Deceptively deceptive

Some people find symmetry comforting, while others consider it downright terrifying. Either way, what gets them going is evidence of a master plan that could be either the sweet guiding palm of the Great Designer, proof positive that all your free will has been in vain, or simply some of Fate’s likes and dislikes. I usually like to brush these off as coincidence or predictable repetition, but it’s hard to find that within you when, several hundred thousand feet above sea level, the television has told you in rapid succession about two of the most affecting deaths of this great century. I pour out, I know how it must be.

But I come to you this morning not to speak of the paunch that becometh dust, or the occult-like ocean of change that swept over NYC rap writers this weekend (Clipse show was unmemorable, Crunchy Black’s Oscar means a fuck of a lot more than Halle’s hand-out). I wish to, throughout this sunny time was share together, once again call out the Association’s general managers for their unshakable belief in what we might well term The Eternal Recurrence of the Detroit Pistons.

This trade season was a fizzler partly because, as many have noted, major stars generally switch up their zips over the summer, and teams chasing them will hold on to their chips in hopes of making that grappling off-season play (or, in Zeke’s case, are somehow accomplishing both at once). With all the chatter across the wire these days about All-Stars on the block—Iverson, Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen, and Jermaine O’Neal are all rumoured to have tags around their necks, in case you didn’t know—it would seem that moving out your franchise player for God knows what is an acceptable, if not productive, course for a organization lacking directional impetus.

When I swear till the end that this is a league of stars, it’s not just because I like it that way. By far the easiest way to construct a basketball team is to acquire one marquee player, then build around him to both suit his strengths and complement his weaknesses or limitations. Granted, the four perennial All-Stars listed above have their flaws, but none of are ripe for a Francis or Marbury-like demotion to among the flocks. As in, you could hardly ask for a more solid cornerstone to a roster than any of these masterful performers. It’s far more improbable to come up with a truthful star in this league than to not, so the men in charge should hold on to what they’ve got. And if someone realizes that they’ve misinterpreted their storefront figure, or the player’s changed their approach, then tinker with the supporting cast. They may be more of them to deal with, but damn sun, they’re so much more disposable.

Swapping one centerpiece for another only makes sense if the supporting cast is beyond impeccable, and has taken on a life of its own that simply demands a different focus. The body has rebelled from the outside in, as in the rare case of the genital change that compels a person to switch genders (THIS NEVER HAPPENS). You’ll also rarely catch the oft-theorized “star for high lottery pick” deals go down, since an All-Star getting dangled is, in the fair-weather mindset of the NBA, an All-Star compromised, and the draft pick still has the chance to be perfect. If you’re planning to tank and pray on the lottery, spring’s the time to do it—once those picks sit high, it’s hard to prey them away. The Elton Brand trade was the most recent example of this, and it took a nearly four years for the Bulls to honor their folly.

But why, then, do GM’s insist on pursuing the nuclear option? As with many of the bodily functions we call NBA 2005-2006, I have to lay the blame squarely at the feet of your Detroit Pistons. Ever since the Pistons, and to a lesser degree the Spurs, the constantly embattled Pace Show, and this year’s rag-tag Suns, took the helm of modern basketball success-hood, stars have begun to seem less and less essential to the running of shit. You should hardly need me to explain that this is the case, but it has had a perplexing effect on the way GM’s do business. I am of the central belief that, from this day on, general managers truly believe that simply expecting multiple players to carry an evenly-distributed load will birth them their very own Pistons. I return to the unthinkable scenario in which two teams swap stars based on the looks of majestic supporting casts—it would never happen, because teams are now convinced that a little mutiny is just what they’re trying foment.

