The ballad of good intentions

Read my McSweeney's column and its companion post. Now, onto shit that just couldn't wait.

Reading the indispensable Inside Hoops this morning, it dawned on me what the most amazing thing about that site is: dude has to register with every major newspaper in America and keep his passwords straight. Soldiering indeed.

A mere hour ago, his brave effort brought me face-to-face with the following grub of a story, courtesy of the impenetrable Oklahoman:

Ron Boone stands by his vote and wouldn’t change it if he could. Boone, the 15-year television analyst for the Utah Jazz, was the lone voter among 125 sportswriters and broadcasters to not give his first-place vote to Hornets guard Chris Paul for rookie of the year. Instead, Boone, a 13-year player in the ABA and NBA, awarded his first-place vote to Jazz point guard Deron Williams. That one vote prevented Paul from becoming the first player to unanimously win the award since David Robinson in 1990.

Boone’s selection might reek of “homer,” but he has an explanation. “I thought Deron finished stronger in the second half of the year,” Boone told The Oklahoman. “And I thought the head-to-head matchups that they had Deron played better. That was it.”

But team record, Boone said, played little to no part in his decision. He focused on the head-to-head matchup, which Williams’ Jazz won 3-1. Paul’s averages: 15.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.7 steals, 2.7 turnovers, 39.5 percent shooting from the field. Williams’ averages: 17 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 60.8 percent shooting from the field."

I know that Jazz supporters are a proud, stubborn bunch, much like the coach that guides them (at your own peril, insert quip about owner's politics or state identity here). And I guess that this explains why one of them would make this kind of bullshit statement vote, one that flies in the face of one of the more indisputable basketball truths of the last decade. What I find astounding, though, is the willingness by Boone to betray everything the Jazz hold dear in order to prop up that their point guard consolation prize. Resorting to cheap numbers rather than glowing intangibles, discounting leadership and importance to team, Boone's vote seems designed to punish Paul for being so great, so fast—even if he did so "the right way." Were Josh Smith to have garnered ROY attention last year based on his dunking prowess, people like Boone would've cried bloody murder. Williams, though, gets his nod because of something altogether secondary to season on the court: namely, a small sample of match-ups and one highly-biased observer's opinion of how Williams bloomed down the stretch (note: THIS IS NOT THE MIP AWARD!).

What I guess I'm genuinely trying to get at is this: we on the wrong side of the "right way" wars have no such luxuries. Somehow, Larry Brown, Pistons and Spurs fans, and Ron Boone can always appeal to their intimate acquaintance with just how things should go. Boone can throw out the obvious all he wants; he knows something the rest of us don't about how one should judge the NBA, even if that means going against all forms of sanity. People such as myself, though, who believe firmly in the importance of style and charisma in the competitive game, are always shot down with a partyline, one-size-fits-all account of what good basketball looks and feels like. Strangely, though, the "right way" conclaves all vary dramatically, often contradict each other and their own counterarguments against me, and quite frankly suggest that this fundamentalism is, well, an excuse to push either an agenda, pure chauvunism, or both.

I've got no problem admitting that the Pistons are more functional than anything I care about in this league. But just as my side of the fence is more heterogenuous than we're given credit for, those lobbing blood at us would do well to admit the same about themselves. Of course, this strength in tyranny is the sole source of their authority; without "the right way," Boone would never be able to even get his explanation in the paper. At the same time, doesn't lumping Larry Brown in together with the Spurs hurt the cause of the latter? Wouldn't admitting that the Pistons have some things in common with the dark side (yeah, I said it) be more honest than seeing the Jazz in them? This whole issue of style vs. substance is a spectrum, which means that the location of antagonistic breachs and teary alliances is fluid, maybe straight arbitrary. Boone relies on the power of polarization to legitimate both his claim and his right to make that kind of claim; in the end, he comes off as no cannier a judge of things than someone committed to letting style color who he wants on the All-Star team.


At 5/11/2006 1:03 PM, Anonymous bayaz said...

