Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Musings

It's been a while since I gave you some musings, so here you go:

  • Last Thursday was a day for the ages. First, the Cavs acquired The Big Washed Up in the worst panic move since Ryan Reynold's said yes to "The Proposal" (yes, I saw it. Didn't love it. No need to dwell on this). Then, the Nets dealt Vince Carter to the Magic in what can only be described as the largest hand of blackjack ever played. Next, the King of Pop died. And, finally, in just 10 minutes, the Timberwolves managed to cement themselves as the most inept franchise in the NBA. That's right, I said it. Not even the Clippers are as big a disaster as the 'Wolves right now. Let's take a look at each of these events:

1) Shaq to Cleveland - The great Bill Simmons so eloquently compared this move to the guy that buys renter's insurance a week after he lost all his belongings in a robbery (or something like that). I think this is a perfect analogy. I mean, during the Eastern Conference Finals, DB and I must have asked no less than a dozen times, "How did Danny Ferry not trade Wally's expiring deal at the deadline????" And, if DB and I picked up on this, you know it was a glaringly obvious mistake, right? Here's the bottom line: The Cavs had the most valuable asset in the NBA not named Raef LaFrentz's expiring deal, and they did nothing with it. Instead, they sat on their hands and watched Hedu, Rashard, Dwight, and even J.J. Reddick (at times) pick and roll them right out of the NBA playoffs. In other words, they Eff'd up. No two ways about it. Listen, it sucks, but we've all been there. We've all made mistakes, but we've all learned that the worst thing you can do is make matters worse by hastily trying to make up for the mistake with a desperate act. I mean, this is how 97% of all relationships end, right? Every man learns this lesson by the time he leaves middle school. So, there was no chance Danny Ferry was going to make everything worse by making a panic deal. Ummmmm, yeah, not so much.

So, Ferry, completely ignoring what every dude above the age of 14 knows, goes out and picks up $20 million of a 37 year old Shaq. Now, let me be clear. I love Shaq and think there was a time he would have made the Cavs immeasurably better. That time was about 2002. Needless to say, in 2009, I'm not buying it. Just to reiterate, the Cavs' met their demise because they couldn't guard a younger, more athletic, and superior shooting team that feasted on high pick and rolls. And, their reaction is to spend $20 million on a guy that couldn't guard the high pick and roll in his prime!!!!! Yes, I just used five exclamation points. Let's think of this a little differently. If I told you that Justin Timberlake decided he was missing something in his life and he decided the solution was to start dating Sharon Stone, you would be pretty certain that wouldn't end well. Well, Lebron James playing along side Shaq is the NBA equivalent of JT/Stone. That makes sense, right? Ah, screw it. You get the point.

2) Vince to Orlando - Honestly, if you are the Magic (yes, I'm ripping off the Hubie Brown impersonation from BS), you HAVE to make this deal. On paper, this deal is a no-brainer. Unfortunately for the Magic, however, VC's abilities can't be measured on paper. Usually, you use the "can't be measured on paper" in a positive manner. For example, you just can't measure on paper what Shane Battier gives you. Let's just say that isn't how it works with VC. Bottom line: If VC shows up, plays hard, plays even a little defense, and can quietly live with deferring shots to Hedu (the Magic are undoubtedly re-signing him, right?), Lewis, Nelson, and Howard, the Magic are probably going to win it all next year. We've seen this formula work before with guys like Tiny Archibald and Bill Walton in Boston and Gary Payton in Miami. The difference with those guys, however, is that they were in the twilight of their career and understood they could no longer harbor dreams of being the best guy on a championship team. Is VC in that place? Only time will tell. For now, the Magic are sitting with two eights against the dealer's 10. They've got no choice but to split 'em. Unfortunately for the Magic, however, they have $33.6 million on the table.

3) Michael Jackson dies - Not a shocking moment, but still surreal. Yes, "Thriller" was my first tape, and I still remember when it showed up in my Easter Basket. MJ's "Billy Jean" performance at "Motown at 25" is my favorite live performance of all time not involving Pearl Jam. And, "Man in the Mirror" is one of ten favorite songs of all time. That's really all I have to say about his passing. If you want more detailed analysis, I'm sure can go to the front page of every newspaper and every news organization's website. And, if you are interested in what's going on in Iran, or if you want to learn about the "climate legislation" being pushed through Congress, or anything else that is likely to actually impact your life, you can probably find those on page 2.