The Pistons may represent the triumph of the working stiff and his metallurgical chemistry amongst him and his traveling bunch, but it’s not something that occurs naturally in water once the star is extinguished. I would like to stand on liquid and remind you that Dumars, Bird/Walsh, whoever thinks between Pops’ institutional jaws, and that Italian dude who won exec of the year last season are easily the cream of the league’s GM crop. As in, it’s far more difficult to put together a team in which a bunch of highly-specialized role players or versatile pilgrims learn to rule on their own (the American experiment: Nash=Jefferson, Duncan=Washington) than for the mighty to reign. It’s no breeze to do this, especially because it involves far more scouting, guesswork, and utter imagination than asking career pluggers to keep plugging away at what they plug best.

(Barely related interlude: Brickowski brought to my attention last week that J.R. Smith nearly got shipped off to the Spurs. For the sake for my self-esteem, we can refrain from thinking about the moth-shaped rupture this might have produced in Cosmos Le Shoals. But I have been thinking. . . how weird is that the Smith was, just out of high school, well on his way to becoming a starting shooting guard for years in this league, maybe even a special one. And now, he’ll have to fight his way back to the top of some team’s rotation to even get starters’ minutes. I still have faith that he’ll amount to something, but I don’t expect to see him get the voluminous space to create he so lurchingly deserves for at least another three to four years.)

This isn’t just another lash upon the Pistons’ noble hide, though. Why I am once again taking aim at the general managers is not only because of their fantasy of conjuring up the Pistons by turning the other way. Rather, what this world needs is GM’s to find their own identity, much as the Pistons, Spurs, Suns, and Pistons have. While many, including myself, have divined in these relatively egalitarian franchises the death of style, the absence of identity, or an almost mystically non-descript approach to allowing team flourishment, today I see otherwise. I speak to those who would move their stars, and say unto them thusly: you are someone, you have a team to be just as the Pistons were able to become themselves. And it lies, undoubtedly, within the heart of your star’s identity. It won’t always be easy, but it can’t be more difficult than building a less conspicuously formulaic team. Remember, Iverson might be hard to match players with, but it hardly helps that he’s had Larry Brown and/or Billy King, two climactically bad executives, handing him teammates for most of his career. The same goes for Ainge’s adventures, or anything McHale did besides sign Cassell.

Perhaps I’m wrong about what’s in their minds, and these GM’s are fully aware of what a difficult task they’re setting forth for themselves. In that case, they need to let of their egos and accept what good tidings lay in shambles before them, repairing them to their natural state. I deeply suspect, though, that it is true that the Pistons are seen as a solution, not a challenge, and that to mistake life’s labors for its spoils is to risk losing the giant eel that holds the planet in its mouth.


At 3/07/2006 4:10 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

wow. . sorry to let everyone down like that.

At 3/07/2006 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think everyone read this post and nodded their head in agreement and moved on.

So moving on... Shoals, I think you should try to parlay your McSweeney's connections into a stint in the NBA Entertainment League. Sure, you may not live in SoCal at the moment, but the seeds should be planted now in case somebody wants include you as a writer when they make a movie called The Big Aristotle that centers around the esoteric ruminations of the illegitamate child of Adonyl Foyle and Shaquille O'Neal. Just a thought

At 3/07/2006 5:24 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

cogent post.

who's the rapper in the pic?

At 3/07/2006 6:13 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

Yeah, I think you should take 0 comments as a compliment. I actually liked this post a lot and wanted to let it marinate for a minute instead of doing the rapid response thing. In some ways this one reminded me of your infamous TO/Artest post (http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2005/08/how-terrell-owens-saved-nba-and-sas.html), which also garnered no comments despite being an all-time FreeD classic. In fact, I’m using what little authority I have to make that required reading for all newcomers. That post emphasized how important it was for players in the L to develop a unique identity, but this one has me thinking that it’s equally important for coaches/GMs (and probably everyone else in the world) to do the same.

