That’s That

Wow. Warriors in five games. If only somebody had warned us that the series would be over so qui— oh I did predict? Well I’ll be damned (feigns humility for brief second before continuing), maybe it was just a lucky guess. Or maybe it was just as simple as adding Kevin Durant and subtracting Harrison Barnes.

People forget that the Warriors came within a minute of repeating as champions last year with Harrison Barnes as their starting small forward no Andrew Bogut to clog the middle of the paint. Although the Warriors couldn’t quite replace Bogut this year, they made a significant upgrade at the 3 position. Golden State didn’t even need KD to perform as scintillating as he was against the Cavs, they just needed him to play better than Harrison Barnes (who may actually have turned out to be the biggest loser in this whole saga–you know if making 94 million dollars is considered losing).

Except for ill timed rashes of mental lapses, the Cavaliers actually played decent defense this series. While the occasional mental lapse may not hurt Lebron and co. against teams like Toronto, Indiana, or Boston, it only takes a couple of poor possessions for a 4 point deficit to become a double digit lead against the Warriors. The margin of error against them is extremely thin.

Lebron is the best basketball player I have ever seen, but he is a terrible general manager. Remember his first tour of duty with the Cavs when he said that forward J.J. Hickson was not an expendable piece around the trading deadline? Then shortly after that he had to have an over the hill Antawn Jamison on his squad. Right before he left Miami, he lobbied for the Heat to draft Shabazz Napier at the point guard position. This time around he leveraged his power to make Cleveland sign Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson to huge contracts.

Now Tristan Thompson (who only pulled down 8 rebounds last night) would probably have commanded that kind of money eventually, being one of the few legitimate 7-footers left in the league, but Kevin Love did not play like a max contract player in this series. In fact, we may have seen the last of Kevin Love in a Cavaliers uniform. In a must win game, the guy takes only eight shots–missing three free throws and scoring only 6 points in the process. His plus/minus ratio was a -23 when he was on the court, and only three of his ten rebounds were on the offensive glass.

J.R. Smith surprised me this series. He had two stinkers in games 1 and 2 in Oakland, but managed to rebound and play well the last 3 games. Last night he put in 25 points on 9 for 11 shooting.  Still, the Cavaliers are going to need more wing players who defend to even have a chance in next year’s Finals (against either Golden State or San Antonio).

Cleveland’s biggest personnel problems stem from having too many one way specialist on the court. Though Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Kevin Love can add a little life to the offense, none of those guys can defend.

Isn’t it too bad that Andrew Wiggins begged for Cleveland to trade him because he didn’t think Lebron could help him be a better player? Wait. That’s not what happened? Oh well, its not like he was a wing who could score a little bit right? Oh he does have some offensive skills? Well, even if he can score, its not like he can defend. What’s that you say? He’s an elite defender at his position? Fuck outta here! I’m not tryna hear that. Lebron wouldn’t push for the team to trade a guy like that now would he? WOULD HE? Yea I didn’t think so either.

All you have to do is compare the Cavaliers’ bench production to the Warriors’ and you will see where this series was lost. 7 points from their bench last night and we didn’t see much of Channing Frye, or Derrick Williams. Backup point guard, Deron Williams, is beyond washed. I bet he gives his retirement papers to the league by Friday.

Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala played consistently well–better than anyone on Cleveland’s bench (Iguodala had a +60 rating for the entire Finals). Javale McGee had moderate success the first 2 games, and he and the rest of the second unit contributed just enough to make Cleveland feel it. Tyronn Lue had no one he could bring off the bench and have any kind of impact defensively. Lebron averaged 42 minutes a game this final round; logging 46 minutes total last night.

Kevin Durant put on such a beautiful display of dominance that Draymond Green’s own inconsistent performance was overshadowed; coming nowhere close to how he played in game 7 of last year’s instant classic.

 

It is understandable that many people found this season to be unsatisfactory. No one was able to match the beautiful basketball on display up in Oakland, and the only team that could come close to competing had its hopes dashed by an overzealous Georgian. Despite what you might hear, the Spurs were in fact, the second best team in the NBA. I don’t expect much to change for next year. Washington is two moves away from me taking them seriously, so they loom in the background as a potential troublemaker.

I’m extremely curious to see if a) the Celtics finally use their chess pieces to put a championship team together next season and b) who the Cavs bring back next year.

Outside of Lebron, I think everybody can be had at a price. As outstanding as Kyrie Irving is, I don’t think he is the right guy for the kind of offense that can beat Golden State. Before you start tweeting me, take a second and think about how much more deadly Kevin Love would be if Mike Conley or John Wall were running that offense. Kyrie doesn’t get his teammates involved easily, and typically passes when its his only option.

I’m sure second best doesn’t sit too well with James, so something will have to be done to at least give the appearance that maybe they can beat Golden State four times in a series.

We still don’t know if this is the beginning of a dominant era for the Warriors or just a vacuum, but we’ll soon find out this off-season. Shaun Livingston and Stephen Curry will be free agents and we’ll likely see a few new faces on the roster next season. The beauty of the off-season is that up until next season’s tip, all 30 teams have a legitimate chance at being champions. Maybe things won’t be as predictable as they were this season, but I highly doubt it.

 

BM

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

Delayed Gratification

Before we get into this year’s highly anticipated NBA Finals. I’d like to give a shout out to the Boston Celtics and San Antonio for having successful seasons. Although I think the Celtics didn’t work hard enough to get Demarcus Cousins or Jimmy Butler on the team this year, I’m not so sure that would have been worth two more wins in this year’s conference finals. I am curious if they are going to run it back with the addition of another young lottery pick are trade their number one pick for some vet pieces to help Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say they overachieved this year with their current roster. Whatever Danny Ainge decides to do this off-season, it will be tough to mess this off-season up for the Celtics. They have a lot of good options.

The Spurs will have a challenging off-season themselves, as there are a few questions that must be answered for them to sustain their run of excellence for the next few seasons. Though it seems like Dejounte Murray is poised to be the point guard of the future, I think it would behoove the Spurs to sign a veteran to serve as a bridge for Murray era. There are a number of free agent point guards the Spurs could sign on the cheap who could help mentor the young prodigy as he grows into his role as a floor leader. I personally am rooting for a George Hill/Gregg Popovich reunion next season.

Jonathan Simmons may have played his last game in a Spurs uniform, as his payday is right down the road waiting for him once the free agency period starts. He is a restricted free agent, but if a team offers him a ton of money to go play for them, San Antonio might let him walk. This would be unfortunate because I’ve been one of Juice Man’s biggest fans and I’d love to see him back on the team. For what’s out there at the wing position, he could turn out to be a good investment.

I would be surprised if Patty Mills plays for the team next year. He is an unrestricted free agent and some marginal team is probably going to be foolish enough to drop some major dough on a player who isn’t good enough to be a starting point guard for a contending team. Kawhi’s injury in Game 1 last round turned the conference finals into a pre season tryouts. Spurs players were just playing for their jobs after it was clear they were not going to advance.