4) The Timberwolves - Okay, so you trade your second best young player (Randy Foye) and a knock down shooter and his expiring contract (Mike Miller) to Washington for the #5 pick in the draft. Then, you turn around and take the player with the most upside in the draft with the #5 pick (Rubio). Only problem is that Rubio is the one player in the draft with options (i.e. if I don't want to play for you, I'll just go make boat loads of money in Europe and come back to the NBA in two years when I'm 21!), and you have no guaranty from him that he won't exercise those options and actually play for you. Wait a minute, did I say that was the only problem? I almost forgot that, with the VERY NEXT PICK in the draft, you take a guy that plays the exact same position as Rubio!!! In other words, if Rubio was on the fence about coming to Minnesota, you just pushed him right over to the other side. So, now, you are faced with the inevitable result that Rubio is going to head back to Europe, you just gave away Foye and Miller for nothing, and it is below zero for half the year in Minnesota. It's great to be a T'Wolve's fan!

My God, I knew this was bad, but until I just saw it on paper, I don't think I even had a grasp for how catastrophic this is. I mean, the only move that comes close is Chris Wallace giving away Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown and a bag of flaming poop. I, of course, am only guessing that the Lakers sent the bag of flaming poop. If you walked up to 100 random people on the street and described the above scenario to them (the Rubio situation, not the flaming poop situation), every last one of them would agree that it was a disaster, right? In fact, I just called my Mother, who has probably watched exactly 0 NBA games in her life, and described the situation to her, and she responded, "Yeah, that's not a good thing." Thanks, Mom. I'm not sure I need to say anything else.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed watching the USA v. Brazil soccer game on Sunday. Well, I enjoyed everything except those intolerable horns the crowd was constantly blowing. And, that whole blowing a two goal lead wasn't very fun either. Actually, let me amend my position. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first half. I was discussing the game with a friend tonight, and I told him that I felt just like I do when I'm watching a 15 seed take a 2 seed down to the wire in the NCAA Tournament. In other words, unless it was Hampton v. Iowa State in '01 (still bitter), you are watching, you are cheering, and you are hoping the underdog can hold on, but you know you are inevitably going to be disappointed when the favorite catches some breaks, makes some plays, and ultimately overcomes the underdog in the final two minutes. And, of course, when it's over, you hate yourself for ever believing it was going to turn out differently. I have a name for this scenario, but since this is a family friendly environment, I will leave it to you to give it your own name. At any rate, that's how I felt Sunday afternoon. I hate it when I feel that way!

  • So, as I mentioned above I saw "The Proposal" this weekend. I was planning on breaking it down for you, but I thought about it and decided to spare you the time and spare me the heckling. Somehow, though, I don't think I'm going to avoid the heckling.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Redemption Revisited?

By now, more than enough words have been written by more than enough writers about today's back nine at Bethpage. Honestly, I don't feel as if I have much to add. Instead, I invite you all to re-read this column I posted nearly three years ago:

http://atlantawad.blogspot.com/2006/07/redemption-song.html

Granted, it looks like I was three years premature with this article, but after reading it, I think you will understand why this U.S. Open, even with all its flaws, will be one that I will never forget. For me, it was both exhilarating and, ultimately, bitterly disappointing. As I said back in July '06, however, a story of redemption is always one worth watching. Now, I'm just hoping this weekend only marked the beginning of one of the greatest redemption stories we may ever see.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tarnished Greatness?

As is so often the case, the idea for this column came from one of my buddies. Specifically, DB sent me an email last week informing me that "88 Minutes" starring Al Pacino is, at best, dreadful. After exchanging a few emails, in which DB shared with me the details of this disaster, he posed this question: "At this point, is Pacino ruining his legacy?" Two things happened when I read this question: 1) I screamed "No" at the top of my lungs, causing my secretary to run into my office to ask what was wrong; and 2) I immediately began banging out a 500 word response to DB telling him why this was not the case. Now, 7 days later, at DB's request, I have watched "88 Minutes". The result? Well, I really wish I hadn't watched it, but my response to DB's question hasn't changed. Why? I'm glad you asked.

