Sunday, June 28, 2009

From the team I love to cheer to the team I love to watch.

So, for the second time in his career, Vinsanity is on the move. My first reaction was "damn, no more reason for me to make that 1.5 hour trek to New Jersey!" My second reaction was "wow, I'll never hear DID YOU SEE...VEEEE CEEEEEEEE" ever again.

Naturally, I understand the whys of this trade; that's not what I was reacting to. Sports, like music or any other entertainment, should have some level of emotion attached (most people take said emotion to ridiculous heights, but that's another post...). For those of us who're actually in control of our emotions, VC is simply one of the best players to watch, especially when he's having one of "those" nights. Even on off nights, when he's merely human, he manages to do two or three things that make the game worth the price of admission. I just happened to take a woman who'd never been to an NBA game to the contest verses Atlanta this past January where Vince sank a 35-foot OT-game winning shot. You could spend all day on YouTube watching his highlights (trust me, I've tried).

But this is not a career eulogy. The guy's still only 32, and can still ball with the best. This is rather merely the end of an era for a team I like to root for simply because of their ancient Long Island connections and their continued NY-area ties. The end of having my pick of 41 games over 6+ months to see the most amazing finisher the game has ever seen. (Yea, that's right, I said it). I mean, I'll still be the begrudging Knick fan not-so-silently rooting for the Nets; I'll still count Devin Harris as one of my favourite players; and the Nets now have another good young talent to pair with him in Courtney Lee for whom I'll be rooting.

Yet, the 2008-2009 Magic were a team I couldn't get enough of on NBA League Pass. Now they get the estimable Vince Carter. Every day, twice on Sundays. (ok, I don't know what that means either; it just fell off my fingers). In a way, with that annoying local-market restriction robbing me of an opportunity to watch Knick AND Net games on League Pass, perhaps I'm gaining something here. Wow, actually I am! (Sorry, it literally just occurred to me as I was typing this).

So, from the team I like rooting for, to the team I can't get enough of watching, goes one of the best and most exciting players of this generation. Vince Carter goes to a team bulging with talent, a team right at the top of the conference, for the first time since -- ever. This should be interesting, and most certainly will be fun to watch.

In any case, thanks Vince, for all the work you put in for your four-plus years in Jersey. I initially told myself I had much less reason to make the long trek to the whatever-they-call-it-now Arena for the Nets, but I realize now that's a lie. I'm gonna check the schedule, and make it a point to be in the house, if it's at all possible, to be part of that standing ovation you're guaranteed to get when you make that first trip to Jersey wearing Orlando blue. Good luck VC. Do your hometown Orlando proud. And don't forget to drop a game winner or two more on the Raptors for old-time's sake.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Most Overquoted Quote in the NBA Finals

Once again, sports writers have successfully gotten on my nerves. The next sports analyst to attach "master of panic" to a Stan Van Gundy coaching decision they disagree with deserves to get fired, slapped, and thrown to the wolves. Can you people come up with something, you know, original? Or, God forbid, accurate? Is every poor coaching the decision the result of panic now? Did you panic when you mistakenly picked Orlando to win the title? Yes, Jason Witless, I'm talking to you.

Let's get to the bottom of what actually can be considered a fault of Stan Van Gundy's coaching style. It comes down to one word: trust. He trusts numbers more than he does anything else; and certain players, with poor numbers, mmm not so much.

I can think back some years to when the Miami Heat were vying for a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, with Van Gundy at the helm and a rookie Dwyane Wade as the team's budding superstar. Yes, for all you A.D.D. sports fans and writers, it may surprise you to know that the Heat actually made the playoffs before Shaq arrived in South Beach. This was way back in 2004, and the Heat were in a do-or-die game verses the Indiana Pacers. For those of you who don't remember, here's a brief recap: 0-6 shooting, 0-4 from 3pt range, including a missed potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer. The culprit? One Rafer Alston. Shocked are you? Pick your bottom lip off the floor, thanks.

Now, is it panic that SVG pulls Rafer after a 1-5 shooting 3rd quarter last night? Or is it once bitten twice shy? Since when does mistrust get miscategorized as panic? Since when is it a panic move to trust a guy who, when healthy, has never let you down, over a guy who has as many poor games this postseason as good ones, whose thrown up air for you repeatedly in the past?

