The Fix Is (Still) In

So I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN and they were showing clips of the Tim Donaghy interview. At the conclusion, they made mention of a poll running on ESPN.com, where the question was posed, “How will Tim Donaghy’s claims influence how you watch NBA games.”

And the possible responses were: A) Will never view games the same way or B) No, influence, he isn’t credible.

My immediate reaction was, where’s C) It confirms something I knew innately to be true and won’t change a gosh-darned thing about how I watch NBA games. Why isn’t that a possible poll choice, ESPN.com?

Does anyone on this forum really think games are officiated fairly? Does anyone doubt that since the dawn of time, superstars (whether it’s Kobe, or Magic or Michael, or Larry or Dr. J or Hakeem or Shaq or LeBron or any of the pantheon of individuals who can be readily identified by their first name only) have gotten and will continue to get the calls. Now, the majority of my NBA-gazing is occupied by Nix games, but over the last 25 (gulp) years, I can say that our boys have always gotten hosed by the refs (the Hue Hollins call in game 5 in the ’94 semis v. the Bulls being the exception that proves the rule. But then again, his royal Nike-peddlingness was swatting the horsehide that summer, so maybe it isn’t an exception after all.)

In my early years of fandom, I keenly recall staring dumbly at Channel 9 (we didn’t have cable) and being utterly unable to fathom why Kevin McHale was allowed to use those ultra-sharp elbows of his to whack away at Pat Cummings, Ken “The Animal” Bannister, Louie Orr and others of their ilk with impunity whilst any mere mortal (see above) who dared fart in Bird’s general direction was immediately showered with whistles and a series of arcane/disco-like gestures from the refs. Even at that early age, I could tell that some players/teams were favored for reasons at that time, seemed beyond me. After all, I loved Mike Newlin. Why did the refs seem to hate him so much?

So this afternoon on the teevee, when Donaghy said that he was able to predict/bet on games with 75-80% accuracy simply because he knew who favored/loathed which players, my first thought was, “Duh! Of course you can. If you’re in the locker room, chewing the fat with the other refs, of course you’re going to hear who hates Rasheed Wallace or who loves Mike Fratello’s teams. (What that’s about I’ll never know. Possibly there’s a rogue ref who just loves the movie, “Hoosiers,” or something and pines for a return to those days of yore.) When you combine that with the unstated (or secretly stated) mandate to build up/market individual talents that Stern instituted to promote the league during the financially problematic years pre-Bird/Magic/Jordan, it’s clear how one could make a crapload of cash betting on the NBA.”

It’s one of the things that actually, in my own perverse kink, leads me to prefer watching b-ball to the Jets or the Mets (Yes, I know. I’ve really picked some winners there). I know that it’s not a level playing field and that seems to me to be a far more apt parallel to the world at large than the pristine, pastoral, Jeffersonian/democratic ideal (pre-‘Roids) presented by MLB or the power/precision, crypto-fascist, ground acquisition/military conquest paradigm put forth by the NFL. In both cases, while there are certainly times that I’ll fling inanimate objects and howl in horror at a botched call, for the most part, the refs/umps do a good job and I never get the impression that the game is in the bag for a particular team and/or player.

But, if I was the kind of individual who believed that the world was for the most part a fair and just place, I’m sure I’d be out there painting my face and clutching a Bud more often. But I don’t.

I’m a New Yorker. This is New York. We know that the fix is in. Solving that wholly unsolvable problem is far less important than making sure we’ve got the inside dope/skinny and can profit accordingly.

It’s why it’s so essential that Walsh is able to snag a LeBron or Dwyane. Not only because they are supreme talents, but because having a superstar who gets the benefit of the doubt is the best way to win a title over the last 30 years in the NBA. [Ed’s note: Also LeBron or Wade provide a little more production than say Jared Jeffries or Wilson Chandler.]

