Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lamar Odom's Alter-Ego

For fun, let's revise history. The Chicago Bulls decide they've had enough of Michael Jordan and they trade him to the Knicks. Jordan is bitter about it. Do you know what Jordan does the first time he faces his old team? Do you know what he does every subsequent time the Knicks play the Bulls? He, of course, drops 60 on them. He punishes them. He shows them that they shouldn't have dealt him.

Lamar Odom was bitter about being dealt from the Lakers to the Mavs. Wednesday night was yet another opportunity for Odom to show his old team that they made a mistake. How did he respond? Did he pull a Jordan on them?

Odom dropped one point on his old club. One.

The first time he faced them this season, he went 4 for 12. The next time the Lakers popped up on the schedule, Odom went AWOL. This latest game, he went for 1 point, 1 rebound, and 1 assist (in 24 minutes!). You can't make this stuff up. That was his line. 1-1-1.

Odom had a chance to pull a Jordan on his old team. Instead, he pulled a Cindy Brady--he ran up to his room and sulked, waiting for Marsha or Jan to comfort him. In this case, the roles of Marsha and Jan are being played by Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle.

Cuban and Carlisle have always struck me as no-nonsense guys. So why are they putting up with the epitome of nonsense in Lamar Odom? I don't have the answer. It's a mystery to me. There are, however, a few theories that may explain their odd actions:

1. Cuban doesn't want to upset Odom's agent, Jeff Schwartz, who also happens to be the agent for Deron Williams. In other words, they are doing what they've denied doing all season, which is sacrificing this year for next year. Keep giving Odom 20-25 minutes a night, even though he is sucking balls, and keep bending over backwards to please him in order to not piss off his agent. Part of me understands that, while part of me wonders how someone as proud as Cuban could stand to do that.

Part of me also wonders how Jimmy Johnson would have handled a situation like that. Imagine Jerry going to Jimmy and telling him to keep playing a bad player because they need to do business with the bad player's agent down the road. What would Jimmy do? He would look at Jerry and say "F*** that! We're trying to DEFEND A CHAMPIONSHIP here, and he's getting in the way!" Why won't Rick Carlisle take the same approach? When Odom rejoined the team on March 3rd, Carlisle said "we need a pants-on-fire effort from him every night." Instead, Odom has given Dallas a crap-in-his-pants effort each night, yet Carlisle seems OK with it. Bizarre.

2. Injuries. If it's not Haywood, it's Marion. If it's not Marion, it's Dirk. If it's not Dirk, it's Wright. The Dallas front line has had to deal with a bunch of aches and pains this season, and so Odom has to play because they need bodies. But, at some point, doesn't Brian Cardinal look like a better option? Wouldn't Cardinal, or anyone else, give you more effort than Odom? Wouldn't it send a better message to the team than continuing to give big minutes to a guy who obviously doesn't want to be here?

3. Hope. Cuban and Carlisle realize they are long-shots to repeat. Perhaps their best chance to go back-to-back is if Odom can somehow snap out of his funk. Good luck with that.

Last Monday against Denver, Odom grabbed 9 rebounds. It was the first time this season he finished a game with 9 rebounds, which is what he averaged last year, and what he has averaged for his career. Since returning from his "leave of absence" and since his re-dedication to the team, he is shooting 29% from the field (22 of 74), which is worse than before his "leave." Again, you can't make this stuff up.

Maybe it all goes back to reality television. Maybe Cuban and Carlisle like Season Two of "Khloe and Lamar" so much that they're star struck, and they think that Lamar can do no wrong. It's a crazy thought, but then again, this entire soap opera has been crazy. And sadly, it's become one of the main story lines for a the defending champs. The Mavs should be locked-in on validating their 2011 title. Instead, they're having to waste time and energy babysitting Cindy Brady.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The NBA of Not-Quites

As I was watching the NBA All-Star Game last month, something dawned on me. Are we witnessing a rare time in the history of the league? Have we ever had a period in the game when we were devoid of a player that we consider to be the best-ever at their position? Is this era of the NBA Not-Quites?

