But first, the biggest LeBron James news no one even noticed.
If a Quote Falls in a Forest ...
Print has died a savage death (says the man whose book drops in two weeks). Apparently, if you don't say it on the web, it never happened. Last year, Ron Artest gave a long, thoughtful interview to The Sporting News; for web purposes, it was converted into salacious bullet points, and that's how Artest's tale of Hennessey at halftime was stripped of all cautionary context.
It's also how, in the issue of SLAM that hit stands in late September, LeBron James for the first time spoke in detail about the severity of his mysterious elbow injury -- and yet no one noticed.
Speaking to Lang Whitaker, James had the following to say:
If James was that bad off, his confounding Boston series makes a little more sense. It's actually even more precise than that: I was bothered during those last two games by his seeming unwillingness to take the ball inside. Even when, in Game 6, James seemed otherwise perfectly active, if out of rhythm. If he was nursing that painful an arm injury, would he really be looking to take it inside against the most punishing interior defense in the league? Impromptu nickname time: let's call them "Shock Corridor" and see if it sticks."It was pretty bad. It was something we couldn't figure out exactly what it was. There was times where I couldn't fully extend my elbow, and that's my shooting arm. And I do a lot with my right hand [laughs] ... Close to the last week of the season it started hurting a little bit, and then it just got worse throughout the playoffs."
But as far as the Internet can tell me, there was no viral spread of this quote, which if you don't see it as the Rosetta Stone of perhaps the most bewildering playoff performance this side of the Black Sox, is a goofy excuse made well after the fact. In other words, even more reason to toss invective at LeBron, or -- as we at The Works have -- try to decide if a delayed reaction is always a disingenuous one. Or maybe we have reached the point of Absolute LeBron Fatigue, which can be a sign of either the utmost disgust, or disgust with all the disgust.
Still, I find it hard to believe that this information, the only clarification we've gotten on that injury other than Danny Ferry's "if this were the season, he would have rested" back in May, made almost no splash whatsoever. Maybe, in the same way The Sporting News made a mistake by misrepresenting its piece on the web, SLAM should have made a point of getting this particular quote out there as part of their online preview of the piece.
And yet that seems like a pretty silly technicality. LeBron said it; people read SLAM. No one was moved to type it up and stick it in their blog? Does news live and die by the cut-and-paste function? Forgive me if I have missed something. Or, rather, a lot of things. If I'm right, though, and this comment really did slip through the cracks, then you're welcome for my making it real by sticking it out here in virtual circulation. Then I'll get to canceling every subscription I have, because between all the New Yorker back issues that have piled up and my books left over from grad school, I've got enough to burn for warmth this winter. (BS)
Up With the Future!
On Friday, in previewing the devastated Cleveland Cavaliers, we looked at a few teams from the 2000s that went boom to bust within the decade. The flip side of that is pretty interesting, too. Presenting: the four teams that, in the 2000s, went from seasons with fewer than 20 wins to seasons of at least 50 wins.
You'll notice a common thread between three of the teams. Denver and Cleveland won Carmelo Anthony and LeBron, respectively, in the 2003 NBA Draft. New Orleans grabbed Chris Paul in 2005. All three teams improved a great deal immediately. What the graph doesn't show is that New Orleans fell back down the mountain due to injuries (to Paul and others), and that the Nuggets and Cavaliers leveled out just above 50 wins, with the exception of Cleveland's monster 66-win '09-10.
The Hawks had a high pick in 2005, just like New Orleans, but took Marvin Williams, who is decidedly not in the Melo-Bron-CP3 universe. That makes Atlanta's rise all the more interesting. Williams arrived with Joe Johnson ahead of the 2005-06 season, with Josh Smith already in tow but just 20 years old. The next major rise happens as Williams develops, Smith becomes an All-Star level player and Al Horford is added to the mix. This is textbook build-through-the-draft strategy, but without an intergalactic star coming out.
Some would argue Anthony is also not a star of that magnitude, in which case Denver's rise was built with one great draft pick and a bunch of undervalued veterans (Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, eventually Chauncey Billups). But that exception to the star rule in Atlanta provides hope for struggling teams who can't find pure gold at the top of the draft. (TZ)
I Said Good, Not Nice
This week, Sam Amick wrote of all the ways DeMarcus Cousins is being kept from becoming the DeMarcus Cousins his detractors -- and quite rational doubters -- imagined he might become. Surrounded by family, kept in line and humble, the powerful, yet naive, rookie would be insulated from many of the pitfalls that quickly turn into pathologies among early entrant lottery picks. The takeaway: Cousins is not going to be a problem.
I was left wondering, though, if this concerted effort on the part of the Cousins camp, and the press it creates, doesn't also hurt DeMarcus heading into next season. He has been planned for as a project, skilled and potentially dominant, but immature and in desperate need of a learning curve. The more Team Cousins tells us that he has become a man, or is at least kept from acting like a child, the weaker this safety net for Cousins the player becomes. If he's a good kid from day one, doesn't that raise expectations on how soon he will be out there knocking over some dude named Blake Griffin?
(Sidenote: Griffin will do for the Clippers what Brandon Jennings did for Milwaukee in the first half of 2009-10. Read more here.)
But wait, there's more to this errant Cousins update. Speaking to Yahoo!'s Marc Spears, the Kings' rookie -- who also, like Jennings, is for the time being refreshingly outspoken -- gave a perhaps too-frank assessment of Nets pick Derrick Favors, the number three overall selection. Cousins went fifth: "I believe everything happens for a reason. But I can't wait to play them because I'm going at their necks, especially the big [Favors] that got picked before me."
