A few observations from the All-Star weekend and some other negative remarks on league related issues with less than 30 games to play.
-For the past seven years I tuned in for the NBA all-star game hoping for a basketball game to break out. Instead, I end up sitting through a mixture of a bad Harlem Globetrotters impression and one of these street ball mix tapes (but without the actual skills). How hard is it for the supposedly best players in the world to put together 15-20 minutes of solid all-around performance, playing “real” basketball, instead of the bad circus act that got people dozing off by the second quarter? Well maybe David Stern is right when he keeps repeating “The all-star weekend is a celebration of the game”, if by a celebration he means a reflection of what the NBA has morphed into on: A nice “show” at times, and a “popular” product molded into a pseudo-basketball format.
-The tone of the game was set immediately after the tip-off. The first three possessions made it obvious that “Nope, there won’t be a basketball game this year, not when the game is in Vegas and the players (according to eye witnesses) are moving like they are either high, hung-over or both). Two minutes after LeBron James announced: “Buckle up and enjoy the ride” the players, the people watching at home, and even puff-daddy and Jay-Z on the sidelines were looking at each other like “is it over yet ? This is really boring”.
-Judging by recent games, even when the players are showing complete disinterest, there is always the potential that the last 5-7 minutes could bring some seriousness and excitement in case the game is still close. There would be a “crunch time” line-up, some attempts to play defense, some “pride” on the line ….Nope, not this year. The East trailed by twenty points early, and despite that, they kept on tossing alley-oops in the stands, taking quick impossible three-point shots, and miss exaggerated dunks. (How great was going to be if LeBron actually got hurt on that missed dunk?).
-Speaking of LeBron (prematurely-crowned) James, he is easily becoming an average star player in the mold of Vince Carter at best (when was the last time one heard “Vince Carter is taking over the game and carrying his team”). Here is what Bill Simmons wrote in his latest column , proving what we’ve noticed: “After talking to four different NBA connected people: LeBron isn't playing nearly as hard as he did last season; it looks like his only goal right now is to get his coach fired; he's regressing as a basketball player (especially his passing skills and his shot selection);…. he has an overrated sense of his own worth and his own impact in the sports world (as witnessed by the ESPN interview last week when he answered the "What are your goals?" question with two words: "Global icon")…”. Just listen to one of his post game interviews, especially one of those after he misses 15 free throws in a loss and you me get a feel of his current situation.
-You know it was a bad night when the highlight of the game is Shaq kissing T-Mac’s head after McGrady just stood there watching Shaq trying to dunk the ball for the third time after two uncontested misses. Speaking of the “Most overrated center in the history of the game”, he really looked embarrassing in the game. Now that he has lost his patented (butt push-off followed by the elbow to the chest dunk combo) and he lost the protection of the referees who (as usual) give preferential treatment to the league main attractions (recall that at that point Shaq was the only huge superstar in the league (maybe along with Allen Iverson)), it is got to a point where Mehmet Okur is more than enough to neutralize him. This year Shaq played in 13 games, and is averaging 13.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. I cannot say I enjoyed the Shaq era.
-The rookie-sophomore challenge game was equally pathetic but it was definitely more enjoyable. It was only two halves with no unnecessary stoppages (one TV timeout per half). The whole thing took less than an hour and half. The sophomores kept pushing the ball on every single possession with Chris Paul (who was fun to watch) and Deron Williams. The rookie class looked clueless and had no idea how to manage the embarrassment they were subjected to (maybe a little defense and “basketball” could have helped), so they continued to palm the ball around and miss alley-oops and. I enjoyed taking a look at David Lee, Monte Ellis, and even Paul Millsap (
-The local daily newspaper Al-Ghad ran an impressive pre-All-Star set of articles with features on the history on the game and the participating players (Of course without mentioning the name of the writer or the source!). However they put a big emphasis on the All-Star MVP winner which is a very insignificant prize that usually goes to a player from the host city, or to a player whom the coach decided to play more than the other ones. Kobe Bryant winning this year award is supposed to be the official announcement that the image-rehabbing process he went through is successfully over. Within two years Bryant goes from an adulterer, anal-rapist, a whining malcontent who is impossible to coach (according to the book his coach wrote), a selfish ball-hog who does not respect his teammates and who has not won a playoffs serious since Shaq left, to become a team player who makes his teammates better and gets everyone involved, the best player in the league, regains a lot of his lost endorsements and wins the All-star MVP, and all that because he averages five less shots per game than last year, and his team has a .545 winning percentage. Good luck against the Suns or the Spurs in the playoffs.
