Category: Layup Line

With Baron Davis on Board, Are Knicks the Best Team in the Eastern Conference?

It’s now official, Baron Davis will join Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire,.  Talk about a change of fortune, it was only a week ago that the Knicks appeared to have a gaping hole at the point guard slot.  Now they have an all-star caliber player with a penchant for scintillating playoff performances on his resume slotted into that position.

On the court, a motivated Davis will provide this Knicks team with leadership, an occasional fourth quarter dagger, some offensive punch on nights when either Anthony or Stoudemire might be struggling, and a barrage of easy baskets for Stoudemire,  Chandler, Landry Fields, Renaldo Balkman and rookie Iman Shumpert.

Off the court, Davis fits neatly into the charismatic nouveau “Rat Pack” personas being honed by Anthony and Stoudemire.  Davis, a full on aesthete by NBA standards will have no trouble fitting in at the Tribeca Film Festival or Fashion Week for example.  In fact, the trio of Anthony, Davis and Stoudemire are easily the trendiest Knick triumvirate since the glory days of Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Phil Jackson/Bill Bradley.

More importantly, this Davis signing deals a costly blow to the Knicks two main challengers for Eastern Conference supremacy, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls.  With Davis on board, the signings of Shane Battier and Richard Hamilton seem to pale in comparison, and for the first time since the Patrick Ewing era, makes the Knicks legitimate contenders in the East.

Knicks Sign Baron Davis

ESPN’s Marc Stein and Dave McMenamin are reporting that the Knicks have signed Baron Davis.  Davis was recently released by the Cleveland Cavaliers under the new “amnesty” provision, opting instead to turnover point-guard duties to younger and less-expensive trio of Daniel Gibson, Kyrie Irving and Ramon Sessions.  Once he cleared waivers on Friday Davis was heavily courted by a number of playoff contenders, but the Knicks won out for this veteran guard’s services.  When healthy, Davis will join fellow veterans Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire, to form as imposing a quartet.  

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Nothing to Celebrate: Chris Paul and the NBA Imagination

I am a Lakers fan so any and all of my criticism should be seen through that window.  While Lakers’ haters have rejoiced over the draconian decisions from the league, it’s worth taking a moment to contemplate what exactly they’re celebrating.

For example, Dave Zirin is a brilliant commentator, with an amazing ability to both highlight the political dimensions of sport and use it as a way to elucidate the larger social issues of the day.  In his essay, “Sorry, Lakers: Chris Paul and the Clippers Now OCCUPY Los Angeles,” Zirin doesn’t just argue that a sea change is underway in Los Angeles.  He also connects the trade to a larger social upheaval inside and outside of the sports world.  “These aren’t two NBA teams. They are the two Americas. But in a 2011 where we’ve seen global revolutions from the Middle East to the Mid-West overturn accepted truths in thought and deed, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate way for the SportsWorld to end its year,” writes Zirin.

Zirin then makes his zeitgeist-tapping analogy more plain:

The Lakers have always been the ultimate team of the 1 percent. The Clippers are the also-rans, the afterthoughts, bottom-dwelling 99 percenters of the first order. One trade, and this sacrosanct truth has been turned on its head. To see an exhilarating symbol of the change 2011 has brought and 2012 will bring, you can do worse than remembering the names Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the soon-to-be almighty Clippers.”

David Stern’s decision to reward David Stern with a transcendent player such as Paul given his  given his history of racial discrimination is jarring enough.  After all we can not forget that journalist Bomani Jones once described Sterling in the following way: “That same man, who gives black men tens of millions of dollars every year, refuses to take a few thousand a month from folks who would like to crash in one of his buildings for a while? … . Sterling may have been a joke, but nothing about this is funny. In fact, it’s frightening and disturbing that classic racism like this might still be in play.”   Read in this context, Zirin’s position the Clippers as the 99% represents a troubling reimagination of the 99%. Can this really be the face, symbolic or real, of the 99%?

Yet, beyond defining the 99% as those who are not winning, what concerns me here is the failure to see how the Clippers won (and David Stern, Dan Gilbert, Michael Jordan, Nike and a host of other global corporations won) through the exertion of power and the adjustment of rules to fit the agendas, needs, and financial goals of these ultimate winners.  In fact, this entire Paul imbroglio is indicative of current economic policy, where rule -makers adjust games for their own benefit. Zirin’s assessment would have one believe that the Lakers were Lehman, and the Clippers Goldman Sachs, one got bailed out, the other didn’t.  But does anyone really believe in the possibility of an NBA landscape in which the Lakers’ aren’t somehow rendered as Goldman Sachs?

