Sometimes, an entertaining game of basketball is just that: entertainment. That’s — in its own perverse way — the blessing of the denouement of the kind of season that Timberwolves fans have grown accustomed to over the last several years. Go back a decade and the Wolves were the #1 seed in the Western Conference, following years where the end of season concern was getting out of the first round. Just after that, entire seasons were slogs, lit only dimly by some notion of rebuilding the team with little consistent direction to indicate such a thing was even happening. Continue Reading…
Archives For Lebron James
LeBron James seems to spend entire quarters of basketball simply haunting the game’s periphery. He fades into the mesh of his team, defers to his teammates, takes only the opportunities that present themselves. Bt he doesn’t disappear, as some have claimed; he looms like some awful force rising in the distance. When you play the Heat, there’s always the possibility, as both Boston and Oklahoma City discovered last spring, of LBJ stepping out of the shadows and crushing you where you stand.
It gets worse. It turns out that even when LeBron seems to be peripheral–as in the first half of tonight’s game, when Dwyane Wade spun and sliced his way to 18 points on 12 shots–he is still exerting subtle control over the game’s narrative. There are only a few moments of LeBron’s performance against the Wolves that really stand out–hitting that string of third quarter threes or finishing that nasty half-court alley-oop from Ray Allen. And yet: 22 points; 11 assists; seven tough boards; four blocks. Yes, this is the best basketball player in the world.
Far be it from me to add to the city of Cleveland’s misery. It should be enough that their former hometown hero tortured and betrayed them on national television, and then returned home to throw chalk in their faces and mercilessly demolish their team. I’d like to think that we Wolves fans can sympathize a little. But our great divorce was amicable; and our emotional investment, by definition apparently, can’t possibly rival Cleveland’s passion and majestic suffering. None of this, however, can change the fact that the Cavs just lost by 34 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Just another cruel humiliation to add to the list. Sorry guys.
There was almost nothing surprising about the Miami Heat’s casual vaporization of the Wolves on Tuesday. (Well I guess that the Lebron/Anthony Tolliver faux-beef was a little surprising–since when do the oligarchs of our pop consciousness care about mild, self-deprecating parody?) A thirty point win seemed almost inevitable. Magnificent performances by Wade and James are part of the routine. I understand this much.
What was really startling for me was simply that this team exists at all. This off-season, I got used to thinking of this Miami Heat pop-cultural phenomenon as just another high-gloss TV show, heavy on the melodrama, heavy on the pyro. This had to be just another shimmering refraction of the simulacra, right? Maybe the renegade handiwork of an undernourished, over-caffeinated video game programmer or the projected viral video of some nerdy twelve-year-old’s ultimate basketball fantasy (“wouldn’t it be awethome if…!?”)? They weren’t gonna, like, actually show up at actual basketball arenas and play real NBA games against other flesh-and-blood humans were they?
But sure enough, there they were: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, all wearing the same uniform and taking the same floor as our Wolves, a crew of NBA neophytes and non-celebrities if there ever was one. Given that our young bunch was squaring off against a mythic Superteam, its kind of hard to make any firm judgments about the Wolves’ performance. Kevin Love is struggling to bring his defense up to Kurt Rambis’ standards? Well, checking Bosh one-on-one and attempting to rotate to Wade’s baseline drives sure isn’t gonna cast the most forgiving light on that effort.
And sure, at many points in the first half, the Wolves moved the ball more quickly and decisively than at any other point this year so far. But the frantic pace at which they had to play to stay even a half-step ahead of Miami’s ravenous help-and-recover defense, took its toll at the basket. The Wolves brought great energy to the task of creating open shots, but they never could find the balance or composure to hit any of them. And you think extreme defensive effort is a necessity right? Well a team this talented can use that effort against you. It seemed that every hard rotation, every trap and double-team resulted in an open three-point shooter or weakside cutter. The Wolves would have had to play nearly perfect defense to slow this team. Needless to say, that wasn’t happening.
Which brings us to some of the real wonders and terrors of playing the Heat. The first is that, as Tom Haberstroh of the The Heat Index pointed out today, Miami almost never plays a five-man lineup that does not include one of the ten best players in the game. For some reason, this is even more disturbingly impressive to me than the idea of all three stars playing together. Haberstroh continues:
But some of LeBron’s most effective moments in a Heat uniform have come when he’s played with the so-called second unit, one that closely resembles his former digs in Cleveland. In fact, when LeBron goes to work without Bosh and Wade, the Heat have outscored opponents by five points in just over 25 minutes of play. It’s a reminder that even when the Heat let off the gas, they’re still deploying the game’s most talented basketball player.
