Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Case For LeBron

There's so much speculation surrounding the potential future of LeBron James, most of it swirling around the Knicks and their ability to offer two max deals this offseason and the Cavs and the quality "known" that the King has in his hometown. I'm here to give my take on why he stays and why he goes. In the end, no question my heart is with the Knicks, so I can't promise to be completely unbiased, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

LeBron Stays

If you see any poll, formal or informal, be it a poll of fans, coaches, players, or GMs, the consensus by about 65-35 is that LeBron will stay in Cleveland. The Vegas line has seen some fluctuation over the months, but I saw somewhere recently that New York is in 2nd place at +300 (whatever that means) and Cleveland remains the prohibitive favorite at -170, or something to that effect. The New York mark was a significant improvement over past lines, and still the difference is fairly stark. So, to begin, it seems everyone but hopeful Knick fans thinks LeBron is a Cavalier.

Make no mistake, somewhere in that mix of information is a lot of emotion. New Yorkers are rabid for Lebron and probably aren't completely rational. New York haters, of whom there are many, are likewise blinded by their feelings. Then there are the Jets fans that also "support" the Knicks. They bring a defeatist attitude to their fandom that has convinced them that Walsh is a moron, D'Antoni is a terrible coach, and that we're doomed to overpaying for Rudy Gay.

Extracting anything meaningful from the endless speculation from all corners of the sports world is tough, but there are some arguments to be made. It's easy to start with "Lebron Stays" since the general sentiment is that he will.

1. He's on a great team.

At the moment, the Cavs are 44-14 and hold the best record in the league. LeBron has the best chance to win it all that he's ever had before and he's been with this core group of teammates long enough that the chemistry fits. That's hard to measure. The Jordan Bulls had the same starting lineup for years before they made it all happen and beat the Pistons. It doesn't happen overnight. Were he to leave, he'd be starting over from scratch and there's no guarantee he'd ever find this chemistry again. Of course, winning a title is the goal and the closer he gets, the more likely it seems he'd be a fool to give it all up.

2. He can get paid more to stay in Cleveland.

The money for the first six years of any deal, anywhere, is close. Even with the Cavs having an advantage in the amount they can pay over that span, the money isn't all that different. The seventh year that the Cavs can offer is the big catch. A seventh year guaranteed is a big fish hook for a home team. Nobody likes to leave guaranteed money on the table. There's a built-in incentive for players to remain with their clubs, and LeBron is no exception.

3. He's home.

The King grew up in Akron. He's playing in front of his home town fans. Winning a title in front of them would cement what's already an amazing legacy in Ohio. New Yorkers might scoff at the notion that being a big fish in a small pond is attractive, but that's only if the pond seems small to the fish. It's tough for a New Yorker to look at the world from anything other than the perspective of the big pond. Everything else is small by comparison and so there are a lot of assumptions made from that perspective that many not hold true. I'm not sure how small a pond LeBron thinks he's in. He's on TV every night, he's in tons of ads, he has his likeness on buildings, and there's nowhere on Earth he can go without a good chance that he'll be recognized. In addition to his great skill, Nike did that for him. In Cleveland.

4. Loyalty

The people in the Cavs organization, the teammates, the fans, the local grocery clerk, his teachers and peers all invested a lot in him to help him reach where he is today. It would be supremely callous and selfish to not understand that. Yes, we all know that sports is a business, and we're reminded of that at every trade deadline and in every offseason. Still, when things are good, money is in your pocket, and people love you, it's easy to focus on loyalty. It's only when things suck and you hate life that you might play cost-benefit with your loyalty and your desire to head for greener pastures. It would be honorable, loyal, and graceful for LeBron to stay in Cleveland and spend his entire career fighting for multiple championships alongside all those people.

LeBron Goes

It's easy to see from the above points why LeBron staying in Cleveland seems so likely. As a Knick fan I can easily find reasons why I think he'd want to play in New York. It's part of that big pond mindset that I described earlier. I'll attempt to stick to more reasonable logic, but I suspect that anyone reading this might have feelings about my success or failure, regardless.

1. His team is in decline.

It's a bit hard to say that with a straight face while the Cavs are the best team in the league. The thing is, provided LeBron isn't thinking about signing another 2-3 year deal, long term the Cavs have problems. Until the 2012 offseason, the Cavs have little cap room to maneuver. Until the 2013 season, they will only have the ability to sign a mid-level player to compliment James. That means, aside from Mo Williams, who's in his prime, the Cavs will be paying for Antawn Jamison's 35 and 36-year old seasons at top dollar, Anderson Varejao at about $9 million a year into his mid-30s, plus Daniel Gibson and JJ Hickson. If you give LeBron a max deal, you're left trying to lure some future FA to play with him several years down the road.

Right now, Shaq is 38 and on his last legs. He won't be back. Without him, the Cavs are $10 million over the cap next season. With him, they have even less flexibility and can't guarantee he'll even be able to take the court one night to the next. I wrote that this team has chemistry and it fits, but signing a long term deal with Cleveland risks some very uncertain times in just a few short years. The club will have to make a choice on whether or not to re-sign Mo Williams for his decline years. The trio of Varejao, Gibson, and Hickson will have to develop into bigger players on the club. If they don't, you'll either replace them with some as yet unknown or roll with them and hope LeBron can keep dragging them along. What free agents will be available in 2012 or 2013? How much competition will there be to sign them? That's a lot of uncertainty.

In contrast, the Knicks have a chance to pair LeBron with, say, Chris Bosh. I won't dive too deeply into who the Knicks can get to ride shotgun with LeBron, but I'll just use Bosh as a placeholder for the sake of argument. With a nucleus of LeBron, Bosh, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks can start a good young nucleus of players. Chandler and Gallinari will both be in their mid-20s several years from now and improving. Bosh would still be in his prime as well. What's more, Eddy Curry's expiring contract in 2011 gives the Knicks even more room to splash on a decent player or two.

