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The NBA is a little more than a week old and baseball’s officially over. You know what that means? It’s time to start talking about basketball. Below, we give you some of the bigger stories happening throughout the league, as seen through conversation. Some points of emphasis, if you will--to keep the casual fan sounding intelligent without having to, you know, actually watch regular season NBA basketball.
So without further ado, 10 things for NBA fans to talk about.
1. Dude, it's only been a week.
Seriously though. One week. Or maybe 10 days. There are 22 more weeks to go. It's a LONG season. So while there's plenty to talk about in and around the NBA, it should all come with a caveat--none of this is set in stone, and some of what we've seen so far can be misleading.
For example: the 4-1 Phoenix Suns. So far, they've beaten the L.A. Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Miami Heat. None of those teams are very good--beating Miami was a nice touch, but still, the Suns are far from a shoo-in to make the playoffs. What are they? A good, veteran team that's capable of winning games against bad teams. You'll note, however, that they only beat the Clippers by 2 points, and in overtime--109-107, --and when they finally faced a good team in Orlando on Wednesday night? Waxed by 22. Not saying they're a bad team, but let's wait and see if they can beat teams that aren't gawdawful.
(Note: Yeah, it's only been a week, but the Warriors and Timberwolves = gawdawful).
The converse is true for teams like the Jazz (2-3) and Cavaliers(3-3), teams that have had tough tests early, but have no real reason to be concerned. Utah will be fine down the stretch--at the very least, they're a much better team than Phoenix. And the Cavs are a team that, at this point, measures itself by a different standard. Success will be determined in April and beyond--until then, they've got plenty of time to get things figured out. Even if "figuring things out" means firing Mike Brown.
And finally, the Clippers. Yes, they're 1-4, and they're playing the familiar role of NBA whipping boys. But give them time. Baron Davis is getting over an injury, Eric Gordon is still awesome, and when they get Blake Griffin back, there's a chance they could make a little noise down the stretch. Just a little. Won't make the playoffs, but by the end of the year, I have a feeling Clippers fans will feel better about their lot in life. (At least until Eric Gordon blows out his ACL in next year's training camp).
2. BRANDON JENNINGS ... BRANDON JENNINGS ... BRANDON JENNINGS.
This came through on a e-mail chain I'm on with 50 or so college friends, from who's not even a huge basketball fan: "If the bucks roll in town to play your nba teams...check out brandon jennings...170 lb pg who can score and put it where he wants...deep pg draft but he might be the best one if he hits the weight room"
Put it this way: it's been one week, but Brandon Jennings has already made quite the impression. Back in June, I wrote about Jennings in a piece that ended with an open letter to the Washington Wizards, imploring them to take him:
Dear Washington Wizards,
This is what wins basketball games in today’s NBA. Did you see Rajon Rondo’s statistics in the playoffs this year? Crafty point guards, even those with glaring weaknesses, have the ability to absolutely dominate games. Derrick Rose can’t shoot either, you know. Chris Paul struggles, too. With superior speed and vision, a flawed player can go a long way. Don’t you wonder how far that same player can go when he improves his shooting? Jennings’ jumpshot is not the apocalypse that is Rajon Rondo’s, and he’s got a chance to be a decent shooter. If he puts it all together, who’s to say he won’t be the best player in this draft? Or you could trade the pick for Wilson Chander, I suppose.
Of course, we ended up trading the 5th pick in the draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Awesome. But rather than wallow in self-pity, let's revel in Brandon Jennings! He's fast, he's surprisingly solid on D, he's shown good point guard instincts despite his horrid surrounding cast, and more than anything, he's given Milwaukee a spark that hasn't been seen since the days of George Karl. I mean, really. The last time the Bucks were NOT depressing, Pearl Harbor and Shrek were the top movies at the box office. So... It's been a while. (And so what if that last reference was just an excuse to link to this Team America clip).
And it's all because of Brandon Jennings. And yeah, it's only three games. Three games in which he's shot 50% from 3-point range and 48% overall, both numbers that figure to drop as the season unfolds. But still, he's been so good, and so early, that you'd have to think it's not all an aberration. SB Nation's Bucks blog, Brew Hoop, had some thoughts on his game in Chicago:
Jennings certainly more than held his own in an initial matchup with Derrick Rose, an accomplishment in itself. Unafraid to assume the desperately-needed role of scoring point guard on a team with limited firepower and without its best scorer, the rook' netted a cool 25 points. As such, he's led the Bucks in scoring in all three games. And he's fast showing a defensive character. Jennings led the club with a pair of steals, and he defended Rose into a turnover on a decisive play with less than half a minute in the game. In fact, he stayed in front of Rose pretty nicely for much of the game, and contributed to Chicago's point guard pretty pedestrian 5 assist, 5 turnover line. For Jennings, 25 points, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, some learning, and even more growing. Well-done.
