But first, is the league sabotaging its opening day buzz?
Hype Management 101
I understand the logic: fans have waited months to see the Miami Heat action; to get a glimpse of John Wall in a real NBA game; or savor any other offseason developments that we've been debating all summer. The league has to cash in fast, and early, on the season's starting bell, since interest goes on the wane after that first week or two, only to return in full force with the playoffs. Never is it higher than in that October Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday cycle. I don't like it that way, but it's a fact of commerce. Trust me on this: I've had two books rushed on the production side of things to feed this very beast.
And what better way for the league to trot out its flashy new toys than to put them up against some real competition? If the Heat are supposed to contend like no new team before or since, throw them at the Boston Celtics -- LeBron James's arch-rivals and chief tormentors. Plus, the former home of new Boston bigs Shaquille O'Neal (and Jermaine O'Neal, too).
Excited to see John Wall tear up the NBA like he did the NCAA? Let's put that kid to the test, and pit his hapless Wizards up against the excruciatingly professional Orlando Magic. Oh, and for good measure, we'll have Dwight Howard, reigning Defensive Player of the Year and perhaps the only guy in the league who can stop blazing-fast point guards, guarding the rim.
Certainly, this approach to opening week scheduling layers hype on top of more hype, to the point where we just might all explode or collapse from anticipation. But it's also a disaster waiting to happen.
That's not to say that the Heat, and Wall, deserve a free pass, or that long-term, we won't expect them to go up against the best and succeed. Their debutante-like entrance into the world of the NBA, though, deserves at least a little bit of a cushion -- especially if you have so many viewers tuning in, expecting a good show. Give them a fair fight without setting expectations too high. Let's be realistic -- when is a rookie, or group of new teammates, ever fit right off the bat to take on grizzled contenders? Even if, as was not the case with the Heat, they look like a dream in preseason.
How about, as a bright and shining example, the Kevin Durant-Derrick Rose matchup that gave these young, legit teams a chance to tussle like it was the 2013 Finals; Blake Griffin and the revitalized Clippers taking on the Blazers, a solid playoff team that nevertheless isn't going to neutralize young talent. The Warriors, finally freed from the tyranny of Don Nelson, and with harmony prevailing in their Stephen Curry-Monta Ellis backcourt. Somewhat more modestly, DeMarcus Cousins put up a strong line -- including 5 assists -- and hit some key free throws in his first game, despite foul trouble. It was against the Timberwolves, sure, but what exactly are the Kings with Tyreke Evans in street clothes?
Buzz isn't a directive. If the league had any sense, it would finesse and exploit it, rather than try and blow it out at the first chance they get. Why not give the Heat and John Wall something of a soft landing, not to manufacture a sparkling first showing, but so this opening night event doesn't run a high chance of turning into an unwatchable, hope-killing blowout.
I'm not going to suggest some ideal matchup, one that exploits the weaknesses of the opponent to lead to the best television possible. There is also certainly some value in, early on, seeing how these teams respond to a mega-challenge. But the Celtics and the Magic? That's just asking for it.
This seems especially key when you're talking about the rookie class of 2010. Last year, it took Brandon Jennings scoring 55 to start the Rookie of the Year discussions, and then, it was largely one-sided. Then Jennings slumped, Tyreke Evans came on strong and stayed there, and Stephen Curry made it interesting in the second half. That's no campfire tale. But this season, we've got Wall, the Next Big Thing; Griffin, the bringer of pain who snuck up on everyone; Cousins, an outsize talent and "character" test case who could change the way teams think about drafting; and let's not forget Evan Turner and Derrick Favors, both of whom had surprisingly strong debuts.
Favors, coming off the bench against the Pistons, went for a respectable eight and 10 in 20 minutes. Relatively modest, but more than was expected this early. Turner, whose jumbled Sixers squad had the bad fortune to start their season off at home against Miami, mostly got good minutes because the game got away from Philly. But his 16 points, seven boards, and four assists -- against the mighty Heat, no less -- may have been the most impressive of all the rookie games. Not only was Turner searching for an exact spot in his team's rotation -- when faced with a challenge, he stepped up and delivered a performance no one expected.
It sounds corny, and I wouldn't advise the league to use it in future Power Points. Certainly, though, Turner deserves to be up there in this especially lively ROY race, for showing that sometimes, players are just ready to play.
Buyers' Remorse in Minnesota
Uh oh! The Timberwolves didn't read the Blazers' return policy, which clearly states that no refunds will be given after 90 days. Bummer, because Minnesota just realized that the Martell Webster they paid a Luke Babbitt for back in June has a bad stitch in the back. Ditching the analogy: the Wolves are quietly accusing the Blazers of trading them Webster without letting it be known Webster needed back surgery for an injury suffered in the playoffs. In April.
The Wolves apparently think they can pull a draft pick from the Blazers if they prove shenanigans; I believe the great Chris Webber said it best when he told Minny GM David Kahn, "Good luck." But wait: Miracles do happen, and if Kahn and his Wolves get lucky in L'Affair Martell they might also consider attempts to return the following recent purchases.
