We See the Canvasser at Work
With the regular season creeping to its merciful end and the playoffs almost set (please, basketball gods, let us have Monta Ellis for another week), it's time to recognize the acheivements, both dubious and noble, of the players of this fine association over the past six months. We begin with our first annual update to the "Freedarko list," taking note of the young men who have climbed to the top with the corresponding list of the displaced.
[Text provided by Bethlehem Shoals, Billups, Dr. LIC, and yours truly, BR, Esq.]
The Welcome to the Jungle, Buckethead Award
Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors: Number one with a fucking bullet, Ellis is the kind of scoring point guard that isn't supposed to be able to succeed in the NBA, especially not at age 21. Maybe he wouldn't be as effective on a team not coached by Don Nelson, but we've enjoyed witnessing the experiment so far. His Rookie/Sophs performance is still seared in my brain.
Andris Biedrins, Golden State Warriors: Once best-known and loved for sharing the amazing story about the night he, Zarko Cabarkapa, and Nikoloz Tskitishvilli rode around Manhattan in a horse-drawn carriage, Biedrins is now a bona fide NBA starter, averaging a near double double and looking like one of the best young big men in the game.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics: Shoals recently inked a paean to his boxscores, so I don't really have much to add. I'll just point you to April 7.
Kevin Martin, Sacramento Kings: If you would've told me the next Reggie Miller would be a biracial hick with a haircut straight out of 1989.....I would have said that sounds about right, actually.
Elton Brand, LA Clippers: We certainly can't make the case that Brand benefitted from a breakout season this year, but we did start to look at him differently. Once criticized on this very blog for having a boring personality, Brand now seems more like a laid back professional who's comfortable with who he is. Okay, 99% of the reason he's now on the list is learning that he produced a film directed by German auteur Werner Herzog.
The Just Take Your Stuff and Leave Award
Marquis Daniels, Indiana Pacers: Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all. One of the most enjoyable NBA moments of the past five years was watching this undrafted kid from Auburn join up with the last pick of the first round to command notice on a veteran Mavericks squad whose rotation seemed to be pretty set. The fact that he looked like a lizard and had some morbid-ass tattoos only added to his appeal. But, at some point, you have to perform on a consistent basis, and Marquis hasn't done it.
Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana Pacers: I know the Pacers were just mathematically eliminated today, but they've been irrelevant for a lot longer than that, and so has their star player. O'Neal should be entering his prime, but injuries and his team imploding on him have tarnished his star considerably. Even off the court, where he once seemed righteous, he now seems whiny.
Shaun Livingston, LA Clippers: He once seemed like the perfect FreeDarko player: young, full of potential, and with style to spare. But, now three seasons in, it's hard to keep waiting for him to do something already. I really do feel for the kid with all of his injuries, especially the last one, but at some point, we have to deal with the real. If it were all potential, his namesake Randy would be on the list, too.
Larry Hughes, Cleveland Cavaliers: Hughes has been a frustrating player his whole career, a guy who can average 20, 5, and 5, lead the league in steals, and still make you feel like he isn't really trying. At times, that has seemed kind of bad-ass, but lately, it just pisses you off. Everyone knew going to Cleveland was a mistake, and unsurprisingly, this season has been the most aggravating yet.
Sebastian Telfair, Boston Celtics: I'm not even sure why he was on the list in first place, I think Shoals had just seen that ESPN documentary and was a little caught up.
And now on to the rest of the awards........
The Meta-Landmine of the Plains Award
Recipient: Amir Johnson, Detroit Pistons
I've always thought "too FreeDarko for FreeDarko" referred to someone like Iverson, whose excess of (insert keywords here) showed that there was some nuance around there parts. Instead, I discovered Pistons forward Amir Johnson, who takes the embodiment of the FreeDarko core principles to a whole new level. I feel like I'm handing out a middle school trophy here, but it's like his story was created to elevate the entire FD community.
I first heard of him from my FanHouse comrade Matt Watson, who relayed that dude was igniting the drab D-League like no man before or since. Johnson had sent himself down there, since he couldn't stand to be off the court. Enthusiasm, honesty, and work ethic. . . all from a guy who plays like an unbridled cartoon. He was to go down in history as the last high school player ever drafted into the National Basketball Association, and likely a melancholy footnote. But he promptly grew two inches, blossoming into a 6'11" bundle of small forward-ish-ness. And if Darko's legacy is this the mixed blessing that fuels this site, Johnson stands to set things right—for the Pistons, and for us. Who would have thought that a raw, under-the-radar black kid, unwanted by policy and practice, would be Detroit's grand stroke of luck. Not an abstract, highly-touted Euro who distracted them from what made them soar in the first place.
The following is spoken as a man who swore by 2000 Sheed and 2002 Ben Wallace:
Johnson and Maxiell for President.
Back II Life Award (aka The Jason Street Memorial Award)
Recipient: TJ Ford, Toronto Raptors
Science is fucking alright by me. Only psalms I read were on the arms of Amare Stoudamire, right? And I have so much faith in mans quest for knowledge that I smoke the better part of a pack of Camel Lights a day, just to show my confidence in the lab rats. Theyre gonna have cancer wrapped up before the next M.O.P. album drops, right? I AM GOOD. Fuck a microfracture! Tommy John surgery? Thats what they do! With the wizards in white coats on the case we( and by we I mean NBA players) (and by NBA players I dont mean Grant Hill), have come to a point where a career threatening injury is as anachronistic as mid-range jumper.
