Archive for June, 2009

And Now I’m Over There

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Sorry to do this two days in a row, but today I’m up with an interview on NBATipoff.com. There’s actual merit to it-the interview kind of serves as an outline of a lot of what this blog’s going to cover in much greater detail this off-season. Here’s that.

And if you’re sick of me talking, check out WFNY’s fantastic interview with Kris Belman, director of “More Than A Game.”

Find Me Over Here

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

This morning’s brainpower went to an interview with Blog Talk BayHawk, chatting D-Leage and the Cavs’ young players. Check it out, it’ll be fun. Update: I am aware Vasquez pulled out of the draft like 20 minutes after I sent this in.

Just a few thoughts in the settling dust

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

First off: Adande absolutely killed it in today’s Dime. Just a wonderful piece, especially written on deadline in all the noise and emotions that must go with players you’ve known that long getting a championship. Hollinger’s Ariza piece is sensational, as well.

Pretty much the only emotional solace that any Magic fan can take from this game is that it pretty much put to bed any notions of this being a fluke championship for the Lakers-one legitimate win in Orlando wins that series for the Lakers in pretty much any scenario, and they got that tonight. And the only two blowouts in the series went to the Lakers.

Game 2 is tough and Game 4 is downright heartbreaking, but the Magic would absolutely have lost with only one of those, and even with both they’d still be staring at having to take one of two in Staples. In a sealed environment, I think the Lakers take this one in 6 the vast majority of the time if you play it 10,000 times. The Magic blew a win to take it down to five, and didn’t capitalize on a 50-50 shot to take it to seven. There was a puncher’s chance that the Magic could beat the Lakers four times, but no chance for them to beat them five.

And this was the Lakers’ year. Windows in the NBA are 1-3 years long, and the Lakers made the most of their 2nd shot to be a championship team. Now Odom, in all likelihood, leaves this off-season, and while I’m not sure anyone really knows just how much Odom helps or hurts that team, I think his loss is going to hurt them very, very badly-there are so many amazing things he does on a basketball court. Fisher gets that much older, Bynum is Bynum, et cetera. With Gasol and Bryant suiting up every night, they could absolutely repeat, but I personally don’t see them having another mid-60 win juggernaut-type season in them, although that’s also possible if Bynum can step up and Kobe can keep from declining.

As for the Magic, I have them as my championship favorites next year provided they can re-sign Turkoglu and the Cavs don’t make a move. Nelson coming back will be huge, and their only limiting factor-Dwight’s propensity not to assert himself as the best player on the floor-certainly doesn’t hurt them against the Cavs, whom he murdered. And there’s also the chance Dwight comes back with some simple post moves and goes into the 25-27 PPG range, although I wouldn’t bank on that.

There’s a lot to like about this Laker team if you can get past everyone’s pathological need to make everything they do well a function of Kobe, up to and including Dwight Howard missing free throws and the Magic allowing a clean three-point look with one possession left. Gasol might be my favorite non-Cav to watch go to work in the league-he’s pretty much single-handedly keeping post moves alive. Lamar Odom is an amazing human being who happens to play basketball at a ridiculously high level. Derek Fisher is as class as they come. Sasha Vujacic didn’t score a point in the finals. And Kobe the actual person, once you can separate him from the myths that other people surrond him with, is a cool guy who’s worked as hard at this game as any other human being and absolutely deserved a championship as the alpha dog.

And this team bucked some trends-they play offense, play it at a fast pace, and unapologetically outscored people on their way to the championship. They brought Lamar off the bench. They killed the “championship team’s dont have weird body language in 2nd-round games” crap that plagues elite teams for entire seasons before they actually play the championship games, which it turned out the Lakers were pretty good at.

The Lakers had to produce this year, and they did. Next year it’s our backs to the wall with Z reaching old age, our expirings expiring, and of course, the Summer of Doom looming. Let’s hope we can seize the opportunity.

As for Shaq, we don’t give up anything we want basketball-wise, so I don’t have a problem with it, although I wonder what we do with Z, think he’s risky, and think there’s a chance he could take away our strengths while he shores up our weaknesses. Good to see that Ferry isn’t sitting pretty, though.

And now the 0ff-season begins. It’ll be fun. Stay tuned, campers.

Thematically, I would say it’s about people being on fire.

Friday, June 12th, 2009

super_nietzsche_3.png image by VanishedOne

Well, first things first: I will never say anything bad about Derek Fisher ever again. He could start launching the ball at his own basket for the first 40 games of next season and keep his starting job. Honestly, if there’s one guy who I’m happy about making me look like an absolute and total idiot, it’s Fisher, who deserves sucess in this league just about as much as anyone else.

