1.24.2009

An Unofficial Guide to Guides



This began as a post about how awesome I was for making a point of watching Cavs/Warriors, and the difficulty of figuring out what to view on any given night. Then I realized that it didn't take a genius to pick that game, so instead I'm going to write about what I learned from Monta Ellis. But first, a few words about the Nuggets.

I always thought that Melo was the force that somehow legitimated Iverson, and all the other miscreants on that squad. That might have been wishful thinking, or aiming too low.

Reader Dave F. recently asked me whether it's possible for a team to made more FD by a decidedly un-FD player, a more traditional guy who serves as the organizing principle. He mentioned Yao, and it's true, under Adelman Yao has at times shown himself capable of both taking part in a more complex offense and holding down the paint. The real test case, though, is Billups. We all know Chauncey used to be a hoot when on Minnesota, and isn't exactly the purest point in the galaxy. But his sense of economy and control do have a conservative streak to them; Nash, Paul, Rose, or Baron are more creative and unpredictable, even if they're closer to the positional archetype. In fact, you could that the ideal PG is supposed to introduce an element of instability to throw off opponents, while themselves maintaining a new-found grasp of this discovery. It's a dualism that explains why today, the league's premier playmakers often find themselves on fast, inventive team—and why all my favorite teams have, or badly need, such a player.



Billups, then, is neither too much nor too little of a point guard, and as such is the perfect equilibrium for a Denver team made up of various forms of excess and lack. His job isn't to encourage K-Mart, J.R., and Nene, but in effect, manage them. Neither dashing "floor general" nor feckless "game manager," Billups is entrusted with turning craziness into a useful commodity, ordering and meting it out so that players are compartmentalized without being squelched. Maybe that makes him a lion-tamer, or the guy in charge of The Wild Bunch. Denver may not have the least conventional roster in the league, but it's certainly the most streaky and combustible. Billups can juggle these pieces (one of which is George Karl, natch) through a combination of equanimity and pragmatism. I will punch you if anyone makes an Obama analogy here.

This isn't as simple as saying "Chauncey Billups runs the offense." He's the star in the middle of the solar system that holds everything else in its stable orbit. And here, we stumble into quite the equivocation, since by conventional measure, Melo is the "star" of that team, and Billups's predecessor, AI, certainly had more star power. But taken literally, the primary function of a star is to provide gravity, cohesion. That can be in the form of leadership, or the more concrete work of Billups I've described. I would say that Iverson was always a bigger star league-wide during his time on Denver than he was on his own team. This might be where stardom ceases to be frivolous, and begins to overlap with terms like "value," and the debates everyone's been having about what makes an All-Star. I think it goes without saying, though, that Billups seems more impressive in this capacity, harnessing the forces of darkness, than at any point in his storied Detroit career. Denver needs him to make sense, but he needs Denver to exhibit just compatible, and essential, he can be to a team.



That's because the Pistons were, depending on how you look at it, starless—big planets all floating in a row—or a team of minor stars who didn't care for stragglers. I'm not offering a critique of how Detroit played, more that attitude that earned them so much praise, and yet some always hankering to see them add an uber-component. For instance, as much as I loved this year's Warriors as a scraggly band of freedom fighters hanging out in Oakland and giving other teams nightmares whose ultimate result was mere annoyance, they were most definitely starless, even if Jackson, Crawford and Maggette are prone to the kind of play (and numbers) associated with taking charge and holding things together. I've always found it admirable that Jackson, despite being the captain and arguably that team's Shawn Marion (wholly original piece that dictates the overall structure, even as the PG shapes it from second-to-second), never seemed particularly interested in stardom. Say what you will about S-Jax, but the man is smart about basketball, right down to the way he balances the ethic that made him beloved as a Spur with the inner crazy encouraged by Nellie ball.

