What I remember most is the soothing stench of Ozark lake water, the familiar feel of mildewed shag carpet between the tips of my toes and fingers, and sitting so close to the television that I could easily make out its pixels. Does that make it any less significant?
I was eight and Michael Jordan was sick. My grandfather was rooting for Utah; he loved John Stockton, and as to be contrary I pulled for the Bulls as much as I pushed for the Jazz. And as anyone born between 1988 and 1992 will tell you, the Jordan maelstrom was inescapable. We weren’t born Chicago fans but we might as well have been. There was just no other choice.
Game 5 was never in doubt. That’s not true, of course; the Bulls barely survived to regain control of the series. But my naïveté knew late-game Jordan heroics were inevitable. And that’s actually the only specific game sequence I know I remember. MJ hits the dagger jumper over the top of Stockton, staggers to the bench in Scottie’s arms and my mighty Bulls win.
The Flu Game isn’t my earliest NBA memory or even my fondest. But what it’s not doesn’t matter half as much as what it is – the first time I understood I was watching history. So don’t ask about Pippen’s shooting struggles, Chicago’s fourth quarter comeback or Ostertag’s surprising double-double. I’d be lying if I even tried to answer.
But that smell, that touch, that sight and that feeling I vividly recall. And I remember, too, knowing I’d still remember it all almost twenty summers later.
Most of the memories of basketball I have from my childhood merge in my brain like some super-montage. “Roundball Rock” is inevitably playing in the background, I’m seeing a lot of orange, white, and blue fly across the court, and on occasion, there’s a black and red blur streaking across my mindscape… always with a tongue sticking out. No actual personal physical exertion is present in this montage, though. Most of my basketball memories were from watching others on a flickering screen. Except for that puffy-paint Mark Price jersey my cousin made me from an old t-shirt. That’s in there, too.
TV and video games were how I was plugged into the NBA for the most part. I always knew who played in the Finals every year because there was a video game series called “[East team] vs. [West team]: NBA Finals” that EA sports used to put out. I’d played “Celtics vs. Lakers” and “Bulls vs. Lakers,” but for some reason, my favorite was always “Bulls vs. Blazers.” I’m not really sure why. Lots of red and black symmetry, perhaps.
The year that game came out was the year that the Bulls made the Finals again–this time, against a super-team Phoenix Suns. Sir Charles, KJ, and Thunder Dan (along with a pretty stacked roster) were finally something we all thought could dethrone the MJ-era Bulls. We all know they came up short, but that series–20 years ago now, holy shit–was my first Finals series that I remember watching. I don’t think I stayed up late for every game (I was only 8, after all), but it was the summer, and I did get to see at least part of most of the games. And for the first time after watching the tongue-protruding red and black run amok on my Cavaliers did I have another protagonist to grab my attention: a portly, bald man with a thin mustache and a foul mouth by the name of Charles Barkley.
I don’t remember all the details of the series so well, but I do remember that I was mesmerized by Chuck. Not only was he giving the the Bulls a run for their money, but he was a beast doing it. He was an inch taller than MJ (later we found out that he was actually 2 inches shorter than MJ), and he was strong and grumpy. The night he was his grumpiest, I assume, was the night the two teams went to triple overtime. I don’t remember all the details of the game, but I do know that it’s the first time my brain ever processed the phrase “triple overtime.” I mean, can you even imagine laying it all on the floor for 2.5 hours, then having to play for basically another hour? No energy. No sleep. Just adrenaline.
The night of that game, my family was at a party at a friend’s house. They didn’t have any kids my age, so I didn’t really have anyone to hang out with. And I was 8, so sit me in front of a TV or video games, and I was set. They had a TV in the basement with a Sega Master System with “Alex Kidd in Shinobi World” and “Hang On,” so I played a lot of that. But when I got tired of dying a million times, I shut off the system, and turned on the TV. And there he was, in all his rotund glory. Saying “FUCK FUCK FUCK” on national television after a call he didn’t like.
I suddenly felt shocked, but at the same time, I felt a little bit grown up. That moment was mine. It was my secret; no one else was around. I didn’t try to sneak anything past the grown-ups. I was just thrown at the big kids’ table, and I was initiated. I watched a lot more of the game, and I tried simulating dunks and “3, 2, 1, [buzzer]” fallaways while the game was going on. I didn’t want to be like Mike, though. I wanted to be like Chuck (minus the profanity in front of the parents). I didn’t stay up for the rest of the game (it was a Sunday night, and, again, I was 8), but I found out later that the Suns had won the game. Later, I also found out that the Suns had won that game in Chicago… after losing the first two games of the series at home. What a series.
