5.31.2009

When Stations Shift, You Find Your Own



Not that I think it's my God-given duty to size up the Finals and decide who's up, who's down, but you've got to admit that Lakers/Magic does present a certain number of curious proposition. For one, these two are neither mismatched nor equals. It's like they exist in parallel universes. The Lakers, as we all know, as flushed to the gills with ability, but only periodically harness it all. The Magic, well, we didn't realize it until recently, but so are they. And they bring it on the regular. Does that make Orlando overachievers, Los Angeles underachievers, and no one but the Cavs the underdogs? The Magic's has been a season of peaks and valleys, hitting their stride, then losing Nelson, then picking up steam again, then hitting a wall earlier in the playoffs when Howard's identity came into question and Turkoglu was hurt. And now, they're riding high, so high, again. The Lakers? Friday was the first time all playoffs they've looked like the Lakers we expected to see come and visiti pestilence upon the postseason. Now you tell me: Which is inconsistency, which on a voyage of self-discovery and perpetual adjustment?

What's more, while this series doesn't seem to have STAR BATTLE written all over it, it will certainly challenge the "nobody digs Goliath, ya dig?" axiom of the modern NBA. Because, simply put, Howard is love and lightness, Kobe the darkest side of Jordan, the least ecstatic aspects of his game, streamlined and boiled down to something potent, metallic, and kind of smelly. That's not to say that Kobe's still the man we love to hate, just that he'll never be easy to love—in much the same way that Chamberlain, and even Shaq, found themselves troubled by.

Here's some fragments from a piece I wrote this spring on Shaq for a certain well-known web magazine. This was from draft #3, and apparently wasn't snappy enoigh. So sorry, guys. In any case, I think it's pertinent here for describing just how far Howard is indeed with "the new Shaq," in terms of natural magnetism and ability to worm his way into our hearts without making us feel engorged or cloyed by absurdity:

O'Neal wouldn't be the first athlete always angling for the spotlight, or looking for ingenious forms of self-promotion. But compared to, say, the whip-smart expressiveness of Muhammad Ali in his prime, O'Neal is at once light-hearted and uncomfortably deliberate. He excels at spoken spectacle, assigning himself absurdist nicknames (my favorites: The Diesel, The Big Aristotle, and Shaqovic) and making off-color jokes about opponents, like his disparaging reference to rivals "the Sacramento Queens."

From the beginning Shaq saw himself as an entertainer, which explains 1993's platinum rap album Shaq Diesel and film roles ranging from the 1996's Kazaam, in which Shaq played a genie, to 1994's Blue Chips, an underrated look at corruption in college sports that starred Nick Nolte. The more he does, the more control he exerts over his image. And with good reason. In the fraternity of superlative NBA big men, O'Neal stands alone in his non-stop levity. Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Patrick Ewing, and peer Tim Duncan, to name a few, were pensive and aloof—and often criticized for it. O'Neal has seemingly spent his entire career trying to break the mold, replacing the towering, faceless Goliath with a hip-hop Paul Bunyan. Shaquille O'Neal may have been Joe Frazier or (young) George Foreman on the court, but preferred the garrulous, daft Ali role off of it.



However, this disconnect comes with a price. Shaq's behavior can get downright ugly when his ego, image, or brand are threatened, since this could send him plummeting into in the annals of large, bitter, awkward freaks. For evidence of this, look no further than the litany of "sidekick" guards who have proved essential to his success: Penny Hardaway in Orlando, Kobe in Los Angeles, and Dwyane Wade in Miami. In the post-Jordan NBA, smaller, more dynamic players are the unquestioned center of attention. Style-wise, they're the Ali's, with inventive games that suggest a richness of personality. Shaq, always the talker in these relationships, always casts himself as the alpha dog, a font of charisma whose dominant play was a matter of fact. At the same time, in each case the other guy was emerging as one of the most exciting, inventive players in the league, leading O'Neal to turn cold and toward them, and however incidentally, move on to another team. [I think you all know how Shaq fell over, and then turned on, Penny, Kobe, and Wade].

Nothing sums up this paradox more than the mural on the bus Shaq brought to an LSU game in 2007: some sort of gangster super-summit, where Shaq presides over Scarface, Tony Soprano, and Vito Corlene, among others. Hilarious, but also quite sinister. Not coincidentally, during his time with the Heat, Shaq was fond of an analogy that cast his Hardaway as Fredo, Kobe as Sonny, and Wade as Michael. Coppola's films and The Sopranos have been defanged by their absorption into pop culture. But watch those movies from start to finish, and you'll realize just how unsettling they really are.