Looking down the road, the Spurs are going to need some young front court players as Lamarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are clearly on the wrong side of their careers and can’t be depended on to carry a team if Leonard was unavailable for some reason. Kyle Anderson hasn’t improved all that much since he first got into the league three years ago, and it may be time to start looking for Danny Green’s eventual replacement. Green does some things well (like stopping 3-on-1 fast breaks)  and some things not so well (like dribbling). He is like that boyfriend some women have that does just enough to get dumped. She doesn’t break up with him, but she thinks about it seriously at least once every 3 months. 4 years later, both parties are wondering where this thing is going.

Outside of Kawhi and Murray, there are a lot of questions to be answered this off-season. A lot of critics think this is beginning of the end of the Spurs dynasty, but I think this is just a transition period. Either way, this off season will be the critical point we look back on five years from now when accessing the prime of Kawhi Leonard’s career.

 

FINALS PREDICTIONS

You must excuse me if I seem bored with the Cavs-Warriors threematch, but at this point it seems pretty anti-climatic. Besides the first 30 minutes of game 1 of Spurs-Warriors, there has been little doubt who would be in the NBA Finals. Neither team was tested on their way to the final round, and there was a part of me that was disappointed that Cleveland dropped a game against Boston. It would have been cool to see both teams head into the Finals 12-0. Alas, this is the best the 2017 season could give to us fans.

3 Keys to the series:

Draymond Green/ Andre Iguodala vs. Lebron

Lebron is going to get his no matter what, but Green and Iggy are going to have to figure out a way to slow him down, make him work for points, and not get into foul trouble. Refs tend to swallow their whistles when Lebron creates contact by dipping his shoulders into people’s chest and using his off-hand to push into guys. If there is a foul called, it’s usually on the defensive player somehow. Rasheed Wallace put it best when he said, “These guys (Kobe, Shaq, Lebron) are supposed to be the best right? So why do they need more help if they are so good?” That is exactly why I @bucks with Sheed even if he is fibbing about making up the phrase “Ball Don’t Lie”.

Role Players

We haven’t seen this kind of star power on both Finals teams since the 2013 and 2014 Spurs-Heat matchups, and before that, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 80’s. However, anyone who knows anything about NBA basketball knows that its the how role players play that will determine who wins these playoff games.

It isn’t crazy to expect big numbers from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Steph Curry, but you never know what you are going to get from Kevin Love and Klay Thompson on the offensive end (although both can easily put up 40 points in the blink of the eye). The difference between the two players is that Love is an average defender at best, while Thompson is the best defensive 2 guard in the league. To think that both players are afterthoughts shows you how good both teams are.

Look for the Kardashian curse to rear its ugly head this series as Tristan Thompson should have a big series against this thin front court of Golden State–but he won’t. I can’t ever quantify these suspicions with anything but intuition, but wasn’t I right about James Harden swoon last year because he was dating Khloe? I’m just saying.

Golden State has the better bench of the two teams with guys like Javale McGee, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala all making important contributions with the second unit. Ian Clark and Patrick McCaw can be counted on to steal some minutes at the guard spots. Don’t forget that Mike Brown (?) can always count on David West or Matt Barnes to provide some toughness whenever that is needed.

The Cavaliers have a lot of washed dudes coming off the bench, like old ass Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson, and Derrick Williams.

Defense

For all the talk about their offense, Warriors had one of the best defenses in the NBA this year. The Cavaliers? Not so much. There was even a time period where their defensive rating was 30th in the league. They haven’t exactly faced any offensive juggernauts this post season, so people have been tricked into thinking that they “flipped that switch.”

The Warriors are phenomenal at finding the “mouse in the house” and exposing it again and again. Outside of Tristan Thompson, Lebron James, and sometimes Iman Shumpert, is there anyone on that Cleveland roster that will scare the Warriors? J.R. Smith can bring it on  occasion, but he can just as easily space out at anytime. The rest of the team is compiled of average defenders. The Spurs were a top 5 team in defense and you saw what happened to them, and before you say “but Kawhi Leonard was hurt” please realize that it would have taken EVERYTHING to go right for the Spurs to even have a chance at winning last round.

People tend to think this has the makings of a classic, but I don’t see it. Star power aside for Cleveland, they are ill-equipped to deal with one of the best offenses in NBA history. Warriors in five, and the only reason I’m not predicting a sweep is out of respect to Lebron. I may sound as crazy as I did when I said the Spurs would beat Golden State last round, but you saw what happened that first 30 minutes before Kawhi got hurt (like what I did right there?). There could have been a number of reasons why San Antonio was dominating before that take down by Zaza, but before that infamous play, I wasn’t looking so crazy now was I? If both teams remain healthy the entire series, the Warriors will clinch it five games and it may not even be that close. And oh yeah, Draymond Green is going to win the Finals MVP, just like I predicted in the season preview.

Have a good week.

 

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

House Money (Tried to Told Ya’ll)

Didn’t I tell you the Rockets were busters? Didn’t I tell you that James Harden’s game is all smoke and mirrors? Didn’t I tell you that Tony Parker’s injury would be a blessing in disguise? I love to troll as much as the next man, but I don’t just be saying shit to hear myself talk. Ya’ll gon learn to start listening to me. As my dude Bomani Jones is fond of saying, “Listen to me now. Believe me later on.”

We got a game 7 in Boston on Monday between the Wizards and the Celtics. I would be shocked if the Celtics lose this game at home. Role players tend to not show up in elimination games on the road. John Wall and Bradley Beal are going to need help if they are going to advance to the next round. I’ll definitely be tuning in because a) its Monday and I don’t have anything better to do, and b) its game 7.  You really find out what these players are made of during the pressure packed situations. I love elimination games. Whoever wins this series will be lucky to get two wins against the Cavaliers.

 

The Warriors vs. Spurs Western Conference Finals may as well be the NBA Finals. Barring major injury to key contributors, whoever comes out of this round should be the clear-cut favorites against the Lebrons. People think this is dissing Lebron, but the beauty of basketball is that your weaknesses will get exposed. Everything comes out in the wash when you cut corners in hoop.

Cleveland has yet to play an offensively competent team in the playoffs and that trend will continue until they face the Warriors or Spurs. Cleveland statistically had one of the worst regular season defensive statistics of all the playoff teams. Luckily for the Cavs, playing in the east and having Lebron can cover up a lot of ugly blemishes. Lebron is like the most effective IG filter for any NBA team.

He has proved from time to time that he can drag the worst four scrubs ever assembled and still take them to the NBA Finals. Mad respect given, but to win in pro basketball the other players–four to nine–have to play well. You can’t convince me that the Warriors and Spurs aren’t stocked with superior role players in comparison to the Cavaliers. Go look it up if you don’t believe me, and after you do, I want you to make a list of all the players on Cleveland’s roster not named Lebron or Tristan who can defend their position well.

Bringing it back to this series for a second, the only chance that the Spurs has is through in-game adjustments and timely substitutions. Jonathan Simmons has proven he belongs on the court, and Gregg Popovich will have no choice but to give Dejounte Murray some run against the tall guards of Golden State.

