Quick Thoughts On the Chaos That Was the 2013 Draft

So, yea, last night was pretty crazy. I’m just now making sense of everything that went down. Here’s a short list of things that caught my attention.


  • The Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, Carrick Felix Cavs haul



My biggest complaint about the Tristan Thompson pick for Cleveland wasn’t so much about the actual player, it was that Thompson didn’t project to be one of two vital things when it came to complementing Kyrie Irving — he wasn’t a stretch 4 and he didn’t have the size to be a competitive small-ball five (You could play him there, but there’s zero chance the Cavs would stop anyone from scoring. Ever.). This draft showed me they want to put Irving around as much shooting as possible. Felix, Karasev and Bennett should all prove to be at least capable from behind the 3-point line, giving their star point guard a lineup with loads of spacing to break people down off the dribble. If Cleveland can develop that group and add in a Tyson-Chandler-esque 5-man when Varejao breaks down and/or leaves town, look out.


  • Alex Len in Phoenix could pay off huge



There are two things about the young Len I thought he required to have a great chance at reaching his potential — time to develop and a strength staff that made his body stronger without just blindly adding weight. Given the logjam in the Phoenix frontcourt, Len won’t be forced into major minutes and, most importantly, a role where he’s counted on to produce in ways he’s not ready for. If the Suns keep Gortat (or even if they don’t), they have plenty of bigs to soak up minutes while Len grows into his body, improves his skills and learns the game at whatever timeline is best for him. It stands in stark contrast to how another super young prospect that needs time, Cody Zeller (more on him later), is going to be thrown to NBA wolves from the word ‘go’ and because of it, stands a chance to get his confidence destroyed by being exposed to major minutes (and expectations) well before he’s ready. As far as the weight room work goes for Len, landing in Phoenix is the best possible thing that could have happened to him. If any team is going to maximize his athleticism through strength training without exposing him to a higher injury risk, it’s going to be the Suns.


  • Are Jeff Teague’s days in Atlanta numbered?



The Hawks selected Dennis Schroeder, a bright young point guard prospect, as they prepare to enter a new era under former Cavs GM and Spurs exec, Danny Ferry. I’d be curious to know if this is at all an indictment on Jeff Teague, Atlanta’s incumbent point guard who is entering restricted free agency. Schroeder seems to be more of playmakers (though he looks to score as well) than Teague and he comes from overseas, not the American AAU circuit that Teague came up in. Perhaps Ferry sees how the Spurs cast of mostly foreign-born, team-first players shared the basketball so unbelievably en route to their epic Finals run and thinks Teague has too much of a selfish streak to captain a Spursian version of the Hawks. Or maybe he envisions Schroeder developing behind and at times playing with Teague. He hasn’t said much yet publicly, but it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.


  • No one noticed, but Chicago had a nice draft



I wrote a little bit on Grantland about how the situation a player gets drafted into effects his development. With that in mind, I couldn’t think of a better place for Tony Snell than Chicago. He’ll be surrounded by a fiery competitor in Joakim Noah and have blue-collar workers like Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose around him every day. Needless to say, Snell is going to have some serious peer pressure to bring a high intensity to every practice, game and workout. And obviously, Tom Thibodeau will be his normal, demanding self when it comes to Snell fitting into a role offensively and paying attention to every detail on the defensive end of the floor. Also, don’t count out second round selection Erik Murphy. He’s tough, played for a winning program and can shoot it. If Murphy can show in summer league that he could be capable of handling limited minutes in a NBA rotation, it could spell the end of the Carlos Boozer era in Chicago while giving the Bulls a true stretch big they’ve never had.


  • The Bobcats timeline of development



Adding Cody Zeller to the selections of Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in recent years makes you wonder if the Bobcats are every going to pull themselves up from the NBA cellar. I wasn’t super high on Zeller but he has a rep of a good kid and hard worker so at just 20-years-old, he’s got a chance to build himself into a productive NBA player, it’s just going to take time. Which points to the notion that despite a run of lottery picks over the past few years, Charlotte is already all-in on tanking yet another season for more lottery help in 2014. This is the downside of the ballyhooed Oklahoma City model. The Bobcats have tried to land lottery luck but still are years — and lots of hard work from players like Biyombo, Kidd-Gilchrist and Zeller — away from respectability. Now landing a stud like Andrew Wiggins in next year’s draft helps matters, but if they end up with another Zeller-like prospect in 2014, it still be a long, slow grind to the top that will take years of subtle, internal improvement. And if Zeller doesn’t pan out and they whiff again in next summer’s draft, it would officially be time to wonder if ‘Cats are the taking over the title of “league’s perennial doormat” the Clippers held from their inception to the late 2000s.

