Central Division Preview – Part 2

There are times when things are so terrible, so bad, and so awful that you hate it when something positive has the audacity to happen.

http://scores.espn.go.com/nba/boxscore?gameId=400489197

This game is my lasting memory of the 2013-2014 Chicago Bulls, like bathroom graffiti branded backwards to your forehead.  Unfair or not, this crater is the pivot point for my massive online shoe.  That analogy makes no sense, but that’s okay.  That game begs and begets senselessness.  Imagine the Swaggy P 450 layup airball with all the fun replaced with 3 hours of retching, screaming macaws, and Joakim Noah’s hair (which was actually there at the time.) How messed up is that? Right?  Yeah.  This was the night Kirk Hinrich became my least favorite player in the league for being the shameless prick to put the Bulls above 30 points in the first half.

There were 35 seconds to go, Kirk.  You didn’t need that 3.

Unforgivable.  I wanted the game to finish with fewer than 100 total points.  I wanted to point to a box score and be able to stiffen and state, “There.  That.  Look at it.  Picture what that must have been like to watch.  Do it in your own head and on your own time, because I don’t want to talk about it.  Go away, son.”  I needed that validation.  Instead, I have a frustrating personal experience and a compulsion to relay it.

The Bulls: Mike Dunleavy going 7-24 and Kirk Hinrich playing in spite of my spite as a comeback grows, then withers, then dies, and then floats away on the Bargs Barge, hopefully to be shot with a flaming arrow on National TV.

This was on National TV.

aaaAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

AAA.

That was also the day I left a pizza in my trunk.

So despite the city of CM Punk chants doing a lot of nice stuff as the season continued like overcoming the Deng trade, again finding an identity without Rose, all the disparate bits of Joakim Noah (hair excepted) congealing into one of my favorite players in the league, Taj Gibson making his contract seem legitimate, and so on, I can’t help but start this season with the memory of Knicks vs. Bulls December 12, 2013 clouding my thoughts.

Maybe this is why I’m down on them.  Not bad-down, but tempered-down.  Unenthusiastic-down.  Public reaction to Blink 182’s 2003 single “Down”-down.  But I’m down, and I can’t think of a ton of other reasons why.  This team went to the playoffs last year, but added Dougie McBuckets, Pau McGasol, and Derrick MCL.  This is good, right?  Sure.  It probably is; it’s probably better than good, but I can’t bring myself to picture anything better than that.

In the lead up to the draft, the conversation I most recall is “I don’t want McDermott on my team, but he’s a great player.”  After the draft: “I’m glad McDermott’s not on my team, but he’s a great fit for the Bulls.”  Same thought, different tense.  To me, this means one of three things.  1) I heard the wrong conversations.  2) McDermott’s game really doesn’t fit most teams. 3) People aren’t sold to the point of being prepared to attach their hopes to DougBucks, so they’re relieved to root for him independent of their emotional commitment to their team.  I don’t know which it is, but the name Doug does not inspire confidence in me.  It makes me think of turtles or the more bland types of cheese.

My preferred narrative for Pau these last few years has been “demoralized, misunderstood, misused big guy sandbagging for one final redemption run.”  As evident in the Pistons’ decade-long championship drought, what I prefer isn’t always what happens.  I can just as easily see Pau on the other side of useful, and FIBA competition has not been stellar enough to sway me.  I haven’t truly thought of Pau as a primary piece for a contender in at least two seasons.  That said, I can’t separate Pau’s performance from the situation he’s been in over that time, so a USA-Spain final may actually give me something new to think about. [Edit: France happened.]

And I would really, really like something new to think about in regards to Derrick Rose.  The last 2+ years of his career have been a declining sequence of oh no’s, to wit:

“Oh no… he’s out for the rest of this season.”
“Oh no… he’s out for the rest of this season too.”
“Oh no… he doesn’t look like the Derrick Rose I last saw..”
“Oh no… he’s out for the rest of this season too, again.”
“Oh no… he looks exactly like the Derrick Rose I last saw.”

