Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Frightful Halloween Weekend in NBA Land

Halloween just ain't what it used to be.  Formerly a beacon that let us fans know the NBA season was close- like Ash Wednesday and Lent/the Easter season, or increased libido and Valentine's Day- this weekend simply reminds us that the NBA season isn't going to be normal this year, to say the least.

Opening night means rookies salivating at a chance to prove themselves and dunk on the some of the legends they dressed up as ten Halloweens ago.  It means veterans either get another chance to win that all-important, elusive ring, or to add to their legacy with another.  It means budding superstars begin their quest for a scoring title or a league MVP.

Manu Ginobili, vampire-slayer. 
A few years back, the world saw Kobe Bryant torch the Houston Rockets for 45 points in an opening-night loss.  It seemed like business as usual for L.A.: Bryant scores a ton, but to no avail as his teammates fail to produce.  The cycle was supposed to continue- '06 and '07 all over again.  As we all know, a mid-season trade brought Pau Gasol to the team, and the Lakers made three straight NBA Finals.

That the NBA season starts around Halloween, a day closely associated with autumn, is apt.  It forebodes change in the NBA landscape- not only at the start, but throughout the season as well.

But that cycle has been threatened by this unnatural lockout.  If and when the season starts, its patterns will be as irregular as a college kid's sleep schedule.  When is the All-Star game?  When do the playoffs start?  Is the season really going to include all 82 games?  When should Boston and L.A. start coasting in their infinite arrogance?

Again, that's if this season even plays out.

Boo.  For all the wrong reasons this Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Golden State Warriors Believe in a Throwback

A charity game, held by NBA star Matt Barnes, is set to take place November 5th, and the names of the participating players keep getting bigger.  Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas weren't actually on the 2007 "We Believe" squad, but hey, fans need to escape the reality of the lockout.

So far, the throwback team is going to field Barnes, Arenas, Jamison, Jason RichardsonIke Diogu, Al Harrington and C.J. Watson, while the current Warriors will be represented by Stephen CurryMonta Ellis, David Lee, Dorell Wright, Lou Amundson, Charlie Bell, and Jeremy Tyler.

J-Rich was a key member of the "We Believe" team.
Man, that '07 team was scary.  Put Mickael Pietrus, Harrington, and a younger, quicker Ellis on the throwback team and replace Jamison and Arenas with Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson- the combined beard/swag power of that duo could bring an end to the lockout right now if they decided to reconvene- and you've got a group that ran over a 67-win Dallas Mavericks team.  Ridiculous firepower.  It's a bunch of long, athletic swingmen and wings who could shoot, slash, and post.  Don Nelson's dream team.    

It'd be nice to see B-Diddy and Captain Jack come out for this one, just to give the Warrior fans 2007 all over again.  Jokes about their awesomeness aside, those two defined "We Believe": Davis leading the way with his havoc-inducing drives and 30-foot 3's, and Jackson, the aggressive high-risk/high-reward swingman who wasn't afraid to take the big shots.  

I know these off-season games essentially become high-scoring, dunk-filled entertainment events, but what if they weren't?  "We Believe" would leave the current team with a mud hole stomped through them if they played a real game, as the current Warriors are just a worse version of the '07 team.  

If the November 5th game were a legitimate game- with only the confirmed ballers as of right now playing- I'd probably side with the Curry/Ellis team.  Curry/Ellis can't stop anybody, but they'd score at will with Al Harrington guarding the basket for the current team.    

Who wins next month's game?  The current Warriors, so long as Davis and Jackson don't enter the fray.  The younger team should win an up-and-down funball game, but if the big Baron and Jax show up, it might reinvigorate "We Believe," and make a believer out of me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mike Brown Earning His Seat in L.A.

Phil Jackson stopped by Phil Jackson's office- yeah, it's his until L.A. wins another title- to speak with new Laker coach Mike Brown.  They talked players of course, and when Brown was interviewed, he spoke about the types of schemes he'd run.  While he couldn't be specific because of the lockout rules prohibiting him from talking about players, he did shed some light on what he plans to do.

