When I'm running ESPN some day, I plan on switching our announcers to different sports for November sweeps. Imagine Joe Theismann broadcasting NBA games, saying things like "You're not gonna last too long in the National Basketball Association by making passes like that" and "I want to tell you guys something, that turnover was caused by the defensive pressure of assistant coach Dick Harter, who's been doing an extra-ORDINARY job all game"? Comedy would ensue. Everyone would live happily ever after.
Sadly, this can't happen. They won't even put me in charge of ESPN6. Still, I was thinking of Joe when I typed the following paragraph last night: "In the National Basketball Association, the East and West conferences are like the Hilton Sisters. Maybe they look alike, and maybe they're both overrated products that receive far too much hype, but one of them is ten times more interesting than the other. And in this case, the West is Paris Hilton."
|LAST FAN STANDING|
In case you missed it yesterday, check out the Sports Guy's take on the NBA's Eastern Confernce:
Why did I type "National Basketball Association"? I don't know. Will this ever be repeated? Again, I don't know. Right now I'm like Jack in "Lost," seeing ghosts and desperately in need of some sleep. So let's bang out Part Two of my annual NBA Preview, breaking down the West from worst to first:
15. LA Clippers
If they win 25 games, it's a borderline miracle. You know things are bad when you're sitting there saying things like "Uh-oh, the lead is slipping away, they need to put Rick Brunson back in." Just about any other time, you would blame Elgin Baylor and Donald Sterling here, but they were definitely double-crossed by Kobe and his agent last summer. I'd tell you more, but considering that I'm a season ticketholder now, we'll have PLENTY of time to discuss this franchise over the next six months. In glorious, copious detail. Tell the concierge to get the waterskis and the shark ready for me.
(One bright spot: I watched Shaun Livingston for a grand total of 10 minutes in person before awarding him "Most important rookie point guard to come into the league since J-Kidd" status. I'm not saying he's a lock for the Hall of Fame or anything. But if you enjoy cerebral throwbacks who care more about making a nice pass over anything else -- I'm talking those Magic-style "How did he see that guy?" looks -- then start rooting for this guy. Trust me.)
If the Sonics win 30 games or less, this will be the worst Sonics team in 31 years. In other words, this is going to be the worst Sonics team in 31 years.
Here's the big X-factor: They need to trade Ray Allen before his contract expires. Why pay someone first banana money when he's clearly a second banana and you're already paying a third banana (Rashard Lewis) second banana money ... unless you're bananas? Why not maximize his trade value close to the deadline, when teams are desperate to make a move? Remember, not only did Allen nearly lead the Bucks to the Finals three years ago, he once filmed a movie scene with Chasey Lain and Jill Kelly. In chess terms, maybe he isn't an extra queen like J-Kidd, but he's definitely a rook. They should wait until February, then package him with Danny Fortson's ghastly contract to a contender for expiring contracts (Portland?).
(Note: Since this makes way too much sense, I'm sure they'll re-sign him for way too much money. Hey, speaking of dumb front offices ... )
13. Golden State
Congratulations to Chris Mullin, who won the Wes Unseld Memorial "I Wish That Guy Was In My Roto League" Award for shelling out $200 million in contracts for Derek Fisher, Adonal Foyle, Troy Murphy and Jason Richardson. Given that this was the strangest sequence of moves in NBA history -- an inexplicable quest to finish 30-52 every year through 2010 -- I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering about his motives here. We definitely know he's not drinking again. We're pretty sure he's aware that the salary cap exists. So why? Why would this happen?
Here's what I came up with: You know that person in your family who "settled" with their choice for a spouse, just because they were afraid of dying alone? That was Mullin this summer. He had a choice between gutting the team (like Kiki Vandeweghe in Denver) and rolling the dice with the unknown ... or "settling" for 30 wins every year. He chose the latter. Now he has to sleep with this team every night while everyone wonders behind his back if he's actually happy about it.
(Note: Not only have the Warriors missed the playoffs every year since 1994, they only made the playoffs 6 times since 1977 ... and unlike the Clippers, this was a team that spent money and tried to win for that entire duration. Isn't that worse than rooting for the Clips? At least with the Clips, you know what you're getting -- it's like a divorced woman settling for a cheap boyfriend with a weave who takes her to Outback Steakhouse once a week. The Warriors keep giving their fans hope and ripping their hearts out. And they have great fans, too. This is terrible. Let's just move on.)
