Jim and Robert discuss STAT, Antonio McDyess, and Other Theories They Have no Business Talking ‘Bout
ROBERT: It’s the start of the season and I haz a sadz.
Maybe I need to stop dipping my toe into the endless stream of zingers and witticisms that is the Twitter. When the news broke that Amar’e would not be out with an imploded cyst (after first hearing that it was a day-to-day bone bruise) and would instead be idled for 6-8 weeks with a knee debridlement, what did we get?
(Using best Shecky Green voice) “Hey, I knew Amar’e's knees were bad, but I didn’t know he wanted to divorce ‘em!” “Take my wife/knees, please!” (Rim shot). Yes, humor is one way of dealing with pain, but all I could think was, “Oh for eight fuck’s sake, here we go again. Amar’e's out, so that means Melo at the Four (ostensibly a good thing) and then more questions when STAT returns about how the two can’t get and/or excuses that the injury prevented them from gelling or whether he should come off the bench.” I might as well write the tabloid’s columns for the next 3 months right now. All this DRAMA, this AGITA, it’s so predictable. And so BORING. I mean, the mishegas-storm that annually rises up around this team is about as predictable as death and taxes but still, I had hope. And now I just feel…terrible. For Amar’e, for the team, for ME.
And you my good Sir. How are you faring?
JIM: Well, let’s see. In the past 24 hours I’ve bounced two checks, run over a turtle, burned a plate of nachos, slammed my thumb in a car door, called my wife by my ex’s name, fallen asleep in a tanning booth, accidentally filled my Prius with diesel, dropped my glasses in a running garbage disposal, and congratulated a girl for being pregnant who, uh, wasn’t pregnant.
Much better than Amar’e, basically. And countless measures better than the week’s true victims, some of whom probably saw that photo above and kept waiting for the “first world problems” meme punchline.
My immediate reaction to hearing he’d be out until Shumpcember at the earliest was, naturally, of the “sad” genus. The specific species, however, was a lot harder to pin down; to wit, I couldn’t quite figure out whether the horrendous circumstances surrounding Sandy’s unprecedentedly perilous path rendered me a hyper-vulnerable emotional shell, and the news of Stat just compounded the tragic to one more exponent; or whether these were, in fact, two wildly different things, and I should be ashamed for devoting even a dozen neurons to the comparatively trivial plight of a millionaire athlete, under the circumstances.
Regardless of context, it’s impossible to deny Amar’e has become something of a tragic figure, with a fall from grace that would rival many from stage or page. Two years ago this 6’10” physical specimen – this flawed vessel of grace and power – was the conquering hero of a city desperate for a return to basketball relevance. Now? Antonio McDyess is somehow a best-case scenario.
The whole thing has an unmistakable funeral air about it, does it not? Which seems absurd – even given the stakes and the money and the risks of obsolescence involved. Is this it? Does Amare’s career go out not with a single, knee-shattering post-dunk bang, but with a long, drawn-out, skull-fuckingly torturous whimper of Isola Twitter snark?
ROBERT: I agree with everything you said. I’ve never insulted an endomorphic female thusly, but then again, this is New York and we assume every woman above a size two is preggers.
In any case, of course the hurricane and the injury were two separate incidents and the idea of equating the two is only possible in a truly degraded society (kind of like the one we’re living in) but I completely understand how they can become conflated. This is a part of a much larger thought, but I really believe that getting information via Twitter radically changes how we perceive events. It’s like our man McLuhan said, “The Medium is the Message.” Of course hurricane updates, photos of New York City underwater and information of that ilk will be absorbed in the same manner as photos of STAT’s Range Rover underwater.
That said, it’s also true that in times of great tragedy, it’s completely human to devote your energy and/or mental real estate to something as relatively trivial as a basketball player’s woes. In both instances you feel powerless when faced with the all-encompassing power and devastation that a seemingly-uncaring, fickle universe throw’s one’s way. But when you’re fretting about what this latest bit of meatball surgery from
the wacky doctors at the 4077 M*A*S*H Roger Hinds et al., you know in your heart that it doesn’t really matter.
So I get that. In between making vats of chili and providing housing for any and all of my fellow Brooklynites who”ve found themselves literally underwater the last two days, I’ve been refreshing my Twitter feed and reading up on these obscure medical terms that we’ve been introduced to via STAT’s degenerative knees. It’s silly, and possibly even selfishly foolish, but it’s definitely human.
Speaking of which, not to say I told you or anyone so, I made the McDyess comparison about a year ago in the Times. I wish I was wrong. Heck, I wish I was wrong about a LOT of things. But my heart goes out to STAT. Can you imagine your writing career ending because your digits are getting arthritic at age 30? He must be going through hell.
JIM: I mean, sure, as hellish as being 30 and retired with 100-plus million dollars to your name can be, I guess. The writing comparison isn’t exactly apt, mainly because I barely make enough money doing that to have a warm house and a television and a full set of teeth.
As to where STAT’S career arc takes him after this latest setback, I think the McDyess comparison is an easy one, even if it’s not an entirely. Amar’e was only 23 when he underwent his lone microfracture surgery, and though he eventually bounced back with rim-racking aplomb – nary an inch lost on his Herculean hops – it was pretty soon thereafter that the genesis of his now omnipresent mid-range game came to be. Even then, Amar’e must’ve known that the writing was on the wall; that career longevity depended on him hedging nature with nurture; genetics with gym time.
McDyess, on the other hand, was a 26 when a devastating knee injury took what was by comparison a quick, seemingly irreversible toll. It was only after several more setbacks that ‘Dyess – career apex spent sidelined – reshaped his game to gravity’s demands. And you know what? He did a pretty damn good job – almost won a couple titles, and even played with STAT on the ’04 Suns.