In other words, the weakest lineup you’re likely to face is some version of last year’s Cavs or Heat. And certainly Lebron’s work with the “second unit” against the Wolves–a heady mix of deft pick-and-roll passing, drives-and-kicks and the obligatory impossible 20-foot fades–was pretty overwhelming.
This was to be expected I guess. But Wade was the real stunner. Lebron’s ridiculous power and speed allow him to operate within totally foreign concepts of space. The old physical rules do not apply. Wade works within more familiar spatial territory, but he discovers new ground within it. With his immense gifts of vision, quickness and balance, Wade creates angles through the lane, space between and around players that seem obvious in retrospect–once he’s finished easily at the rim–but that are impossible to us normal people to imagine or foresee. It was astonishing to watch Wade play within the expanded space created by the Heat’s three-point shooters and the attention commanded by Lebron. With just the slightest stretching of the defense, just the slightest gain in maneuvering room, the game, for Wade, become frighteningly easy.
Even without Martell Webster, without Beasley, the Wolves gave this game a pretty good old try, at least until that blistering third quarter made their best efforts moot. Deep down, though, they seemed to be sharing my exact thoughts: I can’t believe this is really happening.
As much as possible, I’ve tried to stay away from covering the Lebron spectacle. The deluge of speculation, self-aggrandizement and misinformation was just a little too hot and gooey to hold onto, especially for a venue as concerned with semi-forgotten former number 2 draft picks as we seem to be.
But as I indicated below, I was sort of taken aback at the ickiness of the announcement’s forum, as well as with my own supreme disappointment at its content. So I have two, hopefully brief observations.
First, there is no doubt that holding an hour-long national television event to announce your choice of employers (in the process slowly torturing your most loyal supporters) is an act of cruel hubris. This has been widely remarked upon and is not exactly a revelation. Still, as our friend David Roth has pointed out at Can’t Stop the Bleeding some of the more vituperative scolding LBJ (or more accurately, “his ego”) has received from the Innernet pundicrats (this one and this one are prime examples) strike one as more than a little disingenuous. Says Mr. Roth:
Obviously this whole thing was going to get dumb, and obviously it has gotten dumb. Obviously LeBron was going to sign a huge contract and leverage his brand (barf, by the way) for maximum revenue, because he has always done that, and obviously he is doing that. Getting Hulk-smash angry at the fact that these totally predictable things are happening strikes me as kind of a waste of energy and virtual ink.
These things aren’t just predictable. More than that, they’ve been expected of Lebron ever since he was, like, 10 years old. How can we possibly scrutinize his every comment and action, endlessly pontificate on his desires and motivations (there’s that ego again) and then self-righteously attack him for his outsized sense of his own world-historical importance? Seems a little hypocritical to me.
I’ve always been struck by the degree to which Lebron believes in the hagiography (the “King James” thing, the “we are all witnesses” thing, the “having a legacy” thing); as a result, it seems to me, he is disarmingly businesslike and matter-of-fact about his own magnificence. He’s got none of Terrell Owens’s pulsating narcissism or even someone like J.R. Smith’s transparent insecurity. He just takes his own status as an extraordinarily important person–which status is constantly reinforced by the media and the fans and his business associates and own teammates–as a given. So it isn’t exactly arrogant (it’s a lot of gross things, but not arrogance) for him to assume that we would want to watch an hour-long TV show about his latest act of self-marketing. We did want to watch it; it’s exactly what we had been asking for.
Here’s the second thing. As I mentioned before, my main emotion at hearing that Lebron was heading to South Beach wasn’t anger or disgust; it was disappointment. Disappointment, not so much at his disloyalty to the hometown team–as we well know, the loyalty of fans and players to their pro sports organizations has never been a two-way street–but because he would have looked so great next to Boozer and Rose and Noah in Chicago. His staggering talents would have been beautifully complemented and enhanced. Best of all, he would have seeded the possibility of an eye-popping rivalry with Wade’s and Bosh’s Heat. It would have been so much fun.
Commenter Mac put it really well (go here and scroll down for the whole thing):
But to me, Lebron will always be a guy who put winning ahead of actually competing, who wanted a ring more than he wanted to win a ring, who wanted the championship belt more than he wanted to be the baddest man on the planet. I am told he is a big fan of the movie “Gladiator.” He fancies himself Maximus no doubt, but to me he proved this summer he is a lot more like Commodus — he wants the throne and the adulation and the symbolic victory in front of the masses, but what doesn’t care about as much is beating anybody in a fair fight. And to me, that makes him a less interesting player and a less admirable champion, even if he wins a title or two or three. Your mileage may vary.