If T-Mac has anything left, and he'd be willing to play for less money (short term, anyway), you could use some of Curry's money to re-sign him via the team's Bird Rights and still grab another decent role player. LeBron, Bosh, McGrady, Gallinari, and Chandler, plues change...

Yes, LeBron has a better chance to win a title if he stays in Cleveland. That is, he has a better chance in the very short term. To be precise, he has 2009-2010, 2010-2011, and maybe 2011-2012 if everything were to break right. This year is his best chance to win it all in Cleveland and beyond lies only doubt. New York, on the other hand, could potentially give him a great shot to win for the remainder of his career.

2. He can get paid more in off court money.

A lot of reports suggest that LeBron couldn't make more money in New York than he can already make in Cleveland. I suspect that there's some kernel of truth to that. LeBron is a global brand and already makes top endorsement dollar. Do I think it's worth extra money to Madison Avenue to have LeBron in New York? Yes. How much? Tough to say, but I'm betting they'll pay him to find out. Since the retirement of Michael Jordan a lot of bad has happened to endorsement money for companies. MJ was revenue magic for companies trying to sell products, and for the TV ratings in general. Since his retirement, things have fallen on a number of players. Kobe and his champion Lakers have received their fair amount of attention and money, but Kobe's rape situation and his general lack of likability, have prevented him in cashing in the way Jordan once did. Tiger Woods got some high end bucks, but his recent scandal has put an end to that. Baseball lacks a marquee personality to pin things on. Pujols is the best player, but is hardly a big draw. A-Rod is too....A-Rod. Jeter is about as close as it gets, but he's just not that transcendent talent that makes people watch his every move. (Except when it comes to girlfriends.) Football has Peyton Manning. 'Nuff said.

There's LeBron James. His Cavs made the Finals in 2007 and were swept by the Spurs. At the time, that series was the lowest rated Finals in the history of the NBA. He has tons of endorsements and stands to get more with the Tiger Woods fiasco in full bloom. In steps New York City and the stage at Madison Square Garden. Nike would be fools to support LeBron staying in Cleveland. Either way they'll get a good return on their investment with him, but the potential is maxed out in Cleveland. An ad agency can only sell LeBron's image to potential clients at a certain price if his appearance in the Finals only garners a 6. It's simple math. A 6 rating will automatically set LeBron at a certain endorsement value. Provided my theory is right, and Madison Avenue also subscribes to it, there is a big pool of money out there to be had.

My theory is that leagues flourish when they have great rivalries, even at the expense of parity for smaller markets. Big markets make for the best rivalries, typically, because there's a mythology around them. Sports fills the role of our modern cultural mythology by forcing us to choose sides. One side is bad and the other is good. When there's an intensity to the relationship, the interest is more hotly focused and the drama is all the more compelling. Think about it.

In baseball terms, Yankees-Red Sox has it. Most of the country feigns disinterest in that rivalry, but it's hard to argue that it's lukewarm when it drives the rating of both Fox and ESPN over the course of the season. To keep the context New York, the Knicks-Bulls rivalry of the 1990s was a big deal despite the fact the Knicks really could never knock of the Bulls and never ended up playing for a championship while Jordan was on the court. Lakers-Celtics has it to be sure.

I will always argue that while parity has been good for spreading the wealth among NBA teams, it's also made the overall product more dilute and there's less impact at the big moments. LeBron to the Knicks would install NY-LA once again as a prime rivalry. It would also help if the Bulls can return to form. It's my belief that Madison Avenue feels the same way. The NBA as a whole becomes a lot better investment to potential advertisers if the biggest market and the biggest star get married. I could be wrong.

3. He loves NY.

Why has LeBron been wearing the Yankees cap around everywhere for the last few years? Why do members of his entourage wear "I Love NY" t-shirts when they appear with him on award shows? Why the obvious cat and mouse game? One potential answer is that they enjoy fucking with NY. It's funny to them to string NY along. Kind of an inside gag that they play.

Why put Cleveland fans and ownership through the agony of all the speculation if you could kill it with one fell swoop? Why play the game if you know it puts stress on your organization and Cavs fans? It seems to me that once you know that every sign you give that NY could be your new home is met with dozens of speculative articles and rumors, you'd have enough respect for ownership and fans to be a little more careful about what you wear, or what you say. He isn't. In fact, he said, "July 1, 2010 is going to be a very, very big day." Why would he say such a thing if he was certain to stay in Cleveland? The money won't change. The number of suitors won't change. This isn't baseball where the hot stove is fluid in terms of salary offers, perks, and shifting positions on signing free agents. The circumstances are 99% fixed here. He either takes what Cleveland has, or he leaves. There's no middle ground. What does he gain by going free agent? What does he gain by saying something like that? The answer is nothing, unless it's all a stupid gag he's playing because he enjoys the attention.

I can't claim any of this as proof, or even as reasonable speculation on its own, but I do think it's worth wondering aloud. If the conventional wisdom is that he loves Cleveland and he's not interested in NY, then why all the games? Hard to say, but to me it shows that he's at least showing NY that's he's open to a move, whether it happens or not. This, more than anything else, should give some pause to the people who are so sure he's staying put.

4. It's a Test of NY

The New York franchise in the NBA, who play in the most storied basketball arena in the world, are going to offer a historical free agent class the opportunity to sign up in tandem with some good young players to resurrect a franchise BEGGING to be brought back from the dead. If one or more of those free agents signs, brings the team back to respectability, and perhaps wins a title (or titles), they will forever be etched in the most prestigious stone that sports has to offer. Tickertape parade and all.

If none of these guys shows up, the myth of NY as a world class sports town will be permanently damaged to some degree. There will never, ever be a better situation for a class of free agents than there is at the Garden in 2010. Ever.

