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Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Updated: April 20, 11:26 AM ET
Curious Guy: 'Rounders' Part II

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Welcome to "The Curious Guy," where I e-mail questions to somebody successful -- whether it's a baseball pitcher, an author, a creator of a TV show, another writer or whomever -- and we trade e-mails for the rest of the week. This week's exchange is with screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien, or as I like to call them, "The Guys Who Wrote Rounders."

If you missed Part One, CLICK HERE. Here's Part Two ...

Simmons: When you guys were researching "Rounders," as you mentioned earlier, you played a ton of poker against some of the best rounders in New York City. And I was going to fire a series of questions at you about that and just let you run with it -- So how good did you guys get? Did either of you become consumed by the game? What's your best poker story from that time? Does either of you still play or did you both retire? And when you do play, do your opponents get excited to play against you so they can tell their buddies how they whupped the guys who wrote "Rounders"? -- but I've been really enjoying the work of NESN's new sideline reporter during Red Sox games, Tina Cervasio, who may or may not know anything about baseball (it's still unclear after two weeks), so I thought I would ask the question like she would ask it.

"Guys, you wrote 'Rounders,' the famous blackjack movie that starred Ed Damon and Matt Norton, and I know you had a do a ton of research about the game itself ... talk us through what it was like to prepare for that. Also, do either of you like eggs?"

Koppelman: Uh, Dave, he somehow stumbled into a question about eggs.

Levien: I can't.

Koppelman: Take this opportunity. Tell the story. Cleanse yourself. It has everything -- drama, humiliation, sports, comedy ...

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Levien: Fourteen years old, living in Aspen, Colo., on a bantam hockey trip to somewhere in the Denver area. It's an overnight so each member of the opposing team takes in a guy from our team. My hosts open their home to me, they couldn't have been nicer. But the next morning at breakfast, they put a steaming plate of eggs in front of me. I'm frozen. My worst fear has been realized. Because I don't eat eggs, can't stomach them. I can only deal with them being on the same table I'm at -- now, recently, like in the past few years, 20-plus years down the road. But then, at 14, it's Jason Voorhees coming at me in the Kenny Dryden mask. If I were a better man, or kid, I would've told that nice family straight up that there was no way I was eating those eggs, but the greasy sweat of panic was on me. I needed a way out, plain and simple. I pushed the eggs around for a few minutes, gorge rising, searching for an escape. God knows how or why, but they left the room for something and my eyes fell upon a sideboard, with drawers, across the room. I managed to clean my plate before they got back to the room. If you're ever at a yard sale in the Arvada area and come upon a sideboard that seems to have a putrid odor to it, keep walking. We lost the B-league state championship double-elimination tourney that year. We were runners-up. It was karma. Payback's a bitch.

Koppelman: Don't you feel better now?

Levien: Not really.

Koppelman and Levien: OK, back to poker. As Charles Van Doran says in "Quiz Show," we'll take the last part first: yes, people get flipped out at the table when they hear that we wrote the movie.

Levien: There's a friendly moment of recognition, but then you may as well be wearing one of those bounty T-shirts. They want to take you out, for the story. People are surprised if you lose a hand. Like the guy who wrote "Top Gun" is a great pilot.

Koppelman: Then there was the time in Wibaux, Mont., which was where the New Yorkers end up in "Knockaround Guys" (we were there checking it out the weekend "Rounders" was released). A bunch of fellas in a bar built a poker game around us. It was pretty clearly a setup -- big ranchers and oil rig guys, and us (picture Eric Bogosian divided by Woody Allen x 2). They put some bottles down on the table and made us do shots with them. We ended up playing for our lives. I lost on purpose and Levien made sure we didn't die.

Levien: How did I make sure we didn't die? I beat those farm boys out of like 300 bucks.

Koppelman: What I remember was that you were winning, but I started getting worried that if we both won we would be in a crapstorm of trouble, what with our movie in theaters that weekend, featuring a road gang of two. When the hard liquor and checks started flowing I began a steady stream of bad plays and lost what you won. I then explained it to you back at the motel and we shared your profit.

Levien: The way I remember it is you can't hold your Aftershock and made some bad plays at Omaha and your hands didn't make. And I just got lucky at Omaha, because I don't play it, and kicked their asses. And I'm pretty sure we didn't split the cash. Maybe I just bought the next round of jalapeno poppers.

Koppelman: You gave me half.

Levien: Just the poppers.

