The Case for “LeBron to the Clippers” (No, Seriously.)

Don’t sleep on the new-look Clippers as a legitimate contender to sign the King this offseason. 

By Jake Sweltz

lbj-clips-lakers

It’s been widely reported that LeBron James’ son will be enrolling at Sierra Canyon High School just outside of Los Angeles.  Most verified basket-bloggers have taken this as evidence that LeBron plans to sign with the Lakers.  But I wouldn’t dismiss the other LA-based NBA franchise’s chances so easily.

Stop laughing.  That’s right, I’m talking about the friggin’ Clippers.  As a legitimate contender to sign LeBron this offseason.  To play basketball.  I said stop laughing.

To be clear, I fully acknowledge the inherent absurdity of a scenario in which LeBron actual James plays real NBA games in an official Clippers jersey.  But hear me out; there are a number of factors suggesting this scenario might be more than science fiction.

  1. PROPERTY RIGHTS: LeBron already owns two homes in LA.  If he signs with the Clippers, he can still make his move to Laker land without the pressure of living up to the Laker legacy held in place by the HOF’s who came before him.  LeBron is savvy, and he knows that losing to, say, the Kyrie-led Celtics in the Finals after becoming “the next great Laker” would ruin his reputation.
  2. GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE: The Jerry West factor is not to be taken lightly.  The Starters’ Trey Kerby mentioned that LeBron frequently brought up “basketball minds” during this latest playoff run.  The Logo is just the type of next-level basketball thinker LeBron could jibe with.  Plus, they already have a great relationship.
  3. EMPIRE STATE OF MIND: If LeBron wants to maintain a presence in the NBA after his basketball career is over as an owner or GM, he could eventually become the Magic Johnson of the Clippers.  And who knows?  He might even one day eclipse Johnson as a mogul.  Imagine, the once-pitiful Clippers, controlled by the most heinous racist owner in the league, now a proud contender in the West with the greatest player of his generation at the helm?  Sounds to me like a pretty sweet flip o’ the script.
  4. STAY FLEXIBLE: The Clippers have the 12th and 13th overall picks in this year’s draft, which they could theoretically package for an impact player or some other assets.  Their roster is composed of mutable entities like D’Andre Jordan and Tobias Harris, plus a ton of flotsam.  Can I interest you in a 2018-19 Clippers starting lineup that features LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Patrick Beverly?  And besides, wherever he signs, LeBron will most likely ink a short term contract, as he did in Cleveland.  That way, if the Clippers experiment doesn’t work out, he can always reset in 2020 with the Lakers or somewhere else for yet ANOTHER final act.  If history has taught us nothing else, it’s that LeBron James is virtually indestructible (“pretty much broken” hand aside).
  5. THE RAINMAKER: We all know LeBron is precious with his Narrative.  He knows if he can’t win more rings than MJ, he’ll have to tell a better story.  Bringing a title to this cursed Clipper franchise would cement his legacy as a franchise rainmaker, someone who could enter an NBA desert like the Cavs or the Clippers and turn them into a champion.
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Who Do We Blame for the KD Warriors?

Kevin-Durant-2

By Jake Sweltz

Kevin Durant joining GSW in 2016 was really good and cool for KD and the Warriors 😀

But it was really bad and not cool for most NBA fans 😦

By now, we all know where we stand on this issue, so let’s just move on to the million dollar question:

Who can we blame for all this?

Lots of people, it turns out!  Browsing the NBA blog-o-sphere in the weeks after KD and the Warriors won it all last year, I saw a surprising array of names floated as the Real Culprit.  Now that GSW are on the verge of going back-to-back, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the guiltiest and/or most interesting candidates.  Let’s explore them one by one:

KD JOINING THE WARRIORS…WHOSE FAULT WAS IT?!

