It’s late August, and that means a couple things to us sports fans. First, flights to Vegas are the cheapest they will be all year. Which is nice. So take advantage accordingly, all you Rain Men out there.
Second, it means there is absolutely nothing happening in the NBA. Ghost towns have more foot traffic at this point. The off-season is particularly “off” at this point, and all the NBA columnists are sunning themselves at their favorite vacation spots, marking the first time many of them have been outside this year. Most of the summer trades have already happened, and teams are focusing on gaining chemistry and camaraderie as training camps and the preseason approaches. NBA news items nowadays are in the "Magic Johnson Turns 50", “JR Smith Got Drunk” or “Steph Did Something Crazy Again” vein.
Basically, if you’re an NBA player and you’re in the news in late August, no good can come of it. You’ve messed up BIG. Take it from me: just lock the Escalade in the garage. Don’t go out. Send your boys out for your Faberge Egg collection, or whatever it is 20-year-old millionaires collect. Have the gardener feed your tigers. Just don’t go outside.
Finally, late August means that school is back in session. The 2009-10 school year. And that means my 10-year high school reunion. Truth be told, I’m only barely comfortable talking about this topic.
I’ve attended three weddings of my high school buddies this summer, and the unfortunate funeral of a college friend. There are several more weddings on the horizon. My D.P.H.S. comrades are buying houses, having babies, filling out their stock portfolios, and having MORE babies.
It was unsettling, watching everyone around me mature into functional human beings. Then I found a couple gray hairs.
Rather than dive into the deep waters of my neurosis, I’m going to take a page out of The Sports Guy’s playbook, and give a report of the upcoming NBA season to the most memorable quotes of Gross Pointe Blank, the best reunion movie of all-time.
A quick background: I’ve had GPB on my Ipod ever since I’ve had an Ipod. Every scene is chock full of nuances that are incredibly wry and hilarious in their subtlety. Now, I know a few of you haven’t see the movie, so I won’t dwell on the minutiae of a twelve-year-old flick. Just…if you have anywhere from three minutes to an hour to kill, you can throw that movie on at any point and be thoroughly amused. More than that…you feel clever for even following the dialogue, which is just fast-paced enough to be snappy, but clean enough to not lose you.
For example, it takes a solid five viewings before I caught that the Guns & Roses “Live and Let Die” turns to Muzak once Martin Blank enters the mini-mart where his house used to be. And his interrogation of the teen behind the counter is classic, and starts out in a fashion appropriate for this article:
Ultimart Carl: I'm doing a double shift. What does it look like?
That being said, Sports Guy, imitation is the highest form of flattery, so don’t be offended I took your idea. I just think I chose a movie better suited for NBA analysis. (BURN.) So without further ado, this is the Official Second Coming Preseason Preview, 2009-10 Edition. (Part Two and Part Three are coming in the next couple days…ten teams each day.)
30. Marty: They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they've all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? "I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How've you been?"
Team: The Phoenix Suns, and the previously untouchable Steve Kerr (circa 2007), who single-handedly dismantled the most revolutionary offense we’ve seen since the Triangle. And that was concocted twenty years ago, recovered from the throes of a Phil Jackson LSD binge on an LA beach. (True story. There has to be at least one “Phil Jackson’s LSD Triangle” band name after this article is posted. It’s a moral imperative, right?)
In this Gross Pointe analogy, Phoenix is Paraguay, and Shaq is the fork…which is appropriate. Sure, Amare Stoudamire is a beast, but he is one season and one Steve Nash back injury away from either a Cedric Ceballos-like downfall or an Antonio McDyess-like ego check. Namely, the only reason McDyess worked in Detroit is because he was willing to accept the lesser role and reduced pay. Amare is far too young and hotheaded for that to happen.
But, if Amare doesn’t learn an efficient post game without relying on his physicality, he will not last long in this league. End of story.
What they SHOULD do in the PHX is to throw some quality money at a high-scoring free agent, either to supplement their front line or their second unit. With Brook Lopez showing some promise, and the recent acquisition of Blake Griffin’s sister, that spells Allen Iverson.
Think about it. The window on any kind of success in Phoenix is literally about one-and-a-half years, with Steve Nash ailing and Grand Hill’s assorted body parts eventually falling off like a satellite upon re-entry. So you grab A.I. for mid-level money, and either start him alongside Nash, J-Richardson, and Amare, or throw him on the bench for a one-two punch with Barbosa. I’d pay to see that. But guess what? It will never happen.
