“Devin Strangelove” or: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Vince and Love the Nets”

The NBA preseason is not where amazing happens. Truthfully, it’s exceedingly stupid. Sure, there is the “Nice, basketball is almost back” factor, but it is generally such a poor indicator of how the upcoming season will transpire that there is very little that can be gleaned from watching the games other than misinformation.

Still, hoops is hoops, so I watch a little.

Last Sunday afternoon, for instance, I caught some of a Knicks vs. Nets encounter, which, in my city, is probably as big as a preseason game not involving LeBron can get. The game featured all the wonderfully misleading hallmarks of the preseason: Jared Jeffries reminded Knicks fans how much they hate him by hitting three first-half treys; Chris Douglas-Roberts looked like a potent NBA scorer, finishing in at the rim and getting to the line like the next coming of Paul Pierce; Danilo Gallinari got his Rooster on; and Toney Douglas convinced me that he will be this year’s winner of the “Mario Chalmers Commemorative Face Palm Award” given in honor of the point guard who every GM will instantly regret not drafting.

Ultimately, however, the game accomplished its objective of getting me excited about the start of the season. So, bored by the only NFL game being broadcast locally — a truly terrible Giants/Chiefs game — and too hungover to go the nearby bar with Sunday Ticket, I fired up an NBA game from last season that I still had on my DVR for some reason. Appropriately, it was the Nets vs. the Sixers. But this wasn’t just any old contest between 1-95 rivals. No, this game featured one of the most unbelievable endings in NBA history. This game featured Devin Harris hitting an absurd, game-winning half court shot at the buzzer.

For those of you who don’t remember the game, here’s the play in question. It was an exceptional finish.

You don’t see many according to Hoyle walk-off shots in an entire NBA season. Nor do you see all that see many court shots. And in your whole life, you don’t see many walk-0ff half-court shots. And never do you see a walk-off half-court shot that looks as strange as Devin’s.

Jerry West made probably the most iconic buzzer-beating half court shot in NBA history — from well behind the line and in the Finals nonetheless — but The Logo’s shot actually only sent the game into overtime because there was no three-point line back then. Chauncey had a similar game-tying one in the 2003 Playoffs, albeit from a few feet in front of the line (at the 1:46 mark). Billups’ teammate Rasheed Wallace hit an even more impressive one with this marvelous game-winner in 2007. And didn’t Starbury hit one in the playoffs with the Suns? Could have sworn that happened, but I can’t find any evidence since Google is becoming less and less useful by the day to find things older than last week.

Those are the only others I can come up with. (I’m sure there are more. Mention some in the comments.)

Regardless of how singularly unique (© PTSA, 2008) the shot was, rewatching it got me to thinking about some of the other “games of the year” from 2008-09, and Vince Carter’s amazing double buzzer-beater game in Toronto last December leaped to mind. For some reason, I didn’t see a ton of praise given to this game on the end-of-season countdown circuit, but I remember watching the annihilation that Vince enacted that evening in the Air Canada Centre [sic] and, goddamn, does that man love to piss off Canadians.

To me, it was the regular season game of the year.

Not only did Vince’s 12 points in the final 40 seconds of regulation nearly equal his cousin TMac’s legendary 13 points in 35 seconds a few seasons ago, and not only did Vince’s catch-and-shoot three to send the game into overtime match the range of Brandon Roy’s dagger against Houston last year, but Vince’s game-winning, alley-oop, reverse dunk possibly even exceeded the splendor of Dwight’s alley-oop dunk that stunned the Spurs a few years ago.

Much like the 2000 Dunk Contest when Vince combined various historic contest-winning dunks together (e.g., his 360/windmill and his bounce-off-the-floor/alley-oop-between-the-legs), Vince combined three of the more memorable game-winning performances of the past five years all into one evening.

Devin Harris didn’t provide the most memorable heroics in that game, but despite getting sick in the locker room during the second half (reportedly due to “his pre-game grilled cheese sandwich not sitting right”), he had a helluva fourth quarter, scoring 17 points in the period to help lead his team back from an 18-point third quarter deficit and set the stage for Carter to give Toronto a giant middle finger—twice.

A strange evening, indeed. Still, the ever-humble Harris knew the night was all about Vince.

Harris called Carter’s performance “incredible.”

“He’s been doing that his whole career, but I’ve never seen it firsthand,” Harris said. “I was out there watching it just like everybody else.”

