I giveth. . .

Been a minute since I’ve managed a long post, partly because the FA dust hasn’t quite settled enough to make me feel like anything substantial has changed (unless the Cavs get a PG, that team is a headless monster. . .and as smart as the Pacers front office is, don’t they kind of have a problem with Tinsley, Jackson, that Lithuanian guy, Granger, and TW competing for minutes at the 1-2-3? Tinsley is the new Eric Snow, and Jackson, Artest, and O’Neal means more than enough demands on offense already). But I’ve seen enough to know one thing: this coming season will be nothing like the last. What made 2004-2005 tick, what gave me the power to bother with rhapsodic, blog-creating posts in the first place, was the Suns and the Wizards. And since I helped build these bandwagons, let me be among the first to (justifiably) threaten their dismantling, or at least un-detailing (if you buy the idea of detailing a wagon in the first place).

Movement 1

The Arenas/Hughes backcourt was a thing of pure basketball majesty: two dizzyingly talented and versatile guards, both prone to selfish, erratic play, somehow find true love and respect—for themselves, each other, their team, and the game—in this unlikely swath of seamless chemistry. If that sounds overblown, it’s because you’d have to go back to Isiah and Dumars to find two star guards share the ball this well and creatively; if you think that comparison is a reach, just deal with the fact that I don’t actually know all that much about the sport or the league that houses it. When people talk about the Wizards as a running team, they mean Hughes/Arenas with a bunch of spirited guys cleaning up for them.

Unfortunately, those days are gone, replaced by “Gilbert Arenas: Franchise Player” and “Larry Hughes: Kind of Stupid, Kind of Brilliant, Less Exciting and Central than He Should Be.” For me, Arenas has always walked on water; his partnership with Hughes gave credibility to a career that seemed destined for cult status, not meaningful competition. Hughes I never liked (see above), but pairing him with Arenas gave him a chance to be a aesthetic complement while establishing his usefulness (Arenas is always the main attraction, but some nights plays like he’s making up the sport as he goes along). Antonio Daniels should be able to tether Gilbert in the same way Hughes did, but he’ll never inspire him while doing so.

And while I can’t really say that Arenas makes his teammates better than LeBron does, the mature Hughes we saw this year might, taken out of his peculiar arrangement with Arenas, just be an unusually responsible version of the modern NBA shooting guard. So while Gilbert competes for the scoring title, Washington sort of resembles a real basketball team, and they’ll make the post-season again, without Hughes they just don’t pull off that LOS (League of Stars, bitch!) magic in the playoffs. Hughes, well, I can’t say I’ll be excited about watching him play. Interested is more the word. And also, let’s not forget that LeBron is Hughes, but better, in every way imaginable. At least Arenas and Hughes had complementary skills and styles, however beautifully intertwined their games would become (no SportsCentury).

Movement 2

At Phoenix, the change has been far more subtle. It came from the playoffs, when the free-wheeling team game gave way to Nash and Amare (as well it should have). It didn’t help, though, that Q showed up with the worst basketball of his career, and Marion came off as the most bemused All-Star in league history. Factor in what from hereon shall be known as the Joey Johnson Theory (team loses secondary player, team struggles without him, he is thus elevated to star status), and all of a sudden Phoenix had on its hands the keepers (Amare, Nash, Johnson) and its talented, but inessential, “pieces” (Q, Marion, the deeply amusing Steven Hunter, who is way too athletic and seven feet tall to be coming off the bench, but did so in Phoenix and it only added to the craziness of it all). Certainly a long way from singing Motown hits together on the bus, or collectively crashing All-Stat Weekend (nevermind that some were in the actual game, others only in the Three-Point Shoot-Out) to put the Association on notice that this was history in the making!!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, your new Phoenix Suns. Kurt Thomas, a muscular, slightly-undersized but reasonably skilled big man brought in mostly to make Amare’s life easier (and less rudimentary). In the negative, Nate Robinson, who would have been to Nash what Hunter was last year to Amare, but instead ended up on the Knicks. . .as part of the deal that landed Thomas. It’s hard to argue with a future plan that centers (no pun intended) on freeing up Amare, allowing him to enjoy and long and pleasurable career, in Phoenix, as a force of nature whose only chore is to murder defenders, grab the rebounds that are easy for him (about 12 per game), and every once in a while swat a shot in his inimitable fashion to say something about Phoenix’s defensive intensity. And, pending his near-max re-upping, Joe Johnson, future star, expected to step in as the clear-cut third option, entrusted with spelling Nash’s ball-handling duties, sometimes even with both on the floor. Flapping in the wind, it’s Sean Marion, whose defense and shot-blocking become expendable with Amare and Thomas penciled in, whose puzzling long-range tendencies fall out of favor with Q having been shown the door (they made it a team trademark), and who could be replaced by a more prototypical three that had a reputation for generic defense (Marion does so much he sometimes neglects the obvious).

And let's not forget, that by the beginning of 2005-2006

will be but a faded memory.

So with what flame does the FreeDarko torch burn in the coming months? If not for the New Offense, then what? Simple. The New Redemption. Phil and Kobe. LeBron. Franchise and Marbury, one last chance. And most of all, the man himself.


At 7/27/2005 4:47 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

you forgot to mention the biggest offseason change to the suns--no more jake voskuhl!!

At 7/27/2005 5:26 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Eric Neel, who I'm coming to like more and more, weighs in with what will surely be the first of many columns to come in the 2005-2006 Redemption Watch


At 7/27/2005 8:37 PM, Blogger Greg W. said...