Last Season: 46-36 Projected: 42-40, 9th in West
29. Marty: Debi's house.
Paul: Kinda crept up on you, didn't it?
Marty: No, you drove us here.
Paul: [pause] Yep.
Team: New York Knicks. They are making all these plans for the LeBron sweepstakes, and now it looks like he’s staying in the Cleve (and eating lunch with Little Richard at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or whatever there is you do there.) And, Dwyane Wade is staying in Miami, most likely. So, when they end up with Chris Bosh and whoever they drafted instead of Brandon Jennings (BIG mistake – Jennings is perfect for NY, no matter what my buddy and Knick enthusiast Eric says), they are still going to need another piece.
It’s savvy free-agent pickups and drafting that makes it in this league, and I haven’t been impressed by the Knicks’ late history on either.
What will it take? I was rooting for them to snag Richard Jefferson instead of San Antonio, but that would ruin their 2010 plan. Also, they should have made a stronger push for Lamar Odom, who would be perfect to pair with David Lee (if he sticks around.) So, what’s their plan? Darko Milicic? Not so much.
Sadly, the only thing that would truly renew the basketball vibe in the NYC is a solid big-name star, preferably through trade. I hate to burst any bubbles, but Nate Robinson being the major cog in your offensive plan is not going to win you many conference championships…especially when you bring him in as a shooting guard. There are current shooting guards that are over a foot taller than him, and this is a position that, in the post-MJ era, is relied upon more than ever in offensive systems.
Last Season: 32-50 Projected: 35-48
28. Marty: [after shooting a guy three times and bashing his head in with a skillet] Debi, I'm in love with you! And I know we can make this relationship work.
Team: Miami Heat…though this quote seems a dead ringer for Cleveland, at first glance. The Miami love affair is appropriate: Wade has absolutely put his butt on the line for this franchise time and again, but with little to show for it. If the population of Florida can wake up from their Country Kitchen buffets and early bird specials, they may realize that. Any other team would have been three spots out of the playoffs last year. Plus, I’m not sold on Jermaine O’Neal’s dilapidated body anymore at the center position, and I’m pretty sure Wade isn’t either. Jermaine’s game is, like, a sneer. And a 3-inch vertical.
Furthermore, the Heat’s other positions are like a poor-man’s roster of average NBA players. Mario Chalmers has impressed in his rookie season, but he’s too turnover-prone and shoots too poorly to be an effective starter yet. Chris Quinn looks like Tyler Hansborough’s “mini-me” and don‘t tell me he doesn‘t. Yakhouba Diawara is effective in spurts, but played alongside Steven Jackson too long (he will start launching threes at any minute) and Daequan Cook is Jason Richardson without the jumping ability…or scoring ability. Finally, Udonis Haslem is Charles Oakley without the attitude and “bionic man” qualities.
Listen, Miami: Either get Wade a running mate (jury is still out on Michael Beasley, who is the Bullwinkle of the NBA at this point…sleepy and unconcerned) or you’re gonna lose him to free agency. And as he’s my wild-card MVP favorite, this would be a historic loss for you. (Aside from what I told the Knicks a second ago.)
He likes Miami. He wants to STAY in Miami. Make the decision easy for him.
Last Season: 43-39 Projected: 44-38
27. Waitress: What do you want in your omelet, sir?
Marty: Nothing in the omelet, nothing at all.
Waitress: Well, that's not technically an omelet.
Marty: Look, I don't want to get into a semantic argument, I just want the protein.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers. Listen, this is the epitome of an empty omelet: a lot of protein, not much substance. To be honest, I’m excited to see this one play out for the Clippers, and not in that NASCAR-crash kind of way. They have a good squad, a collective of decent players, and if Mike Dunleavy stays at least 50 feet from the bench at all times, they will be fun to watch. They may not win a lot of games, but they will have a decent amount of highlights on SportsCenter, and that’s where they need to start to get LA and the league interested.
On a side note, their failure to get Allen Iverson was the best thing that could have happened to them. He would have eaten up Eric Gordon’s minutes, and at this point the young gunner needs as much burn time as possible. And I’m pretty stoked on the Sebastian Telfair/Ricky Davis/random SF/DeAndre Jordan/Chris Kaman second unit. This could be a break-out year for at least FOUR Clippers: Gordon, Al Thorton (who already had a nice year last year), Jordan, and Blake Griffin (who is the perfect power forward for this system.)
