But first, we crawl inside Mike D'Antoni's mind and leave a gift (or six).
The Works Season Previews: New York Knicks
When Mike D'Antoni took over as coach of the Knicks, we all expected stuff. Not necessarily profound, eventful, or positive stuff, but at least ... stuff.
So far, we haven't gotten much of it. However, with the 2010-11 plan having gone from "take over the world with awesome free agents" to "sign Amar'e Stoudemire and some other weird people," it's time for D'Antoni to earn his keep. Or at least do enough to keep Garden fans happy and the New York media off his back.
How is the reigning weirdo of NBA coaching going to pull that off? Duh, by listening to us and assembling line-ups so unusual and unholy that they defile the sport and send good sons and daughters to the hills screaming. These are a few of these line-ups.
No. 1: Real Talk
Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar'e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf
D'Antoni started this line-up against Milan on Sunday, going rather mainstream in terms of postionality and sacrificing three-point shooting for size. Can it actually be the regular starting line-up when the games count? That depends on Stoudemire's defensive effort and Gallinari's rebounding, most likely; last year, Gallo spent all of his minutes at the two forward spots, but rebounded like a two-guard. If that continues, given Stoudemire's typical average-for-a-PF ways on the glass, D'Antoni might need Turiaf or another center (see No. 2) in the game.
The sad thing about the normalcy of the line-up is that it's kind of boring. Gallo and Amar'e provide the points, Turiaf and Chandler the defense (theoretically), Felton the ZZZZZZZZ. The only hope is in D'Antoni also realizing normalcy takes what's special about this Knicks roster completely away. (TZ)
No. 2: Gravity's Rainbows
Felton, Kelenna Azubuike, Gallinari, Stoudemire, Timofey Mozgov
This is more like it! Azubuike is one of the most aggro players in the league, and Mozgov is either the Russian Channing Frye or Frederic Weis in an inordinately complex disguise. Actually, Mozgov plays a bit like Troy Murphy, and while that's not the right stylistic match for Stoudemire with winning as a goal, it fits D'Antoni's M.O. better.
Not that D'Antoni has always forsaken defense; he played Kurt Thomas and Raja Bell big playoff minutes, and always gave Shawn Marion copious amounts of credit. (Copious was never enough, sadly.) But in Phoenix, D'Antoni had the luxury of Steve Nash, who could make kitty litter look like C-4. Felton can't do it, and Stoudemire's excellence doesn't rub off. So more firepower could be needed to get New York's offense where D'Antoni needs it to be to compete any given night. Mozgov should be enough of an offensive upgrade over Turiaf to make this line-up make logical sense.
If not, it'll look enough like the 2004 Mavericks to be funny. (TZ)
No. 3: Beyond Q-Rich
Felton, Andy Rautins, Azubuike, Chandler, Gallinari
Everybody knows D'Antoni loves the longball. His most three-crazy squad, the 2005-06 Suns, fielded four guys who hit reliably from the land of love and money, and Boris Diaw -- who passed for a center that season -- was used primarily as a passer who got the ball back in circulation. It was a hailstorm of threes, more threes than most men see in a lifetime, but it was also a highly rational system that flowed like a viscous blot of machinery.
Phooey to that. This time around, it's all shooters, all the time, premised on the belief that all rebounds are long, and gunslingers never die. It's nothing if not Quentin Richardson, circa 2004-05, reborn as an entire team. No regard for human life, no remorse, no conscience, and trusting only in their own strokes. This isn't about late-game heroics, or manufacturing the perfect opportunity for one more point. It's what you use when you need a 10-point run in a hurry, against a team too complacent to realize what hit them. (BS)
No. 4: Satan's Army
Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, Shawne Williams, Randolph, Stoudemire
Some coaches spend their entire careers trying to ward off entropy. Others, like that rascal Don Nelson, find ways to harness it and use it to their tactical advantage. Since touching down in Phoenix those five long years ago, D'Antoni has experimented with varying degrees of chaos and mayhem, with the aim of forcing his opponents into even more difficult spots. It's like a vaccine in reverse.
