September 28, 2010
For the next few weeks, I'm going to pick an NBA-related subject, A-through-Z, and tell you why it's worth your time, and why it's one of the reasons I love covering this league.
Because that's why I wanted to become a scribe who's paid to cover this league. Sharing the things I know and love with those of my kind. All that stuff.
Because I'm lucky enough to have your ear for however long, I don't care that this might come off as a bit twee. A little embarrassing. A little too forthright. I'm OK with that. Hopefully you are, as well.
"R" is for "redemption."
Let's not get too righteous with this. This is a list of people who are working in the NBA this year, not some great litany of souls desperate for reaffirmation. These aren't people who have wronged anyone in any significant way, but on the other hand a redemptive professional season in 2010-11 won't really do much for anyone in any significant way. It's still just basketball. The only person who has really affected anyone negatively in a significant way in this league is Donald Sterling, but he's beyond redemption. He's an absolute cretin.
Still, 2010-11 could go a long way toward rebuilding the image of the people listed below, given to you in no particular order. And while we hop on our high horse at the slightest provocation regarding this group's misdeeds, we're still rooting for them.
Why? Because we love great basketball. And when the practitioners perform it to its highest ideal, it's a gas. And that's why we root for a turnaround. Even if these guys can be jerks sometimes.
The last few stops of Shaquille O'Neal's career haven't really worked out all that well. He left Los Angeles in the wake of a nasty and needless tussle with Kobe Bryant(notes), he won a ring but ultimately shackled the Miami Heat, and he was a polarizing and destructive force in Phoenix. Sent to Cleveland last season, Shaq couldn't deliver the same title with LeBron James(notes) that he managed with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade(notes).
There's no great wing superstar waiting for O'Neal's guidance in Boston. Only a group of veterans who have been to the Finals twice (with one win) since O'Neal's last visit in 2006. Can he make his rather unique game work in a way that helps his teams play better while he's on the court? Or is it more Shaq-stuff, the sort of stuff that seems better fit for the family hour on ABC in some desperate reality show, and not a nationally televised NBA game on ABC?
All LeBron James did last season was have just about the worst offseason an NBA player could ever have, in the "he-didn't-really-personally-stab-anyone" faction.
Everything James touched, in spite of its relative innocuousness, still turned to "blehch." It was a disturbing, affecting run that detailed time and again just how full of himself and out of touch this superstar is. Nothing he tried worked -- even while taking less money to play for a better team.
The only way out of this is to be the biggest part behind the best season of team basketball any of us have ever seen. That's the only way out.
Somehow, Joe Johnson signed the largest contract of the craziest and most expensive offseason in NBA history. And the general consensus, amongst just about anyone who isn't employed by the Atlanta Hawks, is that Joe isn't worth the dough. Or half the dough, quite literally.
Which is a shame, because he's a nice guy who tries hard. And while people don't really become superstars (something Joe is most assuredly not) this late in their careers, wouldn't it be nice if the Hawk wingman had some sort of fluke season for the ages? One that put him up there with Kobe and Dwyane Wade?
Vinny Del Negro
Del Negro, though he wasn't really doing anything too terrible outside of endangering his starting center's career and fighting with his superior, was held to a level of enmity that seemed to far outstrip his actual faults last season. Canned by Chicago after two years of .500 coaching, VDN still left more questions than he did answers. Yes, everything looked stupidly simple with him at the helm, but why was it this young Chicago team with all that roster turnover still managed to win half its games?
Hired by a terrible person in Los Angeles to coach the Clippers, life won't get any easier for Vinny. Baron Davis(notes) has already showed up to camp well out of shape. But because Del Negro is a likeable sort, we're hoping there's some sort of wrinkle in his approach this season that allows us to think we were terribly wrong about his time in Chicago. We don't suspect it will show up, but we'll welcome and document it should it take place.
Nobody's liked Vince Carter for years, and for good reason. His last few years in Toronto established a league-wide sense of ill will that even a championship wouldn't do away with. That's hard to do. Antoine Walker(notes) retired a slum lord, and yet I still got tons of shots from his fans that were quick to point out how he was the second-leading scorer in the 2006 Finals.
VC was awful in the playoffs last season for Orlando, and in the last year of his last major contract, this is the time to steer it right. No fadeaways, no nighttime classes, no headbands and no moping. OK, there's probably going to be moping. But get it together, Vince.
Jefferson wasn't really thought to be the missing piece in San Antonio last season, but most NBA observers at least thought he'd be a perfect-enough piece to help the Spurs inch closer to the Lakers' level. Instead of, say, Dallas' level.
Instead, he struggled terribly on both ends. And then he drew laughs for opting out of his contract during the offseason, with his value seemingly at an all-time low.
But then the Spurs re-signed him to a pretty hefty sum, and because they're the Spurs and they're smarter than all of us, we can't help but wonder if we're wrong and if the Spurs were right. Even if Richard was really, really wrong last seaspn.
Make the release point higher on those corner jumpers this season, Richard. Inch closer to Los Angeles, in a good way.
Colangelo's seeming arrogance has set quite a few people off, and his Raptors are arguably in a worse spot now than they were in back in 2006 when Bryan took over, mainly because of that giant payroll.
Gilbert Arenas took guns to work last season, and possibly the season before. For all we know, he did it for years. It's illegal, and for a small bank of time following the leaked news about Gilbert's gun play (however unthreatening), he had fun with it, instead of trying to make it right.
Which was wrong and stupid and foolhardy, and not at all charming. There's been a ton of that in Gil's career to date.
But there's also been efficient scoring and charm. And if he plays smart basketball and says and does smart things, things will turn around. He, and the people listed above, don't owe us anything. But we'd really dig it if they acted as if they did.