Our one chance at a super-duper star, Patrick Ewing was never qualified to join the first-name only club. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because some unseen force wanted him to be Bill Russell 2.0 and he wasn’t. Maybe because all the grunts and the profuse sweating made him lack the grace and/or effortlessness that true stars seem to possess. It never seemed easy for our Patrick. I mean, he worked like a mofo for every basket/rebound/block he ever got but he never made the unbelievable play that simultaneously seemed routine. And while he was allowed to take an extra step or two when he rolled to the middle to unleash that trusty jump hook of his, because his archetype was that of the working-class hero, he was never anointed by the refs to the degree that would have/could have pushed those Riley/Van Gundy era teams over the top. To whit: If Jordan had strayed a few steps off the bench in ’97 do you think there’s any way he’d have been suspended for game 6? No way. Ain’t gonna happen.

So while Stern frets about the perception/bottom line of his beloved league as Timmy D the canary keeps singing his song, were he to seek my council, I’d say, relax Dave! We real fans get it. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no more.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the East?

Cleveland Cavaliers (Vegas odds to win title: 3:1)
Despite failing to reach the Finals last year, the Cavs remain the favorite to win the East. Over the summer, Cleveland swapped Ben Wallace for Shaq, and while the Big Diesel is merely a fraction of his former dominant self, he’s miles ahead in productivity over Wallace. But the Cavs didn’t stop there, they also augmented their defense with Jamario Moon and Leon Powe. Last year Cleveland was unable to stop Howard in the middle, or preventing both Lewis and Turkoglu from torching them from the perimeter. This year they should be better equipped against those types of matchups.

Orlando Magic (5:1)
After shocking many with their playoff victory last year over Cleveland, Orlando made one major change this off season. The Magic lost Hedo Turkoglu in free agency, but managed to replace him with Vince Carter. This certainly is an upgrade by talent, but it remains to be seen how Carter fits in with Howard and co. Additionally Orlando managed to keep productive backup center Marcin Gortat and netted Brandon Bass in a double whammy free agency scuffle with the Mavericks. Howard was miffed last year at his lack of touches down the stretch late in games, and this year any late game heroics will likely begin with the ball in Carter’s hands. If Stan Van Gundy isn’t his team’s own worst enemy, Orlando will have enough firepower on both ends of the court to vie for a championship.

Boston Celtics (9:2)
Just two years ago the Boston Celtics dominated the league with 66 regular season victories and a title run. But last year injuries to Garnett and Powe thwarted any playoff hopes. Like the other two Eastern powerhouses, the Celtics didn’t stay put in the off season. Boston replaced Powe with Rasheed Wallace, and ‘Sheed will help the team cope defensively against Shaq and Howard while spacing the floor on offense. The line on the Celtics opened at 9:1, but enough money has come in to propel them above the Magic. Given the choice, I would put the Celtics third back given the team’s age and lack of depth. If the ancient core of Garnett, Allen, Pierce, and Wallace all aren’t upright for May & June, Boston won’t make it past the second round this year.

Everyone else (starting at 20:1)
The field consists of a few minor players that are hoping for Cinderella seasons. Atlanta has scratched at the cusp of the upper Eastern teams, but always seem to fall short and Jamal Crawford isn’t the person to put them over the edge. Miami is hoping that youngsters Beasley and Chalmers combined with oldster Jermaine O’Neal provide enough of a supporting cast for Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile the Wizards are hoping that a core of Arenas, Butler, Jamison, and Miller will put enough points on the boards to offset their team’s lack of defense. Last year Philly was the talk of the off season with their abduction of Elton Brand in free agency. Perhaps Eddie Jordan can find a way to make a most of their talent.

{democracy:35}

2009 Report Card: Eddy Curry

When the Knicks acquired Eddy Curry, he was supposed to be the future of the franchise. Although there were signs that he would never reach that level of play (namely every stat but fg% and pts/36), his size and flashes of scoring lead many to believe in his potential.

In 2009 Eddy Curry had his most disappointing season, playing a grand total of 12 minutes and scoring only 5 points. Immediately after the season ended, Curry vowed to get in shape, and immediately began twittering about his work out regimen. In the weeks since, his private trainer “leaked” that Curry lost 30 pounds, and Eddy appeared before the Knicks brass at the summer league. It appears that Curry is doing what he does best. He appeals to the optimist in Knick fans, while producing almost nothing.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 1
Defense: 1
Teamwork: 1
Rootability: -87
Performance/Expectations: 1

Grade: F

Similarity Scores:

I’ve decided to look at his 2008 season, since he barely played in 2009.

