But first, the difference between hands-on owners and the handsy ones.
On Meddlesome Owners
If you haven't spent some time with Sam Amick's wonderful, elucidating Q&A with new Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, please stop, click the link and read it. That single piece will give you everything you need to know about Golden State's new era.
One of the items Lacob touches on is how he relates to the idea of a "meddling owner," and fan backlash in respect to such. "Meddling" is one of those descriptive words that has a very specific connotation in NBA discourse, and it's not positive. When dissing Mark Cuban, you use the word "meddling." If you wanted to commend Cuban or any other owner for his activity level, you'd call the owner "engaged." But no one ever calls an owner "engaged," because engagement is not the preference.
It's a double-standard, that fans who so often (think they) have all the answers despite thin (more like non-existent) basketball resumés criticize owners with thin basketball resumés who pretend to have all the answers.
I speak from experience: the Maloofs were pilloried when they let Rick Adelman leave, and when they pushed for the hire of Reggie Theus despite GM Geoff Petrie's resistance, and when they apparently pushed for a trade for Ron Artest behind the scenes. Who pilloried the Maloofs? Fans like me, who had never met Theus and who did not have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
Lacob seems to feel that way, that owners -- who pony up the cash to theoretically push for success -- deserve a seat at the basketball operations table by default. Given that he and Guber are billed as the New Cubans (joining Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian Cuban, and Ted Leonsis, the Hockey Cuban), it makes perfect sense.
And isn't it what's truly fair? Hardcore fans, who pay thousands for season tickets, parking and concessions and spend enough of their limited entertainment time watching broadcasts or Jumbotrons to make sponsorship lucrative, can reasonably say they have cold, hard cash invested in any given team. But all that is less than a drop in the bucket compared to what owners have invested ... unless we're attempting to quantify spiritual investment, in which case someone needs to get Jimmy Goldstein a certificate or something.
Owners shouldn't take heat for being "engaged" in the basketball operations of a team. That allowance requires more firm definition than what we've been given to date -- is Cuban actually just "engaged?" Is he too engaged, and how much engagement is allowable before it becomes meddlesome? Can an engaged owner listen into huddles? Should he blog about his team's record in games officiated by certain referees? Is his involvement on transactions limited to final say, or is he "allowed" to reach out to other engaged owners or GMs to cook up deals?
Of course, this is a shell game, and it's all about perception. Cuban, with his strained expressions, typo-ridden screeds and truly dreadful screen-printed t-shirts, can't escape his lead-cast image as the dork who bought a team to rub elbows with the jocks he always looked up to. (I mean that in the most endearing way possible. Honest.) Leonsis comes off as engaged because he concentrates on the fan experience and always sings about the future, the future, the future. (In this day of the enlightened fan, talking about building a homegrown dynasty -- "the next Thunder" -- is like pillow talk. "Build through the draft" from the mouth of an owner might as well be "take off all your clothes" to a fan of an embattled team.)
Where will Lacob and Guber fall? That remains to be seen, though it should be noted Cohan managed to be both an absentee and completely reviled. Warriors fans are smart enough to embrace progress when it sprouts up, and it'll will be damn near impossible for the Lacob/Guber era to go as poorly as the Cohan era did. As such, the new guys have a leg up in their war against the meddlesome tag. Now they just need to make sure they continue to wear button-downs instead of knock-off Affliction tees, and they should avoid Dairy Queen jokes at all costs. (TZ)
The Torch Is Passed
Get used to reconfiguring your weekends. The NBA may have featured Blake Griffin on opening night, but beyond that, the scheduling goblins had figured Griffin and his Clippers to be a cult favorite, up-all-night draw. That is, if they were even worth watching at all. Now, about three weeks into the season, we're witnessing the greatest time-zone yanks since the Believe! Warriors so betrayed the East Coast, mecca of the basketball. On Saturday, Griffin lit into the hapless Knicks with a fury unseen since ... current Knicks centerpiece Amar'e Stoudemire was a wee pup in Phoenix, with the blessed nickname "Hellboy" (that one came straight from Barkley).
That's why, after a Griffin dunk over Timofey Mozgov (harder to spell than Frederic Weis, but will stick nonetheless), Amar'e just had to give him his propers. This was filthy, obscene, whatever, in just about every sense of the word. It might be the NBA's first ever NSFW dunk.
This magic moment is already being spun as Amar'e acknowledging his successor, perhaps ruefully. That's not entirely accurate. Griffin comes into the league bigger, stronger, and a more well-rounded player than that nightmare Amar'e of 2004-05 (his second season, second out of high school, first with Nash). What's more, despite Stoudemire's well-publicized battle back from microfracture surgery, the Knicks forward can still throw down with the best of them. Maybe not as frighteningly, or spontaneously, as Griffin -- who has taken the league by storm the way Amar'e did in 2004. But he's also not that player anymore. Stoudemire has worked to expand his game, and his range. He looks for contact instead of destroying opponents at any turn. If Griffin has already surpassed Young Stoudemire, the Grown Amar'e isn't about to enter back into that contest again.
