Chris-Kaman-catches-a-quick-nap-on-the-empty-Laker-bench.-Screencap-via-@nbarocksstc

The Lakers are on the road to nowhere. (Jimmy Buss has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.)

So sick of writing about the miserable, wart-infested, woebegone Jim Buss era.

I’d rather not, really. I’d prefer to just let the rest of this season play itself out as quickly and quietly as possible,  as the Lakers dress their 8 remaining un-injured guys and finish out the string in a half empty Staples Center.  Perhaps we could just wake up in June to the news that they won the draft lottery and will thus have something to show for this abortion of a season in which everything that possibly could go wrong did, and then some. Presently, this team is one pace to win 27 games this year, which would not only be their fewest in my lifetime, but in fact the Lakers’ worst record since they moved here.

Yeah, you heard that right. This is the WORST TEAM IN LOS ANGELES LAKERS HISTORY.

The humiliations are coming fast and furious these days. Yesterday we watched Dwight Howard and the Rockets mosey on in to LA and win by about 120 points and if that wasn’t bad enough, he went ahead and joined in on the “Howard Sucks” chants, just to rub it in.

We also heard from Kevin Love, the supposed future savior of the purple & Gold. Turns out he more or less told a GQ reporter that he isn’t coming here because this team is a joke, and regardless of whether he actually means what he said, he’s not wrong. I mean, enough is enough, already.

Any you know what else? At this point, fuck all the excuses. I know Kobe and Steve Nash have been out all year and everyone else has seemingly taken turns falling down manholes or being struck by lightning and shit. So what, really. Make no mistake here. The Lakers’ abject failure is a result of so much more than that. It starts and ends with management, and it’s failure you better get used to because lil Jimmy ain’t going anywhere.

I’m tired of it. We’ve had three years to witness the slow but thorough erosion that began on the day Phil jackson left town and has now grabbed the Lakers in a full-blown death grip. We watched Jimmy hire Mike Brown to coach a 100 million dollar team full of hall-of-famers to be, and subsequently watched Brown fuck it up so bad that he made it a mere 5 games into his second season. Then, we watched the owner hire the wrong coach for the personnel they had and sit back while said coach promptly alienated not only their supposed future franchise player, but most of the rank and file as well. We gasped in horror as they gave a crippled (and aged) Kobe Bryant 45 million dollars for two more years, which is probably too much to pay a totally healthy Bryant, nevermind the banged up one you see before you now.

And finally, we watched Jimmy Buss do…nothing.

Look, they had 18 months to figure out the Pau Gasol situation. 18 fucking months to either sign him to an extension or trade him for assets. All season long we heard endless reports about what they would do, with some saying they’d keep the roster together and fight,  and others claiming they would start shedding salary to get under this years’ luxury tax and get to sucking, all the better for their chances at snagging a high lottery pick. At the end of the day it hardly mattered to me which plan they went with, so long as they chose a definitive course of action. As it says in the Hagakure , (or in Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog”)…

“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.” 

Pardon me for getting all deep on you, but the quote applies here. This is what smart people do. Make up there mind to a certain idea and execute that bitch. Stupid people, or unqualified people, run around with their heads cut off and make rash, ill-conceived decisions.

You know what the Lakers did?

Neither. Or both. Or some of each. I’m not sure, really.

Faced with the prospect of paying into the luxury tax (and thus running the risk of the even greater repeater tax next year) and in this position to avoid it by simply trading away Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill, who are both free agents and likely to leave next year since Kaman spent most of the year on the bench and Hill has no place in D’ Antoni’s offense, the Laker front office spent the last fews days asking for too much for both and were thus left holding the back. In position to save a fortune by trading Pau to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum, the Lakers held onto Pau, insisting that someone give them more than just savings. And held on, and held on. Phoenix came calling, as did Charlotte, and walked away from the bargaining table, convinced that the lakers were asking for too much.

Little Jiimmy as his hand-picked savior, in happier times.

And now, as the trade deadline has passed, Gasol remains in the Lakers’s possession, like a pair of expired movie passes never used. In the position to not only trade Gasol, Kaman and Hill for savings and/or assets, they did neither. What they have now is a team that will cost them an extra 10m or so in luxury tax penalties, lose more games than any other team in Los Angeles Laker history, (only not as many as they would lose if they had traded away Pau, so that instead of getting a top 3 draft pick they’ll likely get one in the 7-9 range), AND will watch half of their players walk away during the summer for nothing, including Gasol, one of the anchors of two NBA title teams and by all accounts one of the classiest guys to ever play here.

