Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tha NBA Sells Out, Or Milking The Last Cow

We Bring Good Money To Asshats
Item: NBA jerseys are going to include ads on the front in the upcoming season.

First things first: cheap comedy. Most teams haven't announced revenue figures, but nine clubs have gone for this already, and it's an interesting group. Let's take them each in turn.

> $7 million to the Celtics for GE, because nothing says killing the planet with eco-hazards quite like... well, both of them, really

> $10 million to the Cavs for Goodyear, because when LeBron James leaves again next year, tire blowout and deflating blimp jokes won't be easy to make at all

> My Sixers (gah) for StubHub, AKA a ticket-scalping service that hasn't been used by anyone watching a Sixers game in the entire Process Era

> The Sacramento Kings going for Blue Diamond Almonds, because they are also a tasty snack for opponents

> The Orlando Magic lying down with Disney, because like Disney, the Magic are in the business of providing luxury vacations for visitors

> The Minnesota Timberwolves slapping on Fitbit, because it'll be nice to show digitally how often everyone on the team takes extra steps on their post moves

> The Brooklyn Nets (Brooklyn is still in the league? Oh, sixty year old baseball references are your key to Quality Comedy) for Infor, a software company that, like the Nets, no one knows or wants to know

> Toronto Raptors for Sun Life, because nothing says Sun and Life like a concrete Canadian city that the rest of the country not so secretly despises in the winter

> Utah Jazz for 5 For The Fight, a Qualtrics move to raise money for cancer research, because Utah exists to make you feel bad about trying to see the humor in things

But seriously, folks... half of the cash from each of these deals goes to the team, while the rest slides into a league-wide revenue pool. Which means that every single team will have one soon, because who wants to be the asshat that takes from, but doesn't contribute to, the pool?

And sure, it's inevitable, and has been the case for any number of jerseys in any number of leagues all over the world before now, so why make a fuss... but It's Inevitable isn't really a stirring call to arms, yes? Death is inevitable, and so are taxes, and visits to the dentist and incontinence and new music being unpalatable, and so on, and so on. Ads on jerseys won't reduce ticket prices, or give fans free parking (now *there's* a sponsorship opportunity that would engender serious good will), or even a free drink with food. So welcoming it is pointless, because it's just a money grab / "innovation" for the owners, and who in heaven's name would welcome that?

Instead, look at ads on jerseys for what they are. One more straw on the donkey's back (we're the donkeys, folks), one more reason to not watch sports or share them with your kids, one more jab to the kidneys in the perpetual punch-out game that is Sports v Fans. One more thing that takes away from the fun, and one more reminder in the middle of your escapism that there is, nope, no sir, no escape.

Sports teams are used to a certain equation; take, and no give. The game is good enough, the athletes amazing enough, the coverage worthwhile, the analysis and fandom adding so much more that the Lords of Sport could never have done on their own. The people in the stands are rubes, marks, sheeple; fleece 'em all you want, just don't be quite so obvious about it, and win often enough to get their hopes up. Or, what the hell, be obvious about it; there's always some other town that will take your robber baron ass with open arms, and leagues love it when owners go rogue, because it makes petty crimes so much easier to get away with.

But here's the thing: other parts of our society *don't* treat the customer this way. Video games give the user an ever-increasing amount of content and game play without labor stoppages, PR nightmares, and naked profiteering. The community of these gamers interact with each other as easily as sports fans do, and you can be passive or active in your participation. Gaming used to be console-based and stationary; now, it's everywhere. Maybe even at the actual real-life game, even.

I am, of course, long past the event horizon of when people stop caring about sports; even in a year of remarkable personal upheaval, I'm in three leagues, run two of them, and made special efforts to see the games that matter to me. That's all more likely to continue than not.

But my kids, now 17 and 11?

Could, maybe, give you about a minute on which sports are which, what's done in them, and what teams their dad roots for. They haven't watched a game with me in years, and I sincerely doubt there is any incentive that I could give them that would get them to go to a game now.

I don't consider myself to be a particularly great parent, but at least there, I think I got it right.

So enjoy your ad revenue, gentlemen. Milk that cow while she's still able to stand.

But I don't much like your chances of getting the same output in a few years...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Joel Embiid, Lonzo Bell, And The No-Beef Diet

I Cropped Lavar
Item: Joel Embiid, the Sixers' star center and best player in the laundry since Allen Iverson, has beef with the Lakers' first round pick, combo guard Lonzo Bell, and Bell's wrestling heel of a father, Lavar.

This has led to a $10K fine from the NBA to Embiid for a profane Instagram post to Bell, and a GoFundMe campaign from Sixer faithful who want to pay Embiid's fine for him.

(blinks)

No, seriously.

I know it's the silly season; summer, when the only games that count are baseball, and hoop fans are paying too much attention to NBA Summer League games because there are clues, dammit, of who the good rookies are going to be. (Hopefully, this occurs without injury.) I also get that beefs between players are catnip to many people, mostly because they aren't capable of just admitting that, well, they prefer WWE-style shenanigans to Actual Game.

Because the fact of the matter is that Embiid and Bell are *never* going to have a level of beef that actually impacts the game on the court. The Sixers and Lakers play twice a year. They aren't going to meet in the Finals again anytime soon, and while their battles in the '70s, '80s and Iverson's lone run to the Finals in 2001 were among the most meaningful games in the history of the Sixer franchise, they aren't all that likely to be replicated in our lifetime. Even if the Sixers are the next great superteam -- and honestly, bet against it, because as good as Embiid is, he's got to stay healthy, and as good as Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and others may become, the chance to be great and actually being great are worlds apart...

Well, the Lakers just hired Magic Johnson to be their GM. Who hosted "The Magic Hour", and was the worst analyst ever heard on an NBA national game. Short of making money after hoop, and the Lakers being desperate for relevance in the post-Sterling Clipper Age, I'm not seeing why the guy got the gig. Watching him ship D'Angelo Russell out of town for the defense-free injured stylings of 29 going on 35 C Brook Lopez from the Nets doesn't exactly fill me with confidence that he's going to start fleecing guys in trades, either. In the contiunuum of ex-player turned GMs, Magic is trending to the Kevin McHale/Zeke Thomas dunce end, rather than the Joe Dumars/Jerry West Guys With Rings side. (Honestly, making your ex-star your GM doesn't seem to be a winning trick. Michael Jordan might be the worst GM in the last 20 years, and for all of the picks that Danny Ainge has hoarded, his C's are the very definition of Paper Tiger. Larry Bird's also been a sham for the Pacers, too. Anyway, moving on.)

So what's going to be the blowoff from all of this? Maybe a moment or two when Embiid blocks a Bell shot, or fouls him hard, and Angry Glances are exchanged. Perhaps even some players moving towards each other, with Shoving. Then the refs will jump in, wussy double technicals will be called, and both players will remember, oh, yeah, Game Actually Matters More Than Bullspit, at which point Game will continue.

Honestly, beef is just the worst, and I know... we're never going to get to live in a world where everyone's too smart to give a damn about it. Besides, Bell seems to have a talent and family support for rubbing people the wrong way. Expect the line of people wanting to torch him to be long, and far more local.

But if you really have to eat beef, here's something to consider.

Fultz was traded away by the Celtics to their greatest historic local rival. Between two cities who have ire over football and hockey, who are a long car ride away from each other, and who don't like each other for Actual Reasons, some of which go back hundreds of years.

He's going to play them four times a year, in the same division, with a more than reasonable chance of meeting them in the playoffs. More than once, even.

I get that he's not Embiid, and you don't really know or love him yet, but if anyone's bringing red meat to the table...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Sixers Extend The Process: JJ Redick and Amir Johnson come to town

Please Don't Squeeze The TJ
So in yet another sign that The Mood Is About To Change in Philadelphia, my basketball laundry went out and made a couple of expensive but thoroughly useful one-year rentals. Coming to town is shooting guard JJ Redick from the Clippers, and big man Amir Johnson from the Celtics, both on one-year overpay deals that, well, Are Just Swell.