D-Rose’s FIBAing has not excited me.  It’s kind of done the opposite.  I’m seeing reruns of a season I didn’t like that was cancelled before the show-runner could make any changes.  The international remake of the show has a different cast, but it’s still hard to watch.  At the moment, Derrick is my third favorite Rose behind Jalen and the one from that Seal song.  Here’s hoping he can reclaim spot #2 in these next few months and not he fall behind WWE NXT sensation Adam Rose.  The protagonist from Titanic remains last.  Dead last.  And dead.

None of this is to say I expect the Bulls to be bad.  They’ll be better than last year.  A great deal of teams in the east should have improved to mediocre, and the Bulls should have improved beyond that.  Does that make them a 3 seed in the east?  Maybe a 2?  Yeah.  I think it does.  Is that something to be excited about when Kirk “horrible, horrible, terrible person” Hinrich is still on the team?

Yeah, probably, but not for me.  I hate that guy.

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Central Division Preview – Part 1

There’s a system on this website I invented called “dibs.”  I did.  I invented it.  How it works is that if you say you have “dibs” in regards to a thing, you get that thing.  The thing has to be attainable otherwise it makes no sense, but yeah.  That’s how fairness works; I know this because I invented that too.  It’s been a busy summer.

I called dibs on the Central Division because its summer was also busy, and I like having things in common with constructs.  With all the pickups, and trades, and rumors, and departures, and intrigue, and possibility how could I not?  Arguably the most fascinating team in the league is in this division, and that’s where I’m compelled to start.

The Detroit Pistons are not best judged in terms of success or failure. Things are rarely black or white. It’s not simple enough. I find the Pistons are most accurately appreciated in terms of “oh shit look at Andre Drummond.”  In interest of full disclosure, I am a Pistons fan.  I am also painfully pessimistic, so my fandom is often expressed in predictions of doom, or statements of regret, or loud, bad words at TV screens and twitter timelines.  However, Andre Drummond has never made me do any of these things in motion.  By that very specific criteria, he is the greatest player on earth.

Dunk_000000

Josh Smith may be the worst.  He’s absolutely, explicitly relentless.  I entered last season building a fictional world in which Josh Smith discovers the ability to adapt to a system with two young, burgeoning bigs.  And if they couldn’t figure out spacing, who knows?  Maybe they’d each play exactly 32 minutes a game at 4 or 5.  Right?  No.  By about January 12th last season, I had unconsciously developed a routine for checking through a Pistons’ box score:

1) Andre Drummond rebounds
2) Andre Drummond points
3) Josh Smith 3-point attempts
4)
5) Remember that one scene in Old School where Will Ferrell is shot by a tranq and slowly sinks to the bottom of a pool?

But hey!  Reports indicate he’s potentially preparing himself to bang down low, which I have no reason not to take at face value.  Stan Van Gundy is here now, and big guys love playing for him.  Plus Greg Monroe either developed the league’s best 3-point stroke or didn’t, so I guess that’s 50-50, and 50 percent of something really great is something good.  That’s just math.

In less dubious news: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the Orlando Summer League in points.

Andre Drummond got the nod to play on the FIBA team (playing a one tenth of a minute more than Mason Plumlee but that’s still something. (It is.))  And as much as I love Joe Dumars for bringing a championship, a series of conference finals appearances, and Rasheed Wallace into my life, his protracted run of Matt-saddening decisions needed relief.  SVG might provide that.

There’s hope, but there are concerns.  Augustin seemed poised to exit the league before finding a position to succeed on a well-coached, strongly-run, Bulls team.  It’s hard to not picture him falling back toward the prior promise of performance, which, at $3 million could well make him a downgrade from Stuckey for more than double the price.

Jodie Meeks would have been the Pistons best three point shooter last year among players who took more than 1.5 threes a game.  This is valuable.  So is $6 million.  For the team’s need, it makes sense, but the further you reach from general market value the less value a player’s performance has.  That’s a different, actual kind of math.

