The NBA Corner: Career-Ending
Unlike the NFL or the NHL, basketball is not a sport where one thinks that a single play can end it all. When most people think of career-ending injuries, the first injuries that come to mind are usually Joe Theismann's broken leg and the Scott Stevens hit on Eric Lindros. However, there are moments on a basketball court that make you cover your face and look through your fingers. Even if most roundball injuries do not end careers (even Shaun Livingston has managed to return from his gruesome injury of a torn ACL, torn PCL, torn lateral meniscus, sprained MCL, and dislocated knee), there’s no guarantee. This week, we received an additional two reminders of this fact.
First, Ricky Rubio collided with supervillain Kobe Bryant and tore his ACL, depriving us of watching the best pass-first point guard in a decade and forcing Kevin Love to reconsider staying Minnesota. Everyone talks about the Clippers, but are the T-Wolves cursed? I mean, this year they did everything right and still it just falls apart. While Rubio is disappointed about missing the rest of the season, I’m positive he’s far more upset about missing the Olympics this summer. He is built for the international game and although he had a few moments, he didn’t exactly dominate back in 2008, so I have no doubt he was itching to get out there. Now he’ll spend the better part of the coming year rehabbing and hoping to return to where he was last week. Life is unfair.
On a far sadder note, San Antonio Spurs guard (and former University of Texas standout) T.J. Ford took to Twitter on early Monday afternoon to announce his retirement. Ford is only 28 years-old and was the eighth choice of the Milwaukee Bucks in the celebrated draft class of 2003. Unfortunately, in February, 2004, Ford fell on his coccyx and suffered a spinal cord contusion, causing him to miss the entire 2004 – ’05 season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery. He would return and play sporadically for three more teams (the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, and Spurs), but he would never be the same. Moreover, every minor injury was career- or even life-threatening, so he decided to retire before a seemingly innocuous play paralyzed him. Ford explained it thusly: “If it's anybody else, it's just a regular play. But because of me and my condition a simple elbow in the back has a different outcome than hitting someone else in the back.”
Ford’s situation depresses me. While there is hope for Rubio – there’s no reason to believe that he won’t return to his old self – Ford is done. Even if he does try to make a comeback (and I hope that he does not), the same concerns will still be present. We’re not talking about a finger or a toe…it’s his spine! At some point, life overtakes sports and being able to walk at the age of 30 is more important than trying to guard John Wall. T.J. Ford could have been a very good NBA player and the fact that he didn’t reach his potential because of injury is disappointing to basketball fans everywhere.
Whether he’s traded or not, it appears Dwight Howard is signing with the Nets this summer: “Said another official, who has been involved in deal talks with Orlando, New Jersey and the agents in the process: ‘Dwight is going to [expletive] them, and that will be especially true if he doesn’t even ask for the sign-and-trade on July 1, because he wants Brooklyn to keep assets.’” Howard’s being a dick. For all of Carmelo Anthony’s problems and antics (see more below), at least he was up front and said, “I want to go to New York and I’m going to pout until I get there.” Dwight has been saying that he may stay in Orlando if they put a strong team around him, but that’s just so he wouldn’t be booed at home. Be a man and be honest. Magic GM Otis Smith should trade him to the Bobcats in exchange for a pair of Jordans and let him rot in Charlotte.
Gerald Green’s alley-oop windmill may have overtaken Blake Griffin for dunk of the year.
Christian Laettner and Brian Davis owe $30 million in unpaid loans. This certainly will not make up for Duke ending UNLV’s undefeated season, beating Michigan in the 1992 NCAA title game, Laettner’s douchey stomp of Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake, or the cameras constantly cutting to his mother in a neck brace in the crowd every fifteen seconds, but it’s close.
Last week, I wondered if “Mr. Clutch” Jerry West was actually clutch. Today, many consider Kobe Bryant to be the definition of clutch. However, he may not be as money as the world believes and he is the current MVP of hero ball. “If hero ball is tangentially about winning basketball games, it's about winning them only through the least efficient, most predictable means of doing so. The first (and only) rule of hero ball: Big-name scorers must always take the last-minute shot. That the numbers now exist to prove it doesn't work is, curiously enough, beside the point. In the world of hero ball, when Bryant -- by the numbers, the least efficient clutch-time go-to scorer in the league -- barks at James at the end of an All-Star contest for not jacking up a low-percentage shot, Kobe is praised, LeBron is vilified and the world mouths along with the Laker yelling: ‘Shoot the fucking ball!’ So how did we get here? You could blame Michael Jordan, whose last-second heroics spawned the posters that adorned the walls of a generation of wannabes.”
This phenomenon became even more hypocritical this week when Kobe was praised for volunteering to act as a decoy on his team’s final possession against the Celtics on Sunday. Maybe Rajon Rondo should have screamed “Shoot the fucking ball!” at Kobe after that pass to Bynum.