Throw out what happened in the regular season, as these are two different teams from what you saw before April began. The biggest problem the Spurs face is the incredible amount of length and quickness they have to throw at San Antonio. Matt Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston all can come off the bench and disrupt an offense with their defensive versatility.

Spurs can take advantage of their mismatch in the paint with Pau Gasol and Lamarcus Aldridge if they can somehow get the ball across the court, and keep their entry passes from getting intercepted or tipped away (thus creating transition opportunities for the Warriors and igniting their offense). Spurs fans know that David West isn’t the defender he once was, but look for Javale McGee to continue to impact the game with his presence in the paint, rebounding, and athleticism.

The play of Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, Jonathan Simmons and Dejounte Murray–San Antonio’s ballhandlers not named Kawhi– will determine if these games are close nail biter endings or blowout losses. If the Spurs can slow the tempo down, attack the paint, and get Kevin Durant and Draymond Green in foul trouble, this could be a troublesome affair for the Warriors.

On defense, the Spurs will have to run the Warriors off the three-point line and control the boards. The Warriors feast off of open threes and transition points, so it will be important for San Antonio to not hoist jump shots early in the shot clock, and not turn the ball over.

Lebron couldn’t beat the Warriors by himself in 2015, so don’t expect a hobbled Kawhi Leonard to carry the San Antonio to finals alone. Aldridge and Gasol are going to have to chip in on the boards and points in the paint . I’m not sure what we can realistically expect David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon to contribute. Dedmon (with his stone hands) has played himself into Pop’s doghouse and Lee had serious issues on defense last round. If Dedmon can’t catch passes, then he will need to play smart defense and rebound to stay on the court. Lee could be a good piece on the offensive end, but better believe that the Warriors will go at him when he gets back on D. Golden State loves finding the mismatches and attacking it. #mouseinthehouse

This may sound obvious, but the Spurs will have to play their best team ball of the season to even have a chance at winning this series. By Game 4, both coaching staffs will have a clear idea on which lineups and matchups work most effectively, and the real chess game will begin. Popovich has to use all his chess pieces effectively in order to advance to the NBA Finals, so keep an eye on the role players in this series.

The margin of error is very small, and though San Antonio has proven they are talented and fearless, the biggest hurdle they will face is a mental one.The discipline and focus that it takes to beat these Warriors four times in seven games is what will determine who wins. The Spurs must stick to their game plan, value every possession, and take smart shots. The Warriors will penalize them on the other end every time they turn the ball over, take a bad shot, or forget how to set screens and make the extra pass.

At this point, San Antonio is playing with house money. Having won 60 plus wins and advanced to the Western Conference Finals only a year removed from Tim Duncan’s retirement, this season is already a success for them. They are also huge underdogs. They will be facing tremendously less pressure than veteran players like Zaza Pachulia, Matt Barnes, Javale McGee, Kevin Durant, and David West (who knows how many seasons he has left in him). Pressure does funny things to people, don’t discount that element this round.

As much as I want to say Spurs in six games, there are just too many unknowns. I still can’t pick them to——— nah you know what? Fuck it. Spurs in six. I’m putting 100 dollars on San Antonio and in a week and a half, I’m collecting 900 dollars. If you like watching exceptional basketball execution, then I suggest that you watch every minute of this series. Get your bets in before 2:00 pm today because Los Spurs are going to shock the world!

Buen Provecho

 

BM

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

Observations From a Dimly Lit Living Room

Are you entertained? Well neither am I honestly. The Eastern Conference playoff has been as trash as I thought it would be. The Cavs look like they are going to sweep their way to the Finals and everyone is going fight to suck the media teat of Lebron James when they haven’t even had to break a sweat yet. I can’t wait til they get exposed in the NBA Finals. For all the Lebron dominance talk, he’d be lucky to get a top four seed if they had to go through the teams out west. #fraudulent

Let us pour one out for veteran Tony Parker as his career might have come to an end this week on a not so freak accident. You know it’s a bad injury if someone gets hurt on a non-contact injury. It happened to Kobe. I remember when Vinny Testaverde ruptured his Achilles back in ’99 for the Jets, and you knew from the look on Parker’s face that his season was over.

Salutes to Tony though for showing that just because you are washed, doesn’t mean you can’t still be effective when your team really needs it. Seeing him rupture his quad though put a scare in me, because I definitely don’t want to go out like that. I’d rather walk away knowing I had a little left in the tank than to be carried off the pickup courts. Besides, I don’t have insurance. I can’t afford to miss work because I got hurt playing a basketball game. Tony Parker’s injury only further reinforces the fact that I need to retire from full court ball soon because I’m almost 40, and there is no doubt in my mind that I’m washed.

But before we write off the Spurs, the Tony Parker injury may actually be a blessing in disguise. Tony was on the verge of getting his fruit cocktail taken from him the deeper the Spurs went into the playoffs. It was no secret that he was becoming a defensive liability, and his presence on the court was creating some mismatches in the Rockets favor (so what do you think was going to happen if/when they faced the Warriors?).

Although I wouldn’t wish injury to anyone (outside of Lebron, Grayson Allen, Gerald Henderson or Dahntay Jones), this is good for the Spurs because Gregg Popovich can’t lean on Parker for heavy minutes down the stretch. Pops has to go to the more inexperienced, but more athletic guards on the bench. Jonathan Simmons, Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, and Manu Ginobili match up way better with the long Warriors guards than Patty Mills or Parker. They may actually have a chance now to win a couple of games in the Western Conference Finals.

As for the Rockets, just when I was ready to think better of James Harden, he goes and does James Harden things. He just can’t help himself. He is unequivocally a crybaby ass #Buster who would rather play to the refs than play legit basketball. He’s like the guy you play in pickup ball who calls fouls about a half second after they realize they are going to miss a layup. Dude is all smoke and mirrors. I respect nothing about his basketball game. And to all you trolls and haters who flooded my phone with text messages because you’d written the Spurs off after that abysmal game one, go eat a d**k in the design in the Rockets logo.

Rockets are still garbage, and watching this series only reminded me of why I stopped watching Rockets games in the first place. They are fucking annoying! I don’t know how Patrick Beverley made it this far in life being the asshole he is. I bet his parents wanted to choke him as a teenager. Look at this childhood picture.pb_2

That is the face of a sneaky-as-fuck kid. I bet his parents had at least three conversations with him about how stealing from your family is wrong. Beverley and Harden alone are enough to want to throw a shoe at the television, but then Sam Dekker’s image comes onto the screen and I immediately want to mush his entitled face into a brick wall. I’m going to enjoy watching them get sent fishing.

Congratulations to the Toronto Rappers Raptors for having another wonderfully mediocre season. By 5:00 pm eastern time they will be swept and planning their summer vacations to Greece, Libya, and Croatia. Their “superstars” Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry are actually just really good players who need a real superstar to lead their team to a Finals appearance. I still think Demar is the second best shooting guard in the league, but remember when people were trying to say Kyle Lowry was a top 3 point guard in the east? NOT  SO FAST MY FRIEND!!!

