overpaid (Jerome Williams, Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams) weren't very good. They made a nice pick in the draft last year with Chris Bosh, who reminds me a little of Jermaine O'Neal, but they managed to trade one headache (Antonio Davis and his bloated contract) for another in the person of Jalen Rose, a me-first scorer who spent nearly a decade trying to convince coaches that he was really a point guard, but who's yet to make another player better in his career.
So now the Raptors are built around Carter and Rose, who have gigantic contracts, and Bosh and Donyell Marshall, who's developed into a solid contributor in his last few seasons (since he spent time in Utah with Jerry Sloan, about whom Tom was correct). They'd love to get rid of Rose, but there's no one who'd take him, and Carter wants to be traded, but ownership knows that the fans would leave along with Carter, since he still dunks really hard, when he's not being a sissy and firing up 20-footers.
Toronto does get bonus points for signing Rafer "Skip to my Lou" Alston, but that won't be enough for them to reach the playoffs. For that, Carter's gotta return to the monster threat he was a few seasons ago.
More on the NBA
by Aaron Finkelstein
Excellent reportage [in the NBA western previews], but in what sense does Shawn Bradley qualify as “marginally talented?” He does throw a really accurate elbow, but if it weren’t for Don Nelson, Bradley would be toting a sandwich board somewhere outside Topeka, or holding hands with a midget in some bumpkin carny. He’s been in the league for more than a decade, and every time he takes the floor I see him do something that convinces me he’s never even seen a basketball before in his life. It’s just astounding.
Don Nelson makes me miss Buddy Ryan, who I like to think can be found in secret bunker somewhere beneath the Painted Desert, stroking a white Persian cat and chuckling insanely to himself.
I’m disappointed that I can find no combination of letters in a Google search that prompts it to ask “Did you mean ‘Mxyzptlk?’” That one line about Bzdelik has rendered me completely unable to watch Nuggets games this season. Honest. It has absolutely nothing to do with mopey Marcus Camby, ‘Melo’s unsettling resemblance to Seattle Storm Favorite Daughter Betty Dixon, or the cosmic surreality of seeing K-Mart in a Denver uniform.
It’s increasingly confounding to me how you lose 60+ games with Tracy McGrady. On the other hand, there may not be a better place than Houston if you’re going to cleave to the “dribble around, jump nine feet in the air as soon as you see daylight, and then figure out what to do with the ball” school of NBA play. And speaking of Kobe Bryant, every time I flipped over to the Lakers game last night I wondered how they could forget to give the dunking mascots their trampoline. I’ve never seen anything like it. L.A.’s in for the most entertaining .300 season in NBA history.
* * *
Fink's Sonics Preview
Nate McMillan’s been seeding his farewell speech for about a month now. I suffer from poor digestion, and so was unable to watch the Sonics more than about once a week last season, but I can’t shake the impression that McMillan hasn’t he faintest idea what the heck he’s doing. This comes as little surprise to those of us who know he was hired on suspicion of being able to get Gary Payton to stay, and because he’s the only fan favorite since ‘78 who is remotely likeable or could pass a criminal background check. Given a choice between arm-folding (to which Nate brings a brooding stoicism that could almost be described as contemplative if he weren’t always murderously pissed off) and finding-one’s-ass-with-both-hands, I’d be inclined to take the latter. Sure, we all whine about not having a post threat and the staggering amount of payroll wasted on three guys who could be smelted into a center slightly worse than Rick Smits; but I believe Nate’s squad last year was talented enough to look like a basketball team for more than two games in a row if he could MAKE UP HIS GODDAMN MIND ABOUT ANYTHING.
Rashard Lewis is about to embark on his fifth “breakout year,” but to be fair it’ll only be his second full season playing a position he’s remotely suited for. And starting your career in an offense run by Payton can mess up your game for a long long time. Just ask Desmond Mason.
Reggie Evans suffered terribly from Nate’s inability to see that if you’re losing 100+ point games in the last two minutes, scoring is not your problem, and taking a voracious rebounder and your foremost energy player off the bench just might not kill you, even if he is an offensive liability.
