Derrick Rose is a special player. How special is obviously dependent on who you ask and more importantly, what they value. Now there’s certainly no shortage of metric centric posts available to espouse or denounce his worth, so let’s just take a moment to appreciate the obvious.
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So where does this leave us? When Rajon Rondo’s name was wiped off the locker room whiteboard, there was a sigh of relief, as the struggling Celitcs of late became slightly more beatable. But after the first quarter ended, so had any thoughts of morale lifting victories. Boston was in the midst of a 32-13 drubbing, to the delight of several new found fans. Ray Allen ran Wes Johnson ragged, Delonte West met no resistance in serving his role as starting point and Michael Beasley seemed intent on breaking a shooting record, if not a scoring one. Woe were the three hundred Wolves fans in attendance.
Photo by Wright Reading
On Thursday, we discussed the coach’s role in ensuring that his players execute his game plan, and in creating a team culture of effort and accountability. I spend a lot of time around these Wolves but it remains unclear to me how well Kurt Rambis does this extraordinarily important part of his job. My guess is that, for the Wolves, the erratic ebb and flow of inspiration, focus and confidence remains as much a mystery to them, players and coaches alike, as it us to us. These Timberwolves are a strange beast; I’m not sure we’ll ever figure them out.
It has been nearly two weeks since Japan weathered the largest earthquake in its recorded history, been deluged by a tsunami and terrified by the specter of nuclear disaster. Whole towns have been destroyed. People have been buried in rubble, swept away to sea, poisoned with radiation. In addition to that tremendously awful situation, Muammar Qaddafi has been murdering his own people with abandon and the U.S. and its allies have found themselves embroiled in another military conflict. I think you probably already know this.
In that time we at A Wolf Among Wolves have published five posts. One of them is a funny photoshopped picture. Another is a strident critique of the Timberwolves’ defense. A third examines Nikola Pekovic’s recently improved play and his struggle to avoid foul trouble. Not exactly seething with geopolitical relevance, right?
Now, this is a blog about basketball and as such it’s not our job to report the news. As a matter of fact, I know for certain that many people visit sites like ours as away of escaping the awful things that happen every day–and the rotten, degraded discourse that inevitably grows around them. But still, I can’t escape the feeling that a detailed description of the Wolves’ indecisive weakside rotations against Utah’s flex offense somehow misses the point, that our typically American mode of blithe myopia is a pretty bad look at moments like this.
One wonders: how should we, as people who care about sports and who devote no small amount of our energies and intellects to thinking about and discussing sports, deal with things like this? How do we reconcile the feeling within us that basketball is somehow really important with the awareness that it seems to have very little to say about the tremendously awful things that happen in the world?
The typical answer to this question is some version of the statement above: sports are escapism. They have value because they give people a break from their worries and fears. They provide a place for people to relax, to be thrilled, entertained, moved, even enraged without the pressure of real-world consequences. This idea of entertainment–a dreamworld in which the viewer passively receives information and emotion with no strings attached–is the way we conceive of all of our pop culture.
I would not presume to deny the power and value of escapism. Everybody has the right to lay their burdens down, to forget the world and become absorbed in a realm of harmless amusement. But ultimately, I find this account pretty unsatisfying. Because escapism depends on turning away from the world, on ignorance and forgetting. And this condemns sports to an irrelevance that is not only makes seriously pursuing them irresponsible but also fails to do justice to the passion and care that we invest in them.
Recent events do remind us that its patently obscene to treat professional sports as if they had world historical importance commensurate with a catastrophic natural disaster or massive, violent political upheaval. We’re all guilty of this–of grave, self-serious assessments of a team’s playoff chances, of scolding descriptions of this player’s effort or that player’s ability to shoot in the clutch, as if these were serious moral failings or serious news. I hope you’ll agree that this is a little off-key, a strange mislaying of our attentions.
But so what should we do? How do we honor the depth of our care for the sports we love while still recognizing the ultimate triviality of their outcomes, especially at a time like this, when the world’s sufferings and tragedies are staring us so directly in the face?
Let me suggest that sports, properly experienced, are a celebration. They are a celebration of our bodies’ beauty and possibility, of the breadth of our physical creativity, of the depth of our capabilities for passion and commitment. To me, real celebrations–those performed in full recognition of the world’s sad facts and with a deep gratitude for the gifts we’ve been given–are an entirely appropriate response to tragedy. This is true even now, as so many people are denied the full use of their bodies by the caprices of nature or by the malice and vanity of violent, powerful people. When we celebrate properly, we don’t forget the world, we remember it.
To this way of thinking, the results of the games are far less significant than the effort, skill, imagination and joy that go into the playing. Of course, we care very much about the outcomes. Winning and losing are, after all, the engines that drive the competition, the structure that makes the celebration possible. As fans, we are deeply invested in the success and failure of our favorite teams and players. And this is perfectly fine–as long as we remember that the outcomes themselves are not what gives the game its deepest meaning, its real value to us and to the world.