Heavy, huh? Man, been waiting for a while to get that out. I have to say, though, that this series might explode this paradigm, and perhaps summarily frustrate Shaq's grand mission in life. Despite O'Neal's attempt to undermine Howard, or Howard's obvious inferiority as a pure center—perhaps one of the reasons this slippage is possible—Dwight, with his boyish good looks and effortless acrobatics, is that lovable big men Shaq never could be. Yes, we can debate for days when he is in fact a big man, or just a bigger Amare. But the Superman has stuck there without any sense that we're being forced into embracing his might (like how Superman really could have destroyed the world whenever he wanted). On the other hand, Kobe, while he remains the epitomal post-Jordan off-guard, we all know that this trappings of his game have become so methodical, his aura so admirably bleak, that it's transformed the dream-like "as an explosive shooting guard, I will get rings" of Jordan into a optimization of the position so that it embraces as much of the big man rigor as is possible. LeBron is unstoppable, quasi-religious. Kobe is so professional that he's always adjusting, a character who is about as Terminator-like as guards can possibly get. Like when they made the evil robot a hot lady for T3.

That's not to say that Kobe lacks charisma. He has kind of reached that rare, glare-laden apex where, no matter what his game has evolved into over the years, or what its finer points are, fans respond to him as a showman. You and I know, though, that the man is probably replacing his blood, or grafting metal onto his spine, in hopes of turning this positional role into something with the certainty, and even the purposeful vacancy, of the big man. Howrad is so young, it's hard to gauge where he's really headed. But for now, he's a hunk of muscle unstoppable down low who is also so easy to love. And it's Kobe whose human drives and expressions of self seem more of a technicality or, even to supporters like myself, an afterthought in his grand pursuit of basketball perfection. That's not to say he's totally inhuman, on or off the court, but the personality of his position (and by extension, the Good Kobe that has so many fans) is no longer a restriction on how he looks to put together grade-A efforts.



And to turn briefly to one more WTF about this series: Does this tell us shit about the future of the game? The Lakers are by no means a reasonable template for success. Top to bottom, that team is loaded. In ways new and old. What other team can boast one of the league's most promising pure centers, as well as its second-best Euro, and a post-Garnett weirdo—all who may or may not figure prominently into the game-plan on any given night? It's almost like a brief history of the last eight years of the NBA, all on one team. Except that participation by all is optional, or maybe selectively minimal. Put simply, other teams have no chance at copying this one, and that's without even getting into Kobe's embattled, but persistent, standing among the league's elite.

The Magic offer a far more interesting case. They have this big man who is both more and less than the past. There's a chance they stumbled into it, and that the tandem of Lewis and Turkoglu are both essential and came as a surprise. And when healthy, they have an All-Star point guard. This is old worship of height, plus the age of the point guard, plus a kind of post-Euro Sudoku puzzle that only master coach SVG could make sense of in such a non-obvious fashion (and, as Kevin Pelton has pointed out, this team would suck if deployed in obvious fashion). I also pick up a distinctly Pistons-meets-Suns vine int he way Lee, Pietrus, and even Reddick are used, though maybe now I'm just laying it on thick. In short, this team has everything but a Kobe or LeBron, which is a really fortuitous spot to be in. And chances are, any other squad with this roster would screw it up. So we might be looking at an utter singularity here that both bridges and invalidates the entire ferment of conventional basketball wisdom, past and present. In the end, it comes down to the twist you put on it. Traditions and trends, new and old, can tell you some basics, but past that, you're on your own. The question is, what does it take for a team like the Magic to be absorbed, as the Suns were? The Warriors certainly weren't . .

Orlando Magic, just keep being yourselves. History will sort out the rest. As will the results of this series, incidentally.

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49 Comments:

At 5/31/2009 1:51 PM, Blogger Joey said...

i love the idea, and your description (if i am describing it right), of kobe as the almost mechanical manifestation of a certain unconventional, unstoppable ideal for his position. The two-guard as played by kobe purports to be explosive, acrobatic, dynamic, and almost impossible to fully predict and stop. improvisation is a part of the job description, and that would obviate full preparation on defense. so we have this romantic notion of the position, and we have a mythology authored by jordan which gives shape to what we consider the potential of the role...and then we have kobe executing it with a ruthless sterility that is almost like a mutilation of the ideal born of his excellent refinement. it's so weird, but it's kind of a marvel to think about.

i am excited about this finals because more than some other matchups, it seems to hold potential to shape so many stories already in the process of being told.

 
At 5/31/2009 1:59 PM, Blogger ItTakesAThiefToCatchAThief said...

23 > 23.

Math bows to God, still.

 
At 5/31/2009 2:09 PM, Blogger Ben said...

