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Wes Welker And The New Pope: A Plot Uncovered

In NFL on March 17, 2013 at 7:14 am

By Jeff Weyant

Is there a connection? *cue lightning strike and thunder clap*

“Wes Welker,” for many New Englanders, is no longer a proper noun denoting a specific human being. It’s a curse word that may or may not refer to the person who may or may not have left the Patriots organization and then may or may not have joined the team that may or may not be quarterbacked by Peyton Manning who may or may not be known as The Person Who’s Delaying Tom Brady’s Universal Acknowledgement As Man’s Greatest Achievement. To put it another way, most Patriots fans are wondering just how in the hell this happened.

Luckily, I have a perfectly reasonable and obviously incontrovertible explanation that will withstand whatever perspicacious force one might bring against it.

To begin, did anyone notice that the announcement of Welker’s organizational shift (naturally by Adam Schefter) came just minutes before white smoke appeared atop the Vatican, signalling that the conclave of Cardinals had elected a new pontiff? I did. And that’s when the wheels started turning.

Remembering everything I’d learned from Dan Brown’s masterpiece The Da Vinci Code, I rushed around Paris and London with an attractive French woman, scouring the catacombs of churches and the mansions of elderly weirdos in an effort to uncover the origin of such an amazing confluence of events.

The first clue was the one already mentioned above, that the two events were reported on Twitter, humanity’s bastion of truth and wonder, at nearly the same time. And it’s relevant that Welker’s deal was reported before the election of a new pontiff, because if Jose Mario Bergoglio was declared pope and then Welker left New England for Denver, people would have caught on too quickly. The Vatican is run by highly intelligent individuals who understand the complex rules of cat-and-mouse, cloak-and-dagger politics and so they ordered the information in such a way as to throw off the scent of amateur gumshoes. Fortunately I’m a professional, having schooled myself early on in life with the legends and myths of Philip Marlowe and Harry Potter, two of the greatest sleuths of the last one hundred years.

One used wands and magic, the other cigarettes and women. They’re basically the same person.

My mind racing, it occurred to me that Tom Brady, Welker’s former best friend quarterback, was raised as a Roman Catholic and that he and his current wife, Gisele Bündchen, were married in a ceremony that was, according to the tireless journalists at E! and People, “intimate” and “private” and “Catholic.” It then occurred to me that Tom Brady, eighteen months earlier, had a child out of wedlock with Bridget Moynahan, a practice frowned upon by the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the new pope is the first ever Jesuit. Tom Brady is not a Jesuit. The Church, it seemed to me, was moving in a new direction, and perhaps Brady was going to be left behind?

Now came a flood of revelations, bombarding my faculties like a squadron of eagles hell-bent on tearing apart my brain: (1) Brady leans Republican in his political affiliations but refuses to admit this publicly, much to the chagrin of the conservative hierarchy, of which the Catholic hierarchy are life-long council members. And as everyone knows, if you can’t affirm something publicly, private affirmation is useless (I believe credit for this belief is owed to Plato or maybe Bart Simpson). (2) Brady dances like this, which is quite obviously an affront to Catholic honor and nobility. It’s an action which aims to single-handedly overturn everything St. Peter worked for when the founded the Church some two thousand years ago. A grievous slight indeed. And (3) Denver has a larger population of Hispanic Catholics than Boston, and since the election of an Argentine bishop is clearly an affirmation that Hispanic Catholicism is the future of global Catholicism, it only makes sense to empower Denver and weaken Boston, right?

With all this clear in my mind, still something was missing, some variable in the equation that was unknown. I tried and re-tried the calculus over and over again and still something was wrong. Sure, Brady angered the Vatican on multiple occasions. Sure, Denver seems like a fitting place to assign allegiance if you’re the Pope. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy my analytical faculties. I felt like I was overlooking some important aspect of the situation. What could it be?

PEYTON MANNING PLAYS FOR THE DENVER BRONCOS.

And suddenly all was revealed.

If you’re the Vatican and you want to stick it to one of your high-profile members, what better foil to Tom Brady than Peyton Manning? Aside from on-the-field associations, Manning has every trump card over Brady: Manning has a stable family, a wife and two kids, no out-of-wedlock children, and the sort of comedic, southern drawl that puts people at ease and gives everybody the impression of a devout and faithful father. To that end, he prays a lot (you might even say religiously), before games, after games, during games, and he’s the kind of Christian who tries hard to not display his devotion, avoiding the public eye when he affirms his faith. In addition, Manning has donated thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns over the years, including those of John McCain and George W. Bush, and is not shy about admitting his political affiliations. And, finally, Manning is rumored by many to be God Himself.

And so it all makes sense. The Catholic Church wants to move in a new direction, tired of European Popes and their Eurocentric outlook. So they look to South America and grant the papacy to a famous Argentine, a Jesuit no less. And from there a chain reaction occurs: Tom Brady’s transgressions are no longer overlooked because of his athletic prowess and the New England Patriots and their quarterback lose favor with the Vatican as a deal is worked out behind closed doors – by the same Cardinals who elected Pope Francis – to send Wes Welker from the Patriots to the Broncos where Peyton Manning, The Chosen One, commands a Christian army baptized originally by Tim Tebow, a clear signal as to the future of Catholicism on planet Earth.

My mystery solved, my work done, I lay down in the nearest bed with a cold sweat. A fever raged as the last 22.5 minutes of effort took its toll on the physical cage we call a body. Thankfully, after five minutes of deserved relaxation, the worst was over and I arose from my humble pallet to dictate the revelations contained herein. Because the truth couldn’t wait – I had to tell the world what I knew!

But what the world does with that truth? It’s out of my hands.

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Groin Altercations in the NBA: Why Things Probably Won’t Change

In NBA on March 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

By Jeff Weyant

Ibaka is either playing defense, casing the joint, or both.

Surprisingly, LeBron James said tweeted it best:

“So explain to me the difference? My teammate gets a 1 game suspension and 150k+ taking (sic) away from him for his groin altercation .”

He’s referring to the moment when Dwyane Wade kicked Ramon Sessions in the groin and was subsequently suspended for a game, a loss of salary amounting to around $150,000. At that time (late December – so like just two months ago) the league office felt that a “groin altercation” was worth a one-game suspension, even for a player like Wade who, the Heat organization repeatedly and annoyingly stressed, had never been suspended for anything over the course of his ten-year career.

But in the case of Serge Ibaka, the league office felt that a groin altercation (and one of the better ones in NBA history) was worth a measly $25,000 fine, and for a player who, like Wade, has also never been suspended in his NBA career (but, to be fair, he’s only been in the league four and a half years).

James is justifiably perturbed. As many folks around the internet have opined the last few days, how do Stern and Co. (continue to) come up with these seemingly arbitrary and always aggravating punishments for a wide variety of player and coach infactions?

