Every two weeks, the gents at Free Darko will be taking a look at the deranged ecosystem that is the National Basketball Association in their own indelible fashion. Here's this week's entry, from Bethlehem Shoals.
What a strange spot I find myself in. Sometime transparently, sometimes under the cover of one topic, I cheerlead for the NBA. That's what I do. I happen to believe this is the most profound sport in the land, but I recognize that I'm in the minority. And so I write.
Now, however, the NBA is the new NFL. In the West, we've got the kind of parity that Roger Goodell could only dream of. Almost every team is over .600, which shouldn't be possible but is — and more important, they're all positive forces for good and change in the world. Hell, the worst thing out West is the fast decline of the Suns, which is bracing the way a good break-up is. Without Bynum, the Lakers are still on another planet, and Kobe's suddenly redeemed himself forever. It feels good, it really does.
However, this frees me up to do what I do best: bitch, moan, and ravage things that bug me. I have an Andy Rooney poster over my bed, and one by the loo. In my line of work, however, it's rare that I get to unleash my real purpose as a writer. But with the NBA doing just fine on its own, it's time. So without more wait, here are Five Things Bothering Me About the NBA:
PLEASE BE MORE CAREFUL IN APPEALING TO THE GOLDEN AGE. I'm 30, which probably makes me a little too old to hang around the blogs. (Ed. Note: Ack!) Regardless, for at least half of the Magic/Bird/Jordan/Andrew Toney era, I was cognitively impaired by being a fucking kid. I know that sports can hit us on a visceral level, and that having a Hubie Brown-like vocabulary isn't essential to appreciating shit. But I'm sorry: Unless you're over thirty-five, please admit what NBA you came of age with. I know that ESPN Classic has managed to turn myth into nostalgia, but motherfucker, you weren't there. And you have no idea about all the boring games that don't get shown.
NUGGETS, PLEASE ENTICE ME. Imagine that I got two of the most controversial All-Stars of the last decade, convinced them to streamline their once-chaotic games, and then added a supporting cast straight out of sixties war movie (if everyone were black)? That's the Denver Nuggets. They score in droves, play energetic, boom-or-bust defense, and can claim Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony among their ranks.
So how come there's not more buzz for what could be this spring surprise team in the West? Remember, they did give the Spurs some trouble in the first round last year. Kenyon Martin is back and goon-ishly benevolent as ever, Marcus Camby is the elder statesman equivalent of a leather-clad juvenile delinquent. This team just exudes bad-assedness, so why don't I care? Maybe it would be to their competitive — and marketing — advantage if they channeled some of that same craziness they supposedly grew out of. The Warriors didn't get where they are by totally reining in Stephen Jackson.
THERE'S NO LOU BROCK IN OKLAHOMA Look, Durant's rookie year isn't much to look at. This frustrated interview indicates that he's aware of the backlash. But at the same time, I think most fans and writers with brains know that Durant's in an impossible situation, on a dead team, with a useless coach, and no real chemistry to play off of. He'll be fine, and if anything, we're bummed that we've got to wait (how long?) to see exactly what Durant can do at this level.
What I wonder, though, is if anyone told Clay Bennett about a little technicality called free agency. One day, albeit several years down the road, Kevin Durant will get to choose whether or not he stays with the Oklahoma City Sub-Sonics. This after the team essentially killed his rookie season, and more likely than not stifled his second. Oh, and than moved him to the ends of the NBA earth. Maybe Bennett has some peculiar ideas about employees-as-property, or didn't get the memo that the players have some clout in this league. Seriously though, that franchise's future depends to a large degree on holding Durant hostage. That won't last forever, and with every year of bullshit, the kid must be less and less likely to plan long-term there (wherever that is).
IT'S ON MCGRADY TO GALLOP WITHOUT PRESSURE. I never really understood why McGrady said "it's on me," since Yao Ming should be the league's premier center. Regardless, last spring we got yet another episode in his ongoing saga of heartbreak, one that had me actively avoiding the Rockets this season. Now, presto, they get Rick Adelman undoing the Van Gundy muck a little and they start winning in droves. Fifteen straight now, a streak that kept on rolling even after Yao went down for the season.
Okay, so Tracy McGrady wants pressure? He's got it now. Apparently, the Rockets need a time machine to get back in joint with NBA fashion. The team tried the dinosaur inside-outside combo, and it got them felled by an active, fluid Jazz bunch that could hold their own with the Warriors. Now, Yao disappears just as the league decides to go big again, and here's T-Mac as the unquestioned focal point of a running offense. His Pippen-esque skills have never been on better display, and while the Rockets don't stand a chance as currently constituted, at least this McGrady bow-out will be graceful and just. And justified.
WAIT, ARE THE SPURS LAZY? Not to take a cheap shot at the Spurs, because I'm kind of sick of doing that. It gets old and hurts. But how come Popovich is praised for strategically limiting players' minutes so they're fresh for the playoffs, while Shaq was (rightfully) bashed when he admitted he was only worried about getting into shape for the postseason? Maybe it's just a matter of tone. I don't know. Still, both seem like cases of shirking a lot of regular season, or at least downplaying, which—however true it should be—is somewhere between dishonorable and sneaky. Or at least not something that needs to be brayed about in glowing tones on national television.