Thursday, October 30, 2008

ESPN The Magazine's Blogger Preview

ESPN The Magazine kindly invited us to take part in a blogger preview of the 2008-09 NBA season which appeared online.

We were thrilled to participate, along with many of our favorite fellow NBA bloggers. A couple of our answers made it into the published story. Here are our complete responses:

1. Dissect this statement: The NBA Finals will again be Lakers vs. Celtics.
Yes to Lakers in Finals, Celts not so sure.... The uninspiring manner in which L.A. succumbed to Boston in the Finals still seems to be preeminent in people's minds, and somewhat obscuring the fact we may be on the cusp of a new Laker dynasty. The chief storyline of the season, in our minds, is: Just how good will the Lakers be?

L.A. doesn't really have a weakness -- they have great depth, versatility, size, multiple shooters, good passers who fit well in the Triangle, multiple post options (Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Walton) who pass well out of post, and Kobe. Should have no issues being the most efficient offense in the NBA, besides maybe the Jazz. The minor flaws that poked up in the playoffs -- rebounding & some interior defensive
toughness -- should be remedied with Bynum back. We think that, if the key players stay healthy, L.A. has a shot at 70 wins.

The C's are clearly one of the favorites in the East alongside Detroit & Cleveland. But don't forget Boston was extremely close to being knocked off by the Cavs, and were fortunate Ray Allen recovered his mojo just in time, and got key contributions from the likes of PJ Brown. They need Ray to be a consistent third option for another deep run, and we're dubious that can happen. Allen is 33 and has clearly lost some of his elusiveness.

2. Evaluate this: The Rockets' time has arrived.
On paper, if they can stay relatively healthy and get some better perimeter shooting from their role guys, Houston could challenge the Lakers for the Western crown.

It all just seems so fragile: the physical health of T-Mac & Yao, the mental health of Artest. Ultimately, we just don't believe in T-Mac as a championship-quality team leader - we don't believe in his body, his psyche or his shot selection. They may well get into the mid-to-upper 50s in regular-season wins, but we think the Rockets need to be re-made into a team that runs its offense primarily through Yao - and keep the big fella healthy - to be a true championship contender.

3. Is this the last year of the Spurs and Pistons as we knew them, or was that last year?
It was probably last year for both teams, though in a better way for Detroit, who has replenished its roster with young talent to begin to transition to a new era, than San Antonio, who hasn't.

As much as the Spurs have been justifiably praised for being an exceptionally well-run organization, the bottom line is that their dynastic run has still been built on two massive strokes of good luck: winning the Robinson and Duncan lotteries.

Now it seems as though San Antonio's luck has turned a bit: they consummated a trade for J.R. Smith at the 2006 deadline... but five minutes too late. They made a shrewd draft pick of Brazilian center Tiago Splitter at no. 28 in 2007... right before the tide turned and NBA-quality players started getting contracts lucrative enough to keep them in Europe, as Splitter did. Smith and Splitter are EXACTLY the type of young athletic players San Antonio desperately needs - the Spurs have had both players in their grasp, but bad luck, essentially, is why they're not on their 2008-09 roster.

4. Who you got for MVP and ROY?
ROY: Oden. Shades of a young Shaq with his ability to plow through guys for easy buckets. Should be a defensive presence right away. Probably looking at 17 ppg, 10 rpg, & 2-3 bpg. Also, helped by the fact the Blazers could (we said "could") win 50 games.

MVP: It's relatively easy for us to predict LeBron will be the best player. It's much harder to try to read the minds of MVP voters, whose rationales are elusive and ever-changing. They're very MSM that way.

5. Can Mike D'Antoni turn water into wine, or does that only work with fast-moving water?
This year, it will suffice simply to purify the contaminated, radioactive water into something consumable. We think people are underestimating how far things like a professional culture, a positive atmosphere, and an enjoyable style of play will go to lighten the mood and re-energize the Garden after last year's disaster.

The talent is hardly championship-quality, but it's much better than 23-win level, too. If D'Antoni does just an average job (and we think he's better than that), NY should see significant gains on the W side of the ledger.

6. Let's talk about the Blazers for a second. How good can they be?
We thought the Blazer fan base was a bit delusional during most of the offseason, but we've slowly come around to legitimacy of this squad, and now think the talk of 50 wins is possible.

This ballclub seems to get deeper by the day. All of a sudden, there's an impressive collection of wings: Roy, Rudy, Outlaw, Webster, Bayless, & even 19-year-old Nick Batum looks promising.

How legitimately good are they going to be? Part of that answer is dependent on the question: How much will the West decline? Phoenix, Denver, Golden State, San Antonio and Dallas could all be worse than they were last season. There could be an opportunity for Portland to take a big leap in the standings with even a modest improvement.

