Monday, September 14, 2009
It probably spawned out of the 2002 All-Star Game in Philadelphia, when Kobe said he wasn’t from Philly, then promptly dominated the game to win the MVP. I, like most of the crowd that day, booed Kobe.
From that day forward, for whatever reason, I couldn’t look at Kobe objectively. I blamed the break-up of the Lakers on him (ok, I was right on that one, Phil Jackson blamed him too). I thought he was selfish. I thought he made his teammates worse, not better. It didn’t matter what he did, I found the negative.
His 81 point game, I lamented the fact that he had 2 assists and 3 turnovers, that he had taken more than half of his teams shots, and allowed no one else get involved whatsoever in the offense. Not to mention to took advantage of an awful Toronto team
His historic scoring performance in Madison Square Garden this past season, he dropped 61 points, but all I saw were the three assists and zero rebounds. And then, when Lebron followed Kobe’s performance up with a near triple-double a few days later (but let’s be real, they should have kept the triple-double), I lauded the opportunity to lessen Kobe’s accomplishment.
Needless to say, I didn’t become a Facebook fan of Kobe.
But last Friday, I was caught watching all of the Basketball Hall of Fame pageantry. And while they inducted some great players (John Stockton, David Robinson), there was really only one guy getting inducted.
Frankly, how could you not get caught in watching all the Jordan moments. The great shots, the great games, the great dunks, the great quotes, there is nothing quite like filling your day with MJ.
But one thing that MJ said caught my ear. Speaking to the great Tex Winter (the triangle offense is not what it is without the contributions of Tex) after Tex says that there is no “I” in team, MJ basically says there is an “I” in win.
And I, in my Kobe hate naturally think of Kobe and wonder what I would say if Kobe had ever said something like that. I would have killed him. Then I realized that was instituting one thing I really hated: a double standard.
How could I love MJ for all his hyper-competitiveness, desire to win, which sometimes manifested itself in “selfishness”, yet hate Kobe for showing the same thing. The fact is, MJ made me realize that Kobe is the closest thing that we will ever see to him.
When you throw out the obvious differences between the two in their career arcs (Kobe never played baseball, MJ didn’t start his career by playing with the most dominate force in the league), and Kobe not having made the shot on Ehlo, shoving away Byron Russell, or playing with the flu, these two are basically the same.
Kobe, from a very young age, had an extreme desire to win, and like MJ, wanted to put the big shot up himself. Even though as a rookie he airballed two game winning shots against Utah, he never shied away from the big shot.
But, usually for Kobe, it doesn’t come down to the big shot, because he owns the fourth quarter, and there is where he develops his iconic moments. Though nothing quite compares to Jordan’s moments, Kobe has some big moments of his own, like his alley-oop to Shaq capping their 15 point comeback against Portland in 2000, the way he dominated the 4th quarter and overtime against Sacramento in Game 7 in 2002, his game-winner to win the Pacific division in 2004, his game winner in Game 2 of the finals in 2004, his fast-break 360 pass to Pau Gasol in Game 4 just to name a few.
But exactly how does Kobe remind me of MJ. It’s really all in your interpretation of selfishness. Re-watching some of MJ’s games over the last week, you have a different sense of what selfish is. There’s a certain point when the great player has to say “get on my back, try not to strain my neck, we’re going to win.”
Put it this way: when I’m playing ball, I can probably get hot early and do some good things early in the game. But then, I get tired, make bad decisions and start jacking up terrible shots from all points on the floor, you know doing my best Ron Artest impression, I look to whoever the best player is on my team and just hope they take over so we win and I can get a drink of water.
Kobe, post-Shaq has mastered this. He has found the balance of getting everyone else involved before the fourth quarter, where Kobe begins his surgical dismantling of his opponent (a perfect example is Game 3 against the Nuggets this year. He just ripped their hearts out). And we all know what MJ could do in the fourth quarter.
We all know about the skills. Offensively, Kobe’s repertoire mirrors MJ’s. They both have the fade-away jumper, tremendous footwork, and the ability to make good defense look like no defense at all. Defensively, both have that lockdown ability when needed, although both were a bit overrated because they didn’t have to do it night in and night out.
Now, don’t take this as me saying Kobe is the next Jordan because he’s not. Kobe’s pettiness with Shaq and the episodes where he refused to take shots to prove how much they need him to shoot didn’t exude leader. But then again, Jordan’s Atlantic City gambling runs after playoff loses didn’t exude leader either.
All this happens to be is my appreciation for Kobe being realized through reliving MJ. Their similarities are striking in their demeanor, play on the floor, cold-blooded mentality, and even their guarded personal personalities.
