If only Williams and the Jazz could stand up to the Lakers…
It took me (Ben) five hours to write last year’s NBA preview post. I remember being wide awake at five thirty in the morning, and — realizing I wouldn’t fall back to sleep — I showered, dressed, and drove to Caribou Coffee with a stack of Sports Illustrated NBA Preview Issues dating back to 1999. I flipped through their yellowed pages and divined their timeless wisdom (or, in the case of any prognostication involving Jamaal Tinsley, their absurd, cockamamie bullpucky). I poured my finite NBA wisdom — long on Utah Jazz history and short on most everything else — into what turned out to be 3005 words. When I finished the obscenely long post it was just before noon.
This will not be quite so ambitious.
The first thing I will say about the upcoming NBA season and my meager attempts to do it blogging justice is that I intend to write about more than just the Utah Jazz. Certainly most NBA posts will result from an initial Jazz thought or comment. If you imagine this blog’s NBA commentary as a giant house, then the vestibule which leads to the main hall which leads to the major rooms both downstairs (the spacious living room, the renovated kitchen, the dining room and the small sitting area just off it) and upstairs (master bed, guest bed, full bath, study, walk-in closets, etc.) will all have walls adorned with Jazz photos, pennants, cardboard cutouts, and other paraphernalia. (You will be struck by how much this house resembles a Salt Lake City TGIFriday’s.) But if you (once you’ve strolled through the entire house) happen to then go through the mud room to see the garage, you’ll find that there are additional, non-Jazz specific photos, pennants, cardboard cutouts, etc. on the walls of this small, poorly lit, somewhat confined, cluttered and odd-smelling little room that serves as, let’s be honest, a pretty crappy garage next to an otherwise stately mansion.
So you’ve got that to look forward to.
Why am I pledging to temper my full-on Jazz obsession this year? Well, let’s be honest — Utah is not going to win the title. The truth hurts. Last year I genuinely believed that Utah was a dark horse contender for the NBA Finals. (I picked Cleveland to beat Los Angeles in the Finals.) This year I don’t genuinely believe that. I believe Utah could be a dark horse in the West. I even believe they will could win the Northwest. (Chauncey’s honeymoon in Denver is over, while Portland — the sexy dark horse pick — will may have growing pains.) But there’s no way Utah beats the Lakers. Or, if it came down to it in a playoff series, San Antonio. Utah hasn’t won a game in San Antonio this decade.
So instead of dwelling here on my Jazz-related questions (Will Carlos Boozer help or hurt the team? Either way, does Utah trade him? And when? How will Boozer and Paul Millsap coexist? How much has Ronnie Brewer progressed? Will Andrei Kirilenko even show up this year? Or will he be too busy blogging? What’s the ceiling for a healthy Deron Williams? Can Kyle Korver wear his socks any higher? Is this the year Kosta Koufos becomes a household name?), I want to step back for a moment and recommend a book that every NBA fan should have in his possession (if not now, then within the next 15-20 minutes):
Bill Simmons writes likes he’s talking with you over a couple beers. The conversation is mainly about sports, but to talk sports he also has to reference pop culture and pull in The Godfather, Ric Flair, Karate Kid III, strip clubs, the Doobie Brothers, Hoosiers, “The Wire,” blackjack, Animal Instincts II, Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, Cliff Huxtable, Dirk Diggler, Matt Damon, “Sanford & Son,” Lionel Richie, and Conan the Destroyer … and those examples are just from the book’s footnotes.¹ He obsesses over the little things (the idiocy of NBA sideline reporting; the awfulness of ex-players become play-by-play commentators) that are worth being obsessed over. He’s sharp, smart, funny and opinionated. The two biggest NBA fans I know are Scott Guldin and Denys Lai, and when we talk about the NBA, our conversations sound like a Bill Simmons column.²
Simmons, like any true fan, has his beefs with the NBA. He cites the truly atrocious ’06 Finals (Miami vs. Dallas) as “the biggest travesty in the history of NBA officiating” and laments how slick and corporatized the league has become as a product (while acknowledging that the man who has overseen its explosion, commissioner David Stern, is “the first- or second-best sports commissioner ever (depending on how you feel about Pete Rozelle)”). He bitches and complains but it’s out of love. And he’s entitled: He’s still grieving Len Bias and trying to console himself with Clippers season tickets.