Now, some Blazers fans are still little too overzealous with whispers of conference finals plans, but Portland does have the goods to make a 1st round series tough for a top 4 seed.

7. Terry Porter is a head coach again. Really? How's that gonna work out?
Porter is the greatest D3 player of all time, so that's good for something. We always loved his game in Portland - TP was a stand-up guy who stepped it up in the clutch. But the Suns are looking instill a more defensive-minded approach, and Porter's teams in Milwaukee ranked 23rd and 28th in defensive efficiency. Even though they still have Nashy working the angles and Amare should have a gigantic year, the Suns aren't going to be the same League Pass must-watch they have been, and that makes us a little sad.

8. Who's your "breakout" player and team for this season?
Team: Don't sleep on the Timberwolves. They essentially added two and a half starters - with the additions of Mike Miller and Kevin Love, plus the return of Randy Foye, who missed 43 games - and Al Jefferson should continue to improve.

Research on has shown that teams which have a strong preseason record after a sub-30 win season tend to improve significantly. You can look it up. The T-Wolves went 6-2 in October. Look out.

Player: We like J.R. Smith. He was 7th in the league in per-minute scoring last year - 7th! - at age 22, and there really may not be a player with a better combo of explosive athleticism and distance than the 6'6", 220-lb. Smith.

Plus, we think there's a good chance the Nugs will trade AI and his expiring deal, which will only open up more opportunity for J.R.

9. Based on D-Wade in Beijing, Marion and Beasley, what do you expect from the Heat this season?
As glorious a sight as D-Wade was to behold in Beijing, we're still concerned about his durability. Miami should be the most improved team in the league largely because they have nowhere to go but up, but if they only get 60-65 games from D-Wade, they'll be looking at another all-expenses-paid trip to beautiful Secaucus, N.J. come May.

10. The Numbers Game: For each of the following, please answer with a number, por favor.
a) Wins for the Thunder
1.92. Matching the $1.92 billion co-owner Aubrey McClendon lost in the stock market in October in the most karmic thing ever (can you tell we're based in Seattle?).

c) Where the 76ers finish in the East
5th. EB is nice, but they still can't shoot. And don't sleep on the Raptors.

f) Rasheed Wallace or Kobe Bryant techs
14 for Sheed. Both teams played hard.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008-09 NBA Predictions

Happy Opening Day, everyone. The League is back, rejoice.

We're pressed for time today, so let's get right to the predictions:

1. L.A. Lakers
2. Utah
3. New Orleans
4. Houston
5. San Antonio
6. Portland
7. Dallas
8. Phoenix

-First Round: Lakers over Suns, Spurs over Rockets, Hornets over Blazers, Jazz over Mavs
-Conf. Semis: Lakers over Spurs, Hornets over Jazz
-Conf. Finals: Lakers over Hornets


1. Boston
2. Detroit
3. Cleveland
4. Orlando
5. Toronto
6. Philadelphia
7. Miami
8. Chicago

-First Round: Celtics over Bulls, Magic over Raptors, Cavs over Sixers, Pistons over Heat
-Conf. Semis: Celtics over Magic, Cavs over Pistons
-Conf. Finals: Cavs over Celtics

-NBA Finals: Lakers over Cavs
-MVP: LeBron James, Cavaliers
-Rookie of the Year: Greg Oden, Blazers

Storylines we're most interested in:
Things were quite off-kilter in the L a year ago.

People were waiting - even expecting - Kobe Bryant to be dealt. We went so far as to correctly predict that Kobe would win the MVP and take his team to the Finals... but that he would do so while wearing a Chicago Bulls uniform. Sounds completely daft now, but it really didn't seem that far-fetched 12 months ago.

People were expecting improvement from the Celtics, but didn't really understand the magnitude of the 66-win defensive juggernaut that was about to come. People were deflated by the Oden microfracture.

Now, things are looking a bit more orthodox as we head into 2008-09. One of the things we love most about the league is the multi-year arcs of the storylines. We think there are some brewing which are pretty compelling and potentially historic, in a basketball sense.

So, we're really going to keep it simple and straightforward, not much wild and wacky. These are the storylines we're most looking forward to in '08-09:

Dawn of a Dynasty? I: Just How Good Can The Lakers Be?
As we have noted a few times, we think the Lakers have the personnel, in terms of players and coaches, to make a run at a 70-win season. We'll see whether health and egos can hold up.

Considering the ages of the protagonists - Bryant (30), Odom (29), Gasol (28), Bynum (21) - the time is now. Is there another threepeat coming which would lift the legacies of Messrs. Bryant and Jackson to newfound levels? We gonna see.

