Author Archives: Conrad Kaczmarek

Lion Face/ Lemon Face 1/2/12: T-Mac, Bill Russell, and Horrible Shots

Lion Face: Tracy McGrady

What year is this? Amin Vafa already wrote a whole post about the random outburst from the corpse of T-Mac, but his throwback performance was good enough to mention twice. So we’ve got the undefeated Miami Heat at home against the enigmatic Atlanta Hawks. It’s a very competitive game throughout the majority of the second half until McGrady decides that he’s done messing around. The former superstar scored 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to hand the Heat their first lost of the season. If only for one night, T-Mac partied like it was 2003.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obPECO7PZ6o w=560 h=315]

Lemon Face: Dwyane Wade

Sure, Wade had another ridiculous block of an unfortunate goofy tall guy, but other than that, his performance against the Hawks was bleh. 23.5 eFG%? 30.5 TS%? 12 points on 17 shots? Very un-Wade like. Granted, he had 10 assists but that’s not enough to offset such a poor shooting performance. He’s still DWade and will probably still have a ridiculous season, but after 6 games, he’s been pretty mediocre.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qH9LbzfmcB0 w=560 h=315]

Lion Face: Jarrett Jack

Who needs Chris Paul??? Okay, the Hornets need Chris Paul as they lost to the Utah Jazz on Monday night, but it wasn’t because of Jarrett Jack. How does 27 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks (!!!) sound? Jack had a relatively absurd 72.0 TS%. Jack shredded the Utah defense all night. I say that almost literally; he played 40 minutes. Jarrett Jack might not be Chris Paul, but he played like him Monday night, kind of.

Lemon Face: Local Announcers

Thanks to League Pass and NBATV, fans are getting more exposed to the wonderful insight that local team announcers provide. Personally, I sometimes enjoy hearing how each crew has their own style and approach to calling the came. Monday night, however, wasn’t exactly a banner night for these crews. It’s not unusual for the local guys to be a little bit biased but when it really gets in the way of watching the game, it can be pretty off-putting. For example, Tommy Heinsohn said what we were all thinking when he compared Greg Stiemsma to Bill Russell on defense. Later, Mavericks play-by-play guy, Mark Followill reacted to criticism the same way that my 12-year old sister reacts to criticism.

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/MFollowill/status/154073560661495809"]

Stay classy.

Lion Face: Markieff Morris

Ignore the opponent. I know that they played against the Warriors, but hear me out. Markieff Morris made his claim for increased playing time over Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick by racking up 16 points and 9 rebounds. Morris showed off some pretty nice range, but also cleaned up 3 offensive rebounds at the rim. In this god awful season that the Suns are currently experiencing, Morris may be something that their fans have to smile about when they aren’t crying about the horrible things that Steve Nash has to endure.

Lemon Face: Brandon Jennings (and his shot selection)

Hey Brandon Jennings, you can’t hit three pointers. Stop taking them. Jennings went 0 for 4 from behind the arc, including taking a potential game-tying three in the waning seconds of the game. Despite the fact that Carlos Delfino (career 36.5% three point shooter) was wide open, Jennings promptly took and bricked the shot with plenty of time on the clock. Overall on the night, Jennings shot 5-16 and had 6 turnovers to only 3 assists. That’s a lemon face performance if I’ve ever seen one.

The Truth About LeBron James


If you stumbled upon this post expecting me to reveal some tabloid story about affairs or controversy, you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, I intend to deviate from the traditional narratives that are undoubtedly running rampant following the Miami Heat’s victory over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Wednesday night. It is no secret that the world’s biggest spotlight has been focused on the Big 3 of Miami the entire season and that spotlight only gets brighter as they advance through the playoffs.

After LeBron’s struggles with the Cavaliers against Boston, the mainstream media quickly created the most apparent storyline to define James as a basketball player. You’ve heard it all before.

