Even though I don’t eat meat anymore and hadn’t had pork since I was a teenager, I’m kind of a ham.
While that might be the understatement of my Life, truth is, like most of us, attention is a desired commodity. Some of us enjoy it more than others.
From being the lead in every school play kindergarten through high school to whatever the hell it is I’m doing today, earning recognition for my efforts is the culmination of the work. Hell, I was 5 and chose to audition for the role of Oz in The Wizard of Oz because the name “Oz” was in the title and I thought he was the lead character!
I wanted to lead!
Ego is a funny thing.
Life has a great way of dealing with ego in many a case, often in quite the opposite way we have been conditioned to believe it should work. Life tends to give you the test first and the lesson later.
How do we allow our egos to mask the lies, subtle or otherwise, that we tell ourselves to keep believing, deleteriously or not?
It is certain that we join groups and organizations to feel a part of something greater than ourselves; something communal.
Church, marching band, glee club, swim team, over-40 basketball league, we join… And we believe.
We believe that our active participation in whatever role or capacity creates a connection; a belonging or bond with others who share a like-minded desire.
When I was trying to decide at which university I would attend to become a stellar student-ath-O-lete, I weighed every option upon who I would join.
During recruiting trips, I met players and fans who would urge me to attend their schools and be a part of their communities because the long term payoff in Life would be so lucrative.
Though my parents were Michigan State Spartans during my early years in Life and it was practically ordained by birth I’d be a Sparty as well, it must have hurt my Beloveds that I was and forever would be a fan of the University of Michigan. It was the football team helmets, The Big House, the fight song, the tradition and prestige that got me. #BlueKnowIt!
Yet I chose Rice University in Houston, Texas, where there was far less prestige and tradition, unless losing counted. I wanted to lie to myself about joining the Wolverines, knowing full well they had already begun locking in a core of new players who would eventually be dubbed “The Fab Five” and maybe my ego couldn’t take the hit. Perhaps I justified my choice by accepting that the weather was so much better in Houston than in Ann Arbor. H-Town was a major metropolis and eventually, it was at Rice where I would become an Academic All-America while playing basketball.
As much as I was a player, I’ve always been a fan.
I am a fan of the individual players more so than teams, especially in the NBA. I observe fan behaviour as much as I do that of the players. The difference between fandom and fanaticism can be vast at times. How have owners and leagues colluded with their corporate partners and media outlets to control your soul?
What is it about us that makes us buy into the pageantry of March Madness or the allure of NBA basketball? Do the same reasons I love the University of Michigan apply?
Or is it because we know somehow, at least in recent history and despite the notion that free agency offers some modicum if not the façade of parity, there are generally 3-4 maybe 5 teams in a 30 team league that have a legitimate chance of hoisting the Larry O’Brien at some point each June?
If this past year has told us anything about sports, playing until the clock hits triple zero might be the most important tale. Long suffering fans Cavs fans can attest after strangling the 73-9 Warriors by staving off three straight elimination games despite being down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Finals series.
What keeps the fans of teams like the Clippers, Kings, Hawks, Suns and Nuggets coming back night after night, year after year? Only two of those teams have ever won titles in their franchise’s existence: the Rochester Royals in 1951 and the St. Louis Hawks in 1958.
That’s a lot of patience for futility’s sake.
But no team in NBA history has been propagated by the league and her fans as an upper echelon franchise like the New York Knickerbockers.
The Knicks haven’t won a title in almost 44 years and have claimed but two (1970 and 1973) in its entire storied history as one of the original squads of the Association when it began business in the 1946-1947 season.
Drafting Patrick Ewing with the alleged Frozen Envelope at the 1985 NBA Draft held the promise Knicks fans have been selling themselves upon since 1973: Soon, ‘our year’ will come!
And the team got close in ’94 and again in ‘99. Since then, the Knicks haven’t sniffed at an Eastern Conference Finals, much less an NBA Finals. Alas, their fans hold on to hope.
Hope used to be called Carmelo Kyam Anthony, who was traded in the middle of the 2010-2011 season to the city of his birth so as to restore glory in Gotham.
But in 2017, saddled with a clunky roster of overpaid, beyond their prime players in the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah as well as the 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, journeymen, the fairly or unfairly yet oft maligned Anthony and a young star who should more than likely be the cornerstone of a Knickerbocker new beginning in Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are an absolute mess and no closer to their fans’ dream of Broadway parades.
The “Curse of February 8” struck for the third year in a row as former Knicks fan favourite and “Mr. ‘Bout Dat Life” Charles Oakley was arrested for shouting something at owner James Dolan and then physically assaulting three of the arena’s security staff before being WrassleMania’d out of the Garden and into a squad car.