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Eddy Curry 2008 NYK 15.0 .578 .546 18.4 2.6 6.5 0.8 0.3 0.7 3.0
.132 Craig Smith 2009 MIN 16.9 .599 .562 18.4 2.4 7.0 1.9 0.8 0.5 2.6
.161 Mike Jackson 1975 VIR 13.9 .584 .528 17.7 3.3 8.1 1.5 0.8 0.3 3.8
.171 Wayman Tisdale 1990 SAC 18.1 .565 .525 21.5 2.3 7.3 1.3 0.7 0.7 1.9
.172 Hakim Warrick 2008 MEM 16.2 .555 .512 17.5 2.5 7.3 1.1 0.7 0.6 1.7
.184 Armen Gilliam 1990 TOT 16.6 .565 .515 18.9 3.1 8.9 1.5 1.0 0.8 2.7
.184 Othella Harrington 1999 HOU 16.1 .559 .513 15.9 2.9 9.8 0.6 0.2 1.0 2.4
.185 Zan Tabak 1996 TOR 12.4 .554 .543 13.9 3.2 8.6 1.7 0.6 0.8 2.7
.196 Orlando Woolridge 1985 CHI 19.5 .608 .554 22.6 2.0 5.6 1.7 0.7 0.5 2.3
.198 Frank Card 1970 WSA 15.3 .556 .528 17.4 3.1 9.5 1.8     2.9
.198 Ike Diogu 2009 TOT 20.3 .611 .534 19.9 4.4 9.4 0.5 0.5 0.5 2.0

All of these players are 6-9 or shorter, except for 7 footer Zan Tabak. Curry is 6-11, but plays small due to his lack of rebounding & blocked shots. In this list Curry is the second worst rebounder, the worst passer, and second worst at coughing up the ball. There aren’t a lot of good players on this list, which speaks volumes for those aspects of Curry’s game. [And yes, Virginia had an ABA team.]

For fun I ran the similarity scores for Eddy Curry in 2005, his last year as a Bull. For irony’s sake I’ve included the 11th person. (Note Ike Diogu’s 2006’s season is the most similar to Curry, but I excluded it because in 2005 it wouldn’t have happened yet.) Not a whole lot of franchise centers here.

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Eddy Curry 2005 CHI 16.3 .583 .538 20.2 2.3 6.7 0.7 0.4 1.2 3.2
.132 Bill Cartwright 1980 NYK 17.9 .608 .547 20.4 2.2 8.3 1.9 0.5 1.2 2.5
.152 Lorenzo Charles 1986 ATL 11.5 .587 .557 16.1 1.7 5.1 1.1 0.3 0.8 2.4
.170 Tom Chambers 1982 SDC 15.0 .553 .525 18.7 2.8 7.5 2.0 0.8 0.6 3.0
.183 Rasheed Wallace 1997 POR 18.4 .588 .565 17.8 2.3 8.0 1.4 0.9 1.1 2.2
.184 Joe Barry Carroll 1981 GSW 16.4 .534 .491 19.1 3.4 9.4 1.4 0.6 1.5 3.0
.200 Tim McCormick 1985 SEA 14.7 .606 .557 16.5 3.3 9.0 1.8 0.4 0.7 2.6
.209 Gary Trent 1997 POR 16.8 .569 .536 16.6 2.9 8.0 1.6 0.9 0.7 2.4
.214 Eric White 1988 LAC 15.2 .597 .536 18.2 3.2 6.3 0.9 0.7 0.3 2.1
.222 Walter Berry 1987 TOT 16.8 .561 .531 22.7 3.1 7.0 2.4 0.9 0.9 3.5
.224 John Wallace 1997 NYK 13.0 .571 .521 14.9 2.3 7.1 1.7 1.0 1.1 3.5
.229 Mike Sweetney 2005 NYK 16.4 .592 .531 15.5 4.0 10.0 1.0 0.6 0.7 2.6

2009 Report Card: Wilson Chandler

Only one player in Knick history has averaged at least 33 minutes a game at the age of 21: Wilson Chandler. Albeit Chandler’s franchise record was more a result of necessity than talent. D’Antoni gave the youngster plenty of court time because of a scarcity of shooting guards/small forwards. Once the team traded Jamal Crawford, New York lacked a true shooting guard until they grabbed Larry Hughes late in the season. Considering that D’Antoni preferred Nate Robinson to come off the bench, the options were Chandler, Richardson, Jeffries, or Hughes. Chandler was obviously the right decision considering the team’s lack of defense and how much a developing Chandler could mean to the future of the franchise.