There is a 50% chance of them losing two of their three big guys to injury, in my estimation. Or to swine flu. Or to aliens. I’m just sayin’, it’s the Clippers, all bets are off.
Last Season: 19-63 Projected: 35-47
26. Marty: I'm sorry if I f***ed up your life.
Team: The Minnesota Timberwolves. This team’s situation encapsulates the basic message of the movie: things may be FUBAR’ed right now, but if you keep a good outlook and some menial plans in action, you will end up on top. Or with Minnie Driver. Or on top of Minnie Driver.
The T’wolves have more to be happy about on 8/18/09 than they have had in probably ten years - not since the days of Sam Cassell, Latrell Spreewell, and a youthful and uninjured KG (rather than the straight-up crazy and bench-ridden one.) Cutting ties with Kevin McHale meant moving beyond a six-year losing tradition, and the Kurt Rambis addition is like that first date after a long and tumultuous relationship. You know it won’t be perfect forever, but dammit, it’s new, it’s fresh, and there’s no drama for the time being.
It may be a matter of time before you’re throwing Tupperware at each other, but right NOW, you’re just enjoying having nothing to be bitter about. That’s Kurt Rambis in Minnesota.
As for the new-look team, the depth chart is filled with potential break-out players. Aside from a comeback season from Al Jefferson, I’m expecting big things from Kevin Love – like an 17 and 8 season. Also, word has it that Jonny Flynn has done nothing but impress scouts at pre-draft camps and Summer League, and another year’s experience for Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes could translate into decent role-player scenarios for both of them. And the underrated pickup of the summer was the addition of my boy Ryan Hollins, a 7-footer who can obviously throw down. Add a potential Ricky Rubio to the situation, and this team begins to show some promise.
Last Season: 24-58 Projected: 32-50
25. Debi: If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it's, well, broken.
Team: The Detroit Pistons, with a special nod to Ben Wallace. Nothing says “end of an era” better than a previous star and standout signing for the veteran minimum with their old club, if only for the fact they want to retire there. It happened with Byron Scott in LA after his hiatus in Vancouver and Indiana, and it happened countless times in football. It’s basically the death rattle of a franchise…at least for a couple years.
That being said, I expect Detroit to make another playoff appearance, fizzle out in the first round, and continue on the Rodney Stuckey project even though it is so obviously going to end poorly. Plus, they just traded away Amir Johnson, a fan favorite, while adding two over-shooting and under-sized players in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. If they were taking odds on it in Vegas, I would put money down on at least one of them being disgruntled within the first three months of the season.
(Quick side-note: how perfectly did that first meeting sum up the relationship between Marty and Debi? Uber-perfectly, that’s how perfectly, thanks for asking. Marty stumbles into Debi’s radio booth after having stalked her in a not-so-discreet fashion, and they say “Hi!” a couple times while awkwardly shaking hands. Then, they jump each other’s faces, making out with the hostility of two hormonal teenagers. Seriously, I think you can hear their impact with each other in that scene. It’s primal, it’s honest, and it’s hilarious…three things I definitely need out of a comedy.)
Anyways, I chalk Detroit in for 38 wins of uninspired basketball, one significant injury or trade demand, and an unheard-of coach being fired at the end of the season.
Last Season: 39-43 Projected: 38-44
24. Marty: How's your sister? Did she ever marry that guy Kenny?
Paul: [incredulous] Kenny?
Marty: Yeah, did that work out...?
Paul: Come on, man, he did three years at Joliet. They put one of those bracelets on him, like a LoJack, they know where he is at all times. I think he's at Pizza Hut now.
Marty: So let's not go there.
Team: The Houston Rockets. Talk about hitching your wagon to the wrong stars. Ron Artest bolts town, Yao ends up injured…again, and T-Mack hasn’t seen the court regularly for three years. Where are their building blocks? Their prized Moneyball-style production players? It is in my professional opinion, as your columnist of choice, that you take these words to heart: if you rely too much on stats and production feedback, you begin to ignore personality and injury tendencies. How else would you end up with Von Wafer and Ron Artest on the same team last year? Then lose both, then sign Trevor Ariza in what has “trade demand when things get bad” written all over it?