The departure of Calvin Booth means the mediocrity at center is now merely bipolar, which should clarify matters enough that Nate might play the same guy for as much as a whole week at a time.
Danny Fortson might not accidentally kill anybody, and if he does, there’s a better than average chance it won’t be one of is teammates. Nick Collison and Lil’ Robby Swift clearly have their hearts set on being basketball players when they grow up. Management will have sold them for scrap metal and a deli tray before that happens, of course.
Luke Ridenour should continue to improve this season, despite taking time off mid-year to star in a remake of “My Bodyguard.” This is a shame, because Antonio Daniels is an actual point guard, and one that defends, no less. He’s tough, quiet, hardworking, and exactly the kind of player this city of basketball morons doesn’t notice. It’s a little confusing to all of us that Nate appears to actively hate him.
I don’t know what to do with Vladimir Radmanovic. He’s the other side of the Euro: he comes out of a youth academy that drilled him so mercilessly on fundamental basketball that he appears to have no instinct on the court. People think he doesn’t hustle, but I expect that the sight of a loose ball still comes as kind of a surprise to him. Plus he’s, like, Jessica Simpson’s age. I’d just hate to see them move him out of pique (for peanuts, naturally) and than have him turn into the newest edition of the Slavic Instant Mis-Match. (I ask you to do nothing to disturb my blissful ignorance of how pointless it is to fit him into a lineup that includes Ray Allen and Lewis.)
I miss Brent "Bones" Barry like a brother, but he looked swell in the LA/Sac game last night. My only hope is that it occurred to someone to exact his promise that he’d return for his broadcasting career. I figure he can continue the grand tradition of Killer Zombie Broadcasters like Hubie Brown and Doug Collins.
I refuse to acknowledge the presence of Dominque’s kid until he does something more interesting with his hair.
NBA Preview: Central Division
by Gil Roth
A few seasons ago, the Bulls made a huge gamble in the draft. With two of the top four picks, they took high school big men Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. The idea was that both would develop into legit bigs, and the team would be set at the PF and C positions for the next 10-15 years.
Turns out they suck. Curry's been fat and unmotivated till this season (his contract year), while Chandler just wasn't as good against NBA talent as he was against 6'4" white high school kids. I remember him saying, in his first NBA game, that he didn't imagine how strong the players were. He said something to the effect of, "There was a missed shot, and I was going to go up for a rebound, but Karl Malone put his hand on my hip, and I couldn't jump off the floor."
The problem wasn't necessarily that the Bulls drafted a pair of high school bigs, it was that they didn't have any real veterans on that team to bring the kids along. They gambled that a couple of 18-year-old, seven-foot-tall kids, guaranteed millions of dollars, would find the motivation to become good players in the offseason. Instead of buying fake IDs or spending their time playing Grand Theft Auto.
So this year, the team drafted a couple of older players, and is trying to emulate the tough mentality of its coach, Scott Skiles, who still improbably enough holds the NBA single-game records for assists. Last year, the Bulls were a sexy/sleeper pick for the playoffs. This year, everyone expects them to lose, trade at least one of the bigs (I bet Curry goes to Memphis), and commence their 87th rebuilding effort since Jordan's retirement.
They made one of the most boneheaded offseason moves ever, voiding a year off the contract of hyper-productive power forward Carlos Boozer, so they could give him a big, long-term deal. Not only is such an arrangement illegal in the NBA, which would've led to league sanctions, Boozer burned them by skipping town for Utah! In a panic, they traded for another young PF in Drew Gooden, despite the fact that he's regarded as one of the dumbest players in the league. They're backing him up with Robert "Tractor" Traylor, one of the fattest players in the league, so maybe they were trying for some Laurel & Hardy vibe.
Fortunately, they have the best young player around, in LeBron James. The team tried to set up the 6'8" high schooler as its point guard last year, which proves Drew Gooden might not be the only dumb person associated with the Cavs. They smartened up and moved him to the shooting guard and small forward spots, bringing in Jeff McInnis last year and trading for his polar opposite, Eric Snow, this offseason. James, without having to be responsible for all the ballhandling, will still get a bunch of assists, because that's what good players do, and he's a heck of a player.
