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!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Things I Have Observed About the NBA Playoffs so Far

First, shout out to Derrick Rose for the MVP. He deserves it as much as any MVP in recent memory. He has put up great stats and come through consistently in the clutch. He has led his team by example on the court, in the locker room, and in the practice facility, and is now becoming more of a vocal leader as well. He has handled being the hometown kid and, rather than hiding from the expectations, has attempted to fill the void that the city of Chicago has felt since the departure of Michael Jordan. He has played through numerous injuries. Despite success, he has remained humble and true to his friends and family. He is everything a team could ever ask for, without any of the showboating or off-court distractions that we, as Americans, have come to see as the norm from our stars. Congratulations Derrick.

We are into the second round of the NBA playoffs, and it has exceeded expectations. Stars have shown up big, whether it was Durant going for 41, Rondo throwing up a triple double, Rose leading his team to 3 fourth quarter comebacks, or Wade destroying Boston in game 1. Already, a few themes have emerged. Below are my observations. Sorry in advance, but this is a no frills commentary on the playoffs, so don’t expect a lot of pictures or videos.

1.  The parity in the league is unmatched

I can’t remember the last time the league had this much great talent playing throughout the playoffs.  Not including Yao as a member of the team, 21 of the 24 All-Star players were in the playoffs this year, including all ten starters. 15 are still playing in the second round.

Surprisingly, the two series largely expected to be the most competitive and must-see TV were the least competitive. Denver, after putting up a supreme effort in a game 1 loss to the Thunder, showed little resistance en route to a 5 game series defeat. The Knicks were expected to battle the Celtics down to the wire, but were swept due at least in part to injuries of Stoudemire and Billups. San Antonio, winners of 4 championships since 1999, were bounced by the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that had previously never won an NBA playoff game. Atlanta, a team that just last year was bounced by a historic margin the previous year by Orlando, won in 6 games despite only winning 44 games this year and appearing to completely quit on its first year coach.

Additionally, even the teams that lost were surprisingly competitive. New Orleans, a team considered by many to be the weakest team in the playoffs without its leading scorer David West, was able to tie the series 2-2 before falling short against the Lakers.  Similarly, the Trail Blazers, despite losing their franchise player Brandon Roy for most of the year to a potentially career-threatening injury, were able to make the series competitive before falling in 6 games. The Pacers and Sixers, teams that were considered largely overmatched against the Bulls and Heat, respectively, were able to make several games close and each actually win a game.

2. Size matters

Insert hilarious Greg Oden joke here. Horses have been considered shriveled by comparison. But seriously, size has been a huge factor in the playoffs this year. Just look at the dichotomy between the playoff prospects of the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder. On one hand, Boston has shown just how vulnerable it has been since the trade of Perkins, its tough-guy center that gave their team an identity and swagger. They slumped down the stretch in the regular season, dropping from the 1 seed down to the 3 seed within the last couple of weeks. While they certainly looked good in their sweep of the Knicks, beating a team that was regularly playing Bill Walker, Shawne Williams, Toney Douglas, and Ronny Turiaf with Carmelo Anthony is hardly impressive. In their second round playoff matchup with the Miami Heat, they have appeared overmatched in the first 2 games. One of the perceived weaknesses of the Heat, a lack of a true defensive and rebounding presence inside, has yet to be exploited because Jermaine O’Neal, an aging Kevin Garnett, and a pouting Big Baby Davis is not quite as intimidating as Kendrick Perkins’ mean muggin' Without any noticeable disadvantage inside, Miami has been able to exploit its advantages on the perimeter. With all due respect to Pierce and Allen, they can not be expected to keep up with Lebron and Wade in their primes. Not gonna happen. Meanwhile, the Thunder have looked impressive, knocking off a hot Nuggets team with relative ease in 5 games. Serge “I Block Ya” Ibaka has become a defensive force now that he is able to play from the weakside and have Perkins battle the best big men on the opposing team.