As someone who has defended the Pistons on here within the last couple of days, I’ve got to ask: who gives a shit about Ron Boone? One person votes against Paul, and you’re gonna give the rest of us non-Pistons-haters a hard time about it? Secondly, what’s the problem with enjoying both charisma and functionality, both the team game and the individual game? You guys have obviously got an agenda that you’re pushing, but in the end the game is just the game. I guess I just don’t understand why you’ve got to accept the same polarization (in reverse) that pisses you off when done by everybody else. Even in agenda-pushing there should be room for more subtlety than that. Derrida is obviously wrong here, structure (ie the right way) has a productive effect on the possibilities of articulation (to a degree). On the other hand, it’s clearly not all structure and there should always be/there always is a place in expression for individual components (the game as expressive dynamism). It’s the way these two things meet and interact that makes the game interesting and that makes it dynamic itself.

At 5/11/2006 1:24 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

first off, i am incredibly sympathetic to this year's pistons and their fans. with flip, this team has the mix of style and substance they've always had the potential for, even if it's a little too functional for my tastes.

WE ARE NOT ADVOCATES OF PURE STYLE. we think style has a function all its own. we tout style as an important part of the new NBA, not its enemy or a distraction that temporarily derailed the league during the nineties. when we claim style, we're not doing so at the expense of function. in this sense, yes, the binary is useless.

but there are people who reject all forms of style, making an argument for style, no matter how useful, into one against "the right way." we also think it's important to redeem all but the most useless players and parts of the league, so in bringing those names as figures of value it automatically sets off that war. as in, a lot of what we think to be useful style, a lot of the world finds useless. and thus we find ourselves struggling against the "the right way" gospel. "the right way" is anti-style, and its invocation automatically overtakes any attempt to try and qualify it with an appreciation of the value of style.

but look, i'm not saying our readers agree with boone, but he is a component of the nba culture wars. just like when people said "stop comparing kobe to jordan." umm, part of what we do is commment on other people's comments on the sport and topical currents in the air. writing a book about hitler doesn't make me a nazi, or mean i seriously consider his side of things.

At 5/11/2006 1:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think i just broke my own record for most uses of "but" in a single paragraph. if anyone has any tips to help me with that. . .

At 5/11/2006 1:49 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i'm going to steer clear of the broader debate for the moment to just state that raymond felton bloomed post-ASG way more than deron fucking williams did. also, felton has one of the more functionally stylish games in the league. mini-wade.

At 5/11/2006 1:52 PM, Anonymous Pichi Campana said...

I think The Booner's choice of Torrey Ellis as ROY only highlights the division between sports viewing and sports criticism. It's been observed elsewhere in this blog that many of us spend much more time digesting commentary rather than viewing the actual game action.

I'm not here to defend the indefensible (and usually incomprehensible) Booner, but the man sits courtside for every single game. Which means he actually got to watch Chris Paul in action 4 times this year, which is 4 times more than probably most of us outside the NO/OK areas.

The Conventional Wisdom gets passed around, and people start to use the water cooler talk as the Gospel Truth, without even seeing the protagonist in action. By all accounts, CP WAS the Truth, and Reincarnation of The Right Way in Mardi Gras colors leading his team as they wander in the desert of Oklahoma. But why not give a guy a break who actually watched both players up close and personal all year?

At 5/11/2006 2:03 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

also nevermind that in those paul/deron games, paul had numbers that actually resembled those of a pure point. last time i checked, wasn't that the holy grail for jazz fans?

i also swear to god i just heard someone call "rome is burning" and suggest that "we are witnesses" was meant to counteract "carmelo's stop snitching campaign." has someone made this joke already? it wasn't a joke when she said it.

At 5/11/2006 2:39 PM, Anonymous Pichi Campana said...

Also, Jazz fans love Chris Paul. Boone's choice was just as surprising to everyone in Utah as it was to the rest of the sportsnoscenti. Listening to sports radio in Utah this season was to listen to caller after caller rant about how "we could've had Chris Paul!"

Sorry to bloat the comments, and I apologize in proxy if this Jazz-centric thread attracts the fanboys again.

At 5/11/2006 3:00 PM, Blogger Ian said...

I'll probably post this on my blog at some point (you know, post-finals), but I got the feeling that whoever voted for Deron made the decision on Draft Night when he showed up with that bangin'-ass white chick. The season itself was irrelevant.

At 5/11/2006 3:04 PM, Blogger Gastronaut said...


they even have a firefox plugin. no personal passwords necessary.

At 5/11/2006 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He knows something the rest of us don't about how one should judge the NBA, even if that means going against all forms of sanity."

I liked the Brown/Boone parallel, and I think the 2005-2006 Knicks, the ugly step child of the "right way" folks, fits into the comparison better than Spurs and Pistons.