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Have fun with that, Boston

I’ve been an NBA fan for as long as I can remember.

The first game I ever remember watching was between the Bulls and Celtics during the 1986 NBA Playoffs. I was watching with my dad and I was hypnotized by everything going on. I was four years old and just blankly stared at the television screen. There was a guy who kept doing everything for the red team. When it was explained to me that the object of the game was to put the ball into the circle with the net, it was pretty obvious that the one guy in red was the only person capable of doing that.

From that moment, any time I could get my hands on a basketball or watch a basketball game, my eyes would focus in. My pupils would dilate, absorbing as much of the imagery as my spongey brain could soak up. From that moment on, iconic NBA moments made up my childhood memories. Sure, there were road trips with my family, holiday excursions to Atlanta, that one year I lived in West Point, Mississippi and thousands of other moments that still sit in the back of my memory.

But nothing resonated with me as much as Michael Jordan finally getting past the Pistons, Chuck Person and Larry Bird screaming at each other as they exchanged jumpers like angry motorists exchange insurance information after a crash, John Paxson’s jumper thrusting itself into the chest of the Phoenix Suns, John Starks shooting his team away from a title, being furious the NBA Finals were a picture-in-picture because of OJ Simpson being chauffeured away from the authorities, Nick Anderson missing free throws and Rudy Tomjanovich urging us to never underestimate the heart of a champion.

Those were the moments I took with me from my childhood.  Continue reading “Have fun with that, Boston” »

Steve Nash to the Lakers, Suns to the bargain bin

Steve Nash is going to the Lakers. This is going to hurt the Suns and help his new team.

I know that’s stunning analysis but seeing this deal just shows how different the two franchises are. Their paths are headed in opposite directions, not because one is rebuilding and the other is reloading, but because they’re operating on two entirely different planes of existence.

The Los Angeles Lakers are vultures. I mean that as a compliment. The Lakers know their market and know their strengths as a destination. You can talk about the market and claim that’s the reason for their success, and to a degree I can’t disagree. But when you look at the Clippers in the same market and without the same success, you have to look deeper into what the Lakers are good at doing.  Continue reading “Steve Nash to the Lakers, Suns to the bargain bin” »

Goodbye, Michael Beasley

Nobody likes wasted talent.

For many (if not all) of us, fans see a guy with immense talent that has the ability to do whatever he wants on a basketball court and they plead with him to figure the NBA out. The NBA is as complicated as it is simple. Follow a good coaching plan, make the right plays, and you might find yourself as one of the best players in the league. Get a little lucky with the teammates you’re given and you might end up as one of the best players in the league while winning a boatload of games.

Play the right way in the right system and with the right teammates, and it’s possible to help lead your team to an NBA championship. Once you find said NBA championship, you’ve immortalized yourself in the annals of basketball history. It’s a simple process that comes with extremely complicated and weighted circumstances.

Michael Beasley is talented enough to be the best player on a winning NBA team. I truly believe in his talent. At 6’9” and probably 230 lbs, his dribbling ability and quick first step make him a nightmare when a defender finds himself in solitary confinement defensively against Beasley. He can get to any spot on the floor whenever he wants. Find one of the rare games in which he decides to drive to the basket almost exclusively to set up his outside shot and you’ll see what should be the present and future of the NBA.

Here’s the problem with Beasley though: I had to use the word “rare” to describe that game.  Continue reading “Goodbye, Michael Beasley” »

Learning to breathe

I’ve been doing hot yoga lately. It’s been a great exercise in not just helping me get into better shape but it’s also teaching me how to breathe.

Breathing can be a big problem when you’re going through strenuous activities. Personally, I’ve always had a problem breathing when I’m working out. It’s not that I have asthma or any kind of respiratory issue. My breathing is just fine during normal activities. For whatever reason, I have a problem remembering to breathe and regulating my breathing toward a normal state when I’m lifting weights, using the Stairmaster, or doing pushups or sit-ups.

I have no idea why this comes up. It isn’t necessarily a nervous thing, although there are some rare instances in my life in which I find myself breathing abnormally. When I was asked to be a guest on a radio show the first few times, I’d find myself speaking and almost holding my breath at the same time. It was a nervous action that went away, but every once in a while I find myself doing it the first time I’m on someone’s show.