To repeat: he held his own with Derrick Rose. Please, get on the Brandon Jennings bandwagon while there's still room. He's averaging 22, 5, and 4, with 2 steals.
3. Dwight Howard's Strange Encounter With A Porn Star.
Now, when you hear Dwight Howard, you think this:
And yet, read this. From porn star Mary Carey, who apparently ran for governor at one point, and talked about her relationship with Dwight Howard to a Sacramento radio station:
"Dwight’s a cool guy. For a month, we like talked on the phone, and he was always trying to give me prayers to get me out of porn and give me Bible verses to read. So then, I was going to go visit him when I was in Orlando, but I went over to this other guy’s house instead, Chris Kirkpatrick from N’Sync. And then Dwight started calling, and calling, and calling me, because he knew I was with Chris Kirkpatrick, so eventually at 3 in the morning, Chris was like don’t answer Dwight’s calls. I get a text from Dwight at 3 in the morning - I’m outside Chris’s house. I’m like oh my god, what do I do? I was like, I got Dwight here and I got Chris in the other room and I’m talking to them back and forth. So finally I had to just pull Dwight in the bathroom and tell him he needs to go home. I was like I’m really sorry, I really like you, but this isn’t the time or place. When I pull him in the bathroom, he pulls his pants down, I was like, whooa. Yeah, and so I ran and started screaming…Well if it wasn’t for the Chris thing at the time, I really liked Dwight and maybe I would have furthered this. But I was at the guy’s house I was dating so it was inappropriate. So he totally thought he totally offended me. So I saved - he and I used to talk on instant messenger, on AOL - so he was apologizing; sorry, that was out of character for me, blah blah blah. I saved all the instant messages and I’ve been putting them all in a book. So I’ve got a lot of evidence. I’ve got an evidence file."
There are just so many different parts of that story that I love. First off, talk about misreading signals. Oof. Tough luck there, Dwight. Happens to the best of us. But also, you have to enjoy any narrative that progresses from "quoting bible verses" to "indecent exposure" to "sincere apologies." Reminds me of my formative years during the Clinton era.
But more to the point, Dwight Howard?!
This from a guy who doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs, and has a well-publicized obsession with cartoons. What does it prove? Well, he's human. And like any human that becomes an NBA superstar, he's got a well-earned sense of entitlement. And who are we to argue? That pickup tactic probably works for him, you know. Most of the time, anyway.
4. Rajon Rondo Gets A Vote Of Confidence ... Rudy Gay Does Not.
There were a lot of factors that played into the Rondo contract situation. But basically, it happened in three steps.
1. Rondo made things more complicated by kicking ass in last year's playoffs. He went toe-to-toe with Derrick Rose, and came off looking just as good, if not a little bit better, averaging nearly a triple double, and pacing a Celtics team that many figured was going to collapse without Kevin Garnett. At that point, you began to hear murmurs that Rondo might be better than anyone had ever realized--and since this is the league that spawned the phrase "CTC, just cut... the... check"--naturally, the implication was that he'd suddenly command a much higher salary when he became a free agent in 2010.
2. The Celtics, sensing a rift between Rondo and some of the Boston veterans, figured it'd be prudent to shop Rondo while his value was sky high--and before they had to Cut The Check. It was a serious slight to a player that'd just finished one of the more impressive playoff runs in recent memory, and seemed poised to be the bridge between Boston's creaky veteran present and their as yet undefined future. Rondo may not have been openly pissed off, but again, going into a contract year, it had to be a little disconcerting that Boston management basically announced to the entire league, "For the right price, he's yours!"
3. Just when it looked like this was going to end in disastorous fashion for the Celtics, Danny Ainge and the Boston management wised up. Simple as that. After they'd lowballed him all summer, Rondo was prepared to play out the year and let the chips fall where they may come free agency. But rather than take that risk--and attempt to make a title with Rondo as the possibly pissed off linchpin to their hopes--Danny Ainge finally offered Rondo a fair deal, at 5 years for $55 million. Rondo probably could have netted more from someone in the offseason, but he wanted to be in Boston. He'd been clear on that all along. And once Ainge offered him a decent contract, he accepted.
As for Rudy Gay... That last paragraph on Rondo, with both sides levelheaded, wanting to get a contract done, and looking to preserve the relationship for everyone's sake over the immediate and distant future? Yeah, Rudy Gay's interaction in Memphis was just about the exact opposite. Setting up a hilarious scenario....
Memphis is going to be FUN! Especially since...
5. Allen Iverson, Malcontent.
Really? It had to happen this soon? In case you missed it, Allen Iverson's angry about the way he's being utilized in Memphis. Or as AI might say:
The BENCH? The BENCH? I ain't gettin paid to come off no BENCH, mannn. I mean, dog. The Sixth Man is a MOVIE.
Yeah, I cried. Sh**. I'm a man. I can admit that. I cried during that film.
But the Sixth Man is a MOVIE. I speak reality. This ain't a movie dogs, and I ain't tryin to play no BENCH role.
Because Allen Iverson was an icon of my childhood, and because Memphis is the ultimate basketball dystopia right now, there's really no way to describe this story without getting horribly depressed. Almost like writing about the city of Detroit.
So instead of trying to say something substantive, here are the first 9 minutes of The Sixth Man:
6. When will Gerald Wallace record an assist?
It's difficult to overstate how astounding it is for a player--any player, at any position--to do what Gerald Wallace is doing right now. Going into Friday night's game, Charlotte's Gerald Wallace has played 171 minutes, in 4 games, and has ZERO assists over that span. By contrast, Utah's Deron Williams has played 161 minutes, and has 35.
Think for a moment, about how hard it would be to play 4 games and NOT pass it to a teammate, and then have that teammate score. Just once. Not everybody has to have 35 assists, but everybody should at least have ONE. Which leads you to one of the following conclusions: either Gerald Wallace is the most selfish player in the history of the NBA, or his teammates must really suck.
And frankly, both might be true. Wallace and his teammates combined to shoot 32% in a win on Monday night. And while Wallace may not be the world's best passer, I'd imagine he'd had have an easier time notching an assist if he wasn't passing to Raja Bell for 3, or Tyson Chandler for a spot-up 15-footer. Just a gut feeling.
In any case, it's something to watch as the season develops. Not Wallace--he's like the Flava Flav to Andre Iguodala's Tracy Morgan. Just a bad, vaguely apocalyptic facsimile. BUT... Charlotte may be the most offensively inept team we've seen in years, and that's worth keeping an eye on.
Orlando already looks very good this year. They're 4-1 going into Friday night's game against Detroit, and one of their more pleasant surprises has been the play of Ryan Anderson, a big man with great perimeter skills that was pretty much destined to play in Orlando's system. And keep in mind: Rashard Lewis hasn't even played a game this year, and they already look this good. At this point, the Celtics and the Magic are head and shoulders above every other team in the Eastern Conference.
One thing that's not surprising? Vince Carter, going down in a melodramatic heap, clutching his ankle, gamely hobbling off the floor and into the locker room. At the 30-second mark:
Good to see Vince hasn't changed... My favorite part about Vince Carter injuries is the way he acts like he's got a torn ACL, writhing on the floor, wincing for the cameras, and hobbling off with all his weight on one leg. It's all pretty excellent. Have fun with that, Orlando.
As for Andrew Bynum, he suffered a sprained elbow in the Lakers' victory over Houston Wednesday night. And he'll probably be back next week. But still. Depending on how you feel about the Lakers, this kid is either cursed, or badly injury prone. Though I'll give him this much: he's not Vince Carter.
8. Donald Sterling, World Class Scumbag.
Not enough people realize how genuinely awful this man is. Imagine if the most apathetic owner in professional sports was also a notorious racist, had settled numerous sexual harrasment cases, and was universally despised by his peers. Well, that's pretty much reality. Here's an excerpt from an ESPN Magazine story on Sterling last year:
It was 2002, and Donald Sterling was talking to Sumner Davenport, one of his four top property supervisors, about a tenant at the Ardmore Apartments. Already the largest landowner in Beverly Hills, Sterling had recently acquired the Ardmore as part of his move to extend his real estate empire eastward toward Koreatown and downtown LA. As he did, Sterling "wanted tenants that fit his image," according to testimony Davenport gave in a discrimination lawsuit brought against Sterling in 2003 by 19 tenants and the nonprofit Housing Rights Center. (That case ended in a confidential settlement in 2005; attorneys for the Center declined to comment for this story. In a separate suit, also concluded in 2005, Davenport claimed Sterling sexually harassed her, and lost. She declined comment. The Magazine has obtained depositions in both cases.) Cultivating his image, Davenport said, meant no blacks, no Mexican-Americans, no children (whom Sterling called "brats") and no government-housing-subsidy recipients as tenants. So according to the testimony of tenants, Sterling employees made life difficult for residents in some of his new buildings. They refused rent checks, then accused renters of nonpayment. They refused to do repairs for black tenants and harassed them with surprise inspections, threatening residents with eviction for alleged violations of building rules.