To begin the analysis, you must consider this: from the time he burst on the scene as Michael Corleone in 1972 until he implored us all to fight for that inch as Coach D'Amato in 1999, here is how Pacino filled those 27 years:

"The Godfather";

"The Godfather: Part II";

"Dog Day Afternoon";

"And Justice for All";

"Scarface";

"Dick Tracy";

"Frankie and Johnny";

"Glengarry Glen Ross";

"Scent of a Woman";

"Carlito's Way";

"Heat";

"City Hall";

"Donnie Brasco";

"The Devil's Advocate";

"The Insider"; and

"Any Given Sunday".

Good God, read that list again! Sure, I left some less than memorable films off the list ("The Godfather: Part III" NEVER happened!!!!), but has any single actor ever had such an extended run of undeniable greatness? I defy you to pick any one of those movies and tell me that Pacino didn't lift it to otherwise unobtainable levels. I mean, has any other entertainer or athlete ever had even an equally impressive run in their chosen profession? Well, again, I'm glad you asked.

From 1991 -1998, MJ put together the only run in sports or entertainment history comparable to Pacino's nearly three decade reign. From '91 - '98, MJ played 6 full seasons, won six titles, averaged 30.6 pts/game, shot exactly 50% from the field, played in 486 of a possible 492 regular season games, never missed a playoff game, played every possible game from '96-'98, won 4 MVP's, and personally destroyed every player that even dared challenge him. And yes, his two years in minor league baseball were his "The Godfather: Part III".

Please re-read the previous paragraph and take a minute to soak in those numbers. I watched nearly every game MJ played from '91-'98, and I own every one of his playoff games during that time on VHS, and I still can't believe those numbers when I see them in print. Similarly, I've seen every movie Pacino has ever made (thanks to DB making me watch "88 Minutes"), and every time I watch them, I am continually amazed at how he carries each and every one, up until "Any Given Sunday".

Now, the question I'm sure you are asking yourself is how in the hell did DB asking if Pacino is ruining his legacy lead me to performing an in depth breakdown of MJ's career? It's a fair question, and here's the answer: We can all agree that MJ was one of the greatest, if not the greatest (which he was), basketball players of all time, and when you think of MJ today, you think of the MJ I described above. You never think of the MJ that took his last fade away for the Washington Wizards in 2003. In the same vein, we should all be able to agree that Pacino is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, actors of all time, and when it is all said and done for him, you are going to remember Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, Lt. Col. Frank Slade, Lt. Vincent Hanna, and Lowell Bergman. You will never remember him as Dr. Jack Gramm in "88 Minutes" or Rooster Fisk in "Righteous Kill". In other words, when entertainers or athletes reach the apex of their profession and ingrain themselves into the national consciousness for doing what they do, we, as their fans, are more than willing to forgive the sins of the twilight of their careers, no matter how egregious.

This phenomenon, of course, is not limited to Pacino and Jordan. In fact, we are living it right now with Brett Favre. While there are more than a few people, myself included, that really wish Favre would just hang up the cleats and move on, the truth is that we want this only for our selfish reasons. For one reason, we are afraid that watching Favre tank down the stretch for the Jets or do God knows what with the Vikings will somehow cause us to forget all the moments that caused us to love Favre in the first place. It's kind of silly when you think about it, though. I mean, all the empirical evidence proves that, when we are telling our children about Favre, all we will remember is him threading balls into impossible places in crucial moments at Lambeau, willing his teammates to impossible victories, and running around like a mad man after winning it all against the Pats.

Don't believe me? Well, do you remember Dale Murphy winning two MVP's for the Braves, or do you remember him walking away two homers short of 400 with the Rockies? Do you remember Magic running the Showtime fast break like it was what he was born to do, or do you remember his 32 game comeback with the Lakers in '95? Do you remember Joe Montana limping off after a 1st round playoff loss for the Chiefs in '94, or do you remember his decade of near perfection for the 49er's? Do you remember Mike Tyson not answering the bell for the 7th round against Kevin McBride, or do you remember him devastating Michael Spinks in 91 seconds? Do our fathers and grand fathers remember Willie Mays making backward basket catches in the Polo Grounds, or do they remember him limping around the outfield at Shea? Finally, do our fathers remember Muhammad Ali badly losing his last two fights to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick, or do they remember him vanquishing Foreman in Zaire and Frazier in Manila?

