The Grinch, CP3 and the End of a Lifetime Love Affair

NBA1

My love for NBA basketball goes back 32 years, along with with my love for the Los Angeles Lakers.  I watched it flourish from the drug infested rep it had during the 70s, through the resurgence with the help of Magic, Larry, and Isaiah; the glory years of Jordan, Hakeem, and finally Shaq, Kobe, Duncan and D-Wade.  The current NBA has plenty of stars to peek the interest of old and new fans.  As bad as “The Decision” was for LeBron and The Heat, the NBA had its peak year of interest, and then like a hammer, the owners imposed another lockout!

This was the first blow to my love for the NBA game.  Not that the owners wanted more cheddar; that’s just the American way.  But the way they went about it, with their various threats to cancel the season.  After a blockbuster year for everyone, they acted with an arrogance that clearly showed many owners cared nothing about the fans that pushed their popularity to where it is, so that their revenue could be as substantial as it’s been.

I had it in my mind not to care whether the season was cancelled or not.  I felt that for the sake of labor, the players should get a fair deal that reflected the value they bring to the franchises.  If the owners wanted to bluff or cancel the season, then let them.  And then see if the game ends up like the NHL.

hunter fisher

With Christmas and it’s primetime schedule looming, the players and the owners were able to get a deal done and cram a 66 game season in just a few short months.  Initially the stain of the lockout was still in my mind.  I knew it would take me a little while at least to become interested in the league again.  I was more excited to continue watching NFL football and college hoops.

Once the deal was agreed upon and the moving and shaking began where clubs and players would be changing places, the buzz peeked my interest a bit more.  Chris Paul to the Lakers?  Tyson Chandler to the Knicks;  Pau Gasol to the Rockets, Lamar Odom to the Hornets, damn!  Talk about blowing up some teams!  I knew the Lakers needed to make some changes but Odom and Gasol?  That sounds drastic!  (Unless they were going to gun for Dwight Howard but still that was no sure thing!)

I said to myself, Del Demps (the GM for New Orleans) is no joke!  He’s sitting with a team that is owned by the league and where no one seems to want to go, and yet he just set himself up to have a strong team for this season with Odom, (the reigning sixth man of the year), Luis Scola (a double-double man), and guard Kevin Martin! This core gives a potential owner a very competitive team to begin with.  The Rockets having Gasol would make them instant playoff contenders since Yao Ming retired.  And as I said about my Lakers, it helped our backcourt tremendously but left our front line very light with a heavy load being put on Andrew Bynum’s knees.

Del Demps

Ok, maybe I do want to watch on Christmas.  But then at the behest of so called small market owners like Dan Gilbert, The Grinch David Stern killed the deal!  WTF???

It seems that though Demps was told by the league that he had the freedom to make deals as any other GM would, The Angel of Stern at the behest of Gilbert and the likes decided that Chris Paul going to the Lakers under any circumstances was bad for the league.  Part of the owners lockout strategy was to restrict star players from choosing their own destinies.  The problem is that they can’t stop free agency.  If a player is in the final year of his contract and is not going to stay with the team he’s on, he’s going to have a certain amount of power in choosing his trade destination if he doesn’t agree to re-sign with his new team.  That is just the nature of the beast.  Most players in any of the major sports have but one chance in their careers to have serious influence on where they go and how much they can make.

Stern said that the deal was not good enough for the Hornets and that his decision to block a great trade didn’t have anything to do with other owners.  He also thinks Jerry Sandusky only likes to ‘horse around’ with young boys.  But I digress!  Phil Jackson the former Laker coach brought the Paul issue up a year ago with the league owning the Hornets which is a clear conflict of interest.  He was fined by the league for predicting the cluster f#@! that eventually panned out.

clusterfuck

Fast forward a few days later with trade proposals flying like bullets and players being amnestied left and right, the Lakers gave away Lamar Odom to the World Champion Mavericks for a 40oz.  Neither Stern, Gilbert or any other small market owners said a word about that.  Instead of Demps doing the negotiations going forward, Stern took over negotiations from New York rendering the Hornets GM a GM with no clothes.  Oh and this just in: Paul goes to the Clippers instead; the team with historically racist owner the the league has never addressed.  That makes a lot of sense!