  1. KD? (for joining the Warriors) I think he definitely deserves some of the blame here.  But it would be boring and inaccurate to lay it all at his size 18 feet.  What about…
  2. The Warriors? (for losing the 2016 Finals and actively recruiting KD) Between Klay slaying OKC, Draymond getting suspended, and Steph freezing up, there were a lot of ways the Warriors could have ended their 2016 season in a way that didn’t facilitate KD jumping ship to join them.  But ultimately, you can’t place a ton of blame on a team for signing an all-time great when they got the chance.  As usual, the most compelling narrative always comes back to…
  3. LeBron? (for setting a “Super Team” precedent w/ the Decision) The weirdest take I’ve seen catch on is that LeBron’s 2010 Decision was somehow equivalent or worse than KD’s turncoat act.  Sure, the Decision was an obnoxious, ill-advised publicity stunt.  But from a basketball perspective, LeBron still left some semblance of the NBA’s competitive balance intact.  KD stone cold murdered that shit.  Besides, blaming stuff on LeBron stopped being cool in 2014.  In 2018, it’s much cooler to blame stuff on…
  4. Russell Westbrook? (for hogging the ball so much in OKC that KD could no longer abide being his teammate) Durant more or less admitted to this when his burner accounts were outed last year.  If Westbrook passed the ball even 20% more often, maybe the Thunder would have won multiple titles.  But then he wouldn’t be Russ, and for NBA fans, that’s a worse fate.  Let’s move on to my personal favorite object of Arbitrary Internet Blame…
  5. Michelle Roberts? (for defeating the proposed cap smoothing that would have prevented GSW from being able to pay KD) Now you’re talking my language.  Nothing is more satisfyingly mind-numbing than when the Blame Game turns into THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT.  Let’s dig a little deeper down that rabbit hole…
  6. Adam Silver? (for not swooping in like Dikembe and blocking the shit out of the KD trade the second he caught wind of it) Where’s David Stern when you need him?  A few months after his promotion to commissioner, we were all singing Silver’s praises, but is it possible the NBA paved paradise and put up a parking lot?  Surely, he’s more blameworthy than…
  7. Sam Presti? (for trading James Harden and unwittingly killing in the crib a potential Super Team that could have preempted GSW)  The only person I saw make this argument was Bill Simmons, who also claims the Harden Trade swung the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal, the ’07 Writers’ Strike, and the O.J. Simpson trial.  Personally, I’d go back even further and blame…
  8. George Mikan? (for allowing the ABA to introduce the three point line in 1967) Obviously it will never happen, but I think the NBA should abandon the three point arc.  Now that the power of the three ball has been discovered and exploited, the style of play has become homogenous.  If every shot were worth two points again, it would promote a diversity of styles.  A team like GSW that shoots a high percentage from distance could still stretch the floor, but big man bully ball would also have a place in the league.  In the long term, that equals more fun for fans AND more employment opportunities for traditional big men.  Just a thought.  In the meantime, we haven’t yet mentioned…
  9. LaVar Ball? (he’s bad for the game, guys.  HE MUST BE STOPPED) Last year, when I wrote the first draft for this piece, LaVar was in the news like every week.  This year, he’s been mostly ignored as his start-up Junior Basketball Association struggles to generate ticket sales.  Is this his karmic punishment for secretly orchestrating the infamous meeting in the Hamptons between Durant and the Warriors that led to his signing with Golden State?!?  No, almost certainly not.  But what about…
  10. Donald Trump? (this would never have happened in Obama’s America) I dunno, it just feels like he should take some heat for this.  And while we’re at it, let’s throw some dirt on…
  11. James Naismith? (for inventing basketball, laying the groundwork for eventual domination by GSW) Hard to argue with that logic, right?  And finally, for your consideration as the One True Arbiter of the KD Warriors…
  12. Keyzer Soze? (“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”)  You can’t fool me, Soze.  I always knew you were behind this.

 

Some Questions Re: Championship DNA

By Jake Sweltz

During game 4 of the NBA Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, Reggie Miller commented that Trevor Ariza was the only player on the Rockets with “Championship DNA.”  I have a few questions.

How is Championship DNA measured?

Are you born with Championship DNA?  Or do you acquire it by winning a championship?

Does everyone who wins a championship have Championship DNA?  Does Mario Chalmers have Championship DNA?

Is Championship DNA transferable?  That is to say, if you have Championship DNA, are teams that you play for in the future more likely to win a championship?  Or do championship-winning teams only consist of players who were born with Championship DNA?

Does every team that’s loaded top to bottom with Championship DNA win a championship?  What if two (or more) teams have the exact same amount of Championship DNA?

What if everyone on the roster has Championship DNA, except for one player?  Does his/her lack of Championship DNA prevent potential championship-winning teams from winning a championship?

Is Championship DNA permanent?  Is it possible to be dispossessed of Championship DNA, and if so, what sort of atrocious sin against the sport would it take for that to happen?

Does Phil Jackson still have Championship DNA?  What about Derek Jeter?

