Monday, June 6, 2011

I Want to Hate the Miami Heat

I want to hate the Miami Heat. I really do. More than anything. I want to jump on that bandwagon of nationwide hatred of the Big 3, of Pat Riley, and of all the rest of their nameless players.

I want to hate LeBron. The Decision was atrocious, a pathetic display of ignorance and pride. For the 1% of the world who doesn’t know what occurred, let’s recap. LeBron James, the hometown hero of Cleveland, had just led the Cavaliers rag-tag crew to the best record in the league for the second straight season, only to fall short in the playoffs. (Note to Cleveland fans: Akron, LeBron's hometown, is not Cleveland…just saying).

Notice the distinct space between Cleveland and Akron?
While all of the other top free agents committed to their new teams, LeBron held back, refusing to sign until all of the other so-called “max” free agents had made their decisions. Then it was determined that, on national ESPN primetime, LeBron would hold an hour long special during which he would announce where he would be signing next. As the day approached, leaks from LeBron’s crew began to indicate that Miami was the team, where he would join the re-signed Dwyane Wade and the newly signed Chris Bosh to form a new Big 3 in the mold of Boston’s free agent trio of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce a few years earlier, albeit a much younger version. Cavaliers fans irrationally clung to hope, arguing that LeBron could never leave his hometown state and team to join other superstars, that he was destined to be the clear cut #1 on a team of role players who would lead their underdog Cavs to the long awaited NBA title. They further argued that, even if he could leave Cleveland, he certainly couldn’t do it to them on national TV, rubbing the dirt in their faces on the way out.

As it turned out, that is exactly what he did. Chaos ensued in the basketball and sports world. Cleveland fans rioted in the streets, burning jerseys and cursing the name of LeBron. So-called “experts” began proclaiming this team as the best ever, a team that would easily defeat the Bulls single season record of 70 wins with ease. LeBron claimed to not understand the negative feedback he received. It was the ultimate publicity mistake, a classic example of the downfalls of having your old friends as your career advisers, rather than experts (or anyone with common sense) who would have easily been able to tell him how stupid it was, how he would instantly go from being one of the most popular athletes in the world to the villain, a modern day Benedict Arnold with no class, conscience, or care for his fans.

Following the Decision, the Miami Heat further fanned the flames with the infamous and over-the-top welcome celebration of the new Big 3.

 It was a celebration that is rarely matched for NBA Championship seasons, and it was done simply for three guys being on the same team. Their pompous proclamations of "Yes We Did!" were probably a better reflection of the literacy of a three year old than an announcement of any significant achievement. While defenders would argue that it was to get fans excited, this simply was not the case. Everyone who showed up for that absurd party came for one of two reasons. One, they are true fans, and would have been excited about the upcoming season regardless. Or two, they were there for the party. In case people haven’t noticed all the empty seats at Miami Heat home playoff games, partying is a bigger priority for Heat fans than the team is. It just so happened that that night was the biggest party in the city. It was an arrogant and premature celebration of three guys.

Gotta love the enthusiasm that the fans have for this playoff game...
I want to hate Pat Riley for orchestrating this ultimate coup in free agent history. As time has gone on, it has become abundantly clear that James, Wade, Bosh, and Riley had at the very least discussed this possibility for some time. At the most, they had made agreements with each other to make it happen. In either case, it was a violation of NBA anti-tampering rules, something that the NBA conveniently ignored because it realized the goldmine it was sitting on. Not since the Jordan days has the league experienced anywhere close to the level of coverage and publicity that it has this year, spurred on mainly by the Miami triumvirate.