But man, what a tough game to watch, even if you don’t like the Magic. My stomach wrenches for Zach and Ben Q. Rock right now. As bad as our losses against the Magic were, especially game 1, nothing approaced this level of pain. God, 5 points in 35 seconds? That is as brutal as it gets.

I mean, I still haven’t fully wrapped my mind around the fact the Lakers won this game. They did absolutely nothing that should’ve meant victory. I mean, here are your stretch possessions:

With 2:35 left, Kobe makes a wild drive and throws the ball away-the ball gets deflected, the Lakers retain, and Trevor Ariza (WHO THE MAGIC GAVE AWAY FOR NOBODY LAST YEAR WHY DOES NOBODY MENTION THIS) bombs in a broken-play, contested, off-the-bounce 29-footer to tie the game.

Hedo Turkoglu makes up for some missed free throws with an ice-cold step-back three and a floater to put the Magic up 5.

Kobe misses a three (that looked 0n-line)

The Magic run the clock, get it to a wide-open Rashard Lewis, who pump-fakes up and gets a wide-open free throw jumper that he clanks, and the Magic can’t get back on defense because Dwight Howard is being held on the rebound.

Kobe makes an absolutely beautiful two-for-one fast-break play, throwing one of the prettiest dimes to Pau Gasol you’re going to see and allowing the Lakers to not have to foul.

Howard gets it directly under the basket and gets arm-dragged to the ground by Kobe, then misses two free throws, either of which would have essentially iced it. One of the most painful sports scenarios imaginable.

The Magic allow a three. Good God.

Pietrus fires up a terrible leaning jumper.

Overtime: Magic go cold, Kobe throws in two jumpers, gets away with an elbow on Jameer Nelson while making the pass, and Fisher hits the three. 2-8 from the field in the fourth quarter with 1 assist and one turnover, 2-5 in overtime with the one previously mentioned assist to Fisher.

So for those of you keeping score at home, Kobe is a Courtney Lee layup and a Dwight Howard free throw from losing three straight finals games with questionable crunch-time performances.

But they didn’t go in, and now Kobe’s about to win the most important ring of his career. You know what? Good for him. Sometimes the breaks are going to go your way, and when that happens you should just be grateful. And all of a sudden the Gasol feed, the Fisher pass, and the hard foul on Howard become the plays that needed to be made for the Lakers to pull it out. He didn’t do everything, he wasn’t perfect, and a lot of times he wasn’t even good, but somehow, some way, he did enough. And for a guy who, fairly or unfairly, has a reputation for having a tough time with the concept of “enough,” there’s at least some poetic justice in this being how Kobe, in all likelihood, is going to take a team that’s unequivocally his to the promised land.

In a sick way, a lot of what happened to the Magic tonight was  a dark mirror of everything they did to the Cavs down the stretch:

Dwight Howard missing the free throws after sticking them the whole series against the Cavs, particularly when he went 8-10 from the line in the fourth quarter of Game 3.

Pietrus fires up a terrible jumper on the Magic’s last possession of regulation, just like he did in Game 4, but in that game Howard chased down the rebound and Lewis made the turnaround three on the ensuing possession.  (Sidebar: What is it that the Lakers do that makes them better at defending inbounds passes than any team in the history of ever?)

And Lewis misses a dagger jumper, after hitting two impossible threes to beat the Cavs in games 1 and 4.

I’ll do a full “The fact that there’s talk of Mike Brown being on the hot seat is the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my natural life” post tomorrow, but for now know that these breaks are the only reason his job is in any sort of crisis in the first place.

FIGHT THE ENNUI!

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

I’m going to be honest: I have no idea how to fill a blog every day during the off-season when nothing is happening. None. So we’re just going to go with bullets that have little to no relation to each other. Again, my suggestion box is always open.

-Right now, Draft Express has us taking a Mr. Jonas Jerebenko with our 1st-round pick. Yipee. I have little doubt that he won’t be the actual pick, but his profile has a couple of hilarious things:

-Under strengths, it has “role-player potential.” Wow. Your first round pick should generally be a role player or a player with potential.

-Also, his best-case scenario is Matt Harpring and his worst-case scenario is Matt Barnes. For my money, Matt Barnes is a much, much better basketball player than Matt Harpring. Curious.

-If you ever look at the times these posts go up, you may have made the observation that I don’t sleep at night. Fun fact: last night, the only people active on my gChat while I was writing were Kurt Helin of Forum Blue and Gold and Ben Q. Rock of Third Quarter Collapse. And Ben’s on East Coast Time.

-Following up on my semi-callout from yesterday: Say what you will about Josh Tucker, formerly of RespectKobe.com and currently of Silver Screen and Roll, but he wrote the article blaming LeBron for his mistakes in the ECF, and then he stuck to his own standard when it came to Kobe. Props to the guy for not backing down from his rhetoric, even if I feel it’s too harsh on both guys.