The idea of being at sort of a weird crossroad of the past and future is right on. For a long time the single postulate of the league was that this was a Big Man's Game, after the stupid dominance of Mikan early on. From there you had the logical continuation of Mikan and the evolution of the game into Wilt, Russell, Kareem, etc; monoliths that we expected to prove our assumptions about basketball.

Post-Jordan there hasn't been a Big Man in that sense who dominated through largeness other than Shaq, and as his game has deteriorated no one has replaced him. I think you're totally right about Dwight. He both is and isn't a successor of Big Men in this league. He, of course, dominates through size, but his dominance often isn't an end in itself--it's first use is always to be a vital part of his system, to make Hedo and Shard and everyone else better.

Kobe is as logical a result of Jordan as Wilt was of Mikan. He's completely invented by our new assumptions about the game, which is that the new dominance is a wing player ruining his enemies and finding solace in it.

 
At 5/31/2009 2:10 PM, Blogger VictorVonRimp said...

0ne of my favorite things about this site is the level of attention and the effort made to understand what our players mean in the grand context of the game. Your description of Kobe is once again amazing.
But Howard I disagree with.
He smiles alot, sure. But he also takes every opportunity to throw elbows after plays, and flail his arms around to smack people in the face.
The smile, far from being a guileless expression of glee from a big goofy kid, is actually a mask. Underneath it: Bill Laimbeer's snarling visage.

 
At 5/31/2009 2:11 PM, OpenID sorryimback said...

West Coast Disneyland vs. East Coast Disneyworld

NBA Finals - Clash of Cartoon Characters

 
At 5/31/2009 2:28 PM, Blogger goathair said...

Purporting that the Magic have any sort of connection to the dominant point guard era, even when totally healthy, seems tenuous to me. Nelson at his best doesn't transform the game without Howard. He'd just be a good point guard, nothing revolutionary. And I think that puts Dwight more in the camp of BIG MAN than New Big Man.

 
At 5/31/2009 3:33 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

"You and I know, though, that the man is probably replacing his blood, or grafting metal onto his spine..."

I'm half-kidding when I say that Kobe Bryant's personal drive to win might be the best hope of our developing actual, functioning nanotechnological bio-replacement. Which is to say that he's also maybe the worst threat to the world of a man with the funds and inclination to personally finance the eventual end of the world with "Grey Goo."

Basically, at this moment, it seems equally likely that Kobe Bryant will win championships without Shaquille O'Neal, or else doom us all to an unintentional, apocalyptic ecophagy. Dunno. Could go either way.

 
At 5/31/2009 3:46 PM, Blogger JZ said...

I also have problems with your description of Howard v. Shaq duality. To me, the problem all comes down to expectations. As far as Howard's personality goes, he hasn't been around enough for there to be many. All that's expected out of him right now is whimsical expresions of youth and naivete (pretty ingenious to have initially boasted of his fervent Christian upbringing too, eh?). Shaq, on the other hand, has been working at maintaining this spotlight personality that is both whimsical and cerebral for a whole career now. And the signs of expectations of Howard are already starting to show (I mean, wasn't everyone pretty much in agreement that his ASG dunk was the most forced/staged showing in the history of an already over-forced and over-staged ASG competition?). So yes, Shaq does strike out occasionally when ego, image, or brand are threatened. But his successes still far outweigh his missteps, I think. And considering that he's built his ego/image/brand as something deeper, more complex and more quantifiable than Howard's, and since much of Howard's image is so dependent on youthful exuberance, time is not much on his side.

 
At 5/31/2009 5:25 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

Worth noting that Howard's brand runs deep enough, however, that it doesn't really bother anyone when he elbows Dalembert in the face. Or when he knocks up a Magic dancer underneath the cross that hangs over his bed.

If Shaq did this stuff we know and care more. Though perhaps only because Shaq would actively work to either add them to, or dispel them from persona. Either attracts attention.

On an unrelated point, though on point with this entry, the one legacy of the Magic might be more of a frame than a picture of success. Like Shoals noted it's going to be somewhere between impossible and really difficult to copy the exact style and strategy of this team. The valuable lesson here is that the Magic didn't try to pick players to fit into a system. Rather they put together a solid group of individuals for a reasonable price, and with relative ease, and strove to build a system to the needs of the players. This anti-blueprint could serve as the best path for pretty much every small-market team without a superstar.

 
At 5/31/2009 6:09 PM, Blogger Alexander J said...

The Magic, at face value, don't offer much of anything to the casual fan outside of Dwight Howard's rising stock and Skip to My Lou. Rashard Lewis is doing what he always does; shoot the ball well. Anthony Johnson is one of those role players who has really come through; he is quite possibly the most underwhelming NBA player I've seen since the heydays of Lawrence Funderburke, to speak of the ol' Queens of Sactown.