And so we finally arrive at Monta's return. That the first game of the year for a player with one good season under his belt, who might be the best player on one of the league's worst teams, seemed like an event should tell you something about Ellis. Well, adjust that for my personal biases, but certainly Ellis has the capacity to captivate and punctuate like no one else on the Warriors. Basketball-wise, Monta's just adding another scorer whose can handle the ball a little. He's not that much better than Crawford. But when he's on the floor with the Warriors, that team suddenly has a sense of purpose. He's not hands-on like Billups, nor is he as vocal as Jackson. And yet all of a sudden, the Warriors have an identity. They're no longer a subversive mess, as likely to undo themselves as to irritate others. They're that same rag-tag people's army, but with a charismatic punch that allows them to believe in themselves. It's a swag-laden way of leading by example. Call it the reverse Ewing theory—a team lacking inner logic for whom a seemingly pointless star is the only way to justify themselves. It's also the best possible explanation for why the Wizards need Arenas, and maybe why the Warriors pursued him this off-season.



Rather than write an actual conclusion—no way it needs to get any more abstract and high-flown—I'd like to say a few words about the Oklahoma City Thunder. I know that as a resident of Seattle, I should hate this team. Then again, I refuse to hate David Stern, who is far more to blame than, say, Kevin Durant. But along with Denver, LeBron with a healthy team, and presumably now Golden State, they're one of the only squads I can now reliably count on to be entertaining. Yes, Durant's maturation, Westbrook's crash-and-burn progress, and Jeff Green Jeff Green-ing his way to Jeff Green-ness are all rad. However, it's the packaging, the location, and the irrepressible obscurity around them that makes them so compelling. This is an NBA team that, for all intents and purposes, might as well not exist. They play in a city that matters only to the people who live there. Their uniforms are unrelentingly generic, like the plain white can, black type BEER they sell some places. The name of the team seems like a placeholder, unless you bother to acquaint yourself with life in Oklahoma. I kind of admire Clay Bennett for crafting such an utterly blank brand, so strong is his faith in OKC's appetite for NBA ball, plain and simple.

The more this team grows, the more all this seems mysterious, sneaky, or hermetic, rather than simply laughable. When I sleep, I dream of makng a shirt that puts Durant on the cover of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, and I even think the music serves as a decent soundtrack. By contrast, Hawks/Bobcats were red carpet regulars. This team is living in caves, stockpiling arms, camping out on the Big Love compound. I don't know what their purpose is, but the bare bones image and total lack of exposure makes them seem so much more severe, even unsettling, than if they had a cartoon horse on their unis. Durant's good enough now to reclaim that "assassin" epithet; on this team, it's as haunting as it should be. They may practice an hour's drive from any number of campy militias, but mark my words, the Thunder will be the first NBA team to catch on with Waziristan hobbyists.

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40 Comments:

At 1/24/2009 9:32 PM, Blogger Julian said...

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_4jA_PWwYjqg/SXvOD2688DI/AAAAAAAAABw/m1I5hpY4qWQ/s1600-h/EverybodyKnowsThisIsNowhere.jpg

Put this together in a few minutes, I hope somebody else can do a much better job.

 
At 1/24/2009 9:36 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That was so awesome it deserves a proper link.

 
At 1/24/2009 9:54 PM, Blogger Julian said...

Thank you!

I find myself agreeing completely with pretty much every point you've made in this article. Just the other day I was in an argument with a friend who claimed that, besides Monta Ellis, Jamal Crawford was the only player on the Warriors worthy of being in the NBA to which I responded: what about Jackson and Maggette?

After reading this, I think I can see that Jackson and Maggette are a couple of Plutos. Easily mistaken for planets, when in fact they are merely Kuiper Belt objects.

I also find myself very intrigued by the OKC Thunder. They seem to be one of the only, if not THE only, team to have a pure "big 3," even if those triplets are still in diapers. I feel that if Brooks were to show up to a game with Durant, Green, Westbrook, and then 9 pairs of empty sneakers, the boxscore would not be much different than any other Thunder game's.