-Two series tonight prompting sports-esqe thoughts:

Ultimate Fighter Penultimate Episode:

Sometimes I wish I was an MMA blogger. Once basketball obsession dominated a thoroughly unhealthy portion of my life and I realized I couldn’t do the work to be a true baseball fan anymore, despite the fact baseball was my sport in high school, MMA has been fantastic. It’s low-maintenence to follow, 0 BS, one-on-one combat, the best guys are virtually undefeated, there are belts to decide who’s the best, it’s highly technical with little referee responsibility (sport-wise, although they have to keep guys alive.)

Seriously, after doing LeBron-Kobe bullcrap as an unofficial part of my job for so long, there’s something truly refreshing and fantastic about a sport where two guys get into a cage and one comes out less hurt and he’s the one who wins. Simple is fun. And if you want to throw superlatives around about athletes, look at guys like Lyoto Machida. He has guys come into the ring trying to hurt him and has never LOST A ROUND in MMA. That’s the type of guy you can start calling perfect.

-I was going to write about the Real World/Road Rules finale here and how it looks like way too much fun to be on that show, but that got me to Bill Simmons’ statement (that I agree with) that RW/RR Challenge should replace hockey as the fourth major sport, and I remembered how I was going to call out Simmons yesterday before my post ran 1,300 words anyways.

-I have the Michael Moore question when I read Simmons columns like this one about Lakers/Magic game 2- what are you hoping to accomplish with this? People who hate the Lakers are going to love it. People who love the Lakers are just going to tune it out. Nothing changes. The tone is so clearly biased and over-the-top that all of the salient points in the article are going to get lost and dismissed as “hating” by all of the people who didn’t already believe them coming in. Between this and his frankly inexcuseable refereeing column, Simmons is in a Mo Williams-esque slump this playoffs.

And I know, I know-it’s the voice of the fan, yadda yadda yadda. (Disclaimer: I am stealing this point from a friend of mine, who happens to be exactly right about this.) Here’s the thing: you want the voice of the fan, write on a message board, start a blog, be the wacky guy on Page 2 at best. Don’t expect to be ESPN’s juggernaut and foist a 650-page “Book of Basketball” on the public because you believe you’ve established yourself as an authority.

As much as I hate blockbuster psych, I’ll allow it from myself because Spider-Man 2 is my favorite thing ever created by man: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

Simmons has mentioned multiple times how important Peter Gammonds’ Sunday column was to Boston when he was growing up, because everything Gammonds said was accepted as gospel. That’s the sportswriting ideal. But when maybe the best-known sportswriter on the planet is writing columns that are literally impossible to take at face value, that ideal dies a little more and sportswriting as we know it veers closer to the “info-tainment” that we get on conservative talk radio and with politics on the internet, trying to find the truth as a collage of what lies in between the ridiculous and biased viewpoints of Rush Limbaugh, Arianna Huffington, Drudge, and whoever else.

Like I say, we like sports because they’re pure, because there should be a correct way to analyze them, as there isn’t really with things like politics and life. The sports are the story. When we try to make the analysis of entertainment into entertainment in its own right and ignore the responsibility to try and inform people of what really happened on that court and why, a bad cycle starts. People should at least be able to read sports news and expect something approaching the pure truth.

* Disclaimer: I realize this may seem hypocritical coming from a team blogger. My two defenses are that I write a certain way because I know I am writing a team blog: my posts for other publications are in a different voice, and one meant to show none of the slant one may see from a team blogger. The front page of ESPN, of course, carries a high burden of objectivity, in my opinion. Second, I may not always succeed, but my goal with every post I write here is to not only help Cavs fans but to be on-point to the extent where Laker fans or the staunchest of LeBron haters could get useful information from the post.

**2nd disclaimer: Of course I love Simmons, have read him religiously for a few years now, think he is tremendously talented, think he’s changed sportswriting in a solid direction in terms of the myth of the necessity of access in the internet age, and would probably crap my pants if I ever saw him in person or something. And I plan to buy his book on the 1st day. I just think he’s reached a crossroads in terms of being the fan vs. being the journalist, and think it would be much better in the long term if he went towards being a journalist.

-Peace, everyone. This time tomorrow, the Lakers are probably going to be up 3-1. Enjoy the day.

Rubberneckin’, Chapter Three: In which we attempt to lash out in a professional manner

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Quickie Game Analysis:

-This is two series in a row where the Magic, the #1 team in defensive efficiency over the regular season, have decided to engage in flat-out shootouts. And it’s worked pretty well. I’m not even sure this is a bad strategy; the Lakers play better offense than any serious championship contender I’m likely to see in my lifetime, and with the zone LeBron was in this playoffs, the Cavs were going to get theirs offensively as well. SVG continues to completely amaze me.