All injuries are the same. All injured players are different. Some dudes, be they youngins or grey like grandpa, call for Dr. Quinn as soon as their athletes foot hits condition orange. Some walk hand in hand with science and say, I ain't born on the fourth of July! I got next!
TJ Ford couldn't walk it out like Usher BECAUSE HE COULDN'T FUCKING WALK FOR A SECOND. After a year of rehab he got back in the shit. And after a bit of blessing from some deity he got out of Bucktown and fled to Toronto. Most middle class point guards would've been happy as Sean Penn in Bolivia with the numbers Ford had in 05-06. But TJ wasn't even done with the fucking preamble. In 06-07, he keeps feeding and feeding Bosh, torturing Senator Herb Kohl from north of the border. Don't call him a comeback. When you see General Joke's-On-You-I'm-Still-Alive, salute him.
Still Crying Over Spilled Hypnotiq from Dale Davis Chalice Award
Recipient: Bonzi Wells, UNEMPLOYED
Actually, fuck me. This isn't really funny. There's haha Tim Duncan likes jazz funny. And then there's just fucking sad and weird. I love the shit out of Bonzi. The 98 Blazers (Mighty Mouse, Rash, Bonzi, Sabonis, Jr Rider! Walt Wizard, Stacey Augmon, John Motherfucking Crotty and of course young Jermaine O'Neal shit is like Oceans Bakers Dozen) are one of my favorite teams ever.
I always thought Bonzi's particular instability was rooted in a deep desire to win basketball games way more than it ever was an aversion to having assholes with thinning hair tell him what to do. Although he seems to have a pattern of not liking that either.
But Bonzi's exit is more like Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas than it is Latrell or something. He quit (quit!) the Rockets via text message. He decided to just lay up in the cut in Seattle. Nobody goes to Seattle to get their mind right. Shit is like the Epcot Center of Manic Depression.
Maybe dude isn't suited to being a journeyman. Maybe he can't accept his body no longer doing the things he tells it to. Maybe Bob Sura freaked him out. The optimist in me hopes he catches on with the Lakers in the Phil Jackson Free to Be You and Me stable; or maybe Dumars does an extreme makeover on him. But if you ask me when I'm sober I'd say Bonzi is the type who needs to napalm a situation to get himself out of it. I just hope he ain't in a hotel room somewhere muttering, "Saigon Shit, I'm still only in Saigon."
The Eddie Griffin/Kim Deal "Where is My Mind?" award for potentially f'ing up a really big contract/extension after finally fulfilling The Promise, recording a lot of blocked shots, and looking sullen but in a cool way
Recipient: Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
Ok, Smitty's done nothing close to riding around liquored up with porn in the DVD player, crashing into someone and attempting to bribe the victim with "anything but a Bentley." Nonetheless, J-Smooth's profanity-filled screaming on Coach Mike Woodson has already got John Hollinger and others wondering if the guy is mentally mature enough to prove he is worth a big-money extension this summer. The incident occurred at the end of a close game versus the 76ers when Smith's failure to drive to the hoop (and settle for a long jumper instead) infuriated the coaching staff, leading to the big tiff between him and Woodson. I'm siding with Woodson on this one. Who wants to see Josh Smith do anything except be two feet from the basket at all times?
The Darrell Armstrong/Alan Henderson "Mad Grizzled" award for a player who is mad grizzled, barely plays, but nonetheless receives a nice little contract from Mark Cuban
Recipient: Kevin Willis, Dallas Mavericks
Seriously, at this point, Cubes is just throwing money around. Kevin Willis has played ONE MINUTE and has probably earned about $27,000. Pundits will praise the Mavs' cunningness for obtaining a big with veteran experience to provide some backup to their dinged up frontline. I call stupidity and more Right-Way pandering from the wah-wah "Look how Avery motivates his team by saying they don't look playoff-ready even after winning 60 games" Mavericks. On a sidenote, I started following the NBA closely when Kevin Willis was coming into his own and never understood why he didn't get the same tough guy reputation, as say, Charles Oakley. I'm renaming Kevin Willis NICE OAKLEY.
Draft Crew of the Year Award
Recipient: The Entire 2003 Second Round
Out of that entire round, about a third are solidly in the pros, which has to be all kinds of records. Here are those names, including any special distinctions they have earned:
Luke Walton: Along with Odom, the Ebony/Ivory of multi-skilled SF's that makes the triangle churn
Jason Kapono: Respect the Three-Point Shootout. It's sponsored by a soda and a phone company.
Steve Blake: You know the Denver roster. And still he gets his minutes.
Willie Green: Nothing special, but he should be in Europe and he ain't.
Zaza Pachulia: Name a better young Euro center.
Keith Bogans: Holding out for next expansion draft.
Matt Bonner: Pop doesn't know a good thing. This is the pale, impaired man's Robert Horry he's dealing with.
Mo Williams: Starter game, starter money.
Kyle Korver: Laying back, smirking at Kapono's plastic crown.
James Jones: Faster than you can say "Tim Thomas 2."
It's not like these are refugees from the first round, which has only five or six players who have legitimately fallen off the earth. Nor was this a bad year for the earlier selections, what with Melo coming into his own, Bosh looking like a future MVP, and Josh Howard the league's best supporting actor. On the whole, though, the guys above did more with less, and thus mathematically accomplished more, than their pampered shelfmates.