It was easier to be the best-ever at your position in the first 20-30 years of the league. During the 50's and 60's, George Mikan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were all, at one time during their careers, considered the best center to have ever played the game. Kareem carried that argument through the 70's. In the 80's, Magic Johnson succeeded Bob Cousy as the best point guard ever, and Larry Bird succeeded Dr. J, who succeeded Elgin Baylor, as the best small forward of all-time. In the 90's, Michael Jordan succeeded Jerry West as the best shooting guard ever. Recently, in the 00’s, Tim Duncan succeeded Karl Malone, who succeeded Bob Pettit, as the best power forward in league history. But what about today? What about players who are currently operating in their prime--are any of them the best we’ve ever seen at their position?

Here are the best in the game today, and I can’t make an argument for any of them succeeding any of the guys listed above:

Dwight Howard The game’s best center is nowhere close to being the best center of all-time. He would fall somewhere behind Wilt, Russell, Kareem, Shaq, Hakeem, Moses, and maybe a few others. Have we ever experienced an era so weak at the center position?

Kobe Bryant This is close, but again, a not-quite. Kobe is the best shooting guard of his generation, and he’s the closest thing to Jordan that we may ever see. But he’s not Jordan. He carries himself like Jordan, he’s about the exact same size as Jordan, he can do just about everything that Jordan could do, but he’s not quite Jordan.

LeBron James With a few titles, it’s possible that we will one day rank LeBron as the greatest small forward ever. But he needs those titles. If anyone defines the era of the “Not-Quites,” it’s LeBron. He’s a sensational player, but the bar has been raised so high for him that nothing short of multiple titles will satisfy those who want to keep him ranked historically behind Bird.

Dirk Nowitzki Dirk is, as we all know, a legendary player, but an odd case. He’s not really a small forward, and not really a power forward. He’s a 3 1/2. If we were to create a new position, the small/power forward, he would certainly be the best to ever play that spot. But I put him in the not-quite category because of the guy he’s always compared to: Larry Bird. We’ve always heard that Dirk is this generation’s Bird (I don’t think the two are that similar, as I’ve stated before--observers tend to compare them because they are each white, blonde, and deadly outside shooters, yet after that, there are precious few similarities between them). Like Kobe is not quite Mike, Dirk is not quite Larry. Likewise, Dirk would not rank as the top power forward of all-time ahead of Duncan, whose four rings, three Finals MVP’s and two regular season MVP’s trump Dirk’s one, one and one.

Dwayne Wade Another player who is truly great, but not anywhere close to being the greatest. He’ll probably rank among the three or four best shooting guards of all-time by the end of his career, but he’ll never be Jordan--and after the ’06 Finals, we thought he might come close. But that hasn’t happened.

Kevin Durant I love Durant. I really love him. But he’ll never be considered the best small forward (or, to some, big guard) ever. Right now, he’s most often compared to George Gervin (a small forward-turned big guard), but at this early stage of his career, he’s not quite the Iceman. Durant has won two scoring titles, with a career-best 30.1 average in ’09-’10. Gervin won four scoring titles, with a career-best 33.1 average in ’79-’80 (and a 32.3 average two seasons later). Neither are close to being Jordan, and, for now, Durant is not quite Gervin.

Today’s Point Guards We have a slew of fine point guards in the NBA right now: Paul, Rose, Westbrook, Williams, Wall, Parker, Nash, Irving and more. It’s currently the richest position in the league. But none of them are anywhere close to Magic. Rose has a chance to rank among the five best points ever, but he’s got a long way to go--and I never see him ranking ahead of Earvin.

I'm not trying to run down the league, or it's current group of stars. This is an exciting time to be an NBA fan. Attendance and TV ratings are up, despite the lockout. An infusion of exciting, young talent has energized the league. Things are good on many fronts--yet, for the first time in the 66 year history of The Association, we are not watching a player who is the greatest at their position.

Editor’s (in this case, the same as Author’s) note: We forgot about Jeremy Lin! He is not only the greatest point guard ever, he’s the greatest player ever. Please ignore the above blog post.)