Don't let night fall
Fuck freeing Darko—that was an ideological task. I'm happy for what's he shown us lately, but he meant more to me dead than alive.
Fuck freeing J.R. Smith—he'll land on his feet, even if he doesn't stick as a starter until three years into his career (before LeBron, the standard preps-to-pro timetable).
What I come to you with today, my friends, is one of the less comprehensible quandries currently facing all fans of exotic and mildly toxic NBA meltdown. I've watched him mire, rise, and now fear that, without reason, I am about to witness his downfall.
I don't think anyone needs the rundown of the virtues of Samuel Dalembert. Absolutely filthy, slighty spacey seven footer who is so much more necessary to the future of the center position than Young Chris. Went from nothing to something, dark horse draft pick who'd only taken up the game in high school, humanitarian and lo-fi tech geek, in retrospect the most hotly pursued free agent of last summer's class. Call him a stat-padder, but you don't start a "human pogo stick" for his sound interior defense. Ideally, he'd stand tall next to a rugged four; as fond as I am of Webber, it's not all that insane to insist that, in Iverson's world, the Kenny Thomas/Dalembert tandem made more sense.
Yet ever since Sammy's return from injury, the perennially stunted Steven Hunter has been holding down his spot in the starting line-up. Hunter's most salient quality as a player is an uncanny ability to imitate whomever's he's spelling and/or filling in for; with the Suns, he prowled and intimidated like an untutored Amare, and now with the Sixers, he's doing his best to approximate Dalembert's garbage man of lightning shtick. And while Hunter is no slouch in the athleticism department (and Amare and Dalembert hardly the Association's most deliberate creations) the effect is, if you'll pardon the connotation, a pale imitation of the realness.
I'm not blind to Dalembert's many inconsistencies, shortcomings, and lousy habits. Nor do I walk on my own grave shouting that a contract from Billy King is any kind of endorsement. If Darko has taught us anything, though, it's that still-developing players don't respond well to either contemplative time on the shelf or a purely experimental banishment from the rotation. Cheeks is one of the league's consummate class acts, hardly the flying scum that tried the same shit with Iverson a few years back; I have trouble beleiving that his acts are clad in malice or ego trippin'. Dalembert might be at a crossroads in his career that, quite frankly, doesn't make him as functional in the Sixers' "plan" as Hunter. But if that team wants to ever rise out of the bog of dread that ".500 and from the East" (made even more wrenching by Detroit, Miami, and soon Cleveland, fortifying their might), Dalembert needs to figure out how to gel with AI, Webber and Iguodala. That four-man nucleus at least makes you playoff worthy for the next few seasons. Rest your hopes on Hunter, or alienate Dalembert, and you're no better than the Celtics.
Then again, Philly could always cut its losses and move Sammy.