 
At 1/25/2009 12:43 AM, Blogger Rebar said...

this post totally rejuvenated me, and FD for me. spot on with everything. Durant is at the point these days where I keep expecting him to drop 40/10/5 on a team like Boston or LA, but still lose miserably. OKC is probably my favorite team right now, and this from a NW resident.

 
At 1/25/2009 12:49 AM, Blogger Alan DeNiro said...

OKC seems to be in a shadow league with a few other teams--actually, pretty much the non 6 or 7 teams that are continually on TV could make a case for that. It kind of gives a Minny-OKC game an ABA vibe... Muskies vs. Pipers or something.

 
At 1/25/2009 2:09 AM, Blogger Dave Fonseca said...

Maybe we should all start calling the 'Thunder' some more appropriate and post-apocolyptic. Like, the OKC Freman or some other such name with strong desert connotations and cloaked in secrecy and foreboding mysticism. I like how Durant is making a name for himself out in the middle of nowhere...kind of like how Kareem did his dirty in Miluakee.

The reference to Billups as minor star around which the rest of the Denver offense can orbit makes me want to go off on some tangent about how Iverson was really a dying star/black hole that swallows everything in his path... but it's way Walton, so I won't do it.

wv: roseph: vin baker's dog.

 
At 1/25/2009 3:15 AM, OpenID tredecimal said...

@Dave- I like the Seattle exiles as Fremen. Zensunni wanderers, outcasts from the machine wars (Duncan vs Big 3 vs LBJ vs Kobe)
And now there's KRS-TIC to show Swift and Sene the weirding way. (no homo)

wv: borysy- a compliment for a heavy band

 
At 1/25/2009 5:04 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

The only thing that would have made the Cavs-Warriors game better would have been Monta, after each made bucket, jogging by someone in management and yelling, "Give me money back!"


wv: rackfu--preferred technique of the first Asian-born 3-point Contest winner

 
At 1/25/2009 5:36 AM, Blogger Logan said...

The first time I saw the Okie away jersey, I was like, "Oh no. They look legit."
And they do. They are young, and play exciting ball, but I was really upset what Bennett did to Seattle. Then I see these uniforms that blend so well into the background fabric of basketball, how minimal and cool they are. And I realized that we would all one day - much sooner than anyone thought - wake up and accept the Thunder as an NBA team and not the dull shiv to Seattle's intestines that they are.
I love different perceptions about the Nuggs. Shoals writes the coolest stuff on them. I spend a lot of time ruminating on J.R. and the different facets of his tutelage. It's not a story of him learning to harness all that energy, but the lenses he's ground to focus it. His +/- is best when he's on the court with Chauncey, but that's when it could be said he's playing AI's role, creating off penetration and such. Just not on ball so much, which is fine. Not an imitation or anything. Fluid and feckless. Like some kind of Mevleviye Dervish, channeling the different spiritualities he's played with.

 
At 1/25/2009 5:49 AM, Blogger Logan said...

This would be what I'm thinking of when I imagine J.R.'s career. He sings different songs of hedonistic praise, and sometimes it gets away from him:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qawwali

But the trials and tribulations, as well as the ecstatic moments, are all a part of his journey to Fitra.

 
At 1/25/2009 6:10 AM, Blogger Robert said...

Shoals when I saw the Roy/Outlaw double oop tonight I thought of FD. It came so soon after that post that it was almost like someone upstairs was listening.
Who in Basketball is Urim, and who is Thummim?
Thummim is not Paul Pierce, before anyone says so.
Delonte West - Umim?
In a Latter Day vision, it's obviously Deron and AK 47. But, like the rest of that history, I have my doubts.

 
At 1/25/2009 9:58 AM, Blogger El Presidente said...

"Say what you will about S-Jax, but the man is smart about basketball..."

Say what YOU will about S-Jax, he has the worst shot selection of a starting swingman in the league.