This Chris Paul debacle was the first clear sign that, post-lockout, the league’s agenda is to restrict player movement and contain player salaries while maximizing profits. This has been done under the guise of “achieving parity” but just like the “free market” the NBA is supposed to operate in, these are all illusions. The needs of public consumers – in this case, sports fans – clearly are not determining the marketplace. The oligarchs do.  Just as Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while other banks were bailed out, the NBA made a decision to empower the Clippers at the expense of the Lakers, Rockets and others because of the larger effort to make the league more about teams and rivalries rather than stars.  In reimagining the NBA apart from stars, the NBA is attempting to rebrand itself thereby limiting the power and financial demands of the players themselves.   Josh Martin describes the situation as nothing to celebrate, especially since it’s illustrative of the unjust consequences of power:

 Hate David Stern for going Hank Paulson on his league’s marquee franchise, thereby setting a horrendous precedent that he might just do it again and bringing the business of player movement to a screeching halt as a result. . . .

Hate the owners who wanted (and still want) a hard cap AND salary rollbacks AND to prevent superstars from working where they want to, even after putting in years of service in smaller markets.

Hate Gilbert and Sarver and the Maloofs and all those other egomaniacs for screwing up YOUR favorite teams and then blaming their own missteps and bad contracts on their well-payed [sic] employees.

In other words, don’t hate The Player; hate The Game, the very same game that YOUR owners pushed for and that will ultimately cost YOUR teams in their pursuit of big-name free agents and NBA championships.

Clippers fans are right to celebrate CP3’s arrival in Los Angeles, but I’m not sure anyone else has cause for joy.  Trading Chris Paul is a testament to the continued oligarchy of the NBA; it is not a triumph of the 99%. Efforts to push Chris Paul to one team over another, the meddling and public statements of owners, are just the beginning of a systemic reconfiguring of the NBA.  Is that really worth celebrating?

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Enough is Enough #Afterthelockout

Time Magazine recently announced that its 2011 “person of the year” is the protestor.  Highlighting the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements, Time clearly sought to celebrate the ways in which protest and resistance has defined 2011.  This spirit of protest was also been evident within the NBA in 2011.  From the lockout to recent decisions from the league office regarding the trade of Chris Paul and even the 2011-2012 schedule, David Stern and the league’s owners have turned the levers of power over and over again.  Yet, players, who in recent years, especially after the 2004 Palace Brawl (focus of my forthcoming book), have remained relatively silent about their frustrations and opposition to both policy changes and the overall culture of the NBA, are increasingly challenging those in position of power.  Even as fans and pundits gleefully celebrate the return of the NBA and the prospect of their team finding success in 2011-2012, players have taken a different tone, ubiquitously stating, “enough is enough.”

The spirit of protest and anger was initially evident during the lockout when Dwyane Wade yelled at David Stern challenging the commissioner’s perceived arrogance and paternalism  during a negotiating session.  Wade allegedly told Stern: “You’re not pointing your finger at me. I’m not your child.” The willingness to challenge Stern and the owners themselves continued during the lockout, evident by the condemnation of Michael Jordan from players who felt slighted and disrespected by their former peer.  This has continued since the lockout ended.

Upon hearing about the league’s (David Stern and his merry men) decision to block its own trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for “basketball reasons” (err- Michael Jordan and Dan Gilbert are tired of going to the lottery while others go to parades), Danny Granger took to twitter to announce: “Due to the sabotaging of the LA/NO trade by david stern, and following in the footsteps of my athlete brethren Metta World Peace and Chad Ochocinco, I’m changing my last name to ‘Stern’s Bi#&h” #effectiveimmediately.’”  While not as cutting and critical of the commissioner, other NBA players similarly used twitter to voice their displeasure with the situation.  Unwilling to sit silently, they used social media to protest, albeit rhetorically, which in this case an important intervention against the demands that NBA players “shut up and play.”

