Robert Silverman and I decided to have a Midseason Assessment e-mail exchange. It quickly devolved (EVOLVED?) into something predictably weird but unpredictably specific in its weirdness. It is recorded below. We promise you an actual midseason post soon.
Here we stand, Kevin. At the midpoint of a howling garbage fire of a season. The ruins of yesterday still smoldering, possibly to the point of toxicity (and I’ve certainly made inquiries with the NY DEP) and definitely emitting an odor that is as pungent as a combination of burnt dog hair and whatever that smell is when you stick a digit inside your belly button (Public Service Announcement: Don’t do that).
So with more or less a half of a season still on the horizon, let’s take a look at where things stand and where they might be going–a taking of a moral inventory, as it were. To start, how are you feeling? Optimistic? I’m more at that point after you get really sick–ate bad shrimp/chicken-level food poisoning sick–where you’re perspiring like you just got out of a Native American sweat lodge and your stomach is still having nervous, palpitating aftershocks, but you can tell that the offending materiel has actually been expunged.
You’re still clutching at the sides of the toilet, and you know that another bout of porcelain-splattering convulsions might still be forthcoming, but as a whole, you feel better, if still chalk white-complexioned and as feeble and shaky as a newborn calf.
Is that optimism?
As if it matters how a man falls down, Robert. Ah, but when the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.
We are not watching a championship-caliber basketball team but, rather, a core with a pending death sentence. The question, then, is when and how. There’s no draft pick, no hope of an immediate and rejuvenating overhaul. This team, this group of players, will soon perish. And with every game, every quarter, every possession, we watch them move one step closer to that end. They are fatally flawed, it remains only to discover which of their flaws will ultimately prove fatal.
It still matters though, and it matters because I don’t want to watch a repeat of the past three months. The nascent hope that has rumbled these last few days — in Melo’s dominance, Chandler’s spry defensive aplomb, in J.R.s waking competence and Hardaway’s ascendant promise — is not the sort of hope that promises a victory over impending doom. Rather, it’s the sort that suggests that the end, while inevitable, might not be so grisly. And so we will march inexorably toward an inexorable demise, whether it takes the form of a high lottery pick for the Nuggets or a near-miss of the postseason or a first-round exit or a pleasant but ultimately unfulfilling postseason surprise. And we will march intently and hopefully and — yes, Robert — optimistically. Because, when the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.
Your puke is the puke of the faithful.
You’re going to invoke Sorkin? I mean, if he really wants to delve into an incestuous, basically-flawed, but still fascinating bureaucracy filled with intrigue and short strolls down the corridors of power (like you wouldn’t enjoy a Woodson/Mills walk-and-talk, and the occasional sexy liaison in a truck, he really needs to take his vast warehouse of lil’ darlings and write an hour-long prestige-type HBO drama about a pro sports franchise, specifically our beloved ‘Bockers.
[THE OFFICE OF MIKE WOODSON -- INT. AFTERNOON Head Coach Mike Woodson is sitting at his oddly pristine, spartan, well-organized desk, his head in his hands, semi-frantically writing and rewriting starting lineups and substitution patterns. Amar'e Stoudemire is waiting at the entrance. Woodson is talking to himself, unaware of Amar'e's presence.]
WOODSON: Start Tyson and Kenyon with Melo, then Bargs at the six minute mark. Then STAT, but..no then you get STAT and Bargs and Melo. Okay Tyson, Bargs AND Melo? Then you bring in Kenyon. No…because. DAMNIT
[He gathers up a handful of papers and throws them in the trashbin, taking a lighter out of his pocket, he sets them on fire.]
STAT: Hey, Coach. You free too…
STAT: Hey, Coach.
WOODSON: Yeah, Amar’e. Hey. I was just…
STAT: You free?
WOODSON: Yeah, yeah. Sure. What’s up?
[The bin is smoldering and smoke is starting to emerge.]
STAT: Remember how you told me never to put my fist through a pane of glass again unless the building was on fire?
[Woodson calmly gets the extinguisher from his desk and proceeds to put out the smoldering fire.]
WOODSON: Okay, what’s next.
STAT: See, Coach, I’ve been thinking.
[WOODSON gets up from his desk and begins walking quickly down the corridors of Madison Square Garden. STAT follows.]
STAT: It’s about my playing time…
STAT: I mean, it’s been phenomenal, but I was thinking…
WOODSON: Look, Amar’e. At the end of the day, you’re a big part of what we do as a ballclub
STAT: …Yeah, but …
WOODSON: …You’re a piece of the puzzle, and it’s my job to get you playing the right way. I’m not going to kick you to the curb. We’ve just got to make shots and get you playing better.
STAT: …Okay. That’s phenomenal, but…
[They are interrupted by OLENNA O'LEARY, an attractive woman in her mid-30's. EDITOR'S NOTE:We needed a CJ Cregg/Dana Whitaker/McKenzie McHale character, so we kinda sorta turned Alan Houston/Jonathan Supranowitz into a lady. They're Sorkin's rules, not ours.]
WOODSON: Okay. I’ve gotta go to the…
STAT: (somewhat dejectedly) yeah…
WOODSON: …go do the thing with the….
STAT: Yeah, Coach. I….yeah….
[STAT ducks into a side hallway. Without breaking stride, WOODSON continues talking with OLENNA]
WOODSON: You still here?