At 5/11/2006 3:25 PM, Anonymous J Landon said...

In re Pichi:

It should be noted that the fact that many of us spend as much time on commentary as we do watching probably makes us even more inclined than someone like Boone to make a non-"conventional wisdom" choice.

Example: Though the conventional wisdom is that Steve Nash was the MVP this year, I know that the majority of this site's readers have wildly different opinions. I mean, even though a lot of my time spent thinking about basketball is just wanking, I at least attempt to think about the game critically and make a choice beyond who outplays who in a particular game. If Smush Parker gets 5 assists to Nash's 4, he certainly isn't more of a "pure passer."

I like many announcers (including my hometown favorite George Blaha) and those don't want to make any rash blanket proclamations about those who actually watch and commentate the games. It is, however, just painfully obvious that Boone made a biased, indefensible choice, based upon whatever criteria he could use to justify his decision.

I won't bring up the obvious political allusion...

At 5/11/2006 3:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


spurs and pistons fans should start wielding their own, customized versions of what "the right way" means, lest they end up incriminated alongside these jokers. the "team basketball, unselfish, hustle, no egos" monolith has been tainted and abused by brown and the jazz.

At 5/11/2006 4:08 PM, Anonymous J Landon said...

I don't think that's correct. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding. The Pistons and Spurs just seem to be a lot better at following the program. I think that their respective success is mutually exclusive from the Jazz and Lakers due to a host of variables (age, height, desire) They have also been doing it for a lot longer with their top talent. That alone makes a huge difference.

Of course, having crazy amounts of talent probably helps as well

At 5/11/2006 4:50 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

THIS IS ABOUT RHETORIC, NOT BASKETBALL. i know there's a difference in the pudding, but here it's a question of how they're all given similar political connotations in certain people's understanding of the league

At 5/11/2006 5:30 PM, Anonymous Sweet Lou said...

I think Pistons fans HAVE gotten away from "the right way" rhetoric. L Brown's greatest strength and weakness is his rhetoric, and in the D they're long gone--replaced with an unrhetorical Huckleberry Hound of calm demeanor. The Pistons now keep it all in-house, like Saunders and Dumars always have.

As for a new rhetoric, the team seems to be all about talking other teams down (Billups on the Heat, Bucks, and Cavs) and claiming that the L is out to get them for their defense (rule changes), mouthing off (just ask Skiles), and fashion sense (Rip recently claimed the dress code was about the Pistons). Sheed still earned more Ts than anyone. The new rhetoric has all the bluster and bombast FD could want. It's the 3-point dagger with extra swagger. "Play the Right Way" is dead. The new rhetoric tells you how it is while still implying just as much: "Ball Don't Lie!"

At 5/11/2006 5:40 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the pistons and most of their fans may have seen the light, but there are plenty who would still put them in that envelope.

At 5/11/2006 5:42 PM, Anonymous mao2 said...

Just in time for this debate, the Association announces the all-defense team. And who's on the first team? Kobe, natch.

I don't want to make this about KB again, but I think it warrants mentioning, as he's usually the one wearing the scarlet letter in these moral diatribes about 'the way'.

At 5/11/2006 5:46 PM, Anonymous mao2 said...

(left out the last part)

... in other words, shouldn't being the best defender at your position, IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE, mean you have a sizable helping of "heart", the main cog of 'the way'?

At 5/11/2006 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it may seem that the numbers in the head to head my imply that Paul is a more pure point guard based on the numbers, but the fact is I saw all four of those games and it wasn't even close. Paul played way more minutes than Deron and still averaged less points. He shot only 39% from the field. It would have been a 4-0 sweep for the Jazz if it weren't for a bogus call for the annointed at the All-star break Rookie of the Year. There was probably only 1 1/2 months of the season that Paul outplayed Deron. I would call the first part of the season a wash, but at the end Deron was helping his team win more that Paul was. Look at the records.

At 5/11/2006 8:07 PM, Anonymous Rorie Norton said...

To say that Chris Paul functions as a purer point guard in the "traditional sense of the word according to Jazz fans" merely because he has higher assist totals is irrelevent. Because of the style of offense the Jazz run (half court sets rather than run-and-gun) the ball gets distributed through the offense more thoroughly and it was often the case that Deron made the pass before the assist (setting it up for those who are not following my logic).