TURTLEFACE: The Magic don't have system players? Explain drafting Lee. Giving Pietrus that midlevel exception. OR Gortat. These guys fit in perfectly with what SVG is doing, whatever the fuck it is.

What about a surprise game from Farmar in the finals?

 
At 5/31/2009 6:31 PM, Blogger db said...

Great basketball analysis, but I agree with the above commenters with a certain bafflement re: Howard as a lovable personality. He is certainly a clean and smiling personality, but it seems to me that it's a "thin" warmth compared to Shaq, tightly controlled and with a lot of unrecuperable aggression just below the shiny surface. Quintessentially protestant-capitalist, it's fitting he's playing in the Amway arena.

Kobe and Howard are more similar than different in their manner and affect from my POV, and in fact they both remind me of Jordan. I think a big part of the difference in our understandings is due to the development of the net and opportunities to build grass-roots mythologies and circulate our attachments and disappointments in players... how many incidents could MJ have been indicted for in the court of popular opinion if that opinion had an outlet?

Brand management in the MJ/Kobe/Howard/Proctor and Gamble style (toxic substances in nice packaging) is problematic in the high information environment. There are too many leaks. In many ways, Shaq on twitter is the better star model - completely contradictory, fucking up on the regular, but smiling his way through it just like most of us. It's his management of the moment rather than the larger character that I see as the key to his popularity. That, and a big-ass smile (cf. Melo).

 
At 5/31/2009 6:38 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

@Alexander

They fit well because they are fundamentally good players that do a bit of everything well and have above average athleticism. Pietrus was never prolific three shooter like you might have expected them to take (career 35%). You would expect, say, pure form shooter JJ Reddick to fit much better, but he played 0 minutes last night. And Gortat? He is just a damn good backup; he doesn't have the unique or uncharacteristic skills you would look for in a system player.

I'll concede Lee was a bit of a system pick, but I was more basing that comment off last season when they really defined themselves. Also I think he would be just as good anywhere else, he was a very NBA ready player with excellent fundamentals.

I guess there is a thin-line difference between smartly filling for clear needs and drafting a system player. Maybe not even worth arguing, could be a chicken-egg question.

 
At 5/31/2009 7:01 PM, Blogger Octopus Grigori said...

Hedo will own the Lakers: he is the Turkish J.R. Smith, just more consistent and, in his own way, more surprising. I often forget that he's 6' 10", with his range and ability to handle the ball. Is Hedo the most underrated player in these finals? (I would put Piétrus' name into the running for that designation as well.)

"What about a surprise game from Farmar in the finals?"

What about it? Probably won't happen. Shannon Brown should get more time on the floor than Farmar: he's way better.

What I love about the Laker bench is that you can feel the angst running between the guard subs (esp. Farmar and Vujacic). I may be wrong, but I feel like Vujacic cringes when Brown or Farmar play well, and Farmar does the same when Vujacic or Brown play well. (Brown doesn't seem to be as involved in the psychodrama, perhaps because he's newer to the scene.)

If Phil Jackson continues to weirdly insist on playing Walton, Vujacic, Farmar for serious minutes during the series, I foresee problems for the Lakers. Putting aside Odom/Brown and the entirety of Game 6 against Denver, the Laker bench has been exposed during this post-season. (And I do think Game 6 was an anomaly, not a coming together for the Lakers: the Nuggets could not possibly have played worse.) I suspect the bench will be the Lakers' downfall against the Magic.

I'm with Barkley: Magic in 7. Series starts with a Magic shocker at Staples.

 
At 5/31/2009 7:31 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

To borrow one of Shoals's analytics, I find Howard boring.

All of the players mentioned in the post are engaged in a perpetual process of constructing their respective public personas. I think we accept that who they present themselves to be isn't the totality of who they are. In that way, they're just like everyone else. The constructions are interesting, however, to the extent that they imply something true about the real person that is itself humanizing. If the style of presentation is entertaining, unique, or itself revealing, so much the better.

So, forced Shaq's affability and repeated tearing down of former partners = interesting. And entertaining, since he puts on a good show and tells a decent joke.

Kobe's well covered (here) efforts to create a public image as pristine as his technical skills; the calculated nature of his public moves; his rise, fall, and reconstruction = fascinating.

But Howard just strikes me as the NBA's Larry Craig or Ted Haggard. He's loudly staked out a public persona built on a set principles that he, like most people, won't be able to adhere to consistently. Which is going to repeatedly make him look the fool. I can attribute it to youth or true belief, but I can't find it interesting. It's already too obvious a story.

Of course, NBA careers have second and sometimes even third acts, so maybe Dwight will decide on a new narrative or make his game so transcendent that I won't really care. For now, though, I just find him kind of tedious.