I’m just disgusted with the NBA right now.  And I’m honestly not sure if there will be any coming back from it.  This is NOT about the Lakers not getting CP3 either.  Since Jerry Buss turned the team over to his son, the way they have treated many of their loyal personnel like Brian Shaw for instance has shown a total lack of class.  Likewise, not even telling Lamar Odom, a man who has taken a lesser playing role and less money for years as a sign of loyalty that the team was seeking to trade him is reprehensible.  That is a side issue that calls into question my respect for the Laker organization.

What is bothersome is that in addition to the lockout, the league’s manipulation of team business is a huge turn off. I would much rather take my team to task for the way they manage, the way they play, Mike Brown’s coaching, etc. My team has been my team for over 30 years and we haven’t won the championship every year.  I’m good with that.  The issue is credibility!  I want to have the belief at least that the product that is NBA basketball is a legitimate institution.  Where if each team plays by the rules established that they can make or break their own clubs, their own seasons, and that I as a fan can watch the games and root from a fan’s perspective.

At best Christmas morning anticipation of the NBA should feel as if I am waking up to love I’ve known most of my life.  Now it feels like a dirty whore being shoved down my throat dressed with promos of players just recently cursed by owners. Where owners who have less skill and attract-ability can dictate to other teams what they can and cannot do.  Perhaps Stern will make Kim Kardashian an ESPN sideline reporter next.  It seems the league has not been less out of touch with reality.  I am a very educated fan and I won’t be given anything and told to deal with it.

kardashian_c

Perhaps it seems I’m taking this all too personally.  But I doubt it.  Even if we the normal fan cannot pay for NBA salaries, the fan base is the foundation that drives the revenues.  The time and dedication given by the average Joe in caring about what happens to his/her team gives the league the core value that the dollars and cents can be worth investing in.  Stern and the likes, have polluted that image.  Now it seems the games are played in boardrooms through conference calls to New York.

I’m not sure how this is all going to turn out for me as a fan.  Right now, it’s looking like the NFL will be the television featured in my house on Christmas Day.  And for that, I’m sorry.

 

SIDE RANT

*****If you examine Gilbert’s letter closely, he details how the initial trade may benefit the Lakers as they were to get Paul, while clearing salary from their books.  And by doing so make themselves eligible later for even more attractive free agents.  Under the rules mind you that the owners just agreed to.  What he didn’t say which is apparent, is that he (Gilbert) was not smart enough to do the same.  And that no attractive free agent will ever want to play for his team because of his ineptness not to mention the way he showed his ass after LeBron left.  What he was essentially saying is, “Thanks to me the Cavaliers ARE the Washington Generals.  Since I don’t have managerial smarts or the ability to make my team attractive so stars will want to play in Cleveland, let’s focus on making teams like the Lakers suffer so that my idiocy is not so apparent.”  I mean, what has he done to date thus far to improve his own situation?  

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NBA Finals, Conspiracies, Legends, and Has Been Bitches

Derek Fisher, Jameer Nelson

Last night’s game was memorable to say the least.  D-Fish gets all the credit in the world for hitting those two big threes.  Trevor Ariza really stepped his game up in the third quarter.  Kobe missed a lot of shots but the ones he hit kept the team from getting blown out when the rest of the guys were struggling.  But there were some other things that really bothered me that I have to say.  I say these things because others in the media won’t.  They are afraid to.  I’m not.  I have no stake in this thing other than being a devoted fan of the Lakers and an even bigger fan of the game of basketball. 

I tell people all the time.  “Yea LA has been my team since 1979.  Whether they were up or down.  If they play great they play great.  If they suck they suck.  I don’t say they are great or got cheated when they sucked.”  I am as hard on them as anybody.  The point being that I am no fair weather guy.  Even in the midst of this series part of my fan apprehension of the team is wondering what team would show up on a given night.  Would it be the inept team that showed up in the first half of last night’s game missing assignments and making mental mistakes?  Or that third quarter team that showed a level of hunger that matches their talent?  Either way I don’t deceive myself about what is before me.