Is there somewhere I can buy Championship DNA online?  What conditions would be required for Championship DNA to be stored and shipped through the mail internationally?

Does Championship DNA have to be refrigerated?

Is George R.R. Martin Rewriting The Winds of Winter?

HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Panel And Q&A - Comic-Con International 2014

By Jake Sweltz

Waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish writing The Winds of Winter has begun to feel a bit like waiting for Tiger Woods to return to pro golf dominance.  At first we assumed it was only a matter of time, but time has a way of eating away at inspiration.

Confession: I’ve never met GRRM IRL.  I’ve never even read any of his books.  But I have a depressing theory about why he’s taking so long with The Winds of Winter.

I’m worried that since everyone sniffed out the whole “R + L = J” thing*, Martin might have been tempted to change the direction of the narrative.  I’m worried that he’s decided to tamper with his vision in order to stay ahead of his fans.

*For the uninitiated, “R + L = J” is a widely accepted theory explaining and predicting a number of important plot points relating to A Song of Ice and Fire.

This might partly explain the long delay.  Maybe he scrapped certain portions of the story and started from scratch after realizing that hordes of voracious readers had not only solved the mystery of Jon’s parentage, but had actually projected his endgame for the entire series.

With its upcoming season, HBO’s Game of Thrones will finally eclipse A Song of Ice and Fire as the primary medium through which Martin’s story is unfolding.  That is remarkable.  Think about it: this is a saga that started in one century as a fringe-genre book series and will finish in another as a mega-popular television phenomenon.  As far as cultural events go, that’s total solar eclipse-level.  We’ve never seen anything like it.

Part of the show’s success has been its fans’ unwavering trust in the storytellers’ ability to tell the story.  I don’t want to see that beautifully constructed story mangled just because we kind-of-sort-of already figured it out.  As a writer, GRRM has always had an inclination toward devastating plot twists.  Compromising his original vision in the name of surprise would be the most tragic of all.

A Well Respected Man: How Randy Wittman Got Fired and Still Won

Wittman

By Jake Sweltz

Once upon a time, Randy Wittman was an NBA punchline.  A year and a half ago, before he unleashed Paul Pierce at power forward and won a playoff series, Wittman had come to symbolize Washington’s stubborn commitment to goodness over greatness.  Man, that backcourt is something special, but they need a real coach! 

Fast forward to April 14, 2016.  The Wizards finally announce they’ve dismissed head coach Randy Wittman.  The move was expected for weeks; Beal’s been hurt, the team has looked disinterested, and in any case, management wants to hire Scotty Brooks in a feeble attempt to lure KD to D.C.  Everyone agrees Wittman is basically a scape goat for a lost season rather than a mediocre coach who probably should have been canned two years earlier.  In the meantime, Randy racked up enough wins to become (statistically) one of the “most successful coaches in Wizards history.”

I’d say that’s a pretty favorable development for the Wittman narrative.  And he deserves it!  Sure, he was never going to be Phil Jackson, but he established a coherent (if somewhat conservative) culture and style of play in Wizard world.  As Wall developed and Beal struggled with injuries, Wittman dutifully steered the ship.  He whipped the team into good enough shape for the media to start complaining that he wasn’t “elite” enough to lead them in the playoffs, and pretty soon he was popping up on Vine (which, unless you’re Jay Wright, is never a good look for a basketball coach).

Beating Toronto last year helped a bit, but the rap on Wittman had always been that he was out of his depth.  That’s probably as true today as it ever was, but this listless Wizards season has shifted the blame for Washington’s dysfunction way beyond Wittman.

Go figure that after his worst season in three years, Randy’s rep might actually be in better shape than ever.

Robin Williams: Icon of 90’s Kids’ Cinema

By Jake Sweltz

jumanji_03_alan

For a guy with one of the most distinctive comedic shticks in recent memory, Robin Williams built a body of work that, in retrospect, looks pretty fucking dynamic.  Most people old enough to have witnessed his entire career might best remember him for his zany, coke-sweat soaked breakout role on Mork & Mindy.  Or perhaps they might think of his soulful turns in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting.  A few might even reflect on the surreality of his darkest work, where his unique persona was either mined for misanthropy (Death to Smoochy, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) or folded inward to create a kind of ominous calm (Insomnia, One Hour Photo).

