If There's Branches, Smell Poison

By all genetically pre-disposed counts, I shouldn't have missed last night's punch-off. I don't want to shout "race traitor" at the mirror, if only because I hate to think that the People of Israel were put on this earth solely to watch Wizards/Suns in the Year 70045763. Yet if there are two things that verily define me as a cloud upon dirt, it's those two impregnable obligations. That said, the prig bubbling of the U.S. cultural cauldron and the deepest echoes of love can undermine a lot, and so I write this morning a man filled with loss.

When I think for a split second, however, I realize that I'm more guilt-ridden over this than actually upset. I should have been watching this game and scanning Chinese take-out menus, but really, I'm not all that bent up about it. While perhaps I am contriving excuses for my own self-deceit, without pause I bring you TWO MAJOR REASONS WHY MY LIFE MIGHT GO ON:

Stakes is grim: I have on countless occasions endroses the NBA-game-as-free-flowing-narrative, the NFL Films shtick done for the Russian lit set. And while it's true that this incalcuable ebb and slow of significance saves us from easy "good guy/bad guy," "triumph/tragedy" polarizations, still fate's surgery is done and judgment's ax falls. And despite what some of my best friends and most virulent foes might say, I do get enthralled by tactile possibility of victory and sorrow, especially when I particuarly care for one team. With that in mind, please know once more how dear these two particular rosters are to me. It would've been impossible for me to take sides, thus no joy; and all pain would've been personal, so no dance of decay. I would have had no choice but to wax objective, and once that begins, the sport is mute to me.

Today, I plan to watch the event on Broadband. It will be difference between home movies of your bar mitzvah and sweating through the real thing; there is pride, but at best there is the absence of others' disappointment. Now knowing that it was a game for the ages, that both teams shed magma and reinforced my best version of them, will I be able to enjoy it for its virtues. No Suns runaway, no Gilbert slump, no late collapse by anyone. The outcome was a necessary evil, one that I would prefer to not be preoccupied with. Did I mention that I'm Jewish? I feel the same way about Larry David, incidentally; only on the second or third viewing can I actuall enjoy an episode with feeling myself sent to hell in the process.

The Eternal Eye: I stand by my claim that a basketball game must be watched in full. Even if, despite my party line, I find myself increasingly having to watch the first half with one eye on the laptop. Such is price of constant required viewing. Yet I find some strange dignity in having seen none of such a pivotal contest, and still being able to feel as if I've sensed the whole thing. Not to fete my own canary, but I pay attention to the NBA. I know the players, and as much about their respective games as I care to. When you dial up the Suns and Wizards, two teams I watch with religius precision and who fail to stand in the way of their opponents, it's pretty much just a matter of their offenses functioning full-tilt. And in some ways, then it's all about iterations of style, styles I know like the ruts in my muscles. I once mocked Silverbird for "watching" Sunday night NFL action via Stat Tracker. But now, having followed the fourth quarter and OT of Suns/Wizards this way, I can at least say I understand why it might count.

Some non-related drool: This Christmas season, I've been thinking a lot about draft picks. It had something to do with the Recluse's wail upon Cleveland, but it's also just one of those things I take time to ponder during the holidays. I know that drafting is an inexact art--fuck a science. And that free agent transaction, while they deal with known quantities, can backfire in unexpected ways. But rather than executives embracing/falling back on these inherent ambiguities, it seems like there should be some responsible way of evaluating them based on how well they tend to judge these things.

Last night, I listened to this story on an NPR food podcast about a "super-taster," some Mexican guy who discovered he had the freakishly enhanced taste receptors needed to determine what caviar is worth $4,000 a tin. Because basketball poetically defies logic in a way that baseball can only dream of, this stats revolution is a charade. Personally, I believe it's a ploy to attract academics to the sport; whatever it's shadowy purpose, no way in France will it help the Rockets figure out in what settings Rafer Alston can optimize his output. The same goes for scouting; the combine more often than not just validates false prophets and leads to recurrent heartbreak when teams buy into its discourse. Isiah can't sign free agents worth a damn, but is obviously one of the more shrewd evaluators of pre-NBA talent this side of the Nelson family. Why not set him up in a position doing that and only that, acknowledging his one-dimensional expertise and accepting his incompetence in the other department?