As far as overall point totals go, much of that is due to the state of the team at the time. With established scorers like Boozer, Okur, and Kirilenko on the Jazz it wasn't necessary for Deron to try to create baskets for the team (unlike Paul who was relied upon for his scoring). Plus, as far as Jazz point guards go, with his higher shooting percentage and fewer turnovers I would say that Deron was more efficient than Paul which makes him a much better fit for the Jazz style of basketball.

As far as the one vote keeping the ROY award from being unanimously awarded to Paul, he didn't deserve to win it in that way. He had a great impact this season, and he certainly deserved the ROY, but the impact of his rookie season is not in the same class as Robinson's was back in 1990. If anything, Felton (who had a dynamite 2nd half and could be the best of the three point guards) or Charlie V should've picked up more votes during the process. The problem is that with such a strong first half, Paul had already earned the ROY from the MEDIA which was touting him as the greatest thing since sliced bread (he was good but hardly all that) which never gave anyone elses candidacy a chance.

At 5/11/2006 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Felton and Villanueva had very strong second halves. Felton and Villanueva certainly had strong games from time to time, each had a 40+ game, but there teams pretty much were tanking. CP had a lot of great games, was near the top of the league the whole season in steals and assists, and assist/TO. He was the best player on his team, throughout the season, on a better team than Villanueva and Felton. If he develops a semi-clutch jump shot and the desire to beat his wife, he's easily the next Jason Kidd. And yeah, of course the MEDIA picks who wins the award, that's who picks it, the MEDIA, they are the ones who vote for the ROY, what's your point?

At 5/11/2006 10:27 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

and it was often the case that Deron made the pass before the assist

it's not like i don't get that this is a skill, but it's not nearly as impressive as dishing off the ball for points. it's knowing how to work a system, not making plays per se.

i suppose you could come back and say "by this logic, assists are inferior to baskets." however:

1. there are assists that rely largely on the skill of the passer. with points, if the scorer does too much, it's not an assist.

2. the set-up pass almost invariably depends on the skill of the assist-maker. and it's difficult to imagine a brilliant set-up pass that compensated for a "bad" or merely average assist.

3. i know that hockey values this pass, but from what i understand about that most bothersome of sports, most of the time this involves a fluid pass-pass-shoot. not so with the set-up in a half-court offense.

4. how can you even evaluate decision-making/risk on a set-up pass? often, it's dictate by the geometry of the offense, or, at very least, is equally dependant on the playmaking judgment of the actual assitmaker.

i'm expecting someone to prove me wrong, but these are the reasons why i naively consider paul's stats to indeed be indicative of a more pivotal role on his team.

At 5/11/2006 11:31 PM, Anonymous peregrine said...

Speaking of naive...

I think it's naive to argue that the microcosm of head-to-head shooting percentages should hold significant clout here. For the entire year, CP's percentage is higher, even though he took more shots and played 8 more minutes per game. Point is, paul was more consistently relied on by his team throughout the year, lowering percentages and oppurtunities for deferral. see: linton johnson and rasual butler.

At 5/11/2006 11:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that was kind of my point. . .the argument is pure crap, but because of the "right way" conceit/attitude, he feels like he's got the right to make apodictic statements about the way the game works. even if, as in this case, they're totally untenable.

At 5/12/2006 12:46 AM, Anonymous peregrine said...

"Because of the style of offense the Jazz run (half court sets rather than run-and-gun) the ball gets distributed through the offense more thoroughly"

...seriously? Did you even watch his team play? If I may take a moment to site some actual game-viewing: I saw CP play the bulls from the 2nd row at the United Center, and their offense made hinrich look like Sacto J-Will in comparison. If their's is a run-and-gun, then the gun is a Super Soaker, and the run is a... well, not a very fast one.

I apologize for belaboring this point, but it's explication is imperitive to ending this bullshit, xenophobic attitude towards anybody coming into the L throwing a couple behind-the-back passes. Instead of talking about actual players and their styles/tendencies/performances, the bar for debate has been lowered to posturing about a certain idealized style of play that a guy like Sloan would lean toward. To wit: if CP and Deron had switched draft spots, the same argument would be made by the right-wayers (with CP having been proselytized instead of DW), because their only thesis is based on a consistently imagined style, not a player.

And until people (fans, gms) start making this distinction for themselves, Jeff Van Gundy will always have a job in this league.

