But first, our watershed virtual run-in with Milwaukee Bucks star Andrew Bogut.
Last night, Bucks center Andrew Bogut (@AndrewMBogut) waged war on The Works. The Chasedown has a nice summary from a third-party perspective. From where I'm sitting, Bogut went after the wrong man, retweeted incessantly and never really revealed what he was so worked up about. Eventually, he claimed it was all in good fun (I actually believe him on that) and deleted a few of the initial Molotovs.
Meanwhile, I was sleeping. It wasn't a good sleep because as I was falling asleep I got a text asking what I'd done to anger Bogut.
Instead of racing to the Tweetdeck battlefield, I laughed and went about my sleep. The carnage would be there in the morning, and besides, I already knew what I'd done to anger Bogut.
It was a Works item last week. I discussed a potentially racist promo ad for Australia's National Basketball League. The ad largely came to the attention of American hoops fans because, of course, Bogut had tweeted a link to a story on it. In that story, two black NBL legends said the ad was racist. Bogut's reaction? That the claims of offense were "crazy crazy." It was flippant, and I noted as much in The Works. (I also noted that a week prior Bogut had gone on a Twitter rant about the horrors of welfare, and linked to an old story everyone knows about the time Bogut ripped his NBA brethren for their lives of excess.)
Last night, after tweets had been lobbed between Bogut and my colleagues, the Buck made a good point (via retweet): if writers can criticize players, can't players criticize writers? Can't we all criticize each other?
Yes, we can. But you know how certain writers criticize players without actually saying anything? They criticize simply to be critical? That's terrible. That's Skip Bayless. It's useless, and a waste of time. If you're going to be critical, make it about something, not someone. My NBL item was critical of Bogut's too-flippant (in my opinion) reaction to the controversy. That's a specific beef I presented.
Bogut's response? He told me to kiss his ass. (Well, he asked the favor of Shoals because he wasn't clear who wrote the NBL item, but don't worry, he later tacked me on.) But about what? What does he disagree with? That he tweeted what he tweeted? That it was flippant? He didn't explain his issue with the column, and so (unfortunately) his point will never get across.
As a writing critic, he's basically Skip Bayless. More power to him. I'm not going to lose any more sleep over it. (TZ)
The Passion of the Mo
Generally, people such as myself, who are fortunate enough to have, through whatever accident of history, been granted a bully pulpit, are in the business of telling others how to feel. Or, we share our feelings and presume that you're interested.
At times, though, we have no choice but to stand on top of our little mountains and shout down, imploringly: WTF!?!?!?. For those of you collecting a pension, that means I need guidance, and I need it bad.
What else, other than that celestial being Mo Williams, could provoke this sort of epic consternation? Williams told Yahoo!'s Marc Spears that when LeBron James left town, he, Mo Williams, nearly quit the game of basketball. I really don't know what to make of these comments. Actually, back that up. I do know, in the sense that they are weird and virtually unprecedented. Were I only a practicing mental health professional, I would call Mo a codependent freak and advise him to get out more.
But Williams is a professional athlete, and his strange remarks happened to involve the most hyper-moralized American sportsman since -- well, since Byron Russell took part in that fake Michael Jordan D-League hoax. To put in the terms that have become familiar to us all, LeBron is a stinky-poo, and therefore, any equal or opposite reaction in response to his actions are grounds for immediate sainthood. Far from being a weirdo, Mo Williams may yet turn out to be a man so rich in character that the mere thought of him can cause your deck to collapse.
The question, then, is what exactly did Williams do? He appears guilty only of having loved LeBron, and the game they played together, too much. Here's a teammate so loyal that he couldn't imagine life beyond LBJ, as well as someone who has repeatedly given voice to the jilted lover-dom that so much of Cleveland seems to be feeling. Williams was willing to walk away, losing millions in the process, all because friends are supposed to stick together in his vision of the world. When they don't, disillusionment and sadness set in, and it's just not worth going on.
Here's where I get all mixed up inside: Why exactly is Williams unwilling, or unable, to keep on pushin'? When we teach our children to go forth and ball, we want them to understand the importance of that ethereal bond between them and their teammates. But a team, while the sum of its parts, is made up of parts. A man has to stand tall before he can join together with others; to work as one in service of the amazing invention called basketball, one must prove himself worth of stepping in the arena. In other words, Williams may be an idealist, but this also comes across as -- dare I say -- cowardly.