Let's start with Redick. He's a thoroughly capable 2-guard in today's NBA, an elite level shooter who is also not horrible at defense, ball handling or passing. He's past his prime, but not so much that it's a significant problem, and he's also going to the easier conference. On a team with willing passers and penetrators, and with the potential of best-in-class defensive anchor Joel Embiid behind him, he's going to be no problem at all on defense, and a guy that historically makes open threes often enough to be part of 50+ win teams in the West.

He's also a guy who was a stud in college, then a role player coming out, who has steadily rebuilt his body and game to compete at the highest level. He's not really a star, but he's better than 2/3rds of the guys that start at his position in the NBA, and he immediately injects a very necessary dose of veteran leadership into the Sixers' kiddie corps.

Even more important, honestly, is what the Redick signing signifies. Philadelphia is no longer a Siberia where no desirable free agent would ever dare to explore, or a place where winning is not an expected Process result. Redick chose Philadelphia over several other suitors, sent out a Trust The Process tweet, and fits in this lineup damn near perfectly. The Sixers won't have to hope for the shaky three balls of Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas next year as the fifth option on the floor in crunch time; instead, Redick will be getting into comfortable spots outside of an Embiid double team, taking the feed from a Ben Simmons dish, giving Markelle Faultz space. On a team that will also have Dario Saric doing lots of stuff, and even the useful stylings of Richaun Holmes (check out the big man's numbers from distance!), he adds depth for when others are having an off night.

Oh, and he also has a decent injury history, and the club didn't mess up any of its long-term cap room for locking down the young guns to long-term deals. It's just, well, perfect.

As for Johnson, the guy that wore his jersey a few years ago in Toronto is more useful than the guy who does that now, and it's a little worrisome that the Celtic rebounding numbers were so poor with him and Al Horford last year. But what you are getting from Amir is toughness -- useful when NBA vets play old man tricks on the team next year to get them off their composure -- and I suspect that being near Embiid will make him a hell of a lot more effective than being near Horford. If he does nothing more than suit up as an Elton Brand who can play next year, it'll be money well spent.

With the moves, the odds on the Sixers winning the NBA championship next year -- in a world, we presume, where there is a massive combination of good fortune on health, breakout seasons from a number of young guys, and some kind of zombie outbreak in the Bay Area -- dropped nicely. I wouldn't bet on them to be playing meaningful basketball in June myself....

But April? April is looking more and more likely.

And maybe even May...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Chris Paul Trade, Or The Age Of Not Empire

The Hoopers, Season Two
Today in the NBA, Houston pulled off a monster of a trade to get Chris Paul, a year away from free agency and seemingly one of many people to tire of Doc Rivers' act (especially in regards to his not very good player/son Austin), for a seven-pack collection of tolerables and a future pick, AKA what happens in the NBA when a superstar decides to pull the chute, rather than re-sign with his current team. There are, of course, other rumors afloat that the Rockets are now angling to also get Carmelo Anthony and Paul George in a desperate attempt to close the gap with the dreaded Warriors, but for now, let's unpack what actually happened. (Also, um, Carmelo Anthony not so secretly sucks. But that's another column for another day.)

First, what the Clips got. Patrick Beverly is a very good defensive point guard who scores just enough to start, but will never be a star, because, well Offense Matters and defensive hammers can be found on the open market. Kind of like how Beverly was. Lou Williams is a reasonable enough bench scorer who, when his shot isn't falling, is an active liability; there's a reason he's been on so many teams over the last few years, and not so much in terms of playing games in May. Montrezl Harrell is an athletic back-up 5 and Sam Dekker is a 3/4 who could be part of a balanced bench and breakfast' they are both tolerable enough to be more than fungible, but probably won't escape the Wheel of Mediocrity. The other three guys, you haven't heard of and won't, and the 2018 first round pick, since there's no chance in hell that it will hit in the lottery, also doesn't really matter all that much. If the Clips can sign Blake Griffin now, keep him and DeAndre Jordan healthy, Beverly gets a bit better on offense, and someone else from the fixin's bar develops, the Clips could actually win this deal, if only because Paul was gonna walk for nothing.

And the reason why they could win the deal, despite giving up a 9-time All-Star and perpetual short pick as best pure point in the NBA is that.... Chris Paul is 32, increasingly brittle, and entering the decline portion of his career in which he still thinks he can take over games, when he can't. Houston is going to put him in the same backcourt with James Harden, which is to say that two very heavy usage guys are going to have to learn to live together... and while Paul is a good defensive player, he's, well, 32. The past few years, the secret reason why the Warriors have worn the Clippers out like a bad suit is because Paul can't stay with Stephen Curry any more, and Curry knew it.

There's also this: Harden had an amazing year last year, but he was absolutely stone-cold spent by the time the playoffs came around... kind of like, well, the Clips every year with Paul, where they never got past the second round of the playoffs, despite frequently having home court.

Could it work? Sure; great players who pass tend to make the players around them better, and the Rockets still have Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, aka three guys who shoot it well from three and will have as few hands in their faces in 2017-18 as whoever plays with LeBron James. They don't have the bigs to compete, but in the NBA, bigs don't seem to matter quite so much anymore, and with five legit three-point threats in the lineup in smallball crunch time, the Rockets could score in bunches and leave teams in the dust. Besides, as the Warriors showed last year, tolerable benchies will gravitate like bees to flowers when they sense the Superstar Train is a running. Mike D'Antoni's run and fun system is also likely to attract people who don't want to muck stalls for a living.

But in the bigger picture, Houston just added another guy who isn't at his best in the playoffs (sorry, CP3, but a lifetime of precedent tends to predict a future of it)... to a team with a coach who always bones it in the playoffs, who had an established MVP candidate who was last seen... stinking up the joint in his last game of the playoffs. And for all of the threes they are going to shoot, that shot needs to be 40% to be worth 60% from inside the arc, and the Rockets are going to be a layup line on cutters making dunks next year in long rebound transition.

The Clips got something out of Paul rather than letting him walk for nothing, but it's hard to see the Rockets as any more threatening then they were before the trade went down. More fun to watch, sure, but actual threat to hoist a trophy... not so much. The NBA is a two-way game now, and Houston is only seeing the frontcourt in the big picture.

Monday, June 26, 2017

FTT (Somewhat) Off-Topic: GLOWing with quality

Wrestling is the new awesome
A cross-post from the business blog, because I think it kind of qualifies as sports. Besides, the more people watch this show, the better the chance that they are going to make a whole lot more of it, and they really need to make a whole lot more of it. If for no other reason than watching Alison Brie heel it up is the best thing ever.

* * * * *

This weekend, I binge-watched the new Netflix comedy/drama "GLOW", which stars Alison Brie and Marc Maron. It's a fictionalized version of the creation of an '80s television show for a women's wrestling promotion, and, well, it's great. The writer and director who worked on it honed their craft on the acclaimed "Orange Is The New Black", it hits all of the period notes just right, it does a wonderful job of stretching out and telling the stories over over a dozen people in its ensemble cast, and I hope they make many more seasons of it. Full stars.

But as delighted as I was by watching this, and as much as I'd recommend it to friends, that's not the most striking thing about watching this. What "GLOW" does is prove, not exactly for the first time but in a way that just deepens the conversation while adding more precedent, is provide the viewer with something they hadn't seen before. By doing that, it's just one more moment of long-form/small-audience entertainment that is just so much better than anything you might see in a movie theater. "GLOW" doesn't have to follow the set rules of big-budget stuff, which means it can be, well, so much better than what it might otherwise have been.

This way, you don't need to check the demographic boxes of people who will pay and leave their homes to see a project, and shoehorn in elements that don't really fit. Nor do you have to put the needs of multi-lingual audiences first with big special effects and less than full verbal acceptance. You can avoid having to sand off the very rough edges of your main characters in the goal of making them conventionally likable or attractive. You can also go to deeper and darker places with your plot twists, and not have to worry about de facto censoring from corporate interests and co-promotional tie-ins.