Player denunciation of Stern was not limited to Twitter, but was equally present within various media sessions.  “You’re fighting a bully,” noted Deron Williams. David Stern is a bully, you can’t really go up against him. He knows he’s a bully. It’s not a secret. You got to be. I think every owner of every big business is a bully. That’s how they become successful.”

Public criticisms has not been limited to the Chris Paul issue or even the lockout, but have been evident in player willingness to voice their displeasure with the upcoming schedule, focusing on the league and owner single-minded focus on revenues.  “I think what you see, we’re a rushed league right now,” noted Kevin Garnett. “Everybody is paying attention to the Chris Paul situation. But I don’t know why everyone’s shocked, because [David] Stern has been pretty adamant about when he wants to do things and how he does things.”

There is a lot of uncertainty in the air within the NBA.  From decisions in the league office to very dynamic and fluid player personnel issues, the NBA is facing the most unclear and unpredictable future it has seen in its recent history.  Yet, what is equally unclear is whether players will continue to challenge and protests the unjust and troubling choices made by their powerful bosses, individuals who have shown to be most concerned about “financial reasons” above any “basketball reasons.”

Tim Tebow is Not Only Christian in NFL

Like many other sports enthusiasts I have been intrigued by Tim Tebow’s miracle run this season.  Tebow, and an unheralded Denver Broncos defense have transformed Denver’s fortunes from a team playing for next year, to one with a realistic chance of competing in this year’s playoffs.  Moreover, if they make the playoffs, there’s a very good chance that Denver might make it to the second round.  If the Broncos reach the second round Tebow’s legend will undoubtedly grow exponentially, and as my good friend and colleague Ibrahim Abdul-Matin recently suggested in a column for The Huffington Post, that’s not entirely a bad thing:

People of faith should be cheering this model Christian on. Anyone of any passion should be exalting his independent thinking and supporting his right to speak freely about what he holds dear.

One reason that I agree with Ibrahim is that a lot of the praise and consternation surrounding Tebow results from a concerted effort at the fact neglecting Tebow is  neither the only, nor is he the first prominent ultra-Christian NFL player.  Given all the attention that Tebow has received one would have thought that Reggie White, “The Minister of Defense,” never existed.  White’s Hall of Fame resume is as impeccable as any athlete in any sport over the last thirty-years.  That his life cut short at forty-three, is one reason that his name is no longer commonly invoked, but during his playing career White was arguably more out-spoken than Tebow on social issues, and did not mince words on topics that he believed went against his faith.

Ray Lewis, Barry Sanders and Mike Singletary are other notable NFL icons who were very forthcoming about their Christian beliefs.  And of course there was the famous case of White’s Green Bay Packers teammate who was a vocal critic of former President Bill Clinton’s extra-marital exploits, only to have his life turned upside down after being accused of sexually assaulting his former teenage baby-sitter at a post-prom party.

Maybe it’s because of the sports’ extremely violent that nature that faith and religion are so closely aligned to it, a point reinforced by Ibrahim:

In reality, football is a very faith-filled sport. The Lord’s Prayer is recited in almost every locker room in the country (save one town in Michigan that says the opening chapter of the Quran). As a Muslim, I know the Lord’s Prayer by heart because I played football for 13 years.

In a league that has managed to regulate virtually every aspect of player behavior, it’s going to be interesting to see how the NFL continues weathering Tebow-mania if manages to become something beyond a novelty.  The league was less regulated, less image conscious when Reggie White played, and as a defensive player he did not elicit the same level of scrutiny faced by quarterbacks.  The Goodell era NFL has done a lot to make it seem as if the league is providing wholesome family entertainment, but even Goodell would have to concede there is a difference between wholesome and Christian.  Thus if Broncos games begin to have an aura of prayer rallies, it will be fascinating to see how the league manages this distinction.

A Little Direction from Chef Garnett

Years ago,  The Roots’ Black Thought remarked, “If you can’t burn, don’t step into the kitchen.”  “Glitches,” the song from which this verse came, was on the soundtrack for a relatively forgettable Chris Rock film, Down to Earth.  It was a comedy.   Or, I should say, it was meant to be a comedy.  But “Glitches” is a solemn, languid track, and  Black Thought wasn’t laughing.