“LeBron isn’t clutch,” or “LeBron doesn’t have the killer instinct” or “LeBron is a quitter” or “LeBron can’t get past the Celtics.”

 

While the last point was certainly true (before tonight), I refuse to take the laziest route and start to slap labels on players when they are merely entering their prime. The Decision understandably had some backlash on how people viewed James and quite possibly cost him the MVP this year. Lots of people have disdain for LeBron and many of those people can be found in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Now, before you immediately roll your eyes at the notion of yet another writer from northeast Ohio commenting on LBJ, give me a chance to approach the topic with as little bias as possible. You won’t be shocked to find out that I am actively rooting against the Heat or that I am not particularly fond of LeBron James. However, I hope that does not prevent me from providing some relatively intelligent insight on the issue.

Wednesday night, against the Celtics, I came to a revelation of sorts. I do not hate LeBron James, but rather I am supremely disappointed. For the past year now, I’ve heard both sides of the argument. There are those that say it was a classless betrayal and there are those that question what he ever “owed” to the Cavaliers. To respond to the second part, the answer is, of course, nothing. James owed nothing (apart from a little decency) to the Cavaliers fans or the organization. Those who believe that he did are misguided (read: wrong). But that’s not the reason that I have so much disdain for LeBron James. It seems that so many people are shocked that LeBron was “finally” able to get past the Celtics and “finally” come up in the clutch. The notion of James exorcising his demons by taking down Boston is overblown and quite frankly, stupid. I, for one, am not all that surprised by it and after watching him play for 7 years in Cleveland, know that completely dominating the end of the game is nothing new to him. The truth is that LeBron James is the best player in the league and it’s been that way for several years now. And as long as I’m being completely honest, it’s not even close. This lone fact is what frustrates myself and other Cavaliers fans to no end. That which comes off as pure hatred is actually bitter disappointment.

I had the pleasure of watching one of the most supremely gifted athletes of our generation on a nightly basis and he was dominating games for my team. He carried us to the playoffs year after year and regardless of how they looked on paper, the most recent Cavs teams were really good. As you know, however, not quite good enough. I knew the opportunity that he provided for my city and was absolutely crushed when he took it away. The objective, basketball analyst in me truly appreciates the greatness of James but the Clevelander in me will never forgive him.

As far as I am concerned, the media narratives are bunch of nonsense. LeBron did not magically gain the ability to execute down the stretch this year or step up his game in the playoffs. Rather, he now has another superstar playing alongside him and the Celtics were therefore less of an obstacle. I understand that the NBA is all about winning at any cost, but every part of LeBron’s character now leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. He took the easy way out and teamed up with Dwyane Wade. Was it a wise basketball decision? Yes. He plays for fans that can barely fill the arena in the postseason. Is that his fault? Of course not. Regardless of who’s at fault, the result remains the same. Cavs fans came to know a player that was capable of taking virtually any team to the NBA Finals and in the blink of an eye — he was gone.

If the Miami Heat end up winning the title as I believe they will, the national media and casual NBA fans will jump all over the notion that LeBron has evolved into the champion that he never was in Cleveland. While on the surface this is true, I see no real difference between 2010 LeBron and 2011 LeBron. The only difference I notice is the added pressure for him to win a ring and the fact that he will soon be doing it for a franchise other than the Cavaliers. The point I feel the need to reiterate is that he earned the right to “take his talents to South Beach.” He fulfilled his obligation in Cleveland and gained free agent status.

Ultimately, there is nothing fundamentally wrong about what LeBron did and none of it truly warrants the venom he receives. Instead, when we hold The Decision against him, it’s due to disappointment. Not because he did anything wrong, but because he failed to live up to our own contrived, personal expectations. The fact of the matter is, the dominance that James showed in crunch-time against the Celtics has been in him all along. As with most great athletes, it just took a little bit of prodding and a lot of losing for it to be channeled effectively. LeBron probably could have dragged a team with Mo Williams as the 2nd best player to a world championship, but didn’t want to wait around to find out. He has every right to do as he desires. Conversely, we have every right to criticize him as we please. As an NBA writer, I’ll appreciate him but as a Cleveland native, I’ll hate him.