Moreover, on said issue of trust, I recall that 2004 game fairly well, because at the time I couldn't understand why SVG didn't have Dwyane Wade, his best player, on the court for the final play. We knew that Stan was playing the percentages, and that Wade at that time was a very poor and low volume 3-pt shooter, but I figured -- and still believe -- that you have to give the young kid a chance to become a star. Much like the Lakers put the ball Kobe's hands in the early years only to have him throw up airballs, everyone needs a chance to fail so that they learn how to succeed. Basic life stuff. But hey, can you blame a guy for doing whatever he can to give his team what he thinks is the best shot to win, in this era where coaches are on the shortest of leashes?

It's not panic; SVG simply goes with who he trusts, for better or for worse. Anybody who watched the Magic between November and February knows how much trust Jameer has built up with his coach. And anybody who truly follows the NBA knows from where the coach's shaky trust in Skip to my Lou stems. But what should I expect. These are the same people that can't figure out simple concepts like "home" and "away" to mitigate their confusion over Rafer's supposedly-inconsistent shooting from game to game in the past two Magic series. (Here's a hint folks: look out for a pretty little '@' symbol.)

Mind you, I too was sitting there wondering why SVG had Rafer on the bench in the final quarter (granted, I had missed the 3rd quarter and didn't watch it until later on replay), so I don't actually agree with said decision. But disagreeing with a decision over ideology and history is completely different than stooping to say someone is panicking.

Mr. Witless wants SVG to stop coaching with his heart and his hunches. If he actually had any sense of SVG's coaching history, he might begin to grasp that this may be exactly what SVG is doing. Riding a player who hasn't seen regular action since February is quite a risky decision, no doubt. But riding a Rafer who is well within rhythm hasn't exactly paid dividends for SVG in the past either.

But then, you wouldn't expect someone who doesn't cover the NBA specifically to remember such historical nuances. You know what they say: jack of all trades, master of none.

Speaking of the Big Quote-machine...

There was a rather scathing -- and, sadly, spot on true -- article about the Big Former Superman over on Yahoo! Sports a few days ago. Among other things, it accused Shaq of being immature, and insecure with his legacy as he enters the twilight of his career. Anyone whose watched Shaq over the past 2 season with an objective eye can atest to basically every word in the article. Did Michael Jordan ever take shots at Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and all the other suspected heirs to his throne? We all know Jordan is a lot of things, but insecure certainly ain't one of them. Is Scottie Pippen twittering about how Lamar Odom is stealing his game and doing everything that he "invented"?

In any case, apparently word of said article got back to Mr. Shaqtus, who naturally couldn't resist pulling out his crackberry and firing off a scathing retort:
"O my yahoo sports wrote a bad article abt me , I'm gonna cry , yea rt, wanna kno the real its comn frm my shaqberry I'm da reporter now"
Like, umm, ok. Shaq, are you serious? Seriously, are you serious here? This is your reply to someone calling you immature? Matter of fact, why are you replying at all? Haven't we all heard about the biggest sports stars -- the Alex Rodriguez's of the world -- making it a point to not read the newspapers? Much less reply to them? I mean, Shaq, Yahoo! Sports? Did you not see the quote from the most-revered of statesmen, the one Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, telling the world that he sometimes "wonders about [your] maturity"?

Shaq, you're too big and too respected a figure to be shattering it all like this in your waning years. Don't go out like this big man. You did your thing, and have left (and are still leaving) your legacy for all to see. No one's trying to steal your shine or your past; it stands on its own. You did your thing, now others are doing theirs. End of story.

Cause if you really aren't immature, you certainly have a funny way of showing it -- again, and again, and again again.

What in the France is going on here?

I know Americans aren't the best when it comes to geography, but I'm getting a bit annoyed at seeing repeated references to Mickael Pietrus' being "born in France." Umm, excuse me, is Guadeloupe too difficult a word to type? Does anyone tell us that Tim Duncan was born in the United States? Do hurricanes hit England? Did Natalie Holloway disappear in the Netherlands? Can one of our little islands get some love?