To this day, every time I see him on TNT, the kid inside me smiles. Not in the same way that maybe the rest of you all smile–like, he’s saying something unexpectedly brilliant or he called someone a dummy. No, in my special way. He’s reminding me of that first time I was hooked on the Finals and hooked on the NBA. He reminds me of all the posters I I accumulated–like my Sir Charles one and my Muggsy Bogues/Shawn Bradley one. And he reminds me of that one time I bought a $1.95 book from the Scholastic book sale by counting out 195 pennies and scrawling my mom’s name on the permission slip–as if that was some sort of convincing forgery.
So, thanks, Chuck. Thanks for helping me remember. And thanks for helping me get here.
Grit! Grind! Dunks! Classic Dwyane Wade! LeBron flopping! Towels! Let’s take a look at the best and worst from last night.
Lion Face: Memphis Grizzlies
It wasn’t easy, and it was rarely pretty, but the Grizzlies move on to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Zach Randolph (28 points, 14 rebounds) and Mike Conley (13 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds) were terrific in the series-clincher, attacking the Thunder at perhaps their two weakest positions. Congratulations, Memphis.
Lemon Face: Tony Allen
Courtesy of SBNation
Tony, didn’t you learn anything from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy? Never forget your towel! Seriously, this is what sparked Oklahoma City’s insane near-comeback. (And yes, I realize it was a shirt, but the title of this post and the Hitchhiker reference don’t exactly work with a shirt, so back off).
Lion Face: Tayshaun Prince
Raise your hand if you thought Prince still had this kind of dunk in him. Put your hand down, liar.
Lemon Face: Kendrick Perkins
One look at Perkins’ numbers in the semifinals forces the face to scrunch and sour in such an extreme manner that it resembles, well, Kendrick Perkins. The sultan of scowl shot 17.6% for the entire series, notching a PER of -.72. What’s that? You want visuals? Trust me, you don’t. No, seriously, you don’t. Fine, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Courtesy of NBA.com/Stats
Have you finished wiping up the blood that seeped from every orifice? Good. Maybe next time you’ll listen to me.
Lion Face: Dwyane Wade
Wade, knee troubles and all, put on a vintage Wade performance in the fourth quarter, shooting a perfect 3-of-3, including two eurostep-powered floaters that registered high on the nostalgia meter.
Lion Face: Chicago Bulls
Hats off to this team. Battling through injuries, fatigue and overblown, undeserved criticism, they beat the Nets in seven games, gave the Heat a hell of a fight, and gave us a few Nate Robinson moments we’re unlikely to forget any time soon.
Lemon Face: LeBron James
All NBA players flop. The one who say they don’t flop? Guess what, they flop. So while LeBron James’ flop shouldn’t really be anything noteworthy, I’m still putting it here because it was pretty ridiculous.
Night 13 of the 2013 NBA Playoffs is officially in the books. We had one series that people can’t wait to end and one series that people wish was a best of 15. We had Lion Faces; we had Lemon Faces. Let’s get to them.
Lion Face: The Nets starting lineup
Consistency can be a beautiful thing in a starting lineup over the course of a game, and the Nets had plenty of it last night. Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson all scored 17 points while Gerald Wallace dropped in 15. While Reggie Evans only managed 2 points, he pulled down 15 rebounds. With their powers combined, the starting five helped Brooklyn to force a Game 7 in this series as they head back to New York.
Lemon Face: The Bulls health
Derrick Rose remaining on the bench despite being cleared to play limited the chances of the Bulls to make any sort of playoff run as it is, but additional injuries to Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich coupled with Luol Deng and Nate Robinson suffering flu like symptoms is just overkill of a cruel joke by the basketball gods. Deng was a late scratch, but Robinson and Noah gutted their way through 42 and 43 minutes respectively. The Warriors may have played the late game, but there were warriors in the early contest as well. While the Heat would still be overwhelming favorites in the East, it’s a shame that we never got to see Chicago at full strength this year since they could have at least made Miami work for it.
