Thursday, May 26, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Sports is the original reality television. Pro wrestling and the NBA Draft Lottery aside, it's unscripted. We don't know the outcome beforehand. And we swarm like pirañas on the human drama of the game.
It's why Fox gives us incessant, interminable uber-closeups on their world series broadcasts: so we can read the emotions of the pitcher in every facial twitch. How long did the director in the truck leave a camera on Russell Westbrook until we could finally cut to the money shot of a young, rising star player looking less than happy about sitting out the entire fourth quarter of a conference finals game while his backup led his team to victory?
This is why the camera is even on Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah as they return, fuming, to the bench. We want to experience the drama of the gladiatorial competition in all its raw, often undignified, intensity.
Are you really surprised to see testosterone-drunk competitors hurl an inappropriate word meant to diminish the masculinity of the objects of their anger? Isn't catching that moment exactly why the camera is on Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah in the first place?
It's not dignified, and it's not appropriate. That word is not one that people like Bryant and Noah would use in civil conversation. But the heat of competition is not where one would normally expect civility. In fact, in physical sporting endeavors civility is often considered a weakness, whether it's the fabled "neanderthal gene" of a football player or an NBA player being lauded for being a "killer".
This isn't a friendly pickup game. You're not going to turn loose athletes who have been selected out from a young age for their ability to unleash the angry animal within them to out-fight their opponents … and then expect complete decorum and civility at all times within the arena. It's like training a pit bull to be aggressive, then putting him down for mauling someone.
It certainly makes sense that the NBA doesn't want this as part of their public face, their brand.
If you want to fine Kobe Bryant for disrespecting an official's authority, OK. If you want to fine Joakim Noah for losing his temper and insulting a paying customer, OK.
But fining either of them the equivalent of the yearly salary of several average Americans in a fit of political correctness is a hypocritical exercise in self-righteousness. If the NBA doesn't want us to see the dirty underbelly of competition, then they should tell the cameras to stop seeking it out like a Predator drone after a terrorist.
Just because the masses may crave the voyeuristic pleasure of indignity revealed in authentic, unscripted drama doesn't mean you have to give them every bit of it, any more than the NHL should feed the bloodlust of their fans who still want to see fighting.
We went looking for this. Let's stop pretending to be shocked and appalled when we found it.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
-Game 1 was only the second time all season in which LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both played but neither scored 20 points. The only other instance was a 97-72 blowout victory over the Pistons on December 1 where Wade and James only played 18 and 31 minutes, respectively
On one hand, that means Game 1 was a major aberration. You can't expect that to happen again. On the other hand, it's a major testament to the Bulls' ability to keep Wade and James from getting where they want to go on the floor. After the first minute of the game, Miami's fast break was virtually non-existent. It's hard to run off of made baskets or when the Bulls get offensive rebounds. And in the half court, the ability of the Bulls' big men to pick up LeBron on switches, keep him in front of them, and force him to shoot jumpers was remarkable. Noah, Gibson and even Omer Asik did a stellar job of moving their feet and forcing LeBron to settle for long jump shots even out of a mismatch.
-Miami is a team that has been prone to slumps, to getting in their own heads. In November they had separate stretches of losing 3 of 4 and 4 of 5. In January they lost 4 of 5. In late February/early March they lost 5 straight and 6 of 7.
This is significant to the extent that if the Bulls win Game 2 at the United Center on Wednesday, they will have won all five meetings with Miami this season, and the Heat will likely have serious doubts as to whether they have it in them to even take more than a game from the Bulls, let alone the 4 of 5 necessary to take the series.
-This horse is already dead, we have cried at his funeral, he's been sent to the glue factory, and we have gone through our five stages of grief, but… right now, Taj Gibson is better at basketball that Carlos Boozer. When Boozer was healthier and was able to be a force in the low post, he caused defenses to make some impossible choices, because doubling down on him is suicidal when you have Derrick Rose on the perimeter and Luol Deng roaming the weak side.