There are whole sections of Simmons’ book worth skipping (unless you think it takes twenty-six pages to make the case that Bill Russell was better than Wilt Chamberlain, or care about why he classifies the 1962-63 season as “The Void”), and fully 338 of the book’s 715 pages are devoted to the ninety-six players he would assign to his five-tiered NBA Hall of Fame Pyramid. But this is like complaining that you’re not getting your money’s worth from Mark Cuban’s Twitter feed. The Book of Basketball is such a splendor of excess that I’ll be referencing it for the next five to twelve season-beginning NBA/Utah Jazz blog posts.³
Reading it has also somewhat soured my annual tradition of meditating on SI’s NBA Preview issue. After adjusting to Simmons’ witty and opinionated commentary, the SI preview felt a little, well, stale. Would Simmons be caught dead saying (as “a rival scout” does — presumably with a straight face — in one of the “Enemy Lines” sidebars), “I think Rudy Gay can be an All-Star if he gets on an established team”? Or, “Ramon Sessions doesn’t have a major weakness”? Or, “You can tell how much [Luis Scola] enjoys the game because he plays with a smile on his face”? Or, “Another young player who’s coming on is C.J. Miles?” (You can stop me anytime.) Or, “Tyrus Thomas [can get] selfish at times, as if he was stepping up to be the Man.” (Really, anytime.) Or, “Jamaal Tinsley could carry this team on his back even if both of his legs were chewed off by bears.” (I made that one up.)
Predictions, then, for the upcoming season?
1. Ron Artest, whether he helps the Lakers or not, is still crazy. Last year I bemoaned the endless Artest-Is-The-Missing-Piece storyline, which — surprise! — didn’t exactly work out in Houston. The problem this year is that he doesn’t need to be the missing piece. He just needs to not melt down and charge into the stands while Kobe and Pau Gasol carry him to an NBA crown. That’s a pretty low threshold. Here’s hoping he fails. (And if he doesn’t, winning an NBA title won’t suddenly reform him into an admirable guy who persevered through endless self-inflicted hardship, a k a, Lamar Odom).
2. Shaq will not make much of a difference. If LeBron’s Cavs win the title this year (and that’s a big if), it won’t be because Shaq pulled a Shazam; it will be because he’s not Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
3. I will continue to have an infatuation/borderline affair with Brandon Roy and the Portland Trailblazers. Scott Guldin will continue to wonder how this is possible. I will do some soul-searching.
4. I will see the Utah Jazz play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, November 14. Assuming Sweeneyblog lets me sleep on the couch.
5. The Golden State Warriors have a rough year ahead of them. Anytime your team captain relinquishes his captainship by saying, “I don’t want to be a role model. … Being captain was overrated to me, anyway. You don’t do anything but go out before the game and talk to the refs. I don’t want to do that, anyway” — you probably have a leadership void on your team.
6. Of all the major offseason moves — O’Neal to Cleveland, Artest to L.A., Rasheed Wallace to Boston and Vince Carter to Orlando — the one that will matter the most is Richard Jefferson to San Antonio. Which leads me, [siiiigh], to number seven.
7. The Spurs will beat the Celtics in the Finals. And you have no idea how much it pains me to type that.
Let’s go Jazz.
UPDATE!: Utah drops the season opener in Denver, 114-105, despite 28 and 13 (assists) from Williams. Boozer shot just 3-for-14 for 12 points. In his NBA debut, Eric Maynor had a -8 plus/minus in three minutes of playing time. Kosta Koufus was scoreless. I’m doing it already, aren’t I? I am, right? That’s what I was afraid of.