Dawn of a Dynasty? II: Rip City Revs Up
Wethinks the Lakers had best take advantage of this championship window while they can, b/c there is a train coming down from Portland around about 2012 which may put a stranglehold on June basketball for the balance of the decade.

Is it premature Blazermania? Enter Oden, enter Rudy, enter Bayless, and expectations are through the roof. We think this club takes the next consistent step on the road to the Larry O'B - solid improvement in the win column and a playoff berth - and that the expectations are still realistic enough that it will continue to be a hell of a fun ride at the Rose Garden.

The LeBron (and CP3) Narrative
We'll probably have this one on here as long as LeBron is in the league. Dude put up about as quiet of a 30-8-7 season as possible last season.

The question is fairly definitive to the course of the NBA in the 2010s: just how great will LeBron be? Just how far up the ladder of all-time greats will he go?

After last season, we probably need to add these modified versions of the questions as well: just how great will CP3 be? Just how far up the ladder of all-time point guards will he go?

I'm sorry, maybe this is too simplistic and obvious of a storyline to include. I just know that I'll be watching a disproportionate number of Cavs and Hornets game on League Pass, and I'll be doing so expressly because I'm so delighted to watch two historically great young players continue their development toward basketball immortality.

End of an Era in the West?
The franchises which have owned the West since Shaq left for Miami - San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix - all seemed poised for decline.

San Antonio has not been able to replenish its roster with desperately needed young athleticism, and now they'll be without Manu for a good chunk of the season. A depressed win total, and an uphill - ultimately unwinnable - battle without home-court advantage in the playoffs seems inevitable.

Dallas did not execute a desperately needed team overhaul following the playoff collapses in 2006 and 2007. Instead, they executed the desperate Kidd trade, which consigned them to slow, inevitable decline. We think Rick Carlisle is a hell of a coach and can stave off disaster, but things will be even for a year at best.

Phoenix, meanwhile, seems on the precipice. Yes, Amare should have a mindblowing season, but this roster is fully feeling the effects of so many ill-advised sold draft picks: it is old and it is thin. Dependent on Shaq and Grant Hill at 36? With Steve Nash and Raja Bell getting up there, too? No, thanks.

I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of these teams fell off the cliff in '08-09, and if I had to guess which one it would be, I'd say Phoenix.

The D'Antoni Effect
We really think people are underestimating the good feelings and sense of renaissance which will be emanating from Madison Square Garden. We say that in no small part just because this franchise has created such low expectations for itself with the self-inflicted disasters of the Dolan era.

Still, we think it's just not going to take much. If this club wins in the low 30s, while playing in a fun style with a largely professional attitude and culture - all of which we think is reasonable to expect - it's going to feel like an out-and-out revelation in the Garden. The mood will be lightened as optimism finally returns to New York. Then, expectations will kick in on the back pages, and it'll be a different ballgame.

Oden v Durant: Let's Get It On
We're a little surprised that the prospect of Oden v. Durant comparisons - the source of so much speculation in the basketball world from about January-August 2007 - finally coming to fruition have generated so little ink. It's time to get it on.

We're also surprised that precious little attention seems to be focused on Durant, who came on like gangbusters down the stretch last season with 21.8 ppg on .526 FG in March and a 24.3/6.4/4.1 (on .461 FG) April. We think he's poised to bust out a big year.

Many prognosticators seem to expect another 20-win season for the OKC Raiders. We think the combo of Durant's continued ascendance and the rabid crowds in OKC bring this team some improvement, even if it's only into the high-20s. They are coached by P.J., after all.

Will We Get Celtics v Lakers, Part XII?
It was such an unexpected delight to get a Celtics-Lakers Finals last season. As much as we celebrate the evolution of new players, teams and stories emerging on the scene in the league, we're never going to complain about a renewal of the most storied NBA rivalry in the Finals.

As much as we'd love to see LBJ v CP3, we'd certainly also be happy with Boston-L.A., one more time. The main storyline would be "Can the Lakers get over the hump against the champion Celtics?", as has been the case throughout NBA history, from the '60s to the '80s and now to the '00s.

OK, time to go. Man oh man, we can't wait for Celtics-Cavs and Blazers-Lakers tonight. And did you know that we've got CP3 going up-and-down against the Warriors on Wed., against Stevie Nash on Thu., and then against the Cavs and LeBron Sat.?

Let's get it on. Tip this baby off!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008-09 NBA Win Over/Under Predictions

Alright, it's time for the annual October favorite here at The Painted Area, as we offer our predictions for picking NBA regular-season win over/unders.

After turning in our best-ever season O/U performance (6-1) in 2006-07, the first year we went public with our recommended O/U picks, we limped home to a 3-4 mark last season - our first sub-.500 year ever (though we did salvage a .500 record overall with a win in a supplementary LeBron ppg prop).