And it’s not hard to view them as arbitrary: as Tom Ziller points out, “by upgrading the foul and issuing a fine, the NBA ‘s disciplinary arm led by Stu Jackson isn’t making a case that contact between Ibaka’s hand and Griffin’s groin was incidental. The NBA is telling us straight up that after review officials believe it was indeed intentional.” Which then makes it wildly strange that Ibaka wasn’t suspended, even wilder considering Wade was suspended in December for essentially the same move (along with DeMarcus Cousins, who nutted O.J. Mayo a few weeks earlier and was also suspended). So if groin altercations were worth a suspension in December, what gives now that it’s March? Did Stu Jackson make a New Year’s resolution to be kinder to his subjects?

“We beseech thee, oh king, to spare us your wrath!” “Okay, no suspension, just give me twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Better yet, how does Metta World Peace, who nearly killed James Harden last year near the end of the regular season and who has a rather jagged history when it comes to punishable infractions, only serve a seven-game suspension? And is there a wheel in Jackson’s office with dollar amounts on it and to determine fines he gives it a spin? And why do some people get suspended and fined whereas some simply get suspended? Does he work out loss of salary and decide if that’s a large enough fine? If DeMarcus Cousins has to sit two games because he yelled at a TV announcer, why does Matt Barnes, who tried to crush Grieg Stiemsma’s windpipe, only sit one game? If Dwight Howard forcefully put his elbow in another player’s throat in the 2009 playoffs and recieved a one-game suspension, why did Kendrick Perkins, who did the exact same thing a few weeks later, get to play the next game?

An attractive explanation is that there’s a system but it includes variables that no one would ever think to include and therefore we’ll never figure it out unless Jackson or Stern opens a door or two and lets us see inside the nucleus of the NBA league office (an explanation that’s as outlandish as the events it’s attempting to explain). But that’s not likely to happen and for the same reason everyone wants more transparency and also the same reason that none of these suspensions and fines make any sense: In order to retain power, you have to horde information. Information is key to sustaining hegemonic rule. Stern, like any despot, knows this. The more information he gives out, the more avenues of attack open up to his enemies (and yes, he almost certainly sees everybody outside the league office as an enemy, which makes Richard Nixon a strong comparison subject).

Also Dr. Evil.

You might argue that Stern’s despotism is ruining the NBA and that he’s driving the once-thriving league into a ditch from which it will be hard to recover. And that if only he’d create and/or release rules and regulations when it comes to suspensions and fines (say, every general infraction has a set fine or suspension and every repeat infraction ups the fine on top of whatever it would normally be and at a certain point every finable offense is a suspension, and so on) things would all make sense and we wouldn’t have this problem and the NBA would be great and nobody would ever complain.

But Stern is smarter than that. He knows we’ll complain about anything. He also knows that what he’s done (specifically in the last decade) in terms of secrecy and inadequate disclosure hasn’t hurt the league at all. But then when he uses the phrase “hurt the NBA” it means something different than when you or I use it. For Stern, if something impacts the financial well-being of the league in a negative manner, it’s hurting the league. Anything else is basically irrelevant (which is to say it’s contingent upon the financial well-being of the league). For most of us, the prosperity of the league is secondary to the integrity of the league. But, according to Stern, how wrong we are. . .

As of March 2013, the NBA has never been more popular nationally or internationally and it’s only growing, making greater strides every year. Coffers are fuller (thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement), stars are bigger (thanks to technology and communication advances like Twitter, YouTube, and the internet in general), endorsements are more common (Diet Pepsi, of all things, has its own stable of NBA spokesmen), and each year the international competitions (Olympics, FIBA, EuroLeague) grow in popularity and competitiveness, both inside and outside the US. And this is all in spite of Stern’s Nixon-esque turn as NBA Commissioner.

So don’t expect more transparency. Stern’s heavy-handedness hasn’t stopped the league from increasing viewership and sponsorship every year (a trend which doesn’t show any real signs of fatigue or exhaustion) and if that’s the case, the only people that can exert meaningful pressure on him to change (the owners) will never do it. Because everyone in business, sadly, thinks the same way: if something ain’t broke (i.e. it’s profitable), don’t fix it, don’t touch it, don’t even look at it.

Moneyball’s Latest Influence On The NBA: John Hollinger And The Memphis Grizzlies

In NBA on February 28, 2013 at 8:02 am

By Jeff Weyant

After he lectures about his expert knowledge of statistics throughout the history of basketball, he’ll then tell you how aliens and Bigfoot played a part in it.

In the film Moneyball, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) delivers a brief soliloquy to Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in an underground parking lot: “People that run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.” While this sort of mentality – which goes against basically the entire history of sports in America – has yet to spread like wildfire in any of the major leagues, it’s catching on bit by bit, and the trend is nowhere more apparent than in the NBA.

The award for Biggest Transaction of the Last Five Years definitely goes to the deal that sent John Hollinger from ESPN to the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies (and by “deal” I mean Hollinger jettisoned himself from ESPN as fast as possible in order to take his dream job). His departure was highly publicized, but Hollinger was merely following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Dean Oliver, the godfather of APBRmetrics (sabermetrics, but for basketball). In 2004, Oliver left the blogosphere to join the Seattle Supersonics for an advisory role, then two years later joined the Denver Nuggets as a permanent, administrative basketball analyst. He was the architect of the Allen Iverson trade that netted Chauncey Billups, destroyed the Pistons, and vaulted the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals; of the Carmelo Anthony trade that produced lots of cheap talent which has since become the core of Denver’s success; and of the surprise Ty Lawson pick in the 2009 draft which has been vindicated consistently every time the North Carolina point guard steps onto the court. In other words, this isn’t the first time a basketball stat-head traded a volume shooter for a member of Detroit’s ’04 championship team.

Remember this? Blame Dean Oliver.

Oliver created the template that one assumes Hollinger hopes to follow (except perhaps the third stage of Oliver’s career, which has him at ESPN doing wizard-like behind-the-scenes things with numbers, a job that only pertain peripherally to basketball). Given history, then, it was no surprise that less than two months after Hollinger came aboard, the Grizzlies traded their overpaid and underperforming shoot-first superstar for a few guys who, as an aggregate, more than make up for Rudy Gay’s absence. If you modify the quote from Moneyball so that it applies to basketball, it’d be something like: Don’t buy players, buy wins, and to buy wins, buy efficient points. You’ll notice that defense doesn’t factor into that but the adage that defense wins championships is a bit overblown. The reality is that top-10 defenses win championships. You don’t necessarily have to have the greatest defensive season in the history of the NBA but you also can’t be a punching bag all season long. And besides, for a small market team like Memphis that just wants to make the Finals at all and which already has the league’s second-best defense, buying efficient points seems more important at this point.

So they traded for Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, and Ed Davis, three players who score efficiently. With a volume-shooter like Rudy Gay out of the picture (the kind of player who ruins many of the possessions he’s involved in), your offense is going to get better by default. Adding team-first players like Prince, Daye, and Davis should only make it even better.

Et voilà! That’s been the case these last eleven games. The team has won nine of them (including the last eight) and their offensive efficiency (ORtg) over that span is 106.5, which is not only nearly two points higher than their ORtg pre-trade but it’s also, if kept up the rest of the season, good for 10th in the league (up from 19th). A long-term jump like that and Memphis would be almost as likely as San Antonio and Oklahoma City to make the Finals and a legitimate rival to the Eastern Conference representative (which, barring tragedy, is going to be the Miami Heat).

