No Time for Drunken Whispers
First off, the explanation for the chattery widget in the corner. There's already been some discussion of this in the comments section, but I've decided to take the plunge and go pledge drive, NPR-style. Starting now, if you like FreeDarko, you can give us some money. Actually, it's more an open-ended donation box with no limit on it, but NPR seems like the most dignified point of reference.
The site is still free, and if you want, you can never hand us a red cent. But if you have enjoyed the site over the years, and would like to see us churn out eight-hundred word essays until the end of days, you might want to consider it. Put simply, it would allow me time to write and pick photos, which is the really time-consuming part. The math is encouraging, and I won't insult your intelligence by laying it out. Suffice it to say that $1 a month from the regulars would basically allow me to expand FreeDarko to hitherto unimaginable versions of height.
Okay, now back on the bus. I've been up in Maine, surrounded by a few members of the FreeDarko High Council. We haven't really talked much basketball; I've defended the Curry/Randolph arrangement to three separate people, and there's been some very wonky talk on the future of the site. I suspect this also has something to do with having hit the courts on at least one occasion. For me, at least, the disconnect between the game I love and the rudimentary form I practice is deeply unnerving. I get that, for some people, the tactile experience of battling under the basket or hitting a key sloppy jumper is what makes them cherish the sport. As you can probably guess, feeling shut out and isolated from all the game's poetry gives me nothing but inner sorrows.
Perhaps most importantly, for the first time in ages I'm not the least bit wooed by the summer leagues. I've long worshipped off-season ball as some sort of screechy oracle. Sometimes, I think they can tell us hidden truths about youngsters, be a kind of a loopy unconscious that sometimes emerges to haunt during the regular season. Then at other times, the sheer perversity of it makes it a playground for potential of the most shocking variety. LaMarcus Aldridge can be a king, but Qyntel Woods was also a summer league monster in his day. LeBron struggled, and both Durant and Oden have been anything but sublime.
There's a very simple reason why I find myself so subdued this July. By anyone's reckoning, this past season feels wan and unfinished. Between the injuries, the robberies, and East's regression, it made it all too clear that New NBA was still a face splattered on the horizon. The Warriors, darlings of this world and the next, emerged too late to have an '04-05 Suns ripple effect on the game--or at least the way we perceived it. And with a draft class to rival 2003 on the way, all the talk of tanking was more revealing then it was damning. These are reinforcements, sent from the hills to help usher in the future.
Usually, I'm all for infinite potential. God bless the Rudy Gay's and Shaun Livingston's of this league, who could be so much, and move in so many directions at once, that they find themselves imprisoned by possibility. To return to my favorite bit of basketball metaphysics, their potential potential is nothing shy of intoxicating. Yet they are parlor tricks, screwy asides, giggles of the game of basketball who may well end up victims of their own breathless inertia. At some point, if this smack-like fun continues they will end up littered corpses, laying in the road beside the likes of Darius Miles and Stromile Swift.
In certain cases, these players find themselves, and then work to become full-fledged stars. That's exactly why Gerald Wallace is so astronomically important to me, and why, for the moment, Josh Smith has surpassed J.R. They are still flush with potential, but it has a direction, a purpose, an identity it pursues. The thrill of this year's draft class is that, despite their youth, most of the top picks are already in this second category of being. High school kids are expected to flail with aplomb for a minute, but Oden and Durant have to be on track from day one. If nothing else, the purpose of college ball is to deliver players into the league with some nascent version of how their complete game might look.
With that mission in mind, these summer leagues are nothing but a distraction. I suppose that, as a hog-tied fan of narrative, I should want their Year One sagas to stretch out as long as possible, and for there to be as much tension and release as possible. But knowing where they will stand once they hit the league, and fully aware of what the Vegas games mean, I can't be anything but annoyed. I am impatient, and I want the Association to continue its rebirth. There's really no hope to be planted that's not redundant or false, and the failures will never stick when we believe in our hearts that next year will be one of abundance.
One note: Durant's doing something totally unprecedented within this framework. Dude's game is totally polished and original, and will stand out at the professional level. At the same time, there's really no telling how greater size and strength will add more to his arsenal. Durant's already going to be Dirk or a psychotic Shard; what remains to be seen is how much All-Star caliber big man he can grow out of his rib.