 
At 6/01/2009 12:19 AM, Blogger Phoebus said...

wow, people really brought their A-game to the comments today, looks like. Maybe bc there's nothing to do in the evening until Thursday? Speaking of which this playoffs has me more convinced than ever that the Assoc. might nudge (not rig mind you but nudge) series to go to 7 games as much as they can. no argument for that, just a hunch.

anyways thank you for explaining to me why i loathe Shaq. A sort of uber-dishonesty when it comes to what he does and doesn't deserve credit for. Not that he hasn't accomplished anything. Just that he displays this wanton willingness to steal other guy's narratives from their rightful owners.

Shaq may or may not be a Republican, but he sure acts like one.

 
At 6/01/2009 12:20 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Re: the Magic system: Having one post guy and surrounding him with shooters is not some brand new concept, people. Credit to SVG for installing an offense that works with his guys, but it's not like he invented Godzilla or anything. He has a lot of shooting and a lot of height, and that's that.

 
At 6/01/2009 12:45 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That's a gross over-simplification of the Magic.

 
At 6/01/2009 1:02 AM, Blogger Phoebus said...

in 15 words, maybe its the same thing, but in execution the magic do it TOTALLY different than how the spurs, hakeem rockets, etc. did it.

 
At 6/01/2009 1:40 AM, Blogger Dex said...

"[H]ow many incidents could MJ have been indicted for in the court of popular opinion if that opinion had an outlet?" (db)

This is keen. Just read The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith for the first time. Reminded me of Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner a little, except Hotchner can craft a sentence and a narrative; but both offer a sort of insider perspective that you take with a grain of salt while appreciating the savour. God was I naive about Jordan. I knew he was vicious, especially after his stint in Washington, but the "Be Like Mike" persona was still dominant in my memory. His temper, arrogance, almost absurd competitiveness (ping pong?), his role, if anything, as an anti-mentor for young and insecure teammates, -- one wonders how he'd have fared in the age of blogs.

I agree with those who find Howard boring, at least so far; if you're on a plane, and you have to choose between a biography of him or Shaq, you only go with the Howard as a soporific. Xanax with no pleasant side-effects.

Great post on Kobe; reference to the female Terminator ingenious.

 
At 6/01/2009 4:07 AM, Blogger gordon gartrelle said...

This has the potential to be a very great finals from a basketball standpoint. The Magic probably won't bring it, though. They have all the makings of a "just happy to be here" team, having felt that they shed the choker label by dispatching of the (weakened) champs and the (exposed) favorites. Plus, they aren't as much as a matchup nightmare for the Lakers as they were for Cleveland.

But I just don't care enough about the Magic's players and their narratives to get excited about them. The only appeal they hold is that there is a slim chance that they could thwart Kobe and the Lakers, who would be the softest championship team I can remember.

These Lakers are obviously much better than than the Brown/Parker teams, but they are about 100% more bitch-made.

 
At 6/01/2009 9:24 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

In terms of personnel, I'm simplifying. The Magic have a few players that are pretty uniquely skilled in Hedo, Lewis, and Howard. Lee is a very capable other option, and Alston brings flair. The mix of personalities is intriguing.

From an offensive system standpoint, however, I don't see how I'm oversimplifying. I don't buy it. They play 1-in/4-out sets and high pick-n-roll plays, and they run iso for Hedo, because he usually has a one on one mismatch with his guy. They just execute perfectly and have a bunch of guys that can stick from outside. If they keep shooting 50% from three, they will give the Lakers a run, otherwise, the versatility of the Laker frontcourt will prevail.

And to inject a little levity into an otherwise anal comment, I'd love to see Odom and Hedo go one-on-one to 11.

 
At 6/01/2009 10:25 AM, Blogger Mark said...

New nickname, Dwight "Howrad!?" Howard. Inadvertent genius at its best.

 
At 6/01/2009 11:17 AM, Blogger Deckfight said...

surprised not to see more lamar comments since rashard & hedo are doing everything lamar was supposed to ever do. namely that HEDO+LEWIS=MAGIC

will lamar's psyche bone up to the challenge or be deflated in the wake of shattered expectations? If Lamar performs up to his potential, he will lose the last thing he has--potential.

 
At 6/01/2009 11:32 AM, Blogger chutneeamerica said...

I'm with you, Mark: can we all agree to call Dwight Howard "HowRad" from now on? I could certainly get on board with that. Beats the hell out of another "Superman."

 
At 6/01/2009 12:02 PM, Blogger Marc said...