Prior to that night, Devin was also involved in one of the stranger luxury tax-era trades we have seen when Dallas shipped a young, inexpensive, highly regarded commodity for a much older, much more expensive, much less effective commodity who, oh, by the way, plays the same position. (That would be you, Jason Kidd.) Mark Cuban is one of the few execs in the NBA who is relatively unconcerned about paying the dollar-for-dollar tax, and he also desperately needed to rebrand his team after its epic first-round loss to the eighth-place Warriors in the first round of previous season’s playoffs, but it was still a head-scratching move. Who trades a 24-year-old point guard with Finals experience for a past-his-prime, 35-year-old point guard making $20 million a year?

Speaking of Devin’s Finals experience, that Heat/Mavs Finals, that has to be the strangest title series in some time. Not only was the combination of Flash, Shaq, Glove, Toine, Zo, JWill and Posey one of the strangest lineups to ever win the Larry O’Brien trophy, but the series also featured the rare “reverse sweep,” during which Miami lost the first two games only to win the next four straight.

There were also some issues with the officiating that you might have heard about. If you don’t recall, just start typing “2006 NBA Finals” into Google and check out some of the search-term suggestions that its algorithms think you might be trying to find.

So between the half-court game winner, the “Vince Pimp Slaps Toronto Show,” the Kidd trade, “Dwyane’s Referee Circus” and being the only NBA All-Star to get clowned on the playground by an English bloke in a v-neck, Devin has been at the center of a lot more strange situations than most players his age.

Considering that the reigning MVP, LeBron James, is only 24-years-old and that two future MVPs, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, are 24 and 20, respectively, we tend to forget that 26 is pretty young — particularly when you might be the quickest player in the league with the ball and you will remain an above average athlete well into your physical decline. Devin’s young, talented and getting better. But he’s also old beyond his years.

All this Devin discussion naturally led me to start thinking about the Nets. I like this team. I know the roster isn’t much on paper. But I just have a good feeling about this team. I can’t identify exactly what that feeling is, but it exists.

It’s not excitement. It’s not hope. It’s not envy or even hungry. And it’s definitely not love — I know what an erection feels like. (© GOBias Industries, 2005)

Ultimately, I just don’t think they will be nearly as bad as many NBA experts are anticipating.

Look, no one, including me, is saying that the 2009-10 Nets are going to be good good. But I think they can at least be “under-the-radar not horrible.” That may be the back-handed compliment of all back-handed compliments, but I think a lot of people expect New Jersey to battle for worst-team-in-the-league status. I think they’ll be pretty far away from that.

And if anyone has some Ewing Theory potential, it has to be Vince Carter — especially if you factor in the cumulative effect of Rod Thorn running all three of his well-known stars out of town for cap space. The last time we saw a triumvirate of talent cast off with such abandon was when Seattle lost Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez in quick succession. And didn’t the 2001 Mariners win 116 games out of the blue? In losing JKidd, Vince and Richard Jefferson, the Nets clearly haven’t lost three first-ballot Hall of Famers like Seattle did. And, obviously, there is no actual parallel between a baseball team from a decade ago and the current Nets roster. It’s a huge stretch, I get it. All I’m saying is that the addition-by-subtraction principle has caught many a sports fan off guard many a time.

The Nets are not going to make it to the second round of the playoffs or anything, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see them flirt with 40 wins.

Brook Lopez has some similar thoughts:

“I want to say we can be a good playoff team. I definitely think we can make the playoffs. We have enough talent, enough intelligent guys.”

Anyone who has seen this 2008 NBA Draft day video montage knows that we really shouldn’t be taking Brook’s quotes on intelligence seriously. But what we should take seriously is Brook’s game. After Al Jefferson, he might have the best back-to-the-basket game of any big man under 25. And as one of the few legitimate centers remaining in the league, Lopez used that game to put up some gaudy rookie numbers last year. In all, he had 18 double-doubles, including monster games of 24/17, 31/13 and 18/20. Not bad for a rook who didn’t become a focal point of Laurence Frank’s offense until mid-season. Brook may be among the last of a dying breed when it comes to traditional post players, but he sure does look like a must-double weapon on the block.

I realize that there’s not much else in the cupboard after Devin, Brook and, to a lesser extent, Courtney Lee, who gives the backcourt a second young guard with Finals experience. But regardless of what happens in 2009/10, these three could be the start of a good, young nucleus — particularly with the $30 million in cap room likely coming next summer.

The Nets are still at least one or two major pieces away from approaching legit, obviously. But if CDR can start scoring regularly at this level, Yi can provide anything resembling consistent production and rookie Terrance Williams can offer any promise, Jay-Z’s favorite team might have a shot at becoming a decent little squad.

And if Shawn Carter’s “I’m bringing LeBron to Brooklyn” plan turns out to be half as possible as I figure it just might be, I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor Thorn.

Dr Strangelove

Seth Carstens