I’m having a hard time distinguishing between coaches and GMs because at times it’s a pretty hazy line (Pop, D’Antoni, Carlisle) while in other cases it’s unmistakably apparent (Dumars). But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the GMs that I can most readily call to mind are also the ones who are willing to commit themselves to a distinct vision, even if it means sacrificing a few wins in the short term. J.R. Smith seems more than tangentially related here. Quick show of hands: who can even name the Hornets GM? Had that trade gone down you better believe you would all know about Jeff Bower, but for the wrong reasons. It’s incomprehensible to me that a 7th seed in a season where 3 teams have a legit shot at the title refuse to play a freakishly athletic 20 year old who’s draining threes at a 40% clip. Pop gets rapped with an ultra-conservative tag, but he started a 19 year old rookie point guard over established vets like Antonio Daniels and Terry Porter, when his team was actually competing for a title. Then he followed that up the next year by unleashing a certain Argentine rook with a penchant for going behind the back in traffic. I understand that a playoff run is important to a franchise with little history of success playing in a new market, but it's not worth fucking up the future. Thankfully the Magic GMs had the good sense to force Hill to give our Slavic boy some run.

But I don’t think we’re in danger of Eternal Piston Recurrence. It’s an ideology that’s currently in vogue, but will be immediately replaced by the ideology of whatever team knocks off the Spurs/Pistons. Copycat GMs will always exist in sports because it’s far easier to imitate than create. I also don’t expect many or any of the big names mentioned to be moved at season’s end. But I do dig the Nietzsche reference. He seems to be the site’s most oft-referenced philosopher, which seems appropriate, if only because fatal syphilitic insanity is totally FreeDarko.

At 3/07/2006 6:34 PM, Anonymous T. said...

I wrote two seperate responses to this post, before deleting them since I didn't think they conveyed my ideas well enough.

I'm still not sure I can get it down in writing what I'd like to try to say - but it really has to do with identity creation - and if it comes post-championship/post-success - especially with the followers.

The question of identity and ideology with regards to basketball - it's not something which can be responded to in a glib manner on a blogspot comments board. Not by me at least - not in a way that I'll feel good about.

At 3/07/2006 7:52 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

'tis a great post. Though I may have nits to pick in your characterization of the Pistons as "starless". In terms of hype, assuredly, in terms of game, Chauncey is A-1 badass. But his defining attribute is "solid". So between him and Big Ben, you have a lot of "solid" to build on. The genius of Joe D. was seeing that Rip and Prince and Sheed would mesh well with this "solid" approach. Seriously, what about Rip in DC or Sheed in Portland would ever really scream "solid" to you?

So in effect, I think the Pistons reinforce your point rather than act as the exception.

The problem the other GM's have is they mistake Chauncey's lack of star status for lack of star game, so their efforts to create 'perfect balance' are doomed to fail just like the late '90s Blazers or Roy Williams's Kansas teams always did - when it gets down to nut-cutting time, they had nobody they could tell "go make us a winning play" because their identity came from either the group (the JailBlazers) or the coach (Weepy Williams).

A larger point to be made is that this imitation is a disease not limited to hack GM's in the Association. How many "moneyball pricipled" "west coast-offenses" "playing the left-wing lock" "with a flat back four" (sorry had to toss a soccer reference in) are out that mistake the form of success for the substance? Alternatively, it's not the triangle, it was MJ, stupid.

At 3/07/2006 9:34 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm going to have to take a crayon on your vision of billups. you could say that the pistons have gotten shaped into a behemoth as chauncey has grown in a star, but it's just as easy to say that the pistons' collective maturation has allowed him to turn into their de facto leader/star/catalyst.

they won a fucking championship with billups's mvp trophy looking like a "it had to go somewhere" deal. and the pistons' unity as such an overwhelming force in that team's identity/everyone's perception of it, it's tough to claim that chauncey's the rock, not sheed/ben/prince/rip/etc. all working together in a way that makes their point guard better as they get better.

At 3/07/2006 9:34 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

oh and the rapper is az.

At 3/07/2006 9:56 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

man, they should let the wiz and celts play every night.

At 3/07/2006 10:49 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

A fair point, Shoals. Though, as a Wolves fan, I got to see Chauncey become Chauncey his last year in the Mini-Apple. I'm not sure I've ever been more angry as a fan when McHale chose to keep Will Avery instead. Yeah, yeah, salary cap, blah-blah, but still...