It's hard for me to believe that all of that can be passed up. More than just the wishful thinking of a New York fan, I think there has to be some merit to this thinking, at least in terms of hope. There's never been a better fit for an NBA free agent than LeBron James and NY. The situation, the magnitude of the player and the city, the ability to choose a running mate from a group of very talented #2s. It just seems right. To me, if I'm LeBron and I'm weighing the possible outcomes of my career, I see the potential to win a title over the next 2, maybe 3, seasons in Cleveland. If I do that, Cleveland will forever love me. The future beyond that is unclear. If I win a title at Madison Square Garden, and I think it's more likely that I will be able to accomplish that once or more for a longer duration of time in NY, there might never be a greater player in the history of the game.

Like it or not, the big stage inflates accomplishments from the merely excellent to the supernatural. Don't believe me? Ask Derek Jeter. An excellent shortstop and a surefire Hall of Famer, who owns a reputation nearly as large as anyone who has ever played the sport. That's NY. CC Sabathia has an inkling of that, and I'm sure that's what he'll be whispering in LeBron's ear. He's practically said as much to the press on more than one occasion.


I can't really say that I'm overly optimistic about LeBron ending up in NY, but I think the situation is fluid, and I think it's not nearly as certain as people on either side want to make it when posturing at the water cooler. There's plenty of argument to be had on both sides, but until we see the outcome of the NBA season currently in progress, and until we see who would be willing to sign with LeBron, it's open.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I sit at my desk in Japan, mulling over yet another Thanksgiving lost to grilled fish, white rice, and pickled daikon radish. The only cure for such a melancholy day is a little basketball blogging. Some random thoughts on the season that has been and the season that still might be...

1. LeBron

LeBron is as good as a Knick at this point. The trades made the cap room, Nike dropped the hint with the "Big Apple" shoe debut at MSG. LeBron is cooing about Mike D'Antoni. Can we hurry it up to 2010 already?

I read at where J.A. Adande thinks that NY is unimportant to LeBron and that the idea that the NBA needs a strong NY is a myth. Figures that an LA writer would propose such a nonsensical argument. I agree that LeBron doesn't need the Knicks. He's a one man franchise and could be personally successful just about anywhere (Charlotte and OKC included). The thing is, the argument that NY is unimportant for LeBron or the NBA in the new media environment is off base. It may be less important, but one can't just make the argument that the league has done well without the Knicks for decades and leave it at that. The question one must ask is, what the NBA would look like IF New York was strong and had the league's most dynamic young player. If you frame it that way, Adande's argument begins to fall apart. Just because the league flourished and its players became millionaires while Magic was in LA, Bird was in Boston, and Dr. J was in Philly, only occasionally being met by a Bernard King scoring outburst out of the Garden, you can't make a direct correlation to the unimportance of the Knicks.

What if Julius Erving or Michael Jordan had played in New York City? How would that have impacted the league and the cache of its product? What if LeBron had put up a middle finger at Cleveland and forced a trade to NY the way Kobe did in his situation with Charlotte? Lest we forget that Kobe was had by LA in a hostage situation for Vlade Divac. If Garnett hadn't wasted all those years in the Minnesota wilderness by refusing to play for the Wolves. If he had planted himself in Boston earlier, or NY for that matter?

The league has done just fine with a weak NY. It's done fine with a NY featuring Ewing, Starks, and the rest. How would things have been better with a Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant in the Garden 41 times a year? I imagine it would be like the improvement from chocolate cake to Black Forest cake. One is desirable, delicious, and satisfying on its own. The other is an upgrade and much more attractive, delicious, and worthy of envy. That's how I see this LeBron situation. LeBron in Cleveland is great. It's good for the league. It creates a competitive balance. LeBron in NY makes the NY/LA matchup sexy again in the way that Yankees/Red Sox is sexy. The league is better off for that kind of rivalry. My case closes there.

2. The Bobcats and the Thunder

Why are these teams? My preseason prediction was that the Bobcats would trade away all their starters by season's end. All of them. So far, we're looking at trade rumors around Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, and there will undoubtedly whispers about Okafor to a contender before the deadline. Felton is now a shooting guard with the emergence of D.J. Augustin. It's happening. It hardly matters though. Charlotte is professional basketball nowhere. Let Duke have that city NBA. Stop being greedy.

The Thunder's prospects are better, but the present is much worse. That franchise ought to think carefully about what they're seeing in Charlotte because it could be their own future. Smallish city with temporary enthusiasm for pro hoops and limited patience for suckitude. When the honeymoon is over, if Kevin Durant is all alone on the floor things will get ugly. They need to be bolder than they've been so far. Install a D'Antoni system and let the fans enjoy themselves.

3. The Lakers and the Celtics

Wow. It feels like 1980 all over again. The two dominant franchises in the sport are the two most traditional. Fantasy hoops fans are lamenting the lack of performance by Bryant and Garnett, but what real fan could argue with the excellent brand of hoops played on both coasts? The lower fantasy performance is directly related to the stellar on court performance of these teams and the limited minutes needed by the big names. Blowouts are great for fans, but bad for stats.

Barring a major upset or injury, these are your finals teams. I absolutely love the Lakers to win it this season. Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, and Odom are great 1-4 players, but the Fishers, Farmers, and Arizas are the guys that are locking things down. Great balance and great system there. Fuck Phil Jackson, but he's a great coach.

The Celtics make me less optimistic long term because I think there's potential for Allen or Pierce to break down a bit. Rondo has emerged, so any injury could be offset, but the fragility of the Boston roster is a concern, albeit a minor one.

4. Parity

The Celtics and the Lakers aside, who has a team full of good players in 2008-09? Let's run down the list for a moment and consider which team's have A-list players, especially in the multiples.