One question that remains is how Chandler will develop. On the optimistic side, he did make strides in multiple areas in 2009. Chandler improved his free throw shooting (63.0% to 79.5%), three point shooting (30.0% to 32.8%), scoring (13.4 to 15.6pts/36), assists (1.7 to 2.2 ast/36) and fouls (4.4 to 3.3 pf/36). But these numbers are pedestrian. The young swingman doesn’t do anything great, and his rebounding, blocks, and steals are about what you’d expect from an average 6-8 small forward. His scoring volume is above average (15.6 pts/36) but his efficiency is below (48.0% eFG, 51.5 TS%). Perhaps that’s Chandler’s lot in the NBA: to be the generic player.

For Chandler to make strides and become a genuine NBA starter, he’ll need to make another step in his development. One area could be his three point shooting. Connecting once on every three attempts is too low especially for someone that’s likely to see a lot of attempts in D’Antoni’s system. But a more critical leap would be for Chandler to get to the line more often. Last year he was second to last on the team in FTM/FGA, a measure of a player’s ability to draw contact on the offensive end. Frequently when he gets the ball in the paint, he ends up with a turn around jumper, instead of making a strong move to the hoop. Chandler needs to summon “Ill-Will” when he’s within 6 of the basket.

In order to get a glimpse of how his career might pan out, I queried a list of players comparable to Chandler at the age of 21, and this is the best I came up with. While names like Drexler, Mashburn, and Stackhouse appear, so do Gary Trent, Lamond Murray, and Rex Chapman. Using my similarity scores, I came up with a second list. Again there are a few players with above average careers: Richard Jefferson, Rasheed Wallace, Dirk Nowitzki, and Charlie Villanueva. But two very similar to Chandler show a cautionary tale. Shawne Williams is clinging to a roster spot in Dallas, and Chucky Brown never had a seasonal PER above 14. One thing to note about the below list of similar players is that Chandler’s TS% is almost the lowest of the bunch (except for DerMarr Johnson and Jeff Green).

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Wilson Chandler 2009 NYK 12.9 .515 .480 15.6 1.2 5.9 2.2 0.9 1.0 1.8
.037 Shawne Williams 2008 IND 12.8 .522 .485 16.3 2.0 6.6 2.2 1.0 1.0 2.2
.059 Richard Jefferson 2002 NJN 13.4 .524 .468 13.9 1.6 5.5 2.6 1.2 0.9 2.0
.076 Chucky Brown 1990 CLE 11.9 .525 .470 14.7 2.2 6.2 1.3 0.9 0.7 1.9
.080 Marvin Williams 2008 ATL 14.5 .540 .462 15.4 1.5 6.0 1.8 1.1 0.4 1.7
.082 Rasheed Wallace 1996 WSB 11.8 .530 .511 13.2 1.9 6.1 1.7 0.8 1.1 2.1
.093 DerMarr Johnson 2002 ATL 11.3 .513 .479 12.5 1.2 5.1 1.7 1.3 1.2 2.1
.097 Al Harrington 2002 IND 14.3 .526 .476 15.8 2.6 7.6 1.5 1.1 0.6 2.1
.104 Dirk Nowitzki 2000 DAL 17.5 .564 .513 17.6 1.2 6.5 2.5 0.8 0.8 1.7
.105 Charlie Villanueva 2006 TOR 16.4 .521 .500 16.1 2.8 7.9 1.3 0.9 1.0 1.5
.108 Jeff Green 2008 SEA 9.9 .492 .443 13.4 1.6 6.1 1.9 0.7 0.8 2.5

I’m inclined to give Chandler a good grade this year because he was a 21 year old who played out of position & made improvements over his first year. However the bar is now set higher on the expected returns for 2010. I won’t be as charitable in his next report card if he doesn’t show more signs of development.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 2
Defense: 4
Teamwork: 3
Rootability: 4
Performance/Expectations: 4

Grade: B+

NOTE: I found a flaw in the similarity scores, and corrected it.