The Grizzlies would love to avenge their semifinal loss from two years ago.

But lest we forget, moneyball tactics also involve a financial aspect and this was certainly a factor in trading Rudy Gay, whose contract was arguably one of the worst in the league. The Grizzlies were essentially paying him $1.13 million for each point of his Player Efficiency Rating ($16.46 million contract vs. 14.56 PER). In comparison, they’re now paying Prince $537,000 per PER point ($6.75 million contract vs. 12.58 PER). And this doesn’t even take into account Austin Daye and Ed Davis who, combined, are playing over 20 minutes a game while contributing around 10 points (at 55% shooting), 4 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks (their combined PER – impossible to calculate precisely when combing statistical figures – would nevertheless, if normalized, be in the mid teens – in other words, very good for a bench player).

This was the kind of money-crunching that almost certainly took place in Memphis’ front office as they went about constructing a profitable trade. And in true APBRmetric fashion, they’re now better positioned to win this year and also in the years to come (they saved around $4 million in cap space in the transaction and, given player contracts, will save about the same every year through at least the 2015 season).

As Jonah Hill says, buy wins, not players. And that’s just what Hollinger and Memphis have done. They traded a volume shooter for three players that do as much on offense and more efficiently at that. Of course this makes me wonder: if every team had a John Hollinger or a Dean Oliver in the front office, where would they send all their volume shooters?

The D-League, probably.

Publicly Working Out How I Feel About The Death Of A Sports-Related Stranger

In NBA on February 21, 2013 at 9:13 am

By Jeff Weyant

Jerry Buss’s death is like the tree, and now everyone else is going to have to deal with it. The real question though, is if that tree falls, and nobody hears about it because of the Lakers record, does it really make a sound? 

I spend a lot of time thinking about why I watch sports. This is because part of me thinks they’re a huge waste of time, that on some level obsessing over something I have no control over is unhealthy, and that they’re keeping me from becoming the kind of generous, prepared, and confident individual who finishes novels and cleans up around the house and in general practices good hygiene and goes to the gym three times a week. Another part of me, of course, thinks sports are awesome, terrifying, entertaining, artistically significant, pornographic (metaphorically but occasionally literally), and more or less one of the best things human beings have ever created alongside the final montage in the Marx Brothers’ film Duck Soup, the collected poetry of John Keats, and the velociraptor I drew in fifth grade and which subsequently won first prize in the Maricopa County Boys and Girls Club art contest.

Me thinking about me thinking about me thinking about sports is often most severe when something happens in the sports world that has nothing to do with sports yet requires that everyone have an opinion. In this case, Jerry Buss, longtime owner of the unbelievably successful Los Angeles Lakers franchise, succumbed to kidney failure earlier this week (the result of, what else, cancer), ending a long and illustrious career as either the greatest villain or the most important innovator (or both?) in the history of modern sports. So basically we’re all supposed to say something and let everyone else know about it and so on and so forth until a week passes and something else distracts us.

Personally I’m confused. I’m a Lakers fan and a Jerry Buss fan (assuming I understand even a little bit about what he actually did to evolve or devolve the sport in any meaningful way) but his passing inspired two things in me: first, a meta-reflexive notion about how I’m supposed to be inspired to feel something at all, and second, sadness and sorrow, because someone is dead.

A fitting image given the 16 Finals appearances and 10 championships during Buss’ 33-year ownership.

But more than anything, Buss’ passing made me think about fans and owners, a relationship with a strange dynamic. Because fans only talk about owners when they fuck up or when they die. Such is the life of millionaires, I suppose. But it’s true: owners of sports teams are those nebulous entities that exist to be reviled or eulogized, usually the former while alive and the latter afterwards. Think of the late George Steinbrenner: while alive, he was vilified by everyone as being the most absurdly awful asshole this side of the Atlantic but the moment he kicked the bucket he was suddenly a kind and loving soul sent from heaven to guide us towards the light.

What I’m getting at here is that if I suffer lots of mental anguish at obsessing over strangers I pay attention to basically every day (players, coaches, media members – the last of whom are essentially playing their own sport), I’m uncertain as to how I feel about owners, whom I don’t think about all that often and when I do it’s because someone I know reflexively blamed the one that owns their favorite team because that favorite team has a shitty win-loss record or because they traded a universally-praised top five lottery pick for a guy who already hit his ceiling as a decent rotation player.

So then maybe it boils down to a tribal thing: if Kobe Bryant or John Hollinger died, I’d grieve as if it were a friend of a friend whom I saw frequently over the years and  I’d feel sad in my gut and sort of think about mortality and stuff but I probably wouldn’t cry because after all I didn’t really know the guy all that well and the only conversation of consequence I can remember involved our mutual interest in the films of Terrence Malick; but when Jerry Buss dies, it’s like he’s that neighbor next door I talked to maybe twice in ten years and with whom I exchanged masculine head nods maybe five times when we were both getting into our cars in the morning. Which is to say: when he dies I think about mortality and stuff but in an ephemeral, forgetful way. Jerry Buss, then, might as well be Michael Jackson or Mindy McCready or that guy I lived next to who killed himself in the late 90’s, the kind of person about whom I heard a lot over the years but whom I never knew in any meaningful way.

And now we’re into weird territory because this implies that I feel like I know Kobe Bryant or John Hollinger in some sort of meaningful way. But then Twitter is much like a public diary, conveying an intimacy that cultural critics are still puzzling over. And I never followed Jerry Buss on Twitter (partly because he didn’t have an account and partly because I probably wouldn’t have found it all that engrossing even if he did).

Words here are sort of useless, for obvious reasons.

All this seems to have been confirmed last night when various individuals paid homage to his passing on ESPN before, during, and after the night’s slate of games. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant in particular talked about Buss in reverential, mournful tones and it occurred to me that these people knew Jerry Buss as more than a neighbor you saw rarely and talked to even less frequently, but instead as a mentor and a friend. The complication up to this point, I think, was that Jerry Buss as an owner always seemed remote, detached, off limits, in the way the CEO of a large, multinational corporation must seem remote and distant (physically and psychologically) to the guy temping in the mail room. He was a machine or an alien rather than a human being.

I think most people see owners this way, as Mr. Moneybags, the man responsible for a franchise’s problems, the guy the cameras show up in some private box chatting with another stolid figure in a blue business suit. But at some point I think it’s nice (and I mean “nice” in every untrendy sense of the word) to remember that owners, even hideous ones, are people, and not (exclusively) monsters or titans. We spend enough time making sure everyone knows athletes are errant humans like the rest of us but little time making sure everyone knows their bosses are as well.

So finally then, after all that hand-wringing, I’m prepared to offer my two cents about the late Jerry Buss: He was a dude and like many other dudes I didn’t know him at all. He seemed like he had a good time while alive and without doing an investigative piece for Nightline I can say that he did some good stuff and also some bad stuff. In the end, he’s dead and I’m not, which you can take however you want (morbidly, offensively, logically, mystically, none, all, other). He’ll be missed by those closest to him and I hope their anguish fades at least momentarily into fond reverie.