There will never be another Michael Jordan. There can’t be. The accomplishments are well-documented, the stories well-told, we all know what Michael Jordan did. But the closest thing we will ever see to him is Kobe. And I only have MJ to thank for letting me see this. Without completely reliving Jordan, I would have always seen Kobe as an amazing talent who never understood how to be a great teammate. But because Jordan’s legacy showed me that I was completely wrong, I understand that Kobe is probably a top 5 player of all-time, probably just behind Jordan and Magic, just ahead of Wilt. Who would have thought MJ would have reformed a Kobe hater?
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
This is part five of a six part series reviewing the NBA offseason, taking an individual look at all the title contenders (Lakers, Magic, Cavaliers, Celtics and Spurs) and then the rest of the league as a whole. The first four parts examined the Lakers, Magic, Cavaliers and Celtics. Today, we examine the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs apparently got the message after seeing how the last two championships were won. The Lakers and Celtics took advantage of the lowly Grizzlies and Timberwolves respectively (though nothing is as egregious as the Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown trade. That deserves its own stratosphere of idiocy, the NBA’s version of the Randy Moss to New England trade) and rode their acquisitions (Gasol and Kevin Garnett) to the titles. Well the Spurs, being the A+ organization they are did not want the rest of the league to pass them by, so they found a lowly team (the Milwaukee Bucks) and picked up one of the underrated players in the NBA, Richard Jefferson.
This move signified the last hurrah, a final chance for the Duncan-era in San Antonio. Duncan is getting up there in age, 33, and probably has 2 maybe 3 years left as a top notch player. The Spurs apparently weren’t content with being a 5-seed for the last years of Duncan, not willing to have the rest of the league pass them by. With Duncan, Tony Parker and an uncertain Man Ginobili, they didn’t have enough fire power to compete with the Lakers or the big 3 of the Eastern Conference.
That magically changed before the draft when they were able to steal Richard Jefferson for 3 guys who played meaningless minutes last season (Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas). Jefferson is a guy who can really change the direction of the franchise. Though you may not have realized, considering he was in utter irrelevance in Milwaukee, Jefferson is a complete basketball player from the small forward position. He’s got tremendous athleticism, can create off the dribble, can shoot from the midrange and long range and is one of the better defenders in the league. He adds a lot of versatility to the lineup. He can run and finish the break with Tony Parker. He can spot up in the corner and drain a triple off a Duncan double team. He can create at the basket when the inevitable Ginobili injury comes down. He could have a Pau Gasol type impact on the Spurs. When Gasol went to the Lakers, he rejuvenated both the teams and himself. The environment really allowed Gasol to flourish and he stepped his game up just by the fact of playing for a team with a legitimate chance. Going from a deadzone like Milwaukee to an organization like San Antonio instantly makes you happier, and happy cows make great milk. Then getting to play with a great player makes you better, just look at Todd Pinkston’s numbers when he played with Terrell Owens in 2004. Everything about this move screams positive.
However, the Spurs still do have a hole a center. Matt Bonner is conceivably the worst defender in the league, not to mention he’s an Eddy Curry quality rebounder. You can play Duncan at center with draft pick Dejuan Blair at power forward, but Duncan has always been better suited at power forward. They need to pick up a defensive oriented guy who can rebound and block shots just to complete their team. They have a solid bench with George Hill, Ime Udoka, Michael Finley and Roger Mason. They are ready to make a run.
With the Duncan era closing in the near future, the Spurs made the decision to make a final run at the title. Picking up Jefferson gives them four prime-time players. With a good bench and only one hole at the center position, the Spurs are primed for a title run.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
It’s not as if people have forgotten his name. The talk is centered on pairing Halladay and Hamels together to create this unstoppable playoff force that makes them the favorite to repeat as World Series champions this year and possibly in 2010.
Here’s where the memory appears to lapse about Cole Hamels. He’s already that unstoppable playoff force. He just needs to show it again.
Just months removed from winning every MVP award they give for postseason performance, Hamels showed that you really don’t need much of a bullpen or starting rotation behind him when he is on a roll. Hamels put the team on his back down in October and won his team a World Series championship.
The problem arises because he’s not pitching the way we all expected. We, or at least I, expected Hamels to be a perennial Cy Young candidate after his magical playoff performance last season (35 IP 4-0 1.80 ERA). Then the injury problems came at the beginning of the year and he got off to a slow start. His first few starts weren’t right and he didn’t look healthy. As a result, he’s been average for most, if not all season.
In step the trade rumors, mostly discussing Halladay because the Phillies need a starting pitcher, apparently. But they don’t need Halladay. They need Hamels.