Knicks’ Week in Advance 11/24/2008

Hello all. Thomas B. here with the second installment of Knicks’ Week in Advance. This article appears exclusively on Knickerblogger.net (everyone else-including Stern Must Go-turned me down). I will compare the Knicks’ Four Factors to those of their opponents this week.

I’m glad the Knicks beat the Wizards Saturday. The win spared me from drafting an open that parodies those Time Life Books commercials from the 1980s:

November 2008. The administrator of a popular blog contacts a man of limited basketball knowledge and invites him to join the staff. Shortly thereafter, the Knicks begin a losing streak that has yet to end. Coincidence? Read the book.

Thankfully, the Knicks won so that open won’t be needed. Besides, about 2% of the population would have got the reference anyway. Such is my sense of humor.

This week the Knicks have home games against Cleveland and Golden State with a road trip to Detroit in between.

Tuesday, November 25 – Cleveland

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Cleveland Cavaliers-Defense 88.8 104.8 46.8 16.6 28.1 26.4
Rank
26
12
8
11
20
24
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Cleveland Cavaliers-Offense 88.8 114 51.8 15 29.4 28.4
Rank
26
1
2
11
7
3

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

This will be the third straight Tuesday on which the Knicks meet one of last year’s playoff teams (Spurs and Boston previously). The Cavs went 9-1 over the last 10 games and look to be clicking. Conversely, the Knicks are going to work three new players into the rotation.

What to watch for: LBJ. Since the Knicks have the cap room to dream about Lebron, I think LBJ might start showing the garden crowd exactly what they could get on about July 24th 2010. That is if the price is right.

What to watch for 2: Of all the players brought in, I think Cutino Mobley can have the best immediate impact due to his defense. He and Duhon give the Knicks their strongest defensive backcourt since perhaps Derek Harper and John Starks. That’s a good thing, since the Cavs are 2nd in shooting (eFG%: 51.8%), and 1st on offense (OE: 114 pts/100poss). Much of this is due to strong backcourt play. Mo Williams and Delonte West are both shooting above 40% from behind the arc, with West’s 66.2 eFG% leading the team. The Knicks need to eliminate open shots by pressuring the ball and cutting off passing lanes. If Duhon and Mobley can pressure the backcourt, they could push Williams’ and West’s so-so assist ratios down, while bringing their slightly below average turnover ratios up.

Wednesday, November 26 – Detroit

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Detroit Pistons-Defense 89.7 106.8 49.3 15.2 25.5 26.6
Rank
24
19
20
20
10
25
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Detroit Pistons-Offense 89.7 108.2 48.4 15 28.4 26.3
Rank
24
10
17
12
10
8

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

While still a very talented team, these are not the same defensive minded Pistons of recent years. The Pistons are in the bottom third of the league on defensive (DE: 106.8, 19th), eFG% (49.3%, 20th), and turnovers (15.2 TO/100poss, 20th). Unfortunately, the Knicks’ are ranked lower than the Pistons’ in each of those defensive categories. The Knicks have an edge on offense in terms of shooting (eFG%: 50.1%, 11th), so they should look to exploit that.

What to watch for: The Knicks’ backcourt defense. Iverson, Hamilton, and Stuckey are the Pistons’ highest usage players and the least efficient shooters. The Pistons also lack a true point after trading for Iverson, so the Knicks have to keep the pressure on him to disrupt the offense. This is true when dealing with Iverson in general.

Once Iverson has decided he is going to shoot, nothing short of a stoppage of play will change his mind. The trick is to invite him to take a bad shot. I say invite because you don’t have to force him into it. Much like Crawford, he does it willingly. Once Iverson is pressing on offense, he forgets to pass and the rest of team is taken out of the game. Easier said than done, but there you go.

What to watch for 2: Rasheed Wallace vs. the three headed forward. Now that Harrington and Thomas will join Chandler at the power forward spot, D’Antoni can throw three versions of pretty much the same player at Wallace. Once Gallanari gets healthy, we will have four 6’9-ish forwards who like to work outside of the paint. Not since Robert Palmer have I seen such symmetry.

