It's Judgment That Defeats Us

A profound believer in liberated fandom, djturtleface loves the worst or most peculiar teams in the league. In third grade he listed Rasheed Wallace as his idol, and currently writes for TheGoodPoint.com. He just started SB Nation's Memphis Grizzlies blog Straight Outta Vancouver, which is an exercise in pain, misfortune, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Like virtually all of his ‘We Believe’ teammates before him, turns out that Captain Jack was never quite as happy with being an act in Donnie Nelson’s circus as we once presumed.

Bear in mind that this is a player-coach combo once thought to have built the best rapport in the league. When on Oakland’s local sports-talk radio they would regularly call in as anonymous listeners to pose goofy questions to each other. Nelson gave Jackson more minutes and more regular minutes than any other player on the squad, which is actually quite an accomplishment since Nelson benched players like Jamal Crawford, who should nicely compliment his system, and the Anthony Randolph, who should be a fucking thunder-lizard or something, for the bulk of the season. Point is it’s becoming rather obvious that Don Nelson is to the NBA as Colonel Kurtz is to Vietnam.

Nelson is a man tortured and ruined by the combination of his own genius and the impossibility of his circumstance. Donnie can turn some undrafted kid out of the Georgia Institute of Technology into an explosive scorer in his rookie season, but couldn’t have cultivated a healthy, professional relationship with Dikembe Mutumbo. And while this phenomenon might be endlessly interesting to a casual observer, it seems to be particularly frustrating to those living the dream.

In the most FD of ways, Nelson’s dementia is clearly reflected by the style of his system, which makes his insanity almost a necessity. As I’ve written about in the past, teams that play asymmetrical basketball can be extremely effective, but are still extremely uncommon. This is because there are three enormous roadblocks that tend to prevent the more sane coaches in the association from being given a chance to prove their genius.

While Don Nelson has broken the mold by simply refusing to acknowledge the existence of any societal norm, most of us prefer not to have conversations with the demons inside our skulls, so front offices tend to get stuck on these worries:

Social: Lots of people pretend like peer-pressure isn’t real. Lots of social scientists know it’s an incredibly powerful force in decision making. Lots of professional sports teams have fans, which provide an enormous social pressure. NBA front offices trying to build unique squads have to make unique, sometimes questionable roster moves. Since lots of the fans aren’t members of the front office, it’s incredibly difficult for a franchise to teach them the rationale behind their action without alerting every other team in the league. And that kind of defeats the purpose of running a sneaky strategy the other teams aren’t built to counter.

Unless you’re Chris Wallace, chances are you don’t want to be perceived by your fans or the national media as like Chris Wallace—not to insinuate Chris Wallace is covertly building an asymmetrical team, just to insinuate most teams would probably rather hire Isiah Thomas as their new GM at this point. Some franchises manage to answer this convoluted equation, normally by branding their style so fans and media understand their personnel decisions. But most franchises find it much easier to just remove the whole unique squad part from the equation, then all you need to do to quell those incessantly riotous fans is trade for Shaq.

Cultural: This equation is much shorter. Coaches and GM’s aren’t always on the same page. Because of the ‘No Championships’ propaganda and the reason above, GM’s resist making particularly creative roster choices. Coaches need to win, or they get fired. So if the coach has a traditional lineup, there is too much pressure from the NBA’s win-or-burn coaching culture for that coach to tinker with the way the lineup is constructed and utilized. Who really wants to save a world that is destined to die?

As evidence I would like to submit that coaches using a unique system typically have nothing to lose because of their status (read: large and long contracts, or exceptionally short leash): D’Antoni, Nelson, Adelman, Karl are the legends; Stan Van Gundy and a bunch of interim coaches are the outcasts who need to show sparks of genius to have any hope of staying an NBA head coach.

Economic: Common sense would edict that a team using its personnel in unique ways to maximize their ability and minimize their flaws would get some serious discounts on players. In theory because they’re getting the maximum value out of each players skills, these teams could get by paying less for players who are seen as flawed in most systems. Sadly because of the branding issue even the most innovative team needs to have some semblance of consistency in player roles. The more unique your team becomes, the more unique skill-set necessary to make it work, thus the rarer the player that will plug into your asymmetrical system.