Celtics: Yes
Nets: No
Knicks: No
Sixers: Yes
Raptors: Maybe
Bulls: No
Cavaliers: No
Pistons: No
Pacers: No
Bucks: No
Hawks: Maybe
Bobcats: No
Heat: Maybe
Magic: Yes
Wizards: Yes*
Warriors: No
Clippers: No
Lakers: Yes
Suns: Yes
Kings: No
Mavericks: Maybe
Rockets: Yes*
Grizzlies: No
Hornets: Maybe
Spurs: Yes
Nuggets: Maybe
Wolves: No
Thunder: No
Trailblazers: No
Jazz: Yes

That's a total of 9 "yeses", 6 "maybes", and 15 "nos." You have 9 good teams, 6 fair to mediocre teams, and 15 irrelevant clubs. Is that good business? Is it good business with a salary cap? I will argue until my last breath that the NBA should contract, let some of the fringe guys that lose work head to Europe or Asia, and put a better product on the floor in less cities. Create a better D-League. If you dissolved 10 of the franchises in the "nos," you'd combine some very good players with the 6 maybes and the remaining 5 nos. The parity you seek would be there via quality rather than quantity. You could move to play a real World Championship like they do in the European League Soccer competition. It would be better for the sport and the NBA.

Just sayin'.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A New Season

Here we are again. A new season of intrigue is upon us. Lots of shit to stir up at EvW. Mr. West is taking his damn time getting anything to me on our 1st project (either because he's juggling twins or because he was involved somehow in Sarah Palin's Nieman Marcus shopping spree), so here's my take on the NBA. This is all prior to the first tip off, but is only going up now. Deal with it.

Eastern Conference
1. Division Champs

Boston Celtics (defending crown)
Detroit Pistons (last chance at glory)
Atlanta Hawks (the talented upstart)

2. Playoff Teams

Philadelphia 76ers (well rounded club of vets + youth infusion)
Toronto Raptors (Euro system with good big men)
Cleveland Cavaliers (one great player)
Orlando Magic (dominant big man with good shooters/scorers)
New York Knicks (Euro system gets them to .500, but no playoff wins)

3. MVPs

The Obvious: LeBron James (skills and dominance)
The Unheralded: Chauncey Billups (leadership and direction)
The Sleeper: Elton Brand (offensive and defensive anchor)

4. LVPs

The Aggregious: Stephon Marbury (salary vs. output + attitude)
The Overhyped: Vince Carter (no one does less with more)
The Waste of Space: Jerome James (Isiah's last gift to Knick fans)

5. Surprise

This is where I get wild and stupid. At least four of the five opening night starters for the Charlotte Bobcats won't even be on the team at season's end. Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor will all be traded by Larry Brown. Then he'll step down for health reasons and the Bobcats will win the lottery, prompting him to try to get his job back.

Western Conference
1. Division Champs

New Orleans Hornets (Best team in the sport this year)
Utah Jazz (Sloan's a winner and Deron wants to match Paul)
Los Angeles Lakers (Most talented team in the sport this year)

2. Playoff Teams

Dallas Mavericks (for the last time prior to shakeup)
San Antonio Spurs (annoyingly and consistently)
Portland Trailblazers (Not ready yet, but best young talent)
Phoenix Suns (for the last time prior to shakeup)
Denver Nuggets (for the last time with Iverson/Carmelo)

3. MVPs

The Obvious: Kobe Bryant (Jordan, Jr. only has to win it w/o Shaq)
The Unheralded: Manu Ginobili (the engine of that annoying club)
The Sleeper: Chris Paul (hardly a sleeper, but little man in a big conference)

4. LVPs

The Aggregious: Tracy McGrady (has he ever won anything or stayed healthy?)
The Overhyped: Shaquille O'Neal (he's near the bottom of the barrell of NBA centers in 2009)
The Waste of Space: Antoine Walker (Chucky's still in the league??!! Why?)

5. Surprise

Okay, here are a quick couple of surprises. T-Mac will retire before the season ends. Andris Biedrins will be 3rd Team All NBA. O.J. Mayo will win Rookie of the Year. Baron Davis and Marcus Camby will play a combined 25 games together. Yao Ming will play 82 games this season. If the Mavs look like a middle of the road playoff team, Cuban will trade Dirk Nowitzki to the Knicks for Stephon Marbury's expiring contract and the Knicks 2009 first round pick.


-Mr. East

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Give Me the Rock

Hey. You like fantasy hoops like Mr. East and Mr. West like fantasy hoops? Then you have to go check out the super fantabulous guys over at Give Me the Rock. If you don't, we think you're dumb. That is all.

-Mr. East

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spanish Racists

If you haven't seen the promotional photo run by the Spanish National Basketball Team, here it is:

Yeah, they're playing that ignorant children's game "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees..." or whatever version was popular at your elementary school. Racism against East Asian people is tacitly accepted in our society, moreso in communities without widespread integration. East Asian's have successfully built an international niche by famously sticking together the way other mainstream "ethnic" groups have in America, for example. The Irish and Italians stuck to their own, rose above racist taunts and overt discrimination to build businesses and communities. The East Asian communities that are thriving in many large cities around the world offer the same sort of safety and opportunity.

The level of overt racism that this photo poses is only trumped in offensiveness by the lack of understanding or regret that the team has publicly shown in the wake of the controversy. Here's a snippet of their reaction:

“It was something like supposed to be funny or something but never offensive in any way,” said Spain center Pau Gasol, who also plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’m sorry if anybody thought or took it the wrong way and thought that it was offensive.”

Point guard Jose Manuel Calderon said the team was responding to a request from the photographer.

“We felt it was something appropriate, and that it would be interpreted as an affectionate gesture,” Calderon, who plays for NBA’s Toronto Raptors, wrote on his blog. “Without a doubt, some … press didn’t see it that way.”