Just let all of this failure sink in for a minute. I’ll wait.

So yeah, who needs this? I understand the idea of team loyalty (no matter how foolish a concept), and I’m all for being patient when patience is warranted, but as this incredible failure snowball gathers steam, you might want to ask yourself a simple question.

Why am I still rooting for this team?

If your answer is no more complex than, “because I’ve always been a Laker fan”,  it might be time for us to sit down and have a chat wherein I inform you that this team in no way, shape, or form resembles the Lakers we’ve known. No, the only thing that ties this team to the ones of the past is geography, the uniform and the bloodlines of the man who owned it.

You see, that team was run by a smart man.  A gambler. A Visionary. Above all, a guy with enough sense to stay out of the way and let the smarter people, the ones who actually know Basketball, run things for him. That guy preached loyalty and family and delivered on his word. Oh, and that guy won a shitload.

This guy in charge now? Well, his only qualification would appear to be birthright. He is the guy who let his jealousy run Phil Jackson out of town. The dude who let his lack of understanding of the sport allow him to fire the entire Lakers’ scouting department and replace them with his buddies. The smart fella who held onto Pau Gasol too long and will now watch him leave for nothing.

You see, everything Jim Buss touches turns to shit, and at this point I’m just tired of it. No mas.

As for the rest of you well, you are free to do as you choose, but a word of warning. As long as this team is run by Jim Buss they are doomed, and as of right now there is no reason to think he’s leaving anytime soon.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

-John Hathwell

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Richard Sherman is Post-modern hero. For real.

And honestly, I wish there were more like him.

In 2014, nothing is that real. Or not much, anyway.  The world we live in now is all about appearances, about image, and mostly it’s about what you should not, or cannot, say without repercussions.

For anyone over thirty,  I imagine it’s taken you some time to get used to . I know that has been the case for me. We grew up in a time where people had allot more freedom to say and do whatever they wanted (within certain limits, of course), stupid as it may have been. Some of us grew up with friends or neighbors with openly racist (or homophobic) opinions who suffered nothing worse than a reputation as such. We had athletes, entertainers and celebrities who were granted the chance to actually have un-popular or dissenting opinions without fear of being censored , censured or being removed from their current employ. Right or wrong, it still felt a good deal more “free” than the climate we live in now. In these times, not much may have changed with regard to racial or sexual tolerance, but the people have learned that voicing their opinions can only get them in trouble, so those with enough sense know enough to just shut their mouths and keep it moving. Somewhere along the line we went from wanting to teach and enlighten  people in the ways of tolerance or understanding, to actually enforcing those ideals people, whether they like it or not. If someone should step out of line, they stand to lose so much more  than their reputation, thus everyone just does what they can to toe the line. Says something ignorant about the gays? Issue an apology and donate some money to something and pray it goes away? Get drunk and throw a racial slur around in public? Throw yourself at the publics mercy and pretend to be remorseful and they just might let you slide.  You need not be sincere so much as you must appear to. It’s all about perception, not reality.

Where am I going with this? Well,  believe it or don’t, this all folds into a simple point.

In 2014, we all live in a world full of fakes.

It’s maddening, really. In the Sports context, it means we’re overrun with poseurs. Fake tough guys, like Kendrick Perkins or Kevin Garnett. Fake crazy people, like Dennis Rodman or Brian Wilson. Fake bad guys, like Chael Sonnen or Floyd Mayweather. Much like politics or any other walk of life, the smarter among us have learned that whatever image you manage to project matters more than the reality, and if you can get the people to by what you are selling, the ends justify the means.

That’s why Richard Sherman is so fucking life affirming. So vital. So needed.

In this age of platitudes,  of Jesus shout outs and “we’re just blessed to be here” and every other well-worn cliche and avatar of false humility, here’s a guy who supremely talented, immensely articulate, impossibly intelligent and best of all, and this the key, almost totally real.  As a professional athlete, he’s 100% balls to the wall. In a profession where plenty of guys are basically collecting checks or coasting through on talent, Sherman is out there to win or die trying, in the figurative sense. He’s fired up enough to do this.

That interview may be many things, from vain to immature to a little ridiculous, but it’s also entirely genuine. That counts for allot these days. The guy was tested, he rose to the occasion and now he wants to bask in the glory of it all.  He couldn’t give a damn if he scared the shit out of Erin Andrews or not, he’s earned this fucking moment and he’s gonna have it. Whether you like it or not, it’s an honest moment from on an honest athlete.