This kind of chemistry clearly took years to develop...
Beyond the obvious fact that it was a despicable dismissal of league rules, it also cost my Chicago Bulls the chance to become a truly dominant team for years to come. The Bulls ended up settling for Carlos Boozer as their main free agent signing, and being able to create depth for their bench with signings of Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans, and Ronnie Brewer. However, they had the cap space to sign two max contract players, meaning that two out of the Miami Big 3 could have come to Chicago to join Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson. Since D-Wade was already in Miami before the free agent season, let’s just pretend that he had decided to stay in Miami, leaving LeBron and Bosh to decide their destinations. As great as Wade is, it is pretty obvious that him and a bunch of veterans signing for the league minimums or veteran mid-level exceptions is far less of a talented group than Rose, Noah, Deng, and Gibson. The Miami Big 3 claimed that they came together because it was the best chance for them to win a championship. But clearly that is false. To clarify, here were the two choices for LeBron and Wade to collude together and choose (sorry Chris, but you’re the smallest of the Big 3 by far): Option 1: Miami. LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Mike Bibby, and Joell Anthony, with Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem for depth off the bench. Option 2: Chicago. LeBron, Wade, Rose, Noah, and Gibson, with Luol Deng off the bench! That’s two of the top 5 players in the league (LeBron and Wade)signing with a team that had the MVP this year (Rose), one of the top centers in the league, and Deng and Gibson. Furthermore, they all would have been signed for the next 5 years (Rose would never have left Chicago, his hometown, with this much talent around him) except for Taj Gibson. It would have been a dynasty. Simply put, the Miami Big 3 made taking their talents to South Beach and having the social scene over the best chance to have a truly great team.

I want to hate D-Wade for his incredible propensity for flopping to get fouls called. He was not a member of my All-Yell team because he doesn’t yell when he does it, but there have been several examples of him sending himself flying through the air, arms flailing, like he’s being swept away by a ventriloquist yanking at his limbs in different directions. Now, granted, this is a league-wide epidemic. The referees have gained the awful habit of blowing the whistle anytime they see a player, especially a star, look even remotely awkward. It doesn’t matter if they don’t see it. All of the stars have learned to take advantage of this horrendous call, but Wade in the playoffs has been in my opinion the most egregious perpetrator. He is a great player, and yet he resorts to cheap tricks to get calls. If he pulled these antics on the streets of Chicago where he grew up, he would be laughed right off the court. I blame the NBA for allowing it, but I’m blaming Wade for taking it to a new level. (Note: runner-up is Dirk).

I want to hate Chris Bosh for being soft. And he is soft. Maybe not on the court as much as he’s played up to be, but emotionally, this guy is about as emotionally tough as Britney Spears post-Federline. Two quick examples of this. One, my Bulls beat the Heat in the regular season, another heart-wrenching loss for the Heat in the final seconds, their coach Erick Spoelstra admitted that many of the players had cried. It was later reported that, allegedly, Bosh had been one of the main culprits. Are they serious!? They were in third in the East at the time, a clear playoff team with three of the best players in the league. And he’s crying over a regular season game? What a joke. Second example is the NBA Finals. He has lost his mind now that Carlos Boozer isn’t “guarding” him, shooting around 30% from the field and shrinking from the big moments. D-Wade literally had to yell at him in the middle of the court during game 3 last night because he was passing up wide open shots and allowing Tyson Chandler to dominate him on the glass. Hardly the performance you would expect from a regular All-Star.

Even Britney could beat Bosh in a jedi mind-trick contest...
Change of pace coming…

Get ready for it…

I can’t believe I’m saying it…

But even after all that, I can’t hate the Heat. For all the crap that I just described, not to mention them knocking my Bulls out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals, I can’t hate the Heat. Here’s some of the reasons why.

Riley: For him, this was the best chance he could give his franchise to contend for championships. As the saying goes, it’s only cheating if you get caught. Was it classy? Was it ethical? I don’t personally think so, but he got away with it. More power to him. An even more impressive thing has been his handling of his protégé, the coach Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra started as a video assistant with the Heat, and was now being entrusted to coach three of the biggest stars in the league. Meanwhile, Riley was a multiple championship winning coach who had almost complete autonomy in the Heat front office. People clamored for him to come down to the bench and take over the coaching duties, arguing that three big egos would need someone with the experience and respect that Riley commands. When the Heat started the season with a rocky 9-8 record, the clamoring only intensified. But Riley never wavered in his commitment to Spoelstra. He repeatedly denied any desire or need for him to coach again, saying that Spoelstra had the job no matter what. This steady commitment was admirable, particularly when Spoelstra could easily have been made the scapegoat throughout the season when the Heat struggled. Gotta respect that.