And since we crowed about kicking Bill Simmons' butt in '06-07 (he went 4-6), fair play dictates that we note he trumped us last year with a 4-2 record.

As if anyone cares about this competition but us, here's the overall record comparison:**********************
OK, first, let's go straight up with the data. What we've done below is:
    a) sorted each conference in order of the over/under line for season wins,
    b) provided predicted '08-09 wins from ESPN's John Hollinger and Yahoo!'s Kelly Dwyer, and
    c) provided '07-08 wins.
As always, these are for entertainment purposes only. Remember, this is not a competition, it is only an exhibition - please, no wagering.
    (O/U Line - JH/KD - '07-08)
    BOS 54.5 - 60/56 - 66
    DET 50.5 - 54/55 - 59
    CLE 48.5 - 47/47 - 45
    PHI 48.5 - 50/51 - 40
    ORL 47.5 - 46/53 - 52
    TOR 47.5 - 47/48 - 41
    CHI 40.5 - 39/41 - 33
    WAS 37.5 - 36/34 - 43
    MIA 37.5 - 39/44 - 15
    ATL 36.5 - 31/36 - 37
    CHA 36.5 - 40/33 - 32
    IND 34.5 - 41/37 - 36
    NYK 31.5 - 28/23 - 23
    MIL 30.5 - 32/30 - 26
    NJN 27.5 - 27/22 - 34

    (O/U Line - JH/KD - '07-08)
    LAL 54.5 - 57/57 - 57
    HOU 52.5 - 56/57 - 55
    UTH 51.5 - 58/57 - 54
    NOH 51.5 - 50/54 - 56
    SAS 48.5 - 47/51 - 56
    PHX 46.5 - 45/48 - 55
    DAL 46.5 - 45/46 - 51
    POR 44.5 - 42/44 - 41
    DEN 42.5 - 41/37 - 50
    GSW 37.5 - 40/30 - 48
    LAC 33.5 - 30/32 - 23
    MIN 32.5 - 31/29 - 22
    SAC 27.5 - 23/29 - 38
    OKC 26.5 - 20/20 - 20
    MEM 23.5 - 26/26 - 22


OK, without further ado, here are our favorites for 2008-09:
- LAL - Over 54.5
- POR - Over 44.5
- CLE - Over 48.5
- NYK - Over 31.5
- WAS - Under 37.5
- ATL - Under 36.5
- DET - Over 50.5

Here's our rationale on the team picks:
LAL OVER 54.5 (57 last season)
We said it after the Finals and we'll say it again now: we think that, if the Lakers can keep their key players healthy, they have a chance to win 70 games.

We think that the uninspiring manner in which they succumbed to Boston in the Finals is still preeminent in people's minds, and obscuring the fact this team has overwhelming talent that goes 10 deep with all kinds of versatility and size.

We're still not entirely convinced that this team is mentally fit to withstand the rigors of the playoffs, but we think they're going to absolutely roll people in the regular season (esp. with the expected decline of a few Western powers), and easily beat a high 54.5 number.

POR OVER 44.5 (41)
A month ago, I would have thought that this number was insanely low. Now, the sober analysis from Hollinger and KD has given me pause - played over their heads last year, no injuries (other than Oden, of course).

Still, by adding Oden, Rudy, Jerryd Bayless, and Nick Batum (despite losses of James Jones and Jarrett Jack), I just can't believe this team won't improve by at least four games this season. Health - given the histories of Oden, Roy and Aldridge - does make me nervous, but still, I'm going to go for it.

CLE OVER 48.5 (45)
We're going against the wishes of both Professor Hollinger and Captain KD (who both have the Cavs at 47 W's), and that's never comfortable.

We just think that lots of things went awry for this team last season, whether it was injuries or Varejao's holdout or a disruptive midseason trade.

We still like the direction of this franchise, esp. after they took Boston to the wire in May (playing LBJ 43+ mpg helps, no doubt). It's a little bit of a gut call but we think LBJ can carry them over the 50 threshold, and we think there's an outside chance that Wally's expiring deal could bring back a very nice piece come Feb.

NYK OVER 31.5 (23)
Again we're going against the grain of Messrs. Hollinger/Dwyer, and again we think you simply can't underestimate the chaos of last season. Tumultuous, nearly-all-time-bad chaos in this instance.

Put last year's roster (essentially this year's roster, give or take) in an average NBA setting and we think they were about a 30-win club. Now simply put them in a professional culture and a positive atmosphere, with an above-average coach... well, we think these simple changes will do wonders, and we think this club can push up close to 35 W's.

ATL UNDER 36.5 (37)
We see several teams in the Eastern Conference improving in '08-09 - Atlanta was going to have to upgrade just to keep up. Instead, they lost Josh Childress and added no one of value. Their bench is ridiculously bad. We see them taking a step back.