12. New Orleans
I would have picked these guys fifth in the East. So there you go.
(By the way, the Hornets have two members of the Bill Simmons Team for "Guys I Inexplicably Like that Haven't Hit the Big-Time Yet": David West and Chris Andersen. They're joining Damon Jones; Tony Allen; Kyle Korver; Earl Watson; Andres Nocioni; Dan Gadzuric; Steve Blake; Michael Ruffin and this year's captain, my illegimate brother, Bobby Simmons. I'm also sticking Rafael Araujo on the IR to start the season -- haven't seen him yet, but I know I'm going to love him. Anyone who can get four technical fouls in a summer league game is my kind of guy.)
I love the NBA. I really do. Over the past two years, the Blazers made a big deal about two things: A.) We're adamant about creating cap space, and B) We're changing the character of our team. So what happens?
Out of all those events, my favorite was the Randolph signing. Here's a guy about whom his high school coach said, "I just don't want the day to come where I pick up that paper and it says [Zach] shot someone, or that he was shot. Every day that goes by that I don't see that, I feel good" ... and they hand him $86 million? I'd be afraid to loan the guy 20 bucks. Seriously, who's a shakier investment than Zack? Anyone? On the bright side, it led to the following phone call with my buddy House:
-- Me: Did you see what Randolph signed for?
-- House: (uproarious laughter)
-- Me: Can you believe that?
-- House: (giggling like a madman)
-- Me: Were they saying to themselves, "Maybe the prospect of becoming obscenely rich will calm him down?"
-- House: (hyperventilating).
Can't you see the "What's wrong with the Kings?" story in Sports Illustrated coming in about six weeks? The full-page picture of C-Webb screaming at a ref, along with the headline, "ROYAL PAINS" or "KINGS OF DYSFUNCTION"? These guys have just been together a little too long.
A quick recap: Peja has been demanding a trade since Vlade left. C-Webb missed 102 games over the past 3 seasons, can't jump anymore and still took the time to blast his teammates this summer. He's a delight. There isn't a more untradeable guy in the league. Also, the Bibby-Jackson leadership issue has never been entirely resolved. Doug Christie is still around, which means Mrs. Christie is still around. Rick Adelman's "Ultimate Adelman: The 25 Most Memorable Playoff Collapses of the Last 15 Years" is being released by NBA Entertainment this Friday. And if that's not enough, the Maloofs are bitching about a new arena.
You know what? I feel good about this one. That was easy.
(Where's the old guy and the blonde lady from "The Apprentice" when I need them?)
I am having trouble playing with the lanky African-American who uses an acronym for a name. I feel like someone is extracting my molar without the use of novacaine. This lanky man with the acronym seems to bristle when I am teamed by two defenders, believing that he is the one who should be drawing such attention. He attempts ill-advised field goals with plenty of time remaining on the shotclock and nobody standing under the basket. And his lackluster efforts on the defensive end have left the bald gentleman guiding our team frustrated beyond recognition.
There has been screaming and conflict on more than one occasion. Even my efforts have been targeted by the bald gentleman with three names, although the rebounding chores have fallen into my hands and I have no assistance. I miss playing with my diminutive friends, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. I am very lonely. I wish I could play for the Lakers.
When your starting five hails from Turkey, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Moscow and Croatia, and people are STILL picking you for the playoffs, you know you're good. These guys need three translators just to execute a chest-bump, yet they'll probably win 49 games together. Well-constructed team.
Other random thoughts: Why haven't we nicknamed Memo Okur "Mr. Big" yet? ... Isn't it strange that this is Carlos Arroyo's third NBA team? Really, he was practicing for Golden State and Washington every day and they had no idea he was this good? ... Speaking of Arroyo, when he sprained his ankle last week and they were scrambling for a starting point guard, was anyone else thinking "Stockton" and "10-Day Contract" in the same sentence? Can you imagine? How could they possibly lose a game at home with Stockton pulling the Tom Skeritt in "Top Gun" and telling Sloan, "And if you can't find anyone, give me a call, I'll fly with you."
(Wait, there's more!)