When a GM reliably fucks up one of those tasks, he should be off that case; if he’s a mess at both, he damn well better be good at recruiting and managing scouts who are. Front offices who consistently luck out with either of these two tendrils of evaluation should be getting their ranks raided daily; the Cavs have no excuse to butcher a decade’s worth of picks when they could hire away rising stars from the Pistons or the Spurs. Shit, wasn’t this strategy how (and why) Jon Gruden ended up with a chance to win a Super Bowl?

For all my Pistons faithful. My plan to gift Gilbert a nickname has obviously failed, but here's a less ambituous one: Jason Maxiell, though shalt be J-MAX till the doom.


At 12/23/2006 12:03 PM, Anonymous gabe said...

Was at the game, nosebleed central, visiting my mom for the holidays in Phoenix (the only way she gets me out here during the NBA season is the promise of a game). ohmygod

Shit was filthy, though my mom couldn't understand why I kept standing up and yelling every time Gilbert hit a bucket. It was pretty transcendent, and the second OT barnburner of the week for me (Knicks/Jazz on Monday, with Deron's threes and SMarble's layup buzzerbeater). This was the people's champ though, Gil was majestic and Nash his uncanny self. Amare looks 85%, and we ate at Stoudemire's before the game (depressing, sad, totally as I expected).

Gonna be in Seattle for Supes/Celts NYE day...Can this contest live up? Rashard is a walking nightmare, I know that...

At 12/23/2006 12:45 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Isiah Thomas has done well during his reign as GM in drafting (really well, in fact), but I'm not sure how much credit to give him. The reason he's done well might be attached to having hired a top-notch scouting department heading by Brendan Suhr, I believe. Isiah deserves the credit cause he makes the final call in the end on who gets picked, but I think the credit should be that he has put in place a strong scouting team that most teams just don't have.

Suhr= Scott Storch or Warren G to Isiah's Dr. Dre.

Oh, be careful of giving Isiah credit for anything, Shoals - the rhetoric-spewing haters will be coming for your head soon.

WV: cpacxud - your old booty call is dating an accountant.

At 12/23/2006 1:40 PM, Blogger T. said...

sml - I think this one might have more to do with Zeke. From his days with Toronto (Damon Stoudamire, TMac, Camby) through what he's done now with the Knicks (via the draft - Lee, Frye, NateRob, Collins and Balkman all look like keepers) - he's hit almost every single draft choice. I think even the Isiah haters will acknowledge his draft success.

I think the role of a GM is an interesting one. CD at the Rockets is NOT the talent evaluator - the man is half blind! literally, not metaphorically! - he's got a pretty good talent evaluation/scouting team, except for during the Rudy T days, the team was enamored of drafting Rudy T clones (tall forwards who could shoot, but really, couldn't really play a lick). But where CD makes his money is that he has good relationships with almost everybody in the league and agents - and he takes the evaluations from the coaches and scouting staff (and owner) and drafts/trades are put together by him.

At 12/23/2006 2:18 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

well, league pass doesn't even archive non-league pass games, so i had to make due with the highlights. i stand by my "it's still mine" claim.

g--about the amare at 85% deal, this is encouraging, right? i know we've been thanking our lucky stars for at least that, but this rabid recovery has to bode well for his getting back to 100%, right?

also, why was he barely in until the fourth quarter?

At 12/23/2006 2:27 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

T - true, but what I was trying to get was not whether or not Isiah has HAD success at drafting (he has, this is almost undisputable), but rather WHY has he had success? Is he really a great evaluator of talent (i.e. he should be in charge of scouting), or is he just smart enough to have a strong scouting department in place, not unlike San Antonio (the best scouts in the league)?

A similar argument I hinted at is that you can call Dr. Dre a top-5 rap producer of all-time, but in doing so are you really talking about the man, or the entity that is Dre (i.e. most of G Funk era stuff was really ghost produced by Warren G, and most of his Aftermath/Slim Shady/50 Cent stuff was ghost produced by Storch)?

Semantics, I suppose....

The WV have been on lately - WV: zinczz - getting your business done while napping.

At 12/23/2006 3:08 PM, Anonymous gabe said...

Amare at 85% - VERY encouraging. He put in a baseline reverse jam at a critical moment (I believe in regulation), as well as a powerful dunk at another big minute on a beautiful feed from Nash (OT? I was DRINKING).

I think he was out a bit w fouls, but don't quote me on that Shoals (Jameson/rocks).

