But first, a Pacers star's weird entrance into the public arena.
Give Granger Some: Danny Granger called Europe, and Europeans, stinky. It was such big news that it crashed through the glass ceiling that usually hinders small market stars and ended up on Huffington Post.
This might be the most famous Granger has ever been; when the Pacers traded for Darren Collison, few bothered to note that a versatile, skilled All-Star forward in his prime suddenly had a potential stud to set him up.
Wednesday, Kelly Dwyer asked if the problem with Indiana wasn't one of perception. Namely, that its fans, and to some degree all of us, simply refuse to accept incremental progress -- ever since a legit contender came unraveled in the wake of the Brawl. Landing Collison was enormous for Granger, and Larry Bird's job security. Brandon Rush's drug suspension, which brings back memories of those old evil Pacers and proves that Bird is failing, resonates more. It's more familiar, less work, and less of a risk than realizing that this team isn't there yet, but it's closer than you think.
Without Granger, the Pacers would be totally lost. Yet you never hear him described as a franchise player -- nor even his ability to carry a team hotly debated. Danny Granger makes Joe Johnson look like Cyndi Lauper in her prime; forget invisible, he's anti-matter. Unfortunately, it seems to have followed him to Team USA. Through four real games, Granger is averaging 6.3 points, 0.7 rebounds, and 1 assist. He went for 9 against Croatia (non-competitive); went scoreless in 7 minutes against Slovenia; notched a DNP in the close one against Brazil; and in the Iranian snoozer put up 10.
In the NBA, Granger puts up frightful, and frightfully well-rounded, numbers. He had to shoot too much last year, bringing down his percentages somewhat, but for his career he's sound. Granger is intelligent, down-to-earth, and never made any waves. That's what made this Twitter silliness so strange. It just wasn't his style.
Maybe Granger is expressing some pent-up frustration with his role on Team USA. Naturally, he wants nothing less than the triumph of a collective; I'm not suggesting that Granger is a me-first dude selfish for minutes or prestige. But given his experience, his ability at both ends of the court, and the success of the relatively similar Kevin Durant, Granger probably deserves a look. Rudy Gay is getting minutes, and other than athleticism, there's nothing the Grizzly does better.
Obviously, Team USA isn't in any trouble, yet, and Granger wouldn't deliver them a presence down low like playing Kevin Love would. Still, with this team still looking for direction, and trying to achieve a better distribution of size and skill, you would think that Danny Granger would come in handy. And when he does have that signature game, we call all scratch our heads and wonder why a 6-8 forward who can create his own shot, hit 3-pointers, and make plays on the defensive end was hiding all this time. (BS)
Addition by Addition: The Celtics have welcomed Delonte West back into the fold, bolstering the team's guard depth. Some, including FanHouse's Tim Povtak, have concluded Boston is playing with fire by signing West, who had the most Hollywood traffic stop ever a year ago and also went M.I.A. at the season's start. The Celtics, remember, have already added potential nuisance Shaquille O'Neal. The fear is that Doc Rivers can only put out so many fires in a day's work.
That got me thinking about the Celtics' locker room culture, one which will supposedly keep West's nose clean. Beyond West and Shaq, isn't this team filled with high-maintenance personalities? In the backcourt, Rajon Rondo has a persistent reputation as a problem child (remember when Danny Ainge was going to trade him because of it?), Ray Allen is supposedly on the cusp of OCD and, at least according to the Knicks and J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson has the biggest little man complex this side of Napoleon. Up front, Kevin Garnett is a loose cannon protected for years by his MVP production, Paul Pierce is a potential hypochondriac who has beefs with half the league, Shaq has multiple personalities if not multiple personality disorder and Kendrick Perkins wants to fight everyone, all the time, and has the technical foul tally to prove it.
Von Wafer, the guy who once bickered with coach Rick Adelman during a playoff series and ended up getting disappeared from the NBA for a year partly because of it, is the guard Rivers has to worry about least. There's something amazing in that. Jermaine O'Neal is the only high-profile player on the team without the label of "high-maintenance" following him, and he's the one who has been suspended 15 games for punching a fan.
