Artless Self-Sabotage and Other Pragmatic Vows
It's the off-season, where we ignore people on the court and retreat into the realm of the theoretical. Except for when Anthony Randolph scores 30, which sends me scurrying to said theoretical realm with a newfound urgency.
We all know what Liberated Fandom is. Despite all the chaos prompted by this spring's high-stakes Lakers/Celtics series, it remains pretty simple: Fuck where you live, who raised you, what's on tv the most. Make an exhaustive survey of the league and cling onto what moves you, even if it's a lost cause. That can be individuals, a team, or a subset of individuals on a team.
Yes, there's a degree of aestheticism to it, but more importantly, it's about having the freedom to exercise taste in basketball. If that means only jocking winners, fine. If that means pursuing only teams doomed to fail, that's rosy as well. It doesn't even matter if there's little or no consistency to these allegiances, or if they're totally fleeting in nature. What's important is that you maximize your positive enjoyment of the league, in an era that offers far from perfect pro ball product.
This site's other great conceptual shibboleth is the notion of the Positional Revolution. Roughly, this means that traditional positions are cast aside, or deconstructed, in favor of something both new and effective. However, when you actually sit down with this idea, tangles become evident. For one, the Suns and Warriors have long been touted as the apogee of this movement, with the Hawks in this year's playoffs a sentimental entry on the ledger.
Conventional wisdom is that these teams pursued something resembling true apositionality, where roles and responsibilities were flexible from one moment to the next. Of course, the catch here is that Phoenix and Golden State relied on absolutely elite point guards; we can split hairs about the degree to which Nash produced that team's being at any given moment, vs. Baron's reliance on the collective playmaking ectoplasm. It seems, though, that we have no choice but to accept the point guard paradox, and perhaps state that its stability allows other responsibilities rise and fall organically.
However, this kind of extremism is, while very charismatic, unrealistic, infrequent, and, as the Warriors and Hawks prove, such a function of chemistry and circumstance that it may not even be real. If the Positional Revolution stands for player flexibility, or a redistribution of responsibilities, it's almost insane to expect this ever-shifting tapestry of style, in which each player becomes both an existential whir of uncertainty, and the team's sense of order thrives on something that skirts disorder. (Note: Ziller wonders if the ideal apositional team wouldn't be comprised entirely of Diaws and LeBrons, which is dangerously close to what we heard D'Antoni's dream was when he came to New York, which again raises the question of whether the pure PG is the source of this freedom or a compromise).
What I don't get, though, is why the Suns have been held up as a model for the rest of the league, when they represent near the lunatic fringe of positional fluidity. For one, why don't teams see Phoenix as an impractical ideal, but apply this philosophy of flexibility less radically. Instead of changing everything on an instantaneous level, why not just redistribute responsibilities more statically, or at least less dizzying in their iterations?
Does that sound hopelessly vague? All I'm asking is that teams show a little fucking imagination. This fixation on the Suns model, which makes apositionality the goal, is too literal. What the Suns teach us is that imagination can get somewhere. Imaginative coaching just might have a shot in this league. It's not about getting a team full of players who can do everything, but just about organizing what you've got in a creative manner. This can stem from having a franchise player whose singular talents demand this approach: That's the tragedy of Garnett in Minny, probably Iverson in Philly, LeBron right now, and quite possibly Durant for a while. I may not be the ultimate coach, but it's not so hard to imagine that, if the focal point of a team is a complex individual, the team's (relatively static) structure must follow suit.
Or, on the most basic level, what about simply creating some new roles that translate across teams? The Anthony Randolph postulate is thus: There clearly now exists a long, springy brand of forward whose offense consists mostly of reaching, floating, and dunking. Very little in the way of polished moves. They grab boards without really banging, block shots, and have the foot speed to stay with the likes of Richard Jefferson or Melo (the former model for "three by elimination"). Of course, the fact that Randolph got drafted by a team that specializes in ignoring positions, not re-defining them, might obscure or impede his particular case.
Why exactly couldn't this become a new type of SF, who would then be paired with a PF that has some outside shooting? Or be included on a team where the PG packs an offensive wallop? When I look at the Raptors this season—and yes, I am usually wrong about the Raptors—O'Neal's arrival seems like a chance for Bosh to once and for all stop trying to be a "big man," and instead embrace his legacy as the Next Garnett, in the sense that Young Garnett has only managed to make it as a "big man" because he is absolutely indomitable.
I also can't help but think toward the Bulls. Why exactly is it a problem to just fucking play Tyrus Thomas, and figure out a way to have Deng and Gooden pick up the slack he creates? Wasn't one of the fonding principles of Phoenix that Marion would cover everyone's ass? Not as glamorous as an offense that boggles the mind, but without those contingencies, that team would never have had a chance when it came to defense or rebounding.
And so I collapse. Not tired, or betrayed by the Revolution, but wondering if all the glare hasn't distracted us from seeing a more viable, if less orgiastic, road to the future.