Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I Really Dislike Flip Saunders.

When the Pistons were steamrolling through the Eastern Conference at the beginning of this year, I got sucked in. The fact is, I like a lot of players who run for Detroit. Rasheed, for sheer entertainment value, is off the charts. Chauncey is clutch and has an infectious swagger. Rip Hamilton plays harder than anyone in the league. Tayshaun can do it all. This is NBA canon. The Pistons have the best combination of starters in the league. But when my friend asked me in March what weaknesses the Detroit had, my answer was automatic: "Flip Saunders is their coach."

It's frustrating being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. And sure, we just had a terrible, awful waste of a season. We're pissing away good seasons from one of the best combo forwards in the history of the game. Our GM is such a laughingstock that Forbes was exposed as inept by declaring him the best. I get so angry when I think about my favorite team that I'm tempted to punch a baby. But, it feels great knowing Flip isn't steering the ship anymore.

This is not meant to be a painful ode to my misery as a Timberwolves devotee. There are plenty of franchises that have suffered. Forgive me for being spiteful, but I'm glad that someone else is suffering Flip's shtick. He's tempting! He'll string a lot of wins together. He'll manage big egos surprisingly well. He can recognize talent. But when you really need him to keep it together, he goes retarded. The 2004 trip to the Conference Finals was one of the more torturous experiences of my life. That series was completely in Minnesota's grasp, but Flip whittled it down to nothing. We could have been the giant killers who offed the Lakers, but he just couldn't pull the trigger.

So when I watch the Pistons waste time being distracted by Chicago when the sweep was theirs, I'm not surprised. That's what Flip is about. The interesting subplot is Chris Webber, um, uh, being Chris Webber: blowing opportunities to play well in meaningful situations. That's kind of a rant within itself, but, wow, is he ever going to deliver when it counts? How fitting that he'd be led by Flip. Prove me wrong, Pistons. Prove me wrong.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Beard Owns You

Well, if you hadn't seen what Baron Davis did to Andrei Kirilenko yet, now you know . It's difficult for me to adequately capture it in words, really. I mean, what do you do when you see someone get publicly humiliated like that? If you're like me, you watch the tape repeatedly. The best part is knowing that AK is no slouch defensively. This isn't a Shawn Bradley situation: he has notoriety as a shot blocker. You wouldn't know it if you saw the nastiness that took place last night. Al Harrington and Adonal Foyle's facial expressions summed it up.

The pressure is still on the Warriors. The Jazz are an incredibly resilient and well coached team that seems willing to play whatever style they need to win. But, Golden State is too good to go quietly. And as many players who have given their all for this playoff run, nobody deserves more credit than Baron Davis. He simply has no fear. Every time up the court looks like it might be his last, and he refuses to take a play off. the unfortunate thing is he's had it in him for a long time. A few years ago he was one of my favorite players and I watched a lot of Hornets games waiting for him to get his due. That never really happened: he couldn't stay healthy and organizational chaos made it difficult for him to achieve.

But now, things are clicking. He has a group of young teammates he feeds off of, and a home crowd and a coach that believe in him. Long gone are the days of whispers that he has personality issues, which in retrospect, considering that they were based off contact with the charming George Karl, probably should have been taken with a grain of salt. Now he's careening up and down the court like he's been shot out of a gun, taking and making shots that defy logic. I want more Warriors wins. Sure, for the great story, the fun to watch teamwork, and the epic home crowds. But mostly, for more Baron Davis.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Mark Cuban is Depressed

When I was a little kid, the Dallas Mavericks stank. While the Cowboys enjoyed their golden years, the Mavs struggled to string together any wins. This was reality. They seemed perpetually inept and frustrated, and even draft day boons like Jason Kidd could not change the culture of the team. I remember a radio station promotion where a local DJ promised to live at the station until the Mavericks won a game. He was there for a couple weeks at least.

Things are obviously different now. Dallas had its best season in franchise history on the heels of a finals appearance. Mavs fans have adopted the swagger and confidence that they saved for the Cowboys in years past. This year's playoffs was supposed to be the one in which all old ghosts were exorcised. The roster depth was there, and many believed that Avery Johnson was the one that could finally carry them over the hump. But now, as they've exited in the first round against a huge underdog, that dream is deferred for at least another year.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been a Mavs fan. My loyalty is with Minnesota, and Dallas's dramatic reversal of fortune was never enough to change that. I can't stand Mark Cuban's ego-driven antics. I've come to believe that as much as he does to support his team, he does much more to undermine them. And, I've never bought the idea that Dirk Nowitzki is a franchise player. Despite his incredible skill as a scorer, Dirk's defense, intensity, and leadership have always been lacking. Nowhere was that more apparent than last night in Oakland. When it came down to it, Dirk's team needed him, and he disappeared.

But, it'd be a mistake to think of this just as a series that the Mavericks lost. The Golden State Warriors won, and earned it. They survived repeated spurts of terrible officiating that kept their best players out of the game. They fought through injuries. They played a shallow rotation with a small forward at center and showed no fear whatsoever. The Warriors simply refused to lose. They took shots that defied all logic and made them. They played with such intensity and drive that you couldn't help but be pulled in. Golden State played like the higher seed. They believed in themselves and now they've won what will probably end up being the most memorable series in the playoffs, if not the decade. I feel lucky to have gone along for the ride.