Since players and agents aren’t fucking morons, they know their team’s unique needs and use this as an advantage in their negotiations. How does a dude named Andrea makes $50 million over 5 years from a team bidding against itself, despite failing to contribute for a bad team over his entire career? He is seven-foot tall and can shoot on a team that’s trying to build the NBA’s closest approximation of Euro-ball. The Raptors have the opportunity to emerge as the strangest team in the NBA next season, but had to pony up serious cash to make it happen. I’m not exactly a trained economist, but common sense tells me that if supply equals one, it doesn’t take tons of demand for the price to rise.

Like most systems that persist over time, team development is well reinforced by structural forces that are perpetuated from Grand Minister Stern all the way down to the most ignorant of fans. There isn’t even an ounce of hope for Reformation at this point. Nelson is too egomaniacal to lead the revolution, the Magic are too repentant for their loss, and D’Antoni is too not in Chicago.

So where, precisely, are we, the fans who want nothing more than to just see something fucking new and different, to go from here? Well it looks like in the foreseeable future we’ll just have to keep on elevating our heartbeats over the positively titillating news that flawed dunk specialist Hakim Warrick will be joining the incredibly raw rookie Brandon Jennings, who might not even start over Luke Ridinour. And we will keep watching insufferably ugly, slow Bobcats games just to catch the token Gerald Wallace highlight. Or maybe we’ll track a Suns team that is a ghostly, back-from-Siberia version of its glory years. Crazy Donnie, you are a much stronger man than I.

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At 8/30/2009 9:59 PM, Blogger Teach said...

You nailed the essence of Nelson.

At 8/31/2009 2:57 AM, Blogger O said...

been waiting for this one. Was Chris Mullin Don Nelson's Lin Biao?

At 8/31/2009 4:10 AM, Blogger will said...

Is the factor of ownership obfuscated from this model? I mean, surely there's a top down effect from Chris Cohan that contributes to Nelson's madness, and one that can't be attributed to Mullin.

Sarver too: There was a point where Bryan Collangelo and D'Antoni saw very much eye to eye, but the culture was changed because Sarver let Collangelo walk (I also believe that Sarver had more to do with D'Antoni leaving than Kerr did).

For some odd reason, I'm left wanting to find a broken seal somewhere in this very good piece. Usually when I get that feeling, I know that I'm trying too hard, or that I'm pissed at Shoals for poking holes in my amateurishly constructed paradigm.

Or maybe I just drink too much.

At 8/31/2009 9:42 AM, Blogger djturtleface said...

In this model ownership is assumed as the ultimate pressure in all three categories: he'll fire GM's if fans are upset, he'll fire coaches or GM's if they're clearly not on same page or not getting results, and he'll use the power of the purse to limit payroll at the most inopportune times.

It's kind of like those sentences where 'you' is the understood subject I guess.

At 8/31/2009 11:19 AM, Blogger Andy said...

So if Chris Mullin is Don Nelson's Lin Biao, then who is his Gang of Four, the crazed hardliners pushing Nelson as far as they can into uncharted territory?

At 8/31/2009 2:52 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

The Nelson=Kurtz thing was on the tips of everybody's tongues for so long that I cannot believe nobody had said it yet. But this shit's not even amusing anymore. Don Nelson is now completely insane. He ruins lives. He has to be stopped. And I have to stop him.

At 8/31/2009 2:55 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

It also makes all we stand for look like a joke.

Incidentally, last night a friend convinced me that Nelson won't play Wright even if it's the only way to up his trade value and make a Jackson or Ellis deal possible. Then Ty Keenan backed him up.

At 8/31/2009 3:11 PM, Blogger O said...

Nelson's gang of four, as defined by andy, in no particular order:

Larry Riley.
the concept of a point forward.
Latrell Sprewell's foreclosed yacht.