 
At 1/25/2009 1:01 PM, Blogger ericL said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1/25/2009 1:04 PM, Blogger Alexander J said...

If you were to do a quick track by track analysis of that Neil Young classic, you might see some incredible parallels to the NBA season, but this seems to me like a real red herring in the gross and scope of the piece here. (Requiem for the Rockets is the only exception).

Matt Bonner is a cinnamon girl if there ever was one.

Monta brings an efficiency and an explosion that the Warriors really lack. Guys like Anthony Morrow and Kelena Azabuike are solid mid-range shooters, but having the guy who made Baron Davis expendable back is what propels things forward.

Denver is such a sideshow carnival that there is just no forseeable way they won't win a first round series. I'm reminded of what happened to that T-Mac Orlando squad that went up 3-1 and ended up getting knocked out by a Billups led Pistons squad, and how that we could find history repeating itself.

fatyli-Yuta Tabuse's NBA career

 
At 1/25/2009 1:41 PM, Blogger Robert said...

I can't get it out of my head, and the momentum is growing daily, that Iverson is going to the Bobcats once his contract is up. The Larry Brown reuinion, and a team in a fairly good position (if Sean May would lose a little weight). And some other players who spent time in a SoL system... What doesn't work about this?

Thoughts?

 
At 1/25/2009 4:50 PM, Blogger W2 said...

Is there a cosmic connection between Monta coming back and Michael Redd going down? Nellie ball plus one, Skiles er style minus one.

I am not an Iverson believer. Does he make the Cats better or worse? Does he even make them more interesting. After the initial interest wears off I think I would rather see the ball in Felton or Augistines hand.

 
At 1/25/2009 4:59 PM, Blogger knowing is maxo said...

Apropro of nothing: Can Kobe Bryant's new nickname be "Eight Fingers Bryant?" A-la an English mobster from the 60s? He is only playing with eight fingers right now, I love this.

 
At 1/25/2009 5:48 PM, Blogger tray said...

"Iverson is going to the Bobcats once his contract is up."

In my ideal world, no one would sign Iverson - all 30 teams would realize that he's not worth the money he'd cost. But yeah, unfortunately, some benighted team like Charlotte will take him just for ticket sales and fuck up whatever chance they had of becoming a good team. I don't see how the Wizards "need" Arenas. Sure, they need him if they want to go .500, given the rest of their roster, or to give them an "inner logic," whatever that means (nothing, really, it's just BS), but no Arenas-led team will ever be particularly good. Ergo, they don't need him.

 
At 1/25/2009 5:58 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Yawn. There are like 50,000 basketball blogs out there. Can't you find another one to comment on?

Ziller and me sort of live-blog part of Lakers/Spurs. He cut out the part where I wondered if Simmons is using a double-standard for D'Antoni. As in, D'Antoni is managing to win some games in New York despite an obvious deficiency of talent. For Simmons, that's just proof that D'Antoni is fucking up the way things are supposed to work and somehow cheating or cutting corners. But if D'Antoni's teams had no clear stars but were defensive monsters, winning games 53-50, he'd be Coach of the Year material.

 
At 1/25/2009 6:10 PM, Blogger Robert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1/25/2009 6:19 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Utah by 5 tonight at the Billupses.

wv: polencoe. corn carb loading for runner Sebastian

 
At 1/25/2009 6:30 PM, Blogger Dave Fonseca said...

Kevin Durant - Paul MuaD'ib
Jeff Green - Definitely Duncan Idaho
Russell Westrbrook - Princess Alia

Scotty Brooks - Stilgar

This works.

 
At 1/25/2009 9:22 PM, Blogger RHYbread said...

Somehow, it just seems like this instead.

Kevin Durant - Princess Irulan
Jeff Green - Duncan Idaho (definitely)
Russell Westbrook - Paul MuaD'ib

 
At 1/25/2009 11:18 PM, Blogger David said...