Lion Face: Nate Robinson (yes, again)
We might need to start renaming Lion Face to Nate Robinson Face if this keeps up. Robinson played through the flu and scored 18 points for the Bulls, but it was this move that he pulled on Kris Humphries that secured him a Lion Face:
GIF via @cjzero
Looks like Kris Humphries would like to have that highlight annulled/was left at the altar/[insert your own awful Kardashian joke in this space].
Lemon Face: Fans that bought tickets to the Rihanna concert at Barclays
Apparently the Nets win last night forced Rihanna to postpone her concert in Brooklyn on Saturday night to Tuesday which has left fans none too pleased. Rembert Browne of Grantland retweeted some of the folks affected by this change, and it also serves as a reminder to never read Twitter in times like this or Internet comments at any time.
Lion Face: Kosta Koufos
Sadly, I am no longer able to claim that I have made as many three pointers in the NBA as Kosta Koufos after last night. Demonstrating no regard for the shot clock in the middle of the first quarter, Koufos dribble the ball outside the arc, looked up at the shot clock on the opposing basket, and chucked up a triple that found nothing but the bottom of the net giving him his first three in his seven year career. As the saying goes, a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while.
GIF via SBNation
Lemon Face: The Nuggets on the road
With the loss last night, the Nuggets fell to 1-13 in their past 14 playoff games on the road. Not that it is by any means easy to win a playoff road game, but Denver is approaching unchartered territory here. Their inability to win on the road forces them to be perfect at home if they have any chance of winning the series as a higher seed with home court advantage, and it basically seals their fate if they enter the series as the lower seeded team. Atlanta and Houston frequently get branded as the epitome of “Treadmill of Mediocrity” teams, but the Nuggets are doing their best to usurp that title. This is now the ninth time in the past ten seasons that Denver has made the playoffs and failed to advance past the first round.
Lion Face: Steph Curry’s Second Half
Image via NBA.com
5-8 from the field, 4-6 from beyond the arc, 16 points, and the added benefit of energizing the raucous Oracle crowd. Curry’s performance in the 3rd quarter (4-6 FG, 14 points) helped the Warriors pull ahead and they never looked back in moving on to the second round for the first time since the 2007 “We Believe” team. It’s a good thing Curry stepped up in the second half because…
Lemon Face: Steph Curry’s First Half
Image via NBA.com
1-6 from the field, 0-2 from beyond the arc, 6 points. Oof. Curry’s been sensational in this series, but he cannot afford to have too many halves like this if the Warriors want to have any chance of upsetting San Antonio. Roaracle can only do so much to impact the outcome of the game, but at the end of the day, as always, it’s going to come down to the players on the floor.
Statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com
Before we get to previewing tonight’s games, you really need to take a few minutes and read the incredible, powerful Sports Illustrated piece on Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay player in any of the “Big Four” men’s professional sports leagues. Today was undoubtedly a watershed moment in sports, and I would be remiss in my duty to cover the latest news going on in the NBA without linking to the article at hand. Now, on to the games tonight…
Chicago at Brooklyn (7:00 PM, TNT)
Interesting decision by the NBA as this will be the first ever day-night doubleheader in NBA history as these teams are expected to finish up Game 4 around 6:30 PM and then go right into Game 5 at 8:00 P…oh wait, I’m now being told that Saturday’s marathon actually did finish with the Bulls riding Nate Robinson to a stunning 142-134 3OT victory. It is a good thing that the Bulls were able to prevail in Game 4 because any time you have people comparing Nate Robinson’s performance to the infamous Sleepy Floyd Game in the 1987 Western Conference Semifinals, you pretty much cannot afford to waste that performance. We almost did not get to see most of the greatness, however. A blown dunk by C.J. Watson that would have put Brooklyn up 16 to play with 3:16 left in the game could have provided the dagger for Brooklyn and rendered Robinson’s performance irrelevant, but like the 3:16 verse in the Book of John states, instead it gave the Bulls everlasting life in a game that seemingly took forever. As we head into Game 5, the stakes are simple. For the Nets, it’s win or go home. For the Bulls, it’s win and head to Miami. I still think Brooklyn has one last gasp in them though.
