Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sometimes, Two Wrongs Do Make a Right

You could make a pretty solid argument that two of the most unfair rules in all of sports are the NBA Draft Lottery and the NBA's Age Limit. But combining the two? Gold, Jerry...that's gold!

Forcing Durant and Oden to chill for a year in college ramped up interest in the draft beyond anything I can remember since LeBron and Melo. (And honestly? The hype around the '07 Draft will probably top that; it will get unprecedented attention.) And the randomness of the lottery only multiplied it.

Say what you want about the Lotto being a gimmick (it is) and unfair (it is), but man, it really delivered the goods this year, didn't it? Stern has to be freakin' thrilled with how that went. It was dramatic, plus the chalk picks, so to speak, weren't even close and teams that needed help are going to get it. I don't think the L could ask for a more exciting evening, do you? (Well, maybe if we were watching SA/PHX for the right to go the Finals instead of Jazz/Spurs afterwards...but still.)

So, so much happened. Boston got shafted into the 5 spot (that clown who had a C's Oden jersey on can wrap it around that Sporting News cover of Duncan in Celtic Green so they can bury him with them after he blows his head off). The Suns somehow missed out on the No. 4 pick in a loaded draft (D'Antoni is not having a good week, is he? And what the hell do you do with Marion now?). Atlanta has two top-10 picks (Let me be one of the first - but certainly not the last - to say that
I cannot wait to see how they blow both of those - anyone wanna bet me they draft Conley at 3 and then Acie Law IV at 10 and then can't believe they are being bashed for finally drafting some PGs?).

And that doesn't even take into account the top two spots, the reason everyone was watching in the first place. Does Portland draft Oden and start him along with Aldridge and Randolph for like, a freaking great front line for years to come? Or do they fill that hole at the 3-spot with Durant? Either way, they are the Bulls of the Western Conference now...mad young guns for the next decade. Can whoever Seattle drafts - probably Durant - save basketball in Seattle?

One glaring problem: both Oden and Durant are going to the West. Wouldn't the league have been better off with Oden in Boston and Durant in Atlanta? Stern couldn't see to that happening? We could have LeBron, D Wade, Bosh, Oden, Durant and the Pistons at least making the East respectable, if not competitive. The All Star game would be more fun, at least.

Now the West is even
more loaded, while the East's chances for young up-and-coming teams rest on the incompetence in Boston, the incompetence in Atlanta, and Milwaukee. Yeesh.

This draft is like the perfect storm...two franchise changers who are forced to go to school come out the same year that three lottery picks decide to return to school and win a second title...this year is a freak show. And the West won out again. Of course they did.

(Oh, and one more gripe...why do teams send this COO's and CEO's and shit that only the team's fans have ever heard of - and probably hate? I am glad Portland won just because they actually sent someone cool. Teams should take note for next season; the basketball Gods like these things. They couldn't throw a vote up on the team website with some decent options? This is too much to ask?)

Regardless, the hype leading up to the actual draft is going to be off-the-charts (I am pretty sure Al Gore invented the Internets and sports blogs just for shit like this). Might as well get started right now. Here is a quick mock draft of the lotto teams, which I am sure will change countless times by draft day.

1. The Luckiest Bastards in the L - Greg Oden.
I am not exactly sure how they will strategically pull it off, but how can you resist that aforementioned front line? Plus they have Przybilla and Magloire on the bench...I think that is an absolutely terrific problem to have. They will be freakin' huge. The NBA is moving towards skill and speed, push the ball, drive and kick, knock down threes...and Portland is going to ruin it. They are just going to beat teams into submission. Eventually.

2. __________ Super Sonics - Kevin Durant.
Hmmm...how do you feel about all this, Rashard Lewis? Think you might be staying? No? Didn't think so...you and Chauncey are going to look bad ass in those Cleveland uniforms. But Durant is the obvious no-brainer here.

(Just out of curiosity: what if either Portland or Seattle pulls a Mario Williams here? I know because of the cap, it is unlikely to happen...but what if? Would this be a bigger crime than Reggie Bush going second to the Saints?

What if Seattle says, "hey, we play in the same division as AI, Deron Williams, Randy Foye and Brandon Roye...we need to be able to protect the paint...we take Brandan Wright." You know, how the Texans took Mario Williams because they said they can't stop the Peyton and Co.? What would happen? Would they be kicked out of the league? Would it be the greatest draft screw-up ever?)

3. The Sweetest Throwback Jerseys in the Lottery - Brandan Wright
I can't believe I am saying this...but I kind of feel bad for the Hawks. They need a point guard and a center...and they barely miss out on franchise center and this is too high to take any of the PGs. They don't need to reach for a PG here, they'll be able to get Conley (or at least Acie Law) at 11. Just grab Brandan Wright and hope that when he balls with Marvin Williams at Chapel Hill over the summer, something clicks.

Too bad the Hawks couldn't have snagged the No. 1 pick, too: they could have made Oden and Conley's dream of playing together in the L come true. Single tear.

4. The Logo's Retirement Home - Yi.
I'm just going to call him Yi. Anyone mind? K, moving on.

5. At least we have the Pats & Sawx. Roy Hibbert
I don't know why, but this brought me absolutely glee. Glee, I tell you, glee. Maybe it is because I read too much Simmons, but Boston seemed like they were absolutely tanking - more than anyone else; whether that is true or not I don't know - and their front office was being dumb on purpose. They revolved their entire plan around a lottery. Not smart. I'm guessing that when they are fired, they will not be selling financial advice.

But they need a true big man. I think Hibbert is that. Man, this just sucks for Boston.

(Oh: I have never been this excited for a Simmons column. This is gonna be great. I can't wait to hear the rationalization here. To steal a line: good times, good times.)