“We have great respect for the far East and its people, some of my best friends in Toronto are originally Chinese, including one of our sponsors, the brand Li Ning,” Calderon wrote. “Whoever wants to interpret it differently is completely confusing it.”

Gasol said it was “absurd” people were calling the gesture racist. “We never intended anything like that,” he said.

“We’re surprised by the remarks of racism,” said Juan Antonio Villanueva, the communications director for the city’s 2016 Olympic bid. “Spain is not a racist country—quite the opposite.”

An affectionate gesture? So, I love Jews. I love to tease them affectionately by wearing a big hook nose and horns. I love African-Americans too. I visit my friends' homes with a big bag of Kentucky Fried Chicken while dressed in blackface. They love that shit. It's affectionate. Jose Calderon is officially Public Enemy #1 at East versus West. (Space now available with the removal of Isiah Thomas from the Knicks). He even takes the typical defense...I have Chinese friends. They go ape over my chinky eyes. What...? You're offended by that too? People are too sensitive. Gasol is equally a tool. How is it "absurd" that people are offended by that shit? You're absurd with your ugly ass beard. Also, Spain is not a racist country? How oversimplified a statement can you get? Sure, Spain isn't apartheid era South Africa or Sudanese genocide-mongers, but lest we forget the Spanish conquest of the New World or the Spanish Inquisition I'd like to bring them up here. No one's hands are clean, but it only makes it worse when a bunch of ignorant jocks hide behind oversimplified rhetoric to defend their offense. Spain is only as racist as the Spaniards make it, so congratulations basketball idiots, you helped to make Spain a "racist nation" for a few days.

There is also such a thing as an Uncle Wang. Check out the Chinese sponsor for the Spanish National Team jumping through hoops to save face on their investment.

Frank Zhang, Li Ning’s director of government and public affairs, played down the incident.

“We don’t think this is an insulting gesture to the Chinese,” Zhang said. “In fact, the gesture shows that the Spanish team is so humorous, relaxing and cute. They sat around a dragon pattern, which we think showed respect to the Chinese.

“Li Ning Ltd. will not change any business plans with the Spanish team because of this,” Zhang added. “People should focus on great Olympic Games instead of something else.”

It's so humorous, relaxing, and cute. In fact, we plan to create a new product line of athletic gear called Gasolderon the Chinky-Eyed Spaniard. The logo looks a little something like this...

This is nothing new though. Check out this YouTube clip from August of 2007 where Peruvian soccer player Carlos Bazalar celebrates his game-winning goal over South Korea at the FIFA U-17 World Cup game making the "chinky eyes" gesture. I'd love to get that guy down to Guantanamo Bay for a little "vacation" with the Dick Cheney boys.

The world is full of these idiots. If you see one of them, do me a favor and swiftly and forcefully punch them in the head. God will love you for it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New World Order: Fantasy Landscape

I like Fantasy Hoops. It's one of the few things that's kept me interested in the league after the Ewing era in New York came to a close. The NBA generally sucks on any given night, and most of the games and teams are unwatchable. That said, the fantasy arrangement is a way to imagine that something truly exciting and remarkable is happening, because it totally invests you in each night's action. It separates myth from reality and sweeps the ugly reality under the carpet. Mythical hoops is always played in an ideal world.

Mr. West and I play in a competitive Yahoo league together with the came core group of lunatics year in and year out. I won the whole enchilada a couple of years ago, but Mr. West is pretty much the All-Time king. He has some competition, but the end of every year sees him at or near the top, vying for the title with a well built team. He has a good head for drafting. I follow his lead in terms of style, but I'm stupid enough to play a few risks here and there. I drafted Walter Herrmann in the 6th round last year, or something like that, reaching for a possible big splash. That didn't turn out so well for me.

In the spirit of fantasy hoops and a slow few weeks of the off-season, after the Baron/Brand affair died down, it's time to look at a few guys I think might be on the radar for next season. The criteria for this little game is that the players have to be rookies, 2nd year, or 3rd year players. Beyond that anything's fair game. I chose players for this list based on a couple of factors. Obviously, past performance gets you a spot on the list. Projected playing time is also important, and really the combination of other players occupying your position dictates that more or less. The final factor I weighed a bit when looking over rosters was the likelihood the coach would employ a deep rotation, or worse, and unpredictable one. We're talking Golden State and Chicago, if we look at recent years. Maybe Memphis. This season things look a little more open though, so here goes...(players ranked in order of value):


Brandon Roy (3rd Year)
Derrick Rose (Rookie)
Rajon Rondo (3rd Year)
O.J. Mayo (Rookie)
Jerryd Bayless (Rookie)
D.J. Augustin (Rookie)
Rudy Fernandez (Rookie)
Randy Foye (3rd Year)
Marcus Williams (3rd Year)
Eric Gordon (Rookie)

This list is dominated by 3 or maybe 4 players. Brandon Roy is probably a quality 2nd round pick in most leagues these days. He's going to have a lot of help this year, but he's gifted and experienced now. Derrick Rose can flat out play and deserves an pick somewhere in the early-middle rounds. He's a risky pick as a rookie, but he didn't go #1 for nothing. Rajon Rondo may still sit in the middle rounds somewhere, but there's little doubt about his ability to throw up a triple-double here and there and steal a ton of balls during the season. He's the classic, "Oh Fuck. I still don't have a point guard and he's left. Better grab him now."

O.J. Mayo is a personal favorite. He didn't live up to the NCAA challenge really, but he's not a structured player. He won't be a winner in the NBA for sure, but he will put up numbers. I liken him to Baron Davis in a lot of ways. He shoots too much and he isn't the best decision maker, but he's better than most of the players on the floor. I think he'll be worth a late-middle round pick at this point. Someone may reach on him though. The last noteworthy guy on this list is Jerryd Bayless. He adds to a SICK Portland roster this year and has been absolutely destroying the Vegas Summer League. He was the MVP there. He will struggle for looks, but could run the show with Roy on the wing and Oden down low. Worth a look.