What I didn't see were any of those straight up SCARY, rises, puts the ball WAY behind the head bangers that I witnessed during my two PHX games at Christmas '04 (nor his money 17 foot jumper - he had 30+ in both of those games). But he looked comfortable on the court at all times, confident, and the athletics were THERE (if not fundamentally frightening). I need to see more of the jumper, and be made to shiver say...twice a game? Than I can proclaim that the manchild is BACK.

Maybe it'll never be like THAT, but he's really on his way, from what I saw up close (yet so far away with my whiskeybloodynose). Great news indeed.

At 12/23/2006 4:07 PM, Blogger T. said...

sml - I guess I was just saying he's done it at two different places - with two different types of draft choices (bad picks with New York and lottery picks with Toronto) - so I'd attribute that to his talent.

At 12/23/2006 4:20 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Gotcha, T - I agree.

Hey, Camby is out for a few weeks with a broken hand - pardon my self-indulgence, but I think I called that one in the burying the anchor post. While predicting an injury for the NBA's Mr. Glass is as difficult as predicting a sunrise tomorrow, you still have to admit my timing was dead-on... my goal to surpass Skeets as the nostradamus of b-ball is progressing well....

At 12/23/2006 6:07 PM, Anonymous Erik said...

This is my first year of intense FreeDarko love of the sport, and so I was not as rigorously attentive the past few years. So I was peripherally aware of Amare, but was largely focused on the trials and travails of my Baby Bulls (which is why it took me this long to become a huge Agent Zero fan). But what I'm trying to say is this: if THAT was Amare at 85%, I can't imagine what he'll be at 100%.

I mean, that play with Antawn at his back, an arms-length away... it was incredible.

That was my second favorite game of the year, behind that epic Suns v. Nets game (do we have a name for that yet?), and I leapt from my recliner at least half a dozen times.

At 12/23/2006 6:16 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

j.r. madness from the rocky mountain news. god i love that kid:

Guard J.R. Smith, though, is appealing his 10-game penalty. The difference is, Smith's appeal is heard by NBA commissioner David Stern, while any Anthony appeal would have been heard by an arbitrator because his suspension was longer than 12 games.

"It might be," Smith said when asked if going through Stern is tougher. "But (Stern) might be kind of lenient that we got (guard Allen Iverson) now."

can someone send me a dvd of that suns/wizards game? please? my birthday is on 1/1.

At 12/23/2006 6:17 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'll ask again: one of you must have tivo'ed it. for the sake of this blog, could you send me a burn of it? i will pay for everything. . . .

At 12/23/2006 8:12 PM, Anonymous neck of eackles said...

I couldn't understand why the Suns didn't go to Amare more, especially after Haywood fouled out and Jameson was guarding him (though "guarding" might not be the right word). That spin/dunk routine could have been repeated eternally. Was the unwillingness to just bang it in again and again somehow the dark side of the Suns FD joie?

At 12/23/2006 9:20 PM, Blogger the_jdg said...

hey, I'm Jewish too!
I gotta start watching this Arenas fellow more now that I live in his local television coverage area.
J.R. Smith is from like 5 min. from where I used to live in NJ.

At 12/23/2006 9:24 PM, Anonymous megapickles said...


Not sure if this qualifies as your New Year's bday gift... but by doing a rudimentary google search, I "discovered" a torrent community devoted to NBA games.


It'll probably be posted there in the next day or two.

WV: gdpzvsge- GDP Zimbabwe vs. General Electric...
(these WV's have been ridiculously awesome lately.)

At 12/23/2006 10:09 PM, Blogger T. said...

Boy the injury gods are not kind to the Rockets. Yao suffers bone bruise during Clips game. Might be out 2 weeks.

At 12/24/2006 1:17 AM, Anonymous dagger/tanto said...

"Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas appears to have adopted a new shooting mantra. For the time being, anyway, he said he has stopped saying "hibachi" when his jump shot is in mid-flight... Now Arenas claims to utter the phrase "quality shots," a tweak at Kobe Bryant's petulant criticism following Arenas's 60-point game against Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers last Sunday."

At 12/24/2006 2:13 AM, Blogger O.D.B. said...

Few things:

1. Was thinking about this very phenomenon last night ('stats revolution is a charade') - Wiz/Suns commercial breaks were spent on the YES network, where some Marv Albert show (?) had back-to-back 'behind the music' with Steve Kerr and John Paxson. I mean, how do you identify these guys (and Robert Horry as their obvious successor)?