Now, if I were a betting man, I would wager that most of you don't have any memories of Murphy as a Rockie, Magic even coming back in '95, or Tyson losing to McBride; and I would bet you didn't know that Ali closed his career with two devastating losses. And, I would be willing to bet that if I asked you who starred in "Don Juan DeMarco", "The Island of Dr. Moreau", "The Brave", and "Free Money", you wouldn't guess Marlon Brando. In fact, I'm guessing your response would be, "I've never heard of any of those movies".

The obvious, and final, question that arises is why do we manage to forget about the sins of our sports and entertainment heroes' later careers? Frankly, if I knew the answer, I could probably right a pretty entertaining book. In fact, I'm hoping Malcolm Gladwell takes on the subject some day. For now, however, I can only offer my best guess, which is based on my own experience. The fact of the matter is that we watch sports, movies, television, etc... as a means to escape the "real world". We watch in the hopes of seeing something that will allow us to talk to our co-workers at the water cooler, our friends at the bar, and our families over the dinner table. And, when we watch with our family and friends, we hope for a moment that we can forever share with those around it. Face it, there are very few things more exciting than sharing a great sports moment (i.e. Jordan over Russell in the '98 Finals) with your buddies. I mean, it's been 11 years since that shot, and seldom does more than two weeks go by that I don't have the "did MJ push off" conversation with someone. Similarly, watching a great movie with your friends and/or family can provide a lifetime of quotes and anecdotes. For God's sake, not a day went by in college that Stats, CC, and I didn't either watch or quote "Heat", "Tommy Boy", "Hoosiers", or any one of a few dozen movies.

Bottom line, our sports and entertainment heroes provide us with a unique type of excitement and joy that we need. Now, in the grand scheme of things, that might seem a little screwed up, but that's just the way it is. And, given that, the answer to the question that started this column is that short of starring with Miley Cyrus in a "Hannah Montana" movie, there is nothing Al Pacino can do to tarnish his legacy. Ah, who am I kidding. I'd watch that movie. I watched "88 Minutes" for God's sake!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Checking in...

There is so much I want to say about the Finals through two games, but I'll be honest with you, I just don't have it in me tonight. It's not that I'm too tired, or that I don't have the time. Nope. The reason is that I am watching Game 3 on a 21" non HD television in my hotel room. Honestly, it's 2009, is there any reason I should be subjected to watching an NBA Finals game in non-HD? I can't think of a single reason! While I'm thinking about it, here's a few more things in these NBA Finals I don't think I should ever have to be subjected to again:

1) Kobe's contrived under bite;

2) Any reference by Breen, Jackson, or JVG to Kobe "really wanting this", or being "a coach on the floor", or being anything other than a selfish and universally loathed teammate with exceptional scoring ability;

3) GM commercials that try to convince me a bankruptcy filing is a good thing for a company! Listen, GM, I appreciate the effort, but maybe you should have "gotten down to business" a while ago and you wouldn't have to convince me you aren't "going out of business". Listen, folks, if my employer fires me, I'm going to tell you that I didn't get "fired". Instead, I'm going to tell you I'm "getting fired up". You'll believe me, right?;

4) Luke Walton;

5) JJ Reddick;

6) The NBA publicly defending its refs and trying to convince us that they are not collectively worse at their jobs than GM management team (For God's sake, even Phil Jackson admitted Pau goal tended (is that a word?) at the end of Game 2);

7) The muppet commercials. This had the potential to be great, but the kid puppet should be beat;

8) Dorris Burke's useless questions to Phil Jackson and SVG;

9) Dorris Burke's unabashed longing for Kobe Bryant in every post game interview; and

10) Well, let's face it: all things Kobe. Between him, Dorris Burke, and the officiating, I'm tempted to watch "Leverage".