WAS UNDER 37.5 (43)
The losses via injury of Arenas and Haywood leave Les Boulez painfully thin, and they also have key players like Jamison and Daniels on the wrong side of 30.

We have all kinds of respect for Tough Juice, and worry that he might have us chewing on straws with worry come April, but we still feel pretty comfortable with this under, given the overall improvement of the East.

DET OVER 50.5 (59)
We're a little nervous b/c we thought Flip Saunders was a very good regular-season coach, and now they have a rookie on bench in Michael Curry. Still, we're going with the Pistons over 50.5, based in no small part on recent history.

Namely, they've been over 50 each of the last five years, averaging 56.8 W's over that time. And they won an even 50 in the two years prior to that.

And it's all the same cast of cats - even though they're getting up there, Joey D has done a great job of supplementing the vets with youthful energy from Stuckey, Johnson and Maxiell. This team should be able to withstand some injury, which they seem due for at some point this century.

Other thoughts:
In general, we were tempted by about 10 other numbers, and had a hard time narrowing down to our 7 favorites. All in all, the numbers that were set were really good this year.

We came into this ready to go under on teams like PHX, DEN, and GST (and SAS to a certain extent), as we think those teams will take big slides, and over on teams like MIN and LAC (see Roland's Teams to Watch below) but the O/U numbers that were set anticipated big declines and improvements for all of those clubs, and made things too challenging - their numbers are just about where we see those teams finishing.

Here are the teams which are at least five games over or under the line in John Hollinger's projections:

BOS - Over 54.5 (60)
ATL - Under 36.5 (31)
IND - Over 34.5 (41)
UTH - Over 51.5 (58)
OKC - Under 26.5 (20)

Here are the teams which are at least five games over or under the line in Kelly Dwyer's estimations:

UTH - Over 51.5 (57)
GSW - Under 37.5 (30)
ORL - Over 47.5 (53)
MIA - Over 37.5 (44)
NYK - Under 31.5 (23)
NJN - Under 27.5 (22)
DEN - Under 42.5 (37)
OKC - Under 26.5 (20)
(We're giving Kelly a mulligan on his Kings prediction...)

Going under on the Thunder and over on the Jazz seem to be the two on which John and Kelly are most in agreement.

Roland Beech of did some research which showed that preseason records may have predictive value for regular-season records, in the following instances:

a) When a team which won less than 30 games the previous season has a winning record in the preseason,
b) When a team wins 75% or more of its preseason games, and
c) When a team loses 75% or more of its preseason games.

All of this is based on small sample sizes, so these are all pretty rough generalizations which need to be taken with a grain of salt, but the win correlation for teams who have satisfied a) above since '02-03 is especially strong - those teams improved by an average of 17.5 games a season.

The one team which satisfies this criteria this year is Minnesota (6-2 preseason). I was enticed by the T-Wolves, but the O/U line of 32.5 (won 22 last year) already seemed to reflect that this squad is poised for improvement. Tempting, but I see Minny right in that low-to-mid 30 range - wish the line was lower.

Update (10/29): Bill Simmons made his picks on his podcast - he discussed all 30 teams with his buddy, the immortal "House", and here's ultimately what they jointly recommended:

BOS - Over 55.5
CLE - Over 47.5
CHA - Under 35.5
LAL - Over 55.5
SAC - Over 27.5
NOH - Over 51.5
PHI - Under 48.5

We'll check back after the season to see how everyone did. Alright, good night and good luck.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Draft Notes: Pac-10 Again?

One of the most notable things about the 2008 NBA Draft was that the first round was dominated by Pac-10 players, with 5 of the first 11 picks, and 7 first-rounders overall, coming from the conference:
    3. O.J. Mayo, USC
    4. Russell Westbrook, UCLA
    5. Kevin Love, UCLA
    10. Brook Lopez, Stanford
    11. Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
    15. Robin Lopez, Stanford
    21. Ryan Anderson, Cal
It was seemingly a rare occurrence for a conference that, while it is one of the "Big 6" in the NCAA, has seldom been considered the preeminent college conference in the U.S.

What I find somewhat amazing as I read early thoughts on the 2009 NBA Draft from Chad Ford and Draft Express and is that it looks like we may have another Pac-10-heavy Draft night in '09.

As of today, 6 of the top 18 on the Draft Express draft board are from the Pac-10:
    3. Demar DeRozan, USC
    5. James Harden, Arizona State
    6. Jrue Holiday, UCLA
    13. Chase Budinger, Arizona
    15. Darren Collison, UCLA
    18. Jordan Hill, Arizona
And this doesn't count L.A. product Brandon Jennings, who of course chose to forego his Arizona commitment to play for Lottomatica Roma in Italy.