You can, in short, just make art for art's sake, and do so over a far more optimal amount of time. (In GLOW's case, 10 episodes, or the much better part of one day / evening's viewing.)

This is, of course, a dramatic and disruptive change in our world, where movies go from not just cultural hegemony and economic dominance to a much more blunt and narrow place. It also creates the conditions for economic upheaval, since I suspect shows like "GLOW" are going to be part of a retail apocalypse-like meltdown of movie screens, the same way that North America will eventually lose a third of its retail stores from the shift to online and economic leveling.

For everyone who thinks the U.S. is just going to keep growing, I've got a heaping helping of skepticism from the sheer passing of the Baby Boomers from areas of impact. There will be exceptions at the individual company level, of course, but it's not going to be a rising tide for all boats. Which all translates to rough time for the most treasured placement in brand advertising, the 30-second broadcast spot. Now that I'm cord-cut and the NBA Finals are over, I haven't seen one of those in over a week, and probably won't again until the NFL season starts. I can't imagine I'm alone in that group, really.

But all of that, of course, is Not Your Problem as the individual consumer. For us, there are simply great and memorable viewing experiences that stick in your brain for a long time to come, an unprecedented array of choice and convenience, and the desire to share that better way of living with friends and family. Hopefully for many more seasons to come.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Fultz Gamble

Four On The Floor
Today, the Sixers announced the rumor that has been rippling through the NBA for the better part of the weekend: they were working out a pick swap with Boston to move to the first pick, giving up their third and a future first. That first could be the Lakers pick next year (you know, the one they got for, and yes, I am serious when I write this, Michael Carter-Williams) or the Kings pick in 2019, or their own in that year. Whichever one works out better for the Celtics. With the #1 pick, the Sixers are certain to take Markelle Fultz, the consensus best player in the draft, who also happens to play the position that the team needs the most - stud guard.

There are a lot of ways to think about this, so let's go through them, on the plus and minus side.

Plus:

> Celtics Fans are *hating* this trade. They think that if the Cs keep the #3 pick, they are taking Josh Johnson, and that just doubles up on last year's Jaylen Brown move. That it locks the Celtics in the doomed Isiah Thomas is your best player era, and as gutsy as IT is, he's a defensive sieve who isn't going to ever have as good of a year as he just had, when he wasn't nearly enough to end the LeBron Era. They also think the C's are over-reacting to flaws in Fultz's game (health, character, outside shot) that should be overcome with coaching and care. Or that they are just in the Belichik-ian world of collecting assets forever, and never actually making a roster that's more than a paper tiger.

> You not only get the #1 pick, you get him with a chip on his shoulder. Fultz will lace them up against the Celtics with the knowledge that they traded down rather than take him for his entire damn career. If he comes at this with the Paul Pierce mindset, he could straight out murder the Cs for the better part of a decade, and make Sixer Fan happier than they've ever been.

> It makes sense with the roster. I don't claim to be a college hoop fan -- it's morally reprehensible -- but the people I trust give Fultz's comp as Tracy McGrady, while others say James Harden / Gilbert Arenas / Brandon Roy But Healthy And Not Going Anywhere. So he's an athletic do-everything guard that can play either position, but who is at his best on one on one breakdowns late in the clock, who doesn't need the ball in his hands all the time. If this Sixer roster stays healthy, it's got a LeBron/Magic-ish guy in Ben Simmons (please learn to shoot, Ben) next to him in the backcourt, the Olajuwon-ish unicorn that is Joel Embiid in the block, and Dario Saric and Bob Covington spotting up in the corners with no one near them, because you have to double the 1 and 5. It just works. Even more so on defense, because Embiid and RoCo are both in the top 10 in the league on that, and the other three guys are all young, athletic and give a damn.

Oh, and by the way, that's before free agency (JJ Redick would be downright *tasty* in this mix), and also says nothing about the upside potential of reasonable young guy gambles like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nik Stauskas, TJ McConnell and Richaun Holmes. Put all of those guys in 10-15 minute benchie roles, and there's real potential. Plus, you've still got your own picks and either the LA or Sacramento selection. Could still be another big asset on the way.

> This really isn't that big of a price to get the #1 pick. In terms of the top guys in the draft, the Sixers avoid a head case in Lonzo Ball and his dad, a forward in Josh Johnson that would have doubled up their roster, or a reach guard like Malik Monk. I think that if Boston wanted more assets for this pick, the Sixers would have still done it. There's a school of thought that says the team with the best player wins the trade, and they most likely got it.

Minus:

> Given that Boston is going to get three shots at a first rounder from three teams who haven't been to the playoffs in a pretty long time, there's a reasonable chance that the Cs are going to get a fine pick out of just moving down two spots in a crazy-deep draft. And make no mistake about it, thanks to the insane deal that the C's got from Brooklyn (what a coinky-dink, that teams keep making horrible deals with the C's), they'll still have plenty of shots to get where they want to go. Even if this is a whiff, they've got plenty of bullets left in the chamber. Not to mention a slew of tradable real-world assets from non-stars who bust humps on defense and might still develop into reasonable offensive players away from IT's shadow.

> It's the trade that Boston has to make, and the Sixers helped them make it. This is Thomas' team, and if they had to draft first, they would have taken Fultz... which would have caused massive locker room and crowd issues, and probably driven the town nuts. If and when the Cavs get old, the Sixers are going to have to go through Boston, and going through a team with locker room issues has to be easier than going through one that's united.

> It's another (yet another) health risk. Fultz has had some knee issues in high school and his one and done college year, and if he gets hurt, I swear, every Sixer fan is just going to go into the fetal position and moan. He's also not great from the line, which is usually an indicator that the three-point shot isn't going to be an asset. Expecting him to be knock-down from distance right away is unfair, but the expectations on number one picks is usually just that.

> As fun as it is to collect young guns, it's not what wins in the NBA. By the time the Embiid/Saric/Simmons/Fultz core is ready to win games when they aren't at their best, contracts will be up and paydays will balloon, and the team could easily find itself in the Oklahoma City redux of not being able to keep Harden with Russell Westbook and Kevin Durant.

> They still haven't gotten rid of Jahlil Okafor. I can't tell you how much I dream of Jah leaving in a trade, and how I'm hoping against hope that there is still an NBA team that thinks his empty calorie stat game is useful for any kind of asset. Come on, Chicago. Come on, New York. Don't make me beg.

> This is me trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, but Sam Hinkie should still be the Sixer GM, and I'd trust him to make this move a hell of a lot more than the Colangelos. I'm not getting over that Nerlens Noel abomination trade anytime soon. But I think they made the right move here.

So at the end of the day... I'd make the deal as well, and hope like hell that the C's don't have some other trick up their sleeve (Jimmy Butler? Paul George?).

Oh, and everyone who ever doubted that Hinkie's Process was the right way to go, and that the day would never come when this Death Star of a lineup would take the court...

Well, you haven't watched the laundry play basketball for years, probably. Don't start now. The rest of us *earned* this; you sure as hell didn't.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What We're Losing

Just visit the Obamas again
Don't worry, this one's actually about sports. Kind of.

There was an item in the news earlier this week, before the news got all shooty, where the Warriors had supposedly been unanimous in their refusal to consider a White House visit after the NBA Finals. It was also noted that the Cavaliers had previously mentioned that they wouldn't be going if they won as well, and then the story was refuted by the team saying that no decision had been made (yet). And then shootings, and parade, and life, and so, forgotten down the very fast memory hole that is American political life right now.

A colleague at the new gig opined that this sort of thing coarsens the culture, and that the team should go anyway and respect the office. He was also of the opinion that since this line had been crossed, we were never going to have White House visits for championship teams again. This inspired cross talk among several people about it. How a team from the Bay Area could never be expected to visit such a divisive figure, how what we were missing out on really wasn't something we were going to miss, and how, since the Obamas live in DC still, they should just go visit them instead.