This whole Billups/Pistons thing, the anti-"Right Way" creed, the whole general FD tone is all great and all... except watching the Pistons paste the Lakers in the finals in 04 was just great sport. A lowly team of nobodies vs. a bunch of "stars" who played more like a bunch of strangers.

 
At 1/25/2009 11:31 PM, OpenID tredecimal said...

Durant is Muad'Dib, although within the sietch/locker room, he is known as Usil.

PJ Carlesimo is Jamis.

Clay Bennett- Baron Harkonnen

Sam Presti- Piter DeVries (he may be twisted, but he's still a twisted Mentat)

Scott Brooks- Liet Kynes

Westbrook- Leto the Worm

YA HYA CHOUHADA, يا حي الشهداء,!!!

 
At 1/26/2009 1:07 AM, Blogger BW said...

AMAZING.

 
At 1/26/2009 3:10 AM, Blogger VictorVonRimp said...

For those who actually play as well as watch, I just got the new Kobe ZoomIVs, (the lowcut ones). Awesome, awesome shoes. Pick them up, highest rec.

Also, does anone else think its funny when guys like ariza and turiaf wear Kobe's shoes? This never happens with anyone else. Kobe must really be like the BOSS of that team, not just the man. Like, "If I wear Kobe's shoes, I'll get brownie points with the Big Mamba." Funny,

 
At 1/26/2009 6:39 AM, Blogger milaz said...

I'm trying to think of another player that won championships, was then traded and remained, or actually became, THE leader. Scottie Pippen to Portland was a joke... can't really think of anyone else...
Billups is not only proving his worth, he is also making AI look bad...

 
At 1/26/2009 10:09 AM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

As a fan, I completely understand that it is wrong to blame players for Sonics' move from Seattle, but I am not going to let the business off of the hook. Franchises are not free agents.

It's sad that Durant and Co. will have to suffer (in my eyes) for a business decision that has absolutely nothing to do with basketball, but the move was just too fucked up, especially given that we are in the midst of a horrible recession in which tax dollars have much better things to do than to build another fleeting stadium.

I'll happily root for these players once they move and I hope that they are having fun playing basketball, but for now I hope their jersey sales remain low, attendance tanks, and they end the season in last place. It's guilt by association, but I accept that as collateral damage.

If there are alternative perspectives, I'd love to hear them. For me, it's not necessary the govt v. Sonics whose-to-blame-game. Instead, it's the fact that the purchase/promise was made in bad faith and the Seattle faithful are forced to suffer for something they (presumably) had little to do with.

It's great that they are compelling to watch and I hope that they are entertaining for nationwide fans, but it's too soon to disregard business and politics and what it had to do with where this team plays.

 
At 1/26/2009 12:44 PM, Blogger Big Rils said...

Agreed - the politics of the move were shady at best. And while it is hard to root for that franchise to succeed, it is very easy to root for players like Durant, Westbrook, and Green, especially playing in the middle of nowhere. I am disappointed they aren't in Seattle, but you have to admit that there is something intriguing about a band of faceless cast-offs appearing only in box scores, invisible to the wider audience except for abstract numerical indicators of performance.

However, I would point out that the players/franchise gain nothing from high jersey sales, as - per their CBA - that revenue goes to the NBA and is shared equally among the teams.

 
At 1/26/2009 2:05 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

I would feel better about their quiet (and somewhat good?) uniqueness if they were an expansion team.

I wonder if the settlement for Seattle to keep the Sonics name was not a concession by the new owners but instead a crafty way to hide the walking corpse it would have been had the name followed them to OKC. In almost every way, they seem as if they were an expansion instead of a franchise with a rich history.

Question: does Seattle get to keep the records and the championship titles, which would apply to a new Seattle Sonics team, or did those travel to OKC, too?

(I did not know about the jersey sales. Thanks for the info.)