Utah-Golden State has shaken out exactly as I expected. Utah has competed, but there is only so much you can do against the Warriors. They are stacked. You’d have to go all the way back to the 80’s Lakers and Celtics teams to see a time when four superstars played on the same team. This Warriors team isn’t even humming yet and teams can’t keep up with them. Just you wait. That first quarter in the final game of the Blazers series was just a little taste of what they are capable of doing. In the meantime, its been fun making “Quin Snyder looks like someone who jerks off with Icy Hot” jokes (shout out to Aaron McGruder). Their off-season will be starting around Tuesday morning at 12:01 CST. daria-screen-1-499x380

As for the Boston-Washington series, its been ugly, but it’s also been heated. Some writers have even gone as far to say that this series has a 90’s feel to it. When two sneaky dirty teams face off in the playoffs, some fuck shit is bound to pop off. And wherever there is fuckshit happening, you best believe the fuck boys are in the vicinity. I actually gained a little respect for Kelly Oubre, even though his reaction was a typical emo light-skinned guy reaction. Had he been smarter about it, he would just given Kelly Olynyck a nice elbow to the grill gut when no one was looking (if you’re gonna get suspended you may as well get your money’s worth).

Olynck has become Frank Brickowski 2.0, hiding behind his Opie Cunningham. friendly Canadian neighbor facade, but is one of the dirtiest players in the NBA. Its hard rooting FOR the Cleveland Cavaliers, but there is a small part of me that will enjoy them exposing the Boston Celtics’ flaws next round (sorry Mikey)–mostly because I’m mad that Danny Ainge didn’t try to make a run at the Eastern Conference title this year (Jimmy Butler or Paul George would have been the needle mover they needed to knock off Lebron). You can talk all you want about not mortgaging the future by trying to win a title this year, but the truth is you never know what is going to happen down the road. Who would have thought we’d see Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka playing in the playoffs but on four different teams?

Celtics-Cavs and Spurs-Warriors is probably the best scenario we could have imagined for the Conference Finals. Enjoy this week of hoop!

BM

 

[Update at 1:17 pm] Whoops! Almost forgot to shout out the dudes over at TRUEHOOP who’ve undergone some massive changes over at the four lettered network. I’m very happy that Big Wos and Amin are still on the air keeping it street. #Respect

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

ROUND 2: FIGHT!

Some thoughts on the first round before we advance to the conference semi-finals:

  1. Even though the Jazz have a game 7 in L.A. this afternoon, I think this series ended Friday night when Utah couldn’t take game 6 at home. I partly blame Quinn Snyder for that loss. I don’t know what the man has against Boris Diaw, but he has not played him very much this round. Diaw has performed fairly well despite his diminished role. Friday night he logged 14 minutes scoring 5 points, grabbing 2 boards, 1 assist, and plus 13 +/- ratio. His passes were crisp, his screens were solid, and he was constantly moving without the ball–always in the right place at the right time. Quinn Snyder insisted on playing the inexperienced Brazilian guard Roger Neto, who took a series of bad shots during crunch time that contributed to the 11 point deficit that the Jazz faced down the stretch (his +/- ratio was a negative 10). Shelvin Mack never saw the court, and neither did Dante Exum. The Jazz lost by 5 last night. I’m putting it on wax now: when they look back to see why they lost the series, you can point to Quinn Snyder’s weird substitute patterns. Oh well, I’m looking forward to a Clippers-Warriors 2nd round because there will be a lot of shit talking as the Clippers get beat in five. It could been you Utah fans, losing in maybe six.
  2. There is still a little room to jump on the Mike Conley bandwagon, but we don’t know how long there will be seats available. He had a hell of a series, and after all the think pieces that have been and will be written, we can finally say that Mike Conley is no longer underrated.
  3. Tony Parker is still washed, but he may have enough juice to get the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals. That game 6 performance in Memphis was vintage Tony. Much respect to the OG Frenchman.

 

Thoughts on the Second Round

  • Don’t get caught up in the hype of the Lebron vs. Drake subplot in the Cavaliers-Raptors series. That one is going to be a snoozer. Toronto will be lucky to win one game next round. I am actually rooting for a Cleveland sweep simply because it means less screen time for Wheelchair Jimmy— at least until the Warriors make the Finals, and of course he’ll be all up in the mix like he was there from day one. #nonewfriends
  • We might actually see some fisticuffs with the Celtics-Wizards series. John Wall has already shown the world what he is capable of this playoffs. The problem is that no one could sit through and entire game of an Atlanta Hawks game without thinking “people still play basketball this way?” This series will be much better for basketball purists as the highlight matchup of John Wall/Bradley Beal vs Isaiah Thomas/Avery Bradley will be scintillating at times. The biggest question for the clash of backcourts is “who is Isaiah Thomas going to guard?” #mouseinthehouse Thomas may get 20-30 points, but he may also give up 50 too. Celtics have a slight advantage with their overall depth, and I think this will make the difference as they beat the Wiz in 6 games, although I’d almost talked myself into Wizards in 7.
  • There is a hint of 1995 in the air with this Rockets-Spurs series. Just like in ’95, both teams have legitimate MVP candidates, but unfortunately, no one will know who won the award until late June. Spurs can breath of sigh of relief after surviving the Grizzlebies, but the Rockets provide a different kind of challenge. The Rockets’ style of play creates a ton of possessions, so expect a lot of substitutions and a lot of fouls. The Rockets aren’t known for their defensive prowess, but they do have a couple of good defenders on the team (Trevor Ariza and Pat Beverley), and they have some good rebounding forwards in Nene and Clint Capela. I think this is the perfect kind of series for Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and David Lee to shine. You know Kawhi is going to get his, but the role players on the Spurs will have an easier time scoring on this Rockets unit than last series. Also, I’m not sure James Harden’s ankle is completely healthy. I’m taking San Antonio in six out of respect, although my gut says it will only take five games.

Enjoy the semi-finals.

 

BM

 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

Warriors Fan Fiction: Steph Curry’s Summer Vacation

Illustrations by Louis Eastman

Scene 1

It is a bright and sunny afternoon in the Hamptons, where the Curry family are taking their summer vacation. The house they are renting on Airbnb happens to be only 2 blocks away from the house Kevin Durant is holding his free agent talks. Steph Curry sits alone in the living room,chilling in his Under Armour shorts, Under Armour  T-shirt, and Under Armour socks while the rest of the family is out. Steph’s mother, Sonya has taken Sydel and Ayesha (and the babies) out to the beach. Dell and Seth are out at the local country club finishing the back nine from an 8 AM tee time.

Steph declines. He is still sour from his team’s Finals performance–especially about his own play down the stretch. Steph realizes that this is his first moment alone since the end of the post-season. He turns on the television. As luck would have it, Kansas vs. Davidson is on ESPN classic. Steph immediately locks in, stretching out on the couch watching himself from 2008. 2008 Steph shoots a three pointer after being left open on a defensive switch. The game clock reads 14:48 in the first half.

“Damn.” He thinks, “I didn’t even get to take the final shot in this game. We were so close to making the Final Four against North Carolina. That would have been bananas.” Just another time that he was so close to a title. His mind wanders to an imaginary pick roll, with Tyler Hansborough guarding him on a switch.Just before he has a chance to cook Hansborough, he hears the doors of a minivan close in the driveway.