The Phillies find themselves as legitimate contenders for the World Series, without Halladay and with Cole Hamels being as average as he has been. In such a weak National League (think the NBA’s Eastern Conference circa 2003), they are on a virtual collision course with the Dodgers for the pennant. There is no dominant team in the American League. Every contender has their flaws: Boston has suddenly lost their power, the Yankees and Dodgers have middle relief issues, and the Phillies and Angels have issues with starting pitching. Hamels by himself could be the extra boost to put the Phillies over the top.
Yes, Halladay is a great pitcher, maybe the best is baseball (though my money is on Dan Haren in Arizona). Yes, he would be a great addition for every franchise in the MLB (especially Washington, since they don’t want Stephen Strasburg). But the cost is just too great.
To open talks with the Blue Jays, it will probably take J.A. Happ and top prospect Kyle Drabek. This is just to begin the trade discussion. There has been some discussion that it could 4 or more top prospects to get Halladay. Is it worth sending a clown car full of prospects to Toronto for Halladay?
History says maybe, maybe not. These pitching blockbusters usually have mixed results. There are the St. Louis Cardinals and Montreal Expos (currently the Washington Nationals), who acquired big name pitchers Mark Mulder and Bartolo Colon, respectively. They were average or worse with their new teams. Then there are the guys that St. Louis and Montreal traded away. St. Louis traded away Dan Haren. Montreal traded away Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee. Those guys are pretty good.
But then there is the CC Sabathia deal that happened last year. Sabathia basically took the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs singlehandedly after getting traded from the Indians, though the jury is still out on the prospects they dealt.
So, though I think that Halladay will be more like Sabathia than the injury plagued Mulder, it’s 50/50 with these kinds of deals, at best (especially considering Halladay and I have the same amount of postseason innings). The last thing I want to see is J.A. Happ doing his best Tom Glavine impression north of the border.
The focus, instead of looking to acquire talent, should be on getting the talent you have right. You need a dominant Cole Hamels to think you’re going to have any success doing anything in October, whether you have Halladay or not. Hamels is the key to all your success.
With the offense that the Phillies have and the good defense they play, the Phillies just need Hamels to recapture some of the magic he had last year. They won a World Series with mediocre pitching behind Hamels, so what is to stop them from doing it again this year?
We’ve seen a sporadic Cole Hamels all year. One night, he’s dominating the Dodgers: the next night he struggles against the anemic Braves offense.
It’s not that I’m against the Phillies going to get a frontline starting pitcher to add to the rotation. By all means, please do: at the right price, however. The Blue Jays want to own the totality of the Phillies farm system for that starter. The risk and price doesn’t quite match the potential reward or failure.
Instead, the Phillies should look towards Hamels. He holds the near-future of this team in his left arm. If he regains what he was the previous two seasons, the Phillies won’t need Halladay to embark on another World Series celebration.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
So it’s perfectly natural that the purveyors of said dogfighting, guys like Michael Vick are completely vilified. The radical PETA fundamentalists protested at every Vick-related place possible. The more moderate Humane Society was disgusted. America, as a whole, wanted nothing to do with Michael Vick.
Vick’s actions represented nothing else but sheer stupidity. He lied to federal prosecutors, the Atlanta Falcons, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s blown all his money and is now in bankruptcy court answering to his creditors. Bad decision followed bad decision and it ended with 20 months in federal custody.
Well yesterday marked the day that Michael Vick left federal custody. Yesterday marked the day that Michael Vick got to restart his life.
But the major impediment to his life being restarted lies in the hands of Roger Goodell and the indefinite suspension he imposed in 2007, the stern disciplinarian with a heavy hand usually ruling against the players whether or not the justice system has dealt with the player. If the justice system has dealt with a player, like in Vick’s case, it’s a virtual no-brainer for Goodell. Brandon Marshall, Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, and Donte Stallworth have all felt the wrath of a Goodell suspension. Which begs the question: should Goodell reinstate Vick from his indefinite suspension?
Yes. If I remember correctly, the old adage goes: hate the sin, not the sinner.
Should we really punish Michael Vick again and again with another suspension after 20 months with the feds? Michael Vick is not “Pac-man.” He isn’t a repeat offender who consistently runs afoul of the law. So does he deserve the “Pac-man” treatment, a one-year suspension? Probably not, considering Vick’s offenses were limited to one event as far as we know: and Vick’s never led to the paralysis of a man.
But as many dog lovers will contest, his offenses were so appalling that there aren’t any applicable comparisons.