-The Dunk contest has to be put to sleep. (A plea that has been floating around for the past 5 years, or since Vince Carter officially killed it for good). Until someone manages to do a 720 dunk (Yup, it could be done) or takes off from the three point line (The dynamics analysis of projectile motion may be able to examine its possibility) there is nothing new. Tyrus Thomas kept his promise and did “whatever”. Nate Robinson did not need to show up again (especially that Andre Iguodala and his behind the board dunk was more deserving to win it last year). Gerald Green impression of Dee Brown was nice but even his final dunk was nothing beyond the ordinary. (Greens best dunk remains this one). Now, big men does not usually do well in this contest, but if you manage to come up with an idea that gets an instant nickname, you deserve to at least make it to the next round and Dwight Howard’s “sticker dunk” was just that.
-Charles Barkley is one of my favorite basketball players ever. He proved that being undersized does not prevent a player from being a powerful inside presence. At 6-5 he played with power and determination and dominated the boards. Even now he is insightful and funny an NBA analyst and his race with referee Dick Bavetta was a highlight of the weekend. He made it clear that “he is not a role model”, but he still needs to quit with that bragging-about-gambling stuff. Yeah he can afford it and he is not killing himself despite losing about $50 million, but having such a problem is nothing to brag about. As a candid voice who is quick to give his two-cents on everything and who is aware of the black community poverty problems, losing millions on the blackjack table is nothing to be proud of. Also, since he is still closely involved with the NBA and its players, how can you convince the casual outsider that this guy is not gambling on basketball games and maybe manipulating their outcome (as farfetched as this possibility is)!
-And from the world of the obvious:
Playoffs bubble: A team that misses the NBA playoffs is a team with big problems. With less than two months to go the only teams that have less than 20 wins are
Surprise team: In a desperate attempt to change the negativity attitude here let’s give the Toronto Raptors some credit. A 0.537 winning percentage in the East is not a sign that they will win a championship any time soon, but they are leading their division (again nothing to be over joyous about), they won a total of 27 games last year (they already have 29 wins), and they have a nice young group. Chris Bosh is a superstar. The number one draft pick Andrea Bargnani looks like a successful pick, and the addition of Juan Dixon for Fred Jones (the highlight deal of the trading deadline) gives them another outside shooter. Just keep in mind that someone named Anthony Parker (out of the league since 2000) is their starting shooting guard.
Most regressed player: Between being bothered by injuries, distracted by fame and losing interest, Andrei Kirilenko went from being the do it all player to a fill-in. Numbers wise he went from (15-8.0-4-3) to (9-5-3-2).
Underachieving team: the L.A. Clippers have the same group of players that made it to the playoffs last year. Watching their Tuesday game against the Suns they seemed disinterested and simply going through the motions.
Worst off-season signing:
Best player who is not a leader: Gilbert Arenas is scoring a ton of points (with very few assists (how is he a point guard!), calling himself nicknames, calling out teams and threatening to drop 50 points on them (then goes out and scores 9). Good player, but if your own coach is calling out your act (especially questioning your team’s strategy by focusing on defense, which your team does not know how to play anyway), and then your coach complains that without Antawn Jamison the team has no leadership, then you are simply the latest version of Stephon Marburay or Steve Francis.
Random Thought: The other day I found a Denver-San Antonio game in its third quarter. The network shows a display at the bottom of the screen that read: “Currently on the floor: Blake, Diawara, Kleiza, Smith, Evans”, and then I thought: “Yup, looks like a playoffs team to me”. But seriously, Steve Blake! Anthony Parker thinks the league is so diluted with players that do not belong.