The women are back from the beach. Steph can hear them laughing in unison. Riley Curry’s voice is the most audible. She is holding court and the women are loving it. The door to the kitchen opens and they all enter. The first one inside is Riley, with a black Barbie doll in her hands and her aunt Sydel right behind her. The Barbie’s hands are outstretched, but its legs are bent, as if it too were sitting in the car.

Ayesha walks in next with Ryan in her carseat. Sonya walks in last, holding a paper bag full of groceries. She lays the car keys on the kitchen counter and immediately opens the pantry and refrigerator doors.

Steph sits up, pausing the television.  

“Hey! Ya’ll back already? Mama is there anything else in the car to bring in?” Steph kisses Ayesha on the lips. Riley runs up to Steph and slaps his bare kneecap and yells, “Where is my kiss Daddyyyyyyyyy?”

He grabs her by the torso, beneath her armpits and lifts her up to his chest, then cradles her against his body and kisses her right eyelid. She immediately wipes at her eyebrow with the back of her hand.  “Ugh that’s my eyeball daddy. Don’t kiss my eyeball. That’s gross.”

Everyone laughs.

“I’m sorry baby.” Steph gently places Riley onto the floor feet first. He repeats his question to his mother. “Mama. Is there more stuff out there?” He leans his head in to investigate the contents of the bag.

“Move boy.” says a laughing Sydel. Steph fakes as he if he is going to touch her hair. Sydel flinches. “Stop playing Steph.”

Sonya shakes her head. “No Steph we got it all. You can go back to what you were doing.” Steph turns his head towards the paused television screen. It is stuck on an image of a white haired man in a KU shirt hi-fiving what could easily be his younger son–who is also in KU garb.

“What are you watching Steph?” Ayesha asks as she walks into the living room. She sits on the couch with baby Ryan in her arms. She lifts Ryan up to smell the back of her diaper, then lays her down on her back, rifling through a diaper bag with one hand while removing the baby’s onesie.

“The Kansas game from 2008 just happened to be on, but I wasn’t really watching it.”  Everyone freezes. Ayesha looks up at Steph who is standing at the base of the couch. Sydel and Sonya exchange knowing looks in silence. Riley throws her Barbie into the air singing, “SUPERRRRR Black Barbieeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Ayesha returns her attention to changing the diaper. She measures her words before speaking, as if she wants to say the right thing. “Baby you sure you alright? Its gotta be tons of stuff that you can watch that isn’t going to remind you of……”

“Of what?” Steph interjects. “Failures in the clutch?” He laughs weakly. “Baby I said I’m good. It is just a game. We past that now. I’m living in the moment with youuuuuuuuuu.” He leans over and kisses her cheek. Ayesha smiles. “But yo! I think I am gonna go for a quick run though before thangs get too hectic round here.” Steph grabs his phone and earbuds from off the coffee table and pats Riley on the head as she plays on the kitchen floor.

“Don’t mess up my hair daddy!” she yells without even looking up. Everyone laughs.

“Mama you need anything while I’m out? I’m gonna go for a quick job before daddy and Seth get back.”

Sonya walks towards Steph and gently pats him on his abdomen. “No son. We are good. We’re just gonna start chopping stuff to make a salad to go with this leftover Salmon.” Steph’s eyes light up and he smiles. “Ooooooowwweee. We got that dressing that I like to go with it?”

“You talking about that Green Goddess? We might be out. Don’t worry. I’ll whip something up that you’ll like even better. Ayesha showed me a new recipe. It’s delicious. AND fat free.”

“Alright ya’ll. Call me if you need anything. Riley! I’m leaving you in charge of things. Call me if NANA acts up okay?”

Riley drops her toy onto the tile lets out a high pitched squeal. She touches her face with her tiny hands “You’re silly!”

Steph throws a wink at Sonya and Sydel. Then runs down the stairs leading to the driveway. He stops to find his jogging playlist, titled “Drizzy off the Hizzy”, then resumes jogging.He runs out the driveway and into the street.

Inside the house, Sonya and Sydel stare out the window, watching him until he disappears out of view. Sonya sighs. Then she runs a bell pepper under the running faucet. Sydel begins chopping carrots on the cutting board. Neither of them say anything as they work in silence. Riley runs over towards the couch and hugs Ayesha’s knee. Ayesha responds by grabbing the remote control. “Wanna watch Blues Clues Riley?”

Riley’s face is buried in her mother’s pant leg. She gives a muffled “no.” Ayesha feels a wet spot on her knee. Riley has deposited a spot of saliva on her jeans. “Girrrrrrrrrrllllllllllllllll What is you doing?” Riley laughs.

[End of Scene]

 Scene 2

The Curry family is sitting at the dinner table at a restaurant. Drinks have been had. Food has been consumed, and coffee is being served with the dessert. Ayesha and Steph are sharing a chocolate mousse. Sydel is eating a cheesecake with a drizzle of strawberry puree. Dell declines a refill on his cup of black coffee and discreetly hands the waiter his credit card while Steph isn’t looking.

Ryan is strapped into her highchair and baby seat. She is fast asleep. Riley animatedly yawns. Her uncle Seth seizes the opportunity to tickle her tummy. “Stoppppppppppppppppppppppp” she pleads. Seth guiltily laughs and grabs his fork, snagging a bite of his sister’s cheesecake.

Sonya quietly sips her glass of wine. She stares at her half empty plate for a moment; smiles, then whispers in Dell’s ear. “You should probably talk to him Dell. He seems a little down. Ayesha says he has been listening to nothing but Drake for almost 2 weeks now.”

Dell winces and places his hand on her knee. He whispers. “I’ll talk to him. I promise. We gotta give him some time to process this. The Finals just ended. We can’t force him to talk about it until he’s ready.”

Sonya nods and gently plants a kiss on Dell’s lips. “Okay. I guess you’re right.”

The waiter returns to the table. In his hands is a black book which holds Dell Curry’s credit card and receipts. “Top copy is yours sir.”

“Thank you” Dell says as he takes the pen and pad from the waiter.

Steph seeing that his father has paid, says “Dad what are you doing? I told you I had this.”

Dell smiles. He gives  the stop gesture with his hand. “Son. Don’t worry about it. Just because you make more money than me doesn’t make you too grown to let your dad pick up the check. Besides, I haven’t had a chance to treat you for having such an outstanding season.”

Steph drops his fork. The light mood suddenly shifts into a slight tension. Steph looks pained. “What are you talking about dad? We blew a 3-1 series lead. We had a chance to dance on MJ and Scottie’s graves, and we didn’t get it done. I let the team down.”

Sonya’s mouth falls open. Seth’s eyes grow big in astonishment. Riley throws her napkin in her uncle’s lap, then reaches across the table for her sippy cup. Ayesha grabs a hold of Steph’s hand and starts rubbing his palm with her fingertips.