Other examples abound as well. The dominance inside by Grizz big men Randolph and Gasol in the dismissing of the Spurs has been well documented, but the difference in Dallas with Tyson Chandler this year has also been impactful. They have become an above-average defensive team due in large part to the fact that they finally have a big man who can battle inside. It has been quite evident already in the series with the Lakers, who have been unable to obtain any significant rebounding advantage in the first two games, that a facet of the game largely considered by critics to be the Lakers’ biggest strength will not necessarily be there in this series.

3. Talent beats experience.

As I alluded to earlier, the Heat have looked head-over-heels better than the Celtics this series. Removing the aberration of James Jones scoring 25 in game one, this had been and will continue to be because of the Big Three. Say what you will about them, but they are the best top 3 in the league. While Wade has won a championship, Lebron has never won a Finals game, and Bosh has not even won a second round game. Meanwhile, Boston is sporting a team that’s top 4 players have been to the NBA championship in the last 2 seasons. But all of that experience is erased by the simple fact that Lebron, Wade, and Bosh are all entering their primes, while Pierce, Allen, and Garnett are nearing the end of their careers.

Memphis’ defeat of San Antonio is another instance of this theme. As mentioned, Memphis had never won a playoff game coming into this year. Meanwhile, San Antonio’s core of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan have won multiple championships together, with other role players such as Hill, Mcdyess, and Jefferson having significant playoff experience. In the end, that all was erased. Randolph and Marc Gasol destroyed the Spurs big men, pounding them on the glass and in the paint. Additionally, Mike Conley, an average starting point guard largely known for his up and down play, steadily guided the Grizz and at times flat out outplayed Tony Parker. Along with the rise of the young Bulls and Thunder, and the struggles of the aging Lakers, a changing of the guard is on its way. 

4. Stars (with proper support) Matter

If you were wondering why I have hardly mentioned my Bulls yet, wonder no longer. Derrick Rose has exemplified how far a star can lead you. In the first three games against the Pacers, Rose led the Bulls to 3 straight fourth quarter comeback victories. Similarly, when he had a rare subpar game in game 4, the Bulls struggled and lost to an inferior Pacers team. 

Numerous other instances have been evident. Joe Johnson showed this same quality in game 1 against the Bulls, dropping 34 points and hitting all 5 of his three point attempts en route to a victory. Dwyane Wade had arguably the most impressive performance of the playoffs in game 1 against the Celtics, scoring 38 points and exuding an unbelievable amount of energy while chasing Ray Allen around on screens.  As has been discussed numerous times already, Zach Randolph was unstoppable while leading his team to the upset over the Spurs. Nowitzki has been, as always, ridiculously clutch, evidenced no more than in the game 1 road victory over the Lakers. If you didn’t see the “impossible shot” (as Steve Kerr described) off one foot (as I have previously praised) for an And One to put the Mavericks up 87-73 tonight, then YouTube it. It is as tough of a shot as any that is taken, and he routinely makes it. As mentioned in my first article, 25 points and 10 rebounds. Enough said. Durant dropped 41 in a first round victory.

Now the caveat. As much as stars matter, they need to have some sort of proper support around them. 42 points, 6 assists, 17 rebounds. That was Melo’s EPIC stat line in game 2 against the Celtics. It was done without the support of Stoudemire or Billups, making it one of the best playoff performances in history. The problem? The Knicks still lost. They had no one out there who could make a play besides Anthony. Thus, he ultimately came up short. The same can be said the Magic-Hawks series. Dwight Howard’s average for the series? 27 points and 16 rebounds. The best game for the Magic, a 25 point victory? Dwight had 8 points and 8 rebounds. The point is that you need some help. When his teammates actually stepped up, he didn’t need to be Superman. Unfortunately, this happened 1 out of 6 games. The rest of the series, Atlanta accepted Dwight getting his, but forced the rest of the team to make plays. They couldn’t, and they got upset.