-Has there ever been a more fun finals double-mismatch than Rashard Lewis vs. Pau Gasol? Two fantastic offensive players who have no possible chance of guarding the other one, and neither one’s team can really spare a cross-match or an extra defender. So each one just tries to make the other team pay more. Tonight Pau went 9-11 from the field, Rashard 8-14 with 3 threes and 5 assists to boot. It’s just fun to watch.

Barometer Watch: Rashard with the previously mentioned 21/5/5, Lamar with a quiet 11/2/1, although LO brought his usual fantastic amount of activity. The “Lamar’s magical 15 points theory” holds true for another game-I don’t have the numbers on this in front of me, but I believe this brings the Lakers’ record to 8-1 when he scores 15 in these playoffs.

I’m not sure if I’m on record as saying this, but I think it was a huge mistake for the Lakers not to bite the bullet and give Jordan Farmar a true starting vote of confidence. I know he was hurt and played erratically, but Farmar’s got the talent of a legit starting point guard in this league, especially in the triangle with his size, stroke, and solid pedigree, and Derek Fisher is just not a starting-quality point guard. He’s really not even all that useful of a cog: he’s a smart guy and has made big plays in big games, but he is not playing smart basketball. He’s choking the offense for the second playoffs in a row, he’s taking bad shots, and he can’t stay in front of anybody. But nobody else is ready to take those 35 minutes in big games because they haven’t been groomed with comittment.

I mean, how is the upgrade that Andrew Bynum, who’s gotten a ridiculously long rope IN A CHAMPIONSHIP RUN, has brought more significant than the upgrade from Fisher to a clicking Farmar would be?

Odd stat of the game: The Magic got 2 threes from players not named Rashard Lewis, and only shot 5-14 from deep on the game. This wasn’t about hucking threes; the Magic were moving the ball like we saw them do against the Cavs, stepping into their jumpers, and draining them. Amazing offensive display.

And then Kobe. Look, the Magic, who I again remind you finished #1 in defensive efficiency over the regular season, shot an NBA Finals record Field Goal percentage on their home floor. This game had no business going down to the final few plays, but it did anyways, largely because Kobe Bryant was freaking unbelievable. In that first half, he was absolutely immolating. A hot Kobe is a scary thing to watch.

I believe he missed like 1 shot over a 7:00 minute stretch, a floater that got blocked out of bounds, then came back with a 4-point play. When they bit low, he made the jumper. When they crowded, he drew the foul. Ridiculous.

Then he went cold in the second half. You know why? The law of averages, as likely as anything, and some defensive adjustments, plus a few shots tossed up in desperation time to kill his field goal percentage. Now, if this was a normal player, we’d look at this game and move on. He made some great plays early-a lot, in fact. He couldn’t keep it going on the road, missed a few free throws, and had the ball swallowed up trying to split a double against a great screen-roll show defender in Dwight Howard.

But since it’s Kobe, there’s been an impossible standard set up, and it’s one that has been used to discredit LeBron in the wake of the Magic Series. (Albeit mainly, at this point, in the far-out Laker-centric corners of the blogosphere that I continue to read out of sheer masochism and a need to feel out how my ideas would play out against the harshest possible audience)

There’s a standard that’s been set up where we expect the “next” perimeter superstar to be perfect, especially in clutch-time situations or big-game situations. I think a lot of this comes from Jordan: for all intents and purposes, in his last six full seasons in the league he never lost an elimination game, period. Over time, that gets glossed to Jordan being perfect when it mattered most, which in a way he was. So after the Cavs fail to win the series you get articles like this one over at Silver Screen and Roll (by Josh Tucker, whom I actually know and like.)

A good portion of the article is about Kobe’s stellar Western Conference Finals, but since we’re all writing in the Vitamin Water era, LeBron is in the top picture and nearly half of the article is devoted to a detailed breakdown of his shortcomings in the Magic series, specifically his turnovers in Game 4 and missed free throws in game three, as the Cavs theoretically could have won both games were it not for these gaffes.

So is that the line in the sand? Is the other side supposed to come back with a celebratory Emperor’s New Clothes Post about how Kobe missing 5 free throws, including crucial ones down the stretch, and turning it over on LA’s last real posession of the game, a game which for all intents and purposes would’ve closed out the finals, reveals that all the good things about his character and game are, in fact, false? Or go on to say that had Courtney Lee made that layup and punished Kobe’s blocked layup and defensive mix-up with a loss, than Kobe’s clutch prowess would be very damaged indeed?

