A Collection Of Thoughts On The NBA All-Star Weekend

On The Dunk Contest: I watched the dunk contest in the bar of a fancy high-tech driving range in Dallas called Top Golf.  There was no volume on at the time but my group of friends provided the necessary audio when we collectively lost our minds (or alternatively booed) the dunks throughout the night.  One of the more intriguing aspects of this year’s dunk contest was that the contestants weren’t whittled down through “rounds” that culminated in a one-on-one final between two individuals.  Rather, they were all allotted the opportunity to have three dunks apiece.  This move deserves applause and hopefully  they stick with it in the future.  It worked because it helped the contest move at a much more reasonable pace and allowed the participants the security of knowing they didn’t have to stick with a “safe” dunk to move on to the finals.  The more risk involved, the more spectacular the event. 

Unfortunately there are also two obvious and unavoidable aspects that overshadowed anything good about it.  The first was the decision to allow the fans to decide the winner.  It makes a ton of sense on paper because this is the age of the internet/YouTube/etc, but I can’t tell you how dreadfully wrong the fans got it by going with Jeremy Evans.  The only thing I remember about his performance was a collective nod of the heads after he dunked two alley oop basketballs from teammate Gordon Hayward.  It was lessened by the fact that he didn’t convert on his first try. At no point though did we ever lose our minds on one of his attempts—an obvious minimum requirement for any dunk contest champion.  It’s time to go back to the celebrity/former player judging panel and live with their terribly biased decisions, if only to save the fans from themselves. 

The most glaring problem of all though is the lack of star power in the dunk contest.  I applaud the efforts and bravery–it takes a remarkable amount of fortitude to put yourself out to the world like that in front of your peers with the risk of becoming the next Chris Andersen—of the participants this year, but there’s really no point in holding it anymore so that the tenth and eleventh best players from various non-contenders can show off their unappreciated athleticism.  This point is further emphasized when the very athletes that should be participating in it are sitting front row for the action and making fun of the guys when they can’t convert their attempts (not to mention LeBron blowing every single participant out of the water with his in-game dunks during All-Star game). It would be the cultural equivalent of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, etc sitting in the front row of a theater and falling over themselves laughing while a struggling wannabe actor/waiter from the nearby steakhouse attempted to recite Shakespeare in front of them. 

The dunk contest used to be a culturally relevant event.  How can it possibly still be worth the time and effort when the casual fan could identify maybe one of the four contestants?  Stern needs to drop the hammer and threaten LeBron, D-Wade, etc with the very existence of the event to force them into participating. Get the big boys in or get rid of it all together.

On Dwight Howard: This was a sort of farewell tribute for the league’s best center and I can’t help but feel that he failed to properly recognize the fans in the city of Orlando.  He gave an uninspired address prior to the game after deflecting trade rumors all weekend.  While he deserves credit for not making this weekend all about himself, he seemed largely disinterested by everything.  He didn’t take the game seriously, jacking up several three pointers and largely staying out of the way of his teammates.  For a dominant player who can entertain the fans with the best of them (and for the record, please click on that video and watch how much sheer joy Dwight brings out from his peers with his participation in the dunk contest…maybe Stern can get him to broker a deal with the big boys???  These are the thoughts of a basketball-obsessed weirdo…), his effort this year was a major #fail.  Cannot wait for his trade drama to be over.

On Kobe’s Nose Getting Broken By D-Wade: Loved it, especially how it wasn’t personal for either of them, strictly business.  Move on folks, nothing to see here!

On The Pre-Game Introductions: This is the type of thing that a hard-core basketball blogger would blast me for and where I’m admittedly reading way too much into something so please acknowledge that before proceeding.  HOWEVER, was I the only one who noticed the huge contrast between the was the West starters came out of the tunnel as compared to Dwight, Carmelo, and LeBron?  No seriously take a look.  Here’s the West (move the clip to the 5:00 mark):

And here’s the three stooges from the East making fools of themselves on national television (move the clip to the 4:45 mark):

I don’t mean to keep criticizing, but seriously, take a look at Derrick Rose’s face throughout that second clip to get an idea of the same feelings that were going through my head during that moment.  What’s equally hilarious is how you can read the “what-in-the-hell-are-these-idiots-doing” look all over Dwyane Wade’s face.  If Derrick Rose’s Bulls knock the Heat out the playoffs, this can be one of the events you point to when you tell your friends you saw it coming.  Also creepy is the way Dwight and Melo follow/mimic LeBron’s every move.  More on this later.