5. Chemistry matters.

This is not any more evident than in the Boston-Miami series. Boston has been out of whack since Perkins left.  They no longer have the enforcer to back up KG’s ridiculous antics, Pierce’s whining, Rondo’s womanly voice, and Krstic’s receding hairline.  Shaq was supposed to fulfill that role, but unfortunately he is about as mobile as Osama was in avoiding a bullet. Meanwhile, Miami has found its groove. It faced unprecedented criticism when it started the season at 9-8, and has continued to face it’s doubters all season. But, whether or not we want to admit it, they have found their groove, and are now looking poised to completely dismiss the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

The Bulls and Grizzlies are other teams who have exemplified the importance of chemistry. Despite having seen a lack of a true second option on the offensive end in the playoffs with Boozer struggling/hurt/being a bitch, they have continued to find ways to win because of their belief in one another and their commitment to team defense. Noah and Deng were both voted top 15 in the league in defense this year. However, the other 3 most significant players on the team (Boozer, Rose, and Kyle Korver) are notoriously bad defenders. Yet, the Bulls were one of the top 2 defensive teams in the league (along with the Celtics) because of their commitment to team help and rotations. Similarly, the Grizzlies consist of a bunch of players who are willing to commit to one another by accepting their particular roles on a team. I don’t know any other team in the league that has players that can be more easily described than their team. Randolph – low post scorer. Gasol – dirty work, rebounding, weak side scoring. Conley – push the pace, hit open jump shots. Tony Allen – wing slasher, top defender. Shane Battier – bench hustle guy, experience. Sam Young – athleticism, versatility. Watch any game of the Grizzlies for the rest of the playoffs, and I can guarantee those players will fulfill those roles. They do what is best for the other guys on the team.

That’s my take on the playoffs so far. It is going to be a crazy next couple of weeks. The Mavericks just took down the Lakers again, and my Bulls have evened up the series with the Hawks. Here are my predictions going forward:

Bulls over Hawks, Heat over Celtics, Mavericks over Lakers, Thunder over Grizzlies; Bulls over Heat, Thunder over Mavericks; Bulls over Thunder. (Note: My only change from the beginning of this round is the Mavericks beating the Lakers. I still thought the Thunder would make the finals after witnessing the first round, regardless of if they played the Lakers or Mavericks.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Welcome to the World

I just want to quickly thank everyone for the support so far, and hope that you will continue to check in going forward. Please do not hesitate to give me feedback or ideas. Also of importance, if you like what you read, PLEASE become a follower of the blog by clicking the "Follow" button at the top right of the screen, and signing in with your email. It is free, and would be greatly appreciated. If I get enough people following me, I will probably be able to do some podcasts and get some guests on here. Now on to the next post...
A former drug dealer who went to juvie for a stickup with a gun meets a girl who secretly has been abused by past boyfriends. Ignoring his tainted past, her previous relationship issues, as well as his other girlfriend from home and drunken tirades, she falls in love with him, before his thousands of dollars in drunken damage causes him to have to move.An adopted African American man has an easy going friends-with benefits relationship with a fellow African American woman. Both are completely cool with the other hooking up with countless other partners, knowing that if they come home empty, they always have each other as back-up. But when the guy is suspected of flirting with an acquaintance of the girl, the relationship falls apart. Luckily for him, he always has his friend, a white guy who grew up with an abusive father and is so innocent that dancing with women at clubs scandalizes him, to rely on for support.
A sweet and innocent girl meets the guy of her dreams, a frat boy prototype with the athletic build and southern sensibility she has always desired. Ignoring some of his bipolar tendencies, she comes to see the kind heart he has inside. Unfortunately, this fairytale comes to a screeching halt when she finds out from her mother and friends that he used to be on a website that, among other things, featured him performing homosexual acts with his male roommates.Do these stories sound a bit far fetched? A bit unusual perhaps? Well, then you clearly don't know what reality is like, because they are the story lines that have developed within a few weeks of the Real World Las Vegas this year! Now I know some of you may be thinking, "The Real World? Aren't you a little bit old for that?" I must admit, this concern is certainly valid. After all, The Real World has been around longer than I have even been living (no, seriously). I remember back in the day when I found the hot chicks and the "steamy" hook-ups to be the most arousing thing I'd seen. Unfortunately, this was a close second at the time.
                                                                 My first wet dream

What a classic mixup that was. But you live and learn. So yes, the Real World has been with us as long as we can remember, teaching us almost everything that we never wanted to do in life, and teaching us about everyone we never wanted to be. And yet, it was entertaining and amusing.

