If you’re a fireworks person, I hope you put your surplus explosives to valuable use.
Rockets Give Dwight Howard What Lakers, Kobe Wouldn’t: Unconditional Love
Yes, Dwight Howard is a Rocket. That means he is no longer a Laker. How did this happen? The dominant narrative will probably derive from this account, written by rumor luminary Adrian Wojnarowski. In this almost cinematic account, Wojnarowski describes the trials of Dwight Howard after a testy confrontation with Lakers star Kobe Bryant at the FedEx center in Memphis. In this meeting, Kobe let Dwight know that all of Dwight’s tomfoolery (including impressions of Kobe, as well as trash talk) got back to the player himself, and it wouldn’t be tolerated. According to Wojnarowski, it was at this moment that Dwight realized that the unconditional love and support he sought as a professional basketball player would never be achievable in Los Angeles. While we’ll never know how truthful this account is (rumor-reporting is an inexact science, after all), it is so entertaining. And in the end, this isn’t an account of a war tribunal. It’s just basketball. Good, entertaining read, and likely one that will survive through the years.
The Sublime is Disappointingly Elusive
I spent a lot of time wondering about the Blazers this year, who featured a quality starting five, but one of the worst benches in the NBA (they failed to average 20 points, collectively). It seemed to me they could’ve been a playoff team, albeit a low seeded one. That’s a tough position to be in as a team trying to find their way, and one’s next step is not always obvious. With a very strong (perhaps transformative) draft coming next year, the desire to tank is strong among anxious fans. Scott Leedy offers an argument for the Blazers to get better the right way — that is, not trade LaMarcus Aldridge — and try to build the team through traditional sign-and-trade transactions. Leedy offers Blazers GM Neil Olshey’s “perfect” track record this year of acquiring Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson for next to nothing as evidence that Olshey could do the job the right way. That Leedy identifies the “Savior” idea associated with tanking and drafting a franchise player as having a deleterious effect on a team is interesting, and I think correct. Also, when Leedy writes that he “can’t stand the Blazers becoming the Macklemore of the NBA, spectacularly mediocre with an overly white fan base,” I swoon.
Soothsaying, Quitting, and the Tom Jackson Impulse
On Draft Night, Bill Simmons and Doc Rivers had something of a back-and-forth after Simmons accused the former Celtics coach of quitting on his old players, to which the new Clippers coach responded that he thought Simmons was an idiot. A sort of silly sniping contest ensued, which Simmons declared over on his podcast a few days later. For author Bryan Joiner, this was another chapter in Simmons’ evolution from a fly-by-the-cuff internet writer to a savvy television personality. Joiner recalls a moment from 10 years ago, when ESPN football analyst Tom Jackson incurred the wrath of Bill Belichik after he said that his players “hated playing for him”. Belichik took umbrage with this type of evidence-less analysis that could be true, but needed some external (and unrelated) circumstance to be proven or disproven (by the media). Of course, the Pats won the Superbowl in 2003, which made Jackson look like an idiot. Simmons drifted down this path with Rivers, and Joiner thinks that when he realized no one would win, he shut it down. Exemplified in this tiff was Simmons evolving personality, as he transforms from an internet bro to television icon; an uneven process with many mistakes involved. “On TV, this sort of move backfires for anyone less skilled and charming than Charles Barkley,” writes Joiner, “and Simmons—who has improved tremendously as a television presence, and seems motivated enough to improve more—is only a Barkley-ish figure in his own mind at this point.” This is an accurate and incisive analysis.
Joe Dumars Shows He’s Still Got It (Whatever “It” Is) by Signing Josh Smith
Pistons GM Joe Dumars got his man: Josh Smith, for 4 years and somewhere between $54 and $56 million. It’s the most expensive per-year contract in Pistons history. What does it mean? Many different things, according to Dan Feldman, my favorite Pistons-focused scribe. On the one hand, it means that Dumars can still do what Dumars does: sign his #1 choice in free agency to an expensive contract. After all, Feldman writes, it’s what he did with Chauncey Billups, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. But on the other hand, Feldman argues, it represents another misguided move from a man who is fighting to keep his job. Feldman is convinced that the Pistons should rebuild in earnest and honestly — take on bad contracts and shed salary in preparation for a strong 2014 draft and free agency — but current ownership is more concerned about getting in the postseason sooner rather than later. This leads to signings like the one Dumars just orchestrated with Smith; a transaction that will keep the Pistons irrelevant for the time being. I do not envy Pistons fans, sadly.
Why We Watch: Tyreke Evans, Human Being
Earlier this week, the Sacramento Kings chose not to match the New Orleans Pelicans offer sheet for Tyreke Evans, and let him walk. Thus ended a strange four year period where Reke went from Rookie of the Year and potential franchise superstar to bizarre disappointment and eventual pariah. Indeed, things never seemed the same for Reke after 2009, when he became the first rookie since LeBron James to average 20, 5 and 5. In this piece from December 2012, Patrick Redford looks more closely at the enigmatic career of Tyreke Evans. He argues that Reke’s seeming decline from 2009 to 2012 (and it persisted through 2013) is tied more closely to Reke’s evolving mind and spirit than any other physical element. The Kings changed drastically throughout Reke’s tenure, and Reke was asked to fulfill many different inconsistent roles from many different people. It’s a humanizing look at a player who still has many years of basketball left to play. Hopefully New Orleans serves as a useful reboot.