So what do you think? Is Williams the opposite of a traitor? Or in his refusal to face an uncertain future and take on the awful burden of responsibility, is he more like James than not? There's no denying that Williams has shown us that he cares. Sometimes, though, caring can be awfully similar to wanting only the best -- that awful, spoiled thing we call perfectionism. When you get too attached to taking the easy way out, basketball has no use for you -- no matter how much feeling you have going for you. Besides, don't James, Wade, and Bosh love each other like brothers? (BS)
Dark Horse on the Horizon
The Blazers were supposed to be the grand foil of the juggernaut Lakers last season, but it didn't quite work out that way. Greg Oden injured his knee in December. Just weeks later, Joel Przybilla did the same. (He aggravated it by slipping in the shower in March.) Portland hung tough, and landed Marcus Camby to help slow the bleeding. But then Brandon Roy tore his meniscus near the end of the regular season, and it just fell apart. The Blazers couldn't hang with the Suns, and that's all she wrote.
As such, while it seems like fool's errand to cling to a repeat prediction that didn't come close to coming true the first time around, I am just that fool. Portland looks loaded and remains the Western Conference's best shot at knocking down the mighty Lakers.
Why? Well, they kept Camby, who showed last season in L.A. (with the Clippers) and Portland he's still got it. Przybilla might not return until mid-season, but Oden and Camby can work in rotation in LaMarcus Aldridge just fine (barring injuries). In the backcourt, Andre Miller and Wesley Matthews will play off the incredible Roy; Nicolas Batum is the survivor of the great small forward purge of 2010 (lasting longer than Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster), and the Frenchman is a lovely piece for this team.
Really, though, it's Oden. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus (book drops soon) recently shared his 2010-11 projections for G.O. with Blazersedge, and it susses out 19/12 per 40 minutes, or about 14/9 per 30 minutes (which would be about the high threshold I'd expect for the big man). Pelton's projections were a reaction to ESPN's John Hollinger's sunny outlook for Oden. Pelton and Hollinger are smart dudes, not often wrong. And they both think that based on the data from when he's actually been on the court, Oden will beast it up this season.
Don't forget how well Oden played before the injury last season, racking up 11/8.5 in less than 24 minutes a game. His PER was off-the-charts (23.1), and it's difficult to oversell just how important a player like Oden is next to a stretch power forward like Aldridge.
But wait, isn't this the year of Kevin Durant?
Durant has blown the doors off the world in the past few months, pulling past LeBron for the NBA scoring title (becoming the youngest ever to win it) and following up with a record-breaking run at the FIBA World Championship in helping the good ol' USA win gold for the first time since 1994. The harpies in televised sports media are even saying Durant will be a legit MVP contender this season (which is cute, considering he finished No. 2 last year). When you have their attention, you are a king.
As Durant rises, so have the Oklahoma City Thunder. KD's team gave the Lakers the shakes in the first round last spring, pushing the eventual champs to six. Many believe that another year of experience for Durant, Russell Westbrook and fam may push the Thunder into that long-vacant contender spot at the top of the West. Remember: the Lakers have won three straight conference titles, and since 1998 only one team (the '06 Mavericks) other than the Lakers or Spurs have represented the West in the NBA Finals. There is a real need for challengers; many of us have embraced the Thunder as the latest hope.
And so adds another wrinkle to the Oden-Durant story. KD is clearly king of the Class of 2007, but Oden's team, carried in part on Oden's mighty shoulders, are better placed to challenge (or even knocked off) the Lakers this year. If KD follows up FIBA gold with another scoring title and even an NBA MVP, but gets smacked out of the playoffs by his unlikely rival in Portland, can it really be the year of Durant at all? (TZ)
You Win Second Place in a Beauty Contest, Screw You
Poor Carmelo Anthony. He spent his early years coming to grips with the fact that he wasn't LeBron James -- or at least, that the public had linked the two in their minds, and he would have to wait for them to catch up with reality. Everyone got over it, and Melo earned recognition as the potent offensive weapon he was. Too bad this whole free agency thing had to happen to him, too, in a summer when there really wasn't anyone else on the market.
So yeah, remember when LeBron James was going to alter the landscape of basketball by going to some team or another, and we spent forever talking about it? Now sub in a player who, while very, very good, is no LeBron. But the apparatus remains intact from last season, the narrative begging for a sequel. Thus, Melo as Bron -- which as we know, never works out well for Anthony. We know the glove doesn't fit, and just as we once blamed Melo for not being Bron, we know blame him for not living up to the role he's been thrust into.
We don't want to talk about Anthony, but instead of not doing so, we grumble about how he's overrated, not worth the price, or to get so-meta-yet-so-far-way, not deserving of being talked about like this season's difference-making move. Why we lack control over this reflex is, to say the least, a curious development in the way intelligent people view sports. The story marches on, but at least we can discredit the actors. (BS)
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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.