Call it cheating death, or playing footsy with hell. There has always been a limit to how much D'Antoni would barter with the dark side -- in part because these are more maneuvers than anyone gives Mike D. credit for, but also because there's always the risk of going too far. As you should know well from analogies wrought in this language, once you go there, you might not ever come back. Except for the Knicks (and, by extension, the whole NBA, and the entire universe), this season is different from all other seasons, this line-up a beast that breaks free from the shackles of metaphor. In other words, this is "eff it, we're going in" approach that no team has yet tried on purpose, Slim Pickens riding down the bomb to guide it into the end of the world.
It's a calculated risk, to say the least. Unleash this kind of nightmare on some quiet evening and the game may never recover. Nor might the sport. However, in the darkest hour, with no light to guide to him, D'Antoni may well turn to this ultra-athletic, extremely volatile, deadly in all senses outlaw brigade. What's the worst that can happen, if the Knicks can't get anything remotely good and pure underway? As they say around the league, Shawne happens for a reason. (BS)
No. 5: Circles in the Sand
Felton, Douglas, Roger Mason, Jr., Gallinari, Randolph
There's passing to prove a point, passing to trick the other guy, and passing to get in rhythm. And there's this. D'Antoni may not have five Nashes to work with, but a line-up whose primary directive is to move the ball is quite the Trojan Horse. Here's that strange hole in time and space where the fast break meets pre-shot clock stalling, as a line-up with more than adequate ability to keep the ball jumping back and forth does so 'til it drives the other team absolutely insane. That is the only option, the only possible outcome, that matters. That or a shot clock violation that ends the experiment. For now. (BS)
No. 6: Don Quixote's Last Stand
Andy Rautins, Walker, Landry Fields, Chandler, Randolph
This line-up is also known as the Washington Generals of garbage time. Rautins and Fields represent the Knicks' big rookie class, brought to you by Isiah Thomas' GM tenure. Fields might actually be decent for a second-rounder, and at the very least plays a mean Settlers of Catan. Rautins can shoot, and looks like J.E. Skeets, which means he's bound to be a Twitter cult favorite. The memes practically write themselves. Walker and Randolph together might collapse Western Civilization, which is why Chandler needs to be on the floor holding it all together.
This description segues into my latest Save All-Star Weekend idea: garbage time line-up tournament. Single elimination. Six-minute games. The six teams with the most 20-point losses get a first-round bye. Invisible championship trophy. Ties settled with dice rolls. Ratings gold. (TZ)
Good for the Goose Farmer
The big news out of Denver this weekend: Carmelo Anthony, you hath been booed. There has been much effort expended this summer exploring where Melo might be headed, how he could alter teams forever, and whether the Nuggets small forward is asking to leave. If you're curious, his current position amounts to, "I might be traded before opening day, but I never asked for it."
He has jerked us all around -- all of us on the outside looking in. Strange, then, how little we have considered the plight of the Mile High.
If that sounded flip, it wasn't intended to. It's a statement of fact. With LeBron, there was endless consideration of what it meant for him to part ways with Cleveland, if he owed them, if hope remained upon those landlocked shores. Granted, the whole hometown thing did deepen matters somewhat. With Melo, though, it's remarkable how passive the Nuggets are in this storyline. Yes, they have sat down with him, and received assurances. Meetings are not the same as buzz; assurances are powder tossed on a wildfire.
Judging from this weekend, Melo's prematurely big summer is not playing well in Denver. Coach George Karl, whom you can always find at the corner of brutally honest and smugly sarcastic, told FanHouse that the way for Anthony to stop the booing was to "sign the extension."
Signing an extension would shut the fans up. At the same time, Karl knows that Melo knows this. Karl could just as easily be saying that booing isn't the complicated part of the equation -- just a new development that highlights the plight of the fans. If Karl is trying to hand instructions to Anthony, it's the opposite of shrewd. In this situation, Karl -- whose relationship with Melo hardly lacks substance -- practically has to acknowledge his superstar's concerns. That is, if you buy the argument that Carmelo wants out because of problems with the Nuggets, not just the possibility of greener grass elsewhere.