Chauncey Billups has a lot of experience being really old, and it looks like Caron Butler has been brought on to learn.  The beginning of his being really old for the Thunder went well (at times he’s looked super-duper old) but he’ll need guidance to reach his true oldness potential.  In the few games Butler played last year, he almost appeared to be a positive statistical contribution.  Chauncey can help him break that habit and develop into something else.  (Note: Chauncey Billups announced his retirement after this entry was written.  We acknowledge that Butler’s advancement to uselessness may now be in greater doubt than before.)

I like Brandon Jennings.  I don’t know why.  He’s less than a year older than Monroe.  I feel like he can get better still.  His contract is movable, and for a guy largely regarded as a shoot-the-first-bad-shot-I-can-get player, he was near the top of the league in assists all year, and that was with a supporting cast with no spacing and remarkably bad shooting.  He- oh my god they’re making me do this again.

Detroit makes me nervous.  I can see the narrative for their improvement: Monroe and Drummond extend their trajectory, Josh Smith finally stays low, KCP and Meeks provide a chance for space, Jennings keeps his assists up with his shots in check, Jerebko stays healthy and lives up to his latent promise, and SVG brings in some much needed leadership and clarity.  Unfortunately, there are few substantial, concrete improvements.  These are all hopes rather than expectations.  I tried hope last year.  It sucked.

Making Peace with Pandas

Like most articles about shoes, this is a story about the notion of forgiveness.

Metta World Peace and I got off to a rough start in our one-way entertainer-to-consumer relationship.  Little known fact, but on November 19, 2004, Metta World Peace (then going by some other name) ran into the crowd at the Palace of Auburn Hills after being hit with a cup of stuff and attacked some dudes.  I watched this happen live on TV.  It was not traumatic and mostly entertaining because I was dumb and had no concept of a connection between what I was watching and reality.  However, Detroit loathed the guy, and I’m a sucker for peer pressure.

In the past I’ve forgiven people I don’t know personally for imagined personal slights. I pride myself on only being emotionally beholden to a world borne of my own fiction for a maximum of five years at a time.  Bo Dallas, Brett Favre, Ebenezer Scrooge, all those guys eventually turned themselves around and helped me find peace with their existence again.

But absolution is a tricky process.  It’s not a straight or steady movement; it’s more of a series of moments.  For instance, when MWP got his first technical as a Rocket, I had my “See? Just another tech. What a horrible bad person jerk” impression tempered by the realization he was actually breaking up a fight.  We’re still not cool.

When he made contributions to a Lakers championship as a role player, I started to notice his value as a teammate rather than a Dean Ambrosian lunatic whose energy would pull the team wherever it would like a doberman being walked by a skateboard with a ken doll taped to it.

When he decided to take the name “World Peace” and take it seriously, my initial reaction was laughter.  I was laughing at him, but I was still laughing, and laughing is good.  MWP made me do a thing that’s good.  Then he played the Lakers’s front office to move to New York.  I don’t like the Lakers.  This was a good thing for MWP to do.  Progress!

Progress enough, anyway.  I finally had a truly personal, positive impression of MWP.  That would have probably been enough.  He was no longer a villain.  I mean, I still didn’t like him, but it was like getting into a fight with your fraternity brother and then five years later he buys you a pizza through paypal.  Whatever, you weirdo, but thanks, I guess.

Then uh…

Check out these shoes:

092214_pandablack 092214_pandawhite

(Pictures stolen from CBSSports)

In a word.

As expected from a 27 year old man, I own a small collection of adorable plush toys ranging from Pokemon to different types of Pokemon.  What I don’t own are an NBA player’s brand of sneakers.  I’ve never owned a pair, actually.  The clearance rack of Dick’s rarely had them, but these?  These shoes are shoes I would buy.  The only problem I have with them is that the pandas are removable.

There’s a ranking system for pandas in my life. The top two are locked in: One and Two respectively, but I think the ones on these shoes could nestle nicely at three.  That’s a major accomplishment from a basketball player I would have said I hated nine years ago.  If I ever meet Metta World Peace, say at a self-checkout of a Food Lion, I won’t say anything.  I’ll ask myself “Is that Metta World Peace?” confirm to myself “Wow, yeah, that was Metta World Peace,” and then continue to scan my multiple jars of dill pickles.  But at some point later that day, I would think, “You know, I kind of like that guy.”