But for late 80’s/early 90’s babies like myself, Robin Williams’ legacy is obvious.  He was Mrs. Doubtfire.  He was young Alan Parrish in Jumanji, Peter Pan in Hook, quirky Prof. Philip Brainard in Flubber.  He was the motherfucking GENIE IN ALADDIN.  Robin Williams had an extensive and versatile career, but for me and countless others my age, he’ll be remembered first and foremost as a goddamn HERO of classic 90’s kids’ cinema.

Whatever personal demons he struggled with throughout his life, Williams never seemed very interested in exploring them onscreen, and for that I’m thankful.  In many ways, he was the perfect kids’ movie star.  Generous and compassionate, goofy and animated, obviously adult-aged and yet equally-as-obviously a complete adolescent.  Underneath all that hair, he was unquestionably one of us, and that’s what made him a natural fit for kids’ flicks (not to mention roles where he played an adult who was actually a kid, or vice versa).

For how troubled a life Williams led and for all the darkness inside of him, it’s kind of a marvel that unlike so many other depressive comedians before him, his performances were never caustic.  On the contrary, he showered audiences with such joy, exuded so much warmth and positive energy, it’s as though he was physically incapable of keeping any for himself.

Anyway, here’s to Robin Williams, the Marlon Brando of Generation Y’s candy-fueled formative years.  Big ups to the Genie; REST IN PEACE, BIG BLUE.

R.I.P. Phoenix Suns (2013-2014) – Eulogizing the NBA’s Motliest Crew

By Jake Sweltz

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“It’s better to burn out than to fade away…”

It was Neil Young who wrote those words, and Kurt Cobain who infamously commandeered them, but neither figure could shred like the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns.

Alas, the Suns have finally set in the West.  Their playoff hopes were extinguished by the Memphis Grizzlies at US Airways Center on Monday, as the team lost 97-91 in a game that saw 15 fourth quarter lead changes.  Phoenix went down early; the Grizzlies had a 13-point advantage with three minutes to go in the first half.  Then, just as they had all year long, the Suns scrapped back, and by the final quarter, the score was tied at 67.

Phoenix’s resistance was glorious, but ultimately futile.  Just as in its previous two games (each almost equally as crucial), they were narrowly out-dueled in the final minute, capping their epic season-ending trilogy of tragedy.

But let’s not dwell on the sad times.  We’re not here to mourn how the Suns died.  We’re here to celebrate how they lived.

Two weeks ago, there were three bubble teams clawing for the last two playoff seeds in the most loaded conference in years:

(1) The Memphis Grizzlies.  A team that won 56 games and made the Western Conference Finals just last year and that has made no major roster changes except adding a bench guy who can actually shoot (Mike Miller).  A team with an elite defense that features one of the league’s most skilled two-way big men in Marc Gasol.  Not to mention the indomitable Zach Randolph, somehow averaging a double-double from deep under the Earth’s crust.  A franchise widely recognized and respected as a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

(2) The Dallas Mavericks.  A grizzled squad of battle-tested sharp shooters and savvy veterans.  Plus Monta Ellis, who actually posted great efficiency numbers and blossomed into a top two-guard.  A team with perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki still shooting the same percentages he did at 30, still climbing the all-time scoring ladder with the same frightening speed, and still sinking unguardable fadeaways in the grills of flummoxed forwards on a nightly basis.  A group helmed by long-time basketball guru and noted Carrey-lookalike Rick Carlisle.  A franchise with one of the strongest cultures in the NBA, a smart owner, and a history of success.

(3) The Phoenix Suns?  The team that traded its starting center a week before the season began?  The squad that lost its starting point guard and prize offseason acquisition for 40 games?  The franchise that hired a rookie coach and signed an arsenal of anonymous three-point bombing strangers?  The team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the days when Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire were more than just walking (painfully lurching?) contracts?  The team that Vegas projected to win 19 games and contend for nothing except the top draft pick?  Those Phoenix Suns?

If you asked any reasonable NBA fan before the season which of those three teams would get squeezed out, is there any doubt who they’d pick?  So sure, at the end of the day, the Suns did eventually set in the West.  Maybe that’s just nature taking its course, but honestly, what sounds natural about a roster consisting of the following characters:

Eric “the Bled-Show” Bledsoe

bledsoe

The six foot ninja with speed like Sonic the Hedgehog and athleticism that has been compared to LeBron James.  Bledsoe turned heads last year as the backup point guard for the Clippers after Chris Paul went down, but there was widespread skepticism around the league that he could match the value of a real franchise player.  Over time, that might prove true, but as long as he keeps slicing up guards and blocking the shit out of 6’11” dudes, he’s worth every penny on highlight credit alone.