There is, of course, a tit for tat / score keeping thing going on here, and as petty as that may seem in the days after what appears to be a crazy person making a politically motivated shooting, the simple fact of the matter is that the people who tell you not to keep score are usually the ones who benefit from the score being forgotten. Neither side has a monopoly on violence, but one side tends to intimidate with far more intimidating people, mostly because one side really, really loves guns. More than people. Maybe not more than animals, but definitely more than people. But I'll make the tactical mistake of setting this all aside to get back to the Warriors.

Let's cut this to a place where we can all relate. You have your job, and the field in which you work, which in this world and time means that your network is very important. If you were to take a photograph with a highly divisive political figure, one that could seriously impact your future earning potential, you'd probably think long and hard about it before you just, well, did it. Especially if you were *very* sure that said photograph was never going to *help* your career.

It's, well, kind of the reason why KKK members wear hoods.

For NBA players, the earning potential is actually right here and right now, thanks to commercial endorsements. They also have the added point of having some respected people in management (Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr) who have made their opinions on the current President known. How much NBA players make, or how they should just choose to make less because of someone's opinion, isn't really material to the case. You are there to make money, and taking a picture with this guy -- who, let's be very clear about this, you could disagree with on your own political consciousness, seeing how something like we're closing in on 3 out of 5 people in the country currently doing that -- can only cost you.

So on the individual level, why on earth would you do that?

And on the macro level, where people of good conscience can argue and wonder about whether the country is still governable...

Well, the last I checked, basketball players aren't elected, have no powers outside of the court where they play, and do not sway public opinion.

So why would anyone expect them to act as if they do?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

FTT Off-Topic: Once More With No Feelings

Least of all gun killings
Not sports, and whatevs.

So yewterday morning, an old white guy with a gun tried to kill a bunch of people who work in the government on a baseball field outside of DC. He hurt some people, scared a ton more, and was killed by security personnel who had much less in the way of firepower.

I have some thoughts about this. Most of them not very polite. Let's have at them, shall we?

> If the politics of the shooter didn't matter a few years ago when a liberal (Gabrielle Giffords) was permanently diminished a few years back in a horrific attack, then the politics of the shooter don't matter now. Except, of course, they do, because that's how the game is played, and this is nothing but a game. One in which only one side gets to be right when they are angry, and despite being outnumbered and outvoted in a purported democracy, they control everything. No idea why people are becoming unhinged, no idea at all.

> Please stop saying that America is better than this, because there is absolutely no evidence that we are not any better than today's depressing, well, reality. If we were better than this, it wouldn't happen, on average, on a daily basis, when the rest of the world isn't like that. If we were better than this, some of us would not like guns more than people, and clearly, that is the case. Especially the people who don't agree with us. If we were better than this, people wouldn't keep guns at all, because they would have the sense God gives a walnut and would think better of having a suicide and murder spree tool in their possession, because everyone is just a teeny tiny amount of brain chemistry from making terrible and permanent choices. All the while insisting that nope, I'm fine, would never, in total command of everything, despite every other person who did the same pretty much thinking the same.

> If you feel like the pace of these killings is increasing, you are correct. Roughly at the same rate as the number of guns per people (yes, guns: more guns than people in this fine land of ours) is rising. What a coinky-dink. Let's pass more laws that encourage more guns in more places. Something something, insanity same results.

> In a side note, there's a big drop in the number of people who identify in this nation as Christian, and there's also a highly growing number of older people. Independent of your views on Christians and old people, are you really looking forward to living in a nation of angry old white dudes with a massive amount of guns and no fear of going to Hell later?

> This will never happen, but if laws and restrictions on gun ownership happens only after Congressional staff is wounded, but not after little kids are killed... well, you'll have your answer about the relative worth of lives in America. Just a little more naked than usual.

> So to the survivors of this killing, and the survivors of the UPS shooting that happened in San Francisco just a few hours later, congratulations. In other countries, death by firearm is right up there, in terms of risk, with lightning strikes and trees falling on you, but here, not so much. By the growth in the numbers, you and yours are going to be shot at during your lives, and you've gotten your moment out of the way without mortality. You've won the lottery! Maybe not as much as the people who sell guns, but no one wins as much as those guys. No one in this country wins as much as those folks. Something something, purported democracy. Hope the money they paid you was worth it.

> Oh, and one last thing... I'm told that in moments like this, we need to be unified and say no to hate and pray for the victims and so forth, and so forth.

Which leaves me with just one, final, question.

Why, when nothing has ever changed as a result of a killing, and nothing will ever change, except for the growing number of people killed with guns?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Five: The Best (Team) Of All Time Beat The Best (Player) Of All Time

The players also mess with Barnett
A few disjointed thoughts from the end of the basketball season.

> I'm very glad this series is over, because I kept watching in on treadmills, and then running too hard and too long from being amped up about the game. Skin was falling off my feet after tonight's clincher. If this had gone any deeper, I think I'd have blown my hamstrings.

> Make no mistake about it; with the exception of Kyrie Irving doing what he normally does on the road (aka, not enough), the Cavs played out of their minds tonight. JR Smith was phenomenal. Tristan Thompson had his second-best game of the Finals. Deron Williams had moments when he looked like he belonged in the NBA. Kevin Love had foul trouble, but also had plenty of good moments in the second half, with his dirty old white guy game getting Dub bigs in foul trouble. Tyronn Lue made good use of his timeouts and even got James some rest without disaster occurring.

None of it mattered because the Dubs are just better by a clear margin, but Cleveland never went away. Against what might be the best team in NBA history, playing in front of the best home crowd in the Association, that's no small matter.

> You have to love how athletes motivate themselves. Kevin Durant, in the post-game locker room celebration caught on local radio, actually started going down the "proved them all wrong" motif, as if the prevailing wisdom wasn't that the Dubs won the championship the moment he signed. Honestly, all of these guys need to be the underdog. It's a little disturbing.

> It will be forgotten in the wash of Durant's MVP and Stephen Curry being Stephen Curry, but Andre Iguodala was a monster tonight. Made his threes, set the tone in the game-changing second quarter with hammer dunks that seemed to repudiate what James did to him in the closing moments of Game Seven last year, and made James work for his ungodly numbers. It says something to the utter impossibility of this team that a guy who was the best player on playoff teams can more or less show up at random and give this team a charge. He also had the best plus/minus of any Dub in the Finals.

> David West, Matt Barnes, JaVale McGee and James Michael McAdoo all have one more ring than Charles Barkley now. But they are still chasing Adam Morrison.

> James averaged a triple double in the Finals, and might have been the only Cav who was within hailing distance of a positive plus/minus. Tonight, he was Cleveland's whole hope late, and more or less took advantage of small ball lineups to just impose his will repeatedly on forays into the paint. But the nature of that kind of offense is that everyone else gets stale, and when you miss, you have two guys in the corners for spacing that aren't getting back in time to dissuade the Dubs from getting 3 for your 2. I don't have a better idea than what the Cavs did; they stayed in the picture. But I do know that all series long, the Warriors scored easier points, and the team that scores easier points almost always wins.

> There is, honestly, no good reason why these teams won't do this again next June. Golden State isn't old, thin, injury-prone or complacent; they share the ball and seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company. They might eventually lose some of their home court roar as the fans get spoiled and the arena goes to San Francisco, and at some point Klay Thompson has to fix his jumper, but they just went 16-1, FFS. They could be a lot worse next year and still win easily. As for Cleveland, they lost one game in three series despite not having home court in the conference finals, and while a handful of teams in the lEast seem to know what they are doing and have assets to rub together, the main strategy still seems to be Wait Until James Breaks Down. Which doesn't appear to be happening. Dude just averaged a triple double in the Finals and all. Yeesh.

> David West in the post-game sounded like he was about to lead a Baptist revival on the merits of teamwork and ball movement. Let's just say I would not be surprised if he's the last talented vet to take below market value to come pull bench duty and ring out with the Dubs.