Prediction: Brooklyn 96-91
Indiana at Atlanta (7:30 PM, NBA TV)
Surely the Law of Averages dictates that at least one of the games in this series will be relatively close, right? After the Pacers crushed the Hawks by 17 and 15 points in the confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the momentum shifted when the series headed back to Atlanta where Indiana only mustered a Celtics-esque 69 points in 21 point loss to the Hawks. George Hill and Lance Stephenson have to quickly block out and forget about whatever they were doing on Saturday night as they combined to go 2-15 from the field. Meanwhile, Al Horford was in Beast Mode as he busted out with a tidy little 26-16 performance. This is as close to a must win game as the Hawks could possibly face because there is no way they are taking three straight from Indiana if they lose tonight. Unfortunately for them, I see Hill and Stephenson’s performances as more of an aberration than a harbinger of things to come. Plus, I picked Indiana to win this series in five games, and I’m sticking by that.
Prediction: Indiana 98-88
Oklahoma City at Houston (9:30 PM, TNT)
As a basketball community, it is no secret that we are frequently driven by narratives. Whether it’s Tracy McGrady’s inability to get out of the first round, the Lakers problems that began in training camp and lasted through the end of the season, or a myriad of other talking points, we love looking at the same story through the context of different lenses and making it our own. Of course, one of the most popular narratives that we see over and over again is whether or not a team is secretly better without its best player in the lineup. Call it the Ewing Theory if you want, but just this year, we’ve seen it rear its head with Derrick Rose and the Bulls, Rajon Rondo and the Celtics, and now Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Let’s stop this right now; no, the Thunder, despite getting 41 points from Kevin Durant in Game 3, are not better off without Russell Westbrook. No, Westbrook was not holding Durant back in any way, shape, or form. Instead, what we saw in Game 3 was Durant putting a team that needed him on his shoulders and leading them to victory, even if he needed a little luck along the way. I mean, seriously, he broke eight laws of physics on this shot alone:
GIF via SBNation
So no, it’s not that Westbrook was getting in the way of KD; it’s just that the Durantula is really freaking good. And a majority of the time, the team with the best player on the floor wins the series. Houston, you have a problem, and his name is Kevin Durant.
Sean Highkin of USA Today Sports and For The Win and the Blogfather himself Matt Moore join us for today’s episode. 12 ET/11 CT. Ask a question in the chat, or via twitter using the hashtag #Paroxyvision
Miss any of last night’s action. Actually, so did I. I went to sleep at 10 and got a great night’s sleep, thanks for asking. Oh, what’s that? You want me to shut up and make with the .gifs and the jokes? I see how it is. ONWARD!
TAJ GIBSON OH MY GOD
Twitter exploded in a fury of exclamations and Taj Gibson puns last night, and for good reason. Even though Gibson didn’t quite dunk over Kris Humphries, it’s safe to assume he still smothered Humphries’ mortal soul. Dunk of the playoffs, so far.
The Brooklyn Nets/C.J. Watson
First, there was this.
Courtesy of NBA.com
That, dear reader, is Brooklyn’s shot chart from the first half. It’s fine, I’ll wait until you return from wiping away the vomit you almost certainly just spewed all over your monitor.
Yet, somehow, the Nets valiantly fought pack from this putrid, wretched, makes-your-eyes-bleed first half shooting performance to not only bring the game within 3, but have the last possession as well. Truly, it was like an epic fantasy, complete with C.J. Watson, unceremoniously eschewed from the Bulls, set to exact revenge against his former team by tying the game. Watson sets up in the corner, receives the ball, and launches. Through the air the ball soars, climbing, climbing, climbing, then falling, falling, falling…and falling well short of the basket.
Courtesy of SBNation
No, it hasn’t quite turned out the way Brandon Jennings predicted. But at least we, and the Bucks, have LARRY SANDERS! And not just shotblocking LARRY SANDERS! But coast-to-coast dunking LARRY SANDERS! Too!
See. I knew it. Randolph’s just a big teddy bear. Also, an honorary Lion Face goes to Matt Barnes for not peeing his pants when Z-Bo stomps towards him. I would have immediately assumed the fetal position.
DeAndre Jordan’s legs
Like 7/11, they’re open 24/7. What’s Marc Gasol’s favorite spice? NUTMEG! I’ll show myself out.
Allen had his regular season three-point record broken by Steph Curry. No matter, says Allen, I’ll just go and get another record. Congratulations to Allen, now the owner of the most made three-pointers in playoff history.
If you just opened this like I or someone else told you to, tie yourself down to whatever chair you’re sitting in, because this 15 Footer is going to be a fun f’ing ride.
