Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
After some two weeks off from Magic Basketball Weekly (on account of a food illness thing and a trip to Boston to nerd out with the People From the Internet), I have returned to answer the tremendous backlog of all of the two emails that have been written in the past two weeks. I love that we have this connection. It’s nice to feel needed.
It’s bleak times right now for me, y’all, because this Dwight Howard thing has gotten so boring it’s like eating unbuttered toast. After an early-season series of squalls where it seemed like we might be headed for honest-to-God juvenile drama, things have been super quiet. Largely this is because Dwight Howard seemed to change his approach from “child throwing tantrum” to “quiet savvy,” which is doubly frustrating to me because, you know, “Dwight Howard” is not exactly synonymous with “quiet savvy.” Or even “relative maturity.” Or anything but “mostly happy and extremely loud teenager persona.”
This is not to say Dwight hasn’t been a model NBA citizen (he totally has and I respect him a lot), it’s just that he’s crafted the image of a guy who would rather be making armpit farts than learning a turnaround jumper and I have a hard time believing that he has picked the highest-pressure moment of his career to date to start behaving like a business man. The following things are possibilities for what is going on with him:
1.) Dwight really does understand that it would be ruining its own talent base to acquire him and has decided to bolt in free agency to a team at full strength. This desire is mixed with an iota of genuine uncertainty about what he wants to do and a large helping of subconscious resentment at a franchise that has become a total kakistocracy.
2.) I have some close friends who have a three-and-a-half year old who loves Go Fish more than anybody loves anything. She’ll spend all day asking you to play Go Fish but the second you ask her if she has any goldfish (three-and-a-half year olds are stupid and can’t really use numbers), she makes a face like the mask from Scream, sobs hysterically for like twenty seconds, and then wants to play “baseball.” Very standard toddler. It is possible that Dwight wanted to play this game but did not understand the implications for his public image and now he wants to play “baseball,” but I think he’s smarter than (most) toddlers.
3.) Dwight is like a cartoon trying to keep a foot on either side of an expanding canyon, flailing his arms and wobbling while he tries to keep his crotch from being wrenched apart by tectonics. Dwight wants to leave and play for a better-run team in a larger market, but he does not want to sacrifice his boyish and fun-loving image by making a callous business decision. He’s trying to go two directions at once.
Quite honestly, I suspect a balance of all three: Dwight does have savvy enough to understand he doesn’t want to play on a Brooklyn Nets roster filled out with D-League players, he has been a little shocked by the intensity of this media process, and he’s being a little naïve about wanting to have his cake and eat it too. I read a convincing explanation of why that is not a totally bogus idiom once, but I can’t remember it, so take my word for it.
As for Otis Smith, anything is in play.
Game of the Week
As I’ve already mentioned, I went to Boston to cover the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and met most of the writers from the TrueHoop Network. Traditionally, there is a pick-up basketball game at these get-togethers and I was determined not to get clowned by a bunch of bloggers. So in January I went nuts on that white people Paleo diet, started running an hour a day, and did my jumpshooting in the morning. In February, I modified that routine to include an insane amount of weeknight drinking and frequent “social” cigarettes. While this did not help my jumpshooting, it DID help my ability to loft weak lob passes into the lane to be stolen with alarming, irrational frequency. I lost four games and then, heroically, switched to the team that had won all day and I picked up my first win. DYNASTY, BABY.
Never fear, readers. I am an inveterate trash talker with a poor understanding of my limitations so rest assured, I will totally be in game shape and ready to play LIKE I SWEAR I USED TO BE ABLE TO PLAY next time around. I played high school, you guys. What? No, it wasn’t a very big school.
I was lying about there being only two emails — there were four. But I’m going to address a couple of them together since they were mostly a list of trade scenarios asking for my feedback.
Readers Thomas and Marque both sent in a variety of permutations to get Monta Ellis to Orlando. Charmingly, none of the trades they sent included Ryan Anderson, the only viable trade asset the Magic really have (Redick is fine but he ain’t getting you back any talent and the Magic’s first round picks are not going to be high if they keep Dwight). In a certain sense, Thomas and Marque, I admire the aplomb, because, you know, hope is important.