The Cavs should do alright this year, and I'd be surprised if they don't make the playoffs. They still possess one of the few remaining legitimate centers in the league in Zydrunas Ilgausakas, whose name used to be the password protection I built into PDFs so they couldn't be pirated.
I'm starting to think that this team could be the New England Patriots of the NBA. They won't put up a winning streak like the Pats', but they seem to have a management that gets it. They won a championship with role players, which is absolutely insane in the NBA, which has been star-driven for decades. Their best scorer is terrible at the 3-pointer, which everyone else in the league seems to love. Their center couldn't score in double-digits if my mom was guarding him. Their point guard played for five teams in his first six years, has never averaged 6apg, and is named Chauncey. Their small forward looks like Condorman. Their power forward was once regarded as everything that's wrong with the NBA (which gives Ron Artest some hope for redemption).
But Larry Brown got them playing ball as a team, focusing on each other's strengths and covering up weaknesses, and they pulled off an amazing upset against LA last summer. In the offseason, they seem to have gotten even stronger, bringing in Antonio McDyess as a backup PF (he'll play well in limited minutes, after all his knee trouble), and some Argentinean guy named Carlos. The most crucial fact is that they still have Darvin "Slam Bam I Am" Ham, who's my favorite college player of all time.
It's the farewell tour for "F--- You" Reggie Miller! The Pacers believe they were one knee-tweak to Jermaine O'Neal away from getting to the Finals last year, which avoids the reality that Ron Artest is a freaking maniac whom David Stern would've given his left arm to keep out of the NBA's biggest stage.
During the Eastern Conference finals last season, Artest gave a forearm shiver to Richard Hamilton, committing a flagrant foul that helped submarine his team. The weird thing about it (people still expect Artest flameouts) is that he threw his forearm while staring directly at the ref with a blank expression. The replay was really demented, because Artest looked sorta like a "troubled" child who deliberately does something wrong in front of his parents. It's like he was begging to get caught, so he could be thrown out and not have to deal with the pressure.
And he's the #2 guy on this squad, although he contends that he's the MVP of the league. Great talent, no head: the Jeff George of the NBA.
A few years before the Bulls blew their future on a pair of high school big men, the Pacers traded their aging C/PF Antonio Davis away for a #5 draft pick, which they used on a 7-foot-tall high school kid named Jonathan Bender. He was touted as "the next Kevin Garnett," and the team's still waiting for him to have a good year, going into his sixth season. I'm pretty sure that Garnett averaged more than 5.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg and 0.7 apg in his first five years.
The novelty about Bender was supposed to be that he could play every position, and exploit mismatches everywhere. This is one of those things that burns my ass about the NBA: almost no one seems to excel at any one position. When I've got a blue-collar rebounder who's willing to mix it up down low and come up with 12 rebounds a night, like Troy Murphy out in Golden State, I don't tell him to work on his 3-point shot during the offseason. Get a reliable 12-foot jumper, maybe, but don't work on skills that are going to leave you on the perimeter of the game, unable to do to the one thing you do really well.
I'm ranting. Anyway, my complaint is that I've yet to figure out what Bender's supposed to be good at. Being "an athlete" isn't enough in the NBA, but you wouldn't know it from some of the contracts that have been tossed out there.
Pacers will be in the top two in the east again this year, because a lot of the competition sucks, and they have some pretty good components. I still don't trust 'em under real pressure, because I think Artest will explode, and O'Neal's too in love with his jumper (and a little too fragile).
I think Jonathan Bender will have a break-out season.
Major surprise team last year. They went into a big cost-cutting mode, but still managed to win a ton of games in the really terrible Eastern Conference. They even managed to win when they had two of the greatest modern underachievers in the league on the same squad: Keith Van Horn and Joe Smith. The key was a rookie point guard named TJ Ford, but he's out with a bruised spinal cord (ow), and I'm betting they don't win a whole lot this year. Plus, they have to spend their winters in Milwaukee. On the positive side, they do have one of those great character guys who can actually produce, in Michael Redd.