“Aw son. I know it hurts. But you can’t let it get in the way of appreciating what you accomplished this year. You’re the last guard to win back to back MVP’s since Steve Nash, and you beat the Bull’s regular season record. You have nothing to be ashamed about.”

“But we didn’t finish the job. And Lebron was so mean to me. I hate him dad. He thinks he is the king, but he’s just an overgrown prince. He should be 1-5 in the Finals at this point. Now I know how the 2013 Spurs feel.” Steph is visibly agitated. His hands are shaking. He looks as if he is about to cry.

Seth speaks up. “Aw Steph. We all know how you feel bruh. But look at it this way. You probably woulda won if Dray hadn’t gotten suspended.”

Steph gently pushes his mousse to Ayesha and stands up. He releases his wife’s comforting hand. “What do you know huh? Duke didn’t win a doggone thing when you were there. In fact, you’ve never even sniffed a championship game. You giving me advice is like Ozzie Canseco trying to help Jose with his batting stance. It’s like Billy Ripken showing Cal Ripken a new way to take grounders. It’s like Chris Penn—”

“Wardell! Stephen!!! Curry!!! That. Is. Enough!” Everyone’s mouths are agape with eyes turned toward Sonya. She dabs at her eyes with a kleenex. The pregnant pause is broken by Riley, who bangs her sippy cup against the table. She awkwardly tries to remove the top off her cup so that she can pour her juice in Seth’s lap.

Steph knows that he has gone too far, and walks away from the dinner table. He grabs a toothpick from the host stand, and walks outside the restaurant. Beneath the awning are two valet attendants. One of them is on his phone, swiping Tinder matches. The other is practicing his crossover with an imaginary ball. Neither one of them see Steph Curry walk up beside them. Steph waits a beat before planting himself on the curb of the sidewalk.

The rest of the Curry family are inside grabbing their stuff and preparing to go back home. Dell is the first one to approach the valet stand. The young man practicing his basketball moves only notices him in the midst of a putting up a layup attempt. He stops, says hello, then embarrassedly taps the other guy on the shoulder and hands him the keys to the Curry’s Escalade.

The valet runs off to grab the minivan while the other Currys amble outside and hang out by the curb. Steph lets out a deep sigh and walks back over to the family. Sonya walks towards him and embracing him. Steph meekly mouths “I’m sorry” before collapsing into his mother’s arms. He cries silently as the entire family engages in a group hug.

Dell stands stoically on the outside holding baby Ryan in her baby seat. Ayesha runs one free hand along Steph’s back. Riley somehow avoids the huddle and is attempts to grab a set of keys from the valet stand. The valet attendant doesn’t see her because he is trying to pull up the video function on his Iphone. The minivan arrives and the family slowly piles into the car once baby Ryan and baby Riley are securely fastened into their car seats.

[End of Scene]

 Scene 3

Steph is shooting baskets in an empty, well lit gym at a nearby high school. Once again, he is adorned in his Under Armour gear. He takes three dribbles with his left hand then takes three dribbles with his right hand. He brings one final dribble behind his back with his left hand, and then hoists up a  mid-range jumper that hits nothing but net.

“There you go!” a voice says as the ball hits the wooden floor. It is Dell. Dell grabs the ball as it is rolling towards him and hoists up his own deep jumper. It hits nothing but net. Steph shags the make and throws it back out to Dell. Dell hits the front end of the iron and Steph rebounds it, dribbling the ball back out to the top of the key.

“I guess I was kind of a diva back there wasn’t I?” says Steph as he shoots and makes another three pointer.

“Aren’t most point guards?” Dell responds. He jogs into position to catch the ball and pass it back to Steph. “Your brother knows you didn’t mean it. Just apologize to him when you get back to the house.”

“I shouldn’t have said that about his college team though. He cherishes his time with Coach K. That was kind of a low blow.” Steph puts up another shot. It goes through the net without even hitting the rim.

Dell smiles. “It wouldn’t get you suspended for a Finals game, but it was definitely dirty.”

Steph loses it, laughing so hard that he has to put the ball down. “Yeah Dray did put us in a spot didn’t he?’

Dell picks up the ball, pump fakes it, dribbles, then shoots a turnaround fadeaway shot that J.R. Smith himself would be proud of. It goes in, making a “thwack” sound as it hits the net. Steph grabs the ball after a couple of bounces and hits his old man for another three. Dell swishes this one too.

Steph throws another pass to Dell. Dell pump fakes. He dribbles. Then he hoists up a brick that misses badly, hitting the right corner of the orange backboard square. He misses so badly that Steph doesn’t even need to rebound it. It bounces right back to the elder Curry. He makes the next shot though. “Son. I played in the league a long time, and you know how many conference championships I played in?”

“None?”

“That is correct son.” Swish. In goes another basket. Dell takes two dribbles towards the paint and lofts up a floater. It rims out. Steph dribbles the ball towards the left corner (where he once shot 95 % for the playoffs) and tickles the twine. Dell shags the ball and throws it back to a planted Steph, who releases it almost as fast as he receives it. They repeat this process in silence four more times before Steph misses long and to the right.

Finally Dell continues. “You know basketball is a team game. It takes a lot of breaks for a team to even get to the Finals–much less win one.” Steph moves to the left elbow after taking a pass from his dad. He dribbles, spins to his left, and then floats a left handed shot that kisses the left corner of the backboard before falling in. He grabs his own rebound and starts spinning the ball off his index finger.

“Dray getting suspended hurt the team. Those extra games didn’t help Andre’s back, and Bogut getting hurt didn’t leave you guys much rim protection. But you can’t dwell on that son. You’ve been in the league not even half as many years as I have and you’ve already played in 2 NBA finals. Do you know how proud that makes me son?”

Steph stops spinning the ball and looks at Dell. The ball drops with a thud, bouncing on the floor twice before rolling towards the gymnasium wall. “You mean you’re not ashamed to be the father of a choker?”

Dell shoots an incredulous look at Steph. “Wardell Stephen Curry. Are you kidding me? Son, you have surpassed any and all accomplishments that I could have even dreamed of achieving as a player. You could have hung it up after your rookie season with those ankle injuries, taken the money and become a stockbroker. I would still be proud of you. Not only did you not rest on the laurels of being Dell Curry’s son, but you revolutionized the way the league plays. All your mother and I wanted was to see you succeed in life Steph. It didn’t matter what you chose as a profession. Not only are you a fantastic son, but you’ve been an incredible role model for your brother and sister, and an excellent father and husband. The Warriors could go 0 for 82 and I’d look at you like this shit gravy.”

Steph’s eyes light up as he goes to hug his father. Dell embraces his son and smiles.

“And believe me when I tell you this, you will play in many more Finals to come. Don’t sweat it. Even Magic had to come back and prove himself after blowing one against the Celtics. This isn’t over by any means. You’ll get back to the Finals next year against Cleveland, and then you’ll be the one saying mean things about Lebron and his mama.”

Steph takes a step back, breaking their embrace. “You really think so dad?”

Dell laughs. “Of course I do. But I’m not the only one. Just ask KD.”

Steph shoots his father a puzzled look. He musters up his best Gary Coleman impersonation. “What you talkin bout Dell Curry?”