Koppelman: Whatever. These days I live in the city and must get four invitations to play each week. And whenever I do play, and people know about the film, I have a huge edge for the first two or three hours.

Koppelman and Levien: Guys stay in pots they shouldn't, try outrageous bluffs, call you down no matter what, anything so that they can come away with a story. After a few hours the effect wears off, though.

Koppelman: I went to one game about nine months ago: The father of one of my son's classmates has a regular two-table tournament at his apartment. He invited me, told everyone that I was coming. As I was leaving the house, my son and daughter were watching me, and I realized that I absolutely could not lose. I screwed down so hard that night at the table, used every edge I had, dropped Johnny Chan's name, Edward Norton's name, any name I thought might distract them, because I could not let my kids go to school the next day and have to deal with the fact that their dad was taken down by a bunch of hedge fund managers. I did manage to win. I've been asked back 30 times, but I won't go again. Too much pressure.

Koppelman and Levien: As to the other questions, we both got pretty deep into the game while researching the movie. Brian a bit more than David, stakes-wise. Put another way, David never put his health, happiness or home life on the line. Brian on the other hand ... it's funny, but there isn't one defining poker story from that time. As you know, to rounders, it is all one long game. That's how they can get up and go home when they are losing or winning at a given session, because there is always tomorrow. During the two years leading up to shooting the movie, we were either working, writing or at the tables. After the few month[s-long] losing apprenticeship Levien's been a steady winning player in cash games. At one point Brian won a 300-person satellite for entry into the main event at the U.S. Poker Championship. That was certainly a highlight.

Levien: How'd you do in the main event?

Koppelman: Unfair question. I lasted 30 minutes. But why don't you tell him what happened with T.J. Cloutier and Daniel Negreanu on the set of "Tilt"? For me to tell would be bragging.

Levien: BK beat each of them heads up for $100, which they signed as proof. Daniel went all-in early with pocket Jacks. Koppelman called with pocket kings. No one improved. Koppelman lives clean. T.J. didn't go so quick. We started to get the idea he really didn't want to lose that hundy when he was still grinding a half-hour in. The man is tough. I don't remember the specifics of the final hand, but he signed the Benjamin over to Koppelman. It was pretty impressive.

Simmons: Wow, that was a bizarre last few paragraphs -- I felt like I was watching Ed Norton in the last 15 minutes of "Primal Fear." First, you were two guys, then you were separate guys, then you were two guys again. I actually found myself making the Richard Gere "pursing my lips and trying to pretend I can act" face while I was reading everything; it just felt right. But that's the great thing about you guys, you're a true team, it's like doing an e-mail exchange with Richard Simmons and Vito Spatafore.

We need to settle some residual "Rounders" questions. I'm tired of getting these questions e-mailed to me by readers, and I'm tired of wondering about this stuff whenever I watch the movie, so we need to settle them once and for all.

Question No. 1: After Mike McD's wet blanket girlfriend from hell moved out on him -- and thank God, you guys should have had her get run over by a cab on her way out -- and he was hanging out in his empty apartment watching the old Johnny Chan footage and feeling sorry for himself, the smoking-hot Russian chick (played by Famke Janssen, who should be much more famous than she is) comes over to collect some money, gives him a break on the figure, flirts with him, shoves her tongue down his throat ... and Mike McD basically gives her the Heisman.

What the hell? Seriously, what the hell?

First, what guy on the planet would turn down some revenge-against-my-ex sex with Famke Janssen? Second, what guy on the planet would turn down sex with Famke Janssen? (I asked this in a column four years ago, and I'm asking again now: How was Johnny Chan the only man in that room who ended up flopping a nut straight?) And third, the movie was rated "R," anyway ... you guys couldn't have thrown in a gratuitous sex scene for no real reason? Would that have killed you? Or was there some sort of underlying homo-erotic context with the Worm-Mike McD friendship that you were going after that I missed? Please explain yourselves. Part of me will never forgive either of you for this.

Koppelman and Levien: We plead guilty. Biggest mistake of the film, probably of our entire career (please leave out the requisite "Walking Tall" joke, thank you) if only because we were on set and would've gotten to gawk at it for eight hours. As written, the character was a much more regular-looking girl. When John Dahl ended up casting Famke (the producers Ted Demme and Joel Stillerman knew her well), we were too green to see our opportunity. Now, today, believe us, Mike nails her, then after lots of gratuitous nudity, she casually mentions that Worm rang up the debt and Mike is off. It's not that we're monks, just idiots. If you want to know our logic, our admittedly misguided logic, here it is:

A. Mike has already slept with her. You're a guy, so you understand what that means. The edge is off of it, just a little bit.