For those of you that have your heads stuck under rocks, there was an epically fantastic e-mail sent out by a Delta Gamma sorority sister at the University of Maryland last week which has made its way around the interwebs at warp speed. It really is an e-mail we have all dreamed of writing at one time or another, so I tip my cap to her for actually having the guts to actually follow through on this. Inspired by her performance, let’s take a look at the playoff games on tap tonight.
Chicago at Brooklyn (8:00 PM, TNT)
First of all, Brooklyn, you SHOULDN’T be chanting BROOOOK-LYYYYYYYN at random times. I don’t give a crap if your boyfriend is chanting it, if your brother is chanting it, or if your entire family is chanting it. YOU DON’T CHANT IT RANDOMLY. And you ESPECIALLY do f’ing NOT convince others in your section to chant it with you at inopportune times. Kudos to the Nets crowd for getting it right by busting it out when up huge in a playoff game. On the court and away from the blackout in the Barclays crowd that would make CISPA opposers proud, Deron Williams looked fantastic in Game 1 providing 22 points and dishing out seven assists. He looks like he does not give an F, and he WILL f’ing assault Chicago in this series if this keeps up.
Newsflash: Teams that give up 80% shooting in a quarter generally don’t win playoff games. Chicago allowed Brooklyn to shoot 16-20 from the field during the second quarter in building a 25 point lead heading to halftime leading people to ask, “Are the Bulls going to reach 80 points?” That wasn’t a rhetorical question. People literally wanted to know if the Bulls would crack the 80 point barrier. They eventually hit the 80 point mark with 3:17 to go in the game. Oh wait, DOUBLE F’ING NEWSFLASH: Running your starters into the ground during the year may cause those players’ bodies to break down when it matter most. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah both finished in the top 15 in minutes per game this season, and Noah was noticeably hurting during his 13 gritty minutes on Saturday. He is expected to play through his plantar fasciitis tonight, but his impact is expected to be limited.
Prediction: If you’re a Bulls fan living in New York during the day, this following message is for you: DO NOT GO TO TONIGHT’S GAME. It’s not going to be pretty. Nets 101-92.
Memphis at LA Clippers (10:30 PM, TNT)
I do not give a flying crap, and the Clippers do not give a flying crap, about how much the Grizzlies rebounded this year. They had 82 games out of the f’ing year to rebound, and this week is apparently NOT, I repeat NOT ONE OF THEM. Memphis as a team pulled down 23 rebounds in Game 1 with 7’1″ Marc Gasol pulling down 2 and Zach Randolph, who averaged 11.2 rebounds per game this year, recording 4 boards. This week is about winning games in the basketball community, and that’s not f’ing possible if the Grizzlies are going to stand around and talk to each other and not focus on their matchup.
Chris Paul is the type of person that can cause people to send texts to others and get them cheering for the opposing team. The opposing. F’ing. Team. Personally, I cheer for my own team, and I don’t give a crap about sportsmanship, but CP3 is so much fun to watch. He was a point guard savant on Saturday in carving up the Memphis defense to the tune of 23 points and 7 assists while seamlessly shifting from facilitator to scorer and back again. To those that think that there is any sort of debate as to who the best point guard in the league is, I have to ask, HAVE YOU NEVER BEEN TO A SPORTS GAME? ARE YOU F’ING BLIND?
Prediction: Clippers 115-102.And for those of you who are offended at this pick, I would apologize but I really don’t give a crap. Just kidding, you guys are great. Enjoy the games!
In which Noam and I discuss Omer Asik, Jerry Reinsdorf’s frugality, Daryl Morey, carrots and revisionist history.
Noam: Last summer, Daryl Morey took his poison pills and dropped them in the drinks of his New York and Chicago counterparts. When the mischievous act was all said and done, Morey emerged with a new starting point guard in Jeremy Lin, and a new starting center in Omer Asik. Glen Grunwald and Gar Forman, meanwhile, were left to try and figure out how a pocket square nerd stole their prized assets; the Biffs to Morey’s McFly, if you will.
The reaction to New York declining to match Lin’s offer sheet was loud and swift, as New York reactions tend to go. The anti-Bulls movement was much quieter. Asik was just one member of the well designed Bench Mob that the Bulls willingly broke up last summer, and Derrick Rose’s knee didn’t leave much narrative space to begin with. If the death of Linsanity by James Dolan’s odd pettiness was predictably absurd, Jerry Reinsdorf’s frugality leading to a new home for Asik was predictably predictable.