2.Let me be the first to say that Amare at 85% was not that impressive...or at least I hope it was only 65%. He didn't get clock 'till the 4th quarter because that's when Nash turned it up. Never thought I'd say this, but last night made me think I had it backwards when I was screaming about Nash not deserving the MVP because of Amare in '04-'05.

3. Can we get a source on dagger/tanto's Gilbert quote?

4. Did anyone watch the Sonics game? That's a decent boxscore for the return of the FBP, no?

At 12/24/2006 2:19 AM, Blogger T. said...

ODB - 28 6 and 5 - yeah that works nicely as a first game back.

However, I, along with every other Rockets fan, am weeping in the the desolate shards of this season. 6 weeks. The man was playing on fire too.

At 12/24/2006 3:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


If VHS will suffice, I can hook it up.

At 12/24/2006 3:53 AM, Anonymous Leandrinho said...

Amare had a decent outing, why is everyone judging him on last night's game? He had a spectacular and well-timed dunk and went 7 of 12 with 11 boards in 27 minutes. The announcers noted that D'Antoni was matching up against the ultra-small wizards. I've been watching him closely all year and he is only missing some timing and conditioning. Also it appears no one on the team knows how to throw a post-entry pass except Diaw and Nash. Raja and Marion in particular never look inside so Amare is not getting nearly as many touches as in '04. I think he's more like 90% back, but the team hasn't integrated him 100% into their game.

Additionaly, last night Nash fell a little bit in love with his shot and the Arenas matchup when the pick and roll with Amare was 4 for 4. Specifically there's a play in the last 2 minutes where Nash opts for the off-balance hook while Amare sits underneath the basket with jazz hands.

At 12/24/2006 10:27 AM, Blogger Kirk Krack said...

yes! jdg!

At 12/24/2006 2:09 PM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

Off topic -- Any thoughts on yesterday's OSU-Florida tilt? I guess I've been watching too much NBA, but for a game between two alleged powerhouses, the level of play was just wretched. Bad passes everywhere, none of the perimeter guys could penetrate and none of the inside guys had range of more than 8 feet. I think Florida's 2-3 zone caused OSU to clank six or seven threes in a row, with careless turnovers interspersed throughout.

Oden is a natural shotblocker and I guess he will be a defensive menace in the league, but he was hardly the dominating force on offense that I had been taught to expect. Yeah, his good hand is broken, but he was also sucking wind throughout most of the second half. Florida fans kept chanting "Oden" in a derisive tone -- I'm not sure how that's meant to be interpreted, but there's the vaunted cleverness and passion of NCAA fans.

Noah, allegedly a top-5 pick last time I checked, has great court vision and giraffes with the best of them, but I think he will get muscled in the league. He needs to develop some range because there's no way he's getting position on the PFs in the NBA. He made some pretty passes, but can't score outside the paint. He's kind of like Marion without his (ugly as shit but strangely effective) perimeter game. Also, he's on some Alonzo-esque fist pumping shit, but without the physique. Punk.

At 12/24/2006 3:08 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

10 questions for Kobe that shed some light on how much he worries about what the public perception of himself is. Some interesting answers that add to the complex personality he seems to have. Oh, and he also mentions Arenas among the hardest to guard.


At 12/24/2006 3:42 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Also, maybe some of you have already read this, but Arenas addressed Kobe's comments in his blog:


Seems worth to keep an eye on with these two guys.

Happy holidays to everybody!

At 12/24/2006 4:39 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

kaifa--that's some amazing kobe. i would post it on aol, but after all this awvee storey bullshit i'm not really interested in chumming for kobe-haters. maybe i'll break it down in pre-xmas game post tonight.

pooh---i tentatively accept your graciou offer, but am still holding out hope for a copy i won't have to borrow technology to watch. hit me on the gmail if you get a chance.

come on, surely someone can easily burn me a dvd of this? where does the future lurk if not in this comments section?

At 12/24/2006 11:03 PM, Anonymous Carlos Destrroyo said...

As a devout Pistons fan, I can tell you that this Maxiell fellow is going to be a monster, or at least damn fun to watch. Every time the man goes up, it looks like he's trying to kill the rim.

Ben Wallace's freakish leaping plus Amare's kill-bot dunks. Once he learns better positioning and perfects his shot, it's gonna be good.

Oh, and I call him "The Electric Iell." Are puns un-freedarko?

wv: nnqna - A description of the Nets' post-game press conference: No Nenad Q & A.


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