> I get that people across the nation are sour on the Dubs act, and feel like they've ruined hoop with their 3 for 2 ways and Durant poaching, but to feel that way is to undersell the rank misery that was inflicted on this area for, well, nearly the entire time between Rick Barry and Stephen Curry. Which brings me to my final point: Tim Roye and Jim Barnett. Roye has been doing play by play for this team for 20 years, while Barnett has been here for 30, and I have to tell you... they are delightful. Enthusiastic, always centered on the game, rooting for good plays over everything, praising opponents while never trashing the efforts of the home squad, not afraid to question the refs but never to the point of overkill... honestly, just one of the best teams I've ever heard. And they *love* this team, and this team loves them.

In the post-game radio, Curry and Durant both make time for their local radio guys, thank them for their service, clearly know them personally, and willingly delay the national media to express the way they feel. Roye and Barnett have the same joy in their voices and hearts for Patrick McCaw (the rookie who gave the team big help in the fourth) and McAdoo as anyone else. They know that what they are watching is rare and wonderful, they know what they used to watch instead of this, and they are *grateful*. In a world of sports media guys trying to get over and/or make a national name for themselves, Roye and Barnett want nothing more than to cover this team, because they truly love basketball, and if you love basketball, you want to be near this team.

So while I'm glad the Dubs won because I love watching them play, and I'm happy for the players and the fans... well, I'm most happy for Roye and Barnett. They watched this team when everyone else could, and did, look away. They now get to see what might be the best team ever, up close, for a living, while doing a great job of covering the game. It honestly couldn't happen to better people.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Four: The Seduction Of The Ugly Win

OG Ugly Winners
Sorry I'm so late to the party on this, but personal life intruded; first time I've been in front of a keyboard and able to put thoughts to screen.

I saw this one in the midst of a travel trip, from yet another sports bar near yet another highway, and it was clear to me from jump that the Warriors just weren't fully into matters. Closeouts weren't as crisp, shots stayed out, and Tristan Thompson emerged from a series-long slumber to provide extra chances and utility for the Cavs. What resulted was the most points in a first half in Finals history, a sizable lead that never shrank to true discomfort level, and the first Warriors loss when they had their four all-stars in the lineup in, gulp, four months. No sweep, no perfection, and given the fact that the Cavs came back from 3-1 last year, no one in California feeling all that thrilled about having to go longer.

But the most telling point to this game was the number of technicals, and the fact that the ESPN crew couldn't keep who had which straight, leaving many to think that Draymond Green was going to be ejected in the third quarter. That was followed by nut shottery, whether intentional or retaliatory or not, by Dub C Zaza Pachulia, and days of wondering if the Dubs are mentally tough enough to sake this vampire once and for all.

Here's the thing about technical fouls: they tell you a lot more about the officiating crew than they do the players. NBA players can be high-strung, short-sighted and profane, but they are also remarkably consistent people; the guy that gets techs this month is almost always the guy who got them last month, and vice versa. When you see a bunch of them called, it's because teacher has lost control of the class, rather than the class decided to come to school unruly that day.

And that crew was, well, one of the worst I've seen work a Finals game in some time. Whistles were late, replayed was used as a crutch, all of the techs were whistled, and the third quarter took so long, I thought I was going to have to put down a security deposit on my bar stool. Games like that don't speak to Playoff Basketball or True Intensity or any of that hogwash; the Dubs didn't bring their "A" game of concentration and defensive effort, and Cleveland took advantage. But it's a lot easier to maintain a lead over a tsunami band like the Dubs when the whistle is going off so often, and de facto timeouts are coming fast and furious as the refs go play Peep Show.

It's also, well, the only way the Cavs can win this series; thug it up, clog things up, generate pace and extra timeouts with post-whistle staredowns and pose offs. It won't come naturally to them, because they do to other teams what the Dubs do to them, but this is America 2017. Win by any means necessary, even if you need the Russians to help you out. (Whoops, sorry, that last one shouldn't have been out loud.)

As for what happens next, I think the Dubs come out with better defensive focus in Game Five, Stephen Curry gets aggro, and the Cavs don't have enough answers, short of ref malfeasance. But if it somehow becomes another Thug Life game, Cleveland could continue to extend the series, and get fresh tongue baths from the media, who desperately don't want to be seen as aiding and abetting super team team up.

So in the next game, watch for techs, and late whistles, and players trying to do their own justice for past and present slights. If they are all in play, this could go deeper. If not... it's going to be an exorcism for all of the guys in Dubland.

One that, given how far these teams are ahead of their rivals, might just happen again next year...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Warriors - Cavaliers Game Three: The Greatest Ever Falls To The Greatest Ever

He Lost Sometimes, Too
I watched the entire Michael Jordan Era, and spent much of that time, well, not rooting for the man. While still respecting his incredible talent and results, because it's possible, honest, to hold these two views at the same time.

Why wasn't I fully on board the MJ Train? Well, when he was facing teams I really didn't like -- Boston, Detroit, New York -- I rooted for him, though not with my whole heart. When he didn't face a team I disliked, I didn't. There was such a scorched earth competitive nature to him, bordering on ugliness; he'd pule for every call, antagonize every road fan base, and all the while, the media and league was entirely in the bag for him. He was amazing, legendary, revolutionary, but as I wasn't a Bulls fan, he wasn't nearly as much fun as you might think. Rooting for Michael Jordan was, all too often, rooting for a bully.

There's also this; the essence of Michael Jordan was one on one, isolation basketball. Catch the ball on the wing, work the defender to death, score off the jumper or from a drive to the rack, get lots of foul calls other players didn't get. He was a good and willing passer, of course, and scored in all manners of ways, but the defining moments of his career are spent destroying players in one on one matchups. He beat any number of teams (the Gary Payton Sonics, the Chuck Barkley Suns, the Clyde Drexler Blazers) that had more balanced scoring and better passing, and were just more fun to watch. Pretty basketball lost to not as pretty basketball, and while that's an amazing thing to say about the game's premier flyer, it is what it is. The eye likes passing, and five men acting as one.

Which brings me to tonight's decisive game, viewed in the theater at my gym from a treadmill. By the fourth quarter, the Cavs held a six point lead late, had held that lead throughout most of the second half (their first lead in the second half in the series), and were getting calls and bounces and all kinds of scoring from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who more or less owned the Warriors on drives to the hoop for 40-odd minutes. It looked like a Cavs win, a series, two days of talk about how great James is, how Kevin Durant had failed to show up on the road, and so on.

And then the Warriors went on an 11-0 run to end the game, with Durant sticking a pull-up three to give the team the lead, Andre Iguodala making a steal with 10 seconds left that ended the Cavs last chance and reminded the world that defense is a big damned part of the reason why this might be the best team ever, and Stephen Curry icing it at the line.

As always, there's more to the game than that. Klay Thompson's renaissance continued and blossomed, Draymond Green played forever with five fouls without losing his mind over a double standard of physicality that made the game seem like a WWE match, Curry continues to collect rebounds instead of glares at the referee after uncalled fouls, and HC Steve Kerr used his timeouts brilliantly to make sure his team never lost touch. The Warriors got minutes and defensive closeouts all over the roster, but let's just get back to that closing run, because it's everything, really.

James has faded in the second half of all of these games, and for easy and good reason; he never leaves the floor, he's 32, and he's playing in his seventh straight Finals, which means the playoff minutes added to the regular season ones makes him more like 35. This was disguised by his exceptional passing and Irving's genius, but the club needed him to carry them late, and his legs were gone. The same was true for Irving, who had to make over a tiresome collection of arms and length on all of his shots. You can only go so long and so far before fatigue and age make losers of us all, and while Durant was fresh as a daisy late, and Curry is no worse than the third best player on the planet right now, James and Irving were spent. You can put that on them if you like, or HC Tyronn Lue, but expecting people to be superhuman isn't just unfair, it diminishes the opponent.