In one of their most recent polls, Sports Illustrated asked 137 NBA players who they would choose first if starting a team from scratch:
- LeBron James
- Dwight Howard
- Kevin Durant
- Kobe Bryant
- Derrick Rose
- Chris Paul
- Dwyane Wade
- Steve Nash
- Blake Griffin
- Deron Williams
- Pau Gasol
- Rajon Rondo
- Eric Gordon
- Ricky Rubio
- Andrew Bynum
The list isn’t exactly surprising (although I would not have Blake in the top 10), but I find it fascinating how much has changed in the past 25 years. In the ‘80’s, conventional thinking was that you needed to build around a big man in order to win a title. It was that thinking that led the Houston Rockets to use back-to-back number one picks to choose a center (Ralph Sampson, ’83 and (H)Akeem Olajuwon, ’84) and the Portland Trailblazers to pick Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Hell, the NBA Draft Lottery exists solely because of Patrick Ewing – a center that every league executive believed could led a franchise to multiple championships. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan didn’t necessitate the lottery, but Ewing did. In fact, Ewing is the fulcrum for this entire argument. In the early ‘90’s, when it looked as if Ewing and the Knicks were ready to reach the pinnacle of the NBA, they were slapped down over and over again by a Chicago Bulls team that was dominated on the wings and the backcourt, but was terrible inside. (In 1998, when speaking of Bulls centers Joe Kleine, Bill Wennington, and Luc Longley, Jordan famously said, “You know what I have to play with? Twenty-one feet of shit.”) Watching Jordan and Scottie Pippen repeatedly oust a muscular, Ewing-led squad made many executives realize that the game was changing and having a plodding, space filler in the paint was actually a detriment and not an asset. Do you see how Kevin Durant is number 3 on that list? What number is Greg Oden? You think Portland doesn’t want that pick back? In fact, I think Durant should be behind only LeBron. The only reason Dwight Howard is higher on the list is that he is an athletic, dominant center in a league that has very few of those. However, Howard has far more limitations to his game (post-up, midrange jumpers, free throw shooting, fouling) than the next six guys on that list. Call me a D12 hater, but I’ll take KD, Kobe, D.Rose, CP3, and D. Wade over Howard right now.
The Lakers have a few issues that are starting to emerge and while I still put nothing past Bryant and wouldn’t be surprised if they make a run, it’s obvious that the players are chafing under Mike Brown’s system. Brown is a notorious micromanager who insists on calling a specific play almost every time down the floor and is very theatrical on the sidelines. Basically, he’s the opposite of Phil Jackson, who always looked pissed off whenever he had to stand up for the national anthem. While Los Angeles hasn’t imploded the way I thought they would (yet), I don’t think Brown is the right fit and if the wheels come off or they are punched out of the playoffs early, this could be a one-and-done situation for him.
I still hold out hope that Kobe will be the player-coach. He’d cut half of his teammates between the third and fourth quarters and then try to score 30 in the final 12 minutes. I would re-order League Pass to watch that happen.
The hottest look in L.A. is the face mask (the clear one; the black one is basura). Chris Paul is now rocking one after receiving what is essentially a broken nose the other night.
Who wore it better?
Carmelo Anthony has been deemed as the man responsible for killing Linsanity (and NYC’s economy) and causing Jeremy Lin to be the subject of a Where Are They Now? Sports Illustrated cover. It’s like the NBA version of Clue and fans are saying, “Carmelo. In the Garden. With the basketball.” Things have gotten so bad that my perennial disappointing Sixers put it on the Knicks so badly on Sunday afternoon that Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were benched for the entire fourth quarter. The stories revolving around New York’s chemistry issues and their uninspired play seem to be endless. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s not all ‘Melo’s fault. It’s partially his fault – his game is best when others are supporting his scoring, much like Iverson in his prime – but Stoudemire plays olé defense and the hype that surrounded Jeremy Lin made teams took notice of him and they now key in on him every night. Plus, Lin’s game works best with the second unit (Steve Novak and Landry Fields) that do the dirty work of crashing the boards, making the extra pass and playing inspired defense that Anthony and Stoudemire don’t. A year ago, Carmelo was praised as the conquering hero. Now he’s being viewed as the tyrant, preventing the people’s choice from leading them to glory:“It’s a complete boondoggle: The Knicks’ supposed savior has become a villain, and a middling point guard has become its hero.” As of this writing, the Knicks are currently out of the playoffs. No amount of Linsanity can make you believe that this team doesn’t need a major overhaul.
Note: I’ll have a special edition of NBA Corner on Thursday to break down all (if any) of the last minute deals that transpire.
Pierzy writes a weekly NBA column during the season, as well as columns revolving around other sports, hip-hop, movies, TV shows, food, beer, marriage, (impending) fatherhood, and a variety of other topics. You can follow him on Twitter here.