NBA Preview: Southeast Division
by Gil Roth
This team's been in rebuilding mode since the end of the 1999 season, when it was the worst second-round playoff team in NBA history. In the latest mode, the Hawks traded for Al Harrington, whom I used to believe was the best player on the Pacers, and Antoine Walker, a power forward who doesn't rebound, handles the ball too much, and fires up epic amounts of three-pointers (until last year, when he was traded to the Bizarro world, and spent most of the season confused).
Harrington's one of those 'tweener high school draftees. With a few years of college, he might've refined his game and been a strong player in the league. Instead, he's spent years bouncing between the forward spots on Indiana, never really seizing his chance to be a regular contributor. My opinion of him plummeted during the 2002-2003 playoffs, when Indiana got pantsed by Boston.
Ultimately, the Hawks are hoping Harrington will develop into the #1 option, and that Antoine Walker will walk at the end of the season. The latter event will leave the team with tons of cap space that free agents can use to get bigger contracts from teams that they actually want to play for.
This team will be terrible, but at least they won't disappoint the fans; there aren't any.
Every couple of years, someone touts a squad as a challenger for Worst Team Ever, giving it a shot at winning fewer than 9 games (a mark set by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.
Last year, many figured that Utah, missing Stockton and Malone, would break the record. In fact, I was among that number. I was in Salt Lake City for a conference the week before the NBA season started, and I was stunned at the predictions in the SL Tribune. Their staff called a 30-35 win season. I was convinced that a crack epidemic had broken out in Mormon country.
Turns out I was wrong. Great coaching (combined with one of the most insanely multidimensional players in years) brought that squad within one win of the playoffs, which was a mind-blowing achievement.
Two seasons ago, people were figuring that squad would be Denver, but they managed 17 wins with a roster that appeared to be assembled by vandals. Turns out that it's really hard to win only 9 games in a season.
Why do I bring this up? Because this expansion Charlotte team is this season's candidate for The Worst Ever. They'll probably finish with the worst record in the league this season, but I'll pay $50 to Shawn Kemp's paternity fund if the Bobcats actually win fewer than 9 games. Sure, Bernie Bickerstaff (he's coaching and GM'ing, which almost never works) has put together a squad of no-names (along with #2 pick Emeka Okafor), with an eye to clearing more cap space and bringing in free agents as the team gains flexibility in the next 3 years.
The thing with this lineup is, a bunch of the players are guys who never got a chance to contribute on deeper, veteran squads. Guys like Tamar Slay, who would show up large in summer leagues, but was never going to get playing time ahead of Kerry Kittles and Richard Jefferson in NJ. Similarly, Eddie House was frequently bottled up by Pat Riley's disciplinarian ways (which is a way of saying he didn't play any defense). Now, he's going to get the green light to fire away.
The one problem about those talented, potential-laden players is that very few of them are capable of becoming regular contributors. They're very rarely on the bench because of depth issues; there's usually something wrong with some aspect of their games. Bad defense, poor shot selection, and an inability to pass the ball out of double-teams are the usual culprits.
So, they'll have some fun players to watch, and I think Okafor will grow into an Alonzo Mourning type of player in the next few years, but it'll be a pretty ugly season in Charlotte. But not Record-Breaking Ugly, which is all that counts.
They traded for Shaquille O'Neal in the offseason, which kinda sucks because I really enjoyed watching last year's team. It was neat that Pat Riley gave Ron Jeremy his first NBA head coaching gig, but I also enjoyed watching Lamar Odom play well (albeit out of position) and not drug out.
But that's all in the past. Miami's now officially about the present. Shaq's dropped a ton of weight, so it's possible that he can play another 3-4 years, if he's motivated (by a big contract extension, since he's deal's up after next year). He'll be paired with Dwyane Wade, a second-year kid whom I loved watching the NCAA tournament two tourneys ago. Problem is, Wade's game is predicated on getting to the hoop, and using his dribble-drive to set up his defender. I'm not sure how effective that's going to be with Shaq clogging the middle, unless the big guy is willing to play high-post sometimes. He wasn't willing to last year, because he hated Kobe.