The Cavs aren't going to win this series, and that is shouldn't be used as a mark on James as a player. He's the best I've ever seen, the most well-rounded, and his three championships and seven trips to the Finals should speak for themselves. He's never lost to a lesser team, never failed to show up in a Finals, and done it all while wet nursing coaches and putting up with poor bench play. He's been no worse than the second best player on the floor for all of these games, and if Cleveland didn't have him, games would be 40+ point blowouts. We are idiots when we change our opinion of his life based on single games, and even single series.

And we are also idiots if we think a team that's 15-0 in a postseason, and now owns the longest winning streak in U.S. history regardless of sport, is anything but the best team ever.

Also the prettiest.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Warrios - Cavs Game Two: 132 Points, 20 Turnovers

More Drama Than This Series
You can look up and down the box score all you like in NBA games, honestly. Sometimes the answers jump out at you from careful study, or from comparative analysis against the other team; I prefer head to head numbers, myself, especially when teams aren't so kinetic on ball movement. You can get into plus/minus, look at disparities among rebounding, consider assist to turnovers, look at the hidden hustle numbers around deflections, along with the more obvious block and steal numbers...

Or you can look at just the note that I put in the headline, and try not to giggle.

Cleveland came into this game with the right mindset: slow it down, thug it up, try to get the Dub bigs in foul trouble and prevent the Killing Tempo that eventually causes teams to fade in the rear view mirror. It worked for a while; the first half was close, and the Cavs kept answering haymakers with counters. For about 2.5 quarters, it was the Finals that people wanted, and some hope in corporate circles for a long and lucrative series had to fire in every network heart.

And then the Dubs stopped turning the ball over, and the haymakers weren't answered. LeBron James started settling for jumpers, and they started to flatten out a bit, because even the best player in the history of the Association will succumb to fatigue, age, and depth.

By the end of it, it was just another easy Dub win, with the added flavor of Stephen Curry getting a triple double to alleviate some poor shooting and turnovers, Klay Thompson looking just a smidge like himself from a year ago, Kevin Durant taking another step toward a Finals MVP award, and Steve Kerr getting back on the sideline despite his health woes. Game Three, and the last chance for this series to go more than five, is Wednesday in Cleveland.

After eight quarters of this, the following points are very, very clear.

> Cleveland isn't in the same league as the Warriors on defense. James isn't the same suffocating presence he's been in the past, because he's got to be everything on offense. Tristan Thompson has been MIA for two games, and the guys who are supposed to be their wing defensive hammers (JR Smith, Iman Shumpert) haven't been anything very special. The Dubs just swing the ball until they find out a closeout that doesn't quite get there, and then they take advantage.

> Durant is earning the MVP on defense as much as offense. On a team with Draymond Green and JaVale McGee, Durant has been the best interior defender and rim protector, and his thirst for boards has been exemplary. He's been an absurd shot-maker on the rare times that the Dubs get deep into the clock, but tonight, he stood in for a foul-prone Green and the game didn't change.

> Curry is Curry again. He might not be at the downright comical level that he was in the regular season of 2015-16, but he's not far from it, and his singularly irresponsible impact on the way hoop will be played for the next 20 years isn't changing at all. There's going to be hundreds of college and pro players who pull up from 30 feet in an attempt to be Just Like Steph, but the difference is that when he does it, it's a bad idea that's bailed out by otherworldly skill and a taste for the jugular. When those other guys do it, it'll be about stats and rep.

> The Dub defensive switches are insanely good. You pick and roll these guys and just go from one monster to the next; Iguodala, Thompson, Durant, Green, all of them arms and attitude and length and hunger, and even Curry will body up the presumptuous and hold the fort until help arrives. James looked exhausted in this game long before it was out of reach, and while Kyrie Irving can do some things in iso, what makes the Cavs special -- a bunch of guys with crazy open looks at 3s from their favorite spaces on the floor, with James serving them up looks like they were blue plate specials at the diner -- hasn't been on the floor for the first two games, because those shots aren't very open any more.

Can the Cavs win Game 3 and make this a series? Sure. The Dub benchies might fail to show on the road, the way benchies do. Thompson might show up at home, and that could be a big difference maker. The Dubs could get sloppy and showy, the way they tend to when they've been playing with the lead all game. Someone important could get hurt. The refs could decide someone important for the Dubs needs to be in foul trouble. There's a reason why no team has ever won 14 straight playoff games before; what the Dubs are doing right now is insanely hard to do, and rare.

But, um. Still. 132 points with 20 turnovers.

Kind of a pretty big margin for error, yes?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

FTT Off-Topic: A Time Capsule Post

Yes, Sandwiches
Not sports, not sorry, read or don't.

Saturday, June 3 was my 30th day away from friends and family, having started a new gig in the Bay Area (aka, the San Francisco / Oakland / San Jose axis). On Sunday, June 4, I move into a room with a 6-month lease, for about $200 less a month than what I paid for the previous six places.

I probably won't see my wife and kids for another 2.5 months at the earliest, and the most likely event right now is that I won't live with them routinely for another year or longer. Oh, and Saturday was my birthday. Not a meaningful number, but still, a number.

It's been, needless to say, a very strange month. Mostly, I've been driving from place to place (the 3K miles from New Jersey to here, the commutes to and from work and gym), doing the job, and working out. 25 workouts in the last 28 days, taking up 140 miles of running, 15 sessions pushing weight, the last 21 days in a row.

Here's what I've learned and seen outside of the gig, and from my first 30 days entirely on my own.

> Every Air BNB has a bummer factor, and it's either hidden or obvious. The obvious ones are burned out light bulbs that haven't been replaced because the owners are clearly absentee, parking that's clearly not been a plan for anyone involved, ratty carpets, retrofit walls, and so on. The hidden bummers include terrible water pressure in the shower, odd collections of random weirdness in the kitchen cabinets, mattresses that wreck you, or sudden discoveries of things that are unsettling (rat poison! glad you are taking steps and all, but still, rat poison! now I get to think about rats for the rest of my stay here! not good!). The last one had a private bathroom, and there's something wonderful about not needing to take keys to the toilet. It's the little things, really.


> I am a dream Air BNB tenant. I'm clean, quiet, host no visitors and keep to my own room. I'll also give you useful feedback, like Hide The Rat Poison After You Are Done Using It.

> Having to move every week has made for strange behavior. I don't think I've wasted a single purchase in the past 30 days, even when something was a weak move, that hasn't gotten used, damn near immediately. Not a single drop of milk, piece of fruit, etc. It's an odd combination of cheap, eco-conscious, wanting to make sure every move can be achieved in a single car load, and not having regular access to trash and recycling.

> Buying stuff is an odd call back to college, honestly. I needed an iron, a bowl, a pillow, and later today, a fridge and microwave (again, needing to stay in the realm of stuff that fits in the car with everything else). It's not what I was anticipating doing at this age.

> Air BNBs mean watching everything on a laptop or phone, because televisions and cable connections aren't a thing any more. I've been cable cut for 30 days, and watch my sports at gyms and sports bars. It's nearly as good and dramatically more time efficient, and eating solo is actually better in some ways, because it's all at the bar and seems manly, or something. I'm long past the event horizon of changing core consumer habits, and yet, I'm likely to now, at least until the NFL season rolls around. And maybe even then, because by then, I'll have been on my own for 4 months, and the habits will be pretty ingrained.

> The time zone and traffic is something you can use. The distances here aren't very far, but the population density is so high, you'll easily spend an hour to go 20 miles, what with bridges and accidents and construction and heaven knows what else. Texting is dangerous and awkward, and we're grown ups and able to have conversations. Besides, conversations when you are on your own are important. They keep you from talking to yourself, which makes you feel, um, what's the word? Crazy. Yes, crazy.