I say all of that to say this.  If I wasn’t sure before, now I know without question that on occasions the NBA officiating is either corrupted by instruction of the league or of the gamblers.  Let me explain. 

While everyone is caught up in Fisher’s heroics and rightfully so, the Lakers were in a situation where the game was almost impossible to win.  Consider this: 

While the Magic went to the free throw line time after time in the fourth quarter, the Magic were not called for a single foul in the fourth quarter until the last two minutes.  This was not a situation where the Lakers were only shooting jump shots.  To the contrary Kobe himself went to the rack several times and got plenty of contact with no whistle. Eventually he just went with the fade away shots.  Meanwhile, Hedo,  and Howard went to the line with regularly and Pietrus got an “And 1”  opportunity (a good call) on a drive against Bryant. 

Let’s add it up on this level.  Of the last 17 minutes of the game, including overtime, the Magic had a total of three fouls called on them, and the only Laker to see the free throw line was Pau Gasol after a flagrant foul at the end of the game.  Meanwhile, during the first two periods, Gasol, Bynum (or Lord Bynum) and Odom quickly got into foul trouble.  The Lakers were sporting a front line of Mbenga and Powell in the second quarter for god-sake.   The first foul on Bynum in the first quarter was a play where Kobe clearly made contact with Howard, but Andrew got the foul.  OK no biggie.  But the foul Bynum got in the second half when he and Howard were tipping a lose ball was flat out ridiculous.  Not only was there no contact between the players, Bynum had the inside position.  The only reason the Lakers were in a position to tie the game was because Orlando turned the ball over 19 times and missed most of their crucial free throws.  The officials did everything they could to hand them the game.  The Magic just couldn’t take it. 

Lamar Odom foul call

Now look, I am an official and I know that we all miss calls.  So maybe Kobe goes to the hole and doesn’t get the call.  There are times when I don’t make a call and say to myself afterwards, “I missed that one. ” But the thing is, as an official you don’t keep missing them.  I also understand that at time teams get calls on their home court.  But for the Magic to be in the penalty five minutes into the final period and the Lakers not to get a call their way until the clock was under 2 minutes was shameful. 

I honstly felt sick to my stomach watching that game.  Because my love for NBA basketball took a hard fall while sitting in front of that TV.  Even as the Lakers climbed back in the game and eventually won it, as much as I have celebrated and cried for my team even as a youngster, I could only think that in spite of the NBA wanting to extend the series, justice was served as the Lakers fought their way to victory.  There was no smile on my face, only contempt. 

I get that there is an entertainment level to the game.  No one wants to see superstar players leave the game in foul trouble.  I get that.  Still for me win or lose, there has to be a purity to the game.  Players should decide the outcome.  Calls will be missed, mistakes made by players, coaches and officials.  The Lakers have benefited from such mistakes too in times past.  Last night it was so blatant it was just ugly.  I thought to myself  that I may not even watch the rest of the series.  I would like to see the Lakers take it home.  But I know this for sure.  I won’t look at the NBA the same anymore after last night. 

The Lakers won’t say anything because miraculously they won the game.  But don’t think they don’t understand what went down. I don’t know that Orlando will get the help they just got though they have another home game on Sunday.  It wouldn’t surprise me either way.  But I’m just saying.

BB&G’s Random Rants

We know that coach Phil Jackson is trying to win his 10th NBA title as a coach.  But for some reason NBA has-been Alonzo Mourning thought it his place to say that Phil doesn’t do anything but show up while Kobe does the coaching.  This from a man who played 15 years in the NBA and didn’t win nothing until he rode the coattail of Dwayne Wade in 2006.  He seems to point to Kobe talking to players and showing them things on the diagram to make points during timeouts.  But as I recall every great team has facilitators and leaders who are coaches on the floor.  I remember Magic and Michael doing it back in the day.  Isaiah did it with the Pistons.  Chauncey Billups is the ultimate example of that.  But just because he was an extension of the coach I didn’t hear anybody saying that Larry Brown just showed up and called timeouts.  Or that George Karl doesn’t have anything to offer.   Phil is surely secure with himself so he makes fun of Zo’s being a bitch.  I guess that little play Phil drew up taking the ball out past half court so the Magic wouldn’t foul right away before Fisher’s three was Kobe’s idea too. Whatever.