To briefly mention the rest of the players on this list, D.J. Augustin is highly thought of, but I'm not ready to put him in a draft situation now. He's a desperation PG pick if you already have one and it's getting late on a 2nd. Rudy Fernandez seems like a decent late round flyer, since his upside would seem to be Kevin Martin, and Kevin Martin is a top 25 player when he's on. Randy Foye has no place on my team. He kills your shooting% and turns the ball over like a madman. He's undersized and overmatched, but could find a spot in the last round or two if your league is deep and you need insurance for an injury prone scorer (Gilbert Arenas, Dwayne Wade?). I like Marcus Williams here. He probably shouldn't be drafted at all, but he's a guy to watch. He could put up big numbers in Golden State if he gets any burn next to Monte Ellis. He's got talent and he's still very young. Eric Gordon does nothing for me, but he's a hyped rookie and Baron Davis always presents a risky injury selection. He's likely to be the guy to get minutes if Davis pulls up lame.


Rudy Gay (3rd Year)
Kevin Durant (2nd Year)
Michael Beasley (Rookie)
Tyrus Thomas (3rd Year)
Jamario Moon (2nd Year)
Al Thornton (2nd Year)
Yi Jianlian (2nd Year)
Russell Westbrook (Rookie)
Anthony Randolph (Rookie)
Thaddeus Young (2nd Year)
Sean May (3rd Year)
Danilo Gallinari (Rookie)
Kevin Love (Rookie)
Wilson Chandler (2nd Year)
Joakim Noah (2nd Year)
Adam Morrison (2nd Year)

To be honest, the top three players here at the forward position are all extremely tempting. The ranking reflects my own sense of their value, since Gay is a legitimate fantasy stud now and could be a late 2nd round or early 3rd round pick. In a deep league, he could press the earlier part of the 2nd. Durant isn't there yet. Too many holes in his game. The upside is huge though and he's probably about two years away from real value. That said, he'll build on what he did as a rookie and should be watched for an early-middle round pick. Beasley could be more talented than Durant. He could put up bigger and better numbers and probably should given his supporting cast. With Dwayne Wade getting all the attention, Beasley should be clear to do the board work and score all over the floor. Jamal Mashburn put up 19, 4.5, 3.5, and a steal as a rookie. Beasley could do that with more boards.

My big sleeper is Tyrus Thomas. When he gets 30+ minutes he looks a lot like Shawn Marion. Make no mistake, he's not Shawn Marion. He won't shoot as well, and he'll turn it over more. He'll fill up the rest of the stats though, and he should be a steal in the late-middle, early-late rounds. He'll barely be on people's radar this year, so wait on him and pick him late. (Looks like my classic risky selection of the year.) Jamario Moon isn't going to be slept on this season. He's not great, but he is efficient and makes a great 4th forward. He's the guy that you want to plug in when he plays 4 times and you want to compete in blocks and turnovers, not to mention FG%. Late-middle rounds ought to get you Moon. Al Thornton may be a better draft selection than either Thomas or Moon. He won't have Maggette or Brand taking his minutes and Camby doesn't score. Thornton, almost by default, is a 20 point scorer this season. His boards may suffer though and it's doubtful that he'll do much else. Yi Jianlian is better than his 2007-08 season. He's going to get some shots in NJ and he'll be protected by Vince Carter's slashing style. I doubt he's worth more than a late round pick, but he's going to get an opportunity in New Jerz.

Russell Westbrook and Anthony Randolph probably shouldn't be up so high on this list, and they probably don't get the minutes or the looks they'll need to be worth a fantasy damn, but their talent puts them there as players to watch. Thaddeus Young would have been much higher on the list, but Brand and Dalembert complicate his playing time. An injury to either one of them will necessitate a Young pickup, even if there's no reason to draft him. Sean May is also a guy that probably shouldn't be drafted (maybe the last round) but his stats translate to Elton Brand if he gets 30-35 minutes. He's always hurt though so why bother. Who wants a guy with huge upside that sits most of the year. If he's on the floor and playing, maybe worth a waiver wire pickup, but leave him for someone else.

Gallinari is intriguing to me. No reason to draft him, but he could get the ball a lot for the Knicks if he can do anything. Defense be damned, if he can shoot, he'll play for D'Antoni. That's worth a look in any league. Kevin Love is a stiff in my book, but I could be wrong. He's a huge injury risk too, so keep him on your deep, deep, deep radar. Deep. Wilson Chandler is a guy that could be fun. Not really draft-worthy, but D'Antoni loves him and he has some skills. Poor man's Shawn Marion potential at 10-12 points, 6-7 rebounds, a steal, and a block? Jamario Moon territory, no? Joakim Noah. Nothing to say. Adam Morrison? Could be a shooter, and plays on a shit team, so there's always a chance they need him for minutes.


Greg Oden (Rookie)
Al Horford (2nd Year)
Luis Scola (2nd Year)
LaMarcus Aldridge (3rd Year)
Spencer Hawes (2nd Year)
Andrea Bargnani (3rd Year)
Sean Williams (2nd Year)
Brook Lopez (Rookie)

I want to put Al Horford first on this list, cause I rode him down the stretch last year and he can play. He should be in the 2nd tier of centers considered in the draft and needs to be on a team by the middle rounds. Oden may go earlier and has that huge Shaq-ish upside, so he gets top billing. I don't love him that way though. He has to play to get that kind of respect. At this point, I don't think you can take him before the 5th round. Even that might be a stretch. He's an enigma, because he could be a monster, but he's coming off a major injury and has never played against NBA players. Selecting him as anything more than a #2 center is foolish, and he's probably best as a #3 center and backup PF at this point. Luis Scola can play. I also had him down the stretch last season and he won't hurt you. He won't be great on a lot of nights, but without Yao he was shooting a lot more, scoring a lot more, and still holding his own on the glass and with the FG%. He'll slide back into a secondary offensive role with Yao back, but he could be the kind of player that good teams have on their bench, waiting for the 4 game week when he wins you boards and FG%.