> I don't really have any idea of how to be a husband or parent right now. I'm here because the opportunity is amazing, my skill set and background didn't translate quickly to pick up a new gig when the old local one went away, and some part of me never really wanted to leave here in the first place. And, well, the ability to continue to pay the mortgage. But the distance situation, despite technology making things easier than ever before, is just pressing. When you are in the same room, you can wait someone out when they need emotional support, use touch, and just do so many other things. Like many things, it's a work in progress.

> After a decade away, this place is still great, in ways that people who live here just take for granted. The things that are done at my job are world-changing. The people I work with are, well, almost intimidating in their prowess. The weather ranges from comfortable room temperature to perfect; you rarely use air conditioning or heat, and every day feels like a day that you should get something done.

It's also, of course, astonishingly expensive, and that comes on top of the usual generational point of everything seeming too expensive. The place I'm going to move to will offer me a private bedroom and bath, in a nice quiet area, and will likely take me an hour to get to work. I won't have access to laundry or a kitchen. I'm probably going to limit myself to microwave meals for a long period of time, and routine visits to grocery stores because I doubt I'm going to get any significant freezer space. This will cost me, no lie, nearly a thousand bucks a month, and that rate is likely below market rate, at least for now. The vast majority of leads in this price range have been obvious scams, with cut and paste sob stories from foreign operatives trying to hustle a payday.

Which makes the entire experience of being out here, at least up to now, kind of like being a janitor in Disneyland. All around you, people seem to be having a great time, spending their money freely; you, on the other hand, don't get to do that, because your money is tied up in housing I don't live in. People ask me what I do for fun now, and the answer is, well, not very much. I go to the gym, I stream stuff on Netflix, I play my guitar through a headphone jack on my amp, I think about my job and try to raise my capabilities at same, and I sleep. Mostly because I've worn myself out from the gym work, and I do the gym work.... well, in part to make sure that I'm tired enough to sleep. Eventually, maybe I'll work on some other project (stand up? mandolin? fifth book? more blogging? second job?), and I've been scanning MeetUp and CraigsList for a possible poker game or open mic, so that'll probably change at some point, but for now, no.

I know this is all temporary, and I know this is what I signed up for. It's nothing that I can't handle, and at the same time that I'm going through all of this, my wife and kids are adjusting to de facto single parenthood. Probably the harder job.

In the long run, this will be the best thing for all of us. In the short run, we don't lose the house or have to cash out a 401K or do some other terrible decision.

In the short run... well, it's time to pack and move, go to the gym, and try not to feel bitter about everyone else getting to ride Space Mountain. Or having conversations with people that know them.

More as life changes.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Warriors - Cavs Game One: Durant Ascends

Three To Go
The Warriors have this guy, fellow by the name of Kevin Durant. He's pretty good. Tonight, he was the best player on the floor, and as such, the Warriors won by a bunch in a game that stopped being close in the third quarter.

I don't mean to be facetious about this level of analysis, honestly. There are other reasons why the Dubs cruised in this one despite SG Klay Thompson continuing to play offense like he is a lost Hinkie Sixer, not the least of which is that the Cavs have to play two guys (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) who can't defend, which means that the Dubs rarely if ever had a possession that didn't end in a quality look. (Even in half court, they just move the ball until they get the matchup they want, and then it's clobbering time.)

But at its core, this game was all about Durant making actual best player in the world LeBron James look like just one of the best, and if the Dubs get a draw at that matchup, this series isn't going to have a whole lot of drama.

What else to say about this one? That it had the usual Finals Game One quarter and a half coating of rust on it. That the Dubs brought their defense to bear in the second half, with Durant and JaVale McGee doing yeoman work on defense. That the Cavs are so afraid of the Dubs hitting them between the eyes with corner threes that they let Durant just take the ball to the rack for uncontested dunks om multiple occasions. That Stephen Curry is 100%, back to his old tricks of nailing that pull up distance three that's a bad shot for anyone else in the Association, and that several Cavs (Deron Williams, Kyle Korver) don't look like they are going to do much of anything in this series, because they just look overmatched.

And sure, it's just one game, and the Cavs have no fear of the Dubs given what happened last year; remember, they were down 2-0 before they were down 3-1, with Game 2 a 33-point ass-whipping. But those Dubs put a pounding on you because Thompson and Curry were just splashing all over the place, while these Dubs can put you in the rear view mirror even when the showy shots aren't falling, because Durant is the second-best bailout option in any situation. In tonight's game, Golden State only turned it over four times, held their own on the boards, and had way more shots at the basket than the Cavs. It's hard to beat any team in the Association when you don't take as many shots as they do, but when it's a team like the Dubs that get after it on defense and convert a fair percentage on offense?

Well, that's path to a 20-point beatdown at best. A 40-point one at worse, which is what this would have been with something beyond an ice-cold Thompson, or the lack of rust in the first quarter and a half.

Game Two is Sunday, and I suspect both teams will play better; regression to the mean gets everything eventually, and the Dubs have been so long away from a close situation that panic might ensue if the game is close late. I also don't put it past the Association to do everything in their power to get "extra" games in this series, because this year of beatdowns can't be good for the ratings.

But it's equally or more likely that they just have, well, two of the best five basketball players on the planet, and a bunch of other guys who compete on that level. While the Cavs have the best, and a lot of one-way guys you can expose.

Oh, and also this...

Most of the drama in this series comes from the Cavs being the defending champions, and this being the unprecedented rubber match in a threepeat Finals.

But, um, the Dubs nearly won it last year despite a hobbled Curry, and Harrison Barnes shrinking in the spotlight that Durant just owned.

Are we so sure this series is going to be close after all? Couldn't we just be seeing, well, one of the best teams in the history of the Association just marching through?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Finals Pick: Dreaming For Drama

Let's Get Predicting
Normally if I were faced with an NBA playoff series that has been this devoid of drama, I'd be carping about it, to be frank. There's not enough sports for my tastes around this time of the year, given that my tastes have gone away from baseball, and off-season NFL is just a cry for help... but the plain and simple of my life right now is that sports are only seen at the gym or at a bar, so there's that. My life is a rotation of sleep, work, gym for the weekdays, and the weekends just swap in other forms of work than the office. I'm lucky to keep my fantasy baseball team current, and watching hoop is more about timing than anything else.

So it's OK with me that we're going to see a 12-0 team face a 12-1 club, for the third straight year, with an interminable amount of time between the conference finals and the real ones. If it gives us enough time off to get Steve Kerr's back healthy and Kyrie Irving's ankles ok and Kevin Durant's knee as good as new, so much the better, really. What you really want to see after a post-season that's been eight weeks of Finals Already Please is a series that, unlike the Spurs losing Kawhi Leonard, goes off without asterisks and excuses.

And with that said, and my record in picking this spring a sparkling 12-2 (sounds more impressive than it is, since Picking Chalk could have gotten you in the same realm)... let's get into the nuts and bolts of the series.

The case for Golden State: Nearly won last year; only questionable officiating in suspending Draymond Green for Game Five and the performance of LeBron James' life kept them from repeating. Better in the starting five with Durant, of course, and now have more half court isolation options that work when things get super tight late. On the ball defense, especially at the three point arc, is the best in the Association. So is the home court crowd, and it might be the NBA's best hope for derailing the team when they move to San Francisco. PG Stephen Curry is playing the best ball of his last 16 months, and seems 100% healthy, if not as freakishly accurate from the arc; he might even be better now as a penetrator. C JaVale McGee gives them great energy moments off the bench, and many of the younger bench guys have been deadly, especially at home. If they aren't turning the ball over, they are scoring 30+ points per quarter, and they haven't been turning it over.

The case against: Warrior Fan doesn't want to hear this, and there isn't anything they can do about it, but they just haven't been tested very much for months and months now, some of which can relate to injury luck. Interim / Potentially Forever HC Mike Brown didn't exactly cover himself in glory the last time he was in the Finals, with James. The bench isn't as deadly as it used to be, with PG Shaun Livingston and SG Andre Iguodala in particular losing some effectiveness. SG Klay Thompson is still doing nice things on defense, but hasn't been nearly as good on offense; some clean looks that used to be automatic just haven't been, and it wouldn't shock me if it costs them dearly in the Finals. If you can beat them up on the boards and force turnovers, you can make them look mortal, and they can get bored with the lead. Green has loose cannon aspects, and can take himself out of a game; the Dubs can't win without him.