Apparently, he'll use sets similar to the ones San Antonio used when Tim Duncan and David Robinson played together.  Last year, Kobe Bryant lost a step and wasn't as dependable as an offensive Constant, so spreading the offensive responsibility around evenly might make the Laker offense less predictable.  Brown can't make wings better 3-point shooters or ball-handlers, so Kobe's load will remain large, but if Brown runs more plays for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the mid-post and low-post, it'll do two things:

Mike Brown must be firm with his new star-studded team.  
1.) It'll take the volume scoring load away from Kobe, preserving his energy for crucial times.  

2.)  It'll expedite the transition from a Kobe-centric "Triangle"- "all that means is 'get the hell out the way'"- to a more forceful interior-oriented offense as Kobe declines further.  

Brown was criticized for running uncreative sets in Cleveland while he coached LeBron James, and though those accusations held merit, Cleveland didn't have the all-around bevy of weapons L.A. possesses.  

Defensively, it seems he wants the bigs to show further away from the basket and hedge out quickly, then recover.  Bynum and Gasol didn't seem willing to do that last season, however, and they aren't the most lithe bigs around (Gasol has seen his most athletic days), so motivating them to do this will be a challenge.  

L.A. was at its best last season after the all-star break with Bynum committed to defense; Brown definitely is adept at getting young players to commit fully to D.  LeBron usually credits Brown for helping him with defensive fundamentals.  Now, James is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league.  

Brown can't solve all of L.A.'s problems, but if his coaching strategies can optimize the talent on the team, Phil Jackson might be stepping into Mike Brown's office next summer to talk players.    

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's Not All Bleak

The NBA lockout has diehards feeling bad about cancelled games, and charity games only ease so much pain.  Few people relate to billionaires vs. millionaires, but when thousandaires- arena workers and team employees- get caught in the crossfire, there arises a human element.  These middle-class and lower-class workers are being launched into an unforgiving job market, something too many people can understand right now.

Arena workers set up entertainment at NBA arenas.
Some players have gone out of their way to help out.  Dinner is on Danny Granger in Indy, while Kobe Bryant and Luke Walton have helped out in L.A.  As the Granger article pointed out, the players shoulder half the blame for the workers currently being out of a job, but credit these players for showing some appreciation to the men and women who help them with their own jobs.

These players aren't giving the workers their jobs back, and these charitable acts only do so much.  But it's nice to hear some people rose to the occasion and reached out with a very human gesture.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The NBA Lockout: Third-Party Losers and Their Voice

This is a battle where the only losing participants are the ones watching it unfold.

Two weeks- gone in a flash.  Two weeks of ball games.  A summer of meetings between two groups couldn't settle a disagreement about a system connecting money/business and product/winning, so we watch more meetings unfold before we watch more ball games.

This scene could occur ubiquitously if the lockout continues.  
Melancholy as they are and should be, fans shouldn't be pointing fingers at any one party.  This isn't a game of one vs. one; much to a basketball purist's vexation, this battle is ironically a symbol of poor basketball fundamentals.

There's a lack of preparation: why didn't meetings start immediately after the NBA Finals, and why have there been so many lulls in the discussions?  The NFL's situation this year was abated by quicker turnaround to business after the Super Bowl, and a line of meetings moved briskly.

There's a lack of camaraderie among the ranks:  Stars and superstars can withstand the lack of a check for a few months or even for a year if the lockout is extended, because they can receive funds for putting their signature on teenagers' shoes.  Can rookies and role players do the same?  Understood that players have supposedly prepared for this lockout, and to those that did, kudos for being financially responsible.  But some probably weren't, and some definitely couldn't.  

And not all owners are created equal.  A big-market team with an owner who gives a damn about winning a championship is going to have a different opinion on issues as opposed to an owner who bought a team to play with and make a profit from.

Poor execution from every angle.

Revenue sharing, Bird free agent contracts, non-Bird free agent contracts, the luxury tax- these are the issues these "teams" are battling over, the reasons why the NBA will lose $160 million and players will miss paychecks.  That's also the reason why thousands of arena jobs are in jeopardy.

For those watching, these games aren't fun anymore.  Not when the real games start disappearing.  Not when working-class and middle-class jobs are on the line.  Not when inexperienced rookies and other young players are out of options.  Not when die-hard fans can't root for their home teams.  Not when fans want to see LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and Dirk Nowitzki play.      

Those watching- the third party in this arrangement- may not have a voice in the offseason, but they sure do every late October/early November.    

