Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James...everybody has an opinion about who should win the NBA's MVP award this season, and most people have a theory about who's going to do it. Not me. I'm much more interested in who's going to be the league's Least Valuable Player. And you, the readers, get to help me decide.
Antoine Walker: "Antoine Walker, former NBA World Champion." Say those words out loud. Let them roll off your lips. Do they disgust you? They should. After all, 'Toine is the NBA's career leader in Loss Shares and once got suspended indefinitely by his coach for being too fat. The defining characteristic of his career has been a habit for jacking up three-pointers without remorse (sixth all time in total attempts) despite hitting only 32 percent of them. When asked once by a reporter why he attempts so many threes, Walker responded: "Because there are no fours." I never get tired of repeating that.
But enough of the past. Let's talk about this season. Pat Riley was so tired of Walker's plus-sized ass that he shipped Employee Number 8 to Minnesota for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. Think about that for a minute: Pat Riley would rather have Ricky "The Lockerroom Cancer" Davis and Mark "The Human Telephone Pole" Blount on his team than Antoine Walker. Yeah. Anyway, Walker has played only 46 uninspired games for the Wolves, averaging 8 PPG on 36 percent shooting. Did I mention he's making almost $9 million this season and is on the books for another $9 mil next year? I guess I just did.
At some point, Walker decided he was too good for the celler-dwelling T-Wolves and just stopped playing altogether. His hope was that the team would buy him out so he could join a championship contender. (Quick quiz: Who would want him? Quick answer: Nobody.) But - and here's a shocker - the team didn't want to give away bags of free money to a non-playing player and asked 'Toine to take a pay cut. Walker called the offer "ridiculous" and refused the buyout. So just like a creepy serial killer, he's still out there...waiting...sucking the life out of everything around him. Not to mention Minnesota's salary cap.
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Stephon Marbury: Despite having the third-highest salary in the league ($20,109,375), Marbury has appeared in a mere 24 games this season, during which his averages (13.9 PPG, 4.7 APG, and a Win Share of 2) have been decidedly unimpressive (which is kind of like saying a sucking chest wound is "somewhat inconvenient"). But salary and stats don't begin to tell the crazy story of the man who dubbed himself "Starbury" and once declared (during Steve Nash's first MVP season) that he was, without question, the best point guard in the league (yep...always good for 20 points, 10 assists, and 50 losses).
This season's extreme wackiness started last August when Marbury came out in support of Michael Vick, who was then under fire for financing a dog fighting ring and personally participating in dog fights and executions. (Said Marbury: "You know, from what I hear, dog fighting is a sport.") Then, as the Anucha Browne Sanders' sexual harassment lawsuit unfolded, we found out that Marbury had called Brown Sanders a "bitch" (but not a "black bitch") and had lured a 22-year-old Knicks intern into his truck for sex outside of a strip club. Classy. During the Knicks' training camp in October, Marbury said the highlight of his summer was "when I gave myself to Jesus Christ." Word has it The Lord our Savior gave Marbury right back.
The fun continued in November when Marbury appeared on Mike'd Up; not only did Steph seem totally high on...life...he made some remarkably bizarre comments - even for him - regarding both Isiah ("My relationship with him is beautiful. Because he's a man's man, and he can see the light.") and his wife, who actually called and talked to him during the show ("That's my better 'ho. My better half, my wife."). He also showed an astonishing lack of familiarity with statistical references for someone with the reputation of being a mindless gunner ("I think I'm gonna average like 10 points, like 12, 13 dimes, like 2, 3 assists and about 4, 5 rebounds.").
Once the season was underway and the Knicks started losing, Marbury got into a semi-private feud with coach Isiah Thomas that eventually turned totally public. This led to Marbury briefly leaving the team when he found out Isiah was planning to bench him. Rumor had it that the two men almost got into a fistfight on the team plane and that Marbury actually told some of his teammates he was going to blackmail his coach. (Starbury allegedly said, "Isiah has to start me. I've got so much (stuff) on Isiah and he knows it. He thinks he can (get) me. But I'll (get) him first. You have no idea what I know.") The incident blew over and Marbury returned to the team...for a few games, anyway.
