Monday, May 24, 2010

A Sad Day for the NBA

We all felt it deep within our bones when Joe Johnson signed with Atlanta. There was no doubt he was a great scorer, but did he deserve his $70 million? Questionable at best. This salary cap handcuffer slipped into the backs of our minds as we were amazed and blinded by Atlanta's young, exciting and high octane offense. While Joe may have lifted Atlanta out of the cellar, he confined them to above average mediocrity.

Now that the 2010 playoffs have proven Joe's worth, NBA GMs can rejoice. Even salivate. You could not have even asked Karl Malone to disappear more in the playoffs. A second tier superstar is finally valued at second tier money (at least I hope).

It is this overvaluing, the same one that cripples franchises (see Andre Iguodala and Gilbert Arenas, even if the gun charge never surfaced), that destroys our game. It is especially frightening that my beloved Knicks may fall into the trap that seems to have gravitational-like force.

That said, Amare Stoudemire's 42 points and 11 rebounds may have been the worst possible outcome for every NBA fan whose team has cap space. His seemingly never-ending onslaught of dunks and layups cemented his glorification, and, in only a month or two, max contract. Granted, a LeBron/Amare combination would be as lethal as any pick and roll in the NBA. Surround them with a bunch of shooters and you have LeBron's ideal team. But with a salary cap comes boundaries. LeBron and Amare sounds great on paper. But considering teams would only be able to afford the likes of Daniel Gibson and P.J. Brown to fill out the roster, we're looking at the Cleveland Cavaliers, just wearing a different uniform.

It is my hope, as far-fetched as it may be, that Amare's value will come to light. To put it simply, Amare has what few other NBA players possess: the wow effect. We love it. I love it. Monstrous dunks, ferocious rebounds, absurd athletic ability. But while this is useful 3 feet from the basket, it is worthless everywhere else. He is a blow average rebounder, defender and shooter. Yet we never bother ourselves with these details because his Steve Nash and the Phoenix offense erase them from our memories. In other words, his talent is not transparent; it hides behind the shadow of Steve Nash and the Phoenix offense. Take these two things away, and we're left with a glorified dunker. Hopefully GMs have night vision.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Praiseworthy Canadian

My loyalties did not lie with the Dallas Maverick point guard Steve Nash. Two long haired white guys leading a once struggling franchise back to respectability recalled memories (well, ESPN Classic highlights) of the 1970's, an era to which I did not belong. In my mind, at least, something needed to be corrected. Then came the switch that has haunted one franchise and rejuvenated another. Whether or not Nash would have won consecutive MVPs without D'Antoni's offense is a debate which I will not engage. But after undeniable success that sparked the most exciting team in basketball, I could not and would not rethink my stance on a Canadian soccer player.

Since the '05 season, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo have all challenged Nash for the ever vacillating title of best NBA point guard. In every year since their emergence, at least of one these players has, in the eyes of the media, surpassed Nash. Somehow, we have managed to subjugate a two time MVP into a lesser realm in which he is the only member. We all recognize his greatness, yet we can never award him proper praise. It seems that we are always searching, and finding, reasons to reduce his value.

I was part of the problem. I have nothing against the man personally. In fact, I appreciate his media candor and unwillingness to broadcast his wealth or fame. In his own humble and unadulterated way, he is simultaneously one of Nike's most and least recognizable endorsed athletes, a trait most can only hope to acquire. If he had his way, no one would know who he is. He plays the game purely for the pleasure it brings. But despite his commendable outward personality, I had the slightest perception that something was off about his game. It wasn't anything tangible. He can dribble. He has excellent court vision. He's in great shape. He's moderately athletic. He's a knock down shooter, both from the line and beyond the arc. Yet it lingered, directly in front of my face, and I could not see it.

And then it hit me. Well, not so much hit me as slowly nibbled away at me. It's the little things. It's the drives to the lane in which eventually guide him to every corner of the court. It's the precise, left-handed passes off the pick and roll. It's the layups that softly slide off the topmost part of the backboard and fall through the hoop.

To put it simply, he does not play the game like I want him too. Everything he does should fail. He has no pull up jumper, strong drive to the basket, or physicality. He prances on the court, finessing his way in out of men with 7 inches and 100 pounds on him. But that's what makes him so good and fun to watch. He does not possess a single physical advantage over any other NBA player. The one thing he does have, however, is an endless surplus of basketball IQ. And it is this IQ that has turned the relatively unskilled, yet supremely athletic likes of Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire into league superstars. Without Nash, Shawn Marion hopelessly wanders on the basketball court. Take away Steve Nash's pick and roll ability, and Amare Stoudemire gets 3-5 less dunks a game, a lower field goal percentage, and less league-wide credibility. The list of teammates Nash has carried includes Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, Eddie House, Joe Johnson (before superstardom), Robin Lopez and Jared Dudley, just to name a few. Take away Nash, and this team is just as effective as a LeBron-less Cavs.