January 27, 1933 – February 18, 2013

NBA All-Star Weekend: Why I Watch

In NBA on February 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

By Jeff Weyant

“At least I’m playing, Dwight!”

Basketball has always been about intimacy. Nowhere else among the Big Four sports will you see this. Or this. Or this. It’s because in basketball the fans are literally and metaphorically closer to the players. The players, on their side, wear less clothing, their faces are readable for the slightest emotional changes, and there are less of them to pay attention to. The fans, likewise, receive high-fives, tackles, punches, spittle, and racial slurs from the players on a nightly basis. This doesn’t happen in the NFL, the MLB, or the NHL, mainly because it’s impossible. The players are either too far away or bundled up under pads and helmets (like people in fat suits) such that they’re basically invisible. There are moments of fan interaction in these other sports, naturally, like when a wide-receiver scores a touchdown and jumps into the stands to receive ritual and congratulatory punishment from people wearing his team’s jerseys or when an outfielder flips a third-out fly ball to a kid with an outstretched glove. But in the NBA, every possession has the potential for this sort of experience, and often it delivers.

Public image is (seen by David Stern to be) a problem in the NBA – corn rows and tattoos and the aftermath of the Malice at the Palace – and for this same reason February’s annual All-Star celebration is often wildly successful. Because basketball players are closer to fans than in any other sport and so what they do and say and look like matters a great deal. Thus All-Star Weekend every year is like a regular season game in which the intimacy and the importance of that intimacy is augmented a hundredfold. And since All-Star Weekend, in any sport, is an attempt, among other things, to heighten intimacy, and the NBA already has a leg up in the destruction of barriers between fans and players, their annual All-Star festivities are naturally the most enjoyable and the most popular.

Not only is it a celebration of the game’s best players and talents but it’s also an opportunity to actually see those players more often and from a closer perspective. You get to see them in interviews for three straight days, you get to see them in events that involve activities not always available in a regular season game (or at least with the same frequency), and you get to see them hanging out with each other for a weekend, just like you and your friends watching at home on the couch. In basketball, much more so than football, baseball, and hockey, you get to see them in the arena where the fans sit, doing fan things, reacting to what’s happening on the court like fans would, yelling and screaming and high-fiving and basically carrying on like anyone would given the opportunity to sit courtside at a game featuring the best players doing the best things.

“If I make this I get free milkshakes. If I make this I get free milkshakes. If I make this. . .”

In what other sport could you see Deron Williams marveling at Dwyane Wade in the skills competition? Where else would Kobe Bryant hold up giant cards emblazoned with “10” across the front when Gerald Green does something amazing in the dunk contest? And in what other universe would Justin Bieber crossover the US Secretary of Education only to get blocked by Michael Rapaport?

Of course, there are needling problems with the enterprise, such as the reality that NBA All-Stars are, in a lot of other more practical ways, far removed from everyday fans at home on the couch watching with friends. They’re rich, tall, beautiful, healthy, and popular, and most of us are not even two of those. We’re just the residual effects of our parents copulating years ago. We’re not world-conquering behemoths who influence fashion, sport, and finance all in the same weekend. In fact we actually have a vested interest in not caring about All-Star Weekend because we’re basically supporting the very people who have a political motivation to make our day-t0-day lives worse. We’re probably worse off in the long-run by feeding any money at all into the NBA’s inevitably corrupt upper-echelon of Stern and his lackeys, the owners.

But human beings have a long history of shooting themselves in the feet in order to get some sort of short-term benefit. All-Star Weekend is one of those short-term benefits. Because it’s just a shitload of fun to see these weird, famous millionaires do everyday stuff that you and I assume weird, famous millionaires don’t do because they’re weird and famous and possess millions of the same thing, even if there are lot of reasons to be reflexively suspicious about spending time and money in the endeavor.

So with the trade deadline looming, All Star Weekend will be filled, as usual, with lots of speculation and rumors about any number of teams and players. There will be forced hilarity between Stuart Scott and the majority of other human beings. But there will also be that wonderful mixture of everything that’s great about sports: seemingly inhuman creatures forced, for at least a few moments, to be human after all (for an example of which, see below). Which is why I’ll be watching.

A Not So Short Reflection Upon The Life Of A Celebrity: Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

In Media, NFL on February 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm

By Jeff Weyant

The person in this video – referred to sometimes as Beyoncé, other times as Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, depending on whether the speaker wants to characterize his or her subject as a pop star or as an ultra-empowered feminist/cultural icon – confuses me. But then I’m easily confused. For example, it was at an embarrassingly-progressed stage of life when I learned that the pronunciation of the noun “lingerie” had nothing in common with the verb “linger.” Still, understanding in some important way the actions of a professed un-single lady seems meaningful in spite of the present confusion.

The origin story of our eponymous star, thankfully, isn’t all that confusing. It doesn’t require a J.J. Abrams-directed prequel trilogy nor an Alan Moore graphic novel. One long sentence will suffice: Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter was born in Houston, Texas, where as a child she pursued the age-old tradition of singing and dancing which naturally led to the just-as-age-old tradition of performing, a gig which quickly developed into a prominent role at the front of the famed 1990’s/2000’s musical act Destiny’s Child which, after many successful forays into the labyrinthine maze known as the Billboard Charts, went on hiatus (due to normal stuff like “internal conflict,” “exhaustion,” and “former bandmates suing current lineup”), forcing the eponymous star of this article to release a solo album that righteously stormed the already-stormed Billboard Charts and became the basis for the young Houstonian’s vault into the record books (in terms of sales) and into the hearts and minds of billions of people the world over (in terms of everything else), culminating (so far) in the universally-acclaimed performance during this past Sunday’s as-usual-highly-Nielson-rated Super Bowl, a performance which, for most, cemented her legacy (at the tender age of thirty-one) as one of the greatest most awesomely badass female performing artists ever of all time forever.

It’s well-established, then, that Beyoncé is at the top of whatever edifice our culture considers representationally important. She’s friends with basically everyone cool. She sang (perhaps without vocalizing in the present moment) the national anthem at the recent presidential inauguration of her good friend Barack Obama. She gilds with gold whatever she touches. She has a strange website where the background animation is a repeating GIF of her doing something regal in attire befitting her station. And, oh yeah, she’s married to her male counterpart in the musical world, Jay-Z. In sum, she is, according to the third entry at Urban Dictionary, “[t]he female artist of the decade who is hated on by people who are jealous of her fame and extremely great talent. She is also one of the most beautiful women in the world and the top female black artist.” Sad to say, this is one of the more sincere entries on that great website.

All this is common knowledge. And yet The Artist Currently Most Often Referred To As Just Beyoncé perplexes me. Because on the one hand she seems to have expertly crafted a public image that portrays her as a strong-willed, beautiful woman able to achieve her dreams using nothing but copious amounts of elbow grease and a glistening can of Pepsi, the kind of generous, self-sacrificing individual who acts as spokesperson for campaigns like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative aimed at curbing child obesity, the sort of human being one imagines intelligent feminists created in a laboratory somewhere in Minnesota to be their incredibly effective mascot, effective because she doesn’t overwhelm the opposition with facts and logic and violence but instead with solicitations of admiration and worship against which most of us are essentially defenseless. Because who can ever quibble with the vicissitudes of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, the woman who finally conquered the unconquerable heart of Jay-Z (he of 99 problems of which a bitch ain’t one), the woman who donates to charities constantly and seemingly effortlessly, the woman who reunited Destiny’s Child for a brief moment in front of the whole world last Sunday around 7:15pm Arizona time?