Random Rants 2

I love me some Bill Russell.  Greatest NBA winner ever and a true statesman.  But WTF is up with him showing up at the last couple NBA Finals sucking up to the Lakers opponents big men.  Last year it was KG, which is understandable because it was the Celtics.  But this little feature with Dwight Howard was just ridiculous.  I mean what relationship does he have to the Magic?  Just that they are trying to beat the Lakers and if they were to beat the Lakers it would prevent Phil Jackson from surpassing Russell’s coach Red Auerbach in championship trophies?  I mean if the Cavs were in it would he be schmoozing with Anderson Varejao or Big Z?  I thought that was kinda whack.  Red’s place is cemented in history.  But these haters can’t take nothing away from Phil.  Talk about Jordan, Kobe and Shaq all you want.  But take one look at all of the hall of famers that Red coached and then get back at me on that.  A coach has to know how to work what he has.

Speaking of coaches.  What is up with Cleveland jerking Mike Brown around?  If this guy’s job isn’t safe this year, that shows that LeBron really has their management team shook.  I know ya’ll have to sign “The King” and all… but don’t be so fickle.  Have some balls at least and show some freaggin loyalty.  With this talk of Pat Riley Dan Gilbert is starting to remind me of Dan Snyder.

Magic Shoot Well, Eeek Out Game 3

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol

I can’t offer much commentary on this game.  I was umpiring a baseball game so I only saw the last quarter when I stopped by a Buffalo Wild Wings down the street from the ballpark. 

From what I hear the Magic got back on track shooting wise, and got a little of their swag back in the process.   Kobe was hot hitting some ridiculous shots and then quickly turned cold. 

I won’t find out much more than that because whether the Lakers win or lose I tend not to watch much coverage between games.  There is too much talking and over analyzing for me as commentators dissect every part of the game and speak fatalistically for the losing team.  The game is just the game.  It can turn with little things like shots going in.  The same people throwing dirt on Orlando’s grave will now speak as if the Lakers are on the brink of elimination.

These are pros.  But it’s still a game played by humans so you never know.  I know that’s not sexy but anything else is fantasy. 

Barring a rainout on Thursday, I should at least get to catch the next game by halftime by the latest.

Lakers Up 2-0, Series Heads to Florida

Courtney Lee, Pau Gasol

Lots will be said about Courtney Lee missing on the lob at the end of regulation and I think it’s unfair to put it all on him.  The Magic have other issues and part of those issues are the fact that the Lakers are playing very well overall.  There will be other opportunities for them when the series shifts to Orlando tomorrow.  The play called by Stan Van Gundy was genius.  Kobe Bryant said it best when he was asked what went through his mind as he saw the play develop in what could have resulted in a series tie.  “Shit.”

Rashard Lewis was in full effect.  But Lamar Odom put the D down in the fourth quarter and into overtime with 5 fouls when it counted. 

Speaking of fouls; will someone please free Andrew Bynum who can’t get a break?  It’s as if the refs don’t want this guy to play when you see the calls they make on him as it compares to the other big men.

I have to give the Lakers credit.  Though Orlando made some good adjustments in getting their shooters open, their effort was there pretty much the entire game.   Odom was active getting boards and scoring when needed.  Gasol was dialed in and D-Fish is D-Fish again.  Even if Lee had convereted, I still would have been happy with the effort and confident in the direction of the series overall.

Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant

Big win for the Lakers because even though the series is going back East, the Magic cannot win the series in Orlando.  In addition, they will have to beat the Lakers 4 out of the next 5 games.  This seems unlikely with Los Angeles having the final two games in Staples.

The Lakers took care of their business at home.   Orlando will come out with a lot of energy as they feed from their home crowd.  The Lakers could all but end this on Tuesday.  Old school conservative thinking is to get one of the three in Orlando.  But if they can press their way and manage to get game 3, look for the broom.

