Diss Guy: Hugs for Everyone, it’s Greg Oden
‘Twas a Wednesday night in the middle of January when Greg Oden, all of 25-years-old, made his return to a regular season NBA game. In that moment when the big man stepped onto the court at the Verizon Center, donning number-twenty for the Heat, it seemed like all the snark that basketball Twitter spews out in smart ass tweets was wiped away by real, genuine positivity towards a man who has fought through some sort of private physical hell under a very public microscope. I was happy, you were happy, it seemed like the whole basketball world achieved some kind of unity reaching across aisles and ideologies, touching places deeper than advanced metrics and manufactured narratives to meet on a plane of contentment. For those blissful eight minutes when Oden ran and jumped, grabbed rebounds and dunked the ball, moved lightly on big feet and banged bodies on a stable base of powerful legs and scarred knees … even the most cynical of Miami detractors could forget about the criticisms and just enjoy an honest feel-good story.
That last point, the genuineness of Oden’s story, is the most interesting to me. While developing unique perspectives and interpretations of the NBA has become a second-nature for NBA writers and bloggers, this story was the real thing and it seemed everyone was able to feel that without slapping false emotions or anecdotes to it. I can’t help but wonder if the daily posts and manufactured narratives, the forced storylines and false feelings have created some less-than-desirable traits in sports fans and writers. Because it lingers at all times, existing in our essences like ugly embarrassing thoughts that work their way out of our collective subconscious, it took a moment of strong pause to recognize it’s exhausting, ever-present foul odor.
The feel-good story won’t last forever. More than likely bloggers and analysts have already begun to suppress their natural emotions, to ignore feelings with a cold commitment to objectivity and unbiased analysis qualified by statements like “I want Oden to succeed, I really do, but … .” And with that, they break down the footage, analyze the comparable pasts to tell us what we all fear anyway: It probably won’t last.
And I’m torn somewhere between these probabilities (which is why so many teams passed on Oden) and possibilities (that Oden will continue delivering these feel-good moments in small, timeless doses of two-handed dunk shots). What I hope competing with reality. Some sort of humanistic naiveté or a practice in self-deception. Ah, maybe it’s just yearning for a repeat of Wednesday’s snark-free zone on Twitter and a respite from my own insecure judgments.
Miss Guy: Uncertainty Rules the Day in Cleveland
People want to know what’s up with Anthony Bennett. What’s up with the Cavs not sending the number-one overall pick to the team’s D-League franchise in Canton, the Charge. After all, Bennett has been the recipient of the ever-ugly DNP-Coach’s Decision the past two games. In six January games, his stats have descended to a statistical, trash-crusted garbage can bottom. Sure, Coach Mike Brown is still spinning a narrative of improvement: “He’s a young guy, but every day he gets a little better.” That may be the case, but when Bennett was quoted earlier this week as saying in regards to the D-League, “It’s something I’d think about, for sure,” I wanted to explore what appears to be an uncertainty between fans, front offices, players and coaches about how to best take advantage of the D-League.
The marketing minds behind the D-League frame it as a tryout of sorts, a platform where “NBA prospects” are “groomed to make an impact at the next level.” On the league’s About page, you’ll see references to the “Dream” of playing in the NBA. I haven’t seen any reality shows based in the D-League, but I’m waiting for an AND1 Mix Tape Tour show transposed against the backdrop of D-League bus rides and would-be pros “dreaming” of making the NBA’s version of the “Show.” With the league positioning itself this way, it’s no wonder there are allusions and references to a stigma being associated with the D. Ken Berger of CBS alluded to this in the story linked above:
The most obvious reason for not subjecting Bennett to a D-League stint is the embarrassment factor. No top overall pick has ever competed in the D-League; the highest-drafted player to appear in a D-League game was 2009 No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet.
Berger’s piece was written before Bennett made his comments about being open to the D-League as a way to get more playing time and build confidence so it’s reasonable to assume that languishing on the bench and shooting under 30% from the field is embarrassment enough for the young Bennett.
Another disconnect appears to be in how the D-League is marketed versus how teams utilize it. Of the D’s 17 teams, 14 have a dedicated NBA franchise. The Cavs are one of the teams with their own minor league team which leads me to believe they view it as a significant part of their overall franchise success and not necessarily a place for dreamers. As the D-League continues to evolve and seek out stability, perhaps utilization goals will become clearer, but as it stands today, the league appears to be made up of fringe pros, aging vets looking for a last contract, and young guys seeking out that “Dream.” It’s a hodge podge of basketball nomads; not a place for struggling number-one picks.
Expanding on the confusion around how the league is leveraged is comparisons to Major League Baseball’s full-fledged minor league farm system. It seems like there’s an assumption that a basketball minor league system should function in a similar manner. With the exception of the Yu Darvishes, Ichiros or Yoenis Cespedeses (all foreign-born players getting a late start in MLB), all MLBers spend some time in the minors. It’s not a rite of passage, but rather a natural progression that occurs in a game as technically nuanced as baseball. The stigma Berger referenced doesn’t exist in baseball; partly because it’s such a well-developed system utilized for prospect development, to rehab injured players, and fill out MLB rosters when injuries occur. Injuries happen in the NBA and teams scramble to sign players like DJ Augustin and Leandro Barbosa to ten-day contracts. The in-house infrastructure is still early in the development stages which is another reason the Cavs, like many NBA teams, are indecisive with a player like Bennett – or they’ve just been stunned into inaction by Bennett’s inability to assimilate.
In a piece from Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer (linked above), she writes, “the Cavs have resisted a Canton assignment, believing they can monitor his progress and development more carefully if he remains with the team.” This seems like an argument forged out of poor quality papier-mâché. Again, if the team doesn’t see the junior varsity as offering a real opportunity to help any player, not just second-round picks or unsigned rookies, then how much value is it really offering?
With all the uncertainty from the NBA and assumptions from fans, it still seems like the smartest move for the Cavs is to send the young man to Canton. Bennett, for all his shortcomings as a pro, is proving a healthy sense of modesty and a willingness to work through things at a lower level. A D-League assignment for Bennett would set a precedent in the NBA and be a progressive step forward for a franchise that has made its fair share of strangely-devised, ineffective decisions.