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This is a tough balance to strike: to take the game seriously as a form of celebration and expression, but not with such gravity and self-importance that we forget about the rest of the world. It can be particularly difficult when following a team like the Timberwolves, who evince a level of frustration and despair in their supporters that is hard to come by in any venue outside of politics.
In another way, though, this can be a good reminder to us to examine the process, not the result. To search for moments of grace and beauty amid even the most discouraging Wolves loss. To remember how lucky we are to be able to live through these magnificent athletes (even if they are slightly less magnificent than everybody else’s). There are 11 games left in this long NBA regular season. Sounds like a party.
Last night’s contest was close, but largely uneventful. It would be optimistic to think the return of Darko, Wes Johnson and Martell Webster propelled us to compete with another contender, however it wouldn’t be realistic. Dirk Nowitzki was saddled with foul trouble and the Mavericks-sans Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler-struggled to score in his absence. Upon his return Dallas opened the fourth with a 15-2 run, en route to a 35 point quarter and three point victory. As for any further details, Nikola Pekovic and Anthony Randolph ate away at Darko’s minutes, Michael Beasley alternately dazed and confused, and Kurt Rambis’ clock management baffled us yet again. You know, the usual. Nothing much to see here.
Except Kevin Love.
The Wolves embarked on this week’s three game road trip shorthanded, something a team so inherently fragile can ill afford to do. Sure, they had enough to stride confidently through a culture of failure in Detroit, but Philadelphia and Washington while not exponentially better, were still equipped to withstand our best efforts this weekend. The losses did nothing for morale, of course, but when considering that we are in year one of yet another rebuilding project, it’s important to remember that no single number will be indicative of failure or success. There are more than moral victories to be claimed this season and any team worth its salt uses this time to re-focus their efforts on experimenting with solutions for the coming year. So perhaps it was best that Darko, Wes and Martell were gone this weekend. It gave us an opportunity to reconsider some things.
Corey Brewer’s NYC vacation did not last long. It seems our boy has been waived after three inactive games with the Knicks. If you think that’s a little unjust, you should check out this post of Henry Abbott’s on the Truehoop main page, in which Brewer’s virtues are duly extolled. Check it:
Smart teams, I’d wager, have been watching Corey Brewer for a long time for this exact reason. And what they have been seeing is a defensive show. Once you clue in to the guy, it’s glaringly obvious that no one on the court is defending like him. He’s narrow, long, strong, quick and feisty — which is a perfect set of attributes to fight over a screen. He has great hands. He goads non-shooters into shooting, and keeps great shooters from making a catch. He talks constantly on defense — he’s not only in the right place, but he knows where everybody else is supposed to be, too.
Supporting Henry’s “smart teams” assertion: the Celtics, Mavs and Spurs have all expressed some interest in that skinny guy. I wonder if this would be happening if Wes Johnson or Anthony Randolph were waive today.
As we’ve discussed before, Corey was very, very far from a being a perfect player. But all the same, it’s nice to see some recognition for the striking things this uniquely energetic and positive dude did while he was with us.
Pardon me for looking a gift horse in the mouth, but my despondence has only been slightly alleviated. Target Center’s occasionally faithful finally had something to celebrate besides a box score and as they gleefully filed towards the exits, Michael Beasley was interviewed for all to hear. The key to this afternoon’s win? “Just scoring more points than they did.”
I have to admit, I laughed, as did several others. Because he was serious.
The novelty has worn off. For many of you it probably did some time ago, but I couldn’t help but be enthused by my friend Ben’s smiling optimism. He can be quite influential, as I’m sure you know. So even as the losses piled up, I was able to take solace in Michael Beasley’s resurgence and Kevin Love’s historic breakout season. I saw the potential in Wesley Johnson’s deft touch and defensive energy and to this day I prefer him over the churlish petulance of DeMarcus Cousins. Even Martell Webster’s achy back proved to be a worthwhile addition. A bit of a chucker, yes, yet still a stabilizing locker room presence worthy of my trust. There were plenty of things to love about this basketball team. I wanted to believe and in order to be of any worth to you, our fair readers, I still need to. But nights like these make it hard.Very hard.
If you can’t tell by now, Ben wasn’t at last night’s game. For the most part, neither were the Timberwolves.
When it comes to the Timberwolves, it make little sense to mince words. After consecutive pleasant surprises against New Orleans and Houston last week, the Wolves’ final four games leading into the All-Star break were pretty disheartening. These games were wrapped in an aura of grim defeat. Physical and emotional fatigue permeated the air.
But let’s please be a little bit generous with our Wolves. These losses were the culmination of an exhausting string of injuries and absences, in which the depleted Wolves struggled–admirably, for the most part, if futilely–to craft some coherence from the ruins.
And so I’m not prepared, on the basis of those four unpalatable losses, to call this season an unmitigated disaster. This is not rock bottom. The truth is that, win totals notwithstanding, this team is an improvement over last year. They have played competitive basketball against some of the best teams in the league. They are more energetic and athletic; they are more creative. They can usually shoot the ball pretty well; sometimes they even engage in the kind of sublimely unconscious ball-movement that is the hallmark of the Triangle offense.