LeBron Dominates! Cavs Win, Extend Series

S29CAVSb

LeBron James took over the game.  He either scored or assisted on every fourth quarter point his team got in the fourth quarter.  He got yet another triple double in this crucial playoff game.  I won’t say it was the most dominating fourth quarter performance I’ve ever seen.  That’s no disrespect by any means to The King.  It was different than that. 

The fourth quarter of this game reminded me of a high school game where there was one dominate player on the court – clearly head and shoulders above all the rest in talent and athleticism.  In the crucial last 5 minutes of the game this guy got the ball every single time at the top of the key.  Held the ball, sized his man up and reacted to the defense by either scoring or laying down an easy assist via a three pointer from Daniel Gibson or Mo Williams.  If he didn’t score or pass to those guys he caught Varejaoor Joe Smith for an easy lay up.  There were no play calls, no strategy drawn up by the coach.  Simple meat and potatoes.  “Get this guy the ball and let him decide what to do with it… period!”

I know that there are a lot of people who feel that LeBron is better than Kobe at this stage in his career.  I tend to disagree though I feel The King is the most dominating player in the league right now.  LeBron turns the ball over too much for my taste to be considered better than Kobe.  This should change as he matures – and yes as great as he is he still has room for improvement.  If he stays healthy, there is no reason why LeBron won’t be top 5 of all time. 

The way he willed his team to victory last night was just phenomenal.

Cough, Cough! That Choking Sound in Boston

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard looks up at the scoreboard in the final seconds of 92-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday, May 12, 2009. ( Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel)

Let’s get this straight off the bat.  Dwight Howard is technically correct when he says that Stan Van Gundy sucked in his coaching moves against the Celtic’s last night. 

They didn’t pass this dude the ball in the fourth quarter till the end when the Celtics fouled him with the sole purpose of putting him on the free throw line so the team could not put up a three point shot.  The guard play was horrible and they flat out panicked! The decision making in running the offense was some of the worst I have ever seen in basketball period, let alone professional basketball.

Nevertheless Howard does not escape blame himself.  When I look at all the greats over time, Magic, Kareem, MJ, Kobe, Lebron, etc., these guys demand the ball in a time of crisis.  They may not hit the shot but dammit they are either going to take the shot or put the ball in play where they draw enough attention to themselves to open up an easy opportunity for others. 

I remember in the Finals one year when the Bulls played the Jazz.  It was the end of the game and the Bulls needed a bucket.   Jordan was heard in the huddle telling Steve Kerr, “When they double me be ready.”  Sure enough they doubled Jordan and he hit Kerr for the open jumper.  Swish!  Game over!

Once when the Celtics were at the end of a game behind a point, coach KC Jones was drawing up a play and Larry Bird interrupted him and simply said, “Forget all of that, (he didn’t say forget) just give me the ball.”  They got him the ball – Larry shoots – nothing but net, game over. 

Now I am not saying that Dwight Howard is Jordan, Magic, Bird, or Kobe.  What I am saying is that you are the best player on the team, the self proclaimed Superman.  And if the team is not getting you the ball you need to speak up during the game not just afterwards. 

I told a kid this recently after a game he lost that I was officiating.  It was easy to tell he was the best player on the team.  But he was a post player so he couldn’t pass it to himself.  Over and over again the guards shot the ball for misses in the last 10 minutes of the game, ignoring his post up positioning.  The lead they had was lost and so went the game.  Afterwards I could see his disappointment and frustration.  And I told him these words.  “Son, I know your the best player out here.  And I don’t care if your teammates aren’t passing you the ball or if the coach is calling your number during a timeout.  There is a time when every great player who clearly understands that he can make THE difference must demand the ball.  Tell your teammates in the huddle or on the court.  Tell your coach who may not see what you see on the court.  Don’t be scared if you can back it up.  Take responsibility and be a leader out there.”

Same thing applies.  Dwight is a top power forward in the NBA.  When I think of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone back in the day, no way in hell would they not pass these dudes the ball in a playoff game.  They would kick somebody’s ass before that happens.

So yea, Dwight was technically right.  Shaq called Van Gundy “The Master of Panic” and he may be proven right.  But the NBA is a players league and Dwight has been in it long enough to know that.  If you don’t demand the ball then you can’t talk in the press conference.