But Boozer has been reduced to scoring on jump shots and putbacks which, even when he scores 14, 15, even 20 points, doesn't stress a defense in the same way. It doesn't cause them to scheme to stop him. And he remains a liability defensively, while Taj Gibson has turned into one of the game's best defensive power forwards. Not only does Taj excel in on-ball man defense, but his range and hustle allow him show or double on the perimeter and still retreat to pick up his own man. Within Tom Thibodeau's team defensive principles, the gap between him and Boozer at that end of the floor is magnified even further.
And you can deal with that gap when Boozer gives you 20 points and 10 rebounds - which is approximately what he was averaging before injuries started to get him. But short of that, you're simply a better team with Gibson on the floor.
Now that said, you can certainly make the argument that significantly altering your rotations at this stage of the game could risk upsetting the team's rhythm and losing Boozer. But when talking about the Bulls' window of opportunity to win championships, you have to entertain this question:
Moving forward, who is your guy, Boozer or Gibson?
Rose is 22 and Noah and Deng are 26. All three will be here long term. Further, Omer Asik is 24, and Ronnie Brewer is 26, and both of them look to be important bench pieces that will be here for a while.
Boozer is 4 1/2 years older than Gibson. Gibson is going to get starter's money from someone, and it's unlikely the Bulls will be able to justify paying Gibson starter's money for backup minutes even in the unlikely event Gibson would rather be a backup here than a starter elsewhere.
So from a pure value standpoint, are the Bulls better off keeping Gibson and getting whatever you can get for Boozer, or keeping Boozer and losing Gibson for nothing?
Let's put some names to some possible options here…
Boozer to Portland for Brandon Roy. The Blazers are a rising team on the cusp of contention in the West. But they are very thin up front and were one of the NBA's worst rebounding teams, even resorting to playing 6'6" Gerald Wallace at the 4 for long stretches. In the meantime, they spent solid money on Wesley Matthews at the 2 - who played well when given extended minutes. They also have Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum. Roy's questionable knees along with his big contract make him a risky investment, as he is due almost $40 million over the next three seasons. But in fairness, Boozer is older and comes with some injury history of his own, plus his defensive shortcomings. But Boozer fits with Portland's needs, while Roy fits better with what the Bulls need.
Are the Bulls better off with Gibson and a roll of the dice on Roy, or with just Boozer? I think that's an easy call.
Boozer to Boston for Paul Pierce. Pierce is a little risky because he will be 34 to start next season and has three years and $47 million left on his deal. But hopefully he can give two more solid, if not stellar, years, and then becomes very movable as an expiring contract in the summer of 2013. In the meantime, the Celtics get cost certainty on a big man who is four years younger than Pierce and might take some frontcourt pressure off of Kevin Garnett for the one year Garnett has left on his deal.
For the next couple of years, are the Bulls better off with just Boozer, or with Pierce and Gibson? That's another easy one.
Now let's shoot for the moon…
Boozer, Joakim Noah, and the rights to the Charlotte pick that has decreasing levels of protection over the next several years… for Dwight Howard.
That thing is over in Orlando and they're going to lose Howard for nothing if they don't trade him. A plug-and-play frontcourt of Boozer and Noah - with four years of cost certainty - is the best deal they'll ever see, especially with the Charlotte pick thrown in for good measure.
And for the Bulls, a nucleus of Rose (22), Deng (26), Gibson (26) and Howard (26) is a dynasty in the making. I feel safe in projecting that Deng/Gibson/Howard would be, if not the greatest defensive frontcourt in NBA history, certainly in the team picture… and no slouch at the offensive end, either. The Bulls use their midlevel exception and their two late first round picks to try and upgrade the shooting guard position so they can chase after 70 wins.
But, as interesting as these things are to ponder, they are long term questions. For now, the Bulls have an opportunity on Wednesday to very quickly put the Heat on the ropes and advance tantalizingly close to the NBA Finals.
Tomorrow's Memo: deconstructing the Lakers.