Goran “the Dragon” Dragic

goran

The skinny Slovenian with the ever-pubescent crustache and the on-court approach of a highly caffeinated coyote.  In a league chock full of talented point guards, Dragic has flown under the radar for several years, and now he’s getting national attention as an All-NBA candidate.  His always-effective, super-funky Euro slash and kick game reached a new level this season.  As Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry pointed out, Dragic is third in the league in creating corner three opportunities, behind only LeBron James and John Wall, two of the league’s biggest franchise cornerstones.  As ambiguous as the criteria for Most Improved Player is, it seems pretty obvious that Dragic should be a leading candidate to take home that hardware.

Miles “the Plum” Plumlee 

plumsThe overlooked big man who you don’t take seriously until you actually watch him play a couple games and realize he’s just busting his freaking ass out there.  He’s averaging eight points and eight boards, which is beyond good for guy who didn’t see a single significant minute off the bench in Indiana.  But in a way, stats are besides the point.  This piece of Luis Scola trade driftwood turned out solid as an oak tree, and that’s all his team needed.

Gerald “Lean, Mean” Green

gerald

The buzzer-beating, gravity-defying, mean-mugging Super Mario of the NBA.  The player most likely to actually be an NBA Jam avatar magically wished to life.  A guy who bounced around in and out of the league for years, who was playing in Russia and seemed destined to wash out as an über athletic afterthought before finding a home in Phoenix.  He started out with the Celtics as a physical freak of nature who just couldn’t grasp the nuances of the pro game.  Over time, he honed his skills, but was still known mostly as a one-dimensional dunker until he started putting up scorching numbers for the Suns during Bledsoe’s injury.  He evens out as a reliable spark plug off the bench, but if you give him a lane, he’ll still swallow your soul.

The Morris Twins

twins

The butt of countless jokes before the season about symbolizing the arbitrary gimmickry of Phoenix’s roster, Marcus and Markieff both ended up having career years, with Markieff in the running for several NBA awards, including Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved.  (But, then again, you could make a case for virtually every player on this Suns squad for the latter.)

And that’s before even getting to guys like Channing Frye, PJ Tucker, and Ish Smith.  Seriously, right when you think this Phoenix team can’t get any more fun, you remember that they have dudes named Channing, PJ, and Ish.  Is it too late to add the Suns to my Coolest NBA Roll Call list?

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the man behind the clipboard, first-year coach and cheek-rubbing enthusiast Jeff Hornacek.  The man took a roster of young unknowns, low-radar journeymen, underwhelming role players, and no starting center, and he turned it into literally the winningest regular season team ever to miss the playoffs.  It’s often hard to parse how much influence a coach truly has on the success of his team, but in this case there can be no doubt.  Virtually every player on this roster ended up outperforming their career averages by some significant measure.  Hornacek is, to me, the most obvious and deserving choice for Coach of the Year, and despite the number of worthy candidates this season (S/O to Thibodeau, Carlisle, Popovich, and Stotts) I suspect he’ll win it.  After all, Phoenix was the feel-good story of the season all year long; absolutely everybody loved this Suns team: fans, media, players, everybody.

And that’s really the thing I’ll miss the most about this year’s squad.  The damn near universal adoration for this unlikely team of lovable misfits that succeeded despite the odds.  Which is what delineates these gratifying underdog stories, right?  The odds?  Because once a long shot beats the odds, they’re not a long shot anymore.  They lose the very essence of what made them special in the first place.

Next year, the Suns won’t be the league’s goofy Slumdog Millionaire, plundering victories from established contenders.  They’ll be one of those established contenders, and that means they’ll have to deal with all the not-so-fun baggage that being an emergent competitor entails.  “Can Eric Bledsoe make the next leap?”  “Will Hornacek get fired if they don’t make the playoffs?”  “You know, Miles Plumlee isn’t the long-term answer at center.”  “Does this team need to trade for another superstar?”  And so on.

There’s no doubt that after this season, the Phoenix Suns are in a better place.  And yet, I still can’t help but shed a tear for the loss of their childlike spirit.  Liberated from the burden of competitive expectations, the Suns were free to spread their wings and fly the way they wanted.  Because a team that’s not weighed down is a team that might soar highest.

dunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God bless the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns.

Shine on you crazy diamonds.

 

(all images courtesy of Google Search)