The fact of the matter is, while what he did was wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to happen ever again, it is not a career-ending or season-ending offense, considering the price he has already paid. Vick didn’t order the Trail of Tears. He’s not the Son of Sam copycat. Let’s put things into perspective. Vick did awful things, but it doesn’t crack the list of the most horrific.
In a society built on forgiveness, does Vick get his chance at redemption disregarded because of a couple of PETA protesters outside the NFL offices? I really don’t think that we should make decisions based on the thoughts of PETA. They got upset when President Obama killed a fly.
Michael Vick is a football player. He should be allowed to play football. He has served his time, paid his debt to society and is ready to reenter our world.
Just ask Tony Dungy, a man better than me and probably better than you. Just ask Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
The reality is that it is pointless to pile on the punishment after the person leaves prison. What good does it do anyone to continue to punish this man for his one crime? You’re not teaching him anymore of a lesson. You’re not making him feel more of this “remorse” that everyone wants to see. All you’re doing is stunting his development back into society.
He can only be taught a lesson by getting a chance to demonstrate what he has learned. He can only show remorse by being given a second chance and doing well with that second chance. Unnecessary punishment driven by ego and PETA makes sure no one wins.
Goodell should reinstate Vick before training camps open in a couple of weeks. Give teams the opportunity to sign him and get him in. Endorse the work he’s doing to stop dogfighting through the Humane Society. Give everyone a chance to be reintroduced to Vick on Sunday’s and allow the forgiving public to begin to accept him again. If you put yourself in his situation, you would want a second chance too. So give Vick the second chance that we would all want ourselves.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The outcome of that decision will be seen by what the Sixers do at point guard for the upcoming season. Andre Miller is an unrestricted free agent and would really prefer not to come back to the Sixers, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you look at it. While many will point out that Elton Brand, who is coming back from shoulder surgery and will be ready for the start of the season, couldn’t play with Andre Iguodala and Sam Dalembert (though I really can’t blame him for the latter), the reality may be that he couldn’t play with Andre Miller. Consider that Andre Miller spends most of his time in the lane or on the block because that is generally where he generates offense. So in the 29 games the Sixers had Brand, Iguodala and Miller, they struggled because the paint became too crowded for any of them to thrive. The fit would work better if Miller could shoot a jump shot and spread the floor from 20 ft. or farther but that’s as likely as Megan Fox singing at my next birthday party.
This partly explains the reasonable success that the Sixers had after Brand was shut down for the season. The lane was clogged less, Miller's inability to shoot was masked and Iguodala was free to continue to take contested 23 foot jumpers (why they only had reasonable success). Without Brand, the floor opens up for Miller to do his work in the lane and create from 15 ft. in, allowing Iguodala more room to do work on offense as well. But with the Sixers investing $82 million in Brand, his ability to thrive with the other players on the floor needs to be a priority.
Which creates the little conundrum that the Sixers currently find themselves in. If they bring back Andre Miller, the offense becomes restricted to 15 ft., Brand and Iguodala struggle like they did last year and we kill Ed Stefanski for signing Brand. Or they don’t resign Miller, and considering the Chris Duhon for Andre Miller swap was nixed, Lou Williams would take over at point guard, which isn’t the most ideal situation. Lou Williams is best served to come off the bench, like he currently does. He’s a pure scorer from the point guard position and has never been asked to really set up an offense. To ask him to all of sudden become something he’s not, a pure point guard, is only asking him to fail, especially considering he lacks a crucial component to his game to play the position at its highest level, vision. An average passer with below average vision with an uncanny ability to get to the rim and score is probably best suited to score and lead the second unit that is pretty devoid of scoring.
If those don’t seem like good options, it’s because of their not. You can either bring back a guy who really won’t play very well with the highest paid player on the team or get worse and basically sacrifice a season by being lead by a point guard who really isn’t a point guard, all this while first-round pick Jrue Holliday tries to learn the game to eventually take over the post. Well that’s why Ed Stefanski gets paid.
Realistically, they may have to bring back Andre Miller and new coach Eddie Jordan will have to get creative on offense to create the necessary spacing, via Jason Kapono longrange shooting, to allow everyone to be successful. At this point, they can’t put their season in the hands of an unproven point guard and get worse. Already struggling in the attendance department, a season where they compete with the Bobcats, Pacers and Nets for 8th and 9th spots just isn’t ideal. What’s ideal is they get a point guard like Steve Blake from Portland, a proven guy in this league who can shoot and get a team into its offense efficiently, nothing great or spectacular, but proven and reliable. But unfortunately, what is best isn’t really feasible.
