Burning the NBA
I was recently going through some of my old video games; my mother is having a garage sale soon, and I wanted to donate something to the cause other than holy underwear. I came across my GameCube (remember those?) copy of ‘Madden 07’, featuring 2006 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander on the cover. In that season, Alexander rushed for 1880 yards and 27 touchdowns, averaged 5.1 yards a carry, and led the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
That year also happened to be All-World offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson’s last year in Seattle, as the Vikings lured him away in free agency with a mammoth contract. The next season, injuries kept Alexander from appearing in six games, as he began absorbing hits he was not accustomed to with Hutchinson not there to block for him. The following year his snaps were reduced dramatically, and by 2008, he was the third running back in Washington.
Call it the Madden curse, call it injuries; the point is, Shaun Alexander lost Steve Hutchinson and, in turn, his career died.
It is amazing how one move in the offseason can drastically change the entire environment of a sports team. While professional football and baseball are team games relying on the cohesiveness of a unit over the dominance of one player, the LOSS of one such player can alter the course of the entire team. Is Adrian Peterson a great running back without Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie? Is Kevin Youkilis a .330 hitter without Jason Bay hitting behind him? Do the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers even have jobs without an incredible defense backing them up? How does Matt Ryan’s rookie season go if Michael Jenkins drops that first pass that led to a touchdown? On the plus side, in the NFL and in Major League Baseball, you can hide the absence of a dominant player with solid team efforts. The Los Angeles Dodgers remained the best team in baseball while Manny was sideline for 50 games, going an impressive 29-21. The Baltimore Ravens named Joe Flacco--the rookie from the University of Freaking Delaware--their starting quarterback, and they won a playoff game. Team, team, team.
In the NBA, you can win with one above average player, do well with one All-Star, and dominate with one dominant player. Anyone who says the NBA is not an individual talent-based sport must have closed their eyes for the entire 2007 season, which featured a Cavs team led by LeBron James making the Finals. Rookie Daniel ‘Boobie’ Gibson was the starting point guard for that team, and Sasha Pavlovic—remember him?---was the starting 2-guard. They were a textbook example of a team doing well thanks to one dominant player. What happened? They were massacred by the Spurs, who featured THREE dominant players—Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. 3 beats 1, every time.
Maybe this takes away from the overall aura of the NBA, from the concept of an actual team sport. I mean, the Cavs literally have a play they run where LeBron goes 1-on-5 against the other team. The Heat used the same strategy with Dwyane Wade against the Mavs in the 2006 Finals. The Lakers used to throw the ball into Shaq in the post, and then back the other four guys up to their own basket, assuming that Shaq would score (which he usually did) and setting up for their next defensive possession.
I’m writing all of this because, for the first time since the 2007 season, I’m legitimately excited for the start of the 2009-2010 Dallas Mavericks’ season. I never thought I would say this, but signing Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion saved the franchise. After this year’s second-round exit against the Nuggets, I would have put money on Dirk leaving the team in 2010, the year his contract went up. Assuming he re-signs, he gets to play with Kidd, Marion, Josh Howard, and Jason Terry for at least three more years. You know what? I think he does. With that, I present to you five burning questions and answers from the NBA thus far.
1. Is Hedo Turkoglu out of his freaking mind?
Probably. I was looking at the two contracts offered to him by Portland and Toronto to see if there was some kind of incentive or privilege that the media missed, or some hidden clause that he would be a fool to pass up, or anything that would logically make signing with Toronto over Portland the right move. I couldn’t find anything, unless count $3 million more over the life of a contract than what he would have gotten from Portland an incentive.
I’ve lived in Dallas my whole life. This summer, it’s gotten up to 105, 103, 104, and 101. After a while, you can’t tell the difference. Hot is just hot, and that’s it. When you’re making as much money as these guys are, when does an extra $3 million sway your thinking when you have the chance to play for a contender? Portland is a possible 4-seed out west this year; Toronto will miss the playoffs and lose Chris Bosh next summer when he leaves footprints running back to the United States. But hey, Hedo. Enjoy your extra $3 million! My head hurts.