The Pac-10 once again looks to be the place to be to catch the top pro prospects in NCAA hoops.


Speaking of Draft stuff, we saw the movie Gunnin' For That #1 Spot, directed by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (aka MCA), recently and enjoyed it.

As most of you probably know, the documentary profiled eight top prospects - Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Donte Greene, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Jerryd Bayless, Kyle Singler, Lance Stephenson - who played in Elite 24 Hoops Classic at Rucker Park in New York in 2007.

More than anything, the movie is just enjoyable, and it is so b/c one gets the clear sense that Yauch is a true fan of the game. He gets it - he understands how to shoot the game, he gets the rhythm of the game, the soundtrack is just right, and the film has a distinctive, colorful visual style which fits.

I don't really have too many specific observations or things that struck me beyond when there was a clip of Kevin Love hitting a game-winner at the buzzer in high school. The fans rushed the court and mobbed him, and I just found it odd to see Kevin's dad, Stan, down on the floor jumping up and down and mobbing Kevin amongst all the high-school kids. Couldn't find the clip on YouTube, unf., but it was just odd.


One last thing which is again tangentially related to Draft stuff. There have been several features recently on ex-Pacer Jonathan Bender, and the tremendous work he is doing in helping to rebuild New Orleans ( story, story).

Let's note a few things:
- Bender came to the NBA straight of high school.
- He retired from the NBA at age 25 because of injury.

Doesn't Bender seem like the type of guy that people who think that players skipping college is the end of the universe were worried about? And doesn't he seem to be doing OK? More OK than lots of guys who play four years of college, in fact?

End the ridiculous sham of the one-year college requirement. Get the age limit back to 18 where it belongs.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Tim Bug's Hidden Provocative SLAM Quote

I've been a fan of SLAM magazine ever since I happened upon Issue 1 (Grandmama!) rather randomly at a supermarket newsstand in 1994, and I have a collection dating back to Issue 8 to prove it (what did I ever do with Ish 1?!).

SLAM has always seemed to be a fairly polarizing magazine due to its hip-hop-flavored sensibilities and voice. Probably esp. so in the '90s, I think, when it was something closer to one of a kind, as opposed to now, when there are so many disparate styles and voices out here in the glorious Wild West of the basketball blogosphere (some of which owe a debt to SLAM).

I have always loved SLAM, in part just because I think it's a beautifully laid-out and designed magazine, but mainly b/c I've always felt that the magazine's voice has primarily been an expression of an unapologetic love of the game - nothing more, nothing less - more than anything else.

Back in the '90s before the Internet took off and allowed for a wide array of sources, NBA coverage was still primarily provided by a narrow set of reporters and commentators in the mainstream media, many of whom seemed to outright hate the league.

As such, I always found (and still do, to a certain extent) SLAM magazine to be something of an oasis - I'm just part of a community of readers who love the game, and it's a place where I don't have explain or justify why I like the NBA to anyone who doesn't get it.


To the point... I've always been amused at how the mainstream media seems to ignore SLAM to the point where the magazine is treated like it doesn't exist, or is an alternate universe, perhaps. Newsworthy and/or provocative quotes from the magazine rarely seem to surface in the MSM or in the mainstream discussion of the league.

As an example, I was recently catching up on the September issue and was reading the Tim Hardaway profile. The article - "The Education of Tim Hardaway" - was both about how Tim Bug developed his game on Chicago's South Side and at UTEP, and also about how Hardaway seemed to be genuinely trying to make amends for his hateful comments after John Amaechi came out of the closet - consistent with reporting from last year.

And then, lo and behold, after I jumped to page 87 to continue, I found this quote from Hardaway snuck in on the next-to-last page of content in the magazine:
    "I know for a fact that an NBA player came out to his team this year, and it wasn't a big deal."
Well, then. Even though it fortunately wasn't a big deal to that particular team, it does seem like a pretty big deal in the larger sporting world.

Yet, a Google search of various subsets and combinations of the quote returned just one mention, on Interbasket (which is a fine site for coverage of the international game, I might add).

It's a tough one because it's hard to follow up on this particular quote with anything other than salacious and somewhat ridiculous speculation. It probably spotlights the fact that the complications of an active athlete coming out of the closet might be related to dealing publicly with the media and the fans at least as much as with one's teammates.

Still, the quote at least deserved a little bit of mention and discussion, didn't it?

UPDATE: Here's a little more context from the SLAM article for the Hardaway quote above:
    "I don't hate anybody," Tim Hardaway told me recently. "Look at my background, my past. I misspoke, and I apologized."