At 5/12/2006 10:58 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Relating far back to the argument made here about how some people inexplicably praise the college game but hate on the NBA, Hubie Brown had this to say:

"From day one I try to present the (NBA) game to the people to show that this is a game played a foot above the rim, at the top of the box above the rim – because we have the greatest athletes playing at this level (the NBA). Things are erased because of athleticism, shot blocking, defensive quickness and rotation. I want you to understand that. This is not college basketball. This is not FIBA basketball. This is a game called roller ball. It’s played by the greatest athletes and it’s played under complete duress and duress is the key. Now, are you a man enough to play at this level and, more important, to stay at this level? You’ve got to be a tough person and you must have a lot of courage."

Roller ball? Still, take it from a guy who could have gone to high school with James Naismith, the styles of play are not comparable.

At 5/12/2006 11:04 AM, Anonymous kaifa said...

Sorry for again posting what other people wrote, but this article was just too ridiculous. Poor Josh Smith!

Knight: 'I think I know more than anybody else'
Mark Bradley - Staff
Friday, May 12, 2006

You, being shallow and impatient, are going to read this and scoff. And Billy Knight, being cool in a way you'll never be, is going to laugh at your skepticism. See, Knight doesn't think you know enough to second-guess him.

"I hear people on sports shows," he said, "and I think that person has as much business talking about basketball as I do running the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

You'd think a general manager whose team just doubled its win total and still finished with a better record than only two other NBA teams might be a tad less sure of himself. Sorry. Knight doesn't do circumspection. He doesn't care what you think of him or his Hawks. He thinks he's doing a terrific job. And you? You're simply too myopic to see it.

"You have to give players time to mature. It's the microwave age, but the world does not work instantly. If I could say one thing, it's this: Everyone needs to relax."

As relaxation therapy, try listening to the general manager without throwing the paper at the wall in disgust. Here's Knight's take on Mike Woodson, the coach he hired two summers ago: "He's better than I thought he was. ... I go to all the practices and all the games, and I know more about it than anybody else knows. That might sound like an egotistical statement, but I think I know more than anybody else."

On Chris Paul, the newly minted rookie of the year bypassed by the Hawks in the draft: "Chris Paul is a good player. He deserves to be rookie of the year --- I voted for him. But we're very happy with Marvin Williams. We think he's going to be a heck of a player."

On Boris Diaw, whom Knight drafted in 2003 and traded to Phoenix last summer, whereupon he developed into the NBA's most improved player: "Boris Diaw is in a good situation. ... Boris is a very versatile player. He's able to play [power forward] for them; whether or not he'd have been able to play it for us is a different story."

Here's Knight on the upcoming draft, in which the watching world expects the Hawks to draft a point guard: "Guys are running around saying, 'Point guard, point guard.' But what if I don't agree with that? ... I find [such talk] a little humorous and entertaining."

For the record, Knight won't rule out drafting yet another swingman. "I always take talent. ... I like good basketball players, and there are a lot of 6-foot-8 players in the draft. And 6-8 is the ideal size." Might the day arrive when the Hawks draft for a specific need? "There could come a time like that, but I'm not at that time."

Knight claims his goal is to be "the most laid-back guy in the world," and he's on track. Who else could be this sanguine while presiding over a team that has gone 39-125 over two seasons and hasn't, in three drafts under Knight, picked a player who received even one third-place vote for rookie of the year?

"I'm happy with where we are today," he said. "We have a long way to go." Does he expect the Hawks to make the playoffs next season? "I don't say that. I say we should make improvement."

Does he believe his constituency supports such a measured approach? "Based on what I hear when I move about town, when I go to the movies or the grocery or when I take my daughter to the mall or when I'm getting gas, I think people can see we're making improvement. ... We're in the second year of our process."

But what if down-the-road results don't support such serenity? What if his supportive ownership gets as antsy as Sudden Steve Belkin? What if time runs out? "If it does, it does. I know this business. I've been around the world and made it back. There's nothing I can do about that."

And you out there? What if you're not willing to endorse such a glacial pace? What if you have issues with every player Knight has drafted? Then you, being borderline hysterical, need to let matters play out.

"I never judge a guy after one year," Knight said. "It's too early to tell. You'll see the difference in three years, as opposed to standing on your mountain and passing judgment."

You out there --- take a deep breath. You'll have your chance to vent. The NBA draft is only 47 days away.


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