Of course not. But there’s an element of bizareness to this whole affair that we’re probably better off giving ourselves to than continuing to try and extrapolate big plays as a function of the important things about the True Ability of the best players in the game. Yes, if Courtney Lee makes that layup things are different, just like they are if Rashard misses that three in game 1 (especially) or game 4. Game 1 was LeBron’s best performance, including stretch performance, of the playoffs. Game 2 was maybe his worst, up until the final shot.

But it goes deeper. If that ball even gets to the backboard on Kobe’s game 3 layup or Hedo blocks it out of bounds, the Magic don’t have any time left, the game goes to overtime like it did, the Lakers win like they did, and we all pretty much realize that it was smart to make the drive and take as much time as possible off the clock, and we’re not talking about any of this in the first place. Hell, if Hedo holds the ball a second longer in Game 2, there’s no LeBron shot.

These things do not happen for a reason. They happen for no reason. There is no such thing as a characteristic play in these situations, because they don’t happen often enough for patterns to emerge. Other than Ray Allen, who I literally am unable to picture missing a free throw, Kobe is the guy I’d want shooting free throws for my life. Does that change the score of the game that just happened? Does the score of the game that just happened change the fact I want Kobe shooting a free throw for my life over LeBron, or anyone else, if I’m to be truly honest? No and no. (Although LeBron already has sort of shot a free throw for my life-If he’d missed one of the two in Game 4, I literally think I would be dead. I am absolutely serious. I could not breathe. And yet I digress.)

You have so many chances to make the big play when it matters most. MJ made almost all of ‘em. Frank Selvy missed his only one. Robert Horry got a few, and didn’t slip up. Kobe’s made his share, and missed his share-he didn’t get it tonight, but in all likelyhood he’ll make good on his next one this week and get a ring for his troubles. LeBron has too. At the end of the day, season, or career, life, you add up all those big moments, those crucial junctures, look at how you did, and you’ll know what kind of a player you were. We’re anxious to make it the other way around, but that’s just not the way the breaks of the game work.

Important Announcement: Half of those first two words were true.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

On my late and unqualified analysis of Game 2: I’m a broken record at this point, but again, the big difference in how the Cavs and Lakers are playing the Magic, the grand show of moral fiber or whatever that made the Cavs lose and will lead to (in all likelihood) the Lakers winning, could be as simple as Rashard Lewis making his shot to steal home-court advantage for the Magic and Courtney Lee missing his. (To be clear if this gets out: the counter-point is definitely LeBron making an impossible game-winner with 1 second left, but here at Cavs: The Blog the party line is that was a narrowly avoided collapse saved by a spectacular play rather than stealing a game.)

Sometimes that’s basketball, folks. Sometimes it’s your year, and most of the time it’s not. This year appears to be the Lakers’. Yipee.

In any case, the good news is that I’ll be doing a real live radio appearance tomorrow, over the airwaves and everything. The story is that I interned on this radio station last summer, and this year the host of the show found my stuff around the interwebs and though it would be fun to have me come in as a guest/intern made good. The original plan was for me to come in as a Cavs expert during the finals, but there turned out to be conflicts. I’ll probably be on for like 5 minutes at most, but tune in anyways because it’ll be fun: the show goes from 3:00 to 6:00 EST, and the current plan is for me to be on around 4:00. Fitzgerald is awesome, we’ll be talking hoops and having fun, and I may unveil my Marc Jackson impression, which is the best Marc Jackson impression on the West Coast. Here’s the link to the show, with a “listen now” link for those of you not in the area.

By the way, continuing our “movies to make you forget” series, Zach and Miri Make a Porno led me to the revelation that I have officially outgrown Kevin Smith, a seminal moment in the aging of all in the Napster Generation. That is just an openly terrible movie in every way we judge movies in any sort of worthy manner. Basically, he just points the camera at Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks and hope enough good things will happen to make up for nothing else in the movie working to any measurable degree. It’s like the Cavs circa 2006. I really, really need to get basketball out of my head.

Closing The Door on Hangover Week In Appropriate Fashion

Friday, June 5th, 2009

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Well, that Magic team that played the Lakers sure didn’t seem like the one the Cavs saw, now did it? I only watched the first 2.5 quarters of the game (oddly liberating to realize that you don’t want to watch any more of an ugly blowout and realize that you don’t have to, and finish re-watching Evolution), but here are some possible explanations for what went on.

First of all, repeat after me: The difference in the two series was defensive. The Cavs scored 100 points in three of their six games against the Magic, and their lowest total was 89. The Magic just did not bring their game offensively at all.

First off, the Lakers had answers for Dwight Howard. Bynum did a good job, and there were even other guys who were able to get in there and bother them with size. Everything the Magic got against us offensively stemmed with Z and Andy having no possible explanation for Howard inside. If the Lakers can survive Dwight like the Celtics did, this team becomes much easier to guard.