Does that $87 million contract make Andrei Kirilenko the most successful Russian of all-time? He just doubled Russia's GNP, didn't he? And how has Anna Kournikova not made a run at him yet? Did his number not come up in the deli-style line yet? ... I know it's a nice story and all, but I'm not even sure of Boozer is the poor man's Karl Malone ... How is it possible that Jerry Sloan hasn't coached a U.S.A. team yet? ... Imagine if the Jazz lured away Detroit's PA announcer this summer, then he started screaming "Youuuuuuuuuu-tahhhhhhh Bas-ket-balllllllllllllllll" 50 times a game as 20,000 Mormons sat there in shock?
(Okay, we're good.)
There's old Jerry West, stockpiling assets, biding his time ... waiting ... waiting...
(I mean, at some point, he's making a 3-for-1 or a 4-for-2 and making a run at an All-Star, right? Peja, Pierce, Allen, Ilgauskas, Davis. He's pouncing on one of these guys in February, right? He doesn't really think he can win with this team, right?)
(Um ... right?)
Here's the sleeping giant in the West. Forget about Voshon Lenard -- I'm pretty sure that they can find another 2-guard who can shoot 42% (and they have Tschkivivivivlllllli as trade bait). Besides, if they want to compete for a title, they're better off playing Melo at the 2 in crunch-time, then going big upfront with Nene, K-Mart and Camby. I see them playing .500 ball for two months while everyone gets used to K-Mart, then taking off in mid-January. They're just too tough upfront, and with a nasty streak to boot. These guys could definitely intimidate teams like San Antonio and Minnesota in a 7-game series. Heck, they got in KG's head last spring, and that was before K-Mart.
Of course, they need a monster season from 'Melo, who should jump a level in his sophomore season (simply because that's what happens). Emphasis on the word "should."
Here's what we know: He looked terrible in the playoffs. Just awful. Played like a starstruck rookie. In Athens, he sulked about PT to the point that he pulled a Nomar on the bench during one game. And there was the mysterious pot incident a few weeks ago, the old "Um, my friend left it in my knapsack!" routine. I'm not making judgments, just pointing out a series of red flags. If we're banking on 'Melo pulling a "Bird and Magic" with LeBron over the next 12 years, it's important to note that these "incidents" (for lack of a better word) didn't happen to Bird and Magic. Those guys came through when it mattered; they didn't screw around. So either we need to re-adjust our expectations for him, or 'Melo needs to start laying the smack down. Personally, I still think the kid is going to be great.
But I didn't have any doubts last season. Can't say the same now.
Any time you construct a free agent offer that's so insane, Mark Cuban studies it for a few minutes, then throws up his hands and says, "You know what, I can't match that thing" ... I mean, that's a pretty good sign you went overboard. Which is exactly what the Suns did by guaranteeing Steve Nash and his bad back $60 million. Crazy contract. Just crazy.
But you know what? They still ended up with one of the best point guards in the league. And yeah, maybe they overpaid for him. But that was the only way they were getting him. If you're spending $60 million on a $45 million luxury yacht, you may have overpaid, but you're still the owner of a $45 million yacht, right? That's what happened with the Suns. I watched them in person at the Staples Center last week, probably the happiest team I've seen in four years. And Nash was in the middle of everything. Suddenly Marion gets to do Marion things, and Johnson doesn't have to run the offense, and Stoudamire gets rewarded when he's running the floor, and Q gets his open looks ... everybody wins.
Of course, if Nash goes down, all bets are off. But this feels like a 50-win team to me. You will enjoy watching them. I promise.
(And by the way, if you haven't seen Yuta Tabuse in action, make sure you TiVo the next Suns blowout. I don't want to spoil it for you. Just imagine if you crossed Earl Boykins with a sushi chef, pumped caffeine into him and threw a uniform on him. Would you be interested to see what transpired? I thought so.)
I'm not going to attempt to understand Mark Cuban, since this was the same man that just inflicted "The Benefactor" on us. But something doesn't add up from last summer ... and no, I'm not talking about how the Mavs failed to pursue Shaq, which only would have meant two or three titles. Whatever.
As described above, Cuban opted against matching the Nash contract, then made two cost-cutting deals -- dealing Jamison and Walker for Terry, Stackhouse, Henderson, the No. 5 pick and a lower payroll starting in 2006. I didn't like either trade. But when it happened, we all assumed that Cuban was tired of overpaying players, on the heels of the LaFrentz/Bradley/Eshemeyer signings, the Juwan Howard trade and everything else. Cubes was turning a new leaf. Being prudent.
