But first, how we got stuck with the Summer of Melo.
Sitting Duck Season: Yesterday, we brought you the twisted tale of Carmelo Anthony going at Bomani Jones on Twitter. Why was Melo such a hot topic on ESPN that morning? Because for the last week or so, all anyone's talked about is Anthony.
There's a certain logic to do this. We weren't really talking about free agency last summer, except in the abstract. There were too many possibilities to consider, too many moving parts and contingencies. With LeBron James leading the pack, all free agents were sort of LeBron, everyone basked in aura, and thus the Class of 2010 was top-to-bottom great. A boatload of redistributed talent like we had never seen before or since. What was there to talk about?
Well, a year later, our sense of free agency has been permanently altered by James and his dastardly Heat. So has the entire landscape of the league. It's never too soon to start weighing players' options (for them); no destination or configuration of All-Stars is too extravagant; and of course, there's no reason to spare them the harsh critique.
Free agents are now a necessary evil, like political candidates. They will let somebody, everybody, most people, down, and the honeymoon is over before they even get there.
Anthony, in a sense, is paying for the sins of LeBron: instead of free agency being a magical party land where all the league can dream of titles, it's the ultimate place for players to judge and be judged.
If they opt to stay at home, like Kevin Durant, they have bought themselves several years worth of good will. Melo, who is quite likely to move on -- just ask his own city's media -- is getting the full-on treatment at least a year too early. All because of LeBron. It's like Minority Report, crossed with this pop science show I saw about a two-dimensional mirror universe at the edge of the cosmos that reflects every single action in the three-dimension one we inhabit.
Here's the massive irony to all this: it's pretty much irrelevant what we decide about Melo this August. Apart from him, there is no Class of 2011. If a team didn't blow its cap space this July, why wouldn't they go for Melo? You would think that serious inquiry and debate would've taken place last summer, when there were so many choices, so many directions for teams to go in. Not when there was one player, likely to have his pick of teams.
Maybe, just maybe, this summer was a temporary reprieve from fiscal responsibility and next summer -- even with a new CBA -- teams will be looking to make smart decisions. Still, though, Melo will be there. He is an absolutely devastating pure scorer, somewhere between Kobe and Durant, albeit a player with known limits. Teams will fight for his services.
Bomani is right to point out that, if a max salary still represents an investment in a franchise player, Anthony at that money might not make sense. Except max money doesn't mean that anymore. Teams routinely carry multiple max players, and rarely are all of them franchise players in the purest sense, or capable of doing absolutely everything on the court.
When you start trying to assemble super-team, presumably the kind of squad Melo is looking to end up on, the correlation between max deals and all-around brilliance becomes even looser. A top-heavy roster means, more than ever, that All-Stars share the load, compensating for each others' weaknesses (and augmenting their strengths beyond belief) exactly through a glut of raw ability. Does it really matter that Melo doesn't rack up assists if Chris Paul is running the offense?
I understand why Melo has drifted into the news cycle. Post-Decision, free agency matters even more. It's gone from engrossing, dramatic, to truly apocalyptic. Anthony is really the only name to bandy about. He won't commit to staying in Denver. He's ripe for dissection in a way that -- no matter how Cleveland tries -- LeBron James just isn't. James seems intent on changing the terms of being "the man". Melo seems to cling to the old way, despite being tailor-made for the new paradigm.
Bomani's right: Melo is an elite, if not perfect, player who can make a team "his" without really leading. Why, if we're expecting him to team up with, say, Amar'e and Paul, do these things somehow matter more than ever? If anything, these are just compelling reasons for Denver to let him go. (BS)
The New Fundamentalism: I wanted to tack on quick addendum on Matt Moore's latest post on positional flexibility, or what I like to call the Positional Revolution. As much as we like to gush over player who don't fit the mold, or set their own, or blow up the whole damn template, there has been another trend just as important over the last few seasons: the rise of the pure PG.
I like to say that point guards are the new centers, and people like to punch me for it, but clearly, teams have made a priority of getting strong ones in their line-ups.
What's more, some of the most gloriously experimental teams have relied heavily on a pure point; I'm thinking of Nash with the Suns; Baron Davis with the 2007 Warriors. Increasingly, the Thunder -- darlings of the movement -- have looked to Russell Westbrook to fill this old-fashioned role. Anyone with half a brain will tell you that John Wall matters most because of his considerable point guard skills, not boundary-blurring skill set.
Tyreke Evans remains such a point of contention because no one knows whether he belongs in this category, or in the quantum realm of new positionality. The question is whether he is the kind of player who dictates and manipulates structure, or inhabits it organically. The same thing holds true for Stephen Curry who, although he has shown he has all the tools to run an offense in this manner, has yet to play for a team that really prizes any sense of structure.
Am I saying that Monta Ellis is the devil? No, just that, while his kind remains valuable -- especially if used correctly -- it seems obvious that point guards are the gateway to positional change. Once, big men dictated position from the inside out. Now, you need a heady guard to orchestrate all the madness underfoot. (BS)
Serbia vs. Greece Fracas Power Rankings: Since David Stern has stamped out all on-court violence in the NBA, folks who want to watch really tall guys take wild swings at each other have to pay attention to international ball. A game between Greece and Serbia on Thursday did not disappoint.
But who made a name for themselves here? Here are one observer's Serbia vs. Greece Fracas Power Rankings.