On pick-and-rolls, I thought the Lakers were still getting exposed and giving up good looks, but the Magic decided now would be the time to start missing threes, and Hedo was not getting nearly as many layups thanks to some good help.

Mickael Pietrus: 3-5 from three, 2-8 on twos, 1-3 free throws, 0 assists. He’s replaced JR Smith as the premeir “really athletic wing who is actually much better off just bombing threes like he’s Brent Barry” player in the league. Congratulations.

As for Kobe, 38 attempts to get 40 points doesn’t seem so overwhelmingly awesome. But against a good defensive team like the Magic, the ability to create 38 opportunities for yourself and have all of them have a relatively good chance of going in is an amazing skill-it takes the team out of extended offensive lulls, which is what great defensive teams live on. And with the 8 assists, Kobe accounted for 54 of the Magic’s 100 points. Really impressive. And to use 46 possessions and make one turnover is amazing.

That’ll do it for this week-just to give a heads up, I’ll probably be doing Frazier on Cheers-like analysis of the finals on this site while they’re going on with soem other notes jotted in to justify the post, then get into player evaluations, draft, trade rumors, etc. when the season gets done and it’s time to focus on the off-season again. Partly this is because I don’t try and go against the grain of what the big stories of the day are, and partly it’s because this feels like our finals and it still hasn’t fully sunk in that we’re not going to win them.

By the way, I’ve been coping with not being able to sleep real well at night since Game 1 of the Magic series by watching a bunch of independent movies. I like things that are scripted. Tonight was Rachel Getting Married-Imagine the parts of The Office where you can’t believe Michael is acting this way and feel so bad for him and can’t even watch, but made realistic and not funny at all and for a full 50-minute stretch. That movie was more enjoyable to watch for me than the first game of this finals.

Hangover Week Continued: The NBA’s improved image problem

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

First of all: you’ve gotta love Obama going with his pick of the Lakers in 6. Remember the whole tussle about all of Obama’s Final Four picks being from swing states? Well, Obama just chose a team from California, as money-in-the bank of a state as there is, over Florida. That’s gotta be how he really feels. Although now I’m vaguely afraid Obama’s about to raise taxes in California by half, or give San Diego over to Mexico.

But anyways, I don’t believe I’m on-record about LeBron James stiffing the media. This is mainly because I wasn’t aware that it happened until after I wrote my original recap-I turned off the TV and stopped looking at the internet pretty much immediately after the buzzer sounded in Game 6. Here’s my post on the subject and some context for it over at SLAM. Have fun reading it.

Keep coming back, we will be going strong this off-season with move ideas, reporting on rumors, draft stuff, and assorted other offseason goodness. If you have other things you’d like to see this off-season, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or put it in the comments.

Unpleasant business to begin an unpleasant off-season

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

The fact is this: it’s going to be a long off-season. The team fell short of expectations, and we’re going to be hearing stuff like some of what’s leaked its way into the comments sections here over the last couple of days. And even if we were to trade Pavlovic for CP3 tomorrow, there’s still going to be a weight of expectations unfufilled that are going to hang over this team for a long time, and without any games to fill the void, it’s going to be rough for a bit.

So it’s perhaps appropriate to begin this off-season with a truly unpleasant bit of business. Around these parts, I’ve made a point of not going out of my way to play Gotcha! journalism, taking up a disrespectful tone, or resorting to personal attacks when it comes to talking about other journalists and their articles, even when they write things I don’t agree with.

So I’m definitely not happy about the fact that I got home for the summer today and was greeted by an email from a friend of mine alerting me to an article that had mentioned me quite unfavorably at David Friedman’s blog, 20 second timeout. Here’s the paragraph in question:

“Forgive a brief, slightly off topic digression, but isn’t it strange how someone who can neither think clearly nor write coherently (hello, John Krolik) ludicrously asserts prior to game seven of the Lakers-Rockets series that this will be the defining moment of Bryant’s career but after Bryant and the Lakers prevail over the Rockets that person suddenly loses interest in speaking about Bryant’s alleged defining moment? Isn’t putting up 35-10-6 in a game that propels the Lakers to the Finals a defining moment? Does writing for ESPN.com’s corporate basketball blog and Slam Online’s amateur hour commentary section mean that you can only define Bryant by what you expect/hope to be his failures but if he surprises you and succeeds then you simply direct your sloppy grammar and poorly reasoned arguments toward another target?”

Okay then. In the comments of the post, he goes on about me despite the fact none of his commenters made any comments regarding me or communicated having any idea which post he was talking about. Responding to a comment which had an issue with a recent Slate article on Kobe Bryant, Mr. Friedman brings me up, unprompted, by name, again:

J:

I have long since stopped trying to figure out what the editors at ESPN, Slam Online, Slate and many other publications are thinking. The Krolik article, the article about Kobe’s scowl, the nonsense Slate article–how can any intelligent editor believe that such garbage is worthy of publication?

