Today in The Works: rethinking positions and All-Star voting; dream analysis and the Washington Wizards; and we explore the Kevin Love-Blake Griffin rivalry.
But first, LeBron James' latest Twitter disasters.
Will LeBron James Ever Learn?
LeBron James had himself some interesting Tuesday and Wednesday nights last week. As you've likely heard by now, near the end of Tuesday night's atrocious 112-57 loss by the Cavs against the Lakers, the franchise's one-time savior tweeted the following: "Crazy. Karma is a b****.. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!" It seemed, at the time, like a case of someone kicking the team when it was down, rubbing their face in their own failure while at the same time shaming them for ever claiming they could live without LeBron. Never mind that LeBron's response was at least partially justified by Dan Gilbert's childish response to his departure. No matter the circumstances, James was just being a little mean.
Of course, according to LeBron, this was all some huge misunderstanding. On Wednesday night, James clarified things by claiming he had no intent to hurt anyone's feelings with the tweet and was merely passing along some sage words of advice from a friend. If you believe LeBron's explanation, then he was just being a fount of wisdom rather than a bully. No one could blame you for thinking this was a poorly disguised attempt to save face, but his response is his response.
I honestly don't care much if LeBron was lying or not, because the tweet itself indicates a bizarre personality trait that's only really been noticed since the "Decision" mess turned public opinion against him. In short, James is decidedly tone-deaf to the ebbs and flows of public opinion and often doesn't consider the contexts in which his words operate, even if he doesn't intend to harm anyone.
It's been jarring to see from someone who claims becoming a global icon as one of his greatest goals and has been trained to be a basketball star since he was 16 years old, but there have now been enough instances of LeBron misjudging public opinion for it to be a trend. The uproar of "The Decision" still hasn't died down; it's also been discussed enough that I don't really want to again here. Still, in the last few weeks, LeBron has angered a decent portion of the basketball population with ill-timed and poorly considered words.
The first came with his now infamous comments about how the league should contract several teams to get back to the glory days of the '80s. Whether or not his point of view was right is immaterial -- the issue here is that he advocated for the removal of roughly ten teams from the NBA and indirectly upset anyone who doesn't live in a major U.S. media market. Then, in an attempt to save face, LeBron said he didn't even know what "contraction" meant and wouldn't dream of playing in a league with any less than 30 teams. Much like in the case of the The Tweet From Another World, LeBron tried to reverse public opinion by calling backsies on his mistake.
This is all behavior unbecoming one of the league's marquee players, let alone a global icon; James simultaneously seems to not be considering his words and lacking in the integrity to stick to a point of view. Consider the tweet: LeBron may very well have been passing along random wisdom to be applied as his followers saw fit, but that doesn't change the fact that he talked about karma right as his old team was getting slaughtered. Even if he's telling the truth, he still seems like an oblivious fool for not thinking of how the comment could be taken at that time by basketball fans all over the world. If LeBron had even glanced at his timeline, he probably would have seen commentary on the Cavs' poor play. So why tweet at all when it would so likely to be taken as a dig at the franchise?
Perhaps LeBron knows full well what he's doing and just doesn't care. However, if he still wants to be the league's most popular player, then he's making a huge mistake here. On Wednesday, social media guru Nate Jones, a former FanHouse blogger and current employee of Goodwin Sports Management (LeBron's first agency), tossed out a series of tweets regarding James's poor fit for a role as ambassador of the NBA. Here's a sample that explains his general points:
Here's my point about [Michael Jordan]. As much of a competitive jerk as he may have been, he took his job as ambassador of the league seriously. You never heard Mike say something about wanting to skip all-star weekend (as some greats have done since)... He was the ultimate competitor, but knew how to put on a happy face and sell the league in front of media and fans. Mike talked about why he often wore suits on late night bus rides to the team hotels. "Because might be only time a fan meets me." Dude did stuff he often didn't want to do because he was THE ambassador of the league. Guys today gotta understand that better. I know people will bring up the fact that we are in a different media age, but don't just tweet anything. Wear that crown correctly.To borrow from a famous Jordan quote, the larger point here is that Republicans read tweets, too. If LeBron truly wants to be the ambassador for the league to the world at-large, then he needs to focus on not offending anyone and being the most likable athlete and person he can be. It's the role LeBron was supposed to fill since he entered the league in 2003, and for all intents and purposes he seemed well on his way to getting there up until last summer.