Bosh: Despite having stones the size of sand and looking like a velociraptor, he is actually well-known to be one of the more intelligent and thoughtful people in the league. While Wade and James are known to indulge in the South Beach party scene, Bosh is better known for staying home and reading a classic. While this sometimes seems to lead him to overthink on the court, it also has given him a great sense of humor and creativity. Just check this video out. ‘Nuff said.

James: Despite the failure of the Decision in the forum of public opinion, I truly believe that LeBron didn’t realize what he was doing. While that leads me to question his intelligence, as well as the people around him who influence and guide him, it is just a mistake. We’ve all made them. He claims that he did it to raise money. It did end up raising millions for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. One person making an ass of himself, even if he DID know what he was doing, is a small price to pay for that kind of donation to a worthy cause. And to Cleveland fans: MOVE ON. LeBron has learned from his mistake. He apologized to the fans. He stopped doing his chalk-clapping routine that was a fixture in Cleveland. He even brought along one of your franchise’s best players, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, with him to Miami to try to help him get the championship that eluded him in his prime. Furthermore, LeBron’s decision was far from selfish. In some ways, he knew he couldn’t win with it. If he wins championships, people will claim that he needed to lean on Wade to get there. If he doesn’t he’s an utter failure who failed to live up to his immense talent despite now having talent around him. Not to mention the hatred of Cleveland fans.

Or the fact that “something” happened during the playoffs in his last series as a Cavalier against the Celtics. Basic consensus on the story? Delonte West slept with his mother, ruining team chemistry and LeBron’s psyche. Now, for all the people who judge LeBron for leaving, just think about that for a second. Put yourself in his shoes. Your workplace consists of a small group of tight-knit people around your age that you spend almost every waking second with for months. Now, imagine one of them slept with your mother. Some of the people take your side, but some people probably are better friends with the other guy. Do you really want to return there? I didn’t think so.

Wade: If you watch D-Wade on the court, you probably think he is a phenomenal player, a great combination of strength, speed, explosiveness, and skill. But that is only the beginning of his story. He has gone through more adversity than most people to get where he is, and yet it is rarely mentioned. He was essentially raised by his sister, the elder by only 4 years, because his mother was completely out of his life for years, a drug addict who was in and out of jail for cocaine and alcohol abuse and distribution. If you have some time, watch this E:60 special on his story.

Despite his mother being largely absent from his life, and even at one point leaving him as a child and disappearing for years, it has not stopped Wade from unconditionally loving his mother, recently bestowing upon her, now sober, a new church that she preaches at. More recently, Wade endured a long, protracted, and public battle with his ex-wife, one in which she claimed he did drugs, was physically abusive, engaged in sexual acts with his girlfriend Gabrielle Union in front of his children, and was neglectful. In the end, after years, none of these claims were substantiated. In fact, his ex was strongly reprimanded by the court for embarking on an “unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father, and lacks either the ability or the willingness to facilitate, let alone encourage, a close and continuing relationship between them”. In winning his battle, he not only now has sole custody of his children (who now live with him in Miami), he overcame an immense stereotype of black fathers being largely absent from their children’s life. Whether with his mother or his children, Wade has exhibited an intense love for family that is admirable of anyone, regardless of gender or race.

All of these things failed to mention one other reason why I can’t hate the Heat: as a basketball fan, they’re fun to watch. Am I afraid of the NBA becoming a few “superteams” with most of the small market teams being left with the scraps? Absolutely. I hope what they did does not become a trend for the good of the league. But I can tell you that I greatly respect their team and enjoy watching them. Is their offensive execution often times little more than isolation basketball? Yes it is. But they are all willing passers, have all given up some of their offensive responsibilities, and, especially in the instances of Wade and LeBron, have made a big-time commitment to the defensive end, transforming the Heat into one of the top defensive teams in the league despite having the transparent defensive efforts of Bibby, Chalmers, James Jones, and Mike Miller out there. It’s been impressive.