As I indicated in another post, one of the things that I most like about the competitive chess circuit is that if you bring weak garbage into that arena you get taken out and it does not matter how many buddies you have in the business.

In case you’re wondering, this article is the one in question, which Mr. Friedman sort of cryptically doesn’t link to or specifically mention in his post, which I found extremely flattering in a deranged way-apparently there’s an expectation that people recognize my name at this point in my career, which is new. Either the expectation was that everyone reading his blog would know who I was or that I was reading his blog. The first I doubt, and the second I know not to be true.

I don’t like to get into this for a number of reasons, chief among them that some quick googling of David Friedman reveals that getting into internet confrontations with bloggers and media members in general is kind of his thing, sometimes in instances where he has a legitimate point and seeks to capitalize on it and sometimes just for the pure hell of it.

But while the last thing I want or need right now is to get in some sort of ridiculous back-and-forth with a man who certainly, at the very least, doesn’t mind dragging folks into the mud if the opportunity presents itself, the comments made about me-me personally-were so ridiculous and over-the-line and affronting to my professional reputation, my beliefs as a journalist, and the values I was raised with that I find myself compelled to respond despite what I may think is my better judgement.

1. A quick list of David Friedman’s enemies list would seem to include:

Kelly Dwyer (“I learned a while ago to never pay attention to anything that Kelly Dwyer says or writes. I have not seen the article in question and have no intention of reading it but I’m sure that any intelligent fan who wasted the time to read his take and then looked at my take on that game and this series can figure out pretty quickly what is up.”)

Slate

ESPN

SLAM Online

Those are the highlights, but there are more. A google search gets you pretty quickly to Mr. Friedman’s ballhype comment activity, which is delightful in the sordid little stories it tells.

2. The article itself

Mr. Friedman’s central postulate for why I am incapable of clear thought and coherent writing, as he clearly is, (he linked to that article himself in the graph after the one insulting me) seems to be that I wrote my Kobe article, which was rooted in the possibility of Bryant losing a Game 7 to the Rockets and the implications it would have on Kobe’s “legacy.” As I noted in the article, a loss in that game would have been by far the most damaging loss of Kobe’s career.

David Friedman chose to ignore essentially the other half of the article, which said that the other reason this was the most important game of his career were that the matchups going hugely favorable for the rest of the way for the Lakers, and while many had counted them out as serious championship contenders, it was still very possible that Houston would end up having the best chance to stop them from winning a title. Not to mention that the upswing of the article was that it was written to encourage consideration of Bryant not as a failure if he lost or total success if he won but to embrace his greatness and contradictions in possibly the least certain 48 hours of his NBA career. Mr. Friedman seems to think the upswing was “Hey, if Kobe loses, we can say he SUCKS!” Why I would not have waited to write this article until after the Lakers would have lost is unclear if this was my only interest.

If I may quote myself in the article:

If the Lakers win, there’s a lot still to be written, but there’s a lot that changes. The Nuggets have played great basketball, but the Playoffs are about matchups…there’s an excellent chance that the Lakers will reach the finals behind a slew of 40-point barrages from Kobe.”

“Make no mistake—the Kobe Bryant that’s struggling to beat this depleted Rockets team is the same man who could easily be hoisting the Bill Russell trophy in a few weeks’ time.”

“Chances are that the Lakers are going to come out with that home crowd behind them and their backs against the wall and simply roll over the Rockets in Game 7, and the test the Rockets gave them will be forgotten as a footnote, a speed-bump toward whatever meaningful events Kobe will end up taking part in over the final two rounds of these playoffs.”

As it happened, the Lakers simply rolled over the Rockets in Game 7, not even needing a strong performance from Bryant, they rolled over the Nuggets behind a slew of 40-point games from Kobe, and the Rockets Game 7 became an insignificant footnote, especially with how uncompetitive the game ended up being. I did not think any of these events so outlandish as to warrant an extra column talking about how awesome Kobe Bryant is. Nobody outside of David Friedman has indicated that this reveals a problem on my part. Of course I also don’t think that Michael Lewis needs to do a followup to his Shane Battier piece, as Friedman seems to:

“after this series is over the New York Times should do a followup article detailing how Bryant overcame Houston’s defensive preparation by utilizing his skill set strengths to maximum effectiveness.”

Take note, SLAM during playoff time and the New York Times Magazine: If you don’t fufill your puff piece responsibilities on Kobe Bryant, the public will not stand for such a wanton disregard of their need to be informed. And as it were, I certainly would have written what likely would have been a complimentary Kobe Bryant article had the Nuggets/Lakers series gone 7 games, as I was credentialed for Games 2 and 7 for SLAM. As it were, someone else had their turn in the rotation in game 6.