This battle may continue, and more real games might be cancelled.  At some point, the voiceless losers are going to communicate "enough", and if and when that time comes, the burden of losing will fall on the two sides that waged this summer battle.          

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

NBA Lockout Affects 2012 Season

It's official.  The first two weeks of the NBA season have been cancelled.  The owners and players still haven't come to an agreement.  

What do you think?  Who is at fault?  Does it matter who is at fault at this point?  Do you think more games will be cancelled?  

More to come later...   

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ricky Rubio: Becoming Rick Adelman's Alpha-T'Wolf

The Minnesota Timberwolves could conceivably start five forwards and call them their five best players.  Rich in forward talent, Minny has jettisoned from Spain the apparently forward-thinking Ricky Rubio- forward-thinking in terms of court vision, creativity, and playmaking, not "take him to Vegas betting rooms" forward-thinking- to lead the team.  

Rick Adelman's most vital task as the new head coach of the T'Wolves will be to give the team's new international point guard the appropriate amount of freedom to connect with his teammates of a similar age.    As noted in the Ric Bucher article, Adelman has experience with talented point guards, including Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, and Terry Porter.  Adelman is a seasoned vet when it comes to handling different types of floor generals.

Minnesota fans hope the newest T'Wolf's bite is as good as advertised. 
The Williams/Rubio comparisons permeate the hype that has followed the young Spaniard thus far, as have comparisons to "Pistol" Pete Maravich, a once-in-a-generation talent from a different era.  Adelman must toe the line and not give Rubio too much freedom so early in his career, especially with all of the young offensive-minded forwards begging for the ball to be distributed to them.  

Molding Rubio into an invigorating floor general who stabilizes his squad's offense will be a challenge.  An equally likely scenario sees Rubio following the pack and making chaotic hit-or-miss plays as required by a younger team's culture.  I won't pretend to know about Rubio's current leadership skills or maturity level, but every possibility should be covered.

The story of Maravich's career was that he was given too much freedom by his father before he hit the big leagues.  Once in the NBA, his irresponsible play continued, and he wasn't aided by having strong supporting casts either.  Fast forward 30 years to the era of Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury, two ultra-talented players listed as point guards who were given too much freedom early in their careers.  Francis and Marbury never became real point guards; not even Larry Brown could morph Marbury into one as a Knick.  Rubio likely won't end up like they did as passing seems more native to him.  

Williams may have seen success with Adelman on the early 2000s Sacramento teams, but he became a much better overall point guard when he was traded to Memphis and coached by Hubie Brown.  Think about this:  Sacramento got closest to winning a title in 2002 with Bibby in place of Williams, and Williams actually won a title as a key role player of the 2006 Heat after maturing into a competent floor general.

A creative distributor is exactly what a team plentiful in scoring forwards needs.  Rubio can make his teammates into finishers instead of iso-loving creators (sounds like a phone or a rock band).

Looking ahead two or three years, Minnesota could be a top-flight offensive team; that is, if the coach succeeds at giving the rookie T'Wolf the right amount of leash.  History has shown that straying too far from a coach's philosophy normally has negative consequences as far as team impact goes.  When it comes to making smart decisions on the court for Minnesota, Rubio must step forward.        

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NBA 2K12 Out Today

NBA 2K12 comes out today; check out the trailer.

NBA Live 2004 was my favorite basketball video game when I was a teen, mainly because it featured Michael Jordan.  I'd create superteams, formed by placing classic legends from all-era teams alongside the current iterations of each club.  So at the time, MJ had Scottie Pippen, Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler next to him.  Good thing this was a video game; Jordan would have probably forced Curry to run steps until his heart burst.

It was a hassle creating these incomplete teams, however.  Now, NBA 2K12 is giving this generation of gamers legitimate versions of some of the greatest teams ever.  Rival squads from each era can reunite on the court at the whim of some skinny, basketball-crazed, big-haired gamer- this generation's me- and have their stats encapsulated forever in a Word document on the kid's computer.  Yeah, I did that.  Explains this blog, doesn't it?

Anyway, I'm glad NBA 2K12 has been able to progress to the point where they can pull this off.  Enjoy and appreciate this, you wacky 2010s generation of basketball gamers...