The good news is that between Thomas, Harrington, and Chandler, we may have enough bodies to wear Wallace out, foul him out, or just plain psych him out. Wallace is the best interior defender on Detroit, so the Knicks would do well to get him into foul trouble. Generally, you do that by posting or driving, and that’s not what “simply irresistible” does very well.

Saturday, November 29 – Golden State

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 98.4 106 50.1 14.5 21.8 19.3
Rank
1
14
11
6
29
28
Golden State Warriors-Defense 96.6 107.9 49.5 16.3 30.4 23.4
Rank
2
25
22
12
29
12
New York Knicks-Defense 98.4 107.4 50.9 15.2 28.6 19.1
Rank
1
21
27
21
24
3
Golden State Warriors-Offense 96.6 107.2 47.1 15.2 31 26.5
Rank
2
11.5
19
15
4
6

[First meeting of the teams this year.]

Take a good look in the mirror Knickerbockers, the image staring back at you is that of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are slighty more efficient on offense while the Knicks are slightly better shooters. Golden State shares the Knicks’ defensive woes with both teams in the bottom third of the league in the defensive stats.

What to watch for: The return of Jamal Crawford means more offense for Golden State, but far less defense. I’d love to see the Knicks exploit this by having Q play some minutes at the two and work Crawford in the post. The Knicks could play that lineup if Lee, Harrington, and Chandler play the front court.

What to watch for 2: Rebounding. Neither team is especially strong on the glass, as they each play small. Given the pace and that each team favors jump shot offenses, the team that controls the glass should come out the winner. Look for David Lee to get his first 20 rebound game of the season.

What to watch for 3: What is up with the “Golden State?” Every other team in the league is named after either the city or the state, but the Warriors use the nickname of the state? So even if you know the state nicknames, you still don’t know the city. No wonder they can’t sell out the arena, no one can find the stadium. Yet, somehow the name works. I mean, the Bee Hive State Jazz sure doesn’t work.

Any win this week means the Knicks finish November without a losing record. Wouldn’t that be nice? See you next week.

Joe Cool?

I love Joe Dumars.

Since the 2001-2002 season the Detroit Pistons have been a model franchise. Short of winning multiple championships, an inevitable if somewhat foolish measure of worth, Detroit has in fact been THE model for building a perennial 50-game winner and legitimate title threat in the post-Showtime, post-Jordan era.

Reports indicate that Dumars is ready to break up the core of the Pistons as we know them, moving perhaps even two of the “original four” (i.e., Billups, Hamilton, Prince, and Wallace) this offseason. Dumars has taken a first step towards retooling on the fly by dismissing head coach Flip Saunders and reportedly naming assistant Michael Curry as the new head coach. Although I am not a huge Detroit fan, especially since their title season, I nonetheless adore Dumars as an executive. If this is indeed the end of DE-TROIT BAS-KIT-BALL!!! as we know it, we as NBA fans (especially those of us who follow Eastern Conference teams) owe Dumars and that group a debt of gratitude.

One of the things baseball, my first love, has over football and basketball is how it valorizes championship-caliber greatness alongside consistent, high-quality play. They need not detract from one another; they can in fact enhance one another. The Braves’ 13 division crowns under Bobby Cox underscore how truly special the Yankees’ four World Series titles were under Joe Torre. Both architects and their achievements are universally respected, though obviously not afforded the same reverence. In the NFL however, it’s still basically “you’re a bum until you win a Super Bowl.” Media and fans typically only validate consistent high-quality performance in retrospect, after a Super Bowl title. NBA fans and media are a tad less fixated on a title, but they are still far more likely to damn a team with faint praise than celebrate something less than a title. I expect to hear (probably from the players themselves) a lot of quotes right out of the Post-Season Remorseful Quotes Handbook, particularly if/when one of the original four is traded. But I won’t pay much attention to them. Getting to two straight NBA finals and then three straight conference finals is impressive as hell. To those who will inevitably devalue even that accomplishment because it came against Eastern Conference dreck, I would note that since realignment Detroit’s record against the Western Conference divisions is 28-12 (Northwest), 35-13 (Midwest), and 28-12 (Pacific). This has been an elite team–period.