That’s not to say Amare’s latest medical malady isn’t disconcerting; it absolutely is. I just think McDyess is the wrong comparison, if only because the former’s probably been hearing it for the better part of the last decade, and the resulting head start on a stylistic transformation should make STAT’s a career that’s more productive over a longer period of time than was McDyess’s.
Wouldn’t this at least partially explain Amare’s summer trip to the Dream Factory? Might he – without necessarily assuming any single degree of severity – have sensed intuitively that his knee was going to start giving him problems, and so took it upon himself to try and once again shape a handful of new wares for the toolbox?
ROBERT: Yes, it isn’t a perfect comparison, but honestly, I think the money part is a faux piste, as the French say. A red herring. (Feel free to call me a pretentious asshole. Done? Good. Moving on…) If you want, I’ll pay you a million dollars for your writing this year. You will do the same. Now we’re well-compensated Knick bloggers. The point I’m making is that an athlete’s career can vanish at any moment and the thought of having something that’s defined you as a person ripped away by an ill-timed knee bump with Chris Copeland (or was it Chris Smith) is tragic; just as it would be if either of us (or any of us) was suddenly unable to do the thing we love most, compensation be damned.
As to the STAT-Antonio thingy — here’s the biggest difference, methinks. STAT’s been the focal point offensively of every team he’s ever played for. When Melo sauntered into town, I think their struggles “meshing” had as much to do with the psychological impact it had on STAT no longer being “the man”. Yes, there are some fairly obvious, quantifiable issues — their talents overlap and that neither of them has the complimentary skills to thrive when they don’t have the ball and the half-step that STAT lost when his knee/back/adenoids went blooey.
McDyess never wanted the spotlight in the same way. Before his knees imploded, the criticism that was most often lobbed at him was that he didn’t demand the ball enough/impose his will upon the game the way a player of his ability should and could. Post-injury, he was all-too willing to be a complimentary piece because it’s what he wanted to begin with. Plus, the fact that he was always a good defender and a cerebral player even when he could jump out of the building made the transition a LOT easier.
Did I just spend two paragraphs debunking my own comparison? Yes. Yes, I did
Meanwhile, there are games to be played (assuming Manhattan stops resembling the lost city of Atlantis by Friday). We’ve spilled more than our fair share of e-ink discussing how much better Melo is at Power Forward. This injury makes that transition a fait accompli. How do you imagine these first couple of months will go?
JIM: Pretentious asshole.
There may indeed be something to the idea of STAT’s psyche being irreversibly compromised by Melo’s tumultuous arrival, and the subsequent power struggle, real or imagined, that was the result. The first thing I thought of when you brought that up was the old dog phenomenon (if that’s not what it’s actually called, excuse me — and rename it that, please). This is where dog owner, concerned with the atrophied health of their pooch, bring in a slightly younger, healthier pup in hopes of rejuvenating their aging four-legged friend. Sometimes, the gambit works; the older dog will discover some untapped vigor and energy, and everyone wins. Oftentimes, however, the decision backfires; feeling it’s been replaced and it’s household station is no longer theirs, the older dog can deteriorate even more quickly, physically as well as psychologically.
Now, obviously there are a couple rather large differences between the Stat-Melo situation and our canine-related scenario — namely, our two cagers are but a few years apart in age. More likely, Stat’s recent woes — and by “recent,” I mean, oh, the last 18 months or so — are a product of the effects of his own compounded misfortune. It started with the back thing at the start of the 2011 Playoffs, a tweak that perhaps forced his body to overcompensate in ways that indirectly led to this latest, and most worrisome, setback. Either way, it’s an unfortunate situation, and one from which I’m hoping STAT rises anew, soon, and back on something resembling a physical even keel.
In the mean time, the question now becomes how real was Melo’s gangbusters stint at the four late last season, and whether it can be re-engaged and sustained long enough to hold down the scoring fort in the front court. Chris Copeland earned his roster spot — and a significant rotation minutes — outright, and I for one am I excited to see whether a highlighted role can help bolstering even further his already five-fold grown confidence. At the same time, the idea that he could eventually be the starting power forward is, I think, a little premature; dude averaged barely five rebounds per 36 minutes last year in Belgium, a country where basketball ranks somewhere between tennis and cheese-making in the national consciousness. Which, I mean, yeah — wouldn’t exactly be a precipitous drop-off in that department from what our be-goggled millionaire was giving us.
So…. Kurt Thomas? At 40 years old, he’s remarkably serviceable, and continues to put up +/- numbers completely out of step with his actual on-court production. But as we saw towards the tail end of the preseason, Kurt’s role in that capacity will likely be purely ceremonial, with Melo thereby poised to play heavy minutes at the four, whether he likes it or not.
Never known for his rotational creativity, Mike Woodson definitely has his work cut out for him to start the season — this unique combination of injuries, age, inexperience, and still gelling chemistry making for a positional balancing act I’m not entirely sure he’s ready for.
So, what are my expectations? Uh, I predict the Knicks.
ROBERT: Yep. We appear to be in lock–step on how this is going to play out. One more thing on Chris Copeland. I’ve been saying this for awhile (and I believe I mentioned it to friend-of-the-blog Seth Rosenthal and he agrees 112.7%) but you know who he reminds me of?
Beyond his work for KnickerBlogger, Jim is a contributor to the New York Times Off the Dribble NBA blog, ESPN.com, and The Classical. He is currently working on a biography of Robert Silverman, titled "Clownin' and Astoundin.'" Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.