On The Game Itself: I’m a big fan of the high offense, no defense philosophy that seems to permeate through every league’s respective All-Star game.  One thing that is undeniably entertaining though is when the game is close during the final minutes and the best players in the world all start to care about the outcome.  We were fortunate this year that LeBron and Wade were able to erase the huge deficit for the East, but in the future I’d like to seriously recommend that the League institute a rule whereby the game has to matter in the last five minutes.  There really is nothing quite like seeing the best athletes in the world suddenly want to destroy their peers, solely for bragging rights and respect points.  Can we please see this every year?

On LeBron James And The Now Infamous Turnover: Let’s get some points out of the way before proceeding.  First, the most intriguing observation of the weekend was made by SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp in just how influential LeBron is on the league right now.  Sharp points out that all of the young players in the League now talk, dress, and act like LeBron James.  Look no further than that pre-game introduction and how Carmelo and Dwight take all their cues from him.  This is a fantastic observation that probably deserves way more investigation and I urge you to read Sharp’s column to get his take

Moving on though, LeBron James is undeniably the best basketball player alive right now.  He was solely responsible for the East’s comeback in that game and it would not have been entertaining at the end had he not put on a dazzling display of talent and athleticism.  In fact, he’s probably the most physically gifted athlete ever, in any sport.  BUT, and this is perhaps the biggest but in all of sports right now, I can’t help but feel disappointed by him.  Every. Single. Time. Always. 

Any attempt at a rational explanation is pretty much futile, but that is the feeling I get watching LeBron James.  It’s the great debate of basketball right now.  Basketball stat nerds and hard-core bloggers are unquestionably in James’ corner and rush to his defense anyone brings up the “clutch” word.  Fans and old-school writers tend to lean in the opposite direction though in their universal criticism of how he “doesn’t get it,” how he “sucks when it counts,” or how he “has no rings.” 

I tend to come down somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.  Even I was shocked though at the way he passed out of the big moment last night.  Before that infamous possession I remarked to my fiancee about how important a moment it was in the broader context of the NBA.  Should LeBron make the shot, it would do wonders for his reputation in the basketball community, or so I told her.  Never in a million years though did I think he would first pass off to Deron Williams for the big shot, then refuse to go at Kobe Bryant and eventually cough up an awful cross court pass that Blake Griffin would steal to seal the game (or pass the ball in with 1.1 seconds left to his teammate Dwyane Wade when he could have redeemed the turnover, but that’s neither here nor there). 

I was so upset I actually leapt off my couch and started taunting LeBron by yelling and pointing at my television.  I have no idea what overcame me and it’s rather embarrassing to admit. I guess the basketball snob in me is just reaching a critical breaking point with the continuous failings of the best basketball player alive in the biggest basketball moments.  You can say it really doesn’t matter and that the game was just an exhibition match anyway, but that doesn’t do it justice. 

Reading Adrian Wojnarowski this morning, you’d even learn that Kobe was BEGGING LeBron to take the shot and he still refused to pull the trigger.  And it’s not like this is some anomaly.  It’s a trend of continuous letdowns.  It’s so frustrating so let’s get this over with and come up with any kind of a conclusion. 

As a sports nerd, I’ve come to overwhelmingly trust the opinions of two groups of people when it comes to sports analysis.  The first is the advanced stats community, who as I mentioned are very quick to defend LeBron.  The second is the actual players though.  They know the real story of the league and the teams and the players and it often never reaches our ears.  They know that LeBron James is still afraid of the big moment.  They know he doesn’t want the rock when it matters.  They know that it’s going to take a Herculean effort by Dwyane Wade for this Heat team to break through and win a title.  Don’t you remember DeShawn Stevenson openly taunting LeBron in last year’s Finals with Shawn Marion?  No seriously though, look at the faces of LeBron’s peers in this video.

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Gen Y’s NBA Preview Part I: Eastern Conference

15. Charlotte Bobcats – Michael Jordan is doing an incredible job of tanking the season away and it started well before the year even started.  He traded away both of his best players (Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson) and the best player on this team is now…Corey Maggette!  Maggette is most famous for his relentless desire to charge into the middle of the lane to absorb as much contact as possible and (hopefully, but not usually) get to the free throw line.  The clear plan here is to try to win the draft lottery, but watch out for young Kemba Walker, a sleeper ROTY candidate.  He could ruin Jordan’s grand vision by actually playing well. 