LaMarcus Aldridge is interesting. If he still qualifies at C this season, he has value. He'll lose points, boards, and blocks to Oden. Plus, he's got Bayless, Fernandez, and Outlaw looking good on the team. If I were the Blazers, Aldridge might just make for good trade bait that brings back a top flight defender. His value is high right now, and he should really be on a team that runs and that can use his offense. Portland can still be that team, but there have to be some question marks coming into this season with the depth and the competition at the F slot. On the other hand, I like Spencer Hawes. He's not as good as Aldridge and actually is behind Brad Miller in Sacto for playing time. He should start stealing that playing time as the season goes on and Miller breaks down. I expect the Kings to shop Miller at some point, and he would seem to make sense for a contender somewhere. Hawes is not draftable as things stand right now, but if he's named the starter at any point, don't miss him.

Andrea Bargnani was the #1 pick. Let me type that again. Andrea Bargnani was the #1 pick. Still doesn't feel right. I think the day will come when people will view the Bargnani pick for what it was. Brad Lohaus as the top pick overall. Sigh. He's center eligible and shoots the three which is a nice gimmick if you're punting the big man categories, but any wise GM will flip the bottom of their chin at Bargnani and try someone else. Sean Williams of the Nets is an intriguing player this year. Will he play or won't he? Will Josh Boone get the burn, or are things going Williams' way? He's not draftable, and he's the classic Stromile Swift overhyped, athletic big man with no real skills except freakish athleticism, but he blocks TONS of shots and might be worth a pick up during the season if the choice is between him and Erick Dampier, say. His teammate Brook Lopez might actually be worth watching though, since the Nets would like to get something out of the center position and they didn't take Lopez just to have him gather dust on the bench. Not draftable, but an early candidate for a November waiver wire pickup for the center deficient teams in your league.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Game. Blouses.

Simply the funniest hoops story ever told.

Why We Love Gil

I have a couple of reasons to love Gilbert Arenas. The first is a fantasy hoops related reason. I picked him up off the waiver wire in his rookie season and rode him out to a deep playoff run. Didn't pan out in the end, but you love those guys you take a chance on that blow up. The second is this photo that keeps on giving:

Kind of says it all doesn't it? You'll see that photo here at EvW from time to time because it expresses a general feeling about certain parts of the NBA that just don't have words. I suppose the third reason that I like Arenas is that he had the balls to shout, "Hibachi" when he was shooting for a while. The best reason to like Agent Zero, however, is that he blogs and says whatever he wants. Fuck David Stern.

His most recent blog is just a long rambling bunch of NBA PR about traveling in Europe, probably the result of a deal he has with the league to talk about life as a player and the rest. We get to pure Arenas when he starts talking about recent free agent transactions and trades, and he says this about Richard Jefferson:

"Richard Jefferson going to Milwaukee …. HAHAHA! Oh man, now that is funny. When I heard that, I started laughing. Oh man, did I start laughing. You know why? Because every player hates Milwaukee. Nobody wants to live in Milwaukee. I’m sorry, Milwaukee, to come down hard on you, but no one in the NBA wants to play in Milwaukee. From him going from New Jersey, actually from New York (because he lives in New York), from New York to Milwaukee is like going … let’s just say it’s not going to sit well with you. That was a funny one when I heard that one. I know Yi is happy though."

Couldn't have said it better myself, and even if I had no one would have read it. Hello? Is anyone out there...?

Mr. West and I have been saying this kind of thing for a long time. Mr. West's favorite city to beat up is Charlotte, while I've always had a thing for Milwaukee, myself. You can understand why I rushed to post here about Gil's diary. Why the fuck would anyone want to visit Milwaukee? Why would anyone want to identify with Milwaukee? Seriously.

Now, before anyone from Milwaukee stumbles onto this blog while Googling for cheese curd recipes, and gets themselves all worked up, I have a confession to make. I've never been to Milwaukee. As a father of two and a settled-in kind of grown up, I might even love the kind of lifestyle that Milwaukee has to offer. The people are probably cool and the food is probably good. I bet there's some good live music somewhere and the school system has to be nice. Russ Feingold is my kind of guy. The thing is, this isn't about me and my boring-ass excuse for a life. This is about the NBA.

The NBA has too many teams and needs to knock off at least a half dozen. Among that half dozen, Milwaukee has to be near the top of the list. It's a minor media market, overshadowed by Chicago, and is about as uncool a location as one can pull out of a hat filled with American cities. I'm not talking about actual cool. The Fonz was from Milwaukee so there has to be something cool going on. I'm talking about the kind of cool that sizzles. The NBA is a television product. That's it. They understand that, so they rake in the cash. If there was no TV, there would be no NBA. It would be an afterthought. They'd probably still play in cages and wear belts.

TV loves glitz, fashion, glamor, sizzle, pizzazz, razzle dazzle, hip hop ya don't stop rockin' to the bam to the boogie ta be. It doesn't love nice schools and good neighbors. It likes "Desperate Housewives" and "Ultimate Fighting Challenge" and "Sex and the City" and "Survivor." Milwaukee is like the equivalent of watching local public access debates on zoning regulations.

So, what was the reaction on the net to Arenas' Milwaukee rant? Let's take a peek, shall we?

