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.


At 1/02/2007 1:46 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

this really is going to give new meaning to the ONLY THE SECOND HALF MATTERS.

or, and for that record, i don't think melo needs to hold the ball all that much to score. he didn't in college, and his newly-grownup NBA game is all about getting back to that.

At 1/02/2007 2:20 AM, Blogger T. said...

I've already anguished about Yao/TMac long enough - to realize a slight slight hidden benefit. 6 weeks of injury time = 6 weeks of rest. If the newly resurgent TMac (and according to the Houston Chron, he found a new back specialist and is feeling MUCH better) and crew can hold the ship (3-1 post-Yao is okay, even if the 3-1 were terrible teams) the Rox might right be in position to scare the shit out of some people in May/June.

Re: the Sonics:
this frontcourt looks like the poorly thrown-together cast of a Coen Bros movie about basketball.

heh. I'd watch that - coached by John Tuturro. GM'ed by John Goodman. I'm not so sure, however, that there has ever been a poorly cast Coen Bros movie. Even crapshoots like The Man Who Wasn't There and The Ladykillers had excellent casts.

At 1/02/2007 2:23 AM, Blogger T. said...

By the way, at this point in time, it's rather trite to say that anything is FreeDarko . . .but realizing that? Boise State winning the game on a hook and ladder THEN a Statue of Liberty 2 point conversion? That's Gerald Wallace wearing an UndrCrwn shirt listening to Destroyer reading Das Capital.

At 1/02/2007 3:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and then proposing to his cheerleader girlfriend on national tv

At 1/02/2007 9:06 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

I quit watching basketball around 97 or 98 as well--it might not be 'inexplicable', really; michael was gone (as my bulls-fan friends generally claim, like bill simmons with rocky V, that the wizards comeback "never happened"), his team got blown up, and with them went a sense of drama around the limits of their accomplishments especially because they were old, and that was replaced by anthony mason starting fights under the basket. hence, boring in terms of the watching of the game itself and also the larger story. the pistons sucked too (I'm from Detroit).

At 1/02/2007 12:02 PM, Blogger whitefolks said...

Strangely enough, my basketball hiatus took place about the same time, really only coming back before the lockout in 1998. The 1998 draft class was too big to ignore, even though the biggest names came out of the 96 and 97 classes during those years.

TMac and Yao are starcrossed and will never, ever see an O'Brien Trophy hoisted between their hands. Yao has the fire in the professional sense, but everyone can tell, that this was a life designed for him, not by him. He will continue to plod along in the NBA, putting up the numbers that would be expected for his size and skill. The regret is that he will not reach the level of someone who truly loves basketball and kills themselves to improve. The difference is the true basketball player gets so much personal satisfaction and growth from improving on the court, the basketball employee does so because it's the progression, but nothing far above and beyond.

Yao appears to be reaching for a status that is Bill Walton right after the Blazers. The feet and legs of a man that big will only eventually betray him.

Tracy, he has a bad back and is not quite 28 years old. A bad back in the NBA is the death knell for superstars and felled players like Barkley and Bird about the same amount of time into their careers or a bit later. Remember, he is in his 10th season with back troubles that hampered him frequently in Orlando.

Wait for Wade and Wright to become that next duo searching for teammates and a plan.

At 1/02/2007 12:17 PM, Blogger Gladhands said...

T- I agree, that Bosie State's victory was completely FD, fight down to their positionlessness. They scored their OT touchdown with a halfback option pass thrown by a connverted WR, with their QB lined up as a receiver.

At 1/02/2007 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree injuries are putting meaningful analysis on hold. But, hey its part of the game.
However, there is a positive amidst all of the brakes, bruises, and sprains. If you keep up with the Association, watch a few games a week and check all the box scores--you can see who is stepping up in the absence of stars. And yes, it is the stars who will carry the load in the playoffs, but these people who are stepping up now are gaining the star's confidence. It is their time to showcase what they can do. They can show the coach the the star that they will produce when called upon in May and June.

A few players that come to mind who are stepping up are: Luke Walton (facilitating the offense and shooting 3s), Luther Head (as mentioned above), Pargo from NO/OK, and Dorrell Wright.

At 1/02/2007 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you confused about Jordan Farmar's ethnicity? He's clearly of middle eastern descent...perhaps Iraqi.

At 1/02/2007 2:27 PM, Anonymous Eeeee said...

I just HAD to respond to your Rockets prediction.


At 1/02/2007 3:54 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

anon 2:21 - i can't tell if that's a joke or what. farmar is half jewish, half black. he was largely raised (or reared, as my 4th grade teacher would correct me) by his mom and stepfather, who are both practicing jews.

At 1/02/2007 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, at this point in time, it's rather trite to say that anything is FreeDarko

True, true, but since since talking about basketball qua basketball is anathema here as well (I hyperbolize the bloggers...[/maher]) what do we do?

In seriousness, I have to nitpick with DLIC. No, not about the Black Box, which, speaking from personal experience, was a Target staple well into this decade, though in typical Sota fashion, nothing got the crowd going like Welcome to The Jungle, as everyone thought they wandered into a Vikings game and thus had to get excited. But I digress.

My real nitpick is the contention that both AI and Melo "need the ball." From my observation the biggest qualitative difference in Melo's game this season has been his economy with the basketball. He isn't dribbling a ton, just getting the ball in a good spot, making his move and going to work.

At 1/02/2007 5:26 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that's what i was trying to say about melo in my first comment.

At 1/02/2007 8:51 PM, Anonymous Amphibian said...

I disagree with the assessment of Yao by whitefolks: in the games I've watched, I've seen an improving game with a rising fire and determination to win. I'm getting to like his usage of the fadeaway to get his shot off over just about anyone and I wonder what Yao'd do in an offense with more cutters testing his passing abilities.

The great numbers he was putting up were not all from blowouts of terrible teams - see the Pistons stat line.

The injury was a freak - not the result of poor conditioning or a reoccurring situation. There doesn't seem to be too much to your gloomy forecast, other than "lack of passion".

Although I can appreciate the Rockets and realize that T-Mac and Yao with that supporting cast is absurd, I just don't see them beating the Mavericks - not while Avery Johnson patrols the sidelines in Dallas.

At 1/02/2007 11:45 PM, Blogger whitefolks said...

am: my feeling on yao is that he will end up becoming the reluctant superstar because each leap in his fame is exponential compared to just about anyone else in the league. he has the capacity to dominate at center unlike anyone else would be able to at their position.

and while i agree that he has continued to improve and excel, i do not believe that he will ever reach that lofty position. his fire doesn't come from spot solely reserved for basketball, but more from the want to be better than his peers than to envelop the whole game. their pinnacle could be like that of the spurs with robinson and elliot, instead of kareem and magic.

At 4/13/2009 5:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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