Every week, the NBA gets closer and closer to the playoffs, at which point whatever team has LeBron James will win the championship. Just kidding! It’s like way more exciting and complicated than that (we hope). Here are the five most fascinating stories of basketball season as it currently stands.
Between Kobe Bryant’s Twitter and Dwight Howard’s bid to be the Howard Stern of the NBA, the Lakers are more than present in the drooly media churn of the sports world. However, over the course of the team’s 23-27 start, in which they’ve settled at 10th place in the West and made the word “disappointing” part of the climate of greater Los Angeles, one thing that’s gone relatively unaddressed is the silence of Steve Nash, veteran point guard and gadabout fan-favorite. Nash has been remarkably subterranean so far in 2012-13 despite having a 50-40-90 season, the gold standard for shooters. His assists per game are down, and his veteran chemistry locker room intangibles haven’t stopped the Lakers from being a total clownshow. Nash ostensibly joined the Lakers to get a ring. Not only is that not happening: that is so far from what is happening! The Lakers suck! Everyone clearly hates each other! It’s like going from having your own talk show to being a cast member on Jersey Shore. Nash must be frustrated, confused, and feeling a little let down by the whole broken-piñata stupidness of everything. The low profile might be the only thing he can do to keep himself from trying to employ an Los Angeles Times reporter in a scheme to fake his own death.
After losing Rajon Rondo — their All-Star point guard, future Face Of The Franchise, and resident extraterrestrial — for the season, the Boston Celtics have won six straight games. This wasn’t supposed to happen: the Celtics were supposed to lose those six games, then all of their games, at which point they would trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for two plane tickets and a sack of under-ripe cantaloupes. With Rondo’s injury, we were to reach peak Rebuilding Year; instead, Boston’s challenging Atlanta for the sixth seed in the East.
Are the Celtics Better Without Rondo? No, and Grantland’s Zach Lowe explains why very nicely right here; suffice it to say for now, though, that teams do not get better when they lose their quarterback and pacesetter. So, what moral are we to draw from this week, and what does it mean for the Celtics’ season? One, we remember that basketball teams are made up of many variables, kind of like your lunch, and if three of those variables are subpar, i.e. the deli meat is too dry and it’s a shitty brand of mustard and the bread’s a little stale, and you fix those three variables but ANOTHER variable goes wrong, i.e. you have a bad tomato, the sandwich is still going to be better because you now have one bad variable instead of three. The Celtics are like that sandwich.
First, let us quickly thank Dennis Green for giving us this maniac tirade that will fuel decades and decades of convenient analysis/metaphor.
Thank you, Dennis Green.
OK. The Clippers! After establishing themselves firmly at the top of the Western Conference, accompanied by only the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers have lost seven of their last ten games, including should’ve-been-wins against cellar-dwellers like the Wizards, the Suns, and the Raptors. So, had they deceived us? Is the city of Los Angeles in fact a total basketball wasteland fit only for pickup games played between the casts of Entourage and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip?
Nope. The major takeaway from this streak of mediocrity is that Chris Paul matters — he hasn’t played in nine games, and his backup, Eric Bledsoe, struggled to pick up the slack. Paul’s absence, plus the lack of Caron Butler and Blake Griffin at various points during the stretch, turned the Clippers’ league-best reserve crew into a thin bench. But even with this rough streak, the Clips still have third-place in the West and are getting Paul back soon, so there’s no reason to be alarmed: They Are Who We Thought They Were, i.e. a good team, but not necessarily a guaranteed Finals lock.
The appropriately nicknamed James “Flight” White will be bringing his skills to the diminished-but-still-pretty-cool dunk contest, where he’ll be challenged by worthy adversaries Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, and Kenneth Faried, among others. Matt Bonner’s social-media push landed him in the three-point contest, where he’ll do battle against legit all-around scoring dynamos like Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry as well as the typical three-point-specialist types, like Ryan Anderson and Steve Novak. Well-chosen contest rosters, the rookie-sophomore game, and Usain Bolt in the celebrity game. It’s indisputably the best All-Star weekend in sports.
Let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time, a man was walking on a dirt path through the woods. This man was rich, but he did not like to travel burdened, and his pack was overfilled; he felt weighed down by a talisman he had bought at the market. The talisman was useful, and he had gotten a good bargain for it, but it made him slow, and he wished he’d never gotten it in the first place. As he walked, he wondered what he should do about it — he could discard it, but that seemed wasteful, and when he returned home, his family would wonder why he did this. He could continue to carry it, but he had never traveled like this before, and it didn’t suit him; he felt sluggish and bizarre. He walked and he thought, and he became so lost in his own head that he did not pay attention to where he was going, until a voice in front of him said, “Stop.”
He looked up. On the path stood a man wearing a black cloak; his face was hidden by the hood of the cloak, and it was from this dark space that the voice came. The rich man thought of Death, and he shuddered.
“I sense that you have something you’d wish to rid yourself of,” the cloaked man said.
The rich man nodded.
“I can help you. If you give me the talisman that is weighing you down, I will give you another talisman.”
“What does it do?” the rich man asked.
“Nothing,” the cloaked man said.
The rich man thought. “OK,” he said. He took the talisman from the cloaked man, who wore black gloves, and gave him his own. Then the rich man walked on; he looked over his shoulder only once, to see the cloaked man standing on the path watching him, silent and frozen, as he walked away.
That’s what trading Carlos Boozer for Andrea Bargnani is like.