Great post; best summary of the essential sourness and joylessness of Kobe that I've seen. Good on Shaq too. I agree with other commenters that Howard is hard to peg right now, his persona is as underdeveloped as his game. I wonder if the Laimbeer-esque mean streak referred to by somebody above is the result of being a transcendent athlete with a mediocre basketball IQ. If you can't quite merge your athletic gifts with the subtleties of the game, then going to work must be a frustrating experience. Frustration leads to elbow-throwing as a short cut and in general cultivating your mean streak. Eventually you get to really enjoy that stuff and put some effort into figuring out how to get away with it.

Deckfight beat me to the Hedo/Lewis = evolutionary Lamar Odom comparison. The Magic are not superstar driven and are most interesting for the way they integrate size, passing, and shooting. Hedo is the key player in that, Rashard Lewis too. Dwight Howard serves as a kind of ultimate superstar role player in their system -- hardnosed D, tons of boards, and so many garbage points he can rack up 40, but he's still doing the traditional thankless role player tasks even if he does them on far higher plane.

 
At 6/01/2009 12:06 PM, Blogger Nicholas said...

Hedo Turkoglu is the most interesting player in this series to me. At 6'10", he handles most of the late game ball-handling duties and leads the team in assists for the playoffs, yet his identity, in a grander sense, is undefined.

Why Isn't Hedo a blueprint for younger players? I have never heard a single draft pick compared to Turkoglu (eg. Why isn't Anthony Randolph "a more explosive Hedo Turkoglu?"). Doesn't Hedo have the paradigmatic apositional-freak skill set? He's a deadeye spot-up shooter with the ability to post up smaller defenders and drive by bigger ones, he can create his own shot, he can initiate and orchestrate the offense, he has excellent handles in both half court sets and the open court, and he's a damn surgeon handling the ball in the high pick and roll...and he's 6'10.

I might be crazy, but I think this warrants more attention. If D'antoni's ideal team is "five 6'9" guys who can pass and shoot", isn't he just asking for a half dozen Hedo Turkoglus?

 
At 6/01/2009 12:09 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Hedo's PG-ness, as well as his 4th quarter-ness, only really came together last season. Which is still a really improbable combination, given his background and style. Is he what Kukoc could've been?

It's almost schizophrenic, as opposed to Odom's ubiquity.

 
At 6/01/2009 12:20 PM, Blogger Octopus Grigori said...

@Nicholas I couldn't agree with you more. If Hedo plays up to his potential, this series will be Hedo's grand introduction to the nation.

As Silverbird noted a little while back, Hedo is now a force for international unification and peace. What if the most important international player in U.S. sports right now is not Yao, but Hedo? Does it mean anything when Howard, with his broadcasted Christianity, is hugging and high-fiving Hedayet Turkoglu every night?

Teams like soccer's Barcelona and Arsenal have always looked like international utopian dreams to me, where nationality, race, religion all were submerged beneath the unified goals of a team. Sometimes it feels to me like we're seeing a little of that with Hedo, Pietrus, and Co. -- in Orlando, Florida, of all places.

Increase the peace.

 
At 6/01/2009 12:27 PM, Blogger Nicholas said...

Mark: you're right on about Dwight Howard as Uber Role Player. I grew up in Houston, and as a result ended up a bit of a center elitist/snob. Howard doesn't approach Dream's footwork or offensive sophistication. He gets absolutely dominated by the only other "true center" in his prime in the League (Yao). And yet, he's reached superstar status.

To me, Dwight is nothing more than an evolved Ben Wallace, and i mean that in the best way possible. He seems like he was built in an underground bunker by to destroy men at basketball, and emerged as the perfect physical specimen, with strength and speed and limitless will, but lacking grace, touch, and artistry. He rebounds, blocks shots, finishes open opportunities (with a vengence), and occasionally overpowers someone in the post enough to allow an extremely awkward finish.

I still find myself shouting "DROP STEP, DWIGHT!" as he bangs the ball towards the middle of the lane from the left block, and i still cant help myself from thinking that his body + reliable hooks with both hands + better management of double teams=30-35 PPG and a place on big-man-Mt. Rushmore. For now, though, I'm content to celebrate him as what he is: a garbage man from space.

 
At 6/01/2009 12:46 PM, Blogger Nicholas said...

...and by "@Mark" I of course meant "@Marc"....if it makes a difference.