The Heat's other problem is that they traded away all of their depth to get Shaq. Since his contract's so huge, the team'll never have the cap space to bring in a significant free agent. So the rest of the roster's made up of refugees. Still, they'll see tons of open shots, because no one in the East can slow down Shaq.
One of those rejects is Christian Laettner, which is pretty funny. See, when Shaq was drafted #1 in 1992, Laettner was #3 (Alonzo Mourning went #2), and Shaq was just merciless every time he took on Laettner's squads. CL went on to have one of the non-descript careers ever for a guy who was the best college player in a generation (and I hated Duke).
If you have a minute, check out his page on NBA.com and look through the "transactions" section; in the course of his career, Laettner's been traded for some really wacky players. He's on his seventh team, but the sixth team actually waived him before he ever played a game for them (maybe Golden State GM Chris Mullin took pity on his fellow Dream Teamer). I'm just saying it'd be funny if he has a career resurgence because of Shaq.
Given how terrible the new SE division is, there's no doubt that Miami wins it (barring a major injury to Shaq).
These guys were the worst team in the league last year, so ownership blew up the squad, trading away the best physical talent in the league, in Tracy McGrady. Normally, you don't trade a player of McGrady's caliber and get a pass from the press, but the new GM seemed to be of the opinion, "We went 21-61 with you; how much worse will we be without you?"
The new lineup's pretty interesting. With the #1 pick in the draft, they drafted a high school kid, which tells you that they don't plan on winning for a while (Dwight Howard's a good kid, by all accounts, but he's no Le Bron). The backcourt of Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley can pour in tons of points, but won't put on a lot of defensive clinics. The team had better win, because Francis is the poutiest guy in the world when he's losing. Of course, he's receiving something like $14 million a season, so he oughtta shut the heck up.
Orlando may actually be a middle-of-the-road team this year, if only because of the multiple scoring punches, plus the health of long-distance scorer Pat Garrity.
Allegedly, Grant Hill's ankle is finally working correctly, but I'll believe that when he's actually put in 70-75 games this year. Until then, his ankle takes the place of Rik Smits' feet, which were pronounced "healthiest they've ever been" during every off-season. By mid-January, he'd be limping around and going on the injured list. For some reason, no one ever made the connection that his feet felt good in the off-season BECAUSE HE WASN'T PLAYING BASKETBALL.
Anyway, I hope Hill is healthy, because he was a great player to watch in his prime. If he plays most of the season, then Orlando has a shot at getting the 4 or 5 spot in the playoffs. Then they'll get wiped out because they don't play any D.
In a stroke of genius, they decided that having two former Golden State Warriors in the starting lineup wasn't enough, so the Wizards management traded for Antawn Jamison in a vain attempt at recreating the magic of the 2001-02 Warriors, which lost 65 games. The Wiz might actually only lose about 50-55 games this year, so they can't even fail right. In Washington, this is considered a success. Keep in mind, this is a team that MICHAEL JORDAN couldn't inspire.
(More previews to come tonight or tomorrow. I got a little off-track last night)
NBA Preview: Pacific Division
by Tom Spurgeon
Golden State Warriors
One thing I like about the NBA is that Matt Carroll and Jason Richardson can be part of the same college class, yet one can easily have two more years of NBA experience than the other and not even be considered an early draftee. Okay, I don't like that at all about the NBA, just like I don't like the Golden State Warriors, this year's team to throw out when you can't figure out where a player you used to like is still playing. My favorite player on the Warriors roster is Adonal Foyle, a Colgate graduate who started a book club that had people reading once a month and then seemed to not update the site for a long while. I thought of all these kids in Oakland, clutching copies of Jack London, waiting for Adonal to come back. I'd have something else to say about the Warriors, but every time I look at their roster I see the words "Troy Murphy" and "Mike Dunleavy" next to each other and I start crying for those kids in Oakland all over again.
