September 01, 2010
You go into reading a column - and it's your typical heavy-handed, arms-folded, treatise on what's gone terribly wrong - and you're ready to hate it. Thinking that you've read it before, you've heard this tsk-tsk'ing before, and that it's all a bit boring and needless.
And then you read the column. In this case, by Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. And it's pretty spot on. Brandon Rush(notes) managed to flunk three drug tests for marijuana, in-season drug tests for marijuana, and the Pacer guard has been suspended five games as a result. Two things tend to follow.
First? The Pacers don't need Rush. He's terrible, and he's a pothead.
Second? How does Larry Bird keep getting away with all this, and keep a job?
The initial aspect can't be denied. It was bandied about on several sites last year that, of all the NBA regulars in 2009-10, Rush was by far the most ineffective. Delving deeper, in terms of production and efficiency, of all the starters this league has seen for decades, Rush was absolutely the pits. He just doesn't do ... anything. He had a nice end to his rookie season in 2008-09, promised much, and delivered nothing. If 2009-10 was any indication, he deserves to be a training camp invitee, and little else.
And, yes, "he's a pothead" is a fact. As Kravitz pointed out, the NBA doesn't test for the sticky during the offseason. Which means Rush had to flunk a test three times during the regular season, when all he had to do was wait until the third week of April to spark up.
Now, we're bound to get into a back and forth on the would-be/should-be legality of marijuana. I still feel that it is borderline ridiculous that we're still governed by the fears that Harry Anslinger brought up about "jazz cigarettes" and the crazies that supposedly use them. And if the stuff were legal, NBA players would be far from crazy in using this stuff in moderation.
NBA players are beat to hell during the regular season, and they work unorthodox hours meant to entertain us during the downtime after our typical 9-to-5 shift. Which means these guys are showered, cleaned up (per NBA guidelines on dress codes), and coming down off of a major adrenaline rush (no pun intended) around the same time your late local news comes on. That's hard to cool off from. You don't just roll into bed after that. You need a release.
And I'm sure you'd all agree with me that, um, mellowing out a bit back at the hotel room before diving in for a spot of Madden is a lot safer than downing, in spirit form (at levels that a 6-10 guy needs to mellow out), across the street at the downtown disco. To say nothing of the impaired judgment, and usual effect on a man's already-aggressive nature. If I'm a fan, I'd prefer my player's settling mode have more to do with a few hits whilst in front of a laptop or cathode tube ray, than another double with cranberry in public.
But the rules, anachronistic though they may be, are the rules. And the NBA borderline encourages a giant June-to-September smoke-o-thon. So how is it possible that you can't keep it clean, if even allowed two screwups that aren't ever reported, from Halloween until late April?
Rush decided, even with two strikes in his back pocket, to swing away. He was caught, again, and will have to sit five games out. Yet another misstep for a Pacer, drafted by Larry Bird.
Did I know that Brandon Rush was a herb enthusiast before he was drafted out of Kansas? No, of course not. I didn't even know which he hand he shot and/or smoked with. But that's not my gig. That's Larry's gig, and he has failed at it consistently in the years he's ostensibly been in charge. Yes, Donnie Walsh was around and helping out quite a bit following Larry's announced takeover in 2003, but these are Bird's guys, and they keep getting in trouble.
On top of that, the Pacers have done nothing, for years. I actually pegged them as championship contenders heading into 2004-05, but the melee involving Ron Artest(notes) and Jermaine O'Neal(notes) put an end to that. Rick Carlisle's coaching had a big impact in that team hanging in there and actually making it to the playoffs in 2005-06, but Bird turned Artest into what should have been Peja Stojakovic's(notes) expiring/rebuild-inducing contract before the summer of 2006, and instead he listened to Walsh and turned it into a new deal for Al Harrington(notes). Indiana, desperate for a rebuild, hasn't been the same since.
They've been treading water, and a half-decade after pulling in Big Al, the team is looking forward to cap space and a shot at starting over in 2011. Assuming there is such a thing as cap space, in the summer of 2011. Assuming there is a summer of 2011 that actually allows for teams to sign players. The labor vs. owner bargaining could blow everything up, on a couple of different levels.
And yet, Bird continues apace. He's not a total waste as a personnel chief, because the trade that brought in Darren Collison(notes) was more or less the steal of the summer if we don't count anyone taking their talents to South Beach. Bird has constantly acquired good players (at least the ones that have been in the league for a few years), with the caveat that he hasn't drafted good enough players. And Indiana, used to excellence following Walsh's run, doesn't want to be a part of it.
Which is unfortunate. Because there would be nothing cooler than a team run by Larry Bird and located in Indiana getting back to the top of the heap. But fans both frantic and fair-weather will want nothing to do with a team that hands its rotation to players who will be suspended before ever playing an NBA game, like Lance Stephenson(notes), or a guy that can't bothered to decline a hit of pot - for the third time, mind you - between October and April; knowing full well that he could exist solely in a haze of smoke once the summer starts.
And, more importantly, they're not going to want anything to do with a team that doesn't win. Unless the prospects for turnaround seem readily apparent, who would?
This is Larry's burden, and he's asking all of us to stay patient, and wait until 2011. I'm confident, because I think Larry Bird is a badass, as he's made a career out of morons doubting him at their own peril.
But the signs aren't right, and most personnel bosses would have been let go by now. And coming off the heels of yet another low-lottery trip, and yet another suspension, this isn't a good start to the hopeful last year of the old ways.