 

My Neighbor’s Nightmare

We all have hopes. We all have dreams. It is likely that your aspirations differ from those of even your closest friends. Honestly, that is what makes life so interesting. Everybody has their own opinions and values that they hold close to their heart and nobody has the authority to tell them that they are wrong. The world of sports is no different. Athletes all have different motivations for playing the sport. Whether it be about money, fame, or the simple desire to win, who are we to say what the correct motive is?

As a society, we cannot help but criticize people that we view as lazy or selfish. From my experiences, this seems particularly prevalent when talking about athletes. There are certain things about certain athletes that make them unlikable. For instance, Vince Carter is perhaps one of the most disliked players by diehard NBA fans. If you ask someone why they don’t like Carter you’ll like get a response regarding his apparent apathy. He just doesn’t seem to care. This is entirely his decision and to be fair, it’s probably not even a conscious choice.

Alternatively, we idolize and love those who play the game “the right way”, whatever that may be. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant come off as two prime examples of what we want in an athlete. They honor the competitive nature of the game and leave everything on the court. They work even harder during the off-season to perfect their craft and place winning ahead of everything else. We love them for this and hate players like Vince because they don’t possess the same mentality.As I said before, different things matter to different people. We dislike Vince because he doesn’t always try his hardest and winning doesn’t seem to be a priority. He was blessed with otherworldly talent and could be going down in history as one of the greatest to ever play if he simply had a better work ethic and attitude. But he doesn’t. That’s his life.

How can we criticize someone for not trying hard enough or having the right attitude when we are merely spectating from our living room? Take time to consider what your major goals in life are. You probably came up with something along the lines of. happiness, family, financial security, etc. Well hasn’t Vince Carter achieved that? He has plenty of money and presumedly enjoys playing the game of basketball. He gets paid to do something enjoyable every night and that might be enough for him. Is he wrong for not ranking winning as the one of the most important goals in life? Some people would say so, but that’s their opinion. In the waning hours of Carter’s career we see him trying even less. It’s a shame to see Vince care so little when a guy like Steve Nash cares so much. I’ve often considered how players react when their body starts to fail them. For someone who had relied so heavily on his natural abilities, it has to be particularly frustrating. Freakish athletes like Carter, Shaq, Iverson, etc. never really had the need to work especially hard. Now as they have all gotten older and lost the explosiveness that made them so special as players, we see them struggle. The desire to reshape their game isn’t there. Therefore, they are destined to fizzle out and have an unremarkable end to their careers. It’s disappointing, but it comes down to the mindset. Some people have it, others don’t.

For the average NBA enthusiast, the priority is winning. However, I am hesitant to condemn anyone who doesn’t share that opinion. During the current NBA playoffs I was reminded of one of the more interesting players in the league. JR Smith of the Denver Nuggets is perhaps one of the most talented players in the league, yet fails to effectively harness that potential. When JR is on, he has the ability to takeover a game. Unfortunately, he’s a total head-case. It’s easy to say that he’s wasting such incredible talent, but what we may see as a waste, may be perfectly satisfying for him. I suppose that we wish he had the same mindset as Kobe or Jordan, but it’s certainly possible that all he wants to do is make crazy highlights, shoot tons of threes, and occasionally dunk all over Gary Neal.

This is only my opinion and I certainly understand the disdain for chronic underachievers, yet I can’t help but try to put myself in their shoes. If I were incredibly, naturally gifted at a sport, how would I use that ability? I know that I am a very competitive person, but just living the life of an NBA player and getting paid to do something I love might be enough for me. I don’t know if I would possess that insatiable thirst for victory. In our minds, we want all players to appreciate their talents and have a great work ethic. You might claim that that is how you would act if you were so supremely athletic. You’d spend countless hours in the gym and have an unyielding commitment to the game. But that’s your dream. And what is your dream, might be someone else’s nightmare.