So what happened? A month passed and Cuban was roped into $72 million for Erick Dampier, the quintessential example of a player who should only be paid on a year-by-year basis. Remember the caution with the Nash contract? Out the window. Maybe Cuban is bipolar. Maybe he has amnesia. I don't know. But how can you give away the heart and soul of your team over money, then immediately overpay a con artist like Dampier? How does that happen? And why would you keep overhauling a 50-win team year after year? Why would you think a rookie (Devin Harris) could replace Nash when there hasn't been a successful American rookie starter at that position since ... since ... Mark Jackson in 1988? I can't even remember.
So many unanswered questions. Why not pursue Shaq? Why bring Don Nelson back when he's fallen short so many times? Why stick three shoot-first guards (Terry, Daniels and Stackhouse) in your backcourt and think this isn't a problem? And why do I still think this team wins 50 games just because? Aarrrrrrrrrrrgh.
3. Los Angeles
Look, we got what we wanted: Shaq and Kobe have their own teams. Should have happened two years ago. Maybe we needed a rape charge, multiple backstabbings and a controversial police interview to grease the skids, but it did happen. So what if Kobe has been revealed as a calculating, petulant, manipulative loner with a dark side? So what if he threw Shaq under the bus? There isn't a better running subplot this season then Kobe running his own team. Sure, watching him go down in flames would be almost as fun as seeing Qyntel Woods getting jumped by a pit bull. But that's probably not happening.
Here's what WILL happen: Kobe springs for 33 a game. The first wave of "Wow, the Lakers are better than we thought" start popping up in mid-December, as people realize that Odom, Grant, Butler, Divac and even Chucky Atkins are quality supporting guys. You'll hear about how Kobe has taken on a much more active leadership role, and you'll see SportsCenter features showing Kobe slapping butts and rubbing heads in slow motion. By February, Kobe will make himself cry in an extended interview with Jim Gray, just to prove to everyone that he's capable of human emotions. By March, everyone will be saying, "Maybe Kobe WAS better off without Shaq." By April, the Lakers will be losing in the first round of the playoffs...
(Sound of a record screeching to a halt.)
Four random thoughts...
1. Every time I wonder if the NBA ran out of ways to amaze me, we get something like Spree's "I've got a family to feed" quote. Who's better than Spree? First he chokes his coach, then he buys a yacht, now this. What a run. I might have to retire his jersey in the Sports Guy Mansion.
2. With Troy Hudson and Wally Z healthy again, this should be a better team than last year's group. Emphasis on the word "should." You never know with Spree and Cassell and these contract extensions. Which reminds me, has there been an preseason where Sam Cassell didn't complain about his contract? It's almost like the NBA's version of the groundhog seeing his shadow. Yep, Sam's complaining about his contract again, I better schedule my roto draft.
3. Did they just give Eddie Griffin Gary Trent's old locker? Was it like a "Brooks Was Here" moment for him, like with Red at the end of Shawshank, only with collosal NBA head cases instead of aging ex-cons? I need to know these things.
4. You know what I like about KG? He won the MVP and nearly made the Finals, yet we barely heard a peep from him all summer ... except for when he inexplicably sucker-punched Rick Rickert in a summer workout, which was covered up in Minnesota faster than the Iran-Contra investigation. On the bright side, at least John Feinstein has a subject for his next book.
5. Just for the record, I didn't think Spree and Cassell could hold up for seven months and 100-110 games last season.
1. San Antonio
Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Brent Barry, Clyde Drexler...
Sorry, I was just re-adjusting my Pantheon of 2-Guards after hearing the reactions to the Brent Barry signing this summer. I always remembered him as a fun guard and a solid complimentary player; apparently I was missing the modern-day Pete Maravich. Was it a good signing? Absolutely. But you can't tell me that a 32 year-old complimentary player with 13 career playoff games on his resume suddenly swung the balance in the West. As the Wolf said in "Pulp Fiction," let's not start (deleted) each other's (deleted) yet."
(Man, that quote NEVER works when it's heavily edited.)
Do I think the Spurs will win the West? Absolutely. But not because of Brent Barry. These guys should have won last year -- basically, it came down to Derek Fisher making an insane shot. If you're making a list of reasons why the Spurs will win the West this season, Duncan goes first. The Shaq trade goes second. Ginobili and Parker having an extra year of experience goes third. Team defense goes fourth. And the Brent Barry signing goes fifth. A distant fifth.
Finals prediction: Pistons over the Spurs in 6.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.