For most people my age (recent college graduate), I'm sure they moved on to other things. Hell, even MTV viewers are more likely to prefer to watch these people for inspiration in life. Class, true class. (P.S. If you're looking for people to be on the Real World, why wouldn't it be the members of the Jersey Shore? I look at that picture and I can't find a single thing fake about them. Everyone's tan, Ronnie's muscles, JWoww's boobs, Angelina's appearance as somewhat human, they all seem all natural to me.) (P.P.S. why does MTV still call itself MTV when it has zero music anymore?)

But I am here to tell you that it is time to return to a younger time, a time of innocence, a time where getting to witness girls shower on tv with their face and ankles visible, a time of reality. This year's season of the Real World, taped in Las Vegas, has arguably been the best I have seen. And just to be clear, I have watched almost every year, quickly giving up on it after 2-3 episodes. However, this year is must see television.

Some short elaborations on some of the best stories so far...

The drug dealer, Adam, was arguably the best character in Real World history. I'm pretty sure not a single thing he said to people was actually the truth. In almost every interview on camera, he confessed to not usually thinking the "correct" thing, but saying it anyways because he knows that it is what people want to hear. He announces to the other male housemates that he will get Nany, the mandatory hot chick on the show who of course has had a boyfriend of multiple years, to end the relationship to be with him. Of course, this happens. This all seems relatively normal, except for the fact that Adam is the worst drunk in human history. He holds his liquor about as well as this nice lady. He becomes beyond incoherent, can not walk, speak, or have basic motor skills, becomes violent towards Nany and any building he happens to be in at the time, and of course remembers nothing in the morning. Not to mention he never apologizes. Think of him as Mike Tyson, but with the coordination of this ass. After racking up literally thousands of dollars in damages at the Hard Rock Hotel, where the cast is staying, he is kicked off the show. In the process, he devastates Nany, who claims to be in love with him. Why? Well, she drunkenly admits that she has been hit before by men, so his drunken tirades are somehow justifiable. Later in the show, she becomes less enthused about Adam when she finds out he has had another girl friend  the entire time back home. Abuse? Fine by me. Another girl on the side? F*%$!!!!!!!

                                                     This guy doesn't have shit on Adam

Dustin from the very start of the show comes off as slightly insane. He is constantly judging other people, with moral and ethical standards that seem to have absolutely no consistency or logic to them. One minute he is harping on the problems with homosexuality because humans are only meant to procreate, and the next he is inconsolable because he lost a go-kart race to one of his roommates. Despite this, Heather, who I believe is the only relatively normal person on the show (so far), sees something in Dustin. They quickly become the couple of the house that, unlike Nany and Adam, do not disgust people because it's abusive, but rather because of how grossly inseparable they are.

Tonight's episode changed all that. Adam, who still talks to Nany regularly on the phone at this point, calls and tells her that he heard that Dustin is an internet pornstar. Around the exact same time, Heather's mom has found out this information and emails her about it. Admittedly, despite being a defender of the show, this is a thinly veiled attempt by MTV to arouse drama in the house, because they quite clearly told Adam and Heather's mom about it. Before long, everyone in the house knows about it and thinks that he has sex with other men on the site. Dustin attempts to explain that that is not the case, that instead it was simply a site where his whole life was filmed, including some nudity, but nothing homosexual occurred. This falls largely on deaf ears. Towards the end of the episode, he admits to Heather that he had oral sex with another guy on a different site, but is straight and was just doing it for money. The show ends with their relationship seemingly at an end, with the trailer for the next episode showing Heather rebounding by making out with Nany multiple times.

Skeptics might be thinking, "Well, that's all great, but you still haven't convinced me to watch the show." Hot hookups? There is porn for that. (And even Dustin for that! Sorry, I had to.) Ridiculous house interactions? Jersey Shore!