14.  Cleveland Cavaliers – True confession: I have never once seen Kyrie Irving play basketball and thus thought it was appaling that they chose to take him number one after his injury at Duke.  This team is obviously hoping to go for the Westbrook-Durant combo by picking high again in next year’s draft.  The Cavs are awful and trading away J.J. Hickson for a bunch of crap last year was the first indicator that this team has no intent of competing any time soon.

13.  Toronto Raptors – Beyond Dallas Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey taking over as assistant coach–this is the man who orchestrated the brilliant defense that beat the Heat in the finals–I can find nothing interesting about this team worth talking about.  Let’s watch DeMar DeRozen dunk highlights instead!

12. Washington Wizards – John Wall is going to come out this year and give his best Derrick Rose impression.  It’s impossible not to compare the two, given their college careers under Callipari.  The difference?  Wall is light years faster than Rose, if that’s even possible.  Unfortunately for Wall though he has neither the teammates nor the physicality to replicate Rose’s success thus far.  The Wizards are one good player away from mattering, whether that comes through a sleeper blockbuster trade or next year’s draft lottery is beyond us though.

11. Detroit Pistons – So you’re telling me that Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Tayshaun Prince are combining to make over $30,000,000 this year?  And you’re telling me Joe Dumars is still the GM of this team?  I don’t get it.  If you want to know what to look for, Greg Monroe is the the best player on this team and the lone hope going into the future.  Unfortunately for him there’s a huge logjam with the guards with Bynum/Stuckey/Gordon.  Brandon Knight looked to be a great draft choice but good luck stealing shots from that threesome.

10.  Milwaukee Bucks – So disappointed in this team’s effort last year.  Every year before the season begins, I like to pick a team that I’m going to quietly root for all year besides my Nuggets.  Last year I picked Milwaukee because of the surprising playoff performance they put up the year prior and what we assumed would be a progress year for Brandon Jennings.  I forgot to take into account how badly Bogut broke that arm though and this team turned out to be a huge disappointment.  For that, they fail to make my hypothetical playoffs based on supremely sophisticated formulas known only to Gen Y’s scientists and mathematicians.

9. Philadelphia 76ers – I love, Love, LOVE this team’s depth in the back court.  They’re impossibly rich in young talent with Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Lou Williams, and Andre Iguodala.  Throw in the nice re-signing of Thaddeus Young and you have a pretty damn good team.  Unfortunately, this team’s front court is comprised of the following individuals: Elton Brand, Elton Brand’s lockout gut, Elton Brand’s aging/not in shape/injury-plagued legs, Tony Battie, Marreese Speights, and Spencer Hawes.  In a Conference where penetration-style offense is the gold standard (LeBron, Wade, Rose, Rondo) the 76ers don’t have what it takes to slip into the playoffs this year.  Also: look for the Iguodala trade chatter to pick up around the trade deadline.  He’s the ideal person to guard the best shooting guards and small forwards in this league and would make a great asset to a playoff team like Boston, LA (both teams), San Antonio, etc.

8.  New Jersey Nets – This is my bold pick in the East that is sure to go wrong, with either Philly or Milwaukee sneaking ahead of them to make the playoffs (probably Philly).  The reason I’m picking New Jersey to defy the odds and make the postseason?  Deron Williams.  This is a superstar league.  Everybody knows it.  Williams has a claim to the title of best point guard and he’s going to be out on a mission to in an effort to try to attract Dwight Howard to join him.  Throw in a Dwight trade though and this team instantly shoots up into the top four, possibly three.  It didn’t work out last year because Williams was so shocked by the trade-that-nobody-saw-coming and he was bothered by injury.  I look for him to have a HUGE year and the Nets to sneak into the playoffs.  I’m also pulling for Kris Humphries who is going to get booed by every female attending a Nets game this year.  I’m looking for him to have a huge eff you performance against Lamar Odom this season.  Mark your calendars now for February 28th when they face each other. It’s unfair that this all happened to him and if you think he is to blame for that marriage debacle you should probably stand in front of a train this afternoon.  Plus, it’s never not fun to rewatch this clip.

7. Atlanta Hawks – If Larry Drew has any clue about what he’s doing, he’ll turn this into Al Horford’s team and never look back.  I know that Joe Johnson has a max contract and that Josh Smith is one of the five most athletic people in this league, but only Horford has shown the reliability and desire to be a leader of this team.  Look for Smith to get dealt to a panicky team hoping to appease the fan base halfway through the season and for an epic Ewing Theory candidacy.  They’ll be better without him.