 
At 6/01/2009 1:53 PM, Blogger Jimmy Pterodactylus said...

this skirts around something that i was thinking about all through the western conference final, and still rings true now that the magic have cinched it. though i am admittedly a (recent) nuggets fan , throughout those 6 games i struggled to determine why i was more drawn to the nuggets, why i pulled for them to win, why i felt deflated and angry when they lost. my allegiances didn't run that deep already, did they?

the answer lies with kobe (you can apply similar thinking, i think, to lebron and the cavs). compared to even the brightest-shining star on the nuggets squad ('melo, obvs), the intensity of kobe's smart playing and preternatural ability bleaches out everything. there are some hardcore badasses who play for the lakers who aren't kobe (like ariza). but the fact of the matter is, they DO have kobe, and if he is in the game, he is almost definitely going to leave his mark. for a lot of people (myself included to some extent), that's almost blinding. you're almost bored, because you're like "well of course kobe's gonna rack up like 40 points this game and single-handedly lift the lakers above and beyond" (this part REALLY applies to lebron's cavs). the nuggets, then, with their leap for a first-ever finals appearance and their emergence from the "thuggets" era, are tailor-made to play david to the lakers' goliath. it starts to lay itself out as a "scrappy team with heart" vs "kobe-bot 9000". it's always a little more fun to root for the little guy--and even if they aren't really the little guy, kobe's presence on the court can make anyone seem as such.

thus my incredible excitement that the magic (the eastern's current david) have bested the cavs (featuring the almost dictionary definition of a goliath), and that they will now be going up against the lakers. there is something so endlessly appealing about that "one star player vs a diverse-and-talented team" dichotomy that it asserts itself whether you believe it or (or more importantly, whether it's even really true).

so anyway, should be a good one.

 
At 6/01/2009 2:12 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

"Shaq was fond of an analogy that cast his Hardaway as Fredo, Kobe as Michael, and Wade as Michael."

I believe you mean that Kobe was cast by Shaq as the hot-tempered, impatient Sonny Corleone.

 
At 6/01/2009 2:14 PM, Blogger Ben said...

@Jimmy Pterodactylus But don't you think there was a certain inevitability to the way the Magic were running their offense in that Cavs series? You single Dwight, he scores. You double Dwight, the ball gets swung around until someone has an open three. That series eventually felt inevitable, but only on Orlando's side; Lebron was going to get his numbers and be generally impossible to guard, sure, but on offense the Magic were going to go inside-out and win the game as a matter of course.

 
At 6/01/2009 2:17 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

thanks, will fix that. no wonder it got rejected!

 
At 6/01/2009 2:36 PM, Blogger Jimmy Pterodactylus said...

@Ben
sure i see that, but that's kind of where i'm going with this. intellectually, the series probably felt inevitable; but the mystique of lebron made it seem, emotionally, very much in play. we see the way SVG is playing the magic offense, and yet, watching lebron throw his entire essence into bringing the cavs back, we think, "it's possible".

 
At 6/01/2009 2:52 PM, Blogger Ben said...

@Jimmmy Pterodactylus
I guess I was sort of wondering about how this is going to play out in the finals, where Orlando will go in, as you note, as an underdog versus a team with a transcendent individual star. It's like the beginning of the Cavs series again in that way. To me the cavs/orlando series was notable precisely because of its inversion of the typical david/goliath mythology--by the end, lebron and the cavs were certainly david--and i'm wondering if this will happen in the finals as well. Orlando was terrifyingly methodical and precise in dismantling cleveland, and they have a star of their own besides.

 
At 6/01/2009 2:57 PM, Blogger Ben said...

And I hear what you're saying with Kobe being goliath, no matter what's actually happening. But it felt to me that Orlando's dominance in that series was just as "boring" as Kobe's--I don't think I can prefer one over the other, even if they are vastly different.

 
At 6/01/2009 3:13 PM, Blogger Jimmy Pterodactylus said...

@Ben
for me, the initial promise of a lakers/magic final was to see that team aesthetic overwhelm kobe--the triumph of a united whole over a superstar. but howard seems to be rushing quickly towards his own titanic apex, so maybe what i'm really applauding is simply a subversion of expectation, the chance to see a myth destroyed and a new one built. is that sadistic?

 
At 6/01/2009 3:49 PM, Blogger tray said...

Yeah, I don't find Howard that interesting or likable at all. He's just a big, blandly affable guy with a boring game - boring in the sense that a mindless action movie with 'exciting' explosion after explosion is boring. There's a lot more to Shaq. As for the Godfather business, unsettling movie, but I don't at all think Shaq means it in that way. Although there always has been something creepy about his superior manipulation of the media in his various popularity contests with his ex-sidekicks.

 
At 6/01/2009 4:27 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

Q: How to make people read The Baseline?

A: Write things like this for it. I mean, the sentence complexity for the paragraph after the sexy Terminator gets a little out of hand for a mass-market site, but isn't this sort of perspective the reason they hired you?

I like it when freedarko is good, like today.

 
At 6/01/2009 4:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

There has to be some element of church/state to it. . .

 
At 6/01/2009 4:31 PM, Blogger Ben said...