For some reason though, I hold my lungs in when I’m working out. It’s a habit I’ve tried to break on my own, but I find that it takes away from my concentration. Now that I’ve started doing hot yoga, I have no choice but to learn how to breathe properly. The workout itself is introspective. It’s one of the few workouts that isn’t ephemeral by nature. There aren’t really short sets of exertion. Everything flows from one pose into the next, always requiring consciousness of movement and how it affects the next step.

With the added increased temperature, it strains not only the body but it strains your concentration. It forces you to focus on the basic parts of your workout. Your movements and holds have to break through your own mental limits. And in all of this time, you have to regulate your breathing. Controlling your breath into evenly distributed expulsions and intakes is how you learn to normalize the exertion for your body.  Continue reading “Learning to breathe” »

Meet Chris Bosh: your traditional big man

While LeBron James is two wins away from dashing away a lot of exemplums regarding his legacy in the NBA, no one has improved their image during the course of these playoffs like Chris Bosh has.

In the past, people have made fun of anything about Chris Bosh – from softness to cross dressing like RuPaul to his genitalia to… oh yeah, they don’t think he’s a very good basketball player either. He’s been called half a man when referring to the Miami Big 3 Two and a Half Men. He’s been the most overrated player in the NBA and nothing deserving of his contract.

It’s often been the ammunition coming out of the quills full of desperation for discounting what Miami is capable of doing, what kind of a team they are, and the reasons they’ll never win a title. When in reality, Chris Bosh has been arguably the best safety valve in recent memory. Last year, there were times in which he looked lost and didn’t fit in. There were also times in which his scoring and spacing provided the perfect balance to Miami’s attack. Continue reading “Meet Chris Bosh: your traditional big man” »

LeBron James: Not good enough?

Considering it’s my favorite movie, there are many scenes in Finding Forrester that give me chills. But there is one in particular that I keep remembering as I watched LeBron James perform in these playoffs. Continue reading “LeBron James: Not good enough?” »

A tarnished picture of NBA fandom

My handwriting has come a long way.

“As many basketball posters as possible” is a full and accurate description of my boyhood philosophy on bedroom decor. Today, only one such poster remains on my wall back in Seattle. I made it myself when I was 10. It’s a collage of pictures published in the Seattle Times and Sports Illustrated during the Supersonics’ 1996 run to the NBA finals.

That summer the Supes were all anyone in Seattle could talk about. Pennants hung out of car windows. Sonics logos topped antennas, and flags were draped from houses — the city was awash in Sonics green.

In some ways, it was similar to what’s been happening this year in Oklahoma City, on a less impressive scale:

  • Just like the Thunder, the dynamic young Sonics conquered a veteran club — Stockton and Malone’s Jazz — on their way to the Finals.
  • All of the sudden, on the biggest stage, superathlete Shawn Kemp, like Russell Westbrook, morphed into a savvy veteran.
  • Gary Payton asserted his dominance over Stockton just as Kevin Durant wrestled the Western Conference from Tim Duncan.
  • George Karl proved himself to a critical public just as Scott Brooks, coaching in the shadow of Gregg Popovich, withstood the doubters.

That summer, Seattle’s airwaves buzzed with the ultimate Sonics fanthem by local band The Presidents of the United States of America, and I made my dad drive me to the team store located next to Key Arena to buy the CD. We listened to it on repeat all the way home and I memorized every word down to the epic calls from Kevin Calabro, the voice of the Sonics, that were spliced into the chorus.

I would sing the lyrics: “Fans can rattle the roof / nothing but net, Big Smooth / five guys in a groove,” while carefully assembling my poster. I stared in wonder at images of Nate McMillan and Sam Perkins engulfing Stockton in a suffocating trap or Gary Payton, all wiry fury, getting chest to chest with muscle-bound Malone.

They were heroes, all of them. Even against impossible odds — the ‘96 Bulls had won a record 72 games — my faith had never been stronger.

It was, without a single doubt, the most deeply I will ever feel about a professional sports team.

I also know that 16 years later, somewhere in Oklahoma City, there is a kid having that exact same dizzying experience. He or she has fallen hard for the Thunder, and this kid’s season will either end in heartbreak, as the 1996 season did for me, or in pure joy — there is no in between for the truly obsessed.

But if you travel to that middle ground between tragedy and joy, a sports fan’s no man’s land, you’ll come across a stubborn contingent of Sonics loyalists who aren’t sure how to feel about the franchise making it back to the Finals under a different city’s name.