    Hardaway has since learned that some of his closest friends have gay sons and daughters. So Hardaway quietly decided to walk the walk. He sat in on several all-day seminars at Miami's YES Institute, which provides support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens. "It's for kids who have trouble dealing with their sexuality," Hardaway says, insisting he never wanted his comments to be used to bash gay kids. "But I've learned that dealing with parents and relatives can be the most traumatic," he says, before quoting the high suicide stats among gay youth.

    And he still thinks Amaechi could have "come out" to his Jazz or Magic teammates, instead of waiting until he was retired. "Trust us as teammates, let us deal with it," he adds. "I know for a fact that an NBA player came out to his team this year, and it wasn't a big deal. Be up front."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dr. Pepper's Dr. J Blasphemy

So, I saw Dr. J's Dr. Pepper commercial for the first time last night. What I saw at about the :09 mark was outright blasphemy:

Faking the footage of one of the signature moves in NBA history, when Doc went around the Lakers and the basket in the 1980 Finals, a feat of gravity-defying grace which was years ahead of its time?! What the Landsberger is going on here? Blasphemy, we say!

Please, take a quick 30 seconds and give the authentic classic play its due:

Honestly, if you can't get the rights of the real footage, why not at least get the rights to a clip of Doc as Moses Guthrie in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh!:

Seriously! Mighty, Mighty Pisces, aw yeah....

Here Comes The "Spanish Fly" Combo

In our post from last week previewing the preseason action, we lamented the fact that Portland was not on national TV this preseason, b/c seeing the Blazers - and specifically, seeing Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez in NBA action - is perhaps what we are most eagerly anticipating about the upcoming season.

Judging by the highlights from Portland's preseason opener, a 110-81 demolition of the Kings, we were right. Oden was a powerful, dunk-crazy force on the O-boards, and Rudy was a human highlight reel.

It also sounds like the energy - and the near-sellout crowd - in the Rose Garden was remarkable for a preseason game.

The Oregonian offered this from the prose recap:
    With one stunning play after another, the Blazers on Tuesday put on one of the most entertaining preseason shows in recent memory, blowing away Sacramento 110-81 in front of 19,321 at the Rose Garden.

    With Greg Oden dunking and swatting, Rudy Fernandez soaring and slicing, Sergio Rodriguez swishing and lobbing, the Blazers were a nightmare for the Kings, and fans who dared use the restrooms or concessions.
Meanwhile, Blazers Edge represented with something closer to poetic exuberance:
    It was halfway through the fourth quarter of an exhibition game, a 30 point blowout, and I absolutely did not want it to end. Time: move slower so this moment stretches.

    Dunk Parade.


    I could have stayed all night. I cannot wait for tomorrow.

    I could have slept in a chair in an empty Rose Garden.
While Oden and Rudy were expected to be centers of attention, perhaps it's surprising that the third name spotlighted in the Oregonian was that of Sergio Rodriguez. Going back to the highlights from Tuesday which are linked above, note that both of Rudy's spectacular finishes came off of lob passes came from Sergio.

Hope you'll forgive the back-patting and self-quoting to follow, but on Draft Night 2007, we noted that one of the side benefits of the Rudy draft pick was that he and Sergio had developed excellent chemistry as teammates on the Spanish national team which won the World Championship in 2006.

Here's what we wrote then, along with a few sample clips:

"2. Sergio/Rudy. I don't know if people realize how well Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez played together off the bench in Spain's impressive run to the World Championship [in 2006]. Spain would start the game with its collection of veterans - Gasol, Garbajosa, Calderon, J.C. Navarro - playing its brand of steady team basketball, and then Sergio/Rudy would come off the bench to give them a massive energy burst.

They were often electrifying to watch - going up and down the court with alley-oops left and right - they must have led the tournament in terms of alley-oops as a combo.

Here are a few quick tastes:

vs. Lithuania - you need to watch this one for the Andres Cantor-quality entertainment on the broadcast call:

vs. Argentina in the semis - technically not an alley-oop, but still an impressive fast-break combo by the two, esp. given the quality of the opponent and the magnitude of the game:

vs Serbia

Again, it could be a challenge to get Rudy over here, but I'd have to think that having Sergio helps a lot, and if they do get him, let me be the first to dub the combo's alley-oops as "Spanish Fly". Thank you, I'll be here all the week."

Spanish Fly, baby, here they come. What a huge bonus for the Blazers if the presence of Rudy helps make Sergio a better player.

Just 20 days left til Cavs-Celtics and Blazers-Lakers. Let's get it on, baby.

Friday, October 03, 2008

2008 NBA Preseason Highlights

Alrighty, we are back and ready to roll for '08-09. Let's start with a look at the highlights of this year's preseason schedule, which tips off Sunday with Golden State at New Orleans and Detroit at Miami.