@Jimmy
Sadistic? No. But I would advise to think about what this new myth is that you want built. Because Orlando's myth, if they win, will almost certainly be sprung from Dwight's ability to be dominant, and coalesce the rest of his otherwise average team into an awful basketball hydra that shoots threes. For Orlando everything finally comes back to Dwight, though in ways not as transparent as with the Lakers and Kobe. Dwight seems simple and innocent now, but so did Kobe when he still had a baby fro, before we found out he was a sociopath.

 
At 6/01/2009 5:40 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I don't get this proposed narrative of individual (KB24) v. team (Magic).

The Lakers are probably the most talented group of players in the L, but they win primarily by execution of an offense that calls on them to move their feet, move the ball, and make quick and correct decisions about what the highest percentage play is. Kobe acting as supreme individual talent is only a function of emergency and the man's own mysterious psychology.

The Magic are similar. Their system is different, but wins come in large part through movement of ball and people, quick decisions, and hitting their shots.

And I'm not convinced that the Magic have the advantage in this series. Sure, they looked good against the Cavs and beat LA in the regular season, but they had the personnel advantage against Cavs, and they also mostly beat the Celtics and Hawks in the regular season. I see Kobe, Ariza, and Odom providing much better defense on Hedo and Shard and Pietrus than the Cavs could present (particularly with Bron spending so much time guarding the poinst--WTF, Mike Brown?).

And speaking of Mr. Turkoglu, what's weird to me about his emergence over the last two seasons is that it seemed like such an unlikely renaissance. My memories of him are all from Sac, where he promised exactly what he's now delivering, but he made almost no impression on me for 5 years. Until I looked this morning, I didn't even remember him playing a season in San Antonio. He just seemed plateaued and irrelevant. So, in some ways his current play is more like a promise deferred than a revelation.

 
At 6/01/2009 5:47 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

Dwight seems like the dude in high school who hangs with all of the girls, knows every cheer,and you secretly question is sexuality. The man lip syncs Beyonce in viral videos for goodness sakes.

The fact that he's comfortable enough to not care gives personality and it makes him likable. He has genuine fun and doesn't take himself too serious.

I expect him to get out-classed by Pau in this series (think Olympics), but this match-up might even be better for the NBA. They get the NBA's leading vote-getter in the Finals, meanwhile they get MORE out of the Kobe/LeBron debate by avoiding a clear cut answer by them facing each other.

Imagine what Nike could o with Dwight. Adidas is terrible marketing their stars. T-Mac, Duncan, KG, and now Derrick Rose. Yawn. Can you think of an Adidas spot that stuck with you?

 
At 6/01/2009 6:41 PM, Blogger tray said...

I actually like Baseline much more in some ways, inasmuch as the stuff you write there is at least kind of tethered to some falsifiable truth-claims, whereas your freedarko stuff... I'm kind of reminded of some art criticism I read the other day after I went to the Cezanne exhibit at Philly and was struck by the show's abject failure to articulate why Cezanne is so important. Hence, I pulled down my trusty T.J. Clark, and was disappointed to find that his take on the Barnes's Bathers is basically that it represents a certain moment in the dissolution of the oedipal complex when male toddlers are apparently scared shitless of being castrated, and therefore start to imagine/hope that their mothers have spare phalluses to give to them in case they should lose their own. Or something like that. And it all sounds super-plausible after you read 15 pages of the stuff, but if you just flipped open to a random page you'd probably think (and rightly so) that it was mindless drivel. Which isn't quite how I feel about the flightier posts on freedarko, but you're somewhere on that general spectrum.

 
At 6/01/2009 8:59 PM, Blogger ronald james davis said...

while i'll agree that adidas usually drops the ball, they are at least partly responsible for the REALEST SHIT EVER.

 
At 6/01/2009 11:05 PM, Blogger VictorVonRimp said...

I'd just like to take a second and ask everyone here to be thankful for each other as real, and intellectual, basketball fans. The discourse on basketball here is so good. There are actual conversations that go beyond the amazingly witty "LeBRICK SUX", and "F ThA cAVS, Thay Fukin are Hyped, Kobe is a Bitch" and the like that are constantly posted on some other, bigger sites.

This is the best basketball site ever for people who can read.

I always have loved it, but now in my demoralized state after the Cavs loss, I appreciate it greatly.

Props.

 
At 6/02/2009 12:41 AM, Blogger djturtleface said...

Since someone just commented on the intellectual merits of this comment stream I feel a need to drop this bomb:

Anthony Johnson is a Big Carp Face. Talking about Admiral Ackbar stuff.

Seriously. Don't try to run the half court trap, he'll call it out EVERY time.

 
At 6/02/2009 1:48 AM, Blogger Mark said...

seems like turkoglu has turned himself into Toni Kukoc. without the ridiculous vision.

 

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