Los Angeles Clippers
Now here's a Dunleavy I like, Mike Sr., whose claim to fame used to be that as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks he'd occasionally suit up and take a ten-day contract. You've heard of a player being known as Instant Offense? Dunleavy was Instant Local News Feature. This team is really young, with 11 players on the bloated pre-season roster having three years or less of experience, and Kerry Kittles as its Grand Old Man. I know you can write this every year, whether or not you follow it up with a paragraph about how much you like Elton Brand: There's no reason the Clipper can't win 30 games. There's no reason they can't lose 65.
Los Angeles Lakers
With Kobe Bryant's magnificently executed heel turn now complete, the resulting hatred of the entire outside world might create enough pressure without to mold Los Angeles Lakers fans into real sports fans for the first time. Okay, probably not, but there should be at least enough sideshow heat to keep casual fans interested until they get good again. I always thought that GM Mitch Kupchak should go back to wearing his playing days leg braces over his suit to gain sympathy from the fans for his dubious trades and draft choices.
This is the team you'd want to play for and watch visit your home squad but not necessarily bet on a high win total this year. They should score a lot of points and allow a lot of points, and Amare Stoudamire should grab 115 rebounds a game. Of course, I liked last year's roster, too, at least the first ten players, and they performed like LaRue Martin. It's interesting how Shawn Marion's career has progressed just like his nickname-sake Matrix films--I liked him a lot better back in '99, too.
The Kings won't be the same without Vlade Divac flopping at mid-court and inadvisedly shaving once or twice a year, despite the fact that the team acquired all-star and decent passer Brad Miller for Scot Pollard and a two-week stay for Donnie Walsh at the MTV suite in the Palms Resort. They do feature the Betty and Veronica of guard-tandems in Bobby Jackson and Mike "Nosferatu" Bibby, and Peja Stojakovic is playing for his reputation after last season's Chicago Cubs-like disappearance followed by Chicago White Sox-like petulance Windy City Twofer. The owners' loyalty to Rick Adelman is touching, unless of course you're a fan of the team.
Tomorrow: Gil's Eastern Conference previews. And also some election stuff.
NBA Preview: Southwest Division
by Tom Spurgeon
In terms of roster "building," the Mavericks are trying to put together a showpiece house by stacking the same three rooms on top of each other over and over and over again. A quick look at their roster indicates they have plenty of marginally talented centers (including all-time object of derision Shawn Bradley), poor man's Michael Jordans (really, really poor in some cases) and offensive-minded forwards with a dubious commitment to rebounding. Coach Don Nelson's latest stint as an NBA coach has certainly built the reputation of the early 1980s Milwaukee Bucks teams, about whom one has suspicions that with Hubie Brown as coach we might just have a videogame called "Pressey vs. Magic." Dirk Nowitzki remains wonderful to watch when he's on, and when he has hair.
Center and Chinese folk hero Yao Ming added a new skill this offseason that terrifies his rival. That skill is speaking English, which Ming does well enough at this point he can appear translator-free on television with Regis and Kelly, although admittedly neither one of them is a master of a language. Ming's game is supposedly aided by the addition of Tracy McGrady. I have no idea how Tracy McGrady will fit in with the Houston team, because I've never seen the talented guard and seven-year veteran actually play basketball before. He is joined by two generations of under-performing Michigan power forward, Juwan Howard and Maurice Taylor, and the 103-year-old free agent signee Mark Jackson. The key to the whole Houston season may be whether Van Gundy feels he needs to keep Jackson or if he cuts him for someone younger, such as anybody else in the entire league.
I want to see the Grizzlies get really good so every year when they get deep into the playoffs we can see a feature on their ABA past. The good sign is that Jerry West has assembled the kind of roster heavy with B to B+ talent that makes a super-trade possible at some point in the near future. The bad sign is that there are really no players like that worth trading for these days. Hubie Brown becomes a much less effective coach when players grow accustomed to his fearsome, Cryptkeeper-like visage, but for now they'll play hard for him and the team should do only slightly worse than last year.
