Friday, May 18, 2007

I've been waiting nearly a week for the chance to publish this post. On Monday, I got a call from the guy I go to for my Red Sox information. Thankfully, he didn't want to talk baseball. One of his closest friends from college was en route to the Meadowlands to watch Game Four of the Cavs Nets series. And that night, my Red Sox source wanted to talk basketball.

The two of us had gone to see Game Three and Game Four of the Celtics Nets Eastern Conference Finals Series back in 2002. We were there screaming ourselves hoarse during that epic comeback. He hasn't abandoned the Celtics during the shameful administration of Banner 17 and Danny Ainge, so he asked me an interesting question. His question: if I looked back to that series, who would I have projected to be a playoff team five years down the road?

I think most people would have gone with that Celtics team. They were young, athletic and they enjoyed playing as a unit. Essentially they were like this Celtics team, but with leaders and their players who had hit their developmental ceilings (Walker, Williams, Battie and Pierce) were to a man better than Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes and Delonte West, all of whom will never be as productive as they were this year. Think about the fact that this year's lottery selection will have to take minutes and touches and shots away from some one and tell me I'm wrong.

The Nets, on the other hand, weren't young (Kidd was a bit slower than he was in Dallas/Phoenix and legitimately rattled by fans like me reminding him that he had hauled off and punched his wife in the mouth), they weren't very athletic and their window was closing. Let's not forget that Kidd and Jefferson are the only members of that team contributing to the squad that just collapsed in the fourth quarter tonight (I can't exactly define what Jason Collins does on a basketball court, but I wouldn't call him a contributor).

And that brings us to the Nets of today. As you may have deduced, I still harbor a certain amount of personal animosity toward the Nets as a team. I may have had my affection for the Celtics wrested from me in the horrible, haunting episode that is the Walker for LaFrentz and Welsch trade (don't forget that the release of Telfair was one more in a long line of catastrophic effects from that mistake), but I have not been robbed of my hatreds stemming from my days as a Cs fan. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, I still cherish those hatreds.

Jason Kidd's decline has not been as fun as I had anticipated. He is obviously slower and his skills have deteriorated. Unfortunately, a true point guard in the NBA has essentially gone the way of the dodo. If people really understood basketball and were not hoping for a highlight reel of posterizing dunks, they'd know that Nash and Kidd are fortunate to play in this era.

If they played when guys like Oscar Robinson and Bob Cousy walked the Earth, no one would even give them a second look. It's just one of those things, like the fact that no one bothered to mention that Hank Aaron played in a canyon in Fulton County Stadium, or that the wall in straightaway center field in the house that Ruth built was 457 feet away when Ruth was in the process of building it. For all today's sports fans pretend that they know the history of sports, they have a superior command of the hydrodynamics of the Marianas Trench in late August of odd numbered years in which a Federalist was President of the US.

And then there's Vince Carter. His defining moment will always be the day he attended his college graduation and then flew to play the 76ers in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. I don't know what impact it would have had, had he stayed with the team and prepared for the game as he should have. I don't know that his ostensible commitment to education had any effect on his fan base. Maybe he made the right call, and for a few of my readers the fact that I think it was the wrong decision will absolve Vince Carter because I am almost always incorrect. Who knows?

I do know Vince has always played the game with an eye toward the audience. I will always believe that Vince Carter is more concerned with looking good than he is about winning games. Even when he mailed it in to force a trade out of Toronto, people were inclined to sympathize with him. The problem there is that only Jordan has (with apologies to St. Thomas More and the excellent film about him) been able to be the man for all seasons in the NBA. He's the only guy that could handle being the face of a team, the league, a dozen corporate sponsors and win while doing it.

Bird didn't really start doing major national campaigns until after 1986 when the Cs were slipping into mediocrity. Magic always had Kareem with him. Kobe had Shaq. Kobe is also an interesting case, because he didn't suffer through bad seasons and playoff catastrophes the way Jordan did. So people didn't empathize with him before he got to the pinnacle, and as such are little now that he's struggling.

And finally there is the most overrated "superstar" in recent memory, Richard Jefferson. If the media and casual fans were given to reflection on events as opposed to making immediate judgements and clinging to them in the face of all reason, I think they would look back and realize that Jefferson's status as a star is tenuous, at best. At worst, the Nets should have arranged for him to have been run over by a truck the day after the Celtics traded Antoine Walker and surrendered the division to them.

Jefferson's reputation stems from the fact that he owned Paul Pierce in the two playoff series the Nets played against Boston in 2002 and 2003. Some people might think that that is a tangible achievement, but I do not. Paul Pierce is a petulant crybaby. Slow him down, hold his jersey when he tries to come off a screen, get away with a hack on him, handcheck him and do that for a quarter, and he's done.

He'll spend the rest of the game whining to officials and rushing ill-advised shots with ample time remaining on the shot clock. Occasionally, he might lower his head and try a suicide charge on the basket in the face of 4 defenders for the sake of variety. And doing that will net him the 25 points he needs to pretend that he contributed to a team effort. That's what Jefferson did to him, and it took Pierce off his game enough that the Celtics lost each series to the Nets.

LeBron James was a different story. After this series, I think Jefferson should be morally obligated to carry LeBron's baggage for the rest of the playoffs. LeBron would have humiliated Jefferson if there were a reason for Richard Jefferson to feel pride in the first place. It was edifying and depressing to see, all at the same time. Good to see New Jersey exposed by a one man show Cavaliers team, and depressing to think that the Celtics should have been at this point had they not made a trade that atoned for the Joe Barry Carrol deal of 25 years ago.

I am not the only one who is not impressed by the "galaxy" of stars on the Nets. My friend up on the frozen tundra south of Portland emailed me to talk about the same thing. The two of us can see it, but will USA Basketball? If Team USA takes Kidd, Jefferson or Carter (to say nothing of any combination thereof), they'll be lucky to reach the medal round. These guys may command star treatment from a league that has no idea what it's doing at this point, but international officials don't know (and don't care who they are). Without that star treatment, they aren't even three average players.

1 comment:

demonicume said...

i disagree with your assessment of nash and Kidd. i dont know if you remember correctly, but those guys didnt have skills. sure, if you grade them according to the guys they played with, they were great. and on the curve scheme, these guys were great. but in reality, those guys didnt have half hr skill players do today. all you need to know about those old guys is dribbling skills. hey didnt have hem. i will never in my life believe that some flat-palm dribbling, non-cross over having player could play today. Pistol Pete was flashy and a phenomenon - but kids in the 5th grade can do every he did in slicker fashion. Little Romeo could out dribble ever player who played before Allen Iverson. if you recall, Jordan never took more than 3 consecutive dribbles with his left hand. Oscar robinson would have ad the ballripped as soon as he put it on the floor. Isiah Thomas and KJ pulled up Magic Johnson's skirt. these guy were fundamentally sound for their time, but there's no wy they could have played in todays age.

also, babe ruth was playing against tired arms. the rocket would get off the incline press and smoke 3 fast balls by this guy before he put his beer down.

our athletes are simply more talented today.