At 8/31/2009 3:29 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Nice Biedrins/Kirilenko lookalike in the second image. Watch the Jazz: Brewer, Millsap, Miles are like a pack of dingos with Williams leading and Okur trailing …
wv: hedomaf: how Turkoglu's latest contract was calculated.

At 8/31/2009 3:50 PM, Blogger Richard said...

I was always of the theory that Nelson was out to maximize his players' numbers to make them appear to be better than they were, so that he can trade them. At least from the Warriors/Mavs/Warriors part of his career. People forget that his Milwaukee teams were known for their defense. So when he has a GM (Mullin) that is not making moves that he agrees with, Nellie pushes to take over.

At 8/31/2009 7:51 PM, Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...

Has anyone ever typoed freedark.com to get here?

I thought you guys did a pretty weird remodel.

At 8/31/2009 9:35 PM, Blogger breene said...

Was I the only one that was disappointed that Shoals compared Nelson and the Warriors to Kurtz and Vietnam instead of Kurtz and the Congo?

Also, I think Freedark.com might move up a few notches in my search history. Thanks TOVG.

At 8/31/2009 9:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I didn't write this.

Let me think some about which country I'd use.

At 8/31/2009 10:09 PM, Blogger Teach said...

Breene: I wanted it to be the Congo, but the more I think about it I like it being Vietnam. If Don Nelson were a movie director, he would have the hubris to take what's considered a classic literary standard and place it in a completely different setting that turns out to be a muddy political statement, or, in other words, are for art's sake.

At 8/31/2009 11:38 PM, Blogger Letter said...

Oh wow, totally right Teach!

Coppola should've totally dumped that whole "relevance" thing and just done a period piece instead in the interests of literary continuity. To hell with personal reinterpretation, I demand strict constructionism in all my cinematic endeavors!

Oh yeah, and Westhead is Jiang Qing.

At 9/01/2009 9:13 AM, Blogger Andy said...

Continuing on the Chairman Mao theme: Someday Nelson will be gone and then we get to find out who is his Deng Xiaoping-- the one who restores normalcy and turns the Warriors into a team like all others ("To get rich is glorious!"). To be technically accurate, it really ought to be a former Warriors coach returning to the job. Any nominations? (All I can say is, I hope it won't be P.J. Carlesimo...)

At 9/01/2009 1:45 PM, Blogger Sylvan said...

I just wanted to comment on the Ricky Rubio situation that seems to have reached it's ugly end; two years in Barca before he considers the NBA. Of course, none of this should have happened. He's a product of a system that makes players out as profitable stars before they even enter the league.

Before the draft, he was saying that to be in the NBA he would play for free, yet even then he was making ludicrous demands. He was being told he would be a star and he has fit the prima donna role perfectly. Now, after being victimized by a contract with a team that recognized his naiveté and being told that Minnesota is cold (oh my!), he is opting to stay in his homeland.

Naturally, if he were an american, he wouldn't have even had the chance to get drafted. He is eighteen years old. Now, should a teenager be allowed to make stupid decisions/say things he doesn't mean? Of course. The real villain isn't Rubio, nor is it David Kahn. It's not even entirely DKV Joventut's fault, Rubio did foolishly sign that contract, regardless of the insanity of the terms. The true problem is systemic. This is another case of greed overshadowing humanity, of potential being swallowed whole by opportunism. Good luck in the years ahead Ricky Rubio, you're swimming with sharks.

At 9/01/2009 4:48 PM, Blogger Teach said...

Letter: Maybe it's the message board. Maybe it's me, but I'm sensing a bit of sarcasm, which I'm totally fine with.

I was just saying that Nellie is more Coppola's Kurtz than Conrad's because Nellie's approach to basketball is more like Coppola's takes on The Heart of Darkness and Vietnam. It's more about his personal interpretation of basketball, much like Apocalypse Now is all Coppola's personal interpretation. He neither made a film that was strictly Conrad's novel or a film that was strictly the Vietnam War. Coppola went a little Kurtz himself in making that film.