New Orleans Hornets
If Baron Davis were a movie star, all of his movies would open up in April or in early October. He just doesn't seem big-time, leading-man material. He is supported, strangely, but four almost similarly sized players, all of whom were drafted the same year: George Lynch, P.J. Brown, Rodney Rogers and Jamal Mashburn. Otherwise, this is a team so dull that the jumbotron at New Orleans Arena shows highlights from other games, despite trading for the player most likely to lead the leagues in taped segments with Ahmad Rashad, white dunkmaster Chris Andersen, who gives off the air of "failed child star" better than anyone in the league not named Christian Laettner.
San Antonio Spurs
I have a friend who is obsessed to the point of madness with seeing the Spurs great player, center-forward Tim Duncan, participate in a swimming contest. Duncan gave up swimming for an NBA career, but has kept that overwhelming swimmer's charisma. He'd be a good corporate employee because when he screws up you can't really tell how he's playing any differently (lap after lap after lap), so it's hard to pin him down as a player with flaws. He's really the new Oscar Robertson, who in the 1960s and 1970s played better than anyone in the flow of the game, but only ever seemed to be working three quarters as hard. It remains to be seen if, like Robertson, Duncan can win a championship without a quality center to play off of. The team added the Rick Barry spawn who always does so well in statistical analyses of the game, so they should do just fine in a rapidly fading conference.
NBA Preview: Northwest Division
by Tom Spurgeon
The Nuggets will be coached by Jeff Bzdelik a) until Superman tricks him into saying his last name backwards and returning him to the 5th Dimension or b) mid-season, when an under-performing Andre Miller, a slumping Carmelo Anthony and a brooding Kenyon Martin forces a 13-game losing streak.
Minnesota needed to win last year as Kevin Garnett sidemen Latrell Sprewell and Sam "Magic Jeep" Cassell inch closer and closer to being Curly Neal old. I also keep imagining that Wally Szczerbiak is going to wake up and finally realize he was destined to become a pro tennis player. He just looks like one, doesn't he?
Portland Trail Blazers
Qyntel Woods was recently cited for participating in illegal dogfight activities, for the firs time opening up a professional sports team to Warren Oates jokes. Authorities were tipped to Woods when he abandoned a dog that wouldn't fight for him on the side of the road. You know the NBA is going downhill when a player's posse members are half-assing it, and I sincerely hope no one in Woods' inner circle is ever given the job of disposing of an old mattress. In other Rose City entourage malfunctions, Zack Randolph lied to police about a shooting in a bar in Anderson, Indiana, a town that has the social scene equivalent to one of those floating oil platforms. Things should go a little better for the Blazers on the court, but only a little. Randolph is a throwback to production machines Mark Aguirre and Adrian Dantley, and sort of fun to watch, though.
Seattle Super Sonics
Kobe Bryant calling out the mild-mannered Sonic guard Ray Allen during pre-season surprised many NBA observers, 80% of whom had forgotten Allen exists. Nonetheless Allen remains one of two good players in a Sonics rebuilding effort that suffers from horrendous choices in the mid-to-late 1990s. Think of this year's squad, with perpetually dewy Rashard Lewis and at least three guys who annually vie for the league's Greg Kite Acne-Filled Shoulders award, as the Jean Doumanian cast of Saturday Night Live, the year with Charles Rocket. I'm all for the Sonics doing well, though, because head coach Nate McMillan looks great with his arms crossed while wearing a suit, which is the hardest to master of all great coaching skills.
The Utah Jazz played really well last year despite a starting line-up that included Andrei Kirilenko, the guy who kicked America's ass at the Olympics, and three founding members of the Steppenwolf Theater Company. Kirilenko recently signed a humongous contract, which according to the rules of the NBA means he might begin to suck now. This would be too bad, because he's fun to watch, like a bad guy in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie that also plays defense and runs the floor like it's 1984 all over again and he's Michael Cooper. In the off-season the Jazz signed Carlos Boozer, who has the game's most annoying calm face-–he's the guy who always outside the party house being talked out of some misunderstanding. The Jazz are coached by Jerry Sloan, who at 60+ years old is still the last guy you want to see coming towards your car with a golf club.
NBA Preview: Western Overview
by Tom Spurgeon
Here are my general predictions for the western portion of the National Basketball Association, now split into three divisions so that Gil could catch me not knowing anything about the league's change three days after I lied and said I was done with this report. [Ha-ha! I knew I could trip you up by asking who you liked out of the South Central Eastern Plains Division, y'big jerk! --ed.]