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hollywood vs. The Magic Kingdom

Folks, welcome to the first annual celebration that will be now known as "The WAD picked the C's in 6 and Paul Pierce to win the MVP in '08 Day." That's right, in case you forgot, and as often as I've reminded you I'm not sure how you could, I nailed last year's Finals. Unfortunately, no matter what Shane Falco says, glory does not last forever. You are only as good as your last prediction. And, considering that I loudly proclaimed the Magic had no chance of beating the Cavs, I'm not very good right now. In my defense, I made that prediction before two things happened: 1) Stan Van Gundy morphed from the "Master of Panic" into a steady and solid leader of men, much like Doc Rivers before him; and 2) we learned that Big Z, Ben Wallace, and Joe Smith died at some point this season, and Moe Williams is a graduate of the Karl Malone School of Clutch. At any rate, its time for the '09 Finals, and as the great Roger Dorn said, "let's cut through the crap". (Yes, I just managed to make a "The Replacements" and "Major League" reference in less than 200 words. I'm beyond excited about this). Here's a 7 prong preview of the Finals:

7) The much anticipated Pau Gasol v. Dwight Howard match up is secretly a terrible mis-match. Before I go any further, let me just say that I am a HUGE Dwight Howard fan, and I am very excited about watching him play for the next 10-12 years.....you know it's coming....are you ready?....BUT, this is a terrible match up for him. Here's the deal: We are going to see a lot of Andrew Bynum in this series, and he, not Pau, will be matched up on Dwight. The reason? Well, it's two fold: 1) I think we learned in the Cavs series that you simply cannot afford to double Dwight and leave the perimeter shooters; and 2) If you are going to single the guy and concede 30 -40 points a game, you might as well just put Bynum on him and let him accumulate the fouls. Not to mention, you might even see Odom and Ariza take limited shots at Dwight just to mix things up. Again, the goal is not to stop Dwight from scoring, it's to cover the perimeter and keep Lewis, Alston, Pietrus, the Turkish Jordan, etc... from killing you the way they killed the Cavs. Oh, one more thing: Pau is a dreadful defender, so you gain nothing from having him guard Dwight.

Now, on the flip side, if you are the Magic, Dwight has to guard Pau, you have no other options. Well, we know that, as bad a defender as Pau is, he far more than makes up for it on the offensive end. He's active, aggressive, and creative on the block. He can even step out, give you the head fake, and go to the rim. In other words, he is a nightmare to defend. And, we also know that Dwight is more than a little foul prone. Bottom line is that Dwight might put up big numbers, but he is going to be constantly battling foul trouble, and he is going to be spending key fourth quarter minutes on the bench while Pau is going to be spending those minutes battling the likes of Marcin Gortat. If you are one of the 18 Magic fans out there, you just threw up a little.

6) What do we make of this Jameer Nelson situation? Honestly, I have no idea, and I can't imagine the Magic do either. As a matter of full disclosure, Jameer has been one of my favorite players since his days at St. Joe's. He's one of the top 5 college point guards I've ever seen in person. I'm not going to debate that here, but I'm more than happy to do so any time you want to buy me beers. That being said, this is a terrible injury he is trying to rush back from, and I would be shocked if was able to contribute offensively. He, however, could possibly be able to bring short stints of defensive pressure on the Lakers line of atrocious point guards, if nothing else. That, however, might even be wishful thinking. At the end of the day, we just have to wait and see. In all likelihood, however, as much as I wish it wasn't so, this story is probably much adieu about nothing. I just don't see Jameer making much of an impact on this series.

5) Pop quiz: of all the players in the NBA Finals, which player has the best +/- rating? If you guessed Kobe, Dwight, Hedu, Pau, or Rashard Lewis, you would be wrong. If, however, you chose Lamar Odom, you would be right. That's right, arguably the most maligned and criticized player in these finals, at least statistically, has the biggest positive impact for his team when he's on the floor. I'm not sure this has anything to do with who will win or lose the Finals, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I've got your back, L.O.!

4) As for the coaching match-up, the easy analysis tells you that the Lakers have the clear edge. This is, in part, because Phil Jackson has 9 rings and is the most decorated and celebrated coach of our lifetime. And, of course, part of it is that it has become cool and hip to degrade Van Gundy, whether it be for allegedly panicking or because he looks like a porn star. But, frankly, that is way too simplistic, and it is unfair to Van Gundy.