6. Indiana Pacers – The Pacers are setting themselves up for the classic “we’re-becoming-such-a-sleeper-that-we’re-no-longer-a-sleeper” season.  I was all over them in the preseason and successfully predicted that David West signing, but I can’t pull for a squad that everybody thinks they figured out first.  It’s hard to argue against that roster though.  Hill and Collison will split point guard duty, Dahntay Jones is a classic wing defender/asset on a contending team, Danny Granger is a fringe superstar, and the West/Hibbert front court is among the best in the league.  Throw in Hansbrough and Paul George off the bench and that’s one hell of a complete team.  Wait, why don’t I want to root for them again?  Kudos to Larry Bird for proving it’s possible to compete in a small market without superstars.  While the Pacers continue to be an underestimated candidate for best uniform in the NBA, I say they fail to fulfill expectations and take a first-round playoff exit.

5. Boston Celtics – They’re old, they’re aging, and they’re going to battle injuries all year.  Their GM can’t possibly have made a bigger mess with his insistance in continuing to float his best player’s name in trade rumors.  In case you didn’t know by now, Rajon Rondo is that best player and it’s not even close.  If you say the Christmas Day game against the Knicks, you know why.  Unfortunately for Rondo, Paul Pierce was out that day and the Celtics offense will likely continue to flow through him.  This translates to Rondo shrinking back into his shell and blaming Danny Ainge for trading his only friend, Kendrick Perkins.  I’ll be anxious to see if the Celts have the guts to move Allen, Pierce, or KG in an effort to compete with the Heat and Bulls.  A playoff matchup with a Magic team that still has Dwight Howard could be extremely entertaining in the first round.

4.  Orlando Magic – While the Magic team goes through the same crap that marred the Denver Nuggets regular season last year, they’ll always continue to matter while they have the best center in the league.  Although the supporting cast might be the worst in five years, Howard can go out and beat teams by himself, as evidenced by last night’s win over Houston.  Should they lose Dwight though, there will be no Nuggets-like surge into the postseason.  They’d instantly fade away into lottery territory.  I hate the way Dwight and Carmelo handled their respective situations.  It’s so unfair to the fan bases and mostly to their teammates, some of whom will inevitably get traded along with him despite not wanting to leave.

3. New York Knicks – It is going to kill me all year to witness it, but there was no person who was more perfect to take on the challenges of being the best player in the New York market than Carmelo Anthony.  The guy is impervious to criticism whether from media/fans/coaches.  It will come in handy when the tabloids start to take their cheap shots.  Did I also mention he’s the most clutch player in the NBA not named Dirk Nowitzki?  The Celtics threw EVERYTHING they had at the Knicks on Christmas and it was still nowhere near enough to stop that ‘Melo onslaught.  If, and this is a huge if, the Knicks front court can stay healthy, they’re a fringe title contender.  Carmelo can beat any player in this league and unlike his peer LeBron, he actually seems to relish the opportunity to play and beat the league’s best players.  I guarantee you he is the guy the players most fear in the fourth quarter, with only Dirk and KD possibly having a chance to compete for that belt.  ‘Melo is going to play a sort of hybrid point guard small forward role known as the “point-forward” this year, and it’s going to be great.  Pray for those Knicks knees this year.

2. Chicago Bulls – They just don’t have enough to beat Miami.  They would, if they traded for Dwight Howard like everyone knows they should.  The reason that won’t happen though?  And this makes me sick…Shoe Contracts.  Yes, I’m serious.  Shoe contracts will prevent Rose and Dwight from teaming up to challenge the inevitable Heat dynasty for the next decade because the two of them are Adidas’ top two guys.  The executives at that company have made it clear to both of them that they can earn far more money playing apart than they can together.  We now live in a world where the world’s best center would rather increase his brand than win NBA championships.

/pounds head against the wall

1. Miami Heat – They’re breezing to the NBA title.  Only Oklahoma City has a chance to stop them.  But they won’t.  The Heat are mind-bogglingly good.  This new Oregon football-inspired fast break offense is insane.  Think about what an advantage it is.  If you turn the ball over against the Heat, they are getting a fast break dunk, end of story.  It’s the most efficient offense since the Mikan’s, Russel’s, and Wilt’s of the world dominated because of the simple fact that they were taller.  Did I mention they play perhaps the best defense in the league as well?  Jesus.  The Heat Dynasty is upon us.   God help us all.

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