Just to clarify, I am rooting for the Mavericks in the Finals. As a Bulls fan, I have yet to completely get over the Heat dismantling my team in the fourth quarters. And as an NBA fan, I think Dirk deserves a title. But I’ll tell you something else. I can’t hate the Heat.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Changing of the Guard

My apologies to everyone for taking awhile since my last post.
If you haven’t been watching the NBA playoffs yet, WATCH! No seriously, WATCH! These games have been unbelievable. We are now just starting the conference finals, and for me, there has been one dominant theme: the changing of the guard.
Kobe and the Lakers? I don’t think so. They are more busy worrying about this. Shannon Brown is pulling a Delonte West. For those who don’t know, Delonte is widely rumored to have slept with Lebron’s MOM, thus causing a rift in the locker room that doomed the Cavaliers last season. What hilarity. Quick side note to all the people who have an opinion about why the Lakers lost: stop saying that they are too old. Get your facts right before you claim that. Dallas has the oldest starting lineup in the entire league. Hell, their youngest starter is older than OKC’s oldest starter. They just were beat by a better team. Or Pau’s wife realized that once you go black you never go back. Especially to a bushy Spanish-speaking bitch. Just saying.
Timmy D and the Spurs, the team that had the best record in the West? See you later. When you have a guy nicknamed the playing significant minutes, it better be in a porno, or this South Park Episode. The Big 3 and Boston? Enjoy the offseason. Hopefully the rest of the league learned from them that you can’t count on the oldest player in the league, even one who is one of the greatest players of all time, to play 30 minutes a game and replace Perkins’ death stare. Anyone notice how KG no longer was hollering and talkin’ trash to everyone within earshot? It’s because he no longer had his enforcer behind him. Nenad Krstic only has a hairline run away from him.

Matt Bonner isn't intimidating anyone
So who is left in the playoffs?
Miami, the juggernaut Big 3 with little help. It is 3 young stars (2 superstars) who are just entering the primes of their careers.
Chicago, led by the youngest MVP in league history, and joined by a group of young, energetic, unselfish players who have continued to improve.

Oklahoma City, that has a starting 5 (not to mention James Harden and his classic beard who are all ages 27 and under. They aren’t even supposed to be here yet.