6. Milwaukee - Corey Brewer
Frankly, I'd be shocked if he ends up really lasting this long. I think he is a middle-class man's Kevin Durant. Yes sir, I do. He is a better on-ball defender than Kevin Durant and he can do some of the same things offensively. He'd be the steal of the draft if he fell to No. 6.

7. KG's Kidnappers- Al Horford
I don't even want to speculate what a KG-Foye-No. 7 pick would look like because they should freaking trade KG and get at least another pick in this draft. Horford is the best available here though.

8. Charlotte Tar Heels - Jeff Green
Julian Wright would probably fit in better, but this team needs someone solid. I see Green as a stabalizer in the NBA. He seems to be the most mature prospect to me in the draft (don't even say Oden is; he is secretly 12 years old). On a team with this much young talent, I think that isn't something to overlook.

9. Blazers of the East - Spencer Hawes
The Bulls
have to draft a post player. It doesn't matter if it is a reach. Spencer Hawes is far and away the best one available right now. They need to take him and not even think twice.

10. Queens - Julian Wright
Point guard is tempting here, but for the time being, they do have Bibby. Kevin Martin and Bibby are a solid backcourt. Is Mike Conley or Acie Law better than either of those two? That team needs an explosive finisher around the rim. Wright fits the bill.

11. Still the Sweetest Throwbacks in the Lottery - Mike Conley, Jr.
Now the Hawks can take a point guard. Finally. Only took them three years. Conley isn't going to be great right away - really, he can't shoot - but could he be another Tony Parker? Decent J, fast as hell getting into the lane? In a few years, absolutely.

12. The Iladelph - Acie Law IV
There are going to be a lot of teams clamoring for a point guard in the off-season - Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami. Trade Andre Miller and draft Acie Law. You get younger and cheaper. Its a win-win.

13. NOOCH - Al Thorton
Paul and Peja in the backcourt, Chandler and West on the block, Desmond Mason can play the three, but Thorton adds some nice versatility. I'm getting sleepy.

14. Clip Show - Joakin Noah
Two years ago, the Clippers were an exciting up and coming team. Now I think I hate them. Might as well draft Noah and make it official. I mean,
somebody has to draft him.

You are highly encouraged to tell me where I screwed up.

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What Would The Global Icon Do?

LeBron needs to take that shot.

Not because he was already by Prince and is strong enough to finish, regardless of what help might have gotten there. Not because he is his team's best player and the face of the franchise. Not because he is the biggest star left in the playoffs.

LeBron needs to take that shot because he wants to be a Global Icon.

Global Icon's take that shot. All-Stars might make that pass, Hall of Famers might make that pass. But Global freakin' Icons dismiss Prince, finish at the rim and then win the game in overtime.

Don't get me wrong, there is a sound logic to making that pass. On the road, against a team that is better than you, you go for the win. Who wants to play a team that is better than you for five more minutes on thier home court? A dude who hit 6 threes in a close game a few days ago is wide open, you throw it to him and you steal homecourt. In most instances, that is a very good play.

But not when a Global Icon is the one throwing the pass. That's the exception.

Global Icons hit the game winner. They score the most points, too. If you are baseball's Global Icon, you hit the most home runs, not slap the most singles. Football's Global Icon scores the most touchdowns. If he is a great blocker, fine, but that isn't what he hangs his hat on.

And I get the LeBron is just 22. But no one asked him if he wanted to be a Global Icon. He came up with that all on his own. He raised the bar. He raised expectations. And Global Icons just do not hand in 10-point performances in the conference finals and then pass on the buzzer beater. 22-year old phenoms can, but Global Icons can't.

Hey, I have defended LeBron in the past when he deferred on the final shot, but this is different. He was a foot, maybe inches from the rim with no one in his way. Maybe if he is double-teammed, or stopped, then he passes. Maybe.

That final play, at least to me, was indicative of the game was a whole. LeBron was involved, sure, but not to any great degree and the burden of the game fell on everyone else. The Cavs ain't winning if Bron Bron keeps that up.

The thing about LeBron not scoring is that he is playing right into the Pistons game plan. Getting his teammates involved is what LeBron wants to do, but oddly enough, it is what the Pistons want him to do, too. The superstars offensive attack strategy rarely lines up so perfectly with his opponent's defensive philopshy, does it?

But when LeBron scores, it is devestating. It changes the game. Detroit gears up to stop it, realizes they can't and it has an effect. LeBron scoring - or hell, at least being aggressive - blows up the Detroit scheme. For that reason alone, he's got to.

It is a shame the Cavs blew a chance to steal home court, but this game means nothing in terms of the rest of the series. Both teams still have aces in their respective holes: The Pistons can unleash Chauncey Billups before 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter (and for that matter, just play better as a team). The Cavs, of course, can still hope Motivated LeBron shows up. If one, or both, of those happen, this series will be wildy different than that Arena League Football game we watched last night.

In a way, I kind of feel bad for LeBron. He is going to get hammered for not being more dominant, but he wants to win his way, partly, I would guess becuase he thinks it is the right way and partly to shut everyone the hell up. He's stubborn, I think, and everyone telling him that he is going about things the wrong way will only reinforce in him the notion that he has to do it his way, results be damned.

If that is the case, fine. He is talented enough to win his way - if not this year, then down the line with a better supporting cast. I just worry that he might genuinely be shying away from the spotlight. And that is a scary thought. These playoffs have made unheros out of more than a few stars - Dirk, T.Mac, Kobe - and I'd hate to see Bron Bron fall into that category. Of course, all those guys can easily redeem themselves. But still.

Game 2 should tell all. If LeBron drops another near triple-double but barely cracks double-digits...well, I don't want to think about that.

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