Darko Milicic and Wesley Johnson. Yesterday, I made the following crack: "If Darko had anything to do with passing up on [DeMarcus Cousins], Game 1 should have made that a fire-able offense." A friend from Minnesota passed on the following tweet from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Jerry Zgoda from a few days ago: "[Kurt Rambis] says #Timberwolves considered Cousins "seriously" in draft but went [small forward] w/ Wes because they settled on Darko and [Nikola Pekovic] at C."
Who has six thumbs and convinced the Wolves to pass on DeMarcus Freaking Cousins? These guys.
Mind you, the draft was a week before free agency, so the Wolves must have known then what Darko would cost ($20 million for four years). As I've mentioned before: DeMarcus will make less than $16 million over the next four years. Darko will make $20 million. How does anyone in their right mind choose the latter? They don't! Is temporary (or possibly permanent) insanity a valid excuse for buyer's remorse?
Kurt Rambis. The finalists for the Wolves' coaching job in 2009 were Rambis, Rockets assistant Elston Turner and ABC/ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson. I have never been high on Jackson's repeated candidacies, but ... after watching Rambis for 83 games, vacillating between yes-man to Kahn's crazy ideas and red-ass ball-buster (see: Kevin Love, Wednesday), I'd take Jackson. Heck, I'd take Tito Jackson, honestly. Kahn took Rambis (which, to be fair, most -- myself included -- endorsed). He also gave Rambis a four-year deal. Sadly, no warranty was included.
Two picks and Kosta Koufos. Kahn sent near All-Star Al Jefferson to Utah this summer for two picks and Kosta Koufos. Jefferson hasn't been great shakes in two Jazz games so far, but you know what you're getting with him: powerful scoring, strong rebounding. Minnesota moved him to make room for Kevin Love in the starting five and Michael Beasley behind him. Only Love was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 1, and Beasley started at small forward. Which means there is no apparent surplus of talent at power forward after all, given that Anthony Tolliver ended up playing more minutes at the position than Love. Anthony Tolliver could have been Al Jefferson.
David Kahn. The Minnesota GM is apparently one of the friends of Stern that the league's commissioner convinces teams to hire; Stern did the same with former Rockets business operations guy John Thomas in Sacramento -- Stern recommended him, the Maloofs hired him, (almost) everyone hated him for a decade. That's how Kahn happened: Stern recommended him to Wolves owner Glen Taylor. The whole Stern pipeline is a bit fuzzy, but involves the commish's old New York law firm and quite possibly Relay for Life kickbacks. I'm not really sure. All I know is that Taylor got screwed with this one, and should look into whether the government has ordered recalls of David Kahns.
Ricky Rubio. I get it: this entire roster has been built with one dude in mind, Ricky. He'll swoop into the Land of 10,000 Lakes at some point during the third millennium, and it will be good. In the meantime, Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors will be doubling the Wolves' win total and raking in the playoff dough. And when Ricky does come over eventually, chances are Curry will still be better. (TZ)
What We Like (Or, The Things We'll Miss During the Great '11-12 Season Shutdown): Stan Van Gundy's Press Conferences
What We Like champions the unlikely things we'll miss if the league shuts down next summer. Rob Peterson (@ShotDrJr) is a FanHouse producer and frequent contributor to The Works.
In 2009, I was fortunate enough to cover the Orlando Magic for three postseason series, which meant I was fortunate enough to be there for nearly every press conference Magic coach Stan Van Gundy held. And when Van Gundy met the media it always seemed like performance art.
He could be jovial. He could be exasperated. He could be incredulous. He was never boring, win or lose. Of course, it was more entertaining when the Magic lost because Van Gundy's brutal honesty never seemed to waver. Check out the "it's a basketball game" rant after Game 4 of the 2009 Finals where basically he told reporters to think of a new angle.
Like Phil Jackson, who sometimes speaks to reporters as if his 11 championship rings gives him carte blanche to condescend and Gregg Popovich, who on occasion treats the media as if they were dim cattle, Van Gundy suffers no fools. But compared the other two, Van Gundy is an unvarnished grinder, buoyed in the knowledge that his knowledge of the game is far greater than your knowledge of anything else. Most impressive was his use of the word "look," which could take on many implications depending on the tone of his voice or his body language.
"Look (moron)..." when he was trying to explain.
"Look (sigh)..." when he had no quick explanation.
"Look (with a shrug of the shoulders)..." when he felt he explained enough. If you didn't get it now, you never would.
"Look (with a shake of the head)..." just drop it, like the first question in the video below.
Van Gundy was also a great contrarian. At times, it frustrated the Magic beat reporters, because Van Gundy, like all coaches (i.e. control freaks), wanted to manage the narrative of the press conference. And often he did, providing quotable material on nearly every aspect of the NBA.
During games, Van Gundy, who has the squarish shape of an accordion, wheezes and scratches like an old one when he tries to raise his voice in order to be heard by his players over the crowd. In post-practice and post-game pressers, Van Gundy's nasal tones smooth themselves out, while the coach himself always appears rumpled. Often in postgame pressers, Van Gundy appears as if he's just been in a metaphysical knife fight and feels lucky to have escaped without leaking pints of blood.
It's these raw reactions that make Van Gundy seem more emotionally accessible than most coaches. And, yes, infinitely more fun. (RP)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.