Now, this may simply be a matter of preference, but I’ll take cocky any day of the week if it is a) genuine, and b) justified. I’ll take a guy beating his chest and loudly proclaiming himself the best if he in fact is the best. Let’s be real here. If you were the best at anything, exactly how humble would you be? Face it, whether you like him or not, whether or not you can even stand the guy, you’d take him on your team in a minute. If you wanna win, that is. I mean, let’s forget all the bullshit parables about morality and character, especially in a sport that employs Richie Incognito and Pac Man Jones and Ben Roethlisberger. This is Football., after all.

Richard Sherman has earned the right to call himself the best. Richard Sherman, not possessed of incredible athletic ability but rather of an unfailing work ethic, has worked his ass off to become what he is. On the field, he’s good enough to shut down the other teams’ best receiver. Off of it, he’s intelligent and witty enough to hand Skip Bayless his ass on national TV, and boy don’t we all owe him a little gratitude for that? Richard Sherman is a 25 year old athlete from the inner city who earned a degree from Stanford University, made it to the absolute top of his profession despite being a late round draft pick, and has stayed on the right side of the law his entire life. In all honestly, his largest transgression in the eyes of the public is hisextreme braggadocio.  Richard Sherman should, on these merits alone, be held up as a shining example of what you should aspire to be, of what is possible. Best of all, Richard Sherman is who he is with no apologies.

That’s as real as it gets in 2014, and that ain’t a bad thing.

-JH

How Kevin Love can help the Wolves get over the hump (Let Carmelo be your guide)

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Yeah, it’s been a rough ride for Minnesota in the 21st century, from Kevin McHale’s failure to build a contender around Kevin Garnett (save for the one Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell year) to the Joe Smith debacle to the dreaded Kahn era and beyond, it’s safe to say the last decade or so has been a mouthful of sores for Wolves fans. Hell, even when there has been some hope, it’s mostly gone unfulfilled.

This was supposed to be one of the NBA’s young gun teams. With Kevin Love, considered by some the best power forward in the NBA, and Ricky Rubio, not long ago the league’s newest sportscenter darling, it seemed the Wolves were on the fast track to contention.

Of course, it never worked out that way.

Even this year, this roster looked like it was gonna be good enough to get in the playoffs and maybe even make a little noise. Still, for one reason or another, something always seems to go wrong with this team. While theories abound, it seems increasingly unlikely that Kahn or Flip Saunders or anyone else will be able to unlock the potential in this bunch before it’s too late.

What to do, then?

It’s a tough question. As of now, the sand in the Kevin Love hourglass is running out, and after the way they handled his last contract and the continued failure to build a winner, it would appear almost a foregone conclusion that Love is out of here just as soon as he can be.

Here’s the million dollar question, though:

Is that such a bad thing?

After so many experiments, so many variations in strategy, so many different line-ups, is it at least possible that Kevin Love is every bit as overrated as Ricky Rubio has now proven himself to be? As a fan the Wolves who has doubtless seen hundreds of Kevin Love games, have you arrived at the conclusion that Love is missing something? After watching other players considered elite NBA players drag talentless rosters to the playoffs, as Kobe did in the Smush Parker/Kwame Brown/Chris Mihm era or KG did on an annual basis, are you starting wonder why the Wolves have won no more than 31 games in Love’s first five seasons? Are you starting to question the defensive commitment of a guy who seems to value rebounds and shot attempts above all else?

Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. Regardless, Love’s value around the league is sky high these days, especially after this years’ torrid start has helped to erase last years’ debacle of a campaign. If it’s true that Love is regarded by most a top 5, if not top 10 player in the league,and it is also true that he isn’t likely to re-sign here, then wouldn’t now be the time to deal him, while his value is at it’s absolute highest? Better yet, wouldn’t the return he is likely to yield actually improve your team? These are questions worth asking.