Karl's role is to mediate, to let all parties know that whether Anthony is or isn't traded, does or doesn't sign the extension, can be discussed in basketball terms. Or, at very least, he needs to present that illusion, for the benefit of all parties involved. If the city of Denver has been largely excluded from the coverage of Carmelo, the future of this team has been even less prevalent. When, come to think of it, that's the topic with real meat to it, and the one that -- again, in theory -- will actually work to determine Melo's fate.
Booing, and fan sentiment in general, don't make professional decisions. Not even in the case of LeBron James, 2010. Karl responds absurdly, simplistically, because the question just isn't that high on his priorities list. Sure, it's in his field of vision, but it's a byproduct. When the fans start running the team, or providing the logic for its decisions, then all hell really breaks loose. By comparison, bloggers on press row will look like George Washington getting the right to vote.
So yes, Karl knows how to stop the booing, as does every single person who thinks that asking him this question makes a lick of sense. In the end, this answer just might be a swipe at reporters who think his job is to quiet crowds, govern according to polls, or give the impression the difficult basketball decisions (and the concerns that give rise to them) are fixed by making fans happy. That's treating the symptom, not the disease. In fact, it's pretending that diseases don't exist. And that's the actual concern here. What, exactly, are the Nuggets planning? Melo or no Melo, the team as currently constructed, and with this recent track record, has to find some new solutions.
Unfortunately for them, short of trading Anthony, it's not clear what they can do. That makes Melo's departure next summer all but inevitable -- unless, as Karl says, Anthony just signs the extension. As thrilling as that would be for Denver, you have to wonder if Karl wouldn't feel his intelligence had been insulted. (BS)
2010 Make-Believe Ryder Cup of Basketball
America has Ryder Cup fever, with fans demanding NBC run the competition live over the weekend, no matter the 4 a.m. Eastern tee time. As the NBA continues its global infiltration and seeks paths to boosting interest in the league year-round, why not add a basketball version of the Ryder?
Well, we know why not: Getting most American stars to compete for anything but Olympic gold medals more than once a decade is like pulling teeth from a toucan. But we can dream!
The official 2010 Make-Believe Ryder Cup of Basketball rules automatically enter the top six American and international players in WinShares in the preceding NBA season, with the top WinShare earners for each side being named the captains. The captain can then choose any two eligible players to be added to his team.
For Team USA, that makes LeBron James the captain, and slots Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Gerald Wallace (!) and Amar'e Stoudemire with him. Dirk Nowitzki captains Team World Minus USA, and gets Pau Gasol, Al Horford, Nene, Steve Nash and Manu Ginobili at his disposal.
As captain, LeBron's roster choices are no-brainers: Kobe Bryant and "labelmate" Chris Paul. Nowitzki's task is a bit tougher, and there's also the fact that he completely disconnects from the rational universe during the offseason. (He has told reporters he didn't touch a basketball for 3-1/2 months this summer.) So Team World gets Andrew Bogut and Ricky Rubio. The captains also pick the pairings for match play and the order in which they'll go. That results in the following match-ups.
|Team USA||Team World|
Just seeing that table has given you 2010 Make-Believe Ryder Cup of Basketball fever, hasn't it?
This, of course, just highlights how little chance the World would have against the United States. Whereas national programs have, to a degree, "caught up" to Team USA in international play due to familiarity and roster consistency advantages, that just doesn't play in a 2-on-2 situation, where star power wins.
Of course, the real interest here comes in how the captains choose pairings. If The Decision taught us anything, it's that there can be real drama in completely invented suspense. Imagine the reaction shots from Oklahoma City when LeBron announced he'd be pairing new rival Durant with Wallace, the most mysterious (read: least star-like) of the WinShare champions. Or Nowitzki, as he rekindles an old partnership with Nash, becoming happier than he's been at any point since Mark Cuban pushed the Canadian PG out of town. No quicker way to alienate Jason Kidd than that.
The games themselves would be compelling if unbalanced fare; Nene/Bogut vs. Durant/Wallace would be a 21-0 skunking, but could still lead SportsCenter for sheer W.T.F. bombast. And don't forget that the Ryder Cup also includes 1-on-1 play; Amar'e vs. Pau may not be la joga bonita, but Kobe vs. Manu would be, and Rubio vs. Dwight could be Barkley-Bavetta II. (TZ)
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.