Yet no one would say the Celtics have a locker room problem, or bad chemistry. In fact, good chemistry is the X-factor some observers credit when Boston plays over its head, as it did in its magical 2009-10 playoff run. How do they do it? How can so much -- sorry for the insensitive word -- crazy co-exist? Either queerness loves company, or Doc Rivers is a sorcerer of the highest order. Perhaps observation of how West fits in this season will provide some clues. (TZ)
Tomorrow Will Be Better, I Swear: Our friends to the north haven't won a FIBA Worlds game yet, with a motivated Spain laying in wait in Thursday's group play finale. The Canadians were officially eliminated after Wednesday's loss to New Zealand, though an opening day loss to Lebanon really made things difficult. Despite a surprisingly talented core, Canada just hasn't been able to make a stand.
But the future is bright. None of Canada's brightest young stars made the World Championship team. As they slide into the senior men's team, the Canadians will perform much better on the world stage. Myck Kabongo, an athletic point guard, is one of the top propsects of the 2011 high school class and will go to Texas, where he'll follow countryman Cory Joseph, a 6-3 point guard ranked eighth overall in the 2010 class by Rivals. Canadian big man Tristan Thompson, a top-20 recruit, is also heading to Texas. Top-25 big man Kyle Wiltjer, in Kabongo's 2011 class, just committed to Kentucky.
The real prize of the Canadian pipeline is a few years from making a splash at the FIBA senior level -- he almost assuredly won't play in the 2012 Olympics, should Canada land a berth. That'd be Andrew Wiggins, a 15-year-old wunderkind in the class of 2014. Playing against kids two years older than him in this summer's FIBA U-17 World Championship, the 6-6 Wiggins showed why he's such a big deal, dropping 20 points in 22 minutes against a stud-filled Team USA. Here's a once-famous clip of Wiggins at age 13.
If he stays on track, Wiggins would be a headlining star for any national team. But for Canada, he can be a savior. So don't cry for Canada; just pretend this tournament never happened. (TZ)
The Fine Points of Fasting: Reporting from Turkey, Chris Tomasson did a story on the Iranian team not fasting for Ramadan until its tourney was over. He quoted assistant coach Mehran Hatami as saying, "We have a rule that, if you stay less than 10 days and you're in trouble, you can break your fast"; Tunisian guard Marouan Kechrid, also a Muslim, said it was just too draining to both fast and compete. In fact, Tomasson reported, no Muslim players in the FIBA World Championship were known to be fasting.
Tomasson mentioned some of the Muslims who have played in the NBA, but didn't address the fact that Hakeem Olajuwon, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Nazr Mohammed and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf all fasted during the season. I wondered what explained this difference, and sent out a cry for help.
According to Works reader Ahmad Alowaish, the Koran provides a 10-day exemption for traveling, as alluded to by Hatami; in such cases, one simply makes the days up later. Travel might not provide the optimal conditions for fasting; therefore, for that amount of time, it's up to the individual. I got an email from Reza Zonozi suggesting that "and you're in trouble" was a reference to another exemption: one in the event of someone placing himself under extreme physical duress, including strain related to one's profession. This would explain Kechrid's choice of words, as well as the fact that the Turkish team isn't fasting.
In the case of NBA players,10-day road trips are extremely rare, unless you're the Spurs during rodeo time. My theory, which I invite you to disagree with, is that fasting for a month is only possible if you acclimate your body to it. Going back and forth depending on home or away games would prevent this adjustment from taking place. Reza, however, feels that playing basketball for a living while fasting is only possible through a sort of "mind over matter" effect, one distinctly related to the ritual itself. He points to the fact that Olajuwon consistently played some of his best ball during Ramadan. Fasting didn't have to be worked around. It was itself a source of strength.
The takeaway is that, for whatever reason, these Muslims in the NBA chose to fast when they probably could have gotten out of it. Maybe they find themselves in more of an all-or-nothing situation than the Iranians, who know they're likely headed home soon; this raises the question of when exactly they would make days up. Maybe this intensified their feeling that Ramadan had to be observed, since it would be all too easy to write the whole month off. That doesn't make these NBA players more observant or devout than anyone at the Worlds, but it's a testament to their faith -- and their fitness -- that they could keep up in the planet's top league under these conditions.
Or maybe the rumors are true, and the NBA is full of lazy, half-speed bums who only turn it on for the playoffs. Then, even a half-starved man could step onto the court and hold his own. (BS)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.