When Sterling first bought the Ardmore, he remarked on its odor to Davenport. "That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean," he said, according to Davenport's testimony. "And it's because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day." He added: "So we have to get them out of here." Shortly after, construction work caused a serious leak at the complex. When Davenport surveyed the damage, she found an elderly woman, Kandynce Jones, wading through several inches of water in Apartment 121. Jones was paralyzed on the right side and legally blind. She took medication for high blood pressure and to thin a clot in her leg. Still, she was remarkably cheerful, showing Davenport pictures of her children, even as some of her belongings floated around her.
Jones had repeatedly walked to the apartment manager's office to plead for assistance, according to sworn testimony given by her daughter Ebony Jones in the Housing Rights Center case. Kandynce Jones' refrigerator dripped, her dishwasher was broken, and her apartment was always cold. Now it had flooded. Davenport reported what she saw to Sterling, and according to her testimony, he asked: "Is she one of those black people that stink?" When Davenport told Sterling that Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the water damage and compensated for her ruined property, he replied: "I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch."
Pretty standard fare from Sterling, there. This week, he paid $2.73 million as part of settlement, after he was sued over racist business practices. Dan Wetzel has an excellent piece at Yahoo bemoaning the lack of outrage toward Sterling. And it's a good question: in a league where you can be fined $10,000 for wearing a t-shirt to a press conference, how, exactly, can this behavior go ignored?
9. Chris Paul is kind of, sort of, starting to get a little pissed off.
This isn't going to end well... Chris Paul is the best point guard on earth. On a good team, there's no telling how great he'd be. But instead, he's in New Orleans. And while the situation isn't toxic yet, the seeds of discontent are clearly germinating. For now, he's saying things like this:
"I’m very envious. Those guys have been where I want to get to. This is my fifth year in the league, and I’m not trying to wait until I’m an old veteran in this league to win a championship."
And that's a problem. While the rest of the league gets better, New Orleans is getting worse. The team's losing millions of dollars, and the ownership in New Orleans doesn't want to spend the money it takes to build a winner. In a market still reeling from Katrina, it'd be tough to turn a profit, even with a contender.
But that's not Chris Paul's problem, and it shouldn't be. When Paul got into a fight with Rajon Rondo the other night, it's rumored that Rondo had taunted Paul, saying "You'll never win a championship," and "You wish you were me." And while that's excellent trash talk, the fight escalated to the point where Paul tried to find Rondo after the game. Why? Because Rondo was maybe a little bit right.
Chris Paul's frustrated, and with good reason. He's very good because he's one of the best passers in the league, his ball-handling is unrivaled, and he's quicker than just about any basketball player on earth. But he's great because when the game really matters, he's got an extra gear, and he can take himself and his team to another level. But, on a team destined for the 8th-seed in the West, perpetually cutting salary and trying to win with second-rate pieces, how many games really matter?
Right now, Chris Paul's in the prime of his career, on a team that's wasting his talent. He's too classy to be openly militant about it, but before long, his frustration's going to start boiling over. It may not happen this year, but with New Orleans headed in the wrong direction and talk swirling of Lebron's free agency, Carmelo's dominance, and all the other up-and-coming teams in the league, the tipping point for the Chris Paul era in New Orleans may come sooner than you think. Who could blame him?
10. Turndown Service (pause).
Finally, courtesy of The Baseline, awesome "NBA Tweets" series, this was my favorite Twitter exchange of the year so far... Donte Greene, Jason Thompson, and Sean May discuss turndown service... and then Sean May gets ridiculed. It may help to consult Urban Dictionary for this one.
5:35 PM on October 29th:
At the exact same time...
Cue Sean May, for reaction:
At which point, May became the butt of the joke:
At which point, Donte Greene couldn't resist:
And Sean May was getting fed up...
And finally, Jason Thompson came in with a parting shot:
The NBA: Where Vicarious Participation in Twitter Banter happens. Til next week...
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