Shoals Unlimited: 2008-09's Five Non-Stories

Welcome to Shoals Unlimited, where Bethlehem will post a long-form piece on basketball once a week.
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In every NBA season, there are pleasant surprises, even uplifting ones. There are also disappointments that range from comical to crushing. And then there are the stories we expect to follow all season that, somewhere along the way, just mysteriously fizzle out. By year's end, you'd be forgiven if you'd altogether forgotten about them, whether or not a player has disappeared from active duty. Here now are my Top Five Non-Stories of 2008-09: ↵

↵Brand on the Run: Baron Davis' relocation was an unquestioned disaster; Jermaine O'Neal's, a little less cataclysmic, but a major failure that proved he had forever dropped a tier or two. On the bright side, Ron Artest has been absolutely crucial to Houston's late season resurrection, and Corey Maggette has played quite well for a team from outer space. ↵

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↵But perhaps no offseason acquisition was a bigger deal than Elton Brand to the Sixers. Here, a young, uptempo team was getting one of the league's most steady, productive post players. But this ideal pairing never came to fruition. Brand struggled, the Sixers struggled, Brand was hurt, the Sixers went back to their old ways without him, and it was a mercy killing when in February Elton decided to undergo surgery and sit for the year. Now the Sixers are the fifth seed in the East, and Brand is a distant memory who might as well have never happened. ↵

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↵The Case of the Missing Mike Beasley: Heading into this year, the Derrick Rose/Michael Beasley comparison—if not rivalry, as weird as that seems—looked to be one of this season's juiciest delights. Especially given the utter fail of the 2007 draft class when it came to stocking the league with new talent, this one looked like a debate that would rage for months. Except then Rose exploded right out the gate, Beasley was all over the place, and O.J. Mayo rose up as possibly the best of them all. And Beasley's Q rating never quite recovered from that early hiccup. By the time he'd picked it up some, the only thing that mattered on the Heat was Dwyane Wade's absolute supernova of a season. So much so that I'll say it again: If you mentioned the Heat once the world got wise to Wade's feats, you'd get hung up indefinitely on the dark-horse MVP candidate. ↵

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↵So although Rose and Mayo eventually hit the wall, Beasley just got plain overshadowed. Oh, and Russell Westbrook has a good case for ROY, anyway. Here's looking at 2009-10 for the Big Beasley Breakout. ↵

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↵Just Kobe Being Kobe: I know, the Bron/Kobe comparisons dominated this year's basketball discourse, just as his Lakers have been on a collision course with the Finals from Week One (Bynum or no Bynum). What's strange, though, is how much we've kind of come to take Bryant for granted. It's LeBron, and to a lesser extent Wade, who reliably grabbed the headlines with their big games and blew up YouTube with plays we'd never seen before. ↵

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↵At this point, Kobe's efficiency and, well, poise has taken on a certain Duncan-esque quality. That's not to downplay his greatness, or suggest he's not still one of the two (maybe three) best players in the league. But we expect Kobe to do his thing by now. We know what he does, and he's refined it down to a science. There's no more drama with teammates or the team concept—what we've got now is an assassin in his grizzled prime, who goes to work each night with the express purpose of stomping out your chest cavity. It's like he already lives behind a glass case, in a museum somewhere. ↵

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↵Posey on the Pedestal: Last summer, everyone woke up and realized that James Posey was good at winning championships. He was invaluable to the Heat in 2006, and then delivered the Celtics unto the promised land with several key plays. The tough, rangy Posey can defend multiple positions, shoot with range, and is the rare player who exudes veteran smarts without seeming like a total square. His signing with New Orleans was seen as a major coup, a guy who would help push this young team into the echelon of contenders. There were also questions as to whether Boston would ever be the same again. ↵

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↵Well, so far, Posey hasn't really turned around the Hornets. In fact, they started the year slow—in part because of injuries, but presumably the arrival of the versatile Posey could've helped head that trouble off at the pass. Instead, he's had one of his usual up-and-down, inconsistent years—rife with intangibles and the occasional big play but nothing you'd classify as impactful. Thus, heading into the playoffs, it's time for Plan B: for Posey to prove himself the Robert Horry of his generation, a waste of talent who redeems himself by making shots and clamping down on defense only at exactly the right moment. ↵

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↵The Knicks Will Rise Again: So maybe the playoffs, and a revamped team that produced a bevy of new stars, was too much to ask. But it's New York, and so Mike D'Antoni got the most attention at the beginning of the season, when an unforgettable transformation, and a space-aged approach to the game, were gaining momentum in MSG. Instead, as things wore on, we saw weaknesses exposed, Nate Robinson turned into a real player, good-bad guys unloaded for cap flexibility down the road (that at this point, is not looking to be earmarked for LeBron) and teams hang season-highs on the Knicks. ↵

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↵There's a new culture there, and people take this organization seriously now, but this isn't the Suns. This isn't a legit playoff team. It's a mediocre team with a lot of upside, with brains behind it that have proven they know how to put together something worth expending word count on. For now, the Knicks are neither appalling nor appealing, and for that city, this is a minor miracle. In fact, them being a non-story might be a major story in itself. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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