Eclipsing The Past

It’s amazing how quickly we forget. The notion of “what have you done for me lately?” runs rampant in our society and appears particularly prevalent in the world of sports. It’s no surprise that everybody gets excited about the newest stars or amazing performances, however, our obsession with novelty seems to be getting a little out of hand.

It seems like everybody is ready to proclaim Derrick Rose the new face of the NBA, but wasn’t it mere months ago that we had given that title to Kevin Durant? When I hear people talk about Derrick Rose as the best point guard or even the best player in the league I cannot help but wonder if Chris Paul and LeBron James were simultaneously involved in a horrific accident. I admit that Rose has done some incredible things and is one of the more electrifying players we have had in years, but to find a guard as scintillating as Rose, you don’t have to go all that far back. Sure, Rose has been impressive, but it was merely 6 years ago that a guy by the name of Allen Iverson was racking up 30 points and 8 assists on a nightly basis. Let’s pump the brakes just a little bit. Appreciate every jaw-dropping play that Rose makes in the playoffs this year, but try not to be so quick to forget that before Rose there were guys like Iverson who did it even better.

On top of overhyping the newest achievements, we also get bored rather quickly. Averaging 25 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds has only been done 15 times in NBA history and many of those seasons belong to LeBron James. Not many people have been properly impressed by James this year or think he is deserving of the MVP award, but if you check the stats he was just his normal, ridiculous self. Why aren’t we appropriately amazed by his unbelievable season? Because it’s nothing new. We’ve seen it all before. Leave it to LeBron to make a historic season seem monotonous. Just as voters got tired of giving Michael Jordan the MVP, we’ve become spoiled by James’ play. If any other player in the league piled up the stats that James did this year, we wouldn’t hesitate to crown him MVP and worship the ground he walked on. But since LeBron has done it four other times in his career? Nothing to see here, move along.

I suppose this phenomenon is partially due to the influx of younger NBA fans. Many of us didn’t have the privilege to see Larry Bird or Magic Johnson in their primes. Hell, I’m only 18 and hardly remember seeing Shaq at his best. I guess I’m unique and can’t expect all young fans to be as obsessed as me, but I hate to see retired players have their lore be underestimated. A recent poll on ESPN.com asked a question about the best defensive centers of all time. I was shocked to see that Dwight Howard was running away with the vote. There is no questioning Dwight’s dominance in the current era, but to say he is better than Hakeem or Russell is just ignorant. I love the modern NBA, but legends of the past still deserve our respect when we compare them to the stars of today.

What really got me thinking about all of this happened last night. I noticed everybody on Twitter going insane about Carmelo Anthony’s performance against the Celtics. TNT’s Charles Barkley went as far as to say that it was one of the best playoff performances he had ever seen. Apparently Charles never saw himself play. Or Michael Jordan. Or Kobe Bryant. Or LeBron James. Don’t get me wrong, 42 points and 17 rebounds against this Boston defense is remarkable, but as ESPN’s Adam Reisinger pointed out, it wasn’t even the best performance this year. Chris Paul’s game-one demolition of the Lakers earns a higher game-score from Basketball-Reference.com and considering the fact that Paul’s team actually won the game, I think most people would agree. I was just as impressed by the Carmelo Anthony Show, but there’s no need to blow it out of proportion just because it happened 5 minutes ago.

I admit it’s hard not to get caught up in what’s happening here and now. Regardless, people ought to relax. Kobe will never be as good as Jordan and Rose isn’t as good as Paul, yet. The NBA playoffs are awesome and let’s enjoy the present, but try not to let it overshadow the past.