As a refresher, two years ago to the day, owner Dolan, upset with a letter from a lifelong Knicks fan about their abysmal play, promptly offered the fan advice: Spend your money with the Nets in Brooklyn.
On the very same day in 2016, team president Phil Jackson’s former Laker point guard and then-Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was relieved of his duties after a rather eventful 40-96 tenure in his year and a half-plus at the helm.
As a fan, you may want to summon every rosary bead, rabbit’s foot and box of Lucky Charms you can in anticipation of February 8, 2018 and beyond!
Now, it would be easy bake to heap all of the team’s recent woes on the players, especially Melo, whose name has been bandied about (because there’s nothing quite like bandying) in trade talks and singled out as the core reason for the Knicks poor standing. This animus is not only coming from fans and media, but in particular, very pointed public jabs from Phil Jackson, who seems to be working on a way to get fired instead of quitting because he’s not walking away from that dough easily.
Who is to blame?
What is the truth?
It’s no secret in the Rotten Manzana that James Dolan is the epitome of toxic in his ownership of the Knicks. Adding the acerbic Phil Jackson as a novice front office man, despite all of his success on the bench as a coach, doesn’t really seem to be helping the franchise, either.
Jackson’s constant public sniping at Anthony seemed vaguely reminiscent of barbs he tossed subliminally, publicly or otherwise, at Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant during their La La Land title run.
Carmelo has a no-trade without his consent clause in the absurd contract Jackson signed him to a couple years back. This albatross of a deal allowed little cap flexibility and was eventually a factor in moving Earl Joseph Smith, Jr. and Iman Shumpert in 2015 to a team in Northeast Ohio, where they went on to perform in two straight NBA Finals, winning one.
There is no quick fix or easy solution at MSG.
If Melo stays or goes, the team is still stuck with the poisonous, ego-centric attitude that permeates every aspect of the New York Knicks currently, at least until the end of the season. By then, Rose may well find that New York is no country for men with old bodies and Porzingis may be thrust into a role he may not be quite equipped for handling just yet.
As Valentine’s Day, All Star Weekend and the trade deadline approaches, fans ponder who goes and who stays in Metropolis, as well as the potential goings on with many other NBA rosters.
They will tell themselves and others that the tea will be better without Melo… or better without Phil… or both, and that the cap space they may soon have will attract the right free agents like Chris Paul or Blake Griffin to The City That Never Sleeps in July 2017.
What happens to a Dream Deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
– Langston Hughes
As a fan, you may end up playing Emotional Politics with yourself as well, but…
The advice is simple; the instructions have been given.
I, like other fans, tell myself that there is always a chance, even when one doesn’t make itself readily apparent.
And along the way, I, like other fans, will hopefully spend less time in lamenting what we don’t have to assuage my ego and embrace what we do have: the joy of the game, the spirit of competition and maybe… just maybe the thrill of triumph over years of agony.
Until then, love the game.
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?
Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.
Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.
Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.
Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting.
These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA:
- 14.6 Points
- 7.6 Assists
- 6.0 Rebounds
- 1.8 Steals
- 0.8 Blocks
- 55.1 FG%
- 41.2 3P%
He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.
Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.
He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.
|2012||Damian Lillard (co-MVPs)||PG||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Josh Selby (co-MVPs)||PG||Memphis Grizzlies|
|2013||Jonas Valančiūnas||C||Toronto Raptors|
|2014||Glen Rice Jr.||SG||Washington Wizards|
|2015||Kyle Anderson||SF||San Antonio Spurs|
|2016||Tyus Jones||PG||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|2017||Lonzo Ball||PG||Los Angeles Lakers|
With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.
The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.
Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.
If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.
Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.
It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.
New York has agreed to a deal to send Carmelo Anthony to OKC for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a draft pick, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 23, 2017
Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.
And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.
Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.
It didn’t matter to Melo.
And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?
And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.
The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.
A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.
As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.
But, he refused and rebuked such a change.
And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.
So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.
Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?
He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.
In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.
Championship or bust, they say.
He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.
In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.
Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns
Masai Ujiri is a smart guy.
No matter which conference your team is in, you’re either stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out the Warriors, or you’re stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out LeBron James. For Ujiri’s Raptors, the latter is the elephant in the room. So when the offseason came, the club had some decisions to make that would indicate the direction of the franchise’s future, both immediate and long-term.