The only positive in this situation is the fact that they lose McGrady off their payroll next season (at a whopping $23 mil this year) and Yao next season (at $17 mil/season with his player option.) Then they can gladly hand off the keys to…Luis Scola?
I mean, give them credit for a solid showing last season. But honestly, Houston, what’s your plan here? You’re gonna blow up quicker than a plotline on Mythbusters.
Last Season: 53-29 Projected: 48-34
23. Martin Q. Blank: You must've done some *naughty* s*** there, Bart. [flips dossier over to Bart]
Martin Q. Blank: There's a contract out on your life. Believe me. I was hired to kill you, but I'm not going to do it. It's either because I'm in love with your daughter or because I have a newfound respect for life.
Mr. Grocer: [following in van] That punk is either in love with that guy's daughter or he has a newfound respect for life.
Team: Totally the OK City Thunder. We need not speak of the unmentionable abandoning of the coffee- and grunge-loving people of the Pacific Northwest. Naughty, naughty s***, indeed.
But let me tell you something. These are the up-and-comers this season. The Jump-Makers. There’s a system in place in OK City that will actually let two separate future All-Stars blossom…together. Kevin Durant is the future of this league, and – fingers crossed – has the potential to be one of those rare Alex English-type players throwing up spectacular numbers in a small market. The NBA needs those. It keeps the locals energized (they feel like they’re in on a secret) and it keeps the out-of-towners clamoring for TV access.
I know that I drop everything when I find out the Thunder are on the tube. I could be juggling babies. Doesn’t matter.
So there’s that, plus the advancement of Russell Westbrook, who is absolutely invigorating to watch play basketball. He keeps his needle at 11, Spinal Tap-style, the entire game. Though he’s relatively small for a combo-guard at 6’3”, he finds his way into the lane with regularity, and has the perfect speed + passing ability to man the break with Durant.
Oh, and check this out:
So I’ll leave you with this riddle: if you saw Westbrook, Harden, and Durant coming at you on the break, how quickly would you need a change of pants?
Last Season: 23-59 Projected: 40-42
22. McCullers: You got any ideas how you wanna wax this guy?
Steve: Can't you just say 'kill'? Ya always gotta romanticize it.
Team: Utah Jazz. And it’s an absolute pity. Why? Because they’re wasting the best years of Deron Williams’ career.
Listen, I was as big a fan of Carlos Boozer as the next guy. He was a tough, physical 20/10 dude, with a low center of gravity and a soft 15-footer. That’s a challenging matchup for anyone. But since his last All-Star season, he’s either been injured or has submarined the team’s efforts by hoarding the ball with too little production. And with the subsequent drop-off in production from Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, and the twelve-year-old that disguises himself as Ronnie Brewer, well, that leaves you desperate for points. Word has it you need those to win games.
And listen, Utah fans, there’s no way you’re winning anything with Paul Milsap. Yes, he’s a decent player. Give him enough touches, he may even get 18 a game. But that’s it. He won’t hit crunch-time baskets, he won’t swing the ball, he won’t drop your jaw or rally the crowd. And if you put him next to Boozer in the lane, well, I’m not sure you’d have space to shoot protons between them, let alone a beefy point guard.
Utah. Get a damned shooting guard. Please. The Mormons would really appreciate it. At least, do it while Jerry Sloan is still alive.
Last season: 48-34 Projected: 42-40
21. [Martin gives Debi a bouquet of flowers]
Debi: I'll go put these in some rubbing alcohol.
Team: Philadelphia ’76ers. In the words of Lang Whitaker, who couldn’t have said it better: “They know they don’t have a point guard, right?”
That is, unless you count a back-up rookie you took with the 17th pick, Jrue Holiday, about whom MyNBADraft.com states "What position will he play in the NBA? Needs to keep working on his jump shot and ball handling.” So, that’s a no. And cross out Louis Williams, who averaged a whopping 3 assists last year, and is still just an undersized shooting guard. So, Philly will either have to resort to Samuel Dalembert bringing up the ball or…um…
YES!!! Smush Parker is still available. The Smushmobile may be making a stop in Philly. You want a shot-happy hot head who once was so unreliable he made Kobe hoist over 27 shots a game! He’s still got fight in him, too, after he said he’d throw down something fierce on Ron Artest. That’s a fire you want, Philly! You want the Smush!
Last Season: 41-41 Projected: 38-44
Part Two coming up.