Jeff Sherman of writes, ""Every player" hates Milwaukee? Come on, Gilbert! It's no secret that Milwaukee isn't New York City or Chicago. But we aren't some two-cow town in Iowa either. It's tough, yes, for many corporations and sports teams to recruit "stars" to smaller market cities. But, the days of "Bush League" are gone and Milwaukee can and is competing. See, which ranked Milwaukee the ninth best city for young professionals."

Really? That's it. You state that you're not a two cow town, and point to a link at Forbes to show why young professionals can be comfortable in Milwaukee? That's the argument that Sherman chooses to defend his city as an NBA location? "Not a two cow town." Let me help you, Sherm. Try this: "Hey Gil. Fuck you. Next time you come to Milwaukee, you better hide or I'll slap you silly. Unless, of course, I'm too busy kickin' back with the Rusty P's at the club, heard?" Who's next?

Charles F. Gardner, beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "Not all NBA players have viewed Milwaukee as a place to be avoided. Ray Allen wanted to stay here and was genuinely disappointed when he was traded to Seattle, before he eventually moved on to Boston and won a championship ring last season. Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut seem to like Milwaukee well enough and have earned long-term contracts with the franchise. Desmond Mason came back for a second contract as a free agent, after being traded to New Orleans (and protesting vehemently) a couple years ago.

Yi Jianlian's representatives wanted him out of Milwaukee and tolerated one year here, but they were delighted to get the Chinese star to a larger media market with the Nets. The player who arrived in the ill-fated Allen trade, Gary Payton, never wanted to be here and got out of town as fast as he could when he became a free agent after that 2002-'03 season."

So, let me get this straight. "Not all NBA players have viewed Milwaukee as a place to be avoided." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Kind of more "not a two cow town" kind of defense. Then we have a list of players who kind of tolerate Milwaukee ("Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut seem to like Milwaukee well enough..."), a scrub who came back after he realized he had no other options (Desmond Mason), and two guys who hated Milwaukee (Yi Jianlian and Gary Payton). Oh, and Ray Allen loved it there. Sigh. Even the newspaper people hate Milwaukee. I hear Vin Baker loved Milwaukee's Best.

It's not even a competition. Gilbert Arenas by himself is cooler than everything that has ever happened in and around the greater Milwaukee area, ever. That's why he opted to stay in DC, which is a shit hole of a place to live, but is a quadgribillion times better NBA city than Milwaukee. Don't believe me? This is the CitySearch list of "Top 10 Milwaukee Experiences":

1. Miller Brewery Factory Tour
Sample free, ice-cold beers after witnessing how water is transformed into the tasty, frothy brew that made Milwaukee famous.

Miller sucks. That can't be your top Milwaukee experience. The beer that tastes like piss, but that is less filling so frat boys can drink until puke comes out their ears. Next.

2. Harley-Davidson Tour Center
You'll be in hog heaven watching factory workers assemble the roaring engines on America's most legendary motorcycle.

Watching factory workers assemble motorcycles is the #2 top experience in Milwaukee. I guess it works if you're drunk at 10am from your tour of the Miller plant.

3. Safehouse
Order a crisp martini and investigate a mind-boggling collection of espionage and spy paraphernalia at this one-of-a-kind back-alley bar.

Okay, a cool bar of some kind. Nice to know. I'd check it out, but I doubt there's anything mind-boggling about spy paraphernalia at a bar. Kind of like eating at T.G.I. Friday's or Bennigan's cause they have all that cool old crap on the walls.

4. Kopp's Frozen Custard Stand
It's a must-stop for not only great custard, but huge and tasty burgers.

Oh, good Lord. The #4 best experience in Milwaukee is a custard stand. Someone kill Richard Jefferson now. It's for the best.

5. Milwaukee Art Museum
Explore one of the most comprehensive collections of German Expressionist art in the country at this swooping architectural landmark on the lake.

Got nothing bad to say about museums, but it says something when yours is ranked below a brewery, motorcycle factory, and custard stand.

6. La Perla
You haven't partied until you've had a margarita and ridden the bucking mechanical red pepper at this bustling Mexican restaurant.

Y'know, I actually think this might be right. I may not have partied until I get my ass to Milwaukee to get drunk on margarita's and ride a bucking mechanical red pepper. Except that I'm sure I saw some shit like that when I was partying in Amsterdam, dodging street cars, while evading the wolfman clone-bots chasing me out of that coffee shop.

7. Zaffiro's
Try the E.B.A. (Everything But Anchovies) pizza and you'll understand why people have been flocking to this tiny joint for decades.

That's what I hate about Milwaukee most, and the reason I harbor this not so secret resentment of its Midwestern fucking anchovies.

8. Miller Park
Witness the famous sausage race where Brewers fans dress as brats and run around the stadium after the sixth inning.

This is the double-whammy of sadness. The baseball park is listed 8th on this list, behind a brewery of swill, a motorcycle factory, a custard stand, and a bucking, mechanical red pepper. Part two is that the Brewers aren't even part of the attraction, but the racing sausages are.

9. Taylor's
Sip one of the best cosmos in town and keep your eyes peeled for your favorite Bucks player at this ultrahip bar.

I love this. Cosmos are so-2002. Bucks players aren't going to show up there because they're all in their agents' offices making physical threats about leaving town. Even if they were there, they'd be Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Royal Ivey, and Jake Voskhul. I have cooler collections of lint in my bellybutton than that. (True story).

10. Mars' Cheese Castle
Become a true cheese head and take home farm animal-shaped cheese from this quirky roadside landmark.

What would a list of great Milwaukee experiences be without the quirky roadside landmark, especially when combined with farm animal-shaped cheese. No wonder Latrell Sprewell is such an angry prick. He grew up in Milwaukee. He probably had his high school prom at the Mars Cheese Castle.

After reading this list, even people from Milwaukee are laughing at Richard Jefferson and buying Gilbert Arenas jerseys. Gotta love that.