2. So, the Magic didn’t offer Hedo Turkoglu a large enough contract to keep him from bolting to freaking Toronto, but they felt compelled enough to spend $52 million dollars on Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass?
Yikes. Maybe Hedo knew what he was doing by leaving.
3. How will Rasheed Wallace do in Boston? It looks like they will be bringing him off the bench.
A friend recently asked me, and I quote: “How in the name of God do the Celtics keep doing it?” referring to, of course, Boston’s insane ability to convince previous head-cases to accept bench roles for the greater good of a championship team. Stephon Marbury? Rasheed Wallace? Are you kidding me? For starters, if you had given me 10-1 odds that Marbury would never be back in the NBA at all, I would have hurt my arm reaching for my wallet. Now, he’s Rajon Rondo’s backup point guard? Whaaaaaaat? And don’t get me started on ‘Sheed; while the aura of championship basketball in Detroit seems to have cooled his jets a bit; he’s always been a headcase. Would you bet your 401K that he won’t have one issue coming off the bench this year? How badly does ‘Sheed want the ring over playing time?
The only reason owner Danny Ainge felt comfortable doing this was because of Kevin Garnett. I don’t know how he does it, but the man could cross the 38 th parallel and convince the North Korean government to stop building nuclear warheads. Maybe it’s the threat of death that keeps his team in line; KG occasionally has this look in his eyes that reminds me of Cujo. We didn’t hear one peep from Stephon Marbury when he joined the team, and we have yet to hear one peep from former me-first’s Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Kevin Garnett has singlehandedly turned the Celtics into a TEAM. That’s why I think that ‘Sheed will have no problem coming off the bench this year.
The real question is, how long before Doc Rivers cracks and starts a lineup with ‘Sheed and KG in at the same time?
4. Forget contending for a title. Is the Shaq deal enough to get LeBron to stay in Cleveland?
In 2001, yes. Look, I like what GM Danny Ferry is doing. I really do. I have no idea how the Magic beat the Cavs in the Eastern Finals. We all know that LeBron is going to get offered a contract anywhere from $28-$35 million annually from either the Knicks or the Clippers which, regardless of how good the Cavs are, will be hard to turn down, especially if LeBron wants to establish himself as a global icon (which will be easier if he plays in L.A. or New York). Ferry can’t just stand pat this offseason, either. Not with Detroit, Orlando, AND Boston all making major free agent moves. He has to do everything is his power to show LeBron that he cares enough to make this team good, even if he ends up bolting in 2010 anyway. It’s a tough situation for the GM, no question.
With that being said, I can totally see LeBron and Shaq hitting it off to the tune of Rob and Big; they both have incredible personalities and unmatched charisma, plus they are unquestionably winners. If they get along this season, which they most certainly should, I could see LeBron going “Screw it, I’m the king of Ohio, I’m gonna make bank here anyway, and I get to play video games with Mo Williams and Shaq every night. I’m staying.” This could actually be a good thing for Cleveland.
Or, LeBron will notice in the first 7 minutes of game 1 of the season that Shaq can’t run, jump, play defense, or set any kind of purposeful screen anymore and demand a trade by the All-Star break. It’s a crap shoot, really.
5. Ron Artest in Los Angeles. Go.
My dear Lord. As a writer, this is Christmas come early. Artest and Kobe on the same team, possibly playing the same position? Does Lamar Odom stay on the team, causing Phil Jackson to take four Tums before every game? Do Kobe and Artest fight before every game, getting it out of their system so that they coexist on the court? Will Pau Gasol teach Artest his infamous fish-eyed scream? How long before Artest jumps Jack Nicholson at Staples Center? I literally cannot wait for the 2009 Lakers season. Nothing will surprise me, either. They could shatter the all-time win record, winning something like 77 games. They could literally kill Phil Jackson. They could trade Kobe mid-season. They could convince Chris Wallace to trade them Zach Randolph for Luke Walton, then trot out a starting lineup of Odom, Bryant, Artest, Gasol, and Randolph, just for giggles. I’m ready for anything.
And a final prediction, just so it’s on paper: The Spurs (that’s right!) win the title in 6 over the Cavs. And the Raptors win 33 games. Good ol’ Hedo.
By: Timothy Glaze
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