In the Land of Spiny Columns
Some moons and swamps ago, FreeDarko laid forth The Song of the Positional Revolution. The title was somewhat deceptive, as we could hardly claim that the old rules were dead, or that success rate was faltering. The long and short was thus: a singular star like Kevin Garnett could not be asked to carry a team by doing everything at once. What KG needed to do was just do KG, carving out a featured role for himself made up of original priorities. It would then be incumbent upon his coaches and personnel brokers to put players around him who complemented this authentic Garnett.
During a long conversation with Ziller this past Friday, I realized how wrong this all had been. It's all fine and good to wish liberation on stars—liberation from both the formulaic game and the burden of versatility. However, this revolution cannot begin at the top with a demi-god exerting a tyranny of style upon his team and organization. There is simply no assurance that those around him can adjust to a reworking of the traditional order.
In fact, I now believe that the true prophets are martyrs, who sacrifice their featured status for the good of the structural whole. And they must do it all so everyone around them, be they great or small, are free to cast off their shackles and find themselves. Thus, there are two key moments in this tale: when one man becomes the ultimate working-class super-hero, and when his teammates go on inner quests to become themselves.
It should come as zero surprise that in this new telling of things, no figure looms larger than Shawn Marion. Nash's virtuosity is the life-force of Phoenix, and Amare's unhinged intensity its most asymmetric weapon. But laugh not: it is Marion that allows for both of these men to play like they do. As TZ pointed out, Marion is widely regarded as a system player, and yet every team in the league wants someone like him. That's because, ladies and gentlemen, Marion is the system . . . or, indeed, THE MATRIX. Nash and Amare's strengths are, in part, a function of Marion, bringing up the whole chicken/egg problem of "complementary" players. And their weaknesses are certainly masked by his mutant contributions.
Perhaps it is facile to use the Suns as an example of all that could be in any way. What, then, of that dastardly forgotten Heat team of '04, whose roster resembled nothing if not outright nonsense? And yet they nearly squirmed their way into the Conference Finals, behind the late-season invention of one Dwyane Wade. Wade, who had been slotted at point guard for most of the year, suddenly began to jut forth in a way that acknowledged his position while invoking MJ.
This hatching only happened for the grace of Lamar Odom. Up until that point in his pro life, Mar Mar had been entrusted with the sacred legacy of Magic Johnson. The Clips waited on him to run their team, and yet were hamstrung by his spacey judgment and lack of aggressiveness. In Miami though, Odom held everything together because he committed to the glass, stepped out only when necessary, and used his size, passing and ball-handling to exploit mismatches. That last one was instead of his Los Angeles style, which amounted to a never-ending attempt to prove he was everyone's mismatch. With this human foundation in place, Wade could look for his shot, and a team that consisted of Caron Butler, Rasual Butler, Brian Grant, Udonis Haslem, and Rafer Alston defied all rational expectations.
Another, less-heralded, member of this club is Antawn Jamison. Jamison has long fascinated the committee here at FreeDarko, in large part because of his plushly angular scoring style. But it's absolutely key to remember that Jamison, rather than cursing his brethren with the stench of tweener-ness, holds together an otherwise scraggly bunch. Jamison can work in the paint on both ends, and yet also hits three's and a variety of eccentric runners. While he may not be a true slasher or pounder, his touch and unique grasp of spatial ruptures allows him to provide in these two ways. This compensates for the Wiz's non-existent big men, and, as with Marion and Nash, provides Arenas insurance.
Granted, Odom was swapped for uber-principle Shaq, and, due to either Kobe, the triangle, or the ability vacuum around him in Los Angeles, has yet to regain his 2003-04 form. And Jamison is a somewhat accidental candidate, as he happens to be the only decent size on a team of scorers. That is, until Blatche's time comes. Sidenote: I am not quite sure what relation the triangle has to do with this dream. Pippen is pre-history, but he might have happened without Phil. On the other hand, you could make the argument that the Bulls' offense was possible only because of Pippen; this would put him in a position much like Marion is vis a vis the Suns' system.
In the end, though, all this comes back to Garnett. I suggested to Tom that Marion was more valuable than KG, then realized this was just because Garnett has never been used like Marion. The pre-Avery Dirk, and what we expect Durant to be, are in keeping with the original definition of the Revolution. They inhabit the foreground, and exist to get buckets with some big man dividends. The same could be said for Webber, who was an elite power forward with some guard skills.
Garnett may be the most talented player in the Association, but to achieve his true destiny he must retreat from the spotlight and become the firmament. This has always been his wish; hopefully, the situation in Boston will let others see how right he has been all along. Like him, the Positional Revolution becomes most radical when the inflamed individual is transubstantiated into a form of basketball logic.
Business: So wow, I guess we've raised a thousand dollars. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I hope we can keep these trickling in. For those of you going with the $1/month program, I hope you'll keep up with it. And as promised, the super-secret stats section will be going before '07-08 starts braying.