B. Mike has just found out that he is, after driving the truck, walking the line, staying away from the tables, right back in a giant hole. Worm has put him in serious financial debt to people who know how to collect.

C. For the plot of the film to work, we figured that the debt of money had to seem so important to Mike, so dangerous, so huge, that Mike had to deal with it right away. In hindsight, we were totally wrong. (By the way, neither Ansen nor Travers picked up [on] that one.)

Simmons: I feel like I just listened to Joe Dumars explain why he picked Darko over Carmelo. Sure, everything makes sense ... but it was still catastrophic.

All right, second question: Was it a stretch for a veteran poker connoisseur like Teddy KGB to have such an easy-to-figure tell as the whole "If I have a good hand, I eat my Oreo, and if I don't, I put the Oreo back in the box" thing? Obviously it took me about 5-6 viewings to even understand that whole scene, and after another 25-30 viewings, it bothers me a little more every time. On the other hand, since it's a movie, and you need to dumb things down a little for the average viewer, I guess it worked. But in real life, it would be the equivalent of Johnny Chan smelling his orange and taking a bite every time he had a good hand. So I don't know.

Koppelman and Levien: Fair question, but here's the thing about tells: they shift and change and everyone gets them sometimes, and the good players figure them out before too much damage is done. Tells are unconscious, right? So KGB picks up a habit first, that is, eating cookies at the table. And from there, a different, more subtle habit develops. Also, as written, the tell is an Oreo, but it is a bit quieter than it is in the film. Malkovich, who is one of the smarter guys we know, realized that for the tell to 'read' on screen, it would need to be big. Big enough that the attentive viewer would have a chance to catch it. So he really munched on those suckers, and put them up to his ear and all that stuff ... he sold it.

We watched the movie a lot with audiences. On first viewing, with the whole cookie monster approach John takes, it's almost impossible to realize it's a tell until Mike points it out to put him on "Tilt." It's like in "Angel Heart." When we watch that movie now, we can't believe how damned obvious De Niro's character's name is. It ruins the whole gaff. But when we saw it for the first time, it flew by us. We think that's how it is with the Oreos, as evidenced by your own admission that you missed it the first few times you watched.

Simmons: In my defense, I was probably stoned the first few times.

Third question: If Mike McD started off the final Teddy KGB showdown with $10,000, how did he end up with $60,000? He beat Teddy straight-up for the first $20,000, then Teddy baited him into coming back to the table ... so shouldn't he have just won $40,000? Was there a deleted scene? By the way, somebody e-mails me this question at least five times a week. I'm not making this up.

Koppelman and Levien: The money all checks out. We were careful about vetting it. The hint is, after taking the first 10 grand, Mike says "Feel free to re-load anytime." There is a time cut and a pan across the table that reveals empty racks that show that KGB has indeed re-loaded several times. As true to the poker as we wanted to be, the director and producers did remind us from time to time "Guys, we are making a movie here ... "

If you think a lot of e-mails get annoying, how about this one: We were out with some wiseguys we know doing research for our second movie ("Knockaround Guys") at a social club in Ozone Park, when another made guy with a gun in the waistband of his Tachinni warm-up suit got in our faces.

Him: "Yeah, I seen that movie. No one cut the f***ing cards before a hand. I woulda stopped things right there. No one cut the f***ing cards."

Us: "Yeah, but that would've really slowed things down in the film."

Him: "You hear what I said? No one cut the f***ing cards."

Us: "You're right, sir."

Simmons: Fourth question: If you were making a Mount Rushmore for Wet Blanket Girlfriends in sports movies, there's no question that Mike McD's girlfriend would be up there with Adrian Balboa, Myra Fleener and Ned Braden's wife. So did you guys intentionally write her that way? If your goal was to create a female lead so heinously unlikable that it would maximize the chill factor of the "Let's play some f***ing cards" line right before the Atlantic City trip ... well, congratulations, it worked. You're both geniuses.

But if I was supposed to be worried that this squinty-eyed, non-supportive, whiny you-know-what might dump Mike McD and force him to get sucked back into the poker life again ... well, it didn't work. (And by the way, if the latter was your intention, then you should have convinced Gretchen Mol to get naked. Yes, this is my solution to just about every problem in the history of movies.) So what was it? Did you write the part wrong, did they hire the wrong actress, or did everything play out correctly?