But what makes this show so great is that, unlike the Jersey Shore, it is marketed as being "real", in the sense that it is representative of what the average person in this country goes through. In truth, MTV just exploits the lives of some messed up individuals under the premise that you should actually be able to relate to the characters. Yet, if you can even grant that a small percentage of the things on the show are truly "reality", and not some concocted scene designed by MTV to cause as much drama and sex as possible, then it becomes the ultimate in reality television. It is wildly entertaining, with things that most of us would struggle to make up passing as plots, and yet, it's "real"! So check out this season on Wednesday nights. You won't regret it. Or, you can always watch MTV's "The Hard Times of RJ Berger", that features this bombshell, and has the basic premise of a nerd gets the hottest girl in school despite his awkwardness because he is oddly sweet and has a huge one-eyed johnson. Ah, MTV, the hits keep coming.

Anyways, that's all for now. I will hopefully be back on here this weekend. Thanks for reading, be a follower, tell others about it, and check back in! Good night.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The First Post - Intro and Basketball Yellers

First off, I just want to address why I am starting this blog. While it can't be reduced to one reason, there certainly have been a couple particular motivating factors. First, it is a way for me to get my thoughts out on sports (and sometimes other things). Second, it gives me something to do when I'm bored out of my mind.

For those of you who do not know, although this will probably never be read by anyone who doesn't, my name is Daniel. I am from Northern Kentucky, about 20 minutes from Cincinnati. I went to Notre Dame for college, and played tennis there for a couple years. Just to clarify, when I say play I mean I rode the bench. Now, I live in Chicago and work at a consulting firm. Even though I played tennis in college, my favorite sports has always been basketball. If you haven't already stopped reading and decide to check in here, you will quickly see I am obsessed with the NBA, and the Bulls in particular. I also am a big fan of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds, so for all of you who have already called me out for being a bandwagon Bulls fan, I would just like to point out that my other two teams have yet to win a playoff series/game since I can remember being alive. I had always loved the NBA, but never had a hometown team. Once I knew I would be living in Chicago, I adopted the Bulls. This was before they signed Boozer and improved their bench, and before they were more than a lower level Eastern playoff team.

But enough with the intro. On to the first post...

Basketball Yellers

As I just mentioned above, I love the NBA. I mean, I LOVE the NBA. So the fact that my first post is going to be something extremely negative about the NBA might be a little surprising, but I have to talk about what's been on my mind. Along with being lucky enough to observe the best post-Jordan season in the League, with superstars emerging everywhere, I have gotten incredibly annoyed with one particular aspect that has become far too prevalent in recent history - yelling.

Now, I have to clarify what I mean by this. I am not talking about complaining. As some of you may know, the Commish made it a "point of emphasis" to cut down on outward displays that showed up the refs. Unfortunately, this has resulted in players getting T'ed up for a thing that most of us know as emotion. How can you expect to have the general public to believe that players actually give a shit, and simultaneously expect them to keep a straight face when they disagree? I think under the current rules, Sam I Am would probably have received a lifetime ban. I personally don't have a problem with complaining. Thus, Dwight Howard will not be receiving the MVP award on my All-Yelling team just because he led the league in technicals.

Being a defender of the NBA, I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to the players, and assume that they have begun to yell as a more creative way to get attention from the refs. However, I think it is pathetic and ridiculous that players have begun to start yelling everytime they want a foul called. NONE of them did this in college/high school unless they truly got hammered, and it was a primal sound out of pain or exertion. Nowadays, you hear so much yelling and moaning that you'd think this guy had made the league. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, watch one of the playoff games this week and just listen for it. Almost every foul, especially on a star player, is inevitably accompanied by a random glitch where your TV draws the audio from the pay-per-view channel just in time for some guy to be popping wood.

Now that the definition has been established, here is my NBA All-Yell Team.

Center - Pau Gasol

Also the MVP of my team, Pau literally yells every time he touches the ball. It is borderline impossible to explain. I have thought about it for awhile, and only been able to come up with one possible story. Undoubtedly as a young child Pau must have touched a hot stove and burned his hand, yelling out in the process. His mom must have quickly taught him that to touch a hot stove would always bring about the same reaction. I think the odds are 50-50 that when Pau came to the United States, the Spanish translation of "stove" must have been "basketball". This would explain why he yells like a little girl everytime he wants the ref's sympathy. That's it, that's all I have. Pau famously has said he would be a doctor if he was not a pro athlete, but if every touch on him makes him yell, you can only imagine his howls of anguish the first time he had to operate on a wounded patient.