The case for Cleveland: James is the definitive player of this generation, and may be the best in the history of the game. He can win games with defense and passing even when his shot isn't falling, and when his shot is falling, it's absolutely unfair. His teammates get open looks all the time due to his gifts, and his decision making with the ball is among the best in the game. Irving gives them a great option in the half court especially, and when PF Kevin Love is making his shots and throwing long outlet passes, they go on big runs. SG JR Smith can carry the team for stretches, and bench gunner Kyle Korver seems to have found his niche and happy place with James. PG2 Deron Williams has also had a career rebirth in the past few months. Unlike every other team in the world, they have no fear of the Warriors.

The case against: HC Tyronn Lue is mostly a figurehead, and doesn't do a good job of conserving James by getting him off the floor when it would make sense. Defensively indifferent for long stretches, though not recently. When the 3s aren't falling, can look like they don't have any other ideas, and can be taken off the dribble, especially for Love and Irving. Don't have the deep paint scorers that can make the Warriors look bad, and also don't have home court.

The pick: I think everyone is just hoping for a long and dramatic series after the past few months of blowouts, and if this is short, it's just going to feel like a cheat... but honestly, it really could be. There's no guarantee this has to go long, especially if Cleveland steals home court and Brown panics, or if the Dubs come out like their usual house on fire and Thompson joins the party. That's now how you bet, of course, because the Association has shown more than enough ability to extend the Finals by any means necessary, but a single tweaked ankle could ruin things.

Having said all that... this Warrior team is better than last year's, and last year's was historic. Cleveland is just a little better; the Dubs are a lot, and Curry's much more himself this time around. But the biggest reason why the title goes back to the Bay Area this year is Durant. He's not as good as James, but the difference might not be drastic, and his 7-foot wingspan gives the Warriors a much better defensive presence than last year.

Warriors in six... though some part of me kind of wants to see them sweep and finish the playoffs at 16-0, just so we can maybe take Best Team Ever status away from franchises I can't stand. Besides, two less nights in the bar or gym is two less nights in the bar or gym...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Spikes and Circuses

This is ok now, right?
So the No Fun League has decided that, after talking to ex-players who can still form sentences, that perhaps crapping all over post-touchdown emotions was, um, a poor idea. So now you get to use the ball as a prop, roll around on the ground, and celebrate with your teammates! Almost as if you were grown men with free will!

I hate to tell the powers that be how to do their gig, because some part of me would rather spend that time on acts of endlessly satisfying petty vandalism to their suits and cars... but, um, in the grand scheme of all that's wrong with pro football, the fact that you've been tightasses about spikes is about 50th on the list.

Here's a thought for matters of higher precedence: figure out what a catch actually is. Then explain it to the rest of us in ways that don't take an engineering degree or a background in interpretive dance. Then figure out what pass interference is, both on the offense and the defense. Then, miracle of miracles, call it consistently, whether it's on the road team, the home team, or the teams from New England and Dallas.

Got that taken care of? Great, now let's move on to the fact that you so underserve the market with an absurd amount of commercials, horrible games on nights that should never have football or or continents that don't have teams, and you don't relegate / promote to stagger games over the course of the year and create Real Drama at both the top and bottom of the standings. (The reason why you don't do this, of course, is that you are robber baron anti-capitalist thugs who secretly hate the free market, because the free market would take the utter and complete fish away from your table, and you wouldn't have a decade and a half of beating up on the Jets and Racial Slurs to prop up other franchises. You cowardly, cowardly tools. But I digress.)

Gotten rid of Terrible Night Football and the worst thing in the UK since Trump's last visit? Great, now let's move on to your broadcast crews, most of whom make decent people spit. I don't know anyone on the Earth who wants to hear a damned thing that Phil Simms says, and he might not even be the worst people working. (He probably is, but let's just avoid the wallow.) You routinely treat the audience as if it were as brain-dead as the ex-players, when in reality there's an enormous bucket of nerds who would happily stat out to all of the things they think about, especially if they've got a wager or six on the games.

Fixed all of that? Wow, you've had a busy day! Now you might want to move on to the rampant sexism and homophobia that permeates the place, the still-present racism that makes it unlikely for blacks to coach and spectacularly unlikely that they'd ever get the chance to own, the continuing thumb in the eye of decency that is the DC Team Name, the naked theft of teams from their markets...

Oh, but you don't actually want to fix any of that, do you, Roger? Because fixing any of that would take effort, and possibly money, and you are just looking for, well, empty gestures.

So by all means, spike the ball and dance, folks. It's the farthest the NFL is going to go to "fix" anything.

Because to them, nothing is really broken, or will ever be.

Must be nice to live in cocoon of money and privilege, right?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Year When The NBA Regular Season Was More Fun Than The Playoffs

The Eater Of Hope
Tonight in San Antonio, Golden State ended any possibility that the Finals could be anything other than Cavs-Dubs in a ho-hum win over the Spurs. The home team actually led for brief moments in this game, which puts them in a relatively rare class of Dub playoff victims this year, and got a throwback game from 40 year-old Manu Ginobili, who can still ball, especially when his minutes are properly managed. But without downballot MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and his fragile ankles, the Spurs are something like -80 over 2.5 games, and there's no sign that trend is going to change, or that Leonard is going to return. If the series doesn't end on Monday, it will honestly be shocking. And having watched all of these games in public areas surrounded by Dub fans, I can tell you for a fact that they worried about the Spurs... not at all. You'd have thought Game 3 tonight was a February mid-week game, not Essential Win #11 on the road to 16.

At least the Spurs weren't run off their on court in a manner that made the second half pointless, the way the Cavs did the Celtics last night. TNT had hours to come up with comedy GIFs and did not disappoint, with my personal favorite being the Tom and Jerry paddling GIF where LeBron James spanked the Celtic leprechaun over and over and over again. It was the Celtics' 4th home loss of the year and one of the worst in their history, with star guard Isiah Thomas going down for the year, such as it is, with an injury. If Boston was seen as the lEast's best hope for dethroning the Cavs in the near term, such hopes are more or less DOA now, no matter what kind of bang they get from the #1 pick in the draft.

The Finals start on June 1, which is to say, in 11 days and 3 more crushing wins by the obvious finalists; these should wrap up by mid-week at the latest. And sure, those games will be epic and intense and likely feature the first match-up of 12-0 teams in NBA history... but that's not how the playoffs are supposed to work. We get 15 playoff series a year; 8 in the first round, 4 in the second, 2 in the third and 1 in the fourth... and honestly, there might be 3 this year (Celtics-Wizards, Jazz-Clippers, and Cavs-Dubs) that will be in the least bit memorable.

Compare that to the regular season, where we had 82 games of Russell Westbrook challenging Oscar Robertson, and James Harden maybe even having a better year than him. Thomas whipped the Celtics to the 1 seed. The Sixers had Joel Embiid for enough stretches of the season to be the most fun team in the league, mostly because he made them the best defensive units. The Wiz were strong in the second half and finally healthy in the back court. Miami almost made the playoffs after a terrible start. Utah had their best year since Stockton to Malone, and the Clips did their annual sucking in the fan base before getting hurt routine. Plus the Cavs and Dubs.

We're never going to get to a place where casual fans care more about the regular season than the playoffs; that would require a smaller playoff field and promotion / relegation.

But in terms of actually watching hoop with drama, games that didn't always have garbage time, and a general feeling that the whole thing was an unpleasant waste of time?

Well, the regular season was a better place for that.

And so long as the Cavs and Dubs are this much better than everyone else, it's not going to be the last time that happens, either...

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