“He is saying that there is no way we are going to blow this next one.”

Steph whips around and can’t believe his eyes. “KEVIN DURANT???!!! So you ARE going to sign with us?”

“HEHE” KD hoists up a 40 ft. jumper as if it is a free throw. It sinks into the net as cleanly as dime into a piggy bank. He slowly struts towards the Curry duo. “Like your dad says, basketball is a team game. I need the Warriors as badly as the Warriors need me dawg.” Durant extends his elbow and offers a high five that Steph has jump towards to complete. Durant then shakes Dell’s hand. “Yup my agent is handling all the paperwork right now as a matter of fact. My cousin is on the twitter and IG sending out cryptic messages. By tomorrow, it will be official dawg.”

image1

Dell’s face breaks into a smile the size of Mike Conley’s 153 million dollar contract. He watches as Kevin and Steph take turns re-enacting the Draymond Green kicking Steven Adams in the junk. KD argues that there is no way that it could have been an accident while Steph tries to insert “The Magic Bullet Theory” into the argument. This soon leads to good natured ribbing as Steph, Kevin, and Dell decide to have a 3 point contest. Dell considers texting Seth to come and join them, but remembers that Seth is only a 32 % shooter (at best) from behind the arc.

Outside the gym, in the teacher’s parking lot, is rapper and business mogul, Jay-Z. He is smoking a Cuban cigar that his buddy Barack gifted him. Jay-z smiles at the sound of the ball hitting the wooden floor. He is in the middle of texting a photo to his other buddy, rapper E-40. The photo is of Durant’s Escalade parked next to Steph Curry’s minivan. Jay-Z captions the photo with a message. I told you I’d make it happen. Just take care of me and Bey’s tickets for the season and we’ll call it even. #CHAMPIONSHIPBANNER #YAYAREA #ROCNATION.”

A navy blue Bentley pulls up. The driver gets out out of the car and opens the rear passenger door. The Geto Boys’ “Damn It Feels Good to Be A Gangsta” is playing on the stereo. Jay-Z ashes his cigar, then steps into the vehicle, but not before throwing one last look at the building. He takes a puff of his cigar, and he exhales. He reaches out and closes the door, then nods for his driver to take off.

Jay-Z checks his voicemail as the car pulls out of the parking lot. He realizes that he somehow missed three phone calls from his wife Beyonce. Her last voice message sounded urgent–something about finding a buyer for their extra Hamilton tickets. He exits out of his inbox and begins to dial her back, but then decides against it. “Hey turn that shit up B!” He excitedly yells. “This my favorite part of the song! Scarfaccccceee! You crazy for this one–HAHA!”

                        THE END

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at FullsassStudios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

On the Legacy of LeBron James, the Future for Kevin Durant and the Zenith of Busterism

 

Kevin Durant should be celebrated. He is a fantastically gifted scorer who possesses the skills of an elite guard, but has the wingspan of a center.The University of Texas product is certainly on the way to the Hall of Fame, if not the top of the Association’s all-time scoring register. He can shoot, he can create, and as this year’s Western Conference Finals showed, he can actually play some defense.

Yet public opinion on Durant has been waning for years, long before his aptly-timed Independence Day heel turn that saw fans – and sportswriters – roll their eyes in disgust and revolt from his side en masse. The timeline of how this happened, or more accurately, how Durant let this happen, is a complicated one.

Because of his prodigious talents and the timing of his league entrance, KD will always (probably unfairly) be compared to LeBron James. Although both players are nominally small forwards, with the blurring of positions and roles in the modern NBA, the two couldn’t be any more different.

“Bron-Bron” has never been a deadly spot-up shooter like KD, just as Durant has never possessed the world-class court vision and passing ability of James. LeBron thrives on creating for others in the Magic Johnson point forward role; KD is at heart; a volume shooter (albeit a brilliant one). Their respective games are markedly different, a fact that’s always been understated in comparing the two.

But those die have been cast. James and Durant are both super-duper-megastars, they’re of a similar age, they play the same position; therefore, they have to be measured against each other. This is product of fan culture, of media culture and of the pressure former players put on current stars. Durant is not to blame for that.

He’s far from blameless, though. When LeBron signed with Miami following the infamous “The Decision” special in 2010, the public opinion of him plummeted. Never mind that the Cleveland team(s) he left had embarrassingly weak supporting casts (more on this later). He was abandoning his hometown (more or less) team to create a super team and was roundly derided for it.

In that first season in Miami, James tried to double down. Tired of being the calm, collected superstar, he attempted to play the bad guy on the Heat. It didn’t work. It was forced, and later, he admitted that he was mentally exhausted by the act. Notably, the next season, Leron returned to his normal personality en route to his first title. This is where Durant should have been better.

Writers have said for some time that Durant is impressionable and emotional, that “he sometimes makes decisions rashly” and, more alarmingly, “with the intent of choosing the course of action that will please others.” In that context, it is easy to see how a marketing team in KD’s ear could have watched James’ struggles over the first year in Miami and seen an opportunity – one that Durant was all too quick to embrace.

kevindurant

With LeBron as the league’s new villain, KD tried to position himself as the NBA’s new golden boy. Aided by sycophantic writers eager to buy into the idea of Durant as the humble superstar, public opinion of KD soared. He bought into his own mythos, signing a contract extension with the Thunder in a clear attempt to make himself the anti-LeBron: soft spoken, nice, loyal, and team-first.

LeBron gained some supporters back by defeating Durant soundly in the 2012 Finals, but with the Thunder positioned as the West’s team of the future, the loss didn’t seem particularly significant. A group as talented and as young as OKC would surely be back.

History played out differently. Trading James Harden was a massive mistake, yes, and injuries derailed the Thunder at various points. But as this past season showed, the team has copious talent and is still a championship contender. The excuses started to wear thin, and public perception of the team slowly pivoted from “celebrated young upstarts” to “brash loudmouths without a ring.”

This was helped in no small part by the team’s behavior, from publicly claiming things would have been different with a healthy squad, to the actions of individual players. Serge Ibaka plateaued, and fans got tired of being told he was an elite defender. OKC kept bringing in unlikable, or overrated role players (Caron Butler, Dion Waiters, Kendrick Perkins). And as the lack of ultimate success continued, the team’s constant complaining – which manifested in the form of three consecutive top-two finishes in team technical fouls – got old (a Thunder player led the league in T’s in three of the past five seasons).

There’s a word for this kind of stuff: buster. OKC saw the public gradually turn on it because a team can’t be unlikable AND unsuccessful. If you’re going to be loud and defiant and claim you deserve respect as one of the league’s best teams, you’d better back it up. Failing to do so qualifies you as posers. Durant, as the team’s leader, was deservedly the face of that failure.

From an individual perspective, KD didn’t do himself any favors. As LeBron reestablished himself as (unquestionably) the best player in the world, and Durant continued to promote himself at the expense of another player, fans became less receptive. His impressionable, eager-to-please nature likely made it easy for his handlers to convince him this was the best course. He didn’t make that decision in a vacuum.