Forward - Dirk Nowitzki

This team is quickly looking eerily similar to the "All-European White Guys who are Ridiculously Talented but also Notoriously Soft" Team, but Dirk definitely belongs. Just to make this clear, I hate Pau, but I am a huge fan of Dirk. He has continued to improve his game over the years, going from an actual soft player to a clutch killer in late game situations and is willing to bang in the paint. He has averaged over 25 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs FOR HIS CAREER. That is absurd. Everyone who blames him for the Mavs blowing a 2-0 Finals lead seems to forget that the Heat had arguably the two best players in the league that year. Dirk didn't guard Shaq and D-Wade. His scrub teammates did. So stop piling on the man. That all being said, he does scream and yell quite often. If you watch a Mavs game, look in particular for the awkward-off one leg-fadeaway he has somehow mastered, which he yells on almost automatically. To his credit, the shot is so awkward that it looks like he has gotten fouled every time, so yelling in this case somewhat makes sense. But I can't let him completely off the hook. If it's not strategic, maybe he's just yelling because he has closed his eye and is fantasizing about the good ol' days when he could has two other hilarious looking white dudes with him. Who knows.

Forward - Carlos Boozer

The runner-up for the MVP award on this team, it pains me to have to include him. When I was younger, I was a huge Duke fan (because they were good at sports and at school), and he is the first legitimate (alleged) big man that the Bulls have had in years. But his yelling can not be denied. He is also the only member of this team to take it to another level, not just yelling constantly, but yelling out a single, clearly audible word. "HEY!" is heard a minimum of twenty times every Bulls game, assuming Booze is even playing. You know it's sad when I type in Carlos Boozer on a Google image search and almost half of the pictures are of him in a suit on the sideline. His yell must be attributed to fear. He is so injury prone that perhaps he truly is scared that any contact will cause injury, and his yelling is just anticipating the inevitable pain. When this is your worst nightmare, then perhaps 7 foot black guys being near you is an understandable reason to be yelling.

Guard - Kobe Bryant

The deepest yell on the team goes to Kobe. I don't really need to give this one much explanation. Everyone knows he bitches and complains to refs overtly, but he too is guilty of the yelling syndrome. Along with the guard to follow, he also has developed a ridiculously loud scream when attempting to draw a charge. I didn't mention this for the above 3 players because, frankly, they don't play defense. What drives me most nuts about Kobe's yells, and subsequent bitching, is that he does literally everything on the other ends that he complains about. Like Boozer, he must be yelling because he has day terrors that mimic what his nightmares must look like. I mean, who wouldn't hate themselves when they got accused of taking advantage of this chick when they have Vanessa to go home to every night. At least Tiger cheated on a smokeshow with other really hot chicks. But I digress...

Guard - Paul Pierce

The last member of my team is none other than the Celtics leader. Side note: no one should buy that Garnett is the leader of that team. For one year he could qualify for that because he brought a renewed interest in defense to the C's, but besides that year it is Pierce's team. Paul isn't one of the most frequent yellers, but he certainly is one of the most ridiculous ones. He is like a less consistent version of Gasol. He yells, but mainly to get bullshit calls to go his way. He also has one of the most absurd "I'm fouled" faces I have ever seen. I can't help but laugh when I see it. It looks like he is getting stabbed to death. Why is that funny? Because people ACTUALLY TRIED to stab him to death. Is he serious!? Can he seriously be yelling and making that face because a player (who is usually a smaller guard/forward than him) bumped him a little after he was tough enough to survive getting stabbed multiple times?! The NBA, where death happens!

That wraps up my All-Yell team. Again, it is not the all-bitch team. If it was, guys such as Dwight, Garnett, Lebron, and Bosh would be taking some spots. If you don't watch the NBA or watch the NBA and haven't noticed this pathetic trend, good for you. I'm jealous. I love the NBA, and it is probably my biggest complaint about it. Pretend you never read this. But somehow remember to come back for more. Thanks for reading.