 
At 1/26/2009 2:10 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Rils—Trust me, while I wasn't emotionally devastated by the move, I'm as annoyed by the politics and business as anyone. But I disagree that the team itself is implicated in this. In fact, I think it's part of what adds to their (anti?) mystique: They were birthed under a cloud of ill will and doom, like those ABA teams that were started up solely as investments. The irony is that, while we can't help but think about the Thunder franchise as a symbol of everything that's wrong with the league, the players on the floor are everything that's right about it. Compare that to the Grizz, where instead of a contrast you've got the former poisoning the latter.

 
At 1/26/2009 2:25 PM, Blogger Logan said...

WOW.

Swag has a spring in its step on the west coast. Monta couldn't have rode in on the high pony at a better time. The entire team is suddenly playing like they mean it. I think Turiaf's overbite grew an inch in the last two games. They're too far out to play for anything but pride - but in Oak town, that's more than enough.

Combine that with McHale somehow being more competent on the bench, and the West has something it desperately needed: Monkey wrenches.

 
At 1/26/2009 5:47 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

Milaz,

Shaq. For a year or two.

 
At 1/26/2009 6:14 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

Milaz,
Wondahbap's example of Shaq on Miami works. Also, try Cassell with the Wolves and the Clippers.

 
At 1/27/2009 10:27 AM, Blogger avery said...

surely in the positional revolution, teams are of course free agents. to borrow from a trite writer, the world is flat. no doubt if Miami could handle 4 teams, they would all be down there, or LA or New York, or Dubai or Mumbai or London on their passenger space rockets. but closer to home, the franchises have always been free agents--whether it be buffalo to san diego, charlotte to new orleans or to wherever.

franchises owe no loyalty to fans; but that myth is what they bank on.

 
At 1/27/2009 10:29 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'll call that bluff. I'd say that franchises can't be purely free, since moving around would obliterate their identity ever couple years (as it is bound up in that of the city), thus robbing them of some element of their style. But your darn right that the actual players should be viewed this way, since they would be as individuals.

 
At 1/27/2009 11:47 AM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

I say that they are not free agents from a perspective of sentimentality and fan-morality. But, just like globalization has destroyed corporate loyalty to regions and instead consider them opportunities rather than homes, so do NBA franchises. It's a myth, but it's also the basis for many people's interest in a particular team. (Though, apparently, not the basis of NBA profitmaking in this day and age.) If we want to deem them true free agents and negate locality, let's stop referring to these teams by their city-name and just let their brand-name be their identity.

Liberated fandom is does not conflict with demanding franchise loyalty to certain regions, I think. Let LeBron leave Cleveland for more money or a ring or a better identity, but like hell is that team going to ditch that city and get away with it (morally, at least; see: Cleveland Browns).

It would be interesting to get some snapshots of certain player's evolution as they move from team to team, such as how their style changes as well as their relationship to fans and the media.

Also, could NY and GS be as insane as they are in cities whose characteristics differ from their SF-Bay and New York homes? Is part of the team's style and identity wrapped up in the mood of the city or the character of the fan-base? (At least to some degree?) How influential is the city in comparison to the ownership?

 
At 1/27/2009 1:06 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

FunWithLogic,

"Is part of the team's style and identity wrapped up in the mood of the city or the character of the fan-base?"

Sometimes that seems to be the case. The Lakers, Spurs, Pistons, and even Boston all seemed to embody the perceived traits of their respective cities. New York can take on any role, from Riley's Knicks to Zeek's to D'Antoni's, they all fit.

Since the Lakers own L.A., and the Clipper's would never be able to take fans from them, I've always thought the Clippers should have a team that is the exact opposite of the Lakers seem to be. No flash. All unheralded, cheap, hard working blue collar bruisers.

 
At 11/24/2009 11:47 PM, Blogger jimtarnation said...

funny you think durant belongs on a secret machines album cover. you know where the secret machines are originally from, at least born & bred? Oklahoma.

 

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