Well, me, I guess. And also apparently Harry Belafonte.

“And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example.” – Belafonte to the Hollywood Reporter

There’s a lot to unpack here (people like Beyonce rarely travel light) and I think it’s best to return to Urban Dictionary. The first and second entries are the same (which doubles as a metaphor about Beyoncé) and they help shed light on my confusion: After saying that Beyoncé “shows who she is,” it is revealed that she, apparently not in contrast, “is extremely careful about how she portrays herself in the media” and that “People take this for a fake or flighty character, but she doesn’t give too much of herself away because she wants to keep a piece of her own integrity and protect her self [sic] and those that she loves.” Comprehensibility issues aside, this provides the most immediate and pressing question concerning Beyoncé: is she quote-unquote for real or is she merely a marketed manipulation, an artificial construct created to win the souls and wallets of everybody everywhere as quickly and as lastingly as possible?

As Hamlet would say, aye, there’s the rub.

My answer, as is probably already clear, is that Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, as we all know her, exists only on paper. Somewhere in the cavernous recesses of the body we identify with the aforementioned quadrinomial title is the “real” Beyoncé but the only one we’re allowed to see is the one designed to make the most money and in general be the most awesome at all times (generally for the purposes of making money but also for making the hidden Beyoncé feel really nice about life) and that this, of course, is harmful and bad and uncool.

Very few people have wondered aloud about this (mainly because such individuals are universally reviled upon receipt of said public wonderings – Harry Belafonte a case in point) but it bears pondering nevertheless: Why is the most visible spokesperson for one of the nation’s most visible anti-child obesity campaigns also the most visible spokesperson for the leading cause of child-obesity? It’s a surprise to no one that fat children are fat largely because they imbibe truckloads of sugary soft drinks which are not only obesity-inducing but also the cause and suspected cause of lots of other awful health issues, like death, death, and death. Pepsi, who paid for Beyoncé’s ringing endorsement at the Super Bowl, accounts for an embarrassingly-large part of the market share for sugary soft drinks. Beyoncé, then, wants you to lose weight but to keep buying Pepsi while you do it. Which makes, naturally, no sense whatsoever (and is also expressly harmful, because children are more susceptible to whatever’s in front of them more often, and since no one sees the Let’s Move! campaign nearly as often as they see Beyoncé drinking Pepsi, it’s easy to guess which advertisement wins out).

The standard workout routine for Let’s Move! consists of walking to the store to buy more Pepsi products.

Another troubling part of her resume is World Humanitarian Day, which is, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “a global day to celebrate humanity and the spirit of helping people.” One assumes, rather appropriately, that such a day is to be marked by the selfless, altruistic spirit of an individual like Mother Theresa and not, say, by the arrogated arrogance of an individual like Kanye West. It was interesting, then, that the UNOCHA decided to commemorate this day (which was actually more like a month, but whatever, it’s their terminology) by having Beyoncé stand alone in a white gown in front of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and sing one of the most incomprehensibly self-involved songs in the history of civilization.

Performed on August 10th, 2012 but released worldwide on August 19th, “I Was Here” seeks to impart to the listener the singer’s ardent wish that they be remembered for all the awesome things they did while alive, a small part of which concerned helping other people. The chorus is (and I’m not making some elaborate joke here, this is literally accurately factually what she sang to the world): “I was here, I lived, I loved, I was here, I did, I’ve done everything I wanted and it was more than I thought it would be, I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here.” If you notice the distinct lack of altruism in this chorus, you’re onto something. Because it’s only occasionally in the verses (and frequently vague at that) that we get any sense that this song is even partially concerned with the welfare of other people. Given the time and venue, it sounds more like a South Park parodic imitation of what a celebrity would sing at such an occasion rather than what they actually sang. But no, it’s real. Painfully real. As if my generation wasn’t already expertly skilled at naval gazing, Beyoncé gave us more validation: do good not because it’s the right thing to do but so that everyone will remember how good you were.

To make matters infinitely worse, Beyoncé has repeatedly failed to question her public associates’ actions and decisions, however harmful they might be. For instance, she values highly her public friendship with Barack Obama but has to yet to comment publicly on anything he might be doing that could construed as, well, “bad,” for instance the sanctioning of the continual slaughter of innocent civilians (mainly children) in Pakistan using fancy remote-controlled airplanes, or really any of his other empire-building initiatives the world over, actions which seem contrary to the spirit of World Humanitarian Day, and she and Jay-Z first endorsed gay marriage only after President Obama gave his own support (and for what it’s worth Beyoncé also didn’t speak out against the various failures of George W. Bush either, unlike her good friend Kanye West, which suggests Beyoncé’s more interested in cultivating relationships with the powerful than using those relationships to make the world better).

Kanye West is more authentic which makes him more obviously obnoxious. But that’s probably a good thing.

The proverbial list goes on and on and it all leads to the same thing, the only viable explanation for Beyoncé’s contradictory actions: she’s a self-interested pop star who cares more about her coffers and her self-worth than she does about the strangers she influences and who willingly help fill those coffers. She donates to charity only if it helps augment her global brand, she offers conflicting messages to impressionable youth, and she maintains a cone of silence around the only things that really matter in life, opting to say nothing at all even when she’s in a position to do the most good. And when she does do something beneficial to somebody other than herself, she has to publicize it endlessly so everyone knows that she was here.

Which brings us to the halftime show at the Super Bowl, which was, fittingly, a summation of her entire career. For while her lyrics on Sunday didn’t necessarily point overtly to a self-aggrandizing agenda (unlike, say, those of her husband) the visual display was more than enough to compensate.

Beyoncé was given free license to immortalize herself in the annals of cultural history. It was no surprise then, given her track record, that the halftime performance was essentially a fifteen minute public service announcement designed to inform the world that Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter exists and is important and is finally worthy of your undying adoration. To say it was maddening to watch is, as is usually the case with these sorts of things, an understatement.

It begins (after a Pepsi intro) with a Vince Lombardi quote broadcast over a stampede of screaming strangers running onto the field, followed by pyrotechnics which illuminate three objects: opposing profile light displays, a giant statue, and the shadowy outline of a female figure, all three of which bear a striking resemblance to Beyoncé herself, a supposition made certain when the shadowy female figure is revealed moments later to be the eponymous singer. The self-deification is agonizing: like all formidable and long-lasting deities, Beyoncé is a tripartite goddess (two-dimensional profile, three-dimensional and huge statue, and three-dimensional and human-sized avatar), greeted and adored by onrushing worshipers. In addition, every other individual on stage throughout the performance will be dressed and made up such that they resemble the reason we’re all watching (a lot like Eminem’s army at the Grammy’s in 2000, except without the cultural critique).