However, he did choose to tweet “Now everybody wanna play for the Heat and the Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!” just days after “The Decision”. He chose to sign that big extension, knowing how it would look. And in the absolute nadir of blatant nice-guy pandering, he told Bill Simmons he wanted his nickname to be “The Servant” because he made his teammates better.

It was phony, it was obvious, and it was widely rejected. People don’t want to be told how humble you are. A move that transparent, combined with the rest of the Thunder’s collective busterism, soured fans tremendously. This brings us to KD’s decision to leave OKC and sign with Golden State.

To be clear from the outset: Durant has every right to leave. OKC management drafted well and was reportedly player-friendly, but it also made several questionable personnel decisions– headlined by the Harden trade and the curiously long tenure of one Scott Brooks. Without a doubt, the media-and-fan-created stigma of retiring without a championship loomed large in his mind.

It’s the destination he chose that solidifies Durant as a first-team All-Time Buster. Had he left for San Antonio, his hometown Wizards, or some other team with a decent roster, it would be understandable. Moving on for a better chance at a ring is a respectable business decision. What isn’t respectable is leaving for the team that broke the regular-season wins record, just beat you in a thrilling seven-game conference finals and was likely the best collection of talent the NBA has ever seen (if not the greatest basketball team of all time).

It is the ultimate cop-out, the ultimate admission of defeat and disinterest in carrying a team. This isn’t LeBron leaving for Miami. Look at the roster Bron was playing with his final season in Cleveland. Look at the list of corpses he dragged to the 2007 Finals against the Spurs. No wonder he couldn’t get it done before he went to Miami.

By contrast, this year’s OKC team featured a great young center in Steven Adams, a halfway decent bench and another one of the top five players in the world in Russell Westbrook. The Thunder just made a fantastic trade for Serge Ibaka that landed them Victor Oladipo as well as a pair of bigs to add depth in Ersan Illysova and (rookie) Domantas Sabonis. With KD, that team was possibly going to be as good as the Warriors next year, and the Thunder knew they really should have knocked off the Dubs this season.

When LeBron went to Miami, the Heat’s Big Three had never played together. They had spacing issues and chemistry issues and no real center on the roster. It was a remarkable collection of stars, but there’s a reason it took time for the team to learn how to play together.

Golden State will face far less of a challenge in adding Durant. The Warriors have already won a championship and should have won a second. They were, despite the end result of these playoffs, probably the best team of all time. All they’re doing is replacing a good player in Harrison Barnes with an elite one in Durant. It’s a significantly smaller obstacle that will in turn make winning a title significantly less meaningful for KD.

This move isn’t close to LeBron going to Miami. It’s the equivalent of an alt-history in which Lebron signs with Boston after being eliminated by the Celtics in 2010 (upgrading the position manned by Paul Pierce) and riding the coattails of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to a ring. It’s the equivalent of Michael Jordan throwing up his hands after being eliminated by the Pistons three straight seasons and signing with Detroit in 1990. It’s disappointing, it’s weakness personified and it’s the ultimate endgame of the busterism KD signed on for way back when he agreed to be the foil to LeBron no one needed.

LeBron, on the other hand…

Where did last year’s Finals leave us with Lebron? To start with, it re-solidifies his place among the very best the game has ever seen, and his status as the current top player in the world. It makes the MVP’s of Derrick Rose (2010), Durant (2014) and Steph Curry (2015) look even more ridiculous in retrospect (Curry’s 2016 nod is acceptable). Most importantly, and thankfully, it finally closes the absurd argument that somehow Bron hasn’t done enough in his career to be included in “Greatest Ever” talks.

I get it. It’s natural to be threatened by change. People dislike when something new challenges their preconceived notions of what is and what should be. It’s why aged stars like Oscar Robertson claim players like Steph Curry would get crushed “back in their day.” It fuels the insecurity in Scottie Pippen when he claimed his Bulls would sweep this season’s Warriors. Ex-players don’t want to be forgotten or have younger players rewrite their accomplishments. Fans are no more rational than the players they support. But there seems to be a particular bent on diminishing James’ accomplishments.

That’s undoubtedly because James is the best player we’ve seen since Michael Jordan. He might end up being considered greater than MJ, or he might not, but it’s the mere notion that he COULD be that strikes so much unnecessary fear in the hearts of some fans. Why is this such a big deal? It comes back to insecurity.

If LeBron COULD one day be better than Mike, then what have all these fans been wasting their time with, stanning for a guy who isn’t the best player ever? It’s a particular fetishism of “The Best And Only The Best” that permeates so much of American culture, and when intertwined with personal identity it creates some truly inexplicable results.

LeBron James

You’d think that LeBron dragging a garbage fire to the Finals against San Antonio in 2007 would be a feat worth celebrating, but no, it makes him a choker. Ditto for the crippled six-man team he willed to a 2-1 lead last year against Golden State – one of the best teams of all time in their own right. What matters is that LeBron lost, and MIKE NEVER LOST IN THE FINALS SO Lebron is a fraud!! Apparently he’d have been better off losing in the first round like Jordan.

 

Never mind that LeBron was just 22 years old, and in his fourth season, when he took a bad team to the Finals. Never mind that it took four seasons for Michael Jordan to get out of the first round of the playoffs (and he promptly lost 1-4 in the second round). The sheen of a six-for-six Finals record is rightfully celebrated, but it tends to distract from MJ’s playoff struggles before he got to that point. Do you know how many playoff GAMES Jordan won without Scottie Pippen?

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The answer is one. MJ went 1-9 in the first round in his first three seasons, making the playoffs each year despite a losing record. The latter, of course, was a result of a smaller league, featuring talent consolidation on fewer teams and a near-total lack of quality international players (but that’s a discussion for another time). It’s an ugly mark, but Jordan’s later achievements overshadow those early years, as they should.

If it’s down to rings and rings alone, as some fans attempt to use as a trump card, then neither Michael Jordan nor LeBron James is the best player of all time. Bill Russell’s 11 rings are more than MJ and Bron combined. Yet even the most ardent old-guard supporters would likely concede that Russell is not the greatest player ever. Different eras are difficult to compare, even back-to-back ones like Jordan and James’.

All this of course, misses the point. There is not, nor will there ever be, a consensus greatest player ever. The subject is too subjective and emotion-based to have an “answer.” The most a player can do is put himself in the conversation. If a reasonable argument can be made for a player’s inclusion on that short list, he’s in the conversation. Jordan is there. LeBron is too (and by the way, his career is not over).

That’s what makes Durant leaving for Golden State so disappointing. Michael Jordan broke through in 1991 after struggling for years to get out of the east and rewrote the end of his story. LeBron James went to Miami, learned how to be truly great, then came home and did the same.

No matter how many championships KD wins as a Warrior, he’ll never be the leader of his team the way MJ and Bron were. The Warriors belong to Steph Curry. Durant going along for the ride will only diminish respect for what he accomplishes.

 

img_3186 Devon Singrey is a Portlander and creator of the college football blog, Making Sense of Saturday. His interests include basketball, football, history, mythology, funky music, and all things Prince.