It goes on from there:
"I'm trying to see what's so special," Cousins said of Favors. "... I guess that's what they really needed on their team. I really don't know. I feel I was the best big to come out of college. For another big to get picked before me, I have a problem with that."First, a bit of basketball. Despite my protestations headed into the combine, there is simply no way to justify playing Cousins at the PF, especially when the Kings don't exactly have a reigning All-Star at the five (no offense, Samuel Dalembert). In Brook Lopez, the Nets had a player on the verge of just that. Favors is lighter of foot, and more likely to erupt into some sort of postmodern, Bosh-esque pseudo-hybridity, than big 'ol Boogie.
What that doesn't change, though, is the tone of the comments. Is this the new DeMarcus we've heard so much about? Or is it the monster that the Kings, and the youngster's inner circle, have tried so hard to scrub from the public record? How about we frame it this way: What's wrong with a little healthy rivalry among rookies? Besides the money players lose by dropping in the draft, there's the matter of reputation, self-image, and just being told they're not as desirable as maybe they thought they were.
Michael Jordan built much of his career on this kind of slight. Gilbert Arenas charmed us all with a near-obsessive drive to prove GMs wrong. Pouting and resentment are the outcomes you hope to avoid, and certainly, mouthing off will never sit well with some fans. Also, as Ziller noted, Jennings just looks silly now for having sulked when Tyreke Evans won MVP of the Rookie Challenge. Evans ended up by far the superior rookie. But hey, is that negativity, or the competitive spirit that got Jennings' Bucks into the playoffs?
Talking like this is a calculated risk for Cousins, even if he hasn't really thought through it, and his handlers probably wish he had held back on the subject. It could come back to haunt him, be indicative of an insecurity that gnaws at him and impedes progress, or be a spark. One that, when we look back on his rookie campaign, will be visible as the first sign that Cousins wasn't going to take this first year in the NBA passively. Maybe that boom or bust label wasn't so far off, after all. (BS)
The Works Season Previews: Houston Rockets
Nobody has the entire National Basketball Association at his fingertips, and believe it or not, the brains of Msr. Ziller and Msr. Shoals are not connected by tape and electrical wire. To get prepped -- and pumped -- for the upcoming season, we will interrogate each about the darkest corners of this league. For each team, some questions. And for each question, some answers. Today, the Rockets.
BS: Has Yao reached his potential and is not being used or complemented correctly? Is he underrated? Or is the sun setting on him already, as far as being the league's best center is concerned? He has to be better than Dwight Howard, right?
TZ: Remember when we last saw Yao, in May 2009 against the Lakers in the second round. Yao was a force in that series before going down; the near-cinematic sequence when he left the court with the trainer, stopped in the tunnel, leaned against a wall and returned to the court -- that's a defining moment in not just Yao's video bio, but for this era of basketball. And then, in that postseason, Yao was at his peak. The franchise was built around him properly.
The circumstances have changed dramatically, though. Yao's become a part-time player; how, exactly, do you build around a man (behemoth as he may be) who plays just 24 minutes a game and skips some contests entirely? (I'm ignoring the fact that Rick Adelman will miss Yao's minutes cut-off within the first week of the season. Holding back stars is not exactly R.A.'s forte.) In that sense, the sun is setting -- it will never be 2009 again, at least not unless doctors clear him to be a 36-minute center again.
That said, he's still perhaps the most skilled center in the league, assuming Pau Gasol is playing power forward. That's obviously different than "the best center." Without question, Dwight affects the game more frequently in key ways than any other center: he dunks more than anyone, he rebounds better than anyone and he's an ace defender at the rim. Yao is a fine rebounder, decent if immobile defender and a lovely offensive player. Howard is just better at more. And that's fine for the Rockets, because Houston's supporting cast could very well be as good or better than that of Orlando, which would bode well for the Rockets' chances of being a postseason force.
BS: The combination of Daryl Morey and Rick Adelman should yield a few surprises. Name one.
TZ: Here's one I keep hearing every now and then: Adelman doesn't pay attention to Morey's scouting reports. It makes sense on the surface -- R.A. has always coached by feel and flow, not by the book. And that's just "the book," as in basketball's standard practices. Morey's ultra-detailed scouting reports go even further, challenging "the book," to say nothing of a coach's feel and a team's flow. When it comes down to it, given what we know as observers, Adelman might be one of the worst fits for Morey. That's partly why I still have questions as to whether Trevor Ariza's trigger-happy 2009-10 season was an elaborate experiment by Morey. It makes basic sense, but I don't think Adelman would go along with it. Or if he did, he'd at least complain about it to his barber.
BS: Will the youngsters be a cavalry of sorts?
TZ: This team has some electric youth, led by Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and Jordan Hill. If undrafted blur Ish Smith makes the team, even better. It's odd the way Morey has bolstered his roster in comparison to what Donnie Nelson has done in Dallas. Morey's Kevin Martin acquisition was something the Mavericks would have done. But where Dallas looks to stockpile veteran once-were-stars(-or-something-like-its), Houston is sanely, slowly rebuilding through the draft. Dallas, for instance, has Rodrigue Beaubois (a beautiful card to play within the next couple years) and potential sleeper rookie Dominique Jones. Houston has the aforementioned three, plus more on the way thanks to the Knicks. Instead of chasing high-dollar additions to shore up the frontcourt, Houston went after aging Brad Miller, tried to add aging Erick Dampier and focused on flexibility over veteran depth. We'll see which strategy wins (while noting that Dirk far exceeds Yao at this point, but that Martin is better than any non-Dirk Mavericks).
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.