This also begs the question of whether Griffin can keep up this high-wire act without posing a sizable threat to himself or others. Whether through injury, or acclimation, he may also go the way of Amar'e. If you've forgotten, this is the game he used to play:
For now, though, let's not worry about that. Blake Griffin might be the single most electrifying thing going in the NBA right now; he's instantly a reason to tune into a game, in a way we haven't seen since LeBron hit the league. Amar'e knows this and remembers when he was that guy. These days, he's a wise, aged master, whose IT days have past. But he knows a kindred spirit when he sees one. What Griffin's doing now, well, Amar'e can look on it, say it is good, and nod his head in approval. It's a form of nostalgia, maybe an acknowledgment that time passed him by. First and foremost, though, it's kinship cemented. In that moment, Amar'e sees himself in Blake, and sees them both as part of a broader tradition of terrorizing the league with high-flying power. That's about more than the fraternity of players. It's demi-gods in the lunch line. Welcome to the club, Blake. Now welcome to the top. (BS)
Greg Oden Was a Friend of Mine
The morning after Greg Oden's second microfracture operation was announced (it was performed successfully, whatever that means pre-rehab), I suggested that anyone snickering, or using this awful event to further their own basketball expertise, was a bad person. I now want to revise that blanket condemnation. Not because I found a totally awesome joke to use. I remain steadfast, moral, and caring. I'm a little concerned, though, that Oden is somehow afforded a degree of sympathy that other athletes don't get when they are busts, or injury-prone, or just generally get in the way of total world domination.
Sports are about getting results; players like Oden get in the way of winning, or at least hold it up. If they have put in some valuable time, maybe we develop an attachment to them, expect them to return to former glory, or feel some sense of loyalty. Or who knows, perhaps a player who has put in some real time becomes that much more of a disappointment when they take to the sidelines. Bottom line: much of sports fan culture -- and in this, I include radio personalities, and other members of the media with about as much perspective as your average drunken fan -- delights in taking shots at losers, liabilities, cowards, and anyone else who fails to take the field. Or those who do, but dramatically underperform.
Oden is a special case, sort of. His body just can't buy a break. He has proven mightily effective when healthy -- his is a career, full of promise, that never got off the ground. Really, though, is he worthy of our humanity in ways that Darko Milicic isn't? Sam Bowie, drafted over Jordan, was a similar figure (for the same team, no less), but it took years for anyone to acknowledge that Bowie's career had problems beyond his peculiar draft circumstances. Kwame Brown is still a punchline, despite being a poster child for the age limit -- a small town kid beaten down mentally by one Michael Jeffrey Jordan from the second he entered the NBA. Of course, the great ones rise above adversity, whether that means fighting through injuries or dealing with older players' abuse. That's part of growing up as an athlete, and we fetishize this. Taken to its extreme, it leaves no mercy in its wake.
Except for Greg Oden. Something about Oden makes him different. Maybe it's his dour, thoughtful personality; his intelligence and sense of humor; the Portland milieu that's predisposed to niceness; how key he was to a team on the rise; the shocking unfairness of how good Kevin Durant got, and how quickly; or the tyranny of height in NBA, which partly explains why he went ahead of Durant. No one likes to see Oden go through this again, hear the door creak shut on what could have been a brilliant career. And yet Darko or Kwame Brown, or Andrew Bynum, can become a running joke? Shaun Livingston provided us all with a shared trauma. We can't laugh there. We had no such moment with Oden. For some reason, we just happen to care. On behalf of almost every failed prospect who came before, that's B.S. (BS)
Burden of Proof
This weekend, we had a trade. The New Orleans Hornets, trying to get better in the most humble, or just realistic, ways possible, unloaded Peja Stojakovic's contract, and back-up PG candidate Jerryd Bayless, for Raptors PGs Jarrett Jack and Marcus Banks and big man David Andersen. The Hornets, as Sam Amick noted, make every move with an eye toward keeping Chris Paul in town. The invisible enemy in the room is whatever possible super-team might try to absorb Paul (sidebar: does "super-team" become less potent with the Heat not exactly ruling the roost?). Stojakovic's expiring contract might have been an asset down the road, but the team needed someone to spell/play alongside Paul. In this deal, the Hornets have gotten that.
Here's the challenge faced by Dell Demps: no matter how smart a deal he swings, it's fighting an abstraction. Whether or not the Heat have lived up to expectations, there's no question that putting together three All-Stars of mythic caliber is an appealing formula, for any team capable of making the figures work. Even if it doesn't work right away, it's expected that at some point, it will. That's the logic applied to Paul's hypothetical new team. They will be perfect, even if they aren't, and give us no reason to believe they will be so. The Hornets, on the other hand, are fighting an uphill battle. Not only has the team's early success come as a surprise -- whatever goes well for them, whatever trades go well, have the burden of proof upon them. There is no benefit of the doubt.
To keep Paul, the Hornets will have to prove themselves, over and over again. And even then, they won't measure up to the other option(s) Paul is pondering. That should intimidate Demps. But to some degree, it must be liberating. When all expectations are stripped away -- and a team is practically expected to fail by comparison -- then the real basketball can begin. The Hornets have to win, and Demps has to make moves that work. If he does this, maybe Chris Paul will remain in New Orleans. Is that really such an unfair way of doing business? (BS)
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.