Denver was in a similar spot with Carmelo Anthony a few years back. ‘Melo was leaving and there wasn’t really anything that Denver could do about it. Like the 2014 Wolves, that Denver team has some talent on the roster but it just wasn’t coming together, or at least not in a way that could persuade Anthony to stick around. In the end, Denver decided to move him while they could and lucky for them, they found a team so desperate to acquire him, they were able to land the motherlode of assets for a guy who was leaving anyway. When all was said and done, the Nuggets were able to land:

-Danilo Gallinari

-Wilson Chandler

-Raymond Felton

-Timofey Mozgov

-Kosta Koufos

-2 second round picks

-New York’s 2014 first round pick

Just look at that haul. The Nuggets had depth before this trade; after it, they were one of the deepest teams in the league. Instead of sinking into oblivion, they continued to win at the same clip (131-77 (.630) since the trade, 139-82 (.629) in the 2 1/2 years prior to it) despite suffering from massive injuries in that stretch. Hard to argue that the Nuggets didn’t come out ahead in this deal.

Oh, and I did I mention that Nuggets own the Knicks #1 pick in next years draft…and it’s unprotected? Sure, that part is just a stroke of luck, but the moral is the story remains the same. By being unemotional and putting business first, the Nuggets broke the bank.

Minnesota can do the same, but only if they are able to focus on the bottom line and not be sentimental.

As far as what they can get, I’d say the world is their oyster. Sure, Love’s value is mitigated by where he wants to be and by the reality that for some teams it would only be a year and a half rental. Still, this is a player whose value is perhaps as overrated as any player in the league, since as of yet there is no evidence that he can be anything but a fantasy stat sheet stuffer on a bad team. Trust me, there are no shortage of teams willing to pay through the nose for this guy.

Take Phoenix. A roster full of young talent and more #1 picks than they could possible use at this point. Even better, Love is a hand-in-glove fit for their style, and perhaps the piece that gets them into “force to be reckoned with” territory. New Orleans has the pieces to make this work. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson (and a pick or two) for Love is a trade that sends value and both directions. Love and Anthony Davis in the same front court is an impossibly intriguing proposition. Golden State would have to think long and hard about what an upgrade from David Lee to Love would do for their title hopes, and Minnesota would be hard-pressed to turn down an offer of, say, Lee and Harrison Barnes.

There are allot of options out there for the Wolves, and these are but a few. Still, there is one out there that make so much sense, it has to be considered by all involved. A trade with so much logic behind it, it’s impossible to ignore. A move that almost has to be made.

Love to Houston.

 

It’s all there. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has an undeniable superstar fetish, and just imagine how he’d feel about having three of them on one team. What he also has is enough talent and assets to make an irresistible offer. If Morey were wiling to part with Chandler Parsons (who is due a huge raise that they might not be able to give him), Terrence Jones (lots of upside, small contract), Omer Asik (whose talent and contract helps the whole deal work) and a first round pick or two, how could the Wolves turn that down? Three young starters, all potential building blocks, and a couple of draft picks? Could the Wolves be anything but a better team after this move?

Yeah, it’s all hypotheticals. Yeah, it’s a ballsy move. Still, the writing might be on the wall as far as Love goes, and the longer you hold onto him, the less trade leverage you have. Either way, the name of the game is winning, and if you are the Wolves you have to take a long, hard look at whether you can ever win with Kevin Love.

If the answer is no, it’s time to get what you can, while the getting is good. It just might be the smartest thing they ever did.

 

-JH

I’ve heard enough about this Tanking bullshit. It’s a myth.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Philadelphia 76ers

I can’t take it anymore, man. I just can’t.

Everywhere I turn, it’s “tanking this”, “tanking that”, etc. Problem is, it’s coming from some of the more, shall we say, accessible and/or popular voices and as such, has been a most ubiquitous and annoying refrain.

The major problem with this, of course, is that they have it all wrong.

Let’s start simple here. What is tanking, by definition? Well, last time I checked, “tanking” means doing what you can to lose as many games as possible, thus securing the best chance at a high draft pick.  Not to be confused with “rebuilding”,  which involves clearing the decks and starting over, with the assumption that a poor record (and the resulting high draft pick) will be the likely result.

Now then, let’s go over this. Who is taking and who is rebuilding?

Utah is in rebuild mode. After a summer in which they willfully let their two best veteran players (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson) walk in free agency and took two horrible contracts from Golden State in exchange for future draft picks, it became abundantly clear that Utah had grown tired of winning 40 game and sneaking into (or narrowly missing) the playoffs and were now willing to bottom out and hopefully rebuild around their young nucleus (Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke) and their handful of future draft picks, as well as a ton of salary cap space. Sure, their was an eye toward the 2014 draft, but make no mistake, this is your standard blueprint for rebuilding, same as it ever.