Even though I love you Joe, nobody is above criticism and some goes to you.

Dumars says the Pistons lacked competitive fire. That may be, but they also lacked fuel for their fire (read: depth). Detroit’s ability to stretch leads and put teams away in the last four minutes, was almost patented the year they won the title. In more recent years though, some of their performances in “big games” have been curiously uneven. I’m quite certain they didn’t forget how to play, and I doubt they’re less interested in winning. Dumars’ role in the team’s malaise is so obvious that it’s sometimes hidden in plain sight. The rotation is paying the opportunity costs of choosing Darko Milicic over a literal handful of other quality NBA players in 2003. It is difficult to overstate how awful the 2003 draft was for Detroit and for Dumars. When you miss badly in a draft you tend to feel it 3-5 years later, not so much right away. Detroit has been able to defray the “opportunity costs of Darko” but they’ve grown with time and they’ve come due. It’s not simply that Darko didn’t live up to the hype but rather that the 2003 draft was unusually deep and that so many of the players Dumars passed over for him ended up on Eastern Conference teams. Of the top eight players selected (LeBron, Darko, Carmelo, Chris Bosh, Wade, Kaman, Hinrich, and TJ Ford), Darko is the worst by a landslide. My point is not to play 20-20 hindsight, but rather to point out how dire the consequences of that pick were. Really only now, five years out, can we say with reasonable certainly what it cost them: almost assuredly one more NBA Finals appearance. What was lost with that pick is certainly as important as any Rasheed Wallace technical foul, Chauncey Billups’ hamstring, or any sense of self-satisfaction. It is a testament to Dumars skill, and eye for veteran talent that the Pistons kept themselves in contention for as long as they did, but I have to say I was a bit surprised and a little saddened to see him publicly question his players’ dedication the way he did.

Celtics or Lakers?

So the 2008 NBA boils down to two teams: the Lakers and Celtics. Even though they represent the league’s most storied rivalry, the current teams have no bad blood between each other. Well except for the Kobe Bryant-Ray Allen rivalry from a few years ago. But this incarnation of the Lakers and Celtics don’t have the history of the previous rivalries. In fact for the last few seasons neither team was relevant in the NBA landscape. Los Angeles had 3 years of mediocrity following the Shaquille O’Neal trade. And Boston suffered for a decade and a half since Larry Bird retired.

Nevertheless both teams have something to prove. For the Celtic veteran trio of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen a championship would give each of them personal validation after years of playing for bad teams. For the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, a championship would help him shed his image as a malcontent who isn’t good enough to win a title as the centerpiece.

It’s hard to gauge this series because both teams are phoenixical; dead teams that were recently reborn. Boston was rebuilt entirely over the summer, with the acquisitions of Garnett, Allen, House, and Posey. And most of the pieces that were already there like Rondo, Perkins, and Powe were developing young players. Meanwhile the Lakers had their own reconstruction and player emergence. Farmar, Vujacic, Bynum, and Turiaf were all drafted in recent years. And of course they grabbed Pau Gasol in a midseason swap with Memphis. There’s not much to go on recent history for either team.

Each team has something in its favor. The Celtics had the edge going into the playoffs winning 66 games in the regular season, 9 more than the Lakers. But the regular season advantage could be offset by the Gasol trade. And Los Angeles has had a better run in the playoffs, losing only 3 games total to Boston’s 8.

For the last few weeks I’ve been competing in TrueHoop’s Geek Smackdown, and after last year’s poor showing I decided to go strictly with the numbers. My gut is telling me that Gasol has given Los Angeles a Rasheed Wallace-like increase in performance. And that’s nearly cemented in my right brain by the Lakers’ breeze through the playoffs. However my left brain keeps telling me that Boston has the edge. Not only do they own the home court advantage, but they had the superior 2008 season. Even including the playoffs, the Celtics record is still superior to the Lakers. Additionally the Lakers haven’t been much better since the Gasol trade. They won 69.2% of their games before acquiring Gasol, and 69.8% after the deal.

So I’m sticking with my promise and going with the numbers. I’ll be taking the Celtics in 6, and crossing my fingers.

{democracy:21}