But in another sense, every one of these trade scenarios involves the Magic giving up players they don’t want anyway (Nelson, Turkoglu) for players that they do. That’s, um, not how trades work. Thomas, let me at least applaud that you recognize this in your emails. It’s okay dude, we’re all hurting right now. Probably the optimism that most brought a smile to my face was a proposed three-teamer that brought back Rondo and Ellis while the Magic gave up Nelson and Turk. I say, MAKE THAT TRADE, OTIS? WHAT IS STOPPING YOU!?
Let me take this semi-apropos moment to address how odd I find it that Magic fans want Monta Ellis. Look, I am not an Ellis fan, and I understand his defensive effort and efficiency have all been better than somebody likes me gives him credit for (haven’t they?). But. This is Monta Ellis we’re talking about. Orlando is already better than almost every team in the East outside of Miami and Chicago — in what series is Monta Ellis helping the Magic? Also, even improved, he is still a low-efficiency gunner with erratic distribution skills. See how diplomatic that was? “Erratic distribution skills” is the nicest thing anybody has ever said about Monta’s ability to run a team.
In a pickup basketball setting, is there any play more embarrassing than straight up bricking a 1-on-none fastbreak layup? It’s the kind of blunder where you just hope everyone else gave up on the play so that you can tip it back in and act like it was no big deal. What’s your short list of rec sports moments that you just have to try to laugh away? P.S. — just to clarify, by “play” I mean actual in-game play. Funny moments like tearing a hole in your pants or running into the goal post are a different category, to me.
I think if you accept this moment with the appropriate amount of stoic sheepishness, it can be overcome but it’s pretty embarrassing. Things I have done that upset me more than missing open layups: backing a dude down and falling over when he “pulled the chair,” having my hands up as I rolled to the basket, only to allow the pass to hit me straight in the nose, and passing it to that chump who claps his hands at you like he’s on your team. The worst case with that guy — thankfully, this has never happened to me personally — is when the only white dude in a pick-up game throws it away to the other team. Everybody sees it and then you either laugh or roll your eyes, depending on how PC you are, and the assumption that you have confused your teammates with their entire race lingers in the air like a fart. It’s okay, guy I saw do this a couple of times at Ram’s Head at UNC, I know you’re not racist. You’re just real bad at basketball.
Anyway, do like I do, and like every other insecure jock does when he screws up in pick-up: clap your hands, bark profanity at the ceiling, and D some dude up really hard. It’s like you totally never make that mistake except every trip down in this game and don’t worry bros, you’ll get that one back. Or at least, you think that’s how it looks.
Reader Carlo Simone:
The trade talks are heating up and surprisingly they don’t all involve us getting rid of Dwight Howard. But something has been bothering me. Most of the talk has centered around getting a wing shot-creator. I won’t argue against this being something we sorely lack right now. Overall though, since 2009 most of the trade talk and trades themselves have been about making the Magic more of a “traditional” team. This kind of upsets me because I really think the Magic had a chance to shake up the league with the SVG system based on defense, efficiency and team play rather than perimeter heroics. Do you guys think the Magic and their fans are misplaced in how they want their team assembled?
Agree with you wholeheartedly, Carlo, and I’ve written a few times that I think it’s extremely stupid that Otis keeps trying to cave to conventional wisdom and make the team less like what Stan Van Gundy wants.
At the Sloan Conference, a paper that quantified players’ “fit” with each other had the Magic lineup (Nelson-Turkoglu-Howard) from the Finals run as the best-fitting trio in a long while.
But here’s the thing: it’s much safer to fail while appeasing conventional wisdom. Management can hide behind a 20 points per game scorer and act like they’ve acquired players that can win. Fans don’t get as mad at gunners because we still indulge all sorts of stupid macho archetypes that allow us to pretend going 13-31 is better than playing like, say, Mickael Pietrus did in Orlando.
I think it’s unequivocally the wrong thing to debase Orlando’s offensive system. I don’t think that’s ever stopped Otis Smith from doing a thing in his life.
That’s what I got for now, y’all. Be back this Friday, so holler at mbnhoops[at]gmail[dot]com and I will answer your inanities.