Ultimately, I don’t really care that the Lakers won the Finals this year. What was meaningful to me was the heart-exploding, ferociously competitive seven games (plus two compelling series against OKC and Phoenix, plus their whole curious regular season) that got them there. I care that they played feverish defense and managed to overcome a poor offensive game by their best player and barely squeaked by a Celtics team almost exactly as tenacious and synchronized as they were. We’ve come to so fetishize the spoils of victory–especially that iconic ring–that we’ve almost forgotten the game itself. But the beautiful struggle, the intense harmony of ten bodies in motion, that’s the interesting part. The results are just words on a page; the ring is just a piece of metal. Winning is important, but the process, the effort, is what really compels. The fact that Lebron seems to want to circumvent that process–that he seems, as Mac says, to care more about winning than competing–this is what really bums me out.
- Things are happening everybody. Did you guys know that Lebron James was a free agent this summer? Wow, he’s probably going to make a lot of money, almost as much as Joe Johnson even! In any case, it seems that Lebron’s decision will have an effect on David Lee’s eventual destination. And although Golden State is evidently the front-runner in this little game, nothing is decided at the moment. Chad Ford reports at Truehoop:
Once LeBron announces his intentions tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN, Lee should know pretty quickly where he’ll land. League sources tell me that the Warriors are in the lead to land Lee in a sign-and-trade with the Knicks if New York doesn’t win the LeBron Lottery tonight…If the Knicks do land LeBron tonight, they’ll have to renounce their rights to Lee in order to fit in LeBron under the cap. That will kill any chances of a sign-and-trade.
Good to know, except that the Knicks are not going to land Lebron tonight, so.
- Speaking of the salary cap, Marc Stein at ESPN tells us that the cap for next season is actually $2 million higher than expected.
- Which is great news because it means that the Wolves can now go right ahead and sign Luke Ridnour. Problem solved!
- Ups, not quite. Nothing is settled until the porcelain Rick Rickert joins the Wolves’ Summer League team. There, that should do it.
- Don’t worry, everybody, Jonny Flynn is not being traded (although now how will the Wolves find playing time for Ridnour? Right?).
- This last thing has nothing to do with the Wolves, but Joey from Straight Bangin’ so perfectly captures my feelings on the whole Lebron/Wade/Bosh Event (assuming, of course, that Lebron does go to Miami, as it looks like he will) that I’ve got to show it to you (although its chock full of dirty words). His points, in brief: It is cowardly; it is lazy; it is boring for basketball; it undermines the NBA; it insults history. True on all counts:
If Miami wins two, or three, or four titles, I hope that no self-respecting fan anoints LeBron as a historical equivalent of Michael, Magic, Larry, and them. Those are NBA greats who sacrificed, who struggled, who worked to impose their will, believing that ultimately they would find a way to emboss the designs for a title with their unique signatures. LeBron has chosen otherwise, shrinking from the obligations of true greatness. This is a herb move for a man who will remain lost despite a new direction.
Good use of the word “herb,” dude. Two more bodies I’d add to the pile: 1) For a man who claims to love his home state, he doled out some serious torture to the people who’ve supported him his whole life. 2) Culminating in this one-hour television special–which I’ll watch if I can find the stomach–this whole hubristic fiasco has done more to turn everyday life into a vacuous, preening spectacle than a thousand episodes of The Hills. Thanks everybody.
Check out Bethlehem Shoals at Fanhouse, with another critique of the NBA draft (the 2010 version, at least). This time, its in comparison with this year’s mythic free agent class. If you read the whole thing, you can catch Shoals calling Demarcus Cousins a “stenchful fraud.” Yowza:
“Instead, it’s been overshadowed by something at once more realistic and more fantastic. If the draft plays with the fantasy of franchise renewal, then Free Agency 2010 throws aside the dolls and chew toys and says LET’S DO THIS. This is not a drill; LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh are not decoys. By comparison, the draft is an afterthought — at least as any kind of exercise in idealism.”
Shoals is right to point out that the imaginative potential of this free agent class–the ability to envision some team making that one transformational move–dwarfs that of the draft. But, setting aside the fact that very few teams actually have a shot at these luminaries, that note of realism marks a key difference. Lebron and Wade and Bosh (and Dirk and Amare and more) are surely epochal players, but we’ve also seen them at their limits. Neither Lebron nor Wade could singlehandedly solve the Celtics defensive pressure. Despite Dirk’s most manful efforts, he couldn’t force his team to play grittier D or more coherent O against San Antonio. And even Bosh couldn’t save Toronto from devolving into a depressing spectacle. This free agent class is filled with sure things, but team-building remains a complex, esoteric business. And the draft is still the site of our most unabashed optimism.