Milwaukee is a horribly run franchise that actually made an effort, believe it or not, to be competitive this year. After compiling a roster filled with average (at best) NBA players who were ostensibly to be lead by OJ Mayo, the Bucks fell victim to a plethora of injuries and before they knew it, had the worst record in the league. Still, all the injuries did was reduce them from a 33 win team to one that might win 15 games or so. Still, the Bucks plan in 2014 was to make the playoffs, even if it was a complete pipe dream from day one.  They aren’t tanking, they simply suck.  Just a brutal, brutal team.

Sacramento ain’t tanking either, they’re just a clueless organization building a team around a clueless “franchise player” named Demascus (or DeMarcus) Cousins. Nope, they won’t end up with a top 5 pick in next years draft for any reason other that an abundance of incompetence. Doesn’t matter if they trade for Derrick Williams or Rudy Gay or Chris Webber. This team has 27 wins written all over it, and the sad part is, they are actually trying to be good.

Who else? Well, let’s have a look at the bottom of the standings. You’ve got the Knicks and the Nets, both of whom have already traded their 2014 #1 picks, so you can count them out. Chicago is bad because Derrick Rose’s other knee fell apart, but you can’t call what has happened to them tanking until they start selling off Luol Deng and Joakim Noah or any other assets they have. Cleveland is yet another team that has delusions of being competitive but is being run into the ground by dimwits. Orlando has been knee deep in rebuilding mode since the day Dwight Howard walked out the door, but they aren’t doing anything that suggests they are purposely trying to lose games. Boston and Toronto were both considered prime tanking candidates, but that was before the rest of the Atlantic division pooped itself, leaving the Celtics and Raptors as defacto playoff contenders.

Someone forgot to tell JR that the Knicks don’t have a draft pick to tank for.

See a trend here?

Hell, let’s flash back to October, when the Suns were considered a consensus bottom three team that would be lucky to win 25 games. In possession of as many as four first round picks in the 2014 draft, the season was considered lost before it started for Phoenix. Then, they shot out of the gate with a team that was not only thriving in an up-tempo system, but in retrospect looked like they were perfectly constructed by a GM who expected them to be good, or at the very least competitive. Shit, if you count Toronto, Phoenix and Boston as accidental contenders, it’s safe to say that all of them have abandoned the tanking strategy mid-season in favor of making the playoffs or at least having a fighting chance.

Here’s the thing with this supposed tanking phenomenon.  It’s one thing for writers or bloggers to talk breathlessly about losing on purpose in hopes of landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari parker or Julius Randle or any of the other supposed future franchise players, but at the end of the day this is still the real world, and in the real world you still have fans to sell tickets to, merchandise to peddle, and perhaps most importantly, and owner who is staring intently at the bottom line. In allot of these cases, you have owners who want to win now, want to make money. Selling them the prospect of being intentionally shitty in hopes that they just might win a  lottery that could perhaps garner them a potential franchise player? It’s harder than it sounds. Do you know what even two or three home playoff games can mean to a teams’ bottom line? Not only that, but the difference in revenue that can be generated by a team who is selling a playoff chase versus a team that is playing out the string? This is, after all, still a business, is it not?

And really, that’s what we’re seeing this year. For all this bluster about Tankapalooza and wacky draft lottery wheel proposals, take a step back and have a look around the league and tell me, where are these supposed tanking teams?

At the end of the day, Philadelphia is the only team that not only went out of the way to strip itself of assets last summer, but has actively done things to be as bad as possible this season, as evidenced by Michael Carter-Williams numerous absences of a dubious nature. Every other team thought to be tanking are actually either rebuilding or exceeding expectations.  When all is said and done, most of the teams that appear headed for the top picks are actually teams that weren’t trying to lose.  Now, this could change as we get closer to the finish line and some teams fall out of contention but for now there is almost zero concrete evidence of all of this supposed tanking. No, what we have are  allot of people pushing a story that isn’t there, and for god only knows what reason.

And that’s the lesson here. Tanking is losing on purpose, like the Texans and Falcons started doing once it became apparent that their seasons were lost. Tanking is what the Sixers are doing, ostensibly because the people in charge have sold ownership on the viability of their plan to bottom out and come up big in the draft. Everyone else is either winning, competing or rebuilding. One last time, let me be clear on this: Rebuilding and tanking are two different things. Regardless of whatever narratives are being sold to you, they aren’t the truth. The truth is right there in black and white. Nobody is tanking.

Well, I’m glad I got that off my chest.  Carry on.