I was with you on the arenas/hughes backcourt until I read the phrase "true love". You cannot mention true love in the backcourt w/o mentioning Steve and Cuttino. Then I read the rest of the sentence about loving the rest of the team and the game and got back with you on Arenas and Hughes. I gave Steve a ball to sign once and he was still reluctant to pass it back.

At 7/27/2005 11:06 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think i have blocked out that backcourt from my memory because its disintegration was almost too painful to bear. though they couldn't play together for shit

At 7/28/2005 11:00 AM, Blogger elandfried said...

The Indiana Pacers are going to be the 2005-2006 NBA Champions. If this is truly the Year of Redemption, then what other team could win it?

Think about it. They were the best team in the East last year before the brawl (remember, they were beating the Pistons by 15 at the Palace at the end of that game). They lost their best player (that's Artest, not O'Neal) for the entire season, O'Neal and Jackson for big chunks of the season, Reggie started the year on the DL, Bender gave them nothing as usual and Tinsley missed a lot of time with another injury. And what do they do? They not only make the playoffs, they take out the 3rd seed, and nearly take out the defending champs. If they had Artest in the playoffs, they would have faced the Spurs in the Finals.

So, what happens this year? They get, essentially, the biggest FA pickup of all in Artest. They make a terrific draft selection of Granger, a do-it-all, hard worker who fits the Indiana mold to a T, and pick up a good shooting backup to oft-injured Tinsley. Am I missing something? Chemistry issues? Where? The Lithuanian dude just wants to win - he proved that in Europe, so he's not gonna gripe about minutes. Granger is a rookie - no problems there. Who else would have an issue? Fred Jones? I don't see it. The Pacers are set. They've got one of the best starting fives out there: Tinsley, Jackson, Artest, O'Neal, Foster. Then they can do a Kentucky-like substitution from the bench: Lithuania, Jones, Granger, Croshere, David Harrison. And they still have decent guys like Pollard, James Jones, and Bender behind that.

Mark my words: Pacers are winning it all.

At 7/28/2005 11:15 AM, Blogger elandfried said...

I don't know why I find these pics so funny. I guess it's the combo of the amount of middling NBA talent that is there, the gratuitous Hypnotiq shot, the fact that all the girls are pretty unattractive, and the fact that Gilbert Arenas seems to be EVERYWHERE. Did he clone himself? How can he show up to everything? Enjoy:


At 7/28/2005 11:36 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

not saying this for hyperbole's sake, but this really is artest's team. o'neal is great and all, and i have as much respect and affinity for him as i do anyone in the league, but he's not that spark. he can lead, but artest is the one that can really make winning into a life or death issue. artest is the soul of the pacers, and they'll only win it all when/if he can be a force for good.

that's why i'm dead serious about this artest for MVP business. he's the best defender in the league, a 20ppg scorer, and the master of intangibles; only kobe, wade, a motivated t-mac, and lebron (assuming he learns to defend) have that rare combination.

elandfried, you're probably right about there being no real logjam there. there's no reason why i should mistake insane depth for "potential position battle." that lithuinaian guy (don't we have to learn his name at some point, or at least nickname him?) wouldn't have gone to the pacers if he were hell-bent on starting, and there's no rule that says you have to count on rookies to star/start right away. make them earn it.

At 7/28/2005 12:10 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i kind of like calling him lithuania. the funny thing is dude played 4 years at maryland, so we acc fans really have no excuse for not knowing how to spell his name.

that photo album is hilarious. it really warms my heart to see that almost 15 years after ice cube recorded "black korea," we really can all get along.

seriously, though, is tracy murray married to a korean chick or something? what's going on there?

also, chris mills has a lamborghini? is he even in the league anymore?

At 7/28/2005 1:40 PM, Blogger Ken said...

So if Larry Bird and Isaih don't care much for each other then isn't it kinda odd that the Knicks are stacked with finesse type forwards and the Pacers have a bunch of point guards.

At 7/28/2005 2:11 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

I think it may be time for a Pos-Draft Diary with Fran Vazquez. Apparently he is gonna play in Spain next year. His reasoning for not playing in the NBA?

"I said no because I feared I would not adjust well. I truly didn't see myself ready to play there."

So, um, why did you enter the NBA Draft? Let's hear it Fran.

At 7/28/2005 2:33 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

ken, i'm not sure i follow. the pacers are pretty stacked at forward with artest, bender, croshere, and granger. stephen jackson can play the 3, too. and the knicks look all right with marbury, crawford, and nate robinson. granted, none of those dudes really like to share the rock...

At 7/28/2005 2:49 PM, Blogger Ken said...

The Pacers are pretty stacked all over, mine is not a very good point.

I think the Pacers would love to have an Isaih type guy at point and the Knicks would love a Bird type guy at forward. But why wouldn't they?

I was just thinking about the Pacers and how Bird and Isaih are linked by the past and trying to do the same thing, build a winning team, in the present. I think I'd like to read a well written story about that. The offseason sucks.

At 7/28/2005 3:57 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i see, i didn't really think about how bird was that finesse forward and isiah was that great point guard. i guess that is sort of interesting. i'm a big jamal tinsley fan, though, and i think with him and jasikevicius, the pacers are set at the point. anthony johnson played well for them last year, too. he buoyed my fantasy team when i had some injuries late in the season.

a part of me really wants to believe that larry brown can get through to marbury. he is a good passer, he just chooses not to do it very often.

too bad magic and jordan's careers as executives haven't really worked out. it would've been interesting to see isiah, bird, magic, and jordan battle it out as executives.

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