OLENNA: I go home when you go home
OLENNA: Is Amar’e still complaining about the…
WOODSON: (resignedly) Yeah…
OLENNA: Again? I mean… This isn’t basketball camp, It’s not important that everyone gets to play.
WOODSON; You think I don’t know that? Don’t talk to me like I’m other people.
OLENNA: The sideshow is over.
OLENNA:… And you know it.
[LARRY JOHNSON begins walking behind WOODSON and OLENNA.]
WOODSON: Yeah, I still need to go the…
OLENNA: Eat ‘em up, boss.
OLENNA: Can someone get me the Suns’ salary cap numbers? They were in my purple folder? And where the hell is L.J.?
LARRY JOHNSON: [Jogging to catch up] Here they are. Have you spoken with Coach about the guy yet?
OLENNA: [Sighing] No, L.J. I thought you were gonna do it.
LARRY JOHNSON: This is kinda your territory Olenna.
OLENNA: The guy? That’s my territory?
LARRY JOHNSON: Yes, the guy, that’s all you. It’s right up your alley.
OLENNA: [Inhales deeply to prepare for extended overwrought exposition] I’m a Columbia-educated, Julliard-trained former model who has worked at the New York Times and the Federal Reserve and the Peace Corps before leaving those jobs out of a deep but conflicted love for sports management and abandoned all hopes of a family and true love in the name of giving myself over to a franchise that I dream can one day capture the imagination of my native city again and I have legs that go all the way down to the floor. And telling New York Knicks Coach Mike Woodson that J.R. Smith promised his grossly underqualified brother the 15th spot on the roster and C.A.A. is demanding that we honor it is MY territory?
LARRY JOHNSON: You bet.
[JUMP CUT, INT. Madison Square Garden. JAMES DOLAN walks across the basketball court, talking on a cell phone and smoking a cigarette]
DOLAN: We’ve been at this for 15 years and all we’ve gotten is 15 years older, We went 54-28 last year but I think that number’s soft, and I’m tired of being the field captain for the gang that couldn’t shoot three-pointers straight, WE’RE GETTING THIS DONE!
[Pauses, growing increasingly angry as he listens to the person on the other end of the phone]
DOLAN: Well you can tell him that if he had traded for Carmelo Anthony, HE WOULD HAVE TRADED FOR CARMELO ANTHONY.
[Pauses, shorter this time]
DOLAN: It wasn’t enough when they took Jason Kidd to retirement? What was Rasheed Wallace, a warning shot? He was like an employee to me. In fact, he was an employee to me and I was thisclose to getting him to come to one of my concerts. Gratias tibi ago, domine. Yes, I traded a pick that turned into Joakim Noah. I’ve traded many picks! Have I displeased you, you feckless thug?
[Hangs up phone, drops cigarette at halfcourt and stamps it out]
DOLAN: You get Bargnani.
[Enter WOODSON, OLENNA, LARRY JOHNSON, and STEVE MILLS, looking depressed]
DOLAN: I guess you’re the people with the worst jobs in the building today.
OLENNA: Sir, I spent the whole day on the phone with Phoenix and they’re just not going to give us Goran Dragic and 3 first rounders for Amar’e. They seem to think the picks are actually worth something and they went off on this whole tangent about Amar’e's contract somehow being a bad thing and…
WOODSON: Sometimes, I think we SHOULD kick people like that to the curb.
[Everyone is clearly dismayed at WOODSON's uncharacteristic statement. Finally, DOLAN's expression softens and he speaks over rising music]
DOLAN: You all remind me of the story my father would tell about the man in town who couldn’t run a successful basketball team. The man woke up every morning and went to the office and hoped other teams would trade him their good players and that the league would abolish the salary cap and quit ignoring his e-mails about Mikhail Prokhorov being a post-Soviet strongman who employed Timofey Mozgov as a sleeper agent. So certain was this man that his team would eventually get over the hump that he fired anyone who disagreed with his decisions…
LARRY JOHNSON: Wait, but…
DOLAN: …And that man was told many times — by people with numbers, and people with basketball experience, and people who regularly consulted multi-billion dollar multinationals on strategic decisions — that his choices were inane and that it was almost mind-blowing that someone from a genepool that had produced one of the greatest visionaries in the history of the American media industry could make a string of decisions so devoid of any guiding logical principle…
STEVE MILLS: Right, sir, but I think what LJ is trying to say is…
DOLAN: …But here’s the bottom line folks: tomorrow morning, we wake up the kings of a city that loves basketball in a country that loves an underdog story. We stand on the precipice of one of the greatest opportunities in the history of signing people just because our headstrong sixth-man has grossly overestimated his leverage — that’s a steal at twice the price. We have an UNIMAGINABLE opportunity to pair two of the worst defensive bigs in the league with a point guard tandem that can’t keep anyone out of the lane — and it’s 6-to-5 and pick ‘em whether Amar’e still has any cartilage left in his knee. If we’re going to run into walls lets go CRASHING into them and then crash into the same walls again and again because, by God, we refuse to admit that the wall was even there in the first place! And let that be our legacy.
[Wide shot of the Knicks' front office members reveals OLENNA on the verge of tears, WOODSON sporting a grin of renewed determination, LARRY JOHNSON with his head cocked in the pose of a man ready to conquer the world, and STEVE MILLS openly sobbing in speechless ecstasy]
DOLAN: I guess what I’m saying is: break’s over.
[HARD CUT TO CREDITS]
But yes, let’s get back to digressin’ and assessin’. Part Two, coming tomorrow!