Then again, maybe Jordan isn't the example to follow, but rather an exception in the annals of NBA history. Apart from MJ, there's never really been a sole ambassador to the rest of the world: Bill Russell was too political and ornery, Wilt Chamberlain didn't win enough, Jerry West didn't either, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird ruled together, etc. Perhaps Jordan is simply an impossible act to follow, some weird combination of ruthless winner and squeaky-clean pitchman who only angered those who thought he should speak out more often.
All of this is to say that while LeBron might not be able to achieve the goals he's laid out in front of himself as a spokesman, he's less a deposed king than a person who just hasn't been able to reach achieve every single one of his dreams. In other words, he's just the league's best player, not its shining light. The next time he screws something up in public, maybe it should be thought of as another case of LeBron being LeBron and not a huge personal defect that requires ridicule and disdain. (EF)
A Change Has Gotta Come To All-Star Voting
I don't care how much you love the NBA. You will catch a bad case of the rickets each year when it's time for All-Star balloting. It's crazy! First of all, the fans gets to vote in the starters, which is often just a popularity contest, and several years behind who is actually playing well in this league. But the real stinker, and the reason why a player calling himself an All-Star will only ever count for so much, is this whole business with positions.
Mostly, it's the center slot. The traditional big man as we know it has long been in decline, and especially out East, there have been times when the starting center had no business making the All-Star Game even as a reserve. Who could forget Jamaal Magloire or Zydrunas Ilguaskas? This requirement is especially goofy when, as the East has been in the past, there are so many talented guards and forwards who deserve their due, or in the West, where there has long been a bevvy of power forwards.
That power forwards can get squeezed out by the need to have a so-called true center is totally nuts. Forget that the position listings can sometimes be arbitrary, and not take into account players who fill multiples roles, or inhabit several different kinds of line-ups (I see you, Tim Duncan!). You have very qualified tall guys left out in the cold, and stiffs who find their way to the greatest exhibition game of them all just by virtue of being seven-feet tall and unable to develop much else in their game. Also, for some reason, lovable dudes like Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming tend to be centers, so they get in on personality alone.
Here's what so stupid: Not only would the balloting, and game, be a better place without the center position, it would also correspond more closely to reality. Those haters who ain't down with the A-S-G like to pop off and say it's not real basketball. Not like the playoffs. Except in the All-Star Game, positional rigidity is enforced, while in the postseason, anything goes. Talk about traditional values -- it's like the whole world turns upside down. So really, if you want to uphold the spirit of what makes basketball good and pure, there shouldn't be a designed center position. Let there be PF-C, on the assumption that in the up-tempo All-Star Game, most PFs can competently play the middle. Yeah, that's another thing: this isn't a half-court contest. So why does the awesomeness of the post even matter all that much?
What's even crazier is that -- as with the All-NBA teams -- there's no differentiation between guard slots. And on those teams, often players can make it in as SG's or SF's, since the "wing" encompasses both. So why not make that leap, too? I would say, though, that PG deserves its own designated category, since that position is really unlike any other, and as important to today's game (and the ASG environment) as the center once was. So maybe this isn't about letting in more good players, but making the All-Star game match the league as it currently stands. That this will let the best players in just follows naturally. (BS)
Sweet Dreams, Washington Wizards
Sigmund Freud said that dreams carries in them our greatest hopes, fears, and fantasies. On Sunday night, Andray Blatche dreamt that he was in the playoffs. Then he dream it again. It was a rough, sleepless night. You have to figure that, on a young team like the Wizards that has already seen so much promise and disappointment, Blatche isn't the only kid confronting his unconscious each night in his Gucci pajamas.
JaVale McGee: Has a recurring dream with cat stuck in a tree that he can't get down ... without using a ladder!
John Wall: Dreams that he magically acquires a consistent jumper, but he can't control it, and accidentally robs a bank with it.
Kirk Hinrich: His goggles get stuck to his face forever, and he then, in a dream within a dream, wakes up 50 years later as Kurt Rambis.
Rashard Lewis: He is in a public speaking competition, in Connecticut, in the 1930's. Somehow, he wins is, and is elected President.
Hilton Armstrong: In a recurring dream, he goes to his locker and instead of a jersey, can only find a lifetime supply of colorful bow-ties.
Al Thornton: Thornton buys a tank, then returns it, then gets back the same tank, and so on. Also there is a basketball present.
Nick Young: He finds himself on the Olympic team, and LeBron keeps telling him to shut up. Then he scores 40 points and it gets even more awkward.