Probably not purposeful but if it was it makes Beyonce the Emily Dickinson of contemporary pop artists.

As the first musical number rolls along aimlessly (because all musical numbers at the Super Bowl roll along aimlessly because they have to be part of a larger, necessarily awkward medley to fit the time and entertainment constraints of being loud and obnoxious as much as possible for fifteen minutes) we are gifted a telling visual: the camera goes birds-eye and Beyoncé is supposed to fit snugly into a circular design meant to enclose her prostrate figure. It and she fail to align and we’re left with an odd image, which can be read two ways: either Beyoncé’s façade isn’t and will never be perfect, allowing people like me to cast those much maligned slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or it was a purposeful deviation sent as a subliminal signal to people like me who spend way too much time thinking about this shit that the multitudes of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter can’t be contained by the puny constraints of time and space. Your guess is as good as mine.

At this point we’re three minutes in and I’ve already had enough but against my better judgment I brave the interminable tragedy of Beyoncé’s unutterably depressing self-aggrandizement (depressing because it appears to be contagious) for twelve more minutes, during which the singer jumps around and sings breathlessly out of tune renditions of her Billboard-topping catalogue, making me realize that even Madonna ceded the stage last year to other performers. But not Beyoncé. She declared, once and for all, that she is the contemporary female equivalent of Kanye West, the sort of person interested in two things, making money and cementing one’s legacy as the most awesome and beloved and respected and adored person ever. The only difference is that Kanye, while musically a genius, is otherwise an idiot, particularly with respect to public relations. Not so with Beyoncé, who managed to accumulate laudatory couplets from the entire universe for behavior that we label as megalomaniac in others.

Fittingly, then, the only appropriate way to conclude is through the words of Beyoncé herself. After the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, she was quick to release a charity single, a cut of “God Bless the USA,” the proceeds of which were intended for the New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund. She went on CNN to premiere the single, participating in a short interview with Piers Morgan afterwards. Now, did she publicize her own awesomeness unnecessarily when a simple anonymous donation would have sufficed? Yes. Did she, instead of donating herself, merely create an opportunity for others to contribute? Yes. And did she needlessly and harmfully invoke the Judeo-Christian deity in the aftermath of a political assassination of a prominent figure in the Muslim world? Yes. But, as she told Piers Morgan, “I cannot think about anything more appropriate to do to help these families.”

Which is basically all you need to know about Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.

Transaction Analysis: Rudy Gay to Toronto, Calderon to Detroit

In NBA on January 31, 2013 at 8:02 am

By Jeff Weyant

We haven’t seen this Rudy Gay at all in the first half of the season. Is he poised for a comeback in the second half?

To Memphis: Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Toronto’s 2nd-round pick

To Detroit: Jose Calderon

To Toronto: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi

One’s gut-reaction to news of this three-team deal might be shock and outrage – and on the surface that’s completely justified. After all, why would a championship contender like Memphis trade their quote-unquote best player (and current leading scorer) for a replacement small forward who is the exact opposite in every way (Prince), a benchwarmer (Daye), and a tough-nosed power forward of which they already have the King Himself (Randolph)? And why would Toronto trade two of its best players (by far) for a tier-two superstar who’s been backsliding the last 24 months? And why would Detroit, saddled already with three youngish point guards, trade for one of the best point guards in the league?

Well, as usual, there’s more than meets the eye. For starters, Rudy Gay still has the talent to compete with the LeBrons and the Kobes and the Chris Pauls of the league. He just doesn’t seem to really care about basketball in Memphis all that much. He takes nights off and throws up bad shots with increasing regularity. My guess is that he’s tired of the glacial, frostbitten tundra that the Grizzlies run out on offense every night. They score what feels like thirty points a game by throwing the ball into Randolph a billion times and hoping those arcing jump shots go in. Gay and his powerful, graceful athleticism are left to smolder on the perimeter. Maybe new digs will cheer him up and he’ll go crazy like he used to. And then again maybe he’ll continue shooting 40% from the field.

Memphis team salary, via Hoops Hype: With Mike Conley growing every day, Rudy Gay was getting pushed out of the standard Big Three core.

More importantly, however, Gay’s contract (only $16.5 million this year) jumps twice in the final two years, stopping mercifully at just over $19 million in the 2014-15 season. Coupled with the new tax rules kicking in over the next year or two, Memphis’ ability to do anything at all in terms of roster development is severely hampered at the moment. And by “severely hampered” I mean “nonexistent.” So they’re trading Gay’s salary for Tayshaun Prince’s, which lasts just as long but comes about $32 million cheaper. And Prince, for all his age and awkwardness, will probably fit right in with the Memphis culture of Grit n’ Grind (strangely enough, the Grizzlies are starting to resemble the Pistons during their championship days).

Finally, almost as a footnote, after trading Marreese Speights to the Cavaliers, the Grizzlies needed a replacement big man and Ed Davis fits that role even better than Speights did. In fact, Davis is having one of the best years of his career and I wouldn’t expect it to slow down in Memphis where his style of play will mesh well alongside Randolph and Gasol.

With Calderon out of the way, Lowry can play with a free and easy mind. If he can stay healthy, that is.

As for the Raptors, they’re betting big on Kyle Lowry (acquired in a trade during the offseason), making him and Rudy Gay their focal point the next several years in the hope that it leads to what’s never existed in Toronto: a decent, home-court-capable basketball team. If they add a wily veteran somewhere in the next 12 months (assuming Gay meshes well with the existing core), they might actually have the makings of a Conference Finalist. It remains to be seen as well whether Calderon’s influence in the locker room was as important as some (mainly me) expected it was. And in any case, the absence of Calderon and Davis will likely lead this team further into the pit of the Eastern Conference standings until they figure some things out.

Which leaves Detroit and whatever it is they think they’re accomplishing by trading for Jose Calderon. Since it seems more than probable that this is a salary dump (which doesn’t, by the way, make this any more comprehensible, because a salary dump for Detroit can only mean one thing: more free agent acquisitions, on which see more later), Calderon should probably not buy a house in the Detroit suburbs just yet. His contract expires this season (and the $10.5 million that came with it) and if the Pistons couple that with the departure of free agents-to-be Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum, Corey Maggette (who, yes, is still in the league), and some money owed to Rip Hamilton, they’re left with a  little over $35 million in salary for the 2014 season (this also assumes Charlie Villanueva activates his player option – and he will because he’s terrible and no one will give him $8.5 million on the open market). Add it all up and Detroit is a player in the upcoming free agent market. But since their last several forays into that part of the forest have left this writer underwhelmed with their ability to understand the game of basketball (see: Villanueva, Charlie and Gordon, Ben, Summer 2009), nothing much will likely come of it. Unless they resign Calderon, in which case some woe-begone player like O.J. Mayo might decide that Detroit is where he wants to be (which means the Pistons handed him a briefcase full of unmarked greenbacks and everybody shook hands).

In the end, this trade on the whole is a positive for the league. It teams up two exciting young players in Toronto (Gay and Lowry, always good for business), lets Memphis continue to push the limits of painfully-slow, avant-garde basketball, and allows Detroit to continue doing what Detroit does best: confuse and bewilder the basketball-watching public.