Hail up Guadeloupe, birthplace of the Orlando Magic's Mickael Pietrus. I mean, it's only the place where he grew up, was educated, and learned to play basketball well enough to go straight to a European Junior League at 15 years of age. Silly little specifics that those might be.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Long Lost, The Unstoppable, The Sky Hook

So I just got thru watching an ESPN Segment on Kareem's Unstoppable Sky Hook; and had a few thoughts. First off, naturally, no discussion of the NBA's yesterday would be complete without a few jabs at "today's players"; and at least a good minute or more of this segment was dedicated to multiple people wondering why no one today utilizes the "most unstoppable shot" in NBA history.

But let's step back for a second: since we're dumping on today's players, what happened to yesterday's players? Who else in Kareem's day was utilizing the hook shot? Did the celebrated Moses Malone or the somewhat over-celebrated Bill Walton use said shot? How about Wilt the Stilt or Bill Russell? I mean, the first player to unveil the hook was undoubtedly George Mikan; why did it take 20 years of NBA history before another player picked up the shot? Did Wilt and Bill not think the shot was "sexy" or "cool" enough for them to use like "today's" players? Did Hakeem and Darryl Dawkins not care about working on their game like "today's" players? There had to be 5 or more clips of Kareem killing Robert Parish with the hook; why didn't they have any clips of Parish going back at Kareem with it?

It's been 40 years since Kareem took Mikan's hook to unforeseen heights; and in that video, they couldn't point out even one other player whose utilized it since 1970. But we have to hear about how players in 2009 are neglecting the shot only now. Give me a break.

What was actually comical about that part of the discussion was that, in conjunction with players and coaches lamenting the death of the hook, they showed maybe 4 or 5 straight clips of Yao Ming in the lower box employing the very shot they're telling us nobody uses. Priceless.

My second thought was on the unstoppable-ness of the hook. Now, granted, a one-on-one defender who has been backed down has pretty much no means of blocking a properly-executed hook. That's as much a given as being unable to strip the ball from a guy who has turned his back and put his body between his dribble and the defender. But how about not allowing yourself to get backed down so low? I saw one clip of Wilt Chamberlain simply letting Kareem back him down into the paint, offering absolutely no push back as he dribbled down. As Kareem turned to shoot the hook, Wilt took a step back, gathered himself, and attempted in vain to leap as high as he could to block the shot. Now, as wiry as he is, let's not underestimate how strong Kareem was; I saw Robert Parish in the 80s banging with Kareem hard trying to present some actual defensive resistance. But you can't tell me Kareem is strong enough to out-muscle Wilt Chamberlain; or rather, that Wilt wasn't big enough to offer more resistance to Kareem in the lower box.

So that's one way to limit the hook's effectiveness; body up with the guy and push him away from the paint, further away from the basket. It didn't seem like there was much of that going on until the mid-1970s or closer into the '80s of the NBA.

Another way is help defense. Again, let's give Kareem his due, he was a good if not excellent post passer, and at his height could easily pass out of a hard double team when it came. However, again, in some of the clips they showed, you wondered exactly what was a hard double-team back in the day. By my count, there were at least 4 or 5 clips where Kareem turned to shoot the hook right in front of a guard, lowering the ball to the guard's height, and where the guard did -- absolutely nothing. Another 2 clips showed a guard offering very token resistance; if a guard in today's NBA took such a weak swipe at the ball to 'help' out his teammate, he'd be getting an earful from his coach, and the commentators would be telling us how guys are not willing to give maximum effort on defense. But, apparently, this was a common occurrence in the days of lore. If you're going to stand and watch Kareem bring the ball to your height, turn right in your direction, and do nothing, at least bring a camera to the court. We could all be benefiting from the great-angled shots those guards were privy too. How selfish of them.

So, there are my few thoughts on the subject. We can celebrate Kareem's greatness, but stop dumping on today's players not using the hook if you're going to show a grand total of one player in 40 years utilize it. And try watching a Houston Rockets game or two (you know, early in the season, before Yao's inevitable season-ending injury) before making such a declaration. And let's talk about how little some defenses of early yesteryear did in properly defending such a shot. If we're gonna bust on players today, then let's also talk about players of yesterday who let guys 30 lbs lighter than them move wherever they please, guards who offer nothing in the form of good help defense, and the fact that no one in the heyday worked on their offense any more than players of today.