Josh Howard: Every day is a nightmare.
Trevor Booker: Everyone's telling him to shoot. He obliges, and that's when things get ugly.
Kevin Seraphin: Can't figure out why none of his hats fit!
Cartier Martin: When he looks at his birth certificate, he learns he's actually a fake from the streets of Shanghai.
Hamady Ndiaye: JaVale gets hurt, and then it's Hamady's turn to be the frustratingly inconsistent center no one can trust.
Yi Jianlian: Dreamworks makes a fifth Shrek movie and asks Yi to voice a friendly dragon. (EF, BS, MK)
The Immortal Blake Griffin-Kevin Love Debate Starts Now
Eric Freeman: There have been two power forwards to jump onto the NBA scene this season as clear stars: the marauder Blake Griffin and the rhinoceros Kevin Love. But in a world where most players on bad teams have a tough time making the All-Star Game, there will probably only be room for one on the West squad. So here's the question: which man deserves it more?
Bethlehem Shoals: Well, on Wednesday, we will find out, as the Clippers and Timberwolves go head-to-head in a battle for something or other. But the debate is, as you say, already raging, because realistically, they can't both make it. Two youngsters? Both from lottery teams? In the All-Star Game? What's next, free sandwiches at church? Seriously though, as nice as Love is, he'd got nothing on Griffin. Griffin is a world-historical force in tube-socks. He's a rookie with historic numbers. He dropped 47 yesterday while taking only one dunk. His ball-handling gets better every day; against the Pacers, he was going between his legs and behind his back as a totally rational basketball function. He gets his own rebound before he's done shooting. It doesn't get any better than this, baby!
EF: I would say you are right, sir, but I still think there's a case to be made for Love. There was that 30/30 game, after all, and he rebounds unlike anyone else in the league. Plus, you can make the argument that the situation with the Wolves is actually worse than what Griffin has to deal with the Clippers. There are more good players on hand in LA, whereas Love's own coach didn't even seem to want to play him more than 20 minutes per game up until a few months ago even though he was obviously the best player around. He's dealt with more mental strain, which should perhaps be honored.
BS: I can't believe what I'm hearing. You are neglecting the most basic principles of chickens and eggs. Did it ever occur to you that the Clippers only are good -- the other ones, that is -- because entire teams do nothing but guard, watch, or guard while watching Blake Griffin? Eric Gordon, Most Improved Player ... you don't see the connection? Baron Davis, the renaissance? DeAndre Jordan doing more than jostling the ol' door knob? It all begins and ends with Blake. He makes everyone around him into a star. BLAKEBLAKEBLAKEBLAKE.
EF: Hey, I was dealt the unfortunate hand of having to argue for Kevin Love here. I can't even say anything nice about his uncle because he wrote "Kokomo." Give me a break, man.
BS: If I were you, I would talk about Love being older and wiser, and a smarter, more refined player. Also, Love is leading the league in rebounding, and my friend thinks all the league leaders in major categories should automatically make it in.
EF: That's silly, though. Maybe he'd have a better case if we were discussing All-NBA teams, but the All-Star Game is an actual experienced game that acts as a marketing tool around the world. You want the guy who's going to do something crazy, not the really good rebounder. Although this also brings up the issue of whether or not Griffin's style is suited for an exhibition game in which no one tries very hard.
BS: We really should be talking about who is more chill, Lamar Odom or Chris Bosh.
EF: Lamar Odom is the answer.
BS: But we aren't, so I'll answer like this: Kevin Love can throw sweet outlet passes to trigger the break. Blake Griffin might get someone killed, and I bet they will find a way to freeze him out like they did Jordan -- maybe by using a big man from each team to box him out on offense and defense.
EF: Plus Griffin will already own the weekend after winning the dunk contest. It's not like one cool play in the ASG will overshadow that.
BS: Let's not kid ourselves, though. People love Blake Griffin. Kevin Love is the purist's dream. It is essential to his myth that he not be appreciated. Grifffin is a showoff.
EF: Good point. Love's reputation depends on being undervalued and Griffin is loved no matter what he does. Are we saying that neither should make it? Does this clear the path for Zach Randolph again?
BS: Zach Randolph is the only way to settle this. If only Solomon had Randolph around, he could have just given him the baby and called it a day.
The Works is written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Eric Freeman (@freemaneric), who also contributes regularly to Ball Don't Lie. Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.