But then it was discovered that Marbury needed season-ending ankle surgery. His season was over, but the story wasn't. Soon word hit the street that Isiah had banished Marbury from Madison Square Garden, but it was hard to prove the rumor true or false because Marbury was nowhere to be found and Isiah refused to address the issue, except to insinuate that Marbury might not be a part of the team's future. The tempest finally blew the lid off the teapot and Marbury made a token appearance at a Knicks home game, during which he sat on the bench looking disgruntled and blowing bubblegum bubbles. After the game, he stuck around just long enough to tell reporters he wanted to return to the team next season before once again disappearing into the ether. He hasn't been seen nor heard from since.
And if that bizarre story doesn't epitomize everything that's wrong with the New York Knicks, I don't know what would.
Jason Kidd: Kidd has the opportunity to do something this season that no other great point guard has ever done: Cause two different teams to miss the playoffs. Kidd sowed seeds of discord and discontent in New Jersey because the team clearly sucked and wouldn't be getting better any time soon (mostly because they dropped $61 million on Vince Carter over the summer). He demanded a trade behind the scenes and even went "on strike" for a night, refusing to play in a game against the Knicks because of a migraine headache (this despite the fact that Kidd doesn't have a history of suffering from migraines). And while Kidd never out-and-out quit on the Nets, his attitude and not-so-secret lobbying for a trade didn't do much for team chemistry.
Kidd eventually got his most fervent wish: A return trip to Dallas, where he began his Hall of Fame career. The Nets were left to pick through the debris of their season, and while they've been making a "sort of" run at the playoffs, it's unlikely they'll be able to overtake Atlanta to claim the eighth seed. They started too far behind.
Meanwhile, Kidd's metamorphosis back into a Maverick has just so happened to coincide with the team's newfound inability to beat teams on the plus-side of the ledger (Dallas is 1-10 against teams with winning records since the Kidd trade). At the time of this writing, the Mavs are currently clinging to the seventh seed in the Western Conference, exactly one game from being out of the playoffs altogether. That sound you just heard was Mark Cuban's primal scream, and for once it has nothing to do with bloggers.
Shaq (the Miami Heat version): Based on how he's been playing in Phoenix, it's hard to believe that Shaq was a shambling husk of himself just a few months ago. Instead of stepping up to carry the Heat in Dwyane Wade's absence and eventual return from surgery, Shaq submitted a smattering of lackluster games (most of which were spent in serious foul trouble) before starting his annual 20-game injury vacation a month or so early. The Big Geritol was out indefinitely with a creaky hip when Pat Riley finally found a taker (read that, "sucker") willing to choke down Shaq's Shaq-sized contract. And that man was Steve Kerr.
Kerr had to withstand a firestorm of controversy and criticism, mostly because The Big Clumsy had been playing like Wilt Chamberlain's corpse for most of the season. Then, as if by the Power of Greyskull, everything changed. In the words of my buddy Craig from The Association: "Now he's grabbing rebounds, rotating defensively, making free throws, complementing EVERYONE in Phoenix, putting stars on top of Christmas Trees, fixing the economy and making free throws (yes, it's worth mentioning twice). Do the people of Miami have a right to hate that guy? No, because he brought them the 2006 title. Does Pat Riley have the right to take the knife from Stan Van Gundy's back and jam it in Shaq's leg? Yes, because he assumed that Shaq would play out his contract in Miami (the operative word here is "play," since Shaq mailed in the last 1.5 seasons there)."
Of course, Bill Walton called The Big Sandbagger out for laying down while living off the fat of the Heat's land, but Shaq just blasted him back and, unfortunately for the big redhead, Shaq is way funnier and has more clout. Of course, Shaq couldn't resist taking his trademark passive-aggressive swipe at his former coach and team, disguising it (per usual) as praise for his current coach and team: "I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys. We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I'm actually on a team again." Way to be the bigger man, Shaq.
But at least the Heat have that 2006 championship.
Chris Webber: His dramatic return to Golden State, not to mention his tearful reunion with Don Nelson, ended after only nine games, during which he averaged 3.9 PPG. And while C-Webb might really have been washed up, it certainly sounded to me like he didn't try all that hard to get that whole "knee problem" sorted out. Said Webber: "Rehab is so hard, it's so monotonous, so boring. I really didn't want to try and rehab and come back this season because I didn't think that was possible." Way to give it the old college try there, Chris. Footnote: Webber is the league's eighth highest paid player this season at $19,596,244. (Although, to be fair, Golden State is only footing $500K of that bill, whereas the poor Sixers are paying $19 million of it.)