1. Antonis Fotsis, #9 for Greece (white jerseys): What reflexes. What power! As Fotsis shouts at Serbian instigator Milos Teodosic before the fight begins, Nenad Krstic chokes Fotsis from behind. Fotsis immediately begins swinging. This is, of course, after Fotsis spits in Teodosic's face the ultimate insult.
But the Greek big man's highlight is when he spikes Teodosic, who had been trying to hold massive Sofoklis Schortsanitis back. From roughly the 3:50 mark in the video, Fotsis goes nuts, leaving the Krstic end of the fight to find Teodosic; Fotsis first arrives at a Serbian coach (who gets knocked out by the Greek), and swings hard at Teodosic before spiking him to the ground. Fotsis officially turned a fight into a fracas.
2. Sofo Schortsanitis, #15 for Greece: The so-called Greek Shaq gets some frightening blows in on an unknown Serb after Fotsis reaches Teodosic; this is hilarious because just seconds prior Sofo and Teodosic were standing toe-to-toe, with the Serb trying to make peace. Fotsis' hammer obviously sparked something in Sofo.
But Greek Shaq's most gully episode comes in the chase of Krstic, best seen at the 35-second mark. You can tell how feared someone is by how fast their enemies retreat. Krstic can't get away fast enough. When Krstic throws the chair at Sofo (47-second mark; listen for the crowd reaction), Schortsanitis doesn't even blink. Swag-ger.
3. Random Shirtless Dude: I've watched every angle of the fracas, and seen the above clip about a dozen times. And I still can't place exactly what side Random Shirtless Dude is on. I know he looks up at Krstic with fury in his eyes, and at the 2:20 mark he appears to reach for a chair before Serb players stop him. So I think he's Greek. Regardless, he takes his shirt off before Krstic tosses the chair, and continues to mix it up after things settle down. He's a brave fellow. (Also be sure to check out someone who appears to be his twin brother, wearing an orange tank top at about the 1:05 mark.)
4. Ioannis Bourousis, white polo: The injured Greek center inserts himself as a peacemaker, staying between Schortsanitis and Krstic until others can catch up and keep Sofo from crushing Nenad's skull. And what does Bourousis get for his troubles? A nice chair to the face! But Bourousis doesn't flip out until he realizes blood is streaming down his neck -- check the 1:18 mark, a solid 28 seconds after Krstic hits him with the chair. This delayed rage makes me believe Bourousis is just mad Krstic got blood on the Greek's pristine white polo shirt. Nobody makes Ioannis bleed his own blood!
5. Milos Teodosic, #18 for Serbia: The Serb guard starts the fight by punching the bigger, stronger, more fearsome Fotsis in the face. And Milos pays for it later. You get points for stupid bravery in the Fracas Power Rankings.
743. Nenad Krstic, #12 for Serbia: Krstic was clearly the Carmelo Anthony of this fight. I couldn't find a single instance where Nenad swung at someone who was looking at him, instead choking and slapping at Fotsis from behind (15-second mark) and pounding the back of Sofo's head (34-second mark). Then there's the back-pedalling flight, no less wimpy than Melo's moonwalk across Madison Square Garden. And finally, the coup de wuss: the chair toss, which misses the intended target by at least 10 feet, hits a guy in street clothes and leads to a second Krstic back-pedal. The only thing missing is a flop. I hope Krstic's reputation never lives this down. (TZ)
Where Have You Gone, Rod Carew?: I guess it has been a big summer for Jews and basketball. Amar'e did his thing. LeBron met with a rabbi to discuss money. Omri Casspi pledged his support to a campaign to get an Israeli soldier freed from the clutches of Hamas. Ready for the official stamp of relevance? We've now got odds over the next player to turn Jew -- or "discover Judaism", as the press release from Bookmaker.com shouts.
Here's what perplexes me about these odds -- well, aside from the fact that Ziller, not me, got sent the e-mail. The odds are surprisingly low, seeing as no one but Amar'e has actually flirted with the faith. Thus, these are near-impossibilties that people have little incentive to bet on.
Is the hope that, out of sentimentality or ethnic pride, Jews across the country will sink money into these in an attempt to influence reality, like leaning your head after you've launched a shot wide-right? Regardless, because we can't believe this happened, here are the odds and probabilities:
• Kevin Durant +350 22%
• Kobe Bryant +375 21%
• Rajon Rondo +425 19%
• Chris Bosh +450 18%
• Deron Williams +475 17%
• Steve Nash +500 16%
• Dirk Nowitzki +550 15%
• Chris Paul +550 15%
• Carmelo Anthony +600 14%
• Dwyane Wade +600 14%
I wish I had the energy to consult the bookmaker, since none of these make the least bit of sense to me. I can't even find good jokes for them. Dwyane Wade ... has lived in Miami for a while? Chris Paul ... has known what it means to wander? Chris Bosh ... moved to Miami and is kind of nerdy? Kobe should have the best odds, since he has actually joked about converting, but instead Kevin Durant has better odds. Is Durant just such a nice boy that he gets the edge?
Deron Williams is an underdog, Steve Nash brainy and left-leaning, Carmelo Anthony persecuted; Rajon Rondo has a name that looks like it was changed. ... really, I can keep this up for the next ten minutes if you want. Stereotypes are easy, and portable, like that. Except I've got nothing for Dirk Nowitzki. You can guess why.
Over at Tablet, Marc Tracy has some further thoughts. (BS)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller).