Amphibians on Dry Land
We at Freedarko are nothing if not about unrealized potential. With the increasing number of soldiers that the league has sent to the infirmary, this year has brought us so many near smashes. So much possibility that remains in orbit. About a week ago, I wrote a post on the annoyance of NBA injuries that was so trite I won't even link to it here, but I have since gathered some clearer thoughts on why this outbreak of ailments is so frustrating. You see, this NBA season has the feeling of "starting before we were ready." A new basketball appeared out of nowhere. Palming violations and moving screens are all of a sudden emphasized, slowing the game down to a maddening degree. The Jazz and Magic jumped out the gate. It took weeks for the Suns, Mavericks, and Bulls to catch up to speed. No sooner has Iverson been traded than Ron-Ron is on the block again. And so, things have felt disjointed, rushed, just now coming together.
Now, this flurried fragmentation may be the perfect environment for a post-football spurt of NBA basketball like we have never seen, except we haven't even gotten a glimpse of what is to come. With players twisting ankles, spraining ligaments, and catching the flu left and right, the dreams I had for this year are waiting in the wings. Recapping the most tragic, yet potentially fantastic conundrums of 2006-07 so far, they are as follows:
Yao and T-Mac on the brink of CONTENTION. Yao on the brink of DOMINATION. When the bruised twosome plays together, the Rockets cannot be stopped. This is why the despite everything, Houston is my dark horse pick to represent the West in the finals this year. Chuck Hayes is the muscle inside that Yao always needed. Mutombo and Luther Head are both playing better than last year. One Grizzlie henchman (Stromile Swift) has multiplied into two (Bonzi + Battier), not to mention that these are the two good ones. This is the squad that Houston has been trying to put together ever since they obtained T-Mac. Yet between his back spasms, and Yao's tragedy in the middle of a Shaq-like season, I am crushed to have to watch the Rockets "linger" in the West instead of stomping around Texas. Of course, Shaq has had plenty of effective 65-game seasons and so too might be Yao's fate. Yet I still feel cheated. Wwhen I saw Yao get T-ed up for posterizing then trashtalking Eddie Griffin earlier this year, I felt new blood pumping, and I want that ole thing back.
Iverson + Melo = KILLER DUO. But J.R. Smith = JOE PESCI SCENE-STEALER.
I want to see these three play together RIGHT NOW. Not tomorrow. Right now....Now, not just because I hate the Denver Nuggets, but rather because I watch a lot of NBA basketball, I can say that I am firmly in the camp that this whole AI on the Nuggets thing is not gonna work out. In fact, it may be at its *best* while Melo & JR aren't around to clutter things up. (Big Stephen A. Smith breath here...) HOWEVER, JR, Melo, and AI on the court all at the same time is a must-watch situation. As has been analyzed to death, both AI and Melo are guys who NEED THE BALL in their hands to score, but JR Smith is ironically a better catch-and-shoot 3-point threat AND a better alley-oop target than either AI or Carmelo. The AI-Melo-GKarl power struggle will be a timebomb, the further photosynthesis of JR Smith will be an act of miracle.
Sonics frontcourt: The essence of all that we are
Oh, I'm sorry, did you really want to talk unrealized potential plus Euros plus Africans plus flagrant fouls plus blue-chip jumpshots plus personality? WERE Robert Swift to have stayed healthy we would be witness to the most Freedarko frontcourt in the history of time. Peep the suspects:
Saer Sene -- Do the words "wingspan," "upside," and "raw" mean anything to you? Well they don't mean anything to Sene either. Dude is a flat out monster.
Johan Petro -- See above, except Petro is actually proving himself in limited minutes this year.
Nick Collison -- Silent Assassin
Danny Fortson -- My only hope is that Fortson somehow gets to the playoffs this year, if not on the Sonics than on another team. Gets his $ worth fouling the shit out of tough bigs.
Chris Wilcox -- Screw it, I want to see Wilcox on a team without any stars just to see what happens if he gets 25 shots a game.
Unfortunately, the nucleus of this crew is the aforementioned Robert Swift, and without Swift, this frontcourt looks like the poorly thrown-together cast of a Coen Bros movie about basketball. A bunch of bloated cartoons, lacking a true identity. Swift, although he has proved to be a non-factor in the NBA so far, encompasses every single quality of the rest of his frontcourt mates: the awkwardness of Petro, the rawness of Sene, the whiteness of Collison, the foul-proneness of Fortson, and the potential to actually be good, of Wilcox. Get well soon, Wiki wiki.
Kobe & Odom. Cue Up Black Box "Everybody Everybody."
As someone who attended a plethora of NBA games during the early to mid-90s (and then inexplicably stopped paying much attention to hoops, for a while, around 1997), there is no song I associate more with that era of basketball than Black Box's dance classic (perhaps this was just a Target Center staple). More importantly, this era for me was defined by Isiah & Joe and MJ and Scottie demonstrating that championships could be won by backcourt prowess, not requiring an all-world center. These days Kobe and Odom would be the closest thing to recreating this style of play. Prior to injury and post-personal tragedy, Odom was on a trajectory of Yao-like measures, and Kobe is hands down the MVP of the league so far. Yeah, I said it. While so much is made of AI never having the right teammates surrounding them to win a championship, while Cleveland is sweating bullets trying to build some competent structure around LeBron, while so much is made of what Wade is doing while Shaq sits, Kobe is positioned with, let's just be honest, the WORST SUPPORTING CAST of any star in the league. Worse than Paul Pierce. Worse than KG. P-Jax finally told the truth: that Radmanovic is a space cadet, and that Kwame Brown is terrible. Amazingly, Bynum looks worse. Smush Parker and Vujacic have regressed. Turiaf is a cheerleader. Jordan Farmar's dubious ethnicity is a distraction. Every morning I look at the standings and stare with amazement at the Lakers' record, sans-LO. If Odom and K24 can get their health schedules on the same page, we are in for a tour de force...but I'll be cursing fate in the meantime.