(Note: In a weird way, it worked out perfectly -- there's just no way I would have enjoyed "Rounders" as much if someone I liked (like Amy Smart) had broken up with Mike McD, then I would have secretly been rooting for them to get back together in the end. Instead, I was hoping he would settle down with a Russian hooker who worked in an illegal poker room.)

Koppelman and Levien: The only one who deserves no blame at all is Gretchen Mol, who did the best she could with very little material. This is an example of how a minor change can cause big ripples. In our original draft, the one the studio bought, the Jo character was out of the story on page 60. That's halfway through the movie. She had about three scenes -- 1. Hey, this is the girlfriend; 2. Hey, she's not gonna stand for this poker stuff; 3. Hey, She's definitely not gonna stand for it ... and she's gone. She was designed to be a perfectly worthy girlfriend, but the wrong choice for him. And Mike had a best friend from law school named Atkinson. He was sort of a counter-point to Worm, the guy Mike could become. You know, a friend Mike could actually count on, the guy who helped him out with law school. And Mike helped Atkinson too, taught him how to win at cards, about the real world, etc.

You see, our original intention was to invert the formula. To make you want Mike to leave the girl and get back to his true love, poker. And so we didn't mind if she was a little annoying. The studio, by that time with sugar plum dreams of "Good Will Hunting" grosses dancing in its head, made us combine Atkinson and Jo, put her at law school with him, and made her have all these additional scenes with him. We fought it as well as we could, but lost like an Ultimate Fighter contestant who went out drinking the night before a bout with the crazy quiet kid in the house. Today, we'd walk off the film before letting that happen. Somehow her character is effective as the wet blanket, anyway, albeit not that much fun as far as screen time goes. Still, we're really happy for Gretchen that she has found success in the upcoming Bettie Page movie (in which she'll fulfill the highest aspirations you hold for an actress).

Simmons: That was a very diplomatic answer, and I'm happy to hear that Gretchen has finally seen the light and started shedding her clothes. Unfortunately for you guys, I have some more "Rounders" questions. Like, Mike McD crashes the judge's poker game, comes in midway through the hand and somehow reads everyone's cards in about two seconds. What are the odds of this actually happening? Can rounders really do this? I never know whether to frown at that scene or nod appreciatively. And while we're here, is it true that you can get any law professor to randomly loan you 10 grand as long as you sit through one of his Yeshiva stories? Wouldn't Mike have paid some sort of 5 percent fee when he was cashing a $10,000 check at 9 p.m. from one of those sleazy cash-checking places? In real life, if Mike McD trash-talked Teddy KGB after taking him for $60 grand, wouldn't they have shot him right on the spot? Can you tell that I have watched this movie too many times?

Actually, don't answer any of those questions, I would rather ask you this one ...

Simmons, The NBA, and "Rounders"
Back in 2002, the Sports Guy needed a little help from "Rounders" to hand out his NBA awards:

NBA & "Rounders": PART I
NBA & "Rounders": PART II

With "Rounders," you guys did your job by writing a great script with rich parts, as well as an opening line that ranks among the best opening lines in movie history, but some other elements fell into place: You landed a good director and a bunch of good supporting actors (Malkovich, Turturro, even Martin Landau), and you hit the absolute jackpot with the two leads (I can't imagine anyone else playing Mike McD and Worm BUT Damon and Norton). Plus, the studio didn't really mess up the movie other than with the Gretchen Mol thing. So how much of the filmmaking process is skill and how much of it is luck? I mean, if Damon couldn't do this movie, and the studio told you, "Hey, we're going with Johnny Galecki as Mike McD, he's hot right now," "Rounders" is dead coming out the gate. In a way, writing a movie is almost like poker -- you need to know what you're doing, and you need to be talented and creative and original, but you also need a little bit of luck, too. Agree or disagree?

Koppelman & Levien: Wait, since you threw those questions out, we'll knock them off quick. Mike McD reading the hands -- he walked in with two cards to come, and the judges were playing stud, so there was a lot more information out there. We've seen Phil Hellmuth and many other pros stand right next to us and put people on exact hands. So, yeah, nod appreciatively. What the hell, you liked the movie, right? And yes, trash-talking a Russian mobster after taking 60K might bring on a beating, might not. Try it sometime, let us know how it goes.