In these playoffs, Van Gundy made some phenomenal adjustments in the Celtics series and led his team back from down 3-2 to win a game 7 on the road in the Garden. Then, against the Cavs, he kept his team together when they fell behind by 20+ in both games 1 and 2, and then kept them together after Lebron's legendary game winner in game 2. In other words, regardless of his appearance, and regardless of the fact that he's made some dubious decisions along the way, he has done an amazing job coaching this team into the NBA Finals.

On the other hand, we have Phil Jackson, who, frankly, looks like he is about as interested in these playoffs as I am in watching "Leverage" on TNT (just a dreadful show, trust me on this one). Seriously, I'm not sure if it's boredom or anger, but he has not once looked like a man that is excited about being where he is. Personally, I think his second book about Kobe is going to be phenomenal. And, I think there is at least a 20% chance he punches Kobe or LO in this series. In other words, this is clearly a man that doesn't like his players, isn't happy doing what he is doing, and is arrogant enough to think that he is going to win because he's Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy is, well, the Hedgehog. All this could ultimately add up to the unthinkable: SVG could very easily out coach Phil Jackson in this series. I'm not even kidding.

3) Prediction #1: Jeff Van Gundy's head is going to explode as he tries to announce this series with objectivity. Pay close attention as Mark Jackson takes little jabs at him and SVG. These guys are the best basketball announcing crew in the world (only because CBS stupidly won't put Gus and Raf together for the NCAA Tournament), and it is going to be tremendous listening to them throughout this series. While we are here, Mike Breen and Ernie Johnson, Jr. both deserve induction into the basketball hall of fame. No point guard in the history of the game has ever held a team together with the precision these guys show night in and night out. If we ever have another Middle East Peace Conference, we should definitely put these guys in the middle to moderate. I know, I'm not making much sense right now. Moving on....

2) Prediction #2: The officials will make a call that will absolutely swing this series in one direction. It's been brewing all post season, and there is no way to avoid it. Given the refs treatment of the Mamba, I have a bad feeling for the Magic fans.

1) Ultimate Prediction: My hands are literally shaking as I'm writing this, but the Mamba is going to get his fourth ring. Despite the fact that he was atrocious in the '04 and '08 Finals, and despite the fact that he quit on his team in the '06 Playoffs, this is a different Mamba (Yes, I felt obligated to remind you of his greatest failures, deal with it!). He is playing like a man possessed, and frankly, he is playing with the desperation of a man that knows this is his last best chance at solidifying his legacy. He's not quite at the Billy Chapel level, but he's not far off. Plus, let's not forget that he has a lot of help. Pau Gasol is the best offensive center in the league, and Ariza and Odom are much better than people like to admit. I believe that every game will be close, but I think Kobe will too tough in the clutch. When it's all said and done, the Lakers win in 5 (after a horrible call in Game 4 prevents the Magic from tying the series), and the Mamba wins the Finals MVP, and finally, after 13 controversial and turbulent seasons, vaults into the top 10 greatest players of all time. Even I can't deny him that, even if the guy did give himself a nickname.


Before I go, I have two quick random thoughts:

- What is Nike going to do about the puppets now that Lebron is out? I'm sure they have something in store for us, but I'm just not certain what it will be. Is it possible, and I'm just talking out loud, that there is an MJ puppet in our future? Actually, I can't believe I just wrote that. If MJ allows himself, even in puppet form, to be associated with Kobe in any way, it will be proof of two things: 1) Divorce really kills you financially, and you can't afford to say no to money, no matter how degrading the circumstances; and 2) Life as I've known it is over.

- I've already received two dozen emails tonight asking for my thoughts on the Braves releasing Tom Glavine. All I will say about this is that this is a very difficult time, and I would ask that you respect my privacy as I cope with the end of the Braves franchise as I've known and loved it. Seriously, from a current personnel perspective, the move really isn't a huge deal, but it's just symbolic of the continued demise of the franchise as it drifts further and further from what used to be. I'm certain I will address this, as well as many other Braves issues in the near future, but for now, suffice it to say that I'm not thrilled with anything going on down at Turner Field. In fact, I'm very close to losing all hope. And, despite what Andy told Red, I'm afraid that hope can die, especially when it's buried under a boring and mediocre baseball team.