What Three-Pointers Can Tell Us About The Hideously Terrible Los Angeles Lakers

In NBA on January 24, 2013 at 9:54 am

By Jeff Weyant 

The Lakers’ bench is indicating their collective percentage from behind the arc this season.

The problems of the Los Angeles Lakers are at this point so numerous that it’s almost not worth discussing. If something exists such that it can go wrong, in their case it is. That being said, the most visible problems (defensive rotations, transition defense, general confusion on that end of the floor) are not necessarily the most revealing. At least not at first. But there is one problem which, once the root cause is uncovered, seems to indicate the larger problem which some have suggested but most have overlooked (up to this point, myself included). And this problem happens to be worth three points.

Throughout the lifespan of the National Basketball Association, the three-pointer has had an awkward history, spurned at first but, after many trials and tribulations, adopted and accepted by almost everybody. Early on, several innovative thinkers came up with the idea (but no one’s sure exactly who did what first) but the league was hideously slow in adopting this idea, waiting all the way until the rookie seasons of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (1979-80), at which point almost nobody attempted them and if they did it was considered miraculous if they went in even 30% of the time. It took until Danny Ainge in 1988 for someone to crack the century mark for single-season makes (and now it’s abnormal if the league-leader sinks less than 200).

Chris Ford, former NBA player and head coach, hit the first three-pointer in league history. He did it against Larry Bird, which makes him a legend, I think.

Since then, however, the three-point field goal has become one of the most important shots in the game, even if there’s currently still a delay in universal recognition (every year there’s a loud discussion on TNT’s Inside the NBA as to the various merits and demerits of the shot). One look at this page, of course, tells us all we need to know:  thirteen of the top fifteen players all-time in terms of made three-pointers are currently active. But no matter. The players understand and some coaches understand. And one in particular is Mike D’Antoni.

When D’Antoni brought his up-tempo system to Phoenix in 2003, he didn’t say “Three-pointers are amazing, shoot them as much as possible.” Instead, it just so happened that in the context of Seven Seconds Or Less, wide-open three-pointers were available everywhere nearly every trip down the court. And D’Antoni, master magician that he is, is also a mathematician: three is more than two, so shoot those threes.

People generally recall fast breaks when they think of the Seven Seconds Or Less era in Phoenix but what D’Antoni’s style is really about is transition, that small window of opportunity when the defense is still backpedaling up the floor and the offense has every advantage. In D’Antoni’s system, once the team gets the ball, it’s the job of the four off-ball players to pick a spot where there’s not a defender and run to it. If you’re a big man, your job has another facet: set a drag screen early for the ball-handler and then start trailing to the rim. This forces the defense to react before they’re ready. If they collapse on the rolling big man, the shooters on the perimeter are wide-open. If they play man-to-man, that giant guy trailing to the hoop with outstretched arms is almost certainly going to score or draw a foul. And if he gets double-teamed after the pass, he can pass out to a shooter, often the ball-handler who is now in a prime position to step into a three-pointer at the top of the key.

D’Antoni’s Suns teams were not the first to break 2,000 three-point attempts in a season nor were they the first to shoot 40% as a team from behind the line. But the Phoenix teams under D’Antoni’s leadership did lead the league in three-point percentage four straight years and average 110 points a game, the latter of which hadn’t been done in ten years (Orlando Magic, 1995).

A common look for D’Antoni since he left Phoenix in 2008.

Which brings us to the 2013 Los Angeles Lakers. As a team, they’ve attempted the third-most three-pointers this season (1027), right behind the New York Knicks (1119), and the Houston Rockets (1208). Unfortunately, they’re only making 35.3% of those attempts, just below league-average (35.6%). If they were averaging 39.0% (as D’Antoni’s Suns teams did), it comes out to an extra 2.7 points per game, which is huge. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves, three-point inefficiency in LA was a predictable outcome. But maybe not for the expected reasons.

Sure, lots of players on the roster are shooting decently from long-range. Sure, the players shooting the most efficiently (Steve Blake and Steve Nash) are being underutilized (either because of injuries or on-court miscommunication). And sure, several players are having below-average seasons from behind the arc (Jodie Meeks career 40.6%/season 36.2% and Antawn Jamison career 34.5%/season 31.2%). But the problem isn’t personnel capability from the perimeter. The problem is that this roster isn’t executing the patented Mike D’Antoni system.

And why? Well, they’re slow. Like, really slow. In terms of pace only the Rockets are faster, but that’s because the Lakers are launching the ball early (because of poor execution) and turning the ball over often (because of poor execution), leading to extra possessions. The truth is that more often than not Nash is beating his own teammates up the floor, which means that by the time he’s done his job (read, penetrate, and collapse the defense) and is ready to pass to a shooter, those shooters are still settling in and planting their feet. The inevitable results are delayed passes, contested jumpers, and turnovers.

If only it were still 2002. . .

The million dollar question, of course, is whether this is a personnel issue or a coaching issue. I suggest the former. And it’s not that they’re not the kind of players D’Antoni likes having in his system, it’s that they’re exactly the kind of players D’Antoni likes having in his system – if the year were 2006. Bryant, Nash, World Peace, Gasol, Duhon, Blake, and Jamison are on the wrong side of 30 and they play the lion’s share of the minutes on this team. The Knicks as a team are a hair older (30.6 years to 30.3 years) but New York, unlike Los Angeles, only gives heavy minutes to two or three players past the dreaded age of 30. The Lakers, meanwhile, have almost an entire rotation with one foot in the grave.

Which makes relatively poor three-point shooting an important reason they’re losing. Because the root cause is their inability to do anything quickly and efficiently at any moment of any game, which leads to questions about age, which then reflects back on all the other problems the team is having: age explains their poor transition defense, their inability to make sharp rotations, and their tendency to lose games in the fourth quarter. The question of age has come up a few times this season but usually at the end of a list of other problems, thrown in because it’s common to talk about. In this case, though, the Lakers’ problems might actually be defined entirely by when they were born. Regardless of the offensive system, the ups and downs of the season, the coaching changes, and the injuries (which are certainly age-related), this team is old. And because of that, they’re not very good. At three-pointers or anything else.

Derrick Rose: What To Expect From The Former MVP

In NBA on January 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

By Jeff Weyant

You’ve probably never seen this image before. Especially not during a broadcast of a nationally-televised NBA game. And especially not during an overplayed Adidas commercial.

During the summer the general consensus was that Derrick Rose should sit out the entire 2013 season to make sure he was fully healthy and that consequently the Bulls should trade up for picks and youth and essentially tank the season in order to pair the return of the youngest MVP in history with a high lottery pick. Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls organization, naturally, had other plans. They’re 22-15, fighting in a large crowd for the second seed in the East, and Derrick Rose is ahead of schedule and looking to return as early as mid-February.

Which, justifiably, has the Eastern Conference a bit worried, because without Rose and after the departure of the anchor of their bench defense (Omer Asik, who went to Houston as a sought-after free agent), the Bulls are faring just fine. They’ve managed to assimilate several new faces into the lineup without much of a struggle, the defense is still all-world (3rd in the league in defensive efficiency), and they’re winning games with a bench backcourt of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli (most unpredictable occurrence so far this year). Basically, they’re still coached by Tom Thibodeau, which means everything was probably going to be alright anyways and we all just got ahead of ourselves.