Not anymore! With Joakim Noah hobbled and Asik coming off a fantastic inaugural season in Houston, it has finally, belatedly become acceptable to chastise the Bulls for letting him go. Some may say that waiting 9 months to form an opinion on a move is the smart thing to do; I would counter that in the world of restricted free agency, where decisions must be made within 3 days, such opinions reek of revisionist history. Jordan, your opinions reek of revisionist history. Defend yourself or reek forever.
Jordan: Seriously? I just showered, so I shouldn’t smell all that bad. And Noam, I believe you’re the one engaging in revisionist practices. Asik’s defensive brilliance is impossible to define in simple numbers or even by sight. On/off data doesn’t appear in box scores, nor do per 36 statistics. All we saw was a gargantuan Judge Reinhold doppelganger moving around the court with a speed just above plodding or lumbering, occasionally blocking a shot or snagging a difficult rebound, but nothing spectacular. His genius lies in the “hidden” (though, not really all that hidden) numbers. Fortunately, it is in the swamps of those murky mathematical waters that Daryl Morey makes his home. Morey saw Asik’s brilliance. This wasn’t an impulse buy, as one might do with a car or a puppy.
Yet the only numbers Reinsdorf took into account were those in the contract. Not the amount of minutes Thibodeau plays his starters, which border on insanity. Not the defensive numbers of the Asik/Gibson front court. Yes, it was predictable that Reinsdorf wouldn’t match, but predictability isn’t a defense. An explanation, maybe. By the way, how sad is it that an owner in one of the largest markets in the league being cheap is predictable? Especially when he spends so much on the OTHER MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS TEAM HE OWNS. To claim the necessity of frugality with one team, then spend more money than Midas had gold with the other, is hypocritical to say the least.
This isn’t the case of a rookie, or a little-used player suddenly blowing up with a new team. Asik’s on/off numbers were impressive, and while they also came in a bench roll, and in limited minutes, teams simply didn’t score against the tandem of Asik and Gibson when they shared the court. Further, it’s not as if they ONLY had three days to measure the offer and make a decision. Teams record more data points on their own players than on any other player on any other team. Chicago should have been prepared for any such offer, and had a plan in place when it came.
That’s why it’s fair to glance in Reinsdorf’s direction when we learn of Noah’s injury or Chicago’s overall fatigue, while also seeing Asik thrive as a starter in Houston. Like Reinsdorf, they were predictable.
Noam: I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Asik/Judge Reinhold parallels, which is odd because the internet seems to come up with Asik lookalikes daily. Personally, I like to imagine that he is the love child of John C. Reilly and the goth kid from South Park.
But I digress. I don’t think anyone denies that Chicago’s last offseason was financially motivated to a fault. Kyle Korver was literally given away for nothing. Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson ended up signing minimum deals elsewhere, and while it’s not certain they would have done the same to stay in Chicago, their part in the Bulls’ success in the Tom Thibodeau era bench was undisputed. Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Vlad Rad – all were brought in as minimum replacements instead. Nate has had a good, if typically Nate-ish year, but without the emergence of Jimmy Butler, there would be a whole lot of nothing on the wing rotation a year after it was, if not a strength, then at least not a weakness.
It’s easy to lump in Asik as one of the Bench-Mob-Let-Go and complain about stinginess with regard to the entire ensemble. But Asik was a completely different situation than any of those guys. The deal he got from Houston was a much bigger long term commitment than any other Bull bench member, and though one could make the case that he was the most valuable Bull-sub in a vacuum, he was also part of a major frontcourt logjam; in a repeater-tax world, can one really afford to shell out around 40 million yearly to solidify only two positions?
The Bulls were stuck in a sinking ship, and had room for only 3 big men on the life raft. Joakim Noah had already reserved his place by finding the raft in the first place; from that point on, it was either amnestying Boozer, or refusing to extend either Asik or Taj Gibson. Of Noah-Boozer-Gibson, you can play any two of the three together and get by. Asik, on the other hand, couldn’t play next to Noah – the spacing is too bad, especially for a team that hardly shoots or makes threes – which would have once again limited him to fourth big status and a minutes per game figure in the teens. You can’t pay so much for that guy.