And yes, there would be a fee charged to cash that check. In the script, Petrovsky tells Mike that the guy at the check cashing place is an old friend of his and will do him the favor. That's even the way the scene was filmed. And then, when Mike goes to cash the check, the fella at the check cashing place, Moishe, calls Petrovsky to make sure that he wants him to waive the fee. But when the movie was running long, it was deemed "shoe leather," and cut. We knew that some people would be annoyed by the apparent logic gap, but that's that's the way it goes in this, the business we have chosen.

As we've said, you don't make a movie alone. There are huge positives that result from that fact. For instance, writers often grouse about their dialogue being changed on set, and in the wrong hands, that is enormously frustrating. But Edward Norton ad-libbed the "Sputnik, snow and pierogies" line in "Rounders." One of our absolute favorite lines in the whole film. So that's the trade off, you lose Moishe but you gain pierogies.

When it comes to the blend of luck and skill, our belief is that you need both, that luck is real, but you can also influence what seems like luck. Were we lucky that a girl named Tracy Falco, the lowest person on the totem pole at Ted Demme's company, chose to pick our script out of the slushpile? And that Harvey and Bob Weinstein happened to be poker fans, and that some of the best actors in Hollywood happened to opt in? Hell yes. On the other hand, when the director search for "Rounders" was underway, and we were unhappy with some of the choices being considered, we thought of John Dahl. We knew his movies and liked his sensibility. We also happened to be in Los Angeles at the time and though we were just the writers and had no official power in the thing, we told our agents: "Get us a meeting with John Dahl. We'll stay in L.A. as long as it takes." A week later he'd read the script, met with us, and said "I'll do this movie." Still, as Mike McD says, they insist on calling it luck.

Simmons: All right, you knew this next question was coming ...

We're in the middle of a poker boom, you guys wrote the definitive poker movie that came out four years too early ... so why the hell can't we have a sequel? Come on, like "Rounders 2" wouldn't make $200 million? I know Matt Damon is crazy-rich at this point, but how could he resist the chance to bring Mike McD back to life? Plus, you have all these celebrities who love playing poker and would love to be involved, like Ben Affleck, who would probably kill himself if you didn't ask him to be in the movie.

Here's my pitch: Mike McD (two-time runner-up in the World Series of Poker in 1999 and 2003) is living at the Palms Casino in Vegas and making a living playing in televised tournaments, running his own online Web site and ripping off celebrities and athletes whenever they come into town. He's a multi-millionaire, a success by any measure; he even hangs out with the Maloofs and Ron Artest, owns a 5 percent stake in the Kings, and dates a former actress (played by Heather Graham) who gets naked with him in a torrid sex scene in the first 10 minutes. And just when he's preparing for the 2007 World Series of Poker, Worm shows up in his life again, along with Worm's brother, Gerbil (played by Ben Affleck, who was available). They're in some deep trouble, the Russian mob is after them for stealing a suitcase of heroin or something.

Being the loyal friend that he is, Mike McD gets dragged into the situation and ends up having sex with Famke Janssen and her sister, played by Anna Kournikova (in a torrid three-way in a hot tub at the "Real World" suite in the Palms) to convince Famke to call off the Russian mob. But Famke slips him the date-rape drug, and before Mike McD wakes up, she's transferred $3 million of his money from his computer to Teddy KGB. Plus, Heather Graham walked in during the three-way (unbeknownst to Mike McD) and decided to move out. Now he's broke and single. When he wakes up, Teddy KGB calls to tell him, "I have your three million, you have to play me for it, I want revenge for the last time we played."

But Mike McD says, "You know what, I'm not playing this game. I don't care about my $3 million any more, and I don't care about Worm or Gerbil -- kill them both, they were crummy friends, anyway. I'm winning my three million back in the World Series of Poker, and then some. But first, I have to go to Cheetahs for the next 20 hours and spend my last $5,000 on lap dances."

So that's the next 15 minutes of the movie -- Mike getting lap dances and drinking Rolling Rocks in the Cheetah's champagne room, followed by the shocking revelation that Gretchen Mol is working there after getting fired from her law firm. He gets her number, but not before she gives him the obligatory, "You're wasting your life" speech. From there, Mike McD goes right to the World Series of Poker, where he ends up at the final table facing Phil Ivey (played by Tiger Woods), Ron Artest (played by O.J. Simpson), Teddy KGB (Malkovich), Worm (Norton), Gerbil (Affleck), Johnny Chan (playing himself) and the Cinderella story of the tournament, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons (played by George Clooney in an unbilled cameo).