Wantonly Crushed


Wednesday night marked an end and a new beginning. For many teams, the NBA season is just now hitting full stride. The playoffs are among us and there is no questioning how thrilling it is to have finally reached the pinnacle of a very long season. However, for 14 teams, the regular season finale stands as a bittersweet end.

My Cavaliers are obviously not headed to the postseason and for the first time in several years simply go home. Game 82 is the end of the road for mine and so many others’ favorite teams. To many true fans, however, this is much more than a systematic completion to a difficult campaign. Not only will I be unable to watch the Cavaliers play, I must also curb my passion for several months. As a pure basketball fan, I will thoroughly enjoy the drama and quality team play of the postseason, but something will be lacking. Naturally I have my preferences about the teams that still have hopes of claiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the diehard fandom that makes the sport so enjoyable was cut off last night.

For fans of homeward bound teams, like myself, the conclusion of the NBA season is a both a blessing and a damn shame. Watching the team you love, struggle, night in and night out, becomes difficult. The offseason seems like the only safe haven from a beleaguered roster and unsatisfying results. At the same, though, you don’t want it to end. The heated discussions and bonding over similar enthusiasm are things that go far beyond sports. I had always maintained the thought that being a fan meant more than the contests on the court or the transactions in the front office. But not until last night did I truly understand the unifying power and transcendence that accompanies the game.

Several hours after the Cavaliers concluded their season and graced the legendary Joe Tait with a farewell victory, I tuned into some of the other season finales. Some fan bases eagerly await the first round of the playoffs and others show their utmost appreciation for their players in the midst of a disappointing season. No matter how each team ends their 2010-11 season, fans will hold a similar sentiment, one that provides hope and allows their passion to be perpetuated.

There’s always next year.

 

For the supporters of the Sacramento Kings this may not be the case. As I glanced at the score tracker on my computer screen I was unsurprised to see the Los Angeles Lakers beating up on the Kings late in the game. Nevertheless, I turned on the game to watch what many figure to be the last game played in Sacramento before the team relocates to Anaheim. I don’t know any Kings fans personally, nor do I have any connection to the franchise, whatsoever. Regardless, the events I witnessed on April 13, 2011 will forever be engrained in my mind.

A deafening Arco Arena roared as the severely outmatched Kings staged an incredible comeback. I know that my team will be back next year, but the thousands of Kings fans faced the prospect of their passion being tested for a final time. Cowbells clanged and chants of Hear We Stay could be heard loud and clear. The so-called “Sixth Man” willed their team to a 20-point, fourth quarter comeback in order to force overtime. Although the team fell to the Lakers in the extra period, the game sent a message: We want more basketball in Sacramento.

And that is exactly what they deserve. Thousands of fans refused to leave their seats following the game and waited for the team to emerge from the locker room. As I sat on, watching the most primal emotions be unveiled in fully-grown men, I could not help but feel for them and put myself in their shoes. Knowing how unbelievably devastated I would be if I lost the team that I love so dearly, I was unable to hold back tears. I would have some rather choice words for those who claim that it is “just a game,” and urge them to watch the emotional signoff by the Kings’ broadcasters. Fanaticism certainly gets overblown at times and needs to be put in perspective, however, the game is just not the same without it. Being a supporter of a team is much more than just watching the games and hoping for pleasant results. It’s about the lessons learned from losing, just as much as it is about the jubilation that accompanies winning.

Moments like the one we witnessed in Sacramento, Wednesday night, show why our society is obsessed with sports. Athletics have the uncanny ability to bring a community together and teach us about our human nature. The Cavaliers allow me to stay attached to my home while attending school on the other side of the country. I woke up in the morning and proudly put on my Cavaliers sweatshirt. Being a fan allows you to become part of a family, something that is much bigger than yourself. I knew I would be ridiculed in class for representing one of the worst teams in the league, but anybody familiar with what the fans in Sacramento are going through knows that it is much more significant than a ball going through a hoop.

The game on the court is what makes it entertainment. The passion off the court is what makes it so much more than that.