Interesting note: Thibodeau is often photographed in the middle of an operatic aria.

The question, then, is how will Rose fit back in? Assuming he returns at around 75% of where he was two years ago when he won an MVP (which isn’t far-fetched considering modern medicine: remember Adrian Peterson?), will that be enough for the Bulls to ease into a high playoff seed come April, ready to do some damage in the postseason?

Thankfully, our guesswork can be partially substantiated by historical precedent, which Derrick Rose kindly offered last season when he played through multiple injuries before going down in the first game of the playoffs: By most accounts (i.e. general per-game statistics which most people look at), he had a down year individually. He shot a career-low percentage from the field (a groan-inducing 43.5%), scored 3.2 less points per game, made a smaller percentage of his free-throws, rebounded worse, and all while playing roughly the same minutes. In sum, he missed 27 of Chicago’s 66 games and looked like the 2011 MVP in stretches here and there but never for very long.

Will he return to his MVP form?

That being said, if you look beyond the per-game statistics, he had a pretty great year. His true-shooting percentage was marginally lower than his MVP campaign, his free-throw rate was almost identical, and his field-goal percentage, if adjusted for other factors, is better than the adjusted-field-goal percentage of a similar player, Russell Westbrook. But the real beauty is what happened when Rose was on the court: even given the inconsistent season in terms of injuries, when Rose was on the floor, the Bulls averaged 1.12 points-per-possession (PPP) which is a very good number. By comparison, when LeBron James and Kevin Durant hit the hardwood, their respective teams averaged 1.11 PPP and according to just about everybody they had better seasons than Rose. Meanwhile, Rose held opposing point guards to an 11.0 PER per game whereas James and Durant held opposing small forwards to 10.6 and 12.7 respectively. When you take into account the quality of opposition Rose faced on a nightly basis compared to James and Durant (league-average PER last year for point guards was 14.58 and for small forwards it was 11.67), Rose’s “subpar” season begins to take shape as a great season indeed.

If this sort of analysis can tell us anything, then, it’s that a Derrick Rose who is playing below where we know he can play is still a force to be reckoned with. He’s also coming back to a system in which he doesn’t have to be great. He merely has to be good because a good Derrick Rose will probably give the Bulls a 2-seed for the playoffs. Now imagine where Chicago might wind up if Rose comes back without missing a beat, lighting up opposing defenses in crunch-time and willing his team to victories in much the same way as James and Durant. What was supposed to be a throw-away season might end up being special after all.

Idylls Of The Kings

In NBA on January 10, 2013 at 10:02 am

By Jeff Weyant

Regardless of what some pundits try to spin, Sacramento cares about their Kings.

It’s probably unwise to pontificate about the return of an NBA franchise to Seattle (one that would retain the Sonics moniker) even if the alleged deal between the Maloof family and a group of Seattle investors was confirmed by none other than the unerring Adrian Wojnarowski (who is seemingly always first and never wrong). Because in spite of The Great Woj’s credentials and history, this is the same Maloof family that wept with joy after completing a deal last year to build a new arena in Sacramento, tears that were quickly smeared away just before they rejected the deal a month later for reasons that are either mysterious or incomprehensible or both.

Still, the current situation makes clear something that, for most NBA fans, is more or less incredibly disgusting: When (not if) the Maloof family sells the Sacramento Kings, they’re going to make a lot of money. Considering what they’ve done to the city and the fans of Sacramento (not to mention all of us innocent bystanders), if the Maloofs absconded with $500 million (the supposed sum of the current deal) it would be a lot like the various and sundry Wall Street CEOs who defenestrated themselves from the recent and lingering financial disaster using those fancy golden parachutes we’ve heard so much about.

We Three Jerks.

The Maloof history in Sacramento, accordingly, is replete with all the traditional tropes of any great piece of narrative art: rich v. poor, powerful v. powerless, disinterested v. ardently passionate, mob v. oligarchy, and, what’s become a standard feature of owner-fan relationships, liars v. lied to. In addition, one may discover backstabbing, regrettable fashion choices, last-minute decision-reversing, huge gobs of money, celebrities, and grown men wearing track suits well beyond the point at which it stops being cool.

All of this raises an interesting question, though, which is, to what extent is our emotional outpouring against and because of the Maloof family legitimate and/or justified and/or normal? After all, this is basketball we’re talking about. It’s basically a very long movie that we choose to watch, day in and day out, a movie to which we freely give our time and energy. When I walk out of a Michael Bay flick, it’s my fault if I’m incredibly embarrassed to have paid money to watch it. I’m allowed to get upset and express frustration at Mr. Bay’s poor decision-making but beyond that it’s just whining. Is it the same with what appears to be the universal anger directed towards the Maloof family?

Eerily similar to the signs Sonics fans once held.

I raise the question only because the ire aimed Maloof-ward is at this point beyond typical fan outrage. The wrath of Sacramento has evolved into a full-fledged grassroots effort to save the team and destroy the Maloofs, which, to my knowledge, has to yet to occur with respect to Michael Bay. But similar to movies, we invest our time and energy into them and so if they turn out differently than we’d like, is it reasonable to start throwing rocks and organizing political organizations with the intent to enact change? I mean, it’s a sports franchise, which seems pretty close to the same thing as a big budget film that’s made and remade every year for our special benefit.

Of course, our emotional investment in a sports franchise is a bit different than our emotional investment in a film by a leading Hollywood director. One involves real human beings impersonating made-up human beings and the other involves real human beings being their human selves in a public sphere night after night for all to see and love and hate. Which allows a more solid connection, the kind that lasts years, the kind that inspires all sorts of irrational (yet understandable) behavior.

In addition, as fans, we become actors in the narrative of a sports franchise, in a way that’s not possible with a film. The people buying jerseys and holding signs and balancing four cups of beer become participants in what’s at times a drama, frequently a comedy, and too often a tragedy. So sports are, at their core, entertainment, diversion, escapism, much like cinema or television or video games. But it’s also much more: it’s a lifeblood, a connection between one person and another, a mass of individuals coming together for a common goal, about which there is something ineffably human that I can’t quite shake, even though disinterested reason tells me it’s all just a game.

That is, until they’re Seattle’s Kings. And by that, I mean Sonics.

I’m not a died-in-the-wool Kings fan. Hell, I don’t even watch much Kings basketball. My allegiances lie elsewhere. Nevertheless I grieve for Kings fans, who must feel like they’re on the precipice of losing that longtime neighbor whom they’ve greeted with a “good morning” every year they’ve been alive. And I grieve, too, for Sonics fans, who lost that neighbor already. So in the great drama of sports, in which little is ever resolved, I think three things are firmly established: losing a sports franchise is a hard pill to swallow; the Maloof family is a terrible little cell of unendingly and horrifyingly mean and selfish individuals; and no one will be happy when they walk away from the Sacramento Kings organization $500 million richer.

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