At 3/07/2006 11:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

chauncey was a mini-marvel on minnesota, but for none of the reasons that make him a semi-star today. in fact, he was pretty much the polar opposite of "solid."

At 3/08/2006 12:05 AM, Blogger Pooh said...

Not to get stat-nerd, but in 01-02 he put up 12.5, 5.5 and 3 in 29 minutes and a > 3:1 Ast:to is pretty solid. Plus after Brandon went down that year, they started playing great with Chauncey as the starter. Plus, even then he had what Raftery might call "Onions".

OK, maybe I'm overstating my case, but I still think it's wrong to say that the Piston's are 'starless,' but that only goes partway to explaining why other GMs are wrong to be fixated on the Pistons 'model.' And I think you are mostly correct as to how a team should be built.

At 3/08/2006 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that Pooh Richardson spit'n outa Minni-Apple?

At 3/08/2006 5:11 PM, Blogger Dr. Chestnutt said...

I didn't comment because I felt dumb and I kept getting hung up on the JLH pic, but I'd have to say that the following, particularly the last bit, is one of the best things I've ever read about basketball - "You’ll also rarely catch the oft-theorized 'star for high lottery pick' deals go down, since an All-Star getting dangled is, in the fair-weather mindset of the NBA, an All-Star compromised, and the draft pick still has the chance to be perfect."

At 3/08/2006 6:37 PM, Anonymous Tinns said...

Those pics of everyone's main man Dilbert poppin the birds after hitting what he thought was the winner last night were the best. I wish more than anything i caught the game like that polish guy up above me did. Arenas could do anything at anytime.

At 3/08/2006 7:43 PM, Anonymous T. said...

You’ll also rarely catch the oft-theorized 'star for high lottery pick' deals go down, since an All-Star getting dangled is, in the fair-weather mindset of the NBA, an All-Star compromised, and the draft pick still has the chance to be perfect."

See E. Brand for T. Chandler.

At 3/08/2006 11:36 PM, Anonymous 412hater215 said...

Two things.

First, thank you for bringing the giant eel that holds the earth in its jaws to my attention. I have undergone some drastic re-evaluation of my natural science training in the last 20 minutes (read: 120 may no longer be the knowledge wisdom cipher).

Second, I don't understand how the enBah's being a "league of stars" means that aspiring to develop a well-rounded team with a congruent philosophy is a goal made of holograms. I think that the "league of stars" philosophy can only be applied to the actual gameplay periodically, but at irregular periods. I shall to explainate.

My pops, in his age and wisdom noted that basketball tends to elevate specific players, coaches or philosophies after a change in the rules. After a major rule change (e.g. shot clock, 3 point arc) the game must be reinterpereted on the fly, and some coaches or players (or a combo of the two) do it better faster. Thus there is an exciting period of transition where the nature of the game is in flux. Eventually, things reach a boring stalemate, and something has to give. First it was the over-dominance of big men, now it's the Princeton offense, play NBA Jam D type style.

The enBah may be a league of stars (from a marketing perspective and as we see it in our collective memory), but from a gameplay perspective, it isn't any more.

At 3/08/2006 11:43 PM, Anonymous shady said...

I (along with most Chicagoans) shudder everytime I'm reminded of that trade. Chandler's forays to the basket conjure images of an uncoordinated giraffe flinging itself into a brick wall.

That entire 2001 draft vexes me. So top-heavy with high-school 'mystery meat'. Kwame. Chandler. Curry. So much promise and so little production . . . yet all 3 of those scrubs have landed fairly lucrative second contracts.

At 3/09/2006 12:06 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

how were the changes in hand checks, fouls called, etc. not major changes in rules?

At 3/09/2006 12:41 AM, Anonymous 412hater215 said...

most of those are minor, procedural types of things. I think anything short of creating a new shot worth an extra point or fundamentally altering court dimensions or pace doesn't really stack up.


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