-JH

Mike D’ Antoni is working quiet miracles this year.

Of course, I mean this within a reasonable context, but hear me out.

After all, this is a team that was picked by most to win less than half their games and miss the playoffs, and that’s before Steve Nash, Kobe Bryan,t Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake all got hurt in succession, which pretty much covers every guy on this team that has proven himself capable of dribbling a basketball for extended periods of times. I mean, I’d ask who was next if I felt like tempting fate, you know?

And yet, with all of this misfortune and with Paout Gasol whining his way to his worst season as a Laker, somehow this team has won half of it’s games in the brutal Western Conference, and prior to Kobe’s (temporary) return had just won 6 of 8 and was playing fast and loose. It is important to gain some perspective here, so allow me to provide a little. This is a team whose leading scorer is Nick Young. Again. Nick Young is the Lakers’ leading scorer. Almost the entire rotation is made up of marginal players or cast-offs from other teams. Almost all of them are one year contracts after underperforming for most or all of their careers. We’re talking about former lottery picks like Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jordan HIll, who had done so little to this point, they could consider themselves fortunate to even still be in the NBA. Career bench players like Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks.  Lifelong malcontents or knuckleheads like Shawne Williams or Nick Young.

A fistful of Basketball orphans, if you will.

Again, and it’s worth repeating, the brilliance of Mike D’ Antoni’s system is that you don’t even need good players to succeed, just the right kind of players. You need athletes. Guys who can shoot. Maybe a decent point guard or two. Give him that much and he’ll hold his own. Give him anymore than that and you got trouble.

So yeah, everyone is predicting gloom & doom now that Kobe is hurt again but the truth is the Lakers are 11-9 without Kobe this year and 2-4 with him, and even though they started the season with three competent point guards and are now without four (since the Kobe at the point experiment has come and gone) and have resorted to using Henry there, they somehow still continue to beat teams they shouldn’t, play hard and loose and perhaps most importantly, have a little fun out there.

pau

As far as this year goes, it’s still and uphill battle to even make the playoffs, but let’s not forget where expectations were in October versus what has happened in the first seven weeks of this season. Better yet, let’s consider what D’ Antoni has done with this very modest cast of characters. This team has won half of it’s games despite losing every reputable players beside Pau to injury. This team plays it’s ass off and despite all of the proclamations of Mike D’ Antoni’s teams being horrible defensively, has been surprisingly stingy on that front. Bottom line is, this team has been flat out better than it has any right to, and if you understand the reasons why, you’d not only give D’ Antoni his props, you’d be a excited to see what he can do next year with a little more firepower at his disposal.

Hey, someone had to say it. The lesson here isn’t that anybody should be patted on the back for winning 50% of the time. No, the lesson has a little to do with writing wrongs, with assigning credit where it is due and maybe, just maybe, admitting that the guy who took most (or all) of the heat for last years’ debacle isn’t the guy responsible after all.

What can I say, I love this coach. He can do allot with a little. Give him more to work with and who knows?

-JH

 

Oh how I missed James Kirkland (and Ann Wolfe)

Trust, me it was a long 18 months.

Yes, Boxing has never had any shortage of compelling characters. In the present time, it’s actually rather flush with them. Floyd Mayweather is still here, trolling fans into paying to see him take the beating that he as of yet hasn’t succumbed to. Manny Pacquiao is back from the dead (or something close to it) to earn a couple more huge paydays and maybe, just maybe, give us that Pac/Mayweather showdown he always wanted, even if the intrigue is now somewhat diminished. Andre Ward is finally healthy enough again to resume the Boxing lessons he was doling out of the regular before he needed to repair his bum shoulder. Oh, and there’s a whole new crop of killers on the loose, chief among them Adonis Stevenson and the nightmare russian Triumvirate of Ruslan Provodnikov, Sergei Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin, all three of them capable of  separating you from your senses in such a manner that it’s going to become increasingly difficult for them to find anyone with enough courage to face the proverbial firing squad. Ruslan’s relentless attack, Kovalev’s atomic bombs, Golovkin’s frighteningly accurate weapons of destruction. Hard to say which is better or more fun to watch, but easy to say they are absolute appointment TV right now, regardless of the opponent.

It’s a good time to be a Boxing fan, I’ll tell ya.

And yet with that said, I’ve been feeling a strange void for quite some time now, like there was something missing from my life, in the fistic sense. I missed James Kirkland because James Kirkland is the fucking best.  Not he the best boxer or puncher or even brawler mind you, but just the best, if you know what I mean.