At 9/01/2009 5:27 PM, Blogger Teach said...

Also, the reason to watch Coppola's film is to see how it's filmed more so than what it has to say about the War. It's dismissal of the Vietnamese and Cambodians as equal players in the war and as human beings hurts the film's own efforts to be relevant. Coppola's own ego, claiming his film "is the Vietnam War," is the driving force in making his film relevant to any discussion on the topic of Vietnam.

Anyway, the reason to watch a Nelson team is the style of play and his own ego, as mentioned in the original piece, holds his own style from achieving its successful "reformation" of the League.

At 9/01/2009 5:48 PM, Blogger breene said...

Well, I totally forgot that Shoals didn't write this. But when I did the scan to the bottom to see who posted it it said Shoals and I forgot it was a guest post. Argh, whatever.

Anywho, while I agree that there are some great similarities with Coppola/Kurtz/Nellie I was thinking more specifically of the Nellie/Kurtz comparison. Especially when you think of the Standard Kurtz being from Apocalypse Now and the Standard Winning Coach to be a proponent of Defense First (Standard being the most currently relevant) when the Original Kurtz was from Heart of Darkness and the Original Winning Coaches were guys that ran and ran and ran and ran and ran (I'm saying after the shot clock, because that's when modern basketball has essentially started). I just liked those parallels.

At 9/02/2009 1:24 AM, Blogger O said...

it has gotta be Tim Hardaway playing the role of Deng.

His stats were better in golden state than any other team he played for.

He strayed from party (nba) discipline and is thus currently being rehabilitated.

And just like Deng, he was around for the beginning of chairman nellie's tenure with the Warriors, for the Run TMC days, when shit was revolutionary in practice and not just in name.

Maybe he starts as an assistant to Nellie's successor. Then lets assume Nellie's successor is canned. Tim Hardaway issues this quote to the press in the aftermath, leading to him assuming the position of Head Coach of the Warriors.

"In units beset with long-standing difficulties, the basic problem is timid leadership. It is utterly impossible to combat factionalism without a leadership that 'puts daring first.' And without such leadership, there is no possibility of establishing the essential rules and regulations or of implementing party policy."
-Deng Xiaoping 1975

I can't think of who could play the role of Zhou Enlai in this analogy. Any ideas?

At 9/02/2009 9:14 AM, Blogger Andy said...

O: I do not have any candidates for the role of Zhou Enlai, but I can help write the job description. The candidate must:

have been around forever
known everyone
survived everything
be glamorous, cool and handsome
the void caused by their death (or at least their absence) created a crisis

I am not sure who can fill this role, but I don't think that either Jamaal Wilkes or Al Attles are good-looking enough for the job.

At 9/02/2009 10:14 AM, Blogger caleb said...

To reinforce your point we now have the terrible paradox of Stephen Jackson wanting to leave the team. Why? Not to spread the gospel of twenty-eight footers early in the clock, but, sadly, to "win a championship." A tear in the time-space continuum is imminent, unless, of coarse, he somehow ends up in Orlando?

At 9/02/2009 12:13 PM, Blogger Evan said...

Who painted the second pic in this post?

At 9/02/2009 5:25 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

To be honest I have no clue who painted it, stumbled upon in Google images.

At 9/05/2009 7:12 PM, Blogger Bart King said...

"Common sense would edict that.."

Common sense would do nothing of the sort, as common sense does not employ nouns where a verb is needed.

One could safely use the word in question as an adjective, thus "edictal", as in "Making grammatical proclamations is edictal." (Or, if one wishes to utilize creative word choice because it's FD, then the person proclaiming such rules could be said to BE an edict.)

At 9/09/2009 12:04 AM, Blogger djturtleface said...

At the risk of getting into a stupid argument well after the original post: I don't use creative word choice because I'm writing on FD; I write semi-conversationally because I'm writing on FD. And even more importantly, I don't edit as well as I should because I'm writing on FD.

So thank you. A third draft may have addressed your edict for better word choice.


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