And Mike McD gradually knocks everyone out until it's just him and Gerbil, setting up the Damon-Affleck scenario that everyone has been waiting for ... and even though the script calls for Mike McD to win, Damon ends up ad-libbing from the script and letting Affleck win because he feels bad about everything that's happened to Affleck since "Armageddon." But he still made enough second place money ($3 million) to replace what he lost, so he's happy, and the movie ends with a torrid sex scene with Mike McD and Gretchen Mol, followed by him breaking up with her and telling her that he never liked her in the first place. The end.

Whaddya think?

Koppelman & Levien: Is there a question in there, other than the obvious one about your sanity?

Simmons: Yes ... why the hell can't we have a "Rounders 2"? Why are you depriving us?

Koppelman & Levien: The thing of it is, for some reason, "Rounders" really means something to people. And it certainly does to us. We would only do a sequel under one of two very specific scenarios. The first is if we come up with the absolute perfect story line, the next logical step for Mike, Worm, Knish and the rest. You can't force that kind of thing, it just sort of needs to occur to you. The second: to quote the Dean in "Back to School" ... a really big check.

Simmons: Well, I don't care how it plays out as long as Damon is involved and I get a cheesy cameo out of it. Just don't pull one of those "Speed 2" moves where you have a sequel, but it's with Jason Patric playing Mike McD's brother, Nick McD. Or I will have to kill both of you.

All right, give me three pieces of advice for my virgin appearance at the World Series of Poker in July.

Koppelman & Levien: In order ...

1. Don't just try to "survive." Either grab a bunch of chips up front or go home. You can't grind your way to the final table.

2. Use your juice to get some private lessons from Negreanu, Seidel, Chan and the others. All the actors you've seen win big events have been coached by people like that. It really helps to get behind-the-scenes expert advice.

3. Trade 25 percent of yourself for 5 percent of five other players. If one of them wins the whole thing, you'll get 5 percent of the first prize.

Simmons: That sounds like a trade Isiah would make. Which reminds me, we've reached the part of the exchange where Koppelman gets 500 words to rant about the current Knicks debacle and take an unprovoked potshot at Pat Riley. Starting ... now!

Koppelman: Let me just say this: there is only one person in all of sports that I let my son boo. Just one. And his name starts with Pat Riley. If you need to know why, you're not a hoops fan.

Now to the Knicks: At various times of the year, I would have said 500 words doesn't get me close. During the six-game winning streak, I might've needed 5,000 (you saw some of the e-mails I sent you at that point). But here, where we now sit, I don't even think I have 500 words in me. I may not be the single biggest Knicks fan in the world, but I have to be close. My first memory, the very first memory I have in the world, is of the Knicks playing the Baltimore Bullets in the 1970 playoffs. My dad took me to the game and we watched Earl the Pearl take on Frazier. The day Pearl came over to join Clyde in the backcourt is still, in my mind, one of the great days in New York sports history. Now, as a 20-year season-ticket holder, I just don't even know where to start. Each night, as my son and I head toward the subway to go to the Garden, I almost turn back, offer to take him bowling, or to the movies, or anywhere but to see the game. Because I can't believe what I am doing to him. It's almost a form of child abuse ...

A few weeks back, in his Curious Guy segment, Malcolm Gladwell said he thought he'd do a better job with the team than Isiah has done. Let me say this to Mr. Gladwell: You, sir, are one of the brightest men on the planet. Your toenails could do a better job than Isiah. But in truth, Isiah is not the biggest problem. Coach Brown is. This team was never going to be great. But his cranky, cantankerous bedside manner, his indecisiveness; his inability to make even the slightest adjustment to his methods ... it's bled the life out of the team. I was there at the home opener, cheering for him. Then I watched him keep the future of the team on the bench, pick fights with each and every one of his point guards, and use the press like Tom Hagen after the McCluskey hit. Except when Hagen did it, it worked.

My plan to save the Knicks: The coach needs to retire. The team needs to hire a coach who will use next year to find out what, exactly, Channing, Nate and David Lee have (and the way to find out is to PLAY them, every day). We need a GM who has some sort of understanding of the salary cap and the value of a draft pick, someone who won't bankrupt the future for a bankrupt present. We need a point guard who knows how to make the other guys better. We need, we need, we need ...

And here, Levien and I were having so much fun answering your questions, but then you had to go and bring up the Knicks. Can we be done now? Seriously, thanks. It's been great trading e-mails with you.

Simmons: And you guys as well -- hope you knock "Ocean's 13" out of the park. I'd wish you luck, but, well, you know ...

Bill Simmons writes two columns per week for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. You can reach his Sports Guy's World site here. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.