James Kirkland is there to take your will and beat your ass, and as long as he’s still standing he’s a good bet to do just that. James Kirkland has knocked out 28 of the 32 men he’s fought, and what can I say about those other four besides “it was their lucky night”?

Oh, and best of all, James Kirkland is trained by Ann Wolfe. Well, he is now. Again. You see, he was, and then he wasn’t, then he was again, and if that all sounds a little weird, it is. You see, Ann Wolfe used to box herself. Well, that’s not the whole story. This is:

Yeah, Ann Wolfe used to beat the shit out of people. Ann Wolfe once held titles in four different weight classes. Simultaneously.  Man or woman, you probably wouldn’t fuck with Ann Wolfe unless you wanted a concussion or whatever. Not to say that makes her any more or less qualified to train fighters, just giving you a little context. There’s another wrinkle. Ann Wolfe’s training methods are a little different than anyone else’s. She believes in training a man until he can’t go any more, then going some more. Every day. For Weeks. The idea is simple enough: Whatever he might face in an actual fight couldn’t possibly be any worse than what he faces in the gym on a daily basis.

Hey, you might laugh, you might think this lady is fucking nuts. Then again, you might think all of that prepared James Kirkland for this.

Kirkland’s response to what happened to him at he start of the fight in not a normal one. It’s response of a guy who has been in deeper water than that before, even if it wasn’t in an actual ring. The fact that he was not only standing after the first round by was able to emerge the victor some rounds later is just not normal. Nothing about the Kirkland or Wolfe is, really.

Only 28 years old, James Kirkland has hady so much more adversity than his record (32-1) would suggest. After having his career stalled by a 2 year prison stint in 2009 and again by a puzzling one round knockout loss to a noted light puncher named Nobuhiro Ishida, Kirkland reunited with Wolfe and put together 4 consecutive impressive victories. Then, once more, his career was derailed, this time by promotional disputes. Not only that, Kirkland split from Wolfe for a second time, (the first split came as a result of his jail stint) ostensibly because he could no longer stomach Wolfe’s insane training technique, successful as it had been.

Well, weeks before last’s nights fight with undefeated Glenn Tapia, Kirkland found his way back to Wolfe’s camp for a third time. After an almost 2 year lay-off and in danger of being forgotten, Kirkland likely decided it was now or never.

Honestly, I had no idea what Kirkland we were getting when him and Tapia went into the ring last night. After so many stops and starts, so much uncertainty surrounding his career, how could I? Kirkland at his best is a terrifying predator. A machine. And, all hyperbole aside, a killer. Kirkland at his worst is, slow, musclebound and uncommonly chinny.

I’ll have to admit, I watched the first three rounds or so with one eye open. Even in the best of times Kirkland tends to start slowly, and since that isn’t exactly a secret, Tapia came out from the first bell looking to take him out before he had a chance to break a sweat. As it turned out, Tapia hadn’t enough in his gun to do anything but wobble Kirkland and by the time he had emptied both clips, James went to work. By the time the 4th round had rolled around, it was clear that the vintage James Kirkland had sown up on this night, not just to win, but to put a frightful beating on a fighter who hadn’t yet tasted defeat in his pro career. By the time he was done, hooking, crossing, jabbing and pounding high and low, Tapia was a walking ghost, having foolishly been sent out for the 6th round despite having neither the strength to rally back nor the tools to fend of this positively savage attack. Less than a minute in to that round, it was all over, and by the time it was, Kirkland had collected another scalp the hard way, and Tapia had taken a beating he may or may not ever recover from.

Boxing offers allot of pleasures, some of which are harder to stomach for all but the most devout of followers. Some time later, in the evenings’ main event, former amateur legend and current Bantamweight sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux would use his speed, skill and grace to soundly defeat his opponent without having so much as a hair on his head mussed. For the crowd in Atlantic City, it was a sight not worth even sticking around for, as most of them left in droves during the fight. For others, what Rigondeaux does in a boxing ring is a thing of beauty, the sweet science personified. Me? hey, I love them both, even if I prefer one over the other.

Look, it is what it is. Watching a fighter like Kirkland or a fight like the ones he always seems to end up in is something I find impossibly compelling, the way allot of writers and lovers of the sport always have. It’s one man’s will against another in a way that simply doesn’t exist on other sporting planes. There are few fighters on earth quite like James Kirkland, and that is more than likely a good thing. What’s more, I’m 100% certain there is but one Ann Wolfe on this earth, and I have zero doubt in my mind what a fortunate thing that is.