There’s no denying that the Thunder are not just a feel-good story, but a special kind of team that most fans will never once in their life have the immense pleasure of rooting for. Young, athletic, joyful, determined — they’ve grown in ways the Thunder faithful dared only dream quietly, so as not to jinx their team’s potential. The players have rewarded the city’s enthusiasm with an almost naive approach to the job, a serious departure from the jaded outlook of teams built on disoriented youngsters and veterans playing out the string.

What this team has accomplished between the lines is a great story and, as it should be, the story.

But from the removed perspective of a Sonics fan, there’s so much more to the picture. In many ways, the Thunder aren’t just a pastoral image of what it looks like when everything goes right, but a reminder of the sometimes grotesque reality behind the product on the court.

There’s the fact that the Thunder’s ownership group came to Seattle with the express purpose of taking the team back to Oklahoma and didn’t flinch at the prospect of wounding hundreds of thousands of Sonics fans. There’s the controversial, fracking-friendly company, Chesapeake Energy, that helped make the team’s new owners rich enough to purchase the Sonics and for which the Thunder’s arena is named.

But most of all, Seattle fans view the Thunder through the prism of the team’s origins. The cynical nature of how the Thunder came about suggests that all the ideals embodied by the team’s players couldn’t be further from the reality of professional sports.

The lockout certainly reminded us of this fact — there are 30 very, very wealthy owners who control the game and no fan can choose who these people are. Owners’ whims and goals shape the league we love, not always in the ways we’d like.

For now, the future favors Oklahoma City. If health allows, the team will be great for at least the next decade, and increased revenue sharing will help support the market. But an ugly truth is the same economic winds that helped bring the Thunder to Oklahoma City could one day rip the team from this devoted fan base. Just take a look at what’s happening in Sacramento. Oklahoma City is a small, vulnerable market that needs to continue to excel on and off the court to survive.

I know that the kid who is living and dying on every Durant jump shot might one day end up in my position.

Sonics fans understand that nothing is permanent, even memories. The past is always being shaped by future events. Those 1996 moments have been sullied by the hard reality of sports business, as have more current stories like the Thunder’s blissful rise.

The young fanatic becomes a wry observer.

Time doesn’t really heal wounds. The hurt exists, it’s just more difficult to access. It becomes less familiar, more removed from the reach of idle thoughts.

There are still remnants of the deep, visceral response I used to get from the images in the collage on my wall, but now I focus more on how I had to scrunch up the last words of the poster’s title where I unexpectedly ran out of space (did learn how to write really late, or something?). It no longer readily recalls the sentiment that sparked its creation.

For my 10-year-old self, the collection of clippings was a big, ambitious undertaking — all that actual cutting and pasting!

In reality, it’s sort of endearingly pathetic: composed of only a dozen or so oddly-aligned images and not even the size of a normal poster. It hangs, a heartfelt, misshapen artifact. I no longer see that poster, nor the NBA itself, with the eyes of a 10 year old.

Each time I return home, and as the Thunder move further and further from their Seattle roots, that collage of memories, where Shawn Kemp is forever perched on Dennis Rodman’s shoulders following a ferocious dunk, appears a little more frayed and foreign.

Tuck us in and read us a bedtime narrative

We need closers. We need young guys stepping up in the clutch. We need guys dashing their criticisms and shortcomings aside in the name of winning big games. We need potential to be realized quickly and right before our very eyes.

As fans in the digital age, our sense of patience has been eroded as 24-hour news cycles become 48-hour news cycles and waiting for a Twitter update causes our skin to crawl in anticipation. We need narratives and we need them to fit in with every myth and morsel of folklore we’ve ever concocted. We need individuals to shine and not detract from the team at the same time.

For a brief moment in time, the Thunder fit into our narratives in a dramatic way. Kevin Durant was supposed to be clutch and yet he was struggling at the end of games. In 2009-10 (counting playoffs), Kevin Durant shot just 8/31 (25.8% FG, 27.4% eFG) in the last two minutes of games with a chance to tie or take the lead.  In 2010-11, Durant barely improved, shooting 10/34 (29.4% FG, 32.4% eFG) in those same situations. He couldn’t get himself free from strong defenders and had to catch the ball 30 feet away from the hoop.

There was Russell Westbrook, taking games far too personally and ruining the offensive flow. He was stealing shots from Kevin Durant and putting the team on his back in a way that rubbed many of us the wrong way. He was a potential malcontent, struggling for the spotlight on a team that was being run through, and rightfully so, Kevin Durant.