We've gotta say we're a little bummed about this year's October schedule as a whole. What we normally like to see in our season appetizers are some intriguing international matchups in Europe as well as tantalizing October sneak previews of eagerly anticipated new faces in new places, such as LeBron as a rookie or Jordan as a Wizard, to give us junkies a quick fix.

We'd have to say these three preseason games are the only ones which truly pique our interest:
    Oct 10: CSKA Moscow at Orlando
    Oct 11: Denver v Phoenix, Palm Springs, CA (10 ET, TNT)
    Oct 14: CSKA Moscow at Toronto
Notable events this October include the following:
- Euroleague American Tour: Three Euroleague teams, including defending champion CSKA Moscow, perennial contender FC Barcelona and Lietuvos Rytas visit North America for games against NBA teams.

- NBA Europe Live: Miami and New Jersey will play games in Paris and London, while the Hornets and the Wizards will match up in Berlin and Barcelona.

All in all, this year's NBA-Europe endeavours are a bit of a letdown. We think that these matchups are most compelling when NBA teams play Euroleague teams in Europe. First, because the games are much more likely to be competitive with half a world of home-court advantage. Second, because the atmospheres for these matchups are much better in Europe - with fans energized both to see NBA teams and to see if their team can pull off the upset - than in the U.S., where no one cares about a preseason game against a team they've never heard of.

We don't even have too much in the way of future NBA prospects on the Euroleague teams this year as many of the notable players are returning to the continent (J.C. Navarro, Vik Khryapa, for ex.). In that regard, don't forget that the most intriguing matchup of the month should be Lottomatica Roma v DKV Joventut in the Euroleague on Oct. 29, featuring two future lottery picks, point guards Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings (available online on

Still, matchups of Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow against Eastern contenders Orlando and Toronto should make for some decent NBA vs. Euroleague barometers.

And I suppose that the Heat-Nets games have a little bit of juice, just to get a glimpse of Beasley, as well as D-Wade back in electrifying form in an NBA uniform, but the Nets are horrible, so the matchup's not doing much for us overall, we must say.

- NBA China Games: Milwaukee and Golden State will play a pair of games, in Guangzhou and Beijing. Any conceivable luster on this matchup is irretrievably lost now that neither Baron nor Monta will be suited up to push the pace, and Chairman Yi won't be there for his homecoming, to boot, leaving Jumpin' Joe Alexander alone to rock the Mandarin.

- Nationally Televised Games: The outdoor matchup of the Suns and the Nuggets at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on TNT on Oct. 11 should be the highlight of the preseason. Should be a fun playground-style run, esp. with these two squads, assuming that Phoenix's old guys are still running in the post-D'Antoni era, of course....

Here's the big letdown of the preseason, though: where are the Blazers on the national TV schedule??? They are easily the team we are most eagerly anticipating in the early season, mainly because Oden is the player we're most eagerly anticipating, and Rudy is not too far behind on that list, not to mention Bayless should be fun to watch as well.

I know that we get a tasty Blazers-Lakers matchup on opening night, but couldn't we get a preseason bone? Maybe against OKC to revitalize the Oden-Durant rivalry? OK, an Oklahoma City-Portland preseason matchup might set new ratings lows... how about Blazers-Cavs, maybe? Something. Don't make me wait until October 28!

OK, here's a link to the complete preseason schedule, and below we've broken out the games which fit into one of our categories above. We'd assume that most of these games will be on NBA TV if they are not on ESPN/TNT.

Oct 9: Miami v New Jersey, Paris
Oct 10: CSKA Moscow at Orlando
Oct 11: Denver v Phoenix, Indian Wells Tennis Garden (10 ET, TNT)
Oct 12: Miami v New Jersey, London
Oct 14: CSKA Moscow at Toronto
Oct 14: New Orleans v Washington, Berlin
Oct 15: Milwaukee v Golden State, Guangzhou (ESPN)
Oct 17: New Orleans v Washington, Barcelona
Oct 18: Milwaukee v Golden State, Beijing (ESPN)
Oct 18: FC Barcelona at LA Lakers
Oct 19: FC Barcelona v Toronto/LA Clippers
Oct 21: Lietuvos Rytas at Golden State
Oct 23: Charlotte v LA Lakers, Ontario CA (TNT)
Oct 24: Washington at Cleveland (ESPN)
Oct 24: OKC at LA Lakers (ESPN)

Once again, the regular season tips off on Oct. 28 with a hell of a TNT doubleheader: Cavs-Celtics and Blazers-Lakers. Can't. Freaking. Wait.

25 days and counting. Let's tip this baby off.

P.S. I probably should have included Oklahoma City's first home game - on Oct. 14 vs. the Clips - as a notable Oct. game, but I'm a Seattle resident, so I couldn't bring myself to do it. I trust you understand.