Fuschia Maze Alert
Attention. We are on the verge of a lost NBA season--One of those seasons that comes along every six years or so, when you look back and say, "Oh weird, remember that one season when Mehmet Okur and Caron Butler were all-stars?" Such is the fate of the nation's third sport--baseball is Grey's Anatomy, football is the news. Not only must the NBA wait each year until the Superbowl is over, for its season to officially "begin," but this year's NFL postseason was so plot-driven, so captivating in bringing us the rise and fall of Rex, Peyton, Lovie, Tony, Brady, Marty, Eli, LDT, Bellichek, and the Saints, that it nearly swallowed the NBA whole. What's more, the NBA has had to compete with a college basketball season that has brought two of the brightest coexisting stars in decades and a infinitely intriguing WIDE OPEN pool of interchangeable #1-seed teams. When March comes, this whirring of activity will zenith. I fear for The Association.
All of this while ESPN pimps Auto Racing "scandal" and Daytona500 flashback segments in hopes of drawing viewership to their new NASCAR Now joint, and Dice-K's spring training drills are getting more airtime than McGrady/Dirk showdowns. Perhaps The Lig only has itself to blame. Among the elements contributing to this year's stumble are:
--Key injuries to Key players. Shaq, Nash, AI, Odom, and most underratedly, Yao. Yao's dominance could have been the single biggest story of The Association this year. More on this in a bit.
--a TERRIBLE TERRIBLE rookie class. I'm not asking for Bron/Melo/Bosh/Wade/Howard. All I'm asking is for a little excitement, a little promise, a smile. You know, something along the lines of Vlad-Rad, Joe Johnson, Tyson Chandler, Diop, Troubled Griffin, J-Rich. At least that was a class we could argue about. With the 2006-07 class, I am just hoping that Brandon Roy will ever be able to play 75 games in a season and that Randy Foye doesn't turn out to be the next William Avery.
--No surprise teams. Don't say a word about Utah. They are simply finally performing up to expectations. Also, any team doing well in the East is doing well by default.
--No surprise free agent explosions.
--The Iverson deal falling flat on its face. There are too many sad things about this to mention. Iverson dying a baby blue death. Iverson proving nobody wrong. The 76ers getting actually slightly better and messing up their draft plans. The ever-so-slight stunting of Melo's development.
--LeBron's incapacity to become THE FACE. Shoals places blame on Bron's coach and his shitty teammates, I blame it on regression to the mean, and his own lack of originality. Give him time and he may figure out how to dominate from the in-dominitable point-forward position. However, the year should have been his.
Etcetera. All of this is not to say that the league has been disappointment or that the NBA has lost something this year. All-star weekend reminded us, as Shoals recently pointed out, of the league's style and humor. To reiterate, this is more of a concern over an ever-churning industry of character and savantism being swept under the rug. The purpose of this call to arms is also to state that all is not yet lost, and I have provided below, a short list of THINGS THAT HAVE TO HAPPEN, so that this season can emerge as a proud contribution to history as well as to the future.
--America must get behind the Raptors. Although behind FD's closed doors, Shoals has bestowed this title to the Suns, as far as I'm concerned, the Raptors are our Saints. Don't forget that just two years ago, Sam Mitchell was ready to scrap with Vince Carter in the Raps' locker room. This is the last guy in the league that should have a job, especially given the regime change in the front office, but the guy who used to dance to Betty Wright's "Tonight is the Night" in the T-Wolves lockerroom has prevailed. Then there is the wonder that is Chris Bosh, seething silently every time he hears Josh Howard's name get bigged up. Bosh is taking his time, learning the lessons of KG before him, and has pound-for-pound become the single most exciting player to watch this season. Seriously, watch him. Of course none of this would be possible without TJ Ford, who is playing like JAMEER NELSON WAS SUPPOSED TO PLAY. Give me my meat-and-potatoes drive-and-dish team. Bargnani's passing skills are heaven-sent, and Anthony Parker is good. Plus, they have Darrick Martin. The Raptors are the team for all of those whose favorite squad's are not in the playoff hunt. Embrace them.
--The Suns must win the whole thing. If not, they are the Chargers, the Mets, Tom Cruise, whoever. As much as we bolster style on Freedarko, we cannot sustain ourselves on a diet of all sugar and no meat. Watching the All-star game this past Sunday made me realize one all-important fact. If the Suns had signed Kobe Bryant instead of Steve Nash during that fateful summer, they would have won a championship already. The Suns, as they stand now, have no dawg in them. And despite Bill Simmons' bright observation that Nash has a badder attitude (bad meaning good) this year than ever before and despite year-ago acquisitions Kurt Thomas and Raja Bell supposedly standing as indicators of the Suns' push toward toughness, they still seem a little too thrilled with themselves, a little too light. If the Suns do not prevail, then we should feel like we wasted a season of our lives pretending to usher in some wind of change.
--Yao Ming must play deep into the playoffs. I am not wholly sure if Shaq injuries have the same impact they used to, where the entire league breathes easier for a few weeks, and nobody is looking over their shoulder. With Yao out, however, there has been NOBODY to keep the league honest. Over the past year and a half, we've been tricked into thinking the league has gotten quicker, smaller, more stealth, more compact. Tweeners are playing center, and Ervin Johnson can't get a ten-day contract. Forget the fact that until proven otherwise, smallball simply does not work in the playoffs (I will spare you my usual Duncan/Shaq/DetroitBigs won the last million championships & even the Mavs needed Diop & Damp last year rant). Yao is all we have left. I'm not trying to see Josh McRoberts do battle with Bogut in the post next year.
--The Bulls must acquire Pau Gasol. The Bulls are the most sullen team in the NBA, and are in need of a spark. This spark could very well come in the form of good old-fashioned low post scoring. What's more, I have never seen a team with so much young promise/energy appear so dour and dismal. Tyrus Thomas scoffs at opportunity. Hinrich, Deng, and Gordon all feel they have been snubbed from the all-star squad. Nocioni has no friends. And this cheerlessness starts at the top, with the perpetually frowning Scott Skiles and his would-be team captain, Ben Wallace, still searching for himself. Gasol would at least add some color to the Bulls' game, and restore some glimmer to what, as of now, looks like a bunch of pouty children who would rather slouch amongst themselves than pursue their dreams.
The league itself is Free Darko. Its potential is limitless, and we can move it forward.