But they also can’t have Elton Brand and Andre Miller’s playing style clash for, presumably, 82 games next season. A repeat of the first 29 games from last season, over 82 games, wouldn’t amount to very much.
So no matter how you look at it, the Sixers are probably going to be a worse basketball team than they were last year. Brand, Miller and Iguodala can’t play winning basketball together and Lou Williams can’t seamlessly replace Miller and have the offense run at its best. And the ideas that Jrue Holliday is ready to come in and start just aren’t reasonable, considering he didn’t start at UCLA. He needs to slowly adjust to the NBA game, starting off getting few minutes and slowly work more into the rotation.
With the options staring Stefanski in the face, it’s moments like these that make me happy I’m not a general manager.
Friday, July 10, 2009
The answer seems simple but it will hurt me to say it. Allen Iverson is not a winner. Nothing about him allows him to become a part of a championship formula. My favorite player that I have ever seen is destined for an NBA cemetery.
But in the end, this is the only way that it could happen, and it has nothing to do with off-court issues or even practice. It’s Iverson’s pride, offensive style, and inability to play with great players that has doomed him. Iverson is one of the greatest scorers of his generation but can only score one way. He must have the ball in his hands, for about 16 seconds to create his scoring opportunities. He invented the volume shooter/scorer role. Without Iverson’s progressive style of play, Jamal Crawford wouldn’t have a job. But how does that help him play with Carmelo Anthony? It doesn’t, which is why they never won playoff series. He is the ultimate alpha-dog, a star who believes he’s a star and won’t take anything less. That’s why the chemistry with Carmelo was never quite there and in some ways, may have held back Carmelo’s development into one of the best players in the league (check how Anthony evolved at the end of this season without Iverson), or look at his reluctance to fit in with the Detroit Pistons, which was an unmitigated disaster.
The fact is the 2001 Sixers were the perfect fit for Iverson, the only team in which he could thrive. He can only play with defensive-minded/offensively-limited guys because his offense only works when he is the ONLY guy who can realistically put the ball in the basket. He has to be the center of attention, the lone offensive threat to be at his best, which is why the team can’t be at its best. The 2001 Sixers undoubtedly was the perfect gift for Iverson’s career. He was at the top of his game playing the best basketball of his career, in a terrible Eastern conference that allowed him to win the MVP and take a terrible team to the Finals. They allowed Iverson to thrive on offense (because Todd MacCulloch and and Jumaine Jones really weren’t lighting it up, let’s be real) while playing pretty good defense to scrape through the Eastern playoffs and Iverson got validated as a great player with a bad team around him. But building a team around Iverson became impossible because no matter who you brought in, they didn’t mesh with Iverson (Toni Kukoc, Chris Webber, Larry Hughes, Glen Robinson, Keith Van Horn, just to name a few). And it became easy to blame the secondary star for not being the right guy and Billy King eventually lost his job because of it because he never brought in the right guy. But who was or could have been the right guy. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson ever teamed, the guy I always wanted. As much as I don’t like the job Billy King did, trying to build a team around Iverson’s unique skills was far from easy. And after seeing Carmelo and Iverson not working and whatever that thing in Detroit was, I’m not sure that it would have worked with KG. It’s no wonder that a contender doesn’t have any interest.
Think about it: if you’re building a championship team, do you need Iverson taking shots away from your Kobe or LeBron or Big 3, especially considering he’s not a true point guard, bogging down the flow of your offense. Iverson is almost like a black hole for your offense, the ball enters his hands and he’s going to do something with it, for better or worse. He could come off the bench of the contender and remake his Sixers days, play the role of scoring guard as the top guys rest, playing with guys like Sasha Vujacic or Brian Scalabrine but he refuses to do that. Iverson has completely pigeonholed himself. Singular in his focus and skills, refusing to open up or change one little bit. The same qualities that made him the tough little guy in Philadelphia, who’s singular focus was on the game, no matter what injury he was dealing with at the time, singular skill, getting to the rim, no matter the obstacle in the lane or in front of him to provide everything that the Sixers needed, pure scoring. Now those qualities have left him in his current predicament. There aren’t any teams out there built like the Sixers were, perfect for his style of style of play where he can play the lead role like he demands. He refuses to play a secondary role to anyone which is why he can’t play for a contender. This is a future Hall-of-Famer with something still left in the tank being virtually ignored, most of it by his own doing.
Iverson is a great player. But his greatness is limited to unique situations and it is not conducive to winning a championship. Iverson has always been willing to sacrifice his body for a championship but when it calls for sacrifice of his ego, Iverson cannot go that far. A great player lost behind an array of over dribbling and volume shooting.