1. The Los Angeles Lakers will win a lot of basketball games this year, despite losing Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat, because their doing so will irritate me. Also, because Kobe Bryant brings the manic energy of the never-been-hugged to basketball games that not even the parents of the other players bother watching.
2. Kobe Bryant's dad will score 22 points one night in a basketball league that will refuse to employ Dennis Rodman.
3. Qyntel Woods will at some point in the season be tempted to leave Portland Trailblazer teammate Damon Stoudamire on the side of the road somewhere.
4. Kevin Garnett will make another slightly humiliating commercial that hints at his inability to win.
5. Carmelo Anthony will eat something Kenyon Martin leaves out in the locker room, causing Martin to repeatedly say, "It's cool," until three hours later when he drives over Anthony in his Escalade.
It's finally here!
No, you ninnies, not the election! I've already cast my vote, and it's for Apple Pie and a Tanqueray & Vicodin cocktail tonight! It's the new NBA season that has ME so juiced up!
Other blogs can keep regurgitating their political rantings (that goes double for you, Sullivan); for the next two days, Virtual Memories is devoted to professional basketball!
Today's big-ass entry is a preview of the Western Conference, written by Tom Spurgeon. Tom's not just a hoops geek (it's in the genes; he's from Indiana), he's also an unparalleled chronicler of the comics industry, and now he has the Comics Reporter website to prove it (as if his great book on Stan Lee wasn't enough)! Without further ado . . .
I Hump This Game
by Tom Spurgeon
The best thing about professional basketball in America used to be that everybody hated it. It was an urban game played by men in bad suits in largely undisciplined but fascinating fashion, with success dependent largely on how well your college game had been imprinted into your memory. Then Larry Bird and Magic Johnson came along. Bird and Johnson were gym rats with enough in the way of physical gifts to make the game bend to their will. For seven or so years the National Basketball Association combined individual expression with a beautiful notion of flow and pressure that emphasized getting the best shot at the goal possible, usually as quickly as possible. There were great teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, and the Philadelphia 76ers; there were great rivalries like Dr. J versus Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar against an America That Did Not Understand Him.
Then Michael Jordan showed up and dunked on everybody and scored 75 points on the Celtics because his teammates included Lee Atwater and a guy from the Gap Band and things went right to shit.
Okay, it took a long time. But things did go to shit. Players started to be paid for their "entertainment value" as much as their ability to actually play the game, sort of like a company giving the person who has the most pencils in the roof above their desk the biggest salary. Players began to realized you could take three-pointers and no one would yell at you for missing them the way they did shots you should actually make. New teams showed up and employed more bad players and made a star of Muggsy Bogues, who would have been another generation's favorite Globetrotter. The structure of salaries and ticket-demands for new stars, or at least one that sort of were like the good ones, made owners pay some really dubious talent a lot of money. Shaquille O'Neal terrified the land by making rap albums and movies with Judd Nelson.
Gil Roth's beloved New York Knicks tend to be blamed for this state affairs, and the only way in which I disagree with conventional wisdom is that I believe it should come with sizeable electrical shocks for everyone involved when I think that way. Michael Jordan settled into a very set offensive system with the Chicago Bulls that basically allowed him to stay the same player he was by surrounding him with players who only did a few things very well – sort of like building a soapbox derby car where you skimp on every other item because you own killer wheels. Instead of making a superior team out of generally superior parts, the Knicks decided to afford a wonderful college player turned selfish pro named Patick Ewing "local Jordan" status, surrounded him with players as flawed as the Bulls, and sold the referees on the fact they should be allowed to play like the Hanson Brothers because, well, they were the logical rivals.
Fast forward seven years later and there's America losing the Olympic Gold and Americans being happy about it. If there's any hope for the NBA at all, it may be found in one curious and undeniable fact.
Everybody seems to hate basketball again.
I believe I can cry
How come this stuff doesn't happen when Billy Joel & Elton John are touring together?