Ujiri and Toronto GM Bobby Webster were somehow able to re-sign Kyle Lowry for a three-year deal instead of the five years that Lowry desired, and then managed the same with Serge Ibaka. This effectively put the Raptors on a three-year timeline until the next big shift in the franchise. For these upcoming three years, the Raps will stay competitive with their tried-and-tested core, and they will simultaneously cultivate young talent around their stars.
It’s a great formula. LeBron is going to be 33 years old this December, and by the time Lowry and Ibaka’s contracts are up, he will be entering the twilight stage of his career. Suddenly, the East could be wide open again. Ujiri knows it, and he wants to be ready for it.
But what about the present? The Raptors lost a couple of their veteran role players this summer in the re-signing of their core, including Patrick Patterson (an advanced analytics darling), and P.J. Tucker (a terrific perimeter defender). The team also traded away DeMarre Carroll—who was never able to return to his Atlanta peak—to Brooklyn in order to shed his contract, as well as Cory Joseph to Indiana, who snagged them sharpshooter C.J. Miles—swiftly signed to a three-year deal, no less—as a return.
These changes have left the Raps with a squad that, outside of the starting lineup, is quite young. None of their bench players have played more than three seasons in the NBA, and their total average age is about 23 years old. A number of them have yet to see significant minutes, with Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and newcomer K.J. McDaniels being the exceptions.
The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the keys to racking up wins in order to put yourself in a good position come playoff time are chemistry and consistency à la the Spurs. If the Raptors are to continue their regular season success of the last few years, then they’ll need their young guns to step into formerly veteran roles and rise to the challenge.
Thankfully, a few of them already seem prepared to break out and have impactful seasons. Both Powell and Wright gave the team some fantastic minutes last year, especially in the playoffs. Norm in particular was a standout, putting the league on notice with his athleticism and tough defensive play. He was part of the best lineup the Raptors had in the postseason (a +5.3), and the team’s offensive rating shot up from 101.7 to 107.9 when he was on the floor compared to when he wasn’t.
In the first round against the Bucks, Powell went for 55/91/92 per cent shooting, averaging 12.4 points per game and torching his opponents. He was a key cog in helping the Raptors win that series and fully earned Dwane Casey’s trust, which is not an easy thing to do for a young player.
Wright didn’t get quite as much time to shine with CoJo being the primary backup point guard, but when he was on the floor he scrapped defensively and showed in flashes that he was able to run the team. His length and effort have been the two most noticeable qualities when watching him so far, and his nose-to-the-grindstone mentality is one that Casey must love.
Siakam is another high-energy guy, and good for a few minutes a game, although playing him for a substantial amount of time isn’t a great idea since he’s undersized and a below-average rebounder. Jakob Poeltl should get more run, and like Wright—though less frequently—he showed instances of strong play, both on the boards and around the basket.
Perhaps the two most interesting youngsters are the newcomers: Raptors 2017 draft pick OG Anunoby and K.J. McDaniels. Anunoby has been touted as an excellent defender, a grinder, and he already has an NBA body that should allow him to guard multiple positions on the floor. Unfortunately, he’s recovering from an ACL tear and therefore it’s possible he doesn’t even play this season. Still, this is the kind of player you get excited for as a fan and as a coach—he’ll likely be impactful right away, at least in one aspect.
As for McDaniels, he’s spent time bouncing around the league during his three seasons. He’s already played for Philadelphia, Houston, and Brooklyn, and has never had a chance to get comfortable. He’s another player with defensive potential—he’s got some pretty sweet block highlights—but has yet to find any sort of consistent shooting. If he can’t show Toronto something this season, he may be on the move again.
And finally, as we ask every year, is this the season when Bruno Caboclo breaks loose and starts going Brazilian Kevin Durant on the rest of the league? My answer: Unlikely. It may be hard to believe, but Bruno is still one of the youngest guys on the team at 21 years old. His time in the D-League—now the G League—can only be good for him, but his scoring dropped off significantly last season compared to the year prior, when he was putting up double-figure numbers almost every game. There’s still a lot of time left for Bruno to prove himself, and as such it’s tough to imagine that time being this season.
It’s difficult—though intriguing—trying to judge a group of players who don’t have an extensive NBA resume as of yet (I feel for you, Philly fans). Even if one has seen a player be productive in spurts, it’s impossible to know whether or not they’ll be capable of handling a bigger role long-term without actually seeing it. For the Raptors in particular, Powell is probably the only young player that the team has a good grasp on.
So let the experiment begin. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
And remember: It’s all part of the three-year plan.
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Dads & Draft Picks | The Break | Episode 9
Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA
Detroit Pistons talk with Duncan Smith — TWT 107
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
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