And there was also James Harden. In the 2009-10 rookie season, he was finding his way with a team growing before our very eyes. He was a role player and asked to be the eventual spark off the bench. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal but he had been grabbed third in the 2009 draft and guys like Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry were shining brightly on terrible teams out West. Harden was being catalogued as a mistake pick – someone who couldn’t possibly live up to his selection and those taken after him.  Continue reading “Tuck us in and read us a bedtime narrative” »

When greatness advances

Sometimes, you can feel greatness advancing.

It’s like feeling the rumble of an army marching toward the battlefield. You can feel thousands of footsteps walking with purpose toward a moment that can only end in brief survival or death. The survival is but a delay of the inevitable slaying that will happen by the hands of the enemy or the biology surrounding each soldier.

You can feel that greatness marching toward you in sports too. Back in 2006, Kobe Bryant was on his own. He was flanked by Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, and a number of frustrating role players that couldn’t measure up to the title teams he helped lead. There wasn’t a set formula for them winning basketball games. Kobe needed to score an inordinate amount of points. They needed fortuitous long-range makes from Smush Parker, Brian Cook, Sasha Vujacic and Devean George. They needed Kwame Brown to rebound and defend.

They needed a lot.

After having fantastic scoring months in November (33.5 points per game) and December (32.0 PPG), Kobe Bryant began another one of his historic scoring tears. It wasn’t quite as prolific as the extended nine-game 40-point game streak he had in 2003, but it was building toward something astounding. There was the game against Dallas on December 20th in which he scored 62 points in 32 minutes. Then during five games from December 28th through January 11th, Kobe racked up 229 points (45.8 PPG), never falling below 41 in any of those games.

Considering the standard he was setting for himself, Kobe had a bit of a let down right after. He had 27 points against Cleveland on January 12th. The next game against the Warriors, he scored 38 points before following up the next game with 37 against the Heat. He dazzled Lakers fans and scoring aficionados with a 51-point effort against the Kings in a loss and 37 points in another loss to the Suns right after it.

This streak of unfathomable and relentless scoring had people wondering just how high Kobe could ever go in a single game. What if everything fell right? What if Phil Jackson had left Kobe in against Dallas when he had 62 points through three quarters of action? Could Kobe have had another ridiculous 30-point quarter like he exploded for in the third during that game? Could he have approached 90 or 100 points?

Then on January 22nd, Kobe Bryant attacked the Toronto Raptors to win his team a ball game and in the process, he poured in 81 points. It was one of those things you could feel coming but you weren’t sure if you were letting your imagination run away from you. You wanted to believe somebody could put up those high usage, video game numbers that you might try to embarrass a friend with in NBA 2K.

On that day, Kobe did it and it was something that helped shaped his already burgeoning legacy in many ways.

Like Kobe Bryant, Gregg Popovich has been successful long before his defining moment and been known as someone to be dismissive, abrupt and uninterested in the media obligations of their job most nights. Gregg Popovich is a basketball savant far beyond what any of us could ever comprehend. There is no questioning him from the common fan. There is no pundit or expert that can possibly know what he knows about the game we discuss.

Gregg Popovich is a man that really doesn’t have to answer to anybody because he’s experienced continued success at the highest level of his profession and done so in spectacular and overwhelming fashion.

During his between-quarter interviews, he’s often put on a show for us and not because he’s trying to entertain us. Throughout this season, it’s because the biggest spectacle and the most tense moments of many of the games he’s coached. The Spurs have been so good at blowing teams away that you’re often left hoping that Popovich will spare some audio gold to those watching at home and praying for a charitable donation of wisdom and entertainment.

There was the story of him being baffled by Ric Bucher saying Tony Parker was discussing their rebounding and then when Ric accidentally brought up a third question in a two-question interview, Pop called him on it and walked away. Then in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Popovich handled Craig Sager’s two questions by answering in a combined 12 words.

It was curt. It was disinterested. It was glorious. And it left you wondering whether or not something like that could ever be topped. In Game 4, Pop talked to Craig Sager and actually gave him an elongated answer to both questions. He was discussing basketball in a way that made you think he might even want to do that interview.

Then Game 5 of the WCF happened and the Spurs were on the verge of dropping a huge game at home. They were down nine points after three quarters and we all hoped Popovich would deliver a between-quarter interview that we could tell our grandkids about someday. He didn’t disappoint.

Four words.

We competed. Same way.

That was all Gregg Popovich said and that was all he needed to say. There was nothing more to offer. There were no more expletives to give. It was a perfect storm of anger at his team and the way the game was going coupled with an irritation for such a meaningless obligation forced by the league onto the coaches during nationally televised games.

You could feel something like this coming but you didn’t want to have your hopes up. Lucky for us, greatness delivered once again.

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