Now this is the type of guy I want leading me into the future 

Dallas, the anomaly to this trend. They are the oldest team. So why are they here? OOOOOOO, I don’t know, maybe a German named Dirk. I briefly defended him before ripping his whining in my all-yelling team, but these playoffs have continued to justify my claim that he is a truly great player, regardless of if he ever wins a championship. The last two series he outplayed Lamarcus Aldridge (an All-NBA player this year) and then destroyed Gasol, Bynum, and Odom (supposedly the most formidable front line in basketball). He is a stud, and he is the reason why Dallas is here. His stats tonight: 12-15 from the field, 24-24 from the free throw line. It was his 6th 40 point game of his playoff career. I’d say that’s pretty clutch. Every commentator was granting him top 30 player of all-time status. To quote Coach Bayliss (my college tennis coach), “That’s pretty good!”
Ok, so what’s my point. I’ve already rambled on for several paragraphs without any coherent theme/point. Well, here it is. I am going to list my top ten teams that are in the best shape for the future. The criteria will be based on several things:
-Young talent: Is Kobe still one of the best players in the league? Yes. In an imaginary draft that starts the league over next year, do I want to pick him, or Kevin Love? I’m taking Kevin Love for the next 12 years over Kobe for the next 3.
-Salary cap space: This will be the one big negative for Miami. They have 2 of the top 5 players in the league, and 3 of the top 20(ish). But the rest of their team will have to be based on veterans who accept less money to try to win a championship, and younger guys who have yet to do well enough to earn any significant contract, either because they are still in their rookie contract, or because they suck. The end.
-Contracts: Essentially a combo of the two. Do I want to build around Dwight Howard or Derrick Rose? I might take Howard, simply because the difference between Howard and the 10th best center is far bigger than the difference between Rose and the 10th best point guard. Howard simply is tougher to replace. That all being said, do I want the position the Bulls have with Rose, or the position the Magic have with Howard? Obviously I want Rose. He is signed for several years, was born and raised in Chicago, and has given every indication he wants to play there for his entire career. Howard? He is considered to be all but gone from the Magic. Carmelo 2.0. Lebron 2.0 <-Embarrassing.
Now that the criteria have hopefully been laid clearly out,
here is the list.
The Changing of the Guard:
10.  Golden State  – The Warriors have a potentially very bright future. They have David Lee signed for 6 more years, albeit at a max contract. They have Monta Ellis signed for 4 more years, and they still have Stephen Curry signed to his rookie contract (cheap) for 3 more years. They also have a couple of their other young contributors, Epe Udoh and Dorell Wright, signed for several more years. I would have put them higher, but several issues could hold them back. The first and biggest concern is that their two best players, Curry and Ellis, are both undersized combo guards. While Curry has accepted the role of playing point guard and allowing Ellis to be the primary scorer, it sometimes inhibits their team by taking the ball out of Curry’s hands. As by far the best creator on the team, that is less than ideal. Thus, it has often been rumored that Ellis could get traded. While this would not be a disaster because he has plenty of value, it is no guarantee that they would get full value back for him. Additionally, once Curry’s rookie contract ends, a max contract will most likely be required to keep him, as he is desired by almost every team in the league. If this is done, they will have most of their money locked up in 3 players (Curry, Ellis, and Lee). Think of it similar to the Miami situation. Except that the talent of the two Big 3’s would be as follows: James, Wade, Curry, Bosh, Ellis, Lee). Being in a similar situation as Miami financially but with less talent is why they are only at 10.
9.      Philadelphia  – The 76ers still have Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner for multiple years on their rookie contracts. They also have their best player, Andrew Iguodala, signed for 4 more years. Jodie Meeks still has 2 years left. Thaddeus Young , who had a breakout postseason, only has one year left. Assuming he plays well next year, he will be commanding a premium in free agency, which could make him more difficult to re-sign. The 76ers, like the Warriors, are a middle of the road team as far as salary cap goes. They have more quality players that will probably be with them for multiple years, but less star power. While Holiday, and Turner certainly have bright futures, it is optimistic to count on them being nearly as good as Curry and Ellis. Their depth is what puts them above Golden State.
8.      Nuggets – Also known as the All-Tatted-Up Team, the Nuggets completely reinvented themselves this season following the trade of Carmelo Anthony. They have a young and talented core that consists of Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Aaron Afflalo, and J.R. Smith, all of whom are ages 26 or under. They will most likely lose Kenyon Martin and Nene to free agency in the near future. Kenyon will probably be signed with a contending team for more than the Nuggets, building for the future, will want to take on. Nene had a great season and will probably get a significant bump in his contract. While Denver would like to keep him, it also might be too much for them to match. Plus, he isn’t as tatted up with the rest of the team. Chemistry. Chemistry. However, even without Martin and Nene, their young nucleus will continue to improve together over the next couple of years. Being in the bottom 3rd of the league in current salary, the team will have the option of signing some to bigger contracts, letting some walk that they feel are overpriced, or trading them for different pieces. No matter what, I see them being competitive in the future with their young nucleus. 
It's pretty clear why Nene wouldn't fit in here