3. As for Friedman’s insults of SLAM Online, which are odd as he seems to have written for them (in typical non-biased form) not that long ago, all I can say is that they’re a fantastic publication with a fantastic editing staff and colleagues and who haven’t produced a hatchet job in my memory. I suppose my misuse of SLAM and ESPN credentials to not write a puff piece about Kobe Bryant isn’t comprable at all to making a personal attack with all the authority one wields over at 20 Second Timeout. (Note: some people at the magazine seem to recall him writing a piece ripping the magazine. Google can’t find it, and nobody can really remember the specifics. So I’d imagine he’s said his anti-SLAM bit before, but don’t care. It’s been forgotten once already.)

4. “As I indicated in another post, one of the things that I most like about the competitive chess circuit is that if you bring weak garbage into that arena you get taken out and it does not matter how many buddies you have in the business.”

I posted this quote twice because it has implications that are extra-insulting to me. I can’t speak for any of the other journalists Friedman rails against, but I personally had never met or talked on the phone with either of my two current bosses before they offered me my jobs-I was found by my work, not by any social networking. And I started blogging at least two years after Friedman did, in 2007, as an 18-year old a month out of high school. I don’t even have a car. If I have a networking advantage over anybody, I’d like to meet them. Thanks for insulting the work I’ve put in to get where I am.

5. So why did I just turn a hair gray and do no favors to my already-destroyed back over an “aside” in a column from a guy who I previously could have cared less about? The first is because I just don’t like bullies. The way I was raised, you don’t judge a person or try to insult his character and intelligence just because you don’t agree with their opinions or even don’t like their style. Something about sports, and the internet, seems to have made us think that these things are sometimes permissable, but to me they just aren’t. So I’m not going to sit around and take that without responding.

Second, and this is where the point comes across and sort of maybe attempts to tie all of this together into something approaching Cavs-related cohesion and something possibly more meaningful for you, the Cavalier fan, than just reading far too many words of me airing out my dirty laundry.

It’s pretty clear that what I really did was make a percieved slight of Mr. Friedman’s favorite player-if that article had been about anyone else, I do not imagine my abilities getting publicly called into question. What Mr. Friedman is essentially attempting to do is to use Kobe Bryant’s considerable basketball proficiency to prove my essential worthlessness as a professional and a human being. Consider for a second how utterly ridiculous this is.

One of the things that made this series loss hurt so badly is the qualities LeBron James has taken on, and in conjunction with what Kobe Bryant means to Los Angelinos, the playoffs have taken even more of a “My Dad can beat up your Dad” bent than sports arguments normally take on, with the idea of LeBron and Kobe both needing some sort of validating ring to prove to everybody that all that they’ve meant has been real, that we were all right all along and weren’t being sold a monorail when we cheered all those dunks and arcing shots and game-winners. And when our guy does it, the other guy loses and he’s a moron and we get to say whatever we want to about him because the guy he likes the best was unable to manipulate a round ball two inches closer to the center a 10-foot high basket than our favorite guy was and of course we knew it all along and those two inches were an inevitable consequence of a fundamental truth that is key to our lives and something that he fails to grasp and not at all the result of a bizarre gust hitting the ball at the apex of its arc.

After Game 6, the best I could offer was to attempt to validate the good times of this season despite the ultimate disappointment it offered at the end, there. Now I do you one better. There was nothing wrong with believing. The shot at the end of game 2 was still great. Hell, LeBron in Game 1 was great. It is not your jobs, as fans, to be right. It is your job to enjoy the hell out of the game, to get swept up in what really is a very lovely game and makes all that much more sense that a lot of what happens in life, which is often very scary and nasty and doesn’t often feature winners and losers and too often seems to tip the balance of the two towards the latter. As a sports fan, as a Cavalier fan, you had a great season. Next year will be great as well. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you if you believe this wholeheartedly to be true.

(I don’t even believe it’s my job as a writer/blogger to be able to accurately predict what will happen in the future, just properly contextualize and interpret things that have already happened. I would imagine this is something many losing bloggers say.)

Our editor on this network, Kevin Arnovitz, has possibly the finest basketball mind I have ever encountered, and voluntarily became a Clipper fan late in his life. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

We often feel as if our favorite players need to speak for us, as though they represent the better versions of ourselves or wish we could be. But they’re not us, and our favorite teams aren’t us. Sometimes, they let us along for the ride, and that can be just about the best feeling there is. But this mess, if anything, has shocked me back into the earth and forced me to see there’s a pretty clear line where Kobe and LeBron stops and I, fully realized human being with my set of talents and values and neuroses and people I care about, begin. In the end, it’s always important to remember that why you’re standing somewhere is a lot more important than it is to stand on the right side.