Jordan: That’s a fair point. Although, maybe they could have gotten away with amnestying Boozers and starting Noah/Gibson while bringing Asik off the bench. And again, it’s not as if this is the Pelicans or Bobcats. IT’S THE FREAKING BULLS. One of the most storied franchises in a world-renowned city with one of the most loyal (though god knows why) fanbases in all of sports. Reinsdorf can afford to pay four bigs, especially given their unique values.
Still, the refusal to match Houston’s offer was more emblematic of an ownership that has repeatedly favored finances over success. That Reinsdorf declined to match, coupled with Asik’s subsequent terrific play with his new team, is simply the boiling point for an already frustrated fanbase.
But let’s switch topics for a second. Does Asik’s production, as well as Jeremy Lin’s, vindicate Daryl Morey? Even though some of the basketball intelligentsia liked the Asik contract, hardly anyone loved it. Some even went so far as to question whether Morey had lost his mojo. Now? Morey’s sitting pretty with a young, talented team that is only going to get smarter and better. So, Noam, do you trust Daryl Morey again?
Noam: My Morey trust meter was refilled the second he pulled off the James Harden trade. The issue with Morey over the past few seasons was that his trades started to look like a series of randomly scattered incremental improvements rather than a coherent plan. Bringing in Harden leveled those concerns.
The Asik and Lin contracts are a funnier story. I don’t think you’d find many pundits willing to criticize them at this point in time – not when the Rockets are one of the league’s youngest teams with a bearded superstar, cap flexibility and plenty of room internal improvement. But again, this exists within the context of the Harden trade. Had it not gone down, we’d probably be looking at a bottom feeder starting a disgruntled Kevin Martin and hanging its hat on two lottery picks in a weak draft. In such a hypothetical scenario, the money Lin and Asik are getting, while not preposterous, might have been frowned upon.
This brings me back to my original point, elegantly circumventing your shameless attempt to change the subject by waiving a Morey-shaped carrot in front of my face – there is too little regard to context in the way we judge moves. Lin and Asik were good signings for the Rockets because they were young players who did well in limited sample sizes in their first two seasons – giving them slightly above average deals and banking on them sustaining that production when given 30+ minutes a night was shrewd business. Harden’s existence should have done nothing to retroactively change that analysis, but it probably did, because we’re human.
Similarly, the Bulls letting Asik walk has been made to look much worst in the months since. Be it signing Nazr Mohammed as a replacement, or subsequently running Noah and his plantar fasciitis into the ground, the Bulls have done everything possible to make us retroactively question their decision; it doesn’t mean it was wrong (albeit cheap).
Jordan: Damn. You saw through my ruse.
I think letting Asik walk was shortsighted, more than anything, at least from a basketball perspective. But, for the most part, you’re right. Still, an inevitable part of sports fandom is looking back on these sorts of moves and reacting accordingly, context be damned. We don’t know how Asik would perform in the absence of James Harden and his 56 assists to Asik, per NBA.com, nor do we care. All that matters is that he’s thriving while Chicago is depleted. We look back and wonder, what if, then look to who’s responsible for why it isn’t. Which, in this case, means Reinsdorf.
Noam: The Reinsdorf discussion is a different one for a different time, but I do want to drive a final financial point home. The new luxury tax works as something of an excuse for owners who don’t want to spend crazy money – which makes sense, since that was the entire point of it – but it does so much better than the old version. Fans couldn’t/wouldn’t emphasize with an owner that doesn’t cross the tax line to save money; however, staying under the line to keep the full MLE and the ability to sign-and-trade is the perfect artificial excuse. It’s what makes the Asik non-match work: in the new NBA landscape, overall roster flexibility with 3 very good big men takes precedence over being stuck with 4 of them.
The only counter is whether this is still true for large market teams, who can always get a premier veteran for the mini-MLE and can (mostly) survive tax payments. Add in Reinsdorf’s other major sports team, and the anger towards him is warranted. I just wish that anger didn’t cloud analysis of Chicago’s actual moves. Almost everything they did this year was a consensus screw up; this one, however painful in retrospect, makes sense.
Episode 4! Playoffs? Playoffs! Playoffs? Playoffs? That’s right, we’ll be talking about the playoffs, starting at 12 ET/11 CT. Do the Lakers have a chance against the Spurs? Will the Nuggets/Warriors series be the most fun thing ever? Will the Bulls/Nets series be the most boring thing ever? Tune in and find out.
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