For one night at least, they were back. I can only hope they are here for a long, long time.

-JH

nash-horry

Debunking the “Offensive teams can’t win Titles” myth with the sad ballad of the D’ Antoni suns.

nash-horry

Mike D’ Antoni’s system can’t work in the playoffs!

This one has bugged me for fucking ever. Just another lazy opinion repeated endlessly by those who don’t know any better until it becomes “fact”, even if it isnt. Really, the motivation I need to write this finally came this year, both from the repeated undermining of the job D’ Antoni has done with the Lakers (Blame Dwight for being Dwight and Jimmy Buss for hiring the wrong guy, in that order) and by the repeated assertions that the Clippers can’t win a title by merely outscoring their opponents, much the same way the D’ Antoni Suns used to.

In the four full seasons of the Mike D’ Antoni/Steve Nash era, Phoenix was a combined 231-96, primarily because they scored approximately 4 billion points. They transformed Steve Nash from an above average point guard to a 2 time MVP, a 29 win Suns team into a serious contender and a number of marginal NBA players (Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa) into very useful ones. As great as Nash was in Phoenix, the system was every bit as responsible for the success as Nash was, and much of it as they had out there in the desert, it should have been so much more. In year one of the D’ Antoni/Nash era, the Suns won 59 games, cruised through the first two round of the playoffs, then met their demise at the hands of the eventual Champion Spurs who dispatched them in 5 games. Yeah, they didn’t win it all, but their first season together can hardly be considered a failure, can it?

2006 was almost over it before it started for these guys, what with Amar’e Stoudemire taken out by the dread microfracture. Even with a lineup that sported old man Kurt Thomas in Stoudemire’s place, the Suns sill won 54 games and once again found themselves in the Western Finals against the Spurs. By this time, they were starting Boris Diaw at center and eternal underachiever Tim Thomas at Small Forward and still, somehow, managed to take the Mavericks to 6 games before bowing out. Now, I’m not inferring that they automatically win if Amar’e is healthy that year, but it stands to reason that they would have had at least a decent shot at beating the Mavs here if he were. Tough to argue against that.

That brings us to 2007. After having made two Western Conference finals appearances, the Suns were getting Amar’e back and poised to make that breakthrough.  There they were, cruising to a game 4 win in San Antonio that evened the series at 2 games apiece and gave Phoenix back homecourt advantage, putting them in the drivers’ seat against the team that would ultimately win the title. Now, Phoenix could head home knowing they had a best of three scenario left with the Spurs in which they had two home games. They had to be feeling like it was there time.

Then, this happened.

They call it the “Ron Artest rule”, named after the most (infamous) of all american sports brawls.. It’s basic principle is that any player not in the game who steps so much as a foot on the court during a fight is immediately suspended for at least one game. It’s consequences were felt here on a level that they never had been, before or since.

Total bullshit play, totally appropriate response, right? Watch the end of that video and you can see Amar’e Stoudemire and Bris Diaw “leave the bench” by the very letter of the law, if not the spirit of it. For that, the two were suspended for game 5 , the short-handed Suns were forced to make a go of it with a 6 man rotation and fell short, 88-85. After that, game 6 was a formality, and one could argue that since Utah was the other Western Conference Finalist and baby LeBron’s Cleveland team won the East, (and were summarily swept by San Antonio) it’s more or less fair to say the winner of this series was the likely champion.

After that, everythng goes downhill in Phoenix. Years of trading away first round pick as a way to save money (blame cheapskate owner Robert Sarver for that one) finally catches up with them as their depth starts to erode. Even worse, the Lakers’ brilliant deal to snatch up Pau Gasol from Memphis results in a league-wide panic as fellow West contenders start making desperate moves to keep up with the joneses: First, the Mavs’ swing a blockbuster for the aging Jason Kidd, which helped them years later but not immediately, then the Suns make a deal for a then-35 and almost comically out-of-shape Shaquille O’ Neal. Of course, the deal for Shaq was officially the end of the D’ Antoni run & gun era, and coach Mike would quit to take the Knicks coaching job less than three months later.

So, remember all of this the next time you hear someone yelling about how the Suns were “playoff failures” or “D’ Antoni’s system can’t win titles!”. In this case, it should have. It really should have.

Just remember. That’s all I ask.

-JH

Hoops and fights.

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