7.      New Jersey – The Nets are probably the biggest unknown of the teams I have on this list. The current duo of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez is a great young tandem. Additionally, only 6 teams have spent less than them, so they have plenty of space to acquire helping pieces or a big star. Which, of course, brings me to the Dwight Howard topic again. The Nets have made it abundantly clear that they now want to go after Dwight Howard. The appeal of the tandem, plus playing in a big market (the Nets are moving to Newark), will certainly appeal to Howard. If they can get him, they probably should be ranked 4th on this list. If they don’t get him, Deron Williams will most likely opt out of his contract in a year, the team will be a bottom dweller, and they will drop to about as low as any team in the league in regards to this list. As we know, Dwight Howard isn’t exactly serious about winning, but he is serious about becoming a celebrity. So who knows.
6.      Los Angeles Clippers – Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. The second smallest salary spending in the league. Those reasons alone put the Clippers here. Add in the fact that they have Al Fariq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe for at least a few more years to bolster their young nucleus, and it is quite clear why L.A. could become a Clipper town. Chris Kaman and Mo Williams are the only 2 players not named Blake who even make $5 million for them, and both will more likely than not be gone soon. So why aren’t they even higher? Donald Sterling, the notoriously cheap man who makes idiotic roster moves, is still in charge. It is not inconceivable that the Clippers would fail to re-sign Griffin for no other reason than it would cost a lot. He is also the only owner who publicly chastises his players from the sideline. On the other hand, when that same player’s highlight of the year is from a car, maybe he has a point. Do the right thing Donald. Spend some money. Make the Clip show good.
Maybe Sterling was right...

5.      New York– The Knicks have two superstars of their own in Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. They also have some young supporting players in Landry Fields and Toney Douglas. If New York had been able to wait until this offseason to acquire Carmelo, they could have been at the top of this list. In addition to what they already have, they could have still had almost all of the players I talked about for Denver, the #8 team on this list. Unfortunately, ‘Melo had to get his money. Smart man.
Carmelo did mess up marrying this. You hate to see it.

4.      Memphis – Assuming the Grizzlies follow through on their promise to Zach Randolph to sign Marc Gasol to a long-term contract this offseason, the Grizz should have essentially the same team that took Thunder to 7 games a couple of days ago, minus Shane Battier. Additionally, they will have Rudy Gay, a 20 point scorer and their go-to player in crunch time over the last 2 years, back as well. If they can keep Z-Bo motivated (and that will be quite the task after they overpaid him this season), then they will be scary for years to come. In Zach’s defense, I guess he has to make plenty of money when he’s funding drug cars
3.      Miami – The Big 3. Enough said. Regardless of what happens this season, the Heat will be better going forward. Mike Miller will be healthy and not look like a cracked-out punk rocker, and Udonis Haslem will be back (which will honestly help a lot). Three stars and a couple decent players around them means that they always have a shot. And the Heat will have that for years to come.

2.      Chicago – Derrick Rose isn’t leaving. He adores Chicago, and the love is mutual. Additionally, the Bulls are 26th out of 30 in salary, meaning they will certainly have the flexibility to ensure that they have space to sign him to a max contract. This flexibility will also provide them the opportunity to upgrade at starting shooting guard, their one major weakness. Considering this along with the fact that Noah (6 years ), Boozer (5 years), and Deng (4 years) are all signed to long-term contracts, and the future is quite bright in Chicago. P.S.: If the Bulls win the NBA Title this year, I will be partying in the streets with more drugs than this woman. Note #1 – I don’t do drugs. It was a joke. Note #2 – This video has some nudity. My apologies. It was too funny not to include.

1.      Oklahoma City – As I already mentioned, the entire starting 5, along with James Harden off the Bench, are all 27 and under in age.  Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins are already signed to long-term deals. Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka each have at least 2 years remaining, and the Thunder (25th out of 30 in salary) have the space to keep them. Furthermore, the team buys in to what it takes to win. Pulling the anti-Lebron/Wade/Bosh, Durant signed his contract extension in the small market of OKC, and did so not with a high-profile televised announcement, but rather with a simple Tweet. This is the kind of guy I want leading my team in the years to come.

Thanks for reading. Please keep following, and tell people who you think would be interested. Good night, and Go Bulls!