Jermaine O'Neal: Dubbed Jermaine "The Drain" by certain Pacers fans (i.e., me and my friends from Hoosierland), O'Neal started the season on the injured list and Indiana started out 3-0. Then he came back and the Pacers lost six straight. Coincidence? Maybe. (It wasn't.) O'Neal "played" for a while, but he eventually missed another 33 straight games with a bruised knee. In the 35 games he has played this season, Mr. Drain has averaged 15 PPG on 44 percent shooting (how does an inside player shoot 44 percent?!), and every one of those points was scored off a plodding, kill-the-offense post-up move that ended in a 15-foot fadeaway jumper. The Pacers got all that for the low, low price of $19,710,00 per year (the seventh-highest salary in the league). Surprisingly, O'Neal just returned to play out the last handful of meaningless regular season games. I'm sure that has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he has an opt-out clause in his contract that will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Raef LaFrentz: When Greg Oden went down before the season even began, the Trail Blazers desperately needed one of their big men to fill the suddenly Oden-sized void. And that's exactly what they got...out of Joel Przybilla (a.k.a., The Vanilla Godzilla). Meanwhile, LaFrentz - who's on the books for over $11 million this season - has actually become fused to the Portland bench, kind of like Bootstrap Bill Turner became part of Davy Jones' ship in Pirates of the Caribbean 3.
Steve Francis: The Franchise returned to Houston during the offseason with much hoopla, but Rockets fans soon learned why the Knicks and Blazers were so quick to get rid of him: He sucks. Francis averaged 5 PPG and 3 APG in 10 games before undergoing season-ending surgery to correct a left quadriceps tendon injury. But here's the best part: Not only is Francis currently under contract to Houston (for $2,430,000), he's also Portland's highest paid player ($16,440,000 this season and $17,180,00 next season).
The Chicago Bulls: This nomination goes to the entire dysfunctional team. Sure, I could say the same thing about the New York Knicks, but at least those guys have excuses: Namely that they're crazy and coached by Isiah Thomas (i.e., they never had a chance). The Bulls have no such easy justifications. The ball got rolling during the preseason when Ben "I'm the best player on the team" Gordan and Luol "They wouldn't trade me for KG or Pau Gasol" Deng refused to sign contract extensions and suddenly developed an incurable case of Playingforacontractitis. Coach Scott Skiles immediately lost all clout and authority when John Paxson made him lift the team's "No Headband" rule for Ben Wallace, while Big Ben continued to undermine Skiles at every opportunity. It became pretty obvious that the team was quitting on Skiles, so Paxson fired him...ON CHRISTMAS FREAKING EVE. Shortly after the New Year, rookie Joakim Noah got into a screaming match with assistant coach Ron Adams during practice. Interim coach Jim Boylan suspended Noah for a game, but the Bulls players - led by Wallace and Adrian "Did you even know I was still on the team?" Griffin - voted to suspend Noah for an additional game. (Coach? What's a coach?) After watching the Lakers win the Pau Gasol lottery, Paxson went into full panic mode and dumped Ben Wallace's awful contract for the Larry Hughes "cap-killing contract and unpredictable shooting disease" combo. The hits just kept on coming as Tyrus Thomas got suspended for missing practice, "good guy" Chris Duhon got suspended for skipping a pregame shootaround, and Andres Nocioni got exiled to the locker room during a game for cussing out Boylan and throwing a towel on the ground. One! Big! Happy! Family!
The Phoenix Suns Bench: Yes, it's true: The Phoenix Suns have a bench. Not that you'd know it or anything. Mike D'Antoni seems determined to become the first coach in NBA history to win a championship by employing a seven-man rotation. Mind you, D'Antoni's looking down the pine at guys like Brian Skinner, D.J. Strawberry, and Sean Marks, which means his options are pretty limited. Still, three players equals 18 fouls. That worked out pretty well for the Bulls three-headed center monster back in the day, is all I'm sayin'.