Fast-forward 11 years and another comedy, the 2011-2012 NBA pre-season (preceded by the low-budget disaster flick, the NBA Lockout)  is coming to a theater near you.   And one contributing cast member, perhaps channeling Black Thought, is none too happy about how the production is shaping up.   Here’s Kevin Garnett’s take on thing, courtesy of ESPN:

“I think what you see, we’re a rushed league right now,” Garnett said. “Everybody is paying attention to the Chris Paul situation. But I don’t know why everyone’s shocked, because Stern has been pretty adamant about when he wants to do things and how he does things.

“Timing is everything. Chemistry is something that you don’t just throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something, then throw it on top of something, then fry it up and put it in a tortilla and put in a microwave, heat it up and give it to you and expect it to taste good. You know? For those of you who can cook, y’all know what I’m talking about. If y’all can’t cook, this doesn’t concern you.”

Can David Stern cook?  Will the NBA get past these “glitches”?

Here’s Black Thought (and the soulful Amel Larrieux) performing “Glitches.”

 

 

Have the Knicks become the New Denver Nuggets?

In 2008-09 when the Denver Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals they appeared on the verge of becoming an elite team in the western conference.  It seemed as if the frontline of Nene, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin was finally rounding into form and might emerge as worthwhile challengers to LA’s triumvirate of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.  However, Kenyon Martin’s recurring knee injuries and Nene’s inconsistent play when healthy kept the Nuggets from fulfilling their promise.  The Nuggets were also often dogged by a pedestrian back court in a conference that featured such elite guards as Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker and Brandon Roy.

Now, in 2011 the New York Knicks have composed a team that bears a striking resemblance to these Nuggets teams that sputtered throughout much of this last decade.  Carmelo Anthony anchors both teams and Amar’e Stoudemire and newly signed Tyson Chandler are reminiscent of Martin and Nene.  Like Martin, Stoudemire is a dynamic power forward who’s had to overcome micro-fracture surgery.  Also like Martin, Stoudemire has often had to play out of position at center guarding much bigger players.  Stoudemire is arguably a far superior offensive player, but he’s also been blessed to play in Mike D’Antoni’s high-powered offensive system.

Similarly, Chandler and Nene are virtually the same player. Athletic centers with a penchant for stints on the injured list.  Chandler is a slightly better rebounder and guards the rim better, but Nene is a better offensive player and his passing skills complemented the talents of Anthony and Martin really well.  Where Chandler really distinguishes himself however is that he’s a maturer locker room presence than Nene. None other than Chris Paul can be counted to speak fondly of his support as a teammate, a fact that is not to be taken lightly given Paul’s close bond with Anthony.

Also like their counterparts in Denver, this Knicks team will have to contend with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams without an all-star guard of their own.

Come this year’s playoffs, this year’s Knicks might very well find themselves in the same position as those 08-09 Nuggets.  A Knicks-Heat Conference finals would be must see TV as Miam’s Big Three goes up against New York’s newly minted Big Three.  If New York wins, then they will have bested their predecessors in Denver, and if they don’t, then we are likely to find this team seeking to answer similar questions to those that plagued the Nuggets the last three seasons.

2013 New York City Mayor’s Race Beginning to Take Shape

With a little less than two years left before voters go to the polls to select a new mayor, the New York Times is beginning to handicap the city’s Mayoral race.  The recent fundraising misconduct allegations facing Comptroller John Liu have severely hampered his chances.

Still, even if we are eliminating Liu and former Congressmen Anthony Weiner, the field being outlined by the Times is less than stellar to say the least:

The early front-runners in the race appear to be three Democratic politicians: Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker; William C. Thompson Jr., the former comptroller; and Bill de Blasio, the public advocate. Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, is also well known and has been raising money for a mayoral campaign. Some believe he may ultimately switch to a different race, but he insists he is running for mayor. Another candidate, Tom Allon, the publisher of community newspapers, is a political unknown.

via In New York City Mayor’s Race, Search for Dream Candidate – NYTimes.com

What is particularly worrisome is that two of the three alleged democratic front-runners mentioned by the Times’ have been battling incumbent Mike Bloomberg from afar for the better half of this past decade.  Yet, it is Bill Thompson who was the only one willing to take him on in a Mayoral race.

As evidenced in Thompson’s campaign, and reinforced by the troubles that have befallend Liu and Weiner, the notion that democrats could simply wait out Bloomberg is misguided.  Indeed, it opens the field for a Bloomberg-esque candidate to emerge and beat out this muddled and imperfect Democratic field.