Careers change in an instant. One Robert Horry hip check, Tim Duncan three pointer and Kobe Bryant fadeaway elbow jumper have left Nash on the wrong side of victory and praise. He doesn't have the killer instinct of Jordan or Kobe. He needs a great supporting cast to be successful. He is just a product of the style of offense he plays in. Let's pretend luck turns his way at least twice more than it has. He's looking at two more opportunities at all title. I cannot promise that he would have seized these opportunities. I can, however, say that it would then be fair to make a true assessment of his career. Now that he has crossed a previously impregnable boundary by reaching the Western Conference Finals, maybe he can have his cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Performance Enhancing Fertility

JOCKpost has been kind of enough to let me rant a few times on their website, so here I am returning the favor. Enjoy, my friends, courtesy of JOCKpost.

We all know women have it easier than men. Always was that way, always will be that way. You know it, Pete Campbell knows it, and even you ladies know it! While Daddy is out busting his hump to put food on the table, Mama is lying on the couch eating bon-bons while little Johnny slowly becomes a degenerate. Even when decent enough to join us in the workforce and earn their keep, whenever they want time off, they just go get knocked up. So maybe all these pro athletes aren’t really “cheating”. You know, to “get an edge”, as they like to say.

Manny Ramirez was the first to publicly break the so-called “glass ceiling.” Just over a year ago, the Dodger slugger was suspended 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance. The news baffled the balls off of many. Because not only was it the usually mystifying Manny, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but also because of why he failed the drug test. Ramirez was found to have taken hCG, which is basically a fertility drug for broads. It is also supposedly used by steroid users once they stop their cycle to kick-start their normal testosterone production again.

Then comes along dopey ole’ Edinson Volquez of the Cincinnati Reds. 3 weeks ago, we all found out that this genius ALSO failed a drug test for taking hCG! He was also suspended for 50 games. Coincidence?? Well, they’re both National Leaguers, and maybe Eddie was jealous of Manny and wanted a baby too….. It is a coincidence, but of a different kind.

Behind door number three, we have ESU lineman Steve Lattimer Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing. Cushing was also punished, albeit not as much as the baseball players. He got 4 games. There were also allegations of a failed drug test in college as well, and anyone with eyes is sure to see the reason for suspicion.

So could it be that these guys secretly desire to be more feminine, drop a kid, and take the next 9 months off? Ha. Or is it more likely that these hyper-competitive, high-paid, superhumans are under intense pressure to perform and seek any advantage possible? They work in the ultimate meritocracy, where if you aren’t cutting it, you are cut. I say we give these saps the benefit of the doubt. We accept their use of banned substances for the reasons claimed, but on one condition. I will believe they were genuinely using the drugs to knock up girls, a la Volquez, and not to cheat. But they have to admit something. I will un-suspend you, in my eyes, if you admit you were taking hCG because your nuts have shrunk to the size of sand grains from all the steroids. Then, you can take PED’s until you go deaf and sprout tits. Enjoy the Activia!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

2010 MVP Voting and How it Can Be Fixed

LeBron won the MVP. No one is surprised, nor will I argue the point. But only one reason exists why I will not and cannot argue.

LeBron James is the best player in the league on the best team.

Season averages: 29.7, PPG, 8.6 APG, 7.3 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 1.6 SPG.

He would have been the scoring champion, over second place MVP finisher Kevin Durant, had he not sat out the finals six games. Here's the complete list of voting.

Normally I am not an angry person, but I am astounded that LeBron was not the unanimous pick. 3 voters chose Dwight Howard and 4 chose Kevin Durant. Granted Howard lead the league in blocks and rebounds, but he lead a team with a superior supporting cast to a worse record.

Durant's season was also extremely impressive, considering the jump the Thunder made from last year. But imagine if LeBron and Durant switched places. Do the Cavs earn the #1 seed in the East? Probably not. Do the Thunder immediately become a top 3 team in the west? Absolutely.

A few other frustrating votes:

Stephen Jackson - 1 5th place vote.
Amare Stoudemire - 1 4th place vote, 2 5th place votes.
Deron Williams - ONLY three total votes.
Chauncey Billups - One 5th place vote.

Amare Stoudemire is not even the most valuable player on his team. After George Karl stepped away, Chauncey transformed into an innocent bystander as his team collapsed faster than Golden State's defense. Stephen Jackson, well, I don't really have to say anything there. And Deron Williams had his team in the top three of the West for the majority of the season. While he was definitely not the MVP, he deserves a little more credit.

So how do we fix this voting problem? Using some sort of BCS like formula will obviously not rectify the situation. But with real people, a few voters will always attempt to make a statement through their picks. So I say each voter must publicly announce his votes. Then, if enough media members decide, a voter must hold a press conference to defend his picks. I think the world is owed an explanation for Stephen Jackson even cracking the top 30.

If we can force them to defend themselves publicly, maybe we can deter them from making terrible choices. I should never have to witness Amare Stoudemire on the MVP ballot ever again in my lifetime.